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- The Air Ship Boys - 5/34 -
"And so you are going to carry it in liquid form?"
"I'm going to try, although the making of liquid hydrogen is, so far, pretty much a theory. It has been made only under tremendous pressure and at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit."
The Major whistled.
"That is so cold that ice is red hot comparatively," explained Ned. "This work must be done, in Washington."
They discussed the balloon itself, and the car and the engine for propelling it; where these were to be made in the East, and how they were to be forwarded to Chicago as they were completed. Ned himself was to go East at once and remain there until the last thing was accomplished.
Ned's chum, Alan Hope, had just taken employment for the school vacation in a large sporting goods store not far from the hotel. A few minutes later Ned walked leisurely into this store and sought out the fire-arms department, where Alan was on duty.
"Hello, Ned," exclaimed Alan, "what do you think of this?" And with a smile he handed him an automatic pistol he was inspecting.
Restraining himself, Ned looked it over carefully.
"It holds ten cartridges and it's a beauty," declared Alan.
Ned weighed it carefully in his hand. "What's it worth?" he asked with dignity.
"I think we'll need three of them!"
"And there are a good many other things I think we shall need," went on Ned, soberly.
"This hot weather is pretty bad on some people," laughed Alan. "But, by the way, who are 'we?"'
"You and Elmer Grissom and I," answered Ned carelessly.
"And where are we going?" continued Alan, who was not unused to Ned's joking.
"On a little run in a private car down into New Mexico."
Alan looked at him a moment and then determined to have the joke out.
"Then what are we going to do?" he asked, still laughing.
"Make a trip through an unexplored mountain region in the best dirigible balloon ever built."
Alan wondered just where the joke came in. "And then?" he continued.
"Discover enough hidden treasure of jewels and silver and gold to make us rich."
"Shall I get you a cabbage leaf and some ice water?" asked Alan.
"Get your father's consent that you can go; that'll be all," announced Ned and then, breaking into a laugh, he relieved the perplexed Alan by explaining what had just taken place. In ten minutes Alan had secured permission to be off for the remainder of the day and the two boys hurried away for luncheon, to revel in dreams of their great opportunity.
By night Mrs. Napier had consented, though with tears, to Ned's going, and later Alan's father reluctantly did the same. As Ned was to leave the next afternoon and had to see Major Honeywell and Senor Oje in the morning it was a busy evening that the two boys spent in Ned's workshop.
At one o'clock in the morning Alan's work in Chicago was outlined and Ned's needs in the East were all listed.
"And now," exclaimed the tired but exuberant Alan, "it is all arranged but the name. What are we to call the air ship?"
"The 'Cibola,'" answered Ned without hesitation, "the dream of the Spanish invaders and our hope of success."
A DINNER PARTY ON THE PLACIDA
The long, heavy, limited train on which the young air ship boys were at last embarked on their extraordinary mission pulled slowly out of the station.
Ned made a quick survey of the Placida. Coming out of the baggage end he passed first into a drawing room. In this were two sections that opened up into four berths. Beyond the berths a passageway led to a private stateroom. When the boys reached the stateroom, Elmer was standing at the door with a happy smile on his face.
"Fo' de captain," exclaimed the colored boy.
"Where are you to bunk, Alan?" Ned asked, quickly.
"Oh, the crew is in the main room."
"Not much," exclaimed Ned. "We're partners in this enterprise. I don't have any better than the rest."
And in another moment he had dropped his valise alongside Alan's berth.
"We'll keep the little room for consultations," he said with a laugh, "when we don't want Elmer to hear us talking about the Indians."
The colored lad grunted.
"Can't scare me wif no Injun talk," he said. "I specs I ain't half so 'fraid o' Injuns as I is o' dat stuff in de black box."
"And it's time to attend to the 'stuff,'" interrupted Ned.
They returned to the baggage room.
"Now," Ned began, "the door to this car must be kept locked except when the train crew are compelled to come through. We, in turn, must be careful about fire and lights. But, for fear of accident, I have taken some precautions."
Alan and Elmer then saw that the top of the case was fitted with a lid the edges of which were bound with rubber. In the center of the covering was a short spout.
"What's the use of an air and gas proof top with a hole in it?" asked Alan, inspecting it curiously.
"Maybe dat's to let de air in and de lid's to keep de hydrogum from gettin' out," volunteered the colored boy.
Ned was too busy to answer the one or to laugh at the other. He had unlocked the lid and thrown it back. About six inches beneath the top of the case stood eight iron boxes--two rows with four boxes in each. These boxes, six inches square, were each about three feet in height and in each could be seen the neck of a glass vessel. Securely packed in their iron jackets to prevent breaking, stood the glass receptacles, open-mouthed and apparently empty. But down below the shadowed rims were soft clouds of gaseous vapor, beneath which reposed the precious contents that had cost Ned over a thousand dollars--the liquid hydrogen.
On top of the square iron buckets was coiled eight or ten feet of rubber hose. Taking it out Ned closed and locked the lid. He then screwed one end of the hose onto the open spout and, springing to the top of the case, passed the other end out of the open ventilator.
"Now," Ned explained, "we are in less danger. Difficult as it is to condense hydrogen, it is more difficult to keep it in liquid form. It constantly seeks to return to gas. In a closed place it might make trouble."
Elmer had already disappeared, with popping eyes and mumbles of protest. Alan proudly exhibited to his friend the results of his share of the work of preparation. Every crate, box, barrel and package was numbered and labeled and securely fastened in place.
On one side of the car stood five large oak tanks, looking like the famous beer tuns of Germany.
"I can make more hydrogen in those than you've got in your black box," Alan exclaimed jokingly.
"I'll have a better look at them in the daylight," finally said Ned; "and now those easy chairs in the other car would feel pretty good."
"Aren't sleepy, are you?" asked Alan, forgetting that his chum had not slept the night before.
"No," said Ned, "only happy. But I'd be happier if I had had time to get a good hot supper."
"All ready, sah, in de stateroom," announced Elmer's cheerful voice.
Both boys turned--Ned in surprise.
"Supper's all ready, sah!" continued the colored boy, "and waiting fo' you all."
In the stateroom was a sight to arouse a sleepy boy and to delight a hungry one. In the middle of a small table was a bunch of pink
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