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- The Air Ship Boys - 6/34 -


roses. On either side, in a dish of cracked ice, was the half of a luscious cantaloupe. Silver knives, forks and spoons, sparkling glass-ware and snowy napkins at once revealed the resources of the Placida's pantry.

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" exclaimed Ned.

"Pretty nifty, eh?" laughed Alan.

"Well, if this isn't the last straw!" exclaimed Ned as they seated themselves. "But I want to thank you both. I didn't know how hungry I really was--"

He was about to plunge a spoon into the fragrant, cool melon when he saw a folded note by his plate. Opening it he read:

"Dear Ned: Good luck and good voyage. The roses are from my own garden. Bring me a turquoise ring. MARY HOPE."

It was from Alan's sister.

"Shall we do it, Alan?" he cried.

"Shall we?" answered Alan wringing his chum's hand. "We'll do it or--"

"Is you all ready for dis?" asked the young chef suddenly appearing with a smoking broiled steak. "It can't wait no longer."

And it did not have to.

An hour later the two happy boys sat on either side of the table in the drawing room of their car.

"Are you getting nervous?" began Alan.

"About what?" asked Ned.

"Oh, about everything. The responsibility for this car and the setting up of your balloon, and the trip itself."

"Are you?" exclaimed Ned.

"My, no, I'm not. But then I'm not the captain. But I thought you might be."

"Aren't we getting along all right?"

"Perhaps too well," Alan answered.

"Never talk that way," interrupted Ned decisively. "Everything is happening as it does because we planned it just that way. Things can't go too well. That is a foolish idea. The good fortune of careful preparation should only confirm your judgment."

This was the sort of advice Alan had to take now and then from his friend; but it always did him good.

"Then you don't believe in good luck?" rather sheepishly suggested Alan.

"I believe in it, yes," replied Ned, "if it comes--and I never put it aside. But I never count on it."

Sleep seemed to have fled from Ned's eyes. Although Alan suggested that it might be well to turn in early and be up early, Ned insisted on seeing Major Honeywell's chart of the country they were to explore, saying that he had another night on the journey in which he could sleep.

The chart was really only a rough pencil sketch. The instructions were more in detail.

"This country, now a portion of the reservation of the Navajo and Southern Ute Indians, is a wilderness," Major Honeywell wrote. "White men do not visit it because the Indians will not permit them. Mining prospectors who have tried to do so have been murdered."

"Cheerful, isn't it?" interrupted Alan.

"This jumble of mountains has no connection with our two great western mountain ranges. The towering plateaus, cut with yawning canyons, are plainly the result of some special volcanic action. This unknown region extends over a hundred miles northwest and southeast, and on all sides drops suddenly into the sandy deserts. At Clarkeville the desert begins at once. If you will start a little east of north and locate the Indian village of Toliatchi, twenty miles away, you will be on the Arroyo Chusco. Although the bed of this stream may be dry it can be traced northward sixty-five miles, where it unites with the Amarilla, eighty-five miles from Clarkeville. At the juncture of these water courses, if you face west, the roughest part of the Tunit Chas will confront you. At your right will be Wilson's Peak. That portion of the Tunit Chas to the southwest forms the Lu-ka-ch-ka mountains. To the northeast lie the Charriscos. Somewhere in these mountains lie the temple and the treasures we seek."

CHAPTER VI

BOB RUSSELL OF THE KANSAS CITY COMET

When the Overland reached Kansas City at nine o'clock the next morning the air ship boys were just finishing an appetizing breakfast of fruit, omelet, pancakes and coffee. The Placida, their special car, came to a stop at the far end of the station train shed, and, covered with dust as it was, and almost hidden among hissing engines and baggage and express cars, there seemed little reason for it to attract attention. Of course it was not ignored by the railway officials. No sooner was the train at rest than the depot master and the division superintendent were knocking at the door. They had special orders concerning the car, and immediately wheels and brakes were being tested and ice and water were being taken aboard.

The railway officials made a quick inspection of the car, asked if anything was needed, and were soon gone. A few minutes after they had left a young man suddenly appeared, dodging among the cars. He sprang on to the rear step of the Placida, but before he could enter the car, the door of which had been left open by the departing officials, the vigilant form of Elmer Grissom blocked his way.

"Who's in charge here?" demanded the stranger. "I'm a reporter and want to see him in a hurry."

The railway officials had been admitted through the baggage portion of the car, but Elmer knew that this way was not open to everyone. He understood the need of secrecy, and politely forcing the reporter out of the door on to the platform he led him to the front of the car.

"If you'll give me yo' card," he then said with dignity, "I'll take it in, sah."

As he was about to do so, Ned and Alan emerged from the car for a few mouthfuls of fresh air.

"Hey!" exclaimed the impatient young man, "I'd like to see the man in charge of this car. It's important and I'm in a hurry. I'm a reporter for the Comet."

The boys smiled.

"We are in charge," answered Ned. "What can we do for you?"

The reporter seemed taken somewhat aback at seeing two youngsters directing a special car. His bearing changed at once.

"I've been sent to get a story about where you are going and what you are going to do," he said with a little more consideration; "that is, if you care to tell."

Ned puckered up his lips and thought. He had met reporters before and he knew what a "story" meant.

"I think we don't care to say," he replied in a moment. He did not even care to say it was a secret. Even that admission, he knew, would be a basis for something that might interfere with his plans,

"Our correspondent in Chicago says you left there last evening with a carload of new and powerful explosives."

"Was such a story printed this morning?" asked Ned, eyeing the reporter closely.

"I think not," said the reporter, "but we are an afternoon paper, you know. We have a report that you are on your way to Mare Island, California, and that you have a carload of explosives for the navy."

"Was such a story printed this morning?" repeated Ned, smiling again.

"No, it wasn't. But it will be this afternoon," answered the young man impatiently.

"If such a report had been known in Chicago last night," replied Ned sharply, "it would have been in every newspaper in that city and this city this morning. No correspondent sent you such a story. You are a poor guesser."

The reporter was at least four years older than Ned and Alan. Therefore, he gave a little start of surprise. He had been trapped in a trick that he had often worked successfully on many an older person. For Bob Russell, easily the brightest and quickest-witted reporter in his city, thus to be turned down by two "kids" would never do. Without wasting time to deny Ned's charge, he tried a belligerent role.

"Do you deny you have newly invented ammunition in that car?" he exclaimed brusquely.

"I deny nothing and refuse to be put in the attitude of doing so," calmly answered Ned. "Although it happens you are wrong again."

The young man laughed and again changed his tactics.


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