"Oh, boys, save me!" it cried as it ran towards the three lads.
"Why, it's Professor Sandburr!" exclaimed Harry, gazing at the crimson-daubed figure; "whatever is the matter?"
"Oh-oh-oh-oh," howled the professor, dancing about, "it's a woman in that hut. She threw some stinging stuff all over me."
"Why, it's chile con-carne!" exclaimed Frank, examining the red stuff that daubed the unfortunate professor from head to foot; "good gracious, what a scare you gave us; we thought you had been attacked with knives and terribly cut."
There was a trough of water near by and to it the boys conducted the professor, who was half-blinded by the stinging Spanish dish, which is a sort of pepper stew. It took a long time to clean him, during which quite a crowd gathered and laughed and jeered, but at last they had the luckless scientist looking more presentable.
"Now tell us what happened?" asked Frank, as they started back toward the city in a hired "volante," or native carriage, that had been passing, by good luck, as they finished their cleaning process.
"Well, my dear boys, it's an outrage. I will see the mayor or the president about it, or whoever is in charge of those things in this land. I saw a fine looking specimen of a hopping sand-toad going into that house and I dashed in after it with my net extended. As soon as I rushed in I upset a sort of baby carriage that stood by the door. Two children, who were in it, started howling in a terrible manner. I know a little Spanish and I tried to explain, but before I could do so the mother threw a whole pot of that hot stuff over me and called me a kidnapper, a robber, a thief. Upon my word I think I may be considered lucky that she didn't shoot me."
"I think you may, indeed," agreed the boys, who could hardly keep from laughing at the comical sight the professor presented with his head cocked on one side and all daubed with the traces of his "hot bath."
Early the next day the Brutus passed a steel hawser to the Southern Cross and the two vessels proceeded out of the harbor of Monte Video.
"Well, we're really off for the pole at last," exclaimed Frank, as the shores grew dim behind them and the long ocean swell made itself felt.
"Yes," rejoined the professor, who was busy getting specimens of jelly-fish in a bucket he lowered overboard by a line. "I wonder what sort of creatures I can catch in the ice there. I don't care so much about the pole, but I do want to get a 'Pollywoginisius Polaris.'"
"Whatever is that?" asked Frank.
"It's a sort of large pollywog with fur on it like seal," replied the professor gravely.
"A sort of fur overcoat," suggested Billy, nudging Frank mischievously.
"Exactly," said the professor gravely; "if you see one will you catch it for me?"
"I certainly will," replied Billy gravely.
For several days the Brutus and the vessel she was towing kept on down the coast. At last one morning the captain announced that they were off the coast of Patagonia, where the famous giant tribes of aborigines and a kind of ostrich are to be found. The professor was greatly excited at this and begged to have the ships stopped and be allowed to go ashore.
"I am afraid that will be impossible," rejoined Captain Hazzard; "we must get into the Polar regions before the winter sets in, and if we delay we shall not be able to do so. No, we must keep on, I am afraid."
The Brutus was making good speed at the moment, and her tow was cutting obediently through the water after her. Sail had been set on all the masts, as there was a favoring breeze. Suddenly there came a jarring shock that threw everybody from their feet. The tow-line parted under the strain with a report like that of a gun.
"We have struck something," shouted the captain.
"A sunken wreck, probably," said the professor, who did not seem at all disturbed.
"Is there any danger?" asked Billy with rather a white face.
"We cannot tell yet till the ship has been examined," replied the captain. He gave orders to sound the well and sent some men forward to examine the vessel's bow.
Soon the ship's carpenter and Ben Stubbs came hurrying aft with scared faces.
"What is it?" demanded the captain, "are we seriously damaged?"
"We have sprung a leak forward and the water is pouring in," was the alarming reply.
THE PROFESSOR IS KIDNAPPED.
The faces of all grew grave. A leak at sea is a serious menace. The point at which the water was entering the Southern Cross was soon found to be through a sprained plank a little below the water line. Captain Hazzard ordered canvas weighted and dropped overboard around the leak so that the pressure of water would hold it there. The carpenter's gang then set to work to calk the hole temporarily.
In the meantime the Brutus had put back, blowing her whistle inquiringly.
"Send them a wireless message telling them what has happened," the commander ordered Frank, who hastened to obey.
The captain of the Brutus ordered out his boat as soon as Frank's message had been conveyed to him and came aboard the Southern Cross. He agreed, after a consultation with Captain Hazzard, that it would be necessary to put in somewhere to refit.
"We are now off the mouth of the Santa Cruz river in Patagonia," said Captain Barrington, "it is a good place to lie to. I was there once on a passenger steamer that met with an accident. We can shift the cargo to the stern till we have raised the bow of the Southern Cross, and then we can patch up her prow easily," he said.
All agreed that this was a good plan. There was only one objection, and that was the so-called giants of Patagonia, who are hostile to all strangers. In view of the large force of men on board the two ships, however, and the numerous weapons carried, it was agreed that there was not much to be feared from the Patagonians.
The broken steel hawser was at once detached and a new one put in place and the two vessels headed for the shore, about one hundred and fifty miles distant. They arrived off the mouth of the Santa Cruz river the next day and the boys, who had been up before dawn in their anxiety to get their first glimpse of "The Land of the Giants," were rather disappointed to see stretched before them a dreary looking coast with a few bare hills rising a short distance inland. There were no trees or grass ashore, but a sort of dull-colored bush grew abundantly.
"I thought the giants lived in dense forests," said Billy, disgustedly; "this place is a desert."
"It was a fortunate accident though that brought us to this shore," said a voice behind them and Professor Sandburr's bony, spectacled face was thrust forward. "I would not have missed it for a great deal. I would like to capture a specimen of a Patagonian alive and take him home in a cage. The Patagonian dog-flea, too, I understand, is very curious."
The boys all laughed at this, but the professor was perfectly serious. There is no doubt that he would have liked to have done so and caged up a Patagonian where he could have studied him at his leisure.
The Brutus, with leadsmen stationed in her bows to test the depth of the water, proceeded cautiously up the river and finally came to anchor with her tow behind her about two miles from its mouth. The work of shifting some of the cargo of the Southern Cross to the stern so as to elevate her bow, was begun at once; as time was an important consideration. Soon all was declared ready for the carpenters to start work and they were lowered on stages over the side and at once began to rectify the trouble. Some of them worked from a boat secured to the bow.
"Do you think you can persuade the captain to let us go ashore with you?" asked Frank of the professor, who was busy at once getting out all his paraphernalia in anticipation of going on what Billy called "a bug hunt."
"Certainly," declared the scientist confidently, "come along. I should like above all things to have you boys go ashore with me. Besides, I may teach you all to become faunal naturalists."
The delighted boys followed the old man to Captain Hazzard's cabin, but, to their disappointment, he forbade the expedition peremptorily.
"The Patagonians are dangerous savages," he said, "and I will not assume the responsibility of allowing you to risk your lives."
Nor did any persuasion of which the boys or the professor could make have any effect in causing the commander to change his mind. He was firm as adamant and reluctantly the boys made their way forward and watched the carpenters fix the leak, and when that palled they were compelled to fall back on fishing for an amusement.
The professor joined ardently in this sport despite his disappointment at not being allowed to go ashore. He managed to fix up a net attached to an iron ring with which he scooped up all kinds of queer fish out of the river, many of which were so ugly as to be repulsive to the boys. But the professor seemed to be delighted with them all.
"Ah, there, my beautiful 'Piscatorius Animata Catfisio,'" he would say, as he seized a struggling sea monster with a firm grip and plunged it into one of his tin tanks. "I'll dissect you to-night. You are the finest specimen of your kind I have ever seen."
The boys were suddenly interrupted in their fishing by blood-curdling yells from the old scientist. Looking up in alarm they saw him dancing about on the deck holding his arm as if in great pain, while in front of him on the deck a queer-looking, flat fish with a long barbed tail flopped about, its great goggle eyes projecting hideously.
Frank ran forward to pick up the creature and throw it overboard, but as he grasped it he experienced a shock that knocked him head over heels. As he fell backward he collided with the professor and the two sprawled on the deck with the professor howling louder than ever.
"No wonder they're hurt," shouted Ben Stubbs, coming up with a long boat-hook, "that's an electric ray."
"An electric what?" asked Billy.
"An electric ray. They carry enough electricity in them to run a small lamp, and when they wish they can give you a powerful shock. They kill their prey that way."
"Ouch—," exclaimed the professor, who had by this time got up, "the ray nearly killed me. Let me look at the brute so that I'll know one of them again."
"Why don't you put him in your collection?" asked Frank with a smile, although his arm still hurt him where the electric ray had shocked it.
"I want no such fish as that round me, sir," said the professor indignantly, and ordered Ben to throw the creature overboard with his boat-hook.
After supper that night the boys hung about the decks till bedtime. The hours passed slowly and they amused themselves by watching the moonlit shores and speculating on the whereabouts of the Patagonians.
Suddenly Billy seized Frank's arm.
"Look," he exclaimed, pointing to a low ridge that stood out blackly in the moonlight.
Behind the low eminence Frank could distinctly see a head cautiously moving about, seemingly reconnoitering the two ships. In a few seconds it vanished as the apparent spy retreated behind the ridge.
"That must have been a Patagonian," said Frank.
"Just think, they are so near to us and we cannot go ashore," sighed the professor, who was one of the group. "I wonder if they have any dogs with them?"
"I have a good mind to go, anyway," said the old man, suddenly, "I would like to write a paper on the habits of the Patagonians and how can I if I don't study them at first hand?"
"What if they chopped your head off?" asked Billy.
"They would not do that," rejoined the scientist, with a superior smile. "I have a friend who lived with them for a time and then wrote a book about them. According to him Captain Hazzard is wrong; they are not hostile, but, on the contrary, are friendly to white men."
"Then you think that Captain Hazzard doesn't know much about them?" asked Billy.
"I did not say that," replied the professor; "but he may be mistaken just like I was about the electric ray, which I thought was a South Atlantic skate. Just the same, I mean to find out for myself," he went on. "To-night when everyone is asleep but the man on duty, I am going to watch my opportunity and go ashore in the boat the carpenters left at the bow this afternoon. There are ropes hanging from the prow down which I can climb."
Soon after this the boys determined to turn in and, naturally, the professor's decision occupied a great deal of their conversation.
"Do you think we ought to tell the captain about what Professor Sandburr means to do?" asked Frank of the others.
"I don't think so," said Billy. "He is much older than we are and doubtless he knows what he is about. At the same time, though, I think we should watch and if he gets into trouble should try and help him out of it."
"Very well, then we will all be out on deck at midnight," said Frank, "and if we find that the professor is really serious in his intention to go ashore in the boat we will try and stop him. If he still persists we shall have to tell the captain."
The others agreed that the course that Frank recommended was the best one, and they all decided to adopt his plan.
But the boys were heavy sleepers and besides were tired out when they sought their bunks, so that when Frank, who was the first to wake, opened his eyes it was past one in the morning. With a start the boy jumped out of bed and hastily called the others.
"We may not be too late yet," he said, as he hastily slipped into trousers, shirt and slippers.
But the boys WERE too late. When they reached the bow they could see by peering over that the boat had gone and that the professor had penetrated alone into the country of the Patagonians.
Suddenly there came a shot from the shore and a loud cry of:
"It's the professor!" exclaimed Frank; "he's in serious trouble this time."
A BATTLE IN THE AIR.
To raise an alarm throughout the ship was the work of a few minutes and the watchman, whose carelessness had allowed the professor to slip away unnoticed, aroused the indignation of Captain Hazzard, who blamed him bitterly for his oversight. Several shots followed the one the boys had heard and more cries, but they grew rapidly fainter and at the same time the sound of horses galloping away in the distance was heard.
"They have carried him off," cried Captain Hazzard.
"Can we not chase them and rescue him?" asked Billy, "we've got plenty of men and arms."
"That would be of little use to us," was the reply, "the Patagonians are mounted and by this time they have got such a start on us that we could never hope to catch up to them on foot."
"Not on foot," put in Frank quietly, "but there is another way."
"What do you mean, boy?"
"That we can assemble the Golden Eagle in a couple of hours if you will give us the men to help."
Captain Hazzard thought a minute.
"It seems to be the only chance," he said at last, "but I don't know that I ought to let you assume such responsibility."
"We will be in no greater danger than the professor is; much less, in fact," urged Frank. "Please let us go. If we can save his life it is worth running the risk."
"Perhaps you are right, my boy," said Captain Hazzard at length, "at any rate, promise me to run no unnecessary danger."
The promise was readily given and with a cheer the men set to work to hoist the cases containing the sections of the aeroplane over the side and row them ashore. The work was carried on under the glare of the searchlights of the two ships. In two hours' time the Golden Eagle was ready for an engine test which showed her machinery to be in perfectly good trim.
"She is fit for the flight of her life," declared Frank, as he stopped the engine.
"Is everything ready?" asked Captain Hazzard.
"Yes," was the reply, "except for two canteens of water, some condensed soup tablets and two tins of biscuit."
"You have your weapons?"
"I have sent to the ship for two 'Express' rifles, each carrying a heavy charge and explosive bullets. In addition we have our revolvers and some dynamite bombs—the ones that were designed to be used in blasting polar ice," said Frank.
"One moment," said Captain Hazzard. He turned and hailed the ship: "Bring over six of the naval rockets from the armory!" he ordered.
"If you should need help," he said, in explanation of his order, "send up a rocket. They are made so that they are visible by day as well as night. In the daylight their explosion produces a dense cloud of black smoke visible at several miles. They also make a terrific report that is audible for a long distance."
The same boat that brought the boys' weapons carried the rockets and their provisions and at about four a. m. they were ready for their dash through the air. At the last minute it was decided to take Billy Barnes along as he knew something about handling an aeroplane and in a pinch could make himself useful.
"Good-bye and good luck," said Captain Hazzard fervently as the engine was once more started, with a roar like the discharge of a battery of gatling guns. From the exhausts blue flames shot out and the air was filled with the pungent odor of exploding gasolene.
With a wave of the hand and amid a cheer that seemed to rend the sky the Golden Eagle shot forward as Frank set the starting lever and rushed along over the level plane like a thing of life. After a short run she rose skyward in a long level sweep, just as the daylight began to show in a faint glow in the east.
It rapidly grew lighter as the boys rose and as they attained a height of 1,500 feet and flew forward at sixty miles an hour above the vast level tract of gravelly desert, by looking backward they could see the forms of the two ships, like tiny toys, far behind and below them. On and on they flew, without seeing a trace of the professor or the band that had undoubtedly made him prisoner.
"We must have overshot the mark," said Frank, as he set a lever so as to swing the aeroplane round. "We shall have to fly in circles till we can locate the spot where the Patagonians have taken him."
They flew in this manner for some time, sometimes above rugged broken land with great sun-baked clefts in it, and sometimes above level plains overgrown with the same dull colored brush they had noticed fringing the coast.
Suddenly Billy called attention to a strange thing. All about them were circling the forms of huge birds. Some of them measured fully ten feet from wing tip to wing tip. They had bald, evil-looking heads and huge, hooked beaks.
"They are South American condors, the largest birds in existence," cried Harry, as the monstrous fowls, of which fully a hundred were now circling about the invaders of their realm, seemed to grow bolder and closed in about the aeroplane.
"They mean to attack us," cried Frank, suddenly.
As he spoke one immense condor drove full at him, its evil head outstretched as if it meant to tear him with its hooked beak. The boy struck at it with one arm while he controlled the aeroplane with the other and the monstrous bird seemed nonplussed for a moment. With a scream of rage it rejoined its mates and they continued to circle about the aeroplane, every minute growing, it seemed, more numerous and bold.
"We shall have to fire at them," cried Frank at last. "If they keep on increasing in numbers they may attack us all at once and wreck our airship."
Hastily Harry and Billy unslung their heavy "Express" rifles and began firing. Ordinarily it is no easy task to hit a bird on the wing with a rifle, but so large a target did the huge bodies present that four fell at the first volley. As they dropped some of their cannibal companions fell on them and tore them to ribbons in midair. It was a horrible sight, but the boys had little time to observe it. Their attention was now fully occupied with beating off the infuriated mates of the dead birds, who beat the air about the aeroplane with their huge wings until the air-storm created threatened to overbalance it.
Again and again the boys fired, but failed to hit any more of the birds, although feathers flew from some of the great bodies as the bullets whizzed past them.
All at once the condors seemed to come to a decision unanimously. Uttering their harsh, screaming cries they rushed at the aeroplane, tearing and snapping with beak and claws. The machine yawed under their attack till it seemed it must turn over. Still, so far, Frank managed to keep it on an even keel.
"Bang! bang!" cracked the rifles again and again, but the loud angry cries of the birds almost drowned the sharp sound of the artillery.
It was a battle in the clouds between a man-made bird and nature's fliers.
Suddenly Frank gave a shout.
"The dynamite bombs!"
Swiftly and cautiously Harry got one of the deadly explosives ready. They were provided with a cap that set them off when they encountered any solid substance, as, for instance, when they struck the earth, but a small, mechanical contrivance enabled them to be adjusted also so that they could be exploded in midair.
"Isn't there danger of upsetting the aeroplane?" gasped Billy, as he saw the preparations.
"We'll have to chance that," was Harry's brisk response, "the birds are too much for us."
As he spoke he leaned out from the chassis and hurled the bomb high in the air. As he cast it out there was a slight click as the automatic exploder set itself.
"Hold tight," shouted Frank, setting the sinking planes.
The aeroplane rushed downward like a stone. Suddenly a terrific roar filled the air and the boys felt as if their ear drums would be fractured. The aeroplane swayed dizzily and Frank worked desperately at his levers and adjusters.
For one terrible moment it seemed that the Golden Eagle was doomed to destruction, but the brave craft righted herself and soared on.
The bomb had done its work.
Of the huge flock of condors that had attacked the Golden Eagle only a bare dozen or so remained. The rest had been killed or wounded by the bomb. The survivors were far too terrified to think of pursuing the boys and their craft further.
"Thank goodness we have escaped that peril," exclaimed Harry, as they sailed onward through the air; "who would ever have thought that such birds would have attacked an aeroplane."
"They frequently, so naturalists say, carry off babies and small animals to their rocky nests," was Frank's response, "and birds as bold as that I suppose resented the appearance of what seemed another and larger bird in their realm."
For an hour more the aeroplane soared and wheeled above the baking hot plains intersected by their deep gullies, but without result. The boys with sinking hearts were beginning to conclude that the professor had been carried off and hidden beyond hope of recovery, when Harry, who had been peering ahead through the glasses, indicated a distant spot behind a ridge with much excitement.
"I can see a horse tethered there," he cried.
The aeroplane was at once shot off in that direction and soon all doubt that they were in the vicinity of a band of Patagonians vanished. As the air craft rushed forward several tethered horses became visible and a column of smoke was seen rising from a deep gully behind the ridge. No doubt the Patagonians thought themselves well hid.
So secure did they feel, seemingly, that not even a sentry was visible.
"Do you think they are the same band that kidnapped the professor?" asked Billy.
"There's not much doubt of it," said Frank.
"At any rate we shall soon see," concluded Harry, as the aeroplane shot directly above the encampment of the giant Patagonians. Gazing downward the boys could see one of the savages, a huge figure more than six feet tall, in a feather mantle and armed with a formidable looking spear, pacing up and down, as if he were a chief of some kind. This belief was confirmed when one of the other tribesmen approached the man in the long cloak and addressed something to him with a low obeisance. Frank had by this time put the muffler in operation and throttled down the engine so that the aeroplane swung in lazy circles above the Patagonians, entirely unnoticed by them.
While they gazed the boys saw a figure led from a rude tent by several of the Patagonians, of whom there seemed to be two or three hundred in the camp. Instantly a loud yelling went up and several of the natives began a sort of dance, shaking their spears menacingly and wrapping their feather cloaks tightly about their tall figures.
"It's the professor!" shouted Frank, indicating the captive who had been taken from the tent.
"They are going to burn him alive!" shouted Harry in a voice of horror the next moment, pointing to the fire.
Indeed, it seemed so. The Patagonians began piling fresh bundles of wood on their fire, the smoke of which the boys had seen from far off. Their savage yells and cries filled the air.
Six of the huge warriors picked up the unfortunate professor, who was bound hand and foot, and were preparing to carry him toward the fire when there came a startling interruption to their plans.
With a roar as if the desolate mountains about them were toppling about their ears one of the dynamite bombs carried by the boys was dropped and exploded a short distance from the camp. A huge hole was torn in the earth and a great cloud of dust arose.
Shrieks and cries filled the air and, although none of them was hurt, the Patagonians rushed about like ants when some one has stirred up their nests. Suddenly one of them happened to look upwards and gave a wild yell.
Instantly the tribesmen, without waiting to pick up any of their possessions, fled for their horses and mounting them rode out of sight without daring to look round. To accelerate their progress the boys sent another dynamite bomb and two rockets after them, and then descended to pick up the professor who, bound as he was, had been left on the ground and was quite as much in the dark as to what he owed his escape to as the Indians were.
"Oh, boys!" he exclaimed, as the machine glided to earth and the boys stepped out, "you were just in time. I really believe they meant to make soup out of me. They were worse than the electric ray, a great deal. Oh, dear, I wish I had obeyed Captain Hazzard, but I wanted to get a specimen of a Patagonian dog-flea. They are very rare."
"Did you get one?" asked Frank, laughing in spite of himself at the woe-begone figure of the professor, who, his bonds having been cut, now stood upright with his spectacles perched crookedly on his nose.
"I did not," moaned the man of science, who seemed more grieved over his failure to collect the rare specimen than he did over his own narrow escape, "there is every other kind of flea around here, though, I found that out while I was in the tent."
"Come, we had better be going," said Frank at length, after they had explored the camp and picked up some fine feather robes and curious weapons which the Patagonians had left behind them in their hurry to escape.
"The Patagonians might take it into their heads to come back and attack us and then we should be in a serious fix."
All agreed that it was wise not to linger too long in the camp and so a few minutes later the Golden Eagle was sent into the air again, this time with an added passenger.
"Dear me, this is very remarkable," said the professor, "quite like flying. I feel like a bird," and he flapped his long arms till the boys had to laugh once more at the comical man of learning.
As they flew along the professor explained to them that after he had taken the boat he had heard a dog barking ashore, and being confident that the Patagonians were friendly people and that it was a Patagonian dog he heard, he determined to do some exploring in search of the Patagonian dog-flea. He had only crawled a few steps from the river bank, however, when he felt himself seized and carried swiftly away. It was then that he had fired the shot the boys heard. Later he had managed to break loose and then had discharged his revolver some more, without hitting anybody, however.
The Patagonians had then bound him and tied him to the back of a horse and rapidly borne him into the interior. They might not have meant any harm to him at first, he thought, but when they found him examining a dog with great care they were convinced the simple-minded old man was a witch doctor and at once sentenced him to be burned to death.
"How about your friend that said that the Patagonians were a friendly race?" asked Billy, as the professor concluded his narrative.
"I shall write a book exposing his book," said the professor, with great dignity.
Nothing more occurred till, as they drew near the ships, Frank waved his handkerchief and the others fired their revolvers in token of the fact that they had been successful in their quest. In reply to these joyous signals the rapid-fire gun of the Southern Cross was fired and the air was so full of noise that any Patagonians within twenty miles must have fled in terror.
The professor, looking very shamefaced, was summoned to Captain Hazzard's cabin soon after he had arrived on board and put on clean garments. What was said to him nobody ever knew, but he looked downcast as one of his own bottled specimens when he left the cabin. By sundown, however, he had quite recovered his spirits and had to be rescued from the claws of a big lobster he had caught and which grabbed him by the toe as soon as he landed it on deck.
In the meantime the aeroplane was "taken down" and packed up once more while the boys came in for warm congratulations on the successful outcome of their aerial dash to the rescue. Captain Hazzard himself sent for them and complimented them highly on their skill and courage.
"I shall mention your achievement in the despatches I shall send north by the Brutus," he said in conclusion to the happy boys.
The damage to her bow being repaired, there was nothing more to keep the Southern Cross and her escort in the dreary river, and with no regrets at leaving such a barren, inhospitable country behind them, the pole-seekers weighed anchor early the next day.
Ever southward they forged till the weather began to grow chilly and warm garments were served out to the men from the storerooms of the Southern Cross. To the boys the cold was welcome, as it meant that they were approaching the goal of their journey.
Captain Barrington doubled watches day and night now, for at any moment they might expect an encounter with a huge iceberg. In the antarctic these great ice mountains attain such bulk that they could crush the most powerful ship like an eggshell. It behooves all mariners venturing into those regions, therefore, to keep a most careful lookout for them.
One day soon after dinner, while the boys were on the fore peak chatting with Ben Stubbs, the old bos'n suddenly elevated his nose, drew in a long breath and announced:
"I smell ice."
Recollecting that Ben had said that he "smelled land" on another memorable occasion, the boys checked their disposition to laugh, although the professor, who was trying to dissect a strange little fish he had caught the day before, ridiculed the idea.
"Ice being a substance consisting of frozen water and without odor, what you say is a contradiction in terms," he pronounced with much solemnity.
"All right, professor," said Ben, with a wink at the boys, "maybe ice ain't as easy to tell as an electric ray, but just the same I'm an old whaling man and I can smell ice as far as you can smell beefsteak frying."
This was touching on the scientist's weak spot, for like many men of eminence, he was nevertheless fond of a good dinner and his alacrity in answering meal calls had become a joke on board.
"You are arguing 'ad hominum,' my dear sir," spoke the professor with dignity. "Ice and beefsteak have no affinity for one another, nor do they partake of the same qualities or analyses."
Whatever Ben might have said to this crushing rejoinder was lost forever, for at this moment there was a great disturbance in the water a short distance from the ship. The boys saw a whale's huge dark form leap from the waves not forty feet from the bow and settle back with a crash that sent the water flying up in the air like a fountain.
"Whale ho!" shouted Ben, greatly excited. "Hullo," he exclaimed the next instant, "now you'll see some fighting worth seeing."
As he spoke, a form dimly seen, so near to the surface was it, rushed through the water and crashed headlong into the whale.
"What is it, another whale?" asked Billy.
"No, it's a monster sword-fish," cried Ben, "and they are going to fight."
The water grew crimson as the sword-fish plunged his cruel weapon into the great whale's side, but the monster itself, maddened by its wound, the next instant charged the sword-fish. Its great jaws opened wide as it rushed at its smaller enemy, for which however, it was no match,—for the sword-fish doubled and swam rapidly away. The next instant it dived, and coming up rammed the whale with its sword once more. With a mighty leap the sea monster mounted clear of the water once more, the blood spouting from its wounds.
But its strength was gone and it crashed heavily downward while it was in mid-spring. A warning shout from Ben called the attention of everybody who had been watching the fight to a more imminent danger to the ship. The giant cetacean in falling to its death had struck the towing cable and snapped it under its huge bulk as if the stout hawser had been a pack thread.
"We are adrift," shouted Captain Barrington, rushing forward with Captain Hazzard by his side.
Another cry of alarm mingled with his as he uttered it.
"The iceberg!" cried Ben.
The old sailor pointed ahead and there, like a huge ghost drifting toward them, was a mighty structure of ice—the first berg the boys had ever seen. With its slow advance came another peril. The air grew deathly cold and a mist began to rise from the chilled sea.
"Signal the Brutus!" shouted Captain Barrington, but the fires had been extinguished on the Southern Cross when she was taken in tow, and she had nothing to signal with but her rapid firing gun. This was fired again and again and soon through the mist there came back the low moan of the siren of the Brutus.
"They won't dare to put back after us in this," exclaimed Captain Barrington, as he stood on the bridge with the boys beside him, "we shall have to drift helplessly here till the iceberg passes or—"
"Until we are crushed," put in Captain Hazzard quietly, "wouldn't it be as well to have the boats made ready for lowering," he went on.
"A good idea," agreed Captain Barrington. Ben Stubbs was summoned aft and told to give the necessary orders, and soon the men were at work clearing the life-boats in case things should come to the worst.
The mist grew momentarily denser and the cold more intense, yet so critical was the situation that nobody thought of leaving the decks to don warmer clothing. The fog, caused by the immense berg chilling the warmer ocean currents, was now so thick that of the mighty berg itself they could perceive nothing. The knowledge that the peril was invisible did not make the minds of those on board the drifting vessel any the easier.
"If only we had steam we could get out of the berg's path," said Captain Barrington, stamping his foot.
"Couldn't we hoist sail," suggested Frank.
"There is no wind. I wish there were," replied the captain, "then it would blow this mist away and we could at least see where we are driving to."
In breathless silence and surrounded by the dense curtain of freezing mist the polar ship drifted helplessly on, those on board realizing that at any moment there might come the crash and disaster that would follow a collision with the monster berg.
Suddenly there came a shock that almost threw those on the bridge off their feet.
Hoarse cries and shouts sounded through the mist from the bow of the ship, which was no longer visible in the dense smother.
Above all the confused noises one rang out clear and terrible.
"The berg has struck us. We are sinking!" was the terrible cry.
THE SHIP OF OLAF THE VIKING.
"Stop all that confusion," roared Captain Barrington through his megaphone, which he had snatched from its place on the bridge.
Silence instantly followed, only to be succeeded by a tearing and rending sound.
The rigging of the foremast had caught in a projecting ridge of the berg and was being torn out. The ship trembled and shook as if a giant hand was crushing her, but so far her heavy timbers seemed to have stood the shock. Presently the noises ceased and the air began to grow less chilly.
"I believe we are free of the berg!" shouted Captain Hazzard.
The rapid clearing away of the dense fog that had hung like a pall about the seemingly doomed ship confirmed this belief. By great good fortune the Southern Cross had been spared the fate of many ships that venture into the polar seas, and the boys gazing backward from the bridge could see the mighty berg, looking as huge as a cathedral, slowly increasing its distance from them, as it was borne along on the current.
"Hurrah, we are safe!" cried Harry.
"Don't be too sure," warned Captain Barrington. "I hope we are, but the vessel will have to be examined before we can be certain. In any event our foremast and bowsprit are sad wrecks."
The portions of the ship he referred to were, indeed, badly damaged. The shrouds supporting the foremast had been ripped out by the berg on the port or left hand side of the vessel, and her jibboom had been snapped off short where the berg struck her. Two boats had, besides, been broken and the paint scraped off the polar ship's sides.
"We look like a wreck," exclaimed Billy.
"We may think ourselves lucky we got off so easily," said Captain Barrington, "we have just gone through the deadliest peril an antarctic ship can undergo."
The Brutus now came gliding up, and after congratulations had been exchanged between the two ships, a new hawser was rigged and the Southern Cross was once more taken in tow.
"I don't want any more encounters with icebergs," said Billy, as the ship proceeded toward her goal once more.
"Nor I," spoke the others.
"It's a pity this isn't at the north pole," said the professor, who was varnishing dried fish in the cabin, where this conversation took place.
"Why?" asked Frank.
"Because, if it had been, there might have been a polar bear on that iceberg. I have read that sometimes they drift away on bergs that become detached and are sighted by steamers quite far south."
"Why,—do you want a polar bear skin," asked Billy, "you can buy lots of them in New York."
"Oh, I don't care about the polar bear," said the professor quickly, "but the creatures have a kind of flea on them that is very rare."
At the idea of hunting such great animals as polar bears for such insignificant things as fleas, the boys all had to laugh. The professor, who was very good-natured, was not at all offended.
"Small animals are sometimes quite as interesting as large ones," was all he said.
The next day the rigging and bowsprit were refitted and further and further south steamed the Brutus with the polar ship in tow. The fires of the Southern Cross had now been started and her acetylene gas plant started going as the heat and light were needed. Icebergs were now frequently met with and the boys often remained on deck at night, snugly wrapped in furs, to watch the great masses of ice drift by.
Although they were as dangerous as ever, now that the ships were in cooler water the bergs did not create a fog as they did in the warmer region further north. By keeping a sharp lookout during the day and using the searchlights at night, Captain Barrington felt fairly confident of avoiding another encounter with an ice mountain. The damage the ship had sustained in her narrow escape from annihilation had proved quite difficult to repair, though before the vessel reached the sixtieth parallel it had been adjusted.
"Well, boys," announced Captain Hazzard one day at noon, "we are now not more than three hundred miles from the Great Barrier."
"Beyond which lies the polar mystery," exclaimed Frank.
Captain Hazzard glanced at him quickly.
"Yes, the polar mystery," he repeated, "perhaps now is as good a time as any for telling you boys the secret of this voyage. Come to my cabin and I will tell you one of the objects of our expedition, which hitherto has been kept a secret from all but the officers."
The excitement of the boys may be imagined as they followed the captain to his cabin and seated themselves on a seat arranged above the radiator.
"It's the ship of Olaf," whispered Billy to Harry.
"Of course," began Captain Hazzard, "the main object of this expedition is to plant the flag of the United States at 'furthest south,' even if not at the pole itself."
"And to capture a South Polar flea and a fur-bearing pollywog," put in the professor, who had included himself in the invitation to the boys.
"Exactly," smiled the captain, "but there is still another object scarcely of less importance than the ones that I and the professor," he added with a smile, "have enumerated."
"You boys have all heard of the daring rovers who set out centuries ago in their ships to explore unknown oceans?"
The boys nodded.
"You mean the Vikings?" asked Frank.
"Yes," replied the captain. "Well, some time ago a member of one of our great scientific bodies, while traveling in Sweden, discovered in a remote village an odd legend concerning some sailors who claimed to have seen an old Viking ship frozen in the ice near the Great Barrier. They were poor and superstitious whalemen and did not dare to disturb it, but they brought home the story."
"And you think the ship is still there," broke in Harry.
"If they really saw such a thing there is every reason to suppose that it is," rejoined the lieutenant. "In the ice anything might be preserved almost indefinitely. Providing the yarn of the whalemen is true, we now come to the most interesting part of the story. The scientist, who has a large acquaintance among librarians and custodians of old manuscripts in European libraries, happened to mention one night to a friend what he had heard in the little Norwegian fishing village. His friend instantly surprised him by declaring that he had an idea what the ship was.
"To make a long story short, he told him that years before, while examining some manuscripts in Stockholm, he had read an account of a Viking ship that in company with another had sailed for what must have been the extreme South Pacific. One of the ships returned laden with ivory and gold, which latter may have been obtained from some mine whose location has long since been lost, but the other never came back. That missing ship was the ship of Olaf the Rover, and as her consort said, she had last been seen in the South Pacific. The manuscript said that the returned rovers stated that they had become parted from the ship of Olaf in a terrific gale amid much ice and great ice mountains. That must have meant the antarctic regions. This much they do know, that Olaf's ship was stripped of her sails and helpless when they were compelled by stress of weather to abandon her. It is my theory and the theory of a man high in the government, who has authorized me to make this search, that the ship of Olaf was caught in a polar current and that the story heard so many years after about the frozen ship in the ice is true."
"Then somewhere down there along the Great Barrier there is a Viking ship full of ivory and gold, you believe?" asked Frank.
"I do," said the captain.
"And the ice has preserved it all intact?" shouted Billy.
"If the ship is there at all she is undoubtedly preserved exactly as she entered the great ice," was the calm reply.
"Gosh!" was the only thing Billy could think of to say.
"Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it?" gasped Harry.
"Maybe some Viking fleas got frozen up, too," chirped the professor, hopefully. "What a fine chance for me if we find the ship."
"Have you the latitude and longitude in which the whalers saw the frozen vessel?" asked Frank.
"I have them, yes," replied the captain, "and when the winter is over we will set out on a search for it. On our march toward the pole that will make only a slight detour."
"Was it for this that you wanted to have our aeroplane along?" asked Frank, his eyes sparkling.
"Yes," was the reply, "in an airship you can skim high above the ice-fields and at a pace that would make an attempt to cover unknown tracts on foot ridiculous. If the Viking ship is to be found it will have to be your achievement."
Captain Hazzard was called out on deck at this juncture and the boys, once he was out of the room, joined in a war dance round the swinging cabin table.
"Boys, will you take me along when you go?" asked the professor anxiously. "If there is any chance of getting a Viking flea I would like to. It would make my name famous. I could write a book about it, too."
"But you've got a book to write already about the Patagonians," objected Frank.
"Bless me, so I have," exclaimed the absent-minded old man. "However that can wait. A Viking flea would be a novelty indeed."
At this moment loud tramplings on the deck overhead and shouts apprised them that something out of the ordinary must be occurring. Just as they were about to emerge from the cabin the captain rushed in. He seemed much excited.
"My fur coat, quick," he cried, seizing the garment from Frank, who had snatched it from its peg and handed it to him.
"What has happened?" asked Frank.
The words had hardly left his lips before there came a terrible grinding and jarring and the Southern Cross came to a standstill. Her bow seemed to tilt up, while her stern sank, till the cabin floor attained quite a steep slope.
"What can be the matter?" cried the professor, as he dashed out after the boys and the captain, the latter of whom had been much too excited to answer Frank's question.
MAROONED ON AN ICE FLOE.
"We have struck a polar reef!"
It was Captain Barrington who uttered these words after a brief examination.
"Do you think we will be able to get off?" Frank asked Ben Stubbs, who with the boys and the rest of the crew was in the bow peering down at what appeared to be rocks beneath the vessel's bow, except that their glitter in the lanterns that were hung over the side showed that the ship was aground on solid ice.
"Hard to say," pronounced Ben. "These polar reefs are bad things. They float along a little below the surface and many a ship that has struck them has had her bottom ripped off before you could say 'knife.'"
"Are we seriously damaged?" asked Billy, anxiously gazing at the scared faces around him.
"I hope not," said the old salt; "there is one thing in our favor and that is that we were being towed so that our bow was raised quite a bit, and instead of hitting the ice fair and square we glided up on top of it."
Another point in favor of the ship's getting off was that there had been no time to reshift the cargo, which, it will be recalled, had been stowed astern when her bow was sprung off Patagonia, so that she rode "high by the head," as sailors say. So far as they could see in the darkness about twenty feet of her bow had driven up onto the polar reef. The Brutus had stopped towing in response to the signal gun of the Southern Cross in time to prevent the towing-bitts being rooted out bodily or the cable parting.
"There is nothing to be done till daylight," pronounced Captain Barrington, after an examination of the hold had shown that the vessel was perfectly dry. "The glass indicates fair weather and we'll have to stay where we are till we get daylight."
Little sleep was had by any aboard that night, and bright and early in the morning the boys, together with most of the crew, were on deck and peering over the bow. The day was a glorious one with the temperature at two below zero. The sun sparkled and flashed on the great ice-reef on which they had grounded, and which in places raised crested heads above the greenish surface of the sea.
No water had been taken on in the night, to the great relief of the captain, and soon a string of gaudy signal flags were set which notified the Brutus, lying at anchor about a mile away, to stand by. The hawser had been cast off over night and so the Brutus was free to steam to any position her captain thought advisable. As soon as the signalling was completed he heaved anchor and stood for a point about half-a-mile to the leeward of the Southern Cross, where he came to anchor once more.
Breakfast, a solid meal as befitted the latitude in which they were, was hastily despatched and the boys bundled themselves up in polar clothes and hurried out on deck to see what was going forward. Captain Barrington, after a short consultation with Captain Hazzard, decided to order out boat parties to explore the length and depth of the ice-reef so that he could make plans to free his ship off her prison.
The boys begged to be allowed to accompany one of the boat parties and so did the professor. Their requests were finally acceded to by the two captains and they formed part of the crew of Boat No. 3, in charge of Ben Stubbs.
"Wait a minute," shouted the professor, as, after the boat to which they were assigned lay ready for lowering, the boys clambered into her.
"What's the matter?" demanded the boys.
"I want to get my dredging bucket," exclaimed the man of science, "this is a fine opportunity for me to acquire some rare specimens."
He dived into his cabin, the two ends of his woolen scarf flying out behind him like the tail of some queer bird. He reappeared in a second with the bucket, an ordinary galvanized affair, but with a wire-net bottom and a long rope attached, to allow of it being dragged along the depths of the sea.
"All ready!" shouted Frank, as the professor clambered into the boat.
The "falls" rattled through the blocks and the boat struck the water with a splash, almost upsetting the professor, who was peering over the side through his thick spectacles as if he expected to see some queer polar fish at once. The crew swarmed down the "falls," and as Ben gave the order, pulled away for the outer end of the reef, the station assigned to them.
In accordance with their instructions when they arrived at the end of the reef, the crew, headed by Ben Stubbs, left the boat and tramping about on the slippery ice tried to ascertain its thickness and how far under water it extended. The boys soon tired of sitting idle in the boat and, as they had been forbidden to land on the treacherous ice of the reef, cast about for something to do. The professor soon provided a digression.
"Look there," he suddenly shouted, pointing at a black triangular shaped object that was moving about on the green water a short distance from the boat.
"What can it be?" wondered Billy.
"Some sort of rare fish, I don't doubt," rejoined the professor. "Let's row out and see."
The boys, nothing loath, shoved off, and as Ben and the crew of the boat were far too busy sounding and poking about on the reef to notice them, they rowed off unobserved.
The triangular object proved elusive, and after rowing some time, the boys found they had come quite a distance from the ship without getting much nearer to it. Suddenly a great, shining black back curved itself out of the water and the boys saw that the sharp triangular thing was an immense dorsal fin attached to the back of a species of whale they had not so far seen, although they had sighted many varieties since entering the Antarctic regions.
"Let's give it a shot," cried Billy, and before any one could stop him, the young reporter fired at the creature.
To their amazement, instead of diving, as do most whales when injured by a bullet or otherwise, the creature raised its blunt head and gazed at them out of a wicked little red eye.
"What—what—what's the matter with him do you suppose?" gasped Billy.
As he spoke the whale began lashing the water with its tail till the white foam spread all about it, slightly flecked with red here and there, in token that Billy's shot had struck it.
"I'm afraid that we are in for serious trouble," suddenly said the professor.
"Why, you don't mean that the creature is bold enough to attack us?" gasped Billy.
"That's just what I do," exclaimed the professor, apprehensively.
"The creature is a killer whale—an animal as ferocious as a shark and far more bold. I should have recognized what it was when I saw that sharp fin cruising about."
"We must row back," shouted Frank, and he and Harry sprang to the oars.
But they were too late. With a flashing whisk of its tail the ferocious killer whale dived, and when it came up its head was within twenty feet of the boat.
"Pull for that floe!" shouted the professor, pointing to a small island of ice floating about not far from them. It was their only chance of escape, and the boys gave way with a will. But pull as they would their enemy was faster than they. Just as the nose of their boat scraped the floe the great "killer" charged.
Frank had just time to spring onto the floe and drag Harry after him when the monster's head rammed the boat, splitting it to kindling wood with a terrible crackling sound. The stout timbers might as well have been a matchbox, so far as resistance to the terrific onslaught was concerned.
Billy jumped just as the boat collapsed under him, and gained the floe. But where was the professor?
For an instant the terrible thought that he had perished flashed across the boys' minds, but just then a cry made them look round, and they saw the unfortunate scientist, blue with cold and dripping with icy water, come clambering over the other side of the little floe on which they stood. He had been hurled out of the boat when the whale charged and cast into the water. His teeth were chattering so that he could hardly speak, but he still had his bucket, and insisted on examining it to see if any creatures had been caught in it when he took his involuntary plunge.
The whale, after its charge and the terrific bump with which it struck the boat, seemed to be stunned and lay quietly on the water a few feet from the floe, from which it had rebounded.
"I'll bet he's got a headache," exclaimed Billy.
"Headache or no headache, I don't see how we are going to get off this floe unless we can attract the attention of the ship, and we are drifting further away from it every minute," said Frank, gravely.
"Let's fire our pistols," suggested Billy.
"I didn't bring mine," said Frank.
"Nor I," said Harry.
"N-n-n-n-or I," chattered the shivering professor.
"Gee whitakers," shouted Billy, "and to top the bad luck, I left mine in the boat. I laid it on a seat after I had fired at the whale."
"B-b-b-b-boys, w-w-w-w-w-hat are we g-g-g-oing to d-d-d-do?" shivered the scientist.
"Shout," said Frank; "come on, all together."
They shouted at the tops of their voices, but in the clear polar air, rarified as it is, sound does not carry as well as in northern latitudes, and there was no response.
All the time the floe, slowly revolving in the current like a floating bottle, was drifting further and further from the ships. The situation was serious, and, moreover, the scientist was evidently suffering acutely, although he made no complaint, not wishing to add to their anxieties. Frank, however, insisted on their each shedding a garment for the professor's benefit, and although the scientist at first refused them, he finally consented to don the articles of dry apparel and seemed to be much comforted by their warmth.
Faster and faster the floe drifted, and they were now almost out of sight of the ships. The boys' faces, although they tried not to show their fear, grew very pale. There seemed to be no prospect of their being saved, and in the rigorous cold of that climate they knew they could not survive many hours without food or drink.
Suddenly Frank, who had been gloomily watching the progress of the floe, gave a shout of surprise.
"What's the matter?" said Harry.
"Are we g-g-g-g-going d-d-d-d-down?" gasped the professor.
DYNAMITING THE REEF.
"No," shouted the boy, "not that, but I think I see a chance of our being saved!"
"Have they seen us from the ships?" asked Billy.
"No, but the floe has struck a different current and we are drifting back."
"Are you s-s-s-sure of t-t-t-this?" asked the professor.
"Certain," replied Frank; "I have been watching the progress of other pieces of drifting ice and the current seems to take a distinct curve here and radiate backward toward the pole."
"Then we are saved—hurray!" shouted Billy, dancing about on the slippery ice, and falling headlong, in his excitement, on the treacherous footing it afforded.
"No use hollering till we are out of the woods," said Frank; "the current may make another turn before we land near the ships."
This checked the enthusiasm and the boys all fell to anxiously watching the course their floe was likely to pursue.
"There's our whale," shouted Billy, suddenly. "Look what a smash on the nose he got."
The great monster seemed to have recovered from its swoon and was now swimming in slow circles round the floe, eyeing the boys malevolently, but not offering to attack them. Evidently it was wondering, in its own mind, what it had struck when it collided with the boat and the floe.
The floe drifted onward, with the vessels' forms every moment growing larger to the boys' view. All at once a welcome sound rang out on the nipping polar air.
"They have missed us and are firing the gun," cried Frank.
"That's what," rejoined Billy; "and we are going to get a terrible lecture when we get back on board, too."
Soon the floe, drifting steadily southward, by the strange freak of the antarctic current, came in view of the lookouts on the ships, who had been posted as soon as the boys were missed. The boats were at once despatched, and headed for the little ice island.
The killer whale suddenly took it into his head, as the boats drew near, to try one more attack, but Dr. Watson Gregg, the ship's surgeon, who stood in the bow of the first boat, saw the ferocious monster coming and, with three quick bullets from a magazine rifle, ended the great brute's career forever. His huge, black bulk, with its whitish belly and great jaws, floated on the surface for a few minutes, and the boys estimated his length at about thirty feet.
"Room enough there to have swallowed us all up," commented Billy, as they gazed at the monster.
"Well, young men, what have you got to say for yourselves?" asked Dr. Gregg, as the boats drew alongside.
The boys all looked shamefaced as they got into the boat, and two sailors assisted the half-frozen professor into it. They realized that they had been guilty of a breach of discipline in taking off the boat, and that, moreover, their disobedience had cost the expedition one of its valuable assets, for there was no hope of ever putting the smashed craft together again.
On their return to the ship Captain Hazzard did not say much to them, but what he did say, as Billy remarked afterward, "burned a hole in you."
However, after a hearty dinner and a change of clothing, they all, even the professor—who seemed none the worse for the effects of his cold bath—cheered up a bit, more especially as Captain Barrington had announced that he had a plan for getting the ship off the reef. Ben Stubbs, who had, with his crew, been taken off the end of the obstruction by another boat, had announced that the depth of the obstruction did not seem to exceed twenty feet and its greatest width forty. Where the ship's bow rested the breadth was about thirty feet and the depth not more than twenty.
"My gracious," suddenly cried the professor as the boys came out from dinner; "I have suffered a terrible loss!"
His face was so grave, and he seemed so worried, that the boys inquired sympathetically what it was that he had lost.
"My bucket, my dredging bucket," wailed the scientist. "I was too cold to examine it thoroughly and I recollect now that I am sure it had some sort of sea-creatures in the bottom of it."
"What has become of it?" asked Frank, hardly able to keep from laughing.
"I left it on the ice floe," wailed the professor. "I must have it."
"Well, if it's on the floe it will have to stay there," remarked Frank. "There seems to be no way of getting it off."
"I wonder if the captain wouldn't send out some men in a boat to look for it," hopefully exclaimed the collector, suddenly.
"I shouldn't advise you to ask him," remarked Ben Stubbs, who just then came up, his arms laden with packages. "We've lost one boat through going after peppermints or specimints, or whatever you call 'em."
"Possibly, as you say, it would not be wise," agreed the professor; "never mind, perhaps I can catch a fur-bearing pollywog at the South Pole."
He seemed quite cheered up at this reflection and smiled happily at the thought of achieving his dream.
"What have you got there, Ben?" asked Billy, pointing to the queer-looking boxes and packages the boatswain was carrying.
"Dynamite, battery boxes, and fuses," replied the old sailor.
"Whatever for?" asked the young reporter. "Are you going to blow up the ship?"
"Not exactly, but we are going to blow her OUT."
"Dynamite the ice, you mean?"
"Hurray, we'll soon be free of the ice-drift," cried Harry, as they followed the boatswain forward and watched while he and several of the crew drilled holes in the ice and adjusted the dynamite on either side of the bow, at a distance of about two hundred feet from the ship in either direction.
Caps of fulminate of mercury were then affixed to the explosive and wires led from it to the battery boxes.
"How will that free us?" asked the professor, who, like most men who devote all their time to one subject, was profoundly ignorant of anything but deep sea life and natural history.
"It is the nature of dynamite to explode downwards," said Frank. "When that charge is set off it will blow the ice away on either side and we shall float freely once more."
"Wonderful," exclaimed the professor. "I had better get my deep sea net. The explosion may kill some curious fish when it goes off."
He hurried away to get the article in question, while the boys stood beside Captain Hazzard, who was about to explode the heavy charges. Everybody was ordered to hold tight to something, and then the commander pushed the switch.
A mighty roar followed and the ship seemed to rise in the air. But only for an instant. The next minute she settled back and those on board her broke out in a cheer as they realized that they once more floated free of the great ice-reef.
The two ends of the obstruction having been blown off by the dynamite, the center portion was not buoyant enough to support the weight of the Southern Cross, and went scraping and bumping beneath her to bob up harmlessly to the surface at her stern.
There was only one dissenting voice in the general enthusiasm that reigned on board at the thought that they were now able to proceed, and that was the professor's. He had been untangling a forgotten rare specimen of deep-sea lobster from his net, when the explosion came.
In his agitation at the vessel's sudden heave and the unexpected noise, he had let his hand slip and the creature had seized him by the thumb. With a roar of pain the professor flung it from him and it flopped overboard.
"Hurray! we are off the reef, professor," shouted Frank, running aft to help adjust a stern cable that had been thrown out when the Southern Cross grounded.
"So I see, but I have lost a rare specimen of deep-sea lobster," groaned the professor, peering over the side of the ship to see if there were any hope of recapturing his prize.
The anchor of the Southern Cross was dropped to hold her firmly while the steel hawser was reconnected with the Brutus, and soon the coal ship and her consort were steaming steadily onward toward the Barrier and the polar night.
It grew steadily colder, but the boys did not mind the exhilarating atmosphere. They had games of ball and clambered about in the rigging, and kept in a fine glow in this way. The professor tried to join them at these games, but a tumble from halfway up the slippery main shrouds into a pile of snow, in which he was half smothered, soon checked his enthusiasm, and he thereafter devoted himself to classifying his specimens.
Great albatross now began to wheel round the vessel and the sailors caught some of the monster white and gray birds with long strings to which they had attached bits of bread and other bait. These were flung out into the air and the greedy creatures, making a dive for them, soon found themselves choking. They were then easily hauled to deck. Captain Hazzard, who disliked unnecessary cruelty, had given strict orders that the birds were to be released after their capture, and this was always done. The birds, however, seemed in no wise to profit by their lessons, for one bird, on the leg of which a copper ring had been placed to identify him, was captured again and again.
The professor, particularly, was interested in this sport, and devised a sort of lasso with a wire ring in it, with which he designed to capture the largest of the great birds, a monster with a wing spread of fully ten feet. Day after day he patiently coaxed the creature near with bits of bread, but the bird, with great cunning, came quite close to get the bread, but as soon as it saw the professor getting ready to swing his "lariat" it vanished.
"Ah-ha, my beauty, I'll get you yet," was all the professor said on these occasions. His patience was marvelous.
One day, as the ships were plunging along through ice-strewn seas, not far to the eastward of the inhospitable and bleak Shetland Islands, the professor accomplished his wish, and nearly ended his own career simultaneously.
The boys, who were amidships talking to Ben Stubbs, were apprised by a loud yell that something unusual was occurring aft, and ran quickly in that direction. There they saw a strange sight. The professor, with his feet hooked into a deck ring, was holding with both hands to the end of his lasso, while the albatross, which he had at last succeeded in looping, was flapping with all its might to escape.
"Help, help, he'll pull me overboard," screamed the professor.
"Let go the halliards!" roared Ben, who saw that there was, indeed, danger of what the professor feared happening.
"I can't let him escape. Help me!" yelled the professor.
"My feet are slipping!" he went on.
"Let go of the albatross," shouted the boys, who with Ben were hastening up the ladder leading to the raised stern. It did not look, however, as if they could reach there before the professor was carried overboard like the tail of a kite, by the huge bird he had lassoed.
Suddenly, with a howl of terror, the professor, who never seemed to entertain the thought of letting go of the bird, was jerked from his foothold by a sudden lurch of the ship.
Ben Stubbs was just in time. He sprang forward with wonderful agility and seized the professor's long legs just as the man of science was being pulled over the rail into space by the great albatross.
"Let go, dod gast you!" he bellowed, jerking the lasso out of the professor's hands, while the albatross went flapping off, a long streamer of rope hanging from its neck.
"I've lost my albatross," wailed the scientist.
"And blamed near lost yer own life," angrily exclaimed Ben. "Why didn't you let go?"
"Why, then I'd have lost the bird," said the professor, simply. "But I thank you for saving my life."
"Well, don't go doin' such fool things again," said Ben, angrily, for he had feared that he would not be in time to save the bigoted scientist's life.
The professor, however, was quite unruffled, and went about for some hours lamenting the loss of the huge antarctic bird. He consoled himself later, however, by shooting a beautiful little snow petrel, which he stuffed and mounted and presented to Ben Stubbs, who was quite mollified by the kind-hearted, if erratic, professor's gift.
A POLAR STORM.
Early in February the voyagers, whose progress had been slow, found themselves in a veritable sea of "Pancake ice." Everywhere in a monotonous waste the vast white field seemed to stretch, with only a few albatrosses and petrels dotting its lonely surface. The thermometer dropped to ten below zero, and the boys found the snug warmth of the steam-heated cabins very desirable. There was a fair wind, and sail had been set on the Southern Cross to aid the work of towing her, and she was driving through the ice with a continuous rushing and crashing sound that at first was alarming, but to which her company soon grew accustomed.
Captain Barrington announced at noon that day that they were then in lat. 60 degrees 28 minutes, and longitude 59 degrees 20 minutes West—bearings which showed that they would be, before many days had past, at the Great Barrier itself. Excitement ran high among the boys at the receipt of this news, and Frank and Harry, who had fitted up a kind of work-room in the warmed hold, worked eagerly at their auto-sledge, which was expected to be of much use in transporting heavy loads to and from the ship to the winter quarters.
Before the two vessels reached the Barrier, however, they were destined to encounter a spell of bad weather.
One evening Ben Stubbs announced to the boys, who had been admiring a sunset of a beauty seldom seen in northern climes, that they were in for a hard blow, and before midnight his prediction was realized. Frank awoke in his bunk, to find himself alternately standing, as it seemed, on his head and his feet. The Southern Cross was evidently laboring heavily and every plank and bolt in her was complaining. Now and again a heavy sea would hit the rudder with a force that threatened to tear it from its pintles, solidly though it was contrived.
Somewhat alarmed, the boy aroused the others, and they hastened out on deck. As they emerged from the cabin the wind seemed to blow their breath back into their bodies and an icy hand seemed to grip them. It was a polar-storm that was raging in all its fury.
As she rose on a wave, far ahead the boys could see the lights of the Brutus. Only for a second, however, for the next minute she would vanish in the trough of a huge comber, and then they could hear the strained towing cable "twang" like an overstretched piano wire.
"Will it hold?" That was the thought in the minds of all.
In order to ease the hawser as much as possible, Captain Barrington, when he had noted the drop of the barometer, had ordered a "bridle," or rope attachment, placed on the end of the cable, so as to give it elasticity and lessen the effect of sudden strains, but the mountainous seas that pounded against the blunt bows of the Southern Cross were proving the stout steel strand to the uttermost.
The boys tried to speak, but their words were torn from their lips by the wind and sent scattering. In the dim light they could see the forms of the sailors hurrying about the decks fastening additional lashings to the deck cargo and making things as snug as possible.
Suddenly there came a shout forward, followed by a loud "bang!" that made itself audible even above the roar of the hurricane.
The cable had parted!
Considering the mountainous seas in which they were laboring and the violence of the storm, this was a terrifying piece of intelligence.
It meant that at any moment they might drift helplessly into some mighty berg and be crushed like an egg-shell on its icy sides. Captain Barrington muffled up in polar clothes and oilskins, rushed past the boys like a ghost and ran forward shouting some order. The first and second officers followed him.
Presently the voice of the rapid-fire gun was heard, and the boys could see its sharp needles of white fire splitting the black night.
A blue glare far away answered the explosions. It was the Brutus signaling her consort. But that was all she could do. In the terrific sea that was running it would have been impossible to rig a fresh cable. The only thing for the two ships to do was to keep burning flare lights, in order that they might keep apart and not crash together in the tempest.
"Shall we go down, do you think?" asked Billy, shivering in spite of himself, as a huge wave towered above them as if it would engulf the polar ship, and then as she rose gallantly to its threatening bulk, went careening away to leeward as if angry at being cheated of its prey.
"We can only hope for the best," said a voice at his elbow. It was Captain Hazzard. "I have implicit confidence in Captain Barrington. He is a sailor of rare mettle."
These remarks were shouted at the top of the two speakers' voices, but they sounded, in the midst of the turbulent uproar that raged about them, like the merest whispers.
Time and again it seemed that one of the great waves that came sweeping out of the darkness must engulf them, but so far the Southern Cross rode them like a race-horse, rising pluckily to them as they rushed at her. Captain Barrington and his officers were trying to get some headsail put on the vessel to keep her head up to the huge waves, but they were unwilling to imperil any one's life by ordering him out on the plunging bowsprit, that was now reared heavenward and again plunged downward as if pointing to the bottom of the sea.
Ben Stubbs it was who finally volunteered to crawl out, and two other American seamen followed him. They succeeded, although in deadly peril half a dozen times, in getting the jib gaskets cast loose, and then crawled back half frozen to receive the warm plaudits of the officers and more substantial rewards later on. With her jib hoisted, the Southern Cross made better weather of it, but the seas were fast becoming more mountainous and threatening. The wind screeched through the rigging like a legion of demons. To add to the turmoil some casks got loose and went rolling and crashing about till they finally went overboard as a great wave toppled aboard.
"We must see how the professor is getting on," said, or rather yelled, Frank suddenly.
He and the boys entered the cabin structure aft, which seemed warm and cosy with its light and warmth after the turmoil of the terrific battle of the elements outside.
But a prolonged search failed to reveal any trace of the man of science.
Where could he be?
A scrutiny of his cabin, even looking under the bunk, failed to reveal him. The boys began to fear he might have been swept overboard, when suddenly Frank exclaimed:
"Perhaps he is in his laboratory."
"Hiding there?" asked Billy.
"No, I don't think so. The professor, whatever his oddities may be, is no coward," rejoined Frank.
"No, his search for the Patagonian dog-flea proved that," agreed Harry.
Frank lost no time in opening the trap-door in the floor of the main cabin, which led into what had formerly been the "valuables room" of the Southern Cross, but which had been fitted up now as a laboratory for the professor.
"There's a light burning in it," announced Frank, as he peered down.
"Oh, professor—Professor Sandburr, are you there?" he shouted the next moment.
"What is it? Is the ship going down?" came back from the depths in the voice of the professor. He seemed as calm as if it was a summer's day.
"No, but she is having a terrible fight with the waves," replied the boy.
"She has broken loose from the towing ship. The cable has snapped!" added Harry.
"Is that so?" asked the professor calmly. "Will you boys come down here for a minute? I want to see you."
Wondering what their eccentric friend could possibly wish in the way of conversation at such a time, the boys, not without some difficulty, clambered down the narrow ladder leading into the professor's den. They found him balancing himself on his long legs and trying to secure his bottles and jars, every one of which held some queer creature preserved in alcohol. The boys aided him in adjusting emergency racks arranged for such a purpose, but not before several bottles had broken and several strange-looking snakes and water animals, emitting a most evil smell, had fallen on the floor. These the professor carefully gathered up, though it was hard work to stand on the plunging floor, and placed in new receptacles. He seemed to place great value on them.
"So," he said finally, "you think the ship may go down?"
"We hope for the best, but anything may happen," rejoined Frank; "we are in a serious position. Practically helpless, we may drift into a berg at any moment."
"In that case we would sink?"
"Almost to a certainty."
"Then I want you to do something for me. Will you?"
The boys, wondering greatly what could be coming next, agreed readily to the old scientist's wish. Thereupon he drew out three slips of paper. He handed one to each of the boys.
"I wrote these out when I first thought there was danger of our sinking," he said.
The boys looked at the writing on their slips. They were all the same, and on each was inscribed:
"The man who told me that the Patagonians were a friendly race is a traitor to science. I, Professor Simeon Sandburr, brand him a teller of untruths. For Professor Thomas Tapper, who told me about the fur-bearing pollywog of the South Polar seas, I have the warmest respect. I leave all my books, bottled fishes and reptiles to the Smithsonian Institute. My servant, James, may have my stuffed Wogoliensuarious. My sister is to have my entire personal and real estate. This is my last will and testament.
"What are we to do with these papers?" asked Frank, hardly able, even in the serious situation in which they then were, to keep from laughing.
"One of you boys may escape, even if the ship does go down," said the professor, gravely: "If any of us should get back to civilization I want the world to know that the Patagonians are not a friendly race, and that I died hoping to capture the fur-bearing pollywog of the South Polar seas."
At this moment a sudden shock hurled them headlong against the glass-filled shelves, smashing several bottles and releasing the slimy, finny contents, and sending them all in a heap on the floor.
"We have struck something!" cried Frank.
"Something terrible has happened!" shouted Harry and Billy.
"We are sinking, boys," yelled the professor; "don't forget my last will and testament."
THE GREAT BARRIER.
To rush on deck was the work of a few moments. If it was a scene of confusion the boys had left, the sight that now met their eyes was far more turbulent.
"The boats! the boats! We are sinking!"
"We are going down!"
"The iceberg has sunk us!"
These and a hundred other cries of terror filled the air, for the wind seemed to have died down, though the sea still ran high, and sounds were now more audible. Off to the starboard side of the ship the boys perceived a mighty towering form, which they knew must be the iceberg they had encountered. The crew fought madly for the boats.
Suddenly a sharp voice rang out:
"I'll shoot the first man that lays a hand on the boats!"
It was Captain Barrington. He stood on the stern deck steadying himself against the rail. In his hands gleamed two revolvers. Beside him stood Captain Hazzard, a look of stern determination on his face. Ben Stubbs and several other seamen, who had not lost their heads, were grouped behind them prepared to quell any onslaught on the boats.
The members of the crew, who had become panic-stricken when the helpless ship encountered the iceberg, paused and looked shamefaced.
"We've a right to save our lives," they muttered angrily.
"And prove yourselves cowards," exclaimed Captain Barrington. "You ought to be ashamed to bear the names of American seamen! Get forward, all of you, and let me see no more of this."
The stern voice of their commander and his evident command of himself reassured the panic-stricken crew and they withdrew to the forecastle. Their shame was the more keen when it was found that, while the Southern Cross had been severely bumped by the iceberg, her stout timbers had sustained no damage.
By daybreak the sea had calmed down somewhat, and the wind had still further moderated. But the danger was by no means over till they could get in communication with the Brutus. Frank was set to work on the wireless and soon "raised" the towing ship, the captain of which was delighted to hear of his consort's safety. The position of the Southern Cross being ascertained, her bearings were wirelessed to the Brutus, and she then cast anchor to await the arrival of the towing ship.
As the line was once more made fast, having been spliced till it was as strong as new, the professor came up to the boys. He looked rather sheepish.
"Would you mind giving me back those papers I gave you last night," he said.
"You mean the last will and testament?" Frank could not help saying.
"That's it. I have changed my mind. I will show up that Patagonian fellow in a book."
The professor, as he received the little slips of paper, scattered them into tiny bits and threw them overboard.
"You are quite sure you have not been fooled also on the fur-bearing pollywog?" asked Frank.
"Quite," replied the professor, solemnly. "Professor Tapper is one of our greatest savants."
"But so was your friend who told you the Patagonians were a friendly tribe," argued Frank.
"I am quite sure that Professor Tapper could not have been mistaken, however."
"Has Professor Tapper ever been in the South Polar regions?" asked Billy, seriously.
"Why, no," admitted the professor; "but he has proved that there must be a fur-bearing pollywog down here."
"In what manner has he been able to prove it?" asked Harry.
"He has written three volumes about it. They are in the Congressional library. Then he contributed a prize-essay on it to the Smithsonian Institute, which has bound it up with my report on the Canadian Bull Frog. He is a very learned man."
"But the South Polar pollywog is then only a theory?"
"Well, yes—so far," admitted the professor; "but it is reserved for me to gain the honor of positively proving the strange creature's existence."
"And if there should be no such thing in existence?" asked Frank.
"Then I shall write a book denouncing Professor Tapper," said the professor, with an air of finality, and turning away to examine the water through a pair of binoculars.
On moved the ships and at last, early one day, Captain Barrington called the boys on deck and, with a wave of the hand, indicated a huge white cliff, or palisade, which rose abruptly from the green water and seemed to stretch to infinity in either direction.
"The Great Barrier," he said, simply.
"Which will be our home for almost a year," added Captain Hazzard.
The boys gazed in wonder at the mighty wall of snow and ice as it glittered in the sunlight. It was, indeed, a Great Barrier. At the point where they lay it rose to a height of 130 feet or more from the water, which was filled with great detached masses of ice. Further on it seemed to sweep to even greater heights.
This was the barrier at which Lieutenant Wilkes, on his unlucky expedition, had gazed. The mighty wall that Shackleton and Scott, the Englishmen, had scaled and then fought their way to "furthest South" beyond. The names of many other explorers, French, English, Danish, and German, rushed into the boys' minds as they gazed.
Were they destined to penetrate the great mysteries that lay beyond it? Would their airship be successful in wresting forth the secret of the great white silence?
"Well?" said Captain Barrington, breaking the silence at length, with a smile; "pretty big proposition, eh?"
The boys gazed up at him awe-struck.
"We never dreamed it was anything like this," said Frank. "I always pictured the Great Barrier as something more or less imaginary."
"Pretty solid bit of imagination, that ice-wall yonder," laughed Captain Hazzard.
"How are we ever going to get on the top of it?" asked Billy.
"We must steam along to the westward till we find a spot where it shelves," was the reply.
"Then it is not as high as this all the way round the polar regions?"
"No, in places it shelves down till to make a landing in boats is simple. We must look for one of those spots."
"What is the nature of the country beyond?" asked Frank, deeply interested.
"Ice and snow in great plateaus, with here and there monster glaciers," was the reply of Captain Hazzard. "In places, too, immense rocky cliffs tower up, seeming to bar all further progress into the mystery of the South Pole."
"Mountains?" gasped Billy.
"Yes, and even volcanoes. This has given rise to a supposition that at the pole itself there may be flaming mountains, the warmth of which would have caused an open polar sea to form."
"Nobody knows for certain, then?" asked Frank.
"No, nobody knows for certain," repeated Captain Hazzard, his eyes fixed on the great white wall. "Perhaps we shall find out."
"Perhaps," echoed Frank, quite carried away by the idea.
"What is known about the location of the pole?" asked Billy.
"It is supposed to lie on an immensely high plateau, possibly 20,000 feet above sea level. Shackleton got within a hundred miles of it he believes."
"And then he had to turn back," added Captain Barrington.
"Yes; lack of provisions and the impossibility of traveling quickly after his Manchurian ponies had died compelled him to leave the mystery unsolved. Let us hope it remains for the American flag to be planted at the pole."
"Are there any animals or sea-creatures there, do you know?" inquired the professor, who had been an interested listener.
"If there is an open polar sea there is no doubt that there is life in it," was the answer, with a smile; "but what form such creatures would assume we cannot tell."
"Perhaps hideous monsters?" suggested the imaginative Billy.
"More likely creatures like whales or seals," returned Captain Hazzard.
"If there is such a thing as a creature with a South Polar flea in its fur I would like to catch it," hopefully announced the scientist.
"Seals are covered with them," rejoined the officer.
"Pooh, those are just common seal-fleas," returned the professor. "I would like to find an insect that makes its home at the pole itself."
"Well, perhaps you will," was the rejoinder.
"I hope so," said the professor. "It would be very interesting."
All this time the two vessels were steaming slowly westward along the inhospitable barrier that seemed, as Frank said, to have been erected by nature to keep intruders away from the South Polar regions. As the professor concluded his last remark the lookout gave a sudden hail.
"Where away?" shouted Captain Barrington.
"Off to the starboard bow, sir," came back the hail.
Captain Barrington raised his glasses and looked in the direction indicated. The boys, too, brought binoculars to bear. They were greatly excited to see what seemed to be four men standing up and waving their arms on a raft drifting at some distance away.
"Lower a boat," commanded Captain Barrington.
The command was speedily complied with—in a few seconds one of the stanch lifeboats lay alongside.
"Do you boys want to go?" asked Captain Hazzard.
"Do we?" asked Billy. "I should say."
"All right, away with you."
"Can I go, too? I might get some specimens," asked the professor, eagerly.
"Yes, but don't try to catch any more killer whales," was the answer, which brought a general laugh.
THE PROFESSOR TAKES A COLD BATH.
"Give way, men!" shouted Ben Stubbs, who was in command of the boat; "them poor fellers must be perishin' of cold and hunger."
The boat fairly flew through the water, skillfully avoiding, under Ben's careful steering, the great floes of ice which were drifting about.
The boys and the professor were in the bow, eagerly scanning the raft with the four black figures upon it. The castaways kept waving their arms in the most pitiable fashion.
Suddenly the professor exclaimed:
"There's something queer about those men!"
"You'd be queer, too, if you was drifting about the polar seas on an old raft," returned Ben Stubbs.
All the men laughed at this and the professor said no more. But he scanned the "castaways" carefully, and so did the boys. As they drew nearer, the latter also began to observe that they were the funniest looking men they had ever seen.