"They've got on long black coats with white waistcoats to their knees," cried Billy.
"So they have," exclaimed Harry. "If it wasn't too ridiculous, you'd say they had on evening clothes."
"They're not men at all," suddenly shouted the professor, with an air of triumph. "I thought I was not mistaken."
"Not men!" roared Ben. "What are the poor critters, then—females?"
"Neither men nor women," was the astonishing reply. "They are penguins."
All the men turned at this, and one of them, who had sailed in the polar regions before, announced, with a shout of laughter:
"The doc is right. Them's Emperor penguins, sure enough—taking a joy-ride through the ice."
The queer birds betrayed not the slightest excitement at the approach of the boat, but stood gazing solemnly at it, waving their little flippers,—somewhat like those of a seal, only feathered,—up and down in a rhythmic way.
"They act like band leaders," was Frank's remark.
"Better go back to the ship," said Ben, much disgusted at the upshoot of the expedition, and somewhat chagrined, too, if the truth must be told, at the professor's triumph over him.
"No, let us catch one," urged the professor. "I would like to see if it is possible to tame one."
"Yes, let's go up to them and see what they look like at close range," cried Frank.
"All right, if we don't waste too much time," agreed Ben. "Give way, men."
They soon drew near the strange South Polar birds who blinked solemnly at them as if to say:
"And who may you be?"
As they bobbed up and down on the piece of drift wood the boys had mistaken for a raft, the sight was so ludicrous that the boys burst into a hearty laugh.
"Hush," warned the professor, holding up his hand; "you may scare them."
They were big birds of their kind, standing fully four feet, and it was not strange that from the ship they had been mistaken for shipwrecked men; indeed, it is not the first time such an incident has occurred in the South Polar climes.
"Steady now, men," said the professor, bowing his lean form over the bow of the boat as they drew near to the penguins.
"Ah! my feathered beauties, if you will only stay there and not move, I will soon have one of you," he whispered to himself, as the boat,—the men rowing as silently as possible,—glided alongside.
The birds made no sign of moving, and evidently had not the slightest fear of the strange beings, such as the newcomers must have seemed to them. Instead, they seemed mildly curious and stretched their necks out inquiringly.
"Here, chick-chick-chicky," called the professor, by an odd inspiration, as if he were calling to the chickens in the barnyard at home.
"Here, chick-chick-chicky. Pretty chick-chick-chicky."
Suddenly he made a grab for the nearest penguin, and at the same instant the boys gave a shout of dismay. As he seized it, the creature—affrighted when it felt the professor's bony arms about it,—had dived and the scientist, losing his balance, had followed it into the water.
This might not have been so serious, but the other penguins, seeing the professor's plight, started to attack him, beating him back into the icy water every time he came to the surface.
"Ouch, you brute—oh, boys, help—o-o-o-h, this water is cold. Get me out, somebody. Scat, get away, you penguins."
These were some of the cries uttered by the luckless professor, as he struggled to get to the inside of the boat.
When they could, for laughing at the ludicrous plight, the men and the boys beat off the big penguins with the oars and hauled the professor into the boat. His nose was pecked badly and was of a ruddy hue from his misadventure. Fortunately, one of the men had some stimulant with him and this was given to the professor to drink and the strong stuff quickly revived him. He sat up in the boat and talked with animation while the boat was being rowed back to the ship.
"Bless my soul, what an adventure," he puffed. "Ouch, my poor nose. I thought the penguins would peck it off. Boys, that penguin was as slippery as a greased pig and as fat as butter. Oh, dear, what a misadventure, and I've ruined a good suit of clothes and broken a bottle of specimens I had in the pockets. Never mind, I can catch some more."
Thus the professor rattled on, from time to time feeling his very prominent nose, apparently in some doubt as to whether he still retained the feature.
"I guess you are cured of penguin hunting?" remarked Frank.
"Who, I?" asked the professor, in mild surprise. "Oh, no, my dear boy. I will get a penguin yet, even if I have to fight a regiment of them. I'll get one, never fear, and tame him to eat out of my hand."
"I hope so, I'm sure," said Frank, with a smile at the odd old man's enthusiasm.
"Hullo, what's that?" cried Billy, suddenly pointing.
"What?" chorused the boys.
"Why that creature off there on the ice flapping about,—it seems to be in distress."
"There is certainly something the matter with it," agreed Frank.
What seemed to be a huge bird was struggling and flapping about on the floes at no great distance from them.
"Other birds are attacking it!" cried Billy.
It was so, indeed. Numerous albatrosses and other large sea birds and gulls were hovering above the struggling creature, from time to time diving and pecking it.
"What in the world can it be?" cried Frank.
"We might go and see, but the professor is wet and should get back to the ship," said Ben.
"Oh, my dear sir, don't mind me," demurred that individual. "If I could have a little more of the stimulant—ah, thank you—as I was saying, I am never in a hurry to go anywhere when there is an interesting question of natural history to be solved."
"Very well, then," said Ben, heading the boat about; "if you catch cold, don't blame me."
"Oh dear, no. I wouldn't think of such a thing," said the professor, his eyes eagerly fixed on the disturbance of the birds.
"It's a big wounded albatross!" suddenly exclaimed Billy, as the boat drew near to the object the other birds were attacking.
"So it is," cried Harry.
"A monster, too," supplemented the professor. "It would be a great find for any collection."
"Perhaps we can catch it and stuff it," cried Billy.
"Perhaps so; but we must hurry or the others will have pecked it to bits."
The boat flew through the water, and soon they were near enough to drive the other birds away. The wounded albatross, however, did not rise, but lay flapping on the ice.
"Why, bless my soul, how very extraordinary!" cried the professor, forgetting his wet clothes and his chill in his excitement.
"What is?" asked Frank.
"Why something seems to be holding the bird down under water," was the answer.
"It's a string!" suddenly cried Ben, standing up in the stern of the boat.
"A string?" echoed the professor.
"Sure enough," was the reply.
And so it proved. The albatross was held down by a bit of string encircling its neck so tightly as to almost choke it, and which had become caked with ice till it was quite heavy.
"I know that bird," shouted the professor, suddenly, as they drew alongside it.
"You know it?" echoed the others, thinking the old man had taken leave of his senses.
"Yes, yes," cried the professor. "It's the one that nearly dragged me overboard. See whether the wire loop is still round its neck."
"It sure is," exclaimed Ben, as, disregarding the pecks of the big bird, he dragged it struggling into the boat and pinioned its wings.
"Well, this is a most extraordinary happening," smiled the professor, as happy as if he had been left a million dollars. "This will be most interesting to scientists and will make my name famous. 'The Sandburr albatross, which flew many scores of miles with my lasso round its neck.' Wonderful. Poor creature. I suppose as it dipped into the waves for its food a thin film of ice formed on the cord till it grew too heavy for it to carry."
"That's right," said Ben, who had cut the lasso and released the creature from its hampering weight. "I'll bet this weighs ten or twelve pounds."
He held out a huge chunk of ice for their inspection.
"That's great weight for a bird to carry so many miles," said Frank.
"It is, indeed," said the professor, patting the bound albatross on the head. "That makes it all the more remarkable."
"What are you going to do with the albatross, now that you have him?" inquired Billy Barnes.
"I must make a cage for him out of packing cases, and perhaps we can tame him," said the professor.
All agreed that this would be an interesting experiment, and the boat pulled back to the ship with one passenger more than she had left it with. As for the professor, he was in the seventh heaven of delight all the way back.
He sat on a stern seat by the albatross, which was looking wildly about, and kept talking to it as if he thought it could understand him.
"Ah, my beauty, I'll astonish Professor Tapper with you when I get home," he said; "you are worthy to be ranked with the fur-bearing South Polar pollywog. I will feed you till your feathers shine and you are the envied of all birds. I am the most fortunate man in the world."
All hands enjoyed a hearty laugh as, on the return to the ship, their adventures were narrated.
"The poor professor never seems to go out but what he gets into some pickle or other," laughed Captain Barrington, who was joined in his merriment by Captain Hazzard. "But, dear me," he went on, "where is the professor?"
They ran out on deck and found the man of science seated in the boat, which had not yet been hauled up, as the vessels were not to weigh anchor till the next day,—the berth where they lay being a snug one.
"Why don't you come on board, professor?" asked Captain Hazzard, indicating the accommodation ladder, which had been lowered.
"I-I'd like to, but I can't," responded the professor.
"You can't? Why, what on earth do you mean? You'll freeze to death down there," roared Captain Barrington.
"I wish you'd send down a small stove," wailed the scientist.
"A small stove; why, what do you want with that?"
"Why the fact is, I'm sozzen to the feet—I mean frozen to the seat, and if you can't send down a stove, send down another pair of trousers!" was the calm reply.
When the perfect tempest of laughter at the poor professor's expense had subsided, he was hauled to the deck in the boat and handed a long coat. Only till then would he consent to get up from the seat, an operation which was attended by a loud sound of ripping and tearing.
"Ha, ha, ha," roared Captain Hazzard. "First the professor nearly loses his life, and then he loses his trousers!"
FACING THE POLAR NIGHT.
After steaming for several hours the next day, the Great Barrier opened into a small bight with shelving shores, which seemed to promise an easy landing place. A boat party, including the professor and the boys, was organized and the pull to the shore begun, after the two ships had swung to anchor.
The beach was a shelving one, formed of what seemed broken-off portions of volcanic rock. A short distance back from the shore there were several rocky plateaus, clear of snow, which seemed to offer a good site for pitching camp. From the height, too, the boys could see, at no great distance, stretched out on the snow, several dark forms that looked not unlike garden slugs at that distance.
"What are they?" asked Billy.
"Seals," replied the professor; "though of what variety I do not know, and it is impossible to tell at this distance."
Captain Barrington and Captain Hazzard, after viewing the landing place and its surroundings, decided that a better spot could hardly be found, and the men were set to work at once marking out a site for the portable hut, which was to form the main eating and dwelling place, and the smaller structure in which the officers of the expedition were to make their homes.
The work of setting up the main hut, which had double walls, the space between being filled with cork dust and felt, was soon accomplished, and it was then divided off into small rooms. In the center a big table was set up and at one end a huge stove was placed for heating and cooking. At the other end the acetylene gas-plant, for providing light during the antarctic night, was provided. A big porch provided means of entrance and egress. This porch was fitted with double doors to prevent any cold air or snow being driven into the house when it was opened.
Captain Barrington and Captain Hazzard each had a small hut, another was shared by Doctor Gregg and the first officer, while the boys and the professor occupied still another. The engineer and Ben Stubbs were placed in charge of the main hut, in which the twelve men who were to be left behind after the Brutus sailed north, were to find quarters.
When everything had been fixed in position, a task that took more than a week, the work of unloading the provisions and supplies was begun. The cases which did not hold perishable goods, or ones likely to be affected by cold, were piled about the walls of the main hut as an additional protection against snow and cold. The glass jars of fruit and others of the supplies were stored inside the main hut, where they could be kept from freezing. The various scientific instruments of the expedition were stored in the huts occupied by Captain Barrington and Captain Hazzard. These huts, as well as the one occupied by the boys and Professor Sandburr, were all warmed by a system of hot-air pipes leading from the main stove in the hut. Specially designed oil heaters were also provided. A short distance away the aeroplane shed or "hanger" was set up.
The coal, wood, oil and fuel the expedition would need in its long sojourn were stored in a canvas and wood shelter some distance from the main camp, so as to avoid any danger of fire. When all was completed and big steel stays passed above the roofs of the huts to keep them in position, even in the wildest gale, a tall flag-pole, brought for the purpose, was set up and the Stars and Stripes hoisted.
While all these preparations had been going on, the boys and the professor had made several hunting trips over the ice and snow in the neighborhood of the camp. Some little distance back from the barrier they had been delighted to find two small lakes, connected by a narrow neck of water, which they promptly christened Green Lake. The water in these was warmish, and the professor said he had little doubt it was fed by volcanic springs.
The lakes swarmed with seals, and the boys' first seal hunt was an experience they were not likely to forget. Armed with light rifles, they and the professor set out for the seal grounds one morning on which the thermometer recorded seven degrees below zero. All wore their antarctic suits, however, and none felt the cold, severe as it was.
As they neared the seal grounds the soft-eyed creatures raised their heads and regarded them with mild astonishment. A few of them dived into the waters of Green Lake, but the rest stood their ground.
"There is one with a young one," shouted the professor, suddenly. "I must have it. I will tame it."
He dashed upon the mother seal, who promptly raised herself up and struck the professor a violent blow with her fin.
The professor was caught off his guard and, losing his footing, staggered back several steps. As he did so Frank cried a note of warning. The steep icy bank above Green Lake was below the scientist's heel. Before he had time to heed the boys' warning cry the professor, with a yell of amazement, slid backwards into the green pool, from which he emerged, blowing and puffing as if he had been a seal. Luckily, the water was warm and he suffered no serious consequences, but thereafter he was much more careful.
The boys could not bring themselves to kill the seals that seemed so gentle and helpless, but some of the men acted as butchers later on, for seal meat is a valuable ration in the antarctic.
"Wait till you lads encounter a leopard seal, or a sea elephant," said Captain Hazzard, when the boys confided their scruples to him.
"Sea leopards!" exclaimed Frank.
"Sea elephants!" echoed Harry.
"Yes, certainly," laughed the captain. "The creatures are well named, too. The sea leopard is as formidable as his namesake on land. The sea elephant is his big brother in size and ferocity."
"I shall give them a wide berth," said the professor. "That killer whale was enough for me."
"You will be wise, too," was the rejoinder, and the captain turned to busy himself with his books and papers, for this conversation occurred about noon in his hut.
The next day there were good-byes to be said. The polar winter was near at hand, when the sea for miles beyond the barrier would freeze solid and it would have been foolhardy for the Brutus, which had discharged all her coal but that necessary to steam north with, to have remained longer. She sailed early in the morning, bearing with her letters to their friends in the north, which the boys could not help thinking might be the last they would ever write them. Unknown perils and adventures lay before them. How they would emerge from them they did not know.
All experienced a feeling of sadness as the ship that had gallantly towed them into their polar berth lessened on the horizon, and then vanished altogether in the direction of the north. The Southern Cross alone remained now, but she was no longer their floating home, most of her stores and comforts having been removed to the shore. Her boilers were emptied and piping disconnected in preparation for her sojourn in the ice.
With so much to be done, however, the adventurers could not long feel melancholy, even though they knew their letters from home would not reach them till the arrival of the relief ship late in the next autumn.
The first duty tackled by Captain Hazzard was to call all the members of the expedition into the main hut and give them a little talk on the dangers, difficulties and responsibilities that lay before them. The men cheered him to the echo when he had finished, and each set about the duties assigned to him. Ben Stubbs was ordered to set the watches for the nights and adjust any minor details that might occur to him.
"I want to speak to you boys for a minute," said Captain Hazzard, as he left the hut and returned to his own.
Wondering what he could have to say to them the boys followed him.
"As you boys know, we are not alone in our anxiety to reach the pole," he began. "There is another nation anxious to achieve the glory also. How much of our plans they have gained possession of, I do not know. No doubt, not as much as they would have in their possession if the Jap had not been captured. I am pretty confident that they know nothing of the treasure ship, for instance. But it is probable that they will watch us, as they have some suspicion that we are after more than the pole itself, and have an ulterior object."
"Then you think that the Japanese expedition has landed?" asked Frank.
"They must have, if they made any sort of time," replied Captain Hazzard. "Our own progress down the coast was very slow, and they have probably established a camp already."
"That, of course, I have no means of knowing," was the reply. "I suppose that they are somewhere to the west of us, however. What I wanted to impress on you, however, is that some time ago a big dirigible was purchased abroad, and it is believed that it was for the use of the Japanese polar expedition, as it had means provided specially to warm the gas and prevent its condensation in extremely cold climates."
The boys nodded, but did not interrupt.
"It would be an easy matter for them to scout in such a ship and maybe discover our camp," said the captain. "For that reason I want to ask you boys to set an extra night watch of your own. Nobody else need know anything about it. I feel that I can rely on you more than any of the other subordinates of the expedition, excepting Ben Stubbs, and he is too busy to do everything."
The boys willingly agreed to keep out a watch for any airship that might appear, although privately they thought it was a bit of extra caution that was unnecessary.
"I don't see why any one who could keep out of the cold at night, would want to go scooting around in an airship in the dark for," said Billy, when they were all seated in their own hut.
"Captain Hazzard knows best," said Frank, shortly. "You and Harry had better take the first watch tonight, and I and—"
He stopped, puzzled. Who was to take the other watch with him? After some reflection they decided on asking the captain if a colored man, who acted as cook, couldn't be placed on to be Frank's companion. He was the only person they could think of whose duties would permit him to take the job, as his duties were only to cook for the officers, and were consequently light.
Moreover, he was a trustworthy man and not likely to gossip if he saw anything strange. Captain Hazzard readily gave his consent to the colored man, whose name was Rastus Redwing, being Frank's companion on the night watch.
"We can have our breakfast cooked by the other man," he said, "and then all Rastus will have to do will be to prepare lunch and dinner and extra pay."
But Rastus, when the plan was broached to him, was by no means so willing.
"Wha' me tramp, tramp, tramp roun' in dat dar ice and snow all de night time?" he gasped. "Laws a me Massa Frank, wha' kin' of man yo all tink dese yar darky am?"
"It only means a few hours' more work, and you get double pay for it," said Frank.
"Oh-ho, dat alters de circumference ob de question," said Rastus, scratching his head, when this had been explained to him. "All right, Massa Frank, yo' count on me at twelve to-night fo' sho."
"Very well," said Frank. "I shall—and see that you are there."
"Ah'll be dar, don' you nebbe fear fo' dat," chuckled the colored man. "Huh-huh double pay and no brakfus' ter git. Dat's what I calls LIVIN'—yas, sah."
As Frank, well pleased at having adjusted the business of the night watches so easily, was striding over the snow-powdered rocks toward the boys' hut, he heard a sudden disturbance behind the main hut and loud cries of:
The person who was uttering them seemed to be in great distress and was apparently in dire need of aid.
"It's the professor," shouted Frank, as the cries were repeated. "Whatever can have happened to him now."
As he spoke, the professor came dashing toward the camp, his arms were outstretched as if in entreaty, and his long legs going up and down like piston rods, at such speed was he running.
"Whatever is that caught to his coat tails?" exclaimed Frank, as he saw that a large, heavy creature of some kind was clinging fast to the flying professor's garment.
A MYSTERIOUS LIGHT.
"Take him off,—take him off. If I were not running he'll bite me," shrieked the scientist as he sped along.
"Whatever is it?" shouted Frank, regarding the strange sight with amazement.
"It's a sea-leopard. Ouch!—he bit me then. Shoot him or something," screamed the professor, scooting round in circles like a professional runner; for he knew that if he stopped the creature would surely nip him hard.
Frank hastily ran into the hut for his rifle and returned in a moment followed by the others. Half the occupants of the camp were out by this time to watch the outcome of the professor's quandary.
Frank raised his rifle and took careful aim—or as careful aim as he could with the professor rushing along at such a pace, but even as the rifle cracked the professor tripped on a snow hummock and down he came. The yell he set up echoed back from the naked, rocky crags that towered at the back of the camp.
"Don't holler so, the creature's dead," cried Frank, as he and the boys came running up to where the recumbent professor lay howling in the snow.
"Oh, dear, I do seem to have the worst luck," moaned the scientist. "First, I'm nearly drowned by a killer whale, then I'm almost pollowed by a swenguin—no, I mean swallowed by a penguin, and now a sea leopard attacks me."
As he spoke the professor got to his feet and the dead sea-leopard, as he called it, fell over on the snow. It was a ponderous creature, much like a seal, but with huge tusks and a savage expression, even in death. It was about five feet in length.
"What made it tackle you?" asked Harry.
"I was down by the beach collecting some curious specimens of polar sea-slugs, when I felt a tug at my coat-tails," said the scientist. "I looked round and saw this creature glaring at me."
"Why didn't you shoot at it?" asked Billy, noting the outline of the professor's revolver under his coattail.
"I had placed a specimen of antarctic star-moss in the barrel of my revolver for safe-keeping, and didn't wish to disturb it," explained the professor; "so I thought the best thing to do under the circumstances was to run. I never dreamed the creature would cling on."
"Well it did, and like a bull-dog, too," said Billy.
"We'll have to be careful and not get snarled up with any sea-leopards," said Harry, who had been examining the dead animal. "Look at the monster's tusks."
"Yes, he could make a fine meal off any of you boys," remarked the professor.
Suddenly he fell on his knees beside the sea-leopard and began examining it carefully.
"What in the world are you doing, now?" asked Frank.
"I thought I might find a sea-leopard flea," was the response of the engrossed scientist.
"Ah," he exclaimed, making a sudden dart; "here is one, a beauty, too. Ah, ha, my fine fellow, no use your wriggling, I have you fast."
As he spoke he drew out one of the bottles of which receptacles his pockets seemed to be always full, and popped the sea-leopard flea into it.
"That will be a very valuable addition to science," he said, looking round triumphantly.
A few days after this incident the polar night began to shut down in grim earnest. Sometimes for days the boys and the other adventurers would be confined to the huts. Entertainments were organized and phonograph concerts given, and, when it was possible to venture out, hunting trips in a neighboring seal-ground were attempted. All these things helped to while away the monotony of the long darkness. In the meantime the commanders of the expedition laid their plans for the spring campaign, when the boys' aerial dash was to be made.
On one of the milder nights, when Frank and Rastus were on watch, their first intimation that a strange and mysterious presence shared their lonely vigil was made manifest. It was Rastus who called Frank's attention to what was eventually to prove a perplexing puzzle to the pole hunters.
As the colored man and Frank were pacing outside the huts, keeping their watch, the negro suddenly gripped the boy's arm.
"Fo' de lub ob goodness, man, wha's dat?" he exclaimed, getting as pale as it is possible for a negro to become.
"What?" demanded the boy. "I can't see anything."
He stared about him in the gloom.
"Ain't nuffin ter SEE," rejoined Rastus, in a low, awed tone. "But, hark!"
The negro's ears, sharper than those of the white boy, had caught a sound that later became audible to Frank.
It was a most peculiar sound.
Coming from no one direction that one could indicate with certainty, it seemed to fill the whole air with a buzzing noise that beat almost painfully on the eardrums.
While he gazed about, in perplexity at the phenomenon, Frank suddenly descried something that almost startled him into an outcry.
In the sky far to the westward and, seemingly, high in the air, there hovered a bright light!
The next instant it vanished so suddenly as to leave some doubt in the boy's mind as to whether he had really seen it,—and, if he had, if it might not have been a star or some other heavenly body.
He turned to his companion.
"Rastus, did you see a light in the sky there a second ago?"
The boy pointed in the direction in which the mystery had appeared.
"A light—?" repeated the puzzled negro, still scared at the buzzing sound, which had now ceased. "You done say a light—a reg'lar LIGHT, light?"
"Yes, yes," impatiently; "did you see one?"
"No, sah, no, indeedy," was the indignant response; "ah don' see no lights."
"That's strange," said Frank, half to himself. "You are quite sure?"
Again the negro denied all knowledge of having beheld such a thing.
"Ef ah'd done seed anyfing lak dat," he declared; "ah'd hev bin skedaddlin' fer ther hut lak er chicken wif a hungry coon afta' it,—yas, sah."
Thoroughly convinced that his imagination had played him a trick, Frank did not mention the incident, to his fellow adventurers and soon almost forgot it. It was recalled to his mind in a startling manner a few nights later.
This time it was Rastus that saw the strange light, and the yell that he set up alarmed the entire camp.
"Oh, Lordy—oo-o-o-o-ow, Lawdy!" he shrieked; "ah done see a ghosess way up in dar sky, Massa Frank!"
Frank seized the black by the arm, as he started to run.
"What do you mean, you big black coward," he exclaimed. "What's the matter with you?"
"Oh, dat dar light," wailed Rastus. "Dat ain't no human light dat ain't; dat light's a way up in dar sky. It's a polar ghosess, dat's wha' dat is—de ghos' ob some dead sailor."
"Don't talk nonsense," sharply ordered Frank, as the others, hastily bundled in their furs, came rushing out.
"Whatever is the matter?" demanded Captain Hazzard, gazing sternly at the trembling negro.
"Oh, Massa Hazzard, ah done see a ghos' light in dar sky," he yelled.
"Silence, sir, and stop that abominable noise. Frank, what do you know about this?"
"Only that I really believe he saw such a thing, sir."
"What, a light in the sky!" echoed Captain Barrington. "Did you see it, too?"
"Not to-night, sir."
"Then it has appeared before?"
"Yes, it has," was the reply.
"But you said nothing of it," exclaimed Captain Hazzard.
"No; I thought it might be imagination. It appeared for such a short time that I could not be certain if it was not a trick of the imagination."
"Well, it begins to look as if Rastus is telling the truth," was the officer's comment.
"Yas, sah, yas sah, I'se tellin' de truf, de whole truf, and everything but de truf," eagerly stuttered the negro.
"Where did you first see the light?" demanded Captain Hazzard.
"Right ober de grable (gable) ob de ruuf ob de big hut," was the reply.
"That's about where I saw it," burst out Frank.
"Was it stationary?" asked Captain Hazzard.
"Yas, sah; it's station was airy, dat's a fac'," grinned Rastus. "It was high up in de air."
"That's not what I mean, at all," snapped Captain Hazzard. "Was it moving or standing still?"
"Oh, ah see what yo' mean, Captain Hazzard,—no, sir, der was no circumlocution ob de objec', in fac', sah, it was standin' still."
"For how long did you watch it?"
"Wall, sah, it jes flash lak de wink ob an eye and den it was gone."
"Possibly it was some sort of antarctic lightning-bug," ventured the professor, who had been intently listening to the account of the strange light.
"Hardly likely," smiled Captain Barrington. "Tell us, Rastus, what it looked most like to you—what did it resemble?"
"Wall, sah, it presembled mos'ly dat big laight what yo' see on a snortermobile befo' it runs ober you. Yas, sah, Cap't Barranton, dat's what it looked lak, fo' sho."
"Does that tally with your impression of it, Frank?" asked Captain Hazzard.
"Yes, sir, Rastus has put it very well. It was more like an automobile headlight than anything else."
"Well, nobody could be driving an automobile in the sky," put in the professor, decisively, as if the matter were disposed of in this way without any more argument being wasted.
"No, but there are other vehicles that are capable of rising above the earth," spoke Captain Hazzard, thoughtfully.
"For instance—?" breathed Frank, with a half-formed idea of what he meant.
"For instance, airships," was the quiet reply.
"Airships," exclaimed Captain Barrington. "Then you think—-?"
"That we have some very undesirable neighbors at close quarters," rejoined Captain Hazzard.
A PENGUIN HUNT.
Although, as may be imagined, a closer watch than ever was kept during the period of darkness, nothing more was seen that winter of the mysterious light. The dim twilight preceding spring began to appear in February without there being any recurrence of the mysterious incident. The coming of the season in which they hoped to accomplish such great things, found the camp of the adventurers in splendid trim. Everyone from Captain Hazzard down to the professor's albatross, which by this time had become quite tame, was in fine health, and there had been not the slightest trace of illness among the adventurers.
The motor-sledge was put together as soon as the September spring began to advance, and was found to work perfectly. As it has not been described in detail hitherto, a few words may be devoted to it at this point.
It was a contrivance, about twenty feet long by three wide, supported on hollow "barrels" of aluminum. The sledge itself was formed of a vanadium steel frame with spruce planking, and was capable of carrying a load of a thousand pounds at thirty miles an hour over even the softest snow, as its cylindrical supports did not sink into the snow as ordinary wheels would have done. The motor was a forty-horse power automobile machine with a crank-case enclosed in an outer case in which a vacuum had been created—on the principle of the bottles which keep liquids cold or warm. In this instance the vacuum served to keep the oil in the crank-case, which was poured in warm, at an even temperature. The gasolene tank, which held twenty gallons, was also vacuum-enclosed, and as an additional precaution the warm gases from the exhaust were inducted around it, and the space used for storing extra cans of fuel.
Specially prepared oils and a liberal mixing of alcohol with the gasolene afforded a safeguard against any sudden freezing of the vital fluids. The engine was, of course, jacketed, but was air-cooled, as water circulation would have been impracticable in the polar regions.
The test of the weird-looking contrivance was made on a day in early spring, when, as far as the eye could reach, a great solid sea of ice spread to the northward, and to the south only a vast expanse of snowy level was visible,—with far in the distance the outlines of some mountains which, in Captain Hazzard's belief, guarded the plateau on the summit of which perhaps lay the South Pole.
The Southern Cross lay sheathed in ice, and the open sea, through which she had approached the Great Barrier, was now a solid ocean of glacial ice. If it did not break up as the spring advanced the prospect was bad for the adventurers getting out that year, but at this time they were too engrossed with other projects to give their ultimate release much thought.
But to return to the motor-sledge. With Frank at the steering wheel in front and Harry, Billy Barnes, the professor, and Rastus distributed about its "deck," it was started across the snow, amid a cheer from the men, without a hitch. So splendidly did it answer that the boys drove on and on over the white wastes without giving much thought to the distance they traversed.
With the return of spring, Skua gulls and penguins had become plentiful and in answer to the professor's entreaties the boys finally stopped the sledge near a rookery of the latter, in which the queer birds were busy over the nests. These nests are rough piles of stones, on which the eggs are laid. Soon the chickens—fuzzy little brown creatures—appear, and there is a lot of fuss in the rookery; the penguins getting their families mixed and fighting furiously over each small, bewildered chick.
It was egg-laying time, however, when the boys rolled up on their queer motor-sledge to the neighborhood of the breeding ground the professor had espied. The man of science was off the sledge in a trice, and while the boys, who wished to examine the motor, remained with the vehicle, he darted off for the penguins' habitat.
With him went Rastus, carrying a large basket, which the professor had ordered him to bring in case they needed it to carry back any finds of interest.
"Perfusser, is dem dar penguins good ter eat?" asked Rastus, as he and his learned companion strode through the snow to the rookery.
"They are highly esteemed as food," was the reply. "Former expeditions to the South Pole have eaten them and declare that their flesh is as good as chicken."
"As good as chicking!" exclaimed Rastus, delightedly. "My, my, yo' make mah mouf watah. Don' you fink we could ketch one an' hev a fricassee, perfusser?"
"I am only going in search of eggs and would, of course, like to catch a flea—a penguin-flea, I mean," said the professor; "and I should not advise you to meddle with any of the creatures, Rastus."
"Why, dey look as tame as elingfants in de Zoo," protested the colored man, as he gazed at the penguins, who in turn gazed back at him with their beady black eyes.
"Yes, and ordinarily they are, but in the breeding season they get savage if molested, although it is safe enough to walk among them."
"Huh," grunted Rastus to himself; "dis yer perfusser am a fusser fer sho. Ef dem birds tas' lak chicking ah'm a-goin 'ter ketch one while he's a huntin' fer fleas and other foolishnesseses."
"What's that you said, Rastus?" inquired the professor, as they began to thread their way among the piles of stones, each of which marked a nest.
"Ah said de perfusser am a wonderful man wid his fleas and other scientificnesses," rejoined the colored man.
"Ah, Rastus," cried the professor, highly flattered; "if I can only catch the fur-bearing pollywog, then I shall, indeed, have some claim on fortune and fame, till then—let us hunt penguin eggs."
In the meantime the boys were busy examining the motor. They found that the specially prepared oil worked perfectly and that, although it changed color in the low temperature, it showed no disposition to freeze. The gasolene, too, was successfully kept at the right temperature by means of the vacuum casing of the tank.
"We could go to the pole itself in this motor-sledge," cried Billy, enthusiastically.
"How would we pass the mountains?" asked Frank, pointing to the south, where stood the snowy sentinels guarding the mystery of the Antarctic.
"That's so," agreed Billy, hurriedly. "That's a job for the Golden Eagle."
"And she's going to do it, too," rejoined Frank, earnestly. "That is if it is humanly possible."
"You bet she is," began Harry, enthusiastically.
"Hullo, what's happened to the professor now?" he broke off.
Indeed, it seemed that some serious trouble had again overtaken the luckless naturalist.
"Oh, boys! boys!" came his cries from the direction of the penguin rookery. "Help! The menguins are plurdering us—I mean the penguins are murdering us!"
"Fo' de Lawd's sake, come quick!" came a yell in Rastus's tones. "We're done bin eated alive by dese yar pencilguins."
The rookery lay in a slight depression and was not visible from where the boys stood, so that they were unable to imagine what was taking place.
"They are in serious trouble of some sort again," cried Frank. "Come on, boys, let's go to their rescue."
The motor-sledge was soon speeding over the snow and in a few minutes was at the edge of the declivity in which lay the penguin rookery. Gazing down into it the boys could hardly keep from laughing.
Indeed, Billy did burst into loud roars of merriment as he beheld the strange figures cut by the professor and Rastus, as they strove to escape the onslaught of the whole colony of penguins, which, with sharp shrieks of rage were attacking them with their beaks and beating them with their wings.
"Oh, please, good Mistah Pencilguins, I didn't mean no harm," roared Rastus, who seemed to think the human-looking birds could understand him. "Go afta' de perfusser, it was him dat tole me youalls tasted lak chicking."
"Stop that, you greedy black rascal," retorted the professor, laying about him with the egg-basket. "If you hadn't tried to grab that penguin we wouldn't have been in this trouble."
This was true enough. The penguins had not seemed to resent their nests being interfered with at all, but had gathered round the invaders with much curiosity. The trouble all originated when Rastus had sneaked up to a small penguin while the professor was busy extracting an egg from a nest, and with a cry of:
"Oh, you lubly lilly chickin, ah hev yo fer supper, sho nuff," had grabbed the creature.
It instantly sent up a loud cry of fear and rage, which its mates seemed to regard as a battle cry, for they all fell on the rash invaders of their realm at once.
As the boys dashed down the snowbank into the rookery, with their revolvers drawn, the professor, with a loud yell, fell backward into a well-filled nest. He arose with yellow yolks streaming from him and covered with down, feathers and eggshell, that made him look like a spectacled penguin himself. Rastus fared no better and was being beaten and pecked unmercifully when the boys rushed down to the rescue.
"Fire your revolvers in the air!" cried Frank. "Don't kill the poor things."
"Fo' goodness sake kill dis big feller dat's a-peckin' mah nose off!" yelled Rastus, struggling on the ground in the midst of a mass of broken eggs.
The fusillade that went up from the boys' pistols made the penguins stop their attack and waddle off in affright, while the professor and Rastus, both sorry figures, scrambled to their feet and tried to brush off some of the eggshells and yellow yolks that covered them from head to foot.
"Come on back to the auto," cried Frank, when he saw they were safe.
"What, aren't you going to kill some of the birds?" demanded the professor.
"No, certainly not," replied Frank. "What for?"
"Why they attacked us and frightened the life out of me," protested the professor.
"An' dem pesky pencilguins mos' bited mah nose off," roared Rastus, rubbing that not over prominent feature.
"Well, you had no business in their rookery, anyhow," rejoined Frank, unfeelingly. "Why did you go?"
"Why, my dear sir," said the professor, regarding him with sorrowful egg-stained countenance; "in the interests of science, of course. We would not have been attacked at all if Rastus had not tried to catch a penguin. What for, I cannot imagine."
"Why, perfusser, you done say dey tas' lak chickin," ruefully cried the black man.
"Did I?" exclaimed the man of science. "Well, bless my soul, so I did. That was very foolish of me. I ought to have known that Rastus would not be able to resist such an idea."
"Ah dunno 'bout de idah," observed Rastus, as he cranked up the machine, and the boys and the professor climbed on board; "but ah couldn' resis' de chicking."
THE FLAMING MOUNTAIN.
A few days after the events described in the last chapter, Captain Hazzard summoned the boys to him and informed them that it was time to start out and establish "depots" for the storing of food and blankets as far as was practicable, in the direction of the pole. This was in order that any parties sent out to explore might not run the chance of being lost in the antarctic snows without having some place to which they could retreat. The "depots" were to be marked as rapidly as they were made with tall bamboo poles, each of which bore a black flag.
The boys pitched in to this occupation with great enthusiasm and, with the aid of the motor-sledge, soon had established three depots, covering a radius of some eighty miles from the camp. This work brought them to the verge of the chain of snow-mountains, beyond whose white crests they believed lay the pole. Somewhere along the coast line of this chain of mountains, too, so the lieutenant calculated, lay the Viking ship, which, in the years that had elapsed since the whalemen had seen her, must have drifted towards their bases on the ever-shifting polar currents. For the Great Barrier, solid as it seems, is not stationary, and many scientists hold that it is subject to violent earthquakes, caused by the subsidence of great areas of icy land into the boiling craters of polar volcanoes.
A careful study of the position, in which the whalemen set down they had spied the ship, and a calculation of the polar drift during the time that had elapsed from their discovery, had enabled Captain Hazzard to come, as he believed, very nearly locating the exact situation of the mysterious vessel.
"Somewhere to the southeast, at the foot of the snow-mountains, I firmly believe that we shall find her," he said.
It was a week after the establishment of the last depot that the boys were ready to make their first flight in polar regions. The Golden Eagle's vacuum tank and crank-case were attached and a supply of non-freezing oils and gasolene drums, carefully covered with warm felt, taken on board.
"Your instructions are," were Captain Hazzard's parting words, "to fly to the southward for a distance of a hundred miles or so, but no further. You will report the nature of the country and bring back your observations made with the instruments."
The Golden Eagle, which had been assembled earlier in the spring, was wheeled out of her shed and, after a brief "grooming," was ready for her first flight in the antarctic regions.
"It seems queer," observed Frank, "to be flying an aeroplane, that has been through so many tropical adventures, in the frozen regions of the south pole."
"It does, indeed," said the professor, who, with Billy Barnes, had obtained permission to accompany the boys.
Captain Hazzard, himself, would have come but that he and Captain Barrington had determined to make surveys of the ice surrounding the Southern Cross, in order to decide whether the ship had a speedy chance of delivery from her frozen bondage.
The Golden Eagle shot into the icy air at exactly ten minutes past nine on the morning of the 28th of September. It was a perfect day, with the thermometer registering 22 above zero. So accustomed had they become to the bitter cold of the polar winter that even this low temperature seemed oppressive to the boys, and they wore only their ordinary leather aviation garments and warm underclothes. A plentiful supply of warm clothing was, however, taken along in case of need. Plenty of provisions and a specially contrived stove for melting snow into water were also carried, as well as blankets and sleeping bags.
The shout of farewell from the sojourners at the camp had hardly died out before the aviators found themselves flying at a height of three hundred feet above the frozen wastes. Viewed from that height, the aspect stretched below them was, indeed, a desolate one. As far as the eye could reach was nothing but the great whiteness. Had it not been for the colored snow goggles they wore the boys might have been blinded by the brilliancy of the expanse, as cases of snow blindness are by no means uncommon in the Antarctic.
On and on they flew toward the mighty snow mountains which towered like guardian giants ahead of them. The barograph showed that after some hours of flying they had now attained a height of two thousand feet, which was sufficient to enable them to clear the ridge. Viewed from above, the snow mountains looked like any other mountains. They were scarred by gullies and valleys in the snow, and only the lack of vegetation betrayed them as frozen heaps. Perhaps not mountains in the ordinary sense at all, but simply mighty masses of ice thrown up by the action of the polar drift.
"Look, look," quavered Billy Barnes, as they cleared the range and their eyes fell on the expanse beyond.
The boy's exclamation had been called forth by the sight of an immense mountain far to the southward of them.
From its summit was emerging a cloud of black smoke.
"A volcano!" exclaimed Frank, in blank astonishment.
"Such another as Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, also within the antarctic circle, but not either of which is as big as this one. I should imagine," said the professor. "Boys, let us head for it," he exclaimed; "it must be warm in the vicinity of the crater and perhaps we may find some sort of life existent there. Even the fur-bearing pollywog may reside there. Who knows?"
All agreed, without much argument, that it came within the scope of their duties to investigate the volcano, and they soon were winging toward it. As they neared the smoking cone they observed that its sides were formed of some sort of black stone, and with that, mingled with the smoke that erupted from its mouth, came an occasional burst of flame.
"It's in eruption," gasped Billy. "We'd better not get too near to it."
"I apprehend no danger," said the professor. "Both Scott and Shackleton and our own Wilkes examined the craters of Mounts Erebus and Terror, when steam and flames were occasionally spurting from them, without suffering any bad consequences."
Acting on the professor's advice the aeroplane was grounded at a point some distance from the summit of the mountain, on a small flat plateau. The warmth was perceptible, and some few stunted bushes and trees clung to the sides of the flaming mountain. The professor was delighted to find, flitting among the vegetation, a small fly with pink and blue wings, which he promptly christened the Sanburritis Antarcticitis Americanus. He netted it without difficulty and popped it into a camphor bottle and turned, with the boys, to regarding the mountain.
"Let's climb it and examine the crater," exclaimed Frank, suddenly, the instinct of the explorer strong in him.
"Bully," cried Billy; "I'm on."
"And me," exploded Harry.
"I should dearly love to," spoke the professor; "perhaps we can discover some more strange insects at the summit."
The climb was a tedious one, even with the aid of the rope they had brought with them from the Golden Eagle; and with which part of the party hauled the others over seemingly impassable places. At last, panting, and actually perspiring in the warm air, they stood on the lip of the crater and gazed down.
It was an awe-inspiring sight.
The crater was about half-a-mile across the top, and its rocky sides glowed everywhere with the glare of the subterranean fires. A reek of sulphurous fumes filled the air and made the adventurers feel dizzy. They, therefore, worked round on the windward side of the crater, and after that felt no ill consequences.
For a long time they stood regarding the depths from which the heavy black smoke rolled up.
"There's no danger of an eruption, is there?" asked Billy, somewhat apprehensively.
"I don't apprehend so," rejoined the professor. "A survey of the sides of the crater convinces me that it is many years since the volcano was active."
"It is a wonderful feeling to think that we are the first human beings who have ever seen it," exclaimed Frank, impulsively.
"It is, indeed," agreed the professor. "This is a great discovery and we must take possession of it in the name of the United States. Let us call it Mount Hazzard in commemoration of this expedition."
And so with a cheer the great antarctic volcano was named in honor of the leader of the expedition.
At the foot of the flaming mountain, originated no doubt by the warmth, were numerous large lakes filled with water of a deep greenish blue hue.
"I wonder if there aren't some fish in those lakes?" wondered the professor, gazing at the bodies of water so far below them. "At any rate there may be some kinds of creatures there that are very uncommon. Conditions such as they must exist under would make them unlike any others on earth, provided the waters are inhabited."
"It's easy enough to see," said Frank.
"We can clamber down the mountain side and get in the aeroplane and fly down to examine the lakes," said the boy.
"Bless my soul, that's so," ejaculated the man of science. "Do you know, for a moment I had quite forgotten how it was possible to get here. That is a wonderful machine that you boys have there."
The climb down the mountain side was almost more difficult and dangerous than the ascent, but at last all, even the professor, were once more at the side of the Golden Eagle. They were soon on board, and in long spirals, Frank dropped to the earth, landing not far from the edge of one of the small lakes.
"How curiously honeycombed the rocks are," exclaimed Frank, as they got out of the craft.
Indeed the face of the cliff that towered above the lakes did present a singular appearance, there being myriads of holes in its face at a height of a few inches above the surface of the water.
"Doubtless some freak of the volcanic nature of the earth hereabouts," explained the professor; "but they do, indeed, look curious."
The water of the lake, on being tested, was found to be quite fresh and agreeable to the taste though it was warmish and seemed to have an admixture of iron in it. All about them—strangest freak of all—small geysers of hot water bubbled, sending up clouds of steam into the air.
"This is like an enchanted land," was Billy's comment, as he gazed about him. Indeed, what with the towering black mountain above them with its perpetual cloud of smoke hovering above its crest, the green lakes of warm water and the bubbling, steaming geysers, it did seem like another world than ours.
Some time was occupied by a thorough investigation of the small lake and the boys and their scientific companion then advanced on a larger one that lay at some distance.
"Do you think it is wise to go so far from the aeroplane?" asked Harry.
"Why, there's nothing here that could attack us," the professor was beginning, when he stopped short suddenly with an exclamation.
"Look there!" he exclaimed, pointing down at the ground. "A human track."
The boys looked and saw the imprint of a foot!
Yet, on inspection, it was unlike a human foot and seemed more like the track of a bear. Several other prints of a similar nature became visible now that they examined the spongy soil carefully.
"Whatever do you think it is?" Frank asked of the professor, who was examining the imprints with some care.
"I don't know, my dear boy," he replied. "It looks like the foot of a bear, and yet it appears to be webbed as if it might be that of some huge water animal."
"Yes, but look at the size of it," argued Billy. "Why, the animal whose foot that is must be an immense creature."
"It's certainly strange," mused the professor, "and suggests to me that we had better be getting back to our aeroplane."
"You think it is dangerous to remain here, then?" asked Harry, with some dismay.
"I do, yes," was the naturalist's prompt reply. "I do not know what manner of animal it can be that left that track, and I know the tracks of every known species of mammal."
"Perhaps some hitherto unknown creature made it," suggested Billy.
"That's just what I think, my boy," was the reply. "I have, as I said, not the remotest conception of what sort of a creature it could be, but I have an idea from the size of that track that it must be the imprint of a most formidable brute."
"Might it not be some prehistoric sort of creature like the mammoths of the north pole or the dinosauras, or huge flying-lizard?" suggested Frank.
"I'm inclined to think that that is what the creature is," rejoined the scientist. "It would be most interesting to remain here and try to get a specimen, but in the position we are in at present we should be cut off from the aeroplane in case an attack came from in front of us."
"That's so," agreed Frank. "Come on, boys, let's get a move on. We can come back here with heavy rifles some day, and then we can afford to take chances. I don't like the idea of facing what are possibly formidable monsters with only a pistol."
"My revolver can—," began Billy, drawing the weapon in question—when he stopped short.
The faces of all blanched as they, too, noted the cause of the interruption.
A harsh roar had suddenly filled the air, booming and reverberating against the gloomy cliffs like distant thunder.
Suddenly Billy, with a shout that was half a scream, called attention to the holes they had noticed at the foot of the acclivity.
"Look, look at that!" he chattered, his teeth clicking like castanets with sheer terror.
"We are lost!" shouted the professor, starting back with blanched cheeks.
From the strange holes they had previously noticed at the foot of the cliffs, dozens of huge creatures of a form and variety unknown to any in the party, were crawling and flopping into the lake.
That their intentions were hostile was evident. As they advanced in a line that would bring them between the boys and their aeroplane, they emitted the same harsh, menacing roar that had first started the adventurers.
"Run for your lives," shouted Frank, as the monsters cleaved the water, every minute bringing them nearer.
ADRIFT ABOVE THE SNOWS.
"Whatever are they?" gasped Billy, as they ran for the aeroplane.
"Prehistoric monsters," rejoined the professor, who was almost out of breath.
The next minute he stumbled on a bit of basalt and fell headlong. Had it not been for this accident they could have gained the aeroplane in time, but, as it was, the brief space it took to aid the scientist to his feet gave the creatures of the cliff a chance to intercept the little party.
As the creatures drew themselves out of the green warm water of the lake with hideous snarls the boys saw that the animals were great creatures that must have weighed several hundred pounds each and were coated with shaggy hair. Their heads and bodies were shaped not unlike seals except that they had huge tusks; but each monster had two short legs in front and a pair of large flippers behind. Their appearance was sufficiently hideous to alarm the most callous venturer into the Antarctic.
"We've got to make the aeroplane," exclaimed Frank, "come on, get your guns out and fire when I give the word. If we can only kill a few of them perhaps the rest will take fright."
"A good idea," assented the professor producing his revolver, a weapon that might have proved fatal to a butterfly, but certainly would not be of any effect against the shaggy foes they now faced.
"Fire!" cried Frank, when the others had their heavy magazine weapons ready.
A volley of lead poured into the ranks of the monsters and several of them, with horribly human shrieks, fled wounded toward the lake. A strong sickening odor of musk filled the air as the creatures bled.
But far from alarming the rest of the monsters the attack seemed to render them ten times more savage than before. With roars of rage they advanced toward the boys, making wonderful speed on their legs and flippers.
"Let 'em have it again," shouted Frank as he noted with anxiety that the first fusillade had been a failure, the rough coats and thick hide of the monsters deflecting the bullets.
Once more the adventurers emptied their pistols, but the shaggy coats of the great creatures still seemed to prevent the bullets doing any serious injury.
The boys' position was ominous indeed. An order from Frank to reload resulted in the discovery that he alone of any of the party had a belt full of cartridges; the others had all used up the few they had carried.
"We're goners sure," gasped Billy as the creatures hesitated before another scattering discharge of bullets, but still advanced, despite the fact that this time two were killed. Suddenly, however, their leader with a strange cry threw his head upward and seemed to sniff at the air as if in apprehension.
At the same instant a slight trembling of the ground on which the adventurers stood was perceptible.
"It's an earthquake," cried Billy, recollecting his experience in Nicaragua.
With wild cries the monsters all plunged into the lake. They seemed to be in terror. Behind them they left several of their wounded, the latter making pitiful efforts to reach the water.
"Whatever is going to happen?" cried Billy in dismay, at the animals' evident terror of some mysterious event that was about to transpire, and the now marked disturbance of the earth.
As he spoke, the earth shook violently once more and a rumbling sound like subterranean thunder filled the air.
"It's the mountain!" shouted the professor, who had been gazing about, "it's going to erupt."
From the crater they had explored there were now rolling up great masses of bright, yellow smoke in sharp contrast to the dark vapors that had hitherto poured from it. A mighty rumbling and roaring proceeded from its throat as the smoke poured out, and vivid, blue flames shot through the sulphurous smother from time to time.
"We've no time to lose," cried Frank, "come on, we must get to the aeroplane in a hurry."
They all took to their heels over the trembling ground, not stopping to gaze behind them. The monsters had all disappeared, and as they had not been seen to re-enter their holes they were assumed to be hiding at the bottom of the lake.
As the boys gained the aeroplane and clambered in, Frank uttered an exclamation:
"Where's the professor?"
In a few seconds they espied him carefully bending over the dead body of one of the slain monsters several yards away.
"Come on, professor," they shouted, "there's no time to lose."
"One second and I have him," the scientist called back.
At the same instant he made a dart at the dead creature's shaggy fur and appeared to grasp something. He hastily drew out a bottle and dropped whatever he had seized into it and then started leaping and bounding toward the aeroplane, his long legs looking like stilts as he advanced over the uneven ground.
He was just in time.
As the aeroplane left the ground the water in the lakes became violently agitated and steam arose from fissures in the mountain side. Flames shot up to a considerable height above the crater and a torrent of black lava began to flow toward the lakes, falling into them with a loud hissing sound that was audible to the boys, even after they had put many miles between themselves and the burning mountain.
"That will be the last of those monsters, I expect," remarked Harry as they flew steadily northward.
"I don't know," observed the professor, "they may have caves under water where they can keep cool. They evidently knew what to expect when they felt the first rumblings and shaking of the earth and must have had previous experience. I guess I was mistaken in thinking the volcano inactive."
"It was a piece of great good luck for us that the eruption came when it did," said Frank.
"It was a terrific one," commented Billy.
The professor laughed.
"Terrific," he echoed, "why, my boy, you ought to see a real eruption. This was nothing. See, the smoke is already dying down. It is over."
"Well, it may not have been a big one, but you were in a mighty hurry to get to the aeroplane," said Billy with a grin.
"That was so that I could get my volcano monster's flea back safe and sound," exclaimed the man of science. "See here."
He took from his pocket and held up a small bottle.
"Look there," he exclaimed in triumph.
"Well," said the others, who, all but Frank, who was steering, were regarding the naturalist.
"Well," he repeated somewhat querulously, "don't you see it?"
"See what?" asked Billy, after a prolonged scrutiny of the bottle.
"Why, the flea, the little insect I caught in the shaggy fur of the volcano monster?"
"No," cried both boys simultaneously.
The professor gazed at the bottle in a puzzled way.
"Bless my soul, you are right," he exclaimed, angrily, "the little creature eluded me. Oh, dear, this is a bitter day for science. I was in such a hurry to pop my specimen into the bottle that I held him carelessly and he evidently hopped away. Oh, this is a terrible, an irreparable, loss."
Although the boys tried to comfort him they could not. He seemed overcome by grief.
"Cheer up," said Billy at length, "remember there is always the fur-bearing pollywog to be captured."
"Ah, yes," agreed the professor, "but a bug in the hand is worth two in the air."
As they talked, there suddenly came a loud explosion from the engine and two of the cylinders went out of commission. The speed of the aeroplane at once decreased and she began to drop.
The dismay of the boys may be imagined. They were several miles from the camp and below them was nothing but the desolate expanse of the snow wastes that lay at the foot of the barrier range.
"Shall we have to go down?" asked Billy.
"Nothing else to do," said Frank with a grave face, "there's something wrong with the engine and we can't repair it up here. If we were not in this rarified atmosphere we could fly on the cylinders that are firing all right, but this atmosphere would not support us."
"Do you think it is anything serious?" asked the professor.
"I can't tell yet," was the grave reply, "that explosion sounded like a back-fire and that may be all that's the matter. In such a case we can drain the crank case and put in fresh oil; for if it was really a back-fire it was most likely caused by 'flooding.'"
Ten minutes later they landed on the firm, hard snow and lost no time in getting things in shape to spend the night where they were; for it was unlikely that repairs could be effected in time for them to fly back to the camp before dark. The canvas curtains at the sides of the aeroplane's body were drawn up, forming a snug tent. The stove was set going and soup and canned meats and vegetables warmed and eaten by the light of a lantern.
In the meantime Frank had discovered that the breakdown had been caused by a defect in the ignition apparatus which it would take some time to repair. Both he and Harry went to work on it after supper, however, and by midnight they had it adjusted.
They were just preparing to turn in, the professor and Billy having wrapped themselves in their blankets some time before, when a sudden sound, breaking on the stillness of the Antarctic night, made them pause. Both boys strained their ears intently and the sound came once more.
This time there was no mistaking it.
It was the same sound to which Rastus had called Frank's attention the night they were on watch outside the hut.
Pulling the curtain open, the boys gazed out, determined to unravel the mystery once and for all. The night was perfectly still except for the buzzing noise, and a bright moon showed them the snow lying white and undisturbed about them.
The sound did not proceed from the ground, that was evident, but from the air. The atmosphere seemed filled with it.
"What can it be?" exclaimed Harry.
"Look—look there!" shouted Frank, at the same instant clutching his brother's arm in his excitement.
Both boys gazed upward and as they did so a dark, shadowy form passed above them far overhead. For an instant a brilliant light gleamed from it and then it vanished, going steadily eastward with the strange thrumming sound growing fainter as it receded.
The boys looked at each other in amazement and the words of Captain Hazzard flashed across Frank's mind.
"WE HAVE SOME VERY UNDESIRABLE NEIGHBORS AT CLOSE QUARTERS," the captain had said. Undoubtedly he was right.
"What did you make it out for?" asked Harry at length.
"A dirigible and no small one," was the reply, "and you?"
"Same here. You can't mistake the sound of an airship's engine. The question is what is the explanation of it all?"
"Simple, well I—"
"That aeroplane is the one which was bought in Europe. It is specially provided with radiators which electrically heat its gas, allowing it to navigate in these regions without fear of the gas condensing and causing the ship to descend."
"Yes, but whose is it? What are they doing in it?"
"The first question is easy to answer. That ship is the ship of the rival expedition."
"The Japanese one, you mean?"
"That's it. It must have been the light of it that I saw during the winter. I suppose they were experimenting with it then."
"For the work they are using it on to-night."
"And that is?"
"To forestall us in the discovery of the Viking ship and the South Pole."
SWALLOWED BY A CREVASSE.
The early morning following the discovery of the night trip of the dirigible saw the Golden Eagle rising into the chill air and winging her way to the camp. The boys, as soon as they descended, hastened to Captain Hazzard's hut and detailed their adventures. As may be supposed, while both the leader of the expedition and the captain of the Southern Cross were deeply interested in the account of the flaming mountain and the prehistoric seal-like creatures, they were more deeply concerned over the boys' sighting of the airship.
"It means we have earnest rivals to deal with," was Captain Hazzard's comment, "we must set about finding the Viking ship at once. The search will not take long, for if she is not somewhere near where I have calculated she ought to be it would be waste of time to seek her at all."
Full of excitement at the prospect of embarking on the search for the ship, before long the boys dispersed for breakfast only to gather later on in Captain Hazzard's hut. The officer informed them that they were to fly to the position he indicated the next day and institute a thorough search for the lost craft. The Golden Eagle was to carry her wireless and a message was to be flashed to the camp's wireless receiving station if important discoveries were made.
In the event of treasure being found, the boys were to at once "wireless" full details and bearings of the find and a relay of men and apparatus for saving the treasure would be sent from the ship to their aid on the motor-sledge. In the event of their not discovering the Viking ship they were to spend not more than three days on the search, wirelessing the camp at the end of the third day for further instructions.
The rest of that day was spent in putting the Golden Eagle's wireless in working order and stretching the long "aerials" above her upper plane. The instruments were then tested till they were in tune for transmitting messages from a long distance. The apparatus, after a little adjustment, was found to work perfectly.
Captain Hazzard warned the boys that, in the event of the rival expedition discovering them, they were on no account to resort to violence but to "wireless" the camp at once and he would decide on the best course to pursue.
"But if they attack us?" urged Frank.
"In that case you will have to defend yourselves as effectively as possible till aid arrives," said the commander.
Early the next day, with a plentiful supply of cordite bombs and dynamite on board for blasting the Viking ship free of the ice casing which it was to be expected surrounded her, the Golden Eagle soared away from the camp.
The boys were off at last on the expedition they had longed for. The professor accompanied them with a formidable collection of nets and bottles and bags. He had had prepared a lot of other miscellaneous lumber which it had been explained to him he could not transport on an aeroplane and which he had therefore reluctantly left behind. The engine worked perfectly and Frank anticipated no further trouble from it.
As they sped along Harry from time to time tested the wireless and sent short messages back to the camp. It worked perfectly and the spark was as strong as if only a few miles separated airship and camp. Nor did there seem to be any weakening as the distance between the two grew greater.
They passed high above snow-barrens and seal-rookeries and colonies of penguins, the inhabitants of which latter cocked their heads up inquiringly at the big bird flying by far above them. Their course carried them to the eastward and as they advanced the character of the scenery changed. What were evidently bays opened up into the land and some of them seemed to run back for miles, cutting deep into the many ranges that supported the plateau of the interior on which they had found the volcano.
These bays or inlets were ice covered but it was easy to see that with the advance of summer they would be free of ice. At noon, Frank landed the aeroplane and made an observation. It showed him they were still some distance from the spot near which Captain Hazzard believed the Viking ship was imprisoned. After a hasty lunch, cooked on the stove, the aeroplane once more ascended and kept steadily on her course till nightfall.
As dark set in, the boys found themselves at a spot in which the water that lapped the foot of the great Barrier washed—or would when the ice left it—at the very bases of the mountains, which here were no more than mere hills. They were cut into in all directions by deep gulches into which during the summer it was evident the sea must penetrate.
"We are now not more than one hundred and fifty miles from the spot in which Captain Hazzard believes the ship is ice-bound," announced Frank that night as they turned in inside the snugly curtained chassis. Sleep that night was fitful. The thought of the discovery of which they might be even then on the brink precluded all thought of sound sleep. Even the usually calm professor was excited. He hoped to find some strange creatures amid the mouldering timbers of the Viking ship if they ever found her.
Dawn found the adventurers up and busily disposing of breakfast. As soon as possible the Golden Eagle rose once more and penetrated further into the unknown on her search. Several wireless messages were sent out that day and the camp managed to "catch" every one of them. The wireless seemed to work better in that dry, cold air than in the humid atmosphere of the northern climes.
The character of the country had not changed. Deep gullies still scarred the white hills that fringed the barrier, but not one of these yielded the secret the boys had come so far to unravel.
"I'm beginning to think this is a wild goose chase," began Billy, as at noon Frank landed, took his bearings, and then announced that they were within a few minutes of the spot in which the ship ought to lie.
"She seems as elusive as the fur-bearing pollywog," announced the professor.
"You still believe there is such a creature?" asked Harry.
"Professor Tapper says so," was the reply, "I must believe it. I will search everywhere till I can find it."
"I think he was mistaken," said Billy, "I can't imagine what such a creature could look like."
"You may think he was mistaken," rejoined the professor, "but I do not. Professor Tapper is never wrong."
"But suppose you cannot find such an animal?"
"If I don't find one before we leave the South Polar regions, then, and not till then, will I believe that he was mistaken," returned the man of science with considerable dignity.
This colloquy took place while they were getting ready to reascend after a hasty lunch and was interrupted by a sudden cry from Frank, who had been gazing about while the others talked.
"What's that sticking above the snow hill yonder?" he exclaimed, pointing to a spot where a deep gully "valleyed" the hills at a spot not very far from where they stood.
"It looks like the stump of a tree," observed the professor, squinting through his spectacles.
"Or-or-the mast of a ship," quavered Harry, trembling with excitement. "It's the Viking ship—hurray!"
"Don't go so fast," said Frank, though his voice shook, "it may be nothing but a plank set up there by some former explorer, but it certainly does look like the top of a mast."
"The best way is to go and see," suggested the professor, whose calm alone remained unruffled.
The distance between the boys and the object that had excited their attention was not considerable and the snow was smooth and unmarked by impassable gullies. The professor's suggestion was therefore at once adopted and the young adventurers were soon on their way across the white expanse which luckily was frozen hard and not difficult to traverse.
The boys all talked in excited tones as they made their way forward. If the object sticking above the gully's edge proved actually to be a mast it was in all probability a spar of the ship they sought. The thought put new life into every one and they hurried forward over the hard snow at their swiftest pace.
The professor was in the lead, talking away at a great rate, his long legs opening and shutting like scissor blades.
"Perhaps I may find a fur-bearing pollywog after all," he cried; "if you boys have found your ship surely it is reasonable to suppose that I can find my pollywog?"
"Wouldn't you rather find a Viking ship filled with gold and ivory, and frozen in the ice for hundreds of years, than an old fur-bearing pollywog?" demanded Billy.
"I would not," rejoined the professor with much dignity; "the one is only of a passing interest to science and a curious public. The other is an achievement that will go ringing down the corridors of time making famous the name of the man who braved with his life the rigors of the South Polar regions to bring back alive a specimen of the strange creature whose existence was surmised by Professor Thomas Tapper, A.M., F.R.G.S., M.Z., and F.O.X.I.—Ow! Great Heavens!"
As the professor uttered this exclamation an amazing thing happened.
The snow seemed to open under his feet and with a cry of real terror which was echoed by the boys, who a second before had been listening with somewhat amused faces to his oratory, he vanished as utterly as if the earth had swallowed him—which it seemed it had indeed.
"The professor has fallen into a crevasse!" shouted Frank, who was the first of the group to realize what had occurred.
Billy and Harry were darting forward toward the hole in the snow through which the scientist had vanished when a sharp cry from the elder boy stopped them.
"Don't go a step further," he cried.
"Why not,—the professor is down that hole," cried Harry, "we must do something to save him."
"You can do more by keeping cool-headed than any other way," rejoined Frank. "A crevasse, into one of which the professor has fallen, is not 'a hole' as you call it, but a long rift in the earth above which snow has drifted. Sometimes they are so covered up that persons can cross in safety, at other times the snow 'bridge' gives way under their weight and they are precipitated into the crevasse itself,—an ice-walled chasm."
"Then we may never get the professor out," cried Billy in dismay. "How deep is that crevasse likely to be?"
"Perhaps only ten or twenty feet. Perhaps several hundred," was the alarming reply.
THE VIKING'S SHIP.
Suddenly, from the depths as it seemed, there came a faint cry.
It was the professor's voice feebly calling for aid. Frank hastened forward but dared not venture too near the edge of the hole through which the scientist had vanished.
"Are you hurt, professor?" he cried, eagerly, and hung on the answer.
"No," came back the reply, "not much, but I can't hold on much longer."
"Are you at the bottom of the chasm?"
"No, I am clinging to a ledge. It is very slippery and if I should fall it would be to the bottom of the rift, which seems several hundred feet deep."
Even in his extreme danger the professor seemed cool and Frank took heart from him.
Luckily they had with them a coil of rope brought from the Golden Eagle for the purpose of lowering one of their number over the edge of the gulf onto the Viking ship—if the mast they had seen proved to be hers.
It was the work of a moment to form a loop in this and then Frank hailed the professor once more.
"We are going to lower a rope to you. Can you grasp it?"
"I think so. I'll try," came up the almost inaudible response.
The rope was lowered over the edge of the rift and soon to their joy the boys felt it jerked this way and that as the professor caught it.
"Tie it under your arms," enjoined Frank.
"All right," came the answer a few seconds later. "Haul away. I can't endure the cold down here much longer."
The three boys were strong and they pulled with all their might, but for a time it seemed doubtful if they could lift the professor out of the crevasse as, despite his leanness, he was a fairly heavy man. He aided them, however, by digging his heels in the wall of the crevasse as they hoisted and in ten minutes' time they were able to grasp his hands and pull him into safety.
A draught from the vacuum bottle containing hot coffee which Frank carried soon restored the professor and he was able to describe to them how, as he was walking along, declaiming concerning the fur-bearing pollywog, the ground seemed to suddenly open under his feet and he felt himself tumbling into an abyss of unknown depth.
As the chasm narrowed, he managed to jam himself partially across the rift and in this way encountered an ice-coated ledge. One glance down showed him that if he had not succeeded in doing this his plunge would have ended in death, for the crevasse seemed to exist to an unknown depth beneath the surface of the earth.
"And now that I am safe and sound," said the professor, "let us hurry on. The fall hasn't reduced my eagerness to see the wrecked Viking ship."
"But the crevasse, how are we to pass that?" asked Frank.
"We must make a detour to the south," said the professor, "I noticed when I was down there that the rift did not extend more than a few feet in that direction. In fact, had I dared to move I might have clambered out."
The boys, not without some apprehension, stepped forward in continuance of their journey, and a few minutes later, after they had made the detour suggested by the professor, realized to their joy that they had passed the dangerous abyss in safety.
"And now," shouted Frank, "forward for the Viking ship or—"
"Or a sell!" shouted the irrepressible Billy.
"Or a sell," echoed Frank.
With fast beating hearts they dashed on and a few minutes later stood on the edge of the mastmarked abyss, gazing downward into it.
As they did so a shout—such a shout as had never disturbed the great silences of that region—rent the air—
"The Viking ship at last. Hurray!"
The gully was about thirty feet deep and at the bottom of it, glazed with the thick ice that covered it, lay a queerly formed ship with a high prow,—carved like a raven's head.
IT WAS THE VIKING SHIP.
After all the centuries that had elapsed since she went adrift she was at last found, and to be ransacked of the treasure her dead sailors had amassed.
The first flush of the excitement over the discovery quickly passed and the boys grew serious. The problem of how to blast the precious derelict out of the glassy coat of ice without sinking her was a serious one. Frank, after a brief survey, concluded, however, that the ice "cradle" about her hull was sufficiently thick to hold her steady while they blasted a way from above to her decks and hold.
It was useless to linger there, as they had not brought the needful apparatus with them, so they at once started back for the Golden Eagle. Frank's first care, arrived once more at the aeroplane, was to send out the good news, and it was received with "wireless acclaim" by those at Camp Hazzard.
"Will be there in two days by motor-sledge. Commence operations at once," was the order that was flashed back after congratulations had been extended. As it was too late to do anything more that night, the boys decided to commence work on the derelict in the morning. After a hearty supper they retired to bed in the chassis of the aeroplane, all as tired out as it is possible for healthy boys to be. Nevertheless, Frank, who always—as he put it—"slept with one eye open," was awakened at about midnight by a repetition of the noise of the mysterious airship.
There was no mistaking it. It was the same droning "burr" they had heard on the night following their discovery of the flaming mountain. Waking Harry, the two lads peered upward and saw the stars blotted out as the shadowy form of the air-ship passed above them—between the sky and themselves. All at once a bright ray of light shot downward and, after shifting about over the frozen surface for a time, it suddenly glared full on to the boys' camp.
Both lads almost uttered a cry as the bright light bathed them and made it certain that their rivals had discovered their aeroplane; but before they could utter a word the mysterious craft had extinguished the search glare and was off with the rapidity of the wind toward the west.
"They must be scared of us," said Harry at length, after a long awe-stricken silence.
"Not much, I'm afraid," rejoined Frank, with a woeful smile.
"Well, they hauled off and darted away as soon as they saw us," objected Harry.
"I'm afraid that that is no guarantee they won't come back," remarked Frank, with a serious face.
"You mean that they—"
"Have gone to get reinforcements and attack us," was the instant reply, "they must have trailed us with the powerful lenses of which the Japanese have the secret and which are used in their telescopes. They are now certain that we have found the ship and are coming back. It's simple, isn't it?"
The professor, when he and Billy awakened in the morning, fully shared the boys' apprehensions over the nocturnal visitor.
"If they think we have discovered the ship they won't rest till they have wrested it from us," he said soberly.
"I'm afraid that we are indeed in for serious trouble," said Frank, in a worried tone. "You see, Captain Hazzard and his men can't get here, even with the motor-sledge, for two days."
"Well, don't you think we had better abandon the ship and fly back to the camp?" suggested Billy.
"And leave that ship for them to rifle at their leisure—no," rejoined Frank, with lips compressed in determination, "we won't do that. We'll just go ahead and do the best we can—that's all."
"That's the way to talk," approved the professor, "now as soon as you boys have had breakfast we'll start for the ship, for, from what you have related, there is clearly no time to be lost."
The thought that their mysterious enemies might return at any time caused the boys to despatch the meal consisting of hot chocolate, canned fruit, pemmican, and salt beef, with even more haste than usual. Before they sat down to eat, however, Frank flashed a message to the camp telling them of their plight.
"Will start at once," was the reply, "keep up your courage. We are coming to the rescue."
This message cheered the boys up a good deal and they set out for the Viking ship with lighter hearts than they had had since the sighting of the night-flier. They packed with them plenty of stout rope, drills and dynamite. Harry carried the battery boxes and the rolls of wire to be used in setting off the charges when they were placed.
Arrived at the edge of the gully, a hole was drilled in the ice and an upright steel brace, one of the extra parts of the aeroplane, was imbedded in it as an upright, to which to attach the rope. It was soon adjusted and Frank, after they had drawn lots for the honor of being the first on board, climbed down it. He was quickly followed by the others, but any intention they might have had of exploring the ship at that time was precluded by the ice that coated her deck with the accumulation of centuries of drifting in the polar currents.
With the drill several holes were soon bored in the glassy coating and sticks of dynamite inserted. These were then capped with fulminate of mercury caps, and Harry climbed the rope to the surface of the narrow gully with the wires which were to carry the explosive spark. The others followed, and then, carrying the battery box to which the wires had been attached, withdrew to what was considered a safe distance.
"Ready?" asked Frank, his hand on the switch, when all had been adjusted.
"Let 'er go," cried Billy.
There was a click, and a split of blue flame followed by a roar that shook the ground under their feet. From the gully a great fountain of ice shot up mingled with smoke.
"I'm afraid I gave her too much," regretted Frank apprehensively, as the noise subsided and the smoke blew away. "I hope we haven't sunk her."
"That would be a calamity," exclaimed the professor, "but I imagine the ice beneath her was too thick to release her, even with such a heavy charge as you fired."
"Let's hope so," was the rejoinder.
Billy led the others on the rush back to the gulf.
All uttered a cry of amazement as they gazed over its edge.
The explosion had shattered the coating of ice above the vessel's decks and had also exposed her hold at a spot at which the deck itself had been blown in.
"I can't believe my eyes," shouted Billy, as he gazed.
"It's there, right enough," gasped Frank, "the old manuscript was right after all."
As for the professor and Harry, they stood speechless, literally petrified with astonishment.
Below them, exposed to view, where the deck had been torn away, was revealed the vessel's hold packed full, apparently, of yellow walrus ivory and among the tusks there glittered dully bars of what seemed solid gold.
Frank was the first down the rope. The explosion had certainly done enough damage, and if the ice "cradle" beneath the vessel's keel had not been so thick she must have been sunk with the shock of the detonation. The ice "blanket" that covered her though had been shattered like a pane of glass—and, with picks thrown down onto the decks from above the boys soon cleared a path to the door of a sort of raised cabin aft.
Then they paused.
A nameless dread was on them of disturbing the secrets of the long dead Vikings. Before them was the cabin door which they longed to open but somehow none of them seemed to have the courage to do so. The portal was of massive oak but had been sprung by the explosion till it hung on its hinges weakly. One good push would have shoved it down.
"Say, Billy, come and open this door," cried Harry, but Billy was intently gazing into the hold, now and then jumping down into it and handling the ivory and bar gold with an awe-stricken face.
"Well, are you boys going to open that door?" asked the professor at last. He had been busy in another part of the ship examining the rotten wood to see if he could find any sort of insects in it.
"Well—er, you see, professor—" stammered Harry.
"What—you are scared," exclaimed the professor, laughing.
"No; not exactly scared, but—," quavered Frank, "it doesn't seem just right to invade that place. It's like breaking open a tomb."
"Nonsense," exclaimed the scientist, who had no more sentiment about him than a steel hack-saw, "watch me."
He bounded forward and put his shoulder to the mouldering door. It fell inward with a dull crash and as it did so the professor leaped backward with a startled cry, stumbling over a deck beam and sprawling in a heap.
"W-w-what's the matter?" gasped Harry, with a queer feeling at the back of his scalp and down his spine.
"T-T-THERE'S SOMEONE IN THERE!" was the startling reply from the recumbent scientist.
CAUGHT IN A TRAP.
"Someone in there?" Frank echoed the exclamation in amazed tones.
"Y-y-yes," stammered the scared professor, "he's sitting at a table."
"It must be one of the long dead Vikings," said Frank, after a moment's thought, "in these frozen regions and incased in ice as the ship has been, I suppose that a human body could be kept in perfect preservation indefinitely."
"I reckon that's it," exclaimed the professor, much relieved at this explanation, "but, boys, it gave me a dreadful start. He was looking right at me and I thought I saw his head move. Perhaps it was Olaf himself."
"Nonsense," said Frank sharply, who, now that the door was actually open, had lost his queer feeling of scare; "come on, let's explore the cabin. That poor dead Viking can't hurt us."
Followed by the others he entered the dark, mouldy cabin and could himself hardly repress a start as he found himself facing a man who must have been of gigantic stature. The dead sea rover was seated at a rough oak table with his head resting on his hand as if in deep thought. He had a mighty yellow beard reaching almost to his waist and wore a loose garment of some rough material. Had it not been for a green-mold on his features he must have seemed a living man.
The cabin contained some rude couches and rough bunks of dark wood lined its sides, but otherwise, with the exception of the table and chairs, it was bare of furniture. Some curious looking weapons, including several shields and battle axes, were littered about the place and some quaint instruments of navigation which Frank guessed were crude foreshadows of the sextent and the patent log, lay on a shelf.
"How do you suppose he died?" asked Billy in an awed whisper, indicating the dead man.
"I don't know—frozen to death perhaps," was Frank's reply.
"But where are the others? The crew,—his companions?"
"Perhaps they rowed away; perhaps they went out to seek for food and never came back—we can't tell and never shall be able to," was the rejoinder.
The bare, dark cabin was soon explored and the boys, marveling a good deal at the temerity of the old-time sailors who made their way across unknown seas in such frail ships, emerged into the air once more. They determined to throw off in work the gloomy feelings that had oppressed them in the moldering cabin of the Viking ship.
"The first thing to do," announced Frank, "is to get all we can of this stuff to the surface." He indicated the hold.
With this end in view a block and tackle was rigged on the surface of the plateau, and the ivory and gold hauled out as fast as the boys could load it. The professor at the top attended to the hauling and dumping of each load. Soon a good pile of the valuable stuff lay beside him and he hailed the boys and suggested that it was time for a rest.
Nothing loath to knock off their fatiguing task for a while, the boys clambered up to the surface by the rope and soon were busy eating the lunch they had brought with them. They washed it down with smoking hot chocolate which they had poured into their vacuum bottles at breakfast time. The hot stuff was grateful and invigorating in the chill air, and they ate and drank with keen appetites.
So excited were they by the events of the morning, and so much was there to talk about, that the big dirigible had entirely slipped from their minds till they suddenly were jolted into abrupt recollection by a happening that brought them all to their feet with a shout of alarm.
FROM HIGH IN THE AIR A VOICE HAD HAILED THEM.
They looked up with startled eyes to see hovering directly over them the mysterious dirigible.
Her deck seemed to be supporting several men, some of whom gazed curiously at the boys; but what caught the adventurers' attention, and riveted it, was the sight of several rifles aimed at them.
"Keep still, and we will not shoot," shouted a man who appeared to be in command, "we do not wish to harm you."
"Hum," said Billy, "I don't see what they want to aim those shooting irons at us for, then."
"It would be useless to try to run, I suppose," said the professor.
"It would be dangerous to try it," decided Frank, "those fellows evidently mean to kill us if we try to disobey their orders."
As he spoke the dirigible was brought to the ground by her operators and as she touched the snow several of her crew gave a shout of surprise at the sight of the pile of treasure already excavated by the boys. They started to run toward it; but were checked by a sharp cry from their officer. They obeyed him instantly and marshaled in a motionless line waiting his next command, but he left them and strode through the snow toward the boys.
He was a dapper little brown man, dressed in the uniform of the Mikado's Manchurian troops. A heavy, fur collar encircled his neck and a fur cap was pulled over his ears.
"Don't make any hostile move or it will mean your death," he warned as he advanced toward them.
The boys stood motionless, but the professor, in a high, angry voice, broke out:
"What do you mean, sir, by approaching American citizens in this manner? If it is the Viking ship you are after we have already claimed it in the name of the United States."
"That matters little here,—where we are," said the little officer, with a smile, "we are now in a country where might is right; and I think you will acknowledge that we have the might on our side."
The boys gazed at the twelve men who stood facing them with leveled rifles and could not help but acknowledge the truth of these words. It seemed that they were utterly in the power of the Japanese.
"Your government shall hear about this," sputtered the professor angrily. "It will not countenance such a high-handed proceeding. We are not at war with your country. You have no right under the law of nations, or any other law, to interfere with us."
"You will oblige me by stepping into the cabin of my dirigible," was the response in an even tone. The others had paid not the slightest attention to the professor's harangue.
"And if we refuse?" demanded the professor.
"If you refuse you will be shot, and do not, I beg, make the mistake of thinking that I don't mean what I say."
There was nothing to do, under the circumstances, but to obey and, with sinking hearts, they advanced in the direction of the big air-ship. With great courtesy the interloper ushered them inside.
They found a warm and comfortable interior, well cushioned and even luxurious in its appointments. Once they were well inside the little man, with a bow, remarked:
"I now beg to be excused. You will find books and the professor something to smoke if he wishes it. Don't make any attempt to escape as I should regret to be compelled to have any of you shot."
He was gone. Closing the door behind him with a "click," that told the boys that they were locked in.
"Prisoners," exclaimed Billy.
"That's it, and just as we have accomplished our wish," said Frank bitterly; "it's too bad."
"Well, it can't be helped," said the professor, "let's look about and see if there is not some way we can get out if an opportunity presents itself."
They approached a window and through it could see the new arrivals examining the edge of the gulf and peeping down at the Viking ship. But as soon as they opened the casement and peered out a man with a rifle appeared, as if from out of the earth, and sharply told them to get inside.
"Well, we've got to spend the time somehow, we might as well examine the ship," said the professor closing the window.
Somewhat cheered by his philosophical manner, the boys followed him as he led the way from the main cabin through a steel door which they found led into the engine-room. The engines were cut off, but a small motor was operating a dynamo with a familiar buzzing sound. This was the sound the boys had heard when the ship passed above them at night.