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The Boy Aviators' Polar Dash; or, Facing Death in the Antarctic By John Henry Goldfrap Characters: 8996

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It was a bright, sunshiny morning a week later. The Southern Cross was now in sub-tropic waters, steaming steadily along under blue skies and through smooth azure water flecked here and there with masses of yellow gulf weed.

The boys were in a group forward watching the flying fish that fled like coveys of frightened birds as the bow of the polar ship cut through the water. Under Dr. Gregg's care Billy and Harry had quite recovered from their sea-sickness.

"Off there to the southeast somewhere is the treasure galleon and the

Sargasso Sea," said Harry, indicating the purplish haze that hung on

the horizon. [Footnote: See Vol. 4 of this series, The Boy Aviators'

Treasure Quest; or, The Golden Galleon.]

"Yes, and off there is the South Pole," rejoined Frank, pointing due south, "I wish the old Southern Cross could make better speed, I'm impatient to be there."

"And I'm impatient to solve some of the mystery of this voyage," put in Billy, "here we've been at sea a week and Captain Hazzard hasn't told us yet anything about that-that,-well you know, that ship you spoke about, Frank."

"He will tell us all in good time," rejoined the other, "and now instead of wasting speculation on something we are bound not to find out till we do find it out, let's go aft to the wireless room and polish up a bit."

The Southern Cross carried a wireless apparatus which had been specially installed for her polar voyage. The aerials stretched from her main to mizzen mast and a small room, formerly a storeroom, below the raised poop containing the cabins had been fitted up for a wireless room. In this the boys had spent a good deal of time during their convalescence from sea-sickness and had managed to "pick-up" many vessels within their radius,-which was fifteen hundred miles under favorable conditions.

Frank was the first to clap on the head-receiver this morning and he sat silently for a while absently clicking out calls, to none of which he obtained an answer. Suddenly, however, his face grew excited.

"Hullo," he cried, "here's something."

"What?" demanded Harry.

"I don't know yet," he held up his hand to demand silence.

"That's queer," he exclaimed, after a pause, in which the receiver had buzzed and purred its message into his ear.

The others looked their questions.

"There's something funny about this message," he went on. "I cannot understand it. Whoever is calling has a very weak sending current. I can hardly hear it. One thing is certain though, it's someone in distress."

The others leaned forward eagerly, but their curiosity was not satisfied immediately by Frank. Instead his face became set in concentration once more. After some moments of silence, broken only by the slight noise of the receiver, he pressed his hand on the sending apparatus and the Southern Cross's wireless began to crackle and spit and emit a leaping blue flame.

"What's he sending?" asked Billy, turning to Harry.

"Wait a second," was the rejoinder. The wireless continued to crackle and flash.

"Cracky," suddenly cried Harry, "hark at that, Billy."

"What," sputtered the reporter, "that stuff doesn't mean anything to me. What's he done, picked up a ship or a land station or what?"

"No," was the astounding response, "he's picked up an airship!"

"Oh, get out," protested the amazed Billy.

"That's right," snapped Frank, "as far as I can make out it's a dirigible balloon that has been blown out to sea. They tried to give me their position, and as near as I can comprehend their message, they are between us and the shore somewhere within a radius of about twenty miles."

"Are they in distress?" demanded Billy.

"Yes. The heat has expanded their gas and they fear that the bag of the ship may explode at any moment. They cut off suddenly. The accident may have occurred already."

"Why don't they open the valve?"

"I suppose because in that case they'd stand every chance of dropping into the sea," responded Frank, disconnecting the instrument and removing the head-piece. "I have sent word to them that we will try to rescue them, but I'm afraid it's a slim chance. I must tell Captain Hazzard at once."

Followed by the other two, Frank dashed up the few steps leading to the deck and unceremoniously burst into the captain's cabin where the latter was busy with a mass of charts and documents in company with Captain Barrington, the navigating commander.

"I beg your pardon," exclaimed Frank, as Capta

in Hazzard looked up, "but I have picked up a most important message by wireless,-two men, in an airship, are in deadly peril not far from us."

The two commanders instantly became interested.

"An airship!" cried Captain Hazzard.

"What's that!" exclaimed Captain Barrington. "Did they give you their position?" he added quickly.

"Yes," replied the boy, and rapidly repeated the latitude and longitude as he had noted it.

"That means they are to the west of us," exclaimed Captain Barrington as the boy concluded. He hastily picked up a speaking tube and hailed the wheel-house, giving instructions to change the course. He then emerged on deck followed by Captain Hazzard and the boys. The next hour was spent in anxiously scanning the surrounding sea.

Suddenly a man who had been sent into the crow's nest on the main mast gave a hail.

"I see something, sir," he cried, pointing to the southwest.

"What is it," demanded the captain.

"Looks like a big bird," was the response.

Slinging his binoculars round his neck by their strap, Captain Barrington himself clambered into the main shrouds. When he had climbed above the cross-trees he drew out his glasses and gazed in the direction the lookout indicated. The next minute he gave a shout of triumph.

"There's your dirigible, boys," he exclaimed, and even Billy overcame his dislike to clambering into the rigging for a chance to get a look at the airship they hoped to save.

Viewed even through the glasses she seemed a speck, no larger than a shoe button, drifting aimlessly toward the south, but as the Southern Cross drew nearer to her she stood out in more detail. The watchers could then see that she was a large air craft for her type and carried two men, who were running back and forth in apparent panic on her suspended deck. Suddenly one of them swung himself into the rigging and began climbing up the distended sides of the big cigar-shaped gas bag.

"What can he be going to do?" asked Captain Hazzard.

"I think I know," said Frank. "The valve must be stuck and they have decided now that as we are so near they will take a chance and open it and risk a drop into the sea rather than have the over-distended bag blow up."

"Of course. I never thought of that," rejoined the captain, "that's just what they are doing."

"That man is taking a desperate chance," put in Professor Simeon Sandburr, who had climbed up and joined the party and looked with his long legs and big round glasses, like some queer sort of a bird perched in the rigging. "Hydrogen gas is deadly and if he should inhale any of it he would die like a bug in a camphor bottle."

Interest on board the Southern Cross was now intense in the fate of the dirigible. Even the old chief engineer had left his engines and wiping his hands with a bit of waste, stood gazing at the distressed cloud clipper.

"The mon moost be daft," he exclaimed, "any mon that wud go tae sea in sic a craft moost be daft. It's fair temptin' o' providence."

At that instant there was a sharp and sudden collapse of the balloon bag. It seemed to shrivel like a bit of burned paper, and the structure below it fell like a stone into the ocean, carrying with it the man who had remained on it. Of the other, the one who had climbed the bag, not a trace could be seen. Even as the onlookers gazed horror-stricken at the sudden blotting out of the dirigible before their eyes the loud roar of the explosion of its superheated gas reached their ears.

"Every pound of steam you've got, chief," sharply commanded Captain Barrington, almost before the dirigible vanished, "we must save them yet."

The old engineer dived into his engine room and the Southern Cross, with her gauges registering every pound of steam her boilers could carry, rushed through the water as she never had before in all her plodding career.

"Heaven grant we may not be too late," breathed Captain Hazzard, as, followed by the boys, he clambered out of the rigging. "If only they can swim we may save them."

"Or perhaps they have on life-belts," suggested Billy.

"Neither will do them much good," put in a voice at his elbow grimly.

It was Professor Sandburr.

"Why?" demanded Frank, "we will be alongside in a few minutes now and if they can only keep up we can save them."

"The peril of drowning is not so imminent as another grave danger they face," spoke the professor.

"What's that?"

"Sharks," was the reply, "these waters swarm with them."

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