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   Chapter 6 A STRANGE COLLISION.

The Boy Aviators' Polar Dash; or, Facing Death in the Antarctic By John Henry Goldfrap Characters: 9853

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


We must now turn back and ascertain what has become of our young adventurers and their rugged old companion. We left them sitting on the bow-or rather perched there in positions none too secure in case of a sudden lurch of the ship.

"I smell land," had been Ben's sudden exclamation after one of the prolonged silences which, as has been said, possessed them that night.

The boys laughed.

"Laugh away," declared Ben, "but I do. Any old sailor can tell it."

"But we are two hundred miles at sea," objected Frank.

"Don't make no difference, I smell land," stubbornly repeated the old sailor.

"Maybe the wind is off shore and that's the reason," suggested Billy.

"A sensible suggestion, youngster," approved Ben. "I guess that is the reason for there is no island in this part of the world that I ever heard tell of. But say," he broke off suddenly, "what's come over the weather. It's getting black and the stars are blotted out. There's a storm brewing and a bad one, or I'm mistaken."

The boys agreed that there did seem to be every indication of an approaching tropical disturbance of some kind. The air had suddenly grown heavy and sulphurous. There was an oppressive quality in it.

"I'm going aft to tell the captain that there's a bad blow coming on or I'm a Dutchman," exclaimed Ben, starting to scramble to his feet.

"Better hold onto that stay or you'll topple overboard," warned Frank, as Ben, balancing himself, got into a standing posture.

"What me, an old sailor topple over," shouted Ben, "Not much younker, why I-"

The sentence was never finished. At that instant the shock that had aroused Captain Hazzard and terrified the whole ship's company hurled him headlong into the night and the boys, balanced as they were on the prow of the trembling ship, were shot after him into the darkness as if they had been hurled out of catapults.

Frank's feelings as he fell through the darkness he could not afterward describe, still less his amazement when, instead of falling into the sea, fully prepared to swim for his life, he found himself instead plunged into a sticky ooze. For several seconds, in fact, he was too amazed to utter a sound or move. It seemed he must be dreaming.

Then he extended his hands and almost gave a cry so great was his amazement.

He had encountered an unmistakable tree trunk!

He was on land-not dry land-for the boy was mired to the knees in sticky mud,-but nevertheless land. Land in midocean.

Hardly had he recovered from his first shock of surprise when he heard a voice exclaim:

"Can anyone tell me am I awake or dreaming in my bunk?"

"What's the matter, Billy?" hailed Frank, overjoyed to know that one at least of his comrades was safe.

Before Billy could reply Harry's voice hailed through the darkness.

"I'm up to my neck in mud. Where are we, anyhow?"

"We're on dry land in midocean, shiver my timbers if we ain't," came a deep throated hail, which proceeded from Ben Stubbs.

"Thank heaven we are all safe anyhow," cried Frank, "this mud is mighty uncomfortable, though."

"Well, if it hadn't been here we'd have been eaten by sharks by this time," Billy assured them; an observation all felt to be true.

"Where can the ship be?" exclaimed Harry's voice suddenly.

"Miles off by this time," said Frank. "I don't suppose they have even missed us and even if they have it's so black they could never find us."

"Let's see where we are," suggested Ben, "anyhow I'm going to try to get out of this mud. It's like a pig-pen."

His observation struck the boys as a good suggestion and they all wallowed in a direction they deemed was forward and soon were rewarded for their efforts by finding themselves on real dry land. By stretching out their hands they could feel tree trunks and dense brush all about them.

"It's no dream," declared Frank, "we are really on land. But where?"

"Maybe the ship was way off her course and we are stranded on the coast of Brazil," suggested Harry.

"Not likely," corrected Ben, "and besides if we'd hit land the ship would be ashore."

"Then what can we be on?" demanded Frank.

"Give it up," said Billy.

"Anybody got a match?" asked Frank.

Luckily there were no lack of these and as the boys carried them in the waterproof boxes they had used on their previous expeditions they were dry. Some were soon struck and a bonfire built of the brush and wood they found about them.

It was a strange tropical scene the glare illuminated. All about were palm trees and tropic growth of various kinds; many of the plants bearing fruits unfamiliar to the boys. Some large birds, scared by the light, flapped screaming out of the boughs above them as the bonfire blazed up. They could now see that they had been pitched out of the ship onto a muddy beach, the ooze of which stuck to their clothes like clay. The spot in which they stood was a few feet above the

sea level.

"Well, there's no use trying to do anything till daylight," said Frank, "we had better sleep as well as we can and start out to try and find a house of some sort in the morning."

All agreed this was a good plan and soon they were wrapped in slumber. Frank's sleep was restless and broken, however, and once or twice he had an uneasy feeling that something or somebody was prowling about the "camp." Once he could have sworn he saw a pair of eyes, like two flaming points of fire, glare at him out of the blackness; but as it was not repeated, he assured himself that it was only his nervous imagination and composed himself to sleep once more.

A sharp thunder storm raged above them shortly before daybreak and they were compelled to seek what shelter they could under a fallen tree trunk. The storm was the one that had blackened the sky some hours before. Luckily it was as short as it was sharp, and when the sun rose it showed them a scene of glistening tropic beauty.

But the boys had little eye for scenery.

"What are we going to do for breakfast?" was Billy's manner of voicing the general question that beset them all after they had washed off some of the mud of the night before.

"Tighten our belts," grinned Harry.

"Not much; not while them oysters is there waiting to be picked," exclaimed Ben pointing to some branches which dipped in the sea and to which bunches of the bivalves were clinging.

"I've got some biscuits in my pocket," said Frank, "I brought them on deck with me last night in case I got hungry on watch."

"Well, we'll do fine," cheerfully said Ben, as having heated some stones he set the oysters to broil on them.

Despite his cheerful tone, however, not one of the little party was there that did not think with longing regrets of the snowy linen and bountiful meals aboard the Southern Cross.

Breakfast over, Ben announced that the first thing to do was to try to find out where they could be. It was agreed for this purpose to advance along the beach for five miles or so in opposite directions, the group being formed into two parties for the purpose. Harry and Frank paired off in one party and Ben Stubbs and Billy formed the other. They were to meet at noon or as soon thereafter as possible and compare notes.

Frank and Harry tramped resolutely along the beach under a baking hot sun till they felt as if they were going to drop, but they held pluckily on, fortunately having found several springs along their line of march.

From time to time they eagerly scanned the expanse of sparkling sea that stretched before them; but it was as empty of life as a desert.

"Do you suppose the ship will make a search for us?" asked Frank.

"How can we tell," rejoined his brother, "they will have found out we are gone by this time and will naturally conclude that we fell overboard and were drowned or eaten by sharks."

Both agreed that such was probably likely to be the fact and that if the coast on which they were cast away proved to be uninhabited their situation might be very serious.

"On the other hand, the ship may have gone down after the collision," suggested Harry, "how she ever came to graze this land and then escape I can't make out."

"I've been puzzling over that, too," replied Frank, "there's a lot that's very mysterious about this whole thing. The Southern Cross is, as you know, equipped with a submarine bell which should give warning when she approaches shallow water. Why didn't it sound last night?"

"Because there must be deep water right up to this coast," was the only explanation Harry could offer.

"That's just it," argued his brother. "But what is a coast doing here at all. We are two hundred miles out in the South Atlantic, or rather, we were last night."

"The charts don't show any land out there, do they?"

"Not so much as a pin point. Some of the deepest parts of the ocean are encountered there."

"Then the ship must have been off her course."

"It seems impossible. She is in charge of experienced navigators. Her compasses and other instruments are the most perfect of their kind."

"Maybe it is a dream after all, and we'll wake up and find ourselves in our bunks," was all Harry could say.

Before Frank could find anything to reply to this extraordinary suggestion he gave a sudden tense cry of:

"Hark!"

Both boys stopped and above their quick breathing they could hear the beating of their hearts.

Human voices were coming toward them.

Luckily Frank had his revolver, having been using it the day before in shooting at huge turtles that floated lazily by. He had by a lucky oversight neglected to take it off when he had finished his target practice, merely thrusting it back into its holster. He drew the weapon now, and grasping Harry by the arm pulled him down beside him into a clump of brush.

"We'll hide here till we see who it is coming," he said.

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