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   Chapter 28 THE HEART OF THE ANTARCTIC.

The Boy Aviators' Polar Dash; or, Facing Death in the Antarctic By John Henry Goldfrap Characters: 16133

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The professor was the first to break the tense silence that followed

Frank's words.

"Into the heart of the Antarctic," he breathed.

There seemed to be something in the words that threw a spell of awed silence over them all. Little was said as on and on through the polar night the aeroplane drove,-the great wind of the roof of the world harassing her savagely, viciously,-as if it resented her intrusion into the long hidden arcana of the polar Plateau.

It grew so bitter cold that the chill ate even through their furs and air-proofed clothing. The canvas curtains were hoisted for a short distance to keep off the freezing gale. They dared not set them fully for fear they might act as sails and drive the ship before the gale so fast that all control would be lost.

At ten o'clock Frank, his hands frozen almost rigid, surrendered the wheel to Harry.

It now began to snow. Not a heavy snowfall but a sort of frozen flurry more like hail in its texture. Frank glanced at his watch.

Eleven o'clock.

"How's she headed?" shouted Harry, above the song of the polar gale.

"Due south," was the short reply as the other boy bent over the compass.

"Well, wherever we are going, we are bound for the pole, there's some grim satisfaction in that," remarked Frank.

On and on through the cold they drove. The snow had stopped now and suddenly Billy called attention to a strange phenomenon in the southern sky.

It became lit with prismatic colors like a huge curtain, gorgeously illuminated in its ample folds by the rays of myriad colored searchlights.

"Whatever is it?" gasped Billy in an awed tone as the mystic lights glowed and danced in almost blinding radiance and cast strange colored lights about the laboring aeroplane.

"The Aurora Australis," said the professor in an almost equally subdued voice, "the most beautiful of all the polar sky displays."

"The Aurora Australis," cried Frank, "then we are near the pole indeed."

Half past eleven.

The lights in the sky began to dim and soon the aeroplane was driving on through solid blackness. The suspense was cruel. Not one of the adventurers had any idea of the conditions they were going to meet. A nameless dread oppressed all.

Suddenly Frank, after a prolonged scrutiny of the compass, voiced what was becoming a general fear.

"What if we are being drawn by magnetic force toward the pole?"

"And be dashed to destruction as we reach it?" the professor finished for him.

Brave as they were, the adventurers gave a shudder that was not born of the gnawing cold as the possibility occurred to them. Frank glanced at the barograph. Fifteen hundred feet. They were then holding their own in altitude. This was a cheering sign.

Ten minutes to twelve.

The strange lights began to reappear. Glowing in fantastic forms they seemed alive with lambent fire. As the boys gazed at each other they could see that their features were tinted with the weird fires of the polar sky.

Twelve o'clock.

Frank gave a hurried dash toward the compass and drew back with a shout.

"Look," he shouted, "we are within the polar influence."

The needle of the instrument was spinning round and round at an almost perpendicular angle in the binnacle with tremendous velocity. The pointer tore round its points like the hands of a crazy clock.

"What does it mean?" quavered Harry.

"The South Pole, or as near to it as we are ever likely to get," exclaimed Frank, peering over the side.

Far below illuminated fantastically by the lights of the dancing, flickering aurora he could see a vast level plain of snow stretching, so it seemed, to infinity. There was no open sea. No strange land. Nothing but a vast plateau of silent snow.

"Fire your revolvers, boys," shouted Frank, as, suiting the action to the word, he drew from his holster his magazine weapon and saluted the silent skies.

"The South Pole-Hurrah!"

It was a quavering cry, but the first human sound that had ever broken the peace of the mysterious solitudes above which they were winging.

Suddenly in the midst of the "celebration" the aeroplane was violently twisted about. Every bolt and stay in her creaked and strained under the stress, but so well and truly had she been built that nothing started despite Frank's fears that the voyage to the pole was to end right there in disaster.

The adventurers were thrown about violently. All, that is, but Frank, who had now resumed the wheel and steadied himself with it. As they scrambled to their feet Billy chattered:

"Whatever happened-did a cyclone strike us?"

For answer Frank bent over the compass and gave a puzzled cry.

"I don't understand this," he exclaimed.

"Don't understand what?" asked Harry, coming to his side.

"Why look here-what do you make of that?"

"The needle has steadied and is pointing north!" cried Harry, as he gazed at the compass.

"North," echoed the professor.

"There's no question about it," rejoined Frank, knitting his brows.

"What is your explanation of this sudden reversal of the wind?" asked the professor.

"I know no more than you," replied the puzzled young aviator, "the only reason I can advance is that at the polar cap some strange influences rule the wind currents and that we are caught in a polar eddy, as it were."

"If it holds we are saved," cried the professor, who had begun to fear that they might never be able to emerge from their newly discovered region.

Hold it did and daybreak found the aeroplane above the same illimitable expanse of snow that marked the pole, but several miles to the north.

"I'm going down to take an observation," said Frank, suddenly, "and also, has it occurred to you fellows that we haven't eaten a bite since last night?"

"Jiminy crickets," exclaimed Billy Barnes, his natural flow of spirits now restored, "that's so. I'm hungry enough to eat even a fur-bearing pollywog, if there's one around here."

"Boys," began the professor solemnly as Billy concluded, "I have a confession to make."

"A confession?" cried Harry, "what about?"

"Why for some time I have entertained a doubt in my mind and that doubt has now crystallized to a certainty. I don't believe there is such a creature as the fur-bearing pollywog."

"Then Professor Tapper is wrong?" asked Harry, amazed at the scientist's tone.

"I am convinced he is. I shall expose him when we return-if we ever do," declared the scientist.

A few minutes later they landed on the firm snow and soon a hearty meal of hot canned mutton, vegetables, soup, and even a can of plum pudding, warmed on their stove and washed down with boiling tea, was being disposed of.

"And now," said Frank, as he absorbed the last morsels on his plate, "let's see whereabouts on the ridgepole of the earth we have lighted."

The boy's observation showed that they were at a point some two hundred miles to the southwest of the spot in which they had left the crippled dirigible and the Viking ship. The wind had dropped, however, and conditions were favorable for making a fast flight to the place they were now all impatient to reach Frank, after a few minutes' figuring, announced that dusk ought to find them at the Viking ship and, if all went well, in communication with their friends.

No time was lost in replenishing the gasolene tank from the reserve "drums," and carefully inspecting the engine and then a long farewell was bade to the Polar plateau. Without a stop the Golden Eagle winged steadily toward the northeast, and as the wonderful polar sunset was beginning to paint the western sky they made out the black form of the disabled dirigible on the snow barrens not far from the Viking ship's gully.

As they gazed they broke into a cheer, for advancing toward the other dark object at a rapid rate was another blot on the white expanse, which a moment's scrutiny through the glasses showed them was the motor-sledge packed with men on whose rifles the setting sun glinted brightly. The Golden Eagle ten minutes later swooped to earth

at a spot not twenty yards from her original landing place and a few moments later the boys were shaking hands and executing a sort of war dance about Captain Barrington and Captain Hazzard, while Ben Stubbs was imploring some one to "shiver his timbers" or "carry away his top-sails" or "keel-haul him" or something to relieve his feelings.

Eagerly the officers pressed for details of the polar discovery, but Frank, after a rapid sketching of conditions as they had observed them at the world's southern axis, went on to describe the events that had led up to their wild flight and urged immediate negotiations with the rival explorers. Both leaders agreed to advance at once, convinced that their force was sufficiently formidable to overcome the Japs.

"Steady, men, and be ready for trouble but make no hostile move till you get the word," warned Captain Hazzard, as the somewhat formidable looking party advanced on the stricken dirigible. At first no sign of life was visible about her, but as they neared the ship Frank saw that the wrecked cabin had been patched up with canvas, and parts of the balloon bag that had not burned, till it formed a fairly snug tent. They were within a hundred paces of it before anyone appeared to have taken any notice of their arrival and then the little officer, who had directed the capture of the adventurers, appeared.

As Billy said afterward, he "never turned a hair," over the conditions that confronted him. He was a beaten man and knew it; but his manner was perfectly suave and calm.

"Good evening, gentlemen," was all he said, with a wave of his hand toward the Viking ship and the pile of ivory and gold that still lay on the edge of the gully, "to the victors belong the spoils and you are without doubt the victors."

He gazed at the array of armed men that backed up the two officers and the boys.

"We have come to take formal possession in the name of the United States, of the remains of the Viking ship," said Captain Hazzard, somewhat coldly, for, after what he had heard from the boys, he felt in no way amiably disposed toward the smiling, suave, little man.

"If you have pen and ink and paper in your cabin we will draw up a formal agreement which will hold good in an international court," supplemented Captain Barrington.

A flash of resentment passed across the other's face but it was gone in an instant.

"Certainly, sir, if you wish it," he said, "but, if it had not been for those boys we should by this time have been far away."

"I do not doubt it," said Captain Barrington, dryly, "and, now, if you please, we will draw up and sign the paper."

Ten minutes later, with the boys' signatures on it as witnesses, the important document was drawn up and sealed with a bit of wax that Captain Hazzard had in his pocket writing-set. And so ended the episode of the attempt to seize the treasure of the Viking ship.

Now only remains to be told the manner of its transporting to the Southern Cross and the last preparations before bidding farewell to the inhospitable land in which they had spent so much time. First, however, the castaways of the dirigible were given transportation on the motor-sledge to their ship which, to the astonishment of all the American party, they found was snugly quartered in a deep gulf, not more than twenty miles to the westward of the berth of the Southern Cross. This accounted for the light and the buzzing of the air-ship being heard so plainly by the Southern Crucians. The defeated Japs sailed at once for the north, departing as silently as they had arrived.

It took many trips of the motor-sledge before the last load of the Viking ship's strange cargo was snugly stored in the hold of the Southern Cross. At Captain Hazzard's command the dead Viking was buried with military honors and his tomb still stands in the "White silence." Then came the dismantling of the Golden Eagle and the packing of the aeroplane in its big boxes.

"Like putting it in a coffin," grunted Billy, as he watched the last cover being screwed on.

All the time this work was going forward the nights and days were disturbed with mighty reports like those of a heavy gun.

The ice was breaking up.

The frozen sea was beginning to be instinct with life. The time for the release of the Southern Cross was close at hand.

At last the tedious period of waiting passed and one night with a mighty crash the ice "cradle" in which the Southern Cross rested parted from the ice-field and the ship floated free. The engineers' force had been busy for a week and in the engine-room all was ready for the start north, but another tedious wait occurred while they waited for the field-ice to commence its weary annual drift.

At last, one morning in early December, Captain Barrington and Captain

Hazzard gave the magic order:

"Weigh anchor!"

"Homeward bound!" shouted Ben Stubbs, racing forward like a boy.

A week later, as the Southern Cross was ploughing steadily northward, a dark cloud of smoke appeared on the horizon. It was not made out positively for the relief ship Brutus till an hour had passed and then the rapid-fire gun crackled and the remainder of the daylight rockets were shot off in joyous celebration.

In the midst of the uproar Billy Barnes appeared with a broom.

"Whatever are you going to do with that?" demanded Captain Hazzard, with a smile, as the lad, his eyes shining with eagerness, approached.

"Please, Captain Hazzard, have it run up to the main-mast head," beseeched Billy.

"Have halliards reeved and run it up, Hazzard," said Captain Barrington, who came up at this moment, "the lads have certainly made a clean sweep."

So it came about that a strange emblem that much puzzled the captain of the Brutus was run up to the main-mast head as the two ships drew together.

"That's the Boy Aviators' standard," said Billy, proudly surveying it.

"We win."

Shortly afterward a boat from the Brutus came alongside with the mail. "Letters from home," what magic there is in these words to adventurers who have long sojourned in the solitary places of the earth! Eagerly the boys seized theirs and bore them off to quiet corners of the deck.

"Hurrah," cried Billy, after he had skimmed through his epistles. "I'm commissioned to write up the trip for two newspapers and a magazine. How's your news, boys, good?"

The boys looked up from their pile of correspondence.

"I'm afraid we're going to have a regular reception when we get home," said Frank rather apprehensively.

"Hurray! Brass-bands-speeches-red-fire and big-talk," cried Billy.

"None of that for us," said Harry, "I guess we'll retire to the country for a while, till it blows over."

But they did not escape, for on the arrival of the Polar ships in New York the boys and the commanders of the expedition were seized on and lionized till newer idols caught the popular taste. Then, and not till then, were they allowed to settle down in peace and quiet to tabulate the important scientific results of the expedition.

As for the Professor, what he wrote about Professor Tapper-a screed by the way that nearly caused a mortal combat between the two savants-may be read in his massive volume entitled "The Confutation of the Tapper Theory of a South Polar Fur-Bearing Pollywog, by Professor Simeon Sandburr." It weighs twelve pounds, and can be found in any large library.

CONCLUSION.

And here, although the author would dearly like to detail their further adventures, we must bid the Boy Aviators "Farewell." Those who have followed this series know, however, that the lads were not likely to remain long inactive without seeking further aerial adventures. Whether the tale of these will ever be set down cannot at this time be forecast. The Chester boys adventures have been recorded, not as the deeds of paragons or phenomenons, but as examples of what pluck, energy, and a mixture of brains, can accomplish,-and with this valedictory we will once more bid "God speed" to "The Boy Aviators."

THE END.

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