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CHAPTER I. A WONDERFUL TALE.
“So you think the earth has been thoroughly explored, and that there is no such thing as an undiscovered continent, do you?” asked Percy Randall, as he lit a cigar and seated himself comfortably in a chair in the office of Frank Reade, Jr., for a social chat.

The young inventor, who hardly needs an introduction to the reader, so well is he known the world over, turned from his desk and regarded his visitor with a quizzical smile.

“Still at that old theory, Randall?” he said. “I thought you had discarded it after that last expedition of yours.”

Randall, a bronzed, athletic man of thirty years, but with heaps of experience as a globe-trotter and explorer, winced, but replied lightly:

“Well, I did have a hard time. We lost our ship in Desolation Channel, and were forced to take to an iceberg. If we had had an overland machine like your Electric Scorcher, we could have easily crossed that ice barrier and set foot upon the new continent, the most wonderful part of the globe. But as it was we were carried north into Cape Horn waters on the berg and finally picked up by an Argentine vessel.”

Frank looked interested.

“Then you really believe that there is an inhabited and undiscovered continent beyond that ice barrier?” he asked.

“Why, I have old Jack Wendel’s word for it.”

“A sailor’s word is good except when connected with a story. The telling of a yarn is ample license for stretching the imagination.”

“Very good,” rejoined Randall, “but old Jack has given his davy on it, and all sorts of oaths. Oh, I firmly believe him.”

“I would much like to hear his story,” said Frank.

“You would?” asked Randall, eagerly.

“Yes.”

“Then you shall. I brought him here to-day for that purpose. He is just outside the door. I will call him.”

Randall opened the office door and called:

“Wendel, come in here!”

The next moment there appeared in the doorway the figure of a sailor of the old-time type, who spliced the mainbrace and made sennit in the forecastle in the palmy days of the “tea wagons” and seventy-four gun frigates.

Jack Wendel pulled his foretop respectfully before Frank, and said:

“With submission, sir, just come aboard, and at your service!”

“Glad to meet you, sir!” said Frank, warmly. “Sit down. My friend here tells me that you have a wonderful yarn to tell.”

Wendel shot a shrewd glance at Frank, then said:

“It is not a yarn, skipper. It is a true story, on my honor!”

“Very good,” said Frank. “I should be glad to have you repeat it to me.”

“And you, sir?”

Wendel looked at Randall, who said:

“Certainly, Jack: fire away.”

The old salt clasped his hands over his knees and began:

“It was in ’53, and I went out from Baltimore in the Mary Luce. Captain Barnaby, for Peru. There never was a stauncher ship, mates, nor the Luce. She stood up like a church in a running gale, and it was no light storm that put her under the rollers.

“Well, we were forty-three souls aboard—crew, officers, and a few passengers. We had a lucky voyage all the way across the Equator and down the coast until we struck ther Horn seas. Then there was the Old Harry to pay.

“We hit into a south storm, and for four days we were unable to tell where we were. The seas came aboard like avalanches and cleared the deck to the masts fore and aft. That was a leetle the toughest trip I ever had. And I haven’t forgotten it.

“Well, the way the wind did howl and the sea run! When at length the sun shone long enough to take an observation our skipper swore that we were south of the Antarctic Circle.

“And with that our bosun’s mate came up to say that the ship was leaking a hundred strokes a minute, more or less. We all turned to the pumps and worked like madmen.

“But what was the use? We could never hope to make land under many weeks, and the ship could not float that long. We were put to it pretty desperate, and finally the end came.

“There was no way but to take to the boats. What was worse, a little squall came up and made it almost impossible to launch ’em. Then the ship began to settle.

“I can’t tell ye just all about what followed. The captain’s boat was lowered and swamped. The longboat cleared with fourteen aboard, but was caught between the rollers and capsized. All hands went down.

“There were over twenty of us left on the ship’s deck, and a regular fight was made for the remaining boats. They were put out and two of ’em got clear and made off. But whatever became of ’em nobody ever knew. Six of us were left behind, and we had given ourselves up for lost.

“But the ship water-logged and did not sink as soon as it was thought that she would. That gave us time to make a raft. We put some stores on it, and set out in a calmer sea. For six weeks we floated in those icy seas.

“Luckily for us, it was the Antarctic summer, and we managed to get along with our thin clothing until we suddenly hailed land. Yes, it was actually land, away beyond the icebergs.

“There were mountains and a smoking volcano. At once our boys were decided to pay it a visit.

“The raft drifted on into the edge of the ice floe. Then we left her and cut out across the icefield.

“It would lake a long time for me to tell ye all that happened us on that long walk. One of our men slid into an air-hole and we never saw him again.

“Another died of exhaustion. But we kept on, though the cold was something awful to bear, until at last we came to a cut in the shore line. It was the mouth of a big river, and was jammed full of ice.

“It looked like a clear country beyond. We saw fir forests and evidences of a game country. So we pushed on over the ice-packs in the river.

“For fifty miles we followed the course of that icy river between fearful mountains and through deep gorges. At length we noticed a peculiar warmth in the atmosphere, and one of our boys, sniffing the air, declared:

“‘On my word, mates. I can smell land!’

“And, in fact, we could. The awful chill of the ice world was gone. Hope revived in our breasts. We kept on, and the farther we went the more evidences we found of the existence of a land clear from ice.

“At length we came to clear, open places in the river. Water was visible. There were bare patches of shore and hillside.

“The soil was auriferous, and we found slight evidences of minerals. Now a warm breeze relaxed our stiffened muscles and removed the tension from our lungs. We pressed on.

“A few days later we left the ice region behind us entirely, and came upon the wonderful Polar country. I couldn’t begin to describe it all to ye mates, but it was unlike any other part of the earth.

“Well, we wandered around for six months. It was easy to live there, for there was plenty of game. In the valleys were cities and towns, and at a distance we saw the Polar people. These are not to be classed with the Esquimaux, and seemed quite equal to the Europeans of the lower class.

“But we were not sure of a warm reception, so we did not venture to make their acquaintance. We kept out of sight in the hills.

“Well, we lived a year in the Polar country. We liked the life, but after awhile we tired of it as sailors will. Jim Welch wanted to go back to his wife in Salem: Rod Smith had a sweetheart in Buzzards’ Bay, and Jack Olson had promised his mother to stay at home with her after this voyage.

“So we figured out our position. We knew that in April the ice-fields would move north. Many of the big bergs would drift nearly to the Equator. We decided to make our way to one and take our chances on being picked up by a ship.

“So we made us suits of fur. Then we traveled down the river to the coast again.

“Here we found a big berg in a good position and made us a camp on it. We dug a deep cache and filled it with frozen meat and fowls. We dipped fresh water from small wooden troughs set in the top of the berg, which filled with water the first rain.

“When the proper time came the berg began to drift out to sea. Then we got into the Equatorial drift. It was a rough and strange experience.

“For months we lived on the berg, watching every day for a sail. Day by day the warm waters licked the ice away until all that was left of the big ice structure was about an acre in area. Then we knew that a great danger threatened us.

“One day Jim Welch, with a white face, came out, and said:

“‘Did ye feel that shiver in the berg a moment ago, lads? I tell ye she’ll turn turtle before two days!’

“You know that all bergs, after melting to a certain point, will grow top-heavy and turn over. That would settle our ease. And yet no sail.

“But the next morning at sunrise a Venezuelan schooner lay off our lee. The Gringo skipper answered our hail and took us off. He carried us to Caracas and we then shipped for New York.

“We were glad to get home, and none of us wanted to go back. But we could say that we had visited a part of the world that was never explored.

“And in that light we felt as big as Columbus, for there’s no telling what may some day come out of the discovery when trade is opened up. And that, mates, is the whole of my story!”


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