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CHAPTER III. IN SOUTHERN SEAS.
And now, with the reader’s permission, we will change the scene of our story to the high seas south of the Equator.

The Black Pearl, staunch brig, was plowing her way through a white-capped sea. Unusually good weather had favored the party thus far.

There had been no difficulty encountered with the doldrums or head-winds even, and the Pearl had made a quick passage.

The sun was fiercely hot, and they were yet able to realize that they were in the tropics. But they knew that every hour now brought them nearer to their destination.

On the deck a canopy had been erected, and under this all were fond of reclining.

The principal pastime was of discussing the probable results of the trip and the peculiarities of the Antarctic land.

As near as Frank could figure, the fiord or river outlet, by means of which Wendel and his companions had entered the Antarctic country, was off the coast of Graham Land.

In that case a course due south from Cape Horn would be pretty sure to bring them into the right locality. So the brig held that course.

The arrangement was that Captain Ward should land them as near the Antarctic coast as possible on the icefield.

Then he would return to Montevideo and remain four months, after which he would come back to the edge of the icefield and cruise about for a month.

Finding no signs of the voyagers then he would go back to Montevideo for two months more, thence returning to the ice-pack for a month.

After three such attempts, consuming about a year in time, he would then be assured that the adventurers would not come out alive, and he could go wherever his fancy dictated.

This was the plan.

Frank had chartered the Pearl and crew for one year, paying them a liberal bonus, for the voyage was a more arduous one than the ordinary.

There were eighteen men in the crew, all plucky and hardy fellows, who were ready to fight at command.

Captain Ward was intensely interested in the project of exploring the Antarctic Continent, and more than once hinted at a desire to leave his ship and accompany the Scorcher’s party.

But our adventurers took great pains not to encourage such a thing, for there were already enough in the party.

As is usually the case, the forecastle also got hold of the matter and the result was that a pretty yarn was soon going the rounds.

This was to the effect that there were fabulous gold mines back of the great ice-belt, and that the voyagers were bound thither to work the newly discovered mines.

Now, if there is one thing which will inflame the minds of lawless men it is the yellow metal.

At once a thrill of excitement ran through the ship.

The fever was on, and it had a lamentable and disastrous effect upon the sailors.

They neglected their duties and crowded in secret knots about the ship. Look into the eyes of any one of them and there you would see the demon of avarice, the haunting, restless spirit of gain and greed.

Of course, such a state of affairs as this could not help but be bad for the ship and all on board.

The crew might mutiny.

Frank was the first to notice it, and said to Randall:

“I am afraid that idea is going to make trouble. Even the captain has the foolish fancy.”

“You are right,” agreed Randall, “and it has worried me not a little. What ought we to do about it?”

“Is there any way in which we can dispel the illusion?”

“I can think of no way save to call them to quarters and have the captain tell them what the real errand of the Scorcher is.”

“Will they believe it?”

“Perhaps not, but I see no other way.”

“Very well.”

So Randall held a consultation with Captain Ward, and the result was that the men were called aft and lectured.

The mission of the Scorcher was enlarged upon, but even as he berated his crew it could be seen that the captain was not himself convinced.

Frank shook his head ominously at this.

“I am afraid that trouble will come out of it all,” he said.

Below the Tropic of Capricorn the weather grew cooler and more rapid progress was made.

One day some islands were sighted off to the southwest. Captain Ward closed his glass, and said:

“The Falklands, gentlemen. Do you wish to stop there awhile?”

“No!” replied Frank, emphatically. “Let us get into southern waters as quickly as possible.”

“Aye, aye, sir!”

Straight southward the brig held her way. But progress now was slow.

They encountered rough seas and heavy storms. For weeks the brig fought her way through mountain rollers, until at last, somewhat battered, she sighted distant land.

The captain consulted his chart, and said:

“I reckon that is Graham Land. But there are fifty miles of ice-floes this side of it. Perhaps, though, we can find a channel for the brig.”

Down among the ice-floes the Pearl sailed. It was difficult work, but after many days of struggling she anchored in a little lagoon in the icefield and not ten miles from the coast.

And Wendel pointed to a distant break in the coast and cried:

“There is the fiord or river mouth up which we steered.”

This caused intense excitement. Preparations were at once begun for unloading the Scorcher.

The sections of the machine were taken off upon the ice-pack. Then Barney and Pomp went to work to put it together.

In a short space the mad line was all ready for the start. All this while the captain and his men had stood by eagerly watching.

The captain had asked Frank many questions, all of which the young inventor had thought it no harm to answer.

At length the adventurers went aboard the Scorcher and all was ready for the start. The ice-shoes had been fitted to the wheels, which were in turn trigged with chains.

Under each wheel was a sharp cog arrangement which struck into the ice and thus propelled the Scorcher over the smooth surface or the clinging snow. And thus the start was made.

Frank and his companions had shaken hands with the captain, and the young inventor said:

“I suppose you will soon be on your way to Montevideo, Mr. Ward. You will need to make haste to avoid getting shut up in the ice-pack for the coming winter.”

“I will look out for that!” replied Ward, stiffly.

He was offended.

Then the Scorcher glided slowly away across the icefield, leaving the brig yet in the little ice-bound basin.

The progress across the icefield was by no means easy.

There were sections of it where the ice-cakes had crashed together and made long mounds or high harriers. Sometimes these were fifty feet or more in height.

But the travelers pushed on.

They were used to overcoming obstacles.

It was often necessary to make a smooth road over or through these barriers, and this took much time. The light of the waning Antarctic day was none too bright.

But steadily our adventurers drew nearer to the mighty cliffs and headlands, which opened to create the deep fiord.

The trip, however, was not without incident, for just as they were skirting a high pinnacle of ice, it cracked, crumbled and fell.

The descending avalanche, fortunately, did not fall squarely upon the Scorcher, else the result might have been serious.

It, instead, massed itself about the machine and half buried it. For a time the adventurers were in a virtual panic.

They feared the Scorcher might be injured.

But as soon as the crashing ice settled into place, Frank sprung out of the pilot-house and began to examine the running gear of the machine.

“How is it?” asked Randall; “has anything smashed?”

“Nothing,” replied Frank, joyfully. “I feared the worst.”

“I thought we were doomed.”

“So did I, but thanks to Providence we are all right.”

“Save for the ice.”

“Hang me for a whale,” exploded Wendel, “I don’t see how we’ll ever squirm out of this, mates!”

“Well, you shall see,” said Frank. “Barney and Pomp, here’s work for us. Let all hands fall to.”

In a few moments all had doffed their fur garments and were working like beavers.

The ice was cleared from the deck after twenty minutes of hard work. Then Frank hit upon an idea.

He went into the pilot-house and brought out a number of heavy wires.

“What are you going to do, Frank?” asked Randall.

“Wait and you will see,” said the young inventor, vaguely.

“I will do so,” agreed Randall. “I suppose it is as good as settled that we are out of here without further effort?”

“Don’t be so sure.”

“Oh, you never fail. If I had half your resource and inventive faculty I would be a king among men.”

“Pshaw!” said Frank, testily. “Don’t talk nonsense!”

Over the ice-heap the young inventor went with the wires. Then he brought out small dynamite cartridges and placed one at the end of each wire. It was now that Randall clearly saw his purpose.

“Will not the explosion injure the machine?” he asked.

“It is not sufficient in quantity,” replied Frank. “If it was in a mass it might, but such small charges will only shake the ice to powder. Once we can clear it away from the wheels we are all right.”

However, the voyagers watched Frank’s work with some anxiety as well as interest. After awhile it was completed.

Then the young inventor connected the wires with the dynamos. A touch of the electric button and the charge was off.

There was quite a sharp explosion.

A quantity of loose ice shot up into the air, and the whole mass gradually settled lower.

The huge cakes were split and riven in twain, and made easier to handle. As they were clearing them away Barney gave a sharp cry.

He picked up a block of ice in which was imbedded a man’s skull. It was a hideous looking object.


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