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CHAPTER IV. UP THE FIORD.
In an instant all were crowded about the Celt, and interested in his strange discovery.

“Shure, phwereiver did this poor sowl come from?” cried the Celt. “Shure, he must have died here!”

“Golly! did yo’ ebber see de beat ob dat?” cried Pomp, in amazement.

“A human skull!” ejaculated Randall. “How is it, Frank? Is not that proof that these frozen latitudes are inhabited?”

“It is proof that they have been visited before by man,” agreed Frank. “It looks like the skull of a civilized man.”

“And so it is, mates,” cried Wendel. “Now I remember, when we crossed this icefield John Morgan, one of our men, died and we buried him here in the ice. I reckon that is his skull.”

“The mystery explained,” cried Randall, “but where is the rest of the body?”

“That question is readily answered,” replied Frank. “The constant shifting of the ice may have disintegrated the body and distributed parts of it everywhere. Lively now, and let’s get the machine clear. Time is valuable.”

Ten minutes later the Scorcher glided out of its bed of ice and crossed the high line of ice-blocks to the smooth icefield beyond.

“All aboard!” cried Frank.

The rest of the way to the coast was easy traveling. Then the mouth of the fiord was entered.

It was the gateway to the unknown world of the Antarctic, and it need hardly be said that all in the party were intensely interested.

High up on the rocky steeps of the fiord snow-burdened firs hung over the abyss. At times a bear or a fox might be seen among the icy rocks.

Great flocks of penguins and other water fowl were in evidence. There was an abundance of game.

The Scorcher soon came to a long, level reach of smooth ice. Over this the machine sped with ease.

Miles flew by and soon the snow-burdened region began to unfold itself.

Wendel suddenly pointed to a distant range of mighty mountains, and declared:

“Look ye, mates! Beyond that range is the new continent. Do you see that column of smoke?”

“The volcano!” ejaculated Frank.

“Just so, skipper. We crossed the range to the west of that. This river rises somewhere in those heights.”

“How far distant are they?” asked Randall.

“About seventy miles,” calculated Frank.

“Yes, fully one hundred,” declared Wendel. “Distances are greater in this sort of atmosphere.”

“That is quite likely,” agreed Frank, “but it looks to me as if we must have rough traveling to get there.”

“Stick to the river,” declared Wendel, “then there will be no trouble.”

The voyagers now kept their gaze constantly upon the distant volcanic range. The blue haze which seemed to hang over their black summits was certainly fair proof that a land free from snow and ice existed beyond.

It was easy to understand why snow and ice did not cling to the volcanic mountains, for the internal fires doubtless banished it. But what was beyond would have been a matter of conjecture but for Wendel’s story.

The gloom which hung over the Antarctic country had begun to increase largely, until it became certain that the Polar night was at hand.

The sun had not been seen above the horizon since entering the fiord, and there were times when it became almost necessary to use the searchlight.

But they had soon covered most of the distance to the volcanic hills. As they drew nearer, they were compelled to leave the river, as the ice melted and huge stretches of open water appeared.

But fortunately the surface of the ground was such that they had little trouble in making their way along, until finally long, level tracts of green slopes lay between them and the volcano.

An eruption was in progress, and the spectacle was a grand one.

The ground trembled even where they were, and great fiery streams of lava were seen coursing down the crater’s side.

Immense shafts of fire, smoke and ashes shot up from the crater to an enormous height.

While the eruption was in progress it was not deemed best to approach nearer. It lasted fully two hours.

When it ceased Frank sent the Scorcher ahead. Between the volcano and an adjoining mountain he saw a deep pass, and into this the machine plunged.

It was as dark as Erebus, but the searchlight made the way clearer. Great walls of basalt rose upon either side.

Wendel, however, assured Frank that this pass was the true entrance to the warm valleys beyond. So the young inventor did not hesitate.

The snowshoes had been removed from the wheels, for they had now left the snow and ice region behind.

The air had rapidly grown milder, and it became necessary to remove all their heavy clothing. Indeed, the air which now rushed through the gorge was like a hot blast.

In a short while, however, as Wendel had predicted, the walls of the gorge began to widen, and now for the first time our voyagers beheld the land of promise, the new continent.

There it lay before them, green and fertile and beautiful as far as the eye could reach.

From their exalted position they could see a great panorama, smooth, green plains, clumps of trees, winding streams and beautiful lakes. They gazed upon it spellbound.

For months they had beheld nothing but stormy waters, cold icebergs and inhospitable rocks.

It was a relief to the senses and to the soul to now gaze upon this wonderful revelation of Divine Nature.

Wendel and Barney and Pomp raised their caps and cheered.

“Be me sowl, it looks foine down there!” cried the Celt. “Shure, I’d loike a dip in that clear, cool wather!”

Everybody laughed at this.

“What, so soon after leaving a region of ice, Barney?” cried Randall. “Really I should not think your blood would heat so quickly as that.”

But Barney hung to his hobby and announced his intention of taking a swim whenever the Scorcher should have reached the right locality. Pomp did the same.

The intense gloom which prevailed over the ice region for some strange reason did not seem to exist here. A peculiar, bright light, which seemed like a reflection from the zenith, made the Polar Continent quite light.

For a time our adventurers regarded the panorama below them. Then Frank started the Scorcher down the mountain slopes to a series of plateaus just below.

Wendel was right in his element.

He recalled many scenes and incidents upon all sides, and never tired of telling of them.

Frank inquired:

“But the cities and towns, and the Polar people. We have seen nothing of them yet!”

“Well, it is high time,” replied Wendel. “I think we will see them from lower ground.”

So all looked forward eagerly to this possibility. The Scorcher, with brakes on, slowly made its way down the mountain side.

Soon, after a descent of a few thousand feet, not unattended, with risk, the machine slid out upon a plateau. Here the surface was comparatively smooth and free from obstructions.

The Scorcher rolled forward to the verge of the plateau.

Then glasses were brought out, and all looked for the habitations described by Wendel, but the old sailor was given a great surprise.

They were nowhere visible.

Words can hardly depict his supreme amazement. The eyes of all were fixed upon him.

“Well, I’m blowed,” exclaimed the old sailor. “I can say that there were cities and towns and people here, when I was here before! I don’t see how they could take wings and fly away!”

“That is very curious, Jack,” said Randall. “Are you sure this is the locality visited by you?”

“Sartin it is, mate.”

Presently Frank and Randall descended from the deck of the Scorcher, and strolled along the verge of the plateau.

“In every other respect,” said Randall, “the old fellow’s story has proven correct.’”

“That is true,” replied Frank, “and yet it seems hardly possible that he could be mistaken in regard to seeing the people and their towns.”

“Exactly! How, then, do you explain the discrepancy?”

“There is one way.”

“What is it?”

“Perhaps they have departed for some other part of this region.”

“Abandoned the country?”

“Just so!”

“But—what would be their reason?”

“That can hardly be explained without further investigation. Perhaps an enemy descended upon them and swept them out of existence. Perhaps a pestilence or a flood.”

“There must have been some reason for it.”

“Just so.”

“Well, what shall we do?”

“I propose that we push our way down into this abandoned country. We will doubtless find some trace of the Polar people, perhaps the ruins of their town.”

“I agree with you, and I am eager to go on. Let us lose no time.”

“One moment, please!”

Frank placed his glass to his eyes and studied some objects in the valley below for a few moments.

Then he exclaimed:

“Have you a glass, Randall?”

“Yes.”

“Take a look to the east of that little clump of trees down there. Do you see anything?”

Randall complied with this request. His face changed.

“It looks like a building of stone.”

“Exactly!”

“If there are others, or if it is one of a town, they are hidden behind the trees.”

“So I believe. Wendel has told us truly. Let us go down there at once. How far is it?”

“Ten miles.”

“Yes, all of that.”

Hastily the two explorers made their way back to the Scorcher. It needed but a glance for the others to see at once that something was up.

“Wha’ am de word. Marse Frank?” asked Pomp, eagerly.

“Move!” replied Frank. “We shall go ahead, and I believe important discoveries are near at hand.”



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