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- The Boy Aviators' Polar Dash - 2/38 -
first no little difficulty in recognizing Captain Hazzard. In grimy overalls, with a battered woolen cap of the Tam o' Shanter variety on his head, and his face liberally smudged with grime and dust,--for on the opposite side of the Southern Cross three lighters were at work coaling her,--a figure more unlike that of the usually trim and trig officer could scarcely be imagined.
The lads' confusion was only momentary, however, and ended in a hearty laugh as they nimbly ascended the narrow gangway and gained the deck by their friend's side. After a warm handshake, Frank exclaimed merrily:
"I suppose we are now another part of the miscellaneous cargo, sir. If we are in the way tell us and we'll go ashore again."
"No, I've got you here now and I don't mean to let you escape," laughed the other in response; "in my cabin--its aft there under the break in the poop, you'll find some more overalls, put them on and then I'll set you both to work as tallyers."
Harry looked blank at this. He had counted on rambling over the ship and examining her at his leisure. It seemed, however, that they were to be allowed no time for skylarking. Frank, however, obeyed with alacrity.
"Ay, ay, sir!" he exclaimed, with a sailor-like hitch at his trousers; "come, Harry, my hearty, tumble aft, we might as well begin to take orders now as any other time."
"That's the spirit, my boy," exclaimed the captain warmly, as Harry, looking a bit shamefaced at his temporary desire to protest, followed his brother to the stern of the ship.
Once on board there was no room to doubt that the Southern Cross had once been a whaler under the prosaic name of Eben A. Thayer. In fact if there had been any indecision about the matter the strong smell of oil and blubber which still clung to her, despite new coats of paint and a thorough cleaning, would have dispelled it.
The engine-room, as is usual in vessels of the type of the converted whaler, was as far aft as it could be placed, and the boys noticed with satisfaction as they entered the officers' quarters aft, that the radiators had been connected with the boilers and had warmed the place up to a comfortable temperature. A Japanese steward showed them into Captain Hazzard's cabin, and they selected a suit of overalls each from a higgledy-piggledy collection of oil-skins, rough pilot-cloth suits and all manner of headgear hanging on one of the cabin bulkheads.
They had encased themselves in them, and were laughing at the whimsical appearance they made in the clumsy garments, when the captain himself entered the cabin.
"The stevedores have knocked off for a rest spell and a smoke and the lighters are emptied," he announced, "so I might as well show you boys round a bit. Would you care to?"
Would they care to? Two hearty shouts of assent left the young commander no doubt on this score.
The former Eben A. Thayer had been a beamy ship, and the living quarters of her officers astern left nothing to be desired in the way of room. On one side of the cabin, extending beneath the poop deck, with a row of lights in the circular wall formed by the stern, were the four cabins to be occupied by Captain Hazzard, the chief engineer, a middle-aged Scotchman named Gavin MacKenzie, Professor Simeon Sandburr, the scientist of the expedition, and the surgeon, a Doctor Watson Gregg.
The four staterooms on the other side were to be occupied by the boys, whom the lieutenant assigned to the one nearest the stern, the second engineer and the mate were berthed next to them. Then came the cabin of Captain Pent Barrington, the navigating officer of the ship, and his first mate, a New Englander, as dry as salt cod, named Darius Green. The fourth stateroom was empty. The steward bunked forward in a little cabin rigged up in the same deck-house as the galley which snuggled up to the foot of the foremast.
Summing up what the boys saw as they followed their conductor over the ship they found her to be a three-masted, bark-rigged vessel with a cro' nest, like a small barrel, perched atop of her mainmast. Her already large coal bunkers had been added to until she was enabled to carry enough coal to give her a tremendous cruising radius. It was in order to economize on fuel she was rigged for the carrying of sail when she encountered a good slant of wind. Her forecastle, originally the dark, wet hole common to whalers, had been built up till it was a commodious chamber fitted with bunks at the sides and a swinging table in the center, which could be hoisted up out of the way when not in use. Like the officers' cabins, it was warmed by radiators fed from the main boilers when under way and from the donkey, or auxiliary, boiler when hove to.
Besides the provisions, which the stevedores, having completed their "spell," were now tumbling into the hold with renewed ardor, the deck was piled high with a strange miscellany of articles. There were sledges, bales of canvas, which on investigation proved to be tents, coils of rope, pick-axes, shovels, five portable houses in knock-down form, a couple of specially constructed whale boats, so made as to resist any ordinary pressure that might be brought to bear on them in the polar drift, and nail-kegs and tool-chests everywhere.
Peeping into the hold the boys saw that each side of it had been built up with big partitions, something like the pigeon-holes in which bolts of cloth are stored in dry-goods shops--only much larger. Each of these spaces was labeled in plain letters with the nature of the stores to be placed there so that those in charge of the supplies would have no difficulty in laying their hands at once on whatever happened to be needed. Each space was provided with a swiveled bar of stout timber which could be pulled across the front of the opening in heavy weather, and which prevented anything plunging out.
Captain Hazzard explained that the heavy stores were stowed forward and the provisions aft. A gallery ran between the shelves from stem to stern and provided ready access to any part of the holds. A system of hot steam-pipes had been rigged in the holds so that in the antarctic an equable temperature could be maintained. The great water tanks were forward immediately below the forecastle. The inspection of the engines came last. The Southern Cross had been fitted with new water-tube boilers--two of them--that steamed readily on small fuel consumption. Her engine was triple expansion, especially installed, as the boilers had been, to take the place of the antiquated machinery boasted by the old Thayer.
"Hoot, mon, she's as fine as a liner," commented old MacKenzie, the "chief," who had taken charge of the boys on this part of their expedition over the vessel, which was destined to be their home for many months.
"Some day," said Frank, "every vessel will be equipped with gasoline motors and all this clumsy arrangement of boilers and complicated piping will be done away with."
The old Scotch engineer looked at him queerly.
"Oh, ay," he sniffed, "and some day we'll all go to sea in pea-soup bowls nae doot."
"Well, a man in Connecticut has built a schooner out of cement," declared Harry.
The engineer looked at him and slowly wiped his hands on a bit of waste.
"I ken his head must be a muckle thicker nor that," was his comment, at which both the boys laughed as they climbed the steel ladders that led from the warm and oily regions to the deck. The engineer, with a "dour" Scot's grin, gazed after them.
"Hoots-toots," he muttered to his gauges and levers, "the great ice has a wonderful way with lads as cocksure as them twa."
A MYSTERIOUS ROBBERY.
Their inspection of the Southern Cross completed, the delighted boys accompanied Captain Hazzard back to the main cabin, where he unfolded before them a huge chart of the polar regions.
The chart was traced over in many places with tiny red lines which made zig-zags and curves over the blankness of the region south of the eightieth parallel.
"These lines mark the points reached by different explorers," explained the captain. "See, here is Scott's furthest south, and here the most recent advance into south polar regions, that of Sir Ernest Shackleton. In my opinion Shackleton might have reached his goal if he had used a motor sledge, capable of carrying heavy weights, and not placed his sole dependence on ponies."
The boys nodded; Frank had read the explorer's narrative and realized that what Captain Hazzard said was in all probability correct.
"It remains for your expedition to carry the Stars and Stripes further to the southward yet," exclaimed Frank, enthusiastically, as Captain Hazzard rolled up the map.
"Not only for us," smiled the captain; "we have a rival in the field."
"A rival expedition?" exclaimed Frank.
"Exactly. Some time this month a Japanese expedition under Lieutenant Saki is to set out from Yokahama for Wilkes Land.
"They are to be towed by a man-of-war until they are in the polar regions so as to save the supply of coal on the small steamer they are using," went on the captain. "Everything has been conducted with the utmost secrecy and it is their intention to beat us there if possible--hence all this haste."
"How did our government get wind of the fact that the Japs are getting ready another expedition?" inquired Frank, somewhat puzzled.
"By means of our secret service men. I don't doubt that the Japanese secret service men in this country have also notified their government of our expedition. England also is in the race but the Scott
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