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- The Boy Aviators' Polar Dash - 20/38 -
"It is the nature of dynamite to explode downwards," said Frank. "When that charge is set off it will blow the ice away on either side and we shall float freely once more."
"Wonderful," exclaimed the professor. "I had better get my deep sea net. The explosion may kill some curious fish when it goes off."
He hurried away to get the article in question, while the boys stood beside Captain Hazzard, who was about to explode the heavy charges. Everybody was ordered to hold tight to something, and then the commander pushed the switch.
A mighty roar followed and the ship seemed to rise in the air. But only for an instant. The next minute she settled back and those on board her broke out in a cheer as they realized that they once more floated free of the great ice-reef.
The two ends of the obstruction having been blown off by the dynamite, the center portion was not buoyant enough to support the weight of the Southern Cross, and went scraping and bumping beneath her to bob up harmlessly to the surface at her stern.
There was only one dissenting voice in the general enthusiasm that reigned on board at the thought that they were now able to proceed, and that was the professor's. He had been untangling a forgotten rare specimen of deep-sea lobster from his net, when the explosion came.
In his agitation at the vessel's sudden heave and the unexpected noise, he had let his hand slip and the creature had seized him by the thumb. With a roar of pain the professor flung it from him and it flopped overboard.
"Hurray! we are off the reef, professor," shouted Frank, running aft to help adjust a stern cable that had been thrown out when the Southern Cross grounded.
"So I see, but I have lost a rare specimen of deep-sea lobster," groaned the professor, peering over the side of the ship to see if there were any hope of recapturing his prize.
The anchor of the Southern Cross was dropped to hold her firmly while the steel hawser was reconnected with the Brutus, and soon the coal ship and her consort were steaming steadily onward toward the Barrier and the polar night.
It grew steadily colder, but the boys did not mind the exhilarating atmosphere. They had games of ball and clambered about in the rigging, and kept in a fine glow in this way. The professor tried to join them at these games, but a tumble from halfway up the slippery main shrouds into a pile of snow, in which he was half smothered, soon checked his enthusiasm, and he thereafter devoted himself to classifying his specimens.
Great albatross now began to wheel round the vessel and the sailors caught some of the monster white and gray birds with long strings to which they had attached bits of bread and other bait. These were flung out into the air and the greedy creatures, making a dive for them, soon found themselves choking. They were then easily hauled to deck. Captain Hazzard, who disliked unnecessary cruelty, had given strict orders that the birds were to be released after their capture, and this was always done. The birds, however, seemed in no wise to profit by their lessons, for one bird, on the leg of which a copper ring had been placed to identify him, was captured again and again.
The professor, particularly, was interested in this sport, and devised a sort of lasso with a wire ring in it, with which he designed to capture the largest of the great birds, a monster with a wing spread of fully ten feet. Day after day he patiently coaxed the creature near with bits of bread, but the bird, with great cunning, came quite close to get the bread, but as soon as it saw the professor getting ready to swing his "lariat" it vanished.
"Ah-ha, my beauty, I'll get you yet," was all the professor said on these occasions. His patience was marvelous.
One day, as the ships were plunging along through ice-strewn seas, not far to the eastward of the inhospitable and bleak Shetland Islands, the professor accomplished his wish, and nearly ended his own career simultaneously.
The boys, who were amidships talking to Ben Stubbs, were apprised by a loud yell that something unusual was occurring aft, and ran quickly in that direction. There they saw a strange sight. The professor, with his feet hooked into a deck ring, was holding with both hands to the end of his lasso, while the albatross, which he had at last succeeded in looping, was flapping with all its might to escape.
"Help, help, he'll pull me overboard," screamed the professor.
"Let go the halliards!" roared Ben, who saw that there was, indeed, danger of what the professor feared happening.
"I can't let him escape. Help me!" yelled the professor.
"My feet are slipping!" he went on.
"Let go of the albatross," shouted the boys, who with Ben were hastening up the ladder leading to the raised stern. It did not look, however, as if they could reach there before the professor was carried overboard like the tail of a kite, by the huge bird he had lassoed.
Suddenly, with a howl of terror, the professor, who never seemed to entertain the thought of letting go of the bird, was jerked from his foothold by a sudden lurch of the ship.
Ben Stubbs was just in time. He sprang forward with wonderful agility and seized the professor's long legs just as the man of science was being pulled over the rail into space by the great albatross.
"Let go, dod gast you!" he bellowed, jerking the lasso out of the professor's hands, while the albatross went flapping off, a long streamer of rope hanging from its neck.
"I've lost my albatross," wailed the scientist.
"And blamed near lost yer own life," angrily exclaimed Ben. "Why didn't you let go?"
"Why, then I'd have lost the bird," said the professor, simply. "But I thank you for saving my life."
"Well, don't go doin' such fool things again," said Ben, angrily, for he had feared that he would not be in time to save the bigoted scientist's life.
The professor, however, was quite unruffled, and went about for some hours lamenting the loss of the huge antarctic bird. He consoled himself later, however, by shooting a beautiful little snow petrel, which he stuffed and mounted and presented to Ben Stubbs, who was quite mollified by the kind-hearted, if erratic, professor's gift.
A POLAR STORM.
Early in February the voyagers, whose progress had been slow, found themselves in a veritable sea of "Pancake ice." Everywhere in a monotonous waste the vast white field seemed to stretch, with only a few albatrosses and petrels dotting its lonely surface. The thermometer dropped to ten below zero, and the boys found the snug warmth of the steam-heated cabins very desirable. There was a fair wind, and sail had been set on the Southern Cross to aid the work of towing her, and she was driving through the ice with a continuous rushing and crashing sound that at first was alarming, but to which her company soon grew accustomed.
Captain Barrington announced at noon that day that they were then in lat. 60 degrees 28 minutes, and longitude 59 degrees 20 minutes West--bearings which showed that they would be, before many days had past, at the Great Barrier itself. Excitement ran high among the boys at the receipt of this news, and Frank and Harry, who had fitted up a kind of work-room in the warmed hold, worked eagerly at their auto-sledge, which was expected to be of much use in transporting heavy loads to and from the ship to the winter quarters.
Before the two vessels reached the Barrier, however, they were destined to encounter a spell of bad weather.
One evening Ben Stubbs announced to the boys, who had been admiring a sunset of a beauty seldom seen in northern climes, that they were in for a hard blow, and before midnight his prediction was realized. Frank awoke in his bunk, to find himself alternately standing, as it seemed, on his head and his feet. The Southern Cross was evidently laboring heavily and every plank and bolt in her was complaining. Now and again a heavy sea would hit the rudder with a force that threatened to tear it from its pintles, solidly though it was contrived.
Somewhat alarmed, the boy aroused the others, and they hastened out on deck. As they emerged from the cabin the wind seemed to blow their breath back into their bodies and an icy hand seemed to grip them. It was a polar-storm that was raging in all its fury.
As she rose on a wave, far ahead the boys could see the lights of the Brutus. Only for a second, however, for the next minute she would vanish in the trough of a huge comber, and then they could hear the strained towing cable "twang" like an overstretched piano wire.
"Will it hold?" That was the thought in the minds of all.
In order to ease the hawser as much as possible, Captain Barrington, when he had noted the drop of the barometer, had ordered a "bridle," or rope attachment, placed on the end of the cable, so as to give it elasticity and lessen the effect of sudden strains, but the mountainous seas that pounded against the blunt bows of the Southern Cross were proving the stout steel strand to the uttermost.
The boys tried to speak, but their words were torn from their lips by the wind and sent scattering. In the dim light they could see the forms of the sailors hurrying about the decks fastening additional lashings to the deck cargo and making things as snug as possible.
Suddenly there came a shout forward, followed by a loud "bang!" that made itself audible even above the roar of the hurricane.
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