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- The Boy Aviators' Polar Dash - 30/38 -
Suddenly Billy, with a shout that was half a scream, called attention to the holes they had noticed at the foot of the acclivity.
"Look, look at that!" he chattered, his teeth clicking like castanets with sheer terror.
"We are lost!" shouted the professor, starting back with blanched cheeks.
From the strange holes they had previously noticed at the foot of the cliffs, dozens of huge creatures of a form and variety unknown to any in the party, were crawling and flopping into the lake.
That their intentions were hostile was evident. As they advanced in a line that would bring them between the boys and their aeroplane, they emitted the same harsh, menacing roar that had first started the adventurers.
"Run for your lives," shouted Frank, as the monsters cleaved the water, every minute bringing them nearer.
ADRIFT ABOVE THE SNOWS.
"Whatever are they?" gasped Billy, as they ran for the aeroplane.
"Prehistoric monsters," rejoined the professor, who was almost out of breath.
The next minute he stumbled on a bit of basalt and fell headlong. Had it not been for this accident they could have gained the aeroplane in time, but, as it was, the brief space it took to aid the scientist to his feet gave the creatures of the cliff a chance to intercept the little party.
As the creatures drew themselves out of the green warm water of the lake with hideous snarls the boys saw that the animals were great creatures that must have weighed several hundred pounds each and were coated with shaggy hair. Their heads and bodies were shaped not unlike seals except that they had huge tusks; but each monster had two short legs in front and a pair of large flippers behind. Their appearance was sufficiently hideous to alarm the most callous venturer into the Antarctic.
"We've got to make the aeroplane," exclaimed Frank, "come on, get your guns out and fire when I give the word. If we can only kill a few of them perhaps the rest will take fright."
"A good idea," assented the professor producing his revolver, a weapon that might have proved fatal to a butterfly, but certainly would not be of any effect against the shaggy foes they now faced.
"Fire!" cried Frank, when the others had their heavy magazine weapons ready.
A volley of lead poured into the ranks of the monsters and several of them, with horribly human shrieks, fled wounded toward the lake. A strong sickening odor of musk filled the air as the creatures bled.
But far from alarming the rest of the monsters the attack seemed to render them ten times more savage than before. With roars of rage they advanced toward the boys, making wonderful speed on their legs and flippers.
"Let 'em have it again," shouted Frank as he noted with anxiety that the first fusillade had been a failure, the rough coats and thick hide of the monsters deflecting the bullets.
Once more the adventurers emptied their pistols, but the shaggy coats of the great creatures still seemed to prevent the bullets doing any serious injury.
The boys' position was ominous indeed. An order from Frank to reload resulted in the discovery that he alone of any of the party had a belt full of cartridges; the others had all used up the few they had carried.
"We're goners sure," gasped Billy as the creatures hesitated before another scattering discharge of bullets, but still advanced, despite the fact that this time two were killed. Suddenly, however, their leader with a strange cry threw his head upward and seemed to sniff at the air as if in apprehension.
At the same instant a slight trembling of the ground on which the adventurers stood was perceptible.
"It's an earthquake," cried Billy, recollecting his experience in Nicaragua.
With wild cries the monsters all plunged into the lake. They seemed to be in terror. Behind them they left several of their wounded, the latter making pitiful efforts to reach the water.
"Whatever is going to happen?" cried Billy in dismay, at the animals' evident terror of some mysterious event that was about to transpire, and the now marked disturbance of the earth.
As he spoke, the earth shook violently once more and a rumbling sound like subterranean thunder filled the air.
"It's the mountain!" shouted the professor, who had been gazing about, "it's going to erupt."
From the crater they had explored there were now rolling up great masses of bright, yellow smoke in sharp contrast to the dark vapors that had hitherto poured from it. A mighty rumbling and roaring proceeded from its throat as the smoke poured out, and vivid, blue flames shot through the sulphurous smother from time to time.
"We've no time to lose," cried Frank, "come on, we must get to the aeroplane in a hurry."
They all took to their heels over the trembling ground, not stopping to gaze behind them. The monsters had all disappeared, and as they had not been seen to re-enter their holes they were assumed to be hiding at the bottom of the lake.
As the boys gained the aeroplane and clambered in, Frank uttered an exclamation:
"Where's the professor?"
In a few seconds they espied him carefully bending over the dead body of one of the slain monsters several yards away.
"Come on, professor," they shouted, "there's no time to lose."
"One second and I have him," the scientist called back.
At the same instant he made a dart at the dead creature's shaggy fur and appeared to grasp something. He hastily drew out a bottle and dropped whatever he had seized into it and then started leaping and bounding toward the aeroplane, his long legs looking like stilts as he advanced over the uneven ground.
He was just in time.
As the aeroplane left the ground the water in the lakes became violently agitated and steam arose from fissures in the mountain side. Flames shot up to a considerable height above the crater and a torrent of black lava began to flow toward the lakes, falling into them with a loud hissing sound that was audible to the boys, even after they had put many miles between themselves and the burning mountain.
"That will be the last of those monsters, I expect," remarked Harry as they flew steadily northward.
"I don't know," observed the professor, "they may have caves under water where they can keep cool. They evidently knew what to expect when they felt the first rumblings and shaking of the earth and must have had previous experience. I guess I was mistaken in thinking the volcano inactive."
"It was a piece of great good luck for us that the eruption came when it did," said Frank.
"It was a terrific one," commented Billy.
The professor laughed.
"Terrific," he echoed, "why, my boy, you ought to see a real eruption. This was nothing. See, the smoke is already dying down. It is over."
"Well, it may not have been a big one, but you were in a mighty hurry to get to the aeroplane," said Billy with a grin.
"That was so that I could get my volcano monster's flea back safe and sound," exclaimed the man of science. "See here."
He took from his pocket and held up a small bottle.
"Look there," he exclaimed in triumph.
"Well," said the others, who, all but Frank, who was steering, were regarding the naturalist.
"Well," he repeated somewhat querulously, "don't you see it?"
"See what?" asked Billy, after a prolonged scrutiny of the bottle.
"Why, the flea, the little insect I caught in the shaggy fur of the volcano monster?"
"No," cried both boys simultaneously.
The professor gazed at the bottle in a puzzled way.
"Bless my soul, you are right," he exclaimed, angrily, "the little creature eluded me. Oh, dear, this is a bitter day for science. I was in such a hurry to pop my specimen into the bottle that I held him carelessly and he evidently hopped away. Oh, this is a terrible, an irreparable, loss."
Although the boys tried to comfort him they could not. He seemed overcome by grief.
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