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- The Boy Aviators' Polar Dash - 4/38 -
Oyama, the Jap, was missing and that several papers bearing on the objects of the expedition which were,--except in a general way,--a mystery to the boys themselves, had been stolen.
Putting two and two together, Frank had made up his mind that the Jap whose case Billy had been assigned to investigate was none other than Oyama himself, and as they entered the space described above his eyes eagerly swept the row of prisoners seated in the "Pen."
"I was sure of it," the boy exclaimed as his eyes encountered an abject, huddled-up figure seated next a ragged, besotted-looking tramp.
"Sure of what?" demanded Harry.
"Why, that Oyama was the man who stole the papers from the Southern Cross."
"Well, there he is now."
Frank indicated the abject object in the corner who at the same moment raised a yellow face and bloodshot eyes and gazed blearily at him. There was no sign of recognition in the face, however. In fact the Jap appeared to be in a stupor of some sort.
"Is that little Jap known to you?"
Frank turned: a gray moustached man with a red face and keen eyes was regarding him and had put the question.
"He is--yes," replied the boy, "but----"
"Oh, you need not hesitate to talk to me," replied the stranger, "I am Dr. McGuire, the prison surgeon, and I take a professional interest in his case. The man is stupefied with opium or some drug that seems to have numbed his senses."
"Do you think it was self-administered?" asked the boy.
"Oh, undoubtedly. Those fellows go on regular opium debauches sometimes. In this case perhaps it is very fortunate for some one that he was imprudent enough to take such heavy doses of the drug that the policeman picked him up, for a lot of papers were found on him. They are meaningless to me, but perhaps you can throw some light on them."
"The papers, we believe, are the property of Captain Hazzard, the head of the government's South Polar expedition," exclaimed Frank, whose suspicions had rapidly become convictions at the sight of the Jap. "We have no right to examine into their contents, but I suppose there would be no harm in our looking at them to make sure. I can then notify the Captain."
"You are friends of his?"
"We are attached to the expedition," replied Frank, "but I must ask you not to mention it, as I do not know but we are breaking our promise of secrecy even in such an important matter as this."
"You can depend that I shall not violate your confidence," promised Dr. McGuire.
It was the matter of few moments only to secure the papers from the court clerk. There was quite a bundle of them, some of them sealed. Apparently the thief, elated over his success in stealing them, had indulged himself in his beloved drug before he had even taken the trouble to examine fully into his finds. One paper, however, had been opened and seemed to be, as Frank could not help noticing, a sort of document containing "General Orders" to the expedition.
It consisted of several closely typewritten pages, and on the first one Frank lit on the magic words,--"--AND CONCERNING THE SHIP OF OLAF, THE VIKING ROVER, YOU WILL PROCEED ACROSS THE BARRIER, USING ALL DISCRETION, AS A RIVAL NATION HAS ALSO SOME INKLING OF THE PRESENCE OF THE LONG-LOST VESSEL AND,--"
Though the boy would have given a good deal to do so he felt that he could not honorably read more. He resolutely, therefore, closed the paper and restored it to its place in the mass of other documents. There was, of course, no question that the papers were the property of Captain Hazzard, and that the Jap had stolen them. The latter was therefore sentenced to spend the next six weeks on Blackwell's Island, by the expiration of which time the Southern Cross would be well on her voyage toward The Great Barrier.
As the boys left the court, having been told that Captain Hazzard's papers would be sealed and restored him when he called for them and made a formal demand for their delivery, they were deep in excited talk.
"Well, if this doesn't beat all," exclaimed Frank, "we always seem to be getting snarled up with those chaps. You remember what a tussle they gave us in the Everglades."
"Not likely to forget it," was the brief rejoinder from Harry.
"I'll never forget winging that submarine of Captain Bellman's," put in Billy.
"Well, boys, exciting as our experiences were down there, I think that we are on the verge of adventures and perils that will make them look insignificant," exclaimed Frank.
"Don't," groaned Billy.
"Don't talk that way. Here am I a contented reporter working hard and hoping that some day my opportunity will come and I shall be a great writer or statesman or something and then you throw me off my base by talking about adventure," was the indignant response.
"Upon my word, Billy Barnes, I think you are hinting that you would like to come along."
"Well, would that be so very curious. Oh cracky! If I only could get a chance."
"You think you could get a leave of absence?"
"Two of 'em. But what's the use," Billy broke off with a groan, "Captain Hazzard wouldn't have me and that's all there is to it. No, I'll be stuck here in New York while you fellows are shooting Polar bears--oh, I forgot, there aren't any,--well, anyhow, while you're having a fine time,--just my luck."
"If you aren't the most contrary chap," laughed Frank. "Here a short time ago you never even dreamed of coming and now you talk as if you'd been expecting to go right along, and had been meanly deprived of your rights."
"I wonder if the Captain----," hesitated Harry.
"Would take Billy along?" Frank finished for him, "well, we will do this much. We have got to go over to the Erie Basin now and tell Captain Hazzard about the recovery of his papers. Billy can come along if he wants and we will state his case for him, it will take three boys to manage that sledge anyway," went on Frank, warming up to the new plan. "I think we can promise you to fix it somehow, Billy."
"You think you can," burst out the delighted reporter, "oh, Frank, if you do, I'll--I'll make you famous. I'll write you up as the discoverer of the ship of Olaf and--"
"That's enough," suddenly interrupted Frank, "if you want to do me a favor, Billy, never mention any more about that till Captain Hazzard himself decides to tell us about it. We only let what we know of the secret slip out by accident and we have no right to speculate on what Captain Hazzard evidently wishes kept a mystery till the time comes to reveal it."
"I'm sorry, Frank," contritely said Billy, "I won't speak any more about it; but," he added to himself, "you can't keep me from thinking about it."
As Frank had anticipated, Captain Hazzard agreed to ship Billy Barnes as a member of the expedition. He was to be a sort of general secretary and assist the boys with the aeroplane and motor sledge when the time came. The reporter's face, when after a brief conference it was announced to him that he might consider himself one of the Southern Cross's ship's company, was a study. It was all he could do to keep from shouting at the top of his voice. The contrast between the dignity he felt he ought to assume before Captain Hazzard and the desire he felt to skip about and express his feelings in some active way produced such a ludicrous mixture of emotions on Billy's face that both the boys and the captain himself had to burst into uncontrollable laughter at it. Laughter in which the good natured Billy, without exactly understanding its cause, heartily joined.
A week later the final good-byes were said and the Southern Cross was ready for sea. She was to meet a coal-ship at Monte Video in the Argentine Republic which would tow her as far as the Great Barrier. This was to conserve her own coal supply. The other vessel would then discharge her cargo of coal,--thus leaving the adventurers a plentiful supply of fuel in case the worst came to worst, and they were frozen in for a second winter.
In case nothing was heard of them by the following fall a relief ship was to be despatched which would reach them roughly about the beginning of December, when the Antarctic summer is beginning to draw to a close. The commander of the Southern Cross expected to reach the great southern ice-barrier in about the beginning of February, when the winter, which reaches its climax in August, would be just closing in. The winter months were to be devoted to establishing a camp, from which in the following spring--answering to our fall--the expedition would be sent out.
"Hurray! a winter in the Polar ice," shouted the boys as the program was explained to them.
"And a dash for the pole to cap it off," shouted the usually unemotional Frank, his face shining at the prospect.
As has been said, the Southern Cross was an old whaler. Built rather for staunchness than beauty, she was no ideal of a mariner's dream as she unobtrusively cleared from her wharf one gray, chilly morning which held a promise of snow in its leaden sky. There were few but the stevedores, who always hang about "the Basin," and some idlers, to watch her as she cast off her lines and a tug pulled her head round
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