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- The Boy Aviators' Polar Dash - 5/38 -
till she pointed for the opening of the berth in which she had lain so long. Of these onlookers not one had any more than a hazy idea of where the vessel was bound and why.
As the Southern Cross steamed steadily on down the bay, past the bleak hills of Staten Island, on by Sandy Hook, reaching out its long, desolate finger as if pointing ships out to the ocean beyond, the three boys stood together in a delighted group in the lee of a pile of steel drums, each containing twenty gallons of gasolene.
"Well, old fellow, we're off at last," cried Frank, his eye kindling as the Southern Cross altered her course a bit and stood due south down the Jersey coast.
"That's it," cried Billy, with a wave of his soft cap, "off at last; we're the three luckiest boys on this globe, I say."
"Same here," was Harry's rejoinder.
The blunt bows of the Southern Cross began to lift to the long heave of the ever restless Atlantic. She slid over the shoulder of one big wave and into the trough of another with a steady rhythmic glide that spoke well for her seaworthy qualities. Frank, snugly out of the nipping wind in the shelter of the gasolene drums, was silent for several minutes musing over the adventurous voyage on which they were setting out. Thus he had not noticed a change coming over Harry and Billy. Suddenly a groan fell on his ear. Startled, the boy looked round.
On the edge of the hatch sat Billy and beside him, his head sunk in his hands, was Harry.
"What's the matter with you fellows?" demanded Frank.
At that instant an unusually large breaker came rolling towards the Southern Cross and caught her fair and square on the side of the bow. Deep laden as she was it broke over her and a wall of green water came tumbling and sweeping along the decks. Frank avoided it by leaping upward and seizing a stanchion used to secure the framework holding down the deck load.
But neither Harry nor Billy moved, except a few minutes later when another heavy roll sent them sliding into the scuppers.
"Come, you fellows, you'd better get up, and turn in aft," said Frank.
"Oh, leave me alone," groaned Billy.
"I'm going to die, I think," moaned Harry.
At this moment the new steward, a raw boy from Vermont, who had been at sea for several years, came up to where the two boys were suffering.
"Breakfast's ready," he announced, "there's some nice fat bacon and fried eggs and jam and----"
It was too much. With what strength they had left Billy and Harry tumbled to their feet and aimed simultaneous blows at him.
It was a final effort and as the Southern Cross plunged onward toward her mysterious goal she carried with her two of the most sea-sick boys ever recorded on a ship's manifest.
A MESSAGE FROM THE AIR.
It was a bright, sunshiny morning a week later. The Southern Cross was now in sub-tropic waters, steaming steadily along under blue skies and through smooth azure water flecked here and there with masses of yellow gulf weed.
The boys were in a group forward watching the flying fish that fled like coveys of frightened birds as the bow of the polar ship cut through the water. Under Dr. Gregg's care Billy and Harry had quite recovered from their sea-sickness.
"Off there to the southeast somewhere is the treasure galleon and the Sargasso Sea," said Harry, indicating the purplish haze that hung on the horizon. [Footnote: See Vol. 4 of this series, The Boy Aviators' Treasure Quest; or, The Golden Galleon.]
"Yes, and off there is the South Pole," rejoined Frank, pointing due south, "I wish the old Southern Cross could make better speed, I'm impatient to be there."
"And I'm impatient to solve some of the mystery of this voyage," put in Billy, "here we've been at sea a week and Captain Hazzard hasn't told us yet anything about that--that,--well you know, that ship you spoke about, Frank."
"He will tell us all in good time," rejoined the other, "and now instead of wasting speculation on something we are bound not to find out till we do find it out, let's go aft to the wireless room and polish up a bit."
The Southern Cross carried a wireless apparatus which had been specially installed for her polar voyage. The aerials stretched from her main to mizzen mast and a small room, formerly a storeroom, below the raised poop containing the cabins had been fitted up for a wireless room. In this the boys had spent a good deal of time during their convalescence from sea-sickness and had managed to "pick-up" many vessels within their radius,--which was fifteen hundred miles under favorable conditions.
Frank was the first to clap on the head-receiver this morning and he sat silently for a while absently clicking out calls, to none of which he obtained an answer. Suddenly, however, his face grew excited.
"Hullo," he cried, "here's something."
"What?" demanded Harry.
"I don't know yet," he held up his hand to demand silence.
"That's queer," he exclaimed, after a pause, in which the receiver had buzzed and purred its message into his ear.
The others looked their questions.
"There's something funny about this message," he went on. "I cannot understand it. Whoever is calling has a very weak sending current. I can hardly hear it. One thing is certain though, it's someone in distress."
The others leaned forward eagerly, but their curiosity was not satisfied immediately by Frank. Instead his face became set in concentration once more. After some moments of silence, broken only by the slight noise of the receiver, he pressed his hand on the sending apparatus and the Southern Cross's wireless began to crackle and spit and emit a leaping blue flame.
"What's he sending?" asked Billy, turning to Harry.
"Wait a second," was the rejoinder. The wireless continued to crackle and flash.
"Cracky," suddenly cried Harry, "hark at that, Billy."
"What," sputtered the reporter, "that stuff doesn't mean anything to me. What's he done, picked up a ship or a land station or what?"
"No," was the astounding response, "he's picked up an airship!"
"Oh, get out," protested the amazed Billy.
"That's right," snapped Frank, "as far as I can make out it's a dirigible balloon that has been blown out to sea. They tried to give me their position, and as near as I can comprehend their message, they are between us and the shore somewhere within a radius of about twenty miles."
"Are they in distress?" demanded Billy.
"Yes. The heat has expanded their gas and they fear that the bag of the ship may explode at any moment. They cut off suddenly. The accident may have occurred already."
"Why don't they open the valve?"
"I suppose because in that case they'd stand every chance of dropping into the sea," responded Frank, disconnecting the instrument and removing the head-piece. "I have sent word to them that we will try to rescue them, but I'm afraid it's a slim chance. I must tell Captain Hazzard at once."
Followed by the other two, Frank dashed up the few steps leading to the deck and unceremoniously burst into the captain's cabin where the latter was busy with a mass of charts and documents in company with Captain Barrington, the navigating commander.
"I beg your pardon," exclaimed Frank, as Captain Hazzard looked up, "but I have picked up a most important message by wireless,--two men, in an airship, are in deadly peril not far from us."
The two commanders instantly became interested.
"An airship!" cried Captain Hazzard.
"What's that!" exclaimed Captain Barrington. "Did they give you their position?" he added quickly.
"Yes," replied the boy, and rapidly repeated the latitude and longitude as he had noted it.
"That means they are to the west of us," exclaimed Captain Barrington as the boy concluded. He hastily picked up a speaking tube and hailed the wheel-house, giving instructions to change the course. He then emerged on deck followed by Captain Hazzard and the boys. The next hour was spent in anxiously scanning the surrounding sea.
Suddenly a man who had been sent into the crow's nest on the main mast gave a hail.
"I see something, sir," he cried, pointing to the southwest.
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