Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: 'Midst Arctic Perils - A Thrilling Story of Adventure in the Polar Regions
Author: Westerman, Percy F. (Percy Francis)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "'Midst Arctic Perils - A Thrilling Story of Adventure in the Polar Regions" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



  'MIDST
  ARCTIC PERILS
  By
  PERCY F. WESTERMAN



  'MIDST ARCTIC PERILS



  [Illustration: With a fearful lurch she heeled to starboard.
  _Frontispiece._                                See page 14.]



  'MIDST ARCTIC
  PERILS


  A THRILLING STORY OF ADVENTURE IN THE
  POLAR REGIONS



  BY
  PERCY F. WESTERMAN
  Author of "The Young Cavalier," "The Nameless Island," &c.



  London
  C. Arthur Pearson Ltd.
  Henrietta Street
  1919



  CONTENTS
  CHAPTER                      PAGE
      I. RUN DOWN
     II. A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE
    III. RESCUED
     IV. ON BOARD THE "POLARITY"
      V. TRAPPED IN AN ICEBERG
     VI. AN UNPLEASANT SURPRISE
    VII. THE MOTOR SLEIGH IS TAKEN OUT
   VIII. NECK OR NOTHING
     IX. AN ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY
      X. THE SLEEP OF DEATH
     XI. CROSSING THE ICE BARRIER
    XII. TWO DAYS OUT
   XIII. THE DASH FOR OBSERVATION CAMP
    XIV. GOOD WORK IN THE BLIZZARD
     XV. JUST IN TIME
    XVI. THE CREVASSE
   XVII. GUY IN COMMAND
  XVIII. THE END OF THE MAMMOTH
    XIX. THE LOST "BIRD OF FREEDOM"
     XX. ABANDONED
    XXI. RESCUED



  ILLUSTRATIONS

  With a fearful lurch she heeled to starboard _Frontispiece_

  On three sides rose a continuous wall of ice

  A huge polar bear standing on its hind legs

  The _Bird of Freedom_ toppled, and like an arrow, plunged into
   the sea

  He could see Ranworth dangling inertly at the end of the first rope

  With a terrific crash the _Bird of Freedom_ toppled completely over

  Holding one of the hooks in his gloved hand, Travers deftly engaged
   the hook in the ring-bolt at the bow of the sleigh

  Right into the eye of the wind the four well-nigh exhausted
    men struggled



'MIDST ARCTIC PERILS



CHAPTER I

RUN DOWN


"I MANAGED it all right, Guy," announced Leslie Ward excitedly. "Old
Runswick's a brick. Says he'll take us both for a week's cruise. The
_Laughing Lassie_ sails at high water this evening."

Leslie Ward, the fifteen-year-old son of a distinguished electrical
engineer, and his chum, Guy Anderson, were spending a holiday at the
small fishing village of Pilgrimswick, situated on a remote part of
the Yorkshire coast.

The friendship between the two boys was of only few weeks' duration,
but it was a friendship that was fated to be a life-long one,
cemented by peril and adventure.

Both lads were of almost the same age. Leslie Ward was tall,
broad-shouldered, and well set-up. He looked older than his actual
years. He was apt to be a trifle impulsive, and, possessing an
abundance of energy, was always ready to tackle any difficulty that
presented itself. His knowledge of mechanics and physics was
extensive, and even his father--a cool, calculating man, who never
erred upon the side of exaggeration--was forced to admit that Leslie
showed great promise of becoming a first-rate consulting engineer.

Guy Anderson was of a different build and disposition. A good three
inches shorter than his chum, and slight of build, he lacked the
physical strength that Leslie possessed. Nevertheless, he was
well-knit and wiry, and capable of withstanding the strain of
fatigue. Their parents' permission to undertake a trip in the
_Laughing Lassie_ had been obtained even before the matter had been
broached to the gruff yet kind-hearted skipper of the ketch, and now,
the latter business having been satisfactorily concluded, it only
remained for the two lads to provide themselves with suitable
clothing and a generous contribution in the way of eatables to the
ship's stores.

By the time Leslie and Guy arrived at the tidal harbour, the
_Laughing Lassie_ was already afloat.

"Evenin', young gents," was Skipper Runswick's curt greeting. Then,
eyeing the big hamper that accompanied his guests, he added, with
typical Yorkshire candour: "An' what might you be? Dost tha' think
tha'lt not be fed properly?"

"Oh, no, Captain Runswick," Leslie hastened to explain. "It's our
contribution to be shared by all hands."

"Let's hope that you'll be ready to do your share o' things,"
rejoined the skipper grimly, as he regarded his two amateurs in their
spotless white duck overalls with certain amount of disdain. "Stow
the gear over agin' yon hatchway. Andrew'll pass it below in a
minute. Now clap on yon rope and heave till you crack your ribs."

The voyage to the fishing grounds had begun in earnest.

Skipper Runswick had sailed the _Laughing Lassie_ for nearly forty
years. She was by no means a new boat when he first set foot upon her
deck; but, like many another veteran of the North Sea, the ketch was
soundly and powerfully built. She was a Weatherly craft, with a fair
turn of speed. It wasn't safe for anyone to say a word against her in
the skipper's presence.

The "old man" was one of an old school. He knew the fishing grounds
as well as a Londoner knows the Strand--perhaps better. The use of
the sextant was beyond him, yet solely by the aid of compass and
lead-line would he find his way across the vast, trackless expanse of
the North Sea to his favourite "grounds," where a cast of the trawl
never failed to produce a goodly haul. Putting his trust in
Providence, bad weather failed to daunt him.

Their work done for the time being, Leslie and Guy went aft, and,
sitting on a coil of rope close to the taffrail, watched the rapidly
receding cliffs of the rugged Yorkshire coast, thrown into strong
relief by the setting sun.

The watch on deck, consisting of Old Mick and George the cook,
commonly referred to as Long Garge--had trimmed and fixed the red and
green navigation lamps. The wind had fallen light, and the _Laughing
Lassie_ rolled laboriously in the long, sullen swell.

Old Mick was standing at the tiller, with legs stretched wide apart,
and his hands in his pockets. His work for the time being consisted
in doing nothing, for the ketch barely carried steerage way. Long
Garge was for'ard scratching the foremast and whistling blithely in
the hope, common to the old-time seamen, that the joint action would
result in a breeze.

"Better now than when we've got the holds full of fish," declared the
skipper, commenting upon the lack of wind.

Leslie and Guy slept badly that night. The bunks felt uncomfortable,
weird noises overhead and strange groanings as the old vessel
strained in the long, oily swell, the somewhat close atmosphere
'tween decks, all combined to disturb the slumbers of the two chums.
Glad were they when, at the first blush of dawn, they were able to
leave their strange beds and go on deck.

It was a glorious morning. The sun had just risen above a low-lying
bank of haze. The surface of the North Sea was ruffled by a gentle
breeze. All around the sea and sky met in an unbroken horizon. Not
another sail was to be seen.

The only member of the crew already on deck was Peter, the ship's
boy, who was steering with the skill of a born sailorman, keeping the
stiff little ketch "full and bye" without shiver in her
well-stretched canvas.

"Good-morning, Peter," said Guy. "It looks as if it's going to be a
jolly fine day."

"Not for trawling," replied Peter sagely. "Might do for pleasure
folk, but the wind'll die down when the sun gets up, and more'n
likely there'll be a fog."

"Where do we wash?" inquired Leslie innocently. Peter grinned.

"There's a canvas bucket up for'ard," he informed his questioner.
"Just you strip, and get t' other gent to swill you down. That's what
we do."

As Peter had prophesied, the wind did fall to a dead calm. Leslie and
Guy had a swim over the side, getting on board again by means of a
tarry rope.

For the rest of the day the _Laughing Lassie_ drifted idly, until
about an hour before sunset, when a smart breeze helped her on her
way.

Skipper Runswick declared that the nets would be shot directly the
ketch arrived at her favourite fishing ground. It would mean a
night's work, he admitted, but no doubt the young gents would sleep
throughout the noise on deck.

"We'd rather remain up, if you don't mind," said Leslie, remembering
the hard bunk in the little cabin. Besides, it was the novelty of
seeing the trawls, laden with glittering fish, being hauled on board,
that was one of the objects of his trip.

"All right," replied Runswick, good-humouredly. "No doubt we can make
you properly useful." Acting upon the skipper's advice, the two lads
turned in for a few hours on the understanding that they would be
called directly the nets were ready to be shot.

Contrary to their expectations, they slept like logs until one in the
morning, when Peter, knocking loudly at the cabin door, announced
that all was in readiness.

Putting on thick sweaters, Leslie and Guy went on deck. It was pitch
dark, except for the feeble glimmer of two lanterns hung vertically
from the forestay. Not a star was visible. There was hardly any wind,
while the sea was calm and strangely phosphorescent.

Slowly Long Garge and Peter, assisted by the two "supernumeraries,"
paid out yard after yard of carefully coiled nets, for the speed at
which the _Laughing Lassie_ was moving was so slight that any attempt
to shoot the nets hurriedly would result in a disastrous tangle.

"All out, Cap'n!" announced Long Garge, as the last of the cork
floats disappeared overboard. "But, blow me, if there ain't thick
weather a-comin' on."

In a very short space of time the deck of the _Laughing Lassie_ was
hidden in a pall of vapour. It was impossible to see the regulation
lights from the after-part of the ketch.

"'Tis thick," agreed Skipper Runswick. "Peter, you nip below and get
out the fog-horn. It'll keep you busy. Thank goodness we're out of
the regular steamer tracks," he added under his breath.

Although the night had hitherto been warm and humid, a cold
clamminess accompanied the fog. In spite of their thick sweaters, the
lads shivered.

"Nothin' doin' for a bit," said the skipper, almost colliding with
his guests, as he made his way for'ard. "Go below to the cabin.
Unless the fog lifts pretty soon, we'll not get the nets in afore
dawn. If you're still of a mind to see the job being done, I'll give
you the word."

"Thanks awfully," said Leslie, his teeth chattering as he spoke. "We
would like to be called if you do haul in the nets."

Although neither had cared to admit it, both boys were glad to
retreat to the snug shelter of the cabin. The lamp lit, they made no
attempt to turn in, but talked and read, to the accompaniment of the
minute blasts upon the foghorn, which Peter used with vigour.

"It must be nearly daylight," said Guy at length. "It's now nearly
three o'clock, and the sun rises at half-past four. I'm not in the
least bit tired, are you?"

Before Leslie could reply, there was a violent scuffling of feet
overhead, and a chorus of shouts from Skipper Runswick and his crew.

The lads looked at each other in wonderment, then, seized by a
common impulse, made for the companion ladder.

Before they were clear of the doorway, a terrific crash shook the
_Laughing Lassie_ like a rat in the mouth of a terrier; then with a
fearful lurch she heeled to starboard.

The swinging lamp, hurled from its gimbals, was smashed into a
thousand fragments against the skylight, plunging the little cabin
into intense darkness. The two lads, in company with every article
that was not securely fixed, rolled to leeward in a confused heap.

Before they could regain their feet, they were dimly aware that water
was pouring into the stricken vessel.

The _Laughing Lassie_ was making her last voyage--this time to the
bed of the North Sea. Cut half-way through amidships by a lumbering
tramp, the skipper of which, with a ruthless disregard for the Rules
of the Road at Sea, was driving his craft at full speed ahead, the
ketch was doomed.

In a very short space of time, barely sufficient for the crew to
clamber on to the bows of the ramming vessel, the tramp had drawn
clear, while the _Laughing Lassie_, with Leslie and Guy still in the
cabin, was already on the point of disappearing beneath the waves.



CHAPTER II

A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE


LESLIE WARD was the first to pull himself together, for the sudden
shock had temporarily numbed the senses of his companion and himself.

The partial recovery of the stricken ketch gave him an opportunity of
grasping Guy by the wrist and dragging him to the foot of the
companion ladder. By this time the surging water was up to their
knees.

"Up with you, old man!" he shouted. "You're not hurt?"

"Don't think so!" gasped Guy breathlessly, for in falling he had
tripped across some article of furniture and been winded. "You go
first!"

Leslie demurred. Even in the moment of peril each lad seemed inclined
to enter into a discussion as to who should precede the other. The
gradually rising water settled the argument, and, seized by a
temporary panic, the pair scuttled through the companion and gained
the deck.

It was still pitch dark. The fog was as "thick as pea soup."
Somewhere, although the ship was completely invisible from the deck
of the waterlogged craft, could be heard the hiss of escaping steam,
the churning of the propeller, and the shouts of the now excited crew
of the tramp.

The _Laughing Lassie's_ bows by this time were under water. Her stern
was tilted a few feet above the surface, while from the taffrail the
inboard end of her nets could just be distinguished.

Leslie realised the new danger. Even if the two lads could swim clear
of the doomed ketch, there was a great risk of being caught by the
drift of nets, and, once enmeshed, being carried in them to the
bottom by the disappearing vessel.

He remembered having seen during the day that a lifebuoy was resting
upon the flat top of the cabin skylight. It had vanished, having been
knocked overboard by the tremendous impact. There were two others,
lashed to the mizzen shrouds. The cords that bound them were jammed
by the action of the moisture and refused to be untied.

Even as Leslie fumbled desperately with the resisting knots, the
_Laughing Lassie_ quivered, then in a turmoil of foam and escaping
air, slid entirely beneath the surface. Foam, sea, and fog seemed
blended into a horrible chaos as Leslie found himself struggling in
the water. Although a good swimmer, he was frantic, for the bight of
a rope held him entangled. More by chance than design, his efforts to
free himself from the rope were successful, only to be quickly
followed by a worse predicament.

Already he was about five or six feet below the surface. As he struck
out to regain the air, his head came in contact with the ratlines of
the mizzen shrouds. It was like being caught in a huge net.

Instinctively he struggled to force his way between the shrouds, but
in vain. The _Laughing Lassie_, sinking deeper every moment, was
again dragging him down beneath the surface.

Suddenly a swirl of water, caused by the release of a considerable
amount of air trapped in the sinking ship, swept him clear of the
shrouds. Dimly he realised that he was free, and feebly he again
struck out for the surface.

He could hold his breath no longer. A rush of salt water poured down
his throat. At first it irritated him greatly, then the distressing
symptoms gave place to a strange and unnatural calm. A thousand
incidents of his comparatively short life flashed across his mind.
Then everything became blank.

Meanwhile Guy had been more fortunate. Swept apart from his companion
as the _Laughing Lassie_ made her final plunge, he found himself
swimming for dear life. He had no idea of direction.

His immediate danger lay in the fact that momentarily fragments of
wood, casks, and fish "trunks" came bobbing to the surface with
terrific violence. Had one of the objects struck him from underneath,
the force of the blow would have either killed him outright or
deprived him of breath, in which case he would have failed to keep
himself afloat.

A few strokes took him out of that particular danger zone, then,
realising that he ought not to tire himself by swimming, he made for
a large, empty box. Just as he was on the point of grasping it, the
box disappeared from view.

In the faint light he became aware of a rush of some ill-defined
object through the water. It was the line of corks supporting the
drift nets. A few feet nearer and Guy would have been entangled in
the meshes and dragged in the track of the sinking vessel.

In spite of his saturated clothing and boots, Guy swam strongly,
until, satisfied that another danger had been avoided, he trod water
and began to look for another means of support. Then, and only then,
he missed his chum.

"Leslie!" he called, as loudly as his well-nigh breathless condition
would allow.

He listened intently. There was no reply. In the distance he could
detect the rapidly receding thud of the propeller of the vessel which
had been the cause of the calamity. For some strange reason it seemed
that the tramp was making off.

"The callous brutes!" he murmured.

As a matter of fact, it was ignorance, not callousness on the part of
the crew of the colliding vessel. Not a man could speak English, and
by the time Skipper Runswick contrived to make anyone understand that
two of the _Laughing Lassie's_ crew were missing, the tramp had lost
her bearings in the fog.

For a long time she circled slowly, hoping to find the floating
débris from the sunken ketch, but owing to the darkness and the
fog her efforts were in vain. Each complete circle took her well
clear of her objective, until, coming to the conclusion that there
were no more survivors, her master steadied her on her course for a
distant Norwegian port.

Presently Guy saw a barrel floating close to him. This he made for,
but the curved surface afforded no grip. After wasting valuable
strength in a vain attempt to secure a place of refuge, he gave the
barrel up in despair. For some minutes he swam, looking for other
flotsam. By this time débris seemed very scarce. He wondered whether
he were swimming farther and farther away from the spot where the
ketch had disappeared.

Again and again he shouted, but in vain. His staying powers, though
good, were being severely taxed. Unless a means of support were
speedily forthcoming, his chances of rescue would be rendered still
more remote.

Then it occurred to him to get rid of his coat, sweater, and boots.
Thanks to previous experience of how to do this--at Guy's school
fancy swimming was a favourite pastime--the lad contrived to untie
the laces and kick off his boots. The coat was quickly thrown off.

Relieved of these incumbrances, Guy struck out once more. Unknowingly
he had been swimming in a vast circular direction, and gradually he
was again approaching the scene of the disaster.

Suddenly, when hope seemed on the point of dying, he saw a white
object a few feet ahead of him. It was the cabin skylight of the
_Laughing Lassie_. The copper bolts which held it to the deck beams
had corroded badly, and when the ketch sank the pressure of the
confined air had caused the fastenings to give way, and had blown the
skylight to the surface.

It was waterlogged, and floating bottom upwards. The plate glass,
firmly set in fixed frames and protective iron bars, was still
intact; but, owing to the heaviness of the teak and its fittings,
there was very little buoyancy.

As Guy grasped the upturned edge, the skylight tilted and dipped. The
lad took advantage of this to allow himself to float over the
submerged side, then as the skylight resumed its former position of
flotation he felt his feet touch the roof.

For the time being he was safe, and, unless cold, and exhaustion
gained the upper hand, he stood a fair chance of being picked up when
daylight came.

As he crouched on his frail shelter, with the water up to his neck,
he began to wonder what had become of Leslie. Not for one moment did
he entertain the idea that his chum had perished. No doubt he had
managed to be picked up by the colliding steamer.

"It's getting beastly cold," murmured Guy, after a while. "I wonder
if I could get rid of some of this water."

The sea was fairly calm. There was a slight swell, but no crested
waves. If he could increase the freeboard of the water-logged
skylight, so much the better.

He groped with his hands below the surface. The panes, he discovered,
were intact. Cautiously treading over the roof, he also found that
none of the planks appeared to be strained.

He began to bale with his palms, somewhat dubiously at first; but as
the edge of the skylight began to rise higher out of the water he
worked with renewed energy. The effort began to tell upon his cramped
arms. Warmth and a sense of feeling began to take possession of him
as he baled. In a quarter of an hour the level of the water inside
the upturned skylight was several inches lower than that of the sea.

All at once Guy stopped and looked as if unable to credit his senses.
Dawn was breaking, and with it the fog was lifting considerably. Less
than twenty yards from him was something that looked like a human
body floating well on the surface. The body was floating on its back
with the head turned away, but it was Leslie right enough.

Guy shouted. He heard no reply, but there was a distinct movement of
Leslie's head.

"It might be the lift of the waves," thought Guy. "I'll have to get
to him somehow."

His first impulse was to leap from his place of refuge and swim to
his chum's aid; but that meant destroying the added buoyancy of the
skylight. Waterlogged, it would support one person, but certainly not
two. Baled as it now was, it would afford shelter for perhaps three
or four.

For want of a paddle, Guy leant cautiously over the edge, and,
dipping his hand, used it to propel the unwieldy skylight. His
progress was slow, but by dint of paddling with one hand over each of
two adjacent sides, Guy found that he was able to approach his
luckless chum.

Tormented with the thought that perhaps Leslie was dead, Guy
struggled frantically. As he drew near, he saw the reason why Leslie
remained afloat. When the skylight had been wrenched from the deck it
released several of the buoyant contents of the cabin. Amongst them
was one of the hair mattresses of the bunk. As it came to the surface
it rose immediately underneath Leslie's unconscious body, and sagging
in the centre and rising at each end, it formed a lifebuoy, and at
the same time prevented the lad from rolling off.

But already the horsehair was becoming saturated with water; its
reserve of buoyancy was quickly vanishing. Another few minutes and it
would fail to maintain the good work it had hitherto done.

A few more strokes brought Guy within arm's length of his friend. He
grasped him by the shoulder and turned his head.

Leslie's face was deathly pale. His eyes were closed, and his mouth
open. Whether there was any life left in him, Guy could not say.

His next act was to get Leslie into the skylight. It was a manoeuvre
that called for both skill and strength, for the stability of the
impromptu refuge was none too great, while Leslie's inert body and
saturated clothes were astonishingly heavy.

Guy managed the task at the cost of an additional amount of water
which poured over the sill of the skylight.

A hurried examination revealed the fact that Leslie was still alive.
Another problem confronted the rescuer. Ought he to bale out the
remaining quantity of water or at once proceed to revive the
unconscious lad?

At first he decided upon the latter course, but on propping Leslie in
one corner of the skylight he found that the erratic motion caused
him to slide inertly into he water on the floor. Setting to work, Guy
soon disposed of the water, and again turned his attention to his
patient.

A quarter of an hour later Leslie opened his eyes and gazed dully
around him.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed feebly. "What's up? Ah, I remember--but where
am I?"

"All right," said Guy consolingly. "We'll be picked up before very
long."

An hour passed. By this time the warmth of the sun began to make
itself felt, and the two youths were able to discard their sodden
clothing and spread it out to dry.

The fog had disappeared. Only a slight haze obscured the horizon. The
sea was calm, and almost as smooth as glass, only a sullen swell
remaining to remind them hat they were far out to sea, and not upon
some landlocked estuary or lake.

"I could do with something to drink," remarked Leslie, who, rapidly
recovering from the effects of his immersion, was beginning to feel a
burning thirst from the salt water he had swallowed.

"So could I," agreed Guy. "I wish I hadn't tackled the skipper's salt
pork. That's what has done it."

"In your case--perhaps," was the rejoinder. "I feel as if I had
swallowed quarts of salt water. What's that?"

He pointed to a slender, pole-like object bobbing up and down about
fifty yards from their unwieldy craft.

Without replying, Guy cautiously got astride one side of the
skylight, then slipped gently into the sea. Swimming strongly, he
quickly gained the floating pole and returned with it in triumph.

"It's a boathook," he announced. "The metal head is keeping it in a
vertical position. We'll tie a shirt to it and hoist it as a signal
of distress. It will be more likely to attract attention."

During the morning the smoke of several distant steamers could be
discerned. Once a large barque tacked and stood in within a couple of
miles of the wreckage, but the lads' signal of distress escaped
notice, for the sailing vessel went about, filled, and stood away on
the other tack.

During the afternoon no sail was sighted. The heat was most
oppressive, for the sunlight was so strong that it shimmered in rolls
of vapour upon the surface of the sea. There was every prospect of
another fog as soon as night fell.

Both lads were now feeling the effects of prolonged hunger and
thirst. Their throats began to ache, and their tongues to swell to
such an extent as to render breathing a matter of difficulty. Talking
was almost out of the question.

"See anything?" asked Leslie after a long interval.

"No."

"If we are not sighted pretty soon, it will be a rotten business for
us."

"We've only had a few hours of it. Men have been known to exist on
rafts for days without food."

"Shouldn't have thought that the North Sea was so deserted," remarked
Leslie.

"Something will come our way," rejoined his companion cheerfully.
"You take a nap; I'll watch for a bit."

By this time the interior of the skylight was quite dry, for the
small quantity of sea water that Guy had left after ceasing his
baling operations had evaporated under the rays of the sun, while the
swelling of the wood completely closed the seams and effectively
prevented the ingress of any more water.

"Jolly rummy sort of boat this," said Leslie drowsily as he coiled
himself up in the bottom of the skylight and saw through one of the
panes of glass the level of the sea several inches above his head.

Guy made no reply. He was eagerly scanning the horizon.

"There's a vessel, I think!" he exclaimed after a while.

"Where?" asked Leslie drowsily.

"There, coming straight towards us!" declared Guy.

"Bothered if I can see any ship."

"You can't? You must be as blind as a bat. I can see her sails
easily."

Leslie again looked in the direction indicated. He could see nothing
but the blurred blending of the sea and sky. Then a sudden fear
flashed across his mind. Perhaps his companion's brain was affected
by the heat and exposure.

"No doubt you are right, old man," he said. "I'm afraid I can't see
it now; but when it comes a bit closer let me know."

Leslie was fully alert by this time. Sitting down and propping his
shoulder against one side of the skylight, he narrowly watched his
chum.

A couple of minutes passed, then Guy gave vent an exclamation of
disappointment.

"I can't see the vessel now!" he declared. "She couldn't have
disappeared. But everything is turning a funny colour."

Leslie looked into his companion's eyes. The "whites" were bloodshot.

"You've got a touch of sunstroke, I'm afraid," he said, as calmly as
possible. "Look here, let's both go to sleep for a few hours. Should
any vessel come within a mile or so of us, they'll spot our signal of
distress."

Guy required no persuasion. He was already on the point of collapse.
Five minutes later both lads were in a deep slumber, drifting
aimlessly and unconsciously upon the surface of the North Sea.



CHAPTER III

RESCUED


"WHAT do you make of that, sir?"

The speaker was Paul Travers, the second mate of the s.s. _Polarity_.

Captain Stormleigh brought his binoculars to bear upon the indistinct
object his subordinate had indicated, road on the port beam.

"Wreckage, I should imagine," he observed.

"Worth while investigating, sir? I believe I can see a flag or
something of the sort hoisted on a pole."

"Certainly," replied Captain Stormleigh decisively, and, calling to
the steersman, ordered him to starboard his helm.

The s.s. _Polarity_ was not a graceful-looking craft by any stretch
of imagination. Of barely 1500 tons' displacement, her straight stem,
heavy short counter and wall sides were not objects of pleasing
nautical architecture. She had three stumpy masts. The foremast,
contrary to usual practice, was several feet taller than the main. A
short distance below the fore-truck was a large upright barrel,
fitted with a slightly conical roof. That alone would proclaim to
experienced mariners the role of s.s. _Polarity_, for the barrel
formed the crow's nest, and at once classed the vessel as one engaged
in work in Polar seas.

Her engine-room was well aft, a tall, black funnel rearing itself
between main and mizzen masts, while just abaft the mainmast, in
order to leave the 'midship portion clear for stowage of cargo, was
the bridge with the usual chart-room.

Just as the _Polarity_ altered her course, a tall, broadshouldered
man of about thirty years of age sprang up the bridge ladder.

"Why are you starboarding your helm, Captain Stormleigh?" he asked,
with a tinge of anxiety in his voice. "Not another breakdown, I
trust?"

"No, sir," replied the skipper. "We've just sighted some wreckage,
and we're standing in a bit to see what it actually is."

"But we really cannot afford the time; every moment is of vital
importance," expostulated the new arrival.

Captain Stormleigh drew himself up to the full extent of his five
feet two inches.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but I am in charge of this ship. Of that
there can be no question. I fully admit that I am in your employ, but
upon my judgment depends everything connected with her navigation. My
contract is to take the _Polarity_ to Desolation Inlet in Nova Cania
with the utmost dispatch, and subject to the exigencies of
navigation. This, Mr. Ranworth, is one of the exigencies; therefore I
have given orders for the ship's course to be changed."

For a few moments John Ranworth and Captain Stormleigh eyed each
other in silence, each trying to gauge the mental strength of the
other.

Finally Ranworth's features relaxed into a smile.

"Pardon, Captain!" he exclaimed. "I think I quite understand our
relative positions now. I totally withdraw my objections."

John Ranworth had reason to be impatient, for, as he had stated,
every moment was precious.

Nearly a twelvemonth previously, his brother, Claude Ranworth, had
set out on a scientific and geological expedition to Nova Cania, a
large island, hitherto but slightly explored, almost due north of
Franz Josef's Land, and within five degrees of the Pole.

Owing to the peculiarities of the Arctic drift current, approach to
Nova Cania is generally possible only during the latter part of
August and September. At other periods of the year an impassable
barrier of pack ice cuts off all possibility of direct communication.

Claude Ranworth's expedition had been equipped with a wireless
installation of a range of about three hundred miles. Thus it was
possible to communicate with the outside world for six months of the
year by means of the international station at Thorsden, on
Spitzbergen.

The expedition had been successful. Investigations resulted in the
discovery of vast quantities of platinum, sufficient to disturb the
commercial value of that hitherto highly precious metal.

Suddenly news was received that a disastrous blizzard had played
havoc with the stores of the expedition. Unless rescue were speedily
forthcoming, slow death by starvation stared them in the face.

At the same time reports from Danish whalers stated that the pack ice
to the northward of Spitzbergen was dispersing considerably earlier
than usual, and the experienced skippers expressed an opinion that it
was quite possible to approach Desolation Inlet--the only safe
harbour of Nova Cania--a fortnight or three weeks sooner than is
usually the case.

Already in anticipation of going to bring his brother's expedition
home, John Ranworth had chartered and fitted out the _Polarity_. The
news that Desolation Inlet might be accessible did not therefore
catch him napping. Within six hours of the momentous wireless news,
the _Polarity_ left Hull for the desolate Arctic.

Before the _Polarity_ had rounded Spurn Head, an engine-room defect
had caused her to put back for repairs, and twenty-four hours' delay
was the result.

Now, when once more the ex-whaler was on her way, another delay
chafed John Ranworth's highly-strung mind.

"By Jove, sir! It's a raft or something of the sort. There are two
people in it. I can see their heads as the thing lists this way,"
reported Travers.

"Very good," replied Captain Stormleigh calmly. He was too much of a
man to twit his employer with a galling "I told you so." "Get the
whaler ready for lowering, Mr. Travers. You might pass the word for
the cook to see that there's plenty of hot water under way."

At her utmost speed, which was a bare fourteen knots, the _Polarity_
approached the derelict object. Even John Ranworth temporarily forgot
his anxiety at the sight of the drifting box--for such it appeared to
be--with its human freight.

_Clang, clang!_ went the engine-room telegraph bell.

Before the way was off the ship, the whaler, with its crew and the
second mate in charge, was lowered from the out-swung davits.
Dexterously the falls were disengaged, and, bending to their oars,
the rowers gave way with a will.

"My goodness!" ejaculated Ranworth, as the whaler returned with two
additional and unconscious forms in her stern sheets. "They are two
youngsters. Are they alive?"

"Yes, sir," replied Travers. "But another six hours or so would have
settled them, I fancy."

"I'm glad you altered course, Captain Stormleigh," declared Ranworth
frankly, as the unconscious lads were passed below. "The question is,
what are we to do with them?"

"That's where you have me, sir," replied the captain, knitting his
shaggy brows. "Of course, I wouldn't suggest putting back. When it's
a case of fifteen men's lives against the personal comfort of a
couple of youngsters, the youngsters don't count. If we fall in with
a homeward-bound vessel engaged in the Norwegian or Baltic trade--and
we're just in the track of the latter--well, then, it's an easy
matter to tranship them. However, sir, time will tell. Meanwhile, we
must get the lads back to life. They've had a terrible doing."

Having been relieved by McMurdo, Captain Stormleigh quitted the
bridge, and, accompanied by Ranworth, went below to see how the two
rescued youths were progressing. As they were discussing the mystery
of their appearance, one of the lads opened his eyes and sat up, his
forehead narrowly missing the deck-beam.

"Hullo! Where am I?" he asked wonderingly.

"You're safe and sound on board the _Polarity_, my lad," announced
Ranworth soothingly.

"Where's my chum, Leslie?"

"In the bunk underneath yours," replied the charterer of the
_Polarity_. "He's still sound asleep. What's your name?"

"Guy Anderson."

"A smack's boy?"

Guy smiled, then winced, for the action caused his scorched face to
smart terribly.

"Hardly! We were on board the _Laughing Lassie_ for a holiday cruise,
and she was run down in a fog. I don't think anyone else was saved."

"What's your friend's name?" asked Ranworth.

"Leslie Ward; his people live at St. Albans."

"Surely he's not the son of Decimus Ward, the well-known electrical
engineer?"

"Yes, sir," replied Guy. "Mr. Ward is now spending his holidays at
Pilgrimswick--that's the port to which the _Laughing Lassie_
belonged."

"All right, my lad. We'll let your people know you're safe," declared
Ranworth. "Now you just swallow that soup and then go to sleep, and
you'll be all right in the morning."

Five minutes later a message was sent from the _Polarity_ to
Scarborough wireless station, reporting the rescue of Guy Anderson
and Leslie Ward, and requesting that the information should be
telephoned to Pilgrimswick.

"We must give those lads a shakedown in my cabin, Captain," said
Ranworth. "They'll be all right where they are to-night. It only
proves that one cannot judge by appearances."

"Just so, sir," agreed Captain Stormleigh. "They certainly did look
as if they had come aboard through the hawsepipe. But the sooner we
get them out of the ship the better. Every hour lessens our chances
of falling in with a homeward-bound ship, and the Arctic's no place
for a couple of inexperienced lads."

"It is not," agreed Ranworth. "I sincerely trust that we will soon be
able to shift the responsibility of them upon other shoulders."

The next day passed almost without incident. Leslie and Guy were
transferred to Mr. Ranworth's cabin, where, owing to the privations
they had undergone, they were kept in their bunks.

On the following morning they dressed and went on deck.

"Good morning," was Paul Travers' greeting. "I think I've met you
before."

"I don't remember you," said Leslie.

"I'm not surprised," rejoined the second mate with a breezy laugh.
"Considering I hauled you into the boat, and you were both as limp as
that coil of rope, it's not to be wondered it."

"Then we've to thank you for saving our lives?"

"No thanks required," declared Travers, shrugging his broad
shoulders. "It's a case of duty; that's what I'm on board for."

"A jolly fine ship," observed Leslie, as he took a survey of the
crowded deck. "I wish I were off to the Arctic in her."

"You stand a jolly good chance, anyway," announced the second mate.
"We are now out of the regular steamer tracks, and we are not putting
into any Norwegian ports, so it seems a case of have-to."



CHAPTER IV

ON BOARD THE "POLARITY"


HOURLY Leslie Ward's and Guy Anderson's chances of being sent back
diminished. The _Polarity_, forging steadily ahead on a northerly
course, never sighted a single sail until in the latitude of Bergen,
when she fell in with a Norwegian timber ship, homeward bound.

"There's a chance for you fellows," announced Ranworth, as the two
vessels exchanged the customary greetings of the sea. "They'll take
you into Bergen, and there you'll be pretty certain to find a British
vessel bound for Hull or Grimsby."

"If you don't mind, sir, we'd rather not."

Ranworth whistled.

"Why not?" he asked.

"Apart from the uncertainty of finding a ship----"

"There's still more uncertainty, so far as we are concerned, my lad."

"We don't mind that," Leslie hastened to explain. "Thanks to you, our
people know we are safe. I should just love to take part in a Polar
expedition."

Leslie spoke with conviction. The possibilities of a voyage to the
Arctic appealed to him. Guy was of different mould. Polar research
had very little or no interest for him. He could not understand why
men should risk their lives and suffer all the hardships of a winter
in Polar regions merely for the sake of it.

Often he would argue with his school chums on the subject, his
favourite question being, what definite advantage was derived from
the fact that explorers had discovered the North and South Poles?

Was the world in general one whit the better when the Yankee Stars
and Stripes were planted at the North Pole, and the Norwegian Ensign
at the South Pole? Apart from Captain Scott's heroic efforts, were
the results of his expedition worth the price in life and money?

Nevertheless, when Leslie had broached the subject of "getting round"
Mr. Ranworth and obtaining his permission to accompany the rescue
party, Guy offered no objection.

The love of adventure was strong within him. He would have preferred
vastly to have been _en route_ for a Central African expedition,
where territory likely to be of some use was to be explored.
Eventually he decided that even the chance of a Polar expedition was
better than swotting at a public school, and, after all, there was
the voyage out and home to be taken into consideration.

"You may be awfully keen," admitted Ranworth, "but there is another
side to the question. When I chartered this vessel and picked my
companions, it was with a definite object in view. I had heaps of
fellows--friends of mine--offering their services, but I was forced
to decline the lot. Every man on board has his particular job. Now,
I'll put a blunt question: What special qualifications have each of
you that can be usefully employed to further the success of this
expedition?"

Leslie and Guy were silent for a few moments.

"I'm a good shot with a rifle," announced Guy.

"We're not likely to fall in with cannibals or Somalis," Ranworth
reminded him.

Guy knitted his brows in perplexity. Reduced to rock-bottom level,
his qualifications seemed absurdly few.

"Can you cook a meal for twenty men?"

"Might, if it came to a push, sir," replied Guy. "At any rate, I'd
have a jolly good shot at it."

"A willing heart goes a long way, my lad," said Ranworth. "Now,
Leslie, what are you proficient at?"

"I have a fairly practical knowledge of electric motors," replied the
boy.

"Indeed--of what types?" inquired the leader of the rescue party.
"You're young to take up that profession; I should have imagined that
you were still at school."

"I have to thank my father for that."

"And his name is, I believe, Decimus Ward?"

"How did you know that, sir?" asked Leslie, somewhat astonished.

"That's a secret," replied Ranworth, winking at Guy. "As a matter of
fact, he designed the motor-sleigh we have on board."

"Then I do know something of that," declared Leslie. "The pater
showed me the plans and explained the details. Of course, he didn't
tell me the name of his client."

"You'd like to see the definite result of your father's ingenuity?"
asked Ranworth; then, receiving an eager affirmative, he added: "Very
well; come along; but before we go below you might ask Mr. Hawke to
see me."

Leslie and Guy had already made the acquaintance of Aubrey Hawke, the
motor specialist to the expedition. He was a dapper little man of
about thirty. In height he only just came up to Leslie's shoulder,
while he turned the scale at eight stone seven pounds. He had gained
considerable fame as an aviator, but owing to an accident he had
reluctantly been compelled to give up flying.

Surviving a fall from an aeroplane which would have ended fatally in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, Aubrey Hawke's vitality carried
him through a long illness.

One result of the accident was that he was a victim to nervousness,
but studiously concealing that failing, he had accepted a post with
the Nova Cania rescue expedition in the hope that he might even yet
recover his lost nerves.

"I've just discovered an assistant for you, Mr. Hawke," said
Ranworth, indicating Leslie. "He's rather keen, I believe, upon
electrical matters."

"So I understand," replied Hawke. "We've had one or two confidential
chats already."

The motor-sleigh was securely stowed in the main hold, which, like
the rest of the interior of the _Polarity_, was electrically lighted.
It was quite unlike the general type of sleigh. It reminded Guy of an
engine on the Underground Railway, for outwardly it consisted of a
double-ended contrivance, twenty-five feet in length and seven in
breadth, with sloping sides and a curved roof.

Round, brass-rimmed scuttles, fitted with thick plate glass, afforded
an outlook on all sides, while fore and aft were searchlight
projectors, protected from possible damage by massive gunmetal
guards.

Above the roof were three metal brackets, forming bearings for a
horizontal shaft, which was actuated by a chain driven with the
motors. For the present the two aerial propellers were unshipped, in
order to be safe from damage caused by the motion of the ship in a
heavy sea-way.

The sleigh was intended primarily for use on smooth ice, being
designed for a speed of forty miles an hour under the action of the
aerial propellers. But since smooth ice is the exception rather than
the rule within the Arctic circle, provision had to be made for
travelling over rough ground, and possibly open water.

To meet the former case, the motor-sleigh was fitted with four broad
wheels. Each fore and aft pair was connected by means of an endless
band of phosphor-bronze links, while on the actual face of the chain
were affixed broad plates of studded steel, after the manner of Army
"Decapod" traction engines.

By an ingenious contrivance, the sleigh-runners could be raised at
will, allowing the weight to be taken by the wheels; while, should
the contrivance be compelled to cross the open water, the body was
made boat-shaped and watertight, a subsidiary driving-chain for the
aerial propeller shafting actuating a marine propeller astern.

"Show the way in, Leslie!" exclaimed Ranworth, wishing to put the
lad's knowledge to a test. Making his way to the rearmost scuttle on
the righthand side, the youth deftly unscrewed the metal rim from its
flange. Then, inserting his arm through the opening, his hand came in
contact with a lever. This he depressed, with the result that a part
of the wall swung open, revealing a doorway of about four feet in
height and two in breadth. So well fitted was the door that at a very
short distance off it was not possible to detect the seams.

"Good man, Leslie!" exclaimed Ranworth, approvingly. "Now, Guy, in
you go; there's plenty of room inside for all."

The interior was lined with wood, a space of four inches separating
the inner lining from the outer metal shell. The intervening space
was packed with a patent fibre in order to render it so far as
possible impervious to the intense cold of the Polar regions. Even
the plate glass in the scuttles was duplicated.

Two-thirds of the interior space was devoted to accommodation for
passengers and "crew." Aft was the motor-room with its reserve
storage batteries, and a bewildering complication of switches and
levers.

"We carry a sufficient charge to run continuously for eight days,"
announced Aubrey Hawke. "If we are longer, then it will be a case of
get out and walk, since the sleigh is a little too heavy to push."

"I wonder you didn't have a petrol motor," remarked Guy. "There's
room to carry gallons of fuel."

"No, thank you; not for Arctic work," objected Ranworth. "The intense
cold does not agree with petrol motors. My brother took an aeroplane
with him, but I heard that it was not a success. I had no details,
but I should imagine that, apart from engine troubles, an aeroplane
within the Arctic circle is at the mercy of the frequent snowstorms.
It wouldn't take long for half a ton of snow to accumulate upon the
planes, you know. Now I'll leave you two fellows to Hawke's tender
mercies. He'll put you up to the practical side of the contrivance,
Leslie. Guy can tail on and make himself generally useful. Unless I'm
much mistaken, he'll come in jolly handy after all--not necessarily
to cook a meal for twenty men," he added with a chuckle.



CHAPTER V

TRAPPED IN AN ICEBERG


THE _Polarity_ was rapidly approaching her destination. Her stokehold
staff were working like niggers, while the engineers did their utmost
to raise every possible ounce of steam.

However urgent had been the call for aid, that call was now even
greater, for on getting within wireless range of Claude Ranworth's
apparatus, the _Polarity's_ people learnt that another misfortune had
overtaken the explorers.

In spite of strenuous precautions, the dreaded scurvy had broken out,
and five men had already succumbed to its ravages. In addition,
nearly all the Esquimaux dogs used for drawing the sleighs had died
from some unaccountable reason, and the explorers were compelled to
shelter in snow huts at a spot nearly forty-five miles inland from
Desolation Inlet.

Already the crew had donned their Arctic clothing, for the
temperature was falling rapidly as the vessel reached the high
latitudes.

Drifting bergs, some several hundred feet in height, were constantly
being met, proving the Norwegian whaler's statement that the ice was
breaking up earlier than usual. There was no longer any night. During
the whole twenty-four hours of each day the sun was visible, a pale,
watery orb in a misty sky.

Just as Captain Stormleigh was congratulating himself upon having
made a quick passage, the _Polarity_ encountered a belt of fog. For
forty-eight hours it was impossible to see more than a few yards
ahead. Speed had to be reduced to five knots, not on account of the
possibility of colliding with other vessels, but with obstructions
that are without means of indicating their presence--the dreaded
"growlers," or masses of ice showing only a few feet above the
surface.

Icebergs, of course, constituted a danger, but their presence can
generally be detected by a rapid fall of temperature, and frequently
by the cracking and rending of the berg itself.

On the second day of the fog, Leslie and Guy had just gone on board
after dinner when they heard the engine-room telegraph-bell ring.
Quickly the engines were reversed, the two propellers throwing a
cascade of white foam past the entire length of the ship.

For'ard, both the look-out men were shouting at the same moment, with
the result that what they said was unintelligible to the officers on
the bridge. Then, with a terrific crash, the foremast was shattered
twenty feet below the truck, the broken spar with the crow's nest
attached to it falling upon the deck, together with a large fragment
of ice.

Hearing the crash, but unable to see what had happened owing to the
fog, the two lads groped their way for'ard, until their progress was
barred by the débris of the foremast.

Another grinding sound pierced the veil of mist. The _Polarity_,
still forging ahead, in spite of the reversed engines, had run into
an almost perpendicular wall of ice. Fortunately she carried but
little way, otherwise the impact would have stove in her bows. As it
was, the shock was sufficient to throw both lads to the deck.

Leslie realised that the ship was in collision, but he was still
ignorant of the nature of the obstruction.

The perils of the situation were magnified by the grim nature of the
surroundings, for if the _Polarity_ had sustained a mortal blow the
whole of her crew were doomed. It might be possible to take to the
boats, but that would only prolong the agony. No human being could
survive a lengthy voyage in an open boat in that Arctic weather.

As the lads were picking themselves up, Paul Travers bumped heavily
into them. The second officer was on his way for'ard to ascertain
the nature of the damage.

"It's all right, sir!" he shouted. "She's not making any water. The
stem is twisted a bit, and the bow plates are slightly buckled above
the water-line."

Captain Stormleigh heaved a sigh of relief. He was a brave seaman,
but the perils of a fog at sea he dreaded, more especially in the
present case. Having escaped lightly this time, he decided to back
astern for at least a couple of miles and lay to until the fog
lifted.

"Berg astern, sir!" shouted one of the seamen, who was stationed
right aft.

The _Polarity_, having hit a berg when travelling ahead, was now in
danger of hitting another when going astern.

Again the telegraph-bell clanged. This time the ship's way was more
readily stopped, since her speed astern was barely two knots.

"How's that, Captain Stormleigh?" asked a voice, which Leslie and Guy
recognised as that of Mr. Ranworth. "If we are retracing our course,
how is it that we missed this berg before?"

"Can't say, sir," replied Captain Stormleigh abruptly. He was but
dimly conscious of the question; his whole attention was centred upon
the perils that beset him.

Slowly the ship forged ahead, this time circling to starboard. Five
minutes later came a warning shout:

"Bergs ahead!"

The _Polarity_ had attempted three different courses, and each
attempt had been foiled by the presence of ice. Unwittingly she had
entered a veritable trap.

"Mr. Travers!" sang out the captain.

"Aye, aye, sir!"

"Take a cast with the lead."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

The second mate called to a seaman, who, armed with the
"dipsey"--deep-sea lead--clambered on to the bow bulwark by the main
shrouds.

The cast gave bottom at six fathoms.

"Great Scott!" ejaculated Travers. "There ought to be six hundred
fathoms at the very least."

"What does it mean?" asked Ranworth, when the second mate had made
his report to the bridge.

"Simply that we are inside an iceberg," replied Captain Stormleigh
calmly, for now that way was off the ship his anxiety had
considerably lessened. "There's a wall of ice on three sides of us at
least, since we've sighted it. There's ice under us, otherwise the
lead would give a jolly sight more than six fathoms, and there is, or
was, ice above us, otherwise we shouldn't have lost part of our
foremast."

"What's to be done?" asked Ranworth anxiously.

"Grope our way out--if we can," replied the skipper. "Unless I'm very
much mistaken----"

His words were interrupted by a low rumble that quickly increased
into a roar like thunder. Almost at the same time the hitherto calm
sea was strangely agitated. A dull shock was distinctly felt under
the ship's keel.

"Berg breaking up," remarked Captain Stormleigh, as calmly as
possible, yet fear was gripping his mind. He alone knew the danger.
The _Polarity_ was almost in contact with a mountain of ice, which
was on the point of toppling over. Every minute was precious, and a
way had yet to be found to extricate the ship from her hazardous
position.

Suddenly--owing to the disturbance of the atmosphere caused by the
fall of a huge portion of the berg--the fog was riven asunder, and an
awe-inspiring sight met the eyes of the two lads.

The _Polarity_ lay in a deep narrow inlet. On three sides rose a
continuous wall of ice, terminating three hundred feet above the
surface in pinnacles of fantastic shape. From this precipice masses
of ice jutted out at varying angles. It was against one of these
unstable projections that the foremast of the ship had struck.

The opening by which the _Polarity_ had, by a pure fluke, entered the
ice-incircled inlet was now visible; a gap roughly a hundred yards in
width at the surface, and two-thirds of that distance from the
nearmost of the opposite peaks. It was this part of the berg that
threatened to collapse next. The overlapping mass was groaning
ominously. Should a slide occur, the _Polarity_ would be hopelessly
trapped.

Not only was the ship almost surrounded by the berg, but underneath
her keel was a ledge of ice that was part and parcel of the floating
mountain of frozen water.

Again a terrific crash announced that another fall of the ice had
taken place. Evidently the slide was of great size, sufficient to
imperil the stability of the whole berg. The waters of the inlet
were violently agitated as the towering mass swayed.


[Illustration: On three sides rose a continuous wall of ice.
                                                   To face page 44.]


The _Polarity_, lying broadside on and without way, in the trough of
the waves, was in danger of being hurled violently upon the jagged
cliff of ice.

Captain Stormleigh saw his chance and seized it. His sole hope lay in
getting steerage way upon the ship, and making for the narrow outlet
to the open sea. Ordering "Easy ahead, both engines," he steadied the
vessel on her helm. Beyond the gap, the fog-bank still held as
heavily as before. In that pall of vapour other bergs perhaps
existed, but in any case it was better to risk the perils of the fog
than to be entombed by the overturning of the berg.

Slowly--ever so slowly--the _Polarity_ began her bid for safety.
There was a possibility that by this time the berg had tilted
sufficiently to reduce the depth of water over the "bar" of the
inlet, in which case the escape of the ship would be prevented. All,
then, that could be done would be to take to the boats on a forlorn
and almost hopeless dash for the nearest whaling station.

Wallowing like a porpoise, the staunch ship gradually approached the
entrance. On her port side a massive ledge of steel-blue ice jutted
fully fifty feet beyond the base of the berg. So insecure did it look
that it seemed in momentary danger of breaking away and crashing upon
the deck of the vessel. To edge farther away to starboard was
impossible, owing to the obvious presence of a ledge of ice a few
feet beneath the surface.

Leslie and Guy gazed spellbound as the masthead approached the
overhanging ice. It seemed as if the stout spars must crash into the
obstruction. Perhaps it was as well that the foremast had been partly
carried away, for, as it was, the main truck missed the lower side of
the ledge by a few inches.

A few seconds of breathless suspense followed, until the _Polarity_
drew clear of the supreme danger and entered a wider and less
obstructed stretch of water.

Even then the peril was not yet over. Not until the ship was in deep
water, and well away from the dangerous berg, could her crew breathe
freely.

Fifty yards farther on the vessel's keel grated heavily. She had
grounded upon the ice floor of the inlet. Yet her way still carried
her forward.

The ice appeared to give under the grinding mass of steam-propelled
hull, yet, after scraping along for nearly her own length, the
_Polarity_ began to hang up. The water was shoaling with considerable
rapidity.

In place of the unimpeded motion of the ship in the open sea, was
that lifelessness which seamen know and dread. The _Polarity_ was no
longer water-borne, but on the point of being hard and fast aground.

Captain Stormleigh knew full well that once the ship's way was
stopped she would never be able to get off again under her own
efforts. He promptly telegraphed below for full speed ahead.

Under the action of the twin screws churning the water to the utmost
capacity of the powerful engines, the _Polarity_ scraped and ground
her way for another fifty yards. Then, without warning, her bows
dipped sharply, her whole fabric seemed to tremble as if on a
balance, and, gliding with quickened pace, she slid into deep water.

"Look!" exclaimed Guy to his chum, as the _Polarity_ drew away from
the dangerous iceberg.

He pointed to a gently shelving part of the ice-mountain quite two
hundred feet above the sea. On it was a large polar bear, standing
with paws outstretched and neck extended as rigid as a marble statue.

"It's dead!" declared Leslie. "Frozen to death, by the look of it. I
wonder how it got on the berg?"

"No fear, it's not dead!" said his companion. "You can just----"

The sentence was interrupted by a warning shout from some of the
crew. The whole berg was in the act of toppling over.

Silently at first the mountainous mass of ice began to tilt. Then,
amid an ever-increasing roar of the agitated water and the crash of
detached pieces of the berg, the list grew more and more.

Even now it was a race between the toppling cliffs of ice and the
ship, for the latter had not put a safe distance between herself and
the berg.

The lads, even in the midst of this new peril, could see the now
aroused bear, striving to run up the steeply shelving ice wall which
a few moments previously had been almost level.

For a few yards the animal made good progress, then its massive paws
began to slip. Struggling in vain for a foothold, the bear slid
backwards with increasing speed till, like a stone shot from a
catapult, its huge body was flung over the edge of the precipice, to
disappear in a moment beneath the foam-crested waves.

The noise of the collapsing berg grew till it rivalled the crash of
thunder. The sea, thrashed by huge fragments of dislodged ice, many
of them forming small bergs, was churned into a heavy mass of foam.

The _Polarity_ won the race by barely her own length as the topmost
pinnacle of the iceberg struck the sea.

"Hold on, men!" roared Captain Stormleigh.

But his voice could not be heard owing to the ear-splitting crashes.
Nevertheless, all hands clung on like grim death as a cascade of
water, topped by a fringe of foam, burst over the vessel's stern.

Clinging desperately to a life-rail, Leslie and Guy thought that the
_Polarity_ was doomed.

Buried ten feet below the waves of icy water, and almost torn from
their hold, they knew not whether the vessel were plunging to the
bottom or otherwise. Both lads were seized by a frantic desire to
release their grasp and strike out for the surface. The water
trickled down their mouths and nostrils, its very coldness lacerating
their throats and causing them intense pain.

Then, as suddenly as they had been overwhelmed, the rush of water
subsided, as the _Polarity_ gamely shook herself clear of the giant
wave.

Gasping for breath, Leslie took in the scene of confusion. Guy was
sprawling on the deck, his hands still grasping a massive
belaying-pin in the life-rail. To leeward, the water was pouring in
eddying torrents through the scuppers, where five or six of the crew,
swept across the deck, were lying in a struggling heap.

Amidships, about ten feet of the bulwarks had been carried away,
while the two quarter-boats had been hurled from the davits and
smashed to splinters against the battered engine-room hatchway.

Another and yet another wave followed in quick succession, each
smaller than the one preceding, and although the _Polarity_ was
tossed like a cork, very little water broke on deck.

"Any men lost?" shouted Captain Stormleigh, after the immediate
danger was over.

"No, sir," replied Travers. "Bill Smith has fractured his thigh, and
there are a few minor injuries."

"We've come out of it lightly, then," rejoined the skipper, "thanks
to a merciful Providence."

"We have," agreed Ranworth; then, unbuttoning his fur coat and
consulting his watch, he added: "And six precious hours wasted!"



CHAPTER VI

AN UNPLEASANT SURPRISE


FORTUNATELY, there was spare clothing in plenty on board, and without
delay all the officers and crew who had been on deck during the
avalanche of water were able to change into dry kit.

For another three hours Captain Stormleigh kept the _Polarity_ on a
due easterly course, literally groping his way through the fog-bank.

Beyond glancing gently against an occasional growler, the ship
escaped serious collision, and when the fog lifted an expanse of open
water lay in front of her. Away, broad on the port beam, could be
discerned the rugged outline of the giant berg which had so nearly
proved to be the tomb of the _Polarity_ and her crew.

"Five miles in length, and two hundred feet in height, at the very
least," declared Travers.

"What causes an iceberg to form?" asked Guy.

"It's the seaward end of a glacier," replied the second mate. "Every
year, as the temperature rises a few degrees, the mighty glaciers of
the Arctic rid themselves of a few cubic miles of ice. These bergs,
once they are afloat, drift southwards, gradually diminishing and
toppling over, until they melt away."

"What causes them to topple?" asked Guy. "I know that, roughly,
six-sevenths of a mass of floating ice is beneath the surface. It
seems a lot to capsize."

"Normally six-sevenths of the bulk of a berg is underneath the
surface," replied the second mate. "We may take it for granted that
yonder berg is, since it has only recently taken up its present
position. In that case, the berg is at least a quarter of a mile in
depth. But the ice is constantly thawing in the water, although the
part exposed to the air may not be. Consequently the melting process
underneath proceeds until the berg becomes top-heavy, and then--well,
you have just seen that specimen do a somersault."

For the next five or six hours all hands were kept busily employed in
making good the damage which had been done by the destructive wave.

The crow's nest, which had marvellously escaped injury when the
foremast was fractured, was again sent aloft, this time on the
mainmast. The broken foremast was sawn through a couple of feet below
the jagged end, and new preventer shrouds set up.

The wireless aerials, which had been carried away at the same time as
the crow's nest, were placed in position again. The bulwarks were
roughly repaired by bolting fir planks across the gap.

Unfortunately, the two smashed boats could not be replaced, and the
only wooden ones remaining were two heavy cutters carried on deck
amidships. There were also two double-ended, collapsible canvas
boats, double-skinned, and, so long as the canvas remained intact,
unsinkable. For use in open water these boats were invaluable, but
there was always a danger of ripping the canvas on the sharp edges of
the floating ice.

At "midnight," Captain Stormleigh made a solar observation, and
announced that the _Polarity_ was sixty miles S.S.E. of Desolation
Inlet. Unless unforeseen circumstances arose, the relief expedition
ought to be at the anchorage by six in the morning.

Unfortunately, the vessel encountered pack-ice--a desolate plain of
bluish-grey ice, which had only partly melted, and moved southward in
the form of "growlers," and drift ice.

"Rough luck, this, sir," commented Captain Stormleigh.

Ranworth shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"We must force a passage," he said.

"We'll try, sir," replied the captain. "There is always a danger of
being caught in a southerly gale, and the old _Polarity_ wouldn't be
worth much jammed up in a lot of heavy ice. Still, I'm willing to
take the risk."

"Very good," assented Ranworth. "What do you propose to do?"

"Keep her at it as long as she carries way. The ice may be fairly
thin, and there's every likelihood of its breaking up. If we can't
force a passage that way, we'll have to blow up the ice and form a
channel. Ten to one the pack isn't very broad."

"But if it extends for miles?" asked Ranworth.

"We'll have to anchor the ship in the ice and make a start with the
sleigh, sir. By the time the expedition is ready to return, the ice
may have broken up."

"That seems the only way," agreed the leader of the expedition. "I'll
warn Hawke to get the sleigh ready for action."

Upon nearing the pack, the _Polarity_ stopped her engines. One of the
canvas boats was manned and lowered, and rowed towards the edge of
the ice. On returning, the officer in charge reported that the ice
was "rotten," and capable of being broken by the impact of the ship's
bows.

Gathering way, the staunch vessel charged the glacial barrier. Right
and left, as her steel-protected bow sheared through the obstruction,
fragments of ice cracked and flew in glittering showers.

For nearly a mile the _Polarity_ forced her way, then, with
unpleasant suddenness, she came to a standstill.

"The hummocks are too much for her," declared Captain Stormleigh,
and, hailing the crow's nest, he asked for a report of the ice-field
ahead.

"Same as it is here for a couple of miles or so, sir," replied the
look-out man. "But there's open water beyond."

Calling to Travers, the captain ordered him to take a couple of
reliable men and fetch some dynamite cartridges from the magazine.
The rest of the crew were told off to provide themselves with axes,
crowbars, and augers, in order to cut holes in the ice for the
reception of the explosives.

"Would you like to have a run on the ice--I was just going to say
ashore?" asked Ranworth, addressing Leslie and Guy. "Aubrey Hawke is
going to test one of the small motor-sleighs, so you can go with him
if you like."

The two lads were only too pleased at the opportunity. Warmly clad in
furs, with their feet incased in fur-lined knee-boots, and wearing
goggles to protect the eyes from snow-blindness, they lowered
themselves over the side of the ship and gained the ice.



CHAPTER VII

THE MOTOR-SLEIGH IS TAKEN OUT


IT was not long before the motor-sleigh was slung outboard by means
of a derrick. It was a comparatively light affair, to be used in
connection with the base camp. In appearance it strongly resembled
the usual Arctic type of sleigh, only instead of being drawn by a
team of dogs, it was propelled by an aerial propeller actuated by a
four-cylinder petrol motor.

"May as well take my rifle," explained Aubrey Hawke, the engineer, as
he placed a fur-lined bundle in the sleigh. "We may get a chance of
shooting something."

"Why have you wrapped it up like a mummy?" asked Guy.

"To save my fingers from being burnt," replied Hawke. Then, seeing
the look of incredulity on the lads' faces, he added: "It stands to
reason a fellow can't press a trigger when his fingers are muffled in
fur gloves. If you were to take off your gloves and touch any metal
object you would find that the intense cold would cause the metal to
act in much the same way as if it were quite hot. It would probably
peel the skin from your fingers. Stow the rifle under the seat, Guy;
Leslie, you sit immediately in front of me. I'll let you take the
tiller after I've got the hang of it."

The sleigh was a three-seater, with a propeller of the tractor type,
the blades being protected by steel guards which would not only serve
to prevent damage to them in the event of a capsize, but also obviate
any chance of the passengers being struck by the whirling propeller.
Steering was effected by a short steel runner with a razor-like edge.
To the rudder was affixed a short, massive tiller of ash.

"This is a sort of preliminary canter before we start with the giant
sleigh," explained Aubrey Hawke. "Hitherto I've had no experience in
guiding a mechanically propelled sleigh, and I reckon it will take a
bit of practice. Lie low, both of you, and keep your hoods well over
your faces."

The lads did as they were directed, while Hawke, making his way to
the front of the sleigh, prepared to start the motor. This he did by
swinging the propeller, which made Guy wonder what would happen when
the thing did start.

Would Hawke be in time to regain his seat before the sleigh darted
off at forty miles an hour?

The motor was most refractory. Owing to the intense cold, the oil in
the cylinders had frozen, but after a considerable amount of energy
had been expended in swinging the engine, the petrol fired merrily.
Yet the sleigh, beyond quivering under the vibration of the engine,
made no attempt to move.

Almost leisurely Hawke strolled back to his seat, and having
carefully adjusted his wrappings, touched several levers operating
the controls.

Quickly the revolutions of the propeller increased, until the noise
seemed deafening. With a jerk which almost threw the lads backward,
the sleigh started, and soon attained a speed of forty miles an hour.

Three minutes were sufficient to bring the sleigh to the farthermost
limits of the ice floe, then, slowing down, Hawke made a cautious
turn to the left. Even then the left-hand runner rose quite two feet
in the air, the tilt of the sleigh threatening to throw the crew upon
the ice.

Once more on the straight, Hawke opened the throttle "all out." Like
an object endowed with life, the sleigh bounded forward. Rifts in the
ice it made light of, literally skimming across the deep yet narrow
crevices. Hummocks of medium size it leapt at, surmounted, and, with
hardly a perceptible jar, alighted upon smooth ice beyond. The only
thing lacking was, in Leslie's opinion, the promised chance of
steering the swiftly-moving and novel vehicle.

Suddenly Hawke throttled down and switched off the motor. Carried
onwards by its own momentum, the sleigh travelled nearly two hundred
yards before the pace appeared to diminish appreciably. It was a
glide in glorious silence, compared with the roar of the propellers
and the explosions of the engines. Only the sharp swish as the keen
runners cut the ice and broke the stillness.

"A big hummock ahead," remarked Hawke, pointing to a rounded hill of
ice. "It's too much for us to tackle in this affair. The big sleigh
would simply do it as easy as winking. We'll pull up here and have a
brisk walk. My limbs are half-frozen already."

Nothing loth, Leslie and Guy alighted, and began to stamp and swing
their arms vigorously. Aubrey Hawke, picking up his rifle, gave the
word, and the three set off briskly across the ice.

"This must be the end of the floe," declared Hawke. "See how the ice
is piled up in great slabs. Evidently there has been a gale, and that
accounts for the grotesque formation of this part of the ice. Be
careful, it will be much more slippery. You two follow me, and look
where you're treading."


[Illustration: A huge polar bear standing on its hind legs.
                                                    To face page 57.]


For about a hundred yards the party threaded their way between huge,
frozen slabs of water, until their progress was barred by a steep
wall of semi-transparent ice.

"Nothing doing this way," said Guy.

"Isn't everything still?" remarked Leslie.

The remark was justifiable. The solitude of the Arctic was most
impressive. Not a living creature except the three human beings was
to be seen. The absence of beast and bird seemed the strange part of
the business. It was a land of utter solitude.

"Best make our way back," suggested Hawke. "I don't want the motor to
be 'gummed' up again. The cold is almost enough to fracture the
cylinders. And, hang it, why did I trouble to bring this rifle with
me?"

"I'll carry it back to the sleigh," offered Leslie.

"Right-o; mind you don't drop it," cautioned Hawke, handing the
fur-encased weapon to the lad. "We'll work round to the right. It
looks easier going. That's the hummock we have to make for."

A short distance farther on their progress was impeded by two slabs
of ice that met in the form of a V-shaped arch, leaving a space just
sufficient for a man to crawl through.

With very little difficulty Hawke negotiated the obstacle. Leslie,
the next to follow, had more trouble, for in bulk he could give the
former several inches. Just as the youth was regaining his feet, he
was astonished to hear Hawke give a warning shout, which was
immediately followed by a deep growl.

Within twenty feet of the natural archway was a huge Polar bear. It
was standing on its hind legs, and waving its front paws menacingly,
while its open jaws revealed two truly formidable rows of teeth. From
its mouth its breath issued in a dense cloud of vapour, which
reminded Leslie of the dragons of his early days.

"My rifle," shouted Hawke.

Leslie held up the roll of furs containing the weapon. Hawke wheeled
to wrest it from its coverings, but directly his back was turned the
bear shuffled at a great pace towards him--nine feet of ferocity.

While Hawke was still struggling to disengage his rifle, the animal
struck him a violent buffet with one of its fore-paws. The force of
the blow sent the man reeling against the wall of ice, while the
rifle fell from his nerveless grasp. The fierce onslaught had broken
Hawke's left arm.

The next instant the bear had him in his powerful embrace. Growling
savagely, yet making no attempt to bite, the animal was proceeding to
crush the life out of the luckless man.

Leslie's first instinct was to seek safety in flight, but the desire
for self-preservation was only momentary. Scrambling over the rough
ice, he drew off his cumbersome gloves, secured the rifle, then,
awaiting a favourable opportunity so that he could fire without
hitting his comrade, he pressed the trigger.

A sharp click was the only response. Either the cartridge was
defective or the weapon was unloaded. Fortunately Leslie was no fool
with firearms. He understood the mechanism perfectly. He jerked back
the bolt. No cartridge flew from the open breech. The rifle had not
been loaded. Hawke, for some unknown reason, had omitted to Be
Prepared, and he was even now paying the penalty.

"Where are the cartridges?" shouted the lads in desperation.

Hawke's stifled reply was completely out-voiced by a deep growl from
the bear, the pressure of whose enormous and powerful paws was
already telling upon its victim.

"The cartridges, man; where are the cartridges?" repeated the lad, in
his anxiety getting almost within reach of the terrible bear.

"My pocket," gasped Hawke. "Be quick, for the love of Heaven."

Regardless of the risk, Leslie plunged one hand into the pocket of
Hawke's fur coat. His fingers came in contact with the metal
cylinders. Even as he did so, he felt a violent blow on the side of
his head that sent his fur hood flying a dozen yards. The bear had
struck him with terrible force, its cruel talons missing him by the
fraction of an inch.

It was then that Guy, who had taken some time to scramble through the
arch of ice, threw himself into the fray. Armed only with a short
knife, he plunged the blade again and again into the animal's side.
Maddened, but not mortally wounded, the animal dropped its first
victim and transferred its attention to its second assailant.

Pinned by the bear's fierce grip, Guy was lifted completely off his
feet. His knife fell from his grasp. He could feel the brute's hot,
sickly breath as it alternately growled and howled with fury and
pain.

Rapidly, yet without fumbling, Leslie thrust a cartridge into the
rifle. Stepping up till the muzzle almost touched the animal's ear he
fired. The small calibre bullet fired at close range was as
destructive in its effect as a dum-dum. The bear, making a convulsive
movement that very nearly finished Guy's career, toppled heavily upon
the ice.

Reloading the rifle, in order to Be Prepared for similar surprises,
Leslie laid the weapon on the ice and devoted his immediate attention
to the now unconscious Aubrey Hawke.

It was then that the lad was first aware of the practical reason for
Hawke's warning, for in the excitement of the contest he had handled
the rifle with ungloved hands. His finger tips and the palm of his
right hand were a mass of small blisters.

"I can't leave him there; he'll be frozen to death," thought Leslie,
manfully striving, in spite of the intense pain in his hands, to lift
the helpless man.

"Guy," he shouted. "Come and bear a hand."

Guy Anderson, although considerably shaken in the encounter, came to
his assistance, but owing to the incumbrance of their thick clothing
and the weight of their injured comrade, their combined efforts
failed to move Hawke for more than a few yards. They were quite a
quarter of a mile from the sleigh.

"Cut back to the ship and get help," suggested Guy. "You may be able
to get the sleigh going. I'll stay here."

Leslie shook his head.

"It's too jolly cold to leave Hawke here," he objected. "If there
were any snow, I'd bury him in it and risk it. No; we must get back."

"I have it!" exclaimed Guy. "We'll have to drag him back to the
sleigh. Tie his wrists together so that his arms won't come in
contact with the rough ice. His fur coat will protect his back."

The unconscious man's wrists were secured by means of a muffler,
while the rifle sling was passed round his ankles as a very rough and
ready drag-rope. Guy, carrying the rifle in his left hand, grasped
the sling with his right, while Leslie also laid hold with his left.
Stumbling and slipping over the ice, the two lads made their way back
to the sleigh, dragging their human burden behind them.

"That's good!" ejaculated Leslie, as Hawke was propped up on the
middle seat. "Now comes the tricky business; suppose I can't get the
motor to start--what happens then?"



CHAPTER VIII

NECK OR NOTHING


"You hold on," objected Guy. "Your hands are as raw as uncooked
beefsteak. I'll have a shot at it. I saw how Hawke did the trick."

Somewhat reluctantly Leslie gave way, at the same time cautioning Guy
not to get caught by the blades of the propellers when the engine
fired.

Pluckily Guy tackled the job. He did not relish it, for he knew to
his cost what a back-fire meant. Once he had received a heavy blow
from the starting handle of a motor-car, and that had, figuratively,
knocked the stuffing out of him. Yet he was a lad who could be relied
upon to come up to the scratch in a tight corner; so, setting his jaw
tightly, he gave the propeller a lusty swing. Nothing favourable
resulted.

Again and again he swung the blades, till his forehead was covered
with frozen beads of perspiration. Sheer exhaustion forced him to
desist.

"I believe the petrol is frozen," he declared breathlessly.

Then Leslie tried his utmost, but without success. It seemed as if
the sleigh with its three occupants were fated to be stranded miles
from the ship.

"We'll have to drag the beastly thing," declared Guy. "It won't take
much effort, once we get it going."

Leslie thought otherwise. He could see the former track of the
runners fading into the distance. Between them and the _Polarity_
were obstacles in the shape of several small fissures and long ridges
of ice that could not be overcome by manual labour.

Just then Hawke opened his eyes, wearily, like a man aroused from a
deep slumber.

"What's up?" he asked vacantly.

Leslie came straight to the point.

"You've been badly knocked about by the bear. We've settled him all
right. We want to take you back to the ship, but we can't restart the
engine."

With a considerable effort Hawke turned his head and looked at the
controls by the seat behind him.

"I don't wonder," he replied. "The ignition's switched off. Press
that catch down and try again."

He attempted to rise, but being aware for the first time that his
left arm was useless, he subsided with a groan.

"Knocked clean out," he murmured, loud enough for Leslie to overhear.
"And Ranworth wants the big sleigh to start as soon as possible. I've
kippered the whole scheme by letting that bear maul me. What a fool I
was not to keep the rifle loaded."

At the next attempt the motor fired easily. Taking his seat, Leslie
cautiously manipulated the controls. Away glided the sleigh, but at a
broad angle to the previous tracks.

The lad grasped the tiller. He was soon to find out how sensitive the
rudder of an ice-craft can be, for the sudden application of the helm
all but capsized the sleigh.

"Steady, man!" shouted Guy warningly, at the same time keeping Hawke
in his seat, for the injured man had fainted again.

A very little practice on the smooth ice convinced Leslie that he had
the sleigh under control. He had yet to negotiate the hummocks and
the gaps of open water.

As the sleigh gathered way and finally settled to a
forty-mile-an-hour pace, the lust of speed possessed the youthful
helmsman.

The exhilaration of the swift motion made him forget his
surroundings. He was beginning to enjoy something akin to the
sensation of flight. As a passenger he had revelled in the outward
trip; now, as helmsman and operator, he knew what being in charge of
the speedy sleigh meant.

The first hummock Leslie took almost "bows on." The sleigh, striking
the slopes rather obliquely, seemed to leap upwards and sideways in
the air; then, hitting the ice with tremendous force, it rocked from
side to side for about a hundred yards, before it steadied itself on
its main runners.

Suddenly Leslie saw before him a broad gap in the ice. It must have
widened considerably since the outward journey.

Approaching the dangerous crevasse almost at the rate of an express
train, there was no avoiding it. To attempt to swerve sufficiently
would mean disaster; to take it otherwise than "bows on" would spell
certain death. Even as it was, it seemed impossible for the sleigh to
leap across the widening space.

"Neck or nothing," thought Leslie. He shut his jaws tightly and gave
the motor full throttle.

As luck would have it, the breaking of the ice had resulted in a
small mound being thrown near the edge of the gap. Like a bird the
sleigh mounted the incline, and with its own momentum completely
cleared the death-trap beyond. Well it was that the runners were
strong and true, and that the body of the sleigh was well sprung, for
with a crash the swiftly-moving vehicle alighted on the far side.

"Twelve feet if it's an inch," murmured Leslie. "She took it
splendidly, but all the same I don't want to have to repeat the
experiment."

Fortunately, although there were other cracks in the ice, there were
no obstacles of such size as the one they had just overcome, and
without further incident the sleigh came to a standstill within
twenty feet of the ship.

"What has happened?" asked Ranworth anxiously, as he caught sight of
Aubrey Hawke's unconscious form.

Briefly Leslie related what had taken place.

"Hawke showed an error of judgment in not keeping his rifle loaded,"
commented Ranworth. "Of course, we are all apt to do that, but in his
case it was most unfortunate. Goodness only knows what will happen as
regards the electric sleigh. Our chief asset is now practically
useless. But it is no use worrying. What is done cannot be undone."

"I brought this sleigh back, sir," began Leslie, then, self-conscious
at his spontaneous boast, he stopped.

"Yes, you did remarkably well, my lad," agreed Ranworth.

"Then couldn't I have a shot at the big sleigh?" continued Leslie. "I
understand the mechanism, and from what Mr. Hawke has told me the
steering is very similar to that of the one I have just brought back.
I'll do my level best, sir; and Guy will lend me a hand."

Ranworth paused before replying. He had already proof of Leslie's
courage; he knew that the lad had a better knowledge of the giant
sleigh than any other member of the expedition, Aubrey Hawke
excepted. Since Aubrey Hawke was crippled with a broken arm, and
suffering from shock, it was doubtful whether he would again be able
to take an active part in the expedition.

Yet, Ranworth reflected, Leslie Ward was but a lad. It seemed too
risky to entrust him with the important mission of piloting the
electric sleigh to the aid of the sorely-pressed explorers.

"Let the youngster have a cut at it, sir," broke in Captain
Stormleigh. "If the worst comes to the worst, we can fetch him back
by means of the other sleigh, and do our best to get in touch with
your brother's party by tramping it. But it strikes me, sir, that the
lad is one who gets there somehow, as they say in the States. Let him
try his hand, sir."

"How long do you think will it take to cut a passage for the
_Polarity_?" demanded Ranworth.

"Five days, sir, at the present rate of progress. Less, if the pack
is breaking up; more if the ice is 'jamming' away to the nor'ard."

"And five days even may be too late," rejoined Ranworth. "Leslie, I
must accept your offer, and may good fortune attend our efforts."

The amended plan was forthwith put into operation. The hatches were
uncovered, and the huge sleigh hoisted out by means of a derrick and
landed on the ice. While Leslie was superintending the fitting of the
twin propellers, upon the delicate adjustment of which depended the
easy running of the enormous fabric, Ranworth, assisted by the second
mate, was busily engaged in loading up the sleigh with stores and
provisions necessary for the trip.

Ranworth was to take charge of the rescue party, and to be
responsible for the correct course from Desolation Inlet to
Observation Camp. Having no experience in mechanism or electrical
engineering, he was compelled to entrust the care of the motors to
Leslie Ward.

On the lad's skill the success of the dash to Observation Camp would
largely depend, for in the event of a mechanical breakdown that could
not be rectified by the person in charge, the sleigh and its
occupants would be helplessly stranded, while the chances of rescuing
Claude Ranworth's party would be very slight.

Guy was to accompany Leslie as his assistant, while two seamen having
previous experience in Polar work, completed the crew of the sleigh.

At length the preparations were complete. A preliminary trial of the
motors alone was necessary before setting out on the dash into the
unknown.

Accordingly, the sleigh was anchored by two stout ropes attached to
grapnels imbedded in the ice. There was no need to swing the
propellers; a patent starting device enabled the operator to work
everything in connection with the motors from the seat within the
for'ard cabin.

The engines started without a hitch. The huge contrivance trembled
and strained at the mooring ropes, as if eager to dash into the fray.
To Leslie's great satisfaction, the "pull" of each propeller was
equal to the other. It was a triumph for his skill in adjusting the
other.

"Everything correct, sir," he reported, after having switched off the
current.

"Good," ejaculated Ranworth. "We'll start at once. Nothing overlooked
in your department, Rogers; nor in yours, Payne?"

Both seamen expressed their opinion that the gear for which they were
responsible was quite in order.

"Good-bye, my lads," exclaimed Ranworth, addressing the ship's
company.

The work of cutting a channel for the _Polarity_ had been temporarily
suspended in order that the men might bid the rescue party God speed.
Led by Captain Stormleigh, the men gave three rousing cheers, waving
their ice-axes and crowbars with the utmost enthusiasm.

"Cast off, there!" ordered Captain Stormleigh.

Half a dozen of the _Polarity's_ crew promptly released the grapnels.
The sleigh was now free to proceed.

Ranworth turned towards Leslie and held up his hand.

A touch on a switch, and both propellers began to spin rapidly. For a
brief interval the sleigh quivered, without making any definite
progress; then, almost imperceptibly gathering way, she glided
smoothly in the direction of Desolation Inlet.



CHAPTER IX

AN ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY


IT did not take the sleigh more than five minutes from the time of
starting to traverse the belt of comparatively smooth ice. In fact,
Leslie had hardly begun to increase the speed of the motors before
Ranworth signalled for them to be switched off.

Leslie promptly obeyed, while Guy, acting upon previous instructions,
applied the brakes, two saw-edged supplementary runners, which when
in action transferred the weight of the sleigh from the smooth steel
ones.

Having brought his charge to a standstill, Leslie looked out from the
forward observation scuttle.

Although the temperature of the open air was twenty-five degrees
below freezing point, and that of the interior of the cabin of the
sleigh was hovering around sixty, there were no signs of moisture
upon the glass, which had been specially treated to prevent the
inconvenience of condensation.

The lad was now able to understand the reason for the unexpected
halt. The sleigh was about to make a sea voyage across the forty
miles of open water between the northern limit of the drifting ice
and the island of Nova Cania.

Between the smooth ice and the sea a barrier of drift ice had piled
itself up to a height of twenty feet. The irregular blocks appeared
insurmountable, so steep did their visible face look when viewed
through the cabin scuttle.

"Decapod!" ordered Ranworth, briefly.

"That lever, Guy; not too smart with it," exclaimed Leslie,
indicating a small steel rod on the after bulkhead of the
engine-room.

Acting upon instructions, Guy slowly depressed the lever. As he did
so, he became aware of the fact that the whole fabric was rising. The
sleigh was no longer supported by the runners, but by four flanged
wheels; each pair coupled in a fore and aft direction by a broad
spiked chain.

Throwing the clutch into the lowest gear, Leslie restarted the
motors. At a speed of two miles an hour the huge vehicle moved
towards the icy barrier. The motion was decidedly uncanny. It
reminded Leslie of the erratic waddle of a tortoise. The lack of
speed in spite of the fact that the motors were purring at a high
rate of revolution, seemed to irritate him. He felt inclined to let
the engine "all out."

Presently the sleigh began to tilt, the fore part rearing as the
wheels encountered the stiff slope. Ranworth had chosen the easiest
path, yet it necessitated a fifteen feet climb over a wall of ice,
inclined at an angle of thirty degrees to the perpendicular.

Above the purr of the motors could be heard the crunching of the ice
under the grip of the spiked wheels. Once or twice the vehicle
faltered, then, recovering itself, slowly made its way up the steep
incline.

Small projections of ice it simply pounded to a powder. Narrow
fissures it bridged without any apparent effort, and although the
crew had to hang on to the nearest support to prevent themselves
sliding against the after-bulkhead, the lumbering "house on wheels"
advanced with the ease of a fly walking on a ceiling.

Again Ranworth signalled for the motors to be switched off. The
sleigh was now on the summit of the drift ice. In front of it lay the
sea, the surface of which was quite twenty feet below the level on
which the sleigh was perched.

"A tough job, Leslie," remarked Ranworth. "Think she'll do it?"

"She will right enough, sir," replied Leslie, confidently.

"Of course," added Ranworth, with a grim laugh. "But the question is,
will she smash herself up in the attempt? There's no checking her,
remember, once she gets over the brink."

"I'm willing to risk the dive, sir," replied Leslie.

The boy had abundant confidence in the specifications and plans his
father had made. Provided the makers had implicitly followed Mr.
Ward's instructions, the material of the sleigh was quite strong
enough to resist the shock of a twenty-feet dive into the sea.

"And so am I," added Ranworth. "At the same time, there's a risk, and
it is obviously unfair to keep all the crew on board when two will be
ample for this occasion."

Despite the protestations of Guy and the two seamen, Rogers and
Payne, the trio were ordered to leave the cabin and take their place
on the ice. If things went amiss, and the cabin walls were stove in,
the sleigh would sink like a stone, without the faintest chance of
escape for Ranworth and Leslie. In that case, Guy and the two men
would be able to retrace their way on foot to the _Polarity_.

Leslie felt sorry for Guy, as his chum exchanged the comfort of the
enclosed cabin for the bitter cold of the open air. In spite of his
warm fur clothing, the keenness of the wind cut Guy like a knife.

With the deepest concern and anxiety, he saw the sleigh move slowly
forward. At the very brink of the glacial wall it hung irresolute as
the chain bands cut into the "rotten" ice. Then, tilting bows
downwards, it toppled, and, like an arrow, plunged into the sea.

For several seconds the sleigh was invisible owing to the depth to
which it had descended, and to the mighty column of spray it had
thrown up on impact with the water.

Then, to Guy's intense satisfaction, the amphibious invention
reappeared, bobbing buoyantly upon the surface. He watched it
anxiously. Seconds passed, but the floating sleigh showed no signs of
foundering. It had survived the shock and was undoubtedly watertight.

Under the sharp stern the water began to churn. Leslie had coupled up
and was running the "nautical" propeller. To attempt to approach the
wall of ice under the action of the twin aerial propellers, was to
court disaster.

Adroitly manoeuvred, the sleigh was brought alongside the ice. By
means of a rope fastened to a crowbar, which in turn was wedged
tightly in a crevasse, Guy and the two seamen slid down to the
roof--or, as Rogers expressed it, the upper deck--whence by means of
a hatchway they regained the interior of the cabin.

Once clear of the ice, the floating sleigh was headed northwards, the
aerial propellers were brought into action, and at a speed of
twenty-five knots the unique craft glided with a hydroplane-like
motion over the waves.


[Illustration: The _Bird of Freedom_ toppled, and like an arrow,
plunged into the sea.
                                                    To face page 72.]


Leslie was now at liberty to "stand easy." There was no immediate or
apparent reason why the motors should be stopped or slowed down
during the sea passage, unless small floes, rising sufficiently high
out of the water, were encountered. Then the danger would arise of
the aerial propellers striking the obstruction; hence to prevent such
a possibility it would be necessary to use the marine propeller only.

Ranworth's decision to make use of the twin aerial propellers was
determined solely by a desire to attain the greatest possible speed.
In conjunction with the marine propeller, an increase of 25 per cent.
in speed was obtainable.

"Going jolly well now, Leslie," observed Ranworth, enthusiastically,
as the lad joined him at the foremost observation scuttle. "'Pon my
word, you've managed to get a bit out of the motors."

"They're not going so badly," admitted Leslie modestly.

"It occurred to me that we ought to give the sleigh a name,"
continued Ranworth. "I've come to the conclusion that the word
'sleigh' is not sufficiently appropriate. What we have is really a
combined cabin-boat on runners or wheels, or floating on the water
according to circumstances. Hence, since she's a sort of boat, she
ought to be named, Now, what do you suggest?"

"It's rather hard lines that the responsibility of giving her a name
should rest with me, sir," objected Leslie, laughingly.

"Subject to mutual approval, of course," corrected Ranworth. "Now
suggest something."

"The _Bird of Freedom_," replied Leslie.

"But she isn't an aeroplane; she doesn't fly in the air," remarked
Guy.

"Neither does an ostrich, but it's a bird all the same," retorted
Leslie. "This craft is certainly a flier both on the ice and on the
water. She is proceeding to the rescue of Mr. Ranworth's brother and
his companions; hence the allusion to freedom."

"The ayes have it," declared Ranworth. "The _Bird of Freedom_ she
shall be. But stand by, Leslie; unless I'm much mistaken, there's
trouble ahead."

At about a mile distant the open water seemed to end abruptly. So far
as the eye could reach, the horizon was bounded by a line of ice,
projecting with comparative regularity to a height of ten feet above
the surface of the sea.

Leslie quickly reduced the speed of the motors, then, disconnecting
the shafting of the aerial propellers, allowed the _Bird of Freedom_
to approach at a modest ten knots the hitherto unsuspected barrier.

It soon became apparent that the ice field consisted of a number of
floes intersected by narrow channels, the width of which was
constantly varying owing to the erratic motion of the whole extent of
drift ice.

Had the floe been one continuous expanse, it would have been a
difficult matter for the _Bird of Freedom_ to scale the almost
perpendicular edge. Even if she were able to, no good result would be
obtained, since the intersecting fissures were impassable.

"Now, if we could fly, what a difficulty could be overcome!"
commented Ranworth. "But since the _Bird of Freedom_ cannot fly, nor
swim under water, we must devise some other means."

"Perhaps there's a channel wide enough for her," suggested Guy.

"Possibly; I'll sound Rogers on the point."

The Polar veteran, on the suggestion being put before him, resolutely
shook his head.

"Too jolly risky, sir," he said. "Not that I mind taking risks, sir,
you'll understand. You see, sir, it's like this: the whole drift is
'lively.' The floes are all moving according to wind and tide. We
might get her a couple of hundred yards in and find we're done: then
before we could get clear we might be properly trapped. An' if this
'ere packet got nipped, she wouldn't stand a dog's chance. She'd be
stove in like an egg-shell."

A continuous dull roar, as a thousand detached pieces of ice ground
against each other, added weight to the sailor's objections.

"Then what do you suggest?" asked Ranworth impatiently, for the
plight of the men he was on his way to rescue was always in his mind.
"You've had experience in these matters."

"Yes, sir; in a triple-planked, heavily-timbered whaler, but not in a
glorified band-box, if you'll pardon my way of expressing myself,
sir," said Rogers. "Even then I remember quite well getting a nasty
nip. Stove a hole in our port bow, but luckily above the water-line.
The best thing to do, sir, is to sheer off and run a few miles to
the westward. You'll probably find the drift doesn't extend very far;
only a matter of an hour's run."

"Your advice sounds goods Rogers," remarked Ranworth.

"Sure, sir, it always is," rejoined the man, not from any motives of
self-conceit. "I'll allow you'll find I'm right before another hour's
past an' gone."

Keeping within half a mile of the edge of the newly-encountered
barrier, the _Bird of Freedom_ maintained a steady, unswerving
course. In order carefully to examine the ice for a possible passage,
her speed had to be materially reduced.

Payne took the helm while Ranworth kept his binoculars upon the long,
low-lying expanse of ice. Leslie and Guy, their work for the time
being completed, took up their positions at one of the observation
scuttles and watched the monotonous aspect of the Arctic sea.

Suddenly a column of water rose thirty or forty feet from the surface
at about a hundred yards on the starboard bow.

In a loud voice that almost caused the two lads to start with alarm,
Rogers shouted:

"There she blows!"

Then, realising his surroundings, the seaman added apologetically:

"Sure, I was forgetting myself entirely, sir; yon's a whale, an' for
the moment I thought I was back on the old Sarah Ann of Hull."

"A true hunter's instincts, eh?"

"Don't know about that, sir," replied the imperturbable seaman. "All
I know is that yonder a small fortune's goin' a-beggin', and there
ain't a harpoon on board."

"Hadn't you better alter helm, Payne?" asked Ranworth. "We don't want
to try conclusions with the animal."

"No need, sir," replied the helmsman reassuringly. "They're right
down cowardly fish. They scoot like----"

His words were interrupted by the appearance of a dark, ill-defined
object less than fifty feet from the port bow. The object resolved
itself into the tail of an enormous whale.

Giving the water a blow that sounded like the explosion of a 6-inch
gun, the mammal disappeared in a smother of foam and a violent
upheaval of water that caused the buoyant _Bird of Freedom_ to surge
and roll at an alarming angle.

"Jolly good thing we weren't closer to that fellow's tail," exclaimed
Guy. "My word, what a smack."

"A miss is as good as a mile, Master Guy," declared Payne. "He's off
this time--sounded, we call it. It'll be half an hour or more before
he comes up again for a breather."

Guy did not feel so certain about it after the rapid collapse of
Payne's previous attempt at prophecy. His doubts were soon confirmed,
for a warning shout from Rogers announced the reappearance of the
whale a couple of hundred yards astern.

"Well, of all the cool cheek!" he ejaculated. "Blest if I ever saw a
whale do that before. Clap on steam, sir, he's coming for us."

The old whaler man was right, for the animal, possibly mistaking the
sleigh for a mammoth after its own kind, was preparing to attack.

As quickly as possible Leslie coupled up the two aerial propellers,
at the same time increasing the revolutions of the motor. With a
decided jerk, the _Bird of Freedom_ picked up speed and fled.

"Hanged if we are even holding our own," exclaimed Ranworth, who with
Guy and Rogers had gone aft to keep the pursuing whale under
observation.

"We're not, sir," added Rogers calmly. "Can I have a shot at him?"

Ranworth assented. The seaman, taking a rifle from the rack,
methodically adjusted the back sight. Then, unscrewing one of the two
after scuttles, he rested the rifle upon the brass rim.

"Missed, by smoke!" he cried. "My own fault; the rattle of the
scuttle did it. I ought to have known better."

Again levelling the weapon, Rogers took good care to hold it so that
it did not come in contact with the vibrating metalwork. This time
the bullet found a billet in the leather-like hide of the whale's
back.

Infuriated by the pain, the animal thrashed the water with its tail
and dived, only to reappear after a brief interval, and hold doggedly
in pursuit.

"Can you get any more out of the motor?" asked Ranworth through a
voice tube.

"She is doing her utmost, sir," replied Leslie.

The whale was now within fifty feet of the after part of the _Bird of
Freedom_. Owing to her light displacement, and small rudder area, the
latter could not manoeuvre quickly, otherwise Ranworth would have
attempted to shake off pursuit by a rapid use of the helm.

To him the situation appeared serious, especially as the small rifle
bullet seemed to have no effect in bringing the pursuer's progress to
a standstill.

"Never fear, sir," declared Rogers confidently. "I'll get him
properly plugged in half a jiffy."

His rifle cracked as he spoke. More by good luck than good judgment
the bullet struck the whale fairly in the left eye. Throwing up a
column of blood-tinged water the animal dived and did not reappear.

"Your hour's nearly up, Rogers," said Ranworth, consulting his watch.

The crew had now gone for'ard again, and although the _Bird of
Freedom_ had traversed nearly fifty miles of water as she skirted the
gigantic floe, no sign of an opening had yet presented itself.

The seaman merely shrugged his broad shoulders.

It wanted five minutes to the hour. "There's a likely place, sir,"
announced Payne, pointing to a part of the ice-barrier where, instead
of ice ten to twenty feet of vertical cliff, the ice shelved towards
the sea.

The _Bird of Freedom_ was headed towards the spot. As she drew
nearer, it became apparent to the crew that the ice did not slope so
gently as it seemed to at first sight. Yet with a little caution and
skilful manoeuvring it might be possible to draw the huge bulk of the
sleigh upon the level ice beyond.

"Yes, it looks scaleable," agreed Ranworth. "But we don't know what
is beyond. It's no use if we find the ice is intersected by numerous
crevasses. Easy with her, Leslie; we'll bring up close alongside, and
get ashore. It will be worth the trouble."

Adroitly the _Bird of Freedom_ was taken close in to the ice, and a
couple of grapnels thrown ashore. Securely moored, the floating
sleigh could be safely left for a brief interval, since there were no
indications of a change in the weather.

Armed with an ice-axe, Rogers scrambled upon the shelving, slippery
ice and proceeded to cut niches in the hard, smooth surface.

As soon as he had established a means of communication with the upper
portion of the floe, a rope was thrown to him. This he made fast to
the handle of his ice-axe, the after part of which was driven firmly
into the ice. Steadying themselves by the rope, the rest of the party
rejoined Rogers on the ice.

It was excessively cold. Coming direct from the comparatively warm
cabin, the explorers noticed the change acutely in spite of their
thick furs. Their limbs felt like lead, their faces were lacerated by
the biting wind. To talk required a strenuous effort. Their exhaled
breath, rapidly congealing, fell to the ground in the form of minute
particles of ice.

On and on in single file plodded the five adventurers, bending as
they faced the cutting northerly wind. Ranworth led the way, keeping
a compass course, while, to make additionally sure of being able to
retrace their steps, long scars were cut in the ice, pointing in the
direction from which the party had come.

After traversing a mile, and meeting with no fissure in the ice
sufficiently wide to impede the progress of the sleigh, Ranworth
called a halt.

Sheltering under the lee side of a hummock, and huddled together for
mutual warmth, the pioneers rested for a quarter of an hour. Hardly a
word was spoken during the interval. The men were too exhausted,
after stepping and stumbling over the rough ice and facing the biting
wind.

Once more they resumed their slow march. Two more miles brought them
within sight of open water. A passage had been found at the expense
of hours of physical and mental exertion--a distance that could be
covered in the sleigh in the space of five or six minutes.

"Best be getting back, sir," said Rogers huskily, pointing with his
mittened hand towards the north. "There's snow falling beyond yon
grey streak. Looks a regular blizzard."

The seaman was right. Before the party had traversed a quarter of a
mile of the return journey, the watery-looking sun was hidden from
sight. The wind rose until it blew with considerable violence,
moaning dismally as it swept over the icebound plateau.

Each man was now tormented with the same thought, yet none dared
express himself to the others. With the sudden springing up of the
gale, the _Bird of Freedom_ was in danger. Should the grapnels drag,
or the securing ropes part under the strain, the sleigh would scud
rapidly along away from the floe. The explorers, without provisions
and means of shelter, would be doomed.

Then, accompanied by a rush of wind that almost threw the jaded men
on their faces, came the blizzard.



CHAPTER X

THE SLEEP OF DEATH


WELL it was that Ranworth's party were walking with the wind, for
progress against it would have been impossible. Everything within a
few yards of them was blotted out by the hissing, stinging flakes of
snow. In a very short time their landmarks were completely
obliterated.

Everything in the matter of direction depended upon the little spirit
compass that Ranworth held protected by his fur-covered mittens.

Not once, but many times, each member of the party slipped and came
to the ground. At length Guy, numbed in body and mind, stumbled and
fell upon the rapidly-increasing mantle of snow. It felt comfortable,
did the snow. Lying there, he formed a firm resolve to rest and
overtake the others later on. He was more than half asleep. With his
head pillowed on his arms, there was peace.

Just then, something prompted Leslie to turn his head. Guy was
missing.

Giving a shout that attracted the attention of his companion in front
of him, Leslie pointed to a dark object just visible in the slanting
avalanche of sleet.

Mechanically the others stopped, while Leslie turned and made his way
back to the place where Guy was lying. Every step of the distance, as
he faced the stinging wind, and whirling snow, was torture; yet,
bravely staggering onwards, he reached his chum's side.

"Come on, old man," he said, kneeling by Guy's side and shouting into
his ear. "You mustn't stop here."

Guy's only response was a drowsy movement of his head. Leslie in
despair looked for his comrades. Three white figures, for the fur
clothes were plastered in drifted snow, were looming up through the
blizzard.

"Is he hurt?" shouted Ranworth.

"Don't think so," replied Leslie.

At a sign from their leader, Rogers and Payne assisted Leslie in
setting Guy on his feet. Even then the lad showed a decided
disinclination to budge.

Ranworth saw that it was a case for stern measures.

Raising his gloved hand, he gave Guy a smart blow on his face.

"Step out there!" he shouted roughly. "What do you mean by acting the
goat?"

The action and the words had the desired effect. Roused by the sting
of the blow, and dimly conscious that he was receiving an order, Guy
stumbled forward. Leslie seized one arm, Payne took the other, and
the tedious journey was resumed.

Of how long the weary tramp lasted Leslie had no idea. Suddenly he
was aware that Ranworth held up one arm as a warning, and promptly
sat down in the snow drift. It was the only way of checking his
forward motion, so strong was the wind. At his feet was a chasm, too
wide to leap across and too deep and steep to descend and climb the
farthermost side.

Following their leader's example, the others threw themselves flat
upon the snow. Even as they did so they saw the ice at the other side
of the crevasse rock violently. Then, with a series of awe-inspiring
crashes, the huge floe drifted farther away, causing the intervening
abyss to increase in width.

Ten seconds later the mass of ice was lost to sight in the blizzard,
while in its place was the open sea, sheltered for a short distance
by the still intact part of the floe.

Beyond that space the surface of the water was lashed into a cauldron
of foam by the wind and the driving, bullet-like flakes of snow.

The men clung together for mutual protection. Not a word escaped
their lips, yet one and all knew the ghastly truth. The whole field
of pack ice was breaking up. Already the outer portion had broken
off; more than likely taking the _Bird of Freedom_ with it.

"We'll have to go back a bit and dig ourselves in, sir," said Payne
hoarsely. "It's our only chance. We may outlive the blizzard."

Back they went for nearly a hundred yards, literally battling every
inch of the way, till they reached the lee side of a slight rise in
the ice-field. Here the snow had drifted till it was nearly five feet
deep.

Working desperately, the five men succeeded in scraping out a hole in
the snow. Into this they crept, where, sheltered from the wind, they
hoped to find a temporary shelter--at the best, so far as they could
foresee, a brief respite ere death from cold and starvation overtook
them.

"If this blizzard breaks up the ice-field, the _Polarity_ will be
free," declared Ranworth. "We stand a chance of being picked up by
her."

"Not much, sir," replied Rogers despondently. "We're miles to the
west'ard of her course. 'Tain't no use mincing matters; we're
properly kippered."

Ranworth made no reply. He knew that the seaman's candid words
expressed the situation. Despair, for the first time, seized upon
him.

Hour after hour passed. The men squeezed close together, listening to
the howling of the wind and the hiss of the frozen rain, punctuated
by the sharp crackle and deep rumble of the floe as it parted.

Occasionally Ranworth consulted his compass. The steadiness of the
needle showed that up to the present the ice on which the doomed men
were sheltering had not separated from the main field.

The pangs of hunger began to assail them. At Rogers's suggestion the
men derived some relief by sucking pieces of ice. The almost
overpowering desire for sleep was upon them.

At length the blizzard showed signs of abating. The speed of the wind
decreased; the flakes of driving snow grew smaller and smaller, till
presently they ceased.

The fatigued men were now able to review their position. They were
within fifty yards of the open water.

During the storm, the floe had broken away considerably, since they
had retired twice that distance a few hours previously. Yet the
breaking up of the ice had affected only the immediate locality, for
to the right and left the "pack" extended several hundred yards
seaward, leaving a vast bay, dotted here and there with pieces of
floating ice of varying sizes and shapes.

"Hanged if I can stick this, sir," declared Payne. "I'm off to see
what's doing."

Ranworth made no reply. He had heard the seaman's remark, but an
indifference owing to complete exhaustion and lack of food and sleep
possessed him.

Awkwardly Payne bestirred himself and stood upright. For a brief
period he remained gazing in the direction of the south-eastern part
of the bay, then, stumbling and slipping, he went out into the
piercing cold.

Silence fell upon the rest of the party.

An hour later Leslie yawned and attempted to move. His limbs seemed
as heavy as lead. He felt that he must have been dozing. He was not
cold. The warmth of his companions' bodies and the mantle of snow
which had drifted into their place of shelter, tended to soften the
rigours of the Arctic climate.

He had forgotten the horrors of the situation. Comparative comfort,
following upon the strenuous fight in the blizzard, had dulled his
brain and lulled his mind into a sense of false security. All he
wished to do was to fall asleep.

"It's dangerous," he murmured drowsily, "but a few minutes' sleep
won't hurt. I'll be right as rain after that."

His head fell forward, then with an exclamation of pain he bestirred
himself. His cheek had come in contact with the edge of an ice-axe,
and the keen metal had cut into his flesh.

Holding his mittened hand against the wound, Leslie sat up. He was
annoyed, not so much at the accident, as at his companions' complete
indifference to his cry of pain and surprise. Then it dawned upon him
that there were only three of them, and all were sound asleep in the
snow-drift--a slumber which, if prolonged, would be the sleep of
death.

"Guy! Guy!" he bawled into his chum's ear.

Receiving no response, he vigorously shook the sleeping lad. The
action, although it gave Leslie renewed vitality, failed to have any
visible effect upon Guy.

"Perhaps he's dead already," thought Leslie, then desperately he
began to pummel the unresisting form of his chum, until Guy moved,
grumbled drowsily, and finally opened his eyes. Nor did Leslie relax
his efforts until his friend was able to show an intelligent
knowledge of his surroundings.

"Buck up!" exclaimed Leslie. "We've got to tackle the others, if it's
not too late."

Rogers gave very little trouble. As soon as he opened his eyes he
seemed to realise the situation.

"Pity you didn't let us stop quiet," he said bluntly. "'Twould have
been an easy snuff-out. Howsomever, now we've started we'd best carry
on. Where's my mate?"

Neither Leslie nor Guy knew. They could offer no solution as to
Payne's disappearance.

"Hard lines!" resumed Rogers. "He was a right good sort. But how
about the Boss?"

The three now fully awakened members of the party proceeded to direct
their attentions to Ranworth. While Leslie and Guy vigorously worked
the unconscious man's arms and legs, Rogers rubbed his face with
snow, until Ranworth opened his eyes.

"Up with him!" ordered Rogers.

They set the protesting Ranworth on his feet, and with justifiable
roughness compelled him to walk.

Once, when through sheer want of breath they desisted, the patient's
head immediately fell forward on his chest. But for the support given
by his companion, Ranworth would have again collapsed upon the snow.

"Ahoy!"

A hail, sounding loud and clear, attracted the attention of Leslie
and his comrades.

Looking across the bay, they saw at a distance of about a mile and a
half the figure of a man. Owing to the rarefied atmosphere, the sound
of his voice travelled with startling clearness.

"Ahoy!" replied Rogers. "And who might you be?"

"I'm Payne," was the response. "Fetch up here, sharp as you can.
Here's the sleigh as sound as a bell."

"Thanks be!" ejaculated Rogers. "We're saved, Master Leslie. Mr.
Ranworth, do you hear? Payne has found the sleigh. He says she's all
right."

Ranworth's only reply was a deep snore. Still held in an upright
position, he was fast asleep.

"Can you bring her alongside here?" shouted Rogers.

"No bloomin' fear," replied the distant Payne. "I'll not tackle a
craft like that. Put your best leg for'ard and get a move on."

"P'r'aps it's as well," said Rogers to his companions. "We'll foot
it. Take his other arm, Master Leslie. Master Guy'll relieve you
presently. Keep him going."

Supported between Leslie and the seaman, Ranworth was compelled to
walk. Stumbling in his sleep, he was urged forward, until the
exercise restored his circulation. He began to protest, at first
drowsily, then vehemently, and finally with less and less vigour
until he, too, regained his senses.

Still supported by his companions, Ranworth found himself unable to
stand alone, much less walk. Once or twice he had to be dragged feet
foremost across inclined stretches of ice, which Rogers and the two
lads had to negotiate on their hands and knees.

Although about a mile and a half directly across the bay, the place
from which Payne had hailed them was nearly three miles distant by
following the edge of the ice. When within a mile of their
destination they were met by the fifth member of the crew of the
_Bird of Freedom_.

"Thank your lucky stars I toddled off, mates," began Payne.

"I'll thank you a jolly sight more if you'll bear a hand here," said
Rogers pointedly, for he had stuck gamely to his task, having firmly
declined to be relieved by either Leslie or Guy. "Considerin' as you
owes me five bob, 'tain't to be wondered at that you toddled off."

"Let bygones be bygones, mate," rejoined Payne, as he took Ranworth's
arm. "I'll admit I owes you two half-dollars, but you ain't got no
call to remind me in the presence of these young gents."

Even in the solitude of the Arctic, while still beset by perils, the
two seamen were on the point of quarrelling on the subject of a debt
contracted in far-off Hull.

"Stop that!" ordered Ranworth sharply.

Notwithstanding his physical fatigue, Ranworth was quick to recognise
the possibilities of friction between the two men. He knew that only
stern measures would prevent them from committing a breach of
discipline that would still more seriously endanger the safety of the
expedition.

"Here we are, sir," reported Payne. "Best go slow; it's a bit
tricky."

He pointed to a fairly steep slope of the ice, ending at the water's
edge. Within twelve feet of the end of the barrier lay the _Bird of
Freedom_, moored fore and aft in almost the same position as Ranworth
and his companions had left her.

Being on a weather shore, the floating sleigh had been protected by
the ice wall, the only difference being that the slope had increased
in steepness, owing to the melting away of the ice beneath the
surface.

"I've cut fresh steps, sir," continued Payne. "P'r'aps I'd best nip
on board and bring a coil of rope ashore. It might save some of us
from having a bath."

Ten minutes later, the whole of the party were safely on board the
_Bird of Freedom_. Like men in a dream, they ravenously devoured a
hastily prepared meal, then, completely worn out, threw themselves
into their bunks. Now they could rest without the fear of sleeping
the sleep of death.



CHAPTER XI

CROSSING THE ICE BARRIER


"TURN out, all hands!"

Leslie opened his eyes, aroused by an imperative order resounding
throughout the limited expanse of the _Bird of Freedom's_ cabin.

The speaker was John Ranworth. Refreshed by his profound sleep, he
had completely regained his customary energy. The absolute necessity
for haste urged him to waste not a moment more. The passage across
the ice-barrier having been found practicable, he was determined to
follow up his advantage without further delay.

Guy was still drowsy when aroused; Rogers and Payne, somewhat surly
at being awakened, were inclined to resume their dispute concerning
the weighty matter of the "two half-dollars."

The _Bird of Freedom_ was still held to the ice by the two cables,
but during the time her crew had been asleep the gradient had
increased still more. From the water's edge to the mean level of the
rest of the ice was a slippery slope as steep as the high-pitched
roof of a house, its surface marked only by the half obliterated
notches which Payne had cut some time previously.

"There's no time to be lost," declared Ranworth. "Get her fairly on
the ice and we can have breakfast while we are moving. Look alive,
Leslie, with the motor, or we'll be baulked."

While the two seamen were unmooring and coiling away the rope, Leslie
started the engines, coupled up the air propellers, and lowered the
"decapod" wheels.

"All ready, sir," he reported.

"Then, easy ahead," ordered Ranworth.

Having manoeuvred the _Bird of Freedom_ until she was bows on to the
obstacle, Ranworth brought her slowly towards the lowermost visible
part of the slope, until the two foremost wheels touched the ice.

For a brief instant the forepart of the sleigh reared itself clear of
the water; then, with a dull splash, it slipped backwards. Even the
spiked wheels could obtain no grip on the hard, polished surface.

Again and again the _Bird of Freedom_ returned to the charge, but
without success.

"If only we could get the whole under surface of both bands to grip,
we would manage it," declared Ranworth. "Come aft, all hands, and see
if we can lift the bows clear of the water."

Manipulating the steering gear by means of two cords fixed to two
opposite points of the wheel, Ranworth made yet another attempt. This
time the sleigh drew itself completely clear of the water.

Success seemed within the grasp of her crew, when the wheels began to
race, sending out showers of crushed ice. With a thud that threatened
to break her back, the _Bird of Freedom_ belied her name by slipping
backwards into the sea.

"Try the runners, sir," suggested Rogers. "If she won't crawl over
the ice like a blessed caterpillar p'r'aps she'll slide over it."

"Very good," assented Ranworth.

The steel runners were lowered to transfer the weight of the sleigh
from the caterpillar wheels, and the air propellers were again put in
motion.

This time, success seemed even more within their grasp, for under the
action of the huge propellers, the sleigh ran more than half-way up
the incline. Then her pace began to diminish appreciably, until she
came to a standstill within her own length of the summit of the
slope, the traction of the propellers being just sufficient to
overcome the force of gravity.

"If we could only get out a rope," suggested Guy.

"What would be the use?" asked Payne. "And how are we a-going to do
it? I don't mind any level risk, but I'd think twice before venturing
on that ice with those propellers a-running like mad!"

"Ease her gently and let her slide back," decided Ranworth. "We're
only wasting current uselessly."

Slowing down the motors sufficiently to check her descent, the _Bird
of Freedom_ returned yet again to the surface of the water.

"I certainly cannot see how a rope will help us, Guy," said Ranworth.
"It must be led straight ahead to get any result out of the strain,
and it's a moral cert. the tips of the propeller blades will foul it;
then, good-bye to the propellers. We must, I'm afraid, give up
further attempts to land here, and try again some way to the
west'ard."

"We've some canvas aboard, sir, I believe?" asked Leslie.

"Yes, a couple of bolts--why?"

"If we could lay them on the ice, one strip in the track of each pair
of wheels, the caterpillars would be able to obtain a grip."

"By Jove, yes!" ejaculated Ranworth. "Leslie, you're a brick. We'll
try it." Then, in a lower tone he added: "I can't quite make out what
is the matter with Rogers and Payne. They may be a bit off colour,
but they seem almost on the verge of mutiny." Payne, quick of
hearing, overheard Ranworth's words.

"Mutiny, eh?" he repeated. "Don't know so much about that, sir; but
me and my mate didn't sign on for no monkey tricks in this blessed
hooker. Give us a seaworthy craft and we are game. So if you want to
fool about with good canvas, you jolly well do it yourself. What say
you, mate?"

"I'm with you," repeated Rogers, hesitatingly. "I'm fed up with this
'ere contraption."

Ranworth made a step forward and planted himself squarely in front of
the first speaker.

"Look here, Payne," he said sternly. "You saved our lives some little
time ago, and we are grateful. Now you are trying to undo all the
good you have done, and threaten to imperil the success of the
undertaking. Perhaps you are still feeling the effects of the night
on the ice. So do your duty, and I'll overlook your behaviour."

"Supposin' I don't feel inclined?" demanded Payne.

"Then I shall take steps to compel you."

Payne laughed insolently.

"Remember we are two to one," he said. "You can't reckon them two
youngsters; they don't count when it comes to the compelling part of
the show."

With a quick movement Ranworth stepped backwards for a couple of
paces and whipped out a revolver.

"Either you'll knuckle under before I count ten, or you are a dead
man, Payne," he said in level tones. "One--two--three----"

"Might just as well have a bullet in my hide as----"

"Four."

"Snuff it by inches in this----"

"Five."

"Snuff it by inches, I says,"

"Six."

"--In this rotten box of tricks."

"Seven."

"Here, I say,"

"Eight."

"Hold on, sir. I was a-sayin'----"

"Nine."

"Drop that pistol, sir. I'll give in. What do you want us to do?"

"That's sensible," said Ranworth grimly. "Now get to work sharply,
and I'll take a lenient view of the affair. The pair of you must go
ashore and carry a couple of grapnels up to the top of the slope.
There you'll wedge the flukes and await orders."

The _Bird of Freedom_ having been brought alongside the ice, the two
seamen, armed with ice-axes, proceeded to recut the niches in the
sloping ice. This done, they carried the two grapnels, with ropes
attached, to the place Ranworth had indicated. Although they showed
no zeal in their work, the men did their part satisfactorily.

"Now, Leslie," continued Ranworth, "help me to unroll the canvas. My
word, I'm sorry this has happened. We can't trust these fellows. It
will mean our being always on our guard. We'll have to take turn and
turn about in snatching a few hours' sleep. By the bye, this revolver
isn't loaded. I'll put that matter right at once."

Both lads realised the danger of being shipmates with two
insubordinate men. Prudence would have suggested returning to the
_Polarity_ and making a fresh start with more reliable hands. Even
Ranworth revolved the thought over in his mind, but the urgent call
for assistance from his brother's party compelled him to push forward
at all costs. Enough time had already been spent in fruitless efforts
and exasperating delays.

Having unrolled the two bolts, Ranworth attached one end of each rope
to the end of each strip of canvas. Then, ordering the men to haul
in, he proceeded to pay out the material until a double track of
canvas extended up the slope. To prevent the fabric from slipping, it
was firmly secured to the grapnels. Again the motors were started,
the decapod wheels being brought into play. As the _Bird of
Freedom's_ forepart touched the ice, the canvas began to give, yet
the wheels gripped.

"It's only the stretch being taken out of the stuff," said Ranworth,
reassuringly. "She'll do it, by Jove."

He was right in his surmise. Slowly, but yet surely, the huge bulk of
the _Bird of Freedom_ raised itself from the water. The wheels,
taking a firm hold of the canvas, groaned under the strain. Fortunate
it was that the canvas was new and of tough material. Up and up
climbed the sleigh, till, toppling over the ridge of the summit of
the slope, it gained the comparatively level ground beyond.

As soon as the grapnels had been removed from their holding places,
and the canvas recovered and rolled up, Rogers and Payne came on
board again. They were still morose, and curtly accepting their
shares of the meal which Guy had prepared, they retired to the
farthermost part of the after-cabin.

"They may feel better tempered after a good feed," remarked Ranworth.
"For the present I prefer to ignore their presence."

Seven minutes from the time of starting from the southern limit of
the ice-barrier, the _Bird of Freedom_ glissaded down a
gently-shelving slope and gained the water beyond. Only twenty miles
of comparatively open sea lay between them and the nearmost point of
Nova Cania.

"So this is what they call the early breaking up of the ice,"
remarked Ranworth, as he looked astern in the direction of the
rapidly receding "pack." "The _Polarity_ is jammed in by one big
floe. She has still to find a way through that barrier. We'll be
lucky if we see her at Desolation Inlet on our return."

Leslie and Guy had already forgotten the hardships they had
undergone. In the well-warmed cabin, refreshed by sleep, and having
fed, they felt quite comfortable. Under these conditions, the dreary
aspect of the frozen ice lost its terrors.

"Guy," said Mr. Ranworth after a while, "you might relieve me at the
helm. Keep a sharp look-out for growlers. I've had to dodge a good
many masses of floating ice. You'll soon get accustomed to the
steering-gear."

Glad of an opportunity of doing something, Guy took the wheel.

"That's the course," continued Ranworth, indicating the compass,
"north 88 degrees east. I'll snatch forty winks. Turn me out directly
you sight land."

Ranworth had given Guy the helm with a double purpose. He knew that,
owing to the strained relations on board, it was necessary for some
one to be constantly on the watch. He also realised that there was
always a chance of his being put out of action. With a second
helmsman, the _Bird of Freedom_ would still be able to keep going.

For nearly an hour Guy stuck to the helm. Several times he had to
alter course to avoid detached masses of floating ice.

"Leslie," he exclaimed. "What do you make of that?"

Right ahead, and as far to east and west as the eye could discern,
rose a lofty, irregular line of glistening white, partly obscured in
places by motionless clouds of light, fleecy vapour.

"Another berg!" ejaculated Leslie. "The others were mere mole-hills
compared with this. It will take something to dodge that. I'll call
Mr. Ranworth."

Ranworth, although newly awakened from sleep, was on the alert in an
instant. Tumbling out of his bunk he hastened to the foremost
scuttle.

"That's not a berg," he announced calmly. "It's solid earth covered
with snow. This is your first acquaintance with Nova Cania."



CHAPTER XII

TWO DAYS OUT


As the _Bird of Freedom_ closed with the snow-clad land, the
precipitous nature of the coast became more and more apparent.

Steep and often overhanging cliffs reared themselves eight hundred
feet or more above the level of the sea, their bases fringed by a
line of foam. No sign of any landing place could be made out; the
whole aspect was one of the wild grandeur of a dead land.

"We must have fetched too far to the westward," declared Ranworth, as
he brought out his sextant from a locker. "Do you recognise any
familiar outlines of the coast, Rogers?"

"No, sir, I don't," replied that worthy bluntly.

Ranworth questioned him no further. By the man's manner it was
clearly evident that, although he put no definite obstacles in the
way, he was not the least anxious to assist his employer.

"I cannot understand their attitude," soliloquised Ranworth. "Both
men had good certificates and bore excellent characters. Up to a few
hours ago they worked splendidly. Either their brains have been
affected by the shock of their adventures in the blizzard, or else
they are doing their utmost to induce me to abandon the attempt by
means of the sleigh. If that's the move, by Jove, they are making a
big mistake."

It was no easy matter taking an observation, owing to the liveliness
of the floating sleigh, but when Ranworth had worked out his
position and had pin-pricked it on a very incomplete chart of the
south coast of Nova Cania, he announced that the _Bird of Freedom_
was eighty miles to the westward of Desolation Inlet.

For hours, with both the aerial and sea propellers running at their
maximum speed, the _Bird of Freedom_ skirted the iron-bound coast,
until a rift in the cliffs betokened the entrance to Desolation
Inlet.

As the approach opened out, the lads could see that the inlet
strongly resembled a Norwegian fiord. Barely a hundred yards in
width, it was bordered by cliffs rising to twice that distance. How
far it extended they could not see, owing to the fact that the inlet
turned sharply to the right a quarter of a mile or so beyond the
entrance.

"Slow her down a bit, Leslie," ordered Ranworth. "We don't want to
carry on at too great a speed and barge into something. We'll have to
watch for air currents, too. It looks as if there were no wind, but
it may be perfectly calm out here and blowing a gale through those
ravines. By Jove, there's a sea running on the bar."

"Are you going in with this 'ere hooker, sir?" asked Payne, who,
unknown to Ranworth and the two lads, had come for'ard to view the
approach.

"I am," replied Ranworth coldly.

"Better wait for the old _Polarity_," continued the seaman. "How can
you expect a bloomin' egg-box like this to get through a smother of
sea like that? It's madness. It ain't fair on us."

"When your opinion is wanted it will be asked," said Ranworth
sternly.

Mumbling to himself, the man went aft, and for some minutes the two
malcontents conversed in low tones.

The _Bird of Freedom_ was now nearing the foam-swept bar. Already the
undulations were more rapid and erratic. With very little grip upon
the water she rocked heavily. Her stability was in peril.

"Lie down, all hands," ordered Ranworth.

The order was promptly carried out, and with more than a quarter of a
ton of live ballast as low down as possible, the _Bird of Freedom_
showed signs of greater stability. Although she still rolled
considerably, her "recovery" was more pronounced.

It was a tough business while it lasted. Lurching over the foaming
breakers, enveloped in spray as the tips of the aerial propellers
whisked the steep crest of the waves, the _Bird of Freedom_ crossed
the bar and was soon riding in the absolutely tranquil waters of the
inlet.

So land-locked was it that not a ripple disturbed the placid surface.
The hard granite rocks capped with ice and snow were faithfully
mirrored in the water. It was like fairyland without life.

Rounding the next bend, the _Bird of Freedom_ found herself in a
broader reach, with the cliffs considerably lower than those nearer
the open sea. Once the water was violently agitated by the fall of a
huge mass of ice and snow, but the ripples subsided quickly, and the
surface resumed its mirror-like aspect.

"That's what we have to look out for," commented Ranworth. "There is
always the risk of a miniature avalanche taking place. Farther up, I
understand, there is no such danger."

For quite five miles the _Bird of Freedom_ threaded her way up the
sinuous creek, till, rounding a precipitous bluff, her astonished
crew found the _Polarity_ at anchor.

They could hardly believe their eyes. They had left the staunch old
ship fairly imbedded in the ice. Between her and Desolation Inlet a
huge, seemingly impassable ice-barrier was known to exist; yet, in
spite of these difficulties, she had reached the meeting-place before
her swift courier.

The noise of the _Bird of Freedom's_ aerial propellers had already
announced her approach, and the _Polarity's_ lower rigging was black
with fur-clad forms, as the crew cheered the rejoining sleigh.

Leslie happened to glance at his leader's face. Ranworth showed no
signs of elation; on the contrary, his features wore a strained and
worried look. The mystery of the _Polarity_ forestalling him had
given rise to serious doubts.

"Stand by to make fast!" he ordered, at the same time telling Leslie
to disconnect the air propeller shafting.

With an agility that had been foreign to them for several hours,
Rogers and Payne clambered through the hatchway in the roof and
prepared to receive the mooring lines from the ship.

"Look out!" shouted Captain Stormleigh in stentorian tones, at the
same time pointing astern of the approaching sleigh.

The warning came too late. Sweeping down between a gap in the low
cliffs, a terrific gust of wind struck the _Bird of Freedom_ on her
broadside.

The next instant the sleigh was lying on its side, pinned down by the
resistless force of the wind, while it drifted to leeward like a
bladder.

Ranworth and his two young companions were thrown violently against
the side of the cabin, where for some moments they lay half stunned.
Then, slowly, as the gust eased down, the _Bird of Freedom_ righted
herself.

"Start her up, Leslie," exclaimed Ranworth breathlessly, "or she'll
be ashore."

But Leslie was not equal to the occasion. His brain was whirling,
everything in front of his eyes seemed to be dancing.

It was Guy who saved the situation. Having got off more lightly than
his chum, he retained possession of his senses. Thanks to Leslie's
tuition, he now thoroughly understood how to set the motors in
motion.

"Reverse her!" shouted Ranworth.

There was not room to turn. It was doubtful whether the single
sea-propeller, running full speed astern, would be sufficient to
check the _Bird of Freedom's_ way and convert the forward into a
backward motion.

The whole fabric of the sleigh trembled under the retarded movement.
Anxiously, Ranworth watched the granite cliffs now barely ten yards
ahead. Nearer and nearer they appeared to approach, but more and more
slowly, until, when only a hand's breadth separated the forepart of
the sleigh from the rugged rocks, the _Bird of Freedom_ came to a
standstill, then slowly backed astern.

Once more man's command of science had overcome the forces of Nature.

Having withdrawn to a safe distance from the ice shore, Ranworth
ordered easy ahead, and put her helm hard over. By this time the
squall had entirely ceased.

Just then, from sheer force of habit, Ranworth glanced at the
chronometer. It had stopped.

"Strange," he thought. "It must have had a knock when we heeled."

He looked at his watch. Like the chronometer, it was an eight-day
timepiece. It also had stopped.

It was not a proper occasion to go into the matter. The _Bird of
Freedom_ was again approaching the _Polarity_.

"Stand by there!" he shouted to the two seamen who had been ordered
to receive the securing ropes.

There was no reply. Rogers and Payne were not likely to maintain a
sullen silence when within hailing distance of Captain Stormleigh.

"Perhaps it's the noise of the motors," remarked Ranworth. "Stop her,
Guy."

Guy obeyed promptly. The _Bird of Freedom_ was now to leeward of the
ship, and comparatively safe from any more squalls.

Leaving the helm, Ranworth agilely ascended the steel ladder
communicating with the almost flat roof. As his head and shoulders
drew clear of the circular hatchway, he saw that Rogers and Payne
were no longer there.

A coil of rope hurtled through the air. Securing the end, he took a
couple of turns round a bollard. As he did so, Ranworth noticed that
most of the men of the _Polarity_ were aft, their eyes fixed in a
certain direction.

A dozen boats' lengths from the ship was the _Polarity's_ cutter. The
boat's crew were backing slowly, while Travers, the second mate, was
standing in the stern sheets and steadying himself with the
yoke-lines.

"We've lost them, sir," shouted Captain Stormleigh. "They must have
sunk like stones."

The gust that had blown the _Bird of Freedom_ upon her beam ends had
precipitated Rogers and Payne into the bitterly cold water. Weighed
down by their heavy clothing and sea boots, they had sunk
immediately.

Having made fast the second line, Ranworth hurried below to acquaint
Leslie and Guy with the news of the fatality.

"Do not say a word about the insubordination of those poor fellows,"
he warned them. "It will do no good. We are not here to condemn our
fellow-creatures."

He could say no more. The suddenness of the calamity had temporarily
unnerved him.

By this time, Leslie had nearly recovered from the effects of the
_Bird of Freedom's_ attempt to turn turtle, but on the back of his
head a lump the size of a pigeon's egg had already appeared, while
his left hand was grazed from wrist to elbow.

"What luck, sir?" asked Captain Stormleigh, as Ranworth came over the
side. "I fear our efforts have met with failure."

"Your efforts?" inquired Ranworth. "Why, Captain, you must have done
splendidly, fetching Desolation Creek in this time. How did you
manage it?"

It was Captain Stormleigh's turn to look perplexed.

"We stuck hard at it, sir," he replied. "But how did you fare over
there?"

And he pointed in the direction of Observation Camp, where Claude
Ranworth's expedition was supposed to be awaiting relief.

"Now, what do you mean, Captain?" demanded Ranworth. "Are you
dreaming, or am I? We haven't been there yet; we've only just arrived
at Desolation Inlet. If you----"

He broke off. The horrible suspicion which had but recently sprung up
in his mind was becoming more and more pronounced.

"This is Tuesday, isn't it?" he asked.

"No, sir, Thursday," replied Captain Stormleigh.

Like a flash Ranworth understood. The stopping of both chronometer
and watch was accounted for. After their exhausting experience on the
ice barrier, the crew of the _Bird of Freedom_ had slept solidly--not
for twelve hours as they had imagined--but for forty-eight. Thus,
while the sleigh was lying inactive, the _Polarity_ had contrived to
extricate herself from the ice, find a passage through the great
barrier by keeping well to the eastward, and so arriving at the
meeting place four hours before Ranworth and his party.

On the other hand, Captain Stormleigh, finding no trace of the
sleigh, had naturally concluded that Ranworth had arrived before him,
and had pushed on to the relief of the original expedition. When he
saw the sleigh returning, as he thought, from the interior of Nova
Cania, he could only come to the conclusion that nothing but the dead
bodies of Claude Ranworth and his companions had rewarded the heroism
and dash of the rescuers.

"But, man, you are in wireless communication with my brother,"
exclaimed Ranworth.

Captain Stormleigh shook his head.

"Up till the day before yesterday--yes," he replied. "From that time
till now all attempts to communicate have proved in vain."

Ranworth clenched his fists.

"There may yet be time," he said. "Ask for two more volunteers,
Captain. We'll make another start at once."



CHAPTER XIII

THE DASH FOR OBSERVATION CAMP


"How's Aubrey Hawke?" asked Ranworth, without pausing in the midst of
his preparations.

"Still pretty groggy, sir," replied Travers.

"H'm; it's a pity. I'm afraid, Leslie, I must ask for your assistance
once more."

"Only too pleased, sir," replied the lad, his eyes sparkling with
delight.

"It's hard lines after having your skull well-nigh cracked, to say
nothing of other hardships."

"I hardly feel it," declared Leslie. "But how about Guy? Can he come,
too?"

"If he's quite willing," assented Ranworth. "It's well to have a
second substitute; but, on the other hand, don't press him, I can get
Baker or Long to assist you."

"What do you take me for?" demanded Guy, when, a minute later, Leslie
broached the matter to him. "Where you go I jolly well go, too; so
that settles the matter. It's only a matter of forty-four miles,
isn't it? The _Bird of Freedom_ will do that on her head."

"I would vastly prefer her to do it on her runners," laughingly
rejoined Leslie. "Anyhow, we're to make a start as soon as possible.
Do you know that we are a couple of days out? It's Thursday instead
of Tuesday."

"It might be Monday for all I know," said Guy. "This midnight sun
business has muddled me up entirely--not that I am complaining. I
only hope we won't have to put in a six months' night; that must be
horrible."

Within three hours of the _Bird of Freedom's_ arrival at Desolation
Inlet, she set out again for her dash to Observation Camp. This time
Ranworth took only one seaman.

For one reason, there was to be no more sea work; the sleigh's
course--except for the ascent of the inlet--lay across the frozen
plains, snow-clad mountains and treacherous crevasses. For another,
the carrying capacity of the _Bird of Freedom_ was somewhat limited.
It was just possible she could accommodate all the survivors of
Claude Ranworth's party. Failing that, two trips would have to be
made.

The new member of the relief expedition sleigh party was an
Irishman--Mike O'Donovan by name. He was a short, thick-set man, with
a little turned-up nose, a long upper lip and a profusion of shock
hair and bushy side whiskers. He was a thoroughly trustworthy fellow,
although inclined to be impetuous. The ship's company of the
_Polarity_ regretted his departure, from the fact that he was the
life of the fo'c'sle.

For three miles the _Bird of Freedom_ threaded her way up the
tortuous and ever-narrowing creek, until further progress by water
was barred by the abrupt termination of the water-way.

Ahead lay a forbidding-looking defile, enclosed on both sides by tall
cliffs. Through the valley thus formed, a glacier wended its way--a
gigantic river of ice mingled with masses of rock brought down by its
resistless march from the lofty interior of Nova Cania.

The cliffs were curious to behold. For eighty or a hundred feet above
the level of the glacier they were perfectly smooth, having been
polished by the flow of the ice river during countless centuries. No
doubt the size of the glacier was steadily diminishing. Above the
ice-worn portion of the cliffs the granite rocks were rugged and
fantastically shaped.

Cautiously the sleigh approached the end of the glacier. Here the ice
slid gently towards the waters of the inlet. The surmounting of the
glacier would be an easy matter provided the ice would bear, for the
surface, mottled by pieces of rock and small stones, afforded a good
grip to her decapod wheels.

Like a seal dragging itself clear of the water, the _Bird of Freedom_
began the ascent of the glacial river. Under her weight, the ice
creaked ominously.

Quite a hundred feet from the edge, and twenty feet above the sea
level, the sleigh made its way, till its progress was stopped by a
stretch of clear ice terminating at a ridge of large, smooth boulders
extending from side to side of the ravine.

"We want an aeroplane to surmount this lot," observed Guy. "How is it
these stones are found on the surface of the ice instead of at the
bottom?"

Leslie did not know. He appealed to Ranworth.

"In time, by the process known as regelation, the boulders will sink
through the solid ice," he explained. "What has happened fairly
recently is that an avalanche has toppled these stones upon the ice.
See, they have already sunk deeply into it. Nothing short of a
powerful explosion would shift them. Put her on the runners for
crossing this smooth patch, Leslie. We must find the most likely
place to make an attempt to surmount the ridge."

Almost on the extreme right of the ravine, the line of boulders was
lower than elsewhere, averaging four feet above the surrounding ice.
Even four feet of rock seemed to be a formidable obstacle.

Here Ranworth brought the sleigh to a standstill by putting her
keen-edged steel plate which served as a rudder hard over until it
was at right angles to the two main runners.

"Let us see what is beyond before we tackle this business," he said.

Leaving Leslie in charge, the rest of the crew alighted, and, with
considerable difficulty, for the cold seemed to cut through their fur
clothing and make their limbs sluggish and almost devoid of feeling,
surmounted the line of boulders. Beyond was a heap of small stones
which had quite recently slipped from the cliffs above.

"Hurrah!" shouted Ranworth. "These stones are priceless to us. Set to
and throw a lot of them over the ridge. In half an hour we can build
up an incline sufficient to allow the decapods to get a grip."

Ranworth worked his two assistants hard, but he did not spare
himself. Within the specified time a sloping rampart of stones had
been packed against the outside face of the barrier.

Then, having regained the sleigh, Ranworth gave the order for the
decapod wheels to be brought into play.

The inclined plane served its purpose. Crunching over the loose
stones, the _Bird of Freedom_ rolled ponderously up the hitherto
formidable obstruction.

Barely had she traversed ten yards beyond the surmounted obstacle,
when, with an appalling crash, the lower portion of the glacier broke
off and tumbled into the waters of Desolation Inlet. Where the sleigh
had been but a few seconds previously a yawning gulf appeared, while
the huge mass of ice, floundering violently in the agitated water,
moved slowly towards the sea.

The crew of the _Bird of Freedom_ had just witnessed Nature's method
of creating an iceberg. But there was no chance of watching further
developments in the career of the floating mountains of ice.

The portion of the glacier adjacent to the newly-formed abyss was in
a state of unrest. Ominous cracks appeared in all directions,
accompanied by weird noises as the ice rasped and settled over the
uneven ground.

The sleigh, rocking violently, was still in danger of being engulfed,
in addition to the peril of being crushed by continual falls of rock
and ice from the cliffs above; till, after five minutes of acute
suspense, the crew found themselves on the still firm ice towards the
upper part of the glacier.

"My word," ejaculated Leslie, as he turned over the runners in place
of the decapod wheels. "That was thick while it lasted."

"Never mind," remarked Ranworth. "The rock barrier has gone. It won't
trouble us on the return journey, and by that time the ice will have
subsided sufficiently to allow an easy descent of the water. Now,
keep her at it for all she's worth. It seems plain sailing now."

The _Bird of Freedom_ was now clear of the ravine. Ahead, the ground
ascended with comparative regularity. All around the land was covered
with a thick deposit of ice and snow.

Two hours later, Guy, who had relieved Ranworth at the steering
wheel, reported a ridge of hills ahead, pierced by two narrow passes.

"Which one shall I make for, sir?" he asked, Ranworth having rejoined
him.

"I don't think it matters much," was the reply. "Both diverge equally
on either side of our current compass course. Take the right hand one
for choice. Ease her down, Leslie, when we approach the defile. We
don't want to barge into anything if we can help it."

Contrary to Ranworth's expectations, the passage through the line of
hills was a fairly easy one. There were evidences of heavy falls of
snow and débris from the cliffs on either hand, but the centre of
the pass was almost unimpeded.

"What's that, sir?" asked Guy, as the sleigh rounded a gentle curve.

Projecting from a hole in the cliffs, was the largest animal the lad
had ever seen. It resembled an elephant, yet in place of short hair
it was covered with long whitish grey fur. The trunk was extended,
and on either side was a curved tusk fully fifteen feet in length.

"Make straight for it," ordered Ranworth.

Guy obeyed, wondering what his companion intended doing. The sleigh,
strong of build and powerfully engined, was not a fit object with
which to ram a gigantic beast such as this.

"Near enough," directed Ranworth. "It's a pity we can't stop and
examine the thing more closely. There's a fortune in those tusks."

"I thought it was alive, sir," said Guy.

"It was, countless centuries ago," replied Ranworth.

"It's a mammoth, and a unique specimen at that. Evidently this one
has only recently been uncovered by the unusual thawing of the ice.
So far as I could see, it was hardly damaged; no wonder you thought
it was alive. Others have been discovered in Northern Siberia, but
not so well preserved, We must have those tusks if there's time after
we've accomplished our mission. One thing is pretty certain; my
brother's party did not come this wag. They made use of the left-hand
pass."

"How do you know that, sir?" asked Guy.

"Because Claude would have discovered the mammoth. He did not,
otherwise he would have sent a wireless report of the great discovery
to the Royal Society."

"Unless," Guy ventured to remark, "the mammoth has only appeared
since your brother's expedition passed."

Before Ranworth could reply, for a difficult piece of ground required
careful handling of the steering gear, a dark object rising clearly
above the waste of snow attracted his attention. It was a tent made
of skins with the fur still adhering to them.

Ordering the motor to be stopped, Ranworth put the balance rudder
hard over. For quite ten yards the hard steel ground itself edgewise
over the ice before the sleigh came to a standstill. All hands
alighted and hurried towards the solitary evidence of human
occupation.

Ranworth untied the carefully secured double flaps and entered the
tent.

It was deserted, and contained only a pile of fur rugs, neatly folded
and corded, and a tin box conspicuously labelled:

"_For emergency use only_. R.P.E."

"That's part of my brother's equipment," said Ranworth. "The initials
signifying 'Ranworth Polar Expedition' prove that. What else do you
deduce from the evidence before us, Leslie?"

"That the expedition came this way, and not by the left-hand pass;
that they were in no great hurry, and lastly that the mammoth we have
just seen was not exposed to view."

"I don't see how you can state that they were in no great hurry,"
expostulated Guy, "although I agree with you on the other points."

"Well, the tent was pitched carefully, the spare stores and furs
deliberately placed in position, and the flaps properly lashed. Men,
famished and in an exhausted condition, would not, and could not
pitch a tent in that way. It evidently points to the fact that Mr.
Ranworth's brother had planned his line of retreat from Observation
Camp and had placed tents in readiness at certain intervals."

"I quite agree," added Ranworth. "So we are bound to fall in with the
remnants of the expedition, should they decide through shortage of
provisions to make a desperate dash for Desolation Inlet."

Upon returning to the _Bird of Freedom_, the rescue party resumed
their journey. For another five miles the pass extended, the valley
gradually opening out into a vast, rolling plain, glistening white
with frozen snow.

"We must take precautions against snow-blindness," observed Ranworth,
and, visiting every scuttle in turn, he drew a sliding pane of tinted
glass across the various outlooks.

The sleigh was travelling well now, for the frozen ground made good
going. Leaving a cloud of powdered snow in her wake, like the dust
from a swiftly-travelling motor-car on a dry, chalky road, she was
averaging forty miles an hour.

"Hardly any need for compass work now," remarked Ranworth, as pole
after pole, set at intervals of about a mile, flashed by. "Here are
our finger posts. Do you know what they are?"

The lads shook their heads. At first they had failed to notice the
slender, wand-like objects away on their right, but as the track of
the sleigh and that of the poles gradually converged, they could not
help seeing the solitary landmarks.

"Skis," explained Ranworth. "It proves pretty conclusively that the
party found the ordinary Canadian pattern of snow-shoes more
satisfactory. They took plenty of both, I know; so they utilised the
skis for landmarks to guide them on their return journey. Another
half an hour ought to bring us within sight of Observation Camp.
Steady, Leslie," exclaimed Ranworth a few minutes later. "We're
approaching another difficult patch. Ease her down a bit and stand by
to put her on the decapods."

The warning was necessary, for the _Bird of Freedom_ was about to
cross the track of a former glacier.

Centuries previously, a river of ice wended its slow journey to the
sea; but, possibly owing to a volcanic disturbance, the path of the
glacier was diverted in a different direction. The "scour" could be
seen clearly, while the bed was encumbered with boulders of all
sizes, deposited there with the melting of the cut-off portion of the
glacier.

Fortunately the irregularities between the various sized stones had
been partly filled up with frozen snow, so that, by use of her
decapod wheels, the _Bird of Freedom_ could surmount the rough ground
with but little difficulty.

On the far side, a ridge of gaunt rocks had to be avoided,
necessitating a detour of nearly a quarter of a mile.

This done, Leslie was about to transfer the power to the twin aerial
propellers, when Guy exclaimed:

"Look! There's a snow-squall bearing down ahead."

Even as the approach of a squall at sea can be detected by the
peculiar ruffling of the water, so was the approach of the snowstorm
marked by a darkening of the glistening expanse of white; while, like
a deep-greyish, ill-defined cloud, the forefront of the blizzard
whirled rapidly upon the _Bird of Freedom_.

Well it was that the sleigh had a firm grip by means of the decapod
wheels. Had she been supported solely by her runners, there was a
great possibility of her being swept at a breakneck speed before the
well-nigh irresistible gusts.

The whole fabric of the sleigh quivered as the snow-squall struck it.
In less than ten seconds the observation scuttles exposed to the
direct force of the wind were completely obscured with snow.

"She's holding," announced Ranworth cheerfully. "But there's no
moving until the blizzard is over. It's much too thick to last long."

His surmise was correct, for almost as suddenly as it had begun, the
stinging torrent of snow ceased, and once more the watery sun shone
in the misty sky.

"We'll have to wait until the snow freezes before we can use the
runners," said Ranworth. "Meanwhile, we must do the best we can with
the decapod wheels. I'll go outside and clear the snow from the
scuttle."

As soon as Ranworth returned after completing his task, Leslie
started the motors, and applied the friction band which transmitted
power to the broad-flanged wheels. Instead of "taking up the load,"
the motors stopped abruptly.

"Bother it! What's up now?" asked Ranworth, in a mild panic; for,
much as he prized Leslie's services as an engineer, he had his doubts
whether the lad would be able to tackle a serious breakdown.

Throwing out the clutch, Leslie restarted the engines. They ran
without a hitch, but the moment the clutch was thrown in they stopped
as suddenly as before.

"It's not the fault of the motors, sir," reported Leslie. "I should
think that something jammed outside."

"It's frozen snow," declared Ranworth, after the crew had alighted.
"The cogs are literally stuffed up. Get a crowbar, Guy, and try to
shift the accumulation. And, O'Donovan, bring a couple of spades with
you and cut away some of the drift in front of us. We couldn't be in
a worse place for starting, although it protected us from the full
fury of the storm."

The effect of the wind upon the fallen snow was most remarkable. As
far as the eye could reach, the aspect resembled a frozen sea, the
snow being piled up in long undulations, like the Atlantic rollers
suddenly petrified. One of these snow waves had accumulated in front
of the _Bird of Freedom_. Even the decapod wheels would fail to find
support upon the soft, slanting bank of snow. Ranworth and O'Donovan
set to work to cut a passage through the obstruction.

"I'll bear a hand, too," volunteered Leslie, and, returning to the
sleigh for another spade, he surmounted the mound of snow and
vigorously began to attack the barrier.

"It's snowing again," declared Guy, as a few flakes drifted past.

"And the wind has changed," added Ranworth. "It's coming from almost
due south."

"So much the better for us--until we start on the return journey,"
declared Leslie. "If we----"

He paused abruptly, and pointed in the direction of the still
invisible Observation Camp. Trudging laboriously through the snow
were two men.



CHAPTER XIV

GOOD WORK IN THE BLIZZARD


"BE sharp, lads," exclaimed Ranworth excitedly, "they're nearly done
for."

With a leap he alighted upon the ground, and, running with the
drifting snow, made towards the newcomers, Leslie and Guy following
at his heels, and O'Donovan bringing up the rear. Running hardly
describes their progress, for at every step the crew of the _Bird of
Freedom_ sank almost to their knees.

The two strangers gave no sign of having seen their rescuers. They
floundered heavily through the snow, with their shoulders hunched and
their heads sunk on their chests. They were enveloped with furs,
while, as they struggled against the falling snow, the front of their
clothing was plastered white with the frozen flakes. The pair were
trudging side by side, dragging a light sleigh by means of cords
slung over their shoulders.

"Ahoy!" shouted Ranworth.

At the sound of his voice, both men raised their heads. Their faces
were black and almost hidden by thick beards.

One of the men raised his arm and gave vent to a feeble shout which
seemed almost stifled in his throat, and pitched inertly upon the
snow. His companion stood stock still for a few seconds, then rubbed
his eyes vigorously as if unable to credit his sense of vision. Then,
extending both arms, he struggled forward for a few paces and
collapsed in a heap.

Ranworth and Guy raised the man to a sitting position, while Leslie
and O'Donovan directed their attention to the unfortunate individual
who had been the first to collapse.

The former was not unconscious, but almost done up through sheer
exhaustion. He was a great, hulking fellow of more than six feet in
height, and too heavy for even the united efforts of the _Bird of
Freedom's_ crew to carry through the snow.

"Lift him on to the sleigh," ordered Ranworth. "You, Guy, steady him
so that he won't fall off. We'll drag him back to the _Bird of
Freedom_. The other man is unconscious. A few minutes more won't hurt
him much."

It was an easy matter to drag the light sleigh with its burden, but
the difficulty was to get the heavy man up and through the doorway in
the side of the _Bird of Freedom_. He was incapable of assisting
himself, and his bulk, rendered additionally great by his thick fur
clothing, afforded little grip. The "entry port" of the motor-sleigh
was not intended for men of his girth.

"Can't we raise him on this, sir?" asked Leslie, indicating the
little sleigh on which the man had been brought alongside the _Bird
of Freedom_.

"Right-o," assented Ranworth. "Get on board, Leslie, and open the
hatchway. Then lower that rope-ladder from the roof."

This Leslie did, then, descending to the interior of the
motor-sleigh, he "stood by," while by dint of strenuous exertion, his
three companions raised the impromptu stretcher and its burden until
one end rested on the sill of the door. Then Leslie assisted in
hauling in the helpless man until the stretcher was almost balanced,
half in and half out of the _Bird of Freedom_.

"Can you steady him?" asked Ranworth.

Receiving an affirmative reply from Leslie, his companion ascended
the rope-ladder and gained the cabin of the _Bird of Freedom_ by
means of the hatchway in the roof, since the doorway in the side was
completely blocked by the massive form of the helpless man. It was
then a comparatively easy matter to drag the rest of the stretcher
across the sill and deposit its burden upon the floor.

"See to him, O'Donovan," said Ranworth. "Now then, you fellows, we'll
get the other man in. Sling that sleigh out, Guy, we'll want it."

It was now snowing heavily, so much so that by the time the rescuers
retraced their steps to the place where they had left the second man,
his body was almost hidden in the drift.

"I'd rather drag this thing a yard than a mile," thought Leslie, as
with Guy he seized the cords attached to the sleigh and literally
fought his way through the blinding snow. "I wonder how far those
poor chaps have come?"

The second of the two rescued men was short in stature, but of a
massive build, and it took almost as much exertion to get him on
board the _Bird of Freedom_ as it had done to deal with his
companion.

"Attend to this poor chap, Guy," said Ranworth. "Leslie, will you
start the motors? If we don't get a move on pretty smartly, we'll be
snowed in."

"How about this, sir?" asked Leslie, indicating the sleigh which
the two men had been dragging.

"Sling it overboard. It won't be wanted now, I fancy. Cut adrift that
bundle and see what it contains before you get rid of the sleigh."

Leslie did so. The contents of the package told their own tale, for
wrapped up in a piece of fur were two lumps of raw seal's flesh and
some broken bits of mouldy biscuits.

"Starvation rations," commented Ranworth. "Now, Leslie, start her up;
we've no time to lose."

Under the action of the decapod wheels, since the runners were no
longer of any use in the soft snow, the _Bird of Freedom_ resumed her
slow crawl, five miles an hour being the maximum speed under such
adverse conditions.

Meanwhile Guy, following O'Donovan's example, had divested his
patient of most of his clothing, and was rubbing his chest and
forehead with snow. Both men were nearly worn to skeletons. Their
ribs stood out sharply under their skin, which was almost black with
grime, soot, and oil.

Presently the tall man, who had never actually lost consciousness,
feebly made signs that he wanted food.

O'Donovan had already opened a tin of soup and had put the contents
to simmer over a spirit stove. A few spoonfuls revived the man
considerably.

"Where did you leave the rest of the Ranworth Expedition?" asked Guy.

The man looked at him wonderingly, then shook his head.

Guy repeated the question, receiving in reply some words which he
could not understand.

"It's my opinion, Master Guy," said O'Donovan, "that this chap's
something he ought not to be."

"What do you mean?" asked the lad.

"He is a foreigner, an', bedad, ne'er a foreigner belonged to Mr.
Ranworth's party. They were British to a man, not excepting the few
that belonged to Ould Oireland."

Guy, having seen his patient warmly wrapped up, went to Ranworth, who
was at the steering-wheel.

"One of those men is a foreigner, sir," he reported.

"Never!" ejaculated Ranworth, incredulously; then he added: "It's a
rotten business if he is. Here, Guy, take the wheel a few minutes.
Shout if you want me."

Leaving Guy in charge of the helm, Ranworth approached the rescued
man.

"Feeling better?" he asked.

The patient shook his head and replied in a guttural and
unintelligible language. It bore no resemblance to English. It
certainly was not German, which Ranworth knew fairly well.

"Dansk? Norge? Sverige? Russe?" inquired Ranworth, naming the
northern kingdoms of Europe.

"Yes, I am a Russian," replied the man, speaking in excellent French.
"My name is Ivan Petrovitch, and I am a captain in the Imperial
Guard. My companion there is Dmitri Rapoulin, of the Moscow
University. To whom are we indebted for saving our lives?"

"Members of the Ranworth Relief Expedition," was the reply. "You have
possibly fallen in with the Polar Exploration party under the
direction of my brother, Claude Ranworth?"

The Russian shook his head.

"We knew not that there were others in Nova Cania," he replied. "We
were wrecked three weeks ago."

"Wrecked?" echoed Ranworth in unbelief. "Then how comes it that we
found you so far inland?"

Petrovitch smiled feebly, for he was still very weak, although
steadily regaining his vitality.

"There are other ways of being wrecked than on the seashore,
monsieur," he said. "We were cast upon the barren land from an
airship, in which we were making a scientific voyage. The blizzard
brought us down like a stone. _Pouf!_ In one second all was gone; our
provisions, stores, instruments, in short, everything we possessed
except what we stood upright in, although later on we recovered
several things which had been blown far across the snow.

"We were stranded, and on the verge of starvation, sixty miles from
the coast and without means of communicating with any wireless
station."

"Without provisions--then how did you exist?" asked Ranworth,

"We found a tin of biscuits which had by a miracle escaped
destruction," answered Ivan Petrovitch. "Two days later we fell in
with a flock of seals. Then came the great blizzard."

"The same that played havoc with my brother's resources."

"Undoubtedly," agreed the Russian. "It was frightful. Even we
Russians, accustomed to the cold, were on the point of death. Finally
my friend Dmitri and I resolved to make a dash for the harbour you
English call Desolation Inlet, hoping against hope to find a chance
whaler anchoring there. For days we have eaten nothing but seals'
flesh and pieces of rotten biscuit. Our comrades are in a worse
plight, I fear."

"How many of you are there altogether?" asked Ranworth.

"Ten."

The Russian stretched out his hand for more soup. Ranworth was
silent. He was thinking deeply. The obligations of the relief party
were increased twofold. In the name of humanity he must proceed to
the rescue of the luckless crew of the destroyed airship. At the most
the _Bird of Freedom_ could accommodate sixteen persons only,
including her original complement.

"It will mean two trips," he soliloquised. "The question is: whose
necessity is greater--my brother's or this man's comrades? Dash it!
Of all the intricate problems, this is the stiffest I have had to
face."

Finally Ranworth resolved to defer his decision until the _Bird of
Freedom_ arrived at Observation Camp. It would obviously be a kind of
wild-goose chase to penetrate fifteen or twenty miles farther inland,
until the two rescued Russians could give clear and concise
directions as to how to reach the spot where they had left their
unfortunate comrades.

His thoughts were interrupted by a gradually increasing grinding
noise. The snow had been freezing rapidly, and the decapod wheels,
instead of noiselessly gripping the powdery ground, were now
encountering ice strong enough to support the runners.

Accordingly the weight of the sleigh was transferred from the wheels
to the steel runners, the air-propellers were brought into action,
and once more the _Bird of Freedom_ settled down to a steady pace of
forty miles an hour.

"I'll take her, Guy," said Ranworth, relieving the lad at the
steering-wheel. "We ought not to be far off now."

Ten minutes later Leslie received the order to switch off, and the
sleigh, gradually losing way, came to a standstill within ten feet of
the nearest of a cluster of snow huts.

The rescue party had arrived at Observation Camp.



CHAPTER XV

JUST IN TIME


THE spirit of desolation appeared to hover over the camp. There were
no signs of life. The recently fallen snow, now frozen hard, showed
no footprints. Two or three boxes, a pile of fur packages, and the
remains of three dog sleighs were visible, although partly covered in
snow.

On the windward side of the huts, dome-shaped after the Esquimaux
fashion, the snow had drifted almost level with the tops. The
entrances, just wide enough for a man to crawl through, were
curtained with furs.

Guarding against the possibility of the _Bird of Freedom_ being
carried away by a gust, by the simple expedient of putting the
balanced rudder over, Ranworth alighted, and, followed by Leslie and
Guy, made his way to the nearest hut.

On his hands and knees Ranworth crawled through the tunnel-like
entrance and thrust aside the curtain. The interior was in utter
darkness, for his bulk effectively prevented any light from coming in
through the opening.

Fumbling in the pocket of his fur coat, he produced an electric
torch. The light revealed the fact that the hut was deserted. There
were furs and implements lying in confusion. From the roof hung an
oil lamp. Ranworth shook it. The reservoir was empty.

"No good here," he announced with bitter disappointment in his voice;
and, without waiting for his companions to enter, he backed into the
open air.

The second hut, upon examination, proved to be equally
unsatisfactory. It contained only a few seals' skins, frozen as stiff
as a board. The skins had been hurriedly taken from the animals, for
pieces of frozen flesh still adhered to them. Nor had the seals been
killed for the sake of their fur, for the skins were cut into
irregular pieces.

It was quite evident that, like the unfortunate Russians, Claude
Ranworth's party had had to exist on raw seals' flesh; yet the fact
that they had contrived to find these amphibians forty or fifty miles
from the sea was somewhat perplexing.

The third hut had a double curtain. The approach tunnel, too, was
larger. The inner curtain, unlike those in the other huts, was
secured.

As Ranworth fumbled to find the lashings, he heard a feeble voice
exclaim:

"There's a bear, Tom; get your rifle, sharp."

"Hold on!" shouted Ranworth.

The curtain was torn aside. A cloud of oil-smelling smoke wafted out,
causing Ranworth to cough and his eyes to fill with water. Literally
gasping for breath, and unable to see, he waited, hunched upon his
hands and knees.

"Hullo, Jack. You've come at last!" exclaimed a drowsy voice.

It was Claude Ranworth's greeting to his brother.

"Yes, old man, we're here," replied John Ranworth, and emerging from
the tunnel he drew himself erect within the hut, while Leslie and Guy
followed.

The sole illumination was derived from a piece of lighted cotton rag
floating in a shallow bowl of oil and tallow. It revealed seven men,
lying close together for mutual warmth and muffled in furs. Three of
them were fast asleep, the others seemed more or less torpid.

Their gaunt faces, black with smoke from the lamp, betrayed extreme
emaciation. Their rugged, unkempt beards made them look like decrepit
old men.

One of them babbled incoherently, until Ranworth understood that he
was begging for tea.

The scene appalled Leslie and Guy. If this were what Polar research
meant, was the game worth the candle?

"Where are the others?" asked Ranworth.

"Done in--scurvy," was the reply. Then, "We're starving," he added
huskily.

"Come out, all of you," ordered Ranworth.

It was necessary to speak sharply, for the luckless explorers were
too listless to take much interest in anything. Unless they were
promptly moved from the vile atmosphere, and given wholesome food,
they would never reach Desolation Inlet again, much less the shores
of Old England.

One by one the four men who were awake were assisted out and taken on
board the _Bird of Freedom_. The remaining three, still in the deep
sleep of utter weakness and exhaustion, had to be dragged into the
open air and across the intervening stretch of frozen snow.

Fortunately O'Donovan had plenty of water boiling on the two spirit
stoves, and meat extract and vegetable soup were soon forthcoming. So
quickly did the rescued men wolf the food that they had to be
restrained forcibly.

"Leslie," said Ranworth. "I'm in a regular hole. You see, we are only
just in time here, yet fifteen or twenty miles from us are eight poor
Russians in perhaps a worse plight. Now, if you were in my position,
what would you do?"

"Run your brother's party back to Desolation Inlet; put them on board
the _Polarity_, and return for the others, sir."

Ranworth shook his head.

"Won't do," he said. "For one thing, there's valuable time lost in
going over the same ground twice. For another, I doubt whether the
motors will hold out without recharging the storage batteries. Of
course, it is highly desirable to get my brother and his comrades
back on board, but I think, with fresh provisions and attendance,
they ought to exist another twenty-four hours."

"I'll remain with them if you like, sir," suggested Leslie.

"I'd rather you came with me," declared Ranworth. "Of course, it is
optional with you, but although I think I could manage to run the
motors, I shouldn't feel equal to the occasion in the event of a
breakdown. Guy, I suppose, would want to go with you; that leaves
only O'Donovan, who, I feel sure, would be quite capable of looking
after our eight patients."

"Eight?" queried Leslie.

"Yes, we must leave the Russian Dmitri. The other one will have to
come with us, both as guide and interpreter, in the unlikely event of
none of the others speaking French. Most Russian officers do, I know,
but I prefer to take no unnecessary chances." O'Donovan, upon the
subject being broached, willingly fell in with his chief's plans.
While the rescued men were resting and regaining strength after their
meal, the sailor busied himself with clearing out one of the huts.
Into this he carried the spare spirit stove, a lamp, oil, and a
supply of provisions sufficient to last a week.

"Look here, Claude," said his brother. "We'll have to leave you for a
little longer. There is a party of Russians stranded over there
somewhere----"

"Russians!" exclaimed Claude Ranworth. "Russians in Nova Cania? What
for?"

"Don't be alarmed, old man," said his brother reassuringly. "They are
not rivals. It is the force of circumstances. At any rate, one would
think that you'd had your fair share of Nova Cania."

Claude gripped his brother's arm.

"Look here," he whispered eagerly. "In that hut where you found us is
a lump of metal wrapped up in a sealskin. It doesn't look very big,
but it's worth a fortune--it's pure platinum. Over yonder the place
swarms with it."

"Hardly worth the risk," declared the matter-of-fact John Ranworth.
"But we must see about getting a move on. You won't hurt for another
few hours. We ought not to be very long. I'll just ask Petrovitch a
few questions. He's quite fit to give lucid information now."

"North-north-east, I believe, monsieur," said the Russian, in reply
to Ranworth's question as to the approximate position of his stranded
comrades. "I think I could follow our course from the place where you
found us, but from this place--no."

"I don't like retracing our course," declared Ranworth, "but I
suppose we must do it, to avoid a wild-goose chase. Of course, you
know that your tracks must be wiped out by the blizzard?"

"There are peculiar hummocks which I can recognise," said the
Russian.

Suddenly an inspiration flashed across Ranworth's mind.

"I say, Claude," he exclaimed. "Did you happen to notice a cloud of
black smoke away to the nor'-nor'-east about three weeks ago?"

"Yes," replied his brother. "But you weren't anywhere in the vicinity
of Nova Cania at that time?"

"No," replied John Ranworth. "But what was it like? In what direction
did it appear?"

"I can remember it well," continued Claude Ranworth. "It was about
three o'clock in the morning. The sun was obscured, and overhead was
a bank of heavy clouds. I saw a vivid flash reflected on the
underside of the clouds, followed by a dull report. The interval
between the flash and the report was seventy seconds according to my
calculation, for I had no watch available."

"You were always pretty good at counting seconds," remarked Ranworth.
"Then what happened?"

"A heavy cloud of smoke drifted in this direction. It hung about for
nearly two hours before it finally dispersed."

"Can you indicate the actual direction of the flash?"

"Yes," replied Claude. "Do you see that hummock with a peculiar
double crown? If you stand in front of the second hut from here, the
crest of the hummock is practically in line with the place from which
the flash emanated. But why are you so interested, Jack?"

"Because," said John Ranworth, "I have every reason to believe that
the flash you saw was the explosion of the airship in which these
Russians had been travelling."

Claude Ranworth made a gesture of annoyance.

"I thought I had observed an unusual seismic disturbance," he cried.
"In fact, I immediately entered a detailed description of a supposed
volcanic eruption in my log, meaning to send a report to the Royal
Society. By the bye, that reminds me; if anything should happen to me
during your absence, my scientific documents--I'm afraid I haven't
kept them up-to-date--are under my sleeping bag. But I'm awfully
sorry it wasn't an earthquake."

"So am I," agreed Ranworth. "It might have saved me a long journey."

He snatched up a piece of paper lying on the cabin table and worked
out a short sum. Seventy seconds was the time given by Claude as
having elapsed between the flash and the detonation. Allowing sound
to travel at 365 yards a second, the distance worked out at just over
fourteen miles.

His next step was to take a prismatic compass and set it in position
outside the hut his brother had indicated. By taking a bearing of the
twin-peaked hummock, he was able to fix the direction of the scene of
the disaster to the Russian airship.

O'Donovan having reported that his preparations were complete, the
seven surviving members of Claude Ranworth's party, and the Russian
Dmitri, were taken off the sleigh and placed in the snow hut.

Without further delay, the _Bird of Freedom_ set off on her
fourteen-mile journey to the rescue of the stranded aviators.

It was as well that Ranworth had thought to question his brother on
the subject of the explosion. By so doing he saved himself the
trouble and loss of valuable time in retracing his course until
Petrovitch could pick up his trail. He also knew that the Russian had
greatly overrated the distance.

Instead of being sixty miles from Desolation Inlet, the wrecked
airship was about fifty miles from that harbour and fourteen from
Observation Camp.

Before the sleigh had put half a mile between itself and the camp,
the arm of a wide creek was passed on the left hand. The water was
frozen over, except here and there where the ice had broken under its
own pressure, and had piled itself up into irregular hummocks. Around
these holes thousands of seals were congregated. The mystery of how
Claude Ranworth's party obtained their seals was now solved.

"What a pity we didn't know of this before, sir," remarked Leslie.
"The _Polarity_ could have approached much nearer the camp."

"The ice is too thick for that," replied Ranworth. "For another
reason, the creek apparently opens into the sea on the northern coast
of Nova Cania. You must recollect that the southern and the greater
portion of the eastern and western sides of this vast island have
been explored with fair accuracy."

Three times during the next ten miles the decapod wheels had to be
brought into action owing to the rough nature of the ground.

Suddenly Ranworth gave the steering-wheel a vicious turn, which had
the effect of making the _Bird of Freedom_ describe a sharp
semi-circle.

"Stop her!" he ordered.

Leslie obeyed instantly. Although anxious to know the reason of his
chief's apparent eccentricity, he refrained from asking questions.

"Get out a coil of two-inch rope, Guy," said Ranworth. "Unless I am
much mistaken, there is rotten ice ahead. It wants testing badly."

Guy produced the rope. Making a bowline at one end, Ranworth slipped
the loop over his head and shoulders.

"Now," he continued, "I want all hands to pay this out. Keep a slight
strain upon it, and, if I shout, haul away instantly."

Having repeated the instructions in French to Petrovitch, Ranworth
began to walk towards the supposedly dangerous ground, its position
denoted by a difference in colour and a decided dip. North-west and
south-east, as far as the eye could see, these characteristics were
apparent. To avoid the suspected danger, a long detour would be
necessary.

Ranworth proceeded slowly, probing the ground with a crowbar. Once or
twice he stopped and prodded vigorously, until, satisfied that the
ice was capable of bearing a tremendous weight, he resumed his way.

"The rope's all paid out, sir," reported Guy.

"Very good, you can come this way for another fifty yards. It's sound
enough," was the reply.

Just then Ranworth gave a warning shout, but before the three helpers
could haul in the slack they saw to their horror the ice giving way
all around their isolated comrade.

Throwing up his arms in a vain attempt to recover his balance,
Ranworth disappeared in the newly-formed abyss.

The sudden jerk well-nigh capsized the rest of the party, for the
smooth ice afforded but little foothold. The strain, too, caused the
rope to "render" through their thickly-gloved hands, and had not the
Russian taken the precaution of knotting his end round his waist, the
coil with Ranworth at the end would have been lost for ever. As it
was, the luckless man was dangling fifty feet over the brink of an
unfathomable abyss.

The two lads and their Russian comrade began to haul away. Foot after
foot of rope came home, till Ranworth's voice was heard feebly
shouting to hold on.

The order was instantly obeyed. It was good to hear his voice, for it
seemed marvellous that, after falling fifty feet and being brought up
with a jerk, Ranworth's back had not been broken by the sudden strain
on the rope.

As a matter of fact, his fall was less abrupt than it seemed, judging
by the way in which the ice suddenly gave way all around him.

It was a terrific strain, nevertheless, but, owing to the thickness
of Ranworth's fur coat, the bight of the rope, instead of cutting
deeply into his body, merely jammed against his ribs. It was
sufficient to deprive him of speech temporarily, and it was not until
he was hauled up to within five feet of the brink of the crevasse
that he found speech to warn his rescuers of the new peril that beset
him.

"The rope is stranding," he shouted. "Belay if you can, and throw
another rope to me. I may be able to grasp it; if not----"

The unfinished sentence told its own tale.

"We can take the strain, Guy," said Leslie hurriedly. "Cut off and
bring another length of rope--thicker stuff if you can find it; and a
crowbar," he added as an afterthought.

Guy was off as fast as the slippery nature of the ice would permit.
Soon he was back with the required articles.

Deftly the lad hurled the length of rope. It fell short. Another and
yet another cast did he make, but without success. The rope was too
heavy and stiff to be thrown sufficiently far.

Again Ranworth's voice was heard.

"Be quick," he exclaimed. "The edge of the ice is chafing the rope
badly. It won't hold much longer."

"Leslie," said Guy earnestly, "I'm going to take this rope to the
edge and drop it over. There's enough slack in your rope to carry
back to the sleigh. Be sharp!"

Leslie obeyed without protest. Signing to the Russian, the three
walked backwards, slowly letting the damaged rope slip through their
hands as they did so. There was just sufficient to allow a turn to be
taken round one of the brackets supporting the nearmost runner of the
_Bird of Freedom_.

As soon as this was done, Leslie and Petrovitch were able to assist
Guy. Two bowlines on the bight were made in the new rope; one at the
end, the other ten feet from it. Slipping through the latter, Guy
began to walk towards the abyss, his comrades paying out as he went.

At about twenty feet from the crevasse Guy threw himself flat upon
the ice. It creaked, but held. Cautiously he wriggled onwards,
pushing the unused bight of the rope before him.

Right to the edge he made his way. Still the ice held. He could see
Ranworth dangling inertly at the end of the first rope. More, he saw
how badly the rope had chafed on the edge of the sharp ice. It seemed
marvellous how the remaining strand could support a man of Ranworth's
weight.

Fortunately the rope was no longer chafing. It had sunk into the ice
and thus had formed a fairly smooth bed for itself, but any attempt
to increase the strain would have been fatal.

Skilfully angling with the disengaged bight of the rope, Guy
succeeded in getting it within reach of Ranworth's legs. Then slowly
hauling up, he had the satisfaction of seeing the rope encircle the
unfortunate man's chest.

"Haul away!" shouted Guy.

Leslie and the Russian did so, till Guy felt the strain transferred
from the stranded rope to the one with which he, too, was secured.

"Stand by!" shouted Guy, then boldly slipping out of his bowline he
commenced to crawl towards his companions, keeping within arm's
length of the rope in case of the ice giving way again.


[Illustration: He could see Ranworth dangling inertly at the end of
the first rope.
                                                   To face page 136.]


"All together!" was the cry, when the intrepid lad added his strength
to that of Leslie and Petrovitch on the rope.

Slowly Ranworth's head and shoulders appeared above the brink of the
crevasse, then helpless as a log, the leader of the expedition was
unceremoniously dragged over the edge and across the ice to safety.

Nearly frozen, and sorely bruised, Ranworth was assisted back to the
sleigh. For the time being he was incapable of taking charge. Upon
Guy as helmsman and Leslie as engineer depended the navigation of the
_Bird of Freedom_, and between them and the object of their
unexpected expedition lay the dreaded and seemingly impassable
crevasse.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CREVASSE


"Look here!" exclaimed Leslie. "Petrovitch must either have crossed
or missed this crevasse somewhere. We're converging upon the route
which he took previous to our finding him. Why not ask him if he
recognises any of the landmarks?"

In very halting, schoolboy French the lads questioned the stalwart
Russian. Petrovitch replied that, so far as he was aware, he crossed
no crevasse, but if the sleigh kept parallel with the dangerous
stretch of ice for a few miles, he might be able to identify his
former route.

"Let her rip, old man!" exclaimed Guy, as he took up his position at
the steering wheel.

Almost at right angles to her previous course, the _Bird of Freedom_
glided rapidly over the smooth, firm ice, Guy keeping a sharp
look-out, especially towards the sinister, concealed crevasse on his
left.

Suddenly Petrovitch grasped the lad by the shoulder.

"Here is our route!" he exclaimed. "I recognise that rock shaped like
a dog's head."

"Then you must have crossed the crevasse without knowing it,"
declared Guy. "See, it still continues in this direction."

The Russian shrugged his shoulders.

"Perhaps," he said. "But in any case it bore my weight, so what did
it matter, then?"

"I'm afraid it matters now," rejoined Guy. "It's pretty evident that
it won't bear the weight of the sleigh and its crew. What do you
propose?"

"We are not two versts from my companions' temporary habitation,"
said Petrovitch. "You have a rifle, I see. Why not fire a few shots
to let them know we are close?"

"That won't help us much," objected Leslie, who, having stopped the
motors, had joined in the council.

"If I could walk across, they can do the same," declared the Russian.
"Therefore, let us fire signal guns."

Half a dozen rounds were fired at regular intervals, but no answering
signal came from the direction of the wrecked airship. Petrovitch,
nothing daunted at the failure of his plan, smiled broadly.

"Since they will not pay attention, I must needs go and bring them
here," he declared. And, without further delay, he commenced to place
tins of concentrated food and biscuits into a small haversack.

"Unless harm befall me, I return in three hours," he said.

"Guy, old man!" exclaimed his chum, "I can't let that fellow toddle
off by himself. I'm going with him. It's not so very far, and the
weather looks promising. The glass is steady, and the sun's looking
clearer than for days past; so here goes. You stand by and look after
Mr. Ranworth."

"All right," assented Guy. "Only, mind and take care of yourself. I
wish to goodness I was going with you."

Upon Leslie broaching his decision to Petrovitch, the Russian
objected. He felt quite capable of going alone, he declared; but
Leslie was equally firm in his resolve.

Finally Petrovitch gave way, merely stipulating that they must be
roped when crossing the crevasse, and that Leslie should lead.

"My young friend," he explained, "if the ice should give way, you
would fall. I, being great in size, could easily hold you, but if I
went first and dropped into the crevasse you would not be able to
save me; and, more, I would drag you after me. Is not that clear?"

Leslie nodded.

"Very good," he assented. "I'll go first."

No doubt the ice bridge over the abyss had been hidden in snow when
the two Russians passed over it on their dash for Desolation Inlet.
The strong wind, following the blizzard before the snow had time to
congeal, had uncovered the rotten ice and now revealed the danger.

Leslie advanced cautiously and with considerable fear. Even the fact
that he was secured by a rope hardly minimised the sense of dread
that the "ground" might give way under him with hardly any warning.
He was seized by a momentary desire to retrace his steps, but
realising that the Russian was following, and that he, an Englishman,
had to "keep his end up," the lad progressed steadily.

The scope of the rope was insufficient to bridge the entire crevasse.
Long before Leslie gained the firm ice on the farther side,
Petrovitch was crossing the treacherous belt.

Leslie recalled the Russian's words. "If I dropped into the crevasse,
you would not be able to save me; and, more, I would drag you after
me."

Just then Leslie felt the rope give. Turning his head, he saw that
Petrovitch had cast off the life-line, and was lying full length upon
the thin crust of ice.

"Hasten!" shouted the Russian. "The ice--it is cracking. If I go,
tell my comrades I tried to do my duty."

Leslie stood stock still. He had but another twenty yards to go to
get clear of the dangerous ice-bridge, but the self-sacrificing
spirit of his companion banished his own fears.

"Take hold of the rope again!" he exclaimed. "Lie down if you will. I
will pull you across."

"Agreed," replied Petrovitch, but without attempting to pass the
bowline over his shoulders, he contented himself by merely holding on
with his hands.

The lad moved forward. With little difficulty the Russian's huge bulk
slid over the ice. Again there was an ominous creak. The strain on
the rope was suddenly released, and, taken aback, Leslie slipped and
fell flat on his face.

Quickly he regained his feet, fully expecting to find that his
companion had vanished into that awful abyss. Petrovitch, too, had
expected the catastrophe, and rather than put the English lad in any
danger, he had released his hold on the rope without warning.

Leslie was safe now, but the rope had recoiled with the sudden
relaxation of the strain, and the end was ten feet from the Russian.

With the ice creaking and groaning as he moved, Petrovitch crawled
slowly towards the rope. Leslie could see the surface bending under
his weight as he advanced inch by inch. The suspense was
nerve-racking.

At length Petrovitch retrieved the rope. Leslie immediately walked
away, hauling steadily the while, until the Russian was safely
dragged to the firm ground on the other side of the chasm.

Spontaneously the English lad and the Russian giant held out their
hands. Not a word was spoken, but the firm grip was a sufficient
testimony to their appreciation of each other's devotion.

The crevasse had been successfully crossed, but the disquieting fact
remained that it now lay between them and the _Bird of Freedom_. If
two persons had succeeded in crossing only by the skin of their
teeth, how could twelve hope to negotiate that terrible ice-bridge?

On and on the pair trudged in silence, save for an occasional
exchange of sentences in French. Presently the Russian unconsciously
increased his pace. The wreck of the airship was in sight.

Its gaunt aluminium girders, twisted and bent almost out of
recognition, completely dwarfed the large ice hut built a few feet
from the wreckage. Above the hut floated the blue St. Andrew's cross
on a white ground--the Russian ensign.

Holding his gloved hands to his mouth in order to form a speaking
trumpet, Petrovitch hailed.

Almost as soon as the sound reached the hut, men were observed to be
pouring out like bees from a hive, and, in spite of the intervening
distance, the rarefied atmosphere enabled them to maintain a lively
conversation with their rejoicing comrade, while three or four of the
stranded Russians hastened to meet their compatriot.

As they approached, Leslie could see that they were all tall,
finely-built men, and apparently the picture of health. He could not
help contrasting their appearance with that of the exhausted
survivors of Claude Ranworth's party and with that of Petrovitch and
his companion, Dmitri, when rescued by the _Bird of Freedom_,
According to Petrovitch's account, he had left his comrades on the
very verge of starvation.

Petrovitch lost no time in introducing Leslie to the newcomers, and,
escorted by the latter, the lad was taken to the hut. Here the
mystery of the fit appearance of the castaways was revealed, for
roasting over an oil-stove which had been fashioned from material
saved from the airship was a huge joint of bear's flesh.

Very soon after the departure of Petrovitch and Dmitri, a polar bear
had visited the camp. The Russians had thrown themselves upon it with
their knives, and, after a brief struggle, the animal became the
spoil of the victors.

After a good but hasty meal, preparations were made to abandon the
wrecked airship and make for the _Bird of Freedom_.

An aluminium sleigh, also knocked together from the frame of the
airship, was piled high with the men's personal belongings and a few
scientific instruments and records, while at Petrovitch's suggestion
two long lengths of rope were also taken.

There followed an animated discussion evidently with reference to the
load on the sleigh. Petrovitch and two more seemed to be opposing the
taking of so much luggage, but the rest insisted vehemently. Finally,
the objectors lost the day.

With a meaning shrug of his broad shoulders, Petrovitch turned to
Leslie.

"Wait till they arrive at the crevasse," he said in a low tone.

It was downhill most of the way, and since there was no wind to
impede them, the progress of the rescued party was well maintained.
With relays of five men to pull the sleigh, that vehicle offered no
drawback to their speed.

Suddenly, when they were within a quarter of a mile of the ice
bridge, a rending crash was heard, and amid a shower of splintered
ice a huge cavity appeared where a second previously an uninterrupted
field of frozen snow hid the terrible chasm from view.

The newly-made hole was less than a hundred yards from the track by
which Leslie and Petrovitch had passed. Undoubtedly the falling in of
this part of the ice-bridge would seriously weaken the already none
too secure route which had to be traversed before the _Bird of
Freedom_ was reached.

Leslie took no part in the operations that followed. He realised that
the Russians knew what they were about, and that it would be unwise
on his part to offer any suggestions.

Unloading the coils of rope from the sleigh, the men bent them to the
rope which had already played such a good part in the previous
crossing of the crevasse. The three lengths combined were sufficient
to allow a double rope to stretch from one side to the other.

Securing the rope to the strongest part of the sleigh, Petrovitch
prepared to cross. The 18-feet runners enabled his weight to be
evenly distributed over a far greater extent than if he had adopted
his previous expedient of crawling across the ice-bridge.

Having thrown overboard everything on the sleigh, the Russian
wrenched off the centre strip of boarding on the floor. Then,
sitting, he started to propel the sleigh across the ice, while his
comrades paid out the rope as he went.

Although the surface sagged ominously, the hardy and courageous
Russian completed his journey without mishap; then, assisted by Guy,
who was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the party, he took his
stand on the firm ground beyond, and passed the endless rope through
his hands while his comrades hauled back the sleigh.

Leslie, by the unanimous decision of the Russians, was the next to
cross. Lashed to the sleigh in case the ice-bridge should collapse,
he was pulled across by Petrovitch, and on landing he, too, assisted
in sending the empty sleigh back to the remainder of the party.

In this manner the crew of the wrecked airship crossed the crevasse
until only one man was left. He was the one who took the lead in
insisting on the baggage being taken with them. Reluctant to abandon
the gear, he proceeded to reload the sleigh, in spite of the protests
of his comrades.

With ten men trailing on the rope, his progress was an easy one until
two-thirds of the way across. Then, without a creak to warn him, the
ice suddenly gave way. His horrified comrades saw the luckless man
make a frantic grasp at the framework of the sleigh. In his haste he
gripped some of the baggage he had so foolishly insisted upon
bringing across, and as the sleigh toppled and disappeared from view
he was thrown clear of his only hope of safety.

Two minutes later the empty sleigh was hauled out of the ice-hole.
The ill-starred passenger and all his baggage were lost for ever in
the depths of the crevasse.



CHAPTER XVII

GUY IN COMMAND


"How is Mr. Ranworth?" asked Leslie, as the rescued crew of the
airship were in the act of entering the huge sleigh--a contrivance
which they viewed with ill-concealed interest and admiration.

"Jolly rotten!" replied Guy. "The fall must have caused more injuries
than we at first supposed. I managed to persuade him to turn in, and
now he can't move his arms. The muscles of his back and chest are
badly strained."

"Let's hope he hasn't sustained internal injuries," said Leslie.
"Luckily one of the Russians is a doctor. He'll have a look at him."

While Leslie and Guy got the _Bird of Freedom_ "under way," the
Russian doctor made a careful examination of the injured man. He was
able to pronounce that, to the best of his belief, Ranworth had
sustained no internal injuries, but that the sudden jerk of the rope
had badly bruised his flesh and had strained his muscles. Absolute
rest was essential to recovery, and under favourable conditions the
patient ought to be fit within a week.

With little delay the _Bird of Freedom_ returned to Observation Camp.
During her absence, O'Donovan had worked wonders with the men left
under his charge. Two good meals and a liberal dose of lime juice had
effectually checked the tendency towards scurvy in those members of
the expedition who had not already been attacked by the distressing
malady; while the others were progressing favourably under the Irish
seaman's treatment.

The total of the party at Observation Camp now amounted to
twenty--four of the crew of the _Bird of Freedom_, seven of the
Claude Ranworth Expedition, and nine Russians; and since the sleigh
could only accommodate sixteen, the question of a double journey to
Desolation Inlet had to be seriously discussed.

Eventually it was decided that the two Ranworths, four Englishmen,
and five Russians should be the first total of passengers, Leslie and
Guy being in charge of the sleigh. O'Donovan was to remain with the
rest of the two expeditions until the _Bird of Freedom_, with an
augmented crew, returned to Observation Camp. The stores taken from
the sleigh were more than sufficient for a week, and since, with
ordinary luck, the double journey ought not to take more than three
days, there need be no anxiety on the score of hunger.

Just as the _Bird of Freedom_ was about to start, an animated
discussion took place between Petrovitch and his fellow countrymen.

After a while, the former explained to Leslie and Guy the meaning of
the argument. It appeared to the lads a very simple matter, but the
Russians took it quite seriously; they had just made the discovery
that the complement of the _Bird of Freedom_ totalled the unlucky
number of thirteen.

"I suppose we must pander to the superstitious sentiment of our
Russian friends," remarked Guy. "We'll either have to take an extra
man or else leave one behind."

"Then we'll leave one behind," decided Leslie. "After all, it will
make a fairer distribution of the load, and, honestly, I'm rather
doubtful about the reserve of electricity in the accumulators. The
needle of the volt-meter is pretty close to the working limit, and
the less weight we have to take, especially on the up-grade, so much
the better for us. I'll tell Petrovitch to drop one of his chums."

This arrangement the Russians accepted without demur. Once on board
the _Bird of Freedom_, they recognised the fact that Guy, although a
stripling, was acting skipper, and loyally they carried out whatever
orders he gave through the medium of the gigantic and good-natured
Petrovitch.

"The cabin looks like a Red Cross ambulance van," declared Guy,
glancing at the half-dozen patients lying either on the bunks or on
the floor. "You'll have to go slowly, old man, when we get to the
rough ice, or they'll have an awful time. I'm afraid Mr. Ranworth's
out of the running for the rest of the trip."

"Eh, what's that?" demanded Ranworth, who had overheard the
conversation. "Out of the running? Not much, my lads. I mean to see
this business through, and I'll be at the helm when we start again
for Observation Camp, or my name's not John Ranworth."

"I hope so, too," said Leslie.

"Not that I doubt your qualifications, my lads," Ranworth hastened to
add, "but this is my show, you know. However, carry on. I'll say
this: I've patted myself on the back many times when I remember what
you two fellows have done for me. It was a lucky accident that
brought you on board the _Polarity_."

Almost without incident, the _Bird of Freedom_ arrived at the defile
where on the outward journey the mammoth had been found. It was now
almost covered with snow and debris, for a fresh fall had occurred.
Only the head and the gigantic tusks were visible.

"We must not stop," declared Ranworth when Guy reported the
circumstance. "Next time, perhaps. I am really most anxious to secure
that mass of ivory, but I don't think there will be another landslide
before we pass this way again."

At length the critical test of the journey became imminent: the
passage over the glacier.

Leslie took the precaution of disconnecting the aerial propellers,
and bringing the decapod wheels into action. Extreme caution was
necessary, since the grade was all downwards, and the ice, except
where it was impeded by boulders, smooth and very slippery.

In addition, a strong northerly breeze was piping up, and since the
body of the sleigh offered considerable resistance to the wind, there
was a danger of the _Bird of Freedom_ getting out of control had she
rested entirely on her runners.

Presently Guy gave the word to switch off the current, and, applying
the locking brake to the wheels, brought the _Bird of Freedom_ to a
standstill.

A hundred yards ahead lay the open waters of Desolation Inlet, but
between lay the rough ice left by the violent disruption of the
seaward end of the glacier.

"We'll see what it is like before we start any steeplechasing with
the sleigh," declared Guy. "I'll get Petrovitch to give a hand, for
it won't be safe to approach the edge unless we are roped together."

"It looks an awfully nasty bit to tackle," remarked Leslie, as the
two, connected by twenty feet of rope, stood as near as prudence
dictated to the edge of the glacier. "There's something of an incline
away on the right. It will mean a leap of five or six feet to gain
the surface of the sea, but there seems to be a good 'takeoff.'"

"That's the place," decided his chum. "At the same time, I hardly
like the idea of taking the sleigh over the edge with a cargo of sick
and injured men."

"I quite agree with you," replied Leslie. "But what is the
alternative?"

"Attract the _Polarity's_ attention, and get them to send boats. We
can easily let the men down by means of ropes."

"Very good; we'll mention it to Mr. Ranworth," said Leslie.

The Russian, too, readily fell in with the suggestion. His faith in
the _Bird of Freedom_ as a species of high diver was far from firm.
The idea of a heavy mass of wood and machinery, with a full
complement of men, being hurled bodily over the edge of the glacier,
even though the vertical distance were but five or six feet, did not
seem particularly inviting.

But when the matter was broached to the injured leader of the
expedition, Ranworth was obdurate.

"She'll do it right enough," he declared optimistically. "It may
shake us all up a bit, I'll admit, but it can't be helped."

"The _Bird of Freedom_ will have to get back to the summit of the
glacier," Guy reminded him.

"Undoubtedly. She's tackled worse obstacles than that," replied
Ranworth. "Besides, you must run alongside the _Polarity_ to get the
accumulators recharged. You must have forgotten that."

"Dash it all, sir, I did!" admitted the lad.

"Very well, carry on. Remember our promise to return to Observation
Camp with the least possible delay."

"How do you propose to make the leap, sir?" asked Leslie. "Let her go
full pelt under the action of the aerial propellers and alight on a
fairly even keel; or let her go slowly and make a nose-ended dive?"


[Illustration: With a terrific crash the _Bird of Freedom_ toppled
completely over.
                                                   To face page 151.]


"Slowly," decided Ranworth. "Before her centre of gravity is over the
brink of the ice her bows will be almost water-borne."

"Very good, sir!" said Leslie. And, a warning being given for all
hands to Be Prepared for a slight shock, the _Bird of Freedom's_
motors were set in motion.

For nearly two hundred feet she kept a course almost parallel with
the end of the glacier; then, turning abruptly, she headed towards
the shelving ice which the lads had selected as the best place for
taking the water.

Suddenly the ice creaked and cracked ominously. There was no going
back. The momentum of the sleigh was too great to allow its onward
course to be checked.

The next instant, instead of descending an easy gradient, the _Bird
of Freedom_ was tilting sideways at an alarming angle. She had gained
a large floe which had just become detached from the main portion of
the glacier, and that floe was bodily capsizing.

The decapod wheels gripped the ice, until the angle of the smooth
face of the floe became too acute. With a horrible, sickening
movement, the sleigh began to slide sideways. It reminded Guy of a
motor car skidding on a slippery road.

Leslie had the presence of mind to cut off the electric current. More
he could not do. He braced himself for the impending catastrophe, for
the _Bird of Freedom_ was in imminent danger either of being thrown
bodily against the hard face of an ice cliff or of being crushed by
the overturning of the enormous floe.

He was dimly aware that the angle formed by the floor and one side of
the cabin was filled with a crowd of struggling men, thrown thither
like sheep by the extreme list of the sleigh; then, with a terrific
crash, the _Bird of Freedom_ toppled completely over.

A cascade of icy water poured in through a jagged gap in the roof,
which was now undermost. Then, like a cork, the _Bird of Freedom_
righted herself, and tossed violently on the surface of the agitated
sea, with two feet of water surging along the cabin floor and over
the desperately struggling men.

Leslie, who had gripped one of the guard rails surrounding the
motors, had performed a remarkable acrobatic feat on the impromptu
horizontal bar, and as the _Bird of Freedom_ resumed her normal
position he found himself lying across the engines, slightly bruised,
but otherwise unhurt.

A quick glance through the nearest scuttle told him that for the
present the water-borne sleigh was out of danger, unless she had
sprung a leak below the water line.

"We're afloat all right!" he shouted.

His words had little or no effect upon the passengers, for those of
the Russians who were not rendered unconscious were shouting as hard
as they could. They were in a state of panic, fully expecting either
to be crushed by the enormous mass of ice or else to be trapped like
rats in the cabin of the foundering sleigh.

John Ranworth might have risen to the occasion and restored order,
but he was lying stunned on the floor. His brother was in a similar
plight, while Guy, pinned down by the body of a huge Russian, was
incapable of moving hand or foot.

The panic, brought about by a fearful climax to a series of
nerve-racking ordeals, was quickly over, and the rescued men began to
sort themselves out from the tangled mass of humanity on the floor.
Thanks to her design and build, the _Bird of Freedom_ had come off
lightly. Beyond a hole in the curved roof, caused by violent contact
with a spur of sharp ice, there was no great damage. Everything not
firmly secured had been thrown about in utter confusion, while most
of the stores and navigating instruments were lying in the water
which flooded the floor.

"All right, Guy?" sang out his chum.

"All right," was the reassuring reply.

"Then stand by with the steering-wheel," continued Leslie. "The
sooner we get alongside the _Polarity_ the better. There's plenty of
work for the ship's surgeon, I guess."

At the first attempt to start the motors, there was a vivid flash,
accompanied by a sharp report. The wet had caused one of the
high-tension wires to fuse, and this had thrown the whole of the
intricate machinery out of order.

"She'll drift all right," declared Guy. "The wind's right down the
channel."

"Yes, broadside on," added his chum. "We can't steer her, and she'll
be drawn ashore at the next bend."

"We'll get her under control yet," said Guy, whose nautical knowledge
was far greater than that of his chum. "Make all hands come aft.
That will raise her snout out of the water, and the wind will blow
her round."

With the exception of Guy, who perforce had to remain at the
steering-wheel, all on board went to the after end of the cabin. Even
the sick and insensible ones were removed by their comrades.

The result was as Guy had foretold. The _Bird of Freedom's_ bows,
caught by the wind, were turned until her stern pointed dead into the
eye of the wind, while the third runner, which also acted as a
rudder, was immersed to such an extent that it obtained a good grip
upon the water.

Scudding before the wind, the _Bird of Freedom_ was quite under
control, rounding the dangerous point without difficulty. At Leslie's
suggestion, three shots were fired through one of the scuttles to
attract the attention of the as yet invisible _Polarity_, for two or
three intervening spurs of cliff hid her from the sleigh.

Presently the ship came into view. Her crew manned the sides and gave
three cheers for the returning sleigh. Seeing her coming "bows on,"
they erroneously concluded that she was under power.

In the lower reaches of the inlet it was now blowing hard. The _Bird
of Freedom_ was scudding at a good twelve miles an hour, without
means of bringing up.

Guy realised that if he approached too closely to the _Polarity_, a
gust might drive the comparatively frail craft against her parent
ship with disastrous results. If, on the other hand, he steered wide,
the _Bird of Freedom_ would drift helplessly to leeward of the
_Polarity_ and be in great danger of being blown into the open sea.

"Hang on to the helm, Leslie!" he exclaimed, and as his chum took his
place at the steering-wheel, Guy snatched a couple of hand-flags from
the locker and hurriedly made his way through the hatchway in the
roof and gained the sloping and unsteady platform without.

The roof was slippery with ice. It was impossible to gain a foothold,
without danger of sliding overboard as the sleigh rolled about
helplessly.

Sitting on the combing, Guy began to signal. An answering call came
from the _Polarity_.

"Not under control," signalled the lad. "Send a boat."

Back came Captain Stormleigh's reply:

"What's wrong with the grapnels? Too rough to lower a boat. Anchor
and veer under our quarter."

"Pity we hadn't thought of that before," thought Guy. "It's blowing
half a gale. We ought to have anchored much farther up the inlet."

Quickly descending from his perch, Guy, with the assistance of those
of the passengers capable of bearing a hand, succeeded in bending the
largest grapnel to a coil of rope. The treble glass plates in the
foremost scuttle were removed, leaving an aperture just sufficient to
admit the passage of the four-barbed anchor.

"Lower away!" ordered Guy. "Check the rope well in time."

The grapnel plunged to the bed of Desolation Inlet, taking with it
the rope, which ran out so swiftly that the gun-metal rims of the
scuttle were quite hot with the friction.

Then, as the rope took the strain, the _Bird of Freedom_ swung round
as if on a pivot, almost capsizing every man on board who had
neglected to obtain a firm grip. This was followed by a sudden jerk,
and the sleigh, riding head to wind, brought up within ten feet of
the starboard side of the _Polarity_.

It was quite near enough to be pleasant, for the ship was pitching
violently, while the _Bird of Freedom_, riding lightly on the
white-crested waves, was at one moment level with the _Polarity's_
bulwarks; at another the ship towered thirty feet or more above the
sleigh.

Now came the question of how to transfer the passengers and crew from
the sleigh to the ship. An active man would have great difficulty in
essaying the task, since it was impossible to get a foothold on the
sloping deck. The sick and injured could not possibly be taken
through the hatchway.

"We'll have to hang on till the wind moderates," declared Leslie. "I
hope the rope will hold."

"It would be as well to get ready the spare grapnel and cable," said
his chum. "It's jolly lucky that Desolation Inlet is practically
tideless, or with the flood tide the _Polarity_ would be barging into
us."

"I'll see how she's lying," said Guy. "I can't stop outside very
long. It's too cold."

Barely had he thrust his head through the hatchway, when he announced
that the _Polarity_ was swinging out her derrick. Captain Stormleigh
was about to attempt the risky expedient of hauling the sleigh bodily
out of the raging sea.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE END OF THE MAMMOTH


SLOWLY the steel wire hawser, terminating in a "span" with two
enormous gun-metal hooks, was lowered through the block on the
derrick.

"Sleigh ahoy!" roared Captain Stormleigh. "Send a couple of hands to
engage the hooks."

It was much easier said than done. At about two feet from each end of
the _Bird of Freedom_ was a stout galvanised iron eyebolt. The "eye"
projected above the rounded neck, while the bolt passed completely
through and was secured by a nut to a massive crossbar on the
underside of the floor.

Apart from the hazardous operation of engaging the hook of the span
to the eyebolts--a task which necessitated two men making their way
along the slippery, heaving deck--the sudden strain of the sleigh,
which with motors and full complement weighed between ten and eleven
tons, might burst the eyebolts asunder.

In calm weather the job would be a comparatively easy one, but the
heaving and pitching of the ship and the sleigh made it impossible to
obtain a gentle and gradually increasing strain on the wire hawser.

Guy looked at Leslie, and Leslie looked at Guy. They realised the
terrible risk that was entailed, and that it was "up to them," as
active members of the British party on board the sleigh, to carry out
Captain Stormleigh's instructions.

"Come on," said Leslie at length, and without further hesitation he
clambered up through the hatchway and began to crawl cautiously
towards the after ring-bolt.

"Hold on! Avast there!" shouted Captain Stormleigh. "Isn't there any
man on board there?"

"No, sir," shouted Leslie in reply, for it was only by raising his
voice to its utmost capacity that he could make himself understood in
the terrific wind.

"Then get below at once," roared the skipper.

Only too glad to escape the task which was practically certain to be
beyond their powers, the lads obeyed; but they left the hatch
uncovered in order to follow the impending operations.

Presently a man, whom the lads recognised as Travers, the second
mate, ascended the steel rope to the block at the end of the derrick.
Then, transferring the weight to the outboard part of the rope, he
descended till his feet came in contact with the large ring-bolt to
which the two spans were attached.

Holding one of the hooks in his fur-gloved hands, Travers awaited his
opportunity and deftly engaged the hook in the ring-bolt at the bow
of the sleigh.

The derrick was slung aft so that the second mate could perform a
similar operation there. This part of the business was a most
difficult one. At one moment the engaged span was quite slack, at the
next, as the _Bird of Freedom_ sank in the trough of the waves, it
was as taut as an iron bar, while the sudden strain wellnigh jerked
the plucky young officer from his precarious perch. In addition, he
had to fight the telling effects of the numbing cold.


[Illustration: Holding one of the hooks in his gloved hand, Travers
... deftly engaged the hook in the ring-bolt at the bow of the
sleigh.
                                                   To face page 158.]


At the third attempt he succeeded in engaging the after hook. With a
terrific jerk the sleigh was raised ten feet above the sea as the
_Polarity_ rolled to port. The next moment the return roll of the
ship let the sleigh down with a resounding smack upon the
white-foamed waves.

Travers, holding on like grim death to the span which he had now made
fast, had slipped to the deck and was revolving round the chain in a
vain endeavour to obtain a foothold upon the slippery platform.

The ship's donkey-engine was clanking. Slowly the wire rope was being
wound round the drum of the windlass. Each jerk, as the _Bird of
Freedom_ dropped with the waves, became less and less, until she drew
entirely clear of the water.

Five minutes later the sleigh rested upon the _Polarity's_ deck.
Travers, with two fingers of his left hand smashed to a pulp, slid
inertly from his precarious perch. Two of the crew were just in time
to break his fall. Insensible he was carried below, another victim of
the grim Arctic.

The sick and wounded men were quickly transferred from the sleigh to
the main cabin of the ship, which speedily resembled a hospital ward.
The ship's doctor was soon hard at it, assisted by plenty of
voluntary workers. John Ranworth had already recovered consciousness,
and his first question was how long it would take to get the _Bird of
Freedom_ ready for the second dash for Observation Camp.

Leslie and Guy, their work for the present accomplished, were sound
asleep, worn out with fatigue. Aubrey Hawke, although unfit for
active duty, was superintending the recharging of the accumulators
and overhauling the defects in the wiring of the motors.

It was indeed wonderful that the _Bird of Freedom_ had survived her
fall from the glacier. Well it was that the engines had been strongly
bolted to their bearers, for had the motors been wrenched from their
beds they would have crashed through the roof of the sleigh and
sealed the fate of all on board.

During the whole time the work of refitting the sleigh was in
progress, Leslie and Guy slept like logs. It was not until twelve
hours later that they awoke, to find Captain Stormleigh in the cabin.

"Mr. Ranworth insists upon going," declared the skipper ruefully.
"He's not fit. I told him so, and he promptly remarked that my
business was the safety and navigation of the ship. He's right there,
of course, but I did my best to persuade him to give up the idea."

"How about the doctor?" asked Leslie. "Can't he put his foot down?"

Captain Stormleigh shook his head.

"He did, but it was of no use. Mr. Ranworth told him he had done his
duty by expressing his opinion as a medical man. 'I'm going at my
risk, not yours, Doctor,' he declared. 'So don't say any more about
it.'"

"How is the weather, sir?" asked Guy.

"'Moderating," announced Captain Stormleigh. "The wind's veered a
bit, so the creek is now fairly sheltered. The northerly wind is the
only one we feel here. But what I'm here for is this: Mr. Ranworth
sends his compliments and wishes to know whether you'll be ready by
ten o'clock."

"Yes, sir, at ten o'clock," replied both lads promptly, and without
more ado they proceeded to get ready for their second journey into
the interior of the desolate Nova Cania.

As soon as they had had a good meal, the lads went on deck. The
_Polarity_ was no longer in her former berth. She had proceeded five
miles farther up the creek, so as to be nearer to the only
practicable landing-place, and in fact within sight of the glacier.

The damage to the roof of the cabin had already been made good. The
motors were once more in working order, and charged ready for a
thirty hours' run.

John Ranworth was standing with Captain Stormleigh under the break of
the poop. His arm was in a sling, his face was pale and pinched, but
the resolute look in his eyes was the same as ever. His indomitable
spirit rose above bodily injuries. Rightly or wrongly, he was firmly
resolved to take charge of the _Bird of Freedom_ in her second dash
to Observation Camp.

"Good morning, lads," he exclaimed cheerily. "I thought you would
raise no objection to accompanying me. We're taking a strong crew
this time. There's Symonds, Purvis, Johnson, and Wilson."

The lads knew the men by name. They were all deck hands. Ranworth,
out of consideration for the good service already performed by the
lads, had refused the eager requests of some of the ship's officers
to take part in the second rescue expedition.

If the next attempt were completely successful, the _Bird of Freedom_
would have to carry fifteen on the return journey; for, in addition
to her new crew, numbering seven, there were five Russians, two
members of Claude Ranworth's party, and O'Donovan.

Before the sleigh set out on its errand, glasses were brought to bear
upon the seaward end of the glacier.

It was found that, following the breaking away of of the ice, which
had all but sealed the fate of the _Bird of Freedom_, a comparatively
easy gradient had been formed about eighty yards to the left of the
spot where the sleigh had taken the water. Moreover, the ice appeared
of a bluish tint, which meant that it was stronger and not so liable
to break as the white ice.

Ranworth, in order to save his arm from additional injury, had taken
his place in the cabin of the sleigh when the _Bird of Freedom_ was
lowered over the side by means of the derrick.

Leslie and Guy and the four seamen promptly clambered on board, and
since there was very little motion, the task of disengaging the span
hooks was a simple matter.

Amidst the good wishes of the rest of the _Polarity's_ crew,
expressed in the old-fashioned way of giving three rousing cheers,
the sleigh gathered speed and steered for the selected landing-place
on the glacier.

Although the wind was still blowing freshly from the nor'-west, the
_Bird of Freedom_ made rapid progress. Without a hitch she surmounted
the glacier and gained the open ground beyond.

An hour later she was passing through the defile in which the mammoth
had been discovered. The strong wind had set a considerable portion
of the landslide into further motion, with the result that the
general slope of the debris was more gradual, while the gigantic
frozen mammoth was uncovered as far as the forequarters.

"We'll have those tusks," reiterated Ranworth, "even if we have to
make a third journey for them. If, however, we find that the sleigh
makes light of her load, we'll stop and get the things on board on
the return journey."

Ranworth, of course, could take no manual part in the management of
the sleigh. He had to be content to sit at one of the two foremost
scuttles, while Guy and the four seamen took turns at the
steering-wheel. Leslie, having satisfied himself that the motors were
running well, was able to "stand easy," since there seemed no
immediate necessity to check their speed.

In exactly four hours from the time of starting from the ship, the
_Bird of Freedom_ stopped at Observation Camp.

"All correct, sir," announced O'Donovan. "Faith, I'm far from being
fed up with bear steaks yet. Sure, 'tis a fine place to cultivate an
appetite. But what has happened to your arm, sir, if I may make so
bold as to ax?"

Ranworth, as impatient as ever, was anxious to commence the return
journey. The remaining members of the expedition were allowed to take
their personal belongings. The Russians, having lost theirs, were
soon ready.

One package only did Ranworth order to be brought into the cabin and
the transporting of it was entrusted to Leslie and Guy. It was the
lump of platinum, the value of which would more than cover twice the
cost of the expedition.

By means of a rope made fast round the fur coverings, the lads
dragged the precious metal to the side of the sleigh with little
difficulty; but the task of lifting it up to the door in the side of
the cabin was beyond them. Even when Symonds, the "strong man" of the
party, bore a hand, the comparatively small package refused to be
lifted from the ground.

"It's as heavy as lead," he growled.

"It so happens it's almost double the weight of an equal bulk of
lead," remarked Leslie, "and it's ever so much more valuable than
gold."

Eventually, by means of a tackle, the lump of platinum was taken on
board and lashed down to the floor immediately in front of the
engine-bed.

"I think we can dispense with a couple of hundredweight of those
tinned provisions, Leslie," said Ranworth. "We won't need them, and
they'll come in handy should we at some future time fit out another
Nova Cania expedition. Get the men to stow them in one of the huts,
only look sharp. The glass is falling, and I don't like the look of
the sky. We are in for another blizzard, unless I'm much mistaken, so
the sooner we get on board the _Polarity_ the better."

At length the _Bird of Freedom_ set out on her return, and, as the
lads devoutly hoped, the final journey. By this time the wind had
backed, and was now dead astern. With this circumstance in their
favour, a speedy run was anticipated.

"We are in sight of the mammoth, sir," reported Guy, for Ranworth was
resting in his bunk. "Do you wish us to stop?"

"How's the glass?" asked Ranworth.

"Still falling, sir."

"And with a northerly wind. It doesn't mean much."

Guy did not reply, but he recalled his chief's misgivings an hour
previously.

"We'll stop," decided Ranworth. "I'll go with the men. Tell them to
bring axes and saws, and some canvas and rope."

The _Bird of Freedom_ was brought to a standstill under the lee of a
projecting part of the cliff, but at a sufficient distance to be out
of danger of any landslide that might occur.

Ranworth, holding an iron-shod pole in his sound hand, led the way,
accompanied by Guy and three seamen. Leslie remained on board with
the Russians, the rest of the members of the original expedition, and
Symonds and O'Donovan.

Scrambling up the sloping mass of rock and ice, the men began their
task of sawing through the two enormous ivory tusks. It was a
difficult business, for the tusks were as hard as iron, while
frequently they had to run as hard as they could to avoid masses of
rock, which tumbled over the cliffs.

"It's blowing jolly hard up there, Guy," remarked Ranworth. "We don't
feel it much down here, and it's fortunate that the _Polarity_ came
farther up the creek. She'd feel it pretty severely on her old
moorings."

"It's beginning to snow, sir," said Guy, as a few flakes scuttled
past.

"By Jove, yes. Hurry up, men. You've sawn enough. Clap a rope round
the tusks and haul away."

Ranworth was sorry to have to give the order. It meant the risk of
spoiling a portion of the ivory; but it was either that or having to
abandon the tusks indefinitely.

The seamen obeyed promptly. They regarded the sawing as a hard,
unnecessary task. The ivory meant nothing to them, beyond a relic of
some worthless old fossil.

With a sharp crack the first tusk fell upon the frozen ground. The
fracture was a clean one.

"Well done!" exclaimed Ranworth, as the men dragged the mass of ivory
to where he stood. "Now for the other one."

Before the men could return to their task, the whole of the cliffs
trembled violently. Disturbed by a violent gust of wind, the
snow-field on the top of the surrounding hill was set in motion.

"Run for your lives, men," shouted Ranworth. "There's an avalanche
upon you."

With a rush and roar thousands of tons of ice, snow, and rock swept
over the edge of the cliff and crashed into the valley beneath.
Almost by a miracle Ranworth and his companions escaped being buried
by the irresistible fall of debris. When the powdered dust from the
broken ice had subsided, neither the mammoth nor its severed tusk was
visible. Both lay buried under thirty feet of snow and rubble.



CHAPTER XIX

THE LOST "BIRD OF FREEDOM"


"'So much for Buckingham!'" ejaculated Ranworth, as he viewed the
scene of desolation. "Never mind, Let's get back to the sleigh. It
might have been a jolly sight worse."

As the disappointed men retraced their steps, the snow began to fall
heavily. The expected blizzard was upon them.

Suddenly a terrible uproar came from the _Bird of Freedom_. Voices
could be heard shouting discordantly, while above the crash of
woodwork rang out the sharp crack of a pistol.

Without a moment's hesitation, Ranworth broke into a run, Guy and the
seamen following his example; but, by the time they reached the
sleigh, the uproar had entirely subsided.

"What's the matter, Leslie?" demanded Ranworth.

"Symonds, sir; the man must have suddenly gone off his head. We had
to secure and gag him."

"Thank goodness it isn't any worse," murmured Ranworth. "I thought
the Russians had cut up rough about something."

"They did," rejoined Leslie. "Luckily for us they saved the
situation."

The cabin of the _Bird of Freedom_ presented a picture of utter
disorder. In several places the interior panelling was smashed,
fragments of cabin furniture lay scattered in all directions. On the
floor bound hand and foot, and with a gag securely fixed in his
mouth, was the seaman Symonds.

Leslie's surmise was correct. The man had suddenly gone mad. Under
the delusion that the lump of platinum was his personal property, he
had hurled himself upon one of the two Russians who unwittingly had
touched the metal with his foot.

Although the Russian was a powerfully built fellow, he was weakened
by the privations he had undergone, and was in consequence no match
for the infuriated seaman.

His compatriot, coming to his aid, was threatened with a rifle which
the madman had torn from the arms rack. Fortunately O'Donovan gave
the weapon a sharp upward knock just as Symonds pressed the trigger,
and the bullet went completely through the roof and mushroomed
against the metal eye-bolt without.

Then ensued a fierce hand-to-hand struggle as O'Donovan and the
Russians strove to overpower their unfortunate comrade. It was not
until one of the Russians succeeded in slipping a running noose round
the maniac's legs, that Symonds was capsized and bound hand and foot.

"Get her going, Leslie," said Ranworth, quietly. "We've lost enough
time already."

During the last few minutes the blizzard had burst with all its fury
upon the narrow valley. Although the wind was right aft, the whirling
masses of snow made it impossible to see more than a few yards ahead.

"Decapods, sir?" asked Leslie.

"Yes--ten miles an hour. Come along, Guy, take the helm and keep your
eyes skinned."

Gradually gathering way, the _Bird of Freedom_ ploughed along through
the newly-fallen snow. Her whole fabric trembled under the
hammer-like blows of the wind.

So long as the sleigh was in the defile, there was little chance of
getting out of the proper route, although there was always the danger
of being crushed by the masses of debris which were continually
falling from the cliffs.

On board, hardly a word was spoken. With the exception of the two
foremost ones, all the observation scuttles were thickly caked with
frozen snow. Unable to see anything without, the rest of the
passengers and crew sat on the floor, since standing was attended
with grave risks whenever the sleigh jolted over the drifts or tilted
under the force of the wind.

Several times Guy was just in time to give the wheel half a turn and
thus save the _Bird of Freedom_ from coming into violent contact with
a projecting boulder. His coolness did not desert him in spite of the
nerve-racking strain, yet he would have given almost anything to have
handed the wheel over to some one else. "Hadn't we better slow down,
sir?" he asked at length, for the snow was now falling with
increasing violence.

"No, carry on," was Ranworth's reply. "It's all plain going now,
until we approach the head of the glacier. We can't go wrong."

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a gigantic boulder seemed
to leap through the snow towards the sleigh.

Giving the wheel a sudden wrench, Guy strove to avoid the
obstruction, but as the _Bird of Freedom_ swerved, a powerful gust of
wind struck her fairly on her broadside. The next instant the sleigh,
skidding violently, crashed into the mass of rock.

With a hideous rending of metal and woodwork, the _Bird of Freedom_
turned completely over on her side and slid bodily down a steep bank,
finally bringing up against another jagged mass of hard granite.

Of what occurred during the next quarter of an hour, neither Leslie
nor Guy knew. They were both in a semi-dazed condition, and barely
aware that a calamity had happened. It was very dark in the upturned
cabin, for the scuttles which were not crushed against the ice were
covered in fallen snow.

Presently Guy put his hand to his forehead, and upon removing it,
found it covered with warm and sticky moisture. His head was bleeding
freely from a cut extending from his right eyebrow to his left
temple.

"Leslie!" he exclaimed. "Are you there?"

"Hullo!"

In spite of his surroundings, Guy laughed.

"Sounds like a conversation on the telephone," he remarked. "But, I
say, what a smash up!"

"Might have been worse," growled a deep voice which the lads
recognised as Wilson's. "It's lucky there are some of us left alive.
I thought I was the only bloke what wasn't knocked out."

"You ain't, then," chimed in another lusty voice--Johnson's this
time. "Can't we get a light and see how things stand? Strikes me this
ain't all shipshape and Bristol fashion."

Leslie thereupon remembered that in one of the racks was an electric
torch. The rack was above his head, and out of arm's reach, for the
other side of the cabin was the floor.

"Here you are, sir," announced Wilson. "I've been sitting on a
hurricane lamp. The glass has gone to blazes, and most of the oil,
but maybe you'll be able to get it to light."

"I've no matches," declared Guy.

"No more have I," added the seaman. "I'll collar Purvis' box. He's
close to me, 'cause I can feel his beard and I guess he's in no fit
state to object."

Wilson fumbled with the straps of his unfortunate comrade's fur coat,
and presently succeeded in extricating a box of matches from the
man's under coat pocket.

The lamp when lighted gave but a fitful glimmer, but it was
sufficient to reveal the state of affairs within the overturned
cabin.

Men were lying listlessly in every conceivable attitude. Most of them
had been rendered unconscious by the terrific shock. In one corner a
Russian was sitting up and stolidly supporting a broken arm. Two more
of the airship's crew had escaped serious injury, and were
philosophically keeping silence in spite of being bruised from head
to foot.

Symonds, the man who had lost his reason, was dead. Examination
showed that the lump of platinum had burst its securing lashings, and
had crashed through the side of the cabin, instantly killing the
madman in its wild course. Even now its weight was taking it slowly
down to the bottom of the glacier, whence in the course of centuries
it would be carried by the moving ice to the sea.

Quickly those who were able to move set to work to assist their less
fortunate comrades. Buried beneath four unconscious forms, they found
Ranworth, motionless, but still alive.

Of the fifteen who formed the complement of the _Bird of Freedom_,
eight were obviously unfit for further duty, most of them for many a
long day. Only Leslie, Guy, O'Donovan, Johnson, Wilson, and two
Russians were capable of taking any part in the task of extricating
themselves from their dangerous position.

"What do you propose to do, O'Donovan?" asked Guy.

Although recognised as the acting skipper of the _Bird of Freedom_
while she was capable of motion, the lad now realised that
O'Donovan's experience rendered him more suitable to direct
operations.

"Do? Sure, sit tight for a bit," replied the seaman. "'Tis certain
death to go out with this blizzard blowing. When the weather
moderates, some of us will have to go for assistance. Have you any
notion of how far we be from the inlet, Master Guy?"

"Only three miles, I think."

"Only three miles? You don't know what three miles means in these
parts when you've got to foot every inch of the way. So I make so
bold as to suggest that we tidy up a bit and wait."

"Suppose we are buried in the snow?" asked Leslie.

"Sure, we're that already," rejoined O'Donovan. "That's why it's so
warm here considering there's half a dozen holes at least knocked
through our hull. We can dig ourselves out in good time. What I don't
like is the chance of another of those heavy launches."

O'Donovan's fear of another avalanche was justified, for the glacier
was confined between two lowering cliffs from which ice and rubble
were continually falling. At intervals the dull roar of the slipping
debris could be heard distinctly by the occupants of the cabin.

For the next hour, first aid kept the seven men busily engaged. Then,
having seen their patients as comfortable as possible on cushions
spread upon the capsized side of the cabin, they prepared a meal.

"Two thousand pounds' worth of good machinery utterly wrecked, old
man," said Leslie dolefully, as he examined the motors upon which he
had lavished so much care and attention.

Even the stout metal bolts which held the motors to their bed-plates
had been unable to withstand the sudden strain. The intricate
machinery was only partly visible in a jagged gap in the side of the
cabin, while the sulphuric and nitric acids were already eating away
every bit of metal work with which they came in contact.

"What's that?" asked Guy anxiously, as a long-drawn creak sounded
above his head.

"The weight of snow pressing on top of the cabin," replied O'Donovan.
"Faith! 'Tis to be hoped it will hold, for there must be nigh on ten
feet of snow above us. In three or four hours' time it will be frozen
hard."

"We ought to be preparing for our dash to the inlet," said Leslie.
"We have to consider what we're to take."

"We'll travel light, of course, sir," declared Wilson.

"And supposing it's too rough to get on board?"

"Then it won't be fit for us to make a move," rejoined Wilson with
conviction. "But, perhaps, all the same, sir, we ought to take some
grub and some firewood. One never knows."

Accordingly Leslie set aside a small quantity of provisions. He could
not spare much, since, on Ranworth's orders, most of the tinned stuff
had been left at Observation Camp. Firewood was necessary, since no
fuel other than that brought ashore was obtainable.

The two uninjured Russians, on being told of the proposed journey,
expressed their readiness to take part in the dash to the inlet;
while, in order to transport the meagre stock of stores and
provisions, they set to work to convert the cabin table into a small
sleigh.

This they did by sawing the flap in halves lengthwise, since the
breadth of the sleigh was limited to the widest dimensions of the
hatchway. The runners they made from planks taken from the cabin
floor and rounded off at each end so as to offer the least possible
resistance to the frozen ground.

By this time there was nearly a foot of water in the cabin. Through
the broken scuttles long cones of frozen snow were being forced by
the pressure from without. These, melting in the warmth of the cabin,
threatened to add considerably to the discomforts of the imprisoned
men.

"Time to cut our way out," announced O'Donovan. "It would be better
to knock up a snow hut for those who remain behind. If we're lucky,
we ought to save all the provisions. Set to, mates, it's a long way
to the top."

Thus encouraged, Wilson and Johnson, armed with an axe and shovel,
threw open the hatch, which, formerly in a horizontal position, was
now almost perpendicular.

Plying their tools vigorously, and heaping the displaced snow in one
corner of the cabin, they commenced the tunnel to the open air,
working in a diagonal direction in order to make communication with
the cabin easier.

Every quarter of an hour the diggers were relieved, taking turns with
the two Russians. At length daylight was seen to be filtering through
the snow. The tunnel was nearing completion, steps being cut at
regular intervals.

"We're through," shouted Wilson triumphantly; then he added: "And it
ain't half snowing."

"Up with you!" exclaimed O'Donovan. "Every man take a shovel. We'll
haul up some of that canvas. It may serve as a shelter until we build
the hut."

Into the blinding snow the seven workers made their way. After
strenuous efforts, a square of canvas was set up to prevent the snow
blocking the newly-made tunnel, then all hands set to work to build a
hut.

It was a toilsome task. Encumbered by their fur clothing and mittens,
their faces cut with the frozen flakes, the seven manfully stuck to
their work.

At the end of two hours a shelter measuring roughly fifteen feet by
seven was erected and covered in by means of planks removed from the
cabin. These were quickly covered with snow, which speedily froze
into a solid block, while the drifts which accumulated on the weather
side served still further to render the shelter proof against the
strongest gales.

Yet there was no respite for the weary toilers. Furs were brought
from the cabin and laid upon the floor of the hut. One by one the
injured men were carried up the slanting tunnel and tenderly placed
in the hut.

This done, the Russians hauled up their sleigh, which, until the men
were ready to set out, was to serve as a door.

Thrice the lads descended into the now deeply buried _Bird of
Freedom_, returning each time heavily laden with eatables, while the
Russians busied themselves with obtaining fuel and oil.

On the fourth occasion, Leslie was half-way through the tunnel, when
one of the Russians raced up the steps, and grasping the lad by the
shoulders literally forced him back to the open air.

As he did so, the frozen snow shook beneath their feet, and with a
rending crash the shell of the _Bird of Freedom_ collapsed under the
irresistible strain.

Once more Leslie Ward had escaped death by a hair's-breadth.



CHAPTER XX

ABANDONED


"THAT'S done it!" ejaculated Wilson. "We were only just in time. Say,
Mike, how are we off for grub?"

O'Donovan, thus addressed, was stumped for a reply. The sudden caving
in of the buried sleigh had resulted in the loss of the bulk of the
provisions. Only a small quantity, originally intended for the use of
the men selected for the march to Desolation Inlet, had been saved,
and that quantity was sufficient for all hands for but one day, and
then only with the greatest care.

At all costs, and notwithstanding the blizzard, it seemed imperative
that communication should be speedily set up with the _Polarity_, so
preparations were made for the journey.

Leslie, O'Donovan, and the two Russians were selected for this
mission, while Guy, Johnson, and Wilson were to remain with the
injured survivors of the _Bird of Freedom_.

The provisions were divided between the two parties in proportion to
their numbers, those of Leslie's men being placed on the rough
sleigh.

"How about this gun?" asked Wilson, indicating a rifle which had been
brought up from the buried sleigh just before the final disaster.

"Keep it," replied O'Donovan. "We won't need it. You might knock over
a seal or two if you're lucky."

"Sorry I'm not coming with you, old man," said Guy, as the two chums
prepared to take leave of each other.

"I don't suppose you'll miss much," replied Leslie with forced
cheerfulness.

"No, it's you I'm thinking about. I shouldn't mind in the slightest
if I were with you, but tramping through that blizzard is rotten
work."

O'Donovan gave the signal. The Russians took up the drag-rope of the
sleigh. With a cheery wave of the hand Leslie fell in with the rest
of the party, and the driving snow hid him from his chum's sight.

None of the party was provided with snow-shoes or skis. At every step
the men sank almost to their knees in snow. On and on they stumbled.
Not a word was spoken. Instinctively they realised that every ounce
of strength they possessed must be carefully husbanded if they hoped
to survive the strain of those few miles.

Fortunately there was no chance of losing their way. The route was
well defined by towering cliffs on either side, from which masses of
snow and ice were continually falling.

They plodded thus for an hour, during which time they had only
traversed half a mile. Their lower limbs, unaccustomed to the violent
muscular efforts required to lift them clear of the snow, felt numb
and as heavy as lead. They were glad when O'Donovan called for a ten
minutes' halt.

Huddled together for mutual protection, and with their backs to the
wind, the jaded men strove to withstand the almost overpowering
desire to sleep. Even as they sat, the snow drifted until it was
level with their shoulders.

All around came the thunder of the falling debris from the top of the
cliffs, punctuated by the deeper roar which O'Donovan and the
Russians understood. Fortunately, perhaps, Leslie was in ignorance of
the meaning of the low rumble. It was the rapid breaking up of the
lower portion of the glacier.

Presently one of the Russians clapped his gloved hands. O'Donovan,
who was actually dozing, opened his eyes. He regained his feet,
painfully and laboriously.

"Time!" he exclaimed.

Before a fresh start could be made, the accumulation of snow on the
sleigh had to be removed and the vehicle dragged from under two feet
of drift. Leslie and O'Donovan took their turns at the drag-ropes,
the Russians following. It was evident that these men were more
accustomed to the severe wintry conditions than even the
weather-beaten seamen.

Presently one of the Russians noticed that the lad was making very
slow headway. Without a word he took the rope from his hand. As he
did so, he looked into the youth's face, then, stooping and picking
up a handful of snow, he dashed it against Leslie's nose and began to
rub that organ with the utmost vigour.

"Sure, I didn't notice it myself, bad cess to me," exclaimed
O'Donovan. "Don't you worry, Master Leslie. It's for your good."

Leslie had been too taken aback by this sudden attack to offer any
resistance, even if he retained sufficient energy to do so. Quite
unconscious of the fact, his nose was showing signs of frostbite, and
the Russian had taken drastic but effectual steps to ward off the
dire consequences.

"Halt!" ordered O'Donovan in a loud voice.

Another hour or an hour and a half had elapsed.


[Illustration: Right into the eye of the wind the four well-nigh
exhausted men struggled.
                                                 To face page 179.]


The men had rested for the third time, and had only just resumed
their toilsome way.

"Here we stop," he continued. "We'll have to knock up some kind of a
shelter. Master Leslie, do you tell those fellows."

"Tell them what?" asked Leslie.

"That we don't go another step farther till the blizzard's done. If
we do, I reckon we'll find ourselves sliding over the ice and into
the sea."

"But we are some distance yet," expostulated Leslie, who recognised
the place by a remarkable contraction of the cliffs.

A loud crash drowned O'Donovan's reply.

"Don't know as we oughtn't to go back a bit," he said. "This ice
ain't none too safe."

The Russians were evidently of the same opinion, for they had already
turned the sleigh round in the opposite direction.

"Good!" exclaimed the seaman. "'Tis back it is. This is no place for
Mike O'Donovan."

Right into the eye of the wind, the four well-nigh exhausted men
struggled. Their former pace was a rapid one compared with that
battle with the elements. The very force of the driving flakes
produced a sensation of suffocation.

Blinded by the drifting snow, buffeted by the wind, and with hardly
the strength to draw their feet, from the half-frozen slush, they
struggled on literally inch by inch.

"Enough!" shouted O'Donovan.

The meaning of the word was plain even to the Russians. Like a flock
of sheep the men crowded together to regain their breath.

At the end of a brief respite, all hands set to work to build a
shelter, consisting of two snow walls barely a yard apart, and a
third wall joining one end of each to the other. Over this the sleigh
was placed, its contents having previously been stowed away in
safety.

For the next half-hour the men took turns in holding down the frail
roof, until the drift accumulated sufficiently to protect it from the
force of the blizzard.

A slender meal was then served out, and, having eaten, the men
proposed to rest, one of their number having to be on guard in order
to give the alarm in the event of the ice breaking in the vicinity of
the snow hut.

In spite of the weird noises and the crash of the broken ice, Leslie
slept soundly. His companions failed to awaken him, the Russians
taking his turn on watch. When at length he awoke the blizzard had
practically ceased, and the men were preparing to dig a way out
through the deep snow drift.

A strange sight met Leslie's eyes as he gained the open air.

Although it was supposed to be midnight, the sun was showing dully in
the northern sky, and casting long shadows on the hummocks across the
undulating plain of white snow. But what had been a portion of the
vast glacier only a day or so before was now open water, dotted with
masses of floating ice.

Almost half a mile of glacier had separated from the main ice river
and had been hurled into Desolation Inlet. The sea was within two
hundred yards of the hut, but the _Polarity_ was no longer to be
seen.

"The ship!" exclaimed Leslie. "Where is she? Has she been 'nipped'?"

He knew the danger of a vessel being crushed between those miniature
bergs, and the thought that the _Polarity_ had foundered under the
impact of the detached ice filled him with alarm.

"Nipped?" repeated O'Donovan, "Not her. Faith, she's slipped her
cables and stood out to sea. I'll allow Cap'n Stormleigh wouldn't
wait for those chunks of ice to hit him. She'll be back presently."

Although O'Donovan spoke hopefully, in his inmost thoughts he knew
there might be a possibility of the catastrophe at which Leslie had
hinted actually taking place. If so, the fate of the fifteen men left
on Nova Cania would be a terrible one.

Four tedious hours passed, yet the _Polarity_ did not put in an
appearance. O'Donovan consoled his companions by suggesting that
perhaps there was a thick fog outside, so that the vessel would be
compelled to wait before attempting to recross the dangerous bar. Or,
again, the floating ice might have become "packed" lower down the
inlet, thus rendering it impossible for the _Polarity_ to return
until the barrier was removed.

The Russians, upon the seaman's surmises being translated, nodded
gravely. Their stolidity seemed in keeping with the suspense of the
situation.

"It's quarter rations now," announced O'Donovan, as he doled out the
provisions for another meal. "Maybe we'll be in luck and knock over a
seal or two. They're not nice to eat, Master Leslie, but half a loaf
is better than no bread, and a bit of seal's fat is better than no
half a loaf."

While the men were slowly eating what might prove to be their last
meal but one, a rattling sound was heard without, as if something
were disturbing the tins in which the provisions were kept.

In a trice one of the Russians made for the door, unclasping a
formidable knife as he did so. His compatriot, seizing an ice-axe,
followed with greater deliberation, while Leslie and O'Donovan
guessing that the alarm was justified, grasped their spades and made
for the open air.

Licking an almost empty preserved meat tin was a huge white bear,
greater even than the one which had attacked Aubrey Hawke on the
ice-floe. With her was a young cub.

The bear showed no inclination to decline an encounter, for directly
she perceived the Russians she threw her cub from her, and, rearing,
made straight for her foes.

Seeing her approach, the first Russian drew back to await a chance of
an opening. His compatriot raised his axe and dealt the bear a
furious blow. The keen blade, missing the animal's muzzle by a few
inches, descended with lightning speed upon a lump of ice. The shock
sent the axe spinning along the slippery surface, while the man,
losing his balance, sprawled upon his face.

Even as the bear bent to seize the unlucky Russian, Leslie and
O'Donovan lunged with their long-handled shovels.

With a rapid blow of her massive paw, the bear turned the Irishman's
thrust aside, but Leslie contrived to get a staggering lunge fairly
into the animal's capacious and wide-open jaws.

Taking advantage of the bear's obvious discomfiture, the second
Russian closed and drove his knife deeply into the creature's throat.
As he did so, he received a blow which ripped his fur coat from
shoulder to wrist, then, throwing herself upon the prostrate man, the
bear clawed his back vigorously in spite of a shower of blows rained
at her by Leslie and the seaman.

It was the bear's despairing effort. Momentarily she was growing
weaker from loss of blood.

Again the Russian with the knife closed and got home a deep cut which
completely severed the animal's jugular vein. With a dull thud the
enormous brute rolled over on the snow, struggled feebly for a few
minutes, and then lay still.

"Stone dead," exclaimed O'Donovan triumphantly. "Faith! We'll not be
wanting meat now."

The cub, curious to see what was the matter with its dam, ambled
awkwardly towards the dead bear. O'Donovan was about to fell it with
a blow from the Russian's axe, which he had picked up, when Leslie
interposed.

"Let's save it and keep it for a pet," he said.

The Irishman looked at the lad to see if he were really in earnest,
then burst into a hearty laugh.

"A pet, be jabers! Who'll be wanting a cub for a pet when we're like
to starve ourselves? How do you think to feed it?"

"We can find some seals," suggested Leslie.

"Perhaps," rejoined O'Donovan. "Perhaps not."

"There's no harm in trying," pleaded Leslie. "If it comes to the
worst there's more bear steaks for us."

He appealed to the Russians. The one who had slipped during the
encounter grunted indifferently, while his comrade, who had good
cause to complain since his left arm was deeply scratched by the
bear's claws, nodded his head amiably.

"He will also keep us warm," he said.

"Very well, keep the thing," exclaimed O'Donovan ungraciously, when
Leslie translated the Russian's reply.

The cub willingly assented to be led into the shelter by its new
master, while O'Donovan and the Russians set about skinning the dead
bear to obtain the meat which, for the present, was more than enough
for their needs.

A fire, which made sad inroads upon their scanty stock of fuel, was
kindled, and after a good meal of bear steak, all hands felt much
stronger and in better spirits.

Still there were no signs of the returning _Polarity_, so the
Russians volunteered to take the sleigh back to the place where they
had left the rest of their comrades.

The snow had now frozen hard, consequently they would be able to
proceed far quicker, their idea being to take a supply of bear's meat
to their unfortunate fellow-sufferers and to bring one at least of
the injured men back to the hut on the edge of the glacier.

While they were gone on their self-imposed errand, O'Donovan, who was
beginning to take an interest in the cub, and was being amused by its
antics, volunteered to try to catch a seal.

Lashing his knife to the handle of an ice-spade, he made his way
towards the open water, choosing a place where the ice had newly
formed. Here he dug a circular hole, and with his improvised spear in
hand, awaited the result of his quest.

Before very long the head of a young seal appeared above the water in
the hole. For a few minutes the animal sniffed suspiciously, but the
Irishmen made no movement. Deceived by the apparent lack of life, the
seal drew itself clear of the ice and waddled clumsily towards the
still motionless man.

Presently an older seal appeared. Scenting danger, she called to her
young one, emitting a short bark resembling that of a dog. The latter
turned to flee, but it was too late. Running recklessly on the ice,
O'Donovan cut off its retreat, and with one thrust of his knife
killed it on the spot.

Leslie's cub, at all events, would not go short of food.

When at length the two Russians returned, they brought with them one
of the two remaining Englishmen of Claude Ranworth's party, and one
of their compatriots. The former, being too weak to walk, was dragged
in the sleigh, while the third Russian was able, with occasional
assistance, to keep up with his comrades.

The hardy Russians expressed their intention of making another trip
as soon as they had eaten and slept, repeating the journey until the
whole of the party were brought in. It was possible to sustain life
on the glacier, owing to the presence of seals, while fishing might
result in a welcome addition to the larder. There would also be less
delay should the _Polarity_ put in an appearance.

Day after day passed. The numbers at the shelter by Desolation Inlet
increased as the heroic Russians kept to their promise. Yet the
long-expected ship did not return, and gradually the hope of rescue
in that direction languished.

The masses of the detached ice in the inlet were rapidly dispersing,
being carried towards the open sea by the still prevailing northerly
wind. So far as the castaways could ascertain, there was nothing to
prevent the _Polarity's_ return if she were still afloat. They could
only conclude that she had met with disaster and had foundered with
all hands.

The situation was indeed desperate. Without adequate means of
protecting themselves against the rigours of an Arctic winter--for in
another month or so navigation would be absolutely impossible owing
to the formation of the ice--a lingering death by cold and exposure
stared them in the face.



CHAPTER XXI

RESCUED


"LESLIE," exclaimed Ranworth. "Can you hear that?"

"Hear what, sir?" asked the lad.

Ranworth was almost the last of the injured men to be brought in by
means of the sleigh. He was still incapable of moving, and spent the
whole of his time lying in the shelter.

"It's a ship's siren," declared Ranworth with conviction.

Leslie listened intently, but could not agree with his patient's
declaration.

"I'll go outside and listen, sir," he said.

"Guy," he whispered, as he joined his chum, who was busily engaged in
teaching the cub to perform simple tricks, "Mr. Ranworth says he can
hear a steamer's siren. Can you?"

Guy listened intently.

"Not a sound," he replied.

Somewhat disheartened, Leslie returned to the hut, and in answer to
Ranworth's mute inquiry he shook his head.

"But I heard it distinctly while you were outside," he maintained.
"Ask the men if they heard anything."

Leslie did so, somewhat reluctantly, since he felt certain that it
was only raising false hopes. One and all were agreed that Ranworth
was imagining the noise.

"And I don't like the idea of having to disillusion him," said the
lad ruefully.

A quarter of an hour passed. The injured man still persisted in his
belief.

Suddenly there was a lull in the wind. Borne faintly through the
clear air came the dull booming of a steamship's whistle.

"Hurrah!" shouted the men in chorus. "That's the _Polarity_. We're
saved."

"She's ten miles off if she's a yard," declared Johnson. "It will
take her an hour at least to come up to the anchorage."

The overjoyed men were on the tiptoe of expectancy. A quarter of an
hour went by, but no further signals came from the approaching
vessel. Perhaps, after all----

The merest suggestion of disappointed hopes appalled them.

Again, this time ever so much louder, the welcome wail of the siren
was heard. This time there could be no doubt. The ship, whatever she
was, was ascending the inlet.

Soon the waiting men could detect the thud of the engines and the
thrash of the powerful propellers. Then, gliding majestically round
the last bend, came the _Polarity_. Her engines were reversed, and
as the ship gathered sternway her anchor plunged with a sudden splash
to the bed of the inlet.

"All safe?" shouted Captain Stormleigh through a megaphone.

"But two, sir," replied O'Donovan.

The cheers that were on the lips of the rescuing men were choked. In
the midst of the fitting climax to their endeavour they realised that
the perils of the Arctic had claimed their toll.

Two hours later, Claude Ranworth, Leslie, and Guy were standing by
the side of John Ranworth's cot. The _Polarity_ had weighed anchor
once more, and Nova Cania was already fading in the mists of the
Arctic.

"I suppose you know, old man, that we lost your precious platinum?"
asked John Ranworth.

His brother nodded his head.

"Yes," he replied. "But it's of little consequence now. I've come to
the conclusion that the game isn't worth the candle. But, thanks to
your efforts, under Providence, Jack, we're safe and sound and
homeward bound."

"Aye," agreed John Ranworth, "and not forgetting our young friends
Leslie and Guy. We'll have to fit out another expedition, Claude, to
retrieve our lost fortunes--but it won't be the Arctic next time.
Central Africa's the place, and when we do decide there are two
persons I shall ask to accompany us---Leslie Ward and Guy Anderson."

"Thank you, sir," replied the chums in one breath.



PRINTED BY WM. BRENDON AND SON, PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND



_UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME_

Price 3/6 net each (postage 6d. extra).
    ----

The Boys of the Otter Patrol.
  A Tale of the Boy Scouts. By E. Le Breton
  Martin. With eight full-page Illustrations by E. P.
  Kinsella.

  "It is a capital story ... and will be a thoroughly appreciated
  addition to every library of youthful literature."--
                                                  _Evening Standard_


The Phantom Battleship. By Rupert Chesterton. With eight full-page
  Illustrations by Fred Bennett.

  "A rattling story of thrilling adventure afloat.... One of the
  best sea stories we have read for many a day."--Field


Kiddie of the Camp. A Scouting
  Story of the Western Prairies. By Robert Leighton.
  With eight Illustrations by E. P. Kinsella.

  "A capital boys' book, cram full of adventures and useful
  information.... Will bear favourable comparison with Fenimore
  Cooper's tales of the American Indians."--Aberdeen Journal.


The Clue of the Ivory Claw. By
  F. Haydn Dimmock. With eight full-page illustrations
  by J. Ayton Symington.



THE SCOUT LIBRARY
STORIES OF ADVENTURE.

_In handsome Cloth Covers. Price 2s. 6d. each net._
_Postage 4d. extra._


Strong-Hand Saxon. The Adventures of a Canadian Scout and a British
  Boy in the Far West. By CHRISTOPHER BECK.

  "Boys who like a story positively throbbing with excitement should
  by all means invest in Christopher Beck's 'Strong-Hand Saxon.'
  ... Of breathless interest. "--_Western Mail_.


Coo-ee! A Story of Peril and Adventure in the South Seas.
  By ROBERT LEIGHTON.

  "This story of peril and adventure in the South Seas will be
  welcomed with acclamation by boys.... One of the best sea stories
  it has been our good fortune to peruse."--_The Schoolmaster._


The Honour of the Lions. A Scouting Story of Adventure and Mystery.
  By STACEY BLAKE.

  "It is the type of story which a boy declares to be 'ripping.'"
  _Manchester Courier._


The Young Cavalier. By PERCY F. WESTERMAN.

  "One of the best stories of the English Civil War we have met,
  and Mr. Gordon Browne's fine pictures enrich it unspeakably."
  _Pall Mall Gazette_.


The Quest of the Veiled King. By RUPERT CHESTERTON.

  "A really good yarn which will be appreciated by every scout and
  by many a boy who belongs to no patrol."--_Morning Post._


Pirate Gold. The Story of an Adventurous Fight for a Hidden Fortune.
  By J. R. HUTCHINSON.

  "The search for hidden treasure is a subject of which readers seem
  never to tire. No one knows how to tell a story of this kind
  better than Mr. Hutchinson, and here he is equal to himself. He
  keeps us in suspense as to the issue up to the last minute: who is
  to succeed? Our readers will get no little entertainment in
  finding out this for themselves."
  _Spectator._



THE SCOUT LIBRARY
STORIES OF ADVENTURE.


_In handsome Cloth Covers. Price 2s. 6d. each net._
_Postage 4d. extra._


Corky and I. (Marooned.) The Adventures of Two Chums Adrift.
  By A. B. COOPER, Author of "Lost in the Arctic," etc.

  "The story goes with a rare swing from start to finish; it is, in
  fact, a 'corking' good story with excellent illustrations."--
  _Saturday Review._


Rattlesnake Ranch. A Tale of the Great North-West.
  By ROBERT LEIGHTON, Author of "Kiddie of the Camp," etc.

  "This is one of the best stories of adventure in the North-West
  that we have met with for a long time."--_Manchester Courier._


Frank Flower. The Boy War Correspondent.
  By A. B. COOPER.

  "Boy Scouts should thoroughly enjoy this story, for the principles
  on which young Flower always acts are thoroughly sound, and,
  though no offensive morals are drawn, the advantage of 'straight'
  conduct is made obvious. "--_Academy._


Jack Corvit, Patrol Leader; or Always a Scout.
  By V. R. NENDRICK.

  "This is a rousing book for Boy Scouts, full of stirring incidents
  and exciting adventures, with the hero always well to the fore.
  The idea of the story is to illustrate the various items of the
  Scout Law, and the idea is well carried out."--_The People._


Gildersley's Tenderfoot. A Thrilling Tale of Redskin and Prairie.
  By ROBERT LEIGHTON, Author of "Kiddie of the Camp," etc.

  "A rattling good story of adventure in the Wild West which boys
  will thoroughly enjoy."--_Bookman._


Sons of the Sea. An Engrossing Tale of the Sea Scouts.
  By CHRISTOPHER BECK, Author of "The Crimson Aeroplane," etc.

  "Mr. Beck tells a story of the Sea Scouts and shows how handy
  these young people may become.... Written in a manly, healthy
  style, and may be recommended to the attention of every boy."--
  _The Field._



BOOKS BY THE CHIEF SCOUT
SIR ROBERT BADEN-POWELL, K.C.B.
    ----

SCOUTING FOR BOYS    A HAND BOOK FOR INSTRUCTION
                     IN GOOD CITIZENSHIP
  9th Edition. The Official Handbook of the Boy Scouts.
  Price 2s. net, paper; 3s. net, cloth (postage 4d. extra).


THE WOLF CUB'S HANDBOOK
  The Official Handbook for the training of boys from 8-11, leading
  up to the time when they can become full Scouts.
  _Paper wrapper, price 1s. 6d. net; cloth boards, price 2s. 6d.,
  net (postage 4d. extra)._


GIRL GUIDING.    THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK FOR
                 THE GIRL GUIDES
  _4th Edition. Paper wrapper, price is. 6d. net (postage 3d.
  extra); cloth boards 2s. 6d. net (postage 4d. extra)._

MY ADVENTURES AS A SPY
  Extra Crown 8vo, Cloth Gilt, with Coloured Frontispiece, Four
  Halftone Illustrations, and other Sketches by the Author.
  _Price 3s. 6d. net (postage 5d. extra)._

SCOUTING GAMES
  A splendid collection of Outdoor and Indoor Games specially
  compiled for Boy Scouts, 4th Edition.
  _Price is. 6d. net, paper wrapper. 2s. 6d. net in cloth boards
  (postage 3d. extra)._
  "No one who, as a schoolboy, has read a word of Fenimore Cooper or
  Ballantyne, nobody who feels the fascination of a good detective
  story, or who understands a little of the pleasures of wood craft,
  could fail to be attracted by these games, or, for that matter, by
  the playing of the games themselves. "--_Spectator._

    ----

YARNS FOR BOY SCOUTS       TOLD ROUND THE
                           CAMP FIRE.
  2nd Edition.
  "There is no gift book that could be put into the hands of a
  schoolboy more valuable than this fascinating volume, and if you
  asked the boy's opinion he would probably add, 'No book that he
  liked better.'"--_Spectator._


YOUNG KNIGHTS OF THE EMPIRE
  THEIR CODE AND FURTHER SCOUT YARNS.
  "The Ten Laws of Scouts and Sir Robert's exposition of them make a
  most lucid and telling code of behaviour; and very good, too, are
  his tales of travel, chapters on sea-scouting, backwoodsmen, &c.,
  all illustrated by the author himself."--_Times._


BOY SCOUTS BEYOND THE SEAS   "MY WORLD
                              TOUR."
  Illustrated by the Author.
  "Describes in brightest and most concise fashion his recent tour
  of inspection amongst the Boy Scouts.... Every boy will read it
  with avidity and pronounce it 'jolly good.'"--_Graphic._


  _The above 3 books, price 1s. each in pictorial Wrapper, or 2s.
  each in cloth boards (postage 4d. extra)._

    ----

THE CUB BOOK.     THE BOOK FOR THE BOYS.
                  _Price 3d. net (post free 4d.)._


MARKSMANSHIP FOR BOYS     THE RED FEATHER AND
                          HOW TO WIN IT.
  _Price 3d. net (post free 4d.)._
    ----

_Write for Illustrated List of Books for Boy Scouts to_
A. F. SOWTER, Publisher; "The Scout" Offices, 28 Maiden Lane,
London, W.C. 2.



  [Transcriber's notes

    This book contains a number of misprints.
    The following misprints have been corrected:

    [now was. it would] ->
        [now was, it would]

    [a dappper little man] ->
        [a dapper little man]

    [d'r'aps she'll] ->
        [p'r'aps she'll]

    [like mad?"] ->
        [like mad!"]
    because it is a statement, not a question.

    [reported a ridge of hill] ->
        [reported a ridge of hills]

    [became imminent; the] ->
        [became imminent: the]

    [there could be do doubt.] ->
        [there could be no doubt.]

    [to accompany us---Leslie] ->
        [to accompany us--Leslie]

  ]





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "'Midst Arctic Perils - A Thrilling Story of Adventure in the Polar Regions" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home