The Project Gutenberg eBook of 'Midst Arctic Perils: A Thrilling Story of Adventure in the Polar Regions

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Title: 'Midst Arctic Perils: A Thrilling Story of Adventure in the Polar Regions

Author: Percy F. Westerman

Release date: August 28, 2018 [eBook #57798]
Most recently updated: August 31, 2020

Language: English

Credits: Produced by R.G.P.M. van Giesen


[Illustration: cover art]

[Illustration: spine]





image: 03_heeled
[Illustration: With a fearful lurch she heeled to starboard.
_Frontispiece._ See page 14.]





Author of "The Young Cavalier," "The Nameless Island," &c.

C. Arthur Pearson Ltd.
Henrietta Street


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


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




"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.



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 d�bris 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.


"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.



"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."



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.



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 d�bris 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.

image: 04_wall
[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!"



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.



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."

image: 05_huge
[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?"



"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.



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.

image: 06_arrow
[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.



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.


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.



"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——"


"Snuff it by inches in this——"


"Snuff it by inches, I says,"


"—In this rotten box of tricks."


"Here, I say,"


"Hold on, sir. I was a-sayin'——"


"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."



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."



"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 way. 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.



"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.


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.



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.

image: 07_dangling
[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.



"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.



"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?"

image: 08_toppled
[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.



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.

image: 09_deftly
[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.



"'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?"


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.



"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.

image: 10_struggled
[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.



"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.



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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.


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.


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.


9th Edition. The Official Handbook of the Boy Scouts.
Price 2s. net, paper; 3s. net, cloth (postage 4d. extra).
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).
4th Edition. Paper wrapper, price is. 6d. net (postage 3d. extra); cloth boards 2s. 6d. net (postage 4d. extra).
Extra Crown 8vo, Cloth Gilt, with Coloured Frontispiece, Four Halftone Illustrations, and other Sketches by the Author. Price 3s. 6d. net (postage 5d. extra).
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.

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.
"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.
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).

Price 3d. net (post free 4d.).
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]