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CHAPTER X. A STARTLING DISCOVERY.
No one doubted for a moment that the forms scrambling over the crater’s side were really the Polar natives.

Frank picked up his rifle and cried:

“Come on, boys. Let’s have a look at those chaps.”

“Shall we go armed?” asked Randall.

“Of course. Men who have the nerve to confine white visitors in underground vaults to die of starvation are certainly men to be strongly dealt with.”

So Randall and Barney followed Frank up the mountain.

Pomp and the sailor remained to guard the Scorcher.

Up the crater ran the pursuers.

Yet they advanced cautiously, for they had no means of knowing what manner of weapons the fugitives had.

But before the summit was reached Frank received a surprise. He saw four men huddled behind a bowlder.

A voice in unmistakable English cried:

“For Heaven’s sake, mates, don’t blame us—we’re under orders!”

“Jack Mains, mate of the Pearl!” gasped Frank. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“I swear, sir, it is not our fault. Captain’s orders!” declared the Pearl’s mate, as he and his companions came forth.

“Your captain’s orders?” exclaimed Frank. “Where is he?”

“I—can’t say, sir. He went down into that valley. Maybe the water—you can guess.”

The astonishment of all was great.

“And do you mean to tell me,” exclaimed Frank, “that your captain—that Isaac Ward actually followed us hither?”

“I do, sir,” replied Mains, tremblingly.

“Where is the ship?”

“Deserted, sir. For all I know, back in the ice-pack, and not a soul on board.”

“But,” exclaimed Frank, in sheer amazement, “what on earth impelled you all to leave the ship?”

“Gold, sir.”

“Gold?”

“Yes, sir; Captain Ward thought you were down here after a great treasure, sir, and wanted to claim a share.”

This was a revelation to Frank, and the others, too.

For a moment he was speechless.

“Well,” he said, finally, “that is the worst fool’s trick I ever heard of. You say he left the ship to the mercy of the ice?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And he went down into the valley?”

“Yes, sir; all went down there except me and my three friends here; we stayed back.”

“My soul!” exclaimed Frank. “They have not returned. Then the flood overtook them. This is the plain result of avarice.”

For a time all were silent. The four sailors looked wretched enough.

“We are nigh dead from starvation,” Mains said, finally.

“Then come with me,” said Frank, moving down the mountain side. “This is a terrible affair!”

“God bless you, sir,” cried one of the sailors. “We will die for you—only take us back to America.”

“Humph!” exclaimed Frank. “It looks mighty doubtful now whether any of us get back or not.”

Back to the Scorcher they went, and Pomp gave the surviving sailors food and drink.

Then the folly of Captain Ward’s move was dilated upon. The result was a disappointment to Frank.

“I had intended remaining here for the waters to fall,” he said, “but now all depends upon our reaching the Pearl before the ice-pack breaks up. If we do not reach the ship in that time, we may give ourselves up for lost.”

“And go to swell the number of explorers who have invaded this accursed land never to return!” declared Randall.

There was certainly need of dispatch if the party was to reach the ship before the pack should break.

It was a long, arduous trip back through the fiord. It would require much time to make the trip.

Frank would have started at once, but he felt in duty bound to first learn the fate of the captain and his men for a certainty. There was a faint possibility, of course, that they had made their escape.

So a party was made up and sent along the mountain side. Frank and Barney and Randall were the members of the party.

Before he returned Frank was determined to accomplish one thing, and this was to gain the summit of the southern mountain wall and take a look at the country beyond.

T............
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