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CHAPTER XII. WHICH IS THE END.
As they did so both nearly fell into the cavity. They clung to the edges desperately.

Then, recovering, they saw that a dark hole yawned beneath them. How deep it was they could only conjecture.

But Frank shouted:

“Hello! Are you down there, Barney?”

Again and again the hail went down. Then something like a gasp and a sob came up.

A voice muttered:

“Phwere the divil am I? Shure, it’s kilt I am, an’ this is purgatory!”

“No, it isn’t!” shouted Frank. “It’s only a hole in the ice. Lively now, old fellow. How is the other fellow?”

“Misther Frank?” shouted Barney.

“Yes, it’s me!”

“Shure, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, you fell into a hole in the ice, that’s all!”

“Och, shure; I remember now. An’ the other feller—Mither of Moses! I belave he’s dead!”

“Wait and I’ll lower a rope to you,” cried Frank. “Tie it around him and we’ll haul him up!”

“All roight, sor!”

Frank had provided himself with a hundred feet of stout line before leaving the Scorcher. This now came into play.

He lowered it quickly into the pit. In a very few moments Barney gave an answering tug.

“All roight, sor! I have it fast!”

Then another voice was heard below. It was evident that Mains had also recovered his consciousness.

“It’s a hard v’yage, shipmates!” mumbled the sailor. “Fell clean from the maintop into the waist of the ship. Ugh! my back is broken!”

“Be off wid yez!” cried Barney. “Ye’re wuth tin dead min already! Put this line undther yez arms.”

“All right?” asked Frank.

“Yis, sor. Pull away wid yez!”

Frank and Randall gave way at the line. Up from the depths came the limp form of Mains.

He was quite seriously shaken up and unable as yet to stand on his feet. But the air revived him.

Frank and Randall placed Mains on the ice at one side and then drew Barney up.

The Celt came up as lively as a cricket.

“Shure, it’s hard to spile a bad egg, or to kill an Oirishman!” he cried. “It’s sorry I am fer the other man. Phwat will we do wid him, Misther Frank?”

Frank hardly knew what to say to this question. But Mains answered it himself.

“Don’t worry about me, mates! Go on up to the summit, an’ I’ll wait here till ye come back.”

“Will yez?” cried Barney.

“I will: only keep an eye out for ice-holes. I hope ye’ll sight the ship, for it’s sick to death I am of this region.”

“Same here, bejabers!” cried the Celt.

So it was arranged that Mains should remain where he was until the others should return.

He was fixed in a comfortable position, and the trio went on up the steep incline. No further mishap befell them.

They stood upon the highest pinnacle. With his night-glass Frank scanned the ice fields.

Suddenly he gave a sharp exclamation.

“There she is!” he cried.

“I see her!” shouted Randall, at the same moment.

“She stands up well.”

“She is not nipped yet.”

“No—and—by Jove, she is in open water. The bay has not filled in yet, Frank.”

This was seen to be the truth. It was a gratifying fact.

Frank’s face wore a relieved expression.

“Then there is a chance for us,” he cried. “We will do the best we can.”

“Back to the Scorcher!” cried Randall. “We must lose no time. There is snow in the air, and if it comes down before we reach the ship it may spoil all our plans.”

“You are right,” agreed Frank. “Back to the Scorcher!”

Down the slippery ice hummocks they went. They found Mains where they had left him.

The sailor was upon his feet, but he was not deemed strong enough to walk back to the Scorcher.

So Barney and Randall carried him between them, while Frank went ahead with the penstock to pick the way.

They were not long in descending to the level below. Those on board the Scorcher saw them coming and shouted joyfully.

It was good news which they learned when the three explorers went aboard. There was certainly a chance for them.

In the cabin of the Scorcher an elaborate discussion was held. The ship was in sight and it would be easy to reach her on foot.

But what of the Scorcher?

How could they hope to get the machine over that mighty ice barrier? It was a sheer impossibility.

The matter finally resolved itself into two alternatives.

One was to remain aboard the Scorcher until spring, and the ice barrier should fall, and then trust to luck in getting aboard the Pearl before the northward current should take her.

Or, they might accept the “dernier ressort,” and abandon the machine.

Frank considered the matter for some while. He realized that the Scorcher had seen its best uses.

The destruction of its forward gear had shaken it up greatly, and it was hardly likely that it could be repaired to be of much further service.

The electric engines were valuable, but he could easily reproduce them. Frank did not like the idea of leaving his pet invention in the Antarctic, but on the other hand he could not see any ready way to avoid it.

What should he do?

There were many valuable effects aboard. These could in the main be transported to the ship.
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