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Книга The Polar Treasure. Содержание - Chapter 14 CORPSE BOAT

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SOME MEN acquainted with the arctic regions maintain the polar bear will flee from a human being, rather than attack. Others cite instances when the bruins were known to have taken the aggressive.

The truth of the matter is probably covered by the words of a certain famous arctic explorer.

"It depends on the bear," he said.

The bear Doc had met was the attacking type.

It erected on its rear legs. It was far taller than Doc. It flung monster forepaws out to inclose Doc's bronze form. A blow from one of those paws would have crushed down a bull buffalo.

Twisting, half ducking, Doc evaded the paws. His sinewy fingers buried in the fur of the polar monster. A jerk, a lightening flip, put him behind the bear.

Doc's fist swung with explosive force. It seemed to sink inches in the fat flesh of the animal. Doc had struck at a nerve center where his vast knowledge told him there was a chance of stunning the monster.

Bruin was not accustomed to this style of fighting. This small man-thing had looked like an easy quarry. The bear snarled, showing hideous fangs. With a speed that was astounding, considering the size and weight of the beast, it whirled.

Doc had fastened himself to the back of the animal. He clung there solely by the pinching power of his great leg muscles. Both his arms were free.

He struck the polar bear just back of the small head. He slugged again, hitting a more vulnerable spot.

Snarling horribly, the terror of the northern wastes sank to the glacier. The animal had met more than its match.

Doc could have escaped easily. But he did not. They needed food and a sleeping robe. Here were both. Doc's metallic fists pistoned a half dozen more stunning blows. Slavering and snarling, the bear stretched out.

Doc's mighty right arm slipped over the bear's head, just back of the ears. It jerked. A dull pop sounded. A great trembling seized all the great, white monster. The fight was over.

Silence fell, except for the moan of the blizzard.

Was it a low, mellow, trilling sound, remindful of the song of some exotic bird, which mingled with the whine of the wind? Or was it but the melodious note of the gale rushing through the neighboring pinnacles of rock and ice?

A listener could not have told.

Doc's strange sound sometimes came when he had accomplished some tremendous feat. Certainly, there was ample cause for it now.

No man, bare handed, had ever vanquished a more frightful foe.

Doc skidded the huge, hairy animal to a near-by pock in the bleak stone. He searched until he had found boulders enough to cover the cache of potential food and bedding. He did not want other bears to rob him.

He now hurried to get Victor Vail.

He reached the crevasse where he had left the violinist.

Ten feet from it, a gruesome red sprinkling rouged the ice. Blood! It no longer steamed. It was frozen solid, crusted with flakes of snow.

Scoring in the ice, already inlaid with snow, denoted a furious fight.

No sign was to be seen of Victor Vail!

Chapter 14


LIKE A hound in search of a scent, Doc set off. He ran in widening circles. He found faint marks that might have been a trail. They led inland. They were lost beyond the following within two rods.

Doc positioned himself in the lee of a boulder the size of a box car. Standing there, sheltered a little from the blizzard, he considered.

An animal would have devoured Victor Vail on the spot! There had been no bits of cloth scattered about, no gory patches on the ice, such as certainly would have accompanied such a cannibalistic feast.

Something else loomed large in Doc's mind, too. The odor his supersensitive nostrils had detected at first!

Doc's mighty bronze form came as near a shiver as it ever came.

There had been a bestial quality about that scent. Yet it had hardly been that of an animal! Nor was it human, either. It had been a revolting tang, reminiscent of carrion.

One thing he began to realize with certainty. It had not been the polar bear!

Doc shrugged. He stepped out into the squealing blizzard. Inland, he journeyed.

The terrain sloped upward. The glacier became but scattered smears of ice. Even the snow did not linger, so great was the wind velocity.

Doc crossed a ridge.

From now on, the way led down. Progress was largely a matter of defying the propulsion of the gale.

Snow was drifting here. This was a menace, for it covered crevasses, a fall into which meant death. Doc trod cautiously.

In a day or two, perhaps in a week, when the blizzard had blown itself out, the haze above would disperse, and let the everlasting sun of the arctic summer beat down upon the snow. This would become slush. Cold would freeze it. A little more would be added to the thickness of the glacier. For thus are glaciers made.

Warily, Doc sidled along. He let the wind skid him ahead when he dared. Had he been a man addicted to profanity, he would have been consigning all glaciers to a place where their coolness probably would be a welcome change.

A hideous cracking and rumbling began to reach his ears. He could hear it plainly when he laid his head to the ice under foot.

It was the noise of the icepack piling on the shore. This uncharted land must be but a narrow ridge projecting from the polar seas.

Doc neared the shore.

An awesome sound brought him up sharp. It split through the banshee howl of the blizzard. It put the hairs On Doc's nape on edge.

A woman's shrieking!

* * *

DOC SPED for the sound. The snow collapsed under him unexpectedly. Only a flip of his Herculean body kept him from dropping to death on the snaggled icy bottom of the wide crevasse far below.

He ran on as though he had not just shaken the clammy claw of the Reaper.

A white mass hulked up before his searching golden eyes. It looked like a gigantic iceberg cast upon the shore. But it had a strangely man-made look.

A ship!

The ice-crusted hulk of the lost liner Oceanic!

Doc raced along the hull. It canted over his head, for the liner was obviously heeled slightly. A hundred feet, he ran. Another!

He came to an object which might have been a long icicle hanging down from the rail of the liner. But he knew it was an ice-coated chain. The links were a procession of knobs.

These knobs enabled Doc to climb. But the mounting was not easy. A greased pole would have been a stairway in comparison. The blizzard moaned and hooted and sought to pick him bodily from his handhold.

The woman was no longer shrieking.

Doc topped the rail. A scene of indescribable confusion met his eyes. Capstans, hatches, bitts, all were knots of ice. The rigging had long ago been torn down by the polar elements. Masts and wire-rope stays and cargo booms made a tangle on the deck. Ice had formed on these.

The forward deck, it was. A frozen, hideous wilderness! The gale whined in it like a host of ravenous beasts.

Doc reached a hatch. It defied even his terrific strength. The years had cemented it solidly.

The deck did not slope as much as he had thought. It was not quite level, though. He glided for the stern.

An open companion lured him. Snow was pouring in. Half inside, he saw the floor was seven feet deep in ice — snow which had formed a glacial mass through the years.

Doc tried another companion. The door was closed. It resisted his shove. His fist whipped a blow which traveled a scant foot. The door caved as though dynamite had let loose against it.

Doc pitched inside.

A wave of pungent aroma met his nostrils.

It was the smell of the thing which had stalked them on the glacier! It was horrible — yet there was a flowerlike quality to it.

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