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Книга The Polar Treasure. Страница 29

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He was now face to face with the liner's strong room.

He took one look at the great vault. He dropped the girl.

The treasure trove was empty!

* * *

THE YOUNG woman picked herself up from the floor.

"I'm sorry," Doc apologized. He pointed at the strong room. "Has that been empty long?"

"Ever since I can remember."

"Who got the gold, and the diamonds?"

She was plainly surprised. "What gold and diamonds?"

Doc smiled dryly. "You've got me! But fifty millions dollars' worth of gold and diamonds is at the bottom of this mess. If it was carried aboard this liner, it would have been stored in the strong room. It's not there. So that means — Hm-m-m!" He shifted his great shoulders. "I'm not sure what it means.

He glanced about. Here seemed to be as good a spot as any to linger. It would take the Eskimos some minutes to find them.

"You started to tell me why the Innuits attacked me," he prompted the girl. "What was the reason?"

"I'll tell you my story from the first — I think there's time," she said swiftly. Her voice was pleasant to listen to. "My mother and myself escaped the wholesale slaughter of the others aboard the Oceanic, because we slid overboard by a rope. We were apart from the other passengers, hunting father — he had disappeared mysteriously the day before.

"We hid on land. We saw the mutineers depart over the ice, hauling the fur-wrapped figure of a man on a sledge. We did not realize until it was too late that the man they hauled was my father."

She stopped. She bit her lips. Her eyes swam in moisture. They were very big, enthralling blue eyes.

Doc made an impatient gesture for her to go on. "Oh — I'm neglecting to tell you it was the crew who murdered those aboard the liner. Men named Ben O'Gard, Dynamite Smith, and Keelhaul de Rosa, were ring leaders — "

"I know all that," Doc interposed. "Tell your side of it."

"My mother and I got food from the liner after the mutineers had gone," she continued. "We built a crude hut inland. We didn't — we couldn't stay on the liner, although it was solidly aground. The mutineers might return. And all those murdered bodies — it was too horrible. We couldn't have borne the sight — "

"When did the Eskimos come?" Doc urged her along.

"Within a month after the mutineers had departed. This spit of land was their home. They had been away on a hunting trip."

She managed a faint, trembling smile. "The Eskimos treated us wonderfully. They thought we were good white spirits who had brought them a great supply of wood and iron, in the shape of the liner. They looked upon myself and my mother as white goddesses, and treated us as such — but refused to let us leave. In a way, we were prisoners. Then, a few days ago — the white men came!"

"Oh, oh!" Doc interjected. "I begin to see the light."

"These men were part of the mutineer crew," Roxey Vail said. "Keelhaul de Rosa was in command. They came in a plane. They visited this wrecked liner. After that, they seemed very angry."

"Imagine their mortification" — Doc chuckled — "when they found the treasure gone!"

"They gave the Eskimos liquor," Roxey Vail went on. "And they gave them worse stuff, something that made them madmen — a white powder!"

"Dope — the rats!" Doc growled.

"My mother and I became frightened," said the girl. "We retreated to a tiny hideaway we had prepared against just such an emergency. None of the Eskimos know where it is.

"An hour or so ago, I came to the liner. We needed food. There are supplies still aboard, stuff preserved by the intense cold.

"I heard the Eskimos come aboard. I spied on them. They had a white man prisoner. A white man with hair like cotton. There was something strange about this man. It was as though I had seen him before."

"You were very small when you were marooned here, Weren't you?" Doc inquired softly.

"Yes. Only a few years old. Anyway, the Eskimos talked of killing this white-haired man. I do not quite understand why, but it filled me with such horror I went completely mad. I screamed. Then you — you came."

"I heard your scream." Doc eyed her steadily. Then he spoke again.

"The white-haired man was your father," he said.

Without a sound, Roxey Vail passed out. Doc caught her.

* * *

AS HE stood there, with the soft, limp form of the exquisitely beautiful girl in his arm, Doc wondered if it could have been the fact that white-haired Victor Vail had been murdered which had caused her swoon. She was not the type of young woman, from what he had seen of her, who fainted easily.

He heard the search of the Eskimos drawing near. They did not have sense enough to hunt quietly. Or perhaps they wanted to flush him out like a wild animal, so he wouldn't be in their midst before they knew it.

Doc quitted the strong room. He sped down a passage, bearing the unconscious girl in his arms. He was soundless as a wraith. He came to a large clothes hamper. It was in perfect shape. It still held some crumpled garments.

Doc dumped the clothes out. The hamper held Roxey Vail nicely as the big bronze man lowered her into it. He closed the lid. The hamper was of open wickerwood. It would conceal her, yet she could breathe through it.

Directly toward the oncoming Innuits, Doc strode.

His hand drew a small case from inside his parka. With the contents of this, he made his preparations.

He stepped into a cabin and waited.

The first Eskimo passed. Like a striking serpent, Doc's bronze hand darted from the cabin door. His finger tips barely stroked the greasy cheek of the Innuit. Yet the man instantly fell on his face!

Doc flashed out of the cabin. His fingers touched the bare skin of a second Eskimo, another — another. He got five of them before the fat fellows could show anything like action.

All five men who felt Doc's eerie touch seemed to go suddenly to sleep on their feet.

It was the same brand of magic Doc had used on the gangsters in New York City.

Murderous Eskimo with his harpoon, or pasty-cheeked New York rat, with his fists full of high-power automatics — both are the same breed. Doc's magic worked in the same fashion.

The Innuits saw their fellows toppling mysteriously. They realized the very touch of this mighty bronze man was disastrous. They forgot all about fighting. They fled.

Ignominiously, they piled out on deck. Rigging tripped them. After the fashion of superstitious souls, the instant they turned their back on danger, their peril seemed to grow indescribably greater. They were like scared boys running from a graveyard at night — each jump made them want to go faster.

Two even committed unwilling suicide by leaping over the rail of the lost liner to the hard glacier far below.

In a matter of minutes, the last Innuit was sucked away into the screaming blizzard.

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