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Книга The Polar Treasure. Страница 20

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Johnny's words carried awful portent Johnny knew the polar regions. It was a part of his profession. And if he said their situation was bad — it was really bad!

"We might as well realize we're up against it," Doc told them, "and stop talking about it."

"The racket scared the walrus off the floe," Long Tom grumbled, his unhealthy-looking features drawing deeper into the hood of his fur parka, like the head of a turtle into its shell. "We're without grub!"

Ham whipped his bearskin trousers vigorously with his sword cane. "I've heard of Eskimos living quite a while by eating their clothes," he said.

"We won't need to start on our wardrobe for a while:' Doc smiled. "We have concentrated rations for about a month."

"Where?" the others yelled in chorus.

"In the bundle I brought along," Doc replied.

* * *

THE PARTY retraced their steps to secure the all-important bundle Doc had cached in the ice crevice.

There was no excitement now. They had leisure to realize the full peril of their predicament.

The deathlike quiet of the polar wastes had enveloped them. The stillness was as of a tomb.

From time to time, the awful silence was shattered by a crashing roll of sound like thunder. These noises would start with a report sharp and loud as a cannon crack, and there would follow an increasing volley until the very ice under their feet seemed to quake.

This was the awesome voice of the ice waste — it was simply cracks opening in the floes.

"Nice music!" Ham shuddered.

Thoughts came to them of Renny and Monk, of the death both giants seemed certain to have suffered. This depressed them.

There was a quality of horror in the grisly spells of silence. It was as though they existed in some weird, frozen habitat of lost souls. They found themselves listening with an eagerness near pathetic for the sporadic cannonade of the ice — then shivering when the sound did come.

Only big bronze Doc Savage showed no emotion. He swung along easily, keeping his feet on the slick iceberg under foot as surely as though his mukluks were arms with steel spikes. Often, he waited for his three friends to overhaul him.

The mighty bronze man seemed to sense that his very presence offered a bolster to the courage of Long Tom, Ham, and Johnny. So he remained near them, although the best pace they could manage was but the speed of a snail compared to the swiftness with which Doc could have reached the cache.

They secured the bundle from the crevice in the ice.

Doc let his men squat around it. They went to work on the wrappings with cold-stiffened fingers. The more they kept busy, the less they would brood over their fearsome predicament.

Suddenly, Ham gave a start — stopped fiddling with the knots.

To his ears had come the low, exotic trilling sound which was part of Doc. So low, so nearly unreal was the mellow note that it was almost lost in the fearful silences about them. It might have been the voice of some fantastic sprite of this domain of cold.

Ham grasped his sword cane. Johnny and Long Tom became rigid as the ice hummocks about them.

Doc's trilling slipped away into nothingness in a manner as intangible as its coming.

For a long minute, silence fairly reeked. It was the kind of quiet, this dead apathy of the arctic, which you momentarily expected to explode.

Came a new sound! Doc had heard it before. That was what had surprised him into setting up his trilling note. Now Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham also heard it distinctly.

A clicking! A clicking as of dice rattled together in a palm!

The noise which had haunted Victor Vail down through the years! The noise which marked the presence of Ben O'Gard's man!

"That, brothers," Doc Savage said softly, "is one of the last things I expected to hear at this spot!"

* * *

WITH THE final word, Doc glided forward. The others raced after him. But they were left behind as though their feet were frozen in the ice pack.

Doc Savage was lost to their sight.

When they overhauled him, Doc was standing over a human figure that sprawled in a steaming lake of scarlet.

"Dynamite Smith!" Ham clipped. "The bird I shot." Doc and his three friends now exchanged understanding glances.

An uncontrollable palsy had seized Dynamite Smith's jaws. They rattled together — made the distinctive clicking.

Dynamite Smith was the one of Ben O'Gard's villains who had kept track of Victor Vail down through the years.

"I don't understand it!" Long Tom muttered. "When he bent over me that night in my bunk, his teeth clicked. But we have talked with him many times since then, aboard the submarine, and his teeth made no sound."

"I see the explanation of that — now," Doc replied. "Dynamite Smith has been using narcotics almost steadily throughout the submarine voyage."

"You mean — "

"That the dope quiets his jaws." Doc explained. "In other words, every addict gets the heebie-jeebies when deprived of his narcotic. When Dynamite Smith is without it, his jaws shake. When he has it, they don't."

The wounded man was conscious. He rolled his eyes.

Doc Savage now examined the man's wound. But Ham had made an accurate shot.

"You're doomed," Doc told Dynamite Smith without emotion.

The dying man's lips moved. Doc was forced to bend close before even his keen ears could decipher the fellow's gaspings.

"Ben O'Gard an' my mateys went off an' left me here, huh?" Dynamite Smith said.

Emotion rarely showed on Doc Savage's handsome bronze face. But it was in evidence now.

"Was Ben O'Gard on the Helldiver?" he demanded. Dynamite Smith did not answer the question. His glazing eyes rolled slowly until they focused upon Long Tom.

"I was huntin' the map when yer grabbed the black wig offn my head that night," he whispered feebly, "After I come near gettin' caught, Ben O'Gard hisself done the huntin'. It was him found the map an' swiped it from yer."

"Which one of the Helldiver crew is Ben O'Gard?" Doc demanded.

An evil, vicious sneer distorted the blue lips of the dying man. His whisper gurgled in his throat.

"We fooled the crew of ye plenty neat," he labored.

It seemed he would never get the next words past his stiffening throat muscles. The villainous sneer spread upon his lips.

"Ben O'Gard is Cap'n McCluskey!" he coughed.

* * *

ONE STARTLED glance Doc and his three friends exchanged. When they looked back at Dynamite Smith, the man was dead.

"Ben O'Gard and Captain McCluskey — the same person!" Ham muttered. "For cryin' out loud!"

Doc Savage's strong lips warped slightly.

"It seems, brothers, that we kindly financed the expedition of our enemies to get the treasure," he said dryly. "No doubt Ben O'Gard — we'll call him that from now on, instead of Captain McCluskey — no doubt Ben O'Gard did take some of the treasure from the Oceanic when he left the liner more than fifteen years ago. He used that money to fit up the Helldiver. But his funds were not sufficient. He advertised for a sucker to back him. Imagine his pleasure when we presented ourselves!"

Ham groaned loudly.

"It was me called your attention to that newspaper story about the under-the-ice submarine," he berated himself. "What a mess I got us into!"

Doc's low laughter danced merrily among the ice hummocks.

"Forget it, Ham. If the fault belongs anywhere, it's on my shoulders. Let us go back and open that bundle of mine."

They retraced their steps to the bundle. The sealskin thong was untied. The waterproof covering was removed.

"Hey!" barked Johnny in surprise. "This wrapper is a small silk tent!"

"It's more than a tent, also," Doc informed him. "With it in the package is a collapsible frame of alloy metal. Expanded, and with that silk tent stretched over it, the frame becomes a boat. There are web paddles which can be attached to our rifle barrels for propulsion."

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