Only two young explorers stand in the way of the mad
revenge-the releasing of his trillions of man-sized beetles upon an utterly defenseless
Out of the south the biplane came winging back toward the camp
, a black speck against the dazzling
white of the vast
ice-fields that extended unbroken to the horizon
on every side.
It came out of the south, and yet, a hundred miles further back along the course on which it flew, it could not have proceeded in any direction
except northward. For a hundred miles south lay the south pole
, the goal
toward which the Travers Expeditions had been pressing for the better part of that year.
It had something to do with Einstein, and something to do with terrestrial magnetism
, and the variations of the south magnetic pole
, and the reason
therefore, and something to do with parallaxes and the precession of the equinoxes and other things, this search
for the pole
's exact location
. But all that was principally the affair
of the astronomer
of the party. Tommy Travers, who was now evidently on his way back, didn't give a whoop for Einstein, or any of the rest of the stuff. He had been enjoying himself after his fashion
during a year of frostbites and hard rations, and he was beginning to anticipate
the delights of the return to Broadway.
Tommy Travers leaped out of the enclosed cockpit
, which, shut off by glass from the cabin, was something like the front seat of a limousine
"Well, Captain, we followed that break for a hundred miles, and there's no ground cleft
, as you expected
," he said. "But Jim Dodd and I picked up something, and Jim seems to have gone crazy."
Through the windows of the cabin, Jim Dodd, the young archaeologist
of the party, could be seen apparently
wrestling with something that looked like a suit
. By the time Captain Storm, Jimmy, and the other members of the party had reached the cabin door, Dodd had got it open and flung himself out backward
, still hugging what he had found, and maneuvering so that he managed to fall on his back and sustain
"Say, what the-what-what's that?" gasped Storm.
Even the least scientific
minded of the party gasped in amazement
at what Dodd had. It resembled nothing so much as an enormous
beetle. As a matter
, it was an insect
, for it had the three sections that characterize
this class, but it was merely
the shell of one. Between four and five feet in height
, when Dodd stood it on end, it could now be seen to consist
of the hard exterior substance
of some huge, unknown coleopter.
"We found it at the pole
, Captain," he said. "At least, pretty near where the pole
ought to be. We ran into a current
of warm air or something. The snow had melted in places, and there were patches of bare rock. This thing was lying in a hollow
"If I didn't see it before my eyes, I'd think you crazy, Tommy," said Storm with some asperity
. "What is it, a crab?"
"Crab be damned!" shouted Jim Dodd, suddenly
recovering his faculties. "My God, Captain Storm, don't you know the difference
between an insect
and a crustacean
? This is a fossil
beetle. Don't you see the distinguishing mark of the coleoptera, those two elytra, or wing-covers, which meet in the median dorsal
line? A beetle, but with the shell of a crustacean
instead of mere
chitin. That's what led you astray
, I expect. God, what a tale
we'll have to tell when we get back to New York! We'll drop
everything else, and spend years, if need
be, looking for other specimens."
"Like fun you will!" shouted Higby, the astronomer
of the party. "Lemme tell you right
here, Dodd, nobody outside the Museum of Natural History is going to care a damn about your old fossils. What we're going to do is to march straight
to the true pole
, and spend a year taking observations and parallaxes. If Einstein's brochure
, in which he links up gravitation with magnetism
, is correct-"
"Fossil beetles!" Jim Dodd burst
out, ignoring the astronomer
. "That means that in the Tertiary Era, probably
, there existed forms of life in the antarctic continent
that have never been found elsewhere. Imagine a world in which the insect
reached a size proportionate
to the great saurians, Captain Storm! I'll wager
poor Bram discovered this. That's why he stayed behind when the Greystoke Expedition came within a hundred miles of the pole
. I'll wager
he's left a cairn somewhere with full details inside it. We've got to find it. We-"
But Jim Dodd, suddenly
realizing that the rest of the party could hardly be said to share his enthusiasm
in any marked degree
, broke off and looked sulky
"You say you found this thing pretty nearly upon the site
of the true pole
?" Captain Storm asked Tommy.
"Within five miles, I'd say, Captain. The fog was so bad that we couldn't get our directions very well."
"And please remember
, gentlemen, that we're well into March now, and likely
to have the first storms of autumn
on us any day. So let's drop
that we've got to pull together!"
Tommy Travers was the only skilled aviator
of the expedition
, which had brought two planes with it. It was a queer friendship
that had sprung up between him and Jim Dodd. Tommy, the blasé ex-Harvard man, who was known along Broadway, and had never been able
down, seemed as different
from the spectacled, scholarly
Dodd, ten years his senior
, red-haired, irascible
, and living, as Tommy put it, in the Age of Old Red Sandstone, instead of in the year 1930 A. D.
It was generally known-though the story had been officially
denied-that there had been trouble in the Greystoke Expedition of three years before. Captain Greystoke had taken the brilliant
Bram, of the Carnegie Archaeological Institute, with him, and Bram's history was a long record
It was Bram who had exploded the faked neolithic finds at Mannheim, thereby
earning the undying enmity
European savants, but brilliantly demolishing them when he smashed the so-called
Mannheim stone pitcher (valued at a hundred thousand dollars) with a pocket-axe, and caustically inquired whether neolithic man used babbit metal
rivets to fasten
on his jug
work in the investigation
of the origin
of the negrito Asiatic races had been awarded one of the Nobel prizes, and Bram had declined it in an insulting letter because he disapproved of the year's prize award
He had been a storm center
for years, embittered by long opposition
, when he joined the Greystoke Expedition for the purpose
of investigating the marine fauna
of the antarctic continent
And it was known that his presence
had nearly brought the Greystoke Expedition to the point of civil
war. Rumor said he had been deliberately abandoned
. His enemies hoped he had. The facts seemed to be, however, that in an outburst
he had walked out of camp
in a furious
snowstorm and perished. For days his body had been sought in vain
Jimmy Dodd had run foul
of Bram some years before, when Bram had published a criticism
of one of Dodd's addresses dealing with fossil
monotremes, or egg-laying mammals. In his inimitable
way, Bram had suggested that the problem
which came first, the egg or the chicken, was now seen to be linked up with the Darwinian theory
, and solved in the person of Dodd.
Nevertheless, Jimmy Dodd entertained a devoted admiration
for the memory
of the dead scientist
. He believed that Bram must have left records of inestimable
importance in a cairn before he died. He wanted to find that cairn.
And he knew, what a number of Bram's enemies knew, that the dead scientist
had been a morphine addict
. He believed that he had wandered out into the snow under the influence
of the drug.
Dodd, who shared a tent with Tommy, had raved the greater part of the night about the find.
"Well, but see here, Jimmy, suppose
these beetles did inhabit
the antarctic continent
a few million years ago, why get excited?" Tommy had asked.
"Excited?" bellowed Dodd. "It opens one of the biggest problems that science has to face. Why haven't they survived into historic
times? Why didn't they cross
into Australia, like the opossum, by the land bridge then existent between that continent
and South America? Beetles five feet in length
, and practically invulnerable
! What killed them off? Why didn't they win the supremacy
Jimmy Dodd had muttered till
he went to sleep, and he had muttered worse in his dreams. Tommy was glad that Captain Storm had given them permission
to return to the same spot next morning and look for further fossils, though his own interest
in them was of the slightest.
The dogs were being harnessed next morning when the two men hopped into the plane
. The thermometer
was unusually high for the season, for in the south polar
regions the short summer is usually at an end by March. Tommy was sweating in his furs in a temperature
well above the freezing point. The snow was crusted hard, the sky overcast
with clouds, and a wind was blowing hard out of the south, and increasing in velocity
"A bad day for starting," said Captain Storm. "Looks like one of the autumn
storms was blowing up. If I were you, I'd watch the weather
Tommy glanced at Dodd, who was huddled in the rear cockpit
, fuming at the delay
, and grinned whimsically. "I guess I can handle
her, Captain," he answered. "It's only an hour's flight to where he found that fossil
"Just as you please," said Storm curtly. He knew that Tommy's judgment
as a pilot
could always be relied upon. "You'll find us here when you return," he added. "I've counter-manded the order to march
. I don't like the look of the weather
Tommy grinned again and pressed the starter. The engine
caught and warmed up. One of the men kicked away the blocks of ice that had been placed under the skids to serve
as chocks. The plane
taxied over the crusted snow, and took off into the south.
was situated in a hollow
among the ice-mountains that rose to a height
of two or three thousand feet all around. Tommy had not dreamed how strongly the gale
was blowing until he was over the top of them. Then he realized that he was facing a tougher proposition
than he had calculated
on. The storm struck the biplane with full force
Tommy was tempted to turn back, but it was only a hundred miles, and Jimmy Dodd would give him no peace if he did so. So he put the plane
's nose resolutely
into the wind, watching his speed indicator drop
from a hundred miles per hour to eighty, sixty, forty-less.
The storm was beating up furiously
. Of a sudden the clouds broke into a deluge
of whirling snow.
In a moment
was a frozen, opaque mass
. Tommy opened it, and peered out into the biting air. He could see nothing.... The plane
, caught in the fearful cross
-currents that swirl
about the southern roof of the world, was fluttering like a leaf
in the wind. The altimeter
was dropping dangerously.
Tommy opened the throttle
to the limit
, zooming, and, like a spurred horse, the biplane shot forward
and upward. She touched five thousand, six, seven-and that, for her, was ceiling under those conditions, for a sudden tremendous
shock of wind, coming in a fierce cross
, swung her round, tossed her to and fro in the enveloping white cloud. And Tommy knew that he had the fight of his life upon his hands.
was no longer controllable. True, she responded in some sort to the controls, but all Tommy was able
to do was to keep her from going into a crazy sideslip or nose dive
as he fought with the elements. And those elements were like a devil unchained. One moment
he was dropping like a plummet
, the next he was shooting up like a rocket as a vertical blast
of air caught the plane
and tossed her like a cork
into the invisible
heavens. Then she was revolving, as if in a maelstrom
, and by degrees this rotary movement
began to predominate
Round and round went the plane
, in circles that gradually narrowed, and it was all Tommy could do to swing the stick so as to keep her from skidding or sideslipping. And as he worked desperately
at his task
Tommy began to realize
something that made him wonder
if he was not dreaming.
The snow was no longer snow, but rain-mist, rather, warm mist that had already cleared the windshield
and covered it with tiny
And that white, opaque
world into which he was looking was no longer snow but fog-the densest fog that Tommy had ever encountered.
Fog like white wool, drifting past him in fleecy flakes that looked as if they had solid substance
. Warm fog that was like balm
upon his frozen skin, but of a warmth that was impossible
within a few miles of the frozen pole
Then there came a momentary break in it, and Tommy looked down and uttered a cry of fear. Fear, because he knew that he must be dreaming.
Not more than a thousand feet beneath him he saw patches of snow, and patches of-green grass, the brightest and most verdant
green that he had ever seen in his life.
He turned round at a touch on his shoulder. Dodd was leaning over him, one hand pointing menacingly upward and onward.
"You fool," Tommy bellowed in his ear, "d'you think the south pole
lies over there? It's here! Yeah, don't you get it, Jimmy? Look down! This valley-God, Jimmy, the south pole
's a hole in the ground!"
And as he spoke
he remembered vaguely
some crank who had once insisted that the two poles were hollow
because-what was the fellow's reasoning? Tommy could not remember
But there was no longer any doubt
but that they were dropping into a hole. Not more than a mile around, which explained why neither Scott nor Amundsen had found it when they approximated to the site
of the pole
. A hole-a warm hole, up which a current
of warm air was rushing, forming the white mist that now gradually thinned as the plane
descended. The plateau
with its covering of eternal
snows loomed in a white circle high overhead. Underneath was green grass now-grass and trees!
The fog was nearly gone. The plane
responded to the controls again. Tommy pushed the stick forward
and came round in a tighter circle.
And then something happened that he had not in the least expected
. One moment
he seemed to be traveling in a complete
calm, a sort of clear funnel
with a ring of swirling fog outside it-the next he was dropping into a void
There was no air resistance-there seemed hardly any air, for he felt a choking in his throat, and a tearing at his lungs as he strove to breathe. He heard a strangled cry from Dodd, and saw that he was clutching with both hands at his throat, and his face was turning purple.
The controls went limp
in Tommy's hands. The plane
, gyrating more slowly, suddenly
nosed down, hung for a moment
in that void
, and then plunged toward the green earth
, two hundred feet below, with appalling