Chapter XIV. The Rival Airship
 

Well armed, the adventurers again ventured out into the cave. But they need not have been alarmed so soon, for there were no signs of any more Indians.

"I guess that one was a stray Eskimo who took shelter in here from the storm," said Abe Abercrombie.

"Are we in the neighborhood of the Alaskan Indians and Eskimos?" inquired Ned.

"Yes, there are lots of Indians in this region," answered the old miner, "but not so many Eskimos. A few come down from th' north, but we'll see more of them, an' fewer of th' pure-blooded Indians as we get nearer th' valley of gold. Though t' my mind th' Indians an' Eskimos are pretty much alike,"

"Well, if we don't have to defend ourselves from an attack of Indians, suppose we look over the airship," proposed Tom.

"It's too dark to see very much," objected Ned. But this was overcome when Tom started up a dynamo, and brought out a portable search-light which was played upon the superstructure of the Red Cloud. The gas-bag was the only part of the craft they feared for, as the hailstones could not damage the iron or wooden structure and the planes were made in sections, and in such a manner that rents in them could easily be repaired. So, in fact, could the gas-bag be mended, but it was harder work.

"Well, she's got some bad tears in her," announced Tom as the light flashed over the big bag. "Luckily I have plenty of the material, and some cement, so I think we can mend the rents, though it will take some days. Nothing could have been better for us than this cave. We'll stay here until we're ready to go on."

"Unless the Indians drive us out," said Abe, in a low tone.

"Why, do you think there is any danger of that?" inquired Tom.

"Well, th' brown-skinned beggars aren't any too friendly," responded the old miner. "Th' one that was in here will be sure to tell th' others of some big spirit that flew into th' cave, an' they'll be crowdin' around here when th' storm's over. It may be we can fight 'em off, though."

"Maybe they won't attack us," suggested Ned, hopefully. "Perhaps we can make them believe we are spirits, and that it will be unlucky to interfere with us."

"Perhaps," admitted Abe, "though my experience has been that these Indians are a bad lot. They haven't much respect for spirits of any kind, an' they'll soon find out we're human. But then, we'll wait an' see what happens."

"And, in the meantime, have something to eat," put in Mr. Damon. "Bless my knife and fork! but the hail storm gave me an appetite."

In fact, there were few things which did not give Mr. Damon an appetite, Tom thought with a smile. But the meal idea was considered very timely, and soon the amateur cook was busy in the galley of the airship, whence speedily came savory odors. The electric lights were switched on, and the adventurers were quickly made comfortable in the cave, which so well sheltered the Red Cloud. Tom completed his inspection of the craft, and was relieved to find that while there were a number of small rents, none was very large, and all could be mended in time.

Abe Abercrombie took a look outside the cave after the meal had been served. The old miner declared that they had made a good advance on their northern journey for, though he could not tell their exact location, he knew by the character of the landscape that they had passed the boundaries of Alaska.

"A few more days' traveling at the rate we came will bring us to the Snow Mountains and the valley of gold," he said.

"Well, we won't average such speed as we did during the hail storm," said Tom. "The wind of that carried us along at a terrific pace. But we will get there in plenty of time, I think,"

"Why; is there any particular rush?" asked Ned.

"There's no telling when the Fogers may appear," answered the young inventor in a low voice. "But now we must get to work to repair damage."

The hail storm had ceased, and, with the passing of the clouds the cave was made lighter. But Tom did not depend on this, for he set up powerful searchlights, by the gleams of which he and his companions began the repairing of the torn gas-bag.

They worked all the remainder of that day, and were at it again early the next morning, making good progress.

"We can go forward again, in about two days," spoke Tom. "I want to give the cement on the patches plenty of chance to dry."

"Then I will have time to go out and make some observations, will I not?" asked Mr. Parker. "I think this cave is a very old one, and I may be able to find some evidences in it that the sea of ice is slowly working its way down from the polar regions."

"I hope you don't," whispered Ned to Tom, who shook his head dubiously as the gloomy scientist left the cave.

The weather was very cold, but, in the cavern it was hardly noticed. The adventurers were warmly dressed, and when they did get chilly from working over the airship, they had but to go into the well- heated and cozy cabin to warm themselves.

It was on the third day of their habitation in the cave, and work on putting the patches on the gas-bag was almost finished. Mr. Parker had gone out to make further observations, his previous ones not having satisfied him. Tom was on an improvised platform, putting a patch on top of the bag, when he heard a sudden yell, and some one dashed into the cavern.

"They're coming! They're coming!" cried a voice, and Tom, looking down, saw Mr. Parker, apparently in a state of great fear.

"What's coming?" demanded the young inventor, "the icebergs?"

"No--the Indians!" yelled the scientist. "A whole tribe of them is rushing this way!"

"I thought so!" cried Abe Abercrombie. "Where's my gun?" and he dashed into the airship.

Tom slid down off the platform.

"Get ready for a fight!" he gasped. "Where are you, Ned?"

"Here I am. We'd better get to the mouth of the cave, and drive 'em back from there."

"Yes. If I'd only thought, we could have blockaded it in some way. It's as big as a barn now, and they can rush us if they have a mind to. But we'll do our best!"

The adventurers were now all armed, even to Mr. Parker. The scientist had recovered from his first fright, when he spied the Indians coming over the snow, as he was "observing" some natural phenomenon. Tom, even in his excitement, noticed that the professor was curiously examining his gun, evidently more with a view to seeing how it was made, and on which principle it was operated, rather than to discover how to use it.

"If it comes to a fight, just point it at the Indians, pull the trigger, and work that lever," explained the young inventor. "It's an automatic gun."

"I see," answered Mr. Parker. "Very curious. I had no idea they worked this way."

"Oh, if I only had my electric rifle in shape!" sighed Tom, as he dashed forward at the side of Ned.

"Your electric rifle?"

"Yes, I've got a new kind of weapon--very effective. I have it almost finished. It's in the airship, but I can't use it just yet. However, maybe these repeaters will do the work."

By this time they were at the entrance of the cave, and, looking out they saw about a hundred Indians, dressed in furs, striding across the snowy plain that stretched out from the foot of the mountain in which was the cavern.

"They're certainly comin' on," observed Abe, grimly. "Git ready for 'em, boys!"

The gold-seekers lined up at the mouth of the cave, with guns in their hands. At the sight of this small, but formidable force, the Indians halted. They were armed with guns of ancient make, while some had spears, and others bows and arrows. A few had grabbed up stones as weapons.

There appeared to be a consultation going on among them, and, presently, one of the number, evidently a chief or a spokesman, gave his gun to one of his followers, and, holding his hands above his head, while he waved a rag that might have once been white, came forward.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Tom. "It's a flag of truce! He wants to talk with us I believe!"

"Bless my cartridges!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Can they speak English?"

"A little," answered Abe Abercrombie. "I can talk some of their lingo, too. Maybe I'd better see what they want."

"I guess it would be a good plan," suggested Tom, and, accordingly the old miner stepped forward. The Indian came on, until Abe motioned for him to halt.

"I reckon that's as far as it'll be healthy for you t' come," spoke Abe, grimly. "Now what do you fellers want?"

Thereupon there ensued a rapid exchange of jargon between the miner and the Indian. Abe seemed much relieved as the talk went on, until there came what seemed like a demand on the part of the dark-hued native.

"No. you don't! None of that!" muttered Abe. "If you had your way you'd take everything we have."

"What is it? What does he want?" asked Tom in a low voice.

"Why, the beggar began fair enough," replied the miner. "He said one of their number had been in the cave when a storm came an' saw a big spirit fly in, with men on its back. He ran away an' now others have come to see what it was. They don't guess it's an airship, for they've never seen one. but they know we're white folks, an' they always want things white folks have got."

"This fellow is a sort of chief, an' he says the white folks?-- that's us, you know?--have taken th' Indians' cave. He says he doesn't want t' have any trouble, an' that we can stay here as long as we like, but that we must give him an' his followers a lot of food. Says they hain't got much. Land! Those beggars would eat us out of everything we had if we'd let 'em!"

"What are you going to tell them?" inquired Mr. Damon.

"I'm goin' t' tell 'em t' go t' grass, or words t' that effect," replied Abe. "They haven't any weapons that amount t' anything, an' we can stand 'em off. Besides, we'll soon be goin' away from here; won't we, Tom?"

"Yes, but--"

"Oh, there's no use givin' in to 'em," interrupted Abe. "If you give 'em half a loaf, they want two. Th' only way is t' be firm. I'll tell 'em we can't accommodate 'em."

Thereupon he began once more to talk to the Indians in their own tongue. His words were at first received in silence, and then angry cries came from the natives. The chief made a gesture of protest.

"Well, if you don't like it, you know what you kin do!" declared Abe. "We've got th' best part of our journey before us, an' we can't give away our supplies. Go hunt food if you want it, ye lazy beggars!"

The peaceful demeanor of the Indians now turned to rage. The leader dropped the rag that had served for a flag of truce, and took back his gun.

"Look out! There's going to be trouble!" cried Tom.

"Well, we're ready for 'em!" answered Abe, grimly.

There was a moment of hesitation among the natives. Then they seemed to hold a consultation with the chief. It was over shortly. They broke into a run, and quickly advanced toward the cave. Tom and the others held their guns in readiness.

Suddenly the Indians halted. They gazed upward, and pointed to something in the air above their heads. They gave utterance to cries of fear.

"What is it; another storm coming?" asked Tom.

"Let's look," suggested Ned. He and Tom stepped to the mouth of the cave--they went outside. There was little danger from the natives now, as their attention was fixed on something else.

A moment later Tom and Ned saw what this was.

Floating in the air, almost over the cave, was a great airship--a large craft, nearly the size of the Red Cloud. Hardly able to believe the evidence of their eyes, Tom and Ned watched it. Whence had it come? Whither was it going?

"It's a triplane!" murmured Ned.

"A triplane!" repeated Tom. "Yes--it is--and it's the airship of Andy Foger! Our rivals are on our track!"

He continued to gaze upward as the triplane shot forward, the noise of the motor being plainly heard. Then, with howls of fear, the Indians turned and fled. The rival airship had vanquished them.