Chapter XVIII. A Fight with Musk Oxen
 

"Can I help you, Tom? What's to be done?" demanded Ned Newton, as he rushed to where his chum was yanking on various levers and gear wheels.

"Wait a minute!" gasped the young inventor. "I want to throw on the storage battery, and that will give us some light. Then we can see what We are doing." An instant later the whole ship was illuminated, and those aboard her felt calmer. Still the Red Cloud continued to sink.

"Can't we do something?" yelled Ned. "Start the propellers, Tom!"

"No, I'll use the gas. I can't see where we're heading for, as the searchlight is out of business. We may be in the midst of a lot of bergs. We were flying too low. Just start the gas generating machine."

Ned hurried to obey this order. He saw Tom's object. With the big bag full of gas the airship would settle gently to earth as easily as though under the command of the propellers and wing planes.

In a few minutes the hissing of the machine told that the vapor was being forced into the bag and a little later the downward motion of the ship was checked. She moved more and more slowly toward the earth, until, with a little jar, she settled down, and came to rest. But she was on such an uneven keel that the cabin was tilted at an unpleasant angle.

"Bless my salt-cellar!" cried Mr. Damon. "We are almost standing on our heads!"

"Better that than not standing at all," replied Tom, grimly. "Now to see what the damage is."

He scrambled from the forward door of the cabin, no easy task considering how it was tilted, and the others followed him. It was too dark to note just how much damage had been inflicted, but Tom was relieved to see, as nearly as he could judge, that it was confined to the forward part of the front platform or deck of the ship. The wooden planking was split, but the extent of the break could not be ascertained until daylight. The searchlight connections had been broken by the collision, and it could not be used.

"Now to take a look at the machinery," suggested the young inventor, when he had walked around his craft. "That is what I am worried about more than about the outside."

But, to their joy, they found only a small break in the motor. That was what caused it to stop, and also put the dynamo out of commission.

"We can easily fix that," Tom declared.

"Bless my coffee-spoon!" cried Mr. Damon, who seemed to be running to table accessories in his blessings. Perhaps it was because it was so near supper time. "Bless my coffee-spoon! But how did it happen?"

"We were running too low," declared Tom. "I had forgotten that we were likely to get among tall mountain peaks at any moment, and I set the elevation rudder too low. It was my fault. I should have been on the lookout. We must have struck the mountain of ice a glancing blow, or the result would have been worse than it is. We'll come out of it all right, as it is."

"We can't do anything to-night," observed Ned.

"Only eat," put in Mr. Damon, "and we'll have to take our coffee cups half full, for everything is so tilted that it's like topsy- turvey land. It makes me fairly dizzy!"

But he forgot this in the work of getting a meal, and, though it was prepared under considerable difficulties, at last it was ready.

Bright and early the next morning Tom was up making another inspection of his ship. He found that even if the forward deck was not repaired they could go on, as soon as the motor was in shape, but, as they had some spare wood aboard, it was decided to temporarily repair the smashed platform.

It was cold work, even wearing their thick garments; but, after laboring until their fingers were stiff from the frost, Ned hit on the idea of building a big fire of some evergreen trees near where the ship lay.

"Say, that's all right!" declared Tom, as the warmth of the blaze made itself felt. "We can work better, now!"

The Red Cloud was tilted on some rough and uneven ground, in among some little hills. On either side arose big peaks, the one in particular that they had hit towering nearly fifteen thousand feet.

Everything was covered with snow and ice, and, in fact, the ice was so thick on the top of the mountains that the crags resembled icebergs rather than stony peaks. The crash of the airship had brought down a great section of this solid rock-ice.

"Do you think we are anywhere near the valley of gold?" asked Mr. Damon that afternoon, when the work was nearly finished.

"It's somewhere in this vicinity." declared Abe. "Me an' my partner passed through jest such a place as this on our way there. I wouldn't wonder but what it wasn't more than a few hundred miles away, now."

"Then we'll soon be there," said Tom. "I'll start in the morning. I could go to-night, but there are a few adjustments I want to make to the motor, and, besides, I think it will be safer, now that we are among these peaks, to navigate in daylight, or at least with the searchlight going. I should have thought of that before."

"Then, if you're not going to start away at once," spoke Mr. Parker, "I think I will walk around a bit, and make some observations. I think we are now in the region where we may expect a movement of the ice. I want to test it, and see if it is traveling in a southerly direction. If it is not now, it will soon be doing that, and the coating of ice may reach even as far as New York."

"Pleasant prospect," murmured Tom. Then he said aloud: "Well if you are going, Mr. Parker, we'll be with you. I'll be glad of the chance to stretch my legs, and what more remains to be done, can be finished in the morning."

Mr. Damon declared that he did not relish a tramp over the ice and snow, and would stay in the warm cabin, but Tom and Ned, with Abe and Mr. Parker started off. The scientist pointed out what he claimed were evidences of the impending movement of the ice, while Abe explained to the lads how the Alaskan Indians of that neighborhood hunted and fished, and how they made huts of blocks of ice.

"We are nearing th' Arctic circle," the old miner said, "and we'll soon be among th' most savage of the Eskimo tribes."

"Is there any hunting around here?" asked Ned.

"Yes, plenty of musk ox" answered Abe.

"I wish I'd brought my gun along and could see one of the big beasts now," went on Ned. He looked anxiously around, but no game was in sight. After a little farther tramp over the icy expanse they all declared that they had seen enough of the dreary landscape, and voted to return to the ship.

As they neared their craft Tom saw several large, shaggy black objects standing in a line on the path the adventurers had come over a little while before. The objects were between the gold-seekers and the Red Cloud.

"What in the world are those?" asked the young inventor.

"Look to me like black stones," spoke Ned.

"Stones?" cried Abe. "Look out, boys, those are musk oxen; and big ones, too! There's a lot of 'em! Make for the ship! If they attack us we're goners!"

The boys and Mr. Parker needed no second warning. Turning so as to rush past the shaggy creatures, the four headed toward the ship.

But if our friends expected to reach it unmolested they were disappointed. No sooner had they increased their pace than the oxen, with snorts of rage, darted forward. The animals may have imagined they were about to be attacked, and determined to make the first move.

"Here they come!" yelled Ned.

"Sprint for it!" cried Tom.

"Oh, if I only had my gun!" groaned Abe.

It was hard work running over the ice and snow, hampered as they were with their heavy fur garments. They soon realized this, and the pace was telling on them. They were now near to the ship, but the savage creatures still were between them and the craft.

"Try around the other way!" directed Tom, They changed their direction, but the oxen also shifted their ground, and with loud bellows of rage came on, shaking their shaggy heads and big horns, while the hair, hanging down from their sides and flanks, dragged in the snow.

"Right at 'em! Run and yell!" advised the young inventor. "Maybe we can scare 'em!"

They followed his advice. Yelling like Indians the four rushed straight for the animals. For a moment only the creatures halted. Then, bellowing louder than ever they rushed straight at Tom and the others.

The largest of the oxen, with a sudden swerve, made for Mr. Parker, who was slightly in the lead off to one side. In an instant the scientist was tossed high in the air, falling in a snow bank.

"Mr. Damon! Mr. Damon!" yelled Tom, frantically. "Get a gun and shoot these beasts!"

The young inventor and his two companions had come to a halt. The oxen also stopped momentarily. Suddenly Mr. Damon appeared on the deck of the airship. He held two rifles. Laying one down he aimed the other at the ox which was rushing at the prostrate Mr. Parker. The eccentric man fired. He hit the beast on the flank, and, with a bellow of rage it turned.

"Now's our time!" yelled Tom. "Head for the ship, I'll get my electric gun!"

"We can't leave Mr. Parker!" yelled Abe.

But the scientist had arisen, and was running toward the Red Cloud. He did not seem to be much hurt. Mr. Damon fired again, hitting another beast, but not mortally.

Once more the herd of shaggy creatures came on, but the adventurers were now almost at the ship, on the deck of which stood Mr. Damon, firing as fast as he could work the lever and pull the trigger.