Chapter XXII. Jumping the Claim
 

There was a sneering look on Andy's face, and Mr. Foger, too, seemed delighted at having reached the valley of gold almost as soon as had our friends. Tom and the others looked at the means by which the bully had arrived. There were four sleds, each one drawn by seven dogs, and in charge of a dark-skinned native. On the two foremost sleds Andy and his father had ridden, while the other two evidently contained their supplies.

For a moment Andy surveyed Tom's party and then, turning to one of the native drivers, he said:

"We'll camp here. You fellows get to work and make an ice house, and some of you cook a meal--I'm hungry."

"No need build ice house," replied the native, who spoke English brokenly.

"Why not?" demanded Andy.

"Live in ice cave-plenty much ob'em--plenty much room," went on the Eskimo, indicating several of the large caverns.

"Ha! That's a good idea," agreed Mr. Foger, "Andy, my son, we have houses already made for us, and very comfortable they seem, too. We'll take up our quarters in one, and then hunt for the gold."

Mr. Foger seemed to ignore Tom and his friends. Abe Abercrombie strode forward.

"Look here, you Fogers!" he exclaimed without ceremony, "was you calculatin' on stakin' any claims here?"

"If you mean are we going to dig for gold, we certainly are," replied Andy insolently, "and you can't stop us."

"I don't know about that," went on Abe, grimly. "I ain't goin' t' say nothin' now, about th' way you stole th' map from me, an' made a copy, but I am goin t' say this, an' that is it won't be healthy fer any of you t' git in my way, or t' try t' dig on our claims!"

"We'll dig where we please!" cried Andy. "You don't own this valley!"

"We own as much of it as we care to stake out, by right of prior discovery!" declared Tom, firmly.

"And I say we'll dig where we please!" insisted Andy. "Hand me a pick," he went on to another of the natives.

"Wait jest a minute," spoke Abe calmly, as he put his little store of nuggets in the pocket of his fur coat, and drew out a big revolver. "It ain't healthy t' talk that way, Andy Foger, an' th' sooner you find that out th' better. You ain't in Shopton now, an' th' only law here is what we make for ourselves. Tom, maybe you'd better get out th' rifles, an' your electric gun, after all. It seems like we might have trouble," and Abe cooly looked to see if his weapon was loaded.

"Oh, of course we didn't mean to usurp any of your rights, my dear friend!" exclaimed Mr, Foger quickly, and he seemed nervous at the sight of the big revolver, while Andy hastily moved until he was behind the biggest of the sledge drivers. "We don't want to violate any of your rights," went on Mr. Foger. "But this valley is large, and do I understand that you claim all of it?"

"We could if we wanted to," declared Abe stoutly; "but we'll be content with three-quarter of it, seein' we was here fust. If you folks want t' dig fer gold, go over there," and he pointed to a spot some distance away.

"We'll dig where we please!" cried Andy.

"Oh, will you?" and there was an angry light in Abe's eyes. "I guess, Tom, you'd better git--"

"No! No! My son is wrong--he is too hasty," interposed Mr. Foger. "We will go away--certainly we will. The valley is large enough for both of us--just as you say. Come, Andy!"

The bully seemed about to refuse, but a look at Abe's angry face and a sight of Mr. Damon coming from the cave where the airship was, with a rifle, for the eccentric man had hastened to get his weapon-- this sight calmed Andy down. Without further words he and his father got back on their sleds, and were soon being driven off to where a large ice cave loomed up, about a mile away.

"Good riddance," muttered the miner, "now we kin go on diggin' wthout bein' bothered by that little scamp."

"I don't know about that," spoke Tom, shaking his head dubiously. "There's always trouble when Andy Foger's within a mile. I'm afraid we haven't seen the last of him."

"He'd better not come around here ag'in," declared Abe. "Queer, how he should turn up, jest when I made a big strike."

"They must have come on all the way from where their airship was wrecked, by means of dog sleds," observed Ned, and the others agreed with him. Later they learned that this was so; that after the accident to the Anthony, the crew had refused to proceed farther north, and had gone back. But Mr. Foger had hired the natives with the dog teams, and, by means of the copy of the map and with what knowledge his Eskimos had, had reached the valley of gold.

"We have certainly struck it rich," went on Abe, as he went back to where he had dug the hole. "Now we'd better all begin prospectin' here, for it looks like a big deposit. We'll stake out a large enough claim to take it all in. I guess Mr. Parker can do that, seein' as how he knows about such things."

The scientist agreed to do this part of the work, it being understood that all the gold discovered would be shared equally after the expenses of the trip had been paid.

Feverishly Abe and the others began to dig. They did not come upon such a rich deposit as the miner had found, but there were enough nuggets picked up to prove that the expedition would be very successful.

No more attention was paid to the Fogers, but through the telescope Tom could see that the bully and his father had made a camp in one of the ice caves, and that both were eagerly digging in the frozen surface of the valley.

Before night several thousand dollars' worth of gold had been taken out by our friends. It was stored in the airship, and then, after suppers the craft's searchlight was taken off, and placed in such a position in front of the cave of ice so that the beams would illuminate the claim staked out by Tom and the others.

"We'll stand watch an' watch," suggested Abe, "but I don't think them Fogers will come around here ag'in."

They did not, and the night passed peacefully. The next day our friends were again at work digging for gold. So were the Fogers, as could be observed through the glass, but it was impossible to see whether they got any nuggets.

The gold seemed to be in "pockets," and that day the ones in the vicinity of the strike first made by Abe were cleaned out.

"We'll have to locate some new 'pockets,'" said the miner, and the adventurers scattered over the frozen plain to look for other deposits of the precious metal.

Tom and Ned were digging together not far from one another. Suddenly Ned let out a joyful cry.

"Strike anything?" asked Tom.

"Something rich," answered the bank clerk. He lifted from a hole in the ground a handful of the golden pebbles.

"It's as good as Abe's was!" exclaimed Tom. "We must stake it out at once, or the Fogers may jump it. Come on, we'll go back and tell Abe, and get Mr. Parker and Mr. Damon over here."

The three men were some distance away, and there was no sign of the Fogers. Tom and Ned hurried back to where their friends were, leaving their picks and shovels on the frozen ground.

The good news was soon told, and, with some stakes hastily made from some extra wood carried on the airship, the little party hastened back to where Tom and Ned had made their strike.

As they emerged from behind a big hummock of ice they saw, standing over the holes which the lads had dug, Andy Foger and his father! Each one had a rifle, and there was a smile of triumph on Andy's face!

"What are you doing here?" cried Tom, the hot blood mounting to his cheeks.

"We've just staked out a claim here," answered the bully.

"And you deserted it," put in Mr. Foger smoothly. "I think your mining friend will tell you that we have a right to take up an abandoned claim."

"But we didn't abandon it!" declared Tom. "We only went away to get the stakes."

"The claim was abandoned, and we have 'jumped' it," went on Mr. Foger, and he cocked his rifle. "I need hardly tell you that possession is nine points of the law, and that we intend to remain. Andy, is your gun loaded?"

"Yes, pa."

"I--I guess they've got us--fer th' time bein'," murmured Abe, as he motioned to Tom and the others to come away. "Besides they've got guns, an' we haven't--but wait," added the miner, mysteriously. "I haven't played all my tricks yet."