Chapter XXIII. Attacked by Natives
 

To state that Tom and his friends were angry at the trick the Fogers had played on them would be putting it mildly. There was righteous indignation in their hearts, and, as for the young inventor he felt that much blame was attached to him for his neglect in not remaining on guard at the place of the lucky strike while Ned went to call the others.

"I guess Andy must have been spying on us," spoke Ned, "or he would never have known when to rush up just as he did; as soon as we left."

"Probably," admitted Tom, bitterly.

"But, bless my penholder!" cried Mr. Damon. "Can't we do something, Abe? Won't the law--?"

"There ain't any law out here, except what you make yourself," said the miner. "I guess they've got us for th' time bein'."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Tom, detecting a gleam of hope in Abe's tone.

"Well, I mean that I think we kin git ahead of 'em. Come on back to th' ship, an' we'll talk it over."

They walked away, leaving Andy and his father in possession of the rich deposits of gold, and that it was much richer even then than the hole Abe had first discovered was very evident. The two Fogers were soon at work, digging out the yellow metal with the pick and shovels Tom and Ned had so thoughtlessly dropped.

"What little law there is out here they've got on their side," went on Abe, "an' they've got possession, too, which is more. Of course we could go at 'em in a pitched battle, but I take it you don't want any bloodshed?" and he looked at Tom.

"Of course not," replied the lad quickly, "but I'd like to meet Andy alone, with nothing but my fists for a little while," and Tom's eyes snapped.

"So would I," added Ned.

"Perhaps we can find another pocket of gold better than that one," suggested Mr. Damon.

"We might," admitted Abe, "but that one was ours an' we're entitled to it. This valley is rich in gold deposits, but you can't allers put your hand on 'em. We may have t' hunt around for a week until we strike another. An', meanwhile, them Fogers will be takin' our gold! It's not to be borne! I'll find some way of drivin' 'em out. An' we've got t' do it soon, too."

"You mean if we don't that they'll get all the gold?" asked Mr. Damon.

"No, I mean that soon it will be th' long night up here, an' we can't work. We'll have t' go back, an' I don't want t' go back until I've made my pile."

"Neither do any of us, I guess," spoke Tom, "but there doesn't seem to be any help for it."

They discussed several plans on reaching the ship, but none seemed feasible without resorting to force, and this they did not want to do, as they feared there might be bloodshed. When night closed in they could see the gleam of a campfire, kindled by the Foger party, at the gold-pocket, from bits of the scrubby trees that grew in that frigid clime.

"They're going to stay on guard," announced Tom. "We can't get it away from them to-night."

Though Abe had spoken of some plan to regain the advantage the Fogers had of them, the old miner was not quite ready to propose it. All the next day he seemed very thoughtful, while going about with the others, seeking new deposits of gold. Luck did not seem to be with them. They found two or three places where there were traces of the yellow pebbles, but in no very great quantity.

Meanwhile the Fogers were busy at the pocket Ned had located. They seemed to be taking out much of the precious metal.

"And it all ought to be ours," declared Tom, bitterly.

"Yes, and it shall be, too!" suddenly exclaimed. Abe. "I think I have a plan that will beat 'em."

"What is it?" asked Tom.

"Let's get back to the ship, and I'll tell you," said Abe. "We can't tell when one of their natives might be sneakin' in among these ice caves, an' they understand some English. They might give my scheme away."

In brief Abe's plan, as he unfolded it in the cabin of the Red Cloud was this:

They would divide into two parties, one consisting of Ned and Tom, and the other of the three men. The latter, by a circuitous route, would go to the ice caves where the Fogers had established their camp. It was there that the Indians remained during the day, while Andy and his father labored at the gold pocket, for, after the first day when they had had the natives aid them, father and son had worked alone at the hole, probably fearing to trust the Indians. At night, though either Andy or his father remained on guard, with one or two of the dusky-skinned dog drivers.

"But we'll work this trick before night," said Abe. "We three men will get around to where the natives are in the ice cave. We'll pretend to attack them, and raise a great row, firing our guns in the air, and all that sort of thing, an' yellin' t' beat th' band. Th' natives will yell, too, you can depend on that."

"Th' Fogers will imagine we are tryin' t' git away with their sleds an' supplies, an' maybe their gold, if they've got it stored in th' ice cave. Naturally Andy or his father will run here, an' that will leave only one on guard at th' mine. Then Tom an' Ned can sneak up. Th' two of 'em will be a match for even th' old Foger, if he happens t' stay, an' while Tom or Ned comes up in front, t' hold his attention, th' other can come up in back, an' grab his arms, if he tries t' shoot. Likely Andy will remain at th' gold hole, an' you two lads kin handle him, can't you?"

"Well, I guess!" exclaimed Tom and Ned together.

The plan worked like a charm. Abe, Mr. Damon and Mr. Parker raised a great din at the ice cave where the Foger natives were. The sound carried to the hole where Andy and his father were digging out the gold. Mr. Foger at once ran toward the cave, while Andy, catching up his gun, remained on the alert.

Then came the chance of Tom and Ned. The latter coming from his hiding-place, advanced boldly toward the bully, while Tom, making a detour, worked his way up behind.

"Here! You keep away!" cried Andy, catching sight of Ned. "I see what the game is, now! It's a trick!"

"You're a nice one to talk about tricks!" declared Ned, advancing slowly.

"Keep away if you don't want to get hurt!" yelled Andy.

"Oh, you wouldn't hurt me; would you?" mocked Ned, who wanted to give Tom time to sneak up behind the bully.

"Yes, I would! Keep back!" Andy was nervously fingering his weapon. The next instant his gun flew from his grasp, and he went over backward in Tom's strong grip; for the young inventor, in his sealskin shoes had worked up in the rear without a sound. The next moment Andy broke away and was running for his life, leaving Tom and Ned in possession of the gold hole, and that without a shot being fired. A little later the three men, who had hurried away from the cave as Mr. Foger rushed up to see what caused the racket, joined Tom and Ned, and formal possession was taken of their lucky strike.

"We'll guard it well, now," decided Tom, and later that day they moved some supplies near the hole, and for a shelter built an igloo, Eskimo fashion, in which work Abe had had some experience. Then they moved the airship to another ice cave, nearer their "mine" as they called it, and prepared to stand guard.

But there seemed to be no need, for the following day there was no trace of the Fogers. They and their natives had disappeared.

"I guess we were too much for them," spoke Tom. But the sequel was soon to prove differently.

It was three days after our friends had regained their mine, during which time they had dug out considerable gold, that toward evening, as Tom was taking the last of the output of yellow pebbles into the cave where the airship was, he looked across the valley.

"Looks like something coming this way," observed the young inventor. "Natives, I guess."

"It is," agreed Ned, "quite a large party, too!"

"Better tell Abe and the others," went on Tom. "I don't like the looks of this. Maybe the sudden disappearance of the Fogers has something to do with it."

Abe, Mr. Damon and Mr. Parker hurried from the ice cave. They had caught up their guns as they ran out.

"They're still coming on," called Tom, "and are headed this way."

"They're Indians, all right!" exclaimed Abe. "Hark! What's that?"

It was the sound of shouting and singing.

Through the gathering dusk the party advanced. Our friends closely scanned them. There was something familiar about the two leading figures, and it could now be seen that in the rear were a number of dog sleds.

"There's Andy Foger and his father!" cried Ned. "They've gone and got a lot of Eskimos to help them drive us away."

"That's right!" admitted Tom. "I guess we're in for it now!"

With a rush the natives, led by the Fogers, came on. They were yelling now. An instant later they began firing their guns.

"It's a fierce attack!" cried Tom. "Into the ice cave for shelter! We can cover the gold mine from there. I'll get my electric gun!"