Chapter V. Grave Suspicion's
 

Tom's announcement took them all by surprise. For a moment no one knew what to say, while the young inventor looked more closely at the parchment map.

"Do you really think he has dared to make a copy of it?" asked Mr. Swift.

"I do," answered his son. "That ink spot wasn't there when Abe gave him the map; was it?"

"No," replied the miner.

"And it couldn't get on in Andy's pocket," went on Tom. "So he must have had it open near where there was ink."

"His fountain pen might have leaked," suggested Mr. Jackson.

"In that case the ink spot would be on the outside of the map, and not on the inside," declared Tom, with the instinct of a detective. "Unless he had the map folded in his pocket with the inside surface on the outside, the ink couldn't have gotten on. Besides, Andy always carries his fountain pen in his upper vest pocket, and that pocket is too small to hold the map. No, I'm almost positive that Andy or his father have sneakingly made a copy of this map!"

"I'm sorry to have to admit that Mr. Foger is capable of such an act," spoke Mr. Swift, "but I believe it is true."

"And here is another thing," went on the young inventor, who was now closely scanning the parchment through a powerful magnifying glass, "do you see those tiny holes here and there, Mr. Jackson?"

"Yes," answered the engineer.

"Were they there before, Abe?" went on Tom, calling the old miner's attention to them.

"Nary a one," was the answer. "It looks as if some one had been sticking pins in th' map."

"Not pins," said Tom, "but the sharp points of a pair of dividers, or compasses, for measuring distances. Andy, or whoever made a copy of the map, used the dividers to take off distances with. This clinches it, in my mind."

"But what can you do?" asked Tom's father.

"I don't know," answered the young inventor. "It would be of little use to go to Andy. Naturally he would deny having made a copy of the map, and his father would, also. Even though I am sure they have a copy, I don't see how I am going to make them give it up. It's a hard case. There's only one thing I see to do."

"What's that?" asked Abe.

"Start for Alaska as soon as possible, and be first on hand at the valley of gold."

"Good!" cried the miner. "That's the way to talk! We'll start off at once. I know my way around that country pretty well, an' even though winter is coming on, I think we can travel in th' airship. That's one reason why I wanted t' go in one of these flyin' machines. Winter is no time to be in Alaska, but if we have an airship we won't mind it, an' it's the best time t' keep other people away, for th' ordinary miner or prospector can't do anythin' in Alaska in winter--that is away up north where we're goin'."

"Exactly where are we going?" asked Tom. "I have been so excited about discovering Andy's trick that I haven't had much time to consider where we're bound for nor what will be the best plan to follow."

"Well, we're goin' to a region about seven hundred an' fifty miles northwest from Sitka," explained the old miner, as he pointed out the location on the map. "We'll head for what they call th' Snow Mountains, an' th' valley of gold is in their midst. It's just over th' Arctic circle, an' pretty cold, let me tell you!"

"You'll be warm enough in Tom's airship, with the electric stoves going," commented Mr. Jackson.

"Well, we'll need t' be," went on the miner. "Th' valley is full of caves of ice, an' it's dangerous for th' ordinary traveler. In fact an airship was the only way I saw out of th' difficulty when I was there."

"Then you have been to the valley of gold?" asked Tom.

"Well, not exactly to it," was the reply, "but I was where I could see it. That was in th' summer, though of course the summer there isn't like here. I'll tell you how it was."

The miner settled himself more comfortably in his chair, and resumed his story.

"It was two year ago," he said, "that me an' Jim Mace started to prospect in Alaska. We didn't have much luck, an' we kept on workin' our way farther north until we come to these Snow Mountains. Then our supplies gave out, an' if it hadn't been for some friendly Eskimos I don't know what we would have done. Jim and me we gave 'em some trinkets an' sich, and th' Indians began talkin' of a wonderful valley of gold, where th' stuff lay around in chunks on top of the ground."

"Me and Jim pricked up our ears at that, so to speak, an' we wanted to see th' place. After some delay we was taken to th' top of a big crag, some distance away from where we had been stopping with the friendly Eskimos, or Indians, as I call 'em. There, away down below, was a valley--an' a curious sort of a valley it were. It seemed filled with big bubbles--bubbles made of solid banks of snow or ice, an' we was told, me an' Jim was, that these were caves of ice, an' that th' gold was near these caves."

"Well, of course me an' my partner wanted to go down the worst way, an' try for some gold, but th' Indians wouldn't let us. They said it was dangerous, for th' ice caves were constantly fallin' in, an' smashin' whoever was inside. But to prove what they said about th' gold, they sent one of their number down, while we waited on th' side of th' mountain."

"Did he get any gold?" asked Tom, eagerly.

For answer the old miner pulled from his pocket a few yellow pebbles--little stones of dull, gleaming yellow.

"There's some of th' gold from amid th' caves of ice," he remarked simply. "I kept 'em for a souvenir, hopin' some day I might git back there. Well, Jim an' me watched th' Indian going down into th' valley. He come back in about three hours, havin' only gone to th' nearest cave, an' he had two pockets filled with these little chunks of solid gold. They gave me an' Jim some, but they wouldn't hear of us goin' t' th' valley by ourselves."

"Then a bad storm come up, an' we had t' hit th' trail for home--the Indians' home, I mean--for Jim an' I was far enough away from ours."

"Well, t' make a long story short, Jim an' me tried every way we knowed t' git t' that valley, but we couldn't. It come off colder an' colder, an' th' tribe of Indians with whom we lived was attacked by some of their enemies, an' driven away from their campin' grounds. Jim an' me, we went too, but not before Jim had drawed this map on a piece of dog-skin we found in one of the huts. We had an idea we might get back, some day, an' find the valley, so we'd need a map t' go by. But poor Jim never got back. He got badly frozen when the Indians drove us an' our friends away, an' he never got over it. He died up there in th' ice, an' we buried him. I took th' map, an' when spring come, I made a hike out of that country. From then until now I've been plannin' how t' git t' that valley, an' th' only way I seen was an airship. Then, when I was prospectin' around out in Colorado I saw Tom's machine hidden in th' trees, an' I waited until he come along, which part you know as well as I do," finished Abe.

"And that's the story of the valley of gold," spoke Mr. Swift.

"That's all there is to it," assented Abe, simply.

"Do you think there is much gold there?" asked Tom.

"Plenty of it--for th' pickin' up," replied the miner. "Around th' caves of ice it's full of it, but, of course, it's dangerous. An' th' only way t' git t' it, an' pass th' savage Indians that are all around in th' mountains about th' valley, is t' fly over their heads in th' airship."

"Then that's what we'll do," decided Tom.

"Will you go all the way in the Red Cloud?" inquired Mr. Jackson.

"No, I think I'll send the airship on ahead to some point in Washington--say Seattle," replied Tom, "put it together there, and start for the Snow Mountains. In Seattle we can get plenty of supplies and stores. It will be a good point to start from, and will save us a long, and perhaps dangerous, flight across the United States."

"I think that will be the best plan," agreed Mr. Swift. "But what about Andy--do you think he'll try to follow--or try to get ahead of you now that he has a copy of the map?"

"He may," answered Tom. "But I have a little trick I'm going to work on Andy. I will try to learn whether he really has a copy of the map, though I'm practically certain of it. Then I'll decide what's best to do."

"In th' meanwhile, will you be gettin' ready?" asked Abe. "I'd like t' start as soon as we can, for it's awful cold there, the longer you wait, at this time of th' year."

"Yes, I'll start right to work, getting the Red Cloud in readiness to be shipped," promised Tom.