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In Spite of the fact that he tried to remain calm, Tom Swift felt a wild exultation as he thought of what lay before him and his friends. To be in a place where gold could be picked up! where they might all become fabulously wealthy! where the ground might be seen covered with the precious yellow metal! this was enough to set the nerves of any one a-tingle!
Tom could hardly realize it at first. After many hardships, no little danger, and after an attempt on the part of their enemies to defeat them, they had at last reached their goal. Now, as Abe had said, they could hunt for the gold.
But if they expected to see the precious yellow nuggets lying about ready to be picked up like so many kernels of corn, they were disappointed. A quick look all about showed them only a vast extent of ice and snow, broken here and there by the big caves of ice. There were not so many of the latter as at the first place they stopped, but the caverns were larger.
"Gold--I don't see any gold," remarked Ned Newton, with a disappointed air. "Where is it?"
"Bless my pocketbook, yes! Where is it?" demanded Mr. Damon.
"Oh, we've got to dig for it," explained Abe. "It's only when there's been a slight thaw that some of th' pebble nuggets kin be seen. They're under th' ice, an' we've got t' dig for 'em."
"Does it ever thaw up here?" asked Mr. Parker. "The ice of the caves seems thick enough to last forever."
"It does thaw an' melt some," went on the miner. "But some of th' caves last all through what they call 'summer' up here, though it's more like winter. We're above th' Arctic circle now, friends."
"Maybe we can keep on to the Pole," suggested Ned.
"Not this trip," spoke Tom, grimly. "We'll try for the gold, first."
"Yes, an' I'm goin' t' begin diggin' right away!" exclaimed Abe, as he turned back into the airship, and came out again with a pick and shovel, a supply of which implements had been brought along. The others followed his example. and soon the ice chips were flying about in a shower, while the sun shining on them gave the appearance of a rainbow.
"Look at those Indians watching us," remarked Ned to Tom, as he paused in his chipping of the frozen surface. The young inventor glanced up toward the distant plateau where a fringe of dark figures stood. The natives were evidently intently watching the gold- seekers.
"Do you think there's any danger from them. Abe?" asked Tom.
"Not much," was the reply. "They made trouble for me an' my partner, but I guess th' airship has scared 'em sufficient, so they won't come snoopin' down here," and Abe fell to at his digging again.
Mr. Damon was also vigorously wielding a pick, but Mr. Parker like the true scientist he was, had renewed his observations. Evidently the gold had no attractions for him, or, if it did, he preferred to wait until he had finished his calculations.
Vigorously the adventurers wielded their implements, making the ice fly, but for an hour or more no gold was discovered. Mr. Damon, after picking lightly at a certain place, would get discouraged, and move on to another. So did Ned, and Tom, after going down quite a way, left off work, and walked over to one of the big ice caves.
"What's up?" asked Ned, resting from his labors.
"I was thinking whether it would be safe to put the Red Cloud in this ice cave for a shelter," replied Tom. "There may come up a hail storm at any time, and damage it. The caves would be just the place for it, only I'm afraid the roof might collapse."
"It looks strong," said Ned. "Let's ask Mr. Parker his opinion."
"Good idea," agreed Tom.
The scientist was soon taking measurements of the thickness of the cave roof, noting its formation, and looking at the frozen floor.
"I see no reason why this cave should collapse," he finally announced. "The only danger is the movement of the whole valley of ice, and that is too gradual to cause any immediate harm. Yes, I think the airship could be housed in the ice cave."
"Then I'll run her in, and she'll be safer," decided Tom. "I guess we three can do it, Ned, and leave Mr. Damon and Abe to keep on digging for gold." The airship was so buoyant that it could easily be moved about on the bicycle wheels on which it rested, and soon, after the lower edge of the opening into the ice cave had been smoothed down, the Red Cloud was placed in the novel shelter.
"Now to continue the search for the yellow nuggets!" cried Ned, and Tom went with him, even Mr. Parker condescending to take a pick, now. Abe was the only one who dug steadily in one place. The others tried spot after spot.
"You've got t' stick t' one lead until you find somethin', or until it peters out," explained the miner. "You must git down to th' dirt before you'll find any gold, though you may strike a few grains that have worked up into th' ice."
After this advice they all kept to one hole until they had worked down through the ice to the dirt surface below. But even then, Abe, who was the first to achieve this, found no gold, and the old miner went to another location.
All the rest of that day they dug, but with no result. Not even a few grains of yellow dust rewarded their efforts.
"Are you sure this is the right place?" asked Mr. Damon, somewhat fretfully, of Abe. as they ate supper that night in the airship, sheltered as it was in the ice cave.
"I'm positive of it," was the reply. "There's gold here, but it will take some prospectin' t' find it. Maybe th' deposits have been shifted by th' ice movement, as Mr. Parker says. But it's here, an' we'll git it. We'll try ag'in t'-morrow."
They did try, but with small success. Laboring all day in the cold the only result was a few little yellow pebbles that Tom found imbedded in the ice. But they were gold, and the finding of them gave the seekers hope as they wearily began their task the following day. The weather seemed even colder, and there was the indication of a big storm.
They were scattered in different places on the ice, not far away from the big cave, each one picking away vigorously. Suddenly Abe, who had laboriously worked his way down to the dirt, gave an exultant yell.
"I've struck it! Struck it rich!" he shouted, leaping about as he threw down his pick, "Look here, everybody!" He stooped down over the hole. They all ran to his side, and saw him lifting from a little pocket in the dirt, several large, yellow pebbles.
"Gold! Gold!" cried Abe. "We've struck it at last!"
For a moment no one spoke, though there was a wild beating of their hearts. Then, off toward the farther end of the valley there sounded a curious noise. It was a shouting and yelling, mingled with the snapping of whips and the howls and barkings of dogs.
"Bless my handkerchief!" cried Mr. Damon. "What's that?"
They all saw a moment later. Approaching over the frozen snow were several Eskimo sledges, drawn by dog teams, and the native drivers were shouting and cracking their whips of walrus hide.
"The natives are coming to attack us!" cried Ned.
Tom said nothing. He was steadily observing the approaching sleds. They came on rapidly. Abe was holding the golden nuggets in his gloved hands.
"Get the guns! Where's your electric rifle, Tom?" cried Mr. Damon.
"I don't believe we'll need the guns--just yet," answered the young inventor, slowly.
"Bless my cartridge-belt! Why not?" demanded the eccentric man.
"Because those are the Fogers," replied Tom. "They have followed us- -Andy and his father! Andy Foger here!" gasped Ned.
Tom nodded grimly. A few minutes later the sleds had come to a halt not far from our friends, and Andy, followed by his father, leaped off his conveyance. The two were clad in heavy fur garments.
"Ha, Tom Swift! You didn't get here much ahead of us!" exulted the bully. "I told you I'd get even with you! Come on, now, dad, we'll get right to work digging for gold!"
Tom and his companions did not know what to say.
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