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For a few moments after the collapse of the cave, and the destruction of the airship, on which they depended to take them from that desolate land, no one spoke. The calamity had been too terrible--they could hardly understand it.
The snow had ceased, and, over the frozen plain, in full retreat, could be seen the band of attacking Indians. They had fled in terror at the manifestation of Nature. And Nature, as if satisfied at the mischief she had wrought, called a halt to the movement of the ice. The roaring, grinding sounds ceased, and there were no more collapses of caves in that neighborhood.
"Well, we are up against it," spoke Tom, softly. "Poor old Red Cloud! There'll never be another airship like you!"
"We are lucky to have escaped with our lives," said Mr. Parker. "Another moment and it would have been too late. I was expecting something like this--I predicted it."
But his honor was an empty one--no one cared to dispute it with him.
"Bless my refrigerator! What's to be done!" exclaimed Mr. Damon.
"Start from here as soon as possible," decided Abe.
"Why, do you think the natives will come back?" asked Ned.
"No, but we have only a small supply of food, my lad, an' it's hard to git up here. We must hit th' trail fer civilization as soon as we kin!"
"Go back--how; without the airship?" asked Tom, blankly.
"Walk!" exclaimed the miner, grimly. "It's th' only way!"
They realized that. There was no hope of digging through that mass of fantastically piled ice to reach the airship, and, even if they could have done so, it would have been crushed beyond all hope of repair. Nor could they dig down for more food, though what they had hastily saved was little enough.
"Well, if we've got to go, we'd better start," suggested Tom, sadly. "Poor old Red Cloud!"
"Maybe we can get a little more gold," suggested Ned.
They walked over to the hole whence they had taken the yellow nuggets. The "pocket" was not to be seen. It was buried out of sight under tons of ice.
"We'll get no more gold here," decided Abe, "lf we get safely out of th' valley, and t' the nearest white settlement, we'll be lucky."
"Bless my soul! Is it as bad as that!" cried Mr. Damon.
Abe nodded without speaking. There was nothing else to do. Sadly and silently they made up into packs the things they had saved, and started southward, guided by a small compass the miner had with him.
It was a melancholy party. Fortunately the weather had turned a little warmer or they might have been frozen to death. They tramped all that day, shaping their course to take them out of the valley on a side well away from where the hostile natives lived. At night they made rude shelters of snow and blocks of ice and ate cold victuals. The second day it grew colder, and they were slightly affected by snow-blindness, for they had lost their dark glasses in the cave.
Even the gold seemed too great a burden to carry, and they found they had more of it than at first they supposed. On the third day they were ready to give up, but Abe bravely urged them on. Toward the close of the fourth day, even the old miner was in despair, for the food they could carry was not such as to give strength and warmth, and they saw no game to shoot.
They were just getting ready to go into a cheerless camp for the night, when Tom, who was a little in advance, looked ahead.
"Ned, do I see something or is it only a vision?" he asked.
"What does it look like?" asked his chum.
"Like Eskimos on sleds."
"That's what it is," agreed Ned, after an observation. "Maybe it's the Fogers, or some of the savage Indians."
They halted in alarm, and got out their guns. The little party of natives kept coming on toward them.
Suddenly Abe uttered a cry, but it was one of joy and not fear.
"Hurrah!" he yelled, "It's all right--they're friendly natives! They're of the same tribe that helped me an' my partner! It's all right, boys, we're rescued now!"
And so it proved. A few minutes later the gold-seekers were on the sleds of the friendly Eskimos, some of whom remembered Abe, and the weary and hungry adventures were being rushed toward the native village as fast as the dogs could run. It was a hunting party that had come upon our friends just in time.
Little more remains to be told. Well cared for by the kind Eskimos, Tom and his friends soon recovered their spirits and strength. They arranged for dog teams to take them to Sitka, and paid their friends well for the service, not only in gold, but by presenting what was of more value, the guns they no longer needed. Tom, however, retained his electric rifle.
Three weeks after that they were on a steamer bound for civilization, having bidden their friends the Eskimos good-by.
"Homeward bound," remarked Tom, some time later, as they were in a train speeding across the continent. "It was a great trip, and the gold we got will more than repay us, even to building a new airship. Still, I can't help feeling sorry about the Red Cloud."
"I don't blame you," returned Ned. "Are you going to build another airship, Tom?"
"Not one like the Red Cloud, I think. But I have in mind plans for a sort of racing craft. I think I'll start it when I get back home."
How Tom's plans developed, and what sort of a craft he built will be related in the next volume of this series, to be called "Tom Swift and His Sky Racer; or, the Quickest Flight on Record." In that will be told how the young inventor foiled his enemies, and how he saved his father's life. Our friends arrived safely at Shopton in due season. They learned that the two Fogers had reached there shortly before them. Tom and his party decided not to prosecute them, and they did not learn the identity of the men who tried to rob Tom of the map.
"But I guess Andy won't go about boasting of his airship any more," said Ned, "nor of how he got our gold mine away from us. He'll sing mighty small for a while."
The store of gold brought from the North, proved quite valuable, though but for the unforeseen accidents our friends could have secured much more. Yet they were well satisfied. With his share Abe Abercrombie settled down out West, Mr. Damon gave most of his gold to his wife, Mr. Parker bought scientific instruments with his, Ned invested his in bank stock, and Tom Swift, after buying a beautiful gift for a certain pretty young lady, used part of the remainder to build his Sky Racer.
And now, for a time, we will take leave of Tom and his friends, and say good-by.
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