18. In The Camp Of The Enemy.
 

What Sam said was true. There, gathered around a fire on the opposite side of the pond, were Dan Baxter, Jasper Grinder, and a tall, powerfully built fellow whom they easily guessed was Bill Harney, the guide. They had two sleds with them, and one of these had been unloaded and the camping outfit lay scattered around.

"Well, this is a surprise and no mistake!" was Tom's comment, in a low voice. "If I know anything about it, they must have done some quick traveling."

"I believe they followed the river, at least part of the way," returned the youngest Rover. "I see a pair of skates lying by one of the sleds."

"Do you suppose Dick and Mr. Barrow met them?"

"I don't believe they did. See, they have some rabbits they are going to cook. That accounts for the shots we heard."

Crouching down behind the bushes, the two Rovers watched the other party with interest. A lively conversation was going oh between Dan Baxter and the former teacher of Putnam Hall, but they were too far off to catch anything of what was said.

"What do you propose doing next?" asked Sam, after a pause of several minutes. "It's mighty cold here."

"We may as well retreat, Sam. We don't want to expose ourselves, do we?"

"I don't suppose it would do any good--although I'm not afraid of Baxter, or Grinder either."

"It isn't that. If they know we have arrived here, they will do all they can to locate that treasure first. We want to keep dark and get ahead of them."

"But how shall we turn?"

"We'll have to go back to where we found the two trails crossed and then try the other one. I don't know of anything else to do."

"Wouldn't Dan Baxter be surprised, if he knew we were so close?"

"Well, we won't let him know."

"Why not?" demanded an unexpected voice from the rear.

Both boys started and turned around, to find themselves confronted by Lemuel Husty, the man Dick had seen in company with Baxter at Cedarville.

"Hullo, who are you?" asked Tom, as quickly as he could recover from his surprise.

"If you want to know real bad, youngster, my name is Lemuel Husty."

"I don't know you."

"But I know you--leas'wise I know of you," went on Husty, with a frown. "You're down on my friend Baxter, aint you?"

"If we are, we have a good reason to be," came from Sam.

"Perhaps you have, and then again, perhaps you haven't. It aint no nice thing to be cotched spying, though."

"We weren't spying. We came up quite by accident."

"You can tell that to the monkeys, but you can't tell it to me," growled Lemuel Husty. Then he raised his voice: "I say, Baxter! I say, you fellows! Come over here!"

The three around the camp-fire looked up in surprise, and were even more surprised when Husty waved his hand for them to come to him.

"What's wanted?" demanded Dan Baxter.

"I've found two of your very intimate friends spying on you," answered Husty.

"I guess we had better get out," whispered Sam to Tom, not liking the turn affairs had taken.

"I'm with you," returned Tom.

"No, you don't!" cried Husty, and caught hold of the sled. "You just stay here until we talk this thing over."

Tom's hands were on his gun, and for the moment he felt like pointing the weapon at the man. But then he concluded that this would do small good, and the weapon remained where it was.

In a minute Dan Baxter came running across the pond, with Jasper Grinder and Bill Harney at his heels. Each of the advancing party carried some sort of firearms.

"Tom and Sam Rover!" ejaculated Baxter, and it was easy to see that he was completely surprised. "How did you get here?"

"Walked and skated," returned Tom, as coolly as he could.

"You've got a nerve to follow me and my party," went on Baxter, with an ugly scowl.

"As I just said to this man, Baxter, we haven't been following you," put in Sam. "We struck your trail by accident. We thought we were following----"

"Never mind about that, Sam," interrupted Tom quickly.

"Who did you think you were following?" demanded Dan Baxter.

"It's none of your business, Baxter. We have as much right to be here as you have."

"Humph! Don't you suppose I know why you came?"

"More than likely you do, and we know why you came."

"Have you got another map?" demanded Baxter, in curiosity.

"It's none of your affair what we have. We stumbled upon you by accident, and if you haven't anything in particular to say to us we'll be going."

"You needn't leave so quickly. Where is Dick?"

"He isn't so very far off."

"You hired John Barrow for a guide, I heard," put in Bill Harney.

"If we did, we had a right to do it," said Sam.

"He don't know these parts as well as he might. If you don't look out he'll lose you in the mountains, and you'll never get home alive."

"Let him lose them," put in Baxter quickly. "It's what they deserve. But, come, it's cold over here. Let's move back to the fire. And I want you two to come along," he added, to the Rovers.

"We don't propose to come along," replied Tom.

"And I say you shall come, Tom Rover. We are four to two, and you had better submit."

"Yes, make them come," put in Jasper Grinder. "I want to have a talk with them." And he glared wickedly, first at Tom and then at Sam.

It must be confessed that Tom and Sam felt in anything but an enviable position. They knew Dan Baxter thoroughly, and knew he would stop at nothing to accomplish his purpose.

"The best thing you can do is to leave us alone," said Tom steadily. "You have always got the worst of the bargain, Dan Baxter, and if you try any game on now, you'll miss it again."

"I'll risk it, Tom Rover. Come now, and no more fooling. If you behave yourself, there won't be any trouble."

There was, then, nothing to do but to follow, for neither of the Rovers wished to lose this portion of the outfit. Soon the whole party were gathered around the fire, which Husty heaped high with brushwood. Back of the fire was a high cliff, topped with cedars, which kept off the wind and made the situation a fairly comfortable one.

"Now we had better come to an understanding," said Dan Baxter, as he warmed his hands. "We all know what we are out here for, so there is no use in mincing matters."

"I understand all I want to know," answered Tom briefly.

"So do I," put in Sam.

"Baxter shall settle with you, and then I'll settle," growled Jasper Grinder. "I have not forgotten how I was treated at Putnam Hall because of you."

"It served you right that you were kicked out," said Sam, without stopping to think twice.

"Ha! you dare to talk to me in this fashion!" roared the former teacher. "I'll teach you a lesson! Just wait till I find a good switch!"

"Hold on Grinder! one at a time," put in Dan Baxter. "I'll settle with them first, if you please."

"They deserve a thorough thrashing," grumbled the irate man.

"Now I want you to tell me the truth," went on Dan Baxter, addressing Tom and Sam. "Where did you get a map of that treasure? In the cave on that island?"

"We haven't said we had a map," returned Tom.

"But you must have a map--or something like it."

"Whatever we have, it's none of your business, Dan Baxter," broke in Sam.

"Shut up, you little imp! Don't you know you are in my power!" stormed Baxter, in a rage. "I can do as I please out here, and these three men will help me."

As he finished he caught Sam by the collar and began to shake him.

"Let my brother alone!" ejaculated Tom. "Let up, I say!"

"I won't, Tom Rover. He's got to learn that I'm the master here," howled Baxter.

"If you don't let go, I'll hit you," went on Tom, and raised his right fist. But ere he could deliver the blow Bill Harney rushed behind him, caught him by the waist and threw him flat.

"That's right!" shouted Dan Baxter. "Make them both prisoners! I've got a big score to settle with them!"

And then all four fell upon Sam and Tom, and a fierce struggle ensued, the outcome of which was for some time hard to predict.