21. A Pair Of Prisoners.
 

It is high time that we return to Tom and Sam, and learn how the two Rover boys were faring in their unequal contest with Dan Baxter and his followers.

As we know, it was Baxter himself who attacked Sam, while big Bill Harney threw Tom to the ground. Jasper Grinder went to Baxter's assistance, while Lemuel Husty ran to aid Harney.

"Let go of him!" cried Sam, and managed to hit Baxter a glancing blow on the cheek.

"I'll not let go yet," answered Baxter, and bore the youngest Rover to the earth. Over and over they rolled in the snow, until Grinder caught Sam by the legs and held him still.

"That's right, Grinder, hold him!" panted Dan Baxter. "Don't let him get up!"

But Sam was not yet subdued, and getting one foot clear at last, he kicked Jasper Grinder in the ear.

"Oh! oh! my ear!" screamed the former teacher. "He has kicked my ear off. You scamp, take that!" And letting out with his foot, he gave Sam a vigorous kick on the side. At the same time Baxter struck the boy in the head with a stick he had been carrying, and then Sam suddenly lost consciousness.

In the meantime Tom was having a similar struggle with Harney and Husty. But the boy, though strong, was no match for the two men, and they soon pinned him to the ground and held him there as in a vise, while he was nearly choked by the big guide, who had clutched him by the throat.

"Let--let go--my--throat!" Tom managed to gasp.

"Will you keep quiet?" demanded Harney.

"Yes--yes."

"All right, mind you do." And then the guide released his hold, but continued to sit as he was, astride of poor Tom's chest.

"Have you got him?" came from Dan Baxter.

"Yes," returned the big guide.

"All right; then hold him."

"I will."

Leaving Sam to be watched by Jasper Grinder, Baxter ran over to one of the sleds and procured a long rope.

"Now then, Tom Rover, get up," he said sourly.

Tom was glad to arise.

"What are you going to do with me?" he questioned.

"You'll see fast enough."

"Going to try your old tricks of making me a prisoner, I suppose."

"You're a prisoner already."

"Thank you, for nothing," returned Tom, as coolly as he could.

"Don't you get impudent, Tom Rover. If you try it on, you'll get more than you bargain for, let me tell you that."

"You always were a first-class bully, Baxter. You like to tackle little boys, or else somebody who is helpless."

"Shut up! I won't listen to you, now!" roared Baxter, and grabbing Tom's hands he forced them back and bound them together. Then the ropes was passed around Tom's waist, so that he could not move his hands to the front.

By the time this work was accomplished Sam was regaining consciousness. He gave a moan of pain, and then sat up in bewilderment.

"Who--what's happened?" he stammered. Then he looked around. "Oh! I remember now!"

He was very unsteady when he got on his feet, and it was Tom who made the first move toward him.

"Too bad, Sam. They are a set of brutes."

"Don't call me a brute Rover," growled Jasper Grinder. "Neither you nor your brother have all you deserve."

Sam was bound with a rope, and then both prisoners were told to walk over to the fire. This they did, and were left in charge of Husty and Jasper Grinder, while Baxter went off a distance, in company with big Bill Harney.

"Well, what do you want to do with 'em?" demanded Harney, when he and the bully were out of hearing of the others, "'Pears to me you've taken the law in yer own hands."

"I'm glad I've caught them," returned Dan Baxter. "They may help us to find what I am after."

"Think they've got a better map nor yours?"

"They may have."

"Supposing that brother comes up, with John Barrow? They may make it hot for us."

"That's what I want to ask you about, Harney. Isn't there some place around here where we might hide the prisoners? A cave, or something like that?"

The big guide scratched his chin thoughtfully.

"There's a tolerable place about quarter of a mile from here--the old B'ars' Hole, we use ter call it."

"Of course we don't want to run up against any bears," said Baxter, with a show of nervousness.

At this the big guide let out a rough laugh.

"Aint got no use fer them critters, eh?"

"I have not."

"'Taint likely there are any b'ars around. Me an Jim Wister cleaned out the hole last spring--got three on 'em. No new b'ars will take that hole yet awhile."

"Then we had better make tracks for it at once--before Dick Rover and the man who is with him get on our trail."

They walked back to the camp-fire and, calling Jasper Grinder and Lemuel Husty aside, Baxter explained the situation. A talk, lasting several minutes, followed.

"Now then, you come with us," said Dan Baxter to the Rovers. "And see to it that you don't try to get away."

"Where do you want us to go?" asked Tom.

"We are going to try to find your brother," was the bully's smooth reply.

"Humph! Do you expect us to believe that?"

"You can suit yourself, Tom Rover. But, just the same, you'll come along."

"And if we refuse?" put in Sam.

"I'll hammer you into submission."

"By jinks! but you always were a cheerful brute, Baxter," cried Sam.

"Shut up and come along," growled the bully.

Feeling it would be folly to resist, the two Rovers moved off with the party. The big guide led the way and the others followed.

"You may as well earn your salt," observed Baxter. "Here, take hold and pull one of the sleds."

He placed the rope in their hands and compelled them to haul the load, which they did unwillingly enough.

Curious as it may seem, none of the Baxter party had given a thought to the sled which Sam and Tom had had with them, and this had been left under the bushes at the spot where Husty had discovered the Rovers.

At first Tom and Sam had thought to speak about the matter, but they finally decided it would be better to run the risk of losing that portion of the outfit entirely than to place it in the hands of their enemy.

The way was rough, and it was only with the greatest of difficulty that they could drag the sleds along. But less than half an hour brought them to the spot which Bill Harney had in mind--a grand and wild place, where the mountain appeared to split in two for a distance of several hundred feet. Here there was a gorge fifty or sixty feet deep, partly choked with small scrub cedars.

"There's the hole," said Harney, advancing into the gorge and pointing with his hand.

"Better go ahead and see if it is free of bears or other wild animals," suggested Dan Baxter, as he came to a halt.

Rifle in hand the guide went into the opening, and made a thorough examination of the surroundings.

"Aint been no b'ars nor nothin' else here," he declared. "You can come right in."

The opening on one side of the gully was an irregular one, and beyond this was a large cave having several chambers. All was pitch dark in the inner chambers, and they lit some brushwood to give them light. Then a regular fire was started, which did much toward making the surroundings warmer and more cheerful.

Dan Baxter and his friends were hungry, and lost no time in preparing a meal. Tom and Sam were led to one side of an inner chamber, and the rope fastened to their hands was bound tightly to the protruding roots of a tree.

"Now, don't you attempt to escape," said Baxter. "If you do--well, you'll wish you hadn't, that's all."

And then he rejoined his companions in the outer chamber, leaving poor Tom and Sam to their misery.