22. Jasper Grinder Tries To Make Terms.
 

"Well, Tom, this looks as if we had put our foot into it," was Sam's comment, delivered in a whisper.

"Don't despair, Sam," said his brother cheerfully. "We have been in worse holes, remember, and always managed to escape with a whole skin."

"That's true, but I don't see how we are going to get away now. I suppose somebody will stand on guard all the time."

"Perhaps Dick and Mr. Barrow will come to the rescue."

"If they can find the way. The wind and snow will cover the trail pretty well."

"There's no use of crying over the affair. If we can break away, I'll be for doing so."

"So will I."

"Hi, you stop your talking in there!" shouted Dan Baxter. "Plotting to run away, I reckon. It won't do you any good. If you try it, somebody will get a dose of buckshot in the leg."

"You don't mean to say you're going to stop our talking," said Tom, in indignation.

"That's just what I do mean to say. Now stop--or go hungry."

As the Rovers did not wish to starve, they relapsed into silence. A meal was being prepared by the Baxter party, and the appetizing odors floated into the inner chamber, where Tom and Sam sniffed them eagerly, for the walk and the bracing air had given them an appetite.

"Smells good, don't it?" remarked Dan Baxter, as he came in, fire-brand in hand, and confronted Tom.

"What, the cave?" asked Tom carelessly.

"No, the grub."

"Oh, you are cooking something, aren't you?"

"You know well enough that we are."

"Well, I can't stop you, Baxter, so cook away."

"Don't you want something to eat?"

"To be sure we do," put in Sam. "Nobody wants to go hungry."

"Perhaps you'll have to go hungry," said Dan Baxter significantly.

"It would be just like you to starve us, Baxter!" burst out Tom. "I know you are as mean as they make them."

"No compliments, please. I know my business, Tom Rover; and let me say I am in this game to win."

"I don't see what that has to do with our eating."

"You will see presently. I know all about what brought you here."

"And we know what brought you here," put in Sam.

"I suppose you fellows have a map, or something like it," went on Baxter, after a pause, during which he gazed curiously first at Tom and then at the youngest Rover.

"A map of what?" demanded Tom.

"A map whereby to find that treasure."

"If we have a map we'll take good care to keep it to ourselves," came from Sam, before he had taken time to think twice.

"Ha! then you have a map!" And now Dan Baxter's eyes brightened. "Where is it?"

"I didn't say so."

"I'll search you," said the bully, and at once proceeded to turn out one pocket after another. Of course the map, being in Dick's possession, was not found.

"You got it hidden," said Baxter sourly. "Tell we where it is, or you shall have nothing to eat."

"Will you give us a good meal if we do tell you?" demanded Tom promptly.

"Yes."

"Honor bright?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, Dick has the only map we possess." And Tom grinned, while Sam had all he could do to keep from laughing outright.

Instantly Dan Baxter's face grew dark, and he drew back his hand as if to strike Tom.

"You're a fresh one!" he burst out. "Are you telling me the truth?"

"I am. He has the map, and I reckon he'll keep it. Now, if it's all the same to you, we'll take that meal. Eh, Sam?"

"I'm hungry enough."

"I shan't give you a mouthful!" roared Baxter. "You can't play any game on me."

"That shows what your promise is worth, Baxter," returned Tom. "I didn't expect much else, though, for I know you thoroughly. Still, we told you nothing but the truth."

With a face full of hatred Dan Baxter turned on his heel and left them. Presently they heard him sit down with the others, and all began to eat the food that had been cooking.

"I must say we didn't gain much," observed Tom gloomily. "I suppose I ought to have humored him, in order to get something. But I despise him so I can't help pitching into him."

"I wouldn't humor him--I'd starve first!" returned Sam earnestly. "I am glad we weren't carrying the map."

"So am I glad. Rather than give it to him, I would have chewed it up and swallowed it."

Half an hour went by, during which both boys said but little, each being busy trying to concoct some scheme by which they might escape. They heard the others talking in low voices, but were unable to catch what was said.

Presently Jasper Grinder came in, bringing with him a small portion of food and a kettle of water. Setting the things on a rock, he untied one hand of each of the boys, that they might eat and drink.

"This is a fine meal," said Tom sarcastically.

"It is more than you deserve," replied the former teacher of Putnam Hall.

"You always were a hard one, Grinder."

"Mr. Grinder, if you please," said the man pointedly.

"And if I don't please to call you Mister?"

"Then you will get nothing more from me."

"Do you know that you are playing a high game here, keeping us prisoners?" asked Sam.

"What we are doing is our business." Jasper Grinder paused for a moment. "I want you to tell me something of that treasure for which you are seeking," he went on.

"What do you want to know?" asked Tom.

"What is the treasure worth?"

"We can't tell that until it is found."

"You are quite sure it has never been removed?"

"How can we be sure, when we don't know anything about it."

"Baxter says your brother Dick has a map."

"Hasn't Baxter a map, too?" questioned Sam.

"Something of a map, yes, but it is not very complete."

"I'm glad to hear that," said Tom quickly.

"But Baxter claims the treasure for himself."

"Really?" said Sam sarcastically. "Well, let him claim what he pleases. If we find it, it will belong to us--don't forget that."

Again there was a pause. Jasper Grinder looked anxiously toward the outer cave, to see if Baxter or the guide were watching him. But the two were talking earnestly between themselves.

"I have a plan," began the former teacher of Putnam Hall, in a low voice, "a plan to aid you."

"What plan?" demanded Tom.

"Hush! not so loud--or they may hear you. I presume you know what sort of a fellow Baxter is?"

"Well, rather," said Sam dryly.

"He is planning to do you a great deal of harm. Now I think I can save you."

"Then save us," said Tom. "Or untie us, and we will save ourselves."

"You can't save yourselves. Baxter is strong, and that guide is a giant in strength."

"What do you propose?"

"I'm coming to that. But you must make me a promise first."

"What promise?"

"That half that treasure shall be mine when it is found."

"Half!" cried Tom and Sam together.

"Yes."

"We can't promise that," went on Tom.

"You don't want much," was Sam's comment.

"Isn't it worth something to be saved from Baxter's clutches? I overheard him tell the guide what troubles he had had with you in the past, and how you had been the means of sending his father to prison, and all that. Why, he would put you out of the way forever, if he could."

"And will you stand by, Jasper Grinder, and see that done?" asked Tom.

"No! no! But--but--he is his own master. Promise what I wish, and I will help you."

"We can't promise you half the treasure," said Tom flatly. "But if you will really help us, we'll promise that you shall lose nothing by the transaction."

At this instant Dan Baxter leaped to his feet and ran for his gun, while Bill Harney and Lemuel Husty did the same.

"Come out here, Grinder!" shouted the bully. "Somebody or some wild animal is around!"