26. An Unwelcome Comrade.
 

"He's in a bad way, that's certain," was Dick's comment, as he surveyed the prostrate form. Even though Jasper Grinder was an enemy, he could not help but feel sorry for the man.

"We must get him up to our shelter as soon as possible," replied John Barrow. "It is easy to see he is half frozen--and maybe starved."

"Shall we carry him?"

"We'll have to; there is no other way."

Slinging their guns across their backs, they raised up the form of the unconscious man. He was a dead weight, and to carry him through that deep snow was no light task. Less than half the distance to the shelter was covered when Dick called a halt.

"I'll have to rest up!" he gasped. "He weighs a ton."

But in a few minutes he resumed the journey, and now they did not stop with their load until the shelter was reached. Tom and Sam were watching for them.

"Jasper Grinder, by all that's wonderful!" burst out Tom.

"Was he alone?" questioned Sam.

"He was, so far as we could see," answered Dick. "I can tell you, he's almost a case for an undertaker."

This remark made everyone feel sober, and while the two younger Rovers stirred up the fire, Dick and the guide did all in their power to bring the unconscious man to his senses. Some hot coffee was poured down his throat, and his hands and back were vigorously rubbed.

"Oh!" came faintly, at last, and Jasper Grinder slowly opened his eyes, "Oh!"

"Take it easy, Mr. Grinder," said Dick kindly. "You are safe now."

"But the bear! Where is the bear?" murmured the dazed man.

"There is no bear here."

"He is after me! He wants to chew me up!"

With this Jasper Grinder relapsed into unconsciousness once more.

"I reckon a b'ar chased him and he lost his reckonin'," was John Barrow's comment. "Bring him up to the fire. He wants warmin'."

Yet, with all the care they were able to bestow, it was a good hour before Jasper Grinder was able to sit up and relate what had occurred to him. He was very hungry, and eagerly disposed of every scrap of food they had to offer him.

"I have been lost in the timber since yesterday," he said. "Oh, it was awful, the wind and the snow, and the intense cold. Sometimes I could not feel my feet, and I knew I was freezing to death. And I hadn't a mouthful to eat!"

"But where are the others?" questioned Dick.

"I don't know--back to that cave, I suppose. We were out looking for some trace of--ahem--of Tom and Sam, when I became separated from the others. Then, in trying to find my way back to the cave, I fell in with a big black bear. The ugly creature came after me, and I ran for my life, through the brushwood and the snow, until I came to a cliff. I fell over this, landed on an icy slope, and rolled and rolled until I struck the river. Then I got up and tried to get back to the cave, but it was out of the question. I found an opening in the cliff, on going back, and remained there until morning, when that bear, or another like him, roused me and caused me another roll down to the river."

"Didn't the bear follow you?" asked Tom.

"He followed as far as the river. But I ran with all my might through the deep snow, and presently he gave up the pursuit. Then I went on and on until I happened to catch a glimpse of your camp-fire, and set up a cry for help. I slipped on a rock and hit my cheek, and the loss of blood and the shock made me dizzy. The next I knew I was here."

"You may be thankful that we found you and brought you in," was the remark made by John Barrow. "If you had remained out there this night, you'd 'a' been a corpse by mornin', sure!"

"I suppose that's true," said Jasper Grinder, with a thoughtful look. His experience had humbled him greatly. He was so exhausted that he soon fell asleep, breathing heavily. The boys and John Barrow gazed at him curiously.

"His being with us presents a problem," said Dick. "What are we to do with him?"

"I'm sure I don't want him along," answered Sam promptly. He had hot forgotten the treatment received at Putnam Hall.

"None of us want him, I take it, Sam. But we can't leave him behind to starve. And I doubt if he can find his way back to the Baxter camp alone."

"No, he can't do that," put in the guide. "It is easy to see he knows nothing of the woods and mountains. He was a fool to come here."

"If we take him along, we ought to make him do his share of the work," said Tom. "But I don't like it. He'll be forever spying on us, and if we find that treasure he'll try to get it away, mark my words."

"The only thing we can do is to watch him, and not let him have any gun or pistol," said Dick. "He won't dare to leave us, unarmed, especially if we tell him of all the wild animals that are around."

The subject was discussed for fully an hour, but no satisfactory conclusion was reached, and presently one after another dropped off to sleep; the guide being the last to lie down, after fixing the camp-fire for the night, so that a share of the warmth might drift into the shelter.

On the following day the sun came up bright and clear. It was still bitterly cold, and they were loath to leave the vicinity of the camp-fire. But John Barrow urged that they make good use of the clear weather, and so they started up the river as soon as they had disposed of their breakfast of fish and birds.

"To be sure I'll go along, if I can walk," was what Jasper Grinder said on being questioned, "I wouldn't remain behind alone for a fortune, and I am sure I can't find the Baxter party now. Please don't cast me off! It wouldn't be human!"

"I believe you'd cast us off, if we were in a similar situation," was Tom's comment. "The way you treated Sam at the Hall shows that you don't care how some folks suffer. But you can go along, for we are not brutes. But you've got to be careful how you behave, or otherwise out you go, to shift for yourself, no matter how cold it is or how many wild animals are around."

"I will do nothing that does not meet with the approval of all of you," answered the former teacher humbly. "And remember, Thomas, I was willing to aid you when you were a prisoner in the cave in the gully."

"You were--for a big consideration," returned Tom dryly. "Let me tell you flatly, I don't take much stock in your so-called generosity."

They were soon on the way, straight down to the river and then up that stream. John Barrow was in the lead, with Sam following. Jasper came next, and Tom and Dick brought up the rear. As far as possible the guide sought out a trail along the timber, where the snow was not so deep. Here and there were bare spots, but at other places were deep drifts, where they frequently got in up to their armpits.

"This is no joke!" gasped Sam, after floundering through an extra deep drift. "I thought I was going out of sight that time."

"I trust we haven't much further to go," was Jasper Grinder's comment. "I would give a hundred dollars to be back at Timber Run."

"It's your own fault you are here," retorted Sam.

"I might say the same of you," returned the former teacher sharply.

By noon John Barrow calculated they had covered half the distance to Bear Pond. A sheltered nook was found between some rocks and trees, and here they set fire to a mass of brushwood, that they might get warm while they rested, and ate the last of the food on hand. There was no wind, and the sun, shining as brightly as ever, made the surface of the snow glitter like diamonds.

"I hope we find our stores at the cache undisturbed," said Dick, while resting. "I am hungry for a change of diet. As soon as we get there I'm going to make some biscuits and boil some beans."

"Gosh, but a plateful of beans would be fine!" cried Tom. "I can tell you what," he added reflectively; "you want to do without things to learn their real value."

On they went once more, this time slower than before, because both Sam and Jasper Grinder showed great signs of weariness. They had to move around a long bend of the stream, and for fear of getting into a deep drift the guide did not dare to make a short cut. They passed the pole set up by John Barrow and Dick at the forks of the stream, and then headed directly for where the cache was located.

"When we get settled we can put up a regular hut," said John Barrow. "Then we can be as comfortable, almost, as at home."

"I'm anxious to locate the treasure," said Tom, "We can--Gracious me! Look there!"

They had come in sight of the cache, and now beheld two great black bears standing over the loose stone's, doing their best to scratch them away and get at the party's stores!