29. Jasper Grinder And The Wolves.
 

Left to himself, Jasper Grinder piled the wood on the camp-fire and then sat down to meditate on the turn affairs had taken.

He was in a thoroughly sour frame of mind. To his way of thinking everything had gone wrong, and he wondered how matters would terminate.

"I was a fool to come out here, in the first place," he told himself. "I ought to have known that Baxter had no sure thing of it. If I hadn't fallen in with the Rovers, I would have frozen and starved to death. And they don't want me; that's plainly to be seen."

Had he felt able to do so, he would have packed a knapsack with provisions and started oh his way down the river toward Timber Run. But he did not know how far the settlement was away, and he was afraid to trust himself alone in such a wilderness as confronted him on every hand. He did not possess much money, but he would have given every dollar to be safe back in the city again.

He wondered if the Rovers would gain possession of the treasure before the Baxter party came up, and also wondered what would happen should the two parties come together. He had not been treated very well by Dan Baxter, and so he hardly cared who came out on top in the struggle for the treasure.

"Whoever gets it will try to count me out," was the way he reasoned. "I'm at the bottom of the heap, and likely to stay there for some time to come."

The time dragged slowly, and to occupy himself he began to cut more wood for the fire. The task made him grit his teeth.

"Got to work like a common woodchopper," he muttered. "It's a shame!"

He was just dragging the last of the wood up to the fire when a sudden yelping broke upon his ears. Looking up, he saw a lone wolf standing at the edge of the timber, gazing fixedly at him.

"A wolf!" he muttered, and his face grew pale. "Scat!" And he waved his hand threateningly.

The wolf disappeared behind some brush, but did not go far. Sitting down, it let out the most dismal howls imaginable, which soon brought a dozen or more other wolves to the scene. Then all of the pack came into view, much to Jasper Grinder's horror.

"They want to eat me up!" he groaned, and ran for the nearest tree, which was close to the shelter. "Oh, I must get away, somehow!"

He clutched at the tree and began to climb with all possible-speed. His gun lay close at hand, but in his haste he forgot to pick it up. Once in the tree he sat down on a limb, a perfect picture of misery.

Seeing the man retreat the wolves at once became bolder, and keeping a safe distance from the fire, they drew up in a circle around the tree upon which Jasper Grinder rested, and from which hung the bear meal. At one point under the tree there was a spot covered with bear's blood, and this blood several of the wolves licked up in a manner to make the former teacher's own blood run cold.

"If they get at me they'll chew me up, I know they will," he moaned. "Oh, why did I ever come out in this savage waste!"

Sitting in a circle, the wolves lifted their heads and howled dismally. Two came to the tree and scratched the bark, as if to attempt climbing.

"Go away! Go away!" shrieked Jasper Grinder. "Scat! Go away!"

The wolves left the tree-trunk, but did not go away. Instead one after another began to leap up, trying to reach the meat which hung so temptingly above them. One or two prowled among the stores, tearing this and that, and picking up the scraps of the morning meal.

In this fashion half an hour went by, and it is safe to state that this was the longest and most trying half hour that Jasper Grinder experienced in his whole life. He shouted at the wolves and threw bits of sticks at them, but to this they paid no attention. Then he cried for help, but the Rovers and John Barrow were too far off to hear him.

"If I only had the gun, I could fire it as a signal," he said to himself. "Why did I not bring it up with me?"

He wondered if he could pull the gun up by means of a string he found in his pocket, and resolved to try. Making a loop in one end of the string he lowered it with care, until it rested close to the gun, and then he did his best to slide the string along under the barrel. This was comparatively easy, for the barrel was tilted up against a rock.

The wolves watched the maneuvering with interest, and no sooner did the gun begin to shift than three leaped forward, snarling angrily. One snapped at the barrel of the piece, one at the butt, and a third at the trigger. An instant later came the report heard by the Rovers and John Barrow.

The shot was almost a deadly one, not alone for two of the wolves, but also for Jasper Grinder, who was not expecting the gun to go off. The piece was loaded with buckshot, which tore through the sides of two of the beasts, and then passed upward into the tree-branches, taking the former school-teacher in the left shoulder.

"I'm shot!" gasped Jasper Grinder, and almost fell from his perch. But he managed to save himself, and hung in a crotch, weak and almost helpless, the blood flowing freely and dripping to the ground, where the wolves licked it up eagerly. A few had retreated at the report of the gun, but now all came back, snarling and yelping more wildly than ever.

It must be confessed that Jasper Grinder's position was truly unfortunate. The loss of blood was fast rendering him unconscious, and he was in mortal terror of dropping down and being devoured.

"Help!" he called feebly. "Help! For the love of Heaven, help me!"

Just as his senses were leaving him he heard a distant cry, and looking in that direction, saw John Barrow and Dick approaching, followed by Tom and Sam.

"The wolves have Grinder treed," cried the guide. "I'll give 'em something to remember us by!"

He had a double-barreled shotgun, and he let drive twice in quick succession, firing into two groups of the beasts, and killing two and wounding several others. Then Dick fired, bringing down another. Tom and Sam also discharged their pieces, and added three others to the dead or dying.

This slaughter was too much for the remaining wolves, hungry as they were, and in a twinkle they ran off into the timber, howling dismally.

"They won't come back," was John Barrow's comment. "They have learned to respect us." And he was right, the wolves bothered them no more.

While the guide was busy finishing the beast which had been too much hurt to retreat, the boys turned their attention to Jasper Grinder. They saw he had fainted, and noticed the, blood dripping from his shoulder. His body was slowly leaving the tree crotch where it had rested.

"He's coming! Catch him!" cried Sam, and as the unconscious man came down they did what they could to break his fall. Fortunately he landed in the deep snow, so the fall proved of small consequence.

"He's shot, that's what's the matter with him," said Dick, after an examination. "Who fired at him? I'm certain none of us did."

The question could not be answered. Bringing out a blanket, they placed Jasper Grinder upon it, close to the fire, and John Barrow made an examination of the wound, picking out a couple of the loose buckshot.

"He was probably shot from his own gun," said the guide. "More than likely he dropped the piece from the tree, and it went off when it struck the ground."

They bound up the wound carefully, and did all they could for the sufferer. Then, while Dick watched over Jasper Grinder, the others got rid of the wolves' carcasses by dragging them into the timber, and then set to work to prepare the midday meal.

It was fully an hour before Jasper Grinder was able to speak, and then he could say but little. But he explained how it was that he had been shot. He wanted to know if the wolves had been driven off, and begged that they would not leave him alone again.

"We'll stay by you, now you are down," said Dick sympathetically. "We are not brutes, even though we haven't any great love for you."

"Thank you; I'll not forget your kindness," returned Jasper Grinder, and for once it must be admitted that he meant what he said.

The wounded man could eat no solid food, so they prepared for him some broth made from bear's meat, which was very strengthening. After another examination John Barrow was of the opinion that the wound was not a dangerous one, but that the man would have to keep quiet for several days or a week.

"We'll have to take turns at watching him," said Dick. "It's too bad, but I see no other way out of it."

They drew lots, and it fell to Sam to remain with the patient during the afternoon. An hour later Dick, Tom, and the guide set off to look once more for the treasure.

"Well, I'm tired enough to stay here and rest," said Sam. "That walking this morning played me out completely."

There was not much to do, since Jasper Grinder had brought in sufficient wood to last for a day or two. For an hour Sam rested and watched the former teacher, who had fallen into a doze. Then the youngest Rover set to work to improve the shelter, doing several things which the guide had suggested.

The youth was hard at work patching up one side of the improvised hut when he heard a movement in the brushwood not far away. Fearing some wild animal he ran for his gun, but ere he could reach the firearm a voice arrested him.

"Stop, Sam Rover, stop!"

The voice was that of Dan Baxter, and an instant later the bully came into view, rifle in hand, and followed by Bill Harney.

"What do you want here, Baxter?" demanded Sam, as coolly as he could, although the situation by no means pleased him.

"Are you alone?"

"No."

"Who is with you?"

"What business is that of yours?"

"I'm making it my business."

"I reckon he's alone, right enough," put in Bill Harney. "I don't see anybody else around."

The big guide rushed forward, and knocking down Sam's gun placed his foot upon it.

"Give me my gun!"

"Not so fast, my bantam!" cried the guide. "Baxter, reckon ye had better look into the shack and see what's there."

The bully did as requested. On seeing Jasper Grinder, he started back.

"Grinder!"

"Who calls?" asked the wounded man, and opened his eyes. "So it is you, Dan Baxter. What do you want?"

"What did you desert us for, Grinder?"

"I didn't desert you. I got lost, and they found me, half starved and frozen. Now I am wounded. Are you in possession of this camp? Where are the Rovers?"

"Sam is here. I don't know anything about the others. Have they found that treasure yet?"

"No. They went off to look for it." Jasper Grinder tried to go on, but fell back exhausted and could say no more.

"Here's a queer go!" muttered the former bully of Putnam Hall. "I suppose they shot Grinder. If they did, they ought to suffer for it. I guess--Hullo, what's up out there?"

A scuffle outside of the shelter had reached his ears. Bill Harney had been standing close to some firewood, and without warning Sam had rushed at the big guide and sent him sprawling backward.

"Hi! stop him!" yelled the guide, as he started to struggle to his feet. But before he could get up, Sam had taken time by the forelock and disappeared into the timber skirting the pond.