Chapter XXVI. The Baxters Try to Make Terms
 

For the moment after Tom found himself in the presence of the Baxters he could not speak. Then he turned fiercely upon Bill Noxton.

"You have fooled me!" he cried hotly.

"That's right," laughed Noxton sarcastically.

"And let me add, ye was fooled putty easy."

"It's Tom Rover!" ejaculated Dan Baxter, as he leaped to his feet, followed by his parent. "Where did you find him, Noxton; over to that fire?"

"Yes."

"Were the others of the party with him?" put in Arnold Baxter quickly.

"No, he was alone. He got lost from the rest last night, when they gave us the slip in the dark."

"Then you have seen nothing of the others?" said Arnold Baxter, and it was plain to see that he was keenly disappointed.

"No, but I reckon they can't be far off," replied Noxton.

Seeing that Tom contemplated running away, he made the youth dismount. "Better make a prisoner of him," he suggested.

"By all means!" cried Dan Baxter, and brought forth a stout lariat. With this Toni's hands were bound behind him, and his feet were also secured.

"That's number one, Roebuck," laughed Arnold Baxter, turning to the man who had thus far remained silent.

"Tom Rover?" asked the man laconically.

"Yes."

"A bright-looking chap."

"Oh, he's bright enough," growled Baxter senior.

"But it won't help him any," put in Dan, bound to say something.

"Is he the oldest of the three?"

"No, Dick is the oldest. Tom comes next."

"Then it is Dick you ought to have collared," said Roebuck, turning to Noxton.

"I collared the one I happened to see."

"Well, Tom Rover, how do you like your situation?" asked Dan, with a sickly smile, as the men turned away to discuss the situation among themselves.

"Don't like it," replied Tom, as lightly as he could.

"I guess you are sorry, now, that you didn't heed our warning and go back to Gunnison."

"I'm not particularly sorry. I have as much right out here as anybody."

"Oh, you needn't put on airs to me. I know you are trembling in your boots."

"Thanks, but if you'll bring your chin out of the air, Baxter, you'll see that I am wearing shoes."

"Don't you put on airs with me, Tom Rover. You are in our power and you shall suffer for the way you have treated my father and me in the past."

"I have no doubt, Baxter, now I am helpless, that you will do your worst. You were always ready to take an unfair advantage of another."

This answer made Dan Baxter boil with rage, and he stepped closer and shook his fist in Tom's face.

"You be careful or I'll -- I'll crack you one," he blustered.

"You're a cheerful brute, Dan, I must say. Why don't you try to fight fair for once? It would be such a delightful change."

"I do fight fair. You and your brothers have no right to poke your noses in my affairs, and my father's."

"This affair out here is our own, not yours. The Eclipse Mine is my father's property."

"And I say it belongs to me and dad," answered Dan, with more force than elegance. "But I won't argue with you. You are in our power and have got to take the consequence."

"What do you intend to do with me?" asked Tom.

"You'll find out soon enough."

"Don't you know that my brothers are in this neighborhood, and that they have the law on their side?"

"Yes, I know your brothers are here -- and we'll have them prisoners, too, before long," returned Dan Baxter, and then cut the conversation short by walking away.

Tom had managed to speak bravely enough, yet his heart was by no means light. He realized that the Baxters had not forgotten the past, and that here, in this wild country, they were more inclined than ever to take the law in their own hands.

He was left alone for the best part of an hour, only Noxton seeing to it that he did not run away. Then he was ordered to mount again, his legs being liberated for that purpose.

Feeling it would be foolhardy to refuse, with three men and a boy against him, Tom mounted, and the whole party moved along the mountain to a spot which was evidently well-known to Noxton. Here, at a certain point, was what had once been an overland hotel, but the building was now dilapidated and deserted.

"We'll stop here for the present," said Arnold Baxter grimly. "Get down, Rover," and Tom obeyed.

Inside of the place, two of the rooms were found in fair condition and in one of these Tom was tied fast to a cupboard door. Then the men went out for another parley.

The youth could not hear all that was said, but learned enough to convince him that Al Roebuck, as he was called, was the party who had forged the pardon which had obtained for Arnold Baxter his liberty. For this work Roebuck had been promised a half share in the Eclipse Mine, and of some money which Baxter the elder was hoping to obtain.

At last Arnold Baxter and Dan came in once more and faced Tom.

"Rover, we are now ready to come to terms," began the man.

"Are you ready to release me?"

"Yes -- under certain conditions."

"You've got to sign off all rights to that mine," broke in Dan.

"Dan, keep quiet," interposed his father. "I can do this better alone."

"I know him better than you do, dad," returned his graceless son.

"Perhaps, but I am fully capable of making terms with him."

"All right, fire away, I don't care. Only don't let him off too easy."

"I am anxious to settle this matter quietly," went on Arnold Baxter to Tom. "I don't want any more trouble."

"Well, go ahead, I'm listening," came from Tom.

"You are out here to locate a certain mine."

"I don't deny it. The mine belongs to my father."

"It belongs to me -- and I am bound to have it."

"You are a jailbird, Mr. Baxter. How can you hold such a property now?"

The criminal winced and clenched his fists.

"Don't be quite so plain-spoken, Rover, it doesn't set well. I say the claim is mine."

"Well?"

"You are in my power."

"Granted."

"Isn't your life worth something to you? To be sure it is. Then why not try to make terms to save it?"

"You are fooling with me. You cannot be it earnest, Arnold Baxter."

"You'll soon see if dad aint in earnest," burst out Dan.

"I am not fooling, Rover, I mean every word of what I say. If you want to save your life you must make terms with me."

"What sort of terms?"

"You must write a letter to your brothers and the man who was with you and get them to return without delay to the East."

"And after that?"

"After they have returned to the East we will set you free, providing you swear to follow them and all of you swear to keep out of Colorado in the future."

"And if I refuse?"

"If you refuse your life shall pay the forfeit," answered Arnold Baxter. "Come now, which do you choose?"