The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 10

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"It's odd that Dan Baxter should be out here," observed Sam as they journeyed along. "Can he be following us?"

"It is possible," returned Dick. "You know he would do almost anything to harm us."

"He has got to keep his distance," said Fred. "I shan't put up with any more of his games."

When they came to a turn of the road, they saw Dan Baxter and the bushy-haired man a long distance ahead. The former bully of Putnam Hall was on the lookout for them and at once urged his steed onward at an increased rate of speed.

"He means to get away if he possibly can," cried Songbird. "If we want to catch him, we have got to do our utmost."

On and on they rode, until another turn hid Baxter and his companion from view again.

The bully was frightened, for he did not know what would happen to him if he was caught by the Rovers and their friends in such a lonely spot as this.

The man who was with him, a fellow named Sack Todd, noticed his anxiety, and smiled grimly to himself.

"You're mighty anxious to git away from them fellows," he remarked.

"Well, if I am, what of it?" returned Dan Baxter sharply. So many things had gone wrong lately that he was thoroughly out of humor.

"Oh, I allow you have a perfect right to give 'em the go-by if you want to," answered Sack Todd. "I wouldn't mind helpin' you a bit maybe. Tell me about 'em, will you?"

"They are fellows I hate, and I've always hated them!" cried the bully fiercely. "We used to go to the same boarding academy, and they did their best to get me into trouble. Then I tried to get square, and that put me in hot water and I had to leave. After that, we had more trouble. They tried to prove I was a criminal."

"I see. Go on."

"It's a long story. I hate 'em, and I'd do almost anything to get square with them."

"Good for you!" cried Sack Todd. "I like a fellow who wants to stand up for himself. But just now you are running away."

"I can't stand up against such a crowd alone, But some day it will be different."

"Let us turn down a side road," said Sack Todd. "That will throw 'em off the scent."

He was a good judge of character, and fancied he could read Baxter's story fairly well. The young man had come down in the world, and he was bitter against everybody and everything.

They passed down a side path and then on to a trail that was all but hidden by the grass and bushes.

"It's a short cut to Cottonton," said the man. "We can reach there in no time by this trail. Very few, though, know of the route."

As they rode along the half-hidden trail, he questioned Dan Baxter more closely than ever, and as a result learned as much as he cared to know. He realized that the former bully was hard up and ready to do almost anything to make some money. What he had possessed, he had spent in gambling and other forms of fast living.

"Perhaps I can put you in the way of making some money," said Sack Todd slowly. "That is, if you are not over particular as to what it is," he added, looking at Baxter sharply.

"I'm not looking for hard work, thank you," was the ready answer. "I am not used to that sort of thing, and couldn't stand it."

"This sort of work would be easy enough. But it would require judgment—and a little nerve at first"

"Well, I think I have fairly good judgment, and, as for nerve why, try me, that's all."

"Then there is another point to the business. You'd have to drive some pretty sharp bargains."

"I can do that."

"Sometimes the goods are not exactly as represented——"

"I guess I understand, and that wouldn't stop me," and Dan Baxter grinned. "But I'd want pretty good pay."

"I think I can make that suitable after we know each other better," said Sack Todd. He continued to draw Baxter out, and hinted at a scheme to make big money. At last, the former bully of Putnam Hall could stand it no longer.

"See here," he cried. "If you mean business, spit out what is in your mind. You can trust me with anything. I am not of the milk-and-water sort I am out for money, first, last and all the time."

"Then you are a fellow after my own heart," answered the man. "I reckon we can come to terms. But not just yet."

"Well, I've got to have something pretty quick. I am next to dead-broke."

"Perhaps I can help you out a bit."

"I wish you would."

"Here is twenty dollars. I reckon that will prove that I am taking an interest in you." And the bright, crisp bill was handed over.

"Money talks!" cried Dan Baxter. He gazed at the bank note in genuine pleasure. "I am much obliged."

"Here is where I must leave you," went on Sack Todd as they reached a crossing in the trails. "Keep right on, and you'll soon come in sight of Cottonton. Meet me there to-night at the Planters' Rest."

"I will."

"You had better keep out of sight—if those Rovers are on your trail."

"Trust me to lay low," said Baxter with a short laugh. In another moment the former bully of Putnam Hall found himself alone. Sack Todd had galloped off at a high rate of speed.

"He is certainly an odd sort," mused Baxter. "But I guess he means to do right by me, or he wouldn't lend me a twenty so readily. He must be used to handling big money, by the roll of bills he carried. I wish I possessed such a roll. There must have been several hundred dollars in it, at least."

He felt to make sure that the bill was safe in his pocket, and then continued on his journey. Several times he looked back, but he could see nothing of the Rover boys or their friends.

Dan Baxter felt particularly downcast and desperate. Since the capture of Lew Flapp, he had been without a companion in whom to confide, and the peculiar loneliness among utter strangers was beginning to tell on him. This was one reason why he had told Sack Todd so much of his

Coming to the end of the timber and brushwood, he saw, lying before him in something of a valley, the town of Cottonton, consisting of several well laid out streets and an outlying district of pretty homes. At a distance was the regular road, but so far his enemies were not in sight.

The ride had made Baxter hungry and, reaching the town, he lost no time in hunting up a modest restaurant on a side street, where, he hoped, the Rovers would not find him.

"What can you give me for dinner?" he asked. "I want something good."

A number of dishes were named over, and he selected roast beef, potatoes, beans, coffee and pie. He was quickly served, and pitched in with a will. "Riding makes a fellow feel hungry," he ex plained to the proprietor of the eating house, who hovered near.

"Yes, sah, so it does. Going to stay in town, sah?"

"I don't know yet. I'm just looking around."

"Yes, sah, certainly. If you stay, I'll be pleased to furnish meals regularly, sah."

"I'll remember that."

Having disposed of the meal and also an extra cup of coffee, Dan Baxter called for a cigar and lit it. Then he hauled out the twenty-dollar bill. As he did so, he gave a slight start. He had handled a good deal of money in his time, and the bank bill looked just a bit peculiar to him.

"What if it isn't good?" he asked himself.

"Forty-five cents, please," said the restaurant keeper. His usual price for such a meal was thirty cents, but he thought Baxter could stand the raise.

"Sorry I haven't a smaller bill," answered the bully coolly. "I ought to have asked the bank cashier to give me smaller bills."

"I reckon I can change it, sah," said the restaurant man, thinking only of the extra fifteen cents he was to receive.

"Take out half a dollar and have a cigar on me," continued Baxter magnanimously.

"Yes, sah; thank you, sah!" said the man.

He fumbled around, and in a minute counted out nineteen dollars and a half in change. Pocketing the amount, the bully walked out, mounted his horse once more and rode away.

"Nice chap, to pay forty-five cents and then treat me to a cigar," thought the restaurant keeper. "Wish I had that sort coming in every day."

He lit the cigar and smoked it with a relish, particularly so as it had not cost him anything. He put the twenty-dollar bill away, to use when he should go to a neighboring city to buy some household goods, two days later.

When he went to buy his things, they came to twenty-six dollars, and he passed over the new twenty-dollar bill, and also an old one received some weeks before.

"I'll have to get change at the bank," said the store keeper, and left his place to do so. In a few minutes he came back in a hurry.

"See here," he cried. "They tell me one of these bills is a counterfeit."

"A counterfeit!" gasped the restaurant man.

"So the bank cashier says."

"Which bill?"

"The new one."

"You don't mean it! Why, I took that bill in only a couple of days ago."

"Then you got stuck, Mr. Golden."

"Is he sure it's a counterfeit?"

"Dead certain of it. He says it's rather a clever imitation, and that a number of them are afloat around these parts. Where did you get it?"

"A stranger gave it to me," groaned the restaurant keeper. "I thought he was mighty smooth. He treated me to a cigar! I wish I had him here!"

"You had better watch out for him."

"Sure I will. But I suppose he'll know enough to keep out of my way," added the man who had been victimized.