The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 15
SOMETHING OF A MYSTERY
The cry came simultaneously from several of the crowd.
"I think Dick is right," said Songbird. "I thought it must be Dan, but I wasn't sure, for I didn't expect to see him here."
"He and that Sack Todd must have become friends," put in Tom. "I would like to know what Dan is doing out here."
"He is certainly up to no good," answered Dick. "I must say this adds to the mystery, doesn't it, boys?"
"That's what it does," chimed in Sam. "I wish we could catch Baxter and bring him to justice."
"Or reform him," came from Dick.
"Reform him, Dick!" cried Tom. "That would be mighty uphill work."
"It isn't in him," added Fred. "He is tee-totally bad."
"I used to think that of Dan's father, but Arnold Baxter has reformed—and he wants his son to do likewise."
"Well, that isn't here or there," said Tom after a pause. "What are we to do just now?"
"Let us push on to town first," answered Songbird. "After that, we can rearrange our plans if we wish."
This was considered good advice, and once again they urged their steeds along. Coming to a high point in the trail, they made out Caville a mile distant, and rode into the town about noon.
It was not much of a place, and the single hotel afforded only the slimmest of accommodations. But they had to be satisfied, and so made the best of it.
The meal over, Dick strolled into the office of the tavern, where he found the proprietor sitting in a big wooden chair leaning against the counter.
"Quite a town," began the eldest Rover cheerfully.
"Wall, it ain't so bad but what it might be wuss, stranger. Did the grub suit ye?"
"Glad to hear it, stranger. Sometimes the folks from the big cities find fault. Expect me to run a reg'lar Aster-Delmonicum, or sumthin' like that."
"It is very hard to suit everybody," said Dick. "By the way," he went on, "do you know a man around these parts named Sack Todd?"
"Do I know him? To be sure I do, stranger. Friend o' yourn?"
"Not exactly, but I have met him a few times. Where does he live?"
"Lives over to Red Rock ranch, quite a few miles from here."
"Not exactly. He has a cousin there, I believe, and some others. But I wouldn't advise you to go over to the ranch, nohow."
"Sack Todd don't take to visitors. The story goes that a visitor once stopped there an' shot his wife and robbed her, an' since that time he ain't had no use fer anybody, only them as he knows very well."
"Does he run the ranch for a living?"
"Don't know but what he does, but he don't work very hard a-doin' it."
"Is there an old man working for him—a fellow with thin shoulders and reddish hair?"
"Yes; an' he's a sour pill, too."
"He must be an odd stick, to keep himself so close."
"Yes; but Sack's a good spender, when he's in the humor of it. Sometimes he comes to town with a wad o' money an' treats everybody right an' left. Then ag'in he comes in an' won't notice nobody."
Here the talk came to an end, for the hotel man had to attend to some new arrivals. Dick joined the others and all took a walk, so that their conversation might not be overheard.
"This only adds to the mystery," said Tom after Dick had repeated what the tavern keeper had said. "I am more anxious now than ever to visit Red Rock ranch, as they call it."
"So am I," added Sam. "And remember, we want to catch Dan Baxter if we can."
"Well, we can't go ahead and back too, boys," came from Dick. "If we really mean to investigate, we ought to send Mr. Denton and the ladies and the girls word. If we don't, and we are delayed any great length of time, they will be sure to worry about us."
"Maybe we can telephone," suggested Songbird. "Don't you see the wires? Some of the plantations must have the service."
"That's the talk!" cried Fred. "Let us try it, anyway."
They walked to the nearest station and looked over the book. But the Denton plantation was not mentioned.
"We can send a letter," said Dick. "That will get there before they have a chance to worry."
They returned to the tavern, and there the communication was written, and later on dropped in the post-office. Then they held another consultation.
"Those fellows around that ranch are all armed beyond a doubt," said Tom. "I think we ought to get something in the shape of firearms."
"We've got a gun and a pistol now," answered Dick.
"Say, I ton't vos go pack of der been schootin' goin' on!" cried Hans. "I tole you dot Sack Todd been a pad man."
"You can remain behind, Hans," returned Sam.
"He can go on to Mr. Denton's," said Songbird.
"Not much—I stick py der crowd," said the German youth. He thought it worse to leave them than to confront any possible perils.
Their horses had been fed and cared for, and by the middle of the afternoon each was provided with a pistol, the extra weapons being secured at the local hardware establishment.
"Afraid of outlaws?" questioned the man who sold the pistols.
"There is nothing like being armed," answered Dick. "On some of these trails, there is no tellinf what sort of persons you will meet."
"I've got an idea," said Tom when they were on the street again. "Why not take our time and move on Red Rock ranch after dark?"
"And lose our way," came from Sam.
"Well, we can't use that trail in the daylight. That old man will be sure to halt us."
"We can get around the old man somehow," said Songbird. "As soon as we spot him, we can make a detour."
By four o'clock, they were on the way. Not to excite suspicions on the part of any of Sack Todd's friends who might happen to be around, they left Caville by a side trail and then took to the back road after the last of the houses of the town had been passed.
"I'd just like a long ride over the prairie," cried Sam. "I know I'd enjoy every minute of it."
They had proceeded less than a mile when Hans went to the front.
"I dink dis horse vants to let himself out a leetle," said he.
"I'll race you," said Sam, and away they started at a breakneck speed.
"Hold on!" cried Dick. "Don't tire yourselves out in that fashion. We've got a good many miles to go yet."
But neither of the racers paid any attention, and soon they were a good distance to the front. Hans was doing his best to keep ahead of the youngest Rover, and, as his steed was a little the better of the two, he had small difficulty in accomplishing his object.
But, alas, for the poor German boy! The race made him careless of where he was going, and soon he found himself on the very edge of a swamp, similar to that encountered before.
"Whoa!" he yelled to his horse. "Whoa!" And then he added: "Sam, go pack kvick!"
"What's wrong, Hans?"
"It ist all vet aroundt here, und I—Du meine Zeit!"
As the German youth finished, his horse stepped into a fair-sized hole on the edge of the swamp. On the instant, a cloud arose from the hole.
"Hornets!" screamed Sam, and backed away with all speed.
"Hellup! hellup!" yelled Hans. "Ouch! Oh, my!" And then he tried to back away. But the hornets were angry at being disturbed in their nest and went at him and his horse with vigor.
"Something is wrong with Hans," observed Dick, looking ahead. "See, his nag is dancing around as if it was crazy."
"Oh, me; oh, my!" roared Hans, slapping to the right and to the left. "I vos stung in morn as a hundred blaces. Hellup me, somepotty! Dis vos der vorse yet alretty! Git avay, you hornets! I gif you fife dollars to git avay!"
"Ride off, Hans," called out Fred. "Don't stay near the hornets' nest. It will only make it so much the worse for you."
Thus advised, Hans backed and started off. But, instead of going off by himself, he rode directly into the crowd.
"Hi, you, keep away!" sang out Tom, and then, as a hornet alighted on his nose, he went on: "Whow! Haven't you any sense?"
"Anypotty vot vonts dem hornets can haf dem, free of charge, mit drading stamps drown in," answered Hans. "Git avay!" and he rode on.
"The cheek of him!" put in Fred, who was also bitten. "We ought to drive him back into the hole."
"Not on mine life!" said Hans. "I vos so stung now I can't see mine eyes out of, ain't it!"
All lost no time in getting away from the vicinity of the hornets' nest, and presently the pests left them and went back to the hole, to see what damage had been done.
"This is an experience I didn't bargain for," said Songbird, who had been stung in the cheek.
"Maybe you'd like to make up some poetry about it," grumbled Tom. "Oh, how my chin hurts!"
"And my ear!"
"And my nose!"
"Humph! Look at my eye!"
So the talk ran on, and the crowd looked at each other in their misery. But the sights were too comical and, despite the pain, each had to laugh at the others.
"Didn't know you had so much cheek, Songbird."
"My, what an awful smeller Fred's got!"
"Dick's left hand is a regular boxing glove."
"I'm going to put some soft mud on the hand," returned Dick. "There is nothing better to draw out the pain of a hornet's sting."
"Den gif me some of dot mut, too," said Hans. "I ton't vos care how he looks, so long as it makes me feel easier."
Mud was easy to procure, and all used it liberally, and before long the pain and swelling began to go down. But their sufferings did not cease entirely until many hours afterwards, while poor Hans could not use one eye for two days.
"After this, we had better keep our eyes open for hornets' nests," observed Dick.
"I certainly don't want to be stung again," said Sam.
"I believe a fellow could be stung to death by such pests," ventured Fred.
"Yes, and a horrible death it would be," answered Dick. The encounter with the hornets had delayed them greatly, and it was getting toward nightfall before they went on their way again.
"We may as well take our time," said Tom. "We can't reach Red Rock ranch until tomorrow."
After crossing a level stretch of prairie, they came to the edge of a woods. Not far off was a shack similar to those to be seen all over this section of our country.
"Hullo, here is a house," cried Dick. "I wonder if anybody lives here?"
He dismounted and, walking forward, looked into the shack. On a bed of boughs a heavy-set man was sleeping.
"Hullo, there!" called out the eldest of the Rovers. The man sat up in alarm and made a movement as if to draw a pistol.
"What do you want of me?" he asked roughly.