The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 24
TOM CARRIES A LETTER
After that it was a comparatively easy matter to get the old man to talk, and he told James Monday and the boys practically all he knew about Sack Todd and his followers.
He said it was commonly supposed that Sack Todd had some invention that he was jealously guarding. Some folks thought the man was a bit crazy on the subject of his discoveries, and so did not question him much concerning them. The machinery and other material which arrived from time to time were all supposed to be parts of the wonderful machine Sack Todd was having made at various places.
While he was talking, the old man looked at Tom many times in curiosity.
"Might I ask your name?" he said at length.
"What do you want to know that for?" returned Tom.
"Because you look so wonderfully like my son Bud—an' you talk like him, too. But Bud's skin is a bit darker nor yours."
"My name is Tom Rover."
"Talking about looking alike," broke in Fred. "There's a strong resemblance," and he pointed to the detective and the old man. "Of course, you don't look quite so old," he added to James Monday.
"I am glad that you think we look alike," smiled back the government official. "I was banking on that."
"What do you mean?" came from Songbird.
"I will show you in a minute. Mr. Cashaw, I'll trouble you to exchange hats, coats and collars with me," the detective continued, turning to the old man.
The latter did not understand, but gave up his wearing apparel a moment later, and soon James Monday was wearing them. Then the detective rubbed a little dirt on his hands and face and, with a black pencil he carried, gave himself a few marks around the mouth and eyes.
"How do you do, boys?" he called out, in exaet imitation of Bill Cashaw.
"Wonderful!" ejaculated Tom. "That will do splendidly.
"Mine cracious! I ton't vos know vich been you an' vich been der old man!" burst out Hans. "You vos like two pretzels alretty!"
"That's a fine comparison," laughed Fred, and all had to smile over the German youth's words.
"I reckon I know what you intend to do," said Tom to the government official. "You want to take the old man's job away from him."
"Yes—for the time being. But I don't expect to get paid for it." James Monday turned to Cashaw. "Will you stay with the boys until I return?"
"I want you to stay."
"That means as how I'm to stay whether I want to or not, eh?"
"You can put it that way if you wish. I want to make no trouble for you."
"Sack Todd will make trouble if he hears of this," returned the old man dubiously.
"Then you had better keep out of sight."
"Will you return my horses and wagon?"
"Either that, or pay for the turnout."
"Then maybe I'd better go to town. I can say I stopped off at a tavern an' sumbuddy drove off with my rig."
"Very well," returned the detective. "But, mind you, if you dare to play me foul——"
"I won't! I won't!"
"Then you can go. But wait. Boys, let him stay here an hour. Then he can go."
So it was arranged, and a few minutes later James Monday was on the seat of the wagon and driving off in the style of the old man.
"He is certainly a good actor," murmured Tom, gazing after the government official. "I declare, the two look like two peas!"
"That's a mighty risky thing to do," observed Songbird. "If Sack Todd and his cronies discover the trick they'll stop at nothing to get square."
"Trust Mr. Monday to take care of himself," responded Tom. "I am only hoping he will be able to aid Sam and Dick."
"Oh, we all hope that, Tom."
The boys sat down on some partly dried rocks and began to ask the old man about himself. But Bill Cashaw was too much disturbed mentally to give them much satisfaction.
"Well, by hemlock!" he burst out presently.
"What's up now?" queried Tom, and all of the others looked equally interested.
"If I didn't go an' forgit all about it."
"This letter I had fer Sack. An' that was o' prime importance, too, so the trainman said."
As the old man spoke, he brought forth a letter which he had had stowed away in a pocket of his shirt.
"What's in the letter?" asked Fred.
"I don't know. It's sealed up."
"I think we'd be justified in breaking it open," put in Songbird. "Those rascals are outlaws!"
"No! no! don't break it open!" burst out Tom, and snatched the communication from the old man's hand. "I've got a better plan."
"What plan?" came from his friends.
"Didn't you say that I looked like your son Bud?" asked Tom of Bill Cashaw.
"Has Bud ever been to Red Rock ranch?"
"Three or four times, but not lately."
"Does Sack Todd know him?"
"Yes, but not very well."
"Then that settles it," announced the fun-loving Rover. "I, as Bud Cashaw, am going to deliver the letter at the ranch."
"Tom, that's too risky!" cried Fred.
"I don't think so. I can tell them that the letter was left for father"—pointing to Bill Cashaw—"after he started for the ranch. I don't see how they can help but swallow the story."
"Yes, but see here—" interrupted the old man. "This ain't fair. I want you to understand——"
"I know what I am doing, Mr. Cashaw, and you had better keep quiet. Watch him, fellows."
Without loss of time, Tom made his preparations for visiting the mysterious ranch. He rubbed some dirt on his face and hands, disheveled his hair and turned up one leg of his trousers. Then he borrowed the rather large headgear that Hans wore and pulled it far down over his head.
"How will that do?" he drawled. "Say, is my pap anywhere around this yere ranch?"
"Mine cracious! of dot ton't beat der Irish!'* gasped Hans. "Tom, you vos make a first-class detector alretty!"
"He certainly looks like an Alabama country boy," was Fred's comment. A few touches more to his disguise and Tom was ready to depart for the ranch. He called Songbird aside.
"Watch that old man," he whispered. "He may not be as innocent as he looks. Don't let him get to the ranch. If he does, our cake will be dough."
"Of course you don't expect to catch up to the wagon," said Songbird.
"No, but if I do, I'll go ahead anyway—if Mr. Monday will let me."
It was not long after this that Tom left the others. He struck oujt boldly along the poorly defined wagon trail which led over some rough rocks and down into hollows now filled with water. The marks of the wagon ahead were plainly to be seen, but, though the youth walked fast, he did not catch sight of the turnout.
It was dark by the time he came to the fence that surrounded the ranch buildings. He saw Bill Cashaw's wagon standing under a shed. Two men were unloading the contents. They were both strangers to Tom.
It must be admitted that Tom's heart beat rapidly as he stepped into view and slouched toward the wagon shed. The men started in surprise when they beheld him.
"Say, whar's my pap?" he called out. "Didn't he come in on the wagon?"
"It's Bud Cashaw," murmured one of the men. He raised his voice. "Your old man is in the house with Sack Todd."
Tom turned toward the ranch proper and was close to a door when it opened and Sack Todd came out and faced him. At a distance behind the man was James Monday.
"Hullo, pap!" sang out Tom. "You forgot that letter from that train hand—or maybe you didn't see him."
The government official stared at Tom, wondering who he could be.
"What letter?" demanded the ranch owner quickly.
"Here it is," answered Tom, and brought it forth. Sack Todd ripped it open quickly and scanned its contents. It was short and to the point:
"Look out for government detectives. They are on your track. One is named James Monday. There is also a fellow named Rover—beware of him.
Utterly unconscious of what he was doing, Tom had played directly into the hands of Sack Todd and his evil associates.