The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 25

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CHAPTER XXV


IN WHICH TOM IS EXPOSED


"Boy, who gave you this letter?" demanded the owner of Red Rock ranch, after he had read the communication through twice.

His look was a stern one, and his gaze seemed to bore Tom through and through. Yet the lad did not flinch. He felt that he must play his part to the end.

"Feller give it at the house fer pap," he drawled. "Pap, he fergot to bring it. So I hustled off to do it."

"Humph! A nice way to treat a letter of importance," muttered Sack Todd. He gave Tom another close look. "Who told you your dad was coming here?"

"Oh, I guessed that," drawled Tom.

"Come in the house. I must question your father about this."

"I didn't mean no harm, Mr. Todd!" cried the youth in pretended alarm. "Ain't it all right?"

"Yes. Come in."

Sack Todd pushed Tom toward the doorway of the ranch, and the youth went inside. He looked around for the government official, but that individual was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is Bill Cashaw?" asked the ranch owner of two men who were present.

"I don't know—getting something to drink, I reckon," answered one of the men. "He was standing around a minute ago."

"Sit down here," said Sack Todd, turning to Tom and at the same time motioning to a chair. "I'll be back in a minute."

He disappeared through a doorway and the fun-loving Rover sat down. He was in no easy frame of mind, for he could plainly see that the letter had disturbed the ranch owner greatly and that the man was suspicious.

"I hope I haven't made a mess of it," he reasoned. "I wonder where Sam and Dick are?"

Had he had an opportunity, he would have left the room and taken a look around the place, but the strange men were there, and they evidently had their eyes on him.

Tom had been sitting quietly for five minutes, thinking matters over, when a side door opened and a young man smoking a cigarette came in. On seeing Tom, he stared in wonder and allowed his cigarette to drop to the floor.

"Tom Rover! How did you get here?"

It was Dan Baxter, as impudent and hard-faced as ever. He came a step closer and fairly glared at Tom.

For one brief instant, Tom's self-possession deserted him. Then he recovered and stared boldly at Baxter.

"Say, what you a-talkin' about?" he drawled.

"Eh?"

"What you a-talkin' about? I don't know you—never see you before."

"Well, if that ain't the limit!" burst out the bully. "You don't know me!"

"An' my name ain't Tim Drover," went on Tom, purposely mispronouncing the name.

"Go to grass, Tom Rover! You can't play any game on me. I know you too well, even in that outfit."

At that moment Sack Todd returned. He was surprised to find Dan Baxter talking to Tom.

"Do you know Bud Cashaw?" he questioned.

"Bud Cashaw? Who is he?"

"This is Bud."

"Not much! Do you know who this is? Tom Rover, the brother I was telling you about."

"Tom Rover!" almost shouted the owner of Red Rock ranch. "Are you certain of this?"

"Yes. Didn't I go to school with him? I know him as well as I know my own father."

Sack Todd glared at Tom and gave him a close inspection. Then he shook the youth fiercely.

"So this is your style, eh?" he snarled. "First your brothers come to spy on us, and now you! If I had my way—" he stopped short. "Where did you get that letter, answer me!"

"Wasn't it all right?" drawled Tom. He scarcely knew how to act.

"Answer me, Rover. I want no more beating about the bush."

"It belongs to Bill Cashaw. Isn't he here?"

"Ha!" Sack Todd looked around. "Come here," he cried to his men. "Watch this boy and don't let him get away under any circumstances. I must find Bill Cashaw! Perhaps it isn't Bill, after all!"

One of the men came forward and caught hold of Tom, while Dan Baxter also ranged by the prisoner's side. To attempt to break away would have been useless, and Tom did not try it.

"You'll catch it now," said the bully maliciously.

"Where are Sam and Dick?"

"That remains for you to find out."

"They seem to carry things with a high hand here."

"It's Sack Todd's ranch, and he has a right to do as he pleases. He didn't invite you or the others to come," returned Dan Baxter with a scowl.

In the meantime, the owner of Red Rock ranch was hurrying around in search of the supposed Bill Cashaw. He visited the kitchen and the other rooms, and then ran to the barn and other outbuildings. But it was all useless; the driver of the wagon could not be found.

"I want all of you to hunt for the wagon driver," stormed the ranch owner. "He must be found!"

"What's wrong now?" asked Andy Jimson.

"Everything. I've just got a warning. Read it."

The long-nosed man did so, and drew down the corners of his mouth.

"This looks bad," he said. "Well, you've got the three Rovers right enough. You think——"

"That wagon driver may not be Bill Cashaw at all."

"Worse and worse, Sack. We must find him, by all means."

The search was taken up with renewed care, and four men kept at it for over an hour. Then the crowd assembled in the main room of the ranch.

"He has run away and left the horses and wagon behind," said Sack Todd.

"I thought he acted rather queer," put in one of the men. "I asked him about Cal Jessup, and he didn't seem to want to answer."

"He was a spy—there is not the least doubt of it," came from Andy Jimson. "More than likely, he was a government detective."

While the men were talking the matter over, there was the sound of hoof strokes on the road leading to the ranch door, and a horseman came up, nearly out of breath from hard riding.

"What's the news, Phil?" shouted Sack Todd.

"Nothing wrong, I hope."

"Snapper has been arrested and a detective is on your trail," shouted back the horseman. "I was afraid I'd be too late. You want to get ready to vamoose."

The men of the ranch crowded around the newcomer and plied him with questions. Tom tried to catch all that was said, but was unable to do so.

"We'll have to make short work of this, I am afraid," he heard Sack Todd say, a little later.

"What about the boy?" questioned the long-nosed man.

"He ought to be shot!" was the cold-blooded reply, which made Tom shiver.

"Shall we put him with the rest?"

"Yes."

Without ceremony, poor Tom was marched away to the trap-door, a man on each side of him. Dan Baxter came behind.

"You don't like it, do you?" sneered the bully. "You'll like it still less when you get below. It's beautifully damp and musty."

"You're a cheerful brute, Dan," answered Tom.

"Hi! don't you call me a brute!" stormed Baxter.

"Oh, excuse me, I didn't mean to insult the dumb creation," responded Tom. "Baxter, you are the limit. I suppose you have joined this gang."

"What if I have?"

"I am sorry for you, that's all."

"Oh, don't preach!"

"I am not going to, for it would be a waste of breath."

"You'll sing pretty small by the time we are through with you," growled the bully; and then Tom was led below and placed in the cell with ttie others.