The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 26
TOGETHER ONCE MORE
"Dick and Sam!"
"How in the world did you get here?"
"Where are the others?"
These and a dozen other questions were asked and answered as the three Rover boys shook hands over and over again. Even though prisoners, they were delighted to be together once more, and doubly delighted to know that each was well.
"Oh, these chaps are first-class rascals," said Dick after they had settled down a bit. "They have treated us most shamefully. At first, they gave us pretty good eating, but now they are starving us."
"Starving you?" cried Tom.
"Yes—they want us to tell all we know," put in Sam. "They are very suspicious."
"Didn't you try to get away?"
"No use of trying. The walls are too solid and so is the door," said Dick. He caught Tom by the arm and added in a faint whisper in his brother's ear: "They are listening. We have a hole."
"Then we'll have to stay here," said Tom loudly, catching his cue instantly.
"Yes, and it's a shame," added Sam in a equally loud voice. "I suppose the others have gone on?"
"Certainly," said Tom calmly. "I was a chump to remain behind—only I wanted to find you. I got hold of a letter by accident."
A moment later, they heard the guards walk away, and then Tom told the truth about the letter, and Sam and Dick led him to the hole in the wall.
"It is not quite big enough to use, yet," whispered the eldest Rover. "But we hope to have it big enough by to-morrow. It's slow work, when you have got to be on your guard all the while."
"I'd like to know what became of the detective," returned Tom.
"He must have run away as soon as he saw how affairs were shaping," put in Dick. "I hope he rounds up the whole gang."
"So do I, and Dan Baxter with them," answered Tom.
Overhead, they could hear a constant tramping of feet and murmur of voices. They tried to make out what was being said, but could not.
Left to themselves, the three Rovers turned to the opening that had been made in the wall. A match was lit for a moment, so that Tom could see just what had been done, and then all three set to work to continue the task. It was certainly hard work, and their progress was exasperatingly slow.
"If we only had a pick or a crowbar we could get these stones out in no time," grunted Tom, as he pulled away with all his strength. The noise overhead continued, and a little later they heard some men come down in another portion of the cellar.
"We must save the plates, at all events," they heard Sack Todd say. "We can't duplicate them, now old Messmer is dead."
"Yes, save the plates, by all means," put in Andy Jimson.
"Do you think the ranch is surrounded?" asked another of the crowd.
"It may be."
"Then the sooner we get out, the better," growled another. The men passed on, so that the Rover boys could not hear more of the talk.
"I believe they are going to leave the place," whispered Sam excitedly.
"If they go, what will they do with us?" put in Tom.
"Perhaps they will force us to go with them," answered Dick.
There was now more bustle and confusion about the ranch, and they heard a wagon drive up to a door, load up and drive away again. Then some horses were brought up from the stable.
"Something is doing, that is certain," murmured Dick.
He had scarcely spoken when there was a movement at the door of the cell and, by the light of a lantern, the boys found themselves confronted by Sack Todd, Andy Jimson and Dan Baxter.
"So you think the youngest is the best to take along," said Sack Todd to Baxter.
"Yes; the family think more of him than of any one," answered the bully.
"All right. Sam Rover, come out of that!"
"What do you want me for?" asked the youngest Rover.
"I want to talk to you."
Sam walked from the cell, and the door was at once fastened as before. Then Sack Todd caught the youth by the arm.
"Now, march upstairs, and be lively about it. We have no time to waste."
"No 'buts' now, Rover. We'll talk later on," growled the ranch owner savagely. "Just now I've got my mind full of other things."
Sam was led to the main floor of the ranch, and then without ado his hands were fastened behind him. Then he was told to march outside. Here two light wagons were in waiting, and he was bundled into one, along with Jimson and another man, and Dan Baxter. The other wagon was loaded with boxes and driven by two men. Several horses stood by, saddled for use.
"Where are we going?" asked the youngest Rover.
"To the North Pole," chuckled Dan Baxter. "Don't you wish you knew!"
"Are all the men going to leave?"
"That's their business, not yours."
"You are very kind, Baxter. I guess you don't know yourself."
"Don't I, though? Why, I'm right hand-and-hand with this crowd," added the bully boastfully.
"Maybe you only think you are."
"Huh! I know what I am doing."
"You've said that before—and got tripped up, just the same."
"There won't be any trip-up about this."
"Don't be too sure."
"See here," spoke up Andy Jimson. "When we get on the road, all of you have got to keep quiet"
"All right, mum's the world, old man," answered Dan Baxter cheerfully.
"Did you hear?" demanded the long-nosed man, looking at Sam.
"Are you going to mind?"
"I am not your slave."
"Humph! Do you know what Todd said to ttie? He said: 'If the kid won't keep quiet when you tell him, shoot him.' How do you like that?"
"I don't like it."
"I am going to run no chances with you," continued Andy Jimson. "You have got to keep very quiet. Don't you open your mouth once after we get started. I've got a pistol handy, and I know how to use it."
In the meantime, several from the ranch were walking around, talking in low, excited tones. Then, from a distance, came a shot, followed by two more in rapid succession.
"The signal!" cried Sack Todd. "Boys, something is doing now, sure. We must get away, and at once. Are you all ready?"
There was a chorus of assents.
"I think we had better divide. The wagons can go by the honey-tree route, and those on horseback by the swamp road. We can meet at the Four Rocks tor-morrow, if all goes well."
So it was agreed, and soon some of the horsemen were off, each carrying a load of some kind. Then the wagons began to move, that with the load of boxes going first. The turnouts plunged at once into the woods, where the darkness was intense. They made scarcely any noise, for the wagons were rubber-tired and the horses wore rubber guards on their shoes.
It would be hard to analyze Sam's feelings as he realized that he was being taken away from the ranch, he knew not to where. To escape in the darkness was out of the question, for the man who sat beside him had his arm linked into his own. More than this, he felt sure that Andy Jimson would shoot him at the first-sign of trouble.
The wagon road wound around in the forest, and was in anything but good repair, so that poor Sam was jounced about until he felt sore all over. He did not dare to speak, and, truth to tell, he did not know what to say. He realized that if he asked what was to become of his brothers, nobody would tell him.
Presently the wagon began to climb a slight hill. The horses tugged away manfully, but were exhausted when the top of the rise was gained, and had to rest.
"Hullo, what's that?" exclaimed Dan Baxter as he gazed back in the direction of the ranch.
"Shut up," answered the long-nosed man warningly.
Sam could not help but look back. The top of the rise was almost bare of trees, so his view was a perfect one. The sight that met his gaze caused his heart to sink with a sickening dread.
Red Rock ranch was in flames!
"Tom and Dick!" he murmured to himself. "If they are still prisoners, what will become of them?"