The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 28
FROM ONE SURPRISE TO ANOTHER
Left to themselves in the woods, Fred, Songbird and Hans scarcely knew what to do to fill in their time.
"I must say, I don't like this dividing up at all," remarked Fred, after a half-hour had passed. "First it was Sam and Dick, and now it is Tom. After a while none of us will know where any of the others are. Even the dog has left us." It may be added here that they never saw Wags again.
"Veil, you can't vos plame Tom for drying to find his brudders," came from Hans. "I vos do dot mineselluf, of I peen him."
"I hope Tom steers clear of trouble," said Songbird. "You know how he is—the greatest hand for getting into mischief."
The time dragged heavily on their hands, and when it grew dark not one of them felt like retiring. Songbird tried to put on a cheerful front, but it was a dismal failure, and nobody listened to the rhymes he made half under his breath.
At last came a whistle, repeated several times in rapid succession. Then a form emerged out of the darkness.
"Who goes there?" shouted Fred.
"Hullo, boys!" was the answering cry, and James Monday came into the little clearing. "I was afraid I had lost my way."
"Didn't you see Tom?" they asked.
"Yes, I saw him—up to the ranch. He came with a letter, and that spoilt about everything, for it was a warning. They found out who he was through that Baxter and made him a prisoner. Then I had to sneak away, for I knew they were after me, too."
"Found out you wasn't me, eh?" put in Bill Cashaw. "Thought they might. That crowd is a clever one. Where's my wagon and horses?"
"I had to leave them behind. Here are your hat and coat. I'll thank you to give me my own," went on the government official, and the exchange was quickly made.
The boys asked James Monday many questions, which he answered as best he could. But he was in a hurry, and told them so.
"I want to watch that ranch," he said. "But I'd like one of you to ride to town as hard as you can and take a message for me."
"I'll take the message, if there is anything in it," came quickly from Bill Cashaw.
"No, I want one of the boys to take it. You can go along, if you wish," went on James Monday. He was not quite willing to trust the old man.
The matter was discussed hurriedly, and it was decided that Fred should carry the message, and it was written on a slip of paper which the boy tucked away in an inside pocket. Then off he and the old man started for town, both on horseback.
"The gang at the ranch is a desperate one," said the government official when the pair were gone. "The most I can hope to do is to watch them until help arrives."
"Then you sent for help?" asked Songbird.
"Yes, and if the message is properly delivered, the help will not be long in arriving."
The detective wanted to move closer to the ranch, and Hans and Songbird did as requested, taking the horses with them. They were as anxious to make a move as was the detective, but just then there seemed nothing to do but to wait.
Suddenly Songbird uttered a cry.
"I smell smoke! Can the forest be on fire?"
"Of it vos, ve had besser git owit kvick!" ejaculated Hans. "I ton't vont to burn up, nohow!" "I see a light," returned James Monday. He ran to where there was a cleared space. "I believe the ranch is on fire!" he gasped.
"It is so!" exclaimed Songbird. "I can see the Iflames plainly. Now, how did that happen?"
"I don't know. Let us draw closer. I want to see what Sack Todd and his crowd will do."
The government official hurried forward and the two boys followed him, bringing along the horses as before. Soon they were at a spot where they could see the conflagration plainly. To their astonishment, not a soul appeared around the ranch or the outbuildings.
"What does this mean?" asked Songbird. "That gang certainly can't be in the burning building.
"I know what it means!" cried the detective, and there was something like anguish in his voice. "They have abandoned the ranch and set fire to it!"
"Abandoned the ranch?" repeated Songbird.
"Den vot of der Rofer poys?" asked the German youth.
"Don't ask me," said the detective. "They may have escaped, or else—" He did not finish.
"Do you mean those rascals might leave them in the ranch, prisoners?" asked Songbird.
"It's a hard thing to say, but you know as much as I do. This knocks my last plan endways. I must see if I can't get on the trail of the gang that has run away," James Monday added. "Will you let me have one of the horses?"
"Unless I act quickly, those men may get miles and miles away, and then it will be next to impossible to round them up," continued the government official. "I must go after Fred Garrisop and hurry along that extra help."
"Where shall we meet you?"
"I can't tell, exactly. We might— Hullo, what's that?"
A peculiar sound close at hand caused the detective to pause. They heard a flat rock fall down, and then, to their amazement, saw two dirty and begrimed persons emerge from a hole in the ground.
"Who vos dot?" gasped Hans, ready to retreat in fright.
"Hullo, Hans!" cried Tom Rover. "Don't you know Dick and me? We just arrived by the new subway."
"Tom and Dick!" ejaculated Songbird. "Truly, I must be dreaming!"
"But you are not," came from Dick as he stepped closer. "Oh, but I'm glad to get out of that hole!" he added. "And glad to fall among friends once more."
"Hullo, Mr. Monday," said Tom. "So you escaped, after all? That's good. Have any of you seen anything of Sam?"
"Sam?" asked Songbird. "Wasn't he with you?"
"He was, but the counterfeiters carried him off with them when they left the ranch."
"Then he must still be a prisoner."
"When we first heard your voices, we thought we had run into some of our enemies," said Dick. "We were mighty glad to learn otherwise. Now, if Sam was only here——"
"We must find him!" broke in Tom. "And the sooner we get on the trail, the better."
"I was just going away to hurry along some help," came from James Monday. "Maybe all of you had better remain in the forest on guard until I get back. If you spread out, you may learn something."
A little later, the government official hurried off on one of the horses, leaving the boys to themselves. Tom and Dick brushed off their clothing and washed up in a nearby pool of water.
"I think the best thing we can do is to move over to one of the wagon roads," said Dick "We'll never discover anything in a spot like this."
They moved along, taking turns at riding on the horses left to them. They were still a short distance from one of the trails, when they caught sight of a lantern's gleam, and soon after they heard the low murmur of voices.
"Somebody is over there, that is certain," whispered Dick. "Don't make any noise, fellows!"
Almost holding their breath, they crawled forward through the undergrowth and between the rocks, and presently gained a point where they could see the outline of a wagon. The vehicle had lost one wheel, and they could see three persons moving around it, inspecting the damage done.
"This is the worst luck yet," they heard a man exclaim.
"Well, why didn't you look out for ruts?" said another.
"Look out? How could I look out in such a pitchy darkness?"
"What's to be done?" asked a third voice.
"I don't know, unless we unhook the team and take turns at riding horseback," was the reply.
At this juncture, Dick clutched Tom by the arm.
"Two of those fellows are that Jimson and Dan Baxter!" he whispered. "And do you know who is in the wagon, on the rear seat?"