The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 30

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The man from Red Rock ranch was very much startled to see Dick, and stared at the youth for several seconds without speaking.

The eldest Rover thought for an instant of putting his horse to flight, but then realized with a pang that the animal would not be equal to the task.

"Where under the sun did you come from?" growled the man at last.

"It's dat same fellah!" cried Watermelon Pete. "I dun see him on de ribber an' at de ranch, too!"

"Yes, the fellow who was left in a cell at Red Rock," returned the white man. "How did you escape?" he went on, to Dick.

"Smashed the door and came out in a hurry," answered Dick. He saw no harm in telling the truth.

"Where is your brother?"

"What business is that of yours?"

"Don't get funny with me," growled the man "Are you alone?" he continued, peering around in the darkness.

"You had better find out."

"Why don't you finish him off, Puller?" came from the negro. "Ain't nobody else around."

"You're a fine rascal!" burst out Dick. "If you touch me, there is going to be trouble."

"I reckon you'll come with me," said the white man harshly. "We ain't goin' to run no risks, understand? If you put anybody on our trail—" He did not finish. "Face around there!" he ordered.

"See here, do you think you are treating me fairly?" asked Dick. He wished to gain time, so that he could think matters over and decide what was best to do.

"I won't parley the question," growled the man. "Face around and do it quick, if you want to save your hide."

There was no help for it, and Dick faced around. As he did so, he caught the sounds of hoof strokes at a distance. Puller and Watermelon Pete did not appear to notice them.

"Wait a minute, I dropped something," said the eldest Rover, and slid to the ground. He pretended to search around. "Got a light?"

"What did you drop?"

"Something valuable," said Dick, but did not add that it was only a harness buckle. He was straining his ears and heard the hoof strokes coming closer.

"Well, hurry up and find it. We are not going to stay here until the sun comes up," growled Puller.

A moment later, the sounds of horses approaching could be heard plainly. Dick began to cough loudly, but the ears of the negro could not be deceived.

"Listen!" he said warningly. "Hosses comin', s-uah as yo' is boahn!"

"Horses?" cried the white man. "Then we had better make tracks."

"Who is there?" cried Dick at the top of his voice. If they were enemies, he knew he could be no worse off.

"Shut your mouth!" howled the white man.

"Hullo!" was the answering call, and in a moment several men dashed up, all heavily armed, and accompanied by James Monday and Fred Garrison.

"Help!" called out Dick. "Don't let them get away!"

"They are not going to catch me!" growled Puller, and struck his horse in the side. The animal bounded forward and was followed by that on which the negro was riding. Scarcely had this been done when a shot rang out and the negro fell from his saddle to the ground.

"Halt, in the name of the law!" cried James Monday to Puller, but the man paid no attention. Several shots were fired at him, but soon the gloom of early morning hid him from view.

"I'm more than glad that you have come," cried Dick to the government official and Fred. "How did you get here so quickly?"

"It was mostly luck," answered the detective. "Garrison delivered the message to just the right party and I ran into the crowd just coming away from the town. We have got nine men here, and all willing to do their utmost to round up that Red Rock ranch gang."

It was soon learned that Watermelon Pete had been hit in the thigh. The wound was not a fatal one, but it was destined to put the rascal in the hospital for some time to come.

"You must follow that fellow who got away, and at once," said Dick to James Monday, and then he told of what had happened during the night and of where Sack Todd and his confederates were located.

Leaving his tired horse behind him, the eldest Rover mounted the animal Watermelon Pete had been riding, and the whole party, minus the negro, who was left to take care of himself for the time being, started for the rendezvous of the counterfeiters.

"If you do any shooting, be careful and don't hit my brother Sam," said Dick.

"I'll warn the men," answered James Monday, and did so. Dick was so tired he could scarcely sit up in the saddle. But he longed to see Sam rescued, and so rode along as best he could.

As they neared the spot where Tom and his friends were in waiting, they heard a faint shout and soon the fun-loving Rover appeared. He had heard the distant firing when Watermelon Pete was hit and was afraid Dick had been wounded.

"Good! good!" he shouted when he recognized Dick and the government official and Fred. "This is the best yet. Now, I hope we can round up that whole crowd."

They continued to advance, and as they did so they heard a firing at a distance, in the direction of the counterfeiters' rendezvous.

"Something has gone wrong there," cried Dick.

Something had gone wrong, and to the advantage of the Rovers, as Dick and Tom afterwards learned. Sam had been left to take care of himself for a few minutes, and by a dexterous twist of his wrists had managed to rid himself of the rope which bound him.

Watching a favorable moment, the youngest Rover slid behind a rock and then began to run at his best rate of speed for another shelter some distance away.

As soon as his flight was discovered some men went in pursuit, and two shots were fired at the boy, one grazing his left shoulder, but leaving only a scratch.

The counterfeiters would have continued to pursue the fleeing one, but now a new alarm sounded out and a guard rushed up.

"A posse is after us!" called the guard. "We have got to fight, or ride for it."

"Let us fight!" exclaimed Sack Todd, but this proposition was voted down, as it was not known how many were after the evildoers.

Sack Todd was the last man to leap into the saddle. As he did so, he gritted his teeth hard.

"They shan't capture me!" he muttered. "I am not to be taken alive!"

Away went the crowd at a breakneck speed, Dan Baxter in their midst. But at the first opportunity the bully turned to the southward and he disappeared when a patch of timber was gained.

"This is too hot for me," he muttered. "I guess best thing I can do is to get out of this neighborhood and skip for parts unknown for a while." And then he urged his horse still further to the southward, until the mists in a swamp in the midst of the timber hid him completely from view.

Having escaped from his captors, Sam hardly knew what to do, but, as he heard a number of shots fired, he made up his mind that help must be at hand, and so he hurried back on the trail, and presently came in sight of the other boys. Then he set up a mad shout of joy, which they quickly echoed.

"Are you perfectly safe, Sam?" asked Dick, riding up.

"Yes, although I had a narrow escape," and the youngest Rover pointed to where the bullet had grazed his shoulder. "What of the others?"

"All safe and sound," sang out Tom, coming up. "And James Monday and a big posse are after Sack Todd and his crowd hot-footed."

"Shall we join in?" asked Songbird.

"I can't go another step," answered Dick. "I am more than tired," and he sank in a heap on the saddle.

"You boys stay here, and we'll fix those rascals," cried a man of the posse. "You have done enough."

"I guess we have," said Tom. "We are safe and sound, and that is the main thing, so far as we are concerned."

Here let me add a few words more and then bring to a close this tale of "The Rover Boys on the Plains."

Utterly worn out, the boys remained where they were until noon of the day which was now dawning. At a great distance, they heard pistol and gun shots, and they knew that some sort of a fight must be going on.

They were just preparing to move for town, when they saw two of the posse returning with three prisoners, each disarmed and with his hands bound behind him. One of the prisoners was Puller and another Andy Jimson.

"We are going to get most of them," said one of the posse to the boys. "But they are a pretty desperate lot."

The prisoners were placed in charge of the Rovers and their friends, and the whole party moved for town without delay, while the men of the posse went back to continue the hunt for the counterfeiters. In the end, every man but Sack Todd was captured. Dan Baxter was tracked to the edge of the swamp, and there his horse was found, stuck in the ooze. Nearby lay the hat of the bully.

"My opinion is that Baxter lost his life trying to get through the swamp," said James Monday after the hunt had come to a finish.

"What a horrible end," said Sam, and shivered.

"Perhaps he did lose his life," was Dick's comment. "But I shan't believe it until I have the direct evidence. I guess, though, I've seen the last of my watch," he added.

A search was kept up for several days for Baxter, but it brought no further traces of the misguided youth.

"He is gone, that's sure," said Tom. "I must say, I never thought he'd have such an ending as this!"

James Monday was much chagrined to think that Sack Todd had slipped him, but he was much elated when one of the posse found several packages among the rocks. These packages contained all of the printing plates used in the manufacturing of the counterfeit bank notes.

"The plates are what the government wants, most of all," he told the boys. "They were made by an old engraver who was once in the employ of the government. The man is too old and shaky to make other plates, and as Sack Todd isn't an engraver himself, it's not likely he will attempt to go into the business again."

As soon as all the criminals were properly jailed and the boys had given their testimony, they obtained a good night's rest and then set off for Carson Denton's plantation. The remainder of the trip proved uneventful, and when they reached their destination they felt in the best of spirits once more. The news of what had occurred had preceded them, and they were looked upon as heroes by the girls and Mrs. Laning and Mrs. Stanhope.

"But you mustn't get into any such trouble again," said Dora to Dick.

"Think, if you had been burnt up at that fire!" cried Nellie.

"Or if those bad men had shot you," added Grace.

"Well, we came out of it with a whole skin," said Tom, "so we need not complain."

"And I guess, with Baxter gone, our troubles are about over," said Sam. But he was mistaken in his surmise, as we shall learn in the next volume of this series, entitled "The Rover Boys in Southern Waters; or, The Deserted Steam Yacht." In this volume we shall meet all of our young friends again and learn the particulars of a most peculiar happening.

When the proper time came, the rascals who had been captured were tried and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. All that remained of Red Rock ranch was confiscated by the government, and the paper and printing machinery were destroyed.

While at the plantation, the boys had much sport hunting and fishing and riding. The girls often went along; and all too soon it was announced that the houseboat was once more ready for use, and the brief outing ashore must come to an end.

"Well, take it all in all, we have had a good time," said Dick

"Yes," answered Sam, "although we had a little more excitement than we bargained for."

"Excitement!" came from Tom. "Pooh! Life wouldn't be worth living without some excitement."

And then he set up a merry whistle; and with that whistle let us bring this story to a close.