The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 5
DAN BAXTER APPEARS
Two days later found the houseboat moored to one of the docks at a small city in Arkansas. It was a bustling place of perhaps four thousand inhabitants and commanded a fair river trade.
The whole party was willing enough to go ashore, and the Rover boys hired several carriages, in which all were driven around to various points of interest.
"I'll tell you what I wouldn't mind doing," said Sam, while driving around. "I'd like to get on horseback and take a trip out on the plains."
"Perhaps we can do that before this trip comes to an end," answered Dick. "You must remember, we have a good part of our outing before us."
There was a parade in the town that day, and they watched this with interest. Then the girls and the ladies went back to the houseboat, leaving the boys to continue their rambles.
"I see some lumber rafts here," said Sam. "I wonder if that one stopped here that tried to run us down?"
"It might be," answered Fred.
Dick was out buying some special supplies, and his errand took him to a quarter of the town which was by no means of the better sort. As he hurried along, he heard several voices in dispute.
"You must settle that bill at the hotel," a heavy voice was saying.
"You can't leave us until you do settle," said a second voice.
"I paid my bill! I am not going to pay for you—I didn't invite you to come with me," came from a third person.
Dick thought he recognized that voice, and, looking in the direction, was astonished to see Dan Baxter. The bully was in the hands of two lumbermen, who held him by the arm.
"He must be in trouble," thought Dick, and he was right. Soon the dispute waxed hot, and one of the men hit Baxter in the face.
"Stop that!" cried Dick, running up. "Stop it, I say!"
At the sound of his voice, the men started back in alarm.
"He must be the new sheriff," whispered one. "They say he looks like a boy!"
"Then we had better light out," said the second lumberman, and on the instant both took to their heels and disappeared around a corner.
When Dick reached Dan Baxter's side, he found the former bully of Putnam Hall pale and much agitated. He, too, wanted to run away, but Dick held him.
"So we meet again, Baxter?"
"Let go of me!" growled the bully.
"What are you doing here?"
"That's my business."
"What were the men doing?"
"They wanted me to pay their hotel bill for them, but I didn't propose to do it."
"Do you know that Lew Flapp is under arrest?"
"I don't care."
"I think I'll have to have you arrested, too."
"Not much, Dick Rover!"
"You came down the river on that big lumber raft, didn't you?"
"What if I did?"
"Those rascals did their best to run us down."
"Ha! ha! They gave you a fine scare, didn't they?" and the bully laughed boisterously.
"Did the raft stop here?"
"No, but I did."
"Well, you had better come with me, Dan."
"Never!" The big bully drew back. "You let me alone."
Dick caught hold of Baxter once more, but now the bully hauled off and hit him a stinging blow on the chin. The eldest Rover retaliated by a blow that blackened the bully's left eye. Then they clinched and rolled on the ground.
"Hi, what's the matter here?" called out a planter, running up at this moment.
"He is a thief!" cried Dan Baxter. "Take him off of me!"
"A thief, eh?" said the planter, and he caught Dick by the arm. "Come, let him up, you rascal!"
He was a powerful man, and hauled Dick back with ease. In a trice Dan Baxter scrambled up and drew back a few paces.
"I'll get an officer," he called out, and ran off, to disappear down an alleyway between a group of negro shanties.
"Come after him," said Dick. "He is the real thief. You have blundered."
"You can't fool me, suh," said the planter firmly.
"What, won't you come after him?"
"Nary a step. I allow I know a thief when I see one."
"Do you mean that for me?"
"I surtainly do, suh."
"Well, you're a big fool, that's all I have to say," cried Dick, and, watching his chance, he got out of the planter's clutches and ran after Dan Baxter.
The chase led into the worst portion of the town, but Dick did not give up until a good hour had passed. Then he returned to the houseboat much downcast, and told his story.
"And the worst of it is, my watch is missing," he announced.
"Perhaps you dropped it during the struggle," suggested Songbird.
"Either that, or Dan Baxter got his fist on it while we were talking. He is bad enough now to do almost anything."
"Better go back and see if you can't find the watch," said Tom. "I'll go with you."
They walked to the spot and made a thorough search, but the watch failed to come to light. Dick gave a long sigh.
"I'm out that timepiece, and I guess for good," he murmured.
They were about to return to the houseboat, when Dick saw the planter approaching once more.
"Ha, so you have come back, suh!" he cried.
"Did you see anything of my watch?" demanded Dick sharply.
"Yes; it's gone."
"I saw nothing of a watch."
"I suppose that other fellow came back with an officer, didn't he?" went on the eldest Rover sarcastically.
"I did not—ah—see him, suh."
"I'm out my watch, all because of your foolishness."
"You needn't 'suh' me, I mean what I said. My watch is gone. If you didn't take it yourself, you helped that fellow to get away with it."
"This to me, suh! me, Colonel Jackson Gibbs, suh, of the Sudley Light Artillery, suh! Infamous, suh!"
"So is the loss of my watch infamous."
"I shall make a complaint, suh, to the authorities."
"Go ahead, and tell them that I lost my watch, too," and walked off, leaving Colonel Jackson Gibbs of the Sudley Light Artillery gazing after him in amazement.
"Do you think he will make more trouble?" asked Tom.
"Not he. He is too scared that I will hold him responsible for the loss of the watch." And Dick was right; they never did hear of the planter again.
That night, all on board did nothing but talk about Dan Baxter and the way he had managed to escape.
"He is as bad as Paddy's flea," said Dora. "When you put your finger on him, he isn't there."
The houseboat left the town the following afternoon, and the course was now down the Mississippi in the direction of a village called Braxbury, where Mrs. Stanhope had some friends of many years' standing.
"They used to have quite a plantation," said the lady. "If they still have it, we'll have a good chance for a nice time on shore."
"And we can go out for that ride on the prairies," added Sam.
"Want to scalp a few noble red men?" asked Tom, with a wink.
"No red men in mine, Tom. But wouldn't you like an outing of that sort, just for a change?"
"Don't know but what I would. But we cwuldn't take the girls along very well."
"No, we could leave them with their friends at the plantation."On the following day it began to rain, and all had to keep to the cabin of the houseboat. At first, the rain came down lightly, but towards noon it poured in torrents. Out on the river the weather grew so thick that they could not see a hundred feet in any direction.
"Better run for the shore and tie up," said Dick to Captain Starr. "We don't want to run the risk of a collision, especially when our time's our own."
"I was just going to suggest it," said the skipper of the Dora, and soon they were turning toward shore. A good landing place was found and the houseboat was tied up near several large trees in that vicinity.
Instead of abating, the storm kept increasing in violence. So far, there had been but little thunder and lightning, but now several vivid flashes lit up the sky, and some sharp cracks made the girls jump.
"Oh, I detest a thunder storm," cried Nellie. "I wish it was over."
"So do I," answered Dora. "But I suppose we have got to make the best of it."
"Do not sit so close to an open window," said Mrs. Laning.
"I was going to close the window," came from Mrs. Stanhope. "I never sit with a window open during such a storm as this." And then the window was closed, and also the door.
"I'm going out for some fresh air," said Tom a little later, when the worst of the lightning seemed to be over. "I hate to be cooped up like a chicken in a hen-house." And, getting out his rain-coat, he went on deck, and presently Dick followed him.
"This will make the river swell up," remarked Dick, gazing around curiously. "Gracious, how it pours!"
"The wind is rising. That's a sign it is going to clear up."
"Not always, Tom. I think this storm will last all day, and perhaps to-night, too."
The boys walked from one end of the houseboat to the other and gazed out on the rolling river. Then a gust of wind almost took them from their feet.
"Phew! we can't stand much of this," observed Dick. "We'll get drenched in spite of our raincoats. I think——"
Dick got no further, for at that moment there was a weird flash of lightning, followed by an ear-splitting crash of thunder. Then came a crash of another kind.
"Look out! One of the trees is coming down on the houseboat!" ejaculated Dick.
As he uttered the words another crash followed and down came the trunk of a big tree, cutting into the companion ladder and the cabin of the Dora. One of the branches of the tree swept over poor Tom, and before he could save himself, he was hurled into the river.