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CHAPTER XXIII


JAMES MONDAY TAKES A HAND


After that, there was nothing to do but to tell their story in detail, to which the government official listened with close attention. Then he asked them many questions.

"You are certainly in hard luck," said he when they had finished. "Beyond the slightest doubt, those men at the ranch are desperate characters, and I don't know but what I ought to summon help and arrest them on the spot."

"Den vy not do dot?" asked Hans. "Ve vill hellup, too."

"If those men are what I take them to be, I want to catch them red-handed," responded James Monday.

"What do you take them to be?" asked Tom.

"Can I trust you boys to keep a secret?"

"Yes," came from each of the crowd.

"Then I'll tell you. Unless I am very much mistaken, the men at Red Rock ranch are counterfeiters."

"Counterfeiters!" came in a chorus.

"So I believe. I may be mistaken, but all the evidence I have points in that direction. I have been following this trail from Philadelphia, where I caught a fellow passing bad twenty-dollar bills. He confessed that he got the bills from a fellow in Washington who claimed to be printing them from some old government plates. That story was, of course, nonsense, since no government plates of such a bill are missing. I followed the trail to Washington, and there met a crook named Sacord. He, so I discovered, got his money from two men, one the owner of this ranch. Where the bad bills were manufactured was a mystery, but, by nosing around, I soon learned that the owner of the ranch never allowed strangers near his place, and that he sometimes had strange pieces of machinery shipped there. Then I put two and two together and came to the conclusion that the bad bills were printed here. Now, I want to prove it, and not only round up the gang, but also get possession of the bogus printing plates. If the government don't get the plates, somebody may keep on manufacturing the bad bills."

"In that case, it is just as important to get the plates as the criminals," put in Songbird.

"Well, this stumps me," declared Tom. "No wonder they kept chasing us off."

"And no wonder Sam and Dick were made prisoners," added Fred.

"I hope the rascals don't do them harm," said Tom. "If I thought that, I'd be for moving on the ranch without delay."

"I think your brothers will be safe enough for the time being," came from James Monday. "I am sorry that you let that dolt get away from you."

"If we had thought it of such importance, we should certainly have kept him a prisoner," replied Songbird.

"I was watching my chance to get into the ranch house unobserved," continued the government official. "That shot rather floored me. But I am going to get in, some way," he added with determination.

"Listen, I think I hear somebody coming!" cried Songbird.

"Let us get to the side of the road," said James Monday.

They did as advised, the boys mounting their horses and the government official donning his wig and false beard and taking Sam's steed. Soon they were stationed behind a pile of rocks.

"It's a wagon that is coming!" said Tom a minute later. "I can hear the wheels scraping on the rocks."

"I think I'll investigate on foot," said James Monday, and slipped to the ground once more. Soon the wagon came in sight. It was pulled by a team of strong looking horses and was piled high with boxes. On the seat sat an old man.

"Hullo, there!" called out the government official, stepping along the trail in the direction of the turnout. The old man was evidently startled, and he pulled up with a jerk. As he did so, the boys rode a little closer.

"Hullo, stranger! What dp you want?"

"I want to talk to you," responded James Monday.

"What about?" and the old man began to grow uncomfortable.

"Where are you bound?"

"What do ye want to know fer?"

"I am curious, that's all, friend. Are you afraid to answer me?"

"No, I ain't. I'm bound fer Red Rock ranch."

"What have you on the wagon?"

"All sorts o' supplies that came in on the railroad."

"What's your name?"

"Bill Cashaw. It seems to me you're a curious one, you are."

"Do you belong in town, or out here?"

P211 Rover Boys on the Plain.jpg

"I WANT TO TALK TO YOU."

From Rover Boys on the Plains.

"In town, o' course. Hain't I lived there nigh sixty-four years?"

"Do you work steadily for Sack Todd?"

"No. I do a leetle drivin' now an' then, that's all. But, see here——"

"Do you know all the others at the ranch?"

"Most on 'em. I don't know the new fellers much."

"Did you intend to stay at the ranch?"

"You mean to-night?"

"Yes."

"Not unless Sack asked me to stay. He's queer about that, you know." The old man glanced at the boys. "Quite a party o' ye, hain't there?"

"You state positively that you do not belong tG the crowd at the ranch?" resumed the government official.

"I said so. But, see here, stranger——"

"Please get down off that wagon," went on James Monday quietly.

"Eh?"

"I said get down off that wagon."

"What fer?"

"Because I want you to."

"Say, are this a hold-up?" cried the old man in renewed alarm. "If it are, I hain't a-goin' to stand fer it, an' let me say that Sack Todd will be after you-uns bald-headed fer it!"

"This is not exactly a hold-up," said the detective with a faint smile. "Get down and I will explain. If you try to resist, you'll only get into trouble."

"Suppose I'll have to obey," groaned the old man as he climbed down from the seat. "You-uns are five to one on this. I'm like the coon an' Davy Crockett—I know when ter come down out o' the tree. But I don't understand your game, stranger."

"As I said before, I don't intend to hurt you, Mr. Cashaw. But I am after certain information, and I rather think you can aid me in getting it."

"What you want to know?"

"In the first place, I want you to tell me all you know about Sack Todd. What does he do at his ranch?"

"Humph! Don't ask me, fer I don't know. An' if I did——"

"And if you did——"

"Sack's been a putty good friend ter me, stranger. Lent me a hundred dollars onct, when a fire had cleaned me out. A feller don't feel much about hurtin' his friend."

"That is so, too. Then you really don't know what is going on at the ranch? Come now, speak the truth," and James Monday's voice grew stern.

"Well, it's some sort o' patent, I guess. Sack don't want folks to git onto it. Reckon it's a new-fangled printing press—one to run by electristity—or sumthin' like that."

"He told you that, did he?"

"Yes. But I hain't goin' to answer no more questions," went on the old man, and started to mount the wagon seat again.

"Wait," said James Monday. "I am sorry, but you'll have to stay here for the present, Mr. Cashaw."

"You mean you are goin' to make me stay here?"

"For a while, yes."

"With the wagon?"

"No, I'll drive your wagon to the ranch."

"I ain't askin' you to do the job."

"I'll do it for nothing," answered the government official with a quiet smile.

"See here, I don't understand this, at all," cried Bill Cashaw. "What is yer game, anyhow?"

"If you want me to be plain, I'll tell you. I suspect the men at the ranch of a serious crime. For all I know, you are one of the gang and as bad as the rest. If so, you're face to face with a long term in prison."

"Crime? Prison? I ain't done a thing!"

"If you are innocent, you have nothing to fear, and you will do what you can to aid me in running down the guilty parties."

At this, the face of the old man became a study. He started to talk, stammered and became silent.

"Tell me!" he burst out suddenly. "Are you an officer?"

"I am—working under the United States Government."

"Oh!" The old man turned pale. "Then let me say, as I said afore, I ain't done nuthin' wrong, an' I don't want to go to prison. If them fellers at the ranch are criminals, I don't want ter work fer 'em no more, an' I'll help you to bring 'em to justice."