Open main menu

CHAPTER XXIX


ON THE TRAIL ONCE MORE


Dick and Tom were delighted to think that they had gotten on the trail of their brother thus readily, and they and their friends withdrew for a short distance, that they might hold a consultation without being overheard by their enemies.

"You are sure it's Sam?" questioned Songbird. "I must say it was so dark I couldn't see him."

"I saw him plainly, just as the lantern was flashed his way," answered Dick. "He had his hands behind him. More than likely they are tied fast, or handcuffed."

"Well, what do you propose?" came from Tom. "I move we go in and attack our enemies roughshod. It is what they deserve."

"I second the motion," put in Songbird.

"Dot is veil enough to dalk apout," put in Hans. "Put blease ton't forgot dat da pistols haf got, und da can shoot, hey?"

"You've got a pistol, too, Hans."

"Dot is so."

"And I've got one," went on Songbird.

"Dick and I can get rocks and sticks," said Tom. "We'll make it warm for them."

A few words more, and Dick and Tom managed to find some sticks and stones which suited their purpose. Then they moved forward once again.

At that moment came a cry from a distance, followed by a pistol shot. The men around the broken-down wagon were instantly on their guard, with pistols and a shotgun.

"Shoot the first man who tries to corner us!" shouted Andy Jimson. "Don't take any chances."

"Wait!" cried Dick to Tom, who was on the point of exposing himself. "Don't show yourself now. Help may be at hand. Besides, those men will shoot as soon as they see us, now."

"What did that shot mean?"

"I don't know. Maybe it was a signal."

"If we could only let Sam know that we are at hand."

Further words were cut short by another shot, and a moment later four men came riding up at top speed along the wagon trail.

"Hullo, what's up here?" came in the voice of Sack Todd.

"Had a break-down," growled Andy Jimson.

"What are you shooting for?"

"Just got word that somebody has gone to town for assistance to round us up. We must change our plans. You'll have to let the wagon stay where it is and take to the horses. Luckily, we have some extra ones along. Be quick."

"What of the prisoner?"

"We'd better let him go."

"Don't you do it!" cried Dan Baxter. "I tell you, you can make money by holding him."

"I'd like to wring Baxter's neck for that!" muttered Tom.

"All right, then, take him along—at least, for the present," said Sack Todd. "But don't waste time. Here are the horses."

The transfer from the wagon to the horses was quickly accomplished. Sam was made to mount a steed, and Andy Jimson rode on one side of him and Dan Baxter on the other. The rest of the men rode in front and in the rear, and soon the spot where the break-down had occurred was left behind.

"Now, what's to do?" asked Tom ruefully. He realized, as well as the others, that it would have been useless to have attacked such a large crowd.

"There is but one thing to do, Tom: follow them. As soon as they locate, we can go back for help. They can't travel more than twenty-four hours without stopping, and I believe they'll go into hiding as soon as it is daylight."

With care, they advanced on the trail of those ahead. This was a rather difficult task, for the lantern had been put out, and it was pitch-dark under the trees. More than once their steeds went into a hollow with a jounce that threatened to throw one or another to the ground.

"If only James Monday would appear with about ten men," sighed Tom. "Couldn't we make it warm for those chaps!"

"He won't be coming back for a long time," said Songbird. "He is no wizard, even if he is a detective. It is only in the sensational, five-cent libraries that the noble detective turns up every time he is needed."

"Yes, and kills about ten men hand-running," added Tom with a laugh.

At the end of an hour's ride through the forest, all of the boys were so fagged out they could scarcely keep on horseback. It must be remembered that they had to take turns at riding, tkere not being enough steeds to go around.

"I wish they'd come to a stop," muttered Songbird. "I declare, if I ever get the chance, I'm going to rest for a week!"

"Ton't say a vord," groaned Hans. "I vos so lame I can't most sit up alretty!"

"Let us be thankful if they don't discover that we are following them," said Dick. "If they did fmd it out, they would certainly make it warm for us."

A little while later the forest was left behind, and the party ahead and that in the rear came out on the broad and rolling- prairies. It was growing cloudy, so that the boys kept their enemies in sight with difficulty, not daring to draw too close.

Far away, they could see the lights of a town gleaming, but these were soon lost to view around a bit of rising ground. Then they forded a small stream and began to climb the slope of a small hill, at the top of which were a series of rocks Here they fancied the counterfeiters might halt, but they were disappointed. The crowd ahead toiled over the hill and then struck off across another section of the rolling plains.

"I can't ride much further," said Tom at last. "I am so tired I am ready to drop."

"Ditto here," came from Songbird.

Nevertheless, they kept on, and thus was the shadowing continued until four o'clock in the morning, when the party ahead came to a patch of timber on the side of a steep hill. Here, among the trees and rocks, they went into a temporary camp.

The boys had come as close as they dared, and reaching a convenient hillock with a clump of bushes, dismounted and threw themselves on the ground.

"They are going into camp, sure enough," announced Dick after a careful inspection. "Now, the question arises: what is best to do next?"

"I know what ought to be done," answered his brother, "but I am too tired to do it."

"Go for help?" asked Songbird.

"Exactly. But I could no more ride back to town than I could fly."

"Dot is vot's der madder mit me," put in Hans. "I could schleep standing ub, ain't it!"

"Well, I'll go for help, then," said Dick. "But I must have one of the horses."

"Take the best of them, Dick."

The eldest Rover inspected the animals, and finally chose one that looked fairly fresh.

"Now, mind, don't get into more trouble while I am gone," he said. "If they move on, simply keep them in sight."

A few minutes later, Dick took his departure, moving straight for the town they had seen earlier in the night. He knew nothing of the trails, but trusted to luck not to go astray.

"I've got to make that town," he told himself. "And do it without wasting time, too."

Soon he found himself utterly alone on the plains, and, urging his horse forward at the steed's best rate of speed—a gallop that was anything but easy to the worn-out youth. But Dick was not thinking of himself. His mind was on Sam, and how his youngest brother might be rescued.

"Whoa, there!"

The command was a most unexpected one, coming from out of the darkness, and at the word Dick's horse came to a standstill. For the instant the youth could see nobody, but then two horsemen hove into sight, each heavily armed.

At first, Dick could not make out who they were, but as they drew nearer his heart sank within him. One of the newcomers was a man he had seen working around Red Rock ranch and the other was the negro called Watermelon Pete, the fellow who had given the Rovers trouble while on the houseboat.