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CHAPTER VII


A DAY ON THE ROAD


"Vot kind of a horse you vos call dis, annahow?"

The question came from Hans, after about four miles of the journey had been covered. So far, his steed had acted well enough, but now, without warning, the animal began to balk and paw the turf.

"Something is wrong, that is certain," replied Dick. "Perhaps you haven't got a tight enough rein, Hans."

"Dot reins vos so tight as nefer vos. I dink dis horse got somedings der madder mit him."

As the German boy finished, he gave the horse a slap on the neck with his hands. In a twinkling, up came the steed's hind heels, and poor Hans slid out of the saddle and down to the neck.

"Voah,dere!" he bawled. "Voah, I said! Vot you vants to do, annahow, drow me your head ofer? Sthop, und do it kvick!"

But the horse did not stop. Instead, he began to back, and then of a sudden he leaped high up in the air, to come down on all fours with a thump that nearly jounced poor Hans to pieces.

"Hello, Hans has got a bucking bronco!" cried Tom. "Hans, what will you take for him?"

"I gif him avay!" bawled the poor German youth. "Oh!"

For the steed had made another leap, and now Hans went over his neck in a jiffy, to land in a heap of dust on the side of the road. Then the horse took to his heels and disappeared up the trail like a flash.

"Are you hurt?" questioned Dick, leaping to the ground and running to the German youth's assistance.

"Vere is dot horse?" sang out Hans as he scrambled up and wiped the dust from his mouth and eyes. He was not injured, but was greatly excited.

"The horse has run away."

"Veil, I nefer! Go after him, somepotty!"

"I'll go after him!" cried Tom.

"So will I," added Fred, and away they sped, with Sam and Songbird after them.

"Be careful!" called Dick. "That horse may prove to be a pretty high-strung beast."

"I think I can manage him," cried Tom. "But we have got to locate him first."

Those in pursuit of the horse had to travel the best part of a mile before they came in sight of the animal, quietly grazing by the roadside.

"Looks as meek as a lamb," observed Fred. "Whoa, there!" he called out.

At the call, the horse pricked up his ears and looked at them curiously. Then he took half a dozen steps forward.

"He is going to run away again!" came in a warning from Songbird.

"Not to-day!" sang out Tom, and riding forward, he leaned over and caught the dangling reins. Then, watching his chance, he leaped into the other saddle.

Scarcely had he done this, than the runaway steed began to prance, and kicked up his heels as before. But Tom was on guard, and try his best, the horse could not dislodge the boy.

"Beware, Tom!" cried Sam. "Don't let him throw you, or he may step on you!"

"I don't intend to let him throw me!" was the panting answer.

Finding he could not throw Tom, the horse adopted new tactics. He gave a sudden bound forward and was off with the speed of the wind.

"He is running away with Tom!"

On and on went the steed, and Tom did his best to pull him in, but without result. Then the fun-loving youth smiled grimly and shut his teeth hard.

"All right, Old Fireworks, if you want to run, I'll give you all you want of it," he murmured.

On and on they flew, until a bend in the road shut off the others from view. A mile was covered, and the horse showed signs of slackening his speed.

"No, you don't," said Tom. "You wanted to run, now keep it up for a while," and he slapped the animal vigorously. Away went the horse, and another quarter of a mile was passed. Then the horse slackened up once more.

"Another run, please," said Tom, and slapped him as before. The horse went on, but at a reduced speed, and came to a halt before another quarter mile was passed.

"Had about enough, eh?" questioned Tom. "Well, you can run a little more, just for good measure."

By the time the next run came to an end, the horse was covered with foam and tired out, for the road was very rough. Tom now turned him back and made him journey along at a fairly good rate of speed.

"Well, I declare, here comes Tom back!" cried Fred on catching sight of the fun-loving Rover. "Are you hurt?"

"Not a bit."

"And the horse?" asked Sam.

"As meek as a lamb—shouldn't wish for a better animal. He wanted a little run, that's all, and I gave it to him."

Soon Dick came up, with Hans riding behind him. The German boy looked at the captured horse with awe.

"Did he bite you?" he questioned.

"No."

"Didn't he hurt you at all?"

"Nary a hurt, Hansy."

"Vonderful!"

"Do you want him back?"

"Not for a dousand tollars, Tom. Of I got to ride him, I valk," continued Hans decidedly.

"Then, supposing you try my horse. He is gentle enough."

"Ton't you been afraid of dot beast?"

"No."

"All right, den, I dook your horse. But of you got killed, it ton't vos mine funeral," added Hans warningly.

The animal Tom had been riding was close by, and soon the German youth was in the saddle and the journey was resumed. They could not go fast, however, for Tom's horse was all but exhausted.

"I think he has learned his lesson," said Tom to his brothers. And so it proved, for after that single "kick-up," the horse gave them no further trouble.

About four o'clock that afternoon, they rode into a place called Harpertown, which was something of a horse-trading center. Some of the horse dealers thought they had come in to do some trading, but lost interest when the boys told them that they were simply on a journey to the Denton plantation.

"We may as well stop here for a while," said Sam. "Perhaps we can get a good supper at the hotel."

"Thought we were going to camp out," remarked Fred. "Build our own camp fire, and all that?"

"We can try that to-morrow, when we are among the hills," said Dick, and by a vote it was decided to stay in Harpertown for supper.

They put up their horses at the livery stable attached to the hotel, and then went to the lavatory to wash up. On coming out and going to the general room of the hostelry, Dick ran into a man who looked familiar to him.

"Why, how do you do, Mr. Monday?" he cried, and put out his hand.

The man looked startled at being addressed so unexpectedly. Then he recognized Dick, and smiled faintly.

"How do you do, Dick Rover?" he said. "I didn't expect to run across you down here."

"Are you at work here, Mr. Monday?"

"Hush! Please do not mention my name," said James Monday hastily. He was a detective who had once done some work for Dick's father, after which he had given up his private practice to take a position with the United States Government.

"All right, just as you please." Dick lowered his voice. "I suppose you are on a case down here?"

James Monday nodded.

"Can I help you in any way?"

"I think not, Rover. Where are you bound?"

"To a plantation about a hundred miles from here," and the eldest Rover gave a few particulars.

"Well, I wish you luck," said the government detective. "Now, do me a favor, will you?" he asked earnestly. "Don't act as if you know me, and don't tell anybody who I am."

"I'll comply willingly."

"If your brothers recognize me, ask them to do the same."

"I will."

"I am looking up some rascals and I don't want them to get on to the fact that I am a detective."

"I understand."

At that moment a heavy-set individual with a shock of bushy hair came slouching in. At once James Monday took his departure, the newcomer gazing after him curiously.

Dick waited a moment, and then rejoined Sam and Tom.

"Dick, we just caught sight of a man we know," said Sam. "Can you guess whom?"

"Mr. Day-of-the-week," put in Tom.

Dick put up his hand warningly.

"Don't mention that to a soul," he whispered. "I was just talking to him. He is here on special business, and he wants nobody to know him."

"Then we'll be as mum as a mouse in a cheese," answered Sam.

"Correct," joined in Tom. "But what's his game?"

"I don't know," answered Dick. But he was destined to find out ere he was many days older.