Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII.


The Boys Talk It Over


Allen and Ike Watson were soon on the way back to the ranch. Fortunately Ike Watson knew every foot of the ground, and led by the most direct route.

As the reader knows, Paul and Chet heard them approaching and received their elder brother with open arms.

"You look like a ghost!" declared Chet, starting back on catching sight of Allen's pale face.

"And I feel like a shadow," responded Allen with a weary laugh. "But a good dinner and a nap will make me as bright as a dollar again."

"He has our horses!" cried Paul.

"Yes, but not my own," returned Allen.

He walked into the house and was here introduced to Noel Urner. The table was at once spread, and soon both Allen and Ike Watson were regaling themselves to their heart's content.

During the progress of the meal Allen related all of his wonderful story of the fall from the bridge, the journey on the underground river, and of his struggle to reach the open air once more. He said nothing about the wealth which lay exposed in the cavern or of the fact that it was Uncle Barnaby's mine, for he felt he had no right to mention those matters before Ike Watson and Noel Urner, friends though they might be. Uncle Barnaby had guarded his secret well and he would do the same.

All listened with deep interest to what he had to say.

"It was a wonder the fall into the water didn t kill you," said Paul. "Such a distance as it was!"

"Lilly saved my life but it cost her her own," returned Allen, and he sighed, for Lilly had been his favorite for several years.

Chet and Paul were eager that Allen should hear Noel Urner's story and the young man from New York related it without delay. Allen was as much surprised as his brothers had been, and so was Ike Watson.

"I am afraid somebody has played Uncle Barnaby foul," cried Allen, his face full of anxiety.
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THE THREE YOUNG RANCHMEN TALKED IT OVER

"If he had left of his own accord we would have heard from him."

"That's just my idea of it," said Paul. "But the thing of it is, who met him in San Francisco, and what did they do?"

To that question Allen could only shake his head.

"I am too tired to say much about it to-night," he said at last. "I must sleep on it."

Allen wished to retire early, but before he did so Chet told him of Captain Grady's visit.

"We won't stir," said Allen, briefly. "Let him sue Uncle Barnaby. We have nothing to do with it. Our first duty is to find uncle."

And both Paul and Chet agreed with him on this point.

Ike Watson was on his way up the Salmon River to visit a new gold diggings. He refused to stay all night, and set off in the dark, with Allen's thanks ringing in his ears for what he had done.

Despite the excitement through which he had passed, Allen slept "like a log" that night, and did not awaken until long after the others were up and Chet and Paul had the morning chores done.

"Now I feel like myself once more," he said when he came down. "And I am ready for business."

"So am I," laughed Noel Urner. "But the trouble is, I do not know how to turn without horse or conveyance. I am not used to tramping about on foot."

"If we had horses we might lend you one," said Allen. "But two nags for four people are two short," and he laughed.

During the morning Paul went out on horse back, accompanied by Noel, to see if the cattle were safe. While they were gone Allen told Chet of the hidden mine.

"It is worth a million," he said. "But it is Uncle Barnaby's secret, remember."

"I will remember," said Chet, "but we must tell Paul."

"Certainly; tell him after I am gone."

"Gone? Why, Allen, what do you mean?"

"I am going to leave home this afternoon, Chet."

"You are fooling," remarked the younger brother.

"Never more serious in my life, Chet."

"And you are going——" Chet hesitated.

"Direct to San Francisco to hunt up tidings of Uncle Barnaby."

Of course, Chet was taken completely back by Allen's announcement.

"To San Francisco!" he ejaculated.

"Yes, Chet. I feel that it is my duty to discover what has become of uncle, if possible, at once."

"I know, but it's such a journey——"

"I am not afraid to take it. I will ride to the nearest station on the railroad, which is not over a hundred and forty miles, and then take the train. The journey on the cars will not take over a couple of days, all told."

"And the cost——"

"I will have to take what we have saved from the thieves. But surely, Chet, you do not regret taking that for such a purpose?"

"No! no! take it all! I was thinking if it would be enough."

"I will make it do. I will buy a cut-rate ticket from Ogden, if I can."

"And what shall Paul and I do in the meantime?" questioned Chet in some dismay.

"Do nothing but guard the cattle and the place generally. I will be back, or let you hear from me just as soon as I can."

Paul was equally astonished at Allen's sudden determination. It was, however, what Noel Urner had expected.

"Yes, I would go if I were you," said the latter. "And if you want me to, I will go with you," he added. "I must confess I am deeply interested in this strange case."

"I would like you to go with me first rate," returned Allen. "And whether uncle is found or not, I will promise that you shall be well paid for all the trouble you will be put to."

"I want no pay for helping you. I will enjoy the bit of detective work, as one might call it. But how am I to get to the railroad station without a horse?"

"You can take both horses, if necessary," suggested Chet.

"That's so; although we ought to have at least one animal on the ranch," added Paul.

"We can both ride one animal as far as Dottery's ranch," said Allen, "and there we can either borrow or hire another animal."

"How far is Dottery's?"

"Only about twenty-five miles. We ought to reach it by dark, if we start shortly."

"We can start at once, as far as I am concerned," laughed Noel.

So it was decided to lose no time, and Chet at once set to work to prepare dinner and also some food to be carried along.