Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 14
The desolation on all sides of them and the failure to locate the marks Allen had mentioned caused Paul and Chet to become much downcast. They had had their long and tedious journey from the ranch home for nothing.
"I suppose there isn't anything to do but to go back," remarked Chet dismally, as he thrashed around in the brush with a stick he had picked up. "We are as far away from the mine as we were when we started."
"Let us be in no hurry to return," rejoined Paul. "We'll give Rush a chance to get back his wind."
Leaving the trusty animal to roam about as pleased him, the two boys threw themselves on the grass and gave themselves up to their reflections.
"I'll tell you what I would like to do," remarked Chet. "I would like to find the chap who cleaned us out of that seven hundred dollars."
"I wonder that Allen didn't get Watson to stop the horse thieves and search them," mused Paul. "He must have known they had the money."
"He was too played out to think of much just then, I reckon. It was a good deal to escape with the horses without getting shot."
"The cross we found in the barn belonged to that Saul Mangle beyond a doubt. The initials prove that."
"I believe you."
"We must watch out for that Mangle, and if we can ever get our hands on him, make him give up our money and then have him locked up."
"It is not so easy to lock up a man when you are miles and miles away from a jail."
An hour went by, and the boys thought it time to start on the return. Rush was called back from a thicket into which he had wandered and both mounted, for the trail now lead almost entirely down hill.
After the cyclone the sun had come out strong and hot, and halfway back to the ranch the brothers were glad enough to stop beside the bank of a tiny mountain stream and obtain a drink and water the horse.
They were about to depart when Rush pricked up his ears and gave a peculiar whinny.
"Hush! What does that mean?" Paul asked in quick alarm.
"Draw behind the brush and see," replied Chet, cautiously. "Those horse thieves may be still in the vicinity."
"Oh, they would not remain here," said Paul.
Yet he followed his brother behind the brush. They tried to make Rush come, too, but for once the animal would not obey.
"Come, Rush, come," whispered Chet. "Why he never acted this way before."
"The cyclone upset his mind, I reckon," said Paul, with a faint show of humor. "Make him come."
But the more Chet tried the more obstinate did the animal become. Finally he broke away altogether and ran off, kicking up his heels behind him.
"Well, I never!" gasped Chet.
"Quick, after him! I believe he means to run away!" cried Paul.
"Rush run away!" said Chet reproachfully. It hurt him a good deal to have Paul speak in that fashion of the horse he so loved.
Both boys leaped from the thicket and after Rush, who was now running up the bank of the stream at top speed. A turn was made and the brothers burst out into a loud and joyous shout.
There, not fifty feet away, was Lilly, the faithful mare Allen had fancied was drowned in the Black Rock River. Rush stood beside her, licking her neck affectionately.
"Allen's horse!" cried Chet.
"And as well as ever almost," added Paul, as he rushed up and began an examination.
The mare was evidently glad to see both the boys and her mate. She stood trembling as Chet and Paul examined her.
"A few slight bruises, that is all," said Paul. "Won't Allen be glad when he hears of it?"
"Indeed he will be. He loves Lilly as if she was his best girl. It's a good thing for us, too, Paul," he went on. "Now each can have a mount home."
"Right you are—if Lilly can carry me."
Paul was speedily on the mare's back. She seemed willing enough to carry him; in fact, glad to be in the keeping of a human being she knew.
"If she could only talk what a tale she would have to tell," observed Paul as they rode homeward. "I wonder how she got out of the river?"
"I reckon we'll never know, unless Allen makes her talk. He can make her do most everything," laughed Chet.
On they went over the rocks and the level prairie beyond. The sun was now sinking in the west, and ere long the evening shadows would be upon them.
"Well, we found a horse even if we didn't find a mine, and that's something," said Paul, as they reached the trail beside the river.
"But I hope that the mine isn't lost for good," replied Chet, quickly. "The mine is worth a good deal more than even Lilly."
"Maybe you can't tell that to Allen."
"Oh, yes I can; for he saw the wealth there, you know."
"If only he finds Uncle Barnaby," sighed Paul. "Do you know, the more I think of it, the more I become convinced that something dreadful has happened to him."
"And that is the way I look at it, too, Paul. If we could——"
Chet stopped short and stared ahead. They had come in sight of the semi-stockade around their ranch house.
"Our furniture and trunks!" gasped Paul, following the direction of Chet's stare. "What on earth does it mean?"
There on the grass lay their furniture in a confused mass—tables, chairs, trunks, clothing, one on top of another. And in another heap were the farming implements from the barn.
"Captain Grady's dirty work!" cried Paul. "He has come here and taken possession during our absence."
Paul was right, for at that moment Captain Grady appeared at the stockade gate, gun in hand.
The sarcastic smile on the captain's face told plainly that he rather enjoyed the situation. He gazed at the boys without saying a word.
His left hand was tied up in a bandage, showing that he had not entirely escaped the gun traps which had been set. As a matter of fact, half a dozen bird shot still remained in the fleshy part of his thumb.
"What does this mean?" demanded Paul at length. He spoke as calmly as he could, although tremendously excited.
"Reckon you have eyes an can see," growled Captain Grady. "I told you that you hadn't seen the end of this, in that I would have this place in my possession putty quick."
"You had no right to break into our house and fire our things out!" cried Chet.
"I deny as how it's your house, youngster. It belongs to me, as does the whole ranch property. There be your traps, an the quicker you git them off this ground the better it will suit me."
"We won't move a thing until we put them back into that house," retorted Chet hot-headedly. "This is no way to gain possession, and you know it."
"Halt where you are!" Captain Grady raised his gun and pointed it at Chet, who was in advance. "You'll not come near this gate, mind that!"
"I'm going in, and you won't stop me," retorted Chet.
"Don't be rash, Chet," whispered Paul, riding up and plucking his younger brother by the sleeve.
"You try and cross this gateway and I'll fire on you, sure as fate," went on the captain.
Urged by Paul, Chet brought Rush to a stand. The boys were about thirty feet from where Captain Grady stood on guard.
"Now, the best thing you fellers can do," said the captain, sharply, "is to ride over to Dottery's ranch, an git a wagon an tote these traps away. If they are left more 'n a week I'll pitch them into the river, mind you. If you ain't satisfied at the way matters have turned, you can go to law, just as you advised me to do," and again the man smiled sarcastically.
"We certainly will go to law, replied Paul. "Are you alone here?"
"That's not for you to ask."
"I presume you hung around here and saw my brother go off first and then waited for us to go away."
"I ain't standing here as a target for questions," growled Captain Grady.
"You are a sneak and worse, Captain Grady!" burst out Chet. "If there is any law in Idaho you shall have your full dose of it, mark my word!"
"Hi! you young bantam, don t talk to me in that fashion," roared the man in a rage. "Come, I've told you what is best to do. Now clear out. I shall keep watch, an' if you attempt to play any trick in the dark on me you'll find your self running up against a charge of buckshot."
That Captain Grady was in dead earnest was very evident. He scowled viciously and walked a step forward.
Yet the boys were not daunted. They held their ground, and Paul even took a slight move forward on Lilly's back.
"Supposing we go to Dottery's ranch," said the youth. "If we tell our story, don't you imagine Dottery will turn in and help us bounce you out of here?"
"No, you'll get no help at Dottery's."
"He is our friend, and he will not stand up for your doings, even if you do own the ranch over the river."
"Well, why don t you go an see Dottery," snapped Captain Grady.
"We will—and some other people, too," cried Chet.
"And in the meantime, if any of our stuff is lost, you'll pay for it," added Paul.
"I won't be responsible for anything. Now clear out an' leave me alone."
The two brothers looked at each other. Neither knew exactly what to do. Paul finally made a sign to withdraw, and they turned and rode down the river trail to the belt of cottonwoods.
Captain Grady remained at the gateway, his baneful eyes on them until the trees hid them from view. Then he shut the heavy gate and walked slowly toward the house, rubbing his grizzled chin reflectively.
"They won't come back to-night, I'm pretty certain of that," he said to himself. "An' by to-morrow I'll be better fixed to hold my own."