Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 18

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CHAPTER XVIII.


Allen Changes His Plans


A moment later a clatter of horse's hoofs on the road outside betokened another arrival. Catching up his gun, Daddy Wampole strode out to see who it was.

"Ike Watson! Wot brings ye here?" Allen heard him cry, and then ran out to greet the old hunter.

"Allen, by all the good fortunes o' the Rockies!" ejaculated Ike Watson. "Jes' the boy I'm pinin' ter see."

"And I'm mighty glad to see you, too, Ike," returned the young ranchman. "I want a bit of advice, and you are just the man to give it to me."

"Advice? I'm ready to give ye bushels o' it, if it will do ye the least bit o' good, lad. But wot are ye doin' here? Why ain't ye hum?"

"I came here on my way to the railroad station, I am bound for San Francisco to hunt up Uncle Barnaby."

"Gee whiz! Now thet's what I call fortunate! If I hadn't a cotched ye, ye would be goin' off on a wild goose chase, with no end to the trail."

"A wild goose chase? O, Ike, have you word from my uncle?"

"No, I ain't got no word from him, but I got word in a way thet two rascals didn't dream on."

"But what do you know?" questioned Allen impatiently.

"Not much, ter tell the truth, an' yet a good deal. It happened this mornin', when I wuz down to Casey's Fork. I wuz ridin along the old B'ar Trail when along comes a couple o' the worst lookin' bad men ye ever seed. Sez one to tudder, 'If we can make him tell us whar the mine is, we will all become millionaires.' Then sez tudder, 'We'll make him speak. We didn t trap Barnaby Winthrop inter leavin' San Francisco fer nuthin'.' The fellers wuz on the bottom trail, while I wuz up on the rocks. I tried to git to 'em to make 'em tell me wot wuz the meanin' of it all, when they spied me comin' down, an' by the grasshoppers o' Kansas! ye ought ter hev seed 'em put an' scoot. They got out o' sight in a jiffy, an' I couldn't locate 'em, try my best. I hung around an hour, an' then I made up my mind ter ride over an' tell ye wot I hed heard."

Not only Allen, but also Noel Urner and Daddy Wampole were astonished by the revelation Ike Watson made.

"Uncle Barnaby trapped into leaving San Francisco!" gasped Allen. "Did they say where they had taken him?"

"Didn't say nuthin' more 'n I told ye," responded the hunter from Gold Fork. "Leas'wise, didn't say nuthin' ez I could hear."

"Who were the men?"

"I don't know, 'ceptin' I seed 'em hangin around Jordan Creek about six months ago. Like ez not they belong to the old Sol Davids gang. Nearly every one up thet water course belonged to thet gang."

"Would you know them if you saw them again?"

"Sartinly—I'm powerful good at recerlectin' faces onct I see 'em."

"Where do you suppose the men went to?"

"Rode off in the direction o' Black Rock River Canyon."

Allen started. Could it be possible they suspected the claim was up in that neighborhood? It was more than possible.

The young ranchman turned to Noel Urner. "Noel, I'm going to change my plans. I am going after those two men instead of going to San Francisco."

"It would certainly seem a useless trip now," replied the young man from New York, slowly. "There is not the slightest doubt but what your uncle was decoyed away from San Francisco. Where he is now is a mystery which those two men must solve for you—they or——"

"Captain Grady," finished Allen, impulsively. "I feel it in my bones that he is in this plot against Uncle Barnaby."

"It would seem so."

"How do ye make that out?" asked Ike Watson.

In a few words Allen told the old hunter about the missing letter.

"Gee, shoo! He are one o' the gang, sartin!" cried Ike Watson. "The best ye can do is to start in an' round 'em all up."

"Thet's the talk," put in Daddy Wampole. "The state would be a hundred per cent better off with 'em fellers out o' it."

Allen gazed at Ike Watson earnestly.

"Will you help me in this work?" he asked. "You know more about these bad men than I do."

"Will I help ye? Allen ye ought ter know better than ter axt sech a question. O' course I'll help ye. I ain't got much ter do. Them new claims up the Salmon kin wait well enough."

"I would help ye, too, if I could git away," said Daddy Wampole. "Thet gang worried me enough for six years, goodness knows!"

"And what of you?" Allen turned to Noel. You see how matters stand. I don't want to ask you to go, for we may have some rough times, and——"

"I came out to see rough times," interrupted the young man from the east. "So unless you think I'll be too much of a hindrance, I would like greatly to accompany you wherever you go. You must remember that I, too, am anxious to find your uncle."

"Then, thet's settled," said Ike Watson. He did not much fancy having the company of a "tenderfoot," but Noel's manner pleased him.

A long discussion followed. While it was in progress Mrs. Wampole prepared a hot supper, to which later on Allen and the others did full justice.

It was decided to remain at the crossroads hotel all night, and the three retired early, that they might make a start before sunrise.

It must be confessed that the young ranchman slept but little. His mind was in a whirl over all he had discovered, and he shuddered whenever he thought that his uncle might possibly be in peril of his life.

"Those men would indeed dare all for gold, as those initials on the cross imply," he said to himself. "What a pity they were not exterminated the time old Sol Davids was lynched."

Toward morning Allen dropped off into a troubled slumber, to be awakened with a start by a touch from Ike Watson's hand an hour later.

"Time ter climb below an' feed up, Allen," cried the old hunter. "We hev a long ride afore us, ez ye know."

"That's true!" cried the young ranchman, springing to his feet; and Ike went off to arouse Noel Urner.

The young man from New York felt rather stiff from his ride of the day previous. Yet he did not complain, and did all he could to make the others believe he felt in perfect trim for another day in the saddle.

After a substantial but hasty breakfast the horses were saddled and they were off, Daddy Wampole waving his hand after them and wishing them the best of luck.

"We'll make for Casey's Fork fust o' all," said Ike Watson. "Perhaps I can pick up the trail thar. If I can't we kin push on toward the Salmon an trust ter luck."

Allen was doubtful if the old hunter could pick up the trail after having once lost it, but in lieu of something better, he agreed to Watson's plan. Noel, of course, was willing to go wherever the others led.

It was high noon when Casey's Fork, a rough lot of rocks in a bend of the Umihalo Creek, was reached. Allen and Noel were glad enough to dismount in the shadow of the rocks while Ike Watson went off on a tour of inspection.

The old hunter was gone so long that Allen at last grew alarmed.

"Something is wrong, or he would be back ere this," he said. "Let us go after him."

But hardly had they mounted when they heard a shout ahead. Looking beyond a belt of bushes they saw Ike Watson waving his hand to them.

"Found it!" he cried as they came up. "They took the creek road over ter the forest trail. The marks are fresh, showin' they didn't move on until dark last night."

"Then they can't be many miles ahead!" cried Allen. "Oh, if we can only keep the trail till we catch up to them!"

"No time ter lose," said Ike Watson, and once more they continued the pursuit, this time faster than before.

Yet at the end of two miles they came to a sudden halt. The trail led down to the bank of a shallow stream and there disappeared from view.