Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 19

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CHAPTER XIX.


Along the Water Course


"Gone!" burst from Allen's lips.

"What's to do now?" asked Noel Urner.

Ike Watson halted in perplexity for fully a minute. Then he dismounted and waded into the stream, which was scarcely a foot to a foot and a half in depth.

"Ho! ho! ho!" he laughed, suddenly. "I thought so! No, ye can't play thet game hyer."

"What now, Ike?" questioned the young ranchman.

"They went up in the middle o' this yere stream, thinkin' they could throw me off the trail. See, hyer are the marks ez plain ez the nose on Cap'n Grady's face." And the old hunter pointed into the clear water.

Leaving Allen to bring his horse, Watson walked slowly along the bed of the stream, taking good care not to step into any deep holes. In this manner half a mile was covered, when, at a point where the brush along the bank was thin, the trail led out once more on the dirt and rocks.

"An old trick, but it didn't work this trip," chuckled Ike Watson to himself, as he once more resumed his seat in the saddle.

"What I am thinking of is, what made them suspicious, after they were so far from Casey's Forks," said Allen.

"Perhaps their guilty consciences." laughed Noel.

"Thet, an' because they thought I might be follerin' em," added Ike Watson. "Hullo! What does this mean?"

He had followed the trail around a belt of timber. Beyond was a wall of rocks, and here were traces of a recent camp—a smoldering fire and some odds and ends of crackers and meat.

"We ain't far behind em, boys!" he went on. "This fire wuz tended ter less than a couple o' hours ago."

"Then let us push on, by all means," returned Allen. "If we can catch those two men before they have a chance to join any of their evil companions, so much the better."

"The trail leads along the rocks," observed Noel. "Have you any idea where we are going?"

"Idee! I know this yere country like a book," said Ike Watson. "Don't ye git feered o' bein' lost so long ez ye stay nigh me."

"I don't mean that. I mean, do you know where the men went from here?"

"Up to Grizzly Pass, most likely, an' then along over ter the Black Rock Canyon. Eh, Allen?"

"It would seem so," responded Allen seriously.

"Grizzly Pass; rather a suggestive name," said Noel.

"Ye-as; especially when a big grizzly shows hisself," drawled Watson, and there the conversation dropped.

Despite the fierce sunshine, it was deliciously cool along the base of the rocky wall, and the horses made good progress over the hard but level trail. Here and there immense brier bushes overhung the way, but these were easily avoided by the animals, who were more afraid of them than were their riders.

Presently the trail took an upward course, leading between a split in the rocks.

"Ye want ter be careful hyer," cautioned Ike Watson. "It's a mighty slippery spot fer the best o' hoss flesh."

Scarcely had he spoken when Noel Urner gave a cry of alarm.

He was in the rear, and both the old hunter and Allen turned quickly to see what was the matter.

They found Noel's horse on his knees, having slipped to one side of the trail.

The young man was on the ground, one foot caught in the stirrup.

"Stop the hoss!" cried Watson. "If ye don't he'll bang the young man's head off!"

Before he had ceased speaking Allen was on the ground. He ran back and caught Noel's horse by the bridle. The young man from the east was partly stunned, and it was several seconds before he could recover sufficiently to disengage his foot and arise from his dangerous position.

"Good for you, Allen!" he cried, as he stood by, while the young ranchman assisted the horse to a safe spot in the trail. "I was afraid I was in for it."

"Ye did jes' the right thing, Allen," put in Ike Watson. "Dunno but wot ye hed better walk a brief spell," he went on to Noel, who was only too glad to do so.

Half an hour later the top of the rocks was reached, and they moved back to where the way was smooth and safe. A lunch was had from the pouches, and on they went as fast as the fatigued horses would carry them.

"I can see no trail," said Noel, as he rode abreast of his companions.

"There ain't no need ter see a trail hyer," replied Ike Watson. "This yere way is a blind pocket fer all o' these three miles. Ye couldn't go no different if ye tried. Byme-by, when we come out on Sampson s flats, we'll look for the trail ag'in."

"We ought to catch up to those men before we reach the flats," remarked Allen. "They must be tired out by that climb."

"We ain't fur off," rejoined Watson. "Jes' keep silent half an hour longer, an' we'll——"

He broke off short, reigned in his steed, and pointed ahead.

Allen looked eagerly in the direction. Under the spreading branches of a giant pine rested two men. Not far from them two horses were hoppled. The men looked thoroughly tired. Both were smoking pipes and leaning against the tree with their eyes closed.

"Let us dismount and tiptoe our way to them," whispered Allen. "If we secure their horses first they will have no chance to get away from us."

"A good plan, lad," returned Watson, in an equally low tone. "Supposin' ye an I leave our nags with Mr. Urner?"

This was agreed upon, and after dismounting the horses were led behind some heavy brush by the young man from the east.

Then, with their weapons ready for use, Allen and old Ike Watson stole cautiously forward to where were grazing the animals belonging to the two bad men from Jordan Creek.

Allen and the old hunter from Gold Fork went about their work as silently as possible. The horses were somewhat in the rear, and so they made a detour, coming up behind the dozing men as softly as twin shadows.

The animals reached, the next thing was to release them. This was speedly accomplished, and it was Allen who led them off, while Ike Watson still remained on guard with his trusty gun ready should the occasion arise to make use of the firearm.

In less than three minutes the young ranchman was back, having left the captured animals in Noel's care.

"Now, what's to do?" he questioned.

"Maybe we hed better git a few ropes ready, in case we want ter bind 'em," began Ike Watson, but ere this idea could be put into execution one of the men dropped his pipe, and the hot tobacco, falling on his hand, brought him upright with a start. He opened his eyes, and with a loud exclamation, which awoke his companion, leaped to his feet.

"What does this mea——" he began.

"Hands up, ye rascal!" ordered Ike Watson, so sternly that instantly both arms were raised high overhead. The horse thief, for the man was nothing less, if not much worse, fully understood that his opponent had the "drop" on him and would not stop to parley unless the order to elevate his hands was obeyed.

The second rascal, in his sitting position, attempted to draw a pistol, but Allen, producing his own weapon, forced the man to remain stationary.

"We hev ye, stranger," remarked Watson after a second of silence. "Do ye acknowledge the corn?"

"What's the meaning of this outrage?" growled the fellow who was standing, and he scowled fiercely, first at the old hunter and then at the young ranchman.

"It means firstly that ye are in our power," chuckled Watson. It was evident that he thoroughly enjoyed the situation.

"Well?"

"Then ye acknowledge thet, do ye?"

"I suppose we'll have to."

"It's Ike Watson from Gold Fork," put in the man who was sitting.

"Ike Watson!" the face of the speaker grew quite disturbed. It was plain he had heard of Watson before and did not relish being held up by the well-known old man.

"Ye-as, I'm Ike Watson," drawled the old hunter. "Now, strangers, give me yer handles, and let me have em straight."

"My name is Roe Bluckburn," came from the standing man.

"Mine is Lou Slavin, and I'm not ashamed of it," came from the other.

"Jes' so," mused Watson. "I've heard o' both o' yeez belongin' to the old Sol Davids gang o' hoss thieves."

"You are mistaken. We are not thieves of any sort," said Bluckburn, who appeared the leader of the pair.

"Well, we won't quarrel about that, seein' ez how we are on another trail ter day. We want ye ter up an' tell us ter onct whar Barnaby Winthrop is."

"Yes, and tell us the truth," put in Allen, sternly.

The men were both taken aback by the request. They exchanged glances and each waited for the other to speak.

"Come, out with it, Bluckburn!" cried Watson.

"Dunno the man you are talking about."

"Ye can't come it thet way. Didn't I hear ye talkin' it over down ter Casey's Forks only yesterday? Come, out with the truth, or take the consequences!" and to scare the horse thief Ike Watson tapped his gun barrel suggestively.

"Must be some mistake. We wasn't near Casey's Fork in a month. Eh, Lou?"

"Nixy."

"Ye tell it so smooth I would most believe ye, if I hadn't follered ye up," growled Watson. "But we know ye air in the deal ag'in Barnaby Winthrop, an' I am hyer ter help his nevvy thar, Allen Winthrop. So ye hed better ease yer mind ter onct. Understand?"

The two men turned their attention to Allen curiously. They wished to hold a consultation, but Watson would not permit it.

At that moment Noel Urner came forward, having succeeded in tying all of the horses in a little grove not far distant.

He eyed both of the prisoners keenly, and then gave a start.

"I saw that man in San Francisco!" he ejaculated, pointing to Roe Bluckburn. "He was hanging around the very hotel at which Mr. Barnaby Winthrop stopped."

"It ain't so," growled Bluckburn, but his face proclaimed that Noel Urner had spoken the truth.

"If that is the case, then he is the one who decoyed my uncle away," put in Allen. "For there is no longer any doubt in my mind that he was spirited away in some fashion."

"Air ye fellers goin' ter speak?" roared Ike Watson, impatiently. "Ye can't expect me ter stand hyer with a gun the rest o' the day!"

"Unless you do speak, we shall bind you and hand you over to the sheriff," said Allen. "We believe we have a good case against you—and will have a better after Captain Grady is placed under arrest," he added, struck with a sudden thought.

"Captain Grady!" groaned the man named Lou Slavin. "I reckon the jig is up, Roe."

"Shut up!" growled Bluckburn.

"But if the captain is known wot show have we got?" grumbled Slavin. "Say?" he continued eagerly. "I went into this thing ag'in my will, an' I wish I was out of it. Supposin' I tell yer the truth about the hull gang, does that save me?"

"Don't you say a word, Lou!" shouted Bluckburn, warningly, but ere he could speak further the muzzle of Ike Watson's gun caused him to retreat up to the tree, where he stood, not daring to say another word.

"Go on and have yer say!" cried the old hunter to Lou Slavin. "And, ez I said before, give it ter us straight. Whar is Barnaby Winthrop?"

"He is a prisoner, about ten miles from here," was Slavin s flat and sudden confession.