Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 20

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CHAPTER XX.


Moving Against Captain Grady


Both Paul and Chet Winthrop were deeply in terested in the words uttered by Jeff Jones, the colored member of the horse thieves gang.

"So you know something of Captain Grady and our uncle, Barnaby Winthrop?" cried Chet, excitedly. "What do you know?"

"Dat's fer you two fellers ter find out—onless yer let's me go," replied Jeff Jones, suggestively.

"You mean you won't speak unless we grant you your liberty?" put in Paul.

"Dat's de way to figure it."

Paul looked at Chet inquiringly.

"We can't promise anything until Mr. Dottery gets back," said Chet. "But if you know anything about our uncle you had better speak out, if you wish us to do anything at all for you."

"I won't say a word," growled the colored man.

Chet bit his lip in vexation.

"Don't you know what it is to have us able to speak a word for you?" said Paul. "Supposing we let Jack Blowfen take you over to the next camp and tell the men that you are a down-right horse thief? Would you fancy that?"

Jeff Jones began to tremble. He knew what Paul meant—that he would be lynched inside the hour. In that section of the country, at that time, horse stealing was considered almost as bad as murder.

"No! no! doan let him take me down ter de Fork!" howled Jeff Jones. "Anyt'ing but dat, boys!"

"Well, you had better talk, then," returned Paul, severely.

"I doan know much, but I'll tell yo' all I do know," said the prisoner, after a short pause, "and yo' is ter do de best yo' can fo' me, promise me dat?"

"We will," said Chet. He was very impatient for Jeff Jones to proceed.

"Well, den, Captain Grady has been a-spottin' yo' uncle fer seberal weeks—eber sence he got Massah Winthrop ter leave San Francisco."

"Got him to leave San Francisco?" queried Paul.

"Yes. I doan know how de t'ing was done, but he got yo' uncle ter leave de city an' now he's tryin ter make him gib up de secret ob a mine, or sumfin like dat."

"Gracious!" burst from Chet's lips. "That explains it all. Uncle Barnaby must be in Captain Grady's power."

"And by getting us out of the ranch he thought to make us leave the neighborhood," added Paul. "Do you know," he went on, "I believe he is at the head of a band who wish to obtain entire control of this section."

"I don t doubt it, Paul," Chet turned to the prisoner. "Where is our uncle now?"

"Dat I can't say."

"Captain Grady must know."

"Suah he does."

"Then we'll make him tell, never fear," Chet began to walk up and down. "I wish Mr. Dottery would come back."

"I hear somebody down the road," said Paul as he walked to the door. "It must be the two coming back now."

Paul was right. There was a clatter beyond in the dark, and a moment later Caleb Dottery appeared, followed by Jack Blowfen.

"Couldn't catch 'em in the dark," said Dottery, as he strode into the house and dropped into a rude but comfortable chair. "But thank fortune, the stock is safe!"

"Slick rascals, Mangle and Nodley," continued Jack Blowfen. "But we'll round em up some day, I'll bet my sombrero on it."

"We have just heard important news," said Paul, and he instantly proceeded to repeat what Jeff Jones had said.

Caleb Dottery and his cowboy helper listened with interest. The former gave a long, low whistle of astonishment.

"Must say I didn't quite think it of Captain Grady, though I allow as how he's a slick one," he remarked. "Wot's ter do about it?"

"We came here to obtain your aid," said Chet. "Captain Grady has taken possession of our ranch. You know he sets up some sort of a claim to it."

"Got yer papers, ain't ye?"

"No; they were burned up when we had our little fire."

"Humph! thet's bad!"

"But the place is ours—father bought and paid for it," added Paul, warmly. "And we intend to get Captain Grady out, even if we have to fight him."

"Good fer ye!" shouted Jack Blowfen. "Thet's the way ter talk. I'm right hyer ter help ye. I love grit, I do!" and he held out his big brown hand to Paul as if to bind a bargain.

"I'll certainly help ye, too," said Dottery. "Ye have done a good turn this night which I m not likely to forgit in a hurry."

"This colored man told us about our uncle and Captain Grady of his own free will," said Paul. "So, if you can be a little easy on him on that account I wish you would be."

"Stealin hosses ain't no light crime " growled Dottery.

"An' it don't improve a man's reputation to become a sneak," added Jack Blowfen.

Yet, after some talk, it was agreed to hold Jeff Jones merely as a prisoner for the present, instead of carrying him to the nearest camp to be turned over to the vigilance committee.

It was now so near morning that to think of retiring was out of the question. The men began to smoke, and Blowfen stirred about getting breakfast. At six o clock they dined.

"I'll chain Jones up as a prisoner in the house till we git back," observed Dottery, when the meal was finished. "He'll keep quiet if he knows when he is well off."

This was done, and then both house and out buildings were made as secure as possible.

Ten minutes later Paul, Chet, and the two men were on their way on horseback to the Winthrop ranch. All were armed and ready for anything that might turn up.

But not one of the number dreamed of the several surprises in store for them.