Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 22
An Important Capture
Of course Paul made a prompt retreat. It would have been worse than useless, just then, to have remained where he was, with his hands on the stockade gate.
The party outside could not see Captain Grady, but from the direction of his voice they knew he was on the other side of the stockade at a point where several peep and gun holes covered the entrance.
"That's right, you better git back!" went on the captain, as Paul retreated.
"See here, Grady, what does this mean?" demanded Caleb Dottery, as he advanced in the direction of the guard openings.
"It means that I have got possession of this ranch, which rightfully belongs to me, and I mean to keep it," was the grim reply, delivered with great force and distinctness.
"The Winthrop boys deny yer rights."
"That makes no difference. I know what's what."
"Open the gate and let us talk it over quietly," went on Dottery, who was naturally a peaceably inclined individual.
"I'm not opening the gate just now. Those boys can go away. I don t mind you coming around, but I don't want those boys here."
"Well, you'll have to put up with us," cried Chet, angrily. "Now, open the gate, or we'll smash it down!"
"Don't be rash, Chet!" whispered Paul.
"You monkey!" roared Captain Grady. "Fall back, before I let you have a dose of buck shot!"
"There will be no shooting here, Captain, onless ye want ter get wiped out," broke in Jack Blowfen. "Open the gate fer yer neighbors and let us hev a powwow."
"I've told you wot I'll do—open up when the boys go away."
"Come on, Chet," whispered Paul to his younger brother.
"Yes, but Paul——"
"Come on, I say," and Paul whispered something into Chet's ear.
At once, with a wink at Jack Blowfen, the two boys started off on a gallop toward the river.
"Do you think we can do it?" asked Chet, anxiously.
"I think so. We can try, anyway."
Dismounting, the brothers made their way to where a deep ditch drained from the ranch home under the stockade into the river. The ditch was almost dry and was all but choked up with weeds and brush.
"Now, Chet, it is a serious undertaking, but you know we must take some chances," went on Paul, as they let themselves down into the ditch. "The captain may really shoot at us, although I think he will hardly dare do it with Blowfen and Mr. Dottery at hand to see that justice is done."
"If he shoots, we'll shoot back," replied Chet. "He has no right on our land, and, besides, we must do something for Uncle Barnaby's sake."
Full of determination, and realizing that a crisis was at hand, the two boys wormed their way along the ditch until the stockade was reached.
Here a few wooden bars blocked the way. But one of the bars was loose and was wrenched aside, and they went on.
"We must be careful, in case any one is in the house," said Paul in a whisper.
The ditch led around to the rear of the ranch home. But here it went underground and they were compelled to leave it and take to the grass.
They gave a brief look and saw Captain Grady down by the opening in the stockade, still arguing with Dottery and Blowfen. He looked anxious.
"He don't see us," whispered Chet. "Come, the front door is open!" and he made a quick dash for the house, followed closely by Paul.
The door was closing on the pair when Captain Grady started around and beheld Paul's form from the rear. He gave a quick cry of alarm.
"Stop! Come out!"
"Too late, Captain Grady!" called back Paul, facing about and aiming at the man with his gun. "Now, just you go and open the stockade gate!"
"Thar ain't no need o thet!" cried the voice of Jack Blowfen. "Well done, boys; I give ye credit."
And over the stockade vaulted the cowboy, leaping from his saddle to the grass on the other side.
Captain Grady knew not which way to turn, and before he could decide the gate was unbarred and Caleb Dottery rode in.
In the meantime Chet had taken a hasty glance through the house and satisfied himself that Captain Grady was really alone. There was evidence that several visitors had been there but recently—a number of unwashed dishes and drinking glasses.
Chet returned to the doorway and beheld Captain Grady in Jack Blowfen's strong grasp. The firearm had been wrenched from the captain and hurled a dozen feet away.
"This—this is an outrage!" puffed the captain in a great rage.
"So is the way ye set up to treat neighbors," replied the cow puncher, coolly. "Why didn't ye leave us in like gentlemen an' thus avoid all trouble?"
The captain glared at him.
"What does this mean?" he demanded sullenly after a pause.
"Can you hold him, Blowfen?" asked Paul, anxiously. "I reckon, Paul; but maybe ye might better keep him covered with yer gun."
"This means that we have come to take possession of our own," put in Chet. "We told you that we would be back."
"It's ag'inst the law, and I'll have the sheriff on you!" shouted Captain Grady wrathfully.
"We'll chance that," said Paul. "March into the house, please. We want to question you a bit on another matter," he continued.
Captain Grady started. "What matter?" he asked in a lower tone of voice.
"About our uncle, Barnaby Winthrop."
"Don't know nothing of him," was the reply, and as he spoke Captain Grady's hand moved up to his inside breast pocket.
Instantly Jack Blowfen leaped upon the rascal and bore him to the earth.