Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 23

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News of Importance

"Don't be alarmed; he is not going to shoot," cried Paul.

"Don't ye make too shure o' thet," ejaculated the cowboy. "Wot's he puttin his hand into his pocket fer?"

"He has something there I fancy he wishes to conceal," went on Paul. "Empty the pocket, please."

"Let me go! This is highway robbery!" stormed Captain Grady.

He struggled fiercely to regain his feet. But Blowfen was the stronger of the pair and he easily held the rascal down with one hand, while with the other he brought several letters from his inside pocket.

Paul eagerly snatched the letters, in spite of the captain's protest. He glanced at them, with Chet looking over his shoulder.

"Well, what do you make out?" asked Caleb Dottery. He didn t quite like the way matters were turning.

"I think we will be safe in making Captain Grady a prisoner," replied Paul slowly.

"Yes, make him a prisoner by all means," put in Chet. "He is a villain if ever there was one. If we can't prove it I think my Uncle Barnaby can."

At the reference to Barnaby Winthrop Captain Grady grew pale. It was evident that his sins were at last finding him out.

It did not take Jack Blowfen long to act upon Paul's suggestion. He disarmed the captain and made him march into the house, where he bound the fellow in very much the same manner as Dottery had bound Jeff Jones.

While he was doing so Paul showed the letters taken from the prisoner to Caleb Dottery, Chet, while a second reading was going on, commenced to ransack the house.

The captain had moved but a few things into the ranch home—a couple of chairs, a table, a bed, and an old hair trunk. The trunk Chet opened without ceremony.

More letters were found there—documents which told only too plainly what manner of man the captain was. Chet smiled to himself to think how foolish the rascal had been not to have de stroyed the epistles.

"But the greatest of villains occasionally over reach themselves," he said to Paul. "I fancy this is proof enough to show what an awfully bad man Captain Grady is."

"You are right, Chet," said Dottery, after a careful examination. "He is a hoss thief as great as was old Sol Davids, and he is trying to rob yer uncle out of a mine claim as well."

"Not only that, but as Jeff Jones said, he is with the crowd who holds my uncle a prisoner, sir. That, to me is the worst part of it."

"I don't know but what ye are right."

The captain was raising such a row that to quiet him Jack Blowfen threw him bodily into a dark closet and turned the key on him.

"Now if ye don't quit yer noise, I'll gag ye in the bargain," said the cowboy, and thereupon the captain became quiet at once.

It was now quite in line to hold a council of war, as Paul termed it. But before this was done all hands went to work to move the Winthrop household effects back to where they belonged.

This was accomplished in a short space of time, and was productive of an accident which, while not excessively serious, was still of sufficient importance to cause a decided change in their plans.

In moving in an old, heavy bedstead Caleb Dottery allowed the end he held to slip from his grasp. A sharp corner came down on his ankle, twisting it severely. He cried with pain and work was at once suspended.

The ankle was bandaged, but it was found the old ranch owner could not walk, nor could he move about with any degree of comfort. He was placed on a couch and there he remained.

The four talked matters over for a long while. In one of Captain Grady's letters was mentioned a certain cave in the vicinity of what was then known as the Albany Claim. The boys fancied that their uncle might be a prisoner in that cave.

"Well, I dunno but what ye are right," mused Jack Blowfen. "It's sartinly wuth going to see."

"Then you advise us to go?" asked Paul, eagerly.

"Yes, and I ll go with ye."

"But Mr. Dottery," began Chet.

"I'll stay whar I am an' watch the captain," groaned the old ranch owner. "It's about all I'm good for jes now."

"The old Albany Claim is a good stiff forty miles an' more from hyer," said Jack Blowfen. "But I know the road over the second foothills perfectly. So if ye say the word any time we'll start."

"It looks like rain just now," said Paul.

"An ye'll catch it heavy, too," put in Dottery.

"We'll have to look after the cattle, too," added Chet. "Like as not half of them are in the sink hole."

"I'll help ye with the stock," said Blowfen.

That evening it rained in torrents, but only for a short while. By midnight it was as clear as it could be. Long before sunrise the boys and Blowfen were out on the range looking up the heads belonging to the Winthrops.

They were gratified to find that all the stock was safe with a single exception. That was an old cow who had been caught in the cyclone and killed. Not one of the four-footed beasts had gone anywhere near the sink hole.

When let out of the closet Captain Grady begged hard for his liberty. But the boys were obdurate and Caleb Dottery backed them up, as did Jack Blowfen.

"Ye have done wrong an' must suffer," said the latter, and there the matter rested.

By nine o'clock the two boys and Blowfen were off. They took with them enough provisions to last several days, as the journey upon which they were about to enter would be for the greater part through a dry and unproductive section. This same section has now been made, by a system of irrigation, very productive.

"And now to find Uncle Barnaby and bring our enemies to terms!" cried Paul, as they rode out of the stockade.

"So say I, and may uncle be found well," added Chet.

"Amen," murmured Jack Blowfen.