Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 24

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CHAPTER XXIV.


Something about Barnaby Winthrop


"My uncle a prisoner about ten miles from here?" repeated Allen Winthrop, after Lou Slavin had made his confession.

"Will you shut up?" howled Bluckburn, savagely. "You'll spoil everything."

"An he'll save hisself from bein lynched," added old Ike Watson, suggestively.

"We haven't done anything—you can't hold us," spluttered Bluckburn. He found himself in a bad corner.

"Holding a man a prisoner is nothing, I presume," said Allen, in deep anger. "Go on," he continued to Slavin. "Where is my uncle?"

Thus urged, Lou Slavin blurted out a full confession, telling how Barnaby Winthrop had been followed to San Francisco by Bluckburn, who wanted to learn the secret of the new claim, which Bluckburn realized must be valuable.

Slavin said it was Bluckburn who had sent to Barnaby Winthrop a forged letter calling the old prospector back to the ranch. The rascal had also forged the note received by Noel Urner.

Word had been sent by telegraph to the other members of the thieving band, and when Barnaby Winthrop got off at the nearest railroad station to the ranch he was followed and waylaid.

"The crowd had a mighty hard time o' it with him, he fit so," went on Slavin. "Onct he nearly got away, but Captain Grady tripped him up an' then he war bound tight."

"Captain Grady!" ejaculated Allen.

"Thet's his size," cried old Watson. "I allers allowed as how he war one o' the shady class."

"He—he led the whole business," put in Bluckburn. He began to think it time to clear himself. "I only acted under his orders."

"It's too late fer ye ter open yer mouth," was the way Ike Watson cut him short. "Go on, Slavin. Whar's Barnaby Winthrop? Straight, now, remember."

Thus admonished, Slavin told the location of the cave in which the old prospector was held, as well as he was able.

"I don't know the lay o' the land exactly, but I'm comin purty nigh it."

"Would you know the spot if you were in the vicinity?" asked Allen, eagerly.

"I think I would."

"Then we must take him along," said the young ranchman to Ike Watson. "But what shall we do with Bluckburn?"

"He ought ter be lynched right now," was the old hunter's stern reply. During his days among the rough characters of the mountains he and his companions had had small use for jails and lockups. The law of the land, so called, was administered on the spot.

A long discussion followed, which ended in a determination to take Bluckburn back to Daddy Wampole's place. They would leave him there a prisoner, and then take Slavin along with them, that he might locate Barnaby Winthrop's place of confinement.

Bluckburn was secured on his horse's back, and Slavin was disarmed, and in less than half an hour the return to the crossroads hotel was begun.

It was a long and tedious ride to Allen who was impatient to be off to find his uncle. But it could not be helped, and Allen bore it as patiently as he was able.

Daddy Wampole was as much surprised as he well could be to see them ride up with their prisoner. He listened with deep interest to the tale Allen, Watson, and Noel Urner had to tell.

"Yes, I'll keep him a prisoner," he said at the conclusion. "An take my word on it, he shan't escape."

"And it won't be long before we have Captain Grady, too," said Allen, never dreaming of what was taking place at home in the meanwhile.

Bluckburn was exceedingly downcast over his turn of fortune. He insisted that Captain Grady was totally to blame, but this statement no one felt inclined to believe.

Slavin showed himself more than willing now to do all in his power to redeem himself and his reputation. Yet neither Ike Watson nor Allen could trust him with so much as a pistol.

"You jes' ride on ahead, an' if thar's any trouble we'll look out fer ye," was the way Watson put it, and with this Slavin had to be content.

A long and exceedingly rough journey now lay before the three, a journey destined to try their patience to the utmost.

"But we will have to make the best of it," said Allen. "And I don't care what we have to put up with so long as we find my uncle safe and sound."

"Thet's the talk," answered Watson. "Can't expect ter have every comfort out in these yere parts nohow."

The sun had been shining brightly, but presently the sky became overcast.

"Unless I am mistaken we are close to a storm," observed Noel, as he surveyed the heavens anxiously.

"Thet's wot," came from Watson. "An I allow as how it will be a putty heavy one when it comes."

"We've had storms enough lately," said Allen. "I want no more of them."

They continued on their way as rapidly as the nature of the ground to be covered permitted. Occasionally Slavin grumbled at being pushed on so fast but Watson soon put a stop to his mutterings.

"No ust ter grumble, Slavin," he said. "Ye kin be thankful thet ye wasn't shot down like a dog."

"But I'm not feelin' well," pleaded the evil doer.

"Ain't ye? Wall, what ye want is exercise," was Watson's sarcastic rejoinder. "So trot along, an' no more parley about it," and Slavin went along, but with a face that looked far from pleasant.

Half an hour later the raindrops began to fall, at first scatteringly and then in a steady down pour. It was a cold rain and made one and another of the little party shiver.

"I must say I don't like this," said Allen, when he was more than half soaked through. "I wonder if we can't find shelter until the worst of this is over?"

"Perhaps we can," said Noel. "Although I don't see many large trees handy."

"Might be as how's thar's a cave around," said Watson. "Anyway, we'll keep our eyes peeled fer one."

This they did and a quarter of a mile further on came to something of a cliff overlooking a rocky valley. At the base of the cliff were a number of rough openings and one of these openings led to a cave of no mean size.

"Jes' the ticket!" cried Watson, as he dismounted and entered the opening. "We can stay here all night an' by thet time the storm will be a thing o' the past. We ain't none too soon either," he added.

Watson was right, for scarcely had all of the party entered the cavern than the storm let down in all of its fury. The landscape was blotted out and all became darker than ever.

"Ye set down on thet rock," commanded Watson to Slavin. "An' don't ye dare ter stir if ye know when yer well off."

"I ain't stirrin'," growled the prisoner.

Nevertheless, although he spoke thus, Slavin had his eyes wide open. He intended to escape if it were possible to do so, fearing that all would not go well with him even though he had confessed to his captors.