Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 29
The Long Lost Found
Before leaving camp both Allen and Ike Watson saw to it that their weapons were in good condition and ready for immediate use.
"No tellin' what we may run up ag'inst," said the old hunter.
"Well, I am ready to fight, if it comes to that," returned Allen, grimly. "But I would rather take the enemy by surprise."
"Thet would be the best way, Allen. But fust we must locate thet cave."
The ride around the mountain was a rather trying one and from a gallop they had to slow down to a walk. In some spots the trail was much cut up and the mud was deep, while in others they had to pick their way over rocks which were as smooth as they were dangerous.
"Look thar," said Watson, as he paused on a spur of the rocks. "Thar's a tumble fer ye!"
He pointed to a canyon all of five hundred feet deep and Allen had to draw back after looking into the awful depth.
"If a fellow should tumble here he would never live to tell it," said the young ranchman. "This would be a bad trail to follow in the dark."
Moving away from the spur of rocks overlooking the canyon, they turned to the northwest and plunged through a forest of cedar and hemlock. Here the wild birds were numerous and Allen was tempted to bring some of them down with his gun, but Watson demurred.
"No use o' makin' too much noise," he explained. "Remember, somebody may be on guard up at thet cave."
"Slavin said he thought only an old woman had been left in charge—a woman who claimed to be Darry Nodley s wife."
"Didn't know as how thet rascal hed a wife."
"That is what Slavin said."
"It might be the truth, and then ag'in, it might not. We don't want ter believe too much, Allen."
"I agree with you, Ike. But I think Slavin was really anxious to help us after we did him that good turn."
The old hunter shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps; but I've seen too much foul play in my time ter trust everybody. Thar may be a woman up thar, an' thar may be some men-folks too."
So the talk ran on and they gradually drew closer to where the old hunter had once seen the seven pine trees. To one not used to a life in the open, to remember such a locality after two years' absence would have been difficult, but it was not so with Ike Watson.
"Can't fool me on a thing like this," he said, flatly. "Onct I see a place it hangs in my mind forever. Same way with a trail. Why onct I struck a trail in the south o' the State, kind o' a mixed trail too. I didn't see thet trail fer nigh onto six years, but when I did see it ag'in I knew it jes' as quick as I clapped eyes on it."
"I believe you," replied the young ranchman. "You have an eye like a hawk," and in that Allen was right.
The sun was sinking low in the west when they came out of a defile in the rocks and the old hunter pointed to a valley on the opposite side of the foothills below them.
"Do ye see them, over thar?" he questioned.
Allen gave a long look.
"I do—seven pines, sure enough!"
"Told ye I'd remember the spot!" cried Watson, triumphantly.
"But where is the cave?" went on the young ranchman.
"Like as not it's close by. Come, before the sun goes down an' it gits too dark."
Soon they were making their way along the foothills at the lower side of the mountain. They had to pass through considerable brush and while they were doing this Watson suddenly halted and pointed to his side.
"What is it?" asked Allen, as he also halted.
"If thet ain't a putty fresh trail then I miss my guess"
"It does look fresh, Ike."
"Ain't over twenty-four hours old, nohow," went on the old hunter. "Allen, I reckon we have struck it about right."
"But I see nothing of a cave."
"Let us follow the trail. The cave may not be persackly by the pines but in sight o' them, do ye see?"
"Thet trail is almost in the direction I wuz goin'," continued Watson. "So we won't miss much if we go wrong. Forward it is!"
And again they struck out. this time with increased confidence. As they progressed the old hunter examined the hoof marks from time to time and said he was certain two horsemen had passed that way
But just as they were coming to the end of the foothills they reached a mountain water course and here the trail came to an abrupt end.
"We are stumped now," said Allen, after both had crossed to the other side of the stream.
"I ain't a-givin up jes yet," answered Watson.
"Oh, neither am I. But where has the trail gone to?"
"Let us move down the stream a bit," suggested the old hunter. "I don't think the hossmen who made thet trail would stick ter the water very long."
On they went once more, and now in silence, for both felt that the cave might be close at hand. The seven pines were still in view, standing upon a hillock by themselves.
At last they came to a spot where the water course broadened out into a tiny lake. At this point there was another brook, coming down from a spring upon the hillside.
"The trail!" cried Allen, presently, and pointed it out.
"Right ye air, Allen," returned Watson. "An' I reckon we air gittin' close ter the end on it too," he added suggestively.
But little more was said and they quickly followed the trail up to where a wall of rocks arose, standing boldly out from the foothills and facing the seven pines.
"If I ain't mistaken thar's a cave over yonder," whispered Watson, pointing with his hand.
"Forward we go!" cried Allen, and dashed ahead, with his weapon ready for use. Two minutes later a turn of the trail brought them into plain view of a large cave in the cliff side.
"Eureka!" began Watson, when Allen checked his speech.
"Somebody is coming!" he whispered. "A woman! Get behind the brush!"
He led the way and Watson followed, and both waited with bated breath. Presently a woman passed them, carrying an empty water bucket. She was bound for the spring just mentioned.
"That must be the woman Slavin mentioned," went on Allen, in a low voice.
"Like as not," whispered the old hunter in return. "Shall we capture her?"
They waited and presently the woman came back with the bucket full of water. She entered the cavern without looking around her.
"Let us follow her on foot," suggested Allen, and they tied up their horses. Soon the entrance to the cave was gained and they peered inside.
For the moment they could see but little, for there was only a low fire burning in the cavern. Then of a sudden Allen let out a wild cry:
"Look! look! There is my Uncle Barnaby, tied fast to the rear wall!"