Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 4

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The Man in the Sink Hole

WE WILL now return to the ranch and see how Chet and Paul were faring during their elder brother's absence.

Chet took the string of fish, and selecting two, began to clean them. He was used to the work, and did it with a dexterity and quickness that could not have been excelled. Ever since his mother had died it had fallen upon Chet's young shoulders to do the culinary work about the ranch home.

While Chet was thus engaged Paul busied himself in looking over the shotguns, cleaning and oiling them and then loading up.

The fish cooked, Chet set the table, putting on three plates, although he himself was almost cer tain Allen would not come back in time for the meal.

"It's queer, I ve been thinking," remarked Paul, during the progress of the meal, "Allen said nothing about the result of his morning trip."

"He was too excited over the theft of the horses to think of anything else, I reckon," was the reply Chet made. "It was enough to upset any one's mind."

"At least he might have said if he had heard from Uncle Barnaby," grumbled Paul. "More particularly, as we were just dying to know."

"I imagine if he had heard he would have said so and left us the letter, Paul. Allen knows as well as you or I how anxious we really were."

"It's queer the way Uncle Barnaby disappeared," mused Paul, as he mashed the potatoes on his plate with a fork. "One would not think a man could go to San Francisco and disappear forever."

"He might if he went to Chinatown and got sandbagged or something like that."

"Oh, you don t really think such a thing would happen?"

"It might. Uncle was a great hand to see the sights, and also to make a show of his money, and the Chinese in San Francisco are, many of them, a bloodthirsty set."

"Do you really believe he discovered the rich mine he talked about?"

"He discovered something, that is certain. And he had faith enough in it to go to San Francisco in the hope of starting a company to develop the claim."

It was in this strain that the two boys talked on until long after the meal was finished, and while they are conversing let us take a brief glance at their former history.

As I have said, the three brothers were orphans, their parents having died several years before.

The ranch had belonged to their father, who had willed it to his three sons equally, and as none of them were yet of age, he had appointed his brother, Barnaby, his executor.

Barnaby Winthrop was an old prospector, who had spent a life among the hills, prospecting for gold and silver. As has been said, he was a peculiar man, but warm and generous hearted to the last degree.

As there was really little to do at the ranch but look after the cattle, the uncle had left the place in charge of the three boys and continued month in and month out ranging over the hills and among the mountains in search of the precious metal which lay hidden beneath the surface

One day Uncle Barnaby had staggered into the house, weak and hungry. He had made a perilous trip up to a point theretofore considered unattainable. He announced that he had at last struck a mining spot that if properly worked would prove a bonanza. He refused to state the exact location and announced his intention of going at once to San Francisco to organize a company to open up a mine.

He started apparently in the best of health, and although he had been gone now a number of months, and they had been anxiously awaiting his reappearance, they had seen or heard nothing of him.

During this period the boys had had considerable trouble at home, which had occupied their attention. At the start some of the cattle had gone astray, and it had taken a ten days hunt over the long range to find them. Then had come Captain Hank Grady, who had sought in various ways to get possession of the ranch, stating that their father had borrowed money from him and that it had not been paid back. The captain was known to be both mean and unscrupulous, and all of the boys doubted very much if he spoke the truth. But they had expected much more trouble from him before the end was reached, and they were destined not to be disappointed. Captain Grady knew the value of the ranch, even if the boys did not, and he meant to gain possession of it, if not by fair means, then by foul.

"We'll have to take a look for the cattle this afternoon," said Paul, some time after the conversation concerning Uncle Barnaby came to a close. "We don't want any of them to get in the sink hole again."

"That's so; we'll start at once, and we'll see to it that we lock up good," laughed Chet. "No more thieves wanted."

The house was soon tidied up, and then, after closing up everything well and setting an alarm to scare away any newcomer, Chet and Paul set out on foot over the rolling land which led from the river.

Half a mile beyond the rolling land was a nasty bit of spongy soil known as the sink hole. Not unfrequently the cattle would stray in this direction and more than one had sunk to death in the mire.

"Some cattle around there now!" cried Paul, as they drew close to the spot. "It's lucky we came this way."

"Go to the westward of them," said Chet. "We can drive them——" Chet broke off short, for just then a piercing cry rang in their ears:

"Help! help! For the sake of heaven, help!"

Chet and Paul were thrilled to the heart to hear that wild, agonizing cry for assistance which rang out so clearly on the afternoon air. Plainly a human being was in distress, and needed immediate assistance.

They looked around, but for several seconds saw nothing. Then the cry rang out again, more sharply, more pitiably than ever.

"Help! help! Save me from death!"

"Do you see him?" demanded Paul, breathlessly.

"No, I do not," rejoined Chet. "But he must be near. Did not the cry come from over there?" pointing with his finger to the right.

"I believe it did. Come on!"

Paul set off on a run around the edge of the sink hole, which was all of several hundred feet in diameter. Close behind him came Chet, wondering who the man could be and how they might assist him should he be beyond their reach.

Two dozen steps brought them in sight of the sufferer. He was a young man and his general dress and appearance betokened that he was a stranger in those parts, and, in fact, a stranger to the wilds; a city fellow, born and bred.

"Save me! Help!" cried the man for a third time. He was up to his middle in the spongy soil and sinking rapidly.

"Keep up your courage; we will assist you!" shouted Paul in return.

"Thank God, somebody has heard my cry!" murmured the man, gratefully. "You must be quick; I am sinking rapidly," he continued aloud.

"Have you anything in the shape of a rope with you?" asked Paul of Chet.

"I have not."

This was a sad predicament, as the man was all of three yards from solid ground. How to get to him was a question. But it was solved by Chet, as he brought a bit of stout cord from his pocket.

"Tie the two stocks of the guns together," he said. "This way; let me show you."

He held the two stocks side by side, so that they overlapped each other about eight or ten inches. The cord was hastily wound about them and tied, and it was Chet who thrust one of the gun barrels toward the sinking man, while he firmly grasped the other.

"Catch hold," he said. "Paul, help me land him."

The man caught the end of the gun and Paul took hold of Chet's hand. Two efforts were made, the first time the man letting the gun slip and sinking deeper than ever. But the second effort was successful, and, panting from his unusual exertion, the man reached the solid ground and fell exhausted.
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