Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 5

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CHAPTER V.


Good Cause for Alarm


It was several minutes before the man who had been rescued from the sink hole could sit up and talk. His hat was gone, and with a dirty face and tangled, muddy hair, he presented a sorry spectacle.

"I'm very thankful to you for what you have done," were his first words, accompanied by a look that told plainly he felt what he said. "I thought I was at the end of my string sure, as they say in these parts."

"I allow that's a bad hole to get into," returned Chet. "I wouldn't want to get into it myself."

"And may I ask to whom am I indebted for my life?" continued the man.

"My name is Chetwood Winthrop, and this is my brother Paul."

"I am exceedingly glad to know you, boys. My name is Noel Urner, and I am from New York. I am a stranger in Idaho, and I know nothing of such treacherous places as this at least I did not know of them until a short while ago." And the man shuddered as the memory of his fearful experience flashed over him.

"It's one of the unpleasant things of the country," responded Paul, with a little laugh. "But how came you in it?" with a glance down at the spurs on the man's boots.

"I see you are looking at my spurs. Yes, I had a horse, but he is gone now."

"Gone! In the sink hole?" ejaculated Chet.

"No; he was stolen from me."

"Stolen!" Both boys uttered the word simultaneously.

"Yes. I was riding along when I came to a spot where I saw some flora which particularly interested me, for I am a botanist, although for pleasure only. I dismounted and tied my horse to a tree and climbed up to secure the specimens which were on a shelf of rock some thirty feet over my head. Soon I heard a clatter of horses hoofs as they passed along the road. I came down with my specimens to see who the riders were, but they had already passed on, taking my horse with them."

"The horse thieves!" cried Chet.

And he told the man of the raid made on the ranch and how Allen had gone off in pursuit of the thieves. The reader can well imagine with what interest Noel Urner listened to the tale.

"One would not believe it possible!" he exclaimed, when Chet had wound up by saying he wished Allen would lay every one of the rascals low. "I fancied horse thievery was a thing only permitted in the wildest portions of the territories."

"There are horse thieves everywhere," said Paul. "Every one living for a hundred miles around has suffered during the past ten years. Sometimes we think them wiped out, and then, all of a sudden they start up again."

"Well, I trust your brother gets your horses back," said Noel Urner. "It's a pity he won t know enough to take mine away from the thieves, too!"

"He'll collar the thieves and all they have, if he gets half a chance, you can depend on that," said Chet. "But won't you come to our ranch with us? You can clean up there and have something to eat if you are hungry."

"Thank you, I will go gladly. Possibly you can sell me a headgear of some sort too."

"We can fit you out all right enough, sir."

It did not take the boys long to chase the cattle away from the sink hole, and this accomplished, they set off for the ranch with Noel Urner between them.

They found the young man an exceedingly bright and pleasant chap. He said he had come west two months before and had been spending over a month in San Francisco.

"I came out at the invitation of an old prospector," he said. "We were to meet in San Francisco, but when I arrived there I could not find my man. He belongs somewhere in this neighborhood. His name is Barnaby Winthrop. Perhaps you have heard of him?"

"Heard of him!" cried Chet.

"He is our uncle!" added Paul.

"Your uncle!" And now it was Noel Urner's turn to be surprised.

"Yes, our uncle, and he has been missing for several months," continued Paul. "Oh, tell us what you know of him at once, for we are dying to know!"

"The Barnaby Winthrop I mean had an undeveloped gold and silver mine he wished to open up."

"It was our uncle, beyond the shadow of a doubt," said Chet. "Our name is Winthrop, and Uncle Barnaby is our guardian. We can prove it to you by the papers, if you wish."

"I am willing to take your word, boys. But, you understand, one must be careful about speaking of mines in this section; at least I have been told so."

"Yes, we know about that," returned Paul. "Many a man has lost the chance of his life by advertising his knowledge too broadly. Others would gain a clew of a mine, hunt it up, and put in a claim before the original discoverer knew what was up."

"Exactly, and that is why I was slow in saying anything. But when you ask me to tell you about your uncle, I am sorry to say I know but very little, although I suspect much, now you say he has been missing so long."

By this time the little party had reached the ranch house. They went inside, and despite the fact that the boys were impatient to hear what Noel Urner might have to say, they gave the young man time to wash up and make himself otherwise presentable, Chet in the meanwhile frying another fish and preparing a pot of coffee.

"This is just what I wished, and no mistake," said Noel Urner, as he set to with a hearty good will. "But I am sure you are impatient to learn something of your uncle, so I will not keep you waiting. To make my story plain, I will have to tell you something of myself also.

"In the first place I am a broker and speculator from New York city. I make a specialty of mining stocks, and own shares myself in half a dozen mines.

"About ten weeks or so ago I heard through a friend in San Francisco that Barnaby Winthrop was trying to form a company to develop a new strike in this vicinity. I wrote to him and he sent word back that if I would come on he would prove to me that he had a big thing, well worth looking into.

"I had other business west, and so at once started for San Francisco. Your uncle had given his address as the Golden Nugget House, a place I afterward learned was frequented by old-time miners and prospectors.

"I made inquiries at the Nugget House for your uncle, and to my astonishment learned that he had disappeared very mysteriously one night, leaving no trace behind him."

"What!" cried Paul, springing to his feet, and Chet was too astonished to speak.

"I do not wonder that you are astonished. Yes, he had disappeared, leaving his valise and overcoat behind him.

"I thought the matter so queer that I was on the point of notifying the police. But on calling at the post office for letters I received one from him stating that he was sorry, but he had come back to the place in question and found it not what he had anticipated, so he wouldn't bother me any more."

"I don't believe he came back!" ejaculated Chet. "If he had he would have stopped at the ranch."

"I agree with you."

"Have you that letter?" asked Paul, his voice trembling with excitement.

"I have."

"I would like to see it, please."

"Certainly." And Noel Urner brought forth a large flat pocketbook from which he extracted the communication in question.

Paul took it to the light and examined it closely.

"This is a forgery! Uncle Barnaby never wrote it."

"Let me see, Paul," ejaculated Chet.

He also examined the letter with as much care as his brother had displayed. There was not the slightest doubt of it. The letter was not genuine.

"It's certainly a bad state of affairs," said Noel Urner. "It makes the disappearance of your uncle look decidedly bad."

"It looks like foul play!" cried Paul. "Why should Uncle Barnaby leave the hotel in that fashion if all was perfectly straight?"

"It's like as not some mining town rascals got hold of his secret and then put him out of the way, so that they might profit by it," said Chet. "There are plenty of fellows mean enough for that."

"At first I was satisfied by the receipt of the letter," continued Noel Urner. "But the more I thought over the matter the more I became convinced that something was wrong; but in a different way from what you think. I imagined your uncle had found other speculators to go in with him and they had persuaded him to cut me off. That is why I started off, after settling my other business in California, to find your uncle and learn the truth. I was willing to lose a few weeks time out here looking around, even if it didn't pay."

"We are very glad you came and that we found you," answered Paul. "I am sorry for only one thing, that Allen is not here to meet you."

"I am in no hurry to continue my journey; indeed, I do not see how I can without a horse. If you wish I will remain here until your brother returns."

"You are right welcome to do that," cried Chet. "As for not having a horse, you are no worse off than ourselves, for we are with out an animal of any kind, outside of the cattle."

"Then, being equally bad off, we ought to make good friends," smiled Noel Urner. "I shall like staying on a ranch for a few days first rate, and you can rely on my giving you all the assistance in my power when it comes to finding out the fate of your uncle."

"We can't do anything until Allen returns," sighed Paul.

"Then we will hope that your brother returns speedily, and with good news."

"The best news will be his return with all our horses," returned Chet. "We can do nothing without our animals."

Alas! How little did both Chet and Paul dream of the terrible ordeal through which Allen was at that moment passing!