Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 9

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A Visitor at the Ranch

Let us once more go back to the ranch, where Chet and Paul, as well as the newcomer, Noel Urner, anxiously awaited Allen's return.

The night had been a long one to the two boys, neither of whom had slept a whole hour at a time. As Chet expressed it, "they felt it in their bones " that something was wrong.

At daybreak both rushed up to the roof of the ranch house, and with a field glass which Mr. Winthrop had left them, scanned eagerly in all directions.

"Not a man or horse in sight," said Chet in deep disappointment. "The chase must have been a long one indeed."

"Like as not Allen has gone on to some town," rejoined Paul. "But he ought to be back by noon; he knows we will be anxious to hear how he made out."

The two went below to meet Noel, who had just finished dressing. They set to work and a smoking hot breakfast was soon on the table.

"Well, I see nothing for me to do but to calmly wait for your brother's return," said the young man from New York. "I don't want to start out anywhere on foot, especially as I know nothing of the roads."

"Yes, don't go anywhere till Allen gets back," said Paul. "I want you to tell him yourself all you know concerning Uncle Barnaby."

The morning dragged by slowly, and at the passage of each hour the boys grew more anxious.

"It's a dangerous proceeding, this chasing horse thieves," explained Chet to Noel Urner. "A fellow is apt to get shot, unless he is careful. That is what worries us so."

"Unless something turns up right after dinner, I'm going off on foot with my rifle," put in Paul. "I may not discover anything, but it will ease my mind trying to do something."

It lacked half an hour of noon when the boys heard a cheery voice from the road hail them. They looked out and beheld Ike Watson, the hunter, from Gold Fork, resting in the saddle just outside of the semi-stockade.

"Whoop! Hullo thar!" cried the old fellow, who was hearty in both mind and body and full of fun. "Wot's the meanin' o' two healthy boys a-bummin' around the ranch sech an all-fired fine day as this yere?"

"O, Ike; I'm so glad you happened along!" cried Paul, as he ran out to meet him. "We were hoping some friend would come."

"Thetso?" Ike Watson s face grew sober on the instant. "Wot's the trouble?"

"Our horses have been stolen——"

"Gee, shoo! Hoss thieves ag'in! Wall, I'll be eternally blowed!" exclaimed Ike Watson, in a rage. "Who be they, Paul?"

"We don't know. Allen has gone after them."

"How many animiles did they git?"

"Only two—that is here—Chet's and mine. But they also stole the horse belonging to this gentleman, Mr. Noel Urner. Mr. Urner, this is our friend, Ike Watson."

"Hoss thieves is worse 'n pizen," growled Watson, as he sprang down and gave Noel Urner a hearty shake of the hand. "Thar ought ter be a law to hang every one o' 'em, say I!"

"Allen went off yesterday afternoon, and as we have not heard from him since, we are getting anxious," put in Chet. "We would have followed, but we haven't a single beast left in the barn."

"I see. Which way did the thieves go?"

"Allen took the trail over the brook," replied Paul.

"Humph!" Ike Watson scratched his head for a moment. "Wot's ter prevent me goin' after him, boys?"

"Will you?" asked Paul eagerly. "Sartin. I ain't got nuthin' ter do, an if I had, I reckon I could drop it putty quick ter do a favor fer Granville Winthrop's orphans. Give me a bite ter eat an I'll be off ter onct."

"Are you sufficiently armed?" questioned Noel Urner.

"Armed? Well, I reckon," and from his belt Ike Watson produced an old '49 horse pistol nearly two feet long. "Thet air's my best friend, barrin' the rifle."

Chet soon had dinner for the hunter, which was as quickly devoured, and then, after receiving some of the particulars of the case on hand, Ike Watson started off.

"You'll hear from me before another sun smiles on ye!" he called back. "An' don't ye worry too much in the between time!" And he then disappeared.

The boys felt much more comfortable after Watson had started off to hunt up Allen. They knew the old man would do all in his power to help their elder brother, no matter in what difficulty he might find him.

"A rather odd character, truly," observed Noel, as they again passed into the house.

"Yes, but with a heart of steel and gold," returned Chet. "Idaho does not contain a braver or better hunter than old Ike Watson."

Shortly after this Chet and Paul went out to care for the cattle about the place, for quite a few head had already been penned up ready for the early fall drive. The ranch did not boast of many cattle, and such as there was they desired to keep in the best possible condition.

Noel Urner accompanied them and was much interested in all to be seen and what was done.

"Such a difference between life out here and in the city," he remarked. "Actually, it is like another world!"

"You're right there," replied Paul. "And when you size it up all around, it s hard to tell which is the best—providing, of course, you can get a comfortable living at either place."

Just as the three were walking back to the ranch the sounds of a horse's hoofs broke upon their ears.

"Can it be Allen?" burst out Chet, but then his face fell. "No, it's not his style of riding."

"Oh, pshaw!" whispered Paul a second later. "If it isn't Captain Grady!"

"And who is he?" queried Noel.

"An old prospector who wants to get possession of this ranch. He claims that our title to it is defective, or not good at all. I wonder what he wants now?"

"Perhaps he's got more evidence to prove his claim to the place," groaned Chet. "Oh, dear! Troubles never come singly, true enough!"

With anxious hearts the two brothers walked forward to meet the new arrival, whose face bore a look of insolence and self-satisfaction.

Captain Hank Grady was a tall, evil-looking man of forty years of age. His title was merely one of favor, for he had neither served in the army nor the navy. But little was known of his past by the people of the section, and he never took the pains to enlighten those who were curious enough to know.

For years he had wanted the Big Bear ranch, as the Winthrop homestead was called, for neither by fair means nor foul had he heretofore been able to obtain possession of the property. But now he had been working in secret for a long while, and he came prepared to make an announcement that was designed to trouble the boys not a little.

"Hullo, there, young fellers," he called out roughly, as he dismounted. "I reckon you didn't expect to see me quite so soon again, did you?"

"We did not," rejoined Paul, coldly.

"Well, I confess I fixed matters up quicker than I first calculated to do," went on the captain. "I thought I was going to have a good bit more trouble to establish my claim."

"As far as I know you have no claim here to establish," put in Chet, sharply. "You may pretend——"

"See here, I ain't talking to you," retorted Captain Grady, cutting him short. "Your big brother is the feller I want to see—him or Barnaby Winthrop."

"Both of them are away," replied Paul, "and Chet and I are running the ranch just now."

"And if you do not like my manner of speech you need not stay here," cried Chet, warmly, his temper rising at the newcomer's aggressive manner.

"Ho! you young savage, don't you speak that way to me," roared Captain Grady. "I didn't come here to deal with a kid."

"I may be young, but I have my rights here, just the same," retorted Chet.

"My brother is right," added Paul. "If you wish to talk business you must do so with both of us."

The captain growled out something under his breath. He was about to speak when he caught sight of Noel Urner.

He started back as though a ghost had confronted him, and the words died on his lips. The young man from New York saw the action, but could not in the least account for it.