The broncho rider boys o.., p.15
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       The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, p.15

           Lester Chadwick
 

  CHAPTER XV.

  FACE TO FACE AT THE CORRAL.

  It appeared that that fine lunch had made the lame man feel a thousandper cent better. The coffee had gone to the right spot, and warmed uphis heart, so that he really looked like a different man.

  At the same time it developed that Thomas was something of a master-handat talking, just as he claimed to be with figures. As he rode therebehind Donald he kept up a perpetual flow of chattering, and his ownadventures in the past, "further south," as he described it, made up themain theme.

  It seemed as though he had indeed been through a heap of trouble, and sofar as his accounts went, he was never to blame for the distressingthings that happened to him. A ruffian had waylaid him, and robbed himof his hard-earned savings, besides badly using him, so that he wasstill lame. Then back of that he had been set upon by a band of outlaws,who made him a prisoner, gave it out that he was dead, and for a wholeyear and more he had been forced to wait on them in their mountain cave,a regular slave.

  He entertained Donald with a glowing account of how he had finallymanaged to stupefy the whole band with some drug he found among theirplunder, and in this fashion made his escape. How much of this was true,and what portion ought to be laid to the fancy of an overwrought brainthe boy could not tell. He simply put the fellow down as a timid man wholiked to boast of things he claimed to have accomplished in the past,which could not be proven either way.

  And Donald, too, believed that Thomas was a harmless fellow, given toboasting somewhat, perhaps, or telling extravagant tales about himself,but not at all dangerous.

  In turn the other managed to ask a few questions concerning what theirintended destination might be like. He had heard about Mr. Comstockbeing a generous man, and had started out to see if he could not findemployment at the Bar-S Ranch. And if these young gentlemen happened tohave a personal acquaintance with the manager of the place perhaps theymight say a good word for him.

  When he learned that Adrian was really the sole owner of the ranch thepilgrim entreated Donald to urge his chum to think kindly of a poorwretch who had been so long the football of fate.

  Donald said he would, and hoped thus to get the other to stop talking;but now it was a shower of thanks which continued to fall from the lipsof Thomas; who vowed again and again that never during the course of along and adventurous career had he chanced to run across three such fineyoung fellows as these with whom his fortunes seemed bound up.

  Tired at last of the everlasting flow of language Donald told the man tostop talking, as he had some very important details to figure out; andthis apparently warned Thomas that he had better forego the pleasure ofdetailing other wonderful happenings which had come to him in the past;for he certainly did fall into a condition of silence.

  A shout from Billie announced that the ranch buildings had been sightedahead. This caused Donald and Adrian to dash on ahead of the cattle, forthey wanted to be in a position to see all that went on.

  As the bound rustler had said, likewise Frank Bowker, when he wished hemight have an opportunity of witnessing their arrival, there was liableto be something interesting doing about that time.

  Already looking far ahead they could see that the news of their comingmust have percolated among the ranch buildings, and the bunk houses; formounted punchers were dashing this way and that, as though greatlyexcited, and unable to understand what had happened to bring the lostherd trailing home. Those rustlers had never before been known to letloose their grip on a bunch of cattle, once they stampeded the same.

  Nearer they pushed, so that it was now easy to hear the yells of theboys, who would ride out toward them, take a good look, and then gallopmadly back toward the buildings as though pursued by a prairie fire.

  "Looks like they just couldn't believe their eyes," remarked Billie, whowas of a certainty enjoying the prospect of some excitement ahead, andtrying to settle in his mind whether or not there would be a fight thenand there between their little company and those of the Bar-S puncherswho were really in the pay of the Walker gang, and doing about as theypleased, while the "missus" kept the little manager under her thumb.

  "And this is only the beginning of the row!" declared Donald, grimly."Wait till the lady comes out to see what all the racket means; andaround that time there'll be excitement worth talking about. She mayhave your Uncle Fred nailed down where she wants him, because he's herhusband, and she's taught him to do what she tells him; but it's goingto be a different thing when the owner of the ranch happens along. Whew!ain't they worked up to top-notch speed, though?"

  "I'm trying to figure out in my mind," remarked Adrian, "just fromseeing how those punchers act, which of them are with the Walker crowd,and which can be depended on to back me up, if it comes to choosing aboss."

  "And how do you make out?" asked Donald, eagerly; "will the big endswing for or against us, do you believe, Adrian?"

  "So far," replied the other, "as well as I can tell from here, it'sabout an even toss-up all around. Where one puncher looks scowling andmad, there's another ready to throw his hat up, and yell with joy atseeing the long-horns coming back, when everybody counted them lost forkeeps."

  "But none of them suspect that you're here?" interposed Billie.

  "Of course not; how could they, when even my uncle is resting under thebelief that Adrian Sherwood is right now away down under the hot sun ofArizona, hanging his hat on a peg in the Keystone Ranch building."

  "You don't see him yet, do you, Adrian, or the lady either, for thatmatter?" continued Billie, wild with impatience to witness thatremarkable meeting when his chum would come face to face with the oncestrong-minded manager of the cattle ranch, but who was now a slave topetticoat rule as instituted by the sister of Hatch Walker, known at thetime of her second marriage as the Widow Smeed.

  "Not yet, but soon," replied the other, who was rising in his stirrups,the better to see what was transpiring.

  The trio of punchers who had been hired by Adrian to assist him in hiswork of reconstruction at Bar-S Ranch went about their business ofshunting the cattle into the corrals as though they had worked here foryears, and knew all the ropes; but then it was all a part of their stockin trade, and one ranch is pretty much like another, wherever cattle areraised for the market.

  A couple of fellows belonging to the place took it upon themselves tolend a hand at turning the herd in at the proper moment, and by theiractions informed Adrian that they were overjoyed to see the way thingshad turned out. He marked them down in his mind, and felt that here werea pair of worthy punchers, at least, on whom he might depend for aidwhen the time for choosing came.

  Adrian also noticed that as they worked these fellows were forevertwisting their heads around, and shooting anxious looks in the directionof the ranch house, just as though they anticipated an eruption at anymoment now, when affairs might be brought around to a crisis.

  He wished he could only get a chance to inform them who he was, and makesure that they would stand by him when the explosion came. How UncleFred would act was altogether uncertain, as yet. Adrian remembered himas a fiery little man who could look furious when he wanted, and wasdeemed utterly fearless when it came to facing a leveled gun in the handof a desperate cattle thief; but then that was a different thing tostanding up before a screaming, angry woman, whom he dared not lay ahand on because of the fact that she was a member of the other sex;while at the same time she was privileged, as his lawful spouse, toscratch and pound him to her heart's content.

  Perhaps it was strange that with all this racket taking place those inthe ranch house had not issued forth as yet, to ascertain what it meant.But then cowboys are nearly always such a noisy set that one becomesaccustomed to their wild whooping and yelling, and pays little attentionto a sudden outburst of that kind.

  But Billie knew it could not last.

  "There, I saw a fellow skoot inside the house right then, Adrian!" hesuddenly cried; "and chances are he'll hand 'em the information that thestampeded herd is safe back
again. If that gle-orious news don't fetch'em out on the licketty-split run then I don't know beans. Just youwatch and see what's going to happen! Hey! see that, would you? I guessnow that little fellow might be your one-time _fe_-rocious Uncle Fred,what's been sat down on by the woman's rights rule. See him shade hiseyes with his hand, and stare at the cattle, as if he reckoned he mightbe plumb locoed. And now he's started on the full run this way, to findout what happened. They never had a stolen bunch of stock come backbefore, you see; and that's what makes 'em crazy over it. It seems toogood to be true, to some of these fellows; while others are looking asblack as the inside of my hat, and saying all sorts of bad things amongthemselves. Here he comes, Adrian; now get ready to push back the brimof your hat, and let Uncle Fred recognize you!"

  Adrian was hardly listening to all these excited remarks on the part ofthe fat chum. With Donald close beside him, still mounted on his pony,he awaited the coming of the ranch manager, now running swiftly towardthe spot where they had halted.

  "And there she sprints after him!" gasped Billie; "Oh! My! Now mebbe weare going to see high jinks? Here, hold on, Mr. Thomas, what you slidingout like that for? They won't hurt you, so long as my chum says you canstay!"

  But the man they had picked up on the trail did not seem to fancy thelooks of things, for he made the utmost haste to limp over to thenearest bunk house, around which he hurried so as to lose his identityin the crowd that was gathering.

  Mr. Comstock was small, but he had a fierce look, with his whitemustache and goatee, and bold features; only when his wife spoke was heever known to tremble and throw out the white flag of surrender.

  "Here, what's all this mean?" he called out, sternly, as he came up."Who brought these cattle back again? I want to thank him for it, nomatter who says I hadn't ought to," with a quick, nervous glance behindhim, though just at the moment the advancing figure of the woman wasconcealed by a group of interested cow-punchers.

  And as he kept on advancing toward those who were seated in theirsaddles, the manager of the Bar-S Ranch suddenly looked into the face ofAdrian Sherwood!

 

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