The broncho rider boys o.., p.20
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       The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, p.20

           Lester Chadwick
 

  CHAPTER XX.

  ALMOST CAUGHT.

  "Now, I wonder what does ail that queer gent?" mused Billie, after theother had left him, to enter the bunk house, with the avowed intentionof lying down. "He limps like all get-out, sure as anything, and Ireckon he does look like he's sick, or scared half to death aboutsomething or other. Whatever could it be that's upset him so since hearrived here? Must be the chance of a scrap coming off; because even ifhe does boast so hard I'm believing Mr. Thomas is pretty much of achicken-hearted fellow. My! how he does roll them white eyes of hisaround whenever he hears the least sound."

  He poked his head in through the open doorway, and saw that the pilgrimof the trail had indeed rolled into one of the bunks that did not seemto belong to any of the punchers; for there were twice as many sleepingplaces as hands on the place in these days of hard luck for Bar-S Ranch.

  "Well, mebbe he _is_ sick after all," continued the tender-heartedBillie; "and if I get half a chance to sneak any grub, I'll remember tofetch it to him; because it's _aw_ful to have to go hungry. Guess Iknow. And right now I wish I could manage to pick up a few bites, justto keep away that gnawing feeling inside. But me go in that ranch house,and face that lady--well, not if Broncho Billie knows what's good forhim, and he generally does. There's some things even worse than beinghungry; and getting her hands in my hair'd be one of the same. No sireebob, excuse me. Let her practice on her lawful husband as much as shelikes; I ain't in that pulling game."

  He walked up and down outside as if he were a sentry on guard. Andindeed, Billie rather felt as though such were his duties just then, forhe could not get entirely over his suspicions with regard to thatmysterious Mr. Thomas, and his way of dodging, as though he feared beingseen by some one who would recognize him.

  "Goodness knows what he may have done!" Billie went on to tell himselfafter a little more time had elapsed, and his thoughts persisted inreturning to the subject of the man in the bunk house. "I wonder, now,if there's anything inside that he could get away with? But then,cow-punchers never leave their savings around loose; fact is, few of 'emever have a dollar three days after getting paid. Oh! well, I'll let himalone for a while, and take a look around the corrals and the barns."

  After that he walked about "sizing up things" as he called it. As thesun was bright, though the afternoon had half gone, Billie suddenlyremembered that he had a kodak in his pack; so opening this he securedthe little snapshot camera, meaning to take his first view of the ranchbuildings.

  After securing one picture Billie became aware of the fact that Mr.Comstock was beckoning wildly to catch his attention.

  "Now, what does he want, I wonder?" the fat boy asked himself; "there hegoes at his wireless again, and seems like he was making motions for meto come over back of the house to where he is. Looks like he was ahidingbehind that woodpile, too. What ails all the people here, to want tododge around like they do? But then, there might be some excuse forUncle Fred to keep mum; because if ever _she_ gets them hands on himafter this, there's going to be some warm times, believe me. Shall I goover and join him, or make out I don't understand, because I want totake another view of the house?"

  Then Billie remembered his promise to Adrian.

  "I did say I'd watch out for Uncle Fred, sure enough; and he acts likehe needed a nurse, or something like that, right now. Guess I'll wanderaround that way; I can make out to be looking for another view of theplace, if anybody is ataking the trouble to watch me."

  This he did, and presently joined the late manager of the ranch. Mr.Comstock was still crouching behind that pile of wood. Every now andthen he thrust out his head and seemed disposed to start toward thehouse; but something always caused him to weaken, for he would drawback, shaking his head as if to say: "I can't seem to do it, and that'sflat!"

  "What's the matter, sir?" asked Billie, when he had come up.

  "Would you mind doing me a little favor, Billie?" asked the other, witha smile that was intended to be very winning.

  "Of course I would, if it wasn't beyond me," replied the fat boy;"Adrian told me to help you if you needed anything done."

  "Why, you see, here's the way things stand," the late manager commencedto say. "When I heard all the racket, and somebody shouted that thestolen herd was coming back, I was that excited I ran out of the housewithout taking the trouble to pick up my belt, that carries my gun. Itlies in there where you see that open window close to the ground. Allyou need do is to crawl through, reach it out to me, and then skipagain. Get that straight, do you, Billie?"

  "Y-yes, sir," Billie said, slowly enough, for somehow he did notparticularly fancy the adventure, since there was a pretty good chancethat he would run across the good woman of the house while entering likea burglar; and he shivered when he had a mental picture of how she wouldpounce upon him.

  "I'd go myself, you see, Billie, only that I'm afraid of that femaledragon that the law calls Mrs. Comstock. What she'd do to me if shecaught me in there would be a caution. And I want that gun the worstkind, because, if there's going to be any sort of rumpus I'll need it.Will you go, Billie?"

  "I s'pose I'll have to, sir; but I only hope that she don't grab me;because I just know from her looks, not to mention her reputation as ascrapper, that I'll be the worst clawed fellow in seven counties beforeshe lets go. You must promise to stay by the window, and give me fairwarning if she comes."

  This did not seem to make the other very happy; but evidently herealized that he could not very well expect Billy to take all the risk.

  "Agreed, Billie," he said, quickly. "Lead off, now; it's that windowclosest to the corner, you understand. I'll look in after you climbover, and take the belt from you. If I give tongue, you jump for allyou're worth out of the said window, because that'll mean I've sightedher acoming."

  "All right; who's afraid?" said Billie valiantly; he even thought ofhanding over his rifle to the other, with directions to cover hisventuresome trip through that window; but on second thoughts decided,that it would not be the right thing to use such a weapon on one of theother sex, no matter what an Amazon she might be.

  Mr. Comstock followed close behind as the boy advanced toward the openwindow; but it could be easily seen that he was ready to beat a rapidretreat should the enemy suddenly put in an appearance anywhere around.

  "She ain't there!" whispered Billie, after he had taken a cautious lookinside the room which the former manager of the ranch had been wont tocall his "office," and which, as he had said, could only be enteredordinarily through another apartment.

  But if Billie cherished any faint hope that the other, on learning thatthe coast was clear, would immediately offer to undertake the affair forhimself, he found himself wofully mistaken.

  "Do you need any help to climb over the window sill?" whispered Mr.Comstock, who did not forget that the boy was unusually heavy, andconsequently far from being as agile as either of his two chums.

  Billie shook his head, but he confessed to a grievous disappointment allthe same. He was evidently in for it, no matter what might follow. Onlooking down at his feet he discovered a stone that he could mount, andafter he had done this it was likely to be a much easier job clamberingin through the low window than at first appearance he had expected.

  "Who's afraid?" he again muttered softly to himself; for that was one ofhis pet ways for bolstering up his courage when he began to feel hisknees wobble under him, and knew that his heart was beating twice asfast as normal.

  Accordingly he gave a heave, and in this way managed to get his rightknee elevated upon the window ledge. After that it was easy enough; andpresently Billie lowered himself into the room.

  He felt very queer while doing this, just for all the world as though hemight be a real burglar intending to steal valuables, and in momentaryterror lest the angry man of the house dash in upon him.

  All seemed quiet enough, though he could hear some one moving around inthe adjoining room, and took for granted that this must be Mrs.Comstock. Billie sincerely hoped that
whatever she was doing, whetherpacking up her clothes in expectation of an early flitting, or anythingelse, she would keep right along at it, and not bother taking a lookthrough that open doorway.

  He glanced cautiously around him, trying to get his bearings, anddiscover just where the coveted article lay.

  "To your right--on the desk!" whispered the man outside.

  Billie turned around to move in that direction. As he did so he managedto dislodge a small picture that had been pinned to the wall. It fellwith a slight noise, and Billie's heart seemed to stand still withsudden fear.

  When nothing happened Billie took his courage in both hands, and startedto move over to where the big rolltop desk stood, intending to pick upthe belt and hasten to hand it to Mr. Comstock, after which he would getoutside where he could breathe again naturally, and without such a dreadspecter hanging over his head.

  Yes, there was the belt, just as the former manager had said, lyingsnugly on the desk; and the revolver seemed to be as usual in theleather holster which was heavily studded with buttons or round-headedcolored nails, cowboy fashion.

  Billie went forward another pace, and reaching out his hand picked thewhole affair up. How glad he was now that he had leaned his rifleagainst the outside wall of the house before venturing in through thewindow.

  He turned to retrace his steps. Just then he thought he heard asuspicious little sound like a gasp behind him; and it seemed as thougha cold hand gripped his heart.

  If he had any doubts concerning what it signified they were dissipatedeven before he could think to twist his head around; for Uncle Fredsuddenly called out in a shrill voice that was full of anxiety andexcitement:

  "Run for it, Billie; she's coming after you!"

  Billie did not wait upon the order of his going. He seemed to be placedin connection with a galvanic battery, to judge by the way he sprangforward, thrust the belt into the outstretched hand of Mr. Comstock, andthen took a header right through the open window.

 

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