The broncho rider boys o.., p.27
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       The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, p.27

           Lester Chadwick



  When Adrian started out to carry through the scheme proposed by hischum, he knew what chances he was taking. If those three renegadecow-punchers were hiding in the ranch house they would be in rather adesperate frame of mind, knowing that they were in the bad graces of Mr.Comstock. Hence, they would not be apt to treat the young owner of Bar-SRanch with any particular degree of tenderness should they chance to layhands on Adrian.

  He had figured the whole thing out, and determined just how he ought togo about entering, and exploring the house. And on the whole he made uphis mind that his best chance would be to crawl through the very windowwhich had figured so largely in Broncho Billie's adventure, at the timehe had such a narrow escape.

  Once through this, and Adrian found himself in the office which UncleFred had used as his den. Beyond was the apartment which Mrs. Comstockcalled her own private property, a sort of sitting-room, through whichthe man of the house was compelled to pass every time he came and went;and in this way his spouse could keep "tabs" on his movements, which wasdoubtless her motive in making these arrangements.

  All was as dark as midnight in there, though he could see a faint shaftof light under the connecting door, and knew from this that there mustbe a candle in the adjoining room, or else a lamp that was turned low.

  He listened as well as he could, expecting that he might catch even awhisper, if the other apartment happened to be occupied. But not thefaintest sound reached his eager sense of hearing.

  Judging from this that there could be no one there, Adrian commenced toopen the connecting door. He used the utmost care in doing this, andpushed it back an inch at a time, holding his breath with anxiety whilethe process was going on.

  When he was finally able to take a look beyond the door he found that,as he had suspected, there was no one in the room.

  His next step was to pass through and seek beyond for signs of thoseDonald imagined had taken refuge in the ranch house, probably with anunderstanding in connection with the mistress that they were to remainhidden until the time came to take the defenders of the stock in therear, and create a diversion in favor of her relatives, who might becutting the corral at the time to free the cattle.

  Adrian crept along through another room.

  It was a good thing that he did know the interior arrangements of thatrambling building, for otherwise he might have missed his way; becauseit was very much cut up, and a newcomer would almost need a guide tokeep from being lost.

  All the while the boy was straining his hearing in hopes of catchingsome sound that would tell him he was getting "on a warm scent," as atrailer might say.

  The bellowing of the cattle, and other noises of the night, did notpenetrate in here to such an extent as they had come to his ears when hewas outside; and here were also little intervals of silence, when hecould listen with some hope of hearing low conversation near by.

  Then again Adrian could give a pretty shrewd guess at to just aboutwhere these three deserters would be apt to be hidden by Mrs. Fred,should they really be in the place.

  He drew near this part of the building with growing hopes of meetingwith success. The mere fact that as yet he had seen nothing of the ladyof the ranch added to his belief that she must be in communication withthe trio of punchers who really belonged to the Walker crowd, althoughmasquerading under the colors of the Bar-S outfit.

  Of course it might be that Mrs. Fred had decamped altogether, preferringto be with her brother while the question of ownership of the herds wasin progress; but Adrian believed that he was a pretty good judge ofcharacter, and what he had seen in her determined face told him she washardly the one to run away just because circumstances had temporarilyblocked her despotic will.

  And presently he found that this was exactly so, for he caught the soundof low voices ahead; and pushing on silently was soon able todistinguish a few words, evidently spoken by one of the punchers whowere in hiding.

  He listened long enough to make up his mind that they were all lying lowin the store-room, where the supplies of the ranch were kept. Then abright idea flashed into the mind of the boy, which he determined tocarry out.

  As he well knew, that store-room had been built with a view to its beingproof against light-fingered persons, who might think to profit by thefact that on a ranch like the Bar-S an abundance of edible supplies werealways kept on hand, because it was a long way to town, and time countedfor much during the busy seasons.

  If Mrs. Fred were in there instructing her three followers as to whatthey must do in order to turn the fortunes of the affray, when thecritical moment came, it looked as though fortune had indeed placedthings in the hands of Adrian, so that he could turn the trickunassisted.

  Thrilled with the thought he crept still closer to the partly openedstrong door, and tried to make sure that he could distinguish her voice.If the woman happened to be somewhere else about the house it was follyto think of trying to make the concealed punchers prisoners by simplyclosing that door, and turning the key in the lock, for chances were shecould open the same at her pleasure.

  A minute later and he plainly heard a low voice say:

  "Now stay here till I give the signal, and then remember what I told youto do. If you carry it out straight we'll throw them into confusion; andbefore they get their heads clear the stock will all be running loose.Understand?"

  Adrian judged from this that she was giving her very last instructions;and no doubt would be coming out of the store-room in another minute. Ifthat were the case he certainly had no time to lose. Already his gropinghand had come in contact with the door; and as he continued hisinvestigations he discovered with a thrill of solid satisfaction thatthe key was in the lock!

  It could hardly have been better for the successful carrying out of hisplan; and as soon as he had made sure of these things he started togently pushing the door shut.

  When it came to with a little sound, he heard some one exclaim:

  "What's that?"

  Then the key turned in the lock, and the boy breathed easy for the firsttime, because he felt that he had won out.

  The door was shaken violently; then a man's voice cried excitedly:

  "It won't give, missus; somebody's gone and locked us in here!"

  Adrian did not wait to hear any more. Of course they would kick, andrattle the door, but he chanced to know how strongly it had been built,and that the chances of their breaking out might be reckoned very smallindeed.

  He walked straight through the house now, and emerged by way of thefront door. As he stepped on to the long piazza that ran the length ofthe rambling building he heard a quick exclamation:

  "Hold up your hands there!" came in tense tones.

  "Why, hello, Donald, you wouldn't think of filling me full of holes, Ihope?"

  That brought out another exclamation, this time filled withastonishment.

  "What! is it you, Adrian, and coming right out of the front door as ifyou didn't care a cent whether school kept or not? Whatever does thismean, tell me?"

  "Oh! well, I've been all through the house," commenced the other, inwhat seemed to be a careless tone.

  "Then the whole lot have skipped, have they?" queried Donald, in adisappointed way; as though certain air castles that he had so carefullyerected were thrown down by this news.

  "Well, not that I know of; and in fact I reckon they're not going toleave us in such a hurry after all; if that door only holds out, and Ithink it will," was the staggering way Adrian conveyed his information.

  Donald was pawing for his hand the next moment, anxious to shake itfuriously.

  "You don't mean to tell me you've gone and made prisoners of the wholebunch?" he ejaculated, with his voice trembling in the excitement thatracked him.

  "Just what I was lucky enough to do!" declared the other. "Why, it wasas easy as falling off a log. I just crept through from room to passageuntil I heard the low sound of voices, and discovered that she had takenthe punchers to the
store-room, to hide them there until she gave thesignal, when they were to rush out and do some sort of thing she'd fixedup, that was going to demoralize the lot of us."

  "And Mrs. Fred was there with them?" demanded Donald.

  "Yes, I just heard her giving the last instructions, when my fingerstouched the key in the lock," Adrian told him. "After that all I had todo was to close that door and turn the key; and thinking it best to keepit, I put the same in my pocket, so that no one is likely to let thenout."

  "Bully for you, Adrian! You're the fellow who can do things! I neverheard of such a smart trick!" said Donald.

  "Oh! don't mention it," remarked the other; "why, even Billie could haveturned it, if he knew as much as I did about the inside arrangements ofthat long house, and didn't get lost in the twisting passages leadingfrom one part to another."

  "Listen! what's that I hear right now, Adrian?"

  "Sounds like somebody might be trying to kick the toes off their bootsagainst a door, don't it?" chuckled the other. "Let 'em go it whilethey're young; but it'll take a heap of knocking to burst that stoutdoor open. My dad knew what he was doing when he picked the oak out thatit's made from. But who'd ever dream that I'd make such a use of it asto shut up three treacherous punchers, as well as my own aunt bymarriage, in that place."

  "One thing sure, they won't die from starvation," remarked Donald, as hecontinued to listen to the medley of sounds that came from the interiorof the building but which could not keep up long.

  "Let's find Uncle Fred," suggested Adrian.

  "Wonder what he'll say when he learns that you've gone and clipped thetalons of his wife," remarked Donald; "and if the marks on his facestand for anything I reckon now that poor old Uncle Fred has felt thosesame talons more than a few times, when the lady wished to make herwords more forceful."

  "Yes, and how it's going to end I can't for the life of me see," addedAdrian; "because she's his own wife after all, so that the only escapefor him would be running away, and that would lose me my manager, whichI wouldn't like a bit; but perhaps it may all come out right in the end;you never can tell, Donald."


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