The broncho rider boys o.., p.3
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       The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, p.3

           Lester Chadwick
 

  CHAPTER III.

  THE FIRST NEWS OF THE BAR-S RANCH.

  "A mean trick!" echoed the indignant Adrian, "I'd like to help whip thefellow who would think it funny to inflict that torture on a poor dumbbeast, not to mention having the rider run a chance of breaking hisneck. Whoever d'ye think could have been guilty--oh! yes, that grinninghostler at the village tavern. It must have been him!"

  "Just who it was!" said Donald, grimly, and his face told how gladly hewould have taken pleasure in being one of several to treat theugly-faced half-grown cub to a good hiding, to pay him for hisdetestable trick.

  "He kept on looking at me all the time, and grinning like a monkey,"grumbled Billie, who was still caressing his broncho; and somehowJupiter seemed to understand it was all a mistake that he received thatwhipping, for he whinnied, and rubbed his nose against his master'scheek.

  "Yes," continued Donald, "somehow the silly thought it'd be a fine sightto see how a fellow built like Billie here is, would carry on when ahorse got skittish; and like as not he couldn't think up any other waythan this. I once knew a mean greaser to fasten some of these sand spursunder a horse's tail, and the game worked so that the rider was thrown;with a broken arm to show for it."

  "What happened to the Mexican?" demanded Billie, eagerly.

  "I never just knew," replied Donald, seriously; "but the boys took afterhim, and from that day to this I've never set eyes on his yellow faceagain. I sometimes think they must have lynched the scoundrel, thoughnobody would ever let on."

  "Well, he sure deserved it," muttered Billie; "but say, I hope now weain't going any further this same day. I'd like Jupiter to have somerest; and besides, I want to rub his poor blistered back here with somewitch hazel, and put some salve on. When I ride tomorrow I'll seethere's a good pad under my saddle, you hear me."

  That was just like generous, good-hearted Billie. He would never harmany sort of domestic animal, which accounted for his anger toward thethoughtless hostler who in order to have a little fun, and see the fatboy throw his arms around the neck of his mount, as he imagined wouldcome to pass, had taken advantage of his opportunity to play such awicked trick.

  "Oh! we'd already decided that!" declared Adrian.

  "And we stop somewhere close by, do we?" asked Billie, anxiously;"because, like as not this terrible work will give me something of anappetite, and I'll be wanting to start supper a little earlier thanusual tonight--now, don't laugh, boys; I know it's hard on the rest ofyou that nature made me so big I have to eat for two; but I just can'thelp it. And that work used up all my dinner, you see."

  They had long ago stopped arguing with Billie with regard to hisabnormal appetite. Sometimes one or the other would joke him about it,but they never tried to cut him short on his rations.

  Looking around Adrian quickly decided that they had come upon as good aplace to spend this the last night on the Wyoming trail as any thatcould be found.

  "What better could heart wish?" he put it up to them; "with this finelittle watercourse running zigzag along, and right here a motte oftimber where we can make our camp? And there are several riders headingtoward us, that perhaps we might try and pump, so as to get someinformation about the Bar-S Ranch. That landlord at the tavern didn'tseem to know anything."

  "Look like cowboys too," declared Billie, after an anxious glance towardthose who were galloping in their direction; for Billie knew that on theplains it is hardly wise to trust any one you happen to meet until theyhave proved their title to be looked on as friends.

  "Oh! come, don't keep feeling for your gun that is strapped so safely toyour back, Billie," said Adrian, laughing. "There are only three in thebunch, and they're sure enough punchers. Let's give them the cowboysalute, and show that we happen to be of the same stripe; though Ireckon our outfit tells that already."

  "Yes," added Donald, "and don't forget, Billie, that we said we'd keepmum about Adrian here being the owner of the Bar-S Ranch. Just say webelong down Arizona-way, and have come up here to look around. Peoplemind their own business generally speaking, here on the plains, and theywon't pry into our affairs when they see we don't care to open up."

  "All the same, I'd like to ask a few questions myself," Adrian went onto say. "It might be right useful to us if we could get a line on what'sgoing on up around the Bar-S, before we arrived."

  "A good idea," commented Billie, quickly. "They say forewarned isforearmed, you know; and if we learn something is crooked, why, you'llbe able to figure on what you ought to do, eh, Ad?"

  "Just what I will, Billie," replied the other, grimly; "though it's hardfor me to even suspect my uncle of stealing. If you knew what a spiritedlittle man he used to be, and what a high sense of honor he had, you'dunderstand that. But keep quiet about these things now, Billie, for herethey come galloping up, waving their hats, and whooping like mad."

  The three cow-punchers quickly pulled in when apparently about to ridethe others down, and hearty salutations followed on both sides.

  They were just such rough riders as may be found scattered all over thecountry where cattle are raised for the market, requiring a host ofdashing fellows to herd them, brand the mavericks and youngsters, andkeep the drove from being stolen by rustlers or preyed upon by wildanimals.

  Just as they had planned to do, the three boys told that they were froma ranch away down in the Southwest, coming up in the Northern countryjust to look around, and see how things were done here. Adrian hadquickly made sure that he did not know any one of the men, and thisseemed to promise that they could not have the least suspicion regardinghis own identity.

  It was Donald who led the conversation to the subject of the rancheswithin a radius of fifty miles; and when one of the others happened tomention the Bar-S among several, the Arizona boy remarked:

  "Seems to me I've heard considerable about that same Bar-S Ranch. Andwhoever it was told me must have said it was a bang-up outfit, as smartas any in Wyoming. Let's see, it's owned by a man named Comstock, ain'tit, pards?"

  He saw the three cowboys turn toward each other, and thought a flickerof a smile passed over their weather-beaten faces, while one winked hiseye at the same time.

  "Oh! Fred Comstock he's on'y manager of that Bar-S Ranch," replied one.

  "He _used_ to be," chuckled a second, "and as husky a little manager asyou'd be apt to run up against in a month out here."

  "Why, who's the manager now, then?" asked Adrian, rather startled; forhe had not had any intimation of a change; and certainly nothing of thekind had ever been instituted with his consent.

  At that the three cow-punchers chuckled some more.

  "Why, you see, everybody reckons as how _Mrs._ Fred Comstock she holdsthe whip hand over pore old Fred; and runs things as she feels like atthe Bar-S," came the puzzling reply.

  Then Adrian remembered that a year and more ago he had heard that UncleFred, being an old bachelor, had married; though the woman whom he hadtaken to his heart was utterly unknown to the boy. He had sent them hisbest wishes, and a generous present at the time, and then forgotten allabout it, because a boy of Adrian's age could hardly be expected to carein the slightest degree about such things.

  "Oh! is that it?" remarked Donald, elevating his eyebrows. "Seems to meI heard that this same Fred Comstock was a little terror, and hispunchers minded him from the word go. Has he changed any since he got indouble harness, boys?"

  "Changed any?" echoed one of the rough riders, with a grin; "well, you'dnever know it was the same old Fred Comstock these fine days. He ain'tgot a bit of spunk any more, seems like. She just orders him around likehe was a waterboy. Reckon that woman must be a terror when she gets mad,and everybody says as how Fred he had both his eyes black for a monthbefore he give in. She runs the ranch as she sees fit. But that ain'tthe wust of it, neither."

  "Why, what more could there be, with poor old Fred Comstock sat down onin such a way?" demanded Donald, noticing that the three men lookedtoward each other, and acted in a mysterious fashion, as though afraida
bout saying too much.

  "Well, we don't want our names mentioned in the matter," said one,finally; "but you see, this Mrs. Fred was one of the Walkers before shegot spliced."

  "And who are the Walkers?" continued Donald, bent on learning all hecould, for the benefit of his chum, who was listening eagerly, his facefilled with surprise, because all this was indeed news to him.

  "The Walkers--well, they happen to be a pretty numerous family in Wyomingat the present time," replied his informant, cautiously.

  "They got three ranches down south from here, and people says as how--"began a second cow-puncher, when one of his mates held up a fingerwarningly--"well, all I'm agoin' to say is that lots of people believethey ain't runnin' them three ranches jest for the cattle they raise.Some say the Walkers are bootleggers in the dry counties, acarryin'licker when it's against the law. Others have gone further and call 'ema bunch of cattle rustlers; but as for _me_, kids, remember that I ain'tasayin' anything agin that bunch, I don't know a thing; I'm just tellin'what I heard other folks say."

  "It may be true, and agin it might be a pack o' lies," a secondremarked, as he prepared to start off again, after shaking hands withAdrian and his chums.

  "But where there's smoke there's nearly always fire," observed Donald,sagaciously, as he in turn took the hand of each of the three genialpunchers in his.

  "You never spoke truer words, my friend," said the last man, leaningdown to speak in a low tone, as though he feared that the trees mightcarry what he said to hostile ears; "and while you're around thesediggin's best remember not to get _too much_ interested in what theWalkers are adoin'. They seem to have a wide chain o' friends, andnobody ain't ever had the grit to round that bunch up, so far. We usedto work on the Bar-S before _she_ came there, but it soon got too warmfor us, and we quit. So-long, boys; hope you get safe back again down inold Arizona, where some of us may drop in later on; and if we do, we'llsure hunt up the Keystone Ranch, and ask for Donald Mackay."

  With that he too whirled his cow pony around, and waving his hand to theboys, went off at a reckless pace in a cloud of dust.

 

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