Read CHAPTER VIII of Fred Fearnot's New Ranch and How He and Terry Managed It , free online book, by Hal Standish, on ReadCentral.com.

Fred and Terry capture cattle thieves.

Terry heard the blow that Fred gave the cattle thief and he knew what it meant, for the fellow sank down without uttering a word.

The thief’s pal, seeing that the cow that had strayed off was not being turned around, went to the assistance of his confederate and he ran up against Terry.

Terry rose up and gave him a crack on the head with his heavy revolver. He saw more stars than he probably ever thought had a home in the skies, and down he dropped.

“Now, Terry,” whispered Fred, “let’s see if there are any more of them,” and as quick as possible they bound the two unconscious thieves hands and feet and continued to follow the cattle.

They walked straight up on their feet, knowing that the confederates, if there were any, would mistake them for their pals if they saw them.

After a few minutes they saw two other fellows advancing toward them, and one of them came up to Fred and asked in a low tone of voice:

“What’s the matter?”

“Only this,” said Fred, smashing him in the face with his revolver and sending him tumbling over in the grass. The other fellow stopped and, suspecting something wrong, started to run.

“Halt!” said Terry, “or you’re a dead man.”

The fellow threw himself down in the grass and tried to run on his hands and knees and thus escape any bullet that might be flied at him, but Terry was on him in a moment and gave him a terrible crack with his revolver on his head.

Terry searched him for a weapon and found an ugly-looking knife and a revolver on him. He took possession of the weapons and, with the ball of twine he had with him, bound him hard and fast, his hands behind him and his ankles together, and then ran on ahead of the cattle to look for the gap he suspected they were headed for, he soon found it.

Before a single beef had passed through he and Fred turned the cattle back.

Then both of them followed the trail of the thieves, which they were enabled to do, dark though it was, by following the disarranged tall grass.

They found all of the men had recovered consciousness except the fourth man, who, was lying where he had fallen like a dead man.

“Terry,” said Fred, “this is your man. What in thunder did you crack him so hard for?”

“I wanted to make sure of him,” and they proceeded to drag the men to the gap that had been cut through the wire fence, took them through it, stood them up against a tree, for there were a few scattering trees growing down there, and tied them to the trunk hard and fast.

They both struck matches and held them up before their faces to see if they could recognize them, but they had never seen them before.

One of them, fearing that he would be recognized, very promptly blew out the light and mattered something in Spanish, so from that Fred and Terry judged that they were Mexicans one, at least and Fred took Terry aside and whispered to him that there must be other men mixed up in it; so they concluded to build a fire some ten feet off from them and then go back inside the enclosure and conceal themselves in the grass to watch, for they knew that nobody could go up to the tree to release the men tied there without being seen by the light of the fire.

The fire was built up against an old dead log, which, being dry and well seasoned, burned readily, and in some places blazed up some ten feet or more high. Some of the cowboys, seeing the light of the fire a half mile away, came down to see what it meant.

Fred and Terry recognized them and they waited to watch their movements. One of them went up and talked with one of the men who was bound to the tree.

Both of them suspected their loyalty, but they proved to be true.

They looked around to find Fred and Terry, and several times used the signals that Fred had given them.

When Fred and Terry returned their signals they came toward them, looking carefully for them.

When they found them one of them asked:

“Boss, did you tie up those fellows?”

“Yes,” said Terry, “and there’s another one lying back there in the grass with a broken head, but all the same we tied him by his hands and feet to keep him from getting away.”

Just then they heard the man groaning and calling to his pals, and the two cowboys followed the sound of his voice and soon found him, he having recovered consciousness. They picked him up and brought him down near the fire.

There all four of them denied that they had done anything wrong.

Each claimed that he had nothing to do with cutting out the wire, denied that he was driving the cattle and, of course, claimed to be innocent of any wrong-doing.

“Well,” said Fred, “I hope you will be able to prove your innocence in court, for that is where you are going.”

Then Fred turned on the two cowboys and asked them why they had left that corner of the ranch unguarded.

“Boss,” one of them said, “there wasn’t enough of us to reach down so far, and we thought that it would be safe to let it alone and to-morrow report it, but as soon as we saw the light we came down to investigate it.”

Both of them thought that that excuse was reasonable, and Fred told them that they were expected to be vigilant in the discharge of their work and that they would employ more cowboys.

“Now you two can lie down here and sleep while we keep watch.”

“Boss, we’ll watch while you sleep,” was the reply.

“No, we are going to keep watch ourselves. At daylight I want one of you to make your way back to the barn and hitch up a team, bring down a coil of wire and the necessary tools to repair this gap and then take the prisoners back to town.

“Fred,” said Terry, “why not tell them to bring a coil of rope.”

“What do you want with a rope, Terry?”

“Oh, Judge Lynch always has use for a rope for cattle thieves. I will act as sheriff, if you don’t wish to have anything to do with it. Generally I am opposed to lynching, but this is a fair case.”

“No, Terry, I don’t believe in that. I’m sorry that, instead of capturing them, we didn’t shoot them and thus get rid of them without calling in Judge Lynch.”

The prisoners, of course, heard every word that the boys uttered. The fact is, they were both talking for their benefit. The cowboys, though, thought that they were in earnest and they would see a lynching, so when the dawn of day began to appear in the east Fred sent one of the cowboys back to the barn with instructions to bring down a coil of barb wire and a coil of rope.

One of the prisoners, tied to the tree, begged that Mr. Fearnot would come up to the tree and let him talk with him.

Fred did so, and the fellow said that if he wouldn’t punish him and would release him, he would leave the country and never show up there again.

“Oh, yes; but it is bad policy to let a cattle thief go loose, after he has been caught in the act.”

Then the others began making similar promises, and never did men beg for their lives as hard as they did.

One of the cowboys was sent off for wire and rope, and while he was gone a farmer came by, making an early start for Crabtree.

The road passed within a couple of hundred yards of where the men were tied to the tree, and he heard them talking as well as noticed the smoke from the fire which Fred and Terry had built out there.

He left his team in the road, and coming into the woods, there learned the whole secret of the situation.

He knew Fred and Terry, for he had frequently stopped at their ranch, so he, on his way to town, notified every farmer and ranchman whom he passed that Fearnot and Olcott were going to hang four cattle thieves down at the lower end of their ranch.

Everybody who heard the news wanted to see the lynching, so they came down there. Fred told them that he had no idea of taking the law in his own hands, and that he intended taking the prisoners into town and turning them over to the sheriff. All the prisoners, being Mexicans, whom the farmers throughout that section hated like poison, stood in great danger of being hanged at once by the angry ranchmen; but Fred refused to permit it. He bargained with one of them to take them in his wagon to Crabtree, and then mounted his horse and started off ahead of them. They were bound hard and fast, so they could give the farmer no trouble.

“Terry,” said he before he left, “you must see to the careful repairing of the fence and keep a watch over everything. I am going to see if I can find a good electrician to come out and electrify the wires in this fence, so when they attempt to cut this fence again some of them will get knocked off the face of the earth.” So he put spurs to his horse and started off. He knew he could reach Crabtree about two hours ahead of the prisoners.

The party of rough fellows, farmers and cowboys, went along with the wagon, and before they had gone three miles they took the prisoners from the farmer and strung them up in some timber along the roadside; so when the farmer reached Crabtree he had no prisoners, and he told a harrowing tale to Fred of how the men had taken the prisoners from him and strung them up.

“Well, well, well,” he ejaculated. “I am sorry for that; not that I don’t think they deserved it, but I don’t believe in that sort of thing. Now, I want you to come with me to the sheriff and several responsible citizens and tell that story to them, for I don’t want to be accused of having anything to do with the matter, other than capturing the thieves.”

The farmer told his story to the sheriff, which official, accompanied by several citizens, as well as some deputies, rode down there to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile Fred went in search of an electrician. There was only one in the city, and he had charge of the city electrical lighting, so he couldn’t go down to the ranch and electrify the wires around the entire range, for it wouldn’t do to perform that feat unless some one was left in charge of the city’s plant.

Fred bargained with him to communicate with some competent electrician in some other city and get him to come down to the ranch and stay for one month, saying that he would pay him well for his services.

Fred rode down the other road that ran parallel with the railroad track, reaching home, after hard riding, a little after dark.

Early the next morning when Fred went to the store he found some four or five cowboys who had just arrived, having come in to put in applications for employment as cowboys.

Said a big, brawny fellow, who measured six feet and two inches in height:

“Mr. Fearnot, we hear that you have added a thousand more cattle to your herd, and we know that you need more cowboys. We are all trained ranchmen and cowboys, and understand the business from A to Z. Just set us to work at once, and there’ll be no more cattle thieving around here, for we know just how to deal with them.”

Fred did not like the looks of any one in the party. Their faces showed plainly that they were certainly devotees of the jug, so he said:

“Gentlemen, of course we will need more cowboys, for it is our intention to add still another thousand head of cattle to our herd; but we really can’t employ another man until we first investigate his former life. We don’t want any man in our employ who drinks whisky. Neither Mr. Olcott nor myself ever touch the stuff, and I never took a drink of anything intoxicating in my life, so I don’t want any one around me who does.”

“Well,” said the big fellow, “I never was drunk in my life, I have taken whisky moderately whenever I felt like it ever since I was of age, so if you give me a job I’ll agree never to take a drink as long as I am on the place.”

But Fred could see from his eyes and face that the man was not telling the truth.

He said that if Fred would write to certain ranchmen further up the road where he had worked that he would find out that he was as good a ranchman as could be found anywhere in the State; but Fred shook his head and remarked that he would take his time, and that he and Olcott would act as cowboys themselves until they had selected others to do the work for them.

About three hours later a cowboy arrived in the conductor’s cab, on the rear end of a freight train, and going to the little store, inquired for Fearnot.

There were four cowboys in the store at the time, and they could see from his dress and style that the newcomer was a cowboy, too.

The storekeeper went out on the porch and caught a glimpse of Fred over at the barn lot. He gave a halloo, which attracted Fred’s attention, and then he beckoned to him. Fred at once started for the store, but the newcomer, who had followed the storekeeper out on the piazza, saw him and said:

“Thank you, boss; I know him. I used to work for him up in Colorado, and he is one of the best men that ever breathed.”

When Fred was within one hundred yards of the store, he recognized the cowboy, and called to him:

“Hello, Tom!” and the newcomer returned his greeting.

When Fred reached the store, the two shook hands heartily.

“Tom, what in the world brought you way down here?” Fred inquired.

“Mr. Fearnot. I came down here to take my old place with you on the ranch, if you need me.”

“All right, Tom, you can have it. You are just the kind of a man that I do need.”

Just then Terry came up and another handshaking took place between the cowboy and him.

Terry and Tom seemed to be highly pleased at meeting each other.

When Tom learned that Evelyn was down there he exclaimed:

“Good heavens, Mr. Terry, I want to see her, and get down on my knees to her, for if there ever was an angel on earth, she is that one.”

Both Fred and Terry laughed, and the latter informed him that here were two other young ladies down there from Crabtree.

“Look here, boss,” said Tom, “I heard up at Crabtree that four cattle thieves had been strung up down here yesterday. Is that so?”

“Yes, Tom; but we had nothing to do with that part of the affair.”

The other cowboys were standing at the other end of the porch, and heard Fred engage the newcomer, and that, too, after refusing to employ any of them. Their faces showed plainly their disgust, and not to say dissatisfaction, and the big six-foot fellow went up to Fred and again applied for employment, saying that he couldn’t find a better cowboy in the whole State than he was, and that he could get references to prove it.

“See here, my friend,” said Fred, “you may be all that you claim, and I hope that you are: but really I want to be convinced of that fact before I take you on our force.”

“Boss, set me to work at once, and you needn’t pay me a cent until after you learn that I am all that I claim to be.”

“No, sir. A man can’t work ten minutes for me without pay; so just leave your address here at the store, and I’ll notify you if I want you.”

“Why, boss, you have just taken on a new man, and that, too, after refusing to employ any of those in my party. Do you call that fair play?”

“Yes, for I know this man personally. He has been in my employ before, and I was satisfied with his work.”

The fellow turned away, growing threateningly and the party went inside the store, and there held a consultation.

Tom and Fred and Terry went over to the house, where the ladies were, and Evelyn, as soon as she saw him, recognized him, and exclaimed:

“Why, there’s Tom Hecker.”

Tom instantly doffed his hat and stood, bowing and smiling, as if highly pleased at her recognition of him.

“Tom,” said she, advancing out on the piazza, “come here; I want to shake hands with you, for you were of great service to me on several occasions up in Colorado.”

Tom advanced, too, and she extended her hand to him.

He appeared to be supremely happy. She didn’t, of course, introduce him to the two young ladies, for she resented their social positions. But she did remark to them, in his hearing, that he was one of her brother’s most faithful cowboys on the old Colorado ranch, and that he was as brave as he was faithful.

She asked Tom when he had seen Wicklow and his wife, and he replied that he hadn’t seen them for over a month, that the old force had been pretty well scattered, and that the old ranch had been divided up into three ranches, as three different individuals had bought it.

He said, though, that when last he saw the Wicklow family they were all well.