Read CHAPTER XXIII - JARLEY BANGS of The Rover Boys at Big Horn Ranch The Cowboys' Double Round-Up , free online book, by Edward Stratemeyer, on ReadCentral.com.

“What do you know about that!”

“Who ever heard of an automobile running around by itself?”

“It’s gotten away from somebody,” came from Jack.  “Just look at it skating over the ground!”

“Come on!  Let’s stop the blamed thing!” shouted Andy, and started off on horseback after the runaway car.

“You’ll have a sweet job catching that auto,” declared his twin.  Nevertheless, he followed Andy, and, not knowing what else to do, the others did the same.

The automobile was of a cheap variety, and clattered noisily on its way, with one cylinder occasionally missing fire.  It had been running in a snakelike course, but now it seemed to be making something of a circle.

“By jinks!  I think it’s coming back here!” exclaimed Fred suddenly.

“It isn’t running as fast as it was,” declared Spouter.  “Maybe it’s going to stop.”

“I’m going to see if I can’t get aboard!” cried Jack, with sudden determination, and headed his horse behind the touring car, which was still moving at a fair rate of speed.

Once one of the front wheels went down in a hole, and then the car slued around and started off, heading almost for the boys.

“Look out!”

“Get out of the way there or you’ll be run down!”

Wild cries rent the air, and the young horsemen scattered in every direction.  But Jack was watching his chance, and as the car slued around once more he managed to leap from his horse and clutch the side of the automobile.  Then he leaped into the car and turned off the power, and in a few seconds he brought the automobile to a standstill.

“This is the queerest adventure I ever heard of,” declared Gif, when the brief excitement had come to an end.  “Who ever heard of meeting a runaway auto like this?”

“I guess we can be thankful that we weren’t run down,” returned Fred.  “You took a big chance, Jack, in jumping on board as you did.”

“Oh, it wasn’t such a risk,” answered his cousin modestly.  “I think the auto was getting ready to stop anyhow.”

“I wonder where the owner is?” questioned Andy.

“Perhaps the auto struck a stone and threw him out!” exclaimed Spouter suddenly.  “He may be lying along the trail somewhere stunned or dead.”

“I guess the best thing we can do is to see if we can locate the owner,” declared Gif, after a pause.

“Come on, Spouter.  You get in the auto with me and we’ll run it back in the direction it came from,” said Jack.  “The other fellows can follow and bring our horses.”

“Do you think you can run this car?” questioned Spouter.

“Sure I can!  It isn’t much different from the cars I’m used to even though it’s a cheap one,” was the reply.

Spouter dismounted and was soon beside Jack.  The power was again turned on and the car moved on with many a little jerk and jangling of metal-ware.

“It’s next door to a bit of junk,” remarked Jack, as they moved forward along the trail at a rate of about fifteen miles an hour.  “I think if a fellow tried to make real speed with it it would fall to pieces.”

“Sounds to me as if it needed oiling,” ventured Spouter.

“Yes, it needs oiling, and new springs, and a new engine, and a new chassis and a few other things, and then it would be quite a good car,” answered Jack, with a grin.

The two lads in the car had covered less than a mile, and the others were coming up behind them, when they saw a man running toward them and waving his arms wildly.

“Hi there!  Stop!” called out the man.  “Stop, I tell you!  If you don’t stop I’ll have the law on you!”

As soon as he saw the man Jack slowed up and came to a standstill by the side of the fellow.  He was a tall, lean man of about fifty, with a strangely wrinkled and sallow face and long, drooping, reddish mustache.  He had a pair of greenish-brown eyes that seemed to bore the boys through and through as he gazed rather savagely at them.

“What do you mean by running off with my car?” he demanded, as he shook his fist at the lads.

“Is this your car?” questioned Jack.

“You know well enough it’s my car!” blustered the man.  “And I demand to know what you mean by running away with it!”

“We didn’t run away with it,” answered Spouter.

“Yes, you did!”

“We did not!” put in Jack.  “We found it back there on the plains running around all by itself.”

“What?  You expect me to believe such a story as that?” exclaimed the tall man, glaring at them more ferociously than ever.  “Running around by itself!  How could it be doing that?  You took it from where I left it, up by the trees yonder!” and he pointed to a quantity of tall timber some distance away.

By this time the other boys were coming up, bringing with them the two unused horses.  The man gazed at them in surprise and also noted the two steeds that were not being used.

“Maybe you’re telling the truth and maybe you ain’t,” went on the man sourly.  “I’d like to git at the bottom of this.”  Thereupon the boys related what had taken place and Spouter mentioned the fact that his father was the owner of Big Horn Ranch.

“Oh, then you’re Mr. Powell’s son, eh?” cried the man.  “Are you the boy who went to Colby Hall with my nephew, Lester Bangs?”

“Is Lester your nephew?” queried Spouter.  And as the man nodded shortly, he added:  “Then you must be Mr. Jarley Bangs?” and again the man nodded.

“I think you ought to thank our chum here, Jack Rover, for bringing your car back to you, Mr. Bangs,” remarked Gif.  “If he hadn’t jumped from his horse into the car the machine might be racking itself to pieces out on the prairie now.  It was doing all sorts of stunts when he jumped aboard and shut off the power.”

“I can’t understand this nohow,” grumbled Jarley Bangs.  “If what you say is true, how in thunder did that car git started?  I left it by the edge of the woods while I went in to look over some timber that we thought of gitting out this fall.  All at once I heard the engine go off with a bang, and when I ran out of the woods to see what was doing the car was gone.”

“Was any one with you?” questioned Spouter.

“No.  I came out alone.  Lester wanted to come along, but I told him to stay at the ranch and do some work.  He seems to think that all he’s out here for is to play.”

“Oh, then Lester is staying with you, is he?” queried Fred.

“Yes.  His folks let him come up for a couple of months.  Then he’s going back to his home in Wyoming, and after that he’s got to return to that military school.  I think it’s a fool notion to send him to that school.  If I was his father I’d make him stay out here and go to work.”

“You don’t suppose Lester tried to start the car, do you?” questioned Andy.

“How could he if he was at the ranch?  But wait a minute!  He said something about going fishing in that brook that flows through the woods.  Maybe he did come up that way, after all.”

“Does he know how to run the auto?” asked Randy.

“Yes, he does.  But I don’t let him run it very often because he’s so careless I’m afraid he’ll ruin the machine - he bangs her over the rocks something awful.  I ain’t got no money to waste on a new car.  This has got to do, even if it is kind of used up.”

“Maybe Brassy - I mean Lester - came up and tried to start the car while the gears were in mesh,” suggested Jack; “and then when the car started to run away perhaps he got scared and ran away, too.”

“If he did anything like that he’ll have an account to settle with me!” exclaimed Jarley Bangs, his eyes glowing with anger.  “That boy is getting too fresh.  I said he could come up here, thinking he’d do some work around the place and so earn the money that I promised him for his schooling.  But evidently he thinks more of having a good time than he does of working.  He is forever fooling around the car and wanting to run it; so I wouldn’t put it past him to do what you suspect.  As soon as I git home I’ll ketch him and make him tell me the truth,” continued Jarley Bangs, with a determined shake of his head.

After that he questioned Spouter concerning the ranch Mr. Powell had purchased and spoke of the men who had previously owned the place.

“These city fellows think they kin come out here and make a fortune on a ranch,” he growled.  “But after they’ve owned a place a year or two they find it ain’t so easy.  A man has got to hustle like all git-out to make a living.”

“Where is your ranch located?” asked Fred.

“Our buildings are right behind that patch of timber,” was the reply.  “It’s not so very much of a place, but it’s good enough for me.”

“And where is the Bimbel ranch?” questioned Gif.

“That’s up to the northward, over the top of yonder hill.  But you young fellows had better give Bimbel a wide berth,” went on Jarley Bangs, with a shake of his head.

“Why?” asked Spouter.

“He don’t like no strangers hanging around, that’s why.  If a stranger comes up to his door Bimbel always reaches for his gun.  He had trouble years ago with some tramps, and he never got over it.”

After that Jarley Bangs had but little more to say.  The boys had left the touring car, and now the man jumped inside, saw to it that everything was in order, and then asked Spouter to crank up for him.

“Ain’t no use to waste time here,” he remarked.  “I’ve got to git back to what I was doing.  I’ll tell Lester I saw you, and if he wants to he kin come over to Big Horn Ranch and visit - he ain’t of much account around my place.  And I’ll git at the bottom of what happened to this auto, too, even if I have to lick it out of him.”

“I don’t think Lester will care to visit our ranch,” answered Spouter coldly.

“Well, I ain’t got nothing to say about that one way or the other.  Now I’m off,” and with a short nod of his head Jarley Bangs threw in the gears of his machine and rattled away, slowly gathering speed as he proceeded.

“A kind, considerate man, not!” exclaimed Andy in disgust.

“How politely he thanked Jack for returning his car,” added Spouter.

“And the beautiful invitation we got to visit his place,” put in Randy.

“I wonder if Brassy really started that car on him?” questioned Fred.

“It might be,” answered Gif.  And then he added:  “Gee, I’m sorry for Brassy if he has to live with such an uncle as that!  Wouldn’t you think he’d rather stay at home?”

“Perhaps it’s a case of money,” put in Randy.  “Didn’t you hear what Mr. Bangs said about paying for tuition at Colby Hall?  Brassy’s folks may be quite poor, and they may be depending on this uncle for financial aid.”