Boys of the Fort/27

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Boys of the Fort by Ralph Bonehill
Chapter XXVII: Signals and what Followed

CHAPTER XXVII.


SIGNALS AND WHAT FOLLOWED.


The interview over, Captain Moore lost no time in summoning Hank Leeson.

"You must depart for Fort Prescott without delay," he said.

"I'm ready now, captain," replied the old hunter.

"You must ride night and day till you get there."

"I'll do thet too."

"I have received important news. At the longest our enemies will hold off two days. I will try to make them hold off a day longer if I can. That will give you three days. I will write a letter to Major Hardie at once."

This was early in the morning, and inside of half an hour the letter was written and the old hunter was off, on the back of the freshest and most enduring horse the fort possessed. He went fully armed, for he knew that he carried his life in his hands.

As soon as Leeson had gone the young captain summoned the surgeon and told that individual about the drugged butter and condensed milk.

Dr. Nestor was incredulous, but on an examination said that all were drugged. A cat that had drunk of the diluted condensed milk was found in a stupor from which she could not be aroused.

"It's awful," said the surgeon.

A trustworthy cook was called in, and all the butter and condensed milk which were open, or which showed signs of having been tampered with, were thrown away.

This put the soldiers on short rations so far as these commodities went, but nobody complained. Some suspected Bicker and Drossdell, and there was talk of a demand on the captain to have the traitors shot, but it came to nothing.

"What does this mean?" asked Joe, when he caught his brother in a quiet spot.

In a few words the young captain explained.

"You and Darry must say nothing," he concluded. "We will have our hands full as it is. The Indians are in this, but the drugging was not done by Mose the half-breed."

"When will you signal to the enemy?" asked Darry.

"This afternoon at four. That will give us at least two whole days—and a lot may happen in that time."

"If only the surgeon can bring some of the men out of their stupor," remarked Joe.

"He hopes to do so—now he knows more about the drugs used against them."

"If you hadn't caught Bicker and Drossdell what do you suppose would have happened?" questioned Darry.

"More than likely every one of us would have been sick," answered the young captain with a shudder. "Then the Indians and the desperadoes could have walked in here without a struggle."

"Even if help does not come, you ll fight them, won't you, Will?"

"To be sure—to the bitter end."

"By the way, are you certain the ammunition hasn't been tampered with?" came from Joe.

"I was thinking of that and was going to have an examination made when you stopped me," said Captain Moore, and hurried on.

An examination showed that some of the powder on the place had been hidden. Drossdell said this was under the barn flooring, and his words proved true.

Promptly at four o'clock Captain Moore appeared at the southwest corner of the stockade with a red shirt in one hand and a blue shirt in the other.

Fortunately he was built like Bicker, and donning a private's hat and coat made him look a good deal like that individual from a distance.

Slowly he waved the coats to and fro for five minutes.

Then an answering signal came back from some brushwood on the top of a distant hill the answer being similar to the signal itself, showing the message was seen and understood.

It is likely that the Indians and desperadoes were much chagrined to think that they would have to hold off for two days, but if so they made no sign.

The next day proved unusually warm. There was nothing for the boys to do in the fort, and they wandered around from place to place. At drill but thirty-eight soldiers presented themselves, all the others being on the sick list.

"I must say I don't feel very well myself," remarked Darry. "I can hardly keep my eyes open."

"Gracious! don't say that you re going to get sick too!" cried Joe.

"I won't get sick if I can help it," replied Darry. "But I feel awfully queer."

Joe did what he could for his cousin. But, with the limited means at hand, this was not much, and by sundown Darry was flat on his back, although the attack he sustained was not as severe as that of many around him.

"I feel as if I was in something of a dream," he told Joe. "That drug must have opium in it."

"It's something like opium—I heard the surgeon say so," answered his cousin.

At night a strict watch was kept, and twice old Benson went out to reconnoiter.

"The Indians and desperadoes have surrounded us on all sides," he announced. "But it don't look as if they meant to attack us just yet."

With the coming of morning it began to rain, but this cleared away by noon, and then the sun boiled down as fiercely as ever. The sunny spots within the stockade were suffocating, and the boys were glad enough to stay within the cool walls of the stone fort.

As far as he was able Captain Moore had prepared the place to resist an attack. A weak spot in the stockade was strengthened and the cannon of the fort were put in the best possible condition. The soldiers were told where to go in case of a sudden alarm, and were cautioned not to waste any ammunition, for the supply was limited.

Thanks to the surgeon's efforts Colonel Fairfield was now somewhat better. Yet he was too weak by far to get up or to manage affairs, so the command still remained in Captain Moore's hands. Even Captain Lee was now down, and it was a question whether he would live or die.

"You must do your best, Captain Moore," said the colonel feebly. "I know I can trust you. You are brave, and your training has been a judicious one."

Early that night there came a sudden alarm, followed by two rifle shots in quick succession. At once there was a commotion, and everybody sprang to his post.

The Indians and desperadoes must be coming!" cried Joe, and ran for the rifle with which he had been armed.

The cause of the alarm, however, was not from without, but from within. Bicker had forced his way out of the guardhouse, and at the risk of breaking his neck had climbed to the roof of the barn and leaped over the stockade into the ditch outside.

A guard had seen the leap and had fired on the man, hitting him, it was thought, in the shoulder. Then a second guard had discharged his weapon, but by this time the fleeing prisoner had been swallowed up in the gathering darkness.

"He must not get away!" cried the young captain. "If he does, they will attack us at once. After him, Benson, and you, too, Forshew and Donaldson. I will follow with some horses!"

Without delay the old scout climbed the stockade and scrambled over the ditch. The others ran around to the gate, and soon several additional soldiers followed. On second thought Captain Moore sent the horses out by a lieutenant, thinking it best that he remain where he was, that being primarily his post of duty.

"Can we go?" asked Joe.

"No, Joe, stay where you are," said his brother. "If that rascal gets to his friends there will be work enough here, never fear."

The pursuit of Bicker lasted for over an hour, and brought on a smart skirmish between the men from the fort and the desperadoes, in which one person on each side was slightly wounded. But the rascal managed to gain the enemy's camp in safety, and then those from the fort came back as fast as possible to report.

"Now the deception is up," said Captain Moore, with a serious look. "I wouldn't be surprised to see them attack us before morning."

"Right you are, captain," replied old Benson, "and my opinion is, that the desperadoes and Indians will fight hard, when once they get going," he concluded.