Boys of the Fort/30

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Boys of the Fort by Ralph Bonehill
Chapter XXX: Signals in the Dark

CHAPTER XXX.


SIGNALS IN THE DARK.


"Joe, I've got a scheme to outwit the desperadoes and Indians, and I've a good mind to propose it to Will."

It was Darry who spoke, as he and Joe were eating an early supper that night, in one corner of the messroom.

"If the scheme is good for anything let Will have it by all means," answered his cousin. "Heaven knows we need all the help we can get!"

"My scheme is this," went on Darry. "Those Indians and the desperadoes must know something of our sending off for re-enforcements. Now why can't Will send out old Benson and a few others, to steal off for several miles and light camp-fires, blow bugles, and all that, to make the enemy think the re-enforcements are close at hand?"

Joe clapped his hands. "That's a grand scheme!" he cried. "Let's speak to Will about it at once."

The supper was soon finished, and they sought out the young captain, who was dividing up his force for guard duty during the night.

"I was thinking of such a scheme myself," he said, when he had heard them. "And old Benson suggested it, too. Perhaps I'll do it."

"If old Benson goes can't I go with him?" asked Joe quickly.

"And let me go too," put in Darry. "You won't miss us as much as you would miss two of your regulars."

At this the young captain grew grave. "Old Benson said he would like to take you along. Perhaps it would be best, too." He paused. "You see, they may fall on the fort to-night and wipe us out completely."

"Oh, Will, do you really believe that?"

"They will certainly attack us, and the men fit for duty number but thirty-four. Thirty-four against several hundred is not much of a force, even in a fort."

The matter was talked over for half an hour, and old Benson was called in for consultation. In the end it was decided that the old scout should head a party consisting of two regulars and the two boys, who were to carry a drum and a bugle and a good supply of matches for bonfires.

"If you can pass them without being seen, head straight for Conner's Hill," said Captain Moore. Blow the bugle there, and beat the drum, and then move over to Decker's Falls and light your first camp-fire. After that you ll have to do what you think is best."

"I understand, captain," answered the old scout. "And trust me to fool 'em nicely, if the trick can be done at all."

"It is not going to be an extra-dark night," went on the young officer. "So you will have your own troubles in getting away from the fort without being seen."

"I know a route," answered old Benson. "Trust me for it." But just then he would say no more.

The men to go along were named Cass and Bernstein. Cass was a good drummer and bugler, and Bernstein was noted for his good sight and the accuracy of his aim. All of the party went fully armed, and took with them rations for two days.

"Good-by, Joe," said the captain affectionately, and he took his brother by the hand. "I hope you pull through in safety."

"And I hope you do too, Will," answered Joe, and his lip quivered as he spoke. Perhaps this would be the last time he would see his brother alive. Never before had the situation appeared so serious as now. Darry also received an affectionate farewell.

In absolute silence old Benson led his little party to a far corner of the stockade, where there was a small gate, fastened with a strong leg bar. This gate was opened just far enough for them to slip through, and then closed again. Their mission had begun. There was no telling how it would end.

Slipping into the ditch, the old scout told the others to lie low, while he and Bernstein surveyed the situation. It was silent, and from overhead only a few stars twinkled down upon them.

Old Benson presently pointed with his bony hand.

"Clear that way, aint it?" he whispered.

"Looks so," answered Bernstein, after a searching look lasting several minutes, "I wouldn't go too close to that patch of underbrush, though."

The party began crawling along the ditch, until they came to a little gully which the last heavy rains had formed. Here they progressed on hands and knees until they reached some low brushwood. Then old Benson, still crouching close to the ground, set off on a lope, and the others came after him in Indian file.

If they had been discovered, neither Indians nor desperadoes gave any sign, and inside of ten minutes the fort was left out of sight, and they were standing in a hollow fringed with berry bushes. The boys were somewhat out of breath, and old Benson gave them a short spell in which to get back their wind.

"We were right, they are none of 'em in this vicinity," said the old scout. "Getting away was easier than I expected."

"It was no easy matter with the drum," came from Cass. "I came pretty close to falling and smashing it once."

The course now led up a small hill and then across a valley to another hill, a distance of nearly three miles. The trail was by no means straight and the walking was bad, and Joe and Darry had all they could do to keep up with the others.

At the last minute Captain Moore had given the boys half a dozen rockets, and explained how the fireworks were to be set off. Everything they could do to puzzle the enemy was to be done.

At last they gained the top of Conner's Hill—so called because Major Conner fell there while battling with some stage-robbers early in the seventies.

Bringing around his bugle, Cass blew a long blast and then a regular military call, which echoed and re-echoed throughout the mountains. This was followed by a long roll on the drum, and then another call oh the bugle.

After this all waited impatiently, gazing in the direction of the fort, which was, of course, hidden in the darkness.

"There they go!" cried Joe, and as he spoke two rockets flared up, dying out almost instantly.

The boys had planted two of the fireworks given them, and now these were touched off and went hissing skyward, leaving a trail of sparks behind. Two minutes later a single rocket went up from the fort.

"That s the last," observed old Benson.

"I'll wager that will set the Indians and the desperadoes to thinking," said Cass.

"They'll think some more when they see a camp-fire over Decker's Falls," put in Bernstein. "They'll imagine that they are being surrounded."

"Don't be too sure," came from the old scout. "White Ox is no fool. He has been through too much fighting. If we can only make him hold off a bit that's as much as we can expect. You can bet he'll have spies up here in less than an hour from now."

The march was now for Decker's Falls, a distance three miles to the westward. Again they advanced in Indian file, Bernstein now leading and old Benson bringing up the rear.

A mile had been covered, when the regular in front called a halt.

"A small camp is ahead," he said. "There, through the trees."

Without delay old Benson went forward to investigate.

He found three desperadoes talking earnestly among themselves, while warming some coffee over a small fire.

Listening to their talk he learned that they had been out on the trails leading to Fort Prescott, and had come in with the news that no re-enforcements for Fort Carson were within forty miles of the latter place.

"Gilroy and White Ox will be glad to hear our news," said one of the crowd. "They've been afraid all along Colonel Fairfield had sent out for aid."

Not stopping to hear anything further, old Benson crawled back to the place where he had left the others.

"We must capture those men, dead or alive," he said. "If they carry their news to the enemy there will be another attack on the fort within an hour."

Leaving the drum, bugle, and remaining rockets in a safe place, our friends advanced until all could see the three desperadoes quite plainly.

One of the fellows was unknown to Joe, but the others were Gus Fetter and Nat Potts.

The desperadoes had placed their rifles against a tree, and old Benson motioned to the boys to secure the weapons.

As Joe grabbed up two of the firearms and Darry the third, the desperadoes leaped to their feet in alarm.

"Hands up!" sang out old Benson. "Hands up, or you are all dead men!"

The scout's rifle was raised, and so were the weapons of Cass and Bernstein, and the desperadoes found themselves at a disadvantage.

Yet Fetter was game, and he quickly reached for a pistol hanging in his belt.

But the movement, quick as it was, was not quick enough for Bernstein, and as the regular's rifle rang out Fetter fell headlong across the camp-fire.

"Do you surrender?" asked old Benson.

"Yes," came from Potts, sulkily, and his companion said the same. In the meantime Fetter had rolled from the camp-fire and was breathing his last at Potts feet.

The sight was a thrilling one, and caused Joe and Darry to shudder.

"Can't I do something for that poor wretch?" asked Joe, of Benson, but before the old scout could answer Fetter breathed his last.

In a few minutes more Potts was made a close prisoner.

While he was being tied up, the third man made a quick leap into the woods.

"After him!" cried Benson, and Cass and Bernstein did as commanded. Soon the desperado and the two regulars were out of sight and hearing.