Boys of the Fort/12
With his brother at hand, Joe felt much more at home than formerly, and the captain's presence also made a difference to his cousin. Old Benson remained at the fort for the time being, and did what he could to please the boys.
He took an especial interest in their shooting, and would often set up a target on the prairie for them to practice on.
"You'll do first-rate in a little while," he said. "And as Lambert says you take to drilling, it won't be long afore you're both out-and-out soldiers."
"I don't know as I care to be a regular soldier," answered Darry. "I wouldn't mind it for a while, but to enlist for five years—why, that's an other thing."
"Lambert has enlisted four times. When his time is out he'll be in service twenty years."
"And yet he is only a private," put in Joe.
"He is content, and doesn't want to go any higher. He likes the life, and he told me not long ago that he wouldn't know what to do with himself if he was out of Uncle Sam's employ."
One day after another passed, until the boys had been at the fort a little over a week. They how knew the drills and the "time-card" as well as anybody, and often practiced on the apparatus in the gymnasium.
"It's not so bad, after you once get used to it," said Joe. "The men are a good deal of company for each other."
"It's odd to see so many men and so few women," returned Darry.
"Some of the men don't want any women around, so I've been told. They are like some of the old-time miners who used to move out of camp as soon as a dress-skirt showed itself."
One day Captain Moore and old Benson got permission to go off on a hunt, and took the boys along. All of the party were mounted, and each carried a saddle-bag with part of the necessary camping outfit.
"If it's possible to do so, I'll show you some big game," announced the old scout. "Although I'll allow big game is mighty scarce, even in these parts."
"Have the hunters shot down everything?" asked Joe.
"A good bit, lad. You see, many used to come out here just to shoot for the sake of killing. I've known a party of six men to kill twenty or thirty buffalo and then leave the carcasses to the wolves. That was a shame."
"So it was!" cried Darry. "One or two buffalo would have been enough."
"Some hunters never know when to stop," put in Captain Moore. "They shoot as long as anything shows itself. If it wasn't for that these hills would be filled with buffalo, deer, bears, and all other kind of game."
The morning was clear and cool, and everybody in the party was in the best of spirits. The course was down into a broad valley, in the middle of which flowed the Rocky Pass River, and then up a series of hills leading to Tom Long Mountain—a favorite resort in this territory for sportsmen.
"Do you think we'll see or hear anything of those desperadoes?" asked Joe of his brother, as they rode along side by side.
"It's not likely," answered the young captain. "As soon as they learn that the soldiers are after them they'll take to their heels in double-quick order. They haven't any taste for meeting our regulars."
"It's queer that this Matt Gilroy should go in for this sort of life—if he is as well educated as you say."
"Some men don't like anything better, Joe—they wouldn't earn their living honestly if they could. It's queer that this is so, but it's a fact. Those men have no regular homes, although many often talk of settling down. Generally they die with their boots on, as the saying goes."
By noon the party had covered fifteen miles and were well into the hills. They came to a rest beside a fine spring which flowed from a split in the rocks. Near at hand was some dense brushwood, and old Benson rightfully guessed that it would not be difficult to beat up some birds.
"You can now try your luck at aiming," he said to the boys, and led the way into the dense growth. Soon a flock of birds arose directly before them, and both Darry and Joe took a quick shot, bringing down seven of the quarry. Then the scout fired, and five other birds dropped.
"Pretty good for a starter!" cried old Benson, as they stalked around picking up the game. "That target practice has made you both pretty steady. Just a round dozen, all told. That's a-plenty for dinner, I reckon."
Captain Moore was also pleased when told of what his brother and his cousin had accomplished. "You'll make great hunters in time," he said. "The main thing is to keep your nerve when big game confronts you. You know you have the best of a bird or squirrel, or anything like that. But when it comes to a buffalo, or a bear—"
"I know all about bears," interrupted Joe, and at this there was a general laugh. "If I ever meet another bear I want to be well prepared for him," he continued.
"Generally a wild animal won't fight," went on the young captain. "But when one is cornered he is apt to get very ugly; eh, Benson?"
"Right you are, captain. I was once cornered by a buffalo, and had all I could do to save myself."
The old scout calculated that they would strike some game that afternoon, and he was not mistaken. About two o'clock they sighted several deer far up the hillside.
"Fine, plump animals," said Benson. "If we get a couple of them we can be well satisfied."
It was decided that they should move around in a semicircle, so as to get to leeward of the herd.
"If we don't do that, the deer will scent us and be off in no time," explained Captain Moore.
Their horses were tethered in the brush, near some trees, and the party of four started out on foot. The way was rough, but the boys did not mind this. Their sole thought was upon the deer, and each resolved to bring down one of the game, no matter at what cost.
It was no light task to reach a spot from which to shoot. They had to cross several depressions on the hillside, and here the undergrowth was so heavy that progress at times seemed impossible. Once Darry went into a hole up to his waist, and came out with several rents in his coat, where the thorns had clung to him.
"Oh!" he muttered. "Oh!"
"Are you hurt?" questioned Joe quickly.
"Not much, but I reckon I'm a good deal scratched up," answered Darry, with a wry face.
At last they gained a point well to leeward of the quarry, and Benson brought the party to a halt.
"We'll creep in as far as we can," he said. "But keep your guns ready for use, and as soon as one fires the others had best fire too, for the deer won't wait after one shot. Which will you take, captain?"
"I'll take the one near the big rock," answered Captain Moore. "Joe, you had better take the one on the knoll."
"I'll take the one rubbing his side with his prong," put in Darry.
"And I'll take the one coming through the brush," finished old Benson. "Now then, forward. Make no noise, and be sure your gun doesn't go off and hit somebody else instead of the deer."
Rifles in hand, they crept through the underbrush and down toward the glade in which the deer were feeding.
The animals did not become suspicious until they were less than a hundred yards away. Then, of a sudden, the leader threw up his head and began to sniff the air.
"Now fire," said Benson in a low tone.
At once the four rifles came up, and each hunter took steady aim. Darry and Joe fired at the same instant, and the young captain and Benson discharged their pieces immediately after.
The aim of the two older hunters was true, and two deer fell dead after going less than six steps. But the other game was only wounded, Joe's deer in the side and Darry's in the flank, and they bounded away up the hillside.
"Missed!" groaned Joe, and slipped another cartridge into his firearm. Darry did the same, and both fired a second time. Then, seeing how badly the deer were wounded, they ran after the animals.
The course of the deer was straight for the timber down the mountain-side, and through the brush crashed quarry and boys until another hundred yards were covered. Then, coming to a rocky cliff, and being unable to leap to the top, the deer came to a halt.
"Do you see em?" panted Darry, almost out of breath with running.
"Yes there they are!" returned Joe. "See?"
"I do. They can't get up the rocks. Joe, we've got em after all. We must shoot— Gracious!"
The boy broke off short, and with good reason. The deer had spotted them, and now without warning turned and ran straight for both, as if to gore them to death!