Boys of the Fort/16

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In the meanwhile, never dreaming of the danger at hand, Captain Moore pursued his way up the other branch of the water-course. Here the underbrush was even more dense than where the boys were, and consequently he did not think it strange that he heard nothing of his brother and his cousin.

The fact that he stirred up no game nettled him, and he pushed on, determined to bring down something before he went back.

Suddenly he espied something moving in the patch of wood ahead of him. Rifle in hand, he moved cautiously in the direction.

As he did this, a man glided out from the bushes to his right and followed him as silently as a shadow.

The man was Gus Fetter. The desperado was fully armed, and his face was black with hatred of the young army officer.

As the wood was gained, Captain Moore paused to locate the object he had seen.

But before he could do this, he was caught from behind and his rifle was wrenched from his grasp.

"Fetter!" he ejaculated, as he caught sight of the desperado.

"Up with your hands, Captain Moore!" growled the rascal savagely. "Up, I say! I've got the drop on you!"

Fetter had thrown the captain's rifle to the ground, and now stood upon it. In his hands he held his own weapon, and the muzzle was aimed at the young officer's head.

Realizing that discretion was the better part of valor, Captain Moore threw up his hands promptly, at which the desperado grinned wickedly.

"Where did you come from, Fetter?" demanded the captain.

"From not far away, captain."

"What do you mean by treating a United States army officer in this fashion?"

"I've got a score to settle with you, captain. Don't forget that."

"Are the rest of the gang around?"

"They are."

Following his last words, Gus Fetter gave a long, clear whistle, followed by two shorter ones. At once an answer came back from the woods, and in a few seconds Matt Gilroy appeared.

"Hullo, so you've got him," sang out the leader of the desperadoes. "A good haul. How are you, Captain Moore? Delighted to see me, I suppose."

"Not at all glad to meet you—considering the circumstances," answered the young officer, trying to keep cool, although he realized that he was in a dangerous situation.

"Well, you're honest about it, anyway," said Gilroy with a brutal laugh.

"Have you been following our party?"

"You had better not ask too many questions, captain."

By this time Potts and two other men were coming up. One of the latter carried his left arm in a sling. Captain Moore's recognized him as a fellow who had been wounded in the raid on the quartermaster's party.

The desperadoes consulted among themselves for a few minutes, and then Captain Moore was ordered to march on.

"To where?" he asked.

"You'll see when you get there," answered Fetter. "Now move, or, by the boots, I shoot you down where you stand!"

Seeing it would be worse than useless to resist, the young officer did as ordered, and the whole party moved away from the water course and took to a trail leading back to the side of the mountain.

Presently they came upon a number of horses, and here they mounted. There were two steeds without riders, and Captain Moore was ordered to the back of one of these. All rode off in a bunch, the prisoner being kept in the center of the party. He had been searched and his pistol taken from him, also his pocket-knife, field-glass, and his money and jewelry.

In less than quarter of an hour a split in the mountain side was gained. To the rear was something of a cave, the entrance overgrown with brush and vines. At the mouth of the cave the party came to a halt, and were met by several other desperadoes.

"Now you can get down," said Gilroy. "Fetter, I guess we had better bind his hands behind him."

"You are going to bind me?" queried Captain Moore.

"And why not? You are such a nice chap, captain, we don't want to part with you just yet."

"Why are you going to keep me a prisoner?"

"Well, don't forget that we hold you responsible for that little mix-up when we were after the quartermaster's money-bags."

"I only did my duty, Gilroy."

"Perhaps; but if it hadn't been for you and your men our gang would have been about twenty thousand dollars richer than we are to-day."

"And I wouldn't have this lame arm," growled the fellow who had been wounded.

"As I said before, I only did my duty," repeated the captain calmly. "Even if I hadn't arrived, don't you suppose the quartermaster would have done all he could to defend himself?"

"Certainly; but his party numbered only three. However, we won't talk now. We have other things to do. Get into that cave. And don't try to escape, or it will be the worse for you."

With a downcast heart the young officer entered the cave, which was an old rendezvous of the desperadoes. Inside were a rude table and a couple of benches, and he threw himself down on one of the latter. One of the gang, Potts, put himself on guard outside, rifle in hand. The others separated into two parties, and went off again.

"Can they be going after Joe and Darry, or after Benson?" was the question the captain asked himself.

He waited until the hoofbeats outside had entirely ceased, then called to Potts.

"Where are they going?" he asked.

"That's Captain Gilroy's business," was the answer.

"Oh, so you call Gilroy captain now?"

"We do."

"How many men is he captain of?"

"About thirty, if you're anxious to know."

"Thirty! There are not that number of desperadoes within three hundred miles of this place."

"All right, if you know better than I do."

"Has the captain gone off for the rest of my party?"

"Perhaps he has."

"It won't do him any good to make them prisoners."

"I reckon he knows his own business best, Captain Moore."

"And what will you get out of this affair, Potts?"

"Me? I'll get my share when we make another haul."

"Do you expect to make another haul soon?"

"As I said afore, better ask the captain. We're organized into a regular company now, and all the privates like me have to do is to obey orders. You know how it is in the regular army."

"A company of desperadoes," mused Captain Moore. "That's something we haven't had out here in years."

Potts would talk no more after this, but sat down on a rock to smoke his pipe and continue his guard duty.

The young captain had had his hands bound tightly behind him, and, try his best, he found himself unable to either break or slip his bonds.

He was anxious concerning himself, but he was even more upset concerning his brother and his cousin.

"If they kick up a fuss, more than likely Gilroy and the others will shoot them down!" he groaned. "It's too bad! I thought we would have a splendid time hunting, and here we are, falling into all sorts of difficulties."

As impatient as he was, he could do nothing but stalk around the cave. The place was five yards wide by over a hundred feet long. To the rear was a rude fireplace, the smoke drifting through some wide cracks overhead. A small fire was burning, and he kicked a fresh log on the blaze, which soon gave him more light. Then he sat down again.

As he rested, his eyes roamed around the rocky apartment, and presently fell upon a sheet of paper lying under the table. Curious to know what it might contain, he bent down backwards, and by an effort secured the paper and placed it upon the table. Then, by the flickering flames, he tried to make out the writing it contained.

The letter—for such the sheet proved to be—was a communication which had been sent to Matt Gilroy by a writer who signed himself Mose. It ran as follows:

"The plan will work perfectly, and all we must do is to wait until the money is at the fort. I am sure the soldiers will leave as requested, and the defense will amount to little or nothing. Will see to it that Colonel Fairfield is drugged, and will treat Captain Moore and the other officers the same way, if I can get the chance."