Boys of the Fort/20
SOMETHING ABOUT WHITE OX.
"What shall we do, Joe; wait until your brother and old Benson come up?" asked Darry, as they surveyed the approaching animals.
"I suppose we ought to wait," answered Joe. "But if they take alarm, they'll be off in double-quick order, I am afraid."
Each of the boys brought around his rifle, which had been picked up on leaving the desperadoes rendezvous, and saw that it was ready for use.
"If we could only signal to the others!" suggested Darry impatiently.
"One of us might go back," began Joe, when he gave a sudden start. "They see us! See, they are turning away!" he cried.
Hardly had he spoken when Darry fired, aiming at the largest of the buffaloes. Joe followed, with a second shot, aimed at the same beast. Both bullets reached their mark, and the animal was hit in the breast and in the right foreleg.
"We hit him!" ejaculated Darry. "Let us fire at him again!" And he started to reload with all speed.
When struck the buffalo uttered a bellow of pain and went down on his knees. But he quickly arose, and now came straight for the boys, his head down, as if to gore them to death.
Crack! It was Barry's rifle which spoke up, and the buffalo staggered, hit on the head, a glancing blow, however, which did little damage.
By this time Joe had reloaded, but he did not fire at once, hoping to get a closer shot at the beast. In the meantime the others of the herd had disappeared completely.
Soon the buffalo was less than fifty yards off, and not daring to wait longer Joe took steady aim and let drive. His rifle-barrel had been pointed at one of those gleaming, bloodshot eyes, and the bullet sped true, entering the brain of the beast. With a roar and a grunt the buffalo went down, tearing up a great patch of grass in his fall.
"Hi! what's all the shooting about?" The cry came from Benson, as he rode down the trail at a breakneck speed, rifle ready for use.
"A buffalo!" cried Darry.
"A buffalo? Look out for yourselves."
"Yes, take care," came from Captain Moore, who was behind the old scout.
"We've fixed him," said Joe, not without a good deal of pardonable pride.
"Fixed him?" Old Benson looked out upon the glade. "By the great Jehosophat!" he roared. "Gone and shot a buffalo all by your lone selves! Or maybe he was dead when you got here?" he added suspiciously.
"You wouldn't think he was dead, if you could have seen him come toward us," said Darry.
"But who shot him? I heard four shots."
"And every one of 'em went into the buffalo," answered Joe. "Two for Darry and two for myself."
"But Joe finished him, with a shot in the eye," said Darry quickly.
"But Darry hit him in the leg, and that lamed him," said Joe, just as quickly. "I guess honors are even."
"Certainly remarkable shooting," was Captain Moore's comment. "Old hunters couldn't do better, could they, Benson?"
"Not much better, captain. I never would have dreamed of it, boys. And to think I couldn't get a smell of 'em when I was out looking 'em up," Benson said, shaking his head dubiously.
"This buffalo wasn't alone," said Darry. "The others went in that direction. You might follow them up."
"It wouldn't be any use now, lad. They are gone, and that's the end of it."
"We mustn't lose too much time," put in the young captain. "I must make the fort to-night, no matter what comes."
"But, Will, we can't leave this magnificent buffalo behind," pleaded his brother. "Darry and I will want the skin, and we'll want to mount the head and horns, eh, Darry?"
"To be sure."
"How long will it take to skin the beast, Benson?"
"An hour and over, if I want to make a good job of it," was the slow reply. "It's too nice a hide to ruin by quick cutting."
"Supposing I ride ahead then, and you follow with the boys as soon as you are ready?"
This was agreed to, and in a minute the young officer was off once more, urging his horse forward at the animal's best speed.
"Now I can take my time," declared old Benson. "Sorry I aint got my hunting-knife."
"Where is it?"
"It was lost in the shuffle with those desperadoes I put in the hole." The old scout chuckled. "My! my! how they must love me for putting em down there!"
"They'll have it in for you when they get out," remarked Darry.
"Oh, I'm not afraid, lad."
The buffalo had fallen into something of a heap, and it took their combined efforts to turn the huge carcass over. Then old Benson got out his clasp-knife, sharpened the blade upon the leather of his boot, and set to work, the boys assisting him as much as possible, which was not much, since the process was entirely new to them.
"That will be a load," said Joe, when they had the skin and a part of the head free. "How much do they weigh, Benson?"
"Close on to a hundred pounds."
"And how shall we carry that load?"
"We'll tie it up into something of a long bundle and take turns at toting it behind our saddles. Of course we won't be able to move along as fast as before, but that won't be necessary, now the captain has gone ahead to break the news."
The trail now led toward the river where Darry had almost lost his life by being hit with the drifting tree. The path was uncertain in spots, and they had to be careful for fear of getting into some boggy hole.
"What a splendid place for a ranch home!" suggested Darry. "Benson, I am surprised that there are so few cabins in this neighborhood."
There used to be quite a number through here, lad; but the Modoc and other Indians burnt them all down. I suppose new settlers will come in, now the Indians are behaving themselves."
"But are they behaving themselves?" questioned Joe.
"They are doing a good deal better than formerly, Joe. There is only one old chief in this neighborhood who seems to want to cause trouble."
"And who is that?"
"White Ox. He is some sort of a relative to Sitting Bull, so I've been told, and he won't give in that the white man is master of the situation. He has tried to get his warriors to rise against us several times, but so far he hasn't accomplished much."
"Where is White Ox now?"
"Over behind yonder mountain to the north. He is chief of a band that numbers between a hundred and a hundred and fifty people. He himself is one of the best Indian shots in the West."
"It's a pity they can't become citizens as well as other folks," remarked Darry.
"That's the whole trouble, lad. The United States didn't treat them right in the first place, and we are bound to suffer in consequence. But in the end the Injun will be wiped out completely."
As night came on, countless stars shone in the sky, making the trail fairly light. Old Benson rode in advance, with Darry next and Joe bringing up the rear.
Presently the old hunter drew rein, and motioned the others to do the same.
"Somebody ahead," he said in a low voice. "Four or five men on hossback. If I aint mistaken they're Injuns, too."
"Indians!" exclaimed Joe. "Do they come this way often?"
"No, lad. Fact is, they haven't any right over here, so close to the fort. It's against Colonel Fairfield's rules."
"Then what can they be doing here?"
"That's for us to find out."
Old Benson led the way to a side trail, and then into the shelter of a number of trees.
He quickly passed the pelt over to Darry.
"Both of you stay here until I get back," he said. "I'm going to find out what those redskins are up to."
"You won't be gone long, will you?" asked Joe.
"Don't expect to be gone over an hour at the most. If I aint back in two hours, make up your mind something has happened. Then you'll have to get back to the fort the best way you can," concluded the old scout.
A moment later the darkness of the night hid him from their view, and they were left alone in the bit of timberland.