Boys of the Fort/21
A TRICK OF THE ENEMY.
"I must say I don't fancy this much," observed Joe, after the sounds of Benson's departure had lost themselves in the distance.
"Nor do I like it, Joe," came from Darry, with a long-drawn sigh. "But I guess we'll have to make the best of it."
"With what was on that message my brother found in the cave, and what Benson said about this Indian chief, it looks as if the folks at the fort might have trouble in the near future."
"That's true, too. I hope Will got through in safety."
Dismounting, the two boys sat down under the trees to wait in the darkness. The horses were glad enough of the rest, and fell to cropping the short grass which showed itself in spots in the vicinity.
Thus half an hour passed. The silence was oppressive, broken only by the occasional note of a night bird or the dismal croaking of a frog in some hollow and the answering squeak of a lizard.
"Somebody is coming!" cried Joe at last, and both of the boys stood on the defensive, rifles in hand. The party came closer and closer, and at last they made out the form of the old scout. He was riding at the top of his speed.
"Quick! follow me!" he exclaimed, as he dashed up. "There is not a moment to lose!"
The boys needed no second bidding, and in a trice they were in the saddle once more and riding after old Benson, who now took to another trail leading somewhat to the south of that formerly pursued.
"You saw the Indians?" questioned Joe, as they dashed on.
"I did. White Ox is ahead, with sixty or seventy of his best warriors. From what I could learn he and Lieutenant Carrol have had a fight, and half a dozen of the soldiers were either killed or wounded. Now White Ox is marching for the fort."
"To attack it?"
"I can't say about that, but I think he is going to hide in the vicinity, to wait for the coming of the desperadoes."
"And what of my brother?" questioned Joe anxiously. "Did he get through all right?"
"Nothing was said about the captain, lad. I suppose he got through."
It was hard to talk while riding at such a rate of speed, and soon the conversation came to an end. The horses now showed plain evidence of their long journey, but each rider kept his steed at his best.
It was after two o'clock in the morning when the fort came into view, dark and silent in the midst of the plain surrounding it. Benson now rode in advance.
"Halt!" came the sudden command, while the scout was still a hundred yards from the stockade. The command was loud and clear, but the speaker was invisible.
"It's all right, friend," answered the old scout. "It's me, Sam Benson. Let me in, quick, I've news for the colonel."
"All right, Benson," was the answer. "But who is that behind you?"
"Joe Moore and Darry Germain. Is the colonel sleeping?"
"The colonel is very sick."
"What's the trouble?"
"The surgeon can't make out exactly. He's in a sort of stupor, and they can't rouse him."
By this time the stockade gate was open, and all three of our friends lost no time in entering the yard. Then the gate was closed and barred again.
"Has Captain Moore returned?" asked Joe, as soon as he could get the guard's attention.
"I haven't seen him."
"How long have you been on duty?"
"Came on about an hour ago."
"Has Lieutenant Carrol come in?" came from Benson.
"Not that I know of; reckon not," answered the guard.
"Worse and worse!" groaned the old scout. "Who is in command here?"
"Captain Lee. But he's about half sick, too."
"It's a trick of the enemy!" cried Darry.
"A trick?" queried the guard with interest.
"Yes, a trick," put in Joe. "Benson, hadn't they better sound the alarm?"
"Yes, and I'll interview Captain Lee."
No more was said, and, while the sentinel called the corporal of the guard, the old scout hurried off to find the captain in command. With him went Joe and Darry. Joe's heart was like a lump of lead, for he was much concerned over the non-appearance of his brother. Had the captain met the Indians and been killed or taken prisoner?
Captain Lee was in a sound sleep, but quickly roused up when told that an important message awaited him. He met the party in one of the living rooms of the fort. His head was tied up in a wet towel, and his eyes showed that he was suffering.
"This is certainly a deep-laid plot," he said, when all had told their story. "The desperadoes and Indians intend to combine in an attack on the fort. Mose is undoubtedly that wily old half-breed who is still alive and who is very thick with White Ox. But I didn't know he could write."
"But what about this money at the fort?" asked Joe.
"The money is here, in a chest that is hidden away. It amounts to forty thousand dollars in gold, and is the property of the Nevell Mining Company. It was left for safe-keeping untiil Mr. Nevell could have it transported to Denver. You see, Nevell is a brother-in law to Colonel Fairfield."
"The colonel must be drugged," said Benson. "That's the reason he acts so queerly."
"I suppose so, and that is what has affected me, I presume," answered Captain Lee. "Last night my head ached as if it would split open. We must tell the surgeon of this. Perhaps he can then do something to relieve Colonel Fairfield."
The captain lost no time in issuing the necessary orders, and in a few minutes the whole place was in alarm and the soldiers were on the watch for the first appearance of the Indians.
"My poor husband drugged!" cried Mrs. Fairfield, when she heard the news. "What villains those Indians and desperadoes are! Doctor, can you do nothing?"
"I think I can, madam," answered the surgeon. "Much depends upon what drugs were administered and how much the colonel has taken. Rest assured I will do my best for him."
Upon examination it was found that out of all the officers at the fort only four were fit for duty, all the others being sick, either through being drugged or otherwise. Of the privates not more than sixty-five were in a condition to fight should an attack come.
"And the worst of it is, the men won't know what to eat or drink after this," said Captain Lee to Benson. "Who can tell what has been drugged? Perhaps it's in the very bread we eat and the water we drink."
Strict orders were given to the men to touch nothing until the surgeon had passed upon it. Then the doctor got out his medicines to counteract the drugs, and set to work to bring the colonel and the other sufferers out of their stupor.
Hour after hour went slowly by, and still Captain Moore did not return. What had become of his brother, Joe could not imagine. He feared the worst, and when morning came it was all he could do to keep back the tears.
"Don't take it so to heart, Joe," said Darry sympathetically. "It may be all right."
"But he said he was going to ride straight here—you heard him, Darry."
"So I did, but he may have seen the Indians or met Lieutenant Carrol, and that might have changed his plans. Anyway, I wouldn't worry too much just yet."
With the coming of daylight Captain Lee brought out his long-distance glass and swept the surroundings of the fort with extreme care.
"Some camp-fires are burning to the northward," he announced.
"Any Injuns?" questioned old Benson laconically. He had been told to come along to the top of the fort for consultation.
"Nobody in sight, Benson."
"Humph! Well, I don't calculate they are far off."
"Nor I, from what you and the boys told me. How long will it take those desperadoes to reach here?"
"They ought to arrive this morning, if they are not with the Injuns already."
"All told, we have about seventy officers and men available for duty," went oh the captain thoughtfully. "What is worse, they must know how greatly our garrison is reduced, since they have had that skunk of a Mose do the drugging for them."
"The Injuns number over sixty, and if there are thirty desperadoes, that will give them a force of almost a hundred, or twice as many as we have, captain. But then, we hold the fort. They can't come anywhere near us without being cut down—if we set out to do it."
"Of course. But White Ox may send off for more Indians—when he hears how small the available garrison is."
"Does he know much of affairs here?"
"I am afraid he does. There were two Indians here yesterday, to lodge a complaint against a miner who had stolen a horse from them. I think, now, that the complaint was a blind, and the Indians were here merely to size up the situation," concluded Captain Lee.