Boys of the Fort/22
IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY.
Little dreaming of all the adventures in store for him, Captain Moore left the scene of the buffalo shooting and rode forth swiftly in the direction of Fort Carson.
He felt that he carried news of great importance and the sooner he gained the fort the better. Should anything happen to Colonel Fairfield the command of the post would fall upon himself, as next in rank.
As he dashed along the trail, over hill and valley, he reviewed the situation with care, and the more he thought of it, the more worried did he become.
"Something is going to happen—I can feel it in the air," he muttered.
The thought had scarcely crossed his mind when something did happen, but not exactly what he anticipated.
A shadow fell across his path, and as he drew rein he found himself confronted by several Indians.
"White officer, stop!" cried the leader of the red men sternly.
"Hullo! what do you want?" demanded the captain. The meeting was a complete surprise.
"Want to have a talk."
"Who are you?"
"Me Red Wolf, belong to White Ox tribe," returned the Indian with a scowl.
"And what are you doing out here at this time of night, Red Wolf?"
"Indians on a big hunt. See buffalo yesterday."
"Yes, I saw one of the buffaloes myself." Captain Moore paused, not knowing how to go on. "You are pretty close to the fort."
"Red Wolf and warriors get on the wrong trail," was the slow reply. "But want to talk now. Come along."
As the Indian concluded he caught the captain's steed by the bridle.
"Let go the horse."
"Want to talk to white officer."
"You haven't any right to touch my horse."
Hardly had the words been spoken when two Indians rushed up behind the captain and dragged him to the ground.
The fellows were large and powerful, and they disarmed him before he could even fire a shot.
Without further ado Captain Moore was forced to march along, between two of the red men, while a third led his horse.
A route around the rocks was taken, and presently they came to a dense bit of timberland. In the midst of this was a clearing, and here was the camp of some ten or a dozen Indians.
The Indians at hand were a guard over several white soldiers, and to his intense surprise the young captain recognized some of Lieutenant Carrol's men.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Had a mix-up and came off second best—" began one of the soldiers, when an Indian guard clapped a dirty hand over his mouth and ordered him to be silent, under penalty of death.
Then the captain was taken to another part of the glade, and here he was made a close prisoner by being bound, hands and feet, to the trunk of a blasted tree.
Red Wolf wished to know what the captain had been doing away from the fort.
"I've been on a hunting expedition."
"Where are the others?"
"Safe, by this time. What do you intend to do with me, Red Wolf?"
"White Ox shall decide that," grunted the red man.
"Then he is on this hunt, too?"
"When will he be here?"
"Don't you know that I am an army officer, and that you are laying up a good deal of trouble for yourself by making me a prisoner?"
"The white man has not treated the Indians right."
"This is no way to redress wrongs, Red Wolf. Why don't you go to Colonel Fairfield and make a complaint? He will send the story to the Great Father at Washington."
"The Great Father will not listen. We have sent many complaints—as the white captain knows."
"He will listen—if the complaint is a just one. The trouble is, the Indians will not obey Colonel Fairfield's orders."
"And why should they obey the white man? Is not White Ox their chief?"
That is true. But the land is now the white man's, and the Indians must obey the Great Father at Washington, or in the end it will go hard with them."
"Not so!" cried Red Wolf savagely. "In the end the white man will be driven eastward, where he belongs. No one shall rule in these mountains but the red man. White Ox and the other great chiefs have spoken."
"What! you are going on the warpath?"
"The hatchet may be dug up, if the white man will not listen to the red man."
"I know what the trouble is, Red Wolf. Matt Gilroy and that scoundrelly half-breed, Mose, have set you up to this. They have filled your ears with false stories about our cruelty and about much money at the fort."
By the look on the Indian's face the young officer saw that he had struck the truth, at least in part.
But the red man would talk no more, fearing he had already said too much, and he stalked off, warning a guard to be careful and not let the captain escape.
When left to himself, Captain Moore's reflections were very bitter.
"If the redskins are out in force they'll probably fall in with Benson and the boys," he told himself. "And if they do there will surely be trouble. Benson won't allow them to take him alive, and that will mean a good deal of shooting all around."
He listened attentively for shots in the distance, but none came, and this caused him to be more perplexed than ever.
Just before daybreak several additional Indians came in, and the young officer and the soldiers were told to march. Their feet were unfastened, but their hands were not, and they were forced to move with the red men on all sides of them, and each of the enemy fully armed and ready to shoot them down at the first show of resistance or escape.
From one of the privates Captain Moore learned that Lieutenant Carrol and the other soldiers had escaped, but what had become of them nobody knew.
The little body of whites and Indians marched over a mountain trail for fully four hours. The step was a lively one, and when the party came to a halt even the soldiers used to a hard march were tired out.
"Those redskins can walk the legs off of anything I know of," was the way one old soldier expressed himself. "They are like some of these wiry mustangs who don't know the meaning of rest."
"This region is strange to me, Peck. Do you recognize it?"
"I do, Captain Moore. Yonder is Henebeck Fall, and this trail leads to Silver Gulch."
"Then we are about six miles from nowhere in particular."
"You've struck it, captain. Why they brought us to such a forsaken spot is more than I can guess—unless they are going to shoot us down like dogs and leave us for the wolves to feed on. The wolves are thick around here, so Leeson told me."
"I don't believe they'll shoot us down. They are not desperate enough yet. But they may do it, if they attack the fort and lose heavily. That will open their eyes, and make them as mad as hornets."
A little later Silver Gulch, a wide opening in the rocks of the mountain, was gained, and here the soldiers were again made fast to several trees. Then the Indians prepared their midday meal. They took their time about eating, and did not offer the white men anything until they had finished.
"They don't intend to treat us any too good," was Peck's comment. "Captain, can't we fix it to get away?"
"I intend to escape if I can manage it," returned the young officer. "But we must be careful, for they are fully armed, and they watch us like so many foxes."
Slowly the afternoon wore away, and with the coming of night it grew darker than usual, as though a storm was brewing.
"A storm ought to help us," said the captain.
Some of the Indians had departed, so that now the guard consisted of but four warriors. These red men walked around each prisoner, seeing to it that all the bonds were tight.
As the men passed Peck the old soldier watched his chance, and, unknown to the red men, caught a hunting-knife from the belt of one of the number.
This knife was concealed up his sleeve, and then the soldier waited for his chance to use the blade, which was as sharp as a razor.
The Indians decided that two of their number should sleep, while the other two remained on guard. Soon those to retire turned in, while the others sat down to smoke their pipes.
This was Peck's opportunity, and with a slash of the hunting-knife he released his hands. A moment later the lariat around his ankles was like wise severed.
Watching his chance, Peck passed the knife to Captain Moore, and then went back to his position by the tree as if still fastened.
Thus the knife was passed from soldier to soldier until all were liberated.
All told, the party numbered six, and nobody was armed, excepting Peck, to whom the hunting-knife had been returned.
Motioning to the others to keep quiet, Captain Moore picked up a stick of wood lying near and threw it in some bushes a distance away.
This made considerable noise, and instantly the two guards gazed in the direction.
"A wolf, perhaps," said one of the Indians, in his native tongue, and walked over to the bushes. His companion started to follow, when Captain Moore leaped upon him and bore him to the earth.