Boys of the Fort/31
BURNING OF THE STOCKADE.
"What will you do with him?" asked Joe of Benson, as he pointed to Nat Potts.
"Don't be hard on me," pleaded Potts. "I meant you no harm."
"You ought to be hung," grunted the old scout. "You aint fit to live and you know it, Potts. You could make an honest living if you wanted to, but you would rather cheat and steal."
"It was Matt Gilroy who got me into this," answered Potts. "He—"
"Don't put it off on to somebody else, Potts!" cried the old scout wrathfully. "If you aint got backbone enough to be honest, it's your own fault."
"Will you let me go, if I promise to leave this Territory?" asked Potts eagerly.
"No, sirree!" was Benson's answer. "You shall suffer the full extent of the law, and don't you forget it!"
While waiting for the return of Cass and Bernstein, the old scout searched Potts and the dead body of Fetter, taking away all their weapons and some papers which Potts carried.
These papers showed how deep-laid was the plot which the desperadoes had formed to gain possession of the money stored at Fort Carson, and how they had duped the Indians under White Ox and other chiefs to assist them.
At last Cass and Bernstein came back, all out of breath with running.
"Did he get away?" questioned Benson quickly.
"He did and he didn't," answered Cass. "He ran up Cedar Cliff, and seeing we were after him he tried to jump to the other side of the canyon. But he missed his footing in the dark, and went down, and that's the last we seen or heard of him."
"And that's the last anybody will see or hear of him," answered the old scout. "That canyon is three hundred feet deep, and nothing but sharp rocks, sides and bottom. He's done for."
The march onward was now resumed, the old scout forcing Potts to walk between himself and the boys, with his hands tied tightly behind him.
"If you make any noise it will cost you your life," said Benson to the prisoner, and thereupon Potts became perfectly mute. To tell the truth the desperado was thoroughly downcast, and his face was filled with despair.
They calculated that it was two o'clock in the morning when the heights above Decker's Falls was gained, a wild spot, from which old Benson had often viewed the fort, miles below, in the valley.
The driest possible brush was gathered, and on this were heaped several good-sized limbs, that the fire might burn an hour or two. Quarter of a mile away another similar fire was kindled, and at this spot the boys set off all but one of their remaining rockets.
"There is the answer from the fort!" said Joe, as two rockets flared up in the dim distance. "Anyway, Will knows we have gotten this far."
"But he doesn't know of the adventure we have had on the way," said Darry.
As soon as the fires were well under way old Benson began to lead the way down the mountain side toward a stretch of timber running within half a mile of the fort.
While they were in the midst of the forest a distant firing broke upon their ears.
"Is that from the fort?" asked Joe quickly.
"Reckon it is, lad," replied the old scout.
"Then our signals haven't done any good."
"Perhaps they have. But it may be that others have been out spying, and they have brought in the same report that Potts and his crowd were carrying."
As they advanced the firing died away for half an hour, but then it was renewed with vigor.
Coming to another hilltop, they could see the flashes of fire as the rifles and cannon were discharged.
The Indians and desperadoes had approached Fort Carson in the darkness, hoping to catch those inside napping.
But the regulars had opened the firing, and two Indians were killed at the very outset.
The red men had brought forward a large quantity of brush, and at the risk of their lives they heaped this against the wooden stockade.
When Joe and the others who were with him gained the plains surrounding the stronghold they saw that the brush was burning at a lively rate.
"They are firing the fort!" cried Darry. "Heaven have mercy on those inside!"
"I see nothing of Indians or desperadoes," said Joe. "Where have they gone, Benson?"
"Reckon they didn't like those last signals," answered the old scout.
From a distance they watched the burning of the brush with interest. Here and there they saw the stockade take fire, and then saw a blaze on the stable within the fort yard.
"The fire has reached inside!" groaned Joe. "The place is doomed!"
"Come on! There is no use of our staying here longer!" cried Benson, and led the way across the plain, now lit up by the conflagration beyond. He forced Potts with him.
Suddenly several shots rang out, and Joe felt a bullet graze his hand. Then he saw Cass pitch forward on his face, and heard Potts give a yell of mortal agony.
"Poor Cass, he's a goner!" muttered Bernstein. "And the desperado is dead, too."
No more was said, for all felt they must run as never before, if they would save themselves. Soon the gully was reached, and they dropped to shelter. But no more shots followed, and in a few minutes more they were close to the burning stockade.
"Friends!" shouted Benson, to a guard. "Don't shoot! Come out here and put out the fire!"
"Is that you?" came from Captain Moore, in the semi-darkness. "Are Joe and Darry safe?"
"Yes," came from the boys.
There was no time to say more, for already the soldiers were forming a bucket brigade, carrying water with which to put out the flames. Some had long poles with hooks, and with these they dragged a large part of the burning brush into the ditch.
All this while some of the regulars remained on guard, and occasionally a shot rang out, answered by another from a great distance.
They have surely withdrawn," said the young captain. "Benson, the trick worked after all."
"That's right, captain. But it won't work many hours, you can depend upon that."
"If it only makes them hold off until morning I shall be satisfied," concluded Captain Moore.
By the exertion of the soldiers the fire was kept from communicating with any of the buildings but the stable, and of this structure only a corner of the roof suffered. But the stockade was greatly damaged, and by the time the last spark was out it was seen that it had sustained three openings each eight to twelve feet long.
"We'll have to repair these," said Captain Moore; and, tired though the workers were, he made them haul fresh timbers from the woodpile and also tear up part of the barn floor, that the stockade might present a whole front to the enemy once more.
The fighting had greatly agitated the women in the fort, and nobody had slept for two nights. Yet even now, with the fire out and silence brooding everywhere, nobody thought of going to bed. All felt that this was but the lull before the greater storm.
If only the relief would come! Such was the thought of everyone but Drossdell, who still remained in the guardhouse, heavily chained, hands and feet. Drossdell was deeply downcast, and with good reason.
At last came the welcome signs of dawn in the east, and then a few of the soldiers, who could stand the strain no longer, threw themselves down to sleep. The others, pale and haggard, sat around in little groups wondering what was going to happen next. To each was served extra-strong coffee and the best rations the fort afforded.
"It cannot last much longer," said Captain Moore, trying to cheer them up. "Relief must come sooner or later."
He had now but a pitiful twenty-eight men left, including old Benson and Joe and Darry. Twenty-eight! What could such a number do against the attack of two or three hundred desperadoes and Indians? The situation was certainly one to make the stoutest heart quail.
"It was too bad you came out here on a vacation," said the captain sadly, to his brother and his cousin. "Perhaps you'll never see home again."
"Oh, Will, do you really think it's so bad?" came from Darry.
"It is hard to tell what I think, Darry. I know we are in a mighty tight box."
"Let us hope for the best," said Joe. "Leeson must be doing something."
"If he wasn't caught and shot down, Joe."
"That is true," and now Joe gave a long sigh that meant a good deal.
"There is but one thing in our favor now, this daylight. But if no relief reaches us by sundown—" The captain did not finish, but shook his head.
A moment later one of the guards called down that he could see some Indians to the northwest of the fort.
A glass was brought into play, and by this a party of seventy-five red men could be made out marching directly for the fort. Behind the red men came a dozen or fifteen whites.
Hardly had this discovery been made when another body of Indians and whites were seen marching upon the fort from the south.
"We are to suffer a double attack now!" was Captain Moore's comment. "Heaven help us and bring us through it in safety!"