Boys of the Fort/7
AT HANK LEESON'S CABIN.
At first the boys were inclined to think that the old scout was mistaken—that they could ride as far as anybody. But when, shortly after sunset, they came within sight of Hank Leeson's place both were glad to think that they would have to ride no more for the present.
"I'm sore already," whispered Darry to his cousin.
"So am I—but I didn't want Benson to know it," was the low answer. "That last mile of the trail was awfully rough."
Hank Leeson had seen them coming, and stood at the doorway of his cabin, rifle in hand. He was a tall, thin man, with black eyes that were exceedingly sharp and shrewd. When he recognized Sam Benson he dropped his firearm into a corner and ran to meet the scout.
"Downright glad ter see ye!" he said, shaking hands. "Sam, yer a sight fer sore eyes, thet's wot!"
"And I'm glad to see you, Hank," responded Benson, just as warmly. "How have things been with you?"
"Putty slow, to tell the truth." Leeson looked at the boys. "Two tenderfoots along, I see."
"Yes. This is Joe Moore, brother to the captain up at the fort, and this is Darry Germain, his cousin. Boys, this is Hank Leeson, the best trapper and all-around shot in these parts."
"Oh, come, don't be a-praisin' me so much!" cried Leeson, as he took the boys hands in a grip that made them wince. "As fer shootin', ye kin do thet yerself as good as anybody, Sam." He looked the boys over. "Glad to know ye, lads. I know Captain Moore downright well, and he's a good soldier."
"I've got news, Hank," put in the old scout. "Joe fell in with Matt Gilroy's gang down near Buckwater Run."
"What!" roared the old trapper. "Do you mean to tell me thet measly crowd is around here ag'in?"
"Three of 'em are—Gilroy, Fetter, and a young fellow named Potts. I think Potts comes from Denver."
"I know him. His father was Ike Potts, the card-sharp. Thet blood is about as bad as any in the gang. What are they up to?"
"They are laying a trap for the quartermaster when he comes through with the soldiers' money. Joe heard part of their talk by accident. Do you know when the quartermaster is expected?"
"I do not. Ye see, ever since old Cap'n Bissile was held up the army officers keep mum about the movements of the cash-box. I reckon they have orders from Washington to do it."
"I want to warn Colonel Fairfield as soon as I can," went on the old scout.
"Yes, he ought to be warned."
"Can you lend me a fresh hoss?"
"Then I'll be off as soon as I've had a bit of supper. The boys can stay with you all night, can't they?"
"They can, an' welcome," replied Hank Leeson.
"You are going to leave us?" queried Joe.
"Don't see any other way to do, lad. The sooner I get the news to the fort the better. I'll come back in the morning after you or send your brother or somebody else."
"We can ride it alone, can't we?" questioned Darry.
"I wouldn't try it, if I were you. The trail is a rough one, and there are several forks where you might go astray."
"Better stay with me, lads," put in Leeson. "I'll treat ye well, never fear," and he smiled broadly.
"Thank you," returned Joe. "I was only thinking I'd like to see my brother soon, that's all."
"A few hours more or less won't make much difference," said Darry. He had looked around the trapper's cabin, and was interested. "Let us wait." And so it was arranged.
It did not take long to get a bit of supper, and in less than half an hour Sam Benson was off, astride of a powerful steed which had been Hank Leeson's pride for years.
"Jest tell him to go to the fort," said Leeson, "and he'll carry ye thar with his eyes shet," and he gave a parting salute to the old scout.
The cabin was a primitive affair of rough logs, with the chinks filled with dried clay. It contained two rooms, each about twelve feet square. Back of the cabin was a lean-to where Leeson kept his horses, two in number. There was room for more animals, so the beasts ridden by our friends were easily accommodated.
Night had fallen by the time the horses had been rubbed down and fed and the boys had finished their evening repast, and it was dark when they gathered around the doorstep to rest. Hank Leeson sat on a chopping-block, cleaning his rifle and smoking at the same time, and as the three rested Joe told of his adventure in the cave, and Darry took up the tale of the bear.
"You had a lucky escape, lad," said the trapper. "A lucky escape, an' no error. Like as not them desperadoes would have killed ye, had they caught ye."
"I've been thinking—do you imagine they'll come here to-night?" asked Darry.
Hank Leeson shook his head.
"Don't allow as they will. About a year ago I gave thet Fetter fair warnin' if he showed his face about my cabin I'd plug him full o' holes, an' I sent Gilroy the same message. They know me, an' know I won't stand any nonsense. They'll be likely to give me a wide berth. They know I aint got much worth stealin'."
"Then we ought to be safe until the soldiers get the news."
"Reckon you will be, lad," answered the trapper.
He was very much of a quaint character, and for two hours the boys sat up, listening to his tales of encounters with wild animals, desperadoes, and Indians.
"I've had my own little fun with b'ars," he said. "Got in a tree onct, and a b'ar kept me there fer a whole day. I had wounded him in the leg, and in running over a brook I dropped my gun."
"How did you get away?" asked Darry.
"I didn't know what to do fust. The b'ar had me foul, and kept right at the bottom of the tree all the time. With his wounded leg he couldn't come up, and I didn't dare to go down, and there we was a-lookin' at each other, he a-growlin' and I a-sayin' all kind o' unpleasant things about him."
"Didn't you have a pistol?"
"No, all I had with me at the time was a powder-horn, a matchbox, and my pocket-knife. What to do I didn't know, and I was a-thinkin' I'd be starved out, when a thought struck me to blow him up with powder."
"Blow him up!" cried both boys.
"Thet's wot, lads blow him up. I had a handkerchief, ye see, an' into this I dumped 'bout half my powder, an' into the powder I put three matches, with the ends pointing out. Then I tied powder an' matches into a hard lump and watched my chance. There was a flat rock near the roots of the tree, and putty soon Mr. B'ar squatted on this rock. Then I let drive fer the rock, an' the powder an' matches landed good an hard, I can tell ye."
"And exploded?" put in Joe eagerly.
"Yes, exploded with a noise ye could hear 'most a mile, I calkerlate. The powder flashed straight up into thet ba'r's face, blindin' him and tearing his jaw half off, and the way he ran to save himself was a caution. As soon as he was gone I dropped down and ran for my gun. Then I made after the b'ar and caught him between the rocks and finished him."
This was the last story told that night, and soon after the tale was concluded Leeson showed the boys into the inner room of the cabin, where there was something of a rough bed with a straw mattress.
"Make yerselves ter hum," he said. "It aint no hotel, but it's the best I've got to offer ye."
"But we don't want to turn you out," said Darry.
"I'll make myself comfortable near the door," answered Leeson. "I want to sleep with one eye open—in case those rascals should take a notion to come this way."
The boys were glad enough to rest indoors again and take off the clothing they had worn during the storm.
"Camping out is well enough," declared Joe; "but I don't want too much of it."
"Oh, we've seen the worst side of it," returned Darry. "I expect lots of good times when we get to the fort."
"Oh, so do I, for the matter of that."
After turning in it did not take long for the cousins to get to sleep, and a little while later Hank Leeson also threw himself down to rest. But the old trapper remained close to the door step, and slept with his rifle near at hand.
An hour went by, and the darkness and silence continued. There was no moon, and only a few stars were visible. At a distance a few night birds were calling, and occasionally the howl of some lonely wolf could be heard, but that was all.
At last from out of the darkness of the trail came three men on foot. They were Matt Gilroy and his companions. They had tethered their horses in the bushes some distance away. They stole toward the cabin like so many grim and silent shadows.