Boys of the Fort/9
ARRIVAL AT THE FORT.
The morning found the two boys still alone. The sun was well up over the eastern prairie before both were dressed, for they had taken turns at guarding, as agreed, and each had consequently lost half his regular sleeping time.
"Well, what's to do now?" questioned Darry, while they were stirring around getting breakfast.
"I don't know of anything to do but to wait here until we hear from Benson and Hank Leeson." answered his cousin.
Breakfast was soon disposed of, and then they sat down to wait, still keeping their firearms close to hand, in case of unexpected attack. The meeting with the desperadoes had opened the boys eyes, and they did not intend to be caught "napping" no matter what else happened.
Shortly before ten o clock Joe espied three horsemen coming down the trail which led to the fort. Both watched the approaching riders with interest, and presently saw that they were soldiers. One wore the uniform of a lieutenant, and the others were privates. "You are from the fort?" cried Joe, running forward to meet them.
"Yes," was the answer from the lieutenant. "Which of you is Josaph Moore?"
"I am glad to know you, Moore. Your brother, the captain, and I are great friends. I am Lieutenant Richard Carrol."
"Oh, I've heard of you," answered Joe, smiling. "Will has often mentioned his chum, Dick Carrol, in his letters. This is my cousin, Darry Germain. Did old Benson reach the fort last night?"
"He did," answered Lieutenant Carrol, as he hook hands with both boys. "And your brother and a detachment of Company A have gone out to look for Matt Gilroy and his gang. Benson went with them, and I was asked to come down here and escort you to the fort."
"If my brother wants to round up Gilroy's gang he should have come here," said Joe. "The rascals were here last night and stole our three horses."
"Is it possible! And where is Hank Leeson?"
"He went after them on his horse, the only one they didn't get. We are looking for his return at any moment. We promised to watch the cabin until he got back."
"I see." The lieutenant turned to the privates. "Men, you may dismount and tie up the horses for the present. We won't be going back just yet."
Lieutenant Carrol leaped to the ground, and one of the privates took charge of his steed. The young officer was a handsome fellow, with a smiling face, and both Joe and Darry took to him at once.
"Yes, Captain Moore and I are great friends," he said. "You see, we went through West Point together, and we have been more or less together ever since. He has often told me about you two fellows, so I feel as if I've known you for a long while." He looked at Joe. "You must have had quite an adventure with those desperadoes at the cave."
"I did have," answered Joe. "I hope my brother and the others round them up. Do you know if they came anywhere near here?"
"No, they struck off on another trail—the one the quartermaster is expected to use. You see, he is to come in to-morrow with that money."
"To-morrow! Then they'll have time to warn him."
That depends upon circumstances. The quartermaster is an odd sort of a fellow, and sometimes changes his mind about routes. He may come in the way we expect, and he may take some entirely different trail."
"We can't say when Leeson will be back," put in Darry. "But it seems to me it is our duty to stay here until he returns; don't you think so, Joe?"
"I do, Darry. But he will probably be back before long."
It was only a few minutes later when one of the privates came forward with the information that a man was coming through the underbrush skirting the timber. It was Hank Leeson, and he held his mare to a walk, for Nancy was all but exhausted.
"Mornin , lieutenant!" he called out, as he drew closer and saluted. "Come for them boys, I reckon."
"I did, Leeson. They tell me you've been after the gang. What luck?"
Hank Leeson shook his head dubiously. "Reckon I didn't have any luck, lieutenant. Got one shot, but if I hit it didn't count much. They had the best o' me in the timber, and they got away, not only with the hosses belonging to the boys an' Benson, but likewise with their own, which they had tethered in a hollow not far away."
"Then our horses are gone!" cried Darry, his face falling.
"Thet's it, lad. I'm sorry, but I did my best."
"Oh, I don't blame you, Leeson. But—but if we haven't any horses, how are we to get to the fort?"
"We'll take turns at carrying you," replied Lieutenant Carrol.
Hank Leeson was as worn out as his mare, and while one of the soldiers cared for Nancy the old trapper sank down on his doorstep and told his story. He had followed the desperadoes up hill and down for fifteen miles, and gotten one shot at Fetter, which, he believed, had struck the rascal in the arm. But the party had turned on the trail while passing through a wide patch of timber-land, and on coming out at the other side he had been unable to locate them again. Then, as it was almost morning, he had thought best to return to his cabin, to ascertain how the boys were faring.
"Which road were they near when you saw them last?" asked Lieutenant Carrol.
"Over at Hunkwater's Rock," answered Leeson. "Moving toward the Knob."
"Humph! Then I am afraid Captain Moore won't round them up very quickly."
"My brother didn't go near that trail?" questioned Joe.
"No, he's on a trail three miles further north. Still, the desperadoes may turn north."
"That's so," said Leeson.
As there was nothing to keep them at the cabin, the boys were now anxious to move on to the fort, and a short while later Lieutenant Carrol set off. One private carried Joe and the other Darry; and, as the horses were powerful beasts, good progress was made.
"Hurrah! The fort!" cried Joe, as he caught sight of a large flag waving in the distance. He was right; and soon they could see the tall stockade quite plainly. It was three hundred feet long by two hundred feet wide, and surrounded by a ditch twelve feet deep. Inside of the stockade were the fort proper and a dozen other buildings, including the officers quarters, the men's quarters, the messroom, hospital, and the gymnasium, and also a good-sized stable.
"Why, it's a regular town in itself!" murmured Darry, when they got inside.
"That's right, a town of exactly two hundred and seventy-five people," answered the lieutenant. "And of that number two hundred and sixty are soldiers belonging to three companies, three are officers wives, two are Indian scouts, and the rest are cooks and other helpers."
Colonel Fairfield, a tall, dignified old officer, had been told of their approach, and how came from the officers quarters to meet them.
"I am glad to see you, boys," he said, as he shook hands warmly. "If the story Benson told is true you have had quite a few adventures in reaching here. I am sorry your brother is not here to meet you, Joseph; but he was anxious to go after the Gilroy gang, and I let him have his way."
"You haven't heard about all of our adventures, colonel," said Darry, and told of the stolen horses.
"Worse and worse!" returned the colonel, stroking his mustache thoughtfully. "That proves that the gang—or what is left of it—is as desperate as ever. Those fellows will never give up until they are either arrested or shot down."
"I hope my brother doesn't get into trouble with them," said Joe anxiously.
"Well, a soldier has to take some risks, my boy. But Captain Moore is as shrewd as he is brave, so you need not fear for his safety. Come right in; Mrs. Fairfield will be glad to see you. She wants to hear from all the folks at home."
The boys followed the old officer into the quarters, and here received an equally warm greeting from Mrs. Fairfield, whom they had met in Chicago. Dinner was soon served, and while the lads were satisfying the inner man they had to tell their whole story over again, and also tell all the news from home.
"While you are here, boys, you must make yourselves perfectly at ease," said the colonel. "I know your fathers will expect me to be a father to you. As for Captain Moore, I will allow him to be with you as much as military discipline permits."