Boys of the Fort/11
SOMETHING ABOUT DRILLING.
"Darry is lost! Nothing can save him now!"
Such was the agonizing thought which rushed through Joe's brain as he watched the progress of the drifting tree as it moved swiftly toward the falls of Rocky Pass River.
He knew the falls to be over thirty feet high. At the bottom was a boiling pool which sent up a continual shower of spray. Nobody entering that pool could survive.
Darry, too, realized his peril, and continued to call for help. Had he been able to loosen himself he would have leaped into the water, but he was weak and helpless, and his voice could scarcely be heard above the rushing of the rapids.
Joe and the three soldiers continued to run along the river bank, over rough rocks that cut their feet and through bushes which scratched them in scores of places. At last they came out on a point directly above the falls.
The tree still spun on, and Joe closed his eyes to shut out the sight of what was to follow.
Suddenly Lambert let out a shout:
"The tree is caught! It has stopped moving!"
Again Joe looked, and he saw that what the soldier said was true. The under branches of the drifting tree had hit some sharp rocks below the river's surface, and one branch had wedged itself fast.
This catching of the driftwood bent down the limb that held Darry, and soon they saw that the imperiled boy was free from the grip which had held him. But what to do next the lad did not know. To swim to the shore was out of the question.
"I—I can't make it," he told himself, as he panted for breath. He was so exhausted that he felt very much like fainting away. But he knew he must keep his senses, or all would be over with him.
"Darry! Darry! Are you much hurt?" called out Joe.
"Not much, but I—I can't—swim—ashore!" was the gasped out answer.
"I'll try the fishing lines again," said Lambert, and prepared them once more. A first cast did not reach Darry, but a second did, and he caught the sinkers to the lines with a good deal of satisfaction. "Will they hold?" questioned Joe.
"I hope so," answered Lambert. "Anyway, it's the best we can do."
Letting the lines run out as far as possible, the soldiers and Joe moved up the bank of the stream to where there was a series of rocks projecting into the water a distance of several yards.
"Now brace me, and I will haul in," said Lambert. Then he called to Darry to help them by swimming as well as he was able, with the lines caught around him, under the arms.
"All right, I'm ready!" cried the boy, and dropped into the stream, taking care to steer clear of the tree.
Lambert hauled in slowly but steadily. The line straightened out and became taut, and looked as if it might snap at any instant. Joe's heart came up into his throat, and he breathed a silent prayer that his cousin might be saved.
"Here he comes!" muttered Lambert at length, and they could see that Darry's feet at last rested on the sandy bottom of the river. They continued to haul in, and soon he was safe. When on shore he pitched himself on the grass, completely exhausted.
"Oh, how glad I am!" cried Joe, as he knelt beside his cousin. "I was almost certain you'd be drowned!"
"It was a narrow escape!" answered Darry, when he could speak. "When the tree first struck me I was almost stunned, and when I realized what had happened I found myself fast and hardly able to budge. Just look there!" And he showed a deep scratch on one side of his body and a heavy red mark on the other. "But never mind," he went on. "I am thankful my life was spared!"
It was a sober-minded party that dressed and journeyed back to the fort, Joe carrying both his own fish and those his cousin had caught.
"I am afraid that will end fishing and swimming for a while," said Biggs. "The soldiers never go near the falls, for they all know the danger, but Colonel Fairfield is too strict to run any chances."
"Don't say anything about the adventure on the tree," said Darry.
"Will you keep mum?"
"I will, and so will you, won't you, Joe?"
So it was arranged that nothing should be said, that the soldiers little recreation might not be interfered with, for both boys saw that they had little pleasure at the best.
"A fine haul for you boys!" said Lieutenant Carrol, as he surveyed the catch. "I must go
myself and try my luck. I haven't been fishing this summer."
"It's a splendid place for bites," said Joe.
"I know it. But you have to be careful up there. There's a nasty fall in the river. If you went over that you'd never come out alive."
"Yes, we saw the fall," answered Darry, and gave a shudder in spite of himself.
Again at sunset there was a parade, similar to that of the day before. After it was over the boys procured guns and had Lambert put them through their "paces," as he called it.
"First we'll drill a bit without guns," said the old soldier, for Lambert had seen sixteen years of service. "Toe this line, heads up, chest out, and little fingers on the seams of your trousers. That's all right. Now then, Eyes Right! When I say that turn your eyes to the right, but don't move your faces. Now, Eyes Front! That's good. Eyes Left! Eyes Front! That's first-rate."
"But we're not moving," said Darry.
"Now we'll move. Watch me. Right Face! Do you see how it's done? Balance on the heel, this way, and swing around. Now then, Right Face!"
The two boys came around like well-trained old soldiers.
"Good, boys, good. Now then, Front Face! Good. Left Face! That's not so well. Front Face! Now here's another, About Face!"
So the drilling went on, until the boys could move as Lambert wished them to. Then they began to march and to wheel right and left. At last he put the guns in their hands and let them march with the pieces, and then showed them the manual of arms.
"You'll learn in no time," said the old soldier, when his off time came to an end. "You've crowded a dozen lessons into one."
"And I feel it," said Darry. "I'm going in to rest." And he went, followed by Joe. All told, the boys had enjoyed the drill very much.
Joe was somewhat worried when bedtime came and still nothing had been heard of his brother. Yet Colonel Fairfield told him not to mind the prolonged absence.
"But should not your quartermaster be here?" asked the boy.
"He may come in to-morrow morning," answered the colonel.
The next day dawned cloudy, and by noon a steady rain was falling. The boys hardly knew what to do, and, after watching a drill and some performances in the gymnasium, went back to the living quarters. They had hardly entered when there came a shout from the guard at the stockade.
"Captain Moore is coming, with the quarter-master!" was the cry.
"Hurrah, it's Will!" shouted Joe, and ran out despite the rain to welcome his brother.
Soon the soldiers came up, mud-stained and tired. They embraced half of Company A, and in their midst was the quartermaster of the regiment, with two attendants. Each of these three carried heavy saddle-bags, filled with government money for the soldiers, for payday was now due.
"Joe!" cried Captain Moore, as he dismounted and caught his brother by the hand. "I am glad to see you safe and sound."
"And I am glad to see you," answered Joe.
"I will be with you soon—I must first report to Colonel Fairfield," went on the young officer, and lost no time in seeking the commandant.
His story was soon told, and it speedily spread to all parts of the fort. Along with his men and old Benson he had looked in vain for the Gilroy gang for a whole day. Then he had come upon them just as they were preparing for an attack upon the quartermaster and his escort. The gang had numbered eight, and in the fight which had followed two of the crowd had been wounded, although all had made their escape by swimming their steeds over a dangerous mountain torrent. Of the soldiers three had been wounded, one man quite seriously. The young captain had received a bullet through his hat.
"It was Matt Gilroy himself who fired that shot," said Captain Moore. "And I won't forget it when next we meet."
Old Benson had been in the thickest of the fight from beginning to end, and it was he who had wounded one of the desperadoes while the fellow was in the act of carrying off one of the money-bags. The rascals had fought hard over that money-bag, but in the end had been compelled to drop everything and ride to save their lives.
As soon as Captain Moore had made his report, another detachment was sent out, to follow the desperadoes, if they could be found. This detachment was fifty strong and under the leadership of Lieutenant Carrol. The lieutenant was a man who had met numerous desperadoes in his time, and it was felt that he could do the work much better than the average soldier.