- Chapter 1-5
- Chapter 6-10
- Chapter 11-15
- Chapter 16-20
- Chapter 21-25
- Chapter 26-30
- Chapter 31-35
- Chapter 36-40
- Chapter 41-46
I. — MASTERS DECIDES TO QUIT
Bart Masters threw down his pick with a grunt of relief. The sun had sunk so low in the sky that it was almost dark now at the bottom of the mineshaft.
Stretching his weary back, he muttered grimly—
“Gettin’ old, I reckon. Time I got out o’ this.”
It was not the first time lately that Bart Masters had thought of quitting the little gold mine in which he had worked for the past seven years. Sixty two years of age, bent and scarred by a lifetime of toil, if he was ever going to get any enjoyment from the gold which he had torn from the earth, he would soon have to head for more civilized parts.
He had all the gold he wanted, about ten thousand pounds worth, more than sufficient to set him up in comfort for the rest of his life.
In small leather sacks under the floor of his cabin this gold was hidden, stored ounce by ounce, grain by grain, as he had dug it from the ground. No one had ever worked harder than this lone miner in the Boulder Hills of Colorado.
Twice a year only did he visit the nearest township, for stores and clothing. For the rest of the year he stuck to his mine.
“I’ll get out tomorrow,” he said.
Dangling down the shaft from forty feet above was a stout rope, and on the end of this a large bucket. It had been used to haul hundreds of tons of earth and ore to the top. Now Bart Masters put one foot in it, gripped the rope above his head and bellowed, “Hoist her up, O’Neil!”
There was a clanking somewhere above and the rope began to be hauled in. Swiftly and steadily the bucket rose, almost as though it was attached to a winch.
In a few moments the head of the old miner came above the surface. He reached out to grasp a crosspiece and heaved himself to safety.
“Thanks, O’Neil!” he grunted.
He was not a bit surprised to see what had hauled him up. It was a gorilla, a tremendous creature, standing well over six feet high, with a vast sixty four inch chest, a shaggy red brown coat, and a face as hideous as a nightmare.
Standing astride the edge of the shaft, it had hauled the rope in hand over hand, and was now carefully coiling it for use on the morrow. It seemed to know exactly what was expected of it.
It was a strange place in which to find a gorilla. Gorillas came from Central Africa, and this was the wilds of Colorado, bit its surroundings did not seem to have affected its health. If ever there was a gorilla in the prime of condition, it was this one.
Turning, it came waddling towards its master, walking on its hind legs, its hands only occasionally touching the ground to steady it. Masters looked at it almost with affection, and handed over the leather poke in which he had packed that day’s find of gold.
“Here you are, O’Neil, this is the last,” he said. “Tomorrow we’re gettin’ out. What’ll you say to new surroundings, new faces, new food? I wonder how you’ll settle down in a town, or whether they’ll refuse to have you? Guess they’ll have to put up with you, pard, if I pay ’em!”
The gorilla growled in its throat. It was almost as though it understood what was being said.
Bart Masters had got into the habit of talking to it. It had helped him forget his loneliness, and he had to admit that no human partner would ever have served him as well as O’Neil, the gorilla.
Eight years ago he had purchased the gorilla, then a youngster, from a sailor in San Francisco. The young animal had then just arrived from Africa, and was both frightened and fierce.
The sailor had been glad to get rid of it. The gorilla had no name, but at the sailor had been called O’Neil, the gold miner had called it that. O’Neil it had remained ever since, and in the course of time it had become utterly devoted to the miner.
Up on the Dragonfly Mine, which Bart Masters had discovered and worked alone, the gorilla had been as good as a hired laborer to him. To train it and make a companion of it had been his only amusement. Not only did it regularly haul the buckets to the top of the shaft, but he had taught it to dig with pick and shovel.
Nearby was the shack where they lived.
Built of logs, with a stovepipe chimney in one corner, it was no different from a hundred other shacks dotted about Colorado.
To Bart Masters it was home. Followed by the shuffling gorilla, he entered the building and stoked up the fire.
“More firewood, O’Neil!” he said, and the great beast shuffled away to a nearby woodpile, returning with a load of branches and logs.
Some of the pieces were too large for the stove. The gorilla broke these in two with its powerful hands, or split them by inserting its fingertips and wrenching them apart. Just how strong O’Neil was his owner had never found out.
“Well, tonight’s the last night!” said the old miner, as he mixed flour and water for flapjacks. “Tomorrow we head south. In three days we’ll be in Colorado Springs, an’ a new life will have begun. Reckon you’ll have to carry the gold for me. It’ll be mighty heavy.”
The gorilla snorted, and squatted down in a corner like an old, old man, its knuckles resting on the floor. It knew full well that its supper would be served as soon as its master’s.
Before long they were eating their meal, and as they munched away the miner kept up a running fire of comments. He told O’Neil all his plans, his hopes, his fears, and the gorilla sensed that something unusual was going to happen. It watched him with bright, affectionate eyes.
Supper over, Bart Masters dragged back the heavy log table, pried up three planks which had been underneath is, and revealed a hole under the shack. It was his safe.
From it he lifted bag after bag of gold. Each of them was packed to the brim with the gold dust and nuggets which he had extracted from the mine.
The gorilla seemed to have gone to sleep. It kept its eyes closed. Bart Masters ranged his hoard upon the table, and looked around for some means of bundling it all together.
He decided that a doubled blanket would make a good carrier. He stacked the gold bags on this, in readiness to be rolled up in the morning.
By that time it was quite dark, and he had lighted two candles.
“Time we hit the blankets, O’Neil!” he muttered, and went to the corner where the giant gorilla dozed.
It raised no objection when he fastened a stout leather collar round its neck. To the collar was attached a chain which was embedded in the corner beam of the hut.
There was plenty of slack to the chain. It did not prevent O’Neil from curling up and sleeping. Bart Masters scarcely knew why he continued to chain the gorilla up at night. It was a relic of the old days, when he had not been quite certain of the way the gorilla would behave during the night.
“Good night, O’Neil. Tomorrow night we’ll be in camp, an’ before long maybe I’ll be able to buy ya some real fruit,” he said, as he climbed into his bunk.
The last thing he did was to reach up and assure himself that his gunbelt hung on the usual nail above his head, with his heavy six-gun ready loaded.
Worn out with the toil of the day, he was soon asleep. The gorilla snored heavily. A clock ticked on a shelf in the corner.
The moon came through a haze of cloud. It was not very bright, but enough to throw a faint shadow on the window when someone approached outside.
Another shadow followed, then another, and yet a forth. Four men were creeping towards the door of the shack.
The faces of these men were twisted viciously as they strained their eyes for the slightest sound of movement within. All of them were obviously tough characters and each was armed with two guns.
“The old un’s asleep!” hissed one fellow with a drooping moustache. “Wonder what’s happened to the gorilla?”
“Sleeping as well, I guess,” murmured one of the others. “He chains it up at nights. I’ve seen him call it in.”
The men were not strangers to the locality. For more than a week they had spied on Bart Masters, observing his every movement, trying to judge whether he was worth robbing or not.
In other parts of Colorado they were known as the Strawhan Gang, and they were wanted by the law for a score of murders and robberies. The north of Colorado had proved too hot for them, and they had come south. It was unlucky for Bart Masters that they had stumbled upon his retreat, and had seen him washing out some gold dust one night.
To them the temptation was irresistible. This was the night on which they had decided to rob him.
Tutt Strawhan, the man with the red moustache, lifted the latch of the door softly. It was not fastened in any way. Bart Masters never believed in locking himself in at night.
Inch by inch the door opened, and the evil face of the leader of the gang peered round the edge.
The moon from the window shone upon the figure in the bunk. The old miner was twitching in his sleep.
In the further corner of the room a dark blur marked the position of the gorilla. It did not stir. Its sleep was not disturbed.
Tutt Strawhan lifted a finger to his lips to warn his men to keep quiet. Softly he tiptoed forward.
Halfway across the shack he was when O’Neil opened his eyes, blinked at the intruder and lurched to his feet with a roar.
Strawhan had the name of being one of the quickest shots in the West. He wasted no time in firing twice at the infuriated gorilla. Even before it had come to the end of its chain one of the bullets had caught it on the head, and spun it round.
It collapsed on the floor, and lay still.
The report had roused Bart Masters with a jerk. His gnarled hand reached for the gun hanging on the wall.
“No you don’t!” barked one of the gang from the doorway, and another shot rang out, shattering the miner’s wrist. “Sit back an’ keep still.”
The four of them crowded forward, Tutt Strawhan, Pete Stark, Jim Lane and El Valdo, the half-breed. The latter held an ugly knife. He was an expert knifeman.
II. — O’NEIL’S VENGEANCE VOW
“What do you want?” croaked old Bart Masters, though he already knew.
“Your gold!” snarled Strawhan. “Don’t try to stall us, Masters. We’ve seen you bring gold in here. Where is it hidden? If you want to save your skin hand it over.”
Instinctively the miner’s eyes flickered to the table where the blanket loosely covered the bags of good. His lips moved, but no words came from them. He was trying to think of a way out of this terrible position, and he could see none. Even O’Neil was out of action, if not dead.
A moment later the old miner wished he had not glanced that way, for Pete Stark guessing the meaning of that glance, sprang towards the table.
“Holy smoke!” he gasped, jerking back the corner of the blanket. “Here’s all his hoard. We’re rich men. This must be all the gold he’s dug out in the years!”
All the gang turned that way, and again Bart Masters snatched for the gunbelt over his head. He succeeded in gripping it, and jerked it from the nail, but before he could draw the gun from its holster he was again menaced by Strawhan’s gun.
“Didn’t I tell you to keep your hands off that gunbelt?” roared the leader of the gang, and he pulled the trigger of his gun three times.
Three bullets thudded into Bart Master’s body. Two of them found his heart. He fell back limp and lifeless on the bunk.
As the smoke cleared away the ruffians crowded round the gold.
“The old fool must have been meaning to clear out,” grinned one of them. “We came just in time. If we’d waited another night it might have been too late.”
Quickly they divided the store of gold for carrying, and when they staggered from the shack some five minutes later they were all heavily laden.
That there was plenty more gold in the mine did not worry them. They were not interested in mining. Robbery with violence was more in their line.
Time passed, and the old clock on the shelf ticked away steadily. No movement came from the bunk, where the blankets were stained deeply with blood.
Presently a board creaked under the gorilla. The great beast was stirring. Its lips moved, then its eyes. Fiercely it gazed at the roof of the shack, unable to recollect where it was. There was a blinding pain in its head, and it moaned slightly as it stirred.
Blood had trickled under one ear, and caked there in the hair. The second of the bullets fired at the gorilla had ‘creased’ it, bringing unconsciousness, but not death.
The gorilla sat up, and its chain creaked. There was a strange scent in its nostrils, the scent of warm blood. A low growl came from its parted lips.
The moon shone upon its hideous face, now twisted with rage and fear. The growl changed to a plaintive whine. It was calling to its master.
In the past years, whenever unwise eating had given it pains in its stomach, this whine had brought Bart Masters to its side with effective remedies. Something was wrong now, but O’Neil did not know what it was. He decided to call his master.
There was no reply. From where the gorilla crouched it could see the miner sprawled on the bunk. One of his hands hung down over the side in unnatural fashion. The gorilla began to sense that something was wrong.
What had happened to its beloved master? It rose to its feet, its head almost touching the roof of the room, and shuffled forward.
There was a jerk at its neck as the chain pullet it up, and the growl changed to one of anger. The smell of blood was angering and alarming the great beast. It gave a tremendous tug at the chain and the shack shook.
Bart Masters had chained the beast up each night, but had forgotten how it had increased in strength since those early days when it had been necessary. No such chain could hold it now.
Enraged still further by the resistance, O’Neil leaned forward, grasped the chain with both hands behind his head and heaved.
There was a splintering crash. The roof began to sink at one end. The gorilla had pulled the corner post completely out of the ground, and now towed it forward across the room, in spite of the fact that several logs and planks were still fixed to it.
A moment later it was beside the bunk, bending over its master, sniffing him, nuzzling him, moaning and crying with terror when it found what had happened.
No child could have sorrowed more. The gorilla pushed Masters and poked him, hoping that he would come back to life, but that was impossible.
Then the gorilla’s sorrow changed to rage. It bellowed and roared in a way which would have roused the beasts in an African jungle.
Again and again it roared, beating its chest with clenched hands, snatching at articles of furniture and tearing them to matchwood.
As it thrashed about the room the chain and the logs attached to it went with the gorilla. The noise behind it maddened it still further.
But every now and again it would go to its master’s side and sprawl over him, whimpering and moaning. Only the coming of daylight through the window quieted it. It ceased to howl and roar, and went down on all fours, sniffing the floor.
To and fro it went, like a dog picking up the scent. Once it snatched up some articles, an old empty tobacco pouch, a dirty handkerchief, a piece of a rag. All these things had been discarded by the four killers when they had been making room in their pockets for the sacks of gold.
O’Neil seemed to know that these articles, and the scents attached to them, belonged to those men who had slain his master. His hair bristled, his eyes flamed with fury, and his clenched fingers dug into his huge palms.
Again and again he raised his head and growled. He was vowing vengeance. In his savage way he was connecting these scents with his master’s death. He knew that these men had killed his master.
Once he went outside the door, and followed the telltale scent across the clearing as far as the beginning of the trail to the west. But he did not go very far. Waddling with ungainly strides, he returned to the shack, and his keen eyes noticed something on which his dead master was half lying.
It was the revolver belt and gun holster. The six shooter was as yet undrawn.
A strange expression came to O’Neil’s eyes. He pulled the gun out and examined it. It was not the first time he had handled it. He knew all about this strange toy of his master.
Furthermore, he knew how to use it. In his spare time Bart Masters had delighted in teaching O’Neil unusual tricks. He had shown him how to hold the gun, point it and fire. He had even shown him how to load it with those little metal things called cartridges.
To the brokenhearted O’Neil this gun and belt seemed part of his master, and he decided to take it with him.
He tried to put the belt around this massive waist, but it was too tight. Bart Masters had been a bulky man, but not as bulky as the gorilla.
Even then O’Neil was not beaten. He seated himself on his haunches and fiddled with the belt. Once or twice his master had strapped it about his strange friend. There must be some way of making it larger.
At last O’Neil found the buckle, and opened the belt out to its fullest length. Then it buckled round the gorilla’s waist easily, so that the heavy six-gun hung on his right side.
O’Neil had never been more proud than when his master had dressed him up like this. Even now the gorilla could not resist swaggering up and down the clearing outside.
Then O’Neil remembered something else. When he and the miner had gone into the woods on shooting expeditions, his master had worn a bandolier. It was on the shelf beside the clock, filled with cartridges.
O’Neil fetched it, and with an effort, got it over his own shoulder. It fitted too high under the armpit, but that did not matter to O’Neil. The bandolier was part of his master, smelled like his master, and the gorilla knew that the little shiny metal things in it were for the gun.
Thus equipped, O’Neil prowled up and down the clearing until the sun was high. The sun gleamed on something amongst the bushes at the other end of the open space, and the gorilla remembered what it was.
The miner had set up a tin as a target for practice. He had encouraged O’Neil to shoot at that tin from a distance.
Clumsily, for his fingers were too big for a gun that size, O’Neil drew the revolver from the holster, and aimed at the tin on the bush.
His forefinger fumbled some seconds for the trigger. Only the merest tip of his finger could go under the trigger guard, but that was enough to enable him to pull the trigger.
The bullet went wide. The gorilla could fire a revolver, and had been trained not to jump at the noise, but the beast was no crack shot.
O’Neil’s eyes gleamed. His lower lips pouted with determination, and he fired again and again.
At the fourth shot there was a clatter, and the tin jumped in the air. He had scored a hit at last.
Then the gorilla hooted with joy, bouncing up and down on its hind legs as though it had gone mad. Always when it had scored a hit there had been a special dainty given it by its master. Instinctively it turned, expecting the tit bit, only to be faced with the bloodstained figure on the bunk.
The joy died from O’Neil’s eyes. The growl in his throat sounded more fearsome than ever.
He squatted on the doorstep, fumbled with the bandolier, and drew out cartridges. He knew how to open the gun and empty out the old cases. Now he proceeded to reload.
It was a long process for O’Neil. Sometimes he tried to push the wrong end of the bullets into the chambers, but at last he had the gun fully loaded and he restored it to the holster.
A strange grimness seemed to possess him. Tucked in his belt was the soiled handkerchief that he had picked up from the floor of the cabin. His nostrils dilated as he sniffed at it, then he turned suddenly towards the west, and hurried up the trail which the four killers had taken.
The Six-Gun Gorilla had started on its journey of vengeance. A new terror was loose!
III. — STRAWHAN’S TERRIBLE TRACKER
The Strawhan gang had been mounted on horses. They had ridden away at full speed from Bart Masters’ shack, the gold stowed in their saddlebags, and they had made top speed over the ranges.
O’Neil had to rely on his own efforts to get him along, but he travelled much faster than a man could have done on foot. Here and there he took shortcuts up the mountainside.
To see him coming up the trail, balancing himself ponderously on his hind legs, the gun swinging on his hip, the bandolier tight around his chest and shoulder, would have been a terrifying shock to anyone. But there was no one to see. Few men travelled in those parts. The district had a bad name, for it was not very far from Muddy Creek where there was a saloon and a handful of shacks.
At Muddy Creek the bad men of the district met to swap stories, play poker, and discuss their forthcoming jobs. Decent citizens gave the place a wide berth.
The Strawhan gang had gone there, and they had a long start on the gorilla, but that did not worry O’Neil.
Over the range and down the other side scrambled the Six-Gun Gorilla.
At the foot of the further slope there was a river, swift and dangerous. In one place boulders had been rolled in to form a ford, but O’Neil did not understand fords. He hated getting his feet wet.
On both sides of the river grew trees with outstretched branches, and the gorilla reached into one of these. Almost without effort, it hauled itself on to a high, springy branch, and climbed out over the water’s edge.
Its tremendous weight, over six hundred pounds, made the branch bend. O’Neil did not mind. Gripping with his feet as well as with his hands, he teetered up and down until he was whipping through the air like something on the end of a spring.
Timing it perfectly, he released his hold at the right moment, and hurled himself across the river. The springiness of the branch gave added length to his leap. His outstretched hands caught a branch on the other side, and although the branch broke under his suddenly applied weight, he had accomplished what he wished to do. He had crossed the river.
On he went, and presently, on the right, he saw a lone log building. It was a settler’s cabin, and smoke was curling from it. O’Neil headed that way to investigate.
The sound of wood being chopped guided him round the corner of a shed. A man who had his back towards O’Neil was splitting logs with a heavy axe. O’Neil remembered that he knew how to do that. His master had shown him how to perform this useful service, but had given it up when he had discovered that the gorilla could just as well split the logs apart with his fingers.
“Ugh!” grunted the interested gorilla, and the man at the logs turned suddenly.
Just for a moment he found himself staring at the hideous face of O’Neil. The gorilla’s eyes were on him: its lips were apart. The settler had never seen anything more horrible.
He had just time to take in the details of the belt, and the gun, in its holster. Sheer stupefaction held him rigid.
Then the apparition waddled towards him. O’Neil could smell this was not one of the men whom he sought. He wanted to make friends, to shake this man’s hand as Bart Masters had taught him to do.
But this was too much for the lone settler. He paused just long enough to hurl the axe at the gorilla, then turned and fled for his shack, where he barricaded himself in and grabbed his gun.
Luckily for the Six-Gun Gorilla, the axe missed him, but a few moments later a shotgun banged from the window of the shack. Some buckshot stung him.
It did not hurt more than a horsefly would have done, but it angered and annoyed O’Neil.
He forgot all about the gun at his hip. He grabbed the first thing which came handy. It was half a tree, which the settler had been intending to saw up. It weighed several hundredweights, but thrown by O’Neil’s powerful arms it flew through the air with such force that it crashed straight through the roof, into the cabin!
The settler fired no more. Grumbling to himself, the Six-Gun Gorilla returned to the trail. He could not understand the behavior of these creatures who resembled his master in appearance.
Now he was getting nearer to Muddy Creek. A clatter of hoofs made him draw to one side. A mounted man came galloping round the bend. He was a dark, fierce looking ruffian, and was heading in the same direction as O’Neil.
At the sight of the gorilla, standing upright beside the trail, the horse suddenly reared, and bolted. The man was thrown into some bushes, and when he scrambled out, the horse was out of sight.
O’Neil was staring in bewilderment. He could not understand what all the fuss was about. The enraged man snarled under his breath.
“Durn you,” he growled. “Where did you come from? There’s no such things as gorillas in America.”
With that he snatched out his gun, and started to open fire, believing that the gorilla would bolt. There was a surprise in store for him. The gorilla thought that this was a challenge to a shooting match. He lugged out his six shooter, pointed it in the general direction of the man, and pulled the trigger three times.
The man dropped his gun in surprise, felt a bullet whistle close to his ear, and fled.
Shaking his hideous head dolefully at the strange behavior of men, the Six-Gun Gorilla ambled on his way, dropping from time to time on all fours and sniffing the ground.
His scent was remarkably keen. He knew that the men he sought had passed this way.
His head still ached a little from the bullet groove on his skull, but it was not enough to make him slacken his speed. It was only dusk, and the sun had no more than dipped behind the mountains, when O’Neil came in sight of Muddy Creek.
He stopped on the hillside, balancing himself with one hand high in a tree. Monstrous he seemed in the fading light, and the gun swinging at his hip seemed more fanciful than ever.
The breeze was coming his way, and his nostrils twitched as he made out the various smells. Tobacco and cooking! O’Neil remembered that he was hungry, but there was something else he had to do before he satisfied his appetite. Among those varied smells he could scent the men he sought.
Snarling, grimacing, he went down the hill on all fours. No one saw him coming. Some horses were tethered outside the door of the saloon, but there were no men in sight. It was the hour when they began to collect at the saloon for the serious business of drinking and card playing.
O’Neil checked himself as he neared the saloon. He rose on his hind legs and stalked forward with something resembling dignity.
The gun still swung against his leg, and to check the bumping he put one hand on it.
The sound of voices made him twitch his ears. There were quite a number of men in the building already. He made for the door, but it was closed. He changed his mind, and headed for the nearest window.
It was high from the ground, but not too high for O’Neil. Rearing himself to his full height, resting one hand on the edge of the wooden tiled roof above, he pressed his face to the dirty glass panes which obstructed his view.
The window was very dirty. Grime and smoke had crusted it thickly. Everything O’Neil saw in there was misty and distorted. He blinked his eyes as though blaming them for this.
There were some men lined up at the counter with glasses in their hands. Others were sitting at one or two of the tables, playing cards. Money was clinking. Voices were raised in argument.
At one end of the counter a man with a drooping red moustache was pouring some gold dust from a narrow sack into a piece of paper which the saloonkeeper was holding for him.
It was Tutt Strawhan, and he was paying for some stores which he had just purchased. Beside him was Pete Stark, with a filled sack of goods. The other two members of the gang were waiting outside the settlement with the horses and the rest of the gold. The scoundrels had decided to push on even further before stopping any considerable time. Only because they had had to buy stores had they come to Muddy Creek.
The Six-Gun Gorilla sniffed. He was trying to scent which of these men were the ones he wanted, but the closed window prevented this. Then, all at once, he sighted Strawhan.
The shaft of moonlight in the cabin at the Dragonfly Mine had revealed this man’s face to the gorilla just before it had been stricken down by the bullets. At sight of that face with the drooping red moustache the great beast stiffened.
Its mouth opened as if it were about to roar, but no sound came. Its hand was still clutching the butt of the gun in its holster to steady the weapon. Almost without knowing what he did, O’Neil had drawn the six shooter.
Great staring eyes were pressed close to the window. Parted lips revealed wicked fangs. If the opening had been bigger the gorilla would have leapt through and settled the matter with its bare hands, but the window was too small.
O’Neil raised the gun, pointed it through the window towards the further end of the counter, and clutched the trigger so fiercely that the gun jerked upwards as he fired.
The shot, the shattering of the window, and the breaking of a bottle behind the bar, all happened quickly. Twenty men whirled as one to see what was happening. Many of them dropped their hands to their guns.
But no gun was drawn. What those men in the saloon at Muddy Creek saw was sufficient to paralyze their arms. They just stared spellbound.
With the smoking gun still in his immense paw, O’Neil had stuck his head through the broken window to glare at the result of his shot. Nothing more horrible than his face could have been imagined.
It was Tutt Strawhan who found his voice first. It rose in a shriek—
“It can’t be true! It can’t be true! It’s Bart Masters’ gorilla. See the chain still hanging from its neck. But it can’t be the same gorilla—for it’s dead!”
IV. — THE STAMPEDE OF TERROR
Tutt Strawhan’s cry was drowned in the uproar that followed. A dozen chairs and tables went over as the occupants of the saloon stampeded back from the side of the building nearest the window.
The strange thing was that nobody drew a gun. They were too astonished and bewildered for that. Any ordinary gunman would have been riddled before this, but this monster, nightmare face had surprised them so much that they were too dazed even to go for their guns.
One of the lamps hanging from the middle of the room fell shattered to the floor. The Six-Gun Gorilla had fired again, just as wildly. He had only one shot left in his gun, but the men in the saloon were not to know that. The stampede away from the window became a rout. The terrified men fled for the door which led to the open.
Their position near the counter made Tutt Strawhan and his companion amongst the last to pass across the floor on their way to the only exit. O’Neil saw them passing within a dozen feet of him, and seemed to go mad.
He jerked his head outside again, thrust the gun back into its holster, and gripped the window sill with both hands.
The saloon was solidly built, as far as western buildings went, but it was not solid enough to stand the terrific strain put upon it by the maddened gorilla. The window sill came away in the creature’s hands, and some of the logs beneath it followed.
With much splintering of woodwork the monster got into the saloon through this improvised door. Tutt Strawhan had just reached the door. The Six-Gun Gorilla leapt down the room after him, and in the doorway the gunman turned to fire at his pursuer.
Such was his nervousness that he missed even at that easy range.
The gorilla came on relentlessly. Even the flash of the revolver did not daunt it. Its terrible eyes were fixed on the face of the man who had killed its master. Tutt Strawhan gave a strangled gasp, wheeled about, and ran for the nearest horse.
Pete Stark was already away down the train on the first horse he had been able to grab. Some of the other men who had been in the saloon were following his example.
Tutt Strawhan would never have got astride his horse if the door of the saloon had not been too narrow for O’Neil’s shoulders. That pulled the gorilla up for a moment.
A mighty shrug, a heave, and the doorposts fell outwards, allowing O’Neil to bound down the steps to where Strawhan had just mounted.
“Get going!” hissed the frightened man, beating the horse with his clenched fist.
O’Neil missed the gangster only by inches. A deafening roar escaped the gorilla as the horse went away after the rest of the panic stricken riders. For a moment the monster danced with rage.
Suddenly it calmed. Bart Masters’ training was coming to the fore. Again it drew the six shooter, straightened up to its full height, and fired after the fleeing figures.
The gorilla pulled the trigger five or six times, but only that the one shot rang out. There were no more cartridges in the chambers. The gorilla had forgotten to reload.
Puzzled, growling softly to itself, it turned the revolver the other way and looked down the barrel, as though expecting to see some explanation of its failure. The Six-Gun Gorilla was not yet used to firearms. Only time would teach him that he could only fire as many shots as he loaded.
By the time O’Neil had solved this problem, and groped for fresh cartridges in the bandolier, Tutt Strawhan and Pete Stark had reached their waiting comrades in the nearby woods, and were gasping out their amazing story of the gorilla with the gun.
As for the storekeeper, and the rest of the inhabitants of Muddy Creek, they were still riding for their lives, or hiding in the trees outside the settlement. Terror had come to this meeting place of gunmen. They had known killers and gunmen of all kinds during the brief history of the place, but never one like Bart Masters’ gorilla.
O’Neil seated himself on the step of the store to reload his precious gun. First of all he blew mightily down the barrel, clearing out much of the soot and caked powder. Proper cleaning was beyond his capabilities.
The gun reloaded, and back in the holster, O’Neil went two or three paces down the trail towards the woods before the gnawing pangs of hunger reminded him that he had eaten nothing since the night before.
Back into the store he went. There he had smelt food, and cooking. Sniffing about amongst the fallen chairs and tables, he found a few scraps of food which had fallen to the floor, but that was not a meal for a six hundred pound gorilla.
He climbed over the counter, and found a sack of potatoes. These were very welcome. Sitting on the edge of the counter, the Six-Gun Gorilla munched away contentedly, eating raw potatoes as a boy might eat apples. There had been forty pounds of potatoes in the sack when O’Neil had started. When he had finished there was not a single one.
But that satisfied his longing for potatoes. He craved for something sweet. He searched amongst the shelves and boxes at the back of the store, pulling down fittings, turning out sacks and boxes in search of sugar.
He did not find any. It was in a bin which protected it from ants, and O’Neil did not notice this bin.
In his rage he grabbed a tin from the shelf and dashed it to the floor with so much force that it burst open. Juice ran out, and the odor of pineapples drifted to the gorilla’s distended nostrils. The tin had contained pineapple chunks.
With his powerful fingers the great beast pried the broken tin apart and ate the contents. That only whetted his appetite for more. He searched for more tins of that kind. There were plenty of them. The storekeeper had brought in a case only a few days previously. Canned pineapples had only recently become known in the West, and, in a district where luxuries were few and far between, they were well liked.
O’Neil certainly liked them. He picked up tin after tin, crushed them between his mighty hands, and flattened the sides inwards, squeezing out the sweet cubes of fruit, which he immediately ate.
Juice poured down his shaggy chest and on to the floor. In all, O’Neil must have eaten about twenty tins of pineapples, but when by accident he burst open tins containing corned beef, he threw these away. O’Neil was not meat eater.
It was almost dark when at last he was satisfied and shambled back into the open. His appetite no longer worried him, but he had not forgotten why he had come there.
He was after the killers of his beloved master. They had escaped him again, but he was not going to give up. He would follow them, to the other side of America if need be, but sooner or later he would come up with them.
Striding clumsily on his hind legs, the gun swinging, the broken chain dangling, he took the trail which Tutt Strawhan had taken, snuffling the air as though expecting to pick up the scent of his enemies.
Once he heard a creak amongst the branches of a tree, and turned with a growl. A white face peered at him from above. The storekeeper had taken refuse there.
It was too dark to see clearly, and as the man was above the beast, the gorilla did not get his scent. But O’Neil knew that someone was up there. One bound carried him to the foot of the tree, and the storekeeper above shrieked when he saw that he had been discovered.
The storekeeper was clinging to a branch about ten feet from the ground. That did not save him from the gorilla. O’Neil rose to his full height and gave a slight jump. With one hand he clutched the branch, and his weight caused it to snap.
There was a terrible scream from the storekeeper when he felt himself falling, and an even greater scream when he found himself caught in the gorilla’s arms.
“Don’t! Don’t! Mercy!” gasped the terrified man.
O’Neil had him upside down by one leg. He held him at arm’s length and sniffed him, comparing the scent of this wriggling, struggling creature with that of the men who had killed his master.
The scent was not one of those he sought. With a deep grunt of disappointment, O’Neil hurled the man from him. The storekeeper landed in some bushes a dozen yards away and lay there sobbing, scarcely able to believe that he was still alive.
Then the Six-Gun Gorilla resumed his trek up the trail. Darkness had closed in on all sides, but that did not check him. Around him the small beasts and birds of the forest were going to sleep, but for O’Neil there was going to be no sleep that night. He was driven forward by that burning longing for vengeance.
The dangling chain clanked on his shoulder. The heavy gun bumped against his shaggy side.
O’Neil heeded neither of these things. His fierce eyes were staring straight ahead. His massive chest heaved faster than usual before he reached the top of the hill, and then he stopped, bending forward, with the knuckles of his hands resting on the ground to steady himself.
Long and earnestly he stared into the darkness.
About a mile ahead he could see a flicker of light. It was a campfire. Campfires meant mean, and men might mean the men he sought.
With a low snarl of satisfaction the Six-Gun Gorilla broke into a run. Once again he steadied the revolver with his huge hairy hand.
When the dreaded Strawhan Gang had robbed and murdered Bart Masters, they had never guessed that such a terrible pursuer would follow unceasingly on their trail!
V. — O’NEIL TO THE RESCUE!
It was night time and on the mountain trail out of Muddy Creek there was only one traveler—a nightmarish figure well over six feet tall.
The lone traveler was a gorilla, massive in bulk, with shaggy red-brown hair, a fierce, hideous face, and ungainly limbs. But the fact which would have made any man stare in wonder was that it had a gunbelt round its waist, and a bandolier around one shoulder.
In the holster of the gunbelt was stuck a large, old fashioned six shooter. The bandolier was filled with cartridges that fitted this gun.
The gorilla was steadying the gun as it hurried along, for it did not like it flapping against its thigh.
Its fierce, relentless eyes were fixed on a light ahead, the light of a campfire. A camp meant men, and this particular gorilla was after certain men.
The strange feud had begun back at the Dragonfly Mine, a small gold mine in the Boulder Hills in Colorado. This mine had belonged to one lone miner, Bart Masters, who had worked it for seven years singlehanded except for the aid of this gorilla, which he had purchased when young from a sailor named O’Neil.
O’Neil was the name Masters had given the gorilla, and O’Neil had become his constant companion. The old miner had taught the great beast to be useful. It could dig, haul up buckets of earth from the mineshaft, or even bring in firewood.
All these things Masters had taught it, and what was more it had learned to use a revolver with a fair amount of accuracy. It had always made old Bart Masters chuckle when he had rigged out O’Neil with gunbelt and bandolier. The gorilla had enjoyed it as much as the miner.
Then had come tragedy. One day Masters had decided to quit his mine. He had about ten thousand pounds’ worth of gold, which he had considered sufficient to keep himself and O’Neil comfortable for the rest of their lives. He had decided to abandon the mine and go back to civilization.
But that night a gang of gunmen known as the Strawhan Gang, had come to the lonely mine, had shot Bart Masters dead, wounded the gorilla which had been chained for the night, and had made off with all the gold.
O’Neil had recovered, and had nearly gone made when he had discovered his beloved master to be dead. He had buckled on the gunbelt, had taken up the filled bandolier, and had set out to trail the murderers, whom he would know again by sight and scent.
The trail had led to a saloon in Muddy Creek, where the four ruffians had been purchasing stores. O’Neil had appeared in the saloon, had created a mad panic, and the four killers had fled.
Now the gorilla was hoping to pick up the trail again. It was hoping to find the men it sought in that camp in the distance.
O’Neil did not always stick to the trail. Sometimes he turned aside and took shortcuts up the mountainside. Finally he arrived on the edge of a cliff overlooking the hollow where the fire blazed.
Even from where he crouched he could hear the sound of voices. He drew the six shooter from its holster.
He had been taught that if he pointed the weapon at something and pulled the trigger there would be a flash, and the bullet would strike near the object he aimed at.
Now he was tempted to open fire on the camp below, but dimly he remembered that his master had taught him to get fairly near to whatever he was shooting at before pulling the trigger. He was not close enough yet. He must climb down the cliff.
Returning the gun to its holster, he huge gorilla swung itself over the edge, and began to descend.
There were not footholds that a man could have used. But the Six-Gun Gorilla had a great advantage over ordinary gunmen. He could go almost anywhere, and his strength was colossal.
Never once did he take his eyes from the fire where some men sat smoking and talking. None of the men heard him drop softly to the ground and go swiftly forward, the knuckles of his huge hands touching the ground to steady himself, his long fangs showing between his thick, parted lips. The men beside the fire were unaware of the terror that was approaching.
O’Neil stopped behind a bush, and peered at them. His face wrinkled in disappointment. These men did not look like the ones he sought, neither did they smell like them. The scent of the killers was fixed unmistakably in his memory. Now he sniffed the air and shook his head.
He had made a mistake. These were harmless prospectors. There were three of them, and their equipment was piled nearby. In the background were the stocky ponies on which they were transporting their kit.
The ponies must have scented the gorilla, for they began to tremble and fidget. One of the prospectors got up to quiet them and growled:
“Reckon there must be a cougar around these parts. I’ll put a bullet in its pesky head if I get a sight of it.”
The Six-Gun Gorilla kept perfectly still. O’Neil had no quarrel with ordinary men, unless they got in his way. He prepared to back away.
Then came a sudden interruption. From the other side of the clearing there came a challenge.
“Stick ’em up! If any man moves, he’ll get riddled with lead.”
Two guns poked through the bushes. The dazed prospectors found themselves covered. They were taken completely by surprise, for they had believed that they had the district to themselves.
Two more guns showed on the other side of the hollow. The prospectors had no chance against their four attackers. Very wisely they remained as they were.
Four men advanced out from the darkness, leading horses which were limping with fatigue and wet with foam.
The hidden gorilla’s small eyes gleamed red with rage. It reached for its gun. These were the four men it sought! Tutt Strawhan, with his heavy red moustache, led the way, and slightly behind him came Pete Stark, Jim Lane and El Valdo, the half-breed who was such an expert knife thrower.
“What do you want?” growled one of the prospectors.
“Just to do a little swap over,” replied Strawhan, with a sneer. “Our horses are all tuckered up. They’re not much good in these parts. We want to swap them for your ponies. I see you have five there. We’ve a load to carry, an’ those will do the job nicely.”
“You can’t do that?” protested one of the prospectors. “We—”
Tutt Strawhan’s gun came round quickly, and covered the speaker.
“And who says so?” he asked. “Got any complaints to make about it?”
There was murder in his cruel eyes. The prospector licked his dry lips, and shook his head.
“N-no!” he gasped.
“I thought not,” rasped Strawhan. “These horses of ours will be as good as new when they’ve rested a while. We’ve been ridin’ ’em hard all day. . . . Hi, boys, get the stuff changed over!”
The Six-Gun Gorilla had now crawled closer. Sitting back on his haunches, he leveled the revolver, and pulled the trigger.
Crack! The bullet knocked the gun out of Strawhan’s fist.
It was a remarkable shot, but it was a mere fluke. The gorilla had aimed at the man’s head!
The effect, however, was startling. Tutt Strawhan gave a yell of fear, turned, shouted to his men to get mounted, and fairly flung himself across the nearest horse.
He thought that the prospectors had been baiting a trap, and that they had some comrades hiding amongst the bushes. He thought that one of the hidden men must be a deadly shot!
“Beat it!” he snarled, and the four scoundrels fled down the valley on their same tired horses.
They disappeared so quickly that O’Neil was left snarling and staring in bewilderment. When he realized that they were escaping, he bounded in the same direction.
The prospectors were absolutely amazed by all that had happened and they got still another shock when their “rescuer” proved to be a giant, hairy gorilla with a gun in its fist!
O’Neil crashed through their camp without even glancing their way. Once as he stumbled forward he fired after the riders, but his bullet went wide.
The prospectors steadied themselves against trees, and with hands that trembled wiped the perspiration from their brows. Their ponies, at the sight of the monster gorilla, went mad. One of them snapped its tether-rope and raced ahead of O’Neil, along the same path that the fleeing gunmen had taken.
The gorilla was making terrific efforts to overtake the fugitives. In leaps and bounds it cleared all obstacles, but always the frantic pony kept slightly ahead.
O’Neil noticed this, and decided that he would travel more quickly if he were astride that pony. His chance came when the frightened beast tripped over the root of a tree, and stumbled to its knees.
With one mighty leap O’Neil cleared the space between himself and the pony, and came down astride the pony’s back, just as he had seen men do.
The pony squealed with terror. It stampeded at breakneck speed, and because the line of the valley was the only direction it could take, it still continued to follow the Strawhan gang.
The Six-Gun Gorilla had never been astride a pony in his life, but balance and grip came naturally to him. He clung on, gripping the pony’s neck with one hand, and growled deeply in his throat when the luckless beast seemed like slowing.
Slowly but surely the pony overtook the horses. Those horses in front had not only been ridden recklessly for the past hour, but they were doubly laden. As well as carrying the weight of their riders, they had a load of gold dust and nuggets in sacks. They were nearly at their last gasp.
Then the moon appeared through the clouds, and the four desperate killers heard the clatter of hoofs behind them. They glanced back, expecting to see a party of prospectors after them. Instead however, they saw the Six-Gun Gorilla!
Never had that vengeful animal been more terrible to look upon. Crouching over the pony’s neck, brandishing the gun in one hairy paw, the gorilla looked positively fiendish.
Cries of horror escaped the gunmen. The man in the rear, Jim Lane, turned and blazed away with his revolver. But O’Neil took no notice.
Ahead was a river which had to be crossed, and O’Neil was hoping to come up with the killers of his master before they could reach the other side.
The gap between himself and Jim Lane narrowed. The man’s horse had gone lame. He was goading it savagely, but it could go no faster. The rider shrieked to the rest of the gang to wait for him, but they took no heed.
With that terrible pursuer on their train, it was a case of every man for himself—and the gorilla take the hindmost!