- 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
XI (11) — THE CORDON IS BROKEN
A manhunt was going on at dead of night in the mining camp of Cripple Creek.
The search was being made from shack to shack, from cabin to cabin. Not a building was being missed.
It was no sheriff’s posse which was carrying out the search, but a lone figure which had crept into the town at dead of night, with a six-gun swinging from a belt at his waist.
The raider was a gorilla, a massive brute, covered with red-brown hair. Around its waist was a gunbelt. Over one shoulder was a bandolier, heavy with cartridges.
Stalking from one shack to the next, it sniffed outside before forcing open either door or window. Usually the occupants were asleep, and did not stir, but sometimes they seemed to waken. In this case the fist of the Six-Gun Gorilla, or the butt of the revolver crashed down upon the unfortunate man’s head and he took no further interest in the proceedings.
The gorilla did not strike to kill. It had nothing against honest miners, ranchers, or storekeepers. It was seeking three certain men, whom it believed to be in Cripple Creek. No officer of the law could have searched more thoroughly.
The strange feud had begun at the Dragonfly Mine, a small gold mine in the Boulder Hills of Colorado. This had belonged to Bart Masters, a lone miner who had worked it for seven years, aided only by the gorilla, which Masters had purchased when young from a sailor named O’Neil.
O’Neil was the name the miner had given it, and O’Neil became his constant companion.
Masters had taught the great beast to be useful in many ways. It could dig, haul up buckets of earth from the mineshaft, or bring in firewood.
He had even taught it to use a revolver with a fair amount of accuracy. It had amused him to see O’Neil rigged up with the gunbelt and bandolier. The gorilla had enjoyed it as much as the man.
Then one night Masters had decided to quit. He had about ten thousand pounds’ worth of gold. He had decided to abandon the mine and go back to civilization.
Before he could leave, however, a bunch of gunmen known as the Strawhan Gang had come to the lonely mine, had killed Bart Masters, wounded the chained gorilla, and made their getaway with all the gold.
O’Neil had recovered, and had nearly gone mad when he had discovered that his master was dead. He had seen the killers when they had first entered the shack, and, after buckling on the bandolier and gunbelt, had picked up the scent of the murderers and set out on their trail.
The trail had led him a considerable distance. He had hounded the gang so closely that they had finally been forced to leave the gold behind them. He had already killed Jim Lane, one of the four members of the gang, and now he knew that the others were somewhere in this mining camp. He meant to find them.
As he approached the back of a store, a dog rushed out from the darkness, growling at him.
The Six-Gun Gorilla was on his hind legs at the time, walking like a man. The dog had probably mistaken him for a man prowling around the store, but directly the animal came round the corner of the shack and saw this monstrous shape rearing up before it, it turned and fled into the darkness, howling.
“What’s the matter, Bob?” came a harsh voice from the store. “Be quiet an’ lie down.”
The gorilla moved on without visiting the store. It knew that the voice was not that of any of the men it sought.
Systematically O’Neil worked his way to the eastern side of the camp. Suddenly he sniffed. He could smell man. Someone was quite close to him. Someone was out in the open.
Down on all fours, with the heavy six shooter swinging against his hairy side, O’Neil crept nearer the source of the smell. His broad nostrils were twitching. He fancied he could smell the men he wanted.
Inch by inch his hairy head came round the corner of a fence, and he saw a man crouching against a tree, a rifle across his knees. The man was a sentry of some kind.
O’Neil sniffed again. He was almost certain he could scent his three enemies.
He circled round, intending to come up on the other side of the building. To his disgust he found that there was another man there placed in a similar position, with a six shooter ready in his hand. A third was to the right, and a fourth to the left. They were all watching for something.
During the next five minutes O’Neil discovered that a cordon of no less than eight men surrounded this one building. His power of scent enabled him to locate them. They were grim, business-like men, and they seemed determined to prevent anyone approaching the building.
The Six-Gun Gorilla knew enough about firearms to realize that he would be asking for trouble if he attempted to rush through the cordon, yet he was determined to get through. He was now certain that the men he was after were in the barred building.
Actually this building was the local lockup and sheriff’s office. Tutt Strawhan, Pete Stark and El Valdo were comfortably sleeping in a cell inside.
When the three killers had arrived in Cripple Creek they had been weary of being chased, and their nerves were on edge. Strawhan had recognized the sheriff as one who had been hunting him for a long time, and had allowed himself to be arrested along with his friends.
He had boasted to the sheriff that he had friends who would get him out of jail before the night was through. That was why armed men were keeping a watch over the lockup.
The three killers knew that O’Neil was on their track, and they hoped that he would run into the cordon and be killed, whilst they slept in guarded comfort.
Already the guards were beginning to wonder whether they were wasting their time. They had seen no sign of trouble in the offing.
They saw nothing of the fierce pair of eyes which watched them from the darkness. O’Neil watched one of the sentries leave the foot of a tree, where he had been posted, and stroll over to whisper something to a man about twenty yards away.
Immediately the gorilla acted. It crept forward, took a single bound, and a moment later was up in the tree, well hidden by the branches.
The man who had been posted under the tree returned a few seconds later, and leaned against the tree drowsily. He had been over to ask if the sheriff meant to maintain the vigil all knight, and he had been so disgusted to hear that this was so.
Over the sentry’s head a long, hairy arm reached down through the branches. The luckless man was suddenly grabbed by the neck with such force that he was not only lifted clear off the ground, but his breath was cut off at the same time.
O’Neil squeezed. That was all he needed to do. He could have killed the man outright, but he had no intention of doing that.
When he felt the kicking body go limp, he came down from the tree and stretched his victim out comfortably on the ground. He had now made a gap in the cordon.
On all fours he crawled forward. There was a bit of a garden at the back of the lockup and here there was ample cover for the six hundred pound gorilla. It succeeded in reaching the wall of the building unchallenged.
Here O’Neil reared up on his hind legs, and his hair bristled with rage. He could smell the killers of his master quite distinctly now.
His fierce eyes narrowed; his black lips parted to show hideous yellow teeth, and his hand went to his gun.
Slowly he circled the building, trying to find a way in. Suddenly he arrived outside a small, barred window, and from this window came not only the sound of gentle breathing but the scent of his enemies.
He had found them at last! His mouth opened in a soundless snarl. He gripped one of the bars with a hairy hand and was about to pull when something checked him. Instead, he put his hideous face close to the window and peered inside.
At first he could see nothing, but as his eyes got accustomed to the darkness he made out three figures muffled in blankets on three bunks ranged one above the other. The men he sought were sound asleep.
O’Neil raised his revolver and pushed it between the bars, but hesitated to shoot. This thing which his master had taught him to use made a big noise. He wanted no noise.
So he replaced the gun in its holster, and fingered the bars. There were two of them. He exerted his strength gently, increasing the strain when the bars refused to move.
With very little noise they came out of their sockets, of them bent almost double. The strength of those hairy fingers was almost unbelievable.
The window was just large enough for the gorilla to put its head through, but was not large enough for its shoulders to follow.
O’Neil got his head inside, and tried to squeeze through, but it was impossible.
Again his lips parted soundlessly, and just then Tutt Strawhan stirred uneasily in his sleep. He had been dreaming that he was being pursued by the gorilla on horseback. The dream had been so vivid that he opened his eyes, stared at the bare wall, and sighed with relief.
It was good to think he was safe at last. He turned over on his back—and nearly froze with horror.
Gazing down at him from a distance of no more than six feet, was the gorilla. On its face there was an expression of the most fiendish hate. For a moment their eyes met, and then Tutt Strawhan screwed himself up in the corner of his bunk, with his blanket dragged about him, and screamed like a frightened girl.
“Help! Help! Keep it out! Keep it out of here!”
His two companions awoke and leapt to their feet. They could not make out what had come over their leader until they followed the direction of his eyes, and saw the terrible face looking through the barless window.
The gorilla was silent no longer. It had seized the edges of the window with both hands and was dragging out blocks of stones.
“It’s breaking in! It’s going to pull down the wall!” screeched Pete Stark. “Shoot it! Keep it out!”
XII (12) — THE ESCAPE FROM CRIPPLE CREEK
The uproar was not only heard by the cordon of men outside, but by the deputy sheriff, who was sleeping in an adjoining room in the lockup. Gun in hand, he rushed to the door of the cell, and peered through the grille.
From there he could not see the window on the other side, but he could see the three terrified men crouching against the wall, and staring in obvious horror at something in the far corner of the cell.
There was a crashing sound, as though bricks and stonework were tumbling down.
The Six-Gun Gorilla was tearing his way through the wall in order to enter the cell.
The three ruffians heard the deputy at the door, and rushed towards him, hammering on the door with their fists.
“Let us out!” shrieked Strawhan. “For the love of pity, let us out of here. It’ll tear us to pieces.”
The deputy unlocked the door and jerked it open. His gun drove them back.
“What the heck’s the matter?” he demanded. “What’s the fuss about, and—sufferin’ mackerel!”
He had just glimpsed the monstrous head and shoulders of the gorilla at the hold which had once been a window. Even yet the opening was not big enough for the mighty shoulders of the vengeful beast to pass.
The deputy staggered back, and jerked up his gun.
So unnerved was he by the terrible sight that he missed the centre of the head, at which he had aimed, and only clipped one of O’Neil’s ears.
The pain stung the Six-Gun Gorilla to fury. The blinding flash and the report had told him that a gun had been used. Instinct made him draw his own gun, and point it through the gap in the wall.
The deputy sheriff staggered back, shot in the shoulder. He could have transferred his weapon to the other hand and gone on shooting, but he was too amazed and horrified to think of doing that.
He had been shot by a gorilla, by a monster which stood on its hind legs like a human being! That was the only thing he could remember.
Tutt Strawhan and his two companions took advantage of the injury to the deputy to hurl him aside and bolt from the cell.
Meanwhile the men outside had been attracted by the gorilla’s shot. For the first time they saw this bulky figure reared up against the wall of the lockup. Two of them raised their revolvers and aimed for the gorilla’s broad back.
Both bullets hit, but neither of them dropped the giant gorilla. It took more than .32 bullets to injure O’Neil. The slight pain only stung him to madness.
He was firing back at the guards as quickly as his hairy finger could work the trigger. Bullets hummed about their ears or hit the ground near their feet.
The noise of the gun battle brought forty or fifty men tumbling from their beds.
But as these would-be helpers neared the lockup they heard frightful roars—roars such as they had never heard before in America. Mingled with these came cries from the men who had been set to watch the lockup.
“It’s a man—no, it isn’t. It’s a demon of some kind—”
More shots were followed by the crashing of falling masonry. Realizing that he must take cover somewhere, O’Neil had taken hold of the edge of the gap in the wall with both hands, and had pulled down dozens of bricks at once.
He dived through the hole he had made into the cell, grimacing fiercely when he found that his enemies had gone. The deputy had gone after them down the inner corridor, and the Six-Gun Gorilla saw no reason why he should not do the same. He made one dive forward, then discovered his mistake.
Bart Masters had found it necessary to widen the door to his shack to admit O’Neil. This passageway between the lockup and the sheriff’s office was only wide enough for a big man. O’Neil’s chest was over sixty inches broad, and the great beast promptly found itself imprisoned between the two walls.
Being held back like this infuriated it. Uttering terrible roars of rage it began to tear at the walls.
The frightened and astonished men outside the lockup saw the walls bulge. Some of them backed away. Others waited with their revolvers at the ready, and then came a shout from the rear.
“The prisoners are getting away!”
It was the wounded deputy, who had just seen the three desperate men at the stable door at the back of the lockup.
His shout brought most of the would-be helpers round. There was a general rush in his direction, and just then O’Neil burst through the lockup walls.
He arrived outside in an avalanche of falling masonry.
A bullet came flying out of the darkness and tore a piece of hair from his shoulder. He promptly lugged out his gun and tried to fire back. The trigger clicked, but that was all. The gun was empty.
Then the Six-Gun Gorilla remembered his quest. All these men who were shouting and shooting did not interest him in the slightest. He wanted the three whom he had seen in the cell.
A clatter of hoofs, and more shots from the left, took him in that direction. He was in time to see a dozen men, headed by the sheriff, riding down the trail shooting at three departing horsemen.
Strawhan and his two killer friends had got away again. The gorilla beat its chest with rage, and this made it a target for a hail of bullets from the men who became aware of its presence.
Things were becoming too hot for O’Neil. He made one tremendous leap into the darkness and was lost to sight.
Mad with fury, he ran on and on in the direction of the escaping men until he was out of breath. Then he sprawled at the side of the trail, and licked his wounds, muttering and growling to himself.
Time passed, and he cooled down. None of his wounds were serious. He had lots very little blood.
The moon came up, and any passersby might have seen the amazing sight of a hulking gorilla squatting on a bank, trying to load a revolver. O’Neil’s fingers were very clumsy when it came to doing this, but Bart Masters had taken great pains over his teaching. The gorilla could reload if given time.
O’Neil had plenty of time now, and when he had finished reloading he thrust the gun back into the holster, and tottered to his feet.
His lips curled when he heard shouts and the clatter of hoofs away to the right. He guessed that other men were seeking the Strawhan Gang. They were looking for the killers in the wrong direction. Even though it was too dark to see tracks on the ground, O’Neil could snuffle the ground and tell which way his foes had gone.
Shuffling along, sometimes on all fours, sometimes on its hind legs, the amazing creature set to work to follow up the trail once again.
No matter where the ruffians went, O’Neil was going to follow them as long as there was life in his body.
At the first stream he reached he knelt down and drank deeply, then he splashed water over his wounds to cleanse them. After a roll in the grass, he was ready to go on although he was rather hungry. Food for a gorilla was not easy to come upon in Colorado, though Masters had accustomed his pet to things which no African gorilla would ever eat.
XIII (13) — TUTT STRAWHAN’S BOAST
The three escaped gunmen were now in a desperate plight. They had neither guns nor money, supplies nor equipment. The horses on which they rode were stolen, and they knew that the sheriff of Cripple Creek would raise a posse to follow them.
Yet the three killers were much more afraid of O’Neil. Memory of that hideous face peering into their cell, and of the narrow escape they had recently had, caused them to shiver with terror and goad their mounts on furiously. They rode until their horses nearly dropped, and until far in the distance they heard what sounded like the shrill whistle of a locomotive.
The railway had not yet crossed the whole of America. The railhead was still some distance from Colorado’s western boundary, and coaches were still used to link up the newly developing districts.
The Strawhan Gang had always operated well away from the railways. They favored the wilder, more remote spots, where the law of the gun was the only one known.
But for the first time the shrill noise of that distant whistle sounded attractive to Tutt Strawhan.
“While we leave a scent, that durn beast can follow us!” he rasped. “We’ve either got to take to water, or get on one o’ them railroads. Not even a gorilla could pick up the scent of anyone riding in one o’ them things.”
Pete Stark nodded, then looked doubtful.
“But we’ve got no cash an’ no guns!” he objected.
“We’ll soon have both,” promised Strawhan.
Before dawn one of the three horses had dropped dead, and the other two were on their last legs. The three villains found themselves approaching a lonely shack which was the home of a small rancher.
Out there on the wilderness the man had carved out a small farm which supported himself, his wife, and two children. When the three gunmen arrived in sight of it smoke was curling up out of the iron chimney. Someone had just lit the fire.
“Wait!” hissed Strawhan, and they crept forward on foot to take up their places close to the shack.
Before long the rancher came out with an axe. He was going to fell a tree down near the creek for firewood.
Enviously the three scoundrels eyed the revolver which dangled from the man’s belt. They followed him some distance from the shack.
Their chance came when he started to fell the tree. In order to be free in his movements he took off his gunbelt and hung it on a nearby bush.
Tutt Strawhan picked up a heavy stone, balanced it in his hand for a moment, then hurled it with all his might.
It caught the man on the back of the neck, and knocked him flat. The three ruffians leapt on him and knocked him unconscious. Then Strawhan grabbed the man’s gun.
It was loaded, but they wanted more than that. They needed other ammunition and more weapons if they were available.
Three minutes later the mother and the eldest boy were gruffly ordered, from the back door of the shack, to put their hands up. The frightened family were driven into a corner whilst the three killers searched the shack.
A shotgun and some ammunition both for this and the revolver were stolen. Then food was taken from the scanty store, and a visit made to the lean-to stable. Two horses were all the poor rancher possessed. The killers took them and Tutt Strawhan and Pete Stark climbed into the saddles, and El Valdo then mounted the best of the two horses they had got back at the lockup, and they rode away, careless of the fact that they were leaving this family at the mercy of any attacking Redskins who might come down from the hills.
In this way the gang reached the gleaming steel rails which had been placed so recently across the prairie. The killers looked right and left, marveling at the straightness of the track, but there was no train in sight. Trains were few and far between in those early days.
“We’ll ride east till one comes,” growled Strawhan, and the other two followed him.
In the little ranch house they had found no money, but that did not worry them. They had no intention of buying tickets for their journey. They did not intend making a long trip. They wanted to go only sufficiently far to shake the terrible manhunter off their track. They could imagine the Six-Gun Gorilla crossing the prairie even now, tireless and relentless.
They rode for two hours or more before Pete Stark heard the sound of a train in the distance. It was the daily eastbound mixed freighter.
The killers stopped and looked away into the distance, where a column of smoke marked its approach. Then El Valdo gave a screech and pointed to the right, away from the railway.
The other two stared in the direction of his pointing finger, and shuddered. A thick-set figure, sometimes upright, sometimes on all fours, was hurrying over the prairie. They did not need to look twice to see what it was. It was the Six-Gun Gorilla. The amazing beast had not rested at all. It was still a good distance off, but it was still on the track of the men it hated.
“It’s not natural!” almost sobbed Pete Stark. “Can’t we ever shake it off? It’s no more’n an hour behind us.”
“Within an hour we’ll be out of this, an’ we’ll leave no scent behind this time,” grunted Tutt Strawhan. “We’ve got to slow or stop that train. I know a way.”
He led his horse out on to the track and deliberately tethered it between the rains. As the track was straight no engine driver could avoid seeing the animal.
The other horses were then turned loose, whilst the three desperate men crouched in a nearby hollow.
There they waited, frequently raising their heads to see how close the train was, but as often as not looking the other way, to where that relentless pursuer was moving over the open prairie.
The train seemed to be going slower than Strawhan had expected. The three killers shuddered with horror when they thought of what would happen if O’Neil caught up with them before they had a chance to board the train.
The advancing train came chugging on, and smoke poured from the huge loco with the wide cowcatcher on the front.
Then came a whistle, shrill and penetrating. The driver had spotted the tethered horse.
Strawhan paid no attention to the whistle. The three killers were all tense and expectant. The train chugged on its way, and the whistle shrilled three times.
Then came the creaking and screeching of brakes. The train had stopped with the cowcatcher only a few yards from the helpless horse. Some men climbed down from the loco to untether the animal and turn it loose.
“Durn these cowhands!” one of the train crew was saying. “They seem to think we put these rails here as a hitchrack for them.”
The three ruffians who had stopped the train were crawling underneath the nearest truck. There were one or two passenger coaches at the rear of the train, but for the moment the killers were content to clamber up between two closed wagons, and to balance themselves on the little platform at one end.
There they were when the train restarted. They grinned when they saw the distant gorilla speed up. In some way O’Neil must have guessed that this steaming monster was helping his enemies.
The three ruffians saw him dwindle further and further into the background as the train gathered speed. They seated themselves with their legs dangling between the trucks, and chuckled at their own cleverness.
Any place forty or fifty miles to the east would suit them, and then they could find their way back in course of time to the districts where they were known and feared. There might even be a chance of trying to find out what had happened to the gold they had been forced to abandon.
They were laughing and joking amongst themselves when a member of the train crew came upon them. He was making a round of the trucks along the roofs, and had come over the edge of the truck in front of them before he realized that they were there.
His face betrayed honest indignation.
“Hey, you!” he roared. “What’s the big idea? What are you doin’ back here? This ain’t a free transport, an’—”
“Come down here an’ be quick about it, unless you want daylight drilled into you!” snarled Strawhan, and his newly acquired revolver added point to his threat.
With bulging eyes, the man climbed down fearfully to the edge of the platform beside the killers. He was a long way from his mates in the cabin of the lock, and in the brake van at the rear. He did not like the look of these three tough looking ruffians.
“Keep ’em up!” snapped Strawhan, forcing the man’s arms above his head. “See if he’s got any cash on him, El Valdo.”
The grinning half-breed obeyed orders, but found only a few dollars. Even these were welcome to the ruffians, however.
“Where’s this train’s first stop?” then demanded Strawhan.
“Red Deer Valley, about—about fifty miles from here!”
“Thanks, that’s all we want from you!” drawled Tutt Strawhan, and he gave the luckless man a poke in the chest with the barrel of his revolver.
The startled member of the train crew went backwards, and the killers heard a muffled cry as he hit the ground at the side of the track.
Grinning at the success of their callous plan, the three ruffians remained in occupation of that platform until the country changed and a river showed in the distance.
The district was more wooded. There were some low hills. Cattle and mixed farming had been carried on here for some time. The three exchanged glances. It suited them very well.
They dropped off when the long goods train was slowing before entering the new siding at Red Deer Valley. Skulking away behind the trees, they spied out the land.
It seemed to them that the place was prosperous and soft. It was almost civilized, much more so than the places where they had previously operated. They winked at each other. Unless they were very much surprised there would be some easy pickings here.
They strolled down the main street with their hats over their eyes, oozing ferocity and toughness. One or two local folk looked at them with some surprise. A short, stout man with a face like a rising sun, came over to them and planted himself in their path. He had a gun swinging on either hip.
“Say, strangers, you’re not allowed to carry guns in this town!” he snapped. “There’re not needed here.”
“Ain’t they?” drawled Tutt Strawhan. “Who might you be?”
“I’m Sheriff Barker. I’ll trouble you for that six shooter. The shotgun you can keep, but—”
“Sure! Take it!” drawled Strawhan, lugging the revolver out of its holster, and handing it butt first towards the sheriff.
The gang leader kept his trigger finger inside the guard, however, and just as the unsuspecting sheriff was about to grasp the proffered butt, the gunman made a rapid twirl around his finger. There was a sharp report, and the sheriff of Red Deer Valley fell with a bullet in his heart.
“I said it was goin’ to be easy picking for us here,” murmured Strawhan. “Take his two guns. They’ll do fine for you guys.”
The shot brought people streaming into the street. They gazed in horror at three revolvers brandished by three men who stood over the dead body of their popular sheriff.
“Stick ’em up!” snarled Strawhan, and a forest of arms shot up into the air.
It was a long time since there had been a holdup in this town, but one was carried out now with smooth efficiency. Each man was made to hand over all his money. The killers collected about three thousand dollars in this manner.
The triumphant ruffians swaggered into the saloon, driving all the men folk of the town before them. Unarmed as they were, these citizens of Red Deer Valley did not dare start trouble.
Strawhan forced everyone to the counter, and insisted upon standing drinks all round. Leaning against the end wall, with their guns on the counter before them, the three scoundrels made the most of their success.
All through the afternoon they kept the luckless men jumping to wait on them. A shot fired into the floor was usually sufficient to make even the most stubborn men obey their orders.
Tutt Strawhan enjoyed this sort of bullying. His idea of Heaven was a place where he would have a gun and nobody else would be allowed one.
Now he became more and more pleased with himself, more and more wild in his boasting. The sun was low in the sky. It poured in through one of the side windows of the saloon. Strawhan gazed at the sunlit patch of floor before him, and roared:
“I’m Tutt Strawhan! There’s no man or beast living who can put a scare into me. Uh-hh-hh!”
His bellow ended in a choking gurgle. Everyone looked at him in astonishment. He was staring with wide eyes and whitening face at a monstrous shadow which had just appeared on the floor.
Someone or something had come between the sun and the window, outside the saloon.
Surely no human being could have such thick, hunched shoulders, and such long, dangling arms!
The blood drained from Strawhan’s lips and face. Tough though he was, there was at least one thing in the world which could put the fear of death into him!
XIV (14) — “STRING ‘EM UP!”
Driven into the main saloon at the gunpoint, the citizens of Red Deer Valley had cowered before the three holdup men. It was a long time since a holdup had taken place in this prosperous little place, but the latest one had been a complete success from the point of view of the three ruffians who had strolled into the town about four hours before.
The sheriff had been shot dead in the very first moment of their arrival, nearly three thousand dollars had been collected from the trembling citizens, and now Tutt Strawhan and his two companions had been amusing themselves by boasting before their trembling audience.
Then, suddenly, everything had changed. One moment Tutt Strawhan had been roaring at the top of his voice that neither man nor beast could scare him. The next moment his voice had died to a choking gurgle, and he stared with wide eyes and ashen face at a monstrous shadow which had appeared on the floor.
The sun was coming through the western windows of the saloon. It had cast this shadow with thick, hunched shoulders, and long, dangling arms. Other people might not have paid much attention to it, but Tutt Strawhan had gone as white as a sheet at the sight of it. His gun shook in his trembling hand. His knees were trembling.
“What—what’s that?” he gasped. “It’s—it’s the Six-Gun Gorilla!”
His two companions, Pete Stark and El Valdo, turned their heads, saw the shadow also, and moaned with fear.
“It’s followed us! It’s followed us after all!” shrieked Pete Stark, and sprawled behind a table.
All eyes were on the window. A shapeless figure had shambled past. The three scoundrels stared with bulging eyes. Tutt Strawhan licked his lips in terror. He did not even notice some of the local men creeping to the rear door of the saloon.
In Tutt Strawhan’s mind there was only one thought—that he had been followed by the Six-Gun Gorilla, a hairy nightmare which had come into his life at the Dragonfly Mine, a small gold mine in the boulder Hills of Colorado.
This mine had belonged to Bart Masters, an old-timer who had worked it for seven years, aided only by the gorilla, which he had purchased when young from a sailor named O’Neil.
Masters had called the gorilla O’Neil, and had taught the beast to dig in the mine, bring in firewood, and to do various other odd jobs. The miner had even taught it to use a revolver with a fair amount of accuracy.
It had amused him to see O’Neil, rigged up with gunbelt and bandolier, practicing firing a revolver.
One night Masters had decided to leave the mine. He had collected about ten thousand pounds’ worth of gold. He had decided that it was time he returned to civilization if he had wanted to derive any enjoyment from his wealth.
Before he could leave, however, a bunch of gunmen known as the Strawhan Gang had come to the lonely mine, and had killed Bart Masters, wounded the chained gorilla, and made off with the gold.
O’Neil had recovered after a few hours, and had nearly gone made when he had discovered that his master was dead. He had set out on the trail of the murderers.
He soon caught up with them, and since then had hounded the gang so closely that they had been forced to leave the gold behind them. One of the four members had already been killed, and only by taking to a train heading eastwards had the remaining three escaped the Six-Gun Gorilla.
The little settlement of Red Deer Valley had seemed a suitable place for the three killers to make a holdup and rake in some money. This they had done, but when this monstrous, misshapen shadow had showed through the window, Tutt Strawhan had jumped to the conclusion that the gorilla had in some mysterious way caught up with them again!
Terror gripped the gang leader. He began to think that the gorilla was a demon which could not be shaken off, that he was to be haunted by it for the rest of his life.
He did not even have the nerve to raise his gun and shoot. One moment the shadow was there, and the next it had passed from the window. The creature was shambling round the building, and would enter by the main door.
Pete Stark let out a howl of terror.
“Don’t—don’t let it get at me!” he howled, and then bolted for the back door.
One of the local men put out his foot, and Stark went down. El Valdo, the third member of the gang, was right behind. He tripped over his fallen friend, and was grabbed by two of the citizens of the town.
Tutt Strawhan was the only member of the gang who stood his ground. He was staring at the door through which he expected the monster to appear. His gun was raised. His finger was trembling on the trigger.
There was a scuffling noise. A shoulder showed round the edge of the door, followed by a shaggy head.
Tutt Strawhan had fired, and he did not miss. The bullet crashed through the temple under the shaggy, reddish brown hair, and a misshapen figure toppled on the step.
Tutt Strawhan opened his mouth to whoop with triumph, then checked himself.
It was not a gorilla that he had killed, but a crippled hunchback! The gang leader had made a terrible mistake. The shadow he had seen had been cast by the Red Deer Valley idiot, a crippled hunchback, whose head was set well down between his humped shoulders, and whose short legs make him walk like a gorilla. His arms appeared unduly long. His hair was long and unkempt.
This unfortunate man’s shadow had so closely resembled the shadow of the Six-Gun Gorilla that Tutt Strawhan had jumped to the wrong conclusion.
The figure of the hunchback wriggled to one side, and lay still. Strawhan started aghast. In his time he had killed many men. Never before had he felt sorry for his deeds, but now he knew that he had made a terrible mistake, and tough though he was he felt ashamed.
The local men were not cowards. They had certainly been overawed by the guns of the three holdup men when they had arrived in the settlement, but this recent display of fear, and this callous killing, gave them back their nerve. One nodded to the other, and there was a simultaneous rush.
In a moment Tutt Strawhan had been knocked down. His gun was dashed from his hand. He was pressed to the ground and held there, whilst men swarmed around him, some of them dragging his comrades.
Strawhan did not attempt to struggle. He was too dazed and too relieved. Relieved to know that the Six-Gun Gorilla had not, in some uncanny way, caught up with them.
“I didn’t mean it! It was a mistake!” he cried. “I thought it was a gorilla. The shadow—!”
“Never mind about the gorilla,” growled one of the Red Deer citizens. “You killed our sheriff, and you held us up. You’ve had your say, an’ now we’ll have ours. What shall we do with him, boys?”
“Lynch him! Lynch ’em all!” roared the crowd. “They’ve killed Soapy Sims as well. String ’em up!”
Pete Stark was arguing at the top of his voice. El Valdo was hissing like a snake with a broken back. Only Strawhan was silent. For once in his life he could not defy authority. He realized he had committed an unforgiveable crime. He had shot someone he had not intended to shoot, and now he had allowed himself to be disarmed.
Terror seized him. He began to plead with his captors.
“I only shot the sheriff in self-defense,” he whined. “He tried to take our guns away. We didn’t know he was the sheriff.”
“But Soapy Sims, you shot Soapy Sims!” roared someone.
“I thought he was the gorilla. I swear it! We’ve been hounded by a gorilla. It’s driven us nearly frantic. When I saw that shadow—” howled Strawhan.
The Red Deer Valley men looked at the gang leader scornfully.
“He’s crazy!” growled one of them. “He’s raving about a gorilla. He’s either crazy or pretending to be crazy. Don’t waste time over him. String him up. We’ve no use for his sort around here.”
Suddenly, however, a big, black-bearded fellow held up his hand.
“Wait a minute!” he cried. “This is a civilized town. We don’t have no lynching parties here. We’ll string him up, but we’ll have a trial first. Take them before Judge Peters.”
The idea caught on.
“To the Judge with ’em!” the crowd roared. “Get a rope ready. We’re goin’ to have a trial and then a hangin’. To the Judge!”
The three prisoners were dragged down the main street of the settlement to a shack that stood apart from the others. A grave, hard eyed man came out in answer to the shouts of the crowd. It was Judge Peters.
“Judge, we want a trial fixed up,” said the black-bearded fellow who had suggested taking the prisoner to the Judge. “These guys have killed the sheriff an’ Soapy Sims. We want to hang ’em, but we want to do it proper, with a trial first.”
The Judge rubbed his chin.
“Well, it’s not regular like this, but I guess we can fix it,” he said.
There and then, from the porch of his house, he conducted the trial of the three gunmen.
They were doomed from the first. There was nothing to be said in their favor. They had entered the town on a train which they had obviously jumped, and had started by killing the sheriff. Then had come the general holdup, and the killing of the hunchback.
The Judge looked as though he had made up his mind about the verdict long before he had heard all the evidence.
“And what have you got to say for yourselves?” he asked.
Strawhan and Pete Stark started to speak at once. They babbled about a gorilla with a gun, a sinister, nightmare figure, which had driven them frantic with fear.
Judge Peters looked more and more grim.
“Gorillas in America!” he cried. “You’re crazy! Has anyone seen a gorilla or anything like one?”
“No!” roared the crowd.
The Judge’s lips curled. He saw that there would be a lynching anyway, so it was as well to give it the sanction of the law.
“I find these men guilty!” he announced. “Their talk about a gorilla is just so much nonsense. Take them away and hang them!”
With whoops of joy the citizens of the settlement grabbed the three prisoners and dragged them towards the centre of the settlement, where there was a square with several trees.
XV (15) — THE TERROR ON THE TRACK
The three killers ceased to struggle. There seemed to be no hope of escape. There were thirty fierce-eyed, determined citizens around them, all filled with the same idea—to hang them.
With their hands tied behind them, the three ruffians were dragged to the square. Ropes were fetched, and nooses made.
“We’ll string ’em all up together,” snarled one of the citizens.
The prisoners were pushed forward. There were three very suitable branches. They were arranged beneath these.
Three of the citizens climbed up with the ropes and tossed them over the branches. The nooses were dropped around the necks of the culprits. A circle was formed, a solemn, grim circle.
“Ready!” cried the man who had appointed himself the master of ceremonies.
“Get the ropes taut. When I give the signal haul these killers off their feet.”
He raised his hand in the air. Tutt Strawhan made one last desperate, choking appeal.
“But there was a gorilla—!” he croaked.
The hand of the man about to give the signal trembled. He was about to lower it, when, from the other side of the square, there came a terrifying roar. It was not the roar of a bull, nor yet of a mountain lion, but something even more terrifying. The crowd parted, flung aside by a monstrous, hairy arm.
The Six-Gun Gorilla strode into the square. He was a giant, well over six feet tall, with a sixty four inch chest, a shaggy red-brown coat, and a face as hideous as a nightmare.
Around his waist was a gunbelt. A six shooter hung in a holster at his side. Over one shoulder was a heavy bandolier of cartridges, much too small for him.
His head lolling from side to side, his short, bowed legs scarcely balancing him, O’Neil chilled the blood of all who saw him.
The citizens of Red Deer Valley shrank away from him. The man who had been about to give the order for his companions to haul on the rope, now lowered his hand limply, and gave a strangled gasp.
The Six-Gun Gorilla was breathing heavily. It’s massive body was wet with sweat. He had evidently come a long way in a short time.
But his eyes were fixed on the three bound men who stood beneath the tree, and they stared back at him in silent terror.
The gorilla advanced slowly. The rest of the crowd meant nothing to it. It was those three men it wanted, the three who had murdered its master and wounded the beast itself.
He made and awkward leap towards the three killers, and the men who were holding the ropes dropped them and ran for their lives.
O’Neil growled in his throat, and grabbed for the ropes. The bound men could not escape him. Their legs could move, but not their arms. Before they could attempt to run away the Six-Gun Gorilla had grasped all three ropes in his hand, and dragged the killers towards him.
Half-strangled, the three prisoners had to follow him. The nooses tightened every time they drew back.
“Help! Help!” panted Tutt Strawhan. “Save us. Shoot the brute!”
Growling and snarling, O’Neil started to drag the killers towards the outskirts of the settlement.
The startled Red Deer citizens crowded together, muttering and jabbering. The truth was that they had never faced a situation of this kind before. They did not know what to do.
Then one of them lugged out a heavy shotgun.
“They were right about a gorilla!” he roared.
He aimed at the departing gorilla, and fired. The shot went wide, but O’Neil heard the whistle of the pellets, and bared his teeth as he turned. He knew all about those whistling missiles. He knew how to shoot them himself.
One hairy hand went to his holster, and he drew Bart Masters’ gun, aimed it, and pulled the trigger three times in quick succession.
The startled men of Red Deer Valley scattered for cover. They were being fired at by a gorilla!
O’Neil fired another shot, then put his gun back in the holster. He had no quarrel with those other men, but he wanted them to keep their distance whilst he dealt with his prisoners.
The three killers were choking and gurgling. The ropes had cut into their necks. How they were not strangled was a miracle, because O’Neil was now travelling quickly and they were simply being dragged along.
The Six-Gun Gorilla wanted to get his prisoners to a quiet spot where he could deal with them as he wished.
He got them away from the houses. His hairy foot stumbled over something which for the moment tripped him.
Although O’Neil did not know it, the thing over which he had tripped was a rail. He had come to the railway. To him it seemed a likely trail. Darkness had now fallen over the prairie.
Stumbling and tripping, Tutt Strawhan and his companions had to follow. None of the Red Deer Valley citizens set out after them. The idea of an armed gorilla, which not only knew what a gun was, but knew how to aim and fire it, had paralyzed the citizens of that settlement.
O’Neil began to snarl fiercely. He was thinking of the beloved master whom these men had killed. His fingers clenched and unclenched in fury.
Suddenly in the distance there was a wailing shriek, and Pete Stark managed to croak—
“There’s a train coming! Get off the track!”
The prisoners made a dive to one side, but O’Neil hung on to the ropes. He was so strong that he could hold them in spite of their struggles. Every time they pulled, it tightened the nooses, so that the killers could scarcely breathe.
“Stop! Get off the track—train coming!” sobbed Strawhan.
O’Neil took no notice of his prisoners’ pleas. He wondered why these men were tugging so much on the ropes when they knew they could not escape.
His back was to the oncoming headlights of the train. He was so angry that he did not even hear the noise of its approach.
The shrill whistle of the locomotive sounded again. The keen-eyed driver had seen something on the track.
O’Neil heard it at last. Not relaxing his hold on the ropes for one second, he turned his head. He blinked at the glaring searchlight above the cowcatcher of the locomotive. The light blinded him. He sensed that there was a huge bulk behind it, heard the clank of pistons and of wheels, and was frightened.
Here was something even bigger and stronger than himself. He had never seen such a monster approaching him before.
His lips drew back from his gums, his nostrils and his eyes dilated. His hair seemed to stiffen on his back.
This monster was going to try and take his prisoners from him, he decided. It was going to try and take from him the men whom he had trailed for so long and finally captured.
Fear turned to blind rage. The train was groaning to a standstill. The driver had applied all the brakes.
The three prisoners on the end of the ropes suddenly found themselves released. O’Neil had taken a running jump for the cowcatcher. The locomotive had almost stopped.
The gorilla scrambled over the cowcatcher, along the footplate of the engine, to the side of the cabin where the driver and fireman were staring in awe.
The latter suddenly struck out at the gorilla with the long-handled shovel, and O’Neil caught it in his hand and snapped it. Then the gorilla dived for the driver and the fireman.
They jumped for their lives. They fell over the other side of the track and rolled down the banking. O’Neil gripped a steel rod and jumped up and down the footplate with rage, shrieking and roaring, trying to tell the world that no one should take his prisoners away from him.
A hissing, spluttering noise behind him made him turn. There was a good steam pressure in that boiler, and one of the valves was bubbling. It enraged O’Neil. He struck at it.
He missed, but as luck would have it the gorilla struck the throttle control. He knocked it partially open.
Steam gushed into the cylinders. The locomotive gave a lurch and started to move forward.
The Six-Gun Gorilla did not know what this movement meant. It made him afraid. Whenever he was scared of something which he did not understand, he jerked out his revolver and brandished it.
This was what he did now. The locomotive gradually picked up speed, the coaches and trucks behind rumbling along at a good twelve miles an hour.
The three men with the noosed ropes round their necks now jumped for their lives. They lay on the ground to one side of the track as the train passed by. Their last glimpse was of a huge, hairy figure brandishing a revolver from the cab of the locomotive.
Tutt Strawhan was the first to recover from the shock.
“That gorilla ain’t natural,” he gasped. “Its—it’s driving the train just as though it was used to it. The driver’s gone. The Gorilla’s in charge!”
The three killers began to tug at the ropes which held their hands behind their backs. Once they could rid themselves of these their plight would be a much easier one.