- 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
XXI. — THE CAPTURE OF O’NEIL
While O’Neil was searching for them up in the saloon, the two shivering men in the cellar had a terrifying time. They strained their ears for every sound. Twice the gorilla walked over the trapdoor, and they wondered if his keen powers of scent would enable him to detect them down there.
Minutes passed. They heard growls and snarls. The Six-Gun Gorilla was getting more and more angry as the mystery of the missing men grew.
He caught hold of the edge of a window, and pulled it off. He was going to start tearing down the store in order to look for the hidden pair.
Woodwork crumpled and snapped under his touch. The men in the saloon watched, not knowing what to do. They did not want to see the place wrecked, but they were scared to interfere.
Then, suddenly, from outside there came the sound of a cantering horse. It stopped outside the saloon. Someone leapt from the saddle, and a moment later there was the sound of a footstep on the porch.
The door of the saloon was already open, and now through it there stepped a big, grim-faced man with a wide-brimmed hat on the back of his head. A badge showed in the lapel of his mackinaw jacket. It was the sheriff’s badge.
“Why, folks, what’s the idea?” he began. “Why are—Huh!”
He had just seen the gigantic intruder. O’Neil had turned to the sheriff and pointed his gun at him. He had wondered if the newcomer could be one of the men he sought, but one glance was enough to tell him otherwise. He stared at the startled sheriff for a few seconds, then turned his back on him.
Sheriff Brewster released the breath which he had been shocked into holding. Some of the men in the background were making frantic signs for him to keep quiet.
But Sheriff Brewster was not that sort of man. He saw O’Neil punch a great hole in the wall and reach through as though groping for something.
“Hey, what does this mean?” roared the representative of the law.
O’Neil turned and showed his teeth. He did not trust this man by the door. He raised his gun again, and this time he would have pressed the trigger, but Sheriff Brewster whipped out his gun like lightning and fired.
The six-gun was shot from the gorilla’s fingers. For a few seconds O’Neil stared dumbly at his empty hand, which had been numbed by the impact of the sheriff’s bullet on his own gun.
“At him, boys!” yelled Brewster. “He must have escaped from a circus or somewhere. At him!”
As he spoke he whisked a rope from his belt and cleverly hurled a noose over at O’Neil’s head. A jerk caused the gorilla to drop on all fours, tearing at the choking rope, and roaring so loudly that everyone in the store was almost deafened.
Now that the sheriff had given the miners a lead, he had plenty of helpers. The miners were not cowards. They made a simultaneous rush, and one of them picked up a heavy wooden stool which he whirled in the air as a club.
He brought it down with all his force on the gorilla’s head. Even O’Neil was affected by such a blow. The gorilla grunted, dropped its arms loosely to its side, and shook its head.
Again the brawn miner brought down the stool, and this time O’Neil rolled over on his side with a despairing groan. He was knocked out.
“Ropes, an’ plenty of ’em!” grunted the sheriff, curtly.
There was no lack of ropes. The miners brought dozens of them, and by the time they had finished trussing O’Neil he looked like a fly wrapped in a spider’s web. He was completely covered by ropes.
For the first time the men in the saloon had a chance to size up O’Neil, and marvel at his dimensions. He was well over six feet tall, and his chest measurement was about twice that of a normal man.
His gunbelt and bandolier had still been left on, and were now under the ropes. The men pointed at these and wondered how O’Neil had got hold of such things.
The only explanation they could think of was that the gorilla must have escaped from a circus and made its way here to the hills. They began to wonder if there was a reward offered for its capture.
“Someone’s got to pay for all this damage!” wailed the storekeeper.
The miners gave him a hand to tidy up. It was impossible to make proper repairs that night, but they did their best, and by the time they had finished it was two o’clock in the morning.
They were all so busy, and so excited about the capture of their amazing visitor, that they completely forgot about the men in the cellar.
O’Neil had not recovered by the time the store had been tidied. He still lay helplessly in the corner where he had been dragged, and after again examining the knots, the sheriff decided that it would be safe to leave him there for the rest of the night.
“If he makes a fuss tomorrow, we’ll have to shoot him,” he declared.
So the men went to their shacks and cabins to get some much needed sleep, and the sheriff locked and barred the door of the store before doing likewise.
Silence descended on the little settlement.
Down in the cellar the two prisoners had tried to gather from the conversation of the men above just what was happening. They had heard the capture of the gorilla with great delight, and had hoped that the miners would immediately shoot it.
They knew that they would never be safe until O’Neil was dead.
Then everyone had gone away, and the two prisoners looked at each other in the darkness. They whispered together. It was their chance of escape.
Stealthily, they began to pile boxes one upon the other, and Tutt Strawhan climbed on top of this heap. From there he reached up to the trapdoor in the floor, and heaved with all his might.
The trapdoor creaked loudly as it rose, and Tutt Strawhan nearly let it drop with fear. He managed to check this impulse in time, and listened to find out whether the noise had been heard.
From somewhere nearby came the sound of deep, slow breathing. There was no other sound. None of the other residents of the place seemed to be stirring. The storekeeper had accepted the invitation of a friend to sleep in his shack instead of remaining at the store with the gorilla.
Tutt Strawhan heaved himself out on to the floor of the store. There was a full moon that night, and it shone into the store. Strawhan saw a dark mass in the corner, and shuddered. He knew that it was the Six-Gun Gorilla.
Turning, the killer whispered to Stark to join him, and they stood together, staring at the huddled beast in the shadows. Was it their fancy, or were two fierce eyes watching them?
Minutes passed, and Strawhan wiped the moisture from his face.
“Come on! Let’s get out o’ here,” he growled.
They crept to the door of the store, and made the unpleasant discovery that it was barred on the outside. They turned to one of the windows, and Pete Stark lifted a bench in order to climb on it to examine the window fastenings.
Something lay on the floor under the bench. It was a revolver which one of the miners had dropped in the excitement.
Stark picked it up and felt to make sure that it was fully loaded, then he whispered excitedly to his companion. They both stared at the bound gorilla in the corner. O’Neil was not watching them. He had not yet fully recovered from these terrific blows on the head.
“Why not finish him now we have the chance?” suggested Pete Stark.
“Yea, I reckon we ought to take the chance, but get that window open first so that we can make a quick getaway,” growled Strawhan. “See if there’s any cash in the till.”
Stark rifled the till and got the window open in readiness, with the bench underneath it to aid them in a quick getaway. All was set for the killing of the gorilla.
Silently they approached O’Neil. They could make out only a dark blur as he slumped in that corner, his head lolling over on one side. Pete Stark raised the gun, but his hand shook so much that Tutt Strawhan took the weapon from him.
“Let me do it!” he snarled. “Stand back! I’ll plug him just where his heart ought to be.”
Strawhan took careful aim, then pulled trigger. The sound of the shot was deafening in that enclosed space, and it was followed by a snarl from the gorilla.
The revolver cracked viciously again and again as Tutt Strawhan pumped in shot after shot. He aimed them all more or less in the same place.
Long before he had finished firing the Six-Gun Gorilla was roused and struggling madly to free himself from his bonds. There was a hot pain at the side of his neck, and another at the top of his massive left arm. Several other pullets had hit home, but not in the gorilla. Strawhan had been unable to see the bandolier of cartridges in the darkness. The bullets had mostly been embedded in this.
But O’Neil had suffered enough pain from the bullets to make him mad with anger. The noise, the flashes in his face, the scent of the men he hated, and the fact that he found himself tied by ropes, drove him into a frenzy.
Strong as the ropes were, they could not stand up to the strength of the Six-Gun Gorilla and one by one they began to snap. The two men waited for no more. They made a dash for the window, and scrambled through.
Once outside the saloon, they took to their heels and ran for their lives. All around them men were shouting from their windows, asking what was wrong. The shots had roused the little settlement, and the miners hurriedly dressed as they prepared to run and find out what was going on.
XXII. — MENACE IN THE MINESHAFT
The Six-Gun Gorilla made short work of most of the ropes, but there was one very thick one running between his crooked elbows from behind which he could not break. He staggered about the floor, straining and struggling about the floor, straining and struggling with this rope, sometimes falling over, sometimes crashing into furniture or shelves which promptly collapsed.
The miners who had arrived outside the saloon listened to his din grimly. They thought that there was someone in there engaged in a desperate struggle with the monster. They could not think who it could be, but they stood by to give what aid they could as the sheriff opened the door.
“Who’s there? Who wants help?” shouted the sheriff.
The Six-Gun Gorilla was rolling on the floor. The voice was so close to him that it forced him to make greater efforts. He gave an extra hard tug, and the one remaining rope snapped at last.
O’Neil staggered backwards, unable to stop himself, and crashed against the long-suffering wall of the store, which promptly gave under the strain and allowed him to roll into the open. He was up on his feet in a minute and running for the cover of some bushes.
“There he is! There he goes!” roared half a dozen men at once, and several revolvers were fired in the direction of the running beast.
O’Neil heard the bullets whining about him, and instinctively reached to his holster for his gun in order to fire back. He found no gun. He had forgotten that he had lost it.
He hesitated, as if he was going to turn back and look for the gun, but more of the bullets whistling about him warned him that he would be dangerous.
He scrambled amongst the bushes under the trees, and crouched there, snarling.
The miners were reluctant to follow him into the darkness. They contented themselves with firing several volleys in his direction, and then one of the men remembered the two prisoners.
The discovery that these prisoners had escaped was soon made and the sheriff began to put two and two together. The first shots had evidently been fired by the escaping men, and for some reason they had tried to kill the gorilla. There was blood on the floor of the saloon.
The sheriff would not do much that night, for it was too dark to see any tracks, but there and then he raised a posse which was to take up the pursuit at dawn. Sheriff Brewster was determined to get the two killers.
He raised another party of men armed with rifles to go out after the gorilla when daylight came, and so put an end to the beast’s career. A wounded gorilla was not a pleasant thing to have roaming about the district.
Those were the plans the miners made around the damaged store, and they did not guess that the gorilla was crouching no more than twenty yards from them.
O’Neil had been trying to find out if the men he sought were amongst these men at the store. He soon discovered that his enemies were not there and he would have hunted around for a fresh train if he had not been worried about the loss of his gun.
He connected that gun with his dead master. It had been part of old Bart Masters, and O’Neil did not intend losing it. His wounds did not worry him very much, though there was caked blood on his chest.
He began to creep in closer to the crowd of miners. The sheriff had just organized his posse and had detailed two men to remain on watch over the settlement for the rest of the night.
“The gorilla might come back,” he said. “If he does, don’t take any chances. Just shoot him. The remainder of us ought to get a few hours sleep if we’re going to be up at dawn.”
As the sheriff did much of the talking it was only natural that the gorilla’s attention should be directed more to him than to the other men. It was Sheriff Brewster that the gorilla followed with his eyes when he saw the men disperse.
O’Neil noticed the guns dangling at the man’s side, and wondered if his was in one of those holsters. He noted the shack the man entered, and nodded his shaggy head grimly.
He also saw the two men who were acting as sentries, and he guessed that they were waiting for. He took very good care to avoid them when presently he entered the settlement.
For so ponderous a beast he could move with remarkable quietness. No one heard him as he approached the back of the sheriff’s shack.
He peered through one of the windows. Sheriff Brewster was asleep, but he had not troubled to undress. He lay extended on his bun. The only thing he had removed was his gunbelt. With two guns on it, the belt lay on a table close to the bunk.
O’Neil noticed all this, and observed the open windows. Cautiously he reached through the window with one of his long arms. Unnaturally long, this arm crossed the sleeping sheriff without waking him and a moment later the gunbelt was in the gorilla’s grip.
O’Neil lifted it quietly through the window, crouched down on the ground, and examined the guns. He peered at them and sniffed them, then withdrew one from its holster. He had recognized it as his own. The sheriff had stuck it there with the intention of examining it when he had more time.
O’Neil grunted with delight, turned, and glided away amongst the surrounding trees. No one was any the wiser that he had been in the settlement. The unwanted gunbelt, with the other revolver, lay where he had dropped it.
Once under cover of the trees, O’Neil sought a patch of moonlight, and examined his gun afresh. He wanted to see if it had been harmed in any way. He fussed over it as a mother might fuss over a baby.
The he proceeded to “clean” it. He had seen his master clean his gun in the old days, but was not quite expert enough to do this properly. Instead, he blew mightily down the barrel to get rid of surplus gunpowder, then wiped the gun on his hairy thigh.
After that he reloaded it, a slow and clumsy business for O’Neil, but one he usually managed to effect without much difficulty.
Then once again he replaced the gun in its holster, reared his mighty figure erect, and went in search of the trail left by the two runaway killers.
Nothing could ever shake his determination to run down those killers of his master. Even if he had to spend the rest of his life hunting them, he intended doing so.
It did not matter to him that the light was poor. He did not so much see their tracks as smell them. The scent of those two men was stamped forever on is memory. He could never forget it.
At last he came upon it amongst the bushes, and settled down like some huge, relentless bloodhound to follow up his enemies. He had an extra score to settle now, the pains in his neck and arm, where the bullets had penetrated. Even yet his arm throbbed when he swing it.
But pain meant very little to O’Neil. He hurried on through the darkness of the night, sometimes under trees, sometimes on the trail which ran to a bigger mining centre some distance ahead.
The moon was setting, and it was rapidly getting darker. For that reason the two men in front did not see O’Neil until he was almost on them.
He might have come right up to them, and seized them in his terrible arms, if he had not been so impatient. As soon as he sighted them he drew his gun, pointed it in their direction and fired.
The report, and the whistle of the shot over their heads, warned them of danger. One glance they gave over their shoulders and then their faces twisted with horror.
The gorilla which they had believed dead was right on their heels! It seemed impossible and fantastic, but there is was. They could not deny it.
Ahead of them they saw a cluster of buildings. It was the mining centre towards which they had been heading all night. They had hoped to steal supplies and another gun there, but now their only thought was of shelter.
They ran as they had never run before. The Six-Gun Gorilla put on a burst of speed, but was still a bit behind them when they reached the top of a mineshaft which ran down under the foot of the hill.
It was a big shaft, the biggest in the district. A little party of about a dozen miners had clubbed together to dig it, and had rigged up an overhead gear of a crude but effective kind.
The desperate men saw no other refuge. Perhaps if they got down the mine and hid, they might escape the gorilla after all.
They reached the top of the shaft before the gorilla had turned the end of a great pile of earth which had been dug up. The usual iron bucket, of huge dimensions, hung suspended over the shaft.
Tutt Strawhan thrust at the lever which held the hoist locked in position, and once the rope was freed, the weight of the bucket carried it to the bottom of the shaft with a rush.
“Come on!” he gasped, and swung himself out on to the rope, sliding down so quickly that he skinned his hands.
Pete Stark was not going to be left behind. He was on the rope barely a second later than his partner.
They were about halfway down the rope, which was still vibrating, when O’Neil arrived at the side of the shaft.
The gorilla had his gun in his fist, but when he saw that vibrating rope he put the weapon back in its holster, and reached for the iron handle of the hoist.
He had been well trained how to use this. Bart Masters had used the gorilla’s great strength to hoist the buckets of ore from the bottom of his small mine.
The Six-Gun Gorilla knew full well that the two men he hunted were on this rope. His teeth gleamed between his parted lips as he began to turn the handle.
A startled yell came from the shaft. Tutt Strawhan, who had almost reached the bottom of the shaft, found himself being wound up again!
Pete Stark more than halfway down, suddenly tightened his grip on the rope and held on, frightened by the movement. He was also rapidly rising towards the top of the shaft.
Then the men looked up, and saw the monstrous shadow of the Six-Gun Gorilla as he turned the handle. They realized what was happening, and their faces became grey with fright.
They could do nothing to help themselves. If they released their hold they would be dashed to pieces at the bottom of the shaft. If they continued to hang on they would be drawn up into the arms of the waiting gorilla!
XXIII. — THE HORROR AT THE WINDLASS
Two wide-eyed, grey-faced men clung to the rope which was used for lowering buckets down a Colorado mineshaft.
The mine was on the extreme outskirts of a mining camp, and one of the biggest in the district. A dozen miners had formed a little syndicate to work it, but at that hour of the day, just about dawn, they were still in their shacks.
The rope was being rapidly wound up on the drum at the top. Powerful arms were turning the handle, and making light work of the two men and the heavy bucket.
Those arms were not human arms, however. Looking up the two terrified men clinging to the rope could see a monstrous, crouching shadow cast by the figure that worked the windlass. It was the shadow of a giant gorilla!
It was to escape this gorilla that Tutt Strawhan and Pete Stark had sought refuge in the mine. For more than a month now they had been fleeing from it, and now it had cornered them.
Tutt Strawhan had been the head of the most feared gang in Colorado, and still would have been if he had not heard about old Bart Masters, who had worked a small gold mine up in the Boulder Hills.
Masters had worked that mine for seven years, aided by a gorilla which he had purchased from a sailor named O’Neil.
The prospector had called the gorilla O’Neil, and had taught it to do various odd jobs, even how to fire a revolver. One night Masters had decided to abandon the mine and return to civilization, but he had been murdered by the Strawhan gang, who had also wounded O’Neil and made off with the miner’s gold.
When O’Neil had recovered and discovered that his master was dead, he had buckled on Bart Masters’ gunbelt and bandolier, and had set out on the trail of the murderers.
The trail had led for hundreds of miles. The Six-Gun Gorilla had hounded Strawhan and his comrades from place to place, had forced them to abandon the gold, had already killed two of them, and had so terrified Strawhan and Stark that they had resolved to disguise themselves in some way to try and put him off the scent.
For that reason, they had murdered Tim Slade and Monty Barr, two innocent prospectors, and had changed clothes with them. Unfortunately, their new clothing and equipment had been recognized by the inhabitants of a small settlement which they had visited, and they had been seized and imprisoned. There was not the slightest doubt that they would have been hanged for murder, but O’Neil had arrived on their trail, and in the confusion they had escaped—with the gorilla still close behind!
Now the two killers were faced with two terrible alternatives. They either had to let go the rope and fall to the bottom of the shaft, where they would surely be killed, or hang on and be drawn up into the arms of the waiting gorilla.
There was little time to choose. The rope was being wound in so rapidly that Pete Stark who was above Strawhan on the rope, was rapidly approaching the top of the shaft.
“What shall we do, Tutt?” he gasped. “What shall we do?”
At that moment a long, hairy arm came out of the gloom. O’Neil had realized that one of the men was within his reach. Retaining his hold on the windlass with one hand, O’Neil grabbed Pete Stark by the collar, and lifted him clear of the rope.
Pete Stark no longer had any choice in the matter. O’Neil banged him down on the ground, and set one hairy hind foot on him. Pinned in that helpless fashion, the gunman could not escape. He could not even scream. His power of speech seemed to have vanished.
O’Neil continued to turn the handle of the windlass, and just then there came a shout from behind. One of the miners had heard the unusual sound at dawn, and had come to see what was happening.
He was just in time to see the bucket reach the top of the shaft, and the gorilla reach out for Tutt Strawhan. The leader of the once dreaded gang screamed lustily, and tried to cling on to the bucket.
He might just as well have tried to hold against the pull of a crane. The strength of O’Neil was more than equal to that of six men. He wrenched Tutt Strawhan’s hands away from the bucket, and snatched him to his chest.
Holding the wriggling man in a grip from which there was no escape, O’Neil turned to face the newcomer, a ruddy-faced miner whose eyes opened wide with horror when he saw the strange scene before him.
It was a sight to strike terror into even the bravest of men. O’Neil had one man pinned under his foot, and the other clasped to his hairy chest. His lips were parted to reveal his long fangs. A low growl came from the depths of his throat.
“Help!” croaked the miner. “What—who are you?”
“Shoot him!” shrieked Tutt Strawhan, nearly crushed flat by the embrace of one powerful arm. “He’s dangerous. He’ll kill everyone in the camp. Shoot him!”
But the miner was not armed. He had come straight from his bunk when he had heard the creaking of the windlass. All he could get in the way of weapons was a long iron crowbar which he flourished in menacing fashion.
O’Neil stopped growling. His free hand jerked the revolver from its holster, and a second later a shot whizzed past the astonished miner’s head.
That was too much for the miner. To come face to face with a gorilla was bad enough, but to encounter a gorilla that fired a revolver was enough to send anyone crazy. The miner turned and ran for the settlement, shouting at the top of his voice.
O’Neil returned the smoking gun to his holster, and turned his attention to his two helpless prisoners. They had given up all hope. Pete Stark was whining and moaning, but Tutt Strawhan was silent.
The Six-Gun Gorilla had got both his men at once, and he was considering what to do to them. He could have pulled them to pieces there and then. He could have crushed the life out of them in two short seconds, but that did not satisfy him.
He wanted to make them suffer for what they had done to his beloved master. He roared with fury. His natural instincts came to the fore again. He would take them to the top of a high tree and drop them headfirst.
The trouble was that there were no high trees anywhere around this camp. There were only small, weedy pines.
O’Neil tucked on prisoner under either arm and shambled forward, his gun flapping against his hairy thigh. He turned his head this way and that, looking for the sort of tree to which he had been accustomed in the African jungle.
But this was Colorado, and, high up in the mountains, almost out of the timber belt. There was no decent sized tree in sight.
Suddenly O’Neil became conscious of an uproar. A group of about twenty men was running towards him. They were the miners from the camp who had been aroused by the man who had come to investigate the creaking windlass.
They were a tough looking crowd, armed with shotguns, revolvers, axes, anything they could lay their hands on. They were making a great deal of noise, possibly with the intention of scaring O’Neil.
As a matter of fact, the noise they were making only angered him. He stopped and turned to face them. He meant to draw his revolver and fire at them, but found it impossible to reach for his gun whilst he held a man under either arm.
The sight of his hideous face had checked the advance of the miners, however. They kept a respectable distance away, not daring to shoot for fear of hitting the two prisoners.
O’Neil slowly backed away. He still wanted a tree for execution purposes. A glance had told him that there was none to be found higher up the slopes. He started off downhill in the opposite direction.
Waddling along, balancing himself on his hind legs, he was an amazing sight. Both victims under his arms were silent now. They had realized that it was useless to shout.
Then one of the miners had an idea. At some time or other he had worked as a cowboy, and he knew how to use a lasso. He fashioned a loop in a stout rope, and crept after the gorilla. O’Neil did not pay much attention to this puny creature. He was too busy looking for a tall tree.
The plucky miner got close enough for his purpose, and threw the rope. Accurately, it fell over the head of O’Neil, and settled round his thick, hairy neck. The miner gave a jerk, and an appalling roar came from the gorilla.
Just for a moment he dropped Tutt Strawhan, and snatched at the rope. One twist from his powerful fingers, and it snapped as though it was a thread.
Strawhan had started to crawl away on hands and knees, but he was not quick enough. A great hairy hand caught him by the belt from behind, and jerked him back again. Once more he was a prisoner.
An extra loud snarl from the angered gorilla warned the miner not to make another attempt like that, then the vast best rapidly descended the hill, followed at a safe distance by the miners.
For about half a mile they followed him, then O’Neil stopped and sniffed the air suspiciously. He could smell men in front, although he could not see anyone.
Men just then meant enemies. His teeth parted. He roared a challenge to all the world.
“I’ve got my victims! Just try to come and take them away!” he seemed to say.
Five minutes later a party of horsemen rode out from under the trees. There were nearly a dozen of them, headed by a big, determined man with a sheriff’s star on his jacket pocket.
This was the posse raised by Sheriff Brewster to follow Strawhan and Stark from the little settlement where they had been recognized as wearing the clothing of the missing prospectors. Ever since early dawn the posse had been trailing the fugitives across country. They had arrived at a dramatic moment.
O’Neil stopped on the slope.
The sheriff reined in his horse, which immediately began to plunge. In front were the men for whom the sheriff was looking, but they were in the hands of something much more terrible than the hands of the law.
Gasps of amazement came from the posse. They felt for their guns, then realized that they could not use them without endangering the lives of the men they intended to bring to justice.
It was a queer situation. Thos two killers deserved death, and they would certainly die at the hands of the gorilla. But the law decreed that they must die in another way, with a rope round their necks. Big Sheriff Brewster was the type of man to insist upon the law being carried out.
XXIV. — TREETOP VENGEANCE
So, with a score of men in front of him and a score behind, O’Neil remained master of the situation. Further down the slope, beyond the posse, he now saw the sort of tree he wanted, an Oregon pine towering upwards for more than a hundred feet. He gave a grunt of satisfaction, and started towards the posse. They would have stood their ground, but their horses refused. They reared, bucked, struggled to bolt, and eventually some of them did get away.
The men in the posse were so busy controlling their frightened steeds that they had no time to deal with the gorilla, which passed through their midst unharmed.
“Stop him!” shouted the miners from behind, but they did not suggest how this might be done.
The Six-Gun Gorilla increased his speed. He was anxious to get this business over. The tree he was heading for was half a mile away, but it would not take him long to reach it.
Sheriff Brewster did not know what was in the great beast’s mind, but h had an idea that if the gorilla got a start on them it might escape altogether. He spurred his horse after the great creature, and, with a good deal of snorting the beast obeyed.
The horse’s hoofs clattered loudly on the hard ground, and O’Neil spun about with a grunt. At point blank range the sheriff fired his revolver, and one of the heavy bullets struck home.
It struck the gorilla’s breast bone, and was turned aside, but it inflicted a painful wound, and so angered O’Neil that he dropped Tutt Strawhan once more and reached for his gun.
He fired twice in quick succession, and more by luck than anything else his second bullet brought down the horse which the sheriff rode.
It had all happened so suddenly that Brewster had no chance of saving himself from a heavy fall. He crashed on his head and lay still for a moment. O’Neil roared with triumph, and looked round for Tutt Strawhan.
But this time the gunman had wriggled out of sight under some bushes, and O’Neil could not see him. Clasping Pete Stark to his chest, he infuriated gorilla looked this way and that, sniffing the air to try and pick up Strawhan’s scent.
The miners and the members of the posse who had got their mounts under control came rushing forward, shooting their guns in the air. They had decided to try and frighten O’Neil away from at least one of his victims and they succeeded.
The Six-Gun Gorilla tried to fire back at them, but his gun was empty, and the hammer clicked down on the empty chambers.
For the time being O’Neil was baffled and scared. So much noise was going on that he did not know which way to turn. Then he remembered—the giant pine.
With one mighty bound he got out of the circle of men, and fled down the hill, but he did not drop Pete Stark. He kept him in such a tight grip that the man could not even shout for help.
In the excitement Tutt Strawhan crawled a couple of hundred yards, then doubled back and raced for the mining settlement. He was cute enough to realize that with all the miners out hunting O’Neil, he had a splendid chance to steal guns and supplies.
The men were so eager to corner the gorilla that they lost their chance of seizing Strawhan immediately after his escape. They surged down the hill after the leaping gorilla, and saw it spring into the tree.
Every man there stood still and watched the gorilla in amazement. The tree was one place into which they could not follow it.
“Form a cordon!” roared Sheriff Brewster after a minute or two, and very soon men were all round the tree.
The watching men saw O’Neil swinging himself from branch to branch. In that great tree he was in his native element. The weight of Stark tucked under one arm was nothing to him. He still had his two feet and one powerful hand for climbing.
Up and up he went, whilst the onlookers held their breath. Some raised rifles, but a warning from the sheriff checked them.
“If you shoot the gorilla the man will fall,” he pointed out. “Wait a while. We might be able to smoke him out after he’s settled down. If once we can get him to set the man down—we’ll riddle the brute with bullets.”
So they waited, and the Six-Gun Gorilla continued his climb until he was on a great branch nearly a hundred feet above the ground.
A little out of breath because of the exertion, O’Neil gripped the tree trunk with one hand and looked down at the men who were hunting him.
He scarcely heeded them. He was thinking of his beloved master, and of the vengeance he had planned to take for his cruel death.
The men below saw him take his prisoner in both hands. He balanced himself on the branch by his feet alone, gripping with his flexible toes.
He raised his arms and held Pete Stark aloft. The man shrieked with fear. He knew what was about to happen.
The men below were not so sure. Some of them caught their breath and muttered:
“He’s going to throw him down!”
Then suddenly O’Neil uttered the most terrifying roar ever heard in that part of Colorado, and tossed his victim high out above the heads of the men below.
Pete Stark turned over twice in the air, then handed on his head on a rock. His skull was crushed, and his neck was instantly broken. He lay still and silent, whilst the circle of men were too paralyzed with horror to make any movement.
O’Neil clenched his fists and hammered on his chest, bellowing his joy at having carried out another part of his scheme of vengeance. He had accounted for three of the men who had murdered his master. That left only one to be caught and punished.
Sheriff Brewster was the first to recover his wits.
“Now’s our chance!” he roared. “He can’t do any more harm. Let him have a volley. All together!”
A dozen rifles and twice as many revolvers were raised. Up there O’Neil made an easy target amongst the branches, but as soon as they pointed their guns at him he realized what was going to happen, and swung round behind the tree trunk.
The men followed him round. Two of them fired. Chips of bark flew from the branch on which he stood, and then, without warning, O’Neil came dropping down out of the tree.
He had deliberately jumped out into space. It looked as though he was trying to commit suicide. Those Westerners who did not know the ways of gorillas when desperate, held their fire.
That was their mistake. O’Neil had no intention of committing suicide. His wild leap was merely a quick way of getting down.
Twenty feet from the ground he caught a projecting branch with both hands, and it bent like a bow under his six hundred pound weight.
A fraction of a second later, having broken his fall, he dropped among the men and scattered them like ninepins.
Not one of them had time to get off a single shot before the gorilla had bounded over their heads and gained the shelter of the bush.
O’Neil had outwitted more than three dozen men! He had carried out an execution in full view of an officer of the law and his posse. He had shown them something they would never forget.
Far into the bush he fled, glad to get away from the babble of voices and the crack of the guns. When he was a good distance away he took the first possible opportunity of reloading his revolver, a clumsy business with his thick fingers, but one he knew how to carry out effectively.
Owing to the fact that he had brought a full bandolier of cartridges with him, he was not yet running short of ammunition. He still had plenty of ammunition left, and if the men shot at him he intended shooting back at them.
Before his reloading was complete, he heard crashing sounds and noises in the forest. The sheriff and his men were trailing him. They were picking out the tracks which his feet left on the ground. They were still determined to kill him.
O’Neil bared his teeth angrily. Why did they not leave him alone? He had done them no harm, nor did he wish to do so. All he wanted to do was get the one remaining killer of his master.
It angered him greatly to think that these miners were housing him from place to place. He decided to put a stop to that.
With his revolver tucked securely in its holster, he leapt into a low tree and hid behind the foliage. There he drew his gun and gripped it in his hairy right hand and waited.
The hunters drew nearer and nearer. Sheriff Brewster was the leader. He was well to the fore, sometimes bent almost double when it was difficult to see the tracks on the ground.
Not far behind him came nine or ten other men. The rest had returned to their homes. The sheriff had called for volunteers to help him hunt down and destroy the Six-Gun Gorilla.
The gorilla took careful aim and fired.
If the bullet had gone where O’Neil had intended it would have crashed through the sheriff’s skull, but O’Neil had the bad habit of jerking the trigger and so pulling to the left of the target.
The bullet clipped the sheriff’s ear, and caused him to drop quicker than he had ever dropped in his life.
O’Neil was not firing at the crowd of men behind the sheriff.
They scattered. The sight of a hairy hand brandishing a revolver, protruding from the branches of a tree had been too much for them. They turned and bolted.
Sheriff Brewster wisely crawled away and joined the others. He realized that to hunt down O’Neil very special precautions would have to be taken. It would not be like an ordinary manhunt.
So O’Neil was left in undisputed possession of that part of the woods, and the sheriff and his posse set about picking up the tracks of Tutt Strawhan.
XXV. — O’NEIL’S STRANGE HOLDUP
The Six-Gun Gorilla remained in hiding until he was quite certain that the coast was clear. Two things were uppermost in his mind, the longing to settle Tutt Strawhan and the desire to fill his stomach. Hunger was a stronger urge than any other at the moment, and he looked around for something to eat.
To his disgust there was nothing that suited him. It was not the season of the year when berries abounded in the woods, and there were no palm shoots, young bamboos, or wild fruit such as the African jungle provided. Nature’s larder was bare.
O’Neil was a strict vegetarian, but he needed large quantities of food at set intervals. Until he had satisfied this appetite he would be interested in nothing else.
Hunger drove him to cover a good stretch of country before mid-day. He came to an abandoned shack and peered inside. The door was locked, but O’Neil’s strength was the key to most locks. He forced the door open with his great fingers and passed inside.
It was a disappointment. There was nothing in the way of food. In his fury, O’Neil made matchwood of the furniture, then left the place.
On and on travelled the gorilla. It must have been early afternoon when an unusual sound caused him to stop and listen carefully. The sound of jingling harness and rumbling wheels came to his ears.
The Six-Gun Gorilla crept forward and peered through the bushes at the side of the trail. A stagecoach was coming down the trail, with several people on top of it. There were six horses in the team, and they were all going at a good speed.
O’Neil licked his lips. Here were men, and men often had good things to eat. He remembered certain tins of canned fruit which he had found in a store. He wondered if there could be such things on this coach.
How to stop it was the next question. Even he realized that six horses were a tough proposition. If he leapt on top of one he would probably get kicked by the others.
Then he remembered that men were afraid of guns. He knew what had happened to his master. Guns had been used on that occasion. Now was a chance for O’Neil to apply the lessons he had learned.
So once again he drew the six-gun, and leaned forward through the bushes. The range was as yet too great, but O’Neil did not know that. All he knew was that if he pointed the gun and pulled the trigger something very satisfying usually happened.
He had fired at the coach, and the flash of his gun was seen, the whistle of the bullet distinctly heart.
It so happened that this spot had a bad reputation for holdups. Only a week or two before there had been a coach held up at this same place, and the driver and one of the passengers had been killed in the fight that followed.
The present driver at once concluded that this was the same gang at work again, and decided that he would take no risks with his own life.
“Whoa-a!” he cried, and hauled on the reins with all his might.
The horses had been going at a good pace. By the time they stopped they were opposite the point where the Six-Gun Gorilla was hidden.
O’Neil was pleased with the result of his experiment. He fired another shot just to make sure of things.
It knocked the driver’s hat from his head, and with a howl of fear the man raised his arms over his head.
“All right, I’ve drawn up! Don’t shoot!” he gasped.
The passengers behind him were seized with the same fear. One and all raised their arms in the air.
O’Neil blinked. This was a funny way to behave. He had not seen men do this before. For a moment he was suspicious that there was some trick about it, but when they did not stir he grew more confident.
He started to emerge. The bushes parted, and the trembling occupants of the coach held their breath. They wondered what kind of man the bandit was. They hoped that he would be content with their money, and not take their lives as well.
Then simultaneous gasps of horror escaped them. No man stepped forth, but a monstrous gorilla brandishing a gun, a bandolier slung over one massive shoulder.
O’Neil went straight towards them on his hind legs, and their mouths dried with fear. The driver fainted and fell from the box to the road.
None of the coach passengers stirred. Gorilla the bandit might be, but he had a gun which he knew how to use. When he pointed it at them they winced.
The Six-Gun Gorilla bared his fangs and snarled. He did not know where to begin. He could smell no food, though there were one or two crates stowed on top of the coach which looked interesting.
The horses were trembling and sweating with fear. They would have bolted if the guard had not held them in.
Twice O’Neil circled the coach, then he caught hold of one of the doors and wrenched it open. He did not trouble to turn the knob. He did not know there was a catch on the door. From his point of view it did not matter very much, for it came away from its hinges without any trouble.
He stuck his gun and his head inside the coach and sniffed. The passengers cringed back in dismay, thinking that their last moments had come.
O’Neil sniffed again. Unless he was very much mistaken, he could smell something to eat. In a corner of the coach was a carefully packed crate. One hairy hand came out and gripped it, jerked it onto the road with a mighty crash, and it burst open.
Out rolled oranges, the first O’Neil had seen for many a day. This crateful was a special consignment brought at enormous expense from the East for a gold miner millionaire.
O’Neil gave a roar of triumph. The amazed passengers saw the Six-Gun Gorilla lower his gun and snatch up two oranges at a time. He crushed them into his mouth, peel and all, and squeezed them between his powerful jaws.
Orange after orange he snatched from the crate in the same way, and seated himself beside the trail to enjoy this unexpected feast.
Then the guard realized that they were safe. This particular bandit had no further use for them or their money. All the gorilla had wanted was food.
Cautiously the man took off the brakes and shook the reins. The team of horses trotted forward, broke into a canter, and raced away down the trail.
O’Neil raised his head and blinked after them. He raised no objection to them going. They had provided him with the best meal he had had for a while, and he was grateful to them. There and then he decided that it might be worth while holding up every coach he saw.
So, for the next half-hour he squatted there eating, finally turning the box upside down to get out the last orange. At last filled and satisfied, he rolled down under the nearby bushes and went to sleep.
Meanwhile, the coach with its terrified passengers and almost hysterical driver, had arrived in the next settlement, and told their amazing story of a monster with a gun which had robbed them of a crate of oranges.
At first they were not believed, but just about that same time a messenger came from Sheriff Brewster, asking all and sundry to keep an eye open for a fierce gorilla, and people began to realize that the story was true.
Once again a posse was formed to hunt down the Six-Gun Gorilla, and the searchers rode out cautiously along the road to the spot where the holdup had occurred.
O’Neil was still there, sleeping off his big meal. The clatter of the horses had awakened him, and he raised his ugly head to stare at the approaching group of horsemen.
More men! They had guns!
He did not wait to face them, but dived back into the woods and travelled through these parallel with the trail for many a mile. He was trying to get on the track of Tutt Strawhan. For the moment he had lost it, but sooner or later he knew that he would come up with it again, and finish the job which he had already three quarters accomplished.
He kept close to the trail, for he realized that coaches travelled along this, and since his fortunate find of the oranges he was very interested in stagecoaches. He meant to stop every one that he saw!
He was not the only one with that idea in view that late afternoon.
In the mining camp to which he had fled once he had escaped from the gorilla, Tutt Strawhan had found new clothes, guns, ammunition, food, but no cash.
He had got away on horseback before the miners had returned to discover their losses. He rode hard for most of the day, taking an altogether different route to that of O’Neil.
He knew that Pete Stark would be dead by this time, but that did not worry him. He believed that he had finally shaken the Six-Gun Gorilla off his trail. All he now needed was some cash in order to make his getaway a certainty. In some other State he might be able to forget the nightmare of the past six weeks.
So, towards late afternoon, when he came to a trail where wheel marks told him coaches sometimes passed, the idea of staging a holdup suddenly struck him.
There were gold mines to the west, and there was a fair-sized settlement at the railhead some thirty miles to the east. He did not see why he could not intercept a consignment of gold dust. He was well-armed, and with guns in his hands he was a different person to the man who had cowered before the Six-Gun Gorilla.
So he examined the tracks and tried to guess when the coaches usually passed. He came to the conclusion that one usually passed that way before sunset.
Hitching his horse to a convenient tree, he proceeded to wait patiently for the coming of the coach. As he waited, eh munched some of the food he had brought with him from the mining camp.
Time passed, and finally, in the distance, he heard the telltale rumble of wheels.
His lips parted in an evil smile. Before long his victims would be within revolver range, and Tutt Strawhan had never been a man to show mercy at such a time. He preferred to shoot and be certain.
What he did not know was that he had a rival waiting further down the trail, a rival holdup bandit who was listening to the coming of this same coach.
O’Neil had decided to look for more oranges. He, too, had hidden himself behind some bushes with a gun in his fist!