- 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
XXVI (26) — THE GOLD-COACH HOLDUP
The stagecoach was bowling along smoothly over a comparatively level trail. There were not many passengers aboard, but, judging by the effort the horses were putting out, there was something inside which weighed even more than passengers.
A big consignment of gold dust was aboard, from the new mines which had been opened in the nearby hills. The coach was heading for the railhead, about thirty miles away. Beside the driver sat the watchful guard, a shotgun across his knees, a revolver in each of his low-slung holsters.
Sunset was not far off, and over the prairie there spread the hush which precedes nightfall.
Behind a clump of bushes crouched an evil looking ruffian with two revolvers. His eyes were on the oncoming coach, his fingers on the triggers. He was Tutt Strawhan, the notorious killer, and one-time leader of the most feared gang of bad men in that part of the West.
Now, however, his gang was no more, he was on his own, and the cause of this breakup was a gorilla!
Some months before this, Strawhan had heard about old Bart Masters, who had worked a little gold mine of his own in the Boulder Hills of Colorado. Masters had worked that mine for seven years, aided by a gorilla which he had purchased from a sailor named O’Neil.
O’Neil was the name which Masters had given the huge brute, and O’Neil had become his constant companion. The miner had taught the great beast to be useful in many different ways. It could dig, bring in firewood, or haul up buckets of ore from the mineshaft, and what was more, and of great importance, it had been taught to fire and load a revolver.
One night Masters had decided to take all the gold he possessed, about ten thousand pounds worth, and return to civilization. Before he could leave, however, the Strawhan gang had arrived, and had killed the miner, wounded the chained gorilla, and made off with the gold.
O’Neil had only been stunned, however, and when he had recovered and found that his master was dead, he had been heartbroken. He had buckled on his late master’s six shooter and cartridge bandolier, and had set out on the trail of the murderers.
The trail had led for a hundred miles and more. O’Neil had hounded the guilty men from place to place, and had forced them to abandon the gold. He had already killed three of them, and had continued after Tutt Strawhan so closely that the one-time leader of the bandits had had to make for a new district.
At the moment Tutt Strawhan believed that the gorilla had lost touch with him. All Strawhan wanted was some money with which to get across the Border to safety. He had decided to hold up this coach which was coming from the mines and take all the gold dust he wanted.
Nearer came the coach. The hidden gunman’s eyes gleamed more intensely.
Strawhan drew a bead on the luckless guard who sat beside the driver, and when the coach was but thirty paces away, he pressed the trigger of his right-hand weapon.
The sound of the shot shattered the silence. The guard’s gun dropped from his fingers, and he rolled from the coach—dead!
Hardly had the echo of the first report ceased ringing when a bullet caught the leading horse in the head, killing it instantaneously. The coach came to a standstill, and the terrified driver raised his arms.
“Don’t shoot!” he pleaded.
Tutt Strawhan came slowly from the undergrowth, a gun in either fist. He advanced towards the coach menacingly.
“If anyone moves—he’ll get a bullet in him,” he snarled. “Where’s the gold?”
Fifty yards down the trail there was a movement behind some more bushes. A hideous face appeared, and stared in the direction of the holdup. The face was the face of O’Neil, the Six-Gun Gorilla, and his gun was in his fist!
He, too, had been waiting for that coach. Since O’Neil had lost touch with Tutt Strawhan he had been roaming the countryside, and on one occasion he had held up a stagecoach in which there had been a crate of oranges.
O’Neil had harmed none of the occupants, but he had taken the oranges and enjoyed them so much that he now believed that every coach carried oranges. So when he had heard this vehicle approaching down the trail he had decided to stage another holdup, little knowing that Tutt Strawhan intended doing the same.
The wind was blowing in the wrong direction for Strawhan’s scent to be carried to the gorilla, and so O’Neil had no idea that his enemy was so near him, or there would have been a very different story to tell.
The first warning he had of the presence of anyone else near him was those shots, and he peered out to see who was spoiling his chance of a first class meal.
The coach and the plunging horses had come to rest, and blocked his view of the man who had caused the stoppage.
The Six-Gun Gorilla showed his yellow fangs in a soundless snarl. Who had dared to interfere with his plans? Was someone trying to get the oranges before him?
He lumbered through the bushes parallel with the trail. The six-gun was in his hairy fist, a partially filled bandolier over one shoulder. He was immense in size, being well over six feet in height, and enormously broad.
He was mad with fury. He had rarely been so angry since his master had died.
He drew level with the stagecoach on the opposite side of it from Strawhan just as the holdup bandit thundered:
“Everyone get out and stand on this side of the road!”
The three passengers got out, leaving the door of the coach swinging open. The trembling driver had indicated that there were two crates of gold dust inside.
He saw nothing for it but to hand over the gold to the scoundrel with the gun. Only in that way should the lives of himself and his passengers be saved.
Tutt Strawhan kept one gun trained on the cowering men, and made for the doorway of the coach to make sure that the crates were actually there.
He even set one foot on the step, and stuck his face inside—just as another face came through the opposite window!
A hairy, flat-nosed, fierce-eyed, monstrous face, it was the face of the gorilla! O’Neil was having a look to see what all the excitement was about, and just for a moment he and Strawhan were face to face, almost within reach of each other.
Tutt Strawhan was so terrified that he forgot to raise his gun and fire. The color drained from his cheeks, and he reeled backwards with a choking sob.
The Six-Gun Gorilla gave one terrible roar, and tried to get at his enemy by diving through the open window. That was impossible, however. The window was not nearly big enough. O’Neil stuck for an instant then drew back and snatched at the edge of the door with a huge, hairy paw.
The door came off its hinges when he gave a powerful wrench. The coach rocked, the horses reared again, and the terrified holdup man raced down the trail towards the spot where he had left his horse tethered.
Tutt Strawhan no longer cared about the gold that lay in those crates in the coach. There was only one thing he wanted—to get away from the menace of the Six-Gun Gorilla. It seemed incredible to him that the gorilla should have turned up at this moment.
O’Neil dived through the suddenly opened doorway, across the coach, and out the other side. The men who had been lined up there promptly turned and fled for the cover of the trees.
O’Neil paid no attention to them. He was only interested in Tutt Strawhan. As the Six-Gun Gorilla rushed forward he saw the man he was after come out of the bushes, bending low over his horse. Away down the trail thundered the terrified holdup man, and the Six-Gun Gorilla knew that he could never catch him on foot.
Just then the panic stricken coach horses tried to bolt, but they were hampered by the lifeless leading horse which Strawhan had shot.
O’Neil saw what was wrong. He jumped forward, caught hold of the traces which held the dead animal, and gave one terrified jerk. The traces broke, and the remaining three horses were free to bolt down the trail.
Away they went, the one door left on the coach swinging to and fro. As the coach started its mad journey the Six-Gun Gorilla leapt on top of it, and clung on.
He had realized that the coach was going in the same direction as the man he wanted. It would enable him to keep Tutt Strawhan in sight.
So there he crouched on the top of the coach, snarling and growling, watching the frantic efforts of the horses, who could smell him in the rear, and who were trying to escape from his presence.
Faster and faster the animals went, until there was a final mighty crash as a wheel struck a tree. The traces all snapped at once, the horses galloped madly on, and O’Neil was sent head over heels into the bushes at the side of the trail.
His revolver went off as he fell, but he did not relax his hold on it. The jarring impact on the ground knocked the breath from his body. He snarled and growled with fury as he pocked himself up, but he was not hurt in any way. Only his temper had suffered.
The coach now lay on its side, but O’Neil righted it with one heave of his powerful arms. The two crates inside attracted his attention. They did not smell as if they contained oranges, but he was going to examine them nevertheless.
With his fingers he pried open the lids of one of them and peered inside. The yellow dust puzzled him. He grabbed a handful and put it in his mouth, only to spit it out a moment later in disgust, for it had no flavor.
The feel of it between his fingers told him it was the stuff for which his master had slaved for all those years at the mine. Again he snorted, and turned his fierce eyes towards the West. There went the killer of his master. He was going after him.
Two minutes later the lat occupants of the coach who peered out from behind the shelter of the trees, watched a gorilla disappearing at full speed down the western trail.
They could hardly believe that they were still alive and unharmed.
XXVII (27) — THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGLER
Tutt Strawhan kept looking back, beating and goading his horse until he was quite sure that he had outdistanced his terrible pursuer. Then he began to mutter fierce curses. Was this Six-Gun Gorilla going to haunt him all his life? Was it always going to hound him, always going to interfere with every piece of business he undertook?
This though drove him to fury. His lips curled back from his teeth, and he snarled like a wild beast.
Over and over again he had told himself that the only thing to be done was to face the monster and kill it. Several times he had tried that, but without success.
Penniless, though well equipped with weapons and ammunition which he had recently stolen, Strawhan was in no fit condition to cross the Border and establish himself in new surroundings. He wanted to have some money with him when he went over the Border. How to get that was his next worry. The big chance with the gold carrying coach had been ruined by O’Neil.
Strawhan crossed the next hills and rode through a region of canyons and defiles. He was trying to make up a plan for the future, and all the time he urged his horse on to make sure that the maddened gorilla did not overtake him. He knew very well that it could trail him by its powers of scent.
Meanwhile darkness had fallen. The hoofs of the horse beat hollowly on the hard ground as Strawhan entered one particularly gloomy looking canyon, and suddenly a shot whistled past his head.
“Halt! Hands up!” came a snarled order. Tutt Strawhan’s first impulse was to crouch forward on his horse, dig in his heels, and dash straight on.
Then he changed his mind. There were at least six men in the party, and four of them were right in front of him. He thought he heard another one or two jumping down from the rocks behind him.
He saw that he was cornered, and raised his arms after checking his weary horse.
“What’s the big idea?” he growled. “What do you want with me?”
“Whatever you’ve got!” was the curt reply from a harelipped ruffian who had his hat pulled forward over his eyes.
Tutt Strawhan gave a mocking laugh.
“Well, pardners, you’re sure welcome to all I’ve got,” he said. “My guns are the only things I possess, an’ that’s the truth. Fact is, I’m in the same line as yourselves. I’m Tutt Strawhan.”
“Not the Strawhan who shot the sheriff of Alter Creek?” muttered one of the holdup gang, lowering his gun.
“The same! That’s me,” growled Strawhan. “I guess we ought to be friends. I’ve nothin’ to hand over.”
The harelipped man growled angrily.
“He’s no more Tutt Strawhan than I am!” he snarled. “Strawhan has a gang with him. He wouldn’t be ridin’ alone like this. That guy’s lying. He—”
Tutt Strawhan had not been accounted one of the most dangerous men in the country for nothing. When he was up against men he was fearless. He had produced his gun as if from nowhere, and had drilled the harelipped leader in two places before any of the gang could stir.
Then, with a gun in either hand, he covered the rest of the toughs, ordering grimly:
“Don’t raise them guns again. I want to talk to you. I’m Tutt Strawhan all right. Who was that I just shot?”
“Harelip Harry!” grunted one of the men nervously.
“Then he was a cheap piker, not worth knowing,” growled Strawhan. “If you want a leader, I’m ready to show you guys how to get some big money. I’ve lost my gang. They got themselves shot up. I’m looking for some good men right now. What about it?”
The gang of toughs looked at each other. They had all heard of Tutt Strawhan, and the neat way in which he had disposed of their leader and turned the tables on them had impressed them greatly.
“Sure!” murmured one. “We’re with you, Strawhan. Harelip never did bring us much luck.”
So it was settled, and once again Tutt Strawhan found himself at the head of six or seven men who were as desperate as himself. It was a great relief to him to know that he now had some men behind him, but one thing was certain. He was not going to scare them by telling them about the Six-Gun Gorilla. Evidently they had not heard of that episode in his life.
His new gang led him back amongst the trees to a secluded corner where they had a camp. They told him that they had heard his hoof beats in the distance, and had come out to “welcome” him.
They gave him food and coffee. He boasted of his plans, but all the time he was straining his eyes into the distance, wondering how long it would be before the gorilla arrived.
At last he said as casually as he could:
“There’s one thing I didn’t tell you men. I’ve got a sheriff’s posse after me. They shot up my gang when we tried to stop the coach from the mines. It was a put-up job. They fixed an ambush for us. I don’t know whether they’ve struck my trail to here or not, but I want to take no risks. They’ve got a first class tracker with ’em. He might find his way here.”
“Don’t you worry, Strawhan, no tracker could follow you over this hard ground,” declared one of the gang.
“Don’t be so sure,” snapped Strawhan. “This guy is a wizard. I’d feel mighty upset if we had trouble the first night I arrived. The only thing to do to make sure we’ll be safe is to set a man on either side of the entrance to the canyon, an’ they can shoot down anyone who enters before daylight. That’ll make certain we’re not disturbed here. We don’t want any accidents before we get going properly.”
Two of the gang promptly volunteered to take up this job for the night, and with a couple of guns apiece they posted themselves on either side of the entrance to the canyon.
Utterly worn out by his recent attempts to escape the gorilla, the killer went off into a deep sleep which lasted for hours.
His men were getting breakfast ready when he wakened in the morning, feeling much fresher and full of confidence, ready to face most dangers.
“Any trouble in the night?” he asked casually.
“Nope, not that we know of,” answered one of the gang. “Ted an’ Jake haven’t come in yet, but they did no shootin’ after dark. They ought to be in to breakfast soon.”
After a few minutes the coffee was ready, and there was still no sign of the two sentries. One of the men went to the top of the slope and bellowed their names.
To their surprise there was no response.
“It ain’t like them to miss their grub,” muttered one of the gang. “Surely they ain’t gone to sleep on their job!”
Tutt Strawhan and two of the men went down the canyon to see what was wrong. Strawhan for some reason felt nervous. His hand was continually on his gun, though there was no sign of anything being wrong.
“Hi, Jake! Hi, Ted, what’s the matter with you?” shouted one man. “Don’t you want any grub this morning?”
The words were echoed by the cliffs on either side, but there was no response from the men concerned.
Again Tutt Strawhan shivered, and he gripped his gun.
“Where did you post Jake?” he asked.
The two men with Strawhan pointed behind a certain boulder near the mouth of the canyon, and all three went round there to see if their comrade had left any clue to his whereabouts.
Tutt Strawhan was to the forefront, and he gave a sudden strangled cry, pointing with a shaking finger at the ground.
The man called Jake lay there. He lay on his chest behind the rock, and the position of his inert body told his horrified comrades that he was dead. Livid marks on his neck showed that some terrible pair of hands had gripped the unfortunate sentry and had strangled him.
Gurgles of horror came from the other men as they stooped beside their dead comrade. One of them pointed out the livid bruises on his neck, where the great fingers had gripped and twisted.
“What—who could have done it?” muttered one tough. “Jake was a strong man, an’ no ordinary person could have done this. It—it’s uncanny!”
Tutt Strawhan swallowed hard. He could have told them that there was only one being in Colorado that could have done this thing—the Six-Gun Gorilla!
Strawhan could picture how the great beast had scented the presence of the gunman, and how instinct had warned it that the man was dangerous. O’Neil had probably climbed up on the sheer cliff beyond and dropped down on the man from above. Jake had been killed before he could even pull trigger.
It was ghastly, terrifying, almost paralyzing. Tutt Strawhan’s mouth dried with fear. What had happened to the gorilla after it had killed Jake?
“And Ted?” muttered someone else. “He was behind those bushes over on the other side there. Hey, Ted!”
They found Ted a few minutes later. He lay on his back, and his head lolled to one side. His neck was broken.
The Six-Gun Gorilla had silenced both the sentries in the night. Why had it not followed up its advantage by attacking the sleepers in the camp? Where was it now? Had it gone into hiding somewhere? These questions hammered in Strawhan’s brain while the other men muttered among themselves.
The gang leader kept a tight hold on himself and tried to remain cool. It was very difficult. Every few minutes he found himself staring over his own shoulder in fear. He was expecting the Six-Gun Gorilla to leap on him at any minute.
XXVIII (28) — THE ATTACK ON THE MINE
Terror came to the gang. They remained in that gorge no longer than was necessary to pack up their kit and mount their horses. Tutt Strawhan spent those last minutes there with his back to a rock and his guns in his hand. Even then he was afraid that O’Neil might drop upon him from the top of the boulder.
Why did the gorilla not show itself? It was unlike O’Neil to wait his time. Usually he went at things in a bullheaded manner, tearing down every obstacle. What was holding him back now? Was he playing with Tutt Strawhan as a cat plays with a mouse? Sweat broke out on the gunman’s face as he thought of this possibility.
The rest of the gang licked their lips and watched their leader’s face. They were ready to admit that they were terrified, but they were rather disappointed in him. They had always heard that Strawhan was fearless, but now he seemed filled with a deadly terror. They wondered why.
Before long they were clattering up the gorge, heading further West, and even then Strawhan kept an eye on the cliffs on either side.
They had reached the end of the canyon, and were about to descent the slope beyond, when a revolver sounded on their right.
The bullet whistled between two of the men, making them crouch low and urge their horses to a gallop.
There was no other shot. That single report had seemed to come from nowhere and only one member of the party could have explained it. Tutt Strawhan fancied that he had seen a hairy arm come for one moment out of the bushes, and then disappear immediately the shot had been fired. The Six-Gun Gorilla had not followed up his shot.
Why? What did this change of tactics mean? Was the gorilla hatching some plot by which it hoped to trap Tutt Strawhan? Once again the gang leader shuddered at the thought.
The fleeing toughs rode down that long sloped at breakneck speed, then pulled up at the bottom. One of the gang, a man named Gorman, forced a laugh.
“Well, if that was a sheriff’s posse that was after you, Strawhan, we’ve sure shaken it off!” he growled. “There’s nary a person on the slope.”
“It wasn’t no posse that did Jake an’ Ted in,” growled another of the men. “Reckon there’s more than that behind us.”
The other two men were watching Tutt Strawhan closely. He licked his lips and forced his brain to act quickly. He could see that the men were getting suspicious. He had to invent something.
“Seems to me I once heard of a mad hermit who lives in these parts,” he muttered. “Maybe he had a spite against us. If I thought it was worth while I’d go back an’ search those hills for him, but I’m thinking of you others. You want to get busy raising some cash. There’s a small mine run by half a dozen miners over in the next valley. Supposed to be pretty rich it is. I vote we head that way an’ clean ’em out.”
The idea met with their approval. In thinking of the gold dust which they hoped would be theirs before nightfall, they managed to forget the horror of the past hour, and the deaths of their two comrades.
But Tutt Strawhan could not forget. He knew that all the gold dust in the world would not make him forget the peril which hung over him.
O’Neil was still on is trail! That was as certain as the rising of the sun in the morning. The gorilla was relentless, and though it was sometimes slow in picking up a new trail, it never failed to do so.
That was why Strawhan wanted staunch comrades with him, and why he was willing to offer them the bait of gold dust to remain with him.
All that morning the gang rode hard, and it was early afternoon when at last they saw the dump of earth and rock which had been turned out from the Conifer Mine.
This mine was set in a hollow between three hills. It was a remote spot, with a waterfall supplying ample water for washing ore. As a matter of fact Strawhan had been right when he had said that it was rich, and there was no doubt that when the country was more developed, more would be heard of the Conifer Mine.
At the moment it supported six or seven hardworking miners who had formed a little syndicate and bought one stamping machine.
From the trees at the top of the hills, the three ruffians cast greedy eyes on the collection of shacks below. They could see only two men moving about, and guessed that the other miners were below working. There was a good sized shaft at one end of the property, with an extra large windlass, geared for winding.
“Now’s our chance!” whispered Tutt Strawhan. “We’ll deal with those two first, then we’ll have the others at our mercy.”
The ruffians left their horses under the trees, and crept down the slope. They kept behind their leader, and the two unsuspecting miners were stooping over some newly raised ore when they felt two guns prodding them in the back.
“Up with ’em!” came the voice of Tutt Strawhan. “Step back from there.”
Bewildered, trapped by three armed men, the luckless miners stepped back, and were at once seized. Their weapons were taken from them, and their arms pinioned behind their backs.
The fact that the miners had been captured would have satisfied most men, but not Tutt Strawhan.
“Take ’em over to the corner an’ finish ’em!” he muttered.
A few moments later a crackle of shots told that his orders had been carried out. The men down in the mine still knew nothing of what was happening.
About two minutes later there came a shout from the bottom of the mine:
“Haul away, Eb!”
Tutt Strawhan nodded to one of his men, who worked the windlass vigorously. A great bucket of ore came to the surface, was emptied, and duly returned empty.
In this way the men below were kept in ignorance of any trouble above. It gave the Strawhan gang time to search the mine and discover the stock of gold dust which had recently been raised.
They were rather disappointed with what they found. There was much less than they had expected, not enough to repay them for their trouble.
Tutt Strawhan growled with fury.
“Maybe they keep their dust down below in the mine,” he said. “I’ve heard of that being done before. Maybe they’ve got a store down there. We’ll have to see.”
It was obviously impossible to descent the shaft while the men were there. It would be much too dangerous. Strawhan decided that it would be far better to wait until the miners unsuspectingly returned to the surface, and then deal with them.
“We’ll shoot all except one, an’ keep him to make him tell us where the dust is kept,” snarled the gang leader. “Meanwhile keep that windlass going. They mustn’t know anything’s wrong.”
So all the afternoon the windlass creaked, and the ore was emptied into a pile. Tutt Strawhan did not help with this. He spent most of his time in the stone building, with the door closed, peering from the window.
Whenever any of his new friends came into the shack he seemed to be searching under the floorboards for gold, but actually he was watching the surrounding slopes, wondering if the Six-Gun Gorilla had yet tracked him down.
At last, just about for o’clock in the afternoon, he saw it!
It was outlined against the skyline on the eastern side of the hollow. Just for a moment it stood there, balancing itself with one hand in a tree, the six-gun and the bandolier clearly visible.
Its head was turned towards the mine, and Tutt Strawhan shivered. It knew that he was there! It was coming down to seek him, and if he remained where he was he would be trapped!
Only for a moment did the gorilla show itself, then it dodged down amongst the bushes and vanished.
Tutt Strawhan gave a choking gurgle. Just then one of his gang came in at the door and said:
“They won’t be long coming up now. One of ’em shouted that they’d be knocking off in half an hour. Better come an’ get ready for ’em, Tutt.”
“No!” the gang leader croaked. “We’ve got to get out of here at once, an’ by that side of the hollow. I’ve just seen the—the sheriff an’ his posse up there on the ridge. I believe they’re creeping down the slope. Let’s get our hosses an’ bolt for it.”
The man frowned.
“Seems to me we made a mistake when we took you on as our leader, Strawhan. You’ve lost your nerve. Why shouldn’t we stop here an’ face them? With these buildings to cover us we’d soon settle them. We’ll give you a hand to wipe them out, then deal with the miners afterwards. Remember the gold dust.”
Strawhan clenched his fists.
“I say we’ve got to clear out!” he rasped. “We’ve got to go—got to! Do you hear me?”
He clutched at the other’s arm, and the man thrust him away.
“Better go by yourself, Strawhan,” he growled. “We’re not leaving until we lay hands on that dust. You go if you want to, but you don’t get no share of the gold.”
Tutt Strawhan nearly choked with terror. Through the window he could see the bushed slope, and could imagine a huge, slinking shape gliding nearer and nearer.
His impulse was to get his horse and ride away at once, yet that would mean going alone. It would mean that he would lose his new friends.
He had a terrible alternative, either to flee alone or stay here at the mine and face O’Neil!
XXIX (29) — TUTT STRAWHAN SURRENDERS
The Conifer Mine was a lonely one, one of the loneliest in Colorado. Set in a hollow between high hills, it was remote from the world, a fit setting for the grim drama which was being played out there.
Two dead bodies lay in one of the sheds, the bodies of the two miners who had been working on the surface when a gang of desperate gunmen had descended on the place in search of gold.
The rest of the group of miners who owned the mine were still down in the workings, knowing nothing of the fate of their comrades, or what was awaiting them up above.
For hours the windlass had been worked by the gunmen, who were only waiting for the miners to come to the surface in order to shoot all except one. That man was to be spared so that he could be questioned and forced to tell where the gold dust was hidden.
Leader of this villainous gang was Tutt Strawhan, a killer with an evil reputation in the West. The men who were now working with him had only recently come under his leadership, and at the moment they were looking for him with contempt and wonder.
For just when they were about to see the results of their day’s work, just as the miners were about to come up to the surface and fall into the trap, Tutt Strawhan was pleading with his comrades to leave and flee.
“I tell you we’ve got to run for it! There’s not a moment to spare!” he croaked, as he crouched in the only stone-built cabin in the tiny settlement. “That sheriff’s got a dozen men with him. We’ve got no chance!”
Sweat trickled down his face. His mouth quivered with terror. His face was ghastly to look upon. It was bewildering to these hardened gunmen that such a tough fellow as Tutt Strawhan could be scared because he had seen a sheriff’s posse approaching.
That was what he had just told his comrades. He said he had seen the sheriff coming through the trees.
“Nix on that!” growled one of the group. “We’re stopping here, sheriff or no sheriff! We can deal with him an’ the miners as well. If you want to quit, Strawhan, get going!”
No man had ever spoken to Tutt Strawhan like that before without guns being drawn, but today he even ignored the insult.
Although his companions did not know it, Strawhan was in mortal terror of something so horrible that he had not even dared tell his new partners of its existence. Even now he continued to lie to them.
Some months before this Tutt Strawhan had been at the height of his power, with a well-armed gang. He had heard of the Dragonfly Mine, a rich little gold mine owned and worked by an old miner named Bart Masters.
Masters had worked the mine for seven years, aided by a gorilla which he had purchased from a sailor.
O’Neil was the name Masters had given his pet, and O’Neil had become his constant companion. The miner had taught the great beast to be useful in many ways. It could dig, bring in firewood, or haul up buckets of ore from the mineshaft. What was most important, however, was the fact that he had taught it how to handle a revolver!
The night the Strawhan Gang had arrived at the mine Masters had collected all his gold, ten thousand pounds worth, for transport to civilization, for he intended to retire from work. The Strawhan Gang had killed him, had wounded the chained gorilla, and had made off with the gold.
O’Neil had recovered, however, and his sorrow and rage had been terrible when he had discovered that his master was dead. He had set out on the trail of the murderers.
Ever since then he had hounded the Strawhan Gang. One by one he had killed off the gang, until now only Strawhan remained.
Strawhan had joined up with these other men merely because he was afraid to remain alone, and he had not dared tell them of the monster which was hunting him.
It was O’Neil, the Six-Gun Gorilla, which he had just glimpsed amongst the trees on the slope, and not a sheriff! O’Neil was coming, and Tutt Strawhan knew what that meant.
A shout from the top of the mineshaft took the other ruffians over to the windlass. The miners were wanting to come up. They still knew nothing of the fate of their comrades.
Tutt Strawhan was left alone in the stone cabin. He closed and bolted the door. He had decided to remain there. He dared not flee alone. He simply had to have these men with him. There was just a chance that they might be able to deal with the great creature, but the gang leader had not very much hope of that. Revolver bullets seemed to have no effect on O’Neil.
Over at the shaft the windlass was coming up. Two of the gunmen were winding at the handle whilst two others stood by with drawn revolvers.
An iron bucket came to the surface. Two grimy looking men were standing in it, clutching at the rope. As it swung close to the side of the shaft they jumped nimbly off.
Their day’s toil was done. They sighed with relief as the cool air struck their faces, then gulped when revolvers were jabbed into their sides.
“Hands up! One shout out o’ you, an’ it’ll be your last!”
The miners were trapped. Dumbly they gazed around at the four tight-lipped men who had awaited them. The bucket was already being sent down for two of their comrades. There was no chance of warning them. They themselves were now being herded away from the side of the shaft, and their hands were quickly roped behind them.
“What—What’s it all mean?” gasped one of them.
“You’ll know in good time,” growled one of the gunmen. “You keep your mouth shut, or it’ll be the worse for you!”
Two more miners were brought to the surface and likewise trapped. The bucket went down for the one remaining miner.
This one, as he came to the surface, saw the guns leveled before he was properly clear of the shaft. So great was his surprise that he lost his balance and fell backwards down the shaft. He must have been killed instantly.
That did not worry the gunmen. They drove their four prisoners into a corner against the big dump of earth and ore which had been excavated from the mine.
“You guys know what we’re here for,” snarled one tough, a man named Gorman. “We want the gold. Where is it?”
The miners looked grimly at each other. They were hardworking men who had formed a little syndicate to run this property. All their life’s work would be made worthless if they gave up their store of gold. It was better to die than do that.
“We’ve sent it all to the nearest bank,” croaked one.
He received a brutal blow in the face.
“Nix on that!” snarled Gorman. “Don’t try to stall us off. We know durn well it’s here, an’ we mean to get it. If someone don’t tell us in two minutes we’ll shoot the little guy with the moustache first, then each of you other at intervals of five minutes.”
Gorman meant what he said. The miners saw that they were up against utterly ruthless killers. Lives meant nothing to these outlaws. Gold was the only thing they craved.
One of the four miners began to weaken.
“Better—better tell ’em!” he gasped.
Gorman had seen that the fellow’s nerve was breaking, and had decided to take full advantage of it. He had fired a shot within an inch of the miner’s head.
“Yes, you’d better tell!” he roared. “Out with it! Where’s that gold?”
In another moment the secret would have been out, but the sudden bark of a gun from behind the killers was followed by the collapse of one of the outlaws. He had been shot in the back by a heavy .45 bullet.
The others spun round, and their guns nearly dropped from their hands. Their mouths dried with fear when they saw who had fired the shot.
They had expected to see a sheriff, with perhaps a posse, but what now confronted them was a mighty gorilla, well over six feet tall, with a huge chest, a face like a fiend, and a smoking gun in its hand.
A bandolier was across one huge shoulder. Red eyes glared from under shaggy brows. O’Neil was on the warpath.
He had tracked Tutt Strawhan to his spot, and had been creeping up with the intention of seizing him unawares, when Gorman had fired that solitary shot. The Six-Gun Gorilla had immediately concluded that someone was shooting at him. This was his retaliation, and at that short range it had been impossible for him to miss.
“Wh—What is it?” murmured one of the scoundrels, feebly. “It ain’t a man. It ain’t an Injun’!”
None of them had ever seen a gorilla before. To them it was something fantastic, something out of a nightmare. They were too terrified even to use their guns.
O’Neil snarled, and Gorman instinctively tightened his finger on the trigger of his gun. He had not intended to fire, but the gun went off with a loud report, and a shot struck the ground near O’Neil’s foot.
The Six-Gun Gorilla roared loudly, and fired as rapidly as his hairy finger would press the trigger. The bullets went in all directions. The captive miners narrowly escaped being hit. One of the remaining three gunmen was shot through the head. The other two turned and fled.
After them went O’Neil. His blood was up. Usually he did not harm ordinary men. Today he was angry because he believed that these men who had fired at him were friends of Tutt Strawhan’s, and were protecting the gang leader. O’Neil wanted to smash them or kill them, just as he had killed the rest of the Strawhan Gang.
He covered the ground in great leaps and bounds. He had fired all the shots in the chambers of his gun, so that the weapon was useless until reloaded.
The two desperate men fired over their shoulders. Once or twice their bullets went close to the gorilla, but the sight of their terrible pursuer unnerved the fleeing men so much that they could not aim properly.
The last the four astonished miners saw of their strange rescuer was O’Neil following the two gunmen into the thick scrub on the hillside. Shortly afterwards they heard terrible screams and roars.
Then, to their surprise, the door of the stone store hut opened, and a wild-eyed man came running out. At each hip swing a six-gun, but he did not attempt to use them.
Instead he came rushing up to the miners, cut the ropes that bound them, and dropped on his knees before them.
“I’m Tutt Strawhan, the leader of these men who tried to kill you!” he babbled. “Take me away from here. Put me under arrest. Lock me up. Do anything you like with me, but don’t leave me alone with that gorilla!”
XXX (30) — THE SEARCH FOR THE SLAYER
What Strawhan had seen and heard had completely broken his never. He was ready to give himself up to the Law rather than come face to face with O’Neil lone-handed. The Law might be able to protect him.
The miners looked at him in amazement.
“Guess he’s crazy!” grunted one of them. “Who did he say he was?”
“I’m Tutt Strawhan, you must have heard of me! There’s a reward of five thousand dollars offered for me in this State. You’ll get that if you take me in. Take me back to Denver—anywhere away from here!”
He dropped his guns at their feet. One of the miners picked them up.
“If you’re responsible for what’s happened here the best thing we can do is to shoot you here an’ now,” he growled.
Tutt Strawhan looked pleadingly at the miner.
“No, no, I’m worth five thousand dollars, alive, I tell you!” he gasped.
With trembling fingers he drew a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, and the miners saw that he was speaking the truth. Printed on the bill was a photograph of Strawhan, with a list of some of his earlier rimes underneath it, and an offer of five thousand dollars if he was brought in alive.
“It’s true enough,” murmured the leader of the miners. “He’s the guy on the picture. Five thousand dollars is a lot o’ money. It might be worth while handin’ the rat over alive.”
“Yes, yes, but you’ve got to save me from the gorilla!” panted Strawhan, clutching at their knees. “He’s killed those other men. He’s after me. He’ll be back soon. He’s reloading that gun, that’s what he’s doing. He’ll be back for me at any time now. Put me somewhere safe. Put me down the mine!”
“Eh?” demanded the startled miner. “That’s an idea. If that gorilla is really after him—”
“It is!” gasped Strawhan. “It’s followed me for a month. It’s nearly driven me mad. I shot its master, an’ it’s never forgotten. It’ll kill me, an’ you’ll lose five thousand dollars unless you put me down the mine.”
The miners muttered amongst themselves. They were beginning to believe Strawhan’s ravings. They had seen the Six-Gun Gorilla in action, and knew that the great beast was quite capable of doing all that Strawhan threatened it would do.
“Down the mine! Down the mine!” whimpered Strawhan.
Nobody who had know him in his bullying, triumphant days would have recognized the notorious Tutt Strawhan now. He was a broken man, seeking protection from this terrible monster which had followed him so far.
The miners finally agreed to Strawhan’s plan. They lifted the gang leader and put him in the bucket. One of the others climbed in and balanced himself beside the prisoner.
“Lower away!” he growled, and the winch creaked as the other two worked the handles. “I’ll tie him up and leave him at the head of the tunnel.”
Ten minutes later the man who had taken the gunman down the mine was hauled up the shaft. He told his comrades that he had made sure that Strawhan would not escape.
The four miners began to look around the small camp and see the damage that had been done by the raiders. They muttered with fury when they came across the bodies of their dead comrades.
They carried the two bodies to the store room and covered them over with sacks. They were so busy doing this that they did not see the monstrous figure which stumbled across the clearing.
They did not know of its approach until a shadow fell across the door, and they hurriedly turned to find themselves face to face with the Six-Gun Gorilla.
He was pointing his revolver at them, and instinctively two of the four men raised their hands into the air. O’Neil did not fire. He did not make a sound, but his lips moved in a noiseless snarl. His fierce eyes were searching the room.
He saw the two covered figures, and snarled. He knew that these two men were dead. Slowly, walking awkwardly on his massive hind legs, he cross the room and jerked away the sacks. He wanted to see the faces of the dead men. He wanted to know if Strawhan was one of those still figures.
A grunt escape him when he saw that this was not the case. He turned, and without paying any more attention to the four trembling miners, he went from the hut.
They watched him lumber into the shack in which they lived, and heard him opening and closing doors. They saw him peer into the wood shed where they kept their stamping machine. O’Neil did not miss a single corner.
“Strawhan told the truth!” whispered one miner. “The brute’s looking for him. He doesn’t want anything to do with us.”
Fascinated and frightened by the strange sight they watched closely as the Six-Gun Gorilla completed his tour of inspection of the mining camp. As he neared the end of his search, and proved to his satisfaction that the man he wanted was not in the camp, O’Neil flew into a rage. He put his gun back in its holster and beat his chest with his clenched fists, roaring at the same time in a voice that could have been heard a mile away.
Thus, O’Neil expressed his disappointment at his failure to find the man he sought. The shivering miners remained under cover. One of them suggested getting the express rifle and trying to shoot the animal, but the others checked him. They said that it was better to leave their visitor alone. He might go away soon.
On one occasion O’Neil went to the head of the mineshaft and sniffed. It looked as though he had discovered the hiding place of the man he sought, but evidently he was not certain about it. He shook his head dubiously, then ambled away, snorting and roaring in turn.
He was puzzled and bewildered. The tracks of Tutt Strawhan led to the mining camp, yet the man was not here. The brain of the gorilla could not cope with this.
It was lucky for the miners that he did not turn on them, or suspect that they were hiding his hated foe. He vented his rage on some trees, uprooting them as easily as if they had been bushes, then he went back into the scrub and vanished from sight.
The miners sighed with relief.
By this time it was getting dark, and the miners ventured to light a stove and prepare a meal. Sitting round the crude table, talking over the amazing events of the day, by the light of an oil lamp, they suddenly became conscious of a face at the window.
It was the hideous face of O’Neil. His flat nose was pressed to the window pane, and his fierce eyes were scanning the room. For two or three minutes he remained motionless, then he turned and vanished into the darkness.
One of the miners licked his lips.
“He’s still around,” he growled. “He doesn’t intend to give up. He means to get Strawhan at some time or other. Think he guesses we’ve got him stowed away?”
None of his comrades would say, but they did not eat their supper after that. They had lost their appetites.
They did not sleep a wink that night, though they barricaded themselves in their shack. They could hear O’Neil prowling around the camp. He was still on the watch for Tutt Strawhan. He still had a feeling that his enemy was somewhere in the vicinity.
Morning found the miners dark-eyed and weary. There was nothing to be seen of the Six-Gun Gorilla, but his footprints were all over the place. The miners guessed that he was not far away.
They were almost afraid to go down the mine with food and water for the prisoner. They feared that O’Neil might notice them and guess what they were doing.
However, that morning he did not appear at all, and the miners began to think that he had really gone away. They began to discuss what they should do.
They wanted to report what had happened to the nearest sheriff, and to hand over their prisoner. The sooner they did this the sooner they could apply for the reward. They discussed ways and means of handing Strawhan over.
None of them was inclined to remain at the mine alone. They decided to shut the place up for a while, and all accompany their prisoner to the nearest settlement, which was a good twenty miles distant. How to smuggle Strawhan past the gorilla was their greatest problem.
By now they were determined to protect Strawhan at any cost, simply because he was worth five thousand dollars to them alive.
In the end they decided to wait for two days, by which time O’Neil would almost certainly have left the neighborhood.
The two days passed. Strawhan remained a prisoner in the mine, never once complaining of his fate. He felt safe there. He would have remained there forever quite willingly.
The miners went down to him on the third morning and said that they were going to take him to Loshkosh Valley, which was the nearest settlement to the mining camp. Strawhan licked his lips feverishly and demanded:
“The gorilla—where is it?”
“We haven’t seen it for nearly three days,” growled one of the miners. “It’s cleared off somewhere else. We mean to leave here at dusk tonight, an’ ride straight through. We’ve got a hoss for you.”
Strawhan said that he would like to remain in the mine for another week in order to make sure that the Six-Gun Gorilla had gone. The miners refused this request, and they set about making preparations for their departure. The prisoner was brought up from the mine and lodged in their shack. They collected the hidden gold dust, and saddled their horses.
The horses were already tethered outside the shack, and the miners were collecting a few articles of clothing to stuff into their duffle bags, when there came the sound of a terrific commotion outside. The horses were rearing on their hind legs, kicking, squealing and trying to break loose.
Tutt Strawhan made a dive for the underside of the table.
“The gorilla!” he gasped. “It’s back again. The horses have scented it. That’s why they’re scared. Save me! It’ll be here in a minute! It can smell me!”
The miners knew that the killer was right. One of them reported that he could see the dark figure of the gorilla crossing the clearing, obviously making for their shack. O’Neil’s gun was still at his hip. He was sniffing the air as though he detected something that interested him.
“He can smell me! He can smell me!” repeated Strawhan.
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