- 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
XXXI (31) — THE BLOCKADED MINE
“We’ll soon fix that!” growled one of the miners, and he opened a bottle of strong smelling hair oil, which he kept for use for his occasional visits to a town, and emptied it on the floor.
The scent was almost overpowering. It made the other men cough. Strawhan whimpered to silence as he crouched under the table in the darkest corner of the room.
Someone rattled at the door. O’Neil was trying to lift the latch, and could not. He was coming to make another inspection.
Angered by his failure to open the door, the Six-Gun Gorilla gave it a terrific punch with his fist, and two panels burst inwards. The miners cowered back against the wall, screening the hidden man with their legs.
The head of the gorilla came through the hole, and his broad nostrils twitched as he got the scent of the hair oil. He glanced round the room inquisitively.
O’Neil could not see Strawhan, and he certainly could not smell him. He could smell nothing but the hair oil.
Grumbling and grunting to himself, he withdrew his head and ambled away, leaving behind him a ruined door and five thoroughly frightened men.
Suddenly one of the miners lost his temper. “Durn it!” he growled. “How long are we going to put up with this? We can’t always sit around here because a durn gorilla says so! We’ve got to do something about it. We’ll simply have to kill it somehow. What about trying to trap it?”
The rest of the miners liked the idea. Whilst Strawhan remained on the floor afraid to let himself be seen through the window, they discussed how they could trap the gorilla.
One of them remembered how an enormous bear had been trapped in Kansas after it had terrorized a whole camp for a month. He described the trap which had been used.
“Trouble is to know what to use for bait,” he grunted. “What do these gorillas eat? What do they like best? You ought to know, Strawhan.”
Tutt Strawhan did not know, and was in no condition to make suggestions. None of the miners knew anything about gorillas, but one said that he thought that fruit was a favorite food with the great apes.
To get fruit up at the mining camp was out of the question. The miners had none. Then they decided to try something sweet. They had several posts of jam and honey. Those might do the trick.
Far into the night the planning men talked, and the next morning, when they had made sure that the gorilla was not watching, they smuggled Tutt Strawhan back in the mine.
Then they set to work to make their trap, a huge, clumsy affair of massive timers. It was to have a dropdoor with iron bars, and the “bait” was a plank of wood heavily smeared with honey and jam.
They set it up near their own shack, and felt sure that when O’Neil made his next tour of inspection he would nose inside the trap to see if Strawhan was hidden there. If the gorilla as much as touched the plank on which the jam was spread, the heavy door would come down.
The miners were proud of their trap, and the man who took Strawhan his meal that evening told the killer that he would not need to worry much longer. O’Neil would soon be in the trap, and once he was caught the miners would find means of killing him.
That evening they went to their bunks keyed up with excitement. They took it in turn to keep awake to listen for the thud of the door of the trap.
The first part of the night passed without incident. It must have been about three o’clock in the morning when the watching miner roused his comrades and whispered that he heard O’Neil prowling about.
Loud snuffling and snorting made it obvious that the Six-Gun Gorilla was on the prowl again. The miners heard him open and close several doors. O’Neil was leaving nothing to chance.
The four watching men looked at each other excitedly as they heard the sinister noises close outside the shack. The gorilla was nearing the trap. They heard him stop and grunt again. He had seen the trap for the first time, and was examining it.
Then came the sound for which they had earnestly hoped—the heavy thud which told them that the massive door of the trap had closed. A roar from the trapped gorilla followed.
The four men dashed for the door of their shack. They almost wedged themselves in the doorway in their eagerness to get out. From the huge cage came the most terrible din imaginable. O’Neil seemed to have gone mad.
The miners reached the trap and found it rocking to and fro, in spite of its weight. O’Neil was safely inside, and had hold of the iron bars with his powerful hands, shaking and straining at them in a desperate effort to break free.
“Not this time, me beauty!” jeered one of the miners. “Those bars would stand the weight of an elephant. You won’t get out of there. We’re sorry for you, old pal, but you’ve sure made yourself a nuisance. We’ll have to shoot you.”
One of the miners had brought an express rifle. It was loaded and ready. He tried to maneuver it into a position from which he could put a bullet through the gorilla’s brain, but the light was not good, and it took him some time to find the right position.
He had fired at last, but at that same second O’Neil had dropped on all fours. Instead of going through his brain as intended the shot just grazed his back.
He gave vent to a roar which outdid all his previous efforts. Then, with remarkable speed for such a clumsy looking animal, he snatched for his revolver.
Bart Masters had trained his pet to be quick on the draw, and before those astonished miners knew what was happening a fusillade of bullets was whining about them.
O’Neil was no marksman. He just pointed a gun and pulled the trigger, but that could produce results at times, and one of the miners groaned as his arm was shattered by a bullet.
It happened to be the man with the express rifle, and in his eagerness to get away from the gorilla he dropped the rifle on the ground, not many feet from the bars of the trap.
The Six-Gun Gorilla knew that it was this weapon which had been fired at him. One long, hairy arm came out between the bars of the trap, and a moment later the rifle was in his grasp. The next minute O’Neil had snapped the gun across his knee.
The miners hastily scattered for cover. They had forgotten that the Six-Gun Gorilla was armed! They had forgotten that they had trapped something almost human, which could hit back.
Seeing that he had driven his foes away O’Neil squatted down in the bottom of the trap and proceeded to reload his revolver. The miners peered at him from a safe distance.
They had lost the only rifle they had possessed. The only weapons they had now were revolvers, and they knew well enough that an ordinary revolver bullet would do very little damage to O’Neil.
Their plan to trap O’Neil had seemed a good one the previous evening. Now they were not so pleased with it. All they had done was to trap O’Neil and annoy him. Whether they could keep him in the trap or not was a different matter. They had only intended holding him there the few minutes that it would have taken to kill him. Already a terrific din from the direction of the cage indicated that he was breaking his way out.
The bars were too strong even for O’Neil, but he had got his thick finger between two baulks of timber, and was slowly but surely prying them apart. Once he got his whole arm into the gap he gave a heave which burst the trap asunder, then walked out without further trouble.
His gun was in his hand. His eyes were angry. Low, rumbling noises came from the depths of his throat, and the watching miners trembled. They felt sure that O’Neil was going to avenge himself on them. They drew their revolvers in readiness.
O’Neil had no desire to kill anyone except Tutt Strawhan, however. The gorilla was furious, but not in a murderous mood. Instead of going after the miners the Six-Gun Gorilla went to their quarters and avenged itself by smashing everything in the place. O’Neil finished his work by throwing the remains of the miners’ belongings out through the door. Then he stalked majestically away.
It was just as though he had said:
“Let that be a lesson to you. Don’t try any tricks on me again.”
The miners licked their parched lips and crept board to tidy up the wreckage. It was not so easy to get rid of the Six-Gun Gorilla after all. It seemed ridiculous that four fully grown, intelligent men should be blockaded in this fashion by a gorilla, but such was the case.
It began to look as though Tutt Strawhan would spend the rest of his life in the mine, and as though that five thousand dollars’ reward would never be secured.
Daylight was showing over the mountains when the leader of the miners had another brainwave.
“I’ve got it!” he whooped. “You saw how we fooled the gorilla in the shack when Strawhan hid under the table. The gorilla couldn’t see Strawhan or smell him, so it didn’t think he was there.”
“Well?” chorused the other men.
“We can do that in another way!” snapped the leader. “We’ll make a box like a coffin, big enough to hold Strawhan, an’ we’ll paint it all over with that Stockholm tar we’ve got. That stinks like anything. We’ll put it on thick. Then we’ll get Strawhan inside the box an’ take him away right under the nose of the gorilla. I’ll bet that after one sniff of the tar the brute will go away.”
The idea seemed a good one. The miners set to work making the box, whilst Tutt Strawhan remained hidden in the mine, still in a state of acute terror, and whilst O’Neil roamed the slopes around the camp, still intent on discovering what had happened to the man who had murdered his master.
XXXII (32) — WILL THE TAR TRICK O’NEIL?
The Confer Mine was one of the loneliest in Colorado, and for several days it had been blockaded…by a gorilla.
Four miners only remained alive in the place, but there was a fifth man down at the bottom of the mine, who had his arms tied behind him, and his ears strained for sounds from above.
Tutt Strawhan was his name, and he was a gunman with an evil reputation. There had been a time when he had been the leader of the most feared gang in Colorado. But at the moment he was in fear of his life, glad to be kept at the bottom of the deep shaft.
Some months before this, when he had a large gang around him, he had heard of a small 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 he had given it, 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, and what was more important, it had been taught to use a revolver.
Then the Strawhan gang had arrived, shot Masters, wounded the chained gorilla, and had made off with about then thousand pounds’ worth of gold.
O’Neil had recovered, and had nearly gone mad 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 gang. One by one he had killed them off, until now only Strawhan remained.
Accompanied by several other toughs, Tutt Strawhan had come to the Conifer Mine to rob it. They had all been killed when the gorilla had arrived on the scene, and now Strawhan was glad to be the prisoner of the remaining miners.
He had even convinced them that he was worth five thousand dollars, the reward they would be given if they got him to the nearest sheriff alive. The gunman preferred to be in the hands of the law rather than suffer the end O’Neil would give him. He knew there might be a chance of escape from the sheriff later on.
But when the miners had attempted to take their prisoner to the nearest settlement they had come up against a difficulty.
O’Neil was still waiting for Strawhan. The Six-Gun Gorilla had already searched the mine buildings on more than one occasion, trying to find the man whom he had followed for so long.
The miners had tried to kill the huge brute and had failed. They had captured O’Neil, but he had escaped from the trap.
He watched the mine like a lynx. If the miners had attempted to ride away with Strawhan he would have pounced.
At last they had thought out what appeared to be a good plan. They knew O’Neil tracked Strawhan by both sight and smell. If O’Neil could neither see nor smell the gang leader, he would not know he was there.
That was why the miners were engaged in making a big, stout, wooden case shaped something like a coffin. It was intended for the transport of Strawhan. The miners had explained to him about it, and he was quite prepared to travel in that fashion as long as they took precautions to prevent the gorilla from smelling him out.
This the miners were going to do by painting the case thickly with strong smelling Stockholm tar.
So they worked as rapidly as they could, only stopping once when a shadow fell across them, and they looked up to find O’Neil looming over them.
He had seen the closed box which they were preparing to smooth down for paint, and he was suspicious.
Well over six feet tall, with a broad, barrel-like chest, the gorilla was a terrifying sight apart from the gunbelt and the bandolier which he wore.
They scattered as he advanced upon them, one huge paw outstretched. He gripped the long box, and with one mighty heave had it upside down.
The hinged lid fell open, revealing nothing inside. The Six-Gun Gorilla sniffed and peered into the interior, then walked away.
He was no longer interested in the box. He had believed it might hold Strawhan. He saw that he had been mistaken.
The miners watched him retreat to his usual position on the hill overlooking the mine, then mopped their foreheads.
“I thought we were goners that time!” muttered one man. “He looked as though he understood what we were up to. I believe that gorilla can think like a man.”
“Rot!” grunted another. “Of course he can’t. It’s just instinct with him. He’s as stupid as any other animal.”
His companions did not agree with him. They could not imagine any stupid animal using a gun as expertly as O’Neil did.
The case was finished just before nightfall and duly tarred. By the time the mines had finished doing this, the case looked like a sinister black coffin.
After taking every precaution to see that the coast was clear, they lowered the coffin to the bottom of the mineshaft, and two of them went down the rope.
Down there by the light of a lantern they lifted the once feared gunman into the box, and closed the lid. Holes had been left so that he would not suffocate for want of air.
The box with its occupant was then attached to the rope which ran to the hoist, and the other two miners hauled it to the top of the shaft.
The two miners who had done the work below next came up, and in due course the four of them hoisted the heavy box to the back of a horse, and lashed it in place.
“There’s no sign of him,” one of them told the trembling Strawhan through an air hole. “You can take it easy, but don’t make a row whatever happens.”
“Trust me!” replied the man inside. “Hurry up an’ get going.”
The miners had taken all the things they needed for the journey, and their horses were ready. Before long they were on their way up the narrow trail leading to the top of the valley.
One man rode in front, leading the horse to which the box and some camping equipment was tied. The other three miners came behind.
All of them were breathless with excitement. Since O’Neil had smashed their only rifle, they had nothing but revolvers with which to defend themselves. They knew that these weapons were almost useless against O’Neil.
As they neared the top of the valley they scanned the surrounding bushes anxiously.
The four miners reached the edge of the woods beyond the valley, and the horse of the leading miner suddenly reared. A gigantic shape dropped out of a tree right in front of the horse. The frightened beast would have turned and bolted if a hairy hand had not seized the rein and held it fast.
The new arrival was O’Neil.
He made no sound, but his lips were drawn back from his long fangs in a snarl. His eyes glowed savagely.
The four miners swallowed hard.
Now their plan to save Strawhan from the gorilla would be put to the test. Their hears beat violently as they checked their horses and watched O’Neil sniffing the air.
It was the big box on the second horse that interested him. He reached up and touched the ropes by which it was tied to the animal’s back. The horse at once reared, and the ropes broke.
To the horror of the watching miners, the case crashed upside down on to the ground.
If Strawhan had uttered a sound at that moment he would have been lost, but such was his fear of the huge animal outside that he kept his mouth shut.
The gorilla turned the case up on one end, and sniffed it closely. Then it wrinkled its nose, shook its head, and turned away.
The miners glanced at each other in triumph. The Stockholm tar had done the trick. It had such a strong smell that O’Neil could scent nothing else.
The Six-Gun Gorilla stalked away down the slope towards the camp.
He had not the slightest objection to these four men going away. He wanted only one person, and he still believed him to be somewhere in the mine.
Hardly yet able to believe their good luck, the four miners again lashed the box to the horse, soothed their mounts, and rode swiftly away.
Before they had gone very far they heard a mighty roaring, and a sound like a drum being beaten.
O’Neil had again searched the mining camp without success, and was again expressing his anger and disappointment by hammering on his chest.
He knew that he was being tricked, but he could not understand how.
XXXIII (33) — THE MAN WHO REFUSED TO BE RESCUED
Never had four men travelled faster than those four miners as they rode from the Conifer Mine. All through the night they travelled, and when they were about a dozen miles from the mine they suggested taking Strawhan out of the box and letting him ride the horse.
The gunman refused the offer point blank.
“Let me stay in here,” he pleaded. “The gorilla might come back again. Leave me where I am. I feel safer here. Don’t take any risks yet.”
So the miners left him where he was, and as dawn was breaking they sighted the little township for which they had been heading. It was a small place, but it had a sheriff’s office, and there were a good many men in the district who were willing to form a posse when required. For that reason the place had become the recognized centre of law and order in that region.
The little procession pulled up outside the sheriff’s office just as that worthy sleepily opened the door.
“Hey, Sheriff, we’ve got a prisoner for you, one worth five thousand dollars!” cried one of the miners.
“Eh, what’s that? What are you talking about?” demanded the sheriff.
“About Tutt Strawhan, who’s wanted for a dozen murders,” replied the miner, and he pulled out the reward notice which Strawhan had given them to prove his identity. “It says that five thousand dollars’ reward is offered for him.”
Sheriff Lucas read through the notice.
“Yes, the State would be willing to give five thousand dollars for Tutt Strawhan, but he’s been out of the district for some time,” he grunted.
“He’s back again now,” said the miner gleefully. “We’ve got him.”
The sheriff snorted impatiently.
“Who are you trying to fool?” he growled.
The miners looked for them cautiously, straining their eyes to make sure there was no telltale cloud of dust on the horizon that might be O’Neil.
All seemed clear however, and one of them pointed to the black box.
“He’s in there,” he said.
Sheriff Lucas looked disappointed.
“I don’t want the job o’ burying him,” he grunted. “What made you get a coffin for him? I’d have left him for the coyotes.”
“But he’s not dead!” protested one of the men, as he helped to loosen the ropes. “He’s in there alive. We wanted to carry him inside this box. If you take our tip you’ll keep him there most of the time, or you’ll lose him.”
Between them they miners carried their burden into the office, locked the door behind the astonished sheriff, then raised the lid of the box. The sheriff took one look at the half-suffocated man inside, and his eyes bulged.
“By hookey, it is Strawhan!” he gasped. “It’s the rat himself! I’d never have believed it possible. How did you manage to take him? He swore he’d never be taken alive.”
“He gave himself up,” was the reply. “He begged us to take him and bring him somewhere like this. You see, there’s a gorilla after him.”
“A gorilla! Are you crazy?”
“Not a chance,” chorused the miners. “We’ve seen the brute a hundred times. It’s after him right enough—and with a gun.”
The idea of a gorilla being after anyone in Colorado, least of all a gorilla with a gun, seemed ridiculous to Sheriff Lucas.
But the miners told their story, warned him never to let the gorilla get near Strawhan, and asked how long it would be before they got the reward.
Sheriff Lucas rubbed his chin.
“I don’t handle that,” he said. “It’s a State matter. I’ll take him into Denver, an’ then I’ll give in the names of you men as being entitled to the reward. But as for this gorilla—”
“It’s the most dangerous thing in the world!” croaked Strawhan. “It has the strength of ten men, an’ can shoot straight. It’s killed all my pals, one after the other. Now it wants to get me. It’s after me day and night, but I’ll cheat it. You’ll have to look after me—you’ll have to. I’m your prisoner.”
The five men finally convinced the sheriff what fear the great creature had inspired, and how serious a menace it was. He took Strawhan to the innermost of the two cells which the lockup possessed.
“Don’t you worry, Strawhan,” he said grimly. “If it’s the last thing I do in life I’m going to see you hanged. No gorilla is going to take you from me. Tomorrow we start for Denver, an’ there you’ll be tried.”
“Can’t we start today?” asked the terrified gunman.
“We can’t!” was the emphatic reply, and another door closed with a thud behind the departing sheriff.
“Guess we’d best say nothing about the gorilla to the folks in town,” muttered the sheriff to the four men who had brought him his important prisoner. “It ain’t likely to come as far as this, an’ we don’t want to scare people for nothing.”
The miners agreed, and so it was that when the news spread through the township that day that Tutt Strawhan had been brought in, nothing was said about the reason why he had surrendered. Everyone though he had been taken in a gun fight.
Amongst those who heard the news were two dark, quiet looking men who had been standing all day in one of the saloons, and presently strolled out to their horses.
“Hear that? Tutt Strawhan’s been taken. They must have got him in a tight corner,” murmured one of the men. “Remember the time we did that Greenbank robbery with him, an’ netted two thousand dollars each? Reckon we owe it to him to get him out of jail.”
“You bet!” replied his companion in a whisper. “We’ll wait till it’s dark. That lockup ain’t very strong.”
So the two men who had once been friends of the notorious gunman planned to rescue him, little guessing that that was the last thing Strawhan would have wished them to do.
Their chance did not come till after dark, and only then because a couple of roughnecks from the mining camp blew into the town and started a fight in one of the saloons.
Sheriff Lucas rushed to the spot to try to restore order, and the lockup was for the time being unattended.
The two strangers made their way round to the back of the place, force a window, and climbed inside.
There was yet another door barring them from the corridor leading to the two cells, and they had some difficulty in getting this open. If there had not been such an uproar going on in the town they would certainly have been heard.
At last they reached the door of Strawhan’s cell, and one of them called:
“Tutt Strawhan, are you there? It’s Baldy Peters speaking.”
“Yes, I’m here, Baldy. What the heck’s the matter?” asked the prisoner, who had been dozing until the recent outburst of noise. “What’s going on?”
“Never you mind,” was the answer. “Keep out of the way of that lock!”
“Hey!” came the alarmed cry. “What’s the idea? Don’t—”
Baldy Peters had drawn his gun and fired into the lock of the door. The bullet shattered the lock, and the door of the cell swung open. When the smoke cleared, the would-be rescuers saw Tutt Strawhan pressed against the wall, regarding them with horror and anger.
“Get out!” he roared. “Leave me alone! What have you come butting in here for?”
Baldy Peters and his companion stared in blank amazement.
“But you’re free, Tutt, free to go!” they gasped. “There are plenty of hosses about, an’ there’s a scrimmage goin’ on down the street. All the guys in town are too busy to notice anything up here. You can make a bolt for it.”
As they spoke they got hold of Strawhan’s arms and tried to pull him towards the door. To their surprise the prisoner tore himself free, pushed them violently into the corridor, and slammed the door, holding it with his weight.
“Go away, I say, go away!” he panted. “I don’t want to escape. It’s still after me. If I went out there it might get me. This way I have a few weeks to live, and maybe in Denver I can escape. I don’t want to be out where you are. Beat it!”
It was amazing to see a prisoner holding the door against the men who wished to rescue him. The two bandits were still staring in amazement when fresh uproar outside, more shots, and the sound of running feet near the lockup made them think the sheriff was returning.
“He’s mad! Come on!” hissed Baldy Peters, and he and his companion made for the back door with all possible speed.
Something out of the ordinary was certainly going on in the street outside. People were bellowing and shouting as though in fear. Amidst the din men could be heard crying:
“But what is it? It’s got a gun!”
Tutt Strawhan heard these shouts, and turned a ghastly grey. He guessed what was happening. The Six-Gun Gorilla had arrived in the township, and was scaring everyone.
The prisoner groaned when he saw his cell door swing open directly he took his weight from it. If the gorilla smelled him out it would break its way into the jail, and he would be cornered. The lockless cell would no longer protect him.
Suddenly Strawhan remembered the cell next to him. He had seen the key in the lock.
Quickly he slipped out of his cell, slithered into the adjoining one, locked the door, and took the key with him to the furthest corner of the small chamber. A bunk had been constructed along the end wall, and there were blankets on it. Tutt Strawhan stretched himself out at full length and covered himself over the blankets.
The noise in the street increased. People seemed to be running. Tutt Strawhan longed to look out of the small window and see what was happening, but he did not dare show himself.
As a matter of fact the Six-Gun Gorilla had arrived at the town in an angry mood. After searching the mine over and over again, he had decided that the four miners must have had something to do with Strawhan’s disappearance.
No sooner had O’Neil decided this than he set off after them.
So when he arrived at this little town he was on the trail of the four miners, and his entry into the main street was rather like that of a bloodhound on the scent.
It one of the saloons a mechanical piano was playing. Someone had put in the necessary coin.
O’Neil stopped and stared. Music always interested him. It even made him forget why he had come to the town.
The evening was close, so the saloon door was open. Luckily it was a wide one, or the gigantic O’Neil would never have got through it.
He lurched into the room, and the first thing the group of men near the piano knew of his entry was when he fired a shot at the ceiling. It was his way of calling attention to himself.
It certainly worked. The occupants of the saloon spun round as one man, and their hands reached for their guns. They thought that perhaps another drunken miner had come in to shoot the place up.
But when they saw the hairy monster with the smoking gun in its fist they forgot to draw their own guns. All they could do was stare as if they had been petrified.
O’Neil slowly and deliberately made for the piano. He had no interest in anything else. He could see the keys bouncing up and down under the glass cover, and he was nodding his head in time to the music.
XXXIV (34) — THE LURE OF THE MUSIC
The men in the saloon shrank away from him, but there were four of their number who did more than that. They were the four miners who had brought Tutt Strawhan into the town, and they had been standing at one side of the saloon. Directly they saw the awful visitor they slipped quietly towards the door. A few moments later they were outside, running through the streets, shouting for the sheriff.
“The gorilla’s here!” they yelled. “The gorilla’s here! Look out for Tutt Strawhan!”
Back in the saloon the music suddenly stopped. O’Neil waited a few moments for it to begin again, then roared with rage when no sound came from the piano. He stamped his hairy foot, and brandished his gun.
He wanted the music to begin again. With one huge hand he took hold of the end of the mechanical piano and shook it vigorously. That did not start the music.
One of the watching men realized his trouble and thought that the music might keep this terrible intruder quiet a little longer. He hurriedly slipped in the necessary coin to make the piano go once more.
It looked as though those men would have to keep the piano supplied with coins all night long, for O’Neil never tired of music.
So whilst the music played the four miners brought the warning to the sheriff.
“If you don’t come quickly you’ll lose Strawhan!” the miners told the lawman. “The Six-Gun Gorilla is here and on the warpath.”
The sheriff wasted no time. Unslinging his guns, he followed the four determined men back towards the lockup. They were eager to help him because they wanted to get their reward.
The first place they visited was the lockup, to make sure O’Neil had not already been there.
Their disgust and alarm when they saw that the back door was open, the inside door forced, and the cell where Strawhan had been now empty, can hardly be imagined.
“He’s gone! This wasn’t the gorilla’s work, or there’d be more damage done. His friends must have rescued him!” roared the sheriff. “He’s gone, the skunk, an’ we were worrying about protecting him from the gorilla.”
The man under the blankets in the adjoining cell did not move. He was too terrified, afraid to speak lest the hairy monster outside should hear and recognize his voice.
So he let the miners and the sheriff go away believing that he had escaped. He heard them rushing down the street, and wished they had closed the door of the lockup behind them. The more doors he had between him and the open the better he was pleased.
The angry miners saw their hopes of five thousand dollars fading. They blamed the sheriff. They were wrangling as they went along, until some men came hurrying up to the sheriff to tell him that the Six-Gun Gorilla was in one of the saloons.
“To all accounts the brute’s done more than enough damage,” growled the sheriff, who was anxious to arrest someone to make up for his lost prisoner. “I’ll fix that gorilla for good this time.”
When he and the four miners arrived at the saloon they were amazed to hear no uproar, but the strains of the mechanical music being wafted on the evening air. They tip-toed to the door of the saloon and peeped in.
Just then the music stopped again, but O’Neil knew what to do now. He grabbed for the nearest man and turned him upside down in his powerful grip.
The money in the man’s pocket rolled to the floor, and the giant ape grabbed a handful of it, trying coin after coin until he found one that fitted the slot.
Then the music began again.
The five men at the door could hardly believe their eyes. The men beside the piano had seen the new arrivals, but dared not shout out or move towards them for fear of enraging the gorilla.
Because of the presence of so many men round the gorilla the sheriff and his four allies could not open fire. The miners had told the sheriff that revolvers were useless against O’Neil, and the lawman had fetched two rifles.
The music rippled on. It was only tinny, untuneful stuff, but the Six-Gun Gorilla though it was wonderful. He was swaying in time with it.
“It’s a sure thing he had nothin’ to do with Strawhan gettin’ clear,” muttered one of the miners huskily. “We ought to be lookin’ for Strawhan instead of standin’ here.”
The sheriff nodded his head in agreement, and hurried after the four miners, who were setting out to scour the neighborhood for a sign of the missing man.
Meanwhile O’Neil continued to rock to and fro in time with the music. He did not care how long the musical party continued. He was quite happy, nodding his head and beating time with his revolver.
Not a man dared to leave his side. They all feared that that would draw his wrath upon them.
Back in the lockup Strawhan began to notice that the town had become quiet again, and he sat up in his cell. There was no longer any uproar in the streets. Somewhere he could hear the strains of music, but that was the only sound. The panic must have subsided.
Did that mean that O’Neil had gone away?
Hardly able to believe that this was possible, Strawhan got up and went to the window of the cell and looked out. The street outside was deserted. There seemed to be no sign of trouble. He rubbed his chin and wondered what he should do.
He felt safer under cover, but still this was a great chance to get away altogether again. From what he had heard since he had been a prisoner he knew full well that he would be hanged after trial. Why be hanged when he might get clean away and outwit both the police and the gorilla?
The rest in the lockup had calmed his nerves. He felt fit to face danger again, through one glimpse of the gorilla would have thrown him into a panic.
Cautiously the killer unlocked the door of the cell and let himself out. All other doors had been left open. He only had to walk out to be free, but before he went he took something which was hanging on the wall over the sheriff’s desk. It was a large, useful looking revolver. Strawhan was armed again.
In the same desk he found ammunition. It made him fell twice as brave to know that he could now defend himself.
A few minutes later he was outside in the narrow alley at the back of the main street. He meant to avoid the main street, and dodged from cover to cover until he was on the edge of town.
His sense of smell guided him to a stable where two horses were contentedly eating. He picked the better of the pair, and was soon mounted and riding away in the opposite direction to that taken by Sheriff Lucas and his volunteer posse.
Luck had certainly been with Tutt Strawhan that night, though as he rode he kept his eyes on the shadows, and felt his heart thump every time the wind rustled the bushes.
At the saloon the music suddenly stopped with a clatter. This time it was not because another coin was needed, but because the machine had broken altogether. The long-suffering spring had finally given out.
O’Neil tried his best to push in another coin. It bent in his powerful grip. He roared with anger, and the men in the saloon winced and crouched back in alarm. Now what was going to happen?
But O’Neil intended to do them no harm. After shaking and banging the piano several times, he flew into an even greater passion towards it, and fired his revolver twice into its polished sides.
Then he kicked it and walked away. The concert was over. He had now remembered why he had come to the town.
Out into the road went O’Neil, the rest of the inhabitants of the town hiding behind closed doors as he passed, for by this time his presence had become known to everybody.
Turning his head from side to side, he twitched his wide nostrils. He was trying to pick up the scent of those four miners.
He came opposite the lockup, and suddenly he stopped. His hair bristled, his mouth opened in a soundless snarl, his eyes gleamed with hate.
He had scented someone even more important to him than the miners. He had caught a whiff of the smell which he associated with Tutt Strawhan!
Licking his thick lips, he turned and crept towards the building. By this time he had learned that it was safer to be cautious when dealing with the man who had killed his master. He made no noise as he approached the lockup.
The doors were open, and that made things easy for him. Still sniffing the air, he picked his way down the corridor until he came to the two open cells.
There the smell was strongest, for Strawhan had been there the longest. The Six-Gun Gorilla nosed inside, gun in fist. His lips were drawn back from his teeth in an evil snarl.
He found nothing. The blankets which Strawhan had used to cover himself the gorilla tore to shreds. His rage grew when he realized that his man had again escaped him, and he vented his fury on the lockup, smashing doors, wrenching out bars, even destroying the furniture.
The noise he made caused the people in their shacks to tremble and crouch closer together. By the time the Six-Gun Gorilla had finished, the lockup looked as though a cyclone had struck it.
Not until then did he lurch out into the yard at the back, still sniffing the air, still intent on picking up the trail of the man who was at that moment galloping a horse to exhaustion half a dozen miles away.
Tutt Strawhan had made the most of his period of liberty, but if he thought he had seen the last of the Six-Gun Gorilla he was due for a painful surprise.
XXXV (35) — TUTT STRAWHAN: HERO
The lone rider was reeling with weariness in the saddle. The horse he rode was on the verge of collapse. He had been goading it cruelly to get it over those last few miles. Yet even though he was hunched forward with fatigue, and steadying himself with one hand on the pommel of the saddle, he found the energy to turn every few minutes and look behind him. He must have done that about a hundred times during his ride. At such times his eyes would widen with fear, and he would shiver. He was a hunted man, fleeing from his pursuer. Even yet he could scarcely believe that he had escaped with his life.
Tutt Strawhan was his name. A price had been on his head for several years, but it was not a sheriff or other officers of the law that he now feared. He was fleeing from something much more terrible.
Some months earlier, when he had been head of the once-feared Strawhan Gang of Colorado, he had heard of a small gold mine worked by an old miner named Bart Masters.
The mine had been run by Masters for seven years with the aid of a gorilla which he had purchased from a sailor.
Masters had named the beast O’Neil, and it had become his constant companion. The miner had taught the beast to be useful in many ways. He had even taught it to use a revolver, rigging it up in gunbelt and bandolier.
Strawhan and his men had gone to the mine, killed Masters, wounded the chained gorilla, and had made off with the gold.
O’Neil had recovered, and his grief and rage were terrible when he had discovered 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 its evil members, until now only Strawhan remained.
Terrified out of his wits, Tutt Strawhan had finally managed to get away. Now he believed that he had shaken off his terrible pursuer, but he could never be certain. O’Neil could stick closer to a trail than a bloodhound.
Strawhan had been riding west ever since his last escape. He did not know where he was going. He did not care much. His only wish was to get away from the Six-Gun Gorilla.
A good many miles had passed beneath his horse’s hooves since he had last seen O’Neil. The desperate man was now heading into uncharted country, beyond the furthest settlements of the pioneers.
He knew that this was dangerous because of the presence of Indians, but he would rather face Redskins than the Six-Gun Gorilla.
Dawn was breaking when at last he stopped and climbed stiffly from his horse beside a stream. His throat was parched with dust. He threw himself down and drank his fill, whilst the horse thrust its muzzle into the same water with a grunt of relief.
All was silent around them. They seemed to have the wilderness to themselves. Tutt Strawhan sighed. He wanted nothing more than to be alone. Behind him he had a lifetime of crime. Now he wanted only peace—and safety.
During his long ride he had crossed three rivers, and he believed that that would put O’Neil off the scent. Ahead were rugged mountains. He intended putting those behind him as another barrier against his pursuer.
But for the moment he was too weary to think of anything but sleep. He tethered his horse, lay down under some bushes, and slept soundly.
It must have been midday when he was roused by unearthly screams and the sound of shots. He rose to his knees in alarm, and parting the bushes, peered down the river bank.
What he saw made his hand flash instinctively to his gun. A party of pioneers must have been following the river with the idea of seeking an easy crossing for their wagons. There were five of the big prairie wagons, each heavily laden and drawn by mules. About eight men in all rode with these wagons, and they were firing desperately at a horde of Redskins who had risen from the rushes of the river.
It was a surprise attack. The Indians were between Tutt Strawhan and the wagons. There were twenty or thirty of them, and they were firing arrows as they rushed forward. The wagons were being hurriedly pulled round to form a crude square. There were women and children in them, the families of the pioneers.
Strawhan saw all this in a matter of seconds. His jaw muscles tightened when he saw two of the pioneers fall from their saddles. The Indians were suffering losses, too, but it seemed that by sheer force of numbers they would sweep through the wagon train and massacre every person there.
Tutt Strawhan had no sort of feeling for those pioneers. He did not care if they were massacred or not, but it suddenly occurred to him that if the Redskins were as warlike as this he would have little chance of living in the country alone.
It would be much better for him to get in touch with some people who knew nothing of his past.
No sooner did he decide to do this than he snatched out his revolver, leveled it, and began to fire from behind the Redskins.
In his time he had been accounted one of the best marksmen in the West. Five Redskins fell to his first six bullets, and panic seized the rest. This unexpected attack from the rear was too much for them. They had planned an ambush for the white men. Now they thought that the white men were ambushing them.
They hesitated, the wagons were pulled into formation, and the remaining pioneers poured in a volley. By that time Strawhan had reloaded, and fired again and again.
The cowardly Apaches could stand no more. They turned and splashed across the river, leaving a dozen of their number dead and dying.
The pioneers stood staring towards the bushes where the cartridge smoke still hung. They were amazed by this astonishing escape. One moment they had expected certain death, and the next their enemies had been driven away.
Tutt Strawhan rose and lumbered forward. There was a smile on his evil face as he called:
“Hullo, strangers! How—do?”
The pioneers crowded round him, slapped him on the back, thanked him for his courageous rescue, and congratulated him on his wonderful shooting.
The gunman shrugged his shoulders modestly.
“That’s nothing, I guess,” he said. “White men have got to stick together in a new country. I just happened to come along in time, that’s all. Ted Sinclair’s my name, an’ I’m a prospector. Where are you bound for?”
The pioneers explained that they were looking for homestead land suitable for cattle raising. Their leader was a tough old-timer named Corrigan, and he gripped Strawhan by the arm and said:
“You can’t go wandering round this country on your own. Why not join with us, Sinclair? We’ll be mighty glad to have you along with us. The more men we have who can shoot straight, the more likely we are to get through. What about it?”
Tutt Strawhan thought of that relentless gorilla somewhere on his trail, thought of the impossibility of keeping awake all the time, and nodded.
“Sure, I’d be glad to hang around with you for a while,” he said.
So he helped the pioneers bury their dead, and settled in as one of the party. With these goodhearted, rugged pioneers around him he believed he would be safe for some time. Furthermore, men of this type usually had a little nest egg of money stored away somewhere. Maybe he could find out where that was, lift it, and clear out with well-lined pockets when the time was ripe.
All these things prompted him to join the pioneers, and they on their part were grateful and pleased. They had not the slightest idea that he was one of the worst characters in the West, a murderer, bandit, a criminal with a reward of five thousand dollars on his head. They looked on him as a fine fellow, and made much of him.
For two days they travelled into the wilderness, watching day and night for Redskins. Soon they came to a pleasant valley where they decided to rest for a while and feed up their stock, which had got painfully thin.
No one could have stuck more closely to the wagons, or have worked harder, than the so-called Sinclair. He never went out of sight of the others, and if he seemed extra watchful, sometimes climbing hillocks in order to study the countryside, the pioneers put this down to his desire to be sure that no Redskins were about.
The real cause of this, of course, was that he was wondering whether O’Neil had yet picked up his trail. It seemed hardly possible that the gorilla could ever find his whereabouts again, but O’Neil was something entirely out of the ordinary. There was no knowing when he might turn up.
The wagons were formed in a square beside a stream. Defenses were raised in case the Apaches made another attack, but scouts reported they could see no traces of Indians in the district.
They were wrong. There were redskins in plenty, hidden in a deep gulch nearby, more than a hundred of them. To these had returned the survivors of that first unsuccessful attack, with stories of the loot to be collected if they could only rush these wagons.
An attack was prepared.
It was too early in the month for a moon, and the nights were dark, especially when low lying clouds blotted out the stars. The Redskins planned to launch an assault that night.
As soon as darkness shrouded the sides of the valley the Redskins crept down the slopes. They came silently, like shadows. Not a rustle betrayed their movements.
They completely surrounded the camp, lay down in the grass and waited.
The campfires of the pioneers showed up brightly. The women and children were in the wagons, preparing for bed. The men sat or stood around the fires, smoking their pipes, and swapping yarns.
The Redskins watched through narrowed eyes. They know that only half of the party of white men would be on guard once the camp settled down for the night. The other half would roll themselves in their blankets. The Indians waited for that time.
The pioneers finally prepared for sleep. Five men only remained alert, and even they could not see the hundred sprawled figures in the grass outside the camp.
Time passed. Not a sound gave warning of the presence of the Redskins, but word passed from one to the other that the moment had come. Arrows were fitted to bows. At a given signal they would pour in a volley of arrows, and follow it up with a mad rush with their tomahawks.
The chieftain had been kneeling behind some high clumps of grass. He had not stirred for an hour. Suddenly he rose and opened his mouth to give the warning shout that would start the massacre.
Then suddenly there came a long, deep growl from behind him, and a revolver cracked.
The chieftain doubled up with a scream, and fell forward on his face.
Panic seized the Redskins who had been about to spring to their feet. A hundred heads turned at once, whilst in the camp of the pioneers warning shouts brought every able-bodied man rushing to his post.