- 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
XXXVI (36) — THE MYSTERY RESCUER
The Redskins saw a monstrous shape rise from the grass. The sight of it froze the blood in their veins.
It was well over six feet in height, with a huge barrel-like chest, covered with thick, shaggy hair, and with a face like a nightmare. Around its waist was a revolver belt, and a dangling holster. Over one shoulder hung a bandolier containing cartridges.
Never in their wildest dreams had the Redskins imagined any such creature. They did not know whether it was man or beast. They only knew that it was an enemy, and that it had killed their chief with one of the Paleface firesticks.
Was it a white man? Was it some terrible ally which these pioneers had fetched from somewhere to keep watch through the night? These ideas flashed through their minds as the Six-Gun Gorilla waddled forward.
Truth to tell, the Six-Gun Gorilla had been as scared as they were. He had known nothing of the presence of the Redskins in the grass when he had first crawled towards the camp, for the wind had carried their scent away from it.
Having trailed Strawhan across miles of country, he had at last sighted the pioneers’ camp, and had settled down in the grass to watch the men round the campfires.
The sudden appearance of the Apache chieftain when he had leaped to his feet had startled the gorilla into snatching its revolver and firing that shot. Even then it was bewildered by the appearance of those other Redskins on all sides.
It stood there waving the gun in its hairy fist, uncertain whether to fire or not.
In the wagon camp the pioneers could see nothing of the gorilla, but someone gave the order for a volley to be fired and leaden bullets shrieked out in all directions.
The Redskins continued to stare at the awful apparition which had seemingly come from out of nowhere. They wondered if there were more of the strange beings about, perhaps behind them.
The idea was too much for them. With howls of fear they fled up the side of the valley and vanished into the night. The pioneers fired one more volley, then ceased.
O’Neil crouched low. He was bewildered by what had happened. A hundred Indians had appeared from the ground as if by magic, and he was scared. He backed away to some bushes and lay down, licking his thick lips and snarling softly.
In the camp, men were baffled and astounded. That a Redskin attack had been check by that one mysterious shot was evident to them all, but who had fired the shot?
A hurried roll call was made by Corrigan, and it was discovered that every man was present in the camp. No one had been out there to fire a shot. No one could explain it.
The pioneers were both delighted and frightened. Corrigan went to the edge of the camp and shouted in the direction whence the shot had come:
“Hullo, there, hullo!” he roared. “Who fired that shot? We’re mighty grateful to you, whoever you are!”
There was no reply. The pioneers shouted again and again, with the same lack of results. The single shot that routed the Redskins remained a mystery.
Some of the pioneers wished to go out and search the grass in case their unknown friend should have been struck down by the fleeing Redskins. Wiser heads advised caution. It would be time enough for that when dawn came.
So they remained at their posts all night, staring into the darkness, ready for anything, and all the time expecting a challenge from up the valley.
Morning found them eager to go out and find some explanation for the mystery.
Nearly all the men went together, and it was not long before they found the dead Indian chief, face down, with a hole in his back. Corrigan looked at the bullet hold grimly.
“A heavy .45 did this,” he muttered. “Someone knew just where to catch him. Reckon the bullet came from over there. Let’s have a look behind those bushes. We might find tracks.”
Tutt Strawhan was with them. He was rather tight-lipped as they searched around, and suddenly one of the younger men cried:
“I’ve found tracks, but what—what made ’em? Hey, look at this—an’ this—!”
He pointed at the ground, which happened to be soft there, and the pioneers pursed their lips with amazement. Huge, queer imprints of a bare foot showed clearly. They were something like the tracks made by a native, yet there was something not quite human about them. The toes were broader and more screwed up.
“What the heck—?” grunted Corrigan, then heard a sobbing gasp behind him.
He turned, in time to see Tutt Strawhan clutching at his revolver, his eyes wild with fear, his face as white as a sheet. The pioneers had never seen such terror on a man’s face before. It was ghastly.
Someone grabbed him, but he shook off the man savagely.
“It’s around here! It—it must be!” he croaked.
“What’s around here?” asked Corrigan. “What do you know about it, Sinclair? Do you recognize these tracks?”
Tutt Strawhan swallowed hastily. There were two choices open to him, to deny all knowledge of the gorilla, in which case the pioneers might be taken off their guard, or to make up some lying tale. He decided to do the latter.
“Yes, I guess I do,” he said. “It’s a gorilla—a—a circus gorilla. When I left Denver I heard about it. Folks said that a huge gorilla, stronger than ten men, an’ armed with a revolver, had escaped from a cage and killed some men. I saw one of ’em once after the brute was finished with ’em. Guess that’s why I was shaken up! We’d better get on its trail an’ settle it once an’ for all. Otherwise we’ll be sorry.”
He was trying to speak bravely, though his pulses raced madly. He was trying to keep his nerve in front of his new comrades. He remembers what had happened when he had lost his nerve once before.
Corrigan squared his shoulders.
“Well, if that’s the case, I reckon we’d best take your advice,” he growled, “but it does seem a pity to kill an animal that saved our scalps for us! Maybe we could tame it an’ save its life.”
Strawhan nearly screeched with fear. The idea of anyone trying to tame the Six-Gun Gorilla appalled him. Sweat showed on his face.
“No, no, we can’t do that!” he protested. “It’s a killer. Some old fool taught it to use a gun, an’ it fires at anything it sees. It’s dangerous. Now it’s come up with us it’ll follow us until we kill it.”
“Guess he’s right,” murmured someone, and to the gunman’s relief the pioneers agreed to hunt down O’Neil and finish him.
They all had good rifles, the same ones they had used against the Redskins, ant Tutt Strawhan gained courage from the fact. He had proved that revolver bullets had little effect on the massive gorilla, but even its tough hide would not keep out heavy bullets from express rifles. They ought to be able to riddle it.
They started to follow the tracks on the ground, but soon came to harder soil where no imprints showed. From what they could see the beast had crossed the river.
They also intended crossing that river when they moved on. It was not pleasant to think of the mighty creature waiting for them to stage a holdup.
As they hunted, Strawhan told the pioneers hideous tales of the gorilla’s savagery. He made it out to be the most awful creature in the world, and gave no hint that O’Neil was pursuing him because of the cold-blooded way in which he had murdered Bart Masters.
He made his listeners’ blood curdle with his stories. They became more than ever determined to hunt down O’Neil.
Up and down the river bank they hunted for more footprints, but found none.
If they had only known it, O’Neil was not very far away, hidden in a tree which overhung the water. There he had retreated at dawn, in order to watch the camp where he believed Strawhan to be.
O’Neil had been there when the searchers had come out accompanied by Tutt Strawhan, and the huge creature’s eyes had flashed murderously when he had seen the man he sought.
A few months earlier O’Neil would have hurled himself recklessly from the tree and would have snatched Strawhan up at once, regardless of the presence of the other men. Now he knew better. He had learned a good deal about white men since he had started on the trail of vengeance.
He had learned that those long, stick-like things they carried in their hands were deadly. They were even more deadly than his prized revolver.
It was wise to keep away from the other white men as much as possible, and to wait until he could get Tutt Strawhan on his own. Now he had made up with him again he did not intend to let him out of his sight.
So the Six-Gun Gorilla remained where he was, motionless, watching every move of Tutt Strawhan.
The six-gun remained in his holster. Even O’Neil realized that this was not the time to use the weapon.
The searchers passed to and fro up the river bank. They even crossed to the other side, but not a footprint of the gorilla did they find.
In the end they had to admit that they were baffled, and returned to the camp, where anxious-eyed women waited to hear the result of their search.
No one was more anxious than Tutt Strawhan. Once again fear had gripped him. His lips were twitching, and his hand was continuously on his gun. He urged the leader of the pioneers to leave this valley as soon as possible.
Corrigan was reluctant to do that. Now he knew that there were Redskins about in large numbers, he preferred to remain in a place which he could defend. Further up the valley the wagons would have to pass beneath some high cliffs which would make an admirable hiding place for the Redskins if they wished to stage another ambush.
Corrigan did not like the idea of risking such an attack.
XXXVII (37) — THE SCALP THAT COULDN’T BE TAKEN
One of the Six-Gun Gorilla’s chief troubles in life was the matter of food. A huge creature such as he was, weighing fully six hundred pounds, needed a great deal of food of a special kind.
He was a vegetarian, and lived on wild fruits or tender shoots of plants. It meant spending several hours each day to search for his meals.
So it was hunger that finally brought him down from the tree beside the stream, and caused him to wade across between the high banks which screened him from view.
He still feared those rifles of the pioneers. He had decided to wait till darkness shrouded his movements, and then try to get Strawhan. Meanwhile he would look for food.
Up the valley he wandered, picking a tender shoot here, breaking off a succulent twig there. These only served as appetizers, and increased his hunger. He showed his teeth angrily when he found no wild fruits. They were not plentiful, as they were in his native jungle.
At last he came to the foot of the cliffs, and looked upwards. Bushes grew on the sheer slopes, and on those bushes were red berries.
The cliff would have been considered impossible to climb by a man, but to the Six-Gun Gorilla it was easy. He reached up an exceptionally long arm, gripped a narrow ledge with his fingers, and hauled himself clear of the ground.
Up and up he went, finding tow and footholds where no man could have found them. The gun swung against his thigh, and the bandolier sometimes got about his neck and threatened to choke him. But he was used to that. He merely snarled and continued on his way until he came to the first of the bushes.
There he squatted and plucked the berries. They were good to eat. He decided to devour all he could get.
Higher and higher he went, from bush to bush, and at each stopping place he ate several pounds of berries. It was the best feed O’Neil had had for a long time.
Now he was nearing the top of the cliff, and what he did not know was that fifty or sixty Redskins were lying there watching him.
They had been there ever since they had fled from the lower part of the valley. They had been watching the white men and trying to find out more about this huge, hairy ally who had routed them the previous night.
When they had seen this strange figure coming up the cliff their first impulse had been to flee, but more courageous members of the party had seen that here was a good chance of destroying the Palefaces’ friend.
“As he comes over the top of the cliff his hands will not be free,” they whispered. “We can strike him on the head with our tomahawks. He will fall to the bottom and we can take his scalp.”
The idea of taking such an unusual scalp appealed to them. Each of the young warriors there and then decided that he would be the one to have this honor.
Grunting and panting, O’Neil neared the top of the cliff. He had eaten a lot, and he was rather breathless. He planned to rest up there and sleep off some of the meal.
One powerful hand gripped the edge of the cliff, the other ranged up beside it, and the Six-Gun Gorilla’s head came above the ground level.
There was a mad rush towards him. A score of Redskins had been waiting for that moment. They fell over each other in their eagerness to be the one to land the fatal blow. Six or seven tomahawks landed at once on the massive skull of the gorilla, and with a snarl of fury and pain he lost his hold.
Backwards he went, head over heels. Once he struck a patch of projecting bushes, and tried to grasp them with his hands, but they were pulled out of the ground, and the Six-Gun Gorilla continued his fall.
He landed on his back at the foot of the cliff and lay still. The Redskins peered down from above, and whooped their joy.
Then came the mad rush to descent for the scalp. Braves fought each other as they raced for the narrow path which they knew of to the right. Two of them fell to death in the scramble.
One young fellow, with gleaming scalping knife held in readiness, got a yard or so ahead of the others. He raced down the twisting pathway with half a dozen of his comrades close behind him.
It was he who was the first to kneel on the massive chest of O’Neil, and grasp the shaggy head by a tuft of hair at the top.
To scalp O’Neil was a very different proposition to scalping a white man. That flat-topped head was so hug, and the hair so thick, that the young Redskin scarcely knew where to begin.
He delayed so long that is comrades arrived, and hurled him aside. They fought over the lip form of O’Neil, trampling on him, falling over his hairy legs, stepping on his face.
Finally a young chieftain claimed the honor, and the others stood back sullenly as he knelt to do the gruesome task. He caught hold of one of O’Neil’s ears to twist the head to the one side, and inserted the point of the knife through the hair.
The next second there was a terrific roar which echoed along the cliff in both directions, and O’Neil heaved clear of the ground. The young chieftain was hurled a dozen yards, and landed with such force that his back was broken.
That fall from the cliff would have killed any man, but it had not killed the Six-Gun Gorilla. It had merely stunned him, and the prick from the knife had brought him back to consciousness with a rush.
Mad with rage, infuriated by the sight of these red-skinned men around him, O’Neil launched a furious attack.
His revolver remained in its holster. He did not use it. His great hands and his mighty strength were the only weapons he needed.
With both arms he swept a bunch of Redskins together, crushed them until their bones cracked, then hurled them against the cliff.
One of the braves had leaped on to O’Neil’s back to try and tomahawk him, but he was clutched in a gigantic hand and thrown into the midst of a group of others, bowling them over like ninepins.
For five minutes this fight went on. Nothing could be seen of the gorilla except an occasional hairy arm. It was almost buried in Redskins. Their screams and howls were terrible to hear.
At first the Redskins had tried to fight back at him, confident in their numbers and in the knowledge that he could not use his firestick, but when they sampled his incredible strength and his ferocity, they decided to get away.
Many of them fled along the foot of the cliff, a few tried to climb, but found it impossible. Others were even more unlucky, and were caught in the gorilla’s huge arms. Their fate was quick and painful.
In the end O’Neil was left there amidst a pile of maimed and dead Redskins, blood trickling from the cuts on his head, and his huge chest heaving as he panted for breath. He had won the battle. Twenty Indians had been slain, and the rest had fled for their lives.
O’Neil was content. He started to move away, heard a sound above him, and turned his head.
One Redskin remained hanging from the cliff, about forty feet up. He could go no further, and dared not come down.
The Six-Gun Gorilla reached for his gun. Gripping it in his clumsy fingers, he found the trigger. With him, shooting was the simple matter of pointing and pulling the trigger. He rarely took aim.
At short distances this was unusually effective, as it was now.
The Redskin gave a howl, and dropped to his death. O’Neil snarled with satisfaction, blew down the barrel of the smoking gun, and put it away. He was always pleased when he hit anything with the gun.
The first the pioneers and Strawhan knew of the fight up the valley was when that shot rang out. It came faintly but unmistakably from the distance, and in a moment the whole camp was jabbering with excitement.
They knew that it must be their mysterious rescuer of the previous night—the Six-Gun Gorilla. Tutt Strawhan turned pale, and wondered whether he could hide inside a wagon.
The pioneers were men of great courage. One of them named Thomas, slapped him on the back.
“Come along, Sinclair. We’ll get him this time,” he said. “It’s a durn good thing you’d heard about him, or we might have taken him for a friend.”
Strawhan shuddered. He could think of no more terrible friend than the Six-Gun Gorilla.
He could not well refuse. A few minutes later he was crossing the river with the other pioneers, and straining his eyes anxiously for a glimpse of O’Neil.
But O’Neil was not to be seen. He had seen the searchers and had crouched to the ground.
He knew that they were after him, and he blamed it all on Strawhan. Men had never hunted him like this before.
His lips parted in a soundless snarl. Daylight had only an hour to go. It would then be dark, and he wanted to be very close to Tutt Strawhan when darkness closed down.
He knew that the men would return to the wagon camp after they had finished their hunt. That gave him an idea.
With the stealth and cunning of the wild beast he was, he passed through the cordon of men who advanced up the valley. Once he was tempted to fire a shot at Strawhan, who stood only thirty yards from him, but he restrained the impulse. He wanted to get his hairy hands on the killer of his master.
Gradually he reached the lower end of the valley, and studied the camp. The women and children were crowded on to the river bank to watch their men folk in the distance. Two men had remained behind to protect them. The mules were grazing peacefully in an enclosure which had been made from thorn bushes.
The wagons were for the moment deserted, and O’Neil had another brainwave. He had seen people going in and out of those houses on wheels.
Crawling through the long grass with a skill which any Redskin would have envied, he came to the wheels of a wagon. There he crouched and waited.
Nobody was looking in his direction. Tutt Strawhan, in his nervousness, had fired a shot at a shadow, mistaking it for the gorilla. Every eye was turned to him. O’Neil’s movements were unnoticed by anyone.
One hairy hand grasped the tail-end of a wagon, and the next moment the six hundred pound gorilla made the vehicle creak as it stepped inside.
The wagon contained boxes of stores and sacks of potatoes. The Six-Gun Gorilla squeezed himself down in the remotest corner and waited.
When Tutt Strawhan came back O’Neil would be ready for him!
XXXVIII (38) — MENACE IN THE WAGON
The wagons had been drawn up in a rough square for defensive purposes, and at the moment they seemed to be deserted. The women and children who usually travelled in them were crowded on the nearby river bank to watch the men in the distance.
These men were pioneers, and they had crossed the river on a hunting expedition. They were spread out in a line as they picked their way over the rough ground. Each man carried his rifle or revolver at the ready. They seemed to be expecting trouble.
Amongst them there was one fellow who hung back nervously whenever he had the chance. His heart was not in the hunt. He would have turned and hidden in the wagons if he had dared show fear before the pioneers.
Tutt Strawhan was his name, though he was known to these pioneers as Sinclair. Until recently he had been head of a much feared gang of outlaws in Colorado. A price had been on his head for several years.
Some months earlier, when his gang had still been in existence, he had heard of a small gold mine run by an old miner named Bart Masters.
Masters had run the mine for seven years with the aid of a gorilla which he had called O’Neil, after the man from whom he had bought it.
The gorilla had become his constant companion. The miner had taught the great beast how 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 made off with the gold.
When O’Neil had recovered, and found his master dead, he had taken the gun and cartridge bandolier and had set out on the trail of the murderers.
He had killed off the gang one by one, until now only Strawhan remained.
Terrified, Tutt Strawhan had finally managed to get away to the West, and had joined this party of pioneers in Indian country. At first he had believed that he had at last dodged his terrible pursuer, but now he knew differently.
O’Neil had turned up outside the camp, and had driven off some Redskins who had been about to attack the wagons. Strawhan had learned to his horror that his pursuer was still after him.
Cunningly, the killer had told his new companions that the gorilla was a made brute which had escaped from a circus in Denver, and that it was dangerous to all human beings. He had begged them to help him hunt it down and kill it. Only if O’Neil was dead could Tutt Strawhan live in peace.
So now the pioneers were hunting the gorilla, while the women and children watched from a distance.
But there was yet another pair of eyes that watched the hunters—the eyes of the Six-Gun Gorilla! O’Neil had slipped past the men who were hunting him and was already in the camp.
A few weeks earlier he would have leapt at Strawhan on sight, but now he was more wary.
Instead he had hidden himself in one of the big wagons, behind some boxes and bales. There he was awaiting the return of Tutt Strawhan.
O’Neil was quite content to bide his time. It was comfortable down there in that corner, with sacks of potatoes against his back. He lay at his ease, and kept one eye to a crack in the side of the wagon.
The Six-Gun Gorilla was tired, however. The comfort and warmth made him feel drowsy. A few minutes later he gave a grunt and fell fast asleep.
Time passed, and the hunters reached the foot of a cliff where they found many dead and mangled Redskins. They stared in awe at the sight. Evidently there had been a terrific battle between a party of Redskins and the Six-Gun Gorilla. The gorilla had won easily.
It was terrifying to think of its strength. Corrigan, the big leader of the party of pioneers, shrugged his shoulders.
“I guess the best thing we can do is to leave this brute alone and clear out of the district. At least he’s got rid of those Injuns for us. The way seems clear. I vote we get on our way and keep our eyes open.”
Still very much on their guard, the hunters retraced their steps and re-crossed the river. Their families met them with questioning looks, but Corrigan was not the sort to explain himself to womenfolk.
“We’re pushing on and getting clear of that valley before dark,” he said. “Drive in the beasts.”
The mules had been hobbled nearby. They were driven in and harnessed to the wagons at top speed. The men had done this sort of thing so often that no time was wasted, and before long the wagons were on the move, mounted men riding on either side.
It was the lurching and bumping of the wagon which first aroused the Six-Gun Gorilla. His lips drew back in a silent snarl, and he stuck his head forward to see what was happening.
He saw the back of a man who sat on the driving seat of the wagon with a long whip in his hand. He saw the team of mules in front. The gorilla was both frightened and bewildered.
Rearing up to half his height, and balancing himself by touching his hands on the floor of the wagon, O’Neil looked along the line of wagons. He could see Strawhan riding a horse on the left flank and his eyes flamed red at the sight.
His hand went to the six-gun which hung in its holster, but he did not draw the weapon. The time had not yet come.
The wagons bumped and jolted over the stony ground. The one in which O’Neil rode was so heavily laden with stores that no one but the driver was allowed to travel in it. For that reason O’Neil remained unnoticed.
His first impulse was to climb out the back and escape, but that would mean letting his enemy out of his sight. He must remain where he was until Strawhan came nearer.
So he remained silent, and watched the train of wagons cross the river, which was no easy task, for there was no proper ford.
With much shouting and lashing of whips, the pioneers finally reached the other side. The wide valley lay before them.
Skirting the foot of the cliff where the Six-Gun Gorilla had battled with the Redskins, the pioneers headed for the more open country beyond.
Many times they glanced around them, wondering if they could see the huge shape of the gorilla in the rear. Tutt Strawhan could not keep still. His head was continually darting from side to side.
Not once did Strawhan come back close to the wagons. The hidden gorilla kept its eyes on the man and waited.
The pioneers must have been about five miles from the river when, without warning, a hail or arrows hissed from some bushes, striking down two of the men and wounding some of the mules.
Once again the pioneers had run into Redskins!
In a moment Corrigan had bellowed orders, men were swinging the wagons inwards to form a square, and the outriders were galloping in to take part in the defense.
Rifles cracked, revolvers spat, but there was one wagon which did not come round in line. That was the wagon in which the Six-Gun Gorilla was hidden.
As ill luck would have it, one of the Redskins’ arrows had torn a groove in the neck of the lead mule. Maddened by pain and squealing terribly, the mule had bolted. The rest of the team likewise took to their heels.
The terrified driver stood up and heaved back on the reins, shouting for them to stop. He knew full well that if he was separated from his companions he would be caught by the Redskins and killed.
“Whoa! Pull up, you brutes! Whoa!” he roared.
The team of mules took no notice. They were galloping at full tilt in a blind panic. His heaving had not the slightest effect. They were going straight up the valley, and already a dozen Redskins had started in pursuit, seeing easy prey.
O’Neil had been thrown on his back amongst the potato sacks by the sudden jerk forward. Quickly he turned over and scrambled forward.
The exhausted driver’s hands were slipping from the reins with the strain of his efforts, when over his shoulders came two long, hairy arms. Two huge hands gripped the reins alongside his own.
The driver’s eyes bulged and his heart missed a beat. There was hot breath on his neck and he could hear a low, growling noise.
O’Neil was taking a hand!
So startled was the driver that he forgot to let go the reins. He felt them being pulled with terrific force. He felt a colossal strength being added to his own. O’Neil had the strength of ten men when he was roused, and now he had put out all he had.
The mules were surprised to find the bits dragged back in their jaws with such power. They began to pull up.
O’Neil increased his pull, and with a final jerk the wagon came to a halt, only a quarter of a mile from the others. The driver looked round to see who had brought him such timely aid, found himself gazing into the hideous face of the Six-Gun Gorilla, and promptly fainted.
The gorilla brushed his limp form to one side and looked around.
Behind, not a couple of hundred yards away, a score of Redskins were rushing to the attack.
XXXIX (39) — “KING OF THE PALEFACES”
Again, O’Neil bared his teeth. He hated the red men. He recognized them as enemies, and he did what he had been trained to do. He drew his six shooter.
Resting it on the side of the wagon, he took careful aim and fired. The leading Indian fell, and the rest spread out to attack from the other side.
O’Neil fired another five shots, then the hammer of the gun clicked down harmlessly and he knew that the weapon was empty. He thrust the smoking gun back into its holster and tensed himself for a spring.
On came the Indians, little guessing what was awaiting them.
Back at the other wagons, a fierce fight was taking place. The pioneers had got their wagons drawn up so quickly that the Indians had no time to take them unawares. Concentrated fire drove the Redskins back again and again, leaving the ground littered with their dead.
It was the same old story, a few well-armed white men against a horde of ignorant savages. After a few attempts at battering a way through, the Redskins withdrew to the bushes, growling and snarling at their failure.
For the first time, Corrigan and his men had time to look at their fifth wagon, which they now saw to be in a desperate plight. It had come to a halt, and the Redskins were almost on it. No more shots came from the vehicle.
“Why doesn’t he keep on firing? Is his gun jammed? What’s the matter with him?” gasped the pioneer leader.
The Indians came on, yelling with delight. They had seen only one figure in the wagon, and they were already arguing as to who would have his scalp.
Then, as they reached the tailboard of the wagon, the canvas screen suddenly burst aside, and O’Neil appeared.
With a savage roar of fury, he made a lightning leap and landed amongst the onrushing Redskins.
Two of them were at once snatched in his grasp, and their heads cracked together as though they were eggshells. Their bodies were hurled at two other attackers, and then O’Neil made another grab.
Corrigan and his men were speechless with surprise. To them it seemed as if O’Neil had dropped from the sky. Tutt Strawhan gave a groan and dodged inside a wagon.
In three minutes, O’Neil had killed seven men, and a few spear thrusts, which the Redskins had managed to inflict on him, did not seem to have the slightest effect on him. Finally, the remaining Redskins fled for cover, followed by the angry gorilla.
The mules belonging to that marooned wagon stood there as if hypnotized, until their rightful driver recovered his senses, grabbed the reins, and drove them back to the others.
There he told of those mighty arms which had come over his shoulders and lent him strength.
Weird and terrible cries came from the woods into which O’Neil had chased the Indians. His blood was up, and few things are as terrible as an angry gorilla.
The pioneers waited about half an hour to make sure that it would be safe for them to proceed, then they drove on as fast as possible.
Tutt Strawhan did not make his appearance for the next hour. He lay in one of the wagons like a man paralyzed. Luckily for him, no one else noticed his plight.
Long after the darkness fell, the wagons continued on their way. Corrigan wanted to get clear of the district where these amazing things had happened.
In the woods, O’Neil relentlessly hunted down the last Redskin and killed him. Then he leaned against a tree to recover his breath.
His frenzy wore off, he became calmer, and remembered that his revolver was empty. He seated himself under the tree to reload, a slow and clumsy business with his thick fingers.
As he did this, he was reminded of the beloved master who had taught him how to do such things, and of the scoundrel who had killed him. His teeth bared once more, and he lurched to his feet with new resolve.
He would continue to hunt and treat Strawhan as he had treated those Indians!
Bursting out of the woods, he soon came upon the trail left by the wagons, and followed them swiftly.
But the Six-Gun Gorilla had reckoned without the vengefulness of the Indians. They had not all been killed. Ten of them had survived, having climbed into tall trees to hide themselves.
They held a rapid conference. This was the third time in recent days that this hairy monster had upset their plans. It was time they made an end of him.
Previously, they had not known whether O’Neil was man or demon. Now, however, they were convinced that he was human, that he was some peculiar kind of ally whom the Palefaces employed to protect them.
Whilst seven of them trailed along behind the gorilla, the three others raced to the hills to take the news to those of the tribe who were in camp, and to get them to turn out in force.
They used many short cuts, and within a short time they had reached the camp. Fifteen minutes later, accompanied by two hundred of their tribesmen, they set out on the trail of the Six-Gun Gorilla.
They could have attacked the wagons, but did not choose to do so. They preferred to wait until O’Neil came along the trail.
The gorilla was hot on the scent of Strawhan. It was no more than half a mile behind the wagons, and had no thought for anything else. O’Neil did not see the ambush awaiting him.
The Redskins could have riddled him with arrows, but they did not want to kill him so quickly. They had other and more sinister plans. They wanted to take O’Neil alive.
A hundred of them waited on either side of the trail, and, when the gorilla came along, nearly as many noosed ropes flew through the air.
At least a dozen of them caught over O’Neil’s head and settled around his thick neck on his shoulders. He was jerked to a standstill, and before he could utter one roar of fury the two hundred Redskins rushed.
The Six-Gun Gorilla fought like a fiend, but he was impeded by the ropes that pulled his arms to his sides. These prevented him from drawing his gun.
Some of the ropes he quickly snapped, but before he could free himself from all of them the Redskins had rained blows upon his head. They used heavy tomahawks, the shafts of their spears, and big stones.
Blow after blow the Redskins rained on O’Neil, but it was a long time before he was struck to the ground. Even then his hairy body heaved and twisted as he lay there.
A score of ropes were used to bind him, and in the end the Indians performed a war dance around their captive.
“Truly he is a strange color for a Paleface, but he must be one of them or he would never have fought for them,” they said. “He must be the strongest Paleface living and he is our prisoner. Long will he last at the torture stake!”
A tree was cut down and passed like a thick pole between O’Neil’s bound arms and legs. Twenty men hoisted him from the ground, and for once in his life O’Neil was helpless. Someone had taken charge of his gunbelt and his bandolier.
The whole procession then turned and headed in triumph for the hills.
A mile away, the pioneers and Strawhan made camp on a hilly slope where they believed they could beat off any surprise attack that might come. They knew nothing of the plight of O’Neil.
The Six-Gun Gorilla knew nothing of this himself until he recovered his sense, to find himself trussed in such a painful position.
Then he began to struggle, until his efforts to escape made the men who carried him stagger and stumble. Their comrades hit him blow after blow, bidding him be quiet.
“You are helpless, Paleface!” they jeered, “Even your strength is as nothing now. Nothing can save you. Before long the women and children will laugh at your antics as you writhe in pain. It will take many hours for you to die. First of all we will take off those hairy clothes which you have so cunningly sewn on you.”
Naturally enough, O’Neil did not know what they were saying. He roared and snarled worse than ever, and the Redskins thought that he was using the tongue of the Palefaces, and jeered more than before.
So it was a noisy procession which laboriously made its way into the hills. The gorilla weighed six hundred pounds, and the Redskins had to change over every mile or so.
Word had gone ahead of their triumph, and the rest of the tribe came running to meet them, torches in their hands, all shouting with glee when they saw the huge captive.
“He must be the King of the Palefaces!” said one of the Indians, and the idea caught on.
O’Neil was called the King of the Palefaces, and the entire tribe danced round him as he was carried into the Redskin camp.
There he was dumped down before the tepee of the old chief, who listened to a recital of the injuries which O’Neil had inflicted on his warriors.
The chief’s lined face grew stern.
“The Paleface shall die a thousand deaths in one!” he said. “Take him to the torture stake, and, when dawn comes, we will start to kill him. His death will be a lingering one. He shall not die before another dawn comes, nor yet another dawn.”
With whoops of delight, the warriors rushed to get a stake strong enough to hold O’Neil. They drove it deep into the ground, and the united efforts of thirty men were needed to lift the infuriated gorilla and tie him to this in an upright position.
O’Neil suddenly became quiet and docile.
His recent struggle had exhausted him. He was waiting until he had recovered his strength.
There was no sleep in the Indian village that night. Everyone was kept awake to await the dawn, when the Feast of Torture would begin, and when they would show the King of the Palefaces what happened to prisoners who fell into their hands.
XL (40) — THE LIMPING PURSUER
Dawn came at last and a mighty cheer went up from the waiting Redskins. Three fires had been started, and around these crouched men performing sinister rites.
Wooden spikes were being specially hardened. Knives were being made red hot. Other knives for the skinning of the victim were being sharpened to razor-like keenness. Stones were being heated so that they glowed, and piles of fuel had been dragged in.
A hundred warriors with tomahawks started to dance round the monster captive, and every time they passed in front of O’Neil they pretended to strike at him.
Then the chief came forward and stopped the dance. Leaning close to his captive, he demanded in a loud voice.
“Before we start to kill you, Paleface, what have you to say for yourself? Is there any last request you would like to make?”
O’Neil growled deeply in his throat.
The chief flew into a rage and struck the prisoner on the nose with his hand. O’Neil turned his head as quick as lightning, there was a snapping sound, and the chief gave a howl of pain when he found himself minus two fingers. The prisoner had bitten them off.
“Set to work! Begin the torture! Make him stuffer a thousand deaths!” bawled the infuriated chief.
Men with skinning knives rushed in to start their terrible work. One of the Indians with a red-hot stone held between sticks reached out and dropped it on O’Neil’s right foot.
The Redskin fully expected the victim to jump, and jump he did! He gave a roar that caused his tormentors to start back in fear, and a moment later he had leapt a full yard in the air.
With him went the torture stake!
In his pain, the gorilla had redoubled his strength. The stake had been driven into the earth for a distance of six feet, and with one jerk he had lifted it more than halfway clear of the hole in which it was sunk.
The Redskins, recovering from their first shock, saw the danger and rushed forward. They were too late. Although they rained blows on O’Neil with their tomahawks, he continued to heave and struggle.
At last the stake came clear and O’Neil toppled forward, with the stake still attached behind his back, his arms encircling it.
Again, the Redskins rushed to secure him afresh, but O’Neil’s efforts to free himself prevented them from getting to grips with him. He bent himself almost double, and the great stake snapped in half. The two pieces fell through his bonds, and except for the ropes about his limbs, he was free.
Rolling over and over, defying the efforts of the Redskins to seize him, he snapped the ropes that held him.
Then he rose in his wrath, six feet six inches of him, hair bristling, eyes blazing, one foot still smarting from the effects of the red-hot stone.
The Redskins fled for their lives.
O’Neil started after them at top speed, but, discovering that his foot was too painful, he turned about and returned to the encampment.
Then he proceeded to wreck the tepees, beginning with the tepee of the chief. The gorilla went through the village like a hurricane, uprooting poles, slitting the sides of shelters, tearing everything to shreds.
On his way through the village he discovered his revolver and cartridge belt, which had been dropped when the Indians had fled. Slowly and clumsily, he fastened it about his mighty waist, and roared with pleasure at being so equipped once more.
Then a cunning gleam came to his eyes. He had learned a lot during the past few months, and one of the things he had learned was the power of fire.
He saw the fires which had been lighted at the torture place. One of these had been scattered and red-hot embers had set alight to a big birch bark tepee. O’Neil watched the fire burning for some moments, then uprooted another tepee and pitched it on to the flames.
It likewise burned, and he beat his huge chest in triumph.
Then he collected other huts and shelters, dragged them to the scene, and increased the size of his bonfire. So fiercely did it burn that sparks flew all over the camp, and before long there were a dozen other fires blazing.
The Six-Gun Gorilla had very successfully set fire to the village. Those Indians were being made to pay dearly for the things they had done to him.
From the woods they watched the destructions, and did not dare interfere.
At last O’Neil decided to leave. He limped towards the woods, and, as they saw him coming, the braves whispered together. They leveled their bows. They were going to see what a hundred arrows would do to the King of the Palefaces!
“Let no man shoot until the Paleface reaches the first tree,” ordered the chief.
So the Redskins waited, and O’Neil came steadily nearer, knowing nothing of what was awaiting him. His foot was getting more and more painful. He limped worse than ever. He winced and grimaced at every step, until he reached the first of the trees.
Then, just as the bows twanged, the giant gorilla leapt upwards for a high branch, caught it in one hand, swung himself forward until he caught the next tree, and vanished from the sight of the Redskins.
He had decided to give his foot a rest. It would be wise to travel in the treetops until he reached the edge of the prairie again.
The astonished Redskins were so startled by what they had seen that they shot no more arrows. They were left with their empty bows, blinking into the darkness of the woods, where the sound of creaking branches alone betrayed the gorilla’s movements.
It did not take O’Neil very long to reach the bottom of the hills. There he found a stream, and steeped his foot in the water until he experienced some relief from the pain.
But his recent experience had upset his temper. Sight of the sunlit prairie before him did not improve his feelings. He knew that somewhere out there the wagons were on the move. With those wagons was the man he meant to kill.
Still limping, O’Neil began to pick up the trail. That was not difficult, for the wagon wheels had left their marks in the ground.
On and on he went, and the hills and the Redskins were left far behind. But the Six-Gun Gorilla was not travelling as fast as he would have wished. His injured foot prevented that. It became more and more painful, and sometimes he sat down to lick it.
At last he was forced to go on all fours, and then to hobble on three limbs. That cut his pace still more.
Yet he did not think of stopping. He plodded on and on, confident that in the end he would come up with the wagon train.
The pioneers, on their part, had been making very good progress since dawn, but about the time when O’Neil’s foot began to give him real trouble, they came to a serious obstacle.
A great valley lay before them. At the bottom of it ran a wide river. The near slope was so thickly bushed that it was necessary to hack a way through for the mules and the wagons.
Everyone was turned out for this, men, women, and children. They cut a roadway just the width of a wagon, and it took them two hours to do this.
But they got the wagons to the bottom, and found themselves confronted by a deep stretch of water with no apparent ford. Once again the spirit of the pioneers prevailed, for Corrigan had rocks and large stones rolled into the river to form a causeway.
This took another two hours. At last the mules dragged the wagons to the other side, and the party halted to take a midday meal.
Tutt Strawhan and one or two other had been left on the other side to form a rearguard. Judging by the way he kept looking behind him, Strawhan did not relish the job.
At last it was time for them to follow their friends across the river. Strawhan had one final glance round.
His eyes widened. His hands clenched the reins so tightly that his knuckles showed white.
He had just seen the Six-Gun Gorilla coming over the top of the valley and entering the brush-grown trail which had recently been cut to allow passage of the wagons.
For a moment Strawhan considered spurring his horse into the water and riding for his life, then a desperate, cunning look came into his crafty eyes.
He dismounted, rushed to the nearest bushes, and set them alight in several places. He had noticed that a strong breeze was blowing across the river. In a few moments a wall of flame would race to meet O’Neil.
Not until the slope was well alight did Strawhan turn and ride across the newly-made ford.