- 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
XLI (41) — THE BATTLE OF THE GIANTS
With a crackling roar, the flames rushed up the steep slope, feeding on the dense, dry bushes which grew there. So thick was the undergrowth that in two minutes the side of the valley above the river became a raging furnace.
From somewhere near the top of the slope there sounded a bellow of rage. There was a crashing of branches, and a gigantic figure went hurtling towards the top of the hill, running from the flames.
It was a gorilla, and one of its feet appeared to be damaged, for it was limping. Over six feet tall, and with a massive chest and long, powerful arms, it would have looked at home in an African forest, but here in the Wild West of American it was very much out of place.
With furious leaps it won clear of the flames, and reached the bare, grassy ridge above.
Below lay the river, wide and imposing. About half a mile away, on the opposite side from the gorilla, a number of wagons were moving along, drawn by mules and oxen. Pioneers were on a trek, seeking new homes, but the gorilla’s eyes were not for them.
In the rear of the pioneers, riding hard to catch up with them, was an evil-faced man with a red moustache. Now and again he turned his head, and grinned triumphantly at the fire which he had started.
The gorilla was maddened by the sight. It bellowed and beat its huge chest with its clenched fists.
Around its waist was a gunbelt, with a revolver in the holster. Over one shoulder was strapped a bandolier of cartridges. These were strange trappings to find on a gorilla, but there was a reason for them.
Until some months earlier the gorilla had belonged to a lone miner named Bart Masters, who had named it O’Neil.
Bart Masters had worked a little gold mine in the hills of Colorado, and had taught the gorilla to be useful in many ways. He had even taught it to handle a revolver and to shoot. It had become deeply devoted to him.
Then one night a gang of gunmen, led by a ruffian named Tutt Strawhan, had arrived at the mine. They had murdered Masters, wounded the chained gorilla, and taken all the gold the old man had mined.
The gorilla had recovered, however, and when it had found that its beloved master was dead its rage had been terrible. It had taken the revolver and bandolier and set out on the trail of the ruffians.
So relentlessly had O’Neil hounded them that he had forced them to abandon the gold. He had never left their trail, killing them off one by one, until only Strawhan had remained alive.
The one-time leader of the gunmen had fled far from his usual haunts, had joined this party of pioneers under the name of Sinclair and had hoped that he had shaken off his terrible pursuer.
But the gorilla was still on the trail, and Strawhan would have been in its clutches if he had not set fire to the river bank. Even O’Neil could not pass through flames.
The great beast was made with rage and pain. It had recently been captured and tortured by the Redskins, and its left foot was sore and inflamed.
Its bellows of fury rose above the roar of the flames, and it started to limp along the bank in the hope of finding some other way down to the river.
But the wind was strong, and the flames were blown for more than a mile. Everywhere O’Neil went the roaring flames met him.
All this time the pioneers were getting further and further away, and with them went the man whom the Six-Gun Gorilla was determined to kill.
Grimly O’Neil set out to get round the fire, and when he had travelled two miles he came to a place where the river bank was bare of bushes. Here there was nothing to feed the fire. It had died out before it had reached this spot. With a growl of satisfaction the gorilla plunged down the steep slope to the water’s edge.
The river was wide and swift, especially at this point. The pioneers had chosen the best crossing, but that was now in the midst of rolling smoke clouds. O’Neil could not go back there.
He hesitated for a moment, for he disliked crossing water, then with a low growl he waded forward. Fortunately the water was shallow and only came up to his knees.
There was a strong swirling current in the middle of the river, which would have swept any human being downstream, but O’Neil’s colossal strength was more than a match for it and he soon reached the other bank.
An overhanging branch there gave him the necessary grip to haul himself ashore. He stood erect to shake himself, and from somewhere under the low trees there came a ferocious snort.
O’Neil showed his fangs and waited. Then the bushes parted, a huge, shaggy head appeared, and a pair of wicket red eyes stared angrily at him.
They were the eyes of a huge bull buffalo, an old beast which had been driven from the herd by the younger bulls. Its curved horns were yellowed with age, but its eyes were bloodshot and glistening with anger.
Sight of the gorilla emerging from the water had enraged it. Suddenly it charged.
The Six-Gun Gorilla snarled. He had seen buffalo only from a distance before this. There had been none in the hills of Colorado. But when he saw the lowered head and the curving horns he knew that his end would be sure if he did not get out of the way.
With a grunt of annoyance, he leapt for the overhanging branch of a tree.
But he weighed six hundred pounds, and these scrubby trees out on the prairie were not made to withstand such a strain. The branch promptly broke, and he fell backwards—on top of the charging buffalo.
The charging beast pulled up short at the water, and swung around. The Six-Gun Gorilla rolled over to one side, dazed and winded.
The thunder of hoofs, and the sight of those wicked horns approaching, roused him, and he got to his knees in time to grab the extended horns, one in either hand.
Then he found himself lifted from the ground and forced backwards, but if he was startled by this, the buffalo was also startled by the immense weight of its adversary. It could not now raise its head.
The two beasts came to a standstill about forty yards further on, and the maddened buffalo began to toss its head and stamp in frenzy. O’Neil got his feet to the ground, and balanced himself more firmly. He still retained his grip on those horns.
This way and that plunged the bull buffalo, but O’Neil did not slacken his hold. He leaned on the brute’s head, his immense weight tiring the buffalo out.
Then O’Neil took the offensive, twisting and heaving with all his strength. The buffalo bellowed. O’Neil roared. It was a clash of giants.
O’Neil leaned forward and tried to sink his teeth into the top of the buffalo’s head, but all he encountered was hard bone that even his long fangs could not penetrate. The pain drove the buffalo to greater efforts. It managed to lift O’Neil off the ground once more, and rushed him at top speed into a tree.
If the tree had not fallen over O’Neil would have been smashed to death. As it was, he was badly crushed and bruised. He gasped for breath, managed to get his adversary’s head down again, and gave another heave.
The buffalo’s head was turning. It was a trial of sheer strength. The gorilla’s grip did not slacken. He had the strength of ten men.
Slowly, inch by inch, he levered on those horns, until with a roar of rage the great bull buffalo crashed over on its side. Once on the ground its doom was sealed. The Six-Gun Gorilla knelt and completed his grim task, twisting until he had broken the buffalo’s neck.
The great beast lay still. After some minutes O’Neil relaxed his hold and tottered to his feet. He could hardly stand.
Under a tree he fell on his side, his chest heaving, his body caked with sweat.
Then gradually his heart stopped thumping so wildly. His limbs relaxed. He closed his eyes and slept.
For the time being he was too tired to follow the pioneers. Every minute he lay there they were getting further and further away, but O’Neil was not thinking about that. He was getting his strength back, recovering from what had been one of the sternest ordeals of his life.
XLII (42) — THE DAWN VISITOR
Tutt Strawhan had often looked back towards the cloud of smoke beside the river, wondering what O’Neil was doing. If the gunman had only known it he could have gone back and shot the gorilla as it lay exhausted.
Strawhan was not to know that, however. His one idea was to get as far away as possible before O’Neil could cross the river. He urged the pioneers to drive faster.
He had already told them that the gorilla was a dangerous monster, which had escaped from a circus. He had not dared to tell them that it was trailing him, and him alone, for he was afraid that they might decided to get rid of his presence. It was essential that he should have company. He feared to be alone.
His fear puzzled the pioneers. He had shown no trace of fear when he had saved them from a Redskin ambush, and his strange horror of this hairy monster was something they did not understand.
Three of them dropped to the rear to open fire on O’Neil if he managed to cross the river, but when hour followed hour, and they did not so much as glimpse him, they relaxed their vigilance.
“Guess the brute’s turned back,” they said. “He didn’t like that warm welcome you gave him on the river bank. Give up worrying about him, Sinclair.”
The outlaw tried to keep calm, but the fear persisted that he had not seen the last of O’Neil, and when camp was made that evening he was as nervous as a kitten.
To add to his dismay, Corrigan, the leader of the pioneers, said that he had never seen a finer piece of country than that which they were now in.
“Guess it’s what we’ve been looking for,” he said. “If it looks as good in daylight as it does now I’ll reckon we’ll settle here. There’s good grazing, rich soil, water, an’ timber. What more do we want?”
His companions nodded approval. They had travelled hundreds of miles seeking such a place. They were all eager to settle.
Tutt Strawhan’s heart missed a beat.
“But—but the Injuns!” he protested. “They’re too strong in this district. You couldn’t live in peace here.”
“There are Injuns everywhere,” snorted Corrigan. “We’ll have to teach ’em to leave us alone. Sooner or later they’ll be driven further west, then we’ll be at peace. We’re not scared o’ Injuns.”
The wagons were pulled up in the usual formation for the night, and men hustled about getting wood for the fire, and water from a nearby stream, Tutt Strawhan gripped his rifle and shivered.
He had not expected this to happen so soon. If the pioneers were going no further what was going to happen to him? He had expected them to go for hundreds of miles further west.
But if they settled here, with O’Neil only a few hours behind, it would mean another clash with him before long. The Six-Gun Gorilla would arrive in the morning at the latest, and then—the outlaw shuddered.
There was only one thing he could do. He must go on alone. He must cover up his trail as best he could, and head for the southern plains.
But he would not go empty-handed. During the days he had travelled with the wagons he had discovered that Corrigan was in charge of the pioneers’ money. He had an ironbound box in his wagon that contained the community funds. Corrigan slept under that wagon at night, with a gun at his side. It would not be easy to rob him, but Strawhan meant to do it.
Cunningly the gunman pretended to throw off his fears, declared that they could not find a finer spot in which to settle, and joined the men round the fireside for the final smoke and yarn when the women and children had gone to their blankets.
During the course of the evening he had accumulated a stock of cartridges and foodstuffs, a roll of blankets, and many other things that he needed for the journey.
All these articles he stowed under a bush, where he could get them without trouble. He even picked out the horse which he intended taking when he fled.
At last the men separated for the night. Sentries were always set, and Strawhan volunteered for the midnight spell. He meant to make his getaway during his two hours on watch.
When the time came for him to take his spell he posted himself in a good position. One man was on similar duty on the other side of the wagons. The rest of the pioneers were asleep.
Strawhan began his foul work when things had settled down again. He meant to have no interruption from his fellow sentry. Down on hands and knees he went, and crawled under the wagons, coming up behind the unsuspecting man.
There was a flash of steel, and the luckless sentry sank down with a knife under his left shoulder blade, and Strawhan’s big left hand over his mouth to stifle any outcry.
The man died at once. The outlaw had not the slightest hesitation in leaving him lying there.
His next move was to a wagon where he knew spare clothing was kept. From this he selected a complete new kit for himself, removed the clothes he wore, and tossed them aside, dressing himself in the stolen rigout.
Only one thing remained to be done. He had to get that money. Stealthily he approached the wagon where Corrigan lay breathing heavily. Some children slept inside the wagon.
The wagon creaked a little as he climbed up at the back, and he waited to see if the slight noise had attracted any attention. Nobody stirred.
The children lay sleeping peacefully. His lips curled as he reached over them towards the ironbound box. He lifted it clear of the floor and backed away.
He had actually got down to the ground behind the tailboard of the wagon, when Corrigan wakened and sat up with a jerk.
“Who’s that?” he grunted.
There was no time for Tutt Strawhan to use his gun or snatch up a knife. Instead he swung the heavy, ironbound box straight at the man’s face, and a corner of it caught Corrigan on the forehead. He slumped backwards, senseless.
Breathing hard, Tutt Strawhan crouched to await developments, but once again his luck had held. Nobody else in the camp had been roused.
After a minute or so Tutt Strawhan collected the things which he had left under a bush, and made for the horse lines. The cash box and most of the gear went into the saddlebags which he had brought for the purpose, and within a few seconds he was leading the surprised horse away into the darkness.
Not until he was well clear of the sleeping camp did he mount and ride hard for the south. No one heard the beat of those hoofs.
Corrigan was the first to raise the alarm. He came to his senses with blood caked on his face and his head throbbing with pain. Then, still half-dazed, he lurched to his feet and shouted for the rest of the camp to waken.
In a moment or two the camp was awake, and men stood to their posts. It was fully ten minutes before they discovered what had really happened.
The discovery of the dead sentry enraged them more than anything else. When it was found out that the cash box and a horse had disappeared, some of the men wanted to ride in pursuit at once.
Corrigan checked them.
“No good would come of it,” he growled. “The skunk is probably miles away by this time. If we follow him we only leave the women and kids unprotected. Maybe there are Injuns about. We’re better where we are, but if we ever lay hands on that rat again—”
Growls of rage from the other pioneers indicated what would happen to Strawhan if he ever crossed their path in the future.
There was no sleep for them that night. How long they had slept without sentries watching over them they did not know, but they did know that they had been exposed to a fearful risk. The Redskins could have rushed the camp any time after Strawhan had deserted with his loot. That was another thing they could not forgive the scoundrel for.
Dawn found them still counting their losses. Crouching over the fire in the chilly mist at sunrise, they were suddenly aroused by a shout from one of the lookouts.
“He’s coming back! Someone coming through the mist!” he roared.
Half a dozen rifles were instantly raised and leveled. Something was certainly moving out there beyond the edge of the camp.
“Is that you, Sinclair? Put up your arms or you’re a dead man!” shouted Corrigan.
The only reply was a low growl, and to the surprise of the pioneers, the erect figure dropped on hands and knees. A moment later, before anyone could fire, it had leapt more than twenty feet in a single bound, and was right beside them.
It was not the scoundrel who had robbed and betrayed them, but the Six-Gun Gorilla.
Sheer surprise held the pioneers spellbound. Not a shot was fired. They stared in dumb amazement at the huge beast. Gun in fist, O’Neil stood regarding them from beneath his fierce eyebrows.
Slowly his eyes travelled along their line of anxious faces, then with a grunt he deliberately turned his back on them and walked away.
“Quiet!” hissed Corrigan. “Don’t shoot. He doesn’t mean us any harm. We don’t want a fight here, in the middle of the camp.”
They held their breath as O’Neil made for the nearest wagon, reared up to his full height, and peered inside. His nostrils were quivering. He was relying on his powers of smell as well as his sight.
“He’s looking for something,” whispered someone.
“Or someone!” muttered another of the pioneers. “Don’t upset him. Perhaps he’ll go away.”
Screams came from another of the wagons as the Six-Gun Gorilla peered in over the tailboard. To the women and children he seemed like a fiend.
The men stood silent, covering him with their guns. Some of them were beginning to realize what this was all about. If O’Neil had touched a woman or a child they would have riddled him with bullets, but for the moment they held their fire, waiting to see what happened.
From wagon to wagon he went, sniffing, peering, terrifying the occupants who were awake.
At last he came to the wagon where the spare clothing and other stores were kept. The watching men had expected him to pass that quickly, but to their surprise he gave a ferocious roar, and leapt inside.
“By gosh! Now, what’s he found?” breathed Corrigan.
XLIII (43) — O’NEIL GETS HIS MAN
A moment later the Six-Gun Gorilla reappeared. He held a bundle of clothes which the pioneers at once recognized as having belonged to Strawhan.
Every hair on O’Neil’s body was bristling. His fangs were bared, and from his throat came a continuous growl. With one movement of his powerful hands he tore the clothes to shreds, dropped them on the ground, and jumped on them.
Then the onlookers were appalled by his display of ferocity, as he tore, ripped, and stamped on those clothes until nothing but a few shreds remained.
Cowed and terrified, even the women and children became silent as they watched.
When at last those articles of clothing were no more than shreds, O’Neil turned away, went down on hands and knees to snuffle the ground, and ran on all fours towards the edge of the camp.
Corrigan was the first to break the silence.
“He—He’s after Sinclair!” he gasped. “Sinclair’s the only one he wants. Those were Sinclair’s clothes. The brute’s got it in for him for some reason. I wonder what he did to it.”
“Something lowdown, I bet!” growled one of the others. “Let it go after him. If it catches up with him an’ pulls him to pieces so much the better—the dirty skunk!”
Growls of approval came from the rest of the pioneers.
At last O’Neil found Tutt Strawhan’s trail. In some uncanny way O’Neil had discovered the spot where Strawhan had mounted, and although the killer’s scent was no longer on the ground, the gorilla had only to follow the tracks of the horse to hunt him down.
The pioneers watched the great beast disappear into the distance.
Then Corrigan spoke grimly.
“D’ you know, I’ve and idea we needn’t worry about that skunk Sinclair getting his deserts,” he said. “That gorilla sure means business. One o’ these days, sooner or later, he’ll catch up with Sinclair, and then—”
The rest of the men nodded. They were all of the same opinion.
O’Neil was going as fast as his injured foot would allow him. That foot still gave him pain. He had been unable to rest it, and the part which had been burnt had become inflamed and raw. The constant pain urged him on like a spur.
There was no longer any need for him to sniff the ground. The tracks made by the stolen horse were clear enough to his keen eyes. He travelled sometimes on all fours, sometimes standing erect.
Ahead the country became open and rolling. It was real prairie, with little more vegetation than some grass and bush. The folds of the country were like waves on the ocean, and it was impossible to see more than one ridge ahead.
The sun rose higher and higher in the sky, and O’Neil suffered from the heat, but he did not slow down. Somehow he seemed to realize that the end of his chase was not far off. Somewhere on the prairie he would come up with the man who had killed the one person he loved, and then he would take his vengeance.
He was hungry as well as thirsty, but there was nothing here for him to eat, neither fruit, vegetables, or berries.
Hour followed hour, and then as he came to the top of an extra high ridge, he saw something in the distance which made him snarl.
It was a solitary rider going southwards. The horse seemed to be very weary.
The Six-Gun Gorilla took it for granted that the lone rider was Strawhan. It did not enter his head that there might be someone else on the open prairie. To him this was as good as the end of the chase, and he broke into a straggling run.
Gradually he made up on the rider. Presently he was no more than half a mile behind, then a quarter. He tried to put on an extra spurt, but even his great strength was failing. He could go no faster.
The country was changing now, becoming rougher and more deeply indented. When not more than a quarter of a mile ahead O’Neil heard the sharp crack of a gun, followed by other reports in quick succession.
For a moment he thought that the man he was pursuing was shooting at him, and he instinctively crouched to the ground, but when there came no whistle of bullets he realized that the shots had not been fired at him. The shooting was in the other direction.
On all fours, O’Neil scampered for the top of the next rise, and looked over the top. He saw the horseman, crouching behind his dead horse, shooting rapidly at a score or so of Redskins who had evidently ambushed him from one of the gullies which abounded in the region. The horse was stuck full of arrows. The Redskins must have deliberately aimed at the horse in order to bring the man down.
Now they were closing in on him from all sides at once, wriggling over the ground, using every scrap of cover.
The lone man fired two more shots from behind his horse. He was selling his life dearly, but he could not watch all sides at once.
Two Indians fell in the front, but half a dozen others rose and sped forward from the rear. They were now no more than a dozen yards from their intended victim.
O’Neil’s great hands twitched. Did these Redskins think that he was going to give up his cherished victim to them? Did they think that they were going to cheat him out of his vengeance after all he had gone through?
The lone traveler turned on his side, conscious of danger from the rear, but he was too late. The Redskins made a wild rush, and swarmed over him before he could swing his gun about.
Then a wild whoop rose from the others as they closed in to help their comrades master the struggling man. He disappeared beneath a heap of them.
O’Neil waited no longer. Down the slope he went with great leaps and bounds, careless of the pain to his foot. He landed on top of the struggling, heaving mass with enough force to knock the breath from the bodies of the Redskins beneath him, and the next moment he went into action.
He did not use the gun. His huge hands were sufficient for the purpose.
The fight lasted no more than three minutes, and during that time the Redskins were hurled right and left like earth flying from a mechanical excavator. Few of them escaped without broken bones. Their shrieks and cries of fear resounded far over the prairie.
At last their victim was uncovered. No Redskin was left within a dozen yards of him. Those few who had escaped death or injury were fleeing for their lives, convinced that some demon had descended upon them from the clouds.
The white man lay still. He had been crushed and battered into unconsciousness. O’Neil gave a terrible cry of triumph, and snatched him up in both hands, much as a child would snatch a doll.
This was the moment to which he had looked forward for a long time. Now there was nothing to prevent him taking his revenge on his hated enemy. He turned his victim about to get a better hold, then stared at the face revealed to him.
It was not Tutt Strawhan at all. This weathered face had no red moustaches, but a neat black beard. It was not the hated killer, that O’Neil had in his grip, but a total stranger, some lone buffalo hunter who had blundered across the trail of the man the Six-Gun Gorilla was hunting.
The gorilla’s fingers relaxed their hold. The man slumped to the ground and grunted. O’Neil stood over him, glaring savagely in all directions.
He did not want to harm this stranger. He had no quarrel with him. Actually he had done the man a good turn by rescuing him from the Redskins, but O’Neil thought nothing of that. He was no longer interested in the fate of the hunter.
The gorilla had blundered, but Strawhan could not be far away. Somewhere the trails had crossed, and O’Neil had followed the wrong one. But sooner or later he would catch up with the man he sought.
XLIV (44) — THE LIVING WALL OF DEATH
The horse was on its last legs. Even the goading and beating of the rider could not make it quicken its stride. Its head hung low, and its eyes were glazed.
All around stretched the limitless prairie. Horse and rider were heading south, and neither of them knew just how many miles they had come since they had started their mad flight.
Once the beast stumbled and threw the man heavily. He lay there for some minutes before rising to his feet and kicking the horse until it lurched up once more.
The man himself was gaunt, his eyes were deeply sunk and red-rimmed with fatigue. Every now and again he would glance round as though afraid of something in the rear.
Terror had him in its grip. He was almost certain that he was being pursued, and that was why he was trying to reach the border in record time.
The country through which Tutt Strawhan was passing was Redskin country, but he did not fear the Indians. He scarcely thought of the Indians when he looked behind him every few minutes. What he feared to see was a huge, hairy monster—a giant gorilla!
Not many months before this, Tutt Strawhan had been the leader of a gang of gunmen. He and his gang had been feared all over Colorado.
Then Strawhan had heard of a rich little gold mine run by a lone miner named Bart Masters. This miner had a tame gorilla called O’Neil, which he had trained to work for him. To amuse himself, Bart Masters had even taught the great creature to use a revolver, and it was never happier than when it was wearing a gunbelt and bandolier.
Tutt Strawhan had learned of Bart Masters’ gold strike, and with his gang had raided the mine one evening, killed Masters, shot and wounded the gorilla, and escaped with the gold.
The gorilla’s fury had been terrible when it had recovered and found its master dead. It had taken the revolver and cartridge belt and had set off after the killers.
For months it had kept on their heels. So relentless had been the pursuit that it had forced them to abandon the gold, and one by one had killed them off, until now only Tutt Strawhan remained alive.
O’Neil had dogged Strawhan so persistently that in his terror the killer had gone out into the far west with a party of pioneers, hoping to escape.
But escape was not for him. The Six-Gun Gorilla was still on his trail. In desperation, Strawhan had robbed the pioneers as they slept one night, had taken the best horse they possessed, and had started for the border.
The border was much further away than he had expected, however. Each time he topped a ridge he looked anxiously ahead, wondering if he was nearing his destination.
All he saw was more prairie, more grass, more ridges.
The horse he was riding was heavily laden with supplies and an iron box which contained the money Strawhan had stolen from the pioneers. The outlaw had not hesitated to rob them of all they possessed, even though they had befriended him and trusted him.
Now this box bumped to and from in the saddlebag alongside the horse’s right flank. It unbalanced the beast. If Strawhan had had the time to spare he would have opened the box and removed the money to his pockets, but the box was locked, and it would take a long while to force it open.
Down into a hollow stumbled the horse, and immediately sank to its knees in mud. There was a muskeg swamp which Strawhan had failed to notice. The horse had walked right into it.
Strawhan shouted and raved, tugged and heaped blows on the luckless beast, but it had not the strength to pull itself out of the mud. Gradually it sank to its death, and the once-feared gang leader was helpless to prevent it.
At the last moment he removed the saddlebag containing the iron box, and when he staggered back to firm ground the still carried this.
He could not afford to lose the valuable box. It was no use crossing the border and entering a new country without some money. He was determined to keep the box until he could get at the cash.
So the sun blazed down on a bent stumbling figure which staggered southwards with a saddlebag slung over one shoulder. Tutt Strawhan was on the verge of collapse, but fear made him stagger on.
“It won’t get me! It won’t!” he gasped to himself. “I’ll cheat it yet. It got all the others, but it won’t get me!”
He forced himself onwards, but still he turned round and looked back each time he topped a ridge.
Gradually Strawhan’s progress became slower and slower, until at last he climbed an extra high ridge, and paused for breath. Then he rubbed his eyes.
The prairie below him seemed to be alive with movement. At first he thought that the figures before him were men, but when he came to look more closely he realized that he was looking down on the biggest herd of bison he had ever seen.
There were thousands of them down there. They formed a mass several miles long, and they were moving very slowly in his direction as they grazed.
“Meat!” grunted the hunted man. “Meat enough for an army. If someone could only shoot ’em an’ sell ’em to the contractors building that new railroad! The hides alone would be worth a fortune.”
So taken was he with the idea that it was some minutes before he thought to look behind him.
When he did look back, the saddlebag containing the iron box dropped to the ground with a thud. Strawhan’s eyes bulged, and beads of sweat showed on his face. At last his fears were realized. There in the distance he could see his terrible pursuer.
It was only a moving speck, but he knew at once glance, by its curious shambling walk, that that speck was the Six-Gun Gorilla. Like himself, the gorilla was tired. It had travelled farther than he, for it had taken a false trail at the start.
But now it was making no mistake. It was heading directly along his tracks. Suddenly, as Strawhan stood watching it, he saw it stop for a moment, raise itself to its full height and stare, apparently looking straight at him.
“It’s seen me!” he gasped.
He turned and fled down the other side of the ridge. His feet felt like lead, but he forced himself along.
In all that vast expanse of prairie he could see no hiding place.
Then ahead of him he saw the army of buffalo, and an idea occurred to him.
The Six-Gun Gorilla was following him by scent and sight. When it could not see him it was sniffing the ground and picking out his scent.
If he could only pass through that mass of buffalo the gorilla would lose the trail. Not even a gorilla could track him over ground trampled by thousands of buffalo.
Tutt Strawhan’s heart beat with fresh hope. He kept steadily on his way towards the herd, and as he drew nearer he slowed his pace to a slow walk. He did not want to disturb or alarm the herd.
To make things even better, he plucked some branches from bushes which he passed, and held them around him as camouflage. By moving very slowly he believed that he would pass unnoticed. The wind was carrying his scent away from the herd so he would not be betrayed by that.
Nearer and nearer to the outskirts of the herd he went, sometimes looking behind him.
Now he was amongst the stragglers at the front of the herd. One or two lifted their shaggy heads and glared at him suspiciously, but he stood perfectly still until they looked away, then moved on a little farther.
It was nerve-racking work passing through the grazing herd. At any other time he would not have dared try it. If the brutes had stampeded when he was in their midst, he would not have lasted ten seconds.
For more than twenty minutes he passed through the lanes of grazing buffalo, and not until he was on slightly higher ground on the farther side did he again glance to the rear.
His hand grasped his gun impulsively. He got a shock when he saw how close the Six-Gun Gorilla had come.
All that now separated them was the herd of buffalo. The gorilla was on the other side of it, and had stopped to stare at the moving mass before him.
“If he tries to come through there—they’ll stampede!” gasped Tutt Strawhan, and just then an idea came to him. “Why not? Why shouldn’t they be stampeded—in the other direction?”
It had suddenly occurred to him that he could start a stampeded from his side and send the army of buffalo towards the oncoming gorilla. Anything in the path of the buffalo would be wiped out.
No sooner had the idea occurred to the hunted scoundrel than he jerked out his gun and aimed it over the backs of the unsuspecting beasts.
He fired rapidly, at the same time shouting at the top of his voice.
Several thousand buffalo raised their heads and gazed in the direction of the shots. Strawhan fired at one of the nearest brutes and caught it in the shoulder with a bullet. The startled beast roared with pain, and retreated towards the others. They all stirred restlessly.
Tutt Strawhan well knew how to start cattle moving. He had learned that during his cattle rustling days.
When he had reloaded and advanced towards them, the mass of shaggy creatures started to move the other way. One or two bulls turned and lowered their heads, but they did this only to give the others time to get clear. The main herd was on the move, and they were heading faster and faster away from Strawhan. Strawhan shouted and yelled at the top of his voice and waved his arms vigorously as he jumped up and down.
The buffalo broke into a gallop. Strawhan knew that he had succeeded, for those on the move pushed the others, and after that nothing could stop them.
There came a sound like distant thunder as their hoofs beat the ground. In one solid mass they stampeded towards the north.
Tutt Strawhan stood with hands on hips, and grinned. Right in their path was the Six-Gun Gorilla. It seemed that at last Strawhan had got rid of his awful pursuer.
XLV (45) — STRAWHAN’S LAST REFUGE
O’Neil had been startled when first he had seen this mass of animals between him and his victim. He had never seen such a big herd before and he stared in amazement at the beasts.
Then his hand went to the holster on his hip and drew his gun. He had some idea of shooting them out of his way! He had learned that the gun could do many things.
His hideous face was twisted more viciously than ever as he prepared to fire a shot. He screwed up one eye in comical fashion, then jerked it open again when the sound of shots came from the other side of the herd.
Tutt Strawhan had started his efforts to stampeded the mass of beasts, and almost at once the herd got on the move. Things happened quickly after that. The Six-Gun Gorilla got the shock of his life when he saw that the whole herd was advancing towards him. He saw a forest of tossing horns and lowered heads.
O’Neil backed away a few yards and bared his teeth. Here was something he knew he could not stand against.
He began to retreat more quickly, for the buffalo were gaining speed. From a walk they had trotted, then cantered, and now they were coming at a mad gallop.
So much dust was stirred up and drifted before him that O’Neil could no longer see his enemy on the other side of the herd. The living wall bore down on him.
O’Neil suddenly stopped in his tracks and stood snarling viciously. He had decided to face them after all.
Standing at his full height, with huge arms held out before him like a wrestler about to come to grips, he awaited the onslaught.
The buffalo came on as though unaware of O’Neil’s presence. They were blind with rage and fear. Nothing could check them. Trees or other obstacles would have been brushed out of their path. A similar fate would overtake the Six-Gun Gorilla if he stayed where he was.
At the last moment O’Neil realized this. He saw a thousand leveled horns, sensed the irresistible force behind this rush, and gave a grunt. The next moment he had leapt upwards and forwards, on to their backs.
The beasts which felt his hairy touch would have stopped, but those behind would not allow them to do this. The moving mass swept on, and with it went the Six-Gun Gorilla, sprawling on the back of that living sea of animals.
So tightly were the buffalo wedged together that it was impossible for him to fall to the ground again.
Snarling, spitting, tearing with his powerful hands at everything within reach. O’Neil was thrown from one beast to another. For two minutes he was treated like a schoolboy being tossed in a blanket, but gradually his wits returned, and he awaited his chance.
A quick grab and he had got hold of a thick mane of hair, had steadied himself, and risen to his feet.
His flexible toes gave a good hold on anything. He managed to remain erect. He started to run across the backs of the moving herd. He staggered as he ran, but he managed to retain his balance.
The noise the buffalo made was deafening, and he added his angry roar to it.
Once he lost his balance and fell astride a huge black bull, which carried him with it for more than a mile before he managed to scramble on to another of its neighbors. O’Neil did not want to go with the herd. He was like a swimmer trying to go against the tide. He wanted to go in the opposite direction.
How long he scrambled about on the backs of the buffalo he did not know, but when at last he fell forward on to the hard, trampled ground, and saw no more of the herd coming, he knew that he had reached the end of his perilous ‘journey’.
The earth still trembled to the passing of those thousands of feet. O’Neil lay there listening to the vibrations, and gradually got his breath back.
Then he rose and shook himself, felt to make sure that his gun was still in its holster, and glared ahead.
Tutt Strawhan had gone out of sight. The scoundrel had chuckled evilly when he had seen the herd heading for his terrible pursuer, but he had made off as soon as he was certain that the herd would not stop. He was no longer to be seen.
The Six-Gun Gorilla began to nose around, trying to pick up his enemy’s trail but he could not find it, which was not surprising, considering the mass of hoofs which had passed over the ground.
O’Neil went round in ever increasing circles, until suddenly away in the distance he heard a sound that he recognized—the sound of a shot.
Instantly he turned and headed in that direction. He did not trouble to nose the ground. He felt sure that the shot had been fired by Strawhan.
Suddenly another shot rang out, followed quickly by two others. This time there could be no mistake. The shots had been fired less than a mile away.
The Six-Gun Gorilla limped swiftly southwards. The thought of catching up with Strawhan made him forget about the pain in his foot which had recently been badly burned.
His rush carried him over the ground at a great pace, until he came again to rising ground, reached the top, and stopped, his bushy eyebrows coming together as he scowled in wonder at what he saw.
A fight was going on between Redskins and someone who had sought refuge in the midst of a pile of large boulders. On the ground near those boulders lay a saddlebag. A score of mounted Redskins were riding round and round, whooping and firing with their bows at the refuge of the solitary white man.
Shots were coming from the midst of the boulders. Tutt Strawhan seemed to have run into the Redskins and had hurriedly sought shelter.
The Six-Gun Gorilla’s eyes remained fixed on the scene below. His hair bristled, and a low growl came from the back of his throat. He could not see Strawhan, but he knew that the man he sought was in amongst those boulders. If O’Neil did not hurry up and claim him these red-skinned warriors would kill Strawhan.
Two more shots rang out and one of the Redskins toppled from his horse. The other warriors at once closed the gap and continued their circling tactics.
Strawhan must have known that he could not escape, for he was firing rapidly, much too rapidly for his scant supply of ammunition. When that was gone he would have nothing but his bare hands to defend himself against this horde.
The Redskins knew that, and were waiting until he should cease firing.
Closer and closer edged the horses, until the pile of boulders was almost hidden by them. The Six-Gun Gorilla started down the hill, and he was clever enough to go on all fours, for he did not want to be seen yet.
The shots were now fewer. Strawhan was nearing the end of his tether. The Indians were watching closely lest he should try to make a despairing dash for one of the ponies of the fallen warriors.
Suddenly there was an appalling roar, and a huge figure rose and dashed towards the Redskins.
The Redskins turned round in alarm and saw O’Neil seize one of the rider less ponies and throw it over on its side. The horses nearby squealed with fear and reared up on their hind legs. The circle was broken, and through the gap he had made dashed the Six-Gun Gorilla.
A strangled cry came from amongst the boulders. Tutt Strawhan had seen the gorilla at last. A moment later two shots caught O’Neil in the chest and made him stagger for an instant.
But the bullets did not penetrate very far. His matted hair checked them. The flesh wounds only made O’Neil more angry, and he reached the pile of boulders in a leap.
The Redskins drew back, scared and bewildered by this interruption. None of them had ever seen a gorilla before. They could not make out whether it was beast or human.
O’Neil went round and round, trying to find out where Strawhan was. The fugitive had crawled right into the midst of the boulders and hidden.
But O’Neil knew Strawhan was there. The gorilla could smell him. It wrinkled its black lips in a vicious snarl and gripped one of the boulders.
It must have weighed half a ton, but with a single swing of his arms O’Neil sent it rolling half a dozen yards away.
The Indians watched, dumb with amazement. The gorilla caught hold of another huge boulder and hurled it in another direction.
The hidden man fired two more shots but neither hit nor scared O’Neil who went on with his task of unearthing Tutt Strawhan. He scattered those boulders with the speed and fury of a hurricane.
At last only two of these rocks remained. The Six-Gun Gorilla gripped one, and wrenched.
It rolled aside, and Strawhan was at last revealed. Before O’Neil could release his hold on the boulder and spring on his foe, the gunman had jerked up his revolver and fired twice at point blank range. Both bullets took O’Neil in the throat.
The great creature gave a howl of pain and wrath, relaxed his hold on the boulder, and let it fall. A second later he fell beside it, and lay still.
Tutt Strawhan gave a whoop of joy. Careless of the onlookers, he rushed from his hiding place and climbed on top of the fallen gorilla. There he danced a wild jig of joy.
“Got you! Got you at last!” he roared. “I was too clever for you, O’Neil. You should have left me alone. Now you’re dead—dead as that fool master of yours!”
He lowered his gun to pump a few more shots into the huge body; but the weapon merely clicked harmlessly. He had fired his last cartridge.
XLVI (46) — O’NEIL FIRES HIS LAST SHOT
The realization of this brought Strawhan back to his senses. As he reached into his pocket for cartridges, he became aware of horsemen looming over him. The Redskins had closed in again. They had seen the hairy demon slain by their intended victim, and they were no longer afraid.
When Tutt Strawhan looked up into those painted, merciless faces, he gasped with fear.
Frantically he searched for more cartridges, determined to die by his own hand rather than fall into the grip of these Redskins. But there was not a single cartridge left. He had fired the last one into O’Neil. He was defenseless. The Redskins would take him alive after all.
“No, no!” he roared, as they jumped from their horses and tried to seize him. “No, no, not the torture stake!”
The Indians bore him to the ground and beat him to silence. He had gained nothing by pumping those last two shots into O’Neil. In his excitement he had fired away that final shot which he had always intended reserving for himself.
He was now at the mercy of these red fiends, and he knew what that meant. Horrible and prolonged torture would be his fate. It would have been better to have died at the hands of the Six-Gun Gorilla!
The Redskins watched their prisoner carefully, but not one of them went near the gorilla. They eyed it from a distance, and were satisfied to see it lying so still. They could see the blood on the ground from its head wound.
Immense it looked, even when it sprawled helplessly beside the last remaining boulder. It was lying face down, and the broad width of its back impressed the Indians greatly.
“Truly this must be the biggest man who ever lived!” they muttered. “He is neither Paleface nor Redskin. He must come of another tribe.”
Two of them stood guard over Strawhan while the rest of them collected wood to make a fire. They were very elated with their success, and intended taking Strawhan back to their village as soon as their horses were rested.
Meanwhile they squatted round the fire.
The wood they used was small stuff, gathered from the nearby bushes. It crackled loudly as it burned, and threw sparks into the air.
One spark drifted over the heads of the Indians and settled on the broad back of O’Neil. The gorilla’s hair began to smolder.
Tutt Strawhan lay between his two guards, rolling his eyes in terror.
The spark on the gorilla’s back burnt deeper. It reached the flesh.
A tremor ran through O’Neil. There was still life in the great creature. The pain of the burn was penetrating his dazed senses.
Suddenly he opened his eyes, and tried to turn his head. The pain in his neck prevented this, so he rolled on his side.
From there he could see the fire, the Redskins, and to one side the man he had hunted for so many months, the killer of his master!
O’Neil bared his teeth, but even that movement hurt him. He set a hairy hand to the ground, and forced himself to a sitting position. As he was outside the circle of the firelight he remained unseen. His fierce eyes gleamed with hate.
He was not going to be cheated out of his revenge. These men with the feathers in their hair were not going to have his victim!
Painfully he dragged himself towards the one remaining boulder. It was one of the biggest of the pile he had scattered. Grasping it with both hands, he hauled himself erect. His wounds were draining his massive body of its strength, but he made one supreme effort, heaved the boulder high above his head, and tossed it straight into that circle of Redskins.
It came down on the fire and scattered it in all directions.
O’Neil had fallen into a sitting position after the effort of that throw. He now started to open fire with his revolver. Bullets whistled amongst the startled Redskins.
Three or four of them fell. At that range even O’Neil could not miss. Then with a mighty effort the Six-Gun Gorilla rose to his feet and lurched forward.
The surviving Redskins waited no longer. They could not face this terrible, bloodstained apparition. With one accord they turned and fled for their horses.
A voice rang out. It was the voice of Tutt Strawhan:
“Take me with you!” he screamed. “For the love of mercy, take me away from here! Don’t leave me!”
In his fear of the approaching gorilla Strawhan had forgotten the torture stake to which he had been doomed. Now he would have welcomed being carried away by the Indians.
But they neither understood what he was saying, nor cared. They wanted to get out of reach of this hairy giant who had the strength of ten men.
O’Neil stood swaying to and fro as he watched the Redskins go. He was rocking weakly at the knees. Blood was pouring from his wounds. He could not last much longer.
But he still had one duty to perform. He groped his way to where Strawhan lay, and from the terrified look on his face he knew that his end had come. He knew that Bart Masters was going to be avenged.
A hairy paw reached for him, and lifted him clear of the ground. O’Neil held him up and peered at him as if to make sure that it was Strawhan he had captured.
But there was no mistaking the scent which O’Neil had followed for so long. Even how his hair bristled when he recognized it. This man was the killer of his master! This was the man who deserved death.
Tutt Strawhan ceased to struggle. He was doomed. His end had come.
The gorilla’s fingers searched for his throat. Its grip tightened. Strawhan choked and tried to tear away those terrible fingers. The blood pounded in his head. Then suddenly everything went black before his eyes.
O’Neil growled with fury when he felt the figure grow limp in his grip, then suddenly he gave a groan and without warning sagged forward and crashed on his side, his out flung arm across Strawhan’s chest—
For a long while the gorilla and its victim lay there while the sun sank low in the western sky. They lay motionless, like two dead things, then there was a faint movement. A tremor ran through Strawhan’s body. He stirred, and slowly his eyelids opened.
A great weight seemed to be pressing down on him. His head was bursting. He opened his mouth to draw breath into his tortured lungs, and when he tried to swallow the pain in his throat was intense.
Dazed, and unable to comprehend where he was, and what had happened, Strawhan lay motionless. Then slowly he turned his head. A few inches away was a horrible face—the face of the Six-Gun Gorilla!
A hoarse scream burst from Strawhan’s lips. He was still in the grip of the mighty animal that had made his life an agony of fear!
But the minutes dragged on, and there came no movement from O’Neil. Strawhan’s heart thudded. Could it be that the gorilla was dead?
His eyes fixed on the giant body beside him, Strawhan edged inch by inch from under the long arm across his chest. A last wriggle and he was clear, and O’Neil’s arm dropped limply to the sand.
Panting for breath, Strawhan staggered to his feet, then stood swaying.
“Free!” he gasped. “I’m free! I’ve cheated you—you fiend!”
His eyes still fixed on the still body of O’Neil, he slowly backed away, then broke into a stumbling run.
He had covered twenty yards when a shudder ran through the gorilla. There was still a spark of life in its huge body. With a great effort it raised itself, and something like a groan came from it as it saw that its prisoner was no longer there.
Slowly it turned and saw Strawhan. He was scrambling to the top of a ridge.
O’Neil’s hand dropped to his gun, and he raised himself to his knees. His gun came up. His finger tightened on the trigger. Then all at once he crumpled forward.
At that moment Tutt Strawhan looked round. He saw O’Neil swaying, then a shout of triumph broke from his lips as the gorilla crashed to the ground. It was dead!
There came the roar of a gun and Strawhan’s shout rose to a shrill scream. He clutched at his side, and gazed stupidly down at the blood oozing between his fingers. Then slowly he spun round and dropped face downwards.
Even in death O’Neil had triumphed. The contraction of his muscles as he had slumped forward had set off the gun, and the single bullet in the chambers had sped straight and true to the mark.
The murder of Bart Masters had been avenged in strange and terrible fashion.