- 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
VI. — SIX SINISTER STICKS
On the slope leading down the ford the lame horse stumbled, and Jim Lane rolled to the ground. He was up in a moment, darted behind a boulder, and crouched there to meet the oncoming peril.
The pony was tiring beneath the terrific weight of the gorilla. Two ordinary riders would not have weighed so much. Only fear kept the beast going.
Then, as it staggered down the sloped, the gorilla left its back. O’Neil did not dismount in the ordinary way, but snatched for the branch of an overhanging tree with one hand, and lifted himself from the pony.
He had seen one of his enemies go to earth, and he meant to deal with him. Waving the gun wildly, but without firing it, the Six-Gun Gorilla charged upon Jim Lane.
White faced, trembling, the gunman opened fire.
O’Neil felt something red hot strike his chest, but it did not penetrate very far. His thick hair and tough flesh could stop many bullets of that kind without his suffering real damage.
The pain made him roar, and he must have clenched his finger on the trigger at the same moment, for the gun went off twice, sending bullets over the river.
His rush brought him up against the boulder behind which Lane crouched. The killer paused to reload, then as the gorilla sidled round to the left the terrified ruffian dodged to the right.
Three times they completely circled the boulder, playing a terrible game of hide and seek. Jim Lane was panting with dread, for he knew that if once he came within reach of those long arms he would be finished.
Again the pumped a bullet into the gorilla’s chest as the beast followed close upon his heels, and this time the impact rocked O’Neil.
Jim Lane grunted with satisfaction, but although he did not know it, he had sealed his fate. O’Neil lost his temper and his patience at the same time.
This boulder was holding him up too long. It was delaying his vengeance. He decided to get rid of it.
Sticking the revolver loosely in his belt, he grasped the boulder with both his great arms, and heaved.
Up rose the boulder, although it weighed more than half a ton, and a moment later it went hurtling over Jim Lane’s head, to roll down the slope into the river with a terrific splash.
It was all done so suddenly that the amazed gunman could only stand gaping at the spot where the rock had stood. There was now nothing between him and the avenger of Bart Masters.
A gurgle of fear came from his parted lips, and he tried to point his gun to empty it into that snarling head.
But for once the gunman was too slow. He pulled the trigger clumsily, and the Six-Gun Gorilla was a fraction too quick for him.
It was the gorilla that had fired. At that range it could not miss. The heavy bullet took Jim Lane between the eyes, and he fell flat on his face, killed instantly.
The gorilla was not satisfied. Guns were all very well, but its own strong hands were more certain. A second later it had leapt on the prostrate man, had gripped him in both hands, and lifted him into the air.
Snarling and roaring, making the night hideous with his outcry, O’Neil wrought vengeance on one of the gang men who had murdered his master.
Then, his rage spent, O’Neil recovered the revolver which had dropped from his belt. Very carefully he looked it over to make sure that it was not damaged, and then the stuck it back into the holster.
He was quite calm now. He picked up the revolver which Jim Lane had dropped, sniffed it, became angered by the scent of the man who had held it, and snapped it in two with his strong, hairy hands.
This seemed to satisfy him completely. He went to the river, and drank deeply. Then he sat there on the bank staring across to the other side, and drummed on his massive chest with his clenched fists.
The eerie sound echoed and boomed out over the valley and the three terrified riders in the distance spurred their weary beasts to greater efforts. It was probably the first time that the sound had been heard in Colorado, but they recognized it, and their mouths dried with horror.
O’Neil was telling the world of his success! He was announcing the death of an enemy. The three fugitives knew that they would never see Jim Lane again.
Then Pete Stark’s horse began to founder, and the gang slowed down almost to a walk. Sweat glistened on their evil faces as they heard the booming sound come again. O’Neil was still sitting by the river sounding the death knell of Jim lane on his hairy chest.
“We’ve got to get that brute before it gets us!” snarled Tutt Strawhan. “It’ll pick up our scent again when it’s tired o’ doin’ that. It’ll be after us before long, and these horses won’t take us any further. We can’t keep on the run all the time.”
“An’ besides, we want a chance to get the gold that Jim was carrying!” grunted Pete Stark. “Surely we ain’t going to leave it lying back there by the river?”
El Valdo said nothing, but his lips curled evilly. His hand was on his knife.
“We’ve got to finish the gorilla before we do anythin’ more,” repeated the leader of the gang. “The only way is to set a trap for it. Revolver bullets won’t have much effect, unless we get the brute in the eyes.”
The other two killers saw that Strawhan had some idea in mind, and looked at him expectantly.
The gang leader reminded them that about half a mile away there was a posting house, a depot belonging to one of the coaching companies which still ran services to link up the main line railroad which had recently come to the West.
At this depot horses were changed, mails accepted, and passengers given a chance of a meal when the coaches pullet up.
At this particular place there would be two of the coaching line’s employees in charge. The building itself was strongly built of stone so as to withstand the raids of Redskins who still gave trouble occasionally.
“We’ll head there now,” decided Strawhan. “We need fresh horses, and we’ll get them there. And, what’s more, we’ll wait there for the gorilla.”
“Wait for that terror—why?” croaked Pete Stark.
“Because I’ve told you we’ll never shake it off our trail until it’s dead,” growled his leader. “Five years ago that post house held out for three days against a hoard of Indians. After that attack the coaching company decided to dish out some of that new fangled dynamite to each of these depots. They’ll have some there. We’ll see how Bart Masters’ little pet can digest a stick o’ dynamite.”
His companions nodded. At last they saw his idea. They would wait under cover of the building for O’Neil, then kill him with high explosives. Once he was out of the way they could clear out of the territory with the gold they had stolen from the gorilla’s late master.
So for the next half mile the three killers coaxed and goaded their horses, forcing them to last the rest of the distance.
The trees thinned out at the mouth of the valley, and the killers saw the coaching trail, which was little more than a pair of wheel ruts, winding its way along the edge of the prairie.
The post house was known merely as Post 78. It was in darkness, though smoke curled lazily from a chimney at one corner. The two occupants had stoked up the stove before going to their bunks.
At the rear of the building were the stables, which were likewise built of stone. The builders had not forgotten that the Redskins sometimes used flaming arrows to attack such a place as this, and the roofs were covered with flat slabs of stone.
Tutt Strawhan whispered to his two henchmen. It was not the first time that the Strawhan gang had raided such a place. They had a simple but effective plan for doing this.
They knew full well that an open attack would be useless. Trickery must be used.
Pete Stark took the best of the horses and circled to a point half a mile down the trail. Strawhan and the half-breed crouched in the open facing the door of the windowless building, hiding behind the bushes. Their revolvers were ready in their fists.
After a brief interval the sound of a galloping horse could be heard approaching. It was Pete Stark, slumping forward on the tired horse as though in dire distress.
As he approached the post house he began to call in a weak, frightened voice:
“Help! Help! Hi, there! For the love o’ pity let me in. I’m wounded. Help!”
Movements inside the building told that the two employees of the coaching line were awake. They peered from one of the narrow observation slits, saw a white man almost falling from a thoroughly exhausted horse, and concluded that he had some important message for them.
They unbolted the door at once and rushed outside, guns in hand.
“What’s happened?” shouted one of them. “Is it Injuns or a holdup? Where are you from?”
Suddenly there came a volley of gunfire from behind the nearby bushes, and the two luckless men fell, riddled on their own threshold without ever knowing who their cowardly assailants were.
Pete Stark laughed harshly as he reined in his staggering horse. Strawhan and the half-breed came out from behind the bushes and ran forward. All three killers were now grinning broadly.
“Durn fools!” grunted Tutt Strawhan, as he pushed one of the dead men with his foot. “We’d better stack ’em in one corner of the stable. These horses can be put away there as well. You two see to that while I look for the dynamite.”
The hurriedly lighted candle still burned in the post house. With the aid of this, the scoundrel searched around, finally discovering under one of the bunks what he sought.
It was a small, red-banded box marked: “Danger.” Inside were half a dozen sticks of dynamite and a length of fuse.
The high explosive was just becoming popular in Colorado. Miners had discovered that with its aid they could move many tons of earth and rock in a few seconds. Blasting was just beginning to come into use.
Tutt Strawhan had used it for other purposes. He had used it to blow open the strongbox on more than one coach which he and his gang had help up in various parts of the country.
Skillfully he set to work to attach the right length of fuse to two of the grayish sticks of death.
A few minutes later his two companions returned to announce that they had carried out his instructions, and that there were half a dozen fine horses in the stable.
“Good enough!” nodded Tutt Strawhan, as he barred the heavy door on the inside. “Now we can make ourselves comfortable. There’s grub in that cupboard. I see three express rifles on the wall there, and there’s plenty of ammunition in the box. All we have to do is to wait for the durn gorilla to catch up with us!”
The three men settled down to watch through loopholes. The dynamite was ready on the table in the centre of the room. This time they intended making certain of their terrible pursuer.
VII. — TERROR ON THE ROOF
The gorilla had slept for a while after its victory by the river. When it wakened, it was dawn, and the blood from its chest wounds had caked in its hair. It was stiff and sore when it stirred, and that made it snarl in anger. The pain reminded the monster of its mission.
The men who had killed its master had tried to kill it. One of them had been punished, but that was not enough. O’Neil decided to go on with the chase.
He knew that guns and cartridges were no use if they got wet. He had seen his master keep them clear of the water on many occasions, so now as he forded the river he did the same.
He reached the other bank safely, shook himself, and tried to pick up the trail of the other three horsemen.
This was not difficult for O’Neil. He had his power of scent as well as of sight.
Once he had made out the tracks, he set off at top speed, sometimes going on all fours, which was the quicker way of travelling, sometimes tottering on his hand legs like some grotesque man-monster.
Finally, he reached the spot from which the Strawhan gang had first seen Post 78. He studied the place intently.
He could see no movement in the early morning light, but he knew that his enemies were there. He could scent them even at that distance.
But O’Neil’s natural instincts caused him to be suspicious. He did not like the silence of the place. He could see that the door was closed. There seemed to be no signs of life about the place.
Crouching low behind bushes, the Six-Gun Gorilla circled the buildings, never once allowing himself to be seen. More than once a low growl escaped him, but he knew that if he meant to take those men by surprise he must not make too much noise.
Once he drew his gun and leveled it at the walls of the post house, the growled to himself as he put it away. Bart Masters had taught him that he must always see his target before shooting.
Then, away to the east, far down the trail, he saw a cloud of moving dust. It was the morning coach coming through from the railroad. In a short time it would be at Post 78.
O’Neil growled angrily. He wanted no interference. He wanted these three ruffians to himself. No one else must interfere. He would have to hurry or he might be interrupted.
Stealthily he began to creep forward from cover to cover. In this way he was able to get within thirty yards of the buildings, but no nearer. The coaching employees had seen to that. They had pulled up every bush, and rolled away every boulder which might give attackers cover at close range.
Lying flat on the ground, the great beast sniffed the air carefully. The scents that it hated were stronger now. O’Neil heard the low mumble of voices. The men were behind those walls waiting for him. It was a trap!
His teeth bared savagely. He knew it was a trap of some kind, but that was not going to hold him back.
To those men crouching behind the loopholes, rifles at their shoulders, there came no warning of what was to follow. One moment everything was silent, the next there was a bulky, reddish-brown figure hurtling through the air.
O’Neil had taken a running leap for the roof o the post house, and he covered the distance in less time that it takes to tell.
Tutt Strawhan had fired desperately, but he missed. Few men could have hit that bounding gorilla, especially when it had appeared so unexpectedly.
The startled ruffians felt the roof creak over their heads as O’Neil landed on it with a crash. El Valdo gave a screech of dismay.
“He on da roof! He up there!”
“‘Course he is, you fool!” snarled Strawhan, dropping the rifle and snatching out his six shooter. “Now we can’t use the dynamite until we shift him from up there. Drive him off! We’ve got to get him on the ground outside.”
Stark and the half-breed were nearly deafened by the roar of their leader’s gun as he emptied shot after shot at the roof.
But the roof was thick and protected by those stones. The bullets did not pierce them. O’Neil was not hit, although he was angered by the noise and the smell of gunpowder.
He did not use his own gun. He was waiting until he could see the men he sought. Up and down the roof he crawled, causing the stout beams to creak and groan. He was seeking a way in. He wanted to get to grips.
Terror seized the three killers inside. They had been fully confident that they were going to make an end of this monster. They had expected to stop O’Neil with a bullet as he approached, then to have thrown dynamite which would have blown him to pieces.
Now it was impossible to use the dynamite on the Six-Gun Gorilla without blowing themselves to pieces.
They heard stones and slaps of rock being shifted. O’Neil was pulling them up in his hairy hands and throwing them to the ground.
Pete Stark’s face was green with fright. He crouched back in one corner and blazed away as fast as he could reload. He was hoping that one bullet at least might find its mark.
Tutt Strawhan was the only one of the three who kept his head. He roared at the others not to waste cartridges but to wait until they could see the gorilla. Three express rifles at that range should stop any beast from getting inside the building.
O’Neil was getting impatient. His hand had found one of the crossbeams. Exerting all his tremendous strength, he heaved.
The beam trembled, groaned in its sockets, and finally came away at one end. There was a splintering of timber as the long nails tore through. Planking, wooden shingles and a great slab of stone went crashing down through the hold which was made.
The three occupants of the post house retreated from the miniature avalanche. Even Strawhan was white to the lips. Dust filled the killers’ eyes. They fired their rifles blindly, and the bullets whistled around the gorilla as it bent over the hold to peer inside.
O’Neil recoiled at once. He was not foolish enough to expose himself to such a hail of death. He could tell that those whistling high velocity bullets were different to those from the revolvers. He remembered the things that had stung his chest, and snarled.
He had fired twice down through the roof, and the bullets ricocheted from the walls. The killers moaned with fright as they sought cover.
But, the gorilla knew a better way than shooting by which to dislodge them. There were plenty of slabs of stone over the remainder of the roof. It was easy to snatch up these and hurl them through the hole in the roof into the room below.
The stones crashed on the floor, splintered against the walls, and smashed the furniture. The danger from scattering fragments made the three men crouch further and further in the background. They no longer thought of killing O’Neil. Their one idea now was to keep themselves alive. It was only a question of minutes now before the gorilla made a hole big enough to drop through.
Once it was in that room with the three men who had killed its master, there could be only one conclusion to the fight that would follow.
Panting, sweating, frantic with fear, the three ruffians suddenly heard a sound in the distance, the clatter of hoofs and the crack of a whip.
Tutt Strawhan glanced through one of the observation slits, and shouted with relief:
“A coach! It’s the westbound coach. It’s going to pull up here. It’s our one chance. Get ready to run for it!”
The other two men watched Strawhan hopefully as he unbolted the door. It was their only chance of escape.
The coach rattled nearer. The coachman had seen something was wrong at the post house and he was already slowing.
The two passengers who sat on top were startled to see a gigantic gorilla with a gunbelt and bandolier full of cartridges sitting on the roof of the depot where they had expected to stop! They saw that it was tearing the roof beneath it to pieces. They heard its savage snarls. There was little wonder that they shouted to the driver:
“Don’t stop! Keep going! It’ll kill the lot of us.”
The coachman needed to second bidding. His companion, the guard, nodded agreement. The coachmen cracked his long whip, and the six horses lunged forward at increased speed.
O’Neil eyed them sideways. He did not mind what they did as long as they did not interfere with him.
Inside the doorway the three scoundrels waited tensely. The coach drew level with the post house, gathering speed every moment.
Then the door of Post 78 was flung open, and three wild-eyed men sprinted wildly for the passing vehicle.
“Stop a minute! Stop!” they cried.
The driver did not stop, but in their desperation the three killers managed to snatch a hold. All of them swung on the coach before it was out of reach, and clung there like drowning men clinging to a raft.
A roar of rage escaped O’Neil, and he came down from the roof in one terrific leap. He had realized that the three holdup men were again escaping him.
But this time they were going without the gold for which they had murdered his master!
VIII. — THE RED RAIDERS POUNCE
The horses in the coach were tired. They had already come a full lap of the long journey through the Western mountains, but now they went faster than they had ever gone in their lives.
Their necks were outstretched, their eyes bulged, their nostrils were wide; they were crazy with fear as they stampeded, pulling the heavy mail coach behind them.
It was not the whip of the wild-eyed coachman which urged them on, but fear—stark fear. It was fear which caused three ruffian-looking men to cling desperately to the sides of the coach as they sought to climb to the top of it while it raced along.
And the reason for this fear was a nightmarish figure, well over six feet tall, which leaped and bounded down the trail after the coach.
It was a massive gorilla, with shaggy, red-brown hair, a fierce, hideous face, and ungainly limbs. It was moving sometimes on all fours, sometimes on its hind legs, and on the occasions which it straightened up it was possible to see that around its waist it wore a gunbelt and a revolver. Over one shoulder was a bandolier, which was heavy with cart ridges.
Swift through the great beast was, it was soon outdistanced by the maddened horses. At last it pulled up, snarling with disappointment. Uncertainly it swayed on its feet, snatched out the revolver, and blazed away three shots after the departing coach.
The shots were meant for the three men who clung to the sides of the swaying vehicle. They missed, and the gorilla roared with rage. More than anything else it desired to kill those men.
The strange feud had begun at the Dragonfly Mine, a small gold mine in the Boulder Hills of Colorado. This mine had belonged to Bart Masters, an old-timer, who had worked it for seven years, aided only by the gorilla, which he had purchased when young from sailor named O’Neil.
O’Neil was the name Bart Masters had given the gorilla, and O’Neil became his constant companion. The old miner had taught the great beast to be useful. It could dig, haul up buckets of earth from the mineshaft, or bring in firewood.
The miner had even taught it to use a revolver with a fair amount of accuracy. It had always made old Bart Masters grin to see O’Neil rigged up with gunbelt and bandolier. The gorilla had enjoyed it as much as the man.
Then one night came tragedy. Masters had decided to give up his mine. He had nearly ten thousand pounds worth of gold. He had decided to abandon the mine and go back to civilization.
That same night a bunch of gunmen, known as the Strawhan Gang, had come to the lonely mine, had killed Bart Masters, wounded the chained gorilla, and made off with all the gold.
O’Neil had recovered, and had nearly gone mad when he discovered that his master was dead. He had set out on the trail of the murderers whom he knew both by sight and scent.
The trail had led a considerable distance. He had caught up with and slain one of the four gunmen, but the other three had got ahead of him, to the coaching depot in this lonely spot. There Tutt Strawhan, Pete Stark, and El Valdo, the half-breed, had prepared a trap. They had shot the men in charge of the coaching station, and had barricaded themselves inside the place armed with rifles and sticks of dynamite.
But the Six-Gun Gorilla was more clever than they had thought. The first of the killers had know of is presence at the coaching depot was when he had arrived on the roof of the building and started to tear a way through to them. They could not use the dynamite without blowing themselves up.
The Strawhan Gang would undoubtedly have been wiped out if the westbound coach had not appeared on the trail at that moment. Seeing the gorilla on the roof of the depot the passengers had yelled to the driver to keep going, and the three besieged ruffians had managed to dash out and get aboard the passing coach.
O’Neil’s hopes of vengeance had once again been dashed. With a smoking gun in his hand, he had watched the coach vanish in the distance.
A low and mournful cry came from the depths of his throat.
Slowly the gorilla went back to the coaching depot and searched for food. It had a special fancy for tinned fruits. By crushing the tins in its great hands it could extract the juice and the sweet fruit pulp.
There was not much tinned fruit in the depot, and in its fury the gorilla wrecked everything within reach. It even tore down the door from the stable, and allowed the relief horses for the coach to bolt.
After that there was nothing else to do. It seated itself on a flat rock and proceeded to clean its revolver. Often it had watched Bart Masters cleaning his gun and it knew that the weapon must be kept clean.
But the gorilla had neither rags nor brushes. It cleaned the gun as best it could by licking it and blowing through the barrel. Then came the slow process of reloading it. With clumsy fingers it thrust new cartridges into the chambers and finally clicked the gun closed.
The gun replaced in the holster, the gorilla started down the trail to the west. Although it had missed the men it sought, it did not intend giving up the chase. It had resolved to track down the Strawhan Gang, no matter where they went.
On and on it marched, sometimes on all fours, sometimes rising on its hind legs to study the country ahead.
As for the coach, it had gone fully four miles before the exhausted horses had slowed. They were lathered with sweat and on the verge of collapse. The coachman did not attempt to goad them any further. He knew that they were finished for the time being.
So the coach stopped, and the passengers looked anxiously behind them, sighing with relief when they saw no trace of their pursuer.
“What in heck does it all mean?” demanded the guard, still gripping his heavy shotgun. “What kind o’ beast was that?”
He addressed his remarks to Tutt Strawhan, whose face was streaked with sweat.
“It was a gorilla,” said Strawhan shortly, for he had just remembered that in their flight away from the coaching depot they had left the gold which they had taken from Bart Masters.
“A gorilla! But there aren’t any gorillas in America,” objected one of the passengers. “Where did it come from?”
“Dunno! Guess it must have been somebody’s pet, or else escaped from a circus. It killed two men at that depot. We came across their bodies, and then it attacked us,” lied Strawhan.
“Then we’d better get on as quickly as possible, before it catches up on us,” said the other passenger nervously.
“Can’t do that, mister, till the hosses are rested,” declared the coachman. “Fair run themselves to bits, they have. We’ve got a good start. The brute won’t follow us. There’s no reason why it should. It’s got the whole of America to trail around in.”
Strawhan and his two companions exchanged glances. They knew that this was not so.
“Just how long will it take for them horses to rest, mister?” demanded Strawhan.
“Reckon two hours will see ’em fit enough to carry on,” exclaimed the driver.
“Two hours!” gasped Strawhan. “That gorilla will be here long before then. Any rifles aboard?”
There was one, and Strawhan grabbed it. He posted himself behind a boulder which overlooked the trail to the east. He meant to riddle the gorilla before it got too close. It might not be able to stand nickel-nosed bullets from an express rifle as it did the softer bullets from a six shooter.
The gang leader had been there about fifteen minutes, and was trying to decided whether a small cloud of dust he could see in the distance was moving or not, when something whistled within an inch of his head.
It stuck a nearby tree. It was an arrow!
Tutt Strawhan fired at the bushes where he saw a movement, and a copper colored figure leaped in the air and fell forward. Tutt Strawhan raised a shout of alarm and started for the coach.
“Injuns! Make for the coach!” he roared.
No one needed a second warning. Even in those days, when the white men had established themselves well in Colorado, roving bands of young Indians sometimes sneaked down from the mountains to launch a raid in search of the coveted scalps of the white men.
There were a dozen Indians in this party, and they surged forward with war-like cries, brandishing their tomahawks and shooting their arrows as they came.
The guard of the coach was killed by one of those arrows. Pete Stark grabbed the fallen man’s shotgun and followed inside the coach.
Everyone who had a gun was using it. The coach gave the white men a certain amount of cover. The horses, which had been tethered beside the track to graze, promptly struggled free and bolted.
At a time like this all differences were forgotten. The Strawhan Gang knelt beside the passengers whom they would have cheerfully robbed, and fired rapidly at the attackers. Four of the Indians rolled in the dust, but the rest took cover, crouching behind bushes and firing their arrows through the coach windows.
Tutt Strawhan’s face was gashed by one of these deadly missiles, and one of the passengers got an arrow in his arm.
For another half hour the duel continued, and then the Six-Gun Gorilla arrived on the scene.
He had been attracted by the sound of gunfire, and he had covered the last few miles at top speed.
Approaching the scene of the fight O’Neil leaped into a large tree, and peered down at the scene below.
The coach was not completely surrounded. The men inside were not visible, but whenever an Indian showed himself in order to shoot an arrow, a shot rang out.
The fierce eyes of the giant gorilla peered out from amongst the branches, and it reached for its six shooter. Bart Masters had taught it that Indians were enemies. On the one occasion when a band of Indians had attacked the Dragonfly Mine, the old prospector had slain four of them.
The Six-Gun Gorilla had never forgotten that. He decided that he must act as his master had acted. From a distance of no more than ten yards, O’Neil fired at the back of a Redskin.
What was more, the bullet struck home. The Indian gave a screech of pain, and rolled over on his side.
IX. — CAUGHT IN THE DEATH COACH
The rest of the Indians turned. They could see a huge hand holding a smoking gun protruding from amongst the foliage, but that was all.
They muttered amongst themselves, and raised their bows. Four arrows sped at once to the tree where O’Neil squatted. Three of them struck the branches of the tree, but the fourth gashed the gorilla’s ribs. It did little more than tear the skin, but that was painful enough, and the gorilla gave a roar that roused the echoes for half a mile around.
The men inside the marooned coach looked at each other in terror. Pete Stark gave a groan.
“He—he’s caught up on us!” he moaned. “Close the shutters on those windows. Bolt the doors!”
All coach windows in those days were fitted with iron shutters, and these were hurried slid into place. Meanwhile O’Neil had taken a flying leap out of the tree and landed amongst the astonished Indians.
They had expected a white man, but instead of that they saw something which made their eyes bulge with horror.
They were so frightened that they forgot to shoot at him. O’Neil bashed one on the head with the butt of his revolver, then swept two others into his arms and crushed them.
The remaining Indians turned and fled for their lives. It would be a long time before they would visit that coaching trail again.
O’Neil had a reason for saving the men in the coach, however. His desire was to get at the three members of the gang. He knew that they were there. He could smell them and could hear their voices.
Tutt Strawhan had fired with the heavy rifle, and a tuft of hair flew from under O’Neil’s left ear.
Before the gang leader could reload, however, the gorilla had cleared the intervening space with a single bound. It hurled itself at the side of the coach and tried to break a way in. The coach rocked on its wheels. One of the occupants pushed a revolver through a gap in the shutter and fired at point blank range.
It was one of the passengers, and his .32 bullet did not even penetrate the gorilla’s hide. It merely infuriated the beast to greater efforts.
It caught hold of the lower end of the coach and shook it.
The coach rocked on its leather slings. One of the wheels actually left the ground.
Encouraged by the movement of the coach O’Neil gave another terrific heave, and this time the coach came over sideways. The gorilla jumped out of the way just in time.
There was a crash as the heavy Concord fell flat on its side, and a wheel snapped off.
O’Neil’s temper was rising. Even now he could see no way into the coach. He gripped one of the wheels and wrenched it viciously. The wheel came off in his hand, and he flung it another twenty yards away.
Another wheel, and yet another followed.
The men inside now found it difficult to fire at the attacker, but Tutt Strawhan did manage to get off one more shot from the express rifle. This time he missed altogether.
The firing of that shot reminded O’Neil of his own six shooter. He pushed the barrel in through a hole in the coach and pulled the trigger twice. Judging by the howl that followed, he hit someone. O’Neil cackled with glee, and started to pull the coach along behind him.
He saw a steep hillside not far away. The trail zigzagged down this, but O’Neil did not mean to take the trail. He got to the top of the five hundred foot slope, and heaved the wheelless coach over the top.
On the slippery grass it began to slide down the slope. Faster and faster it sped down the hillside.
O’Neil went after it, but it easily outdistanced him. It reached the river at the bottom of the hill before he was halfway down, and hit the water with a terrific splash.
The gorilla roared, and paused to see what happened. The coach had landed the right way up, and was not being carried swiftly downstream by the current.
Once more O’Neil thought that his victims were escaping. The Six-Gun Gorilla did not care if there were three innocent men inside the coach as well as the three ruffians. He went after them with bellows of rage.
The floating coach still kept ahead, however. Shouts came from inside. Tutt Strawhan and el Valdo were forcing the door open, and climbing out on top. Pete Stark appeared a few moments later.
Somewhere ahead were rapids. Strawhan had heard their roar, and was shouting to the others to jump into the river. They pointed to the gorilla, now a quarter of a mile up the bank, and Strawhan waved his gun impatiently. His intent was to get on the other side of the river and leave the gorilla on the opposite bank.
Luck favored the killer gang. The current suddenly whirled the sinking coach around, and dashed it against the other bank. In a moment Strawhan had grabbed an overhanging branch and steadied the coach, and they were all able to stumble ashore.
The Six-Gun Gorilla arrived almost opposite about the same time, and beat his chest with rage when he saw the stretch of rough water between him and his foes.
Like all gorillas, O’Neil did not like deep water, added to which was the fact that he remembered that he must not get his gun wet. He waded out until he was knee deep in the water, then stopped.
The two remaining occupants of the coach were not scrambling to safety, dragging their wounded companion with them. The killers had not waited to lend a hand. They were already heading for the wooded hills that showed in the distance.
The Six-Gun Gorilla went back to the bank, and prowled up and down like some wild beast in a cage.
The escaping men got further and further away. O’Neil lost sight of them, but he was determined to get across the river. He followed the bank along until the river narrowed. In one place a tree had fallen out at an angle over the water, its roots beginning to tear away from the bank.
O’Neil went to the foot of this tree and leaned hard against it. His weight caused it to sway.
Swiftly he swarmed up the tree, and as he neared the top his weight had a greater effect, for it put additional leverage on the roots. There was a tearing sound, and the roots came out of the bank, allowing the tree to fall across the river.
O’Neil clung tightly, and as the treetop neared the other bank he leapt clear. He had crossed the river without getting himself wet, and his gun was not even splashed.
He raced up the bank to the spot where the men had landed, and nosed around until he found their tracks. Then once again he strode along.
For more than an hour he kept on rapidly until suddenly he heard voices ahead. His lips parted in a soundless snarl. His nostrils dilated, and he drew his gun.
The voices came from the men who were standing still. The gorilla dropped on all fours, then crawled to the corner. Seconds later it leapt upon them with a deafening roar of triumph.
Shrieks arose, and three white faced men pressed themselves back against a big tree, cowering before their terrible attacker.
O’Neil stopped and snorted. He believed that he had made a mistake. These men were not the three he wanted. They were the coachman and the two passengers.
Reaching out with his mighty hands O’Neil grabbed the yelling coachman, and lifted him high in order to sniff him as a dog might sniff a bone. It was the wrong scent! He tossed the man down roughly on the grass, and tried the next man with the same result. The third man was treated in the same way, then the Six-Gun Gorilla swung away and continued his journey through the woods.
The men who had escaped the gorilla’s fury remained breathless on the ground where it had flung them. They found it hard to believe that they were still alive. Just for a moment they had stared into the face of death. Not till their dying day would they forget those awful seconds when they had been held in O’Neil’s hairy paws.
X. — SAFETY—IN JAIL!
Strawhan and his two companions were travelling fast. Fear spurred them on.
“How do you reckon he follows us?” growled Pete Stark.
“He smells us—durn him!” snarled Strawhan. “I’d like to stick his nose in red-hot cinders. He’ll wear us down. With revolvers we don’t have much chance against him. I wouldn’t mind if we had the gold, but we’ve lost that.”
“We know where it is,” muttered El Valdo hopefully. “Mebbe we can double back an’ find it again.”
“No! There’s not much chance o’ that,” growled Strawhan.
The three killers were nearing the top of a high spur of land which gave them a view of the country ahead. This was a bit south of the district where they usually carried out their crimes, and they were not quite sure of the locality. The sight of smoke and of a large cluster of cabins cheered them considerably, however.
“It must be Cripple Creek,” muttered Strawhan. “I did hear that Sam Lovey was Sheriff there.”
Pete Stark gave a growl of disappointment.
“Then we can’t go there. He’ll sure recognize us for that Pueblo affair. He was after us for three months, you remember?”
“I remember, an’ I bet he hasn’t forgotten us. That’s why I’m going to put myself under his nose as soon as we arrive,” said Tutt Strawhan.
“Are you crazy?” demanded his partners.
“Not likely!” snapped Strawhan. “You know what Sam Lovey will do when he captures us? He’ll clap us in the lockup. We’ll laugh at him, an’ tell him we’ve pals who’ll rescue us within an hour. That’ll put him on his guard. He’ll sit around with a gun, an’ maybe get his deputies to do the same. That’s the best thing that can happen to us. When that durn gorilla arrives they’ll be ready for him.”
“Gee, that’s smart!” leered Pete Stark. “When the gorilla is dead we can escape in some way.”
“Sure!” grinned Strawhan.
After that the three killers hurried down the long approach to the mining camp.
The streets were quiet when they arrived.
It was a typical mining town. Shacks with false fronts, giving them added height, were on both sides, and there were numerous saloons, gambling dens, and such like places of amusement, for it as an ‘open’ town, well patronized by men from the neighboring mines.
Tutt Strawhan made no attempt to hide his identity. With his hat on the back of his head and his guns swinging at his hip, he swaggered to the biggest of the saloons.
As he neared the door, a short, brown faced made standing on the steps happened to look up, spotted the newcomers, and nudged his companion. Two pairs of eyes watched the three strangers pass inside, and then the two men ran to the Sheriff’s office.
Meanwhile the three gunmen had ordered drinks at the bar. The saloon keeper put the glasses down before them and demanded the payment.
Strawhan produced a gun as quick as lightning, and leveled it across the counter.
“Guess you don’t need no payment from me,” he snarled. “I’m Tutt Strawhan.”
The bartender looked scared. Other men alongside backed away in alarm. Strawhan grabbed his glass and drank the contents at a single gulp.
As he set the glass down something hard was poked in the middle of his spine.
“Drop that gun without turning, Strawhan, or you’re a dead man!”
It was the voice of Sheriff Lovey, who had come running at the news that three “wanted” men were in town. With him were three deputies, all with drawn guns.
Tutt Strawhan dropped the gun, turned, and scowled.
“What in the heck do you want?” he demanded.
“You know what I want, Strawhan,” snapped the Sheriff. “Little matter of a double shootin’ and a saloon robbery up at Pueblo. Better keep those hands high or there’s likely to be trouble poppin’ around these parts.”
The three ruffians managed to look thoroughly disgusted. They were disarmed and herded together. Muttering threats, they were hurried down the main street, followed by a horde of interested men who wanted to lynch them there and then.
Sheriff Lovey kept the crowd at bay with his revolvers.
“They’ll get their deserts in good time,” he said. “Leave ’em to me, boys!”
Tutt Strawhan glanced anxiously towards the hillside. He fancied he could see a dark brown figure lurching down the trail.
“There’s no lockup made strong enough to hold me!” he boasted. “My pals’ll get me out of here within an hour.”
Sheriff Lovey grinned at the gang leader.
“Thanks for the warning, Strawhan,” he said. “When your pals arrive they’ll get a dose of lead poisoning.”
Strawhan snarled, and some of the deputies pushed him and his two henchmen down a passage into a cell. When the iron door slammed the three killers signed with relief.
They exchanged knowing winks, and seated themselves on the bunk at ease. It was the first time they had been able to relax since the Six-Gun Gorilla had started on their trail. Now they would be well guarded without strain or trouble to themselves.
In the office outside, Sheriff Lovey warned his deputies.
“We’ve got to be ready for anything,” he said. “Rake in a half a dozen reliable men to keep a watch on the jail. Shoot any stranger who looks suspicious.”
A cordon of men was placed round the lockup, and the excitement in the town died down.
Time passed. It was dusk, and most of the men had come in from the mines, when the Six-Gun Gorilla came down the trail.
He did not come openly. He kept to the shadows, skulking from tree to tree.
No one saw him reach the edge of the town. There he reared himself to his full height and sniffed.
More men! Cooking! Horses! Oil lamps! Strange smells he could not place! It was difficult to pick out the scent of the three men he wanted.
But he felt sure the three were here.
O’Neil crept down the lines of shacks, standing perfectly still when men passed by. No one saw him, but he saw everyone who went down the street. He watched them keenly, waiting for the familiar figures to appear.
They did not come. Men crowded into the saloons and the gambling dens, and they were so busy that they did not see the terrible face which appeared at the windows.
The Six-Gun Gorilla was making the rounds of all the scenes of nightlife. He studied the faces of the crowds, and strained his ears for the hated voices.
Twice he had to leap on to the roofs of buildings to avoid being seen. Once someone heart him snuffling outside a door, and fired a revolver shot from a window. The man thought it was a stray dog nosing around.
All the evening the Six-Gun Gorilla searched, and his rage grew. He was still convinced that his victims were here. He was determined to find them.
The evening wore on. Some of the men started to go to their shacks for the night. The saloons and gambling dens became quieter. Music boxes and mechanical organs ceased their tinny din.
As the doors were closed and the lights went out in shack after shack, O’Neil emerged from his hiding place.
He had decided to search the town from end to end. He approached the first shack and listened. A lone miner slept there, and it was possible to hear him snoring. The Six-Gun Gorilla found an open window and stuck his head inside.
The gorilla sniffed and was satisfied. This man was not one of the men it wanted. It made for the next cabin, a somewhat larger one.
Two men occupied this. O’Neil tried to find an open window, but there was none. He tried the latch of the door, and it was open. He crept inside.
The two men were in separate bunks. The gorilla bent over one of them, gun in hand. He was satisfied that this was nobody in whom he was interested. He moved to the second bunk. The man was facing the wall.
It so happened that this man was not yet asleep. He heard a slight movement beside him, turned on his back, and saw the gorilla looming over him. He opened his mouth to shriek the alarm, and as quick as sight the gorilla brought the butt of its gun down on the upturned forehead.
The warning cry was never uttered. The Six-Gun Gorilla crept away to search another shack. He was pleased with his discovery that a tap with the gun could make anyone quiet and still. He decided to use it whenever it was needed.
Some shacks were locked, but a steady pressure from the gorilla was always sufficient to burst in the locks. Sometimes this caused the occupants to be roused, but they never had a chance to show fight or to sound the alarm. The Six-Gun Gorilla was amazingly swift in his movements. Any of the men who were dazed with sleep had no chance of dodging before the revolver butt or the gorilla’s fist thudded down on their heads. In either case it was the same. They went to sleep again. There were going to be some sore heads in the town the morning following the gorilla’s search for its three enemies.
And all the time O’Neil crept from shack to shack, overlooking none, the three ruffians he sought were sleeping comfortably in jail under an armed guard!