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Title: A Gent From Bear Creek
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608611.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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A Gent From Bear Creek
Robert E. Howard



Chapter I - STRIPED SHIRTS AND BUSTED HEARTS



If Joel Braxton hadn't drawed a knife whilst I was beating his
head agen a spruce log, I reckon I wouldn't of had that quarrel with
Glory McGraw, and things might of turned out different to what they
did. Pap's always said the Braxtons was no-account folks, and I allow
he's right. First thing I knowed Jim Garfield hollered: "Look out,
Breck, the yaller hound's got a knife!" Then I felt a kind of sting
and looked down and seen Joel had cut a big gash in my buckskin shirt
and scratched my hide trying to get at my innards.

I let go of his ears and taken the knife away from him and throwed
it into a blackjack thicket, and throwed him after it. They warn't no
use in him belly-aching like he done just because they happened to be
a tree in his way. I dunno how he expects to get throwed into a
blackjack thicket without getting some hide knocked off.

But I am a good-natured man, and I was a easy-going youngster,
even then. I paid no heed to Joel's bloodthirsty threats whilst his
brother and Jim Garfield and the others was pulling him out of the
bresh and dousing him in the creek to wash the blood off. I got on to
my mule Alexander and headed for Old Man McGraw's cabin where I was
started to when I let myself be beguiled into stopping with them
idjits.

The McGraws is the only folks on Bear Creek besides the Reynoldses
and the Braxtons which ain't no kin to me one way or another, and I'd
been sweet on Glory McGraw ever since I was big enough to wear
britches. She was the tallest, finest, purtiest gal in the Humbolt
Mountains, which is covering considerable territory. They warn't a gal
on Bear Creek, not even my own sisters, which could swing a axe like
her, or fry a b'ar steak as tasty, or make hominy as good, and they
warn't nobody, man nor woman, which could outrun her, less'n it was
me.

As I come up the trail that led up to the McGraw cabin, I seen
her, just scooping a pail of water out of the creek. The cabin was
just out of sight on the other side of a clump of alders. She turned
around and seen me, and stood there with the pail dripping in her
hand, and her sleeves rolled up, and her arms and throat and bare feet
was as white as anything you ever seen, and her eyes was the same
color as the sky, and her hair looked like gold dust when the sun hit
it.

I taken off my coonskin cap, and said: "Good mornin', Glory,
how're you-all this mornin'?"

"Joe got kicked right severe by pap's sorrel mare yesterday," she
says. "Just knocked some hide off, though. Outside of that we're all
doin' fine. Air you glued to that mule?"

"No'm," I says, and clumb down, and says: "Lemme tote yore pail,
Glory."

She started to hand it to me, and then she frowned and p'inted at
my shirt, and says: "You been fightin' agen."

"Nobody but Joel Braxton," I said. "'Twarn't nothin'. He said
moskeeters in the Injun Territory was bigger'n what they be in Texas."

"What you know about it?" says she. "You ain't never been to
Texas."

"Well, he ain't never been to the Injun Territory neither," I
said. "'Taint the moskeeters. It's the principle of the thing. My
folks all come from Texas, and no Braxton can slander the State around
me."

"You fight too much," she said. "Who licked?"

"Why, me, of course," I said. "I always do, don't I?"

This harmless statement seemed to irritate her.

"I reckon you think nobody on Bear Creek can lick you," she
sneered.

"Well," I says truthfully, "nobody ain't, up to now--outside of
pap."

"You ain't never fit none of my brothers," she snapped.

"That's why," I said. "I've took quite a lot of sass offa them
ganglin' mavericks jest because they was yore brothers and I didn't
want to hurt 'em."

Gals is funny about some things. She got mad and jerked the pail
out of my hand, and says: "Oh, is that so? Well, lemme tell you right
now, Breckinridge Elkins, the littlest one of my brothers can lick you
like a balky hoss, and if you ever lay a finger on one of 'em, I'll
fix you! And furthermore and besides, they's a gent up to the cabin
right now which could pull his shootin' iron and decorate yore whole
carcass with lead polka-dots whilst you was fumblin' for yore old cap-
and-ball pistol!"

"I don't claim to be no gunfighter," I says mildly. "But I bet he
cain't sling iron fast as my cousin Jack Gordon."

"You and yore cousins!" says she plenty scornful. "This feller is
sech a gent as you never drempt existed! He's a cowpuncher from the
Wild River Country, and he's ridin' through to Chawed Ear and he
stopped at our cabin for dinner. If you could see him, you wouldn't
never brag no more. You with that old mule and them moccasins and
buckskin clothes!"

"Well, gosh, Glory!" I says plumb bewildered. "What's the matter
with buckskin? I like it better'n homespun."

"Hah!" sneered she. "You oughta see Mr. Snake River Wilkinson! He
ain't wearin' neither buckskins nor homespun. Store-bought clothes! I
never seen such elegance. Star top boots, and gold-mounted spurs! And
a red neckcloth--he said silk. I dunno. I never seen nothin' like it
before. And a shirt all red and green and yaller and beautiful! And a
white Stetson hat! And a pearl-handled six-shooter! And the finest
hoss and riggin's you ever seen, you big dummox!"

"Aw, well, gosh!" I said, getting irritated. "If this here Mister
Wilkinson is so blame gorgeous, whyn't you marry him?"

I ought not to said it. Her eyes flashed blue sparks.

"I will!" she gritted. "You think a fine gentleman like him
wouldn't marry me, hey? I'll show you! I'll marry him right now!"

And impulsively shattering her water bucket over my head she
turned and run up the trail.

"Glory, wait!" I hollered, but by the time I got the water out of
my eyes and the oak splinters out of my hair she was gone.

Alexander was gone too. He taken off down the creek when Glory
started yelling at me, because he was a smart mule in his dumb way,
and could tell when thunder-showers was brewing. I run him for a mile
before I caught him, and then I got onto him and headed for the McGraw
cabin agen. Glory was mad enough to do anything she thought would
worry me, and they warn't nothing would worry me more'n for her to
marry some dern cowpuncher from the river country. She was plumb wrong
when she thought I thought he wouldn't have her. Any man which would
pass up a chance to get hitched with Glory McGraw would be a dern
fool, I don't care what color his shirt was.

My heart sunk into my moccasins as I approached the alder clump
where we'd had our row. I figgered she'd stretched things a little
talking about Mr. Wilkinson's elegance, because whoever heard of a
shirt with three colors into it, or gold-mounted spurs? Still, he was
bound to be rich and wonderful from what she said, and what chance did
I have? All the clothes I had was what I had on, and I hadn't never
even seen a store-bought shirt, much less owned one. I didn't know
whether to fall down in the trail and have a good bawl, or go get my
rifle-gun and lay for Mr. Wilkinson.

Then, jest as I got back to where I'd saw Glory last, here she
come again, running like a scairt deer, with her eyes all wide and her
mouth open.

"Breckinridge!" she panted. "Oh, Breckinridge! I've played hell
now!"

"What you mean?" I said.

"Well," says she, "that there cowpuncher Mister Wilkinson had been
castin' eyes at me ever since he arriv at our cabin, but I hadn't give
him no encouragement. But you made me so mad awhile ago, I went back
to the cabin, and I marched right up to him, and I says: 'Mister
Wilkinson, did you ever think about gittin' married?' He grabbed me by
the hand and he says, says he: 'Gal, I been thinkin' about it ever
since I seen you choppin' wood outside the cabin as I rode by. Fact
is, that's why I stopped here.' I was so plumb flabbergasted I didn't
know what to say, and the first thing I knowed, him and pap was makin'
arrangements for the weddin'!"

"Aw, gosh!" I said.

She started wringing her hands.

"I don't want to marry Mister Wilkinson!" she hollered. "I don't
love him! He turnt my head with his elegant manners and striped shirt!
What'll I do? Pap's sot on me marryin' the feller!"

"Well, I'll put a stop to that," I says. "No dem cowcountry dude
can come into the Humbolts and steal my gal. Air they all up to the
cabin now?"

"They're arguin' about the weddin' gift," says Glory. "Pap thinks
Mister Wilkinson oughta give him a hundred dollars. Mister Wilkinson
offered him his Winchester instead of the cash. Be keerful,
Breckinridge! Pap don't like you much, and Mister Wilkinson has got a
awful mean eye, and his scabbard-end tied to his laig."

"I'll be plumb diplomatic," I promised, and got onto my mule
Alexander and reched down and lifted Glory on behind me, and we rode
up the path till we come to within maybe a hundred foot of the cabin
door. I seen a fine white hoss tied in front of the cabin, and the
saddle and bridle was the most elegant I ever seen. The silverwork
shone when the sun hit it. We got off and I tied Alexander, and Glory
hid behind a white oak. She warn't scairt of nobody but her old man,
but he shore had her number.

"Be keerful, Breckinridge," she begged. "Don't make pap or Mister
Wilkinson mad. Be tactful and meek."

So I said I would, and went up to the door. I could hear Miz
McGraw and the other gals cooking dinner in the back room, and I could
hear Old Man McGraw talking loud in the front room.

"'Taint enough!" says he. "I oughta have the Winchester and ten
dollars. I tell you, Wilkinson, it's cheap enough for a gal like
Glory! It plumb busts my heart strings to let her go, and nothin' but
greenbacks is goin' to soothe the sting!"

"The Winchester and five bucks," says a hard voice which I
reckoned was Mister Wilkinson. "It's a prime gun, I tell you. Ain't
another'n like it in these mountains."

"Well," begun Old Man McGraw in a covetous voice, and jest then I
come in through the door, ducking my head to keep from knocking it
agen the lintel-log.

Old Man McGraw was setting there, tugging at his black beard, and
them long gangling boys of his'n, Joe and Bill and John, was there
gawking as usual, and there on a bench nigh the empty fireplace sot
Mister Wilkinson in all his glory. I batted my eyes. I never seen such
splendor in all my born days. Glory had told the truth about
everything: the white Stetson with the fancy leather band, and the
boots and gold-mounted spurs, and the shirt. The shirt nigh knocked my
eyes out. I hadn't never dreamed nothing could be so beautiful--all
big broad stripes of red and yaller and green! I seen his gun, too, a
pearl-handled Colt .45 in a black leather scabbard which was wore
plumb smooth and the end tied down to his laig with a rawhide thong. I
could tell he hadn't never wore a glove on his right hand, neither, by
the brownness of it. He had the hardest, blackest eyes I ever seen.
They looked right through me.

I was very embarrassed, being quite young then, but I pulled
myself together and says very polite: "Howdy, Mister McGraw."

"Who's this young grizzly?" demanded Mister Wilkinson
suspiciously.

"Git out of here, Elkins," requested Old Man McGraw angrily.
"We're talkin' over private business. You git!"

"I know what kind of business you-all are talkin' over," I
retorted, getting irritated. But I remembered Glory said be
diplomatic, so I said: "I come here to tell you the weddin's off!
Glory ain't goin' to marry Mister Wilkinson. She's goin' to marry me,
and anybody which comes between us had better be able to rassle
cougars and whup grizzlies bare-handed!"

"Why, you--" begun Mister Wilkinson in a blood-thirsty voice, as
he riz onto his feet like a painter fixing to go into action.

"Git outa here!" bellered Old Man McGraw jumping up and grabbing
the iron poker. "What I does with my datter ain't none of yore
business! Mister Wilkinson here is makin' me a present of his prime
Winchester and five dollars in hard money! What could you offer me,
you mountain of beef and ignorance?"

"A bust in the snoot, you old tightwad," I replied heatedly, but
still remembering to be diplomatic. They warn't no use in offending
him, and I was determined to talk quiet and tranquil, in spite of his
insults. So I said: "A man which would sell his datter for five
dollars and a gun ought to be et alive by the buzzards! You try to
marry Glory to Mister Wilkinson and see what happens to you, sudden
and onpleasant!"

"Why, you--!" says Old Man McGraw, swinging up his poker. "I'll
bust yore fool skull like a egg!"

"Lemme handle him," snarled Mister Wilkinson. "Git outa the way
and gimme a clean shot at him. Lissen here, you jack-eared mountain-
mule, air you goin' out of here perpendicular, or does you prefer to
go horizontal?"

"Open the ball whenever you feels lucky, you stripe-bellied
polecat!" I retorted courteously, and he give a snarl and went for his
gun, but I got mine out first and shot it out of his hand along with
one of his fingers before he could pull his trigger.

He give a howl and staggered back agen the wall, glaring wildly at
me, and at the blood dripping off his hand, and I stuck my old cap-
and-ball .44 back in the scabbard and said: "You may be accounted a
fast gunslinger down in the low country, but yo're tolerable slow on
the draw to be foolin' around Bear Creek. You better go on home now,
and--"

It was at this moment that Old Man McGraw hit me over the head
with his poker. He swung it with both hands as hard as he could, and
if I hadn't had on my coonskin cap I bet it would have skint my head
some. As it was it knocked me to my knees, me being off-guard that
way, and his three boys run in and started beating me with chairs and
benches and a table laig. Well, I didn't want to hurt none of Glory's
kin, but I had bit my tongue when the old man hit me with his poker,
and that always did irritate me. Anyway, I seen they warn't no use
arguing with them fool boys. They was out for blood--mine, to be
exact.

So I riz up and taken Joe by the neck and crotch and throwed him
through a winder as gentle as I could, but I forgot about the hickory-
wood bars which was nailed acrost it to keep the bears out. He took
'em along with him, and that was how he got skint up like he did. I
heard Glory let out a scream outside, and would have hollered out to
let her know I was all right and for her not to worry about me, but
just as I opened my mouth to do it, John jammed the butt-end of a
table laig into it.

Sech treatment would try the patience of a saint, still and all I
didn't really intend to hit John as hard as I did. How was I to know a
tap like I give him would knock him through the door and dislocate his
jawbone?

Old Man McGraw was dancing around trying to get another whack at
me with his bent poker without hitting Bill which was hammering me
over the head with a chair, but Mister Wilkinson warn't taking no part
in the fray. He was backed up agen a wall with a wild look on his
face. I reckon he warn't used to Bear Creek squabbles.

I taken the chair away from Bill and busted it over his head jest
to kinda cool him off a little, and jest then Old Man McGraw made
another swipe at me with his poker, but I ducked and grabbed him, and
Bill stooped over to pick up a bowie knife which had fell out of
somebody's boot. His back was towards me so I planted my moccasin in
the seat of his britches with considerable force and he shot head-
first through the door with a despairing howl. Somebody else screamed
too, that sounded like Glory. I didn't know at the time I that she was
running up to the door and was knocked down by Bill as he catapulted
into the yard.

I couldn't see what was going on outside, and Old Man McGraw was
chawing my thumb and feeling for my eye, so I throwed him after John
and Bill, and he's a liar when he said I aimed him at that rain-barrel
a-purpose. I didn't even know they was one there till I heard the
crash as his head went through the staves.

I turned around to have some more words with Mister Wilkinson, but
he jumped through the winder I'd throwed Joe through, and when I tried
to foller him, I couldn't get my shoulders through. So I run out at
the door and Glory met me just as I hit the yard and she give me a
slap in the face that sounded like a beaver hitting a mud bank with
his tail.

"Why, Glory!" I says, dumbfounded, because her blue eyes was
blazing, and her yaller hair was nigh standing on end. She was so mad
she was crying and that's the first time I ever knowed she _could_
cry. "What's the matter? What've _I_ did?"

"What have you did?" she raged, doing a kind of a war-dance on her
bare feet. "You outlaw! You murderer! You jack-eared son of a spotted
tail skunk! Look what you done!" She p'inted at her old man dazedly
pulling his head out of the rooins of the rain-barrel, and her
brothers laying around the yard in various positions, bleeding freely
and groaning loudly. "You tried to murder my family!" says she,
shaking her fists under my nose. "You throwed Bill onto me on
purpose!"

"I didn't neither!" I exclaimed, shocked and scandalized. "You
know I wouldn't hurt a hair of yore head, Glory! Why, all I done, I
done it for you--"

"You didn't have to mutilate my pap and my brothers!" she wept
furiously. Ain't that just like a gal? What could I done but what I
did? She hollered: "If you really loved me you wouldn't of hurt 'em!
You jest done it for meanness! I told you to be ca'm and gentle!
Whyn't you do it? Shet up! Don't talk to me! Well, whyn't you say
somethin'? Ain't you got no tongue?"

"I handled 'em easy as I could!" I roared, badgered beyond
endurance. "It warn't my fault. If they'd had any sense, they
wouldn't--"

"Don't you dare slander my folks!" she yelped. "What you done to
Mister Wilkinson?"

The aforesaid gent jest then come limping around the corner of the
cabin, and started for his hoss, and Glory run to him and grabbed his
arm, and said: "If you still want to marry me, stranger, it's a go!
I'll ride off with you right now!"

He looked at me and shuddered, and jerked his arm away.

"Do I look like a dern fool?" he inquired with some heat. "I
advises you to marry that young grizzly there, for the sake of public
safety, if nothin' else! Marry you when _he_ wants you? No, thank you!
I'm leavin' a valuable finger as a sooverneer of my sojourn, but I
figger it's a cheap price! After watchin' that human tornado in
action, I calculate a finger ain't nothin' to bother about! _Adios!_
If I ever come within a hundred miles of Bear Creek again it'll be
because I've gone plumb loco!"

And with that he forked his critter and took off up the trail like
the devil was after him.

"Now look what you done!" wept Glory. "Now he won't never marry
me!"

"But I thought you didn't want to marry him!" I says, plumb
bewildered.

She turned on me like a catamount.

"I didn't!" she shrieked. "I wouldn't marry him if he was the last
man on earth! But I demands the right to say yes or no for myself! I
don't aim to be bossed around by no hillbilly on a mangy mule!"

"Alexander ain't mangy," I said. "Besides, I warn't, tryin' to
boss you around, Glory. I war just fixin' it so yore pap wouldn't make
you marry Mister Wilkinson. Bein' as we aims to marry ourselves--"

"Who said we aimed to?" she hollered. "Me marry you, after you
beat up my pap and my brothers like you done? You think yo're the best
man on Bear Creek! Ha! You with yore buckskin britches and old cap-
and-ball pistol and coonskin cap! Me marry you? Git on yore mangy mule
and git before I takes a shotgun to you!"

"All right!" I roared, getting mad at last. "All right, if that's
the way you want to ack! You ain't the only gal in these mountains!
They's plenty of gals which would be glad to have me callin' on 'em."

"Who, for a instance?" she sneered.

"Ellen Reynolds, for instance!" I bellered. "That's who!"

"All right!" says she, trembling with rage. "Go and spark that
stuck-up hussy on yore mangy mule with yore old moccasins and cap-and-
ball gun! See if I care!"

"I aim to!" I assured her bitterly. "And I won't be on no mule,
neither. I'll be on the best hoss in the Humbolts, and I'll have me
some boots on to my feet, and a silver mounted saddle and bridle, and
a pistol that shoots store-bought ca'tridges, too! You wait and see!"

"Where you think you'll git 'em?" she sneered.

"Well, I will!" I bellered, seeing red. "You said I thought I was
the best man on Bear Creek! Well, by golly, I am, and I aim to prove
it! I'm glad you gimme the gate! If you hadn't I'd of married you and
settled down in a cabin up the creek somewheres and never done nothin'
nor seen nothin' nor been nothin' but yore husband! Now I'm goin' to
plumb bust this State wide open from one end to the other'n, and folks
is goin' to know about me all over everywheres!"

"Heh! heh! heh!" she laughed bitterly.

"I'll show you!" I promised her wrathfully, as I forked my mule,
and headed down the trail with her laughter ringing in my ears. I
kicked Alexander most vicious in the ribs, and he give a bray of
astonishment and lit a shuck for home. A instant later the alder clump
hid the McGraw cabin from view and Glory McGraw and my boyhood dreams
was out of sight behind me.



Chapter II MOUNTAIN MAN



"I'LL SHOW her!" I promised the world at large, as I rode through
the bresh as hard as Alexander could run. "I'll go out into the world
and make a name for myself, by golly! She'll see. Whoa, Alexander!"

Because I'd jest seen a bee-tree I'd located the day before. My
busted heart needed something to soothe it, and I figgered fame and
fortune could wait a little whilst I drowned my woes in honey.

I was up to my ears in this beverage when I heard my old man
calling: "Breckinridge! Oh, Breckinridge! Whar air you? I see you now.
You don't need to climb that tree. I ain't goin' to larrup you."

He come up and said: "Breckinridge, ain't that a bee settin' on to
yore ear?"

I reched up, and sure enough, it was. Come to think about it, I
had felt kind of like something was stinging me somewheres.

"I swan, Breckinridge," says pap, "I never seen a hide like yore'n
not even amongst the Elkinses. Lissen to me now: old Buffalo Rogers
jest come through on his way back from Tomahawk, and the postmaster
there said they was a letter for me, from Mississippi. He wouldn't
give it to nobody but me or some of my folks. I dunno who'd be writin'
me from Mississippi; last time I was there was when I was fightin' the
Yankees. But anyway, that letter is got to be got. Me and yore maw
have decided yo're to go git it."

"Clean to Tomahawk?" I said. "Gee whiz, Pap!"

"Well," he says, combing his beard with his fingers, "yo're growed
in size, if not in years. It's time you seen somethin' of the world.
You ain't never been more'n thirty miles away from the cabin you was
born in. Yore brother Garfield ain't able to go on account of that
b'ar he tangled with, and Buckner is busy skinnin' the b'ar. You been
to whar the trail goin' to Tomahawk passes. All you got to do is
foller it and turn to the right whar it forks. The left goes on to
Perdition."

"Great!" I says. "This is whar I begins to see the world!" And I
added to myself: "This is whar I begins to show Glory McGraw I'm a man
of importance, by golly!"

Well, next morning before good daylight I was off, riding my mule
Alexander, with a dollar pap gimme stuck in the bottom of my pistol
scabbard. Pap rode with me a few miles and give me advice.

"Be keerful how you spend that dollar I give you," he said. "Don't
gamble. Drink in reason. Half a gallon of corn juice is enough for any
man. Don't be techy--but don't forgit that yore pap was once the
rough-and-tumble champeen of Gonzales County, Texas. And whilst yo're
feelin' for the other feller's eye, don't be keerless and let him chaw
yore ear off. And don't resist no officer."

"What's them, Pap?" I inquired.

"Down in the settlements," he explained, "they has men which their
job is to keep the peace. I don't take no stock in law myself, but
them city folks is different from us. You do what they says, and if
they says give up yore gun, even, why you up and do it!"

I was shocked, and meditated a while, and then says: "How can I
tell which is them?"

"They'll have a silver star stuck onto their shirt," he says, so I
said I'd do like he told me. He then reined around and went back up
the mountains, and I rode on down the path.

Well, I camped late that night where the path come out onto the
Tomahawk trail, and the next morning I rode on down the trail, feeling
like I was a long way from home. It was purty hot, and I hadn't went
far till I passed a stream and decided I'd take a swim. So I tied
Alexander to a cottonwood, and hung my buckskins close by, but I taken
my gun belt with my cap-and-ball .44 and hung it on a willer limb
reching out over the water. They was thick bushes all around the
stream.

Well, I div deep, and as I come up, I had a feeling like somebody
had hit me over the head with a club. I looked up, and there was a
Injun holding on to a limb with one hand and leaning out over the
water with a club in the other hand.

He yelled and swung at me again, but I div, and he missed, and I
come up right under the limb where my gun was hung. I reched up and
grabbed it and let _bam_ at him just as he dived into the bushes, and
he let out a squall and grabbed the seat of his pants. Next minute I
heard a horse running, and glimpsed him tearing away through the bresh
on a pinto mustang, setting his hoss like it was a red-hot stove, and
dern him, he had my clothes in one hand! I was so upsot by this that I
missed him clean, and jumping out, I charged through the bushes and
saplings, but he was already out of sight. I knowed it warn't likely
he was with a war-party--just a dern thieving Piute--but what a fix I
was in! He'd even stole my moccasins.

I couldn't go home, in that shape, without the letter, and admit I
missed a Injun twice. Pap would larrup the tar out of me. And if I
went on, what if I met some women, in the valley settlements? I don't
reckon they ever was a young'un half as bashful as what I was in them
days. Cold sweat busted out all over me. I thought, here I started out
to see the world and show Glory McGraw I was a man among men, and here
I am with no more clothes than a jackrabbit. At last, in desperation,
I buckled on my belt and started down the trail towards Tomahawk. I
was about ready to commit murder to get me some pants.

I was glad the Injun didn't steal Alexander, but the going was so
rough I had to walk and lead him, because I kept to the thick bresh
alongside the trail. He had a tough time getting through the bushes,
and the thorns scratched him so he hollered, and ever' now and then I
had to lift him over jagged rocks. It was tough on Alexander, but I
was too bashful to travel in the open trail without no clothes on.

After I'd gone maybe a mile I heard somebody in the trail ahead of
me, and peeking through the bushes, I seen a most pecooliar sight. It
was a man on foot, going the same direction as me, and he had on what
I instinctly guessed was city clothes. They warn't buckskin nor
homespun, nor yet like the duds Mister Wilkinson had on, but they were
very beautiful, with big checks and stripes all over 'em. He had on a
round hat with a narrer brim, and shoes like I hadn't never seen
before, being neither boots nor moccasins. He was dusty, and he cussed
considerable as he limped along. Ahead of him I seen the trail made a
hoss-shoe bend, so I cut straight across and got ahead of him, and as
he come along, I come out of the bresh and throwed down on him with my
cap-and-ball.

He throwed up his hands and hollered: "Don't shoot!"

"I don't want to, mister," I said, "but I got to have clothes!"

He shook his head like he couldn't believe I was so, and he said:
"You ain't the color of a Injun, but--what kind of people live in
these hills, anyway?"

"Most of 'em's Democrats," I said. "But I ain't got no time to
talk politics. You climb out of them riggin's."

"My God!" he wailed. "My horse threw me off and ran away, and I've
bin walkin' for hours, expecting to get scalped by Injuns any minute,
and now a naked lunatic on a mule demands my clothes! It's too dern
much!"

"I cain't argy, mister," I said; "somebody's liable to come up the
trail any minute. Hustle!" So saying I shot his hat off to encourage
him.

He give a howl and shucked his duds in a hurry.

"My underclothes, too?" he demanded, shivering though it was very
hot.

"Is that what them things is?" I demanded, shocked. "I never heard
of a man wearin' such womanish things. The country is goin' to the
dogs, just like pap says. You better git goin'. Take my mule. When I
git to where I can git some regular clothes, we'll swap back."

He clumb onto Alexander kind of dubious, and says to me,
despairful: "Will you tell me one thing--how do I get to Tomahawk?"

"Take the next turn to the right," I said, "and--"

Jest then Alexander turned his head and seen them underclothes on
his back, and he give a loud and ringing bray and sot sail down the
trail at full speed with the stranger hanging on with both hands.
Before they was out of sight they come to where the trail forked, and
Alexander taken the left branch instead of the right, and vanished
amongst the ridges.

I put on the clothes, and they scratched my hide something fierce.
I thinks, well, I got store-bought clothes quicker'n I hoped to. But I
didn't think much of 'em. The coat split down the back, and the pants
was too short, but the shoes was the wust; they pinched all over. I
throwed away the socks, having never wore none, but put on what was
left of the hat.

I went on down the trail, and taken the right-hand fork, and in a
mile or so I come out on a flat, and heard hosses running. The next
thing a mob of men on hosses bust into view. One of 'em yelled: "There
he is!" and they all come for me full tilt. Instantly I decided that
the stranger had got to Tomahawk after all, somehow, and had sot his
friends onto me for stealing his clothes.

So I left the trail and took out across the sage grass, and they
all charged after me, yelling stop. Well, them dern shoes pinched my
feet so bad I couldn't make much speed, so after I had run maybe a
quarter of a mile I perceived that the hosses were beginning to gain
on me. So I wheeled with my cap-and-ball in my hand, but I was going
so fast, when I turned, them dern shoes slipped and I went over
backwards into a cactus bed just as I pulled the trigger. So I only
knocked the hat off of the first hossman. He yelled and pulled up his
hoss, right over me nearly, and as I drawed another bead on him, I
seen he had a bright shiny star on to his shirt. I dropped my gun and
stuck up my hands.

They swarmed around me--cowboys, from their looks. The man with
the star got off his hoss and picked up my gun and cussed.

"What did you lead us this chase through this heat and shoot at me
for?" he demanded.

"I didn't know you was a officer," I said.

"Hell, McVey," said one of 'em, "you know how jumpy tenderfeet is.
Likely he thought we was Santry's outlaws. Where's yore hoss?"

"I ain't got none," I said.

"Got away from you, hey?" said McVey. "Well, climb up behind Kirby
here, and let's git goin'."

To my surprise, the sheriff stuck my gun back in the scabbard, and
so I clumb up behind Kirby, and away we went. Kirby kept telling me
not to fall off, and it made me mad, but I said nothing. After an hour
or so we come to a bunch of houses they said was Tomahawk. I got
panicky when I seen all them houses, and would have jumped down and
run for the mountains, only I knowed they'd catch me, with them dern
pinchy shoes on.

I hadn't never seen such houses before. They was made out of
boards, mostly, and some was two stories high. To the north-west and
west the hills riz up a few hundred yards from the backs of the
houses, and on the other sides there was plains, with bresh and timber
on them.

"You boys ride into town and tell the folks that the shebang
starts soon," said McVey. "Me and Kirby and Richards will take him to
the ring."

I could see people milling around in the streets, and I never had
no idee they was that many folks in the world. The sheriff and the
other two fellers rode around the north end of the town and stopped at
a old barn and told me to get off. So I did, and we went in and they
had a kind of room fixed up in there with benches and a lot of towels
and water buckets, and the sheriff said: "This ain't much of a
dressin' room, but it'll have to do. Us boys don't know much about
this game, but we'll second you as good as we can. One thing--the
other feller ain't got no manager nor seconds neither. How do you
feel?"

"Fine," I said, "but I'm kind of hungry."

"Go git him somethin', Richards," said the sheriff.

"I didn't think they et just before a bout," said Richards.

"Aw, I reckon he knows what he's doin'," said McVey. "Gwan."

So Richards pulled out, and the sheriff and Kirby walked around me
like I was a prize bull, and felt my muscles, and the sheriff said:
"By golly, if size means anything, our dough is as good as in our
britches right now!"

I pulled my dollar out of my scabbard and said I would pay for my
keep, and they haw-hawed and slapped me on the back and said I was a
great joker. Then Richards come back with a platter of grub, with a
lot of men wearing boots and guns and whiskers, and they stomped in
and gawped at me, and McVey said: "Look him over, boys! Tomahawk
stands or falls with him today!"

They started walking around me like him and Kirby done, and I was
embarrassed and et three or four pounds of beef and a quart of mashed
pertaters, and a big hunk of white bread, and drunk about a gallon of
water, because I was purty thirsty. Then they all gaped like they was
surprised about something, and one of 'em said: "How come he didn't
arrive on the stagecoach yesterday?"

"Well," said the sheriff, "the driver told me he was so drunk they
left him at Bisney, and come on with his luggage, which is over there
in the corner. They got a hoss and left it there with instructions for
him to ride on to Tomahawk as soon as he sobered up. Me and the boys
got nervous today when he didn't show up, so we went out lookin' for
him, and met him hoofin' it down the trail."

"I bet them Perdition _hombres_ starts somethin'," said Kirby.
"Ain't a one of 'em showed up yet. They're settin' over at Perdition
soakin' up bad licker and broodin' on their wrongs. They shore wanted
this show staged over there. They claimed that since Tomahawk was
furnishin' one-half of the attraction, and Gunstock the other half,
the razee ought to be throwed at Perdition."

"Nothin' to it," said McVey. "It laid between Tomahawk and
Gunstock, and we throwed a coin and won it. If Perdition wants trouble
she can git it. Is the boys r'arin' to go?"

"Is they!" says Richards. "Every bar in Tomahawk is crowded with
hombres full of licker and civic pride. They're bettin' their shirts,
and they has been nine fights already. Everybody in Gunstock's here."

"Well, le's git goin'," says McVey, getting nervous. "The quicker
it's over, the less blood there's likely to be spilt."

The first thing I knowed, they had laid hold of me and was pulling
my clothes off, so it dawned on me that I must be under arrest for
stealing that stranger's clothes. Kirby dug into the baggage which was
in one corner of the stall, and dragged out a funny looking pair of
pants; I know now they was white silk. I put 'em on because I didn't
have nothing else to put on, and they fitted me like my skin. Richards
tied a American flag around my waist, and they put some spiked shoes
onto my feet.

I let 'em do like they wanted to, remembering what pap said about
not resisting no officer. Whilst so employed I begun to hear a noise
outside, like a lot of people whooping and cheering. Purty soon in
come a skinny old gink with whiskers and two guns on, and he hollered:
"Lissen here, Mac, dern it, a big shipment of gold is down there
waitin' to be took off by the evenin' stage, and the whole blame town
is deserted on account of this dern foolishness. Suppose Comanche
Santry and his gang gits wind of it?"

"Well," said McVey, "I'll send Kirby here to help you guard it."

"You will like hell," says Kirby. "I'll resign as deputy first. I
got every cent of my dough on this scrap, and I aim to see it."

"Well, send somebody!" says the old codger. "I got enough to do
runnin' my store, and the stage stand, and the post office, without--"

He left, mumbling in his whiskers, and I said: "Who's that?"

"Aw," said Kirby, "that's old man Brenton that runs the store down
at the other end of town, on the east side of the street. The post
office is in there, too."

"I got to see him," I says. "There's a letter--"

Just then another man come surging in and hollered: "Hey, is yore
man ready? Folks is gittin' impatient!"

"All right," says McVey, throwing over me a thing he called a
bathrobe. Him and Kirby and Richards picked up towels and buckets and
things, and we went out the oppersite door from what we come in, and
they was a big crowd of people there, and they whooped and shot off
their pistols. I would have bolted back into the barn, only they
grabbed me and said it was all right. We pushed through the crowd, and
I never seen so many boots and pistols in my life, and we come to a
square corral made out of four posts sot in the ground, and ropes
stretched between. They called this a ring and told me to get in. I
done so, and they had turf packed down so the ground was level as a
floor and hard and solid. They told me to set down on a stool in one
corner, and I did, and wrapped my robe around me like a Injun.

Then everybody yelled, and some men, from Gunstock, McVey said,
clumb through the ropes on the other side. One of 'em was dressed like
I was, and I never seen such a funny-looking human. His ears looked
like cabbages, and his nose was plumb flat, and his head was shaved
and looked right smart like a bullet. He sot down in a oppersite
corner.

Then a feller got up and waved his arms, and hollered: "Gents, you
all know the occasion of this here suspicious event. Mister Bat
O'Tool, happenin' to be passin' through Gunstock, consented to fight
anybody which would meet him. Tomahawk riz to the occasion by sendin'
all the way to Denver to procure the services of Mister Bruiser
McGoorty, formerly of San Francisco!"

He p'inted at me, and everybody cheered and shot off their
pistols, and I was embarrassed and bust out in a cold sweat.

"This fight," said the feller, "will be fit accordin' to London
Prize Ring Rules, same as in a champeenship go. Bare fists, round ends
when one of 'em's knocked down or throwed down. Fight lasts till one
or t'other ain't able to come up to the scratch when time's called. I,
Yucca Blaine, have been selected as referee because, bein' from Chawed
Ear, I got no prejudices either way. Air you all ready? Time!"

McVey hauled me off my stool and pulled off my bathrobe and pushed
me out into the ring. I nearly died with embarrassment, but I seen the
feller they called O'Tool didn't have on no more clothes than me. He
approached and held out his hand like he wanted to shake hands, so I
held out mine. We shook hands, and then without no warning he hit me a
awful lick on the jaw with his left. It was like being kicked by a
mule. The first part of me which hit the turf was the back of my head.
O'Tool stalked back to his corner, and the Gunstock boys was dancing
and hugging each other, and the Tomahawk fellers was growling in their
whiskers and fumbling with their guns and bowie knives.

McVey and his deperties rushed into the ring before I could get up
and dragged me to my corner and began pouring water on me.

"Air you hurt much?" yelled McVey.

"How can a man's fist hurt anybody?" I ast. "I wouldn't of fell
down, only I was caught off-guard. I didn't know he was goin' to hit
me. I never played no game like this here'n before."

McVey dropped the towel he was beating me in the face with, and
turned pale. "Ain't you Bruiser McGoorty of San Francisco?" he
hollered.

"Naw," I said. "I'm Breckinridge Elkins, from up in the Humbolt
Mountains. I come here to git a letter for pap."

"But the stagecoach driver described them clothes--" he begun
wildly.

"A Injun stole my clothes," I explained, "so I taken some off'n a
stranger. Maybe that was Mister McGoorty."

"What's the matter?" ast Kirby, coming up with another bucket of
water. "Time's about ready to be called."

"We're sunk!" bawled McVey. "This ain't McGoorty! This is a derned
hillbilly which murdered McGoorty and stole his clothes!"

"We're rooint!" exclaimed Richards, aghast. "Everybody's bet their
dough without even seein' our man, they was that full of trust and
civic pride. We cain't call it off now. Tomahawk is rooint! What'll we
do?"

"He's goin' to git in there and fight his derndest," said McVey,
pulling his gun and jamming it into my back. "We'll hang him after the
fight."

"But he cain't box!" wailed Richards.

"No matter," said McVey; "the fair name of our town is at stake;
Tomahawk promised to supply a fighter to fight O'Tool, and--"

"Oh!" I said, suddenly seeing light. "This here is a fight then,
ain't it?"

McVey give a low moan, and Kirby reched for his gun, but just then
the referee hollered time, and I jumped up and run at O'Tool. If a
fight was all they wanted, I was satisfied. All that talk about rules,
and the yelling of the crowd and all had had me so confused I hadn't
knowed what it was all about. I hit at O'Tool and he ducked and hit me
in the belly and on the nose and in the eye and on the ear. The blood
spurted, and the crowd hollered, and he looked plumb dumbfounded and
gritted betwixt his teeth: "Are you human? Why don't you fall?"

I spit out a mouthful of blood and got my hands on him and started
chawing his ear, and he squalled like a catamount. Yucca run in and
tried to pull me loose and I give him a slap under the ear and he
turned a somersault into the ropes.

"Yore man's fightin' foul!" he squalled, and Kirby said: "Yo're
crazy! Do you see this gun? You holler 'foul' just once more, and
it'll go off!"

Meanwhile O'Tool had broke loose from me and caved in his knuckles
on my jaw, and I come for him again, because I was beginning to lose
my temper. He gasped: "If you want to make an alley-fight out of it,
all right. I wasn't raised in Five Points for nothing!" He then rammed
his knee into my groin, and groped for my eye, but I got his thumb in
my teeth and begun masticating it, and the way he howled was a
caution.

By this time the crowd was crazy, and I throwed O'Tool and begun
to stomp him, when somebody let bang at me from the crowd and the
bullet cut my silk belt and my pants started to fall down.

I grabbed 'em with both hands, and O'Tool riz up and rushed at me,
bloody and bellering, and I didn't dare let go my pants to defend
myself. I whirled and bent over and lashed out backwards with my right
heel like a mule, and I caught him under the chin. He done a cartwheel
in the air, his head hit the turf, and he bounced on over and landed
on his back with his knees hooked over the lower rope. There warn't no
question about him being out. The only question was, was he dead?

A roar of "Foul!" went up from the Gunstock men, and guns bristled
all around the ring.

The Tomahawk men was cheering and yelling that I'd won fair and
square, and the Gunstock men was cussing and threatening me, when
somebody hollered: "Leave it to the referee!"

"Sure," said Kirby. "He knows our man won fair, and if he don't
say so, I'll blow his head off!"

"That's a lie!" bellered a Gunstock man. "He knows it war a foul,
and if he says it warn't, I'll kyarve his gizzard with this here bowie
knife!"

At them words Yucca fainted, and then a clatter of hoofs sounded
above the din, and out of the timber that hid the trail from the east
a gang of hossmen rode at a run. Everybody yelled: "Look out, here
comes them Perdition illegitimates!"

Instantly a hundred guns covered 'em, and McVey demanded: "Come ye
in peace or in war?"

"We come to unmask a fraud!" roared a big man with a red bandanner
around his neck. "McGoorty, come forth!"

A familiar figger, now dressed in cowboy togs, pushed forward on
my mule. "There he is!" this figger yelled, p'inting a accusing finger
at me. "That's the desperado that robbed me! Them's my tights he's got
on!"

"What is this?" roared the crowd.

"A cussed fake!" bellered the man with the red bandanner. "This
here is Bruiser McGoorty!"

"Then who's he?" somebody bawled, p'inting at me.

"I'm Breckinridge Elkins and I can lick any man here!" I roared,
getting mad. I brandished my fists in defiance, but my britches
started sliding down again, so I had to shut up and grab 'em.

"Aha!" the man with the red bandanner howled like a hyener. "He
admits it! I dunno what the idee is, but these Tomahawk polecats has
double-crossed somebody! I trusts that you jackasses from Gunstock
realizes the blackness and hellishness of their hearts! This man
McGoorty rode into Perdition a few hours ago in his unmentionables,
astraddle of that there mule, and told us how he'd been held up and
robbed and put on the wrong road. You skunks was too proud to stage
this fight in Perdition, but we ain't the men to see justice scorned
with impunity! We brought McGoorty here to show you that you was bein'
gypped by Tomahawk! That man ain't no prize fighter; he's a highway
robber!"

"These Tomahawk coyotes has framed us!" squalled a Gunstock man,
going for his gun.

"Yo're a liar!" roared Richards, bending a .45 barrel over his
head.

The next instant guns was crashing, knives was gleaming, and men
was yelling blue murder. The Gunstock braves turned frothing on the
Tomahawk warriors, and the men from Perdition, yelping with glee,
pulled their guns, and begun fanning the crowd indiscriminately, which
give back their fire. McGoorty give a howl and fell down on
Alexander's neck, gripping around it with both arms, and Alexander
departed in a cloud of dust and gun-smoke.

I grabbed my gunbelt, which McVey had hung over the post in my
corner, and I headed for cover, holding onto my britches whilst the
bullets hummed around me as thick as bees. I wanted to take to the
bresh, but I remembered that blamed letter, so I headed for town.
Behind me there riz a roar of banging guns and yelling men. Jest as I
got to the backs of the row of buildings which lined the street, I run
head on into something soft. It was McGoorty, trying to escape on
Alexander. He had hold of jest one rein, and Alexander, evidently
having rounded one end of the town, was traveling in a circle and
heading back where he started from.

I was going so fast I couldn't stop, and I run right over
Alexander and all three of us went down in a heap. I jumped up,
afeared Alexander was kilt or crippled, but he scrambled up snorting
and trembling, and then McGoorty weaved up, making funny noises. I
poked my cap-and-ball into his belly.

"Off with them pants!" I hollered.

"My God!" he screamed. "_Again?_ This is getting to be a habit!"

"Hustle!" I bellered. "You can have these scandals I got on now."

He shucked his britches and grabbed them tights and run like he
was afeared I'd want his underwear too. I jerked on the pants, forked
Alexander and headed for the south end of town. I kept behind the
houses, though the town seemed to be deserted, and purty soon I come
to the store where Kirby had told me old man Brenton kept the post
office. Guns was barking there, and across the street I seen men
ducking in and out behind a old shack, and shooting.

I tied Alexander to a corner of the store and went in the back
door. Up in the front part I seen old man Brenton kneeling behind some
barrels with a .45-90, and he was shooting at the fellers in the shack
acrost the street. Every now and then a slug would hum through the
door and comb his whiskers, and he would cuss worse'n pap did that
time he sot down in a b'ar trap.

I went up to him and tapped him on the shoulder and he give a
squall and flopped over and let go _bam!_ right in my face and singed
off my eyebrows. And the fellers acrost the street hollered and
started shooting at both of us.

I'd grabbed the barrel of his Winchester, and he was cussing and
jerking at it with one hand and feeling in his boot for a knife with
the other'n, and I said: "Mister Brenton, if you ain't too busy, I
wish you'd gimme that there letter which come for pap."

"Don't never come up behind me like that again!" he squalled. "I
thought you was one of them dern outlaws! Look out! Duck, you blame
fool!"

I let go of his gun, and he taken a shot at a head which was
aiming around the corner of the shack, and the head let out a squall
and disappeared.

"Who is them fellers?" I ast.

"Comanche Santry and his bunch, from up in the hills," snarled old
man Brenton, jerking the lever of his Winchester. "They come after
that gold. A hell of a sheriff McVey is; never sent me nobody. And
them fools over at the ring are makin' so much noise they'll never
hear the shootin' over here. Look out, here they come!"

Six or seven men rushed out from behind the shack and run acrost
the street, shooting as they come. I seen I'd never get my letter as
long as all this fighting was going on, so I unslung my old cap-and-
ball and let _bam_ at them three times, and three of them outlaws fell
acrost each other in the street, and the rest turned around and run
back behind the shack.

"Good work, boy!" yelled old man Brenton. "If I ever--oh, Judas
Iscariot, we're blowed up now!"

Something was pushed around the corner of the shack and come
rolling down towards us, the shack being on higher ground than what
the store was. It was a keg, with a burning fuse which whirled as the
keg revolved and looked like a wheel of fire.

"What's in that there kaig?" I ast.

"Blastin' powder!" screamed old man Brenton, scrambling up. "Run,
you dern fool! It's comin' right into the door!"

He was so scairt he forgot all about the fellers acrost the
street, and one of 'em caught him in the thigh with a buffalo rifle,
and he plunked down again, howling blue murder. I stepped over him to
the door--that's when I got that slug in my hip--and the keg hit my
laigs and stopped, so I picked it up and heaved it back acrost the
street. It hadn't no more'n hit the shack when _bam!_ it exploded and
the shack went up in smoke. When it stopped raining pieces of wood and
metal, they warn't no sign to show any outlaws had ever hid behind
where that shack had been.

"I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't saw it myself," old man Brenton
moaned faintly.

"Air you hurt bad, Mister Brenton?" I ast.

"I'm dyin'," he groaned.

"Well, before you die, Mister Brenton," I says, "would you mind
givin' me that there letter for pap?"

"What's yore pap's name?" he ast.

"Roarin' Bill Elkins, of Bear Creek," I said.

He warn't as bad hurt as he thought. He reched up and got hold of
a leather bag and fumbled in it and pulled out a envelope. "I remember
tellin' old Buffalo Rogers I had a letter for Bill Elkins," he said,
fingering it over. Then he said: "Hey, wait! This ain't for yore pap.
My sight is gittin' bad. I read it wrong the first time. This here is
for Bill _Elston_ that lives between here and Perdition."

I want to spike a rumor which says I tried to murder old man
Brenton and tore down his store for spite. I've done told how he got
his laig broke, and the rest was accidental. When I realized that I
had went through all that embarrassment for nothing, I was so mad and
disgusted I turned and run out of the back door, and I forgot to open
the door and that's how it got tore off the hinges.

I then jumped on to Alexander and forgot to ontie him loose from
the store. I kicked him in the ribs, and he bolted and tore loose that
corner of the building and that's how come the roof to fall in. Old
man Brenton inside was scairt and started yelling bloody murder, and
about that time a mob of men come up to investigate the explosion
which had stopped the three-cornered battle between Perdition,
Tomahawk and Gunstock, and they thought I was the cause of everything,
and they all started shooting at me as I rode off.

Then was when I got that charge of buckshot in my back.

I went out of Tomahawk and up the hill trail so fast I bet me and
Alexander looked like a streak; and I says to myself it looks like
making a name for myself in the world is going to be tougher than I
thought, because it's evident that civilization is full of snares for
a boy which ain't reched his full growth and strength.



Chapter III MEET CAP'N KIDD



I DIDN'T pull up Alexander till I was plumb out of sight of
Tomahawk. Then I slowed down and taken stock of myself, and my spirits
was right down in my spiked shoes which still had some of Mister
O'Tool's hide stuck onto the spikes. Here I'd started forth into the
world to show Glory McGraw what a he-bearcat I was, and now look at
me. Here I was without even no clothes but them derned spiked shoes
which pinched my feet, and a pair of britches some cow-puncher had
wore the seat out of and patched with buckskin. I still had my gunbelt
and the dollar pap gimme, but no place to spend it. I likewise had a
goodly amount of lead under my hide.

"By golly!" I says, shaking my fists at the universe at large. "I
ain't goin' to go back to Bear Creek like this, and have Glory McGraw
laughin' at me! I'll head for the Wild River settlements and git me a
job punchin' cows till I got money enough to buy me store-bought boots
and a hoss!"

I then pulled out my bowie knife which was in a scabbard on my
gunbelt, and started digging the slug out of my hip, and the buckshot
out of my back. Them buckshot was kinda hard to get to, but I done it.
I hadn't never held a job of punching cows, but I'd had plenty
experience roping wild bulls up in the Humbolts. Them bulls wanders
off the lower ranges into the mountains and grows most amazing big and
mean. Me and Alexander had had plenty experience with them, and I had
me a lariat which would hold any steer that ever bellered. It was
still tied to my saddle, and I was glad none of them cowpunchers
hadn't stole it. Maybe they didn't know it was a lariat. I'd made it
myself, especial, and used it to rope them bulls and also cougars and
grizzlies which infests the Humbolts. It was made out of buffalo hide,
ninety foot long and half again as thick and heavy as the average
lariat, and the honda was a half-pound chunk of iron beat into shape
with a sledge hammer. I reckoned I was qualified for a _vaquero_ even
if I didn't have no cowboy clothes and was riding a mule.

So I headed acrost the mountains for the cowcountry. They warn't
no trail the way I taken, but I knowed the direction Wild River lay
in, and that was enough for me. I knowed if I kept going that way I'd
hit it after awhile. Meanwhile, they was plenty of grass in the draws
and along the creeks to keep Alexander fat and sleek, and plenty of
squirrels and rabbits for me to knock over with rocks. I camped that
night away up in the high ranges and cooked me nine or ten squirrels
over a fire and et 'em, and while that warn't much of a supper for a
appertite like mine, still I figgered next day I'd stumble on to a
b'ar or maybe a steer which had wandered offa the ranges.

Next morning before sunup I was on Alexander and moving on,
without no breakfast, because it looked like they warn't no rabbits
nor nothing near abouts, and I rode all morning without sighting
nothing. It was a high range, and nothing alive there but a buzzard I
seen onst, but late in the afternoon I crossed a backbone and come
down into a whopping big plateau about the size of a county, with
springs and streams and grass growing stirrup-high along 'em, and
clumps of cottonwood, and spruce, and pine thick up on the hillsides.
They was canyons and cliffs, and mountains along the rim, and
altogether it was as fine a country as I ever seen, but it didn't look
like nobody lived there, and for all I know I was the first white man
that ever come into it. But they was more soon, as I'll relate.

Well, I noticed something funny as I come down the ridge that
separated the bare hills from the plateau. First I met a wildcat. He
come lipping along at a right smart clip, and he didn't stop. He just
gimme a wicked look sidewise and kept right on up the slope. Next
thing I met a lobo wolf, and after that I counted nine more wolves,
and they was all heading west, up the slopes. Then Alexander give a
snort and started trembling, and a cougar slid out of a blackjack
thicket and snarled at us over his shoulder as he went past at a long
lope. All them varmints was heading for the dry bare country I'd just
left, and I wondered why they was leaving a good range like this one
to go into that dern no-account country.

It worried Alexander too, because he smelt of the air and brayed
kind of plaintively. I pulled him up and smelt the air too, because
critters run like that before a forest fire, but I couldn't smell no
smoke, nor see none. So I rode on down the slopes and started across
the flats, and as I went I seen more bobcats, and wolves, and
painters, and they was all heading west, and they warn't lingering
none, neither. They warn't no doubt that them critters was pulling
their freight because they was scairt of something, and it warn't
humans, because they didn't 'pear to be scairt of me a mite. They just
swerved around me and kept trailing. After I'd gone a few miles I met
a herd of wild hosses, with the stallion herding 'em. He was a big
mean-looking cuss, but he looked scairt as bad as any of the critters
I'd saw.

The sun was getting low, and I was getting awful hungry as I come
into a open spot with a creek on one side running through clumps of
willers and cottonwoods, and on the other side I could see some big
cliffs looming up over the tops of the trees. And whilst I was
hesitating, wondering if I ought to keep looking for eatable critters,
or try to worry along on a wildcat or a wolf, a big grizzly come
lumbering out of a clump of spruces and headed west. When he seen me
and Alexander he stopped and snarled like he was mad about something,
and then the first thing I knowed he was charging us. So I pulled my
.44 and shot him through the head, and got off and onsaddled Alexander
and turnt him loose in grass stirrup-high, and skun the b'ar. Then I
cut me off some steaks and started a fire and begun reducing my
appertite. That warn't no small job, because I hadn't had nothing to
eat since the night before.

Well, while I was eating I heard hosses and looked up and seen six
men riding towards me from the east. One was as big as me, but the
other ones warn't but about six foot tall apiece. They was
cowpunchers, by their look, and the biggest man was dressed plumb as
elegant as Mister Wilkinson was, only his shirt was jest only one
color. But he had on fancy boots and a white Stetson and a ivory-
butted Colt, and what looked like the butt of a sawed-off shotgun
jutted out of his saddle-scabbard. He was dark and had awful mean
eyes, and a jaw which it looked like he could bite the spokes out of a
wagon wheel if he wanted to.

He started talking to me in Piute, but before I could say
anything, one of the others said: "Aw, that ain't no Injun, Donovan,
his eyes ain't the right color."

"I see that, now," says Donovan. "But I shore thought he was a
Injun when I first rode up and seen them old ragged britches and his
sunburnt hide. Who the devil air you?"

"I'm Breckinridge Elkins, from Bear Creek," I says, awed by his
magnificence.

"Well," says he, "I'm Wild Bill Donovan, which name is heard with
fear and tremblin' from Powder River to the Rio Grande. Just now I'm
lookin' for a wild stallion. Have you seen sech?"

"I seen a bay stallion headin' west with his herd," I said.

"'Twarn't him," says Donovan. "This here one's a pinto, the
biggest, meanest hoss in the world. He come down from the Humbolts
when he was a colt, but he's roamed the West from Border to Border.
He's so mean he ain't never got him a herd of his own. He takes mares
away from other stallions, and then drifts on alone just for pure
cussedness. When he comes into a country all other varmints takes to
the tall timber."

"You mean the wolves and painters and b'ars I seen headin' for the
high ridges was runnin' away from this here stallion?" I says.

"Exactly," says Donovan. "He crossed the eastern ridge sometime
durin' the night, and the critters that was wise high-tailed it. We
warn't far behind him; we come over the ridge a few hours ago, but we
lost his trail somewhere on this side."

"You chasin' him?" I ast.

"Ha!" snarled Donovan with a kind of vicious laugh. "The man don't
live what can chase Cap'n Kidd! We're just follerin' him. We been
follerin' him for five hundred miles, keepin' outa sight, and hopin'
to catch him off guard or somethin'. We got to have some kind of a big
advantage before we closes in, or even shows ourselves. We're right
fond of life! That devil has kilt more men than any other ten hosses
on this continent."

"What you call him?" I says.

"Cap'n Kidd," says Donovan. "Cap'n Kidd was a big pirate long time
ago. This here hoss is like him in lots of ways, particularly in
regard to morals. But I'll git him, if I have to foller him to the
Gulf and back. Wild Bill Donovan always gits what he wants, be it
money, woman, or hoss! Now lissen here, you range-country hobo: we're
a-siftin' north from here, to see if we cain't pick up Cap'n Kidd's
sign. If you see a pinto stallion bigger'n you ever dreamed a hoss
could be, or come onto his tracks, you drop whatever yo're doin' and
pull out and look for us, and tell me about it. You keep lookin' till
you find us, too. If you don't you'll regret it, you hear me?"

"Yessir," I said. "Did you gents come through the Wild River
country?"

"Maybe we did and maybe we didn't," he says with haughty grandeur.
"What business is that of yore'n, I'd like to know?"

"Not any," I says. "But I was aimin' to go there and see if I
could git me a job punchin' cows."

At that he throwed back his head and laughed long and loud, and
all the other fellers laughed too, and I was embarrassed.

"You git a job punchin' cows?" roared Donovan. "With them britches
and shoes, and not even no shirt, and that there ignorant-lookin' mule
I see gobblin' grass over by the creek? Haw! haw! haw! haw! You better
stay up here in the mountains whar you belong and live on roots and
nuts and jackrabbits like the other Piutes, red or white! Any self-
respectin' rancher would take a shotgun to you if you was to ast him
for a job. Haw! haw! haw!" he says, and rode off still laughing.

I was that embarrassed I bust out into a sweat. Alexander was a
good mule, but he did look kind of funny in the face. But he was the
only critter I'd ever found which could carry my weight very many
miles without giving plumb out. He was awful strong and tough, even if
he was kind of dumb and pot-bellied. I begun to get kind of mad, but
Donovan and his men was already gone, and the stars was beginning to
blink out. So I cooked me some more b'ar steaks and et 'em, and the
land sounded awful still, not a wolf howling nor a cougar squalling.
They was all west of the ridge. This critter Cap'n Kidd sure had the
country to hisself, as far as the meat-eating critters was consarned.

I hobbled Alexander close by and fixed me a bed with some boughs
and his saddle blanket, and went to sleep. I was woke up shortly after
midnight by Alexander trying to get in bed with me.

I sot up in irritation and prepared to bust him in the snoot, when
I heard what had scairt him. I never heard such a noise. My hair stood
straight up. It was a stallion neighing, but I never heard no hoss
critter neigh like that. I bet you could of heard it for fifteen
miles. It sounded like a combination of a wild hoss neighing, a rip
saw going through a oak log full of knots, and a hungry cougar
screeching. I thought it come from somewhere within a mile of the
camp, but I warn't sure. Alexander was shivering and whimpering he was
that scairt, and stepping all over me as he tried to huddle down
amongst the branches and hide his head under my shoulder. I shoved him
away, but he insisted on staying as close to me as he could, and when
I woke up again next morning he was sleeping with his head on my
belly.

But he must of forgot about the neigh he heard, or thought it was
jest a bad dream or something, because as soon as I taken the hobbles
off of him he started cropping grass and wandered off amongst the
thickets in his pudding-head way.

I cooked me some more b'ar steaks, and wondered if I ought to go
and try to find Mister Donovan and tell him about hearing the stallion
neigh, but I figgered he'd heard it. Anybody that was within a day's
ride ought to of heard it. Anyway, I seen no reason why I should run
errands for Donovan.

I hadn't got through eating when I heard Alexander give a
horrified bray, and he come lickety-split out of a grove of trees and
made for the camp, and behind him come the biggest hoss I ever seen in
my life. Alexander looked like a pot-bellied bull pup beside of him.
He was painted--black and white--and he r'ared up with his long mane
flying agen the sunrise, and give a scornful neigh that nigh busted my
ear-drums, and turned around and sa'ntered back towards the grove,
cropping grass as he went, like he thunk so little of Alexander he
wouldn't even bother to chase him.

Alexander come blundering into camp, blubbering and hollering, and
run over the fire and scattered it every which away, and then tripped
hisself over the saddle which was laying nearby, and fell on his neck
braying like he figgered his life was in danger.

I catched him and throwed the saddle and bridle on to him, and by
that time Cap'n Kidd was out of sight on the other side of the
thicket. I onwound my lariat and headed in that direction. I figgered
not even Cap'n Kidd could break that lariat. Alexander didn't want to
go; he sot back on his haunches and brayed fit to deefen you, but I
spoke to him sternly, and it seemed to convince him that he better
face the stallion than me, so he moved out, kind of reluctantly.

We went past the grove and seen Cap'n Kidd cropping grass in the
patch of rolling prairie just beyond, so I rode towards him, swinging
my lariat. He looked up and snorted kinda threateningly, and he had
the meanest eye I ever seen in man or beast; but he didn't move, just
stood there looking contemptuous, so I throwed my rope and piled the
loop right around his neck, and Alexander sot back on his haunches.

Well, it was about like roping a roaring hurricane. The instant he
felt that rope Cap'n Kidd give a convulsive start, and made one mighty
lunge for freedom. The lariat held, but the girths didn't. They held
jest long enough for Alexander to get jerked head over heels, and
naturally I went along with him. But right in the middle of the
somesault we taken, both girths snapped.

Me and the saddle and Alexander landed all in a tangle, but Cap'n
Kidd jerked the saddle from amongst us, because I had my rope tied
fast to the horn, Texas-style, and Alexander got loose from me by the
simple process of kicking me vi'lently in the ear. He also stepped on
my face when he jumped up, and the next instant he was high-tailing it
through the bresh in the general direction of Bear Creek. As I learned
later he didn't stop till he run into pap's cabin and tried to hide
under my brother John's bunk.

Meanwhile Cap'n Kidd had throwed the loop offa his head and come
for me with his mouth wide open, his ears laid back and his teeth and
eyes flashing. I didn't want to shoot him, so I riz up and run for the
trees. But he was coming like a tornado, and I seen he was going to
run me down before I could get to a tree big enough to climb, so I
grabbed me a sapling about as thick as my laig and tore it up by the
roots, and turned around and busted him over the head with it, just as
he started to r'ar up to come down on me with his front hoofs.

Pieces of roots and bark and wood flew every which a way, and
Cap'n Kidd grunted and batted his eyes and went back on to his
haunches. It was a right smart lick. If I'd ever hit Alexander that
hard it would have busted his skull like a egg--and Alexander had a
awful thick skull, even for a mule.

Whilst Cap'n Kidd was shaking the bark and stars out of his eyes,
I run to a big oak and clumb it. He come after me instantly, and
chawed chunks out of the tree as big as washtubs, and kicked most of
the bark off as high up as he could rech, but it was a good
substantial tree, and it held. He then tried to climb it, which amazed
me most remarkable, but he didn't do much good at that. So he give up
with a snort of disgust and trotted off.

I waited till he was out of sight, and then I clumb down and got
my rope and saddle, and started follering him. I knowed there warn't
no use trying to catch Alexander with the lead he had. I figgered he'd
get back to Bear Creek safe. And Cap'n Kidd was the critter I wanted
now. The minute I lammed him with that tree and he didn't fall, I
knowed he was the hoss for me--a hoss which could carry my weight all
day without giving out, and likewise full of spirit. I says to myself
I rides him or the buzzards picks my bones.

I snuck from tree to tree, and presently seen Cap'n Kidd
swaggering along and eating grass, and biting the tops off of young
sapling, and occasionally tearing down a good sized tree to get the
leaves off. Sometimes he'd neigh like a steamboat whistle, and let his
heels fly in all directions just out of pure cussedness. When he done
this the air was full of flying bark and dirt and rocks till it looked
like he was in the middle of a twisting cyclone. I never seen such a
critter in my life. He was as full of pizen and rambunctiousness as a
drunk Apache on the warpath.

I thought at first I'd rope him and tie the other end of the rope
to a big tree, but I was a-feared he'd chawed the lariat apart. Then I
seen something that changed my mind. We was close to the rocky cliffs
which jutted up above the trees, and Cap'n Kidd was passing a canyon
mouth that looked like a big knife cut. He looked in and snorted, like
he hoped they was a mountain lion hiding in there, but they warn't, so
he went on. The wind was blowing from him towards me and he didn't
smell me.

After he was out of sight amongst the trees I come out of cover
and looked into the cleft. It was kinda like a short blind canyon. It
warn't but about thirty foot wide at the mouth, but it widened quick
till it made a kind of bowl a hundred yards acrost, and then narrowed
to a crack again. Rock walls five hundred foot high was on all sides
except at the mouth.

"And here," says I to myself, "is a ready-made corral!"

Then I lay to and started to build a wall to close the mouth of
the canyon. Later on I heard that a scientific expedition (whatever
the hell that might be) was all excited over finding evidences of a
ancient race up in the mountains. They said they found a wall that
could of been built only by giants. They was crazy; that there was the
wall I built for Cap'n Kidd.

I knowed it would have to be high and solid if I didn't want Cap'n
Kidd to jump it or knock it down. They was plenty of boulders laying
at the foot of the cliffs which had weathered off, and I didn't use a
single rock which weighed less'n three hundred pounds, and most of 'em
was a lot heavier than that. It taken me most all morning, but when I
quit I had me a wall higher'n the average man could reach, and so
thick and heavy I knowed it would hold even Cap'n Kidd.

I left a narrer gap in it, and piled some boulders close to it on
the outside, ready to shove 'em into the gap. Then I stood outside the
wall and squalled like a cougar. They ain't even a cougar hisself can
tell the difference when I squalls like one. Purty soon I heard Cap'n
Kidd give his war-neigh off yonder, and then they was a thunder of
hoofs and a snapping and crackling of bresh, and he come busting into
the open with his ears laid back and his teeth bare and his eyes as
red as a Comanche's war-paint. He sure hated cougars. But he didn't
seem to like me much neither. When he seen me he give a roar of rage,
and come for me lickety-split. I run through the gap and hugged the
wall inside, and he come thundering after me going so fast he run
clean across the bowl before he checked hisself. Before he could get
back to the gap I'd run outside and was piling rocks in it. I had a
good big one about the size of a fat hawg and I jammed it in the gap
first and piled t'others on top of it.

Cap'n Kidd arriv at the gap all hoofs and teeth and fury, but it
was already filled too high for him to jump and too solid for him to
tear down. He done his best, but all he done was to knock some chunks
offa the rocks with his heels. He sure was mad. He was the maddest
hoss I ever seen, and when I got up on the wall and he seen me, he
nearly busted with rage.

He went tearing around the bowl, kicking up dust and neighing like
a steamboat on the rampage, and then he come back and tried to kick
the wall down again. When he turned to gallop off I jumped offa the
wall and landed square on his back, but before I could so much as grab
his mane he throwed me clean over the wall and I landed in a cluster
of boulders and cactus and skun my shin. This made me mad so I got the
lariat and the saddle and clumb back on the wall and roped him, but he
jerked the rope out of my hand before I could get any kind of a
purchase, and went bucking and pitching around all over the bowl
trying to get shet of the rope. So purty soon he pitched right into
the cliff-wall and he lammed it so hard with his hind hoofs that a
whole section of overhanging rock was jolted loose and hit him right
between the ears. That was too much even for Cap'n Kidd.

It knocked him down and stunned him, and I jumped down into the
bowl and before he could come to I had my saddle on to him, and a
hackamore I'd fixed out of a piece of my lariat. I'd also mended the
girths with pieces of the lariat, too, before I built the wall.

Well, when Cap'n Kidd recovered his senses and riz up, snorting
and war-like, I was on his back. He stood still for a instant like he
was trying to figger out jest what the hell was the matter, and then
he turned his head and seen me on his back. The next instant I felt
like I was astraddle of a ring-tailed cyclone.

I dunno what all he done. He done so many things all at onst I
couldn't keep track. I clawed leather. The man which could have stayed
onto him without clawing leather ain't born yet, or else he's a cussed
liar. Sometimes my feet was in the stirrups and sometimes they warn't,
and sometimes they was in the wrong stirrups. I cain't figger out how
that could be, but it was so. Part of the time I was in the saddle and
part of the time I was behind it on his rump, or on his neck in front
of it. He kept reching back trying to snap my laig and onst he got my
thigh between his teeth and would ondoubtedly of tore the muscle out
if I hadn't shook him loose by beating him over the head with my fist.

One instant he'd have his head betwixt his feet and I'd be setting
on a hump so high in the air I'd get dizzy, and the next thing he'd
come down stiff-laiged and I could feel my spine telescoping. He
changed ends so fast I got sick at my stummick and he nigh unjointed
my neck with his sunfishing. I calls it sunfishing because it was more
like that than anything. He occasionally rolled over and over on the
ground, too, which was very uncomfortable for me, but I hung on,
because I was afeared if I let go I'd never get on him again. I also
knowed that if he ever shaken me loose I'd had to shoot him to keep
him from stomping my guts out. So I stuck, though I'll admit that they
is few sensations more onpleasant than having a hoss as big as Cap'n
Kidd roll on you nine or ten times.

He tried to scrape me off agen the walls, too, but all he done was
scrape off some hide and most of my pants, though it was when he
lurched agen that outjut of rock that I got them ribs cracked, I
reckon.

He looked like he was able to go on forever, and aimed to, but I
hadn't never met nothing which could outlast me, and I stayed with
him, even after I started bleeding at the nose and mouth and ears, and
got blind, and then all to onst he was standing stock still in the
middle of the bowl, with his tongue hanging out about three foot, and
his sweat-soaked sides heaving, and the sun was just setting over the
mountains. He'd bucked nearly all afternoon!

But he was licked. I knowed it and he knowed it. I shaken the
stars and sweat and blood out of my eyes and dismounted by the simple
process of pulling my feet out of the stirrups and falling off. I laid
there for maybe a hour, and was most amazing sick, but so was Cap'n
Kidd. When I was able to stand on my feet I taken the saddle and the
hackamore off and he didn't kick me nor nothing. He jest made a half-
hearted attempt to bite me but all he done was to bite the buckle offa
my gunbelt. They was a little spring back in the cleft where the bowl
narrered in the cliff, and plenty of grass, so I figgered he'd be all
right when he was able to stop blowing and panting long enough to eat
and drink.

I made a fire outside the bowl and cooked me what was left of the
b'ar meat, and then I lay down on the ground and slept till sunup.

When I riz up and seen how late it was, I jumped up and run and
looked over the wall, and there was Cap'n Kidd mowing the grass down
as ca'm as you please. He give me a mean look, but didn't say nothing.
I was so eager to see if he was going to let me ride him without no
more foolishness that I didn't stop for breakfast, nor to fix the
buckle onto my gunbelt. I left it hanging on a spruce limb, and clumb
into the bowl. Cap'n Kidd laid back his ears but didn't do nothing as
I approached outside of making a swipe at me with his left hoof. I
dodged and give him a good hearty kick in the belly and he grunted and
doubled up, and I clapped the saddle on him. He showed his teeth at
that, but he let me cinch it up, and put on the hackamore, and when I
got on him he didn't pitch but about ten jumps and make but one snap
at my laig.

Well, I was plumb tickled as you can imagine. I clumb down and
opened the gap in the wall and led him out, and when he found he was
outside the bowl he bolted and dragged me for a hundred yards before I
managed to get the rope around a tree. After I tied him up though, he
didn't try to bust loose.

I started back towards the tree where I left my gunbelt when I
heard hosses running, and the next thing I knowed Donovan and his five
men busted into the open and pulled up with their mouths wide open.
Cap'n Kidd snorted warlike when he seen 'em, but didn't cut up no
other way.

"Blast my soul!" says Donovan. "Can I believe my eyes? If there
ain't Cap'n Kidd hisself, saddled and tied to that tree! Did _you_ do
that?"

"Yeah," I said.

He looked me over and said: "I believes it. You looked like you
been through a sausage-grinder. Air you still alive?"

"My ribs is kind of sore," I said.

"--!" says Donovan. "To think that a blame half-naked hillbilly
should do what the best hossmen of the West has attempted in vain! I
don't aim to stand for it! I knows my rights! That there is my hoss by
rights! I've trailed him nigh a thousand miles, and combed this cussed
plateau in a circle. He's my hoss!"

"He ain't, nuther," I says. "He come from the Humbolts original,
jest like me. You said so yoreself. Anyway, I caught him and broke
him, and he's mine."

"He's right, Bill," one of the men says to Donovan.

"You shet up!" roared Donovan. "What Wild Bill Donovan wants, he
gits!"

I reched for my gun and then remembered in despair that it was
hanging on a limb a hundred yards away. Donovan covered me with the
sawed-off shotgun he jerked out of his saddle-holster as he swung
down.

"Stand where you be," he advised me. "I ought to shoot you for not
comin' and tellin' me when you seen the hoss, but after all you've
saved me the trouble of breakin' him in."

"So yo're a hoss-thief!" I said wrathfully.

"You be keerful what you calls me!" he roared. "I ain't no hoss
thief. We gambles for that hoss. Set down!"

I sot and he sot on his heels in front of me, with his sawed-off
still covering me. If it'd been a pistol I would of took it away from
him and shoved the barrel down his throat. But I was quite young in
them days and bashful about shotguns. The others squatted around us,
and Donovan says: "Smoky, haul out yore deck--the special one. Smoky
deals, hillbilly, and the high hand wins the hoss."

"I'm puttin' up my hoss, it looks like," I says fiercely. "What
_you_ puttin' up?"

"My Stetson hat!" says he. "Haw! haw! haw!"

"Haw! haw! haw!" chortles the other hoss-thieves.

Smoky started dealing and I said: "Hey! Yo're dealin' Donovan's
hand offa the bottom of the deck!"

"Shet up!" roared Donovan, poking me in the belly with his
shotgun. "You be keerful how you slings them insults around! This here
is a fair and square game, and I just happen to be lucky. Can you beat
four aces?"

"How you know you got four aces?" I says fiercely. "You ain't
looked at yore hand yet."

"Oh," says he, and picked it up and spread it out on the grass,
and they was four aces and a king. "By golly!" says he. "I shore
called that shot right!"

"Remarkable foresight!" I said bitterly, throwing down my hand
which was a three, five and seven of hearts, a ten of clubs and a jack
of diamonds.

"Then I wins!" gloated Donovan, jumping up. I riz too, quick and
sudden, but Donovan had me covered with that cussed shotgun.

"Git on that hoss and ride him over to our camp, Red," says
Donovan, to a big red-headed _hombre_ which was shorter than him but
jest about as big. "See if he's properly broke. I wants to keep my eye
on this hillbilly myself."

So Red went over to Cap'n Kidd which stood there saying nothing,
and my heart sunk right down to the tops of my spiked shoes. Red
ontied him and clumb on him and Cap'n Kidd didn't so much as snap at
him. Red says: "Git goin', cuss you!" Cap'n Kidd turnt his head and
looked at Red and then he opened his mouth like a alligator and
started laughing. I never seen a hoss laugh before, but now I know
what they mean by a hoss-laugh. Cap'n Kidd didn't neigh nor nicker. He
jest laughed. He laughed till the acorns come rattling down outa the
trees and the echoes rolled through the cliffs like thunder. And then
he reched his head around and grabbed Red's laig and dragged him out
of the saddle, and held him upside down with guns and things spilling
out of his scabbards and pockets, and Red yelling blue murder. Cap'n
Kidd shaken him till he looked like a rag and swung him around his
head three or four times, and then let go and throwed him clean
through a alder thicket.

Them fellers all stood gaping, and Donovan had forgot about me, so
I grabbed the shotgun away from him and hit him under the ear with my
left fist and he bit the dust. I then swung the gun on the others and
roared: "Onbuckle them gunbelts, cuss ye!" They was bashfuller about
buckshot at close range than I was. They didn't argy. Them four
gunbelts was on the grass before I stopped yelling.

"All right," I said. "Now go catch Cap'n Kidd."

Because he had gone over to where their hosses was tied and was
chawing and kicking the tar out of them and they was hollering
something fierce.

"He'll kill us!" squalled the men.

"Well, what of it?" I snarled. "Gwan!"

So they made a desperate foray onto Cap'n Kidd and the way he
kicked 'em in the belly and bit the seat out of their britches was
beautiful to behold. But whilst he was stomping them I come up and
grabbed his hackamore and when he seen who it was he stopped fighting,
so I tied him to a tree away from the other hosses. Then I throwed
Donovan's shotgun onto the men and made 'em get up and come over to
where Donovan was laying, and they was a bruised and battered gang.
The way they taken on you'd of thought somebody had mistreated 'em.

I made 'em take Donovan's gunbelt offa him and about that time he
come to and sot up, muttering something about a tree falling on him.

"Don't you remember me?" I says. "I'm Breckinridge Elkins."

"It all comes back," he muttered. "We gambled for Cap'n Kidd."

"Yeah," I says, "and you won, so now we gambles for him again. You
sot the stakes before. This time I sets 'em. I matches these here
britches I got on agen Cap'n Kidd, and yore saddle, bridle, gunbelt,
pistol, pants, shirt, boots, spurs and Stetson."

"Robbery!" he bellered. "Yo're a cussed bandit!"

"Shet up," I says, poking him in the midriff with his shotgun.
"Squat! The rest of you, too."

"Ain't you goin' to let us do somethin' for Red?" they said. Red
was laying on the other side of the thicket Cap'n Kidd had throwed him
through, groaning loud and fervent.

"Let him lay for a spell," I says. "If he's dyin' they ain't
nothin' we can do for him, and if he ain't, he'll keep till this
game's over. Deal, Smoky, and deal from the top of the deck this
time."

So Smoky dealed in fear and trembling, and I says to Donovan:
"What you got?"

"A royal flush of diamonds, by God!" he says. "You cain't beat
that!"

"A royal flush of hearts'll beat it, won't it, Smoky?" I says, and
Smoky says: "Yuh--yuh--yeah! Yeah! Oh, yeah!"

"Well," I said, "I ain't looked at my hand yet, but I bet that's
jest what I got. What you think?" I says, p'inting the shotgun at
Donovan's upper teeth. "Don't you reckon I've got a royal flush in
hearts?"

"It wouldn't surprise me a bit," says Donovan, turning pale.

"Then everybody's satisfied and they ain't no use in me showin' my
hand," I says, throwing the cards back into the pack. "Shed them
duds!"

He shed 'em without a word, and I let 'em take up Red, which had
seven busted ribs, a dislocated arm and a busted laig, and they kinda
folded him acrost his I saddle and tied him in place. Then they pulled
out without saying a word or looking back. They all looked purty
wilted, and Donovan particularly looked very pecooliar in the blanket
he had wrapped around his middle. If he'd had a feather in his hair
he'd of made a lovely Piute, as I told him. But he didn't seem to
appreciate the remark. Some men just naturally ain't got no sense of
humor.

They headed east, and as soon as they was out of sight, I put the
saddle and bridle I'd won onto Cap'n Kidd and getting the bit in his
mouth was about like rassling a mountain tornado. But I done it, and
then I put on the riggins I'd won. The boots was too small and the
shirt fit a mite too snug in the shoulders, but I sure felt elegant,
nevertheless, and stalked up and down admiring myself and wishing
Glory McGraw could see me then.

I cached my old saddle, belt and pistol in a holler tree, aiming
to send my younger brother Bill back after 'em. He could have 'em,
along with Alexander. I was going back to Bear Creek in style, by
golly!

With a joyful whoop I swung onto Cap'n Kidd, headed him west and
tickled his flanks with my spurs--them trappers in the mountains which
later reported having seen a blue streak traveling westwardly so fast
they didn't have time to tell what it was, and was laughed at and
accused of being drunk, was did a injustice. What they seen was me and
Cap'n Kidd going to Bear Creek. He run fifty miles before he even
pulled up for breath.

I ain't going to tell how long it took Cap'n Kidd to cover the
distance to Bear Creek. Nobody wouldn't believe me. But as I come up
the trail a few miles from my home cabin, I heard a hoss galloping and
Glory McGraw bust into view. She looked pale and scairt, and when she
seen me she give a kind of a holler and pulled up her hoss so quick it
went back onto its haunches.

"Breckinridge!" she gasped. "I jest heard from yore folks that
yore mule come home without you, and I was just startin' out to look
for--oh!" says she, noticing my hoss and elegant riggings for the
first time. She kind of froze up, and said stiffly: "Well, _Mister_
Elkins, I see yo're back home again."

"And you sees me rigged up in store-bought clothes and ridin' the
best hoss in the Humbolts, too, I reckon," I said. "I hope you'll
excuse me, Miss McGraw. I'm callin' on Ellen Reynolds as soon as I've
let my folks know I'm home safe. Good day!"

"Don't let me detain you!" she flared, but after I'd rode on past
she hollered: "Breckinridge Elkins, I hate you!"

"I know that," I said bitterly, "they warn't no use in tellin' me
again--"

But she was gone, riding lickety-split off through the woods
towards her home-cabin and I rode on for mine, thinking to myself what
curious critters gals was anyway.



Chapter IV GUNS OF THE MOUNTAINS



THINGS RUN purty smooth for maybe a month after I got back to Bear
Creek. Folks come from miles around to see Cap'n Kidd and hear me tell
about licking Wild Bill Donovan, and them fancy clothes sure had a
pleasing effeck on Ellen Reynolds. The only flies in the 'intment was
Joel Braxton's brother Jim, Ellen's old man, and my Uncle Garfield
Elkins; but of him anon as the French says.

Old Man Braxton didn't like me much, but I had learnt my lesson in
dealing with Old Man McGraw. I taken no foolishness offa him, and
Ellen warn't nigh as sensitive about it as Glory had been. But I
warn't sure about Jim Braxton. I discouraged him from calling on
Ellen, and I done it purty vi'lent, but I warn't sure he warn't
sneaking around and sparking her on the sly, and I couldn't tell just
what she thought about him. But I was making progress, when the third
fly fell into the 'intment.

Pap's Uncle Garfield Elkins come up from Texas to visit us.

That was bad enough by itself, but between Grizzly Run and Chawed
Ear the stage got held up by some masked bandits, and Uncle Garfield,
never being able to forget that he was a gunfighting fool thirty or
forty years ago, pulled his old cap-and-ball instead of reching for
the clouds like he was advised to. For some reason, instead of blowing
out his light, they merely busted him over the head with a .45 barrel,
and when he come to he was rattling on his way towards Chawed Ear with
the other passengers, minus his money and watch.

It was his watch what caused the trouble. That there timepiece had
been his grandpap's, back in Kentucky, and Uncle Garfield sot more
store by it than he did all his kin folks.

When he arriv onto Bear Creek he imejitly let into howling his
woes to the stars like a wolf with the belly-ache. And from then on we
heered nothing but that watch. I'd saw it and thunk very little of it.
It was big as my fist, and wound up with a key which Uncle Garfield
was always losing and looking for. But it was solid gold, and he
called it a hairloom, whatever them things is. And he nigh driv the
family crazy.

"A passle of big hulks like you-all settin' around and lettin' a
old man git robbed of all his property," he would say bitterly. "When
_I_ was a young buck, if'n _my_ uncle had been abused that way, I'd of
took the trail and never slept nor et till I brung back his watch and
the sculp of the skunk which hived it. Men now days--" And so on and
so on, till I felt like drownding the old jassack in a barrel of corn
licker.

Finally pap says to me, combing his beard with his fingers;
"Breckinridge," says he, "I've endured Uncle Garfield's belly-achin'
all I aim to. I wants you to go look for his cussed watch, and don't
come back without it."

"How'm I goin' to know where to look?" I protested. "The feller
which got it may be in Californy or Mexico by now."

"I realizes the difficulties," says pap. "But warn't you eager for
farin's which would make you a name in the world?"

"They is times for everything," I said. "Right now I'm interested
in sparkin' a gal, which I ain't willin' to leave for no wild goose
chase."

"Well," says pap, "I've done made up our mind. If Uncle Garfield
knows somebody is out lookin' for his cussed timepiece, maybe he'll
give the rest of us some peace. You git goin', and if you cain't find
that watch, don't come back till after Uncle Garfield has went home."

"How long does he aim to stay?" I demanded.

"Well," says pap, "Uncle Garfield's visits generally last a year,
at least."

At this I bust into earnest profanity.

I says: "I got to stay away from home a _year?_ Dang it, Pap, Jim
Braxton'll steal Ellen Reynolds away from me whilst I'm gone. I been
courtin' that gal till I'm ready to fall dead. I done licked her old
man three times, and now, jest when I got her goin', you tells me I
got to up and leave her for a year with that dern Jim Braxton to have
no competition with."

"You got to choose between Ellen Reynolds and yore own flesh and
blood," says pap. "I'm derned if I'll listen to Uncle Garfield's
squawks any longer. You make yore own choice--but if you don't choose
to do what I asks you to, I'll fill yore hide with buckshot every time
I see you from now on."

Well, the result was that I was presently riding morosely away
from home and Ellen Reynolds, and in the general direction of where
Uncle Garfield's blasted watch might possibly be.

I rode by the Braxton cabin with the intention of dropping Jim a
warning about his actions whilst I was gone, but I didn't see his
saddle on the corral fence, so I knowed he warn't there. So I issued a
general defiance to the family by slinging a .45 slug through the
winder which knocked a corn cob pipe outa old man Braxton's mouth.
That soothed me a little, but I knowed very well that Jim would make a
bee-line for the Reynolds cabin the second I was out of sight. I could
just see him gorging on Ellen's b'ar meat and honey, and bragging on
hisself. I hoped Ellen would notice the difference between a loud-
mouthed boaster like him, and a quiet modest young man like me, which
never bragged, though admittedly the biggest man and the best fighter
in the Humbolts.

I hoped to meet Jim somewhere in the woods as I rode down the
trail, because I was intending to do something to kinda impede his
courting whilst I was gone, like breaking his laig or something, but
luck wasn't with me.

I headed in the general direction of Chawed Ear, and a few days
later seen me riding in gloomy grandeur through a country quite some
distance from Ellen Reynolds. Nobody'd been able to tell me anything
in Chawed Ear, so I thought I might as well comb the country between
there and Grizzly Run. Probably wouldn't never find them dern bandits
anyway.

Pap always said my curiosity would be the ruination of me some
day, but I never could listen to guns popping up in the mountains
without wanting to find out who was killing who. So that morning, when
I heard the rifles talking off amongst the trees, I turned Cap'n Kidd
aside and left the trail and rode in the direction of the noise.

A dim path wound up through the big boulders and bushes, and the
shooting kept getting louder. Purty soon I come out into a glade, and
just as I did, _bam!_ somebody let go at me from the bresh and a .45-
70 slug cut both my bridle reins nearly in half. I instantly returned
the shot with my .45, getting jest a glimpse of something in the
bresh, and a man let out a squall and jumped out into the open,
wringing his hands. My bullet had hit the lock of his Winchester and
mighty nigh jarred his hands offa him.

"Cease that ungodly noise," I said sternly, p'inting my .45 at his
bay-winder, "and explain how come you waylays innercent travellers."

He quit working his fingers and moaning, and he said: "I thought
you was Joel Cairn, the outlaw. Yo're about his size."

"Well, I ain't," I said. "I'm Breckinridge Elkins, from Bear
Creek. I was jest ridin' over to find out what all the shootin' was
about."

The guns was banging in the trees behind the feller, and somebody
yelled what was the matter.

"Ain't nothin' the matter," he hollered back. "Just a
misunderstandin'." And he says to me: "I'm glad to see you, Elkins. We
need a man like you. I'm Sheriff Dick Hopkins, from Grizzly Run."

"Where at's yore star?" I inquired.

"I lost it in the bresh," he said. "Me and my deputies have been
chasin' Tarantula Bixby and his gang for a day and a night, and we got
'em cornered over there in a old deserted cabin in a holler. The boys
is shootin' at 'em now. I heered you comin' up the trail and snuck
over to see who it was. Just as I said, I thought you was Cairn. Come
on with me. You can help us."

"I ain't no deperty," I said. "I got nothin' against Tranchler
Bixby."

"Well, you want to uphold the law, don't you?" he said.

"Naw," I said.

"Well, gee whiz!" he wailed. "If you ain't a hell of a citizen!
The country's goin' to the dogs. What chance has a honest man got?"

"Aw, shet up," I said. "I'll go over and see the fun, anyhow."

So he picked up his gun, and I tied Cap'n Kidd, and follered the
sheriff through the trees till we come to some rocks, and there was
four men laying behind them rocks and shooting down into a hollow. The
hill sloped away mighty steep into a small basin that was jest like a
bowl, with a rim of slopes all around. In the middle, of this bowl
they was a cabin and puffs of smoke was coming from the cracks between
the logs.

The men behind the rocks looked at me in surprise, and one of 'em
said: "What the hell?"

The sheriff scowled at them and said, "Boys, this here is Breck
Elkins. I done already told him about us bein' a posse from Grizzly
Run, and about how we got Tarantula Bixby and two of his cutthroats
trapped in that there cabin."

One of the deputies bust into a loud guffaw and Hopkins glared at
him and said: "What _you_ laughin' about, you spotted hyener?"

"I swallered my terbaccer and that allus gives me the
hystericals," mumbled the deputy, looking the other way.

"Hold up yore right hand, Elkins," requested Hopkins, so I done
so, wondering what for, and he said: "Does you swear to tell the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, e pluribus unum,
anno dominecker, to wit in status quo?"

"What the hell are you talkin' about?" I demanded.

"Them which God has j'ined asunder let no man put together," said
Hopkins. "Whatever you say will be used agen you and the Lord have
mercy on yore soul. That means yo're a deputy. I just swore you in."

"Go set on a prickly pear," I snorted disgustedly. "Go catch yore
own thieves. And don't look at me like that. I might bend a gun over
yore skull."

"But Elkins," pleaded Hopkins, "with yore help we can catch them
rats easy. All you got to do is lay up here behind this big rock and
shoot at the cabin and keep 'em occupied till we can sneak around and
rush 'em from the rear. See, the bresh comes down purty close to the
foot of the slope on the other side, and gives us cover. We can do it
easy, with somebody keepin' their attention over here. I'll give you
part of the reward."

"I don't want no derned blood-money," I said, backing away, "And
besides--_ow!"_

I'd absent-mindedly backed out from behind the big rock where I'd
been standing, and a .30-30 slug burned its way acrost the seat of my
britches.

"Dern them murderers!" I bellered, seeing red. "Gimme a rifle!
I'll learn 'em to shoot a man behind his back! Gwan, and git 'em from
behind whilst I attracts their attention with a serenade of hot lead!"

"Good boy!" says Hopkins. "You'll git plenty for this!"

It sounded like somebody was snickering to theirselves as they
snuck away, but I give no heed. I squinted cautiously around the big
boulder and begun sniping at the cabin. All I could see to shoot at
was the puffs of smoke which marked the cracks they was shooting
through, but from the cussing and yelling which begun to float up from
the shack, I must of throwed some lead mighty close to them.

They kept shooting back, and the bullets splashed and buzzed on
the rocks, and I kept looking at the further slope for some sign of
Sheriff Hopkins and the posse. But all I heard was a sound of hosses
galloping away towards the west. I wondered who it was, and I kept
expecting the posse to rush down the oppersite slope and take them
desperadoes in the rear, and whilst I was craning my neck around a
corner of the boulder--_whang!_ A bullet smashed into the rock a few
inches from my face and a sliver of stone taken a notch out of my ear.
I don't know of nothing that makes me madder'n getting shot in the
ear.

I seen red and didn't even shoot back. A ordinary rifle was too
paltry to satisfy me. Suddenly I realized that the big boulder in
front of me was jest poised on the slope, its underside partly
embedded in the earth. I throwed down my rifle and bent my knees and
spread my arms and gripped it.

I shook the sweat and blood outa my eyes, and bellered so them in
the hollow could hear me: "I'm givin' you-all a chance to surrender!
Come out with yore hands up!"

They give loud and sarcastic jeers, and I yelled: "All right, you
ring-tailed jackasses! If you gits squashed like a pancake, it's yore
own fault. _Here she comes!"_

And I heaved with all I had. The veins stood out onto my temples,
and my feet sunk into the ground, but the earth bulged and cracked all
around the big rock, rivulets of dirt began to trickle down, and the
big boulder groaned, give way and lurched over.

A dumbfounded yell riz from the cabin. I lept behind a bush, but
the outlaws was too surprised to shoot at me. That enormous boulder
was tumbling down the hill, crushing bushes flat and gathering speed
as it rolled. And the cabin was right in its path.

Wild yells bust the air, the door was throwed vi'lently open, and
a man hove into view. Jest as he started out of the door I let _bam_
at him and he howled and ducked back jest like anybody will when a
.45-90 slug knocks their hat off. The next instant that thundering
boulder hit the cabin. _Smash!_ It knocked it sidewise like a ten pin
and caved in the wall, and the whole structure collapsed in a cloud of
dust and bark and splinters.

I run down the slope, and from the yells which issued from under
the ruins, I knowed they warn't all kilt.

"Does you-all surrender?" I roared.

"Yes, dern it!" they squalled. "Git us out from under this
landslide!"

"Throw out yore guns," I ordered.

"How in hell can we throw anything?" they hollered wrathfully.
"We're pinned down by a ton of rocks and boards and we're bein' squoze
to death. Help, murder!"

"Aw, shet up," I said. "You all don't hear _me_ carryin' on in no
such hysterical way, does you?"

Well, they moaned and complained, and I sot to work dragging the
ruins offa them, which warn't no great task. Purty soon I seen a
booted laig and I laid hold of it and dragged out the critter it was
fastened to, and he looked more done up than what my brother Buckner
did that time he rassled a mountain lion for a bet. I taken his pistol
out of his belt, and laid him down on the ground and got the others
out. They was three, altogether, and I taken their arms and laid 'em
out in a row.

Their clothes was nearly tore off, and they was bruised and
scratched and had splinters in their hair, but they warn't hurt
permanent. They sot up and felt of theirselves, and one of 'em said:
"This here's the first earthquake I ever seen in this country."

"'Twarn't no earthquake," said another'n. "It was a avalanche."

"Lissen here, Joe Partland," said the first'n, grinding his teeth.
"I says it was a earthquake, and I ain't the man to be called a liar--
"

"Oh, you ain't, hey?" says the other'n, bristling up. "Well, lemme
tell you somethin', Frank Jackson--"

"This ain't no time for sech argyments," I admonished 'em sternly.
"As for that there rock, I rolled that at you-all myself."

They gaped at me, and one of 'em says: "Who are you?" he says,
mopping the blood offa his ear.

"Never mind that," I says. "You see this here Winchester? Well,
you-all set still and rest yorselves. Soon as the sheriff gits here
I'm goin' to hand you over to him."

His mouth fell open. "Sheriff?" he said, dumb-like. "What
sheriff?"

"Dick Hopkins, from Grizzly Run," I said.

"Why, you demed fool!" he screamed, scrambling up.

"Set down!" I roared, shoving my rifle barrel at him, and he sank
back, all white and shaking. He couldn't hardly talk.

"Lissen to me!" he gasped. "_I'm_ Dick Hopkins! _I'm_ sheriff of
Grizzly Run! These men are my deputies."

"Yeah?" I said sarcastically. "And who was the fellers shootin' at
you from the bresh?"

"Tarantula Bixby and his gang," he says. "We was follerin' 'em
when they jumped us, and bein' outnumbered and surprised, we taken
cover in that old hut. They robbed the Grizzly Run bank day before
yesterday. And now they'll be gittin' further away every minute! Oh,
Judas J. Iscariot! Of all the dumb, bone-headed jackasses--"

"Heh! heh! heh!" I said cynically. "You must think I ain't got no
sense. If yo're the sheriff, where at's yore star?"

"It was on my suspenders," he said despairingly. "When you hauled
me out by the laig my suspenders caught on somethin' and tore off. If
you'll lemme look amongst them rooins--"

"You set still," I commanded. "You cain't fool me. Yo're Tranchler
Bixby yoreself. Sheriff Hopkins told me so. Him and the posse'll be
here directly. Set still and shet up."

We stayed there, and the feller which claimed to be the sheriff
moaned and pulled his hair and shed a few tears, and the other fellers
tried to convince me they was deputies till I got tired of their gab
and told 'em to shet up or I'd bend my Winchester over their heads. I
wondered why Hopkins and them didn't come, and I begun to get nervous,
and all to onst the feller which said he was the sheriff give a yell
that startled me so I jumped and nearly shot him. He had something in
his hand and was waving it around.

"See here?" he hollered so loud his voice cracked. "I found it! It
must of fell down into my shirt when my suspenders busted! Look at it,
you derned mountain grizzly!"

I looked and my flesh crawled. It was a shiny silver star.

"Hopkins said he lost his'n," I said weakly. "Maybe you found it
in the bresh."

"You know better!" he bellered. "Yo're one of Bixby's men. You was
left here to hold us whilst Tarantula and the rest made their gitaway.
You'll git ninety years for this!"

I turned cold all over as I remembered them hosses I heard
galloping. I'd been fooled! This _was_ the sheriff! That pot-bellied
thug which shot at me had been Bixby hisself! And whilst I held up the
real sheriff and his posse, them outlaws was riding out of the
country! I was the prize sucker.

"You better gimme that gun and surrender," opined Hopkins. "Maybe
if you do they won't hang you."

"Set still!" I snarled. "I'm the biggest fool that ever straddled
a mustang, but even idjits has their feelin's. Pap said never resist a
officer, but this here is a special case. You ain't goin' to put me
behind no bars, jest because I made a mistake. I'm goin' up that there
slope, but I'll be watchin' you. I've throwed yore guns over there in
the bresh. If anybody makes a move towards 'em, I'll shove a harp
right into his hand."

They set up a chant of hate as I backed away, but they sot still.
I went up the slope backwards till I hit the rim, and then I turned
and ducked into the bresh and run. I heard 'em cussing something awful
down in the hollow, but I didn't pause. I come to where I'd left Cap'n
Kidd and forked him and pulled out, being thankful them outlaws had
been in too big a hurry to steal him. But I doubt if he'd a-let 'em. I
throwed away the rifle they give me and headed west.

I aimed to cross Thunder River at Ghost Canyon, and head into the
wild mountain region beyond there. I figgered I could dodge a posse
indefinite onst I got there. I let Cap'n Kidd out into a long lope,
cussing my reins which had been notched deep by Bixby's bullet. I
didn't have time to fix 'em, and Cap'n Kidd was a iron-jawed outlaw.

He was sweating plenty when I finally hove in sight of the place I
was heading for. As I topped the canyon's crest before I dipped down
to the crossing, I looked back. They was a high notch in the hills a
few miles behind me, and as I looked three hossmen was etched in that
notch, lined agen the sky behind 'em. I cussed free and fervent. Why
hadn't I had sense enough to know Hopkins and his men was bound to
have hosses tied somewheres near? They got their mounts and follered
me, figgering I'd aim for the country beyond Thunder River. It was
about the only place I could go.

Not wanting no running fight with no sheriff's posse, I raced
recklessly down the sloping canyon wall, busted out of the bushes--and
stopped short. Thunder River was on the rampage--bank-full in the
narrow channel and boiling and foaming. Been a cloud-bust somewhere
away up on the head, and the hoss warn't never foaled which could swum
it. Not even Cap'n Kidd, though he snorted warlike and was game to try
it.

They wasn't but one thing to do, and I done it. I wheeled Cap'n
Kidd and headed up the canyon. Five miles up the river they was
another crossing, with a bridge--if it hadn't been washed away. Like
as not it had been, with the luck I was having. A nice pickle Uncle
Garfield's cussed watch had got me in, I reflected bitterly. Jest when
I was all sot to squelch Glory McGraw onst and for all by marrying
Ellen Reynolds, here I was throwed into circumstances which made me a
fugitive from justice. I could just imagine Glory laughing at me, and
it nigh locoed me.

I was so absorbed in these thoughts I paid little attention to my
imejit surroundings, but all of a sudden I heard a noise ahead, above
the roar of the river and the thunder of Cap'n Kidd's hoofs on the
rocky canyon floor. We was approaching a bend in the gorge where a low
ridge run out from the canyon wall, and beyond that ridge I heard guns
banging. I heaved back on the reins--and both of 'em snapped in two!

Cap'n Kidd instantly clamped his teeth on the bit and bolted, like
he always does when he gits the chance. He headed straight for the
bushes at the end of the ridge, and I leaned forward and tried to get
hold of the bit rings with my fingers. But all I done was swerve him
from his course. Instead of follering the canyon bed on around the end
of the ridge, he went right over the rise, which sloped on that side.
It didn't slope on t'other side; it fell away abrupt. I had a fleeting
glimpse of five men crouching amongst the bushes on the canyon floor
with guns in their hands. They looked up--and Cap'n Kidd braced his
laigs and slid to a halt at the lip of the blow bluff, and
simultaneous bogged his head and throwed me heels over head down
amongst 'em.

My boot heel landed on somebody's head, and the spur knocked him
cold and blame near sculped him. That partly bust my fall, and it was
further cushioned by another feller which I lit on in a setting
position, and which taken no further interest in the proceedings. But
the other three fell on me with loud brutal yells, and I reched for my
.45 and found to my humiliation that it had fell out of my scabbard
when I was throwed.

So I riz up with a rock in my hand and bounced it offa the head of
a feller which was fixing to shoot me, and he dropped his pistol and
fell on top of it. At this juncture one of the survivors put a buffalo
gun to his shoulder and sighted, then evidently fearing he would hit
his companion which was carving at me on the other side with a bowie
knife, he reversed it and run in swinging it like a club.

The man with the knife got in a slash across my ribs and I then
hit him on the chin which was how his jawbone got broke in four
places. Meanwhile the other'n swung at me with his rifle, but missed
my head and broke the stock off across my shoulder. Irritated at his
persistency in trying to brain me with the barrel, I laid hands on him
and throwed him head-on agen the bluff, which is when he got his
fractured skull and concussion of the brain, I reckon.

I then shaken the sweat outa my eyes, and glaring down, rekernized
the remains as Bixby and his gang. I might have knew they'd head for
the wild country across the river, same as me. Only place they could
go.

Just then, however, a clump of bushes parted, nigh, the river
bank, and a big black-bearded man riz up from behind a dead hoss. He
had a six-shooter in his hand and he approached me cautiously.

"Who're you?" he demanded suspiciously. "Whar'd you come from?"

"I'm Breckinridge Elkins," I answered, wringing the blood outa my
shirt. "What is this here business, anyway?"

"I was settin' here peaceable waitin' for the river to go down so
I could cross," he says, "when up rode these yeggs and started
shootin'. I'm a honest citizen--"

"Yo're a liar," I said with my usual diplomacy. "Yo're Joel Cairn,
the wust outlaw in these hills. I seen yore picher in the post office
at Chawed Ear."

With that he p'inted his .45 at me and his beard bristled like the
whiskers of a old timber wolf.

"So you know me, hey?" he said. "Well, what you goin' to do about
it, hey? Want to colleck the reward money, hey?"

"Naw, I don't," I says. "I'm a outlaw myself, now. I just run foul
of the law account of these skunks. They's a posse right behind me."

"They is?" he snarled. "Why'nt you say so? Here, le's catch these
fellers' hosses and light out. Cheapskates! They claims I double-
crossed 'em in the matter of a stagecoach hold-up we pulled together
recent. I been avoidin' 'em 'cause I'm a peaceful man by nater, but
they rode onto me onexpected awhile ago. They shot down my hoss first
crack; we been tradin' lead for more'n a hour, without doin' much
damage, but they'd got me eventually, I reckon. Come on. We'll pull
out together.

"No, we won't," I said. "I'm a outlaw by force of circumstances,
but I ain't no murderin' bandit."

"Purty particular of yore comperny, ain'tcha?" he sneered. "Well,
anyway, help me catch me a hoss. Yore's is still up thar on that
bluff. The day's still young--"

He pulled out a big gold watch and looked at it; it was one which
wound with a key.

I jumped like I was shot. "Where'd you git that watch?" I
hollered.

He jerked up his head kinda startled, and said: "My grandpap gimme
it. Why?"

"You're a liar!" I bellered. "You taken that off'n my Uncle
Garfield. _Gimme that watch!_"

"Air you crazy?" he yelled, going white under his whiskers. I
plunged for him, seeing red, and he let _bang!_ and I got it in the
left thigh. Before he could shoot again I was on top of him and
knocked the gun up. It banged but the bullet went singing up over the
bluff and Cap'n Kidd squealed with rage and started changing ends. The
pistol flew outa Cairn's hand and he hit hit me vi'lently on the nose
which made me see stars. So I hit him in the belly and he grunted and
doubled up; and come up with a knife out of his boot which he cut me
acrost the boozum with, also in the arm and shoulder and kicked me in
the groin. So I swung him clear of the ground and throwed him down
headfirst and jumped on him with both boots. And that settled his
hash.

I picked up the watch where it had fell, and staggered over to the
cliff, spurting blood at every step like a stuck hawg.

"At last my search is at a end!" I panted. "I can go back to Ellen
Reynolds who patiently awaits the return of her hero--"

It was at this instant that Cap'n Kidd, which had been stung by
Cairn's wild shot and was trying to buck off his saddle, bucked
hisself off the bluff. He fell on me....

The first thing I heard was bells ringing, and then they turned to
hosses galloping. I sot up and wiped off the blood which was running
into my eyes from where Cap'n Kidd's left hind shoe had split my
sculp. And I seen Sheriff Hopkins, Jackson and Partland come tearing
around the ridge. I tried to get up and run, but my right laig
wouldn't work. I reched for my gun and it still wasn't there. I was
trapped.

"Look there!" yelled Hopkins, plumb wild-eyed. "That's Bixby on
the ground--and all his gang! And ye gods, there's Joel Cairn! What is
this, anyway? It looks like a battle-field! What's that settin' there?
He's so bloody I cain't rekernize him!"

"It's the hillbilly!" yelped Jackson. "Don't move or I'll
shoot'cha!"

"I already been shot," I snarled. "Gwan--do yore wust. Fate is
agen me."

They dismounted and stared in awe.

"Count the dead, boys," said Hopkins in a still, small voice.

"Aw," said Partland, "ain't none of 'em dead, but they'll never be
the same men again. Look! Bixby's comin' to! Who done this, Bixby?"

Bixby cast a wabbly eye about till he spied me, and then he moaned
and shrivelled up. "He tried to sculp me!" he wailed. "He ain't
human!"

They all looked at me, and all taken their hats off.

"Elkins," says Hopkins in a tone of reverence, "I see it all now.
They fooled you into thinkin' they was the posse and we was the
outlaws, didn't they? And when you realized the truth, you hunted 'em
down, didn't you? And cleaned 'em out single-handed, and Joel Cairn,
too, didn't you?"

"Well," I said groggily, "the truth is--"

"We understand," Hopkins soothed. "You mount tain men is all
modest. Hey, boys, tie up them outlaws whilst I look at Elkins'
wounds."

"If you'll catch my hoss," I said, "I got to be ridin' back--"

"Gee whiz, man!" he said, "you ain't in no shape to ride a hoss!
Do you know you got five busted ribs and a fractured arm, and one laig
broke and a bullet in the other'n, to say nothin' of bein' slashed to
ribbons? We'll rig up a litter for you. What's that you got in yore
good hand?"

I suddenly remembered Uncle Garfield's watch which I'd kept
clutched in a death grip. I stared at what I held in my hand; and I
fell back with a low moan. All I had in my hand was a bunch of busted
metal and broken wheels and springs, bent and smashed plumb beyond
recognition.

"Grab him!" yelled Hopkins. "He's fainted!"

"Plant me under a pine tree, boys," I murmured weakly. "Just
kyarve onto my tombstone: 'He fit a good fight but Fate dealt him the
joker.'"

A few days later a melancholy procession wound its way up the
trail to Bear Creek. I was being toted on a litter. I told 'em I
wanted to see Ellen Reynolds before I died, and to show Uncle Garfield
the rooins of the watch so he'd know I done my duty as I seen it.

When we'd got to within a few miles of my home cabin, who should
meet us but Jim Braxton, which tried to conceal his pleasure when I
told him in a weak voice that I was a dying man. He was all dressed up
in new buckskins and his exuberance was plumb disgustful to a man in
my condition.

"Too bad," says he. "Too bad, Breckinridge. I hoped to meet you,
but not like this, of course. Yore pap told me to tell you about yore
Uncle Garfield's watch if I seen you. He thought I might run into you
on my way to Chawed Ear to git a licence--"

"Hey?" I said, pricking up my ears.

"Yeah, me and Ellen Reynolds is goin' to git married," he says.
"Well, as I started to say, seems like one of them bandits which
robbed the stage was a feller whose dad was a friend of yore Uncle
Garfield's back in Texas. He rekernized the name in the watch and sent
it back, and it got here the day after you left--"

They say it was jealousy which made me rise up on my litter and
fracture Jim Braxton's jawbone. I denies that. I stoops to no sech
petty practices. What impelled me was family conventions. I couldn't
hit Uncle Garfield; I had to hit somebody; and Jim Braxton jest
happened to be the only man in rech.



Chapter V A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK



"YOU," says my sister Ouachita, p'inting a accusing finger at me,
"ought a be shot for the way you treat Glory McGraw!"

"Don't mention that gal's name to me," I says bitterly. "I don't
want to hear nothin' about her. Don't talk to me about her--why you
think I ain't treated her right?"

"Well," says Ouachita, "after they brung you back from Chawed Ear
lookin' like you'd been through a sorghum mill, Glory come right over
when she heered you was hurt. And what did you do when she come
through the door?"

"I didn't do nothin'," I says. "What'd I do?"

"You turnt over towards the wall," says Ouachita, "and you says,
says you: 'Git that woman outa here; she's come to t'ant me in my
helpless condition!'"

"Well, she did!" I said fiercely.

"She didn't!" says Ouachita. "When she heered you say them words,
she turnt pale, and she turnt around and walked outa the cabin with
her head up in the air, not sayin' a word. And she ain't been back
since."

"Well, I don't want her to," I says. "She come over here jest to
gloat on my misery."

"I don't believe no such," says Ouachita. "First thing she says,
was: 'Is Breckinridge hurt bad?' And she didn't say it in no gloatin'
way. She come over here to help you, I bet, and you talked to her like
that! You ought to be ashamed."

"You mind yore own business," I advised her, and got up and got
outa the cabin to get some peace and quiet.

I went towards the creek aiming to do a little fishing. My laig
had knit proper and quick, and that had been the only thing which had
kept me laid up. On my way to the creek I got to thinking over what
Ouachita had said, and I thought, well, maybe I was a mite hasty.
Maybe Glory did repent of her treatment of me when I was laying
wounded. Maybe I ought not to of spoke so bitterly.

I thought, it's no more'n my neighborly duty to go over and thank
Glory for coming over to see me, and tell her I didn't mean what I
said. I'd tell her I was delirious and thought it was Ellen Reynolds.
After all, I was a man with a great, big, generous, forgiving heart,
and if forgiving Glory McGraw was going to brighten her life, why, I
warn't one to begrudge it. So I headed for the McGraw cabin--a trail I
hadn't took since the day I shot up Mister Wilkinson.

I went afoot because I wanted to give my laig plenty of exercise
now it was healed. And I hadn't gone more'n halfway when I met the gal
I was looking for. She was riding her bay mare, and we met face to
face right spang in the middle of the trail. I taken off my Stetson
and says: "Howdy, Glory. You warn't by any chance headin' for my
cabin?"

"And why should I be headin' for yore cabin, Mister Elkins?" she
said as stiff and cold as a frozen bowie knife.

"Well," I said, kinda abashed, "well--uh--that is, Glory, I jest
want to thank you for droppin' in to see about me when I was laid up,
and--"

"I didn't," she snapped. "I jest come to borrer some salt. I
didn't even know you'd been hurt."

"What you want to talk like that for, Glory?" I protested. "I
didn't aim to hurt yore feelin's. Fact is, I war delirious, and
thought you was somebody else--"

"Ellen Reynolds, maybe?" says she sneeringly. "Or was she already
there, holdin' yore hand? Oh, no! I'd plumb forgot! She was gittin'
married to Jim Braxton about that time! Too bad, Breckinridge! But
cheer up! Ellen's got a little sister which'll be growed up in a few
years. Maybe you can git her--if some Braxton don't beat you to her."

"To hell with the Braxtons and the Reynolds too!" I roared, seeing
red again. "And you can go along with 'em, far's I'm consarned! I was
right! Ouachita's a fool, sayin' you was sorry for me. You jest come
over there to gloat over me when I was laid up!"

"I didn't!" she says, in a changed voice.

"You did, too!" I says bitterly. "You go yore way and I'll go
mine. You think I cain't git me no woman, just because you and Ellen
Reynolds turned me down. Well, you-all ain't the only women they is! I
ain't goin' to marry no gal on Bear Creek! I'm goin' to git me a town-
gal!"

"A town-gal wouldn't look at a hillbilly like you!" she sneered.

"Oh, is that so?" I bellered, convulsively jerking some saplings
up by the roots in my agitation. "Well, lemme tell you somethin', Miss
McGraw, I'm pullin' out right now, this very day, for the settlements,
where purty gals is thick as flies in watermelon time, and I aim to
bring back the purtiest one of the whole kaboodle! You wait and see!"

And I went storming away from there so blind mad that I fell into
the creek before I knowed it, and made a most amazing splash. I
thought I heard Glory call me to come back, jest before I fell, but I
was so mad I didn't pay no attention. I'd had about all the badgering
I could stand for one day. I clumb out on t'other side, dripping like
a muskrat, and headed for the tall timber. I could hear her laughing
behind me, and she must of been kinda hysterical, because it sounded
like she was crying instead of laughing, but I didn't stop to see. All
I wanted was to put plenty of distance between me and Glory McGraw,
and I headed for home as fast as I could laig it.

It was my fullest intention to saddle Cap'n Kidd and pull out for
Chawed Ear or somewheres as quick as I could. I meant what I said
about getting me a town-gal. But right then I was fogging head-on into
the cussedest mix-up I'd ever saw, up to that time, and didn't know
it. I didn't even get a inkling of it when I almost stumbled over a
couple of figures locked in mortal combat on the bank of the creek.

I was surprised when I seen who it was. The folks on Bear Creek
ain't exactly what you'd call peaceable by nature, but Erath Elkins
and his brother-in-law Joel Gordon had always got along well together,
even when they was full of corn juice. But there they was, so tangled
up they couldn't use their bowies to no advantage, and their cussin'
was scandalous to hear.

Remonstrances being useless, I kicked their knives out of their
hands and throwed 'em bodily into the creek. That broke their holds
and they come swarming out with blood-thirsty shrieks and dripping
whiskers, and attacked me. Seeing they was too blind mad to have any
sense, I bashed their heads together till they was too dizzy to do
anything but holler.

"Is this any way for relatives to ack?" I ast disgustedly.

"Lemme at him!" howled Joel, gnashing his teeth whilst blood
streamed down his whiskers. "He's broke three of my fangs and I'll
have his life!"

"Stand aside, Breckinridge!" raved Erath. "No man can chaw a ear
offa me and live to tell the tale."

"Aw, shet up," I snorted. "Ca'm down, before I sees is yore fool
heads harder'n this." I brandished a large fist under their noses and
they subsided sulkily. "What's all this about?" I demanded.

"I jest discovered my brother-in-law is a thief," said Joel
bitterly. At that Erath give a howl and a vi'lent plunge to get at his
relative, but I kind of pushed him backwards, and he fell over a
willer stump.

"The facks is, Breckinridge," says Joel, "me and this here polecat
found a buckskin poke full of gold nuggets in a holler oak over on
Apache Ridge yesterday, right nigh the place whar yore brother
Garfield fit them seven wildcats last year. We didn't know whether
somebody in these parts had jest hid it thar for safe-keepin', or
whether some old prospector had left it thar a long time ago and maybe
got sculped by the Injuns and never come back to git it. We agreed to
leave it alone for a month, and if it was still thar when we come
back, we'd feel purty shore that the original owner was dead, and we'd
split the gold between us. Well, last night I got to worryin' lest
somebody'd find it which warn't as honest as me, so this mornin' I
thought I better go see if it was still thar..."

At this p'int Erath laughed bitterly.

Joel glared at him ominously and continued: "Well, no sooner I
hove in sight of the holler tree than this skunk let go at me from the
bresh with a rifle-gun--"

"That's a lie!" yelped Erath. "It war jest the other way around!"

"Not bein' armed, Breckinridge," Joel said with dignity, "and
realizin' that this coyote was tryin' to murder me so he could claim
all the gold, I laigged it for home and my weppin's. And presently I
sighted him sprintin' through the bresh after me."

Erath begun to foam slightly at the mouth. "I warn't chasin' you!"
he howled. "I war goin' home after my rifle-gun."

"What's yore story, Erath?" I inquired.

"Last night I drempt somebody had stole the gold," he answered
sullenly. "This mornin' I went to see if it was safe. Jest as I got to
the tree, this murderer begun shootin' at me with a Winchester. I run
for my life, and by some chance I finally run right into him. Likely
he thought he'd hived me and was comin' for the sculp."

"Did either one of you see t'other'n shoot at you?" I ast.

"How could I, with him hid in the bresh?" snapped Joel. "But who
else could it been?"

"I didn't have to see him," growled Erath. "I felt the wind of his
lead."

"But each one of you says he didn't have no rifle," I said.

"He's a cussed liar," they accused simultaneous, and would have
fell onto each other tooth and nail if they could have got past my
bulk. "I'm convinced they'd been a mistake," I said. "Git home and
cool off."

"Yo're too big for me to lick, Breckinridge," said Erath. "But I
warn you, if you cain't prove to me that it warn't Joel which tried to
murder me, I ain't goin' to rest nor sleep nor eat till I've nailed
his mangy sculp to the highest pine on Apache Ridge."

"That goes for me, too," says Joel, grinding his teeth. "I'm
declarin' truce till tomorrer mornin'. If Breckinridge cain't show me
by then that you didn't shoot at me, either my wife or yore'n'll be a
widder before midnight."

So saying they stalked off in oppersite directions, whilst I
stared helplessly after 'em, slightly dazed at the responsibility
which had been dumped onto me. That's the drawback of being the
biggest man in yore settlement. All the relatives piles their trouble
onto you. Here it was up to me to stop what looked like the beginnings
of a regular family feud which was bound to reduce the population
awful. I couldn't go sparking me no town-gal with all this hell
brewing.

The more I thought of the gold them idjits had found, the more I
felt like I ought to go and take a look at it myself, so I went back
to the corral and saddled Cap'n Kidd and lit out for Apache Ridge.
From the remarks they'd let fall whilst cussing each other, I had a
purty good idee where the holler oak was at, and sure enough I found
it without much trouble. I tied Cap'n Kidd and clumb up onto the trunk
till I reched the holler. And then as I was craning my neck to look
in, I heard a voice say: "Another dern thief!"

I looked around and seen Uncle Jeppard Grimes p'inting a gun at
me.

"Bear Creek is goin' to hell," says Uncle Jeppard. "First it was
Erath and Joel, and now it's you. I aim to throw a bullet through yore
hind laig jest to teach you a little honesty. Hold still whilst I
draws my bead."

With that he started sighting along the barrel of his Winchester,
and I says: "You better save yore lead for that Injun over there."

Him being a old Injun fighter he jest naturally jerked his head
around quick, and I pulled my .45 and shot the rifle out of his hands.
I jumped down and put my foot on it, and he pulled a knife out of his
leggin', and I taken it away from him and shaken him till he was so
addled when I let him go he run in a circle and fell down cussing
something terrible.

"Is everybody on Bear Creek gone crazy?" I demanded. "Cain't a man
look into a holler tree without gittin' assassinated?"

"You was after my gold!" swore Uncle Jeppard.

"So it's yore gold, hey?" I said. "Well, a holler tree ain't no
bank."

"I know it," he growled, combing the pine-needles out of his
whiskers. "When I come here early this mornin' to see if it was safe,
like I frequent does, I seen right off somebody'd been handlin' it.
Whilst I was meditatin' over this, I seen Joel Gordon sneakin' towards
the tree. I fired a shot acrost his bows in warnin' and he run off.
But a few minutes later here come Erath Elkins slitherin' through the
pines. I was mad by this time, so I combed his whiskers with a chunk
of lead and _he_ high-tailed it. And now, by golly, here you come--"

"You shet up!" I roared. "Don't you accuse me of wantin' yore
blame gold. I jest wanted to see if it was safe, and so did Joel and
Erath. If them men was thieves, they'd have took it when they found it
yesterday. Where'd you git it, anyway?"

"I panned it, up in the hills," he said sullenly. "I ain't had
time to take it to Chawed Ear and git it changed into cash money. I
figgered this here tree was as good a place as any. But I done put it
elsewhar now."

"Well," I said, "you got to go tell Erath and Joel it war you
which shot at 'em, so they won't kill each other. They'll be mad at
you, but I'll restrain 'em, with a hickery club, if necessary."

"All right," he said. "I'm sorry I misjedged you, Breckinridge.
Jest to show I trusts you, I'll show you whar I hid it after I taken
it outa the tree."

He led me through the trees till he come to a big rock jutting out
from the side of a cliff, and p'inted at a smaller rock wedged beneath
it.

"I pulled out that there rock," he said, "and dug a hole and stuck
the poke in. Look!"

He heaved the rock out and bent down. And then he went straight up
in the air with a yell that made me jump and pull my gun with cold
sweat busting out all over me.

"What's the matter?" I demanded. "Air you snake-bit!"

"Yeah, by human snakes!" he hollered. "_It's gone!_ I been
robbed!"

I looked and seen the impressions the wrinkles in the buckskin
poke had made in the soft earth. But there warn't nothing there now.

Uncle Jeppard was doing a scalp dance with a gun in one hand and a
bowie knife in the other'n. "I'll fringe my leggin's with their mangy
sculps! I'll pickle their hearts in a barr'l of brine! I'll feed their
gizzards to my houn' dawgs!" he yelled.

"Whose gizzards?" I inquired.

"Whose, you idjit?" he howled. "Joe Gordon and Erath Elkins, dern
it! They didn't run off. They snuck back and seen me move the gold!
War-paint and rattlesnakes! I've kilt better men than them for less'n
half that much!"

"Aw," I said, "t'ain't possible they stole yore gold--"

"Then whar is it?" he demanded bitterly. "Who else knowed about
it?"

"Look here!" I said, p'inting to a belt of soft loam nigh the
rocks. "There's a hoss's tracks."

"Well, what of it?" he demanded. "Maybe they had hosses tied in
the bresh."

"Aw, no," I said. "Look how the calks is sot. They ain't no hosses
on Bear Creek shod like that. These is the tracks of a stranger--I bet
the feller I seen ride past my cabin jest about daybreak. A black-
whiskered man with one ear missin'. That hard ground by the big rock
don't show where he got off and stomped around, but the man which rode
this hoss stole yore gold, I'll bet my guns."

"I ain't convinced," says Uncle Jeppard. "I'm goin' home and ile
my rifle-gun, and then I'm goin' to go over and kill Joel and Erath."

"Now you lissen," I said forcibly, taking hold of the front of his
buckskin shirt and h'isting him off the ground by way of emphasis, "I
know what a stubborn old jassack you are, Uncle Jeppard, but this time
you got to lissen to reason, or I'll forgit myself to the extent of
kickin' the seat out of yore britches. I'm goin' to foller this feller
and take yore gold away from him, because I know it war him that stole
it. And don't you dare to kill nobody till I git back."

"I'll give you till tomorrer mornin'," he compromised. "I won't
pull a trigger till then. But," said Uncle Jeppard waxing poetical,
"if my gold ain't in my hands by the time the mornin' sun h'ists
itself over the shinin' peaks of the Jackass Mountains, the buzzards
will rassle their hash on the carcasses of Joel Gordon and Erath
Elkins."

I went away from there, and mounted Cap'n Kidd and headed west on
the stranger's trail. A hell of a chance _I_ had to go sparking a
town-gal, with my lunatickal relatives thirsting for each other's
gore.

It was still tolerably early in the morning, and one of them long
summer days ahead of me. They warn't a hoss in the Humbolts which
could equal Cap'n Kidd for endurance. I've rode him a hundred miles
between sundown and sunup. But the hoss the stranger was riding must
have been some chunk of hoss-meat hisself, and of course he had a long
start of me. The day wore on, and still I hadn't come up with my man.
I'd covered a lot of distance and was getting into country I warn't
familiar with, but I didn't have no trouble follering his trail, and
finally, late in the evening, I come out on a narrer dusty path where
the calk-marks of his hoss's shoes was very plain.

The sun sunk lower and my hopes dwindled. Even if I got the thief
and got the gold, it'd be a awful push to get back to Bear Creek in
time to prevent mayhem. But I urged on Cap'n Kidd, and presently we
come out into a road, and the tracks I was follering merged with a lot
of others. I went on, expecting to come to some settlement, and
wondering jest where I was.

Jest at sundown I rounded a bend in the road and I seen something
hanging to a tree, and it was a man. They was another man in the act
of pinning something to the corpse's shirt, and when he heard me he
wheeled and jerked his gun--the man, I mean, not the corpse. He was a
mean looking cuss, but he warn't Black Whiskers. Seeing I made no
hostile motion, he put up his gun and grinned.

"That feller's still kickin'?" I said.

"We just strung him up," he said. "The other boys has rode back to
town, but I stayed to put this warnin' on his buzzum. Can you read?"

"No," I said.

"Well," says he, "this here paper says: 'Warnin' to all outlaws
and specially them on Grizzly Mountain--Keep away from Wampum.'"

"How far's Wampum from here?" I ast.

"Half a mile down the road," he said. "I'm Al Jackson, one of Bill
Ormond's deputies. We aim to clean up Wampum. This is one of them
outlaws which has denned up on Grizzly Mountain."

Before I could say anything more, I heard somebody breathing quick
and gaspy, and they was a patter of bare feet in the bresh, and a kid
gal about fourteen years old bust into the road.

"You've killed Uncle Joab!" she shrieked. "You murderers! A boy
told me they was fixin' to hang him! I run as fast as I could--"

"Git away from that corpse!" roared Jackson, hitting at her with
his quirt.

"You stop that!" I ordered. "Don't you hit that young 'un."

"Oh, please, Mister!" she wept, wringing her hands. "You ain't one
of Ormond's men. Please help me! He ain't dead--I seen him move!"

Waiting for no more I spurred alongside the body and drawed my
knife.

"Don't you cut that rope!" squawked the deputy, jerking his gun.
So I hit him under the jaw and knocked him out of his saddle and into
the bresh beside the road where he lay groaning. I then cut the rope
and eased the hanged man down onto my saddle and got the noose offa
his neck. He was purple in the face and his eyes was closed and his
tongue lolled out, but he still had some life in him. Evidently they
didn't drop him, but jest hauled him up to strangle to death.

I laid him on the ground and worked over him till some of his life
begun to come back to him, but I knowed he ought to have medical
attention, so I said: "Where's the nearest doctor?"

"Doc Richards in Wampum," whimpered the kid. "But if we take him
there Ormond'll git him again. Won't you please take him home?"

"Where you-all live?" I inquired.

"We been livin' in a cabin on Grizzly Mountain every since Ormond
run us out of Wampum," she whimpered.

"Well," I said, "I'm goin' to put yore uncle onto Cap'n Kidd and
you can set behind the saddle and help hold him on, and tell me which
way to go."

I done this and Cap'n Kidd didn't like it none, but after I busted
him between the ears with the butt of my six-shooter he subsided and
come along sulkily as I led him. As we went I seen that deputy Jackson
drag hisself out of the bresh and go limping down the road holding
onto his jaw.

I was losing a awful lot of time, but I couldn't leave this feller
to die, even if he was a outlaw, because probably the little gal
didn't have nobody else to take care of her but him.

It was well after dark when we come up a narrer trail that wound
up a thickly timbered mountain side, and purty soon somebody in a
thicket ahead of us hollered: "Halt whar you be or I'll shoot!"

"Don't shoot, Jim!" called the gal. "This is Betty, and we're
bringin' Uncle Joab home."

A tall hard-looking young feller stepped out into the open,
p'inting his Winchester at me. He cussed when he seen our load.

"He ain't dead," I said. "But we oughta git him to his cabin."

So Jim led the way through the thickets till we come into a
clearing where they was a cabin and a woman come running out and
screamed like a catamount when she seen Joab. Me and Jim lifted him
off and toted him in and laid him on a bunk, and the women begun to
work over him, and I went out to my hoss, because I was in a hurry to
get gone. Jim follered me.

"This is the kind of stuff we've been havin' ever since Ormond
come to Wampum," he says bitterly. "We been livin' up here like rats,
afeared to stir in the open. I warned Joab agen slippin' down into the
village to-day, but he was sot on it, and wouldn't let none of the
boys go with him. Said he'd sneak in and git what he wanted and sneak
out again."

"Well," I says, "what's yore business ain't none of mine. But this
here life is hard lines on the women and chillern."

"You must be a friend of Joab's," he said. "He sent a man east
some days ago, but we was afraid one of Ormond's men trailed him and
killed him. But maybe he got through. Air you the man Joab sent for?"

"Meanin' am I some gunman come in to clean up the town?" I
snorted. "Naw, I ain't. I never seen this feller Joab before."

"Well," says Jim, "cutting him down like you done has already got
you in bad with Ormond. Whyn't you help us run them fellers out of the
country? They's still a good many of us in these hills, even if we
have been run out of Wampum. This hangin' is the last straw. I'll
round up the boys tonight, and we'll have a show-down with Ormond's
men. We're outnumbered, and we been licked bad onst before, but we'll
try it again. Why don't you throw in with us?"

"Lissen," I says, climbing into the saddle, "jest because I cut
down a outlaw ain't no sign I'm ready to be one myself. I done it jest
because I couldn't stand to see the little gal take on so. Anyway, I'm
lookin' for a feller with black whiskers and one ear missin' which
rides a roan with a big Lazy-A brand."

Jim fell back from me and lifted his rifle. "You better ride on,
then," he said sombrely. "I'm obleeged to you for what you've did--but
a friend of Wolf Ashley cain't be no friend of our'n."

I give him a snort of defiance and rode off down the mountains and
headed for Wampum, because it was reasonable to suppose that maybe I'd
find Black Whiskers there.

Wampum warn't much of a town, but they was one big saloon and
gambling hall where sounds of hilarity was coming from, and not many
people on the streets and them which was mostly went in a hurry. I
stopped one of them and ast him where a doctor lived, and he p'inted
out a house where he said Doc Richards lived, so I rode up to the door
and hollered, and somebody inside said: "What do you want? I got you
covered."

"Air you Doc Richards?" I said, and he said: "Yes, keep your hands
away from your belt or I'll salivate you."

"This is a nice, friendly town!" I snorted. "I ain't figgerin' on
doin' you no harm. They's a man up in the hills which needs yore
attention."

At that the door opened and a man with red whiskers and a shotgun
stuck his head out and said: "Who do you mean?"

"They call him Joab," I said. "He's on Grizzly Mountain."

"Hmmmmm!" said Doc Richards, looking at me very sharp where I sot
Cap'n Kidd in the starlight. "I set a man's jaw tonight, and he had a
good deal to say about a certain party who cut down a man that was
hanged. If you happen to be that party, my advice to you is to hit the
trail before Ormond catches you."

"I'm hungry and thirsty and I'm lookin' for a man," I said. "I aim
to leave Wampum when I'm good and ready."

"I never argue with a man as big as you," said Doc Richards. "I'll
ride to Grizzly Mountain as quick as I can get my horse saddled. If I
never see you alive again, which is very probable, I'll always
remember you as the biggest man I ever saw, and the biggest fool. Good
night!"

I thought the folks in Wampum is the queerest acting I ever seen.
I taken Cap'n Kidd to the barn which served as a livery stable and
seen that he was properly fixed in a stall to hisself, as far away
from the other hosses as I could get him, because I knowed if he got
to 'em he'd chaw the ears off 'em. The barn didn't look strong enough
to hold him, but I told the livery stable man to keep him occupied
with fodder, and to run for me if he got rambunctious. Then I went
into the big saloon which was called the Golden Eagle. I was low in my
spirits because I seemed to have lost Black Whiskers' trail entirely,
and even if I found him in Wampum, which I hoped, I never could make
it back to Bear Creek by sunup. But I hoped to recover that derned
gold yet, and get back in time to save a few lives, anyway.

They was a lot of tough looking fellers in the Golden Eagle
drinking and gambling and talking loud and cussing, and they all
stopped their noise as I come in, and looked at me very fishy. But I
give 'em no heed and went up to the bar, and purty soon they kinda
forgot about me, and the racket started up again.

Whilst I was drinking me a few fingers of whisky, somebody
shouldered up to me and said: "Hey!" I turnt around and seen a big,
broad-built man with a black beard and blood-shot eyes and a pot-belly
and two guns on.

I says: "Well?"

"Who air you?" he demanded.

"Who air you?" I come back at him.

"I'm Bill Ormond, sheriff of Wampum," he says. "That's who!" And
he showed me a star onto his shirt.

"Oh," I says. "Well, I'm Breckinridge Elkins, from Bear Creek."

I noticed a kind of quiet come over the place, and fellers was
laying down their glasses and their billiard sticks, and hitching up
their belts and kinda gathering around me. Ormond scowled and combed
his beard with his fingers, and rocked on his heels and said: "I got
to 'rest you!"

I sot down my glass quick and he jumped back and hollered: "Don't
you dast pull no gun on the law!" And they was a kind of movement
amongst the men around me.

"What you arrestin' me for?" I demanded. "I ain't busted no law."

"You assaulted one of my deperties," he said, and then I seen that
feller Jackson standing behind the sheriff with his jaw all bandaged
up. He couldn't work his chin to talk. All he could do was p'int his
finger at me and shake his fists.

"You likewise cut down a outlaw we had just hunged," says Ormond.
"Yo're under arrest!"

"But I'm lookin' for a man!" I protested. "I ain't got time to be
arrested!"

"You should of thunk about that when you busted the law," opined
Ormond. "Gimme yore gun and come along peaceable."

A dozen men had their hands on their guns, but it warn't that
which made me give in. Pap had always told me not to resist no officer
of the law. It was kind of instinctive for me to hand over my gun to
this feller with the star on his shirt. Somehow it didn't seem right,
but I was kind of bewildered and my thoughts was addled. I ain't one
of these fast thinking sharps. So I jest done what pap always told me
to do.

Ormond taken me down the street a-ways, with a whole bunch of men
follering us, and stopped at a log building with barred winders which
was next to a board shack. A man come out of this shack with a big
bunch of keys, and Ormond said he was the jailer. So they put me in
the log jail and Ormond went off with everybody but the jailer, who
sot down on the step outside his shack and rolled hisself a cigaret.

They warn't no light in the jail, but I found the bunk and tried
to lay down on it, but it warn't built for a man six and a half foot
tall. I sot down on it and at last realized what a infernal mess I was
in. Here I ought to be hunting Black Whiskers and getting the gold to
take back to Bear Creek and save the lives of a swarm of my kin-folks,
but instead of that I was in jail, and no way of getting out without
killing a officer of the law. With daybreak Joel and Erath would be at
each others' throats, and Uncle Jeppard would be gunning for both of
'em. It was too much to hope that the other relatives would let them
three fight it out amongst theirselves. I never seen sech a clan for
buttin' into each others' business. The guns would be talking all up
and down Bear Creek, and the population would be decreasing with every
volley. I thunk about it till I got dizzy and then the jailer stuck
his head up to the winder and said if I'd give him five dollars he'd
go get me something to eat.

I had five dollars I won in a poker game a few days before and I
give it to him, and he went off and was gone quite a spell, and at
last he come back and give me a ham sandwich. I ast him was that all
he could get for five dollars, and he said grub was awful high in
Wampum. I et the sandwich with one bite, and he said if I'd give him
some more money he'd get me another sandwich. But I didn't have no
more and told him so.

"What!" he said, breathing licker fumes in my face through the
winder bars. "No money? And you expect us to feed you for nothin'?" So
he cussed me, and went off, and purty soon the sheriff come and looked
in at me, and said: "What's this I hear about you not havin' no
money?"

"I ain't got none left," I said, and he cussed something fierce.

"How you expeck to pay yore fine?" he demanded. "You think you can
lay up in our jail and eat us out of house and home? What kind of a
critter are you, anyway?"

Just then the jailer chipped in and said somebody told him I had a
hoss down at the livery stable.

"Good," said the sheriff. "We'll sell his hoss for his fine."

"You won't neither," I says, beginning to get mad. "You try to
sell Cap'n Kidd, and I'll forgit what pap told me about law-officers,
and take you plumb apart."

I riz up and glared at him through the winder, and he fell back
and put his hand on his gun. But jest about that time I seen a man
going into the Golden Eagle which was in easy sight of the jail, and
lit up so the light streamed out into the street. I give a yell that
made Ormond jump about a foot. It was Black Whiskers!

"Arrest that man, Sheriff!" I hollered. "He's a thief!"

Ormond whirled and looked, and then he said: "Air you plumb crazy?
That's Wolf Ashley, my deperty."

"I don't give a dern," I said. "He stole a poke of gold from my
Uncle Jeppard Grimes up in the Humbolts, and I've trailed him clean
from Bear Creek. Do yore duty and arrest him."

"You shet up!" roared Ormond. "You cain't tell me my business! I
ain't goin' to arrest my best gunman--my star deperty, I mean. What
you mean tryin' to start trouble this way? One more yap outa you and
I'll throwa chunk of lead through you."

And he turned around and stalked off muttering: "Poke of gold,
huh? Holdin' out on me, is he? I'll see about that!"

"I sot down and held my head in bewilderment. What kind of a
sheriff was this which wouldn't arrest a derned thief? My thoughts run
in circles till my wits was addled. The jailer had gone off and I
wondered if he had went to sell Cap'n Kidd. I wondered what was going
on back on Bear Creek, and I shivered to think what would bust loose
at daybreak. And here I was in jail, with them fellers fixing to sell
my hoss, whilst that dern thief swaggered around at large. I looked
helplessly out a the winder.

It was getting late, but the Golden Eagle was going full blast. I
could hear the music blaring away, and the fellers yipping and
shooting their pistols in the air, and their boot heels stomping on
the board walk. I felt like busting down and bawling, and then I begun
to get mad. I get mad slow, generally, and before I was plumb mad, I
heard a noise at the winder.

I seen a pale face staring in at me, and a couple of small white
hands on the bars.

"Mister!" a voice whispered. "Oh, Mister!"

I stepped over and looked out and it was the kid gal Betty.

"What you doin' here, gal?" I ast.

"Doc Richards said you was in Wampum," she whispered. "He said he
was afraid Ormond would do for you because you helped us, so I slipped
away on his hoss and rode here as hard as I could. Jim was out tryin'
to round up the boys for a last stand, and Aunt Rachel and the other
women was busy with Uncle Joab. They wasn't nobody but me to come, but
I had to! You saved Uncle Joab, and I don't care if Jim does say yo're
a outlaw because yo're a friend of Wolf Ashley. Oh, I wish't I wasn't
jest a gal! I wisht I could shoot a gun, so's I could kill Bill
Ormond!"

"That ain't no way for a gal to talk," I says. "Leave the killin'
to the men. But I appreciates you goin' to all this trouble. I got
some kid sisters myself--in fact I got seven or eight, as near as I
remember. Don't you worry none about me. Lots of men gits throwed in
jail."

"But that ain't it!" she wept, wringing her hands. "I listened
outside the winder of the back room in the Golden Eagle and heard
Ormond and Ashley talkin' about you. I dunno what you wanted with
Ashley when you ast Jim about him, but he ain't yo're friend. Ormond
accused him of stealin' a poke of gold and holdin' out on him, and
Ashley said it was a lie. Then Ormond said you told him about it, and
he said he'd give Ashley till midnight to perjuice that gold, and if
he didn't Wampum would be too small for both of 'em."

"Then he went out to the bar, and I heered Ashley talkin' to a pal
of his'n, and Ashley said he'd have to raise some gold somehow, or
Ormond would have him killed, but that he was goin' to fix _you,_
Mister, for lyin' about him. Mister, Ashley and his bunch air over in
the back of the Golden Eagle right now plottin' to bust into jail
before daylight and hang you!"

"Aw," I says, "the sheriff wouldn't let 'em do that."

"But Ormond ain't the sheriff!" she cried. "Him and his gunmen
come into Wampum and killed all the people that tried to oppose him,
or run 'em up into the hills. They got us penned up there like rats,
nigh starvin' and afeared to come to town. Uncle Joab come into Wampum
this mornin' to git some salt, and you seen what they done to him.
_He's_ the real sheriff. Ormond is jest a bloody outlaw. Him and his
gang is usin' Wampum for a hang-out whilst they rob and steal and kill
all over the country."

"Then that's what yore friend Jim meant," I said slowly. "And me,
like a dumb damn' fool, I thought him and Joab and the rest of you-all
was jest outlaws, like that fake deperty said."

"Ormond took Uncle Joab's badge and called hisself the sheriff to
fool strangers," she whimpered. "What honest people is left in Wampum
air afeared to say anything. Him and his gunmen air rulin' this whole
part of the country. Uncle Joab sent a man east to git us some help in
the settlements on Buffalo River, but none never come, and from what I
overheard tonight, I believe Wolf Ashley follered him and killed him
over east of the Humbolts somewheres. What air we goin' to do?" she
sobbed.

"Git on Doc Richards' hoss and ride for Grizzly Mountain," I said.
"When you git there, tell the Doc to light a shuck for Wampum, because
there's goin' to be plenty of work for him time he gits here."

"But what about you?" she cried. "I cain't go off and leave you to
git hanged!"

"Don't worry about me, gal," I said. "I'm Breckinridge Elkins of
the Humbolt Mountains, and I'm preparin' for to shake my mane!
Hustle!"

I reckon something about me convinced her, because she glided away
into the shadders, whimpering, and presently I heard the clack of
hoss' hoofs dwindling in the distance. I then riz and laid hold of the
winder bars and tore' em out by the roots. Then I sunk my fingers into
the sill log and tore it out, and three or four more along with it,
and the wall give way and the roof fell down on me, but I shaken aside
the rooins and heaved up out of the wreckage like a b'ar out of a
deadfall.

About this time the jailer come running up, and when he seen what
I had did he was so surprised he forgot to shoot with his pistol. So I
taken it away from him and knocked down the door of his shack with him
and left him laying in its rooins.

I then strode up the street towards the Golden Eagle and here come
a feller galloping down the street, and who should it be but that
derned fake deputy, Jackson. He couldn't holler with his bandaged jaw,
but when he seen me he jerked loose his lariat and piled it around my
neck, and sot spurs to his cayuse aiming for to drag me to death. But
I seen he had his rope tied fast to his horn, Texas style, so I laid
hold onto it with both hands and braced my laigs, and when the hoss
got to the end of the rope, the girths busted and the hoss went out
from under the saddle, and Jackson come down on his head in the street
and laid still.

I throwed the rope off my neck and went onto the Golden Eagle with
the jailer's .45 in my scabbard. I looked in and seen the same crowd
there, and Ormond r'ared back at the bar with his belly stuck out,
roaring and bragging.

I stepped in and hollered: "Look this way, Bill Ormond, and pull
iron, you dirty thief!"

He wheeled, paled, and went for his gun, and I slammed six bullets
into him before he could hit the floor. I then throwed the empty gun
at the dazed crowd and give one deafening roar and tore into 'em like
a mountain cyclone. They begun to holler and surge onto me and I
throwed 'em and knocked 'em right and left like ten pins. Some was
knocked over the bar and some under the tables and some I knocked down
stacks of beer kegs with. I ripped the roulette wheel loose and mowed
down a whole row of 'em with it, and I throwed a billiard table
through the mirror behind the bar jest for good measure. Three or four
fellers got pinned under it and yelled bloody murder.

Meanwhile they was hacking at me with bowies and hitting me with
chairs and brass knuckles and trying to shoot me, but all they done
with their guns was shoot each other because they was so many they got
in each other's way, and the other things just made me madder. I laid
hands on as many as I could hug at onst, and the thud of their heads
banging together was music to me. I also done good work heaving 'em
head-on agen the walls, and I further slammed several of 'em heartily
agen the floor and busted all the tables with their carcasses. In the
melee the whole bar collapsed, and the shelves behind the bar fell
down when I slang a feller into 'em, and bottles rained all over the
floor. One of the lamps also fell off the ceiling which was beginning
to crack and cave in, and everybody begun to yell: "Fire!" and run out
through the doors and jump out the winders.

In a second I was alone in the blazing building except for them
which was past running. I'd started for a door myself when I seen a
buckskin pouch on the floor along with a lot of other belongings which
had fell out of men's pockets as they will when the men gets swung by
the feet and smashed agen the wall.

I picked it up and jerked the tie-string, and a trickle of gold
dust spilt into my hand. I begun to look on the floor for Ashley, but
he warn't there. But he was watching me from outside, because I looked
and seen him jest as he let _bam_ at me with a .45 from the back room
which warn't on fire much yet. I plunged after him, ignoring his next
slug which took me in the shoulder, and then I grabbed him and taken
the gun away from him. He pulled a bowie and tried to stab me in the
groin, but only sliced my thigh, so I throwed him the full length of
the room and he hit the wall so hard his head went through the boards.

Meantime the main part of the saloon was burning so I couldn't go
out that way. I started to go out the back door of the room I was in,
but got a glimpse of some fellers which was crouching jest outside the
door waiting to shoot me as I come out. So I knocked out a section of
the wall on another side of the room, and about that time the roof
fell in so loud them fellers didn't hear me coming, so I fell on 'em
from the rear and beat their heads together till the blood ran out of
their ears, and stomped 'em and taken their shotguns away from 'em.

Then I was aware that people was shooting at me in the light of
the burning saloon, and I seen that a bunch was ganged up on the other
side of the street, so I begun to loose my shotguns into the thick of
them, and they broke and run yelling blue murder.

And as they went out one side of the town, another gang rushed in
from the other, yelling and shooting, and I snapped a empty shell at
'em before one yelled: "Don't shoot, Elkins! We're friends!" And I
seen it was Jim and Doc Richards, and a lot of other fellers I hadn't
never seen before then.

They went tearing after Ormond's gang, whooping and yelling, and
the way them outlaws took to the tall timber was a caution. They
warn't no fight left in 'em at all.

Jim pulled up, and looked at the wreckage of the jail, and the
remnants of the Golden Eagle, and he shook his head like he couldn't
believe it.

"We was on our way to make a last effort to take the town back
from that gang," says he. "Betty met us as we come down the trail and
told us you was a friend and a honest man. We hoped to git here in
time to save you from gittin' hanged." Again he shaken his head with a
kind of bewildered look. Then he says "Oh, say, I'd about forgot. On
our way here we run onto a man on the road who said he was lookin' for
you. Not knowin' who he was, we roped him and brung him along with us.
Bring the prisoner, boys!"

They brung him, tied to his saddle, and it was Jack Gordon, Joel's
youngest brother and the fastest gunslinger on Bear Creek.

"What you doin' houndin' me?" I demanded bitterly. "Has the feud
begun already and has Joel sot you on _my_ trail? Well, I got what I
come after, and I'm headin' back for Bear Creek. I cain't git there by
daylight, but maybe I'll git there in time to keep everybody from
gittin' kilt. Here's Uncle Jeppard's cussed gold!" And I waved the
poke in front of him.

"But that cain't be it!" says he. "I been trailin' you all the way
from Bear Creek, tryin' to catch you and tell you the gold had been
found! Uncle Jeppard and Joel and Erath got together and everything
was explained and is all right. Where'd you git that gold?"

"I dunno whether Ashley's pals got it together so he could give it
to Ormond and not git kilt for holdin' out on his boss, or what," I
says. "But I know the owner ain't got no more use for it now, and
probably stole it in the first place. I'm givin' this gold to Betty,"
I says. "She shore deserves a reward. And giving it to her makes me
feel like maybe _some_ good come outa this wild goose chase, after
all."

Jim looked around at the ruins of the outlaw hangout, and murmured
something I didn't catch. I says to Jack: "You said Uncle Jeppard's
gold was found. Where was it, anyway?"

"Well," said Jack, "little General William Harrison Grimes, Joash
Grimes's youngest boy, he seen his grand-pap put the gold under the
rock, and he got it out to play with it. He was usin' the nuggets for
slugs in his nigger-shooter," Jack said, "and it's plumb cute the way
he pops a rattlesnake with 'em. What did you say?"

"Nothin'," I said between my teeth. "Nothin' that'd be fit to
repeat, anyway."

"Well," he said, "if you've had yore fun, I reckon yo're ready to
start back to Bear Creek with me."

_"I_ reckon I ain't," I said. "I'm goin' to 'tend to my own
private affairs for a change. I told Glory McGraw early this mornin' I
was goin' to git me a town-gal, and by golly, I meant it. Gwan on back
to Bear Creek, and if you see Glory, tell her I'm headin' for Chawed
Ear where the purty gals is as thick as honey bees around a apple
tree."



Chapter VI THE FEUD BUSTER



I PULLED out of Wampum before sunup. The folks, wanted me to stay
and be a deputy sheriff, but I taken a good look at the female
population and seen that the only single woman in town was a Piute
squaw. So I headed acrost the mountains for Chawed Ear, swinging wide
to avoid coming anywheres nigh to the Humbolts. I didn't want to
chance running into Glory McGraw before I had me a town-gal.

But I didn't get to Chawed Ear nigh as soon as I'd figgered to. As
I passed through the hills along the head-waters of Mustang River, I
run into a camp of cowpunchers from the Triple L which was up there
rounding up strays. The foreman needed some hands, and I happened to
think maybe I'd cut a better figger before the Chawed Ear belles if'n
I had some money in my pocket, so I taken on with them. After he seen
me and Cap'n Kidd do one day's work the foreman 'lowed that they
warn't no use in hiring the six or seven other men he aimed; he said I
filled the bill perfect.

So I worked with 'em three weeks, and then collected my pay and
pulled for Chawed Ear.

I was all primed for the purty settlement-gals, little suspected
the jamboree I was riding into blind, the echoes of which ain't yet
quit circulating through the mountain country. And that reminds me to
remark that I'm sick and tired of the slanders which has been noised
abroad about that there affair, and if they don't stop, I'll liable to
lose my temper, and anybody in the Humbolts can tell you when I loses
my temper the effect on the population is wuss'n fire, earthquake and
cyclone.

First-off, it's a lie that I rode a hundred miles to mix into a
feud which wasn't none of my business. I never heard of the Warren-
Barlow war before I come into the Mezquital country. I hear tell the
Barlows is talking about suing me for destroying their property. Well,
they ought to build their cabins solider if they don't want 'em tore
down. And they're all liars when they says the Warrens hired me to
exterminate 'em at five dollars a sculp. I don't believe even a Warren
would pay five dollars for one of their mangy sculps. Anyway, I don't
fight for hire for nobody, And the Warrens needn't belly-ache about me
turnin' on 'em and trying to massacre the entire clan. All I wanted to
do was kind of disable 'em so they couldn't interfere with my
business. And my business, from first to last, was defending the
family honor. If I had to wipe up the earth with a couple of feuding
clans whilst so doing, I cain't help it. Folks which is particular of
their hides ought to stay out of the way of tornadoes, wild bulls,
devastating torrents and a insulted Elkins.

This is the way it was: I was dry and hot and thirsty when I hit
Chawed Ear, so I went into a saloon and had me a few drinks. Then I
was going out and start looking for a gal, when I spied a friendly
game of kyards going on between a hoss-thief and three train-robbers,
and I decided I'd set in for a hand or so. And whilst we was playing,
who should come in but Uncle Jeppard Grimes. I should of knew my day
was spoilt the minute he hove in sight. Dern near all the calamities
which takes place in southern Nevada can be traced back to that old
lobo. He's got a ingrown disposition and a natural talent for
pestering his feller man. Specially his relatives.

He didn't say a word about that wild goose chase I went on to get
back the gold I thought Wolf Ashley had stole from him. He come over
and scowled down on me like I was the missing lynx or something, and
purty soon, jest as I was all sot to make a killing, he says: "How can
you set there so free and keerless, with four aces into yore hand,
when yore family name is bein' besmirched?"

I flang down my hand in annoyance, and said: "Now look what you
done! What you mean blattin' out information of sech a private nature?
What you talkin' about, anyhow?"

"Well," he says, "durin' the time you been away from home
roisterin' and wastin' yore substance in riotous livin'--"

"I been punchin' cows!" I said fiercely. "And before that I was
chasin' a man to git back the gold I thought he'd stole from you. I
ain't squandered nothin' nowheres. Shet up and tell me whatever yo're
a-talkin' about."

"Well," says he, "whilst you been gone young Dick Blanton of
Grizzly Run has been courtin' yore sister Elinor, and the family's
been expectin' 'em to set the day, any time now. But now I hear he's
been braggin' all over Grizzly Run about how he done jilted her. Air
you goin' to set there and let yore sister become the laughin' stock
of the country? When I was a young man--"

"When you was a young man Dan'l Boone warn't whelped yet!" I
bellered, so mad I included him and everybody else in my irritation.
They ain't nothing upsets me like injustice done to some of my close
kin. "Git out of my way! I'm headin' for Grizzly Run--what _you_
grinnin' at, you spotted hyener?" This last was addressed to the hoss-
thief in which I seemed to detect signs of amusement.

"I warn't grinnin'," he said.

"So I'm a liar, I reckon!" I said, impulsively shattering a demi-
john over his head, and he fell under the table hollering bloody
murder, and all the fellers drinking at the bar abandoned their licker
and stampeded for the street hollering: "Take cover, boys!
Breckinridge Elkins is on the rampage!"

So I kicked all the slats out of the bar to relieve my feelings,
and stormed out of the saloon and forked Cap'n Kidd. Even he seen it
was no time to take liberties with me; he didn't pitch but seven
jumps, and then he settled down to a dead run, and we headed for
Grizzly Run.

Everything kind of floated in a red haze all the way, but them
folks which claims I tried to murder' em in cold blood on the road
between Chawed Ear and Grizzly Run is jest narrer-minded and super-
sensitive. The reason I shot off everybody's hats that I met was jest
to kind of ca'm my nerves, because I was afeared if I didn't cool off
some by the time I hit Grizzly Run I might hurt somebody. I'm that
mild-mannered and retiring by nature that I wouldn't willing hurt man,
beast, nor Injun unless maddened beyond all endurance.

That's why I acted with so much self-possession and dignity when I
got to Grizzly Run and entered the saloon where Dick Blanton generally
hung out.

"Where's Dick Blanton?" I demanded, and everybody must of been
nervous, because when I boomed out they all jumped and looked around,
and the bartender dropped a glass and turned pale.

"Well," I hollered, beginning to lose patience. "Where is the
coyote?"

"G-gimme time, will ya?" stuttered the bar-keep. "I--uh--he--uh--"

"Evadin' the question, hey?" I said, kicking the foot-rail loose.
"Friend of his'n, hey? Tryin' to pertect him, hey?" I was so overcome
by this perfidy that I lunged for him and he ducked down behind the
bar and I crashed into it bodily with all my lunge and weight, and it
collapsed on top of him, and all the customers run out of the saloon
hollering: "Help, murder, Elkins is killin' the bartender!"

That individual stuck his head up from amongst the rooins of the
bar and begged: "For God's sake, lemme alone! Blanton headed south for
the Mezquital Mountains yesterday."

I throwed down the chair I was fixing to bust all the ceiling
lamps with, and run out and jumped on Cap'n Kidd and headed south,
whilst behind me folks emerged from their cyclone cellars and sent a
rider up in the hills to tell the sheriff and his deputies they could
come on back now.

I knowed where the Mezquitals was, though I hadn't never been
there. I crossed the Californy line about sundown, and shortly after
dark I seen Mezquital Peak looming ahead of me. Having ca'med down
somewhat, I decided to stop and rest Cap'n Kidd. He warn't tired,
because that hoss has got alligator blood in his veins, but I knowed I
might have to trail Blanton clean to The Angels, and they warn't no
use in running Cap'n Kidd's laigs off on the first lap of the chase.

It warn't a very thick settled country I'd come into, very
mountainous and thick timbered, but purty soon I come to a cabin
beside the trail and I pulled up and hollered: "Hello!"

The candle inside was instantly blowed out, and somebody pushed a
rifle barrel through the winder and bawled: "Who be you?"

"I'm Breckinridge Elkins from Bear Creek, Nevada," I said. "I'd
like to stay all night, and git some feed for my hoss."

"Stand still," warned the voice. "We can see you agen the stars,
and they's four rifle-guns a-kiverin' you."

"Well, make up yore minds," I said, because I could could hear 'em
discussin' me. I reckon they thought they was whispering. One of 'em
said: "Aw, he cain't be a Barlow. Ain't none of 'em that big."
T'other'n said: "Well, maybe he's a derned gunfighter they've sent for
to help 'em. Old jake's nephew's been up in Nevady."

"Le's let him in," says a third. "We can mighty quick tell what he
is."

So one of 'em come out and 'lowed it would be all right for me to
stay the night, and he showed me a corral to put Cap'n Kidd in, and
hauled out some hay for him.

"We got to be keerful," he said. "We got lots of enemies in these
hills."

We went into the cabin, and they lit the candle again, and sot
some corn pone and sow-belly and beans on the table and a jug of corn
licker. They was four men, and they said their names was Warren--
George, Ezra, Elisha, and Joshua, and they was brothers. I'd always
heard tell the Mezquital country was famed for big men, but these
fellers warn't so big--not much over six foot high apiece. On Bear
Creek they'd been considered kind of puny and undersized, so to speak.

They warn't very talkative. Mostly they sot with their rifles
acrost their knees and looked at me without no expression onto their
faces, but that didn't stop me from eating a hearty supper, and would
of et a lot more only the grub give out; and I hoped they had more
licker somewheres else because I was purty dry. When I turned up the
jug to take a snort it was brim-full, but before I'd more'n dampened
my gullet the dern thing was plumb empty.

When I got through I went over and sot down on a raw-hide bottomed
chair in front of the fire-place where they warn't no fire because it
was summer time, and they said: "What's yore business, stranger?"

"Well," I said, not knowing I was going to get the surprise of my
life, "I'm lookin' for a feller named Dick Blanton--"

By golly, the words warn't clean out of my mouth when they was
four men onto my neck like catamounts!

"He's a spy!" they hollered. "He's a cussed Barlow! Shoot him!
Stab him! Hit him on the head!"

All of which they was endeavoring to do with such passion they was
getting in each other's way, and it was only his over-eagerness which
caused George to miss me with his bowie and sink it into the table
instead, but Joshua busted a chair over my head and Elisha would of
shot me if I hadn't jerked back my head so he jest singed my eyebrows.
This lack of hospitality so irritated me that I riz up amongst 'em
like a b'ar with a pack of wolves hanging onto him, and commenced
committing mayhem on my hosts, because I seen right off they was
critters which couldn't be persuaded to respect a guest no other way.

Well, the dust of battle hadn't settled, the casualities was
groaning all over the place, and I was jest relighting the candle when
I heard a hoss galloping up the trail from the south. I wheeled and
drawed my guns as it stopped before the cabin. But I didn't shoot,
because the next instant they was a bare-footed gal standing in the
door. When she seen the rooins she let out a screech like a catamount.

"You've kilt 'em!" she screamed. "You murderer!"

"Aw, I ain't, neither," I said. "They ain't hurt much--jest a few
cracked ribs and dislocated shoulders and busted laigs and sech-like
trifles. Joshua's ear'll grow back on all right, if you take a few
stitches into it."

"You cussed Barlow!" she squalled, jumping up and down with the
hystericals. "I'll kill you! You damned Barlow!"

"I ain't no Barlow, dern it," I said. "I'm Breckinridge Elkins, of
Bear Creek. I ain't never even heard of no Barlows."

At that George stopped his groaning long enough to snarl: "If you
ain't a friend of the Barlows, how come you askin' for Dick Blanton?
He's one of 'em."

"He jilted my sister!" I roared. "I aim to drag him back and make
him marry her."

"Well, it was all a mistake," groaned George. "But the damage is
done now."

"It's wuss'n you think," said the gal fiercely. "The Warrens has
all forted theirselves over at pap's cabin, and they sent me to git
you boys. We got to make a stand. The Barlows is gatherin' over to
Jake Barlow's cabin, and they aims to make a foray onto us tonight. We
was outnumbered to begin with, and now here's our best fightin' men
laid out! Our goose is cooked plumb to hell!"

"Lift me onto my hoss," moaned George. "I cain't walk, but I can
still shoot." He tried to rise up, and fell back cussing and groaning.

"You got to help us!" said the gal desperately, turning to me.
"You done laid out our four best fightin' men, and you owes it to us.
It's yore duty! Anyway, you says Dick Blanton's yore enemy--well, he's
Jake Barlow's nephew, and he come back here to help 'em clean out us
Warrens. He's over to Jake's cabin right now. My brother Bill snuck
over and spied on 'em, and he says every fightin' man of the clan is
gatherin' there. All we can do is hold the fort, and you got to come
help us hold it! Yo're nigh as big as all four of these boys put
together."

Well, I figgered I owed the Warrens something, so, after setting
some bones and bandaging some wounds and abrasions of which they was a
goodly lot, I saddled Cap'n Kidd and we sot out.

As we rode along she said: "That there is the biggest, wildest,
meanest-lookin' critter I ever seen. Is he actually a hoss, or some
kind of a varmint?"

"He's a hoss," I said. "But he's got painter's blood and a shark's
disposition. What's this here feud about?"

"I dunno," she said. "It's been goin' on so long everybody's done
forgot what started it. Somebody accused somebody else of stealin' a
cow, I think. What's the difference?"

"They ain't none," I assured her. "If folks wants to have feuds
it's their own business."

We was follering a winding path, and purty soon we heard dogs
barking and about that time the gal turned aside and got off her hoss,
and showed me a pen hid in the bresh. It was full of hosses.

"We keep our mounts here so's the Barlows ain't so likely to find
'em and run 'em off," she said, and she turnt her hoss into the pen,
and I put Cap'n Kidd in, but I tied him over in one corner by
hisself--otherwise he would of started fighting all the other hosses
and kicked the fence down.

Then we went on along the path and the dogs barked louder and
purty soon we come to a big two-story cabin which had heavy board-
shutters over the winders. They was jest a dim streak of candle light
come through the cracks. It was dark, because the moon hadn't come up.
We stopped in the shadders of the trees, and the gal whistled like a
whippoorwill three times, and somebody answered from up on the roof. A
door opened a crack in a room which didn't have no light at all, and
somebody said: "That you, Elizerbeth? Air the boys with you?"

"It's me," says she, starting towards the door. "But the boys
ain't with me."

Then all to onst he throwed open the door and hollered: "Run, gal!
They's a grizzly b'ar standin' up on his hind laigs right behind you!"

"Aw, that ain't no b'ar," says she. "That there's Breckinridge
Elkins, from up in Nevady. He's goin' to help us fight the Barlows."

We went on into a room where they was a candle on the table, and
they was nine or ten men there and thirty-odd women and chillern. They
all looked kinda pale and scairt, and the men was loaded down with
pistols and Winchesters.

They all looked at me kind of dumb-like, and the old man kept
staring at me like he warn't any too sure he hadn't let a grizzly in
the house, after all. He mumbled something about making a natural
mistake, in the dark, and turnt to the gal, and demanded: "Whar's the
boys I sent you after?"

And she says: "This gent mussed 'em up so's they ain't fitten for
to fight. Now, don't git rambunctious, Pap. It war jest a honest
mistake all around. He's our friend, and he's gunnin' for Dick
Blanton."

"Ha! Dick Blanton!" snarled one of the men, lifting his
Winchester. "Jest lemme line my sights on him! I'll cook his goose!"

"You won't, neither," I said. "He's got to go back to Bear Creek
and marry my sister Elinor. Well," I says, "what's the campaign?"

"I don't figger they'll git here till well after midnight," said
Old Man Warren. "All we can do is wait for 'em."

"You means you all sets here and waits till they comes and lays
siege?" I says.

"What else?" says he. "Lissen here, young man, don't start tellin'
me how to conduck a feud. I growed up in this here'n. It war in full
swing when I was born, and I done spent my whole life carryin' it on."

"That's jest it," I snorted. "You lets these dern wars drag on for
generations. Up in the Humbolts we bring sech things to a quick
conclusion. Mighty nigh everybody up there come from Texas, original,
and we fights our feuds Texas style, which is short and sweet--a feud
which lasts ten years in Texas is a humdinger. We winds 'em up quick
and in style. Where-at is this here cabin where the Barlows is
gatherin'?"

"'Bout three mile over the ridge," says a young feller they called
Bill.

"How many is they?" I ast.

"I counted seventeen," says he.

"Jest a fair-sized mouthful for a Elkins," I said. "Bill, you
guide me to that there cabin. The rest of you can come or stay, it
don't make no difference to me."

Well, they started jawing with each other then. Some was for going
and some for staying. Some wanted to go with me, and try to take the
Barlows by surprise, but the others said it couldn't be done--they'd
git ambushed theirselves, and the only sensible thing to be did was to
stay forted and wait for the Barlows to come. They given me no more
heed--jest sot there and augered.

But that was all right with me. Right in the middle of the
dispute, when it looked like maybe the Warrens would get to fighting
among theirselves and finish each other before the Barlows could get
there, I lit out with the boy Bill, which seemed to have considerable
sense for a Warren.

He got him a hoss out of the hidden corral, and I got Cap'n Kidd,
which was a good thing. He'd somehow got a mule by the neck, and the
critter was almost at its last gasp when I rescued it. Then me and
Bill lit out.

We follered winding paths over thick-timbered mountainsides till
at last we come to a clearing and they was a cabin there, with light
and profanity pouring out of the winders. We'd been hearing the last
mentioned for half a mile before we sighted the cabin.

We left our hosses back in the woods a ways, and snuck up on foot
and stopped amongst the trees back of the cabin.

"They're in there tankin' up on corn licker to whet their
appertites for Warren blood!" whispered Bill, all in a shiver. "Lissen
to 'em! Them fellers ain't hardly human! What you goin' to do? They
got a man standin' guard out in front of the door at the other end of
the cabin. You see they ain't no doors nor winders at the back. They's
winders on each side, but if we try to rush it from the front or
either side, they'll see us and fill us full of lead before we could
git in a shot. Look! The moon's comin' up. They'll be startin' on
their raid before long."

I'll admit that cabin looked like it was going to be harder to
storm than I'd figgered. I hadn't had no idee in mind when I sot out
for the place. All I wanted was to get in amongst them Barlows--I does
my best fighting at close quarters. But at the moment I couldn't think
of no way that wouldn't get me shot up. Of course I could jest rush
the cabin, but the thought of seventeen Winchesters blazing away at me
from close range was a little stiff even for me, though I was game to
try it, if they warn't no other way.

Whilst I was studying over the matter, all to onst the hosses tied
out in front of the cabin snorted, and back up in the hills something
went _Oooaaaw-w-w!_ And a idee hit me.

"Git back in the woods and wait for me," I told Bill, as I headed
for the thicket where we'd left the hosses.

I rode up in the hills towards where the howl had come from, and
purty soon I lit and throwed Cap'n Kidd's reins over his head, and
walked on into the deep bresh, from time to time giving a long squall
like a cougar. They ain't a catamount in the world can tell the
difference when a Bear Creek man imitates one. After awhile one
answered, from a ledge jest a few hundred feet away.

I went to the ledge and clumb up on it, and there was a small cave
behind it, and a big mountain lion in there. He give a grunt of
surprise when he seen I was a human, and made a swipe at me, but I
give him a bat on the head with my fist, and whilst he was still dizzy
I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him out of the cave
and lugged him down to where I left my hoss.

Cap'n Kidd snorted when he seen the cougar and wanted to kick his
brains out, but I give him a good kick in the stummick hisself, which
is the only kind of reasoning Cap'n Kidd understands, and got on him
and headed for the Barlow hangout.

I can think of a lot more pleasant jobs than totin' a full-growed
mountain lion down a thick-timbered mountainside on the back of a
iron-jawed outlaw at midnight. I had the cat by the back of the neck
with one hand, so hard he couldn't squall, and I held him out at arm's
length as far from me and the hoss as I could, but every now and then
he'd twist around so he could claw Cap'n Kidd with his hind laigs, and
when this would happen Cap'n Kidd would squall with rage and start
bucking all over the place. Sometimes he would buck the derned cougar
onto me, and pulling him loose from my hide was wuss'll pulling
cockle-burrs out of a cow's tail.

But presently I arriv close behind the cabin. I whistled like a
whippoorwill for Bill, but he didn't answer and warn't nowheres to be
seen, so I decided he'd got scairt and pulled out for home. But that
was all right with me. I'd come to fight the Barlows, and I aimed to
fight 'em, with or without assistance. Bill would jest of been in the
way.

I got off in the trees back of the cabin and throwed the reins
over Cap'n Kidd's head, and went up to the back of the cabin on foot,
walking soft and easy. The moon was well up, by now, and what wind
they was, was blowing towards me, which pleased me, because I didn't
want the hosses tied out in front to scent the cat and start cutting
up before I was ready.

The fellers inside was still cussing and talking loud as I
approached one of the winders on the side, and one hollered out: "Come
on! Le's git started! I craves Warren gore!" And about that time I
give the cougar a heave and throwed him through the winder.

He let out a awful squall as he hit, and the fellers in the cabin
hollered louder'n he did. Instantly a most awful bustle broke loose in
there and of all the whooping and bellering and shooting I ever heard,
and the lion squalling amongst it all, and clothes and hides tearing
so you could hear it all over the clearing, and the hosses busting
loose and tearing out through the bresh.

As soon as I hove the cat I run around to the door and a man was
standing there with his mouth open, too surprised at the racket to do
anything. So I taken his rifle away from him and broke the stock off
on his head, and stood there at the door with the barrel intending to
brain them Barlows as they run out. I was plumb certain they _would_
run out, because I have noticed that the average man is funny that
way, and hates to be shet up in a cabin with a mad cougar as bad as
the cougar would hate to be shet up in a cabin with a infuriated
settler of Bear Creek.

But them scoundrels fooled me. 'Pears like they had a secret door
in the back wall, and whilst I was waiting for them to storm out
through the front door and get their skulls cracked, they knocked the
secret door open and went piling out that way.

By the time I realized what was happening and run around to the
other end of the cabin, they was all out and streaking for the trees,
yelling blue murder, with their clothes all tore to shreds and them
bleeding like stuck hawgs.

That there catamount sure improved the shining hours whilst he was
corralled with them Barlows. He come out after 'em with his mouth full
of the seats of their britches, and when he seen me he give a kind of
despairing yelp and taken out up the mountain with his tail betwixt
his laigs like the devil was after him with a red-hot branding iron.

I taken after the Barlows, sot on scuttling at least a few of 'em,
and I was on the p'int of letting _bam_ at 'em with my six-shooters as
they run, when, jest as they reched the trees, all the Warren men riz
out of the bresh and fell on 'em with piercing howls.

That fray was kind of pecooliar. I don't remember a single shot
being fired. The Barlows had all dropped their guns in their flight,
and the Warrens seemed bent on wiping out their wrongs with their bare
fists and gun butts. For a few seconds they was a hell of a scramble--
men cussing and howling and bellering, and rifle-stocks cracking over
heads, and the bresh crashing underfoot, and then before I could get
into it, the Barlows broke every which-way and took out through the
woods like jack-rabbits squalling Jedgment Day.

Old Man Warren come prancing out of the bresh waving his
Winchester and his beard flying in the moonlight and he hollered: "The
sins of the wicked shall return onto 'em! Elkins, we have hit a
powerful lick for righteousness this here night!"

"Where'd you all come from?" I ast. "I thought you was still back
in yore cabin chawin' the rag."

"Well," he says, "after you pulled out we decided to trail along
and see how you come out with whatever you planned. As we come through
the woods expectin' to git ambushed every second, we met Bill here who
told us he believed you had a idee of circumventin' them devils,
though he didn't know what it war. So we come on and hid ourselves at
the aidge of the trees to see what'd happen. I see we been too timid
in our dealin's with these heathens. We been lettin' 'em force the
fightin' too long. You was right. A good offence is the best defence."

"We didn't kill any of the varmints, wuss luck, but we give 'em a
prime lickin'. Hey, look there!" he hollered. "The boys has caught one
of the critters! Lug him into the cabin, boys!"

They done so, and by the time me and the old man got there, they
had the candles lit, and a rope around the Barlow's neck and one end
throwed on a rafter.

That cabin was a sight, all littered with broke guns and
splintered chairs and tables, and pieces of clothes and strips of
hide. It looked jest about like a cabin ought to look where they has
jest been a fight between seventeen polecats and a mountain lion. It
was a dirt floor, and some of the poles which helped hold up the roof
was splintered, so most of the weight was resting on a big post in the
centre of the hut.

All the Warrens was crowding around their prisoner, and when I
looked over their heads and seen the feller's pale face in the light
of the candle I give a yell: "Dick Blanton!"

"So it is!" said Old Man Warren, rubbing his hands with glee. "So
it is! Well, young feller, you got any last words to orate?"

"Naw," said Blanton sullenly. "But if it hadn't been for that
derned lion spilin' our plans we'd of had you derned Warrens like so
much pork. I never heard of a cougar jumpin' through a winder before."

"That there cougar didn't jump," I said, shouldering through the
mob. "He was hev. I done the heavin'."

His mouth fell open and he looked at me like he'd saw the ghost of
Sitting Bull. "Breckinridge Elkins!" says he. "I'm cooked now, for
sure!"

"I'll say you air!" gritted the feller who'd yearned to shoot
Blanton earlier in the night. "What we waitin' for? Le's string him
up."

"Hold on," I said. "You all cain't hang him. I'm goin' to take him
back to Bear Creek."

"You ain't neither," says Old Man Warren. "We're much obleeged to
you for the help you've give us tonight, but this here is the first
chance we've had to hang a Barlow in fifteen year, and we aims to make
the most of it. String him, boys!"

"Stop!" I roared, stepping for'ard.

In a second I was covered by seven rifles, whilst three men laid
hold of the rope and started to heave Blanton's feet off the floor.
Them seven Winchesters didn't stop me. I'd of taken them guns away and
wiped up the floor with them ongrateful mavericks, but I was afeared
Blanton might get hit in the wild shooting that was certain to
accompany it.

What I wanted to do was something which would put 'em all horse-
de-combat, as the French say, without getting Blanton killed. So I
laid hold on the center post and before they knowed what I was doing,
I tore it loose and broke it off, and the roof caved in and the walls
fell inwards on the roof.

In a second they warn't no cabin at all--jest a pile of timber
with the Warrens all underneath and screaming blue murder. Of course I
jest braced my laigs and when the roof fell my head busted a hole
through it, and the logs of the falling walls hit my shoulders and
glanced off, so when the dust settled I was standing waist-deep
amongst the rooins and nothing but a few scratches to show for it.

The howls that riz from beneath the rooins was blood-curdling, but
I knowed nobody was hurt permanent because if they was they wouldn't
be able to howl like that. But I expect some of 'em would of been hurt
if my head and shoulders hadn't kind of broke the fall of the roof and
wall-logs.

I located Blanton by his voice, and pulled pieces of roof board
and logs off him until I came onto his laig, and I pulled him out by
it and laid him on the ground to get his wind back, because a beam had
fell acrost his stummick and when he tried to holler he made the
funniest noise I ever heard.

I then kind of rooted around amongst the debris and hauled Old Man
Warren out, and he seemed kind of dazed and kept talking about
earthquakes.

"You better git to work extricatin' yore misguided kin from under
them logs," I told him sternly. "After that there display of
ingratitude I got no sympathy for you. In fact, if I was a short-
tempered man I'd feel inclined to vi'lence. But bein' the soul of
kindness and generosity, I controls my emotions and merely remarks
that if I _wasn't_ mild-mannered as a lamb, I'd hand you a boot in the
pants--like this!"

I showed him how I meant.

_"Owww!"_ wails he, sailing through the air and sticking his nose
to the hilt in the dirt.

"I'll have the law on you, you derned murderer!" he wept, shaking
his fists at me, and as I departed with my captive I could hear him
chanting a hymn of hate as he pulled logs off of his bellering
relatives.

Blanton was trying to say something, but I told him I warn't in no
mood for perlite conversation and the less he said the less likely I
was to lose my temper and tie his neck into a knot around a blackjack.
I was thinking how the last time I seen Glory McGraw I told her I was
faring forth to find me a town-gal, and now instead of bringing a wife
back to Bear Creek, I was bringing back a brother-in-law. My
relatives, I reflected bitterly, was sure playing hell with my
matrimonial plans. Looked like I warn't never going to get started on
my own affairs.

Cap'n Kidd made the hundred miles from the Mezquital Mountains to
Bear Creek by noon the next day, carrying double, and never stopping
to eat, sleep, nor drink. Them that don't believe that kindly keep
their mouths shet. I have already licked nineteen men for acting like
they didn't believe it.

I stalked into the cabin and throwed Dick Blanton down onto the
floor before Elinor which looked at him and me like she thought I was
crazy.

"What you finds attractive about this coyote," I said bitterly,
"is beyond the grasp of my dust-coated brain. But here he is, and you
can marry him right away."

She said: "Air you drunk or sunstruck? Marry that good-for-
nothin', whisky-swiggin', kyard-shootin' loafer? Why, it ain't been a
week since I run him out of the house with a broom-handle."

"Then he didn't jilt you?" I gasped.

"Him jilt me?" she said. "I jilted him!"

I turned to Dick Blanton more in sorrer than in anger.

"Why," said I, "did you boast all over Grizzly Run about jiltin'
Elinor Elkins?"

"I didn't want folks to know she turned me down," he said
sullenly. "Us Blantons is proud. The only reason I ever thought about
marryin' her was I was ready to settle down on the farm pap gave me,
and I wanted to marry me a Elkins gal, so I wouldn't have to go to the
expense of hirin' a couple of hands and buyin' a span of mules, and--"

They ain't no use in Dick Blanton threatening to have the law onto
me. He got off light to what he'd have got if pap and my brothers
hadn't all been off hunting. They've got terrible tempers. But I was
always too soft-hearted for my own good. In spite of Dick Blanton's
insults I held my temper. I didn't do nothing to him at all, except
escort him with dignity for five or six miles down the Chawed Ear
trail, kicking him in the seat of his britches.



Chapter VII THE ROAD TO BEAR CREEK



AS I come back up the trail after escorting Dick Blanton down it,
I got nervous as I approached the p'int where the path that run from
the McGraw cabin came out into it. If they was anybody I in the world
right then I didn't want to meet, it was Glory McGraw. I got past and
hove a sigh of relief, and jest as I done so, I heard a hoss, and
looked back and she was riding out of the path.

I taken to the bresh and to my rage she spurred her hoss and come
after me. She was on a fast cayuse, but I thought if I keep my lead
I'd be all right, because soon I'd be in the dense thickets where she
couldn't come a-hossback. I speeded up, because I'd had about all of
her rawhiding I could endure. And then, as I was looking back over my
shoulder, I run right smack into a low-hanging oak limb and nearly
knocked my brains out. When things stopped spinning around me, I was
setting on the ground, and Glory McGraw was setting on her hoss
looking down at me.

"Why, Breckinridge," she says mockingly. "Air in you scairt of me?
What you want to run from me for?"

"I warn't runnin' from you," I growled, glaring up at her. "I
didn't even know you was anywheres around. I seen one of pap's steers
sneakin' off in the bresh, and I was tryin' to head him. Now you done
scairt him I away!"

I riz and breshed the dust offa my clothes with my I hat, and she
says: "I been hearin' a lot about you, Breckinridge. Seems like yo're
gittin' to be quite a famous man."

"Hmmmm!" I says, suspicious.

"But where, Breckinridge," she cooed, leaning over the saddle horn
towards me, "where is that there purty town-gal you was goin' to bring
back to Bear Creek as yore blushin' bride?"

"We ain't sot the day yet," I muttered, looking off.

"Is she purty, Breckinridge?" she pursued.

"Purty as a pitcher," I says. "They ain't a gal on Bear Creek can
hold a candle to her."

"Where's she live?" ast Glory.

"War Paint," I said, that being the first town that come into my
mind.

"What's her name, Breckinridge?" ast Glory, and I couldn't think
of a gal's name if I'd knowed I was going to be shot.

I stammered and floundered, and whilst I was trying my damndest to
think of _some_ name to give her, she bust into laughter.

"What a lover _you_ be!" says she. "Cain't even remember the name
of the gal yo're goin' to marry--you _air_ goin' to marry her, ain't
you, Breckinridge?"

"Yes, I am!" I roared. "I _have_ got a gal in War Paint! I'm goin'
to see her right now, soon as I can git back to my corral and saddle
my hoss! What d'you think of _that_, Miss Smarty?"

"I think yo're the biggest liar on Bear Creek!" says she, with a
mocking laugh, and reined around and rode off whilst I stood in
helpless rage. "Give my regards to yore War Paint sweetheart,
Breckinridge!" she called back over her shoulder. "Soon as you
remember what her name is!"

I didn't say nothing. I was past talking. I was too full of
wishing that Glory McGraw was a man for jest about five minutes. She
was clean out of sight before I could even see straight, much less
talk or think reasonable. I give a maddened roar and ripped a limb off
a tree as big as a man's laig and started thrashing down the bresh all
around, whilst chawing the bark offa all the trees I could rech, and
by the time I had cooled off a little that thicket looked like a
cyclone had hit it. But I felt a little better and I headed for home
on the run, cussing a blue streak and the bobcats and painters taken
to the high ridges as I come.

I made for the corral, and as I come out into the clearing I heard
a beller like a mad bull up at the cabin, and seen my brothers Buckner
and Garfield and John and Bill run out of the cabin and take to the
woods, so I figgered pap must be having a touch of the rheumatiz. It
makes him remarkable peevish. But I went on and saddled Cap'n Kidd. I
was determined to make good on what I told Glory. I didn't have no gal
in War Paint, but by golly, I aimed to, and this time I warn't to be
turnt aside. I was heading for War Paint, and I was going to get me a
gal if I had to lick the entire town.

Well, jest as I was leading Cap'n Kidd outa the corral, my sister
Brazoria come to the door of the cabin and hollered: "Oh,
Breckinridge! Come up to the shack! Pap wants you!"

"--!" says. "What the hell now?"

I went up to the cabin and tied Cap'n Kidd and went in. At first
glance I seen pap had past the peevish stage and was having a
remorseful spell. Rheumatism effects him that way. But the remorse is
always for something that happened a long time ago. He didn't seem a
bit regretful for having busted a ox-yoke over brother Garfield's head
that morning.

He was laying on his b'ar-skin with a jug of corn licker at his
elbow, and he says: "Breckinridge, the sins of my youth is ridin' my
conscience heavy. When I was a young man I was free and keerless in my
habits, as numerous tombstones on the boundless prairies testifies. I
sometimes wonders if I warn't a trifle hasty in shootin' some of the
gents which disagreed with my principles. Maybe I should of controlled
my passion and jest chawed their ears off.

"Take Uncle Esau Grimes, for instance." And then pap hove a sigh
like a bull, and said: "I ain't seen Uncle Esau for many years. Me and
him parted with harsh words and gun-smoke. I've often wondered if he
still holds a grudge agen me for plantin' that charge of buckshot in
his hind laig."

"What about Uncle Esau?" I said.

Pap perjuiced a letter and said: "He was brung to my mind by this
here letter which Jim Braxton fotched me from War Paint. It's from my
sister Elizabeth, back in Devilville, Arizona, whar Uncle Esau lives.
She says Uncle Esau is on his way to Californy, and is due to pass
through War Paint about the tenth--that's tomorrer. She don't know
whether he intends turnin' off to see me or not, but suggests that I
meet him at War Paint, and make peace with him."

"Well?" I demanded, because from the way pap combed his beard with
his fingers and eyed me, I knowed he was aiming to call on me to do
something for him.

"Well," said pap, taking a long swig out of the jug, "I want you
to meet the stage tomorrer mornin' at War Paint, and invite Uncle Esau
to come up here and visit us. Don't take no for a answer. Uncle Esau
is as cranky as hell, and a pecooliar old duck, but I think he'll like
you. Specially if you keep yore mouth shet and don't expose yore
ignorance."

"Well," I said, "for onst the job you've sot for me falls in with
my own plans. I was just fixin' to light out for War Paint. But how'm
I goin' to know Uncle Esau? I ain't never seen him."

"He ain't a big man," said pap. "Last time I seen him he had a
right smart growth of red whiskers. You bring him home regardless.
Don't pay no attention to his belly-achin'. He's awful suspicious
because he's got lots of enemies. He burnt plenty of powder in his
younger days, all the way from Texas to Californy. He war mixed up in
more feuds and range-wars than any man I ever knowed. He's supposed to
have considerable money hid away somewheres, but that ain't got
nothin' to do with us. I wouldn't take his blasted money as a gift.
All I want to do is talk to him, and git his forgiveness for fillin'
his hide with buckshot in a moment of youthful passion.

"If he don't forgive me," says pap, taking another pull at his
jug, "I'll bend my .45 over his stubborn old skull. Git goin'."

So I hit out acrost the mountains, and the next morning found me
eating breakfast at the aidge of War Paint, with a old hunter and
trapper by the name of old Bill Polk which was camped there temporary.

War Paint was a new town which had sprung up out of nothing on
account of a gold rush right recent, and old Bill was very bitter.

"A hell of a come-off this is!" he snorted. "Clutterin' up the
scenery and scarin' the animals off with their fool houses and claims.
Last year I shot deer right whar that saloon yonder stands now," he
said, glaring at me like it was my fault.

I said nothing but chawed my venison which we was cooking over his
fire, and he said: "No good'll come of it, you mark my word. These
mountains won't be fit to live in. These camps draws scum like a dead
hoss draws buzzards. The outlaws is already ridin' in from Arizona and
Utah and Californy, besides the native ones. Grizzly Hawkins and his
thieves is hidin' up in the hills, and no tellin' how many more'll
come in. I'm glad they cotched Badger Chisom and his gang after they
robbed that bank at Gunstock. That's one gang which won't bedevil us,
becaze they're in jail. If somebody'd jest kill Grizzly Hawkins, now--
"

"Who's that gal?" I ejaculated suddenly, forgetting to eat in my
excitement.

"Who? Whar?" says old Bill, looking around. "Oh, that gal jest
goin' by the Golden Queen restaurant? Aw, that's Dolly Rixby, the
belle of the town."

"She's awful purty," I says.

"_You_ never seen a purtier," says he.

"I have, too," I says absent-mindedly. "Glory McGraw--" Then I
kind of woke up to what I was saying and flang my breakfast into the
fire in disgust. "Sure, she's the purtiest gal I ever seen!" I
snorted. "Ain't a gal in the Humbolts can hold a candle to her. What
you say her name was? Dolly Rixby? A right purty name, too."

"You needn't start castin' sheep's eyes at her," he opined.
"They's a dozen young bucks sparkin' her already. I think Blink
Wiltshaw's the favorite to put his brand onto her, though. She
wouldn't look at a hillbilly like you."

"I might remove the competition," I suggested.

"You better not try no Bear Creek rough-stuff in War Paint," says
he. "The town's jest reekin' with law and order. Why, I actually hear
they ups and puts you in jail if you shoots a man within the city
limits."

I was scandalized. Later I found out that was jest a slander
started by the citizens of Chawed Ear which was jealous of War Paint,
but at the time I was so upsot by this information I was almost
afeared to go into town for fear I'd get arrested.

"Where's Miss Rixby goin' with that bucket?" I ast him.

"She's takin' a bucket of beer to her old man which is workin' a
claim up the creek," says old Bill.

"Well, lissen," I says. "You git over there behind that thicket,
and when she comes by, make a noise like a Injun."

"What kind of damfoolishness is this?" he demanded. "You want me
to stampede the whole camp?"

"Don't make a loud noise," I said. "Jest make it loud enough for
her to hear."

"Air you crazy?" he ast.

"No, dern it!" I said fiercely, because she was coming along
stepping purty fast. "Git in there and do like I say. I'll rush up
from the other side and pertend to rescue her from the Injuns and
that'll make her like me. Gwan!"

"I mistrusts yo're a blasted fool," he grumbled. "But I'll do it."
He snuck into the thicket which she'd have to pass on the other side,
and I circled around so she wouldn't see me till I was ready to rush
out and I save her from being sculped. Well, I warn't hardly in
position when I heard a kind of mild war-whoop, and it sounded jest
like a Blackfoot, only not so loud. But imejitly there come the crack
of a pistol and another yell which warn't subdued like the first. It
was lusty and energetic. I run towards the thicket, but before I could
get into the open trail, old Bill come piling out of the back side of
the clump with his hands to the seat of his britches.

"You planned this a-purpose, you snake in the grass!" he yelped.
"Git outa my way!"

"Why, Bill," I says. "What happened?"

"I bet you knowed she had a derringer in her stockin'," he snarled
as he run past me. "It's all yore fault! When I whooped, she pulled it
and shot into the bresh! Don't speak to me! I'm lucky to be alive.
I'll git even with you for this if it takes a hundred years!"

He headed on into the deep bresh, and I run around the thicket and
seen Dolly Rixby peering into it with her gun smoking in her hand. She
looked up as I come onto the trail, and I taken off my hat and said,
perlite: "Howdy, miss; can I be of no assistance to you?"

"I jest shot a Injun," she said. "I heard him holler. You might go
in there and git the sculp, if you don't mind. I'd like to have it for
a soovenir."

"I'll be glad to, miss," I says heartily. "I'll likewise cure and
tan it for you myself."

"Oh, thank you!" she says, dimpling when she smiled. "It's a
pleasure to meet a real gent like you."

"The pleasure is all mine," I assured her, and went into the bresh
and stomped around a little, and then come out and says: "I'm awful
sorry, miss, but the critter ain't nowheres to be found. You must of
jest winged him. If you want me to I'll take his trail and foller it
till I catch up with him, though."

"Oh, I wouldn't think of puttin' you to no sech trouble," she says
much to my relief, because I was jest thinking that if she did demand
a sculp, the only thing I could do would be to catch old Bill and
sculp him, and I'd hate awful bad to have to do that.

But she looked me over with admiration in her eyes, and said: "I'm
Dolly Rixby. Who're you?"

"I knowed you the minute I seen you," I says. "The fame of yore
beauty has reched clean into the Humbolts. I'm Breckinridge Elkins."

Her eyes kind of sparkled, and she said: "I've heard of you, too!
You broke Cap'n Kidd, and it was you that cleaned up Wampum!"

"Yes'm," I says, and jest then I seen the stagecoach fogging it
down the road from the east, and I says: "Say, I got to meet that
there stage, but I'd like to call on you at yore convenience."

"Well," she says, "I'll be back at the cabin in about a hour.
What's the matter with then? I live about ten rods north of The Red
Rooster gamblin' hall."

"I'll be there," I promised, and she gimme a dimply smile and went
on down the trail with her old man's bucket of beer, and I hustled
back to where I left Cap'n Kidd. My head was in a whirl, and my heart
was pounding. And here, thinks I, is where I show Glory McGraw what
kind of stuff a Elkins is made of. Jest wait till I ride back to Bear
Creek with Dolly Rixby as my bride!

I rode into War Paint just as the stage pulled up at the stand,
which was also the post office and a saloon. They was three
passengers, and they warn't none of 'em tenderfeet. Two was big hard-
looking fellers, and t'other'n was a wiry oldish kind of a bird with
red whiskers, so I knowed right off it was Uncle Esau Grimes. They was
going into the saloon as I dismounted, the big men first, and the
older feller follering 'em. Thinks I, I'll start him on his way to
Bear Creek, and then I'll come back and start sparking Dolly Rixby.

I touched him on the shoulder, and he whirled most amazing quick
with a gun in his hand, and he looked at me very suspicious, and said:
"What you want?"

"I'm Breckinridge Elkins," I said. "I want you to come with me. I
recognized you as soon as I seen you--"

I then got a awful surprise, but not as sudden as it would have
been if pap hadn't warned me that Uncle Esau was pecooliar. He
hollered: "Bill! Jim! Help!" And swung his six-shooter agen my head
with all his might.

The other two fellers whirled and their hands streaked for their
guns, so I knocked Uncle Esau flat to keep him from getting hit by a
stray slug, and shot one of 'em through the shoulder before he could
unlimber his artillery. T'other'n grazed my neck with a bullet, so I
perforated him in the arm and the hind laig and he fell down acrost
the other'n. I was careful not to shoot 'em in no vital parts, because
I seen they was friends of Uncle Esau; but when guns is being drawn it
ain't no time to argy or explain.

Men was hollering and running out of saloons, and I stooped and
started to lift Uncle Esau, who was kind of groggy because he'd hit
his head agen a hitching post. He was crawling around on his all-fours
cussing something terrible, and trying to find his gun which he'd
dropped. When I laid hold onto him he commenced biting and kicking and
hollering, and I said: "Don't ack like that, Uncle Esau. Here comes a
lot of fellers, and the sheriff may be here any minute and 'rest me
for shootin' them idjits. We got to git goin'. Pap's waitin' for you,
up on Bear Creek."

But he jest fit that much harder and hollered that much louder, so
I scooped him up bodily and jumped onto Cap'n Kidd and throwed Uncle
Esau face down acrost the saddle-bow, and headed for the hills. A lot
of men yelled at me to stop, and some of 'em started shooting at me,
but I give no heed.

I give Cap'n Kidd the rein and we went tearing down the road and
around the first bend, and I didn't even take time to change Uncle
Esau's position, because I didn't want to get arrested. A fat chance I
had of keeping my date with Dolly Rixby. I wonder if anybody ever had
sech cussed relatives as me.

Jest before we reched the p'int where the Bear Creek trail runs
into the road, I seen a man on the road ahead of me, and he must have
heard the shooting and Uncle Esau yelling because he whirled his hoss
and blocked the road. He was a wiry old cuss with grey whiskers.

"Where you goin' with that man?" he yelled as I approached at a
thundering gait.

"None of yore business," I retorted. "Git outa my way."

"Help! Help!" hollered Uncle Esau. "I'm bein' kidnapped and
murdered!"

"Drop that man, you derned outlaw!" roared the stranger, suiting
his actions to his words.

Him and me drawed simultaneous, but my shot was a split-second
quicker'n his'n. His slug fanned my ear, but his hat flew off and he
pitched out of his saddle like he'd been hit with a hammer. I seen a
streak of red along his temple as I thundered past him.

"Let that larn you not to interfere in family affairs!" I roared,
and turned up the trail that switched off the road and up into the
mountains.

"Don't never yell like that," I said irritably to Uncle Esau. "You
like to got me shot. That feller thought I was a criminal."

I didn't catch what he said, but I looked back and down over the
slopes and shoulders, and seen men boiling out of town full tilt, and
the sun glinted on six-shooters and rifles, so I urged on Cap'n Kidd
and we covered the next few miles at a fast clip.

Uncle Esau kept trying to talk, but he was bouncing up and down so
all I could understand was his cuss words, which was free and fervent.
At last he gasped: "For God's sake lemme git off this cussed saddle-
horn; it's rubbin' a hole in my belly."

So I pulled up and seen no sign of my pursuers, so I said: "All
right, you can ride in the saddle and I'll set on behind. I was goin'
to hire you a hoss at the livery stable, but we had to leave so quick
they warn't no time."

"Where you takin' me?" he demanded.

"To Bear Creek," I said. "Where you think?"

"I don't wanta go to Bear Creek," he said fiercely. "I _ain't_
goin' to Bear Creek."

"You are, too," I said. "Pap said not to take no for a answer. I'm
goin' to slide over behind the saddle, and you can set in it."

So I pulled my feet outa the stirrups and moved over the cantle,
and he slid into the seat--and the first thing I knowed he had a knife
out of his boot and was trying to kyarve my gizzard.

Now I likes to humor my relatives, but they is a limit to
everything. I taken the knife away from him, but in the struggle, me
being handicapped by not wanting to hurt him, I lost hold of the reins
and Cap'n Kidd bolted and run for several miles through the pines and
bresh. What with me trying to grab the reins and keep Uncle Esau from
killing me at the same time, and neither one of us in the stirrups,
finally we both fell off, and if I hadn't managed to catch hold of the
bridle as I went off, we'd had a long walk ahead of us.

I got Cap'n Kidd stopped, after being drug for about seventy-five
yards, and then I went back to where Uncle Esau was laying on the
ground trying to get his wind back, because I had kind of fell on him.

"Is that any way to ack, tryin' to stick a knife in a man which is
doin' his best to make you comfortable?" I said reproachfully. All he
done was gasp, so I said: "Well, pap told me you was a cranky old
duck, so I reckon the only thing to do is to jest not notice yore
pecooliarities."

I looked around to get my bearings, because Cap'n Kidd had got
away off the trail. We was west of it, in very wild country, but I
seen a cabin off through the trees, and I said: "We'll go over there
and see can I buy or hire a hoss for you to ride. That'll be more
convenient for both of us."

I h'isted him back into the saddle, and he said kind of dizzily:
"This here's a free country. I don't have to go to Bear Creek if'n I
don't want to."

"Well," I said severely, "you oughta want to, after all the
trouble I've went to, comin' and invitin' you, and passin' up a date
with the purtiest gal in War Paint on account of you. Set still now.
I'm settin' on behind but I'm holdin' the reins."

"I'll have yore life for this," he promised blood-thirstily, but I
ignored it, because pap had said Uncle Esau was pecooliar.

Purty soon we hove up to the cabm I'd glimpsed through the trees.
Nobody was in sight, but I seen a hoss tied to a tree in front of the
cabin. I rode up to the door and knocked, but nobody answered. But I
seen smoke coming out of the chimney, so I decided I'd go in.

I dismounted and lifted Uncle Esau off, because I seen from the
gleam in his eye that he was intending to run off on Cap'n Kidd if I
give him half a chance. I got a firm grip onto his collar, because I
was determined that he was going to visit us up on Bear Creek if I had
to tote him on my shoulder all the way, and I went into the cabin with
him.

They warn't nobody in there, though a big pot of beans was
simmering over some coals in the fireplace, and I seen some rifles in
racks on the wall and a belt with two pistols hanging on a peg.

Then I heard somebody walking behind the cabin, and the back door
opened and there stood a big, black-whiskered man with a bucket of
water in his hand and a astonished glare on his face. He didn't have
no guns on.

"Who the hell are you?" he demanded, but Uncle Esau give a kind of
gurgle, and said: "Grizzly Hawkins!"

The big man jumped and glared at Uncle Esau, and then his black
whiskers bristled in a ferocious grin, and he said: "Oh, it's you, is
it? Who'd of thunk I'd ever meet you _here?"_

"Grizzly Hawkins, hey?" I said, realizing that I'd stumbled onto
the hideout of the wust outlaw in them mountains. "So you-all know
each other?"

"I'll say we do!" rumbled Hawkins, looking at Uncle Esau like a
wolf looks at a fat yearling.

"I'd heard you was from Arizona," I said, being naturally tactful.
"Looks to me like they's enough cow-thieves in these hills already
without outsiders buttin' in. But yore morals ain't none of my
business. I want to buy or hire or borrer a hoss for this here gent to
ride."

"Oh, no, you ain't!" said Grizzly. "You think I'm goin' to let a
fortune slip through my fingers like that? Tell you what I'll do,
though: I'll split with you. My gang had business over towards Chawed
Ear this momin', but they're due back soon. Me and you will work him
over before they gits back, and we'll nab all the loot ourselves."

"What you mean?" I ast. "My uncle and me is on our way to Bear
Creek--"

"Aw, don't ack innercent with me!" he snorted disgustedly. "Uncle!
Hell! You think I'm a plumb fool? Cain't I see he's yore prisoner, the
way you got him by the neck? Think I don't know what yo're up to? Be
reasonable. Two can work this job better'n one. I know lots of ways to
make a man talk. I betcha if we kinda massage his hinder parts with a
red-hot brandin' iron he'll tell us quick enough where the money is
hid."

Uncle Esau turnt pale under his whiskers, and I said indignantly:
"Why, you low-lifed polecat! You got the crust to pertend to think I'm
kidnappin' my own uncle for his dough? I got a good mind to shoot
you."

"So yo're greedy, hey?" he snarled, showing his teeth. "Want all
the loot yoreself, hey? I'll show you!" And quick as a cat he swung
that water bucket over his head and let it go at me. I ducked and it
hit Uncle Esau in the head and stretched him out all drenched with
water, and Hawkins give a roar and dived for a .45-90 on the wall. He
wheeled with it and I shot it out of his hands. He then come for me
wild-eyed with a bowie out of his boot, and my next cartridge snapped,
and he was on top of me before I could cock my gun again.

I dropped it and grappled with him, and we fit all over the cabin
and every now and then we would tromple on Uncle Esau which was trying
to crawl towards the door, and the way he would holler was pitiful to
hear.

Hawkins lost his knife in the melee, but he was as big as me, and
a bear-cat at rough-and-tumble. We would stand up and whale away with
both fists, and then clinch and roll around the floor, biting and
gouging and slugging, and onst we rolled clean over Uncle Esau and
kind of flattened him out like a pancake.

Finally Hawkins got hold of the table which he lifted like it was
a board and splintered over my head, and this made me mad, so I
grabbed the pot off the fire and hit him in the head with it, and
about a gallon of red-hot beans went down his back and he fell into a
corner so hard he jolted the shelves loose from the logs, and all the
guns fell off the walls.

He come up with a gun in his hand, but his eyes was so full of
blood and hot beans that he missed me the first shot, and before he
could shoot again I hit him on the chin so hard it fractured his jaw
bone and sprained both his ankles and laid him out cold.

Then I looked around for Uncle Esau, and he was gone and the front
door was open. I rushed out of the cabin and there he was jest
climbing aboard Cap'n Kidd. I hollered for him to wait, but he kicked
Cap'n Kidd in the ribs and went tearing off through the trees. Only he
didn't head north back towards War Paint. He was p'inted south-east,
in the general direction of Hideout Mountain. I grabbed my gun up off
the floor and lit out after him, though I didn't have much hope of
catching him. Grizzly's cayuse was a good hoss, but he couldn't hold a
candle to Cap'n Kidd.

I wouldn't have caught him, neither, if it hadn't been for Cap'n
Kidd's determination not to be rode by nobody but me. Uncle Esau was a
crack hossman to stay on as long as he did.

But finally Cap'n Kidd got tired of sech foolishness, and about
the time he crossed the trail we'd been follerin' when he first
bolted, he bogged his head and started busting hisself in two, with
his snoot rubbing the grass and his heels scraping the clouds offa the
sky.

I could see mountain peaks between Uncle Esau and the saddle, and
when Cap'n Kidd start sunfishing it looked like the wrath of Jedgment
Day, but somehow Uncle Esau managed to stay with him till Cap'n Kidd
plumb left the earth like he aimed to aviate from then on, and Uncle
Esau left the saddle with a shriek of despair and sailed head-on into
a blackjack thicket.

Cap'n Kidd give a snort of contempt and trotted off to a patch of
grass and started grazing, and I dismounted and went and ontangled
Uncle Esau from amongst the branches. His clothes was tore and he was
scratched so he looked like he'd been fighting with a drove of
wildcats, and he left a right smart bunch of his whiskers amongst the
bresh.

But he was full of pizen and hostility.

"I understand this here treatment," he said bitterly, like he
blamed me for Cap'n Kidd pitching him into the thicket, "but you'll
never git a penny. Nobody but me knows whar the dough is, and you can
pull my toe nails out by the roots before I tells you."

"I know you got money hid away," I said, deeply offended, "but I
don't want it."

He snorted skeptical and said sarcastic: "Then what're you
draggin' me over these cussed hills for?"

"'Cause pap wants to see you," I said. "But they ain't no use in
askin' me a lot of fool questions. Pap said for me to keep my mouth
shet."

I looked around for Grizzly's hoss, and seen he had wandered off.
He sure hadn't been trained proper.

"Now I got to go look for him," I said disgustedly. "Will you stay
here till I git back?"

"Sure," he said. "Sure. Go on and look for the hoss. I'll wait
here."

But I give him a searching look, and shook my head.

"I don't want to seem like I mistrusts you," I said, "but I see a
gleam in yore eye which makes me believe that you intends to run off
the minute my back's turned. I hate to do this, but I got to bring you
safe to Bear Creek; so I'll just kinda hawg-tie you with my lariat
till I git back."

Well, he put up a awful holler, but I was firm, and when I rode
off on Cap'n Kidd I was satisfied that he couldn't untie them knots by
hisself. I left him laying in the grass beside the trail, and his
language was painful to listen to.

That derned hoss had wandered farther'n I thought. He'd moved
north along the trail for a short way, and then turned off and headed
in a westerly direction, and after a while I heard hosses galloping
somewheres behind me, and I got nervous, thinking what if Hawkins's
gang had got back to their hangout and he'd told 'em about us, and
sent 'em after us, to capture pore Uncle Esau and torture him to make
him tell where his savings was hid. I wished I'd had sense enough to
shove Uncle Esau back in the thicket so he wouldn't be seen by anybody
riding along the trail, and I'd just decided to let the hoss go and
turn back, when I seen him grazing amongst the trees ahead of me.

I caught him and headed back for the trail, aiming to hit it a
short piece north of where I'd left Uncle Esau, and before I got in
sight of it, I heard hosses and saddles creaking ahead of me.

I pulled up on the crest of a slope, and looked down onto the
trail, and there I seen a gang of men riding north, and they had Uncle
Esau amongst 'em. Two of the men was ridin' double, and they had him
on a hoss in the middle of 'em. They'd took the ropes off'n him, but
he didn't look happy. Instantly I realized that my premonishuns was
correct. The Hawkins gang had follered us, and now pore Uncle Esau was
in their clutches.

I let go of Hawkins's hoss and reched for my gun, but I didn't
dare fire for fear of hitting Uncle Esau, they was clustered so clost
about him. I reched up and tore a limb off a oak tree as big as my
arm, and I charged down the slope yelling: "I'll save you, Uncle
Esau!"

I come so sudden and onexpected them fellers didn't have time to
do nothing but holler before I hit 'em. Cap'n Kidd ploughed through
their hosses like a avalanche through saplings, and he was going so
hard I couldn't check him in time to keep him from knocking Uncle
Esau's hoss sprawling. Uncle Esau hit the turf with a shriek.

All around me men was yelling and surging and pulling guns and I
riz in my stirrups and laid about me right and left, and pieces of
bark and oak leaves and blood flew in showers and in a second the
ground was littered with writhing figgers, and the hollering and
cussing was awful to hear. Knives was flashing and pistols was
banging, but them outlaws' eyes was too full of bark and stars and
blood for them to aim, and right in the middle of the brawl, when the
guns was roaring and hosses was neighing and men yelling and my oak-
limb going _crack! crack! crack!_ on their skulls, down from the north
swooped _another_ gang, howling like hyeners!

"There he is!" one of 'em yelled. "I see him crawlin' around under
them hosses! After him, boys! We got as much right to his dough as
anybody!"

The next minute they'd dashed in amongst us and embraced the
members of the other gang and started hammering 'em over the heads
with their pistols, and in a second there was the damndest three-
cornered war you ever seen, men fighting on the ground and on the
hosses, all mixed and tangled up, two gangs trying to exterminate each
other, and me whaling hell out of both of 'em.

Meanwhile Uncle Esau was on the ground under us, yelling bloody
murder and being stepped on by the hosses, but finally I cleared me a
space with a devastating sweep of my club, and leaned down and scooped
him up with one hand and hung him over my saddle horn and started
battering my way clear.

But a big feller which was one of the second gang come charging
through the melee yelling like a Injun, with blood running down his
face from a cut in his scalp. He snapped a empty ca'tridge at me, and
then leaned out from his saddle and grabbed Uncle Esau by the foot.

"Leggo!" he howled. "He's my meat!"

"Release Uncle Esau before I does you a injury!" I roared, trying
to jerk Uncle Esau loose, but the outlaw hung on, and Uncle Esau
squalled like a catamount in a wolf-trap. So I lifted what was left of
my club and splintered it over the outlaw's head, and he give up the
ghost with a gurgle. I then wheeled Cap'n Kidd and rode off like the
wind. Them fellers was too busy fighting each other to notice my
flight. Somebody did let _bam_ at me with a Winchester, but all it
done was to nick Uncle Esau's ear.

The sounds of carnage faded out behind us as I headed south along
the trail. Uncle Esau was belly-aching about something. I never seen
sech a cuss for finding fault, but I felt they was no time to be lost,
so I didn't slow up for some miles. Then I pulled Cap'n Kidd down and
said: "What did you say, Uncle Esau?"

"I'm a broken man!" he gasped. "Take my secret, and lemme go back
to the posse. All I want now is a good, safe prison term."

"What posse?" I ast, thinking he must be drunk, though I couldn't
figger where he could of got any booze.

"The posse you took me away from," he said. "Anything's better'n
bein' dragged through these hellish mountains by a homicidal
maneyack."

"Posse?" I gasped wildly. "But who was the second gang?"

"Grizzly Hawkins's outlaws," he said, and added bitterly: "Even
they'd be preferable to what I been goin' through. I give up. I know
when I'm licked. The dough's hid in a holler oak three miles west of
Gunstock."

I didn't pay no attention to his remarks, because my head was in a
whirl. A posse! Of course; the sheriff and his men had follered us
from War Paint, along the Bear Creek trail, and finding Uncle Esau
tied up, had thought he'd been kidnapped by a outlaw instead of merely
being invited to visit his relatives. Probably he was too cussed
ornery to tell 'em any different. I hadn't rescued him from no
bandits; I'd took him away from a posse which thought _they_ was
rescuing him.

Meanwhile Uncle Esau was clamoring: "Well, why'n't you lemme go?
I've told you whar the dough is. What else you want?"

"You got to go on to Bear Creek with me--" I begun; and Uncle Esau
give a shriek and went into a kind of convulsion, and the first thing
I knowed he'd twisted around and jerked my gun out of its scabbard and
let _bam!_ right in my face so close it singed my hair. I grabbed his
wrist and Cap'n Kidd bolted like he always does whenever he gets the
chance.

"They's a limit to everything!" I roared. "A hell of a relative
you be, you old maneyack!"

We was tearing over slopes and ridges at breakneck speed and
fighting all over Cap'n Kidd's back--me to get the gun away from him,
and him to commit murder. "If you warn't kin to me, Uncle Esau," I
said wrathfully, "I'd plumb lose my temper!"

"What you keep callin' me that fool name for?" he yelled, frothing
at the mouth. "What you want to add insult to injury--" Cap'n Kidd
swerved sudden and Uncle Esau tumbled over his neck. I had him by the
shirt and tried to hold him on, but the shirt tore. He hit the ground
on his head and Cap'n Kidd run right over him. I pulled up as quick as
I could and hove a sigh of relief to see how close to home I was.

"We're nearly there, Uncle Esau," I said, but he made no comment.
He was out cold.

A short time later I rode up to the cabin with my eccentric
relative slung over my saddle-bow, and I taken him off and stalked
into where pap was laying on his b'ar-skin, and slung my burden down
on the floor in disgust. "Well, here he is," I said.

Pap stared and said: "Who's this?"

"When you wipe the blood off," I said, "you'll find it's yore
Uncle Esau Grimes. And," I added bitterly, "the next time you wants to
invite him to visit us, you can do it yoreself. A more ungrateful cuss
I never seen. Pecooliar ain't no name for him; he's as crazy as a
locoed jackass."

"But _that_ ain't Uncle Esau!" said pap.

"What you mean?" I said irritably. "I know most of his clothes is
tore off, and his face is kinda scratched and skint and stomped outa
shape, but you can see his whiskers is red, in spite of the blood."

"Red whiskers turn grey, in time," said a voice, and I wheeled and
pulled my gun as a man loomed in the door.

It was the grey-whiskered old feller I'd traded shots with on the
edge of War Paint. He didn't go for his gun, but stood twisting his
moustache and glaring at me like I was a curiosity or something.

"Uncle Esau!" said pap.

"What?" I hollered. "Air _you_ Uncle Esau?"

"Certainly I am!" he snapped.

"But you warn't on the stagecoach--" I begun.

"Stagecoach!" he snorted, taking pap's jug and beginning to pour
licker down the man on the floor. "Them things is for wimmen and
childern. I travel hoss-back. I spent last night in War Paint, and
aimed to ride on up to Bear Creek this mornin'. In fact, Bill," he
addressed pap, "I was on the way here when this young maneyack creased
me." He indicated a bandage on his head.

"You mean Breckinridge shot you?" ejaculated pap.

"It seems to run in the family," grunted Uncle Esau.

"But who's this?" I hollered wildly, pointing at the man I'd
thought was Uncle Esau, and who was jest coming to.

"I'm Badger Chisom," he said, grabbing the jug with both hands. "I
demands to be pertected from this lunatick and turned over to the
sheriff."

"Him and Bill Reynolds and Jim Hopkins robbed a bank over at
Gunstock three weeks ago," said Uncle Esau; the real one, I mean. "A
posse captured them, but they'd hid the loot somewhere and wouldn't
say where. They escaped several days ago, and not only the sheriffs
was lookin' for 'em, but all the outlaw gangs too, to find out where
they'd hid their plunder. It was a awful big haul. They must of
figgered that escapin' out of the country by stagecoach would be the
last thing folks would expect 'em to do, and they warn't known around
War Paint.

"But I recognized Billy Reynolds when I went back to War Paint to
have my head dressed, after you shot me, Breckinridge. The doctor was
patchin' him and Hopkins up, too. I knowed Reynolds back in Arizona.
The sheriff and a posse lit out after you, and I follered 'em when I'd
got my head fixed. 'Course, I didn't know who you was. I come up while
the posse was fightin' with the Hawkins gang, and with my help we
corralled the whole bunch. Then I took up yore trail again. Purty good
day's work, wipin' out two of the wust gangs in the West. One of
Hawkins's men said Grizzly was laid up in his cabin, and the posse was
going to drop by for him."

"What you goin' to do about me?" clamored Chisom.

"Well," said pap, "we'll bandage you up good, and then I'll let
Breckinridge here take you back to War Paint--hey, what's the matter
with him?"

Badger Chisom had fainted.



Chapter VIII THE SCALP HUNTER



MY RETURN to War Paint with Badger Chisom was plumb uneventful. He
was awful nervous all the way and every time I spoke to him he jumped
and ducked like he expected to be shot at, and he hove a distinct sigh
of relief when the sheriff taken charge of him. He said something
like, "Safe at last, thank God!" and seemed in a sweat to get into a
good, strong cell. Criminals is pecooliar people.

Well, to my surprise I found that I had become a kind of personage
in War Paint account of shooting Chisom's pards and bringing him in.
It warn't a narrer-minded town at all, like the folks over to Chawed
Ear had led me to believe. Things was free and easy, big gambling
games running all the time, bars open all day and all night, and
pistols popping every hour of the day. They had a sheriff but he was a
sensible man which didn't interfere with the business of honest
citizens. He 'lowed it was his job to see that the town warn't overrun
by thieving, murdering outlaws, not to go butting into folks' affairs.
He told me that if I had occasion to shoot another gent he'd take it
as a personal favor if I'd be careful not to hit no innercent
bystander by mistake, and when I said I would, he said I was a credit
to the community, and we had a drink.

I was about half scairt to go see Dolly Rixby, but I screwed up my
courage by thinking of what Glory McGraw would say if I didn't get me
a gal soon, and called on her. She warn't as peeved as I thought,
though she did say: "Well, yo're a mite late, ain't you? About two
days, I believe! But better late than never, I reckon."

She was broad-minded enough to understand my position, and we got
along fine. Well, we did after I persuaded them young bucks which was
mooning around her that I wasn't going to stand for no claim-jumping.
I had to be kind of subtle about this, because it always made Dolly
mad for me to disable any of her admirers. She liked me, but she also
seemed to like a lot of other fellers, especially young Blink
Wiltshaw, which was a good-looking young miner. Sometimes I wondered
whether Dolly's interest in me was really for myself, or on account of
the glory which was reflected onto her by me calling on her regular.
Because by this time I'd made quite a name for myself around over the
country, jest like I told Glory McGraw I would. But it didn't make
much difference to me, as long as Dolly let me spark her, and I
figgered that in a little time more I'd have her roped and hawg-tied
and branded, and I drempt of the day when I'd take her back to Bear
Creek and interjuice her to everybody as my wife. I plumb gloated over
how Glory McGraw'd look then, and got to feeling kind of sorry for
her, and decided I wouldn't rub it in on her too raw. I'd jest be
dignified and tolerant, as become a man of my importance.

And then my money give out. Things had run remarkable smooth since
I come back to War Paint, and my luck had suited it. The first night I
was there I sot into a poker game in The Rebel Captain saloon with ten
dollars and run it up to five hundred before I riz--more money than
I'd ever knowed they was in the world. I had a remarkable run of luck
at gambling for maybe three weeks, and lived high, wide and handsome,
and spent money on Dolly right and left. Then my streak broke, and the
first thing I knowed, I was busted.

Well, it taken money to live in a fast-stepping town like War
Paint, and go with a gal like Dolly Rixby, so I cast about for
something to do to get me some dough. About the time I was about ready
to start working somebody's claim for day-wages, I got wind of a big
jamboree which was going to be staged in Yavapai, a cowcountry town
about a hundred miles north of War Paint. They was going to be hoss-
races and roping and bull-dogging and I seen where it was a good
chance to pick up me some easy prize money. I knowed, of course, that
all them young bucks which I'd cut out could be counted on to start
shining up to Dolly the minute my back was turnt, but I didn't look
for no serious competition from them, and Blink Wiltshaw had pulled
out for Teton Gulch a week before. I figgered he'd decided I was too
much for him.

So I went and told Dolly that I was heading for Yavapai, and urged
her not to pine away in my absence, because I'd be back before many
days with plenty of dough. She 'lowed she could bear up under it till
I got back, so I kissed her heartily, and sallied forth into the
starlit evening where I got a onpleasant surprise. I run into Blink
Wiltshaw jest coming up onto the stoop. I was so overcome by
irritation that I started to sweep the street with him, when Dolly
come out and stopped me and made us shake hands. Blink swore that he
was going back to Teton Gulch next morning, and had jest stopped by to
say hello, so I was mollified and pulled out for Yavapai without no
more delay.

Well, a couple of days later I pulled into Yavapai, which was
plumb full of wild cowboys and drunk Injuns, and everybody was full of
licker and rambunctiousness, so it taken 'em a whole day to get things
into shape enough and everybody sober enough to get the races started.
I started entering Cap'n Kidd in every race that was run, me riding
him, of course, and he won the first three races, one after another,
and everybody cussed something terrible, and then the jedges said
they'd have to bar me from entering any more races. So I said all
right I will now lick the jedges and they turnt pale and gimme fifty
dollars to agree not to run Cap'n Kidd in any more of their races.

What with that, and the prizes, and betting on Cap'n Kidd myself,
I had about a thousand dollars, so I decided I wouldn't stay for the
roping and bull-dogging contests next day, but would hustle back to
War Paint. I'd been gone three days and was beginning to worry about
them young bucks which was sweet on Dolly. I warn't scairt of 'em, but
they warn't no use givin' 'em too much chance.

But I thought I'd have a little hand of poker before I pulled out,
and that was a mistake. My luck warn't holding. When I ariz at
midnight I had exactly five dollars in my pants. But I thinks, to hell
with it; I ain't going to stay away from Dolly no longer. Blink
Wiltshaw might not have went back to Teton Gulch after all. They is
plenty of dough in the world, but not many gals like Dolly.

So I headed back for War Paint without waiting for morning. After
all, I was five bucks to the good, and by playing clost to my shirt I
might run them up to several hundred, when I got back amongst men
whose style of play I knowed.

About the middle of the next morning I run head-on into a snag on
the path of progress in the shape of Tunk Willoughby.

And right here lemme say that I'm sick and tired of these lies
which is being circulated about me terrorizing the town of Grizzly
Claw. They is always more'n one side to anything. These folks which is
going around telling about me knocking the mayor of Grizzly Claw down
a flight of steps with a kitchen stove ain't yet added that the mayor
was trying to blast me with a sawed-off shotgun. If I was a hot-headed
man like some I know, I could easy lose my temper over them there
slanders, but being shy and retiring by nature, I keeps my dignity and
merely remarks that these gossipers is blamed liars which I'll kick
the ears off of if I catch 'em.

I didn't have no intention whatever of going to Grizzly Claw, in
the first place. It lay a way off my road.

But as I passed the place where the trail from Grizzly Claw comes
into the road that runs from War Paint to Yavapai, I seen Tunk
Willoughby setting on a log in the fork of the trails. I knowed him at
War Paint. Tunk ain't got no more sense'n the law allows anyway, and
now he looked plumb discouraged. He had a mangled ear, a couple of
black eyes, and a lump onto his head so big his hat wouldn't fit. From
time to time he spit out a tooth.

I pulled up Cap'n Kidd and said: "What kind of a brawl have you
been into?"

"I been to Grizzly Claw," he said, jest like that explained it.
But I didn't get the drift, because I hadn't never been to Grizzly
Claw.

"That's the meanest town in these mountains," he says. "They ain't
got no real law there, but they got a feller which claims to be a
officer, and if you so much as spit, he says you busted a law and has
got to pay a fine. If you puts up a holler, the citizens comes to his
assistance. You see what happened to me. I never found out jest what
law I was supposed to have broke," Tunk said, "but it must of been one
they was particular fond of. I give 'em a good fight as long as they
confined theirselves to rocks and gun butts, but when they interjuiced
fence rails and wagon-tongues into the fray, I give up the ghost."

"What you go there for, anyhow?" I ast.

"Well," he said, mopping off some dried blood, "I was lookin' for
you. Three days ago I met yore cousin Jack Gordon, and he told me
somethin' to tell you."

Him showing no signs of going on, I says: "Well, what was it?"

"I cain't remember," he said. "That lammin' they give me in
Grizzly Claw has plumb addled my brains. Jack told me to tell you to
keep a sharp look-out for somebody, but I cain't remember who, or why.
But somebody had did somethin' awful to somebody on Bear Creek--seems
like it was yore Uncle Jeppard Grimes."

"But what did you go to Grizzly Claw for?" I demanded. "I warn't
there."

"I dunno," he said. "Seems like the feller which Jack wanted you
to git was from Grizzly Claw, or was supposed to go there, or
somethin'."

"A great help you be!" I said in disgust. "Here somebody has went
and wronged one of my kinfolks, maybe, and you forgits the details.
Try to remember the name of the feller, anyway. If I knew who he was,
I could lay him out, and then find out what he done later on. Think,
cain't you?"

"Did you ever have a wagon-tongue busted over yore head?" he said.
"I tell you, it's jest right recent that I remembered my own name. It
was all I could do to rekernize you jest now. If you'll come back in a
couple of days, maybe by then I'll remember what all Jack told me."

I give a snort of disgust and turned off the road and headed up
the trail for Grizzly Claw. I thought maybe I could learn something
there. Anyway, it was up to me to try. Us Bear Creek folks may fight
amongst ourselves, but we stands for no stranger to impose on anyone
of us. Uncle Jeppard was about as old as the Humbolt Mountains, and
he'd fit Injuns for a living in his younger days. He was still a tough
old knot. Anybody that could do him a wrong and get away with it sure
wasn't no ordinary man, so it warn't no wonder that word had been sent
out for me to get on his trail. And now I hadn't no idee who to look
for, or why, jest because of Tunk Willoughby's weak skull. I despise
these here egg-headed weaklings.

I arrove in Grizzly Claw late in the afternoon and went first to
the wagon-yard and seen that Cap'n Kidd was put in a good stall and
fed proper, and warned the feller there to keep away from him if he
didn't want his brains kicked out. Cap'n Kidd has got a disposition
like a shark and he don't like strangers. There was only five other
hosses in the wagon-yard, besides me and Cap'n Kidd--a pinto, a bay, a
piebald, and a couple of pack-hosses.

I then went back into the business part of the village, which was
one dusty street with stores and saloons on each side, and I didn't
pay much attention to the town, because I was trying to figger out how
I could go about trying to find out what I wanted to know, and
couldn't think of no questions to ask nobody about nothing.

Well, I was approaching a saloon called the Apache Queen, and was
looking at the ground in meditation, when I seen a silver dollar
laying in the dust clost to a hitching rack. I immejitly stooped down
and picked it up, not noticing how clost it was to the hind laigs of a
mean-looking mule. When I stooped over he hauled off and kicked me in
the head. Then he let out a awful bray and commenced jumping around
holding up his hind hoof, and some men come running out of the saloon,
and one of 'em hollered: "He's tryin' to kill my mule! Call the law!"

Quite a crowd gathered and the feller which owned the mule
hollered like a catamount. He was a mean-looking cuss with mournful
whiskers and a cock-eye. He yelled like somebody was stabbing him, and
I couldn't get in a word aidge-ways. Then a feller with a long skmny
neck and two guns come up and said: "I'm the sheriff. What's goin' on
here? Who is this giant? What's he did?"

The whiskered cuss hollered: "He kicked hisself in the head with
my mule and crippled the pore critter for life! I demands my rights!
He's got to pay me three hundred and fifty dollars for my mule!"

"Aw, heck," I said, "that mule ain't hurt none; his laig's jest
kinda numbed. Anyway, I ain't got but six bucks, and whoever gets them
will take 'em offa my dead corpse." I then hitched my six-shooters
for'ards, and the crowd kinda fell away.

"I demands that you 'rest him!" howled Drooping-whiskers. "He
tried to 'ssassinate my mule!"

"You ain't got no star," I told the feller which said he was the
law. "You ain't goin' to arrest me."

"Does you dast resist arrest?" he says, fidgeting with his belt.

"Who said anything about resistin' arrest?" I retorted. "All I aim
to do is see how far yore neck will stretch before it breaks."

"Don't you dast lay hands onto a officer of the law!" he squawked,
backing away in a hurry.

I was tired of talking, and thirsty, so I merely give a snort and
turned away through the crowd towards a saloon pushing 'em right and
left out of my way. I seen 'em gang up in the street behind me,
talking low and mean, but I give no heed.

They warn't nobody in the saloon except the barman and a gangling
cowpuncher which had draped hisself over the bar. I ordered whisky,
and when I had drunk a few fingers of the rottenest muck I believe I
ever tasted, I give it up in disgust and throwed the dollar on the bar
which I had found, and was starting out when the bartender hollered:
"Hey!"

I turned around and said courteously: "Don't you yell at me like
that, you bat-eared buzzard! What you want?"

"This here dollar ain't no good!" says he, banging it on the bar.

"Well, neither is yore whisky!" I snarled, because I was getting
mad. "So that makes us even!"

I am a long-suffering man, but it looked like everybody in Grizzly
Claw was out to gyp the stranger in their midst.

"You cain't run no blazer over me!" he hollered. "You gimme a real
dollar, or else--"

He ducked down behind the bar and come up with a shotgun so I
taken it away from him and bent the barrel double acrost my knee and
throwed it after him as he run out the back door hollering help,
murder.

The cowpuncher had picked up the dollar and bit on it, and then he
looked at me very sharp, and said: "Where did you get this?"

"I found it, if it's any of yore derned business," I snapped, and
strode out the door, and the minute I hit the street somebody let
_bam!_ at me from behind a rain-barrel acrost the street and shot my
hat off. So I slammed a bullet back through the barrel and the feller
hollered and fell out in the open yelling blue murder. It was the
feller which called hisself the sheriff and he was drilled through the
hind laig. I noticed a lot of heads sticking up over winder sills and
around doors, so I roared: "Let that be a warnin' to you Grizzly Claw
coyotes! I'm Breckinridge Elkins from Bear Creek up in the Humbolts,
and I shoot better in my sleep than most men does wide awake!"

I then lent emphasis to my remarks by punctuating a few signboards
and knocking out a few winder panes and everybody hollered and ducked.
So I shoved my guns back in their scabbards and went into a
restaurant. The citizens come out from their hiding-places and carried
off my victim, and he made more noise over a broke laig than I thought
was possible for a grown man.

They was some folks in the restaurant but they stampeded out the
back door as I come in at the front, all except the cook which tried
to take refuge somewheres else.

"Come outa there and fry me some bacon!" I commanded, kicking a
few slats out of the counter to add p'int to my request. It disgusts
me to see a grown man trying to hide under a stove. I am a very
patient and mild-mannered human, but Grizzly Claw was getting under my
hide. So the cook come out and fried me a mess of bacon and ham and
aigs and pertaters and sourdough bread and beans and coffee, and I et
three cans of cling peaches. Nobody come into the restaurant whilst I
was eating but I thought I heard somebody sneaking around outside.

When I got through I ast the feller how much, and he told me, and
I planked down the cash, and he commenced to bite it. This lack of
faith in his feller humans so enraged me that I drawed my bowie knife
and said: "They is a limit to any man's patience! I been insulted onst
tonight and that's enough! You jest dast to say that coin's phoney and
I'll slice off yore whiskers plumb at the roots!"

I brandished my bowie under his nose, and he hollered and
stampeded back into the stove and upsot it and fell over it, and the
coals went down the back of his shirt, so he riz up and run for the
creek yelling bloody murder. And that's how the story got started that
I tried to burn a cook alive, Injun-style, because he fried my bacon
too crisp. Matter of fact, I kept his shack from catching fire and
burning down, because I stomped out the coals before they done no more
than burn a big hole through the floor, and I throwed the stove out
the back door.

It ain't my fault if the mayor of Grizzly Claw was sneaking up the
back steps with a shotgun jest at that moment. Anyway, I hear he was
able to walk with a couple of crutches after a few months.

I emerged suddenly from the front door, hearing a suspicious
noise, and I seen a feller crouching clost to a side winder peeking
through a hole in the wall. It was the cowboy I seen in the Apache
Queen. He whirled when I come out, but I had him covered.

"Air you spyin' on me?" I demanded. "'Cause if you air--"

"No, no!" he says in a hurry. "I was jest leanin' up agen that
wall restin'."

"You Grizzly Claw folks is all crazy," I said disgustedly, and
looked around to see if anybody else tried to shoot me, but they wam't
nobody in sight, which was suspicious, but I give no heed. It was dark
by that time so I went to the wagon-yard, and they warn't nobody
there. I reckon the man which run it was off somewheres drunk, because
that seemed to be the main occupation of most of them Grizzly Claw
devils.

The only place for folks to sleep was a kind of double log-cabin.
That is, it had two rooms, but they warn't no door between 'em; and in
each room they wasn't nothing but a fireplace and a bunk, and jest one
outside door. I seen Cap'n Kidd was fixed for the night, and then I
went into the cabin and brought in my saddle and bridle and saddle
blanket because I didn't trust the people thereabouts. I taken off my
boots and hat and hung 'em on the wall, and hung my guns and bowie on
the end of the bunk, and then spread my saddle-blanket on the bunk and
laid down glumly.

I dunno why they don't build them dern things for ordinary sized
humans. A man six and a half foot tall like me can't never find one
comfortable for him. You'd think nobody but pigmies ever expected to
use one. I laid there and was disgusted at the bunk, and at myself
too, because I hadn't learnt who it was done something to Uncle
Jeppard, or what he done. It looked like I'd have to go clean to Bear
Creek to find out, and then maybe have to come clean back to Grizzly
Claw again to get the critter. By that time Dolly Rixby would be plumb
wore out of patience with me, and I wouldn't blame her none.

Well, as I lay there contemplating, I heard a man come into the
wagon-yard, and purty soon I heard him come towards the cabin, but I
thought nothing of it. Then the door begun to open, and I riz up with
a gun in each hand and said: "Who's there? Make yoreself knowed before
I blasts you down!"

Whoever it was mumbled some excuse about being on the wrong side,
and the door closed. But the voice sounded kind of familiar, and the
feller didn't go into the other room. I heard his footsteps sneaking
off, and I riz and went to the door, and looked over towards the row
of stalls. So purty soon a man led the pinto out of his stall, and
swung aboard him and rode off. It was purty dark, but if us folks on
Bear Creek didn't have eyes like a hawk, we'd never live to get grown.
I seen it was the cowboy I'd seen in the Apache Queen and outside the
restaurant. Onst he got clear of the wagon-yard, he slapped in the
spurs and went racing through the village like they was a red war-
party on his trail. I could hear the beat of his hoss's hoofs fading
south down the rocky trail after he was out of sight.

I knowed he must of follered me to the wagon-yard, but I couldn't
make no sense out of it, so I went and laid down on the bunk again. I
was jest about to go to sleep when I was woke by the sounds of
somebody coming into the other room of the cabin, and I heard somebody
strike a match. The bunk was built agen the partition wall, so they
was only a few feet from me, though with the log wall betwixt us.

They was two of them, from the sounds of their talking.

"I tell you," one of them was saying, "I don't like his looks. I
don't believe he's what he pertends to be. We better take no chances,
and clear out. After all, we cain't stay here forever. These people
air beginning to git suspicious, and if they find out for shore,
they'll be demandin' a cut in the profits, to pertect us. The stuff's
all packed and ready to jump at a second's notice. Let's run for it
tonight. It's a wonder nobody ain't never stumbled onto that hide-out
before now."

"Aw," said the other'n, "these Grizzly Claw yaps don't do nothin'
but swill licker and gamble and think up swindles to work on sech
strangers as is unlucky enough to wander in here. They don't never go
into the hills southwest of the village whar our cave is. Most of 'em
don't even know there's a path past that big rock to the west."

"Well, Bill," said t'other'n, "we've done purty well, countin'
that job up in the Bear Creek country."

At that I was wide awake and listening with both ears.

Bill laughed. "That was kind of funny, warn't it, Jim?" says he.

"You ain't never told me the particulars," says Jim. "Did you have
any trouble?"

"Well," said Bill. "T'warn't to say easy. That old Jeppard Grimes
was a hard old nut. If all Injun fighters was like him, I feel plumb
sorry for the Injuns."

"If any of them Bear Creek devils ever catches you--" begun Jim.

Bill laughed again.

"Them hillbillies never strays more'n ten miles from Bear Creek,"
says he. "I had the sculp and was gone before they knowed what was up.
I've collected bounties for wolves and b'ars, but that's the first
time I ever got money for a human sculp!"

A icy chill run down my spine. Now I knowed what had happened to
pore old Uncle Jeppard! Scalped! After all the Injun sculps he'd
lifted! And them cold-blooded murderers could set there and talk about
it like it was the ears of a coyote or a rabbit!

"I told him he'd had the use of that there sculp long enough,"
Bill was saying. "A old cuss like him--"

I waited for no more. Everything was red around me. I didn't stop
for my boots, guns nor nothing. I was too crazy mad even to know sech
things existed. I riz up from that bunk and put my head down and
rammed that partition wall like a bull going through a rail fence.

The dried mud poured out of the chinks and some of the logs give
way, and a howl went up from the other side.

"What's that?" hollered one, and t'other'n yelled: "Lookout! It's
a b'ar!"

I drawed back and rammed the wall again. It caved inwards and I
crashed headlong through it in a shower of dry mud and splinters, and
somebody shot at me and missed. They was a lighted lantern setting on
a hand-hewn table, and two men about six feet tall each that hollered
and let _bam_ at me with their six-shooters. But they was too
dumbfounded to shoot straight. I gathered 'em to my bosom and we went
backwards over the table, taking it and the lantern with us, and you
ought to of heard them critters howl when the burning ile splashed
down their necks.

It was a dirt floor so nothing caught on fire, and we was fighting
in the dark, and they was hollering: "Help! Murder! We are bein'
'sassinated! Ow! Release go my ear!" And then one of 'em got his boot
heel wedged in my mouth, and whilst I was twisting it out with one
hand, the other'n tore out of his shirt which I was gripping with
t'other hand, and run out the door. I had hold of the other feller's
foot and commenced trying to twist it off, when he wrenched his laig
outa the boot, and took it on the run. When I started to foller him I
fell over the table in the dark and got all tangled up in it.

I broke off a laig for a club and rushed to the door, and jest as
I got to it a whole mob of folks come surging into the wagon-yard with
torches and guns and dogs and a rope, and they hollered: "There he is,
the murderer, the outlaw, the counterfeiter, the house-burner, the
mule-killer!"

I seen the man that owned the mule, and the restaurant feller, and
the bar-keep, and a lot of others. They come roaring and bellering up
to the door, hollering: "Hang him! Hang him! String up the murderer!"
And they begun shooting at me, so I fell amongst 'em with my table-
laig and laid right and left till it busted. They was packed so clost
together I laid out three or four at a lick, and they hollered
something awful. The torches was all knocked down and trompled out
except them which was held by fellers which danced around on the aidge
of the mill, hollering: "Lay hold on him! Don't be scairt of the big
hillbilly! Shoot him! Knife him! Knock him in the head!" The dogs
having more sense than the men, they all run off except one big
mongrel that looked like a wolf, and he bit the mob often'ern he did
me.

They was a lot of wild shooting and men hollering: "Oh, I'm shot!
I'm kilt! I'm dyin'!" and some of them bullets burnt my hide they come
so clost, and the flashes singed my eye-lashes, and somebody broke a
knife agen my belt buckle. Then I seen the torches was all gone except
one, and my club was broke, so I bust right through the mob, swinging
right and left with my fists and stomping on them that tried to drag
me down. I got clear of everybody except the man with the torch who
was so excited he was jumping up and down trying to shoot me without
cocking his gun. That blame dog was snapping at my heels, so I swung
him by the tail and hit the man over the head with him. They went down
in a heap and the torch went out, and the dog clamped onto the
feller's ear, and he let out a squall like a steam-whistle.

They was milling in the dark behind me, and I run straight to
Cap'n Kidd's stall and jumped on him bareback with nothing but a
hackamore on him. Jest as the mob located where I went, we come
storming out of the stall like a hurricane and knocked some of 'em
galley-west and run over some more, and headed for the gate. Somebody
shet the gate but Cap'n Kidd took it in his stride, and we was gone
into the darkness before they knowed what hit 'em.

Cap'n Kidd decided then was a good time to run away, like he
usually does, so he taken to the hills and run through bushes and
clumps of trees trying to scrape me off. When I finally pulled him up
we was maybe a mile south of the village, with Cap'n Kidd no bridle
nor saddle nor blanket, and me with no guns, knife, boots nor hat. And
what was wuss, them devils which sculped Uncle Jeppard had got away
from me, and I didn't know where to look for 'em.

I sot meditating whether to go back and fight the whole town of
Grizzly Claw for my boots and guns, or what to do, when all to onst I
remembered what Bill and Jim had said about a cave and a path running
to it. I thought I bet them fellers will go back and get their hosses
and pull out, jest like they was planning, and they had stuff in the
cave, so that's the place to look for 'em. I hoped they hadn't already
got the stuff, whatever it was, and gone.

I knowed where that rock was, because I'd saw it when I come into
town that afternoon--a big rock that jutted up above the trees about a
mile to the west of Grizzly Claw. So I started out through the bresh,
and before long I seen it looming up agen the stars, and I made
straight for it. Sure enough, they was a narrer trail winding around
the base and leading off to the southwest. I follered it, and when I'd
went nearly a mile, I come to a steep mountainside, all clustered with
bresh.

When I seen that I slipped off and led Cap'n Kidd off the trail
and tied him back amongst the trees. Then I crope up to the cave which
was purty well masked with bushes. I listened, but everything was dark
and still, but all to onst, away down the trail, I heard a burst of
shots, and what sounded like hosses running. Then everything was still
again, and I quick ducked into the cave, and struck a match.

They was a narrer entrance that broadened out after a few feet,
and the cave run straight like a tunnel for maybe thirty steps, about
fifteen foot wide, and then it made a bend. After that it widened out
and got purty big--about fifty feet wide, and I couldn't tell how far
back into the mountain it run. To the left the wall was very broken
and notched with ledges, mighty nigh like stair-steps, and when the
match went out, away up above me I seen some stars which meant that
they was a cleft in the wall or roof away up on the mountain
somewheres.

Before the match went out, I seen a lot of junk over in a corner
covered up with a tarpaulin, and when I was fixing to strike another
match I heard men coming up the trail outside. So I quick clumb up the
broken wall and laid on a ledge about ten feet up and listened.

From the sounds as they arriv at the cave mouth, I knowed it was
two men on foot, running hard and panting loud. They rushed into the
cave and made the turn, and I heard 'em fumbling around. Then a light
flared up and I seen a lantern being lit and hung up on a spur of
rock.

In the light I seen them two murderers, Bill and Jim, and they
looked plumb dilapidated. Bill didn't have no shirt on and the other'n
was wearing jest one boot and limped. Bill didn't have no gun in his
belt neither, and both was mauled and bruised, and scratched, too,
like they'd been running through briars.

"Look here," said Jim, holding his head which had a welt on it
which was likely made by my fist. "I ain't sartain in my mind as to
jest what all _has_ happened. Somebody must of hit me with a club some
time tonight, and things is happened too fast for my addled wits.
Seems like we been fightin' and runnin' all night. Listen, _was_ we
settin' in the wagon-yard shack talkin' peaceable, and _did_ a grizzly
b'ar bust through the wall and nigh slaughter us?"

"That's plumb correct," said Bill. "Only it warn't no b'ar. It was
some kind of a human critter--maybe a escaped maneyack. We ought to of
stopped for hosses--"

"I warn't thinkin' 'bout no hosses," broke in Jim. "When I found
myself outside that shack my only thought was to kiver ground, and I
done my best, considerin' that I'd lost a boot, and that critter had
nigh onhinged my hind laig. I'd lost you in the dark, so I made for
the cave knowin' you'd come there eventual, if you was still alive,
and it seemed like I was forever gittin' through the woods, crippled
like I was. I hadn't no more'n hit the path when you come up it on the
run."

"Well," says Bill, "as I went over the wagon-yard wall a lot of
people come whoopin' through the gate, and I thought they was after
us, but it must of been the feller we fit, because as I run I seen him
layin' into 'em right and left. After I'd got over my panic, I went
back after our hosses, but I run right into a gang of men on hossback,
and one of 'em was that derned feller which passed hisself off as a
cowboy. I didn't need no more. I taken out through the woods as hard
as I could pelt, and they hollered, 'There he goes!' and hot-foot
after me."

"And was them the fellers I shot at back down the trail?" ast Jim.

"Yeah," says Bill. "I thought I'd shooken 'em off, but jest as I
seen you on the path, I heard hosses comin' behind us, so I hollered
to let 'em have it, and you did."

"Well, I didn't know who it was," said Jim. "I tell you, my head's
buzzin' like a circle-saw."

"Well," said Bill, "we stopped 'em and scattered 'em. I dunno if
you hit anybody in the dark, but they'll be mighty keerful about
comin' up the trail. Let's clear out."

"On foot?" says Jim. "And me with jest one boot?"

"How else?" says Bill. "We'll have to hoof it till we can steal us
some cayuses. We'll have to leave all this stuff here. We don't dare
go back to Grizzly Claw after our hosses. I _told_ that derned cowboy
would do to watch. He ain't no cowpoke at all. He's a blame
detective."

"What's that?" broke in Jim.

"Hosses' hoofs!" exclaimed Bill, turning pale. "Here, blow out
that lantern! We'll climb the ledges and git out through the cleft,
and take out over the mountain whar they cain't foller with hosses,
and then--"

It was at that instant that I launched myself offa the ledge on
top of 'em. I landed with all my two hundred and ninety pounds square
on jim's shoulders and when he hit the ground under me he kind of
spread out like a toad when you tromp on him. Bill give a scream of
astonishment and tore off a hunk of rock about the size of a man's
head and lammed me over the ear with it as I riz. This irritated me,
so I taken him by the neck, and also taken away a knife which he was
trying to hamstring me with, and begun sweeping the floor with his
carcass.

Presently I paused and kneeling on him, I strangled him till his
tongue lolled out, whilst hammering his head fervently agen the rocky
floor.

"You murderin' devil!" I gritted betwixt my teeth. "Before I
varnishes this here rock with yore brains, tell me why you taken my
Uncle jeppard's sculp!"

"Let up!" he gurgled, being purple in the face where he warn't
bloody. "They was a dude travellin' through the country and collectin'
souvenirs, and he heard about that sculp and wanted it. He hired me to
go git it for him."

I was so shocked at that cold-bloodedness that I forgot what I was
doing and choked Bill nigh to death before I remembered to ease up on
him.

"Who was he?" I demanded. "Who is the skunk which hires old men
murdered so's he can colleck their sculps? My God, these Eastern dudes
is wuss'n Apaches! Hurry up and tell me, so I can finish killin' you."

But he was unconscious; I'd squoze his neck too hard. I riz up and
looked around for some water or whisky or something to bring him to so
he could tell who hired him to sculp Uncle Jeppard, before I twisted
his head off, which was my earnest intention of doing, when somebody
said: "Han's up!"

I whirled and there at the crook of the cave stood that there
cowboy which had spied on me in Grizzly Claw, and ten other men. They
all had their Winchesters p'inted at me, and the cowboy had a star on
his buzum.

"Don't move!" he said. "I'm a Federal detective, and I'm arrestin'
you for manufactorin' counterfeit money!"

"What you mean?" I snarled, backing up to the wall.

"You know," he said, kicking the tarpaulin off the junk in the
corner. "Look here, men! All the stamps and dyes he used to make
phoney coins and bills! All packed up, ready to light out. I been
hangin' around Grizzly Claw for days, knowin' that whoever was passin'
this stuff made his, or their headquarters here somewheres. Today I
spotted that dollar you give the barkeep, and I went _pronto_ for my
men which was camped back in the hills a few miles. I thought you was
settled in the wagon-yard for the night, but it seems you give us the
slip. Put the cuffs on him, men!"

"No, you don't!" I snarled, bounding back. "Not till I've finished
these devils on the floor--and maybe not then! I dunno what yo're
talkin' about, but--"

"Here's a couple of corpses!" hollered one of the men. "He's kilt
a couple of fellers!"

One of them stooped over Bill, but he had recovered his senses,
and now he riz up on his elbows and give a howl. "Save me!" he
bellered. "I confesses! I'm a counterfeiter, and so is Jim there on
the floor! We surrenders, and you got to pertect us!"

"_Yo're_ the counterfeiters?" ejaculated the detective, took aback
as it were. "Why, I was follerin' this giant! I seen him pass fake
money myself. We got to the wagon-yard awhile after he'd run off, but
we seen him duck in the woods not far from there, and we been chasin'
him. He shot at us down the trail while ago--"

"That was us," said Bill. "It was me you was chasin'. If he was
passin' fake stuff, he musta found it somewheres. I tell you, we're
the men you're after, and you got to pertect us! I demands to be put
in the strongest jail in this state, which even this here devil cain't
bust into!"

"And he ain't no counterfeiter?" said the detective.

"He ain't nothin' but a man-eater," said Bill. "Arrest us and take
us outa his rech."

"_No!"_ I roared, clean beside myself. "They belongs to me! They
sculped my uncle! Give 'em knives or guns or somethin', and let us
fight it out."

"Cain't do that," said the detective. "They're Federal prisoners.
If you got any charge agen 'em, they'll have to be indicted in the
proper form."

His men hauled 'em up and handcuffed 'em and started to lead 'em
out.

"Blast yore cussed souls!" I raved. "You low-down, mangy, egg-
suckin' coyotes! Does you mean to perteck a couple of dirty sculpers?
I'll--"

I started for 'em and they all p'inted their Winchesters at me.

"Keep back!" said the detective. "I'm grateful for you leadin' us
into this den, and layin' out these criminals for us, but I don't
hanker after no battle in a cave with a human grizzly like you."

Well, what could I do? If I'd had my guns, or even my knife, I'd
of took a chance with the whole eleven men, officers or not, but even
I can't fight eleven .45-90's with my bare hands. I stood speechless
with rage whilst they filed out, and then I went for Cap'n Kidd in a
kind of a daze. I felt wuss'n a hoss-thief. Them fellers would be put
in the pen safe out of my rech, and Uncle Jeppard's sculp was
unavenged! It was awful. I felt like bawling.

Time I got my hoss back onto the trail, the posse with their
prisoners was out of sight and hearing. I seen the only thing to do
was to go back to Grizzly Claw and get my outfit, and then foller 'em
and try to take their prisoners away from 'em some way.

Well, the wagon-yard was dark and still. The wounded had been
carried away to have their injuries bandaged, and from the groaning
that was still coming from the shacks and cabins along the street, the
casualities had been plenteous. The citizens of Grizzly Claw must have
been shook up something terrible, because they hadn't even stole my
guns and saddle and things yet; everything was in the cabin jest like
I'd left 'em.

I put on my boots, hat and belt, saddled and bridled Cap'n Kidd
and sot out on the road I knowed the posse had took. But they had a
long start on me, and when daylight come I hadn't overtook 'em, though
I knowed they couldn't be far ahead of me. But I did meet somebody
else. It was Tunk Willoughby riding up the trail, and when he seen me
he grinned all over his battered features.

"Hey, Breck!" he hailed me. "After you left I sot on that there
log and thunk, and thunk, and I finally remembered what Jack Gordon
told me, and I started out to find you again and tell you. It was
this: he said to keep a close lookout for a feller from Grizzly Claw
named Bill Croghan, because he'd gypped yore Uncle Jeppard in a deal."

_"What?"_ I said.

"Yeah," said Tunk. "He bought somethin' from Jeppard and paid him
in counterfeit money. Jeppard didn't know it was phoney till after the
feller had got plumb away," said Tunk, "and bein' as he was too busy
kyorin' some b'ar meat to go after him, he sent word for you to git
him."

"But the sculp--" I said wildly.

"Oh," said Tunk, "that was what Jeppard sold the feller. It was
the sculp Jeppard taken offa old Yeller Eagle, the Comanche war-chief
forty years ago, and been keepin' for a souvenear. Seems like a
Eastern dude heard about it and wanted to buy it, but this Croghan
feller must of kept the money he give him to git it with, and give
Jeppard phoney cash. So you see everything's all right, even if I did
forgit a little, and no harm did--"

And that's why Tunk Willoughby is going around saying I'm a
homicidal maneyack, and run him five miles down a mountain and tried
to kill him--which is a exaggeration, of course. I wouldn't of kilt
him if I could of caught him--which I couldn't when he taken to the
thick bresh. I would merely of raised a few knots on his head and tied
his hind laigs in a bow-knot around his fool neck, and did a few other
little things that might of improved his memory.



Chapter IX CUPID FROM BEAR CREEK



WHEN I reined my hoss towards War Paint again, I didn't go back
the way I'd come. I was so far off my route that I knowed it would be
nearer to go through the mountains by the way of Teton Gulch than it
would be to go clean back to the Yavapai-War Paint road. So I headed
out.

I aimed to pass right through Teton Gulch without stopping,
because I was in a hurry to get back to War Paint and Dolly Rixby, but
my thirst got the best of me, and I stopped in the camp. It was one of
them new mining towns that springs up overnight like mushrooms. I was
drinking me a dram at the bar of the Yaller Dawg Saloon and Hotel,
when the barkeep says, after studying me a spell, he says: "You must
be Breckinridge Elkins, of Bear Creek."

I give the matter due consideration, and 'lowed as how I was.

"How come you knowed me?" I inquired suspiciously, because I
hadn't never been in Teton Gulch before, and he says: "Well, I've
heard tell of Breckinridge Elkins, and when I seen you, I figgered you
must be him, because I don't see how they can be two men in the world
that big. By the way, there's a friend of yore'n upstairs--Blink
Wiltshaw, from War Paint. I've heered him brag about knowin' you
personal. He's upstairs now, fourth door from the stair-head, on the
left."

So Blink had come back to Teton, after all. Well, that suited me
fine, so I thought I'd go up and pass the time of day with him, and
find out if he had any news from War Paint, which I'd been gone from
for about a week. A lot of things can happen in a week in a fast-
moving town like War Paint.

I went upstairs and knocked on the door, and _bam!_ went a gun
inside and a .45 slug ripped through the door and taken a nick out of
my off-ear. Getting shot in the ear always did irritate me, so without
waiting for no more exhibitions of hospitality, I give voice to my
displeasure in a deafening beller and knocked the door off'n its
hinges and busted into the room over its rooins.

For a second I didn't see nobody, but then I heard a kind of
gurgle going on, and happened to remember that the door seemed kind of
squishy underfoot when I tromped over it, so I knowed that whoever was
in the room had got pinned under the door when I knocked it down.

So I reched under it and got him by the collar and hauled him out,
and sure enough it was Blink Wiltshaw. He was limp as a lariat, and
glassy-eyed and pale, and was still trying to shoot me with his six-
shooter when I taken it away from him.

"What the hell's the matter with you?" I demanded sternly,
dangling him by the collar with one hand, whilst shaking him till his
teeth rattled. "Didn't Dolly make us shake hands? What you mean by
tryin' to 'sasserinate me through a hotel door?"

"Lemme down, Breck," he gasped. "I didn't know it was you. I
thought it was Rattlesnake Harrison comin' after my gold."

So I sot him down. He grabbed a jug of licker and taken him a
swig, and his hand shook so he spilt half of it down his neck.

"Well?" I demanded. "Ain't you goin' to offer me a snort, dern
it?"

"Excuse me, Breckinridge," he apolergized. "I'm so derned jumpy I
dunno what I'm doin'. You see them buckskin pokes?" says he, p'inting
at some bags on the bed. "Them is plumb full of nuggets. I got a claim
up the Gulch, and the day I got back from War Paint I hit a regular
bonanza. But it ain't doin' me no good."

"What you mean?" I ast.

"The mountains around Teton is full of outlaws," says he. "They
robs and murders every man which makes a strike. The stagecoach has
been stuck up so often nobody sends their dust out on it no more. When
a man makes a pile he sneaks out through the mountains at night, with
his gold on pack-mules. I aimed to do that last night. But them
outlaws has got spies all over the camp, and I know they got me
spotted. Rattlesnake Harrison's their chief, and he's a ring-tailed
he-devil. I been squattin' over this here gold with my pistol in fear
and tremblin', expectin' 'em to come right into camp after me. I'm
dern nigh loco!"

And he shivered and cussed kind of whimpery, and taken another
dram, and cocked his pistol and sot there shaking like he'd saw a
ghost or two.

"You got to help me, Breckinridge," he said desperately. "You take
this here gold out for me, willya? The outlaws don't know you. _You_
could hit the old Injun path south of the camp and foller it to Hell-
Wind Pass. The Chawed Ear-Wahpeton stage goes there about sundown. You
could put the gold on the stage there, and they'd take it on to
Wahpeton. Harrison wouldn't never think of holdin' it up _after_ it
left Hell-Wind. They always holds it up this side of the Pass."

"What I want to risk my neck for you for?" I demanded bitterly,
memories of Dolly Rixby rising up before me. "If you ain't got the
guts to tote out yore own gold--"

"'Tain't altogether the gold, Breck," says he. "I'm tryin' to git
married, and--"

"_Married?_" says I. "Here? In Teton Gulch? To a gal in Teton
Gulch?"

"Maried to a gal in Teton Gulch," he avowed. "I was aimin' to git
hitched tomorrer, but they ain't a preacher or a justice of the peace
in camp to tie the knot. But her uncle the Reverant Rembrandt Brockton
is a circuit rider, and he's due to pass through Hell-Wind Pass on his
way to Wahpeton today. I was aimin' to sneak out last night, hide in
the hills till the stage come through, and then put the gold on it and
bring Brother Rembrandt back with me. But yesterday I learnt
Harrison's spies was watchin' me, and I'm scairt to go. Now Brother
Rembrandt will go on to Wahpeton, not knowin' he's needed here, and no
tellin' when I'll be able to git married--"

"Hold on," I said hurriedly, doing some quick thinking. I didn't
want this here wedding to fall through. The more Blink was married to
some gal in Teton, the less he could marry Dolly Rixby.

"Blink," I said, grasping his hand warmly, "never let it be said
that a Elkins ever turned down a friend in distress. I'll take yore
gold to Hell-Wind Pass and bring back Brother Rembrandt."

Blink fell onto my neck and wept with joy. "I'll never forgit
this, Breckinridge," says he, "and I bet you won't neither! My hoss
and pack-mule are in the stables behind the saloon."

"I don't need no pack-mule," I says. "Cap'n Kidd can pack the dust
easy."

Cap'n Kidd was getting fed out in the corral next to the hotel. I
went out there and got my saddle-bags, which is a lot bigger'n most
saddle-bags, because all my plunder has to be made to fit my size.
They're made outa three-ply elkskin, stitched with rawhide thongs, and
a wildcat couldn't claw his way out of 'em.

I noticed quite a bunch of men standing around the corral looking
at Cap'n Kidd, but thunk nothing of it, because he is a hoss which
naturally attracks attention. But whilst I was getting my saddle-bags,
a long lanky cuss with long yaller whiskers come up and said, says he:
"Is that yore hoss in the corral?"

I says: "If he ain't he ain't nobody's."

"Well, he looks a whole lot like a hoss that was stole off my
ranch six months ago," he said, and I seen ten or fifteen hard-looking
_hombres_ gathering around me. I laid down my saddle-bags sudden-like
and reched for my guns, when it occurred to me that if I had a fight I
there I might get arrested and it would interfere with me bringing
Brother Rembrandt in for the wedding.

"If that there is yore hoss," I said, "you ought to be able to
lead him out of that there corral."

"Shore I can," he says with a oath. "And what's more, I aim'ta."

"That's right, Jake," says another feller. "Stand up for yore
rights. Us boys is right behind you."

"Go ahead," I says. "If he's yore hoss, prove it. Go git him!"

He looked at me suspiciously, but he taken up a rope and clumb the
fence and started towards Cap'n Kidd which was chawing on a block of
hay in the middle of the corral. Cap'n Kidd throwed up his head and
laid back his ears and showed his teeth, and Jake stopped sudden and
turned pale.

"I--I don't believe that there _is_ my hoss, after all!" says he.

"Put that lasso on him!" I roared, pulling my right-hand gun. "You
say he's yore'n; I say he's mine. One of us is a liar and a hoss-thief
and I aim to prove which. Gwan, before I festoons yore system with
lead polka-dots!"

"He looked at me and he looked at Cap'n Kidd, and he turned bright
green all over. He looked again at my .45 which I now had cocked and
p'inted at his long neck, which his adam's apple was going up and down
like a monkey on a pole, and he begun to aidge towards Cap'n Kidd
again, holding the rope behind him and sticking out one hand.

"Whoa, boy," he says, kind of shudderingly. "Whoa--good old
feller--nice hossie--whoa, boy--_ow!"_

He let out a awful howl as Cap'n Kidd made a snap and bit a chunk
out of his hide. He turned to run but Cap'n Kidd wheeled and let fly
both heels which catched Jake in the seat of the britches, and his
shriek of despair was horrible to hear as he went head-first through
the corral-fence into a hoss-trough on the other side. From this he
ariz dripping water, blood and profanity, and he shook a quivering
fist at me and croaked: "You derned murderer! I'll have yore life for
this!"

"I don't hold no conversation with hoss-thieves," I snorted, and
picked up my saddle-bags and stalked through the crowd which give back
in a hurry and take care to cuss under their breath when I tromped on
their fool toes.

I taken the saddle-bags up to Blink's room, and told him about
Jake, thinking he'd be amoosed, but he got a case of the aggers again,
and said: "That was one of Harrison's men! He aimed to take yore hoss.
It's a old trick, and honest folks don't dare interfere. Now they got
you spotted! What'll you do?"

"Time, tide and a Elkins waits for no man!" I snorted, dumping the
gold into the saddle-bags. "If that yaller-whiskered coyote wants any
trouble, he can git a bellyfull! Don't worry, yore gold will be safe
in my saddle-bags. It's as good as in the Wahpeton stage right now.
And by midnight I'll be back with Brother Rembrandt Brockton to hitch
you up with his niece."

"Don't yell so loud," begged Blink. "The cussed camp's full of
spies. Some of 'em may be downstairs right now, lissenin'."

"I warn't speakin' above a whisper," I said indignantly.

"That bull's beller may pass for a whisper on Bear Creek," says
he, wipin' off the sweat, "but I bet they can hear it from one end of
the Gulch to the other'n, at least."

It's a pitable sight to see a man with a case of the scairts. I
shook hands with him and left him pouring red licker down his gullet
like it was water, and I swung the saddle-bags over my shoulder and
went downstairs, and the barkeep leaned over the bar and whispered to
me: "Look out for Jake Roman! He was in here a minute ago, lookin' for
trouble. He pulled out jest before you come down, but he won't be
forgittin' what yore hoss done to him."

"Not when he tries to set down, he won't," I agreed, and went out
to the corral, and they was a crowd of men watching Cap'n Kidd eat his
hay, and one of 'em seen me and hollered: "Hey, boys, here comes the
giant! He's goin' to saddle that man-eatin' monster! Hey, Bill! Tell
the boys at the bar."

And here come a whole passel of fellers running out of all the
saloons, and they lined the corral fence solid, and started laying
bets whether I'd get the saddle onto Cap'n Kidd, or get my brains
kicked out. I thought miners must all be crazy. They ought've knowed I
was able to saddle my own hoss.

Well, I saddled him and throwed on the saddle-bags and clumb
aboard, and he pitched about ten jumps like he always does when I
first fork him--'twarn't nothing, but them miners hollered like wild
Injuns. And when he accidentally bucked hisself and me through the
fence and knocked down a section of it along with fifteen men which
was setting on the top rail, the way they howled you'd of thought
something terrible had happened. Me and Cap'n Kidd don't bother about
gates. We usually makes our own through whatever happens to be in
front of us. But them miners is a weakly breed. As I rode out of town
I seen the crowd dipping nine or ten of 'em into a hoss-trough to
bring 'em to, on account of Cap'n Kidd having accidentally tromped on
'em.

Well, I rode out of the Gulch and up the ravine to the south and
come out into the high-timbered country, and hit the old Injun trail
Blink had told me about. It warn't traveled much. I didn't meet nobody
after I left the Gulch. I figgered to hit Hell-Wind Pass at least a
hour before sundown which would give me plenty of time. Blink said the
stage passed through there about sundown. I'd have to bring back
Brother Rembrandt on Cap'n Kidd, I reckoned, but that there hoss can
carry double and still out-run and out-last any other hoss in the
State of Nevada. I figgered on getting back to Teton about midnight or
maybe a little later.

After I'd went several miles I come to Apache Canyon, which was a
deep, narrer gorge, with a river at the bottom which went roaring and
foaming along betwixt rock walls a hundred and fifty feet high. The
old trail hit the rim at a place where the canyon warn't only about
seventy foot wide, and somebody had felled a whopping big pine tree on
one side so it fell acrost and made a foot-bridge, where a man could
walk acrost. They'd onst been a gold strike in Apache Canyon, and a
big camp there, but now it was plumb abandoned and nobody lives
anywheres near it.

I turned east and follered the rim for about half a mile. Here I
come into a old wagon road which was jest about growed up with
saplings now, but it run down into a ravine into the bed of the
canyon, and they was a bridge acrost the river which had been built
during the days of the gold rush. Most of it had done been washed away
by head-rises, but a man could still ride a hoss acrost what was left.
So I done so, and rode up a ravine on the other side, and come out on
high ground again.

I'd rode a few hundred yards past the mouth of the ravine when
somebody said: "Hey!" and I wheeled with both guns in my hands. Out of
the bresh sa'ntered a tall gent in a long frock tail coat and broad-
brimmed hat.

"Who air you and what the hell you mean by hollerin' 'Hey!' at
me?" I demanded courteously, p'inting my guns at him. A Elkins is
always perlite.

"I am the Reverant Rembrandt Brockton, my good man," says he. "I
am on my way to Teton Gulch to unite my niece and a young man of that
camp in the bonds of holy matrimony."

"The he--you don't say!" I says. "Afoot?"

"I alit from the stagecoach at--ah--Hades-Wind Pass," says he.
"Some very agreeable cowboys happened to be awaiting the stage there,
and they offered to escort me to Teton."

"How come you knowed yore niece was wantin' to be united in
acrimony?" I ast.

"The cowpersons informed me that such was the case," says he.

"Where-at are they now?" I next inquore.

"The mount with which they supplied me went lame a little while
ago," says he. "They left me here while they went to procure another
from a nearby ranch-house."

"I dunno who'd have a ranch anywheres around near here," I
muttered. "They ain't got much sense leavin' you here by yore high
lonesome."

"You mean to imply there is danger?" says he, blinking mildly at
me.

"These here mountains is lousy with outlaws which would as soon
kyarve a preacher's gullet as anybody's," I said, and then I thought
of something else. "Hey!" I says. "I thought the stage didn't come
through the Pass till sundown?"

"Such was the case," says he. "But the schedule has been altered."

"Heck!" I says. "I was aimin' to put this here gold on it which my
saddle-bags is full of. Now I'll have to take it back to Teton with
me. Well, I'll bring it out tomorrer and catch the stage then. Brother
Rembrandt, I'm Breckinridge Elkins of Bear Creek, and I come out here
to meet you and escort you back to the Gulch, so's you can unite yore
niece and Blink Wiltshaw in the holy bounds of alimony. Come on. We'll
ride double."

"But I must await my cowboy friends!" he said. "Ah, here they come
now!"

I looked over to the east, and seen about fifteen men ride into
sight and move towards us. One was leading a hoss without no saddle
onto it.

"Ah, my good friends!" beamed Brother Rembrandt. "They have
procured a mount for me, even as they promised."

He hauled a saddle out of the bresh, and says: "Would you please
saddle my horse for me when they get here? I should be delighted to
hold your rifle while you did so."

I started to hand him my Winchester, when the snap of a twig under
a hoss's hoof made me whirl quick. A feller had jest rode out of a
thicket about a hundred yards south of me, and he was raising a
Winchester to his shoulder. I recognized him instantly. If us Bear
Creek folks didn't have eyes like a hawk, we'd never live to get
growed. It was Jake Roman!

Our Winchesters banged together. His lead fanned my ear and mine
knocked him end-ways out of his saddle.

"Cowboys, hell!" I roared. "Them's Harrison's outlaws! I'll save
you, Brother Rembrandt!"

I swooped him up with one arm and gouged Cap'n Kidd with the spurs
and he went from there like a thunderbolt with its tail on fire. Them
outlaws come on with wild yells. I ain't in the habit of running from
people, but I was afeared they might do the Reverant harm if it come
to a close fight, and if he stopped a chunk of lead, Blink might not
get to marry his niece, and might get disgusted and go back to War
Paint and start sparking Dolly Rixby again.

I was heading for the canyon, aiming to make a stand in the ravine
if I had to, and them outlaws was killing their hosses trying to get
to the bend of the trail ahead of me, and cut me off. Cap'n Kidd was
running with his belly to the ground, but I'll admit Brother Rembrandt
warn't helping me much. He was laying acrost my saddle with his arms
and laigs waving wildly because I hadn't had time to set him
comfortable, and when the horn jobbed him in the belly he uttered some
words I wouldn't of expected to hear spoke by a minister of the
gospel.

Guns begun to crack and lead hummed past us, and Brother Rembrandt
twisted his head around and screamed: "Stop that--shootin', you--sons
of--! You'll hit me!"

I thought it was kind of selfish from Brother Rembrandt not to
mention me, too, but I said: "'Tain't no use to remonstrate with them
skunks, Reverant. They ain't got no respeck for a preacher even."

But to my amazement, the shooting did stop, though them bandits
yelled louder'n ever and flogged their cayuses harder. But about that
time I seen they had me cut off from the lower canyon crossing, so I
wrenched Cap'n Kidd into the old Injun track and headed straight for
the canyon rim as hard as he could hammer, with the bresh lashing and
snapping around us, and slapping Brother Rembrandt in the face when it
whipped back. Them outlaws yelled and wheeled in behind us, but Cap'n
Kidd drawed away from them with every stride, and the canyon rim
loomed jest ahead of us.

"Pull up, you jack-eared son of Baliol!" howled Brother Rembrandt.
"You'll go over the edge!"

"Be at ease, Reverant," I reassured him. "We're goin' over the
log."

"Lord have mercy on my soul!" he squalled, and shet his eyes and
grabbed a stirrup leather with both hands, and then Cap'n Kidd went
over that log like thunder rolling on Jedgment Day.

I doubt if they is another hoss west of the Pecos, or east of it
either, which would bolt out onto a log foot-bridge acrost a canyon a
hundred and fifty foot deep like that, but they ain't nothing in this
world Cap'n Kidd's scairt of except maybe me. He didn't slacken his
speed none. He streaked acrost that log like it was a quarter-track,
with the bark and splinters flying from under his hoofs, and if one
foot had slipped a inch, it would of been Sally bar the door. But he
didn't slip, and we was over and on the other side almost before you
could catch yore breath.

"You can open yore eyes now, Brother Rembrandt," I said kindly,
but he didn't say nothing. He'd fainted. I shaken him to wake him up,
and in a flash he come to and give a shriek and grabbed my laig like a
b'ar trap. I reckon he thought we was still on the log. I was trying
to pry him loose when Cap'n Kidd chose that moment to run under a low-
hanging oak tree limb. That's his idee of a joke. That there hoss has
got a great sense of humor.

I looked up jest in time to see the limb coming, but not in time
to dodge it. It was as big around as my thigh, and it took me smack
acrost the wish-bone. We was going full-speed, and something had to
give way. It was the girths--both of 'em. Cap'n Kidd went out from
under me, and me and Brother Rembrandt and the saddle hit the ground
together.

I jumped up but Brother Rembrandt laid there going: "Wug wug wug!"
like water running out of a busted jug. And then I seen them cussed
outlaws had dismounted off of their hosses and was coming acrost the
bridge single file on foot, with their Winchesters in their hands.

I didn't waste no time shooting them misguided idjits. I run to
the end of the foot-bridge, ignoring the slugs they slung at me. It
was purty pore shooting, because they warn't shore of their footing,
and didn't aim good. So I only got one bullet in the hind laig and was
creased three or four other unimportant places--not enough to bother
about.

I bent my knees and got hold of the end of the tree and heaved up
with it, and them outlaws hollered and fell along it like ten pins,
and dropped their Winchesters and grabbed holt of the log. I given it
a shake and shook some of 'em off like persimmons off a limb after a
frost, and then I swung the butt around clear of the rim and let go,
and it went down end over end into the river a hundred and fifty feet
below, with a dozen men still hanging onto it and yelling blue murder.

A regular geyser of water splashed up when they hit, and the last
I seen of 'em they was all swirling down the river together in a
thrashing tangle of arms and laigs and heads.

I remembered Brother Rembrandt and run back to where he'd fell,
but he was already on his feet. He was kind of pale and wild-eyed and
his laigs kept bending under him, but he had hold of the saddle-bags,
and was trying to drag 'em into a thicket, mumbling kind of dizzily to
hisself.

"It's all right now, Brother Rembrandt," I said kindly. "Them
outlaws is all horse-de-combat now, as the French say. Blink's gold is
safe."

"--" says Brother Rembrandt, pulling two guns from under his coat
tails, and if I hadn't grabbed him, he would of ondoubtedly shot me.
We rassled around and I protested: "Hold on, Brother Rembrandt! I
ain't no outlaw. I'm yore friend, Breckinridge Elkins. Don't you
remember?"

His only reply was a promise to eat my heart without no seasoning,
and he then sunk his teeth into my ear and started to chaw it off,
whilst gouging for my eyes with both thumbs, and spurring me severely
in the hind laigs. I seen he was out of his head from fright and the
fall he got, so I said sorrerfully: "Brother Rembrandt, I hates to do
this. It hurts me more'n it does you, but we cain't waste time like
this. Blink is waitin' to git married." And with a sigh I busted him
over the head with the butt of my six-shooter, and he fell over and
twitched a few times and then lay limp.

"Pore Brother Rembrandt," I sighed sadly. "All I hope is I ain't
addled yore brains so's you've forgot the weddin' ceremony."

So as not to have no more trouble with him when, and if, he come
to, I tied his arms and laigs with pieces of my lariat, and taken his
weppins which was most surprising arms for a circuit rider. His
pistols had the triggers out of 'em, and they was three notches on the
butt of one, and four on t'other'n. Moreover he had a bowie knife in
his boot, and a deck of marked kyards and a pair of loaded dice in his
hip-pocket. But that warn't none of my business.

About the time I finished tying him up, Cap'n Kidd come back to
see if he'd kilt me or jest crippled me for life. To show him I could
take a joke too, I give him a kick in the belly, and when he could get
his breath again, and ondouble hisself, I throwed the saddle on him. I
spliced the girths with the rest of my lariat, and put Brother
Rembrandt in the saddle and clumb on behind and we headed for Teton
Gulch.

After a hour or so Brother Rembrandt come to and says kind of
dizzily: "Was anybody saved from the typhoon?"

"Yo're all right, Brother Rembrandt," I assured him. "I'm takin'
you to Teton Gulch."

"I remember," he muttered. "It all comes back to me. Damn Jake
Roman! I thought it was a good idea, but it seems I was mistaken. I
thought we had an ordinary human being to deal with. I know when I'm
licked. I'll give you a thousand dollars to let me go."

"Take it easy, Brother Rembrandt," I soothed, seeing he was still
delirious. "We'll be to Teton in no time."

"I don't want to go to Teton!" he hollered.

"You got to," I told him. "You got to unite yore niece and Blink
Wiltshaw in the holy bums of parsimony."

"To hell with Blink Wiltshaw and my--niece!" he yelled.

"You ought to be ashamed usin' sech langwidge, and you a minister
of the gospel," I reproved him sternly. His reply would of curled a
Piute's hair.

I was so scandalized I made no reply. I was jest fixing to untie
him, so's he could ride more comfortable, but I thought if he was that
crazy, I better not. So I give no heed to his ravings which growed
more and more unbearable as we progressed. In all my born days I never
seen sech a preacher.

It was sure a relief to me to sight Teton at last. It was night
when we rode down the ravine into the Gulch, and the dance halls and
saloons was going full blast. I rode up behind the Yaller Dawg Saloon
and hauled Brother Rembrandt off with me and sot him onto his feet,
and he said, kind of despairingly: "For the last time, listen to
reason. I've got fifty thousand dollars cached up in the hills. I'll
give you every cent if you'll untie me."

"I don't want no money," I said. "All I want is for you to marry
yore niece and Blink Wiltshaw. I'll untie you then."

"All right," he said. "All right! But untie me now!"

I was jest fixing to do it, when the bar-keep come out with a
lantern, and he shone it on our faces and said in a startled tone:
"Who the hell is that with you, Elkins?"

"You wouldn't never suspect it from his langwidge," I says, "but
it's the Reverant Rembrandt Brockton."

"Are you crazy?" says the bar-keep. "That's Rattle snake
Harrison!"

"I give up," said my prisoner. "I'm Harrison. I'm licked. Lock me
up somewhere away from this lunatic!"

I was standing in a kind of daze, with my mouth open, but now I
woke up and bellered: "_What?_ Yo're Harrison? I see it all now! Jake
Roman overheard me talkin' to Blink Wiltshaw, and rode off and fixed
it with you to fool me like you done, so's to git Blink's gold! That's
why you wanted to hold my Winchester whilst I saddled yore cayuse."

"How'd you ever guess it?" he sneered. "We ought to have shot you
from ambush like I wanted to, but Jake wanted to catch you alive and
torture you to death account of your horse bitin' him. The fool must
have lost his head at the last minute and decided to shoot you after
all. If you hadn't recognized him we'd had you surrounded and stuck up
before you knew what was happening."

"But now the real preacher's gone on to Wahpeton!" I hollered. "I
got to foller him and bring him back--"

"Why, he's here," said one of the men which was gathering around
us. "He come in with his niece a hour ago on the stage from War
Paint."

"War Paint?" I howled, hit in the belly by a premonishun. I run
into the saloon, where they was a lot of people, and there was Blink
and a gal holding hands in front of a old man with a long white beard,
and he had a book in his hand, and the other'n lifted in the air. He
was saying: "--And I now pernounces you-all man and wife. Them which
God has j'ined togither let no snake-hunter put asunder."

_"Dolly!"_ I yelled. Both of 'em jumped about four foot and
whirled, and Dolly jumped in front of Blink and spread her arms like
she was shooing chickens.

"Don't you tech him, Breckinridge!" she hollered. "I jest married
him and I don't aim for no Humbolt grizzly to spile him!"

"But I don't _sabe_ all this--" I said dizzily, nervously fumbling
with my guns which is a habit of mine when upsot.

Everybody in the wedding party started ducking out of line, and
Blink said hurriedly: "It's this way, Breck. When I made my pile so
onexpectedly quick, I sent for Dolly to come and marry me, like she'd
promised that night, jest after you pulled out for Yavapai. I _was_
aimin' to take my gold out today, like I told you, so me and Dolly
could go to San Francisco on our honeymoon, but I learnt Harrison's
gang was watchin' me, jest like I told you. I wanted to git my gold
out, and I wanted to git you out of the way before Dolly and her uncle
got here on the War Paint stage, so I told you that there lie about
Brother Rembrandt bein' on the Wahpeton stage. It was the only lie."

"You said you was marryin' a gal in Teton," I accused fiercely.

"Well," says he, "I did marry her in Teton. You know, Breck, all's
fair in love and war."

"Now, now, boys," says Brother Rembrandt--the real one, I mean.
"The gal's married, yore rivalry is over, and they's no use holdin'
grudges. Shake hands and be friends."

"All right," I said heavily. No man can't say I ain't a good
loser. I was cut deep, but I concealed my busted heart.

Leastways I concealed it all I was able to. Them folks which says
I crippled Blink Wiltshaw with malice aforethought is liars which I'll
sweep the road with when I catches 'em. I didn't aim to break his
cussed arm when we shaken hands. It was jest the convulsive start I
give when I suddenly thought of what Glory McGraw would say when she
heard about this mess. And they ain't no use in folks saying that what
imejitly follered was done in revenge for Dolly busting me in the head
with that cuspidor. When I thought of the rawhiding I'd likely get
from Glory McGraw I kind of lost my head and stampeded like a loco
bull. When something got in my way I removed it without stopping to
see what it was. How was I to know it was Dolly's Uncle Rembrandt
which I absent-mindedly throwed through a winder. And as for them
fellers which claims they was knocked down and trompled on, they ought
to of got outa my way, dern 'em.

As I headed down the trail on Cap'n Kidd I wondered if I ever
really loved Dolly, after all, because I was less upsot over her
marrying another feller than I was about what Glory McGraw would say.



Chapter X THE HAUNTED MOUNTAIN



THEY SAY when a critter is mortally wounded he generally heads for
his den, so maybe that's why I headed for Bear Creek when I rode out
of Teton Gulch that night; I'd had about as much civilization as I
could stand for awhile.

But the closer I got to Bear Creek the more I thought about Glory
McGraw and I bust into profuse sweat every time I thought about what
she'd say to me, because I'd sent her word by one of the Braxton boys
that I aimed to bring Dolly Rixby to Bear Creek as Miz Breckinridge
Elkins.

I thought about this so much that when I cut the Chawed Ear road I
turned aside and headed up it. I'd met a feller a few miles back which
told me about a rodeo which was going to take place at Chawed Ear, so
I thought it was a good way to pick up some easy money whilst avoiding
Glory at the same time. But I forgot I had to pass by the cabin of one
of my relatives.

The reason I detests tarantulas, stinging lizards, and hydrophobia
skunks is because they reminds me so much of Aunt Lavaca Grimes, which
my Uncle Jacob Grimes married in a absent-minded moment, when he was
old enough to know better.

That there woman's voice plumb puts my teeth on aidge, and it has
the same effect on Cap'n Kidd, which don't otherwise shy at nothing
less'n a cyclone. So when she stuck her head out of her cabin as I was
riding by and yelled: "Breck-in-ri-i-idge!" Cap'n Kidd jumped like he
was shot, and then tried to buck me off.

"Stop tormentin' that pore animal and come here," commanded Aunt
Lavaca, whilst I was fighting for my life agen Cap'n Kidd's spine-
twisting sunfishing. "Always showin' off! I never see such a
inconsiderate, worthless, no-good--"

She kept on yapping away till I had wore him down and reined up
alongside the cabin-stoop, and said: "What you want, Aunt Lavaca?"

She give me a scornful stare, and put her hands onto her hips and
glared at me like I was something she didn't like the smell of.

"I want you to go git yore Uncle Jacob and bring him home," she
said at last. "He's off on one of his idjiotic prospectin' sprees
again. He snuck out before daylight with the bay mare and a pack
mule--I wisht I'd woke up and caught him. I'd of fixed him! If you
hustle you can catch him this side of Haunted Mountain Gap. You bring
him back if you have to lasso him and tie him to his saddle. Old fool!
Off huntin' gold when they's work to be did in the alfalfa fields.
Says he ain't no farmer. Huh! I 'low I'll make a farmer outa him yet.
You git goin'."

"But I ain't got time to go chasin' Uncle Jacob all over Haunted
Mountain," I protested. "I'm headin' for the rodeo over to Chawed Ear.
I'm goin' to winme a prize bull-doggin' some steers--"

"Bull-doggin'!" she snapped. "A fine ockerpashun! Gwan, you
worthless loafer! I ain't goin' to stand here all day argyin' with a
big ninny like you be. Of all the good-for-nothin', triflin', lunk-
headed--"

When Aunt Lavaca starts in like that you might as well travel. She
can talk steady for three days and nights without repeating herself,
with her voice getting louder and shriller all the time till it nigh
splits a body's ear drums. She was still yelling at me as I rode up
the trail towards Haunted Mountain Gap, and I could hear her long
after I couldn't see her no more.

Pore Uncle Jacob! He never had much luck prospecting, but trailing
around with a jackass is a lot better'n listening to Aunt Lavaca. A
jackass's voice is mild and soothing alongside of her'n.

Some hours later I was climbing the long rise that led up to the
gap and I realized I had overtook the old coot when something went
_ping!_ up on the slope, and my hat flew off. I quick reined Cap'n
Kidd behind a clump of bresh, and looked up towards the Gap, and seen
a pack-mule's rear end sticking out of a cluster of boulders.

"You quit that shootin' at me, Uncle Jacob!" I roared.

"You stay whar you be," his voice come back rambunctious and
warlike. "I know Lavacky sent you after me, but I ain't goin' home.
I'm onto somethin' big at last, and I don't aim to be interfered
with."

"What you mean?" I demanded.

"Keep back or I'll ventilate you," he promised. "I'm goin' after
the Lost Haunted Mine."

"You been huntin' that thing for fifty years," I snorted.

"This time I finds it," he says. "I bought a map off'n a drunk
Mexican down to Perdition. One of his ancestors was a Injun which
helped pile up the rocks to hide the mouth of the cave whar it is."

"Why didn't he go find it and git the gold?" I ast.

"He's scairt of ghosts," said Uncle Jacob. "All Mexes is awful
superstitious. This 'un'd ruther set and drink, anyhow. They's
millions in gold in that there mine. I'll shoot you before I'll go
home. Now will you go on back peacable, or will you throw in with me?
I might need you, in case the pack-mule plays out."

"I'll come with you," I said, impressed. "Maybe you have got
somethin', at that. Put up yore Winchester, I'm comin'."

He emerged from his rocks, a skinny, leathery old cuss, and he
said: "What about Lavacky? If you don't come back with me, she'll
foller us herself, she's that strong-minded."

"You can write, cain't you, Uncle Jacob?" I said, and he said,
"Yeah, I always carries me a pencil-stub in my saddle-bags. Why?"

"We'll write her a note," I said. "Joe Hopkins always comes down
through the Gap onst a week on his way to Chawed Ear. He's due through
here today. We'll stick the note on a tree, where he'll see it and
take it to her."

So I tore a piece of wrapping paper off'n a can of tomatoes Uncle
Jacob had in his pack, and he got out his pencil stub, and writ as I
told him, as follers:

"Dere Ant Lavaca: I am takin uncle Jacob way up in the mountins
don't try to foler us it wont do no good gold is what Im after.
Breckinridge."

We folded it and I told Uncle Jacob to write on the outside:

"Dere Joe: pleeze take this here note to Miz Lavaca Grimes on the
Chawed Ear rode."

It was lucky Joe knowed how to read. I made Uncle Jacob read me
what he had writ to be sure he had got it right. Education is a good
thing in its place, but it never taken the place of common hoss-sense.

But he had got it right for a wonder, so I stuck the note on a
spruce limb, and me and Uncle Jacob sot out for the higher ranges. He
started telling me all about the Lost Haunted Mine again, like he'd
already did about forty times before. Seems like they was onst a old
prospector which stumbled onto a cave about sixty years before then,
which the walls was solid gold and nuggets all over the floor till a
body couldn't walk, as big as mushmelons. But the Injuns jumped him
and run him out and he got lost and nearly starved in the desert, and
went crazy. When he come to a settlement and finally got his mind
back, he tried to lead a party back to it, but never could find it.
Uncle Jacob said the Injuns had took rocks and bresh and hid the mouth
of the cave so nobody could tell it was there. I ast him how he knowed
the Injuns done that, and he said it was common knowledge. He said any
fool ought a know that's jest what they done.

"This here mine," says Uncle Jacob, "is located in a hidden valley
which lies away up amongst the high ranges. I ain't never seen it, and
I thought I'd explored these mountains plenty. Ain't nobody more
familiar with 'em than me, except old Joshua Braxton. But it stands to
reason that the cave is awful hard to find, or somebody'd already
found it. Accordin' to this here map, that lost valley must lie jest
beyond Wildcat Canyon. Ain't many white men know whar that is, even.
We're headin' there."

We had left the Gap far behind us, and was moving along the
slanting side of a sharp-angled crag whilst he was talking. As we
passed it we seen two figgers with hosses emerge from the other side,
heading in the same direction we was, so our trails converged. Uncle
Jacob glared and reched for his Winchester.

"Who's that?" he snarled.

"The big 'un's Bill Glanton," I said. "I never seen t'other'n."

"And nobody else, outside of a freak show," growled Uncle Jacob.

The other feller was a funny-looking little maverick, with laced
boots and a cork sun-helmet and big spectacles. He sot his hoss like
he thought it was a rocking-chair, and held his reins like he was
trying to fish with 'em. Glanton hailed us. He was from Texas,
original, and was rough in his speech and free with his weppins, but
me and him had always got along together very well.

"Where you-all goin'?" demanded Uncle Jacob.

"I am Professor Van Brock, of New York," said the tenderfoot,
whilst Bill was getting rid of his terbaccer wad. "I have employed Mr.
Glanton, here, to guide me up into the mountains. I am on the track of
a tribe of aborigines, which according to fairly well substantiated
rumor, have inhabited the haunted Mountains since time immemorial."

"Lissen here, you four-eyed runt," said Uncle Jacob in wrath, "air
you givin' me the hoss-laugh?"

"I assure yon that equine levity is the furthest thing from my
thoughts," says Van Brock. "Whilst touring the country in the
interests of science, I heard the rumors to which I have referred. In
a village possessing the singular appellation of Chawed Ear, I met an
aged prospector who told me that he had seen one of the aborigines,
clad in the skin of a wild animal and armed with a bludgeon. The wild
man, he said, emitted a most peculiar and piercing cry when sighted,
and fled into the recesses of the hills. I am confident that it is
some survivor of a pre-Indian race, and I am determined to
investigate."

"They ain't no sech critter in these hills," snorted Uncle Jacob.
"I've roamed all over 'em for fifty year, and I ain't seen no wild
man."

"Well," says Glanton, "they's _somethin'_ onnatural up there,
because I been hearin' some funny yarns myself. I never thought I'd be
huntin' wild men," he says, "but since that hash-slinger in Perdition
turned me down to elope with a travelin' salesman, I welcomes the
chance to lose myself in the mountains and forgit the perfidy of
women-kind. What you-all doin' up here? Prospectin'?" he said,
glancing at the tools on the mule.

"Not in earnest," said Uncle Jacob hurriedly. "We're jest whilin'
away our time. They ain't no gold in these mountains."

"Folks says that Lost Haunted Mine is up here somewheres," said
Glanton.

"A pack of lies," snorted Uncle Jacob, busting into a sweat.
"Ain't no sech mine. Well, Breckinridge, le's be shovin'. Got to make
Antelope Peak before sundown."

"I thought we was goin' to Wildcat Canyon," I says, and he give me
a awful glare, and said: "Yes, Breckinridge, that's right, Antelope
Peak, jest like you said. So long, gents."

"So long," says Glanton.

So we turned off the trail almost at right angles to our course,
me follering Uncle Jacob bewilderedly. When we was out of sight of the
others, he reined around again.

"When Nature give you the body of a giant, Breckinridge," he said,
"she plumb forgot to give you any brains to go along with yore
muscles. You want everybody to know what we're lookin' for, and whar?"

"Aw," I said, "them fellers is jest lookin' for wild men."

"Wild men!" he snorted. "They don't have to go no further'n Chawed
Ear on payday night to find more wild men than they could handle. I
ain't swallerin' no sech tripe. Gold is what they're after, I tell
you. I seen Glanton talkin' to that Mex in Perdition the day I bought
that map from him. I believe they either got wind of that mine, or
know I got that map, or both."

"What you goin' to do?" I ast him.

"Head for Wildcat Canyon by another trail," he said.

So we done so and arriv there after night, him not willing to stop
till we got there. It was deep, with big high cliffs cut with ravines
and gulches here and there, and very wild in appearance. We didn't
descend into the canyon that night, but camped on a plateau above it.
Uncle Jacob 'lowed we'd begin exploring next morning. He said they was
lots of caves in the canyon, and he'd been in all of 'em. He said he
hadn't never found nothing except b'ars and painters and rattlesnakes,
but he believed one of them caves went on through into another hidden
canyon, and that was where the gold was at.

Next morning I was awoke by Uncle Jacob shaking me, and his
whiskers was curling with rage.

"What's the matter?" I demanded, setting up and pulling my guns.

"They're here!" he squalled. "Dawgone it, I suspected 'em all the
time! Git up, you big lunk! Don't set there gawpin' with a gun in each
hand like a idjit! They're here, I tell you!"

"Who's here?" I ast.

"That dern tenderfoot and his cussed Texas gunfighter," snarled
Uncle Jacob. "I was up jest at daylight, and purty soon I seen a wisp
of smoke curlin' up from behind a big rock t'other side of the flat. I
snuck over there, and there was Glanton fryin' bacon, and Van Brock
was pertendin' to be lookin' at some flowers with a magnifyin' glass--
the blame fake. He ain't no perfessor. I bet he's a derned crook.
They're follerin' us. They aim to murder us and take my map."

"Aw, Glanton wouldn't do that," I said, and Uncle Jacob said: "You
shet up! A man will do anything whar gold's consarned. Dang it all,
git up and do somethin'! Air you goin' to set there, you big lummox,
and let us git murdered in our sleep?"

That's the trouble of being the biggest man in yore clan; the rest
of the family always dumps all the onpleasant jobs onto yore
shoulders. I pulled on my boots and headed acrost the flat with Uncle
Jacob's war-songs ringing in my ears, and I didn't notice whether he
was bringing up the rear with his Winchester or not.

They was a scattering of trees on the flat, and about halfway
acrost a figger emerged from amongst it and headed my direction with
fire in his eye. It was Glanton.

"So, you big mountain grizzly," he greeted me rambunctiously, "you
was goin' to Antelope Peak, hey? Kinda got off the road, didn't you?
Oh, we're on to you, we air!"

"What you mean?" I demanded. He was acting like he was the one
which ought a feel righteously indignant instead of me.

"You know what I mean!" he says, frothing slightly at the mouth.
"I didn't believe it when Van Brock first said he suspicioned you,
even though you _hombres_ did act funny yesterday when he met you on
the trail. But this momin' when I glimpsed yore fool Uncle Jacob
spyin' on our camp, and then seen him sneakin' off through the bresh,
I knowed Van Brock was right. Yo're after what we're after, and you-
all resorts to dirty, onderhanded tactics. Does you deny yo're after
the same thing we air?"

"Naw, I don't," I said. "Uncle Jacob's got more right to it than
you-all has. And when you says we uses onderhanded tricks, yo're a
liar."

"That settles it!" gnashed he. "Go for yore gun!"

"I don't want to perforate you," I growled.

"I ain't hankerin' to conclude yore mortal career," he admitted.
"But Haunted Mountain ain't big enough, for both of us. Take off yore
guns, and I'll maul the livin' daylights out you, big as you be."

I unbuckled my gun-belt, and hung it on a limb, and he laid off
his'n, and hit me in the stummick and on the ear and in the nose, and
then he busted me in the jaw and knocked out a tooth. This made me
mad, so I taken him by the neck and throwed him agen the ground so
hard it jolted all the wind outa him. I then sot on him and started
banging his head agen a convenient boulder, and his cussing was
terrible to hear.

"If you-all had acted like white men," I gritted, "we'd of _give_
you a share in that there mine."

"What the hell air you talkin' about?" he gurgled, trying to haul
his bowie out of his boot which I had my knee on.

"The Lost Haunted Mine, what you think?" I snarled, getting a
fresh grip on his ears.

"Hold on!" he protested. "You mean you-all air jest lookin' for
gold? Is that on the level?"

I was so astonished I quit hammering his skull agen the rock.

"Why, what else?" I demanded. "Ain't you-all follerin' us to steal
Uncle jacob's map which shows where at the mine is hid?"

"Git offa me!" he snorted disgustfully, taking advantage of my
surprise to push me off. "Hell!" says he, starting to knock the dust
offa his britches. "I might of knowed that tenderfoot was wool-
gatherin'. After we seen you-all yesterday, and he heard you mention
Wildcat Canyon, he told me he believed you was follerin' us. He said
that yarn about prospectin' was jest a blind. He said he believed you
was workin' for a rival scientific society to git ahead of us and
capture that there wild man yoreselves."

"What?" I said. "You mean that wild man yarn is straight goods?"

"Far as we're consarned," said Bill. "Prospectors is been tellin'
some onusual stories about Wildcat Canyon. Well, I laughed at him at
first, but he kept on usin' so many .45 calibre words that he got me
to believin' it might be so. 'Cause, after all, here was me guidin' a
tenderfoot on the trail of a wild man, and they warn't no reason to
think that you and Jacob Grimes was any more sensible than me.

"Then, this mornin' when I seen Jacob peekin' at me from the
bresh, I decided Van Brock must be right. You-all hadn't never went to
Antelope Peak. The more I thought it over, the more sartain I was that
you was follerin' us to steal our wild man, so I started over to have
a show-down."

"Well," I said, "we've reched a understandin'. You don't want our
mine, and we sure don't want yore wild man. They's plenty of them
amongst my relatives on Bear Creek. Le's git Van Brock and lug him
over to our camp and explain things to him and my weak-minded uncle."

"All right," said Glanton, buckling on his guns. "Hey, what's
that?"

From down in the canyon come a yell: "Help! Aid! Assistance!"

"It's Van Brock!" yelped Glanton. "He's wandered down into the
canyon by hisself! Come on!"

Right nigh their camp they was a ravine leading down to the floor
of the canyon. We pelted down that at full speed and emerged nigh the
wall of the cliffs. They was the black mouth of a cave showing nearby,
in a kind of cleft, and jest outside this cleft Van Brock was
staggering around, yowling like a hound-dawg with his tail caught in
the door.

His cork helmet was laying on the ground all bashed outa shape,
and his specs was lying nigh it. He had a knot on his head as big as a
turnip and he was doing a kind of ghost-dance or something all over
the place.

He couldn't see very good without his specs, 'cause when he
sighted us he give a shriek and started legging it up the canyon,
seeming to think we was more enemies. Not wanting to indulge in no
sprinting in that heat, Bill shot a heel offa his boot, and that brung
him down squalling blue murder.

"Help!" he shrieked. "Mr. Glanton! Help! I am being attacked!
Help!"

"Aw, shet up," snorted Bill. "I'm Glanton. Yo're all right. Give
him his specs, Breck. Now, what's the matter?"

He put 'em on, gasping for breath, and staggered up, wild-eyed,
and p'inted at the cave, and hollered: "The wild man! I saw him, as I
descended into the canyon on a private exploring expedition! A giant
with a panther's skin about his waist, and a club in his hand. When I
sought to apprehend him he dealt me a murderous blow with the bludgeon
and fled into that cavern. He should be arrested!"

I looked into the cave. It was too dark to see anything except for
a hoot-owl.

"He must of saw somethin', Breck," said Glanton, hitching his gun-
harness. "_Somethin'_ shore cracked him on the conk. I've been hearin'
some queer tales about this canyon, myself. Maybe I better sling some
lead in there--"

"No, no, no!" broke in Van Brock. "We must capture him alive!"

"What's goin' on here?" said a voice, and we turned to see Uncle
Jacob approaching with his Winchester in his hands.

"Everything's all right, Uncle Jacob," I said. "They don't want
yore mine. They're after the wild man, like they said, and we got him
cornered in that there cave."

"All right, huh?" he snorted. "I reckon you thinks it's all right
for you to waste yore time with sech dern foolishness when you oughta
be helpin' me look for my mine. A big help you be!"

"Where was you whilst I was argyin' with Bill here?" I demanded.

"I knowed you could handle the situation, so I started explorin'
the canyon," he said. "Come on, we got work to do."

"But the wild man!" cried Van Brock. "Your nephew would be
invaluable in securing the specimen. Think of science! Think of
progress! Think of--"

"Think of a striped skunk!" snorted Uncle Jacob. "Breckinridge,
air you comin'?"

"Aw, shet up," I said disgustedly. "You both make me tired. I'm
goin' in there and run that wild man out, and Bill, you shoot him in
the hind-laig as he comes out, so's we can catch him and tie him up."

"But you left yore guns hangin' onto that limb up on the plateau,"
objected Glanton.

"I don't need 'em," I said. "Didn't you hear Van Brock say we was
to catch him alive? If I started shootin' in the dark I might rooin
him."

"All right," says Bill, cocking his six-shooters. "Go ahead. I
figger yo're a match for any wild man that ever come down the pike."

So I went into the cleft and entered the cave and it was dark as
all get-out. I groped my way along and discovered the main tunnel
split in two, so I taken the biggest one. It seemed to get darker the
further I went, and purty soon I bumped into something big and hairy
and it went "Wump!" and grabbed me.

Thinks I, it's the wild man, and he's on the war-path. So I waded
into him and he waded into me, and we tumbled around on the rocky
floor in the dark, biting and mauling and tearing. Bear Creek is famed
far and wide for its ring-tailed scrappers, and I don't have to repeat
I'm the fightin'est of 'em all, but that cussed wild man sure give me
my hands full. He was the biggest, hairiest critter I ever laid hands
on, and he had more teeth and talons than I thought a human could
possibly have. He chawed me with vigor and enthusiasm, and he walzed
up and down my frame free and hearty, and swept the floor with me till
I was groggy.

For a while I thought I was going to give up the ghost, and I
thought with despair of how humiliated my relatives on Bear Creek
would be to hear their champeen battler had been clawed to death by a
wild man in a cave.

This thought maddened me so I redoubled my onslaughts, and the
socks I give him ought to of laid out any man, wild or tame, to say
nothing of the pile-driver kicks in his belly, and butting him with my
head so he gasped. I got what felt like a ear in my mouth and
commenced chawing on it, and presently, what with this and other
mayhem I committed on him, he give a most inhuman squall and bust away
and went lickety-split for the outside world.

I riz up and staggered after him, hearing a wild chorus of yells
break forth, but no shots. I bust out into the open, bloody all over,
and my clothes hanging in tatters.

"Where is he?" I hollered. "Did you let him git away?"

"Who?" said Glanton, coming out from behind a boulder, whilst Van
Brock and Uncle Jacob dropped down out of a tree nearby.

"The wild man, damn it!" I roared.

"We ain't seen no wild man," said Glanton.

"Well, what was that thing I jest run outa the cave?" I hollered.

"That was a grizzly b'ar," said Glanton.

"Yeah," sneered Uncle Jacob, "and that was Van Brock's 'wild man'!
And now, Breckinridge, if yo're through playin', we'll--"

"No, no!" hollered Van Brock, jumping up and down. "It was
indubitably a human being which smote me and fled into the cavern. Not
a bear! It is still in there somewhere, unless there is another exit
to the cavern."

"Well, he ain't in there now," said Uncle Jacob, peering into the
mouth of the cave. "Not even a wild man would run into a grizzly's
cave, or if he did, he wouldn't stay long--_ooomp!"_

A rock come whizzing out of the cave and hit Uncle Jacob in the
belly, and he doubled up on the ground.

"Aha!" I roared, knocking up Glanton's ready six-shooter. "I know!
They's two tunnels in there. He's in that smaller cave. I went into
the wrong one! Stay here, you-all, and gimme room! This time I gits
him!"

With that I rushed into the cave mouth again, disregarding some
more rocks which emerged, and plunged into the smaller opening. It was
dark as pitch, but I seemed to be running along a narrer tunnel, and
ahead of me I heard bare feet pattering on the rock. I follered 'em at
full lope, and presently seen a faint hint of light. The next minute I
rounded a turn and come out into a wide place, which was lit by a
shaft of light coming in through a cleft in the wall, some yards up.
In the light I seen a fantastic figger climbing up on a ledge, trying
to rech that cleft.

"Come down offa that!" I thundered, and give a leap and grabbed
the ledge by one hand and hung on, and reched for his laigs with
t'other hand. He give a squall as I grabbed his ankle and splintered
his club over my head. The force of the lick broke off the lip of the
rock ledge I was holding on to, and we crashed to the floor together,
because I didn't let loose of him. Fortunately, I hit the rock floor
headfirst which broke my fall and kept me from fracturing any of my
important limbs, and his head hit my jaw, which rendered him
unconscious.

I riz up and picked up my limp captive and carried him out into
the daylight where the others was waiting. I dumped him on the ground
and they stared at him like they couldn't believe it. He was a ga'nt
old cuss with whiskers about a foot long and matted hair, and he had a
mountain lion's hide tied around his waist.

"A white man!" enthused Van Brock, dancing up and down. "An
unmistakable Caucasian! This is stupendous! A pre-historic survivor of
a pre-Indian epoch! What an aid to anthropology! A wild man! A
veritable wild man!"

"Wild man, hell!" snorted Uncle Jacob. "That there's old Joshua
Braxton, which was trying to marry that old maid schoolteacher down at
Chawed Ear all last winter."

"_I_ was tryin' to marry her!" said Joshua bitterly, setting up
suddenly and glaring at all of us. "That there is good, that there is!
And me all the time fightin' for my life agen it. Her and all her
relations was tryin' to marry _her_ to me. They made my life a curse.
They was finally all set to kidnap me and marry me by force. That's
why I come away off up here, and put on this rig to scare folks away.
All I crave is peace and quiet and no dern women."

Van Brock begun to cry because they warn't no wild man, and Uncle
Jacob said: "Well, now that this dern foolishness is settled, maybe I
can git to somethin' important. Joshua, you know these mountains even
better'n I do. I want ya to help me find the Lost Haunted Mine."

"There ain't no sech mine," said Joshua. "That old prospector
imagined all that stuff whilst he was wanderin' around over the desert
crazy."

"But I got a map I bought from a Mexican in Perdition!" hollered
Uncle Jacob.

"Lemme see that map," said Glanton. "Why, hell," he said, "that
there is a fake. I seen that Mexican drawin' it, and he said he was
goin' to try to sell it to some old jassack for the price of a drunk."

Uncle Jacob sot down on a rock and pulled his whiskers. "My dreams
is bust. I'm goin' to go home to my wife," he said weakly.

"You must be desperate if it's come to that," said old Joshua
acidly. "You better stay up here. If they ain't no gold, they ain't no
women to torment a body, neither."

"Women is a snare and a delusion," agreed Glanton. "Van Brock can
go back with these fellers. I'm stayin' with Joshua."

"You all oughta be ashamed talkin' about women that way," I
reproached 'em. "I've suffered from the fickleness of certain women
more'n either of you snake-hunters, but I ain't let it sour me on the
sex. What," I says, waxing oratorical, "in this lousy and troubled
world of six-shooters and centipedes, what, I asts you-all, can
compare to women's gentle sweetness--"

"There the scoundrel is!" screeched a familiar voice like a rusty
buzzsaw. "Don't let him git away! Shoot him if he tries to run!"

We turned sudden. We'd been argying so loud amongst ourselves we
hadn't noticed a gang of folks coming down the ravine. There was Aunt
Lavaca and the sheriff of Chawed Ear with ten men, and they all
p'inted sawed-off shotguns at me.

"Don't git rough, Elkins," warned the sheriff nervously. "They're
loaded with buckshot and ten-penny nails. I knows yore repertation and
I takes no chances. I arrests you for the kidnappin' of Jacob Grimes."

"Air you plumb crazy?" I demanded.

"Kidnappin'!" hollered Aunt Lavaca, waving a piece of paper.
"Abductin' yore pore old uncle! Aimin' to hold him for ransom! It's
all writ down over yore name right here on this here paper! Sayin'
yo're takin' Jacob away off into the mountains--warnin' me not to try
to foller! Same as threatenin' me! I never heered of sech doin's! Soon
as that good-for-nothin' Joe Hopkins brung me that there imperdent
letter, I went right after the sheriff.... Joshua Braxton, what _air_
you doin' in them ondecent togs? My land, I dunno what we're a-comin'
to! Well, sheriff, what you standin' there for like a ninny? Why'n't
you put some handcuffs and chains and shackles onto him? Air you
scairt of the big lunkhead?"

"Aw, heck," I said. "This is all a mistake. I warn't threatenin'
nobody in that there letter--"

"Then where's Jacob?" she demanded. "Perjuice him imejitly, or--"

"He ducked into the cave," said Glanton.

I stuck my head in and roared: "Uncle Jacob! You come outa there
and explain before I come in after you!"

He snuck out looking meek and down-trodden, and I says: "You tell
these idjits that I ain't no kidnapper."

"That's right," he said. "I brung him along with me."

"Hell!" said the sheriff disgustedly. "Have we come all this way
on a wild goose chase? I should of knew better'n to lissen to a
woman--"

"You shet yore fool mouth!" squalled Aunt Lavaca. "A fine sheriff
you be. Anyway--what was Breckinridge doin' up here with you, Jacob?"

"He was helpin' me look for a mine, Lavacky," he said.

"_Helpin'_ you?" she screeched. "Why, I sent him to fetch you
back! Breckinridge Elkins, I'll tell yore pap about this, you big,
lazy, good-for-nothin', low-down, ornery--"

"Aw, SHET UP!" I roared, exasperated beyond endurance. I seldom
lets my voice go its full blast. Echoes rolled through the canyon like
thunder, the trees shook and pine cones fell like hail, and rocks
tumbled down the mountain sides. Aunt Lavaca staggered backwards with
a outraged squall.

"Jacob!" she hollered. "Air you goin' to 'low that ruffian to use
that there tone of voice to me? I demands that you flail the livin'
daylights outa the scoundrel right now!"

"Now, now, Lavacky," he started soothing her, and she give him a
clip under the ear that changed ends with him, and the sheriff and his
posse and Van Brock took out up the ravine like the devil was after
'em.

Glanton bit hisself off a chaw of terbaccer and says to me, he
says: "Well, what was you fixin' to say about women's gentle
sweetness?"

"Nothin'," I snarled. "Come on, let's git goin'. I yearns to find
a more quiet and secluded spot than this here'n. I'm stayin' with
Joshua and you and the grizzly."



Chapter XI EDUCATE OR BUST



Me and Bill Glanton and Joshua Braxton stood on the canyon rim and
listened to the orations of Aunt Lavaca Grimes fading in the distance
as she herded Uncle Jacob for the home range.

"There," says Joshua sourly, "goes the most hen-pecked pore
critter in the Humbolts. For sech I has only pity and contempt. He's
that scairt of a woman he don't dast call his soul his own."

"And what air we, I'd like to know?" says Glanton, slamming his
hat down on the ground. "What right has we to criticize Jacob, when
it's on account of women that we're hidin' in these cussed mountains?
Yo're here, Joshua, because yo're scairt of that old maid
schoolteacher. Breck's here because a gal in War Paint give him the
gate. And I'm here sourin' my life because a hash-slinger done me
wrong!"

"I'm tellin' you gents," says Bill, "no woman is goin' to rooin my
life! Lookin' at Jacob Grimes has teached me a lesson. I ain't goin'
to eat my heart out up here in the mountains in the company of a
soured old hermit and a love-lorn human grizzly. I'm goin' to War
Paint, and bust the bank at the Yaller Dawg's Tail gamblin' hall, and
then I'm goin' to head for San Francisco and a high-heeled old time!
The bright lights calls me, gents, and I heeds the summons! You-all
better take heart and return to yore respective corrals."

"Not me," I says. "If I go back to Bear Creek without no gal,
Glory McGraw will rawhide the life outa me."

"As for me returnin' to Chawed Ear," snarls old Joshua, "whilst
that old she-mudhen is anywhere in the vicinity, I haunts the wilds
and solitudes, if it takes all the rest of my life. You 'tend to yore
own business, Bill Glanton."

"Oh, I forgot to tell you," says Bill. "So dern many things is
been happenin' I ain't had time to tell you. But that old maid
schoolteacher ain't to Chawed Ear no more. She pulled out for Arizona
three weeks ago."

"That's news!" says Joshua, straightening up and throwing away his
busted club. "Now I can return and take my place among men--Hold on!"
says he, reching for his club again. "Likely they'll be gittin' some
other old harridan to take her place! That new-fangled schoolhouse
they got at Chawed Ear is a curse and a blight. We'll never be rid of
female school-shooters. I better stay up here, after all."

"Don't worry," says Bill. "I seen a pitcher of the gal that's
comin' to take Miss Stark's place, and I can assure you right now,
that a gal as young and purty as her wouldn't never try to sot her
brand on no old buzzard like you."

I come alive suddenly.

"Young and purty, you says?" I says.

"As a pitcher," he says. "First time I ever knowed a schoolteacher
could be less'n forty and have a face that didn't look like the
beginnin's of a long drought. She's due into Chawed Ear tomorrer, on
the stage from the East, and the whole town's goin' to turn out to
welcome her. The mayor aims to make a speech, if he's sober enough,
and they've got together a band to play."

"Damn foolishness!" snorted Joshua. "I don't take no stock in
eddication."

"I dunno," I said. "They's times when I wish I could read and
write."

"What would you read outside of the labels on whisky bottles?"
snorted old Joshua.

"Everybody ought to know how," I said defiantly. "We ain't never
had no school on Bear Creek."

"Funny how a purty face changes a man's views," says Bill. "I
remember onst Miss Stark ast you how you folks up on Bear Creek would
like for her to come up there and teach yore chillern, and you taken
one look at her face, and told her that it was agen the principles of
Bear Creek to have their peaceful innercence invaded by the corruptin'
influences of education, and the folks was all banded together to
resist sech corruption."

I ignored him and says: "It's my duty to Bear Creek to pervide
culture for the risin' generation. We ain't never had a school, but by
golly, we're goin' to, if I have to lick every old moss-back in the
Humbolts. I'll build the cabin for the schoolhouse myself."

"And where'll you git a teacher?" ast old Joshua. "This gal that's
comin' to teach at Chawed Ear is the only one in the county. Chawed
Ear ain't goin' to let you have her."

"Chawed Ear is, too," I says. "If they won't give her up peaceful,
I resorts to vi'lence. Bear Creek is goin' to have education and
culture, if I have to wade ankle-deep in gore to pervide it. Come on,
le's go! I'm r'arin' to start the ball for arts and letters. Air you
all with me?"

"Till hell freezes!" acclaimed Bill. "My shattered nerves needs a
little excitement, and I can always count on you to pervide sech. How
about it, Joshua?"

"Yo're both crazy," growls old Joshua. "But I've lived up here
eatin' nuts and wearin' a painter-hide till I ain't shore of my own
sanity. Anyway, I know the only way to disagree successfully with
Elkins is to kill him, and I got strong doubts of bein' able to do
that, even if I wanted to. Lead on! I'll do anything in reason to keep
eddication out of Chawed Ear. 'Tain't only my own feelin's in regard
to schoolteachers. It's the principle of the thing."

"Git yore clothes then," I said, "and le's hustle."

"This painter hide is all I got," he said.

"You cain't go down into the settlements in that garb," I says.

"I can and will," says he. "I look about as civilized as you do,
with yore clothes all tore to rags account of that b'ar. I got a hoss
down in that canyon. I'll git him."

So Joshua got his hoss, and Glanton got his'n, and I got Cap'n
Kidd, and then the trouble started. Cap'n Kidd evidently thought
Joshua was some kind of a varmint, because every time Joshua come near
him he taken in after him and run him up a tree. And every time Joshua
tried to come down, Cap'n Kidd busted loose from me and run him back
up again.

I didn't get no help from Bill; all he done was laugh like a
spotted hyener, till Cap'n Kidd got irritated at them guffaws and
kicked him in the belly and knocked him clean through a clump of
spruces. Time I got him ontangled he looked about as disreputable as
what I did, because his clothes was tore most off of him. We couldn't
find his hat, neither, so I tore up what was left of my shirt and he
tied the pieces around his head like a Apache. We was sure a wild-
looking bunch.

But I was so disgusted thinking about how much time we was wasting
while all the time Bear Creek was wallering in ignorance, so the next
time Cap'n Kidd went for Joshua I took and busted him betwixt the ears
with my six-shooter, and that had some effect on him.

So we sot out, with Joshua on a ga'nt old nag he rode bare-back
with a hackamore, and a club he toted not having no gun. I had Bill to
ride betwixt him and me, so's to keep that painter hide as far from
Cap'n Kidd as possible, but every time the wind shifted and blowed the
smell to him, Cap'n Kidd reched over and taken a bite at Joshua, and
sometimes he bit Bill's hoss instead, and sometimes he bit Bill, and
the langwidge Bill directed at that pore dumb animal was shocking to
hear.

But between rounds, as you might say, we progressed down the
trail, and early the next morning we come out onto the Chawed Ear
Road, some miles west of Chawed Ear. And there we met our first
human--a feller on a pinto mare, and when he seen us he give a awful
squall and took out down the road towards Chawed Ear like the devil
had him by the seat of the britches.

"Le's catch him and find out if the teacher's got there yet!" I
hollered, and we taken out after him, yelling for him to wait a
minute, but he spurred his hoss that much harder, and before we'd gone
any piece, hardly, Joshua's fool hoss jostled agen Cap'n Kidd, which
smelt that painter skin and got his bit betwixt his teeth and run
Joshua and his hoss three miles through the bresh before I could stop
him. Glanton follered us, and of, course, time we got back to the
road, the feller on the pinto mare was out of sight long ago.

So we headed for Chawed Ear, but everybody that lived along the
road had run into their cabins and bolted the doors, and they shot at
us through their winders as we rode by. Glanton said irritably, after
having his off-ear nicked by a buffalo rifle, he says: "Dern it, they
must know we aim to steal their schoolteacher."

"Aw, they couldn't know that," I said. "I bet they is a war on
between Chawed Ear and War Paint."

"Well, what they shootin' at _me_ for, then?" demanded old Joshua.
"I don't hang out at War Paint, like you fellers. I'm a Chawed Ear man
myself."

"I doubt if they rekernizes you with all them whiskers and that
rig you got on," I said. "Anyway--what's that?"

Ahead of us, away down the road, we seen a cloud of dust, and here
come a gang of men on hosses, waving their guns and yelling.

"Well, whatever the reason is," says Glanton, "we better not stop
to find out! Them gents is out for blood!"

"Pull into the bresh," says I. "I'm goin' to Chawed Ear today in
spite of hell, high water, and all the gunmen they can raise!"

So we taken to the bresh, leaving a trail a blind man could of
follered, but we couldn't help it, and they lit into the bresh after
us, about forty or fifty of 'em, but we dodged and circled and taken
short cuts old Joshua knowed about, and when we emerged into the town
of Chawed Ear, our pursuers warn't nowheres in sight. They warn't
nobody in sight in the town, neither. All the doors was closed and the
shutters up on the cabins and saloons and stores and everything. It
was pecooliar.

As we rode into the clearing somebody let _bam_ at us with a
shotgun from the nearest cabin, and the load combed old Joshua's
whiskers. This made me mad, and I rode at the cabin and pulled my foot
out'n the stirrup and kicked the door in, and while I was doing this,
the feller inside hollered and jumped out the winder, and Glanton
grabbed him by the neck and taken his gun away from him. It was Esau
Barlow, one of Chawed Ear's confirmed citizens.

"What the hell does you Chawed Ear buzzards mean by this here
hostility?" roared Bill.

"Is that you, Glanton?" gasped Barlow, blinking his eyes.

"Yes, it's me!" bellered Bill wrathfully. "Do I look like a
Injun?"

"Yes--_ow!_ I mean, I didn't know you in that there turban," says
Barlow. "Am I dreamin', or is that Joshua Braxton and Breckinridge
Elkins?"

"Shore it's us!" snorted Joshua. "Who you think?"

"Well," says Esau, rubbing his neck, "I didn't know!" He stole a
glance at Joshua's painter-hide and he batted his eyes again, and kind
of shaken his head like he warn't sure of hisself, even then.

"Where is everybody?" Joshua demanded.

"Well," says Esau, "a little while ago Dick Lynch rode into town
with his hoss all of a lather, and swore he'd jest out-run the wildest
war-party that ever come down from the hills!

"'Boys,' says Dick, 'they ain't neither Injuns nor white men!
They're them cussed wild men that New York perfessor was talkin'
about! One of 'em's big as a grizzly b'ar, with no shirt on, and he's
ridin' a hoss bigger'n a bull moose. One of the others is as ragged
and ugly as him, but not so big, and wearin' a Apache head-dress.
T'other'n's got nothin' on but a painter's hide, and a club, and his
hair and whiskers falls to his shoulders! When they seen me,' says
Dick, 'they sot up the awfullest yells I ever heard and come for me
like so many wild Injuns. I fogged it for town,' says Dick, warnin'
everybody along the road to fort theirselves in their cabins."

"Well," says Esau, "when he says that, sech men as was left in
town got their hosses and guns--except me which cain't ride account of
a risin' I got in a vital spot--and they taken out up the road to meet
the war-party before it got into town."

"Well, of all the cussed fools!" I snorted. "Lissen, where-at's
the new schoolteacher?"

"She ain't arriv yet," says he. "She's due on the next stage, and
the mayor and the band rode out to meet her at the Yaller Creek
crossin' and escort her into town in honor. They pulled out before
Dick Lynch brung news of the war-party."

"Well, come on!" I says to my warriors. "I aims to meet that stage
too!"

So we pulled out and fogged it down the road, and purty soon we
heard music blaring ahead of us, and men yipping and shooting off
their pistols like they does when they're celebrating, so we jedged
the stage had already arriv.

"What you goin' to do now?" ast Glanton, and about that time a
noise bust out behind us, and I looked back and seen that gang of
Chawed Ear maniacs which had been chasing us dusting down the road
after us, waving their Winchesters. I seen it warn't no use to try to
stop and argy with 'em. They'd fill us full of lead before we could
get clost enough to make 'em hear what we was saying. So I hollered:
"Come on! If they git her into town they'll fort theirselves agen us,
and we'll never git her! We'll have to take her by force! Foller me!"

So we swept down the road and around the bend, and there was the
stagecoach coming up the road with the mayor riding alongside with his
hat in his hand, and a whisky bottle sticking out of each saddle-bag
and his hip pocket. He was orating at the top of his voice to make
hisself heard above the racket the band was making. They was blowing
horns of every kind, and banging drums, and twanging on Jews harps,
and the hosses was skittish and shying and jumping. But we heard the
mayor say: "--And so we welcomes you, Miss Devon, to our peaceful
little community, where life runs smooth and tranquil, and men's souls
is overflowing with milk and honey--" And jest then we stormed around
the the bend and come tearing down on 'em with the mob right behind us
yelling and cussing and shooting free and fervent.

The next minute they was the damndest mix-up you ever seen, what
with the hosses bucking their riders off, and men yelling and cussing,
and the hosses hitched to the stage running away and knocking the
mayor off his hoss. We hit 'em like a cyclone and they shot at us and
hit us over the head with their derned music horns, and right in the
middle of the fray the mob behind us rounded the bend and piled up
amongst us before they could check theirselves, and everybody was so
confused they started fighting everybody else. Old Joshua was laying
right and left with his club, and Glanton was beating the band over
their heads with his six-shooter, and I was trompling everybody in my
rush for the stage.

Because the fool hosses had whirled around and started in the
general direction of the Atlantic Ocean, and neither the driver nor
the shotgun guard could stop 'em. But Cap'n Kidd overtook it in maybe
a dozen strides, and I left the saddle in a flying leap and landed on
it. The guard tried to shoot me with his shotgun so I throwed it into
a alder clump and he didn't let go of it quick enough so he went along
with it.

I then grabbed the reins out of the driver's hands and swung them
fool hosses around, and the stage kind of revolved on one wheel for a
dizzy instant and then settled down again and we headed back up the
road lickety-split and in a instant was right amongst the melee that
was going on around Bill and Joshua.

About that time I realized that the driver was trying to stab me
with a butcher knife, so I kind of tossed him off the stage, and there
ain't no sense in him going around saying he's going to have me
arrested account of him landing headfirst in the bass horn so it take
seven men to pull his head out of it. He ought to watch where he
falls, when he gets throwed off a stage going at a high run.

I feels, moreover, that the mayor is prone to carry petty grudges,
or he wouldn't be belly-aching about me accidentally running over him
with all four wheels. And it ain't my fault he was stepped on by Cap'n
Kidd, neither. Cap'n Kidd was jest follering the stage, because he
knowed I was on it. And it naturally irritates any well-trained hoss
to stumble over somebody, and that's why Cap'n Kidd chawed the mayor's
ear.

As for them fellers which happened to get knocked down and run
over by the stage, I didn't have nothing personal agen 'em. I was jest
rescuing Joshua and Bill which I seen was outnumbered about twenty to
one. I was doing them idjits a favor, if they only knowed it, because
in about another minute Bill would of started using the front ends of
his six-shooters instead of the butts, and the fight would of turnt
into a massacre. Glanton has got a awful temper.

Him and Joshua had laid out a remarkable number of the enemy, but
the battle was going agen 'em when I arriv on the field of carnage. As
the stage crashed through the mob I reched down and got Joshua by the
neck and pulled him out from under about fifteen men which was beating
him to death with their gun butts and pulling out his whiskers, and I
slung him up on top of the other luggage. About that time we was
rushing past the melee which Bill was the center of, and I reched down
and snared him as we went by, but three of the men which had hold of
him wouldn't let go, so I hauled all four of 'em up into the stage. I
then handled the team with one hand whilst with the other'n I pulled
them idjits loose from Bill like pulling ticks off a cow's hide, and
throwed 'em at the mob which was chasing us.

Men and hosses piled up in a stack on the road which was further
complicated by Cap'n Kidd's actions as he come busting along after the
stage, and by the time we sighted Chawed Ear again, our enemies was
far behind us down the road.

We busted right through Chawed Ear in a fog of dust, and the women
and chillern which had ventured out of their cabins, squalled and run
back in again, though they warn't in no danger at all. But Chawed Ear
folks is pecooliar that way.

When we was out of sight of Chawed Ear on the road to War Paint I
give the lines to Bill and swung down on the side of the stage and
stuck my head in.

They was one of the purtiest gals I ever seen in there, all
huddled up in a corner as pale as she could be, and looking so scairt
I thought she was going to faint, which I'd heard Eastern gals had a
habit of doing.

"Oh, spare me!" she begged, clasping her hands in front of her.
"Please don't scalp me! I cannot speak your language, but if you can
understand English, please have mercy on me--"

"Be at ease, Miss Devon," I reassured her. "I ain't no Injun, nor
wild man neither. I'm a white man, and so is my friends here. We
wouldn't none of us hurt a flea. We're that refined and tender-hearted
you wouldn't believe it--" About that time a wheel hit a stump and the
stage jumped into the air and I bit my tongue, and roared in some
irritation: "Bill, you--son of a--polecat! Stop them hosses before I
comes up there and breaks yore--neck!"

"Try it and see what you git, you beefheaded lummox!" he retorted,
but he pulled the hosses to a stop, and I taken off my hat and opened
the stage door. Bill and Joshua clumb down and peered over my
shoulder.

"Miss Devon," I says, "I begs yore pardon for this here informal
welcome. But you sees before you a man whose heart bleeds for the
benighted state of his native community. I'm Breckinridge Elkins from
Bear Creek, where hearts is pure and motives is noble, but education
is weak.

"You sees before you," I says, "a man which has growed up in
ignorance. I cain't neither read nor write my own name. Joshua here,
in the painter-skin, he cain't neither, and neither can Bill--"

"That's a lie," says Bill. "I can read and--_oomp!_" Because I'd
kind of stuck my elbow in his stummick. I didn't want Bill Glanton to
spile the effeck of my speech.

"They is some excuse for men like us," I says. "When we was cubs
schools was unknown in these mountains, and keepin' a sculpin' knife
from betwixt yore skull and yore hair was more important than makin'
marks onto a slate.

"But times has changed. I sees the young 'uns of my home range
growin' up in the same ignorance as me," I said, "and my heart bleeds
for 'em. They is no sech excuse for them as they was for me. The
Injuns has went, mostly, and a age of culture is due to be ushered in.

"Miss Devon," I says, "will you please come up to Bear Creek and
be our schoolteacher?"

"Why," says she, bewilderedly, "I came West expecting to teach
school at a place called Chawed Ear, but I haven't signed any
contract--"

"How much was them snake-hunters goin' to pay you?" I ast.

"Ninety dollars a month," says she.

"We pays you a hundred on Bear Creek," I says. "Board and lodgin'
free."

"But what will the people of Chawed Ear say?" she said.

"Nothin'!" I says heartily. "I done arranged that. They got the
interests of Bear Creek so much at heart, that they wouldn't think of
interferin' with any arrangements I make. You couldn't drag 'em up to
Bear Creek with a team of oxen!"

"It seems all very strange and irregular," says she, "but I
suppose--"

So I says: "Good! Fine! Great! Then it's all settled. Le's go!"

"Where?" she ast, grabbing hold of the stage as I clumb into the
seat.

"To War Paint, first," I says, "where I gits me some new clothes
and a good gentle hoss for you to ride--because nothin' on wheels can
git over the Bear Creek road--and then we heads for home! Git up,
hosses! Culture is on her way to the Humbolts!"

Well, a few days later me and the schoolteacher was riding
sedately up the trail to Bear Creek, with a pack-mule carrying her
plunder, and you never seen nothing so elegant--store-bought clothes
and a hat with a feather into it, and slippers and everything. She
rode in a side-saddle I bought for her--the first that ever come into
the Humbolts. She was sure purty. My heart beat in wild enthusiasm for
education ever time I looked at her.

I swung off the main trail so's to pass by the spring in the creek
where Glory McGraw filled her pail every morning and evening. It was
jest about time for her to be there, and sure enough she was. She
straightened when she heard the hosses, and started to say something,
and then her eyes got wide as she seen my elegant companion, and her
purty red mouth stayed open. I pulled up my hoss and taken off my hat
with a perlite sweep I learnt from a gambler in War Paint, and I says:
"Miss Devon, lemme interjuice you to Miss Glory McGraw, the datter of
one of Bear Creek's leadin' citizens. Miss McGraw, this here is Miss
Margaret Devon, from Boston, Massachusetts, which is goin' to teach
school here."

"How do you do?" says Miss Margaret, but Glory didn't say nothing.
She jest stood there, staring, and the pail fell outa her hand and
splashed into the creek.

"Allow me to pick up yore pail," I said, and started to lean down
from my saddle to get it, but she started like she was stung, and
said, in a voice which sounded kind of strained and onnatural: "Don't
tech it! Don't tech nothin' I own! Git away from me!"

"What a beautiful girl!" says Miss Margaret as we rode on. "But
how peculiarly she acted!"

But I said nothing, because I was telling myself, well, I reckon I
showed Glory McGraw something this time. I reckon she sees now that I
warn't lying when I said I'd bring a peach back to Bear Creek with me.
But somehow I warn't enjoying my triumph nigh as much as I'd thought I
would.



Chapter XII WAR ON BEAR CREEK



PAP DUG the nineteenth buckshot out of my shoulder and said: "Pigs
is more disturbin' to the peace of a community than scandal, divorce,
and corn-licker put together. And," says pap, pausing to strop his
bowie on my sculp where the hair was all burnt off, "when the pig is a
razorback hawg, and is mixed up with a lady schoolteacher, a English
tenderfoot, and a passle of blood-thirsty relatives, the result is
appallin' for a peaceable man to behold. Hold still till Buckner gits
yore ear sewed back on."

Pap was right. I warn't to blame for nothing that happened.
Breaking Joe Gordon's laig was a mistake, and Erath Elkins is a liar
when he says I caved in them five ribs of his'n on purpose. If Uncle
Jeppard Grimes had been tending to his own business, he wouldn't have
got the seat of his britches filled with bird-shot, and I don't figger
it was my fault that cousin Bill Kirby's cabin got burned down. And I
don't take no blame for Jim Gordon's ear which Jack Grimes shot off,
neither. I figger everybody was more to blame than I was, and I stand
ready to wipe up the road with anybody which disagrees with me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Lemme go back to the days when
culture first reared its head amongst the simple inhabitants of Bear
Creek.

Jest like I said, I was determined that education should be
committed on the rising generation, and I gathered the folks in a
clearing too far away for Miss Devon to be stampeded by the noise of
argyment and persuasion, and I sot forth my views. Opinions differed
vi'lently like they always does on Bear Creek, but when the dust
settled and the smoke drifted away, it was found that a substantial
majority of folks agreed to see things my way. Some was awful sot agen
it, and said no good would come of book larning, but after I had swept
the clearing with six or seven of them, they allowed it might be a
good thing after all, and agreed to let Miss Margaret take a whack at
uplifting the young 'uns.

Then they ast me how much money I'd promised her, and when I said
a hundred a month they sot up a howl that they wasn't that much hard
money seen on Bear Creek in a year's time. But I settled that. I said
each family would contribute whatever they was able--coonskins, honey,
b'ar hides, corn-licker, or what not, and I'd pack the load into War
Paint each month and turn it into cash money. I added that I'd be
more'n glad to call around each month to make sure nobody failed to
contribute.

Then we argyed over where to build the cabin for the schoolhouse,
and I wanted to build it between pap's cabin and the corral, but he
riz up and said he'd be dadgasted he'd have a schoolhouse anywhere
nigh his dwelling-house, with a passle of yelling kids scaring off all
the eatable varmints. He said if it was built within a mile of his
cabin it would be because they was somebody on Bear Creek which had a
quicker trigger finger and a better shooting eye than what he did. So
after some argyment in the course of which five of Bear Creek's
leading citizens was knocked stiff, we decided to build the
schoolhouse over nigh the settlement on Apache Mountain. That was the
thickest populated spot on Bear Creek anyway. And Cousin Bill Kirby
agreed to board her for his part of contributing to her wages.

Well, it would of suited me better to had the schoolhouse built
closer to my home-cabin, and have Miss Margaret board with us, but I
was purty well satisfied, because this way I could see her any time I
wanted to. I done this every day, and she looked purtier every time I
seen her. The weeks went by, and everything was going fine. I was
calling on Miss Margaret every day, and she was learning me how to
read and write, though it was a mighty slow process. But I was
progressing a little in my education, and a whole lot--I thought--in
my love affair, when peace and romance hit a snag in the shape of a
razorback pig named Daniel Webster.

It begun when that there tenderfoot come riding up the trail from
War Paint with Tunk Willoughby. Tunk ain't got no more sense than the
law allows, but he sure showed good jedgment that time, because having
delivered his charge to his destination, he didn't tarry. He merely
handed me a note, and p'inted dumbly at the tenderfoot, whilst holding
his hat reverently in his hand meanwhile.

"What you mean by that there gesture?" I ast him rather irritably,
and he said: "I doffs my sombrero in respect to the departed. Bringin'
a specimen like that onto Bear Creek is jest like heavin' a jackrabbit
to a pack of starvin' loboes."

He hove a sigh and shook his head, and put his hat back on.
"Rassle a cat in pieces," he said.

"What the hell air you talkin' about?" I demanded.

"That's Latin," he said. "It means rest in peace."

And with that he dusted it down the trail and left me alone with
the tenderfoot which all the time was setting his cayuse and looking
at me like I was a curiosity or something.

I called for my sister Ouachita to come read that there note for
me, because she'd learnt how from Miss Margaret, so she did, and it
run as follers:

"Dere Breckinridge: This will interjuice Mr. J. Pembroke Pemberton
a English sportsman which I met in Frisco recent. He was disapinted
because he hadnt found no adventures in America and was fixin to go to
Aferker to shoot liuns and elerfants but I perswaded him to come with
me because I knowed he would find more hell on Bear Creek in a week
than he would find in a yere in Aferker or any other place. But the
very day we hit War Paint I run into a old ackwaintance from Texas I
will not speak no harm of the ded but I wish the son of a buzzard had
shot me somewheres besides in my left laig which already had three
slugs in it which I never could get cut out. Anyway I am lade up and
not able to come on to Bear Creek with J. Pembroke Pemberton. I am
dependin' on you to show him some good bear huntin' and other
excitement and pertect him from yore relatives I know what a awful
responsibility I am puttin on you but I am askin this as yore friend,
William Harrison Glanton, Esqy ."

I looked J. Pembroke over. He was a medium-sized young feller and
looked kinda soft in spots. He had yaller hair and very pink cheeks
like a gal; and he had on whip-cord britches and tan riding boots
which was the first I ever seen. And he had on a funny kinda coat with
pockets and a belt which he called a shooting jacket, and a big hat
like a mushroom made outa cork with a red ribbon around it. And he had
a pack-hoss loaded with all kinds of plunder, and five or six
different kinds of shotguns and rifles.

"So yo're J. Pembroke," I says, and he says: "Oh, rahther! And
you, no doubt, are the person Mr. Glanton described to me as
Breckinridge Elkins?"

"Yeah," I said. "Light and come in. We got b'ar meat and honey for
supper."

"I say," he says, climbing down. "Pardon me for being a bit
personal, old chap, but may I ask if your--ah--magnitude of bodily
stature is not a bit unique?"

"I dunno," I says, not having the slightest idee what he was
talking about. "I always votes a straight Democratic ticket, myself."

He started to say something else, but jest then pap and my
brothers John and Bill and Jim and Buckner and Garfield come to the
door to see what the noise was about, and he turned pale and said
faintly: "I beg your pardon; giants seem to be the rule in these
parts."

"Pap says men ain't what they was when he was in his prime," I
said, "but we manage to git by."

Well, J. Pembroke laid into them b'ar steaks with a hearty will,
and when I told him we'd go after b'ar next day, he ast me how many
days travel it'd take till we got to the b'ar country.

"Heck!" I says. "You don't have to travel to git b'ar in these
parts. If you forgit to bolt yore door at night yo're liable to find a
grizzly sharin' yore bunk before mornin'. This here'n we're eatin' was
catched by my sister Elinor there whilst tryin' to rob the pig-pen out
behind the cabin last night."

"My word!" he says, looking at her pecooliarly. "And may I ask,
Miss Elkins, what calibre of firearm you used?"

"I knocked him in the head with a wagon spoke," she said, and he
shook his head to hisself and muttered: "Extraordinary!"

J. Pembroke slept in my bunk and I taken the floor that night; and
we was up at daylight and ready to start after the b'ar. Whilst J.
Pembroke was fussing over his guns, pap come out and pulled his
whiskers and shook his head and said: "That there is a perlite young
man, but I'm afeared he ain't as hale as he ought a be. I jest give
him a pull at my jug, and he didn't gulp but one good snort and like
to choked to death."

"Well," I said, buckling the cinches on Cap'n Kidd, "I've done
learnt not to jedge outsiders by the way they takes their licker on
Bear Creek. It takes a Bear Creek man to swig Bear Creek corn juice."

"I hopes for the best," sighed pap. "But it's a dismal sight to
see a young man which cain't stand up to his licker. Whar you takin'
him?"

"Over towards Apache Mountain," I said. "Erath seen a exter big
grizzly over there day before yesterday."

"Hmmmmm!" says pap. "By a pecooliar coincidence the schoolhouse is
over on the side of Apache Mountain, ain't it, Breckinridge?"

"Maybe it is and maybe it ain't," I replied with dignerty, and
rode off with J. Pembroke ignoring pap's sourcastic comment which he
hollered after me: "Maybe they is a connection betwixt book-larnin'
and b'ar-huntin', but who am I to say?"

J. Pembroke was a purty good rider, but he used a funny-looking
saddle without no horn nor cantle, and he had the derndest gun I ever
seen. It was a double-barrel rifle, and he said it was a elerfant-gun.
It was big enough to knock a hill down. He was surprised I didn't tote
no rifle and ast me what would I do if we met a b'ar. I told him I was
depending on him to shoot it, but I said if it was necessary for me to
go into action, my six-shooters was plenty.

"My word!" says he. "You mean to say you can bring down a grizzly
with a shot from a pistol?"

"Not always," I said. "Sometimes I have to bust him over the head
with the barrel to finish him."

He didn't say nothing for a long time after that.

Well, we rode over on the lower slopes of Apache Mountain, and
tied the hosses in a holler and went through the bresh on foot. That
was a good place for b'ars, because they come there very frequently
looking for Uncle Jeppard Grimes' pigs which runs loose all over the
lower slopes of the mountain.

But jest like it always is when yo're looking for something
special, we didn't see a cussed b'ar.

The middle of the evening found us around on the side of the
mountain where they is a settlement of Kirbys and Grimeses and
Gordons. Half a dozen families has their cabins within a mile or so of
each other, and I dunno what in hell they want to crowd up together
that way for, it would plumb smother me, but pap says they was always
pecooliar that way.

We warn't in sight of the settlement, but the schoolhouse warn't
far off, and I said to J. Pembroke: "You wait here a spell, and maybe
a b'ar will come by. Miss Margaret Devon is teachin' me how to read
and write, and it's time for my lesson."

I left J. Pembroke setting on a log hugging his elerfant-gun, and
I strode through the bresh and come out at the upper end of the run
which the settlement was at the other'n, and school had jest turned
out and the chillern was going home, and Miss Margaret was waiting for
me in the log schoolhouse.

She was setting at her hand-made desk as I come in, ducking my
head so as not to bump it agen the top of the door and perlitely
taking off my Stetson. She looked kinda tired and discouraged, and I
said: "Has the young'uns been raisin' any hell today, Miss Margaret?"

"Oh, no," she said. "They're very polite--in fact I've noticed
that Bear Creek people are always polite when they're not killing each
other. I've finally gotten used to the boys wearing their pistols and
bowie knives to school. But somehow it seems so futile. This is all so
terribly different from everything to which I've always been
accustomed. I get discouraged and feel like giving it up."

"You'll git used to it," I consoled her. "It'll be a lot different
onst yo're married to some honest reliable young man."

She give me a startled look and said: "Married to someone here on
Bear Creek?"

"Shore," I said, involuntarily expanding my chest. "Everybody is
jest wonderin' when you'll set the day. But le's git at my readin'
lesson. I done learnt the words you writ out for me yesterday."

But she warn't listenin', and she said: "Do you have any idea of
why Mr. Joel Grimes and Mr. Esau Gordon quit calling on me? Until a
few days ago one or the other was at Mr. Kirby's cabin where I board
almost every night."

"Now don't you worry none about them," I soothed her. "Joel'll be
about on crutches before the week's out, and Esau can already walk
without bein' helped. I always handles my relatives as easy as
possible."

"You fought with them?" she exclaimed.

"I jest convinced 'em you didn't want to be bothered with 'em," I
reassured her. "I'm easy-goin', but I don't like competition."

"Competition!" Her eyes flared wide open and she looked at me like
she hadn't never seen me before. "Do you mean that you--that I--that--
"

"Well," I said modestly, "everybody on Bear Creek is jest
wonderin' when yo're goin' to set the day for us to git hitched. You
see gals don't generally stay single very long in these parts--hey,
what's the matter?"

Because she was getting paler and paler like she'd et something
which didn't agree with her.

"Nothing," she said faintly. "You--you mean people are expecting
me to marry you?"

"Sure," I said.

She muttered something that sounded like "My God!" and licked her
lips with her tongue and looked at me like she was about ready to
faint. Well, it ain't every gal which has a chance to get hitched to
Breckinridge Elkins, so I didn't blame her for being excited.

"You've been very kind to me, Breckinridge," she said feebly. "But
I--this is so sudden--so unexpected--I never thought--I never
_dreamed_--"

"I don't want to rush you," I said. "Take yore time. Next week
will be soon enough. Anyway, I got to build us a cabin, and--"

_Bang!_ went a gun, too loud for a Winchester.

"Elkins!" It was J. Pembroke yelling for me up the slope. "Elkins!
Hurry!"

"Who's that?" she exclaimed, jumping to her feet like she was
working on a spring.

"Aw," I said in disgust, "it's a fool tenderfoot Bill Glanton
wished on me. I reckon a b'ar is got him by the neck. I'll go see."

"I'll go with you!" she said, but from the way J. Pembroke was
yelling I figgered I better not waste no time getting to him, so I
couldn't wait for her, and she was some piece behind me when I mounted
the lap of the slope and met him running out from amongst the trees.
He was gibbering with excitement.

"I winged it!" he squawked. "I'm sure I winged the blighter! But
it ran in among the underbrush and I dared not follow it, for the
beast is most vicious when wounded. A friend of mine once wounded one
in South Africa, and--"

"A b'ar?" I ast.

"No, no!" he said. "A wild boar! The most vicious brute I have
ever seen! It ran into that brush there!"

"Aw, they ain't no wild boars in the Humbolts," I snorted. "You
wait here, I'll go see jest what you did shoot."

I seen some splashes of blood on the grass, so I knowed he'd shot
_something._ Well, I hadn't gone more'n a few hundred feet and was
jest out of sight of J. Pembroke when I run into Uncle Jeppard Grimes.

Uncle Jeppard was one of the first white men to come into the
Humbolts, in case I ain't mentioned that before, and he wears fringed
buckskins and moccasins jest like he done fifty years ago. He had a
bowie knife in one hand and he waved something in the other'n like a
flag of revolt, and he was frothing at the mouth.

"The derned murderer!" he shrieked. "You see this? That's the
proper tail of Dan'l Webster, the finest derned razorback boar which
ever trod the Humbolts! That danged tenderfoot of yore'n tried to
'sassernate him! Shot his tail off, right spang up to the hilt! I'll
show him he cain't muterlate my animals like this! I'll have his
heart's blood!"

And he done a war-dance waving that pig-tail and his bowie and
cussing in American and Spanish and Apache Injun all at onst.

"You ca'm down, Uncle Jeppard," I said sternly. "He ain't got no
sense, and he thought Daniel Webster was a wild boar like they have in
Aferker and England and them foreign places. He didn't mean no harm."

"No harm," said Uncle jeppard fiercely. "And Dan'l Webster with no
more tail onto him than a jackrabbit!"

"Well," I said, "here's a five dollar gold piece to pay for the
dern hawg's tail, and you let J. Pembroke alone!"

"Gold cain't satisfy honor," he said bitterly, but nevertheless
grabbing the coin like a starving Kiowa grabbing a beefsteak. "I'll
let this here outrage pass for the time. But I'll be watchin' that
maneyack to see that he don't muterlate no more of my prize
livestock."

And so saying he went off muttering in his beard.

I went back to where I left J. Pembroke, and there he was talking
to Miss Margaret which had jest come up. She had more color in her
face than I'd saw recent.

"Fancy meeting a girl like you here!" J. Pembroke was saying.

"No more surprising than meeting a man like you!" says she with a
kind of fluttery laugh.

"Oh, a sportsman wanders into all sorts of out-of-the-way places,"
says he, and seeing they hadn't noticed me coming up, I says: "Well,
J. Pembroke, I didn't find yore wild boar, but I met the owner."

He looked at me kinda blank, and said vaguely: "Wild boar? _What_
wild boar?"

"That 'un you shot the tail off of with that there fool elerfant
gun," I said. "Lissen: next time you see a hawg-critter you remember
there ain't no wild boars in the Humbolts. They is critters called
haverleeners in South Texas, but they ain't even none of them in
Nevada. So next time you see a hawg, jest reflect that it's merely one
of Uncle Jeppard Grimes' razorbacks and refrain from shootin' at it."

"Oh, quite!" he agreed absently, and started talking to Miss
Margaret again.

So I picked up the elerfant gun which he'd absent-mindedly laid
down, and said: "Well, it's gittin' late. Let's go. We won't go back
to pap's cabin tonight, J. Pembroke. We'll stay at Uncle Saul
Garfield's cabin on t'other side of the Apache Mountain settlement."

Like I said, them cabins was awful clost together. Uncle Saul's
cabin was below the settlement, but it warnt much over three hundred
yards from cousin Bill Kirby's cabin where Miss Margaret boarded. The
other cabins was on t'other side of Bill's, mostly, strung out up the
run and up and down the slopes.

I told J. Pembroke and Miss Margaret to walk on down to the
settlement whilst I went back and got the hosses.

They'd got to the settlement time I catched up with 'em, and Miss
Margaret had gone into the Kirby cabin, and I seen a light spring up
in her room. She had one, of them new-fangled ile lamps she brung with
her, the only one on Bear Creek. Taller candles and pine chunks was
good enough for us folks. And she'd hanged rag-things over the winders
which she called curtains. You never seen nothing like it. I tell you
she was that elegant you wouldn't believe it.

We walked on towards Uncle Saul's, me leading the hosses, and
after awhile J. Pembroke says: "A wonderful creature!"

"You mean Dan'l Webster?" I ast.

"No!" he said. "No, no! I mean Miss Devon."

"She sure is," I said. "She'll make me a fine wife."

He hirled like I'd stabbed him and his face looked pale in the
dusk.

"You?" he said. "_You_ a fine wife?"

"Well," I said bashfully, "she ain't sot the day yet, but I've
sure sot my heart on that gal."

"Oh!" he says. "_Oh!"_ says he, like he had the toothache. Then he
said kinda hesitatingly: "Suppose--er, just suppose, you know! Suppose
a rival for her affections should appear? What would you do?"

"You mean if some dirty, low-down son of a mangy skunk was to try
to steal my gal?" I said, whirling so sudden he staggered backwards.

_"Steal my gal?"_ I roared, seeing red at the mere thought. "Why,
I'd--I'd--"

Words failing me I grabbed a big sapling and tore it up by the
roots and broke it acrost my knee and throwed the pieces clean through
a rail fence on the other side of the road.

"That there is a faint idee!" I said, panting with passion.

"That gives me a very vivid conception," he said faintly, and he
said nothing more till we reched the cabin and seen Uncle Saul
Garfield standing in the light of the door combing his black beard
with his fingers.

Next morning J. Pembroke seemed like he'd kinda lost interest in
b'ars. He said all that walking he done over the slopes of Apache
Mountain had made his laig muscles sore. I never heard of sech a
thing, but nothing that gets the matter with these tenderfeet
surprises me much, they is sech a effemernate race, so I ast him would
he like to go fishing down the run and he said all right.

But we hadn't been fishing more'n a hour when he said he believed
he'd go back to Uncle Saul's cabin and take him a nap, and he insisted
on going alone, so I stayed where I was and catched me a nice string
of trout.

I went back to the cabin about noon, and ast Uncle Saul if J.
Pembroke had got his nap out.

"Why, heck," said Uncle Saul, "I ain't seen him since you and him
started down the run this mornin'. Wait a minute--yonder he comes from
the other direction."

Well, J. Pembroke didn't say where he'd been all morning, and I
didn't ast him, because a tenderfoot don't generally have no reason
for anything he does.

We et the trout I catched, and after dinner he perked up a right
smart and got his shotgun and said he'd like to hunt some wild
turkeys. I never heard of anybody hunting anything as big as a turkey
with a shotgun, but I didn't say nothing, because tenderfeet is like
that.

So we headed up the slopes of Apache Mountain, and I stopped by
the schoolhouse to tell Miss Margaret I probably wouldn't get back in
time to take my reading and writing lesson, and she said: "You know,
until I met your friend, Mr. Pembroke, I didn't realize what a
difference there was between men like him, and--well, like the men on
Bear Creek."

"I know," I said. "But don't hold it agen him. He means well. He
jest ain't got no sense. Everybody cain't be smart like me. As a
special favor to me, Miss Margaret, I'd like for you to be exter nice
to the poor sap, because he's a friend of my friend Bill Glanton down
to War Paint."

"I will, Breckinridge," she replied heartily, and I thanked her
and went away with my big manly heart pounding in my gigantic bosom.

Me and J. Pembroke headed into the heavy timber, and we hadn't
went far till I was convinced that somebody was follering us. I kept
hearing twigs snapping, and onst I thought I seen a shadowy figger
duck behind a bush. But when I run back there, it was gone, and no
track to show in the pine needles. That sort of thing would of made me
nervous, anywheres else, because they is a goodly number of people
which would like to get a clean shot at my back from the bresh, but I
knowed none of them dast come after me in my own territory. If anybody
was trailing us it was bound to be one of my relatives and to save my
neck I couldn't think of no reason why anyone of 'em would be gunning
for me.

But I got tired of it, and left J. Pembroke in a small glade
whilst I snuck back to do some shaddering of my own. I aimed to cast a
big circle around the clearing and see could I find out who it was,
but I'd hardly got out of sight of J. Pembroke when I heard a gun
bang.

I turned to run back and here come J. Pembroke yelling: "I got
him! I got him! I winged the bally aborigine!"

He had his head down as he busted through the bresh and he run
into me in his excitement and hit me in the belly with his head so
hard he bounced back like a rubber ball and landed in a bush with his
riding boots brandishing wildly in the air.

"Assist me, Breckinridge!" he shrieked. "Extricate me! They will
be hot on our trail!"

"Who?" I demanded, hauling him out by the hind laig and setting
him on his feet.

"The Indians!" he hollered, jumping up and down and waving his
smoking shotgun frantically. "The bally redskins! I shot one of them!
I saw him sneaking through the bushes! I saw his legs! I knew it was
an Indian instantly because he had on moccasins instead of boots!
Listen! That's him now!"

"A Injun couldn't cuss like that," I said. "You've shot Uncle
Jeppard Grimes!"

Telling him to stay there, I run through the bresh, guided by the
maddened howls which riz horribly on the air, and busting through some
bushes I seen Uncle Jeppard rolling on the ground with both hands
clasped to the rear bosom of his buckskin britches which was smoking
freely. His langwidge was awful to hear.

"Air you in misery Uncle Jeppard?" I inquired solicitously. This
evoked another ear-splitting squall.

"I'm writhin' in my death-throes," he says in horrible accents,
"and you stands there and mocks my mortal agony! My own blood-kin!" he
says "--!" says Uncle Jeppard with passion.

"Aw," I said, "that there bird-shot wouldn't hurt a flea. It
cain't be very deep under yore thick old hide. Lie on yore belly,
Uncle Jeppard," I says, stropping my bowie on my boot, "and I'll dig
out them shot for you."

"Don't tech me!" he said fiercely, painfully climbing onto his
feet. "Where's my rifle-gun? Gimme it! Now then, I demands that you
bring that British murderer here where I can git a clean lam at him!
The Grimes honor is besmirched and my new britches is rooint. Nothin'
but blood can wipe out the stain on the family honor!"

"Well," I said, "you didn't have no business sneakin' around after
us thataway--"

Here Uncle Jeppard give tongue to loud and painful shrieks.

"Why shouldn't I?" he howled. "Ain't a man got no right to perteck
his own property? I war follerin' him to see that he didn't shoot no
more tails offa my hawgs. And now he shoots me in the same place! He's
a fiend in human form--a monster which stalks ravelin' through these
hills bustin' for the blood of the innercent!"

"Aw, J. Pembroke thought you was a Injun," I said.

"He thought Dan'l Webster was a wild wart-hawg," gibbered Uncle
Jeppard. "He thought I was Geronimo. I reckon he'll massacre the
entire population of Bear Creek under a misapprehension, and you'll
uphold and defend him! When the cabins of yore kinfolks is smoulderin'
ashes, smothered in the blood of yore own relations, I hope you'll be
satisfied--bringin' a foreign assassin into a peaceful community!"

Here Uncle Jeppard's emotions choked him, and he chawed his
whiskers and then yanked out the five-dollar gold piece I give him for
Daniel Webster's tail, and throwed it at me.

"Take back yore filthy lucre," he said bitterly. "The day of
retribution is nigh onto hand, Breckinridge Elkins, and the Lord of
battles shall jedge betwixt them which turns agen their kinsfolks in
their extremerties!"

"In their which?" I ast, but he merely snarled and went limping
off through the trees, calling back over his shoulder: "They is still
men on Bear Creek which will see jestice did for the aged and
helpless. I'll git that English murderer if it's the last thing I do,
and you'll be sorry you stood up for him, you big lunkhead!"

I went back to where J. Pembroke was waiting bewilderedly, and
evidently still expecting a tribe of Injuns to bust out of the bresh
and sculp him, and I said in disgust: "Let's go home. Tomorrer I'll
take you so far away from Bear Creek you can shoot in any direction
without hittin' a prize razorback or a antiquated gunman with a
ingrown disposition. When Uncle Jeppard Grimes gits mad enough to
throw away money, it's time to ile the Winchesters and strap yore
scabbard-ends to yore laigs."

"Legs?" he said mistily. "But what about the Indians?"

"They warn't no Injun, gol-dern it!" I howled. "They ain't been
none on Bear Creek for four or five year. They--aw, hell! What the
hell! Come on. It's gittin' late. Next time you see somethin' you
don't understand, ast me before you shoot it. And remember, the more
ferocious and woolly it looks, the more likely it is to be a leadin'
citizen of Bear Creek."

It was dark when we approached Uncle Saul's cabin, and J. Pembroke
glanced back up the road, towards the settlement, and said: "My word,
is it a political rally? Look! A torchlight parade!"

I looked, and said: "Quick! Git into the cabin and stay there!"

He turned pale, but said: "If there is danger, I insist on--"

"Insist all you dern please," I said, "but git in that house and
stay there. I'll handle this. Uncle Saul, see he gits in there."

Uncle Saul is a man of few words. He taken a firm grip onto his
pipe stem and he grabbed J. Pembroke by the neck and the seat of the
britches and throwed him bodily into the cabin, and shet the door and
sot down on the stoop.

"They ain't no use in you gittin' mixed up in this, Uncle Saul," I
said.

"You got yore faults, Breckinridge," he grunted. "You ain't got
much sense, but yo're my favorite sister's son--and I ain't forgot
that lame mule Jeppard traded me for a sound animal back in '69. Let
'em come!"

They come all right, and surged up in front of the cabin--
Jeppard's boys Jack and Buck and Esau and Joash and Polk County. And
Erath Elkins, and a mob of Gordons and Buckners and Polks, all more or
less kin to me, except Joel Braxton who wasn't kin to none of us, but
didn't like me because he was sweet on Miss Margaret. But Uncle
jeppard warn't with 'em. Some had torches and Polk County Grimes had a
rope with a noose in it.

"Where at air you-all goin' with that there lariat?" I ast them
sternly, planting my enormous bulk in their path.

"Perjuice the scoundrel!" commanded Polk County, waving his rope
around his head. "Bring out the foreign invader which shoots hawgs and
defenceless old men from the bresh!"

"What you aim to do?" I inquired.

"We aim to hang him!" they replied with hearty enthusiasm.

Uncle Saul knocked the ashes out of his pipe and stood up and
stretched his arms which looked like knotted oak limbs, and he grinned
in his black beard like a old timber wolf, and he says: "Whar is dear
cousin Jeppard to speak for hisself?"

"Uncle Jeppard was havin' the shot picked outa his hide when we
left," says Jim Gordon. "He'll be along directly. Breckinridge, we
don't want no trouble with you, but we aims to have that Englishman."

"Well," I snorted, "you-all cain't. Bill Glanton is trustin' me to
return him whole of body and limb, and--"

"What you want to waste time in argyment for, Breckinridge?" Uncle
Saul reproved mildly. "Don't you know it's a plumb waste of time to
try to reason with the off-spring of a lame-mule trader?"

"What would you sejest, old man?" sneeringly remarked Polk County.

Uncle Saul beamed on him benevolently, and said gently: "I'd try
moral suasion--like this!" And he hit Polk County under the jaw and
knocked him clean acrost the yard into a rain barrel amongst the
rooins of which he reposed till he was rescued and revived some hours
later.

But they was no stopping Uncle Saul onst he took the war-path. No
sooner had he disposed of Polk County than he jumped seven foot in the
air, cracked his heels together three times, give the rebel yell and
come down with his arms around the necks of Esau Grimes and Joel
Braxton, and started mopping up the cabin yard with 'em.

That started the fight, and they is no scrap in the world where
mayhem is committed as free and fervent as in one of these here family
rukuses.

Polk County had hardly crashed into the rain-barrel when Jack
Grimes stuck a pistol in my face. I slapped it aside jest as he fired
and the bullet missed me and taken a ear offa Jim Gordon. I was scairt
Jack would hurt somebody if he kept on shooting reckless that way, so
I kinda rapped him with my left fist and how was I to know it would
dislocate his jaw? But Jim Gordon seemed to think I was to blame about
his ear, because he give a maddened howl and jerked up his shotgun and
let _bam_ with both barrels. I ducked jest in time to keep from
getting my head blowed off, and catched most of the double charge in
my shoulder, whilst the rest hived in the seat of Steve Kirby's
britches. Being shot that way by a relative was irritating, but I
controlled my temper and merely taken the gun away from Jim and
splintered the stock over his head.

In the meantime Joel Gordon and Buck Grimes had grabbed one of my
laigs apiece and was trying to rassle me to the earth, and Joash
Grimes was trying to hold down my right arm, and cousin Pecos Buckner
was beating me over the head from behind with a axe-handle, and Erath
Elkins was coming at me from the front with a bowie knife. I reched
down and got Buck Grimes by the neck with my left hand, and I swung my
right and hit Erath with it, but I had to lift Joash clean off his
feet and swing him around with the lick, because he wouldn't let go,
so I only knocked Erath through the rail fence which was around Uncle
Saul's garden.

About this time I found my left laig was free and discovered that
Buck Grimes was unconscious, so I let go of his neck and begun to kick
around with my left laig, and it ain't my fault if the spur got
tangled up in Uncle Jonathan Polk's whiskers and jerked most of 'em
out by the roots. I shaken Joash off and taken the axe-handle away
from Pecos because I seen he was going to hurt somebody if he kept on
swinging it around so reckless, and I dunno why he blames me because
his skull got fractured when he hit that tree. He ought a look where
he falls when he gets throwed acrost a cabin yard. And if Joel Gordon
hadn't been so stubborn trying to gouge me he wouldn't of got his laig
broke neither.

I was handicapped by not wanting to kill any of my kinfolks, but
they was so mad they all wanted to kill me, so in spite of my
carefulness the casualties was increasing at a rate which would of
discouraged anybody but Bear Creek folks. But they are the stubbornest
people in the world. Three or four had got me around the laigs again,
refusing to be convinced that I couldn't be throwed that way, and
Erath Elkins, having pulled hisself out of the rooins of the fence,
come charging back with his bowie.

By this time I seen I'd have to use vi'lence in spite of myself,
so I grabbed Erath Elkins and squoze him with a grizzly-hug and that
was when he got them five ribs caved in, and he ain't spoke to me
since. I never seen sech a cuss for taking offence over trifles.

For a matter of fact, if he hadn't been wrought up, he'd of
realized how kindly and kindredly I felt towards him, even in the heat
of battle. If I had dropped him underfoot he might of got fatally
tromped on, for I was kicking folks right and left. So I carefully
throwed Erath out of range of the melee, and he's a liar when he says
I aimed him at Ozark Grimes' pitchfork; I didn't even see the cussed
implement.

It was at this moment that somebody swung at me with a axe and
ripped a ear offa my head, and I begun to lose my temper. Four or five
other relatives was kicking and hitting and biting me all at onst, and
they is a limit even to my timid manners and mild nature. I voiced my
displeasure with a beller of wrath that shook the leaves offa the
trees, and lashed out with both fists, and my misguided relatives fell
all over the yard like persimmons after a frost. I grabbed Joash
Grimes by the ankles and began to knock them ill-advised idjits in the
head with him, and the way he hollered you'd of thought somebody was
man-handling him. The yard was beginning to look like a battlefield
when the cabin door opened and a deluge of b'iling water descended on
us.

I got about a gallon down my neck, but paid very little attention
to it, however the others ceased hostilities and started rolling on
the ground and hollering and cussing, and Uncle Saul riz up from
amongst the rooins of Esau Grimes and Joel Braxton, and bellered:
"Woman! Whar air you at?"

Aunt Zavalla Garfield was standing in the doorway with a kettle in
her hand, and she said: "Will you idjits stop fightin'? The
Englishman's gone. He run out the back door when the fightin' started,
and saddled his nag and pulled out. Now will you born fools stop, or
will I give you another surge? Land save us! What's that light?"

Somebody was yelling off towards the settlement, and I was aware
of a pecooliar glow which didn't come from sech torches as was still
burning. And here come Medina Kirby, one of Bill's gals, yelping like
a Comanche.

"Our cabin's burnin'!" she squalled. "A stray bullet went through
the winder and busted Miss Margaret's ile lamp!"

With a yell of dismay I abandoned the fray and headed for Bill's
cabin, follered by everybody which was able to toller me. They had
been several wild shots fired during the melee and one of 'em must
have hived in Miss Margaret's winder. The Kirbys had dragged most of
their belongings into the yard and some was toting water from the
creek, but the whole cabin was in a blaze by now.

"Where's Miss Margaret?" I roared.

"She must be still in there," shrilled Miz Kirby. "A beam fell and
wedged her door so we couldn't open it, and--"

I grabbed a blanket one of the gals had rescued and plunged it
into the rain barrel and run for Miss Margaret's room. They wasn't but
one door in it, which led into the main part of the cabin, and was
jammed like they said, and I knowed I couldn't never get my shoulders
through either winder, so I jest put down my head and rammed the wall
full force and knocked four or five logs outa place and made a hole
big enough to go through.

The room was so full of smoke I was nigh blinded but I made out a
figger fumbling at the winder on the other side. A flaming beam fell
outa the roof and broke acrost my head with a loud report and about a
bucketful of coals rolled down the back of my neck, but I paid no
heed.

I charged through the smoke, nearly fracturing my shin on a
bedstead or something, and enveloped the figger in the wet blanket and
swept it up in my arms. It kicked wildly and fought and though its
voice was muffled in the blanket I catched some words I never would of
thought Miss Margaret would use, but I figgered she was hysterical.
She seemed to be wearing spurs, too, because I felt 'em every time she
kicked.

By this time the room was a perfect blaze and the roof was falling
in and we'd both been roasted if I'd tried to get back to the hole I'd
knocked in the oppersite wall. So I lowered my head and butted my way
through the near wall, getting all my eyebrows and hair burnt off in
the process, and come staggering through the rooins with my precious
burden and fell into the arms of my relatives which was thronged
outside.

"I've saved her!" I panted. "Pull off the blanket! Yo're safe,
Miss Margaret!"

"--!" said Miss Margaret.

Uncle Saul groped under the blanket and said: "By golly, if this
is the schoolteacher she's growed a remarkable set of whiskers since I
seen her last!"

He yanked off the blanket--to reveal the bewhiskered countenance
of Uncle Jeppard Grimes!

"Hell's fire!" I bellered. "What _you_ doin' here?"

"I was comin' to jine the lynchin', you blame fool!" he snarled.
"I seen Bill's cabin was afire so I clum in through the back winder to
save Miss Margaret. She was gone, but they was a note she'd left. I
was fixin' to climb out the winder when you grabbed me, you cussed
maneyack!"

"Gimme that note!" I bellered, grabbing it. "Medina! Come here and
read it for me."

That note run:

"Dear Breckinridge. I am sorry, but I can't stay on Bear Creek any
longer. It was tough enough anyway, but being expected to marry you
was the last straw. You've been very kind to me, but it would be too
much like marrying a grizzly bear. Please forgive me. I am eloping
with J. Pembroke Pemberton. We're going out the back window to avoid
any trouble, and ride away on his horse. Give my love to the children.
We are going to Europe on our honeymoon. With love, Margaret Devon."

"Now what you got to say?" sneered Uncle Jeppard.

"Where's my hoss?" I yelled, gomg temporarily insane. "I'll foller
'em! They cain't do me this way! I'll have his sculp if I have to
foller 'em to Europe or to hell! Git outa my way!"

Uncle Saul grabbed me as I plunged through the crowd.

"Now, now, Breckinridge," he expostulated, trying to brace his
laigs as he hung on and was dragged down the road. "You cain't do
nothin' to him. She done this of her own free will. She made her
choice, and--"

"Release go of me!" I roared, jerking loose. "I'm ridin' on their
trail, and the man don't live which can stop me! Life won't be worth
livin' when Glory McGraw hears about this, and I aim to take it out on
that Britisher's hide! Hell hath no fury like a Elkins scorned! Git
outa my way!"



Chapter XIII WHEN BEAR CREEK CAME TO CHAWED EAR



I DUNNO how far I rode that night before the red haze cleared out
from around me so's I could even see where I was. I knowed I was
follering the trail to War Paint, but that was about all. I knowed
Miss Margaret and J. Pembroke would head for War Paint, and I knowed
Cap'n Kidd would run 'em down before they could get there, no matter
how much start they had. And I must of rode for hours before I come to
my senses.

It was like waking up from a bad dream. I pulled up on the crest
of a rise and looked ahead of me where the trail dipped down into the
holler and up over the next ridge. It was jest getting daylight and
everything looked kinda grey and still. I looked down in the trail and
seen the hoof prints of J. Pembroke's hoss fresh in the dust, and
knowed they couldn't be more'n three or four miles ahead of me. I
could run' em down within the next hour.

But thinks I, what the hell? Am I plumb locoed? The gal's got a
right to marry whoever she wants to, and if she's idjit enough to
choose him instead of me, why, 'tain't for me to stand in her way. I
wouldn't hurt a hair onto her head; yet here I been aiming to hurt her
the wust way I could, by shooting down her man right before her eyes.
I felt so ashamed of myself I wanted to cuss--and so sorry for myself
I wanted to bawl.

"Go with my blessin'," I said bitterly, shaking my fist in the
direction where they'd went, and then reined Cap'n Kidd around and
headed for Bear Creek. I warn't aiming to stay there and endure Glory
McGraw's rawhiding, but I had to get me some clothes. Mine was burnt
to rags, and I didn't have no hat, and the buckshot in my shoulder was
stinging me now and then.

A mile or so on the back-trail I crossed the road that runs from
Cougar Paw to Grizzly Run, and I was hungry and thirsty so I turnt up
it to the tavern which had been built recent on the crossing at
Mustang Creek.

The sun warn't up when I pulled at the hitch-rack and clumb off
and went in. The bartender give a holler and fell backwards into a tub
of water and empty beer bottles, and started yelling for help, and I
seen a man come to one of the doors which opened into the bar, and
look at me. They was something familiar about him, but I couldn't
place him for the instant.

"Shet up and git outa that tub," I told the bar-keep petulantly.
"It's me, and I want a drink."

"Excuse me, Breckinridge," says he, hauling hisself onto his feet.
"I rekernize you now, but I'm a nervous man, and you got no idee what
a start you gimme when you come through that door jest now, with yore
hair and eye-lashes all burnt off, and most of yore clothes, and yore
hide all black with soot. What the hell--"

"Cease them personal remarks and gimme some whisky," I snarled,
being in no mood for airy repartee. "Likewise wake up the cook and
tell him to fry me some ham and aigs."

So he sot the bottle onto the bar and stuck his head into the
kitchen and hollered: "Break out a fresh ham and start bustin' aigs.
Breckinridge Elkins craves fodder!"

When he come back I said: "Who was that lookin' through that door
there while ago?"

"Oh, that?" says he. "Why, that was a man nigh as famous as what
you be--Wild Bill Donovan. You-all ever met?"

"I'll say we has," I grunted, pouring me a drink. "He tried to
take Cap'n Kidd away from me when I was a ignorant kid. I was forced
to whup him with my bare fists before he'd listen to reason."

"He's the only man I ever seen which was as big as you," said the
bar-keep. "And at that he ain't quite as thick in the chest and arms
as you be. I'll call him in and you-all can chin about old times."

"Save yore breath," I growled. "The thing I craves to do about
chins with that coyote is to bust his'n with a pistol butt."

This seemed to kinda intimidate the bartender. He got behind the
bar and started shining beer mugs whilst I et my breakfast in gloomy
grandeur, halting only long enough to yell for somebody to feed Cap'n
Kidd. Three or four menials went out to do it, and being afeared to
try to lead Cap'n Kidd to the trough, they filled it and carried it to
him, so only one of them got kicked in the belly. It's awful hard for
the average man to dodge Cap'n Kidd.

Well, I finished my breakfast whilst they was dipping the stable-
hand in a hoss-trough to bring him to, and I said to the bar-keep, "I
ain't got no money to pay for what me and Cap'n Kidd et, but I'll be
headin' for War Paint late this evenin' or tonight, and when I git the
money I'll send it to you. I'm broke right now, but I ain't goin' to
be broke long."

"All right," he said, eyeing my scorched skull in morbid
fascination. "You got no idee how pecoolier you look, Breckinridge,
with that there bald dome--"

"Shet up!" I roared wrathfully. A Elkins is sensitive about his
personal appearance. "This here is merely a temporary inconvenience
which I cain't help. Lemme hear no more about it. I'll shoot the next
son of a polecat which calls attention to my singed condition!"

I then tied a bandanner around my head and got on Cap'n Kidd and
pulled for home.

I arriv at pap's cabin about the middle of the afternoon and my
family rallied around to remove the buckshot from my hide and repair
other damages which had been did.

Maw made each one of my brothers lend me a garment, and she let
'em out to fit me.

"Though how much good it'll do you," said she, "I don't know. I
never seen any man so hard on his clothes as you be, in my life. If it
ain't fire it's bowie knives, and if it ain't bowie knives, it's
buckshot."

"Boys will be boys, maw," soothed pap. "Breckinridge is jest full
of life and high spirits, ain't you, Breckinridge?"

"From the whiff I got of his breath," snorted Elinor, "I'd say
they is no doubt about the spirits."

"Right now I'm full of gloom and vain regrets," I says bitterly.
"Culture is a flop on Bear Creek, and my confidence has been betrayed.
I have tooken a sarpent with a British accent to my bosom and been
bit. I stands knee-deep in the rooins of education and romance. Bear
Creek lapses back into ignorance and barbarism and corn-licker, and I
licks the wounds of unrequited love like a old wolf after a tussle
with a pack of hound dawgs!"

"What you goin' to do?" ast pap, impressed.

"I'm headin' for War Paint," I said gloomily. "I ain't goin' to
stay here and have the life rawhided outa me by Glory McGraw. It's a
wonder to me she ain't been over already to gloat over my misery."

"You ain't got no money," says pap.

"I'll git me some," I said. "And I ain't particular how. I'm going
now. I ain't goin' to wait for Glory McGraw to descend onto me with
her derned sourcasm."

So I headed for War Paint as soon as I could wash the soot off of
me. I had a Stetson I borrowed from Garfield and I jammed it down
around my ears so my bald condition warn't evident, because I was
awful sensitive about it.

Sundown found me some miles from the place where the trail crossed
the Cougar Paw-Grizzly Run road, and jest before the sun dipped I was
hailed by a pecooliar-looking gent.

He was tall and gangling--tall as me, but didn't weigh within a
hundred pounds as much. His hands hung about three foot out of his
sleeves, and his neck with a big adam's apple riz out of his collar
like a crane's, and he had on a plug hat instead of a Stetson, and a
long-tailed coat. He moreover sot his hoss like it was a see-saw, and
his stirrups was so short his bony knees come up almost level with his
shoulders. He wore his pants laigs down over his boots, and altogether
he was the funniest-looking human I ever seen. Cap'n Kidd give a
disgusted snort when he seen him and wanted to kick his bony old
sorrel nag in the belly, but I wouldn't let him.

"Air you," said this apparition, p'inting a accusing finger at me,
"air you Breckinridge Elkins, the bearcat of the Humbolts?"

"I'm Breckinridge Elkins," I replied suspiciously.

"I dedooced as much," he says ominously. "I have come a long ways
to meet you, Elkins. They can be only one sun in the sky, my roarin'
grizzly from the high ranges. They can be only one champeen in the
State of Nevada. I'm him!"

"Oh, be you?" I says, scenting battle afar. "Well, I feels the
same way about one sun and one champeen. You look a mite skinny and
gantlin' to be makin' sech big talk, but far be it from me to deny you
a tussle after you've come so far to git it. Light down from yore hoss
whilst I mangles yore frame with a free and joyful spirit! They is
nothin' I'll enjoy more'n uprootin' a few acres of junipers with yore
carcass and festoonin' the crags with yore innards."

"You mistakes my meanin', my bloodthirsty friend," says he. "I
warn't referrin' to mortal combat. Far as I'm consarned, yo're supreme
in that line. Nay, nay, B. Elkins, esquire! Reserve yore personal
ferocity for the b'ars and knife-fighters of yore native mountains. I
challenges you in another department entirely.

"Look well, my bowie-wieldin' orang-outang of the high peaks. Fame
is shakin' her mane. I am Jugbelly Judkins, and my talent is guzzlin'.
From the live-oak grown coasts of the Gulf to the sun-baked buttes of
Montana," says he oratorical, "I ain't yet met the gent I couldn't
drink under the table betwixt sundown and sunup. I have met the most
celebrated topers of plain and mountain, and they have all went down
in inglorious and rum-soaked defeat. Afar off I heard men speak of
you, praisin' not only yore genius in alterin' the features of yore
feller man, but also laudin' yore capacity for corn-licker. So I have
come to cast the ga'ntlet at yore feet, as it were."

"Oh," I says, "you wants a drinkin' match."

"'Wants' is a weak word, my murderous friend," says he. "I demands
it."

"Well, come on," I said. "Le's head for War Paint then. They'll be
plenty of gents there willin' to lay heavy bets--"

"To hell with filthy lucre!" snorted Jugbelly. "My mountainous
friend, I am an artist. I cares nothin' for money. My reputation is
what I upholds."

"Well, then," I said, "they's a tavern on Mustang Creek--"

"Let it rot," says he. "I scorns these vulgar displays in low inns
and cheap taverns, my enormous friend. I supplies the sinews of war
myself. Foller me!"

So he turnt his hoss off the trail, and I follered him through the
bresh for maybe a mile, till he come to a small cave in a bluff with
dense thickets all around. He reched into the cave and hauled out a
gallon jug of licker.

"I hid a goodly supply of the cup that cheers in that cave," says
he. "This is a good secluded spot where nobody never comes. We won't
be interrupted here, my brawny but feeble-minded gorilla of the high
ridges!"

"But what're we bettin'?" I demanded. "I ain't got no money. I was
goin' down to War Paint and git me a job workin' somebody's claim for
day-wages till I got me a stake and built it up playin' poker, but--"

"You wouldn't consider wagerin' that there gigantic hoss you
rides?" says he, eyeing me very sharp.

"Never in the world," I says with a oath.

"Very well," says he. "Let the bets go. We battles for honor and
glory alone! Let the carnage commence!"

So we started. First he'd take a gulp, and then me, and the jug
was empty about the fourth gulp I taken, so he dragged out another'n,
and we emptied it, and he hauled out another. They didn't seem to be
no limit to his supply. He must of brought it there on a whole train
of pack mules. I never seen a man drink like that skinny cuss. I
watched the liquor careful, but he lowered it every time he taken a
swig, so I knowed he warn't jest pertending. His belly expanded
enormous as we went along and he looked very funny, with his skinny
frame, and that there enormous belly bulging out his shirt till the
buttons flew off of his coat.

I ain't goin' to tell you how much we drunk, because you wouldn't
believe me. But by midnight the glade was covered with empty jugs and
Jugbelly's arms was so tired lifting 'em he couldn't hardly move. But
the moon and the glade and everything was dancing around and around to
me, and he warn't even staggerring. He looked kind of pale and wan,
and onst he says, in a awed voice: "I wouldn't of believed it if I
hadn't saw it myself!" But he kept on drinking and so did I, because I
couldn't believe a skinny maverick like that could lick me, and his
belly kept getting bigger and bigger till I was scairt it was going to
bust, and things kept spinning around me faster than ever.

After awhile I heard him muttering to hisself, away off: "This is
the last jug, and if it don't fix him, nothin' will. By God, he ain't
human."

That didn't make no sense to me, but he passed me the jug and
said: "Air you capable, my gulf-bellied friend?"

"Gimme that jug!" I muttered, bracing my laigs and getting a firm
hold of myself. I taken a big gulp--and then I didn't know nothing.

When I woke up the sun was high above the trees. Cap'n Kidd was
cropping grass nearby, but Jugbelly was gone. So was his hoss and all
the empty jugs. There warn't no sign to show he'd ever been there,
only the taste in my mouth which I cain't describe because I am a gent
and there is words no gent will stoop to use. I felt like kicking
myself in the pants. I was ashamed something terrible at being beat by
that skinny mutt. It was the first time I'd ever drunk enough to lay
me out. I don't believe in a man making a hawg out of hisself, even in
a good cause.

I saddled Cap'n Kidd and pulled out for War Paint, and stopped a
few rods away and drunk five or six gallons of water at a spring, and
felt a lot better. I started on again, but before I come to the trail,
I heard somebody bawling and pulled up, and there sot a feller on a
stump, crying like his heart would bust.

"What's the trouble?" I ast, and he blinked the tears out of his
eyes and looked up mournful and melancholy. He was a scrawny cuss with
over-sized whiskers.

"You beholds in me," says he sobfully, "a critter tossed on the
crooel tides of fate. Destiny has dealt my hand from the bottom of the
deck. Whoa is me!" says he, and wept bitterly.

"Buck up," I said. "Things might well be wuss. Dammit," I said,
waxing irritable, "stop that blubberin' and tell me what's the matter.
I'm Breckinridge Elkins. Maybe I can help you."

He swallered some sobs, and said: "You air a man of kind impulses
and a noble heart. My name is Japhet Jalatin. In my youth I made a
enemy of a wealthy, powerful and unscrupulous man. He framed me and
sent me to the pen for somethin' I never done. I busted free and under
a assumed name, I come West. By hard workin' I accumulated a tidy sum
which I aimed to send to my sorrowin' wife and baby datters. But jest
last night I learnt that I had been rekernized and the bloodhounds of
the law was on my trail. I have got to skip to Mexico. My loved ones
won't never git the dough.

"Oh," says he, "if they was only some one I could trust to leave
it with till I could write 'em a letter and tell 'em where it was so
they could send a trusted man after it! But I trust nobody. The man I
left it with might tell where he got it, and then the bloodhounds of
the law would be onto my trail again, houndin' me day and night."

He looked at me desperate, and says: "Young man, you got a kind
and honest face. Won't _you_ take this here money and hold it for my
wife, till she can come after it?"

"Yeah, I'll do that," I said. He jumped up and run to his hoss
which was tied nearby, and hauled out a buckskin poke, and shoved it
into my hands.

"Keep it till my wife comes for it," says he. "And promise me you
won't never breathe a word of how you got it, except to her!"

"A Elkins never broke his word in his life," I said. "Wild hosses
couldn't drag it outa me."

"Bless you, young man!" he cries, and grabbed my hand with both of
his'n and pumped it up and down like a pump-handle, and then jumped on
his hoss and fogged. I thought they is some curious people in the
world, as I stuffed the poke in my saddle-bags and headed for War
Paint again.

I thought I'd turn off to the Mustang Creek tavern and eat me some
breakfast, but I hadn't much more'n hit the trail I'd been follerin'
when I met Jugbelly, than I heard hosses behind me, and somebody
hollered: "Stop, in the name of the law!"

I turnt around and seen a gang of men riding towards me, from the
direction of Bear Creek, and there was the sheriff leading 'em, and
right beside him was pap and Uncle John Garfield and Uncle Bill
Buckner and Uncle Bearfield Gordon. A tenderfoot onst called them four
men the patriarchs of Bear Creek. I dunno what he meant, but they
generally decides argyments which has got beyond the public control,
as you might say. Behind them and the sheriff come about thirty more
men, most of which I rekernized as citizens of Chawed Ear, and
therefore definitely not my friends. Also, to my surprise, I
rekernized Wild Bill Donovan amongst 'em, with his thick black hair
falling down to his shoulders. They was four other hard-looking
strangers which rode clost beside him.

All the Chawed Ear men had sawed-off shotguns and that surprised
me, because that made it look like maybe they was coming to arrest me,
and I hadn't done nothing, except steal their schoolteacher, several
weeks before, and if they'd meant to arrest me for that, they'd of
tried it before now.

"There he is!" yelped the sheriff, p'inting at me. "Han's up!"

"Don't be a damn' fool!" roared pap, knocking his shotgun out of
his hands as he started to raise it. "You want to git you and yore
cussed posse slaughtered? Come here, Breckinridge," he said, and I
rode up to them, some bewildered. I could see pap was worried. He
scowled and tugged at his beard. My uncles didn't have no more
expression onto their faces than so many red Injuns.

"What the hell's all this about?" I ast.

"Take off yore hat," ordered the sheriff.

"Look here, you long-legged son of a mangy skunk," I said
heatedly, "if yo're tryin' to rawhide me, lemme tell you right now--"

"'Tain't a joke," growled pap. "Take off yore sombrero."

I done so bewilderedly, and instantly four men in the gang started
hollering: "That's him! That's the man! He had on a mask, but when he
taken his hat off, we seen the hair was all off his head! That's shore
him!"

"Elkins," said the sheriff, "I arrests you for the robbery of the
Chawed Ear stage!"

I convulsively went for my guns. It was jest a instinctive move
which I done without knowing it, but the sheriff hollered and ducked,
and the possemen throwed up their guns, and pap spurred in between us.

"Put down them guns, everybody!" he roared, covering me with one
six-shooter and the posse with the other'n. "First man that pulls a
trigger, I'll salivate him!"

"I ain't aimin' to shoot nobody!" I bellered. "But what the hell
is this all about?"

"As if he didn't know!" sneered one of the posse. "Tryin' to ack
innercent! Heh heh heh--_glup!"_

Pap riz in his stirrups and smashed him over the head with his
right-hand six-shooter barrel, and he crumpled into the trail and laid
there with the blood oozing out of his sculp.

"Anybody else feel humorous?" roared pap, sweeping the posse with
a terrible eye. Evidently nobody did, so he turnt around and says to
me, and I seen drops of perspiration standing on his face which warn't
caused altogether by the heat. Says he: "Breckinridge, early last
night the Chawed Ear stage was stuck up and robbed a few miles t'other
side of Chawed Ear. The feller which done it not only taken the
passengers' money and watches and things, and the mail sack, but he
also shot the driver, old Jim Harrigan, jest out of pure cussedness.
Old Jim's layin' over in Chawed Ear now with a bullet through his
laig.

"These born fools thinks you done it! They was on Bear Creek
before daylight--the first time a posse ever dared to come onto Bear
Creek, and it was all me and yore uncles could do to keep the boys
from massacrein, 'em. Bear Creek was sure wrought up. These
mavericks," pap p'inted a finger of scorn at the four men which had
claimed to identify me, "was on the stage. You know Ned Ashley, Chawed
Ear's leadin' merchant. The others air strangers. They say their names
is Hurley, Jackson and Slade. They claim to lost considerable money."

"We done that!" clamored Jackson. "I had a buckskin poke crammed
full of gold pieces the scoundrel taken. I tell you, that's the man
which done it!" He p'inted at me, and pap turnt to Ned Ashley, and
said: "Ned, what do you say?"

"Well, Bill," says Ashley reluctantly, "I hates to say it, but I
don't see who else it could of been. The robber was Breckinridge's
size, all right, and you know they ain't many men that big. He warn't
ridin' Cap'n Kidd, of course; he was ridin' a big bay mare. He had on
a mask, but as he rode off he taken off his hat, and we all seen his
head in the moonlight. The hair was all off of it, jest like it is
Breckinridge's. Not like he was naturally bald, but like it had been
burnt off or shaved off recent."

"Well," says the sheriff, "unless he can prove a alibi I'll have
to arrest him."

"Breckinridge," says pap, "whar was you last night?"

"I was layin' out in the woods drunk," I says.

I felt a aidge of doubt in the air.

"I didn't know you could drink enough to git drunk," says pap. "It
ain't like you, anyway. What made you? Was it thinkin' about that
gal?"

"Naw," I said. "I met a gent in a plug hat named Jugbelly Judkins
and he challenged me to a drinkin' match."

"Did you win?" ast pap anxiously.

"Naw!" I confessed in bitter shame. "I lost."

Pap muttered disgustedly in his beard, and the sheriff says: "Can
you perduice this Judkins _hombre?"_

"I dunno where he went," I said. "He'd pulled out when I woke up."

"Very inconvenient, I says!" says Wild Bill Donovan, running his
fingers lovingly through his long black locks, and spitting.

"Who ast you yore opinion?" I snarled blood-thirstily. "What you
doin' in the Humbolts? Come back to try to git even for Cap'n Kidd?"

"I forgot that trifle long ago," says he. "I holds no petty
grudge. I jest happened to be ridin' the road this side of Chawed Ear
when the posse come by and I come with 'em jest to see the fun."

"You'll see more fun than you can tote home if you fool with me,"
I promised.

"Enough of this," snorted pap. "Breckinridge, even I got to admit
yore alibi sounds kind of fishy. A critter named Jugbelly with a plug
hat! It sounds plumb crazy. Still and all, we'll look for this cussed
maverick, and if we find him and he establishes whar you was last
night, why--"

"He put my gold in his saddle-bags!" clamored Jackson. "I seen
him! That's the same saddle! Look in them bags and I bet you'll find
it!"

"Go ahead and look," I invited, and the sheriff went up to Cap'n
Kidd very gingerly, whilst I restrained Cap'n Kidd from kicking his
brains out. He run his hand in the bags and I'll never forget the look
on pap's face when the sheriff hauled out that buckskin poke Japhet
Jalatin had give me. I'd forgot all about it.

"How you explain _this_?" exclaimed the sheriff. I said nothing. A
Elkins never busts his word, not even if he hangs for it.

"It's mine!" hollered Jackson. "You'll find my initials worked
onto it! J.J., for Judah Jackson."

"There they air," announced the sheriff. "J.J. That's for Judah
Jackson, all right."

"They don't stand for that!" I roared. "They stand for--" Then I
stopped. I couldn't tell him they stood for Japhet Jalatin without
breaking my word and giving away Japhet's secret.

"'Tain't his'n," I growled. "I didn't steal it from nobody."

"Then where'd you git it?" demanded the sheriff.

"None of yore business," I said sullenly.

Pap spurred forwards, and I seen beads of sweat on his face.

"Well, say somethin', damn it!" he roared. "Don't jest set there!
No Elkins was ever accused of thievin' before, but if you done it, say
so! I demands that you tells me whar you got that gold! If you didn't
take it off'n the stage, why don't you say so?"

"I cain't tell you," I muttered.

"Hell's fire!" bellered pap. "Then you must of robbed that stage!
What a black shame onto Bear Creek this here is! But these town-folks
ain't goin' to haul you off to their cussed jail, even if you did turn
thief! Jest come out plain and tell me you done it, and we'll lick the
whole cussed posse if necessary!"

I seen my uncles behind him drawing in and cocking their
Winchesters, but I was too dizzy with the way things was happening to
think straight about anything.

"I never robbed the cussed stage!" I roared. "I cain't tell you
where I got that gold--but I didn't rob the gol-derned stage."

"So yo're a liar as well as a thief!" says pap, drawing back from
me like I was a reptile. "To think it should come to this! From this
day onwards," he says, shaking his fist in my face, "you ain't no son
of mine! I disowns you! When they lets you out of the pen, don't you
come sneakin' back to Bear Creek! Us folks there if is rough and
ready; we kyarves and shoots each other free and frequent; but no Bear
Creek man ever yet stole nor lied. I could forgive the thievin',
maybe, maybe even the shootin' of pore old Jim Harrigan. But I cain't
forgive a lie. Come on, boys."

And him and my uncles turnt around and rode back up the trail
towards Bear Creek with their eyes straight ahead of 'em and their
backs straight as ramrods. I glared after 'em wildly, feeling like the
world was falling to pieces. It war the first time in my life I'd ever
knowed Bear Creek folks to turn their backs on a Bear Creek man.

"Well, come along," said the sheriff, and started to hand the poke
to Jackson, when I come alive. I warn't going to let Japhet Jalatin's
wife spend the rest of her life in poverty if I could help it. I made
one swoop and grabbed the poke out of his hand and simultaneous drove
in the spurs. Cap'n Kidd made one mighty lunge and knocked Jackson and
his hoss sprawling and went over them and into the bresh whilst them
fool posse-men was fumbling with their guns. They was a lot of cussing
and yelling behind me and some shooting, but we was out of sight of
them in a instant, and I went crashing on till I hit a creek I knowed
was there. I jumped off and grabbed a big rock which was in the bed of
the creek, with about three foot of water around it--jest the top
stuck out above the water. I grabbed it and lifted it, and stuck the
poke down under it, and let the rock back down again. It was safe
here. Nobody'd ever suspect it was hid there, and it was a cinch
nobody was going to be lifting the rock jest for fun and find the gold
accidental. It weighed about as much as the average mule.

Cap'n Kidd bolted off through the woods as the posse come crashing
through the bresh, yelling like Injuns, and they throwed down their
shotguns on me as I clumb up the bank, dripping wet.

"Catch that hoss!" yelled the sheriff. "The gold's in the saddle-
bags!"

"You'll never catch that hoss," opined Wild Bill Donovan. "I know
him of old."

"Maybe Elkins is got the gold on him!" hollered Jackson. "Search
him!"

I didn't make no resistance as the sheriff taken my guns and
snapped a exter heavy pair of hand-cuffs onto my wrists. I was still
kind of numb from having pap and my uncles walk out on me like that.
All I'd been able to think of up to then was to hide the gold, and
when that was hid my brain wouldn't work no further.

"Elkins ain't got it on him!" snarled the sheriff, after slapping
my pockets. "Go after that hoss! Shoot him if you cain't catch him."

"No use for that," I says. "It ain't in the saddle-bags. I hid it
where you won't never find it."

"Look in all the holler trees!" says Jackson, and added viciously:
"We might _make_ him talk."

"Shet up," said the sheriff. "Anything _you_ could do to him would
jest make him mad. He's actin' tame and gentle now. But he's got a
broodin' gleam in his eye. Le's git him in jail before he gits a
change of heart and starts remodellin' the landscape with the posse's
carcasses."

"I'm a broken man," I says mournfully. "My own clan has went back
on me, and I got no friends. Take me to jail if you wanta! All places
is dreary for a man whose kin has disown him."

So we went to Chawed Ear.

One of the fellers who was riding a big strong hoss lemme have
his'n, and the posse closed around me with their shotguns p'inting at
me, and we headed out.

It was after dark when we got to Chawed Ear, but everybody was out
in the streets to see the posse bring me in. They warn't no friendly
faces in that crowd. I'd been very onpopular in Chawed Ear ever since
I stole their schoolteacher. I looked for old Joshua Braxton, but
somebody said he was off on a prospecting trip.

They stopped at a log-hut clost to the jail, and some men was jest
getting through working onto it.

"That there," says the sheriff, "is yore private jail. We built it
special for you. As soon as word come last night that you'd robbed the
stage, I set fifteen men buildin' that jail, and they're jest now
gittin' through."

Well, I didn't think anybody could build anything in a night and a
day which could hold me, but I didn't have no thought of trying to
break out. I didn't have the heart. All I could think of was the way
pap and my uncles had rode off and left me disowned and arrested.

I went in like he told me, and sot down on the bunk, and heard 'em
barring the door on the outside. They was fellers holding torches
outside, and the light come in at the winder so I could see it was a
good strong jail. They was jest one room, with a door towards the town
and a winder in the other side. It had a floor made out of logs, and
the roof and walls was made out of heavy logs, and they was a big log
at each corner sot in concrete, which was something new in them
mountains, and the concrete wasn't dry yet. The bars in the winder was
thick as a man's wrist, and drove clean through the sill and lintel
logs and the ends clinched, and chinks betwixt the logs was tamped in
with concrete. The door was made outa sawed planks four inches thick
and braced with iron, and the hinges was big iron pins working in
heavy iron sockets, and they was a big lock onto the door and three
big bars made outa logs sot in heavy iron brackets.

Everybody outside was jammed around the winder trying to look in
at me, but I put my head in my hands and paid no attention to 'em. I
was trying to think but everything kept going round and round. Then
the sheriff chased everybody away except them he told off to stay
there and guard the jail, and he put his head to the bars and said:
"Elkins, it'll go easier with you, maybe, if you'll tell us where you
hid that there gold."

"When I do," I said gloomily, "there'll be ice in hell thick
enough for the devil to skate on."

"All right," he snapped. "If you want to be stubborn. You'll git
twenty years for this, or I miss my guess."

"Gwan," I said, "and leave me to my misery. What's a prison term
to a man which has jest been disowned by his own blood-kin?"

He pulled back from the winder and I heard him say to somebody:
"It ain't no use. Them Bear Creek devils are the most uncivilized
white men I ever seen in my life. You cain't do nothin' with one of
'em. I'm goin' to send some men back to look for the gold around that
creek we found him climbin' out of. I got a idee he hid it in a holler
tree somewheres. He's that much like a b'ar. Likely he hid it and then
run and got in the creek jest to throw us off the scent. Thought he'd
make us think he hid it on t'other side of the creek. I bet he hid it
in a tree this side somewheres.

"I'm goin' to git some food and some sleep. I didn't git to bed at
all last night. You fellers watch him clost, and if folks git too
rambunctious around the jail, call me quick."

"Ain't nobody around the jail now," said a familiar voice.

"I know," says the sheriff. "They're back in town lickerin' up at
all the bars. But Elkins is got plenty of enemies here, and they ain't
no tellin' what might bust loose before mornin'."

I heard him leave, and then they was silence, except for some men
whispering off somewheres nearby but talking too low for me to make
out what they was saying. I could hear noises coming from the town,
snatches of singing, and a occasional yell, but no pistol-shooting
like they usually is. The jail was on the aidge of town, and the
winder looked in the other direction, acrost a narrer clearing with
thick woods bordering it.

Purty soon a man come and stuck his head up to the winder and I
seen by the starlight that it was Wild Bill Donovan.

"Well, Elkins," says he, "you think you've finally found a jail
which can hold you?"

"What you doin' hangin' around here?" I muttered.

He patted his shotgun and said: "Me and four of my friends has
been app'inted special guards. But I tell you what I'll do. I hate to
see a man down and out like you be, and booted out by his own family
and shore to do at least fifteen years in the pen. You tell me where
you hid that there gold, and give me Cap'n Kidd, and I'll contrive to
let you escape before mornin'. I got a fast hoss hid out there in the
thickets, right over yonder, see? You can fork that hoss and be gone
outa the country before the sheriff could catch you. All you got to do
is give me Cap'n Kidd, and that gold. What you say?"

"I wouldn't give you Cap'n Kidd," I said, "not if they was goin'
to hang me."

"Well," he sneered, "'tain't none too shore they ain't. They's
plenty of rope-law talk in town tonight. Folks are purty well wrought
up over you shootin' old Jim Harrigan."

"I didn't shoot him, damn yore soul!" I said.

"You'll have a hell of a time provin' it," says he, and turnt
around and walked around towards the other end of the jail with his
shotgun under his arm.

Well, I dunno how long I sot there with my head in my hands and
jest suffered. Noises from the town seemed dim and far off. I didn't
care if they come and lynched me before morning, I was that low-
spirited. I would of bawled if I could of worked up enough energy, but
I was too low for that even.

Then somebody says: "Breckinridge!" and I looked up and seen Glory
McGraw looking in at the winder with the rising moon behind her.

"Go ahead and t'ant me," I said numbly. "Everything else has
happened to me. You might as well, too."

"I ain't goin' to t'ant you!" she said fiercely. "I come here to
help you, and I aim to, no matter what you says!"

"You better not let Donovan see you talkin' to me," I says.

"I done seen him," she said. "He didn't want to let me come to the
winder, but I told him I'd go to the sheriff for permission if he
didn't, so he said he'd let me talk ten minutes. Listen: did he offer
to help you escape if you'd do somethin' for him?"

"Yeah," I said. "Why?"

She ground her teeth slightly.

"I thought so!" says she. "The dirty rat! I come through the
woods, and snuck on foot the last few hundred feet to git a look at
the jail before I come out in the open. They's a hoss tied out there
in the thickets and a man hidin' behind a log right nigh it with a
sawed-off shotgun. Donovan's always hated you, ever since you taken
Cap'n Kidd away from him. He aimed to git you shot whilst tryin' to
escape. When I seen that ambush I jest figgered on somethin' like
that."

"How'd you git here?" I ast, seeing she seemed to really mean what
she said about helping me.

"I follered the posse and yore kinfolks when they came down from
Bear Creek," she said. "I kept to the bresh on my pony, and was within
hearin' when they stopped you on the trail. After everybody had left I
went and caught Cap'n Kidd, and--"

"_You_ caught Cap'n Kidd!" I said in dumbfoundment.

"Certainly," says she. "Hosses has frequently got more sense than
men. He'd come back to the creek where he'd saw you last and looked
like he was plumb broken-hearted because he couldn't find you. I turnt
the pony loose and started him home, and I come on to Chawed Ear on
Cap'n Kidd."

"Well, I'm a saw-eared jackrabbit!" I said helplessly.

"Hosses knows who their friends is," says she. "Which is more'n I
can say for some men. Breckinridge, pull out of this! Tear this blame
jail apart and le's take to the hills! Cap'n Kidd's waitin' out there
behind that big clump of oaks. They'll never catch you!"

"I ain't got the strength, Glory," I said helplessly. "My strength
has oozed out of me like licker out of a busted jug. What's the use to
bust jail, even if I could? I'm a marked man, and a broken man. My own
kin has throwed me down. I got no friends."

"You have, too!" she said fiercely. "_I_ ain't throwed you down.
I'm standin' by you till hell freezes!"

"But folks thinks I'm a thief and a liar!" I says, about ready to
weep.

"What I care what they thinks?" says she. "If you _was_ all them
things, I'd still stand by you! But you ain't, and I know it!"

For a second I couldn't see her because my sight got blurry, but I
groped and found her hand tense on the winder bar, and I said: "Glory,
I dunno what to say. I been a fool, and thought hard things about you,
and--"

"Forgit it," says she. "Listen: if you won't bust out of here, we
got to prove to them fools that you didn't rob that stage. And we got
to do it quick, because them strangers Hurley and Jackson and Slade
air in town circulatin' around through the bars and stirrin' them fool
Chawed Ear folks up to lynchin' you. A mob's liable to come bustin'
out of town any minute. Won't you tell me where you got that there
gold they found in yore saddle-bags? _I_ know you never stole it, but
if you was to tell me, it might help us."

I shaken my head helplessly.

"I cain't tell you," I said. "Not even you. I promised not to. A
Elkins cain't break his word."

"Ha!" says she. "Listen: did some stranger meet you and give you
that poke of gold to give to his starvin' wife and chillern, and make
you promise not to tell nobody where you got it, because his life was
in danger?"

"Why, how'd you know?" I exclaimed in amazement.

"So that _was_ it!" she exclaimed, jumping up and down in her
excitement. "How'd I know? Because I know you, you big bone-headed
mush-hearted chump! Lissen: don't you see how they worked you? This
was a put-up job.

"Jugbelly got you off and made you drink so's you'd be outa the
way and couldn't prove no alibi. Then somebody that looked like you
robbed the stage and shot old man Harrigan in the laig jest to make
the crime wuss. Then this feller what's-his-name give you the money so
they'd find it onto you!"

"It looks sensible!" I said dizzily.

"It's bound to be!" says she. "Now all we got to do is find
Jugbelly and the feller which give you the gold, and the bay mare the
robber rode. But first we got to find a man which has got it in for
you enough to frame you like that."

"That's a big order," I says. "Nevada's full of gents which would
give their eye-teeth to do me a injury."

"A big man," she mused. "Big enough to be mistook for you, with
his head shaved, and ridin' a big bay mare. Hmmmmm! A man which hates
you enough to do anything to you, and is got sense enough to frame
somethin' like this!"

And jest then Wild Bill Donovan come around the corner of the jail
with his shotgun under his arm.

"You've talked to that jail-bird long enough, gal," he says. "You
better pull out. The noise is gettin' louder all the time in town, and
it wouldn't surprise me to see quite a bunch of folks comin' to the
jail before long--with a necktie for yore friend there."

"And I bet you'll plumb risk yore life defendin' him," she
sneered.

He laughed and taken off his sombrero and run his fingers through
his thick black locks.

"I don't aim to git none of my valuable gore spilt over a
stagecoach robber," says he. "But I like yore looks, gal. Why you want
to waste yore time with a feller like that when they is a man like me
around, I dunno! His head looks like a peeled onion! The hair won't
never git no chance to grow out, neither, 'cause he's goin' to git
strung up before it has time. Whyn't you pick out a handsome _hombre_
like me, which has got a growth of hair as is hair?"

"He got his hair burnt off tryin' to save a human life," says she.
"Somethin' that ain't been said of you, you big monkey!"

"Haw haw haw!" says he. "Ain't you got the spunk, though! That's
the way I like gals."

"You might not like me so much," says she suddenly, "if I told you
I'd found that big bay mare you rode last night!"

He started like he was shot and blurted out: "Yo're lyin'! Nobody
could find her where I hid her--"

He checked hisself sudden, but Glory give a yelp.

"_I thought so!_ It was you!" And before he could stop her she
grabbed his black locks and yanked. And his sculp come off in her
hands and left his head as bare as what mine was!

"A wig jest like I thought!" she shrieked. "You robbed that stage!
You shaved yore head to look like Breckinridge--" He grabbed her and
clapped his hand over her mouth, and yelped: "Joe! Tom! Buck!" And at
the sight of Glory struggling in his grasp I snapped them handcuffs
like they was rotten cords and laid hold of them winder bars and tore
'em out. The logs they was sot in split like kindling wood and I come
smashing through that winder like a b'ar through a chicken coop.
Donovan let go of Glory and grabbed up his shotgun to blow my head
off, but she grabbed the barrel and throwed all her weight onto it, so
he couldn't bring it to bear on me, and my feet hit the ground jest as
three of his pals come surging around the corner of the jail.

They was so surprised to see me out, and going so fast they
couldn't stop and they run right into me and I gathered 'em to my
bosom and you ought to of heard the bones crack and snap. I jest
hugged the three of 'em together onst and then throwed 'em in all
direction like a b'ar ridding hisself of a pack of hounds. Two of 'em
fractured their skulls agen the jail-house and t'other broke his laig
on a stump.

Meanwhile Donovan had let loose of his shotgun and run for the
woods and Glory scrambled up onto her feet with the shotgun and let
_bam_ at him, but he was so far away by that time all she done was
sting his hide with the shot. But he hollered tremendous jest the
same. I started to run after him, but Glory grabbed me.

"He's headed for that hoss I told you about!" she panted. "Git
Cap'n Kidd! We'll have to be a-hoss-back if we catch him!"

_Bang!_ went a shotgun in the thickets, and Donovan's maddened
voice yelled: "Stop that, you cussed fool! This ain't Elkins! It's me!
The game's up! We got to shift!"

"Lemme ride with you!" hollered another voice, which I reckoned
was the feller Donovan had planted to shoot me if I agreed to try to
escape. "My hoss is on the other side of the jail!"

"Git off, blast you!" snarled Donovan. "This boss won't carry
double!" _Wham!_ I jedged he'd hit his pal over the head with his six-
shooter. "I owe you that for fillin' my hide with buckshot, you blame
fool!" Donovan roared as he went crashing off into the bresh.

By this time we'd reched the oaks Cap'n Kidd was tied behind, and
I swung up into the saddle and Glory jumped up behind me.

"I'm goin' with you!" says she. "Don't argy! Git, goin'!"

I headed for the thickets Donovan had disappeared into, and jest
inside of 'em we seen a feller sprawled on the ground with a shotgun
in his hand and his sculp split open. Even in the midst of my
righteous wrath I had a instant of ca'm and serene joy as I reflected
that Donovan had got sprinkled with buckshot by the feller who
evidently mistook him for me. The deeds of the wicked sure do return
onto 'em.

Donovan had took straight out through the bresh, and left gaps in
the bushes a blind man could foller. We could hear his hoss crashing
through the timber ahead of us, and then purty soon the smashing
stopped but we could hear the hoofs lickety-split on hard ground, so I
knowed he'd come out into a path, and purty soon so did we. Moonlight
hit down into it, but it was winding so we couldn't see very far
ahead, but the hoof-drumming warn't pulling away from us, and we
knowed we was closing in onto him. He was riding a fast critter but I
knowed Cap'n Kidd would run it off its fool laigs within the next
mile.

Then we seen a small clearing ahead and a cabin in it with candle-
light coming through the winders, and Donovan busted out of the trees
and jumped off his hoss which bolted into the bresh. Donovan run to
the door and yelled: "Lemme in, you damn' fools! The game's up and
Elkins is right behind me!"

The door opened and he fell in onto his all-fours and yelled:
"Shet the door and bolt it! I don't believe even he can bust it down!"
And somebody else hollered: "Blow out the candles! There he is at the
aidge of the trees."

Guns began to crack and bullets whizzed past me, so I backed Cap'n
Kidd back into cover and jumped off and picked up a big log which
warn't rotten yet, and run out of the clearing and made towards the
door. This surprised the men in the cabin, and only one man shot at me
and he hit the log. The next instant I hit the door--or rather I hit
the door with the log going full clip and the door splintered and
ripped offa the hinges and crashed inwards, and three or four men got
pinned under it and yelled bloody murder.

I lunged into the cabin over the rooins of the door and the
candles was all out, but a little moonlight streamed in and showed me
three or four vague figgers before me. They was all shooting at me but
it was so dark in the cabin they couldn't see to aim good and only
nicked me in a few unimportant places. So I went for them and got both
arms full of human beings and started sweeping the floor with 'em. I
felt several fellers underfoot because they hollered when I tromped on
'em, and every now and then I felt somebody's head with my foot and
give it a good rousing kick. I didn't know who I had hold of because
the cabin was so full of gunpowder smoke by this time that the moon
didn't do much good. But none of the fellers was big enough to be
Donovan, and them I stomped on didn't holler like him, so I started
clearing house by heaving 'em one by one through the door, and each
time I throwed one they was a resounding _whack!_ outside that I
couldn't figger out till I realized that Glory was standing outside
with a club and knocking each one in the head as he come out.

Then the next thing I knowed the cabin was empty, except for me
and a figger which was dodging back and forth in front of me trying to
get past me to the door. So I laid hands onto it and heaved it up over
my head and started to throw it through the door when it hollered:
"Quarter, my titanic friend, quarter! I surrenders and demands to be
treated as a prisoner of war!"

"_Jugbelly Judkins!"_ I says.

"The same," says he, "or what's left of him!"

"Come out here where I can talk to you!" I roared, and groped my
way out of the door with him. As I emerged I got a awful lick over the
head, and then Glory give a shriek like a stricken elk.

"Oh, Breckinridge!" she wailed. "I didn't know it war you!"

"Never mind!" I says, brandishing my victim before her. "I got my
alerbi right here by the neck! _Jugbelly Judkins_," I says sternly,
clapping him onto his feet and waving a enormous fist under his snoot,
"if you values yore immortal soul, speak up and tell where I was all
last night!"

"Drinkin' licker with me a mile off the Bear Creek trail," gasps
he, staring wildly about at the figgers which littered the ground in
front of the cabin. "I confesses all! Lead me to the bastile! My sins
has catched up with me. I'm a broken man. Yet I am but a tool in the
hands of a master mind, same as these misguided sons of crime which
lays there--"

"One of 'em's tryin' to crawl off," quoth Glory, fetching the
aforesaid critter a clout on the back of the neck with her club. He
fell on his belly and howled in a familiar voice.

I started vi'lently and bent over to look close at him.

"Japhet Jalatin!" I hollered. "You cussed thief, you lied to me
about yore wife starvin'!"

"If he told you he had a wife it was a gross understatement," says
Jugbelly. "He's got three that I know of, includin' a Piute squaw, a
Mexican woman, and a Chinee gal in San Francisco. But to the best of
my knowledge they're all fat and hearty."

"I have been took for a cleanin' proper," I roared, gnashing my
teeth. "I've been played for a sucker! My trustin' nature has been
tromped on! My faith in humanity is soured! Nothin' but blood can wipe
out I this here infaminy!"

"Don't take it out on us," begged Japhet. "It war all Donovan's
idee."

"Where's he?" I yelled, glaring around.

"Knowin' his nature as I does," said Judkins, working his jaw to
see if it was broke in more'n one place, "I would sejest that he snuck
out the back door whilst the fightin' was goin' on, and is now leggin'
it for the corral he's got hid in the thicket behind the cabin, where
he secreted the bay mare he rode the night he held up the stagecoach."

Glory pulled a pistol out of one of 'em's belt which he'd never
got a chance to use, and she says: "Go after him, Breck. I'll take
care of these coyotes!"

I taken one look at the groaning rooins on the ground, and decided
she could all right, so I whistled to Cap'n Kidd, and he come, for a
wonder. I forked him and headed for the thicket behind the cabin and
jest as I done so I seen Donovan streaking it out the other side on a
big bay mare. The moon made everything as bright as day.

"Stop and fight like a man, you mangy polecat!" I thundered, but
he made no reply except to shoot at me with his six-shooter, and
seeing I ignored this, he spurred the mare which he was riding
bareback and headed for the high hills.

She was a good mare, but she didn't have a chance agen Cap'n Kidd.
We was only a few hundred feet behind and closing in fast when Donovan
busted out onto a bare ridge which overlooked a valley. He looked back
and seen I was going to ride him down within the next hundred yards,
and he jumped offa the mare and taken cover behind a pine which stood
by itself a short distance from the aidge of the bresh. They warn't no
bushes around it, and to rech him I'd of had to cross a open space in
the moonlight, and every time I come out of the bresh he shot at me.
So I kept in the aidge of the bresh and unslung my lariat and roped
the top of the pine, and sot Cap'n Kid agen it with all his lungs and
weight, and tore it up by the roots.

When it fell and left Donovan without no cover he run for the rim
of the valley, but I jumped down and grabbed a rock about the size of
a man's head and throwed it at him, and hit him jest above the knee on
the hind laig. He hit the ground rolling and throwed away both of his
six-shooters and hollered: "Don't shoot! I surrenders!"

I quiled my lariat and come up to where he was laying, and says:
"Cease that there disgustin' belly-achin'. You don't hear _me_
groanin' like that, do you?"

"Take me to a safe, comfortable jail," says he. "I'm a broken man.
My soul is full of remorse and my hide is full of buckshot. My laig is
broke and my spirit is crushed. Where'd you git the cannon you shot me
with?"

"'Twarn't no cannon," I said with dignity. "I throwed a rock at
you."

"But the tree fell!" he says wildly. "Don't tell me you didn't do
_that_ with artillery!"

"I roped it and pulled it down," I said, and he give a loud groan
and sunk back on the ground, and I said: "Pardon me if I seems to tie
yore hands behind yore back and put you acrost Cap'n Kidd. Likely
they'll set yore laig at Chawed Ear if you remember to remind 'em
about it."

He said nothin' except to groan loud and lusty all the way back to
the cabin, and when we got there Glory had tied all them scoundrels'
hands behind 'em, and they'd all come to and was groaning in chorus. I
found a corral near the house full of their hosses, so I saddled 'em
and put them critters onto 'em, and tied their laigs to their
stirrups. Then I tied the hosses head to tail, all except one I saved
for Glory, and we headed for Chawed Ear.

"What you aimin' to do now, Breck?" she ast as we pulled out.

"I'm goin' to take these critters back to Chawed Ear," I said
fiercely, "and make 'em make their spiel to the sheriff and the folks.
But my triumph is dust and ashes into my mouth, when I think of the
way my folks has did me."

There warn't nothing for her to say; she was a Bear Creek woman.
She knowed how Bear Creek folks felt.

"This here night's work," I said bitterly, "has learnt me who my
friends is--and ain't. If it warn't for you these thieves would be
laughin' up their sleeves at me whilst I rotted in jail."

"I wouldn't never go back on you when you was in trouble, Breck,"
she says, and I says: "I know that now. I had you all wrong."

We was nearing the town with our groaning caravan strung out
behind us, when through the trees ahead of us, we seen a blaze of
torches in the clearing around the jail, and men on hosses, and a dark
mass of humanity swaying back and forth. Glory pulled up.

"It's the mob, Breck!" says she, with a catch in her throat.
"They'll never listen to you. They're crazy mad like mobs always is.
They'll shoot you down before you can tell 'em anything. Wait--"

"I waits for nothin'," I said bitterly. "I takes these coyotes in
and crams them down the mob's throat! I makes them cussed fools listen
to my exoneration. And then I shakes the dust of the Humbolts offa my
boots and heads for foreign parts. When a man's kin lets him down,
it's time for him to travel."

"_Look there!"_ exclaimed Glory.

We had come out of the trees, and we stopped short at the aidge of
the clearing, in the shadder of some oaks.

The mob was there, all right, with torches and guns and ropes--
backed up agen the jail with their faces as pale as dough and their
knees plumb knocking together. And facing 'em, on hosses, with guns in
their hands, I seen pap and every fighting man on Bear Creek! Some of
'em had torches, and they shone on the faces of more Elkinses,
Garfields, Gordons, Kirbys, Grimeses, Buckners, and Polks than them
Chawed Ear misfits ever seen together at one time. Some of them men
hadn't never been that far away from Bear Creek before in their lives.
But they was all there now. Bear Creek had sure come to Chawed Ear.

"Whar is he, you mangy coyotes?" roared pap, brandishing his
rifle. "What you done with him? I war a fool and a dog, desertin' my
own flesh and blood to you polecats! I don't care if he's a thief or a
liar, or what! A Bear Creek man ain't made to rot in a blasted town-
folks jail! I come after him and I aim to take him back, alive or
dead! And if you've kilt him, I aim to burn Chawed Ear to the ground
and kill every able-bodied man in her! _Whar is he, damn yore souls?_"

"I swear we don't know!" panted the sheriff, pale and shaking.
"When I heard the mob was formin' I come as quick as I could, and got
here by the time they did, but all we found was the jail winder tore
out like you see, and three men layin' senseless here and another'n
out there in the thicket. They was the guards, but they ain't come to
yet to tell us what happened. We was jest startin' to look for Elkins
when you come, and--"

"Don't look no farther!" I roared, riding into the torch-light.
"Here I be!"

"Breckinridge!" says pap. "Whar you been? Who's that with you?"

"Some gents which has got a few words to say to the assemblage," I
says, drawing my string of captives into the light of the torches.
Everybody gaped at 'em, and I says: "I interjuices you to Mister
Jugbelly Judkins. He's the slickest word-slingin' sharp I ever seen,
so I reckon it oughta be him which does the spielin'. He ain't got on
his plug-hat jest now, but he ain't gagged. Speak yore piece,
Jugbelly."

"Honest confession is good for the soul," says he. "Lemme have the
attention of the crowd, whilst I talks myself right into the
penitentiary." You could of heard a pin drop when he commenced.

"Donovan had brooded a long time about failin' to take Cap'n Kidd
away from Elkins," says he. "He laid his plans careful and long to git
even with Elkins without no risk to hisself. This was a job which
taken plenty of caution and preparation. He got a gang of versatile
performers together--the cream of the illegal crop, if I do say so
myself.

"Most of us kept hid in that cabin back up in the hills, from
which Elkins recently routed us. From there he worked out over the
whole country--Donovan, I mean. One mornin' he run into Elkins at the
Mustang Creek tavern. He overheard Elkins say he was broke, also that
he was goin' back to Bear Creek and was aimin' to return to War Paint
late that evenin'. All this, and Elkins' singed sculp, give him a idee
how to work what he'd been plannin'.

"He sent me to meet Elkins and git him drunk and keep him out in
the hills all night. Then I was to disappear, so Elkins couldn't prove
no alibi. Whilst we was drinkin' up there, Donovan went and robbed the
stage. He had his head shaved so's to make him look like Elkins, of
course, and he shot old Jim Harrigan jest to inflame the citizens.

"Hurley and Jackson and Slade was his men. The gold Jackson had on
him really belonged to Donovan. Donovan, as soon as he'd robbed the
stage, he give the gold to Jalatin who lit out for the place where me
and Elkins was boozin'. Then Donovan beat it for the cabin and hid the
bay mare and put on his wig to hide his shaved head, and got on
another hoss, and started sa'ntering along the Cougar Paw-Grizzly Run
road--knowin' a posse would soon be headin' for Bear Creek.

"Which it was, as soon as the stage got in. Hurley and Jackson and
Slade swore they'd knowed Elkins in Yavapai, and rekernized him as the
man which robbed the stage. Ashley and Harrigan warn't ready to say
for sure, but thought the robber looked like him. But you Chawed Ear
gents know about that--as soon as you heard about the robbery you
started buildin' yore special jail, and sent a posse to Bear Creek,
along with Ashley and them three fakes that claimed to of rekernized
Elkins. On the way you met Donovan, jest like he planned, and he jined
you.

"But meanwhile, all the time, me and Elkins was engaged in
alcoholic combat, till he passed out, long after midnight. Then I
taken the jugs and hid 'em, and pulled out for the cabin to hide till
I could sneak outa the country. Jalatin got there jest as I was
leavin', and he waited till Elkins sobered up the next momin', and
told him a sob story about havin' a wife in poverty, and give him the
gold to give to her, and made him promise not to tell nobody where he
got it. Donovan knowed the big grizzly wouldn't bust his word, if it
was to save his neck even.

"Well, as you all know, the posse didn't find Elkins on Bear
Creek. So they started out lookin' for him, with his pap and some of
his uncles, and met him jest comin' out into the trail from the place
where me and him had our famous boozin' bout. Imejitly Slade, Hurley
and Jackson begun yellin' he was the man, and they was backed by
Ashley which is a honest man but really thought Elkins was the robber,
when he seen that nude skull. Donovan planned to git Elkins shot while
attemptin' to escape. And the rest is now history--war-history, I
might say."

"Well spoke, Jugbelly," I says, dumping Donovan off my hoss at the
sheriff's feet. "That's the story, and you-all air stuck with it. My
part of the game's done did, and I washes my hands of it."

"We done you a big injestice, Elkins," says the sheriff. "But how
was we to know--"

"Forget it," I says, and then pap rode up. Us Bear Creek folks
don't talk much, but we says plenty in a few words.

"I was wrong, Breckinridge," he says gruffly, and that said more'n
most folks could mean in a long-winded speech. "For the first time in
my life," he says, "I admits I made a mistake. But," says he, "the
only fly in the 'intment is the fack that a Elkins was drunk off'n his
feet by a specimen like that!" And he p'inted a accusing finger at
Jugbelly Judkins.

"I alone have come through the adventure with credit," admitted
Jugbelly modestly. "A triumph of mind over muscle, my law-shootin'
friends!"

"Mind, hell!" says Jalatin viciously. "That coyote didn't drink
none of that licker! He was a sleight-of-hand performer in a
vaudeville show when Donovan picked him up. He had a rubber stummick
inside his shirt and he poured the licker into that. He couldn't
outdrink Breckinridge Elkins if he was a whole corporation, the derned
thief!"

"I admits the charge," sighed Jugbelly. "I bows my head in shame."

"Well," I says, "I've saw worse men than you, at that, and if
they's anything I can do, you'll git off light, you derned wind-bag,
you!"

"Thank you, my generous friend," says he, and pap reined his hoss
around and said: "You comin' home, Breckinridge?"

"Go ahead," I said. "I'll come on with Glory."

So pap and the men of Bear Creek turnt and headed up the trail,
riding single file, with their rifles gleaming in the flare of the
torches, and nobody saying nothing, jest saddles creaking and hoofs
clinking softly, like Bear Creek men generally ride.

And as they went the citizens of Chawed Ear hove a loud sigh of
relief, and grabbed Donovan and his gang with enthusiasm and lugged
'em off to the jail--the one I hadn't busted, I mean.

"And that," said Glory, throwing her club away, "is that. You
ain't goin' off to foreign parts now, be you, Breckinridge?"

"Naw," I said. "My misguided relatives has redeemed theirselves."

We stood there a minute looking at each other, and she said:
"You--you ain't got nothin' to say to me, Breckinridge?"

"Why, sure I has," I responded. "I'm mighty much obliged for what
you done."

"Is that all?" she ast, gritting her teeth slightly.

"What else you want me to say?" I ast, puzzled. "Ain't I jest
thanked you? They was a time when I would of said more, and likely
made you mad, Glory, but knowin' how you feel towards me, I--"

"--!" says Glory, and before I knowed what she was up to, she
grabbed up a rock the size of a watermelon and busted it over my head.
I was so tooken by surprise I stumbled backwards and fell sprawling
and as I looked up at her, a great light bust onto me.

"She loves me!" I exclaimed.

"I been wonderin' how long it was goin' to take you to find out!"
says she.

"But what made you treat me like you done?" I demanded presently.
"I thought you plumb hated me!"

"You ought to of knowed better," says she, snuggling in my arms.
"You made me mad that time you licked pap and them fool brothers of
mine. I didn't mean most of them things I said. But you got mad and
said some things which made me madder, and after that I was too proud
to act any way but like I done. I never loved nobody but you, but I
wouldn't admit it as long as you was at the top of the ladder,
struttin' around with money in yore pocket, and goin' with purty gals,
and everybody eager to be friends with you. I was lovin' you then so's
it nearly busted me, but I wouldn't let on. I wouldn't humble myself
to no blamed man! But you seen how quick I come to you when you needed
a friend, you big lunkhead!"

"Then I'm glad all this happened," I says. "It made me see things
straight. I never loved no other gal but you. I was jest tryin' to
forgit you and make you jealous when I was goin' with them other gals.
I thought I'd lost you, and was jest tryin' to git the next best. I
know that now, and I admits it. I never seen a gal which could come
within a hundred miles of you in looks and nerve and everything."

"I'm glad you've come to yore senses, Breckinridge," says she.

I swung up on Cap'n Kidd and lifted her up before me, and the sky
was jest getting pink and the birds was beginning to cut loose as we
started up the road towards Bear Creek.



THE END



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