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Title: A Gent From Bear Creek (Short Story)
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608621.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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A Gent From Bear Creek (Short Story)
Robert E. Howard



The folks on Bear Creek ain't what you'd call peaceable by nature,
but I was kind of surprised to come onto Erath Elkins and his brother-
in-law Joel Gordon locked in mortal combat on the bank of the creek.
But there they was, so tangled up they couldn't use their bowies to no
advantage, and their cussing 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 asked 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, shut up," I snorted. "One more yap outa either'n of you, and
I'll see if yore fool heads are harder'n this." I brandished a fist
under their noses and they quieted down. "What's all this about?" I
demanded.

"I just 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 facts is, Breckinridge," said Joel, "me and this polecat
found a buckskin poke full of gold nuggets in a holler oak over on
Apache Ridge yesterday. We didn't know whether somebody in these parts
had just hid it there for safe-keepin', or whether some old prospector
had left it there 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 there at that time, 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' somebody'd find it which wasn't as
honest as me, so this mornin' I thought I better go see if it was
still there...."

At this point 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 legged it for home and my weppins. 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 said. "I was 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. Just 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 kilt me and was comin' for the sculp."

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

"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
slug."

"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 on each other tooth and nail if they could have got past my bulk.

"I'm convinced they's been a mistake," I said. "Git home and cool
off."

"You're too big for me to lick, Breckinridge," said Erath. "But I
warn you, if you cain't prove to me that it wasn'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," said 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 opposite 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
your settlement. All the relatives pile their troubles 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.

The more I thought of the gold them idjits had found, the more I
felt like I ought to go and take a look to see was it real stuff, so I
went back to the corral and saddled Cap'n Kidd and lit out for Apache
Ridge, which was about a mile away. From the remarks they'd let fell
whilst cussing each other, I had a purty good idea where the holler
oak was at, and sure enough I found it without much trouble. I tied
Cap'n Kid and clumb up on the trunk till I reached 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," said Uncle Jeppard. "First it was
Erath and Joel, and now it's you. I'm goin' to throw a bullet through
yore hind laig just to teach you a little honesty."

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

Him being a old Indian fighter he just 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
boot, 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. "Can't a man
look into a holler tree without gettin' assassinated?"

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

"So it's your 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 across 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--"

"I don't want yore blame gold!" I roared. "I just 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 get 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
elsewhere now."

"Well," I said, "you got to go tell Erath and Joel it was you shot
at 'em, so they won't kill each other. They'll be mad at you, but I'll
cool 'em off, maybe with a hickory club."

"All right," he said. "I'm sorry I misjedged you, Breckinridge.
Just to show you I trusts you, I'll show you whar I hid it."

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

"I pulled out that 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 with you?" I demanded. "Are 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 wasn'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 leggins with their mangy
sculps!" he raved. "I'll pickle their hearts in a barr'l of brine!
I'll feed their livers to my houn' dawgs!"

"Whose livers?" I inquired.

"Whose, you idjit?" he howled. "Joel Gordon and Erath Elkins, dern
it! They didn't run off. They snuck back and seen me move the gold!
I've kilt better men than them for half as much!"

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

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

"Look here!" I said, pointing to a belt of soft loam near the
rocks. "A horse's tracks."

"What of it?" he demanded. "Maybe they had horses tied in the
bresh."

"Aw, no," I said. "Look how the Calkins is set. They ain't no
horses on Bear Creek shod like that. These is the tracks of a
stranger--I bet the feller I seen ride past my cabin just 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 horse stole yore gold, I'll bet my guns."

"I ain't convinced," said 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. "I know what a stubborn old
jassack you are, Uncle Jeppard, but this time you got to lissen to
reason or I'll forget myself and kick the seat outa yore britches. I'm
goin' to follow this feller and take yore gold away from him, because
I know it was him 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, mounted Cap'n Kidd and headed west on the
trail of the stranger. It was still tolerably early in the morning,
and one of them long summer days ahead of me. They wasn't a horse in
the Humbolts to equal Cap'n Kidd for endurance. I've rode a hundred
miles on him between sun-down and sun-up. But that horse the stranger
was riding must have been some chunk of horse-meat hisself. The day
wore on, and still I hadn't come up with my man. I was getting into
country I wasn't familiar with, but I didn't have much trouble in
following the trail, and finally, late in the evening, I come out on a
narrow dusty path where the calk-marks of his hoofs was very plain.

The sun sunk lower and my hopes dwindled. Cap'n Kidd was beginning
to tire, and 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 onto a road, and the tracks I
was following merged with a lot of others. I went on, expecting to
come to some settlement, and wondering just where I was. I'd never
been that far in that direction before then.

Just at sun-down I rounded a bend in the road and seen something
hanging to a tree, and it was a man. There 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 wasn't Black Whiskers. Seeing I made no
hostile move, he put up his gun and grinned.

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

"We just strung him up," said the fellow. "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," he said, "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 asked.

"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
derned outlaws which has denned up on Grizzly Mountain."

BEFORE I COULD SAY anything I heard somebody breathing quick and
gaspy, and they was a patter of bare feet in the bresh, and a kid girl
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!" squawk 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 on 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 just hauled him up to strangle to death.

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

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

"Where you-all live?" I inquired.

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

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

So I done so and started off on foot leading Cap'n Kidd in the
direction the girl showed me, and as we went I seen the deputy Jackson
drag hisself out of the bresh and go limping down the road holding 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 to take care of her but him. Anyway, I'd never make
it back to Bear Creek by daylight on Cap'n Kidd, even if I could have
started right then.

It was well after dark when we come up a narrow 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 girl. "This is Ellen, and we're
bringin' Uncle Joab home."

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

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

So Jim led me through the thickets until 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 carried
him in and laid him on a bunk, and the women begun to work over him,
and I went out to my horse, 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 said bitterly. "We been livin' up here like rats,
afeard to stir in the open. I warned Joab against slippin' down into
the village today, but he was sot on it, and wouldn't let any of the
boys go with him. Said he'd sneak in, git what he wanted and sneak out
again."

"Well," I said, "what's yore business is none of mine. But this
here life is hard lines on women and children."

"You must be a friend of Joab's," she 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. Are 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," said Jim, "cuttin' down Joab like you done has already got
you in bad with Ormond. Help us run them fellers out of the country!
There'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 once, but we'll try it again.
Won't you throw in with us?"

"Lissen," I said, climbing into the saddle, "just because I cut
down a outlaw ain't no sign I'm ready to be one myself. I done it just
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,"
he said somberly. "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 mountain and
headed for Wampum, because it was reasonable to suppose that maybe I'd
find Black Whiskers there.

WAMPUM WASN'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 pointed
out a house where he said Doc Richards lived, so I rode up to the door
and knocked, and somebody inside said: "What you want? I got you
covered."

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

"This is a nice, friendly town!" I snorted. "I ain't figgerin' on
harmin' you. 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."

"Hmmmm!" 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
lot to say about a certain party who cut down a man that was hanged.
If you're 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 took my horse to the barn which served as a livery stable and seen
that he was properly fixed. 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
sun-up. But I hoped to recover that derned gold yet, and get back in
time to save a few lives.

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 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 turned around and seen a big,
broad-built man with a black beard and blood-shot eyes and a pot-belly
with two guns on.

I said: "Well?"

"Who air you?" he demanded.

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

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

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

I noticed a kind of quiet come over the place, and fellows 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 deputies," 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," said Ormond.
"Yore 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 wasn't that
which made me give in. Pap had always taught me never to resist no
officer of the law, so it was kind of instinctive for me to hand my
gun over to Ormond and go along with him without no fight. I was kind
of bewildered and my thoughts was addled anyway. I ain't one of these
fast thinking sharps.

Ormond escorted me down the street a ways, with a whole bunch of
men following us, and stopped at a log building with barred windows
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
sat down on the step outside the shack and rolled a cigaret.

There wasn't no light in the jail, but I found the bunk and tried
to lay down on it, but it wasn'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 lot of my kin-folks,
but instead 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
other's 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 such a clan for butting
into each other's business. The guns would be talking all up and down
Bear Creek, and the population would be decreasing with every volley.
I thought about it till I got dizzy, and then the jailer stuck his
head up to the window and said if I would give him five dollars he'd
go get me something to eat.

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 in one bite, because I hadn't et nothing
since morning, and then 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
window bars. "No money? And you expect us to feed you for nothin'?" So
he cussed me, and went off. 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 expect 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 horse down at the livery stable.

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

"No, you won't neither," I said, beginning to get mad. "You try to
sell Cap'n Kidd, and I'll forgit what pap told me about officers, and
take you plumb apart."

I riz up and glared at him through the window, and he fell back
and put his hand on his gun. But just 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: "Are 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 up in the Humbolts, and I've trailed him clean from Bear
Creek. Do yore duty and arrest him."

"You shut up!" roared Ormond. "You can'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 throw a chunk of lead through you."

And he turned 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 at 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 horse whilst that derned thief swaggered around at large. I looked
helplessly out the window.

It was getting late, but the Golden Eagle was still 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 crying, and then I
begun to get mad. I get mad slow, generally, and before I was plumb
mad, I heard a noise at the window.

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

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

I stepped over and looked out and it was the kid girl Ellen.

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

"Doc Richards said you was in Wampum," she whispered. "He said he
was afraid Ormond and his gang would go for you, because you helped
me, so I slipped away on his horse and rode here as hard as I could.
Jim was out tryin' to gather 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 you're a outlaw because you're a friend of Wolf
Ashley. Oh, I wisht I wasn't just a girl! 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 said. "Leave 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 gets 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 your 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
that he'd give Ashley till midnight to perdooce that gold, and if he
didn't Wampum would be too small for both of 'em.

"Then he went out and I heard Ashley talkin' to a pal of his, 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 are over in the back of the
Golden Eagle right now plottin' to bust into the jail before daylight
and hang you!"

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

"You don't understand!" she cried. "Ormond ain't the sheriff! 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 just 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 just outlaws, like that fake deputy said."

"Ormond took Uncle Joab's badge and called hisself the sheriff to
fool strangers," she whimpered. "What honest people is left in Wampum
are afeared to oppose him. Him and his gunmen are 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 are we goin' to do?" she
sobbed.

"Ellen," I said, "you git on Doc Richards' horse and ride for
Grizzly Mountain. When you git there, tell the Doc to head for Wampum,
because there'll be plenty of work for him time he gits there."

"But what about you?" she cried. "I can't go off and leave you to
be 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!"

SOMETHING ABOUT ME evidently convinced her, because she glided
away, whimpering, into the shadows, and presently I heard the clack of
horse's hoofs dwindling in the distance. I then riz and I laid hold of
the window bars and tore them out by the roots. Then I sunk my fingers
into the sill log and tore it out, and three or four more, and the
wall give way entirely and the roof fell down on me, but I shook aside
the fragments and heaved up out of the wreckage like a bear 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 me 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 ruins.

I then strode up the street toward the Golden Eagle and here come
a feller galloping down the street. Who should it be but that derned
fake deperty, 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 on it with both hands and braced my legs, and when the horse got
to the end of the rope, the girths busted and the horse 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 on to 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 them with it, and I throwed a billiard table
through the mirror behind the bar just for good measure. Three or four
fellers got pinned under it and yelled bloody murder.

But I didn't have no time to un-pin 'em, for I was busy elsewhere.
Four of them hellions come at me in a flyin' wedge and the only thing
to do was give them a dose of their own medicine. So I put my head
down and butted the first one in the belly. He gave a grunt you could
hear across the mountains and I grabbed the other three and squoze
them together. I then flung them against the bar and headed into the
rest of the mess of them. I felt so good I was yellin' some.

"Come on!" I yelled. "I'm Breckinridge Elkins an' you got my
dander roused." And I waded in and poured it to 'em.

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 once, and the thud of their heads
banging together was music to me. I also done good work heaving 'em
head-on against the walls, and I further slammed several of 'em
heartily against 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 them, 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 windows.

In a second I was alone in the blazing building except for them
which was past running. I'd started for a exit 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 against the wall.

I picked it up and jerked the tie-string, and a trickle of gold
dust spilled into my hand. I begun to look on the floor for Ashley,
but he wasn't there. But he was watching me from outside, because I
looked and seen him just as be let _bam_ at me with a .45 from the
back room of the place, which wasn't yet on fire much. 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 just 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 took their shotguns away from them.

One big fellow with a scarred face tackled me around the knees as
I bent over to get the second gun, and a little man hopped on my
shoulders from behind at the same time and began clawin' like a
catamount. That made me pretty mad again, but I still kept enough
presence of mind not to lose my temper. I just grabbed the little man
off and hit Scar Face over the head with him, and after that none of
the rest bothered me within hand-holt distance.

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 an empty shell at
them 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 around, looking to see if any of Ormond's men
was hiding in the village, but none was. They looked like all they
wanted to do was get clean out of the country, so most of the Grizzly
Mountain men took in after 'em, whoopin' and shoutin'.

Jim 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," he said. "Ellen met us as we come down and told us
you was a friend and a honest man. We hoped to get here in time to
save you from gettin' hanged." Again he shook his head with a kind of
bewildered look. Then he said: "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 gun-slinger on Bear Creek.

"What you doin' here?" I demanded bitterly. "Has the feud begun
already and has Joel set you on _my_ trail? Well, I got what I started
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
killin' everybody else. Here's Uncle Jeppard's cussed gold!" And I
waved the pouch in front of him.

"But that cain't be it!" he said. "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 killed for holdin' out on his boss, or what," I
said. "But I know that 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 Ellen,"
I said. "She shore deserves a reward. And givin' it to her makes me
feel like maybe I accomplished _somethin'_ on this wild goose chase,
after all."

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

"Well," said Jack, "little General William Harrison Grimes, Uncle
Jeppard's youngster boy, he seen his 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."



THE END



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