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Title: Mountain Man
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608661.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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Mountain Man
Robert E. Howard



I WAS ROBBING A BEE TREE, when I heard my old man calling:
"Breckinridge! Oh, Breckinridge! Where 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
yore ear?"

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

"I swar, Breckinridge," said pap, "I never seen a hide like
your'n. Listen to me: old Buffalo Rogers is 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 has decided you're to go git it. Yuh hear me,
Breckinridge?"

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

"Well," he said, 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 John ain't able to go on account of that ba'r he
tangled with, and Bill is busy skinnin' the ba'r. You been to whar the
trail passes, goin' to Tomahawk. All you got to do is foller it and
turn to the right where it forks. The left goes on to Perdition."

Well, I was all eager to see the world, and the next morning I was
off, dressed in new buckskins and riding my mule Alexander. 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, why, you up and do it!"

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

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

WELL, I CAMPED THAT NIGHT where the path come out on to the main
trail, and the next morning I rode on down the trail, feeling like I
was a long way from home. I hadn't went far till I passed a stream,
and decided I'd take a bath. So I tied Alexander to a tree, and hung
my buckskins near by, but I took my gun belt with my old cap-and-ball
.44 and hung it on a limb reaching out over the water. There was thick
bushes all around the hole.

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
feller 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 hung. I reached 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 brush
on a pinto mustang, setting his horse 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 was one of them
derned renegades which hid up in the hills and snuck down to steal,
and I wasn't afraid none. 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 robber 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 was ever a youngster half as bashful as what I was in them
days. Cold sweat bust out all over me. At last, in desperation, I
buckled my belt on and started down the trail toward Tomahawk. I was
desperate enough to commit murder to get me some pants.

I was glad the Indian didn't steal Alexander, but the going was so
rough I had to walk and lead him, because I kept to the brush
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 peculiar sight. It
was a man on foot, going the same direction as me, and he had on what
I instinctively guessed was city clothes. They wasn't buckskin, and
was very beautiful, with big checks and stripes all over them. He had
on a round hat with a narrow brim, and shoes like I hadn't never seen
before, being neither boots nor moccasins. He was dusty, and he cussed
as he limped along. Ahead of him I seen the trail made a horseshoe
bend, so I cut straight across and got ahead of him, and as he come
along, I stepped out of the brush and threw 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 got no time to talk
politics. You climb out of them clothes."

"My God!" he wailed. "My horse threw me off and ran away, and I've
been 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 much!"

"I can't argy, mister," I said; "somebody may 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 get goin'. Take my mule. When I
get to where I can get some regular clothes, we'll swap back."

He clumb on to 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--"

Just 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 took the left instead of the right, and vanished amongst the
ridges.

I put on the clothes, and they scratched my hide something fierce.
I hadn't never wore nothing but buckskin. The coat split down the
back, and the pants was too short, but the shoes was the worst; 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 took the right-hand fork, and in a
mile or so I come out on a flat, and heard horses running. The next
thing a mob of horsemen 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, and set a posse on to me for
stealing his clothes.

SO I LEFT THE TRAIL AND took out across the sage grass and they
all charged after me, yelling for me to stop. Well, them dern shoes
pinched my feet so bad I couldn't hardly run, so after I had run five
or six hundred yards, I perceived that the horses 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 some cactus just as I pulled the trigger. So I only
knocked the hat off of the first horseman. He yelled and pulled up his
horse, right over me nearly, and as I drawed another bead on him, I
seen he had a bright shiny star on his shirt. I dropped my gun and
stuck up my hands.

They swarmed around me--cowboys, from their looks. The man with
the star dismounted 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 horse?"

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

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

To my astonishment, the sheriff stuck my gun back in the scabbard,
and 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 a 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 northwest 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 brush and timber
on them.

"You boys ride into town and tell the folks that the shebangs
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 there was that many folks in the world. The sheriff and the
other two fellows 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 as good as we can. One thing--the other
fellow ain't got no manager or seconds neither. How do you feel?"

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

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

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

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

So Richards left, 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!"

My dollar was in my belt. I 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 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
potaters, and a big hunk of white bread, and drunk about a gallon of
water, because I was pretty 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," the sheriff said, "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 horse and left it there with instructions
for him to ride 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 get it. Is the boys r'arin' to go?"

"Is they!" said 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, let's get goin'," said 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 the 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 hadn't
nothing else to put on, and they fit me like my skin. Richards tied a
American flag around my waist, and they put some spiked shoes on my
feet.

I LET 'EM DO LIKE THEY wanted to, remembering what pap said about
not resisting an officer. Whilst so employed, I began to hear a noise
outside, like a lot of people whooping and cheering. Pretty soon in
come a skinny old gink with whiskers and two guns on, and he hollered:
"Listen, 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 foolishness. Suppose Comanche Santry and his gang
gets wind of it?"

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

"You will like hell," said 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!" said 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 Braxton that runs that 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 said, "there's a letter--"

Just then another man come surging in and hollered: "Hey, is your
man ready? Everybody's gettin' impatient."

"All right," said McVey, throwing over me a thing he called a
bathrobe. Him and Kirby and Richards picked up towels and buckets and
we went out the opposite door from what we come in, and there 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 went through the crowd and I never seen
so many boots and pistols in my life, and we come to a square pen made
out of four posts set in the ground, and ropes stretched between. They
called this a ring, and told me to get in it. 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, they said,
clumb through the ropes on the other side. One of them was dressed
like I was, and I never seen such a human. His ears looked like
cabbages, his nose was flat, and his head was shaved. He set down in a
opposite corner.

Then a fellow got up and waved his arms, and hollered: "Gents, you
all know the occasion of this here suspicious event. Mr. Bat O'Tool,
happenin' to pass through Gunstock, consented to fight anybody which
would meet him. Tomahawk 'lowed to furnish that opposition, by sendin'
all the way to Denver to procure the services of Mr. Bruiser McGoorty,
formerly of San Francisco."

He pointed at me. Everybody cheered and shot off their pistols and
I was embarrassed and bust out in a cold sweat.

"This fight," said the fellow, "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 at the call of time.
I, Yucca Blaine, have been selected referee because, bein' from Chawed
Ear, I got no prejudices either way. Are 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
fellow they called O'Tool didn't have on more clothes than me. He
approached and held out his hand, so I held out mine. We shook hands
and then without no warning, he hit me an 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 fellows was growling in their whiskers and fumbling for
guns and bowie knives.

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

"Are you hurt much?" yelled McVey.

"How can a man's fist hurt anybody?" I asked. "I wouldn't have
fell down, only it was so unexpected. I didn't know he was goin' to
hit me. I never played no game like this 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 get a letter for pap."

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

"A feller stole my clothes," I explained, "so I took some off'n a
stranger. Maybe he was Mr. McGoorty."

"What's the matter?" asked 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
hill-billy 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 can't call it off now. Tomahawk is rooint! What'll we
do?"

"He's goin' to get 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 can't box!" wailed Richards.

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

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

McVey give a low moan, and Kirby reached 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 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 yelled, and he looked dumbfounded and gritted
between 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
chewing 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.

"Your man's fightin' foul!" he squalled, and Kirby said: "You're
crazy! Do you see this gun? You holler 'foul' 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 mad by
this time. 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 and rushed at me,
bloody and bellering, and I didn't dare let go my pants to defend
myself. So 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 wasn't no question about him being out. The only question was,
was he dead?

A great 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 had 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 man from Gunstock. "He knows it was a
foul, and if he says it wasn't, I'll carve his liver with this here
bowie knife!"

At these words Yucca keeled over in a dead faint, 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 horsemen rode at a run. Everybody
whirled and yelled: "Look out, here comes them Perdition
illegitimates!"

Instantly a hundred guns covered them, 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, pointing at me. "That's
the desperado which robbed me! Them's my tights he's got on!"

"What's this?" roared the crowd.

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

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

"My name's 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 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.

"You'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 smoke.

I grabbed my gunbelt, which McVey had hung over the post in my
corner, and I headed for cover, holding on to my britches whilst the
bullets hummed around me as thick as bees. I wanted to take to the
brush, but I remembered that blamed letter, so I headed for town.
Behind me there rose a roar of banging guns and yelling men. Just as I
got to the backs of the row of buildings which lined the street, I run
into something soft head on. It was McGoorty, trying to escape on
Alexander. He had hold of only one rein, and Alexander, evidently
having circled 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, afraid
Alexander was killed, 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 yelped.

"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, grabbed them tights and run like he was
afeard 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
buildings, though the town seemed to be deserted, and purty soon I
come to the store where Kirby had told me old man Braxton 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 Braxton kneeling behind some
barrels with a .45-90, and he was shooting at the fellows in the shack
across 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 bear 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 fellows across 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: "Mr. Braxton, 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 that way again!" he squalled. "I
thought you was one of them dern outlaws! Look out! Duck, you fool!"

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

"Who are them fellows?" I asked.

"Comanche Santry and his bunch, from up in the hills," snarled old
man Braxton, 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 ran across
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 across each other in the street, and the rest turned around and
run back behind the shack.

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

Something was pushed around the corner of the shack and come
rolling down toward us, the shack being on higher ground than 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 keg?" I asked.

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

He was so scared he forgot all about the fellows across 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
legs and stopped, so I picked it up and heaved it back across 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 wasn't any 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," old man Braxton moaned
faintly.

"Are you hurt bad, Mr. Braxton?" I asked.

"I'm dyin'," he groaned. "Plumb dyin'!"

"Well, before you die, Mr. Braxton," I said, "would you mind
givin' me that there letter for pap?"

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

"Roarin' Bill Elkins," I said.

He wasn't hurt as bad as he thought. He reached 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 gettin' bad. I read it wrong the first time. This is for
Bill _Elston_ that lives between here and Perdition."

I want to spike a rumor which says I tried to murder old man
Braxton and tore his store down for spite. I've done told how he got
his leg 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 untie him 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 Braxton inside was scared and started yelling bloody murder, and
about that time a lot 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 the next time pap
gets a letter in the post office, he can come after it hisself,
because it's evident that civilization ain't no place for a boy which
ain't reached his full growth and strength.



THE END



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