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Title: Sharp's Gun Serenade
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608741.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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Sharp's Gun Serenade
Robert E. Howard


I was heading for War Paint, jogging along easy and comfortable,
when I seen a galoot coming up the trail in a cloud of dust, jest
aburning the breeze. He didn't stop to pass the time of day. He went
past me so fast Cap'n Kidd missed the snap he made at his hoss, which
shows he was sure hightailing it. I recognized him as Jack Sprague, a
young waddy which worked on a spread not far from War Paint. His face
was pale and sot in a look of desprut resolution, like a man which has
jest bet his pants on a pair of deuces, and he had a rope in his hand
though I couldn't see nothing he might be aiming to lasso. He went
fogging on up the trail into the mountains and I looked back to see if
I could see the posse. Because about the only time a outlander ever
heads for the high Humbolts is when he's about three jumps and a low
whoop ahead of a necktie party.

I seen another cloud of dust, all right, but it warn't big enough
for more'n one man, and purty soon I seen it was Bill Glanton of War
Paint. But that was good enough reason for Sprague's haste, if Bill
was on the prod. Glanton is from Texas, original, and whilst he is a
sentimental cuss in repose he's a ring-tailed whizzer with star-
spangled wheels when his feelings is ruffled. And his feelings is
ruffled tolerable easy.

As soon as he seen me he yelled, "Where'd he go?"

"Who?" I says. Us Humbolt folks ain't overflowing with casual
information.

"Jack Sprague!" says he. "You must of saw him. Where'd he go?"

"He didn't say," I says.

Glanton ground his teeth slightly and says, "Don't start yore
derned hillbilly stallin' with me! I ain't got time to waste the week
or so it takes to git information out of a Humbolt Mountain varmint. I
ain't chasin' that misguided idjit to do him injury. I'm pursooin' him
to save his life! A gal in War Paint has jilted him and he's so broke
up about it he's threatened to ride right over the mortal ridge. Us
boys has been watchin' him and follerin' him around and takin' pistols
and rat-pizen and the like away from him, but this mornin' he give us
the slip and taken to the hills. It was a waitress in the Bawlin'
Heifer Restawrant which put me on his trail. He told her he was goin'
up in the hills where he wouldn't be interfered with and hang
hisself!"

"So that was why he had the rope," I says. "Well, it's his own
business, ain't it?"

"No, it ain't," says Bill sternly. "When a man is in his state he
ain't responsible and it's the duty of his friends to look after him.
He'll thank us in the days to come. Anyway, he owes me six bucks and
if he hangs hisself I'll never git paid. Come on, dang it! He'll lynch
hisself whilst we stands here jawin'."

"Well, all right," I says. "After all, I got to think about the
repertation of the Humbolts. They ain't never been a suicide committed
up here before."

"Quite right," says Bill. "Nobody never got a chance to kill
hisself up here, somebody else always done it for him."

BUT I IGNORED THIS SLANDER and reined Cap'n Kidd around jest as he
was fixing to bite off Bill's hoss's ear. Jack had left the trail but
he left sign a blind man could foller. He had a long start on us, but
we both had better hosses than his'n and after awhile we come to where
he'd tied his hoss amongst the bresh at the foot of Cougar Mountain.
We tied our hosses too, and pushed through the bresh on foot, and
right away we seen him. He was climbing up the slope toward a ledge
which had a tree growing on it. One limb stuck out over the aidge and
was jest right to make a swell gallows, as I told Bill.

But Bill was in a lather.

"He'll git to that ledge before we can ketch him!" says he.
"What'll we do?"

"Shoot him in the laig," I suggested, but Bill says, "No, dern it!
He'll bust hisself fallin' down the slope. And if we start after him
he'll hustle up to that ledge and hang hisself before we can git to
him. Look there, though--they's a thicket growin' up the slope west of
the ledge. You circle around and crawl up through it whilst I git out
in the open and attracts his attention. I'll try to keep him talkin'
till you can git up there and grab him from behind."

So I ducked low in the bresh and ran around the foot of the slope
till I come to the thicket. Jest before I div into the tangle I seen
Jack had got to the ledge and was fastening his rope to the limb which
stuck out over the aidge. Then I couldn't see him no more because that
thicket was so dense and full of briars it was about like crawling
through a pile of fighting bobcats. But as I wormed my way up through
it I heard Bill yell, "Hey, Jack, don't do that, you dern fool!"

"Lemme alone!" Jack hollered. "Don't come no closer. This here is
a free country! I got a right to hang myself if I wanta!"

"But it's a dam fool thing to do," wailed Bill.

"My life is rooint!" asserted Jack. "My true love has been
betrayed. I'm a wilted tumble-bug--I mean tumble-weed--on the sands of
Time! Destiny has slapped the Zero brand on my flank! I--"

I dunno what else he said because at that moment I stepped into
something which let out a ear-splitting squall and attached itself
vi'lently to my hind laig. That was jest my luck. With all the
thickets they was in the Humbolts, a derned cougar had to be sleeping
in that'n. And of course it had to be me which stepped on him.

Well, no cougar is a match for a Elkins in a stand-up fight, but
the way to lick him (the cougar, I mean; they ain't _no_ way to lick a
Elkins) is to git yore lick in before he can clinch with you. But the
bresh was so thick I didn't see him till he had holt of me and I was
so stuck up with them derned briars I couldn't hardly move nohow. So
before I had time to do anything about it he had sunk most of his
tushes and claws into me and was reching for new holts as fast as he
could rake. It was old Brigamer, too, the biggest, meanest and oldest
cat in the Humbolts. Cougar Mountain is named for him and he's so dang
tough he ain't even scairt of Cap'n Kidd, which is plumb pizen to all
cat-animals.

Before I could git old Brigamer by the neck and haul him loose
from me he had clawed my clothes all to pieces and likewise lacerated
my hide free and generous. In fact he made me so mad that when I did
git him loose I taken him by the tail and mowed down the bresh in a
fifteen foot circle around me with him, till the hair wore off of his
tail and it slipped out of my hands. Old Brigamer then laigged it off
down the mountain squalling fit to bust yore ear-drums. He was the
maddest cougar you ever seen, but not mad enough to renew the fray. He
must of recognized me.

At that moment I heard Bill yelling for help up above me so I
headed up the slope, swearing loudly and bleeding freely, and crashing
through them bushes like a wild bull. Evidently the time for stealth
and silence was past. I busted into the open and seen Bill hopping
around on the aidge of the ledge trying to git holt of Jack which was
kicking like a grasshopper on the end of the rope, jest out of rech.

"Whyn't you sneak up soft and easy like I said?" howled Bill. "I
was jest about to argy him out of the notion. He'd tied the rope
around his neck and was standin' on the aidge, when that racket bust
loose in the bresh and scairt him so bad he fell offa the ledge! Do
somethin'."

"Shoot the rope in two," I suggested, but Bill said, "No, you
cussed fool! He'd fall down the cliff and break his neck!"

BUT I SEEN IT WARN'T a very big tree so I went and got my arms
around it and give it a heave and loosened the roots, and then kinda
twisted it around so the limb that Jack was hung to was over the ledge
now. I reckon I busted most of the roots in the process, jedging from
the noise. Bill's eyes popped out when he seen that, and he reched up
kind of dazed like and cut the rope with his bowie. Only he forgot to
grab Jack before he cut it, and Jack hit the ledge with a resounding
thud.

"I believe he's dead," says Bill despairingful. "I'll never git
that six bucks. Look how purple he is."

"Aw," says I, biting me off a chew of terbacker, "all men which
has been hung looks that way. I remember onst the Vigilantes hung
Uncle Jeppard Grimes, and it taken us three hours to bring him to
after we cut him down. Of course, he'd been hangin' a hour before we
found him."

"Shet up and help me revive him," snarled Bill, gitting the noose
off of his neck. "You seleck the damndest times to converse about the
sins of yore infernal relatives--look, he's comin' too!"

Because Jack had begun to gasp and kick around, so Bill brung out
a bottle and poured a snort down his gullet, and pretty soon Jack sot
up and felt of his neck. His jaws wagged but didn't make no sound.

Glanton now seemed to notice my disheveled condition for the first
time. "What the hell happened to you?" he ast in amazement.

"Aw, I stepped on old Brigamer," I scowled.

"Well, whyn't you hang onto him?" he demanded. "Don't you know
they's a big bounty on his pelt? We could of split the dough."

"I've had a bellyfull of old Brigamer," I replied irritably. "I
don't care if I never see him again. Look what he done to my best
britches! If you wants that bounty, you go after it yoreself."

"And let me alone!" onexpectedly spoke up Jack, eyeing us
balefully. "I'm free, white and twenty-one. I hangs myself if I wants
to."

"You won't neither," says Bill sternly. "Me and yore paw is old
friends and I aim to save yore wuthless life if I have to kill you to
do it."

"I defies you!" squawked Jack, making a sudden dive betwixt Bill's
laigs and he would of got clean away if I hadn't snagged the seat of
his britches with my spur. He then displayed startling ingratitude by
hitting me with a rock and, whilst we was tying him up with the
hanging rope, his langwidge was scandalous.

"Did you ever see sech a idjit?" demands Bill, setting on him and
fanning hisself with his Stetson. "What we goin' to do with him? We
cain't keep him tied up forever."

"We got to watch him clost till he gits out of the notion of
killin' hisself," I says. "He can stay at our cabin for a spell."

"Ain't you got some sisters?" says Jack.

"A whole cabin-full," I says with feeling. "You cain't hardly walk
without steppin' on one. Why?"

"I won't go," says he bitterly. "I don't never want to see no
woman again, not even a mountain-woman. I'm a embittered man. The
honey of love has turnt to tranchler pizen. Leave me to the buzzards
and cougars."

"I got it," says Bill. "We'll take him on a huntin' trip way up in
the high Humbolts. They's some of that country I'd like to see myself.
Reckon yo're the only white man which has ever been up there, Breck--
if we was to call you a white man."

"What you mean by that there remark?" I demanded heatedly. "You
know damn well I h'ain't got nary a drop of Injun blood in me--hey,
look out!"

I glimpsed a furry hide through the bresh, and thinking it was old
Brigamer coming back, I pulled my pistols and started shooting at it,
when a familiar voice yelled wrathfully, "Hey, you cut that out, dern
it!"

THE NEXT INSTANT A pecooliar figger hove into view--a tall ga'nt
old ranny with long hair and whiskers, with a club in his hand and a
painter hide tied around his middle. Sprague's eyes bugged out and he
says: "Who in the name uh God's that?"

"Another victim of feminine wiles," I says. "That's old Joshua
Braxton, of Chawed Ear, the oldest and the toughest batchelor in South
Nevada. I jedge that Miss Stark, the old maid schoolteacher, has
renewed her matrimonical designs onto him. When she starts rollin'
sheep's eyes at him he always dons that there grab and takes to the
high _sierras."_

"It's the only way to perteck myself," snarled Joshua. "She'd
marry me by force if I didn't resort to strategy. Not many folks comes
up here and sech as does don't recognize me in this rig. What you
varmints disturbin' my solitude for? Yore racket woke me up, over in
my cave. When I seen old Brigamer high tailin' it for distant parts I
figgered Elkins was on the mountain."

"We're here to save this young idjit from his own folly," says
Bill. "You come up here because a woman wants to marry you. Jack comes
up here to decorate a oak limb with his own carcass because one
wouldn't marry him."

"Some men never knows their luck," says old Joshua enviously. "Now
me, I yearns to return to Chawed Ear which I've been away from for a
month. But whilst that old mudhen of a Miss Stark is there I haunts
the wilderness if it takes the rest of my life."

"Well, be at ease, Josh," says Bill. "Miss Stark ain't there no
more. She pulled out for Arizona three weeks ago."

"Halleloojah!" says Joshua, throwing away his 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 shet of husband-huntin' 'rithmetic
shooters. I better stay up here after all."

"Don't worry," says Bill. "I seen a pitcher of the gal that's
comin' from the East to take Miss Stark's place and I can assure you
that a gal as young and pretty as her wouldn't never try to slap her
brand on no old buzzard like you."

"Young and purty you says?" I ast with sudden interest.

"As a racin' filly!" he declared. "First time I ever knowed a
school-marm could be less'n forty and have a face that didn't look
like the beginnin's of a long drouth. She's due into Chawed Ear on the
evenin' stage, and the whole town turns out to welcome her. The mayor
aims to make a speech if he's sober enough, and they've got up a band
to play."

"Damn foolishness!" snorted Joshua. "I don't take no stock in
eddication."

"I dunno," says I. That was before I got educated. "They's times
when I wisht I could read and write. We ain't never had no school on
Bear Creek."

"What would you read outside of the labels onto whiskey bottles?"
snorted old Joshua.

"Funny how a purty face changes a man's viewp'int," remarked 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 it was agen the principles of
Bear Creek to have their peaceful innercence invaded by the corruptin'
influences of education. You said the folks was all banded together to
resist sech corruption to the last drop of blood."

"It's my duty to Bear Creek to pervide culture for the risin'
generation," says I, ignoring them slanderous remarks. "I feels the
urge for knowledge a-heavin' and a-surgin' in my boozum. We're goin'
to have a school on Bear Creek, by golly, if I have to lick every old
mossback in the Humbolts. I'll build a cabin for the schoolhouse
myself."

"Where'll you git a teacher?" ast Joshua. "Chawed Ear ain't goin'
to let you have their'n."

"Chawed Ear is, too," I says. "If they won't give her up peaceful
I resorts to force. Bear Creek is goin' to have culture if I have to
wade fetlock deep in gore to pervide it. Le's go! I'm r'arin' to open
the ball for arts and letters. Air you-all with me?"

"No!" says Jack, plenty emphatic.

"What we goin' to do with him?" demands Glanton.

"Aw," I said, "we'll tie him up some place along the road and pick
him up as we come back by."

"All right," says Bill, ignoring Jack's impassioned protests. "I
jest as soon. My nerves is frayed ridin' herd on this young idjit and
I needs a little excitement to quiet 'em. You can always be counted on
for _that_. Anyway, I'd like to see that there school-marm gal myself.
How about you, Joshua?"

"YO'RE BOTH CRAZY," growls Joshua. "But I've lived up here on nuts
and jackrabbits 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. Lead on! I'll do
anything within reason to help keep eddication out of Chawed Ear.
T'ain't only my personal feelin's regardin' schoolteachers. It's the
principle of the thing."

"Git yore clothes and le's hustle then," I says.

"This painter hide is all I got," says he.

"You cain't go down into the settlements in that rig," I says.

"I can and will," says he. "I look as civilized as you do, with
yore clothes all tore to rags account of old Brigamer. I got a hoss
clost by. I'll git him if old Brigamer ain't already."

So Joshua went to git his hoss and me and Bill toted Jack down the
slope to where our hosses was. His conversation was plentiful and
heated, but we ignored it, and was jest tying him onto his hoss when
Joshua arrov with his critter. Then the trouble started. Cap'n Kidd
evidently thought Joshua was some kind of a varmint because every time
Joshua come nigh 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 git 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 most of his clothes was tore 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. Exceptin' Jack,
we was sure a wild-looking bunch.

But I was disgusted thinking about how much time we was wasting
whilst 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 onto him--a little.

So we sot out, with Jack tied onto his hoss and cussing something
terrible, and Joshua on a ga'nt old nag he rode bareback with a
hackamore. I had Bill to ride betwixt him and me so's to keep that
painter hide as far away 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 by
accident, and sometimes he bit Bill, and the langwidge Bill directed
at that pore animal was shocking to hear.

We was aiming for the trail that runs down from Bear Creek into
the Chawed Ear road, and we hit it a mile west of Bowie Knife Pass. We
left Jack tied to a nice shady oak tree in the pass and told him we'd
be back for him in a few hours, but some folks is never satisfied.
'Stead of being grateful for all the trouble we'd went to for him, he
acted right nasty and called us some names I wouldn't of endured if
he'd been in his right mind.

But we tied his hoss to the same tree and hustled down the trail
and presently come out onto the War Paint-Chawed Ear road, some miles
west of Chawed Ear. And there we sighted our first human--a feller on
a pinto mare and when he seen us he give a shriek and took out down
the road toward Chawed Ear like the devil had him by the britches.

"Le's ast him if the teacher's got there yet," I suggested, so we
taken out after him, yelling for him to wait a minute. But he jest
spurred his hoss that much harder and before we'd gone any piece,
Joshua's fool hoss jostled agen Cap'n Kidd, which smelt that painter
skin and got the bit betwixt his teeth and run Joshua and his hoss
three miles through the bresh before I could stop him. Bill 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 the winders as we rode by. Bill 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 says. "I bet they is a war on
betwixt Chawed Ear and War Paint."

"Well, what they shootin' at _me_ for, then?" demanded Joshua.

"How could they recognize you in that rig?" I ast. "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 guns and yelling.

"Well, whatever the reason is," says Bill, "we better not stop to
find out! Them gents is out for blood, and," says he as the bullets
begun to knock up the dust around us, "I jedge it's _our_ blood!"

"Pull into the bresh," says I. "I goes to Chawed Ear in spite of
hell, high water and all the gunmen they can raise."

So we taken to the bresh, and they lit in 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 pursewers warn't nowheres in sight. In fack, they warn't nobody in
sight. 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 Joshua's whiskers.
This made me mad, so I rode at the cabin and pulled my foot out'n the
stirrup and kicked the door in, and whilst I was doing this, the
feller inside hollered and jumped out the winder, and Bill grabbed him
by the neck. It was Esau Barlow, one of Chawed Ear's confirmed
citizens.

"What the hell's the matter with you buzzards?" roared Bill.

"Is that you, Glanton?" gasped Esau, blinking his eyes.

"A-course it's me!" roared Bill. "Do I look like a Injun?"

"Yes?_ow_! I mean, I didn't know you in that there turban," says
Esau. "Am I dreamin' or is that Josh Braxton and Breck Elkins?"

"Shore it's us," snorted Joshua. "Who you think?"

"Well," says Esau, rubbing his neck and looking sidewise at
Joshua's painter skin. "I didn't know!"

"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 outrun the wildest
war-party that ever come down from the hills!"

"'Boys,' says Dick, 'they ain't neither Injuns nor white men!
They're wild men, that's what! 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 headdress. 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 awful yells and come for me like a
gang of man-eatin' cannibals. 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 and they taken out up the road to meet
the war-party before it got into town."

"Well, of all the fools!" I says. "Say, where's the new teacher?"

"The stage ain't arriv yet," says he. "The mayor and the band rode
out to meet it at the Yaller Creek crossin' and escort her in to town
in honor. They'd left before Dick brung news of the war-party."

"Come on!" I says to my warriors. "We likewise meets that stage!"

So we fogged it on through the town and 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 they'd met the stage and was escorting it in.

"What you goin' to do now?" ast Bill, and about that time a noise
bust out behind us and we 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 knowed they warn't no use to try to
explain to them that we warn't no war-party of cannibals. They'd
salivate us before we could git clost enough to make 'em hear what we
was saying. So I yelled: "Come on. If they git her into town they'll
fort theirselves agen us. We takes her now! Foller me!"

SO WE SWEPT DOWN THE road and around the bend and there was the
stage coach coming up the road with the mayor riding alongside with
his hat in his hand, and a whiskey 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 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 overflowin' with milk
and honey--" And jest then we stormed around 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'n his hoss. We hit 'em like a cyclone and they shot at us
and hit us over the head with their 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 their hosses, and everybody was so
confused they started fighting everybody else. Nobody knowed what it
was all about but me and my warriors. But Chawed Ear's motto is: "When
in doubt, shoot!"

So they laid into us and into each other free and hearty. And we
was far from idle. Old Joshua was laying out his feller-townsmen right
and left with his ellum club, saving Chawed Ear from education in
spite of itself, and Glanton was beating the band over their heads
with his six-shooter, and I was trompling folks in my rush for the
stage.

The fool hosses had whirled around and started in the general
direction of the Atlantic Ocean, and the driver and the shotgun guard
couldn't 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 ribbons out of the driver's hands and swung
them fool hosses around on their hind laigs, 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 fracas that was going on around Bill and Joshua.

About that time I noticed 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 threatening to have me arrested
account of him landing headfirst in the bass horn so it taken seven
men to pull him out. He ought to watch where he falls when he gits
throwed off of a stage going at a high run.

I also feels that the mayor is prone to carry petty grudges or he
wouldn't be so bitter 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 him to stumble over somebody and
that's why he chawed the mayor's ear.

As for them other fellers which happened to git knocked down and
run over by the stage, I didn't have nothing personal agen 'em. I was
jest rescuing Joshua and Bill which was outnumbered about twenty to
one. I was doing them Chawed Ear 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. Bill has got a awful temper.

Him and Joshua had did the enemy considerable damage 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 by the
handfulls and I slung him up on top of the other luggage. About that
time we was rushing past the dogpile which Bill was the center of and
I reched down and snared him as we went by, but three of the men which
had holt of him wouldn't let go, so I hauled all four of 'em up onto
the stage. I then handled the team with one hand and used the other'n
to pull them idjits loose from Bill like pulling ticks off'n a cow's
hide, and then throwed 'em at the mob which was chasing us.

MEN AND HOSSES PILED up in a stack on the road which was further
messed up by Cap'n Kidd plowing through it as he come busting along
after the stage, and by the time we sighted Chawed Ear again, our
enemies was far behind us, though still rambunctious.

We tore through Chawed Ear in a fog of dust and the women and
chillern which had ventured out of their shacks squalled and run back
again, though they warn't in no danger. But Chawed Ear folks is
pecooliar that way.

When we was out of sight of Chawed Ear 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 and looking so pale and scairt I was afraid she was going to
faint, which I'd heard Eastern gals has a habit of doing.

"Oh, spare me!" she begged. "Please don't scalp me!"

"Be at ease, Miss Devon," I reassured her. "I ain't no Injun, nor
no wild man neither. Neither is my friends here. We wouldn't none of
us hurt a flea. We're that refined and soft-hearted you wouldn't
believe it--" At that instant a wheel hit a stump and the stage jumped
into the air and I bit my tongue and roared in some irritation, "Bill,
you condemned son of a striped polecat, stop this stage before I comes
up there and breaks yore cussed neck!"

"Try, you beef headed lummox," he invites, but he pulled up the
hosses and I taken off my hat and opened the door. Bill and Joshua
clumb down and peered over my shoulder. Miss Devon looked tolerable
sick. Maybe it was something she et.

"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, of
Bear Creek, where hearts is pure and motives is lofty, but culture is
weak.

"You sees before you," says I, growing more enthusiastic about
education the longer I looked at them big brown eyes of her'n, "a man
which has growed up in ignorance. I cain't neither read nor write.
Joshua here, in the painter skin, he cain't neither, and neither can
Bill"

"That's a lie," says Bill. "I can read and--_ooomp!"_ I'd kind of
stuck my elbow in his stummick. I didn't want him to spile the effeck
of my speech. Miss Devon was gitting some of her color back.

"Miss Devon," I says, "will you please ma'm come up to Bear Creek
and be our schoolteacher?"

"Why," says she bewilderedly, "I came West expecting to teach at
Chawed Ear, but I haven't signed any contract, and--"

"How much was them snake-hunters goin' to pay you?" I ast.

"Ninety dollars a month," says she.

"We pays you a hundred," I says. "Board and lodgin' free."

"Hell's fire," says Bill. "They never was that much hard cash
money on Bear Creek."

"We all donates coon hides and corn licker," I snapped. "I sells
the stuff in War Paint and hands the dough to Miss Devon. Will you
keep yore snout out of my business."

"But what will the people of Chewed Ear say?" she wonders.

"Nothin'," I told her heartily. "I'll tend to _them!"_

"It seems so strange and irregular," says she weakly. "I don't
know."

"Then it's all settled!" I says. "Great! Le's go!"

"Where?" she gasped, grabbing holt of the stage as I clumb onto
the seat.

"Bear Creek!" I says. "Varmints and hoss-thieves, hunt the bresh!
Culture is on her way to Bear Creek!" And we went fogging it down the
road as fast as the hosses could hump it. Onst I looked back at Miss
Devon and seen her getting pale again, so I yelled above the clatter
of the wheels, "Don't be scairt, Miss Devon! Ain't nothin' goin' to
hurt you. B. Elkins is on the job to perteck you, and I aim to be at
yore side from now on!"

At this she said something I didn't understand. In fack, it
sounded like a low moan. And then I heard Joshua say to Bill,
hollering to make hisself heard, "Eddication my eye! The big chump's
lookin' for a wife, that's what! Ten to one she gives him the mitten!"

"I takes that," bawled Bill, and I bellered, "Shet up that noise!
Quit discussin' my private business so dern public! I--what's that?"

It sounded like firecrackers popping back down the road. Bill
yelled, "Holy smoke, it's them Chawed Ear maniacs! They're still on
our trail and they're gainin' on us!"

CUSSING HEARTILY I poured leather into them fool hosses, and jest
then we hit the mouth of the Bear Creek trail and I swung into it.
They'd never been a wheel on that trail before, and the going was
tolerable rough. It was all Bill and Joshua could do to keep from
gitting throwed off, and they was seldom more'n one wheel on the
ground at a time. Naturally the mob gained on us and when we roared up
into Bowie Knife Pass they warn't more'n a quarter mile behind us,
whooping bodacious.

I pulled up the hosses beside the tree where Jack Sprague was
still tied up to. He gawped at Miss Devon and she gawped back at him.

"Listen," I says, "here's a lady in distress which we're rescuin'
from teachin' school in Chawed Ear. A mob's right behind us. This
ain't no time to think about yoreself. Will you postpone yore sooicide
if I turn you loose, and git onto this stage and take the young lady
up the trail whilst the rest of us turns back the mob?"

"I will!" says he with more enthusiasm than he'd showed since we
stopped him from hanging hisself. So I cut him loose and he clumb onto
the stage.

"Drive on to Kiowa Canyon," I told him as he picked up the lines.
"Wait for us there. Don't be scairt, Miss Devon! I'll soon be with
you! B. Elkins never fails a lady fair!"

"Gup!" says Jack, and the stage went clattering and banging up the
trail and me and Joshua and Bill taken cover amongst the big rocks
that was on each side of the trail. The pass was jest a narrer gorge,
and a lovely place for a ambush as I remarked.

Well, here they come howling up the steep slope yelling and
spurring and shooting wild, and me and Bill give 'em a salute with our
pistols. The charge halted plumb sudden. They knowed they was licked.
They couldn't git at us because they couldn't climb the cliffs. So
after firing a volley which damaged nothing but the atmosphere, they
turnt around and hightailed it back towards Chawed Ear.

"I hope that's a lesson to 'em," says I as I riz. "Come! I cain't
wait to git culture started on Bear Creek!"

"You cain't wait to git to sparkin' that gal," snorted Joshua. But
I ignored him and forked Cap'n Kidd and headed up the trail, and him
and Bill follered, riding double on Jack Sprague's hoss.

"Why should I deny my honorable intentions?" I says presently.
"Anybody can see Miss Devon is already learnin' to love me! If Jack
had _my_ attraction for the fair sex, he wouldn't be luggin' around a
ruint life. Hey, where's the stage?" Because we'd reched Kiowa Canyon
and they warn't no stage.

"Here's a note stuck on a tree," says Bill. "I'll read it--well,
for Lord's sake!" he yelped, "_Lissen to this_:

"'Dere boys: I've desided I ain't going to hang myself, and Miss
Devon has desided she don't want to teach school at Bear Creek. Breck
gives her the willies. She ain't altogther shore he's human. With me
it's love at first site and she's scairt if she don't marry somebody
Breck will marry her, and she says I'm the best looking prospeck she's
saw so far. So we're heading for War Paint to git married.

Yores trooly, Jack Sprague.'"

"Aw, don't take it like that," says Bill as I give a maddened howl
and impulsively commenced to rip up all the saplings in rech. "You've
saved his life and brung him happiness!"

"And what have I brung me?" I yelled, tearing the limbs off a oak
in a effort to relieve my feelings. "Culture on Bear Creek is shot to
hell and my honest love has been betrayed! Bill Glanton, the next
ranny you chase up into the Humbolts to commit sooicide he don't have
to worry about gittin bumped off--I attends to it myself, personal!"



THE END



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