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Title: The Apache Mountain War
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608751.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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The Apache Mountain War
Robert E. Howard


Some day, maybe, when I'm old and gray in the whiskers, I'll have
sense enough not to stop when I'm riding by Uncle Shadrach Polk's
cabin, and Aunt Tascosa Polk hollers at me. Take the last time, for
instance. I ought to of spurred Cap'n Kidd into a high run when she
stuck her head out'n the winder and yelled: "Breck_in_ridge! Oh,
_Breck_inri_ddd_gggge!"

But I reckon pap's right when he says Nater gimme so much muscle
she didn't have no room left for brains. Anyway, I reined Cap'n Kidd
around, ignoring his playful efforts to bite the muscle out of my left
thigh, and I rode up to the stoop and taken off my coonskin-cap. I
said: "Well, Aunt Tascosa, how air you all?"

"You may well ast how air we," she said bitterly. "How should a
pore weak woman be farin' with a critter like Shadrach for a husband?
It's a wonder I got a roof over my head, or so much as a barr'l of
b'ar meat put up for the winter. The place is goin' to rack and rooin.
Look at that there busted axe-handle, for a instance. Is a pore weak
female like me got to endure sech abuse?"

"You don't mean to tell me Uncle Shadrach's been beatin' you with
that axe-handle?" I says, scandalized.

"No," says this pore weak female. "I busted it over his head a
week ago, and he's refused to mend it. It's licker is been Shadrach's
rooin. When he's sober he's a passable figger of a man, as men go. But
swiggin' blue rooin is brung him to shame an' degradation."

"He looks fat and sassy," I says.

"Beauty ain't only skin-deep," she scowls. "Shadrach's like Dead
Sea fruit--fair and fat-bellied to look on, but ready to dissolve in
dust and whiskey fumes when prodded. Do you know whar he is right
now?" And she glared at me so accusingly that Cap'n Kidd recoiled and
turned pale.

"Naw," says I. "Whar?"

"He's over to the Apache Mountain settlement a-lappin' up licker,"
she snarled. "Just a-rootin' and a-wallerin' in sin and corn juice,
riskin' his immortal soul and blowin' in the money he got off'n his
coon hides. I had him locked in the corn crib, aimin' to plead with
him and appeal to his better nater, but whilst I was out behind the
corral cuttin' me a hickory club to do the appealin' with, he kicked
the door loose and skun out. I know whar he's headin'--to Joel
Garfield's stillhouse, which is a abomination in the sight of the Lord
and oughta be burnt to the ground and the ashes skwenched with the
blood of the wicked. But I cain't stand here listenin' to yore gab. I
got hominy to make. What you mean wastin' my time like this for? I got
a good mind to tell yore pap on you. You light a shuck for Apache
Mountain and bring Shadrach home."

"But--" I said.

"Don't you give me no argyments, you imperdent scoundrel!" she
hollered. "I should think you'd be glad to help a pore, weak female
critter 'stead of wastin' yore time gamblin' and fightin', in such
dens of iniquity as War Paint. I want you to fix some way so's to
disgust Shadrach with drink for the rest of his nateral life, and if
you don't you'll hear from me, you good-for-nothin'--"

"All right!" I yelled. "_All right!_ Anything for a little peace!
I'll git him and bring him home, and make a teetotaler outa him if I
have to strangle the old son of a--"

"How dast you use sech langwidge in front of me?" she hollered.
"Ain't you got no respect for a lady? I'll be #4%*@?-!'d if I know
what the &%$@* world's comin' to! Git outa here and don't show yore
homely mug around here again onless you git Shadrach off of rum for
good!"

WELL, IF UNCLE SHADRACH ever took a swig of rum in his life it was
because they warn't no good red corn whiskey within reach, but I
didn't try to argy with Aunt Tascosa. I lit out down the trail feeling
like I'd been tied up to a Apache stake with the whole tribe sticking
red-hot Spanish daggers into my hide. Aunt Tascosa affects a man that
way. I heard Cap'n Kidd heave a sigh of relief plumb up from his
belly, too, as we crossed a ridge and her distant voice was drowned
out by the soothing noises of a couple of bobcats fighting with a
timber wolf. I thought what ca'm and happy lives them simple critters
lived, without no Aunt Tascosa.

I rode on, forgetting my own troubles in feeling sorry for pore
Uncle Shadrach. They warn't a mean bone in his carcass. He was just as
good-natered and hearty a critter as you'd ever meet even in the
Humbolts. But his main object in life seemed to be to stow away all
the corn juice they is in the world.

As I rode along I racked my brain for a plan to break Uncle
Shadrach of this here habit. I like a dram myself, but in moderation,
never more'n a gallon or so at a time, unless it's a special occasion.
I don't believe in a man making a hawg out of hisself, and anyway I
was sick and tired running Uncle Shadrach down and fetching him home
from his sprees.

I thought so much about it on my way to Apache Mountain that I got
so sleepy I seen I was gitting into no state to ride Cap'n Kidd. He
got to looking back at me now and then, and I knowed if he seen me
dozing in the saddle he'd try his derndest to break my neck. I was
passing Cousin Bill Gordon's barn about that time, so I thought I'd go
in and take me a nap up in the hayloft, and maybe I'd dream about a
way to make a water-drinker out of Uncle Shadrach or something.

I tied Cap'n Kidd and started into the barn, and what should I see
but Bill's three youngest boys engaged in daubing paint on Uncle
Jeppard Grimes' favorite jackass, Joshua.

"What air you all a-doin' to Joshua?" I demanded, and they jumped
back and looked guilty. Joshua was a critter which Uncle Jeppard used
for a pack-mule when he went prospecting. He got the urge maybe every
three or four year, and between times Joshua just et and slept. He was
the sleepin'est jackass I ever seen. He was snoozing now, whilst them
young idjits was working on him.

I seen what they was at. Bill had loaned a feller some money which
had a store down to War Paint, and the feller went broke, and give
Bill a lot of stuff outa the store for pay. They was a lot of paint
amongst it. Bill packed it home, though I dunno what he aimed to do
with it, because all the houses in the Humbolts was log cabins which
nobody ever painted, or if they did, they just white-washed 'em. But
anyway, he had it all stored in his barn, and his boys was smearing it
on Joshua.

He was the derndest sight you ever seen. They'd painted a big
stripe down his spine, like a Spanish mustang, only this stripe was
green instead of black, and more stripes curving over his ribs and
down under his belly, red, white and blue, and they'd painted his ears
green.

"What you all mean by sech doin's?" I ast. "Uncle Jeppard'll plumb
skin you all alive. He sets a lot of store by that there jack."

"Aw, it's just funnin'," they said. "He won't know who done it."

"You go scrub that paint off," I ordered 'em. "Joshua'll lick it
off and git pizened."

"It won't hurt him," they assured me. "He got in here yesterday
and et three cans of paint and a bucket of whitewash. That's what give
us the idee. He kin eat anything. Eatin'est jack you ever seen."

"Heh, heh, heh!" snickered one of 'em. "He looks like a drunkard's
dream!"

Instantly a idee hit me.

"Gimme that jackass!" I exclaimed. "He's just what I need to kyore
Uncle Shadrach Polk of drinkin' licker. One glimpse of that there jack
in his present state and Uncle Shadrach'll think he's got the
delerious trimmin's and git so scairt he'll swear off whiskey for
life."

"If you aims to lead Joshua to Joel's stillhouse," they said,
"you'll be all day gittin' there. You cain't hustle Joshua."

"I ain't goin to lead him," I said. "You all hitch a couple of
mules to yore pa's spring wagon. I'll leave Cap'n Kidd here till I git
back."

"We'll put him in the corral behind the barn," they says. "Them
posts are set four foot deep in concrete and the fence is braced with
railroad iron, so maybe it'll hold him till you git back, if you ain't
gone too long."

WHEN THEY GOT THE mules hitched, I tied Joshua's laigs and laid
him in the wagon bed, where he went to sleep, and I climbed onto the
seat and lit out for Apache Mountain. I hadn't went far when I run
over a rock and woke Joshua up and he started braying and kept it up
till I stopped and give him a ear of corn to chew on. As I started off
again I seen Dick Grimes' youngest gal peeping at me from the bresh,
and when I called to her she run off. I hoped she hadn't heard Joshua
braying. I knowed she couldn't see him, laying down in the wagon bed,
but he had a very pecooliar bray and anybody in the Humbolts could
recognize him by it. I hoped she didn't know I had Joshua, because she
was the derndest tattletale in the Bear Creek country, and Uncle
Jeppard is such a cross-grained old cuss you can't explain nothing to
him. He was born with the notion that the whole world was plotting
agen him.

It hadn't been much more'n good daylight when I rode past Uncle
Shadrach's house, and I'd pushed Cap'n Kidd purty brisk from there;
the mules made good time, so it warn't noon yet when I come to Apache
Mountain. As I approached the settlement, which was a number of cabins
strung up and down a breshy run, I swung wide of the wagon-road and
took to the trails, because I didn't want nobody to see me with
Joshua. It was kind of tough going, because the trails was mostly
footpaths and not wide enough for the wagon, and I had to stop and
pull up saplings every few yards. I was scairt the noise would wake up
Joshua and he'd start braying again, but that jackass could sleep
through a bombardment, long as he warn't being jolted personal.

I was purty close to the settlement when I had to git out of the
wagon and go ahead and break down some bresh so the wheels wouldn't
foul, and when I laid hold of it, a couple of figgers jumped up on the
other side. One was Cousin Buckner Kirby's gal Kit, and t'other'n was
young Harry Braxton from the other side of the mountain, and no kin to
none of us.

"Oh!" says Kit, kind of breathless.

"What you all doin' out here?" I scowled, fixing Harry with a eye
which made him shiver and fuss with his gun-belt. "Air yore intentions
honorable, Braxton?"

"I dunno what business it is of yore'n," said Kit bitterly.

"I makes it mine," I assured her. "If this young buck cain't come
sparkin' you at a respectable place and hour, why, I figgers--"

"Yore remarks is ignorant and insultin'," says Harry, sweating
profusely, but game. "I aims to make this here young lady my wife, if
it warn't for the toughest prospective father-in-law ever blighted
young love's sweet dream with a number twelve boot in the seat of the
pants."

"To put it in words of one syllable so's even you can understand,
Breckinridge," says Kit, "Harry wants to marry me, but pap is too
derned mean and stubborn to let us. He don't like the Braxtons account
of one of 'em skun him in a hoss-swap thirty years ago."

"I don't love 'em myself," I grunted. "But go on."

"Well," she says, "after pap had kicked Harry out of the house
five or six times, and dusted his britches with birdshot on another
occasion, we kind of got the idee that he was prejudiced agen Harry.
So we has to take this here method of seein' each other."

"Whyn't you all run off and git married anyway?" I ast.

Kit shivered. "We wouldn't dare try it. Pap might wake up and
catch us, and he'd shoot Harry. I taken a big chance sneakin' out here
today. Ma and the kids are all over visitin' a few days with Aunt
Ouachita, but pap wouldn't let me go for fear I'd meet Harry over
there. I snuck out here for a few minutes--pap thinks I'm gatherin'
greens for dinner--but if I don't hustle back he'll come lookin' for
me with a hickory gad."

"Aw, shucks," I said. "You all got to use yore brains like I do.
You leave it to me. I'll git yore old man out of the way for the
night, and give you a chance to skip."

"How'll you do that?" Kit ast skeptically.

"Never mind," I told her, not having the slightest idee how I was
going to do it. "I'll 'tend to that. You git yore things ready, and
you, Harry, you come along the road in a buckboard just about
moonrise, and Kit'll be waitin' for you. You all can git hitched over
to War Paint. Buckner won't do nothin' after yo're hitched."

"Will you, shore enough?" says Harry, brightening up.

"Shore I will," I assured him. "Vamoose now, and git that
buckboard."

HE HUSTLED OFF, AND I said to Kit: "Git in the wagon and ride to
the settlement with me. This time tomorrer you'll be a happy married
woman shore enough."

"I hope so," she said sad-like. "But I'm bettin' somethin' will go
wrong and pap'll catch us, and I'll eat my meals off the mantel-board
for the next week."

"Trust me," I assured her, as I helped her in the wagon.

She didn't seem much surprised when she looked down in the bed and
seen Joshua all tied up and painted and snoring his head off. Humbolt
folks expects me to do onusual things.

"You needn't look like you thought I was crazy," I says irritably.
"That critter is for Uncle Shadrach Polk."

"If Uncle Shadrach sees that thing," says she, "he'll think he's
seein' worse'n snakes."

"That's what I aim for him to think," I says. "Who's he stayin'
with?"

"Us," says she.

"Hum!" I says. "That there complicates things a little. Whar-at
does he sleep?"

"Upstairs," she says.

"Well," I says, "he won't interfere with our elopement none. You
git outa here and go on home, and don't let yore pap suspect nothin'."

"I'd be likely to, wouldn't I?" says she, and clumb down and
pulled out.

I'd stopped in a thicket at the aidge of the settlement, and I
could see the roof of Cousin Buckner's house from where I was. I could
also hear Cousin Buckner bellering: "Kit! Kit! Whar air you? I know
you ain't in the garden. If I have to come huntin' you, I 'low I'll--"

"Aw, keep yore britches on," I heard Kit call. "I'm a-comin'!"

I heard Cousin Buckner subside into grumblings and rumblings like
a grizzly talking to hisself. I figgered he was out on the road which
run past his house, but I couldn't see him and neither he couldn't see
me, nor nobody could which might happen to be passing along the road.
I onhitched the mules and tied 'em where they could graze and git
water, and I h'isted Joshua outa the wagon, and taken the ropes offa
his laigs and tied him to a tree, and fed him and the mules with some
corn I'd brung from Cousin Bill Gordon's. Then I went through the
bresh till I come to Joel Garfield's stillhouse, which was maybe half
a mile from there, up the run. I didn't meet nobody.

Joel was by hisself in the stillhouse, for a wonder, but he was
making up for lack of trade by his own personal attention to his
stock.

"Ain't Uncle Shadrach Polk nowhere around?" I ast, and Joel
lowered a jug of white corn long enough to answer me.

"Naw," he says, "he ain't right now. He's likely still sleepin'
off the souse he was on last night. He didn't leave here till after
midnight," says Joel, with another pull at the jug, "and he was takin'
all sides of the road to onst. He'll pull in about the middle of the
afternoon and start in to fillin' his hide so full he can just barely
stagger back to Buckner Kirby's house by midnight or past. I bet he
has a fine old time navigatin' them stairs Buckner's got into his
house. I'd be afeared to tackle 'em myself, even when I was sober. A
pole ladder is all I want to git into a loft with, but Buckner always
did have high-falutin' idees. Lately he's been argyin' with Uncle
Shadrach to cut down on his drinkin'--specially when he's full
hisself."

"Speakin' of Cousin Buckner," I says, "has he been around for his
regular dram yet?"

"Not yet," says Joel. "He'll be in right after dinner, as usual."

"He wouldn't if he knowed what I knowed," I opined, because I'd
thought up a way to git Cousin Buckner out of the way that night.
"He'd be headin' for Wolf Canyon fast as he could spraddle. I just met
Harry Braxton with a pack-mule headin' for there."

"You don't mean somebody's made a strike in Wolf Canyon?" says
Joel, pricking up his ears.

"You never heard nothin' like it," I assured him. "Alder Gulch
warn't nothin' to this."

"Hum!" says Joel, absent-mindedly pouring hisself a quart-size tin
cup full of corn juice.

"I'm a Injun if it ain't!" I says, and dranken me a dram and went
back to lay in the bresh and watch the Kirby house. I was well pleased
with myself, because I knowed what a wolf Cousin Buckner was after
gold. If anything could draw him away from home and his daughter, it
would be news of a big strike. I was willing to bet my six-shooters
against a prickly pear that as soon as Joel told him the news, he'd
light out for Wolf Canyon. More especially as he'd think Harry Braxton
was going there, too, and no chance of him sneaking off with Kit
whilst the old man was gone.

 * * * *

AFTER A WHILE I SEEN Cousin Buckner leave the house and go down
the road towards the stillhouse, and purty soon Uncle Shadrach emerged
and headed the same way. Purty well satisfied with myself, I went back
to where I left Cousin Bill's wagon, and fried me five or six pounds
of venison I'd brung along for provisions and et it, and drunk at the
creek, and then laid down and slept for a few hours.

It was right at sundown when I woke up. I went on foot through the
bresh till I come out behind Buckner's cow-pen and seen Kit milking. I
ast her if anybody was in the house.

"Nobody but me," she said. "And I'm out here. I ain't seen neither
pap nor Uncle Shadrach since they left right after dinner. Can it be
yore scheme is actually workin' out?"

"Certainly," I says. "Uncle Shadrach'll be swillin' at Joel's
stillhouse till past midnight, and yore pap is ondoubtedly on his way
towards Wolf Canyon. You git through with yore chores, and git ready
to skip. Don't have no light in yore room, though. It's just likely
yore pap told off one of his relatives to lay in the bresh and watch
the house--him bein' of a suspicious nater. We don't want to have no
bloodshed. When I hear Harry's buckboard I'll come for you. And if you
hear any pecooliar noises before he gits here, don't think nothin' of
it. It'll just be me luggin' Joshua upstairs."

"That critter'll bray fit to wake the dead," says she.

"He won't, neither," I said. "He'll go to sleep and keep his mouth
shet. Uncle Shadrach won't suspect nothin' till he lights him a candle
to go to bed by. Or if he's too drunk to light a candle, and just
falls down on the bed in the dark, he'll wake up durin' the night some
time to git him a drink of water. He's bound to see Joshua some time
between midnight and mornin'. All I hope is the shock won't prove
fatal. You go git ready to skip now."

I went back to the wagon and cooked me some more venison, also
about a dozen aigs Kit had give me along with some corn pone and a
gallon of buttermilk. I managed to make a light snack out of them
morsels, and then, as soon as it was good and dark, I hitched up the
mules and loaded Joshua into the wagon and went slow and easy down the
road. I stopped behind the corral and tied the mules.

The house was dark and still. I toted Joshua into the house and
carried him upstairs. I heard Kit moving around in her room, but they
warn't nobody else in the house.

COUSIN BUCKNER HAD regular stairs in his house like what they have
in big towns like War Paint and the like. Most folks in the Bear Creek
country just has a ladder going up through a trap-door, and some said
they would be a jedgment onto Buckner account of him indulging in such
vain and sinful luxury, but I got to admit that packing a jackass up a
flight of stairs was a lot easier than what it would have been to lug
him up a ladder.

Joshua didn't bray nor kick none. He didn't care what was
happening to him so long as he didn't have to do no work personal. I
onfastened his laigs and tied a rope around his neck and t'other end
to the foot of Uncle Shadrach's bunk, and give him a hat I found on a
pag to chaw on till he went to sleep, which I knowed he'd do pronto.

I then went downstairs and heard Kit fussing around in her room,
but it warn't time for Harry, so I went back out behind the corral and
sot down and leaned my back agen the fence, and I reckon I must of
gone to sleep. Just associating with Joshua give a man the habit.
First thing I knowed I heard a buckboard rumbling over a bridge up the
draw, and knowed it was Harry coming in fear and trembling to claim
his bride. The moon warn't up yet but they was a glow above the trees
on the eastern ridges.

I jumped up and ran quick and easy to Kit's winder--I can move
light as a cougar in spite of my size--and I said: "Kit, air you
ready?"

"I'm ready!" she whispered, all of a tremble. "Don't talk so
loud!"

"They ain't nothin' to be scairt of," I soothed her, but lowered
my voice just to humor her. "Yore pap is in Wolf Canyon by this time.
Ain't nobody in the house but us. I been watchin' out by the corral."

Kit sniffed.

"Warn't that you I heard come into the house while ago?" she ast.

"You been dreamin'," I said. "Come on! That's Harry's buckboard
comin' up the road."

"Lemme get just a few more things together!" she whispered,
fumbling around in the dark. That's just like a woman. No matter how
much time they has aforehand, they always has something to do at the
last minute.

I waited by the winder and Harry druv on past the house a few rods
and tied the hoss and come back, walking light and soft, and plenty
pale in the starlight.

"Go on out the front door and meet him," I told her. "No, wait!"

Because all to onst Harry had ducked back out of the road, and he
jumped over the fence and come to the winder where I was. He was
shaking like a leaf.

"Somebody comin' up the road afoot!" he says.

"It's pap!" gasped Kit. Her and Harry was shore scairt of the old
man. They hadn't said a word above a whisper you could never of heard
three yards away, and I was kinda suiting my voice to their'n.

"Aw, it cain't be!" I said. "He's in Wolf Canyon. That's Uncle
Shadrach comin' home to sleep off his drunk, but he's back a lot
earlier'n what I figgered he would be. He ain't important, but we
don't want no delay. Here, Kit, gimme that bag. Now lemme lift you
outa the winder. So! Now you all skin out. I'm goin' to climb this
here tree whar I can see the fun. Git!"

They crope out the side-gate of the yard just as Uncle Shadrach
come in at the front gate, and he never seen 'em because the house was
between 'em. They went so soft and easy I thought if Cousin Buckner
had been in the house he wouldn't of woke up. They was hustling down
the road towards the buckboard as Uncle Shadrach was coming up on the
porch and going into the hall. I could hear him climbing the stair. I
could of seen him if they'd been a light in the house, because I could
look into a winder in his room and one in the downstairs hall, too,
from the tree where I was setting.

He got into his room about the time the young folks reached their
buckboard, and I seen a light flare up as he struck a match. They
warn't no hall upstairs. The stairs run right up to the door of his
room. He stood in the doorway and lit a candle on a shelf by the door.
I could see Joshua standing by the bunk with his head down, asleep,
and I reckon the light must of woke him up, because he throwed up his
head and give a loud and ringing bray. Uncle Shadrach turned and seen
Joshua and he let out a shriek and fell backwards downstairs.

THE CANDLE LIGHT STREAMED down into the hall, and I got the shock
of my life. Because as Uncle Shadrach went pitching down them steps,
yelling bloody murder, they sounded a bull's roar below, and out of
the room at the foot of the stair come prancing a huge figger waving a
shotgun in one hand and pulling on his britches with the other'n. It
was Cousin Buckner which I thought was safe in Wolf Canyon! That'd
been him which Kit heard come in and go to bed awhile before!

"What's goin' on here?" he roared. "What you doin', Shadrach?"

"Git outa my way!" screamed Uncle Shadrach. "I just seen the devil
in the form of a zebray jackass! Lemme outa here!"

He busted out of the house, and jumped the fence and went up the
road like a quarter-hoss, and Cousin Buckner run out behind him. The
moon was just comin' up, and Kit and Harry was just starting down the
road. When she seen her old man irrupt from the house, Kit screeched
like a scairt catamount, and Buckner heard her. He whirled and seen
the buckboard rattling down the road and he knowed what was happening.
He give a beller and let _bam_ at 'em with his shotgun, but it was too
long a range.

"Whar's my hoss?" he roared, and started for the corral. I knowed
if he got astraddle of that derned long-laigged bay gelding of his'n,
he'd ride them pore infants down before they'd went ten miles. I
jumped down out of the tree and yelled: "Hey, there, Cousin Buckner!
Hey, Buck--"

He whirled and shot the tail offa my coonskin cap before he seen
who it was.

"What you mean jumpin' down on me like that?" he roared. "What you
doin' up that tree? Whar you come from?"

"Never-mind that," I said. "You want to catch Harry Braxton before
he gits away with yore gal, don't you? Don't stop to saddle a hoss. I
got a light wagon hitched up behind the corral. We can run 'em down
easy in that."

"Let's go!" he roared, and in no time at all we was off, him
standing up in the bed and cussing and waving his shotgun.

"I'll have his sculp!" he roared. "I'll pickle his heart and feed
it to my houn' dawgs! Cain't you go no faster?"

Them dern mules was a lot faster than I'd thought. I didn't dare
hold 'em back for fear Buckner would git suspicious, and the first
thing I knowed we was overhauling the buckboard foot by foot. Harry's
critters warn't much account, and Cousin Bill Gordon's mules was
laying their bellies to the ground.

I dunno what Kit thought when she looked back and seen us tearing
after 'em, but Harry must of thought I was betraying 'em, otherwise he
wouldn't of opened up on me with his six-shooter. But all he done was
to knock some splinters out of the wagon and nick my shoulder. The old
man would of returned the fire with his shotgun but he was scairt he
might hit Kit, and both vehicles was bounding and bouncing along too
fast and furious for careful aiming.

All to onst we come to a place where the road forked, and Kit and
Harry taken the right-hand turn. I taken the left.

"Are you crazy, you blame fool?" roared Cousin Buckner. "Turn back
and take the other road!"

"I cain't!" I responded. "These mules is runnin' away!"

"Yo're a liar!" howled Cousin Buckner. "Quit pourin' leather into
them mules, you blasted #$%&@*, and turn back! Turn back, cuss you!"
With that he started hammering me in the head with the stock of his
shotgun.

WE WAS THUNDERING along a road which run along the rim of a
sloping bluff, and when Buckner's shotgun went off accidentally the
mules really did git scairt and started running away, just about the
time I reached back to take the shotgun away from Cousin Buckner.
Being beat in the head with the butt was getting awful monotonous,
because he'd been doing nothing else for the past half mile.

I yanked the gun out of his hand and just then the left hind wheel
hit a stump and the hind end of the wagon went straight up in the air
and the pole splintered. The mules run right out of the harness and me
and the wagon and Cousin Buckner went over the bluff and down the
slope in a whirling tangle of wheels and laigs and heads and
profanity.

We brung up against a tree at the bottom, and I throwed the rooins
off of me and riz, swearing fervently when I seen how much money I'd
have to pay Cousin Bill Gordon for his wagon. But Cousin Buckner give
me no time for meditation. He'd ontangled hisself from a hind wheel
and was doing a war-dance in the moonlight and frothing at the mouth.

"You done that on purpose!" he raged. "You never aimed to ketch
them wretches! You taken the wrong road on purpose! You turned us over
on purpose! Now I'll never ketch the scoundrel which run away with my
datter--the pore, dumb, trustin' #$%&f!@* innercent!"

"Be ca'm, Cousin Buckner," I advised. "He'll make her a good
husband. They're well onto their way to War Paint and a happy married
life. Best thing you can do is forgive 'em and give 'em yore
blessin'."

"Well," he snarled, "you ain't neither my datter nor my son-in-
law. Here's my blessin' to you!"

It was a pore return for all the trouble I'd taken for him to push
me into a cactus bed and hit me with a rock the size of a watermelon.
However, I taken into consideration that he was overwrought and not
hisself, so I ignored his incivility and made no retort whatever,
outside of splintering a wagon spoke over his head.

I then clumb the bluff, making no reply to his impassioned and
profane comments, and looked around for the mules. They hadn't run
far. I seen 'em grazing down the road, and I started after 'em, when I
heard horses galloping back up the road toward the settlement, and
around a turn in the road come Uncle Jeppard Grimes with his whiskers
streaming in the moonlight, and nine or ten of his boys riding hard
behind him.

"Thar he is!" he howled, impulsively discharging his six-shooter
at me. "Thar's the fiend in human form! Thar's the kidnaper of
helpless jassacks! Boys, do yore duty!"

They pulled up around me and started piling off their horses with
blood in their eyes and weppins in their hands.

"Hold on!" I says. "If it's Joshua you fools are after--"

"He admits the crime!" howled Uncle Jeppard. "Is it Joshua, says
you! You know dern well it is! We been combin' the hills for you, ever
since my gran'datter brought me the news! What you done with him, you
scoundrel?"

"Aw," I said, "he's all right. I was just goin' to--"

"He evades the question!" screamed Uncle Jeppard. "Git him, boys!"

"I TELL YOU HE'S ALL right!" I roared, but they give me no chance
to explain. Them Grimeses is all alike; you cain't tell 'em nothing.
You got to knock it into their fool heads. They descended on me with
fence rails and rocks and wagon spokes and loaded quirts and gun
stocks in a way which would of tried the patience of a saint. I always
try to be as patient with my erring relatives as I can be. I merely
taken their weppins away from 'em and kind of pushed 'em back away
from me, and if they'd looked where they fell Jim and Joe and Erath
wouldn't of fell down that bluff and broke their arms and laigs and
Bill wouldn't of fractured his skull agen that tree.

I handled 'em easy as babies, and kept my temper in spite of Uncle
Jeppard dancing around on his hoss and yelling: "Lay into him, boys!
Don't be scairt of the big grizzly! He cain't hurt us!" and shooting
at me every time he thought he could shoot without hitting one of his
own offspring. He did puncture two or three of 'em, and then blamed me
for it, the old jackass.

Nobody could of acted with more restraint than I did when Dick
Grimes broke the blade of his bowie knife off on my hip bone, and the
seven fractured ribs I give his brother Jacob was a mild retaliation
for chawing my ear like he done. But it was a ill-advised impulse
which prompted Esau Grimes to stab me in the seat of the britches with
a pitchfork. There ain't nothing which sours the milk of human
kindness in a man's veins any more'n getting pitchforked by a raging
relative behind his back.

I give a beller which shook the acorns out of the oaks all up and
down the run, and whirled on Esau so quick it jerked the pitchfork out
of his hands and left it sticking in my hide. I retched back and
pulled it out and wrapped the handle around Esau's neck, and then I
taken him by the ankles and started remodeling the landscape with him.
I mowed down a sapling thicket with him, and leveled a cactus bed with
him, and swept the road with him, and when his brothers tried to
rescue him, I beat 'em over the head with him till they was too groggy
to do anything but run in circles.

Uncle Jeppard come spurring at me, trying to knock me down with
his hoss and trample me, and Esau was so limp by this time he warn't
much good for a club no more, so I whirled him around my head a few
times and throwed him at Uncle Jeppard. Him and Uncle Jeppard and the
hoss all went down in a heap together, and from the way Uncle Jeppard
hollered you'd of thought somebody was trying to injure him. It was
plumb disgusting.

Five or six of his boys recovered enough to surge onto me then,
and I knocked 'em all down on top of him and Esau and the hoss, and
the hoss was trying to git up, and kicking around right and left, and
his hoofs was going _bam, bam, bam_ on human heads, and Uncle Jeppard
was hollering so loud I got to thinking maybe he was hurt or
something. So I retched down in the heap and got him by the whiskers
and pulled him out from under the hoss and four or five of his fool
boys.

"Air you hurt, Uncle Jeppard?" I inquired.

"#$%&@*!" responded Uncle Jeppard, rewarding my solicitude by
trying to stab me with his bowie knife. This ingratitude irritated me,
and I tossed him from me fretfully, and as he was pulling hisself out
of the prickley pear bed where he landed, he suddenly give a louder
scream than ever. Something come ambling up the road and I seen it was
that fool jackass Joshua, which had evidently et his rope and left the
house looking for more grub. He looked like a four-laigged nightmare
in the moonlight, but all Uncle Jeppard noticed was the red paint on
him.

"Halp! Murder!" howled Uncle Jeppard. "They've wounded him
mortally! He's bleedin' to death! Git a tourniquet, quick!"

With that they all deserted the fray, them which was able to
hobble, and run to grab Joshua and stanch his bleeding. But when he
seen all them Grimeses coming for him, Joshua got scairt and took out
through the bresh. They all pelted after him, and the last thing I
heard as they passed out of hearing was Uncle Jeppard wailing:
"Joshua! Stop, dern it! This here's yore friends! Pull up, dang you!
We wants to help you, you cussed fool!"

I turned to see what I could do for the casualties which lay
groaning in the road and at the foot of the bluff, but they said
unanamous they didn't want no help from a enemy--which they meant me.
They one and all promised to pickle my heart and eat it as soon as
they was able to git about on crutches, so I abandoned my efforts and
headed for the settlement.

THE FIGHTING HAD SCAIRT the mules up the road a ways, but I
catched 'em and made a hackamore outa one of my galluses, and rode one
and led t'other'n, and lit out straight through the bresh for Bear
Creek. I'd had a belly-full of Apache Mountain. But I swung past
Joel's stillhouse to find out how come Cousin Buckner didn't go to
Wolf Canyon. When I got there the stillhouse was dark and the door was
shet, and they was a note on the door. I could read a little by then,
and I spelt it out. It said:

Gone to Wolf Canyon.

Joel Garfield.

That selfish polecat hadn't told Cousin Buckner nor nobody about
the strike. He'd got hisself a pack-mule and lit out for Wolf Canyon
hisself. A hell of a relative he was, maybe doing pore Cousin Buckner
out of a fortune, for all he knowed.

A mile from the settlement I met Jack Gordon coming from a dance
on t'other side of the mountain, and he said he seen Uncle Shadrach
Polk fogging down the trail on a mule he was riding bare-back without
no bridle, so I thought well, anyway my scheme for scairing him out of
a taste for licker worked. Jack said Uncle Shadrach looked like he'd
saw a herd of ha'nts.

It was about daylight when I stopped at Bill Gordon's ranch to
leave him his mules. I paid him for his wagon and also for the damage
Cap'n Kidd had did to his corral. Bill had to build a new one, and
Cap'n Kidd had also run his prize stallion offa the ranch, an chawed
the ears off of a longhorn bull, and busted into the barn and gobbled
up about ten dollars worth of oats. When I lit out for Bear Creek
again I warn't feeling in no benevolent mood, but, thinks I, it's
worth it if it's made a water-swigger outa Uncle Shadrach.

It was well along toward noon when I pulled up at the door and
called for Aunt Tascosa. Jedge my scandalized amazement when I was
greeted by a deluge of b'iling water from the winder and Aunt Tascosa
stuck her head out and says: "You buzzard in the form of a human
bein'! How you got the brass to come bulgin' around here? If I warn't
a lady I'd tell you just what I thought of you, you $#*&?@! Git,
before I opens up on you with this here shotgun!"

"Why, Aunt Tascosa, what you talkin' about?" I ast, combing the
hot water outa my hair with my fingers.

"You got the nerve to ast!" she sneered. "Didn't you promise me
you'd kyore Shadrach of drinkin' rum? Didn't you, hey? Well, come in
here and look at him! He arriv home about daylight on one of Buckner
Kirby's mules and it about ready to drop, and he's been rasslin' every
since with a jug he had hid. I cain't git no sense out'n him."

I went in and Uncle Shadrach was setting by the back door and he
had hold of that there jug like a drownding man clutching a straw-
stack.

"I'm surprized at you, Uncle Shadrach," I said. "What in the--"

"Shet the door, Breckinridge," he says. "They is more devils onto
the earth than is dreamed of in our philosophy. I've had a narrer
escape, Breckinridge! I let myself be beguiled by the argyments of
Buckner Kirby, a son of Baliol which is without understandin'. He's
been rasslin' with me to give up licker. Well, yesterday I got so
tired of his argyments I said I'd try it a while, just to have some
peace. I never taken a drink all day yesterday, and Breckinridge, I
give you my word when I started to go to bed last night I seen a red,
white and blue jackass with green ears standin' at the foot of my
bunk, just as plain as I sees you now! It war the water that done it,
Breckinridge," he says, curling his fist lovingly around the handle of
the jug. "Water's a snare and a delusion. I drunk water all day
yesterday, and look what it done to me! I don't never want to see no
water no more, again."

"Well," I says, losing all patience, "you're a-goin' to, by golly,
if I can heave you from here to that hoss-trough in the backyard."

I done it, and that's how come the rumor got started that I tried
to drown Uncle Shadrach Polk in a hoss-trough because he refused to
swear off licker. Aunt Tascosa was responsible for that there slander,
which was a pore way to repay me for all I'd did for her. But people
ain't got no gratitude.



THE END



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