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Title: War On Bear Creek
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608841.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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War On Bear Creek
Robert E. Howard


Pap dug the nineteenth buckshot out of my shoulder and said, "Pigs
is more disturbin' to the peace of a community than scandal, divorce,
and corn licker put together. And," says pap, pausing to strop his
bowie on my scalp where the hair was all burnt off, "when the pig is a
razorback hawg, and is mixed up with a lady schoolteacher, a English
tenderfoot, and a passle of bloodthirsty relatives, the result is
appallin' for a peaceable man to behold. Hold still till John gits
yore ear sewed back on."

Pap was right. I warn't to blame for what happened. Breaking Joel
Gordon's laig was a mistake, and Erath Elkins is a liar when he says I
caved in them five ribs of his'n plumb on purpose. If Uncle Jeppard
Grimes had been tending to his own business he wouldn't have got the
seat of his britches filled with bird-shot, and I don't figger it was
my fault that cousin Bill Kirby's cabin got burned down. And I don't
take no blame for Jim Gordon's ear which Jack Grimes shot off,
neither. I figger everybody was more to blame than I was, and I stand
ready to wipe up the earth with anybody which disagrees with me.

But it was that derned razorback hawg of Uncle Jeppard Grimes'
which started the whole mess.

It begun when that there tenderfoot come riding up the trail with
Tunk Willoughby, from War Paint. Tunk ain't got no more sense than the
law allows, but he shore showed good jedgement that time, because
having delivered his charge to his destination, he didn't tarry. He
merely handed me a note, and p'inted dumbly at the tenderfoot, whilst
holding his hat reverently in his hand meanwhile.

"What you mean by that there gesture?" I ast him rather irritably,
and he said: "I doffs my sombrero in respect to the departed. Bringin'
a specimen like that onto Bear Creek is just like heavin' a jackrabbit
to a pack of starvin' loboes."

He hove a sigh and shook his head, and put his hat back on.
"Rassle a cat in pieces," he says, gathering up the reins.

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

"That's Latin," he said. "It means rest in peace."

And with that he dusted it down the trail and left me alone with
the tenderfoot which all the time was setting his cayuse and looking
at me like I was a curiosity or something.

I called my sister Ouachita to come read that there note for me,
which she did and it run as follows:

Dere Breckinridge:

This will interjuice Mr. J. Pembroke Pemberton a English sportsman
which I met in Frisco recent. He was disapinted because he hadn't
found no adventures in America and was fixin to go to Aferker to shoot
liuns and elerfants but I perswaded him to come with me because I
knowed he would find more hell on Bear Creek in a week than he would
find in a yere in Aferker or any other place. But the very day we hit
War Paint I run into a old ackwaintance from Texas I will not speak no
harm of the ded but I wish the son of a buzzard had shot me somewheres
besides in my left laig which already had three slugs in it which I
never could get cut out. Anyway I am lade up and not able to come on
to Bear Creek with J. Pembroke Pemberton. I am dependin on you to show
him some good bear huntin and other excitement and pertect him from
yore relatives I know what a awful responsibility I am puttin on you
but I am askin' this as yore frend.

William Harrison Glanton. Esqy.

I looked J. Pembroke over. He was a medium sized young feller and
looked kinda soft in spots. He had yaller hair and very pink cheeks
like a gal; and he had on whip-cord britches and tan riding boots
which was the first I ever seen. And he had on a funny kinda coat with
pockets and a belt which he called a shooting jacket, and a big hat
like a mushroom made outa cork with a red ribbon around it. And he had
a pack-horse loaded with all kinds of plunder, and four or five
different kinds of shotguns and rifles.

"So yo're J. Pembroke," I says, and he says, "Oh, rahther! And
you, no doubt, are the person Mr. Glanton described to me,
Breckinridge Elkins?"

"Yeah," I said. "Light and come in. We got b'ar meat and honey for
supper."

"I say," he said, climbing down. "Pardon me for being a bit
personal, old chap, but may I ask if your--ah--magnitude of bodily
stature is not a bit unique?"

"I dunno," I says, not having the slightest idee what he was
talking about. "I always votes a straight Democratic ticket, myself."

He started to say something else, but just then pap and my
brothers John and Bill and Jim and Buckner and Garfield come to the
door to see what the noise was about, and he turned pale and said
faintly: "I beg your pardon; giants seem to be the rule in these
parts."

"Pap says men ain't what they was when he was in his prime," I
said, "but we manage to git by."

Well, J. Pembroke laid into them b'ar steaks with a hearty will,
and when I told him we'd go after b'ar next day, he ast me how many
days travel it'd take till we got to the b'ar country.

"Heck!" I said. "You don't have to travel to git b'ar in these
parts. If you forgit to bolt yore door at night yo're liable to find a
grizzly sharin' yore bunk before mornin'. This here'n we're eatin' was
ketched by my sister Ellen there whilst tryin' to rob the pig-pen out
behind the cabin last night."

"My word!" he says, looking at her peculiarly. "And may I ask,
Miss Elkins, what caliber of firearm you used?"

"I knocked him in the head with a wagon tongue," she said, and he
shook his head to hisself and muttered: "Extraordinary!"

J. PEMBROKE SLEPT IN my bunk and I took the floor that night; and
we was up at daylight and ready to start after the b'ar. Whilst J.
Pembroke was fussing over his guns, pap come out and pulled his
whiskers and shook his head and said: "That there is a perlite young
man, but I'm afeared he ain't as hale as he oughta be. I just give him
a pull at my jug, and he didn't gulp but one good snort and like to
choked to death."

"Well," I said, buckling the cinches on Cap'n Kidd, "I've done
learnt not to jedge outsiders by the way they takes their licker on
Bear Creek. It takes a Bear Creek man to swig Bear Creek corn juice."

"I hopes for the best," sighed pap. "But it's a dismal sight to
see a young man which cain't stand up to his licker. Whar you takin'
him?"

"Over toward Apache Mountain," I said. "Erath seen a exter big
grizzly over there day before yesterday."

"Hmmmm!" says pap. "By pecooliar coincidence the schoolhouse is
over on the side of Apache Mountain, ain't it, Breckinridge?"

"Maybe it is and maybe it ain't," I replied with dignerty, and
rode off with J. Pembroke ignoring pap's sourcastic comment which he
hollered after me: "Maybe they is a connection between book-larnin'
and b'ar-huntin', but who am I to say?"

J. Pembroke was a purty good rider, but he used a funny looking
saddle without no horn nor cantle, and he had the derndest gun I ever
seen. It was a double-barrel rifle, and he said it was a elerfant-gun.
It was big enough to knock a hill down. He was surprised I didn't tote
no rifle and ast me what would I do if we met a b'ar. I told him I was
depending on him to shoot it, but I said if it was necessary for me to
go into action, my six-shooter was plenty.

"My word!" says he. "You mean to say you can bring down a grizzly
with a shot from a pistol?"

"Not always," I said. "Sometimes I have to bust him over the head
with the butt to finish him."

He didn't say nothing for a long time after that.

Well, we rode over on the lower slopes of Apache Mountain, and
tied the horses in a holler and went through the bresh on foot. That
was a good place for b'ars, because they come there very frequently
looking for Uncle Jeppard Grimes' pigs which runs loose all over the
lower slopes of the mountain.

But just like it always is when yo're looking for something, we
didn't see a cussed b'ar.

The middle of the evening found us around on the south side of the
mountain where they is a settlement of Kirbys and Grimeses and
Gordons. Half a dozen families has their cabins within a mile of each
other, and I dunno what in hell they want to crowd up together that
way for, it would plumb smother me, but pap says they was always
peculiar that way.

We warn't in sight of the settlement, but the schoolhouse warn't
far off, and I said to J. Pembroke: "You wait here a while and maybe a
b'ar will come by. Miss Margaret Ashley is teachin' me how to read and
write, and it's time for my lesson."

I left J. Pembroke setting on a log hugging his elerfant-gun, and
I strode through the bresh and come out at the upper end of the run
which the settlement was at the other'n, and school had just turned
out and the chillern was going home, and Miss Ashley was waiting for
me in the log schoolhouse.

That was the first school that was ever taught on Bear Creek, and
she was the first teacher. Some of the folks was awful sot agen it at
first, and said no good would come of book larning, but after I licked
six or seven of them they allowed it might be a good thing after all,
and agreed to let her take a whack at it.

Miss Margaret was a awful purty gal and come from somewhere away
back East. She was setting at her hand-made desk as I come in, ducking
my head so as not to bump it agen the top of the door and perlitely
taking off my coonskin cap. She looked kinda tired and discouraged,
and I said: "Has the young'uns been raisin' any hell today, Miss
Margaret?"

"Oh, no," she said. "They're very polite--in fact I've noticed
that Bear Creek people are always polite except when they're killing
each other. I've finally gotten used to the boys wearing their bowie
knives and pistols to school. But somehow it seems so futile. This is
all so terribly different from everything to which I've always been
accustomed. I get discouraged and feel like giving up."

"You'll git used to it," I consoled her. "It'll be a lot different
once yo're married to some honest reliable young man."

She give me a startled look and said: "Married to someone here on
Bear Creek?"

"Shore," I said, involuntarily expanding my chest under my
buckskin shirt. "Everybody is just wonderin' when you'll set the date.
But le's git at the lesson. I done learnt the words you writ out for
me yesterday."

But she warn't listening, and she said: "Do you have any idea of
why Mr. Joel Grimes and Mr. Esau Gordon quit calling on me? Until a
few days ago one or the other was at Mr. Kirby's cabin where I board
almost every night."

"Now don't you worry none about them," I soothed her. "Joel'll be
about on crutches before the week's out, and Esau can already walk
without bein' helped. I always handles my relatives as easy as
possible."

"You fought with them?" she exclaimed.

"I just convinced 'em you didn't want to be bothered with 'em," I
reassured her. "I'm easy-goin', but I don't like competition."

"Competition!" Her eyes flared wide open and she looked at me like
she never seen me before. "Do you mean, that you--that I--that--"

"Well," I said modestly, "everybody on Bear Creek is just
wonderin' when you're goin' to set the day for us to git hitched. You
see gals don't stay single very long in these parts, and--hey, what's
the matter?"

Because she was getting paler and paler like she'd et something
which didn't agree with her.

"Nothing," she said faintly. "You--you mean people are expecting
me to marry you?"

"Shore," I said.

She muttered something that sounded like "My God!" and licked her
lips with her tongue and looked at me like she was about ready to
faint. Well, it ain't every gal which has a chance to get hitched to
Breckinridge Elkins, so I didn't blame her for being excited.

"You've been very kind to me, Breckinridge," she said feebly. "But
I--this is so sudden--so unexpected--I never thought--I never
_dreamed--"_

"I don't want to rush you," I said. "Take yore time. Next week
will be soon enough. Anyway, I got to build us a cabin, and--"

_Bang!_ went a gun, too loud for a Winchester.

"Elkins!" It was J. Pembroke yelling for me up the slope. "Elkins!
Hurry!"

"Who's that?" she exclaimed, jumping to her feet like she was
working on a spring.

"Aw," I said in disgust, "it's a fool tenderfoot Bill Glanton
wished on me. I reckon a b'ar is got him by the neck. I'll go see."

"I'll go with you!" she said, but from the way Pembroke was
yelling I figgered I better not waste no time getting to him, so I
couldn't wait for her, and she was some piece behind me when I mounted
the lap of the slope and met him running out from amongst the trees.
He was gibbering with excitement.

"I winged it!" he squawked. "I'm sure I winged the blighter! But
it ran in among the underbrush and I dared not follow it, for the
beast is most vicious when wounded. A friend of mine once wounded one
in South Africa, and--"

"A b'ar?" I ast.

"No, no!" he said. "A wild boar! The most vicious brute I have
ever seen! It ran into that brush there!"

"Aw, they ain't no wild boars in the Humbolts," I snorted. "You
wait here. I'll go see just what you did shoot."

I seen some splashes of blood on the grass, so I knowed he'd shot
_something._ Well, I hadn't gone more'n a few hunderd feet and was
just out of sight of J. Pembroke when I run into Uncle Jeppard Grimes.

Uncle Jeppard was one of the first white men to come into the
Humbolts. He's as lean and hard as a pine-knot, and wears fringed
buckskins and moccasins just like he done fifty years ago. He had a
bowie knife in one hand and he waved something in the other'n like a
flag of revolt, and he was frothing at the mouth.

"The derned murderer!" he howled. "You see this? That's the tail
of Daniel Webster, the finest derned razorback boar which ever trod
the Humbolts! That danged tenderfoot of your'n tried to kill him! Shot
his tail off, right spang up to the hilt! He cain't muterlate my
animals like this! I'll have his heart's blood!"

And he done a war-dance waving that pig-tail and his bowie and
cussing in English and Spanish and Apache Injun an at once.

"You ca'm down, Uncle Jeppard," I said sternly. "He ain't got no
sense, and he thought Daniel Webster was a wild boar like they have in
Aferker and England and them foreign places. He didn't mean no harm."

"No harm!" said Uncle Jeppard fiercely. "And Daniel Webster with
no more tail onto him than a jackrabbit!"

"Well," I said, "here's a five dollar gold piece to pay for the
dern hawg's tail, and you let J. Pembroke alone."

"Gold cain't satisfy honor," he said bitterly, but nevertheless
grabbing the coin like a starving man grabbing a beefsteak. "I'll let
this outrage pass for the time. But I'll be watchin' that maneyack to
see that he don't muterlate no more of my prize razorbacks."

And so saying he went off muttering in his beard.

I WENT BACK TO WHERE I left J. Pembroke, and there he was talking
to Miss Margaret which had just come up. She had more color in her
face than I'd saw recent.

"Fancy meeting a girl like you here!" J. Pembroke was saying.

"No more surprizing than meeting a man like you!" says she with a
kind of fluttery laugh.

"Oh, a sportsman wanders into all sorts of out-of-the-way places,"
says he, and seeing they hadn't noticed me coming up, I says: "Well,
J. Pembroke, I didn't find yore wild boar, but I met the owner."

He looked at me kinda blank, and said vaguely: "Wild boar? _What_
wild boar?"

"That-un you shot the tail off of with that there fool elerfant
gun," I said. "Listen: next time you see a hawg-critter you remember
there ain't no wild boars in the Humbolts. They is critters called
haverleeners in South Texas, but they ain't even none of them in
Nevada. So next time you see a hawg, just reflect that it's merely one
of Uncle Jeppard Grimes' razorbacks and refrain from shootin' at it."

"Oh, quite!" he agreed absently, and started talking to Miss
Margaret again.

So I picked up the elerfant gun which he'd absent-mindedly laid
down, and said: "Well, it's gittin' late. Let's go. We won't go back
to pap's cabin tonight, J. Pembroke. We'll stay at Uncle Saul
Garfield's cabin on t'other side of the Apache Mountain settlement."

As I said, them cabins was awful close together. Uncle Saul's
cabin was below the settlement, but it warn't much over three hundred
yards from cousin Bill Kirby's cabin where Miss Margaret boarded. The
other cabins was on t'other side of Bill's, mostly, strung out up the
run, and up and down the slopes.

I told J. Pembroke and Miss Margaret to walk on down to the
settlement whilst I went back and got the horses.

They'd got to the settlement time I catched up with 'em, and Miss
Margaret had gone into the Kirby cabin, and I seen a light spring up
in her room. She had one of them new-fangled ile lamps she brung with
her, the only one on Bear Creek. Candles and pine chunks was good
enough for us folks. And she'd hanged rag things over the winders
which she called curtains. You never seen nothing like it, I tell you
she was that elegant you wouldn't believe it.

We walked on toward Uncle Saul's, me leading the horses, and after
a while J. Pembroke says: "A wonderful creature!"

"You mean Daniel Webster?" I ast.

"No!" he said. "No, no, I mean Miss Ashley."

"She shore is," I said. "She'll make me a fine wife."

He whirled like I'd stabbed him and his face looked pale in the
dusk.

"You?" he said, _"You_ a wife?"

"Well," I said bashfully, "she ain't sot the day yet, but I've
shore sot my heart on that gal."

"Oh!" he says, _"Oh!"_ says he, like he had the toothache. Then he
said kinda hesitatingly: "Suppose--er, just suppose, you know! Suppose
a rival for her affections should appear? What would you do?"

"You mean if some dirty, low-down son of a mangy skunk was to try
to steal my gal?" I said, whirling so sudden he staggered backwards.

_"Steal my gal?"_ I roared, seeing red at the mere thought. "Why,
I'd--I'd--"

Words failing me I wheeled and grabbed a good-sized sapling and
tore it up by the roots and broke it acrost my knee and throwed the
pieces clean through a rail fence on the other side of the road.

"That there is a faint idee!" I said, panting with passion.

"That gives me a very good conception," he said faintly, and he
said nothing more till we reached the cabin and seen Uncle Saul
Garfield standing in the light of the door combing his black beard
with his fingers.

NEXT MORNING J. PEMBROKE seemed like he'd kinda lost interest in
b'ars. He said all that walking he done over the slopes of Apache
Mountain had made his laig muscles sore. I never heard of such a
thing, but nothing that gets the matter with these tenderfeet
surprizes me much, they is such a effemernate race, so I ast him would
he like to go fishing down the run and he said all right.

But we hadn't been fishing more'n a hour when he said he believed
he'd go back to Uncle Saul's cabin and take him a nap, and he insisted
on going alone, so I stayed where I was and ketched me a nice string
of trout.

I went back to the cabin about noon, and ast Uncle Saul if J.
Pembroke had got his nap out.

"Why, heck," said Uncle Saul. "I ain't seen him since you and him
started down the run this mornin'. Wait a minute--yonder he comes from
the other direction."

Well, J. Pembroke didn't say where he'd been all morning, and I
didn't ast him, because a tenderfoot don't generally have no reason
for anything he does.

We et the trout I ketched, and after dinner he perked up a right
smart and got his shotgun and said he'd like to hunt some wild
turkeys. I never heard of anybody hunting anything as big as a turkey
with a shotgun, but I didn't say nothing, because tenderfeet is like
that.

So we headed up the slopes of Apache Mountain, and I stopped by
the schoolhouse to tell Miss Margaret I probably wouldn't get back in
time to take my reading and writing lesson, and she said: "You know,
until I met your friend, Mr. Pembroke, I didn't realize what a
difference there was between men like him, and--well, like the men on
Bear Creek."

"I know," I said. "But don't hold it agen him. He means well. He
just ain't got no sense. Everybody cain't be smart like me. As a
special favor to me, Miss Margaret, I'd like for you to be exter nice
to the poor sap, because he's a friend of my friend Bill Glanton down
to War Paint."

"I will, Breckinridge," she replied heartily, and I thanked her
and went away with my big manly heart pounding in my gigantic bosom.

Me and J. Pembroke headed into the heavy timber, and we hadn't
went far till I was convinced that somebody was follering us. I kept
hearing twigs snapping, and oncet I thought I seen a shadowy figger
duck behind a bush. But when I run back there, it was gone, and no
track to show in the pine needles. That sort of thing would of made me
nervous, anywhere else, because they is a awful lot of people which
would like to get a clean shot at my back from the bresh, but I knowed
none of them dast come after me in my own territory. If anybody was
trailing us it was bound to be one of my relatives and to save my neck
I couldn't think of no reason why anyone of 'em would be gunning for
me.

But I got tired of it, and left J. Pembroke in a small glade while
I snuck back to do some shaddering of my own. I aimed to cast a big
circle around the opening and see could I find out who it was, but I'd
hardly got out of sight of J. Pembroke when I heard a gun bang.

I turned to run back and here come J. Pembroke yelling: "I got
him! I got him! I winged the bally aborigine!"

He had his head down as he busted through the bresh and he run
into me in his excitement and hit me in the belly with his head so
hard he bounced back like a rubber ball and landed in a bush with his
riding boots brandishing wildly in the air.

"Assist me, Breckinridge!" he shrieked. "Extricate me! They will
be hot on our trail!"

"Who?" I demanded, hauling him out by the hind laig and setting
him on his feet.

"The Indians!" he hollered, jumping up and down and waving his
smoking shotgun frantically. "The bally redskins! I shot one of them!
I saw him sneaking through the bushes! I saw his legs! I know it was
an Indian because he had on moccasins instead of boots! Listen! That's
him now!"

"A Injun couldn't cuss like that," I said. "You've shot Uncle
Jeppard Grimes!"

TELLING HIM TO STAY there, I run through the bresh, guided by the
maddened howls which riz horribly on the air, and busting through some
bushes I seen Uncle Jeppard rolling on the ground with both hands
clasped to the rear bosom of his buckskin britches which was smoking
freely. His langwidge was awful to hear.

"Air you in misery, Uncle Jeppard?" I inquired solicitously. This
evoked another ear-splitting squall.

"I'm writhin' in my death-throes," he says in horrible accents,
"and you stands there and mocks my mortal agony! My own blood-kin!" he
says. "ae&ae&ae&ae&!" says Uncle Jeppard with passion.

"Aw," I says, "that there bird-shot wouldn't hurt a flea. It
cain't be very deep under yore thick old hide. Lie on yore belly,
Uncle Jeppard," I said, stropping my bowie on my boot, "and I'll dig
out them shot for you."

"Don't tech me!" he said fiercely, painfully climbing onto his
feet. "Where's my rifle-gun? Gimme it! Now then, I demands that you
bring that English murderer here where I can git a clean lam at him!
The Grimes honor is besmirched and my new britches is rooint. Nothin'
but blood can wipe out the stain on the family honor!"

"Well," I said, "you hadn't no business sneakin' around after us
thataway--"

Here Uncle Jeppard give tongue to loud and painful shrieks.

"Why shouldn't I?" he howled. "Ain't a man got no right to pertect
his own property? I was follerin' him to see that he didn't shoot no
more tails offa my hawgs. And now he shoots me in the same place! He's
a fiend in human form--a monster which stalks ravelin' through these
hills bustin' for the blood of the innercent!"

"Aw, J. Pembroke thought you was a Injun," I said.

"He thought Daniel Webster was a wild wart-hawg," gibbered Uncle
Jeppard. "He thought I was Geronimo. I reckon he'll massacre the
entire population of Bear Creek under a misapprehension, and you'll
uphold and defend him! When the cabins of yore kinfolks is smolderin'
ashes, smothered in the blood of yore own relatives, I hope you'll be
satisfied--bringin' a foreign assassin into a peaceful community!"

Here Uncle Jeppard's emotions choked him, and he chawed his
whiskers and then yanked out the five-dollar gold piece I give him for
Daniel Webster's tail, and throwed it at me.

"Take back yore filthy lucre," he said bitterly. "The day of
retribution is close onto hand, Breckinridge Elkins, and the Lord of
battles shall jedge between them which turns agen their kinfolks in
their extremerties!"

"In their which?" I says, but he merely snarled and went limping
off through the trees, calling back over his shoulder: "They is still
men on Bear Creek which will see justice did for the aged and
helpless. I'll git that English murderer if it's the last thing I do,
and you'll be sorry you stood up for him, you big lunkhead!"

I went back to where J. Pembroke was waiting bewilderedly, and
evidently still expecting a tribe of Injuns to bust out of the bresh
and sculp him, and I said in disgust: "Let's go home. Tomorrer I'll
take you so far away from Bear Creek you can shoot in any direction
without hittin' a prize razorback or a antiquated gunman with a
ingrown disposition. When Uncle Jeppard Grimes gits mad enough to
throw away money, it's time to ile the Winchesters and strap your
scabbard-ends to yore laigs."

"Legs?" he said mistily, "But what about the Indian?"

"There warn't no Injun, gol-dern it!" I howled. "They ain't been
any on Bear Creek for four or five year. They--aw, hell! What's the
use? Come on. It's gittin' late. Next time you see somethin' you don't
understand, ast me before you shoot it. And remember, the more
ferocious and woolly it looks, the more likely it is to be a leadin'
citizen of Bear Creek."

It was dark when we approached Uncle Saul's cabin, and J. Pembroke
glanced back up the road, toward the settlement, and said: "My word,
is it a political rally? Look! A torchlight parade!"

I looked, and I said: "Quick! Git into the cabin and stay there."

He turned pale, and said: "If there is danger, I insist on--"

"Insist all you dern please," I said. "But git in that house and
stay there. I'll handle this. Uncle Saul, see he gits in there."

Uncle Saul is a man of few words. He taken a firm grip on his pipe
stem and grabbed J. Pembroke by the neck and seat of the britches and
throwed him bodily into the cabin, and shet the door, and sot down on
the stoop.

"They ain't no use in you gittin' mixed up in this, Uncle Saul," I
said.

"You got yore faults, Breckinridge," he grunted. "You ain't got
much sense, but yo're my favorite sister's son--and I ain't forgot
that lame mule Jeppard traded me for a sound animal back in '69. Let
'em come!"

 * * * *

THEY COME ALL RIGHT, and surged up in front of the cabin--
Jeppard's boys Jack and Buck and Esau and Joash and Polk County. And
Erath Elkins, and a mob of Gordons and Buckners and Polks, all more or
less kin to me, except Joe Braxton who wasn't kin to any of us, but
didn't like me because he was sweet on Miss Margaret. But Uncle
Jeppard warn't with 'em. Some had torches and Polk County Grimes had a
rope with a noose in it.

"Where-at air you all goin' with that there lariat?" I ast them
sternly, planting my enormous bulk in their path.

"Perjuice the scoundrel!" said Polk County, waving his rope around
his head. "Bring out the foreign invader which shoots hawgs and
defenseless old men from the bresh!"

"What you aim to do?" I inquired.

"We aim to hang him!" they replied with hearty enthusiasm.

Uncle Saul knocked the ashes out of his pipe and stood up and
stretched his arms which looked like knotted oak limbs, and he grinned
in his black beard like a old timber wolf, and he says: "Whar is dear
cousin Jeppard to speak for hisself?"

"Uncle Jeppard was havin' the shot picked outa his hide when we
left," says Joel Gordon. "He'll be along directly. Breckinridge, we
don't want no trouble with you, but we aims to have that Englishman."

"Well," I snorted, "you all cain't. Bill Glanton is trustin' me to
return him whole of body and limb, and--"

"What you want to waste time in argyment for, Breckinridge?" Uncle
Saul reproved mildly. "Don't you know it's a plumb waste of time to
try to reason with the off-spring of a lame-mule trader?"

"What would you suggest, old man?" sneeringly remarked Polk
County.

Uncle Saul beamed on him benevolently, and said gently: "I'd try
moral suasion--like this!" And he hit Polk County under the jaw and
knocked him clean acrost the yard into a rain barrel amongst the ruins
of which he reposed until he was rescued and revived some hours later.

But they was no stopping Uncle Saul oncet he took the war-path. No
sooner had he disposed of Polk County than he jumped seven foot into
the air, cracked his heels together three times, give the rebel yell
and come down with his arms around the necks of Esau Grimes and Joe
Braxton, which he went to the earth with and starting mopping up the
cabin yard with 'em.

That started the fight, and they is no scrap in the world where
mayhem is committed as free and fervent as in one of these here family
rukuses.

Polk County had hardly crashed into the rain barrel when Jack
Grimes stuck a pistol in my face. I slapped it aside just as he fired
and the bullet missed me and taken a ear offa Jim Gordon. I was scared
Jack would hurt somebody if he kept on shooting reckless that way, so
I kinda rapped him with my left fist and how was I to know it would
dislocate his jaw. But Jim Gordon seemed to think I was to blame about
his ear because he give a maddened howl and jerked up his shotgun and
let _bam_ with both barrels. I ducked just in time to keep from
getting my head blowed off, and catched most of the double-charge in
my shoulder, whilst the rest hived in the seat of Steve Kirby's
britches. Being shot that way by a relative was irritating, but I
controlled my temper and merely taken the gun away from Jim and
splintered the stock over his head.

In the meantime Joel Gordon and Buck Grimes had grabbed one of my
laigs apiece and was trying to rassle me to the earth, and Joash
Grimes was trying to hold down my right arm, and cousin Pecos Buckner
was beating me over the head from behind with a ax-handle, and Erath
Elkins was coming at me from the front with a bowie knife. I reached
down and got Buck Grimes by the neck with my left hand, and I swung my
right and hit Erath with it, but I had to lift Joash clean off his
feet and swing him around with the lick, because he wouldn't let go,
so I only knocked Erath through the rail fence which was around Uncle
Saul's garden.

About this time I found my left laig was free and discovered that
Buck Grimes was unconscious, so I let go of his neck and begun to kick
around with my left laig and it ain't my fault if the spur got tangled
up in Uncle Jonathan Polk's whiskers and jerked most of 'em out by the
roots. I shaken Joash off and taken the ax-handle away from Pecos
because I seen he was going to hurt somebody if he kept on swinging it
around so reckless, and I dunno why he blames me because his skull got
fractured when he hit that tree. He oughta look where he falls when he
gets throwed across a cabin yard. And if Joel Gordon hadn't been so
stubborn trying to gouge me he wouldn't of got his laig broke neither.

I was handicapped by not wanting to kill any of my kinfolks, but
they was so mad they all wanted to kill me, so in spite of my
carefulness the casualties was increasing at a rate which would of
discouraged anybody but Bear Creek folks. But they are the
stubbornnest people in the world. Three or four had got me around the
laigs again, refusing to be convinced that I couldn't be throwed that
way, and Erath Elkins, having pulled hisself out of the ruins of the
fence, come charging back with his bowie.

By this time I seen I'd have to use violence in spite of myself,
so I grabbed Erath and squoze him with a grizzly-hug and that was when
he got them five ribs caved in, and he ain't spoke to me since. I
never seen such a cuss for taking offense over trifles.

For a matter of fact, if he hadn't been so bodaciously riled up--
if he had of kept his head like I did--he would have seen how kindly I
felt toward him even in the fever of that there battle. If I had
dropped him underfoot he might have been tromped on fatally for I was
kicking folks right and left without caring where they fell. So I
carefully flung Erath out of the range of that ruckus--and if he
thinks I aimed him at Ozark Grimes and his pitchfork--well, I just
never done it. It was Ozark's fault more than mine for toting that
pitchfork, and it ought to be Ozark that Erath cusses when he starts
to sit down these days.

It was at this moment that somebody swung at me with a ax and
ripped my ear nigh offa my head, and I begun to lose my temper. Four
or five other relatives was kicking and hitting and biting at me all
at oncet, and they is a limit even to my timid manners and mild
nature. I voiced my displeasure with a beller of wrath, and lashed out
with both fists, and my misguided relatives fell all over the yard
like persimmons after a frost. I grabbed Joash Grimes by the ankles
and begun to knock them ill-advised idjits in the head with him, and
the way he hollered you'd of thought somebody was manhandling him. The
yard was beginning to look like a battle-field when the cabin door
opened and a deluge of b'iling water descended on us.

I got about a gallon down my neck, but paid very little attention
to it, however the others ceased hostilities and started rolling on
the ground and hollering and cussing, and Uncle Saul riz up from
amongst the ruins of Esau Grimes and Joe Braxton, and bellered:
"Woman! What air you at?"

Aunt Zavalla Garfield was standing in the doorway with a kettle in
her hand, and she said: "Will you idjits stop fightin'? The
Englishman's gone. He run out the back door when the fightin' started,
saddled his nag and pulled out. Now will you born fools stop, or will
I give you another deluge? Land save us! What's that light?"

Somebody was yelling toward the settlement, and I was aware of a
peculiar glow which didn't come from such torches as was still
burning. And here come Medina Kirby, one of Bill's gals, yelping like
a Comanche.

"Our cabin's burnin'!" she squalled. "A stray bullet went through
the winder and busted Miss Margaret's ile lamp!"

WITH A YELL OF DISMAY I abandoned the fray and headed for Bill's
cabin, follered by everybody which was able to foller me. They had
been several wild shots fired during the melee and one of 'em must
have hived in Miss Margaret's winder. The Kirbys had dragged most of
their belongings into the yard and some was bringing water from the
creek, but the whole cabin was in a blaze by now.

"Whar's Miss Margaret?" I roared.

"She must be still in there!" shrilled Miss Kirby. "A beam fell
and wedged her door so we couldn't open it, and--"

I grabbed a blanket one of the gals had rescued and plunged it
into the rain barrel and run for Miss Margaret's room. They wasn't but
one door in it, which led into the main part of the cabin, and was
jammed like they said, and I knowed I couldn't never get my shoulders
through either winder, so I just put down my head and rammed the wall
full force and knocked four or five logs outa place and made a hole
big enough to go through.

The room was so full of smoke I was nigh blinded but I made out a
figger fumbling at the winder on the other side. A flaming beam fell
outa the roof and broke acrost my head with a loud report and about a
bucketful of coals rolled down the back of my neck, but I paid no
heed.

I charged through the smoke, nearly fracturing my shin on a
bedstead or something, and enveloped the figger in the wet blanket and
swept it up in my arms. It kicked wildly and fought and though its
voice was muffled in the blanket I ketched some words I never would of
thought Miss Margaret would use, but I figgered she was hysterical.
She seemed to be wearing spurs, too, because I felt 'em every time she
kicked.

By this time the room was a perfect blaze and the roof was falling
in and we'd both been roasted if I'd tried to get back to the hole I
knocked in the oppersite wall. So I lowered my head and butted my way
through the near wall, getting all my eyebrows and hair burnt off in
the process, and come staggering through the ruins with my precious
burden and fell into the arms of my relatives which was thronged
outside.

"I've saved her!" I panted. "Pull off the blanket! Yo're safe,
Miss Margaret!"

"$ae&ae&ae&ae$ae!" said Miss Margaret, and Uncle Saul groped under
the blanket and said: "By golly, if this is the schoolteacher she's
growed a remarkable set of whiskers since I seen her last!"

He yanked off the blanket--to reveal the bewhiskered countenance
of Uncle Jeppard Grimes!

"Hell's fire!" I bellered. "What _you_ doin' here?"

"I was comin' to jine the lynchin', you blame fool!" he snarled.
"I seen Bill's cabin was afire so I clumb in through the back winder
to save Miss Margaret. She was gone, but they was a note she'd left. I
was fixin' to climb out the winder when this maneyack grabbed me."

"Gimme that note!" I bellered, grabbing it. "Medina! Come here and
read it for me."

That note run:

Dear Breckinridge:

I am sorry, but I can't stay on Bear Creek any longer. It was
tough enough anyway, but being expected to marry you was the last
straw. You've been very kind to me, but it would be too much like
marrying a grizzly bear. Please forgive me. I am eloping with J.
Pembroke Pemberton. We're going out the back window to avoid any
trouble, and ride away on his horse. Give my love to the children. We
are going to Europe on our honeymoon.

With love.

Margaret Ashley.

"Now what you got to say?" sneered Uncle Jeppard.

"I'm a victim of foreign entanglements," I said dazedly. "I'm
goin' to chaw Bill Glanton's ears off for saddlin' that critter on me.
And then I'm goin' to lick me a Englishman if I have to go all the way
to Californy to find one."

Which same is now my aim, object and ambition. This Englishman
took my girl and ruined my education, and filled my neck and spine
with burns and bruises. A Elkins never forgets?and the next one that
pokes his nose into the Bear Creek country had better be a fighting
fool or a powerful fast runner.



THE END



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