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Title: Gents on the Lynch Author: Robert E. Howard * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1303991h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jul 2013 Most recent update: Jul 2013 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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Blue Lizard, Colorado,
September 1, 1879.
Mister Washington Bearfield, Antioch, Colorado.
Dear Brother Wash:
Well, Wash, I reckon you think you air smart persuading me to quit my job with the Seven Prong Pitchfork outfit and come way up here in the mountains to hunt gold. I knowed from the start I warn’t no prospector, but you talked so much you got me addled and believing what you said, and the first thing I knowed I had quit my job and withdrawed from the race for sheriff of Antioch and was on my way. Now I think about it, it is a dern funny thing you got so anxious for me to go prospecting jest as elections was coming up. You never before showed no anxiety for me to git rich finding gold or no other way. I am going to hunt me a quiet spot and set down and study this over for a few hours, and if I decide you had some personal reason for wanting me out of Antioch, I aim to make you hard to ketch.
All my humiliating experiences in Blue Lizard is yore fault, and the more I think about it, the madder I git. And yet it all come from my generous nature which cain’t endure to see a feller critter in distress onless I got him that way myself.
Well, about four days after I left Antioch I hove into the Blue Lizard country one forenoon, riding Satanta and leading my pack mule, and I was passing through a canyon about three mile from the camp when I heard dawgs baying. The next minute I seen three of them setting around a big oak tree barking fit to bust yore ear-drums. I rode up to see what they’d treed and I’m a Injun if it warn’t a human being! It was a tall man without no hat nor gun in his scabbard, and he was cussing them dawgs so vigorous he didn’t hear me till I rode up and says: “Hey, what you doin’ up there?”
He like to fell out of the crotch he was setting in, and then he looked down at me very sharp for a instant, and said: “I taken refuge from them vicious beasts. I was goin’ along mindin’ my own business when they taken in after me. I think they got hyderphoby. I’ll give you five bucks if you’ll shoot ’em. I lost my gun.”
“I don’t want no five bucks,” I says. “But I ain’t goin’ to shoot ’em. They’re pecooliar lookin’ critters, and they may be valurebul. I notice the funnier-lookin’ a animal is, the more money they’re generally wuth. I’ll shoo ’em off.”
So I got down and says: “Git!” and they immejitly laid holt of my laigs, which was very irritating because I didn’t have no other boots but them. So I fotched each one of them fool critters a hearty kick in the rear, and they give a yowl and scooted for the tall timber.
“You can come down now,” I says. “Dern it, them varmints has rooint my boots.”
“Take mine!” says he, sliding down and yanking off his boots.
“Aw, I don’t want to do that,” I says, but he says: “I insists! It’s all I can do for you. Witherington T. Jones always pays his debts, even in adversity! You behold in me a lone critter buffeted on the winds of chance, penniless and friendless, but grateful! Take my boots, kind stranger, do!”
Well, I was embarrassed and sorry for him, so I said all right, and taken his boots and give him mine. They was too big for him, but he seemed mighty pleased when he hauled ’em on. His’n was very handsome, all fancy stitching. He shaken my hand and said I’d made him very happy, but all to once he bust into tears and sobbed: “Pore Joe!”
“Pore who?” I ast.
“Joe!” says he, wiping his eyes on my bandanner. “My partner, up on our claim in the hills. I warned him agen drinkin’ a gallon of corn juice to inoculate hisself agen snake- bite—before the snake bit him—but he wouldn’t listen, so now he’s writhin’ in the throes of delirium tremens. It would bust yore heart to hear the way he shrieks for me to shoot the polka-dotted rhinocerhosses which he thinks is gnawin’ his toes. I left him tied hand and foot and howlin’ that a striped elephant was squattin’ on his bosom, and I went to Blue Lizard for medicine. I got it, but them cussed dawgs scairt my hoss and he got away from me, and it’ll take me till midnight to git back to our claim afoot. Pore Joe’ll be a ravin’ corpse by then.”
Well, I never heard of a corpse raving, but I couldn’t stand the idee of a man dying from the d.t.’s, so I shucked my pack offa my mule, and said: “Here, take this mule and skeet for yore claim. He’ll be better’n walkin’. I’d lend you Satanta only he won’t let nobody but me ride him.”
Mister Witherington T. Jones was plumb overcome by emotion. He shaken my hand again and said: “My noble friend, I’ll never forgit this!” And then he jumped on the mule and lit out, and from the way he was kicking the critter’s ribs I reckoned he’d pull into his claim before noon, if it was anywheres within a hundred miles of there. He sure warn’t wasting no time. I could see that.
I hung his boots onto my saddle horn and I had started gathering up my plunder when I heard men yelling and then a whole gang with Winchesters come busting through the trees, and they seen me and hollered: “Where is he?”
“We heard the dawgs bayin’ over here,” says a little short one. “I don’t hear ’em now. But they must of had him treed somewheres clost by.”
“Oh, Mr. Jones,” I said. “Well, don’t worry about him. He’s all right. I druv the dawgs off and and lent him my mule to git back to his claim.”
At this they let forth loud frenzied yells. It was plumb amazing. Here I’d jest rescued a feller human from a pack of ferocious animals, and these hombres acted like I’d did a crime or something.
“He helped him git awayl” they hollered. “Le’s lynch him, the derned outlaw!”
“Who you callin’ a outlaw?” I demanded. “I’m a stranger in these parts. I’m headin’ for Blue Lizard to work me a claim.”
“You jest helped a criminal to escape!” gnashed they, notably a big black-bearded galoot with a sawed-off shotgun. “This feller Jones as you call him tried to rob a stage coach over on Cochise Mountain less’n a hour ago. The guard shot his pistol out of his hand, and his hoss got hit too, so he broke away on foot. We sot the dawgs on his trail, and we’d of had him by now, if you hadn’t butted in! Now the dawgs cain’t track him no more.”
“Call ’em back and set ’em on the mule’s trail,” sejests a squint-eyed cuss. “As for you, you cussed Texas hill-billy, you keep on travelin’. We don’t want no man like you in Blue Lizard.”
“Go to the devil, you flat-nosed buzzard,” I retort with typical Southern courtesy. “This here’s a free country. I come up here to hunt gold and I aim to hunt it if I have to lick every prospector in Lizard Cañon! You cain’t ride me jest because I made a honest mistake that anybody could of made. Anyway, I’m the loser, ’cause he got off with my mule.”
“Aw, come on and le’s find the dawgs,” says a bow-legged gun-toter with warts. So they went off up the cañon, breathing threats and vengeance, and I taken my plunder on my shoulder and went on down the cañon, leading Satanta. I put on Mister Jones’s boots first, and they was too small for me, of course, but I could wear ’em in a pinch. (That there is a joke, Wash, but I don’t suppose you got sense enough to see the p’int.)
I soon come to the aidge of the camp, which was spread all over the place where the canyon widened out and shallowed, and the first man I seen was old Polk Williams. You remember him, Wash, we knowed him over to Trinidad when we first come to Colorado with the Seven Prong Pitchfork outfit. I hailed him and ast him where I could find a good claim, and he said all the good ones had been took. So I said, well, I’d strike out up in the hills and hunt me one, and he says: “What you know about prospectin’? I advises you to git a job of workin’ some other man’s claim at day wages till they’s a new strike up in the hills somewheres. They’s bound to be one any day, because the mountains is full of prospectors which got here too late to git in on this’n. Plenty of jobs here at big wages, because nobody wants to work. They all wants to wade creeks till they stub their fool toe on a pocket of nuggets.”
“All right,” I said. “I’ll pitch my camp down on the creek.”
“You better not,” says he. “These mountains is full of hyderphoby skunks. They crawls in yore blankets at night and bites you, and you foam at the mouth and go bite yore best friends. Now, it jest happens I got a spare cabin which I ain’t usin’. The feller who had it rented ain’t with us this mornin’ account of a extry ace in a poker game last night. I’ll rent it to you dirt cheap—ten dollars a day. You’ll be safe from them cussed skunks there.”
So I said: “All right. I don’t want to git hyderphoby.”
So I give him ten dollars in advance and put my plunder in the cabin which was on a slope west of the camp, and hobbled Satanta to graze. He said I better look out or somebody would steal Satanta. He said Mustang Stirling and his outlaws was hiding in the hills clost by and terrorizing the camp which didn’t even have a sheriff yet, because folks hadn’t had time to elect one, but they was gittin so sick of being robbed all the time they probably would soon, and maybe organize a Vigilante Committee, too. But I warn’t scairt of anybody stealing Satanta. A stranger had better take a cougar by the whiskers than to monkey with Satanta. That hoss has got a disposition like a sore-tailed rattlesnake.
Well, while we was talking I seen a gal come out from amongst the cluster of stores and saloons and things, and head up the canyon with a bucket in her hand. She was so purty my heart skipped a beat and my corns begun to throb. That’s a sure sign of love at first sight.
“Who’s that gal?” I ast.
“Hannah Sprague,” says Polk. “The belle of Blue Lizard. But you needn’t start castin’ sheep’s eyes at her. They’s a dozen young bucks sparkin’ her already. I think Blaze Wellington’s the favorite to put his brand onto her, though. She wouldn’t look twicet at a hill-billy like you.”
“I might remove the compertition,” I sejested.
“You better not try no Wolf Mountain rough stuff in Blue Lizard,” warned he. “The folks is so worked up over all these robberies and killin’s they’re jest in a mood to lynch somebody, especially a stranger.”
But I give no heed. Folks is always wanting to lynch me, and quite a few has tried, as numerous tombstones on the boundless prairies testifies.
“Where’s she goin’ with that bucket?” I ast him, and he said: “She’s takin’ beer to her old man which is workin’ a claim up the creek.”
“Well, listen,” I says. “You git over there behind that thicket and when she comes past you make a noise like a Injun.”
“What kind of damfoolishness is this?” he demanded. “You want to stampede the hull camp?”
“Don’t make a loud whoop,” I says. “Jest make it loud enough for her to hear it.”
“Air you crazy?” says he.
“No, dern it!” I said fiercely, because she was tripping along purty fast. “Git in there and do like I say. I’ll rush up from the other side and pertend to rescue her from the Injuns, and that’ll make her like me.”
“I mistrusts you’re a blasted fool,” he grumbled. “But I’ll do it jest this oncet.”
He snuck into the thicket which she’d have to pass on the other side, and I circled around so she couldn’t see me till I was ready to rush out and save her from being sculped. Well, I warn’t hardly in place when I heard a kind of mild war-whoop and it sounded jest like a Blackfoot, only not so loud. But immejitly there come the crack of a pistol and another yell which warn’t subdued like the first. It was lusty and energetic.
I run towards the thicket, but before I could git into the open trail old Polk come b’ilin’ out of the back side of the clump with his hands to the seat of his britches.
“You planned this a-purpose, you snake in the grass!” he squalled. “Git outa my way!”
“Why, Polk!” I says. “What happened?”
“I bet you knowed she had a derringer in her stocking,” he howled as he run past me with his pants smoking. “It’s all yore fault! When I whooped she pulled it and shot into the bresh! Don’t speak to me! I’m lucky that I warn’t hit in a vital spot. I’ll git even with you for this if it takes a hundred years!”
He headed on into the deep bresh, and I run around the thicket and seen Hannah Sprague peering into it with her gun smoking in her hand. She looked up as I come onto the trail, and I taken off my hat and said perlite: “Howdy, Miss. Can I be of no assistance to you?”
“I jest shot a Injun,” says she. “I heard him holler. You might go in there and git the sculp, if you don’t mind. I’d like to have it for a soovenear.”
“I’ll be glad to, Miss,” I says gallantly. “I’ll likewise kyore and tan it for you myself.”
“Oh, thank you, sir!” she says, dimpling. “It’s a pleasure to meet a real gent like you!”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” I assured her, and went into the bresh and stomped around a little, and then come out and says: “I’m arful sorry, Miss, but the varmint ain’t nowheres to be found. You must of jest winged him. If you want me to, I’ll take his trail and run him down.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t think of puttin’ you to sech trouble,” she says, much to my relief, because I was jest thinking that if she did demand a sculp, the only thing I could do would be to ketch old Polk and sculp him, and I’d hate to have to do that. I bet it would of made him arful mad.
But she looked me over admiringly and says: “I’m Hannah Sprague. Who’re you?
“I knowed you the minute I seen you,” I says. “The fame of yore beauty has reached clean to Wolf Mountain, Texas. I’m Pike Bearfield.”
“Glad to meetcha, Mister Bearfield,” says she. “They must grow big men in Texas. Well, I got to go now. Pap gits arful tetchy if he don’t git his beer along with his dinner.”
“I’d admire powerful to call on you this evenin’,” I says, and she says, “Well, I dunno. Mister Blaze Wellington was goin’ to call—”
“He cain’t come,” I says.
“Why, how do you know?” she ast surprised. “He said—”
“A unforeseen circumstance,” I says gently. “It ain’t happened to him yet, but it’s goin’ to right away.”
“Well,” she says, kind of confused, “I reckon in that case you can come on, if you want. We live in that cabin down yonder by that big fir. But when you git within hearin’ holler and tell us who you be, if it’s after dark. Pap is arful nervous account of all these outlaws which is robbin’ people.”
So I said I would, and she went on, and I headed for the camp. People give me some suspicious looks, and I heard a lot of folks talking about this here Mustang Stirling and his gang. Seems like them critters hid in the hills and robbed somebody nearly every day and night, and nobody could hardly git their gold out of camp without gittin’ stuck up. But I didn’t have no gold yet, and wouldn’t of been scairt of Mustang Stirling if I had, so I went on to the biggest saloon, which they called the Belle of New York. I taken a dram and ast the bartender if he knowed Blaze Wellington. He said sure he did, and I ast him where Blaze Wellington was, and he p’inted out a young buck which was setting at a table with his head down on his hands like he was trying to study out something. So I went over and sot down opposite him, and he looked up and seen me, and fell out of his chair backwards hollering: “Don’t shoot!”
“Why, how did you know?” I ast, surprised.
“By yore evil face,” he gibbered. “Go ahead! Do yore wust!”
“They ain’t no use to git highsterical,” I says. “If you’ll be reasonable nobody won’t git hurt.”
“I won’t tell you whar it’s hid!” he defied, gitting onto his feet and looking like a cornered wharf-rat.
“Where what’s hid?” I ast in amazement.
At this he looked kind of dumfounded.
“Say,” says he cautiously, “ain’t you one of Mustang Stirling’s spies, after the gold?”
“Naw, I ain’t,” I says angrily. “I jest come here to ast you like a gent not to call on Hannah Sprague tonight.”
“What the devil?” says he, looking kind of perplexed and relieved and mad all at the same time. “What you mean, not call on Hannah?”
“Because I am,” I says, hitching my guns for’ard.
“Who the devil air you?” he demanded, convulsively picking up a beer mug like he aimed to throw it at me.
“Pike Bearfield of Wolf Mountain,” I says, and he says: “Oh!” and after a minute he puts the beer mug down and stood there studying a while.
Then he says: “Why, Bearfield, they warn’t no use in you threatenin’ me. I bet you think I’m in love with Hannah Sprague! Well, I ain’t. I’m a friend of her old man, that’s all. I been keepin’ his gold over to my shack, guardin’ it for him, so Mustang Stirling’s outlaws wouldn’t git it, and the old man is so grateful he wants me to marry the gal. But I don’t keer nothin’ about her.
“To tell you the truth, if it warn’t that I like the old man, I’d throw up the job, it’s so dangerous. Mustang Stirling has got spies in the camp, and they dogs me night and day. I thought you was one of ’em when I seen yore arful face. . . . Well, I’m glad the old man’s goin’ to send it out on the stage tomorrer. It’s been an arful strain on me and my partner, which is over at the shack now. Somebody’s got to stay there on guard all the time, or them cussed outlaws would come right in and tear the shack apart and find where I got it hid. Tonight’ll be the wust. They’ll make a desprut effort to git it before mornin’.”
“You mean old man Sprague wants you to marry Hannah because yo’re guardin’ his gold?” I ast, and he says yes, but the responsibility was aging him prematurely. I says: “Looky here! Lemme take this job off ’n yore hands! Lemme guard the gold tonight! I hates to see a promisin’ young man like you wore down to a nubbin by care and worry.”
“I hate to do that,” he demurred, but I said: “Come on, be a good feller! I’ll do as much for you, some time.”
He thought it over a while, shaking his head, whilst I was on needles and pins, and then he stuck out his hand and said: “I’ll do it! Shake! But don’t tell nobody. I wouldn’t do it for nobody but you. . . . What’s that noise?”
Because we heard a lot of men running up the street and yelling: “Git yore guns ready, boys! We’re right on his trail!”
Somebody hollered “Who?” And somebody else yelled: “Jones! The hounds picked up his foot-tracks whilst we was tryin’ to git ’em after the mule’s! He musta jumped offa the mule and doubled back afoot! We’ve trailed him right down Main Street!”
Then somebody else whooped: “They’re goin’ into the Belle of New York! We got him cornered! Don’t let him git away!”
The next minute here come them three fool bloodhounds b’ilin’ in at the front door and grabbed me by the hind laig again. It was most ann’ying. I dunno when I was ever so sick of a pack of hounds in my life. But I controlled my temper and merely jerked ’em loose from my laig and throwed ’em out the winder, and they run off. Then a crowd of faces jammed in the door and looked at me wildly and said: “You again!”
I recognized Black-Beard and Squint-Eye and Shorty and Warts and the rest of the men which was in the posse chasing Mister Jones, and I said fretfully: “Gol-dern it, whyn’t you all lemme alone?”
But they ignored my remark, and Squint-Eye said: “I thought we told you not to stop in Blue Lizard!”
Before I could think of anything insulting enough to say in response, Warts give a yelp and p’inted at my laigs.
“Look there!” he howled. “He’s got on Jones’s boots! I was on the stage coach when Jones tried to hold it up, and he had on a mask, but I remember them boots! Don’t you remember—this hill-billy didn’t have on no boots when we seen him before! He traded boots with Jones to fool the dawgs! No wonder they wouldn’t foller the mule! He’s a derned outlaw! He knowed what Jones’s name was! He’s one of Stirling’s spies! Git him!”
I started to tell Blaze to tell ’em I was all right, but at this moment Shorty was so overcome by excitement that he throwed a cuspidor at me. I ducked and it hit Blaze betwixt the eyes and he curled up under the table with a holler gasp.
“Now look what you done!” I says wrathfully, but all Shorty says is to holler: “Grab him, boys! Here’s where we starts cleaning up this camp right now! Let the hangin’s commence!”
If he hadn’t made that last remark, I probably wouldn’t of broke his arm when he tried to stab me with his bowie, but I’m kind of sensitive about being hung. I would of avoided vi’lence if I could of, but sech remarks convinced me that them idjits was liable to do me bodily harm, especially when some of ’em grabbed me around the laigs and five or six more tried to twist my arms around behind my back. So I give a heave and slung them loose from me which was hanging onto my arms, and then I ast the others ca’mly and with dignity to let go of me before I injured ’em fatally, but they replied profanely that I was a dadgasted outlaw and they was going to hang me if it was the last thing any of ’em done. They also tried to rassle me off my feet and Black-Beard hit me over the head with a beer bottle.
This made me mad, so I walked over to the bar with nine or ten of ’em hanging onto me and bracing their feet in a futile effort to stop me, and I stooped and tore up a ten-foot section of brass rail, and at the first swipe I laid out Black-Beard and Squint-Eye and Warts, and at the second I laid out four more gents which was perfect strangers to me, and when I heaved her up for the third swipe they warn’t nobody in the saloon but me and them on the floor. It is remarkable the number of men you can fotch at one lick with a ten-foot section of brass railing. The way the survivors stampeded out the front door yelling blue murder you’d of thought it was the first time anybody had ever used a brass rail on ’em.
Blaze was beginning to come to, so I hauled him out from under the table, and lugged him out onto the street with me. Some fellers on the other side of the street immejitly started shooting at me, so I drawed my pistols and shot back at ’em, and they broke and run every which a way. So I got Blaze onto my back and started up the street with him, and after I’d went a few hundred yards he could walk hisself, though he weaved considerable, and he taken the lead and led me to his cabin which was back of some stores and clost to the bank of the creek. They warn’t nobody in sight but a loafer setting under a tree on the bank fishing, with his slouch hat pulled down to shade his eyes. The door was shet, so Blaze hollered, still kind of dizzy: “It’s me, Branner; open up!”
So another young feller opened the door and looked out cautious with a double-barreled shotgun, and Blaze says to me: “Wait here whilst I go in and git the gold.”
So I did and after a while he come out lugging a good- sized buckskin poke which I jedged from the weight they must be several thousand dollars worth of nuggets in there.
“I’ll never forget this,” I said warmly. “You go tell Hannah I cain’t come to see her tonight because I’m guardin’ her old man’s gold. I’ll see her tomorrer after the stage coach has left with it.”
“I’ll tell her, pal,” says he with emotion, shaking my hand, so I headed for my cabin, feeling I had easily won the first battle in the campaign for Hannah Sprague’s hand. Imagine that pore sap Blaze throwing away a chance like that! I felt plumb sorry for him for being so addle-headed.
The sun was down by the time I got back to my cabin, and oncet I thought somebody was follering me, and I looked around, but it warn’t nobody but the feller I’d seen fishing, trudging along about a hundred yards behind me with his pole onto his shoulder.
Well, when I arriv’ at my cabin, I seen a furtive figger duck out the back way. It looked like old Polk, so I called to him, but he scooted off amongst the trees. I decided I must of been mistook, because likely old Polk was still off somewheres sulking on account of gitting shot in the britches. He was a onreasonable old cuss.
I went in and throwed the buckskin poke on the table and lit a candle, and jest then I heard a noise at the winder and wheeled quick jest in time to see somebody jerk his face away from the winder. I run to the door, and seen somebody sprinting off through the trees, and was jest fixing to take a shot at him when I recognized that old slouch hat. I wondered what that fool fisherman had follered me and looked in at my winder for, and I wondered why he run off so fast, but I’d already found out that Blue Lizard was full of idjits, so I give the matter no more thought. I ain’t one of these here fellers which wastes their time trying to figger out why things is like they is, and why people does things like they does. I got better employment for my spare time, sech as sleeping.
Satanta come up to the door and nickered, and I give him some oats, and then I built a fire in the fireplace and cooked some bacon and made some coffee, and I’d jest got through eating and cleaned up the pot and skillet when somebody hailed me outside.
I quick blowed out the candle and stepped to the door with a gun in each hand. I could see a tall figger standing in the starlight, so I ast who the devil he was and what he wanted.
“A friend of Old Man Sprague’s,” says he. “Huddleston is the name, my enormous young friend, Carius Z. Huddleston. Mister Sprague sent me over to help you guard his gold tonight.”
That didn’t set well with me, because it looked like Old Man Sprague didn’t think I was capable of taking care of it by myself, and I said so right out.
“Not at all,” says Mister Huddleston. “He’s so grateful to you for assumin’ the responsibility that he said he couldn’t endure it if you come to any harm on account of it, so he sent me to help you.”
Well, that was all right. It looked like Old Man Sprague had took a fancy to me already, even before he’d saw me, and I felt that I was nigh as good as married to Hannah already. So I told Mr. Huddleston to come in, and I lit the candle and shet the door. He was a tall man with the biggest black mustache I ever seen, and he had on a frock tail coat and a broad- brim hat. I seen two ivory-handled six-shooters under his coattails. His eyes kind of bulged in the candlelight when he seen the big poke on the table and he ast me was that the gold and I said yes. So he hauled out a bottle of whiskey and said: “Well, my gigantic young friend, le’s drink to Old Man Sprague’s gold, may it arrive at its proper destination.”
So we had a drink and I sot down on the bench and he sot on a rawhide bottomed chair, and he got to telling me stories, and he knowed more things about more people than I ever seen. He told me about a feller named Paul Revere which thrived during the Revolution when we licked the Britishers, and I got all het up hearing about him. He said the Britishers was going to sneak out of a town named Boston which I jedge must of been a right sizable cowtown or mining camp or something, and was going to fall on the people unawares and confiscate their stills and weppins and steers and things, but one of Paul’s friends signaled him what was going on by swinging a lantern, and Paul forked his cayuse and fogged it down the trail to warn the folks.
When he was telling about Paul’s friend signaling him Mister Huddleston got so excited he grabbed the candle and went over to the west winder and waved the candle back and forth three times to show me how it was done. It was a grand story, Wash, and I got goose bumps on me jest listening to it.
Well, it was gitting late by now, and Mister Huddleston ast me if I warn’t sleepy. I said no, and he said: “Go ahead and lay down and sleep. I’ll stand guard the rest of the night.”
“Shucks,” I said. “I ain’t sleepy. You git some rest.”
“We’ll throw dice to see who sleeps first,” says he, hauling out a pair, but I says: “No, sir! It’s my job. I’m settin’ up with the gold. You go on and lay down on that bunk over there if you wanta.”
Well, for a minute Mister Huddleston got a most pecooliar expression onto his face, or it might of been the way the candlelight shined on it, because for a minute he looked jest like I’ve seen men look who was ready to pull out their pistol on me. Then he says: “All right. I believe I will take a snooze. You might as well kill the rest of that whisky. I got all I want.”
So he went over to the bunk which was in a corner where the light didn’t shine into very good, and he sot down on it to take off his boots. But he’d no sooner sot than he give a arful yell and bounded convulsively out into the middle of the room, clutching at his rear, and I seen a b’ar trap hanging onto the seat of his britches! I instantly knowed old Polk had sot it in the bunk for me, the revengeful old polecat.
From the way Mr. Huddleston was hollering I knowed it warn’t only pants which was nipped betwixt the jaws; they was quite a chunk of Mister Huddleston betwixt ’em too. He went prancing around the cabin like one of them whirling derfishes and his langwidge was plumb terrible.
“Git it off, blast you!” he howled, but he was circling the room at sech speed I couldn’t ketch him, so I grabbed the chain which dangled from the trap and give a heave and tore it loose from him by main strength. The seat of his pants and several freckles come with it, and the howls he’d let out previous warn’t a circumstance to the one which he emitted now, also bounding about seven foot in the air besides.
“You—!” screamed he, and I likewise give a beller of amazement because his mustash had come off and revealed a familiar face!
“Witherington T. Jones!” I roared, dumfounded. “What the devil you doin’ here in disguise?”
“Now!” says he, pulling a gun. “Hands up, curse you, or—”
I knocked the gun out of his hand before he could pull the trigger, and I was so overcome with resentment that I taken him by the neck and shaken him till his spurs flew off.
“Is this any way to treat a man as risked his repertation to rescue you from bloodhounds?” I inquired with passion. “Where’s my mule, you ornery polecat?”
I had forgot about his other gun, but he hadn’t. But I was shaking him so energetic that somehow he missed me even when he had the muzzle almost agen my belly. The bullet tore the hide over my ribs and the powder burnt me so severe that I lost my temper.
“So you tries to murder me after obtainin’ my mule under false pretenses!” I bellered, taking the gun away from him and impulsively slinging him acrost the cabin. “You ain’t no friend of Old Man Sprague’s.”
At this moment he got hold of a butcher knife I used to slice bacon with and come at me, yelling: “Slim! Mike! Arizona! Jackson! Where’n hell air you?”
I taken the blade in my arm-muscles and then grabbed him and we was rassling all over the place when six men come storming through the door with guns in their hands. One of them yelled: “I thought you said you’d wait till he was asleep or drunk before you signaled us!”
“He wouldn’t go to sleep!” howled Mister Jones, spitting out a piece of my ear he’d bit off. “Dammit, do somethin’! Don’t you see he’s klllin’ me?”
But we was so tangled up they couldn’t shoot me without hitting him, so they clubbed their pistols and come for me, so I swung Mister Jones off his feet and throwed him at ’em. They was all in a bunch and he hit ’em broadside and knocked ’em all over and they crashed into the table and upsot it and the candle went out. The next minute they was a arful commotion going on as they started fighting each other in the dark, each one thinking it was me he had holt of.
I was feeling for ’em when the back door busted open and I had a brief glimpse of a tall figger darting out, and it was carrying something on its shoulder. Then I remembered that the poke had been on that table. Mister Jones had got holt of the gold and was skedaddling with it!
I run out of the back door after him jest as a mob of men come whooping and yelling up to the front door with torches and guns and ropes. I heard one of ’em yell: “Somebody’s fightin’ in there! Listen at ’em!”
Somebody else yelled: “Maybe the whole gang’s in there with the hill-billy! Git ’em!” So they went smashing into the cabin jest as I run in amongst the trees after Mister Jones.
And there I was stumped. I couldn’t see where he went and it was too dark to find his trail. Then all to oncet I heard Satanta squeal and a man yelled for help, and they come a crash like a man makes when a hoss bucks him off into a blackjack thicket. I run in the direction of the noise and by the starlight I seen Satanta grazing and a pair of human laigs sticking out of the bresh. Mister Jones had tried to git away on Satanta.
“I told you he wouldn’t let nobody but me ride him,” I says as I hauled him out, but his langwidge ain’t fit to be repeated. The poke was lying clost by, busted open. When I picked it up, it didn’t look right. I struck a match and looked.
That there poke was full of nothing but scrap iron!
I was so stunned I didn’t hardly know what I was doing when I taken the poke in one hand and Mister Jones’ neck in the other’n, and lugged ’em back to the cabin. The mob had Mister Jones’s six men outside tied up, and was wiping the blood off ’em, and I seen Shorty and Black-Beard and Squint-Eye and the others, and about a hundred more.
“They’re Stirling’s men all right,” says Warts. “But where’s Mustang, and that hill- billy? Anyway, le’s string these up right here.”
“You ain’t,” says Black-Beard. “You all elected me sheriff before we come up here, and I aims to uphold the law. . . . Who’s that?”
“It’s Old Man Sprague,” says somebody, as a bald-headed old coot come prancing through the crowd waving a shotgun.
“What you want?” says Black-Beard. “Don’t you see we’re busy?”
“I demands jestice!” howled Old Man Sprague. “I been abused!”
At this moment I shouldered through the crowd with a heavy heart, and slang the poke of scrap iron down in front of him.
“There it is,” I says, “and I’ll swear it ain’t been monkeyed with since Blaze Wellington gave it to me!”
“Who’s that?’ howled Sprague.
“The hill-billy!” howled the mob. “Grab him!”
“No, you don’t!” I roared, drawing a gun. “I’ve took enough offa you Blue Lizard jackasses! I’m a honest man, and I’ve brung back Mister Jones to prove it.”
I then flang him down in front of them, and Warts give a howl and pounced on him. “Jones, nothing!” he yelled. “That’s Mustang Stirling!”
“I confesses,” says Mustang groggily. “Lock me up where I can be safe from that hill-billy! The critter ain’t human.”
“Somebody listen to me!” howled Old Man Sprague, jumping up and down. “I demands to be heard!”
“I done the best I could!” I roared, plumb out of patience. “When Blaze Wellington give me yore gold to guard—”
“What the devil air you talkin’ about?” he squalled. “That wuthless scoundrel never had no gold of mine.”
“What!” I hollered, going slightly crazy. Jest then I seen a feller in the crowd I recognized. I made a jump and grabbed him.
“Branner!” I roared. “You was at Wellington’s shack when he give me that poke! You tell me quick what this is all about, or—”
“Leggo!” he gasped. “It warn’t Sprague’s gold we hid. It was our’n. We couldn’t git it outa camp because we knowed Stirling’s spies was watchin’ us all the time. When you jumped Blaze in the Belle of New York, he seen a chance to git ’em off our necks. He filled that poke with scrap iron and give it to you where the spy could see it and hear what was said. The spy didn’t know whether it was our gold or Sprague’s, but we knowed if he thought you had it, Stirling would go after you and let us alone. He did, too, and that give Blaze a chance to sneak out early tonight with it.”
“And that ain’t all!” bellered Old Man Sprague. “He taken Hannah with him! They’ve eloped!”
My yell of mortal agony drownded out his demands for the sheriff to pursue ’em. Hannah! Eloped! It was too much for a critter to endure!
“Aw, don’t you keer, partner,” says Shorty, slapping me on the back with the arm I hadn’t busted. “You been vindicated as a honest citizen! You’re the hero of the hour!”
“Spare yore praise,” I says bitterly. “I’m the victim of female perfidy. I have lost my faith in my feller man and my honest heart is busted all to perdition! Leave me to my sorrer!”
So they gathered up their prisoners and went away in awed silence. I am a rooint man. All I want to do is to become a hermit and forgit my aching heart in the untrodden wilderness.
Your pore brother,
P.S.—The Next Morning. I have jest learnt that after I withdrawed from the campaign and left Antioch, you come out for sheriff and got elected. So that’s why you persuaded me to come up here. I am heading for Antioch and when I git there I am going to whup you within a inch of yore wuthless life, I don’t care if you air sheriff of Antioch. I am going to kick the seat of yore britches up around yore neck and sweep the streets with you till you don’t know whether yo’re setting or standing. Hoping this finds you in good health and spirits, I am,
Yore affectionate brother,
P. Bearfield Esquire
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