A Gent From Bear Creek (Novella)/Chapter XIII
I DUNNO how far I rode that night before the red haze cleared out from around me so's I could even see where I was. I knowed I was follering the trail to War Paint, but that was about all. I knowed Miss Margaret and J. Pembroke would head for War Paint, and I knowed Cap'n Kidd would run 'em down before they could get there, no matter how much start they had. And I must of rode for hours before I come to my senses.
It was like waking up from a bad dream. I pulled up on the crest of a rise and looked ahead of me where the trail dipped down into the holler and up over the next ridge. It was jest getting daylight and everything looked kinda grey and still. I looked down in the trail and seen the hoof prints of J. Pembroke's hoss fresh in the dust, and knowed they couldn't be more'n three or four miles ahead of me. I could run' em down within the next hour.
But thinks I, what the hell? Am I plumb locoed? The gal's got a right to marry whoever she wants to, and if she's idjit enough to choose him instead of me, why, 'tain't for me to stand in her way. I wouldn't hurt a hair onto her head; yet here I been aiming to hurt her the wust way I could, by shooting down her man right before her eyes. I felt so ashamed of myself I wanted to cuss--and so sorry for myself I wanted to bawl.
"Go with my blessin'," I said bitterly, shaking my fist in the direction where they'd went, and then reined Cap'n Kidd around and headed for Bear Creek. I warn't aiming to stay there and endure Glory McGraw's rawhiding, but I had to get me some clothes. Mine was burnt to rags, and I didn't have no hat, and the buckshot in my shoulder was stinging me now and then.
A mile or so on the back-trail I crossed the road that runs from Cougar Paw to Grizzly Run, and I was hungry and thirsty so I turnt up it to the tavern which had been built recent on the crossing at Mustang Creek.
The sun warn't up when I pulled at the hitch-rack and clumb off and went in. The bartender give a holler and fell backwards into a tub of water and empty beer bottles, and started yelling for help, and I seen a man come to one of the doors which opened into the bar, and look at me. They was something familiar about him, but I couldn't place him for the instant.
"Shet up and git outa that tub," I told the bar-keep petulantly. "It's me, and I want a drink."
"Excuse me, Breckinridge," says he, hauling hisself onto his feet. "I rekernize you now, but I'm a nervous man, and you got no idee what a start you gimme when you come through that door jest now, with yore hair and eye-lashes all burnt off, and most of yore clothes, and yore hide all black with soot. What the hell--"
"Cease them personal remarks and gimme some whisky," I snarled, being in no mood for airy repartee. "Likewise wake up the cook and tell him to fry me some ham and aigs."
So he sot the bottle onto the bar and stuck his head into the kitchen and hollered: "Break out a fresh ham and start bustin' aigs. Breckinridge Elkins craves fodder!"
When he come back I said: "Who was that lookin' through that door there while ago?"
"Oh, that?" says he. "Why, that was a man nigh as famous as what you be--Wild Bill Donovan. You-all ever met?"
"I'll say we has," I grunted, pouring me a drink. "He tried to take Cap'n Kidd away from me when I was a ignorant kid. I was forced to whup him with my bare fists before he'd listen to reason."
"He's the only man I ever seen which was as big as you," said the bar-keep. "And at that he ain't quite as thick in the chest and arms as you be. I'll call him in and you-all can chin about old times."
"Save yore breath," I growled. "The thing I craves to do about chins with that coyote is to bust his'n with a pistol butt."
This seemed to kinda intimidate the bartender. He got behind the bar and started shining beer mugs whilst I et my breakfast in gloomy grandeur, halting only long enough to yell for somebody to feed Cap'n Kidd. Three or four menials went out to do it, and being afeared to try to lead Cap'n Kidd to the trough, they filled it and carried it to him, so only one of them got kicked in the belly. It's awful hard for the average man to dodge Cap'n Kidd.
Well, I finished my breakfast whilst they was dipping the stable- hand in a hoss-trough to bring him to, and I said to the bar-keep, "I ain't got no money to pay for what me and Cap'n Kidd et, but I'll be headin' for War Paint late this evenin' or tonight, and when I git the money I'll send it to you. I'm broke right now, but I ain't goin' to be broke long."
"All right," he said, eyeing my scorched skull in morbid fascination. "You got no idee how pecoolier you look, Breckinridge, with that there bald dome--"
"Shet up!" I roared wrathfully. A Elkins is sensitive about his personal appearance. "This here is merely a temporary inconvenience which I cain't help. Lemme hear no more about it. I'll shoot the next son of a polecat which calls attention to my singed condition!"
I then tied a bandanner around my head and got on Cap'n Kidd and pulled for home.
I arriv at pap's cabin about the middle of the afternoon and my family rallied around to remove the buckshot from my hide and repair other damages which had been did.
Maw made each one of my brothers lend me a garment, and she let 'em out to fit me.
"Though how much good it'll do you," said she, "I don't know. I never seen any man so hard on his clothes as you be, in my life. If it ain't fire it's bowie knives, and if it ain't bowie knives, it's buckshot."
"Boys will be boys, maw," soothed pap. "Breckinridge is jest full of life and high spirits, ain't you, Breckinridge?"
"From the whiff I got of his breath," snorted Elinor, "I'd say they is no doubt about the spirits."
"Right now I'm full of gloom and vain regrets," I says bitterly. "Culture is a flop on Bear Creek, and my confidence has been betrayed. I have tooken a sarpent with a British accent to my bosom and been bit. I stands knee-deep in the rooins of education and romance. Bear Creek lapses back into ignorance and barbarism and corn-licker, and I licks the wounds of unrequited love like a old wolf after a tussle with a pack of hound dawgs!"
"What you goin' to do?" ast pap, impressed.
"I'm headin' for War Paint," I said gloomily. "I ain't goin' to stay here and have the life rawhided outa me by Glory McGraw. It's a wonder to me she ain't been over already to gloat over my misery."
"You ain't got no money," says pap.
"I'll git me some," I said. "And I ain't particular how. I'm going now. I ain't goin' to wait for Glory McGraw to descend onto me with her derned sourcasm."
So I headed for War Paint as soon as I could wash the soot off of me. I had a Stetson I borrowed from Garfield and I jammed it down around my ears so my bald condition warn't evident, because I was awful sensitive about it.
Sundown found me some miles from the place where the trail crossed the Cougar Paw-Grizzly Run road, and jest before the sun dipped I was hailed by a pecooliar-looking gent.
He was tall and gangling--tall as me, but didn't weigh within a hundred pounds as much. His hands hung about three foot out of his sleeves, and his neck with a big adam's apple riz out of his collar like a crane's, and he had on a plug hat instead of a Stetson, and a long-tailed coat. He moreover sot his hoss like it was a see-saw, and his stirrups was so short his bony knees come up almost level with his shoulders. He wore his pants laigs down over his boots, and altogether he was the funniest-looking human I ever seen. Cap'n Kidd give a disgusted snort when he seen him and wanted to kick his bony old sorrel nag in the belly, but I wouldn't let him.
"Air you," said this apparition, p'inting a accusing finger at me, "air you Breckinridge Elkins, the bearcat of the Humbolts?"
"I'm Breckinridge Elkins," I replied suspiciously.
"I dedooced as much," he says ominously. "I have come a long ways to meet you, Elkins. They can be only one sun in the sky, my roarin' grizzly from the high ranges. They can be only one champeen in the State of Nevada. I'm him!"
"Oh, be you?" I says, scenting battle afar. "Well, I feels the same way about one sun and one champeen. You look a mite skinny and gantlin' to be makin' sech big talk, but far be it from me to deny you a tussle after you've come so far to git it. Light down from yore hoss whilst I mangles yore frame with a free and joyful spirit! They is nothin' I'll enjoy more'n uprootin' a few acres of junipers with yore carcass and festoonin' the crags with yore innards."
"You mistakes my meanin', my bloodthirsty friend," says he. "I warn't referrin' to mortal combat. Far as I'm consarned, yo're supreme in that line. Nay, nay, B. Elkins, esquire! Reserve yore personal ferocity for the b'ars and knife-fighters of yore native mountains. I challenges you in another department entirely.
"Look well, my bowie-wieldin' orang-outang of the high peaks. Fame is shakin' her mane. I am Jugbelly Judkins, and my talent is guzzlin'. From the live-oak grown coasts of the Gulf to the sun-baked buttes of Montana," says he oratorical, "I ain't yet met the gent I couldn't drink under the table betwixt sundown and sunup. I have met the most celebrated topers of plain and mountain, and they have all went down in inglorious and rum-soaked defeat. Afar off I heard men speak of you, praisin' not only yore genius in alterin' the features of yore feller man, but also laudin' yore capacity for corn-licker. So I have come to cast the ga'ntlet at yore feet, as it were."
"Oh," I says, "you wants a drinkin' match."
"'Wants' is a weak word, my murderous friend," says he. "I demands it."
"Well, come on," I said. "Le's head for War Paint then. They'll be plenty of gents there willin' to lay heavy bets--"
"To hell with filthy lucre!" snorted Jugbelly. "My mountainous friend, I am an artist. I cares nothin' for money. My reputation is what I upholds."
"Well, then," I said, "they's a tavern on Mustang Creek--"
"Let it rot," says he. "I scorns these vulgar displays in low inns and cheap taverns, my enormous friend. I supplies the sinews of war myself. Foller me!"
So he turnt his hoss off the trail, and I follered him through the bresh for maybe a mile, till he come to a small cave in a bluff with dense thickets all around. He reched into the cave and hauled out a gallon jug of licker.
"I hid a goodly supply of the cup that cheers in that cave," says he. "This is a good secluded spot where nobody never comes. We won't be interrupted here, my brawny but feeble-minded gorilla of the high ridges!"
"But what're we bettin'?" I demanded. "I ain't got no money. I was goin' down to War Paint and git me a job workin' somebody's claim for day-wages till I got me a stake and built it up playin' poker, but--"
"You wouldn't consider wagerin' that there gigantic hoss you rides?" says he, eyeing me very sharp.
"Never in the world," I says with a oath.
"Very well," says he. "Let the bets go. We battles for honor and glory alone! Let the carnage commence!"
So we started. First he'd take a gulp, and then me, and the jug was empty about the fourth gulp I taken, so he dragged out another'n, and we emptied it, and he hauled out another. They didn't seem to be no limit to his supply. He must of brought it there on a whole train of pack mules. I never seen a man drink like that skinny cuss. I watched the liquor careful, but he lowered it every time he taken a swig, so I knowed he warn't jest pertending. His belly expanded enormous as we went along and he looked very funny, with his skinny frame, and that there enormous belly bulging out his shirt till the buttons flew off of his coat.
I ain't goin' to tell you how much we drunk, because you wouldn't believe me. But by midnight the glade was covered with empty jugs and Jugbelly's arms was so tired lifting 'em he couldn't hardly move. But the moon and the glade and everything was dancing around and around to me, and he warn't even staggerring. He looked kind of pale and wan, and onst he says, in a awed voice: "I wouldn't of believed it if I hadn't saw it myself!" But he kept on drinking and so did I, because I couldn't believe a skinny maverick like that could lick me, and his belly kept getting bigger and bigger till I was scairt it was going to bust, and things kept spinning around me faster than ever.
After awhile I heard him muttering to hisself, away off: "This is the last jug, and if it don't fix him, nothin' will. By God, he ain't human."
That didn't make no sense to me, but he passed me the jug and said: "Air you capable, my gulf-bellied friend?"
"Gimme that jug!" I muttered, bracing my laigs and getting a firm hold of myself. I taken a big gulp--and then I didn't know nothing.
When I woke up the sun was high above the trees. Cap'n Kidd was cropping grass nearby, but Jugbelly was gone. So was his hoss and all the empty jugs. There warn't no sign to show he'd ever been there, only the taste in my mouth which I cain't describe because I am a gent and there is words no gent will stoop to use. I felt like kicking myself in the pants. I was ashamed something terrible at being beat by that skinny mutt. It was the first time I'd ever drunk enough to lay me out. I don't believe in a man making a hawg out of hisself, even in a good cause.
I saddled Cap'n Kidd and pulled out for War Paint, and stopped a few rods away and drunk five or six gallons of water at a spring, and felt a lot better. I started on again, but before I come to the trail, I heard somebody bawling and pulled up, and there sot a feller on a stump, crying like his heart would bust.
"What's the trouble?" I ast, and he blinked the tears out of his eyes and looked up mournful and melancholy. He was a scrawny cuss with over-sized whiskers.
"You beholds in me," says he sobfully, "a critter tossed on the crooel tides of fate. Destiny has dealt my hand from the bottom of the deck. Whoa is me!" says he, and wept bitterly.
"Buck up," I said. "Things might well be wuss. Dammit," I said, waxing irritable, "stop that blubberin' and tell me what's the matter. I'm Breckinridge Elkins. Maybe I can help you."
He swallered some sobs, and said: "You air a man of kind impulses and a noble heart. My name is Japhet Jalatin. In my youth I made a enemy of a wealthy, powerful and unscrupulous man. He framed me and sent me to the pen for somethin' I never done. I busted free and under a assumed name, I come West. By hard workin' I accumulated a tidy sum which I aimed to send to my sorrowin' wife and baby datters. But jest last night I learnt that I had been rekernized and the bloodhounds of the law was on my trail. I have got to skip to Mexico. My loved ones won't never git the dough.
"Oh," says he, "if they was only some one I could trust to leave it with till I could write 'em a letter and tell 'em where it was so they could send a trusted man after it! But I trust nobody. The man I left it with might tell where he got it, and then the bloodhounds of the law would be onto my trail again, houndin' me day and night."
He looked at me desperate, and says: "Young man, you got a kind and honest face. Won't _you_ take this here money and hold it for my wife, till she can come after it?"
"Yeah, I'll do that," I said. He jumped up and run to his hoss which was tied nearby, and hauled out a buckskin poke, and shoved it into my hands.
"Keep it till my wife comes for it," says he. "And promise me you won't never breathe a word of how you got it, except to her!"
"A Elkins never broke his word in his life," I said. "Wild hosses couldn't drag it outa me."
"Bless you, young man!" he cries, and grabbed my hand with both of his'n and pumped it up and down like a pump-handle, and then jumped on his hoss and fogged. I thought they is some curious people in the world, as I stuffed the poke in my saddle-bags and headed for War Paint again.
I thought I'd turn off to the Mustang Creek tavern and eat me some breakfast, but I hadn't much more'n hit the trail I'd been follerin' when I met Jugbelly, than I heard hosses behind me, and somebody hollered: "Stop, in the name of the law!"
I turnt around and seen a gang of men riding towards me, from the direction of Bear Creek, and there was the sheriff leading 'em, and right beside him was pap and Uncle John Garfield and Uncle Bill Buckner and Uncle Bearfield Gordon. A tenderfoot onst called them four men the patriarchs of Bear Creek. I dunno what he meant, but they generally decides argyments which has got beyond the public control, as you might say. Behind them and the sheriff come about thirty more men, most of which I rekernized as citizens of Chawed Ear, and therefore definitely not my friends. Also, to my surprise, I rekernized Wild Bill Donovan amongst 'em, with his thick black hair falling down to his shoulders. They was four other hard-looking strangers which rode clost beside him.
All the Chawed Ear men had sawed-off shotguns and that surprised me, because that made it look like maybe they was coming to arrest me, and I hadn't done nothing, except steal their schoolteacher, several weeks before, and if they'd meant to arrest me for that, they'd of tried it before now.
"There he is!" yelped the sheriff, p'inting at me. "Han's up!"
"Don't be a damn' fool!" roared pap, knocking his shotgun out of his hands as he started to raise it. "You want to git you and yore cussed posse slaughtered? Come here, Breckinridge," he said, and I rode up to them, some bewildered. I could see pap was worried. He scowled and tugged at his beard. My uncles didn't have no more expression onto their faces than so many red Injuns.
"What the hell's all this about?" I ast.
"Take off yore hat," ordered the sheriff.
"Look here, you long-legged son of a mangy skunk," I said heatedly, "if yo're tryin' to rawhide me, lemme tell you right now--"
"'Tain't a joke," growled pap. "Take off yore sombrero."
I done so bewilderedly, and instantly four men in the gang started hollering: "That's him! That's the man! He had on a mask, but when he taken his hat off, we seen the hair was all off his head! That's shore him!"
"Elkins," said the sheriff, "I arrests you for the robbery of the Chawed Ear stage!"
I convulsively went for my guns. It was jest a instinctive move which I done without knowing it, but the sheriff hollered and ducked, and the possemen throwed up their guns, and pap spurred in between us.
"Put down them guns, everybody!" he roared, covering me with one six-shooter and the posse with the other'n. "First man that pulls a trigger, I'll salivate him!"
"I ain't aimin' to shoot nobody!" I bellered. "But what the hell is this all about?"
"As if he didn't know!" sneered one of the posse. "Tryin' to ack innercent! Heh heh heh--_glup!"_
Pap riz in his stirrups and smashed him over the head with his right-hand six-shooter barrel, and he crumpled into the trail and laid there with the blood oozing out of his sculp.
"Anybody else feel humorous?" roared pap, sweeping the posse with a terrible eye. Evidently nobody did, so he turnt around and says to me, and I seen drops of perspiration standing on his face which warn't caused altogether by the heat. Says he: "Breckinridge, early last night the Chawed Ear stage was stuck up and robbed a few miles t'other side of Chawed Ear. The feller which done it not only taken the passengers' money and watches and things, and the mail sack, but he also shot the driver, old Jim Harrigan, jest out of pure cussedness. Old Jim's layin' over in Chawed Ear now with a bullet through his laig.
"These born fools thinks you done it! They was on Bear Creek before daylight--the first time a posse ever dared to come onto Bear Creek, and it was all me and yore uncles could do to keep the boys from massacrein, 'em. Bear Creek was sure wrought up. These mavericks," pap p'inted a finger of scorn at the four men which had claimed to identify me, "was on the stage. You know Ned Ashley, Chawed Ear's leadin' merchant. The others air strangers. They say their names is Hurley, Jackson and Slade. They claim to lost considerable money."
"We done that!" clamored Jackson. "I had a buckskin poke crammed full of gold pieces the scoundrel taken. I tell you, that's the man which done it!" He p'inted at me, and pap turnt to Ned Ashley, and said: "Ned, what do you say?"
"Well, Bill," says Ashley reluctantly, "I hates to say it, but I don't see who else it could of been. The robber was Breckinridge's size, all right, and you know they ain't many men that big. He warn't ridin' Cap'n Kidd, of course; he was ridin' a big bay mare. He had on a mask, but as he rode off he taken off his hat, and we all seen his head in the moonlight. The hair was all off of it, jest like it is Breckinridge's. Not like he was naturally bald, but like it had been burnt off or shaved off recent."
"Well," says the sheriff, "unless he can prove a alibi I'll have to arrest him."
"Breckinridge," says pap, "whar was you last night?"
"I was layin' out in the woods drunk," I says.
I felt a aidge of doubt in the air.
"I didn't know you could drink enough to git drunk," says pap. "It ain't like you, anyway. What made you? Was it thinkin' about that gal?"
"Naw," I said. "I met a gent in a plug hat named Jugbelly Judkins and he challenged me to a drinkin' match."
"Did you win?" ast pap anxiously.
"Naw!" I confessed in bitter shame. "I lost."
Pap muttered disgustedly in his beard, and the sheriff says: "Can you perduice this Judkins _hombre?"_
"I dunno where he went," I said. "He'd pulled out when I woke up."
"Very inconvenient, I says!" says Wild Bill Donovan, running his fingers lovingly through his long black locks, and spitting.
"Who ast you yore opinion?" I snarled blood-thirstily. "What you doin' in the Humbolts? Come back to try to git even for Cap'n Kidd?"
"I forgot that trifle long ago," says he. "I holds no petty grudge. I jest happened to be ridin' the road this side of Chawed Ear when the posse come by and I come with 'em jest to see the fun."
"You'll see more fun than you can tote home if you fool with me," I promised.
"Enough of this," snorted pap. "Breckinridge, even I got to admit yore alibi sounds kind of fishy. A critter named Jugbelly with a plug hat! It sounds plumb crazy. Still and all, we'll look for this cussed maverick, and if we find him and he establishes whar you was last night, why--"
"He put my gold in his saddle-bags!" clamored Jackson. "I seen him! That's the same saddle! Look in them bags and I bet you'll find it!"
"Go ahead and look," I invited, and the sheriff went up to Cap'n Kidd very gingerly, whilst I restrained Cap'n Kidd from kicking his brains out. He run his hand in the bags and I'll never forget the look on pap's face when the sheriff hauled out that buckskin poke Japhet Jalatin had give me. I'd forgot all about it.
"How you explain _this_?" exclaimed the sheriff. I said nothing. A Elkins never busts his word, not even if he hangs for it.
"It's mine!" hollered Jackson. "You'll find my initials worked onto it! J.J., for Judah Jackson."
"There they air," announced the sheriff. "J.J. That's for Judah Jackson, all right."
"They don't stand for that!" I roared. "They stand for--" Then I stopped. I couldn't tell him they stood for Japhet Jalatin without breaking my word and giving away Japhet's secret.
"'Tain't his'n," I growled. "I didn't steal it from nobody."
"Then where'd you git it?" demanded the sheriff.
"None of yore business," I said sullenly.
Pap spurred forwards, and I seen beads of sweat on his face.
"Well, say somethin', damn it!" he roared. "Don't jest set there! No Elkins was ever accused of thievin' before, but if you done it, say so! I demands that you tells me whar you got that gold! If you didn't take it off'n the stage, why don't you say so?"
"I cain't tell you," I muttered.
"Hell's fire!" bellered pap. "Then you must of robbed that stage! What a black shame onto Bear Creek this here is! But these town-folks ain't goin' to haul you off to their cussed jail, even if you did turn thief! Jest come out plain and tell me you done it, and we'll lick the whole cussed posse if necessary!"
I seen my uncles behind him drawing in and cocking their Winchesters, but I was too dizzy with the way things was happening to think straight about anything.
"I never robbed the cussed stage!" I roared. "I cain't tell you where I got that gold--but I didn't rob the gol-derned stage."
"So yo're a liar as well as a thief!" says pap, drawing back from me like I was a reptile. "To think it should come to this! From this day onwards," he says, shaking his fist in my face, "you ain't no son of mine! I disowns you! When they lets you out of the pen, don't you come sneakin' back to Bear Creek! Us folks there if is rough and ready; we kyarves and shoots each other free and frequent; but no Bear Creek man ever yet stole nor lied. I could forgive the thievin', maybe, maybe even the shootin' of pore old Jim Harrigan. But I cain't forgive a lie. Come on, boys."
And him and my uncles turnt around and rode back up the trail towards Bear Creek with their eyes straight ahead of 'em and their backs straight as ramrods. I glared after 'em wildly, feeling like the world was falling to pieces. It war the first time in my life I'd ever knowed Bear Creek folks to turn their backs on a Bear Creek man.
"Well, come along," said the sheriff, and started to hand the poke to Jackson, when I come alive. I warn't going to let Japhet Jalatin's wife spend the rest of her life in poverty if I could help it. I made one swoop and grabbed the poke out of his hand and simultaneous drove in the spurs. Cap'n Kidd made one mighty lunge and knocked Jackson and his hoss sprawling and went over them and into the bresh whilst them fool posse-men was fumbling with their guns. They was a lot of cussing and yelling behind me and some shooting, but we was out of sight of them in a instant, and I went crashing on till I hit a creek I knowed was there. I jumped off and grabbed a big rock which was in the bed of the creek, with about three foot of water around it--jest the top stuck out above the water. I grabbed it and lifted it, and stuck the poke down under it, and let the rock back down again. It was safe here. Nobody'd ever suspect it was hid there, and it was a cinch nobody was going to be lifting the rock jest for fun and find the gold accidental. It weighed about as much as the average mule.
Cap'n Kidd bolted off through the woods as the posse come crashing through the bresh, yelling like Injuns, and they throwed down their shotguns on me as I clumb up the bank, dripping wet.
"Catch that hoss!" yelled the sheriff. "The gold's in the saddle- bags!"
"You'll never catch that hoss," opined Wild Bill Donovan. "I know him of old."
"Maybe Elkins is got the gold on him!" hollered Jackson. "Search him!"
I didn't make no resistance as the sheriff taken my guns and snapped a exter heavy pair of hand-cuffs onto my wrists. I was still kind of numb from having pap and my uncles walk out on me like that. All I'd been able to think of up to then was to hide the gold, and when that was hid my brain wouldn't work no further.
"Elkins ain't got it on him!" snarled the sheriff, after slapping my pockets. "Go after that hoss! Shoot him if you cain't catch him."
"No use for that," I says. "It ain't in the saddle-bags. I hid it where you won't never find it."
"Look in all the holler trees!" says Jackson, and added viciously: "We might _make_ him talk."
"Shet up," said the sheriff. "Anything _you_ could do to him would jest make him mad. He's actin' tame and gentle now. But he's got a broodin' gleam in his eye. Le's git him in jail before he gits a change of heart and starts remodellin' the landscape with the posse's carcasses."
"I'm a broken man," I says mournfully. "My own clan has went back on me, and I got no friends. Take me to jail if you wanta! All places is dreary for a man whose kin has disown him."
So we went to Chawed Ear.
One of the fellers who was riding a big strong hoss lemme have his'n, and the posse closed around me with their shotguns p'inting at me, and we headed out.
It was after dark when we got to Chawed Ear, but everybody was out in the streets to see the posse bring me in. They warn't no friendly faces in that crowd. I'd been very onpopular in Chawed Ear ever since I stole their schoolteacher. I looked for old Joshua Braxton, but somebody said he was off on a prospecting trip.
They stopped at a log-hut clost to the jail, and some men was jest getting through working onto it.
"That there," says the sheriff, "is yore private jail. We built it special for you. As soon as word come last night that you'd robbed the stage, I set fifteen men buildin' that jail, and they're jest now gittin' through."
Well, I didn't think anybody could build anything in a night and a day which could hold me, but I didn't have no thought of trying to break out. I didn't have the heart. All I could think of was the way pap and my uncles had rode off and left me disowned and arrested.
I went in like he told me, and sot down on the bunk, and heard 'em barring the door on the outside. They was fellers holding torches outside, and the light come in at the winder so I could see it was a good strong jail. They was jest one room, with a door towards the town and a winder in the other side. It had a floor made out of logs, and the roof and walls was made out of heavy logs, and they was a big log at each corner sot in concrete, which was something new in them mountains, and the concrete wasn't dry yet. The bars in the winder was thick as a man's wrist, and drove clean through the sill and lintel logs and the ends clinched, and chinks betwixt the logs was tamped in with concrete. The door was made outa sawed planks four inches thick and braced with iron, and the hinges was big iron pins working in heavy iron sockets, and they was a big lock onto the door and three big bars made outa logs sot in heavy iron brackets.
Everybody outside was jammed around the winder trying to look in at me, but I put my head in my hands and paid no attention to 'em. I was trying to think but everything kept going round and round. Then the sheriff chased everybody away except them he told off to stay there and guard the jail, and he put his head to the bars and said: "Elkins, it'll go easier with you, maybe, if you'll tell us where you hid that there gold."
"When I do," I said gloomily, "there'll be ice in hell thick enough for the devil to skate on."
"All right," he snapped. "If you want to be stubborn. You'll git twenty years for this, or I miss my guess."
"Gwan," I said, "and leave me to my misery. What's a prison term to a man which has jest been disowned by his own blood-kin?"
He pulled back from the winder and I heard him say to somebody: "It ain't no use. Them Bear Creek devils are the most uncivilized white men I ever seen in my life. You cain't do nothin' with one of 'em. I'm goin' to send some men back to look for the gold around that creek we found him climbin' out of. I got a idee he hid it in a holler tree somewheres. He's that much like a b'ar. Likely he hid it and then run and got in the creek jest to throw us off the scent. Thought he'd make us think he hid it on t'other side of the creek. I bet he hid it in a tree this side somewheres.
"I'm goin' to git some food and some sleep. I didn't git to bed at all last night. You fellers watch him clost, and if folks git too rambunctious around the jail, call me quick."
"Ain't nobody around the jail now," said a familiar voice.
"I know," says the sheriff. "They're back in town lickerin' up at all the bars. But Elkins is got plenty of enemies here, and they ain't no tellin' what might bust loose before mornin'."
I heard him leave, and then they was silence, except for some men whispering off somewheres nearby but talking too low for me to make out what they was saying. I could hear noises coming from the town, snatches of singing, and a occasional yell, but no pistol-shooting like they usually is. The jail was on the aidge of town, and the winder looked in the other direction, acrost a narrer clearing with thick woods bordering it.
Purty soon a man come and stuck his head up to the winder and I seen by the starlight that it was Wild Bill Donovan.
"Well, Elkins," says he, "you think you've finally found a jail which can hold you?"
"What you doin' hangin' around here?" I muttered.
He patted his shotgun and said: "Me and four of my friends has been app'inted special guards. But I tell you what I'll do. I hate to see a man down and out like you be, and booted out by his own family and shore to do at least fifteen years in the pen. You tell me where you hid that there gold, and give me Cap'n Kidd, and I'll contrive to let you escape before mornin'. I got a fast hoss hid out there in the thickets, right over yonder, see? You can fork that hoss and be gone outa the country before the sheriff could catch you. All you got to do is give me Cap'n Kidd, and that gold. What you say?"
"I wouldn't give you Cap'n Kidd," I said, "not if they was goin' to hang me."
"Well," he sneered, "'tain't none too shore they ain't. They's plenty of rope-law talk in town tonight. Folks are purty well wrought up over you shootin' old Jim Harrigan."
"I didn't shoot him, damn yore soul!" I said.
"You'll have a hell of a time provin' it," says he, and turnt around and walked around towards the other end of the jail with his shotgun under his arm.
Well, I dunno how long I sot there with my head in my hands and jest suffered. Noises from the town seemed dim and far off. I didn't care if they come and lynched me before morning, I was that low- spirited. I would of bawled if I could of worked up enough energy, but I was too low for that even.
Then somebody says: "Breckinridge!" and I looked up and seen Glory McGraw looking in at the winder with the rising moon behind her.
"Go ahead and t'ant me," I said numbly. "Everything else has happened to me. You might as well, too."
"I ain't goin' to t'ant you!" she said fiercely. "I come here to help you, and I aim to, no matter what you says!"
"You better not let Donovan see you talkin' to me," I says.
"I done seen him," she said. "He didn't want to let me come to the winder, but I told him I'd go to the sheriff for permission if he didn't, so he said he'd let me talk ten minutes. Listen: did he offer to help you escape if you'd do somethin' for him?"
"Yeah," I said. "Why?"
She ground her teeth slightly.
"I thought so!" says she. "The dirty rat! I come through the woods, and snuck on foot the last few hundred feet to git a look at the jail before I come out in the open. They's a hoss tied out there in the thickets and a man hidin' behind a log right nigh it with a sawed-off shotgun. Donovan's always hated you, ever since you taken Cap'n Kidd away from him. He aimed to git you shot whilst tryin' to escape. When I seen that ambush I jest figgered on somethin' like that."
"How'd you git here?" I ast, seeing she seemed to really mean what she said about helping me.
"I follered the posse and yore kinfolks when they came down from Bear Creek," she said. "I kept to the bresh on my pony, and was within hearin' when they stopped you on the trail. After everybody had left I went and caught Cap'n Kidd, and--"
"_You_ caught Cap'n Kidd!" I said in dumbfoundment.
"Certainly," says she. "Hosses has frequently got more sense than men. He'd come back to the creek where he'd saw you last and looked like he was plumb broken-hearted because he couldn't find you. I turnt the pony loose and started him home, and I come on to Chawed Ear on Cap'n Kidd."
"Well, I'm a saw-eared jackrabbit!" I said helplessly.
"Hosses knows who their friends is," says she. "Which is more'n I can say for some men. Breckinridge, pull out of this! Tear this blame jail apart and le's take to the hills! Cap'n Kidd's waitin' out there behind that big clump of oaks. They'll never catch you!"
"I ain't got the strength, Glory," I said helplessly. "My strength has oozed out of me like licker out of a busted jug. What's the use to bust jail, even if I could? I'm a marked man, and a broken man. My own kin has throwed me down. I got no friends."
"You have, too!" she said fiercely. "_I_ ain't throwed you down. I'm standin' by you till hell freezes!"
"But folks thinks I'm a thief and a liar!" I says, about ready to weep.
"What I care what they thinks?" says she. "If you _was_ all them things, I'd still stand by you! But you ain't, and I know it!"
For a second I couldn't see her because my sight got blurry, but I groped and found her hand tense on the winder bar, and I said: "Glory, I dunno what to say. I been a fool, and thought hard things about you, and--"
"Forgit it," says she. "Listen: if you won't bust out of here, we got to prove to them fools that you didn't rob that stage. And we got to do it quick, because them strangers Hurley and Jackson and Slade air in town circulatin' around through the bars and stirrin' them fool Chawed Ear folks up to lynchin' you. A mob's liable to come bustin' out of town any minute. Won't you tell me where you got that there gold they found in yore saddle-bags? _I_ know you never stole it, but if you was to tell me, it might help us."
I shaken my head helplessly.
"I cain't tell you," I said. "Not even you. I promised not to. A Elkins cain't break his word."
"Ha!" says she. "Listen: did some stranger meet you and give you that poke of gold to give to his starvin' wife and chillern, and make you promise not to tell nobody where you got it, because his life was in danger?"
"Why, how'd you know?" I exclaimed in amazement.
"So that _was_ it!" she exclaimed, jumping up and down in her excitement. "How'd I know? Because I know you, you big bone-headed mush-hearted chump! Lissen: don't you see how they worked you? This was a put-up job.
"Jugbelly got you off and made you drink so's you'd be outa the way and couldn't prove no alibi. Then somebody that looked like you robbed the stage and shot old man Harrigan in the laig jest to make the crime wuss. Then this feller what's-his-name give you the money so they'd find it onto you!"
"It looks sensible!" I said dizzily.
"It's bound to be!" says she. "Now all we got to do is find Jugbelly and the feller which give you the gold, and the bay mare the robber rode. But first we got to find a man which has got it in for you enough to frame you like that."
"That's a big order," I says. "Nevada's full of gents which would give their eye-teeth to do me a injury."
"A big man," she mused. "Big enough to be mistook for you, with his head shaved, and ridin' a big bay mare. Hmmmmm! A man which hates you enough to do anything to you, and is got sense enough to frame somethin' like this!"
And jest then Wild Bill Donovan come around the corner of the jail with his shotgun under his arm.
"You've talked to that jail-bird long enough, gal," he says. "You better pull out. The noise is gettin' louder all the time in town, and it wouldn't surprise me to see quite a bunch of folks comin' to the jail before long--with a necktie for yore friend there."
"And I bet you'll plumb risk yore life defendin' him," she sneered.
He laughed and taken off his sombrero and run his fingers through his thick black locks.
"I don't aim to git none of my valuable gore spilt over a stagecoach robber," says he. "But I like yore looks, gal. Why you want to waste yore time with a feller like that when they is a man like me around, I dunno! His head looks like a peeled onion! The hair won't never git no chance to grow out, neither, 'cause he's goin' to git strung up before it has time. Whyn't you pick out a handsome _hombre_ like me, which has got a growth of hair as is hair?"
"He got his hair burnt off tryin' to save a human life," says she. "Somethin' that ain't been said of you, you big monkey!"
"Haw haw haw!" says he. "Ain't you got the spunk, though! That's the way I like gals."
"You might not like me so much," says she suddenly, "if I told you I'd found that big bay mare you rode last night!"
He started like he was shot and blurted out: "Yo're lyin'! Nobody could find her where I hid her--"
He checked hisself sudden, but Glory give a yelp.
"_I thought so!_ It was you!" And before he could stop her she grabbed his black locks and yanked. And his sculp come off in her hands and left his head as bare as what mine was!
"A wig jest like I thought!" she shrieked. "You robbed that stage! You shaved yore head to look like Breckinridge--" He grabbed her and clapped his hand over her mouth, and yelped: "Joe! Tom! Buck!" And at the sight of Glory struggling in his grasp I snapped them handcuffs like they was rotten cords and laid hold of them winder bars and tore 'em out. The logs they was sot in split like kindling wood and I come smashing through that winder like a b'ar through a chicken coop. Donovan let go of Glory and grabbed up his shotgun to blow my head off, but she grabbed the barrel and throwed all her weight onto it, so he couldn't bring it to bear on me, and my feet hit the ground jest as three of his pals come surging around the corner of the jail.
They was so surprised to see me out, and going so fast they couldn't stop and they run right into me and I gathered 'em to my bosom and you ought to of heard the bones crack and snap. I jest hugged the three of 'em together onst and then throwed 'em in all direction like a b'ar ridding hisself of a pack of hounds. Two of 'em fractured their skulls agen the jail-house and t'other broke his laig on a stump.
Meanwhile Donovan had let loose of his shotgun and run for the woods and Glory scrambled up onto her feet with the shotgun and let _bam_ at him, but he was so far away by that time all she done was sting his hide with the shot. But he hollered tremendous jest the same. I started to run after him, but Glory grabbed me.
"He's headed for that hoss I told you about!" she panted. "Git Cap'n Kidd! We'll have to be a-hoss-back if we catch him!"
_Bang!_ went a shotgun in the thickets, and Donovan's maddened voice yelled: "Stop that, you cussed fool! This ain't Elkins! It's me! The game's up! We got to shift!"
"Lemme ride with you!" hollered another voice, which I reckoned was the feller Donovan had planted to shoot me if I agreed to try to escape. "My hoss is on the other side of the jail!"
"Git off, blast you!" snarled Donovan. "This boss won't carry double!" _Wham!_ I jedged he'd hit his pal over the head with his six- shooter. "I owe you that for fillin' my hide with buckshot, you blame fool!" Donovan roared as he went crashing off into the bresh.
By this time we'd reched the oaks Cap'n Kidd was tied behind, and I swung up into the saddle and Glory jumped up behind me.
"I'm goin' with you!" says she. "Don't argy! Git, goin'!"
I headed for the thickets Donovan had disappeared into, and jest inside of 'em we seen a feller sprawled on the ground with a shotgun in his hand and his sculp split open. Even in the midst of my righteous wrath I had a instant of ca'm and serene joy as I reflected that Donovan had got sprinkled with buckshot by the feller who evidently mistook him for me. The deeds of the wicked sure do return onto 'em.
Donovan had took straight out through the bresh, and left gaps in the bushes a blind man could foller. We could hear his hoss crashing through the timber ahead of us, and then purty soon the smashing stopped but we could hear the hoofs lickety-split on hard ground, so I knowed he'd come out into a path, and purty soon so did we. Moonlight hit down into it, but it was winding so we couldn't see very far ahead, but the hoof-drumming warn't pulling away from us, and we knowed we was closing in onto him. He was riding a fast critter but I knowed Cap'n Kidd would run it off its fool laigs within the next mile.
Then we seen a small clearing ahead and a cabin in it with candle- light coming through the winders, and Donovan busted out of the trees and jumped off his hoss which bolted into the bresh. Donovan run to the door and yelled: "Lemme in, you damn' fools! The game's up and Elkins is right behind me!"
The door opened and he fell in onto his all-fours and yelled: "Shet the door and bolt it! I don't believe even he can bust it down!" And somebody else hollered: "Blow out the candles! There he is at the aidge of the trees."
Guns began to crack and bullets whizzed past me, so I backed Cap'n Kidd back into cover and jumped off and picked up a big log which warn't rotten yet, and run out of the clearing and made towards the door. This surprised the men in the cabin, and only one man shot at me and he hit the log. The next instant I hit the door--or rather I hit the door with the log going full clip and the door splintered and ripped offa the hinges and crashed inwards, and three or four men got pinned under it and yelled bloody murder.
I lunged into the cabin over the rooins of the door and the candles was all out, but a little moonlight streamed in and showed me three or four vague figgers before me. They was all shooting at me but it was so dark in the cabin they couldn't see to aim good and only nicked me in a few unimportant places. So I went for them and got both arms full of human beings and started sweeping the floor with 'em. I felt several fellers underfoot because they hollered when I tromped on 'em, and every now and then I felt somebody's head with my foot and give it a good rousing kick. I didn't know who I had hold of because the cabin was so full of gunpowder smoke by this time that the moon didn't do much good. But none of the fellers was big enough to be Donovan, and them I stomped on didn't holler like him, so I started clearing house by heaving 'em one by one through the door, and each time I throwed one they was a resounding _whack!_ outside that I couldn't figger out till I realized that Glory was standing outside with a club and knocking each one in the head as he come out.
Then the next thing I knowed the cabin was empty, except for me and a figger which was dodging back and forth in front of me trying to get past me to the door. So I laid hands onto it and heaved it up over my head and started to throw it through the door when it hollered: "Quarter, my titanic friend, quarter! I surrenders and demands to be treated as a prisoner of war!"
"_Jugbelly Judkins!"_ I says.
"The same," says he, "or what's left of him!"
"Come out here where I can talk to you!" I roared, and groped my way out of the door with him. As I emerged I got a awful lick over the head, and then Glory give a shriek like a stricken elk.
"Oh, Breckinridge!" she wailed. "I didn't know it war you!"
"Never mind!" I says, brandishing my victim before her. "I got my alerbi right here by the neck! _Jugbelly Judkins_," I says sternly, clapping him onto his feet and waving a enormous fist under his snoot, "if you values yore immortal soul, speak up and tell where I was all last night!"
"Drinkin' licker with me a mile off the Bear Creek trail," gasps he, staring wildly about at the figgers which littered the ground in front of the cabin. "I confesses all! Lead me to the bastile! My sins has catched up with me. I'm a broken man. Yet I am but a tool in the hands of a master mind, same as these misguided sons of crime which lays there--"
"One of 'em's tryin' to crawl off," quoth Glory, fetching the aforesaid critter a clout on the back of the neck with her club. He fell on his belly and howled in a familiar voice.
I started vi'lently and bent over to look close at him.
"Japhet Jalatin!" I hollered. "You cussed thief, you lied to me about yore wife starvin'!"
"If he told you he had a wife it was a gross understatement," says Jugbelly. "He's got three that I know of, includin' a Piute squaw, a Mexican woman, and a Chinee gal in San Francisco. But to the best of my knowledge they're all fat and hearty."
"I have been took for a cleanin' proper," I roared, gnashing my teeth. "I've been played for a sucker! My trustin' nature has been tromped on! My faith in humanity is soured! Nothin' but blood can wipe out I this here infaminy!"
"Don't take it out on us," begged Japhet. "It war all Donovan's idee."
"Where's he?" I yelled, glaring around.
"Knowin' his nature as I does," said Judkins, working his jaw to see if it was broke in more'n one place, "I would sejest that he snuck out the back door whilst the fightin' was goin' on, and is now leggin' it for the corral he's got hid in the thicket behind the cabin, where he secreted the bay mare he rode the night he held up the stagecoach."
Glory pulled a pistol out of one of 'em's belt which he'd never got a chance to use, and she says: "Go after him, Breck. I'll take care of these coyotes!"
I taken one look at the groaning rooins on the ground, and decided she could all right, so I whistled to Cap'n Kidd, and he come, for a wonder. I forked him and headed for the thicket behind the cabin and jest as I done so I seen Donovan streaking it out the other side on a big bay mare. The moon made everything as bright as day.
"Stop and fight like a man, you mangy polecat!" I thundered, but he made no reply except to shoot at me with his six-shooter, and seeing I ignored this, he spurred the mare which he was riding bareback and headed for the high hills.
She was a good mare, but she didn't have a chance agen Cap'n Kidd. We was only a few hundred feet behind and closing in fast when Donovan busted out onto a bare ridge which overlooked a valley. He looked back and seen I was going to ride him down within the next hundred yards, and he jumped offa the mare and taken cover behind a pine which stood by itself a short distance from the aidge of the bresh. They warn't no bushes around it, and to rech him I'd of had to cross a open space in the moonlight, and every time I come out of the bresh he shot at me. So I kept in the aidge of the bresh and unslung my lariat and roped the top of the pine, and sot Cap'n Kid agen it with all his lungs and weight, and tore it up by the roots.
When it fell and left Donovan without no cover he run for the rim of the valley, but I jumped down and grabbed a rock about the size of a man's head and throwed it at him, and hit him jest above the knee on the hind laig. He hit the ground rolling and throwed away both of his six-shooters and hollered: "Don't shoot! I surrenders!"
I quiled my lariat and come up to where he was laying, and says: "Cease that there disgustin' belly-achin'. You don't hear _me_ groanin' like that, do you?"
"Take me to a safe, comfortable jail," says he. "I'm a broken man. My soul is full of remorse and my hide is full of buckshot. My laig is broke and my spirit is crushed. Where'd you git the cannon you shot me with?"
"'Twarn't no cannon," I said with dignity. "I throwed a rock at you."
"But the tree fell!" he says wildly. "Don't tell me you didn't do _that_ with artillery!"
"I roped it and pulled it down," I said, and he give a loud groan and sunk back on the ground, and I said: "Pardon me if I seems to tie yore hands behind yore back and put you acrost Cap'n Kidd. Likely they'll set yore laig at Chawed Ear if you remember to remind 'em about it."
He said nothin' except to groan loud and lusty all the way back to the cabin, and when we got there Glory had tied all them scoundrels' hands behind 'em, and they'd all come to and was groaning in chorus. I found a corral near the house full of their hosses, so I saddled 'em and put them critters onto 'em, and tied their laigs to their stirrups. Then I tied the hosses head to tail, all except one I saved for Glory, and we headed for Chawed Ear.
"What you aimin' to do now, Breck?" she ast as we pulled out.
"I'm goin' to take these critters back to Chawed Ear," I said fiercely, "and make 'em make their spiel to the sheriff and the folks. But my triumph is dust and ashes into my mouth, when I think of the way my folks has did me."
There warn't nothing for her to say; she was a Bear Creek woman. She knowed how Bear Creek folks felt.
"This here night's work," I said bitterly, "has learnt me who my friends is--and ain't. If it warn't for you these thieves would be laughin' up their sleeves at me whilst I rotted in jail."
"I wouldn't never go back on you when you was in trouble, Breck," she says, and I says: "I know that now. I had you all wrong."
We was nearing the town with our groaning caravan strung out behind us, when through the trees ahead of us, we seen a blaze of torches in the clearing around the jail, and men on hosses, and a dark mass of humanity swaying back and forth. Glory pulled up.
"It's the mob, Breck!" says she, with a catch in her throat. "They'll never listen to you. They're crazy mad like mobs always is. They'll shoot you down before you can tell 'em anything. Wait--"
"I waits for nothin'," I said bitterly. "I takes these coyotes in and crams them down the mob's throat! I makes them cussed fools listen to my exoneration. And then I shakes the dust of the Humbolts offa my boots and heads for foreign parts. When a man's kin lets him down, it's time for him to travel."
"_Look there!"_ exclaimed Glory.
We had come out of the trees, and we stopped short at the aidge of the clearing, in the shadder of some oaks.
The mob was there, all right, with torches and guns and ropes-- backed up agen the jail with their faces as pale as dough and their knees plumb knocking together. And facing 'em, on hosses, with guns in their hands, I seen pap and every fighting man on Bear Creek! Some of 'em had torches, and they shone on the faces of more Elkinses, Garfields, Gordons, Kirbys, Grimeses, Buckners, and Polks than them Chawed Ear misfits ever seen together at one time. Some of them men hadn't never been that far away from Bear Creek before in their lives. But they was all there now. Bear Creek had sure come to Chawed Ear.
"Whar is he, you mangy coyotes?" roared pap, brandishing his rifle. "What you done with him? I war a fool and a dog, desertin' my own flesh and blood to you polecats! I don't care if he's a thief or a liar, or what! A Bear Creek man ain't made to rot in a blasted town- folks jail! I come after him and I aim to take him back, alive or dead! And if you've kilt him, I aim to burn Chawed Ear to the ground and kill every able-bodied man in her! _Whar is he, damn yore souls?_"
"I swear we don't know!" panted the sheriff, pale and shaking. "When I heard the mob was formin' I come as quick as I could, and got here by the time they did, but all we found was the jail winder tore out like you see, and three men layin' senseless here and another'n out there in the thicket. They was the guards, but they ain't come to yet to tell us what happened. We was jest startin' to look for Elkins when you come, and--"
"Don't look no farther!" I roared, riding into the torch-light. "Here I be!"
"Breckinridge!" says pap. "Whar you been? Who's that with you?"
"Some gents which has got a few words to say to the assemblage," I says, drawing my string of captives into the light of the torches. Everybody gaped at 'em, and I says: "I interjuices you to Mister Jugbelly Judkins. He's the slickest word-slingin' sharp I ever seen, so I reckon it oughta be him which does the spielin'. He ain't got on his plug-hat jest now, but he ain't gagged. Speak yore piece, Jugbelly."
"Honest confession is good for the soul," says he. "Lemme have the attention of the crowd, whilst I talks myself right into the penitentiary." You could of heard a pin drop when he commenced.
"Donovan had brooded a long time about failin' to take Cap'n Kidd away from Elkins," says he. "He laid his plans careful and long to git even with Elkins without no risk to hisself. This was a job which taken plenty of caution and preparation. He got a gang of versatile performers together--the cream of the illegal crop, if I do say so myself.
"Most of us kept hid in that cabin back up in the hills, from which Elkins recently routed us. From there he worked out over the whole country--Donovan, I mean. One mornin' he run into Elkins at the Mustang Creek tavern. He overheard Elkins say he was broke, also that he was goin' back to Bear Creek and was aimin' to return to War Paint late that evenin'. All this, and Elkins' singed sculp, give him a idee how to work what he'd been plannin'.
"He sent me to meet Elkins and git him drunk and keep him out in the hills all night. Then I was to disappear, so Elkins couldn't prove no alibi. Whilst we was drinkin' up there, Donovan went and robbed the stage. He had his head shaved so's to make him look like Elkins, of course, and he shot old Jim Harrigan jest to inflame the citizens.
"Hurley and Jackson and Slade was his men. The gold Jackson had on him really belonged to Donovan. Donovan, as soon as he'd robbed the stage, he give the gold to Jalatin who lit out for the place where me and Elkins was boozin'. Then Donovan beat it for the cabin and hid the bay mare and put on his wig to hide his shaved head, and got on another hoss, and started sa'ntering along the Cougar Paw-Grizzly Run road--knowin' a posse would soon be headin' for Bear Creek.
"Which it was, as soon as the stage got in. Hurley and Jackson and Slade swore they'd knowed Elkins in Yavapai, and rekernized him as the man which robbed the stage. Ashley and Harrigan warn't ready to say for sure, but thought the robber looked like him. But you Chawed Ear gents know about that--as soon as you heard about the robbery you started buildin' yore special jail, and sent a posse to Bear Creek, along with Ashley and them three fakes that claimed to of rekernized Elkins. On the way you met Donovan, jest like he planned, and he jined you.
"But meanwhile, all the time, me and Elkins was engaged in alcoholic combat, till he passed out, long after midnight. Then I taken the jugs and hid 'em, and pulled out for the cabin to hide till I could sneak outa the country. Jalatin got there jest as I was leavin', and he waited till Elkins sobered up the next momin', and told him a sob story about havin' a wife in poverty, and give him the gold to give to her, and made him promise not to tell nobody where he got it. Donovan knowed the big grizzly wouldn't bust his word, if it was to save his neck even.
"Well, as you all know, the posse didn't find Elkins on Bear Creek. So they started out lookin' for him, with his pap and some of his uncles, and met him jest comin' out into the trail from the place where me and him had our famous boozin' bout. Imejitly Slade, Hurley and Jackson begun yellin' he was the man, and they was backed by Ashley which is a honest man but really thought Elkins was the robber, when he seen that nude skull. Donovan planned to git Elkins shot while attemptin' to escape. And the rest is now history--war-history, I might say."
"Well spoke, Jugbelly," I says, dumping Donovan off my hoss at the sheriff's feet. "That's the story, and you-all air stuck with it. My part of the game's done did, and I washes my hands of it."
"We done you a big injestice, Elkins," says the sheriff. "But how was we to know--"
"Forget it," I says, and then pap rode up. Us Bear Creek folks don't talk much, but we says plenty in a few words.
"I was wrong, Breckinridge," he says gruffly, and that said more'n most folks could mean in a long-winded speech. "For the first time in my life," he says, "I admits I made a mistake. But," says he, "the only fly in the 'intment is the fack that a Elkins was drunk off'n his feet by a specimen like that!" And he p'inted a accusing finger at Jugbelly Judkins.
"I alone have come through the adventure with credit," admitted Jugbelly modestly. "A triumph of mind over muscle, my law-shootin' friends!"
"Mind, hell!" says Jalatin viciously. "That coyote didn't drink none of that licker! He was a sleight-of-hand performer in a vaudeville show when Donovan picked him up. He had a rubber stummick inside his shirt and he poured the licker into that. He couldn't outdrink Breckinridge Elkins if he was a whole corporation, the derned thief!"
"I admits the charge," sighed Jugbelly. "I bows my head in shame."
"Well," I says, "I've saw worse men than you, at that, and if they's anything I can do, you'll git off light, you derned wind-bag, you!"
"Thank you, my generous friend," says he, and pap reined his hoss around and said: "You comin' home, Breckinridge?"
"Go ahead," I said. "I'll come on with Glory."
So pap and the men of Bear Creek turnt and headed up the trail, riding single file, with their rifles gleaming in the flare of the torches, and nobody saying nothing, jest saddles creaking and hoofs clinking softly, like Bear Creek men generally ride.
And as they went the citizens of Chawed Ear hove a loud sigh of relief, and grabbed Donovan and his gang with enthusiasm and lugged 'em off to the jail--the one I hadn't busted, I mean.
"And that," said Glory, throwing her club away, "is that. You ain't goin' off to foreign parts now, be you, Breckinridge?"
"Naw," I said. "My misguided relatives has redeemed theirselves."
We stood there a minute looking at each other, and she said: "You--you ain't got nothin' to say to me, Breckinridge?"
"Why, sure I has," I responded. "I'm mighty much obliged for what you done."
"Is that all?" she ast, gritting her teeth slightly.
"What else you want me to say?" I ast, puzzled. "Ain't I jest thanked you? They was a time when I would of said more, and likely made you mad, Glory, but knowin' how you feel towards me, I--"
"--!" says Glory, and before I knowed what she was up to, she grabbed up a rock the size of a watermelon and busted it over my head. I was so tooken by surprise I stumbled backwards and fell sprawling and as I looked up at her, a great light bust onto me.
"She loves me!" I exclaimed.
"I been wonderin' how long it was goin' to take you to find out!" says she.
"But what made you treat me like you done?" I demanded presently. "I thought you plumb hated me!"
"You ought to of knowed better," says she, snuggling in my arms. "You made me mad that time you licked pap and them fool brothers of mine. I didn't mean most of them things I said. But you got mad and said some things which made me madder, and after that I was too proud to act any way but like I done. I never loved nobody but you, but I wouldn't admit it as long as you was at the top of the ladder, struttin' around with money in yore pocket, and goin' with purty gals, and everybody eager to be friends with you. I was lovin' you then so's it nearly busted me, but I wouldn't let on. I wouldn't humble myself to no blamed man! But you seen how quick I come to you when you needed a friend, you big lunkhead!"
"Then I'm glad all this happened," I says. "It made me see things straight. I never loved no other gal but you. I was jest tryin' to forgit you and make you jealous when I was goin' with them other gals. I thought I'd lost you, and was jest tryin' to git the next best. I know that now, and I admits it. I never seen a gal which could come within a hundred miles of you in looks and nerve and everything."
"I'm glad you've come to yore senses, Breckinridge," says she.
I swung up on Cap'n Kidd and lifted her up before me, and the sky was jest getting pink and the birds was beginning to cut loose as we started up the road towards Bear Creek.