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|Grizzley Bob of Snake Gulch
"Be the battle lost or won,
Though its smoke shall hide the sun,
I shall find my love - the one
Born for me!"
- Bret Harte.
Names of settlements in the '49 days were often as "Rough an Ready" as the reasons for their being!
Most of them spoke, more or less eloquently, for themselves and no man picked by fame in glowing wise from the heterogeneous mass of persons could hope to escape a nickname.
A miner was discovered roaming down a river bed minus his nether garments, and lives to this day in the appellation of Shirt Tail canyon. Two men fought. One of them lost an eye in the manner indicated by Gouge Eye. Hundreds of wild geese were wont to gather on a sunny mesa above the river. It made a splendid level town called Wild Goose Flat. The plains were covered with "Antelope." The end gate of a prairie schooner was lost on a hill, and Tail Gate mountain came into being.
Humbug Creek panned light with gold. Red Dog, Hangtown, Round Tent Claims, Dry Diggings, Let 'Er Rip, You Bet, Yuba Dam, One Horse Town, and Hell's Delight shriek for themselves, or should!
This, then, is the tale of Grizzley Bob, who mined in Snake Gulch at the foot of Bear Mountain.
"The bear made straight for me! Old Bull-doze was hangin' onto him below, somewhere, but I dropped my Killer (gun) and grabbed my knife, 'cause I knew if I didn't get in on him with Slasher it was all up with both of us. Bear and I took a tight grip on each other and I hit straight for his heart just as he gave me a swipe in the face.
"We both fell, the bear on top, and then I didn't remember anything for awhile. When I woke I felt something heavy on my stomach, but I couldn't see anything for blood."
"Hu-ray!" cheered old Solly Jake, thinking the tale was finished.
Sick Jimmy, from behind the bar, prodded him good-humoredly.
"Dry up, Soll."
"I am dry," whimpered old Soll, "I'm dryer'n before I got drunk!"
"Here, then," pushing a bottle across the redwood slab used for a bar, "the drinks are on Grizzley Bob and Handsome Harry, tonight."
"Was it such a big strike they made?"
"It sure was. Go on, Bob," he called to the tall, magnificently built young spokesman, "then what?"
"After awhile I managed to crawl from under that old grizzley and when I'd wiped the one good eye that was left, I saw him lying there as stiff and dead as a mackerel, with Slasher sticking in his heart clean up to the handle. It was pretty near dark then, but the sun was just showing hisself over the top of Bear mountain when I got to Rattlesnake Bill's cabin, and you'll scarcely believe me but I didn't have enough grit left to signal Bill I was there. I just settled down all of a heap-like and that's the way they found me. Bill, he got a doctor from Angel's and after awhile I pulled out all right, but I ain't been much of a beauty since. Well, what th - ," as the door banged open to reveal an exceedingly handsome blond youngster dragging in a cringing newcomer.
"Hi," he called, while two frolicsome imps danced in his splendid blue eyes. "Any of you chaps got a rope handy? Time this fellow was strung up over a limb to be a picture for coyotes to bark at!"
"Hall, you let go, there. There'll be no chaffing a tenderfoot whilst I'm around and you know it."
"Who says so?" laughed Handsome Harry.
"My foppish friend," spoke up The Senator, "the reputation of Grizzley Bob says so. A reputation that is the terror and admiration of every mining camp in the mountains. A dead shot, a sure thing with the knife, a heart to succor the oppressed and often to protect the shiftless," acridly.
"I thank you, Senator! Your species of implication is worthy the splendor of your mighty apparel. The old swallow-tail retains its pristine glory, I perceive, though your other habiliments have one by one yielded to the ravages of time, and been replaced by the rough and ready garments of the frontier. Perchance - "
"Hall, have I got to make you let go of this pore devil!" Bob's powerful figure came forward into the full light of the huge fireplace. One-half the face above the comely form was hideously repulsive. It had been literally torn away and what remained was so scarred and seamed that it scarcely bore any resemblance to a human countenance.
His one remaining eye was large, dark and glowing with kindness as he bent over the victim of his partner's latest joke.
"Ye-ah," drawled old Doc Smithers, precipitating a large mouthful of brown liquid into the fireplace. "Bob, he'll pet 'im, an' that ol' bulldog o' his'n 'ull lick im, an' next thing we know Bob'll be givin' 'im a claim, just like he took in Handsome Harry hisself goin' on two years ago. Look at the dandy, struttin'! Bob buys 'im all them fancy togs an' loves to see 'im wearin' 'em. White hands, an' red cheeks, an' straight nose like a gal. Swan, ef he wasn't so ornery an' long-limbed I'd a mind to call 'im one. Ef 'twant for his hidin' behind Bob so, I'd - "
What he'd have done was never known, for the whole room-full of prankish, loud-voiced, roistering men was suddenly struck dumb by the unwonted sound of a lady's voice out in the darkness.
Bull-doze reached her first, Bob next, and Handsome Harry third. She was only a slip of a young thing and the fright she got from the kindly rush of the old bulldog was immeasurably increased by Bob's frightful caricature of a face. She turned, shuddering, to the handsome, richly-decked young Englishman.
"My father and mother, sir, are very ill. I was going after a doctor, but I am tired out. I can go no further. Oh, could one of you go on to Angel's, whilst I rest with some lady of your town?"
Harry was apparently speechless from the thrall of her fresh young beauty, because it was Bob who answered.
"You certainly can, Miss! Grizzley Bob's word on that. Where'd you come from?"
"From Roundtree's, sir," timidly. Bob had turned to call orders through the open door and the girl gasped as the strong, manly profile of the unscarred half of his face was turned toward her. Bull-doze licked her white fingers, and she stooped to pat his ugly head so that the long curls at her temple might hide her face from the look in Hal's bold eyes.
"Hey, Antelope Bill, saddle that ewe-necked cayuse of yours and vamoose, pronto, after the doctor. Plug Hat Pete, you've got the best cabin in town. We'll want it for the lady."
"Help yourself, Grizzley," answered the gambler. "It is a privilege."
"I am to stay with Mrs. - Pete?" asked Becky, anxiously.
"Child, you're a-going to be as safe as if there was a lady in this law-evadin' camp; which there isn't, exceptin' your own sweet and lovely self."
"You're a-going to have old Bull-doze watchin' inside the cabin and ten decent and sober men watchin' outside it and nothin' short of a messenger from up-skies could touch one pretty, red-gold curl on your proud little head."
"Bob, I'll take her home to her mother," spoke up Harry who had never once taken his bold gaze from the girl.
"No, you won't take her home to her mother, neither!"
Beckey was strangely comforted by the protective drawl of the big man's voice. Accustomed as she had grown to the rapid transitions of the West, she realized the fallacy of her first impression from his appearance. That night laid the foundation of her regard for him, which was deeper than a mere surface appeal, and which was never to waver.
* * * * *
"H'm," snorted Cornish Jack, shuffling a greasy pack of cards in Sick Jimmie's place and watching two men go by, "that's the most willin' pair on the gulch! Bob, he's willin' to do all the work, an' Handsome Harry, he's willin' to let 'im. Fine house Bob's just built. Must of cost a heap."
"They say that Miss Beckey and her mother are going to live in it," answered Plug Hat Pete. "I'll raise you ten."
"Handsome Harry's bin a-dancin' round that gal ever since they moved here, six months ago."
"Yes, and the look in her eyes in another direction, is plainly to be read." The implication was lost on Cornish Jack.
"Ol' Bob, he does all he can to throw 'em together. Air ye goin' to the house warmin' tonight?"
"Certainly," said The Senator. "Particularly if we manage to keep old Tommy Norton and Black Joe from getting intoxicated, so there will be a pair of fiddlers on the gulch. Tommy, on such occasions, always has an attack of religion which precludes the possibility of his assisting at any profane scene of mirth, and Joe falls into a deep sleep from which nothing can rouse him for twenty-four hours."
"There's Antelope back. I hear his roan."
"Well, who do you think I met down around the curve of Blackjack Hill? That gal o' Bob's on her pinto and that sneakin' Handsome Harry on his black mustang, ridin' full-bent-for-leather!"
The men rushed with one accord to Bob's cabin, where he sat before his fireless hearth.
"We al'ays knew he was a sneakin' thief, but you wouldn't hear nothin' agin him. Took all the bags of gold dust from your claim, too, didn't he?"
"Now, boys, that isn't fair to call him a thief. He was my partner and what was mine was his, and a man has a right to take his own wherever he finds it."
"But the gal?" asked a chorus of voices.
"That girl wasn't in any way bound to me, and you can't expect a pretty creature like her to care for such a beauty as I am, when there's a fellow like Handsome Harry around. It don't stand to reason."
"Come, fellows," said Poker Bill, "if Bob's satisfied I reckon we ought to be. Time to get into our biled shirts for the house warmin', anyway."
"Sorry to disappoint you, boys, but there won't be a house warming. I built it for them and they're gone. It'll stay locked till they come again. This old cabin is good enough for me."
So they left him. Bob relit his pipe and settled back on his bench. Once he roused a moment to mutter. "But they'd ought to know me better. They needn't have run away from their best friend."
Soon after dark a pinto paced home through the quiet, mourning camp with a very weary bulldog at her heels. Beckey slid from her side saddle and crept to Bob's open door. By the light of a full moon she could see the big lax figure in an attitude of utter despair.
"You! Girl, I thought you'd gone."
"I went because - because I thought you'd come after me. I'd tried everything else that a woman can do to make you understand * * * He's begged me so many times to run off. When he understood, he was beastly. He put me off the horse and told me to walk, then. It was the dog who fought him, and then I ran for Pinto and came back." Her low voice failed her, but she controlled herself, and went on, "I thought if I pretended to go you'd see - "
"See! Girl, you've known ever since you came creeping into Snake Gulch that night that you were the very heart and soul of me."
"Yes, yes," she sobbed, "that is not what I would have you know."
"You mean - no, I am a great fool. No woman could bring herself to - A face like mine! Even if you did, it would be from gratitude. I could not permit such a sacrifice," he finished, with a touch of pride.
The girl waited, then when he was silent she turned with a sob to go to her mother's cabin. The soft footfalls died away. Bob stood motionless. Suddenly a scream rang out on the still night air. Bulldoze scrambled off the door-stone with a snarl of battle-rage and charged for the sound, but he was easily outdistanced by the huge miner, who ran with the lithe grace of an Indian. In an incredibly short time the little form was safe in his arms.
"Oh, there's a terrible animal in the mining ditch. I heard it! It's coming this way! A grizzley, I know!" Bob peered into the ditch.
"Why, girl, it's only drunken old Solly Jake going home holding his jug out of the water. He gets into the ditch so he won't lose the way."
"But how does he know when to get out?"
"Well, when he bangs his head on the overbrace of the first flume, he knows he's home and crawls out." Bob began gently to withdraw his arms.
If you let me go now," she whispered, "I'll wish that it had been a grizzley."
"I must take you home."
'Oh, you have! I am home," clinging to him desperately, "I want no other in the world than this one."
"But my scarred - "
The girl reached up, drawing down his tall, dark head in her arms. She kissed his mutilated cheek, then pressed it tenderly against her soft, bare throat. It did not stay long, as Bob felt that such kisess should be returned without delay.
"Hu-ray," cheered Solly Jake, waving his whisky jug, "tale ended right! Time f'r 'nother drink, boys!" and standing up to his middle in water he proceeded to demonstrate his idea.