Part 2 out of 5
be punished. He would turn Terry into a corpse or a killer, and in either
case the youngster would never dream who had dealt the blow.
No wonder, then, as he went downstairs, that he stepped onto the veranda
for a few moments. The moon was just up beyond Mount Discovery; the
valley unfolded like a dream. Never had the estate seemed so charming to
Vance Cornish, for he felt that his hand was closing slowly around his
The sleep of the night seemed to blot out the excitement of the preceding
evening. A bright sun, a cool stir of air, brought in the next morning,
and certainly calamity had never seemed farther from the Cornish ranch
than it did on this day. All through the morning people kept arriving in
ones and twos. Every buckboard on the place was commissioned to haul the
guests around the smooth roads and show them the estate; and those who
preferred were furnished with saddle horses from the stable to keep their
own mounts fresh for their return trip. Vance took charge of the wagon
parties; Terence himself guided the horsemen, and he rode El Sangre, a
flashing streak of blood red.
The exercise brought the color to his face; the wind raised his spirits;
and when the gathering at the house to wait for the big dinner began, he
was as gay as any.
"That's the way with young people," Elizabeth confided to her brother.
"Trouble slips off their minds."
And then the second blow fell, the blow on which Vance had counted for
his great results. No less a person than Sheriff Joe Minter galloped up
and threw his reins before the veranda. He approached Elizabeth with a
high flourish of his hat and a profound bow, for Uncle Joe Minter
affected the mannered courtesy of the "Southern" school. Vance had them
in profile from the side, and his nervous glance flickered from one to
the other. The sheriff was plainly pleased with what he had seen on his
way up Bear Creek. He was also happy to be present at so large a
gathering. But to Elizabeth his coming was like a death. Her brother
could tell the difference between her forced cordiality and the real
thing. She had his horse put up; presented him to the few people whom he
had not met, and then left him posing for the crowd of admirers. Life to
the sheriff was truly a stage. Then Elizabeth went to Vance.
"You saw?" she gasped.
"Sheriff Minter? What of it? Rather nervy of the old ass to come up here
for the party; he hardly knows us."
"No, no! Not that! But don't you remember? Don't you remember what Joe
"Good Lord!" gasped Vance, apparently just recalling. "He killed Black
Jack! And what will Terry do when he finds out?"
She grew still whiter, hearing him name her own fear.
"They mustn't meet," she said desperately. "Vance, if you're half a man
you'll find some way of getting that pompous, windy idiot off the place."
"My dear! Do you want me to invite him to leave?"
"Something--I don't care what!"
"Neither do I. But I can't insult the fool. That type resents an insult
with gunplay. We must simply keep them apart. Keep the sheriff from
"Keep rain from falling!" groaned Elizabeth. "Vance, if you won't do
anything, I'll go and tell the sheriff that he must leave!"
"You don't mean it!"
"Do you think that I'm going to risk a murder?"
"I suppose you're right," nodded Vance, changing his tactics with
Machiavellian smoothness. "If Terry saw the man who killed his father,
all his twenty-four years of training would go up in smoke and the blood
of his father would talk in him. There'd be a shooting!"
She caught a hand to her throat. "I'm not so sure of that, Vance. I think
he would come through this acid test. But I don't want to take chances."
"I don't blame you, Elizabeth," said her brother heartily. "Neither would
I. But if the sheriff stays here, I feel that I'm going to win the bet
that I made twenty-four years ago. You remember? That Terry would shoot a
man before he was twenty-five?"
"Have I ever forgotten?" she said huskily. "Have I ever let it go out of
my mind? But it isn't the danger of Terry shooting. It's the danger of
Terry being shot. If he should reach for a gun against the sheriff--that
professional mankiller--Vance, something has to be done!"
"Right," he nodded. "I wouldn't trust Terry in the face of such a
temptation to violence. Not for a moment!"
The natural stubbornness on which he had counted hardened in her face.
"I don't know."
"It would be an acid test, Elizabeth. But perhaps now is the time. You've
spent twenty-four years training him. If he isn't what he ought to be
now, he never will be, no doubt."
"It may be that you're right," she said gloomily. "Twenty-four years!
Yes, and I've filled about half of my time with Terry and his training.
Vance, you are right. If he has the elements of a mankiller in him after
what I've done for him, then he's a hopeless case. The sheriff shall
stay! The sheriff shall stay!"
She kept repeating it, as though the repetition of the phrase might bring
her courage. And then she went back among her guests.
As for Vance, he remained skillfully in the background that day. It was
peculiarly vital, this day of all days, that he should not be much in
evidence. No one must see in him a controlling influence.
In the meantime he watched his sister with a growing admiration and with
a growing concern. Instantly she had a problem on her hands. For the
moment Terence heard that the great sheriff himself had joined the party,
he was filled with happiness. Vance watched them meet with a heart
swelling with happiness and surety of success. Straight through a group
came Terry, weaving his way eagerly, and went up to the sheriff. Vance
saw Elizabeth attempt to detain him, attempt to send him on an errand.
But he waved her suggestion away for a moment and made for the sheriff.
Elizabeth, seeing that the meeting could not be avoided, at least
determined to be present at it. She came up with Terence and presented
"Sheriff Minter, this is Terence Colby."
"I've heard of you, Colby," said the sheriff kindly. And he waited for a
response with the gleaming eye of a vain man. There was not long to wait.
"You've really heard of me?" said Terry, immensely pleased. "By the Lord,
I've heard of you, sheriff! But, of course, everybody has."
"I dunno, son," said the sheriff benevolently. "But I been drifting
around a tolerable long time, I guess."
"Why," said Terry, with a sort of outburst, "I've simply eaten up
everything I could gather. I've even read about you in magazines!"
"Well, now you don't say," protested the sheriff. "In magazines?"
And his eye quested through the group, hoping for other listeners who
might learn how broadly the fame of their sheriff was spread.
"That Canning fellow who travelled out West and ran into you and was
along while you were hunting down the Garrison boys. I read his article."
The sheriff scratched his chin. "I disremember him. Canning? Canning?
Come to think of it, I do remember him. Kind of a small man with washed-
out eyes. Always with a notebook on his knee. I got sick of answering all
that gent's questions, I recollect. Yep, he was along when I took the
Garrison boys, but that little party didn't amount to much."
"He thought it did," said Terry fervently. "Said it was the bravest,
coolest-headed, cunningest piece of work he'd ever seen done. Perhaps
you'll tell me some of the other things--the things you count big?"
"Oh, I ain't done nothing much, come to think of it. All pretty simple,
they looked to me, when I was doing them. Besides, I ain't much of a hand
"Ah," said Terry, "you'd talk well enough to suit me, sheriff!"
The sheriff had found a listener after his own heart.
"They ain't nothing but a campfire that gives a good light to see a story
by--the kind of stories I got to tell," he declared. "Some of these days
I'll take you along with me on a trail, son, if you'd like--and most like
I'll talk your arm off at night beside the fire. Like to come?"
"Like to?" cried Terry. "I'd be the happiest man in the mountains!"
"Would you, now? Well, Colby, you and me might hit it off pretty well.
I've heard tell you ain't half bad with a rifle and pretty slick with a
"I practice hard," said Terry frankly. "I love guns."
"Good things to love, and good things to hate, too," philosophized the
sheriff. "But all right in their own place, which ain't none too big,
these days. The old times is gone when a man went out into the world with
a hoss under him, and a pair of Colts strapped to his waist, and made his
own way. Them days is gone, and our younger boys is going to pot!"
"I suppose so," admitted Terry.
"But you got a spark in you, son. Well, one of these days we'll get
together. And I hear tell you got El Sangre?"
"I was lucky," said Terry.
"That's a sizable piece of work, Colby. I've seen twenty that run El
Sangre, and never even got close enough to eat his dust. Nacheral pacer,
right enough. I've seen him kite across country like a train! And his
mane and tail blowing like smoke!"
"I got him with patience. That was all."
"S'pose we take a look at him?"
"By all means. Just come along with me."
Elizabeth struck in.
"Just a moment, Terence. There's Mr. Gainor, and he's been asking to see
you. You can take the sheriff out to see El Sangre later. Besides, half a
dozen people want to talk to the sheriff, and you mustn't monopolize him.
Miss Wickson begged me to get her a chance to talk to you--the real
Sheriff Minter. Do you mind?"
"Pshaw," said the sheriff. "I ain't no kind of a hand at talking to the
womenfolk. Where is she?"
"Down yonder, sheriff. Shall we go?"
"The old lady with the cane?"
"No, the girl with the bright hair."
"Doggone me," muttered the sheriff. "Well, let's saunter down that way."
He waved to Terence, who, casting a black glance in the direction of Mr.
Gainor, went off to execute Elizabeth's errand. Plainly Elizabeth had won
the first engagement, but Vance was still confident. The dinner table
would tell the tale.
Elizabeth left the ordering of the guests at the table to Vance, and she
consulted him about it as they went into the dining room. It was a long,
low-ceilinged room, with more windows than wall space. It opened onto a
small porch, and below the porch was the garden which had been the pride
of Henry Cornish. Beside the tall glass doors which led out onto the
porch she reviewed the seating plans of Vance. "You at this end and I at
the other," he said. "I've put the sheriff beside you, and right across
from the sheriff is Nelly. She ought to keep him busy. The old idiot has
a weakness for pretty girls, and the younger the better, it seems. Next
to the sheriff is Mr. Gainor. He's a political power, and what time the
sheriff doesn't spend on you and on Nelly he certainly will give to
Gainor. The arrangement of the rest doesn't matter. I simply worked to
get the sheriff well-pocketed and keep him under your eye."
"But why not under yours, Vance? You're a thousand times more diplomatic
than I am."
"I wouldn't take the responsibility, for, after all, this may turn out to
be a rather solemn occasion, Elizabeth."
"You don't think so, Vance?"
"I pray not."
"And where have you put Terence?"
"Next to Nelly, at your left."
"Good heavens, Vance, that's almost directly opposite the sheriff. You'll
have them practically facing each other."
It was the main thing he was striving to attain. He placated her
"I had to. There's a danger. But the advantage is huge. You'll be there
between them, you might say. You can keep the table talk in hand at that
end. Flash me a signal if you're in trouble, and I'll fire a question
down the table at the sheriff or Terry, and get their attention. In the
meantime you can draw Terry into talk with you if he begins to ask the
sheriff what you consider leading questions. In that way, you'll keep the
talk a thousand leagues away from the death of Black Jack."
He gained his point without much more trouble. Half an hour later the
table was surrounded by the guests. It was a table of baronial
proportions, but twenty couples occupied every inch of the space easily.
Vance found himself a greater distance than he could have wished from the
scene of danger, and of electrical contact.
At least four zones of cross-fire talk intervened, and the talk at the
farther end of the table was completely lost to him, except when some new
and amazing dish, a triumph of Wu Chi's fabrication, was brought on, and
an appreciative wave of silence attended it.
Or again, the mighty voice of the sheriff was heard to bellow forth in
laughter of heroic proportions.
Aside from that, there was no information he could gather except by his
eyes. And chiefly, the face of Elizabeth. He knew her like a book in
which he had often read. Twice he read the danger signals. When the great
roast was being removed, he saw her eyes widen and her lips contract a
trifle, and he knew that someone had come very close to the danger line
indeed. Again when dessert was coming in bright shoals on the trays of
the Chinese servants, the glance of his sister fixed on him down the
length of the table with a grim appeal. He made a gesture of
helplessness. Between them four distinct groups into which the table talk
had divided were now going at full blast. He could hardly have made
himself heard at the other end of the table without shouting.
Yet that crisis also passed away. Elizabeth was working hard, but as the
meal progressed toward a close, he began to worry. It had seemed
impossible that the sheriff could actually sit this length of time in
such an assemblage without launching into the stories for which he was
famous. Above all, he would be sure to tell how he had started on his
career as a manhunter by relating how he slew Black Jack.
Once the appalling thought came to Vance that the story must have been
told during one of those moments when his sister had shown alarm. The
crisis might be over, and Terry had indeed showed a restraint which was a
credit to Elizabeth's training. But by the hunted look in her eyes, he
knew that the climax had not yet been reached, and that she was
continually fighting it away.
He writhed with impatience. If he had not been a fool, he would have
taken that place himself, and then he could have seen to it that the
sheriff, with dexterous guiding, should approach the fatal story. As it
was, how could he tell that Elizabeth might not undo all his plans and
cleverly keep the sheriff away from his favorite topic for an untold
length of time? But as he told his sister, he wished to place all the
seeming responsibility on her own shoulders. Perhaps he had played too
The first ray of hope came to him as coffee was brought in. The
prodigious eating of the cattlemen and miners at the table had brought
them to a stupor. They no longer talked, but puffed with unfamiliar
awkwardness at the fine Havanas which Vance had provided. Even the women
talked less, having worn off the edge of the novelty of actually dining
at the table of Elizabeth Cornish. And since the hostess was occupied
solely with the little group nearest her, and there was no guiding mind
to pick up the threads of talk in each group and maintain it, this duty
fell more and more into the hands of Vance. He took up his task with
Farther and farther down the table extended the sphere of his mild
influence. He asked Mr. Wainwright to tell the story of how he treed the
bear so that the tenderfoot author could come and shoot it. Mr.
Wainwright responded with gusto. The story was a success. He varied it by
requesting young Dobel to describe the snowslide which had wiped out the
Vorheimer shack the winter before.
Young Dobel did well enough to make the men grunt at the end, and he
brought several little squeals of horror from the ladies.
All of this was for a purpose. Vance was setting the precedent, and they
were becoming used to hearing stories. At the end of each tale the
silence of expectation was longer and wider. Finally, it reached the
other end of the table, and suddenly the sheriff discovered that tales
were going the rounds, and that he had not yet been heard. He rolled his
eye with an inward look, and Vance knew that he was searching for some
smooth means of introducing one of his yarns.
But here Elizabeth cut trenchantly into the heart of the conversation.
She had seen and understood. She shot home half a dozen questions with
the accuracy of a marksman, and beat up a drumfire of responses from the
ladies which, for a time, rattled up and down the length of the table.
The sheriff was biting his mustache thoughtfully.
It was only a momentary check, however. Just at the point where Vance
began to despair of ever effecting his goal, the silence began again as
lady after lady ran out of material for the nonce. And as the silence
spread, the sheriff was visibly gathering steam.
Again Elizabeth cut in. But this time there was only a sporadic
chattering in response. Coffee was steaming before them, Wu Chi's
powerful, thick, aromatic coffee, which only he knew how to make. They
were in a mood, now, to hear stories, that tableful of people. An
expected ally came to the aid of Vance. It was Terence, who had been
eating his heart out during the silly table talk of the past few minutes.
Now he seized upon the first clear opening.
"Sheriff Minter, I've heard a lot about the time you ran down Johnny
Garden. But I've never had the straight of it. Won't you tell us how it
"Oh," protested the sheriff, "it don't amount to much."
Elizabeth cast one frantic glance at her brother, and strove to edge into
the interval of silence with a question directed at Mr. Gainor. But he
shelved that question; the whole table was obviously waiting for the
great man to speak. A dozen appeals for the yarn poured in.
"Well," said the sheriff, "if you folks are plumb set on it, I'll tell
you just how it come about."
There followed a long story of how Johnny Garden had announced that he
would ride down and shoot up the sheriff's own town, and then get away on
the sheriff's own horse--and how he did it. And how the sheriff was
laughed at heartily by the townsfolk, and how the whole mountain district
joined in the laughter. And how he started out single-handed in the
middle of winter to run down Johnny Garden, and struck through the
mountains, was caught above the timberline in a terrific blizzard, kept
on in peril of his life until he barely managed to reach the timber again
on the other side of the ridge. How he descended upon the hiding-place of
Johnny Garden, found Johnny gone, but his companions there, and made a
bargain with them to let them go if they would consent to stand by and
offer no resistance when he fought with Johnny on the latter's return.
How they were as good as their word and how, when Johnny returned, they
stood aside and let Johnny and the sheriff fight it out. How the sheriff
beat Johnny to the draw, but was wounded in the left arm while Johnny
fired a second shot as he lay dying on the floor of the lean-to. How the
sheriff's wound was dressed by the companions of the dead Johnny, and how
he was safely dismissed with honor, as between brave men, and how
afterwards he hunted those same men down one by one.
It was quite a long story, but the audience followed it with a breathless
"Yes, sir," concluded the sheriff, as the applause of murmurs fell off.
"And from yarns like that one you wouldn't never figure it that I was the
son of a minister brung up plumb peaceful. Now, would you?"
And again, to the intense joy of Vance, it was Terry who brought the
subject back, and this time the subject of all subjects which Elizabeth
dreaded, and which Vance longed for.
"Tell us how you came to branch out, Sheriff Minter?"
"It was this way," began the sheriff, while Elizabeth cast at Vance a
glance of frantic and weary appeal, to which he responded with a gesture
which indicated that the cause was lost.
"I was brung up mighty proper. I had a most amazing lot of prayers at the
tip of my tongue when I wasn't no more'n knee-high to a grasshopper. But
when a man has got a fire in him, they ain't no use trying to smother it.
You either got to put water on it or else let it burn itself out.
"My old man didn't see it that way. When I got to cutting up he'd try to
smother it, and stop me by saying: 'Don't!' Which don't accomplish
nothing with young gents that got any spirit. Not a damn thing--asking
your pardon, ladies! Well, sirs, he kept me in harness, you might say,
and pulling dead straight down the road and working hard and faithful.
But all the time I'd been saving up steam, and swelling and swelling and
getting pretty near ready to bust.
"Well, sirs, pretty soon--we was living in Garrison City them days, when
Garrison wasn't near the town that it is now--along comes word that Jack
Hollis is around. A lot of you younger folks ain't never heard nothing
about him. But in his day Jack Hollis was as bad as they was made. They
was nothing that Jack wouldn't turn to real handy, from shootin' up a
town to sticking up a train or a stage. And he done it all just about as
well. He was one of them universal experts. He could blow a safe as neat
as you'd ask. And if it come to a gun fight, he was greased lightning
with a flying start. That was Jack Hollis."
The sheriff paused to draw breath.
"Perhaps," said Elizabeth Cornish, white about the lips, "we had better
go into the living room to hear the rest of the sheriff's story?"
It was not a very skillful diversion, but Elizabeth had reached the point
of utter desperation. And on the way into the living room unquestionably
she would be able to divert Terry to something else. Vance held his
And it was Terry who signed his own doom.
"We're very comfortable here, Aunt Elizabeth. Let's not go in till the
sheriff has finished his story."
The sheriff rewarded him with a flash of gratitude, and Vance settled
back in his chair. The end could not, now, be far away.
"I was saying," proceeded the sheriff, "that they scared their babies in
these here parts with the name of Jack Hollis. Which they sure done.
Well, sir, he was bad."
"Not all bad, surely," put in Vance. "I've heard a good many stories
about the generosity of--"
He was anxious to put in the name of Black Jack, since the sheriff was
sticking so close to "Jack Hollis," which was a name that Terry had not
yet heard for his dead father. But before he could get out the name, the
sheriff, angry at the interruption, resumed the smooth current of his
tale with a side flash at Vance.
"Not all bad, you say? Generous? Sure he was generous. Them that live
outside the law has got to be generous to keep a gang around 'em. Not
that Hollis ever played with a gang much, but he had hangers-on all over
the mountains and gents that he had done good turns for and hadn't gone
off and talked about it. But that was just common sense. He knew he'd
need friends that he could trust if he ever got in trouble. If he was
wounded, they had to be someplace where he could rest up. Ain't that so?
Well, sir, that's what the goodness of Jack Hollis amounted to. No, sir,
he was bad. Plumb bad and all bad!
"But he had them qualities that a young gent with an imagination is apt
to cotton to. He was free with his money. He dressed like a dandy. He'd
gamble with hundreds, and then give back half of his winnings if he'd
broke the gent that run the bank. Them was the sort of things that Jack
Hollis would do. And I had my head full of him. Well, about the time that
he come to the neighborhood, I sneaked out of the house one night and
went off to a dance with a girl that I was sweet on. And when I come
back, I found Dad waiting up for me ready to skin me alive. He tried to
give me a clubbing. I kicked the stick out of his hands and swore that
I'd leave and never come back. Which I never done, living up to my word
"But when I found myself outside in the night, I says to myself: 'Where
shall I go now?'
"And then, being sort of sick at the world, and hating Dad particular, I
decided to go out and join Jack Hollis. I was going to go bad. Mostly to
cut up Dad, I reckon, and not because I wanted to particular.
"It wasn't hard to find Jack Hollis. Not for a kid my age that was sure
not to be no officer of the law. Besides, they didn't go out single and
hunt for Hollis. They went in gangs of a half a dozen at a time, or more
if they could get 'em. And even then they mostly got cleaned up when they
cornered Hollis. Yes, sir, he made life sad for the sheriffs in them
parts that he favored most.
"I found Jack toasting bacon over a fire. He had two gents with him, and
they brung me in, finding me sneaking around like a fool kid instead of
walking right into camp. Jack sized me up a minute. He was a fine-looking
boy, was Hollis. He gimme a look out of them fine black eyes of his which
I won't never forget. Aye, a handsome scoundrel, that Hollis!"
Elizabeth Cornish sank back in her chair and covered her eyes with her
hands for a moment. To the others it seemed that she was merely rubbing
weary eyes. But her brother knew perfectly that she was near to fainting.
He looked at Terry and saw that the boy was following the tale with
"I like what you say about this Hollis, sheriff," he ventured softly.
"Do you? Well, so did I like what I seen of him that night, for all I
knew that he was a no-good, man-killing, heartless sort. I told him right
off that I wanted to join him. I even up and give him an exhibition of
"What do you think he says to me? 'You go home to your ma, young man!'
"That's what he said.
"'I ain't a baby,' says I to Jack Hollis. 'I'm a grown man. I'm ready to
fight your way.'
"'Any fool can fight,' says Jack Hollis. 'But a gent with any sense don't
have to fight. You can lay to that, son!'
"'Don't call me son,' says I. 'I'm older than you was when you started
"I'd had my heart busted before I started,' says Jack Hollis to me. 'Are
you as old as that, son? You go back home and don't bother me no more.
I'll come back in five years and see if you're still in the same mind!'
"And that was what I seen of Jack Hollis.
"I went back into town--Garrison City. I slept over the stables the rest
of that night. The next day I loafed around town not hardly noways
knowing what I was going to do.
"Then I was loafing around with my rifle, like I was going out on a
hunting trip that afternoon. And pretty soon I heard a lot of noise
coming down the street, guns and what not. I look out the window and
there comes Jack Hollis, hellbent! Jack Hollis! And then it pops into my
head that they was a big price, for them days, on Jack's head. I picked
up my gun and eased it over the sill of the window and got a good bead.
"Jack turned in his saddle--"
There was a faint groan from Elizabeth Cornish. All eyes focused on her
in amazement. She mustered a smile. The story went on.
"When Jack turned to blaze away at them that was piling out around the
corner of the street, I let the gun go, and I drilled him clean. Great
sensation, gents, to have a life under your trigger. Just beckon one mite
of an inch and a life goes scooting up to heaven or down to hell. I never
got over seeing Hollis spill sidewise out of that saddle. There he was a
minute before better'n any five men when it come to fighting. And now he
wasn't nothing but a lot of trouble to bury. Just so many pounds of
flesh. You see? Well, sir, the price on Black Jack set me up in life and
gimme my start. After that I sort of specialized in manhunting, and I've
kept on ever since."
Terry leaned across the table, his left arm outstretched to call the
"I didn't catch that last name, sheriff," he said.
The talk was already beginning to bubble up at the end of the sheriff's
tale. But there was something in the tone of the boy that cut through the
talk to its root. People were suddenly looking at him out of eyes which
were very wide indeed. And it was not hard to find a reason. His handsome
face was colorless, like a carving from the stone, and under his knitted
brows his black eyes were ominous in the shadow. The sheriff frankly
gaped at him. It was another man who sat across the table in the chair
where the ingenuous youth had been a moment before.
"What name? Jack Hollis?"
"I think the name you used was Black Jack, sheriff?"
"Black Jack? Sure. That was the other name for Jack Hollis. He was mostly
called Black Jack for short, but that was chiefly among his partners.
Outside he was called Jack Hollis, which was his real name."
Terence rose from his chair, more colorless than ever, the knuckles of
one hand resting upon the table. He seemed very tall, years older, grim.
"Terry!" called Elizabeth Cornish softly.
It was like speaking to a stone.
"Gentlemen," said Terry, though his eyes never left the face of the
sheriff, and it was obvious that he was making his speech to one pair of
ears alone. "I have been living among you under the name of Colby--
Terence Colby. It seems an appropriate moment to say that this is not my
name. After what the sheriff has just told you it may be of interest to
know that my real name is Hollis. Terence Hollis is my name and my father
was Jack Hollis, commonly known as Black Jack, it seems from the story of
the sheriff. I also wish to say that I am announcing my parentage not
because I wish to apologize for it--in spite of the rather remarkable
narrative of the sheriff--but because I am proud of it."
He lifted his head while he spoke. And his eye went boldly, calmly down
"This could not have been expected before, because none of you knew my
father's name. I confess that I did not know it myself until a very short
time ago. Otherwise I should not have listened to the sheriff's story
until the end. Hereafter, however, when any of you are tempted to talk
about Black or Jack Hollis, remember that his son is alive--and in good
He hung in his place for an instant as though he were ready to hear a
reply. But the table was stunned. Then Terry turned on his heel and left
It was the signal for a general upstarting from the table, a pushing back
of chairs, a gathering around Elizabeth Cornish. She was as white as
Terry had been while he talked. But there was a gathering excitement in
her eye, and happiness. The sheriff was full of apologies. He would
rather have had his tongue torn out by the roots than to have offended
her or the young man with his story.
She waved the sheriff's apology aside. It was unfortunate, but it could
not have been helped. They all realized that. She guided her guests into
the living room, and on the way she managed to drift close to her
Her eyes were on fire with her triumph.
"You heard, Vance? You saw what he did?"
There was a haunted look about the face of Vance, who had seen his high-
built schemes topple about his head.
"He did even better than I expected, Elizabeth. Thank heaven for it!"
Terence Hollis had gone out of the room and up the stairs like a man
stunned or walking in his sleep. Not until he stepped into the familiar
room did the blood begin to return to his face, and with the warmth there
was a growing sensation of uneasiness.
Something was wrong. Something had to be righted. Gradually his mind
cleared. The thing that was wrong was that the man who had killed his
father was now under the same roof with him, had shaken his hand, had sat
in bland complacency and looked in his face and told of the butchery.
Butchery it was, according to Terry's standards. For the sake of the
price on the head of the outlaw, young Minter had shoved his rifle across
a window sill, taken his aim, and with no risk to himself had shot down
the wild rider. His heart stood up in his throat with revulsion at the
thought of it. Murder, horrible, and cold-blooded, the more horrible
because it was legal.
Something had to be done. What was it?
And when he turned, what he saw was the gun cabinet with a shimmer of
light on the barrels. Then he knew. He selected his favorite Colt and
drew it out. It was loaded, and the action in perfect condition. Many and
many an hour he had practiced and blazed away hundreds of rounds of
ammunition with it. It responded to his touch like a muscular part of his
He shoved it under his coat, and walking down the stairs again the chill
of the steel worked through to his flesh. He went back to the kitchen and
called out Wu Chi. The latter came shuffling in his slippers, nodding,
grinning in anticipation of compliments.
"Wu," came the short demand, "can you keep your mouth shut and do what
you're told to do?"
"Wu try," said the Chinaman, grave as a yellow image instantly.
"Then go to the living room and tell Mr. Gainor and Sheriff Minter that
Mr. Harkness is waiting for them outside and wishes to see them on
business of the most urgent nature. It will only be the matter of a
moment. Now go. Gainor and the sheriff. Don't forget."
He received a scared glance, and then went out onto the veranda and sat
down to wait.
That was the right way, he felt. His father would have called the sheriff
to the door, in a similar situation, and after one brief challenge they
would have gone for their guns. But there was another way, and that was
the way of the Colbys. Their way was right. They lived like gentlemen,
and, above all, they fought always like gentlemen.
Presently the screen door opened, squeaked twice, and then closed with a
hum of the screen as it slammed. Steps approached him. He got up from the
chair and faced them, Gainor and the sheriff. The sheriff had
instinctively put on his hat, like a man who does not understand the open
air with an uncovered head. But Gainor was uncovered, and his white hair
He was a tall, courtly old fellow. His ceremonious address had won him
much political influence. Men said that Gainor was courteous to a dog,
not because he respected the dog, but because he wanted to practice for a
man. He had always the correct rejoinder, always did the right thing. He
had a thin, stern face and a hawk nose that gave him a cast of ferocity
in certain aspects.
It was to him that Terry addressed himself.
"Mr. Gainor," he said, "I'm sorry to have sent in a false message. But my
business is very urgent, and I have a very particular reason for not
wishing to have it known that I have called you out."
The moment he rose out of the chair and faced them, Gainor had stopped
short. He was quite capable of fast thinking, and now his glance
flickered from Terry to the sheriff and back again. It was plain that he
had shrewd suspicions as to the purpose behind that call. The sheriff was
merely confused. He flushed as much as his tanned-leather skin permitted.
As for Terry, the moment his glance fell on the sheriff he felt his
muscles jump into hard ridges, and an almost uncontrollable desire to go
at the throat of the other seized him. He quelled that desire and fought
it back with a chill of fear.
"My father's blood working out!" he thought to himself.
And he fastened his attention on Mr. Gainor and tried to shut the picture
of the sheriff out of his brain. But the desire to leap at the tall man
was as consuming as the passion for water in the desert. And with a
shudder of horror he found himself without a moral scruple. Just behind
the thin partition of his will power there was a raging fury to get at
Joe Minter. He wanted to kill. He wanted to snuff that life out as the
life of Black Jack Hollis had been snuffed.
He excluded the sheriff deliberately from his attention and turned fully
"Mr. Gainor, will you be kind enough to go over to that grove of spruce
where the three of us can talk without any danger of interruption?"
Of course, that speech revealed everything. Gainor stiffened a little and
the tuft of beard which ran down to a point on his chin quivered and
jutted out. The sheriff seemed to feel nothing more than a mild surprise
and curiosity. And the three went silently, side by side, under the
spruce. They were glorious trees, strong of trunk and nobly proportioned.
Their tops were silver-bright in the sunshine. Through the lower branches
the light was filtered through layer after layer of shadow, until on the
ground there were only a few patches of light here and there, and these
were no brighter than silver moonshine, and seemed to be without heat.
Indeed, in the mild shadow among the trees lay the chill of the mountain
air which seems to lurk in covert places waiting for the night.
It might have been this chill that made Terry button his coat closer
about him and tremble a little as he entered the shadow. The great trunks
shut out the world in a scattered wall. There was a narrow opening here
among the trees at the very center. The three were in a sort of gorge of
which the solemn spruce trees furnished the sides, the cold blue of the
mountain skies was just above the lofty tree-tips, and the wind kept the
pure fragrance of the evergreens stirring about them. The odor is the
soul of the mountains. A great surety had come to Terry that this was the
last place he would ever see on earth. He was about to die, and he was
glad, in a dim sort of way, that he should die in a place so beautiful.
He looked at the sheriff, who stood calm but puzzled, and at Gainor, who
was very grave, indeed, and returned his look with one of infinite pity,
as though he knew and understood and acquiesced, but was deeply grieved
that it must be so.
"Gentlemen," said Terry, making his voice light and cheerful as he felt
that the voice of a Colby should be at such a time, being about to die,
"I suppose you understand why I have asked you to come here?"
"Yes," nodded Gainor.
"But I'm damned if I do," said the sheriff frankly.
Terry looked upon him coldly. He felt that he had not the slightest
chance of killing this professional manslayer, but at least he would do
his best--for the sake of Black Jack's memory. But to think that his
life--his mind--his soul--all that was dear to him and all that he was
dear to, should ever lie at the command of the trigger of this hard,
crafty, vain, and unimportant fellow! He writhed at the thought. It made
him stand stiffer. His chin went up. He grew literally taller before
their eyes, and such a look came on his face that the sheriff
instinctively fell back a pace.
"Mr. Gainor," said Terry, as though his contempt for the sheriff was too
great to permit his speaking directly to Minter, "will you explain to the
sheriff that my determination to have satisfaction does not come from the
fact that he killed my father, but because of the manner of the killing?
To the sheriff it seems justifiable. To me it seems a murder. Having that
thought, there is only one thing to do. One of us must not leave this
place!" Gainor bowed, but the sheriff gaped.
"By the eternal!" he scoffed. "This sounds like one of them duels of the
old days. This was the way they used to talk!"
"Gentlemen," said Gainor, raising his long-fingered hand, "it is my
solemn duty to admonish you to make up your differences amicably."
"Whatever that means," sneered the sheriff. "But tell this young fool
that's trying to act like he couldn't see me or hear me--tell him that I
don't carry no grudge ag'in' him, that I'm sorry he's Black Jack's son,
but that it's something he can live down, maybe. And I'll go so far as to
say I'm sorry that I done all that talking right to his face. But farther
than that I won't go. And if all this is leading up to a gunplay, by God,
gents, the minute a gun comes into my hand I shoot to kill, mark you
that, and don't you never forget it!"
Mr. Gainor had remained with his hand raised during this outbreak. Now he
turned to Terry.
"You have heard?" he said. "I think the sheriff is going quite a way
toward you, Mr. Colby."
"Hollis!" gasped Terry. "Hollis is the name, sir!"
"I beg your pardon," said Gainor. "Mr. Hollis it is! Gentlemen, I assure
you that I feel for you both. It seems, however, to be one of those
unfortunate affairs when the mind must stop its debate and physical
action must take up its proper place. I lament the necessity, but I admit
it, even though the law does not admit it. But there are unwritten laws,
sirs, unwritten laws which I for one consider among the holies of
Palpably the old man was enjoying every minute of his own talk. It was
not his first affair of this nature. He came out of an early and more
courtly generation where men drank together in the evening by firelight
and carved one another in the morning with glimmering bowie knives.
"You are both," he protested, "dear to me. I esteem you both as men and
as good citizens. And I have done my best to open the way for peaceful
negotiations toward an understanding. It seems that I have failed. Very
well, sirs. Then it must be battle. You are both armed? With revolvers?"
"Nacher'ly," said the sheriff, and spat accurately at a blaze on the tree
trunk beside him. He had grown very quiet.
"I am armed," said Terry calmly, "with a revolver."
The hand of Gainor glided into his bosom and came forth bearing a white
handkerchief. His right hand slid into his coat and came forth likewise--
bearing a long revolver.
"Gentlemen," he said, "the first man to disobey my directions I shall
shoot down unquestioningly, like a dog. I give you my solemn word for
And his eye informed them that he would enjoy the job.
He continued smoothly: "This contest shall accord with the only terms by
which a duel with guns can be properly fought. You will stand back to
back with your guns not displayed, but in your clothes. At my word you
will start walking in the opposite directions until my command 'Turn!'
and at this command you will wheel, draw your guns, and fire until one
man falls--or both!"
He sent his revolver through a peculiar, twirling motion and shook back
his long white hair.
"Ready, gentlemen, and God defend the right!"
The talk was fitful in the living room. Elizabeth Cornish did her best to
revive the happiness of her guests, but she herself was a prey to the
same subdued excitement which showed in the faces of the others. A
restraint had been taken away by the disappearance of both the storm
centers of the dinner--the sheriff and Terry. Therefore it was possible
to talk freely. And people talked. But not loudly. They were prone to
gather in little familiar groups and discuss in a whisper how Terry had
risen and spoken before them. Now and then someone, for the sake of
politeness, strove to open a general theme of conversation, but it died
away like a ripple on a placid pond.
"But what I can't understand," said Elizabeth to Vance when she was able
to maneuver him to her side later on, "is why they seem to expect
Vance was very grave and looked tired. The realization that all his
cunning, all his work, had been for nothing, tormented him. He had set
his trap and baited it, and it had worked perfectly--save that the teeth
of the trap had closed over thin air. At the denouement of the sheriff's
story there should have been the barking of two guns and a film of
gunpowder smoke should have gone tangling to the ceiling. Instead there
had been the formal little speech from Terry--and then quiet. Yet he had
to mask and control his bitterness; he had to watch his tongue in talking
with his sister.
"You see," he said quietly, "they don't understand. They can't see how
fine Terry is in having made no attempt to avenge the death of his
father. I suppose a few of them think he's a coward. I even heard a
little talk to that effect!"
"Impossible!" cried Elizabeth.
She had not thought of this phase of the matter. All at once she hated
"It really is possible," said Vance. "You see, it's known that Terry
never fights if he can avoid it. There never has been any real reason for
fighting until today. But you know how gossip will put the most unrelated
facts together, and make a complete story in some way."
"I wish the sheriff were dead!" moaned Elizabeth. "Oh, Vance, if you only
hadn't gone near Craterville! If you only hadn't distributed those
It was almost too much for Vance--to be reproached after so much of the
triumph was on her side--such a complete victory that she herself would
never dream of the peril she and Terry had escaped. But he had to control
his irritation. In fact, he saw his whole life ahead of him carefully
schooled and controlled. He no longer had anything to sell. Elizabeth had
made a mock of him and shown him that he was hollow, that he was living
on her charity. He must all the days that she remained alive keep
flattering her, trying to find a way to make himself a necessity to her.
And after her death there would be a still harder task. Terry, who
disliked him pointedly, would then be the master, and he would face the
bitter necessity of cajoling the youngster whom he detested. A fine life,
truly! An almost noble anguish of the spirit came upon Vance. He was
urged to the very brink of the determination to thrust out into the world
and make his own living. But he recoiled from that horrible idea in time.
"Yes," he said, "that was the worst step I ever took. But I was trying to
be wholehearted in the Western way, my dear, and show that I had entered
into the spirit of things."
"As a matter of fact," sighed Elizabeth, "you nearly ruined Terry's
"Very near," said the penitent Vance. "But then--you see how well it has
turned out? Terry has taken the acid test, and now you can trust him
The words were literally blown off ragged at his lips. Two revolver shots
exploded at them. No one gun could have fired them. And there was a
terrible significance in the angry speed with which one had followed the
other, blending, so that the echo from the lofty side of Sleep Mountain
was but a single booming sound. In that clear air it was impossible to
tell the direction of the noise.
Everyone in the room seemed to listen stupidly for a repetition of the
noises. But there was no repetition.
"Vance," whispered Elizabeth in such a tone that the coward dared not
look into her face. "It's happened!"
"What?" He knew, but he wanted the joy of hearing it from her own lips.
"It has happened," she whispered in the same ghostly voice. "But which
That was it. Who had fallen--Terry, or the sheriff? A long, heavy step
crossed the little porch. Either man might walk like that.
The door was flung open. Terence Hollis stood before them.
"I think that I've killed the sheriff," he said simply. "I'm going up to
my room to put some things together; and I'll go into town with any man
who wishes to arrest me. Decide that between yourselves."
With that he turned and walked away with a step as deliberately unhurried
as his approach had been. The manner of the boy was more terrible than
the thing he had done. Twice he had shocked them on the same afternoon.
And they were just beginning to realize that the shell of boyhood was
being ripped away from Terence Colby. Terry Hollis, son of Black Jack,
was being revealed to them.
The men received the news with utter bewilderment. The sheriff was as
formidable in the opinion of the mountains as some Achilles. It was
incredible that he should have fallen. And naturally a stern murmur rose:
Since the first vigilante days there has been no sound in all the West so
dreaded as that deep-throated murmur of angry, honest men. That murmur
from half a dozen law-abiding citizens will put the fear of death in the
hearts of a hundred outlaws. The rumble grew, spread: "Foul play." And
they began to look to one another, these men of action.
Only Elizabeth was silent. She rose to her feet, as tall as her brother,
without an emotion on her face. And her brother would never forget her.
"It seems that you've won, Vance. It seems that blood will out, after
all. The time is not quite up--and you win the bet!"
Vance shook his head as though in protest and struck his hand across his
face. He dared not let her see the joy that contorted his features.
Triumph here on the very verge of defeat! It misted his eyes. Joy gave
wings to his thoughts. He was the master of the valley.
"But--you'll think before you do anything, Elizabeth?"
"I've done my thinking already--twenty-four years of it. I'm going to do
what I promised I'd do."
"You'll see and hear in time. What's yonder?"
The men were rising, one after another, and bunching together. Before
Vance could answer, there was a confusion in the hall, running feet here
and there. They heard the hard, shrill voice of Wu Chi chattering
directions and the guttural murmurs of his fellow servants as they
answered. Someone ran out into the hall and came back to the huddling,
stirring crowd in the living room.
"He's not dead--but close to it. Maybe die any minute--maybe live through
That was the report.
"We'll get young Hollis and hold him to see how the sheriff comes out."
"Aye, we'll get him!"
All at once they boiled into action and the little crowd of men thrust
for the big doors that led into the hall. They cast the doors back and
came directly upon the tall, white-headed figure of Gainor.
Gainor's dignity split the force of their rush. They recoiled as water
strikes on a rock and divides into two meager swirls. And when one or two
went past him on either side, he recalled them.
"Boys, there seems to be a little game on hand. What is it?"
Something repelling, coldly inquiring in his attitude and in his voice.
They would have gone on if they could, but they could not. He held them
with a force of knowledge of things that they did not know. They were
remembering that this man had gone out with the sheriff to meet,
apparently, his death. And yet Gainor, a well-tried friend of the
sheriff, seemed unexcited. They had to answer his question, and how could
they lie when he saw them rushing through a door with revolvers coming to
brown, skillful hands? It was someone from the rear who made the
"We're going to get young Black Jack!"
That was it. The speech came out like the crack of a gun, clearing the
atmosphere. It told every man exactly what was in his own mind, felt but
not confessed. They had no grudge against Terry, really. But they were
determined to hang the son of Black Jack. Had it been a lesser deed, they
might have let him go. But his victim was too distinguished in their
society. He had struck down Joe Minter; the ghost of the great Black Jack
himself seemed to have stalked out among them.
"You're going to get young Terry Hollis?" interpreted Gainor, and his
voice rose and rang over them. Those who had slipped past him on either
side came back and faced him. In the distance Elizabeth had not stirred.
Vance kept watching her face. It was cold as ice, unreadable. He could
not believe that she was allowing this lynching party to organize under
her own roof--a lynching party aimed at Terence. It began to grow in him
that he had gained a greater victory than he imagined.
"If you aim at Terry," went on Gainor, his voice even louder, "you'll
have to aim at me, too. There's going to be no lynching bee, my friends!"
The women had crowded back in the room. They made a little bank of stir
and murmur around Elizabeth.
"Gentlemen," said Gainor, shaking his white hair back again in his
imposing way, "there has been no murder. The sheriff is not going to die.
There has been a disagreement between two men of honor. The sheriff is
now badly wounded. I think that is all. Does anybody want to ask
questions about what has happened?"
There was a bustle in the group of men. They were putting
away the weapons, not quite sure what they could do next.
"I am going to tell you exactly what has happened," said Gainor. "You
heard the unfortunate things that passed at the table today. What the
sheriff said was not said as an insult; but under the circumstances it
became necessary for Terence Hollis to resent what he had heard. As a man
of honor he could not do otherwise. You all agree with me in that?"
They grunted a grudging assent. There were ways and ways of looking at
such things. The way of Gainor was a generation old. But there was
something so imposing about the old fellow, something which breathed the
very spirit of honor and fair play, that they could not argue the point.
"Accordingly Mr. Hollis sent for the sheriff. Not to bring him outdoors
and shoot him down in a sudden gunplay, nor to take advantage of him
through a surprise--as a good many men would have been tempted to do, my
friends, for the sheriff has a wide reputation as a handler of guns of
all sorts. No, sir, he sent for me also, and he told us frankly that the
bad blood between him and the sheriff must be spent. You understand? By
the Lord, my friends, I admired the fine spirit of the lad. He expected
to be shot rather than to drop the sheriff. I could tell that by his
expression. But his eye did not falter. It carried me back to the old
days--to old days, sirs!"
There was not a murmur in the entire room. The eye of Elizabeth Cornish
was fire. Whether with anger or pride, Vance could not tell. But he began
"We went over to the group of silver spruce near the house. I gave them
the directions. They came and stood together, back to back, with their
revolvers not drawn. They began to walk away in opposite directions at my
"When I called 'Turn,' they wheeled. My gun was ready to shoot down the
first man guilty of foul play--but there was no attempt to turn too soon,
before the signal. They whirled, snatching out their guns--and the
revolver of the sheriff hung in his clothes!"
A groan from the little crowd.
"Although, upon my word," said Gainor, "I do not think that the sheriff
could have possibly brought out his gun as swiftly as Terence Hollis did.
His whirl was like the spin of a top, or the snap of a whiplash, and as
he snapped about, the revolver was in his hand, not raised to draw a
bead, but at his hip. The sheriff set his teeth--but Terry did not fire!"
A bewildered murmur from the crowd.
"No, my friends," cried Gainor, his voice quivering, "he did not fire. He
dropped the muzzle of his gun--and waited. By heaven, my heart went out
to him. It was magnificent."
The thin, strong hand of Elizabeth closed on the arm of Vance. "That was
a Colby who did that!" she whispered.
"The sheriff gritted his teeth," went on Gainor, "and tore out his gun.
All this pause had been such a space as is needed for an eyelash to
flicker twice. Out shot the sheriff's Colt. And then, and not until then,
did the muzzle of Terry's revolver jerk up. Even after that delay he beat
the sheriff to the trigger. The two shots came almost together, but the
sheriff was already falling when he pulled his trigger, and his aim was
"He dropped on one side, the revolver flying out of his hand. I started
forward, and then I stopped. By heaven, the sheriff had stretched out his
arm and picked up his gun again. He was not through fighting.
"A bulldog spirit, you say? Yes! And what could I do? It was the
sheriff's right to keep on fighting as long as he wished. And it was the
right of Terence to shoot the man full of holes the minute his hand
touched the revolver again.
"I could only stand still. I saw the sheriff raise his revolver. It was
an effort of agony. But he was still trying to kill. And I nerved myself
and waited for the explosion of the gun of Terence. I say I nerved myself
for that shock, but the gun did not explode. I looked at him in wonder.
My friends, he was putting up his gun and quietly looking the sheriff in
"At that I shouted to him, I don't know what. I shouted to the sheriff
not to fire. Too late. The muzzle of the gun was already tilting up, the
barrel was straightening. And then the gun fell from Minter's hand and he
dropped on his side. His strength had failed him at the last moment.
"But I say, sirs, that what Terence Hollis did was the finest thing I
have ever seen in my life, and I have seen fine things done by gentlemen
before. There may be unpleasant associations with the name of Terry's
father. I, for one, shall never carry over those associations to the son.
Never! He has my hand, my respect, my esteem in every detail. He is a
gentleman, my friends! There is nothing for us to do. If the sheriff is
unfortunate and the wound should prove fatal, Terence will give himself
up to the law. If he lives, he will be the first to tell you to keep your
hands off the boy!"
He ended in a little silence. But there was no appreciative burst of
applause from those who heard him. The fine courage of Terence was, to
them, merely the iron nerve of the man-killer, the keen eye and the
judicious mind which knew that the sheriff would collapse before he fired
his second shot. And his courtesy before the first shot was simply the
surety of the man who knew that no matter what advantage he gave to his
enemy, his own speed of hand would more than make up for it.
Gainor, reading their minds, paid no more heed to them. He went straight
across the room and took the hand of Elizabeth.
"Dear Miss Cornish," he said so that all could hear, "I congratulate you
for the man you have given us in Terence Hollis."
Vance, watching, saw the tears of pleasure brighten the eyes of his
"You are very kind," she said. "But now I must see Sheriff Minter and be
sure that everything is done for him."
It seemed that the party took this as a signal for dismissal. As she went
across the room, there were a dozen hasty adieus, and soon the guests
were streaming towards the doors.
Vance and Elizabeth and Gainor went to the sheriff. He had been installed
in a guest room. His eyes were closed, his arms outstretched. A thick,
telltale bandage was wrapped about his breast. And Wu Chi, skillful in
such matters from a long experience, was sliding about the room in his
whispering slippers. The sheriff did not open his eyes when Elizabeth
tried his pulse. It was faint, but steady.
He had been shot through the body and the lungs grazed, for as he
breathed there was a faint bubble of blood that grew and swelled and
burst on his lips at every breath. But he lived, and he would live unless
there were an unnecessary change for the worse. They went softly out of
the room again. Elizabeth was grave. Mr. Gainor took her hand.
"I think I know what people are saying now, and what they will say
hereafter. If Terry's father were any other than Hollis, this affair
would soon he forgotten, except as a credit to him. But even as it is, he
will live this matter down. I want to tell you again, Miss Cornish, that
you have reason to be proud of him. He is the sort of man I should be
proud to have in my own family. Madam, good-by. And if there is anything
in which I can be of service to you or to Terence, call on me at any time
and to any extent."
And he went down the hall with a little swagger. Mr. Gainor felt that he
had risen admirably to a great situation. As a matter of fact, he had.
Elizabeth turned to Vance.
"I wish you'd find Terence," she said, "and tell him that I'm waiting for
him in the library."
Vance went gloomily to the room of Terry and called him out. The boy was
pale, but perfectly calm, and he looked older, much older.
"There was a great deal of talk," said Vance--he must make doubly sure of
Terence now. "And they even started a little lynching party. But we
stopped all that. Gainor made a very nice little speech about you. And
now Elizabeth is waiting for you in the library."
Terry bit his lip.
"And she?" he asked anxiously.
"There's nothing to worry about," Vance assured him.
"She'll probably read you a curtain lecture. But at heart she's proud of
you because of the way Gainor talked. You can't do anything wrong in my
Terry breathed a great sigh of relief.
"But I'm not ashamed of what I've done. I'm really not, Uncle Vance. I'm
afraid that I'd do it over again, under the same circumstances."
"Of course you would. Of course you would, my boy. But you don't have to
blurt that out to Elizabeth, do you? Let her think it was the
overwhelming passion of the moment; something like that. A woman likes to
be appealed to, not defied. Particularly Elizabeth. Take my advice.
She'll open her arms to you after she's been stern as the devil for a
The boy caught his hand and wrung it.
"By the Lord, Uncle Vance," he said, "I certainly appreciate this!"
"Tush, Terry, tush!" said Vance. "You'll find that I'm with you and
behind you in more ways than you'd ever guess."
He received a grateful glance as they went down the broad stairs
together. At the door to the library Vance turned away, but Elizabeth
called to him and asked him in. He entered behind Terence Hollis, and
found Elizabeth sitting in her father's big chair under the window,
looking extremely fragile and very erect and proud. Across her lap was a
Vance knew instantly that it was the will she had made up in favor of
Terence. He had been preparing himself for the worst, but at this his
heart sank. He lowered himself into a chair. Terence had gone straight to
"I know I've done a thing that will cut you deeply, Aunt Elizabeth," he
said. "I'm not going to ask you to see any justice on my side. I only
want to ask you to forgive me, because--"
Elizabeth was staring straight at and through her protege.
"Are you done, Terence?"
This time Vance was shocked into wide-eyed attention. The voice of
Elizabeth was hard as iron. It brought a corresponding stiffening of
"I'm done," he said, with a certain ring to his voice that Vance was glad
It brought a flush into the pale cheeks of Elizabeth.
"It is easy to see that you're proud of what you have done, Terence."
"Yes," he answered with sudden defiance, "I am proud. It's the best thing
I've ever done. I regret only one part of it."
"That my bullet didn't kill him!"
Elizabeth looked down and tapped the folded paper against her fingertips.
Whether it was mere thoughtfulness or a desire to veil a profound emotion
from Terence, her brother could not tell. But he knew that something of
importance was in the air. He scented it as clearly as the smoke of a
"I thought," she said in her new and icy manner, "that that would be your
She looked suddenly up at Terence.
"Twenty-four years," she said, "have passed since I took you into my
life. At that time I was told that I was doing a rash thing, a dangerous
thing--that before your twenty-fifth birthday the bad blood would out;
that you would, in short, have shot a man. And the prophecy has come
true. By an irony of chance it has happened on the very last day. And by
another irony you picked your victim from among the guests under my
"Victim?" cried Terry hoarsely. "Victim, Aunt Elizabeth?"
"If you please," she said quietly, "not that name again, Terence. I wish
you to know exactly what I have done. Up to this time I have given you a
place in my affections. I have tried to the best of my skill to bring you
up with a fitting education. I have given you what little wisdom and
advice I have to give. Today I had determined to do much more. I had a
will made out--this is it in my hands--and by the terms of this will I
made you my heir--the heir to the complete Cornish estate aside from a
comfortable annuity to Vance."
She looked him in the eye, ripped the will from end to end, and tossed
the fragments into the fire. There was a sharp cry from Vance, who sprang
to his feet. It was the thrill of an unexpected triumph, but his sister
took it for protest.
"Vance, I haven't used you well, but from now on I'm going to change. As
for you, Terence, I don't want you near me any longer than may be
necessary. Understand that I expect to provide for you. I haven't raised
you merely to cast you down suddenly. I'm going to establish you in
business, see that you are comfortable, supply you with an income that's
respectable, and then let you drift where you will.
"My own mind is made up about your end before you take a step across the
threshold of my house. But I'm still going to give you every chance. I
don't want to throw you out suddenly, however. Take your time. Make up
your mind what you want to do and where you are going. Take all the time
you wish for such a conclusion. It's important, and it needs time for
such a decision. When that decision is made, go your way. I never wish to
hear from you again. I want no letters, and I shall certainly refuse to
Every word she spoke seemed to be a heavier blow than the last, and
Terence bowed under the accumulated weight. Vance could see the boy
struggle, waver between fierce pride and desperate humiliation and
sorrow. To Vance it was clear that the stiff pride of Elizabeth as she
sat in the chair was a brittle strength, and one vital appeal would break
her to tears. But the boy did not see. Presently he straightened, bowed
to her in the best Colby fashion, and turned on his heel. He went out of
the room and left Vance and his sister facing one another, but not
meeting each other's glances.
"Elizabeth," he said at last, faintly--he dared not persuade too much
lest she take him at his word. "Elizabeth, you don't mean it. It was
twenty-four years ago that you passed your word to do this if things
turned out as they have. Forget your promise. My dear, you're still
wrapped up in Terry, no matter what you have said. Let me go and call him
back. Why should you torture yourself for the sake of your pride?"
He even rose, not too swiftly, and still with his eyes upon her. When she
lifted her hand, he willingly sank back into his chair.
"You're a very kind soul, Vance. I never knew it before. I'm appreciating
it now almost too late. But what I have done shall stand!"
"But, my dear, the pain--is it worth--"
"It means that my life is a wreck and a ruin, Vance. But I'll stand by
what I've done. I won't give way to the extent of a single scruple."
And the long, bitter silence which was to last so many days at the
Cornish ranch began. And still they did not look into one another's eyes.
As for Vance, he did not wish to. He was seeing a bright future. Not long
to wait; after this blow she would go swiftly to her grave.
He had barely reached that conclusion when the door opened again. Terry
stood before them in the old, loose, disreputable clothes of a cow-
puncher. The big sombrero swung in his hand. The heavy Colt dragged down
in its holster over his right hip. His tanned face was drawn and stern.
"I won't keep you more than a moment," he said. "I'm leaving. And I'm
leaving with nothing of yours. I've already taken too much. If I live to
be a hundred, I'll never forgive myself for taking your charity these
twenty-four years. For what you've spent maybe I can pay you back one of
these days, in money. But for all the time and--patience--you've spent on
me I can never repay you. I know that. At least, here's where I stop
piling up a debt. These clothes and this gun come out of the money I made
punching cows last year. Outside I've got El Sangre saddled with a saddle
I bought out of the same money. They're my start in life, the clothes
I've got on and the gun and the horse and the saddle. So I'm starting
Vance saw his sister wince under that name from the lips of Terry. But
she did not speak.
"There'll be no return," said Terence sadly. "My trail is an out trail.
Good-by again." And so he was gone.
Down the Bear Creek road Terence Hollis rode as he had never ridden
before. To be sure, it was not the first time that El Sangre had
stretched to the full his mighty strength, but on those other occasions
he had fought the burst of speed, straining back in groaning stirrup
leathers, with his full weight wresting at the bit. Now he let the rein
play to such a point that he was barely keeping the power of the stallion
in touch. He lightened his weight as only a fine horseman can do,
shifting a few vital inches forward, and with the burden falling more
over his withers, El Sangre fled like a racer down the valley. Not that
he was fully extended. His head was not stretched out as a cow-pony's
head is stretched when he runs; he held it rather high, as though he
carried in his big heart a reserve strength ready to be called on for any
emergency. For all that, it was running such as Terry had never known.
The wind became a blast, jerking the brim of his sombrero up and
whistling in his hair. He was letting the shame, the grief, the thousand
regrets of that parting with Aunt Elizabeth be blown out of his soul. His
mind was a whirl; the thoughts became blurs. As a matter of fact, Terry
was being reborn.
He had lived a life perfectly sheltered. The care of Elizabeth Cornish
had surrounded him as the Blue Mountains and Sleep Mountain surrounded
Bear Valley and fenced off the full power of the storm winds. The reality
of life had never reached him. Now, all in a day, the burden was placed
on his back, and he felt the spur driven home to the quick. No wonder
that he winced, that his heart contracted.
But now that he was awakening, everything was new. Uncle Vance, whom he
had always secretly despised, now seemed a fine character, gentle,
cultured, thoughtful of others. Aunt Elizabeth Cornish he had accepted as
a sort of natural fact, as though there were a blood tie between them.
Now he was suddenly aware of twenty-four years of patient love. The
sorrow of it, that only the loss of that love should have brought him
realization of it. Vague thoughts and aspirations formed in his mind. He
yearned toward some large and heroic deed which should re-establish
himself in her respect. He wished to find her in need, in great trouble,
free her from some crushing burden with one perilous effort, lay his
homage at her feet.
All of which meant that Terry Hollis was a boy--a bewildered, heart-
stricken boy. Not that he would have undone what he had done. It seemed
to him inevitable that he should resent the story of the sheriff and
shoot him down or be shot down himself. All that he regretted was that he
had remained mute before Aunt Elizabeth, unable to explain to her a thing
which he felt so keenly. And for the first time he realized the flinty
basis of her nature. The same thing that enabled her to give half a
lifetime to the cherishing of a theory, also enabled her to cast all the
result of that labor out of her life. It stung him again to the quick
every time he thought of it. There was something wrong. He felt that a
hundred hands of affection gave him hold on her. And yet all those grips
were brushed away.
The torment was setting him on fire. And the fire was burning away the
smug complacency which had come to him during his long life in the
When El Sangre pulled out of his racing gallop and struck out up a slope
at his natural gait, the ground-devouring pace, Terry Hollis was panting
and twisting in the saddle as though the labor of the gallop had been
his. They climbed and climbed, and still his mind was involved in a haze
of thought. It cleared when he found that there were no longer high
mountains before him. He drew El Sangre to a halt with a word. The great
stallion turned his head as he paused and looked back to his master with
a confiding eye as though waiting willingly for directions. And all at
once the heart of Terence went out to the blood-bay as it had never gone
before to any creature, dumb or human. For El Sangre had known such pain
as he himself was learning at this moment. El Sangre was giving him true
trust, true love, and asking him for no return.
The stallion, following his own will, had branched off from the Bear
Creek trail and climbed through the lower range of the Blue Peaks. They
were standing now on a mountain-top. The red of the sunset filled the
west and brought the sky close to them with the lower drifts of stained
clouds. Eastward the winding length of Bear Creek was turning pink and
purple. The Cornish ranch had never seemed so beautiful to Terry as it
was at this moment. It was a kingdom, and he was leaving, the
He turned west to the blare of the sunset. Blue Mountains tumbled away in
lessening ranges--beyond was Craterville, and he must go there today.
That was the world to him just then. And something new passed through
Terry. The world was below him; it lay at his feet with its hopes and its
battles. And he was strong for the test. He had been living in a dream.
Now he would live in fact. And it was glorious to live!
And when his arms fell, his right hand lodged instinctively on the butt
of his revolver. It was a prophetic gesture, but there, again, was
something that Terry Hollis did not understand.
He called to El Sangre softly. The stallion responded with the faintest
of whinnies to the vibrant power in the voice of the master; and at that
smooth, effortless pace, he glided down the hillside, weaving dexterously
among the jagged outcroppings of rock. A period had been placed after
Terry's old life. And this was how he rode into the new.
The long and ever-changing mountain twilight began as he wound through
the lower ranges. And when the full dark came, he broke from the last
sweep of foothills and El Sangre roused to a gallop over the level toward
He had been in the town before, of course. But he felt this evening that
he had really never seen it before. On other days what existed outside of
Bear Valley did not very much matter. That was the hub around which the
rest of the world revolved, so far as Terry was concerned. It was very
different now. Craterville, in fact, was a huddle of broken-down houses
among a great scattering of boulders with the big mountains plunging up
on every side to the dull blue of the night sky.
But Craterville was also something more. It was a place where several
hundred human beings lived, any one of whom might be the decisive
influence in the life of Terry. Young men and old men were in that town,
cunning and strength; old crones and lovely girls were there. Whom would
he meet? What should he see? A sudden kindness toward others poured
through Terry Hollis. After all, every man might be a treasure to him. A
queer choking came in his throat when he thought of all that he had
missed by his contemptuous aloofness.
One thing gave him check. This was primarily the sheriff's town, and by
this time they knew all about the shooting. But what of that? He had
fought fairly, almost too fairly.
He passed the first shapeless shack. The hoofs of El Sangre bit into the
dust, choking and red in daylight, and acrid of scent by the night. All
was very quiet except for a stir of voices in the distance here and
there, always kept hushed as though the speaker felt and acknowledged the
influence of the profound night in the mountains. Someone came down the
street carrying a lantern. It turned his steps into vast spokes of
shadows that rushed back and forth across the houses with the swing of
the light. The lantern light gleamed on the stained flank of El Sangre.
"Halloo, Jake, that you?"
The man with the lantern raised it, but its light merely served to blind
him. Terry passed on without a word and heard the other mutter behind
him: "Some damn stranger!"
Perhaps strangers were not welcome in Craterville. At least, it seemed so
when he reached the hotel after putting up his horse in the shed behind
the old building. Half a dozen dark forms sat on the veranda talking in
the subdued voices which he had noted before. Terry stepped through the
lighted doorway. There was no one inside.
"Want something?" called a voice from the porch. The widow Rickson came
in to him.
"A room, please," said Terry.
But she was gaping at him. "You! Terence--Hollis!"
A thousand things seemed to be in that last word, which she brought out
with a shrill ring of her voice. Terry noted that the talking on the
porch was cut off as though a hand had been clapped over the mouth of
He recalled that the widow had been long a friend of the sheriff and he
was suddenly embarrassed.
"If you have a spare room, Mrs. Rickson. Otherwise, I'll find--"
Her manner had changed. It became as strangely ingratiating as it had
been horrified, suspicious, before.
"Sure I got a room. Best in the house, if you want it. And--you'll be
He wondered why she insisted so savagely on that newfound name? He
admitted that he was very hungry from his ride, and she led him back to
the kitchen and gave him cold ham and coffee and vast slices of bread and
She did not talk much while he ate, and he noted that she asked no
questions. Afterwards she led him through the silence of the place up to
the second story and gave him a room at the corner of the building. He
thanked her. She paused at the door with her hand on the knob, and her
eyes fixed him through and through with a glittering, hostile stare. A
wisp of gray hair had fallen across her cheek, and there it was plastered
to the skin with sweat, for the evening was, warm.
"No trouble," she muttered at length. "None at all. Make yourself to
When the door closed on her, Terry remained standing in the middle of the
room watching the flame in the oil lamp she had lighted flare and rise at
the corner, and then steady down to an even line of yellow; but he was
not seeing it; he was listening to that peculiar silence in the house. It
seemed to have spread over the entire village, and he heard no more of
those casual noises which he had noticed on his coming.
He went to the window and raised it to let whatever wind was abroad enter
the musty warmth of the room. He raised the sash with stealthy caution,
wondering at his own stealthiness. And he was oddly glad when the window
rose without a squeak. He leaned out and looked up and down the street.
It was unchanged. Across the way a door flung open, a child darted out
with shrill laughter and dodged about the corner of the house, escaping
after some mischief.
After that the silence again, except that before long a murmur began on
the veranda beneath him where the half-dozen obscure figures had been
sitting when he entered. Why should they be mumbling to themselves? He
thought he could distinguish the voice of the widow Rickson among the
rest, but he shrugged that idle thought away and turned back into his
room. He sat down on the side of the bed and pulled off his boots, but
the minute they were off he was ill at ease. There was something
oppressive about the atmosphere of this rickety old hotel. What sort of a
world was this he had entered, with its whispers, its cold glances?
He cast himself back on his bed, determined to be at ease. Nevertheless,
his heart kept bumping absurdly. Now, Terry began to grow angry. With the
feeling that there was danger in the air of Craterville--for him--there
came a nervous setting of the muscles, a desire to close on someone and
throttle the secret of this hostility. At this point he heard a light
tapping at the door. Terry sat bolt upright on the bed.
There are all kinds of taps. There are bold, heavy blows on the door that
mean danger without; there are careless, conversational rappings; but
this was a furtive tap, repeated after a pause as though it contained a
First there was a leap of fear--then cold quiet of the nerves. He was
surprised at himself. He found himself stepping into whatever adventure
lay toward him with the lifting of the spirits. It was a stimulus.
He called cheerfully: "Come in!"
And the moment he had spoken he was off the bed, noiselessly, and half
the width of the room away. It had come to him as he spoke that it might
be well to shift from the point from which his voice had been heard.
The door opened swiftly--so swiftly was it opened and closed that it made
a faint whisper in the air, oddly like a sigh. And there was no click of
the lock either in the opening or the closing. Which meant an
incalculably swift and dexterous manipulation with the fingers. Terry
found himself facing a short-throated man with heavy shoulders; he wore a
shapeless black hat bunched on his head as though the whole hand had
grasped the crown and shoved the hat into place. It sat awkwardly to one
side. And the hat typified the whole man. There was a sort of shifty
readiness about him. His eyes flashed in the lamplight as they glanced at
the bed, and then flicked back toward Terry. And a smile began somewhere
in his face and instantly went out. It was plain that he had understood
He continued to survey Terry insolently for a moment without announcing
himself. Then he stated: "You're him, all right!"
"Am I?" said Terry, regarding this unusual visitor with increasing
suspicion. "But I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage."
The big-shouldered man raised a stubby hand. He had an air of one who
deprecates, and at the same time lets another into a secret. He moved
across the room with short steps that made no sound, and gave him a
peculiar appearance of drifting rather than walking. He picked up a chair
and placed it down on the rug beside the bed and seated himself in it.
Aside from the words he had spoken, since he entered the room he had made
no more noise than a phantom.
"You're him, all right," he repeated, balancing back in the chair. But he
gathered his toes under him, so that he remained continually poised in
spite of the seeming awkwardness of his position.
"Who am I?" asked Terry.
"Why, Black Jack's kid. It's printed in big type all over you."
His keen eyes continued to bore at Terry as though he were striving to
read features beneath a mask. Terry could see his visitor's face more
clearly now. It was square, with a powerfully muscled jaw and features
that had a battered look. Suddenly he teetered forward in his chair and
dropped his elbows aggressively on his knees.
"D'you know what they're talking about downstairs?"
"Haven't the slightest idea."
"You ain't! The old lady is trying to fix up a bad time for you."
"She's raising a crowd?"
"Doing her best. I dunno what it'll come to. The boys are stirring a
little. But I think it'll be all words and no action. Four-flushers, most
of 'em. Besides, they say you bumped old Minter for a goal; and they
don't like the idea of messing up with you. They'll just talk. If they
try anything besides their talk--well, you and me can fix 'em!"
Terry slipped into the only other chair which the room provided, but he
slid far down in it, so that his holster was free and the gun butt
conveniently under his hand.
"You seem a charitable sort," he said. "Why do you throw in with me?"
"And you don't know who I am?" said the other.
He chuckled noiselessly, his mouth stretching to remarkable proportions.
"I'm sorry," said Terry.
"Why, kid, I'm Denver. I'm your old man's pal, Denver! I'm him that done
the Silver Junction job with old Black Jack, and a lot more jobs, when
you come to that!"
He laughed again. "They were getting sort of warm for me out in the big
noise. So I grabbed me a side-door Pullman and took a trip out to the old
beat. And think of bumping into Black Jack's boy right off the bat!"
He became more sober. "Say, kid, ain't you got a glad hand for me? Ain't
you ever heard Black Jack talk?"
"He died," said Terry soberly, "before I was a year old."
"The hell!" murmured the other. "The hell! Poor kid. That was a rotten
lay, all right. If I'd known about that, I'd of--but I didn't. Well, let
it go. Here we are together. And you're the sort of a sidekick I need.
Black Jack, we're going to trim this town to a fare-thee-well!"
"My name is Hollis," said Terry. "Terence Hollis."
"Terence hell," snorted the other. "You're Black Jack's kid, ain't you?
And ain't his moniker good enough for you to work under? Why, kid, that's
a trademark most of us would give ten thousand cash for!"
He broke off and regarded Terry with a growing satisfaction.
"You're his kid, all right. This is just the way Black Jack would of
sat--cool as ice--with a gang under him talking about stretching his
neck. And now, bo, hark to me sing! I got the job fixed and--But wait a
minute. What you been doing all these years? Black Jack was known when he
was your age!"
With a peculiar thrill of awe and of aversion Terry watched the face of
the man who had known his father so well. He tried to make himself
believe that twenty-four years ago Denver might have been quite another
type of man. But it was impossible to re-create that face other than as a
bulldog in the human flesh. The craft and the courage of a fighter were
written large in those features.
"I've been leading--a quiet life," he said gently.
The other grinned. "Sure--quiet," he chuckled. "And then you wake up and
bust Minter for your first crack. You began late, son, but you may go
far. Pretty tricky with the gat, eh?"
He nodded in anticipatory admiration.
"Old Minter had a name. Ain't I had my run-in with him? He was smooth
with a cannon. And fast as a snake's tongue. But they say you beat him
fair and square. Well, well, I call that a snappy start in the world!"
Terry was silent, but his companion refused to be chilled.
"That's Black Jack over again," he said. "No wind about what he'd done.
No jabber about what he was going to do. But when you wanted something
done, go to Black Jack. Bam! There it was done clean for you and no talk
afterward. Oh, he was a bird, was your old man. And you take after him,
A voice rose in Terry. He wanted to argue. He wanted to explain. It was
not that he felt any consuming shame because he was the son of Black Jack
Hollis. But there was a sort of foster parenthood to which he owed a
clean-minded allegiance--the fiction of the Colby blood. He had
worshipped that thought for twenty years. He could not discard it in an
Denver was breezing on in his quick, husky voice, so carefully toned that
it barely served to reach Terry.
"I been waiting for a pal like you, kid. And here's where we hit it off.
You don't know much about the game, I guess? Neither did Black Jack. As a
peterman he was a loud ha-ha; as a damper-getter he was just an amateur;
as a heel or a houseman, well, them things were just outside him. When it
come to the gorilla stuff, he was there a million, though. And when there
was a call for fast, quick, soft work, Black Jack was the man. Kid, I can
see that you're cut right on his pattern. And here's where you come in
with me. Right off the bat there's going to be velvet. Later on I'll
educate you. In three months you'll be worth your salt. Are you on?"
He hardly waited for Terry to reply. He rambled on.
"I got a plant that can't fail to blossom into the long green, kid. The
store safe. You know what's in it? I'll tell you. Ten thousand cold. Ten
thousand bucks, boy. Well, well, and how did it get there? Because a lot
of the boobs around here have put their spare cash in the safe for
He tilted his chin and indulged in another of his yawning, silent bursts
"And you never seen a peter like it. Tin, kid, tin. I could turn it
inside out with a can opener. But I ain't long on a kit just now. I'm on
the hog for fair, as a matter of fact. Well, I don't need a kit. I got
some sawdust and I can make the soup as pretty as you ever seen. We'll
blow the safe, kid, and then we'll float. Are you on?"
He paused, grinning with expectation, his face gradually becoming blank
as he saw no response in Terry.
"As nearly as I can make out--because most of the slang is new to me,"
said Terry, "you want to dynamite the store safe and--"
"Who said sawdust? Soup, kid, soup! I want to blow the door off the
peter, not the roof off the house. Say, who d'you think I am, a boob?"
"I understand, then. Nitroglycerin? Denver, I'm not with you. It's mighty
good of you to ask me to join in--but that isn't my line of work."
The yegg raised an expostulatory hand, but Terry went on: "I'm going to
keep straight, Denver."
It seemed as though this simple tiding took the breath from Denver.
"Ah!" he nodded at length. "You playing up a new line. No strong-arm
stuff except when you got to use it. Going to try scratching, kid? Is
that it, or some other kind of slick stuff?"
"I mean what I say, Denver. I'm going straight."
The yegg shook his head, bewildered. "Say," he burst out suddenly, "ain't
you Black Jack's kid?"
"I'm his son," said Terry.
"All right. You'll come to it. It's in the blood, Black Jack. You can't
get away from it."
Terry tugged his shirt open at the throat; he was stifling. "Perhaps," he
"It's the easy way," went on Denver. "Well, maybe you ain't ripe yet, but
when you are, tip me off. Gimme a ring and I'll be with you."
"One more thing. You're broke, Denver. And I suppose you need what's in
that safe. But if you take it, the widow will be ruined. She runs the
hotel and the store, too, you know."
"Why, you poor boob," groaned Denver, "don't you know she's the old dame
that's trying to get you mobbed?"
"I suppose so. But she was pretty fond of the sheriff, you know. I don't
blame her for carrying a grudge. Now, about the money, Denver; I happen
to have a little with me. Take what you want."
Denver took the proffered money without a word, counted it with a deftly
stabbing forefinger, and shoved the wad into his hip pocket.
"All right," he said, "this'll sort of sweeten the pot. You don't need
"I'll get along without it. And you won't break the safe?"
"Hell!" grunted Denver. "Does it hang on that?"
Terry leaned forward in his chair.
"Denver, don't break that safe!"
"You kind of say that as if you was boss, maybe," sneered Denver.
"I am," said Terry, "as far as this goes."
"How'll you stop me, kid? Sit up all night and nurse the safe?"
"No. But I'll follow you, Denver. And I'll get you. You understand? I'll
stay on your trail till I have you."
Again there was a long moment of silence, then, "Black Jack!" muttered
Denver. "You're like his ghost! I think you'd get me, right enough! Well,
I'll call it off. This fifty will help me along a ways."
At the door he whirled sharply on Terence Hollis. "How much have you got
left?" he asked.
"Enough," said Terry.
"Then lemme have another fifty, will you?"
"I'm sorry. I can't quite manage it."
"Make it twenty-five, then."
"Can't do that either, Denver. I'm very sorry."
"Hell, man! Are you a short sport? I got a long jump before me. Ain't you
got any credit around this town?"
"I--not very much, I'm afraid."
"You're kidding me," scowled Denver. "That wasn't Black Jack's way. From
his shoes to his skin everything he had belonged to his partners. His
ghost'll haunt you if you're turning me down, kid. Why, ain't you the
heir of a rich rancher over the hills? Ain't that what I been told?"
"I was," said Terry, "until today."
"Ah! You got turned out for beaning Minter?"
Terry remained silent.
"Without a cent?"
Suddenly the pudgy arm of Denver shot out and his finger pointed into
"You damn fool! This fifty is the last cent you got in the world!"
"Not at all," said Terry calmly.
"You lie!" Denver struck his knuckles across his forehead. "And I was
going to trim you. Black Jack, I didn't know you was as white as this.
Fifty? Pal, take it back!"
He forced the money into Terry's pocket.
"And take some more. Here; lemme stake you. I been pulling a sob story,
but I'm in the clover, Black Jack. Gimme your last cent, will you? Kid,
here's a hundred, two hundred--say what you want."
"Not a cent--nothing," said Terry, but he was deeply moved.
Denver thoughtfully restored the money to his wallet.
"You're white," he said gently. "And you're straight as they come. Keep
it up if you can. I know damned well that you can't. I've seen 'em try
before. But they always slip. Keep it up, Black Jack, but if you ever
change your mind, lemme know. I'll be handy. Here's luck!"
And he was gone as he had entered, with a whish of the swiftly moved door
in the air, and no click of the lock.
The door had hardly closed on him when Terence wanted to run after him
and call him back. There was a thrill still running in his blood since
the time the yegg had leaned so close and said: "That wasn't Black Jack's
He wanted to know more about Black Jack, and he wanted to hear the story
from the lips of this man. A strange warmth had come over him. It had
seemed for a moment that there was a third impalpable presence in the
room--his father listening. And the thrill of it remained, a ghostly and
yet a real thing.
But he checked his impulse. Let Denver go, and the thought of his father
with him. For the influence of Black Jack, he felt, was quicksand pulling
him down. The very fact that he was his father's son had made him shoot
down one man. Again the shadow of Black Jack had fallen across his path
today and tempted him to crime. How real the temptation had been, Terry
did not know until he was alone. Half of ten thousand dollars would
support him for many a month. One thing was certain. He must let his
father remain simply a name.
Going to the window in his stocking feet, he listened again. There were
more voices murmuring on the veranda of the hotel now, but within a few
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