Part 4 out of 5
"I'd like to know what kind of people they are, anyway! I'd like to meet
up with that Elizabeth Cornish, the--"
"She's the finest woman that ever breathed," said Terry simply.
"You say that," she pondered slowly, "after she sent you away?"
"She did only what she thought was right. She's a little hard, but very
She was shaking her head; the hair had become a dull and wonderful gold
in the faint moonshine.
"I dunno what kind of a man you are, Terry. I didn't ever know a man
could stick by--folks--after they'd been hurt by 'em. I couldn't do it. I
ain't got much Bible stuff in me, Terry. Why, when somebody does me a
wrong, I hate 'em--I hate 'em! And I never forgive 'em till I get back at
'em." She sighed. "But you're different, I guess. I begin to figure that
you're pretty white, Terry Hollis."
There was something so direct about her talk that he could not answer. It
seemed to him that there was in her a cross between a boy and a man--the
simplicity of a child and the straightforward strength of a grown man,
and all this tempered and made strangely delightful by her own unique
"But I guessed it the first time I looked at you," she was murmuring. "I
guessed that you was different from the rest."
She had her elbow on her knee now, and, with her chin cupped in the
graceful hand, she leaned toward him and studied him.
"When they're clean-cut on the outside, they're spoiled on the inside.
They're crooks, hard ones, out for themselves, never giving a rap about
the next gent in line. But mostly they ain't even clean on the outside,
and you can see what they are the first time you look at 'em.
"Oh, I've liked some of the boys now and then; but I had to make myself
like 'em. But you're different. I seen that when you started talking. You
didn't sulk; and you didn't look proud like you wanted to show us what
you could do; and you didn't boast none. I kept wondering at you while I
was at the piano. And--you made an awful hit with me, Terry."
Again he was too staggered to reply. And before he could gather his wits,
the girl went on:
"Now, is they any real reason why you shouldn't get out of here tomorrow
It was a blow of quite another sort.
"But why should I go?"
She grew very solemn, with a trace of sadness in her voice.
"I'll tell you why, Terry. Because if you stay around here too long,
they'll make you what you don't want to be--another Black Jack. Don't you
see that that's why they like you? Because you're his son, and because
they want you to be another like him. Not that I have anything against
him. I guess he was a fine fellow in his way." She paused and stared
directly at him in a way he found hard to bear. "He must of been! But
that isn't the sort of a man you want to make out of yourself. I know.
You're trying to go straight. Well, Terry, nobody that ever stepped could
stay straight long when they had around 'em Denver Pete and--my father."
She said the last with a sob of grief. He tried to protest, but she waved
"I know. And it's true. He'd do anything for me, except change himself.
Believe me, Terry, you got to get out of here--pronto. Is they anything
to hold you here?"
"A great deal. Three hundred dollars I owe your father."
She considered him again with that mute shake of the head. Then: "Do you
mean it? I see you do. I don't suppose it does any good for me to tell
you that he cheated you out of that money?"
"If I was fool enough to lose it that way, I won't take it back."
"I knew that, too--I guessed it. Oh, Terry, I know a pile more about the
inside of your head than you'd ever guess! Well, I knew that--and I come
with the money so's you can pay back Dad in the morning. Here it is--and
they's just a mite more to help you on your way."
She laid the little handful of gold on the table beside the bed and rose.
"Don't go," said Terry, when he could speak. "Don't go, Kate! I'm not
that low. I can't take your money!"
She stood by the bed and stamped lightly. "Are you going to be a fool
about this, too?"
"Your father offered to give me back all the money I'd won. I can't do
He could see her grow angry, beautifully angry.
"Is they no difference between Kate Pollard and Joe Pollard?"
Something leaped into his throat. He wanted to tell her in a thousand
ways just how vast that difference was.
"Man, you'd make a saint swear, and I ain't a saint by some miles. You
take that money and pay Dad, and get on your way. This ain't no place for
you, Terry Hollis."
"I--" he began.
She broke in: "Don't say it. You'll have me mad in a minute. Don't say
"I have to. I can't take money from you."
"Then take a loan."
He shook his head.
"Ain't I good enough to even loan you money?" she cried fiercely.
The shaft of moonlight had poured past her feet; she stood in a pool of
"Good enough?" said Terry. "Good enough?" Something that had been
accumulating in him now swelled to bursting, flooded from his heart to
his throat. He hardly knew his own voice, it was so transformed with
"There's more good in you than in any man or woman I've ever known."
"Terry, are you trying to make me feel foolish?"
"I mean it--and it's true. You're kinder, more gentle--"
"Gentle? Me? Oh, Terry!"
But she sat down on the bed, and she listened to him with her face
raised, as though music were falling on her, a thing barely heard at a
"They've told you other things, but they don't know. I know, Kate. The
moment I saw you I knew, and it stopped my heart for a beat--the knowing
of it. That you're beautiful--and true as steel; that you're worthy of
honor--and that I honor you with all my heart. That I love your kindness,
your frankness, your beautiful willingness to help people, Kate. I've
lived with a woman who taught me what was true. You've taught me what's
glorious and worth living for. Do you understand, Kate?"
And no answer; but a change in her face that stopped him.
"I shouldn't of come," she whispered at length, "and I--I shouldn't have
let you--talk the way you've done. But, oh, Terry--when you come to
forget what you've said--don't forget it all the way--keep some of the
things--tucked away in you--somewhere--"
She rose from the bed and slipped across the white brilliance of the
shaft of moonlight. It made a red-gold fire of her hair. Then she
flickered into the shadow. Then she was swallowed by the darkness.
There was no Kate at breakfast the next morning. She had left the house
at dawn with her horse.
"May be night before she comes back," said her father. "No telling how
far she'll go. May be tomorrow before she shows up."
It made Terry thoughtful for reasons which he himself did not understand.
He had a peculiar desire to climb into the saddle on El Sangre and trail
her across the hills. But he was very quickly brought to the reality that
if he chose to make himself a laboring man and work out the three hundred
dollars he would not take back from Joe Pollard, the big man was now
disposed to make him live up to his word.
He was sent out with an ax and ordered to attack a stout grove of the
pines for firewood. But he quickly resigned himself to the work. Whatever
gloom he felt disappeared with the first stroke that sunk the edge deep
into the soft wood. The next stroke broke out a great chip, and a
resinous, fresh smell came up to him.
He made quick work of the first tree, working the morning chill out of
his body, and as he warmed to his labor, the long muscles of arms and
shoulders limbering, the blows fell in a shower. The sturdy pines fell
one by one, and he stripped them of branches with long, sweeping blows of
the ax, shearing off several at a stroke. He was not an expert axman, but
he knew enough about that cunning craft to make his blows tell, and a
continual desire to sing welled up in him.
Once, to breathe after the heavy labor, he stepped to the edge of the
little grove. The sun was sparkling in the tops of the trees; the valley
dropped far away below him. He felt as one who stands on the top of the
world. There was flash and gleam of red; there stood El Sangre in the
corral below him; the stallion raised his head and whinnied in reply to
the master's whistle.
A great, sweet peace dropped on the heart of Terry Hollis. Now he felt he
was at home. He went back to his work.
But in the midmorning Joe Pollard came to him and grunted at the swath
Terry had driven into the heart of the lodgepole pines.
"I wanted junk for the fire," he protested; "not enough to build a house.
But I got a little errand for you in town, Terry. You can give El Sangre
a stretching down the road?"
It gave Terry a little prickling feeling of resentment to be ordered
about. But he swallowed the resentment. After all, this was labor of his
own choosing, though he could not but wonder a little, because Joe
Pollard no longer pressed him to take back the money he had lost. And he
reverted to the talk of Kate the night before. That three hundred dollars
was now an anchor holding him to the service of her father. And he
remembered, with a touch of dismay, that it might take a year of ordinary
wages to save three hundred dollars. Or more than a year.
It was impossible to be downhearted long, however. The morning was as
fresh as a rose, and the four men came out of the house with Pollard to
see El Sangre dancing under the saddle. Terry received the commission for
a box of shotgun cartridges and the money to pay for them.
"And the change," said Pollard liberally, "don't worry me none. Step
around and make yourself to home in town. About coming back--well, when I
send a man into town, I figure on him making a day of it. S'long, Terry!"
"Hey," called Slim, "is El Sangre gun-shy?"
"I suppose so."
The stallion quivered with eagerness to be off.
"Here's to try him."
The gun flashed into Slim's hand and boomed. El Sangre bolted straight
into the air and landed on legs of jack-rabbit qualities that flung him
sidewise. The hand and voice of Terry quieted him, while the others stood
around grinning with delight at the fun and at the beautiful
"But what'll he do if you pull a gun yourself?" asked Joe Pollard,
showing a sudden concern.
"He'll stand for it--long enough," said Terry. "Try him!"
There was a devil in Slim that morning. He snatched up a shining bit of
quartz and hurled it--straight at El Sangre! There was no warning--just a
jerk of the arm and the stone came flashing.
"Try your gun--on that!"
The words were torn off short. The heavy gun had twitched into the hand
of Terry, exploded, and the gleaming quartz puffed into a shower of
bright particles that danced toward the earth. El Sangre flew into a
paroxysm of educated bucking of the most advanced school. The steady
voice of Terry Hollis brought him at last to a quivering stop. The rider
was stiff in the saddle, his mouth a white, straight line.
He shoved his revolver deliberately back into the holster.
The four men had drawn together, still muttering with wonder. Luck may
have had something to do with the success of that snapshot, but it was
such a feat of marksmanship as would be remembered and talked about.
"Dugan!" said Terry huskily.
Slim lunged forward, but he was ill at ease.
"It seemed to me," said Terry, "that you threw that stone at El Sangre. I
hope I'm wrong?"
"Maybe," growled Slim. He flashed a glance at his companions, not at all
eager to push this quarrel forward to a conclusion in spite of his known
prowess. He had been a little irritated by the adulation which had been
shown to the son of Black Jack the night before. He was still more
irritated by the display of fine riding. For horsemanship and clever
gunplay were the two main feathers in the cap of Slim Dugan. He had
thrown the stone simply to test the qualities of this new member of the
gang; the snapshot had stunned him. So he glanced at his companions. If
they smiled, it meant that they took the matter lightly. But they were
not smiling; they met his glance with expressions of uniform gravity. To
torment a nervous horse is something which does not fit with the ways of
the men of the mountain desert, even at their roughest. Besides, there
was an edgy irritability about Slim Dugan which had more than once won
him black looks. They wanted to see him tested now by a foeman who seemed
worthy of his mettle. And Slim saw that common desire in his flickering
side glance. He turned a cold eye on Terry.
"Maybe," he repeated. "But maybe I meant to see what you could do with a
"I thought so," said Terry through his teeth. "Steady, boy!"
El Sangre became a rock for firmness. There was not a quiver in one of
his long, racing muscles. It was a fine tribute to the power of the
"I thought you might be trying out my gun," repeated Terry. "Are you
He leaned a little in the saddle. Slim moistened his lips. It was a hard
question to answer. The man in the saddle had become a quivering bundle
of nerves; Slim could see the twitching of the lips, and he knew what it
meant. Instinctively he fingered one of the broad bright buttons of his
shirt. A man who could hit a glittering thrown stone would undoubtedly be
able to hit that stationary button. The thought had elements in it that
were decidedly unpleasant. But he had gone too far. He dared not recede
now if he wished to hold up his head again among his fellows--and fear of
death had never yet controlled the actions of Slim Dugan.
"I dunno," he remarked carelessly. "I'm a sort of curious gent. It takes
more than one lucky shot to make me see the light."
The lips of Terry worked a moment. The companions of Slim Dugan scattered
of one accord to either side. There was no doubting the gravity of the
crisis which had so suddenly sprung up. As for Joe Pollard, he stood in
the doorway in the direct line projected from Terry to Slim and beyond.
There was very little sentiment in the body of Joe Pollard. Slim had
always been a disturbing factor in the gang. Why not? He bit his lips
"Dugan," said Terry at length, "curiosity is a very fine quality, and I
admire a man who has it. Greatly. Now, you may notice that my gun is in
the holster again. Suppose you try me again and see how fast I can get it
out of the leather--and hit a target."
The challenge was entirely direct. There was a perceptible tightening in
the muscles of the men. They were nerving themselves to hear the crack of
a gun at any instant. Slim Dugan, gathering his nerve power, fenced for a
moment more of time. His narrowing eyes were centering on one spot on
Terry's body--the spot at which he would attempt to drive his bullet, and
he chose the pocket of Terry's shirt. It steadied him, gave him his old
self-confidence to have found that target. His hand and his brain grew
steady, and the thrill of the fighter's love of battle entered him.
"What sort of a target d'you want?" he asked.
"I'm not particular," said Hollis. "Anything will do for me--even a
It jarred home to Slim--the very thought he had had a moment before. He
felt his certainty waver, slip from him. Then the voice of Pollard boomed
out at them:
"Keep them guns in their houses! You hear me talk? The first man that
makes a move I'm going to drill! Slim, get back into the house. Terry,
you damn meateater, git on down that hill!"
Terry did not move, but Slim Dugan stirred uneasily, turned, and said:
"It's up to you, chief. But I'll see this through sooner or later!"
And not until then did Terry turn his horse and go down the hill without
a backward look.
There had been a profound reason behind the sudden turning of Terry
Hollis's horse and his riding down the hill. For as he sat the saddle,
quivering, he felt rising in him an all-controlling impulse that was new
to him, a fierce and sudden passion.
It was joyous, free, terrible in its force--that wish to slay. The
emotion had grown, held back by the very force of a mental thread of
reason, until, at the very moment when the thread was about to fray and
snap, and he would be flung into sudden action, the booming voice of Joe
Pollard had cleared his mind as an acid clears a cloudy precipitate. He
saw himself for the first time in several moments, and what he saw made
And still in fear of himself he swung El Sangre and put him down the
slope recklessly. Never in his life had he ridden as he rode in those
first five minutes down the pitch of the hill. He gave El Sangre his head
to pick his own way, and he confined his efforts to urging the great
stallion along. The blood-bay went like the wind, passing up-jutting
boulders with a swish of gravel knocked from his plunging hoofs against
Even in Terry's passion of self-dread he dimly appreciated the prowess of
the horse, and when they shot onto the level going of the valley road, he
called El Sangre out of the mad gallop and back to the natural pace, a
gait as swinging and smooth as running water--yet still the road poured
beneath them at the speed of an ordinary gallop. It was music to Terry
Hollis, that matchless gait. He leaned and murmured to the pricking ears
with that soft, gentle voice which horses love. The glorious head of El
Sangre went up a little, his tail flaunted somewhat more proudly; from
the quiver of his nostrils to the ringing beat of his black hoofs he
bespoke his confidence that he bore the king of men on his back.
And the pride of the great horse brought back some of Terry's own waning
self-confidence. His father had been up in him as he faced Slim Dugan, he
knew. Once more he had escaped from the commission of a crime. But for
how long would he succeed in dodging that imp of the perverse which
It was like the temptation of a drug--to strike just once, and thereafter
to be raised above himself, take to himself the power of evil which is
greater than the power of good. The blow he struck at the sheriff had
merely served to launch him on his way. To strike down was not now what
he wanted, but to kill! To feel that once he had accomplished the destiny
of some strong man, to turn a creature of mind and soul, ambition and
hope, at a single stroke into so many pounds of flesh, useless, done for.
What could be more glorious? What could be more terrible? And the desire
to strike, as he had looked into the sneering face of Slim Dugan, had
been almost overmastering.
Sooner or later he would strike that blow. Sooner or later he would
commit the great and controlling crime. And the rest of his life would be
a continual evasion of the law.
If they would only take him into their midst, the good and the law-
abiding men of the mountains! If they would only accept him by word or
deed and give him a chance to prove that he was honest! Even then the
battle would be hard, against temptation; but they were too smugly sure
that his downfall was certain. Twice they had rejected him without cause.
How long would it be before they actually raised their hands against him?
How long would it be before they violently put him in the class of his
Grinding his teeth, he swore that if that time ever came when they took
his destiny into their own hands, he would make it a day to be marked in
red all through the mountains!
The cool, fresh wind against his face blew the sullen anger away. And
when he came close to the town, he was his old self.
A man on a tall gray, with the legs of speed and plenty of girth at the
cinches, where girth means lung power, twisted out of a side trail and
swung past El Sangre at a fast gallop. The blood-bay snorted and came
hard against the bit in a desire to follow. On the range, when he led his
wild band, no horse had ever passed El Sangre and hardly the voice of the
master could keep him back now. Terry loosed him. He did not break into a
gallop, but fled down the road like an arrow, and the gray came back to
him slowly and surely until the rider twisted around and swore in
He touched his mount with the spurs; there was a fresh start from the
gray, a lunge that kicked a little spurt of dust into the nostrils of El
Sangre. He snorted it out. Terry released his head completely, and now,
as though in scorn refusing to break into his sweeping gallop, El Sangre
flung himself ahead to the full of his natural pace.
And the gray came back steadily. The town was shoving up at them at the
end of the road more and more clearly. The rider of the gray began to
curse. He was leaning forward, jockeying his horse, but still El Sangre
hurled himself forward powerfully, smoothly. They passed the first shanty
on the outskirts of the town with the red head of the stallion at the hip
of the other. Before they straightened into the main street, El Sangre
had shoved his nose past the outstretched head of the gray. Then the
other rider jerked back on his reins with a resounding oath. Terry
imitated; one call to El Sangre brought him back to a gentle amble.
"Going to sell this damned skate," declared the stranger, a lean-faced
man of middle age with big, patient, kindly eyes. "If he can't make
another hoss break out of a pace, he ain't worth keeping! But I'll tell a
man that you got quite a hoss there, partner!"
"Not bad," admitted Terry modestly. "And the gray has pretty good points,
it seems to me."
They drew the horses back to a walk.
"Ought to have. Been breeding for him fifteen years--and here I get him
beat by a hoss that don't break out of a pace."
He swore again, but less violently and with less disappointment. He was
beginning to run his eyes appreciatively over the superb lines of El
Sangre. There were horses and horses, and he began to see that this was
one in a thousand--or more.
"What's the strain in that stallion?" he asked.
"Mustang," answered Terry.
"Mustang? Man, man, he's close to sixteen hands!"
"Nearer fifteen three. Yes, he stands pretty high. Might call him a freak
mustang, I guess. He reverts to the old source stock."
"I've heard something about that," nodded the other. "Once in a
generation they say a mustang turns up somewhere on the range that breeds
back to the old Arab. And that red hoss is sure one of 'em."
They dismounted at the hotel, the common hitching rack for the town, and
the elder man held out his hand.
"I'm Jack Baldwin."
"Terry'll do for me, Mr. Baldwin. Glad to know you."
Baldwin considered his companion with a slight narrowing of the eyes.
Distinctly this "Terry" was not the type to be wandering about the
country known by his first name alone. There were reasons and reasons why
men chose to conceal their family names in the mountains, however, and
not all of them were bad. He decided to reserve judgment. Particularly
since he noted a touch of similarity between the high head and the
glorious lines of El Sangre and the young pride and strength of Terry
himself. There was something reassuringly clean and frank about both
horse and rider, and it pleased Baldwin.
They made their purchases together in the store.
"Where might you be working?" asked Baldwin.
"For Joe Pollard."
"Him?" There was a lifting of the eyebrows of Jack Baldwin. "What line?"
"Cutting wood, just now."
Baldwin shook his head.
"How Pollard uses so much help is more'n I can see. He's got a range back
of the hills, I know, and some cattle on it; but he's sure a waster of
good labor. Take me, now. I need a hand right bad to help me with the
"I'm more or less under contract with Pollard," said Terry. He added:
"You talk as if Pollard might be a queer sort."
Baldwin seemed to be disarmed by this frankness.
"Ain't you noticed anything queer up there? No? Well, maybe Pollard is
all right. He's sort of a newcomer around here. That big house of his
ain't more'n four or five years old. But most usually a man buys land and
cattle around here before he builds him a big house. Well--Pollard is an
open-handed cuss, I'll say that for him, and maybe they ain't anything in
the talk that goes around."
What that talk was Terry attempted to discover, but he could not. Jack
Baldwin was a cautious gossip.
Since they had finished buying, the storekeeper perched on the edge of
his selling counter and began to pass the time of the day. It began with
the usual preliminaries, invariable in the mountains.
"What's the news out your way?"
"Nothing much to talk about. How's things with you and your family?"
"Fair to middlin' and better. Patty had the croup and we sat up two
nights firing up the croup kettle. Now he's better, but he still coughs
And so on until all family affairs had been exhausted. This is a
formality. One must not rush to the heart of his news or he will mortally
offend the sensitive Westerner.
This is the approved method. The storekeeper exemplified it, and having
talked about nothing for ten minutes, quietly remarked that young
Larrimer was out hunting a scalp, had been drinking most of the morning,
and was now about the town boasting of what he intended to do.
"And what's more, he's apt to do it."
"Larrimer is a no-good young skunk," said Baldwin, with deliberate heat.
"It's sure a crime when a boy that ain't got enough brains to fill a
peanut shell can run over men just because he's spent his life learning
how to handle firearms. He'll meet up with his finish one of these days."
"Maybe he will, maybe he won't," said the storekeeper, and spat with
precision and remarkable power through the window beside him. "That's
what they been saying for the last two years. Dawson come right down here
to get him; but it was Dawson that was got. And Kennedy was called a good
man with a gun--but Larrimer beat him to the draw and filled him plumb
full of lead."
"I know," growled Baldwin. "Kept on shooting after Kennedy was down and
had the gun shot out of his hand and was helpless. And yet they call that
"We can't afford to be too particular about shootings," said the
storekeeper. "Speaking personal, I figure that a shooting now and then
lets the blood of the youngsters and gives 'em a new start. Kind of like
to see it."
"But who's Larrimer after now?"
"A wild-goose chase, most likely. He says he's heard that the son of old
Black Jack is around these parts, and that he's going to bury the
outlaw's son after he's salted him away with lead."
"Black Jack's son! Is he around town?"
The tone sent a chill through Terry; it contained a breathless horror
from which there was no appeal. In the eye of Jack Baldwin, fair-minded
man though he was, Black Jack's son was judged and condemned as worthless
before his case had been heard.
"I dunno," said the storekeeper; "but if Larrimer put one of Black Jack's
breed under the ground, I'd call him some use to the town."
Jack Baldwin was agreeing fervently when the storekeeper made a violent
"There's Larrimer now, and he looks all fired up."
Terry turned and saw a tall fellow standing in the doorway. He had been
prepared for a youth; he saw before him a hardened man of thirty and
more, gaunt-faced, bristling with the rough beard of some five or six
days' growth, a thin, cruel, hawklike face.
A moment later, from the side door which led from the store into the main
body of the hotel, stepped the chunky form of Denver Pete, quick and
light of foot as ever. He went straight to the counter and asked for
matches, and as the storekeeper, still keeping half an eye upon the
formidable figure of Larrimer, turned for the matches, Denver spoke
softly from the side of his mouth to Terry--only in the lockstep line of
the prison do they learn to talk in this manner--gauging the carrying
power of the whisper with nice accuracy.
"That bird's after you. Crazy with booze in the head, but steady in the
hand. One of two things. Clear out right now, or else say the word and
I'll stay and help you get rid of him."
For the first time in his life fear swept over Terry--fear of himself
compared with which the qualm he had felt after turning from Slim Dugan
that morning had been nothing. For the second time in one day he was
being tempted, and the certainty came to him that he would kill Larrimer.
And what made that certainty more sure was the appearance of his nemesis,
Denver Pete, in this crisis. As though, with sure scent for evil, Denver
had come to be present and watch the launching of Terry into a career of
crime. But it was not the public that Terry feared. It was himself. His
moral determination was a dam which blocked fierce currents in him that
were struggling to get free. And a bullet fired at Larrimer would be the
thing that burst the dam and let the flood waters of self-will free.
Thereafter what stood in his path would be crushed and swept aside.
He said to Denver: "This is my affair, not yours. Stand away, Denver. And
pray for me."
A strange request. It shattered even the indomitable self-control of
Denver and left him gaping.
Larrimer, having completed his survey of the dim interior of the store,
stalked down upon them. He saw Terry for the first time, paused, and his
bloodshot little eyes ran up and down the body of the stranger. He turned
to the storekeeper, but still half of his attention was fixed upon Terry.
"Bill," he said, "you seen anything of a spavined, long-horned, no-good
skunk named Hollis around town today?"
And Terry could see him wait, quivering, half in hopes that the stranger
would show some anger at this denunciation.
"Ain't seen nobody by that name," said Bill mildly. "Maybe you're chasing
a wild goose? Who told you they was a gent named Hollis around?"
"Black Jack's son," insisted Larrimer. "Wild-goose chase, hell! I was
told he was around by a gent named--"
"These ain't the kind of matches I want!" cried Denver Pete, with a
strangely loud-voiced wrath. "I don't want painted wood. How can a gent
whittle one of these damned matches down to toothpick size? Gimme plain
wood, will you?"
The storekeeper, wondering, made the exchange. Drunken Larrimer had roved
on, forgetful of his unfinished sentence. For the very purpose of keeping
that sentence unfinished, Denver Pete remained on the scene, edging
toward the outskirts. Now was to come, in a single moment, both the
temptation and the test of Terry Hollis, and well Denver knew that if
Larrimer fell with a bullet in his body there would be an end of Terry
Hollis in the world and the birth of a new soul--the true son of Black
"It's him that plugged Sheriff Minter," went on Larrimer. "I hear tell as
how he got the sheriff from behind and plugged him. This town ain't a
place for a man-killing houn' dog like young Black Jack, and I'm here to
let him know it!"
The torrent of abuse died out in a crackle of curses. Terry Hollis stood
as one stunned. Yet his hand stayed free of his gun.
"Suppose we go on to the hotel and eat?" he asked Jack Baldwin softly.
"No use staying and letting that fellow deafen us with his oaths, is
"Better than a circus," declared Baldwin. "Wouldn't miss it. Since old
man Harkness died, I ain't heard cussing to match up with Larrimer's.
Didn't know that he had that much brains."
It seemed that the fates were surely against Terry this day. Yet still he
determined to dodge the issue. He started toward the door, taking care
not to walk hastily enough to draw suspicion on him because of his
withdrawal, but to the heated brain of Larrimer all things were
suspicious. His long arm darted out as Terry passed him; he jerked the
smaller man violently back.
"Wait a minute. I don't know you, kid. Maybe you got the information I
"I'm afraid not."
Terry blinked. It seemed to him that if he looked again at that vicious,
contracted face, his gun would slip into his hand of its own volition.
"Who are you?"
"A stranger in these parts," said Terry slowly, and he looked down at the
He heard a murmur from the men at the other end of the room. He knew that
small, buzzing sound. They were wondering at the calmness with which he
"So's Hollis a stranger in these parts," said Larrimer, facing his victim
more fully. "What I want to know is about the gent that owns the red hoss
in front of the store. Ever hear of him?"
Terry was silent. By a vast effort he was able to shake his head. It was
hard, bitterly hard, but every good influence that had ever come into his
life now stood beside him and fought with and for him--Elizabeth Cornish,
the long and fictitious line of his Colby ancestors, Kate Pollard with
her clear-seeing eyes. He saw her last of all. When the men were scorning
him for the way he had avoided this battle, she, at least, would
understand, and her understanding would be a mercy.
"Hollis is somewhere around," declared Larrimer, drawing back and biting
his lip. "I know it, damn well. His hoss is standing out yonder. I know
what'll fetch him. I'll shoot that hoss of his, and that'll bring him--if
young Black Jack is half the man they say he is! I ain't out to shoot
cowards--I want men!"
He strode to the door.
"Don't do it!" shouted Bill, the storekeeper.
"Shut up!" snapped Baldwin. "I know something. Shut up!"
That fierce, low voice reached the ear of Terry, and he understood that
it meant Baldwin had judged him as the whole world judged him. After all,
what difference did it make whether he killed or not? He was already
damned as a slayer of men by the name of his father before him.
Larrimer had turned with a roar.
"What d'you mean by stopping me, Bill? What in hell d'you mean by it?"
With the brightness of the door behind him, his bearded face was wolfish.
"Nothing," quavered Bill, this torrent of danger pouring about him.
"Except--that it ain't very popular around here--shooting hosses,
"Damn you and your ideas," said Larrimer. "I'm going to go my own way. I
know what's best."
He reached the door, his hand went back to the butt of his revolver.
And then it snapped in Terry, that last restraint which had been at the
breaking-point all this time. He felt a warmth run through him--the
warmth of strength and the cold of a mysterious and evil happiness.
The big man whirled as though he had heard a gun; there was a ring in the
voice of Terry like the ring down the barrel of a shotgun after it has
"You agin?" barked Larrimer.
"Me again. Larrimer, don't shoot the horse."
"For the sake of your soul, my friend."
"Boys, ain't this funny? This gent is a sky-pilot, maybe?" He made a long
"Stop where you are!" cried Terry.
He stood like a soldier with his heels together, straight, trembling. And
Larrimer stopped as though a blow had checked him.
"I may be your sky-pilot, Larrimer. But listen to sense. Do you really
mean you'd shoot that red horse in front of the hotel?"
"Ain't you heard me say it?"
"Then the Lord pity you, Larrimer!"
Ordinarily Larrimer's gun would have been out long before, but the change
from this man's humility of the moment before, his almost cringing
meekness, to his present defiance was so startling that Larrimer was
momentarily at sea.
"Damn my eyes," he remarked furiously, "this is funny, this is. Are you
preaching at me, kid? What d'you mean by that? Eh?"
"I'll tell you why. Face me squarely, will you? Your head up, and your
In spite of his rage and wonder, Larrimer instinctively obeyed, for the
words came snapping out like military commands.
"Now I'll tell you. You manhunting cur, I'm going to send you to hell
with your sins on your head. I'm going to kill you, Larrimer!"
It was so unexpected, so totally startling, that Larrimer blinked, raised
his head, and laughed.
But the son of Black Jack tore away all thought of laughter.
"Larrimer, I'm Terry Hollis. Get your gun!"
The wide mouth of Larrimer writhed silently from mirth to astonishment,
and then sinister rage. And though he was in the shadow against the door,
Terry saw the slow gleam in the face of the tall man--then his hand
whipped for the gun. It came cleanly out. There was no flap to his
holster, and the sight had been filed away to give more oiled and perfect
freedom to the draw. Years of patient practice had taught his muscles to
reflex in this one motion with a speed that baffled the eye. Fast as
light that draw seemed to those who watched, and the draw of Terry Hollis
appeared to hang in midair. His hand wavered, then clutched suddenly, and
they saw a flash of metal, not the actual motion of drawing the gun. Just
that gleam of the barrel at his hip, hardly clear of the holster, and
then in the dimness of the big room a spurt of flame and the boom of the
There was a clangor of metal at the farthest end of the room. Larrimer's
gun had rattled on the boards, unfired. He tossed up his great gaunt arms
as though he were appealing for help, leaped into the air, and fell
heavily, with a force that vibrated the floor where Terry stood.
There was one heartbeat of silence.
Then Terry shoved the gun slowly back into his holster and walked to the
body of Larrimer.
To these things Bill, the storekeeper, and Jack Baldwin, the rancher,
afterward swore. That young Black Jack leaned a little over the corpse
and then straightened and touched the fallen hand with the toe of his
boot. Then he turned upon them a perfectly calm, unemotional look.
"I seem to have been elected to do the scavenger work in this town," he
said. "But I'm going to leave it to you gentlemen to take the carrion
away. Shorty, I'm going back to the house. Are you ready to ride that
When they went to the body of Larrimer afterward, they found a neat,
circular splotch of purple exactly placed between the eyes.
The first thing the people in Pollard's big house knew of the return of
the two was a voice singing faintly and far off in the stable--they could
hear it because the door to the big living room was opened. And Kate
Pollard, who had been sitting idly at the piano, stood up suddenly and
looked around her. It did not interrupt the crap game of the four at one
side of the room, where they kneeled in a close circle. But it brought
big Pollard himself to the door in time to meet Denver Pete as the latter
When Denver was excited he talked very nearly as softly as he walked. And
his voice tonight was like a contented humming.
"It worked," was all he said aside to Pollard as he came through the
door. They exchanged silent grips of the hands. Then Kate drew down on
them; as if a mysterious; signal had been passed to them by the subdued
entrance of Denver, the four rose at the side of the room.
It was Pollard who forced him to talk.
"A pretty little party," said Denver. His purring voice was so soft that
to hear him the others instantly drew close. Kate Pollard stood suddenly
"Terry Hollis has done something," she said. "Denver, what has he done?"
"Him? Nothing much. To put it in his own words, he's just played
scavenger for the town--and he's done it in a way they won't be
forgetting for a good long day.
"Well? No need of acting up, Kate."
"Who was it?"
"Ever meet young Larrimer?"
She shuddered. "Yes. A--beast of a man."
"Sure. Worse'n a beast, maybe. Well, he's carrion now, to use Terry's
"Wait a minute," cut in big blond Phil Marvin. Don't spoil the story for
Terry. But did he really do for Larrimer? Larrimer was a neat one with a
gun--no good otherwise."
"Did he do for Larrimer?" echoed Denver in his purring voice. "Oh, man,
man! Did he do for Larrimer? And I ain't spoiling his story. He won't
talk about it. Wouldn't open his face about it all the way home. A pretty
neat play, boys. Larrimer was looking for a rep, and he wanted to make it
on Black Jack's son. Came tearing in.
"At first Terry tried to sidestep him. Made me weak inside for a minute
because I thought he was going to take water. Then he got riled a bit and
then--whang! It was all over. Not a body shot. No, boys, nothing clumsy
and amateurish like that, because a man may live to empty his gun at you
after he's been shot through the body. This young Hollis, pals, just ups
and drills Larrimer clean between the eyes. If you'd measured it off with
a ruler, you couldn't have hit exact center any better'n he done. Then he
walks up and stirs Larrimer with his toe to make sure he was dead. Cool
"You lie!" cried the girl suddenly.
They whirled at her, and found her standing and flaming at them.
"You hear me say it, Kate," said Denver, losing a little of his calm.
"He wasn't as cool as that--after killing a man. He wasn't."
"All right, honey. Don't you hear him singing out there in the stable?
Does that sound as if he was cut up much?"
"Then you've made him a murderer--you, Denver, and you, Dad. Oh, if
they's a hell, you're going to travel there for this! Both of you!"
"As if we had anything to do with it!" exclaimed Denver innocently.
"Besides, it wasn't murder. It was plain self-defense. Nothing but that.
Three witnesses to swear to it. But, my, my--you should hear that town
rave. They thought nobody could beat Larrimer."
The girl slipped back into her chair again and sat with her chin in her
hand, brooding. It was all impossible--it could not be. Yet there was
Denver telling his story, and far away the clear baritone of Terry Hollis
singing as he cared for El Sangre.
She waited to make sure, waited to see his face and hear him speak close
at hand. Presently the singing rang out more clearly. He had stepped out
of the barn.
Oh, I am a friar of orders gray,
Through hill and valley I take my way.
My long bead roll I merrily chant;
Wherever I wander no money I want!
And as the last word rang through the room, Terry Hollis stood in the
doorway, with his saddle and bridle hanging over one strong arm and his
gun and gun belt in the other hand. And his voice came cheerily to them
in greeting. It was impossible--more impossible than ever.
He crossed the room, hung up his saddle, and found her sitting near. What
should he say? How would his color change? In what way could he face her
with that stain in his soul?
And this was what Terry said to her: "I'm going to teach El Sangre to let
you ride him, Kate. By the Lord, I wish you'd been with us going down the
hill this morning!"
No shame, no downward head, no remorse. And he was subtly and strangely
changed. She could not put the difference into words. But his eye seemed
larger and brighter--it was no longer possible for her to look deeply
into it, as she had done so easily the night before. And there were other
He held his head in a more lordly fashion. About every movement there was
a singular ease and precision. He walked with a lighter step and with a
catlike softness almost as odd as that of Denver. His step had been light
before, but it was not like this. But through him and about him there was
an air of uneasy, alert happiness--as of one who steals a few perfect
moments, knowing that they will not be many. A great pity welled in her,
and a great anger. It was the anger which showed.
"Terry Hollis, what have you done? You're lookin' me in the eye, but you
ought to be hangin' your head. You've done murder! Murder! Murder!"
She let the three words ring through the room like three blows, cutting
the talk to silence. And all save Terry seemed moved.
He was laughing down at her--actually laughing, and there was no doubt as
to the sincerity of that mirth. His presence drew her and repelled her;
she became afraid for the first time in her life.
"A little formality with a gun," he said calmly. "A dog got in my way,
Kate--a mad dog. I shot the beast to keep it from doing harm."
"Ah, Terry, I know everything. I've heard Denver tell it. I know it was a
He insisted carelessly. "By the Lord, Kate, only a dog--and a mad dog at
that. Perhaps there was the body of a man, but there was the soul of a
dog inside the skin. Tut! it isn't worth talking about."
She drew away from him. "Terry, God pity you. I pity you," she went on
hurriedly and faintly. "But you ain't the same any more, Terry. I--I'm
almost afraid of you!"
He tried laughingly to stop her, and in a sudden burst of hysterical
terror she fled from him. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him come
after her, light as a shadow. And the shadow leaped between her and the
door; the force of her rush drove her into his arms.
In the distance she could hear the others laughing--they understood such
a game as this, and enjoyed it with all their hearts. Ah, the fools!
He held her lightly, his fingertips under her elbows. For all the
delicacy of that touch, she knew that if she attempted to flee, the grip
would be iron. He would hold her where she was until he was through
talking to her.
"Don't you see what I've done?" he was saying rapidly. "You wanted to
drive me out last night. You said I didn't fit--that I didn't belong up
here. Well, Kate, I started out today to make myself fit to belong to
this company of fine fellows."
He laughed a little; if it were not real mirth, at least there was a
fierce quality of joy in his voice.
"You see, I decided that if I went away I'd be lonely. Particularly, I'd
be lonely as the devil, Kate, for you!"
"You've murdered to make yourself one--of us?"
"Tush, Kate. You exaggerate entirely. Do you know what I've really done?
Why, I've wakened; I've come to my senses. After all, there was no other
place for me to go. I tried the world of good, ordinary working people. I
asked them to let me come in and prove my right to be one of them. They
discharged me when I worked honestly on the range. They sent their
professional gunmen and bullies after me. And then--I reached the limit
of my endurance, Kate, and I struck back. And the mockery of it all is
this--that though they have struck me repeatedly and I have endured it,
I--having struck back a single time--am barred from among them forever.
Let it be so!"
"Hush, Terry. I--I'm going to think of ways!"
"You couldn't. Last night--yes. Today I'm a man--and I'm free. And
freedom is the sweetest thing in the world. There's no place else for me
to go. This is my world. You're my queen. I've won my spurs; I'll use
them in your service, Kate."
"By the Lord, I will, though! I'm happy--don't you see? And I'm going to
be happier. I'm going to work my way along until I can tell you--that I
love you, Kate--that you're the daintiest body of fire and beauty and
temper and gentleness and wisdom and fun that was ever crowned with the
name of a woman. And--"
But under the rapid fire of his words there was a touch of hardness--
mockery, perhaps. She drew back, and he stepped instantly aside. She went
by him through the door with bowed head. And Terry, closing it after her,
heard the first sob.
It was as if a gate which had hitherto been closed against him in the
Pollard house were now opened. They no longer held back from Terry, but
admitted him freely to their counsels. But the first person to whom he
spoke was Slim Dugan. There was a certain nervousness about Slim this
evening, and a certain shame. For he felt that in the morning, to an
extent, he had backed down from the quarrel with young Black Jack. The
killing of Larrimer now made that reticence of the morning even more
pointed than it had been before. With all these things taken into
consideration, Slim Dugan was in the mood to fight and die; for he felt
that his honor was concerned. A single slighting remark to Terry, a
single sneering side glance, would have been a signal for gunplay. And
everyone knew it.
The moment there was silence the son of Black Jack went straight to Slim
"Slim," he said, just loud enough for everyone to hear, "a fellow isn't
himself before noon. I've been thinking over that little trouble we had
this morning, and I've made up my mind that if there were any fault it
was mine for taking a joke too seriously. At any rate, if it's agreeable
to you, Slim, I'd like to shake hands and call everything square. But if
there's going to be any ill will, let's have it out right now."
Slim Dugan wrung the hand of Terry without hesitation.
"If you put it that way," he said cordially, "I don't mind saying that I
was damned wrong to heave that stone at the hoss. And I apologize,
And so everything was forgotten. Indeed, where there had been enmity
before, there was now friendship. And there was a breath of relief drawn
by every member of the gang. The peacemaking tendency of Hollis had more
effect on the others than a dozen killings. They already granted that he
was formidable. They now saw that he was highly desirable also.
Dinner that night was a friendly affair, except that Kate stayed in her
room with a headache. Johnny the Chinaman smuggled a tray to her. Oregon
Charlie went to the heart of matters with one of his rare speeches:
"You hear me talk, Hollis. She's mad because you've stepped off. She'll
get over it all right."
Oregon Charlie had a right to talk. It was an open secret that he had
loved Kate faithfully ever since he joined the gang. But apparently Terry
Hollis cared little about the moods of the girl. He was the center of
festivities that evening until an interruption from the outside formed a
diversion. It came in the form of a hard rider; the mutter of his hoofs
swept to the door, and Phil Marvin, having examined the stranger from the
shuttered loophole beside the entrance, opened the door to him at once.
"It's Sandy," he fired over his shoulder in explanation.
A weary-looking fellow came into the room, swinging his hat to knock the
dust off it, and loosening the bandanna at his throat. The drooping, pale
mustache explained his name. Two words were spoken, and no more.
"News?" said Pollard.
"News," grunted Sandy, and took a place at the table.
Terry had noted before that there were always one or two extra places
laid; he had always liked the suggestion of hospitality, but he was
rather in doubt about this guest. He ate with marvellous expedition,
keeping his lean face close to the table and bolting his food like a
hungry dog. Presently he drained his coffee cup, arranged his mustache
with painful care, and seemed prepared to talk.
"First thing," he said now--and utter silence spread around the table as
he began to talk--"first thing is that McGuire is coming. I seen him on
the trail, cut to the left and took the short way. He ought to be loping
in almost any minute."
Terry saw the others looking straight at Pollard; the leader was
thoughtful for a moment.
"Is he coming with a gang, Sandy?"
"He was always a nervy cuss. Someday--"
He left the sentence unfinished. Denver had risen noiselessly.
"I'm going to beat it for my bunk," he announced. "Let me know when the
sheriff is gone."
"Sit where you are, Denver. McGuire ain't going to lay hands on you."
"Sure he ain't," agreed Denver. "But I ain't partial to having guys lay
eyes on me, neither. Some of you can go out and beat up trouble. I like
to stay put."
And he glided out of the room with no more noise than a sliding shadow.
He had hardly disappeared when a heavy hand beat at the door.
"That's McGuire," announced Pollard. "Let him in, Phil." So saying, he
twitched his gun out of the holster, spun the cylinder, and dropped it
"Don't try nothing till you see me put my hand into my beard, boys. He
don't mean much so long as he's come alone."
Marvin drew back the door. Terry saw a man with shoulders of martial
squareness enter. And there was a touch of the military in his brisk step
and the curt nod he sent at Marvin as he passed the latter. He had not
taken off his sombrero. It cast a heavy shadow across the upper part of
his worn, sad face.
"Evening, sheriff," came from Pollard, and a muttered chorus from the
others repeated the greeting. The sheriff cast his glance over them like
a schoolteacher about to deliver a lecture.
"Sit down, McGuire."
"I'm only staying a minute. I'll talk standing." It was a declaration of
"I guess this is the first time I been up here, Pollard?"
"The very first, sheriff."
"Well, if I been kind of neglectful, it ain't that I'm not interested in
you-all a heap!"
He brought it out with a faint smile; there was no response to that
"Matter of fact, I been keeping my eye on you fellows right along. Now, I
ain't up here to do no accusing. I'm up here to talk to you man to man.
They's been a good many queer things happen. None of 'em in my county,
mind you, or I might have done some talking to you before now. But they's
been a lot of queer things happen right around in the mountains; and some
of 'em has traced back kind of close to Joe Pollard's house as a starting
point. I ain't going to go any further. If I'm wrong, they ain't any harm
done; if I'm right, you know what I mean. But I tell you this, boys--
we're a long-sufferin' lot around these parts, but they's some things
that we don't stand for, and one of 'em that riles us particular much is
when a gent that lays out to be a regular hardworking rancher--even if he
ain't got much of a ranch to talk about and work about--takes mankillers
under their wings. It ain't regular, and it ain't popular around these
parts. I guess you know what I mean."
Terry expected Pollard to jump to his feet. But there was no such
response. The other men stared down at the table, their lips working.
Pollard alone met the eye of the sheriff.
The sheriff changed the direction of his glance. Instantly, it fell on
Terry and stayed there.
"You're the man I mean; you're Terry Hollis, Black Jack's son?"
Terry imitated the others and did not reply.
"Oh, they ain't any use beating about the bush. You got Black Jack's
blood in you. That's plain. I remember your old man well enough."
Terry rose slowly from his chair.
"I think I'm not disputing that, sheriff. As a matter of fact, I'm very
proud of my father."
"I think you are," said the sheriff gravely. "I think you are--damned
proud of him. So proud you might even figure on imitating what he done in
the old days."
"Perhaps," said Terry. The imp of the perverse was up in him now, urging
"Step soft, sheriff," cried Pollard suddenly, as though he sensed a
crisis of which the others were unaware. "Terry, keep hold on yourself!"
The sheriff waved the cautionary advice away.
"My nerves are tolerable good, Pollard," he said coldly. "The kid ain't
scaring me none. And now hark to me, Black Jack. You've got away with two
gents already--two that's known, I mean. Minter was one and Larrimer was
two. Both times it was a square break. But I know your kind like a book.
You're going to step over the line pretty damn pronto, and when you do,
I'm going to get you, friend, as sure as the sky is blue! You ain't going
to do what your dad done before you. I'll tell you why. In the old days
the law was a joke. But it's tolerable strong now. You hear me talk--get
out of these here parts and stay out. We don't want none of your kind."
There was a flinching of the men about the table. They had seen the
tigerish suddenness with which Terry's temper could flare--they had
received an object lesson that morning. But to their amazement he
remained perfectly cool under fire. He sauntered a little closer to the
"I'll tell you, McGuire," he said gently. "Your great mistake is in
talking too much. You've had a good deal of success, my friend. So much
that your head is turned. You're quite confident that no one will invade
your special territory; and you keep your sympathy for neighboring
counties. You pity the sheriffs around you. Now listen to me. You've
branded me as a criminal in advance. And I'm not going to disappoint you.
I'm going to try to live up to your high hopes. And what I do will be
done right in your county, my friend. I'm going to make the sheriffs pity
_you_, McGuire. I'm going to make your life a small bit of hell. I'm
going to keep you busy. And now--get out! And before you judge the next
man that crosses your path, wait for the advice of twelve good men and
true. You need advice, McGuire. You need it to beat hell! Start on your
His calmness was shaken a little toward the end of this speech and his
voice, at the close, rang sharply at McGuire. The latter considered him
from beneath frowning brows for a moment and then, without another word,
without a glance to the others and a syllable of adieu, turned and walked
slowly, thoughtfully, out of the room. Terry walked back to his place. As
he sat down, he noticed that every eye was upon him, worried.
"I'm sorry that I've had to do so much talking," he said. "And I
particularly apologize to you, Pollard. But I'm tired of being hounded.
As a matter of fact, I'm now going to try to play the part of the hound
myself. Action, boys; action is what we must have, and action right in
this county under the nose of the complacent McGuire!"
There was no exuberant joy to meet this suggestion. McGuire had, as a
matter of fact, made his territory practically crime-proof for so long
that men had lost interest in planning adventures within the sphere of
his authority. It seemed to the four men of Pollard's gang a peculiar
folly to cast a challenge in the teeth of the formidable sheriff himself.
Even Pollard was shaken and looked to Denver. But that worthy, who had
returned from the door where he was stationed during the presence of the
sheriff, remained in his place smiling down at his hands. He, for one,
seemed oddly pleased.
In the meantime Sandy was setting forth his second and particularly
interesting news item.
"You-all know Lewison?" he asked.
"The sour old grouch," affirmed Phil Marvin. "Sure, we know him."
"I know him, too," said Sandy. "I worked for the tenderfoot that he
skinned out of the ranch. And then I worked for Lewison. If they's
anything good about Lewison, you'd need a spyglass to find it, and then
it wouldn't be fit to see. His wife couldn't live with him; he drove his
son off and turned him into a drunk; and he's lived his life for his
"Which he ain't got much to show for it," remarked Marvin. "He lives like
a starved dog."
"And that's just why he's got the coin," said Sandy. "He lives on what
would make a dog sick and his whole life he's been saving every cent he's
made. He gives his wife one dress every three years till she died. That's
how tight he is. But he's sure got the money. Told everybody his kid run
off with all his savings. That's a lie. His kid didn't have the guts or
the sense to steal even what was coming to him for the work he done for
the old miser. Matter of fact, he's got enough coin saved--all gold--to
break the back of a mule. That's a fact! Never did no investing, but
turned everything he made into gold and put it away."
"How do you know?" This from Denver.
"How does a buzzard smell a dead cow?" said Sandy inelegantly. "I ain't
going to tell you how I smell out the facts about money. Wouldn't be any
use to you if you knew the trick. The facts is these: he sold his ranch.
You know that?"
"Sure, we know that."
"And you know he wouldn't take nothing but gold coin paid down at the
"It sure is! Now the point's this. He had all his gold in his own private
safe at home."
"I know, Denver," nodded Sandy. "Easy pickings for you; but I didn't find
all this out till the other day. Never even knew he had a safe in his
house. Not till he has 'em bring out a truck from town and he ships the
safe and everything in it to the bank. You see, he sold out his own place
and he's going to another that he bought down the river. Well, boys,
here's the dodge. That safe of his is in the bank tonight, guarded by old
Lewison himself and two gunmen he's hired for the job. Tomorrow he starts
out down the river with the safe on a big wagon, and he'll have half a
dozen guards along with him. Boys, they's going to be forty thousand
dollars in that safe! And the minute she gets out of the county--because
old McGuire will guard it to the boundary line--we can lay back in the
"You done enough planning, Sandy," broke in Joe Pollard. "You've smelled
out the loot. Leave it to us to get it. Did you say forty thousand?"
And on every face around the table Terry saw the same hunger and the same
yellow glint of the eyes. It would be a big haul, one of the biggest, if
not the very biggest, Pollard had ever attempted.
Of the talk that followed, Terry heard little, because he was paying
scant attention. He saw Joe Pollard lie back in his chair with squinted
eyes and run over a swift description of the country through which the
trail of the money would lead. The leader knew every inch of the
mountains, it seemed. His memory was better than a map; in it was jotted
down every fallen log, every boulder, it seemed. And when his mind was
fixed on the best spot for the holdup, he sketched his plan briefly.
To this man and to that, parts were assigned in brief. There would be
more to say in the morning about the details. And every man offered
suggestions. On only one point were they agreed. This was a sum of money
for which they could well afford to spill blood. For such a prize as this
they could well risk making the countryside so hot for themselves that
they would have to leave Pollard's house and establish headquarters
elsewhere. Two shares to Pollard and one to each of his men, including
Sandy, would make the total loot some four thousand dollars and more per
man. And in the event that someone fell in the attempt, which was more
than probable, the share for the rest would be raised to ten thousand for
Pollard and five thousand for each of the rest. Terry saw cold glances
pass the rounds, and more than one dwelt upon him. He was the last to
join; if there were to be a death in this affair, he would be the least
missed of all.
A sharp order from Pollard terminated the conference and sent his men to
bed, with Pollard setting the example. But Terry lingered behind and
called back Denver.
"There is one point," he said when they were alone, "that it seems to me
the chief has overlooked."
"Talk up, kid," grinned Denver Pete. "I seen you was thinking. It sure
does me good to hear you talk. What's on your mind? Where was Joe wrong?"
"Not wrong, perhaps. But he overlooked this fact: tonight the safe is
guarded by three men only; tomorrow it will be guarded by six."
Denver stared, and then blinked.
"You mean, try the safe right in town, inside the old bank? Son, you
don't know the gents in this town. They sleep with a gat under every head
and ears that hear a pin drop in the next room--right while they're
snoring. They dream about fighting and they wake up ready to shoot."
Terry smiled at this outburst.
"How long has it been since there was a raid on McGuire's town?"
"Dunno. Don't remember anybody being that foolish"
"Then it's been so long that it'll give us a chance. It's been so long
that the three men on guard tonight will be half asleep."
"I dunno but you're right. Why didn't you speak up in company? I'll call
the chief and--"
"Wait," said Terry, laying a hand on the round, hard-muscled shoulder of
the yegg. "I had a purpose in waiting. Seven men are too many to take
into a town."
"Two men might surprise three. But seven men are more apt to be
"Two ag'in' three ain't such bad odds, pal. But--the first gun that pops,
we'll have the whole town on our backs."
"Then we'll have to do it without shooting. You understand, Denver?"
Denver scratched his head. Plainly he was uneasy; plainly, also, he was
more and more fascinated by the idea.
"You and me to turn the trick alone?" he whispered out of the side of his
mouth in a peculiar, confidentially guilty way that was his when he was
excited. "Kid, I begin to hear the old Black Jack talk in you! I begin to
hear him talk! I knew it would come!"
An hour's ride brought them to the environs of the little town. But it
was already nearly the middle of night and the village was black;
whatever life waked at that hour had been drawn into the vortex of
Pedro's. And Pedro's was a place of silence. Terry and Denver skirted
down the back of the town and saw the broad windows of Pedro's, against
which passed a moving silhouette now and again, but never a voice floated
out to them.
Otherwise the town was dead. They rode until they were at the other
extremity of the main street. Here, according to Denver, was the bank
which had never in its entire history been the scene of an attempted
raid. They threw the reins of their horses after drawing almost
"Because if we get what we want," said Terry, "it will be too heavy to
And Denver agreed, though they had come so close that from the back of
the bank it must have been possible to make out the outlines of the
horses. The bank itself was a broad, dumpy building with adobe walls,
whose corners had been washed and rounded by time to shapelessness. The
walls angled in as they rose; the roof was flat. As for the position, it
could not have been worse. A dwelling abutted on either side of the bank.
The second stories of those dwellings commanded the roof of the bank; and
the front and back porches commanded the front and back entrances of the
The moment they had dismounted, Terry and Denver stood a while
motionless. There was no doubt, even before they approached nearer, about
the activity and watchfulness of the guards who took care of the new
deposit in the bank. Across the back wall of the building drifted a
shadowy outline--a guard marching steadily back and forth and keeping
"A stiff job, son," muttered Denver. "I told you these birds wouldn't
sleep with more'n one eye; and they's a few that's got 'em both open."
But there was no wavering in Terry. The black stillness of the night; the
soundless, slowly moving figure across the wall of the building; the
hush, the stars, and the sense of something to be done stimulated him,
filled him with a giddy happiness such as he had never known before.
Crime? It was no crime to Terry Hollis, but a great and delightful game.
Suddenly he regretted the very presence of Denver Pete. He wanted to be
alone with this adventure, match his cunning and his strength against
whoever guarded the money of old Lewison, the miser.
"Stay here," he whispered in the ear of Denver. "Keep quiet. I'm going to
slip over there and see what's what. Be patient. It may take a long
"Better let me come along. In case--"
"Your job is opening that safe; my job is to get you to it in safety and
get you away again with the stuff." Denver shrugged his shoulders. It was
much in the method of famous old Black Jack himself. There were so many
features of similarity between the methods of the boy and his father that
it seemed to Denver that the ghost of the former man had stepped into the
body of his son.
In the meantime Terry faded into the dark. His plan of approach was
perfectly simple. The house to the right of the bank was painted blue.
Against that dark background no figure stood out clearly. Instead of
creeping close to the ground to get past the guard at the rear of the
building, he chose his time when the watcher had turned from the nearest
end of his beat and was walking in the opposite direction. The moment
that happened, Terry strode forward as lightly and rapidly as possible.
Luckily the ground was quite firm. It had once been planted with grass,
and though the grass had died, its roots remained densely enough to form
a firm matting, and there was no telltale crunching of the sand
underfoot. Even so, some slight sound made the guard pause abruptly in
the middle of his walk and whirl toward Terry. Instead of attempting to
hide by dropping down to the ground, it came to Terry that the least
motion in the dark would serve to make him visible. He simply halted at
the same moment that the guard halted and trusted to the dark background
of the house which was now beside him to make him invisible. Apparently
he was justified. After a moment the guard turned and resumed his pacing,
and Terry slipped on into the narrow walk between the bank and the
adjoining house on the right.
He had hoped for a side window. There was no sign of one. Nothing but the
sheer, sloping adobe wall, probably of great thickness, and burned to the
density of soft stone. So he came to the front of the building, and so
doing, almost ran into a second guard, who paced down the front of the
bank just as the first kept watch over the rear entrance. Terry flattened
himself against the side wall and held his breath. But the guard had seen
nothing and, turning again at the end of his beat, went back in the
opposite direction, a tall, gaunt man--so much Terry could make out even
in the dark, and his heel fell with the heaviness of age. Perhaps this
was Lewison himself.
The moment he was turned, Terry peered around the corner at the front of
the building. There were two windows, one close to his corner and one on
the farther side of the door. Both were lighted, but the farther one so
dimly that it was apparent the light came from one source, and that
source directly behind the window nearest Terry. He ventured one long,
stealthy pace, and peered into the window.
As he had suspected, the interior of the bank was one large room. Half of
it was fenced off with steel bars that terminated in spikes at the top as
though, ludicrously, they were meant to keep one from climbing over.
Behind this steel fencing were the safes of the bank. Outside the fence
at a table, with a lamp between them, two men were playing cards. And the
lamplight glinted on the rusty old safe which stood a little at one side.
Certainly old Lewison was guarding his money well. The hopes of Terry
disappeared, and as Lewison was now approaching the far end of his beat,
Terry glided back into the walk between the buildings and crouched there.
He needed time and thought sadly.
As far as he could make out, the only two approaches to the bank, front
and rear, were thoroughly guarded. Not only that, but once inside the
bank, one would encounter the main obstacle, which consisted of two
heavily armed men sitting in readiness at the table. If there were any
solution to the problem, it must be found in another examination of the
Again the tall old man reached the end of his beat nearest Terry, turned
with military precision and went back. Terry slipped out and was
instantly at the window again. All was as before. One of the guards had
laid down his cards to light a cigarette, and dense clouds of smoke
floated above his head. That partial obscurity annoyed Terry. It seemed
as if the luck were playing directly against him. However, the smoke
began to clear rapidly. When it had mounted almost beyond the strongest
inner circle of the lantern light, it rose with a sudden impetus, as
though drawn up by an electric fan. Terry wondered at it, and squinted
toward the ceiling, but the ceiling was lost in shadow.
He returned to his harborage between the two buildings for a fresh
session of thought. And then his idea came to him. Only one thing could
have sucked that straight upward so rapidly, and that was either a fan--
which was ridiculous--or else a draught of air passing through an
opening in the ceiling.
Unquestionably that was the case. Two windows, small as they were, would
never serve adequately to ventilate the big single room of the bank. No
doubt there was a skylight in the roof of the building and another
aperture in the floor of the loft.
At least that was the supposition upon which he must act, or else not act
at all. He went back as he had come, passed the rear guard easily, and
found Denver unmoved beside the heads Of the horses.
"Denver," he said, "we've got to get to the roof of that bank, and the
only way we can reach it is through the skylight."
"Skylight?" echoed Denver. "Didn't know there was one." "There has to
be," said Terry, with surety. "Can you force a door in one of those
houses so we can get to the second story of one of 'em and drop to the
"Force nothing," whispered Denver. "They don't know what locks on doors
mean around here."
And he was right.
They circled in a broad detour and slipped onto the back porch of the
blue house; the guard at the rear of the bank was whistling softly as he
"Instead of watchdogs they keep doors with rusty hinges," said Denver as
he turned the knob, and the door gave an inch inward. "And I dunno which
is worst. But watch this, bo!"
And he began to push the door slowly inward. There was never a slackening
or an increase in the speed with which his hand travelled. It took him a
full five minutes to open the door a foot and a half. They slipped
inside, but Denver called Terry back as the latter began to feel his way
across the kitchen.
"Wait till I close this door."
"But why?" whispered Terry.
"Might make a draught--might wake up one of these birds. And there you
are. That's the one rule of politeness for a burglar, Terry. Close the
doors after you!"
And the door was closed with fully as much caution and slowness as had
been used when it was opened. Then Denver took the lead again. He went
across the kitchen as though he could see in the dark, and then among the
tangle of chairs in the dining room beyond. Terry followed in his wake,
taking care to step, as nearly as possible, in the same places. But for
all that, Denver continually turned in an agony of anger and whispered
curses at the noisy clumsiness of his companion--yet to Terry it seemed
as though both of them were not making a sound.
The stairs to the second story presented a difficult climb. Denver showed
him how to walk close to the wall, for there the weight of their bodies
would act with less leverage on the boards and there would be far less
chance of causing squeaks. Even then the ascent was not noiseless. The
dry air had warped the timber sadly, and there was a continual procession
of murmurs underfoot as they stole to the top of the stairs.
To Terry, his senses growing superhumanly acute as they entered more and
more into the heart of their danger, it seemed that those whispers of the
stairs might serve to waken a hundred men out of sound sleep; in reality
they were barely audible.
In the hall a fresh danger met them. A lamp hung from the ceiling, the
flame turned down for the night. And by that uneasy light Terry made out
the face of Denver, white, strained, eager, and the little bright eyes
forever glinting back and forth. He passed a side mirror and his own face
was dimly visible. It brought him erect with a squeak of the flooring
that made Denver whirl and shake his fist.
For what Terry had seen was the same expression that had been on the face
of his companion--the same animal alertness, the same hungry eagerness.
But the fierce gesture of Denver brought him back to the work at hand.
There were three rooms on the side of the hall nearest the bank. And
every door was closed. Denver tried the nearest door first, and the
opening was done with the same caution and slowness which had marked the
opening of the back door of the house. He did not even put his head
through the opening, but presently the door was closed and Denver
"Two," he whispered.
He could only have told by hearing the sounds of two breathing; Terry
wondered quietly. The man seemed possessed of abnormal senses. It was
strange to see that bulky, burly, awkward body become now a sensitive
organism, possessed of a dangerous grace in the darkness.
The second door was opened in the same manner. Then the third, and in the
midst of the last operation a man coughed. Instinctively Terry reached
for the handle of his gun, but Denver went on gradually closing the door
as if nothing had happened. He came back to Terry.
"Every room got sleepers in it," he said. "And the middle room has got a
man who's awake. We'll have to beat it."
"We'll stay where we are," said Terry calmly, "for thirty minutes--by
guess. That'll give him time to go asleep. Then we'll go through one of
those rooms and drop to the roof of the bank."
The yegg cursed softly. "Are you trying to hang me?" he gasped.
"Sit down," said Terry. "It's easier to wait that way."
And they sat cross-legged on the floor of the hall. Once the springs of a
bed creaked as someone turned in it heavily. Once there was a voice--one
of the sleepers must have spoken without waking. Those two noises, and no
more, and yet they remained for what seemed two hours to Terry, but what
he knew could not be more than twenty minutes.
"Now," he said to Denver, "we start."
"Through one of them rooms and out the windows--without waking anybody
"You can do it. And I'll do it because I have to. Go on."
He heard the teeth of Denver grit, as though the yegg were being driven
on into this madcap venture merely by a pride which would not allow him
to show less courage--even rash courage--than his companion.
The door opened--Denver went inside and was soaked up--a shadow among
shadows. Terry followed and stepped instantly into the presence of the
sleeper. He could tell it plainly. There was no sound of breathing,
though no doubt that was plain to the keen ear of Denver--but it was
something more than sound or sight. It was like feeling a soul--that
impalpable presence in the night. A ghostly and a thrilling thing to
Now, against the window on the farther side of the room, he made out the
dim outline of Denver's chunky shoulders and shapeless hat. Luckily the
window was open to its full height. Presently Terry stood beside Denver
and they looked down. The roof of the bank was only some four feet below
them, but it was also a full three feet in distance from the side of the
house. Terry motioned the yegg back and began to slip through the window.
It was a long and painful process, for at any moment a button might catch
or his gun scrape--and the least whisper would ruin everything. At
length, he hung from his arms at full length. Glancing down, he faintly
saw Lewison turn at the end of his beat. Why did not the fool look up?
With that thought he drew up his feet, secured a firm purchase against the
side of the house, raised himself by the ledge, and then flung himself
out into the air with the united effort of arms and legs.
He let himself go loose and relaxed in the air, shot down, and felt the
roof take his weight lightly, landing on his toes. He had not only made
the leap, but he had landed a full foot and a half in from the edge of
Compared with the darkness of the interior of the house, everything on
the outside was remarkably light now. He could see Denver at the window
shaking his head. Then the professional slipped over the sill with
practiced ease, dangled at arm's length, and flung himself out with a
quick thrust of his feet against the wall.
The result was that while his feet were flung away far enough and to
spare, the body of Denver inclined forward. He seemed bound to strike the
roof with his feet and then drop head first into the alley below. Terry
set his teeth with a groan, but as he did so, Denver whirled in the air
like a cat. His body straightened, his feet barely secured a toehold on
the edge of the roof. The strong arm of Terry jerked him in to safety.
For a moment they stood close together, Denver panting.
He was saying over and over again: "Never again. I ain't any acrobat,
That name came easily on his lips now.
Once on the roof it was simple enough to find what they wanted. There was
a broad skylight of dark green glass propped up a foot or more above the
level of the rest of the flat roof. Beside it Terry dropped upon his
knees and pushed his head under the glass. All below was pitchy-black,
but he distinctly caught the odor of Durham tobacco smoke.
That scent of smoke was a clear proof that there was an open way through
the loft to the room of the bank below them. But would the opening be
large enough to admit the body of a man? Only exploring could show that.
He sat back on the roof and put on the mask with which the all-thoughtful
Denver had provided him. A door banged somewhere far down the street,
loudly. Someone might be making a hurried and disgusted exit from
Pedro's. He looked quietly around him. After his immersion in the thick
darkness of the house, the outer night seemed clear and the stars burned
low through the thin mountain air. Denver's face was black under the
shadow of his hat.
"How are you, kid--shaky?" he whispered.
Shaky? It surprised Terry to feel that he had forgotten about fear. He
had been wrapped in a happiness keener than anything he had known before.
Yet the scheme was far from accomplished. The real danger was barely
beginning. Listening keenly, he could hear the sand crunch underfoot of
the watcher who paced in front of the building; one of the cardplayers
laughed from the room below--a faint, distant sound.
"Don't worry about me," he told Denver, and, securing a strong fingerhold
on the edge of the ledge, he dropped his full length into the darkness
under the skylight.
His tiptoes grazed the floor beneath, and letting his fingers slide off
their purchase, he lowered himself with painful care so that his heels
might not jar on the flooring. Then he held his breath--but there was no
creaking of the loft floor.
That made the adventure more possible. An ill-laid floor would have set
up a ruinous screeching as he moved, however carefully, across it. Now he
whispered up to Denver. The latter instantly slid down and Terry caught
the solid bulk of the man under the armpits and lowered him carefully.
"A rotten rathole," snarled Denver to his companion in that inimitable,
guarded whisper. "How we ever coming back this way--in a hurry?"
It thrilled Terry to hear that appeal--an indirect surrendering of the
leadership to him. Again he led the way, stealing toward a ghost of light
that issued upward from the center of the floor. Presently he could look
down through it.
It was an ample square, a full three feet across. Below, and a little
more than a pace to the side, was the table of the cardplayers. As nearly
as he could measure, through the misleading wisps and drifts of cigarette
smoke, the distance to the floor was not more than ten feet--an easy drop
for a man hanging by his fingers.
Denver came to his side, silent as a snake.
"Listen," whispered Terry, cupping a hand around his lips and leaning
close to the ear of Denver so that the least thread of sound would be
sufficient. "I'm going to cover those two from this place. When I have
them covered, you slip through the opening and drop to the floor. Don't
stand still, but softfoot it over to the wall. Then cover them with your
gun while I come down. The idea is this. Outside that window there's a
second guard walking up and down. He can look through and see the table
where they're playing, but he can't see the safe against the wall. As
long as he sees those two sitting there playing their cards, he'll be
sure that everything is all right. Well, Denver, he's going to keep on
seeing them sitting at their game--but in the meantime you're going to
make your preparations for blowing the safe. Can you do it? Is your nerve
up to it?"
Even the indomitable Denver paused before answering. The chances of
success in this novel game were about one in ten. Only shame to be
outbraved by his younger companion and pupil made him nod and mutter his
That mutter, strangely, was loud enough to reach to the room below. Terry
saw one of the men look up sharply, and at the same moment he pulled his
gun and shoved it far enough through the gap for the light to catch on
"Sit tight!" he ordered them in a cutting whisper. "Not a move, my
There was a convulsive movement toward a gun on the part of the first
man, but the gesture was frozen midway; the second man looked up, gaping,
ludicrous in astonishment. But Terry was in no mood to see the
"Look down again!" he ordered brusquely. "Keep on with that game. And the
moment one of you goes for a gun--the minute one of you makes a sign or a
sound to reach the man in front of the house, I drill you both. Is that
The neck of the man who was nearest to him swelled as though he were
lifting a great weight with his head; no doubt he was battling with
shrewd temptations to spring to one side and drive a bullet at the
robbers above him. But prudence conquered. He began to deal, laying out
the cards with mechanical, stiff motions.
"Now," said Terry to Denver.
Denver was through the opening in a flash and dropped to the floor below
with a thud. Then he leaped away toward the wall out of sight of Terry.
Suddenly a loud, nasal voice spoke through one of the front windows:
"What was that, boys?"
Terry caught his breath. He dared not whisper advice to those men at the
table for fear his voice might carry to the guard who was apparently
leaning at the window outside. But the dealer jerked his head for an
instant toward the direction in which Denver had disappeared. Evidently
the yegg was silently communicating imperious instructions, for presently
the dealer said, in a voice natural enough: "Nothing happened, Lewison. I
just moved my chair; that was all, I figure."
"I dunno," growled Lewison. "I been waiting for something to happen for
so long that I begin to hear things and suspect things where they ain't
nothing at all."
And, still mumbling, his voice passed away.
Terry followed Denver's example, dropping through the opening; but, more
cautious, he relaxed his leg muscles, so that he landed in a bunched
heap, without sound, and instantly joined Denver on the farther side of
the room. Lewison's gaunt outline swept past the window at the same
He found that he had estimated viewpoints accurately enough. From only
the right-hand window could Lewison see into the interior of the room and
make out his two guards at the table. And it was only by actually leaning
through the window that he would be able to see the safe beside which
Terry and Denver stood.
"Start!" said Terry, and Denver deftly laid out a little kit and two
small packages. With incredible speed he began to make his molding of
soft soap around the crack of the safe door. Terry turned his back on his
companion and gave his undivided attention to the two at the table.
Their faces were odd studies in suppressed shame and rage. The muscles
were taut; their hands shook with the cards.
"You seem kind of glum, boys!" broke in the voice of Lewison at the
Terry flattened himself against the wall and jerked up his gun--a warning
flash which seemed to be reflected by the glint in the eyes of the red-
headed man facing him. The latter turned slowly to the window.
"Oh, we're all right," he drawled. "Kind of getting wearying, this
"Mind you," crackled the uncertain voice of Lewison, "five dollars if you
keep on the job till morning. No, six dollars, boys!"
He brought out the last words in the ringing voice of one making a
generous sacrifice, and Terry smiled behind his mask. Lewison passed on
again. Forcing all his nerve power into the faculty of listening, Terry
could tell by the crunching of the sand how the owner of the safe went
far from the window and turned again toward it.
"Start talking," he commanded softly of the men at the table.
"About what?" answered the red-haired man through his teeth. "About what,
"Tell a joke," ordered Terry.
The other scowled down at his hand of cards--and then obeyed.
"Ever hear about how Rooney--"
The voice was hard at the beginning; then, in spite of the levelled gun
which covered him, the red-haired man became absorbed in the interest of
the tale. He began to labor to win a smile from his companion. That would
be something worthwhile--something to tell about afterward; how he made
Pat laugh while a pair of bandits stood in a corner with guns on them!
In his heart Terry admired that red-haired man's nerve. The next time
Lewison passed the window, he darted out and swiftly went the rounds of
the table, relieving each man of his weapon. He returned to his place.
Pat had broken into hearty laughter.
"That's it!" cried Lewison, passing the window again. "Laughin' keeps a
gent awake. That's the stuff, Red!" A time of silence came, with only the
faint noises of Denver at his rapid work.
"Suppose they was to rush the bank, even?" said Lewison on his next trip
past the window.
"Who's they?" asked Red, and looked steadily into the mouth of Terry's
"Why, them that wants my money. Money that I slaved and worked for all my
life! Oh, I know they's a lot of crooked thieves that would like to lay
hands on it. But I'm going to fool 'em, Red. Never lost a cent of money
in all my born days, and I ain't going to form the habit this late in
life. I got too much to live for!"
And he went on his way muttering.
"Ready!" said Denver.
"Red," whispered Terry, "how's the money put into the safe?"
The big, red-haired fellow fought him silently with his eyes.
"Red," said Terry swiftly, "you and your friend are a dead weight on us
just now. And there's one quick, convenient way of getting rid of you.
Talk out, my friend. Tell us how that money is stowed."
Red flushed, the veins in the center of his forehead swelling under a
rush of blood to the head. He was silent.
It was Pat who weakened, shuddering.
"Stowed in canvas sacks, boys. And some paper money."
The news of the greenbacks was welcome, for a large sum of gold would be
an elephant's burden to them in their flight.
"Wait," Terry directed Denver. The latter kneeled by his fuse until
Lewison passed far down the end of his beat. Terry stepped to the door
and dropped the bolt.
"Now!" he commanded.
He had planned his work carefully. The loose strips of cords which Denver
had put into his pocket--"nothing so handy as strong twine," he had
said--were already drawn out. And the minute he had given the signal, he
sprang for the men at the table, backed them into a corner, and tied
their hands behind their backs.
The fuse was sputtering.
"Put out the light!" whispered Denver. It was done--a leap and a puff of