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Black Jack by Max Brand

Part 5 out of 5

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breath, and then Terry had joined the huddled group of men at the farther
end of the room.

"Hey!" called Lewison. "What's happened to the light? What the hell--"

His voice boomed out loudly at them as he thrust his head through the
window into the darkness. He caught sight of the red, flickering end of
the fuse.

His voice, grown shrill and sharp, was chopped off by the explosion. It
was a noise such as Terry had never heard before--like a tremendously
condensed and powerful puff of wind. There was not a sharp jar, but he
felt an invisible pressure against his body, taking his breath. The sound
of the explosion was dull, muffled, thick. The door of the safe crushed
into the flooring.

Terry had nerved himself for two points of attack--Lewison from the front
of the building, and the guard at the rear. But Lewison did not yell for
help. He had been dangerously close to the explosion and the shock to his
nerves, perhaps some dislodged missile, had flung him senseless on the
sand outside the bank.

But from the rear of the building came a dull shout; then the door beside
which Terry stood was dragged open--he struck with all his weight,
driving his fist fairly into the face of the man, and feeling the
knuckles cut through flesh and lodge against the cheekbone. The guard
went down in the middle of a cry and did not stir. Terry leaned to shake
his arm--the man was thoroughly stunned. He paused only to scoop up the
fallen revolver which the fellow had been carrying, and fling it into the
night. Then he turned back into the dark bank, with Red and Pat cursing
in frightened unison as they cowered against the wall behind him.

The air was thick with an ill-smelling smoke, like that of a partially
snuffed candle. Then he saw a circle of light spring out from the
electric lantern of Denver and fall on the partially wrecked safe. And it
glinted on yellow. One of the sacks had been slit and the contents were
running out onto the floor like golden water.

Over it stooped the shadow of Denver, and Terry was instantly beside him.
They were limp little sacks, marvellously ponderous, and the chill of the
metal struck through the canvas to the hand. The searchlight flickered
here and there--it found the little drawer which was wrenched open and
Denver's stubby hand came out, choked with greenbacks.

"Now away!" snarled Denver. And his voice shook and quaked; it reminded
Terry of the whine of a dog half-starved and come upon meat--a savage,
subdued sound.

There was another sound from the street where old Lewison was coming to
his senses--a gasping, sound, and then a choked cry: "Help!"

His senses and his voice seemed to return to him with a rush. His shriek
split through the darkness of the room like a ray of light probing to
find the guilty: "Thieves! Help!"

The yell gave strength to Terry. He caught some of the burden that was
staggering Denver into his own arms and floundered through the rear door
into the blessed openness of the night. His left arm carried the crushing
burden of the canvas sacks--in his right hand was the gun--but no form
showed behind him.

But there were voices beginning. The yells of Lewison had struck out
echoes up and down the street. Terry could hear shouts begin inside
houses in answer, and bark out with sudden clearness as a door or a
window was opened.

They reached the horses, dumped the precious burdens into the saddlebags,
and mounted.

"Which way?" gasped Denver.

A light flickered in the bank; half a dozen men spilled out of the back
door, cursing and shouting.

"Walk your horse," said Terry. "Walk it--you fool!"

Denver had let his horse break into a trot. He drew it back to a walk at
this hushed command.

"They won't see us unless we start at a hard gallop," continued Terry.
"They won't watch for slowly moving objects now. Besides, it'll be ten
minutes before the sheriff has a posse organized. And that's the only
thing we have to fear."


They drifted past the town, quickening to a soft trot after a moment, and
then to a faster trot--El Sangre was gliding along at a steady pace.

"Not back to the house!" said Denver with an oath, when they straightened
back to the house of Pollard. "That's the first place McGuire will look,
after what you said to him the other night."

"That's where I want him to look," answered Terry, "and that's where
he'll find me. Pollard will hide the coin and we'll get one of the boys
to take our sweaty horses over the hills. We can tell McGuire that the
two horses have been put out to pasture, if he asks. But he mustn't find
hot horses in the stable. Certainly McGuire will strike for the house.
But what will he find?"

He laughed joyously.

Suddenly the voice of Denver cut in softly, insinuatingly.

"You dope it that he'll cut for the house of Pollard? So do I. Now, kid,
why not go another direction--and keep on going? What right have Pollard
and the others to cut in on this coin? You and me, kid, can--"

"I don't hear you, Denver," interrupted Terry. "I don't hear you. We
wouldn't have known where to find the stuff if it hadn't been for
Pollard's friend Sandy. They get their share--but you can have my part,
Denver. I'm not doing this for money; it's only an object lesson to that
fat-headed sheriff. I'd pay twice this price for the sake of the little
talk I'm going to have with him later on tonight."

"All right--Black Jack," muttered Denver. For it seemed to him that the
voice of the lost leader had spoken. "Play the fool, then, kid. But--
let's feed these skates the spur! The town's boiling!"

Indeed, there was a dull roar behind them.

"No danger," chuckled Terry. "McGuire knows perfectly well that I've done
this. And because he knows that, and he knows that I know it, he'll
strike in the opposite direction to Pollard's house. He'll never dream
that I would go right back to Pollard and sit down under the famous nose
of McGuire!"

The dawn was brightening over the mountains above them, and the skyline
was ragged with forest. A free country for free men--like the old Black
Jack and the new. A short life, perhaps, but a full one.

The coming of the day showed Denver's face weary and drawn. Those moments
in the bank, surrounded by danger, had been nerve-racking even to his
experience. But to him it was a business, and to Terry it was a game. He
felt a qualm of pity for Lewison--but, after all, the man was a wolf,
selfish, accumulating money to no purpose, useless to the world. He
shrugged the thought of Lewison away.

It was close to sunrise when they reached the house, and having put up
the horses, staggered in and called to Johnny to bring them coffee; he
was already rattling at the kitchen stove. Then, with a shout, they
brought Pollard himself stumbling down from the balcony rubbing the sleep
out of his eyes. They threw the money down before him.

He was stupefied, and then his big lion's voice went booming with the
call for his men. Terry did not wait; he stretched himself with a great
yawn and made for his bed, and passed Phil Marvin and the others hurrying
downstairs to answer the summons. Kate Pollard came also. She paused as
he went by her and he saw her eyes go down to his dusty boots, with the
leather polished where the stirrup had chafed, then flashed back to his

"You, Terry!" she whispered.

But he went by her with a wave of the hand.

The girl went on down to the big room. They were gathered already, a
bright-eyed, hungry-faced crew of men. Gold was piled across the table in
front of them. Slim Dugan had been ordered to go to the highest window of
the house and keep watch for the coming of the expected posse. In the
meantime the others counted the money, ranging it in bright little
stacks; and Denver told the tale.

He took a little more credit to himself than was his due. But it was his
part to pay a tribute to Terry. For was it not he who had brought the son
of Black Jack among them?

"And of all the close squeezes I ever been in," concluded Denver, "that
was the closest. And of all the nervy, cold-eyed guys I ever see, Black
Jack's kid takes the cake. Never a quiver all the time. And when he
whispered, them two guys at the table jumped. He meant business, and they
knew it."

The girl listened. Her eye alone was not upon the money, but fixed far
off, at thin distance.

"Thirty-five thousand gold," announced Pollard, with a break of
excitement in his voice, "and seventeen thousand three hundred and
eighty-two in paper. Boys, the richest haul we ever made! And the coolest
deal all the way through. Which I say, Denver and Terry--Terry
particular--gets extra shares for what they done!"

And there was a chorus of hearty approval. The voice of Denver cut it

"Terry don't want none. No, boys, knock me dead if he does. Can you beat
it? 'I did it to keep my word,' he says, 'with the sheriff. You can have
my share, Denver.'

"And he sticks on it. It's a game with him, boys. He plays at it like a
big kid!"

In the hush of astonishment, the eyes of Kate misted. Something in that
last speech had stung her cruelly. Something had to be done, and quickly,
to save young Terry Hollis. But what power could influence him?

It was that thought which brought her to the hope for a solution. A very
vague and faraway hope to which she clung and which unravelled slowly in
her imagination. Before she left the kitchen, her plan was made, and
immediately after breakfast, she went to her room and dressed for a long

"I'm going over the hills to visit the Stockton girls," she told her
father. "Be gone a few days."

His mind was too filled with hope for the future to understand her. He
nodded idly, and she was gone.

She roped the toughest mustang of her "string" in the corral, and ten
minutes later she was jogging down the trail. Halfway down a confused
group of riders--some dozen in all--swarmed up out of the lower trail.
Sheriff McGuire rode out on a sweating horse that told of fierce and long
riding and stopped her.

His salutation was brief; he plunged into the heart of his questions. Had
she noticed anything unusual this morning? Which of the men had been
absent from the house last night? Particularly, who went out with Black
Jack's kid?

"Nobody left the house," she said steadily. "Not a soul."

And she kept a blank eye on the sheriff while he bit his lip and studied

"Kate," he said at length, "I don't blame you for not talking. I don't
suppose I would in your place. But your dad has about reached the end of
the rope with us. If you got any influence, try to change him, because if
he don't do it by his own will, he's going to be changed by force!"

And he rode on up the trail, followed by the silent string of riders on
their grunting, tired horses. She gave them only a careless glance. Joe
Pollard had baffled officers of the law before, and he would do it again.
That was not her great concern on this day.

Down the trail she sent her mustang again, and broke him out into a stiff
gallop on the level ground below. She headed straight through the town,
and found a large group collected in and around the bank building. They
turned and looked after her, but no one spoke a greeting. Plainly the
sheriff's suspicions were shared by others.

She shook that shadow out of her head and devoted her entire attention to
the trail which roughened and grew narrow on the other side of the town.
Far away across the mountains lay her goal--the Cornish ranch.


When she first glimpsed Bear Valley from the summits of the Blue
Mountains, it seemed to her a small paradise. And as she rode lower and
lower among the hills, the impression gathered strength. So she came out
onto the road and trotted her cow-pony slowly under the beautiful
branches of the silver spruce, and saw the bright tree shadows reflected
in Bear Creek. Surely here was a place of infinite quiet, made for
happiness. A peculiar ache and sense of emptiness entered her heart, and
the ghost of Terry Hollis galloped soundlessly beside her on flaming El
Sangre through the shadow. It seemed to her that she could understand him
more easily. His had been a sheltered and pleasant life here, half
dreamy; and when he wakened into a world of stern reality and stern men,
he was still playing at a game like a boy--as Denver Pete had said.

She came out into view of the house. And again she paused. It was like a
palace to Kate, that great white facade and the Doric columns of the
veranda. She had always thought that the house of her father was a big
and stable house; compared with this, it was a shack, a lean-to, a
veritable hovel. And the confidence which had been hers during the hard
ride of two days across the mountains grew weaker. How could she talk to
the woman who owned such an establishment as this? How could she even
gain access to her?

On a broad, level terrace below the house men were busy with plows and
scrapers smoothing the ground; she circled around them, and brought her
horse to a stop before the veranda. Two men sat on it, one white-haired,
hawk-faced, spreading a broad blueprint before the other; and this man
was middle-aged, with a sleek, young face. A very good-looking fellow,
she thought.

"Maybe you-all could tell me," said Kate Pollard, lounging in the saddle,
"where I'll find the lady that owns this here place?"

It seemed to her that the sleek-faced man flushed a little.

"If you wish to talk to the owner," he said crisply, and barely touching
his hat to her, "I'll do your business. What is it? Cattle lost over the
Blue Mountains again? No strays have come down into the valley."

"I'm not here about cattle," she answered curtly enough. "I'm here about
a man."

"H'm," said the other. "A man?" His attention quickened. "What man?"

"Terry Hollis."

She could see him start. She could also see that he endeavored to conceal
it. And she did not know whether she liked or disliked that quick start
and flush. There was something either of guilt or of surprise remarkably
strong in it. He rose from his chair, leaving the blueprint fluttering in
the hands of his companion alone.

"I am Vance Cornish," he told her. She could feel his eyes prying at her
as though he were trying to get at her more accurately. "What's Hollis
been up to now?"

He turned and explained carelessly to his companion: "That's the young
scapegrace I told you about, Waters. Been raising Cain again, I suppose."
He faced the girl again.

"A good deal of it," she answered. "Yes, he's been making quite a bit of

"I'm sorry for that, really," said Vance. "But we are not responsible for

"I suppose you ain't," said Kate Pollard slowly. "But I'd like to talk to
the lady of the house."

"Very sorry," and again he looked in his sharp way--like a fox, she
thought--and then glanced away as though there were no interest in her or
her topic. "Very sorry, but my sister is in--er--critically declining
health. I'm afraid she cannot see you."

This repulse made Kate thoughtful. She was not used to such bluff talk
from men, however smooth or rough the exterior might be. And under the
quiet of Vance she sensed an opposition like a stone wall.

"I guess you ain't a friend of Terry's?"

"I'd hardly like to put it strongly one way or the other. I know the boy,
if that's what you mean."

"It ain't." She considered him again. And again she was secretly pleased
to see him stir under the cool probe of her eyes. "How long did you live
with Terry?"

"He was with us twenty-four years." He turned and explained casually to
Waters. "He was taken in as a foundling, you know. Quite against my
advice. And then, at the end of the twenty-four years, the bad blood of
his father came out, and he showed himself in his true colors. Fearful
waste of time to us all--of course, we had to turn him out."

"Of course," nodded Waters sympathetically, and he looked wistfully down
at his blueprint.

"Twenty-four years you lived with Terry," said the girl softly, "and you
don't like him, I see."

Instantly and forever he was damned in her eyes. Anyone who could live
twenty-four years with Terry Hollis and not discover his fineness was
beneath contempt.

"I'll tell you," she said. "I've _got_ to see Miss Elizabeth Cornish."

"H'm!" said Vance. "I'm afraid not. But--just what have you to tell her?"

The girl smiled.

"If I could tell you that, I wouldn't have to see her."

He rubbed his chin with his knuckles, staring at the floor of the
veranda, and now and then raising quick glances at her. Plainly he was
suspicious. Plainly, also, he was tempted in some manner.

"Something he's done, eh? Some yarn about Terry?"

It was quite plain that this man actually wanted her to have something
unpleasant to say about Terry. Instantly she suited herself to his mood;
for he was the door through which she must pass to see Elizabeth Cornish.

"Bad?" she said, hardening her expression as much as possible. "Well, bad
enough. A killing to begin with."

There was a gleam in his eyes--a gleam of positive joy, she was sure,
though he banished it at once and shook his head in deprecation.

"Well, well! As bad as that? I suppose you may see my sister. For a
moment. Just a moment. She is not well. I wish I could understand your

The last was more to himself than to her. But she was already off her
horse. The man with the blueprint glared at her, and she passed across
the veranda and into the house, where Vance showed her up the big stairs.
At the door of his sister's room he paused again and scrutinized.

"A killing--by Jove!" he murmured to himself, and then knocked.

A dull voice called from within, and he opened. Kate found herself in a
big, solemn room, in one corner of which sat an old woman wrapped to the
chin in a shawl. The face was thin and bleak, and the eyes that looked at
Kate were dull.

"This girl--" said Vance. "By Jove, I haven't asked your name, I'm

"Kate Pollard."

"Miss Pollard has some news of Terry. I thought it might--interest you,

Kate saw the brief struggle on the face of the old woman. When it passed,
her eyes were as dull as ever, but her voice had become husky.

"I'm surprised, Vance. I thought you understood--his name is not to be
spoken, if you please."

"Of course not. Yet I thought--never mind. If you'll step downstairs with
me, Miss Pollard, and tell me what--"

"Not a step," answered the girl firmly, and she had not moved her eyes
from the face of the elder woman. "Not a step with you. What I have to
say has got to be told to someone who loves Terry Hollis. I've found that
someone. I stick here till I've done talking."

Vance Cornish gasped. But Elizabeth opened her eyes, and they
brightened--but coldly, it seemed to Kate.

"I think I understand," said Elizabeth Cornish gravely. "He has entangled
the interest of this poor girl--and sent her to plead for him. Is that
so? If it's money he wants, let her have what she asks for, Vance. But I
can't talk to her of the boy."

"Very well," said Vance, without enthusiasm. He stepped before her. "Will
you step this way, Miss Pollard?"

"Not a step," she repeated, and deliberately sat down in a chair. "You'd
better leave," she told Vance.

He considered her in open anger. "If you've come to make a scene, I'll
have to let you know that on account of my sister I cannot endure it.
Really--" "I'm going to stay here," she echoed, "until I've done talking.
I've found the right person. I know that. Tell you what I want? Why, you
hate Terry Hollis!"

"Hate--him?" murmured Elizabeth.

"Nonsense!" cried Vance.

"Look at his face, Miss Cornish," said the girl.

"Vance, by everything that's sacred, your eyes were positively shrinking.
Do you hate--him?"

"My dear Elizabeth, if this unknown--"

"You'd better leave," interrupted the girl. "Miss Cornish is going to
hear me talk."

Before he could answer, his sister said calmly: "I think I shall, Vance.
I begin to be intrigued."

"In the first place," he blurted angrily, "it's something you shouldn't
hear--some talk about a murder--"

Elizabeth sank back in her chair and closed her eyes.

"Ah, coward!" cried Kate Pollard, now on her feet.

"Vance, will you leave me for a moment?"

For a moment he was white with malice, staring at the girl, then suddenly
submitting to the inevitable, turned on his heel and left the room.

"Now," said Elizabeth, sitting erect again, "what is it? Why do you
insist on talking to me of--him? And--what has he done?"

In spite of her calm, a quiver of emotion was behind the last words, and
nothing of it escaped Kate Pollard.

"I knew," she said gently, "that _two_ people couldn't live with Terry
for twenty-four years and both hate him, as your brother does. I can tell
you very quickly why I'm here, Miss Cornish."

"But first--what has he done?"

Kate hesitated. Under the iron self-control of the older woman she saw
the hungry heart, and it stirred her. Yet she was by no means sure of a
triumph. She recognized the most formidable of all foes--pride. After
all, she wanted to humble that pride. She felt that all the danger in
which Terry Hollis now stood, both moral and physical, was indirectly the
result of this woman's attitude. And she struck her, deliberately

"He's taken up with a gang of hard ones, Miss Cornish. That's one thing."

The face of Elizabeth was like stone.

"Professional--thieves, robbers!"

And still Elizabeth refused to wince. She forced a cold, polite smile of

"He went into a town and killed the best fighter they had."

And even this blow did not tell.

"And then he defied the sheriff, went back to the town, and broke into a
bank and stole fifty thousand dollars."

The smile wavered and went out, but still the dull eyes of Elizabeth were
steady enough. Though perhaps that dullness was from pain. And Kate,
waiting eagerly, was chagrined to see that she had not broken through to
any softness of emotion. One sign of grief and trembling was all she
wanted before she made her appeal; but there was no weakness in Elizabeth
Cornish, it seemed.

"You see I am listening," she said gravely and almost gently. "Although I
am really not well. And I hardly see the point of this long recital of
crimes. It was because I foresaw what he would become that I sent him

"Miss Cornish, why'd you take him in in the first place?"

"It's a long story," said Elizabeth.

"I'm a pretty good listener," said Kate.

Elizabeth Cornish looked away, as though she hesitated to touch on the
subject, or as though it were too unimportant to be referred to at

"In brief, I saw from a hotel window Black Jack, his father, shot down in
the street; heard about the infant son he left, and adopted the child--on
a bet with my brother. To see if blood would tell or if I could make him
a fine man."

She paused.

"My brother won the bet!"

And her smile was a wonderful thing, so perfectly did it mask her pain.

"And, of course, I sent Terry away. I have forgotten him, really. Just a
bad experiment."

Kate Pollard flushed.

"You'll never forget him," she said firmly. "You think of him every day!"

The elder woman started and looked sharply at her visitor. Then she
dismissed the idea with a shrug.

"That's absurd. Why should I think of him?"

There is a spirit of prophecy in most women, old or young; and especially
they have a way of looking through the flesh of their kind and seeing the
heart. Kate Pollard came a little closer to her hostess.

"You saw Black Jack die in the street," she queried, "fighting for his

Elizabeth dreamed into the vague distance.

"Riding down the street with his hair blowing--long black hair, you
know," she reminisced. "And holding the crowd back as one would hold back
a crowd of curs. Then--he was shot from the side by a man in concealment.
That was how he fell!"

"I knew," murmured the girl, nodding. "Miss Cornish, I know now why you
took in Terry."


"Not because of a bet--but because you--you loved Black Jack Hollis!"

It brought an indrawn gasp from Elizabeth. Rather of horror than
surprise. But the girl went on steadily:

"I know. You saw him with his hair blowing, fighting his way--he rode
into your heart. I know, I tell you! Maybe you've never guessed it all
these years. But has a single day gone when you haven't thought of the

The scornful, indignant denial died on the lips of Elizabeth Cornish. She
stared at Kate as though she were seeing a ghost.

"Not one day!" cried Kate. "And so you took in Terry, and you raised him
and loved him--not for a bet, but because he was Black Jack's son!"

Elizabeth Cornish had grown paler than before. "I mustn't listen to such
talk," she said.

"Ah," cried the girl, "don't you see that I have a right to talk? Because
I love him also, and I know that you love him, too."

Elizabeth Cornish came to her feet, and there was a faint flush in her

"You love Terry? Ah, I see. And he has sent you!"

"He'd die sooner than send me to you."

"And yet--you came?"

"Don't you see?" pleaded Kate. "He's in a corner. He's about to go--bad!"

"Miss Pollard, how do you know these things?"

"Because I'm the daughter of the leader of the gang!"

She said it without shame, proudly.

"I've tried to keep him from the life he intends leading," said Kate. "I
can't turn him. He laughs at me. I'm nothing to him, you see? And he
loves the new life. He loves the freedom. Besides, he thinks that there's
no hope. That he has to be what his father was before him. Do you know
why he thinks that? Because you turned him out. You thought he would turn
bad. And he respects you. He still turns to you. Ah, if you could hear
him speak of you! He loves you still!"

Elizabeth Cornish dropped back into her chair, grown suddenly weak, and
Kate fell on her knees beside her.

"Don't you see," she said softly, "that no strength can turn Terry back
now? He's done nothing wrong. He shot down the man who killed his father.
He has killed another man who was a professional bully and mankiller. And
he's broken into a bank and taken money from a man who deserved to lose
it--a wolf of a man everybody hates. He's done nothing really wrong yet,
but he will before long. Just because he's stronger than other men. And
he doesn't know his strength. And he's fine, Miss Cornish. Isn't he
always gentle and--"

"Hush!" said Elizabeth Cornish.

"He's just a boy; you can't bend him with strength, but you can win him
with love."

"What," gasped Elizabeth, "do you want me to do?"

"Bring him back. Bring him back, Miss Cornish!"

Elizabeth Cornish was trembling.

"But I--if you can't influence him, how can I? You with your beautiful--
you are very beautiful, dear child. Ah, very lovely!"

She barely touched the bright hair.

"He doesn't even think of me," said the girl sadly. "But I have no shame.
I have let you know everything. It isn't for me. It's for Terry, Miss
Cornish. And you'll come? You'll come as quickly as you can? You'll come
to my father's house? You'll ask Terry to come back? One word will do it!
And I'll hurry back and--keep him there till you come. God give me
strength! I'll keep him till you come!"

Outside the door, his ear pressed to the crack, Vance Cornish did not
wait to hear more. He knew the answer of Elizabeth before she spoke. And
all his high-built schemes he saw topple about his ears. Grief had been
breaking the heart of his sister, he knew. Grief had been bringing her
close to the grave. With Terry back, she would regain ten years of life.
With Terry back, the old life would begin again.

He straightened and staggered down the stairs like a drunken man,
clinging to the banister. It was an old-faced man who came out onto the
veranda, where Waters was chewing his cigar angrily. At sight of his host
he started up. He was a keen man, was Waters. He could sense money a
thousand miles away. And it was this buzzard keenness which had brought
him to the Cornish ranch and made him Vance's right-hand man. There was
much money to be spent; Waters would direct and plan the spending, and
his commission would not be small.

In the face of Vance he saw his own doom.

"Waters," said Vance Cornish, "everything is going up in smoke. That
damned girl--Waters, we're ruined."

"Tush!" said Waters, smiling, though he had grown gray. "No one girl can
ruin two middle-aged men with our senses developed. Sit down, man, and
we'll figure a way out of this."


The fine gray head, the hawklike, aristocratic face, and the superior
manner of Waters procured him admission to many places where the ordinary
man was barred. It secured him admission on this day to the office of
Sheriff McGuire, though McGuire had refused to see his best friends.

A proof of the perturbed state of his mind was that he accepted the
proffered fresh cigar of Waters without comment or thanks. His mental
troubles made him crisp to the point of rudeness.

"I'm a tolerable busy man, Mr.--Waters, I think they said your name was.
Tell me what you want, and make it short, if you don't mind."

"Not a bit, sir. I rarely waste many words. But I think on this occasion
we have a subject in common that will interest you."

Waters had come on what he felt was more or less of a wild-goose chase.
The great object was to keep young Hollis from coming in contact with
Elizabeth Cornish again. One such interview, as Vance Cornish had assured
him, would restore the boy to the ranch, make him the heir to the estate,
and turn Vance and his high ambitions out of doors. Also, the high
commission of Mr. Waters would cease. With no plan in mind, he had rushed
to the point of contact, and hoped to find some scheme after he arrived
there. As for Vance, the latter would promise money; otherwise he was a
shaken wreck of a man and of no use. But with money, Mr. Waters felt that
he had the key to this world and he was not without hope.

Three hours in the hotel of the town gave him many clues. Three hours of
casual gossip on the veranda of the same hotel had placed him in
possession of about every fact, true or presumably true, that could be
learned, and with the knowledge a plan sprang into his fertile brain. The
worn, worried face of the sheriff had been like water on a dry field; he
felt that the seed of his plan would immediately spring up and bear

"And that thing we got in common?" said the sheriff tersely.

"It's this--young Terry Hollis."

He let that shot go home without a follow-up and was pleased to see the
sheriff's forehead wrinkle with pain.

"He's like a ghost hauntin' me," declared McGuire, with an attempted
laugh that failed flatly. "Every time I turn around, somebody throws this
Hollis in my face. What is it now?"

"Do you mind if I run over the situation briefly, as I understand it?"

"Fire away!"

The sheriff settled back; he had forgotten his rush of business.

"As I understand it, you, Mr. McGuire, have the reputation of keeping
your county clean of crime and scenes of violence."

"Huh!" grunted the sheriff.

"Everyone says," went on Waters, "that no one except a man named Minter
has done such work in meeting the criminal element on their own ground.
You have kept your county peaceful. I believe that is true?"

"Huh," repeated McGuire. "Kind of soft-soapy, but it ain't all wrong.
They ain't been much doing in these parts since I started to clean things

"Until recently," suggested Waters.

The face of the sheriff darkened. "Well?" he asked aggressively.

"And then two crimes in a row. First, a gun brawl in broad daylight--
young Hollis shot a fellow named--er--"

"Larrimer," snapped the sheriff viciously. "It was a square fight.
Larrimer forced the scrap."

"I suppose so. Nevertheless, it was a gunfight. And next, two men raid
the bank in the middle of your town, and in spite of you and of special
guards, blow the door off a safe and gut the safe of its contents. Am I

The sheriff merely scowled.

"It ain't clear to me yet," he declared, "how you and me get together on
any topic we got in common. Looks sort of like we was just hearing one
old yarn over and over agin."

"My dear sir," smiled Waters, "you have not allowed me to come to the
crux of my story. Which is: that you and I have one great object in
common--to dispose of this Terry Hollis, for I take it for granted that
if you were to get rid of him the people who criticize now would do
nothing but cheer you. Am I right?"

"If I could get him," sighed the sheriff. "Mr. Waters, gimme time and
I'll get him, right enough. But the trouble with the gents around these
parts is that they been spoiled. I cleaned up all the bad ones so damn
quick that they think I can do the same with every crook that comes
along. But this Hollis is a slick one, I tell you. He covers his tracks.
Laughs in my face, and admits what he done, when he talks to me, like he
done the other day. But as far as evidence goes, I ain't got anything on
him--yet. But I'll get it!"

"And in the meantime," said Waters brutally, "they say that you're
getting old."

The sheriff became a brilliant purple.

"Do they say that?" he muttered. "That's gratitude for you, Mr. Waters!
After what I've done for 'em--they say I'm getting old just because I
can't get anything on this slippery kid right off!"

He changed from purple to gray. To fail now and lose his position meant a
ruined life. And Waters knew what was in his mind.

"But if you got Terry Hollis, they'd be stronger behind you than ever."

"Ah, wouldn't they, though? Tell me what a great gent I was quick as a

He sneered at the thought of public opinion.

"And you see," said Waters, "where I come in is that I have a plan for
getting this Hollis you desire so much."

"You do?" He rose and grasped the arm of Waters. "You do?"

Waters nodded.

"It's this way. I understand that he killed Larrimer, and Larrimer's
older brother is the one who is rousing public opinion against you. Am I

"The dog! Yes, you're right."

"Then get Larrimer to send Terry Hollis an invitation to come down into
town and meet him face to face in a gun fight. I understand this Hollis
is a daredevil sort and wouldn't refuse an invitation of that nature.
He'd have to respond or else lose his growing reputation as a maneater."

"Maneater? Why, Bud Larrimer wouldn't be more'n a mouthful for him. Sure
he'd come to town. And he'd clean up quick. But Larrimer ain't fool
enough to send such an invite."

"You don't understand me," persisted Waters patiently. "What I mean is
this. Larrimer sends the challenge, if you wish to call it that. He takes
up a certain position. Say in a public place. You and your men, if you
wish, are posted nearby, but out of view when young Hollis comes. When
Terry Hollis arrives, the moment he touches a gun butt, you fill him full
of lead and accuse him of using unfair play against Larrimer. Any excuse
will do. The public want an end of young Hollis. They won't be particular
with their questions."

He found it difficult to meet the narrowed eyes of the sheriff.

"What you want me to do," said the sheriff, with slow effort, "is to set
a trap, get Hollis into it, and then--murder him?"

"A brutal way of putting it, my dear fellow."

"A true way," said the sheriff.

But he was thinking, and Waters waited.

When he spoke, his voice was soft enough to blend with the sheriff's
thoughts without actually interrupting them.

"You're not a youngster any more, sheriff, and if you lose out here, your
reputation is gone for good. You'll not have the time to rebuild it. Here
is a chance for you not only to stop the evil rumors, but to fortify your
past record with a new bit of work that will make people talk of you.
They don't really care how you do it. They won't split hairs about
method. They want Hollis put out of the way. I say, cache yourself away.
Let Hollis come to meet Larrimer in a private room. You can arrange it
with Larrimer yourself later on. You shoot from concealment the moment
Hollis shows his face. It can be said that Larrimer did the shooting, and
beat Hollis to the draw. The glory of it will bribe Larrimer."

The sheriff shook his head. Waters leaned forward.

"My friend," he said. "I represent in this matter a wealthy man to whom
the removal of Terry Hollis will be worth money. Five thousand dollars
cash, sheriff!"

The sheriff moistened his lips and his eyes grew wild. He had lived long
and worked hard and saved little. Yet he shook his head.

"Ten thousand dollars," whispered Waters. "Cash!"

The sheriff groaned, rose, paced the room, and then slumped into a chair.

"Tell Bud Larrimer I want to see him," he said. The following letter,
which was received at the house of Joe Pollard, was indeed a gem of


Sir, I got this to say. Since you done my brother dirt I bin looking for
a chans to get even and I ain't seen any chanses coming my way so Ime
going to make one which I mean that Ile be waiting for you in town today
and if you don't come Ile let the boys know that you aint only an ornery
mean skunk but your a yaller hearted dog also which I beg to remain

Yours very truly,

Bud Larrimer.

Terry Hollis read the letter and tossed it with laughter to Phil Marvin,
who sat cross-legged on the floor mending a saddle, and Phil and the rest
of the boys shook their heads over it.

"What I can't make out," said Joe Pollard, voicing the sentiments of the
rest, "is how Bud Larrimer, that's as slow as a plow horse with a gun,
could ever find the guts to challenge Terry Hollis to a fair fight."

Kate Pollard rose anxiously with a suggestion. Today or tomorrow at the
latest she expected the arrival of Elizabeth Cornish, and so far it had
been easy to keep Terry at the house. The gang was gorged with the loot
of the Lewison robbery, and Terry's appetite for excitement had been
cloyed by that event also. This strange challenge from the older Larrimer
was the fly in the ointment.

"It ain't hard to tell why he sent that challenge," she declared. "He has
some sneaking plan up his sleeve, Dad. You know Bud Larrimer. He hasn't
the nerve to fight a boy. How'll he ever manage to stand up to Terry
unless he's got hidden backing?"

She herself did not know how accurately she was hitting off the
situation; but she was drawing it as black as possible to hold Terry from
accepting the challenge. It was her father who doubted her suggestion.

"It sounds queer," he said, "but the gents of these parts don't make no
ambushes while McGuire is around. He's a clean shooter, is McGuire, and
he don't stand for no shady work with guns."

Again Kate went to the attack.

"But the sheriff would do anything to get Terry. You know that. And maybe
he isn't so particular about how it's done. Dad, don't you let Terry make
a step toward town! I _know_ something would happen! And even if they
didn't ambush him, he would be outlawed even if he won the fight. No
matter how fair he may fight, they won't stand for two killings in so
short a time. You know that, Dad. They'd have a mob out here to lynch

"You're right, Kate," nodded her father. "Terry, you better stay put."

But Terry Hollis had risen and stretched himself to the full length of
his height, and extended his long arms sleepily. Every muscle played
smoothly up his arms and along his shoulders. He was fit for action from
the top of his head to the soles of his feet.

"Partners," he announced gently, "no matter what Bud Larrimer has on his
mind, I've got to go in and meet him. Maybe I can convince him without
gun talk. I hope so. But it will have to be on the terms he wants. I'll
saddle up and lope into town."

He started for the door. The other members of the Pollard gang looked at
one another and shrugged their shoulders. Plainly the whole affair was a
bad mess. If Terry shot Larrimer, he would certainly be followed by a
lynching mob, because no self-respecting Western town could allow two
members of its community to be dropped in quick succession by one man of
an otherwise questionable past. No matter how fair the gunplay, just as
Kate had said, the mob would rise. But on the other hand, how could Terry
refuse to respond to such an invitation without compromising his
reputation as a man without fear?

There was nothing to do but fight.

But Kate ran to her father. "Dad," she cried, "you got to stop him!"

He looked into her drawn face in astonishment.

"Look here, honey," he advised rather sternly. "Man-talk is man-talk, and
man-ways are man-ways, and a girl like you can't understand. You keep out
of this mess. It's bad enough without having your hand added."

She saw there was nothing to be gained in this direction. She turned to
the rest of the men; they watched her with blank faces. Not a man there
but would have done much for the sake of a single smile. But how could
they help?

Desperately she ran to the door, jerked it open, and followed Terry to
the stable. He had swung the saddle from its peg and slipped it over the
back of El Sangre, and the great stallion turned to watch this
perennially interesting operation.

"Terry," she said, "I want ten words with you."

"I know what you want to say," he answered gently. "You want to make me
stay away from town today. To tell you the truth, Kate, I hate to go in.
I hate it like the devil. But what can I do? I have no grudge against
Larrimer. But if he wants to talk about his brother's death, why--good
Lord, Kate, I have to go in and listen, don't I? I can't dodge that

"It's a trick, Terry. I swear it's a trick. I can feel it!" She dropped
her hand nervously on the heavy revolver which she wore strapped at her
hip, and fingered the gold chasing. Without her gun, ever since early
girlhood, she had felt that her toilet was not complete.

"It may be," he nodded thoughtfully. "And I appreciate the advice, Kate--
but what would you have me do?"

"Terry," she said eagerly, "you know what this means. You've killed once.
If you go into town today, it means either that you kill or get killed.
And one thing is about as bad as the other."

Again he nodded. She was surprised that he would admit so much, but there
were parts of his nature which, plainly, she had not yet reached to.

"What difference does it make, Kate?" His voice fell into a profound
gloom. "What difference? I can't change myself. I'm what I am. It's in
the blood. I was born to this. I can't help it. I know that I'll lose in
the end. But while I live I'll be happy. A little while!"

She choked. But the sight of his drawing the cinches, the imminence of
his departure, cleared her mind again.

"Give me two minutes," she begged.

"Not one," he answered. "Kate, you only make us both unhappy. Do you
suppose I wouldn't change if I could?"

He came to her and took her hands.

"Honey, there are a thousand things I'd like to say to you, but being
what I am, I have no right to say them to you--never, or to any other
woman! I'm born to be what I am. I tell you, Kate, the woman who raised
me, who was a mother to me, saw what I was going to be--and turned me out
like a dog! And I don't blame her. She was right!"

She grasped at the straw of hope.

"Terry, that woman has changed her mind. You hear? She's lived
heartbroken since she turned you out. And now she's coming for you to--to
beg you to come back to her! Terry, that's how much she's given up hope
in you!"

But he drew back, his face growing dark.

"You've been to see her, Kate? That's where you went when you were away
those four days?"

She dared not answer. He was trembling with hurt pride and rage.

"You went to her--she thought I sent you--that I've grown ashamed of my
own father, and that I want to beg her to take me back? Is that what she

He struck his hand across his forehead and groaned.

"God! I'd rather die than have her think it for a minute. Kate, how could
you do it? I'd have trusted you always to do the right thing and the
proud thing--and here you've shamed me!"

He turned to the horse, and El Sangre stepped out of the stall and into a
shaft of sunlight that burned on him like blood-red fire. And beside him
young Terry Hollis, straight as a pine, and as strong--a glorious figure.
It broke her heart to see him, knowing what was coming.

"Terry, if you ride down yonder, you're going to a dog's death! I swear
you are, Terry!"

She stretched out her arms to him; but he turned to her with his hand on
the pommel, and his face was like iron.

"I've made my choice. Will you stand aside, Kate?"

"You're set on going? Nothing will change you? But I tell you, I'm going
to change you! I'm only a girl. And I can't stop you with a girl's
weapons. I'll do it with a man's. Terry, take the saddle off that horse!
And promise me you'll stay here till Elizabeth Cornish comes!"

"Elizabeth Cornish?" He laughed bitterly. "When she conies, I'll be a
hundred miles away, and bound farther off. That's final."

"You're wrong," she cried hysterically. "You're going to stay here. You
may throw away your share in yourself. But I have a share that I won't
throw away. Terry, for the last time!"

He shook his head.

She caught her breath with a sob. Someone was coming from the outside.
She heard her father's deep-throated laughter. Whatever was done, she
must do it quickly. And he must be stopped!

The hand on the gun butt jerked up--the long gun flashed in her hand.

"Kate!" cried Terry. "Good God, are you mad?"

"Yes," she sobbed. "Mad! Will you stay?"

"What infernal nonsense--"

The gun boomed hollowly in the narrow passage between mow and wall. El
Sangre reared, a red flash in the sunlight, and landed far away in the
shadow, trembling. But Terry Hollis had spun halfway around, swung by the
heavy, tearing impact of the big slug, and then sank to the floor, where
he sat clasping his torn thigh with both hands, his shoulder and head
sagging against the wall.

Joe Pollard, rushing in with an outcry, found the gun lying sparkling in
the sunshine, and his daughter, hysterical and weeping, holding the
wounded man in her arms.

"What--in the name of--" he roared.

"Accident, Joe," gasped Terry. "Fooling with Kate's gun and trying a spin
with it. It went off--drilled me clean through the leg!"

That night, very late, in Joe Pollard's house, Terry Hollis lay on the
bed with a dim light reaching to him from the hooded lamp in the corner
of the room. His arms were stretched out on each side and one hand held
that of Kate, warm, soft, young, clasping his fingers feverishly and
happily. And on the other side was the firm, cool pressure of the hand of
Aunt Elizabeth.

His mind was in a haze. Vaguely he perceived the gleam of tears on the
face of Elizabeth. And he had heard her say: "All the time I didn't know,
Terry. I thought I was ashamed of the blood in you. But this girl opened
my eyes. She told me the truth. The reason I took you in was because I
loved that wild, fierce, gentle, terrible father of yours. If you have
done a little of what he did, what does it matter? Nothing to me! Oh,
Terry, nothing in the world to me! Except that Kate brought me to my
senses in time--bless her--and now I have you back, dear boy!"

He remembered smiling faintly and happily at that. And he said before he
slept: "It's a bit queer, isn't it, even two wise women can't show a man
that he's a fool? It takes a bullet to turn the trick!"

But when he went to sleep, his head turned a little from Elizabeth toward

And the women raised their heads and looked at one another with filmy
eyes. They both understood what that feeble gesture meant. It told much
of the fine heart of Elizabeth--that she was able to smile at the girl
and forgive her for having stolen again what she had restored.

It was the break-up of the Pollard gang, the sudden disaffection of their
newest and most brilliant member. Joe himself was financed by Elizabeth
Cornish and opened a small string of small-town hotels.

"Which is just another angle of the road business," he often said,
"except that the law works with you and not agin you."

But he never quite recovered from the restoration of the Lewison money on
which Elizabeth and Terry both insisted. Neither did Denver Pete. He left
them in disgust and was never heard of again in those parts. And he
always thereafter referred to Terry as "a promising kid gone to waste."

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