Black jack, p.12
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       Black Jack, p.12

           Max Brand
 

  CHAPTER 12

  "I was saying," proceeded the sheriff, "that they scared their babies inthese here parts with the name of Jack Hollis. Which they sure done.Well, sir, he was bad."

  "Not all bad, surely," put in Vance. "I've heard a good many storiesabout the generosity of--"

  He was anxious to put in the name of Black Jack, since the sheriff wassticking so close to "Jack Hollis," which was a name that Terry had notyet heard for his dead father. But before he could get out the name, thesheriff, angry at the interruption, resumed the smooth current of histale with a side flash at Vance.

  "Not all bad, you say? Generous? Sure he was generous. Them that liveoutside the law has got to be generous to keep a gang around 'em. Notthat Hollis ever played with a gang much, but he had hangers-on all overthe mountains and gents that he had done good turns for and hadn't goneoff and talked about it. But that was just common sense. He knew he'dneed friends that he could trust if he ever got in trouble. If he waswounded, they had to be someplace where he could rest up. Ain't that so?Well, sir, that's what the goodness of Jack Hollis amounted to. No, sir,he was bad. Plumb bad and all bad!

  "But he had them qualities that a young gent with an imagination is aptto cotton to. He was free with his money. He dressed like a dandy. He'dgamble with hundreds, and then give back half of his winnings if he'dbroke the gent that run the bank. Them was the sort of things that JackHollis would do. And I had my head full of him. Well, about the time thathe come to the neighborhood, I sneaked out of the house one night andwent off to a dance with a girl that I was sweet on. And when I comeback, I found Dad waiting up for me ready to skin me alive. He tried togive me a clubbing. I kicked the stick out of his hands and swore thatI'd leave and never come back. Which I never done, living up to my wordproper.

  "But when I found myself outside in the night, I says to myself: 'Whereshall I go now?'

  "And then, being sort of sick at the world, and hating Dad particular, Idecided to go out and join Jack Hollis. I was going to go bad. Mostly tocut up Dad, I reckon, and not because I wanted to particular.

  "It wasn't hard to find Jack Hollis. Not for a kid my age that was surenot to be no officer of the law. Besides, they didn't go out single andhunt for Hollis. They went in gangs of a half a dozen at a time, or moreif they could get 'em. And even then they mostly got cleaned up when theycornered Hollis. Yes, sir, he made life sad for the sheriffs in themparts that he favored most.

  "I found Jack toasting bacon over a fire. He had two gents with him, andthey brung me in, finding me sneaking around like a fool kid instead ofwalking right into camp. Jack sized me up a minute. He was a fine-lookingboy, was Hollis. He gimme a look out of them fine black eyes of his whichI won't never forget. Aye, a handsome scoundrel, that Hollis!"

  Elizabeth Cornish sank back in her chair and covered her eyes with herhands for a moment. To the others it seemed that she was merely rubbingweary eyes. But her brother knew perfectly that she was near to fainting.

  He looked at Terry and saw that the boy was following the tale withsparkling eyes.

  "I like what you say about this Hollis, sheriff," he ventured softly.

  "Do you? Well, so did I like what I seen of him that night, for all Iknew that he was a no-good, man-killing, heartless sort. I told him rightoff that I wanted to join him. I even up and give him an exhibition ofshooting.

  "What do you think he says to me? 'You go home to your ma, young man!'

  "That's what he said.

  "'I ain't a baby,' says I to Jack Hollis. 'I'm a grown man. I'm ready tofight your way.'

  "'Any fool can fight,' says Jack Hollis. 'But a gent with any sense don'thave to fight. You can lay to that, son!'

  "'Don't call me son,' says I. 'I'm older than you was when you startedout.'

  "I'd had my heart busted before I started,' says Jack Hollis to me. 'Areyou as old as that, son? You go back home and don't bother me no more.I'll come back in five years and see if you're still in the same mind!'

  "And that was what I seen of Jack Hollis.

  "I went back into town--Garrison City. I slept over the stables the restof that night. The next day I loafed around town not hardly nowaysknowing what I was going to do.

  "Then I was loafing around with my rifle, like I was going out on ahunting trip that afternoon. And pretty soon I heard a lot of noisecoming down the street, guns and what not. I look out the window andthere comes Jack Hollis, hellbent! Jack Hollis! And then it pops into myhead that they was a big price, for them days, on Jack's head. I pickedup my gun and eased it over the sill of the window and got a good bead.

  "Jack turned in his saddle--"

  There was a faint groan from Elizabeth Cornish. All eyes focused on herin amazement. She mustered a smile. The story went on.

  "When Jack turned to blaze away at them that was piling out around thecorner of the street, I let the gun go, and I drilled him clean. Greatsensation, gents, to have a life under your trigger. Just beckon one miteof an inch and a life goes scooting up to heaven or down to hell. I nevergot over seeing Hollis spill sidewise out of that saddle. There he was aminute before better'n any five men when it come to fighting. And now hewasn't nothing but a lot of trouble to bury. Just so many pounds offlesh. You see? Well, sir, the price on Black Jack set me up in life andgimme my start. After that I sort of specialized in manhunting, and I'vekept on ever since."

  Terry leaned across the table, his left arm outstretched to call thesheriff's attention.

  "I didn't catch that last name, sheriff," he said.

  The talk was already beginning to bubble up at the end of the sheriff'stale. But there was something in the tone of the boy that cut through thetalk to its root. People were suddenly looking at him out of eyes whichwere very wide indeed. And it was not hard to find a reason. His handsomeface was colorless, like a carving from the stone, and under his knittedbrows his black eyes were ominous in the shadow. The sheriff franklygaped at him. It was another man who sat across the table in the chairwhere the ingenuous youth had been a moment before.

  "What name? Jack Hollis?"

  "I think the name you used was Black Jack, sheriff?"

  "Black Jack? Sure. That was the other name for Jack Hollis. He was mostlycalled Black Jack for short, but that was chiefly among his partners.Outside he was called Jack Hollis, which was his real name."

  Terence rose from his chair, more colorless than ever, the knuckles ofone hand resting upon the table. He seemed very tall, years older, grim.

  "Terry!" called Elizabeth Cornish softly.

  It was like speaking to a stone.

  "Gentlemen," said Terry, though his eyes never left the face of thesheriff, and it was obvious that he was making his speech to one pair ofears alone. "I have been living among you under the name of Colby--Terence Colby. It seems an appropriate moment to say that this is not myname. After what the sheriff has just told you it may be of interest toknow that my real name is Hollis. Terence Hollis is my name and my fatherwas Jack Hollis, commonly known as Black Jack, it seems from the story ofthe sheriff. I also wish to say that I am announcing my parentage notbecause I wish to apologize for it--in spite of the rather remarkablenarrative of the sheriff--but because I am proud of it."

  He lifted his head while he spoke. And his eye went boldly, calmly downthe table.

  "This could not have been expected before, because none of you knew myfather's name. I confess that I did not know it myself until a very shorttime ago. Otherwise I should not have listened to the sheriff's storyuntil the end. Hereafter, however, when any of you are tempted to talkabout Black or Jack Hollis, remember that his son is alive--and in goodhealth!"

  He hung in his place for an instant as though he were ready to hear areply. But the table was stunned. Then Terry turned on his heel and leftthe room.

  It was the signal for a general upstarting from the table, a pushing backof chairs, a gathering around Elizabeth Cornish. She was as white asTerry had been while he talked. But there was a gathering excitement inher
eye, and happiness. The sheriff was full of apologies. He wouldrather have had his tongue torn out by the roots than to have offendedher or the young man with his story.

  She waved the sheriff's apology aside. It was unfortunate, but it couldnot have been helped. They all realized that. She guided her guests intothe living room, and on the way she managed to drift close to herbrother.

  Her eyes were on fire with her triumph.

  "You heard, Vance? You saw what he did?"

  There was a haunted look about the face of Vance, who had seen his high-built schemes topple about his head.

  "He did even better than I expected, Elizabeth. Thank heaven for it!"

 
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