Black jack, p.13
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       Black Jack, p.13

           Max Brand
 

  CHAPTER 13

  Terence Hollis had gone out of the room and up the stairs like a manstunned or walking in his sleep. Not until he stepped into the familiarroom did the blood begin to return to his face, and with the warmth therewas a growing sensation of uneasiness.

  Something was wrong. Something had to be righted. Gradually his mindcleared. The thing that was wrong was that the man who had killed hisfather was now under the same roof with him, had shaken his hand, had satin bland complacency and looked in his face and told of the butchery.

  Butchery it was, according to Terry's standards. For the sake of theprice on the head of the outlaw, young Minter had shoved his rifle acrossa window sill, taken his aim, and with no risk to himself had shot downthe wild rider. His heart stood up in his throat with revulsion at thethought of it. Murder, horrible, and cold-blooded, the more horriblebecause it was legal.

  Something had to be done. What was it?

  And when he turned, what he saw was the gun cabinet with a shimmer oflight on the barrels. Then he knew. He selected his favorite Colt anddrew it out. It was loaded, and the action in perfect condition. Many andmany an hour he had practiced and blazed away hundreds of rounds ofammunition with it. It responded to his touch like a muscular part of hisown body.

  He shoved it under his coat, and walking down the stairs again the chillof the steel worked through to his flesh. He went back to the kitchen andcalled out Wu Chi. The latter came shuffling in his slippers, nodding,grinning in anticipation of compliments.

  "Wu," came the short demand, "can you keep your mouth shut and do whatyou're told to do?"

  "Wu try," said the Chinaman, grave as a yellow image instantly.

  "Then go to the living room and tell Mr. Gainor and Sheriff Minter thatMr. Harkness is waiting for them outside and wishes to see them onbusiness of the most urgent nature. It will only be the matter of amoment. Now go. Gainor and the sheriff. Don't forget."

  He received a scared glance, and then went out onto the veranda and satdown to wait.

  That was the right way, he felt. His father would have called the sheriffto the door, in a similar situation, and after one brief challenge theywould have gone for their guns. But there was another way, and that wasthe way of the Colbys. Their way was right. They lived like gentlemen,and, above all, they fought always like gentlemen.

  Presently the screen door opened, squeaked twice, and then closed with ahum of the screen as it slammed. Steps approached him. He got up from thechair and faced them, Gainor and the sheriff. The sheriff hadinstinctively put on his hat, like a man who does not understand the openair with an uncovered head. But Gainor was uncovered, and his white hairglimmered.

  He was a tall, courtly old fellow. His ceremonious address had won himmuch political influence. Men said that Gainor was courteous to a dog,not because he respected the dog, but because he wanted to practice for aman. He had always the correct rejoinder, always did the right thing. Hehad a thin, stern face and a hawk nose that gave him a cast of ferocityin certain aspects.

  It was to him that Terry addressed himself.

  "Mr. Gainor," he said, "I'm sorry to have sent in a false message. But mybusiness is very urgent, and I have a very particular reason for notwishing to have it known that I have called you out."

  The moment he rose out of the chair and faced them, Gainor had stoppedshort. He was quite capable of fast thinking, and now his glanceflickered from Terry to the sheriff and back again. It was plain that hehad shrewd suspicions as to the purpose behind that call. The sheriff wasmerely confused. He flushed as much as his tanned-leather skin permitted.As for Terry, the moment his glance fell on the sheriff he felt hismuscles jump into hard ridges, and an almost uncontrollable desire to goat the throat of the other seized him. He quelled that desire and foughtit back with a chill of fear.

  "My father's blood working out!" he thought to himself.

  And he fastened his attention on Mr. Gainor and tried to shut the pictureof the sheriff out of his brain. But the desire to leap at the tall manwas as consuming as the passion for water in the desert. And with ashudder of horror he found himself without a moral scruple. Just behindthe thin partition of his will power there was a raging fury to get atJoe Minter. He wanted to kill. He wanted to snuff that life out as thelife of Black Jack Hollis had been snuffed.

  He excluded the sheriff deliberately from his attention and turned fullyupon Gainor.

  "Mr. Gainor, will you be kind enough to go over to that grove of sprucewhere the three of us can talk without any danger of interruption?"

  Of course, that speech revealed everything. Gainor stiffened a little andthe tuft of beard which ran down to a point on his chin quivered andjutted out. The sheriff seemed to feel nothing more than a mild surpriseand curiosity. And the three went silently, side by side, under thespruce. They were glorious trees, strong of trunk and nobly proportioned.Their tops were silver-bright in the sunshine. Through the lower branchesthe light was filtered through layer after layer of shadow, until on theground there were only a few patches of light here and there, and thesewere no brighter than silver moonshine, and seemed to be without heat.Indeed, in the mild shadow among the trees lay the chill of the mountainair which seems to lurk in covert places waiting for the night.

  It might have been this chill that made Terry button his coat closerabout him and tremble a little as he entered the shadow. The great trunksshut out the world in a scattered wall. There was a narrow opening hereamong the trees at the very center. The three were in a sort of gorge ofwhich the solemn spruce trees furnished the sides, the cold blue of themountain skies was just above the lofty tree-tips, and the wind kept thepure fragrance of the evergreens stirring about them. The odor is thesoul of the mountains. A great surety had come to Terry that this was thelast place he would ever see on earth. He was about to die, and he wasglad, in a dim sort of way, that he should die in a place so beautiful.He looked at the sheriff, who stood calm but puzzled, and at Gainor, whowas very grave, indeed, and returned his look with one of infinite pity,as though he knew and understood and acquiesced, but was deeply grievedthat it must be so.

  "Gentlemen," said Terry, making his voice light and cheerful as he feltthat the voice of a Colby should be at such a time, being about to die,"I suppose you understand why I have asked you to come here?"

  "Yes," nodded Gainor.

  "But I'm damned if I do," said the sheriff frankly.

  Terry looked upon him coldly. He felt that he had not the slightestchance of killing this professional manslayer, but at least he would dohis best--for the sake of Black Jack's memory. But to think that hislife--his mind--his soul--all that was dear to him and all that he wasdear to, should ever lie at the command of the trigger of this hard,crafty, vain, and unimportant fellow! He writhed at the thought. It madehim stand stiffer. His chin went up. He grew literally taller beforetheir eyes, and such a look came on his face that the sheriffinstinctively fell back a pace.

  "Mr. Gainor," said Terry, as though his contempt for the sheriff was toogreat to permit his speaking directly to Minter, "will you explain to thesheriff that my determination to have satisfaction does not come from thefact that he killed my father, but because of the manner of the killing?To the sheriff it seems justifiable. To me it seems a murder. Having thatthought, there is only one thing to do. One of us must not leave thisplace!" Gainor bowed, but the sheriff gaped.

  "By the eternal!" he scoffed. "This sounds like one of them duels of theold days. This was the way they used to talk!"

  "Gentlemen," said Gainor, raising his long-fingered hand, "it is mysolemn duty to admonish you to make up your differences amicably."

  "Whatever that means," sneered the sheriff. "But tell this young foolthat's trying to act like he couldn't see me or hear me--tell him that Idon't carry no grudge ag'in' him, that I'm sorry he's Black Jack's son,but that it's something he can live down, maybe. And I'll go so far as tosay I'm sorry that I done all that talking right to his face. But fartherthan that I won't go. And i
f all this is leading up to a gunplay, by God,gents, the minute a gun comes into my hand I shoot to kill, mark youthat, and don't you never forget it!"

  Mr. Gainor had remained with his hand raised during this outbreak. Now heturned to Terry.

  "You have heard?" he said. "I think the sheriff is going quite a waytoward you, Mr. Colby."

  "Hollis!" gasped Terry. "Hollis is the name, sir!"

  "I beg your pardon," said Gainor. "Mr. Hollis it is! Gentlemen, I assureyou that I feel for you both. It seems, however, to be one of thoseunfortunate affairs when the mind must stop its debate and physicalaction must take up its proper place. I lament the necessity, but I admitit, even though the law does not admit it. But there are unwritten laws,sirs, unwritten laws which I for one consider among the holies ofholies."

  Palpably the old man was enjoying every minute of his own talk. It wasnot his first affair of this nature. He came out of an early and morecourtly generation where men drank together in the evening by firelightand carved one another in the morning with glimmering bowie knives.

  "You are both," he protested, "dear to me. I esteem you both as men andas good citizens. And I have done my best to open the way for peacefulnegotiations toward an understanding. It seems that I have failed. Verywell, sirs. Then it must be battle. You are both armed? With revolvers?"

  "Nacher'ly," said the sheriff, and spat accurately at a blaze on the treetrunk beside him. He had grown very quiet.

  "I am armed," said Terry calmly, "with a revolver."

  "Very good."

  The hand of Gainor glided into his bosom and came forth bearing a whitehandkerchief. His right hand slid into his coat and came forth likewise--bearing a long revolver.

  "Gentlemen," he said, "the first man to disobey my directions I shallshoot down unquestioningly, like a dog. I give you my solemn word forit!"

  And his eye informed them that he would enjoy the job.

  He continued smoothly: "This contest shall accord with the only terms bywhich a duel with guns can be properly fought. You will stand back toback with your guns not displayed, but in your clothes. At my word youwill start walking in the opposite directions until my command 'Turn!'and at this command you will wheel, draw your guns, and fire until oneman falls--or both!"

  He sent his revolver through a peculiar, twirling motion and shook backhis long white hair.

  "Ready, gentlemen, and God defend the right!"

 
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