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       Black Jack, p.15

           Max Brand
 

  CHAPTER 15

  Gainor's dignity split the force of their rush. They recoiled as waterstrikes on a rock and divides into two meager swirls. And when one or twowent past him on either side, he recalled them.

  "Boys, there seems to be a little game on hand. What is it?"

  Something repelling, coldly inquiring in his attitude and in his voice.They would have gone on if they could, but they could not. He held themwith a force of knowledge of things that they did not know. They wereremembering that this man had gone out with the sheriff to meet,apparently, his death. And yet Gainor, a well-tried friend of thesheriff, seemed unexcited. They had to answer his question, and how couldthey lie when he saw them rushing through a door with revolvers coming tobrown, skillful hands? It was someone from the rear who made theconfession.

  "We're going to get young Black Jack!"

  That was it. The speech came out like the crack of a gun, clearing theatmosphere. It told every man exactly what was in his own mind, felt butnot confessed. They had no grudge against Terry, really. But they weredetermined to hang the son of Black Jack. Had it been a lesser deed, theymight have let him go. But his victim was too distinguished in theirsociety. He had struck down Joe Minter; the ghost of the great Black Jackhimself seemed to have stalked out among them.

  "You're going to get young Terry Hollis?" interpreted Gainor, and hisvoice rose and rang over them. Those who had slipped past him on eitherside came back and faced him. In the distance Elizabeth had not stirred.Vance kept watching her face. It was cold as ice, unreadable. He couldnot believe that she was allowing this lynching party to organize underher own roof--a lynching party aimed at Terence. It began to grow in himthat he had gained a greater victory than he imagined.

  "If you aim at Terry," went on Gainor, his voice even louder, "you'llhave to aim at me, too. There's going to be no lynching bee, my friends!"

  The women had crowded back in the room. They made a little bank of stirand murmur around Elizabeth.

  "Gentlemen," said Gainor, shaking his white hair back again in hisimposing way, "there has been no murder. The sheriff is not going to die.There has been a disagreement between two men of honor. The sheriff isnow badly wounded. I think that is all. Does anybody want to askquestions about what has happened?"

  There was a bustle in the group of men. They were puttingaway the weapons, not quite sure what they could do next.

  "I am going to tell you exactly what has happened," said Gainor. "Youheard the unfortunate things that passed at the table today. What thesheriff said was not said as an insult; but under the circumstances itbecame necessary for Terence Hollis to resent what he had heard. As a manof honor he could not do otherwise. You all agree with me in that?"

  They grunted a grudging assent. There were ways and ways of looking atsuch things. The way of Gainor was a generation old. But there wassomething so imposing about the old fellow, something which breathed thevery spirit of honor and fair play, that they could not argue the point.

  "Accordingly Mr. Hollis sent for the sheriff. Not to bring him outdoorsand shoot him down in a sudden gunplay, nor to take advantage of himthrough a surprise--as a good many men would have been tempted to do, myfriends, for the sheriff has a wide reputation as a handler of guns ofall sorts. No, sir, he sent for me also, and he told us frankly that thebad blood between him and the sheriff must be spent. You understand? Bythe Lord, my friends, I admired the fine spirit of the lad. He expectedto be shot rather than to drop the sheriff. I could tell that by hisexpression. But his eye did not falter. It carried me back to the olddays--to old days, sirs!"

  There was not a murmur in the entire room. The eye of Elizabeth Cornishwas fire. Whether with anger or pride, Vance could not tell. But he beganto worry.

  "We went over to the group of silver spruce near the house. I gave themthe directions. They came and stood together, back to back, with theirrevolvers not drawn. They began to walk away in opposite directions at mycommand.

  "When I called 'Turn,' they wheeled. My gun was ready to shoot down thefirst man guilty of foul play--but there was no attempt to turn too soon,before the signal. They whirled, snatching out their guns--and therevolver of the sheriff hung in his clothes!"

  A groan from the little crowd.

  "Although, upon my word," said Gainor, "I do not think that the sheriffcould have possibly brought out his gun as swiftly as Terence Hollis did.His whirl was like the spin of a top, or the snap of a whiplash, and ashe snapped about, the revolver was in his hand, not raised to draw abead, but at his hip. The sheriff set his teeth--but Terry did not fire!"

  A bewildered murmur from the crowd.

  "No, my friends," cried Gainor, his voice quivering, "he did not fire. Hedropped the muzzle of his gun--and waited. By heaven, my heart went outto him. It was magnificent."

  The thin, strong hand of Elizabeth closed on the arm of Vance. "That wasa Colby who did that!" she whispered.

  "The sheriff gritted his teeth," went on Gainor, "and tore out his gun.All this pause had been such a space as is needed for an eyelash toflicker twice. Out shot the sheriff's Colt. And then, and not until then,did the muzzle of Terry's revolver jerk up. Even after that delay he beatthe sheriff to the trigger. The two shots came almost together, but thesheriff was already falling when he pulled his trigger, and his aim waswild.

  "He dropped on one side, the revolver flying out of his hand. I startedforward, and then I stopped. By heaven, the sheriff had stretched out hisarm and picked up his gun again. He was not through fighting.

  "A bulldog spirit, you say? Yes! And what could I do? It was thesheriff's right to keep on fighting as long as he wished. And it was theright of Terence to shoot the man full of holes the minute his handtouched the revolver again.

  "I could only stand still. I saw the sheriff raise his revolver. It wasan effort of agony. But he was still trying to kill. And I nerved myselfand waited for the explosion of the gun of Terence. I say I nerved myselffor that shock, but the gun did not explode. I looked at him in wonder.My friends, he was putting up his gun and quietly looking the sheriff inthe eye!

  "At that I shouted to him, I don't know what. I shouted to the sheriffnot to fire. Too late. The muzzle of the gun was already tilting up, thebarrel was straightening. And then the gun fell from Minter's hand and hedropped on his side. His strength had failed him at the last moment.

  "But I say, sirs, that what Terence Hollis did was the finest thing Ihave ever seen in my life, and I have seen fine things done by gentlemenbefore. There may be unpleasant associations with the name of Terry'sfather. I, for one, shall never carry over those associations to the son.Never! He has my hand, my respect, my esteem in every detail. He is agentleman, my friends! There is nothing for us to do. If the sheriff isunfortunate and the wound should prove fatal, Terence will give himselfup to the law. If he lives, he will be the first to tell you to keep yourhands off the boy!"

  He ended in a little silence. But there was no appreciative burst ofapplause from those who heard him. The fine courage of Terence was, tothem, merely the iron nerve of the man-killer, the keen eye and thejudicious mind which knew that the sheriff would collapse before he firedhis second shot. And his courtesy before the first shot was simply thesurety of the man who knew that no matter what advantage he gave to hisenemy, his own speed of hand would more than make up for it.

  Gainor, reading their minds, paid no more heed to them. He went straightacross the room and took the hand of Elizabeth.

  "Dear Miss Cornish," he said so that all could hear, "I congratulate youfor the man you have given us in Terence Hollis."

  Vance, watching, saw the tears of pleasure brighten the eyes of hissister.

  "You are very kind," she said. "But now I must see Sheriff Minter and besure that everything is done for him."

  It seemed that the party took this as a signal for dismissal. As she wentacross the room, there were a dozen hasty adieus, and soon the guestswere streaming towards the doors.

  Vance and Elizabeth and Gainor
went to the sheriff. He had been installedin a guest room. His eyes were closed, his arms outstretched. A thick,telltale bandage was wrapped about his breast. And Wu Chi, skillful insuch matters from a long experience, was sliding about the room in hiswhispering slippers. The sheriff did not open his eyes when Elizabethtried his pulse. It was faint, but steady.

  He had been shot through the body and the lungs grazed, for as hebreathed there was a faint bubble of blood that grew and swelled andburst on his lips at every breath. But he lived, and he would live unlessthere were an unnecessary change for the worse. They went softly out ofthe room again. Elizabeth was grave. Mr. Gainor took her hand.

  "I think I know what people are saying now, and what they will sayhereafter. If Terry's father were any other than Hollis, this affairwould soon he forgotten, except as a credit to him. But even as it is, hewill live this matter down. I want to tell you again, Miss Cornish, thatyou have reason to be proud of him. He is the sort of man I should beproud to have in my own family. Madam, good-by. And if there is anythingin which I can be of service to you or to Terence, call on me at any timeand to any extent."

  And he went down the hall with a little swagger. Mr. Gainor felt that hehad risen admirably to a great situation. As a matter of fact, he had.

  Elizabeth turned to Vance.

  "I wish you'd find Terence," she said, "and tell him that I'm waiting forhim in the library."

 
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