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       Black Jack, p.16

           Max Brand


  Vance went gloomily to the room of Terry and called him out. The boy waspale, but perfectly calm, and he looked older, much older.

  "There was a great deal of talk," said Vance--he must make doubly sure ofTerence now. "And they even started a little lynching party. But westopped all that. Gainor made a very nice little speech about you. Andnow Elizabeth is waiting for you in the library."

  Terry bit his lip.

  "And she?" he asked anxiously.

  "There's nothing to worry about," Vance assured him.

  "She'll probably read you a curtain lecture. But at heart she's proud ofyou because of the way Gainor talked. You can't do anything wrong in mysister's eyes."

  Terry breathed a great sigh of relief.

  "But I'm not ashamed of what I've done. I'm really not, Uncle Vance. I'mafraid that I'd do it over again, under the same circumstances."

  "Of course you would. Of course you would, my boy. But you don't have toblurt that out to Elizabeth, do you? Let her think it was theoverwhelming passion of the moment; something like that. A woman likes tobe appealed to, not defied. Particularly Elizabeth. Take my advice.She'll open her arms to you after she's been stern as the devil for amoment."

  The boy caught his hand and wrung it.

  "By the Lord, Uncle Vance," he said, "I certainly appreciate this!"

  "Tush, Terry, tush!" said Vance. "You'll find that I'm with you andbehind you in more ways than you'd ever guess."

  He received a grateful glance as they went down the broad stairstogether. At the door to the library Vance turned away, but Elizabethcalled to him and asked him in. He entered behind Terence Hollis, andfound Elizabeth sitting in her father's big chair under the window,looking extremely fragile and very erect and proud. Across her lap was alegal-looking document.

  Vance knew instantly that it was the will she had made up in favor ofTerence. He had been preparing himself for the worst, but at this hisheart sank. He lowered himself into a chair. Terence had gone straight toElizabeth.

  "I know I've done a thing that will cut you deeply, Aunt Elizabeth," hesaid. "I'm not going to ask you to see any justice on my side. I onlywant to ask you to forgive me, because--"

  Elizabeth was staring straight at and through her protege.

  "Are you done, Terence?"

  This time Vance was shocked into wide-eyed attention. The voice ofElizabeth was hard as iron. It brought a corresponding stiffening ofTerence.

  "I'm done," he said, with a certain ring to his voice that Vance was gladto hear.

  It brought a flush into the pale cheeks of Elizabeth.

  "It is easy to see that you're proud of what you have done, Terence."

  "Yes," he answered with sudden defiance, "I am proud. It's the best thingI've ever done. I regret only one part of it."

  "And that?"

  "That my bullet didn't kill him!"

  Elizabeth looked down and tapped the folded paper against her fingertips.Whether it was mere thoughtfulness or a desire to veil a profound emotionfrom Terence, her brother could not tell. But he knew that something ofimportance was in the air. He scented it as clearly as the smoke of aforest fire.

  "I thought," she said in her new and icy manner, "that that would be yourone regret."

  She looked suddenly up at Terence.

  "Twenty-four years," she said, "have passed since I took you into mylife. At that time I was told that I was doing a rash thing, a dangerousthing--that before your twenty-fifth birthday the bad blood would out;that you would, in short, have shot a man. And the prophecy has cometrue. By an irony of chance it has happened on the very last day. And byanother irony you picked your victim from among the guests under myroof!"

  "Victim?" cried Terry hoarsely. "Victim, Aunt Elizabeth?"

  "If you please," she said quietly, "not that name again, Terence. I wishyou to know exactly what I have done. Up to this time I have given you aplace in my affections. I have tried to the best of my skill to bring youup with a fitting education. I have given you what little wisdom andadvice I have to give. Today I had determined to do much more. I had awill made out--this is it in my hands--and by the terms of this will Imade you my heir--the heir to the complete Cornish estate aside from acomfortable annuity to Vance."

  She looked him in the eye, ripped the will from end to end, and tossedthe fragments into the fire. There was a sharp cry from Vance, who sprangto his feet. It was the thrill of an unexpected triumph, but his sistertook it for protest.

  "Vance, I haven't used you well, but from now on I'm going to change. Asfor you, Terence, I don't want you near me any longer than may benecessary. Understand that I expect to provide for you. I haven't raisedyou merely to cast you down suddenly. I'm going to establish you inbusiness, see that you are comfortable, supply you with an income that'srespectable, and then let you drift where you will.

  "My own mind is made up about your end before you take a step across thethreshold of my house. But I'm still going to give you every chance. Idon't want to throw you out suddenly, however. Take your time. Make upyour mind what you want to do and where you are going. Take all the timeyou wish for such a conclusion. It's important, and it needs time forsuch a decision. When that decision is made, go your way. I never wish tohear from you again. I want no letters, and I shall certainly refuse tosee you."

  Every word she spoke seemed to be a heavier blow than the last, andTerence bowed under the accumulated weight. Vance could see the boystruggle, waver between fierce pride and desperate humiliation andsorrow. To Vance it was clear that the stiff pride of Elizabeth as shesat in the chair was a brittle strength, and one vital appeal would breakher to tears. But the boy did not see. Presently he straightened, bowedto her in the best Colby fashion, and turned on his heel. He went out ofthe room and left Vance and his sister facing one another, but notmeeting each other's glances.

  "Elizabeth," he said at last, faintly--he dared not persuade too muchlest she take him at his word. "Elizabeth, you don't mean it. It wastwenty-four years ago that you passed your word to do this if thingsturned out as they have. Forget your promise. My dear, you're stillwrapped up in Terry, no matter what you have said. Let me go and call himback. Why should you torture yourself for the sake of your pride?"

  He even rose, not too swiftly, and still with his eyes upon her. When shelifted her hand, he willingly sank back into his chair.

  "You're a very kind soul, Vance. I never knew it before. I'm appreciatingit now almost too late. But what I have done shall stand!"

  "But, my dear, the pain--is it worth--"

  "It means that my life is a wreck and a ruin, Vance. But I'll stand bywhat I've done. I won't give way to the extent of a single scruple."

  And the long, bitter silence which was to last so many days at theCornish ranch began. And still they did not look into one another's eyes.As for Vance, he did not wish to. He was seeing a bright future. Not longto wait; after this blow she would go swiftly to her grave.

  He had barely reached that conclusion when the door opened again. Terrystood before them in the old, loose, disreputable clothes of a cow-puncher. The big sombrero swung in his hand. The heavy Colt dragged downin its holster over his right hip. His tanned face was drawn and stern.

  "I won't keep you more than a moment," he said. "I'm leaving. And I'mleaving with nothing of yours. I've already taken too much. If I live tobe a hundred, I'll never forgive myself for taking your charity thesetwenty-four years. For what you've spent maybe I can pay you back one ofthese days, in money. But for all the time and--patience--you've spent onme I can never repay you. I know that. At least, here's where I stoppiling up a debt. These clothes and this gun come out of the money I madepunching cows last year. Outside I've got El Sangre saddled with a saddleI bought out of the same money. They're my start in life, the clothesI've got on and the gun and the horse and the saddle. So I'm startingclean--Miss Cornish!"

  Vance saw his sister wince under that name from the lips of Terry. Butshe did not speak.
r />   "There'll be no return," said Terence sadly. "My trail is an out trail.Good-by again." And so he was gone.

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