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       Black Jack, p.19

           Max Brand
 

  CHAPTER 19

  The door had hardly closed on him when Terence wanted to run after himand call him back. There was a thrill still running in his blood sincethe time the yegg had leaned so close and said: "That wasn't Black Jack'sway!"

  He wanted to know more about Black Jack, and he wanted to hear the storyfrom the lips of this man. A strange warmth had come over him. It hadseemed for a moment that there was a third impalpable presence in theroom--his father listening. And the thrill of it remained, a ghostly andyet a real thing.

  But he checked his impulse. Let Denver go, and the thought of his fatherwith him. For the influence of Black Jack, he felt, was quicksand pullinghim down. The very fact that he was his father's son had made him shootdown one man. Again the shadow of Black Jack had fallen across his pathtoday and tempted him to crime. How real the temptation had been, Terrydid not know until he was alone. Half of ten thousand dollars wouldsupport him for many a month. One thing was certain. He must let hisfather remain simply a name.

  Going to the window in his stocking feet, he listened again. There weremore voices murmuring on the veranda of the hotel now, but within a fewmoments forms began to drift away down the street, and finally there wassilence. Evidently the widow had not secured backing as strong as shecould have desired. And Terry went to bed and to sleep.

  He wakened with the first touch of dawn along the wall beside his bed andtumbled out to dress. It was early, even for a mountain town. Therattling at the kitchen stove commenced while he was on the waydownstairs. And he had to waste time with a visit to El Sangre in thestable before his breakfast was ready.

  Craterville was in the hollow behind him when the sun rose, and El Sangrewas taking up the miles with the tireless rhythm of his pace. He hadintended searching for work of some sort near Craterville, but now herealized that it could not be. He must go farther. He must go where hisname was not known.

  For two days he held on through the broken country, climbing more than hedropped. Twice he came above the ragged timber line, with its wind-shapedarmy of stunted trees, and over the tiny flowers of the summit lands. Atthe end of the second day he came out on the edge of a precipitousdescent to a prosperous grazing country below. There would be his goal.

  A big mountain sheep rounded a corner with a little flock behind him.Terry dropped the leader with a snapshot and watched the flock scamperdown what was almost the sheer face of a cliff--a beautiful bit ofacrobatics. They found foothold on ridges a couple of inches deep, hardlyvisible to the eye from above. Plunging down a straight drop without asign of a ledge for fifty feet below them, they broke the force of thefall and slowed themselves constantly by striking their hoofs from sideto side against the face of the cliff. And so they landed, with bunchedfeet, on the first broad terrace below and again bounced over the ledgeand so out of sight.

  He dined on wild mutton that evening. In the morning he hunted along theedge of the cliffs until he came to a difficult route down to the valley.An ordinary horse would never have made it, but El Sangre was in hisglory. If he had not the agility of the mountain sheep, he was well-nighas level-headed in the face of tremendous heights. He knew how to pitchten feet down to a terrace and strike on his bunched hoofs so that theforce of the fall would not break his legs or unseat his rider. Again heunderstood how to drive in the toes of his hoofs and go up safely throughloose gravel where most horses, even mustangs, would have skidded to thebottom of the slope. And he was wise in trails. Twice he rejected thecourses which Terry picked, and the rider very wisely let him have hisway. The result was that they took a more winding, but a far safercourse, and arrived before midmorning in the bottomlands.

  The first ranch house he applied to accepted him. And there he took uphis work.

  It was the ordinary outfit--the sun- and wind-racked shack for a house,the stumbling outlying barns and sheds, and the maze of corral fences.They asked Terry no questions, accepted his first name without anaddition, and let him go his way.

  He was happy enough. He had not the leisure for thought or forremembering better times. If he had leisure here and there, he used itindustriously in teaching El Sangre the "cow" business. The stallionlearned swiftly. He began to take a joy in sitting down on a rope.

  At the end of a week Terry won a bet when a team of draught horseshitched onto his line could not pull El Sangre over his mark, and brokethe rope instead. There was much work, too, in teaching him to turn inthe cow-pony fashion, dropping his head almost to the ground and bunchinghis feet altogether. For nothing of its size that lives is so deft indodging as the cow-pony. That part of El Sangre's education was notcompleted, however, for only the actual work of a round-up could give himthe faultless surety of a good cow-pony. And, indeed, the ranchmandeclared him useless for real roundup work.

  "A no-good, high-headed fool," he termed El Sangre, having sprained hisbank account with an attempt to buy the stallion from Terry the daybefore.

  At the end of a fortnight the first stranger passed, and ill-luck made ita man from Craterville. He knew Terry at a glance, and the next morningthe rancher called Terry aside.

  The work of that season, he declared, was going to be lighter than he hadexpected. Much as he regretted it, he would have to let his new hand go.Terry taxed him at once to get at the truth.

  "You've found out my name. That's why you're turning me off. Is that thestraight of it?"

  The sudden pallor of the other was a confession.

  "What's names to me?" he declared. "Nothing, partner. I take a man theway I find him. And I've found you all right. The reason I got to let yougo is what I said."

  But Terry grinned mirthlessly.

  "You know I'm the son of Black Jack Hollis," he insisted. "You think thatif you keep me you'll wake up some morning to find your son's throat cutand your cattle gone. Am I right?"

  "Listen to me," the rancher said uncertainly. "I know how you feel aboutlosing a job so suddenly when you figured it for a whole season. SupposeI give you a whole month's pay and--"

  "Damn your money!" said Terry savagely. "I don't deny that Black Jack wasmy father. I'm proud of it. But listen to me, my friend. I'm livingstraight. I'm working hard. I don't object to losing this job. It's theattitude behind it that I object to. You'll not only send me away, butyou'll spread the news around--Black Jack's son is here! Am I a plaguebecause of that name?"

  "Mr. Hollis," insisted the rancher in a trembling voice, "I don't mean toget you all excited. Far as your name goes, I'll keep your secret. I giveyou my word on it. Trust me, I'll do what's right by you."

  He was in a panic. His glance wavered from Terry's eyes to the revolverat his side.

  "Do you think so?" said Terry. "Here's one thing that you may not havethought of. If you and the rest like you refuse to give me honest work,there's only one thing left for me--and that's dishonest work. You turnme off because I'm the son of Black Jack; and that's the very thing thatwill make me the son of Black Jack in more than name. Did you ever stopto realize that?"

  "Mr. Hollis," quavered the rancher, "I guess you're right. If you want tostay on here, stay and welcome, I'm sure."

  And his eye hunted for help past the shoulder of Terry and toward theshed, where his eldest son was whistling. Terry turned away in mutedisgust. By the time he came out of the bunkhouse with his blanket roll,there was neither father nor son in sight. The door of the shack wasclosed, and through the window he caught a glimpse of a rifle. Tenminutes later El Sangre was stepping away across the range at a pace thatno mount in the cattle country could follow for ten miles.

 
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