Black jack, p.32
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       Black Jack, p.32

           Max Brand
 

  CHAPTER 32

  It was as if a gate which had hitherto been closed against him in thePollard house were now opened. They no longer held back from Terry, butadmitted him freely to their counsels. But the first person to whom hespoke was Slim Dugan. There was a certain nervousness about Slim thisevening, and a certain shame. For he felt that in the morning, to anextent, he had backed down from the quarrel with young Black Jack. Thekilling of Larrimer now made that reticence of the morning even morepointed than it had been before. With all these things taken intoconsideration, Slim Dugan was in the mood to fight and die; for he feltthat his honor was concerned. A single slighting remark to Terry, asingle sneering side glance, would have been a signal for gunplay. Andeveryone knew it.

  The moment there was silence the son of Black Jack went straight to SlimDugan.

  "Slim," he said, just loud enough for everyone to hear, "a fellow isn'thimself before noon. I've been thinking over that little trouble we hadthis morning, and I've made up my mind that if there were any fault itwas mine for taking a joke too seriously. At any rate, if it's agreeableto you, Slim, I'd like to shake hands and call everything square. But ifthere's going to be any ill will, let's have it out right now."

  Slim Dugan wrung the hand of Terry without hesitation.

  "If you put it that way," he said cordially, "I don't mind saying that Iwas damned wrong to heave that stone at the hoss. And I apologize,Terry."

  And so everything was forgotten. Indeed, where there had been enmitybefore, there was now friendship. And there was a breath of relief drawnby every member of the gang. The peacemaking tendency of Hollis had moreeffect on the others than a dozen killings. They already granted that hewas formidable. They now saw that he was highly desirable also.

  Dinner that night was a friendly affair, except that Kate stayed in herroom with a headache. Johnny the Chinaman smuggled a tray to her. OregonCharlie went to the heart of matters with one of his rare speeches:

  "You hear me talk, Hollis. She's mad because you've stepped off. She'llget over it all right."

  Oregon Charlie had a right to talk. It was an open secret that he hadloved Kate faithfully ever since he joined the gang. But apparently TerryHollis cared little about the moods of the girl. He was the center offestivities that evening until an interruption from the outside formed adiversion. It came in the form of a hard rider; the mutter of his hoofsswept to the door, and Phil Marvin, having examined the stranger from theshuttered loophole beside the entrance, opened the door to him at once.

  "It's Sandy," he fired over his shoulder in explanation.

  A weary-looking fellow came into the room, swinging his hat to knock thedust off it, and loosening the bandanna at his throat. The drooping, palemustache explained his name. Two words were spoken, and no more.

  "News?" said Pollard.

  "News," grunted Sandy, and took a place at the table.

  Terry had noted before that there were always one or two extra placeslaid; he had always liked the suggestion of hospitality, but he wasrather in doubt about this guest. He ate with marvellous expedition,keeping his lean face close to the table and bolting his food like ahungry dog. Presently he drained his coffee cup, arranged his mustachewith painful care, and seemed prepared to talk.

  "First thing," he said now--and utter silence spread around the table ashe began to talk--"first thing is that McGuire is coming. I seen him onthe trail, cut to the left and took the short way. He ought to be lopingin almost any minute."

  Terry saw the others looking straight at Pollard; the leader wasthoughtful for a moment.

  "Is he coming with a gang, Sandy?"

  "Nope--alone."

  "He was always a nervy cuss. Someday--"

  He left the sentence unfinished. Denver had risen noiselessly.

  "I'm going to beat it for my bunk," he announced. "Let me know when thesheriff is gone."

  "Sit where you are, Denver. McGuire ain't going to lay hands on you."

  "Sure he ain't," agreed Denver. "But I ain't partial to having guys layeyes on me, neither. Some of you can go out and beat up trouble. I liketo stay put."

  And he glided out of the room with no more noise than a sliding shadow.He had hardly disappeared when a heavy hand beat at the door.

  "That's McGuire," announced Pollard. "Let him in, Phil." So saying, hetwitched his gun out of the holster, spun the cylinder, and dropped itback.

  "Don't try nothing till you see me put my hand into my beard, boys. Hedon't mean much so long as he's come alone."

  Marvin drew back the door. Terry saw a man with shoulders of martialsquareness enter. And there was a touch of the military in his brisk stepand the curt nod he sent at Marvin as he passed the latter. He had nottaken off his sombrero. It cast a heavy shadow across the upper part ofhis worn, sad face.

  "Evening, sheriff," came from Pollard, and a muttered chorus from theothers repeated the greeting. The sheriff cast his glance over them likea schoolteacher about to deliver a lecture.

  "Evening, boys."

  "Sit down, McGuire."

  "I'm only staying a minute. I'll talk standing." It was a declaration ofwar.

  "I guess this is the first time I been up here, Pollard?"

  "The very first, sheriff."

  "Well, if I been kind of neglectful, it ain't that I'm not interested inyou-all a heap!"

  He brought it out with a faint smile; there was no response to thatmirth.

  "Matter of fact, I been keeping my eye on you fellows right along. Now, Iain't up here to do no accusing. I'm up here to talk to you man to man.They's been a good many queer things happen. None of 'em in my county,mind you, or I might have done some talking to you before now. But they'sbeen a lot of queer things happen right around in the mountains; and someof 'em has traced back kind of close to Joe Pollard's house as a startingpoint. I ain't going to go any further. If I'm wrong, they ain't any harmdone; if I'm right, you know what I mean. But I tell you this, boys--we're a long-sufferin' lot around these parts, but they's some thingsthat we don't stand for, and one of 'em that riles us particular much iswhen a gent that lays out to be a regular hardworking rancher--even if heain't got much of a ranch to talk about and work about--takes mankillersunder their wings. It ain't regular, and it ain't popular around theseparts. I guess you know what I mean."

  Terry expected Pollard to jump to his feet. But there was no suchresponse. The other men stared down at the table, their lips working.Pollard alone met the eye of the sheriff.

  The sheriff changed the direction of his glance. Instantly, it fell onTerry and stayed there.

  "You're the man I mean; you're Terry Hollis, Black Jack's son?"

  Terry imitated the others and did not reply.

  "Oh, they ain't any use beating about the bush. You got Black Jack'sblood in you. That's plain. I remember your old man well enough."

  Terry rose slowly from his chair.

  "I think I'm not disputing that, sheriff. As a matter of fact, I'm veryproud of my father."

  "I think you are," said the sheriff gravely. "I think you are--damnedproud of him. So proud you might even figure on imitating what he done inthe old days."

  "Perhaps," said Terry. The imp of the perverse was up in him now, urginghim on.

  "Step soft, sheriff," cried Pollard suddenly, as though he sensed acrisis of which the others were unaware. "Terry, keep hold on yourself!"

  The sheriff waved the cautionary advice away.

  "My nerves are tolerable good, Pollard," he said coldly. "The kid ain'tscaring me none. And now hark to me, Black Jack. You've got away with twogents already--two that's known, I mean. Minter was one and Larrimer wastwo. Both times it was a square break. But I know your kind like a book.You're going to step over the line pretty damn pronto, and when you do,I'm going to get you, friend, as sure as the sky is blue! You ain't goingto do what your dad done before you. I'll tell you why. In the old daysthe law was a joke. But it's tolerable strong now. You hear me talk--getout of these here parts and stay out. We don't wan
t none of your kind."

  There was a flinching of the men about the table. They had seen thetigerish suddenness with which Terry's temper could flare--they hadreceived an object lesson that morning. But to their amazement heremained perfectly cool under fire. He sauntered a little closer to thesheriff.

  "I'll tell you, McGuire," he said gently. "Your great mistake is intalking too much. You've had a good deal of success, my friend. So muchthat your head is turned. You're quite confident that no one will invadeyour special territory; and you keep your sympathy for neighboringcounties. You pity the sheriffs around you. Now listen to me. You'vebranded me as a criminal in advance. And I'm not going to disappoint you.I'm going to try to live up to your high hopes. And what I do will bedone right in your county, my friend. I'm going to make the sheriffs pity_you_, McGuire. I'm going to make your life a small bit of hell. I'mgoing to keep you busy. And now--get out! And before you judge the nextman that crosses your path, wait for the advice of twelve good men andtrue. You need advice, McGuire. You need it to beat hell! Start on yourway!"

  His calmness was shaken a little toward the end of this speech and hisvoice, at the close, rang sharply at McGuire. The latter considered himfrom beneath frowning brows for a moment and then, without another word,without a glance to the others and a syllable of adieu, turned and walkedslowly, thoughtfully, out of the room. Terry walked back to his place. Ashe sat down, he noticed that every eye was upon him, worried.

  "I'm sorry that I've had to do so much talking," he said. "And Iparticularly apologize to you, Pollard. But I'm tired of being hounded.As a matter of fact, I'm now going to try to play the part of the houndmyself. Action, boys; action is what we must have, and action right inthis county under the nose of the complacent McGuire!"

 
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