Black jack, p.36
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       Black Jack, p.36

           Max Brand


  They drifted past the town, quickening to a soft trot after a moment, andthen to a faster trot--El Sangre was gliding along at a steady pace.

  "Not back to the house!" said Denver with an oath, when they straightenedback to the house of Pollard. "That's the first place McGuire will look,after what you said to him the other night."

  "That's where I want him to look," answered Terry, "and that's wherehe'll find me. Pollard will hide the coin and we'll get one of the boysto take our sweaty horses over the hills. We can tell McGuire that thetwo horses have been put out to pasture, if he asks. But he mustn't findhot horses in the stable. Certainly McGuire will strike for the house.But what will he find?"

  He laughed joyously.

  Suddenly the voice of Denver cut in softly, insinuatingly.

  "You dope it that he'll cut for the house of Pollard? So do I. Now, kid,why not go another direction--and keep on going? What right have Pollardand the others to cut in on this coin? You and me, kid, can--"

  "I don't hear you, Denver," interrupted Terry. "I don't hear you. Wewouldn't have known where to find the stuff if it hadn't been forPollard's friend Sandy. They get their share--but you can have my part,Denver. I'm not doing this for money; it's only an object lesson to thatfat-headed sheriff. I'd pay twice this price for the sake of the littletalk I'm going to have with him later on tonight."

  "All right--Black Jack," muttered Denver. For it seemed to him that thevoice of the lost leader had spoken. "Play the fool, then, kid. But--let's feed these skates the spur! The town's boiling!"

  Indeed, there was a dull roar behind them.

  "No danger," chuckled Terry. "McGuire knows perfectly well that I've donethis. And because he knows that, and he knows that I know it, he'llstrike in the opposite direction to Pollard's house. He'll never dreamthat I would go right back to Pollard and sit down under the famous noseof McGuire!"

  The dawn was brightening over the mountains above them, and the skylinewas ragged with forest. A free country for free men--like the old BlackJack and the new. A short life, perhaps, but a full one.

  The coming of the day showed Denver's face weary and drawn. Those momentsin the bank, surrounded by danger, had been nerve-racking even to hisexperience. But to him it was a business, and to Terry it was a game. Hefelt a qualm of pity for Lewison--but, after all, the man was a wolf,selfish, accumulating money to no purpose, useless to the world. Heshrugged the thought of Lewison away.

  It was close to sunrise when they reached the house, and having put upthe horses, staggered in and called to Johnny to bring them coffee; hewas already rattling at the kitchen stove. Then, with a shout, theybrought Pollard himself stumbling down from the balcony rubbing the sleepout of his eyes. They threw the money down before him.

  He was stupefied, and then his big lion's voice went booming with thecall for his men. Terry did not wait; he stretched himself with a greatyawn and made for his bed, and passed Phil Marvin and the others hurryingdownstairs to answer the summons. Kate Pollard came also. She paused ashe went by her and he saw her eyes go down to his dusty boots, with theleather polished where the stirrup had chafed, then flashed back to hisface.

  "You, Terry!" she whispered.

  But he went by her with a wave of the hand.

  The girl went on down to the big room. They were gathered already, abright-eyed, hungry-faced crew of men. Gold was piled across the table infront of them. Slim Dugan had been ordered to go to the highest window ofthe house and keep watch for the coming of the expected posse. In themeantime the others counted the money, ranging it in bright littlestacks; and Denver told the tale.

  He took a little more credit to himself than was his due. But it was hispart to pay a tribute to Terry. For was it not he who had brought the sonof Black Jack among them?

  "And of all the close squeezes I ever been in," concluded Denver, "thatwas the closest. And of all the nervy, cold-eyed guys I ever see, BlackJack's kid takes the cake. Never a quiver all the time. And when hewhispered, them two guys at the table jumped. He meant business, and theyknew it."

  The girl listened. Her eye alone was not upon the money, but fixed faroff, at thin distance.

  "Thirty-five thousand gold," announced Pollard, with a break ofexcitement in his voice, "and seventeen thousand three hundred andeighty-two in paper. Boys, the richest haul we ever made! And the coolestdeal all the way through. Which I say, Denver and Terry--Terryparticular--gets extra shares for what they done!"

  And there was a chorus of hearty approval. The voice of Denver cut itshort.

  "Terry don't want none. No, boys, knock me dead if he does. Can you beatit? 'I did it to keep my word,' he says, 'with the sheriff. You can havemy share, Denver.'

  "And he sticks on it. It's a game with him, boys. He plays at it like abig kid!"

  In the hush of astonishment, the eyes of Kate misted. Something in thatlast speech had stung her cruelly. Something had to be done, and quickly,to save young Terry Hollis. But what power could influence him?

  It was that thought which brought her to the hope for a solution. A veryvague and faraway hope to which she clung and which unravelled slowly inher imagination. Before she left the kitchen, her plan was made, andimmediately after breakfast, she went to her room and dressed for a longjourney.

  "I'm going over the hills to visit the Stockton girls," she told herfather. "Be gone a few days."

  His mind was too filled with hope for the future to understand her. Henodded idly, and she was gone.

  She roped the toughest mustang of her "string" in the corral, and tenminutes later she was jogging down the trail. Halfway down a confusedgroup of riders--some dozen in all--swarmed up out of the lower trail.Sheriff McGuire rode out on a sweating horse that told of fierce and longriding and stopped her.

  His salutation was brief; he plunged into the heart of his questions. Hadshe noticed anything unusual this morning? Which of the men had beenabsent from the house last night? Particularly, who went out with BlackJack's kid?

  "Nobody left the house," she said steadily. "Not a soul."

  And she kept a blank eye on the sheriff while he bit his lip and studiedher.

  "Kate," he said at length, "I don't blame you for not talking. I don'tsuppose I would in your place. But your dad has about reached the end ofthe rope with us. If you got any influence, try to change him, because ifhe don't do it by his own will, he's going to be changed by force!"

  And he rode on up the trail, followed by the silent string of riders ontheir grunting, tired horses. She gave them only a careless glance. JoePollard had baffled officers of the law before, and he would do it again.That was not her great concern on this day.

  Down the trail she sent her mustang again, and broke him out into a stiffgallop on the level ground below. She headed straight through the town,and found a large group collected in and around the bank building. Theyturned and looked after her, but no one spoke a greeting. Plainly thesheriff's suspicions were shared by others.

  She shook that shadow out of her head and devoted her entire attention tothe trail which roughened and grew narrow on the other side of the town.Far away across the mountains lay her goal--the Cornish ranch.

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