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       Black Jack, p.37

           Max Brand
 

  CHAPTER 37

  When she first glimpsed Bear Valley from the summits of the BlueMountains, it seemed to her a small paradise. And as she rode lower andlower among the hills, the impression gathered strength. So she came outonto the road and trotted her cow-pony slowly under the beautifulbranches of the silver spruce, and saw the bright tree shadows reflectedin Bear Creek. Surely here was a place of infinite quiet, made forhappiness. A peculiar ache and sense of emptiness entered her heart, andthe ghost of Terry Hollis galloped soundlessly beside her on flaming ElSangre through the shadow. It seemed to her that she could understand himmore easily. His had been a sheltered and pleasant life here, halfdreamy; and when he wakened into a world of stern reality and stern men,he was still playing at a game like a boy--as Denver Pete had said.

  She came out into view of the house. And again she paused. It was like apalace to Kate, that great white facade and the Doric columns of theveranda. She had always thought that the house of her father was a bigand stable house; compared with this, it was a shack, a lean-to, averitable hovel. And the confidence which had been hers during the hardride of two days across the mountains grew weaker. How could she talk tothe woman who owned such an establishment as this? How could she evengain access to her?

  On a broad, level terrace below the house men were busy with plows andscrapers smoothing the ground; she circled around them, and brought herhorse to a stop before the veranda. Two men sat on it, one white-haired,hawk-faced, spreading a broad blueprint before the other; and this manwas middle-aged, with a sleek, young face. A very good-looking fellow,she thought.

  "Maybe you-all could tell me," said Kate Pollard, lounging in the saddle,"where I'll find the lady that owns this here place?"

  It seemed to her that the sleek-faced man flushed a little.

  "If you wish to talk to the owner," he said crisply, and barely touchinghis hat to her, "I'll do your business. What is it? Cattle lost over theBlue Mountains again? No strays have come down into the valley."

  "I'm not here about cattle," she answered curtly enough. "I'm here abouta man."

  "H'm," said the other. "A man?" His attention quickened. "What man?"

  "Terry Hollis."

  She could see him start. She could also see that he endeavored to concealit. And she did not know whether she liked or disliked that quick startand flush. There was something either of guilt or of surprise remarkablystrong in it. He rose from his chair, leaving the blueprint fluttering inthe hands of his companion alone.

  "I am Vance Cornish," he told her. She could feel his eyes prying at heras though he were trying to get at her more accurately. "What's Hollisbeen up to now?"

  He turned and explained carelessly to his companion: "That's the youngscapegrace I told you about, Waters. Been raising Cain again, I suppose."He faced the girl again.

  "A good deal of it," she answered. "Yes, he's been making quite a bit oftrouble."

  "I'm sorry for that, really," said Vance. "But we are not responsible forhim."

  "I suppose you ain't," said Kate Pollard slowly. "But I'd like to talk tothe lady of the house."

  "Very sorry," and again he looked in his sharp way--like a fox, shethought--and then glanced away as though there were no interest in her orher topic. "Very sorry, but my sister is in--er--critically declininghealth. I'm afraid she cannot see you."

  This repulse made Kate thoughtful. She was not used to such bluff talkfrom men, however smooth or rough the exterior might be. And under thequiet of Vance she sensed an opposition like a stone wall.

  "I guess you ain't a friend of Terry's?"

  "I'd hardly like to put it strongly one way or the other. I know the boy,if that's what you mean."

  "It ain't." She considered him again. And again she was secretly pleasedto see him stir under the cool probe of her eyes. "How long did you livewith Terry?"

  "He was with us twenty-four years." He turned and explained casually toWaters. "He was taken in as a foundling, you know. Quite against myadvice. And then, at the end of the twenty-four years, the bad blood ofhis father came out, and he showed himself in his true colors. Fearfulwaste of time to us all--of course, we had to turn him out."

  "Of course," nodded Waters sympathetically, and he looked wistfully downat his blueprint.

  "Twenty-four years you lived with Terry," said the girl softly, "and youdon't like him, I see."

  Instantly and forever he was damned in her eyes. Anyone who could livetwenty-four years with Terry Hollis and not discover his fineness wasbeneath contempt.

  "I'll tell you," she said. "I've _got_ to see Miss Elizabeth Cornish."

  "H'm!" said Vance. "I'm afraid not. But--just what have you to tell her?"

  The girl smiled.

  "If I could tell you that, I wouldn't have to see her."

  He rubbed his chin with his knuckles, staring at the floor of theveranda, and now and then raising quick glances at her. Plainly he wassuspicious. Plainly, also, he was tempted in some manner.

  "Something he's done, eh? Some yarn about Terry?"

  It was quite plain that this man actually wanted her to have somethingunpleasant to say about Terry. Instantly she suited herself to his mood;for he was the door through which she must pass to see Elizabeth Cornish.

  "Bad?" she said, hardening her expression as much as possible. "Well, badenough. A killing to begin with."

  There was a gleam in his eyes--a gleam of positive joy, she was sure,though he banished it at once and shook his head in deprecation.

  "Well, well! As bad as that? I suppose you may see my sister. For amoment. Just a moment. She is not well. I wish I could understand yourpurpose!"

  The last was more to himself than to her. But she was already off herhorse. The man with the blueprint glared at her, and she passed acrossthe veranda and into the house, where Vance showed her up the big stairs.At the door of his sister's room he paused again and scrutinized.

  "A killing--by Jove!" he murmured to himself, and then knocked.

  A dull voice called from within, and he opened. Kate found herself in abig, solemn room, in one corner of which sat an old woman wrapped to thechin in a shawl. The face was thin and bleak, and the eyes that looked atKate were dull.

  "This girl--" said Vance. "By Jove, I haven't asked your name, I'mafraid."

  "Kate Pollard."

  "Miss Pollard has some news of Terry. I thought it might--interest you,Elizabeth."

  Kate saw the brief struggle on the face of the old woman. When it passed,her eyes were as dull as ever, but her voice had become husky.

  "I'm surprised, Vance. I thought you understood--his name is not to bespoken, if you please."

  "Of course not. Yet I thought--never mind. If you'll step downstairs withme, Miss Pollard, and tell me what--"

  "Not a step," answered the girl firmly, and she had not moved her eyesfrom the face of the elder woman. "Not a step with you. What I have tosay has got to be told to someone who loves Terry Hollis. I've found thatsomeone. I stick here till I've done talking."

  Vance Cornish gasped. But Elizabeth opened her eyes, and theybrightened--but coldly, it seemed to Kate.

  "I think I understand," said Elizabeth Cornish gravely. "He has entangledthe interest of this poor girl--and sent her to plead for him. Is thatso? If it's money he wants, let her have what she asks for, Vance. But Ican't talk to her of the boy."

  "Very well," said Vance, without enthusiasm. He stepped before her. "Willyou step this way, Miss Pollard?"

  "Not a step," she repeated, and deliberately sat down in a chair. "You'dbetter leave," she told Vance.

  He considered her in open anger. "If you've come to make a scene, I'llhave to let you know that on account of my sister I cannot endure it.Really--" "I'm going to stay here," she echoed, "until I've done talking.I've found the right person. I know that. Tell you what I want? Why, youhate Terry Hollis!"

  "Hate--him?" murmured Elizabeth.

  "Nonsense!" cried Vance.

  "Look at his face, Miss Cornish," said the
girl.

  "Vance, by everything that's sacred, your eyes were positively shrinking.Do you hate--him?"

  "My dear Elizabeth, if this unknown--"

  "You'd better leave," interrupted the girl. "Miss Cornish is going tohear me talk."

  Before he could answer, his sister said calmly: "I think I shall, Vance.I begin to be intrigued."

  "In the first place," he blurted angrily, "it's something you shouldn'thear--some talk about a murder--"

  Elizabeth sank back in her chair and closed her eyes.

  "Ah, coward!" cried Kate Pollard, now on her feet.

  "Vance, will you leave me for a moment?"

  For a moment he was white with malice, staring at the girl, then suddenlysubmitting to the inevitable, turned on his heel and left the room.

  "Now," said Elizabeth, sitting erect again, "what is it? Why do youinsist on talking to me of--him? And--what has he done?"

  In spite of her calm, a quiver of emotion was behind the last words, andnothing of it escaped Kate Pollard.

  "I knew," she said gently, "that _two_ people couldn't live with Terryfor twenty-four years and both hate him, as your brother does. I can tellyou very quickly why I'm here, Miss Cornish."

  "But first--what has he done?"

  Kate hesitated. Under the iron self-control of the older woman she sawthe hungry heart, and it stirred her. Yet she was by no means sure of atriumph. She recognized the most formidable of all foes--pride. Afterall, she wanted to humble that pride. She felt that all the danger inwhich Terry Hollis now stood, both moral and physical, was indirectly theresult of this woman's attitude. And she struck her, deliberatelycruelly.

  "He's taken up with a gang of hard ones, Miss Cornish. That's one thing."

  The face of Elizabeth was like stone.

  "Professional--thieves, robbers!"

  And still Elizabeth refused to wince. She forced a cold, polite smile ofattention.

  "He went into a town and killed the best fighter they had."

  And even this blow did not tell.

  "And then he defied the sheriff, went back to the town, and broke into abank and stole fifty thousand dollars."

  The smile wavered and went out, but still the dull eyes of Elizabeth weresteady enough. Though perhaps that dullness was from pain. And Kate,waiting eagerly, was chagrined to see that she had not broken through toany softness of emotion. One sign of grief and trembling was all shewanted before she made her appeal; but there was no weakness in ElizabethCornish, it seemed.

  "You see I am listening," she said gravely and almost gently. "Although Iam really not well. And I hardly see the point of this long recital ofcrimes. It was because I foresaw what he would become that I sent himaway."

  "Miss Cornish, why'd you take him in in the first place?"

  "It's a long story," said Elizabeth.

  "I'm a pretty good listener," said Kate.

  Elizabeth Cornish looked away, as though she hesitated to touch on thesubject, or as though it were too unimportant to be referred to atlength.

  "In brief, I saw from a hotel window Black Jack, his father, shot down inthe street; heard about the infant son he left, and adopted the child--ona bet with my brother. To see if blood would tell or if I could make hima fine man."

  She paused.

  "My brother won the bet!"

  And her smile was a wonderful thing, so perfectly did it mask her pain.

  "And, of course, I sent Terry away. I have forgotten him, really. Just abad experiment."

  Kate Pollard flushed.

  "You'll never forget him," she said firmly. "You think of him every day!"

  The elder woman started and looked sharply at her visitor. Then shedismissed the idea with a shrug.

  "That's absurd. Why should I think of him?"

  There is a spirit of prophecy in most women, old or young; and especiallythey have a way of looking through the flesh of their kind and seeing theheart. Kate Pollard came a little closer to her hostess.

  "You saw Black Jack die in the street," she queried, "fighting for hislife?"

  Elizabeth dreamed into the vague distance.

  "Riding down the street with his hair blowing--long black hair, youknow," she reminisced. "And holding the crowd back as one would hold backa crowd of curs. Then--he was shot from the side by a man in concealment.That was how he fell!"

  "I knew," murmured the girl, nodding. "Miss Cornish, I know now why youtook in Terry."

  "Ah?"

  "Not because of a bet--but because you--you loved Black Jack Hollis!"

  It brought an indrawn gasp from Elizabeth. Rather of horror thansurprise. But the girl went on steadily:

  "I know. You saw him with his hair blowing, fighting his way--he rodeinto your heart. I know, I tell you! Maybe you've never guessed it allthese years. But has a single day gone when you haven't thought of thepicture?"

  The scornful, indignant denial died on the lips of Elizabeth Cornish. Shestared at Kate as though she were seeing a ghost.

  "Not one day!" cried Kate. "And so you took in Terry, and you raised himand loved him--not for a bet, but because he was Black Jack's son!"

  Elizabeth Cornish had grown paler than before. "I mustn't listen to suchtalk," she said.

  "Ah," cried the girl, "don't you see that I have a right to talk? BecauseI love him also, and I know that you love him, too."

  Elizabeth Cornish came to her feet, and there was a faint flush in hercheeks.

  "You love Terry? Ah, I see. And he has sent you!"

  "He'd die sooner than send me to you."

  "And yet--you came?"

  "Don't you see?" pleaded Kate. "He's in a corner. He's about to go--bad!"

  "Miss Pollard, how do you know these things?"

  "Because I'm the daughter of the leader of the gang!"

  She said it without shame, proudly.

  "I've tried to keep him from the life he intends leading," said Kate. "Ican't turn him. He laughs at me. I'm nothing to him, you see? And heloves the new life. He loves the freedom. Besides, he thinks that there'sno hope. That he has to be what his father was before him. Do you knowwhy he thinks that? Because you turned him out. You thought he would turnbad. And he respects you. He still turns to you. Ah, if you could hearhim speak of you! He loves you still!"

  Elizabeth Cornish dropped back into her chair, grown suddenly weak, andKate fell on her knees beside her.

  "Don't you see," she said softly, "that no strength can turn Terry backnow? He's done nothing wrong. He shot down the man who killed his father.He has killed another man who was a professional bully and mankiller. Andhe's broken into a bank and taken money from a man who deserved to loseit--a wolf of a man everybody hates. He's done nothing really wrong yet,but he will before long. Just because he's stronger than other men. Andhe doesn't know his strength. And he's fine, Miss Cornish. Isn't healways gentle and--"

  "Hush!" said Elizabeth Cornish.

  "He's just a boy; you can't bend him with strength, but you can win himwith love."

  "What," gasped Elizabeth, "do you want me to do?"

  "Bring him back. Bring him back, Miss Cornish!"

  Elizabeth Cornish was trembling.

  "But I--if you can't influence him, how can I? You with your beautiful--you are very beautiful, dear child. Ah, very lovely!"

  She barely touched the bright hair.

  "He doesn't even think of me," said the girl sadly. "But I have no shame.I have let you know everything. It isn't for me. It's for Terry, MissCornish. And you'll come? You'll come as quickly as you can? You'll cometo my father's house? You'll ask Terry to come back? One word will do it!And I'll hurry back and--keep him there till you come. God give mestrength! I'll keep him till you come!"

  Outside the door, his ear pressed to the crack, Vance Cornish did notwait to hear more. He knew the answer of Elizabeth before she spoke. Andall his high-built schemes he saw topple about his ears. Grief had beenbreaking the heart of his sister, he knew. Grief had been bringing herclose to the grave. With Te
rry back, she would regain ten years of life.With Terry back, the old life would begin again.

  He straightened and staggered down the stairs like a drunken man,clinging to the banister. It was an old-faced man who came out onto theveranda, where Waters was chewing his cigar angrily. At sight of his hosthe started up. He was a keen man, was Waters. He could sense money athousand miles away. And it was this buzzard keenness which had broughthim to the Cornish ranch and made him Vance's right-hand man. There wasmuch money to be spent; Waters would direct and plan the spending, andhis commission would not be small.

  In the face of Vance he saw his own doom.

  "Waters," said Vance Cornish, "everything is going up in smoke. Thatdamned girl--Waters, we're ruined."

  "Tush!" said Waters, smiling, though he had grown gray. "No one girl canruin two middle-aged men with our senses developed. Sit down, man, andwe'll figure a way out of this."

  CHAPTER 38

  The fine gray head, the hawklike, aristocratic face, and the superiormanner of Waters procured him admission to many places where the ordinaryman was barred. It secured him admission on this day to the office ofSheriff McGuire, though McGuire had refused to see his best friends.

  A proof of the perturbed state of his mind was that he accepted theproffered fresh cigar of Waters without comment or thanks. His mentaltroubles made him crisp to the point of rudeness.

  "I'm a tolerable busy man, Mr.--Waters, I think they said your name was.Tell me what you want, and make it short, if you don't mind."

  "Not a bit, sir. I rarely waste many words. But I think on this occasionwe have a subject in common that will interest you."

  Waters had come on what he felt was more or less of a wild-goose chase.The great object was to keep young Hollis from coming in contact withElizabeth Cornish again. One such interview, as Vance Cornish had assuredhim, would restore the boy to the ranch, make him the heir to the estate,and turn Vance and his high ambitions out of doors. Also, the highcommission of Mr. Waters would cease. With no plan in mind, he had rushedto the point of contact, and hoped to find some scheme after he arrivedthere. As for Vance, the latter would promise money; otherwise he was ashaken wreck of a man and of no use. But with money, Mr. Waters felt thathe had the key to this world and he was not without hope.

  Three hours in the hotel of the town gave him many clues. Three hours ofcasual gossip on the veranda of the same hotel had placed him inpossession of about every fact, true or presumably true, that could belearned, and with the knowledge a plan sprang into his fertile brain. Theworn, worried face of the sheriff had been like water on a dry field; hefelt that the seed of his plan would immediately spring up and bearfruit.

  "And that thing we got in common?" said the sheriff tersely.

  "It's this--young Terry Hollis."

  He let that shot go home without a follow-up and was pleased to see thesheriff's forehead wrinkle with pain.

  "He's like a ghost hauntin' me," declared McGuire, with an attemptedlaugh that failed flatly. "Every time I turn around, somebody throws thisHollis in my face. What is it now?"

  "Do you mind if I run over the situation briefly, as I understand it?"

  "Fire away!"

  The sheriff settled back; he had forgotten his rush of business.

  "As I understand it, you, Mr. McGuire, have the reputation of keepingyour county clean of crime and scenes of violence."

  "Huh!" grunted the sheriff.

  "Everyone says," went on Waters, "that no one except a man named Minterhas done such work in meeting the criminal element on their own ground.You have kept your county peaceful. I believe that is true?"

  "Huh," repeated McGuire. "Kind of soft-soapy, but it ain't all wrong.They ain't been much doing in these parts since I started to clean thingsup."

  "Until recently," suggested Waters.

  The face of the sheriff darkened. "Well?" he asked aggressively.

  "And then two crimes in a row. First, a gun brawl in broad daylight--young Hollis shot a fellow named--er--"

  "Larrimer," snapped the sheriff viciously. "It was a square fight.Larrimer forced the scrap."

  "I suppose so. Nevertheless, it was a gunfight. And next, two men raidthe bank in the middle of your town, and in spite of you and of specialguards, blow the door off a safe and gut the safe of its contents. Am Iright?"

  The sheriff merely scowled.

  "It ain't clear to me yet," he declared, "how you and me get together onany topic we got in common. Looks sort of like we was just hearing oneold yarn over and over agin."

  "My dear sir," smiled Waters, "you have not allowed me to come to thecrux of my story. Which is: that you and I have one great object incommon--to dispose of this Terry Hollis, for I take it for granted thatif you were to get rid of him the people who criticize now would donothing but cheer you. Am I right?"

  "If I could get him," sighed the sheriff. "Mr. Waters, gimme time andI'll get him, right enough. But the trouble with the gents around theseparts is that they been spoiled. I cleaned up all the bad ones so damnquick that they think I can do the same with every crook that comesalong. But this Hollis is a slick one, I tell you. He covers his tracks.Laughs in my face, and admits what he done, when he talks to me, like hedone the other day. But as far as evidence goes, I ain't got anything onhim--yet. But I'll get it!"

  "And in the meantime," said Waters brutally, "they say that you'regetting old."

  The sheriff became a brilliant purple.

  "Do they say that?" he muttered. "That's gratitude for you, Mr. Waters!After what I've done for 'em--they say I'm getting old just because Ican't get anything on this slippery kid right off!"

  He changed from purple to gray. To fail now and lose his position meant aruined life. And Waters knew what was in his mind.

  "But if you got Terry Hollis, they'd be stronger behind you than ever."

  "Ah, wouldn't they, though? Tell me what a great gent I was quick as aflash."

  He sneered at the thought of public opinion.

  "And you see," said Waters, "where I come in is that I have a plan forgetting this Hollis you desire so much."

  "You do?" He rose and grasped the arm of Waters. "You do?"

  Waters nodded.

  "It's this way. I understand that he killed Larrimer, and Larrimer'solder brother is the one who is rousing public opinion against you. Am Iright?"

  "The dog! Yes, you're right."

  "Then get Larrimer to send Terry Hollis an invitation to come down intotown and meet him face to face in a gun fight. I understand this Hollisis a daredevil sort and wouldn't refuse an invitation of that nature.He'd have to respond or else lose his growing reputation as a maneater."

  "Maneater? Why, Bud Larrimer wouldn't be more'n a mouthful for him. Surehe'd come to town. And he'd clean up quick. But Larrimer ain't foolenough to send such an invite."

  "You don't understand me," persisted Waters patiently. "What I mean isthis. Larrimer sends the challenge, if you wish to call it that. He takesup a certain position. Say in a public place. You and your men, if youwish, are posted nearby, but out of view when young Hollis comes. WhenTerry Hollis arrives, the moment he touches a gun butt, you fill him fullof lead and accuse him of using unfair play against Larrimer. Any excusewill do. The public want an end of young Hollis. They won't be particularwith their questions."

  He found it difficult to meet the narrowed eyes of the sheriff.

  "What you want me to do," said the sheriff, with slow effort, "is to seta trap, get Hollis into it, and then--murder him?"

  "A brutal way of putting it, my dear fellow."

  "A true way," said the sheriff.

  But he was thinking, and Waters waited.

  When he spoke, his voice was soft enough to blend with the sheriff'sthoughts without actually interrupting them.

  "You're not a youngster any more, sheriff, and if you lose out here, yourreputation is gone for good. You'll not have the time to rebuild it. Hereis a chance for you not only to stop the evil rumors, but to fortify yourpas
t record with a new bit of work that will make people talk of you.They don't really care how you do it. They won't split hairs aboutmethod. They want Hollis put out of the way. I say, cache yourself away.Let Hollis come to meet Larrimer in a private room. You can arrange itwith Larrimer yourself later on. You shoot from concealment the momentHollis shows his face. It can be said that Larrimer did the shooting, andbeat Hollis to the draw. The glory of it will bribe Larrimer."

  The sheriff shook his head. Waters leaned forward.

  "My friend," he said. "I represent in this matter a wealthy man to whomthe removal of Terry Hollis will be worth money. Five thousand dollarscash, sheriff!"

  The sheriff moistened his lips and his eyes grew wild. He had lived longand worked hard and saved little. Yet he shook his head.

  "Ten thousand dollars," whispered Waters. "Cash!"

  The sheriff groaned, rose, paced the room, and then slumped into a chair.

  "Tell Bud Larrimer I want to see him," he said. The following letter,which was received at the house of Joe Pollard, was indeed a gem ofEnglish:

  MR. TERRY BLACK JACK:

  Sir, I got this to say. Since you done my brother dirt I bin looking fora chans to get even and I ain't seen any chanses coming my way so Imegoing to make one which I mean that Ile be waiting for you in town todayand if you don't come Ile let the boys know that you aint only an ornerymean skunk but your a yaller hearted dog also which I beg to remain

  Yours very truly,

  Bud Larrimer.

  Terry Hollis read the letter and tossed it with laughter to Phil Marvin,who sat cross-legged on the floor mending a saddle, and Phil and the restof the boys shook their heads over it.

  "What I can't make out," said Joe Pollard, voicing the sentiments of therest, "is how Bud Larrimer, that's as slow as a plow horse with a gun,could ever find the guts to challenge Terry Hollis to a fair fight."

  Kate Pollard rose anxiously with a suggestion. Today or tomorrow at thelatest she expected the arrival of Elizabeth Cornish, and so far it hadbeen easy to keep Terry at the house. The gang was gorged with the lootof the Lewison robbery, and Terry's appetite for excitement had beencloyed by that event also. This strange challenge from the older Larrimerwas the fly in the ointment.

  "It ain't hard to tell why he sent that challenge," she declared. "He hassome sneaking plan up his sleeve, Dad. You know Bud Larrimer. He hasn'tthe nerve to fight a boy. How'll he ever manage to stand up to Terryunless he's got hidden backing?"

  She herself did not know how accurately she was hitting off thesituation; but she was drawing it as black as possible to hold Terry fromaccepting the challenge. It was her father who doubted her suggestion.

  "It sounds queer," he said, "but the gents of these parts don't make noambushes while McGuire is around. He's a clean shooter, is McGuire, andhe don't stand for no shady work with guns."

  Again Kate went to the attack.

  "But the sheriff would do anything to get Terry. You know that. And maybehe isn't so particular about how it's done. Dad, don't you let Terry makea step toward town! I _know_ something would happen! And even if theydidn't ambush him, he would be outlawed even if he won the fight. Nomatter how fair he may fight, they won't stand for two killings in soshort a time. You know that, Dad. They'd have a mob out here to lynchhim!"

  "You're right, Kate," nodded her father. "Terry, you better stay put."

  But Terry Hollis had risen and stretched himself to the full length ofhis height, and extended his long arms sleepily. Every muscle playedsmoothly up his arms and along his shoulders. He was fit for action fromthe top of his head to the soles of his feet.

  "Partners," he announced gently, "no matter what Bud Larrimer has on hismind, I've got to go in and meet him. Maybe I can convince him withoutgun talk. I hope so. But it will have to be on the terms he wants. I'llsaddle up and lope into town."

  He started for the door. The other members of the Pollard gang looked atone another and shrugged their shoulders. Plainly the whole affair was abad mess. If Terry shot Larrimer, he would certainly be followed by alynching mob, because no self-respecting Western town could allow twomembers of its community to be dropped in quick succession by one man ofan otherwise questionable past. No matter how fair the gunplay, just asKate had said, the mob would rise. But on the other hand, how could Terryrefuse to respond to such an invitation without compromising hisreputation as a man without fear?

  There was nothing to do but fight.

  But Kate ran to her father. "Dad," she cried, "you got to stop him!"

  He looked into her drawn face in astonishment.

  "Look here, honey," he advised rather sternly. "Man-talk is man-talk, andman-ways are man-ways, and a girl like you can't understand. You keep outof this mess. It's bad enough without having your hand added."

  She saw there was nothing to be gained in this direction. She turned tothe rest of the men; they watched her with blank faces. Not a man therebut would have done much for the sake of a single smile. But how couldthey help?

  Desperately she ran to the door, jerked it open, and followed Terry tothe stable. He had swung the saddle from its peg and slipped it over theback of El Sangre, and the great stallion turned to watch thisperennially interesting operation.

  "Terry," she said, "I want ten words with you."

  "I know what you want to say," he answered gently. "You want to make mestay away from town today. To tell you the truth, Kate, I hate to go in.I hate it like the devil. But what can I do? I have no grudge againstLarrimer. But if he wants to talk about his brother's death, why--goodLord, Kate, I have to go in and listen, don't I? I can't dodge thatresponsibility!"

  "It's a trick, Terry. I swear it's a trick. I can feel it!" She droppedher hand nervously on the heavy revolver which she wore strapped at herhip, and fingered the gold chasing. Without her gun, ever since earlygirlhood, she had felt that her toilet was not complete.

  "It may be," he nodded thoughtfully. "And I appreciate the advice, Kate--but what would you have me do?"

  "Terry," she said eagerly, "you know what this means. You've killed once.If you go into town today, it means either that you kill or get killed.And one thing is about as bad as the other."

  Again he nodded. She was surprised that he would admit so much, but therewere parts of his nature which, plainly, she had not yet reached to.

  "What difference does it make, Kate?" His voice fell into a profoundgloom. "What difference? I can't change myself. I'm what I am. It's inthe blood. I was born to this. I can't help it. I know that I'll lose inthe end. But while I live I'll be happy. A little while!"

  She choked. But the sight of his drawing the cinches, the imminence ofhis departure, cleared her mind again.

  "Give me two minutes," she begged.

  "Not one," he answered. "Kate, you only make us both unhappy. Do yousuppose I wouldn't change if I could?"

  He came to her and took her hands.

  "Honey, there are a thousand things I'd like to say to you, but beingwhat I am, I have no right to say them to you--never, or to any otherwoman! I'm born to be what I am. I tell you, Kate, the woman who raisedme, who was a mother to me, saw what I was going to be--and turned me outlike a dog! And I don't blame her. She was right!"

  She grasped at the straw of hope.

  "Terry, that woman has changed her mind. You hear? She's livedheartbroken since she turned you out. And now she's coming for you to--tobeg you to come back to her! Terry, that's how much she's given up hopein you!"

  But he drew back, his face growing dark.

  "You've been to see her, Kate? That's where you went when you were awaythose four days?"

  She dared not answer. He was trembling with hurt pride and rage.

  "You went to her--she thought I sent you--that I've grown ashamed of myown father, and that I want to beg her to take me back? Is that what shethinks?"

  He struck his hand across his forehead and groaned.

  "God! I'd rather die than have her think it for a minute. Kate, how couldyou d
o it? I'd have trusted you always to do the right thing and theproud thing--and here you've shamed me!"

  He turned to the horse, and El Sangre stepped out of the stall and into ashaft of sunlight that burned on him like blood-red fire. And beside himyoung Terry Hollis, straight as a pine, and as strong--a glorious figure.It broke her heart to see him, knowing what was coming.

  "Terry, if you ride down yonder, you're going to a dog's death! I swearyou are, Terry!"

  She stretched out her arms to him; but he turned to her with his hand onthe pommel, and his face was like iron.

  "I've made my choice. Will you stand aside, Kate?"

  "You're set on going? Nothing will change you? But I tell you, I'm goingto change you! I'm only a girl. And I can't stop you with a girl'sweapons. I'll do it with a man's. Terry, take the saddle off that horse!And promise me you'll stay here till Elizabeth Cornish comes!"

  "Elizabeth Cornish?" He laughed bitterly. "When she conies, I'll be ahundred miles away, and bound farther off. That's final."

  "You're wrong," she cried hysterically. "You're going to stay here. Youmay throw away your share in yourself. But I have a share that I won'tthrow away. Terry, for the last time!"

  He shook his head.

  She caught her breath with a sob. Someone was coming from the outside.She heard her father's deep-throated laughter. Whatever was done, shemust do it quickly. And he must be stopped!

  The hand on the gun butt jerked up--the long gun flashed in her hand.

  "Kate!" cried Terry. "Good God, are you mad?"

  "Yes," she sobbed. "Mad! Will you stay?"

  "What infernal nonsense--"

  The gun boomed hollowly in the narrow passage between mow and wall. ElSangre reared, a red flash in the sunlight, and landed far away in theshadow, trembling. But Terry Hollis had spun halfway around, swung by theheavy, tearing impact of the big slug, and then sank to the floor, wherehe sat clasping his torn thigh with both hands, his shoulder and headsagging against the wall.

  Joe Pollard, rushing in with an outcry, found the gun lying sparkling inthe sunshine, and his daughter, hysterical and weeping, holding thewounded man in her arms.

  "What--in the name of--" he roared.

  "Accident, Joe," gasped Terry. "Fooling with Kate's gun and trying a spinwith it. It went off--drilled me clean through the leg!"

  That night, very late, in Joe Pollard's house, Terry Hollis lay on thebed with a dim light reaching to him from the hooded lamp in the cornerof the room. His arms were stretched out on each side and one hand heldthat of Kate, warm, soft, young, clasping his fingers feverishly andhappily. And on the other side was the firm, cool pressure of the hand ofAunt Elizabeth.

  His mind was in a haze. Vaguely he perceived the gleam of tears on theface of Elizabeth. And he had heard her say: "All the time I didn't know,Terry. I thought I was ashamed of the blood in you. But this girl openedmy eyes. She told me the truth. The reason I took you in was because Iloved that wild, fierce, gentle, terrible father of yours. If you havedone a little of what he did, what does it matter? Nothing to me! Oh,Terry, nothing in the world to me! Except that Kate brought me to mysenses in time--bless her--and now I have you back, dear boy!"

  He remembered smiling faintly and happily at that. And he said before heslept: "It's a bit queer, isn't it, even two wise women can't show a manthat he's a fool? It takes a bullet to turn the trick!"

  But when he went to sleep, his head turned a little from Elizabeth towardKate.

  And the women raised their heads and looked at one another with filmyeyes. They both understood what that feeble gesture meant. It told muchof the fine heart of Elizabeth--that she was able to smile at the girland forgive her for having stolen again what she had restored.

  It was the break-up of the Pollard gang, the sudden disaffection of theirnewest and most brilliant member. Joe himself was financed by ElizabethCornish and opened a small string of small-town hotels.

  "Which is just another angle of the road business," he often said,"except that the law works with you and not agin you."

  But he never quite recovered from the restoration of the Lewison money onwhich Elizabeth and Terry both insisted. Neither did Denver Pete. He leftthem in disgust and was never heard of again in those parts. And healways thereafter referred to Terry as "a promising kid gone to waste."

 
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