Black jack, p.4
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       Black Jack, p.4

           Max Brand


  When they reached the front porch, they saw Terence Colby coming up theterrace from the river road on Le Sangre. And a changed horse he was. Oneear was forward as if he did not know what lay in store for him, butwould try to be on the alert. One ear flagged warily back. He wentslowly, lifting his feet with the care of a very weary horse. Yet, whenthe wind fluttered a gust of whirling leaves beside him, he leaped asideand stood with high head, staring, transformed in the instant into acreature of fire and wire-strung nerves. The rider gave to the side-spring with supple grace and then sent the stallion on up the hill.

  Joyous triumph was in the face of Terry. His black hair was blowing abouthis forehead, for his hat was pushed back after the manner of one who hasdone a hard day's work and is ready to rest. He came close to theveranda, and Le Sangre lifted his fine head and stared fearlessly,curiously, with a sort of contemptuous pride, at Elizabeth and Vance.

  "The killer is no longer a killer," laughed Terry. "Look him over, UncleVance. A beauty, eh?"

  Elizabeth said nothing at all. But she rocked herself back and forth atrifle in her chair as she nodded. She glanced over the terrace, hopingthat others might be there to see the triumph of her boy. Then she lookedback at Terence. But Vance was regarding the horse.

  "He might have a bit more in the legs, Terry."

  "Not much more. A leggy horse can't stand mountain work--or any otherwork, for that matter, except a ride in the park."

  "I suppose you're right. He's a picture horse, Terry. And a devilish eye,but I see that you've beaten him."

  "Beaten him?" He shook his head. "We reached a gentleman's agreement. Aslong as I wear spurs, he'll fight me till he gets his teeth in me orsplashes my skull to bits with his heels. Otherwise he'll keep onfighting till he drops. But as soon as I take off the spurs and stoptormenting him, he'll do what I like. No whips or spurs for Le Sangre.Eh, boy?"

  He held out the spurs so that the sun flashed on them. The horsestiffened with a shudder, and that forward look of a horse about to boltcame in his eyes.

  "No, no!" cried Elizabeth.

  But Terry laughed and dropped the spurs back in his pocket.

  The stallion moved off, and Terry waved to them. Just as he turned, themind of Vance Cornish raced back to another picture--a man with longblack hair blowing about his face and a gun in either hand, sweepingthrough a dusty street with shots barking behind him. It came suddenly asa revelation, and left him downheaded with the thought.

  "What is it, Vance?" asked his sister, reaching out to touch his arm.

  "Nothing." Then he added abruptly: "I'm going for a jaunt for a few days,Elizabeth."

  She grew gloomy.

  "Are you going to insist on taking it to heart this way?"

  "Not at all. I'm going to be back here in ten days and drink Terry's longlife and happiness across the birthday dinner table."

  He marvelled at the ease with which he could make himself smile in herface.

  "You noticed that--his gentleman's agreement with Le Sangre? I've madehim detest fighting with the idea that only brute beasts fight--men argueand agree."

  "I've noticed that he never has trouble with the cow-punchers."

  "They've seen him box," chuckled Elizabeth. "Besides, Terry isn't thesort that troublemakers like to pick on. He has an ugly look when he'sangry."

  "H'm," murmured Vance. "I've noticed that. But as long as he keeps to hisfists, he'll do no harm. But what is the reason for surrounding him withguns, Elizabeth?"

  "A very good reason. He loves them, you know. Anything from a shotgun toa derringer is a source of joy to Terence. And not a day goes by that hedoesn't handle them."

  "Certainly the effect of blood, eh?" suggested Vance.

  She glanced sharply at him.

  "You're determined to be disagreeable today, Vance. As a matter of fact,I've convinced him that for the very reason he is so accurate with a gunhe must never enter a gun fight. The advantage would be too much on hisside against any ordinary man. That appeals to Terry's sense of fairplay. No, he's absolutely safe, no matter how you look at it."

  "No doubt."

  He looked away from her and over the valley. The day had worn into thelate afternoon. Bear Creek ran dull and dark in the shadow, and MountDiscovery was robed in blue to the very edge of its shining crown ofsnow. In this dimmer, richer light the Cornish ranch had never seemed sodesirable to Vance. It was not a ranch; it was a little kingdom. AndVance was the dispossessed heir.

  He knew that he was being watched, however, and all that evening he wasat his best. At the dinner table he guided the talk so that Terence Colbywas the lion of the conversation. Afterward, when he was packing histhings in his room for his journey of the next day, he was careful tosing at the top of his voice. He reaped a reward for this cautiousacting, for the next morning, when he climbed into the buckboard that wasto take him down the Blue Mountain road and over to the railroad, hissister came down the steps and stood beside the wagon.

  "You _will_ come back for the birthday party, Vance?" she pleaded.

  "You want me to?"

  "You were with me when I got Terry. In fact, you got him for me. And Iwant you to be here when he steps into his own."

  In this he found enough to keep him thoughtful all the way to therailroad while the buckskins grunted up the grade and then spun away downthe long slope beyond. It was one of those little ironies of fate that heshould have picked up the very man who was to disinherit him some twenty-four years later.

  He carried no grudge against Elizabeth, but he certainly retained notenderness. Hereafter he would act his part as well as he could toextract the last possible penny out of her. And in the meantime he mustconcentrate on tripping up Terence Colby, alias Hollis.

  Vance saw nothing particularly vicious in this. He had been idle so longthat he rejoiced in a work which was within his mental range. It includedscheming, working always behind the scenes, pulling strings to makeothers jump. And if he could trip Terry and actually make him shoot a manon or before that birthday, he had no doubt that his sister wouldactually throw the boy out of her house and out of her life. A woman whocould give twenty-four years to a theory would be capable of grim thingswhen the theory went wrong.

  It was early evening when he climbed off the train at Garrison City. Hehad not visited the place since that cattle-buying trip of twenty-fouryears ago that brought the son of Black Jack into the affairs of theCornish family. Garrison City had become a city. There were two solidblocks of brick buildings next to the station, a network of pavedstreets, and no less than three hotels. It was so new to the eye and soobviously full of the "booster" spirit that he was appalled at the ideaof prying through this modern shell and getting back to the heart and thememory of the old days of the town.

  At the restaurant he forced himself upon a grave-looking gentleman acrossthe table. He found that the solemn-faced man was a travelling drummer.The venerable loafer in front of the blacksmith's shop was feeble-minded,and merely gaped at the name of Black Jack. The proprietor of the hotelshook his head with positive antagonism.

  "Of course, Garrison City has its past," he admitted, "but we are livingit down, and have succeeded pretty well. I think I've heard of a ruffianof the last generation named Jack Hollis; but I don't know anything, andI don't care to know anything, about him. But if you're interested inGarrison City, I'd like to show you a little plot of ground in a placethat is going to be the center of the--"

  Vance Cornish made his mind a blank, let the smooth current of words slipoff his memory as from an oiled surface, and gave up Garrison City as ahopeless job. Nevertheless, it was the hotel proprietor who dropped avaluable hint.

  "If you're interested in the early legends, why don't you go to the StateCapitol? They have every magazine and every book that so much as mentionsany place in the state." So Vance Cornish went to the capitol and enteredthe library. It was a sweaty task and a most discouraging one. The name"Black Jack" revealed nothing; and the name of Hollis w
as an equal blank,so far as the indices were concerned. He was preserved in legend only,and Vance Cornish could make no vital use of legend. He wanted somethingin cold print.

  So he began an exhaustive search. He went through volume after volume,but though he came upon mention of Black Jack, he never reached theaccount of an eyewitness of any of those stirring holdups or trainrobberies.

  And then he began on the old files of magazines. And still nothing. Hewas about to give up with four days of patient labor wasted when hestruck gold in the desert--the very mine of information which he wanted.

  "How I Painted Black Jack," by Lawrence Montgomery.

  There was the photograph of the painter, to begin with--a man who haddiscovered the beauty of the deserts of the Southwest. But there wasmore--much more. It told how, in his wandering across the desert, he hadhunted for something more than raw-colored sands and purple mesasblooming in the distance.

  He had searched for a human being to fit into the picture and give thesoftening touch of life. But he never found the face for which he hadbeen looking. And then luck came and tapped him on the shoulder. A lonerider came out of the dusk and the desert and loomed beside his campfire.The moment the firelight flushed on the face of the man, he knew this wasthe face for which he had been searching. He told how they fried baconand ate it together; he told of the soft voice and the winning smile ofthe rider; he told of his eyes, unspeakably soft and unspeakably bold,and the agile, nervous hands, forever shifting and moving in thefirelight.

  The next morning he had asked his visitor to sit for a picture, and hisrequest had been granted. All day he labored at the canvas, and by nightthe work was far enough along for him to dismiss his visitor. So thestranger asked for a small brush with black paint on it, and in thecorner of the canvas drew in the words "Yours, Black Jack." Then he rodeinto the night.

  Black Jack! Lawrence Montgomery had made up his pack and struck straightback for the nearest town. There he asked for tidings of a certain BlackJack, and there he got what he wanted in heaps. Everyone knew BlackJack--too well! There followed a brief summary of the history of thedesperado and his countless crimes, unspeakable tales of cunning andcourage and merciless vengeance taken.

  Vance Cornish turned the last page of the article, and there was thereproduction of the painting. He held his breath when he saw it. Theoutlaw sat on his horse with his head raised and turned, and it was thevery replica of Terence Colby as the boy had waved to them from the backof Le Sangre. More than a family, sketchy resemblance--far more.

  There was the same large, dark eye; the same smile, half proud and halfjoyous; the same imperious lift of the head; the same bold carving of thefeatures. There were differences, to be sure. The nose of Black Jack hadbeen more cruelly arched, for instance, and his cheekbones were higherand more pronounced. But in spite of the dissimilarities the resemblancewas more than striking. It might have stood for an actual portrait ofTerence Colby masquerading in long hair.

  When the full meaning of this photograph had sunk into his mind, VanceCornish closed his eyes. "Eureka!" he whispered to himself.

  There was something more to be done. But it was very simple. It merelyconsisted in covertly cutting out the pages of the article in question.Then, carefully, for fear of loss, he jotted down the name and date ofthe magazine, folded his stolen pages, and fitted them snugly into hisbreast pocket. That night he ate his first hearty dinner in four days.

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