Black jack, p.8
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       Black Jack, p.8

           Max Brand
 

  CHAPTER 8

  Terry did not come down for dinner. It was more or less of a calamity,for the board was quite full of early guests for the next day'sfestivities. Aunt Elizabeth shifted the burden of the entertainment ontothe capable shoulders of Vance, who could please these Westerners when hechose. Tonight he decidedly chose. Elizabeth had never see him in suchhigh spirits. He could flirt good-humoredly and openly across the tableat Nelly, or else turn and draw an anecdote from Nelly's father. He keptthe reins in his hands and drove the talk along so smoothly thatElizabeth could sit in gloomy silence, unnoticed, at the farther end ofthe table. Her mind was up yonder in the room of Terry.

  Something had happened, and it had come through that long businessenvelope with the typewritten address that seemed so harmless. Onereading of the contents had brought Terry out of his chair with anexclamation. Then, without explanation of any sort, he had gone to hisroom and stayed there. She would have followed to find out what was thematter, but the requirements of dinner and her guests kept herdownstairs.

  Immediately after dinner Vance, at a signal from her, dexterously herdedeveryone into the living room and distributed them in comfort around thebig fireplace; Elizabeth Cornish bolted straight for the room of Terence.She knocked and tried the door. To her astonishment, the knob turned, butthe door did not open. She heard the click and felt the jar of the bolt.Terry had locked his door!

  A little thing to make her heart fall, one would say, but little thingsabout Terry were great things to Elizabeth. In twenty-four years he hadnever locked his door. What could it mean?

  It was a moment before she could call, and she waited breathlessly. Shewas reassured by a quiet voice that answered her: "Just a moment. I'llopen."

  The tone was so matter-of-fact that her heart, with one leap, came backto normal and tears of relief misted her eyes for an instant. Perhaps hewas up here working out a surprise for the next day--he was full oftricks and surprises. That was unquestionably it. And he took so long incoming to the door because he was hiding the thing he had been workingon. As for food, Wu Chi was his slave and would have smuggled a tray upto him. Presently the lock turned and the door opened.

  She could not see his face distinctly at first, the light was so strongbehind him. Besides, she was more occupied in looking for the tray offood which would assure her that Terry was not suffering from some mentalcrisis that had made him forget even dinner. She found the tray, sureenough, but the food had not been touched.

  She turned on him with a new rush of alarm. And all her fears wererealized. Terry had been fighting a hard battle and he was stillfighting. About his eyes there was the look, half-dull and half-hard,that comes in the eyes of young people unused to pain. A worried, tense,hungry face. He took her arm and led her to the table. On it lay anarticle clipped out of a magazine. She looked down at it with unseeingeyes. The sheets were already much crumbled. Terry turned them to a full-page picture, and Elizabeth found herself looking down into the face ofBlack Jack, proud, handsome, defiant.

  Had Vance been there, he might have recognized her actions. As she haddone one day twenty-four years ago, now she turned and dropped heavilyinto a chair, her bony hands pressed to her shallow bosom. A moment latershe was on her feet again, ready to fight, ready to tell a thousand lies.But it was too late. The revelation had been complete and she could tellby his face that Terence knew everything.

  "Terry," she said faintly, "what on earth have you to do with that--"

  "Listen, Aunt Elizabeth," he said, "you aren't going to fib about it, areyou?"

  "What in the world are you talking about?"

  "Why were you so shocked?"

  She knew it was a futile battle. He was prying at her inner mind withshort questions and a hard, dry voice.

  "It was the face of that terrible man. I saw him once before, you know.On the day--"

  "On the day he was murdered!"

  That word told her everything. "Murdered!" It lighted all the mentalprocesses through which he had been going. Who in all the reaches of themountain desert had ever before dreamed of terming the killing of thenotorious Black Jack a "murder"?

  "What are you saying, Terence? That fellow--"

  "Hush! Look at us!"

  He picked up the photograph and stood back so that the light fell sharplyon his face and on the photograph which he held beside his head. Hecaught up a sombrero and jammed it jauntily on his head. He tilted hisface high, with resolute chin. And all at once there were two BlackJacks, not one. He evidently saw all the admission that he cared for inher face. He took off the hat with a dragging motion and replaced thephotograph on the table.

  "I tried it in the mirror," he said quietly. "I wasn't quite sure until Itried it in the mirror. Then I knew, of course."

  She felt him slipping out of her life.

  "What shall I say to you, Terence?"

  "Is that my real name?"

  She winced. "Yes. Your real name."

  "Good. Do you remember our talk of today?"

  "What talk?"

  He drew his breath with something of a groan.

  "I said that what these people lacked was the influence of family--of oldblood!"

  He made himself smile at her, and Elizabeth trembled. "If I couldexplain--" she began.

  "Ah, what is there to explain, Aunt Elizabeth? Except that you have beena thousand times kinder to me than I dreamed before. Why, I--I actuallythought that you were rather honored by having a Colby under your roof. Ireally felt that I was bestowing something of a favor on you!"

  "Terry, sit down!"

  He sank into a chair slowly. And she sat on the arm of it with hermournful eyes on his face.

  "Whatever your name may be, that doesn't change the man who wears thename."

  He laughed softly. "And you've been teaching me steadily for twenty-fouryears that blood will tell? You can't change like this. Oh, I understandit perfectly. You determined to make me over. You determined to destroymy heritage and put the name of the fine old Colbys in its place. It wasa brave thing to try, and all these years how you must have waited, andwaited to see how I would turn out, dreading every day some outbreak ofthe bad blood! Ah, you have a nerve of steel, Aunt Elizabeth! How haveyou endured the suspense?"

  She felt that he was mocking her subtly under this flow of compliment.But it was the bitterness of pain, not of reproach, she knew.

  She said: "Why didn't you let me come up with you? Why didn't you sendfor me?"

  "I've been busy doing a thing that no one could help me with. I've beenburning my dreams." He pointed to a smoldering heap of ashes on thehearth.

  "Terry!"

  "Yes, all the Colby pictures that I've been collecting for the pastfifteen years. I burned 'em. They don't mean anything to anyone else, andcertainly they have ceased to mean anything to me. But when I came toAnthony Colby--the eighteen-twelve man, you know, the one who has alwaysbeen my hero--it went pretty hard. I felt as if--I were burning my ownpersonality. As a matter of fact, in the last couple of hours I've beenborn over again."

  Terry paused. "And births are painful, Aunt Elizabeth!"

  At that she cried out and caught his hand. "Terry dear! Terry dear! Youbreak my heart!"

  "I don't mean to. You mustn't think that I'm pitying myself. But I wantto know the real name of my father. He must have had some name other thanBlack Jack. What was it?"

  "Are you going to gather his memory to your heart, Terry?"

  "I am going to find something about him that I can be proud of. Bloodwill tell. I know that I'm not all bad, and there must have been good inBlack Jack. I want to know all about him. I want to know about--hiscrimes."

  He labored through a fierce moment of silent struggle while her heartwent helplessly out to him.

  "Because--I had a hand in every one of those crimes! Everything that hedid is something that I might have done under the same temptation."

  "But you're not all your father's son. You had a mother. A dear, sweet-faced girl--"

  "
Don't!" whispered Terry. "I suppose he broke--her heart?"

  "She was a very delicate girl," she said after a moment.

  "And now my father's name, please?"

  "Not that just now. Give me until tomorrow night, Terry. Will you dothat? Will you wait till tomorrow night, Terry? I'm going to have a longtalk with you then, about many things. And I want you to keep this inmind always. No matter how long you live, the influence of the Colbyswill never go out of your life. And neither will my influence, I hope. Ifthere is anything good in me, it has gone into you. I have seen to that.Terry, you are not your father's son alone. All these other things haveentered into your make-up. They're just as much a part of you as hisblood."

  "Ah, yes," said Terry. "But blood will tell!"

  It was a mournful echo of a thing she had told him a thousand times.

 
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