Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Son of an Outlaw

Max Brand

  First Skyhorse Publishing edition published 2015 by arrangement with Golden West Literary Agency

  Copyright © 2012 by Golden West Literary Agency

  “Son of an Outlaw” first appeared under the title “Black Jack”, a six-part serial in Argosy/All-Story Weekly (12/10/21-1/4/22). Copyright © 1921 by Frank A. Munsey Company. Copyright © renewed 1949 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 2012 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

  Skyhorse Publishing books may be purchased in bulk at special discounts for sales promotion, corporate gifts, fund-raising, or educational purposes. Special editions can also be created to specifications. For details, contact the Special Sales Department, Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018 or [email protected].

  The name Max Brand® is a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and cannot be used for any purpose without express written permission.

  Skyhorse® and Skyhorse Publishing® are registered trademarks of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.®, a Delaware corporation.

  Visit our website at

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

  Cover design by Brian Peterson

  Print ISBN: 978-1-62914-373-6

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63220-131-7

  Printed in the United States of America


  It was characteristic of the two that when the uproar broke out, Vance Cornish raised his eyes, but went on lighting his pipe. Then his sister Elizabeth ran to the window with a swish of skirts around her long legs. After the first shot there was a lull. The little cattle town was as peaceful as ever with its storm-shaken houses staggering away down the street.

  A boy was stirring up the dust of the street, enjoying its heat with his bare toes, and the same old man was bunched in his chair in front of the store. During the two days Elizabeth had been in town on her cattle-buying trip, she had never seen him alter his position. But she was accustomed to the West, and this advent of sleep in the town did not satisfy her. A drowsy town, like a drowsy-looking cowpuncher, might be capable of unexpected things.

  “Vance,” she said, “there’s trouble starting.”

  “Somebody shooting at a target,” he answered.

  As if to mock him, he had no sooner spoken than a dozen voices yelled down the street in a wailing chorus cut short by the rapid chattering of revolvers. Vance ran to the window. Just below the hotel the street made an elbow turn for no particular reason except that the original cattle trail had made exactly the same turn before Garrison City was built. Toward the corner ran the hubbub at the pace of a running horse. Shouts, shrill, trailing curses, and the muffled beat of hoofs in the dust.

  A rider plunged into view, now, his horse leaning far in to take the sharp angle, and the dust skidding out and away from his sliding hoofs. The rider gave easily and gracefully to the wrench of his mount. And he seemed to have a perfect trust in his horse, for he rode with the reins hanging over the horn of his saddle. His hands were occupied by a pair of revolvers, and he was turned in the saddle.

  The head of the pursuing crowd lurched around the elbow-turn; fire spat twice from the mouth of each gun. Two men dropped, one rolling over and over in the dust, and the other sitting down and clasping his leg in a ludicrous fashion. But the crowd was checked and fell back.

  By this time the racing horse of the fugitive had carried him close to the hotel, and now he faced the front, a handsome fellow with long black hair blowing about his face. He wore a black silk shirt that accentuated the pallor of his face, and the flaring crimson of his bandanna. He laughed joyously, and the watchers from the hotel window heard him call: “Go it, Mary! Feed ’em dust, girl!”

  The pursuers had apparently realized that it was useless to chase. Another gust of revolver shots barked from the turning of the street and among them a different and more sinister sound like the striking of two great hammers face on face, so that there was a cold ring of metal after the explosion—at least one man had brought a rifle to bear. Now, as the wild rider darted past the hotel, his hat was jerked from his head by an invisible hand. He whirled again in the saddle and his guns were raised. As he turned, Elizabeth Cornish saw something glint across the street. It was the gleam of light on the barrel of a rifle that was thrust out through the window of the store.

  That long line of light wobbled, steadied, and fire jetted from the mouth of the gun. The black-haired rider spilled sidewise out of the saddle; his feet came clear of the stirrups, and his right leg caught on the cantle. He was flung rolling in the dust, his arms flying weirdly. The rifle disappeared from the window and a boy’s set face looked out. But before the limp body of the fugitive had stopped rolling, Elizabeth Cornish dropped into a chair, sick of face. Her brother turned his back on the mob that closed over the dead man and looked at Elizabeth in alarm.

  It was not the first time he had seen the result of a gun play, and for that matter it was not the first time for Elizabeth. Her emotion upset him more than the roar of a hundred guns. He managed to bring her a glass of water, but she brushed it away so that half of the contents spilled on the red carpet of the room.

  “He isn’t dead, Vance. He isn’t dead,” she kept saying.

  “Dead before he left the saddle,” replied Vance with his usual calm. “And if the bullet hadn’t finished him, the fall would have broken his neck. But . . . what in the world? Did you know the fellow?”

  He blinked at her, his amazement growing. The capable hands of Elizabeth were pressed to her breast, and out of the thirty-five years of spinsterhood that had starved her face he became aware of eyes young and dark, and full of spirit, by no means the keen, quiet eyes of Elizabeth Cornish.

  “Do something!” she cried. “Go down, and . . . if they’ve murdered him . . .”

  He literally fled from the room.

  She did not follow him with her eyes. Out on the street a jumble of voices beat through the window. She closed the sense of their words out of her mind. In spite of the noise, a great stillness had come on her. She saw the course of a crack up the wall until it sprayed out in a maze of lines on the ceiling. She dwelt with a blank intensity on the picture of the President that hung just opposite. She dropped her eyes to the rug and studied the pattern of roses and distorted Cupids—red roses and blue Cupids!

  All the time she was seeing nothing, but she would never forget what she had seen no matter how long she lived. Subconsciously she was fighting to keep the street voices out of her mind. They were saying things she did not wish to hear, things she would not hear. Finally she recovered enough to stand up and shut the window. That brought her a terrible temptation to look down into the mass of men in the street—and women, too.

  But she resisted and looked up. The forms on the street remained obscurely in the bottom of her vision, and made her think of something she had seen in the woods—a colony of ants around a dead beetle. Presently the door opened and Vance came back. He still seemed very worried, but she forced herself to smile at him, and at once his concern disappeared; it was plain that he had been troubled about her and not in the slightest by the fate of the strange rider. She kept on smiling, but for the first time in her life she really looked at Vance without sisterly prejudice in his favor. She saw a good-natured face, handsome, with the cheeks growing a bit blocky, although Vance was only twenty-five. H
e had a glorious forehead and fine eyes, but one would never look twice at Vance in a crowd. She knew suddenly that her brother was simply a well-mannered mediocrity. She had been in the habit of looking up to him, because he had some of the finer touches that were lacking in her own nature. She knew now—and it had really never occurred to her before—that a man must be something more than well educated and intelligent. She was surprised by her own judgment. Indeed, Elizabeth was very far from knowing what had happened to her.

  “Thank the Lord you’re yourself again, Elizabeth,” her brother said first of all. “I thought for a moment . . . I don’t know what.”

  “Just the shock, Vance,” she said. Ordinarily she was well-nigh brutally frank. Now she found it easy to lie and keep on smiling. “It was such a horrible thing to see.”

  “I suppose so. Caught you off balance. But I never knew you to lose your grip so easily. Well, do you know what you’ve seen?”

  “He’s dead, then?”

  He looked sharply at her. It seemed to him that a tremor of unevenness had come into her voice, but now he saw that she was still smiling, and he dismissed the momentary suspicion.

  “Oh, dead as a doornail, Elizabeth. Very neat shot. Youngster that dropped him . . . boy named Joe Minter. Six thousand dollars for Joe. Nice little nest egg to build a fortune on, eh?”

  “Six thousand dollars! What do you mean, Vance?”

  “The price on the head of Jack Hollis. That was Hollis, Sis. The celebrated Black Jack.”

  “But . . . this is only a boy, Vance. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five years old.”

  “That’s all.”

  “But I’ve heard of him for ten years, very nearly. And always as a man-killer. It can’t be Black Jack.”

  “I said the same thing, but it’s Black Jack, well enough. He started out when he was sixteen, they say, and he’s been raising the devil ever since. You should have seen them pick him up . . . as if he were asleep, and not dead. What a body! Lithe as a panther. No larger than I am, but they say he was a giant with his hands.”

  He was lighting his cigarette as he said this, and consequently he did not see her eyes close tightly. A moment later she was able to make her expression as calm as ever.

  “Came into town to see his baby,” went on Vance through the smoke. “Little year-old beggar.”

  “Think of the mother,” murmured Elizabeth Cornish. “I want to do something for her.”

  “You can’t,” replied her brother with unnecessary brutality. “Because she’s dead. A little after the youngster was born. I believe Black Jack broke her heart, and a very pleasant sort of girl she was, they tell me.”

  “What will become of the baby?”

  He found her dreaming with her work-worn hands loosely clasped together and her elbows resting on her bony knees. She was not a graceful woman. For ten years, now, she had done a man’s work in managing the ranch that their father had left them covered with mortgages. She had lifted those mortgages, but she had given her young womanhood to the labor. This touch of tenderness was an unturned page in her nature, and Vance wondered at it. Mechanically he attributed it to an aftermath of shock.

  “It will live and grow up,” he said carelessly. “They always do, somehow. Make another like his father, I suppose. A few years of fame in the mountain saloons, and then a knife in the back. One or two rattling murders to give us reading matter, and then the end of him.”

  The meager body of Elizabeth stiffened. She was finding it less easy to maintain her nonchalant smile. “Why?”

  “Why? Blood will out, like murder, Sis.”

  “Nonsense! All a matter of environment.”

  “Have you ever read the story of the Jukes family?”

  “An accident. Take a son out of the best family in the world and raise him like a thief . . . he’ll be a thief. And the thief’s son can be raised to an honest manhood. I know it.”

  She was seeing Black Jack, as he had raced down the street with the black hair blowing about his face. Of such stuff, she felt, the knights of another age had been made. Vance was raising a forefinger in an authoritative way he had.

  “My dear, before that baby is twenty-five . . . that was his father’s age . . . he’ll have shot a man. Bet you on it!”

  “I’ll take your bet.”

  The retort came with such a ring of her voice that he was startled. Before he could recover she went on: “Go out and get that baby for me, Vance. I want it.”

  He tossed his cigarette out the window.

  “Don’t drop into one of your headstrong moods, Sis. This is nonsense.”

  “That’s why I want to do it. I’m tired of playing the man. I’ve had enough to fill my mind. I want something to fill my arms and my heart.”

  She drew up her hands with a peculiar gesture toward her shallow, barren bosom, and then her brother found himself silenced. At the same time he was a little irritated, for there was an imputation in her speech that she had been carrying the burden that his own shoulders should have supported. Which was so true that he could not answer, and therefore he cast about for some way of stinging her. That is always the way when a man is backed against the wall in an argument. He strikes out more or less blindly, and tries to beat his way out of the dilemma through brute force.

  “I thought you were going to escape the sentimental period, Elizabeth. But sooner or later I suppose a woman has to pass through it.”

  A spot of color came in her sallow cheek.

  “That’s sufficiently disagreeable, Vance.”

  A sense of his cowardice made him rise to conceal his confusion.

  “I’m going to take you at your word, Sis. I’m going out to get that baby. I suppose it can be bought . . . like a calf.”

  He went deliberately to the door, and laid his hand on the knob. He had a rather vicious pleasure in calling her bluff, but to his amazement she did not call him back. He opened the door slowly. Still she did not speak. He slammed it behind him and stepped into the hall. Plain stubbornness would make her go through with the thing now, he knew. For a moment he hesitated under an impulse to go back and argue again, but his own stubbornness intervened.

  Chapter One

  Twenty-four years made the face of Vance Cornish a little better fed, a little more blocky of cheek, but he remained astonishingly young. At forty-nine the lumpish promise of his youth was quite gone. He was in a trim and solid middle age. His hair was thinned above the forehead, but it gave him more dignity. On the whole, he left an impression of a man who has done things and who will do more before he is through. If one looked very closely, it was seen that his eye was too dull. And in that case one felt that here was a strong man unawakened to a knowledge of his own strength.

  He shifted his feet from the top of the porch railing to the crosspiece, and shrugged himself deeper into his chair. It was marvelous how comfortable Vance could make himself. He had one great power—the ability to sit still through any given interval. Now he let his eye drift quietly over the Cornish Ranch. It lay entirely within one grasp of the vision, spilling across the valley from Sleep Mountain, on the lower bosom of which the house stood, to Mount Discovery, on the north. Not that the glance of Vance Cornish lurched across this bold distance. His gaze wandered as slowly as a bee buzzes across a clover field, not knowing on which blossom to settle.

  Below him, generously looped, Bear Creek tumbled out of the southeast, and roved between noble borders of silver spruce into the shadows of the Blue Mountains of the north and west. It had the proportions and dignity of a river, but somewhere near its source in the old days a hunter had dropped a grizzly, and the name of his giving remained, extending to the larger stream below.

  Here the valley shouldered out on either side into Sleep Mountain on the south and the Blue Mountains on the north, half a dozen miles across and ten long of grazing and farm land. The tillable portion, to be sure, was not a large percentage. It extended hardly beyond the arms of the southward swing of Bear Creek,
but this was a rich, loamy bottom land scattered with aspens.

  Beyond, covering the gentle roll of the foothills, was grazing land. Scattering lodgepole pine began in the hills, and thickened into dense yellow-green thickets on the upper mountain slopes. And so north and north the eye of Vance Cornish wandered and climbed until it rested on the bald summit of Mount Discovery. It had its name out of its character, standing boldly to the south out of the jumble of the Blue Mountains.

  It was a solid unit, this Cornish Ranch, fenced away with mountains, watered by a river, pleasantly forested, and obviously predestined for the ownership of one man. Vance Cornish, on the porch of the house, felt like an enthroned king overlooking his dominions. As a matter of fact his holdings were hardly more than nominal.

  In the beginning his father had left the ranch equally to Vance and Elizabeth, thickly plastered with debts. The son would have sold the place for what they could clear. He went East to hunt for education and pleasure; his sister remained and fought the great battle by herself. She consecrated herself to the work, which implied that the work was sacred. And to her, indeed, it was.

  She was twenty-two and her brother twelve when their father died. Had she been a tithe younger and her brother a mature man, it would have been different. As it was, she felt herself placed in a maternal position with Vance. She sent him away to school, rolled up her sleeves, and started to order chaos. In place of husband, children—love and the fruits of love—she accepted the ranch. The dam between the rapids and the waterfall was the child of her brain; the plowed fields of the central part of the valley were her reward.

  In ten years of constant struggle she cleared away the debts. And then, since Vance gave her nothing but bills to pay, she began to buy out his interest. He chose to learn his business lessons on Wall Street. Elizabeth paid the bills, but she checked the sums against his interest in the ranch. And so it went on. Vance would come out to the ranch at intervals and show a brief, feverish interest, plan a new set of irrigation canals, or a sawmill, or a better road out over the Blue Mountains. But he dropped such work half done and went away.