Man to man, p.21

Man to Man, page 21


Man to Man

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  No far-sighted, inspired prophet's services were needed to predict arather stormy scene upon the arrival of old Hell-Fire Packard and MissTerry Temple at the place of the storekeeper of Red Creek. It was tobe expected that Steve Packard would be on hand; that he would beimpatiently awaiting the drum of a racing motor; that he would be onthe sidewalk to greet Temple's daughter.

  "Terry!" he called. "So soon?"

  He couldn't have made a worse beginning had he pondered the matter longand diabolically. Blenham had been right and Steve had had ample timeto admit the fact utterly and completely; now there was a ringing notein his voice, the effect of which, falling upon his grandfather's ears,might be likened with no great stretch of imagination to that of aspark in a keg of gunpowder.

  The old man's brakes, applied emphatically, brought his car to astandstill.

  "Look at that clock!" was his first remark, at once apprising Steve ofhis relative's presence and hinting, by means of its no uncertain tone,at an unpleasant situation on hand or about to burst upon them. "Madeit in fifty-three minutes, did you? Well, I done it in less'nforty-nine! What have you got to say about that?"

  But Terry ignored him and jumped down, her hand impulsively laid onSteve's arm. Thus she, in her turn, may be said to have added anotherspark to young Packard's in the powder keg.

  "How's dad?" she asked quickly.

  Steve patted the hand on his arm and either Terry did not notice theact or did not mind. Old man Packard both noted and minded. His gruntwas to be heard above Doctor Bridges's devout "Thank God, we're here!"as the physician stepped stiffly to the sidewalk.

  "Better," said Steve. "I think he's going to be all right after all.I hope so. He----"

  "Blenham?" she asked insistently. "He didn't put one over on you? Themortgage----"

  Steve tapped his breast pocket.

  "The papers have been signed; we got a notary; everything is shipshape.Go in; I'll tell you all about it later."

  He turned toward the car and the stiffened figure of the man grippingthe wheel with tense, hard hands.


  "Grandy, your foot!" boomed old Packard suddenly, one hand jerked awayto be clenched into a lifted fist. "An' _Terry_! My God!"

  "What do you mean?" asked Steve. "I don't understand."

  "I mean," shouted Packard senior, his voice shaking with emotion, "thatno mouth in the world is big enough to hold them two words the samenight! If you want to chum with any Temple livin', he-Temple orshe-Temple, if, sir, you intend to go 'round slobberin' over thelow-down enemies of your own father an' father's father, why, sir, thenI'm Mr. Packard to you and the likes of you!"

  Still was Steve mystified.

  "I thought," he muttered, "that since you two came together, since youyourself have driven her in----"

  "If I, sir," thundered his grandfather, "have chosen to bring thatpetticoated wildcat there an' that ol' pill-slinger from my place toRed Creek in a shake less'n forty-nine minutes--jus' to show her thatanything on God's earth done by a Temple can be better done by aPackard--you got to go to thinkin' things, have you? Why, sir, so helpme, sir, I've a notion to jump down right now an' give you thehorsewhippin' of your life!"

  Steve, in spite of himself, chuckled. Terry, reassured about herfather, giggled. Both sounds were audible; the two, mingled, wereentirely too much to be borne.

  "You--you disgrace to an honorable name," the old man called bitterlyand wrathfully. "You----"

  He broke off, hesitated, glared from Steve at the car's side to Terryalready on the steps of the store, and concluded something more quietlythough not a whit less furiously for all that: "You speak of paperssigned. You don't mean you're actually havin' any kind of businessdealin's, frien'ly dealin's, with the Temples?"

  "Blenham brought word you were foreclosing on Temple; he had some sortof a crooked scheme to cheat Temple out of his land. I have justframed a deal whereby I put up the money to pay you your mortgageand----"

  "You? _You_, Stephen Packard?"

  "Yes," said Steve, wondering whether the old man were the more movedbecause of the shock of finding his nephew able to pay off so large asum or because of the "frien'ly dealin's with the Temples."

  There was a brief silence. Doctor Bridges mounted the steps; he andTerry were going in. Then again Hell-Fire Packard's voice burst outviolently and Terry stopped short, her hands going suddenly to herbreast. Her face, could they have noted in the pale light, was flamingscarlet.

  "That hussy, that jade, that Jezebel!" came the ringing denunciation."The tricky, shameless, penurious, graspin' unprincipled littleshe-devil! She's after you, my boy, after you hard. An', you poormiserable blind worm of a fool, you ain't got the sense to see it!Everybody knows it; the whole country's talkin' about it; how Temple'sbaitin' his trap with her an' she's baitin' her trap with herselfan'----"

  "Grandfather!" cried Steve, his own face flushing under the scathingtorrent. "You don't know what you are saying!"

  "I know what he's saying."

  Terry, her hands still tight pressed to her breast, came slowly downthe steps. Though but a moment had passed her face was now dead whitein the moonlight.

  "You are saying," and her eyes shone straight up into the old man's,"that I am setting a trap for your grandson? That I, Teresa ArriegaTemple, would for an instant consider a Packard, the son and thegrandson of a Packard, as worthy of shining my boots for me? Why, Ispit upon the two of you!"

  She whirled and was gone into the house. Steve instead of watching hergoing kept his eyes hard upon his grandfather's face. Now that thedoor closed he said quietly:

  "Grandfather, we have seen rather little, of each other. I think wehad better see even less from now on. You have insulted that girl in away that makes me want to climb into your car and drag you down--andbeat you half to death!"

  His restraint was melting under the fire of his passion; his voice grewless quiet and began to tremble.

  "I am going to make that girl the next Mrs. Packard or know the reasonwhy!"

  "Defy me, do you? Defy me an' go an' run with a pack of thievesan'----"

  "That's enough!" shouted Steve. "I am going right straight and askher----"

  "Ask her an' hell swallow you!" came the vociferous permission from theinfuriated old man. "But remember one thing: Blenham has slipped upto-night, maybe, an' let you an' her an' her lyin', thievin',scoundrelly father steal a march on me. But it's the last one; markthat! Blenham gets his orders straight from me to-night; he goes afteryou to break you, smash you, literally pull you to pieces root an'branch--an' with me an' Blenham workin' on the job night an' day,stoppin' at nothin'. Hear me? I mean it!" His two fists were nowlifted high above his head. "Stoppin' at nothin' I'll step on you an'your Temple frien's like you was a nest of caterpillars. You hear me,Stephen!"

  But Stephen, his lips tight pressed as he fought with himself to keephis hands off his own father's father, turned and went the way Terryhad gone.

  "You hear me, Stephen. There's nothin' I'll stop at to smash you!"

  So his grandfather's voice followed him mightily. But young Packardhad already set his thought upon another matter. Before him in thetiny living-room of the ramshackle store building a kerosene lamp wasburning palely and lying upon an old sofa, face down, shaken with sobswas Terry.

  "Terry!" he called softly. "Your father isn't----"

  He thought that she had not heard. He came closer and laid his handgently--there was a deep tenderness even in the action--upon hershoulder. But Terry had heard and now flung his hand violently asideand sprang to her feet, her eyes blazing angrily into his.

  "My father is asleep. Doctor Bridges rather thinks there is nothingvery much the matter with him," she remarked crisply. "I am sorry Itroubled you in any way, Mr. Packard. You say you arranged matterswith dad? Well, I want you to tear up the papers; I'll see that yourmoney is returned to you."

>   "Terry!" he muttered.

  Then she flared out hotly, her two small hands clenched at her sides,her chin lifted, her voice a new voice in his ears, bitter and hostile.

  "Don't you Terry me, Steve Packard! Now or ever again. I am sorrythat I ever saw you; I am ashamed that I ever spoke to you. I hadrather be dead or--yes, I'd rather be in Blenham's arms than have youlook at me!"

  "Good Lord!" ejaculated Steve, utterly at sea. "I don't understand."

  "You don't have to," snapped Terry. "All you've got to know is that Iwon't have anything further in any way whatever to do with you. Iwon't have you helping us with our mortgage; I won't have you advancingmoney to us; I won't stand one little minute for any of your--yourwretched interference with our affairs! If you think you can--can buttin on our side of any fight in the world----"

  She ended abruptly, beginning to flounder, panting so that the swiftrise and fall of her breast was an outward token of inward emotion.Steve Packard stared and flushed hotly and began to feel his own angermount quickly.

  "Butt in on your affairs!" he snorted after a fashion more than vaguelyreminiscent of his grandfather. "I like that! As if I'd have come astep without your invitation."

  And so he blurted out the one thing he should have left unsaid, thething which already rankled in Terry's proud heart. She had asked himto come; she had in a way suggested a--a sort of partnership.

  "Oh! how I hate you!" cried Terry. "You--you Packard!"

  "If there's some crime, some string of crimes that I have committed----"

  "Will you tear up those papers? I'll get you back your money. Willyou tear up those papers?"

  "Will you explain what's gone wrong?"

  "I will not."

  He shrugged exasperatingly.

  "I'll keep the papers," he returned stonily. "I put over rather a gooddeal to-night, come to think of it."

  He put on his hat, jamming it down tight, and half turned to go.

  "When you want to talk ranch matters over with me--come to myranch-house, little pardner!"

  "Oh!" cried Terry. "Oh!"

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