Exposed To The Sunlight
From: 'firebrand' Trevison
It was a month before Trevison went to town, again. Only once during that
time did he see Rosalind Benham, for the Blakeleys had vacated, and goods
and servants had arrived from the East and needed attention. Rosalind
presided at the Bar B ranchhouse, under Agatha's chaperonage, and she had
invited Trevison to visit her whenever the mood struck him. He had been in
the mood many times, but had found no opportunity, for the various
activities of range work claimed his attention. After a critical survey of
Manti and vicinity, J. C. had climbed aboard his private car to be whisked
to New York, where he reported to his Board of Directors that Manti would
one day be one of the greatest commercial centers of the West.
Vague rumors of a legal tangle involving the land around Manti had reached
Trevison's ears, and this morning he had jumped on Nigger, determined to
run the rumors down. He made a wide swing, following the river, which took
him miles from his own property and into the enormous basin which one day
the engineers expected to convert into a mammoth lake from which the
thirst of many dry acres of land was to be slaked; and halting Nigger near
the mouth of the gorge, watched the many laborers, directed by various
grades of bosses, at work building the foundation of the dam. Later, he
crossed the basin, followed the well-beaten trail up the slope to the
level, and shortly he was in Hanrahan's saloon across the street from
Braman's bank, listening to the plaint of Jim Lefingwell, the Circle Cross
owner, whose ranch was east of town. Lefingwell was big, florid, and
afflicted with perturbation that was almost painful. So exercised was he
that he was at times almost incoherent.
"She's boomin', ain't she? Meanin' this man's town, of course. An' a man's
got a right to cash in on a boom whenever he gits the chance. Well, I'd
figgered to cash in. I ain't no hawg an' I got savvy enough to perceive
without the aid of any damn fortune-teller that cattle is done in this
country--considered as the main question. I've got a thousand acres of
land--which I paid for in spot cash to Dick Kessler about eight years ago.
If Dick was here he'd back me up in that. But he ain't here--the doggone
fool went an' died about four years ago, leavin' me unprotected. Well,
now, not digressin' any, I gits the idea that I'm goin' to unload
consid'able of my thousand acres on the sufferin' fools that's yearnin' to
come into this country an' work their heads off raisin' alfalfa an' hawgs,
an' cabbages an' sons with Pick-a-dilly collars to be eddicated East an'
come back home some day an' lift the mortgage from the old
homestead--which job they always falls down on--findin' it more to their
likin' to mortgage their souls to buy jew'l'ry for fast wimmin. Well, not
digressin' any, I run a-foul of a guy last week which was dead set on
investin' in ten acres of my land, skirtin' one of the irrigation ditches
which they're figgerin' on puttin' in. The price I wanted was a heap
satisfyin' to the guy. But he suggests that before he forks over the coin
we go down to the courthouse an' muss up the records to see if my title is
clear. Well, not digressin' any, she ain't! She ain't even nowheres clear
a-tall--she ain't even there! She's wiped off, slick an' clean! There
ain't a damned line to show that I ever bought my land from Dick Kessler,
an' there ain't nothin' on no record to show that Dick Kessler ever owned
it! What in hell do you think of that?
"Now, not digressin' any," he went on as Trevison essayed to speak; "that
ain't the worst of it. While I was in there, talkin' to Judge Lindman,
this here big guy that you fit with--Corrigan--comes in. I gathers from
the trend of his remarks that I never had a legal title to my land--that
it belongs to the guy which bought it from the Midland Company--which is
him. Now what in hell do you think of that?"
"I knew Dick Kessler," said Trevison, soberly. "He was honest."
"Square as a dollar!" violently affirmed Lefingwell.
"It's too bad," sympathized Trevison. "That places you in a mighty bad
fix. If there's anything I can do for you, why--"
"Mr. 'Brand' Trevison?" said a voice at Trevison's elbow. Trevison turned,
to see a short, heavily built man smiling mildly at him.
"I'm a deputy from Judge Lindman's court," announced the man. "I've got a
summons for you. Saw you coming in here--saves me a trip to your place."
He shoved a paper into Trevison's hands, grinned, and went out. For an
instant Trevison stood, looking after the man, wondering how, since the
man was a stranger to him, he had recognized him--and then he opened the
paper to discover that he was ordered to appear before Judge Lindman the
following day to show cause why he should not be evicted from certain
described property held unlawfully by him. The name, Jefferson Corrigan,
appeared as plaintiff in the action.
Lefingwell was watching Trevison's face closely, and when he saw it
whiten, he muttered, understandingly:
"You've got it, too, eh?"
"Yes." Trevison shoved the paper into a pocket. "Looks like you're not
going to be skinned alone, Lefingwell. Well, so-long; I'll see you
He strode out, leaving Lefingwell slightly stunned over his abrupt
leave-taking. A minute later he was in the squatty frame courthouse,
towering above Judge Lindman, who had been seated at his desk and who had
risen at his entrance.
Trevison shoved the summons under Lindman's nose.
"I just got this," he said. "What does it mean?"
"It is perfectly understandable," the Judge smiled with forced affability.
"The plaintiff, Mr. Jefferson Corrigan, is a claimant to the title of the
land now held by you."
"Corrigan can have no claim on my land; I bought it five years ago from
old Buck Peters. He got it from a man named Taylor. Corrigan is
The Judge coughed and dropped his gaze from the belligerent eyes of the
young man. "That will be determined in court," he said. "The entire land
transactions in this county, covering a period of twenty-five years, are
recorded in that book." And the Judge indicated a ledger on his desk.
"I'll take a look at it." Trevison reached for the ledger, seized it, the
Judge protesting, half-heartedly, though with the judicial dignity that
had become habitual from long service in his profession.
"This is a high-handed proceeding, young man. You are in contempt of
court!" The Judge tried, but could not make his voice ring sincerely. It
seemed to him that this vigorous, clear-eyed young man could see the guilt
that he was trying to hide.
Trevison laughed grimly, holding the Judge off with one hand while he
searched the pages of the book, leaning over the desk. He presently closed
the book with a bang and faced the Judge, breathing heavily, his muscles
rigid, his eyes cold and glittering.
"There's trickery here!" He took the ledger up and slammed it down on the
desk again, his voice vibrating. "Judge Lindman, this isn't a true
record--it is not the original record! I saw the original record five
years ago, when I went personally to Dry Bottom with Buck Peters to have
my deed recorded! This record is a fake--it has been substituted for the
original! I demand that you stay proceedings in this matter until a search
can be made for the original record!"
"This is the original record." Again the Judge tried to make his voice
ring sincerely, and again he failed. His one mistake had not hardened him
and judicial dignity could not help him to conceal his guilty knowledge.
He winced as he felt Trevison's burning gaze on him, and could not meet
the young man's eyes, boring like metal points into his consciousness.
Trevison sprang forward and seized him by the shoulders.
"By God--you know it isn't the original!"
The Judge succeeded in meeting Trevison's eyes, but his age, his
vacillating will, his guilt, could not combat the overpowering force and
virility of this volcanic youth, and his gaze shifted and fell.
He heard Trevison catch his breath--shrilling it into his lungs in one
great sob--and then he stood, white and shaking, beside the desk, looking
at Trevison as the young man went out of the door--a laugh on his lips,
mirthless, bitter, portending trouble and violence.
* * * * *
Corrigan was sitting at his desk in the bank building when Trevison
entered the front door. The big man seemed to have been expecting his
visitor, for just before the latter appeared at the door Corrigan took a
pistol from a pocket and laid it on the desk beside him, placing a sheet
of paper over it. He swung slowly around and faced Trevison, cold interest
in his gaze. He nodded shortly as Trevison's eyes met his.
In a dozen long strides Trevison was at his side. The young man was pale,
his lips were set, he was breathing fast, his nostrils were dilated--he
was at that pitch of excitement in which a word, a look or a movement
brings on action, instantaneous, unrecking of consequences. But he
exercised repression that made the atmosphere of the room tingle with
tension of the sort that precedes the clash of mighty forces--he
deliberately sat on one corner of Corrigan's desk, one leg dangling, the
other resting on the floor, one hand resting on the idle leg, his body
bent, his shoulders drooping a little forward. His voice was dry and
light--Patrick Carson would have said his grin was tiger-like.
"So that's the kind of a whelp you are!" he said.
Corrigan caught his breath; his hands clenched, his face reddened darkly.
He shot a quick glance at the sheet of paper under which he had placed the
pistol. Trevison interpreted it, brushed the paper aside, disclosing the
weapon. His lips curled; he took the pistol, "broke" it, tossed cartridges
and weapon into a corner of the desk and laughed lowly.
"So you were expecting me," he said. "Well, I'm here. You want my land,
"I want the land that I'm entitled to under the terms of my purchase--the
original Midland grant, consisting of one-hundred thousand acres. It
belongs to me, and I mean to have it!"
"You're a liar, Corrigan," said the young man, holding the other's gaze
coldly; "you're a lying, sneaking crook. You have no claim to the land,
and you know it!"
Corrigan smiled stiffly. "The record of the deal I made with Jim Marchmont
years before any of you people usurped the property is in my pocket at
this minute. The court, here, will uphold it."
Trevison narrowed his eyes at the big man and laughed, bitter humor in the
sound. It was as though he had laughed to keep his rage from leaping,
naked and murderous, into this discussion.
"It takes nerve, Corrigan, to do what you are attempting; it does, by
Heaven--sheer, brazen gall! It's been done, though, by little,
pettifogging shysters, by piking real-estate crooks--thousands of parcels
of property scattered all over the United States have been filched in that
manner. But a hundred-thousand acres! It's the biggest steal that ever has
been attempted, to my knowledge, short of a Government grab, and your
imagination does you credit. It's easy to see what's been done. You've got
a fake title from Marchmont, antedating ours; you've got a crooked judge
here, to befuddle the thing with legal technicalities; you've got the
money, the power, the greed, and the cold-blooded determination. But I
don't think you understand what you're up against--do you? Nearly every
man who owns this land that you want has worked hard for it. It's been
bought with work, man--work and lonesomeness and blood--and souls. And now
you want to sweep it all away with one stroke. You want to step in here
and reap the benefit; you want to send us out of here, beggars." His voice
leaped from its repression; it now betrayed the passion that was consuming
him; it came through his teeth: "You can't hand me that sort of a raw
deal, Corrigan, and make me like it. Understand that, right now. You're
bucking the wrong man. You can drag the courts into it; you can wriggle
around a thousand legal corners, but damn you, you can't avert what's
bound to come if you don't lay off this deal, and that's a fight!" He
laughed, full-throated, his voice vibrating from the strength of the
passion that blazed in his eyes. He revealed, for an instant to Corrigan
the wild, reckless untamed youth that knew no law save his own impulses,
and the big man's eyes widened with the revelation, though he gave no
other sign. He leaned back in his chair, smiling coldly, idly flecking a
bit of ash from his shirt where it had fallen from his cigar.
"I am prepared for a fight. You'll get plenty of it before you're
through--if you don't lie down and be good." There was malice in his look,
complacent consciousness of his power. More, there was an impulse to
reveal to this young man whom he intended to ruin, at least one of the
motives that was driving him. He yielded to the impulse.
"I'm going to tell you something. I think I would have let you out of this
deal, if you hadn't been so fresh. But you made a grand-stand play before
the girl I am going to marry. You showed off your horse to make a bid for
her favor. You paraded before her window in the car to attract her
attention. I saw you. You rode me down. You'll get no mercy. I'm going to
break you. I'm going to send you back to your father, Brandon, senior, in
worse condition than when you left, ten years ago." He sneered as Trevison
started and stepped on the floor, rigid.
"How did you recognize me?" Curiosity had dulled the young man's passion;
his tone was hoarse.
"How?" Corrigan laughed, mockingly. "Did you think you could repose any
confidence in a woman you have known only about a month? Did you think she
wouldn't tell me--her promised husband? She has told me--everything that
she succeeded in getting out of you. She is heart and soul with me in this
deal. She is ambitious. Do you think she would hesitate to sacrifice a
clod-hopper like you? She's very clever, Trevison; she's deep, and more
than a match for you in wits. Fight, if you like, you'll get no sympathy
Trevison's faith in Miss Benham had received a shock; Corrigan's words had
not killed it, however.
"You're a liar!" he said.
Corrigan flushed, but smiled icily. "How many people know that you have
coal on your land, Trevison?"
He saw Trevison's hands clench, and he laughed in grim amusement. It
pleased him to see his enemy writhe and squirm before him; the grimness
came because of a mental picture, in his mind at this minute, of Trevison
confiding in the girl. He looked up, the smile freezing on his lips, for
within a foot of his chest was the muzzle of Trevison's pistol. He saw the
trigger finger contracting; saw Trevison's free hand clenched, the muscles
corded and knotted--he felt the breathless, strained, unreal calm that
precedes tragedy, grim and swift. He slowly stiffened, but did not shrink
an inch. It took him seconds to raise his gaze to Trevison's face, and
then he caught his breath quickly and smiled with straight lips.
"No; you won't do it, Trevison," he said, slowly; "you're not that kind."
He deliberately swung around in the chair and drew another cigar from a
box on the desk top, lit it and leaned back, again facing the pistol.
Trevison restored the pistol to the holster, brushing a hand uncertainly
over his eyes as though to clear his mental vision, for the shock that had
come with the revelation of Miss Benham's duplicity had made his brain
reel with a lust to kill. He laughed hollowly. His voice came cold and
"You're right--it wouldn't do. It would be plain murder, and I'm not quite
up to that. You know your men, don't you--you coyote's whelp! You know
I'll fight fair. You'll do yours underhandedly. Get up! There's your gun!
Load it! Let's see if you've got the nerve to face a gun, with one in your
"I'll do my fighting in my own way." Corrigan's eyes kindled, but he did
not move. Trevison made a gesture of contempt, and wheeled, to go. As he
turned he caught a glimpse of a hand holding a pistol, as it vanished into
a narrow crevice between a jamb and the door that led to the rear room. He
drew his own weapon with a single movement, and swung around to Corrigan,
his muscles tensed, his eyes alert and chill with menace.
"I'll bore you if you wink an eyelash!" he warned, in a whisper.
He leaped, with the words, to the door, lunging against it, sending it
crashing back so that it smashed against the wall, overbalancing some
boxes that reposed on a shelf and sending them clattering. He stood in the
opening, braced for another leap, tall, big, his muscles swelling and
rippling, recklessly eager. Against the partition, which was still
swaying, his arms outstretched, a pistol in one hand, trying to crowd
still farther back to escape the searching glance of Trevison's eyes, was
He had overheard Trevison's tense whisper to Corrigan. The cold savagery
in it had paralyzed him, and he gasped as Trevison's eyes found him, and
the pistol that he tried to raise dangled futilely from his nerveless
fingers. It thudded heavily upon the boards of the floor an instant later,
a shriek of fear mingling with the sound as he went down in a heap from a
vicious, deadening blow from Trevison's fist.
Trevison's leap upon Braman had been swift; he was back in the doorway
instantly, looking at Corrigan, his eyes ablaze with rage, wild, reckless,
bitter. He laughed--the sound of it brought a grayish pallor to Corrigan's
"That explains your nerve!" he taunted. "It's a frame-up. You sent the
deputy after me--pointed me out when I went into Hanrahan's! That's how he
knew me! You knew I'd come in here to have it out with you, and you
figured to have Braman shoot me when my back was turned! Ha, ha!" He swung
his pistol on Corrigan; the big man gripped the arms of his chair and sat
rigid, staring, motionless. For an instant there was no sound. And then
Trevison laughed again.
"Bah!" he said; "I can't use your methods! You're safe so long as you
don't move." He laughed again as he looked down at the banker. Reaching
down, he grasped the inert man by the scruff of the neck and dragged him
through the door, out into the banking room, past Corrigan, who watched
him wonderingly and to the front, there he dropped him and turning,
answered the question that he saw shining in Corrigan's eyes:
"I don't work in the dark! We'll take this case out into the sunlight, so
the whole town can have a look at it!"
He stooped swiftly, grasped Braman around the middle, swung him aloft and
hurled him through the window, into the street, the glass, shattered,
clashing and jangling around him. He turned to Corrigan, laughing lowly:
"Get up. Manti will want to know. I'm going to do the talking!"
He forced Corrigan to the front door, and stood on the threshold behind
him, silent, watching.
A hundred doorways were vomiting men. The crash of glass had carried far,
and visions of a bank robbery filled many brains as their owners raced
toward the doorway where Trevison stood, the muzzle of his pistol jammed
firmly against Corrigan's back.
The crowd gathered, in the manner peculiar to such scenes, coming from all
directions and converging at one point, massing densely in front of the
bank building, surrounding the fallen banker, pushing, jostling,
straining, craning necks for better views, eager-voiced, curious.
No one touched Braman. On the contrary, there were many in the front
fringe that braced their bodies against the crush, shoving backward,
crying that a man was hurt and needed breathing space. They were unheeded,
and when the banker presently recovered consciousness he was lifted to his
feet and stood, pressed close to the building, swaying dizzily, pale, weak
Word had gone through the crowd that it was not a robbery, for there were
many there who knew Trevison; they shouted greetings to him, and he
answered them, standing back of Corrigan, grim and somber.
Foremost in the crowd was Mullarky, who on another day had seen a fight at
this same spot. He had taken a stand directly in front of the door of the
bank, and had been using his eyes and his wits rapidly since his coming.
And when two or three men from the crowd edged forward and tried to push
their way to Corrigan, Mullarky drew a pistol, leaped to the door landing
beside Trevison and trained his weapon, on them.
"Stand back, or I'll plug you, sure as I'm a foot high! There's hell to
pay here, an' me friend gets a square deal--whatever he's done!"
"Right!" came other voices from various points in the crowd; "a square
Judge Lindman came out into the street, urged by curiosity. He had stepped
down from the doorway of the courthouse and had instantly been carried
with the crowd to a point directly in front of Corrigan and Trevison,
where he stood, bare-headed, pale, watching silently. Corrigan saw him,
and smiled faintly at him. The easterner's eye sought out several faces in
the crowd near him, and when he finally caught the gaze of a certain
individual who had been eyeing him inquiringly for some moments, he slowly
closed an eye and moved his head slightly toward the rear of the building.
Instantly the man whistled shrilly with his fingers, as though to summon
someone far down the street, and slipping around the edge of the crowd
made his way around to the rear of the bank building, where he was joined
presently by other men, roughly garbed, who carried pistols. One of them
climbed in through a window, opened the door, and the others--numbering
now twenty-five or thirty, dove into the room.
Out in front a silence had fallen. Trevison had lifted a hand and the
crowd strained its ears to hear.
"I've caught a crook!" declared Trevison, the frenzy of fight still
surging through his veins. "He's not a cheap crook--I give him credit for
that. All he wants to do is to steal the whole county. He'll do it, too,
if we don't head him off. I'll tell you more about him in a minute.
There's another of his stripe." He pointed to Braman, who cringed. "I
threw him out through the window, where the sunlight could shine on him.
He tried to shoot me in the back--the big crook here, framed up on me. I
want you all to know what you're up against. They're after all the land in
this section; they've clouded every title. It's a raw, dirty deal. I see
now, why they haven't sold a foot of the land they own here; why they've
shoved the cost of leases up until it's ruination to pay them. They're
land thieves, commercial pirates. They're going to euchre everybody out
Trevison caught a gasp from the crowd--concerted, sudden. He saw the mass
sway in unison, stiffen, stand rigid; and he turned his head quickly, to
see the door behind him, and the broken window through which he had thrown
Braman--the break running the entire width of the building--filled with
men armed with rifles.
He divined the situation, sensed his danger--the danger that faced the
crowd should one of its members make a hostile movement.
"Steady there, boys!" he shouted. "Don't start anything. These men are
here through prearrangement--it's another frame-up. Keep your guns out of
sight!" He turned, to see Corrigan grinning contemptuously at him. He met
the look with naked exultation and triumph.
"Got your body-guard within call, eh?" he jeered. "You need one. You've
cut me short, all right; but I've said enough to start a fire that will
rage through this part of the country until every damned thief is burned
out! You've selected the wrong man for a victim, Corrigan."
He stepped down into the street, sheathing his pistol. He heard Corrigan's
voice, calling after him, saying:
"Grand-stand play again!"
Trevison turned; the gaze of the two men met, held, their hatred glowing
bitter in their eyes; the gaze broke, like two sharp blades rasping apart,
and Corrigan turned to his deputies, scowling; while Trevison pushed his
way through the crowd.
Five minutes later, while Corrigan was talking with the deputies and
Braman in the rear room of the bank building, Trevison was standing in the
courthouse talking with Judge Lindman. The Judge stared out into the
street at some members of the crowd that still lingered.
"This town will be a volcano of lawlessness if it doesn't get a square
deal from you, Lindman," said Trevison. "You have seen what a mob looks
like. You're the representative of justice here, and if we don't get
justice we'll come and hang you in spite of a thousand deputies! Remember
He stalked out, leaving behind him a white-faced, trembling old man who
was facing a crisis which made the future look very black and dismal. He
was wondering if, after all, hanging wouldn't be better than the sunlight
shining on a deed which each day he regretted more than on the preceding
day. And Trevison, riding Nigger out of town, was estimating the probable
effect of his crowd-drawing action upon Judge Lindman, and considering
bitterly the perfidy of the woman who had cleverly drawn him on, to betray
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