Read CHAPTER 29 of The Rangeland Avenger, free online book, by Max Brand, on

Gradually she found her breath and greater self-possession.

“You mean I’m free?” she asked him.  “You won’t make me go into Sour Creek?”

His face twisted as if in pain.  “Make you?” he asked violently.  “I’d blow the head off the first one that tried to make you take a step.”

Suddenly it seemed to her that all this was ordered and arranged, that some mysterious Providence had sent this man here to save her from Sandersen and all the horror that the future promised, just as Sinclair had saved her once before from a danger which he himself had half created.

“I got this to say,” went on Arizona, struggling for the words.  “Looks to me like you might have need of a friend to help you along, wherever you’re going.”  He shook his thick shoulders.  “Sure gives me a jolt to think of what you must have gone through, wandering around here all by yourself!  I sure don’t see how you done it!”

And all this time the man whom Arizona had killed, was lying face up to the morning, hardly a pace behind him!  But she dared not try to analyze this man.  She could only feel vaguely that an ally had been given her, an ally of strength.  He, too, must have sensed what was in her mind.

“You’ll be wanting this, I reckon.”

Returning the Colt to her, he slowly dragged his glance from the ground and let it cross her face for a fleeting instant.  She slipped the gun back into its holster.

“And now suppose we go down the hill and get your hoss?”

Evidently he was painfully eager to get the dead man out of sight.  Yet he paused while he picked up her saddle.

“They’ll be along pretty pronto — the sheriff and his men.  They’ll take care of — him.”

Leading the way down to her hobbled horse he saddled it swiftly, while she stood aside and watched.  When he was done he turned to her.

“Maybe we better be starting.  It wouldn’t come in very handy for Kern to find us here, eh?”

Obediently she came.  With one hand he held the stirrup, while the other steadied her weight by the elbow, as she raised her foot.  In spite of herself she shivered at his touch.  A moment later, from the saddle, she was looking down into a darkly crimsoned face.  Plainly he had understood that impulse of aversion, but he said nothing.

There was a low neigh from the other side of the hill in answer to his soft whistle, and then out of the trees came a beautifully formed roan mare, with high head and pricking ears.  With mincing steps she went straight to her master, and Jig saw the face of the other brighten.  But he was gloomy again by the time he had swung into the saddle.

“Now,” he said, “where away?”

“You’re coming with me?” she asked, with a new touch of alarm.  She regretted her tone the moment she had spoken.  She saw Arizona wince.

“Lady,” he said, “suppose I come clean to you?  I been in my time about everything that’s bad.  I ain’t done a killing except squarely.  Sinclair taught me that.  And you got to allow that what I done to Sandersen was after I give him all the advantage in the draw.  I took even chances, and I give him better than an even break.  Ain’t that correct?”

She nodded, fascinated by the struggle in his face between pride and shame and anger.

“Worse’n that,” he went on, forcing out the bitter truth.  “I been everything down to a sharp with the cards, which is tolerable low.  But I got this to say:  I’m playing clean with you.  I’ll prove it before I’m done.  If you want me to break loose and leave you alone, say the word, and I’m gone.  If you want me to stay and help where I can help, say the word, and I stay and take orders.  Come out with it!”

Gathering his reins, he sat very straight and looked her fairly and squarely in the eye, for the first time since he had discovered the truth about Cold Feet.  In spite of herself Jig found that she was drawn to trust the fat man.  She let a smile grow, let her glance become as level and as straight as his own.  She reined her horse beside his and stretched out her hand.

“I know you mean what you say,” said Jig.  “And I don’t care what you have been in the past.  I do need a friend — desperately.  Riley Sinclair says that a friend is the most sacred thing in the world.  I don’t ask that much, but of all the men I know you are the only one who can help me as I need to be helped.  Will you shake hands for a new start between us?”

“Lady,” said the cowpuncher huskily, “this sure means a lot to me.  And the — other things — you’ll forget?”

“I never knew you,” said the girl, smiling at him again, “until this moment.”

“Oh, it’s a go!” cried Arizona.  “Now try me out!”

Jig saw his self-respect come back to him, saw his eye grow bright and clear.  Arizona was like a man with a new “good resolution.”  He wanted to test his strength and astonish someone with his change.

“There is one great thing in which I need help,” she said.

“Good!  And what’s that?”

“Riley Sinclair is in jail.”

“H’m,” muttered Arizona.  “He ain’t in on a serious charge.  Let him stay a while.”  Stiffening in the saddle he stared at her.  “Does Sinclair know?”

“What?” asked the girl, but she flushed in spite of herself.

“That you ain’t a man?”


For a moment he considered her crimson face gloomily.  “You and Sinclair was sort of pals, I guess,” he said at length.

Faintly she replied in the affirmative, and her secret was written as clearly as sunlight on her face.  Yet she kept her eyes raised bravely.

As for Arizona, the newborn hope died in him, and then flickered back to an evil life.  If Sinclair was in his way, why give up?  Why not remove this obstacle as he had removed others in his time.  The hurrying voice of the girl broke in on his somber thoughts.

“He went to Sour Creek to help me as soon as he found out that I was not a man.  He put himself in terrible danger there on my account.”

“Did Cartwright have something to do with you and him?”


But Arizona made no effort to read her riddle.

She went on:  “Now that he has been taken, I know what has happened.  To keep me out of danger he told — ”

“That you’re a woman?”

“No, he wouldn’t do that, because he knows that is the last thing in the world that I want revealed.  But he’s told them that he killed Quade, and now he’s in danger of his life.”

“Let’s ride on,” said Arizona.  “I got to think a pile.”

She did not speak, while the horses wound down the steep side of the mountain.  Mile after mile rose behind them.  The sun increased in power, flashing on the leaves of the trees and beginning to burn the face with its slanting heat.  Now and then she ventured a side-glance at Arizona, and always she found him in a brown study.  Vaguely she knew that he was fighting the old battle of good and evil in the silence of the morning.  Finally he stopped his horse and turned to her again.

They were in the foothills by this time, and they had drawn out from the trees to a little level space on the top of a rise.  The morning mist was thinning rapidly in the heart of the hollow beneath them.  Far off, they heard the lowing of cows being driven into the pasture land after the morning milking, and they could make out tiny figures in the fields.

“Lady,” Arizona was saying to her, “they’s one gent in the world that I’ve got an eight-year-old grudge agin’.  I’ve swore to get him sooner or later, and that gent is Riley Sinclair.  Make it something else, and I’ll work for you till the skin’s off my hands.  But Sinclair — ” He stopped, studying her intently.  “Will you tell me one thing?  How much does Sinclair mean to you.”

“A great deal,” said the girl gently.  “But if you hate him, I can’t ask you.”

“He’s a hard man,” said Arizona, “and he’s got a mean name, lady.  You know that.  But when you say that he means a lot to you, maybe it’s because he’s taken a big chance for you in Sour Creek and — ”

She shook her head.  “It’s more than that — much more.”

“Well, I guess I understand,” said Arizona.

Burying the last of his hopes, Arizona looked straight into the sun.

“Eight years ago he was a better man than I am,” said he at length.  “And he’s a better man still.  Lady, I’m going to get Riley Sinclair free!”