Read CHAPTER 34 of The Rangeland Avenger, free online book, by Max Brand, on

The moment her husband was gone, Jig dropped back in her chair and buried her face in her arms, weeping.  But there is a sort of sad happiness in making sacrifices for those we love, and presently Jig was laughing through her tears and trembling as she wiped the tears away.  After a time she was able to make herself ready for another appearance in the street of Sour Creek.  She practiced back and forth in her room that exaggerated swagger, jerked her sombrero rakishly over one eye, cocked up her cartridge belt at one side, and swung down the stairs.

She went straight to the jail and met the sheriff at the door, where he sat, smoking a stub of a pipe.  He gaped widely at the sight of her, smoke streaming up past his eyes.  Then he rose and shook hands violently.

“All I got to say, Jig,” he remarked, “is that the others was the ones that made the big mistake.  When I went and arrested you, I was just following in line.  But I’m sorry, and I’m mighty glad that you been found to be O.K.”

Wanly she smiled and thanked him fox his good wishes.

“I’d like to see Sinclair,” she said.

Kern’s amiability increased.

“The best thing I know about you, Jig, is that you ain’t turning Sinclair down, now that he’s in trouble.  Go right back in the jail.  Him and Arizona is chinning.  Wait a minute.  I guess I got to keep an eye on you to see you don’t pass nothing through the bars.  Keep clean back from them bars, Jig, and then you can talk all you want.  I’ll stay here where I can watch you but can’t hear.  Is that square?”

“Nothing squarer in the world,” said Jig and went in.

She left the sheriff grinning vacantly into the dark.  There was a peculiar something in Jig’s smile that softened men.

But when she stepped into the sphere of the lantern light that spread faintly through the cell, she was astonished to see Arizona and Sinclair kneeling opposite each other, shooting dice with abandon and snapping of the fingers.  They rose, laughing at the sight of her, and came to the bars.

“But you aren’t worried?” asked Jig.  “You aren’t upset by all this?”

It was Arizona who answered, a strangely changed Arizona since his entrance into the jail.

“Look here,” he said gaily, “why should we be worryin’?  Ain’t we got a good sound roof over our heads, with a set of blankets to sleep in?”

He smiled at tall Sinclair, then changed his voice.

“Things fell through,” he said softly, glancing at the far-off shadowy figure of the sheriff.  “Sorry, but we’ll work this out yet.”

“I know,” she answered.  She lowered her voice to caution.  “I’m only going to stay a moment to keep away suspicions.  Listen!  Something is going to happen tonight that will set you both free.  Don’t ask me what it is.  But, among those cottonwoods behind the blacksmith shop, I’m going to have two good horses saddled and ready for you.  One will be your roan, Arizona.  And I’ll have a good horse for you, Riley.  And when you’re free start for those horses.”

Sinclair laid hold on the bars with his big hands and pressed his face close to the iron, staring at her.

“You ain’t coming along with us?” he asked.

“I — no.”

“Are you going to stay here?”

“Perhaps!  I don’t know — I haven’t made up my mind.”

“Has Cartwright — ”

She broke away from those entangling questions.  “I must go.”

“But you’ll be at the place with the horses?”


“Then so long till the time comes.  And — you’re a brick, Jig!”

Once outside the jail, she set to work at once.  As for getting the roan, it was the simplest thing in the world.  There was no one in the stable behind the hotel, and no one to ask questions.  She calmly saddled the roan, mounted him, and rode by a wider detour to the cottonwoods behind the blacksmith shop.

Her own horse was to be for Sinclair.  But before she took him, she went into the hotel, and the first man she found on the veranda was Cartwright.  He came to her at once, shifting away from the others.

“How are things?”

“Good,” said Cartwright.  “Ain’t you heard ’em talking?”

Here and there about the hotel, men stood in knots of three and four, talking in low voices.

“Are they talking about that?”

“Sure they are,” said Cartwright, relieved.  “You ain’t heard nothing?”

“Not a word.”

“Then the thing for you to do is to keep under cover.  You don’t want to get mixed up in this thing, eh?”

“I suppose not.”

“Keep out of sight, honey.  The crowd will start pretty soon and tear things loose.”  He could not resist one savage thrust.  “A rope, or a pair of ropes, will do the work.”


“One to tie Kern, and one to tie his deputy,” he explained smoothly.  “Where you going now?”

“Getting their retreat ready,” she whispered excitedly.  “I’ve already warned them where to go to get the horses.”

She waved to him and stepped back into the night, convinced that all was well.  As for Cartwright, he hesitated, staring after her.  After all, if his plan developed, it would be wise for him to allow the others to do the work of mischief.  He had no wish to be actively mixed up with a lynching party.  Sometimes there were after results.  And if he had done no more than talk, there would be small hold upon him by the law.

Moreover, things were going smoothly under the guidance of Whitey.  The pale-faced man had thrown himself body and soul into the movement.  It was a rare thing to see Whitey excited.  Other men were readily impressed.  After a time, when anger had reached a certain point where men melt into hot action, these fixed figures of men would sweep into fluid action.  And then the fates of Arizona and Sinclair would be determined.

It pleased Cartwright more than any action of his life to feel that he had stirred up this movement.  It pleased him still more to know that he could now step back and watch the work of ruin go on.  It was like disturbing the one small stone which starts the avalanche, which eventually smashes the far-off forest.

So much was done, then.  And now why not make sure that the very last means of retreat for the pair was blocked?  The girl went to get the horses.  And if, by the one chance in twenty, the two should actually break out of the jail, it would remain to Cartwright to kill the horses or the men.  He did not care which.

He slipped behind the hotel and presently saw the girl come out of the stable with her horse.  He followed, skulking softly behind her until he reached the appointed place among the cottonwoods.  The trees grew tall and thick of trunk, and about their bases was a growth of dense shrubbery.  It was a simple thing to conceal two saddled horses in a hollow which sank into the edge of the shrubbery.

Cartwright’s first desire was to couch himself in shooting distance.  Then he remembered that shooting with a revolver by moonlight was uncertain work.  He slipped away to the hotel and got a rifle ready enough.  Men were milling through the lower rooms of the hotel.  The point of discussion had long since been passed.  The ringleaders had made up their minds.  They went about with faces so black that those who were asked to join, hardly had the courage to question.  There was broad-voiced rumor growing swiftly.  Something was wrong — something was very wrong.  It was like that mysterious whisper which goes through the forest before the heavy storm strikes.  Something was terribly wrong and must be righted.

How the ringleaders had reasoned, nobody paused to ask.  It was sufficient that a score of men were saying:  “The sheriff figures on letting Sinclair and Arizona go.”

A typical scene between two men.  They meet casually, one man whistling, the other thoughtful.

“What’s the bad luck?” asks the whistler.

“No time for whistling,” says the other.

“Say, what you mean?”

“I ask you just this,” said the gloomy man, with a mystery of much knowledge in his face:  “Are gents around here going to be murdered, and the murderers go free?”


“Sinclair and Arizona — that’s what’s up!  They’re going to bust loose.”

“I dunno about Arizona, but Sinclair, they say, is a square shooter.”

“Who told you that?  Sinclair himself?  He’s got a rep as long as my arm.  He’s a bad one, son!”

“You don’t say!”

“I do say.  And something has got to be done, or Sour Creek won’t be a decent man’s town no more.”

“Let me in.”  Off they went arm in arm.

Cartwright saw half a dozen little interviews of this nature, as he entered the hotel.  Men were excited, they hardly knew why.  There is no need for reason in a mob.  One has only to cry, “Kill!” and the mob will start of its own volition to find something that may be slain.  Also, a mob has no conscience and no remorse.  It is the nearest thing to a devil that exists, and it is also the nearest thing to the divine mercy and courage.  It is braver than the bravest man; it is more timorous than the most fearful; it is fiercer than a lion, gentler than a lamb.  All these things by turns, and each one to the exclusion of all the others.

Now the thunderclouds were piling on the horizon, and Cartwright could feel the electricity in the air.  He went to Pop.

“I got to have a rifle.”

“What for?”

“You know,” said Cartwright significantly.

The hotelkeeper nodded.  He brought out an old Winchester, still mobile of action and deadly.  With that weapon under his arm, Cartwright started back, but then he remembered that there were excellent chances of missing even with a rifle, when he was shooting through the shadows and by the treacherous moonlight.  It would be better, far better, to have his horse with him.  Then, if he actually succeeded in wounding one or both of them, he could run his victim down, or, perhaps, keep up a steady fire of rifle shots from the rear, that would bring half the town pouring out to join in the chase.

So he swung back to the stables, saddled his horse, trotted it around in a comfortably wide detour, and, coming within sound distance of the cottonwoods behind the blacksmith shop, he dismounted and led his horse into a dense growth of shrubbery.  That close approach would have been impossible without alarming the girl, had it not been for a stiff wind blowing across into his face, completely muffling the noise of his coming.  In the bushes he ensconced himself safely.  Only a few yards away he kept his eye on the opening among the cottonwoods, behind which the girl and the two horses moved from time to time, growing more and more visible, as the moon climbed above the horizon mist.

He tightened his grip on the rifle and amused himself with drawing beads on stumps and bright bits of foliage, from time to time.  He must be ready for any sort of action if the two should ever appear.

While he waited, sounds reached his ear from the town, sounds eloquent of purpose.  He listened to them as to beautiful music.  It was a low, distinct, and continuous humming sound.  Voices of men went into it, low as the growl of an angered dog, and there was a background of slamming doors, and footsteps on verandas.  Sour Creek was mustering for the assault.