Read CHAPTER 35 of The Rangeland Avenger, free online book, by Max Brand, on

Now that sound had entered the jail, and it had a peculiar effect.  It was like that distant murmuring of the storm which walks over the treetops far away.  It made the sheriff and his two prisoners lift their heads and look at one another in silence, for the sheriff was most unprofessionally tilted back in a chair, with his feet braced against the bars of the cell, while he chatted with his bad men about men, women, and events.  The sheriff had a distinct curiosity to learn how Arizona had recovered so suddenly from his “blue funk.”

Unquestionably the fat man had recovered.  His voice was as steady now as any man’s, and the old, insolent glitter was in his eyes.  He squared his shoulders and blew his smoke straight at the face of the sheriff, as he talked.  What caused it, the sheriff could not tell, this rehabilitation of a fighting man, but he connected the influence of Sinclair with the change.

By this time Sinclair himself was the more restless of the two.  While Arizona sat at ease on the bunk, the tall man ranged up and down the cell, with long, noiseless steps, turning quickly back and forth beside the bars.  He had spent his nervous energy cheering up Arizona, until the latter was filled with a reckless, careless courage.  What would happen Arizona could not guess, but Sinclair had assured him that something would happen, and he trusted implicitly to the word of his tall companion.  Sooner or later he would learn that they were hopeless, and Sinclair dreaded the breakdown which he knew would follow that discovery.

In his heart Sinclair knew that there would be no hope, no chance.  The girl, he felt, had been swept off her feet with some absurd dream of freeing them.  For his own part he had implicit faith in the strength of the toolproof steel of the bars on the one hand, and the gun of the sheriff on the other.  As long as they held, they would keep their prisoners.  The key to freedom was the key to the sheriff’s heart, and Sinclair was too much of a man to whine.

He had come to the end of his trail, and that was evident in the restlessness of his walking to and fro.  The love of the one thing on earth that he cared for was his, according to Arizona, and there was nothing to make the fat man lie.  It seemed to Riley Sinclair that, at the very moment he had set his hands upon priceless gold, the treasure was crumbling to dead sand.  He had lost her by the very thing that won her.

In the midst of his pacing he stopped and lifted his head, just as the sheriff and Arizona did the same thing.  The far-off murmur hummed and moaned toward them, gathering strength.  Then the sheriff pushed back his chair and went to the front of the jail.  They heard him give directions to his deputy to find out what the murmuring meant.  When Kern returned he was patently worried.

“Gents,” he said, “I’ve heard that same sort of a sound twice before, and it means business.”  None of the three spoke again until the door of the jail was burst open, and the deputy came on them, running.

“Kern,” he gasped, as he reached the sheriff, “they’re coming.”


“Every man in Sour Creek.  They tried to get me with ’em.  I told ’em I’d stay and then slipped off.  They want both of these.  They want ’em bad.  They’re going to fight to get ’em!”

“Do they want to grab Arizona and Sinclair?” asked the sheriff, with surprising lack of emotion.  “Don’t think they’re guilty?”

“You’re wrong.  They think they’re sure guilty, and they’re going to lynch ’em.”

He whispered this, but his panting made the words louder than he thought.  Sinclair heard; and by the shudder of Arizona, he knew that his companion had heard as well.

Now came the low-pitched voice of the sheriff:  “Are you with me, Pat?”

The deputy receded.  “Why, man, you ain’t going to fight the whole town?”

“I’d fight the whole town,” said the sheriff smoothly, “but I don’t need you with me.  You’re through, partner.  Close the door soft when you go out!”

Pat made no argument, offered no sentimental protest of devotion.  He was glad of any excuse, and he retreated at once.  After him went the sheriff, and Sinclair heard the heavy door of the jail locked.  Kern came back, carrying a bundle.  Outside, the murmuring had increased at a single leap to a roar.  The rush for the jail was beginning.

Arizona shrank back against the wall, his little eyes glaring desperately at Sinclair, his last hope in the emergency.  But Sinclair looked to the sheriff.  The bundle in the arms of the latter unrolled and showed two cartridge belts, with guns appended.  Next, still in silence, the sheriff unlocked the door to the cell.


The tall cowpuncher leaped beside him.  Arizona skirted away to one side stealthily.

“None of that!” commanded Kern.  “No crooked work, Arizona.  I’m giving you a fighting chance for your lives.”

Here he tossed a gun and belt to Sinclair.  The latter without a word buckled it on.

“Now, quick work, boys,” said the sheriff.  “It’s going to be the second time in my life that prisoners have got away and tied me up.  Understand?  They ain’t going to be no massacre if I can help it.  Gents like Sinclair don’t come in pairs, and he’s going to have a fighting chance.  Boys, tie me up fast and throw me in the corner.  I’ll tell ’em that you slugged me through the bars and got the keys away.  You hear?”

As he spoke he threw Arizona a gun and belt, and the latter imitated Sinclair in buckling it on.  But the fat man then made for the door of the cell.  Outside the rush reached the entrance to the jail and split on it.  The voices leaped into a tumult.

“By thunder,” demanded Arizona, “are you going to wait for that?”

“You want Kern to get into trouble?” asked Sinclair.  “Grab this end and tie his ankles, while I fix his hands.”

Frantically they worked together.

“Are you comfortable, sheriff?”

He lay securely trussed in a corner of the passageway.

“Dead easy, boys.  Now what’s your plan?”

“Is there a back way out?”

“No way in or out but the front door.  You got to wait till they smash it.  There they start now!  Then dive out, as they rush.  They won’t be expecting nothing like that.  But gag me first.”

Hastily Sinclair obeyed.  The door of the jail was shaking and groaning under the attack from without, and the shouts were a steady roar.  Then he hurried to the front of the little building.  Arizona was already there, gun in hand, watching the door bulge under the impact.  Evidently they had caught up a heavy timber, and a dozen men were pounding it against the massive door.  Sinclair caught the gun arm of his companion.

“Fatty,” he said hastily, “gunplay will spoil everything.  We got to take ’em by surprise.  Fast running will save us, maybe.  Fast shooting ain’t any good when it’s one man agin’ fifty, and these boys mean business.”

Arizona reluctantly let his gun drop back in its holster.  He nodded to Sinclair.  The latter gave his directions swiftly, speaking loudly to make his voice carry over the roar of the crowd.

“When the door goes down, which it’ll do pretty pronto, I’ll dive out from this side, and you run from the other side, straight into the crowd.  I’ll turn to the right, and you turn to the left.  The minute you’re around the corner of the building shoot back over your shoulder, or straight into the air.  It’ll make ’em think that you’ve stopped and are going to fight ’em off from the corner.  They’ll take it slow, you can bet.  Then beat it straight on for the cottonwoods behind the blacksmith shop.”

“They’ll drop us the minute we show.”

“Sure, we got the long chance, and nothing more.  Is that good enough for you?”

He was rewarded in the dimness by a glint in the eyes of Arizona, and then the fat man gripped his hand.

“You and me agin’ the world.”

In the meantime the door was bulging in the center under blows of increasing weight.  A second battering ram was now brought into play, and the rain of blows was unceasing.  Still between shocks, the door sprang back, but there was a telltale rattle at every blow.  Finally, as a yell sprang up from the crowd at the sight, the upper hinge snapped loudly, and the door sagged in.  Both timbers were now apparently swung at the same moment.  Under the joint impact the door was literally lifted from its last hinge and hurled inward.  And with it lunged the two battering rams and the men who had wielded them.  They tumbled headlong, carried away by the very weight of their successful blow.

“Now!” called Sinclair, and he sprang with an Indian yell over the heads of the sprawling men in the doorway and into the thick of the crowd.

Half a dozen of the drawn guns whipped up at the sight, but no one could make sure in the half-light of the identity of the man who had dashed out.  Their imaginations placed the two prisoners safely behind the bars inside.  Before they could think twice, a second figure leaped through the doorway and passed them in the opposite direction.

Then they awakened to the fact, but they awakened in confusion.  A dozen shots blazed in either direction, but they were wild, snapshots of men taken off balance.

Two leaps took Sinclair through the thick of the astonished men before him.  He came to the scattering edges and saw a man dive at him.  The cowpuncher beat the butt of his gun into the latter’s face and sped on, whipping around the corner of the little jail, with bullets whistling after him.

His own gun, as he leaped out of sight, he fired into the ground, and he heard a similar shot from the far side of the building.  Those two shots, as he had predicted, checked the pursuers one vital second and kept them milling in front of the jail.  Then they spilled out around the corners, each man running low, his gun ready.

But Sinclair, deep in the darkness of the tree shadows behind the jail, was already out of sight.  He caught a glimpse of Arizona sprinting ahead of him for dear life.  They reached the cottonwoods together and were greeted by a low shout from the girl; she was running out from the shelter, dragging the horses after her.

Arizona went into his saddle with a single leap.  Sinclair paused to take the jump, with his hand on the pommel, and as he lifted himself up with a jump, a gun blazed in point-blank range from the nearest shrubbery.

There was a yell from Arizona, not of pain, but of rage.  They saw his gun glistening in his hand, and, swerving his horse to disturb the aim of the marksman, his weapon’s first report blended with the second shot from the bushes, a tongue of darting flame.  Straight at the flash of a target Arizona had fired, and there was an answering yell.  Out of the dark of the shrubbery a great form leaped, with a grotesque shadow beneath it on the moon-whitened ground.

“Cartwright!” cried Sinclair, as the big man collapsed and became a shapeless, inanimate black heap.

Straight ahead Arizona was already spurring, and Sinclair waved once to the white face of Jig, then shot after his companion, while the trees and shrubbery to their left emitted a sudden swarm of men and barking guns.

But to strike a rapidly moving object with a revolver is never easy, and to strike by the moonlight is difficult indeed.  A dangerous flight of slugs bored the air around the fugitives for the first hundred yards of their flight, but after that the firing ceased, as the men of Sour Creek ran for their horses.

Straight on into the night rode the pair.

One year had made Arizona a little plumper, and one year had drawn Riley Sinclair more lean and somber, when they rode out on the shoulder of a flat-topped mountain and looked down into the hollow, where the late afternoon sun was already sending broad shadows out from every rise of ground.  Sour Creek was a blur and a twinkle of glass in the distance.

“Come to think of it,” said Arizona, “it’s just one year today.  Riley, was it that that brung you back here, and me, unknowing?”

The tall man made no answer, but shaded his eyes to peer down into the valley, and Arizona made no attempt to pursue the conversation.  He was long since accustomed to the silences of his traveling mate.  Seeing that Sinclair showed no disposition either to speak or move, he left the big cowpuncher to himself and started off through the trees in search of game.  The sign of a deer caught his eye and hurried him on into a futile chase, from which he returned in the early dark of the evening.  He was guided by the fire which Sinclair had kindled on the shoulder, but to his surprise, as he drew nearer, the fire dwindled, very much as if Riley had entirely forgotten to replenish it with dry wood.

A year of wild life had sharpened the caution of Arizona.  That neglect of his fire was by no means in keeping with the usual methods of Sinclair.  Before he came to the last spur of the hill, Arizona dismounted and stole up on foot.  He listened intently.  There was not a sound of anyone moving about.  There was only an occasional crackle of the dying fire.  When he came to the edge of the shoulder, Arizona raised his head cautiously to peer over.

He saw a faintly illumined picture of Riley Sinclair, sitting with his hat off, his face raised, and such a light in his face that there needed no play of the fire to tell its meaning.  Beside him sat a girl, more distinct, for she was dressed in white, and the fire gleamed and curled and modeled her hair and cast a highlight on her chin, her throat, and her hand in the brown hand of Sinclair.

Arizona winced down out of sight and stole back under the trees.

“Doggone me,” he said to his horse, “they both remembered the day.”