THE RANGELAND AVENGER
BY MAX BRAND
Originally published in 1922 in Western Story Magazine under the
title of THREE WHO PAID, written under the pseudonym of George Owen
Baxter, and subsequently in book form under the title THE RANGELAND
AVENGER in 1924.
Of the four men, Hal Sinclair was the vital spirit. In the actual labor
of mining, the mighty arms and tireless back Of Quade had been a
treasure. For knowledge of camping, hunting, cooking, and all the lore
of the trail, Lowrie stood as a valuable resource; and Sandersen was
the dreamy, resolute spirit, who had hoped for gold in those mountains
until he came to believe his hope. He had gathered these three
stalwarts to help him to his purpose, and if he lived he would lead yet
others to failure.
Hope never died in this tall, gaunt man, with a pale-blue eye the color
of the horizon dusted with the first morning mist. He was the very
spirit of lost causes, full of apprehensions, foreboding,
superstitions. A hunch might make him journey five hundred miles; a
snort of his horse could make him give up the trail and turn back.
But Hal Sinclair was the antidote for Sandersen. He was still a boy at
thirty—big, handsome, thoughtless, with a heart as clean as new snow.
His throat was so parched by that day's ride that he dared not open his
lips to sing, as he usually did. He compromised by humming songs new
and old, and when his companions cursed his noise, he contented himself
with talking softly to his horse, amply rewarded when the pony
occasionally lifted a tired ear to the familiar voice.
Failure and fear were the blight on the spirit of the rest. They had
found no gold worth looking at twice, and, lingering too long in the
search, they had rashly turned back on a shortcut across the desert.
Two days before, the blow had fallen. They found Sawyer's water hole
nearly dry, just a little pool in the center, with caked, dead mud all
around it. They drained that water dry and struck on. Since then the
water famine had gained a hold on them; another water hole had not a
drop in it. Now they could only aim at the cool, blue mockery of the
mountains before them, praying that the ponies would last to the
Still Hal Sinclair could sing softly to his horse and to himself; and,
though his companions cursed his singing, they blessed him for it in
their hearts. Otherwise the white, listening silence of the desert
would have crushed them; otherwise the lure of the mountains would have
maddened them and made them push on until the horses would have died
within five miles of the labor; otherwise the pain in their slowly
swelling throats would have taken their reason. For thirst in the
desert carries the pangs of several deaths—death from fire,
suffocation, and insanity.
No wonder the three scowled at Hal Sinclair when he drew his revolver.
"My horse is gun-shy," he said, "but I'll bet the rest of you I can
drill a horn off that skull before you do."
Of course it was a foolish challenge. Lowrie was the gun expert of the
party. Indeed he had reached that dangerous point of efficiency with
firearms where a man is apt to reach for his gun to decide an argument.
Now Lowrie followed the direction of Sinclair's gesture. It was the
skull of a steer, with enormous branching horns. The rest of the
skeleton was sinking into the sands.
"Don't talk fool talk," said Lowrie. "Save your wind and your
ammunition. You may need 'em for yourself, son!"
That grim suggestion made Sandersen and Quade shudder. But a grin
spread on the broad, ugly face of Lowrie, and Sinclair merely shrugged
"I'll try you for a dollar."
"You're afraid to try, Lowrie!"
It was a smiling challenge, but Lowrie flushed. He had a childish pride
in his skill with weapons.
"All right, kid. Get ready!"
He brought a Colt smoothly into his hand and balanced it dexterously,
swinging it back and forth between his eyes and the target to make
ready for a snap shot.
"Ready!" cried Hal Sinclair excitedly.
Lowrie's gun spoke first, and it was the only one that was fired, for
Sinclair's horse was gun-shy indeed. At the explosion he pitched
straight into the air with a squeal of mustang fright and came down
bucking. The others forgot to look for the results of Lowrie's shot.
They reined their horses away from the pitching broncho disgustedly.
Sinclair was a fool to use up the last of his mustang's strength in
this manner. But Hal Sinclair had forgotten the journey ahead. He was
rioting in the new excitement cheering the broncho to new exertions.
And it was in the midst of that flurry of action that the great blow
fell. The horse stuck his right forefoot into a hole.
To the eyes of the others it seemed to happen slowly. The mustang was
halted in the midst of a leap, tugged at a leg that seemed glued to the
ground, and then buckled suddenly and collapsed on one side. They heard
that awful, muffled sound of splintering bone and then the scream of
the tortured horse.
But they gave no heed to that. Hal Sinclair in the fall had been pinned
beneath his mount. The huge strength of Quade sufficed to budge the
writhing mustang. Lowrie and Sandersen drew Sinclair's pinioned right
leg clear and stretched him on the sand.
It was Lowrie who shot the horse.
"You've done a brown turn," said Sandersen fiercely to the prostrate
figure of Sinclair. "Four men and three hosses. A fine partner you are,
"Shut up," said Hal. "Do something for that foot of mine."
Lowrie cut the boot away dexterously and turned out the foot. It was
painfully twisted to one side and lay limp on the sand.
"Do something!" said Sinclair, groaning.
The three looked at him, at the dead horse, at the white-hot desert, at
the distant, blue mountains.
"What the devil can we do? You've spoiled all our chances, Sinclair."
"Ride on then and forget me! But tie up that foot before you go. I
can't stand it!"
Silently, with ugly looks, they obeyed. Secretly every one of the three
was saying to himself that this folly of Sinclair's had ruined all
their chances of getting free from the sands alive. They looked across
at the skull of the steer. It was still there, very close. It seemed to
have grown larger, with a horrible significance. And each instinctively
put a man's skull beside it, bleached and white, with shadow eyes.
Quade did the actual bandaging of Sinclair's foot, drawing tight above
the ankle, so that some of the circulation was shut off; but it eased
the pain, and now Sinclair sat up.
"I'm sorry," he said, "mighty sorry, boys!"
There was no answer. He saw by their lowered eyes that they were hating
him. He felt it in the savage grip of their hands, as they lifted him
and put him into Quade's saddle. Quade was the largest, and it was
mutely accepted that he should be the first to walk, while Sinclair
rode. It was accepted by all except Quade, that is to say. That big man
strode beside his horse, lifting his eyes now and then to glare
remorselessly at Sinclair.
It was bitter work walking through that sand. The heel crunched into
it, throwing a strain heavily on the back of the thigh, and then the
ball of the foot slipped back in the midst of a stride. Also the labor
raised the temperature of the body incredibly. With no wind stirring it
And the day was barely beginning!
Barely two hours before the sun had been merely a red ball on the edge
of the desert. Now it was low in the sky, but bitterly hot. And their
mournful glances presaged the horror that was coming in the middle of
Deadly silence fell on that group. They took their turns by the watch,
half an hour at a time, walking and then changing horses, and, as each
man took his turn on foot, he cast one long glance of hatred at
He was beginning to know them for the first time. They were chance
acquaintances. The whole trip had been undertaken by him on the spur of
the moment; and, as far as lay in his cheery, thoughtless nature, he
had come to regret it. The work of the trail had taught him that he was
mismated in this company, and the first stern test was stripping the
masks from them. He saw three ugly natures, three small, cruel souls.
It came Sandersen's turn to walk.
"Maybe I could take a turn walking," suggested Sinclair.
It was the first time in his life that he had had to shift any burden
onto the shoulders of another except his brother, and that was
different. Ah, how different! He sent up one brief prayer for Riley
Sinclair. There was a man who would have walked all day that his
brother might ride, and at the end of the day that man of iron would be
as fresh as those who had ridden. Moreover, there would have been no
questions, no spite, but a free giving. Mutely he swore that he would
hereafter judge all men by the stern and honorable spirit of Riley.
And then that sad offer: "Maybe I could take a turn walking, Sandersen.
I could hold on to a stirrup and hop along some way!"
Lowrie and Quade sneered, and Sandersen retorted fiercely: "Shut up!
You know it ain't possible, but I ought to call your bluff."
He had no answer, for it was not possible. The twisted foot was a
In another half hour he asked for water, as they paused for Sandersen
to mount, and Lowrie to take his turn on foot. Sandersen snatched the
canteen which Quade reluctantly passed to the injured man.
"Look here!" said Sandersen. "We got to split up on this. You sit there
and ride and take it easy. Me and the rest has to go through hell. You
take some of the hell yourself. You ride, but we'll have the water, and
they ain't much of it left at that!"
Sinclair glanced helplessly at the others. Their faces were set in
Slowly the sun crawled up to the center of the sky and stuck there for
endless hours, it seemed, pouring down a fiercer heat. And the
foothills still wavered in blue outlines that meant distance—terrible
Out of the east came a cloud of dust. The restless eye of Sandersen saw
it first, and a harsh shout of joy came from the others. Quade was
walking. He lifted his arms to the cloud of dust as if it were a vision
of mercy. To Hal Sinclair it seemed that cold water was already running
over his tongue and over the hot torment of his foot. But, after that
first cry of hoarse joy, a silence was on the others, and gradually he
saw a shadow gather.
"It ain't wagons," said Lowrie bitterly at length. "And it ain't
riders; it comes too fast for that. And it ain't the wind; it comes too
slow. But it ain't men. You can lay to that!"
Still they hoped against hope until the growing cloud parted and lifted
enough for them to see a band of wild horses sweeping along at a steady
lope. They sighted the men and veered swiftly to the left. A moment
later there was only a thin trail of flying dust before the four. Three
pairs of eyes turned on Sinclair and silently cursed him as if this
were his fault.
"Those horses are aiming at water," he said. "Can't we follow 'em?"
"They're aiming for a hole fifty miles away. No, we can't follow 'em!"
They started on again, and now, after that cruel moment of hope, it was
redoubled labor. Quade was cursing thickly with every other step. When
it came his turn to ride he drew Lowrie to one side, and they conversed
long together, with side glances at Sinclair.
Vaguely he guessed the trend of their conversation, and vaguely he
suspected their treacherous meanness. Yet he dared not speak, even had
his pride permitted.
It was the same story over again when Lowrie walked. Quade rode aside
with Sandersen, and again, with the wolfish side glances, they eyed the
injured man, while they talked. At the next halt they faced him.
Sandersen was the spokesman.
"We've about made up our minds, Hal," he said deliberately, "that you
got to be dropped behind for a time. We're going on to find water. When
we find it we'll come back and get you. Understand?"
Sinclair moistened his lips, but said nothing.
Then Sandersen's voice grew screechy with sudden passion. "Say, do you
want three men to die for one? Besides, what good could we do?"
"You don't mean it," declared Sinclair. "Sandersen, you don't mean it!
Not alone out here! You boys can't leave me out here stranded. Might as
well shoot me!"
All were silent. Sandersen looked to Lowrie, and the latter stared at
the sand. It was Quade who acted.
Stepping to the side of Sinclair he lifted him easily in his powerful
arms and lowered him to the sands. "Now, keep your nerve," he advised.
"We're coming back."
He stumbled a little over the words. "It's all of us or none of us," he
said. "Come on, boys. My conscience is clear!"
They turned their horses hastily to the hills, and, when the voice of
Sinclair rang after them, not one dared turn his head.
"Partners, for the sake of all the work we've done together—don't do
In a shuddering unison they spurred their horses and raised the weary
brutes into a gallop; the voice faded into a wail behind them. And
still they did not look back.
For that matter they dared not look at one another, but pressed on,
their eyes riveted to the hills. Once Lowrie turned his head to mark
the position of the sun. Once Sandersen, in the grip of some passion of
remorse or of fear of death, bowed his head with a strange moan. But,
aside from that, there was no sound or sign between them until, hardly
an hour and a half after leaving Sinclair, they found water.
At first they thought it was a mirage. They turned away from it by
mutual assent. But the horses had scented drink, and they became
unmanageable. Five minutes later the animals were up to their knees in
the muddy water, and the men were floundering breast deep, drinking,
After that they sat about the brink staring at one another in a stunned
fashion. There seemed no joy in that delivery, for some reason.
"I guess Sinclair will be a pretty happy gent when he sees us coming
back," said Sandersen, smiling faintly.
There was no response from the others for a moment. Then they began to
justify themselves hotly.
"It was your idea, Quade."
"Why, curse your soul, weren't you glad to take the idea? Are you going
to blame it on to me?"
"What's the blame?" asked Lowrie. "Ain't we going to bring him water?"
"Suppose he ever tells we left him? We'd have to leave these parts
"He'll never tell. We'll swear him."
"If he does talk, I'll stop him pretty sudden," said Lowrie, tapping
his holster significantly.
"Will you? What if he puts that brother of his on your trail?"
Lowrie swallowed hard. "Well—" he began, but said no more.
They mounted in a new silence and took the back trail slowly. Not until
the evening began to fall did they hurry, for fear the darkness would
make them lose the position of their comrade. When they were quite near
the place, the semidarkness had come, and Quade began to shout in his
tremendous voice. Then they would listen, and sometimes they heard an
echo, or a voice like an echo, always at a great distance.
"Maybe he's started crawling and gone the wrong way. He should have sat
still," said Lowrie, "because—"
"Oh, Lord," broke in Sandersen, "I knew it! I been seeing it all the
way!" He pointed to a figure of a man lying on his back in the sand,
with his arms thrown out crosswise. They dismounted and found Hal
Sinclair dead and cold. Perhaps the insanity of thirst had taken him;
perhaps he had figured it out methodically that it was better to end
things before the madness came. There was a certain stern repose about
his face that favored this supposition. He seemed much older. But,
whatever the reason, Hal Sinclair had shot himself cleanly through the
"You see that face?" asked Lowrie with curious quiet. "Take a good
look. You'll see it ag'in."
A superstitious horror seized on Sandersen. "What d'you mean, Lowrie?
What d'you mean?"
"I mean this! The way he looks now he's a ringer for Riley Sinclair.
And, you mark me, we're all going to see Riley Sinclair, face to face,
before we die!"
"He'll never know," said Quade, the stolid. "Who knows except us? And
will one of us ever talk?" He laughed at the idea.
"I dunno," whispered Sandersen. "I dunno, gents. But we done an awful
thing, and we're going to pay—we're going to pay!"
Their trails divided after that. Sandersen and Quade started back for
Sour Creek. At the parting of the ways Lowrie's last word was for
"You started this party, Sandersen. If they's any hell coming out of
it, it'll fall chiefly on you. Remember, because I got one of your own
After that Lowrie headed straight across the mountains, traveling as
much by instinct as by landmarks. He was one of those men who are born
to the trail. He stopped in at Four Pines, and there he told the story
on which he and Sandersen and Quade had agreed. Four Pines would spread
that tale by telegraph, and Riley Sinclair would be advised beforehand.
Lowrie had no desire to tell the gunfighter in person of the passing of
Hal Sinclair. Certainly he would not be the first man to tell the
He reached Colma late in the afternoon, and a group instantly formed
around him on the veranda of the old hotel. Four Pines had indeed
spread the story, and the crowd wanted verification. He replied as
smoothly as he could. Hal Sinclair had broken his leg in a fall from
his horse, and they had bound it up as well as they could. They had
tied him on his horse, but he could not endure the pain of travel. They
stopped, nearly dying from thirst. Mortification set in. Hal Sinclair
died in forty-eight hours after the halt.
Four Pines had accepted the tale. There had been more deadly stories
than this connected with the desert. But Pop Hansen, the proprietor,
drew Lowrie to one side.
"Keep out of Riley's way for a while. He's all het up. He was fond of
Hal, you know, and he takes this bad. Got an ugly way of asking
"The truth is the truth," protested Lowrie. "Besides—"
"I know—I know. But jest make yourself scarce for a couple of days."
"I'll keep on going, Pop. Thanks!"
"Never mind, ain't no hurry. Riley's out of town and won't be back for
a day or so. But, speaking personal, I'd rather step into a nest of
rattlers than talk to Riley, the way he's feeling now."
Lowrie climbed slowly up the stairs to his room, thinking very hard. He
knew the repute of Riley Sinclair, and he knew the man to be even worse
than reputation, one of those stern souls who exact an eye for an
eye—and even a little more.
Once in his room he threw himself on his bed. After all there was no
need for a panic. No one would ever learn the truth. To make surety
doubly sure he would start early in the dawn and strike out for far
trails. The thought had hardly come to him when he dismissed it. A
flight would call down suspicion on him, and Riley Sinclair would be
the first to suspect. In that case distance would not save him, not
from that hard and tireless rider.
To help compose his thoughts he went to the washstand and bathed his
hot face. He was drying himself when there was a tap on the door.
"Can I come in?" asked a shrill voice.
He answered in the affirmative, and a youngster stepped into the room.
"They's a gent downstairs wants you to come down and see him."
"Who is it?"
"I dunno. We just moved in from Conway. I can point him out to you on
Lowrie followed the boy to the window, and there, surrounded by half a
dozen serious-faced men, stood Riley Sinclair, tall, easy, formidable.
The sight of Sinclair filled Lowrie with dismay. Pushing a silver coin
into the hand of the boy, he said: "Tell him—tell him—I'm coming
As soon as the boy disappeared, Lowrie ran to the window which opened
on the side of the house. When he looked down his hope fled. At one
time there had been a lean-to shed running along that side of the
building. By the roof of it he could have got to the ground unseen. Now
he remembered that it had been torn down the year before; there was a
straight and perilous drop beneath the window. As for the stairs, they
led almost to the front door of the building. Sinclair would be sure to
see him if he went down there.
Of the purpose of the big man he had no doubt. His black guilt was so
apparent to his own mind that it seemed impossible that the keen eyes
of Sinclair had not looked into the story of Hal's broken leg and seen
a lie. Besides, the invitation through a messenger seemed a hollow
lure. Sinclair wished to fight him and kill him before witnesses who
would attest that Lowrie had been the first to go for his gun.
Fight? Lowrie looked down at his hand and found that the very wrist was
quivering. Even at his best he felt that he would have no chance. Once
he had seen Sinclair in action in Lew Murphy's old saloon, had seen Red
Jordan get the drop, and had watched Sinclair shoot his man
deliberately through the shoulder. Red Jordan was a cripple for life.
Suppose he walked boldly down, told his story, and trusted to the skill
of his lie? No, he knew his color would pale if he faced Sinclair.
Suppose he refused to fight? Better to die than be shamed in the
He hurried to the window for another look into the street, and he found
that Sinclair had disappeared. Lowrie's knees buckled under his weight.
He went over to the bed, with short steps like a drunken man, and
lowered himself down on it.
Sinclair had gone into the hotel, and doubtless that meant that he had
grown impatient. The fever to kill was burning in the big man. Then
Lowrie heard a steady step come regularly up the stairs. They creaked
under a heavy weight.
Lowrie drew his gun. It caught twice; finally he jerked it out in a
frenzy. He would shoot when the door opened, without waiting, and then
trust to luck to fight his way through the men below.
In the meantime the muzzle of the revolver wabbled crazily from side to
side, up and down. He clutched the barrel with the other hand. And
still the weapon shook.
Curling up his knee before his breast he ground down with both hands.
That gave him more steadiness; but would not this contorted position
destroy all chance of shooting accurately? His own prophecy, made over
the dead body of Hal Sinclair, that all three of them would see that
face again, came back to him with a sense of fatality. Some
forward-looking instinct, he assured himself, had given him that
The step upon the stairs came up steadily. But the mind of Lowrie,
between the steps, leaped hither and yon, a thousand miles and back.
What if his nerve failed him at the last moment? What if he buckled and
showed yellow and the shame of it followed him? Better a hundred times
to die by his own hand.
Excitement, foreboding, the weariness of the long trail—all were
working upon Lowrie.
Nearer drew the step. It seemed an hour since he had first heard it
begin to climb the stairs. It sounded heavily on the floor outside his
door. There was a heavy tapping on the door itself. For an instant the
clutch of Lowrie froze around his gun; then he twitched the muzzle back
against his own breast and fired.
There was no pain—only a sense of numbness and a vague feeling of torn
muscles, as if they were extraneous matter. He dropped the revolver on
the bed and pressed both hands against his wound. Then the door opened,
and there appeared, not Riley Sinclair, but Pop Hansen.
"What in thunder—" he began.
"Get Riley Sinclair. There's been an accident," said Lowrie faintly and
huskily. "Get Riley Sinclair; quick. I got something to say to him."
Riley Sinclair rode over the mountain. An hour of stern climbing lay
behind him, but it was not sympathy for his tired horse that made him
draw rein. Sympathy was not readily on tap in Riley's nature.
"Hossflesh" to Riley was purely and simply a means to an end. Neither
had he paused to enjoy that mystery of change which comes over
mountains between late afternoon and early evening. His keen eyes
answered all his purposes, and that they had never learned to see blue
in shadows meant nothing to Riley Sinclair.
If he looked kindly upon the foothills, which stepped down from the
peaks to the valley lands, it was because they meant an easy descent.
Riley took thorough stock of his surroundings, for it was a new
country. Yonder, where the slant sun glanced and blinked on windows,
must be Sour Creek; and there was the road to town jagging across the
hills. Riley sighed.
In his heart he despised that valley. There were black patches of
plowed land. A scattering of houses began in the foothills and
thickened toward Sour Creek. How could men remain there, where there
was so little elbow room? He scowled down into the shadow of the
valley. Small country, small men.
Pictures failed to hold Riley, but, as he sat the saddle, hand on
thigh, and looked scornfully toward Sour Creek, he was himself a
picture to make one's head lift. As a rule the horse comes in for as
much attention as the rider, but when Riley Sinclair came near, people
saw the man and nothing else. Not because he was good-looking, but
because one became suddenly aware of some hundred and eighty pounds of
lithe, tough muscle and a domineering face.
Somewhere behind his eyes there was a faint glint of humor. That was
the only soft touch about him. He was in that hard age between thirty
and thirty-five when people are still young, but have lost the
illusions of youth. And, indeed, that was exactly the word which people
in haste used to describe Riley Sinclair—"hard."
Having once resigned himself to the descent into that cramped country
beneath he at once banished all regret. First he picked out his
objective, a house some distance away, near the road, and then he
brought his mustang up on the bit with a touch of the spurs. Then,
having established the taut rein which he preferred, he sent the cow
pony down the slope. It was plain that the mustang hated its rider; it
was equally plain that Sinclair was in perfect touch with his horse,
what with the stern wrist pulling against the bit, and the spurs
keeping the pony up on it. In spite of his bulk he was not heavy in the
saddle, for he kept in tune with the gait of the horse, with that sway
of the body which lightens burdens. A capable rider, he was so
judicious that he seemed reckless.
Leaving the mountainside, he struck at a trot across a tableland. Some
mysterious instinct enabled him to guide the pony without glancing once
at the ground; for Sinclair, with his head high, was now carefully
examining the house before him. Twice a cluster of trees obscured it,
and each time, as it came again more closely in view, the eye of Riley
Sinclair brightened with certainty. At length, nodding slightly to
express his conviction, he sent the pony into the shelter of a little
grove overlooking the house. From this shelter, still giving half his
attention to his objective, he ran swiftly over his weapons. The pair
of long pistols came smoothly into his hands, to be weighed nicely, and
have their cylinders spun. Then the rifle came out of its case, and its
magazine was looked to thoroughly before it was returned.
This done, the rider seemed in no peculiar haste to go on. He merely
pushed the horse into a position from which he commanded all the
environs of the house; then he sat still as a hawk hovering in a
Presently the door of the little shack opened, and two men came out and
walked down the path toward the road, talking earnestly. One was as
tall as Riley Sinclair, but heavier; the other was a little, slight
man. He went to a sleepy pony at the end of the path and slowly
gathered the reins. Plainly he was troubled, and apparently it was the
big man who had troubled him. For now he turned and cast out his hand
toward the other, speaking rapidly, in the manner of one making a last
appeal. Only the murmur of that voice drifted up to Riley Sinclair, but
the loud laughter of the big man drove clearly to him. The smaller of
the two mounted and rode away with dejected head, while the other
remained with arms folded, looking after him.
He seemed to be chuckling at the little man, and indeed there was
cause, for Riley had never seen a rider so completely out of place in a
saddle. When the pony presently broke into a soft lope it caused the
elbows of the little man to flop like wings. Like a great clumsy bird
he winged his way out of view beyond the edge of the hilltop.
The big man continued to stand with his arms folded, looking in the
direction in which the other had disappeared; he was still shaking with
mirth. When he eventually turned, Riley Sinclair was riding down on him
at a sharp gallop. Strangers do not pass ungreeted in the mountain
desert. There was a wave of the arm to Riley, and he responded by
bringing his horse to a trot, then reining in close to the big man. At
close hand he seemed even larger than from a distance, a burly figure
with ludicrously inadequate support from the narrow-heeled riding
boots. He looked sharply at Riley Sinclair, but his first speech was
for the hard-ridden pony.
"You been putting your hoss through a grind, I see, stranger."
The mustang had slumped into a position of rest, his sides heaving.
"Most generally," said Riley Sinclair, "when I climb into a saddle it
ain't for pleasure—it's to get somewhere."
His voice was surprisingly pleasant. He spoke very deliberately, so
that one felt occasionally that he was pausing to find the right words.
And, in addition to the quality of that deep voice, he had an
impersonal way of looking his interlocutor squarely in the eye, a habit
that pleased the men of the mountain desert. On this occasion his
companion responded at once with a grin. He was a younger man than
Riley Sinclair, but he gave an impression of as much hardness as Riley
"Maybe you'll be sliding out of the saddle for a minute?" he asked.
"Got some pretty fair hooch in the house."
"Thanks, partner, but I'm due over to Sour Creek by night. I guess
that's Sour Creek over the hill?"
"Yep. New to these parts?"
"Sort of new."
Riley's noncommittal attitude was by no means displeasing to the larger
man. His rather brutally handsome face continued to light, as if he
were recognizing in Riley Sinclair a man of his own caliber.
"You're from yonder?"
"Across the mountains."
"You travel light."
His eyes were running over Riley's meager equipment. Sinclair had been
known to strike across the desert loaded with nothing more than a
rifle, ammunition, and water. Other things were nonessentials to him,
and it was hardly likely that he would put much extra weight on a
horse. The only concession to animal comfort, in fact, was the slicker
rolled snugly behind the saddle. He was one of those rare Westerners to
whom coffee on the trail is not the staff of life. As long as he had a
gun he could get meat, and as long as he could get meat, he cared
little about other niceties of diet. On a long trip his "extras" were
usually confined to a couple of bags of strength-giving grain for his
"Maybe you'd know the gent I'm down here looking for?" asked Riley.
"Happen to know Ollie Quade—Oliver Quade?"
"Sort of know him, yep."
Riley went on explaining blandly "You see, I'm carrying him a sort of a
"H'm," said the big man, and he watched Riley, his eyes grown suddenly
alert, his glance shifting from hand to face with catlike uncertainty.
"Yep," resumed Sinclair in a rambling vein. "I come from a gent that
used to be a pal of his. Name is Sam Lowrie."
"Sam Lowrie!" exclaimed the other. "You a friend of Sam's?"
"I was the only gent with him when he died," said Sinclair simply.
"Dead!" said the other heavily. "Sam dead!"
"You must of been pretty thick with him," declared Riley.
"Man, I'm Quade. Lowrie was my bunkie!"
He came close to Sinclair, raising an eager face. "How'd Lowrie go
"Pretty peaceful—boots off—everything comfortable."
"He give you a message for me?"
"Yep, about a gent called Sinclair—Hal Sinclair, I think it was."
Immediately he turned his eyes away, as if he were striving to
recollect accurately. Covertly he sent a side glance at Quade and found
him scowling suspiciously. When he turned his head again, his eye was
as clear as the eye of a child. "Yep," he said, "that was the name—Hal
"What about Hal Sinclair?" asked Quade gruffly.
"Seems like Sinclair was on Lowrie's conscience," said Riley in the
same unperturbed voice.
"You don't say so!"
"I'll tell you what he told me. Maybe he was just raving, for he had a
sort of fever before he went out. He said that you and him and Hal
Sinclair and Bill Sandersen all went out prospecting. You got stuck
clean out in the desert, Lowrie said, and you hit for water. Then
Sinclair's hoss busted his leg in a hole. The fall smashed up
Sinclair's foot. The four of you went on, Sinclair riding one hoss, and
the rest of you taking turns with the third one. Without water the
hosses got weak, and you gents got pretty badly scared, Lowrie said.
Finally you and Sandersen figured that Sinclair had got to get off, but
Sinclair couldn't walk. So the three of you made up your minds to leave
him and make a dash for water. You got to water, all right, and in
three hours you went back for Sinclair. But he'd given up hope and shot
himself, sooner'n die of thirst, Lowrie said."
The horrible story came slowly from the lips of Riley Sinclair. There
was not the slightest emotion in his face until Quade rubbed his
knuckles across his wet forehead. Then there was the faintest jutting
out of Riley's jaw.
"Lowrie was sure raving," said Quade.
Sinclair looked carelessly down at the gray face of Quade. "I guess
maybe he was, but what he asked me to say was: 'Hell is sure coming to
what you boys done.'"
"He thought about that might late," replied Quade. "Waited till he
could shift the blame on me and Sandersen, eh? To hell with Lowrie!"
"Maybe he's there, all right," said Sinclair, shrugging. "But I've got
rid of the yarn, anyway."
"Are you going to spread that story around in Sour Creek?" asked Quade
"Me? Why, that story was told me confidential by a gent that was about
to go out!"
Riley's frank manner disarmed Quade in a measure.
"Kind of queer, me running on to you like this, ain't it?" he went on.
"Well, you're fixed up sort of comfortable up here. Nice little shack,
partner. And I suppose you got a wife and kids and everything? Pretty
lucky, I'd call you!"
Quade was glad of an opportunity to change the subject. "No wife yet!"
"Living up here all alone?"
"Nothing! Thought maybe you'd find it sort of lonesome."
Back to the dismissed subject Quade returned, with the persistence of a
guilty conscience. "Say," he said, "while we're talking about it, you
don't happen to believe what Lowrie said?"
"Lowrie was pretty sick; maybe he was raving. So you're all along up
here? Nobody near?"
His restless, impatient eye ran over the surroundings. There was not a
soul in sight. The mountains were growing stark and black against the
flush of the western sky. His glance fell back upon Quade.
"But how did Lowrie happen to die?"
"He got shot."
"Did a gang drop him?"
"Nope, just one gent."
"You don't say! But Lowrie was a pretty slick hand with a gun—next to
Bill Sandersen, the best I ever seen, almost! Somebody got the drop on
"Nope, he killed himself!"
Quade gasped. "Suicide?"
"I'll tell you how it was. He seen a gent coming. In fact he looked out
of the window of his hotel and seen Riley Sinclair, and he figured that
Riley had come to get him for what happened to his brother, Hal. Lowrie
got sort of excited, lost his nerve, and when the hotel keeper come
upstairs, Lowrie thought it was Sinclair, and he didn't wait. He shot
"You seem to know a pile," said Quade thoughtfully.
"Well, you see, I'm Riley Sinclair." Still he smiled, but Quade was as
one who had seen a ghost.
"I had to make sure that you was alone. I had to make sure that you was
guilty. And you are, Quade. Don't do that!"
The hand of Quade slipped around the butt of his gun and clung there.
"You ain't fit for a gun fight right now," went on Riley Sinclair
slowly. "You're all shaking, Quade, and you couldn't hit the side of
the mountain, let alone me. Wait a minute. Take your time. Get all
settled down and wait till your hand stops shaking."
Quade moistened his white lips and waited.
"You give Hal plenty of time," resumed Riley Sinclair. "Since Lowrie
told me that yarn I been wondering how Hal felt when you and the other
two left him alone. You know, a gent can do some pretty stiff thinking
before he makes up his mind to blow his head off."
His tone was quite conversational.
"Queer thing how I come to blunder into all this information, partner.
I come into a room where Lowrie was. The minute he heard my name he
figured I was after him on account of Hal. Up he comes with his gun
like a flash. Afterward he told me all about it, and I give him a
pretty fine funeral. I'll do the same by you, Quade. How you feeling
"Curse you!" exclaimed Quade.
"Maybe I'm cursed, right enough, but, Quade, I'd let 'em burn me, inch
by inch in a fire, before I'd quit a partner, a bunkie in the desert!
You hear? It's a queer thing that a gent could have much pleasure out
of plugging another gent full of lead. I've had that pleasure once; and
I'm going to have it again. I'm going to kill you, Quade, but I wish
there was a slower way! Pull your gun!"
That last came out with a snap, and the revolver of Quade flicked out
of its holster with a convulsive jerk of the big man's wrist. Yet the
spit of fire came from Riley Sinclair's weapon, slipping smoothly into
his hand. Quade did not fall. He stood with a bewildered expression, as
a man trying to remember something hidden far in the past; and Sinclair
fingered the butt of his gun lightly and waited. It was rather a
crumbling than a fall. The big body literally slumped down into a heap.
Sinclair reached down without dismounting and pulled the body over on
"Because," he explained to what had been a strong man the moment
before, "when the devil comes to you, I want the old boy to see your
face, Quade! Git on, old boss!"
As he rode down the trail toward Sour Creek he carefully and deftly
cleaned his revolver and reloaded the empty chamber.
Perhaps, in the final analysis, Riley Sinclair would not be condemned
for the death of Lowrie or the killing of Quade, but for singing on the
trail to Sour Creek. And sing he did, his voice ringing from hill to
hill, and the echoes barking back to him, now and again.
He was not silent until he came to Sour Creek. At the head of the long,
winding, single street he drew the mustang to a tired walk. It was a
very peaceful moment in the little town Yonder a dog barked and a
coyote howled a thin answer far away, but, aside from these, all other
sounds were the happy noises of families at the end of a day. From
every house they floated out to him, the clamor of children, the deep
laughter of a man, the loud rattle of pans in the kitchen.
"This ain't so bad," Riley Sinclair said aloud and roused the mustang
cruelly to a gallop, the hoofs of his mount splashing through inches of
The heaviness of the gallop told him that his horse was plainly spent
and would not be capable of a long run before the morning. Riley
Sinclair accepted the inevitable with a sigh. All his strong instincts
cried out to find Sandersen and, having found him, to shoot him and
flee. Yet he had a sense of fatality connected with Sandersen. Lowrie's
own conscience had betrayed him, and his craven fear had been his
executioner. Quade had been shot in a fair fight with not a soul near
by. But, at the third time, Sinclair felt reasonably sure that his luck
would fail him. The third time the world would be very apt to brand him
It was a bad affair, and he wanted to get it done. This stay in Sour
Creek was entirely against his will. Accordingly he put the mustang in
the stable behind the hotel, looked to his feed, and then went slowly
back to get a room. He registered and went in silence up to his room.
If there had been the need, he could have kept on riding for a
twenty-hour stretch, but the moment he found his journey interrupted,
he flung himself on the bed, his arms thrown out crosswise, crucified
In the meantime the proprietor returned to his desk to find a long,
gaunt man leaning above the register, one brown finger tracing a name.
"Looking for somebody, Sandersen?" he asked. "Know this gent Sinclair?"
"Face looked kind of familiar to me," said the other, who had jerked
his head up from the study of the register. "Somehow I don't tie that
name up with the face."
"Maybe not," said the proprietor. "Maybe he ain't Riley Sinclair of
Colma; maybe he's somebody else."
"Traveling strange, you mean?" asked Sandersen.
"I dunno, Bill, but he looks like a hard one. He's got one of them
nervous right hands."
"I dunno. I'm not saying anything about what he is or what he ain't.
But, if a gent was to come in here and tell me a pretty strong yarn
about Riley Sinclair, or whatever his name might be, I wouldn't incline
to doubt of it, would you, Bill?"
"Maybe I would, and maybe I wouldn't," answered Bill Sandersen
He went out onto the veranda and squinted thoughtfully into the
darkness. Bill Sandersen was worried—very worried. The moment he saw
Sinclair enter the hotel, there had been a ghostly familiarity about
the man. And he understood the reason for it as soon as he saw the name
on the register. Sinclair! The name carried him back to the picture of
the man who lay on his back, with the soft sands already half burying
his body, and the round, purple blur in the center of his forehead. In
a way it was as if Hal Sinclair had come back to Me in a new and more
terrible form, come back as an avenger.
Bill Sandersen was not an evil man, and his sin against Hal Sinclair
had its qualifying circumstances. At least he had been only one of
three, all of whom had concurred in the thing. He devoutly wished that
the thing were to be done over again. He swore to himself that in such
a case he would stick with his companion, no matter who deserted. But
what had brought this Riley Sinclair all the way from Colma to Sour
Creek, if it were not an errand of vengeance?
A sense of guilt troubled the mind of Bill Sandersen, but the obvious
thing was to find out the reason for Sinclair's presence in Sour Creek.
Sandersen crossed the street to the newly installed telegraph office.
He had one intimate friend in the far-off town of Colma, and to that
friend he now addressed a telegram.
* * * * *
Rush back all news you have about man calling self Riley Sinclair of
Colma—over six feet tall, weight hundred and eighty, complexion dark,
* * * * *
There was enough meat in that telegram to make the operator rise his
head and glance with sharpened eyes at the patron. Bill Sandersen
returned that glance with so much interest that the operator lowered
his head again and made a mental oath that he would let the Westerners
run the West.
With that telegram working for him in far-off Colma, Bill Sandersen
started out to gather what information he could in Sour Creek. He
drifted from the blacksmith shop to the kitchen of Mrs. Mary Caluson,
but both these brimming reservoirs of news had this day run dry. Mrs.
Caluson vaguely remembered a Riley Sinclair, a man who fought for the
sheer love of fighting. A grim fellow!
Pete Handley, the blacksmith, had even less to say. He also, he
averred, had heard of a Riley Sinclair, a man of action, but he could
not remember in what sense. Vaguely he seemed to recall that there had
been something about guns connected with the name of Riley Sinclair.
Meager information on which to build, but, having seen this man, Bill
Sandersen said the less and thought the more. In a couple of hours he
went back through the night to the telegraph office and found that his
Colma friend had been unbelievably prompt. The telegram had been sent
"collect," and Bill Sandersen groaned as he paid the bill. But when he
opened the telegram he did not begrudge the money.
Riley Sinclair is harder than he looks, but absolutely honest and will
pay fairer than anybody. Avoid all trouble. Trust his word, but not his
temper. Gunfighter, but not a bully. By the way, your pal Lowrie shot
himself last week.
The long fingers of Bill Sandersen slowly gathered the telegram into a
ball and crushed it against the palm of his hand. That ball he
presently unraveled to reread the telegram; he studied it word by word.
It made Sandersen wish to go straight to the gunfighter, put his cards
on the table, confess what he had done to Sinclair's brother, and then
express his sorrow. Then he remembered the cruel, lean face of Sinclair
and the impatient eyes. He would probably be shot before he had half
finished his story of the gruesome trip through the desert. Already
Lowrie was dead. Even a child could have put two and two together and
seen that Sinclair had come to Sour Creek on a mission of vengeance.
Sandersen was himself a fighter, and, being a fighter, he knew that in
Riley Sinclair he would meet the better man.
But two good men were better than one, even if the one were an expert.
Sandersen went straight to the barn behind his shack, saddled his
horse, and spurred out along the north road to Quade's house. Once
warned, they would be doubly armed, and, standing back to back, they
could safely defy the marauder from the north.
There was no light in Quade's house, but there was just a chance that
the owner had gone to bed early. Bill Sandersen dismounted to find out,
and dismounting, he stumbled across a soft, inert mass in the path. A
moment later he was on his knees, and the flame of the sulphur match
sputtered a blue light into the dead face of Quade, staring upward to
the stars. Bill Sandersen remained there until the match singed his
All doubt was gone now. Lowrie and Quade were both gone; and he,
Sandersen, alone remained, the third and last of the guilty. His first
strong impulse, after his agitation had diminished to such a point that
he was able to think clearly again, was to flee headlong into the night
and keep on, changing horses at every town he reached until he was over
the mountains and buried in the shifting masses of life in some great
And then he recalled Riley Sinclair, lean and long as a hound. Such a
man would be terrible on the trail—tireless, certainly. Besides there
was the horror of flight, almost more awful than the immediate fear of
death. Once he turned his back to flee from Riley Sinclair, the
gunfighter would become a nightmare that would haunt him the rest of
his life. No matter where he fled, every footstep behind him would be
the footfall of Riley Sinclair, and behind every closed door would
stand the same ominous figure. On the other hand if he went back and
faced Sinclair he might reduce the nightmare to a mere creature of
flesh and blood.
Sandersen resolved to take the second step.
In one way his hands were tied. He could not accuse Sinclair of this
killing without in the first place exposing the tale of how Riley's
brother was abandoned in the desert by three strong men who had been
his bunkies. And that story, Sandersen knew, would condemn him to worse
than death in the mountain desert. He would be loathed and scorned from
one end of the cattle country to the other.
All of these things went through his head, as he jogged his mustang
back down the hill. He turned in at Mason's place. All at once he
recalled that he was not acting normally. He had just come from seeing
the dead body of his best friend. And yet so mortal was his concern for
his own safety that he felt not the slightest touch of grief or horror
for dead Quade.
He had literally to grip his hands and rouse himself to a pitch of
semihysteria. Then he spurred his horse down the path, flung himself
with a shout out of the saddle, cast open the door of the house without
a preliminary knock, and rushed into the room.
"Murder!" shouted Bill Sandersen. "Quade is killed!"
Who killed Quade? That was the question asked with the quiet deadliness
by six men in Sour Creek. It had been Buck Mason's idea to keep the
whole affair still. It was very possible that the slayer was still in
the environs of Sour Creek, and in that case much noise would simply
serve to frighten him away. It was also Buck's idea that they should
gather a few known men to weigh the situation.
Every one of the six men who answered the summons was an adept with
fist or guns, as the need might be; every one of them had proved that
he had a level head; every one of them was a respected citizen.
Sandersen was one; stocky Buck Mason, carrying two hundred pounds close
to the ground, massive of hand and jaw, was a second. After that their
choice had fallen on "Judge" Lodge. The judge wore spectacles and a
judicial air. He had a keen eye for cows and was rather a sharper in
horse trades. He gave his costume a semiofficial air by wearing a
necktie instead of a bandanna, even at a roundup. The glasses, the
necktie, and his little solemn pauses before he delivered an opinion,
had given his nickname.
Then came Denver Jim, a very little man, with nervous hands and
remarkable steady eyes. He had punched cows over those ranges for ten
years, and his experience had made him a wildcat in a fight. Oscar
Larsen was a huge Swede, with a perpetual and foolish grin. Sour Creek
had laughed at Oscar for five years, considered him dubiously for five
years more, and then suddenly admitted him as a man among men. He was
stronger than Buck Mason, quicker than Denver Jim, and shrewder than
the judge. Last of all came Montana. He had a long, sad face,
prodigious ability to stow away redeye, and a nature as simple and kind
and honest as a child's. These were the six men who gathered about and
stared at the center of the floor. Something, they agreed, had to be
"First it was old man Collins. That was two years back," said Judge
Lodge. "You boys remember how Collins went. Then there was the drifter
that was plugged eight months ago. And now it's Ollie Quade. Gents,
three murders in two years is too much. Sour Creek'll get a name. The
bad ones will begin to drop in on us and use us for headquarters. We
got to make an example. We never got the ones that shot Collins or the
drifter. Since Quade has been plugged we got to hang somebody. Ain't
"We got to hang somebody," said Denver Jim. "The point is—who?"
His keen eyes went slowly, hungrily, from face to face, as if he would
not have greatly objected to picking one of his companions in that very
"Is they any strangers in town?" asked Larsen with his peculiar,
Sandersen stirred in his chair; his heart leaped.
"There's a gent named Riley Sinclair nobody ain't never seen before."
"When did he come in?"
"Along about dark."
"That's the right time for us. You found Quade a long time dead, Bill."
Sandersen swallowed. In his joy he could have embraced Larsen.
"What'll we do?"
"Go talk to Sinclair," said Larsen and rose. "I got a rope."
"He's a dangerous-lookin' gent," declared Sandersen.
Larsen replied mildly: "Mostly they's a pile more interesting when
they's dangerous. Come on, boys!"
It had been well after midnight when Mason and Sandersen got back to
Sour Creek. The gathering of the posse had required much time. Now, as
they filed out to the hotel, to the east the mountains were beginning
to roll up out of the night, and one cloud, far away and high in the
sky, was turning pink. They found the hotel wakening even at this early
hour. At least, the Chinese cook was rattling in the kitchen as he
built the fire. When the six reached the door of Sinclair's room,
stepping lightly, they heard the occupant singing softly to himself.
"Early riser," whispered Denver Jim.
"Too early to be honest," replied Judge Lodge.
Larsen raised one of his great hands and imposed an absolute silence.
Then, stepping with astonishing softness, considering his bulk, he
approached the door of Sinclair's room. Into his left hand slid his .45
and instantly five guns glinted in the hands of the others. With equal
caution they ranged themselves behind the big Swede. The latter glanced
over his shoulder, made sure that everything was in readiness, and then
kicked the door violently open.
Riley Sinclair was sitting on the side of his bed, tugging on a pair of
riding boots and singing a hushed song. He interrupted himself long
enough to look up into the muzzle of Larsen's gun. Then deliberately he
finished drawing on the boot, singing while he did so; and, still
deliberately, rose and stamped his feet home in the leather. Next he
dropped his hands on his hips and considered the posse gravely.
"Always heard tell how Sour Creek was a fine town but I didn't know
they turned out reception committees before sunup. How are you, boys?
Want my roll?"
Larsen, as one who scorned to take a flying start on any man, dropped
his weapon back in its holster. Sinclair's own gun and cartridge belt
hang on the wall at the foot of the bed.
"That sounds too cool to be straight," said the judge soberly.
"Sinclair, I figure you know why we want you?"
"I dunno, gents," said Sinclair, who grew more and more cheerful in the
face of these six pairs of grim eyes. "But I'm sure obliged to the gent
that give me the sendoff. What d'you want?" Drawing into the background
Larsen said: "Open up on him, judge. Start the questions."
But Sandersen was of no mind to let the slow-moving mind of the judge
handle this affair which was so vital to him. If Riley Sinclair did not
hang, Sandersen himself was instantly placed in peril of his life. He
stepped in front of Sinclair and thrust out his long arm.
"You killed Quade!"
Riley Sinclair rubbed his chin thoughtfully, looking past his accuser.
"I don't think so," he said at length.
"You don't think so? Don't you know?"
"They was two Mexicans jumped me once. One of 'em was called Pedro.
Maybe the other was Quade. That who you're talking about?'
"You can't talk yourself out of it, Sinclair," said Denver Jim. "We
mean business, real business, you'll find out!"
"This here is a necktie party, maybe?" asked Riley Sinclair.
"It is, partner," said big Larsen, with his continual smile.
"Sinclair, you come over the mountains," went on Sandersen. "You come
to find Quade. You ride down off'n the hills, and you come up to
Quade's house. You call him out to talk to you. You're sitting on your
horse. All at once you snatch out a gun and shoot Quade down. We know!
That bullet ranged down. It was shot from above him, plain murder! He
didn't have a chance!"
Throwing out his facts as he saw them, one by one, there was a ring of
conviction in his voice. The six accusing faces grew hard and set.
Then, to their astonishment, they saw that Sinclair was smiling!
"He don't noways take us serious, gents," declared the judge. "Let's
take him out and see if a rope means anything to him. Sinclair, d'you
figure this is a game with us?"
Riley Sinclair chuckled. "Gents," he said easily, "you come here all
het up. You want a pile of action, but you ain't going to get it off'n
me—not a bit! I'll tell you why. You gents are straight, and you know
straight talk when you hear it. This dead man—what's his name,
Quade?—was killed by a gent that had a reason for killing him. Wanted
to get Quade's money, or they was an old grudge. But what could my
reason be for wanting to bump off Quade? Can any of you figure that
out? There's my things. Look through 'em and see if I got Quade's
money. Maybe you think it's a grudge? Gents, I give you my word that I
never been into this country before this trip. How could there be any
grudge between me and Quade? Is that sense? Then talk sense back to
His mirth had disappeared halfway through his speech, and in the latter
part of it his voice rang sternly. Moreover he looked them in the eye,
one by one. All of this was noted by Sandersen. He saw suddenly and
clearly that he had lost. They would not hang this man by hearsay
evidence, or by chance presumption.
Sinclair would go free. And if Sinclair went free, there would be short
shrift for Bill Sandersen. For a moment he felt his destiny wavering
back and forth on a needle point. Then he flung himself into a new
course diametrically opposed to the other.
"Boys, it was me that started this, and I want to be the first to admit
it's a cold trail. Men has been hung with less agin' them than we got
agin' Sinclair. We know when Quade must have been killed. We know it
tallies pretty close with the time when Sinclair came down that same
trail, because that was the way he rode into Sour Creek. But no matter
how facts look, nobody seen that shooting. And I say this gent
Sinclair ain't any murderer. Look him over, boys. He's clean, and I
register a vote for him. What d'you say? No matter what the rest of you
figure, I'm going to shake hands with him. I like his style!"
He had turned his back on Riley while he spoke, but now he whirled and
thrust out his hand. The fingers of Sinclair closed slowly over the
"When it comes to the names, partner, seems like you got an edge over
"Have I? I'm Sandersen. Glad to know you, Sinclair."
"Sandersen!" repeated the stranger slowly. "Sandersen!"
Letting his fingers fall away nervelessly from the hand of the other,
he sighed deeply.
Sandersen with a side-glance followed every changing shade of
expression in that hard face. How could Sinclair attack a man who had
just defended him from a terrible charge? It could not be. For the
moment, at least, Sandersen felt he was safe. In the future, many
things might happen. At the very least, he had gained a priceless
postponement of the catastrophe.
"Them that do me a good turn is writ down in red," Sinclair was saying;
"and them that step on my toes is writ down the same way. Sandersen, I
got an idea that for one reason or another I ain't going to forget you
in a hurry."
There was a grim double meaning in that speech which Sandersen alone
could understand. The others of the self-appointed posse had apparently
made up their minds that Sandersen was right, and that this was a cold
"It's like Sinclair says," admitted the judge. "We got to find a gent
that had a reason for wishing to have Quade die. Where's the man?"
"Hunt for the reason first and find the man afterward," said big
Larsen, still smiling.
"All right! Did anybody owe Quade money, anybody Quade was pressing for
It was the judge who advanced the argument in this solemn and dry form.
Denver Jim declared that to his personal knowledge Quade had neither
borrowed nor loaned.
"Well, then, had Quade ever made many enemies? We know Quade was a
fighter. Recollect any gents that might hold grudges?"
"Young Penny hated the ground he walked on. Quade beat Penny to a pulp
down by the Perkin water hole."
"Penny wouldn't do a murder."
"Maybe it was a fair fight," broke in Larsen.
"Fair nothin'," said Buck Mason. "Don't we all know that Quade was fast
with a gun? He barely had it out in his hand when the other gent
drilled him. And he was shot from above. No, sir, the way it happened
was something like this. The murderin' skunk sat on his hoss saying
goodby to Quade, and, while they was shaking hands or something like
that, he goes for his gun and plugs Quade. Maybe it was a gent that
knew he didn't have a chance agin' Quade. Maybe—"
He broke off short in his deductions and smote his hands together with
a tremendous oath. "Boys, I got it! It's Cold Feet that done the job.
It's Gaspar that done it!"
They stared at Buck vaguely.
"Mason, Cold Feet ain't got the nerve to shoot a rabbit."
"Not in a fight. This was a murder!"
"What's the schoolteacher's reason!"
"Don't he love Sally Bent? Didn't Quade love her?" He raised his voice.
"I'm a big fool for forgetting! Didn't I see him ride over the hill to
Quade's place and come back in the evening? Didn't I see it? Why else
would he have called on Quade?"
There was a round chorus of oaths and exclamations. "The poisonous
little skunk! It's him! We'll string him up!"
With a rush they started for the door.
"Wait!" called Riley Sinclair.
Bill Sandersen watched him with a keen eye. He had studied the face of
the big man from up north all during the scene, and he found the stern
features unreadable. For one instant now he guessed that Sinclair was
about to confess.
"If you don't mind seven in one party," said Riley Sinclair, "I think
I'll go along to see justice done. You see, I got a sort of secondhand
interest in this necktie party."
Mason clapped him on the shoulder. "You're just the sort of a gent we
need," he declared.
Down in the kitchen they demanded a loaf of bread and some coffee from
the Chinese cook, and then the seven dealers of justice took horse and
turned into the silence of the long mountain trail.
The sunrise had picked those mountains out of the night, directly above
Sour Creek. Riley Sinclair regarded them with a longing eye. That was
his country. A man could see up there, and he could see the truth. Down
here in the valley everything was askew. Men lived blindly and did
blind things, like this "justice" which the six riders were bringing on
an innocent man.
Not by any means had Riley decided what he would do. If he confessed
the truth he would not only have a man-sized job trying to escape from
the posse, but he would have to flee before he had a chance to deal
finally with Sandersen. Chiefly he wanted time. He wanted a chance to
study Sandersen. The fellow had spoken for him like a man, but Sinclair
In his quandary he turned to sad-faced Montana and asked: "Who's this
gent you call Cold Feet?"
"He's a tenderfoot," declared Montana, "and he's queer. He's yaller,
they say, and that's why they call him Cold Feet. Besides, he teaches
the school. Where's they a real man that would do a schoolma'am's work?
Living or dying, he ain't much good. You can lay to that!"
Sinclair was comforted by this speech. Perhaps the schoolteacher was,
as Montana stated, not much good, dead or alive. Sinclair had known
many men whose lives were not worth an ounce of powder. In this case he
would let Cold Feet be hanged. It was a conclusion sufficiently grim,
but Riley Sinclair was admittedly a grim man. He had lived for himself,
he had worked for himself. On his younger brother, Hal, he had wasted
all the better and tenderer side of his nature. For Hal's education and
advantage he had sweated and saved for a long time. With the death of
Hal, the better side of Riley Sinclair died.
The horses sweated up a rise of ground.
"For a schoolteacher he lives sort of far out of town, I figure," said
"That's on account of Sally Bent," answered Denver Jim. "Sally and her
brother got a shack out this way, and Cold Feet boards with 'em."
"Sally Bent! That's an old-maidish-sounding name."
Denver Jim grinned broadly. "Tolerable," he said, "just tolerable
When they reached the top of the knoll, the horses paused, as if by
common assent. Now they stood with their heads bowed, sullen, tired
already, steam going up from them into the cool of the morning.
"There it is!"
It was as comfortably placed a house as Riley Sinclair had ever seen.
The mountain came down out of the sky in ragged, uneven steps. Here it
dipped away into a lap of quite level ground. A stream of spring water
flashed across that little tableland, dark in the shadow of the big
trees, silver in the sunlight. At the back of the natural clearing was
the cabin, built solidly of logs. Wood, water, and commanding position
for defense! Riley Sinclair ran his eye appreciatively over these
"My guns, I'd forgot Sally!" exclaimed the massive Buck Mason.
"Is that her?" asked Riley Sinclair.
A woman had come out of the shadow of a tree and stood over the edge of
the stream, a bucket in her hand. At that distance it was quite
impossible to make out her features, although Riley Sinclair found
himself squinting and peering to make them out. She had on something
white over her head and neck, and her dress was the faded blue of old
gingham. Then the wind struck her dress, and it seemed to lift the girl
in its current.
"I'd forgot Sally Bent!"
"What difference does she make?" asked Riley.
"You don't know her, stranger."
"And she won't know us. Got anything for masks?"
"I'm sure a Roman-nosed fool!" declared Mason. "Of course we got to
The girl's pail flashed, as she raised it up from the stream and
dissolved into the shadow of a big tree.
"She don't seem noways interested in this here party," remarked Riley.
"That's her way," said Denver Jim, arranging his bandanna to mask the
lower part of his face from the bridge of his nose down. "She'll show
plenty of interest when it comes to a pinch."
Riley adjusted his own mask, and he did it thoroughly. Out of his vest
he ripped a section of black lining, and, having cut eyeholes, he
fastened the upper edge of the cloth under the brim of his hat and tied
the loose ends behind his head. Red, white, blue, black, and polka dot
was that quaint array of masks.
Having completed his arrangements, Larsen started on at a lope, and the
rest of the party followed in a lurching, loose-formed wedge. At the
edge of the little tableland, Larsen drew down his mount to a walk and
turned in the saddle.
"Quick work, no talk, and a getaway," he said as he swung down to the
In the crisis of action the big Swede seemed to be accorded the place
of leader by natural right. The others imitated his example silently.
Before they reached the door Larsen turned again.
"Watch Jerry Bent," he said softly. "You watch him, Denver, and you,
Sandersen. Me and Buck will take care of Cold Feet. He may fight like a
rat. That's the way with a coward when he gets cornered." Then he
strode toward the door.
"How thick is Sally Bent with this schoolteaching gent?" asked Riley
Sinclair of Mason.
"I dunno. Nobody knows. Sally keeps her thinking to herself."
Larsen kicked open the door and at the same moment drew his
six-shooter. That example was also imitated by the rest, with the
exception of Riley Sinclair. He hung in the background, watching.
"Gaspar!" called Larsen.
There was a voice of answer, a man's thin voice, then the sharp cry of
a girl from the interior of the house. Sinclair heard a flurry of
"Hysterics now," he said into his mask.
She sprang into the doorway, her hands holding the jamb on either side.
In her haste the big white handkerchief around her throat had been
twisted awry. Sinclair looked over the heads of Mason and Denver Jim
into the suntanned face that had now paled into a delicate olive color.
Her very lips were pale, and her great black eyes were flashing at
them. She seemed more a picture of rage than hysterical fear.
"Why for?" she asked. "What are you-all here for in masks, boys? What
you mean calling for Gaspar? What's he done?"
In a moment of waiting Larsen cleared his throat solemnly. "It'd be
best we tell Gaspar direct what we're here for."
This seemed to tell her everything. "Oh," she gasped, "you're not
really after him?"
"Lady, we sure be."
"But Jig—he wouldn't hurt a mouse—he couldn't!"
"Sally, he's done a murder!"
"No, no, no!"
"Sally, will you stand out of the door?"
"It ain't—it ain't a lynching party, boys? Oh, you fools, you'll hang
for it, every one of you!"
Sinclair confided to Buck Mason beside him: "Larsen is letting her talk
down to him. She'll spoil this here party."
"We're the voice of justice," said Judge Lodge pompously. "We ain't got
any other names. They wouldn't be nothing to hang."
"Don't you suppose I know you?" asked the girl, stiffening to her full
height. "D'you think those fool masks mean anything? I can tell you by
your little eyes, Denver Jim!"
Denver cringed suddenly behind the man before him.
"I know you by that roan hoss of yours, Oscar Larsen. Judge Lodge, they
ain't nobody but you that talks about 'justice' and 'voices.' Buck
Mason, I could tell you by your build, a mile off. Montana, you'd ought
to have masked your neck and your Adam's apple sooner'n your face. And
you're Bill Sandersen. They ain't any other man in these parts that
stands on one heel and points his off toe like a horse with a sore leg.
I know you all, and, if you touch a hair on Jig's head, I'll have you
into court for murder! You hear—murder! I'll have you hung, every man
She had lowered her voice for the last part of this speech. Now she
made a sweeping gesture, closing her hand as if she had clutched their
destinies in the palm of her hand and could throw it into their faces.
"You-all climb right back on your hosses and feed 'em the spur."
They stood amazed, shifting from foot to foot, exchanging miserable
glances. She began to laugh; mysterious lights danced and twinkled in
her eyes. The laughter chimed away into words grown suddenly gentle,
suddenly friendly. Such a voice Riley Sinclair had never heard. It
walked into a man's heart, breaking the lock.
"Why, Buck Mason, you of all men to be mixed up in a deal like this.
And you, Oscar Larsen, after you and me had talked like partners so
many a time! Denver Jim, we'll have a good laugh about this necktie
party later on. Why, boys, you-all know that Jig ain't guilty of no
"Sally," said the wretched Denver Jim, "things seemed to be sort of
pointing to a—"
There was a growl from the rear of the party, and Riley Sinclair strode
to the front and faced the girl. "They's a gent charged with murder
inside," he said. "Stand off, girl. You're in the way!"
Before she answered him, her teeth glinted. If she had been a man, she
would have struck him in the face. He saw that, and it pleased him.
"Stranger," she said deliberately, making sure that every one in the
party should hear her words, "what you need is a stay around Sour Creek
long enough for the boys to teach you how to talk to a lady."
"Honey," replied Riley Sinclair with provoking calm, "you sure put up a
tidy bluff. Maybe you'd tell a judge that you knowed all these gents
behind their masks, but they wouldn't be no way you could prove it!"
A stir behind him was ample assurance that this simple point had
escaped the cowpunchers. All the soul of the girl stood up in her eyes
and hated Riley Sinclair, and again he was pleased. It was not that he
wished to bring the schoolteacher to trouble, but it had angered him to
see one girl balk seven grown men.
"Stand aside," said Riley Sinclair.
"Not an inch!"
"Lady, I'll move you."
"Stranger, if you touch me, you'll be taught better. The gents in Sour
Creek don't stand for suchlike ways!"
Before the appeal to the chivalry of Sour Creek was out of her lips,
smoothly and swiftly the hands of Sinclair settled around her elbows.
She was lifted lightly into the air and deposited to one side of the
Her cry rang in the ears of Riley Sinclair. Then her hand flashed up,
and the mask was torn from his face.
"I'll remember! Oh, if I have to wait twenty years, I'll remember!"
"Look me over careful, lady. Today's most likely the last time you'll
see me," declared Riley, gazing straight into her eyes.
A hand touched his arm. "Stranger, no rough play!"
Riley Sinclair whirled with whiplash suddenness and, chopping the edge
of his hand downward, struck away the arm of Larsen, paralyzing the
nerves with the same blow.
"Hands off!" said Sinclair.
The girl's clear voice rang again in his ear: "Thank you, Oscar Larsen.
I sure know my friends—and the gentlemen!"
She was pouring oil on the fire. She would have a feud blazing in a
moment. With all his heart Riley Sinclair admired her dexterity. He
drew the posse back to the work in hand by stepping into the doorway
and calling: "Hey, Gaspar!"
"He's right, Larsen, and you're wrong," Buck Mason said.
"She had us buffaloed, and he pulled us clear. Steady, boys. They ain't
no harm done to Sally!"
"Oh, Buck, is that the sort of a friend of mine you are?"
"I'm sorry, Sally."
Sinclair gave this argument only a small part of his attention. He
found himself looking over a large room which was, he thought, one of
the most comfortable he had ever seen—outside of pictures. At the
farther end a great fireplace filled the width of the room. The inside
of the log walls had been carefully and smoothly finished by some
master axman. There were plenty of chairs, homemade and very
comfortable with cushions. A little organ stood against the wall to one
side. No wonder the schoolteacher had chosen this for his boarding
Riley made his voice larger. "Gaspar!"
Then a door opened slowly, while Sinclair dropped his hand on the butt
of his gun and waited. The door moved again. A head appeared and
"Pronto!" declared Riley Sinclair, and a little man slipped into full
He was a full span shorter, Riley felt, than a man had any right to be.
Moreover, he was too delicately made. He had a head of bright blond
hair, thick and rather on end. The face was thin and handsome, and the
eyes impressed Riley as being at once both bright and weary. He was
wearing a dressing gown, the first Riley had ever seen.
"Get your hands out of those pockets!" He emphasized the command with a
jerk of his gun hand, and the arms of the schoolteacher flew up over
his head. Lean, fragile hands, Riley saw them to be. Altogether it was
the most disgustingly inefficient piece of manhood that he had ever
"Slide out here, Gaspar. They's some gents here that wants to look you
The voice that answered him was pitched so low as to be almost
unintelligible. "What do they want?"
"Step lively, friend! They want to see a gent that lets a woman do his
fighting for him."
He had dropped his gun contemptuously back into its holster. Now he
waved the schoolteacher to the door with his bare hands.
Gaspar sidled past as if a loaded gun were about to explode in his
direction. He reached the door, his arms still held stiffly above his
head, but, at the sight of the masked faces, one arm dropped to his
side, and the other fell across his face. He slumped against the side
of the door with a moan.
It was Judge Lodge who broke the silence. "Guilty, boys. Ain't one look
at the skunk enough to prove it?"
"Make it all fair and legal, gents," broke in Larsen.
Buck Mason strode straight up to the prisoner.
"Was you over to Quade's house yesterday evening?"
The other shrank away from the extended, pointing arm.
"Yes," he stammered. "I—I—what does all this mean?"
Mason whirled on his companions, still pointing to the schoolmaster.
"Take a slant at him, boys. Can't you read it in his face?"
There was a deep and humming murmur of approval. Then, without a word,
Mason took one of Gaspar's arms and Montana took the other. Sally Bent
ran forward at them with a cry, but the long arm of Riley Sinclair
barred her way.
"Man's work," he said coldly. "You go inside and cover your head."
She turned to them with extended hands.
"Buck, Montana, Larsen—boys, you-all ain't going to let it happen? He
couldn't have done it!"
They lowered their heads and returned no answer. At that she whirled
with a sob and ran back into the house. The procession moved on, Buck
and Montana in the lead, with the prisoner between them. The others
followed, Judge Lodge uncoiling a horribly significant rope. Last of
all came Bill Sandersen, never taking his eyes from the face of Riley
The latter was thoughtful, very thoughtful. He seemed to feel the eyes
of Sandersen upon him, for presently he turned to the other. "What
good's a coward to the world, Sandersen?"
"None that I could see."
"Well, look at that. Ever see anything more yaller?"
Gaspar walked between his two guards. Rather he was dragged between
them, his feet trailing weakly and aimlessly behind him, his whole body
sinking with flabby terror. The stern lip of Riley Sinclair curled.
"He's going to let it go through," said Sandersen to himself. "After
all nobody can blame him. He couldn't put his own neck in the noose."
Over the lowest limb of a great cottonwood Judge Lodge accurately flung
the rope, so that the noose dangled a significant distance from the
ground. There was a businesslike stir among the others. Denver, Larsen,
the judge, and Sandersen held the free end of the rope. Buck Mason tied
the hands of the prisoner behind him. Montana spoke calmly through his
"Jig, you sure done a rotten bad thing. You hadn't ought to of killed
him, Jig. These here killings has got to stop. We ain't hanging you for
spite, but to make an example."
Then with a dexterous hand he fitted the noose around the neck of the
schoolteacher. As the rough rope grated against Gaspar's throat, he
shrieked and jerked against the rope end that bound his hands. Then, as
if he realized that struggling would not help him, and that only speech
could give him a chance for life, he checked the cry of horror and
looked around him. His glances fell on the grim masks, and it was only
natural that he should address himself to the only uncovered face he
"Sir," he said to Riley in a rapid, trembling voice, "you look to me
like an honest man. Give me—give me time to speak."
"Make it pronto," said Riley Sinclair coldly.
The four waited, with their hands settled high up on the rope, ready
for the tug which would swing Gaspar halfway to his Maker.
"We're kind of pushed for time, ourselves," said Riley. "So hurry it
Bill Sandersen was a cold man, but such unbelievable heartlessness
chilled him. Into his mind rushed a temptation suddenly to denounce the
real slayer before them all. He checked that temptation. In the first
place it would be impossible to convince five men who had already made
up their minds, who had already acquitted Sinclair of the guilt. In the
second place, if he succeeded in convincing them, there would be an
instant gunplay, and the first man to come under Sinclair's fire, he
knew well enough, would be himself. He drew a long breath and waited.
"Good friends, gentlemen," Gaspar was saying, "I don't even know what
you accuse me of. Kill a man? Why should I wish to kill a man? You know
I'm not a fighter. Gentlemen—"
"Jig," cut in Buck Mason, "you was as good as seen to murder. You're
going to hang. If you got anything to say make a confession."
Gaspar attempted to throw himself on his knees, but his weight struck
against the rope. He staggered back to his feet, struggling for breath.
"For mercy's sake—" began Gaspar.
"Cut it short, boys!" cried Buck Mason. "Up with him!"
The four men at the rope reached a little higher and settled their
grips. In another moment Gaspar would dangle in the air. Now Riley
Sinclair made his decision. The agonized eyes of the condemned man,
wide with animal terror, were fixed on his face. Sinclair raised his
The arms, growing tense for the jerk, relaxed.
"How long is this going to be dragged out?" asked the judge in disgust.
"The worst lynching I ever see, that's what I call it! They ain't no
justice in it—it's just plain torture." "Partner," declared Riley
Sinclair, "I'm sure glad to see that you got a good appetite for a
killing. But it's just come home to me that in spite of everything,
this here gent might be innocent. And if he is, heaven help our souls.
We're done for!"
"Bless you for that!" exclaimed Gaspar.
"Shut up!" said Sinclair. "No matter what you done, you deserve hangin'
for being yaller. But concerning this here matter, gents, it looks to
me like it'd be a pretty good idea to have a fair and square trial for
"Trial?" asked Buck Mason. "Don't we all know what trials end up with?
Law ain't no good, except to give lawyers a living."
"Never was a truer thing said," declared Sinclair. "All I mean is, that
you and me and the rest of us run a trial for ourselves. Let's get in
the evidence and hear the witness and make out the case. If we decide
they ain't enough agin' Gaspar to hang him, then let him go. If we
decide to stretch him up, we'll feel a pile better about it and nearer
to the truth."
He went on steadily in spite of the groans of disapproval on every
side. "Why, this is all laid out nacheral for a courtroom. That there
stump is for the judge, and the black rock yonder is where the prisoner
sits. That there nacheral bench of grass is where the jury sits. Gents,
could anything be handier for a trial than this layout?"
To the theory of the thing they had been entirely unresponsive, but to
the chance to play a game, and a new game, they responded instantly.
"Besides," said Judge Lodge, "I'll act as the judge. I know something
about the law."
"No, you won't," declared Riley. "I thought up this little party, and
I'm going to run it." Then he stepped to the stump and sat down on it.
Denver Jim was already heartily in the spirit of the thing.
"Sit down on that black rock, Jig," he said, taking Gaspar to the
designated stone as he spoke, and removing the noose from the latter's
neck. "Black is a sign you're going to swing in the end. Jest a
triflin' postponement, that's all."
Riley placated the judge with his first appointment. "Judge Lodge," he
said, "you know a pile about these here things. I appoint you clerk.
It's your duty to take out that little notebook you got in your vest
pocket and write down a note for the important things that's said.
"Right," replied Lodge, entirely won over, and he settled himself on
the grass, with the notebook on his knee and a stub of a pencil poised
"Larsen, you're sergeant-at-arms."
"How d'you mean that, Sinclair?"
"That's what they call them that keeps order; I disremember where I
heard it. Larsen, if anybody starts raising a rumpus, it's up to you to
shut 'em up."
"I'll sure do it," declared Larsen. "You can sure leave that to me,
judge." He hoisted his gun belt around so that the gun butt hung more
forward and readier to his hand.
"Denver, you're the jailer. You see the prisoner don't get away. Keep
an eye on him, you see?"
"Easy, judge," replied Denver. "I can do it with one hand."
"Montana, you keep the door."
"What d'you mean—door, judge?"
"Ain't you got no imagination whatever?" demanded Sinclair. "You keep
the door. When I holler for a witness you go and get 'em. And
Sandersen, you're the hangman. Take charge of that rope!"
"That ain't such an agreeable job, your honor."
"Neither is mine. Go ahead."
Sandersen, glowering, gathered up the rope and draped it over his arm.
"Buck Mason, you're the jury. Sit down over there on your bench, will
you? This here court being kind of shorthanded, you got to do twelve
men's work. If it's too much for you, the rest of us will help out."
"Your honor," declared Buck, much impressed, "I'll sure do my best."
"The jury's job," explained Sandersen, "is to listen to everything and
not say nothing, but think all the time. You'll do your talking in one
little bunch when you say guilty or not guilty. Now we're ready to
start. Gaspar, stand up!"
Denver Jim officiously dragged the schoolteacher to his feet.
"What's your name?"
"Name?" asked the bewildered Gaspar. "Why, everybody knows my name!"
"Don't make any difference," announced Sinclair. "This is going to be a
strictly regular hanging with no frills left marabout's your name?"
"John Irving Gaspar."
"Called Jig for short, and sometimes Cold Feet," put in the clerk.
Sinclair cleared his throat. "John Irving Gaspar, alias Jig, alias Cold
Feet, d'you know what we got agin' you? Know what you're charged with?"
"With—with an absurd thing, sir."
"Murder!" said Sinclair solemnly. "Murder, Jig! What d'you say, guilty
or not guilty! Most generally, you'd say not guilty."
"Not guilty—absolutely not guilty. As a matter of fact, Mr.
"Denver, shut him up and make him sit down."
One hard, brown hand was clapped over Jig's mouth. The other thrust him
back on the black rock.
"Gentlemen of the jury," said his honor, "you've heard the prisoner say
he didn't do it. Now we'll get down to the truth of it. What's the
witnesses for the prosecution got to say?"
There was a pause of consideration.
"Speak up pronto," said Sinclair. "Anybody know anything agin' the
Larsen stepped forward. "Your honor, it's pretty generally known—"
"I don't give a doggone for what's generally known. What d'you know?"
The Swede's smile did not alter in the slightest, but his voice became
blunter, more acrid. From that moment he made up his mind firmly that
he wanted to see John Irving Gaspar, otherwise Jig, hanged from the
cottonwood tree above them.
"I was over to Shorty Lander's store the other day—"
His honor raised his hand in weary protest, as he smiled apologetically
at the court. "Darned if I didn't plumb forget one thing," he said. "We
got to swear in these witnesses before they can chatter. Is there
anybody got a Bible around 'em? Nope? Montana, I wished you'd lope over
to that house and see what they got in the line of Bibles."
Montana strode away in the direction of the house, and quiet fell over
the unique courtroom. Larsen, so pleasant of face and so unbending of
heart, was the first to speak.
"Looks to me, gents, like we're wasting a lot of time on a rat!"
The blond head of Cold Feet turned, and his large, dark eyes rested
without expression upon the face of the Swede. He seemed almost
literally to fold his hands and await the result of his trial. The
illusion was so complete that even Riley Sinclair began to feel that
the prisoner might be guilty—of an act which he himself had done! The
opportunity was indeed too perfect to be dismissed without
consideration. It was in his power definitely to put the blame on
another man; then he could remain in this community as long as he
wished, to work his will upon Sandersen.
Sandersen himself was a great problem. If Bill had spoken up in good
faith to save Sinclair from the posse that morning, the Riley felt that
he was disarmed. But a profound suspicion remained with him that
Sandersen guessed his mission, and was purposely trying to brush away
the wrath of the avenger. It would take time to discover the truth, but
to secure that time it was necessary to settle the blame for the
killing. Cold Feet was a futile, weak-handed little coward. In the
stern scheme of Sinclair's life, the death of such a man was almost
less than nothing.
"Wasting a lot of time on a rat!"
The voice of Larsen fell agreeably upon the ear of his honor. Behind
that voice came a faraway murmur, the scream of a hawk. He bent his
head back and looked up through the limbs of the cottonwood into the
pale blue-white haze of the morning sky.
A speck drifted across it, the hawk sailing in search of prey. Under
the noble arch of heaven floated that fierce, malignant creature!
Riley Sinclair lowered his head with a sigh. Was not he himself playing
the part of the hawk? He looked straight into the eyes of the prisoner,
and Jig met the gaze without flinching. He merely smiled in an
apologetic manner, and he made a little gesture with his right hand, as
if to admit that he was helpless, and that he cast himself upon the
good will of Riley Sinclair. Riley jerked his head to one side and
scowled. He hated that appeal. He wanted this hanging to be the work of
seven men, not of one.
Montana returned, bringing with him a yellow-covered, red-backed book.
"They wasn't a sign of a Bible in the house," he stated, "but I found
this here history of the United States, with the Declaration of
Independence pasted into the back of it. I figured that ought to do
about as well as a Bible."
"You got a good head, Montana," said his honor. "Open up to that there
Declaration. Here, Larsen, put your hand on this and swear you're
telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They
ain't going to be any bum testimony taken in this court. We ain't going
to railroad this lynching through."
He caught a glistening light of gratitude in the eyes of the
schoolteacher. Riley's own breast swelled with a sense of virtue. He
had never before taken the life of a helpless man; and now that it was
necessary, he would do it almost legally.
Larsen willingly took the oath. "I'm going to tell the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth, damn me if I don't! I was over to
Shorty Lander's store the other day—"
"Hmm! Last Tuesday, I reckon."
"Go on, Larsen, but gimme nothin' but the facts."
"I seen Jig come into the store. 'I want to look at a revolver,'" he
"'The deuce you do! What might you want to do with a revolver, Jig?'
says Shorty. 'You mean you want a toy gun?'
"I remember them words particular clear, because I didn't see how even
a spineless gent like Jig could stand for such a pile of insult. But he
just sort of smiled with his lips and got steady with his eyes, like he
was sort of grieved.
"'I want a gun that'll kill a man,' he says to Shorty.
"Shorty and me both laughed, but, when Shorty brung out a forty-five,
doggone me if Jig didn't buy the gun.
"'Look here,' says he, 'is this the way it works?'
"And he raises it up in his skinny hand. I had to laugh.
"'Hold it in both hands,' says I.
"'Oh,' says he, and darned if he didn't take it in both hands.
"'It seems much easier to handle in this way,' says he.
"But that's what I seen. I seen him buy a gun to kill a man. Them was
his words, and I figure they're a mouthful."
"Damagin' evidence, they ain't no question," said Mr. Clerk severely.
"But I can lay over it, your honor."
"Blaze away, judge."
Larsen took the oath. "I'm going to show you they was bad feelings
between the prisoner and the dead man, your honor. I was over to the
dance at the Woodville schoolhouse a couple of weeks ago. Jig was
there, not dancing or nothing, but sitting in a corner, with all the
girls, mostly, hanging around him. They kept hanging around looking
real foolish at him, and Jig looks back at 'em as if they wasn't there.
Well, it riles the boys around these parts. Quade comes up to him and
takes him aside.
"'Look here,' he says, 'why don't you dance with one girl instead of
hogging them all?'
"'I don't dance,' says Jig.
"'Why do you stay if you won't dance?' asks Quade.
"'It is my privilege,' says Jig, smiling in that ornery way of his,
like his thoughts was too big for an ordinary gent to understand 'em.
"'You stay an' dance an' welcome,' says Quade, 'but if you won't dance,
get out of here and go home where you belong. You're spoiling the party
for us, keeping all the girls over here.'
"'Is that a threat?' says Jig, smiling in that way of his.
"'It sure is. And most particular I want you to keep away from Sally
Bent. You hear?'
"'You take advantage of your size,' says Jig.
"'Guns even up sizes,' says Quade.
"'Thank you,' says Jig. 'I'll remember.'
"Right after that he went home because he was afraid that Quade would
give him a dressing. But they was bad feelings between him and Quade.
They was a devil in them eyes of Jig's when he looked at big Quade. I
seen it, and I knowed they'd be trouble!" Lodge then retired.
"Gents," said his honor, "it looks kind of black for the prisoner. We
know that Gaspar had a grudge agin' Quade, and that he bought a gun big
enough to kill a man. It sure looks black for you, Gaspar."
The prisoner looked steadily at Sinclair. There was something
unsettling in that gaze.
"All we got to make sure of," said the judge, "is that that quarrel
between Gaspar and Quade was strong enough to make Gaspar want to kill
"Your honor," broke in Gaspar, "don't you see that I could never kill a
man?" The prisoner stretched out his hands in a gesture of appeal to
Riley gritted his teeth. Suddenly a chill had passed through him at the
thought of the hanging noose biting into that frail, soft throat. "You
shut up till you're asked to talk," he said, frowning savagely. "I
think we got a witness here that'll prove that you did have
sufficient cause to make you want to get rid of Quade. And, if we have
that proof, heaven help you. Montana, go get Sally Bent!"
Gaspar started up with a ring in his voice. "No, no!"
In response to a gesture from Sinclair, Denver Jim jerked the prisoner
back onto the black rock. With blazing blue eyes, Gaspar glared at the
judge, his delicate lips trembling with unspoken words.
Sinclair knew, with another strange falling of the heart, that the
prisoner was perfectly aware that his judge had not the slightest
suspicion of his guilt. An entente was established between them, an
entente which distressed Sinclair, and which he strove to destroy. But,
despite himself, he could not get rid of the knowledge that the great
blue eyes were fixed steadily upon him, as if begging him to see that
justice was done. Consequently, the judge made himself as impersonal as
Sally Bent came willingly, even eagerly. It was the eagerness of an
angry woman who wanted to talk.
"What is your name?"
"A name you'll come to wish you'd never heard," said the girl, "if any
harm comes to John Gaspar. Poor Jig, they won't dare to touch a hair
of your head!"
With a gentle voice she had turned to Gaspar to speak these last words.
A faint smile came on the lips of Gaspar, and his gaze was far away, as
if he were in the midst of an unimportant dream, with Sally Bent the
last significant part of it all. The girl flushed and turned back to
"I asked you your name," said his honor gravely.
"What right have you to ask me my name, or any other question?"
"Mr. Lodge," said his honor, "will you loosen up and tell this lady
where we come in?"
"Sure," said the judge, clearing his throat. "Sally, here's the point.
They ain't been much justice around here. We're simply giving the law a
helping hand. And we start in today on the skunk that shot Quade. Quade
may have had faults, but he was a man. And look at what done the
killing! Sally, I ask you to look! That bum excuse for a man! That
Following the command, Sally looked at Gaspar, the smile of pity and
sympathy trembling on her lips again. But Gaspar took no notice.
"How dare you talk like that?" asked Sally. "Gaspar is worth all seven
of you put together!"
"Order!" said Riley Sinclair. "Order in this here court. Mr.
Sergeant-at-arms, keep the witness in order."
Larsen strode near authoritatively. "You got to stop that fresh talk,
Sally. Sinclair won't stand for it."
"Oscar Larsen," she cried, whirling on him, "I always thought you were
a man. Now I see that you're only big enough to bully a woman. I—I
never want to speak to you again!"
"Silence!" thundered Riley Sinclair, smiting his hard brown hands
together. "Take that witness away and we'll hang Gaspar without her
testimony. We don't really need it—anyways."
There was a shrill cry from Sally. "Let me talk!" she pleaded. "Let me
stay! I won't make no more trouble, Mr. Sinclair."
"All right," he decided without enthusiasm. "Now, what's your name?"
"Sally Bent." She smiled a little as she spoke. That name usually
brought an answering smile, particularly from the men of Sour Creek.
But Sinclair's saturnine face showed no softening.
"Mr. Clerk, swear the witness."
Judge Lodge rose and held forth the book and prescribed the oath.
During that interval, Riley Sinclair raised his head to escape from the
steady, reproachful gaze of John Gaspar. Down in the valley bottom,
Sour Creek flashed muddy-yellow and far away. Just beyond, the sun
gleamed on the chalk-faced cliff. Still higher, the mountains changed
between dawn and full day. There was the country for Riley Sinclair.
What he did down here in the valleys did not matter. Purification
waited for him among the summit snows. He turned back to hear the last
of Sally Bent's voice, whipping his eyes past Gaspar to avoid meeting
again that clinging stare.
"Sally Bent," he said, "do you know the prisoner?"
"You know I know him. John Gaspar boards with us."
"Ah, then you know him!"
"That's a silly question. What I want to say is—"
"Wait till you're asked, Sally Bent."
She stamped her foot. Quietly Sinclair compared the girl and the
"Here's the point," he said slowly. "You knew Quade, and you knew John
"You know Quade's dead?"
"I've just heard it."
"You didn't like him much?"
"I used to like him."
"Until Gaspar blew in?"
"You've got no right to ask those questions."
"I sure have. All right, I gather you were pretty sweet on Quade till
Gaspar come along."
"I never said so!"
"Girl," pronounced Riley solemnly, "ain't it a fact that you went
around to a lot of parties and suchlike things with Quade?"
She was silent.
"It's the straight thing you're giving her," broke in Larsen. "After
Gaspar come, she didn't have no time for none of us!"
"Ah!" said his honor significantly, scowling on Sally Bent. "After you
cut out Quade, he got ugly, didn't he?"
"He sure did!" said Sally. "He said things that no gentleman would of
said to a lady."
"Such as what?"
"Such as that I was a flirt. And he said, I swear to it, that he'd get
Gaspar!" She stopped, panting with excitement. "He wanted to murder
Riley Sinclair lifted his heavy brows. "That's a pretty serious thing
to say, Sally Bent."
"But, it's the truth! And I've even heard him threaten Gaspar!"
"But you tried to make them friends? You tried to smooth Quade down?"
"I wouldn't waste my time on a bully! I just told John to get a gun and
be ready to defend himself."
"And he done it?"
"He done it. But he never fired the gun."
"What was the last time Quade seen you?"
"The day before yesterday. He come up here and told me that he knew me
and John Gaspar was going to get married, and that he wouldn't stand
still and see the thing go through."
"But what he said was right, wasn't it? Gaspar had asked you to marry
She dropped her head. "No."
"What? You mean to say that Gaspar hadn't told you he loved you?"
"Never! But now that John's in this trouble, I don't care if the whole
world knows it! I love John Gaspar!"
What a voice! What a lighted face, as she turned to the prisoner. But,
instead of a flush of happiness, John Gaspar rose and shrank away from
the outstretched hands of the girl. And he was pale—pale with sorrow,
and even with pity, it seemed to Sinclair.
"No, no," said the soft voice of Gaspar. "Not that, Sally. Not that!"
Decidedly it would not do to let this scene progress. "Take away the
Montana drew her arm into his, and she went away as one stunned,
staring at John Gaspar as if she could not yet understand the extent of
the calamity which had befallen her. She had been worse than scorned.
She had been rejected with pity!
As she disappeared into the door of her house, Sinclair looked at the
bowed head of John Gaspar.
"Denver!" he called suddenly.
"Yes, your honor."
"The prisoner's hands are tied. Wipe the sweat off'n his face, will
With a large and brilliant bandanna Montana obeyed. Then he paused in
the midst of his operation.
"It ain't sweat. It's tears!"
"Tears!" Riley Sinclair started up, then slumped back on his stump with
a groan. "Tears!" he echoed, with a voice that was a groan. "John
Gaspar, what kind of a man are you?"
He turned back to the court with a frown.
"Mr. Jury," he said, "look at this prisoner we got. Look him over
considerable. I say, did you ever see a man like that? A man that ain't
able to love a girl like Sally Bent when she just about throws herself
at his head? Is he worth keeping alive? Look at him, and then listen to
me. I see the whole of it, Mr. Jury."
Buck Mason leaned forward with interest, glowering upon John Gaspar.
"This skunk of a John Gaspar gets Sally all tied up with his sappy
talk. Gets her all excited because he's something brand new and
different. Quade gets sore, nacherallike. Then he comes to Gaspar and
says: 'Cut out this soft talk to Sally, or I'll bust your head.' Gaspar
don't love Sally, but he's afraid of Quade. He goes and gets a gun. He
goes to Quade's house and tries to be friends. Quade kicks him out.
Gaspar climbs back on his hoss and, while he's sitting there, pulls out
a gun and shoots poor Quade dead. Don't that sound nacheral? He
wouldn't marry Sally, but he didn't want another man to have her. And
he wouldn't give up his soft berth in the house of Sally's brother. He
knew Quade would never suspect him of having the nerve to fight. So he
takes Quade unready and plugs him, while Quade ain't looking. Is that
"It sure sounds straight to me," said Buck Mason.
"All right! Stand up."
"Take off your hat."
The sombrero was withdrawn with a flourish.
"God's up yonder higher'n that hawk, but seeing you clear, Buck. Tell
us straight. Is Gaspar guilty or not?"
"Guilty as hell, your honor!"
A sigh from the prisoner. The last of life seemed to go from him, and
Sinclair braced himself to meet a hysterical appeal. But there was only
that slight drooping of the shoulders and declining of the head.
It was an appalling thing for Sinclair to watch. He was used to power
in men and beasts. He understood it. A cunning devil of a fighting
outlaw horse was his choice for a ride. "The meaner they are, the
longer they last," he used to say. He respected men of evil as long as
they were men of action. He was perfectly at home and contented among
men, where one's purse and life were at constant hazard, where a turned
back might mean destruction.
To him this meek surrender of hope was incomprehensibly despicable. If
he had hesitated before, his hard soul was firm now in the decision
that John Gaspar must die, and so leave Sinclair's own road free. With
all suspicion of a connection between him and Quade's death gone, Riley
could play a free hand against Sandersen. He turned a face of iron upon
"Sandersen and Denver Jim, bring the prisoner before me."
They obeyed. But when they reached down their hands to Gaspar's
shoulders to drag him to his feet, he avoided them with a shudder and
of his own free will rose and walked between them.
"John Irving Gaspar," said Sinclair sternly, "alias Jig, alias Cold
Feet—which is a fitting and proper name for you—have you got anything
to say that won't take too long before I pronounce sentence on you?"
He had to set his teeth. The sad eyes of John Gaspar had risen from the
ground and fixed steadily, darkly upon the eyes of his judge. There was
infinite understanding, infinite patience in that look, the patience of
the weak man, schooled in enduring buffets. For the moment Sinclair
almost felt that the man was pitying him!
"I have only a little to say," said John Gaspar.
"Speak up then. Who d'you want to give the messages to?"
"To no living man," said John Gaspar.
"All right then, Gaspar. Blaze away with the talk, but make it short."
John Gaspar raised his head until he was looking through the stalwart
branches of the cottonwood tree, into the haze of light above.
"Our Father in Heaven," said John Gaspar, "forgive them as I forgive
Riley Sinclair, quivering under those words, looked around him upon the
stunned faces of the rest of the court; then back to the calm of
Gaspar. Strength seemed to have flooded the coward. At the moment when
he lost all hope, he became glorious. His voice was soft, never rising,
and the great, dark eyes were steadfast. A sudden consciousness came to
Riley Sinclair that God must indeed be above them, higher than the
flight of the hawk, robed in the maze of that lofty cloud, seeing all,
hearing all. And every word that Gaspar spoke was damning him, dragging
him to hell.
But Riley Sinclair was not a religious man. Luck was his divinity. He
left God and heaven and hell inside the pages of the Bible,
undisturbed. The music of the schoolteacher's voice reminded him of the
purling of some tiny waterfall in the midst of a mountain wilderness.
"I have no will to fight for life. For that sin, forgive me, and for
whatever else I have done wrong. Let no knowledge of the crime they are
committing come to these men. Fierce men, fighters, toilers, full of
hate, full of despair, full of rage, how can they be other than blind?
Forgive them, as I forgive them without malice. And most of all, Lord
God, forgive this most unjust judge."
"Louder!" whispered Sinclair, his hand cupped behind his ear.
"Amen," said John Gaspar, as his head bowed again. The fascinated posse
seemed frozen, each man in his place, each in his attitude.
"John Gaspar," said his honor, "here's your sentence: You're to be
hanged by the neck till you're dead."
John Gaspar closed his eyes and opened them again. Otherwise he made no
move of protest.
"But not," continued Sinclair, "from this cottonwood tree."
A faint sigh, indubitably of relief, came from the posse.
Riley Sinclair arose. "Gents," he said, "I been thinking this over.
They ain't any doubt that the prisoner is guilty, and they ain't any
doubt that John Gaspar is no good, anyway you look at him. But a gent
that can put the words together like he can, ought to get a chance to
talk in front of a regular jury. I figure we'd better send for the
sheriff to come over from Woodville and take the prisoner back there.
One of you gents can slide over there today, and the sheriff'll be here
"But who'll take charge of Gaspar?"
"Who? Why me, of course! Unless somebody else would like the job more?
I'll keep him right here in the Bent cabin."
"Sinclair," protested Buck Mason, "you're a pretty capable sort. They
ain't no doubt of that. But what if Jerry Bent comes home, which he's
sure to do before night? There'd be a mess, because Jerry'd fight for
Gaspar, I know!"
"Partner," said Riley Sinclair dryly, "if it come to that, then I guess
I'd have to fight back."
It was foolish to question the power in that grave, sardonic face. The
other men gave way, nodding one by one. Secretly each man, now that the
excitement was gone, was glad that they had not proceeded to the last
extremity. In five minutes they were drifting away, and all this time
Sinclair watched the face of John Gaspar, as the sorrow changed to
wonder, and the wonder to the vague beginnings of happiness.
Suddenly he felt that he had the clue to the mystery of Cold Feet. As a
matter of fact John Gaspar had never grown up. He was still a weak,
The posse had hardly thrown its masks to the wind and galloped down the
road when Sally Bent came running from the house.
"I knew they couldn't," she cried to John Gaspar. "I knew they wouldn't
dare. The cowards! I'll remember every one of them!"
"Hush!" murmured Gaspar. His faint smile was for Riley Sinclair. "One
of them is still here, you see!"
With wrath flushing her face, the girl looked at Riley.
"How do you dare to stay here and face me—after the things you said!"
"Lady," replied Sinclair, "you mean after the things I made you say."
"Just wait till Jerry comes," exclaimed Sally.
At this Sinclair grew more sober.
"Honey," he said dryly, "when your brother drops in, you just calm him
down, will you? Because if him and Gaspar together was to start in
raising trouble—well, they'd be more action than you ever seen in that
cabin before. And, after it was all over, they'd have a dead Gaspar to
cart over to Woodville. You can lay to that!"
It took Sally somewhat aback, this confident ferociousness.
"Them that brag ain't always the ones that do things," she declared.
"But why are you staying here?"
"To keep Gaspar till the sheriff comes for him."
Sally grew white.
"Don't you see that there's nothing to be afraid of?" asked John
Gaspar. "See how close I came to death, and yet I was saved. Why, God
doesn't let innocent men be killed, Sally."
For a moment the girl stared at the schoolteacher with tears in her
eyes; then she flashed at Riley a glance of utter scorn, as if inviting
him to see what an angel upon the earth he was persecuting. But
Sinclair remained unmoved.
He informed them of the conditions of his stay. He must be allowed to
keep John Gaspar in sight at all times. Only suspicious moves he would
resent with violence. Sally Bent heard all of this with openly
expressed hatred and contempt. John Gaspar showed no emotion whatever.
"By heaven," declared Sinclair, when the girl had gone about some
housework, "I'd actually think you believed that God was on your side.
You talk about Him so familiar—like you and Him was partners."
John Gaspar smiled one of his rare smiles. He had a way of looking for
a long moment at another before he spoke. All that he was about to say
was first registered in his face. It was easy to understand how Sally
Bent had been entrapped by the classic regularity of those features and
the strange manner of the schoolteacher. She lived in a country where
masculine men were a drug on the market. John Gaspar was the pleasant
"You see," explained Gaspar, "I had to cheer Sally by saying something
like that. Women like to have such things said. She'll be absolutely
confident now, because she thinks I'm not disturbed. Very odd, but very
"And it seems to me," said Sinclair, frowning, "that you're not much
disturbed, Gaspar. How does that come?"
"What can I do?"
"Maybe you'd be man enough to try to break away."
"From you? Tush! I know it is impossible. I'd as soon try to hide
myself in an open field from that hawk. No, no! I'll give you my
parole, my word of honor that I'll make no escape."
But Sinclair struck in with: "I don't want your parole. Hang it, man,
just do your best, and I'll do mine. You try to give me the slip, and
I'll try to keep you from it. That's square all around."
Gaspar observed him with what seemed to be a characteristic air of
judicious reserve, very much as if he suspected a trap. A great many
words came up into the throat of Riley Sinclair, but he refrained from
In a way he was beginning to detest John Gaspar as he had never
detested any human being before or since. To him no sin was so great as
the sin of weakness in a man, and certainly Gaspar was superlatively
weak. He had something in place of courage, but just what that thing
was, Sinclair could not tell.
Curiosity drew him toward the fellow; and these weaknesses repulsed
him. No wonder that he stared at him now in a quandary. One certainty
was growing upon him. He wished Gaspar to escape. It would bring him
shame in Sour Creek, but for the opinion of these men he had not the
slightest respect. Let them think as they pleased.
It came home to Riley that this was a man whose like he had never known
before, and whom he must not, therefore, judge as if he knew him. He
softened his voice. "Gaspar," he said, "keep your head up. Make up
your mind that you'll fight to the last gasp. Why, it makes me plumb
sick to see a grown man give up like you do!"
His scorn rang in his voice, and Gaspar looked at him in wonder.
"You'd ought to be packing yourself full of courage," went on Sinclair.
"Here's your pal, Jerry Bent, coming back. Two agin' one, you'll be.
Ain't that a chance, I ask you?"
But Gaspar shook his head. He seemed even a little amused.
"Not against a man like you, Sinclair. You love fighting, you see.
You're made for fighting. You make me think of that hawk. All beak and
talons, made to tear, remorseless, crafty."
"That's overrating me a pile," muttered Riley, greatly pleased by this
tribute, as he felt it to be. "If you tried, maybe you could do a lot
yourself. You're full of nerves, and a gent that's full of nerves makes
a first-class fighting man, once he finds out what he can do. With them
fingers of yours you could learn to handle a gun like a flash. Start in
and learn to be a man, Gaspar!"
Sinclair stretched a friendly hand toward the shoulder of the smaller
man. The hand passed through thin air. Gaspar had slipped away. He
stood at a greater distance. On his face there was a strong expression
Sinclair scowled darkly. "Now what d'you mean by that?"
"I mean that I don't envy you," said Gaspar steadily. "I'd rather have
the other thing."
"What other thing, Jig?"
Gaspar overlooked the contemptuous nickname, doubly contemptuous on the
lips of a stranger.
"You go into the world and take what you want. I'm stronger than that."
"How are you stronger?" asked Riley.
"Because I sit in my room, and I can make the world come to me."
"Jig, I was never smart at riddles. Go ahead and clear yourself up with
a few more words."
The other hesitated—not for words, but as if he wondered if it might
be worth while for him to explain. Never in Riley Sinclair's life had
he been taken so lightly.
"Will you follow me into the house?" asked Gaspar at length.
"I'll follow you, right enough," said Sinclair. "That's my job. Lead
He was brought through the living room of the cabin and into a smaller
room to the side.
Comfort seemed to fill this smaller room. Bookcases ranged along one
wall were packed with books. The couch before the window was heaped
with cushions. There was an easy chair with an adjustable back, so that
one could either sit or lie in it. There was a lamp with a big
"This is what I mean," murmured Jig.
Riley Sinclair's bold eye roved swiftly, contemptuously. "Well, you got
this place fixed up pretty stuffy," he answered. "Outside of that, hang
me if I see what you mean."
Cold Feet slipped into a chair and, interlacing those fingers whose
delicacy baffled and disturbed Sinclair, stared over them at his
"I really shouldn't expect you to understand, my friend."
"Friend!" Sinclair exploded. "You're a queer bird, Jig. What do you
mean by 'friend'?"
"Why not?" asked this amazing youth, and the quiet of his face
brightened into a smile. "I'd be swinging from the end of a rope if it
weren't for you, you know."
Sinclair shrugged away this rejoinder. He trod heavily to the
bookshelves, took up two or three random volumes, and tossed them
heedlessly back into place.
"Well, kid, you're going to be yanked out of this little imitation
world of yours pretty pronto."
"Ah, but perhaps not!"
"Something may happen."
"What can happen?"
"Just something like you, my friend."
The insistence on that word irritated Riley Sinclair.
"Don't call me that," he replied in his most brutal manner. "Jig, d'you
know what a friend means?" he asked. "How d'you figure that word out?"
Jig considered. "A friend is somebody you know and like and are glad to
Contempt spread on the face of Sinclair. "That's just about what I knew
"Am I wrong?"
"Son, they ain't anything right about you, as far as I can make out.
Wrong? You're as wrong as a yearling in a blizzard. Wrong? I should
tell a man you're wrong! Lemme tell you what a friend is. He's the
bunkie that guards your back in a fight; he's the man that can ask for
your hoss or your gun or your life, no matter how bad you want 'em;
he's the gent that trusts you when the world calls you a liar; he's the
one that don't grin when you're in trouble, who gives a cheer when
you're going good. With a friend you let down the bars and turn your
mind loose like wild hosses. I take out my soul like a gun and show it
to my friend in the palm of my hand. It's sure full of holes and
stains, this life of mine, but my friend checks off the good agin' the
bad, and when you're through he says: 'Partner, now I like you better
because I know you better.'
"Son, I don't know what God means very well, and I ain't any bunkie of
the law, but I'm tolerable well acquainted with what the word 'friend'
means. When you use it, you want to look sharp."
"I really believe," Jig said, "that you would be a friend like that. I
think I understand."
"You don't, though. To a friend you give yourself away, and you get
yourself back bigger and stronger."
"I didn't know," said Jig softly, "that friendship could mean all that.
How many friends have you had?"
The big cowpuncher paused. Then he said gently at length, "One friend."
"In all your life?"
"Sure! I was lucky and had one friend."
Cold Feet leaned forward, eagerness in his eyes. "Tell me about him!"
"I don't know you well enough, son."
That jarring speech thrust Jig back into his chair, as if with a
physical hand. There, as though in covert, he continued to study
Sinclair. Presently he began to nod.
"I knew it from the first, in spite of appearances."
"Knew that we'd get along."
"And are we getting along, Jig?"
"I think so."
"Glad of that," muttered the cowpuncher dryly.
"Ah," cried John Gaspar, "you're not as hard as you seem. One of these
days I'll prove it. Besides, you won't forget me."
"What makes you so sure of that?"
Jig rose from his chair and stood leaning against it, his hands dropped
lightly into the pockets of his dressing gown. He looked
extraordinarily boyish at that moment, and he seemed to have the
fearlessness of a child which knows that the world has no real account
against it. Riley Sinclair set his teeth to keep back a flood of pity
that rose in him.
"You wait and see," said Jig. He raised a finger at Sinclair. "I'll
keep coming back into your mind a long time after you leave me; and
you'll keep coming back into my mind. Oh, I know it!"
"How in thunder do you?"
"I don't know. Just because—well, how did I understand at the trial
that you knew I was innocent, and that you would let no harm come to
"Did you know that?" asked Sinclair.
Instead of answering, Jig broke into his soft, pleasant laughter.
"Laugh and be hanged," declared Sinclair. "I'm going outside. And don't
try no funny breaks while I'm gone," he said. "I'll be watching and
waiting when you ain't expecting." With that he was gone.
At the door of the house a gust of hot wind struck him, for the day was
verging on noon, and there seemed more heat than light in the sun. Even
to that hot gust Sinclair jerked his bandanna knot aside and opened his
throat gratefully. He felt as if he had been under a hard nervous
strain for some time past. Cold Feet, the craven, the weak of hand and
the frail of spirit, had tested him in a new way. He had been
confronting a novel and unaccountable thing. He felt very oddly as if
someone had been prodding into corners of his nature yet unknown even
to himself. He tingled from the rapier touches of that last laughter.
Now his eyes roamed with relief across the valley. Heat waves blurred
the hollow and pushed Sour Creek away until it seemed a river of
mist—yellow mist. He raised his attention out of that sweltering
hollow to the cool, blue, mighty mountains—his country!
Presently he had forgotten all this. He settled his hat on the back of
his head and began to kick a stone before him, following it aimlessly.
Someone was humming close to him, and he turned sharply to see Sally
Bent go by, carrying a bucket. She smiled generously, and though he
knew that she doubtless hated him in her heart and smiled for a
purpose, he had to reply with a perfunctory grin. He stalked after her
to the little leaping creek and dipped out a full bucket.
"Thanks," said Sally, wantonly meeting his eye.
As well try to soften a sphinx. Sinclair carried the dripping bucket on
the side nearest the girl and thereby gained valuable distance. "I'm
mighty glad it's you and not one of the rest," confided Sally, still
smiling firmly up to him.
He avoided that appeal with a grunt.
"Like Sandersen, say," went on the girl.
"Why not him?"
"He's a bad hombre," said the girl. "Hate to have Jig in his hands.
With you it's different."
Sinclair waited until he had put down the bucket in the kitchen. Then
he faced Sally thoughtfully.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because you're reasonable."
"Did Jig tell you that?"
"And a pile more. Jig says you're a pretty fine sort. That's his
The cowpuncher caressed the butt of his gun with his fingertips, his
habitual gesture when in doubt.
"Lady," he said at length, "suppose I cut this short? You think I ain't
going to keep Cold Feet here till the sheriff comes for him?"
"You see what it would mean?" she asked eagerly. "It wouldn't be a fair
trial. You couldn't get a fair jury for Jig around Sour Creek and
Woodville. They hate him—all the young men do. D'you know why? Simply
because he's different! Simply because—"
"Because all the girls are pretty fond of him, eh?"
"You can put it that way if you want," she answered steadily enough,
though she flushed under his stare. Then: "you'll keep that in mind,
and you're man enough to do what you think is right, ain't you, Mr.
He shifted away from the hand which was moving toward him.
"I'll tell you what," he answered. "I'm man enough to be afraid of a
girl like you, Sally Bent."
Then he saw her head fall in despair, as he turned away. When he
reached the shimmering heat of the outdoors again, he was feeling like
a murderer. His reason told him that Cold Feet was "yaller," not worth
saving. His reason told him that he could save Jig only by a confession
that would drive him, Sinclair, away from Sour Creek and his destined
victim, Sandersen. Or he could save Jig by violating the law, and that
also would drive him from Sour Creek and Sandersen.
Suddenly he halted in the midst of his pacing to and fro. Why was he
turning these alternatives back and forth in his mind? Because, he
understood all at once, he had subconsciously determined that Cold Feet
must not die!
The face of his brother rose up and looked into his eyes. That was the
friend of whom he would not speak to Jig, brother and friend at once.
And as surely as ever ghost called to living man, that face demanded
the death of Sandersen. He blinked the vision away.
"I am going nutty," muttered Sinclair. "Whether Sandersen lives or
dies, Jig ain't going to dance at a rope's end!"
Presently Sally called him in to lunch, and Riley ate halfheartedly.
All during the meal neither Sally nor John Gaspar had more than a word
for him, while they talked steadily together. They seemed to understand
each other so well that he felt a hidden insult in it.
Once or twice he made a heavy attempt to enter the conversation, always
addressing his remarks to Sally Bent. He was received graciously, but
his remarks always fell dead, and a moment later Cold Feet had picked
up the frayed ends of his own talk and won the entire attention of
Sally. Riley was beginning to understand why the youth of that district
detested Cold Feet.
"Always takes some soft-handed dude to make a winning with a fool
girl," he comforted himself.
He expected the arrival of Jerry Bent before nightfall, and with that
arrival, perhaps, there would be a new sort of attack on him. Sally and
Cold Feet were trying persuasion, but they might encourage Jerry Bent
to attempt physical force. With all his heart Riley Sinclair hoped so.
He had a peculiar desire to do something significant for the eyes of
both Sally and Jig.
But nightfall came, and then supper, and still no Jerry appeared.
Afterward, Sinclair made ready to sleep in Jig's room. Cold Feet
offered him the couch.
"Beds and me don't hitch" declared Riley, throwing two or three of the
rugs together. "I ain't particular partial to a floor, neither, but
these here rugs will give it a sort of a ground softness."
He sat cross-legged on the low pile of rugs, while he pulled off his
boots and smoked his good-night cigarette. Jig coiled up in a big
chair, while he studied his jailer.
"But how can you go to bed so early?" he asked.
"Early? It ain't early. Sun's down, ain't it? Why do they bring on
night, except for folks to go to sleep?"
"For my part the best part of the day generally begins when the sun
With patient contempt Riley considered John Gaspar. "You look kind of
that way," he decided aloud. "Pale and not much good with your
shoulders. Now, what d'you most generally do with your time in the
"Talk? Huh! A fine way of wasting time for a growed-up man."
"And I read, you know."
"I can see by the looks of them shelves that you do. How many of them
books might you have read, Jig?"
"All of them."
"I ask you, man to man, ain't they mostly somebody's idea of what life
"I suppose that's a short way of putting it."
"And I ask you ag'in, what's better to take a secondhand hunch out of
what somebody else thinks life might be, or to go out and do some
living on your own hook?"
Cold Feet had been smiling faintly up to this point, as though he had
many things in reserve which might be said at need. Now his smile
"Perhaps you're right."
"And maybe I ain't." Sinclair brushed the entire argument away into a
thin mist of smoke. "Now, look here, Cold Feet, I'm about to go to
sleep, and when I sleep, I sure sleep sound, taking it by and large.
They's times when I don't more'n close one eye all night, and they's
times when you'd have to pull my eyes open, one by one, to wake me up.
Understand? I'm going to sleep the second way tonight. About eight
hours of the soundest sleep you ever heard tell of."
Jig considered him gravely.
"I'm afraid," he answered, "that I won't sleep nearly as well."
Riley Sinclair smiled. "Wouldn't be no ways nacheral for you to do much
sleeping," he agreed. "Take a gent that's in danger of having his neck
stretched, like you, and most generally he don't do much sleeping. He
lies around awake, cussing his luck, I s'pose. Take you, now, Cold
Feet, and I s'pose you'll be figuring on how far a hoss could carry you
in the eight hours that I'll be sleeping. Eh?"
There was a suggestive lift of the eyebrows, as he spoke, but before
Jig had a chance to study his face, he had turned and wrapped himself
in one of the rugs. He lay perfectly still, stretched on one side, with
his back turned to Jig. He stirred neither hand nor foot.
Outside, a door slammed heavily; Cold Feet heard the heavy voice of
Jerry Bent and the beat of his heels across the floor. In spite of
those noises Riley Sinclair was presently sound asleep, as he had
promised. Gaspar knew it by the rise and fall of the arm which lay
along Sinclair's side, also by the sound of his breathing.
Cold Feet went to the window and looked out on the mountains, black and
huge, with a faint shimmer of snow on the farthest summits. At the very
thought of trying to escape into that wilderness and wandering alone
among the peaks, he shuddered. He came back and studied the sleeper.
Something about the nonchalance with which Sinclair had gone to sleep
under the very eye of his prisoner affected John Gaspar strangely.
Doubtless it was sheer contempt for the man he was guarding. And,
indeed, something assured Jig that, no matter how well he employed the
next eight hours in putting a great distance between himself and Sour
Creek, the tireless riding of Sinclair would more than make up the
Gaspar went to the door, then turned sharply and glanced over his
shoulder at the sleeper; but the eyes of Sinclair were still closed,
and his regular breathing continued. Jig turned the knob cautiously and
slipped out into the living room.
Jerry and Sally beckoned instantly to him from the far side of the
room. The beauty of the family had descended upon Sally alone. Jerry
was a swart-skinned, squat, bow-legged, efficient cowpuncher. He now
ambled awkwardly to meet John Gaspar.
"Are you all set?" he asked.
"To start on the trail!" exclaimed Jerry. "What else? Ain't Sinclair
"How d'you know?"
"I listened at the door and heard his breathing a long time ago.
Thought you'd never come out."
Sally Bent was already on the other side of Gaspar, drawing him toward
"You can have my hoss, Jig," she offered. "Meg is sure as sin in the
mountains. You won't have nothing to fear on the worst trail they is."
"Not a thing," asserted Jerry.
They half led and half dragged Cold Feet to the door.
"I'll show you the best way. You see them two peaks yonder, like a pair
of mule's ears? You start—"
"I don't know," said Jig. "It seems very difficult, even to think of
riding alone through those mountains."
Sally was white with fear. "You ain't going to throw away this chance,
Jig? It'll mean hanging sure, if you don't run now. Ask Jerry what
they're saying in Sour Creek tonight?"
Jerry volunteered the information. "They're all wondering why you
wasn't strung up today, when they got so much evidence agin' you. Also
they're thinking that the boys played plumb foolish in turning you over
to this stranger, Sinclair, to guard. But they're waiting for Sheriff
Kern to come over from Woodville an' nab you in the morning. They's
some that says that they won't wait, if it looks like the law is going
to take too long to hang you. They'll get up a necktie party and break
the jail and do their own hanging. I heard all them things and more,
John Gaspar looked uncertainly from one to the other of his friends.
"You've got to go!" cried Sally.
"I've got to go," admitted Cold Feet in a whisper.
"I've got Meg saddled for you already. She's plumb gentle."
"Just a minute. I've forgotten something."
"You don't mean you're going back into that room where Sinclair is?"
"I won't waken him. He's sleeping like the dead."
Jig turned away from them and hurried back to his room. Having opened
and closed the door softly, he went to a chest of drawers near the
window and fumbled in the half-light of the low-burning lamp. He
slipped a small leather case into the breast pocket of his coat, and
then stole back toward the door, as softly as before. With his hand on
the knob, he paused and looked back. For all he knew, Sinclair might be
really awake now, watching his quarry from beneath those heavy lashes,
waiting until his prisoner should have made a definite attempt to
And then the big man would rise to his feet as soon as the door was
closed. The picture became startlingly real to John Gaspar. Sinclair
would slip out that window, no doubt, and circle around toward the
horse shed. There he would wait until his prisoner came out on Meg, and
then without warning would come a shot, and there would be an end of
Sinclair's trouble with his prisoner. Gaspar could easily attribute
such cunning cruelty to Sinclair. And yet there was something untested,
unprobed, different about the rangy fellow.
Whatever it was, it kept Gaspar staring down into the lean face of
Sinclair for a long moment. Then he went resolutely back into the
living room and faced Sally Bent; Jerry was already waiting outdoors.
"I'm not going," said Gaspar slowly. "I'll stay."
Sally cried out. "Oh, Jig, have you lost your nerve ag'in? Ain't you
got no courage?"
The schoolteacher sighed. "I'm afraid not, Sally. I guess my only
courage comes in waiting and seeing how things turn out."
He turned and went gloomily back to his room.
With the first brightness of dawn, Sinclair wakened even more suddenly
that he had fallen asleep. There was no slow adjusting of himself to
the requirements of the day. One prodigious stretching of the long
arms, one great yawn, and he was as wide awake as he would be at noon.
He jerked on his boots and rose, and not until he stood up, did he see
John Gaspar asleep in the big chair, his head inclining to one side,
the book half-fallen from his hand, and the lamp sputtering its last
beside him. But instead of viewing the weary face with pity, Sinclair
burst into sudden and amazed profanity.
The first jarring note brought Gaspar up and awake with a start, and he
stared in astonishment at the uninterrupted flood which rippled from
the lips of the cowpuncher. It concluded: "Still here! Of all the
shorthorned fatheads that I ever seen, the worst is this Gaspar—this
Jig—this Cold Feet. Say, man, ain't you got no spirit at all?"
"What do you mean?" asked Gaspar. "Still here? Of course I'm still
here! Did you expect me to escape?"
Sinclair flung himself into a chair, speechless with rage and disgust.
"Did you think I was joking when I told you I was going to sleep eight
hours without waking up?"
"It might very well have been a trap, you know."
Sinclair groaned. "Son, they ain't any man in the world that'll tell
you that Riley Sinclair sets his traps for birds that ain't got their
stiff feathers growed yet. Trap for you? What in thunder should I want
you for, eh?"
He strode to the window, still groaning.
"There's where you'd ought to be, over yonder behind them mule ears.
They'd never catch you in a thousand years with that start. Eight hours
start! As good as have eight years, kid—just as good. And you've
throwed that chance away!"
He turned and stared mournfully at the schoolteacher.
"It ain't no use," he said sadly. "I see it all now. You was cut out to
end in a rope collar."
Not another word could be pried from his set lips during breakfast, a
gloomy meal to which Sally Bent came with red eyes, and Jerry Bent
sullenly, with black looks at Sinclair. Jig was the cheeriest one of
the party. That cheer at last brought another explosion from Sinclair.
They stood in front of the house, watching a horseman wind his way up
the road through the hills.
"It's Sheriff Kern," said Jerry Bent. "I can tell by the way he rides,
sort of slanting. It's Kern, right enough."
Sally Bent choked, but Jig continued to hum softly.
"Singin'?" asked Riley Sinclair suddenly. "Ain't you no more worried
The voice of the schoolteacher in reply was as smooth as running water.
"I think you'll bring me out of the trouble safely enough, Mr.
"Mr. Sinclair'll see you damned before he lifts a hand for you!" Riley
He strode to his horse and expended his wrath by viciously jerking at
the cinches, until the mustang groaned. Sheriff Kern came suddenly into
clear view around the last turn and rode quickly up to them, a very
short man, muscular, sweaty. He always gave the impression that he had
been working ceaselessly for a week, and certainly he found time to
shave only once in ten days. Dense bristle clouded the lower features
of his face. He was a taciturn man. His greetings took the form of a
single grunt. He took possession of John Gaspar with a single glance
that sent the latter nervously toward his saddle horse.
"I see you got this party all ready for me," said the sheriff more
amiably to Riley Sinclair, who was watching in disgust the clumsy
method of Jig's mounting. "You're Sinclair, I guess?"
"I'm Sinclair, sheriff."
They shook hands.
"Nice bit of work you done for me, Sinclair, keeping the boys from
stringing up Jig, yonder. These here lynchings don't set none too well
on the reputation of a sheriff. I guess we're ready to start. S'long
Sally—Jerry. Are you riding our way, Sinclair?"
"I thought I'd happen along. Ain't never seen Woodville yet."
"Glad to have you. But they ain't much to see unless you look twice at
the same thing."
They started down the trail three abreast.
"Ride on ahead," commanded Sinclair to Jig. "We don't want you riding
in the same line with men. Git on ahead!"
John Gaspar obeyed that brutal order with bowed head. He rode
listlessly, with loose rein, letting the pony pick its own way. Once
Sinclair looked back to Sally Bent, weeping in the arms of her brother.
Again his face grew black.
"And yet," confided the sheriff softly, "I ain't never heard no trouble
about this Gaspar before."
"He's poison," declared Sinclair bitterly, and he raised his voice that
it would unmistakably carry to the shrinking figure before them. "He's
such a yaller-hearted skunk, sheriff, that it makes me ashamed of bein'
"They's only one thing I misdoubt," said the sheriff. "How'd that sort
of a gent ever get the nerve to murder a man like Quade? Quade wasn't
no tenderfoot, and he could shoot a bit, besides."
"Speaking personal, sheriff, I don't think he done it, now I've had a
chance to go over the evidence."
"Maybe he didn't, but most like he'll hang for it. The boys is dead set
agin' him. First, he's a dude; second, he's a coward. Sour Creek and
Woodville wasn't never cut out for that sort. They ain't wanted
That speech made Riley Sinclair profoundly thoughtful. He had known
well enough before this that there were small chances of Jig escaping
from the damning judgment of twelve of these cowpunchers. The statement
of the sheriff made the belief a fact. The death sentence of Jig was
pronounced the moment the doors of the jail at Woodville clanged upon
They struck the trail to Sour Creek and almost immediately swung off on
a branch which led south and west, in the opposite direction from the
creek. It was a day of high-driving clouds, thin and fleecy, so that
they merely filtered the sunlight and turned it into a haze without
decreasing the heat perceptibly, and that heat grew until it became
difficult to look down at the blazing sand.
Now the trail climbed among broken hills until they reached a summit.
From that point on, now and again the road elbowed into view of a wide
plain, and in the center of the plain there was a diminutive dump of
"Woodville," said the sheriff. "Hey, you, Jig, hustle that hoss along!"
Obediently the drooping Gaspar spurred his horse. The animal broke into
a gallop that set Gaspar jolting in the seat, with wildly flopping
"Look at that," said Sinclair. "Would you ever think that men could be
born as awkward as that? Would you ever think that men would be born
that didn't have no use in the world?"
"He ain't altogether useless," decided the sheriff. "Seems as how he's
done noble in the school. Takes on with the little boys and girls most
amazing, and he knows how to keep even the eighth graders interested.
But what can you expect of a gent that ain't got no more pride than to
be a schoolteacher, eh?"
Sinclair shook his head.
The trail drifted downward now less brokenly, and Woodville came into
view. It was a wretched town in a wretched landscape, far different
from the wild hills and the rich plowed grounds around Sour Creek. All
that came to life in the brief spring, the long summer had long since
burned away to drab yellows and browns. A horrible place to die in,
"Speaking of hosses, that's a wise-looking hoss you got, sheriff."
"Rode him for five years," said the sheriff. "Raised him and busted him
and trained him all by myself. Ain't nobody but me ever rode him. He
can go so soft-footed he wouldn't bust eggs, sir, and he can turn loose
and run like the wind. They ain't no better hoss than this that's come
under my eye, Sinclair. Are you much on the points of a hoss?"
"I use hosses—I don't love 'em," said Sinclair gloomily. "But I can
read the points tolerable."
The sheriff eyed Sinclair coldly. "So you don't love hosses, eh?" he
said, returning distantly to the subject. It was easy to see where his
own heart lay by the way his roan picked up its head whenever its
"Sheriff," explained Sinclair, "I'm a single-shot gent. I don't aim to
have no scatter fire in what I like. They's only one man that I ever
called friend, they's only one place that I ever called home—the
mountains, yonder—and they's only one hoss that I ever took to much. I
raised Molly up by hand, you might say. She was ugly as sin, but they
wasn't nothing she couldn't do—nothing!" He paused. "Sheriff, I used
to talk to that hoss!"
The sheriff was greatly moved. "What became of her?" he asked softly.
"I took after a gent once. He couldn't hit me, but he put a slug
"What became of the gent?" asked the sheriff still more softly.
"He died just a little later. Just how I ain't prepared to state."
"Good!" said the sheriff. He actually smiled in the pleasure of
newfound kinship. "You and me would get on proper, Sinclair."
"This hoss of mine, now, has sense enough to take me home without me
touching a rein. Knows direction like a wolf."
"Could you guide her with your knees?"
"And she's plumb safe with you?"
"I know a gent once that said he'd trust himself tied hand and foot on
"That goes for me and my hoss, too, Sinclair."
"Well, then, just shove up them hands, sheriff!"
The sheriff blinked, as the sun flashed on the revolver in the steady
hand of Sinclair. There was a significant little jerking up of the
revolver. Each time the muzzle stirred, the hands of the sheriff jumped
higher and higher until his arms were stiffly stretched. Gaspar had
halted his horse and looked back in amazement.
"I hate to do it," declared Sinclair. "Right off I sort of took to you,
sheriff. But this has got to be done."
"Sinclair, have you done much thinking before you figured this all
"Enough! If I knowed you one shade better, sheriff, I'd take your word
that you'd ride on into Woodville, good and slow, and not start no
pursuit. But I don't know you that well. I got to tie you on the back
of that steady old hoss of yours and turn you loose. We need that much
He dismounted, still keeping careful aim, took the rope coiled beside
the sheriff's own saddle horn and began a swift and sure process of
tying. He worked deftly, without undue fear or haste, and Gaspar came
back to look on with scared eyes.
"You're a fool, Sinclair," murmured the sheriff. "You'll never get shut
of me. I'll foller you till I drop dead. I'll never forget you. Change
your mind now, and we'll say nothing has happened. But if you keep on,
you're done for as sure as my name is Kern. Take you by yourself, and
you'd be a handful to catch. But two is easier than one, and, when one
of them two is a deadweight like Gaspar, they ain't nothing to it."
He finished his appeal completely trussed.
"I ain't tied you on the hoss," said Sinclair. "Take note of that. Also
I'm leaving you your guns, sheriff."
"I hope you'll have a chance to see 'em come out of the holster later
The cowpuncher took no notice of this bitterness. Gaspar, who looked
on, was astonished by a certain deferential politeness on the part of
the big cowpuncher.
"Speaking personal, I hope I don't never have no trouble with you,
sheriff. I like you, understand?"
"Have your little joke, Sinclair!"
"I mean it. I know I'm usin' you like a skunk. But I got a special
need, and I can't take no chances. Sheriff, I tell you out of my heart
that I'm sorry! Will you believe me?"
The sheriff smiled. "The same as you'll believe me when we change
The big man sighed. "I s'pose it's got to be that way," he said. "But
if you come for me, Kern, come all primed for action. It'll be a hard
"That's my specialty."
"Well, sheriff, s'long—and good luck!"
The sheriff nodded. "Thanks!"
Pressing his horse with his knees, Kern started down the trail at a
slow canter. Sinclair followed the retiring figure, nodding with
admiration at the skill with which the sheriff kept his mount under
control, merely by power of voice. Presently the latter turned a corner
of the trail and was out of sight.
"But—I knew—I knew!" exclaimed John Gaspar. "Only, why did you let
him go on into town?" The cold glance of Sinclair rested on his
companion. "What would you have done?"
"Tied him up and left him here."
"I think you would—to die in the sun!" He swung up into his saddle.
"Now, Gaspar, we've started on what's like to prove the last trail for
both of us, understand? By night we'll both be outlawed. They'll have a
price on us, and long before night, Kern will be after us. For the
first time in your soft-hearted life you've got to work, and you've got
"I'll do it, Mr. Sinclair!"
"Bah! Save your talk. Talk's dirt cheap."
"I only ask one thing. Why have you done it?"
"Because, you fool, I killed Quade!"
From the first there was no thought in the sheriff's mind of riding
straight into Woodville, trussed and helpless as he was. Woodville
respected him, and the whole district was proud of its sheriff. He knew
that five minutes of laughter can blast the finest reputation that was
ever built by a lifetime of hard labor. He knew the very faces of the
men who would never let the story die, of how the sheriff came into
town, not only without his prisoner, but tied hand and foot, helpless
in the saddle.
Without his prisoner!
Never before in his twenty years as sheriff had a criminal escaped from
his hands. Many a time they had tried, and on those occasions he had
brought back a dead body for the hand of the law.
This time he had ample excuse. Any man in the world might admit that he
was helpless when such a fellow as Riley Sinclair took him by surprise.
He knew Sinclair well by reputation, and he respected all that he had
No matter for that. The fact remained that his unbroken string of
successes was interrupted. Perhaps Woodville would explain his failure
away. No doubt some of the men knew of Sinclair and would not wonder.
They would stand up doughtily for the prowess of their sheriff. Yet the
fact held that he had failed. It was a moral defeat more than anything
His mind was made up to remain in the mountains until he starved, or
until he had removed those shameful ropes—his own rope! At that
thought he writhed again. But here an arroyo opening in the ragged wall
of a cliff caught his eye. He turned his horse into it and continued on
his way until he saw a projecting rock with a ragged edge, left where a
great fragment had recently fallen away.
Here he found it strangely awkward and even perilous to dismount
without his hands to balance his weight, as he shifted out of the
stirrups. In spite of his care, he stumbled over a loose rock as he
struck the ground and rolled flat on his back. He got up, grinding his
teeth. His hands were tied behind him. He turned his back on the broken
rock and sawed the ropes against it. To his dismay he felt the rock
edge crumble away. It was some chalky, friable stuff, and it gave at
the first friction.
Beads of moisture started out on the sheriff's forehead. Hastily he
started on down the arroyo and found another rock, with an edge not
nearly so favorable in appearance, but this time it was granite. He
leaned his back against it and rubbed with a short shoulder motion
until his arms ached, but it was a happy labor. He felt the rock edge
taking hold of the ropes, fraying the strands to weakness, and then
eating into them. It was very slow work!
The sun drifted up to noon, and still he was leaning against that rock,
working patiently, with his head near to bursting, and perspiration,
which he could not wipe away, running down to blind him. Finally, when
his brain was beginning to reel with the heat, and his shoulders ached
to numbness, the last strand parted. The sheriff dropped down to the
ground to rest.
Presently he drew out his jackknife and methodically cut the remaining
bonds. It came to him suddenly, as he stood up, that someone might have
seen this singular performance and carried the tale away for future
laughter. The thought drove the sheriff mad. He swung savagely into the
saddle and drove his horse at a dead run among the perilous going of
that gorge. When he reached the plain he paused, hesitant between a
bulldog desire to follow the trail single-handed into the mountains and
run down the pair, and a knowledge that he who retreats has an added
power that would make such a pursuit rash beyond words.
A phrase which he had coined for the gossips of Woodville, came back
into his mind. He was no longer as young as he once was, and even at
his prime he shrewdly doubted his ability to cope with Riley Sinclair.
With the weight of Gaspar thrown in, the thing became an impossibility.
Gaspar might be a weakling, but a man who was capable of murder was
To have been thwarted once was shame enough, but he dared not risk two
failures with one man. He must have help in plenty from Woodville, and,
fate willing, he would one day have the pleasure of looking down into
the dead face of Sinclair; one day have the unspeakable joy of seeing
the slender form of Gaspar dangling from the end of a rope.
His mind was filled with the wicked pleasure of these pictures until he
came suddenly upon Woodville. He drew his horse back to a dogtrot to
enter the town.
It was a short street that led through Woodville, but, short though it
was, the news that something was wrong with the sheriff reached the
heart of the town before he did. Men were already pouring out on the
veranda of the hotel.
"Where is he, sheriff?" was the greeting.
Never before had that question been asked. He switched to one side in
his saddle and made the speech that startled the mind of Woodville for
many a day.
"Boys, I've been double-crossed. Have any of you heard tell of Riley
He waited apparently calm. Inwardly he was breathless with excitement,
for according to the size of Riley's reputation as a formidable man
would be the size of his disgrace. There was a brief pause. Old Shaw
filled the gap, and he filled it to the complete satisfaction of the
"Young Hopkins was figured for the hardest man up in Montana way," he
said. "That was till Riley Sinclair beat him. What about Sinclair?"
"It was him that double-crossed me," said the sheriff, vastly relieved.
"He come like a friend, stuck me up on the trail when I wasn't lookin'
for no trouble, and he got away with Gaspar."
A chorus, astonished, eager. "What did he do it for?"
"No man'll ever know," said the sheriff.
"Because Sinclair'll be dead before he has a chance to look a jury in
There were more questions. The little crowd had got its breath again,
and the words came in volleys. The sheriff cut sharply through the
"Where's Bill Wood?"
"He's in town now."
"Charley, will you find Billy for me and ask him to slide over to my
office? Thanks! Where's Arizona and Red Chalmers?"
"They went back to the ranch."
"Be a terrible big favor if you'd go out and try to find 'em for me,
boys. Where's Joe Stockton?"
"Up to the Lewis place."
Old Shaw struck in: "You ain't makin' no mistake in picking the best
you can get. You'll need 'em for this Riley Sinclair. I've heard tell
about him. A pile!"
The very best that Woodville and its vicinity could offer, was indeed
what the sheriff was selecting. Another man would have looked for
numbers, but the sheriff knew well enough that numbers meant little
speed, and speed was one of the main essentials for the task that lay
before him. He knew each of the men he had named, and he had known them
for years, with the exception of Arizona. But the latter, coming up
from the southland, had swiftly proved his ability in many a brawl.
Bill Wood was a peerless trailer; Red Chalmers would, the sheriff felt,
be one day a worthy aspirant for the office which he now held, and Red
was the only man the sheriff felt who could succeed to that perilous
office. As for Joe Stockton, he was distinctly bad medicine, but in a
case like this, it might very well be that poison would be the antidote
for poison. Of all the men the sheriff knew, Joe was the neatest hand
with a gun. The trouble with Joe was that he appreciated his own
ability and was fond of exhibiting his prowess.
Having sent out for his assistants on the chase, the sheriff retired to
his office and set his affairs in order. There was not a great deal of
paper work connected with his position; in twenty minutes he had
cleared his desk, and, by the time he had finished this task, the first
of his posse had sauntered into the doorway and stood leaning idly
there, rolling a cigarette.
"Have a chair, Bill, will you?" said the sheriff. He tilted back in his
own and tossed his heels to the top of his desk. "Getting sort of warm
today, ain't it?"
Bill Wood had never seen the sheriff so cheerful. He sat down gingerly,
knowing well that some task of great danger lay before them.
All that Gaspar dreaded in Riley Sinclair had come true. The
schoolteacher drew his horse as far away as the trail allowed and rode
on in silence. Finally there was a stumble, and it seemed as if the
words were jarred out from his lips, hitherto closely compressed:
"You killed Quade!"
A scowl was his answer.
But he persisted in the inquiry with a sort of trembling curiosity,
though he could see the angry emotions rise in Sinclair. The emotion of
a murderer, perhaps?
"With a gun, fool. How d'you think?"
Even that did not halt John Gaspar.
"Was it a fair fight?"
"Maybe—maybe not. It won't bring him back to life!"
Riley laughed with savage satisfaction. Gaspar watched him as a bird
might watch a snake. He had heard tales of men who could find
satisfaction in a murder, but he had never believed that a human being
could actually gloat over his own savagery. He stared at Riley as if he
were looking at a wild beast that must be placated.
Thereafter the talk was short. Now and again Sinclair gave some curt
direction, but they put mile after mile behind them without a single
phrase interchanged. Gaspar began to slump in the saddle. It brought a
fierce rebuke from Sinclair.
"Straighten up. Put some of your weight in them stirrups. D'you think
any hoss can buck up when it's carrying a pile of lead? Come alive!"
"It's the heat. It takes my strength," protested Gaspar.
"Curse you and your strength! I wouldn't trade all of you for one ear
of the hoss you're riding. Do what I tell you!"
Without protest, without a flush of shame at this brutal abuse, John
Gaspar attempted to obey. Then, as they topped a rise and reached a
crest of a range of hills, Gaspar cried out in surprise. Sour Creek lay
in the hollow beneath them.
"But you're running straight into the face of danger!"
"Don't tell me what I'm doing. I know maybe, all by myself!"
He checked his horse and sat his saddle, eying Gaspar with such
disgust, such concentrated scorn and contempt, that the schoolteacher
"I've brought you in sight of the town so's you can go home."
"And be hanged?"
"You won't be hanged. I'll send a confession along with you. I've
busted the law once. They're after me. They might as well have some
more reasons for hitting my trail."
"But is it fair to you?" asked Gaspar, intertwining his nervous
Sinclair heard the words and eyed the gesture with unutterable disgust.
At last he could speak.
"Fair?" he asked in scorn. "Since when have you been interested in
playing fair? Takes a man with some nerve to play fair. You've spoiled
my game, Gaspar. You've blocked me every way from the start, Cold Feet.
I killed Quade, and they's another in Sour Creek that needs killing.
That's something you can do. Go down and tell the sheriff when he
happens along and show him my confession. Go down and tell him that I
ain't running away—that I'm staying close, and that I'm going to nab
my second man right under his nose. That'll give him something to think
He favored the schoolteacher with another black look and then swung out
of the saddle, throwing his reins. He sat down with his back to a
stunted tree. Gaspar dismounted likewise and hovered near, after the
fashion of a man who is greatly worried. He watched while Sinclair
deliberately took out an old stained envelope and the stub of a pencil
and started to write. His brows knitted in pain with the effort.
Suddenly Gaspar cried: "Don't do it, Mr. Sinclair!"
A slight lifting of Sinclair's heavy brows showed that he had heard,
but he did not raise his head.
"Don't do what?"
"Don't try to kill that second man. Don't do it!"
Gaspar was rewarded with a sneer.
The schoolteacher was desperately eager. His glance roved from the set
face of the cowpuncher and through the scragged branches of the tree.
"You'll be damned for it—in your own mind. At heart you're a good man;
I swear you are. And now you throw yourself away. Won't you try to open
your mind and see this another way?"
"Not an inch. Kid, I gave my word for this to a dead man. I told you
about a friend of mine?"
"I'll never forget."
"I gave my word to him, though he never heard it. If I have to wait
fifty years I'll live long enough to kill the gent that's in Sour Creek
now. The other day I had him under my gun. Think of it! I let him go!"
"And you'll let him go again. Sinclair, murder isn't in your nature.
You're better than you think."
"Close up," growled the cowpuncher. "It ain't no Saturday night party
for me to write. Keep still till I finish."
He resumed his labor of writing, drawing out each letter carefully. He
had reached his signature when a low call from John Gaspar alarmed him.
He looked up to find the little man pointing and staring up the trail.
A horseman had just dropped over the crest and was winding leisurely
down toward the plain below.
"We can get behind that knoll, perhaps, before he sees us," suggested
Jig in a whisper. His suggestion met with no favor.
"You hear me talk, son," said Sinclair dryly. "That gent ain't carrying
no guns, which means that he ain't on our trail, we being figured
particularly desperate." He pointed this remark with a cold survey of
the "desperate" Jig.
"But the best way to make danger follow you, Jig, is to run away from
it. We stay put!"
He emphasized the remark by stretching luxuriously. Gaspar, however,
did not seem to hear the last words. Something about the strange
horseman had apparently riveted his interest. His last gesture was
arrested halfway, and his color changed perceptibly.
"You stay, then, Mr. Sinclair," he said hurriedly. "I'm going to slip
down the hill and—"
"You stay where you are!" cut in Sinclair.
"But I have a reason."
"Your reasons ain't no good. You stay put. You hear?"
It seemed that a torrent of explanation was about to pour from the lips
of Jig, but he restrained himself, white of face, and sank down in the
shade of the tree. There he stretched himself out hastily, with his
hands cupped behind his head and his hat tilted so far down over his
face that his entire head was hidden.
Sinclair followed these proceedings with a lackluster eye.
"When you do move, Jig," he said, "you ain't so slow about it. That's
pretty good faking, take it all in all. But why don't you want this
strange gent to see your face?"
A slight shudder was the only reply; then Jig lay deadly still. In the
meantime, before Sinclair could pursue his questions, the horseman was
almost upon them. The cowpuncher regarded him with distinct approval.
He was a man of the country, and he showed it. As his pony slouched
down the slope, picking its way dexterously among the rocks, the rider
met each jolt on the way with an easy swing of his shoulders, riding
"straight up," just enough of his weight falling into his stirrups to
break the jar on the back of the mustang.
The stranger drew up on the trail and swung the head of his horse in
toward the tree, raising his hand in cavalier greeting. He was a
sunbrowned fellow, as tall as Sinclair and more heavily built; as for
his age, he seemed in that joyous prime of physical life, twenty-five.
Sinclair nodded amiably.
"Might that be Sour Creek yonder?" asked the brown man.
"It might be. I reckon it is. Get down and rest your hoss."
"Thanks. Maybe I will."
He dropped to the ground and eased and stiffened his knees to get out
the cramp of long riding. Off the horse he seemed even bigger and more
capable than before, and now that he had come sufficiently close, so
that the shadow from his sombrero's brim did not partially mask the
upper part of his face, it seemed to Sinclair that about the eyes he
was not nearly so prepossessing as around the clean-cut fighter's mouth
and chin. The eyes were just a trifle too small, a trifle too close
together. Yet on the whole he was a handsome fellow, as he pushed back
his hat and wiped his forehead dry with a gay silk handkerchief.
Sinclair noted, furthermore, that the other had a proper cowpuncher's
pride in his dress. His bench-made boots molded his long and slender
feet to a nicety and fitted like gloves around the high instep. The
polished spurs, with their spoon-handle curve, gleamed and flashed, as
he stepped with a faint jingling. The braid about his sombrero was a
thing of price. These details Sinclair noted. The rest did not matter.
"The kid's asleep?" asked the stranger, casting a careless glance at
the slim form of Jig.
"I reckon so."
"He done it almighty sudden. Thought I seen him up and walking around
when I come over the hill."
"You got good eyes," said Sinclair, but he was instantly put on the
defensive. He was heartily tired of Cold Feet Gaspar, his
peculiarities, his whims, his weaknesses. But Cold Feet was his riding
companion, and this was a stranger. He was thrown suddenly in the
position of a defender of the helpless. "That's the way with these
kids," he confided carelessly to the stranger. "They get out and ride
fast for a couple of hours. Full of ambition, they are. But just when a
growed man gets warmed up to his work; they're through. The kid's tired
"Come far?" asked the stranger.
"Tolerable long ways."
Sinclair disliked questions, and for each interrogation his opinion of
the newcomer descended lower and lower. His own father had raised him
on a stern pattern. "What you mean by questions, Riley? What you can't
figure out with your own eyes and ears and good common hoss sense, most
likely the other gent don't want you to know." Thereafter he had
schooled himself in this particular point. He could suppress all
curiosity and go six months without knowing more than the nickname of a
"You come from Sour Creek, maybe?" went on the other.
"Sort of," replied Sinclair dryly.
His companion proceeded to dispense information on his own part so as
to break the ice.
"I'm Jude Cartwright."
He paused significantly, but Sinclair's face was a blank.
"Glad to know you, Mr. Cartwright. Mostly they call me Long Riley."
"How are you, Riley?"
They shook hands heartily. Cartwright took a place on the ground,
cross-legged and not far from Sinclair.
"I guess you don't know me?" he asked pointedly.
"I guess not."
"I'm of the Jesse Cartwright family."
Sinclair smiled blankly.
"Lucky Cartwright was my dad's name."
"I guess you ain't ever been up Montana way," said the stranger in
disgust which he hardly veiled.
"Not much," said Sinclair blandly.
"I wished that I was back up there. This is a hole of a country down
"Hossflesh and time will take you back, I reckon."
"I reckon they will, when my job's done."
He turned a disparaging eye upon Sour Creek and its vicinity.
"Now, who would want to live in a town like that, can you tell me?"
It occurred very strongly to Riley Sinclair that Cartwright had not yet
fully ascertained whether or not his companion came from that very
town. And, although the day before, he had decided that Sour Creek was
most undesirable and all that pertained to it, this unasked
confirmation of his own opinion grated on his nerves.
"Well, they seems to be a few that gets along tolerable well in that
"They's ten fools for one wise man," declared Cartwright sententiously.
Sinclair veiled his eyes with a downward glance. He dared not let the
other see the cold gleam which he knew was coming into them. "I guess
them's true words."
"Tolerable true," admitted Cartwright. "But I've rode a long ways, and
this ain't much to find at the end of the trail."
"Maybe it'll pan out pretty well after all."
"If Sour Creek holds the person I'm after, I'll call it a good-paying
"I hope you find your friend," remarked Riley, with his deceptive
softness of tone.
"Friend? Hell! And that's where this friend will wish me when I heave
in sight. You can lay to that, and long odds!"
Sinclair waited, but the other changed his tack at once.
"If you ain't from Sour Creek, I guess you can't tell me what I want to
The brown man looked about him for diversion. Presently his eyes rested
on Cold Feet, who had not stirred during all this interval.
Cartwright frowned. "Not much of nothing, I figure," he said with
"Maybe not," replied Sinclair, and again he glanced down.
"He's slept long enough, I reckon," declared the brown man. "Let's have
a look at him. Hey, kid!"
Cold Feet quivered, but seemed lost in a profound sleep. Cartwright
reached for a small stone and juggled it in the palm of his hand.
"This'll surprise him," he chuckled.
"Better not," murmured Sinclair.
"Might land on his face and hurt him."
"It won't hurt him bad. Besides, kids ought to learn not to sleep in
the daytime. Ain't a good idea any way you look at it. Puts fog in the
He poised the stone.
"You might hit his eye, you see," said Sinclair.
"Leave that to me!"
But, as his arm twisted back for the throw, the hand of Sinclair
flashed out and lean fingers crushed the wrist of Cartwright. Yet
Sinclair's voice was still soft.
"Better not," he said.
They sat confronting each other for a moment. The stone dropped from
the numbed fingers of Cartwright, and Sinclair released his wrist.
Their characters were more easily read in the crisis. Cartwright's face
flushed, and a purple vein ran down his forehead between the eyes.
Sinclair turned pale. He seemed, indeed, almost afraid, and apparently
Cartwright took his cue from the pallor.
"I see," he said sneeringly. "You got your guns on. Is that it?"
Sinclair slipped off the cartridge belt.
"Do I look better to you now?"
"A pile better," said Cartwright.
They rose, still confronting each other. It was strange how swiftly
they had plunged into strife.
"I guess you'll be rolling along, Cartwright."
"Nope. I guess I like it tolerable well under this here tree."
"Except that I come here first, partner."
"And maybe you'll be the first to leave."
"I'd have to be persuaded a pile."
"How's this to start you along?"
He flicked the back of his hand across the lips of Sinclair, and then
sprang back as far as his long legs would carry him. So doing, the
first leap of Sinclair missed him, and when the cowpuncher turned he
was met with a stunning blow on the side of the head.
At once the blind anger faded from the eyes of Riley. By the weight of
that first blow he knew that he had encountered a worthy foeman, and by
the position of Cartwright he could tell that he had met a confident
one. The big fellow was perfectly poised, with his weight well back on
his right foot, his left foot feeling his way over the rough ground as
he advanced, always collected for a heavy blow, or for a leap in any
direction. He carried his guard high, with apparent contempt for an
attack on his body, after the manner of a practiced boxer.
As for Riley Sinclair, boxing was Greek to him. His battles had been
those of bullets and sharp steel, or sudden, brutal fracas, where the
rule was to strike with the first weapon that came to hand. This single
encounter, hand to hand, was more or less of a novelty to him, but
instead of abashing or cowing him, it merely brought to the surface all
his coldness of mind, all of his cunning.
He circled Cartwright, his long arms dangling low, his step soft and
quick as the stride of a great cat, and always there was thought in his
face. One gained an impression that if ever he closed with his enemy
the battle would end.
Apparently even Cartwright gained that impression. His own brute
confidence of skill and power was suddenly tinged with doubt. Instead
of waiting he led suddenly with his left, a blow that tilted the head
of Sinclair back, and then sprang in with a crushing right. It was poor
tactics, for half of a boxer's nice skill is lost in a plunging attack.
The second blow shot humming past Sinclair as the latter dodged; and,
before the brown man could recover his poise, the cowpuncher had dived
in under the guarding arms.
A shrill cry rose from Cold Feet, a cry so sharp and shrill that it
sent a chill down the back of Sinclair. For a moment he whirled with
the weight of his struggling, cursing enemy, and then his right hand
shot up over the shoulder of Cartwright and clutched his chin. With
that leverage one convulsive jerk threw Cartwright heavily back; he
rolled on his side, with Sinclair following like a wildcat.
But Cartwright as he fell had closed his fingers on a jagged little
stone. Sinclair saw the blow coming, swerved from it, and straightway
went mad. The brown man became a helpless bulk; the knee of Sinclair
was planted on his shoulders, the talon fingers of Sinclair were buried
in his throat.
Then—he saw it only dimly through his red anger and hardly felt it at
all—Jig's hands were tearing at his wrists. He looked up in dull
surprise into the face of John Gaspar.
"For heaven's sake," Jig was pleading, "stop!"
But what checked Sinclair was not the schoolteacher. Cartwright had
been fighting with the fury of one who sees death only inches away.
Suddenly he grew limp.
"You!" he cried. "You!"
To the astonishment of Sinclair the gaze of the beaten man rested
directly upon the face of Jig.
"Yes," Gaspar admitted faintly, "it is I!"
Sinclair released his grip and stood back, while Cartwright, stumbling
to his feet, stood wavering, breathing harshly and fingering his
"I knew I'd find you," he said, "but I never dreamed I'd find you like
"I know what you think," said Cold Feet, utterly colorless, "but you
think wrong, Jude. You think entirely wrong!"
"You lie like a devil!"
"On my honor."
"Honor? You ain't got none! Honor!"
He flung himself into his saddle. "Now that I've located you, the next
time I come it'll be with a gun."
He turned a convulsed face toward Sinclair.
"And that goes for you."
"Partner," said Riley Sinclair, "that's the best thing I've heard you
say. Until then, so long!"
The other wrenched his horse about and went down the trail at a
reckless gallop, plunging out of view around the first shoulder of a
Sinclair watched him out of sight. He turned to find that Jig had
slumped against the tree and stood with his arm thrown across his face.
It reminded him, with a curious pang of mingled pity and disgust, of
the way Gaspar had faced the masked men of Sour Creek's posse the day
before. There was the same unmanly abnegation of the courage to meet
danger and look it in the eye. Here, again, the schoolteacher was
wincing from the very memory of a crisis.
"Look here!" exclaimed Sinclair. His contempt rang in his voice. "They
ain't any danger now. Turn around here and buck up. Keep your chin high
and look a man in the face, will you?"
Slowly the arm descended. He found himself looking into a white and
tortured face. His respect for the schoolteacher rose somewhat. The
very fact that the little man could endure such pain in silence, no
matter what that pain might be, was something to his credit.
"Now come out with it, Gaspar. You double-crossed this Cartwright, eh?"
"Yes," whispered Jig.
"Will you tell me? Not that I make a business of prying into the
affairs of other gents, but I figure I might be able to help you
straighten things out with this Cartwright."
He made a wry face and then rubbed the side of his head where a lump
was slowly growing.
"Of all the gents that I ever seen," said Sinclair softly, "I ain't
never seen none that made me want to tangle with 'em so powerful bad.
And of all the poisoned fatheads, all the mean, sneakin'
advantage-takin' skunks that ever I run up again', this gent Cartwright
is the worst. If his hide was worth a million an inch, I would have it.
If he was to pay me a hundred thousand a day, I wouldn't be his pal for
a minute." He paused. "Them, taking 'em by and large, is my sentiments
about this here Cartwright. So open up and tell me what you done to
To his very real surprise the schoolteacher shook his head. "I can't do
"H'm," said Sinclair, cut to the quick. "Can't you trust me with it,
"Ah," murmured Gaspar, "of all the men in the world, you're the one I'd
tell it to most easily. But I can't—I can't."
"I don't care whether you tell me or not. Whatever you done, it must
have been plumb bad if you can't even tell it to a gent that likes
Cartwright like he likes poison."
"It was bad," said Jig slowly. "It was very bad—it was a sin. Until I
die I can never repay him for what I have done."
Sinclair recovered some of his good nature at this outburst of
"I'll be hanged if I believe it," he declared bluntly. "Not a word of
it! When you come right down to the point you'll find out that you
ain't been half so bad as you think. The way I figure you is this, Jig.
You ain't so bad, except that you ain't got no nerve. Was it a matter
of losing your nerve that made Cartwright mad at you?"
"Yes. It was altogether that."
Sinclair sighed. "Too bad! I don't blame you for not wanting to talk
about it. They's a flaw in everything, Jig, and this is yours. If I was
to be around you much, d'you know what I'd do?"
"I'd try to plumb forget about this flaw of yours: That's a fact. But
as far as Cartwright goes, to blazes with him! And that's where he's
apt to wind up pronto if he's as good as his word and comes after me
with a gun. In the meantime you grab your hoss, kid, and slide back
into Sour Creek and show the boys this here confession I've written.
You can add one thing. I didn't put it in because I knowed they
wouldn't believe me. I killed Quade fair and square. I give him the
first move for his gun, and then I beat him to the draw and killed him
on an even break. That's the straight of it. I know they won't believe
it. Matter of fact I'm saying it for you, Jig, more'n I am for them!"
It was an amazing thing to see the sudden light that flooded the face
of the schoolteacher.
"And I do believe you, Sinclair," he said. "With all my heart I believe
you and know you couldn't have taken an unfair advantage!"
"H'm," muttered Riley. "It ain't bad to hear you say that. And now trot
Cold Feet made no move to obey.
"Not that I wouldn't like to have you along, but where I got to go,
you'd be a weight around my neck. Besides, your game is to show the
folks down yonder that you ain't a murderer, and that paper I've give
you will prove it. We'll drift together along the trail part way, and
down yonder I turn up for the tall timber."
To all this Jig returned no answer, but in a peculiarly lifeless manner
went to his horse and climbed in his awkward way into the saddle. They
went down the trail slowly.
"Because," explained the cowpuncher, "if I save my hoss's wind I may be
saving my own life."
Where the trail bent like an elbow and shot sheer down for the plain
and Sour Creek, Riley Sinclair pointed his horse's nose up to the
taller mountains, but Jig sat his horse in melancholy silence and
looked mournfully up at his companion.
"So long," said Sinclair cheerily. "And when you get down yonder, it'll
happen most likely that pretty soon you'll hear a lot of hard things
about Riley Sinclair."
"If I do—if I hear a syllable against you," cried the schoolteacher
with a flare of color, "I'll—I'll drive the words back into their
He shook with his emotion; Riley Sinclair shook with controlled
"Would you do all of that, partner? Well, I believe you'd try. What I
mean to say is this: No matter what they say, you can lay to it that
Sinclair has tried to play square and clean according to his own
lights, which ain't always the best in the world. So long!"
There was no answer. He found himself looking down into the quivering
face of the schoolteacher.
"Why, kid, you look all busted up!"
"Riley," gasped Jig very faintly, "I can't go!"
"And why not?"
"Because I can't meet Jude."
"Cartwright, eh? But you got to, sooner or later."
"I'll die first."
"Would your nerve hold you up through that?"
"So easily," said Jig. There was such a simple gravity and despair in
his expression that Sinclair believed it. He grunted and stared hard.
"This Cartwright gent is worse'n death to you?"
"A thousand, thousand times!"
"I can't tell you."
"I kind of wish," said Sinclair thoughtfully, "that I'd kept my grip a
"You don't wish him dead?"
"You plumb beat me, partner. And now you want to come along with me?"
Sinclair grinned. "An outlaw's life ain't what it's cracked up to be,
son. You'd last about a day doing what I have to do."
"You'll find," said the schoolteacher eagerly, "that I can stand it
amazingly well. I'll—I'll be far, far stronger than you expect!"
"Somehow I kind of believe it. But it's for your own fool sake, son,
that I don't want you along."
"Let me try," pleaded Jig eagerly.
The other shook his head and seemed to change his mind in the very
midst of the gesture.
"Why not?" he asked himself. "You'll get enough of it inside of a day.
And then you'll find out that they's some things about as bad as
death—or Cartwright. Come on, kid!"
It was a weary ride that brought them to the end of that day and to a
camping place. It seemed to Jig that the world was made up of nothing
but the ups and downs of that mountain trail. Now, as the sun went
down, they came out on a flat shoulder of the mountain. Far below them
lay Sour Creek, long lost in the shadow of premature night which filled
"Here we are, fixed up as comfortable as can be," said Sinclair
cheerily. "There's water, and there's wood aplenty. What could a gent
ask for more? And here's my country!"
For a moment his expression softened as he looked over the black peaks
stepping away to the north. Now he pointed out a grove of trees, and on
the other side of the little plateau was heard the murmur of a feeble
Riley swung down easily from the saddle, but when Jig dismounted his
knees buckled with weariness, and he slipped down on a rock. He was
unheeded for a moment by the cowpuncher, who was removing from his
saddle the quarters of a deer which he had shot at the foot of the
mountain. When this task was ended, a stern voice brought Jig to his
"What's all this? How come? Going to let that hoss stand there all
night with his saddle on? Hurry up!"
"All right," replied the schoolteacher, but his voice quaked with
weariness, and the cinch knot, drawn taut by the powerful hand of Jerry
Bent, refused to loosen. He struggled with it until his fingers ached,
and his panicky breath came in gasps of nervous excitement.
Presently he was aware of the tall, dark form of Sinclair behind him,
his saddle slung across his arm.
"By guns," muttered Sinclair, "it ain't possible! Not enough muscle to
untie a knot? It's a good thing that your father can't see the sort of
a son that he turned out. Lemme at that!"
Under his strong fingers the knot gave by magic.
"Now yank that saddle off and put it yonder with mine."
Jig pulled back the saddle, but when the full weight jerked down on him
he staggered, and he began to drag the heavy load.
"Hey," cut in the voice of the tyrant, "want to spoil that saddle, kid?
Lift it, can't you?"
Gaspar obeyed with a start and, having placed it in the required
position, turned and waited guiltily.
"Time you was learning something about camping out," declared the
cowpuncher, "and I'll teach you. Take this ax and gimme some wood,
He handed over a short ax, heavy-headed and small of haft.
"That bush yonder! That's dead, or dead enough for us."
Plainly Jig was in awe of that ax. He carried it well out from his
side, as if he feared the least touch against his leg might mean a cut.
Of all this, Riley Sinclair was aware with a gradually darkening
expression. He had been partly won to Jig that day, but his better
opinion of the schoolteacher was being fast undermined.
With a gloomy eye he watched John Gaspar drop on his knees at the base
of the designated shrub and raise the ax slowly—in both hands! Not
only that, but the head remained poised, hung over the schoolteacher's
shoulder. When the blow fell, instead of striking solidly on the trunk
of the bush, it crashed futilely through a branch. Riley Sinclair drew
closer to watch. It was excusable, perhaps, for a man to be unable to
ride or to shoot or to face other men. But it was inconceivable that
any living creature should be so clumsy with a common ax.
To his consummate disgust the work of Jig became worse and worse. No
two blows fell on the same spot. The trunk of the little tree became
bruised, but even when the edge of the ax did not strike on a branch,
at most it merely sliced into the outer surface of the wood and left
the heart untouched. It was a process of gnawing, not of chopping. To
crown the terrible exhibition, Jig now rested from his labors and
examined the palms of his hands, which had become a bright red.
"Gimme the ax," said Sinclair shortly. He dared not trust himself to
more speech and, snatching it from the hands of Cold Feet, buried the
blade into the very heart of the trunk. Another blow, driven home with
equal power and precision on the opposite side, made the tree shudder
to its top, and the third blow sent it swishing to the earth.
This brought a short cry of admiration and wonder from the
schoolteacher, for which Sinclair rewarded him with one glance of
contempt. With sweeping strokes he cleared away the half-dead branches.
Presently the trunk was naked. On it Riley now concentrated his attack,
making the short ax whistle over his shoulders. The trunk of the shrub
was divided into handy portions as if by magic.
Still John Gaspar stood by, gaping, apparently finding nothing to do.
And this with a camp barely started!
It was easier to do oneself, however, than to give directions to such
stupidity. Sinclair swept up an armful of wood and strode off to the
spot he had selected for the campfire, near the place where the spring
water ran into a small pool. A couple of big rocks thrown in place
furnished a windbreak. Between them he heaped dead twigs, and in a
moment the flame was leaping.
As soon as the fire was lighted they became aware that the night was
well nigh upon them. Hitherto the day had seemed some distance from its
final end, for there was still color in the sky, and the tops of the
western mountains were still bright. But with the presence of fire
brightness, the rest of the world became dim. The western peaks were
ghostly; the sky faded to the ashes of its former splendor; and Jig
found himself looking down upon thick night in the lower valleys. He
saw the eyes of the horses glistening, as they raised their heads to
watch. The gaunt form of Sinclair seemed enormous. Stooping about the
fire, enormous shadows drifted above and behind him. Sometimes the
light flushed over his lean face and glinted in his eyes. Again his
head was lost in shadow, and perhaps only the active, reaching hands
were illuminated brightly.
He prepared the deer meat with incomprehensible swiftness, at the same
time arranging the fire so that it rapidly burned down to a firm,
strong, level bed of coals, and by the time the bed of coals were
ready, the meat was prepared in thick steaks to broil over it.
In a little time the rich brown of the cooking venison streaked across
to Jig. He had kept at a distance up to this time, realizing that he
was in disgrace. Now he drifted near. He was rewarded by an amiable
grin from Riley Sinclair, whose ugly humor seemed to have vanished at
the odor of the broiling meat.
"Watch this meat cook, kid, will you? There's something you can do that
don't take no muscle and don't take no knowledge. All you got to do is
to keep listening with your nose, and if you smell it burning, yank
her off. Understand? And don't let the fire blaze. She's apt to flare
up at the corners, you see? And these here twigs is apt to burn
through—these ones that keep the meat off'n the coals. Watch them,
too. And that's all you got to do. Can you manage all them things at
Jig nodded gravely, as though he failed to see the contempt.
"I seen a fine patch of grass down the hill a bit. I'm going to take
the hosses down there and hobble 'em out." Whistling, Sinclair strode
off down the hill, leading the horses after him.
The schoolteacher watched him go, and when the forms had vanished, and
only the echo of the whistling blew back, he looked up. The last life
was gone from the sunset. The last time he glanced up, there had been
only a few dim stars; now they had come down in multitudes, great
yellow planets and whole rifts of steel-blue stars.
He took from his pocket the old envelope which Sinclair had given him,
examined the scribbled confession, chuckling at the crude labor with
which the writing had been drawn out, and then deliberately stuffed the
paper into a corner of the fire. It flamed up, singeing the cooking
meat, but John Gaspar paid no heed. He was staring off down the hill to
make sure that Sinclair should not return in time to see that little
act of destruction. An act of self-destruction, too, it well might turn
out to be.
As for Sinclair, having found his pastureland, where the grass grew
thick and tall, he was in no hurry to return to his clumsy companion.
He listened for a time to the sound of the horses, ripping away the
grass close to the ground, and to the grating as they chewed. Then he
turned his attention to the mountains. His spirit was easier in this
place. He breathed more easily. There was a sense of freedom at once
and companionship. He lingered so long, indeed, that he suddenly became
aware that time had slipped away from him, and that the venison must be
long since done. At that he hurried back up the slope.
He was hungry, ravenously hungry, but the first thing that greeted him
was the scent of burning meat. It stopped him short, and his hands
gripped involuntarily. In that first burst of passion he wanted
literally to wring the neck of the schoolteacher. He strode closer. It
was as he thought. The twigs had burned away from beneath the steak and
allowed it to drop into the cinders, and beside the dying fire, barely
illuminated by it, sat Jig, sound asleep, with his head resting on his
For a moment Sinclair had to fight with himself for control. All his
murderous evil temper had flared up into his brain and set his teeth
gritting. At length he could trust himself enough to reach down and set
his heavy grip on the shoulder of the sleeper.
Even in sleep Jig must have been pursued by a burdened consciousness of
guilt. Now he jerked up his head and stammered up to the shadowy face
"I—I don't know—all at once it happened. You see the fire—"
But the telltale odor of the charring meat struck his nostrils, and his
speech died away. He was panting with fear of consequences. Now a new
turn came to the fear of Cold Feet. It seemed that Riley Sinclair's
hand had frozen at the touch of the soft flesh of Jig's shoulder. He
remained for a long moment without stirring. When his hand moved it was
to take Jig under the chin with marvelous firmness and gentleness at
once and lift the face of the schoolteacher. He seemed to find much to
read there, much to study and know. Whatever it was, it set Jig
trembling until suddenly he shrank away, cowering against the rock
"You don't think—"
But the voice of Sinclair broke in with a note in it that Jig had never
"Guns and glory—a woman!"
It came over him with a rush, that revelation which explained so many
things—everything in fact; all that strange cowardice, and all that
stranger grace; that unmanly shrinking, that more than manly contempt
for death. Now the firelight was too feeble to show more than one
thing—the haunted eyes of the girl, as she cowered away from him.
He saw her hand drop from her breast to her holster and close around
the butt of her revolver.
Sinclair grew cold and sick. After all, what reason had she to trust
him? He drew back and began to walk up and down with long, slow
strides. The girl followed him and saw his gaunt figure brush across
the stars; she saw the wind furl and unfurl the wide brim of his hat,
and she heard the faint stir and clink of his spurs at every step.
There was a tumult in the brain of the cowpuncher. The stars and the
sky and the mountains and wind went out. They were nothing in the
electric presence of this new Jig. His mind flashed back to one
picture—Cold Feet with her hands tied behind her back, praying under
Shame turned the cowpuncher hot and then cold. He allowed his mind to
drift back over his thousand insults, his brutal language, his cursing,
his mockery, his open contempt. There was a tingle in his ears, and a
chill running up and down his spine.
After all that brutality, what mysterious sense had told her to trust
to him rather than to Sour Creek and its men?
Other mysteries flocked into his mind. Why had she come to the very
verge of death, with the rope around her neck rather than reveal her
identity, knowing, as she must know, that in the mountain desert men
feel some touch of holiness in every woman?
He remembered Cartwright, tall, handsome, and narrow of eye, and the
fear of the girl. Suddenly he wished with all his soul that he had
fought with guns that day, and not with fists.
At length the continued silence of the girl made him turn. Perhaps she
had slipped away. His heart was chilled at the thought; turning, he
sighed with relief to find her still there.
Without a word he went back and rekindled the fire, placed new venison
steaks over it, and broiled them with silent care. Not a sound from
Jig, not a sound from the cowpuncher, while the meat hissed, blackened,
and at length was done to a turn. He laid portions of it on broad,
white, clean chips which he had already prepared, and served her. Still
in silence she ate. Shame held Sinclair. He dared not look at her, and
he was glad when the fire lost some of its brightness.
Now and then he looked with wonder across the mountains. All his life
they had been faces to him, and the wind had been a voice. Now all this
was nothing but dead stuff. There was no purpose in the march of the
mountains except that they led to the place where Jig sat.
He twisted together a cup of bark and brought her water from the
spring. She thanked him with words that he did not hear, he was so
intent in watching her face, as the firelight played on it. Now that he
held the clue, everything was as plain as day. New light played on the
Turning away, he put new fuel on the fire, and when he looked to her
again, she had unbelted the revolver and was putting it away, as if she
realized that this would not help her if she were in danger.
When at length she spoke it was the same voice, and yet how new! The
quality in it made Sinclair sit a little straighter.
"You have a right to know everything that I can tell you. Do you wish
For another moment he smoked in solemn silence. He found that he was
wishing for the story not so much because of its strangeness, but
because he wanted that voice to run on indefinitely. Yet he weighed the
question pro and con.
"Here's the point, Jig," he said at last. "I got a good deal to make up
to you. In the first place I pretty near let you get strung up for a
killing I done myself. Then I been treating you pretty hard, take it
all in all. You got a story, and I don't deny that I'd like to hear it;
but it don't seem a story that you're fond of telling, and I ain't got
no right to ask for it. All I ask to know is one thing: When you stood
there under that cotton wood tree, with a rope around your neck, did
you know that all you had to do was to tell us that you was a woman to
get off free?"
"And you'd sooner have hung than tell us?"
Sinclair sighed. "Maybe I've said this before, but I got to say it
ag'in: Jig, you plumb beat me!" He brushed his hand across his
forehead. "S'pose it'd been done! S'pose I had let 'em go ahead and
string you up! They'd have been a terrible bad time ahead for them
seven men. We'd all have been grabbed and lynched. A woman!"
He put the word off by itself. Then he was surprised to hear her
laughing softly. Now that he knew, it was all woman, that voice.
"It wasn't really courage, Riley. After you'd said half a dozen words I
knew you were square, and that you knew I was innocent. So I didn't
worry very much—except just after you'd sentenced me to hang!"
"Don't go back to that! I sure been a plumb fool. But why would you
have gone ahead and let that hanging happen?"
"Because I had rather die than be known, except to you."
"You leave me out."
"I'd trust you to the end of everything, Riley."
"I b'lieve you would, Jig—I honest believe you would! Heaven knows
"That ain't a reason."
"A very good woman's reason. For one thing you've let me come along
when you know that I'm a weight, and you're in danger. But you don't
know what it means if I go back. You can't know. I know it's wrong and
cowardly for me to stay and imperil you, but I am a coward, and I'm
afraid to go back!"
"Hush up," murmured Sinclair. "Hush up, girl. Is they anybody asking
you to go back? But you don't really figure on hanging out here with me
in the mountains, me having most of the gents in these parts out
looking for my scalp?"
"If you think I won't be such an encumbrance that I'll greatly endanger
"H'm," muttered Sinclair. "I'll take that chance, but they's another
"It ain't exactly nacheral and reasonable for a girl to go around in
the mountains with a man."
She fired up at that, sitting straight, with the fire flaring suddenly
in her face through the change of position.
"I've told you that I trust you, Riley. What do I care about the
opinion of the world? Haven't they hounded me? Oh, I despise them!"
"H'm," said the cowpuncher again.
He was, indeed, so abashed by this outbreak that he merely stole a
glance at her face and then studied the fire again.
"Does this gent Cartwright tie up with your story?"
All the fire left her. "Yes," she whispered.
He felt that she was searching his face, as if suddenly in doubt of
"Will you let me tell you—everything?"
"Some parts will be hard to believe."
"Lady, they won't be nothing as hard to believe as what I've seen you
do with my own eyes."
Then she began to tell her story, and she found a vast comfort in
seeing the ugly, stern face of Sinclair lighted by the burning end of
his cigarette. He never looked at her, but always fixed his stare on
the sea of blackness which was the lower valley.
"All the trouble began with a theory. My father felt that the thing for
a girl was to be educated in the East and marry in the West. He was
full of maxims, you see. 'They turn out knowledge in cities; they turn
out men in mountains,' was one of his maxims. He thought and argued and
lived along those lines. So as soon as I was half grown—oh, I was a
"Eh?" cut in Sinclair.
"I could really do the things then that you'd like to have a woman do,"
she said. "I could ride anything, swim like a fish in snow water,
climb, run, and do anything a boy could do. I suppose that's the sort
of a woman you admire?"
"Me!" exclaimed Riley with violence. "It ain't so, Jig. I been revising
my ideas on women lately. Besides, I never give 'em much thought
He said all this without glancing at her, so that she was able to
indulge in a smile before she went on.
"Just at that point, when I was about to become a true daughter of the
West, Dad snapped me off to school in the East, and then for years and
years there was no West at all for me except a little trip here and
there in vacation time. The rest of it was just study and play, all in
the East. I still liked the West—in theory, you know."
"H'm," muttered Riley.
"And then, I think it was a year ago, I had a letter from Dad with
important news in it. He had just come back from a hunting trip with a
young fellow who he thought represented everything fine in the West. He
was big, good-looking, steady, had a large estate. Dad set his mind on
having me marry him, and he told me so in the letter. Of course I was
upset at the idea of marrying a man I did not know, but Dad always had
a very controlling way with him. I had lost any habit of thinking for
myself in important matters.
"Besides, there was a consolation. Dad sent the picture of his man
along with his letter. The picture was in profile, and it showed me a
fine-looking fellow, with a glorious carriage, a high head, and oceans
of strength and manliness.
"I really fell in love with that picture. To begin with, I thought that
it was destiny for me, and that I had to love that man whether I wished
to or not. I admitted that picture into my inmost life, dreamed about
it, kept it near me in my room.
"And just about that time came news that my father was seriously ill,
and then that he had died, and that his last wish was for me to come
West at once and marry my chosen husband.
"Of course I came at once. I was too sick and sad for Dad to think much
about my own future, and when I stepped off the train I met the first
shock. My husband to be was waiting for me. He was enough like the
picture for me to recognize him, and that was all. He was tall and
strong enough and manly enough. But in full face I thought he was
narrow between the eyes. And—"
"It was Cartwright!"
"Yes, yes. How did you guess that?"
"I dunno," said Sinclair softly, "but when that gent rode off today,
something told me that I was going to tangle with him later on. Go on!"
"He was very kind to me. After the first moment of disappointment—you
see, I had been dreaming about him for a good many weeks—I grew to
like him and accept him again. He did all that he could to make the
trip home agreeable. He didn't press himself on me. He did nothing to
make me feel that he understood Dad's wishes about our marriage and
expected me to live up to them.
"After the funeral it was the same way. He came to see me only now and
then. He was courteous and attentive, and he seemed to be fond of me."
"A fox," snarled Sinclair, growing more and more excited, as this
narrative continued. "That's the way with one of them kind. They play a
game. Never out in the open. Waiting till they win, and then acting the
devil. Go on!"
"Perhaps you're right. His visits became more and more frequent.
Finally he asked me to marry him. That brought the truth of my position
home to me, and I found all at once that, though I had rather liked him
as a friend, I had to quake at the idea of him as a husband."
Sinclair snapped his cigarette into the coals of the fire and set his
jaw. She liked him in his anger.
"But what could I do? All of the last part of Dad's life had been
pointed toward this one thing. I felt that he would come out of his
grave and haunt me. I asked for one more day to think it over. He told
me to take a month or a year, as I pleased, and that made me ashamed. I
told him on the spot that I would marry him, but that I didn't love
"I'll tell you what he answered—curse him!" exclaimed Sinclair.
"Through the years that was comin', he'd teach you to love him."
"That was exactly what he said in those very words! How did you guess
"I'll tell you I got a sort of a second sight for the ways of a snake,
or an ornery hoss, or a sneak of a man. Go on!"
"I think you have. At any rate, after I had told him I'd marry him, he
pressed me to set the date as early as possible, and I agreed. There
was only a ten-day interval.
"Those ten days were filled. I kept myself busy so that I wouldn't have
a chance to think about the future, though of course I didn't really
know how I dreaded it. I talked to the only girl who was near enough to
me to be called a friend.
"'Find a man you can respect. That's the main thing,' she always said.
'You'll learn to love him later on.'
"It was a great comfort to me. I kept thinking back to that advice all
"They's nothing worse than a talky woman," declared Sinclair hotly. "Go
"Then, all at once, the day came. I'll never forget how I wakened that
morning and looked out at the sun. I had a queer feeling that even the
sunshine would never seem the same after that day. It was like going to
"So you went to this gent and told him just how you felt, and he let
your promise slide?"
"I couldn't go to him. I didn't dare. I don't imagine that I ever
thought of such a thing. Then there were crowds of people around all
day, giving me good wishes. And all the time I felt like death.
"Somehow I got to the church. Everything was hazy to me, and my heart
was thundering all the time. In the church there was a blur of faces.
All at once the blur cleared. I saw Jude Cartwright, and I knew I
couldn't marry him!"
"Brave girl!" cried Sinclair, his relief coming out in almost a shout.
"You stopped there at the last minute?"
"Ah, if I had! No, I didn't stop. I went on to the altar and met him
"You weren't married to him?"
"Go on," Sinclair said huskily.
"The end of it came somehow. I found a flood of people calling to me
and pressing around me, and all the time I was thinking of nothing but
the new ring on my finger and the weight—the horrible weight of it!
"We went back to my father's house. I managed to get away from all the
merrymaking and go to my room. The minute the door closed behind me and
shut away their voices and singing into the distance, I felt that I had
saved one last minute of freedom. I went to the window and looked out
at the mountains. The stars were coming out.
"All at once my knees gave way, and I began to weep on the window sill.
I heard voices coming, and I knew that I mustn't let them see me with
the tears running down my face. But the tears wouldn't stop coming.
"I ran to the door and locked it. Then someone tried to open the door,
and I heard the voice of my Aunt Jane calling. I gathered all my nerve
and made my voice steady. I told her that I couldn't let anyone in,
that I was preparing a surprise for them.
"'Are you happy, dear?' asked Aunt Jane.
"I made myself laugh. 'So happy!' I called back to her.
"Then they went away. But as soon as they were gone I knew that I could
never go out and meet them. Partly because I had no surprise for them,
partly because I didn't want them to see the tear stains and my red
eyes. Somehow little silly things were as big and as important as the
main thing—that I could never be the real wife of Jude Cartwright. Can
"Jig, once when I had a deer under my trigger I let him go because he
had a funny-shaped horn. Sure, it's the little things that run a gent's
life. Go on!"
"I knew that I had to escape. But how could I escape in a place where
everybody knew me? First I thought of changing my clothes. Then another
thing—man's clothes! The moment that idea came, I was sure it was the
thing. I opened the door very softly. There was no one upstairs just
then. I ran into my cousin's room—he's a youngster of fifteen—and
snatched the first boots and clothes that I could find and rushed back
to my own room.
"I jumped into them, hardly knowing what I was doing. For they were
beginning to call to me from downstairs. I opened the door and called
back to them, and I heard Jude Cartwright answer in a big voice.
"I turned around and saw myself in the mirror in boy's clothes, with my
face as white as a sheet, my eyes staring, my hair pouring down over my
shoulders. I ran to the bureau and found a scissors. Then I hesitated a
moment. You don't dream how hard it was to do. My hair was long, you
see, below my waist. And I had always been proud of it.
"But I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth and cut it off with great
slashes, close to my head. Then I stood with all that mass of hair
shining in my hand and a queer, light feeling in my head.
"But I felt that I was free. I clamped on my cousin's hat—how queer it
felt with all that hair cut off! I bundled the hair into my pocket,
because they mustn't dream what I had done. Then someone beat on the
"'Coming!' I called to them.
"I ran to the window. The house was built on a slope, and it was not a
very long drop to the ground, I suppose. But to me it seemed
neck-breaking, that distance. It was dark, and I climbed out and hung
by my hands, but I couldn't find courage to let go. Then I tried to
climb back, but there wasn't any strength in my arms.
"I cried out for help, but the singing downstairs must have muffled the
sound. My fingers grew numb—they slipped on the sill—and then I fell.
"The fall stunned me, I guess, for a moment. When I opened my eyes, I
saw the stars and knew that I was free. I started up then and struck
straight across country. At first I didn't care where I went, so long
as it was away, but when I got over the first hill I made up a plan.
That was to go for the railroad and take a train. I did it.
"There was a long walk ahead of me before I reached the station, and
with my cousin's big boots wobbling on my feet I was very tired when I
reached it. There were some freight cars on the siding, and there was
hay on the floor of one of them. I crawled into the open door and went
"After a while I woke up with a great jarring and jolting and noise. I
found the car pitch dark. The door was closed, and pretty soon, by the
roar of the wheels under me and the swing of the floor of the car, I
knew that an engine had picked up the empty cars.
"It was a terrible time for me. I had heard stories of tramps locked
into cars and starving there before the door was opened. Before the
morning shone through the cracks of the boards, I went through all the
pain of a death from thirst. But before noon the train stopped, and the
car was dropped at a siding. I climbed out when they opened the door.
"The man who saw me only laughed. I suppose he could have arrested me.
"'All right, kid, but you're hitting the road early in life, eh!'
"Those were the first words that were spoken to me as a man.
"I didn't know where I should go, but the train had taken me south, and
that made me remember a town where my father had lived for a long
time—Sour Creek. I started to get to this place.
"The hardest thing I had to do was the very first thing, and that was
to take my ragged head of hair into a barber shop and get it trimmed. I
was sure that the barber would know I was a girl, but he didn't
"'Been a long time in the wilds, youngster, eh?' was all he said.
"And then I knew that I was safe, because people here in the West are
not suspicious. They let a stranger go with one look. By the time I
reached Sour Creek I was nearly over being ashamed of my clothes. And
then I found this place and work as a schoolteacher. I think you know
the rest." She leaned close to Sinclair. "Was I wrong to leave him?"
Sinclair rubbed his chin. "You'd ought to have told him straight off,"
he said firmly. "But seeing you went through with the wedding—well,
take it all in all, your leaving of him was about the rightest thing I
ever heard of."
Quiet fell between them.
"But what am I going to do? And where is it all going to end?" a small
voice inquired of Sinclair at last.
"Roll up in them blankets and go to sleep," he advised her curtly. "I'm
figuring steady on this here thing, Jig."
Jig followed that advice. Sinclair had left the fire and was walking up
and down from one end of the little plateau to the other, with a
strong, long step. As for the girl, she felt that an incalculable
burden had been shifted from her shoulders by the telling of this tale.
That burden, she knew, must have fallen on another person, and it was
not unpleasant to know that Riley Sinclair was the man.
Gradually the sense of strangeness faded. As she grew drowsy, it seemed
the most natural thing in the world for her to be up here at the top of
the world with a man she had; known two days. And, before she slept,
the last thing of which she was conscious was the head of Sinclair in
the broad sombrero, brushing to and fro across the stars.
With a bang the screen door of Sheriff Kern's office had creaked open
and shut four times at intervals, and each man, entering in turn with a
"Howdy" to the sheriff, had stamped the dust out of the wrinkles of his
riding boots, hitched up his trousers carefully, and slumped into a
chair. Not until the last of his handpicked posse had taken his place
did the sheriff begin his speech.
"Gents," he said, "how long have I been a sheriff?"
"Eighteen to twenty years," said Bill Wood. "And it's been twenty years
of bad times for the safecrackers and gunmen of these parts."
"Thanks," said the sheriff hastily. "And how many that I've once put my
hands on have got loose?"
Again Bill Wood answered, being the senior member.
"None. Your score is exactly one hundred percent, sheriff."
Kern sighed. "Gents," he said, "the average is plumb spoiled."
It caused a general lifting of heads and then a respectful silence. To
have offered sympathy would have been insulting; to ask questions was
beneath their dignity, but four pairs of eyes burned with curiosity.
The least curious was Arizona. He was a fat, oily man from the
southland, whose past was unknown in the vicinity of Woodville, and
Arizona happened to be by no means desirous of rescuing that past from
oblivion. He held the southlander's contempt for the men and ways of
the north. His presence in the office was explained by the fact that he
had long before discovered it to be an excellent thing to stand in with
the sheriff. After this statement from Kern, therefore, he first
glanced at his three companions, and, observing their agitation, he
became somewhat stirred himself and puckered his fat brows above his
eyes, as he glanced back at Kern.
"You've heard of the killing of Quade?" asked the sheriff.
"Yesterday," said Red Chalmers.
"And that they got the killer?"
"It was a gent you'd never have suspected—that skinny little
"I never liked the looks of him," said Red Chalmers gloomily. "I always
got to have a second thought about a gent that's too smooth with the
ladies. And that was this here Jig. So he done the shooting?"
"It was a fight over Sally Bent," explained the sheriff. "Sandersen and
some of the rest in Sour Creek fixed up a posse and went out and
grabbed Gaspar. They gave him a lynch trial and was about to string him
up when a stranger named Sinclair, a man who had joined up with the
posse, steps out and holds for keeping Gaspar and turning him over to
me, to be hung all proper and legal. I heard about all this and went
out to the Bent house, first thing this morning, to get Gaspar, who was
left there in charge of this Sinclair. Any of you ever heard about
A general bowing of heads followed, as the men began to consider, all
save Arizona, who never thought when he could avoid it, and positively
never used his memory. He habitually allowed the dead past to bury its
"It appears to me like I've heard of a Sinclair up to Colma," murmured
Bill Wood. "That was four or five years back, and I b'lieve he was
called a sure man in a fight."
"That's him," muttered the sheriff. He was greatly relieved to know
that his antagonist had already achieved so comfortable a reputation.
"A big, lean, hungry-eyed gent, with a restless pair of hands. He come
along with me while I was bringing Gaspar, but I didn't think nothing
about it, most nacheral. I leave it to you, boys!"
Settling themselves they leaned forward in their chairs.
"We was talking about hosses and suchlike, which Sinclair talked
uncommon slick. He seemed a knowing gent, and I opened up to him, but
in the middle of things he paws out his Colt, as smooth as you ever
see, and he shoves it under my nose."
Sheriff Kern paused. He was wearing gloves in spite of the fact that he
was in his office. These gloves seem to have a peculiarly businesslike
meaning for the others, and now they watched, fascinated, while the
sheriff tugged his fingers deeper into the gloves, as if he were
getting ready for action. He cleared his throat and managed to snap out
the rest of the shameful statement.
"He stuck me up, boys, and he told Jig to beat it up the trail. Then he
backed off, keeping me covered all the time, until he was around the
hill. The minute he was out of sight I follered him, but when it come
into view, him and Gaspar was high-tailing through the hills. I didn't
have no rifle, and it was plumb foolish to chase two killers with
nothing but a Colt. Which I leave it to you gents!"
"Would have been crazy, sheriff," asserted Red Chalmers.
"I dunno," sighed Arizona, patting his fat stomach reminiscently. "I
dunno. I guess you was right, Kern."
The others glared at him, and the sheriff became purple.
"So I come back and figured that I'd best get together the handiest
little bunch of fighting men I could lay hands on. That's why I sent
for you four."
Clumsily they made their acknowledgements.
"Because," said Kern, "it don't take no senator to see that something
has got to be done. Sour Creek is after Gaspar, and now it'll be after
Sinclair, too. But they got clear of me, and I'm the sheriff of
Woodville. It's up to Woodville to get 'em back. Am I right?"
Again they nodded, and the sheriff, growing warmer as he talked,
snatched off a glove and mopped his forehead. As his arm fell, he noted
that Arizona had seen something which fascinated him. His eyes followed
every gesture of the sheriff's hand.
"Is that the whole story?" asked Arizona.
"The whole thing," declared Kern stoutly, and he glared at the man from
"Because if it's anything worse," said Arizona innocently, "we'd ought
to know it. The honor of Woodville is at stake."
"Oh, it's bad enough this way," grumbled Joe Stockton, and the sheriff,
hastily restoring his glove, grunted assent.
"Now, boys, let's hear some plans."
"First thing," said Red Chalmers, rising, "is for each of us to pick
out the best hoss in his string, and then we'll all ride over to the
place where they left and pick up the trail."
"Not a bad idea," approved Kern.
There was a general rising.
"Sit down," said Arizona, who alone had not budged in his chair.
Without obeying, they turned to him.
"Was that the Morris trail, Kern?" asked Arizona.
"Well, you ain't got a chance of picking up the trail of two hosses out
of two hundred."
In silence they received the truth of this assertion. Then Joe Stockton
spoke. He was not exactly a troublemaker, but he took advantage of
every disturbance that came his way and improved it to the last
"Sinclair comes from Colma, according to Bill, and Colma is north. Ride
north, Kern, and the north trail will keep us tolerable close to
Sinclair. We can tend to Gaspar later on—unless he's a pile more
dangerous'n he looks."
"Yes, Sinclair is the main one," said the sheriff. "He's more'n a
hundred Gaspars. Boys, the north trail looks good to me. We can pick up
Gaspar later on, as Joe Stockton says. Straight for Colma, that's where
"Hold on," cut in Arizona.
Patently they regarded him with disfavor. There was something blandly
superior in Arizona's demeanor. He had a way of putting forth his
opinions as though it were not the slightest effort for him to
penetrate truths which were securely veiled from the eyes of ordinary
Now he looked calmly, almost contemptuously upon the sheriff and the
rest of the posse.
"Gents, has any of you ever seen this Jig you talk about ride a hoss?"
"Me, of course," said the sheriff.
"Anything about him strike you when he was in a saddle?"
"Sure! Got a funny arm motion."
"Like he was fanning his ribs with his elbows to keep cool?" went on
The sheriff chuckled.
"Would you pick him for a good hand on a long trail?"
"Never in a million years," said the sheriff. "Is he?"
Kern seemed to admit his inferiority by asking this question. He bit
his lip and was about to go on and answer himself when Arizona cut in
with: "Never in a million years, sheriff. He couldn't do twenty miles
in a day without being laid up."
"What's the point of all this, Arizona?"
"I'll show you pronto. Let's go back to Sinclair. The other day he was
one of a bunch that pretty near got Gaspar hung, eh?"
"But at the last minute he saved Jig?"
"Sure. I just been telling you that."
Their inability to follow Arizona's train of thought irritated the
others. He literally held them in the palm of his hand as he developed
"Why did he save Jig?" he went on. "Because when Gaspar was about to
swing, they was something about him that struck Sinclair. What was it?
I dunno, except that Jig is tolerable young looking and pretty
helpless, even though you say he killed Quade."
"Say he killed him?" burst out the sheriff. "It was plumb proved on
"I'd sure like to see that proof," said the man from the southland.
"The point is that Sinclair took pity on him and kept him from the
noose. Then he stays that night guarding him and gets more and more
interested. This Jig has got a pile of education. I've heard him talk.
Today you come over the hills. Sinclair sees Woodville, figures that's
the place where Jig'll be hung, and he loses his nerve. He sticks you
up and gets Jig free. All right! D'you think he'll stop at that? Don't
he know that Jig's plumb helpless on the trail? And knowing that, d'you
think he'll split with Jig and leave the schoolteacher to be picked up
the first thing? No, sir, he'll stick with Jig and see him through."
"Well, all the better," snapped the sheriff. "That's going to make our
trail shorter—if what you say turns out true."
"It's true, well enough. Sinclair right now is camping somewhere in the
hills near Sour Creek, waiting for things to quiet down before he hits
the out-trail with this Gaspar."
"He wouldn't be fool enough for that," grumbled the sheriff.
"Fool? Has any one of you professional man hunters figured yet on
hunting for 'em near Sour Creek? Ain't you-all been talking long
trails—Colma, and what not?"
They were crushed.
"All you say is true, if Sinclair saddles himself with the tenderfoot.
Might as well tie so much lead around his neck."
"He'll do it, though," said Arizona carelessly. "I know him."
It caused a new focusing of attention upon him, and this time Arizona
seemed to regret that he stood in the limelight.
"You know him?" asked Joe Stockton softly.
The bright black eyes of the fat man glittered and flickered from face
to face. He seemed to be gauging them and deciding how much he could
say—or how little.
"Sure, I drifted up to this country one season and rode there. I heard
a pile about this Sinclair and seen him a couple of times."
"How good a man d'you figure him to be with a gun?" asked the sheriff
without apparent interest.
"Good enough," sighed Arizona. "Good enough, partner!"
Presently the sheriff showed that he was a man capable of taking good
advice, even though he could not stamp it as his own original device.
"Boys," he said, "I figure that what Arizona has said is tolerable
sound. Arizona, what d'you advise next?"
"That we go to Sour Creek pronto—and sit down and wait!"
A chorus of exclamations arose.
Arizona grew impatient with such stupidity. "Sinclair come to Sour
Creek to do something. I dunno what he wants, but what he wants he
ain't got yet, and he's the sort that'll stay till he does his work."
"I've got in touch with the authorities higher up, boys," declared
Kern. "Sinclair and Gaspar is both outlawed, with a price on their
heads. Won't that change Sinclair's mind and make him move on?"
"You don't know Sinclair," persisted Arizona. "You don't know him at
"Grab your hosses, boys. I'm following Arizona's lead."
Pouring out of the door in silence, the omniscience of Arizona lay
heavily upon their minds. Inside, the sheriff lingered with the wise
man from the southland.
"If I was to get in touch with Colma, Fatty, what d'you think they'd be
able to tell me about your record up there?"
The olive skin of Arizona became a bleached drab.
"I dunno," he said rather thickly, and all the while his little black
eyes were glittering and shifting. "Nothing much, Kern."
His glance steadied. "By the way, when you had your glove off a while
ago I seen something on your wrist that looked like a rope gall, Kern.
If I was to tell the boys that, what d'you figure they'd think about
It was Kern's turn to change color. For a moment he hesitated, and then
he dropped a hand lightly on Arizona's shoulder.
"Look here, Arizona," he muttered in the ear of the fat man, "what you
been before you hit Woodville I dunno, and I don't care. I figure we
come to a place where we'd both best keep our mouths shut. Eh?"
"Shake," said Arizona, and they went out the door, almost arm in arm.
For Jude Cartwright the world was gone mad, as he spurred down the
hills away from Sinclair and the girl. It was really only the second
time in his life that he had been thwarted in an important matter. To
be sure he had been raised roughly among rough men, but among the
roughest of them, the repute of his family and the awe of his father's
wide authority had served him as a shield in more ways than Jude
himself could realize. He had grown very much accustomed to having his
All things were made smooth for him; and when he reached the age when
he began to think of marriage, and was tentatively courting half a
dozen girls of the district, unhoped-for great fortune had fairly
dropped into his path.
The close acquaintance with old Mervin in that hunting trip had been
entirely accidental, and he had been astounded by the marriage contract
which Mervin shortly after proposed between the two families.
Ordinarily even Jude Cartwright, with all his self-esteem, would never
have aspired to a star so remote as Mervin's daughter. The miracle,
however, happened. He saw himself in the way to be the richest man on
the range, the possessor of the most lovely wife.
That dream was first pricked by the inexplicable disappearance of the
girl on their marriage day. He had laid that disappearance to foul
play. That she could have left him through any personal aversion never
entered his complacent young head.
He went out on the quest after the neighboring district had been combed
for his wife, and he had spent the intervening months in a ceaseless
search, which grew more and more disheartening. It was only by chance
that he remembered that Mervin had lived for some time in Sour Creek,
and only with the faintest hope of finding a clue that he decided to
visit that place. In his heart he was convinced that the girl was dead,
but if she were really hiding it was quite possible that she might have
remembered the town where her father had made his first success with
Now the coincidence that had brought him face to face with her, stunned
him. He was still only gradually recovering from it. It was totally
incredible that she should have fled at all. And it was entirely beyond
the range of credence that modest Elizabeth Mervin should have donned
the clothes of a man and should be wandering through the hills with a
But when his wonder died away, he felt little or no pity for his wife.
The pang that he felt was the torture of offended pride. Indeed, the
fact that he had lost his wife meant less to him than that his wife had
seen him physically beaten by another man. He writhed in his saddle at
Instantly his mind flashed back to the details of the scene. He
rehearsed it with himself in a different role, beating the cowpuncher
to a helpless pulp of bruised muscle, snatching away his wife. But even
if he had been able to do that, what would the outcome be? He could not
let the world know the truth—that his wife had fled from him in horror
on their marriage day, that she had wondered about in the clothes of a
man, that she was the companion of another man. And if he brought her
back, certainly all these facts would come to light. The close-cropped
hair alone would be damning evidence.
He framed a wild tale of abduction by villains, of an injury, a
sickness, a fever that forced a doctor to cut her hair short. He had no
sooner framed the story than he threw it away as useless. With all his
soul he began to wish for the only possible solution which would save
the remnants of his ruined self-respect and keep him from the peril of
discovery. The girl must indubitably die!
By the time he came to this conclusion, he had struck out of the hills,
and, as his horse hit the level going and picked up speed, the heart of
Jude Cartwright became lighter. He would get weapons and the finest
horse money could buy in Sour Creek, trail the pair, take them by
surprise, and kill them both. Then back to the homeland and a new life!
Already he saw himself in it, his name surrounded with a glamour of
pathetic romance, as the sad widower with a mystery darkening his past
and future. It was an agreeable gloom into which he fell. Self-pity
warmed him and loosened his fierceness. He sighed with regret for his
In this frame of mind he reached Sour Creek and its hotel. While he
wrote his name in the yellowed register he over-heard loud conversation
in the farther end of the room. Two men had been outlawed that
day—John Gaspar, the schoolteacher who killed Quade, and Riley
Sinclair, a stranger from the North.
Paying no further attention to the talk, he passed on into the general
merchandise store which filled most of the lower story of the hotel.
There he found the hardware department, and prominent among the
hardware were the gun racks. He went over the Colts and with an expert
hand took up the guns, while the gray-headed storekeeper advanced an
eulogium upon each weapon. His attention was distracted by the entrance
of a tall, painfully thin man who seemed in great haste.
"What's all this about Cold Feet, Whitey?" he asked. "Cold Feet and
"I dunno, Sandersen, except that word come in from Woodville that
Sinclair stuck up the sheriff on his way in with Jig, and Sinclair got
clean away. What could have been in his head to grab Jig?"
"I dunno," said Sandersen, apparently much perturbed. "They outlawed
'em both, Whitey?"
There was an eagerness in this question so poorly concealed that
Cartwright jerked up his head and regarded Sandersen with interest.
"Both," replied Whitey. "You seem sort of pleased, Sandersen?"
"I knowed that Sinclair would come to a bad end," said Sandersen more
"Why, I thought they said you cottoned to him when the boys was
figuring he might have had something to do with Quade?"
"Me? Well, yes, for a minute. But out at the necktie party, Whitey, I
kept watching him. Thinks a lot more'n he says, and gents like that is
"Always," replied Whitey.
"But it's the last time Sinclair'll show his face in Sour
Creek—alive," said Sandersen.
"If he does show his face alive, it'll be a dead face pronto. You can
lay to that."
Sandersen seemed to turn this fact over and over in his mind, with
"And yet," pursued the storekeeper, "think of a full-grown man breaking
the law to save such a skinny little shrimp of a gent as Jig? Eh? More
like a pretty girl than a boy, Jig is."
Cartwright exclaimed, and both of the others turned toward him.
"Here's the gun for me," he said huskily, "and that gun
belt—filled—and this holster. They'll all do."
"And a handy outfit," said Whitey. "That gun'll be a friend in need!"
"What makes you think they'll be a need?" asked Cartwright, with such
unnecessary violence that the others both stared. He went on more
smoothly: "What was you saying about a girl-faced gent?"
"The schoolteacher—he plugged a feller named Quade. Sinclair got him
clean away from Sheriff Kern."
"And what sort of a looking gent is Sinclair? Long, brown, and pretty
husky-looking, with a mean eye?"
"You've named him! Where'd you meet up with him?"
"Over in the hills yonder, just where the north trail comes over the
rise. They was sitting down under a tree resting their hosses when I
come along. I got into an argument with this Sinclair—Long Riley, he
"Riley's his first name."
"We passed some words. Pretty soon I give him the lie! He made a reach
for his gun. I told him I wasn't armed and dared him to try his fists.
He takes off his belt, and we went at it. A strong man, but he don't
know nothing about hand fighting. I had him about ready to give up and
begging me to quit when this Jig, this girl-faced man you talk
about—he pulls a gun and slugs me in the back of the head with it."
Removing his sombrero he showed on the back of his head the great welt
which had been made when he struck the ground with the weight of
Sinclair on top of him. It was examined with intense interest by the
"Dirty work!" said Sandersen sympathetically.
The storekeeper said nothing at all, but began to fold up a bolt of
cloth which lay half unrolled on the counter.
"It knocked me cold," continued Cartwright, "and when I come to, they
wasn't no sign nor trace of 'em."
Buckling on the belt, he shoved the revolver viciously home in the
"I'll land that pair before the posse gets to 'em, and when I land 'em
I won't do no arguing with fists!"
"Say, I call that nerve," put in the storekeeper, with patent
admiration in his eyes, while he smoothed a fold of the cloth. "Running
agin' one gent like Sinclair is bad enough—let alone tackling two at
once. But you'd ought to take out a big insurance on your life, friend,
before you take that trail. It's liable to be all out-trail and no
A great deal of enthusiasm faded from Cartwright's face.
"How come?" he asked briefly.
"Nothing much. But they say this Sinclair is quite a gunfighter, my
friend. Up in his home town they scare the babies by talking about
"H'm," murmured Cartwright. "He can't win always, and maybe I'll be the
But he went out of the store with his head thoughtfully inclined.
"Think of meeting up with them two all alone and not knowing what they
was!" sighed Sandersen. "He's lucky to be alive, I'll tell a man."
"Plenty of nerve in a gent like that," went on Sandersen, his pale blue
eyes becoming dreamy. "Get your gat out, will you, Bill?"
Bill Sandersen obliged.
"Look at the butt. D'you see any point on it?"
"Did you look at that welt on the stranger's head?"
"Did you see a little cut in the middle of the welt?"
"Come to think of it, I sure did."
"Well, Sandersen, how d'you make out that a gun butt would make a cut
"What are you driving at, Whitey?"
"I'm just discounting the stranger," said Whitey. "I dunno what other
talents he's got, but he's sure a fine nacheral liar."
It was some time before Riley Sinclair interrupted his pacing and,
turning, strode over to the dim outlines of the sleeping girl. She did
not speak, and, leaning close above her, he heard her regular
Waiting until he was satisfied that she slept, he began to move
rapidly. First, with long, soft steps he went to his saddle, which was
perched on a ridge of rock. This he raised with infinite care,
gathering up the stirrups and the cinches so that nothing might drag or
strike. With this bundle secured, he once more went close to the figure
of the sleeper and this time dropped on one knee beside her. He could
see nothing distinctly by the starlight, but her forehead gleamed with
one faint highlight, and there was the pale glimmer of one hand above
For the moment he almost abandoned the plan on which he had resolved,
which was no less than to attempt to ride into Sour Creek and return to
the girl before she wakened in the dawn. But suppose that he failed,
and that she wakened to find herself alone in the mountain wilderness?
He shuddered at the idea, yet he saw no other issue for her than to
attempt the execution of his plan.
He rose hastily and walked off, letting his weight fall on his toes
altogether, so that the spurs might not jingle.
Even that brief rest had so far refreshed his mustang that he was
greeted with flattened ears and flying heels. These efforts Sinclair
met with a smile and terrible whispered curses, whose familiar sound
seemed to soothe the horse. He saddled at once, still using care to
avoid noise, and swung steeply down the side of the mountain. On the
descending trail, he could cut by one half the miles they had traversed
winding up the slope.
Recklessly he rode, giving the wise pony its head most of the time, and
only seeing that it did not exceed a certain speed, for when a horse
passes a certain rate of going it becomes as reckless as a drunken man.
Once or twice they floundered onto sheer gravel slides which the
broncho took by flinging back on its haunches and going down with
stiffly braced forelegs. But on the whole the mustang took care of
In an amazingly short time they struck the more placid footing of the
valley, and Sinclair, looking up, could not believe that he had been so
short a time ago at the top of the flat-crested mountain.
He gave little time to wondering, however, but cut across the valley
floor at a steady lope. From the top of the mountain the lights of Sour
Creek were a close-gathered patch, from the level they appeared as a
scattering line. Sinclair held straight toward them, keeping away to
the left so as to come onto the well-beaten trail which he knew ran in
that direction. He found it and let the mustang drop back to a steady
dogtrot; for, if the journey to Sour Creek was now a short distance,
there would be a hard ride back to the flat-topped mountain if he
wished to accomplish his business and return before the full dawn. He
must be there by that time, for who could tell what the girl might do
when she found herself alone. Therefore he saved the cattle pony as
much as possible.
He was fairly close to Sour Creek, the lights fanning out broader and
broader as he approached. Suddenly two figures loomed up before him in
the night. He came near and made out a barelegged boy, riding without a
saddle and driving a cow before him. He was a very angry herdsman, this
boy. He kept up a continual monologue directed at the cow and his
horse, and so he did not hear the approach of Riley Sinclair until the
outlaw was close upon him. Then he hitched himself around, with his
hand on the hip of his old horse, swaying violently with the jerk of
the gait. He was glad of the company, it seemed.
"Evening, mister. You ain't Hi Corson, are you?"
"Nope, I ain't Hi. Kind of late driving that cow, ain't you?"
The boy swore with shrill fluency.
"We bought old Spot over at the Apwell place, and the darned old fool
keeps breaking down fences and running back every time she gets a
chance. Ain't nothing so foolish as a cow."
"Why don't your dad sell her for beef?"
"Beef?" The boy laughed. "Say, mister, I'd as soon try to chew leather.
They ain't nothing but bones and skin and meanness to old Spot. But
she's a good milker. When she comes in fresh she gives pretty nigh onto
four gallons a milking."
"Is that so!"
"Sure is! Hard to milk, though. Kick the hat right off'n your head if
you don't watch her. Never see such a fool cow as old Spot! Hey!"
Taking advantage of this diversion in the attention of her guardian,
Spot had ambled off to the side of the road. The boy darted his horse
after her and sent her trotting down the trail, with clicking hoofs and
long, sweeping steps that scuffed up a stifling dust.
"Ain't very good to heat a milker up by running 'em, son," reproved
"I know it ain't. But it wouldn't make me sorry if old Spot just
nacherally dropped down dead—she gives me that much trouble. Look at
her now, doggone her!"
Spot had turned broadside to them and waited for the boy to catch up
before she would take another forward step.
"You just coming in to Sour Creek?"
"Yep, I'm strange to this town."
"Well, you sure couldn't have picked a more fussed-up time."
"Well, you hear about the killing of Quade, I reckon?"
"Not a word."
"You ain't? Where you been these days?"
"Oh, yonder in the hills."
"Chipping rocks, eh? Well, Quade was a gent that lived out the norm
trail, and he had a fuss with the schoolteacher over Sally Bent, and
the schoolteacher up and murders Quade, and they raise a posse and go
out to hang Gaspar, the teacher, and they're kept from it by a stranger
called Sinclair; when the sheriff comes to get Gaspar and hang him
legal and all, that Sinclair sticks up the sheriff and takes Gaspar
away, and now they're both outlawed, I hear tell, and they's a price on
The lad brought it out in one huge sentence, sputtering over the words
in his haste.
"How much of a price?"
"I dunno. It keeps growing. Everybody around Woodville and Sour Creek
is chipping in to raise that price. They sure want to get Gaspar and
Sinclair bad. Gaspar ain't much. He's a kind of sissy, but Sinclair is
a killer—and then some."
Sinclair raised his head to the black, solemn mountains. Then he looked
back to his companion.
"Why, has he killed anybody lately?"
"He left one for dead right today!"
"You don't mean it! He sure must be bad."
"Oh, he's bad, right enough. They was a gent named Cartwright come into
town today with his head all banged up. He'd met up with Gaspar and
Sinclair in the hills, not knowing nothing about them. Got into an
argument with Sinclair, and, not being armed, he had it out with fists.
He was beating up Sinclair pretty bad—him being a good deal of a
man—when Gaspar sneaks up and whangs him on the back of the head with
the butt of his Colt. They rode off and left him for dead. But pretty
soon he wakes up. He comes on into Sour Creek, rarin' and tearin' and
huntin' for revenge. Sure will be a bad mess if he meets up with
"Reckon it had ought to be," replied Sinclair. "Like to see this gent
that waded into two outlaws with his bare fists."
"He's a man, right enough. Got a room up in the hotel. Must have a pile
of money, because he took the big room onto the north end of the hotel,
the room that's as big as a house. Nothin' else suited him at all. Dad
"I ain't got nothing particular on hand," murmured Sinclair. "Maybe I
can get in on this manhunt—if they ain't started already."
The boy laughed. "Everybody in town has been trying to get in on that
manhunt, but it ain't any use. Sheriff Kern has got a handpicked
posse—every one a fightin' fool, Dad says. Wish you luck, though. They
ain't starting till the morning. Well, here's where I branch off.
S'long! Hey, Spot, you old fool, git along, will you?"
Sinclair watched the youngster fade into the gloom behind the ambling
cow, then he struck on toward Sour Creek; but, before he reached the
main street, he wound off to the left and let his horse drift slowly
beyond the outlying houses.
His problem had become greatly complicated by the information from the
boy. He had a double purpose, which was to see Cartwright in the first
place, and then Sandersen, for these were the separate stumbling blocks
for Jig and for himself. For Cartwright he saw a solution, through
which he could avoid a killing, but Sandersen must die.
He skirted behind the most northerly outlying shed of the hotel,
dismounted there, and threw the reins. Then he slipped back into the
shadow of the main building. Directly above him he saw three dark
windows bunched together. This must be Cartwright's room.
It seemed patent to Bill Sandersen, earlier that afternoon, that fate
had stacked the cards against Riley Sinclair. Bill Sandersen indeed,
believed in fate. He felt that great hidden forces had always
controlled his life, moving him hither and yon according to their
To the dreamy mind of the mystic, men are accidents, and all they
perform are the dictates of the power and the brain of the other world.
Sandersen could tell at what definite moments hunches had seized him.
He had looked at the side of the mountain and suddenly felt, without
any reason or volition on his part, that he was impelled to search that
mountainside for gold-bearing ore. He had never fallen into the habit
of using his reason. He was a wonderful gambler, playing with singular
abandon, and usually winning. It mattered not what he held in his hand.
If the urge came to him, and the surety that he was going to bet, he
would wager everything in his wallet, all that he could borrow, on a
pair of treys. And when such a fit was on him, the overwhelming
confidence that shone in his face usually overpowered the other men
sitting in at the game. More than once a full house had been laid down
to his wretched pair. There were other occasions when he had lost the
very boots he wore, but the times of winning naturally overbalanced the
losses in the mind of Bill. It was not he who won, and it was not he
who lost. It was fate which ruled him. And that fate, he felt at
present, had sided against Riley Sinclair.
A sort of pity for the big cowpuncher moved him. He knew that he and
Quade and Lowrie deserved death in its most terrible form for their
betrayal of Hal Sinclair in the desert; and nothing but fate, he was
sure, could save him from the avenger. Fate, however, had definitely
intervened. What save blind fate could have stepped into the mind of
Sinclair and made him keep Cold Feet from the rope, when that hanging
would have removed forever all suspicion that Sinclair himself had
Another man would have attributed both of those actions to common
decency in Sinclair, but Sandersen always hunted out more profound
reasons. In order to let the fact of his own salvation from Sinclair's
gun sink more definitely into his brain, he trotted his horse into the
hills that afternoon. When he came back he heard that the posse was in
To another it might have seemed odd that the posse was there instead of
on the trail of the outlaws. But Sandersen never thought of so
practical a question. To him it was as clear as day. The posse had been
brought to Sour Creek by fate in order that he, Sandersen, might enlist
in its ranks and help in the great work of running down Sinclair, for,
after all, it was work primarily to his own interest. There was
something ironically absurd about it. He, Sandersen, having committed
the mortal crime of abandoning Hal Sinclair in the desert, was now
given the support of legal society to destroy the just avenger of that
original crime. It was hardly any wonder that Sandersen saw in all this
the hand of fate.
He went straight to the hotel and up to the room which the sheriff had
engaged. Cartwright was coming out with a black face, as Sandersen
entered. The former turned at the door and faced Kern and the four
assistants of the sheriff.
"I'll tell you what you'll do, you wise gents," he growled. "You'll
miss him altogether. You hear?"
And then he stamped down the hall.
Sandersen carefully removed his hat as he went in. He was quite aware
that Cartwright must have been just refused a place on the posse, and
he did not wish to appear too confident. He paid his compliments to the
bunch, except Arizona, to whom he was introduced. The sheriff
forestalled his request.
"You've come for a job in the posse, Bill?"
Hastily Sandersen cut in before the other should pronounce a final
"I don't blame you for turning down Cartwright," he said. "A gent like
that who don't know the country ain't much use on the trail, eh?"
"The point is, Bill, that I got all the men I need. I don't want a
"But I got a special reason, sheriff. Besides a tolerable fast hoss
that might come in handy for a chase, I sling a tolerable fast gun,
sheriff. But beyond that all, I got a grudge."
"A grudge?" asked the sheriff, pricking his ears.
"So did Cartwright have a grudge," cut in Arizona dryly.
Perhaps after all, Sandersen felt, fate might not be with him in this
quest for Sinclair. He said earnestly: "You see, boys, it was me that
raised the posse that run down Cold Feet in the first place. It was me
that backed up Sinclair all the way through the trail, and I feel like
some of the blame for what happened is coming to me. I want to square
things up and get a chance at Sinclair. I want it mighty bad. You know
me, Kern. Gimme a chance, will you?"
"Well, that sounds like reason," admitted the sheriff. "Eh, boys?"
The posse nodded its general head, with the usual exception of Arizona,
who seemed to take a particular pleasure in diverging from the
judgments of the others.
"Just a minute, gents," he said. "Don't it strike you that they's
something the same with Cartwright and Sandersen? Both of 'em in
particular anxious to cut in on this party; both of 'em has grudges.
Cartwright said he didn't want no share of the money if you caught
Gaspar and Sinclair. Is that right for you, too, Sandersen?"
"It sure is. I want the fun, not the coin," said Sandersen.
"Boys," resumed Arizona, "it rounds up to this: Sinclair came down here
to Sour Creek for a purpose."
Sandersen began to listen intently. He even dreaded this fat man from
"I dunno what this purpose was," went on Arizona, "but mostly when a
gent like Sinclair makes a trip they's a man at the far end of
it—because this ain't his range. Now, if it's a man, why shouldn't it
be one of these two, Cartwright or Sandersen, who both pack a grudge
against Sinclair? Sinclair is resting somewhere up yonder in them
hills. I'm sure of that. He's waiting there to get a chance to finish
his business in Sour Creek, and that business is Cartwright or
Sandersen, I dunno which. Now, I'm agin' taking in Sandersen. When
we're private I'll tell you my reason why."
There was something of an insult in this speech and the tall man took
"Partner," he drawled, "it looks to me like them reasons could be spoke
personal to me. Suppose you step outside and we talk shop?"
Arizona smiled. It took a man of some courage and standing to refuse
such an invitation without losing caste. But for some reason Arizona
was the last man in the world whom one could accuse of being a coward.
"Sandersen," he said coldly, "I don't mean to step on your toes. You
may be as good a man as the next. The reasons that I got agin' you
ain't personal whatever, which they're things I got a right to think,
me being an officer of the law for the time being. If you hold a grudge
agin' me for what I've said, you and me can talk it over after this
here job's done. Is that square?"
"I s'pose it's got to be," replied Sandersen. "Gents, does the word of
your fat friend go here?"
Left to themselves, the posse probably would have refused Arizona's
advice on general principles, but Arizona did not leave them to
"Sure, my word goes," he hastened to put in. "The sheriff and all of us
work like a closed hand—all together!"
There was a subtle flattery about this that pleased the sheriff and the
"Reckoning it all in all," said sheriff, "I think we better figure you
out, Sandersen. Besides they ain't anything to keep you and Cartwright
and the rest from rigging up a little posse of your own. Sinclair is up
yonder in the hill waiting—"
Suddenly he stopped. Sandersen was shaken as if by a violent ague, and
his face lost all color, becoming a sickly white.
"And we're going to find him by ourselves. S'long Sandersen, and thanks
for dropping in. No hard feelings, mind!"
To this friendly dismissal Sandersen returned no answer. He turned away
with a wide, staring eye, and went through the doorway like a man
walking in a dream. Arizona was instantly on his feet.
"You see, boys?" he asked exultantly. "I was right. When you said
Sinclair was waiting up there in the hills, Sandersen was scared. I was
right. He's one of them that Sinclair is after, and that's why he
wanted to throw in with us!"
"And why the devil shouldn't he?" asked the sheriff.
"For a good reason, sheriff, reason that'll save us a pile of riding.
We'll sit tight here in Sour Creek for a while and catch Sinclair right
here. D'you know how? By watching Cartwright and Sandersen. As sure as
they's a sky over us, Sinclair is going to make a try at one of 'em.
They both hate him. Well, you can lay to it that he hates 'em back. And
a man that Sinclair hates he's going to get sooner or later—chiefly
sooner. Sheriff, keep an eye on them two tonight, and you'll have
Sinclair playing right into your hands!"
"Looks to me," muttered Red Chalmers, "like you had a grudge agin'
Cartwright and Sandersen, using them for live bait and us for a trap."
"Why not?" asked Arizona, sitting down and rubbing his fat hands, much
pleased with himself. "Why not, I'd like to know?"
In the meantime Bill Sandersen had gone down to the street, still with
the staring eyes of a sleep walker. It was evening, and from the open
street he looked out and up to the mountains, growing blue and purple
against the sky. He had heard Hal Sinclair talk about Riley and Riley's
love for the higher mountains. They were "his country." And a great
surety dropped upon him that the fat man of the posse had been right.
Somewhere in those mountains Sinclair was lurking, ready for a descent
upon Sour Creek.
Now Sandersen grew cold. All that was superstitious in his nature took
him by the throat. The fate, which he had felt to be fighting with him,
he now was equally sure was aligned against him. Otherwise, why had the
posse refused to accept him as a member? For only one reason: He was
doomed to die by the hand of Riley Sinclair, and then, no doubt, Riley
Sinclair would fall in turn by the bullets of the posse.
The shadows were pouring out of the gorges of the western mountains,
and night began to invade the hollow of Sour Creek. Every downward step
of those shadows was to the feverish imagination of Sandersen a
forecast of the coming of Sinclair—Sinclair coming in spite of the
posse, in spite of the price upon his head.
In the few moments during which Sandersen remained in the street
watching, the tumult grew in his mind. He was afraid. He was mortally
in terror of something more than physical death, and, like the cornered
rat, he felt a sudden urge to go out and meet the danger halfway. A
dozen pictures came to him of Sinclair slipping into the town under
cover of the night, of the stealthy approach, of the gunplay that would
follow. Why not take the desperate chance of going out to find the
assailant and take him by surprise instead?
The mountains—that was the country of Sinclair. Instinctively his eye
fell and clung on the greatest height he could see, a flat-topped
mountain due west of Sour Creek. Sandersen swung into his saddle and
drove out of Sour Creek toward the goal and into the deepening gloom of
In the darkness beneath the north windows of the hotel, Sinclair
consulted his watch, holding it close until he could make out the dim
position of the hands against the white dial. It was too early for
Cartwright to be in bed, unless he were a very long sleeper. So
A continual danger lay beside him. The kitchen door constantly banged
open and shut, as the Chinese cook trotted out and back, carrying
scraps to the waste barrel, or bringing his new-washing tins to hang on
a rack in the open air, a resource on which he was forced to fall back
on account of his cramped quarters.
But the cook never left the bright shaft of light which fell through
the doorway behind and above him, and consequently he could not see
into the thick darkness where Sinclair crouched only a few yards away;
and the cowpuncher remained moveless. From time to time he looked up,
and still the windows were black.
After what seemed an eternity, there was a flicker, as when the wick of
a lamp is lighted, and then a steady glow as the chimney was put on
again. That glow brightened, decreased, became an unchanging light. The
wick had been trimmed, and Cartwright was in for the evening.
However, the cook had not ceased his pilgrimages. At the very moment
when Sinclair had straightened to attempt the climb up the side of the
house, the cook came out and crouched on the upper step, humming a
jangling tune and sucking audibly a long-stemmed pipe. The
queer-smelling smoke drifted across to Sinclair; for a moment he was on
the verge of attempting a quick leap and a tying and gagging of the
Oriental, but he desisted.
Instead, Sinclair flattened himself against the wall and waited.
Providence came to his assistance at that crisis. Someone called from
the interior of the house. There was an odd-sounding exclamation from
the cook, and then the latter jumped up and scurried inside, slamming
the screen door behind him with a great racket.
Sinclair raised his head and surveyed the side of the wall for the last
time. The sill of the window of the first floor was no higher than his
shoulders. The eaves above that window projected well out, and they
would afford an excellent hold by which he could swing himself up. But
having swung up, the great problem was to obtain sufficient purchase
for his knee to keep from sliding off before he had a chance to steady
himself. Once on the ledge of those eaves, he could stand up and look
through any one of the three windows into the room which, according to
the boy, Cartwright occupied.
He lifted himself onto the sill of the first window, bumping his nose
sharply against the pane of the glass.
Then began the more difficult task. He straightened and fixed his
fingers firmly on the ledge above him, waiting until his palm and the
fingertips had sweated into a steady grip. Then he stepped as far as
possible to one side and sprang up with a great heave of the shoulders.
But the effort was too great. He not only flung himself far enough up,
but too far, and his descending knee, striving for a hold, slipped off
as if from an oiled surface. He came down with a jar, the full length
of his arms, a fall that flung him down on his back on the ground.
With a stifled curse he leaped up again. It seemed that the noise of
that fall must have resounded for a great distance, but, as he stood
there listening, no one drew near. Someone came out of the front door
of the hotel, laughing.
The cowpuncher tried again. He managed the first stage of the ascent,
as before, very easily, but, making the second effort he exceeded too
much in caution and fell short. However, the fall did not include a
toppling all the way to the ground. His feet landed softly on the sill,
and, at the same time, voices turned the corner of the building beside
him. Sinclair flattened himself against the pane of the lower window
and held his breath. Two men were beneath him. Their heads were level
with his feet. He could have kicked the hats off their heads, without
the slightest trouble.
It was a mystery that they did not see him, he thought, until he
recalled that all men, at night, naturally face outward from a wall. It
is an instinct. They stood close together, talking rather low. The one
was fairly tall, and the other squat. The shorter man lighted a
cigarette. The match light glinted on an oily, olive skin, and so much
of the profile as he could see was faintly familiar. He sent his memory
lurching back into far places and old times, but he had no nerve for
reminiscence. He recalled himself to the danger of the moment and
listened to them talking.
"What's happened?" the taller man was saying.
"So far, nothing," grunted the other.
"And how long do you feel we'd ought to keep it up?"
"I dunno. I'll tell you when I get tired."
"Speaking personal, Fatty, I'm kind of tired of it right now. I want to
hit the hay."
"Buck up, buck up, partner. We'll get him yet!"
Now it flashed into the mind of Sinclair that it must be a pair of
crooked gamblers working on some fat purse in the hotel, come out here
to arrange plans because they failed to extract the bank roll as
quickly as they desired. Otherwise, there could be no meaning to this
talk of "getting" someone.
"But between you and me," grumbled the big man, "it looked from the
first like a bum game, Fatty."
"That's the trouble with you, Red. You ain't got any patience. How does
a cat catch a mouse? By sitting down and waiting—maybe three hours.
And the hungrier she gets, the longer she'll wait and the stiller
she'll sit. A man could take a good lesson out'n that."
"You always got a pile of fancy words," protested the big man.
Sinclair saw Fatty put his hand on the shoulder of his companion.
Plainly he was the dominant force of the two, in spite of his lack of
"Red, as sure as you're born, they's something going to happen this
here night. My scars is itching, Red, and that means something."
Again the mind of Sinclair flashed back to something familiar. A man
who prophesied by the itching of his scars. But once more the danger of
the moment made his mind a blank to all else.
"What scars?" asked Red.
"Scratches I got when I was a kid," flashed the fat man. "That's all."
"Oh," chuckled Red, plainly unconvinced. "Well, we'll play the game a
"That's the talk, partner. I tell you we got this trap baited, and it's
got to catch!"
Presently they drifted around the corner of the building and out of
sight. For a moment Sinclair wondered what that trap could be which the
fat man had baited so carefully. His mind reverted to his original
picture of a card game. Cheap tricksters, sharpers with the cards, he
decided, and with that decision he banished them both from his mind.
There was no other sign of life around him. All of Sour Creek lived in
the main street, or went to bed at this hour of the early night. The
back of the hotel was safe from observance, except for the horse shed,
and the back of the shed was turned to him. He felt safe, and now he
turned, settled his fingers into a new grip on the eaves, and made his
third attempt. It succeeded to a nicety, his right knee catching
solidly on the ledge.
He got a fingertip hold on the boards and stood up. Straightening
himself slowly, he looked into the room through a corner of the window
Cartwright sat with his back to the window, a lamp beside him on the
table, writing. He had thrown off his heavy outer shirt, and he wore
only a cotton undershirt. His heavy shoulders and big-muscled arms
showed to great advantage, with the light and sharp shadows defining
each ridge. Now and then he lifted his head to think. Then he bent to
his writing again.
It occurred to Sinclair to fling the window up boldly, and when
Cartwright turned, cover him with a gun. But the chances, including his
position on the ledge, were very much against him. Cartwright would
probably snatch at his own gun which lay before him in its holster on
the table, and whirling he would try a snap shot.
The only other alternative was to raise the window—and that with
Cartwright four paces away!
First Sinclair took stock of the interior of the room. It was larger
than most parlors he had seen. There was a big double bed on each side
of it. Plainly it was intended to accommodate a whole party, and
Sinclair smiled at the vanity of the man who had insisted on taking
"the best you have." No wonder Sour Creek knew the room he had rented.
In the corner was a great fireplace capable of taking a six-foot log,
at least. He admired the massive andirons, palpably of home manufacture
in Sour Creek's blacksmith shop. It proved the age of the building. No
one would waste money on such a fireplace in these days. A little stove
would do twice the work of that great, hungry chimney. There were two
great chests of drawers, also, each looking as if it were built up from
the floor and made immovable, such was its weight. The beds, also, were
of an ancient and solid school of furniture making.
To be sure, everything was sadly run down. On the floor the thin old
carpet was worn completely through at the sides of the beds. Both
mirrors above the chest of drawers were sadly cracked, and the table at
which Cartwright sat, leaned to the right under the weight of the arm
he rested on it.
Having thus taken in the details of the battle ground, Sinclair made
ready for the attack. He made sure of his footing on the ledge, gave a
last glance over his shoulder to see that no one was in sight, and then
began to work at the window, moving it fractions of an inch at a time.
When the window was half raised—the work of a full ten
minutes—Sinclair drew his revolver and rested the barrel on the sill.
He continued to lift the sash, but now he used his left hand alone, and
thereby the noises became louder and more frequent. Cartwright
occasionally raised his head, but probably he was becoming accustomed
to the sounds.
Now the window was raised to its full height, and Sinclair prepared for
the command which would jerk Cartwright's hands above his head and make
him turn slowly to look into the mouth of the gun. Weight which he
could have handled easily with a lurch, became tenfold heavier with the
slowness of the lift; eventually both shoulders were in the room, and
he was kneeling on the sill.
Cartwright raised his hands slowly, luxuriously, and stretched. It was
a movement so opportune that Sinclair almost laughed aloud. He twisted
his legs over the sill and dropped lightly on the floor.
"No noise!" he called softly.
The arms of Cartwright became frozen in their position above his head.
He turned slowly, with little jerky movements, as though he had to
fight to make himself look. And then he saw Sinclair.
"Keep 'em up!" commanded the cowpuncher, "and get out of that chair,
real soft and slow. That's it!"
Without a word Cartwright obeyed. There was no need of speech, indeed,
for a score of expressions flashed into his face.
"Go over and lock the door."
He obeyed, keeping his arms above his head, all the way across the
room, while Sinclair jerked the new Colt out of its holster and tossed
it on the farthest bed. In the meantime Cartwright lingered at the door
for a moment with his hand on the key. No doubt he fought, for the
split part of a second, with a wild temptation to jerk that door open
and leap into the safety of the hall. Sinclair read that thought in the
tremor of the big man's body. But presently discretion prevailed.
Cartwright turned the key and faced about. He was a deadly gray, and
his lips were working.
"Now," he began.
"Wait till I start talking," urged Sinclair. "Come over here and sit
down. You're too close to the door to suit me, just now. This is a pile
Cartwright obeyed quietly. Sitting down, he locked his hands nervously
about one knee and looked up with his eyes to Sinclair.
"I come in for a quiet talk," said Sinclair, dropping his gun into the
That movement drew a sudden brightening of the eyes of Cartwright, who
now straightened in his chair, as if he had regained hope.
"Don't make no mistake," said Sinclair, following the meaning of that
change accurately. "I'm pretty handy with this old gun, partner. And on
you, just now, they ain't any reason why I should take my time or any
chances, when it comes to shooting."
Unconsciously Cartwright moistened his white lips, and his eyes grew
"Except that the minute you shoot, you're a dead one, Sinclair."
"Me? Oh, no. When a gun's heard they'll run to the room where the
shot's been fired. And when they get the lock open, I'll be gone the
way I come from." Sinclair smiled genially on his enemy. "Don't start
raising any crop of delusions, friend. I mean business—a lot."
"Then talk business. I'll listen."
"Oh, thanks! I come here about your wife."
He watched Cartwright wince. In his heart he pitied the man. All the
story of Cartwright's spoiled boyhood and viciously selfish youth were
written in his face for the reading of such a man as Sinclair. The
rancher's son had begun well enough. Lack of discipline had undone him;
but whether his faults were fixed or changeable, Sinclair could not
tell. It was largely to learn this that he took the chances for the
"Go on," said Cartwright.
"In the first place, d'you know why she left you?"
An anguish came across Cartwright's face. It taught Sinclair at least
one thing—that the man loved her.
"You're the reason—maybe."
"Me? I never seen her till two days ago. That's a tolerable ugly thing
to say, Cartwright!"
"Well, I got tolerable ugly reasons for saying it," answered the other.
The cowpuncher sighed. "I follow the way you drift. But you're wrong,
partner. Fact is, I didn't know Cold Feet was a girl till this
Cartwright sneered, and Sinclair stiffened in his chair.
"Son," he said gravely, "the worst enemies I got will all tell you that
Riley Sinclair don't handle his own word careless. And I give you my
solemn word of honor that I didn't know she was a girl till this
evening, and that, right away after I found it out, I come down here to
straighten things out with you if I could. Will you believe it?"
It was a strange study to watch the working in the face of
Cartwright—of hope, passion, doubt, hatred. He leaned closer to
Sinclair, his big hands clutched together.
"Sinclair, I wish I could believe it!"
"Look me in the eye, man! I can stand it."
"By the Lord, it's true! But, Sinclair, have you come down to find out
if I'd take her back?"
The other grew instantly crafty. "She's done me a pile of wrong,
"She has," said the cowpuncher. He went on gently: "She must of cut
into your pride a lot."
"Oh, if it was known," said Cartwright, turning pale at the thought,
"she'd make me a laughing stock! Me, old Cartwright's son!"
"Yep, that'd be bad." He wondered at the frank egoism of the youth.
"I leave it to you," said Cartwright, settling back in his chair.
"Something had ought to be done to punish her. Besides, she's a weight
on your hands, and I can see you'd be anxious to get rid of her quick."
"How d'you aim to punish her?" asked Sinclair.
"Sure! Kind of a hard thing to do, wouldn't it be?"
Cartwright's eyes grew small. "Ways could be found." He swallowed hard.
"I'd find a heap of ways to make her wish she'd died sooner'n shame
"I s'pose you could," said Sinclair slowly. He lowered his glance for a
moment to keep his scorn from standing up in his eyes. "But I've heard
of men, Cartwright, that'd love a woman so hard that they'd forgive
"The world's full of fools," said the rich rancher. He stabbed a stern
forefinger into the palm of his other hand. "She's got to do a lot of
explaining before I'll look at her. She's got to make me an accounting
of every day she's spent since I last seen her at—"
"At the wedding?" asked Sinclair cruelly.
Cartwright writhed in the chair till it groaned beneath his uneasy
weight. "She told you that?"
"Look here," went on Sinclair, assuming a new tone of frank inquiry.
"Let's see if we can't find out why she left you?"
"They ain't any reason—just plain fool woman, that's all."
"But maybe she didn't love you, Cartwright. Did you ever think of
The big man stared. "Not love me? Who would she love, then? Was they
anybody in them parts that could bring her as much as I could? Was they
anybody that had as good a house as mine, or as much land, or as much
cattle? Didn't I take her over the ground and show her what it amounted
to? Didn't I offer her her pick of my own string of riding horses?"
"Did you do as much as that?"
"Sure I did. She wouldn't have lacked for nothing."
"You sure must have loved her a lot," insinuated Sinclair. "Must have
been plumb foolish about her."
"Oh, I dunno about that. Love is one thing that ain't bothered me none.
I got important interests, Sinclair. I'm a business man. And this here
marriage was a business proposition. Her dad was a business man, and he
fixed it all up for us. It was to tie the two biggest bunches of land
together that could be found in them parts. Anyway"—he grinned—"I got
"And why not let the girl go, then?"
"Why?" asked Cartwright eagerly. "Who wants her? You?"
"Maybe, if you'd let her go."
"Not in a thousand years! She's mine. They ain't no face but hers that
I can see opposite to me at the table—not one! Besides, she's mine,
and I'm going to keep her—after I've taught her a lesson or two!"
Sinclair wiped his forehead hastily. Eagerness to jump at the throat of
the man consumed him. He forced a smile on his thin lips and
persistently looked down.
"But think how easy it'd be, Cartwright. Think how easy you could get a
divorce on the grounds of desertion."
"And drag all this shame into the courts?"
"They's ways of hushing these here things up. It'd be easy. She
wouldn't put up no defense, mostlike. You'd win your case. And if
anybody asked questions, they'd simply say she was crazy, and that you
was lucky to get rid of her. They wouldn't blame you none. And it
wouldn't be no disgrace to be deserted by a crazy woman, would it?"
Cartwright drew back into a shell of opposition. "You talk pretty hot
"Because I'm telling you the way out for both of you."
"I can't see it. She's coming back to me. Nobody else is going to get
her. I've set my mind on it!"
"Partner, don't you see that neither of you could ever be happy?"
"Oh, we'd be happy enough. I'd forgive her—after a while."
"Yes, but what about her?"
"About her? Why, curse her, what right has she got to be considered?"
"Cartwright, she doesn't love you."
The bulldog came into the face of Cartwright and contorted it. "Don't
she belong to me by law? Ain't she sworn to—"
"Don't" said Sinclair, as if the words strangled him. "Don't say that,
Cartwright, if you please!"
"Why not? You put up a good slick talk, Sinclair. But you don't win. I
ain't going to give her up by no divorce. I'm going to keep her. I
don't love her enough to want her back, I hate her enough. They's only
one way that I'd stop caring about—stop fearing that she'd shame me.
And that's by having her six feet underground. But you, Sinclair, you
need coin. You're footloose. Suppose you was to take her and bring her
"Don't!" cried Sinclair again. "Don't say it, Cartwright. Think it over
again. Have mercy on her, man. She could make some home happy. Are you
going to destroy that chance?"
"Say, what kind of talk is this?" asked the big man.
"Now," said Sinclair, "look to your own rotten soul!"
The strength of Cartwright was cut away at the root. The color was
struck out of his face as by a mortal blow. "What d'you mean?" he
"You don't deserve a man's chance, but I'm going to give it to you. Go
get your gun, Cartwright!"
Cartwright slunk back in his chair. "Do you mean murder, Sinclair?"
"I mean a fair fight."
"You're a gunman. You been raised and trained for gunfighting. I
wouldn't have no chance!"
Sinclair controlled his scorn. "Then I'll fight left-handed. I'm a
right-handed man, Cartwright, and I'll take you with my gun in my left
hand. That evens us up, I guess."
"No, it don't!"
But with the cry on his lips, the glance of Cartwright flickered past
Sinclair. He grew thoughtful, less flabby. He seemed to be calculating
his chances as his glance rested on the window.
"All right," he whispered, a fearful eye on Sinclair, as if he feared
the latter would change his mind. "Gimme a fair break."
"I'll do it."
Sinclair shifted his gun to his left hand and turned to look at the
window which Cartwright had been watching with such intense interest.
He had not half turned, however, when a gun barked at his very ear, it
seemed, a tongue of flame spat in from the window, there was a crash of
glass, and the lamp was snuffed. Some accurate shot had cut the burning
wick out of the lamp with his bullet, so nicely placed that, though the
lamp reeled, it did not fall.
With the spurt of flame, Sinclair leaped back until his shoulders
grazed the wall. He crouched beside the massive chest of drawers. It
might partially shelter him from fire from the window.
There fell one of those deadly breathing spaces of silence—silence,
except for the chattering of the lamp, as it steadied on the table and
finally was still. There was a light crunching noise from the opposite
side of the room. Cartwright had moved and put his foot on a fragment
of the shattered chimney.
Sinclair studied the window. It was a rectangle of dim light, but
nothing showed in that frame. He who had fired the shot must have
crouched at once, or else have drawn to one side. He waited with his
gun poised. Steps were sounding far away in the building, steps which
approached rapidly. Voices were calling. Somewhere on the farther side
of the room Cartwright must have found the best shelter he could, and
Sinclair shrewdly guessed that it would be on the far side of the chest
of drawers which faced him.
In the meantime he studied the blank rectangle of the window. Sooner or
later the man who stood on the ledge would risk a look into the dark
interior; otherwise, he would not be human. And, sure enough, presently
the faintest shadow of an outline encroached on the solid rectangle of
faint light. Sinclair aimed just to the right and fired. At once there
was a splash of red flame and a thundering report from the other side
of the room. Cartwright had fired at the flash of Sinclair's gun, and
the bullet smashed into the chest beside Sinclair. As for Sinclair's
own bullet, it brought only a stifled curse from the window.
"No good, Riley," sang out the voice. "This wall's too thick for a
Sinclair had flung himself softly forward on his stomach, his gun in
readiness and leveled in the direction of Cartwright. There was the
prime necessity. Now heavy footfalls rushed down the hall, and a storm
of voices broke in upon him.
At the same time Cartwright's gun spat fire again. The bullet buzzed
angrily above Sinclair's head. His own brought a yell of pain, sharp as
the yelp of a coyote.
"Keep quiet, Cartwright," ordered the man at the window. "You'll get
yourself killed if you keep risking it. Sheriff!"
His voice rose and rang.
"Blow the lock off'n that door. We got him!"
There was an instant reply in the explosion of a gun, the crash of
broken metal, the door swung slowly in, admitting a dim twilight into
the room. The light showed Sinclair one thing—the dull outlines of
Cartwright. He whipped up his gun and then hesitated. It would be
murder. He had killed before, but never save in fair fight, standing in
a clear light before his enemy. He knew that he could not kill this rat
he detested. He thought of the wrecked life of the girl and set his
teeth. Still he could not fire.
"Cartwright," he said softly, "I got you covered. Your right hand's on
the floor with your gun. Don't raise that hand!"
In the shadow against the wall Cartwright moved, but he obeyed. The
revolver still glimmered on the floor.
A new and desperate thought came to Sinclair—to rush straight for the
window, shoot down the man on the ledge, and risk the leap to the
ground. "Scatter back!" called the man on the ledge.
That settled the last chance of Sinclair. There were guards on the
ground, scattered about the house. He could never get out that way.
"Keep out of the light by the door," commanded the man at the window.
"And start shooting for the chest of drawers on the left-hand side of
the room—and aim low down. It may take time, but we'll get him!"
Obviously the truth of that statement was too clear for Sinclair to
deny it. He reviewed his situation with the swift calm of an old
gambler. He had tried his desperate coup and had failed. There was
nothing to do but accept the failure, or else make a still more
desperate effort to rectify his position, risking everything on a final
He must get out of the room. The window was hopelessly blocked. There
remained the open door, but the hall beyond the door was crowded with
Perhaps their very numbers would work against them. Even now they could
be heard cautiously maneuvering. They would shoot through the door in
his general direction, unaimed shots, with the hope of a chance hit,
and eventually they would strike him down. Suppose he were to steal
close to the door, leap over the bed, and plunge out among them, his
Colt spitting lead and fire.
That unexpected attack would cleave a passage for him. The more he
thought of it, the more clearly he saw that the chances of escape to
the street were at least one in three. And yet he hesitated. If he made
that break two or three innocent men would go down before his bullets,
as he sprang out, shooting to kill. He shrank from the thought. He was
amazed at himself. Never before had he been so tender of expedients. He
had always fought to win—cleanly, but to win. Why was he suddenly
remembering that to these men he was an outlaw, fit meat for the first
bullet they could send home? Had he been one of them, he would have
taken up a position in that very hall just as they were doing.
Slowly, reluctantly, fighting himself as he did it, he shoved his
revolver back into his holster and determined to take the chance of
that surprise attack, with his empty hands against their guns. If they
did not drop him the instant he leaped out, he would be among them, too
close for gunplay unless they took the chance of killing their own men.
Keeping his gaze fixed on Cartwright across the room—for the moment he
showed his intention, Cartwright would shoot—he maneuvered softly
toward the bed. Cartwright turned his head, but made no move to lift
his gun. There was a reason. The light from the door fell nearer to the
rancher than it did to Sinclair. To Cartwright he must be no more than
a shapeless blur.
A gun exploded from the doorway, with only a glint of steel, as the
muzzle was shoved around the jamb. The bullet crashed harmlessly into
the wall behind him. Another try. The sharp, stifling odor of burned
powder began to fill the room, stinging the nostrils of Sinclair.
Cartwright was coughing in a stifled fashion on the far side of the
room, as if he feared a loud noise would draw a bullet his way.
All at once there was no sound in the hotel, and, as the wave of
silence spread, Sinclair was aware that the whole little town was
listening, waiting, watching. Not a whisper in the hall, not a stir
from Cartwright across the room. The quiet made the drama seem unreal.
Then that voice outside the window, which seemed to be Sinclair's
Nemesis, cried: "Steady, boys. Something's going to happen. He's
getting ready. Buck up, boys!"
In a moment of madness Sinclair decided to rush that window and dispose
of the cool-minded speaker at all costs before he died. There, at
least, was the one man he wished to kill. He followed that impulse long
enough to throw himself sidling along the floor, so as not to betray
his real strategic position to those at the door, and he splashed two
bullets into the wall, trimming the side of the window.
Only clear, deep-throated laughter came in response.
"I told you, boys. I read his mind, and he's mad at me, eh?"
But Riley Sinclair hardly heard the mocking answer. He had glided back
behind the bed, the instant the shots were fired. As he moved, two guns
appeared for a flickering instant around the edge of the doorway, one
on each side. Their muzzles kicked up rapidly, one, two, three, four,
five, six, and each, as he fired, spread the shots carefully from side
to side. Sinclair heard the bullets bite and splinter the woodwork
close to the floor. The chest of drawers staggered with the impact.
He raised his own gun, watched one of the jumping muzzles for an
instant, and then tried a snap shot. The report of his revolver was
bitten off short by the clang of metal; there was a shouted curse from
the hallway. He had blown the gun cleanly out of the sharpshooter's
Before the amazed rumble from the hall died away, Sinclair had acted.
He shoved his weapon back in its holster, and cleared the bed with a
flying leap. From the corner of his eye, he saw Cartwright snatch up
his gun and take a chance shot that whistled close to his head, and
then Sinclair plunged into the hall.
One glimmering chance of success remained. On the side of the door
toward which he drove there were only three men in the hall; behind him
were more, far more, but their weapons were neutralized. They could not
fire without risking a miss that would be certain to lodge a bullet in
the body of one of the men before Sinclair.
Those men were kneeling, for they had been reaching out and firing low
around the door to rake the floor of the room. At the appearance of
Sinclair they started up. He saw a gun jerk high for a snap shot, and,
swerving as he leaped, he drove out with all his weight behind his
fist. The knuckles bit through flesh to the bone. There was a jarring
impact, and now only two men were before him. One of them dropped his
gun—it was he who had just emptied his weapon into the room—and flung
himself at Sinclair, with outspread arms. The cowpuncher snapped up his
knee, and the blow crumpled the other back and to the side. He sprang
on toward the last man who barred his way. And all this in the split
part of a second.
Chance took a hand against him. In the very act of striking, his foot
lodged on the first senseless body, and he catapulted forward on his
hands. He struck the legs of the third man as he fell.
Down they went together, and Sinclair lurched up from under the weight
only to be overtaken by many reaching hands from behind. That instant
of delay had lost the battle for him; and, as he strove to whirl and
fight himself clear, an arm curled around his neck, shutting off his
breath. A great weight jarred between his shoulders. And he pitched
down to the floor.
He stopped fighting. He felt his gun slipped from the holster. Deft,
strong hands jerked his arms behind him and tied the wrists firmly
together. Then he was drawn to his feet.
All this without a word spoken, only the pant and struggle of
hard-drawn breaths. Not until he stood on his feet again, with a
bleeding-faced fellow rising with dazed eyes, and another clambering up
unsteadily, with both hands pressed against his head, did the captors
give voice. And their voice was a yell of triumph that was taken up in
two directions outside the hotel.
They became suddenly excited, riotously happy. In the overflowing of
their joy they were good-natured. Some one caught up Sinclair's hat and
jammed it on his head. Another slapped him on the shoulder.
"A fine, game fight!" said the latter. It was the man with the smeared
face. He was grinning through his wounds. "Hardest punch I ever got.
But I don't blame you, partner!"
Presently he saw Sheriff Kern. The latter was perfectly cool, perfectly
grave. It was his arm that had coiled around the neck of Sinclair and
throttled him into submission.
"You didn't come out to kill, Sinclair. Why?"
"I ain't used to slaughterhouse work," said Sinclair with equal calm,
although he was panting. "Besides, it wasn't worth it. Murder never
"Kind of late to come to that idea, son. Now just trot along with me,
will you?" He paused. "Where's Arizona?"
Cartwright lurched out of the room with his naked gun in his hand. Red
dripped from the shallow wound where Sinclair's bullet had nicked him.
He plunged at the captive, yelling.
"Stop that fool!" snapped the sheriff.
Half a dozen men put themselves between the outlaw and the avenger.
Cartwright straggled vainly.
"Between you and me," said Sinclair coldly to the sheriff, "I think
that skunk would plug me while I got my hands tied."
The sheriff flashed a knowing glance up at his tall prisoner's face.
"I dunno, Sinclair. Kind of looks that way."
Although Cartwright had been persuaded to restore his gun to its cover,
he passed through the crowd until he confronted Sinclair.
"Now, the tables is turned, eh? I'll take the high hand from now on,
"It's no good," said Sinclair dryly. "The gent that shot out the light
had a chance to see something before he done the shooting. And what he
seen must have showed that you're yaller, Cartwright—yaller as a
Cartwright flung his fist with a curse into the face of the cowpuncher.
The weight of the blow jarred him back against the wall, but he met the
glare of Cartwright with a steady eye, a thin trickle of crimson
running down his cut lips. The sheriff rushed in between and mastered
"One more little trick like that, stranger, and I'll turn you over to
the boys. They got ways of teaching gents manners. How was you raised,
Suddenly sobered, Cartwright drew back from dark glances on every side.
"Fellows," he said, in a shaken voice, "I forgot his hands was tied.
But I'm kind of wrought up. He tried to murder me!"
"It's all right, partner," drawled Red Chalmers, and he laid a strong
hand on the shoulder of Cartwright. "It's all right. We all allow for
one break. But don't do something like that twice—not in these parts!"
Sinclair walked beside the sheriff, while the crowd poured past him and
down the hall. When they reached the head of the stairs they found the
lighted room below filled with excited, upturned faces; at the sight of
the sheriff and his prisoner they roared their applause. The faces were
blotted and blurred by a veil of rapidly, widely waving sombreros.
The sheriff paused halfway down the stairs and held up his hand.
Sinclair halted beside him looking disdainfully over the crowd.
Instantly noise and movement ceased. It was a spectacular picture, the
stubby little sheriff and the tall, lean, wolflike man he had captured.
It seemed a vivid illustration of the power of the law over the
lawbreaker. Sinclair glanced down in wonder at Kern. It was in
character for the sheriff to make a speech. A moment later the
sheriff's own words had explained his reason for the impromptu address.
"Boys," he said, "I figure some of you has got an almighty big wish to
see Sinclair on the end of a rope, eh?"
A deep growl answered him.
"Speaking personal," went on the sheriff smoothly, "I don't see how
he's done a thing worth hanging. He took a prisoner away from me, and
he's resisted arrest. That's all. Sinclair has got a name as a killer.
Maybe he is. But I know he ain't done no killing around these parts
that's come to light yet. I'll tell you another thing. A minute ago he
could have sent three men to death and maybe come off with a free skin.
But he chose to take his chance without shooting to kill. He tried to
fight his way out with his hands sooner'n blow the heads off of gents
that never done him no harm except to get in his way. Well, boys,
that's something you don't often see. And I tell you this right now: If
they's any lynch talk around this here town, you can lay to it that
you'll have to shoot your way to Sinclair through me. And I'll be a
dead one before you reach to him."
He paused. Someone hissed from the back of the crowd, but the majority
murmured in appreciation.
"One more thing," went on the sheriff. "Some of you may think it was
great guns to take Sinclair. It was a pretty good job, but they ain't
no credit coming to me. I'm up here saying that all the praise goes to
a fat friend of mine by name Arizona. If you got any free drinks, let
'em drift the way of Arizona. Hey, Arizona, step out and make a bow,
But no Arizona appeared. The crowd cheered him, and then cheered the
generous sheriff. Kern had won more by his frankness than he could
possibly have won in half a dozen spectacular exploits with a gun.
The crowd swirled out of the hotel before the sheriff and his prisoner,
and then swirled back again. No use following the sheriff if they hoped
for details. They knew his silence of old. Instead they picked off the
members who had taken part in some phase of the fight, and drew them
aside. As Sinclair went on down the street, the populace of Sour Creek
was left pooled behind him. Various orators were giving accounts of how
the whole thing had happened.
Sinclair had neither eye nor ear for them. But he looked back and up to
the western sky, with a flat-topped mountain clearly outlined against
it. There was his country, and in his country he had left Jig alone and
helpless. A feeling of utter desolation and failure came over him. He
had started with a double-goal—Sandersen or Cartwright, or both. He
had failed lamentably of reaching either one. He looked back to the
sheriff, squat, insignificant, gray-headed. What a man to have blocked
"But who's this Arizona?" he asked.
"I dunno. Seems to have known you somewhere. Maybe a friend of yours,
"H'm," said the cowpuncher. "Maybe! Tell me: Was it him that was
outside the window and trimmed the light on me?"
"You got him right, Sinclair. That was the gent. Nice play he made,
"Very pretty, sheriff. I thought I knowed his voice."
"He seems to have made himself pretty infrequent. Didn't know Arizona
was so darned modest."
"Maybe he's got other reasons," said Sinclair. "What's his full name?"
"Ain't that curious! I ain't heard of anybody else that knows it. He's
a cool head, this Arizona. Seemed to read your mind and know jest how
you'd jump, Sinclair. I would have been off combing the trails, but he
seemed to know that you'd come into town."
"I'll sure keep him in mind if I ever meet up with him," murmured
Sinclair. "Is this where I bunk?"
The sheriff had paused before a squat, dumpy building and was working
noisily at the lock with a big key. Now that his back was necessarily
toward his prisoner, two of the posse stepped up close beside Sinclair.
They had none of the sheriff's nonchalance. One of them was the man
whose head had made the acquaintance of Sinclair's knee, and both were
ready for instant action of any description.
"I'm Rhinehart," said one softly. "Keep me in mind, Sinclair. I'm him
that you smashed with your knee. Dirty work! I'll see you when you get
out of the lockup—if that ever happens!"
The voice of Sinclair was not so soft. "I'll meet you in jail or out,"
he answered, "on foot or on horseback, with fists or knife or gun. And
you can lay to this, Rhinehart: I'll remember you a pile better'n
you'll remember me!"
All the repressed savagery of his nature came quivering into his voice
as he spoke, and the other shrank instinctively a pace. In the meantime
the sheriff had succeeded in turning the rusted lock, which squeaked
back. The door grumbled on its heavy hinges. Sinclair stepped into the
musty, close atmosphere within.
"Don't look like you had much use for this here outfit," he said to the
The latter lighted a lantern.
"Nope," he said. "It sure beats all how the luck runs, Sinclair. We'd
had a pretty bad time with crooks around these parts, and them that was
nabbed in Sour Creek got away; about two out of three, before they was
brought to me at Woodville. So the boys got together and ponied up for
this little jail, and it's as neat a pile of mud and steel as ever you
see. Look at them bars. Kind of rusty, they look, but inside they're
toolproof. Oh, it's an up-to-date outfit, this jail. It's been a
comfort to me, and it's a credit to Sour Creek. But the trouble is that
since it was built they ain't been more'n one or two to put in it.
Maybe you can make out here for the night. Have you over to Woodville
in a couple of days, Sinclair."
He brought his prisoner into a cagelike cell, heavily guarded with bars
on all sides. The adobe walls had been trusted in no direction. The
steel lining was the strength of the Sour Creek jail. The sheriff
himself set about shaking out the blankets. When this was done, he bade
his two companions draw their guns and stand guard at the steel door to
"Not that I don't trust you a good deal, Sinclair," he said, "but I
know that a gent sometimes takes big chances."
So saying, he cut the bonds of his prisoner, but instead of making a
plunge at the door, Sinclair merely stretched his long arms luxuriously
above his head. The sheriff slipped out of the door and closed it after
him. A heavy and prolonged clangor followed, as steel jarred home
"Don't go sheriff," said Sinclair. "I need a chat with you."
"I'm in no hurry. And here's the gent we was talking about. Here's
The sheriff had waved his two companions out of the jail, as soon as
the prisoner was securely lodged, and no sooner was this done, and they
had departed through the doorway, than the heavy figure of Arizona
himself appeared. He came slowly into the circle of the lantern light,
an oddly changed man.
His swaggering gait, with heels that pounded heavily, was gone. He
slunk forward, soft-footed. His head, usually so buoyantly erect, was
now sunk lower and forward. His high color had faded to a drab olive.
In fact, from a free-swinging, jovial, somewhat overbearing demeanor,
Arizona had changed to a mien of malicious and rather frightened
cunning. In this wise he advanced, heedless of the curious and
astonished sheriff, until his face was literally pressed against the
bars. He peered steadily at Sinclair.
On the face of the latter there had been at first blank surprise, then
a gradually dawning recognition. Finally he walked slowly to the bars.
As Sinclair approached, the fat cowpuncher drew back, with lingering
catlike steps, as if he grudged every inch of his retreat and yet dared
not remain to meet Sinclair.
"By the Eternal," said Sinclair, "it's Dago!"
Arizona halted, quivering with emotions which the sheriff could not
identify, save for a blind, intense malice. The tall man turned to the
sheriff, smiling: "Dago Lansing, eh?"
"Never heard that name," said the sheriff.
"Maybe not," replied Sinclair, "but that's the man I—"
"You lie!" cried Arizona huskily, and his fat, swift hand fluttered
nervously around the butt of the revolver. "Sheriff, they ain't nothing
but lies stocked up in him. Don't believe nothing he says!"
"Huh!" chuckled Sinclair. "Why, Kern, he's a man about eight years ago
Pausing, he looked into the convulsed face of Arizona, who was
apparently tortured with apprehension.
"I won't go on, Dago," said Sinclair mildly. "But—so you've carried
this grudge all these days, eh?"
Arizona tossed up his head. For a moment he was the Arizona the sheriff
had known, but his laughter was too strident, and it was easy to see
that he was at a point of hysterically high tension.
"Well, I'd have carried it eighty years as easy as eight," declared
Arizona. "I been waiting all this time, and now I got you, Sinclair.
You'll rot behind the bars the best part of the life that's left to
you. And when you come out—I'll meet you ag'in!"
Sinclair smiled in a singular fashion. "Sorry to disappoint you, Dago.
But I'm not coming out. I'm going to stay put. I'm through." The other
blinked. "How come?"
"It's something you couldn't figure," said Sinclair calmly, and he eyed
the fat man as if from a great distance.
Sinclair was remembering the day, eight years ago, in a lumber camp to
the north when a shivering, meager, shifty-eyed youngster had come
among them asking for work. They had taken pity on him, those big
lumberjacks, put him up, given him money, kept him at the bunk house.
Then articles began to disappear, watches, money. It was Sinclair who
had caught the friendless stripling in the act of sleight of hand in
the middle of the night when the laborers, tired out, slept as if
stunned. And when the others would have let the cringing, weeping youth
go with a lecture and the return of his illicit spoils, it was the
stern Sinclair who had insisted on driving home the lesson. He forced
them to strip Dago to the waist. Two stalwarts held his hands, and
Sinclair laid on the whip. And Dago, the moment the lash fell, ceased
his wailing and begging, and stood quivering, with his head bent, his
teeth set and gritting, until the punishment was ended.
It was Sinclair, also, when the thing was ended, and the others would
have thrust the boy out penniless, who split the contents of his wallet
with Dago. He remembered the words he had spoken to the stripling that
day eight years before.
"You ain't had much luck out here in the West, kid, but stay around. Go
south. Learn to ride a hoss. They's nothing that puts heart and honesty
in a man like a good hoss. Don't go back to your city. You'll turn into
a snake there. Stay out here and practice being a man, will you? Get
the feel of a Colt. Fight your way. Keep your mouth shut and work with
your hands. And don't brag about what you know or what you've done.
That's the way to get on. You got the markings in you, son. You got
grit. I seen it when you was under the whip, and I wish I had the doing
of that over again. I made a mistake with you, kid. But do what I've
told you to do, and one of these days you'll meet up with me and beat
me to the draw and take everything you got as a grudge out on me. But
you can't do it unless you turn into a man."
Dago had listened in the most profound silence, accepted the money
without thanks, and disappeared, never to be heard from again. In the
sleek-faced man before him, Sinclair could hardly recognize that
slender fellow of the lumber camp. Only the bright and agile eyes were
the same; that, and a certain telltale nervousness of hand. The color
was coming back into his face.
"I guess I've done it," Arizona was saying. "I guess we're squared up,
"Yep, and a balance on your side."
"Maybe, maybe not. But I've followed your advice, Long Riley. I've
never forgot a word of it. It was printed into me!"
He made a significant, short gesture, as if he were snapping a whip,
and a snarl of undying malice curled his lips.
"As long as you live, Sinclair," he added. "As long as you live, I'll
Even the sheriff shuddered at that glimpse into the black soul of a
man; Sinclair alone was unmoved.
"I reckon you've barked enough, Arizona," he suggested. "S'pose you
trot along. I got to have words with my friend, the sheriff."
Arizona waved his fat hand. He was recovering his ordinary poise, and
with a smiling good night to the sheriff, he turned away through the
"Nice, friendly sort, eh?" remarked Sinclair the moment he was alone
"I still got the chills," said the sheriff. "Sure has got a wicked pair
of eyes, that Arizona."
Kern cast an apprehensive glance at the closed door, yet, in spite of
the fact that it was closed, he lowered his voice.
"What in thunder have you done to him, Sinclair?"
"About eight years ago—" began Sinclair and then stopped short.
"Let it go," he went on. "No matter what Arizona is today, he's sure
improved on the gent I used to know. What's done is done. Besides, I
made a mistake that time. I went too far with him, and a mistake is
like borrowed money, sheriff. It lays up interest and keeps
compounding. When you have to pay back what you done a long time ago,
you find it's a terrible pile. That's all I got to say about Arizona."
Sheriff Kern nodded. "That's straight talk, Sinclair," he said softly.
"But what was it you wanted to see me about?"
"Cold Feet," said Sinclair.
At once the sheriff brightened. "That's right," he said hurriedly. "You
got the right idea now, partner. Glad to see you're using hoss sense.
And if you gimme an idea of the trail that'll lead to Cold Feet, I can
see to it that you get out of this mess pretty pronto. After all, you
ain't done no real harm except for nicking Cartwright in the arm, and I
figure that he needs a little punishment. It'll cool his temper down."
"You think I ought to tell you where Cold Feet is?" asked Sinclair
"Him and me sat around the same campfire, sheriff, and ate off'n the
At this the sheriff winced. "I know," he murmured. "It's hard—mighty
hard!" He continued more smoothly: "But listen to me, partner. There's
twenty-five-hundred dollars on the head of Cold Feet. Why not come in?
Why not split on it? Plenty for both of us; and, speaking personal, I
could use half that money, and maybe you could use the other half just
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Sinclair, "I'll give you the layout
for finding Cold Feet. Ride west out of Sour Creek and head for a
flat-topped mountain. On the shoulder just under the head of the peak
you'll find Cold Feet. Go get him!"
The sheriff caught his breath, then whirled on his heel. The sharp
voice of Sinclair called him back.
"Wait a minute. I ain't through. When you catch Cold Feet you go after
him without guns."
"Because you might hurt him, and he can't fight, sheriff. Even if he
was to pull a gun, he couldn't hit nothing with it. He couldn't hit the
ground he's standing on with a gun."
Sheriff Kern scratched his head.
"And when you get him," went on Sinclair, "tell him to go back and take
up his life where he left off, because they's no harm coming to him."
"Great guns, man! No harm coming to him with a murder to his count and
a price on his head?"
"I mean what I say. Break it to him real gentle."
"And who pays for the killing of Quade?"
Sinclair smiled. He was finding it far easier to do it than he had ever
imagined. The moment he made the resolve, his way was smoothed for him.
"I pay for Quade," he said quietly.
"What d'you mean?"
"Because I killed him, sheriff. Now go tell Cold Feet that his score is
Toward the flat-topped mountain, with the feeling of his fate upon him,
Bill Sandersen pushed his mustang through the late evening, while the
darkness fell. He had long since stopped thinking, reasoning. There was
only the strong, blind feeling that he must meet Sinclair face to face
and decide his destiny in one brief struggle.
So he kept on until his shadow fell faintly on his path before him,
long, shapeless, grotesque. He turned and saw the moon coming up above
the eastern mountains, a wan, sickly moon hardly out of her first
quarter, and even in the pure mountain air her light was dim.
But it gave thought and pause to Sandersen. First there was the
outcropping of a singular superstition which he had heard long before
and never remembered until this moment: that a moon seen over the left
shoulder meant the worst of bad luck. It boded very ill for the end of
Suppose he were able only partially to surprise the big cowpuncher from
the north, and that there was a call for fighting. What chance would he
have in the dim and bewildering light of that moon against the surety
of Sinclair who shot, he knew, as other men point the finger
—instinctively hitting the target? It would be a mere butchery,
not a battle.
Sending his mustang into a copse of young trees, he dismounted. His
mind was made up not to attempt the blow until the first light of dawn.
He would try to reach the top of the flat-crested mountain well before
sunup, when there would be a real light instead of this ghostly and
partial illumination from the moon.
Among the trees he sat down and took up the dreadful watches of the
night. Sleep never came near him. He was turning the back pages of his
memory, reviewing his past with the singular clearness of a man about
to die. For Sandersen had this mortal certainty resting upon his mind
that he must try to strike down Sinclair, and that he would fail. And
failure meant only one alternative—death. He was perfectly confident
that this was the truth. He knew with prophetic surety that he would
never again see the kind light of the sun, that in a half-light, in the
cold of the dawn, a bullet would end his life.
What he saw in the past was not comforting. A long train of vivid
memories came up in his mind. He had accomplished nothing. In the total
course of his life he had not made a man his friend, or won the love of
a woman. In all his attempts to succeed in life there had been nothing
but disastrous failures, and wherever he moved he involved others in
his fall. Certainly the prospecting trip with the three other men had
been worse than all the rest, but it had been typical. It had been he
who first suggested the trip, and he had rounded the party together and
sustained it with enthusiasm.
It had been he who led it into the mountains and across the desert. And
on the terrible return trip he knew, with an abiding sense of guilt,
that he alone could have checked the murderous and cowardly impulse of
Quade. He alone could have overruled Quade and Lowrie; or, failing to
overrule them he should at least have stayed with the cripple and
helped him on, with the chance of death for them both.
When he thought of that noble opportunity lost, he writhed. It would
have gained the deathless affection of Hal Sinclair and saved that
young, strong life. It would have won him more. It would have made
Riley Sinclair his ally so long as he lived. And how easy to have done
it, he thought, looking back.
Instead, he had given way; and already the result had been the death of
three men. The tale was not yet told, he was sure. Another death was
due. A curse lay on that entire party, and it would not be ended until
he, Sandersen, the soul of the enterprise, fell.
The moon grew old in the west. Then he took the saddle again and rode,
brooding, up the trail, his horse stumbling over the stones as the
animal grew wearier in the climb.
And then, keeping his gaze fastened above him, he saw the outline of
the crests grow more and more distinct. He looked behind. In the east
the light was growing. The whole horizon was rimmed with a pale glow.
Now his spirits rose. Even this gray dawn was far better than the
treacherous moonlight. A daylight calm came over him. He was stronger,
surer of himself. Impatiently he drew out his Colt and looked to its
action. The familiar weight added to his self-belief. It became
possible for him to fight, and being possible to fight, it was also
possible to conquer.
Presently he reached a bald upland. The fresh wind of the morning
struck his face, and he breathed deep of it. Why could he not return to
Sour Creek as a hero, and why could he not collect the price on the
head of Riley Sinclair?
The thought made him alert, savage. A moment later, his head pushing up
to the level of the shoulder of the mountain, he saw his quarry. In the
dimness of that early dawn he made out the form of a sleeper huddled in
blankets, but it was enough. That must be Riley Sinclair. It could not
be another, and all his premonitions were correct.
Suddenly he became aware that he could not fail. It was impossible! As
gloomy as he had been before, his spirits now leaped to the heights. He
swung down from the saddle, softly, slowly, and went up the hill
without once drawing his eyes from that motionless form in the
Once something stirred to the right and far below him. He flashed a
glance in that direction and saw that it was a hobbled horse, though
not the horse of Sinclair; but that mattered nothing. The second horse
might be among the trees.
Easing his step and tightening the grip on his revolver, he drew
closer. Should he shoot without warning? No, he would lean over the
sleeper, call his name, and let him waken and see his death before it
came to him. Otherwise the triumph would be robbed of half of its
Now he had come sufficiently near to make out distinctly that there was
only one sleeper. Had Sinclair and Cold Feet separated? If so, this
must be Sinclair. The latter might have the boldness to linger so close
to danger, but certainly never Cold Feet, even if he had once worked
his courage to the point of killing a man. He stepped closer, leaned,
and then by the half-light made out the pale, delicate features of the
For the moment Sandersen was stunned with disappointment, and yet his
spirits rose again almost at once. If Sinclair had fled, all the
better. He would not return, at least for a long time, and in the
meantime, he, Sandersen, would collect the money on the head of Cold
With the Colt close to the breast of Jig, he said: "Wake up, Cold
The girl opened her eyes, struggled to sit up, and was thrust back by
the muzzle of the gun, held with rocklike firmness in the hand of
"Riley—what—" she muttered sleepily and then she made out the face of
Instantly she was wide awake, whiter than ever, staring. Better to take
the desperado alive than dead—far better. Cold Feet would make a show
in Sour Creek for the glorification of Sandersen, as he rode down
through the main street, and the men would come out to see the prize
which even Sheriff Kern and his posse had not yet been able to take.
"Roll over on your face."
Cold Feet obeyed without a murmur. There was a coiled rope by the
cinders of the fire. Sandersen cut off a convenient length and bound
the slender wrists behind the back of the schoolteacher. Then he jerked
his quarry to a sitting posture.
"Where's Sinclair gone?"
To his astonishment, Cold Feet's face brightened wonderfully.
"Oh, then you haven't found him? You haven't found him? Thank
Sandersen studied the schoolteacher closely. It was impossible to
mistake the frankness of the latter's face.
"By guns," he said at last, "I see it all now. The skunk sneaked off in
the middle of the night and left you alone here to face the music?"
Jig flushed, as she exclaimed: "That's not true. He's never run away in
"Maybe not," muttered Sandersen apprehensively. "Maybe he'll come back
ag'in. Maybe he's just rode off after something and will be back."
At once the old fear swept over him. His apprehensive glance flickered
over the rocks and trees around him—a thousand secure hiding places.
He faced the schoolteacher again.
"Look here, Jig: You're charged with a murder, you see? I can take you
dead or alive; and the shot that bumped you off might bring Sinclair
running to find out what'd happened, and he'd go the same way. But will
you promise to keep your mouth shut and give no warning when Sinclair
heaves in sight? Take your pick. It don't make no difference to me, one
way or the other; but I can't have the two of you on my hands."
To his surprise Jig did not answer at once.
"Ain't I made myself clear? Speak out!"
"I won't promise," said Cold Feet, raising the colorless face.
"Then, by thunder, I'll—"
In the sudden contorting of his face she saw her death, but as she
closed her eyes and waited for the report and the tear of the bullet,
she heard him muttering: "No, they's a better way."
A moment later her mouth was wrenched open, and a huge wadded bandanna
was stuffed into it. Sandersen pushed her back to the ground and tossed
the blanket over her again.
"You ain't much of a man, Jig, but as a bait for my trap you'll do
tolerable well. You're right: Sinclair's coming back, and when he
comes, I'll be waiting for him out of sight behind the rock. But listen
to this, Jig. If you wrastle around and try to get that gag out of your
mouth, I ain't going to take no chances. Whether Sinclair's in sight or
not, I'm going to drill you clean. Now lie still and keep thinking on
what I told you. I mean it all!"
With a final scowl he left her and hurried to the rock. It made an
ideal shelter for his purposes. On three sides, the rock made a thick
and effectual parapet. A thousand bullets might splash harmlessly
against that stone; and through crevices he commanded the whole sweep
of the mountainside beneath them. The courage which had been growing in
Sandersen, now reached a climax. Below him lay the helpless body of one
prize—from a distance apparently a sound and quiet sleeper, though
Sandersen could see the terrified glint of Jig's eyes.
But he forgot that a moment later, when he saw the form of a horseman
break out of covert from the trees farther down the mountain and
immediately disappear again. Sinclair? He studied the barrel of the
revolver, but the horseman appeared no more in the brightening and
misty dawn. It was only after a long pause that there issued from the
trees, not Riley Sinclair, but the squat, thick form of Arizona!
Behind the sheriff's apprehensive glance there had been reason. True
the door had closed upon Arizona, and the door was thick. But the
moment Arizona had passed through the door, he clapped his ear to the
keyhole and listened, holding his breath, for he was certain that the
moment his back was turned the shameful story of his exploits in the
lumber camp eight years before would come out for the edification of
Kern. If so, it meant ruin for him. Arizona was closed to him; all this
district would be closed by the story of his early light-fingeredness.
He felt as if he were being driven to the wall. Consequently he
listened with set teeth to the early questions of the sheriff; then he
breathed easier, still incredulous, when he heard Sinclair refuse to
tell the tale.
Still he lingered, dreading that the truth might out, and so heard the
talk turn to a new channel—Cold Feet. Cold Feet meant many things to
Sour Creek; to Arizona, the schoolteacher meant only one
thing—twenty-five-hundred dollars. And Arizona was broke.
To his hungry ear came the tidings: "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll
give you the layout for finding Cold Feet. Ride west out of Sour Creek
and head for a flat-topped mountain. On the shoulder just under the
head you'll find Cold Feet. Go get him!"
To Arizona it seemed as if this last injunction were personal advice.
He waited to hear no more; if he had paused for a moment he might have
learned that the hope of twenty-five hundred was an illusion and a
snare. He saw the bright vision of a small fortune placed in his hands
as the result of a single gunplay. He had seen the schoolteacher. He
knew by instinct that there was no fighting quality in Jig. And the
moment he heard the location it was as good as cash in his pocket, he
There was only one difficulty. He must beat out the sheriff. To that
end he hurried to the stable behind the hotel, broke all records for
speed in getting the saddle on his roan mare, and then jogged her
quietly out of town so as to rouse no suspicions. But hardly was he
past the outskirts, hardly crediting his good luck that the sheriff
himself was not yet on the way, than he touched the flanks with his
spurs and sent the mare flying west.
In the west the moon was dropping behind the upper ranges, as he rode
through the foothills; when he began to climb the side of the mountain,
the dawn began to grow. So much the better for Arizona. But, knowing
that he had only Cold Feet to deal with, he did not adopt all the
caution of Sandersen on the same trail. Instead he cut boldly straight
for the shoulder of the mountain, knowing what he would find there on
his arrival. In the nearest grove he left his horse and then walked
swiftly up to the level. There the first thing that caught his eyes was
the form wrapped in the blanket. But the next thing he saw was the pale
glimmer of the dawn on the barrel of a revolver. He reached for his own
gun, only to see, over the rock above him, the grinning face of
"Too late, Arizona," called the tall man. "Too late for one job,
partner, but just in time for the next!"
Arizona cursed softly, steadily, through snarling lips.
"Sinclair! He's gone, but he'll be back any minute. And it'll need us
both to down him, Arizona. We'll split on Sinclair's reward."
Disgust and wrath consumed Arizona. Without other answer he strode to
the prostrate form, slashed the rope and tore the handkerchief from
between the teeth of Cold Feet. The schoolteacher sat up, gasping for
breath, purple of face.
"Leave him be!" cried Sandersen, his voice shrill with anger. "Leave
him be! He's the bait, Arizona, and we're the trap that'll catch
But Arizona cursed again bitterly. "Leave that bait lie till the sun
burns it up. You'll never catch Sinclair with it."
From around the rock Sandersen appeared and walked down to the fat man.
"Because Sinclair's already caught."
If he had expected the tall man to groan with disappointment, there was
a surprise in store for him. Sandersen exclaimed shrilly for joy.
"Sinclair took! Took dead, then!"
"You don't mean he was taken alive?"
"Yes, I sure do! And I done the figuring that led up to him being
The slender form of Jig rose before them, trembling.
"It isn't true! It isn't true! There aren't enough of you in Sour Creek
to take Riley Sinclair!"
"Ain't it true?" asked Arizona. "All right, son, you'll meet him pronto
in the Sour Creek jail, unless the boys finish their party of the other
day and string you up before you get inside the jail."
This brought a peculiar, low-pitched moan from Cold Feet.
"Cheer up," said Sandersen. "You ain't swinging yet awhile."
"But he's hurt! If he's alive, he's terribly wounded?"
Arizona beat down the appealing hand with a brutal gesture.
"No, he ain't particular hurt. Just his neck squashed a bit where the
sheriff throttled him. He didn't fight enough to get hurt, curse him!"
Frowning, Sandersen shook his head. "He's a fighting man, Arizona, if
they ever was one."
It seemed that everything infuriated the fat man.
"What d'you know about it, Lanky?" he demanded of Sandersen. "Didn't I
run the affair? Wasn't it me that planted the whole trap? Wasn't it me
that knowed he'd come into town for you or Cartwright?"
"Cartwright!" gasped Jig.
"Sure! We nailed him in Cartwright's room, just the way I said we
would. And they laughed at me, the fools!"
He might have gathered singular inferences from the lowered head of Jig
and the soft murmur: "I might have known—I might have known he'd try
"And I might have had the pleasure of drilling him clean," said
Arizona, harking back to it with savage pleasure, "but I shot out the
light. I wanted him to die slow, and before the end I wanted to pry his
eyes open and make him see my face and know that it was me that done
for him! That was what I wanted. But he turned yaller and wouldn't
"He wouldn't kill," said Jig coldly. "But for courage—I laugh at you,
"Easy," scowled the cowpuncher. "Easy, Jig. You ain't behind the bars
yet. You're in reach of my fist, and I'd think nothing of busting you
in the face. Shut up till I talk to you."
The misty eyes of Sandersen brightened a little and grew hard. There
was a great deal of fighting spirit in the man, and his easy victory of
that morning had roused him to a battling pitch.
"Looks to me like you ain't running this here party, Arizona," he said
dryly. "If there are any directions to give Cold Feet, I'll give 'em.
It was me that took him!"
No direct answer could Arizona find to this true statement, and, as
always when a man is at a loss for words, his temper rose, and his
fists clenched. For the first time he looked at Sandersen with an eye
of savage calculation. He had come to hope of a tidy little fortune. He
had found it snatched out of his hand, and, as he measured Sandersen,
his heart rose. Twenty-five-hundred dollars would fairly well equip him
in life. The anger faded out of his eyes, and in its place came the
cold gleam of the man who thinks and calculates. All at once he began
to smile, a mirthless smile that was of the lips only.
"Maybe you're right, Sandersen, but I'm thinking you'd have to prove
that you took Cold Feet.'
"Sure! The boys wouldn't be apt to believe that sleepy Sandersen woke
up and took Cold Feet alive."
Instantly the gorge of Sandersen rose, and he began to see red.
"Are you out to find trouble, Fatty?"
The adjective found no comfortable lodging place in the mind of
"Me? Sure I ain't. I'm just stating facts the way I know 'em."
"Well, the facts you know ain't worth a damn."
It was growing clearer and clearer to the fat man that between him and
twenty-five-hundred dollars there stood only the unamiable figure of
the long, lean cowpuncher. He steadied his eye till a fixed glitter
came in it. He hated lean men by instinct and distrusted them.
"Sure they ain't. How you going to get around the fact that I did take
"Well, Sandersen, you see that they's twenty-five-hundred dollars
hanging on the head of this Cold Feet?"
"Certainly! And I see ten ways of spending just that amount."
"So do I," said Arizona.
"Partner, you've heard me talk!"
"Arizona, you're talking mighty queer. What d'ye mean?"
"Now, suppose it was me that brought in Cold Feet, who'd get the
"Why, you that brought him in?"
"Yep, me. And suppose I brought him in with two murders charged to him
instead of one."
"I don't foller you. What's the second murder, Fatty?"
Sandersen blinked and gave back a little. Plainly he was beginning to
fear that the reason of Arizona was unbalanced.
He shook his head.
"I'll show you how it'll be charged to Cold Feet," said the fat man.
Taking the cartridge belt of Jig he shook the revolver out of the
holster and pumped a shot into the ground. The sharp crack of the
explosion roused no echo for a perceptible space. Then it struck back
at them from a solid wall of rock, almost as loud as it had been in
fact. Off among the hills the echo was repeated to a faint whisper.
Arizona dropped the revolver carelessly on the ground.
"Fatty, you've gone nutty," said Sandersen.
"I'll tell you a yarn," said Arizona.
Sandersen looked past him to the east. The light was growing rapidly
about the mountains. In another moment or so that sunrise which he had
been looking forward to with such solemn dread, would occur. He was
safe, of course, and still that sense of impending danger would not
leave him. He noted Jig, erect, very pale, watching them with intense
and frightened interest.
"Here's the story," went on the fat man. "I come out of Sour Creek
hunting for Cold Feet. I came straight to this here mountain. Halfway
up the side I hear a shot. I hurry along and soft-foot on to this
shoulder. I see Cold Feet standing, over the dead body of Sandersen.
Then I stick up Cold Feet and take him back to Sour Creek and get the
reward. Won't that be two murders on his head?"
The thin Swede rubbed his chin. "For a grown man, Fatty, you're doing a
lot of supposing."
"I'm going to turn it into fact," said Arizona.
"With a chunk of lead! Pull your gun, you lanky fool!"
It seemed to Jig, watching with terrible interest, that Sandersen
stared not at Arizona, as he went for his gun, but beyond the stubby
cowpuncher—far behind and into the east, where the dawn was growing
brighter, losing its color, as sunrises do, just before the rising of
the sun. His long arm jerked back, the revolver whipped into his hand,
and he stiffened his forearm for the shot.
All that Jig saw, with eyes sharpened, so that each movement seemed to
be taking whole seconds, was a sneering Arizona, waiting till the last
second. When he moved, however, it was with an almost leisurely flip of
the wrist. The heavy Colt was conjured into his hand. With graceful
ease the big weapon slipped out and exploded before Sandersen's
forefinger had curled around the trigger.
Out of the hand of the Swede slipped the gun and clanged unheeded on
the ground at his feet. She saw a patch of red spring up on his breast,
while he lurched forward with long, stiff strides, threw up his hands
to the east, and pitched on his face. She turned from the dead thing at
The white rim of the sun had just slid over the top of a mountain.
She dropped to her knees, and with a sudden, hysterical strength she
was able to turn him on his back. He was dead. The first glimpse of his
face told her that. She looked up into the eyes of the murderer.
Arizona was methodically cleaning his gun. His color had not changed.
There was a singular placidity about all his movements.
"I just hurried up what was coming to him," said Arizona coolly, as he
finished reloading his Colt. "Sinclair was after him, and that meant he
was done for."
Oddly enough, she found that she was neither very much afraid of the
fat man, nor did she loathe him for his crime. He seemed outside of the
jurisdiction of the laws which govern most men.
"You said Sinclair is in jail."
"Sure, and he is. But they don't make jails strong enough in these
parts to hold Sinclair. He'd have come out and landed Sandersen, just
as he's going to come out and land Cartwright. What has he got agin'
Cartwright, d'you know?"
Oh, it was incredible that he could talk so calmly with the dead man
"I don't know," she murmured and drew back.
"Well, take it all in all," pursued Arizona, "this deal of mine is
pretty rotten, but you'd swing just the same for one murder as for two.
They won't hang you no deader, eh? And when they come to look at it,
this is pretty neat. Sandersen wasn't no good. Everybody knowed that.
But he had one thing I wanted—which was you and the twenty-five
hundred that goes with the gent that brings you into Sour Creek. So, at
the price of one bullet, I get the coin. Pretty neat, I say ag'in."
Dropping the revolver back into the holster he patted it with a
"There's your gun," went on Arizona, chuckling. "It's got a bullet
fired out of it. There's Sandersen's gun with no bullet fired, showing
that, while he was stalking you, you shot and drilled him. Here's my
gun with no sign of a shot fired. Which proves that I just slid in here
and stuck you up from behind, while you were looking over the gent
you'd just killed."
He rubbed his hands together, and bracing himself firmly on his stubby
legs, looked almost benevolently on Jig.
Not only did she lose her horror of him, but she gained an impersonal,
detached interest in the workings of his mind. She looked on him not as
a man but as a monster in the guise of a man.
"Two deaths," she said quietly, "for your money. You work cheaply,
Jig's criticism seemed to pique him.
"Sandersen's death by your bullet, and mine when I die in the law. Both
to your account, Arizona, because you know I'm innocent."
"I know it, but a hunch ain't proof in the eyes of the law. Besides, I
don't work so cheap. Sandersen was no good. He ain't worth thinking
about. And as for you, Jig, though I don't like to throw it in your
face, as a schoolteacher you may be all right, but as a man you ain't
worth a damn. Nope. I won't give neither of you a thought—except for
"Him and you have been bunkies, if he ever should find out what I done,
he'd go on my trail. Maybe he will anyway. And he's a bad one to have
on a gent's trail."
"You fear him?" she asked curiously, for it had seemed impossible that
this cold-blooded gunman feared any living thing.
He rolled a cigarette meditatively before he answered.
"Sure," he said, "I fear him. I ain't a fool. It was him that started
me, and him that gave me the first main lessons. But I ain't got the
nacheral talent with a gun that Sinclair has got."
Nodding his head in confirmation, his expression softened, as with the
admiration of one artist for a greater kindred spirit.
"The proof is that they's a long list of gunfights in Sinclair's past,
but not more deaths than you can count on the fingers of one hand. And
them that he killed was plumb no good. The rest he winged and let 'em
go. That's his way, and it takes an artist with a gun to work like
that. Yep, he's a great man, curse him! Only one weak thing I ever hear
of him doing. He buckled to the sheriff and told him where to find
Scratching a match on his trousers, the cowpuncher was amazed to hear
Jig cry: "You lie!"
He gaped at her until the match singed his fingers. "That's a tolerable
loud word for a kid to use!"
Apparently he meditated punishment, but then he shrugged his shoulders
and lighted his cigarette.
"Wild horses couldn't have dragged it out of him!" Jig was repeating.
"Say," said the fat man, grinning, "how d'you know I knew where you
Like a blow in the face it silenced her. She looked miserably down to
the ground. Was it possible that Sinclair had betrayed her? Not for the
murder of Quade. He would be more apt to confess that himself, and
indeed she dreaded the confession. But if he let her be dragged back,
if her identity became known, she faced what was more horrible to her
than hanging, and that was life with Cartwright.
"Which reminds me," said Arizona, "that the old sheriff may not wait
for morning before he starts after you. Just slope down the hill and
saddle your hoss, will you?"
Automatically she obeyed, wild thoughts running through her mind. To go
back to Sour Creek meant a return to Cartwright, and then nothing could
save her from him. Halfway to her saddle her foot struck metal, her own
gun, which Arizona had dropped after firing the bullet. Was there not a
possibility of escape? She heard Arizona humming idly behind her.
Plainly he was entirely off guard.
Bending with the speed of a bird in picking up a seed, she scooped up
the gun, whirling with the heavy weapon extended, her forefinger
curling on the trigger. But, as she turned, the humming of Arizona
changed to a low snarl. She saw him coming like a bolt. The gun
exploded of its own volition, it seemed to her, but Arizona had swerved
in his course, and the shot went wild.
The next instant he struck her. The gun was wrenched from her hand, and
a powerful arm caught her and whirled her up, only to hurl her to the
ground; Arizona's snarling, panting face bent over her. In the very
midst of that fury she felt Arizona stiffen and freeze; the snarling
stopped; his nerveless arm fell away, and she was allowed to stagger to
her feet. She found him staring at her with a peculiar horror.
"Murdering guns!" whispered Arizona.
Now she understood that he knew. She saw him changed, humbled, disarmed
before her. But even then she did not understand the profound meaning
of that moment in the life of Arizona.
But to have understood, she would have had to know how that life began
in a city slum. She would have had to see the career of the sneak thief
which culminated in the episode of the lumber camp eight years before.
She would have had to understand how the lesson from the hand of big
Sinclair had begun the change which transformed the sneak into the
dangerous man of action. And now the second change had come. For
Arizona had made the unique discovery that he could be ashamed!
He would have laughed had another told him. Virtue was a name and no
more to the fat man. But in spite of himself those eight years under
free skies had altered him. He had been growing when he thought he was
standing still. When the eye plunges forty miles from mountain to
mountain, through crystal-clear air, the mind is enlarged. He had lived
exclusively among hard-handed men, rejoicing in a strength greater than
their own. He suddenly found that the feeble hand from which he had so
easily torn the weapon a moment before, had in an instant acquired
strength to make or break him.
All that Jig could discern of this was that her life was no longer in
danger, and that her enemy had been disarmed. But she was not prepared
for what followed.
Dragging off his hat, as if he acted reluctantly, his eyes sank until
they rested on the ground at her feet.
"Lady," he said, "I didn't know. I didn't even dream what you was."
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
As Arizona had predicted, Sheriff Kern was greatly tempted not to start
on the hard ride for the mountains before morning, and finally he
followed his impulse. With the first break of the dawn he was up, and a
few minutes later he had taken the trail alone. There was no need of
numbers, for that matter, to tell a single man that he no longer need
dread the law. But it was only common decency to inform him of the
charge, and Kern was a decent sort.
He was thoughtful on the trail. A great many things had happened to
upset the sheriff. The capture of Sinclair, take it all in all, was an
important event. To be sure, the chief glory was attributable to the
cunning of Arizona; nevertheless, the community was sure to pay homage
to the skill of the sheriff who had led the party and managed the
But now the sheriff found himself regretting the capture and all its
attendant glory. Not even a personal grudge against the man who had
taken his first prisoner from him, could give an edge to the sheriff's
satisfaction, for, during the late hours of the preceding night he had
heard from Sinclair the true story of the killing of Quade; not a
murder, but a fair fight. And he had heard more—the whole unhappy tale
which began with the death of Hal Sinclair in the desert, a story which
now included, so far as the sheriff knew, three deaths, with a promise
of another in the future.
It was little wonder that he was disturbed. His philosophy was of the
kind that is built up in a country of horses, hard riding, hard work,
hard fighting. According to the precepts of that philosophy, Sinclair
would have shirked a vital moral duty had he failed to avenge the
pitiful death of his brother.
The sheriff put himself into the boots of the man who was now his
prisoner and facing a sentence of death. In that man's place he knew
that he would have taken the same course. It was a matter of necessary
principle; and the sheriff also knew that no jury in the country could
allow Sinclair to go free. It might not be the death sentence, but it
would certainly be a prison term as bad as death.
These thoughts consumed the time for the sheriff until his horse had
labored up the height, and he came to the little plateau where so much
had happened outside of his ken. And there he saw Bill Sandersen, with
the all-seeing sun on his dead eyes.
For a moment the sheriff could not believe what he saw. Sandersen was,
in the phrase of the land, "Sinclair's meat." It suddenly seemed to him
that Sinclair must have broken from jail and done this killing during
the night. But a moment's reflection assured him that this could not
be. The mind of the sheriff whirled. Not Sinclair, certainly. The man
had been dead for some hours. In the sky, far above and to the north,
there were certain black specks, moving in great circles that drifted
gradually south. The buzzards were already coming to the dead. He
watched them for a moment, with the sinking of the heart which always
comes to the man of the mountain desert when he sees those grim birds.
It was not Sinclair. But who, then?
He examined the body and the wound. It was a center shot, nicely
placed. Certainly not the sort of shot that Cold Feet, according to the
description which Sinclair had given of the latter's marksmanship,
would be apt to make. But there was no other conclusion to come to.
Cold Feet had certainly been here according to Sinclair's confession,
and it was certainly reasonable to suppose that Cold Feet had committed
this crime. The sheriff placed the hat of Sinclair over his face and
swung back into his saddle; he must hurry back to Sour Creek and send
up a burial party, for no one would have an interest in interring the
body in the town.
But once in the saddle he paused again. The thought of the
schoolteacher having killed so formidable a fighter as Sandersen stuck
in his mind as a thing too contrary to probability. Moreover the
sheriff had grown extremely cautious. He had made one great failure
very recently—the escape of this same Cold Feet. He would have failed
again had it not been for Arizona. He shuddered at the thought of how
his reputation would have been ruined had he gone on the trail and
allowed Sinclair to double back to Sour Creek and take the town by
Dismounting, he threw his reins and went back to review the scene of
the killing. There were plenty of tracks around the place. The gravel
obscured a great part of the marks, and still other prints were blurred
by the dead grass. But there were pockets of rich, loamy soil, moist
enough and firm enough to take an impression as clearly as paper takes
ink. The sheriff removed the right shoe from the foot of Sandersen and
made a series of fresh prints.
They were quite distinctive. The heel was turned out to such an extent
that the track was always a narrow indentation, where the heel fell on
the soft soil. He identified the same tracks in many places, and,
dismissing the other tracks, the sheriff proceeded to make up a trail
history for Sandersen.
Here he came up the hill, on foot. Here he paused beside the embers of
the fire and remained standing for a long time, for the marks were
worked in deeply. After a time the trail went—he followed it with
difficulty over the hard-packed gravel—up the side of the hill to a
semicircular arrangement of rocks, and there, distinct in the soil, was
the impression of the body, where the cowpuncher had lain down. The
sheriff lay down in turn, and at once he was sure why Sandersen had
chosen this spot. He was defended perfectly on three sides from
bullets, and in the meantime, through crevices in the rock, he
maintained a clear outlook over the whole side of the hill.
Obviously Sandersen had lain down to keep watch. For what? For Cold
Feet, of course, on whose head a price rested. Or, at least, so
Sinclair must have believed at the time. The news had not yet been
published abroad that Cold Feet had been exculpated by the confession
of Sinclair to the killing of Quade.
So much was clear. But presently Sandersen had risen and gone down the
hill again, leaving from the other side of the rock. Had he covered
Cold Feet when the latter returned to his camp, having been absent when
Sandersen first arrived? No, the tracks down the hill were leisurely,
not the long strides which a man would make to get close to one whom he
had covered with a revolver from a distance.
Reaching the shoulder of the mountain, Kern puzzled anew. He began a
fresh study of the tracks. Those of Cold Feet were instantly known by
the tiny size of the marks of the soles. The sheriff remembered that he
had often wondered at the smallness of the schoolteacher's feet. Cold
Feet was there, and Sandersen was dead. Again it seemed certain that
Cold Feet had been guilty of the crime, but the sheriff kept on
systematically hunting for new evidence. He found no third set of
tracks for some time, but when he did find them, they were very
clear—a short, broad foot, the imprint of a heavy man. A fat man,
then, no doubt. From the length of the footprint it was very doubtful
if the man were tall, and certainly by the clearness of the
indentation, the man was heavy. The sheriff could tell by making a
track beside that of the quarry.
A second possibility, therefore, had entered, and the sheriff felt a
reasonable conviction that this must be the guilty man.
Now he combed the whole area for some means of identifying the third
man who had been on the mountainside. But nothing had been dropped
except a brilliant bandanna, wadded compactly together, which the
sheriff recognized as belonging to Sandersen. There was only one
definite means of recognizing the third man. Very faint in the center
of the impression made by his sole, were two crossed arrows, the sign
of the bootmaker.
The sheriff shook his head. Could he examine the soles of the boots of
every man in the vicinity of Sour Creek, even if he limited his inquiry
to those who were short and stocky? And might there not be many a man
who wore the same type of boots?
He flung himself gloomily into his saddle again, and this time he
headed straight down the trail for Sour Creek.
At the hotel he was surrounded by an excited knot of people who wished
to know how he had extracted the amazing confession from Riley
Sinclair. The sheriff tore himself away from a dozen hands who wished
to buttonhole him in close conversation.
"I'll tell you gents this," he said. "Quade was killed because he
needed killing, and Sinclair confessed because he's straight."
With that, casting an ugly glance at the lot of them, he went back into
the kitchen and demanded a cup of coffee. The Chinese cook obeyed the
order in a hurry, highly flattered and not a little nervous at the
presence of the great man in the kitchen.
While Kern was there, Arizona entered. The sheriff greeted him
cheerfully, with his coffee cup balanced in one hand.
"Arizona," he said, "or Dago, or whatever you like to be called—"
"Cut the Dago part, will you?" demanded Arizona. "I ain't no ways
wishing to be reminded of that name. Nobody calls me that."
Kern grinned covertly.
"I s'pose," said Arizona slowly, "that you and Sinclair had a long yarn
about when he knew me some time back?"
The sheriff shook his head.
"Between you and me," he said frankly, "it sounded to me like Sinclair
knew something you mightn't want to have noised around. Is that
"I'll tell you," answered the other. "When I was a kid I was a fool
kid. That's all it amounts to."
Sheriff Kern grunted. "All right, Arizona, I ain't asking. But you can
lay to it that Sinclair won't talk. He's as straight as ever I seen!"
"Maybe," said Arizona, "but he's slippery. And I got this to say: Lemme
have the watch over Sinclair while he's in Sour Creek, or are you
taking him back to Woodville today?"
"I'm held over," said the sheriff.
He paused. Twice the little olive-skinned man from the south had
demonstrated his superiority in working out criminal puzzles. The
sheriff was prone to unravel the new mystery by himself, if he might.
"Oh, by something I'll tell you about later on," said the sheriff. "It
don't amount to much, but I want to look into it."
Purposely he had delayed sending the party to bury Sandersen. It would
be simply warning the murderer if that man were in Sour Creek.
"About you and Sinclair," went on the sheriff, "there ain't much good
feeling between you, eh?"
"I won't shoot him in the back if I guard him," declared Arizona. "But
if you want one of the other boys to take the jog, go ahead. Put Red on
"He's too young. Sinclair's get him off guard by talking."
"Then try Wood."
"Wood ain't at his best off the trail. Come to think about it, I'd
rather trust Sinclair to you—that is, if you make up your mind to
treat him square."
"Sheriff, I'll give him a squarer deal than you think."
"More coffee, Li!" he called.
Li obeyed with such haste that he overbrimmed the cup, and some of the
liquid washed out of the saucer onto the floor.
"Coming back to shop talk," went on the sheriff, as Li mopped up the
spilled coffee, mumbling excuses, "I ain't had a real chance to tell
you what a fine job you done for us last night, Arizona."
Arizona, with due modesty, waved the praise away and stepped to the
container of matches hanging beside the stove. He came back lighting a
cigarette and contentedly puffed out a great cloud.
"Forget all that, sheriff, will you?"
"Not if I live to be a hundred," answered the sheriff with frank
So saying, his eye dropped to the floor and remained there, riveted.
The foot of Arizona had rested on the spot where the coffee had fallen.
The print was clearly marked with dust, except that in the center,
where the sole had lain, there was a sharply defined pair of crossed
A short, fat, heavy man.
The sheriff raised his glance and examined the bulky shoulders of the
man. Then he hastily swallowed the rest of his coffee.
Yet there might be a dozen other short, stocky men in town, whose boots
had the same impression. He looked thoughtfully out the kitchen window,
striving to remember some clue. But, as far as he could make out, the
only time Arizona and Sandersen had crossed had been when the latter
applied for a place on the posse. Surely a small thing to make a man
commit a murder!
"If you gimme the job of guarding Sinclair," said Arizona, "I'd sure—"
"Wait a minute," cut in the sheriff. "I'll be back right away. I think
that was MacKenzie who went into the stable. Don't leave till I come
Hurriedly he went out. There was no MacKenzie in the stable, and the
sheriff did not look for one. He went straight to Arizona's horse. The
roan was perfectly dry, but examining the hide, the sheriff saw that
the horse had been recently groomed, and a thorough grooming would soon
dry the hair and remove all traces of a long ride.
Stepping back to the peg from which the saddle hung, he raised the
stirrup leather. On the inside, where the leather had chafed the side
of the horse, there was a dirty gray coating, the accumulation of the
dust and sweat of many a ride. But it was soft with recent sweat, and
along the edges of the leather there was a barely dried line of foam
that rubbed away readily under the touch of his fingertip.
Next he examined the bridle. There, also, were similar evidences of
recent riding. The sheriff returned calmly to the kitchen of the hotel.
"And your mind's made up?" asked Arizona.
"Yes," said the sheriff. "You go in with Sinclair."
"Go in with him?" asked Arizona, baffled.
"For murder," said the sheriff. "Stick up your hands, Arizona!"
Even though he was taken utterly by surprise, habit made Arizona go for
his own gun, as the sheriff whipped out his weapon. But under those
conditions he was beaten badly to the draw. Before his weapon was half
out of the holster, the sheriff had the drop.
Arizona paused, but, for a moment, his eyes fought Kern, figuring
chances. It was only the hesitation of an instant. The battle was lost
before it had begun, and Arizona was clever enough to know it. Swiftly
he turned on a new tack. He shoved his revolver back into the holster
and smiled benevolently on the sheriff.
"What's the new game, Kern?"
"It ain't new," said the sheriff joylessly. "It's about the oldest game
in the world. Arizona, you sure killed Sandersen."
"Sandersen?" Arizona laughed. "Why, man, I ain't hardly seen him more
than once. How come that I would kill him?"
"Get your hands up, Arizona."
"Oh, sure." He obeyed with apparent willingness. "But don't let anybody
see you making this fool play, sheriff."
"Maybe not so foolish. I'll tell you why you killed him. You're broke,
Arizona. Ten days ago Mississippi Slim cleaned you out at dice. Well,
when Sinclair told me where Cold Feet was, you listened through the
door, but you didn't stay to find out that Jig wasn't wanted no more.
You beat it up to the mountain, and there you found Sandersen was ahead
of your time. You drilled Sandersen, hoping to throw the blame on Cold
Feet. Then you come down, but on the way Cold Feet gives you the slip
and gets away. And that's why you're here."
Arizona blinked. So much of this tale was true that it shook even his
iron nerve. He managed to smile.
"That's a wild yarn, sheriff. D'you think it'll go down with a jury?"
"It'll go down with any jury around these parts. What's more, Arizona,
I ain't going to rest on what I think. I'm going to find out. And, if I
send down to the south inquiring about you, I got an idea that I'll
find out enough to hang ten like you, eh?"
Once more Arizona received a vital blow, and he winced under the
impact. Moreover, he was bewildered. His own superior intelligence had
inclined him to despise the sheriff, whom he put down as a fellow of
more bulldog power than mental agility. All in a moment it was being
borne in upon him that he had underrated his man. He could not answer.
His smooth tongue was chained.
"Not that I got any personal grudge agin' you," went on the sheriff,
"but it's gents like you that I'm after, Arizona, and not one like
Sinclair. You ain't clean, Arizona. You're slick, and they ain't
elbowroom enough in the West for slick gents. Besides, you got a bad
way with your gun. I can tell you this, speaking private and
confidential, I'm going to hang you, Arizona, if there's any way
He said all this quietly, but the revolver remained poised with
rocklike firmness. He drew out a pair of manacles.
"Stand up, Arizona."
Listlessly the fat man got up. He had been changing singularly during
the last speech of the sheriff. Now he dropped a hand on the edge of
the table, as if to support himself. The sheriff saw that hand grip the
wood until the knuckles went white. Arizona moistened his colorless
"Not the irons, sheriff," he said softly. "Not them!"
If it had been any other man, Kern would have imagined that he was
losing his nerve; but he knew Arizona, had seen him in action, and he
was certain that his courage was above question. Consequently he was
amazed. As certainly as he had ever seen them exposed, these were the
horrible symptoms of cowardice that make a brave man shudder to see.
"Can't trust you," he said wonderingly. "Wouldn't trust you a minute,
Arizona, without the irons on you. You're a bad actor, son, and I've
seen you acting up. Don't forget that."
"Sheriff, I give you my word that I'll go quiet as a lamb."
A moment elapsed before Kern could answer, for the voice of Arizona had
trembled as he spoke. The sheriff could not believe his ears.
"Well, I'm sorry, Arizona," he said more gently, because he was
striving to banish this disgusting suspicion from his own mind. "I
can't take no chances. Just turn around, will you. And keep them hands
He barked the last words, for the arms of Arizona had crooked suddenly.
They stiffened at the sharp command of the sheriff. Slowly, trembling,
as if they possessed a volition of their own hardly controlled by the
fat man, those hands fought their way back to their former position,
and then Arizona gradually turned his back on the sheriff. A convulsive
shudder ran through him as Kern removed his gun and then seized one of
the raised hands, drew it down, and fastened one part of the iron on
it. The other hand followed, and, as the sheriff snapped the lock, he
saw a singular transformation in the figure of his captive. The
shoulders of Arizona slouched forward, his head sank. From the erect,
powerful figure of the moment before, he became, in comparison, a
flabby pile of flesh, animated by no will.
"What's the matter?" asked the sheriff. "You ain't lost your nerve,
have you, Fatty?"
Arizona did not answer. Kern stepped to one side and glanced at the
face of his captive. It was strangely altered. The mouth had become
trembling, loose, uncertain. The head had fallen, and the bright, keen
eyes were dull. The man looked up with darting side-glances.
The sheriff stood back and wiped a sudden perspiration from his
forehead. Under his very eyes the spirit of this gunfighter was
disintegrating. The sheriff felt a cold shame pour through him. He
wanted to hide this man from the eyes of the others. It was not right
that he should be seen. His weakness was written too patently.
Kern was no psychologist, but he knew that some men out of their
peculiar element are like fish out of water. He shook his head.
"Walk out that back door, will you?" he asked softly.
"We ain't going down the street?" demanded Arizona.
Again Kern shuddered, swallowed, and then commanded: "Start along,
Slinking through the door, the fat man hesitated on the little porch
and cast a quick glance up and down.
"No one near!" he said. "Hurry up, sheriff."
Quickly they skirted down behind the houses—not unseen, however. A
small boy playing behind his father's house raised his head to watch
the hurrying pair, and when he saw the glitter of the irons, they heard
him gasp. He was old enough to know the meaning of that. Irons on
Arizona, who had been a town hero the night before! They saw the
youngster dart around the house.
"Blast him!" groaned Arizona. "He'll spread it everywhere. Hurry!"
He was right. The sheriff hurried with a will, but, as they crossed the
street for the door of the jail, voices blew down to them. Looking
toward the hotel, they saw men pouring out into the street, pointing,
shouting to one another. Then they swept down on the pair.
But the sheriff and his prisoner gained the door of the jail first, and
Kern locked it behind him. His deputy on guard rose with a start, and
at the same time there was a hurried knocking on the door and a clamor
of voices without. Arizona shrank away from that sound, scowling over
his shoulder, but the sheriff nodded good-humoredly.
"Take it easy, Arizona. I ain't going to make a show of you!"
"Sure, that's like you, sheriff," said a hurried, half-whining voice.
"You're square. I'll sure show you one of these days now I appreciate
the way you treat me!"
Kern was staggered. It seemed to him that a new personality had taken
possession of the body of the fat man. He led the way past his gaping
deputy. The jail was not constructed for a crowd. It was merely a
temporary abiding place before prisoners were taken to the larger
institution at Woodville. Consequently there was only one big cell. The
sheriff unlocked the door, slipped the manacles from the wrists of
Arizona, and jabbed the muzzle of a revolver into his back!
The last act was decidedly necessary, for the moment his wrists were
released from the grip of the steel, Arizona twitched halfway round
toward the sheriff. The scrape of the gunmuzzle against his ribs,
however, convinced him. Over his shoulder he cast one murderous glance
at the sheriff and then slouched forward into the cell.
"Company for you, Riley," said the sheriff, as the tall cowpuncher
The other's back was turned, and thereby the sheriff was enabled to
pass a significant gesture and look to Sinclair. With that he left
them. In the outer room he found his deputy much alarmed.
"You ain't turned them two in together?" he asked. "Why, Sinclair'll
kill that gent in about a minute. Ain't it Arizona that nailed him?"
"Sinclair will play square," Kern insisted, "and Arizona won't fight!"
Leaving the other to digest these mysterious tidings, the sheriff went
out to disperse the crowd.
In the meantime Sinclair had received the newcomer in perfect silence,
his head raised high, his thin mouth set in an Ugly line—very much as
an eagle might receive an owl which floundered by mistake onto the same
crag, far above his element. The eagle hesitated between scorn of the
visitor and a faint desire to pounce on him and rend him to pieces.
That glittering eye, however, was soon dull with wonder, when he
watched the actions of Arizona.
The fat man paused in the center of the cell, regarded Sinclair with a
single flash of the eyes, and then glanced uneasily from side to side.
That done, he slipped away to a corner and slouched down on a stool,
his head bent down on his breast.
Apparently he had fallen into a profound reverie, but Sinclair found
that the eyes of Arizona continually whipped up and across to him. Once
the newcomer shifted his position a little, and Sinclair saw him test
the weight of the stool beneath him with his hand. Even in the cell
Arizona had found a weapon.
Gradually Sinclair understood the meaning of that glance and the
gesture of the sheriff, as the latter left; he read other things in the
gray pallor of Arizona, and in the fallen head. The man was unnerved.
Sinclair's reaction was very much what that of the sheriff had been—a
sinking of the heart and a momentary doubt of himself. But he was
something more of a philosopher than Kern. He had seen more of life and
men and put two and two together.
One thing stared him plainly in the face. The Arizona who skulked in
the corner had relapsed eight years. He was the same sneak thief whom
Sinclair had first met in the lumber camp, and he knew instinctively
that this was the first time since that unpleasant episode that Arizona
had been cornered. The loathing left Sinclair, and in its place came
pity. He had no fondness of Arizona, but he had seen him in the role of
a strong man, which made the contrast more awful. It reminded Sinclair
of the wild horse which loses its spirit when it is broken. Such was
Arizona. Free to come and go, he had been a danger. Shut up helplessly
in a cell, he was as feeble as a child, and his only strength was a
sort of cunning malice. Sinclair turned quietly to the fat man.
"Arizona," he said, "you look sort of underfed today. Bring your stool
a bit nearer and let's talk. I been hungry for a chat with someone."
In reply Arizona rolled back his head and for a moment glared
thoughtfully at Sinclair. He made no answer. Presently his glance fell,
like that of a dog. Sinclair shivered. He tried brutality.
"Looks to me, Arizona, as though you'd lost your nerve."
The other moistened his lips, but said nothing.
"But the point is," said the tall cowpuncher, "that you've given up
before you're beaten."
Riley Sinclair's words brought a flash from Arizona, a sudden lifting
of the head, as if he had not before thought of hoping. Then he began
to slump back into his former position, without a reply. Sinclair
followed his opening advantage at once.
"What you in for?"
"Great guns! Of whom?"
It brought Sinclair stiffly to his feet. Sandersen! His trail was
ended; Hal was avenged at last!
"And you done it? Fatty, you took that job out of my hands. I'm
thanking you. Besides, it ain't nothing to be downhearted about.
Sandersen was a skunk. Can they prove it on you?"
The need to talk overwhelmed Arizona. It burst out of him, not to
Sinclair, but rather at him. His shifting eyes made sure that no one
"Kern is going to send south for the dope. I'm done for. They can hang
me three times on what they'll learn, and—"
"Shut up," snapped Sinclair. "Don't talk foolish. The south is a
tolerable big place to send to. They don't know where you come from.
Take 'em a month to find out, and by that time, you won't be at hand."
"Because you and me are going to bust out of this paper jail they got!"
He had not the slightest hope of escape. But he tried the experiment of
that suggestion merely to see what the fat man's reaction would be. The
result was more than he could have dreamed. Arizona whirled on him with
"What d'you mean, Sinclair?"
"Just what I say. D'you think they can keep two like us in here? No,
not if you come to your old self."
The need to confide again fell on Arizona. He dragged his stool nearer.
His voice was a whisper.
"Sinclair, something's busted in me. When them irons grabbed my arms
they took everything out of me. I got no chance. They got me cornered."
"And you'll fight like a wildcat to the end of things. Sure you will!
Buck up, man! You think you've turned yaller. You ain't. You're just
out of place. Take a gent that's used to a forty-foot rope and a pony,
give him sixty feet on a sixteen-hand hoss, and ain't he out of place?
Sure! He looks like a clumsy fool. And the other way around it works
the same way. A trout may be a flash of light in water, but on dry land
he ain't worth a damn. Same way with you, Fatty. While you got a free
foot you're all right, but when they put you behind a wall and say
they're going to keep you there, you darned near bust down. Why?
Because it looks to you like you ain't got a chance to fight back. So
you quit altogether. But you'll come back to yourself, Arizona. You—"
Arizona raised his hand. He was sitting erect now, drinking in the
words of Sinclair, as if they were air to a stifling man. His face
"Why are you doing this for me, Sinclair—after I landed you here?"
"Because I made a man out of you once," answered the tall man evenly,
"and I ain't going to see you backslide. Why, Arizona, you're one of
the fastest-thinkin', quickest-handed gents that ever buckled on a gun,
and here you are lying down like a kid that ain't never faced trouble
before. Come alive, man. You and me are going to bust this ol' jail to
smithereens, and when we get outside I'll blow your head off if I can!"
Riley's words had carried Arizona with him. Suddenly an olive-skinned
hand shot out and clutched his own bony, strong fingers. The hand was
fat and cold, but it gripped that of Riley Sinclair with a desperate
"Sinclair, you mean it? You'll play in with me?"
He had to drag the words out, but after he had spoken he was glad. New
life shone in the face of Arizona.
"A man with you for a partner ain't done, Sinclair—not if he had a
rope around his neck. Listen! D'you know why I come in town?"
"To get you out."
"I believe you, Arizona," lied Sinclair.
"Not for your sake—but hers."
Sinclair's face suddenly went white.
"The girl!" whispered Arizona. "I cached her away outside of town to
wait for—us! Sinclair, she loves you."
Riley Sinclair sat as one stunned and dragged the hat from his head.
Through the branches of the copse in which she was hidden, the girl saw
the sun descend in the west, a streak of slowly dropping fire. And now
she became excited.
"As soon as it's dark," Arizona had promised, "I'll make my start. Have
your hoss ready. Be in the saddle, and the minute you see us come down
that trail out of Sour Creek, be ready to feed your hoss the spur and
join us, because when we come, we'll come fast. Don't make no mistake.
If you ride too slow we'll have to ride slow, too, and slow ridin'
means gunplay on both sides, and gunplay means dead men, because the
evenin' is a pile worse nor the dark for fooling a man's aim. You'll
see me and Sinclair scoot along that there road, with the gang yellin'
Having made this farewell speech, he waved his hand and, with a smile
of confidence, jogged away from her. It was the beginning of a dull day
of waiting for her, yet a day in which she dared not altogether relax
her vigilance, because at any time the break might come, and Arizona
might appear flying down the trail with the familiar tall form of
Sinclair beside him. Wearily she waited until sundown.
With the coming of dusk she wakened suddenly and became tinglingly
alert. The night spread rapidly down out of the mountains. The color
faded, and the sudden chill of the high altitude settled about her. Her
hands and her feet were cold with the fear of excitement.
Into the gathering gloom she strained her eyes; toward Sour Creek she
strained her ears, starting at every faint sound of a man's shout or
the barking of a dog, as if this might be the beginning of the uproar
that would announce the escape.
Something swung on to the road out of the end of the main street. She
was instantly in the saddle, but, by the time she reached the edge of
the copse, she found it to be only a wagon filled with singing men
going back to some nearby ranch. Then quiet dropped over the valley,
and she became aware that it was the utter dark.
Arizona had failed! That knowledge grew more surely upon her with every
moment. His intention must have been guessed, for she could not imagine
that slippery and cold-minded fellow being thwarted, if he were left
free to work as he pleased toward an object he desired. She could not
stay in the grove all night. Besides, this was the critical time for
Riley Sinclair. Tomorrow he would be taken to the security of the
Woodville jail, and the end would be close. If anything were done for
him, it must be before morning.
With this thought in mind she rode boldly out of the trees and took the
road into town, where the lights of the early evening had turned from
white to yellow, as the night deepened. Sour Creek was hardly a mile
away when a rattling in the dark announced the approach of a buckboard.
She drew rein at the side of the trail. Suddenly the wagon loomed out
at her, with two down-headed horses jogging along and the loose reins
swinging above their backs.
"Halloo!" called Jig.
The brakes ground against the wheels, squeaking in protest. The horses
came to a halt so willing and sudden that the collars shoved halfway up
their necks, and the tongue of the wagon lurched beyond their noses.
"Whoa! Evening, there! You gimme a kind of a start, stranger."
Parodying the dialect as well as she was able, Jig said: "Sorry,
stranger. Might that be Sour Creek?"
"It sure might be," said the driver, leaning through the dark to make
out Jig. "New in these parts?"
"Yep, I'm over from Whiteacre way, and I'm aiming for Woodville."
"Whiteacre? Doggone me if it ain't good to meet a Whiteacre boy. I was
raised there, son! Joe Lunids is my name."
"I'm Texas Lou," said the girl.
There was a subdued chuckle from the darkness.
"You sound kind of young for a name like that, kid. Leastwise, your
voice is tolerable young."
"I'm old enough," said Jig aggressively.
"Sure, sure," placated the other. "Sure you are."
"Besides," she went on, "I wanted a name that I could grow up to."
It brought a hearty burst of laughter from the wagon.
"That's a good one, Texas. Have a drink?"
She set her teeth over the refusal that had come to her lips and,
reining near, reached out for the flask. The driver passed over the
bottle and at the same time lighted a match for the apparent purpose of
starting his cigarette. But Jig nodded her head in time to obscure her
face with the flopping brim of her sombrero. The other coughed his
disappointment. She raised the bottle after uncorking it, firmly
securing the neck with her thumb. After a moment she lowered it and
sighed with satisfaction, as she had heard men do.
"Thanks," said Jig, handing back the flask. "Hot stuff, partner."
"You got a tough throat," observed the rancher. "First I ever see that
didn't choke on a swig of that. But you youngsters has the advantage of
a sound lining for your innards."
He helped himself from the flask, coughed heavily, and then pounded
home the cork.
"How's things up Whiteacre way?"
"Fair to middlin'," said Jig. "They ain't hollering for rain so much as
"I reckon not," agreed the rancher.
"And how's things down Sour Creek way?" asked Jig.
"Trouble busting every minute," said the other. "Murder, gun scrapes,
brawls in the hotel—to beat anything I ever see. The town is sure
going plumb to the dogs at this rate!"
"You don't say! Well, I heard something about a gent named Quade being
"Him? He was just the beginning—just the start! Since then we had a
man took away from old Kern, which don't happen once in a coon's age.
Then we had a fine fresh murder right this morning, and the present
minute they's two in jail on murder charges, and both are sure to
Jig gasped. "Two!" she exclaimed.
"Yep. They was a skinny schoolteacher named—I forget what. Most
general he was called Cold Feet, which fitted. They thought he killed
Quade account of a girl. But a gent named Sinclair up and confessed,
and he is waiting for the rope. And then a sheriff all by himself
grabbed Arizona for the murder of Sandersen. Oh, times is picking up
considerable in Sour Creek. Reminds me of twenty years back before Kern
come on the job and cleaned up the gunfighters!"
"Two murders!" repeated the girl faintly. "And has Arizona confessed,
"Not him! But the sheriff has enough to give him a hard run. I got to
be drifting on, son. Take my advice and head straight for Woodville.
You lack five years of being old enough for Sour Creek these days!" He
called his farewell, threw off the brake and cursed the span of horses
into their former trot.
As for Jig, she waited until the scent of alkali dust died away, and
the rattle of the buckboard was faint in the distance. Then she turned
her horse back toward Sour Creek and urged it to a steady gallop,
bouncing in the saddle.
There seemed a fatality about her. On her account Sinclair had thrown
his life in peril, and now Arizona was caught and held in the same
danger. Enough of sacrifices for her; her mind was firm to repay some
of these services at any cost, and she had thought of a way.
With that gloomy purpose before her, her ordinary timidity disappeared.
It was strange to ride into Sour Creek, and she passed in review among
the rough men of the town, constantly fearful that they might pierce
her disguise. She had trained herself to a long stride and a swaggering
demeanor, and by constant practice she had been able to lower the pitch
of her voice and roughen its quality. Yet, in spite of the constant
practice, she never had been able to gain absolute self-confidence.
Tonight, however, there was no fear in her.
She went straight to the hotel, threw the reins, and walked boldly
through the door into a cluster of men. They yelled at the sight of
"Jig, by guns! He's come in! Say, kid, the sheriff's been looking for
They swerved around her, grinning good-naturedly. When a person has
been almost lynched for a crime another has committed, he gains a
certain standing, no matter what may be the public opinion of his
courage. The schoolteacher had become a personage. But Jig met their
smiles with a level eye.
"If the sheriff's looking for me," she said, "tell him I have a room in
the hotel. He can find me here."
Pop shook hands before he shoved the register toward her. "My kids will
sure be glad to see you safe back," he said. "And I'm glad, too, Jig."
Nodding, she turned to sign her name in the bold, free hand which she
had cultivated. She could feel the crowd staring behind her, and she
could hear their murmurs. But she was not nervous. It seemed that all
apprehension had left her.
"Where's Cartwright?" she asked.
"Sitting in a game of poker."
"Hello, Buddy!" she called to a redheaded youngster. "Go in and tell
Cartwright that I'm waiting for him in my room, will you?"
"Ain't no use," said Pop, staring at this new and more masculine Jig.
"Cartwright is all heated up about the game. And he's lost enough to
get anybody excited. He won't come. Better go in there if you want to
"I'll try my luck this way," said Jig coldly. "Run along, Buddy."
Buddy obeyed, and Jig went up the stairs to her room.
"What come over him?" asked the crowd, the moment Cold Feet was out of
sight. "Looks like he's growed up in a day!"
"He's gone through enough to make a man of him," answered Pop. "Never
can tell how a kid will turn out."
But in her room Jig had sunk into a chair, dropped her elbows on the
table, and buried her face in her hands, trying to steady her thoughts.
She heard the heavy pounding of feet on the stairs, a strong tread in
the hall that made the flooring of the old building quiver, and then
the door was flung open, slammed shut, and the key turned in the lock.
Cartwright set his shoulders against the door, as though he feared she
would try to rush past him. He stared at her, with a queer admixture of
fear, rage, and astonishment.
"So I've got you at last, eh? I've got you, after all this?"
Curiously she stared at him. She had dreaded the interview, but now
that he was before her she was surprised to find that she felt no fear.
She examined him as if from a distance.
"Yes," she admitted, "you have me. Will you sit down?"
"I need room to talk," he said, swaggering to the table. He struck his
fist on it. "Now, to start with, what in thunder did you mean by
"We're leaving the past to bury the past," she said. "That's the first
concession you have to make."
He laughed, his laughter ending with a choked sound. "And why should
I make concessions?"
Jig watched the veins of fury swell in his forehead, watched calmly,
and then threw her sombrero on the bed and smoothed back her hair,
still watching without a change of expression. It seemed as if her calm
acted to sober him, and the passing of her hand across the bright,
silken hair all at once softened him. He sank into the opposite chair,
leaning far across the table toward her.
"Honey, take you all in all, you're prettier right here in this man's
outfit that I ever see you—a pile prettier!"
For a moment she closed her eyes. The sacrifice which she intended was
becoming harder, desperately hard to make.
"I'm going to take you back and forgive you," said Cartwright,
apparently blind to what was going on in her mind. "I ain't one to
carry malice. You keep to the line from now on, and we'll get along
fine. But you step crooked just once more, and I'll learn you a pile of
things you never even dreamed could happen!"
To her it seemed that he stood in a shaft of consuming light that
exposed every shadowy nook and cranny of his nature, and the
narrow-minded meanness that she saw, startled her.
"What you do afterward with me is your own affair," she said. "It's
about the present that I've come to bargain."
"Exactly! Do what I ask, and I go back and act as your wife. If you
refuse, I walk out of your life forever."
He could not speak for a moment. Then he exploded.
"It's funny. I could almost laugh hearing you chatter crazy like this.
Don't you think I got a right to make my own wife come home with me,
now that I've found her? Wouldn't the law stand behind me?"
"You can force me to come," she admitted quietly, "but if you do, I'll
let the whole truth be known that I ran away from you. Can your pride
stand that, Jude?"
He writhed. "And how'll you get around that, even if I don't make you,
and you come back of your own free will?"
"Somehow I'll manage. I'll find a story of how I was carried away by
half a dozen men who had come to loot the upper rooms of the house,
while the wedding party was downstairs. I'll find a story that will
"Yes, I think you will," said Cartwright, breathing heavily. "I sure
think you will. You was always a clever little devil, I know! But a
bargain! I'd ought to—" He checked himself. "But I'm through with the
black talk. When I get you back on the ranch I'll show you that you can
be happy up there. And when you get over your fool notions, you'll be a
wife to be proud of. Now, honey, tell me what you want?"
"I want you to save the lives of two men. They're both in jail—on my
account. And they're both charged with murder. You know whom I mean."
Cartwright rose out of his chair.
"Sinclair!" he groaned. "Curse him! Sinclair, ag'in, eh? What's they
between you two?"
Her answer smothered his fury again. It was pain that was giving her
"Jude, if you really want me to go back with you, don't ask that
question. He has treated me as an honorable man always treats a
woman—he tried to serve me."
"Serve you? By coming here trying to kill me?"
"He may have thought I wished to be free. He didn't tell me what he was
going to do."
"That's a lie." He stopped, watching her white face. "I don't mean
that, you know. But you ain't actually asking me to get Sinclair out of
jail? Besides, I couldn't do it!"
"You could easily. Moreover, it's to your interest. It will take a
strong jail to hold him, and if he breaks away, you know that he's a
dangerous man. He hates you, Jude, and he might try to find you. If he
She waved her hand, and Cartwright followed the gesture with great,
fascinated eyes, as if he saw himself dissolving into thin air.
"I know; he's a desperado, right enough, this Sinclair. Ain't I seen
him work?" He shuddered at the memory.
"But get him out of the jail, Jude, and that will be ended. He'll be
"Could I trust him?"
"Don't you think Riley Sinclair is a man to be trusted?"
"I dunno." He lowered his eyes. "Maybe he is."
"As for Arizona," she went on, "the same thing holds for him."
"Yes; if I could get one out, I could get two. But how can I do it?
This Sheriff Kern is a fighting idiot, and loves a gunplay. I ain't no
"But you're rich, Jude."
"Tolerable. They may be one or two has more than me, around these
"And money buys men!"
"Don't it, though?" said Jude, expanding. "Why, when they found that I
was a spender they started in hounding me. One gent wanted me to help
him on a mortgage—only fifty bucks to meet a payment. And they's half
a dozen would mortgage their souls if I'd stake 'em to enough
downstairs to get them into a crap game, or something."
"Then let them have the money they need. Why, it wouldn't be more than
a hundred dollars altogether."
"A hundred is a hundred. Why should I throw it away on them bums?"
"Because after you've done it, you'll have a dozen men who'll follow
you. You'll have a mob."
"Sure! But what of that? Expect me to lead an attack on a jail, eh?
Throw my life away? By guns, I think you'd like that!"
"You don't have to lead. Just give them the money they need and then
spread the word around that Riley Sinclair is really an honorable man
who killed Quade in a fair fight. I know what they thought of Quade. He
was a bully. No one liked him. Tell them it's a shame that a man like
Sinclair should die because he killed a big, hulking cur such as Quade.
They'll listen—particularly if they have your money. I know these men,
Jude. If they think an injustice is being done, they'll risk their
necks to right it! And if you work on them in the right way, you can
have twenty men who'll risk everything to get Riley out. But there
won't be a risk. If twenty men rush the jail, the guards will simply
throw down their guns and give up."
"Well, I wonder!" muttered Cartwright.
"I'm sure of it, Jude. Do you think a deputy will let himself be killed
simply to keep a prisoner safely? They won't do it!"
"You don't know this Kern!"
"I do know him, and I know that he's human. I've seen him beaten once
"By Sinclair! You keep coming back to him!"
"Jude, if you do this thing for me," she said steadily, "I'll go back
with you. I don't love you, but if I go back I'll keep you from a great
deal of shameful talk. I'm sorry, truly, that I left. I couldn't help
it. It was an impulse that—took me by the throat. And if I go back
I'll honestly try to make you a good wife."
She faltered a little before that last word, and her voice fell. But
Jude Cartwright was wholly fascinated by the color in her face, and the
softness of her voice he mistook for a sudden rise of tenderness.
"They's only one thing I got to ask—you and Sinclair—have you ever—I
mean—have you ever told him you're pretty fond of him—that you love
him?" He blurted it out, stammering.
Certainly she knew that her answer was a lie, though it was true in the
"I have never told him so," she said firmly. "But I owe him a great
debt—he must not die because he's a gentleman, Jude."
All the time she was speaking, he watched her with ferret sharpness,
thinking busily. Before she ended he had reached his decision.
"I'm going to raise that mob."
What a ring in her voice! If he had been in doubt he would have known
then. No matter what she said, she loved Riley Sinclair. He smiled
sourly down on her.
"Keep your thanks. You'll hear news of Sinclair before morning." And he
stalked out of the room.
Cartwright went downstairs in the highest good humor. He had been
convinced of two things in the interview with his wife: The first was
that she could be induced to return to him; the second was that she
loved Riley Sinclair. He did not hate her for such fickleness. He
merely despised her for her lack of brains. No thinking woman could
hesitate a moment between the ranches and the lumber tracts of
Cartwright and the empty purse of Riley Sinclair.
As for hatred, that he concentrated on the head of Sinclair himself. He
had already excellent reasons for hating the rangy cowpuncher. Those
reasons were now intensified and given weight by what he had recently
learned. He determined to raise a mob, but not to accomplish his wife's
desires. What she had said about the weakness of jails, the strength of
Sinclair, and the probability that once out he would take the trail of
the rancher, appealed vigorously to his imagination. He did not dream
that such a man as Sinclair would hesitate at a killing. And, loving
the girl, the first thing Sinclair would do would be to remove the
obstacle through the simple expedient of a well-placed bullet.
But the girl had not only convinced him in this direction, she had
taught him where his strength lay, and she had pointed a novel use for
that strength. He went to work instantly when he entered the big back
room of the hotel which was used for cards and surreptitious drinking.
A little, patient-faced man in a corner, who had been sucking a pipe
all evening and watching the crap game hungrily, was the first object
of his charity. Ten dollars slipped into the pocket of the little
cowpuncher brought him out of his chair, with a grin of gratitude and
bewilderment. A moment later he was on his knees calling to the dice in
a cackling voice.
Crossing the room, Cartwright picked out two more obviously stalled
gamblers and gave them a new start. Returning to the table, he found
that the game was lagging. In the first place he had from the start
supplied most of the sinews of war to that game. Also, two disgruntled
members had gone broke in his absence, through trying to plunge for the
spoils of the evening. They sat back, with black faces, and watched him
"We're getting down to a small game," said the gray-headed man who was
But Cartwright had other ideas. "A friend's a friend," he said
jovially. "And a gent that's been playing beside me all evening I
figure for a friend. Sit in, boys. I'll stake you to a couple of
Gladly they came, astonished and exchanging glances.
Cartwright had made a sour loser all the game. This sudden generosity
took them off balance. It let in a merciful light upon the cruel
criticism which they had been leveling at him in private. The pale man,
with the blond eyelashes and the faded blue eyes, who had been
dexterously stacking the cards all through the game, decided at that
moment that he would not only stop cheating, but he would even lose
some of his ill-gotten gains back into the game; only a sudden rush of
unbelievable luck kept him from executing his generous and silent
This pale-faced man was named Whitey, from the excessive blondness of
his hair and his pallor. He was not popular in Sour Creek, but he was
much respected. A proof of his ingenuity was that he had cheated at
cards in that community for five years, and still he had never been
caught at his work. He was not a bold-talking man. In fact he never
started arguments or trouble of any kind; but he was a most dexterous
and thoroughgoing fighter when he was cornered. In fact he was what is
widely known as a "finisher." And it was Whitey whom Cartwright had
chosen as the leader of the mob which he intended raising. He waited
until the first shuffle was in progress after the hand, then he began
"Understand the sheriff is pretty strong for this Sinclair that
murdered Quade," he said carelessly.
"'Murder' is a tolerable strong word," came back the unfriendly answer.
"Maybe it was a fair fight."
Cartwright laughed. "Maybe it was," he said.
Whitey interrupted himself in the act of shoving the pack across to be
cut. He raised his pale eyes to the face of the rancher. "What makes
you laugh, Cartwright?"
"Nothing," said Jude hastily. "Nothing at all. If you gents don't know
Sinclair, it ain't up to me to give you light. Let him go."
Nothing more was said during that hand which Whitey won. Jude,
apparently bluffing shamelessly, bucked him up to fifty dollars, and
then he allowed himself to be called with a pair of tens against a full
house. Not only did he lose, but he started a laugh against himself,
and he joined in cheerfully. He was aware of Whitey frowning curiously
at him and smiling faintly, which was the nearest that Whitey ever came
to laughter. And, indeed, the laugh cost Cartwright more than money,
but it was a price—the price he was paying for the adherence of
"What about this Sinclair?" asked the man with the great, red, blotchy
freckles across his face and the back of his neck, so that the skin
between looked red and raw. "You come from up north, which is his
direction, too. Know anything about him? He looks like pretty much of a
man to me, and the sheriff says he's a square shooter from the word
"Maybe he is," said Cartwright. "But I don't want to go around digging
the ground away from nobody's reputation."
"Whatever he's got, he won't last long," said Whitey definitely. "He'll
It was Cartwright's opening. He took advantage of it dexterously,
without too much haste. He even yawned to show his lack of interest.
"Well, I got a hundred that says he don't hang," he observed quietly
and looked full at Whitey across the table. It was a challenge which
the gambling spirit of the latter could not afford to overlook.
"Money talks," began Whitey, then he checked himself. "Do you know
"Sure I don't," said Jude in the manner of one who has abundant
knowledge in reserve. "But they say that the sheriff and Sinclair have
become regular bunkies. Don't do nothing hardly but sit and chin with
each other over in the jail. Ever know Kern to do that before?"
They shook their heads.
"Which is a sign that Sinclair may be all right," said the sober
"Which is a sign that he might have something on the sheriff," said
Jude Cartwright. "I don't say that he has, mind you, but it looks
kind of queer. He yanked a prisoner away from the sheriff one day, and
the next day he's took for murder. Did the sheriff have much to do with
his taking? No, he didn't. By all accounts it was Arizona that done the
taking, planning and everything. And after Sinclair is took, what does
the sheriff do? He gets on the trail of Arizona and has him checked in
for murder of another gent. Maybe Arizona is guilty, maybe he ain't.
But it kind of looks as if they was something between Sinclair and
Kern, don't it?"
At this bold exposition of possibilities they paused.
"Kern is figured tolerable straight," declared Whitey.
"Sure he is. That's because he don't talk none and does his work.
Besides, he's a killer. That's his job. So is Sinclair a killer. Maybe
he did fight Quade square, but Quade ain't the only one. Why, boys,
this Sinclair has got a record as long as my arm."
In silence they sat around the table, each man thinking hard. The
professional gunman gets scant sympathy from ordinary cowpunchers.
"Now I dropped in at the jail," said the man of the great freckles,
"and come to think about it, I heard Sinclair singing, and I seen him
polishing his spurs."
"Sure, he's getting ready for a ride," put in Cartwright.
There was a growl from the others. They were slowly turning their
interest from the game to Cartwright.
"What d'you mean a ride?"
"Got another hundred," said Cartwright calmly, "that when the morning
comes it won't find Sinclair in the jail."
At once they were absolutely silenced, for money talks in an eloquent
voice. Deliberately Cartwright counted out the two stacks of shimmering
twenty-dollar gold pieces, five to a stack.
"One hundred that he don't hang; another hundred that he ain't in the
jail when the morning comes. Any takers, boys? It had ought to be easy
money—if everything's square."
Whitey made a move, but finally merely raised his hand and rubbed his
chin. He was watching that gold on the table with catlike interest. A
man must know something to be so sure.
"I'd like to know," murmured the man of the freckles disconnectedly.
"Well," said Cartwright, "they ain't much of a mystery about it. For
one thing, if the sheriff was plumb set on keeping them two, why didn't
he take 'em over to Woodville today, where they's a jail they couldn't
bust out of, eh?"
Again they were silenced, and in an argument, when a man falls silent,
it simply means that he is thinking hard on the other side.
"But as far as I'm concerned," went on Cartwright, yawning again, "it
don't make no difference one way or another. Sour Creek ain't my town,
and I don't care if it gets the ha-ha for having its jail busted open.
Of course, after the birds have flown, the sheriff will ride hard after
'em—on the wrong trail!"
Whitey raised his slender, agile, efficient hand.
"Gents," he said, "something has got to be done. This man Cartwright is
giving us the truth! He's got his hunch, and hunches is mostly always
"Speak out, Whitey," said the man with the freckles encouragingly. "I
like your style of thinking."
Nodding his acknowledgments, Whitey said:
"The main thing seems to be that Sinclair and Arizona is old hands at
killing. And they had ought to be hung. Well, if the sheriff ain't got
the rope, maybe we could help him out, eh?"
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
"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 for 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.
"Are you going to stay here?"
"Perhaps! I don't know—I haven't made up my mind."
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
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
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
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."
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"They'll drop us the minute we show."
"Sure, we got the long chance, and nothing more. Is that good enough
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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."