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The Rangeland Avenger Part 54

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He lay securely trussed in a corner of the pa.s.sageway.

"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 ma.s.sive door. Sinclair caught the gun arm of his companion.

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

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

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

"They'll drop us the minute we show."

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

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

"You and me agin' the world."

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

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

Half a dozen of the drawn guns whipped up at the sight, but no one could make sure in the half-light of the ident.i.ty 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 pa.s.sed 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 b.u.t.t of his gun into the latter's face and sped on, whipping around the corner of the little jail, with bullets whistling after him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Straight on into the night rode the pair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Rangeland Avenger Part 54 summary

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