Read CHAPTER 2 of The Rangeland Avenger, free online book, by Max Brand, on

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 Sandersen.

“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 hunches!”

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 story.

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 questions, and — ”

“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.

“You’re Lowrie?”


“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 the street.”

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 right down.”

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 mountain country.

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 knowledge.

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.”