Read CHAPTER 7 of The Rangeland Avenger, free online book, by Max Brand, on

“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 place!

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 observed him.

“Pronto!” declared Riley Sinclair, and a little man slipped into full view.

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 seen.

“Slide out here, Gaspar.  They’s some gents here that wants to look you over.”

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 Sinclair.

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 mask.

“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 saw.

“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 on, Gaspar.”

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 hand.


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 Gaspar.”

“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.