Gunman’s Reckoning – Max Brand

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Frederick Schiller Faust was an American author known mainly for the Westerns he wrote under the pen name Max Brand. The Gunman’s Reckoning, published in 1922, follows the mysterious Donnegan, who is trying to escape from his past when he meets Lou Macon.  Do they have a chance of love, or will Donnegan’s past catch up with him? 


Donnegan began to laugh. In the uproar of the train it was impossible really to hear the sound, but Lefty caught the pulse of it. He fingered his bruised throat; swallowing was a painful effort. And an indescribable feeling came over him as he realized that he sat armed to the teeth within a yard of the man he wanted to kill, and yet he was as effectively rendered helpless as though iron shackles had been locked on his wrists and legs. The night light came through the doorway, and he could make out the slender outline of Donnegan and again he caught the faint luster of that red hair; and out of the shadowy form a singular power emanated and sapped his strength at the root.

Yet he went on viciously: “Sooner or later, Donnegan, I’ll get you!”

The red head of Donnegan moved, and Lefty Joe knew that the younger man was laughing again.

“Why are you after me?” he asked at length.

It was another blow in the face of Lefty. He sat for a time blinking with owlish stupidity.

“Why?” he echoed. And he spoke his astonishment from the heart.

“Why am I after you?” he said again. “Why, confound you, ain’t you Donnegan?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t the whole road know that I’m after you and you after me?”

“The whole road is crazy. I’m not after you.”

Lefty choked.

“Maybe I been dreaming. Maybe you didn’t bust up the gang? Maybe you didn’t clean up on Suds and Kennebec?”

“Suds? Kennebec? I sort of remember meeting them.”

“You sort of–the devil!” Lefty Joe sputtered the words. “And after you cleaned up my crowd, ain’t it natural and good sense for you to go on

and try to clean up on me?”

“Sounds like it.”

“But I figured to beat you to it. I cut in on your trail, Donnegan, and before I leave it you’ll know a lot more about me.”

“You’re warning me ahead of time?”

“You’ve played this game square with me; I’ll play square with you. Next time there’ll be no slips, Donnegan. I dunno why you should of picked on me, though. Just the natural devil in you.”

“I haven’t picked on you,” said Donnegan.

“What?”

“I’ll give you my word.”

A tingle ran through the blood of Lefty Joe. Somewhere he had heard, in rumor, that the word of Donnegan was as good as gold. He recalled that rumor now and something of dignity in the manner with which Donnegan made his announcement carried a heavy weight. As a rule, the tramps vowed with many oaths; here was one of the nights of the road who made his bare word sufficient. And Lefty Joe heard with great wonder.

“All I ask,” he said, “is why you hounded my gang, if you wasn’t after me?”

“I didn’t hound them. I ran into Suds by accident. We had trouble. Then Levine. Then Kennebec Lou tried to take a fall out of me.”

A note of whimsical protest crept into the voice of Donnegan.

“Somehow there’s always a fight wherever I go,” he said. “Fights just sort of grow up around me.”

Lefty Joe snarled.

“You didn’t mean nothing by just ‘happening’ to run into three of my boys one after another?”

“Not a thing.”

Lefty rocked himself back and forth in an ecstasy of impatience.

“Why don’t you stay put?” he complained. “Why don’t you stake out your own ground and stay put in it? You cut in on every guy’s territory. There ain’t any privacy any more since you hit the road. What you got? A roving commission?”

Donnegan waited for a moment before he answered. And when he spoke his voice had altered. Indeed, he had remarkable ability to pitch his voice into the roar of the freight train, and above or beneath it, and give it a quality such as he pleased.

“I’m following a trail, but not yours,” he admitted at length. “I’m following a trail. I’ve been at it these two years and nothing has come of it.”

“Who you after?”