"You can ride on,"said Vannie.
"I've found a man who will fight,"
(1 -é f. L
By JAMBS STEVENS
THE round-up camp was in an old bum
crossed by a creek. A pitchpine fire
popped high against the wagons.
Scud Gilroy. riding for the horse
corral, squinted through windy
shadows at the sprawled and squat*
ting shapes silhouetted against the smoky light.
He was hoping to see both Neal Colter and
Curly Moslander there. Scud failed to make
out Curly, but he did see Neal.
Neal Colter was back from the fire, sitting
cross-legged in the shadows of his own wagon.
Scud spotted him as he struck a match to a
cigarette. Neal's lean face was cast in a quick
glow, its features in that glimpse seemed stonily
set, then only the cigarette end shone in the
Scud rode on to the corral. He unsaddled
and hobbled the roan, rubbed off the saddle
and turned the horse loose. A sharp nicker
sounded from the piney darkness. Scud Gil
roy prowled for the sound. He closed up on
Neal Colter's blaze-faced black.
The horse still carried his saddle and bridle.
Scud caught up the dragging reins, led the
black to the corral, hitched him there and then
made swift tracks for the camp.
Λ stud game was already started on a
blanket by the fire. The late comer drew little
attention as he dished up a plate of grub at
the chuclc wagon. Scud drifted over to the
Colter wagon and sat down by Neal. Neither
spoke until Scud had cleaned up his plate.
Then Neal said:
"Curly Moslander and me shot it out.'*
SCUD GILROY was rolling a cigarette. He
crimped both ends and struck a light before
he spoke. His voice was a burry, easy drawl.
"Is Curly dead?" Scud said.
"I'd like to know." Neal spoke painfully,
biting each word through clenched teeth. "We
swapped considerable lead. I was hit, same
time Curly pitched off his sorrel. My black
lit out. and I somehow pulled leather and held
on. Managed to pile off, but never unsaddled.
Walked straight to here, said I was sick."
Colter was silent, his jaws set hard.
"Was you hit bad?" Scud said.
"No," slipped his boss. "A cracked left rib
and a slug still under it. Never bled hardly.
All right, only feel like I'd woke from a night
mare. Got to help me. Scud."
Neal Colter had the eyes of an Indian.
His gaze smouldered through the shadows.
"You trail up after Curly," he went on.
"This side of Mawl Creek ridge we had It.
Take the black. Not a hint to nobody, on ac
count of Vannie. I'm sick, sick, understand?"
"Yep," said Scud Gilroy. "All right, Neal."
He stood up, tramping out his cigarette.
"" Without more parleying, Scud hooked up a stick
of pitchpine from the rick' and eased out be
tween two wagons for the horse corral. No
body noticed him any.
Scud Gilroy was a dry-lander who ranched
and rode for the Colters most months of each
year. Lake that for seven years, since he'd quit
school. That time his dad had been sent up
ior a killing. The other Oilroys pulled out.
The kid stuck to the dry-land ranch.
Seven years, and he was still hanging on.
.Grim-eyed, short-spoken, seeming a long way
older than his years. His silence hid an un
yielding hope !or Vannie Colter, Neal's kid
sister, but not even Vannie dreamed that.
Vannie never seemed to have a thought for
anybody but Curly Moslander, a young roving
rider who had come to the valley this last
Scud rode Neal Colter's black up through
the pines for the timberline trail, until the
pines thinned away and the black bulge of a
ridge loomed ahead in the shadows. The rider
pulled up, his gaze caught by a trampled patch
of thick buckbrush below the trail.
He swung down from the saddle and prowled
In the broken brush. In one spot he plucked
a twist of horse hairs from a big thorny branch.
Scud then led the black on up the trail. A
hundred feet on he came to a second break In
the trailside brush.
AFTER a look around Scud fired the stick of
pitchpine he had brought along. It soon
blew into a hot torch, and in this light he
carefully combed every inch of the break and
the ground about It, pawing the bush and
kicking up earth. At last his boot struck some
It was a revolver, a pearl-handled .32. Five
of the six cartridge chambers held shells, and
three of the shells were empty. Scud set the
hammer on an empty, with a loaded chamber
Just at the left, then he shoved the baby gun
Into the big inner pocket of his sheepskin coat.
That done, Scud led the black on up the
trail. He kept the torch down, Its smoky flare
skimming tracks in the dust. At the hump of
the ridge he doused the torch, mounted the
black and rode fast back to camp.
The stud game was going ahead full blast
how, with all the valley ranchers and riders but
Neal Colter gathered about the blanket. Scud
crouched down by Neal and spoke in a tone
Hear a whisper.
"Curly was pitched all right," he said, "but
hie sorrel stopped in the brush before running
far. Curly caught him and rode back up the
trail. At the ridge he turned left. Seems be
beaded down Mawl Creek."
"You ride on borne," mattered Neal Colter
fiercely. "Curly is going for Vannle. You
stop them. Hear me. Scud?"
"Yep." said Scud dully. "All right." It was
a habit. He could not break loose, seemed like,
from the habit of being bossed by Neal, by all
the Colters. He wanted to know about this
gun he had found. It was mighty queer about
the pearl-handled .32. But Scud just said, "All
right. Neal. What about you. though?"
"Morning I'll have the team hitched and
me hauled down to Doc Taylor." Neal Colter
twisted out the words. "Doc won't let It out
I was shot. Only way to head oS scandal.
Moslander clears out, there'll be some talk, but
no worse—less Vannie trails with him. De
pend on you to stop that. You ramble now.
"I'll stop at nothing to keep this mess from
being smeared all over the valley. I know
you're with me."
"Sure. All right, Neal. Ill be going.··
TWO hours down, a huge black cloud slid over
the moon and a heavy shower pelted the
rider and the blaze-face. Maybe 40 minutes
later moonlight splashed the road again. Pretty
soon Scud began to notice certain tracks in
the wetted dust. They became more and more
plain, until at last each track was distinct, a
gray blur ia the blackness of the road. They
were horse tracks, going In the same direction
he was going.
Scud Oilroy knew now that Curly Moslander
had been running dead ahead of him all this
It was a jolt. For a minute Scud Gilroy had
the feeling of a horse kick under his ribs.
Curly, he slowly realized, must have doubled
back through the buckbrush and woods from
the Mawl Creek trail. It would have been
plenty easy for him to have avoided Scud on
the trail, in the pouring rain and darkness.
Scud Gilroy heeled the black on and rode
Rain was on the moon when he pulled Into
the Colter ranch. Sometime back the weather
had thickened into a cloudy drizzle, and now
a black curtain was over all the sky. Scud
had unrolled his slicker from the saddle thongs
and its long skirt napped about his legs as he
swung from the saddle at the ranch house yard.
He shouldered through a side gate and tramped
swiftly for the kitchen I· of the house, from
which a dim light shone.
Scud cat-footed over the porch and took an
easy turn on the door knob. The gentle pres
sure of his hand opened the door noiselessly.
A slowly widening oblong of light struck the
Glancing down In that light, Scud saw that
mud had been freshly tracked here. But right
now Curly Moelander was not in the big kitchen
room. There was only Vannie Colter.
She was in riding boots and a belted camel's
hair coat. It was dark blue and her hat was
that color. Her back was toward the door, and
she stooped toward the faint glow of a lamp
that was turned down to a raveling of flame.
It shone through a fluff of dark hair that
waved out above the broad collar of the coat.
In Scud's sidewise view her face, so shadowed
about, seemed white and strained.
She was stooped at the table, writing jerkily
with a pencil.
Scud Gilroy stepped quietly inside the door.
He said, "Vannie," In a low tone, then closed
the door and stood against it.
Vannie Colter breathed in a sharp gasp and
whipped around from the table. The pencil
dropped from her hand, clicking dully on the
floor. She groped for a gun that was propped
against the base of the lamp. It was a pearl
handled revolver, a mate for the one in Scud's
pocket. She let it lie as her gaze struck the
quiet figure at the door.
"Oh, it's only you. Scud," Vannie said, with
a nervous laugh. "I thought—what's hap
pened to Neil?" she demanded sharply.
"Curly and him had a row." Scud spoke In
a low wooden tone, choosing his words. "Curly
run out and Neal sent me to see that he keeps
going." Scud paused, then drawled, "by him
A QUICK flush of anger swept the pallor
** from the girl's face. "I'm 21," she said
scornfully. "I'll do as I please. If Neal was
here himself, he couldn't stop me. What will
you do, Mr. Gilroy?"
"I allow you won't go nowhere with Curly
Moslander." said Scud doggedly. "You might
as well give in. Vannie, and save trouble."
"What trouble?" The girl's voice was a lash
of contempt. "Trouble you would make?"
Scud ignored the questions. He moved In
some from the door.
"Is that your gun, Vannie?" he said casually,
with a nod toward the lamp.
"Why. of course " Her voice faded there.
Plainly his query had been entirely unexpected.
She was suddenly tense again. "Scud, just
what happened up in the woods?" she said
"Didn't Curly tell you?" Scud countered.
"If you're ridin' out with Curly Moslander,
you sure must trust him. Vannie." he drawled
on. "And he sure must have told you all the
trouble up yonder."
"You're making a game," she said, angrily
Impatient. "Why did you ask if this is my
"Just curious," said Scud evenly. "I only
know of two like 'em in the valley. One is
yours, the other your mom's. Seem to re
member they was presents from your dad.
Fancy. Names all engraved, and the like."
"This is mine. Curly just left it. Look if
you want to."
Uer VtanHc λο nrrVi f fVie toKlo αΗαο in a η Arurtlio
grip. She said chokingly, "What are you doing,
Scud Gilroy? What do you mean?"
"Listen, Vannie," said Scud Gilroy. grim
faced but in a queerly gentle voice. "All along
it's seemed I'd be such a fool to tell you. for
it could never be any use. Here's how it is.
"It's account of you, Vannie, I've bull-dogged
through these seven years," said Scud Gilroy,
his eyes burning through the smoky shadows.
"I've made it on a dream about you, and
It was fine even when I knew in my heart it
could never be more. That's all to say. That's
why I allow to see to it that Curly Moslander
pulls out alone."
There was a mighty quiet between them.
Neither seemed to breathe. At last she spoke,
just breathing the words so tht^ he leaned
toward her to hear.
"You've said plenty, Scud," said Vannie
Colter. "Sometimes I've thought—I've dreamed,
too. It's home here for me "
She paused, seeming to grope for the words
that would express her emotion.
"Sure, Vannie," said Scud quietly. "You be
long to the valley, more than Neal, more than
anybody else I know. If Curly was a man to
marry you and settle down here, I'd never
She shook her head. "He won't do that,"
she breathed, still in that dazed way.
"Is he scared of Neal?"
Scud Gilroy rasped out the question.
"No one can stand against Neal Colter,"
Vannie answered tonelessly. "His wife hates
me, too. Seemed my only hope was to run
away. I won't live on to be an old maid in
this house. That's how Neal and his wife
want to keep me now. I didn't know—
"Even Neal Colter can be bull-dogged for a
fall," Scud interrupted again. "And I have
him right where I can put on the pressure.
If Curly will stick and fight, do you want him?"
Under hi* grim gaze she flushed, then her
gaze fen. Her shoulders shook. Scud's
expression softened. Then, after listening in
tently, he took up the revolver and went out
into the rain.
The girl followed. Outside she heard Curly
Moslander's voice: ·
"Me ride back to the round-up camp with
Vannie? You're crazy, you must be a sheep
herder. Neal Colter laid to murder me. 1
outfoxed him, and this is how I pay him back.
Now you get out of this, or I'll bend my rod
over your skull. Savvy?"
"Yep," said Scud, in his ranch hand drawl.
"I allow you'll have to start bendin' then.
Curly, for I've got a gun pokin' through the
Iront of my slicker. It don't bend good, but
The soulful voice of Curly Moslander rasped
out an oath. Vannie drew yet closer. She
heard Curly mutter a hoarse question.
"Neal knew you had Vannie's baby revolver
hid on you," Scud was saying. "So he took its
mate along under his .45. He figured to
finish you off. Tonight he had his chance
to lay for you off lonesome at timberline. His
shots went wild when the black throwed his
"The last shot hit him, the saddle horn or
something, knockin^the gun back. Neal figured
to kill you with one .32, then Are as many
shots from the one you packed, and leave it
in your hand."
ι ou αοηι Know, me oiucr prutcstcu. a.
shoo-flied you on the trail. Neal wouldn't
have confessed all that. You made it up."
•'I picked It up," drawled Scud. "From
trail signs, but it does piece together. Well,
are you makin' a fight for Vannie?"
"What kind of fight?" It was the snarl of a
"Ought to be plain. I'll back you against
Neal Colter. He gives Vannie and you a free
chance, or we bring the law on him for at
tempted murder. He ambushed you. Neal has
a jolt comin'."
Vannie was at the gate. Curly saw her.
He snarled again:
"Get out! Here's Vannie now. She's com
ing with me."
Scud Gilroy snapped around. Vannie could
feel his eyes burning Into her own. Still in
that unshaken drawl, he said:
"Did you hear all we talked. Vannie?"
Vannie Colter swayed in the blowing rain
and darkness. For a moment the hot choke
tn her throat would not let her speak. The two
men waited, looking at her. two such different
men. But Vannie Colter knew now what her
heart truly wanted.
"I know what I want," she said at last. "IH
have that or nothing."
She pushed on through the gate and stopped
at the horse Curly had brought for her. He
gripped her arm and helped her to mount.
"Would you try to stop us now?" Vannie
spoke down to Scud Gilroy.
"Not now," he said grimly. "Not when you
know what he is."
"Would you buck Neal for me, In Curly'a
"I allow I would. Any man would "*
"You can ride on." Vannie Colter's roice
cut in like a whip as she turned on Curly Moe
lander. "I've found what I want—a man, a
man who will hang on and fight, through
thick and thin, for years and years. . ."
A quick flush of anger su ept the pallor
from the girFs face. "I'm 21," she said
scornfully. "I'll do as I please » . .
If'hat will you do, Mr. Gilroy?"
A Star Magazine
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