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A Compromise







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

Luck lay stretched full length on a bunk, his face, to the roof, a wreath
of smoke from his cigar traveling slowly toward the ceiling into a filmy
blue cloud which hung above him. He looked the personification of vigorous
full-blooded manhood at ease. Experience had taught him to take the
exigencies of his turbulent life as they came, nonchalantly, to the eye of
an observer indifferently, getting all the comfort the situation had to
offer.

By the table, facing him squarely, sat Jose Dominguez, a neatly built
Mexican with snapping black eyes, a manner of pleasant suavity, and an
ever-ready smile that displayed a double row of shining white teeth. That
smile did not for an instant deceive Luck. He knew that Jose had no grudge
against him, that he was a very respectable citizen, and that he would
regretfully shoot him full of holes if occasion called for so drastic a
termination to their acquaintanceship. For Dominguez had a third interest
in the C. F. ranch, and he was the last man in the world to sacrifice his
business for sentiment. Having put the savings of a lifetime into the
sheep business, he did not propose to let anybody deprive him of his
profits either legally or illegally.

Luck was talking easily, in the most casual and amiable of voices.

"No, Dominguez, the way I look at it you and Cass got in bad this time.
Here's the point. In this little vendetta of ours both sides were trying
to keep inside the law and win out. When you elected Bolt sheriff that was
one to you. When you took out that grazing permit and cut me off the
reserve that was another time you scored heavy. A third time was when you
brought 'steen thousand of Mary's little lambs baaing across the desert.
Well, I come back at you by deeding the Circle C to my girl and taking up
the Del Oro homestead. You contest and lose. Good enough. It's up to you
to try another move."

"Si, Senor, and we move immediate. We persuade you to visit us at our
summer mountain home where we can talk at leisure. We suggest a
compromise."

Luck grinned. "Your notion of a compromise and mine don't tally, Jose.
Your idea is for me to give you the apple and stand by while you eat it.
Trouble is that both parties to this quarrel are grabbers."

"True, but Senor Cullison must remember his hands are tied behind him. He
will perhaps not find the grabbing good," his opponent suggested
politely.

"Come to that, your hands are tied too, my friend. You can't hold me here
forever. Put me out of business and the kid will surely settle your hash
by proving up on the claim. What are you going to do about it?"

"Since you ask me, I can only say that it depends on you. Sign the
relinquishment, give us your word not to prosecute, and you may leave in
three hours."

Cullison shook his head. "That's where you get in wrong. Buck up against
the law and you are sure to lose."

"If we lose you lose too," Dominguez answered significantly.

The tinkle of hoofs from the river bed in the gulch below rose through the
clear air. The Mexican moved swiftly to the door and presently waved a
handkerchief.

"What gent are you wig-wagging to now?" Luck asked from the bed. "Thought
I knew all you bold bad bandits by this time. Or is it Cass back again?"

"Yes, it's Cass. There's someone with him too. It is a woman," the Mexican
discovered in apparent surprise.

"A woman!" Luck took the cigar from his mouth in vague unease. "What is he
doing here with a woman?"

The Mexican smiled behind his open hand. "Your question anticipates mine,
Senor. I too ask the same."

The sight of his daughter in the doorway went through the cattleman with a
chilling shock. She ran forward and with a pathetic cry of joy threw
herself upon him where he stood. His hands were tied behind him. Only by
the turn of his head and by brushing his unshaven face against hers could
he answer her caresses. There was a look of ineffable tenderness on his
face, for he loved her more than anything else on earth.

"Mr. Fendrick brought me," she explained when articulate expression was
possible.

"He brought you, did he?" Luck looked across her shoulder at his enemy,
and his eyes grew hard as jade.

"Of my own free will," she added.

"I promised you a better argument than those I'd given you. Miss Cullison
is that argument," Fendrick said.

The cattleman's set face had a look more deadly than words. It told
Fendrick he would gladly have killed him where he stood. For Luck knew he
was cornered and must yield. Neither Dominguez nor Blackwell would consent
to let her leave otherwise.

"He brought me here to have a talk with you, Dad. You must sign any paper
he wants you to sign."

"And did he promise to take you back home after our talk?"

"Miss Cullison would not want to leave as long as her father was here,"
Fendrick answered for her glibly with a smile that said more than the
words.

"I'm going to hold you responsible for bringing her here."

Fendrick could not face steadily the eyes of his foe. They bored into him
like gimlets.

"And responsible for getting her back home just as soon as I say the
word," Luck added, the taut muscles standing out in his clenched jaw.

"I expect your say-so won't be final in this matter, Luck. But I'll take
the responsibility. Miss Cullison will get home at the proper time."

"I'm not going home till you do," the girl broke in. "Oh, Dad, we've been
so worried. You can't think."

"You've played a rotten trick on me, Fendrick. I wouldn't have thought it
even of a sheepman."

"No use you getting crazy with the heat, Cullison. Your daughter asked me
to bring her here, and I brought her. Of course I'm not going to break my
neck getting her home where she can 'phone Bolt or Bucky O'Connor and have
us rounded up. That ain't reasonable to expect. But I aim to do what's
right. We'll all have supper together like sensible folks. Then Jose and I
will give you the cabin for the night if you'll promise not to attempt to
escape. In the morning maybe you'll see things different."

Fendrick calculated not without reason that the best thing to do would be
to give Kate a chance for a long private talk with her father. Her
influence would be more potent than any he could bring to bear.

After supper the door of the cabin was locked and a sentry posted. The
prisoners were on parole, but Cass did not on that account relax his
vigilance. For long he and his partner could hear a low murmur of voices
from within the cabin. At length the lights went out and presently the
voices died. But all through the night one or the other of the sheepmen
patroled a beat that circled around and around the house.

Fendrick did not broach the subject at issue next morning till after
breakfast.

"Well, what have you decided?" he asked at last.

"Let's hear about that compromise. What is it you offer?" Luck demanded
gruffly.

"You sign the relinquishment and agree not to make us any trouble because
we brought you here, and you may go by two o'clock."

"You want to reach Saguache with the relinquishment in time to file it
before I could get to a 'phone. You don't trust me."

Fendrick smiled. "When we let you go we're trusting you a heap more than
we would most men. But of course you're going to be sore about this and we
don't want to put temptation in your way."

"I see. Well, I accept your terms. I'll make you no legal trouble. But I
tell you straight this thing ain't ended. It's only just begun. I'm going
to run you out of this country before I'm through with you."

"Go to it. We'll see whether you make good."

"Where is that paper you want me to sign?"

Luck dashed off his signature and pushed the document from him. He hated
the necessity that forced him to surrender. For himself he would have died
rather than give way, but he had to think of his daughter and of his boy
Sam who was engaged in a plot to hold up a train.

His stony eyes met those of the man across the table. "No need for me to
tell you what I think of this. A white man wouldn't have done such a
trick. It takes sheepherders and greasers to put across a thing so
damnable as dragging a woman into a feud."

Fendrick flushed angrily. "It's not my fault; you're a pigheaded obstinate
chump. I used the only weapon left me."

Kate, standing straight and tall behind her father's chair, looked at
their common foe with uncompromising scorn. "He is not to blame, Dad. He
can't help it because he doesn't see how despicable a thing he has done."

Again the blood rushed to the face of the sheepman. "I reckon that will
hold me hitched for the present, Miss Cullison. In the meantime I'll go
file that homestead entry of mine. Nothing like living up to the opinion
your friends have of you."

He wheeled away abruptly, but as he went out of the door one word came to
him.

"Friends!" Kate had repeated, and her voice told fully the contempt she
felt.

At exactly two o'clock Dominguez set the Cullisons on the homeward road.
He fairly dripped apologies for the trouble to which he and his friends
had been compelled to put them.

Blackwell, who had arrived to take his turn as guard, stood in the doorway
and sulkily watched them go.



From the river bed below the departing guests looked up at the cabin
hidden in the pines. The daughter was thanking God in her heart that the
affair was ended. Her father was vowing to himself that it had just
begun.





Next: An Arrest

Previous: Cass Fendrick Makes A Call



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