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At The Round Up Club







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

A big game had been in progress all night at the Round Up Club. Now the
garish light of day streamed through the windows, but the electric cluster
still flung down its yellow glare upon the table. Behind the players were
other smaller tables littered with cigars, discarded packs, and glasses
full or empty. The men were in their shirt sleeves. Big broad-shouldered
fellows they were, with the marks of the outdoors hard-riding West upon
them. No longer young, they were still full of the vigor and energy of
unflagging strength. From bronzed faces looked steady unwinking eyes with
humorous creases around the corners, hard eyes that judged a man and his
claims shrewdly and with good temper. Most of them had made good in the
land, and their cattle fed upon a thousand hills.

The least among them physically was Luck Cullison, yet he was their
recognized leader. There was some innate quality in this man with the
gray, steel-chilled eyes that marked him as first in whatever company he
chose to frequent. A good friend and a good foe, men thought seriously
before they opposed him. He had made himself a power in the Southwest
because he was the type that goes the limit when aroused. Yet about him,
too, there was the manner of a large amiability, of the easy tolerance
characteristic of the West.

While Alec Flandrau shuffled and dealt, the players relaxed. Cigars were
relit, drinks ordered. Conversation reverted to the ordinary topics that
interested Cattleland. The price of cows, the good rains, the time of the
fall roundup, were touched upon.

The door opened to let in a newcomer, a slim, graceful man much younger
than the others present, and one whose costume and manner brought
additional color into the picture. Flandrau, Senior, continued to shuffle
without turning his head. Cullison also had his back to the door, but the
man hung his broad-rimmed gray hat on the rack--beside an exactly similar
one that belonged to the owner of the Circle C--and moved leisurely
forward till he was within range of his vision.

"Going to prove up soon on that Del Oro claim of yours, Luck?" asked
Flandrau.

He was now dealing, his eyes on the cards, so that he missed the
embarrassment in the faces of those about him.

"On Thursday, the first day the law allows," Cullison answered quietly.

Flandrau chuckled. "I reckon Cass Fendrick will be some sore."

"I expect." Cullison's gaze met coolly the black, wrathful eyes of the man
who had just come in.

"Sort of put a crimp in his notions when you took up the canyon draw,"
Flandrau surmised.

Something in the strained silence struck the dealer as unusual. He looked
up, and showed a momentary confusion.

"Didn't know you were there, Cass. Looks like I put my foot in it sure
that time. I ce'tainly thought you were an absentee," he apologized.

"Or you wouldn't have been talking about me," retorted Fendrick acidly.
The words were flung at Flandrau, but plainly they were meant as a
challenge for Cullison.

A bearded man, the oldest in the party, cut in with good-natured reproof.
"I shouldn't wonder, Cass, but your name is liable to be mentioned just
like that of any other man."

"Didn't know you were in this, Yesler," Fendrick drawled insolently.

"Oh, well, I butted in," the other laughed easily. He pushed a stack of
chips toward the center of the table. "The pot's open."

Fendrick, refused a quarrel, glared at the impassive face of Cullison, and
passed to the rear room for a drink. His impudence needed fortifying, for
he knew that since he had embarked in the sheep business he was not
welcome at this club, that in fact certain members had suggested his name
be dropped from the books. Before he returned to the poker table the drink
he had ordered became three.

The game was over and accounts were being straightened. Cullison was the
heavy loser. All night he had been bucking hard luck. His bluffs had been
called. The others had not come in against his strong hands. On a straight
flush he had drawn down the ante and nothing more. To say the least, it
was exasperating. But his face had showed no anger. He had played poker
too many years, was too much a sport in the thorough-going frontier
fashion, to wince when the luck broke badly for him.

The settlement showed that the owner of the Circle C was twenty-five
hundred dollars behind the game. He owed Mackenzie twelve hundred,
Flandrau four hundred, and three hundred to Yesler.

With Fendrick sitting in an easy chair just across the room, he found it a
little difficult to say what otherwise would have been a matter of
course.

"My bank's busted just now, boys. Have to ask you to let it stand for a
few days. Say, till the end of the week."

Fendrick laughed behind the paper he was pretending to read. He knew quite
well that Luck's word was as good as his bond, but he chose to suggest a
doubt.

"Maybe you'll explain the joke to us, Cass," the owner of the Circle C
said very quietly.

"Oh, I was just laughing at the things I see, Luck," returned the younger
man with airy offense, his eyes on the printed sheet.

"Meaning for instance?"

"Just human nature. Any law against laughing?"

Cullison turned his back on him. "See you on Thursday if that's soon
enough, boys."

"All the time you want, Luck. Let mine go till after the roundup if you'd
rather," Mackenzie suggested.

"Thursday suits me."

Cullison rose and stretched. He had impressed his strong, dominant
personality upon his clothes, from the high-heeled boots to the very
wrinkles in the corduroy coat he was now putting on. He bad enemies, a
good many of them, but his friends were legion.

"Don't hurry yourself."

"Oh, I'll rustle the money, all right. Coming down to the hotel?" Luck was
reaching for his hat, but turned toward his friends as he spoke.

Without looking again at Fendrick, he led the way to the street.

The young man left alone cursed softly to himself, and ordered another
drink. He knew he was overdoing it, but the meeting with Cullison had
annoyed him exceedingly. The men had never been friends, and of late years
they had been leaders of hostile camps. Both of them could be overbearing,
and there was scarcely a week but their interests overlapped. Luck was
capable of great generosity, but he could be obstinate as the rock of
Gibraltar when he chose. There had been differences about the ownership of
calves, about straying cattle, about political matters. Finally had come
open hostility. Cass leased from the forestry department the land upon
which Cullison's cattle had always run free of expense. Upon this he had
put sheep, a thing in itself of great injury to the cattle interests. The
stockmen had all been banded together in opposition to the forestry
administration of the new regime, and Luck regarded Fendrick's action as
treachery to the common cause.

He struck back hard. In Arizona the open range is valuable only so long as
the water holes also are common property or a private supply available.
The Circle C cattle and those of Fendrick came down from the range to the
Del Oro to water at a point where the canyon walls opened to a spreading
valley. This bit of meadow Luck homesteaded and fenced on the north side,
thus cutting the cattle of his enemy from the river.

Cass was furious. He promptly tore down the fence to let his cattle and
sheep through. Cullison rebuilt it, put up a shack at a point which
commanded the approach, and set a guard upon it day and night. Open
warfare had ensued, and one of the sheepherders had been beaten because he
persisted in crossing the dead line.

Now Cullison was going to put the legal seal on the matter by making final
proof on his homestead. Cass knew that if he did so it would practically
put him out of business. He would be at the mercy of his foe, who could
ruin him if he pleased. Luck would be in a position to dictate terms
absolutely.

Nor did it make his defeat any more palatable to Cass that he had brought
it on himself by his bad-tempered unneighborliness and by his overreaching
disposition. A hundred times he had blacknamed himself for an arrant fool
because he had not anticipated the move of his enemy and homesteaded on
his own account.

He felt that there must be some way out of the trap if he could only find
it. Whenever the thought of eating humble pie to Luck came into his mind,
the rage boiled in him. He swore he would not do it. Better a hundred
times to see the thing out to a fighting finish.

Taking the broad-rimmed gray hat he found on the rack, Cass passed out of
the clubhouse and into the sun-bathed street.





Next: Luck Meets An Old Acquaintance

Previous: Stick To Your Saddle



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