THE PHANTOM HERD
BY B. M. BOWER
Author of Chip of the Flying-U, The Flying-U's Last Stand,
The Gringos, etc.
For the accuracy of certain parts of this story which deal most
intimately with the business of making motion pictures, I am indebted to
Buck Connor. whose name is a sufficient guarantee that all technical
points are correct. His criticism, advice and other assistance have been
invaluable, and I take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation and
thanks for the help he has given me.
I THE INDIANS MUST GO
II "WHERE THE CATTLE ROAMED IN THOUSANDS, A-MANY A HERD AND
III AND THEY SIGH FOR THE DAYS THAT ARE GONE
IV THE LITTLE DOCTOR PROTESTS
V A BUNCH OF ONE-REELERS FROM BENTLY BROWN
VI VILLAINS ALL AND PROUD OF IT
VII BENTLY BROWN DOES NOT APPRECIATE COMEDY
VIII "THERE'S GOT TO BE A LINE DRAWN SOMEWHERES"
IX LEAVE IT TO THE BUNCH
X UNEXPECTED GUESTS FOR APPLEHEAD
XI JUST A FEW UNFORESEEN OBSTACLES
XII "I THINK YOU NEED INDIAN GIRL FOR PICTURE"
XIII "PAM. BLEAK MESA—CATTLE DRIFTING BEFORE WIND—"
XIV "PLUMB SPOILED, D'YUH MEAN?"
XV A LETTER FROM CHIEF BIG TURKEY
XVI "THE CHANCES IS SLIM AND GITTIN' SLIMMER"
XVII THE STORM
XVIII A FEW OF THE MINOR DIFFICULTIES
XIX WHEREIN LUCK MAKES A SPEECH
XX "SHE'S SHAPING UP LIKE A BANK ROLL"
THE INDIANS MUST GO
Luck Lindsay had convoyed his thirty-five actor-Indians to their
reservation at Pine Ridge, and had turned them over to the agent in good
condition and a fine humor and nice new hair hatbands and other fixings;
while their pockets were heavy with dollars that you may be sure would
not he spent very wisely. He had shaken hands with the braves, and had
promised to let them know when there was another job in sight, and to
speak a good word for them to other motion-picture companies who might
want to hire real Indians. He had smiled at the fat old squaws who had
waddled docilely in and out of the scenes and teetered tirelessly round
and round in their queer native dances in the hot sun at his behest, when
Luck wanted several rehearsals of "atmosphere" scenes before turning the
camera on them.
They hated to go back to the tame life of the reservation and to
stringing beads and sewing buckskin with sinew, and to gossiping among
themselves of things their heavy-lidded black eyes had looked upon with
such seeming apathy. They had given Luck an elaborately beaded buckskin
vest that would photograph beautifully, and three pairs of heavy, beaded
moccasins which he most solemnly assured them he would wear in his next
picture. The smoke-smell of their tepee fires and perfumes still clung
heavily to the Indian-tanned buckskin, so that Luck carried away with
him an aroma indescribable and unmistakable to any one who has ever
Just when he was leaving, a shy, big-eyed girl of ten had slid out from
the shelter of her mother's poppy-patterned skirt, had proffered three
strings of beads, and had fled. Luck had smiled his smile again—a smile
of white, even teeth and so much good will that you immediately felt that
he was your friend—and called her back to him. Luck was chief; and his
commands were to be obeyed, instantly and implicitly; that much he had
impressed deeply upon the least of these. While the squaws grinned and
murmured Indian words to one another, the big-eye girl returned
reluctantly; and Luck, dropping a hand to his coat pocket while he smiled
reassurance, emptied that pocket of gum for her. His smile had lingered
after he turned away; for like flies to an open syrup can the papooses
had gathered around the girl.
Well, that job was done, and done well. Every one was satisfied save Luck
himself. He swung up to the back of the Indian pony that would carry him
through the Bad Lands to the railroad, and turned for a last look. The
bucks stood hip-shot and with their arms folded, watching him gravely.
The squaws pushed straggling locks from their eyes that they might watch
him also. The papooses were chewing gum and staring at him solemnly. Old
Mrs. Ghost-Dog, she of the ponderous form and plaid blanket that Luck had
used with such good effect in the foreground of his atmosphere scenes,
lifted up her voice suddenly, and wailed after him in high-keyed lament
that she would see his face no more; and Luck felt a sudden contraction
of the throat while he waved his hand to them and rode away.
Well, now he must go on to the next job, which he hoped would be more
pleasant than this one had been. Luck hated to give up those Indians. He
liked them, and they liked him,—though that was not the point. He had
done good work with them. When he directed the scenes, those Indians did
just what he wanted, and just the way he wanted it done; Luck was too old
a director not to know the full value of such workers.
But the Acme Film Company, caught with the rest of the world in the
pressure of hard times, wanted to economize. The manager had pointed out
to Luck, during the course of an evening's discussion, that these Indians
were luxuries in the making of pictures, and must be taken off the
payroll for the good of the dividends. The manager had contended that
white men and women, properly made up, could play the part of Indians
where Indians were needed; whereas Indians could never be made to play
the part of white men and women. Therefore, since white men and women
were absolutely necessary. Why keep a bunch of Indians around eating up
profits? The manager had sense on his side, of course. Other companies
were making Indian pictures occasionally with not a real Indian within
miles of the camera, but Luck Lindsay groaned inwardly, and cursed the
necessity of economizing. For Luck had one idol, and that idol was
realism. When the scenario called for twenty or thirty Indians, Luck
wanted Indians,—real, smoke-tanned, blanketed bucks and squaws and
papooses; not made-up whites who looked like animated signs for cigar
stores and acted like,—well, never mind what Luck said they acted like.
"I can take the Injuns back," he conceded, "and worry along somehow
without them. But if you want me to put on any more Western stuff, you'll
have to let me weed out some of these Main Street cowboys that Clements
wished on to me, and go out in the sagebrush and round up some that
ain't all hair hatbands and high-heeled boots and bluff. I've got to have
some whites to fill the foreground, if I give up the Injuns; or else I
quit Western stuff altogether. I've been stalling along and keeping the
best of the bucks in the foreground, and letting these said riders lope
in and out of scenes and pile off and go to shooting soon as the camera
picks them up, but with the Injuns gone, the whites won't get by.
"Maybe you have noticed that when there was any real riding, I've had the
Injuns do it. And do you think I've been driving that stagecoach
hell-bent from here to beyond because I'd no other way to kill time?
Wasn't another darned man in the outfit I'd trust, that's why. If I take
the Indians back, I've got to have some real boys." Luck's voice was
plaintive, and a little bit desperate.
"Well, dammit, have your real boys! I never said you shouldn't. Weed
out the company to suit yourself. You'll have to take the Injuns back;
nobody else can handle the touch-me-not devils. You can lay off the
company if you want to, and while you're up there pick up a bunch of
cowboys to suit you. You're making good, Luck; don't take it that I'm
criticizing anything you've done or the way you did it. You've been
turning out the best Western stuff that goes on the screen; anybody knows
that. That isn't the point. We just simply can't afford to keep those
Indians any longer without retrenching on something else that's a lot
more vital. You know what they cost as well as I do; you know what
present conditions are. Figure it out for yourself."
"I don't have to," Luck retorted in a worried tone. "I know what we're up
against. I know we ought to give them up—but I sure hate to do it!
Lor-dee, but I can do things with that bunch! Remember Red Brother?"
Luck was off on his hobby, the making of Indian pictures. "Remember the
panoram effect I got on that massacre of the wagon train? Remember the
council-of-war scene, and the close-up of Young-Dog-Howls-At-The-Moon
making his plea for the lives of the prisoners? And the war dance with
radium flares in the camp fires to give the light-effect? That film's in
big demand yet, they tell me. I'll never be able to put over stuff like
that with made-up actors, Martinson. You know I can't."
"I don't know; you're only just beginning to hit your gait, Luck," the
manager soothed. "You have turned out some big stuff,—some awful big
stuff; but at that you're just beginning to find yourself. Now, listen.
You can have your 'real boys' you're always crying for. I can see what
you mean when you pan these fellows you call Main Street cowboys. What
you better do is this: Close down the company for two weeks, say. Keep on
the ones you want, and let the rest out. And take these Injuns home, and
then get out after your riders. Numbers and salaries we'll leave to you.
Go as far as you like; it's a cinch you'll get what you want if you're
allowed to go after it."
So here was Luck, arriving in due time at the railroad. He said good-by
to Young-Dog-Howls-At-The-Moon who had ridden with him, and whose kingly
bearing and clean-cut features and impressive pantomime made him a
popular screen-Indian, and sat down upon a baggage truck to smoke a
cigarette while he waited for the westbound train.
Young-Dog-Howls-At-The-Moon he watched meditatively until that young man
had bobbed out of sight over a low hill, the pony Luck had ridden
trailing after at the end of the lead-rope. Luck's face was sober, his
eyes tired and unsmiling. He had done that much of his task: he had
returned the Indians, and automatically wiped a very large item of
expense from the accounts of the Acme Film Company. He did not like to
dwell, however, on the cost to his own pride in his work.
The next job, now that he was actually face to face with it, looked not
so simple. He was in a country where, a few years before, his quest for
"real boys"—as he affectionately termed the type nearest his
heart—would have been easy enough. But before the marching ranks of
fence posts and barbed wire, the real boys had scattered. A more or less
beneficent government had not gathered them together, and held them apart
from the changing conditions, as it had done with the Indians. The real
boys had either left the country, or had sold their riding outfits and
gone into business in the little towns scattered hereabouts, or else they
had taken to farming the land where the big herds had grazed while the
real boys loafed on guard.
Luck admitted to himself that in the past two years, even, conditions had
changed amazingly. Land was fenced that had been free. Even the
reservation was changed a little. He threw away that cigarette and
lighted another, and turned aggrievedly upon a dried little man who came
up with the open expectation of using the truck upon which Luck was
sitting uncomfortably. There was the squint of long looking against sun
and wind at a far skyline in the dried little man's face. There was a
certain bow in his legs, and there were various other signs which Luck
read instinctively as he got up. He smiled his smile, and the dried
little man grinned back companionably.
"Say, old-timer, what's gone with all the cattle and all the punchers?"
Luck demanded with a mild querulousness.
The dried little man straightened from the truck handles and regarded
"My gorry, son, plumb hazed off'n this section the earth, I reckon.
Farmers and punchers, they don't mix no better'n sheep and cattle. Why, I
mind the time when—"
The train was late, anyway, and the dried little man sat down on the
truck, and fumbled his cigarette book, and began to talk. Luck sat down
beside him and listened, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and
a cold cigarette in his fingers. It was not of this part of the country
that the dried little man talked, but of Montana, over there to the west.
Of northern Montana in the days when it was cowman's paradise; the days
when round-up wagons started out with the grass greening the hilltops,
and swung from the Rockies to the Bear Paws and beyond in the wide arc
that would cover their range; of the days of the Cross L and the Rocking
R and the Lazy Eight,—every one of them brand names to glisten the eyes
of old-time Montanans.
"Where would you go to find them boys now?" the dried little man
questioned mournfully. "The Rocking R's gone into sheep, and the old boys
have all left. The Cross L moved up into Canada, Lord knows how they're
making out; I don't. Only outfit in northern Montana I know that has hung
together at all is the Flying U. Old man Whitmore, he's hangin' on by his
eyewinkers to what little range he can, and is going in for
thoroughbreds. Most of his boys is with him yet, they tell me—"
"What they doing? Still riding?" Luck let out a long breath and lighted
his cigarette. A little flare of hope had come into his eyes.
"Riding—yes, what little there is to do. Ranching a little too, and
kicking about changed times, same as I'm doing. Last time I saw that
outfit they was riding, you bet!" The dried little man chuckled, "That
was in Great Falls, some time back. They was all in a contest, and
pulling down the money, too. I was talking to old man Whitmore all one
evening. He was telling me—"
From away out yonder behind a hill came the throaty call of the coming
train. The dried little man jumped up, mumbled that it did beat all how
time went when yuh got to talking over old days, and hustled two trunks
out of the baggage room. Luck got his grip out of the office, settled
himself into his coat, and took a last, long pull at the cigarette stub
before he threw it away. It was not much of a clue that he had fallen
upon by chance, but Luck was not one to wait until he was slapped in the
face with a fact. He had intended swinging back through Arizona, where in
certain parts cattle still were wild enough to bunch up at sight of a man
afoot. His questioning of the dried little man had not been born of any
concrete purpose, but of the range man's plaint in the abstract. Still—
"Say, brother, what's the Flying U's home town?" he called after the
dried little man with his amiable, Southern drawl.
"Huh? Dry Lake. Yuh taking this train?"
"So long—taking it for a ways, yes." Luck hurried down to where a
kinky-haired porter stood apathetically beside the steps of his coach.
Dry Lake? He had never heard of the place, but he could find out from the
railroad map or the conductor. He swung his grip into the waiting hand of
the porter and went up the steps hurriedly. He meant to find out where
Dry Lake was, and whether this train would take him there.
"WHERE THE CATTLE ROAMED IN THOUSANDS, A-MANY A HERD AND BRAND …"—Old
If you are at all curious over the name to which Luck Lindsay answered
unhesitatingly,—his very acceptance of it proving his willingness to be
so identified,—I can easily explain. Some nicknames have their origin in
mystery; there was no mystery at all surrounding the name men had
bestowed upon Lucas Justin Lindsay. In the first place, his legal
cognomen being a mere pandering to the vanity of two grandfathers who had
no love for each other and so must both be mollified, never had appealed
to Luck or to any of his friends. Luck would have been grateful for any
nickname that would have wiped Lucas Justin from the minds of men. But
the real reason was a quirk in Luck's philosophy of life. Anything that
he greatly desired to see accomplished, he professed to leave to chance.
He would smile his smile, and lift his shoulders in the Spanish way he
had learned in Mexico and the Philippines, and say: "That's as luck will
have it. Quien sabe?" Then he would straightway go about bringing the
thing to pass by his own dogged efforts. Men fell into the habit of
calling him Luck, and they forgot that he had any other name; so there
you have it, straight and easily understandable.
As luck would have it, then,—and no pun intended, please,—he found
himself en route to Dry Lake without any trouble at all; a mere matter of
one change of trains and very close connections, the conductor told him.
So Luck went out and found a chair on the observation platform, and gave
himself up to his cigar and to contemplation of the country they were
gliding through. What he would find at Dry Lake to make the stop worth
his while did not worry him; he left that to the future and to the god
Chance whom he professed to serve. He was doing his part; he was going
there to find out what the place held for him. If it held nothing but a
half dozen ex-cow-punchers hopelessly tamed and turned farmers, why,
there would probably be a train to carry him further in his quest. He
would drop down into Wyoming and Arizona and New Mexico,—just keep going
till he did find the men he wanted. That was Luck's way.
The shadows grew long and spread over the land until the whole vast
country lay darkling under the coming night. Luck went in and ate his
dinner, and came back again to smoke and stare and dream. There was a
moon now that silvered the slopes and set wide expanses shimmering.
Luck, always more or less a dreamer, began to people the plain with the
things that had been but were no more: with buffalo and with Indians who
camped on the trail of the big herds. He saw their villages, the tepees
smoke-grimed and painted with symbols, some of them, huddled upon a knoll
out there near the timber line. He heard the tom-toms and he saw the
rhythmic leaping and treading, the posing and gesturing of the braves who
danced in the firelight the tribal Buffalo Dance.
After that he saw the coming of the cattle, driven up from the south by
wind-browned, saddle-weary cowboys who sang endless chanteys to pass the
time as they rode with their herds up the long trail. He saw the cattle
humped and drifting before the wind in the first blizzards of winter,
while gray wolves slunk watchfully here and there, their shaggy coats
ruffled by the biting wind. He saw them when came the chinook, a howling,
warm wind from out the southwest, cutting the snowbanks as with a knife
that turned to water what it touched, and laying bare the brown grass
beneath. He saw the riders go out with the wagons to gather the
lank-bodied, big-kneed calves and set upon them the searing mark of their
Urged by the spell of the dried little man's plaintive monologue, the old
range lived again for Luck, out there under the moon, while the train
carried him on and on through the night.
What a picture it all would make—the story of those old days as they
had been lived by men now growing old and bent. With all the cheap,
stagy melodrama thrown to one side to make room for the march of that
bigger drama, an epic of the range land that would be at once history,
Luck's cigar went out while he sat there and wove scene after scene of
that story which should breathe of the real range land as it once had
been. It could be done—that picture. Months it would take in the making,
for it would swing through summer and fall and winter and spring. With
the trail-herd going north that picture should open—the trail-herd
toiling over big, unpeopled plains, with the riders slouched in their
saddles, hat brims pulled low over eyes that ached with the glare of the
sun and the sweep of wind, their throats parched in the dust cloud flung
upward from the marching, cloven hoofs. Months it would take in the
making,—but sitting there with the green tail-lights switching through
cuts and around low hills and out over the level, Luck visioned it all,
scene by scene. Visioned the herd huddled together in the night while the
heavens were split with lightning, and the rain came down in
white-lighted streamers of water. Visioned the cattle humped in the snow,
tails to the biting wind, and the riders plodding with muffled heads bent
to the drive of the blizzard, the fine snow packing full the wrinkles in
their sourdough coats.
It could be done. He, Luck Lindsay, could do it; in his heart he knew
that he could. In his heart he felt that all of these months—yes, and
years—of picture-making had been but a preparation for this great
picture of the range. All these one-reel pioneer pictures had been merely
the feeble efforts of an apprentice learning to handle the tools of his
craft, the mental gropings of his mind while waiting for this, his big
idea. His work with the Indians was the mere testing and trying of
certain photographic effects, certain camera limitations. He felt like an
athlete taught and trained and tempered and just stepping out now for the
big physical achievement of his life.
He grew chilled as the night advanced, but he did not know that he was
cold. He was wondering, as a man always wonders in the face of an
intellectual birth, why this picture had not come to him before; why he
had gone on through these months and years of turning out reel upon reel
of Western pictures, with never once a glimmering of this great epic of
the range land; why he had clung to his Indians and his one-reel Indian
pictures with now and then a three-reel feature to give him the elation
of having achieved something; why he had left them feeling depressedly
that his best work was in the past; why he had looked upon real range-men
as a substitute only for those lean-bodied bucks and those fat,
stupid-eyed squaws and dirty papooses.
With the spell of his vision deep upon his soul, Luck sat humiliated
before his blindness. The picture he saw as he stared out across the
moonlit plain was so clean-cut, so vivid, that he marvelled because he
had never seen it until this night. Perhaps, if the dried little man had
not talked of the old range—
Luck took a long breath and flung his cigar out over the platform rail.
The dried little man? Why, just as he stood he was a type! He was the Old
Man who owned this herd that should trail north and on through scene
after scene of the picture! No make-up needed there to stamp the sense of
reality upon the screen. Luck looked with the eye of his imagination and
saw the dried little man climbing, with a stiffness that could not hide
his accustomedness, into the saddle. He saw him ride out with his men,
scattering his riders for the round-up; the old cowman making sharper the
contrast of the younger men, fixing indelibly upon the consciousness of
those who watched that this same dried little man had grown old in the
saddle; fixing indelibly the fact that not in a day did the free ranging
of cattle grow to be one of the nation's great industries.
Of a sudden Luck got up and stood swaying easily to the motion of the car
while he took a long, last look at the moon-bathed plain where had been
born his great, beautiful picture. He stretched his arms as does one who
has slept heavily, and went inside and down to the beginning of the
narrow aisle where were kept telegraph forms in their wooden-barred
niches in the wall. He went into the smoking compartment and wrote, with
a sureness that knew no crossed-out words, a night letter to the dried
little man who had sat on the baggage truck and talked of the range. And
this is what went speeding back presently to the dried little man who
slept in a cabin near the track and dreamed, perhaps, of following the
Report at once to me at Dry Lake. Can offer you good position Acme Film
Company, good salary working in big Western picture. Small part, some
riding among real boys who know range life. Want you bad as type of
cowman owning cattle in picture. Salary and expenses begin when you show
up. For references see Indian Agent.
Dry Lake, Mont.
If you count, you will see that he ran eight words over the limit of the
flat rate on night letters, but he would have over-run the limit by
eighty words just as quickly if he had wanted to say so much. That was
Luck's way. Be it a telegram, instructions to his company, or a quarrel
with some one who crossed him, Luck said what he wanted to say—and paid
the price without blinking.
I don't know what the dried little man thought when the operator
handed him that message the next morning; but I can tell you in a few
words what he did: He arrived in Dry Lake just two trains behind Luck.
Luck did not sleep that night. He lay in his berth with the shade pushed
up as high as it would go, and stared out at the tamed plain, and
perfected the details of his Big Picture. Into the spell of the range he
wove a story of human love and human hate and danger and trouble. So it
must be, to carry his message to the world who would look and marvel at
what he would show them in the drama of silence. He had not named his
picture yet. The name would come in its own good time, just as the
picture had come when the time for its making was ripe.
The next day he did not talk with the men whose elbows he touched in the
passing intimacy of travel; though Luck was a companionable soul who was
much given to talking and to seeing his listeners grow to an
audience,—an appreciative audience that laughed much while they listened
and frowned upon interruption. Instead, he sat silent in his seat, since
on this train there was no observation car, and he stared out of the
window without seeing much of what passed before his eyes, and made notes
now and then, and covered all the margins of his time-table with figures
that had to do with film. Once, I know, he blackened his two front teeth
with pencil tappings while he visualized a stampede and the probable
amount of footage it would require, and debated whether it should be
"shot" with two cameras or three to get scenes from different angles. A
stampede it should be,—a real stampede of fear-frenzied range cattle in
the mad flight of terror; not a bunch of galloping tame cows urged to
foreground by shouting and rock-throwing from beyond the side lines of
the scene. It would be hard to get, and it could not be rehearsed before
the camera was turned on it. Luck decided that it should be shot from
three angles, at least, and if he could manage it he would have a
"panoram" of the whole thing from a height.
The porter came apologetically with his big whisk broom and told Luck
that they would all presently be gazing at Dry Lake, or words which
carried that meaning. So Luck permitted himself to be whisked from a half
dollar while his thoughts were "in the field" with his camera men and
company, shooting a real stampede from various angles and trying to
manage so that the dust should not obscure the scene. After a rain—of
course! Just after a soaking rain, he thought, while he gathered up his
time-table and a magazine that held his precious figures, and followed
the porter out to the vestibule while the train slowed.
It was in this mood that Luck descended to the Dry Lake depot platform
and looked about him. He had no high expectation of finding here what he
sought. He was simply making sure, before he left the country behind him,
that he had not "overlooked any bets." His mind was open to conviction
even while it was prepared against disappointment; therefore his eyes
were as clear of any prejudice as they were of any glamour. He saw things
as they were.
On the side track, then, stood a string of cars loaded with wool, as his
nose told him promptly. Farms there were none, but that was because the
soil was yellow and pebbly and barren where it showed in great bald spots
here and there; you would not expect to raise cabbages where a prairie
dog had to forage far for a living. Behind the depot, the prairie humped
a huge, broad shoulder of bluff wrinkled along the forward slope of it
like the folds of a full fashioned skirt. There, too, the soil was
bare,—clipped to the very grass roots by hundreds upon hundreds of
hungry sheep whose wool, very likely, was crowding those cars upon the
siding. Luck wasted neither glances nor thought upon the scene. Dry Lake
was like many, many other outworn "cow towns" through which he had
passed; changed without being bettered; all of the old life taken out of
it in the process of its taming.
He threw his grip into the waiting, three-seated spring wagon that served
as a hotel bus, climbed briskly after it, and glanced ahead to where he
saw the age-blackened boards of the stockyards. Cattle—and then came the
sheep. So runs the epitaph of the range, and it was written plainly
across Dry Lake and its surroundings.
They went up a dusty trail and past the yawning wings of the stockyards
where a bunch of sheep blatted now in the thirst of mid-afternoon. They
stopped before the hotel where, in the old days, many a town-hungry
puncher had set his horse upon its haunches that he might dismount in a
style to match his eagerness. Luck climbed out and stood for a minute
looking up and down the sandy street that slept in the sun and dreamed,
it may be, of rich, unforgotten moments when the cow-punchers had come
in off the range and stirred the sluggish town to a full, brief life
with their rollicking. Across the street was Rusty Brown's place, with
its narrow porch deserted of loafers and its windows blinking at the
street with a blankness that belied the things they had looked upon in
A less experienced man than Luck would have been convinced by now that
here was no place to go seeking "real boys." But Luck had been a range
man himself before he took to making motion pictures; he knew range towns
as he knew men,—which was very well indeed. He looked, as he stood
there, not disgusted but mildly speculative. Two horses were tied to the
hitching rail before Rusty Brown's place. These horses bore saddles and
bridles, and, if you know the earmarks, you can learn a good deal about a
rider just by looking at his outfit. Neither saddle was new, but both
gave evidence of a master's pride in his gear. They were well-preserved
saddles. They had the conservative swell of fork that told Luck almost to
a year how old they were. One, he judged, was of California make, or at
least came from the extreme southwest of the cattle country. It had a
good deal of silver on it, and the tapideros were almost Mexican in their
elaborateness. The bridle on that horse matched the saddle, and the
headstall was beautiful with silver kept white and clean. The rope coiled
and tied beside the saddle fork was of rawhide. (Luck did not need to
cross the street to be sure of these details; observation was a part of
his profession.) The other saddle was the kind most favored on the
northern range. Short, round skirts, open stirrups, narrow and rimmed
with iron. Stamped with a two-inch border of wild rose design, it pleased
Luck by its very simplicity. The rope was a good "grass" rope worn smooth
and hard with much use.
Luck flipped a match stub out into the dust of the street, tilted his
small Stetson at an angle over his eyes, went over to the horses, and
looked at their brands which had been hidden from him. One was a Flying
U, and the other bore a blurred monogram which he did not trouble to
decipher. He turned on his heels and went into Rusty's place.
On his way to the bar he cast an appraising glance around the room and
located his men. Here, too, a less experienced man might have
blundered. One, known to his fellows as the Native Son, would scarcely
be mistaken; his dress, too, evidently matched the silver-trimmed
saddle outside. But Andy Green, in blue overalls turned up five inches
at the bottom, and somewhat battered gray hat and gray chambray shirt,
might have been almost any type of outdoor man. Certain it is that few
strangers would have guessed that he was one of the best riders in that
part of the State.
Luck bought a couple of good cigars, threw away his cigarette and lighted
one, set the knuckles of his left hand upon his hip, and sauntered over
to the pool table where the two men he wanted to meet were languidly
playing out their third string. He watched them for a few minutes, smiled
sympathetically when Andy Green made a scratch and swore over it, and
backed out of the way of the Native Son, who sprawled himself over the
table corner and did not seem to know or to care how far the end of his
cue reached behind him.
Luck did not say a word to either; but Andy, noting the smile of
sympathy, gave him a keenly attentive glance as he came up to that end of
the table to empty a corner pocket. He fished out the four and the nine,
juggled them absently in his hand, and turned and looked at Luck again,
straight and close. Luck once more smiled his smile.
"No, I don't believe you know me, brother," he said, answering Andy's
unspoken thought. "I'd have remembered you if I'd ever met you. You may
have seen me in a picture somewhere."
"By gracious, are you the little fellow that drove a stage coach and six
horses down off a grade—"
"That's my number, old-timer." Luck's smile widened to a grin. That had
been a hair-lifting scene, and Andy Green was not the first stranger to
walk up and ask him if he had driven that stage coach and six horses down
off a mountain grade into a wide gulch to avoid being held up and the
regulation box of gold stolen. It was probably the most spectacular thing
Luck had ever done. "Got down that bank fine as silk," he volunteered
companionably, "and then when I'd passed camera and was outa the scene,
by thunder, I tangled up with a deep chuck-hole that was grown over with
weeds, and like to have broken my fool neck. How's that for luck?" He
took the cigar from his lips and smiled again with half-closed, measuring
eyes. "Yes, sir, I just plumb spoiled one perfectly good Concord coach,
and would have been playing leading corpse at a funeral, believe me, if I
hadn't strapped myself to the seat for that drive off the grade. As it
was, I hung head down and cussed till one of the boys cut me loose. Where
did you see the picture?"
"Me? Up in the Falls. Say, I'm glad to meet you. Luck Lindsay's your
name, ain't it? I remember you were called that in the picture. Mine's
Green, Andy Green,—when folks don't call me something worse. And this is
Miguel Rapponi, a whole lot whiter than he sounds. What, for Lordy sake,
you wasting time on this little old hasbeen burg for? Take it from me,
there ain't anything left here but dents in the road and a brimstone
smell. We're all plumb halter-broke and so tame we—"
"You look all right to me, brother," Luck told him in that convincing
tone he had.
"Well, same to you," Andy retorted with a frank heartiness he was not in
the habit of bestowing upon strangers. "I feel as if I'd worked with you.
Pink was with me when we saw that picture, and we both hollered 'Go to
it!' right out loud, when you gathered up the ribbons and yanked off the
brake and went off hell-popping and smiling back over your shoulder at
us. It was your size and that smile of yours that made me remember you.
You looked like a kid when you mounted to the boot; and you drove down
off smiling, and you had one helanall of a trip, and you drove off that
grade looking like you was trying to commit suicide and was smiling still
when you pulled up at the post-office. By gracious, I—"
Luck gave a little chuckle deep in his throat. "I did all that smiling
the day before I drove off the grade," he confessed, looking from one
to the other. "I don't guess I'd have smiled quite so sweet, maybe, if
"Is that the way you make moving pictures, hind-side-foremost?" Andy, his
back to the table, lifted himself over the rim to a comfortable seat and
began to make himself a cigarette.
"Yes, or both ways from the middle, just as it happens." Luck was always
ready to talk pictures. "In that stage-driver picture I made all the
scenes before I made that drive,—for two reasons. Biggest one was that I
wanted to be sure of having it all made, in case something went wrong on
that feature drive; get me? Other was plain, human bullheadedness. Some
of the four-flushers I was cursed with in the company,—because they were
cheap and I had to balance up what I was paying the Injuns,—they kept
eyeing that bluff where I said I'd come down with the coach, and betting
I wouldn't, and talking off in corners about me just stalling. I just let
'em sweat. I made the start, and I made the finish. I drove right to
where I looked down off the pinnacle—remember?—and saw the outlaw gang
at the foot of the grade; I made all the 'dissolves,' and where I went
back and captured 'em and brought 'em in to camp. But I didn't drive off
the grade into the gulch till last thing, as luck would have it. Good
thing, too. That old coach was sure some busted, and I wasn't doing any
more smiles till I grew some hide."
Andy Green licked his cigarette and let his honest gray eyes wander from
Luck to the darkly handsome face of the Native Son. "Sounds most as
exciting as holding down a homestead, anyway. Don't you think so, Mig?
And say! It's sure a pity we can't put off some things in real life till
we get all set and ready to handle 'em!"
"That's right." Luck's face sobered as the idea caught his imagination.
"That's dead right; how well I know it!"
Andy smoked and swung his feet and regarded Luck with interest. "It's
against my religious principles to go poking my nose into the other
fellow's business," he said after a minute, "but I'm wondering if there's
anything in this God-forsaken country to bring a fellow like you here
deliberate. I'm wondering if you meant to stop, or if you just leaned too
far out the car window on your way through town."
For a half minute Luck looked up at him. He had expected a preparatory
winning of the confidence of the men whom he sought. He had planned to
lead up gradually to his mission, in case he found his men. But in that
half minute he threw aside his plan as a weak, puerile wasting of time,
and he answered Andy Green truthfully.
"No, I didn't fall off the train," he drawled. "I just grabbed my grip
and beat it when they told me where I was. I'm out on a still hunt for
some real boys. Some that can ride and shoot and that know cow-science so
well they don't have to glad up in cowboy clothes and tie red bandanna
bibs on to make folks think they're range broke."
"And yet you're wasting time in this tame little granger wart on the
"No, not wasting time," smiled Luck serenely. "A little old trunk-juggler
up the trail told me about the Flying U outfit that is still sending
their wagons out when the grass gets green. I stopped off to give the
high-sign to the boys, and say howdy, and swap yarns, and maybe haze some
of 'em gently into camp. I wanted to see if the Flying U has got any real
Andy Green looked eloquently at the Native Son. "Now, what do you know
about that, Mig?" he breathed softly behind a mouthful of smoke. "Wanting
to rope him out a few from the Flying U bunch. Say! Have you got a real
puncher amongst that outfit of long-haired hayseeds?"
The Native Son shook his head negligently and gave Luck a velvet-eyed
glance of friendly pity.
"If there is, he's ranging deep in the breaks and never shows up at
shipping time," he averred. "I've never seen one myself. They've got one
that—what would you call Big Medicine, if you wanted to name him quick
and easy, Andy?"
Andy frowned. "What I'd call him had best not be named in this
God-fearing little hamlet," he responded gloomily. "I sure would never
name him in the day I talked about cow-punchers that's ever dug sand outa
their eyes on trail-herd."
The Native Son, still with the velvet-eyed look of pity, turned to Luck.
"Andy's right," he sighed. "They've got one that takes spells of talking
deliriously about when he punched cows in Coconino County; but I guess
there's nothing to it."
"You say you was told that the Flying U outfit has got some real ones?"
Andy eyed Luck curiously and with some of the Native Son's pity. "Just in
a general way, what happens to folks that lie to you deliberate, when you
meet 'em again? I'd like," he added, "to know about how sorry to feel for
that baggage humper when you see him—after meeting the Flying U bunch."
The soul of Luck Lindsay was singing an impromptu doxology, but the face
of him—so well was that face trained to do his bidding—became tinged
with disgust and disappointment. With two "real boys" he was talking; he
knew them by the unconscious range vernacular and the perfect candor with
which they lied to him about themselves. But not so much as a gleam of
the eye betrayed to them that he knew.
"So that's why he went off grinning so wide," he mused aloud. "I was sure
caught then with my gun at home on the piano. I might have known better
than to look for the real thing here, though you fellows have a few
little marks that haven't worn off yet."
"Me? Why, I'm a farmer, and I'm married, and I'm in a deuce of a stew
because my spuds is drying up on me and no way to get water on 'em
without I carry it to 'em in a jug," disclaimed Andy Green hastily. "All
I know about punchers I learned from seeing picture shows when I go to
town. Now, Mig, here—".
"Oh, don't go and reveal all of my guilty past," protested the Native
Son. "Those three days I spent at a wild-west carnival show have about
worked outa my system. I'm still trying to wear out the clothes I won off
some of the boys in a crap game," he explained to Luck apologetically,
"but my earmarks won't outlast the clothes, believe me."
Luck thoughtfully flicked the ash collar off his cigar. "It won't be any
use then to go out to the Flying U, I suppose," he observed tentatively,
his eyes keen for their changing expressions. "I may as well take the
next train out, I reckon, and drift on down into Arizona and New Mexico.
I know about where some real punchers range—but I thought there was no
harm in looking up the pedigree of this Flying U outfit. I'm sure some
obliged to you boys for heading me off." Back of his eyes there was a
laugh, but Andy Green and the Native Son were looking queerly at each
other and did not see it there.
"Oh, well, now you're this close, you wouldn't be losing anything by
going on out to the ranch, anyway," Andy recanted guardedly. "Come to
think of it, there's one regular old-time ranger out there. They call him
Slim. He's sure a devil on a horse—Slim is. I'd forgot about him when I
spoke. He's a ranger, all right."
Luck knew very well that Andy Green had used the word "ranger" with the
deliberate attempt to appear ignorant of the terminology of the range. A
cow-puncher comes a long way from being a ranger, as every one knows. A
ranger is a man of another profession entirely.
"It used to be a real cattle ranch, they tell me," added the Native Son
artfully. "We live out near there, and if you wanted to ride out—"
Luck appeared undecided. He sucked at his cigar, and he blew out the
smoke thoughtfully, and contemplated the toe of one neat, tan shoe. Just
plain acting, it was; just a playing of his part in the little game they
had started. Better than if they had boasted of their range knowledge and
their prowess in the saddle did Luck know that the dried little man had
told him the truth. He knew that at the Flying U he would find a remnant
of the old order of things. He would find some real boys, if these two
were a fair sample of the bunch. That they lied to him about themselves
and their fellows was but a sign that they accepted him as one of their
breed. He looked them over with gladdened eyes. He listened to the
unconscious tang of the range that was in their talk. These two farmers?
He could have laughed aloud at the idea.
"Well, I might get some atmosphere ideas," he said at last. "If you don't
mind having me trail along—"
"Glad to have yuh!" came an instant duet.
"And if I can scare up a horse—"
"Oh, we'll look after that. You can come right on out with us. The
boys'll be plumb tickled to death to meet you."
"Are they all farmers, same as you—these boys you mention?" Luck looked
up into Andy's eyes when he asked the question.
Andy grinned. "Farmers, yes—same as us!" he said ambiguously and picked
up his gloves as he turned to lead the way out.
AND THEY SIGH FOR THE DAYS THAT ARE GONE
Just when Luck's new acquaintances first forgot to carry on their
whimsical pretense of knowing little of range matters, neither of them
could have told afterwards. They left town with the tacit understanding
between them that they were going to have some fun with the Happy Family
and with this likable little man of the movies. They rode out between
long lines of hated barbed wire stretched taut, and they lied
systematically and consistently to Luck Lindsay about themselves and
their fellows and their particular condition of servitude to fate.
But somewhere along the trail they forgot to carry on the deception; and
only Luck could have told why they forgot, and when they forgot, and how
it was that, ten miles or so out from town, the two were telling how the
Flying U had fought to save itself from extinction; how the "bunch" had
schemed and worked and had in a measure succeeded in turning aside the
tide of immigration from the Flying U range. Big issues they talked of as
they rode three abreast through the warm haze of early fall; and as they
talked, Luck's mind visioned the tale vividly, and his eyes swept the
fence-checkered upland with a sympathetic understanding.
"Right here," said Andy at last, when they came up to a gate set across
the trail, "right here is where we drawed the line—and held it. Now,
half of those shacks you see speckled around are empty. The rest hold
nesters too poor to get outa the country. One or two, that had a little
money, have stuck and gone into sheep. But from here on to Dry Creek
there's nothing ranging but the Flying U brand. Not much—compared to
what the old range used to be—but still it keeps things going. We
throwed a dam across the coulee, up there next the hills, and there's
some fair hay land we're putting water on. We have to winter-feed
practically everything these days. The range just nicely keeps the stock
from snow to snow. I've got pitchfork callouses on my hands I never will
outgrow if I was to fall heir to a billion dollars and never use my hands
again for fifty years except to feed myself. It takes work, believe me!
And if there's anything on earth a puncher hates worse than work, it's
some other kind of work.
"At the Flying U," he went on, looking at Luck pensively, "you'll see the
effect of too many people moved into the range country. If there's
anything more distressing than a baby left without a mother, it's a bunch
of cow-punchers that's outlived their range. Ain't that right?"
"Sure it's right!" Luck's sympathy was absolutely sincere. "How well I
know it! Barbed wire scraped me outa the saddle in Wyoming—barbed wire
and sheep. All there is left for a fellow is to forget it and start a
barber shop or a cigar stand, or else make pictures of the old days, the
way I've been doing. You can get a little fun out of making pictures of
what used to be your everyday life. You can step up on a horse and go
whoopin' over the hills and kinda forget it ain't true." A wistfulness
was in Luck's tone. "You pick out the big minutes from the old days—that
had a whole lot of dust and sun and thirst and hunger in between, when
all's said—you pick out the big minutes, and you bring them to life
again, and sort of push them up close together and leave out most of the
hardships. That's why so many of the old boys drift into pictures, I
reckon. They try to forget themselves in the big minutes."
The two who rode with him were silent for a space. Then the Native
Son spoke drily: "About the biggest minutes we get now come about
"Oh, we can get down in the breaks on round-up time and kinda forget the
world's fenced clear 'way round it with barb-wire," Andy bettered the
statement. "But round-up gets shorter every year."
"My next picture," Luck observed artfully and yet with a genuine desire
to unbosom himself a little to these two who would understand, "my next
picture is going to be different. It's going to have a crackajack story
in it, of course, but it will have something more than a story. I'm going
to start it off with a trail herd coming up from Texas. You know—like it
was when we were kids. I'm going to show those cattle trailing along
tired—and footsore, some of them—and a drag strung out behind for a
mile. I'm going to show the punchers tired and hungry, and riding half
asleep in the saddle. And with that for a starter, I'm going to show the
real range; the real range—get that, boys? I'm going to cut clean away
from regulation moving-picture West; clear out away from posses chasing
outlaws all over a ten-acre location. I'm going to find me a real old
cow-ranch; or if I can't find one, by thunder I'm going to make me one.
I'm sick of piling into a machine and driving out into Griffith Park and
hunting a location for shooting scrapes to take place in. I know a place
where I could produce stuff that would make people talk about it for a
month after. Maybe the buildings would need some doctoring, but there's
sure some round-pole corrals that would make your mouth water."
"We used to have some," sighed Andy, "at the Flying U. But they kinda
went to pieces, and Chip's been replacing them with plank. By gracious,
you don't see many round-pole corrals any more, come to think of it.
There's remains, scattered around over the country."
"The West—the real honest-to-goodness, twelve-months-in-the-year West,"
Luck went on riding his hobby, "has been mighty little used in films.
Ever notice that? It's all gone to shooting, and stealing the full
product of all the gold mines in the world, and killing off more bad men
than the Lord ever sent a flood to punish. For film purposes, the West
consists of one part beautiful maiden in distress, three parts bandit,
and two parts hero. Mix these to taste with plenty of swift action and
gun-smoke, and serve with bandits all dead or handcuffed and beautiful
maiden and hero in lover's embrace on top. That's your film West,
boys—and how well I know it!" Luck stopped to light a cigarette and to
heave a sigh. "I've been building film West to order for four years now,
and more. Only fun I've had, and the best work I've done, I did with a
bunch of Indians I've just taken back to their reservation. For the rest,
it's mostly bunk."
"Not that stage-driver picture," Andy dissented. "There wasn't any bunk
about that, old-timer. That was some driving!"
"Some driving, yes. Sure, it was. It was darned good driving, but the
same old story doctored up a little. Same old shipment of gold, same old
bandits lying in wait, same old hero doing stunts. I ought to know," he
added with a grin. "I wrote the story and did the stunts myself."
"Well, they were some stunts!" admired Andy with unusual sincerity.
Luck waved aside the compliment and went back to his hobby. "Yes, but the
West isn't just a setting for stunts. I've got my story—here," and he
tapped his forehead, which was broad and full and not too high. "I'm
going to fire my camera man and get a better one, and I'm going to round
me up a bunch of real boys that can get into the story and live it so
well they won't need to do any acting,—boys that can stand a panoram on
their work in the saddle. I've been getting by with a bunch of freaks
that think they're real riders if they can lope a horse up-grade without
falling off backwards. Most of my direction of those actorines has been
knowing to a hair how much footage to give 'em without showing how raw
their work is.
"They say the public demands a certain grade of rottenness in Western
films, but I never believed that, down deep in my heart. I believe the
public stands for that stuff because they don't see any better. This
four-reeler I've got in mind will sure open the eyes of some
producers—or I'll buy me a five-acre tract in Burbank and raise string
beans for a living."
"I've got a patch of string beans," sighed the Native Son, "that I've
been sitting up nights with. I don't know what ails the cussed things.
Some kind of little green bug chews on them soon as my back is turned.
They ought to be ripe by now—and they aren't through blossoming. Don't
go into beans, amigo."
Luck looked at him and laughed. The Native Son, in black and white Angora
chaps and cream-colored shirt and silver-filigreed hatband as ornamental
touches to his attire, did not look like a man who was greatly worried
over his crop of string beans while he rode with a negligent grace away
from a glowing sunset. But in these days the West is full of
"Oh, shut up about them beans!" implored Andy Green with a bored air.
"It's water they want; and a touch of the hoe now and then. You leave 'em
for a month at a time and then go back and wonder why you can't pick a
hatful off 'em. Same as the rest of us have been ranching," he added
ruefully, turning to Luck. "With the best intentions in the world, the
Lord never meant us fellers for farmers, and that's a fact. We'll drop a
hoe any time of day or night to get out riding after stock. Of course, we
didn't take up our claims with the idea of settling down and riding a hoe
handle the rest of our lives. If we had, I guess maybe we'd have done a
little better at it."
"We did what we started out to do," the Native Son pointed out lazily:
"We saved the range—what little there is to save—and we kept a lot of
poor yaps from starving to death on that land, didn't we?" He smiled
slowly. "If I hadn't gotten gay and planted those beans," he added, "I'd
be feeling fine over it. A girl gave me a handful of pinto beans and
asked me to plant them—I did hoe them," he defended tardily to Andy. "I
hoed them the day before the Fourth. You know I did. Same time you hoed
those lemon-colored spuds of yours."
Luck let them wrangle humorously over their agricultural deficiencies,
and drifted off into open-eyed dreaming. Into his picture he began to fit
these two speculatively, with a purely tentative adjustment of their
personalities to his requirements. They were arguing about which of the
two was the worst farmer; but Luck, riding alongside them, was seeing
them slouched in their saddles and riding, bone-tired, with a shuffling
trail-herd hurrying to the next watering place. He was seeing them
galloping hard on the flanks of a storm-lashed stampede, with cunningly
placed radium flares lighting the scene brilliantly now and then. He was
seeing these two plodding, heads bent, into the teeth of a blizzard. He
"I'll have to ride home to the missus now," Andy announced the second
time before Luck heard him.
"Mig will take you on down to the home ranch, and after supper I'll ride
over. So long."
He swung away from them upon a faintly beaten trail, looked back once to
grin and wave his hand, and touched his horse with the spurs. Luck stared
after him thoughtfully, but he did not put his thoughts into words. He
had been trained in the hard school of pictures. He had learned to hold
his tongue upon certain matters, such as his opinion of a man's personal
attributes, or criticism of his appearance, or anything which might be
repeated, maliciously or otherwise, to that man. He did not say to Miguel
Rapponi, for instance, what he thought of Andy Green as a man or a rider.
He did not mention him at all. He had learned in bitterness how idle
gossip may eat away the efficiency of a whole company.
For that reason, and also because his mind was busy with his plans and
the best means of carrying them out, the two rode almost in silence to
the hill that shut the Flying U coulee away from the world. Luck gave a
long sigh and muttered "Great!" when the whole coulee lay spread before
them. Then his quick glances took in various details of the ranch and he
sighed again, from a different emotion.
"It must have been a great place twenty years ago," he amended his first
"Why twenty years ago?" The Native Son gave him a quick,
"Twenty years ago there wasn't so much barb-wire trimming," Luck
explained from the viewpoint of the trained producer of Western pictures.
"You couldn't place a camera anywhere now for a long shot across the
coulee without bringing a fence into the scene. And the log stables are
too old, and the new ones too new." He pulled up and stared long at the
sweep of hills beyond, and the wide spread of the meadow and the big
field farther up stream, and at the lazy meandering of Flying U creek
with its willow fringe just turning yellow with the first touch of
autumn. He looked at the buildings sprawled out below him.
"When that log house was headquarters for the ranch, and the round-pole
corrals were the only fences on the place," he said; "when those old
sheds held the saddle horses on cold nights, and the wagons were out from
green grass to snowfall, and the boys laid around all winter, just
reportin' regular at grub-pile and catching up on sleep they'd lost in
the summer—Lor-dee, what a place it must have been!"
There was something in his tone that brought the Native Son for an
instant face to face with the Flying U in the old days when all the range
was free. So, with faces sober, because the old days were gone and would
never any more return, they rode down the grade and up to the new stable
that was a monument to the dead past, even though it might also be a
sign-post pointing to present prosperity. And in this wise came Luck
Lindsay to the Flying U and was made welcome.
THE LITTLE DOCTOR PROTESTS
The Little Doctor stepped out upon the porch with the faint tracing of a
frown upon her smooth forehead, and with that slight tightening of the
lips which to her family meant determination; disapproval sometimes,
tense moments always.
She stood for a minute looking down toward the stables, and the wind that
blew down the coulee seized upon the scant folds of her skirt, and
flapped them impishly against the silken-clad ankles that were
exceedingly good to look upon,—since fashion has now made it quite
permissible to look upon ankles. Her lips did not relax with the waiting.
Her frown grew a trifle more pronounced.
"Mr. Lindsay?" with a rising inflection.
Luck turned his head, saw her standing there, waved his hand to show that
he heard, and started toward her with that brisk, purposeful swing to his
walk that goes with an energetic disposition. The Little Doctor waited,
and watched him, and did not relax a muscle from her determined attitude.
Poor little Luck Lindsay hurried, so as not to keep her standing there in
the wind, and, not knowing just what was before him, he smiled his smile
as he came up to her.
I should have said, poor Little Doctor. She tried to keep her frown and
the fixed idea that went with it, but she was foolish enough to look down
into Luck's face and into his eyes with their sunny friendliness, and at
the smile, where the friendliness was repeated and emphasized. Before she
quite knew what she was doing, the Little Doctor smiled back. Still, she
owned a fine quality of firmness.
"Come in here. I want to have it out with you, and be done," she said,
and turned to open the door.
"Sounds bad, but I'm yours to command," Luck retorted cheerfully, and
went up the steps still smiling. He liked the Little Doctor. She was his
kind of woman. He felt that she would make a good pal, and he knew how
few women are qualified for open comradeship. He cast a side glance at
the kitchen window where the Kid stood with a large slice of bread and
chokecherry jam balanced on his palm, and on his face a look of mental
distress bordered with more jam. Luck nodded and waved his hand, and went
in where the Little Doctor stood waiting for him with a certain ominous
quiet in her manner. Luck shook back his heavy mane of hair that was
graying prematurely, squared his shoulders, and then held out his hand
meekly, palm upward. Boys learn that pose in school, you know.
"Oh, for pity's sake! If you go and make me laugh—and I am mad enough at
you, Luck Lindsay, to—to blister that palm! If you weren't any bigger
than Claude, I'd shake you and stand you in a corner on one foot."
"Listen. Shake me, anyway. I believe I'd kinda like it. And while I'm
standing in the corner—on one foot—you can tell me all you're mad
at me for."
The Little Doctor looked at him, bit her lip, and then found that her
eyes were blurred so that his face seemed to waver and grow dim. And Luck
Lindsay, because he saw the tears, laid a hand on her shoulder, and
pushed her ever so gently into a chair.
"Tell me what's worrying you. If it's anything that I have done, I'll
have one of the boys take me out and shoot me; it's what I would deserve.
But I certainly can't think of anything—"
"Do you know that you have filled little Claude's mind up with stories
about moving pictures till he's just crazy? He told me just now that he's
going with you when you go back, and act in your company. And if I won't
let him go, he said, he'd run away and 'hit a freight-train outa Dry
Lake,' and get to California, anyway. And—he'd do it, too! He's
perfectly awful when he gets an idea in his head. I know he's
spoiled—all the boys pet him so—"
"Wait. Let's get this thing straight. Do you think for one minute, Mrs.
Bennett, that I'd coax the Kid away? Say, that hurts—to have you believe
that of me." There was no smile anywhere on Luck's face now. His eyes
were as pained as his voice sounded.
Once more the Little Doctor weakened before him. She believed what he
said, though five minutes before she had believed exactly the opposite.
In her mind she had accused him of coaxing the Kid. She had fully
intended accusing him of it to his face.
"I don't mean coax, perhaps. But—"
"Listen. If the Kid has got that notion, I'm more sorry than you can
guess. Of course, I think pictures and I talk pictures; I admit I make
them in my sleep. And the boys are interested. Those that are going back
with me and those that are not are always sicking me at the subject. I
admit that I sick easy," he added with a whimsical lightening of the
eyes. "And the Kid and I are pals. I like him, Mrs. Bennett. He's got the
stuff in him to make a real man—and I wouldn't call him spoiled,
exactly. He's always been with grown-ups, and his mind has developed away
ahead of the calendar; you see what I mean? He's nine, he tells me—"
"Only eight. He always tries to make himself older than he is," the
Little Doctor corrected quickly.
"Well, he's some boy! And kids somehow take to me; I guess it's because
I'm always chumming with them. He's been taking in everything that has
been said; I could see that. But I surely never talked to him in the way
The Little Doctor looked at him and hesitated; but she was a frank young
woman, and she could not help speaking her mind. "You mustn't take it
personally at all," she said, "if I tell you that I am disappointed in
the boys; in Andy and Rosemary especially, because they ought to
appreciate the little home they have made, and stay with it. One sort of
expects Pink and Big Medicine and Weary to do outlandish things. They
haven't really grown up, and they never will. But I am disappointed, just
the same, that they should want to go performing around and shooting
blank cartridges and making clowns of themselves for moving pictures.
Still, that's their own business, of course, if they want to be silly
enough to do it. But now little Claude has taken the fever—and I wish,
Mr. Lindsay, you could do something to—" She stopped, but not because
what she said was hurting Luck's feelings. She did not know that she hurt
him at all.
"It seems to be worse, in your estimation, than exposing the Kid to
yellow fever," Luck observed quietly.
"Well, of course you can understand that I should not want a boy of
mine to—to be all taken up with the idea of acting cowboy parts for a
"Still, there are some fairly decent people in the business," Luck
pointed out still more quietly, and got upon his feet. He had no smile
now for the Little Doctor, though he was still gentle in his manner. "I
see what you mean, Mrs. Bennett. I understand you perfectly. I shall do
what I can to repair the damage to the Kid's character and ideals, and I
want to thank you for coming to me in this matter. Otherwise I might have
gone against your wishes without knowing that I was doing so." For two
breaths or three he held her glance with something that looked out of his
eyes; the Little Doctor did not know what it was. "You see, Mrs. Bennett,
you don't quite understand what you are talking about," he added. "You
have not had the opportunity to understand, of course. But I agree with
you that the Kid's place is at home, and I shall certainly have a talk
He moved to the door, laid a fine, well-kept hand upon the knob, and
looked at her with a faint smile that had behind it a good deal that
puzzled the Little Doctor. "Don't worry one minute," he said, dropping
his punctilious politeness of the minute before, and becoming again the
intensely human Luck Lindsay. "I 'heap sabe.' I've certainly corrupted
the morals and ambitions of some of the boys—looking at it the way you
do—but I promise to check the devastation right where it's at, and save
your only son." He turned then and went out.
The Little Doctor paid him the tribute of hurrying to the window where
she could watch him go down the path. In his walk, in the set of his
head, there was still something that puzzled her. She hoped that he was
not offended, and she thankfully remembered a good deal that she had left
unsaid. She saw him turn and beckon, and then wait until the Kid had
joined him from the kitchen. She saw the greeting he gave the Kid, and
the adoration on the Kid's face when he looked up at Luck. The two went
away together, and the Little Doctor watched them dubiously. What if the
Kid should run away? He had done it once, and it was well within the
probabilities that he might do it again, if this present obsession of his
were not handled just right. The Kid, she had long ago discovered, could
not be driven,—and there were times when he could not be coaxed.
Luck had been just three days at the Flying U. In those three days he had
fitted himself into the place so well that even old Patsy, the cook,
called him "Look" as easily as though he had been doing it for years; and
Patsy, you must know, was fast acquiring the querulousness of an old age
that does not sweeten with the passing years. Patsy had discovered that
Luck liked his eggs fried on both sides, and thereafter he painstakingly
turned three eggs bottomside up in the frying pan every morning; three
and no more, though Cal Emmett remarked pointedly that he had always
liked his eggs fried and flopped.
Three days, and the Old Man frequently left his big, soft-cushioned
chair, and went slowly down to the bunk-house whence came much laughter,
and listened to the stories that Luck told so well,—with one arm around
the unashamed Kid, very likely, while he talked.
True, they had ranches of their own, those boys of the Flying U. But if
you wanted to find them in a hurry, it were wise to ride first into
Flying U coulee. That was headquarters, and that was home and always
would be; even Andy Green, who was happily married, brought his wife and
stayed there days at a time, with small excuse for the coming.
In three days, then, Luck had chosen his men from among the Happy Family,
and had convinced them that their future welfare and happiness depended
upon their going back with him to Los Angeles. In three days he had
accomplished a good deal; but then, Luck was in the habit of crowding his
days with achievement of one sort or another. As a matter of fact, the
third day he had looked upon as one given solely to the pleasure of
staying at the Flying U while the boys completed their arrangements for
leaving with him. He had done all that he had planned to do, and he was
in a very good humor with the world, or he had been until the Little
Doctor had made his pride writhe under her innocent belittlement of his
vocation. To have her boy work in pictures would be a calamity in her
eyes; in Luck's eyes it would be an honor, provided he did the right kind
of work in the right kind of pictures.
Luck's own personal opinion, however, did not weigh in this case. He had
promised the Little Doctor that he would erase the impression he had made
upon the Kid's too vivid imagination; so he led him to a retired place
where they would be sheltered from the wind by a great stack of alfalfa
hay, and he began in this wise:
"Old-timer, you're the luckiest boy I've seen in all my travels,—growing
up here on the Flying U, with a mother like you've got, and a dad like
Chip, and a ranch like this to get the swing of while you're growing; so
that in another five years I expect you'll be running it yourself, and
your folks will be larking around having the good time they've earned
while they were raising you. I'll bet—"
"So Doctor Dell went and got around you, did she? I knew that was why she
called you into the sett'n room. Forget it, Luck." The Kid spat manfully
into the trodden hay, and pushed his small-size Stetson back so that his
curls showed, and set his feet as far apart as was comfortable. "I knew
she would," he added with weary wisdom in his tone. "Doctor Dell can get
around anybody when she takes a notion."
Luck held his face from smiling. He looked surprised, and disappointed in
the Kid, and sorry for the Kid's parents. At least, he made the Kid feel
that he was thinking all these things, which proves how well one may
master the art of facial expression. He did not say a word; therefore he
put the Kid upon the defensive and set his young wits to devising
arguments in his favor.
"A woman never knows when a fellow begins to grow up. Doctor Dell is the
nicest girl in the world, but she needn't think I'm a baby yet. I can
ride a buckin' horse, and I went on round-up last spring—and made a
hand, too! I can swing a rope as good as any of the bunch; you seen me
whirl a loop and jump through it, and there's more stunts than that I
can do—it was dinner time, so I had to quit before I showed you." The
Kid paused. He had not yet produced any effect whatever upon that
surprised, pitying, disappointed look in Luck's face, and the Kid began
to feel worried.
"Well, I was just bluffing when I said I'd run away—if she told you
that." He stopped; the look was still there, only it now seemed to have
contempt added to it. "I don't say I know more'n anybody on the ranch,
and I don't say I'm boss of the ranch yet. I do what they tell me, even
when I know there ain't any sense in it. I humor Doctor Dell a whole
lot!" Could he never get that look off Luck's face? The Kid searched his
soul anxiously. You couldn't go on arguing with that kind of a look; it
made you feel like you'd been stealing sheep. "Oh, well, if you won't
talk to a feller—" The Kid did not turn away quite soon enough to hide
the quiver of his lips. Luck reached out and took a small, grimy hand
and pulled the Kid nearer; near enough so that his arm could go around
the Kid's quivering body. He held him close, and the Kid did not
struggle. He dropped his face against Luck's shoulder, and began to
fight back his tears.
"Listen, pardner," said Luck softly, one hand caressing the Kid's cheek.
"You and I ought to sabe each other better than most folks, because we're
pals. Now, I want you to go with me a heap more than you want to go; just
tuck that away in your mind where you won't lose it. I want you, but I
wouldn't have you without Doctor Dell's free and willing consent. I need
you for my pal; and I could teach you a lot that would be useful to you.
But they need you a whole lot worse than I do. They've been taking care
of you and loving you and planning for you all these eight years, just
watching you grow, and being proud of you because you're what they want
you to be: husky and healthy and good all the way through. You couldn't
go off and leave them now; it wouldn't be right. And, pard, you need them
even worse than they need you. I know,—because I had to grow up without
any one to love me and look after me; and believe me, old pal, it isn't
any cinch. It's just pure luck that I didn't get killed off or go bad.
Now, I'd be good to you, if I had you with me, and so would the boys; but
we couldn't take the place of Doctor Dell and Daddy Chip.
"I've talked pictures too much to you. I didn't know how it was hitting
you, or how much you wanted to go. But listen. If I had the chance you've
got here,—if I had a ranch like this, and cattle, and horses, and a
father and mother and uncle like you've got,—I never would look a camera
in the eye again as long as I live. That's straight, old-timer. Why, I'm
working my head off trying to get enough ahead so that I can have a ranch
of my own! So I can slap a saddle on a horse that carries my brand, and
ride out after my cattle, and haze them into my corral; so I can have a
home that is mine. I never did have one, pardner,—not since I was a heap
smaller than you are now,—and a home of his own is what every man wants
most, down deep in his heart.
"It looks fine to be traveling around, and making moving pictures. It is
fine if you are cut out for that kind of work, and have got to be working
for somebody else to get your start. But remember, pard, I am working and
scheming and planning to get just what you've got already. You, a kid
eight years old, stand right where I'd give all I've got to stand. You'll
own your own ranch and your own home. You've got folks that love you—not
because you hand out the pay envelope on a certain day of the week, but
because you belong to them, and they belong to you. Kid, I'm thirty-two
years old—and I've never known what that felt like. I have never known
what it was like to have some one plan for me and with me, unless they
were paid for it."
The Kid stood very still. "You could live here," he lifted his head to
say gravely after a little silence that was full of thought. "This can be
your home. You can be one of the Happy Family. We'd like to have you."
There was something queer in Luck's voice when he murmured a reply. There
was something in his face which no one but the Kid had ever seen. The
Kid's arm crept around Luck's neck, and tightened there and stayed.
Luck's hand went up to the curls and hovered there caressingly. And they
talked, in tones lowered to the cadence of deep-hidden hopes and longings
revealed in sacred confidence.
The Little Doctor, shamelessly eavesdropping because she was a mother
fighting for her fledgling, tiptoed away from the corner of the stack,
and went back to the house, wiping her eyes frequently with the corner of
her handkerchief that was not embroidered. She went into her room and
stayed there a long while, and before she came out she had recourse to
rosewater and talcum and other first aids to swollen eyelids.
Whatever she may have thought, whatever she may have overheard beyond
what has been recorded, her manner toward Luck was so unobtrusively
tender that Chip looked at her once or twice with a puzzled, husbandly
frown. Also, the Kid felt something special in his Doctor Dell's
good-night kiss; something he did not understand at all, since he had not
yet told her that he was going to be a good boy and stay at home and take
care of her and the ranch.
A BUNCH OF ONE-REELERS FROM BENTLY BROWN
The Manager of the Acme Film Company cleared his throat with a rasping
noise that sounded very loud, coming as it did after fifteen minutes of
complete silence. Luck, smoking a cigarette absent-mindedly by the window
while he stared out across two vacant lots to a tawdry apartment
house,—and saw a sage-covered plain instead of what was before his
eyes,—started from his daydream and glanced at Martinson inquiringly.
"Well, what do you think of it?" he asked.
Martinson cleared his throat again, and shuffled the typed sheets in his
hands. "Seems to lack action, don't it?" he hazarded reluctantly. "Of
course, this is a rough draft; I realize that. I suppose you'll
strengthen up the plot, later on. Chance for some good cattle-stealing
complications, I should think. But I'd boil it down to two reels, Luck,
if I were you. There's a lot of atmosphere you couldn't get, anyway—"
"I can get every foot of that atmosphere," Luck put in crisply.
"Oh, I suppose—but you don't want that much. Too expensive, where it
doesn't carry the action along. I'd put in some dance-hall scenes; you
haven't enough interiors. Make your lead a victim of card sharps, why
don't you, and have his sister come there after him? You could get some
great dramatic action—have her meet the heavy there—"
"After the tried-and-tested recipe. Sure, Mart! We can take the middle
out of that Her-Brother's-Honor film and use that; and if you're afraid
the public may recognize it, we'll run it backwards. Or we can mix it
with some Western-Girl's-Romance film, or take—"
"Now, Luck, wait a minute. Wait-a-minute!" Martinson's hand went up in
the approved gesture of stopping another's speech. "You can give it an
original twist. You know you can; you always have."
Luck swore, accustomed though he was to the makeshifts of the business.
The street cars had stopped running the night before, while he was still
hammering that scenario out on the typewriter; the street cars had
stopped running, and the steam heat had been turned off in the hotel
where he lived, and he had finished with an old Mexican serape draped
about his person for warmth. But his enthusiasm had not cooled, though
his room grew chill. He had gone to bed when the typing was done, and had
dreamed scene after scene vividly while he slept. Still glowing with the
pride of creation, he had read the script while his breakfast coffee had
cooled, and he had been the first man in the office, so eager was he to
share his secret and see Martinson's eyes gleam with impatience to have
the story filmed.
Knowing this, you will know also why he swore. Martinson thrust out his
under lip at the oath, and tossed the script neatly into the clear space
on the desk. "Oh, if that's the way you feel about it!" His tone was
trenchant. "Sorry I offered any suggestions. There are some good bits, if
they're worked up right, and I naturally supposed you wanted my opinion."
"I did. I never saw you square up to anything but the same old dime-novel
West before. I wanted to see how it would hit you."
"Well, it don't." Martinson waited a minute while that sunk in. When he
spoke again, his manner was that of a man who has dismissed a
disagreeable subject, and has taken up important business.
"We've made quite a haul since you left. A bunch of one-reelers from
Bently Brown. You'll eat 'em up, Luck,—all those stories of his
featuring the adventures of the XY cowboys. You've read 'em; everybody
has, according to him. They'll be cheap to put on, because the same sets
and the same locations will do for the lot. Same cast, too. He blew in
here temporarily hard up and wanting to unload, and we got the whole
series for next to nothing." He opened a desk drawer, and took out a
bundle of folded scripts tied with a dingy blue tape. Martinson was a
matter-of-fact man; he really did not understand just how much Luck's new
story meant to its author. If he had, he surely would not have been quite
so brisk and so frankly elated over that untidy lot of Bently Brown
"I had all the synopses numbered and put on top here," he went on, "so
you can run them over and see what they're like. A small company will do,
Luck. That's one point that struck me. Two or three die, on an average,
in the first four hundred feet of every story; so you can double a lot.
I've had Clements go over them and start the carpenters on the street set
where most of the exterior action takes place; we're behind on releases,
you know, and these ought to be rushed. You'd better go over and see how
he's making out; you may want to make some changes."
Luck hesitated so long that Martinson was on the edge of withdrawing the
proffered scripts. But he took them finally, and ran his eye
disparagingly over the titles. "Bently Brown!" he said, as though he were
naming something disagreeable. "I'm to film Bently Brown's
blood-and-battle stuff, am I?" He grinned, with the corners of his mouth
tipped downward so that you never would have suspected it of ever
producing Luck's famous smile. "I might turn them into comedy," he
suggested. "I expect I could get a punch by burlesquing—"
"Punch!" Martinson pushed his chair back impetuously. "Punch? Why, my
godfrey, man, that stuff's all punch!"
Luck curved a palm over his too-expressive mouth while he skimmed the
central idea from two or three synopses. Martinson watched him uneasily.
Martinson claimed to keep one finger pressed firmly upon the public
pulse—wherever that may be found—and to be ever alert for its warning
flutterings. Martinson claimed to know a great deal about what the public
liked in the way of moving pictures. He believed in Luck's knowledge of
the West, but he did not believe that the public would stand for the real
West at all; the public, he maintained, wanted its West served hot and
strong and reeking with the smoke of black powder. So—
"Well, the market demands that sort of thing," he declared, arguing
against that curved palm and the telltale wrinkles around Luck's eyes.
"It's all tommyrot, of course. I don't say it's good; I say it's the
stuff that goes. We're here to make what the public will pay to look
at." Martinson, besides keeping his finger on the public pulse and
attending to the marketing of the Acme wares and watching that expenses
did not run too high, found a little time in which to be human. "I know,
Luck," the human side of him observed sympathetically; "it's just
made-to-order melodrama, but business is simply rotten, old man. We've
just got to release films the market calls for. There's no
art-for-art's-sake in the movie business, and you know it. Now,
personally, I like that scenario of yours—"
"Forget it!" said Luck crisply, warning him off the subject. To make the
warning keener-edged, he lifted the typed sheets over which he had worked
so late the night before, glanced at the top one, gave a snort, and tore
them twice down the length of them with vicious twists of his fingers. He
did not mean to be spectacular; he simply felt that way at that
particular moment, and he indulged the impulse to destroy something. He
dropped the fragments into Martinson's waste basket, picked up the bundle
of scripts and his hat, and went out with his mouth pulled down at the
corners and with his neck pretty stiff.
He went swinging across the studio yard and on past the great stage where
the carpenters halted their work while they greeted him, and looked after
him and spoke of him when he had passed. Early idlers—extras with high
hopes and empty pockets—sent him wistful glances which he did not see at
all; though he did see Andy Green and his wife (who had been Rosemary
Allen). These two stood hesitating just within the half-open, high board
gate fifty yards away. Luck waved his hand and swerved toward them.
"Howdy! Where's the rest of the bunch?" he called out as they hurried up
to him. Whereupon the group of extras were sharp bitten by the envy of
these two strangers, spoken to so familiarly by Luck Lindsay.
"Do you know, I feel sure the boys are being held in the lost-child place
at the police station!" Rosemary Green, twinkled her brown eyes at him
from between strands of crinkly brown hair. "I had tags all fixed, with
name, age, owner's address and all that, and I was going to hang them
around the boys' necks with pale blue ribbon—pale blue would be so
becoming! But do you know, I couldn't find them! I feel worried. I should
hate to waste thirty-nine cents worth of pale blue ribbon. I can't wear
it myself; it makes me look positively swarthy." Rosemary Green had a
most captivating way of saying swarthy.
The corners of Luck's mouth came up instantly. "We'll have to send out
scouting parties. I need that bunch of desperadoes. Let's look over by
the corrals. I've got to go over and see what kind of a street set
they're knocking together, anyway.
"Hello! I have sure-enough crying need for all you strays," he exclaimed
five minutes later, when they came upon the Flying TJ boys standing
disconsolately at the head of the street "set" upon which carpenters were
hammering and sawing and painters were daubing. Luck's eyes chilled as he
took in the stereotyped "Western" crudeness of the set.
"Well, we sure need you—and need you bad," Pink retorted. "We want to
know what town was peeled so they could set the rind up like that and
call it a street? Between you and me, Luck, it don't look good to me,
back or front. You walk into what claims to be a saloon, and come out on
a view of the hills. They tell me the bar of that imitation saloon is
away over there on that platform, and they say the bottles are all full
of tea. That right?"
Luck nodded gloomily. "Soon as they get the set up, it's going to be your
privilege to come boiling out of that saloon, shooting two guns, Pink,"
he prophesied. "You'll have the fun of killing half a dozen boys that
come down from this end shooting as they ride." He put his cigarette
between his lips and began to untie the dingy blue tape that bound the
"Ever read any of Bently Brown's stories? They wished a bunch of them on
to me while I was gone and couldn't defend myself," he said, as one who
breaks bad news. "I'm certainly sorry about this, boys. It's a long way
from what I brought you out here to do; and if you want to, you can call
the deal off and go home. Rip-snorting, rotten melodrama—cheap as ice in
Alaska. Stuff I hate—because it's the stuff that cheapens the West in
"What about our range picture?" Andy Green began anxiously.
Luck choked back an oath because of Andy's wife. "Ah—they're married to
the idea that this rot is what sells best. They don't know what a real
Western picture is: they never saw one. And they're afraid to take a
chance. I was in hopes—but Mart's the big chief, you know. He'd gone and
loaded up with this trash, and so he couldn't see my story at all. I get
his viewpoint, all right; he's keen to pry off some real money, and he's
afraid to experiment with new tools. But it does seem pretty raw to put
you boys working on this cheap studio stuff after getting you out here to
do something worth while."
"We're to stay right here, then?" Weary spoke the question that was in
the minds of all of them.
"That's the present outlook," Luck confessed with bitterness. "I don't
need real country for this junk. I was all primed to show him where I'd
have to take my company to New Mexico, but I didn't say anything about it
when he sprung this Bently Brown business. This will all be made right
here at the studio and out in Griffith Park."
Down deep in Luck's heart there was a hurt he would not reveal to any
one. It was built partly of disappointment and an honest dislike for
doing unworthy work; it had in it also some personal chagrin at being
compelled to put the Happy Family at work in the very class of pictures
he had often ridiculed in his talk with them, after bringing them all the
way from Montana so that he might produce his big range picture. He stood
looking somberly at the set which Clements had planned to save time—and
therefore dollars—for the Acme Company. He thought of his range story,
as it had first grown out of the night away up there in the plains
country; he thought of how he had hurried so that he might the sooner
make the vision a reality; how he had talked of it confidently to these
men who had listened with growing enthusiasm and interest, until his
vision had become their vision, his hopes their hopes.
They had left the Flying U and come with him to help make that big
picture of the range. By their eager talk they had helped him to
strengthen certain scenes; they had even suggested new, original material
as they told of this adventure and that accident, and argued—as was
their habit—ever scenes and situations. That was why Andy had spoken of
it as their picture. That was why they were here; that was what had
brought them early to the studio. And in his hand he held a half dozen or
more of those cheap, lurid stories he had always despised; they must let
the public see their faces in these impossible, illogical situations, or
they must go back and call Luck Lindsay names to salve their
The dried little man—whose name was Dave Wiswell—came walking curiously
up the fresh-made "street," his sharp eyes taking in the falsity of the
whole row of shack-houses that had no backs; bald behind as board fences,
save where two-by-fours braced them from falling. He saw the group
standing before a wall that purported to be the front of a bank (which
would be robbed with much bloodshed in the second scenario) and he
hurried a little. Luck scowled at him preoccupiedly, nodded a good
morning, and turned abruptly to the others.
"Listen. If you boys are game for this melodrama, I'd like to use you,
all right. You'll get experience in the business, anyway, so maybe it
won't do you any harm. And if the weather holds good, we'll just make a
long hard drive of this bunch of drivel; we'll rush 'em through—sabe?
And I'll make it my business to see that Mart doesn't unload any more of
the same. You may even get some fun out of it, seeing you're not fed up
on this said Western drama, the way I am. Anyway, what's the word? Shall
I hop into the machine and go down and buy you fellows a bunch of return
tickets, or shall I assign you your parts and wade into this blood and
Weary folded his arms and grinned down at Luck. "I'm all for the blood
and bullets, myself," he said promptly. "I'm just crazy to come shooting
and yelling down this little imitation street and do things that are
bold and bad."
"I should think," interjected Rosemary Green, with a pretty viciousness,
"that you'd be ashamed, Luck Lindsay! Do you think we are a bunch of
quitters? Give me a part—and a gun—and I'll stand on a ladder behind
that hotel window and shoot 'em as fast as they can turn the corner down
there." Her brown eyes twinkled hearteningly at him. "I'll pull my hair
down, and yell and shoot and wring my hands—Pink, you keep still! I'm
positive I can shoot and wring my hands at the same time in a Bently
Brown story, can't I, Luck?"
"You certainly can," Luck told her grimly. "You can do worse than that
and get by. Well, all right, folks. You prowl around and kill time while
I get ready to start. There won't be anything doing till after lunch, at
the earliest, so make yourselves at home. I'd introduce you to some of
these folks if it was worth while, but it ain't. You'll know them soon
enough—most of them to your sorrow, at that." He turned on his heel with
a hasty "See yuh later," and plunged into the work before him just as
energetically as though his heart were in it.
VILLAINS ALL AND PROUD OF IT
"Day's work, boys!" called Luck through his little megaphone at three
o'clock one day, and doubled up his working script that was much crumpled
and scribbled with hasty pencil marks. "No use spoiling good film," he
remarked to his assistant, glancing up at the sweeping fog bank, off to
the west. "By the time we rehearse the next scene, she'll be too dark to
shoot. You go and order these cavalry costumes, Beckitt; and, say! You
tell them down there that if they're shy on the number, they better set
down and make enough, because they won't see a cent of our money if
there's so much as a canteen lacking. And tell 'em to send army guns.
That last assortment of junk they sent out was pathetic. I want equipment
for fifty U.S. Cavalry, time of the early eighties. That don't mean
forty-nine—get me? You're inclined to let those fellows have it their
own way too much. I want this cavalry—"
"There ain't any close-ups of cavalry, are there?" Beckitt demurred. "I
told them last time I thought those guns would do, because I knew the
"Listen." Luck's tone was deliberately tolerant. "That's maybe the reason
you've been searching your soul for all along—the reason why you can't
get past the assistant-director stage. I want those fifty cavalrymen
equipped! Do you get that?" While his eyes held Beckitt uncomfortably
with their stern steadfastness, Luck thrust the script into his coat
pocket that had a permanent, motion-picture-director sag to it. "If I
meant that any old gun would do, I'd give my orders that way. Now,
remember, there isn't going to be any waiting around while you go back
and argue, nor any makeshifts, nor anything but fifty cavalrymen fully
equipped. Here's the list complete for to-morrow's order. You see that
Beckitt took the list which he should have made himself, since that was
what he was paid for doing, and went off in the sulks and the company
machine. Luck pulled a solacing cigar from an inner pocket and licked
down the roughened outer leaves, and scowled thoughtfully across the
studio yard. The camera man was figuring up footage or something, and his
assistant was hurrying to get the tripod folded and put away. There was a
new briskness in the movements of every one save Luck himself, after he
spoke that last sentence through the megaphone.
The Happy Family—or that part of it which had thrown away pitchforks and
taken to the pictures—came clanking across the stage toward Luck. You
would never have known the Happy Family, unless it were the Native Son
who wore his usual regalia in exaggerated form. The Happy Family had
wide, flapping chaps that made them drag their feet they were so heavy
and so long, and great Mexican spurs whose rowels dug tiny trenches in
the ground when they walked. They wore the biggest Stetsons that famous
hat brand ever was stamped upon. They had huge bandanas draped
picturesquely over their chests, and their sleeves were rolled to the
elbows and their eyes rimmed with deep pencil shadings. At their hips
swung six-shooters of violent pattern and portent. Around their middles
sagged belts filled with blank cartridges. A sack of tobacco was making
the rounds as they came on, and Luck watched them through speculatively
"Say, by cripes, that there saloon is the driest poison-palace I ever
surged out of with two guns spittin' death and dumnation!" Big Medicine
complained, coming up with the plain intention of lighting his cigarette
from Luck's cigar. "How'd we stack up this time, boss? Bein' soused on
cold tea, I couldn't rightly pass judgment. How many was it I murdered in
cold blood, in that there scene where I laid 'em out with black powder?
Four, or five? Pink, here, claims I killed him twicet, whereas he oughta
be left alive enough to jump on his horse and ride three hundred and
fifty miles to fall dead in his best girl's arms. He claims he made that
ride day before yesterday, and done some pitiful weaving around in the
saddle, out there in the hills, and that he died in that blond lady's
arms first thing this morning, and I hadn't no right to kill him twicet
afterwards in the saloon fight. Now I leave it to you, boss. How about
this here killin' Pink off every oncet in a while?"
Deep in his throat Luck chuckled. "Well, Pink certainly does die
pathetic," he soothed the perturbed murderer, dropping his professional
brusqueness for frank comradeship. "He's about the best little close-up
dier I ever worked with. He can get a sob anytime he rolls his eyes and
gasps and falls backward." He clapped his hand down on Pink's shoulder
and gave it a little shake.
"That's all right," drawled the Native Son, taking off his sombrero to
deepen the crease and the dents, because three girls were coming across
the lot. "But I've got a complaint of my own to make. When you holler for
Bud to start the rough stuff, he just goes powder crazy. He shot me up
four times in that scene! Twice he held the gun so close my scalp's all
powder-marked, and by rights he should have blowed the top of my head
plumb into the street. He gets so taken up with this slaughter-house
business that he'll wind up by shooting himself a few times if you don't
"One thing," Weary put in mildly, "I want to speak about, Luck. We need
more blood for those murders. I didn't have half enough for all the
mortal wounds Bud gave me. By rights that saloon should be plumb reeking
with gore when we're all killed off—the way Bud flies at it with those
two six-shooters. No bullets hit the walls anywhere, so it stands to
reason they all land in a soft spot on our persons. I needed a large
bucket of blood—and I had about a half teacupful." He grinned. "Mamma!
That was sure some slaughter, though!"
"Where's Tracy Gray Joyce?" Luck inquired irrelevantly, with a hasty
glance around them. "To-morrow, he'll have to come into that same
slaughter pen and seize the murderer and subdue him by the steely glint
of his eye and by his unflinching demeanor." He pulled the corners of his
mouth down expressively. "That's the way the scenario reads," he added
"Well, say, by cripes, he better amble down to the city and buy him some
more glint!" Big Medicine bawled, and laughed afterwards with his big
haw-haw-haw. "And I'll gamble there ain't enough unflinchin' demeanor
on the Coast to put that boy through the scene. Honest-to-gran'-ma, Luck,
that there Tracy Gray Joyce gits pale, and his Adam's apple pumps up and
down when I come up and smile at him! What color do yuh reckon he'll turn
to when he stands up to me right after me slaying all these innocent
boys—and me a-foamin' at the mouth and gloatin' over the foul deed I've
just did? Say? How's he going to keep that there Adam's apple from
shootin' clean up through his hair, and his knees from wobblin'? How—"
"He won't," said Luck suddenly, with a brightening of his eyes. "He
won't. I hope they do wobble. You go ahead, Bud, and foam at the mouth.
You—you look at Tracy Gray Joyce. Not in the rehearsing, understand;
leave out the foam and the gloating till we turn the camera on the scene.
Sabe? On the quiet, boys."
"Sure," came the guarded chorus. It was remarkable what a complete
understanding there was between Luck and the Happy Family. It was that
complete understanding which had kept Luck's spirits up during his
unloved task of producing Bently Brown stuff in film.
"Well, say!" Big Medicine leaned close and throttled his voice down to a
hoarse whisper. "What kinda hee-ro will your Tracy Gray Joyce look like,
when I start up foamin' and gloatin' at him?"
Luck smiled. "That," he said calmly, "is for the camera to find out." He
was going to say something more on the subject, but some one called to
him anxiously from over toward the office. So he told them adios
hurriedly and went his busy way, and left the Happy Family discussing him
gravely among themselves.
The Happy Family were so interested in this new work that they were ready
to see the bright side even of these weird performances which purported
to be Western drama. If you did not take it seriously, all this violence
of dress and behavior was fun. The Happy Family was slipping into a
rivalry of violence; and the strange part of it was that Luck Lindsay,
stickler for realism, self-confessed enthusiast on the uplifting of
motion pictures to a fine art, permitted their violence,—which was not
as the violence of other, better trained Western actors. The Happy
Family, after their first self-conscious tendency to duck behind
something or somebody, had come to forget the merciless, recording eye of
the camera. They had come to look upon their work as a game, played for
the amusement of Luck Lindsay, who watched them always, and for the open
ridicule of Bently Brown, writer of these tales of blood and heroics.
And Luck not only permitted but encouraged them in this exaggeration,—to
the amazement of the camera man who had turned the crank on more Western
dramas than he could remember. Scenes of violence—such as the saloon row
in which Big Medicine had forgotten that Pink was to be left alive, and
so had killed him twice—made the camera man and the assistant laugh when
they should have shuddered; and to wonder why Luck Lindsay, wholly biased
though he was in favor of the Happy Family, did not seem to realize that
they were not getting the right punch into the pictures.
Luck was not behaving at all in his usual manner with his company.
Evenings, instead of holding himself aloof from his subordinates, he
would head straight for the furnished bungalow which the Flying U boys
had taken possession of, with Rosemary Green to give the home atmosphere
which saved the place from becoming a mere bunk-house de luxe. If he
could possibly manage it, Luck would reach headquarters in time for
dinner—the Happy Family blandly called it supper, of course—and would
proceed to forget the day's irritations while he ate what he ambiguously
called "real cookin'."
There was a fireplace in that bungalow, and a fairly large living-room
surrounding the fireplace. The Happy Family extravagantly indulged
themselves in wood, even at the unbelievable price they must pay for it;
and after supper they would light the fire and hunt up chairs enough, and
roll cigarettes, and talk themselves quite away from the present and into
the past of glowing memory.
The horses they rode—before that fireplace—would have made any
Frontier Day celebration famous enough to be mentioned in the next
encyclopedia published. The herds they took through hard winters and
summer droughts would have made them millionaires all, if they could
only have turned them into flesh-and-blood animals. They talked of
blizzards and of high water and of short grass and of thunderstorms.
They added little touches to the big range picture Luck had planned to
make. Starting off suddenly in this wise: "Say, Luck, why don't you
have—?" and the fires of enthusiasm would flare again in Luck's eyes,
and the talk would grow eager.
But—and here was the key to the remarkable interpretation which Luck
permitted the Happy Family to give the Bently Brown stories—some time
before the evening was too old, Luck would swing the talk around to the
work they were doing. He would pull a Bently Brown scenario from his
pocket and read, with much sarcastic comment, the scenes they were later
to enact. He would incite the Happy Family to poking fun at such lurid
performances as Bently Brown described in all seriousness and in detail.
He would encourage comment and argument and the play of their caustic
imaginations upon the action of the story. He would gradually make them
see the whole thing in the light of a huge joke; he would, without saying
much himself, bring the Happy Family into the mood of wanting to make
Bently Brown appear ridiculous to all beholders.
Is it any wonder, then, if the camera man and the assistants should
exchange puzzled glances when Luck put the Happy Family through their
scenes? Exits and entrances, the essential details of the action, Luck
directed painstakingly, as always he had done. Why, then, said camera man
to assistants, should he let those fellows go in and ball up the dramatic
business and turn whole scenes into farce with their foolery? And why had
he chosen Tracy Gray Joyce as leading man? And that eye-rolling, limp
sentimentalist, Lenore Honiwell, as his leading woman? Luck was known to
despise these two, personally and professionally. They could not, to save
their lives, get through a dramatic scene together without giving the
observers a sickish feeling. To see Tracy Gray Joyce lay his hand upon
the left side of his cravat and cast his eyes upward always made Luck
shiver; yet Tracy Gray Joyce would he have for leading man, and none
other. To see Lenore Honiwell throw back her head, close her eyes, and
heave one of those terrific motion-picture sighs always made the camera
man snort; yet Luck, who before had considered her scarcely worth a civil
bow when he met her, had actually coaxed her away from a director who
really admired her style of acting.
And when Luck, who had always gone about his work impervious to curious
onlookers, suddenly changed his method and ordered all interior sets
screened in, and all bystanders away from the immediate vicinity of his
exterior scenes, the Acme people began to call him "swell-headed"—when
they did not call him worse. Even his excuse that he was working with
boys new to the business and did not want them rattled failed to satisfy
most of them.
The Happy Family, in the tiny, bare dressing rooms which they called
box-stalls in merciless candor, were smearing their faces liberally with
cold cream and still arguing among themselves over the doubtful blessing
of owning as many lives as a cat, and bewailing the bruises they had
received while sacrificing a few of their lives to the blood-lust of Big
Medicine and Pink, the two official, Bently-Brown bad men. Outside their
two connecting "stalls" a fine drizzle was making the studio yard an
empty place of churchyard gloom and incidentally justifying Luck in
quitting so early. Big Medicine was swabbing paint from his eyebrows and
bellowing his opinion of a man that will keep a-comin', by cripes, after
he's shot the third time at close range, and then kick because he takes
so much killing off. This was aimed at the Native Son, who had evidently
died hard, and who meant to retaliate as soon as he got that dab of paint
out of his eye. But the door opened violently against his person and
startled him into forgetting his next observation.
This was Luck, and he had the look of a man who owns a guilty secret, and
is ready to be rather proud of his guilt,—providing society consents to
wink at it with him. He was not smiling, exactly; he had a wicked kind of
twinkle in his eyes.
"Hurry up, boys! My Lord, how you fellows do primp and jangle in here!
They're going to run our first picture, The Soul of Littlefoot Law.
Don't you fel—"
"The which?" Big Medicine whirled upon him, rubbing his left eye into a
terrifying, bloodshot condition while he glared with the other.
"The Soul of Littlefoot Law," Luck repeated distinctly with a perfect
neutrality of manner.
"'S that what you call all that ridin' and shootin' we done, that you
said was by moonlight?" Pink inquired pugnaciously—for a young man who
had died the death four different times that day.
"That's what it's called," Luck averred with firmness.
"Aw—where does Soul of Littlefoot Law come in at?" Happy Jack scoffed.
"It doesn't, so far as I know."
"Aw, there ain't no sense in such a name as that. Is that where I got
shot off'n my horse, and Bud, here, done his best to run over me?"
"That's the one. My Lord, boys, how long does it take you fellows to get
your make-up off? They'll have the film run and passed and released and
out on the five-cent circuit on its fifteenth round before you—" Luck,
director though he was, found it wise to pass out quickly and hold the
door shut behind him for a minute. "Honest, boys, you want to hurry," he
called through the closed door. He waited until the sounds within
indicated that they were hurrying quite violently, and then he went his
way; and he still had the look in his eyes of one who bears in his soul a
secret guilt of which he is inclined to be proud.
When the Acme people gathered resignedly in the private projection room,
however, Luck's wicked little twinkle had turned a shade anxious. He
excused himself from the chair between Martinson and Mollie Ryan, the
stenographer, and went over to confer with the Happy Family and the dried
little man who kept clannishly together as usual, and he forgot to return
to his place.
The Acme people, personally and individually, were sick and tired of all
motion pictures that did not portray with vividness the beauty or the
talents of themselves, or the faults of their acquaintances. No Acme
people, save Lenore Honiwell and Tracy Gray Joyce and a phlegmatic
character woman, were in this picture at all. The camera man who took it
did not think highly of it and considered the wonderful photography as
good as wasted, and he had said as much—and more—to his intimates.
Beckitt, Luck's assistant, had privately announced it as the rottenest
piece of cheese he had ever seen under a Wild-West label, and disclaimed
all responsibility. They of the cutting and trimming clan had not said
anything at all. Martinson, having heard the rumors, felt that they
confirmed his own suspicion that Luck had made a big blunder in bringing
those cowboys into the company. They were not actors. They did not
pretend to be actors.
You will see that it was a critical audience indeed that gathered there
in the projection room that rainy afternoon to see the trial run of The
Soul of the Littlefoot Law. It would take a good deal to win any
approbation from that bunch.
And then they were looking at the first scene, which Was a night in
Whoopalong, the fake town over there beyond the big stage. The Happy
Family, all disguised as cowboys, came surging out of the darkness.
H-m-m. That was the bunch that Luck Lindsay had done so much bragging
about, and called "real boys," was it? silently commented the audience.
No different from any other cowboys, as far as any one could see.
True, they used about half the usual amount of film footage in getting to
foreground; probably underspeeded the camera,—an old, old trick which
has helped to put the dash and ginger into many a poor horseman's act.
But the "XY cowboys" certainly surged up to foreground, and it was seen
that they rode with reins in their teeth, and that each and every man
fired two huge six-shooters straight up at the moon every time their
horses hit the ground with forefeet. The Happy Family leaned forward and
craned around the heads of those in front that they might see all of it.
Luck had told them before making this scene to "eat 'em alive," and the
Happy Family had very nearly done so. Andy Green nudged his wife,
Rosemary, and whispered hurriedly that this was where the camera man had
pulled up his tripod by the roots and beat it, thinking he was going to
be run over; and that was why the scene was cut unexpectedly just where
Andy set his horse on its haunches and posed, a heroic figure of a cowboy
rampant, immediately before the lens.
Luck, glancing hurriedly to right and left, slid down and rested the nape
of his neck on the back of his chair, slipped a fresh stick of gum
between his teeth, hung his hat on his knee, and prepared to view his
work with critical mind and impartial, and with his conscience like his
body at ease. The thing had certainly started off with zip enough, since
zip was what Mart claimed the Public demanded.
The next scene was a continuation of the one before,—the camera man
having evidently recovered himself and gotten to work again. The Happy
Family, still surging and still shooting two guns apiece at the pale
moon, were shown entering the saloon door four abreast and with the rest
crowding for place. Still there was zip; all kinds of zip. The Happy
Family nudged and grinned in the dusk and were very much pleased with
themselves as XY cowboys seeking mild entertainment in town.
Some one behind remarked upon the surging and the shooting, and Big
Medicine turned his head quickly and sent a hoarse stage whisper in the
general direction of the mumble.
"Ah-h, that there ain't anything! Luck never let us turn ourselves loose
there a-tall. You wait, by cripes, till yuh see us where we git warmed up
and strung out proper! You wait! Honest to gran'—" It was Luck's elbow
that stopped him by the simple expedient of cutting off his wind. Big
Medicine gave a grunt and said no more.
Thereafter, the Happy Family discovered that there was a certain
continuity in the barbaric performances in which Luck had grinningly
encouraged them to indulge themselves. They beheld themselves engaged in
various questionable enterprises, and they laughed in naïve enjoyment as
certain bloodcurdling traits in their characters were depicted with
startling vividness. Accented by make-up and magnified on the screen, the
goggling, frog-like ugliness of Big Medicine became like unto ogres of
childish memory; his smile was a thing to make one's back hair stand up
with a cold, prickling sensation. Happy Jack stared at himself and his
exaggerated awkwardness incredulously, with a sheepish grin of
appreciation. The rest of them watched and missed no slightest gesture.
So they saw the plot of Bently Brown unfold, scene by scene; unfold in
violence and malevolent intrigue and zip and much fighting. Also unfolded
something of which Bently Brown had never dreamed; something which the
audience, though greeting it with laughter, failed at first to recognize
for what it was worth, because every one knew all about the Bently-Brown
Western dramas, and every one believed that they were to be made after
the usual recipe more elaborately stirred. So every one had been
chortling through several scenes before the significance of their
laughter occurred to them.
Comedy—that was it. Comedy, that had slipped in with cap and bells
just when the door was flung open for black-robed Tragedy. But it was
too late to stop laughing when they discovered the trick. They saw it
now, in the very sub-titles which Luck had twisted impishly into sly
humor that pointed to the laugh, in the deeds of blood that followed.
They saw it in the goggling ferocity of Big Medicine; in the
innocent-eyed, dimpled fiendishness of Pink; in the lank awkwardness of
Happy Jack. They saw it in the sentimental mannerisms of Lenore
Honiwell, whose sickish emotionalism slipped pat into the burlesque.
They rocked in their seats at the heroics of Tracy Gray Joyce, who
could never again be taken seriously, since Luck had tagged him
mercilessly as an unconscious comedian.
Oh, yes, there was zip to the picture! But there was no explanation of
the title. The Soul of Littlefoot Law remained as great a mystery when
the picture was finished as it had been at the start. Littlefoot Law, by
the way, was Pink. That much the audience discovered, and no more; for as
to his soul, he did not seem to own one.
Luck, still hunched down so that his back hair rubbed against his chair
back, was laughing with his jaws wide apart and his fine teeth still
gleaming in the half darkness, when Ted, general errand boy at the
office, came straddling over intervening laps and laid a compelling hand
on his shoulder.
"Say, Luck," he whispered excitedly, "the audience author's with Mart,
and they both want t' see you. And, say, I guess you're in Dutch, all
right; the author's awful mad, and so is Mart. But say, no matter what
they do to you, Luck, take it from me, that pit'cher's a humdinger! I
like to died a-laughing!"
BENTLY BROWN DOES NOT APPRECIATE COMEDY
Luck unhooked his hat from his knee, brought his laughing jaws together
with that eloquent, downward tilt to the corners of his mouth, sat up
straight, considered swiftly the possibilities of the next half hour, and
paid tribute in one expressive word of four letters before he went
crawling over half a dozen pairs of knees to do battle for his picture.
His picture, you understand. For since he had made it irresistible comedy
instead of very mediocre drama, he felt all the pride of creation in his
work. That was his picture that had set the Acme people laughing,—they
who had come to carp and to talk knowingly of continuity and of technique
and dramatic values, and to criticize everything from the sets to the
photography. It was his picture; he had made it what it was. So he went
as a champion rather than as a culprit to face the powers above him.
Martinson and Bently Brown were waiting for him near the door. They were
not going to stay and see the next picture run, and that, in Luck's
opinion, was a bad-weather sign. But he came up to them cheerfully,
turning his hat in his fingers to find the front of it before he set it
on his head. (These limp, wool, knockabout hats are always more or less
confusing, and Luck was fastidious about his apparel.)
"Ah—Mr. Brown, this is Mr. Lindsay, ah—director who is producing your
stories." Martinson's tone was as neutral as he could make it.
Luck said that he was glad to meet Mr. Brown, which was a lie. At the
same instant he found the stitched-down bow on his hat, and from there
felt his way to the front. At the same time he decided that there was
going to be something doing presently, if Mart's manner meant anything at
all. Mart was a peaceable soul, and in the approaching crisis Luck knew
he would climb hurriedly upon the fence of neutrality and stay there; and
Luck could fight or climb a tree as he chose.
They went outside, and Luck turned his eyes sidewise and took a look at
Bently Brown. He measured him mentally from pigskin puttees to rakish,
stiff brimmed Stetson with careful dimples in the crown and a leather
hatband stamped with horses' heads and his initials. In a picture, Luck
would have cast Bently Brown, costume and all, for a comedy mining
engineer or something of that sort. You know the type: He arrives on the
stage that is held up, and is always in the employ of the monied octopus,
and the cowboys who pursue and capture the bandits have fun afterwards
with the engineer,—so much fun that he crawls out of an up-stairs window
in the night and departs hastily and forever from that place. You are
perfectly familiar with the character, I am sure.
Luck, after that swift, comprehensive glance, was not greatly alarmed. In
that he made his greatest blunder. He should have reckoned with the
wounded vanity of the little author who believes himself great. He should
have reminded himself that Bently Brown was not a comedy mining engineer,
but that touchiest of all mortals, the nearly successful author. He
should have taken warning from the stiff-necked, stiff-backed gait of
Bently Brown on the short walk to the office. He should have read danger
in the blinking lids of his pale eyes, and in his self-conscious manner
of looking straight before him.
In the office, then, luck basely deserted one Luck Lindsay, and left him
to fight a losing battle. For Bently Brown was incensed, insulted, and
outraged over the manner in which The Soul of Littlefoot Law had been
filmed. The story had been caricatured out of all semblance to its
original self. Littlefoot Law had been shown as having no soul whatever.
Instead of being permitted to make the final, supreme sacrifice of his
life for the honor of his enemy,—which would have revealed to the
audience his possession of a clean white soul in spite of his bad
character,—he had been made out a little fiend who would shoot you on
the slightest provocation. The girl had been thrust into the background,
and the hero had been made into a coward and a paltry villain; they were
all desperadoes upon the screen. Never in his life had Bently Brown been
made to suffer such an affront. Never had he dreamed that his work would
be made a thing to laugh at—
"They certainly did laugh," Luck lazily interrupted. "And believe me, Mr.
Brown, it takes real stuff to collect a laugh out of that bunch. It will
be a riot with the public; you can bank on that. By the time I get a few
more made and released, you can expect to see your name in the papers
without paying advertising rates." Whatever possessed Luck to talk that
way to Bently Brown, I cannot say. He surely must have seen that the
little, over-costumed author was choking with spleen.
"It was a farce!" The small, yellow mustache of Bently Brown was
twitching comically with the tremble of his lips beneath. "A bald,
"Surest thing you know," Luck agreed, with that little chuckle of his.
"At first I was afraid the crowd wouldn't get it; I didn't know but they
might try to take it seriously. Now, I know for certain that it will get
over. It will be the cleanest, funniest, farce-comedy series that has
ever been filmed." Luck sat up straight and pulled a cigar from his
pocket and looked at it absent-mindedly. "Say, those boys of mine are
certainly real ones! I wouldn't trade that bunch for the highest-salaried
actors you could hand me. Do you know what made that picture such a
scream? It was because there wasn't a bit of made-to-order comedy
business in the whole film. Those boys didn't think about acting funny
just to make folks laugh. They were so doggoned busy having fun with the
story and showing up its weak points that they forgot to be
self-conscious. If I'd had a regular comedy company working on it,
believe me, Mr. Brown, it might have turned out almost as rotten a farce
as it would be as a drama!"
Had Bently Brown owned under his pink skin any of the primitive instincts
which he was so fond of portraying in his characters, he would have
killed Luck without any further argument or delay.
Instead of that he spluttered and stormed like a scolding woman. He
lifted first one puttee and then the other, and he shook his fist, and
he nodded his head violently, and finally was constrained to lift the
leather-banded Stetson from his blond hair and wipe the perspiration
from his brow with a lavender initialed handkerchief. He said a great
deal in a very few minutes, but it was too involved, too incoherent to
be repeated here. Luck gathered, however, that he meant to sue the Acme
Company for about nine million dollars damages to his feelings and his
reputation, if The Soul of Littlefoot Law was released in its present
form. He battered at Luck's grinning composure with his full supply of
invectives. When he perceived that Luck's eyes twinkled more and more
while they watched him, and that Luck's smile was threatening to
explode into laughter, Bently Brown shook his fist at the two of them,
shrilled something about seeing his lawyer at once, and went out and
slammed the door.
"Lor-dee! He'd make a hit in comedy, that fellow," Luck observed
placidly, and lighted the cigar he had been holding. "What's he mean—'
sue the company'?"
"He means sue the company," Martinson retorted grimly. "That clause in
the contract where we agree to produce his stories in a manner befitting
the quality and fame of these several stories in fiction; he's got
grounds for action there, and he's going to make the most of it. He's
sore, anyway. Some one's been telling him he practically made us a
present of his stuff."
"Hell!" said Luck. "Why didn't you say so?"
"Why didn't you say that you were turning that stuff into farce-comedy?"
Martinson came back sharply. "I could have told you it wouldn't get by. I
knew Brown wouldn't stand for anything like that; and I knew he could put
the gaff into us on that 'manner befitting' clause."
"It's a wonder you wouldn't have jarred loose from some of that wisdom,"
Luck observed tartly. "You never gave me any dope at all on this Bently
Brown person. You handed me the junk he stung you on—and believe me, as
drama he'd have stung you with it as a present!—you handed it to me to
film. I made the most of it."
"You made a mess of it," Martinson corrected peevishly.
"You laughed," Luck pointed out laconically. Then his eyes twinkled
suddenly. "'Laugh and the world laughs with you,'" he quoted shamelessly,
and took a long, satisfying suck at his cigar.
"The world won't step up and pay damages to Bently Brown," Martinson
reminded him, "if that picture is released as it stands. How many have
you made, so far?"
"I'm finishing the third; getting funnier, too, as they go along."
"You've got to cut out that funny business. You'll have to retake this
whole thing, Luck; make it straight drama. We can't afford a lawsuit,
these hard times—and injunctions tying up the releases, and damages to
pay when the thing's thrashed out in court. You'll have to retake this
whole picture. Nice bunch of useless expense, I must say, when I've
been chasing nickels off the expense account of this company and
sitting up nights nursing profits! We'll have to cut salaries now, to
break even on this fluke. I've left the payroll alone so far. That's
the worst of a break like this. The whole company has got to pay for
every blunder from now on."
Luck's eyes hardened while he listened. He did not call his work a
blunder, and the charge did not sit well coming from another.
"Buy off Bently Brown," he advised crisply. "Offer him a new contract,
naming this stuff as comedy. Advertise them as the famous comedies of
Bently Brown, the well-known author. Show him some good publicity dope
along that line. Give him the credit of making the stories live ones.
This series will be a money-maker, and a big one, if ever they reach the
screen. You're old enough in the business to know that, Mart. You saw how
this film hit the bunch, and you know what it takes to rouse any
enthusiasm in the projection room. And take it from me, Mart—this is
straight!—that's the only way in God's world to make that series take
hold at all. As drama the stuff is hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. It's
only by giving it the twist I gave it that it will get over. You do that,
Mart. You kid this Bently Brown into being featured as the humorist of
the age, and pay him a little something for swallowing his disappointment
as a dramatic author. I'll go ahead with my boys, and we'll deliver the
goods. You do that, and you'll be setting up nights counting profits
instead of nursing them!"
Martinson began to stir up the litter on his desk,—another bad-weather
sign. "I can't waste time talking nonsense," he snapped. "I've got plenty
to do without that. That stuff has got to be retaken; every foot of it,
if you've gone on burlesquing the action. I happen to know that Brown
wouldn't consider such a compromise. You've made a bad break, and I
believe you made the first one when you brought that bunch of cowboys
back with you. If they can do straight dramatic acting, all right; if
not, you'd better let them out and start over with professionals."
For a peaceable man, Martinson was angry. He had taken some trouble in
smoothing down the ruffled temper of Bently Brown, even before viewing
the trial run of the picture. Martinson hated disputes as a cat hates to
walk in fresh-fallen snow, and the parting tirade of Bently Brown had
affected him unpleasantly.
For a full two minutes Luck smoked and did not speak, and as he had done
once before, Martinson repented his harshness when it was too late.
"Personally, your version struck me as awfully funny," he began
"Who gives a cuss how it struck you personally?" Luck stood up with
unexpected haste. "You trim and truckle to every one that comes along
with a gold brick, and that's why you have to sit up nights to nurse the
profits. If you had a little stiffening in your back, the profits would
show up better. You paid good money for this bunch of rot, and turned it
over to me to whip into a profitable investment. You can make the rounds
of the studio and get a vote on whether I've done it or not. Put it up to
your Public; they'll mighty soon let you know whether the film's a
money-getter. If it is, your business as general manager and president of
the Acme Film Company is to get Bently Brown in line for the production
to go on. A clause such as you mention in the agreement with him shows a
bigger blunder on your part than anything I've done or ever will do. If
you'd had as much sense as Ted, you'd have kept that clause out. If you'd
had half as much brains as the comedy burro out in the corral you'd never
have loaded up with that stuff, anyway; you'd have seen at a glance that
it was rotten.
"Now, I've shown what I can do with those stories. I've taken your bad
bargain and put it into a money-making shape. As to the break I made in
getting those boys out here, you'll have to show me—that's all. They
seem, to have made good all right, judging from the way that film took
with the crowd. And if you ask my opinion as a director, they beat any
near-professional on the Acme pay roll. My work, and their work, goes
right along as it has started—or it stops. If you want those stories
worked up in a lot of darned, sickly, slush melodrama, you can set some
simp at it that don't know any better." Luck stopped and shut his teeth
together against some personal remarks that he would later feel ashamed
of having uttered. He turned to the door, swallowed hard, and forced
himself to a dignified calm before he spoke again.
"You know my phone number, Mart. By seven in the morning I'll expect to
hear from you. You can tell me then whether I'm to go ahead with these
stories the way I've started, or whether to pull out of the Company
altogether. One or the other. I'll want to know in the morning." Then
he went out.
"Dammit, who's running this company—you or I?" Martinson called
after him heatedly. But Luck was already standing on the steps and
hoisting his umbrella against the drizzle, and he did not give any
sign that he heard.
"THERE'S GOT TO BE A LINE DRAWED SOMEWHERES"
By seven o'clock in the morning,—since that was his ultimatum,—Luck
was standing in his bare feet and pajamas, acrimoniously arguing with
Martinson over the telephone. Usually he was up at six, but he was a
stubborn young man, and the day promised much rainfall, anyway. He
would have preferred sunshine; the stand he meant to take would have
had more weight in working weather. But since he could not prevent the
morning from being a rainy one, he permitted more determination to slip
into his tones.
Martinson had spent an unpleasant evening with Bently Brown, or so he
declared. He had called up several stockholders of the Acme, and had
talked the matter over with them, and—
"Well, cut the preamble, Mart," snapped Luck, trying to warm one foot by
rubbing it with the other one. "Do I go on with the work, or don't I?"
"From the looks of the weather—" Mart began to temporize.
"Weather cuts no figure with this matter. You know what I mean. What's
the decision?" Luck scowled at the pretty girl on his wall calendar, and
began to rub his right foot with the left and to curse the janitor with
that part of his brain not occupied with the conversation.
"Well, listen. You come out to the office, after awhile, and we'll go
into this matter calmly," begged Martinson. "No use in letting that
temper of yours run away with you, Luck. You know we all—"
"What did Bently Brown say? Did you put the proposition up to him as I
"Luck, you know I told you Brown wouldn't consider—"
"Say, Mart, get all those rambling words out of your system, and then
call me up and tell me what I want to know!" And Luck hung up the
receiver and went shivering back to bed. From the things he said to
himself, he was letting that temper of his run away with him in spite of
He had just ceased having spasms of shivering, and had found his warm
nest of the night, and was feeling glad that it was raining so that he
could stay in bed as long as he liked, when the phone jingled shrilly
again. Had he been certain that it was Martinson, Luck would have lain
there and let it ring itself tired. But there is always the doubt when a
telephone bell calls peremptorily. He waited sulkily until the girl at
the switchboard in the office below settled down to prolong the siege.
Luck knew that girl would never quit now that she was sure he was in. He
crawled out again, this time dragging the bedspread with him for drapery.
"H'l-lo!" There was no compromise in his voice, which was guttural.
"Luck? This is Martinson. You are to retake all of the Bently Brown
pictures which you have made so far, under the personal supervision of
Bently Brown himself, who will pass upon all film before accepted by the
company. This is final."
"Martinson? This is Luck. You and Bently Brown and the Acme Film Company
can go where the heat's never turned off. This is final."
Whereupon Luck slammed the receiver into its brackets, trailed over to a
table and gleaned "the makings" from among the litter of papers,
programs, "stills," and letters, and rolled himself a much-needed smoke.
He was sorry chiefly because he had been compelled to use such mild
language over the telephone. It would be almost worth a trip to the
office just to tell Martinson without stint what he thought of him and
all his works.
He crawled back into bed and smoked his cigarette with due regard for the
bedclothes, and wondered what kind of a fool they took him for if they
imagined for one minute that he would produce so much as a sub-title
under the personal supervision of Bently Brown.
After awhile it occurred to him that, unless he relented from his final
statement to Martinson, he was a young man out of a job, but that did not
worry him much. Of course, if he left the Acme Company, he would have to
look around for an opening somewhere else, where he could take his Happy
Family and maybe produce….
Right there Luck got up and unlocked his trunk, which was also his chest
of treasures, and found the carbon copy of his range scenario. He had
not named it yet. In thinking of it and in talking about it with the
boys he had been content to call it his Big Picture. If he could place
himself and his Big Picture and his boys with some company that would
appreciate the value of the combination, his rupture with the Acme
Company would be simply a bit of good luck. While he huddled close to
the radiator that was beginning to hiss and rumble encouragingly, he
glanced rapidly over the meagerly described scenes which were to his
imagination so full of color.
"Pam. bleak mesa—snow—cattle drifting before wind. Dale and Johnny dis.
riding to foreground. Reg. cold—horses leg-weary—boys all in—"
To Luck, sitting there in his pajamas as close as he could get to a
slow-warming steam radiator, those curtailed sentences projected his
mental self into a land of cold and snow and biting wind, where the
cattle drifted dismally before the storm. Andy Green and Miguel Rapponi
were riding slowly toward him on shuffling horses as bone-weary as their
masters. Snow was packed in the wrinkles of the boys' clothing. Snow was
packed in the manes and tails of the horses that moved with their heads
drooping in utter dejection. "Boys all in," said the script laconically.
Luck, staring at the little thread of escaping steam from the radiator
valve, saw Andy and the Native Son drooping in the saddles, swaying
stiffly with the movements of their mounts. He saw them to the last
little detail,—to the drift of snow on their hatbrims and the tiny
icicles clinging to the high collars of their sourdough coats, where
their breath had frozen.
If he could get a company to let him put that on, he would not care, he
told himself, if he never made another picture in his life. If he could
get a company to send him and the boys where that stuff could be found—
Well, it was only eight o'clock in the morning, a rainy morning at that,
when all good movie people would lie late in bed for the pure luxury of
taking their ease. But Luck, besides acting upon strong convictions and
then paying the price without whimpering, never let an impulse grow stale
from want of use. He reached for the fat telephone directory and searched
out the numbers of those motion-picture companies which he did not
remember readily. Then, beginning at the first number on his hastily
compiled list, he woke five different managers out of their precious
eight-o'clock sleep to answer his questions.
Whatever they may have thought of Luck Lindsay just then, they replied
politely, and did not tell him offhand that there was no possible opening
for him in their companies. Three of them made appointments with him at
their offices. One promised to call him up just as soon as he "had a line
on anything." One said that, with the rainy weather coming on, they were
cutting down to straight studio stuff, but that he would keep Luck in
mind if anything turned up.
Then I suppose the whole five called him names behind his back,
figuratively speaking, for being such an early riser on such a day. Not
one of them asked him any questions about his reasons for leaving the
Acme; reasons, in the motion-picture business, are generally invented
upon demand and have but a fictitious value at best. And since it is
never a matter of surprise when any director or any member of any company
decides to try a new field, it would seem that change is one of the most
unchanging features of the business.
Luck had no qualms of conscience, either for his treatment of Martinson
and his overtures, or for his disturbances of five other perfectly
inoffensive movie managers. He dressed with mechanical precision and with
his mind shuttling back and forth from his Big Picture to the
possibilities of his next position. He folded his scenario and placed it
in a long envelope, hunted until he found his rubbers, took his raincoat
over his arm and his umbrella in his hand, and went blithely to the
elevator. It was too stormy for his machine, so he caught a street car
and went straight to the bungalow where the Happy Family were still
snoring at peace with the world and each other.
Still Luck had no qualms of conscience. He lingered in the kitchen just
long enough to say howdy to Rosemary Green who was anxiously watching a
new and much admired coffee percolator "to see if it were going to perk,"
she told him gravely. He assured Rosemary that he had come all the way
out there in the hope of being invited to breakfast. Then he went into a
sleep-charged atmosphere and gave a real, old-time range yell.
"Why, I saw that peaked little person with Mr. Martinson," Mrs. Andy
remarked slightingly at the breakfast table. "Was that Bently Brown?
And he has the nerve to want to stand around and boss you—oh, find, me
an umbrella, somebody! I shall choke if I can't go and tell him to his
silly, pink face what a conceited little idiot he is!" (You will see
why it was that Rosemary Green had been adopted without question as a
member of the Happy Family.) "I hope you told him straight out, Luck
Lindsay, that these boys would simply tear him limb from limb if he
ever dared to butt in on your work. Why, it's you that made the picture
fit to look at!"
Luck let his eyes thank her for her loyalty, and held out his empty cup
for more coffee. "I came out," he drawled quietly, "to find out what you
fellows are going to do about it. Of course, they'll get somebody else to
go ahead with the stuff, and you boys can stay with it—"
"Well, say! Did you come away out here in the rain to insult us fellers?"
Big Medicine roared suddenly from the foot of the table. "I'll take a lot
from you, but by cripes they's got to be a line drawed somewheres!"
"You bet. And right there's where we draw it, Luck," spoke up the dried
little man who seldom spoke at the table, but concentrated his attention
upon the joy of eating what Mrs. Andy set before him. "I come out here
to work for you. That peters out, by gorry I'll go back to chufferin a
baggage truck in Sioux, North Dakoty. Kin I have a drop more coffee,
While Rosemary proudly brought her new percolator in from the kitchen and
refilled his cup, Luck Lindsay sat and endured the greatest
tongue-lashing of his life. Furthermore, he seemed to enjoy the chorus of
reproaches and threats and recriminations. He chuckled over the eloquence
of Andy Green, and he grinned at the belligerence of Pink and the
melancholy of Happy Jack.
"I don't guess you're crazy to work under Bently Brown," he finally
managed to slide into the uproar. "Do I get you as meaning to stick with
me—wherever I go?"
"You get us that way or you get licked," Weary, the mild-tempered one,
stated flatly. "You can fire us and send us home, but you can't walk off
and leave us with the Acme, 'cause we won't stay."
That was what Luck had ridden twelve cold, rainy miles to hear the Happy
Family declare. He had expected them to take that stand, but it was good
to hear it spoken in just that tone of finality. He stacked his cup and
saucer in his plate, laid his knife and fork across them in the old range
style, and began to roll a cigarette,—smoking at the table being another
comfortable little bad habit which Rosemary Green wisely and smilingly
"That being the case," he began cheerfully, "you boys had best go over
with me now and give in your two weeks' notice. I'm director of our
company till I quit—see? I'll arrange for your transportation home—"
"Aw, gwan! Who said we was goin' home?" wailed Happy Jack distressfully.
"Now, listen! You're entitled to your transportation money. That doesn't
mean you'll have to use it for that purpose—sabe? It's coming to you,
and you get it. There's a week's salary due all around, too, besides the
two weeks you'll get by giving notice. No use passing up any bets like
that. So let's go, boys. I've got an appointment at one o'clock, and I
may as well wipe the Acme slate clean this forenoon, so I can talk
business without any come-back from Mart, or any tag ends to pick up.
Grab your slickers and let's move."
That was a busy day for Luck Lindsay, in spite of the fact that it was a
stormy one. His interview with Mart, which he endured mostly for the sake
of the Happy Family, developed into a quarrel which severed beyond
mending his connection with the Acme.
It was noon when he reached his hotel, and his wrath had not cooled with
the trip into town. There were two 'phone calls in his mail, he
discovered, and one bore an urgent request that he call Hollywood
something-or-other the moment he returned. This was from the Great
Western Film Company, and Luck's eyes brightened while he read it. He
went straight to his room and called up the Great Western.
Presently he found himself speaking to the great Dewitt himself, and his
blood was racing with the possibilities of the interview. Dewitt had
heard that Luck was leaving the Acme—extras may be depended upon for
carrying gossip from one studio to another,—and was wasting no time in
offering him a position. His Western director, Robert Grant Burns whom
Luck knew well, had been carried to the hospital with typhoid fever which
he had contracted while out with his company in what is known as Nigger
Sloughs,—a locality more picturesque than healthful. Dewitt feared that
it was going to be a long illness at the very best. Would Luck consider
taking the company and going on with the big five-reel feature which
Burns had just begun? Dewitt was prepared to offer special inducements
and to make the position a permanent one. He would give Burns a dramatic
company to produce features at the studio, he said, and would give Luck
the privilege of choosing his own scenarios and producing them in his own
way. Could Luck arrange to meet Dewitt at four that afternoon?
Luck could, by cancelling his appointment with a smaller and less
important company, which he did promptly and with no compunctions
whatever. He did more than that; he postponed the other two appointments,
knowing in his heart that his chances would not be lessened thereby.
After that he built a castle or two while he waited for the appointment.
The Great Western Company had been a step higher than he had hoped to
reach. Robert Grant Burns he had considered a fixture with the company.
It had never entered his mind that he might possibly land within the
Great Western's high concrete wall,—and that other wall which was higher
and had fewer gates, and which was invisible withal. That the great
Dewitt himself should seek Luck out was just a bit staggering. He wanted
to go out and tell the bunch about it, but he decided to wait until
everything was settled. Most of all he wanted the Acme to know that
Dewitt wanted him; that would be a real slap in the face of Mart's
judgment, a vindication of Luck's abilities as a director.
What Luck did was to telephone the hospital and learn all he could about
Burns' condition. He was genuinely sorry that Burns was sick, even though
he was mightily proud of being chosen as Burns' successor. He even found
himself thinking more about Burns, after the first inner excitement wore
itself out, than about himself. Burns was a good old scout. Luck hated to
think of him lying helpless in the grip of typhoid. So it was with mixed
emotions that he went to see Dewitt.
Dewitt wanted Luck—wanted him badly. He was frank enough to let Luck see
how much he wanted him. He even told Luck that, all things being equal,
he considered Luck a better Western director than was Robert Grant Burns,
in spite of the fact that Burns had scored a big success with his Jean,
of the Lazy A serial. You cannot wonder that Luck's spirits rose to
buoyancy when he heard that. Also, Dewitt named a salary bigger than Luck
had ever received in his life, and nearly double what the Acme had paid
him. Luck spoke of his Big Picture, and when he outlined it briefly,
Dewitt did not say that it seemed to lack action.
Dewitt had watched Luck with his keen blue eyes, and had observed that
Luck owned that priceless element of success, which is enthusiasm for his
work. Dewitt had listened, and had told Luck that he would like to see
the Big Picture go on the screen, and that he would be willing to pay him
for the scenario and let him make it where and how he pleased. He even
volunteered to try and persuade Jean Douglas, of Lazy A fame, to come
back and play the leading woman's part.
"That's one thing that has been bothering me a little," Luck owned
gratefully. "Of course I considered her absolutely out of reach. But with
her for my leading woman, and the boys holding up the range end as
they're capable of doing—"
Dewitt gave him a quick look. "Yes, my boys are able to do that," he said
distinctly. "They have been well trained in Western dramatic work."
Luck braced himself. "When I mentioned the boys," he said, "I meant
my boys that I brought from the Flying U outfit, up in Montana. They
go with me."
Dewitt did not answer that statement immediately. He inspected his finger
nails thoughtfully before he glanced up. "It's a pity, but I'm afraid
that cannot be managed, Mr. Lindsay. The boys in my Western company have
been with me, some of them, since the Independent Sales Company was
organized. They worked for next to nothing till I got things started. Two
or three are under contracts. You will understand me when I say that my
boys must stay where they are." He waited for a minute, and watched
Luck's face grow sober. "I have heard about your Happy Family," he added.
"There has been a good deal of discussion, I imagine, among the studios
about them. Ordinarily I should be glad to have you bring those boys with
you; but as matters stand, it is impossible. Our Western Company is full,
and I could not let these boys go to make room for strangers,—however
good those strangers might be. You understand?"
"Certainly I understand." But Luck's face did not brighten.
"Can't they stay on with the Acme? From what I hear, the Acme's Western
Company is not large at best."
"They can stay, yes. But they won't. The whole bunch gave in their
two weeks' notice this morning." There was a grim satisfaction in
"Left when you did, I suppose?"
"That's just exactly what they did. I told them they better stay, and
they nearly lynched me for it."
"Have you made any agreement with them in regard to placing them with
another company—for instance?"
"Certainly not. Some things don't have to be set down in black and
"I—see." Dewitt did see. What he saw worried him, even though it
increased his respect for Luck Lindsay. He studied his nails more
critically than before.
"These boys—have they any resources at all, other than their work in
pictures? Did they burn their bridges when they came with you?"
"Oh, far as that goes, they've all got ranches. They wouldn't starve."
Luck's voice was inclined to gruffness under quizzing.
"As I see the situation," Dewitt went on evenly and with a logic that
made Luck squirm with its very truthfulness, "they left their ranches and
came with you to work in pictures in a spirit of adventure, we might say.
There is a glamour; and your personal influence, your enthusiasm, had its
effect. Should they go back to their ranches now, they would carry back a
fresh outlook and a fund of experiences that would season conversation
agreeably for months to come. They will not have lost financially, I take
it. They will have had a vacation which has in many ways been a
profitable one. Should the question be laid before them, I venture the
assertion that they would urge you to take this position with us.
"They would feel some disappointment of course—just as you would feel
sorry not to be able to bring them with you. But no reasonable man would
blame you or expect you to bear the handicap of six or seven
inexperienced young fellows. You must see that your only hope of placing
them would be with some new company just starting up. And this is not the
season for young companies. Next spring you might stand a better chance."
"Yes, that's all true enough," Luck admitted, since Dewitt plainly
expected some reply. "At the same time—"
"There is no immediate need of a decision," Dewitt hastily completed
Luck's sentence. "From all weather reports, this storm is going to be a
long one. I doubt very much if you could get to work for several days.
I wish you would think it over from all sides before you accept or
refuse the proposition, Mr. Lindsay. Lay the matter before your boys;
tell them frankly just how things stand. I'll guarantee they will
insist upon your accepting the position. I know, and you know, that it
will give you a better opportunity than you have had in some time. And
I am going to say candidly that I believe you need only the opportunity
to make your work stand out above all the others. That is why I sent
for you this morning. I believe you have big possibilities, and I want
you with the Great Western."
There was that instant of silence which terminates all conferences. Then
Luck rose, and Dewitt tilted back his office chair and swung it away from
the desk so that he was still facing Luck. So the two looked at each
other measuringly for a moment.
"I certainly appreciate your good opinion of me, Mr. Dewitt," Luck said.
"Whether I take the place or not, I want to thank you for offering it to
me. It all looks fine—the chance of my life; but I can't—"
"No, don't say any more." Dewitt raised his hand. "You do as I
suggest; tell the boys just what has passed, if you like. Let them
decide for you."
"No, that wouldn't be fair. They'd decide for my interests and forget
about their own. I know that."
"Well, let's just wait a day or two. You think it over. Think what you
could do with Jean Douglas, for instance. I'll try and get her back; I
think perhaps I can. She's married, but I think they'll both come if I
make it worth their while. Come and see me day after to-morrow, will you?
We'll say four o'clock again. Good-by."
So Luck went away with temptation whispering in his ear.
LEAVE IT TO THE BUNCH
Not a word did Luck say to the Happy Family about his big opportunity.
Instead, he avoided them half guiltily, and he filled the next day and
the one after that by seeing, or trying to see, the head of every motion
picture company in that part of the State. He even sent a night letter to
a big company at Santa Barbara. Always he stipulated that he must take
his own cowboys with him and have a free hand in the production of
Western pictures—since he did not mean to risk having another irate
author descend upon him with threats of a lawsuit.
By three o'clock of the day when he was to give Dewitt his decision,
Luck was convinced that the two conditions he never failed to mention
were as two iron bars across every trail that might otherwise have been
open to him. No motion picture company seemed to feel that it needed
seven inexperienced men on its payroll. A few general managers
suggested letting them work as extras, but the majority could not see
the proposition at all. They were more willing to give Luck the free
hand which he demanded, had negotiations ever reached that far, which
they did not.
The Happy Family, Luck was forced to admit to himself, was a very serious
handicap for an out-of-work director to carry at the beginning of the
rainy season. He did his best, and he spent two sleepless nights over the
doing, but he simply could not land them anywhere. He talked himself
hoarse for them, he painted them geniuses all; he declared that they
would make themselves and their company—supposing they were
accepted—famous for Western pictures. He worked harder to place them in
the business than he would ever work to find himself a job, and he failed
Dewitt's eyes questioned him the moment he stood inside the office.
Dewitt had heard something of Luck's efforts since their last meeting;
and although he admired Luck the more for his loyalty, he felt quite
certain that now he was convinced of his defeat, Luck would hesitate no
longer over stepping into the official shoes of Robert Grant Burns, who
was lying on his broad back, and shouting pitifully futile commands to
his company and asking an imaginary camera-man questions which were as
Greek to the soft-footed nurse. Dewitt, having just come from a visit to
Burns, had a vivid mental picture of that ward in the Sister's hospital.
But alongside that picture was another, quite as vivid, of Luck Lindsay
standing beside Pete Lowry's camera with a script in his hand, explaining
to Jean Douglas the business of some particular scene.
"Well?" queried Dewitt, and motioned Luck to a chair.
"Well," Luck echoed, and stopped for a breath. "No use wasting time, Mr.
Dewitt. I can't take any position that doesn't include the Flying U boys.
I'm certainly sorry that prevents my accepting your offer. I appreciate
all it would mean for me and for my Big Picture to be with you. But—some
things mean more—"
"You're under no obligations to tie your own hands just because theirs
are not free," Dewitt reminded him sharply.
"I know I'm not."
"Can you figure where it will be to their advantage for you to refuse a
good position just because they happen to be out of work?"
"I'm not trying to figure anything like that. Some things don't have to
be figured. Some things just are! Do you see what I mean? Those boys
didn't wait to do any figuring. When I quit the Acme, they quit—just as
a matter of course. If I were as loyal to them as they have been to me,
Mr. Dewitt, I wouldn't have taken two days to give you my answer. I'd
have told you day before yesterday what I'm telling you now."
Dewitt did not reply at once. When he did speak he seemed to be answering
an argument within himself.
"I can't let my own boys go to make room for yours. That is absolutely
out of the question. There is a little matter of loyalty there, also."
"I know there is. I don't know that I should want you to let them go.
We're both in the same position almost. And we're at a deadlock, Mr.
Dewitt. I'm certainly sorry that I can't sign up with you."
"So am I, young man. So am I. Come back if things shape themselves so you
can see your way clear to directing my Western company. I've an idea your
boys will be going back to their ranches before the holidays. In case
they do, let me hear from you."
That was more than Luck had any right to expect, and he had the sense to
realize it. He thanked Dewitt and promised, and went away with something
of a load off his mind. He could go now and face the Happy Family without
feeling himself another Judas.
He found them sitting around waiting for their supper and trying to
invent new words to fit their disgust with the Acme Film Company. They
greeted Luck as though they had not seen him for a month.
"Bully for you, Luck!" Andy shouted, and gave him an approving slap on
the shoulder that sent him skating dangerously toward the table. "Best
job in town just came a-running up to you and says, 'Please take me!'—so
they say. That right?"
"Yeah—what about this here Great Western gitting its loop on you first
thing?" bawled Big Medicine gleefully. "By cripes, that's sure one on the
Acme bunch! They'll wisht they wasn't quite so fresh, givin' that little
tin imitation of an author so much rope. Me 'n' Pink was over to the
studio to-day; honest to grandma, they was a sick lookin' bunch around
there. Me 'n' Pink sure throwed it into 'em too, about letting the only
real man they had git away from 'em the way they done."
"My gorry, son, I sure am tickled to see yuh light with both feet
under yuh, like they say you done. I heard tell the Great Western's
going to let yuh put on your own pitcher; I guess them Acme folks'll
feel kinda foolish when they see it," declared the dried little man,
grinning over his pipe.
Luck was fighting his bewilderment and framing a demand for explanations
when Rosemary bustled in from the kitchen.
"Oh, but we're glad, Luck Lindsay!" she began in her quick, emphatic way.
"We all feel like a million dollars over your good luck. We're going to
have fried chicken and strawberry shortcake for supper, too, just for a
celebration. I knew you'd come out and tell us all about it. So sit right
down, everybody, and keep still so Luck can tell us just what everybody
said to the other fellow, and how Dewitt happened to get hold of him so
quickly. Is it true? The boys heard you were going to get two hundred
dollars a week!"
"Not get it—no." Luck unfolded his napkin with fingers that shook a
little. "I was offered it, but I'm not going to take it."
"Not—why, Luck Lindsay!" Rosemary very nearly dropped her new
"Aw, gwan! Only reason I wouldn't take two hundred a week would be
because I'd drop dead at the chance and couldn't."
"Well, listen. There's one point that hasn't spilled into studio gossip
yet," Luck managed to slip into the uproar. "I didn't take the place.
There were some details we couldn't get together on, so I thanked him and
turned it down."
There was silence, while the Happy Family stared at him.
"What dee-tails was them?" Big Medicine demanded belligerently. "Way I
"Studio gossip," Luck interrupted hastily. "You can't depend on anything
you hear passed around amongst the extras. We failed to agree on certain
technical details. I haven't any more job than a jack rabbit; let it go
at that. What have you fellows been doing?"
"Us? Why, the Acme's goin' to give us absent, treatment from now on,"
Andy stated cheerfully. "They're paying us thirty a week apiece to stay
away from 'em—and I sure never earned money easier than that. Clements
is going to take orders from that so-called author, and he told me
straight out that they'll be using actors in those stories."
"They'll need 'em," Luck commented drily. "You're in luck that they don't
want you to work. Any other news?"
"You bet they's other news!" roared Big Medicine, goggling across the
table at Luck. "I rustled me a job, by cripes! Soon as this rain's
over, I'm goin' to cash in my face fer two dollars a day with the
Sunset. Feller over there wants me bad fer atmosphere in a pitcher he's
goin' to make of the Figy Islands. Feller claims he can clothe me in a
nigger wig and a handful of grass and get more atmosphere, by cripes,
to the square inch—"
Rosemary gasped and bolted for the kitchen. When she came back, red-faced
and still gurgling spasmodically, Pink was relating his experiences with
another company. He and the Native Son and Weary, it transpired, were
duly enrolled upon the extra list and were reasonably sure of a day's
work now and then. Rosemary had paid her Japanese maid and let her go,
and Andy was going to help her with the housework until the industrial
problem was solved. She listened for a minute and then made a suggestion
of her own.
"We're all in the same boat," she said, "and by just sticking together, I
know we'll come out swimmingly. Why don't you leave the hotel, and come
out here and batch with us, Luck? It would be so much cheaper; and I can
turn that couch in the kitchen into a bed, easy as anything. I'd like to
shake that Great Western Company for acting the way they have with you.
Think of offering a man a two-hundred-a-week position and then
"Say, Luck," the dried little man spoke up suddenly, "how much does one
of them there camaries cost? I'd be willin' to chip in and help buy one;
and, by gorry, we could make some movin' pitchers of our own and sell
'em, if we caji't do no better." He craned his neck and peered the length
of the table at Luck. "Ain't no law ag'in it, is there?" he challenged.
"No, there's no law against it." Luck closed his lips against further
comment. The idea was like a sudden blow upon the door of his
The Happy Family looked at one another inquiringly. They had never
thought of doing anything like that. The dried little man may have
meditated much upon the subject, but he certainly had not given a hint of
it to any of them.
"Oh, why couldn't you boys do that?" Rosemary exclaimed breathlessly.
Luck stirred his coffee carefully and did not look up. "Don't run away
with the idea that you can buy a camera for twenty or thirty dollars," he
quelled. "A camera, complete with tripod, lenses, magazines, and cases,
would cost about fourteen hundred dollars—at least."
That, as he had expected it to do, rather feazed the Happy Family for a
few minutes. They became interested in the food they were eating, and
their eyes did not stray far from their plates.
"I can ante two hundred," Weary remarked at last with elaborate
carelessness, reaching for more butter.
"See yuh and raise yuh fifty," Andy Green retorted briskly. "I've got a
wife that's learning me to save money."
"You can count my chips for all I got." Pink's dimples showed briefly.
"I'll go through my pockets when I get filled up, and see how rich I am.
But, anyway, there's a couple of hundred I know I've got,—counting Acme
handouts and all."
"We-ell—" the dried little man laid down his fork to rub his chin
thoughtfully, "I never had much call to spend money in Sioux,
North-Dakoty. I batched and lived savin'. I can put in half of that
fourteen hundred—mebby a little mite more."
"Well, by cripes, I got a boy t' look out fer, and I ain't rich as some,
but all I got goes in the pot!" cried Big Medicine impulsively.
Luck leaned back in his chair and regarded the flushed faces
enigmatically. "This is all good material for an argument on our
financial standing," he said, "but if you're taking yourselves seriously,
let me tell you something before you go any farther. Buying a camera is
only a starter. Besides, I wouldn't play with little stuff and compete
with these big, established companies releasing on regular programs. Say,
for the sake of argument, that we cooperate and go into this; all I'd
handle would be features,—State's rights stuff. (Make big four-or-five
reelers, and sell the rights in as many States as possible; that's what
it amounts to.) But it isn't a thing to play with, boys. Let's do our
joking about something else."
Rosemary set her two elbows upon the table, clasped her hands together,
and dropped her chin upon them so that she was looking at Luck from under
her eyebrows. That pose meant determination and an argumentative mood.
"I've been doing a little mental arithmetic," she began. "Also I've done
a little thinking. I know now what spoiled that Great Western offer for
you, Luck Lindsay. It was because they wouldn't take the boys too. And
you turned it down because you—oh, they're the 'technical details,'
young man! You see? Your eyes give you away. I knew it, once the idea
popped into my head. What do you think of a fellow like that, boys?
Refused a two-hundred-a-week position because he couldn't get you fellows
a job too."
"That two hundred seems to worry you a good deal," Luck muttered, crimson
to his collar.
"Now don't interrupt, because I shall keep right on talking just the
same. I've a lot more to say. Do you realize that the donations these
boys have made already amounts to over fifteen hundred dollars? And that
does not include Happy Jack or Miguel, because they haven't—"
"Aw, gwan! I never had a chanct to git a word in edgeways," Happy
hurriedly defended his seeming parsimony. "I'm willin' to chip in."
"Well, the point is this: Why not all put in what you can, and just go
out where there are cattle, and make your Big Picture, Luck Lindsay? We
could live in the country cheaper than we can here: and there wouldn't be
anything to buy but grub,—just a bag of beans and some flour and coffee.
I'd be willing to starve for the sake of making that Big Picture!"
"By gracious, there's our transportation money, too!" Andy broke another
short silence. "Three hundred and fifty, right there in a lump."
"Let it stay transportation money, too!" Rosemary advised quickly. "It
can transport you fellows to where Luck wants to make his picture."
They waited then for Luck to speak, but he was too busy thinking. On his
shoulders would rest the responsibility of the outfit. On his word they
would rely absolutely and without question. It was no light matter to
lead these men into a venture which would take their time, more hard,
heart-breaking work than they could possibly foresee, and the last dollar
they possessed. He was sorely tempted to try it, but for their sakes he
knew he must not let their enthusiasm sweep away his sober judgment. Had
they owned but half his experience it would be different; but their very
ignorance of the game hampered his decision.
"Well, boss, how about it?" Andy urged. "Are yuh game to try her a whirl?
We haven't got much, but what we've got is yours if you want to tackle
it. We'll be right with you—till hell's no bigger than a bullet ladle."
"That's just what holds me back. I'd certainly hate to lead you up
against a losing proposition, boys. And if I went into it, I'd go in over
my eyebrows; if I didn't make good I wouldn't have the price of a tag on
a ten-cent sack of Bull Durham when I quit; so I couldn't pay you back—"
"Aw, thunder! Think we never set into a poker game in our lives? Think
we're in the habit of hollerin' for our chips back when we lose? What's
the matter with yuh, anyway?" cried Big Medicine wrathfully.
"Why, of course we share the risk of losing!" Rosemary scowled at him
indignantly. "We'll go in over our eyebrows, too,—and stand on our toes
long as we can, to keep our scalp locks showing above water!" Her brown
eyes twinkled a swift glance around the table. "If you think these boys
are quitters, Luck Lindsay, you just ought to have been around when they
were hanging on to their homesteads! I could tell you things—"
"You say buying a camera is just a starter. How much do you figure it
would cost to make our Big Picture? Cutting out salaries and all such
little luxuries, what would the actual expenses be—making a rough
guess?" Weary leaned forward over his plate and forgot all about his
tempting wedge of shortcake.
Luck pushed back his plate and smiled his smile. "For the Big Picture,"
he began, while the Happy Family leaned to listen, "there'd be the camera
and outfit,—I could pick up some things second hand,—we'll call that
fourteen hundred and fifty. Then there would be at least five thousand
feet of film: perforated raw stock I could get for about three and three
quarter cents a foot. Say a couple, of hundred dollars for that. We'd
need at least three dozen radium flares for our night scenes; they cost
close around twenty dollars a dozen. And one or two light
diffusers,—that's just to get us started with an outfit, remember. Then
there'd be our transportation to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I know that
country, and I know what I can do there. I'd hit straight for a ranch I
know between Bear Canyon and Rincon Arroyo—belongs to an old fellow that
sure is a character, too, in his way. Old bachelor, he is; got some
cattle and horses, and round-pole corrals and the like of that. I know
old Applehead Forrman like I know my right hand; we'd make Applehead's
place our headquarters—see? Exterior stuff we'd have right there, ready
to shoot without any expense. As for interiors,—say! any of you fellows
handy with hammer and saw?"
"By gracious, we all are!" Andy declared quickly. "We learned our little
lessons when we were building claim shacks for ourselves."
"Good enough! You boys could be stage mechanics as well as leading men,"
Luck grinned. "Add hammers and saws to the outfit. We'd have to build a
few interior sets."
Rosemary had her eyebrows tied in little knots, she was thinking so fast.
"I'll write the Little Doctor that she can have my silver teaset," she
informed Andy impulsively. "She offered me fifty dollars for it, you
know. That would buy lots of beans!"
Luck looked at her, but he did not say what was in his mind. Instead he
reached into an inner pocket and drew out his passbook, "I've got
eighteen hundred and ninety-five dollars in the bank," he announced,
reading the figures aloud. "And my car ought to bring three or four
thousand,—if I can find the man that tried to buy it a month or so
before I took the Injuns back. She's a pippin, boys!—"
"Oh, your lovely, big, white machine!" wailed Rosemary. "Would you have
to sell it, Luck? Couldn't we squeak along without that?"
"Aw, you don't want to sell your car!" Pink protested. "I know where I
can borrow two or three hundred. Maybe the Old Man—"
"We'll put this thing through alone, if we do it at all," Luck told him
bluntly. "Can't afford to work with borrowed capital; the risk is too
great. Sure, I'll sell the car. I was thinking of it, anyway," he
testified falsely but reassuringly. "We'll need every cent I can raise.
There's chemicals and Lord knows what all; and when we come to making our
prints and marketing, why—" he threw out both hands expressively. "If we
land in Albuquerque with five thousand dollars and our outfit, we won't
have a cent to throw away. At that, we'll have to squeeze every nickel
till it hollers, before we're through. Believe me, boys, this is going to
be some undertaking!"
"Nice, comfortable way you've got of painting things cheerful," the
Native Son drawled ironically.
"That's all right. I want you to realize what it's going to be like
before you get in so far you can't back out."
"Aw, who's said anything about backing out?" Happy Jack grumbled.
"Let's get right down to brass tacks and see how strong we can go on
money," Andy suggested, pulling a pencil out of an inner pocket. "Here,
girl, you do the bookkeeping while we call off the size of our pile. Put
'er down in this book till you can get another one. You can set me down
for two seventy-five—or make it three hundred. I can scrape it up, all
right. How about you, Pink? This is hard-boiled figures, now, and no
Pink blew a mouthful of smoke while he did a little mental calculation.
Then he took his twisted-leather purse and emptied it into his saucer. He
investigated all his pockets and added eighty-five cents in small change.
Then he gravely began to count, not disdaining three pennies in the pile.
"I've got seventy-five dollars in the bank," he said. "Add ninety dollars
salary, and you have a hundred and sixty-five. Add six dollars and
eighty-seven cents, and you have—my pile."
Rosemary twisted her lips and wrote the figures opposite Pink's name.
Next came Weary, then Miguel and Big Medicine and the dried little man
who chewed violently upon a wooden toothpick and said he was good for
eight hundred, and mebby a little mite more.
They pushed their plates to the table's center to make room for their
gesticulating hands and uneasy elbows while they planned ways and means.
They argued over trivial points and left the big ones for Luck to settle.
They talked of light effects and wholesale grocery lists and ray filters
and smoke pots and railroad fares and the problem of cutting down their
baggage so as to avoid paying excess charges. Luck, once he had taken the
mental plunge into the deep waters of so hazardous an enterprise, began
to exhibit a most amazing knowledge of the details of picture making.
To save money, he told them, he would be his own camera man. He could do
without a "still" camera, because he would enlarge clippings from the
different scenes in the negative instead. They'd have to manage the range
stuff with only one camera, which would mean more work to get the various
effects. But with a telephoto lens and a wide angle lens he could come
pretty near putting it over the way he wanted it. "And there'll be no
more blank ammunition, boys," he told them. "So you want to fit
yourselves out with real shells. I'm not going very strong on this
foreground bullet-effect stuff; we can afford to leave that for the
Western four-flushers that can't do anything else. But she's some wild
down where we'll be located, so we'll not be packing empty guns, at that.
"And there's another thing," he went on, talking and making notes at the
same time. "If we're going to do this, we can't get started any too
soon. We may be able to hit a late round-up and get some scenes, which
will save rounding up stock ourselves for it. And there's all that
winter stuff to make, too; we haven't any more time to throw away than
we have money."
"Well, we're ready to hit the trail any time you are," Andy declared.
"To-morrow, if yuh say so. You go ahead with your end of it, Luck, and
I'll be straw boss here in camp and get the outfit packed and ready to
ship outa here on an hour's notice. I can do it, too—believe me!"
"Do you know," said Rosemary, "I'd let James and Weary buy our winter's
supplies and have them sent by freight right on to where we're going.
Things are awfully cheap here. I'll make out a list, and the boys can
attend to that to-morrow. And I'll bake up a lot of stuff for lunches on
the train, too. We're not going to squander money in the dining car."
"Say, we'll just borry one of them dray teams from the Acme corral, by
cripes, and haul our own stuff to the depot!" Big Medicine exclaimed with
enthusiasm. "Save us four or five dollars right there!"
Luck rose and reached for his umbrella as though he had just recalled an
important engagement. "I think I know where to find a buyer for my
machine," he said, "so I'll just get on his trail. To-morrow I'll start
getting my camera outfit together. Andy, I'll turn this end of the
expedition over to you; that idea of getting food supplies here is all
right, within certain limits. Don't buy any cheap, weighty stuff here,
because the freight will eat up all you save. But I'll leave that to you
folks; I guess you've had experience enough—"
"Considering most of us learned our a-b-c's outa Montgomery-Ward
catalogues," Weary observed with a quirk of the lips, "I guess you can
safely leave it to the bunch. Range kids are brought up on them
Wind-river bibles, as we call mail order catalogues. I'll bet you I can
give offhand the freight on anything you can name, from a hair hackamore
to a gang plow."
"Fly at it, then," laughed Luck, with his hand on the doorknob. "I am
going to be some busy myself. I'll just turn over the transportation
problem to you folks. Adios."
"Prepare to ride in the chair car," Rosemary called after him warningly.
"Even a tourist sleeper is going to be too luxurious for us; we're going
to squeeze nickels till they just squeal!"
Luck held the door open while he smiled approvingly at her. "That'll be
playing the game right from the start. Adios, folks."
UNEXPECTED GUESTS FOR APPLEHEAD
Applehead Forrman was worried over his cat, Compadre, which is Spanish
for comrade or something of that sort. It was a blue cat and it was a
big cat, and it had a bellicose disposition, and Applehead was anxious
because it had lately declared war on a neighboring coyote and had not
come out of the battle unscathed. Applehead had heard the disturbance
and had gone out with a rifle and dispersed the coyote, but not until
Compadre had lost half of his tail and a good deal of his
self-assurance. Since that night, almost a week ago, Compadre had been a
changed cat. He had sought dark corners and had yowled when the best
friend he had in the world tried to coax him out to his meals. Applehead
was very patient and very sympathetic, and hunted small game with which
to tempt the invalid's appetite.
On this day he had a fat prairie dog which he had shot, and he was
carrying it around by a hind leg looking for Compadre and calling "Kitty,
kitty, kitty," in the most seductive tones of which his desert-harshened
vocal chords were capable. He looked under the squat adobe cabin which
held all the odds and ends that had accumulated about the place, and
which he called the "ketch-all." He went over and looked under the water
tank where there was shade and coolness. He went to the stable, and from
there he returned to the adobe house, squat like the "ketch-all" but
larger. There was a hole alongside the fireplace chimney at the end next
the hill, and sometimes when Compadre was especially disenchanted with
his world, he went into the hole and nursed his grievances in dark
seclusion under the house.
Applehead got down upon all fours and called "Kitty, kitty, kitty," with
his face close to the hole. It was past noon, and Compadre had not had
anything to eat since the night before, when he had lapped up half a
saucer of canned milk and had apathetically licked a slice of bacon.
Applehead put his ear to the hole and imagined he heard a faint meow from
a far corner. He pushed the prairie dog into the aperture and called
"Kitty-kitty-kitty" again coaxingly.
He was so absorbed in his anxious quest that he did not hear the chuckle
of two wagons coming up through the sand to the corral. He did not even
hear the footsteps of men approaching the house. He did not hear
anything at all except a dismal yowl now and then from the darkness. He
contorted his long person that he might peer into the gloom. He pushed
the prairie dog in as far as he could reach. "Come, kitty-kitty-kitty!"
he coaxed. "Doggone your onery soul, I'm gitting tired of this kinda
performance! You can tromp on me just so fur and no further, now I'm
a-tellin' yuh. That there tail of yourn needs a fresh rag tied to it,
and some salve. But I ain't the burrowin' kind of animal, and I ain't
comin' in under there after yuh. Come, kitty-kitty-kitty! Come on outa
there 'fore I send a charge of birdshot in after yuh!" His voice changed
to a tremulous chant of rising anger. "You wall-eyed, mangy, rat-eatin'
son of a gun, what have I been feedin' yuh fur all these years? You come
outa there! If it wasn't for the love uh God I got in my heart, I'll
fill yuh so full of holes the coyotes'll have to make soup of ye! I'll
sure spread yuh out so thin your hide'll measure up like a mountain
lion! Don't yuh yowl at me like that! Come, kitty-kitty-kitty—ni-ice
kitty! Come to your old pard what ketched yuh the fattest young dog on
the flat for your dinner. Come on, now; you ain't skeered uh me,
shorely! Come on, Compadre—ni-ice kitty!"
"Let me try!" cried Rosemary behind him, her voice startling old
Applehead so that he knocked his head painfully on the rock foundation as
he jerked himself into a more dignified posture. His eyes widened at the
size of the audience grouped behind him, but he had faced more amazing
sights than that in his eventful career. He got stiffly to his feet and
bowed, the prairie dog dangling limply from his hand.
"Howdy! Howdy! Pleased to meet yuh," he greeted them dazedly. Then he
spied Luck standing half behind Weary's tall form, and his embarrassed
smile changed to a joyful grin. "Well, danged if it ain't Luck! How are
yuh, boy? I was jest thinkin' about you right this morning. What wind
blowed you into camp? Come right on in, folks. If you're friends of
Luck's, yuh don't need no interduction in this camp. Luck and me's et
outa the same skillet months on end together. Come on in. I've et, but
they's plenty left." His blue eyes twinkled quizzically over the Happy
Family and then went to Luck. "What yuh up to this time, boy? 'Nother
While they were waiting for coffee to boil, Luck told him what he was up
to this time. Told him what it was he meant to do in the way of making a
Western picture that should be worthy the West. He did not say a word
about needing Applehead's assistance; he did not need to say a word about
that. Applehead himself saw where he would fit into the scheme, and he
seemed to take it for granted that Luck saw it also.
"Got all your stuff out from town?" he asked, while he was hunting cups
enough to go around. "If yuh ain't, you can send a couple of the boys in
with a four-horse team after dinner. I d'no about beds, unless yuh got
your own beddin'-rolls with yuh. The missus, she can have a room, and the
rest of yuh will have to knock some bunks together. Mebby we can clean
out the 'ketch-all' and turn that into a bunk house. One I had, it burnt
down last winter; some darn-fool Mexicans got to fightin' in there and
kicked the lamp over. It could have a new roof put on, I reckon; the
walls is there yet. You can take a look around after you eat, and see
what all there is to do. Well, set up, folks; ain't much, but I've
throwed my feet under the table fer less and was thankful to git it, now
I'm a-tellin' yuh!"
Big Medicine bethought him of the remains of the train lunch which they
had frugally saved. He brought that and added it to Applehead's
impromptu meal. The sandwiches were mashed flat, and the pickles were
limp, and the cake much inclined to crumble, but Applehead gave one look
and took off his hat.
"I've et, but I can shore eat again when I git my eyes on cake," he
declared exuberantly, and pulled an empty box up to the table for a seat.
"I wisht Compadre could git a smell uh that there fried chicken; it would
put new life into him, which he needs after tangling with that there
coyote 'tother night."
"We ought to unhitch and give the horses a feed," Luck suggested. "Any
"Well, you know where to put them cayuses as well as I do," Applehead
mumbled, with his mouth full of cake. "I don't care what yuh do around
the danged place. Go along and don't bother me, boy; I'm busy."
"Didn't I tell you how it would be?" Luck reminded Andy and Weary when
they were outside. "That old boy is tickled to death to have us here. He
sure is a type, too. I'll be using him in the picture. And just tale a
look at that corral down there! We'll set up camp this afternoon and
round up some horses,—Applehead always keeps a bunch running back here
on the mesa,—and to-morrow morning we'll get to work. A couple of you
will have to take these teams back this afternoon, too. I'll let you
drive the four-horse in, Weary, and lead the other behind. And I'll send
the Native Son in with Applehead's team and wagon, so you can haul out a
thousand feet of lumber for a stage. Get it surfaced one
side,—fourteen-foot boards, sabe? And about twenty-five pounds of
eight-penny nails. We've got the tools in our outfit. I wonder which
pasture Applehead's team is running in. I'll have one of the boys get
them up, unless—"
"Luck Lindsay!" came Rosemary's high, clear treble. "Aren't you boys
going to eat any dinner?"
"We'll eat when we have more time!" Luck shouted back. "Send Applehead
out here, will you?"
Presently Applehead appeared with a large piece of cake in one hand and a
well-picked chicken wing in the other. "What yuh want?" he inquired
lazily, in the tone that implies extreme physical comfort.
"I want your big team to haul some lumber out from town. Where are they?
If you don't mind catching them up while I help get this stuff unloaded,
we'll have things moving around here directly."
"Shore I'll ketch 'em up fur ye, soon as I find Compadre and give him
this here bone. He's been kinda off his feed since that coyote clumb his
frame. He was under the house, but I reckon so many strange voices kinda
got his goat. There ain't ary yowl to be got outa that hole no more.
Luck threw out his hands despairingly, and then laughed. Applehead's
tender solicitude for his cat was a fixed characteristic of the man, and
Luck knew there was no profit in argument upon the subject. He began
unloading the lighter pieces of baggage while the boys fed the livery
teams. The others came straggling down from the house, lighting their
after-dinner cigarettes and glancing curiously at the adobe out-buildings
which were so different from anything in Montana. The sagebrush slopes
wore a comfortable air of familiarity, even though the boys were more
accustomed to bunch grass; but an adobe stable was a novelty.
Fast as they came near him, Luck put them to work. There was plenty to
do before they could even begin work on the Big Picture, but Luck seemed
to have thought out all the details of camp-setting with the same
attention to trifles which he had shown in the making of a picture. In
half an hour he had every one busy, including old Applehead, who, having
located Compadre in the stable loft and left the chicken wing at the top
of the ladder, had saddled his horse and gone off into a far pasture to
bring in all the horses down there, so that Luck could choose whatever
animals he wished to use. Dave Wiswell, the dried little man, was
helping Rosemary wash the dishes and put away the food supplies they had
brought out with them, as fast as Happy Jack could carry them up from
the wagon. Andy Green was ruthlessly emptying the only closet—a roomy
one, fortunately—in the house, and tacking up black paper which Luck
had brought, so that it might serve as a dark room. Big Medicine and
Pink were clearing out the one-roomed adobe cabin which Applehead called
the "ketch-all," so that the boys could sleep there until the bunk-house
Luck was unpacking his camera and swearing softly to himself while he set
it up, and wishing that his experience as assistant camera-man was not
quite so far in the past. He foresaw difficulties with that camera until
he got in practice, but he did not say anything about it to the others.
He got it together finally, put in the two-hundred-foot magazine of
negative that he had brought with him to use while waiting for his big
order to arrive, made a few light tests, and went up to the house to see
if Andy had the dark room dark enough.
He found Andy defending himself as best he could from a small domestic
storm. In his anxiety to have that dark room fixed just the way Luck
wanted it, Andy had purloined a shelf which Rosemary needed, and which
she meant to have, if words could restore it to its place behind the
kitchen stove. Andy had the shelf down and was taking out bent nails with
a new hammer when Luck came to the door with his arms full of packages of
chemicals and a ruby lamp.
"What can a fellow do?" Andy was inquiring plaintively. "There ain't
another board on the place that's the right width. I looked. Luck's got
to have a shelf; you don't expect him to keep all his junk on the floor,
do you? I'm sorry, but I've just got to have it, girl."
"You've just got to put that shelf back, Andy. Where do you expect me to
put things? There isn't a pantry on the place, and only that one dinky
little cupboard over there. I can't keep my dishes on the floor, and
cooking is going to be pretty important, itself, around this camp!"
"Soon as the lumber gets here, I'll have Andy build you a cupboard," Luck
soothed her. "You haven't got many conveniences here, and that's a fact.
But we'll get things straightened out, pronto. Got any bones or scraps
left, Mrs. Andy? That little black dog that followed us out is here yet.
He didn't go back with the boys. I found him curled up in the wagon shed
just now; poor little devil looks about starved. His ribs stand out worse
than a cow that's wintered on a sheep range."
With Rosemary's attention diverted to the little black dog, Andy got the
shelf nailed firmly upon the wall of the dark room. And immediately Luck
proceeded to use it to its fullest capacity and announced that he needed
another one, whereat Andy groaned.
"Say, I'm a brave man, all right, but I don't dare to swipe any more
shelves," he protested. "Not from my wife, anyway. Timber must sure be
scarce in this man's country. I never did see a place so shy of boards as
this ranch is."
"Well, let's see if there are any barrels," said Luck. "I've been
studying on how to rig up some way to develop my film. If we can find
some half barrels and knock the heads out, I can wind the negative around
them with the emulsion side out, and dip it in the bigger barrels of
developer; see how I mean? Believe me, this laboratory problem is going
to be a big one till I can see my way to getting tanks and film racks out
here. But I believe barrels will work all right. And, say! There's some
old hose I saw out by the windmill tank; you get that, and see if you
can't run it under the house and up through a hole in the floor. I expect
it leaks in forty places, but maybe you can mend it. And we ought to have
some way to run the water out in a trough or something. You see what you
can do about that, Andy, while I go and unpack the rest of my camera
outfit. There's a garret up over the ceiling, here, and you'll have to
see what shape it's in for drying film. Stop all the cracks so dust can't
blow in. I want to start taking scenes to-morrow morning, you know. I've
got two hundred feet of raw stock to work with till the other gets here.
I've got to develop my tests before to-morrow so I'll know what I'm
doing. I can't afford to spoil any film."
"Well, hardly," Andy agreed. "By gracious, I hope you're making the rest
of the bunch hump themselves, too. Honest, I'd die if I saw anybody
sitting around in the shade, right now!"
"Andy, did you go and take that shelf after all?" came the reproachful
voice of Rosemary from the kitchen, and Luck retreated by way of the
front door without telling Andy just how busy the other boys were.
The "ketch-all," where Big Medicine and Pink were clearing out the
accumulation of years, was enveloped in a cloud of dust. Down in the
corral a dozen horses were circling, with Applehead moving cautiously
about in the middle dragging his loop and making ready for a throw. There
was one snuffy little bay gelding that he meant to turn over to Luck for
a saddle horse, and he wanted to get him caught and in the stable before
showing him to Luck. Happy Jack was wobbling up the path with an
oversized sack of potatoes balanced on his shoulder, and his face a deep
crimson from the heat and his exertions. Down in the stable the little
black dog, enlivened by the plate of bones Rosemary had given him, had
scented the cat in the loft and was barking hysterically up the ladder.
Luck stepped out briskly, cheered by the atmosphere of bustling
preparation which surrounded him. That he was the moving spirit which
directed all these activities stimulated him like good old wine. It was
for his Big Picture that they were preparing. Already his brain was at
work upon the technique of picture production, formulating a system which
should as far as possible eliminate the risk of failure because of the
handicaps under which he must work.
Having to be his own camera-man, and to work without an assistant, piled
high the burden of work and responsibility; but he could not afford to
pay the salaries such assistants would demand. He had a practical
knowledge of camera craft, since he had worked his way up through all
branches of the game, and he was sure that with practice he could do the
photographic work. He hoped to teach Andy enough about it so that he
could help; Andy seemed to have an adaptability superior to some of the
others and would learn the rudiments readily, Luck believed.
The lack of a leading woman was another handicap. He could not afford to
hire one, and he could not very well weave a love story into his plot
without a woman. He was going to try Rosemary, since her part would
consist mostly of riding in and out of scenes and looking pretty,—at
least in the earlier portion. And by the time he was ready to produce the
dramatic scenes, he hoped that she would be able to act the part. It was
a risk, of course, and down deep in his heart he feared that much of her
charm would never reach the screen; but he must manage somehow, since
there would be no money to spend on salaries. He ought to have a
character woman, too,—which he lacked.
But other things he did have, and they were the things that would count
most for success or failure. He had his real boys, for instance; and he
had his real country; and, last and most important of all, he had his
story to tell. In spite of his weariness, Luck was almost happy that
first afternoon at Applehead's ranch. He went whistling about his task of
directing the others and doing two men's work himself, and he refused to
worry about anything.
That evening after supper, when they were all smoking and resting before
Applehead's big rock fireplace, Luck's energy would not let him dwell
upon the trivial incidents of their trip, which the Happy Family were
discussing with reminiscent enjoyment. Applehead's booming laugh was to
Luck as a vague accompaniment to his own thoughts darting here and there
among his plans.
"Aw, gwan!" Happy Jack was exclaiming in his habitual tone of protest.
"Conductor lied to me, is how I come to be over to that place when the
train started to pull out. I was buyin' something. I wasn't talking to no
Mexican girl. I betche—"
"Now, while we're all together," Luck broke suddenly into Happy's
explanation, "I'm just going over the scenario from start to finish and
assign your parts. Applehead, I'm going to cast you for the sheriff. You
won't need to do any acting at all—"
"We-ell, if I do, I calc'late I got some idee uh how a shurf had oughta
ack," Applehead informed him with a boastful note in his voice, and
pulled himself up straighter in his chair. "I was 'lected shurf uh this
county four different terms right hand runnin', and if I do say it, they
wasn't nobody ever said I didn't do my duty. Ary man I went after, I come
purty near bringin' him into camp, now I'm tellin' ye! This here old girl
has shore talked out in meetin', in her time, and there wasn't ary man
wanted to face her down in an argument, now I'm tellin' ye." He got up
and took his old six-shooter off the mantel and held it lovingly in his
palm. Very solemnly he licked his thumb and polished a certain place
along the edge of the yellow ivory handle, and held it so the Happy
Family could see three tiny notches.
"Them's three argyments she shore settled," he stated grimly, and turned
slowly upon Luck.
"Yes-s, I calc'late I can play shurf for ye, all right enough."
Luck looked up at him with his eyes shining, remembering how staunch a
friend Applehead had been in times past, and how even his boastings were
but a naïve recognition of facts concerning himself. Applehead Forrman
was fifty-six years old, but Luck could not at that moment recall a man
more dangerous to meet as an enemy or more loyal to have as a friend.
"I calc'late you can," he agreed in his soft, friendly drawl. "Sit down
and turn your good ear this way, Applehead, so this story can soak in.
You'll see where you come in as sheriff, and you'll sabe just what you'll
have to do. Bud, here, will be the outlaw that blows into the cow-camp
and begins to mix things. He's the one you'll have to settle. So here's
the way the story runs:"
"Say, boss, make it short and sweet, can't you?" Andy begged. He was
sitting on the floor with his head against Rosemary's knees, and his
eyelids were drooping drowsily. "By gracious, nobody'll have to sing me
to sleep to-night! I'm about ready to hit the hay right now."
"I'll cut out the atmosphere and just stick to the action, then," Luck
conceded. "I want to get you all placed, so we can get to work in the
morning without any delay. Sabe?"
"Shoot," murmured Pink, opening his eyes with some effort "I can listen
for five minutes, maybe."
"I can't, I don't believe," the Native Son yawned. "But go ahead,
amigo. My heart's with you, anyway, whether my eyes are open or shut."
Luck was pretty sleepy himself, after two nights and a day spent in a
chair car, with another day of hard labor to finish the ordeal. But his
enthusiasm had never been keener than when, in the land of sage and
cactus, he first unfolded his precious scenario and bent forward to
read by the light of the fire. He forgot to skip the "atmosphere."
Scene by scene he lived the story through. Scene by scene he saw his
Big Picture grow vivid as ever the reality would be. Once or twice he
glanced up and saw Applehead leaning forward with his elbows on his
knees and his pipe gone cold in his fingers, absorbed, living the story
even as Luck lived it.
A long, rumbling snore stopped him with a mental jolt. He came back to
reality and looked at the Happy Family. Every one of them, save Rosemary,
was sound asleep; and even Rosemary was dreaming at the fire with her
eyes half closed, and her fingers moving caressingly through the
unconscious Andy's brown hair.
"Let 'em be. You go ahead and read it out," Applehead muttered, impatient
of the pause.
So Luck, with his audience dwindled to one bald-headed old rangeman,
read the story of what he meant to create out there in the wild spaces
of New Mexico.
JUST A FEW UNFORESEEN OBSTACLES
It is surprising how much time is consumed by the little things of
life,—unimportant in themselves, yet absolutely necessary to a
satisfactory accomplishment of the big things. Luck, looking ahead into
the next day, confidently expected to be making scenes by the time the
light was right,—say nine o'clock in the morning. He had chosen several
short, unimportant scenes, such as the departure of old Dave Wiswell, his
cattleman of the picture, from the ranch; his return, and the saddling of
horses and riding away of the boys. Also he meant to make a scene of the
arrival of the sheriff after having received word of the presence of Big
Medicine, the outlaw, at the ranch. Rosemary, too, as the daughter of old
Dave, must run down to the corral to meet her father. Scattered scenes
they were, occurring in widely separated parts of the story. But they had
to be made, and they required no especial "sets" of scenery; and other
work, such as the building of the stage for interior sets, could go on
with few interruptions. The boys would have to work in their make-up, but
since the make-up was to be nothing more than a sharpening of the
features to make them look absolutely natural upon the screen, it would
not be uncomfortable. This was what Luck had planned for that day.
Before breakfast he had selected a site for his stage, on the sunny
side of the hill back of the house, where it would be partially
sheltered from the sweeping winds of New Mexico. All day he would have
the sun behind him while he worked, and he considered the situation an
ideal one. He had the lumber hauled up there and unloaded, while
Rosemary and Applehead were cooking breakfast for ten hungry people. He
laid out his foundation and explained to the boys just how it should be
built, and even sacrificed his appetite to his impatience by going a
quarter of a mile to where he remembered seeing some old barbed wire
strung along a fence to keep it off the ground so that stock could not
tangle in it. He got the wire and brought it back with him to guy out
the uprights for the diffusers. So on the whole he began the day as
well as even he could desire.
Then little hindrances began to creep in to delay him. For one thing, the
Happy Family had only a comedy acquaintance with grease paint, and their
make-up reminded Luck unpleasantly of Bently Brown's stories. As they
appeared one by one, with their comically crooked eyebrows and their
rouge-widened lips and staring, deep-shadowed eyes, Luck sent them back
to take it all off and start over again under his supervision. The
outcome was that he gave a full hour to making up the faces of his
characters and telling them how to do it themselves. Even Rosemary made
her brows too heavy and her lips too red, and her cheeks were flushed
unevenly. Luck was a busy man that morning, but he was not taking scenes
by nine o'clock, for all his haste.
With a kindly regard for Rosemary's nervousness lest she fail him, he set
up his camera and told her to walk down part way to the corral,
looking—supposedly—to see if her dad had come home. She must stand
there irresolutely, then turn and walk back toward the camera,
registering the fact that she was worried. That sounds simple enough,
What Luck most wanted was to satisfy himself as to whether Rosemary could
possibly play the part of old Dave's daughter. If she could, he would
sleep sounder that night; if she could not,—Luck was not at all clear as
to what he should do if she failed. He told her just where to walk into
the "scene," which is the range of the camera. He went down part way to
the corral and drew a line with his toe, and told her to stop when she
reached that line and to look away up the trail which wound down among
the rocks and sage. When he called to her she was to turn and walk back,
trying to imagine that she was much worried and disappointed.
"Your dad was to have come last night," Luck suggested. "You tried to
keep him from going in the first place, and now we've got to establish
the fact that he is away behind time getting home. You know, this is
where his horse falls with him, and he lies out all night, and Big
Medicine brings him in next day. You kind of have a hunch that something
is wrong, and you keep looking for him. Sabe." He fussed with the camera,
adjusting it to what seemed to him the right focus. "Want to rehearse it
first?" he added considerately.
"No," Rosemary gasped, "I don't. I know how to walk, and how to turn
around and come back. I've been doing those things for twenty-two years
or so, but Luck Lindsay, if you don't let me do it right away quick, I
just know I'll stub my toe and fall down, or something!" The worst of it
was, she meant what she said. Rosemary, I am sorry to say, was so scared
that her teeth chattered.
"All right, you go on and do it now," Luck permitted, and began to turn
the crank at seventeen in order to hold her action slow, while he watched
her. Groaning inwardly, he continued to turn, while Rosemary went primly
down the winding trail, stood with her toes on the line Luck had marked
for her, gazed stiffly off to the right, and then, when he called to her,
turned and came back, staring fixedly over his head. You have seen little
girls with an agonized self-consciousness walk up an aisle to a platform
where they must bow to their fathers and mothers and their critical
schoolmates and "speak a piece." Rosemary resembled the most bashful
little girl that you can recall.
"All right," said Luck tonelessly, and placed his palm over the lens
while he gave the crank another turn. "We'll try it again to-morrow.
Don't worry. You'll get the hang of it all right."
His very smile, meant to encourage her, brought swift tears that rolled
down and streaked the powder and rouge on her cheeks. She had made a mess
of it all; she knew that just as well as Luck knew it. He gave her
shoulder a reassuring pat as she went by, and that finished Rosemary. She
retreated into the gloomy, one-windowed bedroom with its litter of
half-unpacked suitcases and an overflowing trunk, and she cried
heartbrokenly because she knew she would never in this world be able to
forget that terrible, winking eye and the clicking whirr of Luck's
camera. Just to think of facing it gave her a "goose-flesh" chill,—and
she did so want to help Luck!
With the Happy Family and old Dave, Luck fared better. They, fortunately
for him, were already what he called camera-broke. They could forget all
about the camera while they caught and saddled their horses. They could
mount and ride away unconcernedly without even thinking of trying to act.
Luck's spirits rose a little while he turned the crank, and just for pure
relief at the perfect naturalness of it, he gave that scene an extra ten
feet of footage.
With Applehead he had some difficulty. Applehead looked the part of
sheriff, all right. He wore his trousers tucked inside his boots because
he always wore them so, especially when he rode. He wore his big
six-shooter buckled snugly about his middle instead of dangling far down
his thigh, because he had always worn it that way. He wore his sheriffs
badge pinned on his vest and his coat unbuttoned, so that the wind blew
it open now and then and revealed the star. Altogether he looked exactly
as he had looked when he was serving one of his four terms of office. But
when he faced the camera, he was inclined to strut, and Luck had no
negative to waste. He resorted to strategy, which consisted of a little
"Listen, Applehead! the public is going to get the idea that you sure
hate yourself!" he remarked, standing with his hands on his hips while
Applehead came strutting into the foreground. "You'll never make any one
believe you were ever a real, honest-to-God sheriff. They'll put you down
as an extra picked up through a free employment agency and feeling like
you owned the plant because you're earning a couple of dollars. Go back
down there to your horse and wait till some of that importance
Applehead went off swearing to himself, and Luck got a fifteen-foot
scene of the departure of a very indignant sheriff who is with
difficulty holding his anger subordinate to his official dignity. Before
he had time to recover his usual good humor, Luck with further
disparaging comment called him back. Applehead, smarting under the
sarcasm, came ready for war, and Luck turned the crank until the sheriff
was almost within reach of him.
"Gol darn you, Luck, I'll take that there camery and bust it over your
danged head!" he spluttered. "I'll show ye! Call me a bum that's wearin'
a shurf's star fer the first time in his life, will ye! Why, I'll jest
about wear ye out if—"
"All right, pard; I was just aiming to make you come up looking mad. You
did fine." Luck stopped to roll a smoke as though nothing had occurred
but tiresome routine.
Applehead looked down at him uncertainly. He looked at the Happy Family,
saw them grinning, and gave a mollified chuckle. "We-ell, you was takin'
a danged long chance, now I'm tellin' yuh, boy!" he warned. "I was all
set to tangle with yuh; and if I had, I reckon I'd a spiled something
'fore I got through."
It was noon by the sun, and a film of haze was spreading across the sky.
Luck shot another scene or two and shouldered his precious camera
reluctantly, when Rosemary, red-lidded but elaborately cheerful in her
manner, called them in to dinner.
"She's goin' to storm, shore's you live," Applehead predicted, sniffing
into the wind like a dog confronted by a strange scent. A little later
he looked up from his full plate with a worried air. "How's a storm
goin' to hit ye, Luck?" he asked. "Kinda put a stop to the pitcher
business, won't it?"
"Not if it snows, it won't," Luck answered calmly, helping himself to the
brown beans boiled with bacon. "We'll round up a bunch of cattle, and
I'll shoot my blizzard stuff. I'll need more negative, though, for that.
If I knew for sure it's going to storm—"
"I'm tellin' yuh it is, ain't I?" Applehead blew into his saucer of
coffee,—his table manners not being the nicest in the world. "I kin
smell snow two days off, and that there wind comin' up the canyon has got
snow behind it, now I'm tellin' ye. 'Nother thing, I kin tell by the way
Compadre walks, liftin' his feet high and bushin' up what's left of his
tail. That there cat's smarter'n some humans, and he shore kin smell snow
comin', same's I do. He hates snow worse'n pizen." Applehead drank his
coffee in great gulps. "I'll bet he's huntin' a warm corner somewheres,
"No, he ain't, by cripes!" Big Medicine corrected him. "That there
Come-Paddy cat of yourn has got worse troubles than snow! Dog's got him
treed up the windmill. I seen—"
Applehead did not wait to hear what Big Medicine had seen. He drank the
remainder of his coffee in one great, scalding gulp, and went out to
rescue his cat and to put the fear of death into the little black dog.
When he returned, puffing a little, to his interrupted meal and had told
them a few of the things he meant to do to that dog if it refused to
mend its ways, he declared again that he could "shore smell snow behind
"I wish it would hold off till that raw stock gets here," Luck observed
anxiously. "I wired the order in, but at that I'm afraid it won't get
here before the end of the week. I'll have one of you boys pack me some
water into the dark room so I can develop negatives right after dinner. I
want to see how she's coming out before I take any more."
"I thought Andy'd fixed a hose fer that dark room," Happy Jack said
forebodingly. If there was water to be carried, Happy was pessimistically
certain that he would have to carry it.
"I turned that hose over to the missus for a colander," Andy explained
soberly. "By gracious, I couldn't figure out anything else it could be
"Did you get the barrels fixed like I said?"
"I sure did. Applehead must have had a Dutch picnic or two out here,
from the number of beer kegs scattered all over the place. And a couple
of big whisky—"
"Them there whisky bar'ls I bought and used fer water bar'ls till I got
my well bored. Luck kin mind the time when we hauled water on a sled outa
the arroyo down below." Applehead's eyes turned anxiously to Rosemary,
toward whom he was beginning to show a timidly worshipful attitude.
"You bet I can. Do you remember the time we hitched that big bronk up
with old Wall-eye, to haul water? Got back here a little ways beyond the
stable with two barrels sloshing over the top, and the cat—not this one,
but a black-and-white cat, that was—the cat jumped out from behind a
buck brush. Hot dog! That bronk went straight in the air! Remember that
time?" Luck leaned back in his chair to laugh.
"I shore do," Applehead chuckled. "Luck, here, he was walkin' behind the
sled and drivin',—and he wasn't as big as he is now, even. That was soon
after he come out here to fatten up like. Little bit of a peaked—why, I
bet he didn't weigh over a hundred pounds after a full meal! He was
ridin' the lines an' steadyin' the bar'ls, busy as a dog at a badger
hole, when the cat jumped out, an' that there bronk r'ared back and swung
off short and hit fur the mesa; and Luck here a-hangin' and hollerin',
an' me a-leggin' it to ketch up, and bar'ls teeterin' and—Mind how you
was bound you'd kill that cat uh mine?" he asked Luck, tears of laughter
dimming his eyes. "That was ole Leather Lungs. He tuk sick an' died, year
after that. Luck shore was mad enough to eat that thar cat, now I'm
The Happy Family laughed together over the picture Applehead had crudely
painted for them. But Luck, although he had started the story, already
was slipping away from the present and was trying to peer into the
future. He did not even hear what Applehead was saying to keep the boys
in a roar of mirth. He was mentally reckoning the number of days since he
had wired his order for a C.O.D. shipment of negative to be rushed to
Albuquerque. Two days in Los Angeles, getting ready for the venture; two
days on the way to Applehead's ranch, one day here,—five days
altogether. He had told them to rush the order. If they did, there was a
chance that it might have arrived. He decided suddenly to make the trip
and see; but first he would develop the exposed negative of the
forenoon's work. He got up with that businesslike air which the Happy
Family had already begun to recognize as a signal for quick action, and
took off his coat.
"Happy, I wish you and Bud would carry me some water," he said. "I'll
show you where to put it; I'm going to need a lot. Will you help me wind
the film on my patent rack, Andy? And I'll want that little team hitched
to the buckboard so I can go to town after I'm through. I've got some
hopes of my negative being there."
"Want the rest of us to work on that stage, don't you, boss?" Weary
asked, pausing in the doorway to roll a smoke. "And please may I wipe off
"Why, sure!—to both questions," answered Luck, going over to his camera.
"I can't do much more till I get more negative, even with the light
right, which it isn't. You go ahead and finish the stage this afternoon.
And be sure the uprights are guyed for a high wind; she sure can blow, in
this man's country."
"You're danged right, she can blow!" Applehead testified emphatically.
"She can blow, and she's goin' to blow. You want to take your overshoes
and mittens, boy, when you start out fer town. You know how cold she can
get on that mesa. Chances are you'll come back facin' a blizzard. And,
say! I wisht you'd take that there dog back with yuh, Luck, 'cause if yuh
don't, him and me's shore goin' to tangle, now I'm tellin' yuh! Mighty
funny note when a cat dassent walk acrost his own dooryard in broad
daylight, no more! Poor ole Compadre was shakin' like a leaf when I clumb
up and got him down of'n the windmill. Way the wind was whistlin' up
there, the chances are he's done ketched cold in 'is tail, and if he has,
yuh better see to it that thar dog ain't within gunshot uh me, now I'm
Luck did not hear half the tirade. He had gone into the dark room and was
dissolving hypo for the fixing bath, while the boys tramped in with full
water buckets and began to fill the barrels he had placed in a row along
the wall. He was impatient to see how his work of the forenoon would come
out of the developer, and he was quite as impatient to be on his way to
town. Whether he admitted it or not, he had a good deal of faith in
Applehead's weather forecasts; he remembered how often the old fellow had
predicted storms in the past when Luck spent a long winter with him here
in this same adobe dwelling. If it did snow, he must have plenty of
negative for his winter scenes; for snow never laid long on the level
here, and he had a full reel of winter stuff to make.
He called Andy to come and help him wind his exposed film on the crude,
improvised film racks that had lately been beer kegs, and closed the dark
room door upon the last empty bucket that had been carried in full. In
the dull light of the ruby lamp he carefully wound his long strip of
exposed negative, emulsion side out, around the keg which Andy held for
him. His developer bath was ready, and he immersed the film-jacketed keg
slowly, with due regard for bubbles of air.
"You may not know it, but right here in this dark room is where I look
for the real test of success or failure," he confided to Andy, while he
rocked the keg gently in the barrel. "I wish I could afford a good
camera-man; but then, the most of them wouldn't work with this kind of an
outfit; they'd demand all the laboratory conveniences, and that would run
into money. Ever notice that when you can't get anything but the crudest
kind of tools to work with, you generally have to use them yourself? But
it will take more than—oh, hell!"
"What's wrong?" Andy Green bent his brown head anxiously down beside
Luck's fast graying mop of hair, and peered at the images coming out of
the yellowish veil that had hidden them. "Ain't they good?"
Luck reached into the water tank and splashed a little water on his film
to check it while he looked. "Now, what in the name of—" He scowled
perplexedly down at the streaked strips. "What do you suppose streaked it
like that?" He lifted worried, gray eyes to Andy's apprehensive frown,
and looked again disgustedly at the negative before he dropped it back
with a splash into the developer.
"No good; she's ruined," he said in the flat tone of a great
disappointment. "Eighty feet of film gone to granny. Well, that's
luck for you!"
Andy reached gingerly into the barrel and brought up the keg so that
he could take another look. He had owned a kodak for years and had
done enough amateur developing to know that something had gone very
"What ails the darned thing?" he asked fretfully, turning to Luck, who
was scowling abstractedly into his barrels of "soup."
"You can search me," Luck replied dully. "Looks like I'd been stung with
a bunch of bum chemicals. Either that, or something's wrong with our
tanks here." He reached down and pulled up the keg by its hooped top,
glimpsed a stain on his finger and thumb and let the keg slip hastily
over into the pure water so that he could examine the stains.
"Iron! Iron, sure as thunder!" he exclaimed suddenly. "Those iron hoops
are what did it." He rubbed his hand vexedly. "I knew better than that,
too. I don't see why I didn't think about those hoops. Of all the
"What kinda brain do you think you've got in your head, anyway?" Andy
broke in spiritedly. "Way you've been working it lately, engineering
every blamed detail yourself, you oughtn't to wonder if one little thing
gets by you."
"Well, it's done now," Luck dismissed the accident stoically. "Lucky I
started in on those costume and make-up tests of all you fellows, and
that scene of your wife's. And if I'd used the other half barrel instead
of this five-gallon keg for a start-off, I'd have spoiled the whole
bunch. I'll have to throw out all that developer. Blast the luck! Well,
let's get busy." He pulled out the keg and held it up for another
disgusted look. "I won't bother fixing that at all. Call Happy and Bud
back, will you, and have them roll this barrel of developer out and ditch
it? And then take those two half barrels you were going to fix, and wrap
them with clothesline,—that cotton line on one of the trunks,—and knock
off all the hoops. I'm going to beat it to 'Querque and see if that
stuff's there. We'll try developing the rest this evening, after I get
back. Darn such luck!"
The five thousand feet of negative had not arrived, but there was a
letter from the company saying that they had shipped it. Luck, bone-tired
and cold from his fifteen-mile drive across the unsheltered mesa, turned
away from the express office, debating whether to wait for the film or go
back to the ranch. It would be a pretty cold drive back, in the edge of
the evening and facing that raw wind; he decided that he would save time
by waiting here in town, since he could not go on with his picture
without more negative. He turned back impulsively, put his head in at the
door of the express office, and called to the clerk:
"When do you get your next express from the East, brother? I'll wait for
that negative if you think it's likely to come by to-morrow noon or
"Might come in on the eight o'clock train to-night, or to-morrow morning.
You say it was shipped the sixteenth? Ought to be here by morning, sure."
"I'll take a chance," Luck said half to himself, and closed the door.
A round-shouldered, shivering youth, who had been leaning apathetically
against the side of the building, moved hesitatingly up to him. "Say,
do I get it right that you're in the movies?" he inquired anxiously.
"Heard you mention looking for negative. Haven't got a job for a
fellow, have you?"
Luck wheeled and looked him over, from his frowsy, soft green beaver hat
with the bow at the back, to his tan pumps that a prosperous young man
would have thrown back in the closet six weeks before, as being out of
season. The young man grinned his understanding of the appraisement, and
Luck saw that his teeth were well-kept, and that his nails were clean and
trimmed carefully. He made a quick mental guess and hit very close to the
fellow's proper station in life and his present predicament.
"What end of the business do you know?" he asked, turning his face toward
the warmth of the hotel.
"Operator. Worked two years at the Bijou in Cleveland. I'm down on my
luck now; thought I'd try the California studios, because I wanted to
learn the camera, and I figured on getting a look at the Fair. I stalled
around out there till my money gave out, and then I started back to God's
country." He shrugged his shoulders cynically. "This is about as far as
I'm likely to get, unless I can learn to do without eating and a few
other little luxuries," he summed up the situation grimly.
"Well, it won't hurt you to skip a lesson and have dinner with me," Luck
suggested in the offhand way that robbed the invitation of the sting of
charity. "I always did hate to eat alone."
The upshot of the meeting was that, when Luck gathered up the lines, next
day, and popped the short lash of Applehead's home-made whip over the
backs of the little bay team, and told them to "Get outa town!" in a tone
that had in it a boyish note of exultation, the thin youth hung to the
seat of the bouncing buckboard and wondered if Luck really could drive,
or if he was half "stewed" and only imagined he could. The thin youth had
much to learn besides the science of photography and some of it he
learned during that fifteen-mile drive. For one thing, he learned that
really Luck could drive. Luck proved that by covering the fifteen miles
in considerably less than an hour and a half without losing any of his
precious load of boxed negative and coiled garden hose and assistant
camera-man,—since that was what he intended to make of the thin youth.
"I THINK YOU NEED INDIAN GIRL FOR PICTURE"
Still it did not snow, though the wind blew from the storm quarter, and
Applehead sniffed it and made predictions, and Compadre went with his
remnant of tail ruffed like a feather boa. Immediately after supper Luck
attached his new hose to the tank faucet and developed the corral scenes
which he had taken, with the thin youth taking his first lesson in the
dark room. The thin youth, who said his name was Bill Holmes, did not
have very much to say, but he seemed very quick to grasp all that Luck
told him. That kept Luck whistling softly between sentences, while they
wound the negative around the roped half barrel that had not so much as a
six penny nail in it this time, so thoroughly did Andy do his work.
The whistling ceased abruptly when Luck examined his film by the light of
the ruby lamp, however, for every scene was over-exposed and worthless.
Luck realized when he looked at it that the light was much stronger than
any he had ever before photographed by, and that he would have to "stop
down" hereafter; the problem was, how much. His light tests, he
remembered, had been made rather late in the afternoon, when the light
was getting yellow, and he had blundered in forgetting that the forenoon
light was not the same.
He went ahead and put the film through the fixing bath and afterwards
washed it carefully, more for the practice and to show Bill Holmes how to
handle the negative than for any value the film would have. He discovered
that Andy had not unpacked the rewinding outfit, but since he would not
need it until his negative was dry, he made no comment on the subject.
Bill Holmes kept at his heels, helping when he knew what to do, asking a
question now and then, but silent for the most part. Luck felt extremely
optimistic about Bill Holmes, but for all that he was depressed by his
second failure to produce good film. A camera-man, he felt in his heart,
might be the determining factor for success; but he was too stubborn to
admit it openly or even to consider sending for one, even if he could
have managed to pay the seventy-five dollars a week salary for the time
it would take to produce the Big Picture. He could easier afford to waste
a few hundred feet of negative now, he argued to himself.
"Come on down, and I'll show you what I can about the camera," he said to
Bill Holmes. "The light's too tricky to-day to work by, but I'll give you
a few pointers that you'll have to keep in mind when I'm too busy to
think about telling you. Once I get to directing a scene, I'm liable to
be busy as a one-armed prospector fighting a she-bear with cubs. I'm
counting on you to remember what all I'va told you, in case I forget to
tell you again. You see, I've ruined a hundred and fifty feet of negative
already, just by overlooking a couple of bets. You're here to help keep
that from happening again. Sabe?"
"Well, there's one or two things I don't have to learn," Bill Holmes told
him by way of encouragement. "You get the camera set and ready, and I can
turn it any speed you want. I'll guarantee that much. I learned that all
right in projection."
"That's exactly why I brought you out here, brother," Luck assured him.
"Oh, Luck Lindsay!" came Rosemary's voice excitedly. "Mr. Forrman wants
you right away quick! Somebody's coming that he doesn't know, and he says
it's up to you!"
"What's up to me?" Luck came hurrying down the ladder backwards. "Has
Applehead gone as crazy as his cat? I've nothing to do with strangers
coming to the ranch."
"Yes," said Rosemary, twinkling her brown eyes at him, "but this is a
woman. Mr. Forrman refuses to take any responsibility—"
"So do I. I don't know of any woman that's liable to come trailing me up.
Where is she?"
From the doorway Rosemary pointed dramatically, and Luck went up and
stood beside her, rolling down his sleeves while he stared at the trail.
Down the slope, head bent to the whooping wind, a woman came walking with
a free, purposeful stride that spoke eloquently of accustomedness to the
open land. Her skirts flapped but could not impede her movements. She
seemed to be carrying some bright-hued burden upon her shoulders, and she
was, without doubt, coming straight down to the ranch as to a
"You can search me," he said emphatically in answer to Applehead's
question. "Must be some señora away off the trail. I never saw her
before in my life."
"We-ell, now, that there lady don't act like she's lost," Applehead
declared, watching her intently as she came on. "Aims to git whar she's
goin', if I'm any jedge of actions. An' she shore is hittin' fur here.
Ain't been ary woman on this ranch in ten year, till Mrs. Green come
"She's none of my funeral; I don't know her from Adam," Luck disclaimed,
and went back into the dark room as though be had urgent business there,
which he had not. In the back of his mind was an uneasy feeling that the
newcomer was "some of his funeral," and yet he could not tell how or why
she should be. In her walk there was a teasing sense of familiarity; he
did not know who she was, but he felt uncomfortably that he ought to
know. He fumbled among the litter on the shelf, putting things in order;
and all the while his ears were sharpened to the sounds that came muffled
through the closed door.
"Oh, Luck Lindsay!" came Rosemary's voice at last, with what Luck fancied
was a malicious note in it. "You're wanted out here!"
Luck fumbled for a minute longer while he racked his brain for some clue
to this woman's identity. For a man who has lived the varied life Luck
had lived, his conscience was remarkably clean; but no one enjoys having
mystery stalk unawares up to one's door. However, he opened the door and
went out, feeling sensitively the curious expectancy of the Happy Family,
and faced the woman who stood just beyond the doorway. One look, and he
stopped dead still in the middle of the room. "Well, I'll be darned!" he
said in a hushed tone of blank amazement.
The woman's black eyes lighted as though flames had darted up behind
them. "How, Cola?" she greeted him in the soft, cooing tones of the
younger Indians whose voices have not yet grown shrill and harsh.
"Wagalexa Conka!" It was the tribal name given him in great honor by his
Indians of Pine Ridge Agency.
Through his astonishment, Luck's face glowed at the words. He went up and
put out his hand, impelled by the hospitality which is an unwritten law
of the old West, and is not to be broken save for good cause.
"How! How!" he answered her greeting. "You long ways from home,
Annie-Many-Ponies smiled in a way to make Happy Jack gulp with a sudden
emotion he would have denied. She flashed a quick glance around at the
curious faces that regarded her so intently, and she eased her
shawl-wrapped burden to the ground with the air of one who has reached
her journey's end.
"Yes, I plenty long ways," she assented placidly. "I don't stay by
reservation no more. Too lonesome. One night I beat it. I work for you
"How you know you work for me?" Luck felt nine pairs of eyes trying to
read his face. "That's bad, you run away. You better go back,
Annie-Many-Ponies. Your father—"
"Nah!" Annie-Many-Ponies cried in swift rebellion. "I work for you all
time, I no want monies. I got plenty wardrobe; you give me plenty grub; I
work for you. I think you need him Indian girl in picture. I think you
plenty sorry all Indians go by reservation. You no like for Indians go
home," she stated with soft sympathy. "I sabe you not got monies for pay
all thems Indians. I come be Indian girl for you; I not want monies. You
let me stay—Wagalexa Conka!"
"You come in and eat, Annie-Many-Ponies," Luck commanded with more
gentleness than he was accustomed to show. The girl must have followed
him all the way from Los Angeles, and she must have walked all the way
out from Albuquerque. All this she seemed to take for granted, a mere
detail of no importance beside her certainty that although he had no
money to pay the Indians, he must surely need an Indian girl in his
pictures. Loyalty always touched Luck deeply. He had brought the little
black dog back with him and hidden it in the stable, just because the dog
had followed him all around town and had seemed so pleased when Luck was
loading the buckboards for the return trip. He could not logically
repulse the manifest friendliness of Annie-Many-Ponies.
He introduced her formally to Rosemary, and was pleased when Rosemary
smiled and shook hands without the slightest hesitation. The Happy Family
he lumped together in one sentence. "All these my company," he told her.
"You eat now. By and by I think you better go home."
Annie-Many-Ponies looked at him with smoldering eyes, standing in the
middle of the kitchen, refusing to sit down to the table until the main
question was settled.
"Why you say that?" she demanded, drawing her brows down sullenly. "You
got plenty more Indian girls?"
Luck shook his head.
"You think me not good-looking any more?" With her two slim brown hands
she pushed back the shawl from her hair and challenged criticism of her
beauty. She was beautiful,—there was no gain saying that; she was so
beautiful that the sight of her, standing there like an indignant young
Minnehaha, tingled the blood of more than one of the Happy Family. "You
think I so homely I spoil your picture?"
"I think you must not run away from the reservation," Luck parried,
refusing to be cajoled by her anger or her beauty. "You always were a
good girl, Annie-Many-Ponies. Long time ago, when you were little girl
with the Buffalo Bill show, you were good. You mind what Wagalexa
Annie-Many-Ponies bent her head. "I mind you now, Wagalexa Conka," she
told him quickly. "You tell me ride down that big hill," she threw one
hand out toward the bluff that sheltered the house. "I sure ride down
like hell. I care not for break my neck, when you want big 'punch' in
picture. You tell me be homely old squaw like Mrs. Ghost-Dog, I be homely
so dogs yell to look on me. I mind you plenty—but I do not go by
reservation no more."
"Yow father be mad—I let you stay, he maybe shoot me," Luck argued,
secretly flattered by her persistence.
Annie-Many-Ponies smiled,—a slow, sphinx-like smile, mysteriously sweet
and lingering. "Nah! Not shoot you. I write one letters, say I go work
for you. Now you write one letter by Agent, say you let me stay, say I
work for you, say I good girl, say I be Indian girl for your picture. I
mind you plenty, Wagalexa Conka!" She smiled again coaxingly, like a
child. "I like you," she stated simply. "You good man. You need Indian
girl, I think. I work for you. My father not be mad; my father know you
good man for Indians."
Luck turned from her and gave the Happy Family a pathetic,
what's-a-fellow-going-to-do look that made Andy Green snort unexpectedly
and go outside. One by one the others followed him, grinning shamelessly
at Luck's helplessness. In a moment he overtook them, wanting the support
of their judgment.
"The worst of it is," he confessed, after he had explained how he had
known the girl since she was a barefooted papoose with the "Bill" show,
and he was Indian Agent there; "the worst of it is, she's a humdinger in
pictures. She gets over big in foreground stuff. Rides like a whirlwind,
and as for dramatic work, she can put it over half the leading women in
the business—that is, in her line of Pocohontas stuff."
"Well, why don't you let her stay?" Weary demanded. "She will
anyway—mama! We're not what you can call over-run with women on
"Why don't you make a squaw-man outa Dave?" Pink suggested boldly, "and
let her be his daughter instead of Rosemary?"
"Say, what does that there walka-some-darn-thing mean, that she
calls yuh?" Big Medicine wanted to know. "By cripes, I hate talk I
"Wagalexa Conka?" Luck smiled shamefacedly. "Oh, that's just a name the
Indians gave me. Means Big Turkey, in plain English. Her father, old
Chief Big Turkey, adopted me into the tribe, and they call me by his
name. Annie-Many-Ponies has heard it used ever since she was a kid. By
tribal law I'm her brother. Well, what's the word, boys? Shall we let
her stay or not? We could use her, all right, and put a dash of
old-plains' color in the picture that I haven't got, as it stands. It's
up to you to decide."
"You're wrong," Pink grinned. "She's decided that, herself. Gee,
"Certainly she is; but get this, boys: She isn't going to stay just
because she's pretty, and if I had a different bunch than you fellows,
she'd have to go for that reason. I'm responsible for her—sabe? Bill
Holmes, you get this; I saw you eyeing her pretty strong. That girl is
the daughter of an influential chief, and she comes pretty near being the
pride of the reservation. There can't be any romantic stuff, if they let
her stay. Her father and the Agent will consent, if they do consent, on
the strength of the confidence they have in me. They're going to keep
that confidence. Get that, and get it strong, because I sure mean what
I'm telling you." He eased the tenseness with a laugh. "I don't mean to
offend anybody," he said, "and that's why I'm putting it straight before
the play comes up. Annie-Many-Ponies has got a heart-twisting smile, but
she's a squaw just the same. She's got the ways of the Injun to the
marrow of her bones, and I'll bet right now if you were to shake her hard
enough, you'd jingle a knife out of her clothes." He stopped and lighted
the cigarette he had been carefully rolling. "Well," he finished after
the pause, "does she stay or go?"
The Happy Family answered him with, various phrases, the meaning of which
was that he could suit himself about that; as far as they were concerned,
she could stay and welcome.
So she stayed, and Rosemary hung up a calico curtain across the one
bedroom, so that Annie-Many-Ponies might have a corner to call her own.
She stayed; and Luck rewrote two reels of his scenario so that there
should be a place in it for a beautiful Indian girl who rode like a
whirlwind and did not know the meaning of fear, and who had a mind of her
own, and who was just exactly as harmless in that camp as half a quart of
nitroglycerine, and added thereby a good bit to the load of
responsibility which Luck was shouldering.
"PAM. BLEAK MESA—CATTLE DRIFTING BEFORE WIND—"
"Pam. bleak mesa—snow—cattle drifting before wind. Dale and Johnny dis.
riding to foreground. Reg. cold—horses leg-weary—boys all in—"
Out toward Bear Canyon, where the land to the north rose brokenly to the
mountains, Luck found the bleak stretches of which he had dreamed that
night on the observation platform of a train speeding through the night
in North Dakota,—a great white wilderness unsheltered by friendly
forests, uninhabited save by wild things that moved stealthily across its
windswept ridges. Beyond, the mountains rose barrenly, more bleak than
the land that lay at their feet.
"Pam. bleak mesa—snow—" With the camera set halfway up a gentle slope
commanding a steeper hill beyond, down which the boys would send the
cattle in a slow, uneasy march before the storm, Luck focused his
telephoto lens upon bleakness enough to satisfy even his voracious
appetite for realism. Bill Holmes, his tan pumps wrapped in gunny sacks
for protection against the snow that was a foot deep on the level and
still falling, thrashed his body with his arms, like a windmill whose
paddles have suddenly gone limp in a high wind. When he was ready, Luck
stopped long enough to blow on his fingers and to turn and watch for the
signal from Annie-Many-Ponies, stationed on a higher ridge to the right
of him,—the signal that the cattle were coming.
Through the drive of the snowstorm he saw her tall, straight figure as
through a thin, shifting, white veil. The little black dog, for whom she
had conceived a fierce affection in defiance of Rosemary's tacit
opposition, was lying with its tail curled tight around its feet and its
nose, hunting warmth in the shelter of her flapping garments.
Annie-Many-Ponies was staring away to the north, shielding her keen eyes
from the snow with one slim, brown hand, while she watched for the coming
of the herd.
Luck looked at her, silhouetted against the sky. He had no scene written
in his script to match the picture she made; he had no negative to waste.
But he swung his camera around and, using the telephoto lens he had
adjusted for his cattle scenes, he called to her to hold that pose, and
indulged his artistic sense in a ten-or-twelve foot scene which showed
Annie-Many-Ponies wholly absorbed in gazing upon farther bleakness.
Annie-Many-Ponies was so keenly conscious of her duty to the camera that
she dared not break her pose, even to give the signal, until he had
yelled, "All right, Annie!" and swung the camera back with its recording
eye fixed upon that narrow depression between two blunt ears of hilltop,
through which the herd was to be sent down to the ridge and on past the
camera to the flat, where other scenes were to be taken later on, when
the cattle were hungry enough to browse miserably upon the bosquet of
young cotton woods.
"Cows come!" she called out, because Luck had his back to her at the
moment and did not see the wave of hand she had been told to give him.
Luck, squinting into the view-finder, caught the swaying vanguard of the
herd and swore. He had meant to "pan. bleak mesa" for half a minute
before those swaying heads and horns appeared over the brow of the
ridge. Now, even though he began to turn the crank the instant he
glimpsed them, he would not have quite the effect which he had meant to
have. He would be compelled to make two scenes of it, and pan. his bleak
mesa afterwards and trust to a "cut-in scene" to cover the break. He did
not trust Bill Holmes to turn the crank on that slow, plodding march of
misery. With his diaphragm of the camera wide open to get all the light
possible, because the air was filled with falling snow, he followed the
herd, as it wound snakelike down the easiest descents, making for the
more sheltered small canyons that opened out upon the flat. "Cattle
drifting before the wind," read the script; and now Luck saw them
coming, their snow-whitened backs humped to the driving storm, heads
lowered and swaying weakly from side to side with the shambling motion
of their feet. They were drifting before the wind, just as he had
planned that they should do. That they shuffled wearily down that hill
with poor cows and unweaned calves straggling miserably behind the main
body in "the drag herd," proved how well the boys had done the work
which he had sent them out at daylight to do.
The boys had gone out, under the leadership of Applehead, who knew that
range as he knew his own dooryard, just when daylight began to break
coldly upon the storm that had come with the sunset. Luck had already
ridden out with them and had chosen his location for the blizzard scenes.
He had gone with them over every foot of that drive, and had told them
just where the main body of riders was to fall back behind the ridge that
would hide them from the camera, leaving Andy Green and the Native
Son—since these were the two whom he always visualized in the scene—to
come on alone in the wake of the herd. Under the leadership of old
Applehead, they had combed every draw that sheltered so much as a lone
cow and calf.
Luck had told them to bring in every hoof they could spot and get
over that ridge by ten o'clock. He had a nervous dread of the storm
breaking before noon, and his heart was set on getting that
never-to-be-successfully-faked blizzard scene. Realism ruled him
absolutely, now that he was actually producing some of the big scenes of
this picture. He had told them just where to watch for Annie-Many-Ponies
and the flag she would wave,—a black flag, so that the boys could not
fail to see it in the vague whiteness of the storm. He had located the
jutting ledge behind which Happy Jack was to sneak, that he might watch
for the signal as an extra precaution against an unseasonable appearance
of the two riders over the ridge.
When the herd straggled down in what seemed an endless stream of
storm-driven animals, Luck knew that the boys had done their work well.
He knew cattle as he knew pictures; he knew that a full two thousand came
over that ridge through a shallow pass he had chosen, "'Every hoof' is
right," he remarked to Bill Holmes with a dry approval. "I'd hate to go
hunting meat where that bunch was gathered from. Looks like they'd combed
the country for fifty miles around." He sent a quick glance to the
pinnacle where Annie-Many-Ponies stood waiting to give the signal. He
wished that she had realized the importance of these cattle scenes keenly
enough to have given him the signal at the cost of breaking her pose. But
he had only himself to blame. He should not have taken the risk, even
though he had believed that the cattle would not arrive for another half
hour. He should have been ready; he had told the boys to send them right
over the ridge when they came up to it, because he wanted to preserve
unbroken that indescribable atmosphere of a long, weary journey.
Still they came; a good twenty-five hundred, he was ready to wager, when
the last few stragglers, so weak that they wobbled when they hesitated
before descending a particularly steep place, came down the slope. It
surely did eat up film to take the full magnitude of that march, but Luck
turned and turned and gloated in the bigness of it all.
"All right, Annie," he called out when he had taken the last of the herd
as they filed out of sight into the narrow gully that would lead them to
the flat half a mile below, where he meant to get other scenes. "Wave
flag now for boys to come!"
Annie-Many-Ponies lifted high the black flag and waved it in slow,
sweeping half circles above her head. "Boys, come," she called, a
Luck, still not trusting the camera to Bill Holmes, swung back slowly
to the pass and made a panorama of the desolate hillside and the
chill, forbidding mountains behind. At the pass he stopped. "How
close?" he shouted to Annie. "Come now," she called down to him, and
Luck began to turn the crank again, watching like a hawk for the first
bobbing black specks which would show that the boys were nearing the
crest of the ridge.
They came, on the very instant that he would have chosen for their
coming. Side by side they rode, drooping of shoulders, and yet with their
bodies braced backward for the descent which at the top was rather steep.
"Register cold—horses leg-weary—boys all in—" read the script which
Luck knew by heart. It was cold enough, and the camera must have
registered it in the way the snow was heaped upon their hatbrims, drifted
upon their shoulders, packed in the wrinkles of their clothing and in the
manes and tails of the horses. And the horses certainly were leg-weary;
so weary that Luck knew how the boys must have ridden to gather the
cattle and to put their mounts in that condition of realistic exhaustion.
In the story they were supposed to have ridden nearly all night,—the
night-guard who had been on duty when the storm struck and the cattle
began to drift, and who had stuck to their posts even though they could
not turn the herd.
That might be stretching the probabilities just a shade, but Luck felt
that the effects he wanted to get justified the slight license he had
used in his plot. The effects were there, in generous measure. He
turned the crank on the whole of their descent and got them riding up
into the foreground pinched with cold, miserable as men may be. They
did not look at him—they dared not until he had given the word that
the scene was ended.
"Ride on past, down into that gully where the cattle went," he directed
them sharply. "I'll holler when you're outa sight. You can turn around
and come back then; the scene ends where your hat-crowns bob outa sight.
And listen! You're liable to lose your cattle if you don't spur up a
little, so try and get a little speed into them cayuses of yours!"
Obediently Andy's quirt rose and descended on the flank of his horse. It
started, broke into a shuffling trot, and slowed again to a walk. There
was no speed to be gotten out of those cayuses,—which was what Luck
meant to show on the screen; for this, you must know, was the painting of
one grim phase of the range-man's life. The Native Son spurred his horse
and got a lunge or two that settled presently to the same plodding walk.
Luck pammed them out of sight, bethought him of the rest of the boys, and
commanded Annie-Many-Ponies to call them in.
They came, half frozen, half starved, and so tired they did not know
which discomfort irked them most. They found Luck; his nose purple with
cold marking the footage on his working script with numbed fingers. He
barely glanced at them, and turned away to tell Bill Holmes to take the
camera on down the draw to where that huddle of rocks stood up on the
hillside. Andy and Miguel came back and met the others halfway.
"Say, boss, when do we eat?" Big Medicine inquired anxiously. "By cripes,
I'm holler plumb down to my toes,—and them's froze stiff."
"Eat? We eat when we get these storm scenes taken," Luck told him
heartlessly. "I'm afraid it'll clear up."
"Afraid it'll clear up!" Pink burrowed his chin deeper into his
breath-frosted collar and shivered.
"Oh, quit kicking," the Native Son advised ironically. "We're only living
some of Luck's big minutes he used to tell about."
Luck looked around at them and grinned a little. "Part of the business,
boys," he said. "Think of the picture stuff there is in this storm!"
"Why, sure!" Weary responded with exaggerated cheerfulness. "I've been
freezing artistically ever since daylight. Darn me for leaving my old
sourdough coat at home when I hit for the land of orange blossoms and
singing birds and sunshine."
"Aw, gwan! I never was warm a minute in Los Angeles except when I got hot
at the Acme. Montana never seen the day it was as cold as here."
"Come on, boys, let's get these dissolve scenes of cattle perishing in a
blizzard. After that—hey, Annie! You come, make plenty fire, plenty
coffee. I show you location."
Annie called gently to the little dog, and came striding down through the
snow to fall in docilely three paces behind her adored "brother,"
Wagalexa Conka after the submissive manner of squaws toward the human
male in authority over them.
"Coffee!" Weary murmured ecstatically. "Plenty fire, plenty
Down in the flat where the bushes grew sparsely along the tiny arroyo now
gone dry, the herd had stopped from sheer exhaustion, and were already
nibbling desultorily upon the tenderest twigs. This was what Luck wanted
in his scene, though the cattle must be moved into the location he had
chosen where was just the background effect he wanted to get, with the
bare mesa showing in the far distance. There was a dreary interval of
riding and shouting and urging the cattle up over a low spur of the bluff
and down the other side, and the placing of them to Luck's satisfaction.
I fear that more than one of the boys wondered why that first bit of the
flat would not do, and why Luck insisted that they should bring the herd
to one particular point and no other, and why they must wear out their
horses, and themselves just fussing around among the cattle, scattering
one bunch, bringing others closer together, and driving certain animals
up to foreground, when they very much objected to going there.
Luck had concealed his camera behind the rocks so that he could get a
"close shot" without registering the fact that the cattle were watching
him. His commands to "Edge that black steer over about even with that
white bank!" and later, "Put that cow and calf out this way and drive the
others back a little, so she will have the immediate foreground to
herself," were easier given than obeyed. The cow and calf, for instance,
were much inclined to shamble back with the others, and did not show any
appreciation for the foreground, wherein they were vastly unlike any
other "extras" ever brought before a camera. Still, in spite of all these
drawbacks, the moment arrived when Luck began to turn the crank with his
eyes keen for every detail of that bunch of forlorn, hungry, range cattle
huddled under the scant shelter of a ten-foot bank, while the snows fell
steadily in great flakes which Luck knew would give a grand storm-effect
on the screen. The Happy Family, free for the moment, crowded close to
the fire of dead sagebrush which Annie-Many-Ponies had lighted in the lee
of a high rock, and sniffed longingly at the smell which came steaming up
from the dented two-gallon coffee-boiler blackened from many a camp fire.
Luck was turning the crank and watching his "foreground stuff" so that he
did not at first see the two riders who came loping down the hill which
he was using for background. Whether he would or no, he had got them in
several feet of good scene before he saw them and stopped his camera. He
shouted, but they came on headlong, slipping and sliding in the loose
snow. There could be no doubt that they were headed straight for the
group and felt that their business was urgent, so Luck stepped out from
behind the rocks and started toward them, motioning for them to keep out,
away from the cattle.
"Better let me git in the lead right now," Applehead advised hastily, and
jumped in front of Luck as the two came lunging up. "I know these here
hombres, to my sorrer, too, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
But Luck, feeling that his leadership might as well be established then
as any time, pushed the old man back.
"What you want?" he demanded of the foremost who rode up. "Didn't you
hear me tell you to keep out around the cattle?"
"Adonde va V con mi vaca?" snapped the first rider in high-keyed
"My brother say where you go with our cattle?" interrupted the other one,
evidently proud of his English.
"I know what he said," Luck snubbed this one bluntly. "I don't know that
they are your cattle. I don't care. We're using them to make motion
pictures. Get outa the way so we can go on with our work." Had he not
spoiled several feet of film because of their coming he might have been
more inclined to placate them. As it was, he did not welcome their
interference, he did not like their looks, and their tones were to his
temper as tow would be to a fire. Their half Mexican, half American dress
irritated him; the interruption exasperated him. He was hungry and cold
and keyed to a high nervous tension in his anxiety to make the most of
his present big opportunity; he knew too well that he might not have
another chance all winter, with the snow falling as if under his
"Get over there outa range of the camera!" he commanded them sharply,
"then you can spout Mex. till you're black in the face, for all I care.
I'm busy." To make himself absolutely understood he repeated the gist of
his remarks in Spanish before he turned his back on them to finish his
Whereupon one swore in Spanish and the other in English, and they both
declared that they would take their cattle right now, and reined their
horses toward the shifting herd.
"Hold on thar, Ramone Chavez!" shouted Applehead, striding forward.
"Didn't you hear the boss tell ye to git outa the way, both of yuh? Yuh
better do it, now I'm tellin' yuh, 'cause if yuh don't, they's goin' to
be right smart of a runction around here! A good big share uh them thar
cattle belongs to me. Don't ye go messin' in there amongst 'em; you jest
ride back outa the way uh that thar camery. Git!"
At Applehead's command they "got," at least as far as the camp fire,
where the bright shawl of Annie-Many-Ponies caught and held their
interest. Annie-Many-Ponies, being a woman who had both youth and
beauty and sensed instinctively the value of both, sent a slant-eyed
glance and a half smile toward Ramone, who possessed more good looks
and more English than his brother. The Happy Family eyed them with a
tolerant indifference and moved aside with reluctant hospitality when
Ramone dismounted shiveringly and came forward to warm his fingers over
"She's cold day, you bet," Ramone remarked ingratiatingly.
"She ain't what you could call hot," Big Medicine conceded drily, since
no one else showed any disposition to reply.
"We don't get much snow like this. You live in Albuquerque, perhaps?"
There was really no excuse for snubbing these two, who had been well
within their rights in making an investigation of this unheralded and
unauthorized gathering of all the cattle on this range. Andy told Ramone
where they were staying and where they came from, and let it go at that.
The less Americanized brother dismounted and joined the group with a nod
"My brother Tomas," announced Ramone, with a flash of white teeth, his
eyes shifting unobtrusively toward Annie-Many-Ponies, who wore a secret,
half-smiling air of provocative interest in him. "Not spik much English,
my brother. Always stay too much at home. Me, I travel all over—Denver,
Los Angeles, San Francisco. I ride in all contests—Pueblo, San
Antonio—all over. Tomas, he go not so often. His head, all for
business—making money—get rich some day. Me, I spend. My hand wide open
always. Money slip fast."
"There's plenty of us marked that way," Weary made good-natured comment,
turning so that his back might feel the heat of the fire.
"Shunka Chistala!" murmured Annie-Many-Ponies in her soft contralto to
the little black dog, and moved away to the mountain wagon, with the dog
following close to her moccasined heels.
Ramone looked after her with frank surprise at the strange words. "Not
Spanish, then?" he ventured.
"Indian," the Native Son explained briefly, and added, perhaps for
reasons of his own, "Sioux squaw."
Ramone very wisely let his curiosity rest there. He had a good excuse,
for Luck, having finished work for the time being, came tramping over to
the fire. At him Ramone glanced apologetically.
"We borrow comfort from your fire, señor," he said indifferently.
"She's bad day for riding."
Luck nodded, already ashamed of having lost his temper, yet not at the
point of yielding openly to any overtures for peace. "Soon as we eat," he
said to Weary and those others who stood nearest, "I'll have you cut out
that poor cow and calf and drive 'em down the flat here, so I can get
that other scene I was telling you about."
"Wagalexa Conka, here is plenty hot coffee," came a soft voice at his
elbow, and Luck turned with a smile to take the steaming cup from the
hand of Annie-Many-Ponies.
The Native Son poured a cup and offered it to Tomas Chavez. "Quire
cafe?" he asked.
"Si, señor; Gracias." Tomas smiled, and took the cup and bowed.
Annie-Many-Ponies herself, with a sidelong glance at Luck to see if she
might dare, carried the biggest cup of coffee to Ramone, and smiled
demurely when he took it and looked into her eyes and thanked her.
In this fashion did the social sky clear, even though the snow continued
to drive against those who broke bread together out there in the dreary
wastes, with the snow halfway to their knees. The Native Son, being half
Spanish and knowing well the language of his father, talked a little with
Tomas. Ramone made himself friendly with any one who would give him any
attention. But Applehead scowled over his boiled-beef sandwich and his
coffee, and kept his back turned upon the Chavez brothers, and would not
talk at all. He eyed them sourly when they still loitered after the meal
was over and the remains packed away in the box by Annie-Many-Ponies, and
Luck had gone to work again with Bill Holmes at his heels and the boys
helping to place the cattle to Luck's liking.
When the Chavez brothers finally did show symptoms of intending to leave,
Luck beckoned to Tomas, whom he judged to be the leader. "Here," he said
in Spanish, when Tomas had come close to him. "I will pay you for using
your cattle. When I am through, my boys will drive them back to the mesa
again. For my picture I may need them again, señor. I promise you they
will not be harmed." And he charged in his expense book the sum, "to use
"Gracias," said Tomas, and took the five dollars which Luck could ill
afford to give, but which he felt would smooth materially the trail to
their future work. Cattle he must have for his picture; cattle he would
have at any cost,—but it would be well to have them with the consent of
their owners. So the Chavez brothers rode away with smiles for their
neighbors instead of threats, and with five dollars which had come to
them like a gift.
"Yuh might better uh kicked 'em outa here without no softsoapin' about
it, now I'm tellin' yuh!" Applehead grumbled when they were out of
earshot. "You may know your business better'n what I do, but by thunder I
wouldn't uh give 'em no five dollars—ner five cents. 'S like feedin' a
stray dog; yuh won't never git rid of 'em now. They'll be hangin' around
under yer feet—"
"At that, I might have use for them," Luck retorted unmoved. "They're
"Types!" old Applehead exploded indignantly. "Types! They're
sneak-thieves and cutthroats 't I wouldn't trust fur's I could throw a
bull by the tail. That's what they be. Types,—my granny!"
"PLUMB SPOILED, D' YUH MEAN?"
Luck came out of the dark room with the still, frozen, look of a trouble
that has gone too deep for words. Annie-Many-Ponies eyed him aslant and
straightway placed the hottest, juiciest piece of steak on his plate, and
poured his coffee even before she poured for old Dave Wiswell, whom she
favored as being an old acquaintance of the Pine Ridge country.
Once when her father, old chief Big Turkey, had broken his leg and
refused to have a doctor attend him, and had said that he would die if
his "son" did not make his leg well, Luck had looked as he looked now.
Still, he had set chief Big Turkey's leg so well that it grew straight
and strong again. Annie-Many-Ponies might be primitive as to her nature
and untutored as to her mind, but she could read the face of her brother
Wagalexa Conka swiftly and surely. Something was very bad in his heart.
Annie-Many-Ponies searched her soul for guilt, remembered the smile she
had given to Ramone Chavez whom Wagalexa Conka did not like, and
immediately she became humbled before her chief.
Shunka Chistala—which is Sioux for little dog—she banished into the
cold, and hardened her heart, against his whining. It is true that
Wagalexa Conka had not forbidden her to have the little dog in the
house, but in his displeasure he might make the dog an excuse for
scolding her and for taking the part of Rosemary, who hated dogs in the
house, and who was trying, by every ingratiating means known to woman,
to make a friend of Compadre. Rosemary was a white woman and the wife of
Wagalexa Conka's friend; Annie-Many-Ponies was an Indian girl, not even
of the same race as her brother Wagalexa Conka. And although her vanity
might lead her to believe herself and her smile the cause of Luck's
mask-like displeasure, she had no delusions as to which side he would
take in an argument between herself and Shunka Chistala on the one side,
and Rosemary and Compadre on the other; and in the back of her mind
lived always the fear that Wagalexa Conka might refuse to let her stay
and work for him in pictures.
Therefore Annie-Many-Ponies crouched humbly before the rock
fireplace, until Luck missed her at the table and told her to come
and eat; she came as comes a dog who has been beaten, and slid into
her place as noiselessly as a shadow,—humility being the heritage of
her sex and race.
No one talked at all. Even Rosemary seemed depressed and made no attempt
to stir the Happy Family to their wonted cheerfulness. They were worn out
from their long day that had been filled with real hardships as well as
work. In the general silence, Luck's deeper gloom seemed consistent and
only to be expected; for hard as the others had worked, he had worked
harder. His had been the directing brain; his hand had turned the camera
crank, lest Bill Holmes, not yet familiar with his duties, might fail
where failure would be disaster. He had endured the cold and the storm,
tramping back and forth in the snow, planning, directing, doing literally
the work of two men. Annie-Many-Ponies alone knew that exhaustion never
brought just that look into Luck's face. Annie-Many-Ponies knew that
something was very bad in Luck's heart. She knew, and she trembled while
she ate with a precise attention to her table manners lest he chide her
openly before them all.
"How long do you think this storm will last, Applehead?" Luck asked, when
he had walked heavily over to the fireplace for his smoke, and had drawn
a match sharply along the rough face of a rock.
"We-ell, she's showin' some signs uh clearin' up to-night," Applehead
stated with careful judgment, because he felt that Luck's question had
much to do with Luck's plans, and was not a mere conversational bait.
"Wind, she's shiftin', er was, when I come in to supper. She shore come
down like all git-out ever since she started, and I calc'late she's about
stormed out. I look fer sun all day to-morrer, boy." This last in a tone
of such manifest encouragement that Luck snorted. (Back by the table in
the kitchen, Annie-Many-Ponies paused in her piling of plates and
listened breathlessly. She knew that particular sound. Wagalexa Conka
would presently reveal what was bad in his heart.)
"That would be my luck, all right," her chief stated pessimistically.
"What's the matter with the sun, now?" Big Medicine boomed reprovingly.
"Comin' in, you said you had your blizzard stuff, and now if the sun'd
jest come out, by cripes, you'd be singin' songs uh thanksgivin'—er
words to that effect. Honest to gran'ma, there's folks that'd kick if—"
"But I haven't got my blizzard stuff," Luck stated, harshly because of
the effort to speak at all. "All that negative I took to-day is chuck
full of 'static.'"
Annie-Many-Ponies, out in the kitchen, dropped a granite-iron plate, but
the others merely stared at Luck uncomprehendingly.
"Well, say, by cripes! What's statics?" demanded Big Medicine
pugnaciously, as though he meant to ward off from his mind the
realization of some new misfortune.
Luck's lips twitched in the faint impulse toward a smile that would not
come. "Statics," he explained, "is that branch of mechanics that relates
to bodies held at rest by the forces acting on them. In other words, it
is electricity in a stationary charge, the condition being produced by
friction, or induction. In other words—"
"In other words," Big Medicine supplied glumly, "I can shut up and mind
my own business. I get yuh, all right!"
"Nothing like that, Bud," Luck corrected more amiably, warmed a little by
the sympathy he knew would follow close upon the heels of understanding.
"Static is a technical word used a good deal in motion-picture
photography. In this case it was caused, I think, by the difference of
temperature in the metal parts of the camera and negative, and the
weather outside the camera box. I've been keeping it here in the house
where it's warm, and I took it out into the cold and started
work—sabe? And the grinding of the bearings, and the action of the
film on the race plate, generated static electricity in tiny flashes
which lighted up the interior of the camera and light-exposed the
negative, as it was passing from one magazine to another. When it's
developed, these flashes show up in contrasty lights, like tiny grape
vines; I can show you that part; I've got about a mile of it, more or
less, there in the dark room."
"Plumb spoiled, d' yuh mean?" Big Medicine asked, his voice hushed before
"Plumb spoiled." Luck threw his cigarette stub viciously into the
blaze. "All that drifting herd, all that panoram of Andy and
Miguel—all—everything I took to-day, with the exception of those last
scenes with the cow and calf. The one where the cow is down and the snow
drifting over her, and the calf huddled there by the carcass,—that's
dandy. Camera and negative were cold as the outside air by that time.
That one scene will stand out big; it's got an awful big punch, provided
I had the stuff leading up to it, which I haven't got."
"Hell!" said Andy softly, voicing the dismay of them all.
Presently old Applehead unlimbered himself from his chair and went out
into the cold and darkness. When he came back, ribbing his knuckles
for warmth, he stood before the fireplace and ruminated dispiritedly
before he spoke.
"Ain't ary hope of it blizzardin' to-morrer, boy," he broke his silence
reluctantly, "'less the wind changes, which she don't act to me like
she's got ary notion of doin'; she's shore goin' to blind ye with sun
to-morrer, now I'm tellin' yuh."
"Well, there won't be any more static in my film," Luck declared with
sudden decision, and carried his camera outside. When he returned
Applehead eyed him solicitously.
"We-ell, this ain't but the middle uh November, yuh want to recollect,"
he said. "We're liable to have purtier storms 'n what this here one was,
'fore winter's over. Cattle'll be in worse condition, too,—ribs stickin'
out so'st you kin count 'em a mile off 'n' more. Way winter's startin'
in, wouldn't s'prise me a mite if we had storms all through till spring
Luck knew the old man was trying in his crude way to encourage him, but
he made no reply, and Applehead relapsed into drowsy meditation over his
pipe. The boys, yawning sleepily, trailed off to bed in the Ketch-all
cabin. Rosemary and Annie-Many-Ponies, having finished washing the dishes
and tidying the kitchen, came through the room on their way to bed,
Annie-Many-Ponies cunningly hiding the little black dog behind her
skirts. Rosemary frowned at the two and went to the door and called
Compadre; but the blue cat, scenting a dog in the house, meowed his
regrets and would not come.
"I'll take 'im down with me," said Applehead, rising stiffly. "He cain't
take no comfort in the house no more—not till he spunks up and licks
that thar dawg a time er two. Comin', Luck?" he added, waiting at the
door. But Luck was staring into the fire and did not seem to hear him, so
Applehead went off alone to where the Happy Family were already creeping
thankfully into their hard bunks.
The house grew still; so still that Luck could hear the wind whispering
in the chimney, coming from the quarter which meant clearing weather. He
sighed, flung more wood on the coals to drive back the chill of the
night, and got out his scenario and some sheets of blank paper and a
pencil. He had sold his typewriter when he was raising money for this
trip, and he was inclined now to regret it. But he sharpened the pencil,
laid a large-surfaced "movie" magazine across his knees, and prepared to
revise his scenario to meet his present limitations.
With a good thousand feet of film spoiled through no real fault of his
own, and with the expenses he knew he must meet looming inexorably before
him, he simply could not afford a leading woman. Therefore, he must
change his story, making it a "character" lead instead of the
conventional hero and heroine theme. Chance—he called it luck—had sent
him Annie-Many-Ponies, who "Wants no monies." He must change his story so
that she would fit into it as the necessary feminine element, but he was
discouraged enough that night to tell himself that, just as he had her
placed and working properly, the Indian Agent or her father, old Big
Turkey, would probably demand her immediate return. In his despondent
mood he had no faith in his standing with the Indians or in the letter he
had written to the Agent. His "one best bet", as he put it, was to make
her scenes as soon as possible, before they had time to reach him with a
letter; therefore he must reconstruct his scenario immediately, so that
he could get to work in the morning, whatever the weather.
He read the script through from beginning to end, and his heart went
heavy in his chest. He did not want to change one scene of that Big
Picture. Just as it stood it seemed to him perfect in its way. It had the
bigness of the West when the West was young. It had the red blood of
courage, the strength of achievement, the sweetness of a great love. It
was, in short, Luck's biggest, best work. Still, without a woman to play
Luck sighed and dampened his pencil on his tongue and drew a heavy line
through the scene where "Marian" first appeared in the story. It hurt him
like drawing a hot wire across his hand. It was his first real
compromise, his first step around an obstacle in his path rather than his
usual bold jump over it. He looked at the pencil mark and considered
whether he could not send for a girl young in the profession, who would
be satisfied with her transportation and thirty or forty dollars a week
while she stayed. He could make all her scenes and send her back. But a
little mental arithmetic, coupled with the cold fact that he did not know
of any young woman who was capable of doing the work he required and
would yet be satisfied with a small salary, killed that new-born hope. He
drew a line through the next scene where the girl appeared.
When he had quite blotted the girl from his story, he was appalled at the
gap he must fill in the continuity and in the theme. He had left old Dave
Wiswell, his dried little cattleman, a childless old man—or else a
"squaw" man whose squaw has, presumably, died before the story began.
Somehow he could not "see" his cattleman as one who would set aside the
barrier of race and take a squaw for his wife. He could not see
Annie-Many-Ponies as anything save what she was—a beautiful young savage
with an odd adornment of civilized speech and some of the civilized
customs, it is true, but a savage for all that. He did not want to spoil
her by portraying her as a half-caste in his picture.
He must make his story a man's story, with the full interest centered
about the man's hopes, his temptations, his achievements. The
woman—Annie, as he saw the woman now—must be of secondary interest. He
laid his head against the chair back in his favorite attitude for
uninterrupted thought, and stared into the fire. In this way he had
stared out into the night of the Dakota prairie; at first brooding in
discontent because things were not as he would have them, then drifting
into dreams of what he would like; then weaving his dreams together and
creating a something complete in itself. So had he created his Big
Picture,—the picture which was already beginning to live in the narrow
strips of negative. A few hundred feet of that negative were even dry and
filed away ready for cutting; unimportant scenes, to be sure, with all of
his "big stuff" yet to be produced. His mind went methodically over the
completed scenes, judging each one separately, seeking some change of
plot that would yet permit these scenes to be used. From there his
thought drifted to the day's work in the blizzard,—the day's work that
had been lost because of atmospheric conditions. Blizzard stuff he must
have, he told himself stubbornly. Not only was that a phase of the range
which he must portray if his picture were to be complete; he must have it
to lead the story up to that tragic, pitifully eloquent scene which had
come out clear and photographically perfect,—the scene of the old cow's
struggle against the storm and of her final surrender, too weak to match
her puny strength against the furies of wind and snow and cold. That
scene would live long in the minds of those who saw it; that scene alone
would lift his picture above the dead level of mediocrity. But he must
have another blizzard….
His eyelids drooped low over his tired eyes; through their narrowing
opening he stared at the yellow glow of the fire. Only half awake, he
dreamed of the herd drifting down that bleak hillside, with Andy and the
Native Son riding doggedly after them. Only half awake, his story
changed, grew indistinct, clarified in stray scenes, held aloof from
him, grew and changed, and was another story. And always in the
background of his mind went that drifting herd. Sometimes snow-whitened,
their backs humped in the wind, their heads lowered and swaying weakly
from side to side, the cattle marched and marched before him, sometimes
obscured by the blackness of night, a vague procession of moving
shadows; sometimes revealed suddenly when the lightning split the
blackness. Like a phantom herd—
"The phantom herd!" Aloud he cried the words. "The Phantom Herd!" He
sat up straight in his chair. Here was his title, for which his mind had
groped so long and could not grasp. His title—
"What—that you, Luck?" Andy Green's voice came sleepily from the next
room. "What yuh want?"
"I've got my title!" Luck called back, his voice exultant. "And I've got
my story, too! Get up, Andy, and let me tell you the plot!"
Whereupon Andy proved himself a real friend and an unselfish one. He felt
as if getting up out of bed was the final, supreme torture under which a
man may live; but he got up, for there was something in Luck's voice that
thrilled him even through the clogging sleep-hunger. Presently he was
sitting in his trousers and socks and shirt, sleepy-eyed beside Luck.
"Shoot it outa your system," he mumbled, and began feeling stupidly for
his cigarette papers. "E—a-ough!" he yawned, if so inarticulate a
sound may be spelled. "I knew you'd have to work your story over," he
said, more normal of tone after the yawn. And he added bluntly,
"Rosemary's one grand little woman—but she couldn't act if you trained
her a thousand years. What's your next best bet?"
"No next best; it's the picture this time. The Phantom Herd. Get that
as a title?"
"Gee!" Andy softly paid tribute. Then he grinned. "By gracious, they
sure didn't act to me like any phantom herd when we first headed 'em
into that wind!"
"Them babies are going to march us up to a pile of real money, though,"
Luck asserted eagerly.
"Listen. Here's the story—the part I've changed; all the first part is
the same—the trail-herd and all. You're old Dave's son, and you're
wild. You quarrel, and he turns you out, thinking he'll let you rustle
for yourself awhile, and maybe tame down and come back more like he wants
you to be. But you don't tame that way. You throw in with Miguel, and you
two turn rustlers. You hold a grudge against your dad, and you rustle
from him mostly, on the plea that by rights what's his is yours—you
know. Annie is Mig's sweetheart, and she's a kind of go-between—keeps
you posted on what's taking place on the outside, and all that. I
haven't," he explained hastily, "doped out the details yet. I'm giving
you the main points I want to bring out. Well, here's the big stuff; you
get a big herd together. You're holding 'em in a box canyon,—I know the
spot, all right,—waiting for a chance to drive them outa the country;
see? This blizzard hits, and you take advantage of it to drive the herd
out under cover of the storm. But the blizzard beats you. You trail 'em
along, but there's only two of you, and you can't keep 'em from swinging
away from the wind. You try to hold the herd into the storm,—that's
where I'll get my big storm effects,—but they swing off in spite of you.
Your horses get tired; all you can do is follow the herd. Lord! I wish
that stuff I took to-day wasn't spoiled! I sure would have had some big
stuff there. Well, Mig's horse goes down in a drifted wash. You're trying
to point the herd then, and the storm's so thick you don't miss him at
first, we'll say.
"Anyway, as I've doped it out, Mig loses his life. You find him
dead—whether then or later I don't know yet. The punch is this: You have
been getting pretty sick of the life, and wishing you had behaved
yourself and stayed with your dad. But you've been afraid of Mig. You
couldn't see any chance of taking the back trail as long as he was alive
to tell on you. Now he's dead. I guess maybe you better find him right
there in the blizzard—hurt maybe—anyway, just about all in. You try to
save him, sabe? You can't, though."
"I still don't see no phantom herd," observed Andy, wriggling his toes
luxuriously in the warmth of the fire.
"Well, listen. You'll see it in a minute. You go back home after your
pard's dead. You have a close squeak yourself, see? And the thing works
on your mind. Cutting out the frills, you see things. You see a herd
drifting before a storm, maybe,—a blizzard like yesterday, with your pal
riding point. You try to come up with it—no herd there. You come to
yourself and go back home. Then maybe some black night you're brooding
before a fire like this—I can get a great firelight effect on your face,
sitting like this"—Luck, actor that he was, made Andy see just how the
scenes would look—"have a flare in the fire to throw the light back on
you; see what I mean? And outside a thunderstorm is rolling up. A bright
flash of lightning startles you. You go to the door and open it; you see
the herd drifting past with Mig trailing along on his horse—black
shadows, and then standing out clear in the lightning—"
"How the deuce—"
"I'll do that with 'lap dissolves' and double exposures. Lots of work
that will be, and careful work, but the result will be—why, Lord! It
will be immense! That herd and the lone rider haunt you till you're on
the edge of being crazy. Then I'll bring out somehow that it's a nervous
condition, which of course it is. And I'll bring old Dave in strong; he
follows you some night, and he finds out what you're after. You tell
him—make a clean breast of your rustling, see? Just unburden your mind
to your dad. He's big enough to see that he isn't altogether clear of
guilt himself, for sending you off the way he did. Anyway, that pulls you
out of it. The phantom herd and rider pass over the sky line some
night—Lord, I can see what a picture I can get out of that!—and out of
"Unh-hunh—that's a heap better than your first story, Luck."
"Andy, are you boys going to talk all night?" the voice of Rosemary came
plaintively from the next room.
"Here. You go back to bed," Luck generously commanded. "I just wanted to
get your idea of what it sounds like. I'll block it out before I turn in.
Go on, now."
So Luck wrote his new story of The Phantom Herd that night. He had a
midnight supper of warmed-over coffee and cold bean sandwiches, but he
did not have any sleep. When he had finished with a last big, artistic
scene that made his pulse beat faster in the writing of it, the white
world outside was growing faintly pink under the rising sun.
A LETTER FROM CHIEF BIG TURKEY
Annie-Many-Ponies, keen of eye when her heart directed her glances, saw
the Kyle postmark on a letter while Applehead was sorting Luck's mail
from the weekly batch he had just brought. Luck also spied the Kyle
postmark and the familiar handwriting of George-Low-Cedar, who was a
cousin of Annie-Many-Ponies and the most favored scribe of Big Turkey's
numerous family. There was no mistaking those self-conscious shadings on
the downward strokes of the pen, or the twice-curled tails of all the
capitals. The capital M, for instance, very much resembled a dandelion
stem split and curled by the tongue of a little girl.
George-Low-Cedar and none other had written that letter, and Big Turkey
himself had probably composed it in great deliberation over his pipe,
while the smoke of his tepee fire curled over his head, and his squaw
crouched in the shadow listening stolidly while her heart ached with
longing for the girl-child who had gone a-wandering. Annie-Many-Ponies
slid unobtrusively to the door and flattened her back against the wall
beside it, ready to slip out into the dusk if she read in Wagalexa
Conka's face that the letter was unpleasant.
Luck did not say a word while he held the letter up and looked at it; he
did not say a word, but Annie-Many-Ponies knew, as well as though he had
spoken, that he too feared what the contents might be. So she stood flat
against the wall and watched his face, and saw how his fingers fumbled at
the flap of the envelope, and how slowly he drew out the cheap, heavily
ruled, glazed paper that is sold alongside plug tobacco and pearl buttons
and safety pins in the Indian traders' stores. Staring from under her
straight brows at that folded letter, Annie-Many-Ponies had a swift,
clear vision of the little store set down in the midst of barrenness and
dust, and of the squaws sitting wrapped in bright shawls upon the
platform while their lords gravely purchased small luxuries within. As a
slim, barefooted papoose, proud of her shapeless red calico slip buttoned
unevenly up the back with huge white buttons, and of her hair braided in
two sleek braids and tied with strips of the same red calico, she had
stood flattened against the wall of the store while her father, Big
Turkey, bought tobacco. She had hoped that the fates might be kind and
send her a five-cent bag of red-and-white gum drops. Instead, Big Turkey
had brought her a doll,—a pink-cheeked doll of the white people. In her
cheap suitcase which she had carried wrapped in her shawl on her back to
the ranch, Annie-Many-Ponies still had that doll. So with her eyes fixed
upon the letter, her mind stared trance-like at the vision of that
long-ago day which had been to her so wonderful.
Then Wagalexa Conka looked at her and smiled, and the vision of the store
and the slim, barefooted papoose with her doll vanished. The smile meant
that all was well, that she might stay with Wagalexa Conka and be his
Indian girl in the picture of The Phantom Herd. Annie-Many-Ponies
smiled back at him,—the slow, sweet, sphinx-like smile which Luck called
"heart-twisting,"—and slipped out into the night with her heart beating
fast in a strange mixture of joy that she might stay, and of homesickness
for the little store set down in the midst of barrenness and dust, and
for that long-ago day that had been so wonderful.
"Read this," said Luck, still smiling, and gave the letter into the
flour-dusted hands of Rosemary. "Ever see a real, dyed-in-the-wool,
Indian letter? Sure takes a load off my mind, too; you never can tell how
an idea is going to hit an Indian. Pass it on to the boys."
So Rosemary read, with the whole Happy Family crowding close to look over
Kyle, P. Office
Pine Ridge, So. D
at Motion Pictures ranch,
Albequrqe, New M.
I this day gets letter from agent at agency who tell my girl you sisters
are now at New mexicos with you pictures. shes go way one days at night
times and to-morrow mornings i no find him. i am glad she sees you. you
Take care same as with shows them Buffalo bill. all indians have hard
times for cold and much hays and fires of prairies loses much. them
indians shake you hands with good hearts they have with you. send me blue
silks ribbon send Me pictures so i can see you. Again i shake you by
hand with good heart same as I see you. Speak one Letters quick again.
"Pretty good spelling, for an Indian letter," Rosemary commented
suspiciously. "Are you sure an Indian wrote it, Luck Lindsay?"
"Why, certainly, I'm sure!" Luck was shuffling his other letters with the
air of a man whose mind has for the moment lost its load of trouble.
"George-Low-Cedar wrote it. I know his writing. He's Annie's cousin, and
he thinks he's highly educated. Indians have great memories, and once
they learn to spell a word, they never seem to forget it. They learn to
spell in school. What they don't learn is how to put the words together
the way we do. Cousin George is also shaky on capitals, you notice. Now
to-morrow we can go ahead with that big cattle-stuff. I can take my time
about making Annie's scenes; I was afraid I might have to rush them all
through first thing, so as to send her back. I'm sure glad she can stay;
she's good to have around, to help in the house."
Rosemary screwed up her lips and gave him a queer look, but Luck had
turned his attention to another letter, and she did not say what was in
her mind. Annie-Many-Ponies, speaking theoretically, was good to have
around to help Rosemary. In actual practice, however, Rosemary found her
not so good. Personally Annie was fastidiously tidy, which Rosemary
ungenerously set down to youthful vanity rather than to innate
cleanliness. When it came to washing dishes, however, Annie-Many-Ponies
left much to be desired. She was prone to disappear about the time she
reached the biscuit-basin and the frying-pan stage of the thrice-daily
performance. She was prone to fancy she heard Wagalexa Conka calling her,
or Shunka Chistala barking in pursuit of the cat, or a hen cackling out
in the weeds; whatever the sound, it invariably became a summons which
Annie-Many-Ponies must instantly obey. Then she forgot to come back
within the next two or three hours, and Rosemary must finish the dishes
herself. But all this, as Rosemary well knew, was an unimportant detail
of the general scheme of work going on at Applehead's ranch.
To her it seemed wonderful, the way Luck was pushing his picture to
completion against long odds sometimes, fighting some difficulty always.
Much as she secretly resented certain Indian traits in Annie-Many-Ponies,
and pleased as she would secretly have been if the girl had been recalled
to the reservation, she was generously relieved because Luck could now go
ahead with his round-up and trail-herd scenes while the weather was mild
and sunny, and need not hurry the Indian-girl scenes at all.
In the ten days since the blizzard, Luck had worked hard. Some night
scenes in a cow-town he had already taken, driving late in the afternoon
into Albuquerque with his radium flares and his full company. Rosemary's
memory cherished those nights as rare and precious experiences. First
there were the old-time scenes, half Mexican in their atmosphere, when
the dried little man was young, and the trail-herd started north. For
these scenes Luck himself played the part of Dave Wiswell, turning the
camera work over to Bill Holmes. Then there were the scenes of a later
period,—scenes of carousal which depicted her beloved Andy as a very
wild young man who spent his nights riotously. One full day of sunshine
had also been spent at the stockyards there, taking shipping scenes.
On this day the two women had stayed at home, and Rosemary had nearly
quarreled with Annie-Many-Ponies because Annie would not mend her
stockings, but had spent the whole afternoon teaching Shunka Chistala
to chase prairie dogs, the game being to try and frighten them away
from their holes and then catch them. Annie-Many-Ponies attended to the
strategic direction of the enterprise and let Shunka Chistala do most
of the running. The high, clear laughter of the girl and her
unintelligible cries to the little black dog had irritated Rosemary to
the point of tears.
There had been no more days wasted because of spoiled film,—Luck was
carefully guarding against that,—and it seemed to Rosemary that there
were miles of it developed and dried and pigeon-holed, ready for
assembling. That part of the work she was especially interested in,
because it was done in the house.
To her it might seem that miles of film had been made, but to Luck it
seemed as though the work crawled with maddening deliberation. Delays
fretted him. The mounting expense account worried him, though as a matter
of fact it mounted slowly, considering the work he was doing and the size
of the company he was maintaining. When he took film clippings to a town
photographer to have enlargements made for "stills,"—the pictures which
must accompany each set of prints as advertising matter,—the cost of the
work gave him the blues for the rest of that day. Then there were the
Chavez boys, whom he had found it expedient to use occasionally in his
big range scenes and in his "cow-town stuff." They had no conception of
regular rates as extras, but Luck had a conscience, and he had also
established a precedent. Whenever he used them in pictures, he gave Tomas
five dollars and left it to Tomas to divide with Ramone. And five
dollars, added to other fives and tens and twenty-fives, soon amounts to
an amazing whole when anxiety holds the pencil.
As his story had changed and developed into The Phantom Herd plot, it
had lengthened appreciably, because he could not and would not sacrifice
his big range stuff. And double exposures meant double work, of course.
He found himself with a five-reel picture in the making instead of the
four-reeler he had started to produce. Thus he was compelled to send for
more "raw stock." Also, he soon ran out of lumber for his interior sets
and must buy more. As the possibilities of his production grew plainer to
him, Luck knew that he could not slight a single scene nor skimp it in
the making. He could go hungry if it came to that, but he could not
cheapen his story by using make-shift settings.
Thanksgiving came, and they scarcely knew it, for the weather was fine,
and they spent the day far afield and came in after dark, too tired to be
thankful for anything save the opportunity to sleep.
Christmas came so suddenly that they wondered where the month had gone.
Christmas Eve the Happy Family spent in arranging a round-up camp out
behind the house where the hill rose picturesquely, and in singeing
themselves heroically in the heat of radium flares, while Luck took his
camp-fire scenes that were triumphs of lighting-effects and
photography,—scenes which he would later tone red with aniline dyes.
Annie-Many-Ponies and Rosemary brought out the two-gallon coffee boiler
and a can of cream and a small lard pail of sugar, with cups and tin
spoons and a pan of boiled-beef and cold-bean sandwiches. Rosemary called
"Merry Christmas!" when the dying radium flares betrayed her approach,
and the Happy Family jumped up and shouted "Merry Christmas!" to her and
one another, just as exuberantly as though they had been celebrating
instead of adding six hours or so to a hard day's work.
"That was beautiful, Luck Lindsay," Rosemary declared, giving him a bean
sandwich for which he declared himself "strong," and holding the sugar
bucket steady while he dipped into it three times.
"We were watching from the house; and the boys' faces, the way you
had them placed, looked—oh, I don't know, but it just sent shivers
all over me, it was so beautiful. I just hope it comes out that way
in the picture!"
"Better," mumbled Luck, taking great, satisfying bites into the sandwich.
"Wait till you see it—after it's colored—with the chuck-box end of the
wagon showing, and the night horses standing back there in the shadows;
she will sure look like a million dollars!"
"She'll shore depict me cookin' and the smoke bilin' up," poor old
Applehead remarked lugubriously. "Last five minutes er so I could hear
grease a-fryin' on my shins, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
"Well, they don't use radium flares in cold-storage plants," Luck
"I know, by cripes, I'm goin' to mend my ways," Big Medicine
declared meaningly. "I never realized b'fore how fire 'n brimstone's
goin' to feel!"
"Well, I've got to hand it to you, boys," Luck praised them with a smile.
"You sat tight, and when I said 'Hold,' you sure held the pose. You
dissolved perfectly—you'll see."
"Aw, gwan!" contradicted Happy Jack with his mouth full. "I never
dissolved; I plumb melted!"
"If you boys could just see how beautiful you looked," Rosemary reproved,
starting on her second round with the coffee boiler. "I saw it from
behind the camera, and Luck had you sitting so the light was shining on
your faces; honestly, you looked beautiful!"
"Aw, gwan!" gurgled Happy Jack, reddening uncomfortably.
"It's late," Luck broke in, emptying his cup the second time. "But I'm
going to make that firelight scene of you, Annie. The wind happens to be
just right for the flame effect I want. Did you make up, as I told you?"
For answer, Annie-Many-Ponies threw back her shrouding red shawl and
stepped proudly out before him in the firelight. Her brown arms were bare
and banded with bracelets of some dull metal. Her fringed dress of
deerskin was heavily embroidered with stained porcupine quills. Her slim
feet were clothed in beaded moccasins. It was the gala dress of the
daughter of a chief, and as the daughter of a chief she stood straight
and slender and haughty before him. The Happy Family stared at her,
astonished. They had not even known that she possessed such a costume.
Ordinarily the Happy Family would have taken immediate advantage of their
freedom and would have gone to bed and to the sleep for which their tired
bodies hungered the more as the food and hot coffee filled them with a
sense of well-being. But not even Rosemary wanted to go and miss any of
that wonderful scene where Annie-Many-Ponies, young savage that she was,
stood in the light of her flaming camp fire and prayed to her gods before
she went to meet her lover. She rehearsed it once before Luck lighted the
radium flares. Then, in the searing heat of that white-hot flame, which
will melt rock as a candle melts, Annie-Many-Ponies crossed herself, and
then lifted her young face and bare arms to the heavens and prayed as the
priest in the mission school had taught her,—a real prayer in her own
Indian tongue, while Luck turned the crank and gloated professionally in
The Happy Family, watching her, remembered that it was Christmas morning;
remembered oddly, in the midst of their work, the old, old story of the
three Wise Men and the Star, and of the Wonder-Child in the manger.
Something there was in the voice and the face of Annie-Many-Ponies that
suggested it. Something there was of adoration in her upturned glance, as
if she too were looking for the Star.
They did not talk much after that, and when they did, their voices were
lower than usual. They banked the fire with sand, and Bill Holmes
shouldered the camera with its precious store of scenes. As they trooped
silently down to the house and to their beds, they felt something of the
magnitude of life, something of the mystery. Behind them, treading
noiselessly in her beaded deerskin moccasins, Annie-Many-Ponies followed
like a houseless wraith of the plains, the little black dog at her heels.
"THE CHANCES IS SLIM AND GITTIN' SLIMMER"
"Must be going to snow," Weary observed with a sly twinkle, "'cause Paddy
cat has got his tail brustled up bigger than a trapped coon."
"Aw, that's because Shunky Cheestely chased him all the way up from the
corral a minute ago," Happy Jack explained the phenomenon. "I betcher he
swaps ends some uh these times and gives that dog the s'prise of his
life. He come purty near makin' a stand t'night."
"We-ell, when he does turn on that thar mongrel purp, they's goin' to be
some dawg scattered around over the premises—now I'm tellin' yuh!"
Applehead cocked his eye toward Annie-Many-Ponies and nodded his head in
solemn warning. "He's takin' a mighty long chance, every time he turns
that thar trick uh chasin' Compadre all over the place; and them that
thinks anything uh that thar dawg—"
"I betcher it's goin' to snow, all right," Happy Jack interrupted the
warning. "Chickydees was swarmin' all over the place, t'day."
"We-ell, now, yuh don't want to go too much on them chickydees,"
Applehead dissented. "Change uh wind'll set them flockin' and chirpin'.
Ain't ary flake uh snow in the wind t'day, fur's I kin smell—and I
calc'late I kin smell snow fur's the next one."
"Oh, let's not talk about snow; that's getting to be a painful subject on
this ranch," Rosemary pleaded, while she placed twelve pairs of steel
knives and forks on the long, white-oilcloth-covered table.
"'Painful subject' is right," Luck stated grimly, glancing up from the
endless figuring and scribbling which seemed to occupy all his time
indoors that was not actually given over to eating and sleeping. "If
you don't begin to smell snow pretty quick, Applehead, I can see where
The Phantom Herd don't have any phantom herd." The corners of his
mouth quirked upward, though his smile was becoming almost a stranger
to his face.
"We-ell, I dunno's you can blame me because it don't snow. I can't make
it snow if it takes a notion not to snow—"
"Oh, come and eat, and never mind the snow," called Rosemary impatiently.
"We've got to mind the snow—or we don't eat much longer!" Luck laid
aside his papers with the tired gesture which betrays heavy anxiety. "The
whole punch of the picture depends on that blizzard and what it leads up
to. It's getting close to March,—this is the twentieth of February,—and
the Texas Cattleman's Convention meets the first of April. I've got to
have the picture done by then, so as to show it and get their endorsement
as a body, in order to boost the sales up where they belong."
"Mamma!" Weary looked up at him, open-eyed. "How long have you had that
notion in your head,—showing the picture to the Cattlemen's Convention?
I never heard of it."
"I might say quite a few things you haven't heard me say before," Luck
retorted, so harassed that he never knew how sharp a snub he had given.
"I've had that in mind from the start; ever since I read when and where
the convention would meet this spring. We've got to have that blizzard,
and we've got to have it before many more days."
"Oh, well, we'll have it," Rosemary soothed, as she would have comforted
a child. "I just know March will come in like a roaring lion! Have some
beans. They're different, to-night. I cooked them with plain salt pork
instead of bacon. You can't imagine what a difference it makes!"
Luck was on the point of snapping out something that would have hurt her
feelings. He did not want baby-soothing. It did not comfort him in the
least to have her assure him that it would snow, when he knew she had
absolutely no foundation for such an assurance. But just before he spoke,
he remembered how bravely she had been smiling at hardships that would
have broken the spirit of most women, so he took the beans and smiled at
her, and did not speak at all.
Trouble, that month, was riding Luck hard. The blizzard that was
absolutely vital to his picture-plot seemed as remote as in June. Other
storms had come to delay his work without giving him the benefit of any
spectacular effect. There had been days of whooping wind, when even the
saddle strings popped in the air like whiplashes, and he could not
"shoot" interior scenes because he could not shelter his stage from the
wind, and everything blew about in a most maddening manner to one who is
trying, for instance, to portray the calmness of a ranch-house kitchen at
There had been days of lowering clouds which brought nothing but
exasperating little flurries of what Applehead called "spit
snow,"—flurries that passed before Luck could get ready for a scene.
There had been one terrific sand storm which had nearly caught them in
the open. But Applehead had warned them, and Luck, fortunately for them
all, had heeded the warning. They had reached shelter just before the
full force of the storm had struck them, and for six hours the air was a
hell of sand in violent flight through the air. For six hours they could
not see as far as the stable, and the rooms were filled with an
impalpable haze of dust which filtered through minute crevices under the
roof and around the doors and windows.
Luck, when that storm broke, was worried over his negative drying in the
garret, until he had hurried up the ladder to see what might be done. He
had found the film practically dry, and had carried it down in much
relief to his dark room which, being light-proof, was also practically
There had been other vexations, but there had been fine, clear days as
well. Luck had used those fine days to their full capacity for yielding
him picture-light. Could he have been certain of getting his "blizzard
stuff" now, he would have left but his one load of financial worry. That
was a heavy one, but he felt he could carry it with a better grace if
only he could be sure that his picture would be completed in time.
"Pass the beans, Luck," Pink broke into his abstraction. "Seems like I've
had beans before, this week, but I'll try them another whirl, anyway."
"Ever try syrup on 'em?" old Dave Wiswell looked up from his plate to
inquire. "Once you git to likin' 'em that way, they go pretty good for
Pink, anxious for variety in the monotonous menu, but doubtful of the
experiment, poured a teaspoon of syrup over a teaspoon of beans, conveyed
the mixture to his mouth, and made a hurried trip to the door. "Say! was
that a joke?" he demanded, when he returned grimacing to his place.
"Joke? No, ain't no joke about that," the dried little man testified
earnestly. "Once you git to likin' 'em that way—"
Pink scowled suspiciously. "I'll take mine straight," he said, and sent a
resentful glance at Annie-Many-Ponies who was tittering behind her palm.
"I calc'late I better beef another critter," Applehead suggested
pacifically. "Worst of it is, the cattle's all so danged pore they ain't
much pickin' left on their bones after the hide's skun off. If that
blizzard ever does come, Luck's shore goin' to have all the pore-cow
atmosphere he wants!"
To Luck their talk, good-humored though it was, hurt him like a blow upon
bruised flesh. For their faith in him they were eating beans three times
a day with laughter and jest to sweeten the fare. For their faith in him
they were riding early and late, enduring hardships and laughing at them.
If he failed, he knew that they would hide their disappointment under
some humorous phase of the failure;—if they could find one. He could not
tell them how close he was to failure. He could not tell them in plain
words how much hung upon the coming of that storm in time for him to
reach the cowmen at their convention. Their ignorance of the profession
kept them from worrying much about it; their absolute confidence in his
knowledge let them laugh at difficulties which held him awake when they
But for all that he went doggedly ahead, trusting in luck theoretically
while he overlooked nothing that would make for success. While Applehead
sniffed the air and shook his head, Luck was doing everything he could
think of to keep things going steadily along to a completion of the
He made all of his "close-ups," his inserts, and sub-titles. He cut
negative by his continuity sheet at night after the others were all in
bed, and pigeon-holed the scenes ready for joining. He ordered what
"positive" he would need, and he arranged for his advertising matter. All
his interior scenes, save the double-exposure "vision" scenes, were done
by the fifteenth of March,—March which had not come in like a roaring
lion, as Rosemary had predicted with easy optimism, but which had been
nerve-wrackingly lamblike to the very middle of the month.
With a dogged persistence in getting ready for the fulfilment of his
hopes, he ordered tanks and printer for the final work of getting his
stuff ready for the market. He had at best a crudely primitive outfit,
though he saw his bank balance dwindle and dwindle to a most despairingly
small sum. And still it did not snow nor show any faint promise of snow.
"Well," he remarked grimly one morning, when the boys asked him at
breakfast about his plans, "you can go back to bed, for all I care. I've
done everything I can do—till we get that snowstorm. All we can do now
is sit tight and trust to luck."
"What day uh the month is this?" Applehead wanted to know. His face was
solemn with his responsibility as a weather prophet.
"The twentieth day of March," Luck replied, with the air of one who has
the date branded deep on his consciousness.
"Twentieth uh March—hm-mm? We-ell, now, I have knowed it to storm, and
storm hard, after this time uh year. But comin' the way she did last
fall, 'n' all this here wind 'n' bluster 'n' snowin' on the Zandias and
never comin' no further down, I calc'late the chances is slim, boy—'n'
gittin' slimmer every day, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
"Well, say! Ain't yuh got a purty fair pitcher the way she stands?" Big
Medicine inquired aggressively. "Seems t' me we've done enough ridin'
and actin', by cripes, t' make half a dozen pitchers better'n what I've
"That isn't the point." Luck's voice was lifeless, with a certain dogged
combativeness that had come into it during the last two months. "We've
got to have that storm. This isn't going to be any make-shift affair.
We've got some good film, yes. But it's like starting a funny story and
being choked off before you get to the laugh in it. We've got to have
that storm, I tell you!" His eyes challenged them harshly to dispute his
"Well, darn it, have your storm, then. I'm willin'," Big Medicine
bellowed with ill-timed facetiousness. "Pink, you run and git Luck a
storm; git him a good big one, guaranteed to last 'im four days or money
refunded. You git one—"
"Listen, Bud." Luck stood suddenly before Big Medicine, quivering with
nervous rage. "Don't joke about this. There's no joke in this at all. No
one with any brains can see anything funny in having failure stare him in
the face. Twelve of us have put every ounce of our best work and our best
patience and every dollar we possess in the world into this venture. I've
worked day and night on this picture. I've worked you boys in weather
that wasn't fit for a dog to be out in. I've seen Rosemary Green slaving
in this dark little hole of a kitchen because we can't afford a cook for
the outfit. You've all been dead game—I'll hand it to you for
that—every white chip has gone into the pot. If we fail we'll have to
borrow carfare to get outa here. And here's Applehead. We've used his
ranch, we've used his house and his horses and himself; we've killed his
cattle for beef, by ——! And we've got just that one chance—the chance
of a storm—for winning out. One chance, and that chance getting slimmer
every day, as he says. No—there's no joke in this; or if there is, I've
lost my appetite for comedy. I can't laugh." He stopped as suddenly as he
had begun his rapid speech, caught up his hat, and went out alone into
the soft morning sunlight. He left silence behind him,—a stunned silence
that was awkward to break.
"It's a perfect shame!" Rosemary said at last, and her lips were
trembling. "He's just about crazy—and I know he hasn't slept a wink,
lately, just from worrying."
"I calc'late that's about the how of it," Applehead agreed, rubbing his
chin nervously. "He lays awful still, last few weeks, and that thar's a
bad sign fer him. And I ain't heerd 'im talkin' in his sleep lately,
either. Up till lately he made more pitchers asleep than he done awake.
Take it when things was movin' right along, Mis' Green, 'n' Luck was
shore talkative, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
"My father, he got one oncle," Annie-Many-Ponies spoke up unexpectedly
from her favorite corner. "Big Medicine man. Maybe I write one letter,
maybe Noisy-Owl he come, make plenty storm. Noisy-Owl, he got awful
strong medicine for make storm come."
"Well, by cripes, yuh better send for 'im then!" Big Medicine advised
gruffly, and went out.
The Phantom Herd, as the days slipped nearer and nearer to April, might
almost have been christened The Forlorn Hope. On the twenty-first the
sun was so hot that Luck rode in his shirt sleeves to Albuquerque,
stubbornly intending to order more "positive" for his prints in the final
work of putting his Big Picture into marketable form. He did not have the
slightest idea of where the money to pay for the stuff was coming from,
but he sent the letter ordering the stock sent C.O.D. He was playing for
big results, and he had no intention of being balked at the last minute
because of his timidity in assuming an ultimate success which was
beginning to look extremely doubtful.
On the twenty-second, a lark flew impudently past his head and perched
upon a bush near by and sang straight at him. As a general thing Luck
loved to hear bird songs when he rode abroad on a fine morning; but he
came very near taking a shot at that particular lark, as if it were
personally responsible for the sunny days that had brought it out
scouting ahead of its kind.
On the twenty-third the sky was a brassy blue, and Applehead won Luck's
fierce enmity by remarking that he "calc'lated he'd better get his garden
in." Luck went away off somewhere on the snuffy little bay, that day, and
did not return until after dark.
On the twenty-fourth he took the boys away back on the mesa, where the
mountains shoulder the plain, and scattered them on a wide circle,
rounding up the cattle that had been permitted to drift where they would
in their famished search for the scant grass-growth. Bill Holmes and the
camera followed him in the buckboard with the lunch, and Luck, when the
boys had met with their gleanings, "shot" two or three short scenes of
poor cows and their early calves, which would go to help along his range
"atmosphere." To the Happy Family it seemed a waste of horseflesh to comb
a twenty-mile radius of mesa to get a cow and calf which might have been
duplicated within a mile of the ranch. The Happy Family knew that Luck
was wading chin deep in the slough of despond, and they decided that he
kept them riding all day just for pure cussedness.
I suppose they thought that his orders to range-herd the cattle they had
gathered came from the same mood, but they did not seem to mind. They
did whatever he told them to do, and they did it cheerfully,—which, in
the circumstances, is saying a good deal for the Happy Family. So with
the sun warm as early May, and the new grass showing tiny green
blade-tips in the sheltered places, they began range-herding two
thousand head of cattle that needed all the territory they could cover
for their feeding grounds.
The twenty-fifth day of March brought no faintest promise of anything
that looked like snow. Applehead sharpened his hoe and went pecking at
the soil around the roots of his grape-vine arbor, thereby irritating
Luck to the point of distraction. He had reached a nervous tension where
he could not eat, and he could not sleep, and life looked a nightmare of
hard work and disappointments, of hopes luring deceitfully only to crush
one at the moment of fulfilment.
It was because he could not sleep, but spent the nights stretched upon
his side with his wide-open eyes boring into vacancy and a drab future,
that he heard the wind whine over the ridgepole of the squat bunk-house
and knew that it had risen from a dead calm since bedtime. The languor of
nervous exhaustion was pulling his eyelids down over his tired eyes, and
he knew that it must be nearly morning; for sleep never came to him now
until after Applehead's brown rooster had crowed for two o'clock.
He closed his eyes and dreamed that he was "shooting" blizzard scenes
with the snow to his armpits. He was chilled to the middle of his bones,
and his hand went down unconsciously and groped for the blankets he had
pushed off in his restlessness. In his sleep he was yelling to the
Cattlemen's Convention to wait,—not to adjourn yet, because he had
something to show them.
"Well, show'em, dang it, an' shut up!" muttered Applehead crossly, and
turned over on his good ear so that he could sleep undisturbed.
Luck, half awakened by the movement, curled up with his knees close to
his chin and went on with his dream. With the wind still mooing
lonesomely around the corners of the house, he slept more soundly than he
had slept for weeks, impelled, I suppose, by a subconscious easement from
his greatest anxiety.
A slow tap-tap-tapping on the closed door near his head woke him just
before dawn. The lightest sleeper of them all, Luck lifted his head with
a start, and opened his sleep-blurred eyes upon blackness. He called out,
and it was the voice of Annie-Many-Ponies that answered.
"Wagalexa Conka! You come quick. Plenty snow come. You be awful glad
when you see. Soon day comes. You hurry. I make plenty breakfast,
As a soldier springs from sleep when calls the bugle, Luck jumped out
into the icy darkness of the room. With one jerk he had the door open and
stood glorying in the wild gust of snow that broke over him like a wave.
In his bare feet he stood there, and felt the snow beat in his face, and
said never a word, since big emotions never quite reached the surface of
"Day come quick, Wagalexa Conka!" The voice of Annie-Many-Ponies urged
him from without, like the voice of Opportunity calling from the storm.
"All right. You run now and have breakfast ready. We come quick." He held
the door open another half minute, and he heard Annie-Many-Ponies laugh
as she fought her way back to the house through the blinding blizzard. He
saw a faint glow through the snow-whirl when she opened the kitchen door,
and he shut out the storm with a certain vague reluctance, as though he
half feared it might somehow escape into a warm, sunny morning and prove
itself no more than a maddeningly vivid dream.
"Hey! Wake up!" he shouted while he groped for a match and the lamp.
"Roll into your sourdoughs, you sons-uh-guns—"
"Say, Applehead," came a plaintive voice from Pink's hunk, "make
Luck turn over on the other side, can't yuh? Darn a man that talks
in his sleep!"
"By cripes, Luck's got to sleep in the hay loft—er I will," Big Medicine
growled, making the boards of his bunk squeak with the flop of his
Then Luck found the lamp and struck a match, and it was seen that he was
very wide awake, and that his face had the look of a man intent upon
The Native Son sat up in one of the top bunks and looked down at Luck
with a queer solemnity in his eyes. "What is this, amigo?" he asked
with a stifled yawn. "Another one of your Big Minutes?"
"Quien sabe?" Luck retorted, reaching for his clothes as his small
ebullition subsided to a misleading composure. "Storm's here at last, and
we'll have to be moving. Roll out and saddle your ridge-runners; Annie's
got breakfast all ready for us."
"Aw, gwan!" grumbled Happy Jack from sheer force of habit, and made haste
to hit the floor with his feet before Luck replied to that apparent doubt
of his authority.
"Dress warm as you can, boys," Luck advised curtly, lacing his own heavy
buckskin moccasins over thick German socks, which formed his cold-weather
footgear. "She's worse than that other one, if anything."
"Mamma!" Weary murmured, in a tone of thanksgiving. "She didn't come any
too soon, did she?"
Luck did not reply. He pulled his hat down low over his forehead, opened
the door and went out, and it was as though the wind and snow and
darkness swallowed him bodily. The horses must first be fed, and he
fought his way to the stables, where Applehead's precious hay was
dwindling rapidly under Luck's system of keeping mounts and a four-horse
team up and ready for just such an emergency. He labored through the
darkness to the stable door, lighted the lantern which hung just inside,
and went into the first stall. The manger was full, and the feed-box
still moist from the lapping tongue of the gray horse that stood there
munching industriously. Annie-Many-Ponies had evidently fed the horses
before she called Luck, and he felt a warm glow of gratitude for her
He stopped at the bunk-house to tell the boys that they had nothing to do
but eat breakfast before they saddled, and found them putting on
overcoats and gloves and wrangling over the probable location of the herd
that would have drifted in the night. So they ploughed in a straggling
group to the house, where Annie-Many-Ponies was already pouring the
coffee when they trooped in.
Day was just breaking when they rode out into the full force of the
belated storm and up on the mesa where they had left the cattle scattered
and feeding more or less contentedly at sundown. They had not gone a mile
until their bodies began to shrink under the unaccustomed cold. Bill
Holmes, town-bred and awkward in the open, thankfully resigned to the
Indian girl the dignity of driving the mountain wagon with its four-horse
team, and huddled under blankets, while Annie-Many-Ponies piloted them
calmly straight across country in the wake of the riders whom her beloved
Wagalexa Conka was leading on the snuffy bay. Save for the difference in
his clothes, Annie-Many-Ponies thought that he much resembled that great
little war-chief of the white people who rode ahead of his column in a
picture hanging on the wall of the mission school. Napoleon was the great
little war-chief's name, and her heart swelled with pride as she drove
steadily through the storm and thought what a great war-chief her brother
Wagalexa Conka might have made, were these but the days of much fighting.
There was to be no trouble with "static" this time, if Luck could help
it. To be doubly safe from blurred film, he had brought his ray filter
along, for the flakes of snow were large and falling fast. He had chosen
a different location, because of the direction of the wind and the
difficulty the boys would have had in driving the cattle back in the face
of it to the side hill where he had first taken the scenes of the
To-day he "shot" them first as they were filing reluctantly out through a
narrow pass which was supposed to be the entrance to the box canyon where
the two rustlers, Andy and Miguel, had kept them hidden away.
Artistically speaking, the cattle were in perfect condition for such a
scene, every rib showing as they trooped past the clicking camera
cleverly concealed in a clump of bushes; hip bones standing up, lean legs
shambling slowly through the snow that was already a foot deep. Cattle
hidden for days and days in a box canyon would not come out fat and sleek
and stepping briskly, and Luck was well pleased with the realism of his
picture, even while he pitied the poor beasts.
Later he took the drifting of the herd, and he knew in his heart that the
scenes were better than those he had lost. He took tragic scenes of the
Native Son in his struggle to keep up and to keep going. He took him as
he fell and lay prone in the snow beside his fallen horse while the
blizzard whooped over him, and the snow fell upon his still face. In his
zeal he nearly froze the Native Son, who must lie there during two or
three "cut-back" scenes, and while Andy was coming up in search of him.
When Andy lifted him and found him actually limp in his arms, the anxiety
which a "close-up" revealed in his face was not all art. However, he did
not say anything until Luck's voracious scene-appetite had been at least
"By gracious, I believe the son-of-a-gun is about froze," he snapped out
then; Luck grinned mirthlessly and called to Annie for the precious
thermos bottle, and poured a cup of strong black coffee, added a generous
dash of the apricot brandy which he spoke of familiarly as his
"cure-all," and had the Native Son very much alive and tramping around to
restore the circulation to his chilled limbs before Bill Holmes had
carried the camera to the location of the next scene.
"By rights I should have left you the way you were till I got this last
death scene where Andy buries you under the rock ledge so he can get home
alive himself," Luck told Miguel heartlessly, when they were ready for
work again. "You were in proper condition, brother. But I'm human. So
you'll have to do a little more acting, from now on."
With his mats placed with careful precision, he took his dissolve
"vision stuff" of the blizzard and the death of Miguel,—scenes which
were to torment the conscience of Andy the rustler into full repentance
and confession to his father. While the boys huddled around Annie's camp
fire and guzzled hot coffee and ate chilled sandwiches, Luck took some
fine scenes of the phantom herd marching eerily along the skyline of a
He "shot" every effective blizzard scene he had dreamed of so
despairingly when the weather was fine. Some scenes of especial
importance to his picture he took twice, so as to have the
"choice-of-action" so much prized by producers. This, you must know, was
a luxury in which Luck had not often permitted himself to indulge. With
raw negative at nearly four cents a foot, he had made it a point to shoot
only such scenes as gave every promise of being exactly what he wanted.
But with this precious blizzard that numbed his fingers most
realistically while he worked, but never once worried him for fear the
sun was going to shine before he had finished, he was as lavish of
negative as though he had a million-dollar corporation at his back.
That evening, when they were luxuriating before the fireplace heaped with
dry wood which the flames were licking greedily, Luck became, for the
first time in months, the old Luck Lindsay who had fascinated them at the
Flying U. He told them stories of his days with the "Bill show," and
called upon the giggling Annie-Many-Ponies for proof of their truth;
whereat Annie-Many-Ponies would nod her head vigorously and declare that
it was "No lie. I see him plenty times do them thing. I know." He
disputed energetically with Big Medicine over the hardships of the day's
work; and as a demonstration of the fact that he was perfectly able to go
out right then and shoot another seven hundred feet of film, he seized
upon the tom-tom which Annie-Many-Ponies had made from a green calf
hide and an old cheese box, and in his moccasins he danced the Sioux
Buffalo Dance and several other dances in which Annie-Many-Ponies finally
joined and teetered around in the circle which the Happy Family
enthusiastically widened for the performers.
Work there was yet to do, and plenty of it. Even if the weather came
clear on the morrow as he desired, he must make every minute count, if he
would take his picture to the Cattlemen's Convention. Work there was, and
problems there were to be solved. But he had his big blizzard stuff, and
he had his scenes of the phantom herd. So for an hour or two, on this
evening of triumph, Luck Lindsay threw care into a far corner, and danced
and sang as the Happy Family had never known he could do.
"Here, Annie, take the drum; it's 'call the dog and put out the fire and
all go home.' If my luck stays with me, and the sun shines to-morrow,
we'll take these interiors of the double-exposure stuff. And then we'll
be eating on the run and sleeping as we ride, till that picture pops out
on the screen for the old cattlemen to see. Good night, folks; I'm going
to sleep to-night!"
He went out whistling like a schoolboy going fishing. For luck was with
him once more, and his Phantom Herd was almost a reality as a picture.
A FEW OF THE MINOR DIFFICULTIES
However obliging fate may desire to be, certain of nature's laws must
be observed. Whether luck was disposed to stay with Luck Lindsay or
not, a storm such as the fates had conjured for his needs could not
well blow itself out as suddenly as it had blown itself in; so Luck did
not get all of his interior double-exposure stuff done the next day,
nor his remaining single-exposure stuff either. When his own reason and
Applehead's earnest assurances convinced him that the day after the
real blizzard day was going to be unfit for camera work, Luck took
Weary, Pink, and the Native Son to Albuquerque, rented a little house
he had discovered to be vacant, and set them to work building a drying
drum for his prints, according to the specifications he furnished them.
He hauled his tanks from the depot and showed the boys how to install
them so as to have the benefit of the running water, and got his
printer set up and ready to work; for he knew that he would have to
make his first prints himself, with the help of the Happy Family, the
photographer having neither the room nor the time for the work, and
Luck having no more than barely money enough to pay house rent and the
charges on his tanks and printer.
Then, being an obliging young man when the fates permitted him to indulge
his natural tendencies, Luck made a hurried trip to a certain little shop
that had dusty mandolins and watches and guns and a cheap kodak in the
dingy window. He went in with his watch in his pocket ticking cheerfully
the minutes and hours that were so full of work and worry. When he came
out, the watch was ticking just as cheerfully in a drawer and the chain
was looped prosperously across his vest from buttonhole to empty pocket.
He went straight across to a grocery store and bought some salt pork and
coffee and cornmeal and matches which Rosemary had timidly asked him if
he could get. She explained apologetically that she was beginning to run
out of things, and that she had no idea they were going to have such
awful appetites, and that of course there were two extra people to feed,
and that they certainly could dispose of their share three times a
day,—meaning, of course, Annie-Many-Ponies and Bill Holmes.
Even while his brain was doing swift mental gymnastics in addition and
subtraction, Luck had told her he would get whatever she wanted. His
watch brought enough to buy everything she asked for except a can of
syrup; and that, he told her, the groceryman must have overlooked, for he
certainly had ordered it. He called the groceryman names enough to
convince Rosemary that her list had not been too long for his purse, and
that Luck's occasional statement that he was broke must be taken
figuratively; Luck breathed a sigh of relief that Rosemary, at least, was
once more spared the knowledge that all was not yet plain sailing to a
The next day being sunny, Luck finished the actual camera work on The
Phantom Herd. That night he and Bill Holmes developed every foot of
negative he had exposed since the storm began, and they finished just as
Rosemary rapped on the darkroom door and called that breakfast was
ready. Bill took it for granted that he could sleep, then, while the
negative was drying; but Luck was merciless; that Cattlemen's Convention
was only two days off,—counting that day which was already begun,—and
there was also a twelve-hour train trip, more or less, between his
picture and El Paso.
Bill Holmes had learned to join film in movie theaters, and Luck set him
to work at it as soon as he had finished his breakfast. When Bill
grumbled that there wasn't any film cement, Luck very calmly went to his
trunk and brought some, thereby winning from Rosemary the admiring
statement that she didn't believe Luck Lindsay ever forgot a single,
solitary thing in his life! So Bill Holmes assembled the film, scene by
scene, without even the comfort of cigarettes to keep awake. At his elbow
Luck also joined film until the negative in the garret was dry enough to
handle, when he began cutting it according to the continuity sheet, ready
for Bill to assemble.
Luck's mood was changeable that day. He would glow with the pride of
achievement when he held a yard or so of certain scenes to the light and
knew that he had done something which no other producer had ever done,
and that he had created a film story that would stand up like a lone peak
above the level of all other Western pictures. When those night scenes
were tinted—and that scene which had for its sub-title Opening
Exercises, and which showed the Happy Family mounting Applehead's
snakiest bronks and riding away from camp into what would be an orange
sunrise after the positive had been through its dye bath—
And then discouragement would seize him, and he would wonder how he was
going to get hold of money enough to take him to El Paso and the
Convention. And how, in the name of destitution, was he going to pay for
that stock of "positive" when it came? Applehead was dead willing to help
him,—that went without saying; but Applehead was broke. That last load
of horse-feed had cleaned his pockets, as he had cheerfully informed Luck
over three weeks before. Applehead was not, and never would be by his own
efforts, more than comfortably secure from having to get out and work for
wages. He had cattle, but he let them run the range in season and out,
and it was only in good years that he had fair beef to ship. He hated a
gang of men hanging around the ranch and eating their fool heads off, he
frequently declared. So he and Compadre had lived in unprosperous peace,
with a little garden and a little grape arbor and a horse for Applehead
in the corral, and teams in the pasture where they could feed and water
themselves, and a month's supply of "grub" always in the house. Applehead
called that comfort, and could not see the advantage of burdening himself
with men and responsibilities that he might pile up money in the bank.
You can easily see where the coming of Luck and his outfit might strain
the financial resources of Applehead, even though Luck tried to bear all
extra expense for him. No, thought Luck, Applehead would have to mortgage
something if he were to attempt raising money then. And Luck would have
taken a pack-outfit and made the trip to El Paso on horseback before he
would see Applehead go in debt for him. As it was, he was seriously
considering that pack-horse proposition as a last resort, and trying to
invent some way of shaving his work down so that he would have time for
the trip. But certain grim facts could not be twisted to meet his needs.
He simply had to print his positive for projection on the screen. And
that positive simply had to go through certain processes that took a
certain amount of time; and it simply had to be dry and polished before
he could wind it on his reels. Reels? Lord-ee! He didn't have any reels
wind it on!
"What's the matter? Spoil something?" Bill Holmes asked indifferently,
pausing to look at Luck before he took up the next strip of celluloid
ribbon with its perforated edges and its little squares of shadowlike
pictures that to the unpractised eye looked all alike.
"No. What reel is that you're on now? We want to be in town before dark
with this stuff, so as to start the printer going to-night." By
printing, that night, and by hard riding, he might be able to make it,
he was thinking.
"Think we'll be through in time?"
"Certainly, we'll be through in time." Luck held up another strip to see
where to cut it. "We've got to be through!"
"I'm liable to be joining this junk by the sides instead of the ends,
before long," Bill hinted.
"No, you won't do anything like that." Luck's voice had a disturbing note
of absolute finality.
Bill looked at him sidelong. "A fellow can't work forever without sleep.
My head's splitting right now. I can hardly see—"
"Yes, you can see well enough to do your work—and do it right!
Bill grunted. Evidently he got it, for he said no more about his head, or
about sleep. He did glance frequently out of the tail of his eye at
Luck's absorbed face with his jaw set at a determined angle and his great
mop of iron-gray hair looking like a heavy field of grain after a
thunderstorm, standing out as it did in every direction. Now and then
Luck pushed it back impatiently with the flat of his palm, but he showed
no other sign of being conscious of anything at all save the picture;
though he could have told you offhand just how many times Bill turned
his eyes upon him.
At noon they were not through, and to Bill the attempt to finish that day
seemed hopeless, not to say insane. But by four o'clock they were done
with the cutting and joining, and had their film carefully packed and in
the mountain wagon, and were ready to drive through the slushy mud which
was the aftermath of the blizzard to the little house in Albuquerque
which the boys had turned into a crude but efficient laboratory.
There Luck continued to be merciless in his driving energy. He canvassed
the moving-picture theaters of the town and borrowed reels on which to
wind his film when it was once ready for winding. He went back to the
little house and set every one within it to work and kept them at it. He
printed his positive, dissolved his aniline dye, which was to be
firelight effect, in the bathtub,—and I should like to know what the
landlord thought when next he viewed that tub! He made an orange bath for
sunrise effects in one of the stationary tubs, and his light blue for
night tints in the other. He buzzed around in that little house like a
disturbed blue-bottle fly that cannot find an open window. He had his
sleeves rolled to his shoulders and his hair more tousled than ever; he
had blue circles under his eyes and dabs of dye distributed here and
there on his face and his arms; he had in his eyes the glitter of a man
who means to be obeyed instantly and implicitly, whatever his command may
be,—and if you want to know, he was obeyed in just that manner.
Happy Jack and Big Medicine took turns at the crank of the big drying
drum, around which Andy and Weary had carefully wound the wet film. Being
a crude, home-made affair, the crank that kept that drum turning over and
over did not work with the ease of ball-bearings. But Happy Jack, rolling
his eyes up at Luck when he hurried past to attend to something
somewhere, did not venture his opinion of the task. Nor did Big Medicine
bellow any facetious remarks whatever, but turned and sweated, and used
the other hand awhile, and turned and turned, and goggled at Luck
whenever Luck came within his range of vision, and changed off to the
other hand and turned and turned, and still said nothing at all.
Bill Holmes went to sleep about midnight and came near ruining a batch of
firelight scenes in the analine bath, and after that Luck did all the
technical part of the work himself. The Happy Family did what they could
and wished they were not so ignorant and could do more. They could not,
for instance, help Luck in the final assembling of the polished film and
the putting in of the sub-titles and inserts. But they could polish that
film, after he showed them how; so Pink and Weary did that. And at
daylight Luck shook Bill Holmes awake and set him to work again.
Just to show that Luck was human, even though he was obsessed by a frenzy
of work, he sent the boys outside, whenever one of them could be spared,
for the smoke they craved and could not have among that five thousand
feet of precious but highly inflammable film. But he did not treat
himself to the luxury of a cigarette.
Luck had not yet solved the problem of meeting the expense of the trip
to El Paso. Riding down with a pack-horse would take him too long; the
best he could do would not be quick enough; for the Convention would be
over before he got there, and his trip therefore useless. He worked
just as fast, however, as though he had only to buy his ticket and take
And then, when the last drumful was drying, he got his idea, and took
Andy by the shoulder and led him out into the little front hall. "Boy,"
he said, "you hook up the team and drive like hell out to the ranch and
get the camera and all the lenses. And right under the lid of my trunk
you'll find a letter file marked Receipts. In the C pocket you'll find
the sales slips of camera and so on; you bring them along. And bring my
bag and any clean socks and handkerchiefs you can find, and my gray suit
and some collars and ties. Oh, and my shoes. Make it back here by two
o'clock if you can; before three at the latest."
"You bet yuh," assented Andy just as cheerfully as though he saw some
sense in the order. Luck's clothes were a reasonable request, but Andy
could not, for the life of him, figure any use for the camera and lenses;
and as for the receipts, that sounded to him like plain delirium. Andy's
brain, at that time, seemed to be revolving slowly round and round like
the big drying drum, and his thoughts were tangled in exasperating
visions of long, narrow strips of wet film.
However, at two-thirty he drove smartly up to the little house with the
camera and Luck's brown leather bag packed with the small necessities of
highly civilized journeying, and a large flat package wrapped in old
newspapers. He had not set the brake that signalled the sweating horses
to stop, before Luck was in the doorway with his hat on his head and the
air of one whose business is both urgent and of large issues.
"Got the receipts? All right! Where are the things? This the lenses? All
right! Put the team in the stable and go get yourself some rest."
"Where's your rest coming in at?" Andy flung back over his shoulder, as
Luck turned away with the camera on his shoulder and the small case in
"Mine will come when I get through. I've got the last reel wound and
packed, though. You bed down somewhere and sleep. I'll be back in a
little. I'm going to catch that four o'clock train."
When you consider that Luck made that statement with about fifteen cents
in his pocket and no ticket, you will understand why Andy gave him that
queer look as he drove off to the stable. Luck might have climbed up
beside Andy and ridden part of the way, but he was too preoccupied with
larger matters to think of it until he found himself picking his footing
around the mud through which Andy had splashed in comfort.
At the bank, Luck went in at the side door which gave easy access to the
office behind; and without any ceremony whatever he tapped on a certain
glass-paneled door with a name printed across. He waited a second, and
then turned the knob and walked briskly in, carrying camera, tripod, and
the case of small attachments, and smiling his smile of white teeth and
perfect assurance and much good will.
Now, the cashier whom he faced was a tall man worn thin with the worries
of his position and the care of a family. He lived in a large white
house, and his wife never seemed able to find a cook who could cook; so
the cashier was troubled with indigestion that made his manner one of
passive irritation with life. His children were for some reason forever
"coming down" with colds or whooping-cough or measles or something (you
have seen children like that), so his eyes were always tired with wakeful
nights. It needed a Luck Lindsay smile to bring any answering light into
the harassed face of that cashier, but it got there after the first
Luck stood his camera—screwed to its tripod—against the wall by the
door. "I'm Luck Lindsay, Mr. White," he announced in his easy, Texas
drawl. "I'm in a hurry, so I'll omit my full autobiography, if you don't
mind, and let you draw your own conclusions about my reputation and
character. I've a five-reel feature film called The Phantom Herd just
completed, and I want to take it down to El Paso and show it before the
Texas Cattlemen's Convention which meets there to-day. I want their
endorsement of it as a Western film which really portrays the West, to
incorporate in my advertisements in all the trade journals. But the
production of the film took my last cent, and I've got to raise money on
my camera for the trip down there. You see what I mean. I'm broke, and
I've got to catch that four o'clock train or the whole thing stops right
here. This camera cost me close to fifteen hundred dollars. Here are the
receipted sales slips to prove it. In Los Angeles I could easily get—"
He caught the beginning of a denial in Mr. White's sidewise movement of
the head—"ten times as much money on it as you can give me. You probably
don't know anything at all about motion-picture cameras, but you can read
these slips and find out how prices run."
Mr. White had in a measure recovered from the effects of Luck's smile. He
picked up the slips and glanced at them indifferently. "There's a
pawn-shop just down the street, I believe," he said. "Why—"
"I want to leave this camera here with you, anyway," Luck interrupted.
"It's valuable—too valuable to take any risk of fire or burglary. I
want to leave it in your vault. You've handled a good deal of my money,
and you know who I am, and what my standing is, or else you aren't the
right man for the position you occupy. It's your business to know these
things. Now, I'm not asking you for any big loan. All I want is expense
money for that trip. If you'll advance me seventy-five or a hundred
dollars on my note, with this camera as security, I'll thank you and
romp down to El Paso and get that endorsement before the convention
adjourns till next year."
Mr. White looked at the camera strangely, as though he half expected it
to explode. "I should have to take it up with the directors—"
"Directors! Hell, man, that train's due in an hour! What are you
around here—a man in authority, or just a dummy made up to look like
one? Do you mean to tell me you're afraid to stake me to enough money to
make El Paso and return? What, for the Lord's sake, do I look like,
Mr. White's head was more than six feet in the air when he stood up, and
Luck Lindsay in his high-heeled boots lacked a good six inches of that
altitude; but for all that, Luck Lindsay was a bigger man than Mr.
White. He dominated the cashier; he made the cashier conscious of his
dyspepsia and his thin hair and his flabby muscles and his lack of
enthusiasm with life.
"The directors have to pass on all bank loans," he explained
apologetically, "but I can lend you the money out of my personal account.
If you will excuse me, I'll get the money before my assistant closes the
vault. And shall I put these inside for you?" He rose and started for the
inner door with a deprecating smile.
"Aren't you going to take a note?" Luck studied the man with
"My check will be a sufficient record of the transaction, I think." And
Mr. White, with two or three words scribbled at the bottom, proceeded to
make the check a record. "I am glad to be able to stake you, Mr. Lindsay,
and I hope your trip will be successful."
He got another Luck Lindsay smile for that, and the apology he had coming
to him. And then in a very few minutes Luck hurried out and back to the
little house on the edge of town.
"Where's my bag? So long, boys; I'm going to drift. I'll change clothes
on the train—haven't got time now. Here's five dollars, Andy, for the
stable bill and so on. Bill, you're the only one of the bunch that
shirked, so you can carry this box of reels to the depot for me. Adios,
boys, I'm sure going to romp all over that Convention, believe me, if
they don't swear The Phantom Herd's a winner from the first scene!"
WHEREIN LUCK MAKES A SPEECH
Luck stood on the platform of the Texas Cattlemen's Convention and looked
down upon the work-lined, brown faces of the men whose lives had for the
most part been spent out of doors. Their sober attentiveness confused him
for a minute so that he forgot what he wanted to say—he, Luck Lindsay,
who had faced the great audiences of Madison Square Garden and had smiled
his endearing smile and made his bow with perfect poise and an eye for
pretty faces; who had without a quiver faced the camera, many's the time,
in difficult scenes; who had faced death more times than he could count,
and what was to him worse than death,—blank failure. But these old
range-men with the wind-and-sun wrinkles around their eyes, and their
ready-to-wear suits, and their judicial air of sober attention,—these
were to him the jury that would weigh his work and say whether it was
worthy. These men—
And then one of them suddenly cleared his throat with a rasping sound
like old Dave Wiswell, his dried little cowman of the picture, and
embarrassment dropped from Luck like a cloak flung aside. He was here to
put his work to the test; to let these men say whether The Phantom Herd
was worthy to be called a great picture, one of which the West could be
proud. So he pushed back his mop of hair—grayer than the hair of many
here old enough to be his father—with the fiat of his palm, and looked
straight into the faces of these men and said what he had to say:
"Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen of this Convention, I consider it a great
privilege to be able to stand here and speak to you—a greater privilege
than any of you realize, perhaps. For my heart has always been in the
range-land, my people have been the people of the plains. I have to-day
been honored by the hand-grip of old-timers who were riding circle,
trailing long-horns, and working cattle when I was a boy in short pants.
"I have trailed herds on the pay roll of one man who remembers me here
to-day, and of others who have crossed the Big Divide. I have seen the
open range shrink before the coming of barbed wire and settlers. I have
watched the 'long shadow' fall across God's own cattle country.
"Since I entered the motion-picture business, my one great aim and my one
great dream has been to produce one real Western picture. One picture
that I could present with pride to such a convention as this, and have
men who have spent their lives in the cattle industry give it the stamp
of their approval; one picture that would make such men forget the
present and relive the old days when they were punchers all and proud of
it. Such an opportunity came to me last fall and I made the most of it. I
got me a bunch of real boys, and went to work on the picture I have
called The Phantom Herd. From the trail-herds going north I have tried
to weave into my story a glimpse of the whole history of the range
critter, from the shivering, new-born calf that hit the range along with
a spring blizzard, to the big, four-year-old steer prodded up the chutes
into the shipping cars.
"I want you, who know the false from the real, to see The Phantom Herd
and say whether I have done my work well. I finished the picture
yesterday, and I have brought it down here for the purpose of asking you
to honor me by accepting an invitation to a private showing of the
picture this evening, here in this hall. I want you to come and bring
your wives and your children with you if you can. I want you to see The
Phantom Herd before it goes to the public—and to-morrow I shall face
you again and accept your verdict. You know the West. You will know a
Western picture when you see it. I know you know, and I want you to tell
me what you think of it. Your word will be final, as far as I am
concerned. Gentlemen, I hope you will all be present here to-night at
eight o'clock as my guests. I thank you for your attention."
Luck went away from there feeling, and telling himself emphatically, that
he had made a "rotten" talk. He had not said what he had meant to say, or
at least he had not said it the way he had meant to say it. But he was
too busy to dwell much upon his deficiencies as an orator; he had yet to
borrow a projection machine and operator from somewhere—for, as usual,
he had issued his invitation before he had definitely arranged for the
exhibition, and had trusted to luck and his own efforts to be able to
keep his promise.
Luck (or his own efforts) landed him within easy conversational reach of
a man who was preparing to open a little theater on a side street. The
seats were not in yet, but he had his machine, and he meant to operate it
himself, while his wife sold tickets and his boy acted as usher,—a
family combination which to Luck seemed likely to be a success. This man,
when Luck made known his needs, said he was perfectly willing to "limber
up" his machine and himself on The Phantom Herd, if Luck would let his
wife and boy see the picture, and would pay the slight operating
expenses. So that was settled very easily.
At five minutes to eight that evening all of the cattlemen and a few
favored, influential citizens of El Paso whom Luck had invited personally
sat waiting before the blank screen. Up in the operator's cramped
quarters Luck was having a nervous chill and trying his best not to show
it, and he was telling the operator to give it time enough, for the
Lord's sake, and to be sure he had everything ready before he started in,
and so forth, until the operator was almost as nervous as Luck himself.
"Now, look here," he cried exasperatedly at last. "You know your
business, and I know mine. You're going to have me named in your
write-ups as the movie-man that run this show for the convention, ain't
you? And I'm going to open up a picture house next week in this town,
ain't I? And I ain't going to advertise myself as a bum operator, am I?
Now you vamos outa here and get down there in the audience, if you
don't want me to get the fidgets and spoil something. Go on—beat it!"
Luck must have been in a strange condition, for he beat it promptly and
without any retort, and slid furtively into a chair between two old
range-men just as the operator's boy-usher switched off the lights.
Luck's heart began to pound so that he half expected his neighbors to
tell him to close his muffler,—only they were of the saddle-horse
fraternity and would not have known what the phrase meant.
The Phantom Herd flashed suddenly upon the screen and joggled there
dizzily, away over to one side. Luck clapped his hand to his perspiring
forehead and murmured "Oh, my Gawd!" like a prayer, and shut his eyes to
hide from them the desecration. He opened them to find that the caste was
just flicking off and the first scene dissolving in.
The man at his left gave a long sigh and crossed his knees, and leaned
back and began to chew tobacco rapidly between his worn old molars.
"Oh, a ten dollar hoss and a forty dollar saddle,
I'm goin' to punchin' Texas cattle."
The sub-title dissolved slowly into a scene showing a cow-puncher (who
was Weary) swinging on to his rangy cow-Horse and galloping away after
the chuck-wagon just disappearing in the wake of the dust-flinging
remuda. Back somewhere in the dusk of the audience, a man began to hum
the tune that went with the words, and the heart of Luck Lindsay gave an
exultant bound. He had used lines from "The Old Chisholm Trail" and other
old-time range songs for his sub-titles, to keep the range atmosphere
complete, and that cracked voice humming unconsciously told how it
appealed to these men of the range.
Luck did not slide down in his seat so that his head rested on the
chair-back while The Phantom Herd was being shown. Instead, he sat
leaning forward, with his face white and strained, and watched for weak
points and for bad photography and scenes that could have been bettered.
He saw the big trail-herd go winding away across the level, with Weary
riding "point" and Happy Jack bringing up the "drag," and the others
scattered along between; riding slouched in their saddles, hatbrims
pulled low over eyes smarting with the dust that showed in a thin film at
the head of the herd and grew thicker toward the drag, until riders and
animals were seen dimly through a haze.
"My—I can just feel that dust in m' throat!" muttered the man at his
right, and coughed.
Luck saw the storm come muttering up just as the cattle were bedding down
for the night. He saw the lightning, and he knew that those who watched
with him were straining forward. He heard some one say involuntarily:
"They'll break and run, sure as hell!" and he knew that he had done that
part of his work well.
He saw the night scenes he had taken in town. He almost forgot that all
this was his work, so smoothly did the story steal across his senses and
beguile him into half believing it was true and not a fabric which he had
built with careful planning and much toil. He saw the round-up scenes;
the day-herd, the cutting-out and the branding, the beef-herd driven to
the shipping cars. True, those steers were not exactly prime beef,—he
had caught the culls only, late in the season for these scenes—but they
passed, with one audible comment that this was a poor season for beef!
"We rounded 'em up and we put 'em in the cars—"
The sub-title sang itself familiarly into the minds of the range men.
More than one voice was heard to begin a surreptitious humming of the
old tune, and to cease abruptly with the sudden self-consciousness of
But there was the story, growing insensibly out of the range work. Luck,
more at ease now in his mind, studied it critically. There was the
quarrel between old Dave and Andy, his son. He saw the old man out with
his men, standing his shift of night-guard, stubbornly resisting the
creeping years and his load of trouble; riding around the sleeping herd
with his head sunk on his chest, meeting the younger guard twice on each
complete circle, and yet never seeming to see him at all.
"Sing low to your cattle, sing low to your steers—"
The words and the scene opened wide the door of memory and let whole
troops of ghosts come drifting in out of the past. The hall, Luck roused
himself to notice, was very, very still; so still that the sizzling sound
of the machine at the rear was distinct and oppressive.
There was the blizzard, terrible in its biting realism. There was the old
cow and calf, separated from the herd, fighting in the primal instinct to
preserve themselves alive,—fighting and losing. There was that other,
more terrible fight for existence, the fight of the Native Son against
the snow and the cold. Men drew their breath sharply when he fell and did
not rise again. They shivered when the snow began to drift against his
quiet body, to lodge and shift and settle, and grow higher and higher
until the bank was even with his shoulders, to drift over him and make of
him a white mound—And then, when Andy staggered up through the swirl,
leading his horse and shouting; when he stumbled against Miguel and tried
to raise him and rouse him, a sound like a groan went through the crowd.
"Close a call as I ever had was in a blizzard like that," the old man at
Luck's left whispered agitatedly to Luck behind his palm, when the lights
snapped on while the operator was changing for the last reel.
There was Andy, haunted and haggard, at home again with his father. There
were those dissolve scenes of the "phantom herd" drifting always across
the skyline whenever Andy looked out into the night or rose startled
from uneasy sleep. Weird, it was,—weird and real and very terrible. And,
at last, there was that wonderful camp-fire scene of the Indian girl who
prayed to her gods before she went to meet her lover who was dead and
could not keep the tryst. There were heart-breaking scenes where the
Indian girl wandered in wild places, looking, hoping, despairing—Luck
had planned every little detail of those scenes, and yet they thrilled
him as though he had come to them unawares.
He did not wait after the last scene faded out slowly. He slipped quietly
into the aisle and went away, while the hands of the old-timers were
stinging with applause. Halfway down the block he heard it still, and his
steps quickened unconsciously. They were calling his name, back there in
the hall. They were all talking at once and clapping their hands and, as
an interlude, shouting the name of Luck Lindsay. But Luck did not heed.
He wanted to get away by himself. He did not feel as though he could say
anything at all to any one, just then. He had seen his Big Picture, and
he had seen that it was as big and as perfect, almost, as he had dreamed
it. To Luck, at that moment, words would have cheapened it,—even the
words of the old cattlemen.
He went to his hotel and straight up to his room, regardless of the fact
that it would have been to his advantage to mingle with his guests and to
listen to their praise. He went to bed and lay there in the dark,
reliving the scenes of his story. Then, after awhile, he drifted off into
sleep, his first dreamless, untroubled slumber in many a night.
By the time the Convention was assembled the next day, however, he had
recovered his old spirit of driving energy. The chairman had invited him
by telephone to attend the afternoon meeting, and Luck went—to be
greeted by a rousing applause when he walked down the aisle to the
platform where the chairman was waiting for him.
Resolutions had already been passed, the Convention as a body thanking
Luck Lindsay for the privilege of seeing what was in their judgment the
greatest Western picture that had ever been produced. The chairman made a
little speech about the pleasure and the privilege, and presented Luck
with a letter of endorsement and signed with due formality by chairman
and secretary and sealed with the official seal. Attached to the letter
was a copy of the vote of thanks, and you may imagine how Luck smiled
when he saw that!
He stayed a little while, and during the recess which presently was
called he shook hands with many an old-timer whose name stood for a good
deal in the great State of Texas. Then he left them, still smiling over
what he called his good luck, and wired a copy of the letter of
endorsement to all the trade journals, to be incorporated in his
full-page advertising. By another stroke of luck he caught most of the
trade journals before their forms closed for the next issue, so that The
Phantom Herd was speedily heralded throughout the profession as the
first really authentic Western drama ever produced. By still another
stroke of what he called luck, an Associated Press man found him out, and
was pleased to ask him many questions and to make a few notes; and Luck,
wise to the value of publicity, answered the questions and saw to it that
the notes recorded interesting facts.
That evening Luck, feeling that he had reached the last mile-post on the
road to success, hunted up a few old-timers who appealed to him most as
true types of the range, and gave them a dinner in a certain place which
he knew was run by an old round-up cook. There was nothing about that
dinner which would have appealed to a cabaret crowd. They talked of the
old days when Luck was a lad, those old-timers; they talked of
trail-herds and of droughts and of floods and blizzards and range wars
and the market prices of beef "on the hoof." They called in the old
round-up cook and cursed him companionably as one of themselves, and
remembered that more than one of them had run when he pounded the bottom
of a frying pan and hollered "Come and get it!" They ate and they smoked
and they talked and talked and talked, until Luck had to indulge himself
in a taxi if he would not miss the eleven o'clock train north. His only
regret, in spite of the fact that he was practically and familiarly broke
again, was that circumstances did not permit the Happy Family to sit with
him at that table. Especially did he regret not having old Applehead and
the dried little man with him that night to make his gathering complete.
"SHE'S SHAPING UP LIKE A BANK ROLL"
"Well," said Luck to the Happy Family, "we've come this far along the
trail, and now I'm stuck again. Bank won't loan any more on the camera,
and I've got a dollar and six bits to market The Phantom Herd with!
Everything's fine so far; she's advertised,—or will be when the
magazines come out,—and she's got some good press notices to back her
up; but she ain't outa the woods yet. I've got to raise some money
somehow. I hate to ask poor old Applehead—"
"Pore old Applehead, my granny!" bawled Big Medicine, laughing his big
haw-haw. "Pore ole Applehead's sure steppin' high these days. He'd
mortgage his ranch and feel like a millionaire, by cripes! His ole
Come-Paddy cat jest natcherally walloped the tar outa Shunky Cheestely,
and Applehead seen him doin' it. Come-Paddy, he's hangin' out in the
house now, by cripes, 'cept when he takes a sashay down to the stable
lookin' fer more. And Shunky, he's bedded down under the Ketch-all, when
he ain't hittin' fer the tall timber with his tail clamped down between
his legs. Honest to grandma, Luck, you couldn't hit Applehead at a better
time. He'll borry money er do anything yuh care to ask, except shut up
that there cat uh hisn."
"Well, luck may come my way; I'll just sit tight a few days and see,"
said Luck. "When that positive film comes, I'll have to rustle money
somewhere to get it outa the express office, so we can make more
"And grind our daylights out again on that there drum that never does git
wound up?" groaned Big Medicine, and felt his biceps tenderly.
"We won't rush the next job quite so hard," Luck soothed, perfectly
amiable and easy to live with, now that the worst was over. "We made a
darn good set of prints, just the same; boys, you oughta seen that
picture! I've a good mind to get some house here in town to run it; say,
I might raise some money that way, if I can't do it any other." And then
his enthusiasm cooled. "Town isn't big enough for a long-enough run," he
considered disgustedly. "I'm past the two-bit stage of the game now."
"Well, you ask Applehead to raise the money," advised Weary. "Or one of
us will write to Chip for some. Mamma! The world's full of money! Seems
like it ought to be easy to get hold of some."
"It is—but it ain't," Luck stated somewhat ambiguously, and turned the
talk to his meeting with the old-timers, and prepared to "sit tight" and
wait for his god Good Luck to smile upon him.
The smile arrived at noon the next day, in the form of a wire from
Philadelphia. Luck read it and gave a whoop of joy quite at variance with
his usual surface calm.
Can Offer You Fifteen Hundred Dollars for Pennsylvania Rights The
Phantom Herd Usual Ten Cents Per Foot Positive Prints if Accepted Wire at
Once and Ship to This Point
"I hollered too soon," groaned Luck, when he had read it the second time,
pushing back his hair distractedly. "How the devil am I going to send him
any positive prints at ten cents a foot or ten cents an inch or any other
price? Till I get that shipment of positive, I can't fill any orders at
all! And until I begin to fill orders, I can't realize on the film. Can
you beat that? I'll have to wire him to wait, and that's two thousand
dollars tied up!"
"Aw, gwan!" Happy Jack croaked argumentatively. "Why don't you send him
what you took to the Convention?"
Luck stared at Happy stupefied before he said a word. "Say, Miguel, you
saddle your ridge-runner while I get ready to take this wire hack to
town and send it off," he snapped, preparing to write. "Sure, I'll send
that set of prints! Happy, you can go to the head of the class. Now
it's only a case of sit tight till the money comes. The prints are
packed and in the bank vault, so I'll just get them out and send them
C.O.D. to Mr. Crittenden, along with the states rights contract. How's
that for luck, boys?"
"Pretty good—for Luck," grinned Andy meaningly. "Fly at it, you coming
"Just a case of sit tight, boys. Adios!" cried Luck jubilantly as he
Once start along a smooth trail, and everything seems to conspire toward
a pleasant trip. To prove it, Luck found another telegram waiting for him
in Albuquerque. This was from Martinson, and might be interpreted as an
apology more or less abject. Certainly it was an urgent request that he
return immediately to Los Angeles and to his old place at the Acme, and
produce Western pictures under no supervision whatever.
Luck gave a little chuckle when he pocketed that message, but he did not
send any answer. He meant to wait and talk it over with the boys first.
"Better proposition than before," Martinson said. Well, perhaps it would
be best to look into it; Luck was too experienced to believe that one
success means permanent success; there are too many risks for the free
lance to run when a single failure means financial annihilation. If the
Acme would come to his terms, it might be to his advantage to take his
boys back and accept this peace-offering. At any rate, he appreciated to
the full the triumph they had scored.
Next, by some twist of the red tape in the Philadelphia express
office,—or perhaps R.J. Crittenden was a good fellow and asked them to
do it,—the two thousand dollars came by wire, just three days after Luck
had received notice that his shipment of positive film was being held for
him at the express office in Albuquerque. Also came other offers, mostly
by wire, for states rights to The Phantom Herd. And when the Happy
Family realized what those offers meant, they didn't care how hard or how
long Luck worked them in the little house which he had turned into a
Being human, intensely so in some ways, the first set of prints they
turned out Luck sent to Los Angeles with a mental godspeed and a hope
that Bently Brown and Martinson would see it and "get wise to what a
real Western picture looked like." There were other orders ahead of Los
Angeles in Luck's book, but they waited a little longer so that he might
the sooner taste a little of the sweets of revenge.
Whether Bently Brown and Martinson saw The Phantom Herd, Luck was a
long, long time finding out. But he learned that some one else did see
it, and that right speedily. For among his many telegrams that came
clicking into Albuquerque was this one which makes a fitting end to
Congratulations on The Phantom Herd Wonderful Production New
Proposition You to Produce Western Features with Your Present Company on
Straight Salary and Bonus Basis Miss Jean Douglas to Play Your Leads if I
Can Sign Her up Can You Come Here at Once to Close Deal Answer
"All right, boys, you can run and play." Luck handed them the telegram,
looked at his watch, and began to roll down his sleeves. "I'll catch the
next train for 'Los' and see Dewitt,—don't take any studying to know
that's the thing to do,—and if you'll pack all this negative, Bill, I'll
take that along and hire the rest of the prints made. Andy, you're riding
herd on this bunch while I'm gone. Just hold yourselves ready for orders,
because I don't know how things will shape up. But believe me, boys,
she's shaping up like a bank-roll!"