Part 1 out of 4
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