This etext was prepared by Dianne Bean of Phoenix AZ with Omnipage Pro software donated by Caere
THE HERITAGE OF THE SIOUX by B.M. Bower
I WHEN GREEN GRASS COMES
II THE DAUGHTER OF A CHIEF
III TO THE VICTORS THE SPOILS
IV LOVE WORDS FOR ANNIE
V FOR THE GOOD OF THE COMPANY
VI “I GO WHERE WAGALEXA CONKA SAY” VII ADVENTURE COMES SMILING
VIII THE SONG OF THE OMAHA
IX RIDERS IN THE BACKGROUND
X DEPUTIES ALL
XI ALL THIS WAR-TALK ABOUT INJUNS
XII THE WILD-GOOSE CHASE
XIII SET AFOOT
XIV ONE PUT OVER ON THE BUNCH
XV “NOW, DANG IT, RIDE!”
XVI ANNIE-MANY-PONIES WAITS
XVII APPLEHEAD SHOWS THE STUFF HE IS MADE OF XVIII IN THE DEVIL’S FRYING-PAN
XIX PEACE TALK
XX LUIS ROJAS TALKS
XXI “WAGALEXA CONKA–COLA!”
THE HERITAGE OF THE SIOUX by B. M. Bower
CHAPTER I. WHEN GREEN GRASS COMES
Old Applehead Furrman, jogging home across the mesa from Albuquerque, sniffed the soft breeze that came from opal-tinted distances and felt poignantly that spring was indeed here. The grass, thick and green in the sheltered places, was fast painting all the higher ridges and foot-hill slopes, and with the green grass came the lank-bodied, big-kneed calves; which meant that. roundup time was at hand. Applehead did not own more than a thousand head of cattle, counting every hoof that walked under his brand. And with the incipient lethargy of old age creeping into his habits of life, roundup time was not with him the important season it once had been; for several years he had been content to hire a couple of men to represent him in the roundups of the larger outfits–men whom he could trust to watch fairly well his interests. By that method he avoided much trouble and hurry and hard work–and escaped also the cares which come with wealth.
But this spring was not as other springs had been. Something–whether an awakened ambition or an access of sentiment regarding range matters, he did not know–was stirring the blood in Applehead’s veins. Never, since the days when he had been a cowpuncher, had the wide spaces called to him so alluringly; never had his mind dwelt so insistently upon the approach of spring roundup. Perhaps it was because he heard so much range talk at the ranch, where the boys of the Flying U were foregathered in uneasy idleness, their fingers itching for the feel of lariat ropes and branding irons while they gazed out over the wide spaces of the mesa.
So much good rangeland unharnessed by wire fencing the Flying U boys had not seen for many a day. During the winter they had been content to ride over it merely for the purpose of helping to make a motion picture of the range, but with the coming of green grass, and with the reaction that followed the completion of the picture that in the making had filled all their thoughts, they were not so content. To the inevitable reaction had been added a nerve racking period of idleness and uncertainty while Luck Lindsay, their director, strove with the Great Western Film Company in Los Angeles for terms and prices that would make for the prosperity of himself and his company.
In his heart Applehead knew, just as the Happy Family knew, that Luck had good and sufficient reasons for over-staying the time-limit he had given himself for the trip. But knowing that Luck was not to be blamed for his long absence did not lessen their impatience, nor did it stifle the call of the wide spaces nor the subtle influence of the winds that blew softly over the uplands.
By the time he reached the ranch Applehead had persuaded himself that the immediate gathering of his cattle was an imperative duty and that he himself must perform it. He could not, he told himself, afford to wait around any longer for luck. Maybe when he came Luck would have nothing but disappointment for them, Maybe–Luck was so consarned stubborn when he got an idea in his head–maybe be wouldn’t come to any agreement with the Great Western. Maybe they wouldn’t offer him enough money, or leave him enough freedom in his work; maybe he would “fly back on the rope” at the last minute, and come back with nothing accomplished. Applehead, with the experience gleaned from the stress of seeing luck produce one feature picture without any financial backing whatever and without half enough capital, was not looking forward with any enthusiasm to another such ordeal. He did not believe, when all was said and done, that the Flying U boys would be so terribly eager to repeat the performance. He did believe–or he made himself think he believed–that the only sensible thing to do right then was to take the boys and go out and start a roundup of his own. It wouldn’t take long–his cattle weren’t so badly scattered this year.
“Where’s Andy at?” he asked Pink, who happened to be leaning boredly over the gate when he rode up to the corral. Andy Green, having been left in nominal charge of the outfit when Luck left, must be consulted, Applehead supposed.
“Andy? I dunno. He saddled up and rode off somewhere, a while ago,” Pink answered glumly. “That’s more than he’ll let any of us fellows do; the way he’s close-herding us makes me tired! Any news?”
“Ain’t ary word from Luck–no word of NO kind. I’ve about made up my mind to take the chuck-wagon to town and stock it with grub, and hit out on roundup t’morrer or next day. I don’t see as there’s any sense in setting around here waitin’ on Luck and lettin’ my own work slide. Chavez boys, they started out yest’day, I heard in town. And if I don’t git right out close onto their heels, I’ll likely find myself with a purty light crop uh calves, now I’m tellin’ yuh I” Applehead, so completely had he come under the spell of the soft spring air and the lure of the mesa, actually forgot that he had long been in the habit of attending to his calf crop by proxy.
Pink’s face brightened briefly. Then he remembered why they were being kept so close to the ranch, and he grew bored again.
“What if Luck pulled in before we got back, and wanted us to start work on another picture?” he asked, discouraging the idea reluctantly. Pink had himself been listening to the call of the wide spaces, and the mere mention of roundup had a thrill for him.
“Well, now, I calc’late my prope’ty is might’ nigh as important as Luck’s pitcher-making,” Applehead contended with a selfishness born of his newly awakened hunger for the far distances. “And he ain’t sent ary word that he’s coming, or will need you boys immediate. The chances is we could go and git back agin before Luck shows up. And if we don’t,” he argued speciously, “he can’t blame nobody for not wantin’ to set around on their haunches all spring waiting for ‘im. I’d do a lot fer luck; I’ve DONE a lot fer ‘im. But it ain’t to be expected I’d set around waitin’ on him and let them danged Mexicans rustle my calves. They’ll do it if they git half a show–now I’m tellin’ yuh!”
Pink did not say anything at all, either in assent or argument; but old Applehead, now that he had established a plausible reason for his sudden impulse, went on arguing the case while he unsaddled his horse. By the time he turned the animal loose he had thought of two or three other reasons why he should take the boys and start out as soon as possible to round up his cattle. He was still dilating upon these reasons when Andy Green rode slowly down the slope to the corral.
“Annie-Many-Ponies come back yet?” he asked of Pink, as he swung down off his horse. “Annie? No; ain’t seen anything of her. Shunky’s been sitting out there on the hill for the last hour, looking for her.”
“Fer half a cent,” threatened old Applehead, in a bad humor because his arguments had not quite convinced him that he was not meditating a disloyalty, “I’d kill that danged dawg. And if I was runnin’ this bunch, I’d send that squaw back where she come from, and I’d send her quick. Take the two of ’em together and they don’t set good with me, now I’m tellin’ yuh! If I was to say what I think, I’d say yuh can’t never trust an Injun–and shiny hair and eyes and slim build don’t make ’em no trustier. They’s something scaley goin’ on around here, and I’d gamble on it. And that there squaw’s at the bottom of it. What fur’s she ridin’ off every day, ‘n’ nobody knowin’ where she goes to? If Luck’s got the sense he used to have, he’ll git some white girl to act in his pitchers, and send that there squaw home ‘fore she double-crosses him some way or other.”
“Oh, hold on, Applehead!” Pink felt constrained to defend the girl. “You’ve got it in for her ’cause her dog don’t like your cat. Annie’s all right; I never saw anything outa the way with her yet.”
“Well, now, time you’re old as I be, you’ll have some sense, mebby,” Applehead quelled. “Course you think Annie’s all right. She’s purty,’n’ purtyness in a woman shore does cover up a pile uh cussedness–to a feller under forty. You’re boss here, Andy. When she comes back, you ask ‘er where she’s been, and see if you kin git a straight answer. She’ll lie to yuh–I’ll bet all I got, she’ll lie to yuh. And when a woman lies about where she’s been to and what she’s been doin’, you can bet there’s something scaley goin’ on. Yuh can’t fool ME!”
He turned and went up to the small adobe house where he had lived in solitary contentment with his cat Compadre until Luck Lindsay, seeking a cheap headquarters for his free-lance company while he produced the big Western picture which filled all his mind, had taken calm and unheralded possession of the ranch. Applehead did not resent the invasion; on the contrary, he welcomed it as a pleasant change in his monotonous existence. What he did resent was the coming, first, of the little black dog that was no more than a tramp and had no right on the ranch, and that broke all the laws of decency and gratitude by making the life of the big blue cat miserable. Also he resented the uninvited arrival of Annie-Many-Ponies from the Sioux reservation in North Dakota.
Annie-Many-Ponies had not only come uninvited–she had remained in defiance of Luck’s perturbed insistence that she should go back home. The Flying U boys might overlook that fact because of her beauty, but Applehead was not so easily beguiled–especially when she proceeded to form a violent attachment to the little black dog, which she called Shunka Chistala in what Applehead considered a brazen flaunting of her Indian blood and language, Between the mistress of Shunka Chistala and the master of the cat there could never be anything more cordial than an armed truce. She had championed that ornery cur in a way to make Applehead’s blood boil. She had kept the dog in the house at night, which forced the cat to seek cold comfort elsewhere. She had pilfered the choicest table scraps for the dog–and Compadre was a cat of fastidious palate and grew thin on what coarse bits were condescendingly left for him.
Applehead had not approved of Luck’s final consent that Annie-Many-Ponies should stay and play the Indian girl in his big picture. In the mind of Applehead there lurked a grudge that found all the more room to grow because of the natural bigness and generosity of his nature. It irked him to see her going her calm way with that proud uptilt to her shapely head and that little, inscruable smile when she caught the meaning of his grumbling hints.
Applehead was easy-going to a fault in most things, but his dislike had grown in Luck’s absence to the point where he considered himself aggrieved whenever Annie-Many-Ponies saddled the horse which had been tacitly set aside for her use, and rode off into the mesa without a word of explanation or excuse. Applehead reminded the boys that she had not acted like that when luck was home. She had stayed on the ranch where she belonged, except once or twice, on particularly fine days, when she had meekly asked “Wagalexa Conka,” as she persisted in calling Luck, for permission to go for a ride.
Applehead itched to tell her a few things about the social, moral, intellectual and economic status of an “Injun squaw”–but there was something in her eye, something in the quiver of her finely shaped nostrils, in the straight black brows, that held his tongue quiet when he met her face to face. You couldn’t tell about these squaws. Even luck, who knew Indians better than most–and was, in a heathenish tribal way, the adopted son of Old Chief Big Turkey, and therefore Annie’s brother by adoption–even Luck maintained that Annie-Many-Ponies undoubtedly carried a knife concealed in her clothes and would use it if ever the need arose. Applehead was not afraid of Annie’s knife. It was something else, something he could not put into words, that held him back from open upbraidings.
He gave Andy’s wife, Rosemary, the mail and stopped to sympathize with her because Annie-Many-Ponies had gone away and left the hardest part of the ironing undone. Luck had told Annie to help Rosemary with the work; but Annie’s help, when Luck was not around the place, was, Rosemary asserted, purely theoretical.
“And from all you read about Indians,” Rosemary complained with a pretty wrinkling of her brows, “you’d think the women just LIVE for the sake of working. I’ve lost all faith in history, Mr. Furrman. I don’t believe squaws ever do anything if they can help it. Before she went off riding today, for instance, that girl spent a whole HOUR brushing her hair and braiding it. And I do believe she GREASES it to make it shine the way it does! And the powder she piles on her face–just to ride out on the mesa!” Rosemary Green was naturally sweet-tempered and exceedingly charitable in her judgements; but here, too, the cat-and-dog feud had its influence. Rosemary Green was a loyal champion of the cat Compadre; besides, there was a succession of little irritations, in the way of dishes left unwashed and inconspicuous corners left unswept, to warp her opinion of Annie-Many-Ponies.
When he left Rosemary he went straight down to where the chuck-wagon stood, and began to tap the tires with a small rock to see if they would need resetting before he started out. He decided that the brake-blocks would have to be replaced with new ones–or at least reshod with old boot-soles. The tongue was cracked, too; that had been done last winter when Luck was producing The Phantom Herd and had sent old Dave Wiswell down a rocky hillside with half-broken bronks harnessed to the wagon, in a particularly dramatic scene. Applehead went grumblingly in search of some baling wire to wrap the tongue. He had been terribly excited and full of enthusiasm for the picture at the time the tongue was cracked, but now he looked upon it merely as a vital weakness in his roundup outfit. A new tongue would mean delay; and delay, in his present mood, was tragedy.
He couldn’t find any old baling wire, though he had long been accustomed to tangling his feet in snarled bunches of it when he went forth in the dark after a high wind. Until now he had not observed its unwonted absence from the yard. For a long while he had not needed any wire to mend things, because Luck had attended to everything about the ranch, and if anything needed mending he had set one of the Happy Family at the task.
His search led him out beyond the corrals in the little dry wash that sometimes caught and held what the high winds brought rolling that way. The wash was half filled with tumble-weed, so that Applehead was forced to get down into it and kick the weeds aside to see if there was any wire lodged beneath. His temper did not sweeten over the task, especially since he found nothing that he wanted.
Annie-Many-Ponies, riding surreptitiously up the dry wash–meaning to come out in a farther gully and so approach the corral from the west instead of from the east–came upon Applehead quite unexpectedly. She stopped and eyed him aslant from under her level, finely marked brows, and her eyes lightened with relief when she saw that Applehead looked more startled than she had felt. Indeed, Applehead had been calling Luck uncomplimentary names for cleaning the place of everything a man might need in a hurry, and he was ashamed of himself.
“Can’t find a foot of danged wire on the danged place!” Applehead kicked a large, tangled bunch of weeds under the very nose of the horse which jumped sidewise. “Never seen such a maniac for puttin’ things where a feller can’t find ’em, as what Luck is.” He was not actually speak ing to Annie-Many-Ponies–or if he was he did not choose to point his remarks by glancing at her.
“Wagalexa Conka, he heap careful for things belong when they stay,” Annie-Many-Ponies observed in her musical contralto voice which always irritated Applehead with its very melody. “I think plenty wire all fold up neat in prop-room. Wagalexa Conka, he all time clean this studio from trash lie around everywhere.”
“He does, hey?” Applehead’s sunburnt mustache bristled like the whiskers of Compadre when he was snarling defiance at the little black dog. The feud was asserting itself. ” Well, this here danged place ain’t no studio! It’s a ranch, and it b’longs to ME, Nip Furrman. And any balin’ wire on this ranch is my balin’ wire, and it’s got a right to lay around wherever I want it t’ lay. And I don’t need no danged squaw givin’ me hints about ‘how my place oughta be kept–now I’m tellin’ yuh!”
Annie-Many-Ponies did not reply in words. She sat on her horse, straight as any young warchief that ever led her kinsmen to battle, and looked down at Applehead with that maddening half smile of hers, inscrutable as the Sphinx her features sometimes resembled. Shunka Chistala (which is Sioux for Little Dog) came bounding over the low ridge that hid the ranch buildings from sight, and wagged himself dislocatingly up to her. Annie-Many-Ponies frowned at his approach until she saw that Applehead was aiming a clod at the dog, whereupon she touched her heels to the horse and sent him between Applehead and her pet, and gave Shunka Chistala a sharp command in Sioux that sent him back to the house with his tail dropped.
For a full half minute she and old Applehead looked at each other in open antagonism. For a squaw, Annie-Many-Ponies was remarkably unsubmissive in her bearing. Her big eyes were frankly hostile; her half smile was, in the opinion of Applehead, almost as frankly scornful. He could not match her in the subtleties of feminine warfare. He took refuge behind the masculine bulwark of authority.
“Where yuh bin with that horse uh mine?” he demanded harshly. “Purty note when I don’t git no say about my own stock. Got him all het up and heavin’ like he’d been runnin’ cattle; I ain’t goin’ to stand for havin’ my horses ran to death, now I’m tellin’ yuh! Fer a squaw, I must say you’re gittin’ too danged uppish in your ways around here. Next time you want to go traipsin’ around the mesa, you kin go afoot. I’m goin’ to need my horses fer roundup.”
A white girl would have made some angry retort; but Annie-Many-Ponies, without looking in the least abashed, held her peace and kept that little inscrutable smile upon her lips. Her eyes, however, narrowed in their gaze.
“Yuh hear me?” Poor old Applehead had never before attempted to browbeat a woman, and her unsubmissive silence seemed to his bachelor mind uncanny.
“I hear what Wagalexa Conka tell me.” She turned her horse and rode composedly away from him over the ridge.
“You’ll hear a danged sight more’n that, now I’m tellin’ yuh!” raved Applehead impotently. “I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ agin Luck, but they’s goin’ to be some danged plain speakin’ done on some subjects when he comes back, and given’ squaws a free rein and lettin’ ’em ride rough-shod over everybody and everything is one of ‘era. Things is gittin’ mighty funny when a danged squaw kin straddle my horses and ride ’em to death, and sass me when I say a word agin it–now I’m tellin’ yuh!”
He went mumbling rebellion that was merely the effervescing of a mood which would pass with the words it bred, to the store-room which Annie-Many-Ponies had called the prop-room. He found there, piled upon a crude shelf, many little bundles of wire folded neatly and with the outer end wound twice around to keep each bundle separate from the others. Applehead snorted at what he chose to consider a finicky streak in his secret idol, Luck Lindsay; but he took two of the little bundles and went and wired the wagon tongue. And in the work he found a salve of anticipatory pleasure, so that he ended the task to the humming of the tune he had heard a movie theatre playing in town as he rode by on his way home.
CHAPTER II. THE DAUGHTER OF A CHIEF
In spite of Andy Green’s plea for delay until they knew what Luck meant to do, Applehead went on with his energetic preparations for a spring roundup of his own. Some perverse spirit seemed to possess him and drive him out of his easy-going shiftlessness. He offered to hire the Happy Family by the day, since none of them would promise any permanent service until they heard from Luck. He put them to work gathering up the saddle-horses that had been turned loose when Luck’s picture was finished, and repairing harness and attending to the numberless details of reorganizing a ranch long left to slipshod make-shifts.
The boys of the Flying U argued while they worked, but in spite of themselves the lure of the mesa quickened their movements. They were supposed to wait for Luck before they did anything; an they all knew that. But, on the other hand, Luck was supposed to keep them informed as to his movements; which he had not done. They did not voice one single doubt of Lucks loyalty to them, but human nature is more prone to suspicion than to faith, as every one knows. And Luck had the power and the incentive to “double-cross” them if he was the kind to do such a thing. He was manager for their little free-lance picture company which did not even have a name to call itself by. They had produced one big feature film, and it was supposed to be a cooperative affair from start to finish. If Luck failed to make good, they would all be broke together. If Luck cleared up the few thousands that had been their hope, why–they would all profit by the success, if Luck–
I maintain that they showed themselves of pretty good metal, in that not even Happy Tack, confirmed pessimist that he was, ever put the least suspicion of Luck’s honesty into words. They were not the kind to decry a comrade when his back was turned. And they had worked with Luck Lindsay and had worked for him. They had slept under the same roof with him, had shared his worries,his hopes, and his fears. They did not believe that Luck had appropriated the proceeds of The Phantom Herd and had deliberately left them there to cool their heels and feel the emptiness of their pockets in New Mexico, while he disported himself in Los Angeles; they did–not believe that–they would have resented the implication that they harbored any doubt of him. But for all that, as the days passed and he neither came nor sent them any word, they yielded more and more to the determination of Applehead to start out upon his own business, and they said less and less about Luck’s probable plans for the future.
And then, just when they were making ready for an early start the next morning; just when Applehead had the corral full of horses and his chuckwagon of grub; just when the Happy Family had packed their war-bags with absolute necessities and were justifying themselves in final arguments with Andy Green, who refused point-blank to leave the; ranch–then, at the time a dramatist would have chosen for his entrance for an effective “curtain,” here came Luck, smiling and driving a huge seven-passenger machine crowded to the last folding seat and with the chauffeur riding on the running board where Luck had calmly banished him when he skidded on a sharp turn and came near upsetting them.
Applehead, stowing a coil of new rope in the chuck-wagon, took off his hat and rubbed his shiny, pink pate in dismay. He was, for the moment, a culprit caught in the act of committing a grave misdemeanor if not an actual felony. He dropped the rope and went forward with dragging feet–ashamed, for the first time in his life, to face a friend.
Luck gave the wheel a twist, cut a fine curve around the windmill and stopped before the house with as near a flourish as a seven-passenger automobile loaded from tail-lamp to windshield can possibly approach.
“There. That’s the way I’ve been used to seeing cars behave,” Luck observed pointedly to the deposed chauffeur as he slammed the door open and climbed out. “You don’t have to act like you’re a catepillar on a rail fence, to play safe. I believe in keeping all four wheels on the ground–but I like to see ’em turn once in awhile. You get me?” He peeled a five-dollar banknote off a roll the size of his wrist, handed it to the impressed chauffeur and dismissed the transaction with a wave of his gloved hand. “You’re all right, brother,” he tempered his criticism, “but I’m some nervous about automobiles.”
“I noticed that myself,” drawled a soft, humorous voice from the rear. “This is the nearest I ever came to traveling by telegraph.”
Luck grinned, waved his hand in friendly greeting to the Happy Family who were taking long steps up from the corral, and turned his attention to the unloading of the machine. “Howdy, folks!–guess yuh thought I’d plumb lost the trail back,” he called to them over his shoulder while he dove after suitcases, packages of various sizes and shapes, a box or two which the Happy Family recognized as containing “raw stock,” and a camera tripod that looked perfectly new.
From the congested tonneau a tall, slim young woman managed to descend without stepping on anything that could not bear being stepped upon. She gave her skirts a little shake, pushed back a flying strand of hair and turned her back to the machine that she might the better inspect her immediate surroundings.
Old Dave Wiswell, the dried little man who never had much to say, peered at her sharply, hesitated and then came forward with his bony hand outstretched and trembling with eagerness. “Why, my gorry! If it ain’t Jean Douglas, my eyes are lyin’ to me,” he cried.
“It isn’t Jean Douglas–but don’t blame your eyes for that,” said the girl, taking his hand and shaking it frankly. “Jean Douglas Avery, thanks to the law that makes a girl trade her name for a husband. You know Lite, of course– dad, too.”
“Well, well–my gorry I I should say I do! Howdy, Aleck?” He shook the hand of the old man Jean called dad, and his lips trembled uncertainly, seeking speech that would not hurt a very, very sore spot in the heart of big Aleck Douglas. “I’m shore glad to meet yuh again,” he stuttered finally, and let it go at that “And how are yuh, Lite? Just as long and lanky as ever–marriage shore ain’t fattened you up none. My gorry! I shore never expected to see you folks away down here!”
“Thought you heard me say when I left that the Great Western had offered to get me Jean Douglas for leading lady,” Luck put in, looking around distractedly for a place to deposit his armload of packages. “That’s one thing that kept me–waiting for her to show up. Of course a man naturally expects a woman to take her own time about starting–“
“I like that!” Jean drawled. “We broke up housekeeping and wound up a ranch and traveled a couple of thousand miles in just a week’s time. We–we ALMOST hit the same gait you did from town out here today!”
Rosemary Green came out then, and Luck turned to greet her and to present Jean to her, and was pleased when he saw from their eyes that they liked each other at first sight. He introduced the Happy Family and Applehead to her and to her husband, Lite Avery, and her father. He pulled a skinny individual forward and announced that this was Pete Lowry, one of the Great Western’s crack cameramen; and another chubby, smooth-cheeked young man he presented as Tommy Johnson, scenic artist and stage carpenter. And he added with a smile for the whole bunch, “We’re going to produce some real stuff from now on believe me, folks!”
In the confusion and the mild clamor of the absence-bridging questions and hasty answers, two persons had no part. Old Applehead, hard-ridden by the uneasy consciousness of his treason to Luck, leaned against a porch post and sucked hard at the stem of an empty pipe. And just beyond the corner out of sight but well within hearing, Annie-Many-Ponies stood flattened against the wall and listened with fast-beating pulse for the sound of her name, spoken in the loved voice of Wagalexa Conka. She, the daughter of a chief and Luck’s sister by tribal adoption–would he not miss her: from among those others who welcomed him? Would he not presently ask: “Where is Annie-Many-Ponies?” She knew just how he would turn and search for her with his eyes.
She knew just how his voice would sound when he asked for her. Then, after a minute–when he had missed her and had asked for her–she would come and stand before him. And he would take her hand and say to that white woman; “This is my Indian sister, Annie-Many-Ponies, who played the part of the beautiful Indian girl who died so grandly in The Phantom Herd. This is the girl who plays my character leads.” Then the white girl, who was to be his leading woman, would not feel that she was the only woman in the company who could do good work for Luck.
Annie-Many-Ponies had worked in pictures since she was fifteen and did only “atmosphere stuff” in the Indian camps of Luck’s arranging. She was wise in the ways of picture jealousies. Already she was jealous of this slim woman with the dark hair and eyes and the slow smile that always caught one’s attention and held it. She waited. She wanted Wagalexa Conka to call her in that kindly, imperious voice of his–the voice of the master. This leading woman would see, then, that here was a girl more beautiful for whom Luck Lindsay felt the affection of family ties.
She waited, flattened against the wall, listening to every word that was spoken in that buzzing group. She saw the last bundle taken from the machine, and she saw Luck’s head and shoulders disappear within the tonneau, making sure that it was the last bundle and that nothing had been overlooked. She saw the driver climb in, slam the fore-door shut after him and bend above the starter. She saw the machine slide out of the group and away in a wide circle to regain the trail. She saw the group break and start off in various directions as duty or a passing interest led. But Wagalexa Conka never once seemed to remember that she was not there. Never once did he speak her name.
Instead, just as Rosemary was leading the way into the house, this slim young woman they called Jean glanced around inquiringly. “I thought you had a squaw working for you,” she said in that soft, humorous voice of hers. “The one who did the Indian girl in The Phantom Herd. Isn’t she here any more?”
“Oh, yes!” Luck stopped with one foot on the porch. “Sure! Where is Annie? Anybody know?”
“She was around here just before you came,” said Rosemary carelessly. “I don’t know where she went.”
“Hid out, I reckon,” Luck commented. “Injuns are heap shy of meeting strangers. She’ll show up after a little.”
Annie-Many-Ponies stooped and slid safely past the window that might betray her, and then slipped away behind the house. She waited, and she listened; for though the adobe walls were thick, there were open windows and her hearing was keen. Within was animated babel and much laughter. But not once again did Annie-Many-Ponies hear her name spoken. Not once again did Wagalexa Conka remember her. Save when she, that slim woman who bad come to play his leads, asked to see her, she had been wholly forgotten. Even then she had been named a squaw. It was as though they had been speaking of a horse. They did not count her worthy of a place in their company, they did not miss her voice and her smile.
“Hid out,” Wagalexa Conka had said. Well, she would hide out, then–she, the daughter of a chief of the Sioux; she, whom Wagalexa Conka had been glad to have in his picture when he was poor and had no money to pay white leading women. But now he had much money; now he could come in a big automobile, with a slim, white leading woman and a camera man and scenic artist and much money in his pocket; and she–she was just a squaw who had hid out, and who would show up after a while and be grateful if he took her by the hand and said, “How!”
With so many persons moving eagerly here and there, none but an Indian could have slipped away from that house and from the ranch without being seen. But though the place was bald and open to the four winds save for a few detached outbuildings, Annie-Many-Ponies went away upon the mesa and no one saw her go.
She did not dare go to the corral for her horse. The corral was in plain sight of the house, and the eyes of Wagalexa Conka were keen as the eye of the Sioux, his foster brothers. He would see her there. He would call: “Annie, come here!” and she would go, and would stand submissive before him, and would be glad that he noticed her; for she was born of the tribe where women obey their masters, and the heritage of centuries may not be lightly lain aside like an outgrown garment. She felt that this was so; that although her heart might burn with resentment because he had forgotten and must be reminded by a strange white woman that the “squaw” was not present, still, if he called her she must go, because Wagalexa Conka was master there and the master must be obeyed.
Down the dry wash where Applehead had hunted for baling wire she went swiftly, with the straight-backed, free stride of the plainswoman who knows not the muscle-bondage of boned girdle. In moccasins she walked; for a certain pride of race, a certain sense of the picture-value of beaded buckskin and bright cloth, held her fast to the gala dress of her people, modified and touched here and there with the gay ornaments of civilization. So much had her work in the silent drama taught her. Bareheaded, her hair in two glossy braids each tied with a big red bow, she strode on and on in the clear sunlight of spring.
Not until she was more than two miles from the ranch did she show herself upon one of the numberless small ridges which, blended together in the disance, give that deceptive look of flatness to the mesa. Even two miles away, in that clear air that dwarfs distance so amazingly, Wagalexa Conka might recognize her if he looked at her with sufficient attention. But Wagalexa Conka, she told herself with a flash of her black eyes, would not look. Wagalexa Conka was too busy looking at that slim woman he had brought with him.
That ridge she crossed, and two others. On the last one she stopped and stood, straight and still, and stared away towards the mountains, shading her eyes with one spread palm. On a distant slope a small herd of cattle fed, scattered and at peace. Nearer, a great hawk circled slowly on widespread wings, his neck craned downward as if he were watching his own shadow move ghostlike over the grass. Annie-Many-Ponies, turning her eyes disappointedly from the empty mesa, envied the hawk his swift-winged freedom.
When she looked again toward the far slopes next the mountains, a black speck rolled into view, the nucleus of a little dust cloud. Her face brightened a little; she turned abruptly and sought easy footing down that ridge, and climbed hurriedly the longer rise beyond. Once or twice, when she was on high ground, she glanced behind her uneasily, as does one whose mind holds a certain consciousness of wrongdoing. She did not pause, even then, but hurried on toward the dust cloud.
On the rim of a shallow, saucer-like basin that lay cunningly concealed until one stood upon the very edge of it, Annie-Many-Ponies stopped again and stood looking out from under her spread palm. Presently the dust cloud moved over the crest of a ridge, and now that it was so much closer she saw clearly the horseman loping abreast of the dust. Annie-Many-Ponies stood for another moment watching, with that inscrutable half smile on her lips. She untied the cerise silk kerchief which she wore knotted loosely around her slim neck, waited until the horseman showed plainly in the distance and then, raising her right hand high above her head, waved the scarf three times in slow, sweeping half circles from right to left. She waited, her eyes fixed expectantly upon the horseman. Like a startled rabbit he darted to the left, pulled in his horse, turned and rode for three or four jumps sharply to the right; stopped short for ten seconds and then came straight on, spurring his horse to a swifter pace.
Annie-Many-Ponies smiled and went down into the shallow basin and seated herself upon the wide, adobe curbing of an old well that marked, with the nearby ruins of an adobe house, the site, of an old habitation of tragic history. She waited with the absolute patience of her race for the horseman had yet a good two miles to cover. While she waited she smiled dreamily to herself and with dainty little pats and pulls she widened the flaring red bows on her hair and retied the cerise scarf in its picturesque, loose knot about her throat. As a final tribute to that feminine instinct which knows no race she drew from some cunningly devised hiding place a small, cheap “vanity box,” and proceeded very gravely to powder her nose.
CHAPTER III. TO THE VICTORS THE SPOILS
“Hey, boys!” Luck Lindsay shouted to Applehead and one or two of the Happy Family who were down at the chuck–wagon engaged in uneasy discussion as to what Luck would say when he found out about their intention to leave. “Come on up here–this is going to be a wiping out of old scores and I want to get it over with!”
“Well, now, I calc’late the fur’s about to fly,” Applehead made dismal prophecy, as they started to obey the summons. “All ‘t su’prises me is ‘t he’s held off this long. Two hours is a dang long time fer Luck to git in action, now I’m tellin’ yuh!” He took off his hat and polished his shiny pate, as was his habit when perturbed. “I’m shore glad we had t’ wait and set them wagon- tires,” he added. “We’d bin started this mornin’ only fer that.”
“Aw, we ain’t done nothing,” Happy Jack protested in premature self defense. “We ain’t left the ranch yet. I guess a feller’s got a right to THINK!”
“He has, if he’s got anything to do it with,” Pink could not forbear to remark pointedly.
“Well, if a feller didn’t have, he’d have a fat chance borrying from YOU,” Happy Jack retorted.
“Well, by cripes, I ain’t perpared to bet very high that there’s a teacupful uh brains in this hull outfit,” Big Medicine asserted. “We might a knowed Luck’d come back loaded fer bear; we WOULD a knowed it if we had any brains in our heads. I’m plumb sore at myself. By cripes, I need kickin’!”
“You’ll get it, chances are,” Pink assured him grimly.
Luck was in the living room, sitting at a table on which were scattered many papers Scribbled with figures. He had a cigarette in his lips, his hat on the back of his head and a twinkle in his eyes. He looked up and grinned as they came reluctantly into the room.
“Time’s money from now on, so this is going to be cut short as possible,” he began with his usual dynamic energy showing in his tone and in the movements of his hands as he gathered up the papers and evened their edges on the table top. “You fellows know how much you put into the game when we started out to come here and produce The Phantom Herd, don’t you? If you don’t, I’ve got the figures here. I guess the returns are all in on that picture–and so far She’s brought us twenty-three thousand and four hundred dollars. She went big, believe me! I sold thirty states. Well, cost of production is-what we put in the pool, plus the cost of making the prints I got in Los. We pull out the profits according to what we put in–sabe? I guess that suits everybody, doesn’t it?”
“Sure,” one astonished voice gulped faintly. The others were dumb.
“Well, I’ve figured it out that way–and to make sure I had it right I got Billy Wilders, a pal of mine that works in a bank there, to figure it himself and check up after me. We all put in our services–one man’s work against every other man’s work, mine same as any of you. Bill Holmes, here, didn’t have any money up, and he was an apprentice–but I’m giving him twenty a week besides his board. That suit you, Bill?”
“I guess it’s all right,” Bill answered in his colorless tone.
Luck, being extremely sensitive to tones, cocked an eye up at Bill before he deliberately peeled, from the roll he drew from his pocket, enough twenty dollar notes to equal the number of weeks Bill had worked for him. “And that’s paying you darned good money for apprentice work,” he informed him drily, a little hurt by Bill’s lack of appreciation. For when you take a man from the streets because he is broke and hungry and homeless, and feed him and give him work and clothes and three meals a day and a warm bed to sleep in, if yon are a normal human being you are going to expect a little gratitude from that man; Luck had a flash of disappointment when he saw how indifferently Bill Holmes took those twenties and counted them before shoving them into his pocket. His own voice was more crisply businesslike when he spoke again.
“Annie-Many-Ponies back yet? She’s not in on the split either. I’m paying her ten a week besides her board. That’s good money for a squaw.” He counted out the amount in ten dollar bills and snapped a rubber band around them.
“Now here is the profit, boys, on your winter’s work. Applehead comes in with the use of his ranch and stock and wagons and so on. Here, pard–how does this look to you?” His own pleasure in what he was doing warmed from Luck’s voice all the chill that Bill Holmes had sent into it. He smiled his contagious smile and peeled off fifty dollar banknotes until Applehead’s eyes popped.
“Oh, don’t give me so dang much!” he gulped nervously when Luck had counted out for him the amount he had jotted down opposite his name. “That there’s moren the hul dang ranch is worth if I was t’ deed it over to yuh, Luck! I ain’t goin’ to take–“
“You shut up,” Luck commanded him affectionately. “That’s yours–now, close your face and let me get this thing wound up. Now–WILL you quit your arguing, or shall I throw you out the window?”
“Well, now, I calc’late you’d have a right busy time throwin’ ME out the window,” Applehead boasted, and backed into a corner to digest this astonishing turn of events.
One by one, as their names stood upon his list, Luck called the boys forward and with exaggerated deliberation peeled off fifty-dollar notes and one-hundred-dollar notes to take their breath and speech from them.
With Billy Wilders, his friend in the bank, to help him, he had boyishly built that roll for just this heart-warming little ceremony. He might have written checks to square the account of each, but he wanted to make their eyes stand out, just as he was doing. He had looked forward to this half hour more eagerly than any of them guessed; he had, with his eyes closed, visualized this scene over more than one cigarette, his memory picturing vividly another scene wherein these same young men had cheerfully emptied their pockets and planned many small personal sacrifices that he, Luck Lindsay, might have money enough to come here to New Mexico and make his one Big Picture. Luck felt that nothing less than a display of the profits in real money could ever quite balance that other scene when all the Happy Familyhad in the world went in the pot and they mourned because it was so little.
“Aw, I betche Luck robbed a bank er something!” Happy Jack stuttered with an awkward attempt to conceal his delight when his name was called, his investment was read and the little sheaf of currency that represented his profit was laid in his outstretched palm.
“It’s me for the movies if this is the way they pan out,” Weary declared gleefully. “Mamma! I didn’t know there was so much money in the world!”
“I’ll bet he milked Los Angeles dry of paper money,” Andy Green asserted facetiously, thumbing his small fortune gloatingly. “Holding out anything for yourself, Luck? We don’t want to be hogs.”
“I’m taking care of my interests–don’t you worry about that a minute,” Luck stated complacently. “I held mine out first. That wipes the slate–and cleans up the bank-roll. I maintain The Phantom Herd was so-o-ome picture, boys. They’ll be getting it here in ‘Querque soon–we’ll all go in and see it.”
“Now we’re all set for a fresh start. And while you’re all here I’ll just put you up to date. on what kind of a deal I made with Dewitt. We come in under the wing of Excelsior, and our brand name will be Flying U Feature Film–how does that hit you? You boys are all on a straight board-and-salary basis–thirty dollars a week, and it’s up to me to make you earn it!” He grinned and beckoned to Jean Douglas Avery and her companions in the next room.
“Mrs. Avery, here, is our leading woman–keeping the name of Jean Douglas, since she made it valuable in that Lazy A serial she did a year or so ago. Lite is on the same footing as the rest of you boys. Her father will be my assistant in choosing locations and so on. Tommy Johnson, as I said, is another assistant in another capacity, that of scenic artist and stage carpenter. Pete Lowry, here, is camera man and Bill Holmes will be his assistant. The rest of you work wherever I need you–a good deal the way we did last winter. Annie-Many-Ponies stays with us as character lead and is in general stock. Rosemary–” he stopped and smiled at her understandingly– “Rosemary draws fifteen a week–oh, don’t get scared! I won’t give you any foreground stuff! just atmosphere when I need it, and general comforter and mascot of the company!”
Luck may have stretched a point there, but if he did it was merely a technical one. Rosemary Green was hopelessly camera-shy, but he could use her in background atmosphere, and when it came to looking after the physical and mental welfare of the bunch she was worth her weight in any precious metal you may choose to name.
“You better put me down as camp cook and dishwasher, Luck Lindsay,” Rosemary protested, blushing.
“No–thank the Lord you won’t have to cook for this hungry bunch any longer. I’ve got a Mexican hired and headed this way. There’ll be no more of that kind of thing for you, lady–not while you’re with us.
“Now, boys, let’s get organized for action. Weather’s perfect–Lowry’s been raving over the light, all the way out from town. I’ve got a range picture all blocked out–did it while I was waiting in Los for Jean to show up. Done anything about roundup yet, Applehead?”–
Poor old Applehead, with his guilty conscience and his soft-hearted affection for Luck so deeply stirred by the money laid in his big-knuckled hand, shuffled his feet and cleared his throat and did not get one intelligible word past his dry tongue.
“If you haven’t,” Luck hurried on, spurred by his inpatient energy, “I want to organize and get out right away with a regular roundup outfitchuck-wagon, remuda and all–see what I mean I While I’m getting the picture of the stuff I want, we can gather and brand your calves. That way, all my range scenes will be of the real thing. I may want to throw the Chavez outfit in with ours, too, so as to get bigger stuff. I’ll try and locate Ramon Chavez and see what I can do. But anyway, I want the roundup outfit ready to start just as soon as possible–tomorrow, if we could get it together in time. How about that cracked tongue on the chuck-wagon? Anybody fixed that?”
“We-ell, I wired it up so’st it’s as solid as the rest uh the runnin’ gear,” Applehead confessed shamefacedly, rolling his eyes apprehensively at the flushed faces of his fellow traitors.
“Yuh did? Good! Tires need setting, if I recollect–“
“Er–I had the boys set the tires, ‘n’–“
“Fine! I might have known you fellows would put things in shape while I was gone! How about the horses? I thought I saw a bunch in the big corral–“
“I rustled enough saddle horses to give us all two apiece,” Applehead admitted, perspiring coldly. “‘Tain’t much of a string, but–“
“You did? Sounds like you’ve been reading my mind, Applehead. Now we’ll grubstake the outfit–“
“Er–well, I took the chuck-wagon in yest’day and loaded ‘er up with grub fer two weeks,” blurted Applehead heroically. “I was figurin’–“
“Good! Couldn’t ask better. Applehead, you sure are there when it comes to backing a man’s play. If I haven’t said much about how I stand toward you fellows it isn’t because I don’t appreciate every durned one of you.”
The Happy Family squirmed guiltily and made way for Applehead, who was sidling toward the open door, his face showing alarming symptoms of apoplexy. Their confusion Luck set down to a becoming modesty. He went on planning and perfecting details. Standing as he did on the threshold of a career to which his one big success had opened the door, he was wholly absorbed in making good.
There was nothing now to balk his progress, he told himself. He had his company, he had the location for his big range stuff, he bad all the financial backing any reasonable man could want. He had a salary that in itself gauged the prestige he had gained among producers, and as an added incentive to do the biggest work of his life he had a contract giving him a royalty on all prints of his pictures in excess of a fixed number. Better than all this, he had big ideals and an enthusiasm for the work that knew no limitations.
Perhaps he was inclined to dream too big; per-haps he assumed too great an enthusiasm on the part of those who worked with him–I don’t know just where he did place the boundary line. I do know that he never once suspected the Happy Family of any meditated truancy from the ranch and his parting instructions to “sit tight.” I also know that the Happy Family was not at all likely to volunteer information of their lapse. And as for Applehead, the money burned his soul deep with remorse; so deep that he went around with an abject eagerness to serve Luck that touched that young man as a rare example of a bone-deep loyalty that knows no deceit. Which proves once more how fortunate it is that we cannot always see too deeply into the thoughts and motives of our friends.
CHAPTER IV. LOVE WORDS FOR ANNIE
In Tijeras Arroyo the moon made black shadows where stood the tiny knolls here and there, marking frequently the windings of dry washes where bushes grew in ragged patches and where tall weeds of mid-May tangled in the wind. The roundup tents of the Flying U Feature Film Company stood white as new snow in the moonlight, though daylight showed them an odd, light-blue tint for photographic purposes. On a farther slope cunningly placed by the scenic artist to catch the full sunlight of midday, the camp of the Chavez brothers gleamed softly in the magic light.
So far had spring roundup progressed that Luck was holding the camp in Tijeras Arroyo for picture-making only. Applehead’s calves were branded, to the youngest pair of knock-kneed twins which Happy Jack found curled up together cunningly hidden in a thicket. They had been honored with a “close-up” scene, those two spotted calves, and were destined to further honors which they did not suspect and could not appreciate.
They slept now, as slept the two camps upon the two slopes that lay moon-bathed at midnight. Back where the moon was making the barren mountains a wonderland of deep purple and black and silvery gray and brown, a coyote yapped a falsetto message and was answered by one nearer at hand–his mate, it might be. In a bush under the bank that made of it a black blot in the unearthly whiteness of the sand, a little bird fluttered un,easily and sent a small, inquiring chirp into the stillness. From somewhere farther up the arroyo drifted a faint, aromatic odor of cigarette smoke.
Had you been there by the bush you could not have told when Annie-Many-Ponies passed by; you would not have seen her–certainly you could not have heard the soft tread of her slim, moccasined feet. Yet she passed the bush and the bank and went away up the arroyo, silent as the shadows themselves, swift as the coyote that trotted over a nearby ridge to meet her mate nearer the mountains. Sol following much the same instinct in much the same way, Annie-Many-Ponies stole out to meet the man her heart timidly yearned for a possible mate.
She reached the rock-ledge where the smoke odor was strongest, and she stopped. She saw Ramon Chavez, younger of the Chavez brothers who were ten-mile-off neighbors of Applehead, and who owned many cattle and much land by right of an old Spanish grant. He was standing in the shadow of the ledge, leaning against it as they of sun-saturated New Mexico always lean against anything perpendicular and solid near which they happen to stand. He was watching the white-lighted arroyo while he smoked, waiting for her, unconscious of her near presence.
Annie-Many-Ponies stood almost within reach of him, but she did not make her presence known. With the infinite wariness of her race she waited to see what he would do; to read, if she might, what were his thoughts–his attitude toward her in his unguarded moments. That little, inscrutable smile which so exasperated Applehead was on her lips while she watched him.
Ramon finished that cigarette, threw away the stab and rolled and lighted another. Still Annie-Many-Ponies gave no little sign of her presence. He watched the arroyo, and once he leaned to one side and stared back at his own quiet camp on the slope that had the biggest and the wildest mountain of that locality for its background. He settled himself anew with his other shoulder against the rock, and muttered something in Spanish–that strange, musical talk which Annie-Many-Ponies could not understand. And still she watched him, and exulted in his impatience for her coming, and wondered if it would always be lovelight which she would see in his eyes.
He was not of her race, though in her pride she thought him favored when she named him akin to the Sioux. He was not of her race, but he was tall and he was straight, he was dark as she, he was strong and brave and he bad many cattle and much broad acreage. Annie-Many-Ponies smiled upon him in the dark and was glad that she, the daughter of a chief of the Sioux, had been found good in his sight.
Five minutes, ten minutes. The coyote, yap-yap-yapping in the broken land beyond them, found his mate and was silent. Ramon Chavez, waiting in the shadow of the ledge, muttered a Mexican oath and stepped out into the moonlight and stood there, tempted to return to his camp–for he, also, had pride that would not bear much bruising.
Annie-Many-Ponies waited. When he muttered again and threw his cigarette from him as though it had been something venomous; when he turned his face toward his own tents and took a step forward, she laughed softly, a mere whisper of amusement that might have been a sleepy breeze stirring the bushes somewhere near. Ramon started and turned his face her way; in the moonlight his eyes shone with a certain love-hunger which Annie-Many-Ponies exulted to see–because she did not understand.
“You not let moon look on you,” she chided in an undertone, her sentences clipped of superfluous words as is the Indian way, her voice that pure, throaty melody that is a gift which nature gives lavishly to the women of savage people. “Moon see, men see.”
Ramon swung back into the shadow, reached out his two arms to fold her close and got nothing more substantial than another whispery laugh.
“Where are yoh,sweetheart?” He peered into the shadow where she had been, and saw the place empty. He laughed, chagrined by her elusiveness, yet hungering for her the more.
“You not touch,” she warned. “Till priest say marriage prayers, no man touch.”
He called her a devil in Spanish, and she thought it a love-word and laughed and came nearer. He did not attempt to touch her, and so, reassured, she stood close so that he could see the pure, Indian profile of her face when she raised it to the sky in a mute invocation, it might be, of her gods.
“When yoh come?” he asked swiftly, his race betrayed in tone and accent. “I look and look–I no see yoh.”
“I come,” she stated with a quiet meaning. “I not like cow, for make plenty noise. I stand here, you smoke two times, I look.”
“You mus’ be moonbeam,” he told her, reaching out again, only to lay hold upon nothing. “Come back, sweetheart. I be good.”
“I not like you touch,” she repeated. “I good girl. I mind priest, I read prayers, I mind Wagalexa Conka–” There she faltered, for the last boast was no longer the truth.
Ramon was quick to seize upon the one weak point of her armor. “So? He send yoh then to talk with Ramon at midnight? Yoh come to please yoh boss?”
Annie-Many-Ponies turned her troubled face his way. “Wagalexa Conka sleep plenty. I not ask,” she confessed. “You tell me come here you tell me must talk when no one hear. I come. I no ask Wagalexa Conka–him say good girl stay by camp. Him say not walk in night-time, say me not talk you. I no ask; I just come.”
“Yoh lov’ him, perhaps? More as yoh lov’ me? Always I see yoh look at him–always watch, watch. Always I see yoh jomp when he snap the finger; always yoh run like train dog. Yoh lov’ him, perhaps? Bah! Yoh dirt onder his feet.” Ramon did not seriously consider that any woman whom he favored could sanely love another man more than himself, but to his nature jealousy was a necessary adjunct of lovemaking; not to have displayed jealousy would have been to betray indifference, as he interpreted the tender passion.
Annie-Many-Ponies, woman-wily though she was by nature, had little learning in the devious ways of lovemaking. Eyes might speak, smiles might half reveal, half hide her thoughts; but the tongue, as her tribe had taught her sternly, must speak the truth or keep silent. Now she bent her head, puzzling how best to put her feelings toward Luck Lindsay into honest words which Ramon would understand.
“Yoh lov’ him, perhaps–since yoh all time afraid he be mad.” Ramon persisted, beating against the wall of her Indian taciturnity which always acted as a spur upon his impetuosity. Besides, it was important to him that he should know just what was the tie between these two. He had heard Luck Lindsay speak to the girl in the Sioux tongue. He had seen her eyes lighten as she made swift answer. He had seen her always eager to do Luck’s bidding–had seen her anticipate his wants and minister to them as though it was her duty and her pleasure to do so. It was vital that he should know, and it was certain that he could not question Luck upon the subject–for Ramon Chavez was no fool.
“Long time ago–when I was papoose with no shoes,” she began with seeming irrelevance, her eyes turning instinctively toward the white tents of the Flying U camp gleaming in the distance, “my people go for work in Buffalo Bill show. My father go, my mother go, I go. All time we dance for show, make Indian fight with cowboys–all them act for Buffalo Bill-Pawnee Bill show. That time Wagalexa Conka boss of Indians. He Indian Agent. He take care whole bunch. He make peace when fights, he give med’cine when somebody sick. He awful good to them Indians. He give me candy, always stop to talk me. I like him. My father like him. All them Indians like him plenty much. My father awful sick one time, he no let doctor come. Leg broke all in pieces. He say die plenty if Wagalexa Conka no make well. I go ticket wagon, tell Wagalexa Conka, he come quick, fix up leg all right.
“All them Indians like to make him–” She stopped, searching her mind for the elusive, little-used word which she had learned in the mission school. Make him adop’,” she finished triumphantly. “Indians make much dance, plenty music, lots speeches make him Indian man. My father big chief, he make Wagalexa Conka him son. Make him my brother. Give him Indian name Wagalexa Conka. All Indians call that name for him.
“Pretty soon show stop, all them Indians go home by reservation. long time we don’t see Wagalexa Conka no more. I get big girl, go school little bit. Pretty soon Wagalexa Conka come back, for wants them Indians for work in pictures. My father go, my mother go, all us go. We work long time. I,” she added with naive pride in her comeliness, “awful good looking. I do lots of foreground stuff. Pretty soon hard times come. Indians go home by reservation. I go–I don’t like them reservations no more. Too lonesome. I like for work all time in pictures. I come, tell Wagalexa Conka I be Indian girl for pictures. He write letter for agent, write letter for my father. They writes letter for say yes, I stay. I stay and do plenty more foreground stuff.”
“I don’t see you do moch foreground work since that white girl come,” Ramon observed, hitting what he instinctively knew was a tender point.
Had he seen her face, he must have been satisfied that the chance shot struck home. But in the shadow hate blazed unseen from her eyes. She did not speak, and so he went back to his first charge.
“All this don’t tell me moch,” he complained. “Yoh lov’ him, maybe? That’s what I ask.”
“Wagalexa Conka my brother, my father, my friend,” she replied calmly, and let him interpret it as he would.
“He treats yoh like a dog. He crazee ’bout that Jean. He gives her all smiles, all what yoh call foreground stuff. I know–I got eyes. Me, it makes me mad for see how he treat yoh–and yoh so trying hard always to Please. He got no heart for yoh–me, I see that.” He moved a step closer, hesitating, wanting yet not quite daring to touch her. “Me, I lov’ yoh, little Annie,” he murmured. “Yoh lov’ me little bit, eh? Jus’ little bit! Jus’ for say, ‘Ramon, I go weeth yoh, I be yoh woman–‘”
Annie-Many-Ponies widened the distance between them. “Why you not say wife?” she queried suspiciously.
“Woman, wife, sweetheart–all same,” he assured her with his voice like a caress. “All words mean I lov’ yoh jus’ same. Now yoh say yoh lov’ me, say yoh go weeth me, I be one happy man. I go back on camp and my heart she’s singing lov’ song. My girl weeth eyes that shine so bright, she lov’ me moch as I lov’ her. That what my heart she sing. Yoh not be so cruel like stone–yoh say, ‘Ramon, I lov’ yoh.’ Jus’ like that! So easy to say!”
“Not easy,” she denied, moved to save her freedom yet a while longer. “I say them words, then I–then I not be same girl like now. Maybe much troubles come. Maybe much happy–I dunno. Lots time I see plenty trouble come for girl that say them words for man. Some time plenty happy–I think trouble comes most many times. I think Wagalexa Conka he be awful mad. I not like for hims be mad.”
“Now you make ME mad–Ramon what loves yoh! Yoh like for Ramon be mad, perhaps? Always yoh ‘fraid Luck Lindsay this, ‘fraid Luck that other. Me, I gets damn’ sick hear that talk all time. Bimeby he marree som’ girl, then what for you? He don’ maree yoh, eh? He don’ lov’ yoh; he think too good for maree Indian girl. Me, I not think like that. I, Ramon Chavez, I think proud to lov, yoh. Ramon–”
“I not think Wagalexa Conka marry me.” The girl was turning stubborn under his importunities. “Wagalexa Conka my brother–my friend. I tell you plenty time. Now I tell no more.”
“Ramon loves yoh so moch,” he pleaded, and smiled to himself when he saw her turn toward toward him again. The love-talk–that was what a woman likes best to hear! “Yoh say yoh lov’ Ramon jus’ little bit!”
“I not say now. When I say I be sure I say truth.”
“All right, then I be sad till yoh lov’ me. Yoh maybe be happy, yoh know Ramon’s got heavy heart for yoh.”
“I plenty sorry, you be sad for me,” she confessed demurely. “I lov’ yoh so moch! I think nothing but how beautiful my sweetheart is. I not tease yoh no more. Tell me, how long Luck says he stay out here? Maybe yoh hear sometimes he’s going for taking pictures in town?”
“I not hear.”
“Going home, maybe? You mus’ hear little bit. Yoh tell me, sweetheart; what’s he gone do when roundup’s all finish? Me, I know she’s finish las’ week. Looks like he’s taking pictures out here all summer! You hear him say something, maybe?”
“I not hear.”
“Them vaqueros–bah! They don’t bear nothings either. What’s matter over there, nobody hear nothing? Luck, he got no tongue when camera’s shut up, perhaps?”
Ramon looked at her for a minute in mute rage. It was not the first time he had found himself hard against the immutable reticence of the Indian in her nature.
“Why you snapping teeth like a wolf?” she asked him slyly.
“Me? I don’ snap my teeth, sweetheart.” It cost Ramon some effort to keep his voice softened to the love key.
“Why you not ask Wagalexa Conka what he do?”
“I don’ care, that’s why I don’ ask. Me, it’s’ no matter.”
He hesitated a moment, evidently weighing a matter of more importance to him than he would have Annie-Many-Ponies suspect. “Sweetheart, yoh do one thing for Ramon?” His voice might almost be called wheedling. “Me, I’m awful busy tomorrow. I got long ride away off -to my rancho. I got to see my brother Tomas. I be back here not before night. Yoh tell Bill Holmes he come here by this rock–yoh say midnight that’s good time–I sure be here that time. Yoh say I got something I wan’ tell him. Yoh do that for Ramon, sweetheart?”
He waited, trying to hide the fact that he was anxious.
“I not like Bill Holmes.” Annie-Many-Ponies spoke with an air of finality. “Bill Holmes comes close, I feel snakes. Him not friend to Wagalexa Conka–say nothing–always go around still, like fox watching for rabbit. You not friend to Bill Holmes?”
“Me? No–I not friend, querida mia. I got business. I sell Bill Holmes one silver bridle, perhaps. I don’ know–mus’ talk about it. Yoh tell him come here by big rock, sweetheart?”
Annie-Many-Ponies took a minute for deliberation–which is the Indian way. Ramon, having learned patience, said no more but watched her slant-eyed.
“I tell,” she promised at last, and added, “I go now.” Then she slipped away. And Ramon, though he stood for several minutes by the rock smiling queerly and staring down the arroyo, caught not the slightest glimpse of her after she left him. He knew that she would deliver faithfully his message to Bill Holmes, she had given her word. That was one great advantage, considered Ramon, in dealing with those direct, uncompromising natures. She might torment him with her aloofness and her reticence, but once he had won her to a full confidence and submission he need not trouble himself further about her loyalty. She would tell Bill Holmes–and, what was vastly more important, she would do it secretly; he had not dared to speak of that, but he thought he might safely trust to her natural wariness. So Ramon, after a little, stole away to his own camp quite satisfied.
The next night, when he stood in the shadow of the rock ledge and waited, he was not startled by the unexpected presence of the person he wanted to see. For although Bill Holmes came as cautiously as he knew how, and avoided the wide, bright-lighted stretches of arroyo where he would have been plainly visible, Ramon both saw and heard him before he reached the ledge. What Ramon did not see or hear was Annie-Many-Ponies, who did not quite believe that those two wished merely to talk about a silver bridle, and who meant to listen and find out why it was that they could not talk openly before all the boys.
Annie-Many-Ponies had ways of her own. She did not tell Ramon that she doubted his word, nor did she refuse to deliver the message. She waited calmly until Bill Holmes left camp stealthily that night, and she followed him. It was perfectly simple and sensible and the right thing to do; if you wanted to know for sure whether a person lied to you, you had but to watch and listen and let your own eyes and ears prove guilt or innocence.
So Annie-Many-Ponies stood by the rock and listened and watched. She did not see any silver bridle. She heard many words, but the two were speaking in that strange Spanish talk which she did not know at all, save “Querida mia,” which Ramon had told her meant sweetheart.
The two talked, low-voiced and earnest, Bill was telling all that he knew of Luck Lindsay’s plans–and that was not much.
“He don’t talk,” Bill complained. “He just tells the bunch a day ahead–just far enough to get their makeup and costumes on, generally. But he won’t stay around here much longer; he’s taken enough spring roundup stuff now for half a dozen pictures. He’ll be moving in to the ranch again pretty quick. And I know this picture calls for a lot of town business that he’ll have to take. I saw the script the other day.” This, of course,, being a free translation of the meaningless jumble of strange words which Annie heard.
“What town business is that? Where will he work?” Ramon was plainly impatient of so much vagueness.
“Well, there’s a bank robbery–I paid particular attention, Ramon, so I know for certain. But when he’ll do it, or what bank he’ll use, I don’t know any more than you do. And there’s a running fight down the street and through the Mexican quarter. The rest is just street stuff–that and a fiesta that I think he’ll probably me the old plaza for location. He’ll need a lot of Mexicans for that stuff. He’ll want you, of course.”
“That bank–who will do that?” Ramon’s fingers trembled so that he could scarcely roll a cigarette. “Andy, perhaps?”
“No–that’s the Mexican bunch. I–why, I guess that will maybe be you, Ramon. I wasn’t paying much attention to the parts–I was after locations, and I only had about two minutes at the script. But he’s been giving you some good bits right along where he needed a Mexican type; and those scenes in the rocks the other day was bandit stuff with you for lead. It’ll be you or Miguel–the Native Son, as they call him–and so far he’s cast for another part. That’s the worst of Luck. He won’t talk about what he’s going to do till he’s all ready to do it.”
There was a little further discussion. Ramon muttered a few sentences–rapid instructions, Annie-Many-Ponies believed from the tone he used.
“All right, I’ll keep you posted,” Bill Holmes replied in English. And he added as he started off, “You can send word by the squaw.”
He went carefully back down the arroyo, keeping as much as possible in the shade. Behind him stole Annie-Many-Ponies, noiseless as the shadow of a cloud. Bill Holmes, she reflected angrily, had seen the day, not so far in the past, when he was happy if the “squaw” but smiled upon him. It was because she had repelled his sly lovemaking that he had come to speak of her slightingly like that; she knew it. She could have named the very day when his manner toward her had changed. Mingled with her hate and dread of him was a new contempt and a new little anxiety over this clandestine intimacy between Ramon and him. Why should Bill Holmes keep Ramon posted? Surely not about a silver bridle!
Shunka Chistala was whining in her little tent when she came into the camp. She heard Bill Holmes stumble over the end of the chuck-wagon tongue and mutter the customary profanity with which the average man meets an incident of that kind. She whispered a fierce command to the little black dog and stood very still for a minute, listening. She did not hear anything further, either from Bill Holmes or the dog, and finally reassured by the silence, she crept into her tent and tied the flaps together on the inside, and lay down in her blankets with the little black dog contentedly curled at her feet with his nose between his front paws.
CHAPTER V. FOR THE GOOD OF THE COMPANY
All through breakfast Applehead seemed to have something weighty on his mind. He kept pulling at his streaked, reddish-gray mustache when his fingers should have been wholly occupied with his food, and he stared abstractedly at the ground after he had finished his first cup of coffee and before he took his second. Once Bill Holmes caught him glaring with an intensity which circumstances in no wise justified–and it was Bill Holmes who first shifted his gaze in vague uneasiness when he tried to stare Applehead down. Annie-Many-Ponies did not glance at him at all, so far as one could discover; yet she was the first to sense trouble in the air, and withdrew herself from the company and sat apart, wrapped closely in her crimson shawl that matched well the crimson bows on her two shiny braids.
Luck, keenly alive to the moods of his people, looked at her inquiringly. “Come on up by the fire, Annie,” he commanded gently. “What you sitting away off there for? Come and eat–I want you to work today.”
Annie-Many-Ponies did not reply, but she rose obediently and came forward in the silent way she had, stepping lightly, straight and slim and darkly beautiful. Applehead glanced at her sourly, and her lashes drooped to hide the venom in her eyes as she passed him to stand before Luck
“I not hungry,” she told Luck tranquilly, yet with a hardness in her voice which did not escape him, who knew her so well. “I go put on makeup.”
“Wear that striped blanket you used last Saturday when we worked up there in Tijeras Canon. Same young squaw makeup you wore then, Annie.” He eyed her sharply as she turned away to her own tent, and he observed that when she passed Applehead she took two steps to one side, widening the distance between them. He watched her until she lifted her tent flap, stooped and disappeared within. Then he looked at Applehead.
“What’s wrong between you two?” he asked the old man quizzically. “Her dog been licking your cat again, or what?”
“You’re danged right he ain’t!” Applehead testified boastfully. “Compadre’s got that there dawg’s goat, now I’m tellin’ yuh! He don’t take nothin’ off him ner her neither.”
“What you been doing to her, then?” Luck set his empty plate on the ground beside him and began feeling for the makings of a cigarette. “Way she side-stepped you, I know there must be SOMETHING.”
“Well, now, I ain’t done a danged thing to that there squaw! She ain’t got any call to go around givin’ me the bad eye.” He looked at the breakfasting company and then again at Luck, and gave an almost imperceptible backward jerk of his head as he got awkwardly to his feet and strolled away toward the milling horses in the remuda.
So when Luck had lighted his fresh-rolled cigarette he followed Applehead unobtrusively. “Well, what’s on your mind?” he wanted to know when he came up with him.
“Well, now, I don’t want you to think I’m buttin’ in on your affairs, Luck,” Applehead began after a minute, “but seein’ as you ast me what’s wrong, I’m goin’ to tell yuh straight out. We got a couple of danged fine women in this here bunch, and I shore do hate to see things goin’ on around here that’d shame ’em if they was to find it out. And fur’s I can see they will find it out, sooner or later. Murder ain’t the only kinda wickedness that’s hard to cover up. I know you feel about as I do on some subjects; you never did like dirt around you, no better’n–“
“Get to the point, man. What’s wrong?”
So Applehead, turning a darker shade of red than was his usual hue, cleared his throat and blurted out what he had to say. He had heard Shunka Chistala whinnying at midnight in the tent of Annie-Many-Ponies, and had gone outside to see what was the matter. He didn’t know, he explained, but what his cat Compadre was somehow involved. He had stood in the shadow of his tent for a few minutes, and had seen Bill Holmes sneak into camp, coming from up the arroyo somewhere.
For some reason he waited a little longer, and he had seen a woman’s shadow move stealthily up to the front of Annie’s tent, and had seen Annie slip inside and had heard her whisper a command of some sort to the dog, which had immediately hushed its whining. He hated to be telling tales on anybody, but he knew how keenly Luck felt his responsibility toward the Indian girl, and he thought he ought to know. This night-prowling, he declared, had shore got to be stopped, or he’d be danged if he didn’t run ’em both outa camp himself.
“Bill Holmes might have been out of camp,” Luck said calmly, “but you sure must be mistaken about Annie. She’s straight.”
“You think she is,” Applehead corrected him. “But you don’t know a danged thing about it. A girl that’s behavin’ herself don’t go chasin’ all over the mesa alone, the way she’s been doin’ all spring. I never said nothin’ ’cause it wa’n’t none of my put-in. But that Injun had a heap of business off away from the ranch whilst you was in Los Angeles, Luck. Sneaked off every day, just about–and ‘d be gone fer hours at a time. You kin ast any of the boys, if yuh don’t want to take my word. Or you kin ast Mis’ Green; she kin tell ye, if she’s a mind to.”
“Did Bill Holmes go with her?” Luck’s eyes were growing hard and gray.
“As to that I won’t say, fer I don’t know and I’m tellin’ yuh what I seen myself. Bill Holmes done a lot uh walkin’ in to town, fur as that goes; and he didn’t always git back the same day neither. He never went off with Annie, and he never came back with her, fur as I ever seen. But,” he added grimly, “they didn’t come back together las’ night, neither. They come about three or four minutes apart.”
Luck thought a minute, scowling off across the arroyo. Not even to Applehead, bound to him by closer ties than anyone there, did he ever reveal his thoughts completely.
“All right–I’ll attend to them,” he said finally. “Don’t say anything to the bunch; these things aren’t helped by talk. Get into your old cowman costume and use that big gray you rode in that drive we made the other day. I’m going to pick up the action where we left off when it turned cloudy. Tomorrow or next day I want to move the outfit back to the ranch. There’s quite a lot of town stuff I want to get for this picture.”
Applehead looked at him uncertainly, tempted to impress further upon him the importance of safeguarding the morals of his company. But he knew Luck pretty well–having lived with him for months at a time when Luck was younger and even more peppery than now. So he wisely condensed his reply to a nod, and went back to the breakfast fire polishing his bald bead with the flat of his palm. He met Annie-Many-Ponies coming to ask Luck which of the two pairs of beaded moccasins she carried in her hands he would like to have her wear. She did not look at Applehead at all as she passed, but he nevertheless became keenly aware of her animosity and turned half around to glare after her resentfully. You’d think, he told himself aggrievedly, that he was the one that had been acting up! Let her go to Luck–she’d danged soon be made to know her place in camp.
Annie-Many-Ponies went confidently on her way, carrying the two pairs of beaded moccasins in her hands. Her face was more inscrutable than ever. She was pondering deeply the problem of Bill Holmes’ business with Ramon, and she was half tempted to tell Wagalexa Conka of that secret intimacy which must carry on its converse under cover of night. She did not trust Bill Holmes. Why must he keep Ramon posted? She glanced ahead to where Luck stood thinking deeply about something, and her eyes softened in a shy sympathy with his trouble. Wagalexa Conka worked hard and thought much and worried more than was good for him. Bill Holmes, she decided fiercely, should not add to those worries. She would warn Ramon when next she talked with him. She would tell Ramon that he must not be friends with Bill Holmes; in the meantime, she would watch.
Ten feet from Luck she stopped short, sensing trouble in the hardness that was in his eyes. She stood there and waited in meek subjection.
“Annie, come here!” Luck’s voice was no less stern because it was lowered so that a couple of the boys fussing with the horses inside the rope corral could not overhear what he had to say.
Annie-Many-Ponies, pulling one of the shiny black braids into the correct position over her shoulder and breast, stepped soft-footedly up to him and stopped. She did not ask him what he wanted. She waited until it was his pleasure to speak.
“Annie, I want you to keep away from Bill Holmes.” Luck was not one to mince his words when he had occasion to speak of disagreeable things. “It isn’t right for you to let him make love to you on the sly. You know that. You know you must not leave camp with him after dark. You make me ashamed of you when you do those things. You keep away from Bill Holmes and stay in camp nights. If you’re a bad girl, I’ll have to send you back to the reservation–and I’ll have to tell the agent and Chief Big Turkey why I send you back. I can’t have anybody in my company who doesn’t act right. Now remember–don’t make me speak to you again about it.”
Annie-Many-Ponies stood there, and the veiled, look was in her eyes. Her face was a smooth, brown mask–beautiful to look upon but as expressionless as the dead. She did not protest her innocence, she did not explain that she hated and distrusted Bill Holmes and that she had, months ago, repelled his surreptitious advances. Luck would have believed, for he had known Annie-Many-Ponies since she was a barefooted papoose, and he had never known her to tell him an untruth.
“You go now and get ready for work. Wear the moccasins with the birds on the toes.” He pointed to them and turned away.
Annie-Many-Ponies also turned and went her way and said nothing. What, indeed, could she say? She did not doubt that Luck had seen her the night before, and had seen also Bill Holmes when he left camp or returned–perhaps both. She could not tell him that Bill Holmes had gone out to meet Ramon, for that, she felt instinctively, was a secret which Ramon trusted her not to betray. She could not tell Wagalexa Conka, either, that she met Ramon often when the camp was asleep. He would think that as bad as meeting Bill Holmes. She knew that he did not like Ramon, but merely used him and his men and horses and cattle for a price, to better his pictures. Save in a purely business way she had never seen him talking with Ramon. Never as he talked with the boys of the Flying U–his Happy Family, he called them.
She said nothing. She dressed for the part she was to play. She twined flowers in her hair and smoothed out the red bows and laid them carefully away–since Wagalexa Conka did not wish her to wear ribbon bows in this picture. She murmured caresses to Shunka Chistala, the little black dog that was always at her heels. She rode with the company to the rocky gorge which was “location” for today. When Wagalexa Conka called to her she went and climbed upon a high rock and stood just where he told her to stand, and looked just as he told her to look, and stole away through the rocks and out of the scene exactly as he wished her to do.
But when Wagalexa Conka–sorry for the, harshness he had felt it his duty to show that morning–smiled and told her she had done fine, and that he was pleased with her, Annie-Many-Ponies did not smile back with that slow, sweet, heart-twisting smile which was at once her sharpest weapon and her most endearing trait.
Bill Holmes who had also had his sharp word of warning, and had been told very plainly to cut out this flirting with Annie if he wanted to remain on Luck’s payroll, eyed her strangely. Once he tried to have a secret word with her, but she moved away and would not look at him. For Annie-Many-Ponies, hurt and bitter as she felt toward her beloved Wagalexa Conka, hated Bill Holmes fourfold for being the cause of her humiliation. That she did not also hate Ramon Chavez as being equally guilty with Bill Holmes, went far toward proving how strong a hold he had gained upon her heart.
CHAPTER VI. “I GO WHERE WAGALEXA CONKA SAY”
That afternoon Ramon joined them, suave as ever and seeming very much at peace with the world and his fellow-beings. He watched the new leading woman make a perilous ride down a steep, rocky point and dash up to camera and on past it where she set her horse back upon, its haunches with a fine disregard for her bones and a still finer instinct for putting just the right dash of the spectacular into her work without overdoing it.
“That senora, she’s all right, you bet!” he praised the feat to those who stood near him; “me, I not be stuck on ron my caballo down that place. You bet she’s fine rider. My sombrero, he’s come off to that lady!”
Jean, hearing, glanced at him with that little quirk of the lips which was the beginning of a smile, and rode off to join her father and Lite Avery. “He made that sound terribly sincere, didn’t he?” she commented. “It takes a Mexican to lift flattery up among the fine arts.” Then she thought no more about it.
Annie-Many-Ponies was sitting apart, on a rock where her gay blanket made a picturesque splotch of color against the gray barrenness of the hill behind her. She, too, heard what Ramon said, and she, too, thought that he had made the praise sound terribly sincere. He had not spoken to her at all after the first careless nod of recognition when he rode up. And although her reason had approved of his caution, her sore heart ached for a little kindness from him. She turned her eyes toward him now with a certain wistfulness; but though Ramon chanced to be looking toward her she got no answering light in his eyes, no careful little signal that his heart was yearning for her. He seemed remote, as indifferent to her as were any of the others dulled by accustomedness to her constant presence among them. A premonitory chill, as from some great sorrow yet before her in the future, shook the heart of Annie- Many-Ponies.
“Me, I fine out how moch more yoh want me campa here for pictures,” Ramon was saying now to Luck who was standing by Pete Lowry, scribbling something on his script. “My brother Tomas, he liking for us at ranch now, s’pose yoh finish poco tiempo.”
Luck wrote another line before he gave any sign that he heard. Annie-Many-Ponies, watching from under her drooping lids, saw that Bill Holmes had edged closer to Ramon, while he made pretense of being much occupied with his own affairs.
“I don’t need your camp at all after today.” Luck shoved the script into his coat pocket and looked at his watch.
“This afternoon when the sun is just right I want to get one or two cut-back scenes and a dissolve out. After that you can break camp any time. But I want you, Ramon- -you and Estancio Lopez and Luis Rojas. I’ll need you for two or three days in town–want you to play the heavy in a bank-robbery and street fight. The makeup is the same as when you worked up there in the rocks the other day. You three fellows come over and go in to the ranch tomorrow if you like. Then I’ll have you when I want you. You’ll get five dollars a day while you work.” Having made himself sufficiently clear, he turned away to set and rehearse the next scene, and did not see the careful glance which passed between Ramon and Bill Holmes.
“Annie,” Luck said abruptly, swinging toward her, “can you come down off that point where Jean Douglas came? You’ll have to ride horseback, remember, and I don’t want you to do it unless you’re sure of yourself. How about it?”
For the first time since breakfast her somber eyes lightened with a gleam of interest. She did not look at Ramon–Ramon who had told her many times how much he loved her, and yet could praise Jean Douglas for her riding. Ramon had declared that he would not care to come riding down that point as Jean had come; very well, then she would show Ramon something.
“It isn’t necessary, exactly,” Luck explained further. “I can show you at the top, looking down at the way Jean came; and then I can pick you up on an easier trail. But if you want to do it, it will save some cut-backs and put another little punch in here. Either way it’s up to you.”
The voice of Annie-Many-Ponies did not rise to a higher key when she spoke, but it had in it a clear incisiveness that carried her answer to Ramon and made him understand that she was speaking for his ears.
“I come down with big punch,” she said.
“Where Jean came? You’re riding bareback, remember.”
“No matter. I come down jus’ same.” And she added with a haughty tilt of her chin, “That’s easy place for me.”
Luck eyed her steadfastly, a smile of approval on his face. “All right. I know you’ve got plenty of nerve, Annie. You mount and ride up that draw till you get to the ridge. Come up to where you can see camp over the brow of the hill–sabe?–and then wait till I whistle. One whistle, get ready to come down. Two whistles, you, come. Ride past camera, just the way Jean did. You know you’re following the white girl and trying to catch up with her. You’re a friend and you have a message for her, but she’s scared and is running away– sabe? You want to come down slow first and pick your trail?”
“No.” Annie-Many-Ponies started toward the pinto pony which was her mount in this picture. “I come down hill. I make big punch for you. Pete turn camera.”
“You’ve got more nerve than I have, Annie,” Jean told her good-naturedly as she went by. “I’d hate to run a horse down there bareback.”
“I go where Wagalexa Conka say.” From the corner of her eye she saw the quick frown of jealousy upon the face of Ramon, and her pulse gave an extra beat of triumph.
With an easy spring she mounted the pinto pony, took the reins of her squaw bridle that was her only riding gear, folded her gay blanket snugly around her uncorseted body and touched the pinto with her moccasined heels. She was ready–ready to the least little tensed nerve that tingled with eagerness under the calm surface.
She rode slowly past luck, got her few final instructions and a warning to be careful and to take no chances of an accident–which brought that inscrutable smile to her face; for Wagalexa Conka knew, and she knew also, that in the mere act of riding down that slope faster than a walk she was taking a chance of an accident. It was that risk that lightened her heart which had been so heavy all day. The greater the risk, the more eager was she to take it. She would show Ramon that she, too, could ride.
“Oh, do be careful, Annie!” Jean called anxiously when she was riding into the mouth of the draw. “Turn to the right, when you come to that big flat rock, and don’t come down where I did. It’s too steep. Really,” she drawled to Rosemary and Lite, “my heart was in my mouth when I came straight down by that rock. It’s a lot steeper than it looks from here.”
“She won’t go round it,” Rosemary predicted pessimistically. “She’s in one of her contrary moods today. She’ll come down the worst way she can find just to scare the life out of us.”
Up the steep draw that led to the top, Annie-Many-Ponies rode exultantly. She would show Ramon that she could ride wherever the white girl dared ride. She would shame Wagalexa Conka, too, for his injustice to her. She would put the too, for big punch in that scene or–she would ride no more, unless it were upon a white cloud, drifting across the moon at night and looking, down at this world and upon Ramon.
At the top of the ridge she rode out to the edge and made the peace-sign to Luck as a signal that she was ready to do his bidding. Incidentally, while she held her hand high over her head, her eyes swept keenly the bowlder-strewn bluff beneath her. A little to one side was a narrow backbone of smoother soil than the rest, and here were printed deep the marks of Jean’s horse. Even there it was steep, and there was a bank, down there by the big flat rock which Jean had mentioned. Annie-Many-Ponies looked daringly to the left, where one would say the bluff was impassable. There she would come down, and no other place. She would show Ramon what she could do–he who had praised boldly another when she was by!
“All right, Annie!” Luck called to her through his megaphone. “Go back now and wait for whistle. Ride along the edge when you come, from bushes to where you stand. I want silhouette, you coming. You sabe?”
Annie-Many-Ponies raised her hand even with her breast, and swept it out and upward in the Indian sign-talk which meant “yes.” Luck’s eyes flashed appreciation of the gesture; he loved the sign-talk of the old plains tribes.
“Be careful, Annie,” he cried impulsively. “I don’t want you to be hurt.” He dropped the megaphone as she swung her horse back from the edge and disappeared. “I’d cut the whole scene out if I didn’t know what a rider she is,” he added to the others, more uneasy than he cared to own. “But it would hurt her a heap more if I wouldn’t let her ride where Jean rode. She’s proud; awfully proud and sensitive.”
“I’m glad you’re letting her do it,” Jean said sympathetically. “She’d hate me if you hadn’t. But I’m going to watch her with my eyes shut, just the same. It’s an awfully mean place in spots.”
“She’ll make it, all right,” Luck declared. But his tone was not so confident as his words, and he was manifestly reluctant to place the whistle to his lips. He fussed with his script, and he squinted into the viewfinder, and he made certain for the second time just where the side-lines came, and thrust half an inch deeper in the sandy soil the slender stakes which would tell Annie-Many-Ponies where she must guide the pinto when she came tearing down to foreground. But he could delay the signal only so long, unless he cut out the scene altogether.
“Get back, over on that side, Bill,” he commanded harshly. “Leave her plenty of room to pass that side of the camera. All ready, Pete?” Then, as if he wanted to have it over with as soon as possible, he whistled once, waited while he might have counted twenty, perhaps, and sent shrilling through the sunshine the signal that would bring her.
They watched, holding their breaths in fearful expectancy. Then they saw her flash into view and come galloping down along the edge of the ridge where the hill fell away so steeply that it might be called a cliff. Indian fashion, she was whipping the pinto down both sides with the end of her reins. Her slim legs hung straight, her moccasined toes pointing downward. One corner of her red-and-green striped blanket flapped out behind her. Haste–the haste of the pursuer–showed in every movement, every line of her figure.
She came to the descent, and the pinto, having no desire for applause but a very great hankering for whole bones in his body, planted his forefeet and slid to a stop upon the brink. His snort came clearly down to those below who watched.
“He won’t tackle it,” Pete Lowry predicted philosophically while he turned the camera crank steadily round and round and held himself ready to “panoram” the scene if the pinto bolted.
But the pinto, having Annie-Many-Ponies to reckon with, did not bolt. The braided rein-end of her squaw bridle lashed him stingingly; the moccasined heels dug without mercy into the tender part of his flanks. He came lunging down over the first rim of the bluff; then since he must, he gathered himself for the ordeal and came leaping down and down and down, gaining momentum with every jump. He could not have stopped then if he had tried–and Annie-Many-Ponies, still the incarnation of eager pursuit, would not let him try.
At the big flat rock of which Jean had warned her, the pinto would have swerved. But she yanked him into the straighter descent, down over the bank. He leaped, and he fell and slid twice his own length, his nose rooting the soil. Annie-Many-Ponies lurched, came hard against a boulder and somehow flung herself into place again on the horse. She lifted his head and called to him in short, harsh, Indian words. The pinto scrambled to his knees, got to his feet and felt again the sting of the rein-end in his flanks. Like a rabbit he came bounding down, down where the way was steepest and most treacherous. And at every jump the rein-end fell, first on one side and then along the other, as a skilled canoeman shifts the paddle to force his slight craft forward in a treacherous current.
Down the last slope he came thundering. On his back Annie-Many-Ponies lashed him steadily, straining her eyes in the direction which Jean had taken past the camera. She knew that they were watching her–she knew also that the camera crank in Pete Lowry’s hands was turning, turning, recording every move of hers, every little changing expression. She swept down upon them so close that Pete grabbed the tripod with one hand, ready to lift it and dodge away from the coming collision. Still leaning, still lashing and straining every nerve in pursuit, she dashed past, pivoted the pinto upon his hind feet, darted back toward the staring group and jumped off while he was yet running.
Now that she had done it; now that she had proven that she also had nerve and much skill in riding, black loneliness settled upon her again. She came slowly back, and as she came she heard them praise the ride she had made. She heard them saying how frightened they had been when the pinto fell, and she heard Wagalexa Conka call to her that she had made a strong scene for him. She did not answer. She sat down upon a rock, a little apart from them, and looking as remote as the Sandias Mountains, miles away to the north, folded her blanket around her and spoke no word to anyone.
Soon Ramon mounted his horse to return to his camp. He came riding down to her –for his trail lay that way–and as he rode he called to the others a good natured “Hasta luego!” which is the Mexican equivalent of “See you later.” He did not seem to notice Annie-Many-Ponies at all as he rode past her. He was gazing off down the arroyo and riding with all his weight on one stirrup and the other foot swinging free, as is the nonchalant way of accustomed riders who would ease their muscles now and then. But as he passed the rock where she was sitting he murmured, “Tonight by the rock I wait for you, querida mia.” Though she gave no sign that she had heard, the heart of Annie-Many-Ponies gave a throb of gladness that was almost pain.
CHAPTER VII. ADVENTURE COMES SMILING
Luck, in the course of his enthusiastic picture making, reached the point where he must find a bank that was willing to be robbed–in broad daylight and for screen purposes only. If you know anything at all about our financial storehouses, you know that they are sensitive about being robbed, or even having it appear that they are being subjected to so humiliating a procedure. What Luck needed was a bank that was not only willing, but one that faced the sun as well. He was lucky, as usual. The Bernalillo County Bank stands on a corner facing east and south. It is an unpretentious little bank of the older style of architecture, and might well be located in the centre of any small range town and hold the shipping receipts of a cattleman who was growing rich as he grew old.
Luck stopped across the street and looked the bank over, and saw how the sun would shine in at the door and through the wide windows during the greater part of the afternoon, and hoped that the cashier was a human being and would not object to a fake robbery. Not liking suspense, he stepped off the pavement and dodged a jitney, and hurried over to interview the cashier.
You never know what secret ambitions hide behind the impassive courtesy of the average business man. This cashier, for instance, wore a green eyeshade whenever his hat was not on his, head. His hair was thin and his complexion pasty and his shoulders were too stooped for a man of his age. You never would have suspected, just to look at him through the fancy grating of his window, how he thirsted for that kind of adventure which fiction writers call red-blooded. He had never had an adventure in his life; but at night, after he had gone to bed and adjusted the electric light at his head, and his green eyeshade, and had put two pillows under the back of his neck, he read–you will scarcely believe it, but it is true–he read about the James boys and Kit. Carson and Pawnee Bill, and he could tell you–only he wouldn’t mention it, of course–just how many Texans were killed in the Alamo. He loved gun catalogues, and he frequently went out of his way to pass a store that displayed real, business- looking stock-saddles and quirts and spurs and things. He longed to be down in Mexico in the thick of the scrap there, and he knew every prominent Federal leader and every revolutionist that got into the papers; knew them by spelling at least, even if he couldn’t pronounce the names correctly.
He had come to Albuquerque for his lungs’ sake a few years ago, and he still thrilled at the sight of bright-shawled Pueblo Indians padding along the pavements in their moccasins and queer leggings that looked like joints of whitewashed stove-pipe; while to ride in an automobile out to Isleta, which is a terribly realistic Indian village of adobe huts, made the blood beat in his temples and his fingers tremble upon his knees. Even Martinez Town with its squatty houses and narrow streets held for him a peculiar fascination.
You can imagine, maybe, how his weak eyes snapped with excitement under that misleading green shade when Luck Lindsay walked in and smiled at him through the wicket, and explained who he was and what was the favor he had come to ask of the bank. You can, perhaps, imagine how he stood and made little marks on a blotter with his pencil while Luck explained just what he would want; and how he clung to the noncommittal manner which is a cashier’s professional shield, while Luck smiled his smile to cover his own feeling of doubt and stated that he merely wanted two Mexicans to enter, presumably overpower the cashier, and depart with a bag or two of gold.
The cashier made a few more pencil marks and said that it might be arranged, if Luck could find it convenient to make the picture just after the bank’s closing time. Obviously the cashier could not permit the bank’s patrons to be disturbed in any way–but what he really wanted was to have the thrill of the adventure all to himself.
With the two of them anxious to have the pictured robbery take place, of course they arranged it after a polite sparring on the part of the cashier, whose craving for adventure was carefully guarded as a guilty secret.
At three o’clock the next day, then–although Luck would have greatly preferred an earlier hour–the cashier had the bank cleared of patrons and superfluous clerks, and was watching, with his nerves all atingle and the sun shining in upon him through a side window, while Pete Lowry and Bill Holmes fussed outside with the camera, getting ready for the arrival of those realistic bandits, Ramon Chavez and Luis Rojas. On the street corner opposite, the Happy Family foregathered clannishly, waiting until they were called into the street-fight scene which Luck meant to make later.
The cashier’s cheeks were quite pink with excitement when finally Ramon and the Rojas villain walked past the window and looked in at him before going on to the door. He was disappointed because they were not masked, and because they did not wear bright sashes with fringe and striped serapes draped across their shoulders, and the hilts of wicked knives showing somewhere. They did not look like bandits at all–thanks to Luck’s sure knowledge and fine sense of realism. Still, they answered the purpose, and when they opened the door and came in the cashier got quite a start from the greedy look in their eyes when they saw the gold he had stacked in profusion on the counter before him.
They made the scene twice–the walking past the window and coming in at the door; and the second time Luck swore at them because they stopped too abruptly at the window and lingered too long there, looking in at the cashier and his gold, and exchanging meaning glances before they went to the door.
Later, there was an interior scene with reflectors almost blinding the cashier while he struggled self-consciously and ineffectually with Ramon Chavez. The gold that Ramon scraped from the cashier’s keeping into his own was not, of course, the real gold which the bandits had seen through the window. Luck, careful of his responsibilities, had waited while the cashier locked the bank’s money in the vault, and had replaced it with brass coins that looked real–to the camera.
The cashier lived then the biggest moments of his life. He was forced upon his back across a desk that had been carefully cleared of the bank’s papers and as carefully strewn with worthless ones which Luck had brought. A realistically uncomfortable gag had been forced into the mouth of the cashier–where it brought twinges from some fresh dental work, by the way–and the bandits had taken everything in sight that they fancied.
Ramon and Luis Rojas had proven themselves artists in this particular line of work, and the cashier, when it was all over and the camera and company were busily at work elsewhere, lived it in his imagination and felt that he was at least tasting the full flavor of red-blooded adventure without having to pay the usual price of bitterness and bodily suffering. He was mistaken, of course–as I am going to explain. What the cashier had taken part in was not the adventure itself but merely a rehearsal and general preparation for the real performance.
This had been on Wednesday, just after three o’clock in the afternoon. On Saturday forenoon the cashier was called upon the phone and asked if a part of that robbery stuff could be retaken that day. The cashier thrilled instantly at the thought of it. Certainly, they could retake as much as they pleased. Lucks voice–or a voice very like Luck’s–thanked him and said that they would not need to retake the interior stuff. What he wanted was to get the approach to the bank the entrance and going back to the cashier. That part of the negative was under-timed, said the voice. And would the cashier make a display of gold behind the wicket, so that the camera could register it through the window? The cashier thought that he could. “Just stack it up good and high,” directed the voice. “The more the better. And clear the bank–have the clerks out, and every thing as near as possible to what it was the other day. And you take up the same position. The scene ends where Ramon comes back and grabs you.”
“And listen! You did so well the other day that I’m going to leave this to you, to see that they get it the same. I can’t be there myself–I’ve got to catch some atmosphere stuff down here in Old Town. I’m just sending my assistant camera man and the two heavies and my scenic artist for this retake. it won’t be much–but be sure you have the bank cleared, old man–because it would ruin the following scenes to have extra people registered in this; see? You did such dandy work in that struggle that I want it to stand. Boy, your work’s sure going to stand out on the screen!”
Can you blame the cashier for drinking in every word of that, and for emptying the vault of gold and stacking it up in beautiful, high piles where the sun shone on it through the window–and where it would be within easy reach, by the way!–so that the camera could “register” it?
At ten minutes past twelve he had gotten rid of patrons and clerks, and he had the gold out and his green eyeshade adjusted as becomingly as a green eyeshade may be adjusted. He looked out and saw that the street was practically empty, because of the hour and the heat that was almost intolerable where the sun shone full. He saw a big red machine drive up to the corner and stop, and he. saw a man climb out with camera already screwed, to the tripod. He saw the bandits throw away their cigarettes and follow the camera man, and then he hurried back and took up his station beside the stacks of gold, and waited in a twitter of excitement for this unhoped-for encore of last Wednesday’s glorious performance. Through the window he watched the camera being set up, and he watched also, from under his eyeshade, the approach of the two bandits.
From there on a gap occurs in the cashier’s memory of that day.
Ramon and Luis went into the bank, and in a few minutes they came out again burdened with bags of specie and pulled the door shut with the spring lock set and the blinds down that proclaimed the bank was closed. They climbed into the red automobile, the camera and its operator followed, and the machine went away down the street to the post-office, turned and went purring into the Mexican quarter which spreads itself out toward the lower bridge that spans the Rio Grande. This much a dozen persons could tell you. Beyond that no man seemed to know what became of the outfit.
In the bank, the cashier lay back across a desk with a gag in his mouth and his hands and feet tied, and with a welt on the side of his head that swelled and bled sluggishly for a while and then stopped and became an angry purple. Where the gold had been stacked high in the sunshine the marble glistened whitely, with not so much as a five-dollar piece to give it a touch of color. The window blinds were drawn down–the bank was closed. And people passed the windows and never guessed that within there lay a sickly young man who had craved adventure and found it, and would presently awake to taste its bitter flavor.
Away off across the mesa, sweltering among the rocks in Bear Canon, Luck Lindsay panted and sweated and cussed the heat and painstakingly directed his scenes, and never dreamed that a likeness of his voice had beguiled the cashier of the Bernalillo County Bank into consenting to be robbed and beaten into oblivion of his betrayal.
And–although some heartless teller of tales might keep you in the dark about this–the red automobile, having dodged hurriedly into a high-boarded enclosure behind a Mexican saloon, emerged presently and went boldly off across the bridge and up through Atrisco to the sand hills which is the beginning of the desert off that way. But another automobile, bigger and more powerful and black, slipped out of this same enclosure upon another street, and turned eastward instead of west. This machine made for the mesa by a somewhat roundabout course, and emerged, by way of a rough trail up a certain draw in the edge of the tableland, to the main road where it turns the corner of the cemetery. From there the driver drove as fast as he dared until he reached the hill that borders Tijeras Arroyo. There being no sign of pursuit to this point, he crossed the Arroyo at a more leisurely pace. Then he went speeding away into the edge of the mountains until they reached one of those deep, deserted dry washes that cut the foothills here and there near Coyote Springs. There his passengers left him and disappeared up the dry wash.
Before the wound on the cashier’s head had stopped bleeding, the black automobile was returning innocently to town and no man guessed what business had called it out upon the mesa.
CHAPTER VIII. THE SONG OF THE OMAHA
“Me, I theenk yoh not lov’ me so moch as a pin,” Ramon complained in soft reproach, down in the dry wash where Applehead had looked in vain for baling wire. “Sometimes I show yoh what is like the Spanish lov’. Like stars, like fire–sometimes I seeng the jota for you that tell how moch I lov’ yoh. ‘Te quiero, Baturra, te quiero,'” he began humming softly while he looked at her with eyes that shone soft in the starlight. “Sometimes me, I learn yoh dat song–and moch more I learn yoh–“
Annie-Many-Ponies stood before him, straight and slim and with that air of aloofness which so fired Ramon’s desire for her. She lifted a hand to check him, and Ramon stopped instantly and waited. So far had her power over him grown.
“All time you tell me you heap love,” she said in her crooning soft voice. “Why you not talk of priest to make us marry? You say words for love–you say no word for wife. Why you no say–“
“Esposa!” Ramon’s teeth gleamed white as a wolf’s in the dusk. “When the padre marry us I maybe teach you many ways to say wife!” He laughed under his breath. “How I calls yoh wife when I not gets one kees, me? Now I calls yoh la sweetheart–good enough when I no gets so moch as touches hand weeth yoh.”
“I go way with you, you gets priest for make us marry?” Annie-Many-Ponies edged closer so that she might read what was in his face.
“Why yoh no trus’ Ramon? Sure, I gets padre! W’at yoh theenk for speak lies, me? Sure, I gets padre, foolish one! Me, I not like for yoh no trus’ Ramon. Looks like not moch yoh lov’ Ramon.”
“I good girl,” Annie-Many-Ponies stated simply. “I love my husband when priest says that’s right thing to do. You no gets priest, I no go with you. I think mens not much cares for marry all time. Womens not care, they go to hell. That’s what priest tells. Girls got to care. That’s truth.” Simple as two-plus-two was the rule of life as Annie-Many-Ponies laid it down in words before him. No fine distinctions between virtue and superwomanhood there, if you please! No slurring of wrong so that it may look like an exalted right. “Womens got to care,” said Annie-Many-Ponies with a calm certainty that would brook no argument.
“Sure theeng,” Ramon agreed easily. “Yoh theenk I lov’ yoh so moch if yoh not good?”
“You gets priest?” Annie-Many-Ponies persisted.
“Sure, I gets padre. You theenk Ramon lies for soch theeng?”
“You swear, then, all same white mans in picture makes oath.” There was a new quality of inflexibility under the soft music of her voice. “You lift up hand and says, ‘Help me by God I makes you for-sure my wife!'” She had pondered long upon this oath, and she spoke it now with an easy certainty that it was absolutely binding, and that no man would dare break it. “You makes that swear now,” she urged gently.
“Foolish one! Yoh theenk I mus’ swear I do what my hearts she’s want? I tell yoh many times we go on one ranch my brother Tomas says she’s be mine. We lives there in fine house weeth mooch flowers, yoh not so moch as lif’ one finger for work, querida mia. Yoh theenk I not be trus’, me, Ramon what loves yoh?”
“No hurt for swears what I tells,” Annie-Many-Ponies stepped back from him a pace, distrust creeping into her voice.
“All right.” Ramon moved nearer. “So I make oath, perhaps you make oath also! Me, I theenk yoh perhaps not like for leave Luck Leensay–I theenk perhaps yoh loves heem, yoh so all time watch for ways to please! So I swear, then yoh mus’ swear also that yoh come for-sure. That square deal for both–si?”
Annie-Many-Ponies hesitated, a dull ache in her breast when Ramon spoke of Luck. But if her heart was sore at thought of him, it was because he no longer looked upon her with the smile in his eyes. It was because he was not so kind; because he believed that she had secret meetings with Bill Holmes whom she hated. And in spite of the fact that Bill Holmes had left the company the other day and was going away, Wagalexa Conka still looked upon her with cold eyes and listened to the things that Applehead said against her. The heart of