horses hit the ground with forefeet. The Happy Family leaned forward and craned around the heads of those in front that they might see all of it. Luck had told them before making this scene to “eat ’em alive,” and the Happy Family had very nearly done so. Andy Green nudged his wife, Rosemary, and whispered hurriedly that this was where the camera man had pulled up his tripod by the roots and beat it, thinking he was going to be run over; and that was why the scene was cut unexpectedly just where Andy set his horse on its haunches and posed, a heroic figure of a cowboy rampant, immediately before the lens.
Luck, glancing hurriedly to right and left, slid down and rested the nape of his neck on the back of his chair, slipped a fresh stick of gum between his teeth, hung his hat on his knee, and prepared to view his work with critical mind and impartial, and with his conscience like his body at ease. The thing had certainly started off with zip enough, since zip was what Mart claimed the Public demanded.
The next scene was a continuation of the one before,–the camera man having evidently recovered himself and gotten to work again. The Happy Family, still surging and still shooting two guns apiece at the pale moon, were shown entering the saloon door four abreast and with the rest crowding for place. Still there was zip; all kinds of zip. The Happy Family nudged and grinned in the dusk and were very much pleased with themselves as XY cowboys seeking mild entertainment in town.
Some one behind remarked upon the surging and the shooting, and Big Medicine turned his head quickly and sent a hoarse stage whisper in the general direction of the mumble.
“Ah-h, that there ain’t anything! Luck never let us turn ourselves loose there a-tall. You wait, by cripes, till yuh see us where we git warmed up and strung out proper! You wait! Honest to gran’–” It was Luck’s elbow that stopped him by the simple expedient of cutting off his wind. Big Medicine gave a grunt and said no more.
Thereafter, the Happy Family discovered that there was a certain continuity in the barbaric performances in which Luck had grinningly encouraged them to indulge themselves. They beheld themselves engaged in various questionable enterprises, and they laughed in naive enjoyment as certain bloodcurdling traits in their characters were depicted with startling vividness. Accented by make-up and magnified on the screen, the goggling, frog-like ugliness of Big Medicine became like unto ogres of childish memory; his smile was a thing to make one’s back hair stand up with a cold, prickling sensation. Happy Jack stared at himself and his exaggerated awkwardness incredulously, with a sheepish grin of appreciation. The rest of them watched and missed no slightest gesture.
So they saw the plot of Bently Brown unfold, scene by scene; unfold in violence and malevolent intrigue and zip and much fighting. Also unfolded something of which Bently Brown had never dreamed; something which the audience, though greeting it with laughter, failed at first to recognize for what it was worth, because every one knew all about the Bently-Brown Western dramas, and every one believed that they were to be made after the usual recipe more elaborately stirred. So every one had been chortling through several scenes before the significance of their laughter occurred to them.
Comedy–that was it. Comedy, that had slipped in with cap and bells just when the door was flung open for black-robed Tragedy. But it was too late to stop laughing when they discovered the trick. They saw it now, in the very sub-titles which Luck had twisted impishly into sly humor that pointed to the laugh, in the deeds of blood that followed. They saw it in the goggling ferocity of Big Medicine; in the innocent-eyed, dimpled fiendishness of Pink; in the lank awkwardness of Happy Jack. They saw it in the sentimental mannerisms of Lenore Honiwell, whose sickish emotionalism slipped pat into the burlesque. They rocked in their seats at the heroics of Tracy Gray Joyce, who could never again be taken seriously, since Luck had tagged him mercilessly as an unconscious comedian.
Oh, yes, there was zip to the picture! But there was no explanation of the title. _The Soul of Littlefoot Law_ remained as great a mystery when the picture was finished as it had been at the start. Littlefoot Law, by the way, was Pink. That much the audience discovered, and no more; for as to his soul, he did not seem to own one.
Luck, still hunched down so that his back hair rubbed against his chair back, was laughing with his jaws wide apart and his fine teeth still gleaming in the half darkness, when Ted, general errand boy at the office, came straddling over intervening laps and laid a compelling hand on his shoulder.
“Say, Luck,” he whispered excitedly, “the audience author’s with Mart, and they both want t’ see you. And, say, I guess you’re in Dutch, all right; the author’s awful mad, and so is Mart. But say, no matter what they do to you, Luck, take it from me, that pit’cher’s a humdinger! I like to died a-laughing!”
BENTLY BROWN DOES NOT APPRECIATE COMEDY
Luck unhooked his hat from his knee, brought his laughing jaws together with that eloquent, downward tilt to the corners of his mouth, sat up straight, considered swiftly the possibilities of the next half hour, and paid tribute in one expressive word of four letters before he went crawling over half a dozen pairs of knees to do battle for his picture. His picture, you understand. For since he had made it irresistible comedy instead of very mediocre drama, he felt all the pride of creation in his work. That was his picture that had set the Acme people laughing,–they who had come to carp and to talk knowingly of continuity and of technique and dramatic values, and to criticize everything from the sets to the photography. It was his picture; he had made it what it was. So he went as a champion rather than as a culprit to face the powers above him.
Martinson and Bently Brown were waiting for him near the door. They were not going to stay and see the next picture run, and that, in Luck’s opinion, was a bad-weather sign. But he came up to them cheerfully, turning his hat in his fingers to find the front of it before he set it on his head. (These limp, wool, knockabout hats are always more or less confusing, and Luck was fastidious about his apparel.)
“Ah–Mr. Brown, this is Mr. Lindsay, ah–director who is producing your stories.” Martinson’s tone was as neutral as he could make it.
Luck said that he was glad to meet Mr. Brown, which was a lie. At the same instant he found the stitched-down bow on his hat, and from there felt his way to the front. At the same time he decided that there was going to be something doing presently, if Mart’s manner meant anything at all. Mart was a peaceable soul, and in the approaching crisis Luck knew he would climb hurriedly upon the fence of neutrality and stay there; and Luck could fight or climb a tree as he chose.
They went outside, and Luck turned his eyes sidewise and took a look at Bently Brown. He measured him mentally from pigskin puttees to rakish, stiff brimmed Stetson with careful dimples in the crown and a leather hatband stamped with horses’ heads and his initials. In a picture, Luck would have cast Bently Brown, costume and all, for a comedy mining engineer or something of that sort. You know the type: He arrives on the stage that is held up, and is always in the employ of the monied octopus, and the cowboys who pursue and capture the bandits have fun afterwards with the engineer,–so much fun that he crawls out of an up-stairs window in the night and departs hastily and forever from that place. You are perfectly familiar with the character, I am sure.
Luck, after that swift, comprehensive glance, was not greatly alarmed. In that he made his greatest blunder. He should have reckoned with the wounded vanity of the little author who believes himself great. He should have reminded himself that Bently Brown was not a comedy mining engineer, but that touchiest of all mortals, the nearly successful author. He should have taken warning from the stiff-necked, stiff-backed gait of Bently Brown on the short walk to the office. He should have read danger in the blinking lids of his pale eyes, and in his self-conscious manner of looking straight before him.
In the office, then, luck basely deserted one Luck Lindsay, and left him to fight a losing battle. For Bently Brown was incensed, insulted, and outraged over the manner in which _The Soul of Littlefoot Law_ had been filmed. The story had been caricatured out of all semblance to its original self. Littlefoot Law had been shown as having no soul whatever. Instead of being permitted to make the final, supreme sacrifice of his life for the honor of his enemy,–which would have revealed to the audience his possession of a clean white soul in spite of his bad character,–he had been made out a little fiend who would shoot you on the slightest provocation. The girl had been thrust into the background, and the hero had been made into a coward and a paltry villain; they were all desperadoes upon the screen. Never in his life had Bently Brown been made to suffer such an affront. Never had he dreamed that his work would be made a thing to laugh at–
“They certainly did laugh,” Luck lazily interrupted. “And believe me, Mr. Brown, it takes real stuff to collect a laugh out of that bunch. It will be a riot with the public; you can bank on that. By the time I get a few more made and released, you can expect to see your name in the papers without paying advertising rates.” Whatever possessed Luck to talk that way to Bently Brown, I cannot say. He surely must have seen that the little, over-costumed author was choking with spleen.
“It was a farce!” The small, yellow mustache of Bently Brown was twitching comically with the tremble of his lips beneath. “A bald, unmitigated farce!”
“Surest thing you know,” Luck agreed, with that little chuckle of his. “At first I was afraid the crowd wouldn’t get it; I didn’t know but they might try to take it seriously. Now, I know for certain that it will get over. It will be the cleanest, funniest, farce-comedy series that has ever been filmed.” Luck sat up straight and pulled a cigar from his pocket and looked at it absent-mindedly. “Say, those boys of mine are certainly real ones! I wouldn’t trade that bunch for the highest-salaried actors you could hand me. Do you know what made that picture such a scream? It was because there wasn’t a bit of made-to-order comedy business in the whole film. Those boys didn’t think about acting funny just to make folks laugh. They were so doggoned busy having fun with the story and showing up its weak points that they forgot to be self-conscious. If I’d had a regular comedy company working on it, believe me, Mr. Brown, it might have turned out almost as rotten a farce as it would be as a drama!”
Had Bently Brown owned under his pink skin any of the primitive instincts which he was so fond of portraying in his characters, he would have killed Luck without any further argument or delay.
Instead of that he spluttered and stormed like a scolding woman. He lifted first one puttee and then the other, and he shook his fist, and he nodded his head violently, and finally was constrained to lift the leather-banded Stetson from his blond hair and wipe the perspiration from his brow with a lavender initialed handkerchief. He said a great deal in a very few minutes, but it was too involved, too incoherent to be repeated here. Luck gathered, however, that he meant to sue the Acme Company for about nine million dollars damages to his feelings and his reputation, if _The Soul of Littlefoot Law_ was released in its present form. He battered at Luck’s grinning composure with his full supply of invectives. When he perceived that Luck’s eyes twinkled more and more while they watched him, and that Luck’s smile was threatening to explode into laughter, Bently Brown shook his fist at the two of them, shrilled something about seeing his lawyer at once, and went out and slammed the door.
“Lor-dee! He’d make a hit in comedy, that fellow,” Luck observed placidly, and lighted the cigar he had been holding. “What’s he mean–‘ sue the company’?”
“He means sue the company,” Martinson retorted grimly. “That clause in the contract where we agree to produce his stories in a manner befitting the quality and fame of these several stories in fiction; he’s got grounds for action there, and he’s going to make the most of it. He’s sore, anyway. Some one’s been telling him he practically made us a present of his stuff.”
“Hell!” said Luck. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“Why didn’t you say that you were turning that stuff into farce-comedy?” Martinson came back sharply. “I could have told you it wouldn’t get by. I knew Brown wouldn’t stand for anything like that; and I knew he could put the gaff into us on that ‘manner befitting’ clause.”
“It’s a wonder you wouldn’t have jarred loose from some of that wisdom,” Luck observed tartly. “You never gave me any dope at all on this Bently Brown person. You handed me the junk he stung you on–and believe me, as drama he’d have stung you with it as a present!–you handed it to me to film. I made the most of it.”
“You made a mess of it,” Martinson corrected peevishly.
“You laughed,” Luck pointed out laconically. Then his eyes twinkled suddenly. “‘Laugh and the world laughs with you,'” he quoted shamelessly, and took a long, satisfying suck at his cigar.
“The world won’t step up and pay damages to Bently Brown,” Martinson reminded him, “if that picture is released as it stands. How many have you made, so far?”
“I’m finishing the third; getting funnier, too, as they go along.”
“You’ve got to cut out that funny business. You’ll have to retake this whole thing, Luck; make it straight drama. We can’t afford a lawsuit, these hard times–and injunctions tying up the releases, and damages to pay when the thing’s thrashed out in court. You’ll have to retake this whole picture. Nice bunch of useless expense, I must say, when I’ve been chasing nickels off the expense account of this company and sitting up nights nursing profits! We’ll have to cut salaries now, to break even on this fluke. I’ve left the payroll alone so far. That’s the worst of a break like this. The whole company has got to pay for every blunder from now on.”
Luck’s eyes hardened while he listened. He did not call his work a blunder, and the charge did not sit well coming from another.
“Buy off Bently Brown,” he advised crisply. “Offer him a new contract, naming this stuff as comedy. Advertise them as the famous comedies of Bently Brown, the well-known author. Show him some good publicity dope along that line. Give him the credit of making the stories live ones. This series will be a money-maker, and a big one, if ever they reach the screen. You’re old enough in the business to know that, Mart. You saw how this film hit the bunch, and you know what it takes to rouse any enthusiasm in the projection room. And take it from me, Mart–this is straight!–that’s the only way in God’s world to make that series take hold at all. As drama the stuff is hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. It’s only by giving it the twist I gave it that it will get over. You do that, Mart. You kid this Bently Brown into being featured as the humorist of the age, and pay him a little something for swallowing his disappointment as a dramatic author. I’ll go ahead with my boys, and we’ll deliver the goods. You do that, and you’ll be setting up nights counting profits instead of nursing them!”
Martinson began to stir up the litter on his desk,–another bad-weather sign. “I can’t waste time talking nonsense,” he snapped. “I’ve got plenty to do without that. That stuff has got to be retaken; every foot of it, if you’ve gone on burlesquing the action. I happen to know that Brown wouldn’t consider such a compromise. You’ve made a bad break, and I believe you made the first one when you brought that bunch of cowboys back with you. If they can do straight dramatic acting, all right; if not, you’d better let them out and start over with professionals.”
For a peaceable man, Martinson was angry. He had taken some trouble in smoothing down the ruffled temper of Bently Brown, even before viewing the trial run of the picture. Martinson hated disputes as a cat hates to walk in fresh-fallen snow, and the parting tirade of Bently Brown had affected him unpleasantly.
For a full two minutes Luck smoked and did not speak, and as he had done once before, Martinson repented his harshness when it was too late. “Personally, your version struck me as awfully funny,” he began placatingly.
“Who gives a cuss how it struck you personally?” Luck stood up with unexpected haste. “You trim and truckle to every one that comes along with a gold brick, and that’s why you have to sit up nights to nurse the profits. If you had a little stiffening in your back, the profits would show up better. You paid good money for this bunch of rot, and turned it over to me to whip into a profitable investment. You can make the rounds of the studio and get a vote on whether I’ve done it or not. Put it up to your Public; they’ll mighty soon let you know whether the film’s a money-getter. If it is, your business as general manager and president of the Acme Film Company is to get Bently Brown in line for the production to go on. A clause such as you mention in the agreement with him shows a bigger blunder on your part than anything I’ve done or ever will do. If you’d had as much sense as Ted, you’d have kept that clause out. If you’d had half as much brains as the comedy burro out in the corral you’d never have loaded up with that stuff, anyway; you’d have seen at a glance that it was rotten.
“Now, I’ve shown what I can do with those stories. I’ve taken your bad bargain and put it into a money-making shape. As to the break I made in getting those boys out here, you’ll have to show me–that’s all. They seem, to have made good all right, judging from the way that film took with the crowd. And if you ask my opinion as a director, they beat any near-professional on the Acme pay roll. My work, and their work, goes right along as it has started–or it stops. If you want those stories worked up in a lot of darned, sickly, slush melodrama, you can set some simp at it that don’t know any better.” Luck stopped and shut his teeth together against some personal remarks that he would later feel ashamed of having uttered. He turned to the door, swallowed hard, and forced himself to a dignified calm before he spoke again.
“You know my phone number, Mart. By seven in the morning I’ll expect to hear from you. You can tell me then whether I’m to go ahead with these stories the way I’ve started, or whether to pull out of the Company altogether. One or the other. I’ll want to know in the morning.” Then he went out.
“Dammit, who’s running this company–you or I?” Martinson called after him heatedly. But Luck was already standing on the steps and hoisting his umbrella against the drizzle, and he did not give any sign that he heard.
“THERE’S GOT TO BE A LINE DRAWED SOMEWHERES”
By seven o’clock in the morning,–since that was his ultimatum,–Luck was standing in his bare feet and pajamas, acrimoniously arguing with Martinson over the telephone. Usually he was up at six, but he was a stubborn young man, and the day promised much rainfall, anyway. He would have preferred sunshine; the stand he meant to take would have had more weight in working weather. But since he could not prevent the morning from being a rainy one, he permitted more determination to slip into his tones.
Martinson had spent an unpleasant evening with Bently Brown, or so he declared. He had called up several stockholders of the Acme, and had talked the matter over with them, and–
“Well, cut the preamble, Mart,” snapped Luck, trying to warm one foot by rubbing it with the other one. “Do I go on with the work, or don’t I?”
“From the looks of the weather–” Mart began to temporize.
“Weather cuts no figure with this matter. You know what I mean. What’s the decision?” Luck scowled at the pretty girl on his wall calendar, and began to rub his right foot with the left and to curse the janitor with that part of his brain not occupied with the conversation.
“Well, listen. You come out to the office, after awhile, and we’ll go into this matter calmly,” begged Martinson. “No use in letting that temper of yours run away with you, Luck. You know we all–“
“What did Bently Brown say? Did you put the proposition up to him as I suggested?”
“Luck, you know I told you Brown wouldn’t consider–“
“Say, Mart, get all those rambling words out of your system, and then call me up and tell me what I want to know!” And Luck hung up the receiver and went shivering back to bed. From the things he said to himself, he was letting that temper of his run away with him in spite of Martinson’s warning.
He had just ceased having spasms of shivering, and had found his warm nest of the night, and was feeling glad that it was raining so that he could stay in bed as long as he liked, when the phone jingled shrilly again. Had he been certain that it was Martinson, Luck would have lain there and let it ring itself tired. But there is always the doubt when a telephone bell calls peremptorily. He waited sulkily until the girl at the switchboard in the office below settled down to prolong the siege. Luck knew that girl would never quit now that she was sure he was in. He crawled out again, this time dragging the bedspread with him for drapery.
“H’l-lo!” There was no compromise in his voice, which was guttural.
“Luck? This is Martinson. You are to retake all of the Bently Brown pictures which you have made so far, under the personal supervision of Bently Brown himself, who will pass upon all film before accepted by the company. This is final.”
“Martinson? This is Luck. You and Bently Brown and the Acme Film Company can go where the heat’s never turned off. This is final.”
Whereupon Luck slammed the receiver into its brackets, trailed over to a table and gleaned “the makings” from among the litter of papers, programs, “stills,” and letters, and rolled himself a much-needed smoke. He was sorry chiefly because he had been compelled to use such mild language over the telephone. It would be almost worth a trip to the office just to tell Martinson without stint what he thought of him and all his works.
He crawled back into bed and smoked his cigarette with due regard for the bedclothes, and wondered what kind of a fool they took him for if they imagined for one minute that he would produce so much as a sub-title under the personal supervision of Bently Brown.
After awhile it occurred to him that, unless he relented from his final statement to Martinson, he was a young man out of a job, but that did not worry him much. Of course, if he left the Acme Company, he would have to look around for an opening somewhere else, where he could take his Happy Family and maybe produce….
Right there Luck got up and unlocked his trunk, which was also his chest of treasures, and found the carbon copy of his range scenario. He had not named it yet. In thinking of it and in talking about it with the boys he had been content to call it his Big Picture. If he could place himself and his Big Picture and his boys with some company that would appreciate the value of the combination, his rupture with the Acme Company would be simply a bit of good luck. While he huddled close to the radiator that was beginning to hiss and rumble encouragingly, he glanced rapidly over the meagerly described scenes which were to his imagination so full of color.
“Pam. bleak mesa–snow–cattle drifting before wind. Dale and Johnny dis. riding to foreground. Reg. cold–horses leg-weary–boys all in–“
To Luck, sitting there in his pajamas as close as he could get to a slow-warming steam radiator, those curtailed sentences projected his mental self into a land of cold and snow and biting wind, where the cattle drifted dismally before the storm. Andy Green and Miguel Rapponi were riding slowly toward him on shuffling horses as bone-weary as their masters. Snow was packed in the wrinkles of the boys’ clothing. Snow was packed in the manes and tails of the horses that moved with their heads drooping in utter dejection. “Boys all in,” said the script laconically. Luck, staring at the little thread of escaping steam from the radiator valve, saw Andy and the Native Son drooping in the saddles, swaying stiffly with the movements of their mounts. He saw them to the last little detail,–to the drift of snow on their hatbrims and the tiny icicles clinging to the high collars of their sourdough coats, where their breath had frozen.
If he could get a company to let him put that on, he would not care, he told himself, if he never made another picture in his life. If he could get a company to send him and the boys where that stuff could be found–
Well, it was only eight o’clock in the morning, a rainy morning at that, when all good movie people would lie late in bed for the pure luxury of taking their ease. But Luck, besides acting upon strong convictions and then paying the price without whimpering, never let an impulse grow stale from want of use. He reached for the fat telephone directory and searched out the numbers of those motion-picture companies which he did not remember readily. Then, beginning at the first number on his hastily compiled list, he woke five different managers out of their precious eight-o’clock sleep to answer his questions.
Whatever they may have thought of Luck Lindsay just then, they replied politely, and did not tell him offhand that there was no possible opening for him in their companies. Three of them made appointments with him at their offices. One promised to call him up just as soon as he “had a line on anything.” One said that, with the rainy weather coming on, they were cutting down to straight studio stuff, but that he would keep Luck in mind if anything turned up.
Then I suppose the whole five called him names behind his back, figuratively speaking, for being such an early riser on such a day. Not one of them asked him any questions about his reasons for leaving the Acme; reasons, in the motion-picture business, are generally invented upon demand and have but a fictitious value at best. And since it is never a matter of surprise when any director or any member of any company decides to try a new field, it would seem that change is one of the most unchanging features of the business.
Luck had no qualms of conscience, either for his treatment of Martinson and his overtures, or for his disturbances of five other perfectly inoffensive movie managers. He dressed with mechanical precision and with his mind shuttling back and forth from his Big Picture to the possibilities of his next position. He folded his scenario and placed it in a long envelope, hunted until he found his rubbers, took his raincoat over his arm and his umbrella in his hand, and went blithely to the elevator. It was too stormy for his machine, so he caught a street car and went straight to the bungalow where the Happy Family were still snoring at peace with the world and each other.
Still Luck had no qualms of conscience. He lingered in the kitchen just long enough to say howdy to Rosemary Green who was anxiously watching a new and much admired coffee percolator “to see if it were going to perk,” she told him gravely. He assured Rosemary that he had come all the way out there in the hope of being invited to breakfast. Then he went into a sleep-charged atmosphere and gave a real, old-time range yell.
“Why, I saw that peaked little person with Mr. Martinson,” Mrs. Andy remarked slightingly at the breakfast table. “Was that Bently Brown? And he has the nerve to want to stand around and boss you–oh, find, me an umbrella, somebody! I shall choke if I can’t go and tell him to his silly, pink face what a conceited little idiot he is!” (You will see why it was that Rosemary Green had been adopted without question as a member of the Happy Family.) “I hope you told him straight out, Luck Lindsay, that these boys would simply tear him limb from limb if he ever dared to butt in on your work. Why, it’s you that made the picture fit to look at!”
Luck let his eyes thank her for her loyalty, and held out his empty cup for more coffee. “I came out,” he drawled quietly, “to find out what you fellows are going to do about it. Of course, they’ll get somebody else to go ahead with the stuff, and you boys can stay with it–“
“Well, say! Did you come away out here in the rain to insult us fellers?” Big Medicine roared suddenly from the foot of the table. “I’ll take a lot from you, but by cripes they’s got to be a line drawed somewheres!”
“You bet. And right there’s where we draw it, Luck,” spoke up the dried little man who seldom spoke at the table, but concentrated his attention upon the joy of eating what Mrs. Andy set before him. “I come out here to work for you. That peters out, by gorry I’ll go back to chufferin a baggage truck in Sioux, North Dakoty. Kin I have a drop more coffee, Mrs. Green?”
While Rosemary proudly brought her new percolator in from the kitchen and refilled his cup, Luck Lindsay sat and endured the greatest tongue-lashing of his life. Furthermore, he seemed to enjoy the chorus of reproaches and threats and recriminations. He chuckled over the eloquence of Andy Green, and he grinned at the belligerence of Pink and the melancholy of Happy Jack.
“I don’t guess you’re crazy to work under Bently Brown,” he finally managed to slide into the uproar. “Do I get you as meaning to stick with me–wherever I go?”
“You get us that way or you get licked,” Weary, the mild-tempered one, stated flatly. “You can fire us and send us home, but you can’t walk off and leave us with the Acme, ’cause we won’t stay.”
That was what Luck had ridden twelve cold, rainy miles to hear the Happy Family declare. He had expected them to take that stand, but it was good to hear it spoken in just that tone of finality. He stacked his cup and saucer in his plate, laid his knife and fork across them in the old range style, and began to roll a cigarette,–smoking at the table being another comfortable little bad habit which Rosemary Green wisely and smilingly permitted.
“That being the case,” he began cheerfully, “you boys had best go over with me now and give in your two weeks’ notice. I’m director of our company till I quit–see? I’ll arrange for your transportation home–“
“Aw, gwan! Who said we was goin’ home?” wailed Happy Jack distressfully.
“Now, listen! You’re entitled to your transportation money. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to use it for that purpose–sabe? It’s coming to you, and you get it. There’s a week’s salary due all around, too, besides the two weeks you’ll get by giving notice. No use passing up any bets like that. So let’s go, boys. I’ve got an appointment at one o’clock, and I may as well wipe the Acme slate clean this forenoon, so I can talk business without any come-back from Mart, or any tag ends to pick up. Grab your slickers and let’s move.”
That was a busy day for Luck Lindsay, in spite of the fact that it was a stormy one. His interview with Mart, which he endured mostly for the sake of the Happy Family, developed into a quarrel which severed beyond mending his connection with the Acme.
It was noon when he reached his hotel, and his wrath had not cooled with the trip into town. There were two ‘phone calls in his mail, he discovered, and one bore an urgent request that he call Hollywood something-or-other the moment he returned. This was from the Great Western Film Company, and Luck’s eyes brightened while he read it. He went straight to his room and called up the Great Western.
Presently he found himself speaking to the great Dewitt himself, and his blood was racing with the possibilities of the interview. Dewitt had heard that Luck was leaving the Acme–extras may be depended upon for carrying gossip from one studio to another,–and was wasting no time in offering him a position. His Western director, Robert Grant Burns whom Luck knew well, had been carried to the hospital with typhoid fever which he had contracted while out with his company in what is known as Nigger Sloughs,–a locality more picturesque than healthful. Dewitt feared that it was going to be a long illness at the very best. Would Luck consider taking the company and going on with the big five-reel feature which Burns had just begun? Dewitt was prepared to offer special inducements and to make the position a permanent one. He would give Burns a dramatic company to produce features at the studio, he said, and would give Luck the privilege of choosing his own scenarios and producing them in his own way. Could Luck arrange to meet Dewitt at four that afternoon?
Luck could, by cancelling his appointment with a smaller and less important company, which he did promptly and with no compunctions whatever. He did more than that; he postponed the other two appointments, knowing in his heart that his chances would not be lessened thereby. After that he built a castle or two while he waited for the appointment. The Great Western Company had been a step higher than he had hoped to reach. Robert Grant Burns he had considered a fixture with the company. It had never entered his mind that he might possibly land within the Great Western’s high concrete wall,–and that other wall which was higher and had fewer gates, and which was invisible withal. That the great Dewitt himself should seek Luck out was just a bit staggering. He wanted to go out and tell the bunch about it, but he decided to wait until everything was settled. Most of all he wanted the Acme to know that Dewitt wanted him; that would be a real slap in the face of Mart’s judgment, a vindication of Luck’s abilities as a director.
What Luck did was to telephone the hospital and learn all he could about Burns’ condition. He was genuinely sorry that Burns was sick, even though he was mightily proud of being chosen as Burns’ successor. He even found himself thinking more about Burns, after the first inner excitement wore itself out, than about himself. Burns was a good old scout. Luck hated to think of him lying helpless in the grip of typhoid. So it was with mixed emotions that he went to see Dewitt.
Dewitt wanted Luck–wanted him badly. He was frank enough to let Luck see how much he wanted him. He even told Luck that, all things being equal, he considered Luck a better Western director than was Robert Grant Burns, in spite of the fact that Burns had scored a big success with his _Jean, of the Lazy A_ serial. You cannot wonder that Luck’s spirits rose to buoyancy when he heard that. Also, Dewitt named a salary bigger than Luck had ever received in his life, and nearly double what the Acme had paid him. Luck spoke of his Big Picture, and when he outlined it briefly, Dewitt did not say that it seemed to lack action.
Dewitt had watched Luck with his keen blue eyes, and had observed that Luck owned that priceless element of success, which is enthusiasm for his work. Dewitt had listened, and had told Luck that he would like to see the Big Picture go on the screen, and that he would be willing to pay him for the scenario and let him make it where and how he pleased. He even volunteered to try and persuade Jean Douglas, of _Lazy A_ fame, to come back and play the leading woman’s part.
“That’s one thing that has been bothering me a little,” Luck owned gratefully. “Of course I considered her absolutely out of reach. But with her for my leading woman, and the boys holding up the range end as they’re capable of doing–“
Dewitt gave him a quick look. “Yes, my boys are able to do that,” he said distinctly. “They have been well trained in Western dramatic work.”
Luck braced himself. “When I mentioned the boys,” he said, “I meant my boys that I brought from the Flying U outfit, up in Montana. They go with me.”
Dewitt did not answer that statement immediately. He inspected his finger nails thoughtfully before he glanced up. “It’s a pity, but I’m afraid that cannot be managed, Mr. Lindsay. The boys in my Western company have been with me, some of them, since the Independent Sales Company was organized. They worked for next to nothing till I got things started. Two or three are under contracts. You will understand me when I say that my boys must stay where they are.” He waited for a minute, and watched Luck’s face grow sober. “I have heard about your Happy Family,” he added. “There has been a good deal of discussion, I imagine, among the studios about them. Ordinarily I should be glad to have you bring those boys with you; but as matters stand, it is impossible. Our Western Company is full, and I could not let these boys go to make room for strangers,–however good those strangers might be. You understand?”
“Certainly I understand.” But Luck’s face did not brighten.
“Can’t they stay on with the Acme? From what I hear, the Acme’s Western Company is not large at best.”
“They can stay, yes. But they won’t. The whole bunch gave in their two weeks’ notice this morning.” There was a grim satisfaction in Luck’s tone.
“Left when you did, I suppose?”
“That’s just exactly what they did. I told them they better stay, and they nearly lynched me for it.”
“Have you made any agreement with them in regard to placing them with another company–for instance?”
“Certainly not. Some things don’t have to be set down in black and white.”
“I–see.” Dewitt did see. What he saw worried him, even though it increased his respect for Luck Lindsay. He studied his nails more critically than before.
“These boys–have they any resources at all, other than their work in pictures? Did they burn their bridges when they came with you?”
“Oh, far as that goes, they’ve all got ranches. They wouldn’t starve.” Luck’s voice was inclined to gruffness under quizzing.
“As I see the situation,” Dewitt went on evenly and with a logic that made Luck squirm with its very truthfulness, “they left their ranches and came with you to work in pictures in a spirit of adventure, we might say. There is a glamour; and your personal influence, your enthusiasm, had its effect. Should they go back to their ranches now, they would carry back a fresh outlook and a fund of experiences that would season conversation agreeably for months to come. They will not have lost financially, I take it. They will have had a vacation which has in many ways been a profitable one. Should the question be laid before them, I venture the assertion that they would urge you to take this position with us.
“They would feel some disappointment of course–just as you would feel sorry not to be able to bring them with you. But no reasonable man would blame you or expect you to bear the handicap of six or seven inexperienced young fellows. You must see that your only hope of placing them would be with some new company just starting up. And this is not the season for young companies. Next spring you might stand a better chance.”
“Yes, that’s all true enough,” Luck admitted, since Dewitt plainly expected some reply. “At the same time–“
“There is no immediate need of a decision,” Dewitt hastily completed Luck’s sentence. “From all weather reports, this storm is going to be a long one. I doubt very much if you could get to work for several days. I wish you would think it over from all sides before you accept or refuse the proposition, Mr. Lindsay. Lay the matter before your boys; tell them frankly just how things stand. I’ll guarantee they will insist upon your accepting the position. I know, and you know, that it will give you a better opportunity than you have had in some time. And I am going to say candidly that I believe you need only the opportunity to make your work stand out above all the others. That is why I sent for you this morning. I believe you have big possibilities, and I want you with the Great Western.”
There was that instant of silence which terminates all conferences. Then Luck rose, and Dewitt tilted back his office chair and swung it away from the desk so that he was still facing Luck. So the two looked at each other measuringly for a moment.
“I certainly appreciate your good opinion of me, Mr. Dewitt,” Luck said. “Whether I take the place or not, I want to thank you for offering it to me. It all looks fine–the chance of my life; but I can’t–“
“No, don’t say any more.” Dewitt raised his hand. “You do as I suggest; tell the boys just what has passed, if you like. Let them decide for you.”
“No, that wouldn’t be fair. They’d decide for my interests and forget about their own. I know that.”
“Well, let’s just wait a day or two. You think it over. Think what you could do with Jean Douglas, for instance. I’ll try and get her back; I think perhaps I can. She’s married, but I think they’ll both come if I make it worth their while. Come and see me day after to-morrow, will you? We’ll say four o’clock again. Good-by.”
So Luck went away with temptation whispering in his ear.
LEAVE IT TO THE BUNCH
Not a word did Luck say to the Happy Family about his big opportunity. Instead, he avoided them half guiltily, and he filled the next day and the one after that by seeing, or trying to see, the head of every motion picture company in that part of the State. He even sent a night letter to a big company at Santa Barbara. Always he stipulated that he must take his own cowboys with him and have a free hand in the production of Western pictures–since he did not mean to risk having another irate author descend upon him with threats of a lawsuit.
By three o’clock of the day when he was to give Dewitt his decision, Luck was convinced that the two conditions he never failed to mention were as two iron bars across every trail that might otherwise have been open to him. No motion picture company seemed to feel that it needed seven inexperienced men on its payroll. A few general managers suggested letting them work as extras, but the majority could not see the proposition at all. They were more willing to give Luck the free hand which he demanded, had negotiations ever reached that far, which they did not.
The Happy Family, Luck was forced to admit to himself, was a very serious handicap for an out-of-work director to carry at the beginning of the rainy season. He did his best, and he spent two sleepless nights over the doing, but he simply could not land them anywhere. He talked himself hoarse for them, he painted them geniuses all; he declared that they would make themselves and their company–supposing they were accepted–famous for Western pictures. He worked harder to place them in the business than he would ever work to find himself a job, and he failed absolutely.
Dewitt’s eyes questioned him the moment he stood inside the office. Dewitt had heard something of Luck’s efforts since their last meeting; and although he admired Luck the more for his loyalty, he felt quite certain that now he was convinced of his defeat, Luck would hesitate no longer over stepping into the official shoes of Robert Grant Burns, who was lying on his broad back, and shouting pitifully futile commands to his company and asking an imaginary camera-man questions which were as Greek to the soft-footed nurse. Dewitt, having just come from a visit to Burns, had a vivid mental picture of that ward in the Sister’s hospital. But alongside that picture was another, quite as vivid, of Luck Lindsay standing beside Pete Lowry’s camera with a script in his hand, explaining to Jean Douglas the business of some particular scene.
“Well?” queried Dewitt, and motioned Luck to a chair.
“Well,” Luck echoed, and stopped for a breath. “No use wasting time, Mr. Dewitt. I can’t take any position that doesn’t include the Flying U boys. I’m certainly sorry that prevents my accepting your offer. I appreciate all it would mean for me and for my Big Picture to be with you. But–some things mean more–“
“You’re under no obligations to tie your own hands just because theirs are not free,” Dewitt reminded him sharply.
“I know I’m not.”
“Can you figure where it will be to their advantage for you to refuse a good position just because they happen to be out of work?”
“I’m not trying to figure anything like that. Some things don’t have to be figured. Some things just are! Do you see what I mean? Those boys didn’t wait to do any figuring. When I quit the Acme, they quit–just as a matter of course. If I were as loyal to them as they have been to me, Mr. Dewitt, I wouldn’t have taken two days to give you my answer. I’d have told you day before yesterday what I’m telling you now.”
Dewitt did not reply at once. When he did speak he seemed to be answering an argument within himself.
“I can’t let my own boys go to make room for yours. That is absolutely out of the question. There is a little matter of loyalty there, also.”
“I know there is. I don’t know that I should want you to let them go. We’re both in the same position almost. And we’re at a deadlock, Mr. Dewitt. I’m certainly sorry that I can’t sign up with you.”
“So am I, young man. So am I. Come back if things shape themselves so you can see your way clear to directing my Western company. I’ve an idea your boys will be going back to their ranches before the holidays. In case they do, let me hear from you.”
That was more than Luck had any right to expect, and he had the sense to realize it. He thanked Dewitt and promised, and went away with something of a load off his mind. He could go now and face the Happy Family without feeling himself another Judas.
He found them sitting around waiting for their supper and trying to invent new words to fit their disgust with the Acme Film Company. They greeted Luck as though they had not seen him for a month.
“Bully for you, Luck!” Andy shouted, and gave him an approving slap on the shoulder that sent him skating dangerously toward the table. “Best job in town just came a-running up to you and says, ‘Please take me!’–so they say. That right?”
“Yeah–what about this here Great Western gitting its loop on you first thing?” bawled Big Medicine gleefully. “By cripes, that’s sure one on the Acme bunch! They’ll wisht they wasn’t quite so fresh, givin’ that little tin imitation of an author so much rope. Me ‘n’ Pink was over to the studio to-day; honest to grandma, they was a sick lookin’ bunch around there. Me ‘n’ Pink sure throwed it into ’em too, about letting the only real man they had git away from ’em the way they done.”
“My gorry, son, I sure am tickled to see yuh light with both feet under yuh, like they say you done. I heard tell the Great Western’s going to let yuh put on your own pitcher; I guess them Acme folks’ll feel kinda foolish when they see it,” declared the dried little man, grinning over his pipe.
Luck was fighting his bewilderment and framing a demand for explanations when Rosemary bustled in from the kitchen.
“Oh, but we’re glad, Luck Lindsay!” she began in her quick, emphatic way. “We all feel like a million dollars over your good luck. We’re going to have fried chicken and strawberry shortcake for supper, too, just for a celebration. I knew you’d come out and tell us all about it. So sit right down, everybody, and keep still so Luck can tell us just what everybody said to the other fellow, and how Dewitt happened to get hold of him so quickly. Is it true? The boys heard you were going to get two hundred dollars a week!”
“Not get it–no.” Luck unfolded his napkin with fingers that shook a little. “I was offered it, but I’m not going to take it.”
“Not–why, Luck Lindsay!” Rosemary very nearly dropped her new percolator.
“Aw, gwan! Only reason I wouldn’t take two hundred a week would be because I’d drop dead at the chance and couldn’t.”
“Well, listen. There’s one point that hasn’t spilled into studio gossip yet,” Luck managed to slip into the uproar. “I didn’t take the place. There were some details we couldn’t get together on, so I thanked him and turned it down.”
There was silence, while the Happy Family stared at him.
“What dee-tails was them?” Big Medicine demanded belligerently. “Way I heard it–“
“Studio gossip,” Luck interrupted hastily. “You can’t depend on anything you hear passed around amongst the extras. We failed to agree on certain technical details. I haven’t any more job than a jack rabbit; let it go at that. What have you fellows been doing?”
“Us? Why, the Acme’s goin’ to give us absent, treatment from now on,” Andy stated cheerfully. “They’re paying us thirty a week apiece to stay away from ’em–and I sure never earned money easier than that. Clements is going to take orders from that so-called author, and he told me straight out that they’ll be using actors in those stories.”
“They’ll need ’em,” Luck commented drily. “You’re in luck that they don’t want you to work. Any other news?”
“You bet they’s other news!” roared Big Medicine, goggling across the table at Luck. “I rustled me a job, by cripes! Soon as this rain’s over, I’m goin’ to cash in my face fer two dollars a day with the Sunset. Feller over there wants me bad fer atmosphere in a pitcher he’s goin’ to make of the Figy Islands. Feller claims he can clothe me in a nigger wig and a handful of grass and get more atmosphere, by cripes, to the square inch–“
Rosemary gasped and bolted for the kitchen. When she came back, red-faced and still gurgling spasmodically, Pink was relating his experiences with another company. He and the Native Son and Weary, it transpired, were duly enrolled upon the extra list and were reasonably sure of a day’s work now and then. Rosemary had paid her Japanese maid and let her go, and Andy was going to help her with the housework until the industrial problem was solved. She listened for a minute and then made a suggestion of her own.
“We’re all in the same boat,” she said, “and by just sticking together, I know we’ll come out swimmingly. Why don’t you leave the hotel, and come out here and batch with us, Luck? It would be so much cheaper; and I can turn that couch in the kitchen into a bed, easy as anything. I’d like to shake that Great Western Company for acting the way they have with you. Think of offering a man a two-hundred-a-week position and then haggling–“
“Say, Luck,” the dried little man spoke up suddenly, “how much does one of them there camaries cost? I’d be willin’ to chip in and help buy one; and, by gorry, we could make some movin’ pitchers of our own and sell ’em, if we caji’t do no better.” He craned his neck and peered the length of the table at Luck. “Ain’t no law ag’in it, is there?” he challenged.
“No, there’s no law against it.” Luck closed his lips against further comment. The idea was like a sudden blow upon the door of his imagination.
The Happy Family looked at one another inquiringly. They had never thought of doing anything like that. The dried little man may have meditated much upon the subject, but he certainly had not given a hint of it to any of them.
“Oh, why couldn’t you boys do that?” Rosemary exclaimed breathlessly.
Luck stirred his coffee carefully and did not look up. “Don’t run away with the idea that you can buy a camera for twenty or thirty dollars,” he quelled. “A camera, complete with tripod, lenses, magazines, and cases, would cost about fourteen hundred dollars–at least.”
That, as he had expected it to do, rather feazed the Happy Family for a few minutes. They became interested in the food they were eating, and their eyes did not stray far from their plates.
“I can ante two hundred,” Weary remarked at last with elaborate carelessness, reaching for more butter.
“See yuh and raise yuh fifty,” Andy Green retorted briskly. “I’ve got a wife that’s learning me to save money.”
“You can count my chips for all I got.” Pink’s dimples showed briefly. “I’ll go through my pockets when I get filled up, and see how rich I am. But, anyway, there’s a couple of hundred I know I’ve got,–counting Acme handouts and all.”
“We-ell–” the dried little man laid down his fork to rub his chin thoughtfully, “I never had much call to spend money in Sioux, North-Dakoty. I batched and lived savin’. I can put in half of that fourteen hundred–mebby a little mite more.”
“Well, by cripes, I got a boy t’ look out fer, and I ain’t rich as some, but all I got goes in the pot!” cried Big Medicine impulsively.
Luck leaned back in his chair and regarded the flushed faces enigmatically. “This is all good material for an argument on our financial standing,” he said, “but if you’re taking yourselves seriously, let me tell you something before you go any farther. Buying a camera is only a starter. Besides, I wouldn’t play with little stuff and compete with these big, established companies releasing on regular programs. Say, for the sake of argument, that we cooperate and go into this; all I’d handle would be features,–State’s rights stuff. (Make big four-or-five reelers, and sell the rights in as many States as possible; that’s what it amounts to.) But it isn’t a thing to play with, boys. Let’s do our joking about something else.”
Rosemary set her two elbows upon the table, clasped her hands together, and dropped her chin upon them so that she was looking at Luck from under her eyebrows. That pose meant determination and an argumentative mood.
“I’ve been doing a little mental arithmetic,” she began. “Also I’ve done a little thinking. I know now what spoiled that Great Western offer for you, Luck Lindsay. It was because they wouldn’t take the boys too. And you turned it down because you–oh, they’re the ‘technical details,’ young man! You see? Your eyes give you away. I knew it, once the idea popped into my head. What do you think of a fellow like that, boys? Refused a two-hundred-a-week position because he couldn’t get you fellows a job too.”
“That two hundred seems to worry you a good deal,” Luck muttered, crimson to his collar.
“Now don’t interrupt, because I shall keep right on talking just the same. I’ve a lot more to say. Do you realize that the donations these boys have made already amounts to over fifteen hundred dollars? And that does not include Happy Jack or Miguel, because they haven’t–“
“Aw, gwan! I never had a chanct to git a word in edgeways,” Happy hurriedly defended his seeming parsimony. “I’m willin’ to chip in.”
“Well, the point is this: Why not all put in what you can, and just go out where there are cattle, and make your Big Picture, Luck Lindsay? We could live in the country cheaper than we can here: and there wouldn’t be anything to buy but grub,–just a bag of beans and some flour and coffee. I’d be willing to starve for the sake of making that Big Picture!”
“By gracious, there’s our transportation money, too!” Andy broke another short silence. “Three hundred and fifty, right there in a lump.”
“Let it stay transportation money, too!” Rosemary advised quickly. “It can transport you fellows to where Luck wants to make his picture.”
They waited then for Luck to speak, but he was too busy thinking. On his shoulders would rest the responsibility of the outfit. On his word they would rely absolutely and without question. It was no light matter to lead these men into a venture which would take their time, more hard, heart-breaking work than they could possibly foresee, and the last dollar they possessed. He was sorely tempted to try it, but for their sakes he knew he must not let their enthusiasm sweep away his sober judgment. Had they owned but half his experience it would be different; but their very ignorance of the game hampered his decision.
“Well, boss, how about it?” Andy urged. “Are yuh game to try her a whirl? We haven’t got much, but what we’ve got is yours if you want to tackle it. We’ll be right with you–till hell’s no bigger than a bullet ladle.”
“That’s just what holds me back. I’d certainly hate to lead you up against a losing proposition, boys. And if I went into it, I’d go in over my eyebrows; if I didn’t make good I wouldn’t have the price of a tag on a ten-cent sack of Bull Durham when I quit; so I couldn’t pay you back–“
“Aw, thunder! Think we never set into a poker game in our lives? Think we’re in the habit of hollerin’ for our chips back when we lose? What’s the matter with yuh, anyway?” cried Big Medicine wrathfully.
“Why, of course we share the risk of losing!” Rosemary scowled at him indignantly. “We’ll go in over our eyebrows, too,–and stand on our toes long as we can, to keep our scalp locks showing above water!” Her brown eyes twinkled a swift glance around the table. “If you think these boys are quitters, Luck Lindsay, you just ought to have been around when they were hanging on to their homesteads! I could tell you things–“
“You say buying a camera is just a starter. How much do you figure it would cost to make our Big Picture? Cutting out salaries and all such little luxuries, what would the actual expenses be–making a rough guess?” Weary leaned forward over his plate and forgot all about his tempting wedge of shortcake.
Luck pushed back his plate and smiled his smile. “For the Big Picture,” he began, while the Happy Family leaned to listen, “there’d be the camera and outfit,–I could pick up some things second hand,–we’ll call that fourteen hundred and fifty. Then there would be at least five thousand feet of film: perforated raw stock I could get for about three and three quarter cents a foot. Say a couple, of hundred dollars for that. We’d need at least three dozen radium flares for our night scenes; they cost close around twenty dollars a dozen. And one or two light diffusers,–that’s just to get us started with an outfit, remember. Then there’d be our transportation to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I know that country, and I know what I can do there. I’d hit straight for a ranch I know between Bear Canyon and Rincon Arroyo–belongs to an old fellow that sure is a character, too, in his way. Old bachelor, he is; got some cattle and horses, and round-pole corrals and the like of that. I know old Applehead Forrman like I know my right hand; we’d make Applehead’s place our headquarters–see? Exterior stuff we’d have right there, ready to shoot without any expense. As for interiors,–say! any of you fellows handy with hammer and saw?”
“By gracious, we all are!” Andy declared quickly. “We learned our little lessons when we were building claim shacks for ourselves.”
“Good enough! You boys could be stage mechanics as well as leading men,” Luck grinned. “Add hammers and saws to the outfit. We’d have to build a few interior sets.”
Rosemary had her eyebrows tied in little knots, she was thinking so fast. “I’ll write the Little Doctor that she can have my silver teaset,” she informed Andy impulsively. “She offered me fifty dollars for it, you know. That would buy lots of beans!”
Luck looked at her, but he did not say what was in his mind. Instead he reached into an inner pocket and drew out his passbook, “I’ve got eighteen hundred and ninety-five dollars in the bank,” he announced, reading the figures aloud. “And my car ought to bring three or four thousand,–if I can find the man that tried to buy it a month or so before I took the Injuns back. She’s a pippin, boys!–“
“Oh, your lovely, big, white machine!” wailed Rosemary. “Would you have to sell it, Luck? Couldn’t we squeak along without that?”
“Aw, you don’t want to sell your car!” Pink protested. “I know where I can borrow two or three hundred. Maybe the Old Man–“
“We’ll put this thing through alone, if we do it at all,” Luck told him bluntly. “Can’t afford to work with borrowed capital; the risk is too great. Sure, I’ll sell the car. I was thinking of it, anyway,” he testified falsely but reassuringly. “We’ll need every cent I can raise. There’s chemicals and Lord knows what all; and when we come to making our prints and marketing, why–” he threw out both hands expressively. “If we land in Albuquerque with five thousand dollars and our outfit, we won’t have a cent to throw away. At that, we’ll have to squeeze every nickel till it hollers, before we’re through. Believe me, boys, this is going to be some undertaking!”
“Nice, comfortable way you’ve got of painting things cheerful,” the Native Son drawled ironically.
“That’s all right. I want you to realize what it’s going to be like before you get in so far you can’t back out.”
“Aw, who’s said anything about backing out?” Happy Jack grumbled.
“Let’s get right down to brass tacks and see how strong we can go on money,” Andy suggested, pulling a pencil out of an inner pocket. “Here, girl, you do the bookkeeping while we call off the size of our pile. Put ‘er down in this book till you can get another one. You can set me down for two seventy-five–or make it three hundred. I can scrape it up, all right. How about you, Pink? This is hard-boiled figures, now, and no guess work.”
Pink blew a mouthful of smoke while he did a little mental calculation. Then he took his twisted-leather purse and emptied it into his saucer. He investigated all his pockets and added eighty-five cents in small change. Then he gravely began to count, not disdaining three pennies in the pile. “I’ve got seventy-five dollars in the bank,” he said. “Add ninety dollars salary, and you have a hundred and sixty-five. Add six dollars and eighty-seven cents, and you have–my pile.”
Rosemary twisted her lips and wrote the figures opposite Pink’s name. Next came Weary, then Miguel and Big Medicine and the dried little man who chewed violently upon a wooden toothpick and said he was good for eight hundred, and mebby a little mite more.
They pushed their plates to the table’s center to make room for their gesticulating hands and uneasy elbows while they planned ways and means. They argued over trivial points and left the big ones for Luck to settle. They talked of light effects and wholesale grocery lists and ray filters and smoke pots and railroad fares and the problem of cutting down their baggage so as to avoid paying excess charges. Luck, once he had taken the mental plunge into the deep waters of so hazardous an enterprise, began to exhibit a most amazing knowledge of the details of picture making.
To save money, he told them, he would be his own camera man. He could do without a “still” camera, because he would enlarge clippings from the different scenes in the negative instead. They’d have to manage the range stuff with only one camera, which would mean more work to get the various effects. But with a telephoto lens and a wide angle lens he could come pretty near putting it over the way he wanted it. “And there’ll be no more blank ammunition, boys,” he told them. “So you want to fit yourselves out with real shells. I’m not going very strong on this foreground bullet-effect stuff; we can afford to leave that for the Western four-flushers that can’t do anything else. But she’s some wild down where we’ll be located, so we’ll not be packing empty guns, at that.
“And there’s another thing,” he went on, talking and making notes at the same time. “If we’re going to do this, we can’t get started any too soon. We may be able to hit a late round-up and get some scenes, which will save rounding up stock ourselves for it. And there’s all that winter stuff to make, too; we haven’t any more time to throw away than we have money.”
“Well, we’re ready to hit the trail any time you are,” Andy declared. “To-morrow, if yuh say so. You go ahead with your end of it, Luck, and I’ll be straw boss here in camp and get the outfit packed and ready to ship outa here on an hour’s notice. I can do it, too–believe me!”
“Do you know,” said Rosemary, “I’d let James and Weary buy our winter’s supplies and have them sent by freight right on to where we’re going. Things are awfully cheap here. I’ll make out a list, and the boys can attend to that to-morrow. And I’ll bake up a lot of stuff for lunches on the train, too. We’re not going to squander money in the dining car.”
“Say, we’ll just borry one of them dray teams from the Acme corral, by cripes, and haul our own stuff to the depot!” Big Medicine exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Save us four or five dollars right there!”
Luck rose and reached for his umbrella as though he had just recalled an important engagement. “I think I know where to find a buyer for my machine,” he said, “so I’ll just get on his trail. To-morrow I’ll start getting my camera outfit together. Andy, I’ll turn this end of the expedition over to you; that idea of getting food supplies here is all right, within certain limits. Don’t buy any cheap, weighty stuff here, because the freight will eat up all you save. But I’ll leave that to you folks; I guess you’ve had experience enough–“
“Considering most of us learned our _a-b-c’s_ outa Montgomery-Ward catalogues,” Weary observed with a quirk of the lips, “I guess you can safely leave it to the bunch. Range kids are brought up on them Wind-river bibles, as we call mail order catalogues. I’ll bet you I can give offhand the freight on anything you can name, from a hair hackamore to a gang plow.”
“Fly at it, then,” laughed Luck, with his hand on the doorknob. “I am going to be some busy myself. I’ll just turn over the transportation problem to you folks. _Adios_.”
“Prepare to ride in the chair car,” Rosemary called after him warningly. “Even a tourist sleeper is going to be too luxurious for us; we’re going to squeeze nickels till they just squeal!”
Luck held the door open while he smiled approvingly at her. “That’ll be playing the game right from the start. _Adios_, folks.”
UNEXPECTED GUESTS FOR APPLEHEAD
Applehead Forrman was worried over his cat, Compadre, which is Spanish for comrade or something of that sort. It was a blue cat and it was a big cat, and it had a bellicose disposition, and Applehead was anxious because it had lately declared war on a neighboring coyote and had not come out of the battle unscathed. Applehead had heard the disturbance and had gone out with a rifle and dispersed the coyote, but not until Compadre had lost half of his tail and a good deal of his self-assurance. Since that night, almost a week ago, Compadre had been a changed cat. He had sought dark corners and had yowled when the best friend he had in the world tried to coax him out to his meals. Applehead was very patient and very sympathetic, and hunted small game with which to tempt the invalid’s appetite.
On this day he had a fat prairie dog which he had shot, and he was carrying it around by a hind leg looking for Compadre and calling “Kitty, kitty, kitty,” in the most seductive tones of which his desert-harshened vocal chords were capable. He looked under the squat adobe cabin which held all the odds and ends that had accumulated about the place, and which he called the “ketch-all.” He went over and looked under the water tank where there was shade and coolness. He went to the stable, and from there he returned to the adobe house, squat like the “ketch-all” but larger. There was a hole alongside the fireplace chimney at the end next the hill, and sometimes when Compadre was especially disenchanted with his world, he went into the hole and nursed his grievances in dark seclusion under the house.
Applehead got down upon all fours and called “Kitty, kitty, kitty,” with his face close to the hole. It was past noon, and Compadre had not had anything to eat since the night before, when he had lapped up half a saucer of canned milk and had apathetically licked a slice of bacon. Applehead put his ear to the hole and imagined he heard a faint meow from a far corner. He pushed the prairie dog into the aperture and called “Kitty-kitty-kitty” again coaxingly.
He was so absorbed in his anxious quest that he did not hear the chuckle of two wagons coming up through the sand to the corral. He did not even hear the footsteps of men approaching the house. He did not hear anything at all except a dismal yowl now and then from the darkness. He contorted his long person that he might peer into the gloom. He pushed the prairie dog in as far as he could reach. “Come, kitty-kitty-kitty!” he coaxed. “Doggone your onery soul, I’m gitting tired of this kinda performance! You can tromp on me just so fur and no further, now I’m a-tellin’ yuh. That there tail of yourn needs a fresh rag tied to it, and some salve. But I ain’t the burrowin’ kind of animal, and I ain’t comin’ in under there after yuh. Come, kitty-kitty-kitty! Come on outa there ‘fore I send a charge of birdshot in after yuh!” His voice changed to a tremulous chant of rising anger. “You wall-eyed, mangy, rat-eatin’ son of a gun, what have I been feedin’ yuh fur all these years? You come outa there! If it wasn’t for the love uh God I got in my heart, I’ll fill yuh so full of holes the coyotes’ll have to make soup of ye! I’ll sure spread yuh out so thin your hide’ll measure up like a mountain lion! Don’t yuh yowl at me like that! Come, kitty-kitty-kitty–ni-ice kitty! Come to your old pard what ketched yuh the fattest young dog on the flat for your dinner. Come on, now; you ain’t skeered uh me, shorely! Come on, Compadre–ni-ice kitty!”
“Let me try!” cried Rosemary behind him, her voice startling old Applehead so that he knocked his head painfully on the rock foundation as he jerked himself into a more dignified posture. His eyes widened at the size of the audience grouped behind him, but he had faced more amazing sights than that in his eventful career. He got stiffly to his feet and bowed, the prairie dog dangling limply from his hand.
“Howdy! Howdy! Pleased to meet yuh,” he greeted them dazedly. Then he spied Luck standing half behind Weary’s tall form, and his embarrassed smile changed to a joyful grin. “Well, danged if it ain’t Luck! How are yuh, boy? I was jest thinkin’ about you right this morning. What wind blowed you into camp? Come right on in, folks. If you’re friends of Luck’s, yuh don’t need no interduction in this camp. Luck and me’s et outa the same skillet months on end together. Come on in. I’ve et, but they’s plenty left.” His blue eyes twinkled quizzically over the Happy Family and then went to Luck. “What yuh up to this time, boy? ‘Nother wild-west show?”
While they were waiting for coffee to boil, Luck told him what he was up to this time. Told him what it was he meant to do in the way of making a Western picture that should be worthy the West. He did not say a word about needing Applehead’s assistance; he did not need to say a word about that. Applehead himself saw where he would fit into the scheme, and he seemed to take it for granted that Luck saw it also.
“Got all your stuff out from town?” he asked, while he was hunting cups enough to go around. “If yuh ain’t, you can send a couple of the boys in with a four-horse team after dinner. I d’no about beds, unless yuh got your own beddin’-rolls with yuh. The missus, she can have a room, and the rest of yuh will have to knock some bunks together. Mebby we can clean out the ‘ketch-all’ and turn that into a bunk house. One I had, it burnt down last winter; some darn-fool Mexicans got to fightin’ in there and kicked the lamp over. It could have a new roof put on, I reckon; the walls is there yet. You can take a look around after you eat, and see what all there is to do. Well, set up, folks; ain’t much, but I’ve throwed my feet under the table fer less and was thankful to git it, now I’m a-tellin’ yuh!”
Big Medicine bethought him of the remains of the train lunch which they had frugally saved. He brought that and added it to Applehead’s impromptu meal. The sandwiches were mashed flat, and the pickles were limp, and the cake much inclined to crumble, but Applehead gave one look and took off his hat.
“I’ve et, but I can shore eat again when I git my eyes on cake,” he declared exuberantly, and pulled an empty box up to the table for a seat. “I wisht Compadre could git a smell uh that there fried chicken; it would put new life into him, which he needs after tangling with that there coyote ‘tother night.”
“We ought to unhitch and give the horses a feed,” Luck suggested. “Any particular place?”
“Well, you know where to put them cayuses as well as I do,” Applehead mumbled, with his mouth full of cake. “I don’t care what yuh do around the danged place. Go along and don’t bother me, boy; I’m busy.”
“Didn’t I tell you how it would be?” Luck reminded Andy and Weary when they were outside. “That old boy is tickled to death to have us here. He sure is a type, too. I’ll be using him in the picture. And just tale a look at that corral down there! We’ll set up camp this afternoon and round up some horses,–Applehead always keeps a bunch running back here on the mesa,–and to-morrow morning we’ll get to work. A couple of you will have to take these teams back this afternoon, too. I’ll let you drive the four-horse in, Weary, and lead the other behind. And I’ll send the Native Son in with Applehead’s team and wagon, so you can haul out a thousand feet of lumber for a stage. Get it surfaced one side,–fourteen-foot boards, sabe? And about twenty-five pounds of eight-penny nails. We’ve got the tools in our outfit. I wonder which pasture Applehead’s team is running in. I’ll have one of the boys get them up, unless–“
“Luck Lindsay!” came Rosemary’s high, clear treble. “Aren’t you boys going to eat any dinner?”
“We’ll eat when we have more time!” Luck shouted back. “Send Applehead out here, will you?”
Presently Applehead appeared with a large piece of cake in one hand and a well-picked chicken wing in the other. “What yuh want?” he inquired lazily, in the tone that implies extreme physical comfort.
“I want your big team to haul some lumber out from town. Where are they? If you don’t mind catching them up while I help get this stuff unloaded, we’ll have things moving around here directly.”
“Shore I’ll ketch ’em up fur ye, soon as I find Compadre and give him this here bone. He’s been kinda off his feed since that coyote clumb his frame. He was under the house, but I reckon so many strange voices kinda got his goat. There ain’t ary yowl to be got outa that hole no more. Come, kitty-kitty-kitty!”
Luck threw out his hands despairingly, and then laughed. Applehead’s tender solicitude for his cat was a fixed characteristic of the man, and Luck knew there was no profit in argument upon the subject. He began unloading the lighter pieces of baggage while the boys fed the livery teams. The others came straggling down from the house, lighting their after-dinner cigarettes and glancing curiously at the adobe out-buildings which were so different from anything in Montana. The sagebrush slopes wore a comfortable air of familiarity, even though the boys were more accustomed to bunch grass; but an adobe stable was a novelty.
Fast as they came near him, Luck put them to work. There was plenty to do before they could even begin work on the Big Picture, but Luck seemed to have thought out all the details of camp-setting with the same attention to trifles which he had shown in the making of a picture. In half an hour he had every one busy, including old Applehead, who, having located Compadre in the stable loft and left the chicken wing at the top of the ladder, had saddled his horse and gone off into a far pasture to bring in all the horses down there, so that Luck could choose whatever animals he wished to use. Dave Wiswell, the dried little man, was helping Rosemary wash the dishes and put away the food supplies they had brought out with them, as fast as Happy Jack could carry them up from the wagon. Andy Green was ruthlessly emptying the only closet–a roomy one, fortunately–in the house, and tacking up black paper which Luck had brought, so that it might serve as a dark room. Big Medicine and Pink were clearing out the one-roomed adobe cabin which Applehead called the “ketch-all,” so that the boys could sleep there until the bunk-house was repaired.
Luck was unpacking his camera and swearing softly to himself while he set it up, and wishing that his experience as assistant camera-man was not quite so far in the past. He foresaw difficulties with that camera until he got in practice, but he did not say anything about it to the others. He got it together finally, put in the two-hundred-foot magazine of negative that he had brought with him to use while waiting for his big order to arrive, made a few light tests, and went up to the house to see if Andy had the dark room dark enough.
He found Andy defending himself as best he could from a small domestic storm. In his anxiety to have that dark room fixed just the way Luck wanted it, Andy had purloined a shelf which Rosemary needed, and which she meant to have, if words could restore it to its place behind the kitchen stove. Andy had the shelf down and was taking out bent nails with a new hammer when Luck came to the door with his arms full of packages of chemicals and a ruby lamp.
“What can a fellow do?” Andy was inquiring plaintively. “There ain’t another board on the place that’s the right width. I looked. Luck’s got to have a shelf; you don’t expect him to keep all his junk on the floor, do you? I’m sorry, but I’ve just got to have it, girl.”
“You’ve just got to put that shelf back, Andy. Where do you expect me to put things? There isn’t a pantry on the place, and only that one dinky little cupboard over there. I can’t keep my dishes on the floor, and cooking is going to be pretty important, itself, around this camp!”
“Soon as the lumber gets here, I’ll have Andy build you a cupboard,” Luck soothed her. “You haven’t got many conveniences here, and that’s a fact. But we’ll get things straightened out, _pronto_. Got any bones or scraps left, Mrs. Andy? That little black dog that followed us out is here yet. He didn’t go back with the boys. I found him curled up in the wagon shed just now; poor little devil looks about starved. His ribs stand out worse than a cow that’s wintered on a sheep range.”
With Rosemary’s attention diverted to the little black dog, Andy got the shelf nailed firmly upon the wall of the dark room. And immediately Luck proceeded to use it to its fullest capacity and announced that he needed another one, whereat Andy groaned.
“Say, I’m a brave man, all right, but I don’t dare to swipe any more shelves,” he protested. “Not from my wife, anyway. Timber must sure be scarce in this man’s country. I never did see a place so shy of boards as this ranch is.”
“Well, let’s see if there are any barrels,” said Luck. “I’ve been studying on how to rig up some way to develop my film. If we can find some half barrels and knock the heads out, I can wind the negative around them with the emulsion side out, and dip it in the bigger barrels of developer; see how I mean? Believe me, this laboratory problem is going to be a big one till I can see my way to getting tanks and film racks out here. But I believe barrels will work all right. And, say! There’s some old hose I saw out by the windmill tank; you get that, and see if you can’t run it under the house and up through a hole in the floor. I expect it leaks in forty places, but maybe you can mend it. And we ought to have some way to run the water out in a trough or something. You see what you can do about that, Andy, while I go and unpack the rest of my camera outfit. There’s a garret up over the ceiling, here, and you’ll have to see what shape it’s in for drying film. Stop all the cracks so dust can’t blow in. I want to start taking scenes to-morrow morning, you know. I’ve got two hundred feet of raw stock to work with till the other gets here. I’ve got to develop my tests before to-morrow so I’ll know what I’m doing. I can’t afford to spoil any film.”
“Well, hardly,” Andy agreed. “By gracious, I hope you’re making the rest of the bunch hump themselves, too. Honest, I’d die if I saw anybody sitting around in the shade, right now!”
“Andy, did you go and take that shelf after all?” came the reproachful voice of Rosemary from the kitchen, and Luck retreated by way of the front door without telling Andy just how busy the other boys were.
The “ketch-all,” where Big Medicine and Pink were clearing out the accumulation of years, was enveloped in a cloud of dust. Down in the corral a dozen horses were circling, with Applehead moving cautiously about in the middle dragging his loop and making ready for a throw. There was one snuffy little bay gelding that he meant to turn over to Luck for a saddle horse, and he wanted to get him caught and in the stable before showing him to Luck. Happy Jack was wobbling up the path with an oversized sack of potatoes balanced on his shoulder, and his face a deep crimson from the heat and his exertions. Down in the stable the little black dog, enlivened by the plate of bones Rosemary had given him, had scented the cat in the loft and was barking hysterically up the ladder.
Luck stepped out briskly, cheered by the atmosphere of bustling preparation which surrounded him. That he was the moving spirit which directed all these activities stimulated him like good old wine. It was for his Big Picture that they were preparing. Already his brain was at work upon the technique of picture production, formulating a system which should as far as possible eliminate the risk of failure because of the handicaps under which he must work.
Having to be his own camera-man, and to work without an assistant, piled high the burden of work and responsibility; but he could not afford to pay the salaries such assistants would demand. He had a practical knowledge of camera craft, since he had worked his way up through all branches of the game, and he was sure that with practice he could do the photographic work. He hoped to teach Andy enough about it so that he could help; Andy seemed to have an adaptability superior to some of the others and would learn the rudiments readily, Luck believed.
The lack of a leading woman was another handicap. He could not afford to hire one, and he could not very well weave a love story into his plot without a woman. He was going to try Rosemary, since her part would consist mostly of riding in and out of scenes and looking pretty,–at least in the earlier portion. And by the time he was ready to produce the dramatic scenes, he hoped that she would be able to act the part. It was a risk, of course, and down deep in his heart he feared that much of her charm would never reach the screen; but he must manage somehow, since there would be no money to spend on salaries. He ought to have a character woman, too,–which he lacked.
But other things he did have, and they were the things that would count most for success or failure. He had his real boys, for instance; and he had his real country; and, last and most important of all, he had his story to tell. In spite of his weariness, Luck was almost happy that first afternoon at Applehead’s ranch. He went whistling about his task of directing the others and doing two men’s work himself, and he refused to worry about anything.
That evening after supper, when they were all smoking and resting before Applehead’s big rock fireplace, Luck’s energy would not let him dwell upon the trivial incidents of their trip, which the Happy Family were discussing with reminiscent enjoyment. Applehead’s booming laugh was to Luck as a vague accompaniment to his own thoughts darting here and there among his plans.
“Aw, gwan!” Happy Jack was exclaiming in his habitual tone of protest. “Conductor lied to me, is how I come to be over to that place when the train started to pull out. I was buyin’ something. I wasn’t talking to no Mexican girl. I betche–“
“Now, while we’re all together,” Luck broke suddenly into Happy’s explanation, “I’m just going over the scenario from start to finish and assign your parts. Applehead, I’m going to cast you for the sheriff. You won’t need to do any acting at all–“
“We-ell, if I do, I calc’late I got some idee uh how a shurf had oughta ack,” Applehead informed him with a boastful note in his voice, and pulled himself up straighter in his chair. “I was ‘lected shurf uh this county four different terms right hand runnin’, and if I do say it, they wasn’t nobody ever said I didn’t do my duty. Ary man I went after, I come purty near bringin’ him into camp, now I’m tellin’ ye! This here old girl has shore talked out in meetin’, in her time, and there wasn’t ary man wanted to face her down in an argument, now I’m tellin’ ye.” He got up and took his old six-shooter off the mantel and held it lovingly in his palm. Very solemnly he licked his thumb and polished a certain place along the edge of the yellow ivory handle, and held it so the Happy Family could see three tiny notches.
“Them’s three argyments she shore settled,” he stated grimly, and turned slowly upon Luck.
“Yes-s, I calc’late I can play shurf for ye, all right enough.”
Luck looked up at him with his eyes shining, remembering how staunch a friend Applehead had been in times past, and how even his boastings were but a naive recognition of facts concerning himself. Applehead Forrman was fifty-six years old, but Luck could not at that moment recall a man more dangerous to meet as an enemy or more loyal to have as a friend.
“I calc’late you can,” he agreed in his soft, friendly drawl. “Sit down and turn your good ear this way, Applehead, so this story can soak in. You’ll see where you come in as sheriff, and you’ll sabe just what you’ll have to do. Bud, here, will be the outlaw that blows into the cow-camp and begins to mix things. He’s the one you’ll have to settle. So here’s the way the story runs:”
“Say, boss, make it short and sweet, can’t you?” Andy begged. He was sitting on the floor with his head against Rosemary’s knees, and his eyelids were drooping drowsily. “By gracious, nobody’ll have to sing me to sleep to-night! I’m about ready to hit the hay right now.”
“I’ll cut out the atmosphere and just stick to the action, then,” Luck conceded. “I want to get you all placed, so we can get to work in the morning without any delay. _Sabe_?”
“Shoot,” murmured Pink, opening his eyes with some effort “I can listen for five minutes, maybe.”
“I can’t, I don’t believe,” the Native Son yawned. “But go ahead, _amigo_. My heart’s with you, anyway, whether my eyes are open or shut.”
Luck was pretty sleepy himself, after two nights and a day spent in a chair car, with another day of hard labor to finish the ordeal. But his enthusiasm had never been keener than when, in the land of sage and cactus, he first unfolded his precious scenario and bent forward to read by the light of the fire. He forgot to skip the “atmosphere.” Scene by scene he lived the story through. Scene by scene he saw his Big Picture grow vivid as ever the reality would be. Once or twice he glanced up and saw Applehead leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his pipe gone cold in his fingers, absorbed, living the story even as Luck lived it.
A long, rumbling snore stopped him with a mental jolt. He came back to reality and looked at the Happy Family. Every one of them, save Rosemary, was sound asleep; and even Rosemary was dreaming at the fire with her eyes half closed, and her fingers moving caressingly through the unconscious Andy’s brown hair.
“Let ’em be. You go ahead and read it out,” Applehead muttered, impatient of the pause.
So Luck, with his audience dwindled to one bald-headed old rangeman, read the story of what he meant to create out there in the wild spaces of New Mexico.
JUST A FEW UNFORESEEN OBSTACLES
It is surprising how much time is consumed by the little things of life,–unimportant in themselves, yet absolutely necessary to a satisfactory accomplishment of the big things. Luck, looking ahead into the next day, confidently expected to be making scenes by the time the light was right,–say nine o’clock in the morning. He had chosen several short, unimportant scenes, such as the departure of old Dave Wiswell, his cattleman of the picture, from the ranch; his return, and the saddling of horses and riding away of the boys. Also he meant to make a scene of the arrival of the sheriff after having received word of the presence of Big Medicine, the outlaw, at the ranch. Rosemary, too, as the daughter of old Dave, must run down to the corral to meet her father. Scattered scenes they were, occurring in widely separated parts of the story. But they had to be made, and they required no especial “sets” of scenery; and other work, such as the building of the stage for interior sets, could go on with few interruptions. The boys would have to work in their make-up, but since the make-up was to be nothing more than a sharpening of the features to make them look absolutely natural upon the screen, it would not be uncomfortable. This was what Luck had planned for that day.
Before breakfast he had selected a site for his stage, on the sunny side of the hill back of the house, where it would be partially sheltered from the sweeping winds of New Mexico. All day he would have the sun behind him while he worked, and he considered the situation an ideal one. He had the lumber hauled up there and unloaded, while Rosemary and Applehead were cooking breakfast for ten hungry people. He laid out his foundation and explained to the boys just how it should be built, and even sacrificed his appetite to his impatience by going a quarter of a mile to where he remembered seeing some old barbed wire strung along a fence to keep it off the ground so that stock could not tangle in it. He got the wire and brought it back with him to guy out the uprights for the diffusers. So on the whole he began the day as well as even he could desire.
Then little hindrances began to creep in to delay him. For one thing, the Happy Family had only a comedy acquaintance with grease paint, and their make-up reminded Luck unpleasantly of Bently Brown’s stories. As they appeared one by one, with their comically crooked eyebrows and their rouge-widened lips and staring, deep-shadowed eyes, Luck sent them back to take it all off and start over again under his supervision. The outcome was that he gave a full hour to making up the faces of his characters and telling them how to do it themselves. Even Rosemary made her brows too heavy and her lips too red, and her cheeks were flushed unevenly. Luck was a busy man that morning, but he was not taking scenes by nine o’clock, for all his haste.
With a kindly regard for Rosemary’s nervousness lest she fail him, he set up his camera and told her to walk down part way to the corral, looking–supposedly–to see if her dad had come home. She must stand there irresolutely, then turn and walk back toward the camera, registering the fact that she was worried. That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
What Luck most wanted was to satisfy himself as to whether Rosemary could possibly play the part of old Dave’s daughter. If she could, he would sleep sounder that night; if she could not,–Luck was not at all clear as to what he should do if she failed. He told her just where to walk into the “scene,” which is the range of the camera. He went down part way to the corral and drew a line with his toe, and told her to stop when she reached that line and to look away up the trail which wound down among the rocks and sage. When he called to her she was to turn and walk back, trying to imagine that she was much worried and disappointed.
“Your dad was to have come last night,” Luck suggested. “You tried to keep him from going in the first place, and now we’ve got to establish the fact that he is away behind time getting home. You know, this is where his horse falls with him, and he lies out all night, and Big Medicine brings him in next day. You kind of have a hunch that something is wrong, and you keep looking for him. Sabe.” He fussed with the camera, adjusting it to what seemed to him the right focus. “Want to rehearse it first?” he added considerately.
“No,” Rosemary gasped, “I don’t. I know how to walk, and how to turn around and come back. I’ve been doing those things for twenty-two years or so, but Luck Lindsay, if you don’t let me do it right away quick, I just know I’ll stub my toe and fall down, or something!” The worst of it was, she meant what she said. Rosemary, I am sorry to say, was so scared that her teeth chattered.
“All right, you go on and do it now,” Luck permitted, and began to turn the crank at seventeen in order to hold her action slow, while he watched her. Groaning inwardly, he continued to turn, while Rosemary went primly down the winding trail, stood with her toes on the line Luck had marked for her, gazed stiffly off to the right, and then, when he called to her, turned and came back, staring fixedly over his head. You have seen little girls with an agonized self-consciousness walk up an aisle to a platform where they must bow to their fathers and mothers and their critical schoolmates and “speak a piece.” Rosemary resembled the most bashful little girl that you can recall.
“All right,” said Luck tonelessly, and placed his palm over the lens while he gave the crank another turn. “We’ll try it again to-morrow. Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it all right.”
His very smile, meant to encourage her, brought swift tears that rolled down and streaked the powder and rouge on her cheeks. She had made a mess of it all; she knew that just as well as Luck knew it. He gave her shoulder a reassuring pat as she went by, and that finished Rosemary. She retreated into the gloomy, one-windowed bedroom with its litter of half-unpacked suitcases and an overflowing trunk, and she cried heartbrokenly because she knew she would never in this world be able to forget that terrible, winking eye and the clicking whirr of Luck’s camera. Just to think of facing it gave her a “goose-flesh” chill,–and she did so want to help Luck!
With the Happy Family and old Dave, Luck fared better. They, fortunately for him, were already what he called camera-broke. They could forget all about the camera while they caught and saddled their horses. They could mount and ride away unconcernedly without even thinking of trying to act. Luck’s spirits rose a little while he turned the crank, and just for pure relief at the perfect naturalness of it, he gave that scene an extra ten feet of footage.
With Applehead he had some difficulty. Applehead looked the part of sheriff, all right. He wore his trousers tucked inside his boots because he always wore them so, especially when he rode. He wore his big six-shooter buckled snugly about his middle instead of dangling far down his thigh, because he had always worn it that way. He wore his sheriffs badge pinned on his vest and his coat unbuttoned, so that the wind blew it open now and then and revealed the star. Altogether he looked exactly as he had looked when he was serving one of his four terms of office. But when he faced the camera, he was inclined to strut, and Luck had no negative to waste. He resorted to strategy, which consisted of a little wholesome sarcasm.
“Listen, Applehead! the public is going to get the idea that you sure hate yourself!” he remarked, standing with his hands on his hips while Applehead came strutting into the foreground. “You’ll never make any one believe you were ever a real, honest-to-God sheriff. They’ll put you down as an extra picked up through a free employment agency and feeling like you owned the plant because you’re earning a couple of dollars. Go back down there to your horse and wait till some of that importance evaporates!”
Applehead went off swearing to himself, and Luck got a fifteen-foot scene of the departure of a very indignant sheriff who is with difficulty holding his anger subordinate to his official dignity. Before he had time to recover his usual good humor, Luck with further disparaging comment called him back. Applehead, smarting under the sarcasm, came ready for war, and Luck turned the crank until the sheriff was almost within reach of him.
“Gol darn you, Luck, I’ll take that there camery and bust it over your danged head!” he spluttered. “I’ll show ye! Call me a bum that’s wearin’ a shurf’s star fer the first time in his life, will ye! Why, I’ll jest about wear ye out if–“
“All right, pard; I was just aiming to make you come up looking mad. You did fine.” Luck stopped to roll a smoke as though nothing had occurred but tiresome routine.
Applehead looked down at him uncertainly. He looked at the Happy Family, saw them grinning, and gave a mollified chuckle. “We-ell, you was takin’ a danged long chance, now I’m tellin’ yuh, boy!” he warned. “I was all set to tangle with yuh; and if I had, I reckon I’d a spiled something ‘fore I got through.”
It was noon by the sun, and a film of haze was spreading across the sky. Luck shot another scene or two and shouldered his precious camera reluctantly, when Rosemary, red-lidded but elaborately cheerful in her manner, called them in to dinner.
“She’s goin’ to storm, shore’s you live,” Applehead predicted, sniffing into the wind like a dog confronted by a strange scent. A little later he looked up from his full plate with a worried air. “How’s a storm goin’ to hit ye, Luck?” he asked. “Kinda put a stop to the pitcher business, won’t it?”
“Not if it snows, it won’t,” Luck answered calmly, helping himself to the brown beans boiled with bacon. “We’ll round up a bunch of cattle, and I’ll shoot my blizzard stuff. I’ll need more negative, though, for that. If I knew for sure it’s going to storm–“
“I’m tellin’ yuh it is, ain’t I?” Applehead blew into his saucer of coffee,–his table manners not being the nicest in the world. “I kin smell snow two days off, and that there wind comin’ up the canyon has got snow behind it, now I’m tellin’ ye. ‘Nother thing, I kin tell by the way Compadre walks, liftin’ his feet high and bushin’ up what’s left of his tail. That there cat’s smarter’n some humans, and he shore kin smell snow comin’, same’s I do. He hates snow worse’n pizen.” Applehead drank his coffee in great gulps. “I’ll bet he’s huntin’ a warm corner somewheres, right now.”
“No, he ain’t, by cripes!” Big Medicine corrected him. “That there Come-Paddy cat of yourn has got worse troubles than snow! Dog’s got him treed up the windmill. I seen–“
Applehead did not wait to hear what Big Medicine had seen. He drank the remainder of his coffee in one great, scalding gulp, and went out to rescue his cat and to put the fear of death into the little black dog. When he returned, puffing a little, to his interrupted meal and had told them a few of the things he meant to do to that dog if it refused to mend its ways, he declared again that he could “shore smell snow behind that wind.”
“I wish it would hold off till that raw stock gets here,” Luck observed anxiously. “I wired the order in, but at that I’m afraid it won’t get here before the end of the week. I’ll have one of you boys pack me some water into the dark room so I can develop negatives right after dinner. I want to see how she’s coming out before I take any more.”
“I thought Andy’d fixed a hose fer that dark room,” Happy Jack said forebodingly. If there was water to be carried, Happy was pessimistically certain that he would have to carry it.
“I turned that hose over to the missus for a colander,” Andy explained soberly. “By gracious, I couldn’t figure out anything else it could be used for.”
“Did you get the barrels fixed like I said?”
“I sure did. Applehead must have had a Dutch picnic or two out here, from the number of beer kegs scattered all over the place. And a couple of big whisky–“
“Them there whisky bar’ls I bought and used fer water bar’ls till I got my well bored. Luck kin mind the time when we hauled water on a sled outa the arroyo down below.” Applehead’s eyes turned anxiously to Rosemary, toward whom he was beginning to show a timidly worshipful attitude.
“You bet I can. Do you remember the time we hitched that big bronk up with old Wall-eye, to haul water? Got back here a little ways beyond the stable with two barrels sloshing over the top, and the cat–not this one, but a black-and-white cat, that was–the cat jumped out from behind a buck brush. _Hot dog!_ That bronk went straight in the air! Remember that time?” Luck leaned back in his chair to laugh.
“I shore do,” Applehead chuckled. “Luck, here, he was walkin’ behind the sled and drivin’,–and he wasn’t as big as he is now, even. That was soon after he come out here to fatten up like. Little bit of a peaked–why, I bet he didn’t weigh over a hundred pounds after a full meal! He was ridin’ the lines an’ steadyin’ the bar’ls, busy as a dog at a badger hole, when the cat jumped out, an’ that there bronk r’ared back and swung off short and hit fur the mesa; and Luck here a-hangin’ and hollerin’, an’ me a-leggin’ it to ketch up, and bar’ls teeterin’ and–Mind how you was bound you’d kill that cat uh mine?” he asked Luck, tears of laughter dimming his eyes. “That was ole Leather Lungs. He tuk sick an’ died, year after that. Luck shore was mad enough to eat that thar cat, now I’m tellin’ yuh!”
The Happy Family laughed together over the picture Applehead had crudely painted for them. But Luck, although he had started the story, already was slipping away from the present and was trying to peer into the future. He did not even hear what Applehead was saying to keep the boys in a roar of mirth. He was mentally reckoning the number of days since he had wired his order for a C.O.D. shipment of negative to be rushed to Albuquerque. Two days in Los Angeles, getting ready for the venture; two days on the way to Applehead’s ranch, one day here,–five days altogether. He had told them to rush the order. If they did, there was a chance that it might have arrived. He decided suddenly to make the trip and see; but first he would develop the exposed negative of the forenoon’s work. He got up with that businesslike air which the Happy Family had already begun to recognize as a signal for quick action, and took off his coat.
“Happy, I wish you and Bud would carry me some water,” he said. “I’ll show you where to put it; I’m going to need a lot. Will you help me wind the film on my patent rack, Andy? And I’ll want that little team hitched to the buckboard so I can go to town after I’m through. I’ve got some hopes of my negative being there.”
“Want the rest of us to work on that stage, don’t you, boss?” Weary asked, pausing in the doorway to roll a smoke. “And please may I wipe off my eyebrows?”
“Why, sure!–to both questions,” answered Luck, going over to his camera. “I can’t do much more till I get more negative, even with the light right, which it isn’t. You go ahead and finish the stage this afternoon. And be sure the uprights are guyed for a high wind; she sure can blow, in this man’s country.”
“You’re danged right, she can blow!” Applehead testified emphatically. “She can blow, and she’s goin’ to blow. You want to take your overshoes and mittens, boy, when you start out fer town. You know how cold she can get on that mesa. Chances are you’ll come back facin’ a blizzard. And, say! I wisht you’d take that there dog back with yuh, Luck, ’cause if yuh don’t, him and me’s shore goin’ to tangle, now I’m tellin’ yuh! Mighty funny note when a cat dassent walk acrost his own dooryard in broad daylight, no more! Poor ole Compadre was shakin’ like a leaf when I clumb up and got him down of’n the windmill. Way the wind was whistlin’ up there, the chances are he’s done ketched cold in ‘is tail, and if he has, yuh better see to it that thar dog ain’t within gunshot uh me, now I’m tellin’ yuh!”
Luck did not hear half the tirade. He had gone into the dark room and was dissolving hypo for the fixing bath, while the boys tramped in with full water buckets and began to fill the barrels he had placed in a row along the wall. He was impatient to see how his work of the forenoon would come out of the developer, and he was quite as impatient to be on his way to town. Whether he admitted it or not, he had a good deal of faith in Applehead’s weather forecasts; he remembered how often the old fellow had predicted storms in the past when Luck spent a long winter with him here in this same adobe dwelling. If it did snow, he must have plenty of negative for his winter scenes; for snow never laid long on the level here, and he had a full reel of winter stuff to make.
He called Andy to come and help him wind his exposed film on the crude, improvised film racks that had lately been beer kegs, and closed the dark room door upon the last empty bucket that had been carried in full. In the dull light of the ruby lamp he carefully wound his long strip of exposed negative, emulsion side out, around the keg which Andy held for him. His developer bath was ready, and he immersed the film-jacketed keg slowly, with due regard for bubbles of air.
“You may not know it, but right here in this dark room is where I look for the real test of success or failure,” he confided to Andy, while he rocked the keg gently in the barrel. “I wish I could afford a good camera-man; but then, the most of them wouldn’t work with this kind of an outfit; they’d demand all the laboratory conveniences, and that would run into money. Ever notice that when you can’t get anything but the crudest kind of tools to work with, you generally have to use them yourself? But it will take more than–oh, _hell_!”
“What’s wrong?” Andy Green bent his brown head anxiously down beside Luck’s fast graying mop of hair, and peered at the images coming out of the yellowish veil that had hidden them. “Ain’t they good?”
Luck reached into the water tank and splashed a little water on his film to check it while he looked. “Now, what in the name of–” He scowled perplexedly down at the streaked strips. “What do you suppose streaked it like that?” He lifted worried, gray eyes to Andy’s apprehensive frown, and looked again disgustedly at the negative before he dropped it back with a splash into the developer.
“No good; she’s ruined,” he said in the flat tone of a great disappointment. “Eighty feet of film gone to granny. Well, that’s luck for you!”
Andy reached gingerly into the barrel and brought up the keg so that he could take another look. He had owned a kodak for years and had done enough amateur developing to know that something had gone very wrong here.
“What ails the darned thing?” he asked fretfully, turning to Luck, who was scowling abstractedly into his barrels of “soup.”
“You can search me,” Luck replied dully. “Looks like I’d been stung with a bunch of bum chemicals. Either that, or something’s wrong with our tanks here.” He reached down and pulled up the keg by its hooped top, glimpsed a stain on his finger and thumb and let the keg slip hastily over into the pure water so that he could examine the stains.
“Iron! Iron, sure as thunder!” he exclaimed suddenly. “Those iron hoops are what did it.” He rubbed his hand vexedly. “I knew better than that, too. I don’t see why I didn’t think about those hoops. Of all the idiotic, fool–“
“What kinda brain do you think you’ve got in your head, anyway?” Andy broke in spiritedly. “Way you’ve been working it lately, engineering every blamed detail yourself, you oughtn’t to wonder if one little thing gets by you.”
“Well, it’s done now,” Luck dismissed the accident stoically. “Lucky I started in on those costume and make-up tests of all you fellows, and that scene of your wife’s. And if I’d used the other half barrel instead of this five-gallon keg for a start-off, I’d have spoiled the whole bunch. I’ll have to throw out all that developer. Blast the luck! Well, let’s get busy.” He pulled out the keg and held it up for another disgusted look. “I won’t bother fixing that at all. Call Happy and Bud back, will you, and have them roll this barrel of developer out and ditch it? And then take those two half barrels you were going to fix, and wrap them with clothesline,–that cotton line on one of the trunks,–and knock off all the hoops. I’m going to beat it to ‘Querque and see if that stuff’s there. We’ll try developing the rest this evening, after I get back. Darn such luck!”
The five thousand feet of negative had not arrived, but there was a letter from the company saying that they had shipped it. Luck, bone-tired and cold from his fifteen-mile drive across the unsheltered mesa, turned away from the express office, debating whether to wait for the film or go back to the ranch. It would be a pretty cold drive back, in the edge of the evening and facing that raw wind; he decided that he would save time by waiting here in town, since he could not go on with his picture without more negative. He turned back impulsively, put his head in at the door of the express office, and called to the clerk:
“When do you get your next express from the East, brother? I’ll wait for that negative if you think it’s likely to come by to-morrow noon or there-abouts.”