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  • 1915
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“Might come in on the eight o’clock train to-night, or to-morrow morning. You say it was shipped the sixteenth? Ought to be here by morning, sure.”

“I’ll take a chance,” Luck said half to himself, and closed the door.

A round-shouldered, shivering youth, who had been leaning apathetically against the side of the building, moved hesitatingly up to him. “Say, do I get it right that you’re in the movies?” he inquired anxiously. “Heard you mention looking for negative. Haven’t got a job for a fellow, have you?”

Luck wheeled and looked him over, from his frowsy, soft green beaver hat with the bow at the back, to his tan pumps that a prosperous young man would have thrown back in the closet six weeks before, as being out of season. The young man grinned his understanding of the appraisement, and Luck saw that his teeth were well-kept, and that his nails were clean and trimmed carefully. He made a quick mental guess and hit very close to the fellow’s proper station in life and his present predicament.

“What end of the business do you know?” he asked, turning his face toward the warmth of the hotel.

“Operator. Worked two years at the Bijou in Cleveland. I’m down on my luck now; thought I’d try the California studios, because I wanted to learn the camera, and I figured on getting a look at the Fair. I stalled around out there till my money gave out, and then I started back to God’s country.” He shrugged his shoulders cynically. “This is about as far as I’m likely to get, unless I can learn to do without eating and a few other little luxuries,” he summed up the situation grimly.

“Well, it won’t hurt you to skip a lesson and have dinner with me,” Luck suggested in the offhand way that robbed the invitation of the sting of charity. “I always did hate to eat alone.”

The upshot of the meeting was that, when Luck gathered up the lines, next day, and popped the short lash of Applehead’s home-made whip over the backs of the little bay team, and told them to “Get outa town!” in a tone that had in it a boyish note of exultation, the thin youth hung to the seat of the bouncing buckboard and wondered if Luck really could drive, or if he was half “stewed” and only imagined he could. The thin youth had much to learn besides the science of photography and some of it he learned during that fifteen-mile drive. For one thing, he learned that really Luck could drive. Luck proved that by covering the fifteen miles in considerably less than an hour and a half without losing any of his precious load of boxed negative and coiled garden hose and assistant camera-man,–since that was what he intended to make of the thin youth.

CHAPTER TWELVE

“I THINK YOU NEED INDIAN GIRL FOR PICTURE”

Still it did not snow, though the wind blew from the storm quarter, and Applehead sniffed it and made predictions, and Compadre went with his remnant of tail ruffed like a feather boa. Immediately after supper Luck attached his new hose to the tank faucet and developed the corral scenes which he had taken, with the thin youth taking his first lesson in the dark room. The thin youth, who said his name was Bill Holmes, did not have very much to say, but he seemed very quick to grasp all that Luck told him. That kept Luck whistling softly between sentences, while they wound the negative around the roped half barrel that had not so much as a six penny nail in it this time, so thoroughly did Andy do his work.

The whistling ceased abruptly when Luck examined his film by the light of the ruby lamp, however, for every scene was over-exposed and worthless. Luck realized when he looked at it that the light was much stronger than any he had ever before photographed by, and that he would have to “stop down” hereafter; the problem was, how much. His light tests, he remembered, had been made rather late in the afternoon, when the light was getting yellow, and he had blundered in forgetting that the forenoon light was not the same.

He went ahead and put the film through the fixing bath and afterwards washed it carefully, more for the practice and to show Bill Holmes how to handle the negative than for any value the film would have. He discovered that Andy had not unpacked the rewinding outfit, but since he would not need it until his negative was dry, he made no comment on the subject. Bill Holmes kept at his heels, helping when he knew what to do, asking a question now and then, but silent for the most part. Luck felt extremely optimistic about Bill Holmes, but for all that he was depressed by his second failure to produce good film. A camera-man, he felt in his heart, might be the determining factor for success; but he was too stubborn to admit it openly or even to consider sending for one, even if he could have managed to pay the seventy-five dollars a week salary for the time it would take to produce the Big Picture. He could easier afford to waste a few hundred feet of negative now, he argued to himself.

“Come on down, and I’ll show you what I can about the camera,” he said to Bill Holmes. “The light’s too tricky to-day to work by, but I’ll give you a few pointers that you’ll have to keep in mind when I’m too busy to think about telling you. Once I get to directing a scene, I’m liable to be busy as a one-armed prospector fighting a she-bear with cubs. I’m counting on you to remember what all I’va told you, in case I forget to tell you again. You see, I’ve ruined a hundred and fifty feet of negative already, just by overlooking a couple of bets. You’re here to help keep that from happening again. _Sabe_?”

“Well, there’s one or two things I don’t have to learn,” Bill Holmes told him by way of encouragement. “You get the camera set and ready, and I can turn it any speed you want. I’ll guarantee that much. I learned that all right in projection.”

“That’s exactly why I brought you out here, brother,” Luck assured him. “That’s why–“

“Oh, Luck Lindsay!” came Rosemary’s voice excitedly. “Mr. Forrman wants you right away quick! Somebody’s coming that he doesn’t know, and he says it’s up to you!”

“What’s up to me?” Luck came hurrying down the ladder backwards. “Has Applehead gone as crazy as his cat? I’ve nothing to do with strangers coming to the ranch.”

“Yes,” said Rosemary, twinkling her brown eyes at him, “but this is a woman. Mr. Forrman refuses to take any responsibility–“

“So do I. I don’t know of any woman that’s liable to come trailing me up. Where is she?”

From the doorway Rosemary pointed dramatically, and Luck went up and stood beside her, rolling down his sleeves while he stared at the trail. Down the slope, head bent to the whooping wind, a woman came walking with a free, purposeful stride that spoke eloquently of accustomedness to the open land. Her skirts flapped but could not impede her movements. She seemed to be carrying some bright-hued burden upon her shoulders, and she was, without doubt, coming straight down to the ranch as to a much-desired goal.

“You can search me,” he said emphatically in answer to Applehead’s question. “Must be some _senora_ away off the trail. I never saw her before in my life.”

“We-ell, now, that there lady don’t act like she’s lost,” Applehead declared, watching her intently as she came on. “Aims to git whar she’s goin’, if I’m any jedge of actions. An’ she shore is hittin’ fur here. Ain’t been ary woman on this ranch in ten year, till Mrs. Green come t’other day.”

“She’s none of my funeral; I don’t know her from Adam,” Luck disclaimed, and went back into the dark room as though be had urgent business there, which he had not. In the back of his mind was an uneasy feeling that the newcomer was “some of his funeral,” and yet he could not tell how or why she should be. In her walk there was a teasing sense of familiarity; he did not know who she was, but he felt uncomfortably that he ought to know. He fumbled among the litter on the shelf, putting things in order; and all the while his ears were sharpened to the sounds that came muffled through the closed door.

“Oh, Luck Lindsay!” came Rosemary’s voice at last, with what Luck fancied was a malicious note in it. “You’re wanted out here!”

Luck fumbled for a minute longer while he racked his brain for some clue to this woman’s identity. For a man who has lived the varied life Luck had lived, his conscience was remarkably clean; but no one enjoys having mystery stalk unawares up to one’s door. However, he opened the door and went out, feeling sensitively the curious expectancy of the Happy Family, and faced the woman who stood just beyond the doorway. One look, and he stopped dead still in the middle of the room. “Well, I’ll be darned!” he said in a hushed tone of blank amazement.

The woman’s black eyes lighted as though flames had darted up behind them. “How, _Cola_?” she greeted him in the soft, cooing tones of the younger Indians whose voices have not yet grown shrill and harsh. “Wagalexa Conka!” It was the tribal name given him in great honor by his Indians of Pine Ridge Agency.

Through his astonishment, Luck’s face glowed at the words. He went up and put out his hand, impelled by the hospitality which is an unwritten law of the old West, and is not to be broken save for good cause.

“How! How!” he answered her greeting. “You long ways from home, Annie-Many-Ponies!”

Annie-Many-Ponies smiled in a way to make Happy Jack gulp with a sudden emotion he would have denied. She flashed a quick glance around at the curious faces that regarded her so intently, and she eased her shawl-wrapped burden to the ground with the air of one who has reached her journey’s end.

“Yes, I plenty long ways,” she assented placidly. “I don’t stay by reservation no more. Too lonesome. One night I beat it. I work for you now.”

“How you know you work for me?” Luck felt nine pairs of eyes trying to read his face. “That’s bad, you run away. You better go back, Annie-Many-Ponies. Your father–“

“Nah!” Annie-Many-Ponies cried in swift rebellion. “I work for you all time, I no want monies. I got plenty wardrobe; you give me plenty grub; I work for you. I think you need him Indian girl in picture. I think you plenty sorry all Indians go by reservation. You no like for Indians go home,” she stated with soft sympathy. “I sabe you not got monies for pay all thems Indians. I come be Indian girl for you; I not want monies. You let me stay–Wagalexa Conka!”

“You come in and eat, Annie-Many-Ponies,” Luck commanded with more gentleness than he was accustomed to show. The girl must have followed him all the way from Los Angeles, and she must have walked all the way out from Albuquerque. All this she seemed to take for granted, a mere detail of no importance beside her certainty that although he had no money to pay the Indians, he must surely need an Indian girl in his pictures. Loyalty always touched Luck deeply. He had brought the little black dog back with him and hidden it in the stable, just because the dog had followed him all around town and had seemed so pleased when Luck was loading the buckboards for the return trip. He could not logically repulse the manifest friendliness of Annie-Many-Ponies.

He introduced her formally to Rosemary, and was pleased when Rosemary smiled and shook hands without the slightest hesitation. The Happy Family he lumped together in one sentence. “All these my company,” he told her. “You eat now. By and by I think you better go home.”

Annie-Many-Ponies looked at him with smoldering eyes, standing in the middle of the kitchen, refusing to sit down to the table until the main question was settled.

“Why you say that?” she demanded, drawing her brows down sullenly. “You got plenty more Indian girls?”

Luck shook his head.

“You think me not good-looking any more?” With her two slim brown hands she pushed back the shawl from her hair and challenged criticism of her beauty. She was beautiful,–there was no gain saying that; she was so beautiful that the sight of her, standing there like an indignant young Minnehaha, tingled the blood of more than one of the Happy Family. “You think I so homely I spoil your picture?”

“I think you must not run away from the reservation,” Luck parried, refusing to be cajoled by her anger or her beauty. “You always were a good girl, Annie-Many-Ponies. Long time ago, when you were little girl with the Buffalo Bill show, you were good. You mind what Wagalexa Conka say?”

Annie-Many-Ponies bent her head. “I mind you now, Wagalexa Conka,” she told him quickly. “You tell me ride down that big hill,” she threw one hand out toward the bluff that sheltered the house. “I sure ride down like hell. I care not for break my neck, when you want big ‘punch’ in picture. You tell me be homely old squaw like Mrs. Ghost-Dog, I be homely so dogs yell to look on me. I mind you plenty–but I do not go by reservation no more.”

“Yow father be mad–I let you stay, he maybe shoot me,” Luck argued, secretly flattered by her persistence.

Annie-Many-Ponies smiled,–a slow, sphinx-like smile, mysteriously sweet and lingering. “Nah! Not shoot you. I write one letters, say I go work for you. Now you write one letter by Agent, say you let me stay, say I work for you, say I good girl, say I be Indian girl for your picture. I mind you plenty, Wagalexa Conka!” She smiled again coaxingly, like a child. “I like you,” she stated simply. “You good man. You need Indian girl, I think. I work for you. My father not be mad; my father know you good man for Indians.”

Luck turned from her and gave the Happy Family a pathetic, what’s-a-fellow-going-to-do look that made Andy Green snort unexpectedly and go outside. One by one the others followed him, grinning shamelessly at Luck’s helplessness. In a moment he overtook them, wanting the support of their judgment.

“The worst of it is,” he confessed, after he had explained how he had known the girl since she was a barefooted papoose with the “Bill” show, and he was Indian Agent there; “the worst of it is, she’s a humdinger in pictures. She gets over big in foreground stuff. Rides like a whirlwind, and as for dramatic work, she can put it over half the leading women in the business–that is, in her line of Pocohontas stuff.”

“Well, why don’t you let her stay?” Weary demanded. “She will anyway–mama! We’re not what you can call over-run with women on this job.”

“Why don’t you make a squaw-man outa Dave?” Pink suggested boldly, “and let her be his daughter instead of Rosemary?”

“Say, what does that there walka-some-darn-thing mean, that she calls yuh?” Big Medicine wanted to know. “By cripes, I hate talk I don’t savey.”

“Wagalexa Conka?” Luck smiled shamefacedly. “Oh, that’s just a name the Indians gave me. Means Big Turkey, in plain English. Her father, old Chief Big Turkey, adopted me into the tribe, and they call me by his name. Annie-Many-Ponies has heard it used ever since she was a kid. By tribal law I’m her brother. Well, what’s the word, boys? Shall we let her stay or not? We could use her, all right, and put a dash of old-plains’ color in the picture that I haven’t got, as it stands. It’s up to you to decide.”

“You’re wrong,” Pink grinned. “She’s decided that, herself. Gee, she’s pretty!”

“Certainly she is; but get this, boys: She isn’t going to stay just because she’s pretty, and if I had a different bunch than you fellows, she’d have to go for that reason. I’m responsible for her–_sabe?_ Bill Holmes, you get this; I saw you eyeing her pretty strong. That girl is the daughter of an influential chief, and she comes pretty near being the pride of the reservation. There can’t be any romantic stuff, if they let her stay. Her father and the Agent will consent, if they do consent, on the strength of the confidence they have in me. They’re going to keep that confidence. Get that, and get it strong, because I sure mean what I’m telling you.” He eased the tenseness with a laugh. “I don’t mean to offend anybody,” he said, “and that’s why I’m putting it straight before the play comes up. Annie-Many-Ponies has got a heart-twisting smile, but she’s a squaw just the same. She’s got the ways of the Injun to the marrow of her bones, and I’ll bet right now if you were to shake her hard enough, you’d jingle a knife out of her clothes.” He stopped and lighted the cigarette he had been carefully rolling. “Well,” he finished after the pause, “does she stay or go?”

The Happy Family answered him with, various phrases, the meaning of which was that he could suit himself about that; as far as they were concerned, she could stay and welcome.

So she stayed, and Rosemary hung up a calico curtain across the one bedroom, so that Annie-Many-Ponies might have a corner to call her own. She stayed; and Luck rewrote two reels of his scenario so that there should be a place in it for a beautiful Indian girl who rode like a whirlwind and did not know the meaning of fear, and who had a mind of her own, and who was just exactly as harmless in that camp as half a quart of nitroglycerine, and added thereby a good bit to the load of responsibility which Luck was shouldering.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

“PAM. BLEAK MESA–CATTLE DRIFTING BEFORE WIND–“

“Pam. bleak mesa–snow–cattle drifting before wind. Dale and Johnny dis. riding to foreground. Reg. cold–horses leg-weary–boys all in–“

Out toward Bear Canyon, where the land to the north rose brokenly to the mountains, Luck found the bleak stretches of which he had dreamed that night on the observation platform of a train speeding through the night in North Dakota,–a great white wilderness unsheltered by friendly forests, uninhabited save by wild things that moved stealthily across its windswept ridges. Beyond, the mountains rose barrenly, more bleak than the land that lay at their feet.

“Pam. bleak mesa–snow–” With the camera set halfway up a gentle slope commanding a steeper hill beyond, down which the boys would send the cattle in a slow, uneasy march before the storm, Luck focused his telephoto lens upon bleakness enough to satisfy even his voracious appetite for realism. Bill Holmes, his tan pumps wrapped in gunny sacks for protection against the snow that was a foot deep on the level and still falling, thrashed his body with his arms, like a windmill whose paddles have suddenly gone limp in a high wind. When he was ready, Luck stopped long enough to blow on his fingers and to turn and watch for the signal from Annie-Many-Ponies, stationed on a higher ridge to the right of him,–the signal that the cattle were coming.

Through the drive of the snowstorm he saw her tall, straight figure as through a thin, shifting, white veil. The little black dog, for whom she had conceived a fierce affection in defiance of Rosemary’s tacit opposition, was lying with its tail curled tight around its feet and its nose, hunting warmth in the shelter of her flapping garments. Annie-Many-Ponies was staring away to the north, shielding her keen eyes from the snow with one slim, brown hand, while she watched for the coming of the herd.

Luck looked at her, silhouetted against the sky. He had no scene written in his script to match the picture she made; he had no negative to waste. But he swung his camera around and, using the telephoto lens he had adjusted for his cattle scenes, he called to her to hold that pose, and indulged his artistic sense in a ten-or-twelve foot scene which showed Annie-Many-Ponies wholly absorbed in gazing upon farther bleakness.

Annie-Many-Ponies was so keenly conscious of her duty to the camera that she dared not break her pose, even to give the signal, until he had yelled, “All right, Annie!” and swung the camera back with its recording eye fixed upon that narrow depression between two blunt ears of hilltop, through which the herd was to be sent down to the ridge and on past the camera to the flat, where other scenes were to be taken later on, when the cattle were hungry enough to browse miserably upon the bosquet of young cotton woods.

“Cows come!” she called out, because Luck had his back to her at the moment and did not see the wave of hand she had been told to give him.

Luck, squinting into the view-finder, caught the swaying vanguard of the herd and swore. He had meant to “pan. bleak mesa” for half a minute before those swaying heads and horns appeared over the brow of the ridge. Now, even though he began to turn the crank the instant he glimpsed them, he would not have quite the effect which he had meant to have. He would be compelled to make two scenes of it, and pan. his bleak mesa afterwards and trust to a “cut-in scene” to cover the break. He did not trust Bill Holmes to turn the crank on that slow, plodding march of misery. With his diaphragm of the camera wide open to get all the light possible, because the air was filled with falling snow, he followed the herd, as it wound snakelike down the easiest descents, making for the more sheltered small canyons that opened out upon the flat. “Cattle drifting before the wind,” read the script; and now Luck saw them coming, their snow-whitened backs humped to the driving storm, heads lowered and swaying weakly from side to side with the shambling motion of their feet. They were drifting before the wind, just as he had planned that they should do. That they shuffled wearily down that hill with poor cows and unweaned calves straggling miserably behind the main body in “the drag herd,” proved how well the boys had done the work which he had sent them out at daylight to do.

The boys had gone out, under the leadership of Applehead, who knew that range as he knew his own dooryard, just when daylight began to break coldly upon the storm that had come with the sunset. Luck had already ridden out with them and had chosen his location for the blizzard scenes.

He had gone with them over every foot of that drive, and had told them just where the main body of riders was to fall back behind the ridge that would hide them from the camera, leaving Andy Green and the Native Son–since these were the two whom he always visualized in the scene–to come on alone in the wake of the herd. Under the leadership of old Applehead, they had combed every draw that sheltered so much as a lone cow and calf.

Luck had told them to bring in every hoof they could spot and get over that ridge by ten o’clock. He had a nervous dread of the storm breaking before noon, and his heart was set on getting that never-to-be-successfully-faked blizzard scene. Realism ruled him absolutely, now that he was actually producing some of the big scenes of this picture. He had told them just where to watch for Annie-Many-Ponies and the flag she would wave,–a black flag, so that the boys could not fail to see it in the vague whiteness of the storm. He had located the jutting ledge behind which Happy Jack was to sneak, that he might watch for the signal as an extra precaution against an unseasonable appearance of the two riders over the ridge.

When the herd straggled down in what seemed an endless stream of storm-driven animals, Luck knew that the boys had done their work well. He knew cattle as he knew pictures; he knew that a full two thousand came over that ridge through a shallow pass he had chosen, “‘Every hoof’ is right,” he remarked to Bill Holmes with a dry approval. “I’d hate to go hunting meat where that bunch was gathered from. Looks like they’d combed the country for fifty miles around.” He sent a quick glance to the pinnacle where Annie-Many-Ponies stood waiting to give the signal. He wished that she had realized the importance of these cattle scenes keenly enough to have given him the signal at the cost of breaking her pose. But he had only himself to blame. He should not have taken the risk, even though he had believed that the cattle would not arrive for another half hour. He should have been ready; he had told the boys to send them right over the ridge when they came up to it, because he wanted to preserve unbroken that indescribable atmosphere of a long, weary journey.

Still they came; a good twenty-five hundred, he was ready to wager, when the last few stragglers, so weak that they wobbled when they hesitated before descending a particularly steep place, came down the slope. It surely did eat up film to take the full magnitude of that march, but Luck turned and turned and gloated in the bigness of it all.

“All right, Annie,” he called out when he had taken the last of the herd as they filed out of sight into the narrow gully that would lead them to the flat half a mile below, where he meant to get other scenes. “Wave flag now for boys to come!”

Annie-Many-Ponies lifted high the black flag and waved it in slow, sweeping half circles above her head. “Boys, come,” she called, a moment after.

Luck, still not trusting the camera to Bill Holmes, swung back slowly to the pass and made a panorama of the desolate hillside and the chill, forbidding mountains behind. At the pass he stopped. “How close?” he shouted to Annie. “Come now,” she called down to him, and Luck began to turn the crank again, watching like a hawk for the first bobbing black specks which would show that the boys were nearing the crest of the ridge.

They came, on the very instant that he would have chosen for their coming. Side by side they rode, drooping of shoulders, and yet with their bodies braced backward for the descent which at the top was rather steep. “Register cold–horses leg-weary–boys all in–” read the script which Luck knew by heart. It was cold enough, and the camera must have registered it in the way the snow was heaped upon their hatbrims, drifted upon their shoulders, packed in the wrinkles of their clothing and in the manes and tails of the horses. And the horses certainly were leg-weary; so weary that Luck knew how the boys must have ridden to gather the cattle and to put their mounts in that condition of realistic exhaustion. In the story they were supposed to have ridden nearly all night,–the night-guard who had been on duty when the storm struck and the cattle began to drift, and who had stuck to their posts even though they could not turn the herd.

That might be stretching the probabilities just a shade, but Luck felt that the effects he wanted to get justified the slight license he had used in his plot. The effects were there, in generous measure. He turned the crank on the whole of their descent and got them riding up into the foreground pinched with cold, miserable as men may be. They did not look at him–they dared not until he had given the word that the scene was ended.

“Ride on past, down into that gully where the cattle went,” he directed them sharply. “I’ll holler when you’re outa sight. You can turn around and come back then; the scene ends where your hat-crowns bob outa sight. And listen! You’re liable to lose your cattle if you don’t spur up a little, so try and get a little speed into them cayuses of yours!”

Obediently Andy’s quirt rose and descended on the flank of his horse. It started, broke into a shuffling trot, and slowed again to a walk. There was no speed to be gotten out of those cayuses,–which was what Luck meant to show on the screen; for this, you must know, was the painting of one grim phase of the range-man’s life. The Native Son spurred his horse and got a lunge or two that settled presently to the same plodding walk. Luck pammed them out of sight, bethought him of the rest of the boys, and commanded Annie-Many-Ponies to call them in.

They came, half frozen, half starved, and so tired they did not know which discomfort irked them most. They found Luck; his nose purple with cold marking the footage on his working script with numbed fingers. He barely glanced at them, and turned away to tell Bill Holmes to take the camera on down the draw to where that huddle of rocks stood up on the hillside. Andy and Miguel came back and met the others halfway.

“Say, boss, when do we eat?” Big Medicine inquired anxiously. “By cripes, I’m holler plumb down to my toes,–and them’s froze stiff.”

“Eat? We eat when we get these storm scenes taken,” Luck told him heartlessly. “I’m afraid it’ll clear up.”

“Afraid it’ll clear up!” Pink burrowed his chin deeper into his breath-frosted collar and shivered.

“Oh, quit kicking,” the Native Son advised ironically. “We’re only living some of Luck’s big minutes he used to tell about.”

Luck looked around at them and grinned a little. “Part of the business, boys,” he said. “Think of the picture stuff there is in this storm!”

“Why, sure!” Weary responded with exaggerated cheerfulness. “I’ve been freezing artistically ever since daylight. Darn me for leaving my old sourdough coat at home when I hit for the land of orange blossoms and singing birds and sunshine.”

“Aw, gwan! I never was warm a minute in Los Angeles except when I got hot at the Acme. Montana never seen the day it was as cold as here.”

“Come on, boys, let’s get these dissolve scenes of cattle perishing in a blizzard. After that–hey, Annie! You come, make plenty fire, plenty coffee. I show you location.”

Annie called gently to the little dog, and came striding down through the snow to fall in docilely three paces behind her adored “brother,” Wagalexa Conka after the submissive manner of squaws toward the human male in authority over them.

“Coffee!” Weary murmured ecstatically. “Plenty fire, plenty coffee–oh, mama!”

Down in the flat where the bushes grew sparsely along the tiny arroyo now gone dry, the herd had stopped from sheer exhaustion, and were already nibbling desultorily upon the tenderest twigs. This was what Luck wanted in his scene, though the cattle must be moved into the location he had chosen where was just the background effect he wanted to get, with the bare mesa showing in the far distance. There was a dreary interval of riding and shouting and urging the cattle up over a low spur of the bluff and down the other side, and the placing of them to Luck’s satisfaction. I fear that more than one of the boys wondered why that first bit of the flat would not do, and why Luck insisted that they should bring the herd to one particular point and no other, and why they must wear out their horses, and themselves just fussing around among the cattle, scattering one bunch, bringing others closer together, and driving certain animals up to foreground, when they very much objected to going there.

Luck had concealed his camera behind the rocks so that he could get a “close shot” without registering the fact that the cattle were watching him. His commands to “Edge that black steer over about even with that white bank!” and later, “Put that cow and calf out this way and drive the others back a little, so she will have the immediate foreground to herself,” were easier given than obeyed. The cow and calf, for instance, were much inclined to shamble back with the others, and did not show any appreciation for the foreground, wherein they were vastly unlike any other “extras” ever brought before a camera. Still, in spite of all these drawbacks, the moment arrived when Luck began to turn the crank with his eyes keen for every detail of that bunch of forlorn, hungry, range cattle huddled under the scant shelter of a ten-foot bank, while the snows fell steadily in great flakes which Luck knew would give a grand storm-effect on the screen. The Happy Family, free for the moment, crowded close to the fire of dead sagebrush which Annie-Many-Ponies had lighted in the lee of a high rock, and sniffed longingly at the smell which came steaming up from the dented two-gallon coffee-boiler blackened from many a camp fire.

Luck was turning the crank and watching his “foreground stuff” so that he did not at first see the two riders who came loping down the hill which he was using for background. Whether he would or no, he had got them in several feet of good scene before he saw them and stopped his camera. He shouted, but they came on headlong, slipping and sliding in the loose snow. There could be no doubt that they were headed straight for the group and felt that their business was urgent, so Luck stepped out from behind the rocks and started toward them, motioning for them to keep out, away from the cattle.

“Better let me git in the lead right now,” Applehead advised hastily, and jumped in front of Luck as the two came lunging up. “I know these here _hombres_, to my sorrer, too, now I’m tellin’ yuh!”

But Luck, feeling that his leadership might as well be established then as any time, pushed the old man back.

“What you want?” he demanded of the foremost who rode up. “Didn’t you hear me tell you to keep out around the cattle?”

“_Adonde va V con mi vaca_?” snapped the first rider in high-keyed Spanish.

“My brother say where you go with our cattle?” interrupted the other one, evidently proud of his English.

“I know what he said,” Luck snubbed this one bluntly. “I don’t know that they are your cattle. I don’t care. We’re using them to make motion pictures. Get outa the way so we can go on with our work.” Had he not spoiled several feet of film because of their coming he might have been more inclined to placate them. As it was, he did not welcome their interference, he did not like their looks, and their tones were to his temper as tow would be to a fire. Their half Mexican, half American dress irritated him; the interruption exasperated him. He was hungry and cold and keyed to a high nervous tension in his anxiety to make the most of his present big opportunity; he knew too well that he might not have another chance all winter, with the snow falling as if under his direction.

“Get over there outa range of the camera!” he commanded them sharply, “then you can spout Mex. till you’re black in the face, for all I care. I’m busy.” To make himself absolutely understood he repeated the gist of his remarks in Spanish before he turned his back on them to finish his interrupted scene.

Whereupon one swore in Spanish and the other in English, and they both declared that they would take their cattle right now, and reined their horses toward the shifting herd.

“Hold on thar, Ramone Chavez!” shouted Applehead, striding forward. “Didn’t you hear the boss tell ye to git outa the way, both of yuh? Yuh better do it, now I’m tellin’ yuh, ’cause if yuh don’t, they’s goin’ to be right smart of a runction around here! A good big share uh them thar cattle belongs to me. Don’t ye go messin’ in there amongst ’em; you jest ride back outa the way uh that thar camery. Git!”

At Applehead’s command they “got,” at least as far as the camp fire, where the bright shawl of Annie-Many-Ponies caught and held their interest. Annie-Many-Ponies, being a woman who had both youth and beauty and sensed instinctively the value of both, sent a slant-eyed glance and a half smile toward Ramone, who possessed more good looks and more English than his brother. The Happy Family eyed them with a tolerant indifference and moved aside with reluctant hospitality when Ramone dismounted shiveringly and came forward to warm his fingers over the blaze.

“She’s cold day, you bet,” Ramone remarked ingratiatingly.

“She ain’t what you could call hot,” Big Medicine conceded drily, since no one else showed any disposition to reply.

“We don’t get much snow like this. You live in Albuquerque, perhaps?”

There was really no excuse for snubbing these two, who had been well within their rights in making an investigation of this unheralded and unauthorized gathering of all the cattle on this range. Andy told Ramone where they were staying and where they came from, and let it go at that. The less Americanized brother dismounted and joined the group with a nod of greeting.

“My brother Tomas,” announced Ramone, with a flash of white teeth, his eyes shifting unobtrusively toward Annie-Many-Ponies, who wore a secret, half-smiling air of provocative interest in him. “Not spik much English, my brother. Always stay too much at home. Me, I travel all over–Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco. I ride in all contests–Pueblo, San Antonio–all over. Tomas, he go not so often. His head, all for business–making money–get rich some day. Me, I spend. My hand wide open always. Money slip fast.”

“There’s plenty of us marked that way,” Weary made good-natured comment, turning so that his back might feel the heat of the fire.

“Shunka Chistala!” murmured Annie-Many-Ponies in her soft contralto to the little black dog, and moved away to the mountain wagon, with the dog following close to her moccasined heels.

Ramone looked after her with frank surprise at the strange words. “Not Spanish, then?” he ventured.

“Indian,” the Native Son explained briefly, and added, perhaps for reasons of his own, “Sioux squaw.”

Ramone very wisely let his curiosity rest there. He had a good excuse, for Luck, having finished work for the time being, came tramping over to the fire. At him Ramone glanced apologetically.

“We borrow comfort from your fire, _senor_,” he said indifferently. “She’s bad day for riding.”

Luck nodded, already ashamed of having lost his temper, yet not at the point of yielding openly to any overtures for peace. “Soon as we eat,” he said to Weary and those others who stood nearest, “I’ll have you cut out that poor cow and calf and drive ’em down the flat here, so I can get that other scene I was telling you about.”

“Wagalexa Conka, here is plenty hot coffee,” came a soft voice at his elbow, and Luck turned with a smile to take the steaming cup from the hand of Annie-Many-Ponies.

The Native Son poured a cup and offered it to Tomas Chavez. “_Quire cafe_?” he asked.

“_Si, senor; Gracias_.” Tomas smiled, and took the cup and bowed. Annie-Many-Ponies herself, with a sidelong glance at Luck to see if she might dare, carried the biggest cup of coffee to Ramone, and smiled demurely when he took it and looked into her eyes and thanked her.

In this fashion did the social sky clear, even though the snow continued to drive against those who broke bread together out there in the dreary wastes, with the snow halfway to their knees. The Native Son, being half Spanish and knowing well the language of his father, talked a little with Tomas. Ramone made himself friendly with any one who would give him any attention. But Applehead scowled over his boiled-beef sandwich and his coffee, and kept his back turned upon the Chavez brothers, and would not talk at all. He eyed them sourly when they still loitered after the meal was over and the remains packed away in the box by Annie-Many-Ponies, and Luck had gone to work again with Bill Holmes at his heels and the boys helping to place the cattle to Luck’s liking.

When the Chavez brothers finally did show symptoms of intending to leave, Luck beckoned to Tomas, whom he judged to be the leader. “Here,” he said in Spanish, when Tomas had come close to him. “I will pay you for using your cattle. When I am through, my boys will drive them back to the mesa again. For my picture I may need them again, _senor_. I promise you they will not be harmed.” And he charged in his expense book the sum, “to use of locations.”

“_Gracias_,” said Tomas, and took the five dollars which Luck could ill afford to give, but which he felt would smooth materially the trail to their future work. Cattle he must have for his picture; cattle he would have at any cost,–but it would be well to have them with the consent of their owners. So the Chavez brothers rode away with smiles for their neighbors instead of threats, and with five dollars which had come to them like a gift.

“Yuh might better uh kicked ’em outa here without no softsoapin’ about it, now I’m tellin’ yuh!” Applehead grumbled when they were out of earshot. “You may know your business better’n what I do, but by thunder I wouldn’t uh give ’em no five dollars–ner five cents. ‘S like feedin’ a stray dog; yuh won’t never git rid of ’em now. They’ll be hangin’ around under yer feet–“

“At that, I might have use for them,” Luck retorted unmoved. “They’re fine types.”

“Types!” old Applehead exploded indignantly. “Types! They’re sneak-thieves and cutthroats ‘t I wouldn’t trust fur’s I could throw a bull by the tail. That’s what they be. Types,–my granny!”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“PLUMB SPOILED, D’ YUH MEAN?”

Luck came out of the dark room with the still, frozen, look of a trouble that has gone too deep for words. Annie-Many-Ponies eyed him aslant and straightway placed the hottest, juiciest piece of steak on his plate, and poured his coffee even before she poured for old Dave Wiswell, whom she favored as being an old acquaintance of the Pine Ridge country.

Once when her father, old chief Big Turkey, had broken his leg and refused to have a doctor attend him, and had said that he would die if his “son” did not make his leg well, Luck had looked as he looked now. Still, he had set chief Big Turkey’s leg so well that it grew straight and strong again. Annie-Many-Ponies might be primitive as to her nature and untutored as to her mind, but she could read the face of her brother Wagalexa Conka swiftly and surely. Something was very bad in his heart. Annie-Many-Ponies searched her soul for guilt, remembered the smile she had given to Ramone Chavez whom Wagalexa Conka did not like, and immediately she became humbled before her chief.

Shunka Chistala–which is Sioux for little dog–she banished into the cold, and hardened her heart, against his whining. It is true that Wagalexa Conka had not forbidden her to have the little dog in the house, but in his displeasure he might make the dog an excuse for scolding her and for taking the part of Rosemary, who hated dogs in the house, and who was trying, by every ingratiating means known to woman, to make a friend of Compadre. Rosemary was a white woman and the wife of Wagalexa Conka’s friend; Annie-Many-Ponies was an Indian girl, not even of the same race as her brother Wagalexa Conka. And although her vanity might lead her to believe herself and her smile the cause of Luck’s mask-like displeasure, she had no delusions as to which side he would take in an argument between herself and Shunka Chistala on the one side, and Rosemary and Compadre on the other; and in the back of her mind lived always the fear that Wagalexa Conka might refuse to let her stay and work for him in pictures.

Therefore Annie-Many-Ponies crouched humbly before the rock fireplace, until Luck missed her at the table and told her to come and eat; she came as comes a dog who has been beaten, and slid into her place as noiselessly as a shadow,–humility being the heritage of her sex and race.

No one talked at all. Even Rosemary seemed depressed and made no attempt to stir the Happy Family to their wonted cheerfulness. They were worn out from their long day that had been filled with real hardships as well as work. In the general silence, Luck’s deeper gloom seemed consistent and only to be expected; for hard as the others had worked, he had worked harder. His had been the directing brain; his hand had turned the camera crank, lest Bill Holmes, not yet familiar with his duties, might fail where failure would be disaster. He had endured the cold and the storm, tramping back and forth in the snow, planning, directing, doing literally the work of two men. Annie-Many-Ponies alone knew that exhaustion never brought just that look into Luck’s face. Annie-Many-Ponies knew that something was very bad in Luck’s heart. She knew, and she trembled while she ate with a precise attention to her table manners lest he chide her openly before them all.

“How long do you think this storm will last, Applehead?” Luck asked, when he had walked heavily over to the fireplace for his smoke, and had drawn a match sharply along the rough face of a rock.

“We-ell, she’s showin’ some signs uh clearin’ up to-night,” Applehead stated with careful judgment, because he felt that Luck’s question had much to do with Luck’s plans, and was not a mere conversational bait. “Wind, she’s shiftin’, er was, when I come in to supper. She shore come down like all git-out ever since she started, and I calc’late she’s about stormed out. I look fer sun all day to-morrer, boy.” This last in a tone of such manifest encouragement that Luck snorted. (Back by the table in the kitchen, Annie-Many-Ponies paused in her piling of plates and listened breathlessly. She knew that particular sound. Wagalexa Conka would presently reveal what was bad in his heart.)

“That would be my luck, all right,” her chief stated pessimistically.

“What’s the matter with the sun, now?” Big Medicine boomed reprovingly. “Comin’ in, you said you had your blizzard stuff, and now if the sun’d jest come out, by cripes, you’d be singin’ songs uh thanksgivin’–er words to that effect. Honest to gran’ma, there’s folks that’d kick if–“

“But I haven’t got my blizzard stuff,” Luck stated, harshly because of the effort to speak at all. “All that negative I took to-day is chuck full of ‘static.'”

Annie-Many-Ponies, out in the kitchen, dropped a granite-iron plate, but the others merely stared at Luck uncomprehendingly.

“Well, say, by cripes! What’s statics?” demanded Big Medicine pugnaciously, as though he meant to ward off from his mind the realization of some new misfortune.

Luck’s lips twitched in the faint impulse toward a smile that would not come. “Statics,” he explained, “is that branch of mechanics that relates to bodies held at rest by the forces acting on them. In other words, it is electricity in a stationary charge, the condition being produced by friction, or induction. In other words–“

“In other words,” Big Medicine supplied glumly, “I can shut up and mind my own business. I get yuh, all right!”

“Nothing like that, Bud,” Luck corrected more amiably, warmed a little by the sympathy he knew would follow close upon the heels of understanding. “Static is a technical word used a good deal in motion-picture photography. In this case it was caused, I think, by the difference of temperature in the metal parts of the camera and negative, and the weather outside the camera box. I’ve been keeping it here in the house where it’s warm, and I took it out into the cold and started work–_sabe_? And the grinding of the bearings, and the action of the film on the race plate, generated static electricity in tiny flashes which lighted up the interior of the camera and light-exposed the negative, as it was passing from one magazine to another. When it’s developed, these flashes show up in contrasty lights, like tiny grape vines; I can show you that part; I’ve got about a mile of it, more or less, there in the dark room.”

“Plumb spoiled, d’ yuh mean?” Big Medicine asked, his voice hushed before the catastrophe.

“Plumb spoiled.” Luck threw his cigarette stub viciously into the blaze. “All that drifting herd, all that panoram of Andy and Miguel–all–everything I took to-day, with the exception of those last scenes with the cow and calf. The one where the cow is down and the snow drifting over her, and the calf huddled there by the carcass,–that’s dandy. Camera and negative were cold as the outside air by that time. That one scene will stand out big; it’s got an awful big punch, provided I had the stuff leading up to it, which I haven’t got.”

“Hell!” said Andy softly, voicing the dismay of them all.

Presently old Applehead unlimbered himself from his chair and went out into the cold and darkness. When he came back, ribbing his knuckles for warmth, he stood before the fireplace and ruminated dispiritedly before he spoke.

“Ain’t ary hope of it blizzardin’ to-morrer, boy,” he broke his silence reluctantly, “‘less the wind changes, which she don’t act to me like she’s got ary notion of doin’; she’s shore goin’ to blind ye with sun to-morrer, now I’m tellin’ yuh.”

“Well, there won’t be any more static in my film,” Luck declared with sudden decision, and carried his camera outside. When he returned Applehead eyed him solicitously.

“We-ell, this ain’t but the middle uh November, yuh want to recollect,” he said. “We’re liable to have purtier storms ‘n what this here one was, ‘fore winter’s over. Cattle’ll be in worse condition, too,–ribs stickin’ out so’st you kin count ’em a mile off ‘n’ more. Way winter’s startin’ in, wouldn’t s’prise me a mite if we had storms all through till spring opens up.”

Luck knew the old man was trying in his crude way to encourage him, but he made no reply, and Applehead relapsed into drowsy meditation over his pipe. The boys, yawning sleepily, trailed off to bed in the Ketch-all cabin. Rosemary and Annie-Many-Ponies, having finished washing the dishes and tidying the kitchen, came through the room on their way to bed, Annie-Many-Ponies cunningly hiding the little black dog behind her skirts. Rosemary frowned at the two and went to the door and called Compadre; but the blue cat, scenting a dog in the house, meowed his regrets and would not come.

“I’ll take ‘im down with me,” said Applehead, rising stiffly. “He cain’t take no comfort in the house no more–not till he spunks up and licks that thar dawg a time er two. Comin’, Luck?” he added, waiting at the door. But Luck was staring into the fire and did not seem to hear him, so Applehead went off alone to where the Happy Family were already creeping thankfully into their hard bunks.

The house grew still; so still that Luck could hear the wind whispering in the chimney, coming from the quarter which meant clearing weather. He sighed, flung more wood on the coals to drive back the chill of the night, and got out his scenario and some sheets of blank paper and a pencil. He had sold his typewriter when he was raising money for this trip, and he was inclined now to regret it. But he sharpened the pencil, laid a large-surfaced “movie” magazine across his knees, and prepared to revise his scenario to meet his present limitations.

With a good thousand feet of film spoiled through no real fault of his own, and with the expenses he knew he must meet looming inexorably before him, he simply could not afford a leading woman. Therefore, he must change his story, making it a “character” lead instead of the conventional hero and heroine theme. Chance–he called it luck–had sent him Annie-Many-Ponies, who “Wants no monies.” He must change his story so that she would fit into it as the necessary feminine element, but he was discouraged enough that night to tell himself that, just as he had her placed and working properly, the Indian Agent or her father, old Big Turkey, would probably demand her immediate return. In his despondent mood he had no faith in his standing with the Indians or in the letter he had written to the Agent. His “one best bet”, as he put it, was to make her scenes as soon as possible, before they had time to reach him with a letter; therefore he must reconstruct his scenario immediately, so that he could get to work in the morning, whatever the weather.

He read the script through from beginning to end, and his heart went heavy in his chest. He did not want to change one scene of that Big Picture. Just as it stood it seemed to him perfect in its way. It had the bigness of the West when the West was young. It had the red blood of courage, the strength of achievement, the sweetness of a great love. It was, in short, Luck’s biggest, best work. Still, without a woman to play that lead–

Luck sighed and dampened his pencil on his tongue and drew a heavy line through the scene where “Marian” first appeared in the story. It hurt him like drawing a hot wire across his hand. It was his first real compromise, his first step around an obstacle in his path rather than his usual bold jump over it. He looked at the pencil mark and considered whether he could not send for a girl young in the profession, who would be satisfied with her transportation and thirty or forty dollars a week while she stayed. He could make all her scenes and send her back. But a little mental arithmetic, coupled with the cold fact that he did not know of any young woman who was capable of doing the work he required and would yet be satisfied with a small salary, killed that new-born hope. He drew a line through the next scene where the girl appeared.

When he had quite blotted the girl from his story, he was appalled at the gap he must fill in the continuity and in the theme. He had left old Dave Wiswell, his dried little cattleman, a childless old man–or else a “squaw” man whose squaw has, presumably, died before the story began. Somehow he could not “see” his cattleman as one who would set aside the barrier of race and take a squaw for his wife. He could not see Annie-Many-Ponies as anything save what she was–a beautiful young savage with an odd adornment of civilized speech and some of the civilized customs, it is true, but a savage for all that. He did not want to spoil her by portraying her as a half-caste in his picture.

He must make his story a man’s story, with the full interest centered about the man’s hopes, his temptations, his achievements. The woman–Annie, as he saw the woman now–must be of secondary interest. He laid his head against the chair back in his favorite attitude for uninterrupted thought, and stared into the fire. In this way he had stared out into the night of the Dakota prairie; at first brooding in discontent because things were not as he would have them, then drifting into dreams of what he would like; then weaving his dreams together and creating a something complete in itself. So had he created his Big Picture,–the picture which was already beginning to live in the narrow strips of negative. A few hundred feet of that negative were even dry and filed away ready for cutting; unimportant scenes, to be sure, with all of his “big stuff” yet to be produced. His mind went methodically over the completed scenes, judging each one separately, seeking some change of plot that would yet permit these scenes to be used. From there his thought drifted to the day’s work in the blizzard,–the day’s work that had been lost because of atmospheric conditions. Blizzard stuff he must have, he told himself stubbornly. Not only was that a phase of the range which he must portray if his picture were to be complete; he must have it to lead the story up to that tragic, pitifully eloquent scene which had come out clear and photographically perfect,–the scene of the old cow’s struggle against the storm and of her final surrender, too weak to match her puny strength against the furies of wind and snow and cold. That scene would live long in the minds of those who saw it; that scene alone would lift his picture above the dead level of mediocrity. But he must have another blizzard….

His eyelids drooped low over his tired eyes; through their narrowing opening he stared at the yellow glow of the fire. Only half awake, he dreamed of the herd drifting down that bleak hillside, with Andy and the Native Son riding doggedly after them. Only half awake, his story changed, grew indistinct, clarified in stray scenes, held aloof from him, grew and changed, and was another story. And always in the background of his mind went that drifting herd. Sometimes snow-whitened, their backs humped in the wind, their heads lowered and swaying weakly from side to side, the cattle marched and marched before him, sometimes obscured by the blackness of night, a vague procession of moving shadows; sometimes revealed suddenly when the lightning split the blackness. Like a phantom herd–

“The phantom herd!” Aloud he cried the words. “_The Phantom Herd_!” He sat up straight in his chair. Here was his title, for which his mind had groped so long and could not grasp. His title–

“What–that you, Luck?” Andy Green’s voice came sleepily from the next room. “What yuh want?”

“I’ve got my title!” Luck called back, his voice exultant. “And I’ve got my story, too! Get up, Andy, and let me tell you the plot!”

Whereupon Andy proved himself a real friend and an unselfish one. He felt as if getting up out of bed was the final, supreme torture under which a man may live; but he got up, for there was something in Luck’s voice that thrilled him even through the clogging sleep-hunger. Presently he was sitting in his trousers and socks and shirt, sleepy-eyed beside Luck.

“Shoot it outa your system,” he mumbled, and began feeling stupidly for his cigarette papers. “_E–a-ough!_” he yawned, if so inarticulate a sound may be spelled. “I knew you’d have to work your story over,” he said, more normal of tone after the yawn. And he added bluntly, “Rosemary’s one grand little woman–but she couldn’t act if you trained her a thousand years. What’s your next best bet?”

“No next best; it’s _the_ picture this time. _The Phantom Herd_. Get that as a title?”

“Gee!” Andy softly paid tribute. Then he grinned. “By gracious, they sure didn’t act to me like any phantom herd when we first headed ’em into that wind!”

“Them babies are going to march us up to a pile of real money, though,” Luck asserted eagerly.

“Listen. Here’s the story–the part I’ve changed; all the first part is the same–the trail-herd and all. You’re old Dave’s son, and you’re wild. You quarrel, and he turns you out, thinking he’ll let you rustle for yourself awhile, and maybe tame down and come back more like he wants you to be. But you don’t tame that way. You throw in with Miguel, and you two turn rustlers. You hold a grudge against your dad, and you rustle from him mostly, on the plea that by rights what’s his is yours–you know. Annie is Mig’s sweetheart, and she’s a kind of go-between–keeps you posted on what’s taking place on the outside, and all that. I haven’t,” he explained hastily, “doped out the details yet. I’m giving you the main points I want to bring out. Well, here’s the big stuff; you get a big herd together. You’re holding ’em in a box canyon,–I know the spot, all right,–waiting for a chance to drive them outa the country; see? This blizzard hits, and you take advantage of it to drive the herd out under cover of the storm. But the blizzard beats you. You trail ’em along, but there’s only two of you, and you can’t keep ’em from swinging away from the wind. You try to hold the herd into the storm,–that’s where I’ll get my big storm effects,–but they swing off in spite of you. Your horses get tired; all you can do is follow the herd. Lord! I wish that stuff I took to-day wasn’t spoiled! I sure would have had some big stuff there. Well, Mig’s horse goes down in a drifted wash. You’re trying to point the herd then, and the storm’s so thick you don’t miss him at first, we’ll say.

“Anyway, as I’ve doped it out, Mig loses his life. You find him dead–whether then or later I don’t know yet. The punch is this: You have been getting pretty sick of the life, and wishing you had behaved yourself and stayed with your dad. But you’ve been afraid of Mig. You couldn’t see any chance of taking the back trail as long as he was alive to tell on you. Now he’s dead. I guess maybe you better find him right there in the blizzard–hurt maybe–anyway, just about all in. You try to save him, _sabe_? You can’t, though.”

“I still don’t see no phantom herd,” observed Andy, wriggling his toes luxuriously in the warmth of the fire.

“Well, listen. You’ll see it in a minute. You go back home after your pard’s dead. You have a close squeak yourself, see? And the thing works on your mind. Cutting out the frills, you see things. You see a herd drifting before a storm, maybe,–a blizzard like yesterday, with your pal riding point. You try to come up with it–no herd there. You come to yourself and go back home. Then maybe some black night you’re brooding before a fire like this–I can get a great firelight effect on your face, sitting like this”–Luck, actor that he was, made Andy see just how the scenes would look–“have a flare in the fire to throw the light back on you; see what I mean? And outside a thunderstorm is rolling up. A bright flash of lightning startles you. You go to the door and open it; you see the herd drifting past with Mig trailing along on his horse–black shadows, and then standing out clear in the lightning–“

“How the deuce–“

“I’ll do that with ‘lap dissolves’ and double exposures. Lots of work that will be, and careful work, but the result will be–why, Lord! It will be immense! That herd and the lone rider haunt you till you’re on the edge of being crazy. Then I’ll bring out somehow that it’s a nervous condition, which of course it is. And I’ll bring old Dave in strong; he follows you some night, and he finds out what you’re after. You tell him–make a clean breast of your rustling, see? Just unburden your mind to your dad. He’s big enough to see that he isn’t altogether clear of guilt himself, for sending you off the way he did. Anyway, that pulls you out of it. The phantom herd and rider pass over the sky line some night–Lord, I can see what a picture I can get out of that!–and out of your life.”

“Unh-hunh–that’s a heap better than your first story, Luck.”

“Andy, are you boys going to talk all night?” the voice of Rosemary came plaintively from the next room.

“Here. You go back to bed,” Luck generously commanded. “I just wanted to get your idea of what it sounds like. I’ll block it out before I turn in. Go on, now.”

So Luck wrote his new story of _The Phantom Herd_ that night. He had a midnight supper of warmed-over coffee and cold bean sandwiches, but he did not have any sleep. When he had finished with a last big, artistic scene that made his pulse beat faster in the writing of it, the white world outside was growing faintly pink under the rising sun.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

A LETTER FROM CHIEF BIG TURKEY

Annie-Many-Ponies, keen of eye when her heart directed her glances, saw the Kyle postmark on a letter while Applehead was sorting Luck’s mail from the weekly batch he had just brought. Luck also spied the Kyle postmark and the familiar handwriting of George-Low-Cedar, who was a cousin of Annie-Many-Ponies and the most favored scribe of Big Turkey’s numerous family. There was no mistaking those self-conscious shadings on the downward strokes of the pen, or the twice-curled tails of all the capitals. The capital M, for instance, very much resembled a dandelion stem split and curled by the tongue of a little girl.

George-Low-Cedar and none other had written that letter, and Big Turkey himself had probably composed it in great deliberation over his pipe, while the smoke of his _tepee_ fire curled over his head, and his squaw crouched in the shadow listening stolidly while her heart ached with longing for the girl-child who had gone a-wandering. Annie-Many-Ponies slid unobtrusively to the door and flattened her back against the wall beside it, ready to slip out into the dusk if she read in Wagalexa Conka’s face that the letter was unpleasant.

Luck did not say a word while he held the letter up and looked at it; he did not say a word, but Annie-Many-Ponies knew, as well as though he had spoken, that he too feared what the contents might be. So she stood flat against the wall and watched his face, and saw how his fingers fumbled at the flap of the envelope, and how slowly he drew out the cheap, heavily ruled, glazed paper that is sold alongside plug tobacco and pearl buttons and safety pins in the Indian traders’ stores. Staring from under her straight brows at that folded letter, Annie-Many-Ponies had a swift, clear vision of the little store set down in the midst of barrenness and dust, and of the squaws sitting wrapped in bright shawls upon the platform while their lords gravely purchased small luxuries within. As a slim, barefooted papoose, proud of her shapeless red calico slip buttoned unevenly up the back with huge white buttons, and of her hair braided in two sleek braids and tied with strips of the same red calico, she had stood flattened against the wall of the store while her father, Big Turkey, bought tobacco. She had hoped that the fates might be kind and send her a five-cent bag of red-and-white gum drops. Instead, Big Turkey had brought her a doll,–a pink-cheeked doll of the white people. In her cheap suitcase which she had carried wrapped in her shawl on her back to the ranch, Annie-Many-Ponies still had that doll. So with her eyes fixed upon the letter, her mind stared trance-like at the vision of that long-ago day which had been to her so wonderful.

Then Wagalexa Conka looked at her and smiled, and the vision of the store and the slim, barefooted papoose with her doll vanished. The smile meant that all was well, that she might stay with Wagalexa Conka and be his Indian girl in the picture of _The Phantom Herd_. Annie-Many-Ponies smiled back at him,–the slow, sweet, sphinx-like smile which Luck called “heart-twisting,”–and slipped out into the night with her heart beating fast in a strange mixture of joy that she might stay, and of homesickness for the little store set down in the midst of barrenness and dust, and for that long-ago day that had been so wonderful.

“Read this,” said Luck, still smiling, and gave the letter into the flour-dusted hands of Rosemary. “Ever see a real, dyed-in-the-wool, Indian letter? Sure takes a load off my mind, too; you never can tell how an idea is going to hit an Indian. Pass it on to the boys.”

So Rosemary read, with the whole Happy Family crowding close to look over her shoulder:

Kyle, P. Office
Pine Ridge, So. D
Monday, Nov.

Luck Lindsay
at Motion Pictures ranch,
Albequrqe, New M.

Friend son,

I this day gets letter from agent at agency who tell my girl you sisters are now at New mexicos with you pictures. shes go way one days at night times and to-morrow mornings i no find him. i am glad she sees you. you Take care same as with shows them Buffalo bill. all indians have hard times for cold and much hays and fires of prairies loses much. them indians shake you hands with good hearts they have with you. send me blue silks ribbon send Me pictures so i can see you. Again i shake you by hand with good heart same as I see you. Speak one Letters quick again.

you father,
BIG TURKEY.

“Pretty good spelling, for an Indian letter,” Rosemary commented suspiciously. “Are you sure an Indian wrote it, Luck Lindsay?”

“Why, certainly, I’m sure!” Luck was shuffling his other letters with the air of a man whose mind has for the moment lost its load of trouble. “George-Low-Cedar wrote it. I know his writing. He’s Annie’s cousin, and he thinks he’s highly educated. Indians have great memories, and once they learn to spell a word, they never seem to forget it. They learn to spell in school. What they don’t learn is how to put the words together the way we do. Cousin George is also shaky on capitals, you notice. Now to-morrow we can go ahead with that big cattle-stuff. I can take my time about making Annie’s scenes; I was afraid I might have to rush them all through first thing, so as to send her back. I’m sure glad she can stay; she’s good to have around, to help in the house.”

Rosemary screwed up her lips and gave him a queer look, but Luck had turned his attention to another letter, and she did not say what was in her mind. Annie-Many-Ponies, speaking theoretically, was good to have around to help Rosemary. In actual practice, however, Rosemary found her not so good. Personally Annie was fastidiously tidy, which Rosemary ungenerously set down to youthful vanity rather than to innate cleanliness. When it came to washing dishes, however, Annie-Many-Ponies left much to be desired. She was prone to disappear about the time she reached the biscuit-basin and the frying-pan stage of the thrice-daily performance. She was prone to fancy she heard Wagalexa Conka calling her, or Shunka Chistala barking in pursuit of the cat, or a hen cackling out in the weeds; whatever the sound, it invariably became a summons which Annie-Many-Ponies must instantly obey. Then she forgot to come back within the next two or three hours, and Rosemary must finish the dishes herself. But all this, as Rosemary well knew, was an unimportant detail of the general scheme of work going on at Applehead’s ranch.

To her it seemed wonderful, the way Luck was pushing his picture to completion against long odds sometimes, fighting some difficulty always. Much as she secretly resented certain Indian traits in Annie-Many-Ponies, and pleased as she would secretly have been if the girl had been recalled to the reservation, she was generously relieved because Luck could now go ahead with his round-up and trail-herd scenes while the weather was mild and sunny, and need not hurry the Indian-girl scenes at all.

In the ten days since the blizzard, Luck had worked hard. Some night scenes in a cow-town he had already taken, driving late in the afternoon into Albuquerque with his radium flares and his full company. Rosemary’s memory cherished those nights as rare and precious experiences. First there were the old-time scenes, half Mexican in their atmosphere, when the dried little man was young, and the trail-herd started north. For these scenes Luck himself played the part of Dave Wiswell, turning the camera work over to Bill Holmes. Then there were the scenes of a later period,–scenes of carousal which depicted her beloved Andy as a very wild young man who spent his nights riotously. One full day of sunshine had also been spent at the stockyards there, taking shipping scenes.

On this day the two women had stayed at home, and Rosemary had nearly quarreled with Annie-Many-Ponies because Annie would not mend her stockings, but had spent the whole afternoon teaching Shunka Chistala to chase prairie dogs, the game being to try and frighten them away from their holes and then catch them. Annie-Many-Ponies attended to the strategic direction of the enterprise and let Shunka Chistala do most of the running. The high, clear laughter of the girl and her unintelligible cries to the little black dog had irritated Rosemary to the point of tears.

There had been no more days wasted because of spoiled film,–Luck was carefully guarding against that,–and it seemed to Rosemary that there were miles of it developed and dried and pigeon-holed, ready for assembling. That part of the work she was especially interested in, because it was done in the house.

To her it might seem that miles of film had been made, but to Luck it seemed as though the work crawled with maddening deliberation. Delays fretted him. The mounting expense account worried him, though as a matter of fact it mounted slowly, considering the work he was doing and the size of the company he was maintaining. When he took film clippings to a town photographer to have enlargements made for “stills,”–the pictures which must accompany each set of prints as advertising matter,–the cost of the work gave him the blues for the rest of that day. Then there were the Chavez boys, whom he had found it expedient to use occasionally in his big range scenes and in his “cow-town stuff.” They had no conception of regular rates as extras, but Luck had a conscience, and he had also established a precedent. Whenever he used them in pictures, he gave Tomas five dollars and left it to Tomas to divide with Ramone. And five dollars, added to other fives and tens and twenty-fives, soon amounts to an amazing whole when anxiety holds the pencil.

As his story had changed and developed into _The Phantom Herd_ plot, it had lengthened appreciably, because he could not and would not sacrifice his big range stuff. And double exposures meant double work, of course. He found himself with a five-reel picture in the making instead of the four-reeler he had started to produce. Thus he was compelled to send for more “raw stock.” Also, he soon ran out of lumber for his interior sets and must buy more. As the possibilities of his production grew plainer to him, Luck knew that he could not slight a single scene nor skimp it in the making. He could go hungry if it came to that, but he could not cheapen his story by using make-shift settings.

Thanksgiving came, and they scarcely knew it, for the weather was fine, and they spent the day far afield and came in after dark, too tired to be thankful for anything save the opportunity to sleep.

Christmas came so suddenly that they wondered where the month had gone. Christmas Eve the Happy Family spent in arranging a round-up camp out behind the house where the hill rose picturesquely, and in singeing themselves heroically in the heat of radium flares, while Luck took his camp-fire scenes that were triumphs of lighting-effects and photography,–scenes which he would later tone red with aniline dyes.

Annie-Many-Ponies and Rosemary brought out the two-gallon coffee boiler and a can of cream and a small lard pail of sugar, with cups and tin spoons and a pan of boiled-beef and cold-bean sandwiches. Rosemary called “Merry Christmas!” when the dying radium flares betrayed her approach, and the Happy Family jumped up and shouted “Merry Christmas!” to her and one another, just as exuberantly as though they had been celebrating instead of adding six hours or so to a hard day’s work.

“That was beautiful, Luck Lindsay,” Rosemary declared, giving him a bean sandwich for which he declared himself “strong,” and holding the sugar bucket steady while he dipped into it three times.

“We were watching from the house; and the boys’ faces, the way you had them placed, looked–oh, I don’t know, but it just sent shivers all over me, it was so beautiful. I just hope it comes out that way in the picture!”

“Better,” mumbled Luck, taking great, satisfying bites into the sandwich. “Wait till you see it–after it’s colored–with the chuck-box end of the wagon showing, and the night horses standing back there in the shadows; she will sure look like a million dollars!”

“She’ll shore depict me cookin’ and the smoke bilin’ up,” poor old Applehead remarked lugubriously. “Last five minutes er so I could hear grease a-fryin’ on my shins, now I’m tellin’ yuh!”

“Well, they don’t use radium flares in cold-storage plants,” Luck admitted reflectively.

“I know, by cripes, I’m goin’ to mend my ways,” Big Medicine declared meaningly. “I never realized b’fore how fire ‘n brimstone’s goin’ to feel!”

“Well, I’ve got to hand it to you, boys,” Luck praised them with a smile. “You sat tight, and when I said ‘Hold,’ you sure held the pose. You dissolved perfectly–you’ll see.”

“Aw, gwan!” contradicted Happy Jack with his mouth full. “I never dissolved; I plumb melted!”

“If you boys could just see how beautiful you looked,” Rosemary reproved, starting on her second round with the coffee boiler. “I saw it from behind the camera, and Luck had you sitting so the light was shining on your faces; honestly, you looked _beautiful_!”

“Aw, gwan!” gurgled Happy Jack, reddening uncomfortably.

“It’s late,” Luck broke in, emptying his cup the second time. “But I’m going to make that firelight scene of you, Annie. The wind happens to be just right for the flame effect I want. Did you make up, as I told you?”

For answer, Annie-Many-Ponies threw back her shrouding red shawl and stepped proudly out before him in the firelight. Her brown arms were bare and banded with bracelets of some dull metal. Her fringed dress of deerskin was heavily embroidered with stained porcupine quills. Her slim feet were clothed in beaded moccasins. It was the gala dress of the daughter of a chief, and as the daughter of a chief she stood straight and slender and haughty before him. The Happy Family stared at her, astonished. They had not even known that she possessed such a costume.

Ordinarily the Happy Family would have taken immediate advantage of their freedom and would have gone to bed and to the sleep for which their tired bodies hungered the more as the food and hot coffee filled them with a sense of well-being. But not even Rosemary wanted to go and miss any of that wonderful scene where Annie-Many-Ponies, young savage that she was, stood in the light of her flaming camp fire and prayed to her gods before she went to meet her lover. She rehearsed it once before Luck lighted the radium flares. Then, in the searing heat of that white-hot flame, which will melt rock as a candle melts, Annie-Many-Ponies crossed herself, and then lifted her young face and bare arms to the heavens and prayed as the priest in the mission school had taught her,–a real prayer in her own Indian tongue, while Luck turned the crank and gloated professionally in her beauty.

The Happy Family, watching her, remembered that it was Christmas morning; remembered oddly, in the midst of their work, the old, old story of the three Wise Men and the Star, and of the Wonder-Child in the manger. Something there was in the voice and the face of Annie-Many-Ponies that suggested it. Something there was of adoration in her upturned glance, as if she too were looking for the Star.

They did not talk much after that, and when they did, their voices were lower than usual. They banked the fire with sand, and Bill Holmes shouldered the camera with its precious store of scenes. As they trooped silently down to the house and to their beds, they felt something of the magnitude of life, something of the mystery. Behind them, treading noiselessly in her beaded deerskin moccasins, Annie-Many-Ponies followed like a houseless wraith of the plains, the little black dog at her heels.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

“THE CHANCES IS SLIM AND GITTIN’ SLIMMER”

“Must be going to snow,” Weary observed with a sly twinkle, “’cause Paddy cat has got his tail brustled up bigger than a trapped coon.”

“Aw, that’s because Shunky Cheestely chased him all the way up from the corral a minute ago,” Happy Jack explained the phenomenon. “I betcher he swaps ends some uh these times and gives that dog the s’prise of his life. He come purty near makin’ a stand t’night.”

“We-ell, when he does turn on that thar mongrel purp, they’s goin’ to be some dawg scattered around over the premises–now I’m tellin’ yuh!” Applehead cocked his eye toward Annie-Many-Ponies and nodded his head in solemn warning. “He’s takin’ a mighty long chance, every time he turns that thar trick uh chasin’ Compadre all over the place; and them that thinks anything uh that thar dawg–“

“I betcher it’s goin’ to snow, all right,” Happy Jack interrupted the warning. “Chickydees was swarmin’ all over the place, t’day.”

“We-ell, now, yuh don’t want to go too much on them chickydees,” Applehead dissented. “Change uh wind’ll set them flockin’ and chirpin’. Ain’t ary flake uh snow in the wind t’day, fur’s I kin smell–and I calc’late I kin smell snow fur’s the next one.”

“Oh, let’s not talk about snow; that’s getting to be a painful subject on this ranch,” Rosemary pleaded, while she placed twelve pairs of steel knives and forks on the long, white-oilcloth-covered table.

“‘Painful subject’ is right,” Luck stated grimly, glancing up from the endless figuring and scribbling which seemed to occupy all his time indoors that was not actually given over to eating and sleeping. “If you don’t begin to smell snow pretty quick, Applehead, I can see where _The Phantom Herd_ don’t have any phantom herd.” The corners of his mouth quirked upward, though his smile was becoming almost a stranger to his face.

“We-ell, I dunno’s you can blame me because it don’t snow. I can’t make it snow if it takes a notion not to snow–“

“Oh, come and eat, and never mind the snow,” called Rosemary impatiently.

“We’ve got to mind the snow–or we don’t eat much longer!” Luck laid aside his papers with the tired gesture which betrays heavy anxiety. “The whole punch of the picture depends on that blizzard and what it leads up to. It’s getting close to March,–this is the twentieth of February,–and the Texas Cattleman’s Convention meets the first of April. I’ve got to have the picture done by then, so as to show it and get their endorsement as a body, in order to boost the sales up where they belong.”

“Mamma!” Weary looked up at him, open-eyed. “How long have you had that notion in your head,–showing the picture to the Cattlemen’s Convention? I never heard of it.”

“I might say quite a few things you haven’t heard me say before,” Luck retorted, so harassed that he never knew how sharp a snub he had given. “I’ve had that in mind from the start; ever since I read when and where the convention would meet this spring. We’ve got to have that blizzard, and we’ve got to have it before many more days.”

“Oh, well, we’ll have it,” Rosemary soothed, as she would have comforted a child. “I just know March will come in like a roaring lion! Have some beans. They’re different, to-night. I cooked them with plain salt pork instead of bacon. You can’t imagine what a difference it makes!”

Luck was on the point of snapping out something that would have hurt her feelings. He did not want baby-soothing. It did not comfort him in the least to have her assure him that it would snow, when he knew she had absolutely no foundation for such an assurance. But just before he spoke, he remembered how bravely she had been smiling at hardships that would have broken the spirit of most women, so he took the beans and smiled at her, and did not speak at all.

Trouble, that month, was riding Luck hard. The blizzard that was absolutely vital to his picture-plot seemed as remote as in June. Other storms had come to delay his work without giving him the benefit of any spectacular effect. There had been days of whooping wind, when even the saddle strings popped in the air like whiplashes, and he could not “shoot” interior scenes because he could not shelter his stage from the wind, and everything blew about in a most maddening manner to one who is trying, for instance, to portray the calmness of a ranch-house kitchen at supper time.

There had been days of lowering clouds which brought nothing but exasperating little flurries of what Applehead called “spit snow,”–flurries that passed before Luck could get ready for a scene. There had been one terrific sand storm which had nearly caught them in the open. But Applehead had warned them, and Luck, fortunately for them all, had heeded the warning. They had reached shelter just before the full force of the storm had struck them, and for six hours the air was a hell of sand in violent flight through the air. For six hours they could not see as far as the stable, and the rooms were filled with an impalpable haze of dust which filtered through minute crevices under the roof and around the doors and windows.

Luck, when that storm broke, was worried over his negative drying in the garret, until he had hurried up the ladder to see what might be done. He had found the film practically dry, and had carried it down in much relief to his dark room which, being light-proof, was also practically dust-proof.

There had been other vexations, but there had been fine, clear days as well. Luck had used those fine days to their full capacity for yielding him picture-light. Could he have been certain of getting his “blizzard stuff” now, he would have left but his one load of financial worry. That was a heavy one, but he felt he could carry it with a better grace if only he could be sure that his picture would be completed in time.

“Pass the beans, Luck,” Pink broke into his abstraction. “Seems like I’ve had beans before, this week, but I’ll try them another whirl, anyway.”

“Ever try syrup on ’em?” old Dave Wiswell looked up from his plate to inquire. “Once you git to likin’ ’em that way, they go pretty good for a change.”

Pink, anxious for variety in the monotonous menu, but doubtful of the experiment, poured a teaspoon of syrup over a teaspoon of beans, conveyed the mixture to his mouth, and made a hurried trip to the door. “Say! was that a joke?” he demanded, when he returned grimacing to his place.

“Joke? No, ain’t no joke about that,” the dried little man testified earnestly. “Once you git to likin’ ’em that way–“

Pink scowled suspiciously. “I’ll take mine straight,” he said, and sent a resentful glance at Annie-Many-Ponies who was tittering behind her palm.

“I calc’late I better beef another critter,” Applehead suggested pacifically. “Worst of it is, the cattle’s all so danged pore they ain’t much pickin’ left on their bones after the hide’s skun off. If that blizzard ever does come, Luck’s shore goin’ to have all the pore-cow atmosphere he wants!”

To Luck their talk, good-humored though it was, hurt him like a blow upon bruised flesh. For their faith in him they were eating beans three times a day with laughter and jest to sweeten the fare. For their faith in him they were riding early and late, enduring hardships and laughing at them. If he failed, he knew that they would hide their disappointment under some humorous phase of the failure;–if they could find one. He could not tell them how close he was to failure. He could not tell them in plain words how much hung upon the coming of that storm in time for him to reach the cowmen at their convention. Their ignorance of the profession kept them from worrying much about it; their absolute confidence in his knowledge let them laugh at difficulties which held him awake when they were sleeping.

But for all that he went doggedly ahead, trusting in luck theoretically while he overlooked nothing that would make for success. While Applehead sniffed the air and shook his head, Luck was doing everything he could think of to keep things going steadily along to a completion of the production.

He made all of his “close-ups,” his inserts, and sub-titles. He cut negative by his continuity sheet at night after the others were all in bed, and pigeon-holed the scenes ready for joining. He ordered what “positive” he would need, and he arranged for his advertising matter. All his interior scenes, save the double-exposure “vision” scenes, were done by the fifteenth of March,–March which had not come in like a roaring lion, as Rosemary had predicted with easy optimism, but which had been nerve-wrackingly lamblike to the very middle of the month.

With a dogged persistence in getting ready for the fulfilment of his hopes, he ordered tanks and printer for the final work of getting his stuff ready for the market. He had at best a crudely primitive outfit, though he saw his bank balance dwindle and dwindle to a most despairingly small sum. And still it did not snow nor show any faint promise of snow.

“Well,” he remarked grimly one morning, when the boys asked him at breakfast about his plans, “you can go back to bed, for all I care. I’ve done everything I can do–till we get that snowstorm. All we can do now is sit tight and trust to luck.”

“What day uh the month is this?” Applehead wanted to know. His face was solemn with his responsibility as a weather prophet.

“The twentieth day of March,” Luck replied, with the air of one who has the date branded deep on his consciousness.

“Twentieth uh March–hm-mm? We-ell, now, I have knowed it to storm, and storm hard, after this time uh year. But comin’ the way she did last fall, ‘n’ all this here wind ‘n’ bluster ‘n’ snowin’ on the Zandias and never comin’ no further down, I calc’late the chances is slim, boy–‘n’ gittin’ slimmer every day, now I’m tellin’ yuh!”

“Well, say! Ain’t yuh got a purty fair pitcher the way she stands?” Big Medicine inquired aggressively. “Seems t’ me we’ve done enough ridin’ and actin’, by cripes, t’ make half a dozen pitchers better’n what I’ve ever saw.”

“That isn’t the point.” Luck’s voice was lifeless, with a certain dogged combativeness that had come into it during the last two months. “We’ve got to have that storm. This isn’t going to be any make-shift affair. We’ve got some good film, yes. But it’s like starting a funny story and being choked off before you get to the laugh in it. We’ve got to have that storm, I tell you!” His eyes challenged them harshly to dispute his statement.

“Well, darn it, have your storm, then. I’m willin’,” Big Medicine bellowed with ill-timed facetiousness. “Pink, you run and git Luck a storm; git him a good big one, guaranteed to last ‘im four days or money refunded. You git one–“

“Listen, Bud.” Luck stood suddenly before Big Medicine, quivering with nervous rage. “Don’t joke about this. There’s no joke in this at all. No one with any brains can see anything funny in having failure stare him in the face. Twelve of us have put every ounce of our best work and our best patience and every dollar we possess in the world into this venture. I’ve worked day and night on this picture. I’ve worked you boys in weather that wasn’t fit for a dog to be out in. I’ve seen Rosemary Green slaving in this dark little hole of a kitchen because we can’t afford a cook for the outfit. You’ve all been dead game–I’ll hand it to you for that–every white chip has gone into the pot. If we fail we’ll have to borrow carfare to get outa here. And here’s Applehead. We’ve used his ranch, we’ve used his house and his horses and himself; we’ve killed his cattle for beef, by —-! And we’ve got just that one chance–the chance of a storm–for winning out. One chance, and that chance getting slimmer every day, as he says. No–there’s no joke in this; or if there is, I’ve lost my appetite for comedy. I can’t laugh.” He stopped as suddenly as he had begun his rapid speech, caught up his hat, and went out alone into the soft morning sunlight. He left silence behind him,–a stunned silence that was awkward to break.

“It’s a perfect shame!” Rosemary said at last, and her lips were trembling. “He’s just about crazy–and I know he hasn’t slept a wink, lately, just from worrying.”

“I calc’late that’s about the how of it,” Applehead agreed, rubbing his chin nervously. “He lays awful still, last few weeks, and that thar’s a bad sign fer him. And I ain’t heerd ‘im talkin’ in his sleep lately, either. Up till lately he made more pitchers asleep than he done awake. Take it when things was movin’ right along, Mis’ Green, ‘n’ Luck was shore talkative, now I’m tellin’ yuh!”

“My father, he got one oncle,” Annie-Many-Ponies spoke up unexpectedly from her favorite corner. “Big Medicine man. Maybe I write one letter, maybe Noisy-Owl he come, make plenty storm. Noisy-Owl, he got awful strong medicine for make storm come.”

“Well, by cripes, yuh better send for ‘im then!” Big Medicine advised gruffly, and went out.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

THE STORM

_The Phantom Herd_, as the days slipped nearer and nearer to April, might almost have been christened _The Forlorn Hope_. On the twenty-first the sun was so hot that Luck rode in his shirt sleeves to Albuquerque, stubbornly intending to order more “positive” for his prints in the final work of putting his Big Picture into marketable form. He did not have the slightest idea of where the money to pay for the stuff was coming from, but he sent the letter ordering the stock sent C.O.D. He was playing for big results, and he had no intention of being balked at the last minute because of his timidity in assuming an ultimate success which was beginning to look extremely doubtful.

On the twenty-second, a lark flew impudently past his head and perched upon a bush near by and sang straight at him. As a general thing Luck loved to hear bird songs when he rode abroad on a fine morning; but he came very near taking a shot at that particular lark, as if it were personally responsible for the sunny days that had brought it out scouting ahead of its kind.

On the twenty-third the sky was a brassy blue, and Applehead won Luck’s fierce enmity by remarking that he “calc’lated he’d better get his garden in.” Luck went away off somewhere on the snuffy little bay, that day, and did not return until after dark.

On the twenty-fourth he took the boys away back on the mesa, where the mountains shoulder the plain, and scattered them on a wide circle, rounding up the cattle that had been permitted to drift where they would in their famished search for the scant grass-growth. Bill Holmes and the camera followed him in the buckboard with the lunch, and Luck, when the boys had met with their gleanings, “shot” two or three short scenes of poor cows and their early calves, which would go to help along his range “atmosphere.” To the Happy Family it seemed a waste of horseflesh to comb a twenty-mile radius of mesa to get a cow and calf which might have been duplicated within a mile of the ranch. The Happy Family knew that Luck was wading chin deep in the slough of despond, and they decided that he kept them riding all day just for pure cussedness.

I suppose they thought that his orders to range-herd the cattle they had gathered came from the same mood, but they did not seem to mind. They did whatever he told them to do, and they did it cheerfully,–which, in the circumstances, is saying a good deal for the Happy Family. So with the sun warm as early May, and the new grass showing tiny green blade-tips in the sheltered places, they began range-herding two thousand head of cattle that needed all the territory they could cover for their feeding grounds.

The twenty-fifth day of March brought no faintest promise of anything that looked like snow. Applehead sharpened his hoe and went pecking at the soil around the roots of his grape-vine arbor, thereby irritating Luck to the point of distraction. He had reached a nervous tension where he could not eat, and he could not sleep, and life looked a nightmare of hard work and disappointments, of hopes luring deceitfully only to crush one at the moment of fulfilment.

It was because he could not sleep, but spent the nights stretched upon his side with his wide-open eyes boring into vacancy and a drab future, that he heard the wind whine over the ridgepole of the squat bunk-house and knew that it had risen from a dead calm since bedtime. The languor of nervous exhaustion was pulling his eyelids down over his tired eyes, and he knew that it must be nearly morning; for sleep never came to him now until after Applehead’s brown rooster had crowed for two o’clock.

He closed his eyes and dreamed that he was “shooting” blizzard scenes with the snow to his armpits. He was chilled to the middle of his bones, and his hand went down unconsciously and groped for the blankets he had pushed off in his restlessness. In his sleep he was yelling to the Cattlemen’s Convention to wait,–not to adjourn yet, because he had something to show them.

“Well, show’em, dang it, an’ shut up!” muttered Applehead crossly, and turned over on his good ear so that he could sleep undisturbed.

Luck, half awakened by the movement, curled up with his knees close to his chin and went on with his dream. With the wind still mooing lonesomely around the corners of the house, he slept more soundly than he had slept for weeks, impelled, I suppose, by a subconscious easement from his greatest anxiety.

A slow tap-tap-tapping on the closed door near his head woke him just before dawn. The lightest sleeper of them all, Luck lifted his head with a start, and opened his sleep-blurred eyes upon blackness. He called out, and it was the voice of Annie-Many-Ponies that answered.

“Wagalexa Conka! You come quick. Plenty snow come. You be awful glad when you see. Soon day comes. You hurry. I make plenty breakfast, Wagalexa Conka.”

As a soldier springs from sleep when calls the bugle, Luck jumped out into the icy darkness of the room. With one jerk he had the door open and stood glorying in the wild gust of snow that broke over him like a wave. In his bare feet he stood there, and felt the snow beat in his face, and said never a word, since big emotions never quite reached the surface of Luck’s manner.

“Day come quick, Wagalexa Conka!” The voice of Annie-Many-Ponies urged him from without, like the voice of Opportunity calling from the storm.

“All right. You run now and have breakfast ready. We come quick.” He held the door open another half minute, and he heard Annie-Many-Ponies laugh as she fought her way back to the house through the blinding blizzard. He saw a faint glow through the snow-whirl when she opened the kitchen door, and he shut out the storm with a certain vague reluctance, as though he half feared it might somehow escape into a warm, sunny morning and prove itself no more than a maddeningly vivid dream.

“Hey! Wake up!” he shouted while he groped for a match and the lamp. “Roll into your sourdoughs, you sons-uh-guns–“

“Say, Applehead,” came a plaintive voice from Pink’s hunk, “make Luck turn over on the other side, can’t yuh? Darn a man that talks in his sleep!”

“By cripes, Luck’s got to sleep in the hay loft–er I will,” Big Medicine growled, making the boards of his bunk squeak with the flop of his disturbed body.

Then Luck found the lamp and struck a match, and it was seen that he was very wide awake, and that his face had the look of a man intent upon accomplishment.

The Native Son sat up in one of the top bunks and looked down at Luck with a queer solemnity in his eyes. “What is this, _amigo_?” he asked with a stifled yawn. “Another one of your Big Minutes?”

“_Quien sabe_?” Luck retorted, reaching for his clothes as his small ebullition subsided to a misleading composure. “Storm’s here at last, and we’ll have to be moving. Roll out and saddle your ridge-runners; Annie’s got breakfast all ready for us.”

“Aw, gwan!” grumbled Happy Jack from sheer force of habit, and made haste to hit the floor with his feet before Luck replied to that apparent doubt of his authority.

“Dress warm as you can, boys,” Luck advised curtly, lacing his own heavy buckskin moccasins over thick German socks, which formed his cold-weather footgear. “She’s worse than that other one, if anything.”

“Mamma!” Weary murmured, in a tone of thanksgiving. “She didn’t come any too soon, did she?”

Luck did not reply. He pulled his hat down low over his forehead, opened the door and went out, and it was as though the wind and snow and darkness swallowed him bodily. The horses must first be fed, and he fought his way to the stables, where Applehead’s precious hay was dwindling rapidly under Luck’s system of keeping mounts and a four-horse team up and ready for just such an emergency. He labored through the darkness to the stable door, lighted the lantern which hung just inside, and went into the first stall. The manger was full, and the feed-box still moist from the lapping tongue of the gray horse that stood there munching industriously. Annie-Many-Ponies had evidently fed the horses before she called Luck, and he felt a warm glow of gratitude for her thoughtfulness.

He stopped at the bunk-house to tell the boys that they had nothing to do but eat breakfast before they saddled, and found them putting on overcoats and gloves and wrangling over the probable location of the herd that would have drifted in the night. So they ploughed in a straggling group to the house, where Annie-Many-Ponies was already pouring the coffee when they trooped in.

Day was just breaking when they rode out into the full force of the belated storm and up on the mesa where they had left the cattle scattered and feeding more or less contentedly at sundown. They had not gone a mile until their bodies began to shrink under the unaccustomed cold. Bill Holmes, town-bred and awkward in the open, thankfully resigned to the Indian girl the dignity of driving the mountain wagon with its four-horse team, and huddled under blankets, while Annie-Many-Ponies piloted them calmly straight across country in the wake of the riders whom her beloved Wagalexa Conka was leading on the snuffy bay. Save for the difference in his clothes, Annie-Many-Ponies thought that he much resembled that great little war-chief of the white people who rode ahead of his column in a picture hanging on the wall of the mission school. Napoleon was the great little war-chief’s name, and her heart swelled with pride as she drove steadily through the storm and thought what a great war-chief her brother Wagalexa Conka might have made, were these but the days of much fighting.

There was to be no trouble with “static” this time, if Luck could help it. To be doubly safe from blurred film, he had brought his ray filter along, for the flakes of snow were large and falling fast. He had chosen a different location, because of the direction of the wind and the difficulty the boys would have had in driving the cattle back in the face of it to the side hill where he had first taken the scenes of the drifting herd.

To-day he “shot” them first as they were filing reluctantly out through a narrow pass which was supposed to be the entrance to the box canyon where the two rustlers, Andy and Miguel, had kept them hidden away. Artistically speaking, the cattle were in perfect condition for such a scene, every rib showing as they trooped past the clicking camera cleverly concealed in a clump of bushes; hip bones standing up, lean legs shambling slowly through the snow that was already a foot deep. Cattle hidden for days and days in a box canyon would not come out fat and sleek and stepping briskly, and Luck was well pleased with the realism of his picture, even while he pitied the poor beasts.

Later he took the drifting of the herd, and he knew in his heart that the scenes were better than those he had lost. He took tragic scenes of the Native Son in his struggle to keep up and to keep going. He took him as he fell and lay prone in the snow beside his fallen horse while the blizzard whooped over him, and the snow fell upon his still face. In his zeal he nearly froze the Native Son, who must lie there during two or three “cut-back” scenes, and while Andy was coming up in search of him. When Andy lifted him and found him actually limp in his arms, the anxiety which a “close-up” revealed in his face was not all art. However, he did not say anything until Luck’s voracious scene-appetite had been at least partially satisfied.

“By gracious, I believe the son-of-a-gun is about froze,” he snapped out then; Luck grinned mirthlessly and called to Annie for the precious thermos bottle, and poured a cup of strong black coffee, added a generous dash of the apricot brandy which he spoke of familiarly as his “cure-all,” and had the Native Son very much alive and tramping around to restore the circulation to his chilled limbs before Bill Holmes had carried the camera to the location of the next scene.

“By rights I should have left you the way you were till I got this last death scene where Andy buries you under the rock ledge so he can get home alive himself,” Luck told Miguel heartlessly, when they were ready for work again. “You were in proper condition, brother. But I’m human. So you’ll have to do a little more acting, from now on.”

With his mats placed with careful precision, he took his dissolve “vision stuff” of the blizzard and the death of Miguel,–scenes which were to torment the conscience of Andy the rustler into full repentance and confession to his father. While the boys huddled around Annie’s camp fire and guzzled hot coffee and ate chilled sandwiches, Luck took some fine scenes of the phantom herd marching eerily along the skyline of a little slope.

He “shot” every effective blizzard scene he had dreamed of so despairingly when the weather was fine. Some scenes of especial importance to his picture he took twice, so as to have the “choice-of-action” so much prized by producers. This, you must know, was a luxury in which Luck had not often permitted himself to indulge. With raw negative at nearly four cents a foot, he had made it a point to shoot only such scenes as gave every promise of being exactly what he wanted. But with this precious blizzard that numbed his fingers most realistically while he worked, but never once worried him for fear the sun was going to shine before he had finished, he was as lavish of negative as though he had a million-dollar corporation at his back.

That evening, when they were luxuriating before the fireplace heaped with dry wood which the flames were licking greedily, Luck became, for the first time in months, the old Luck Lindsay who had fascinated them at the Flying U. He told them stories of his days with the “Bill show,” and called upon the giggling Annie-Many-Ponies for proof of their truth; whereat Annie-Many-Ponies would nod her head vigorously and declare that it was “No lie. I see him plenty times do them thing. I know.” He disputed energetically with Big Medicine over the hardships of the day’s work; and as a demonstration of the fact that he was perfectly able to go out right then and shoot another seven hundred feet of film, he seized upon the _tom-tom_ which Annie-Many-Ponies had made from a green calf hide and an old cheese box, and in his moccasins he danced the Sioux Buffalo Dance and several other dances in which Annie-Many-Ponies finally joined and teetered around in the circle which the Happy Family enthusiastically widened for the performers.

Work there was yet to do, and plenty of it. Even if the weather came clear on the morrow as he desired, he must make every minute count, if he would take his picture to the Cattlemen’s Convention. Work there was, and problems there were to be solved. But he had his big blizzard stuff, and he had his scenes of the phantom herd. So for an hour or two, on this evening of triumph, Luck Lindsay threw care into a far corner, and danced and sang as the Happy Family had never known he could do.

“Here, Annie, take the drum; it’s ‘call the dog and put out the fire and all go home.’ If my luck stays with me, and the sun shines to-morrow, we’ll take these interiors of the double-exposure stuff. And then we’ll be eating on the run and sleeping as we ride, till that picture pops out on the screen for the old cattlemen to see. Good night, folks; I’m going to sleep to-night!”

He went out whistling like a schoolboy going fishing. For luck was with him once more, and his _Phantom Herd_ was almost a reality as a picture.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

A FEW OF THE MINOR DIFFICULTIES

However obliging fate may desire to be, certain of nature’s laws must be observed. Whether luck was disposed to stay with Luck Lindsay or not, a storm such as the fates had conjured for his needs could not well blow itself out as suddenly as it had blown itself in; so Luck did not get all of his interior double-exposure stuff done the next day, nor his remaining single-exposure stuff either. When his own reason and Applehead’s earnest assurances convinced him that the day after the real blizzard day was going to be unfit for camera work, Luck took Weary, Pink, and the Native Son to Albuquerque, rented a little house he had discovered to be vacant, and set them to work building a drying drum for his prints, according to the specifications he furnished them. He hauled his tanks from the depot and showed the boys how to install them so as to have the benefit of the running water, and got his printer set up and ready to work; for he knew that he would have to make his first prints himself, with the help of the Happy Family, the photographer having neither the room nor the time for the work, and Luck having no more than barely money enough to pay house rent and the charges on his tanks and printer.

Then, being an obliging young man when the fates permitted him to indulge his natural tendencies, Luck made a hurried trip to a certain little shop that had dusty mandolins and watches and guns and a cheap kodak in the dingy window. He went in with his watch in his pocket ticking cheerfully the minutes and hours that were so full of work and worry. When he came out, the watch was ticking just as cheerfully in a drawer and the chain was looped prosperously across his vest from buttonhole to empty pocket. He went straight across to a grocery store and bought some salt pork and coffee and cornmeal and matches which Rosemary had timidly asked him if he could get. She explained apologetically that she was beginning to run out of things, and that she had no idea they were going to have such awful appetites, and that of course there were two extra people to feed, and that they certainly could dispose of their share three times a day,–meaning, of course, Annie-Many-Ponies and Bill Holmes.

Even while his brain was doing swift mental gymnastics in addition and subtraction, Luck had told her he would get whatever she wanted. His watch brought enough to buy everything she asked for except a can of syrup; and that, he told her, the groceryman must have overlooked, for he certainly had ordered it. He called the groceryman names enough to convince Rosemary that her list had not been too long for his purse, and that Luck’s occasional statement that he was broke must be taken figuratively; Luck breathed a sigh of relief that Rosemary, at least, was once more spared the knowledge that all was not yet plain sailing to a smooth harbor.

The next day being sunny, Luck finished the actual camera work on _The Phantom Herd_. That night he and Bill Holmes developed every foot of