negative he had exposed since the storm began, and they finished just as Rosemary rapped on the darkroom door and called that breakfast was ready. Bill took it for granted that he could sleep, then, while the negative was drying; but Luck was merciless; that Cattlemen’s Convention was only two days off,–counting that day which was already begun,–and there was also a twelve-hour train trip, more or less, between his picture and El Paso.
Bill Holmes had learned to join film in movie theaters, and Luck set him to work at it as soon as he had finished his breakfast. When Bill grumbled that there wasn’t any film cement, Luck very calmly went to his trunk and brought some, thereby winning from Rosemary the admiring statement that she didn’t believe Luck Lindsay ever forgot a single, solitary thing in his life! So Bill Holmes assembled the film, scene by scene, without even the comfort of cigarettes to keep awake. At his elbow Luck also joined film until the negative in the garret was dry enough to handle, when he began cutting it according to the continuity sheet, ready for Bill to assemble.
Luck’s mood was changeable that day. He would glow with the pride of achievement when he held a yard or so of certain scenes to the light and knew that he had done something which no other producer had ever done, and that he had created a film story that would stand up like a lone peak above the level of all other Western pictures. When those night scenes were tinted–and that scene which had for its sub-title _Opening Exercises_, and which showed the Happy Family mounting Applehead’s snakiest bronks and riding away from camp into what would be an orange sunrise after the positive had been through its dye bath–
And then discouragement would seize him, and he would wonder how he was going to get hold of money enough to take him to El Paso and the Convention. And how, in the name of destitution, was he going to pay for that stock of “positive” when it came? Applehead was dead willing to help him,–that went without saying; but Applehead was broke. That last load of horse-feed had cleaned his pockets, as he had cheerfully informed Luck over three weeks before. Applehead was not, and never would be by his own efforts, more than comfortably secure from having to get out and work for wages. He had cattle, but he let them run the range in season and out, and it was only in good years that he had fair beef to ship. He hated a gang of men hanging around the ranch and eating their fool heads off, he frequently declared. So he and Compadre had lived in unprosperous peace, with a little garden and a little grape arbor and a horse for Applehead in the corral, and teams in the pasture where they could feed and water themselves, and a month’s supply of “grub” always in the house. Applehead called that comfort, and could not see the advantage of burdening himself with men and responsibilities that he might pile up money in the bank. You can easily see where the coming of Luck and his outfit might strain the financial resources of Applehead, even though Luck tried to bear all extra expense for him. No, thought Luck, Applehead would have to mortgage something if he were to attempt raising money then. And Luck would have taken a pack-outfit and made the trip to El Paso on horseback before he would see Applehead go in debt for him. As it was, he was seriously considering that pack-horse proposition as a last resort, and trying to invent some way of shaving his work down so that he would have time for the trip. But certain grim facts could not be twisted to meet his needs. He simply had to print his positive for projection on the screen. And that positive simply had to go through certain processes that took a certain amount of time; and it simply had to be dry and polished before he could wind it on his reels. Reels? Lord-ee! He didn’t have any reels to
wind it on!
“What’s the matter? Spoil something?” Bill Holmes asked indifferently, pausing to look at Luck before he took up the next strip of celluloid ribbon with its perforated edges and its little squares of shadowlike pictures that to the unpractised eye looked all alike.
“No. What reel is that you’re on now? We want to be in town before dark with this stuff, so as to start the printer going to-night.” By printing, that night, and by hard riding, he might be able to make it, he was thinking.
“Think we’ll be through in time?”
“Certainly, we’ll be through in time.” Luck held up another strip to see where to cut it. “We’ve got to be through!”
“I’m liable to be joining this junk by the sides instead of the ends, before long,” Bill hinted.
“No, you won’t do anything like that.” Luck’s voice had a disturbing note of absolute finality.
Bill looked at him sidelong. “A fellow can’t work forever without sleep. My head’s splitting right now. I can hardly see–“
“Yes, you can see well enough to do your work–and do it right! Get that?”
Bill grunted. Evidently he got it, for he said no more about his head, or about sleep. He did glance frequently out of the tail of his eye at Luck’s absorbed face with his jaw set at a determined angle and his great mop of iron-gray hair looking like a heavy field of grain after a thunderstorm, standing out as it did in every direction. Now and then Luck pushed it back impatiently with the flat of his palm, but he showed no other sign of being conscious of anything at all save the picture; though he could have told you offhand just how many times Bill turned his eyes upon him.
At noon they were not through, and to Bill the attempt to finish that day seemed hopeless, not to say insane. But by four o’clock they were done with the cutting and joining, and had their film carefully packed and in the mountain wagon, and were ready to drive through the slushy mud which was the aftermath of the blizzard to the little house in Albuquerque which the boys had turned into a crude but efficient laboratory.
There Luck continued to be merciless in his driving energy. He canvassed the moving-picture theaters of the town and borrowed reels on which to wind his film when it was once ready for winding. He went back to the little house and set every one within it to work and kept them at it. He printed his positive, dissolved his aniline dye, which was to be firelight effect, in the bathtub,–and I should like to know what the landlord thought when next he viewed that tub! He made an orange bath for sunrise effects in one of the stationary tubs, and his light blue for night tints in the other. He buzzed around in that little house like a disturbed blue-bottle fly that cannot find an open window. He had his sleeves rolled to his shoulders and his hair more tousled than ever; he had blue circles under his eyes and dabs of dye distributed here and there on his face and his arms; he had in his eyes the glitter of a man who means to be obeyed instantly and implicitly, whatever his command may be,–and if you want to know, he was obeyed in just that manner.
Happy Jack and Big Medicine took turns at the crank of the big drying drum, around which Andy and Weary had carefully wound the wet film. Being a crude, home-made affair, the crank that kept that drum turning over and over did not work with the ease of ball-bearings. But Happy Jack, rolling his eyes up at Luck when he hurried past to attend to something somewhere, did not venture his opinion of the task. Nor did Big Medicine bellow any facetious remarks whatever, but turned and sweated, and used the other hand awhile, and turned and turned, and goggled at Luck whenever Luck came within his range of vision, and changed off to the other hand and turned and turned, and still said nothing at all.
Bill Holmes went to sleep about midnight and came near ruining a batch of firelight scenes in the analine bath, and after that Luck did all the technical part of the work himself. The Happy Family did what they could and wished they were not so ignorant and could do more. They could not, for instance, help Luck in the final assembling of the polished film and the putting in of the sub-titles and inserts. But they could polish that film, after he showed them how; so Pink and Weary did that. And at daylight Luck shook Bill Holmes awake and set him to work again.
Just to show that Luck was human, even though he was obsessed by a frenzy of work, he sent the boys outside, whenever one of them could be spared, for the smoke they craved and could not have among that five thousand feet of precious but highly inflammable film. But he did not treat himself to the luxury of a cigarette.
Luck had not yet solved the problem of meeting the expense of the trip to El Paso. Riding down with a pack-horse would take him too long; the best he could do would not be quick enough; for the Convention would be over before he got there, and his trip therefore useless. He worked just as fast, however, as though he had only to buy his ticket and take the train.
And then, when the last drumful was drying, he got his idea, and took Andy by the shoulder and led him out into the little front hall. “Boy,” he said, “you hook up the team and drive like hell out to the ranch and get the camera and all the lenses. And right under the lid of my trunk you’ll find a letter file marked Receipts. In the C pocket you’ll find the sales slips of camera and so on; you bring them along. And bring my bag and any clean socks and handkerchiefs you can find, and my gray suit and some collars and ties. Oh, and my shoes. Make it back here by two o’clock if you can; before three at the latest.”
“You bet yuh,” assented Andy just as cheerfully as though he saw some sense in the order. Luck’s clothes were a reasonable request, but Andy could not, for the life of him, figure any use for the camera and lenses; and as for the receipts, that sounded to him like plain delirium. Andy’s brain, at that time, seemed to be revolving slowly round and round like the big drying drum, and his thoughts were tangled in exasperating visions of long, narrow strips of wet film.
However, at two-thirty he drove smartly up to the little house with the camera and Luck’s brown leather bag packed with the small necessities of highly civilized journeying, and a large flat package wrapped in old newspapers. He had not set the brake that signalled the sweating horses to stop, before Luck was in the doorway with his hat on his head and the air of one whose business is both urgent and of large issues.
“Got the receipts? All right! Where are the things? This the lenses? All right! Put the team in the stable and go get yourself some rest.”
“Where’s your rest coming in at?” Andy flung back over his shoulder, as Luck turned away with the camera on his shoulder and the small case in his hands.
“Mine will come when I get through. I’ve got the last reel wound and packed, though. You bed down somewhere and sleep. I’ll be back in a little. I’m going to catch that four o’clock train.”
When you consider that Luck made that statement with about fifteen cents in his pocket and no ticket, you will understand why Andy gave him that queer look as he drove off to the stable. Luck might have climbed up beside Andy and ridden part of the way, but he was too preoccupied with larger matters to think of it until he found himself picking his footing around the mud through which Andy had splashed in comfort.
At the bank, Luck went in at the side door which gave easy access to the office behind; and without any ceremony whatever he tapped on a certain glass-paneled door with a name printed across. He waited a second, and then turned the knob and walked briskly in, carrying camera, tripod, and the case of small attachments, and smiling his smile of white teeth and perfect assurance and much good will.
Now, the cashier whom he faced was a tall man worn thin with the worries of his position and the care of a family. He lived in a large white house, and his wife never seemed able to find a cook who could cook; so the cashier was troubled with indigestion that made his manner one of passive irritation with life. His children were for some reason forever “coming down” with colds or whooping-cough or measles or something (you have seen children like that), so his eyes were always tired with wakeful nights. It needed a Luck Lindsay smile to bring any answering light into the harassed face of that cashier, but it got there after the first surprised glance.
Luck stood his camera–screwed to its tripod–against the wall by the door. “I’m Luck Lindsay, Mr. White,” he announced in his easy, Texas drawl. “I’m in a hurry, so I’ll omit my full autobiography, if you don’t mind, and let you draw your own conclusions about my reputation and character. I’ve a five-reel feature film called _The Phantom Herd_ just completed, and I want to take it down to El Paso and show it before the Texas Cattlemen’s Convention which meets there to-day. I want their endorsement of it as a Western film which really portrays the West, to incorporate in my advertisements in all the trade journals. But the production of the film took my last cent, and I’ve got to raise money on my camera for the trip down there. You see what I mean. I’m broke, and I’ve got to catch that four o’clock train or the whole thing stops right here. This camera cost me close to fifteen hundred dollars. Here are the receipted sales slips to prove it. In Los Angeles I could easily get–” He caught the beginning of a denial in Mr. White’s sidewise movement of the head–“ten times as much money on it as you can give me. You probably don’t know anything at all about motion-picture cameras, but you can read these slips and find out how prices run.”
Mr. White had in a measure recovered from the effects of Luck’s smile. He picked up the slips and glanced at them indifferently. “There’s a pawn-shop just down the street, I believe,” he said. “Why–“
“I want to leave this camera here with you, anyway,” Luck interrupted. “It’s valuable–too valuable to take any risk of fire or burglary. I want to leave it in your vault. You’ve handled a good deal of my money, and you know who I am, and what my standing is, or else you aren’t the right man for the position you occupy. It’s your business to know these things. Now, I’m not asking you for any big loan. All I want is expense money for that trip. If you’ll advance me seventy-five or a hundred dollars on my note, with this camera as security, I’ll thank you and romp down to El Paso and get that endorsement before the convention adjourns till next year.”
Mr. White looked at the camera strangely, as though he half expected it to explode. “I should have to take it up with the directors–“
“Directors! Hell, man, that train’s due in an hour! What _are_ you around here–a man in authority, or just a dummy made up to look like one? Do you mean to tell me you’re afraid to stake me to enough money to make El Paso and return? What, for the Lord’s sake, do I look like, anyway,–a crook?”
Mr. White’s head was more than six feet in the air when he stood up, and Luck Lindsay in his high-heeled boots lacked a good six inches of that altitude; but for all that, Luck Lindsay was a bigger man than Mr. White. He dominated the cashier; he made the cashier conscious of his dyspepsia and his thin hair and his flabby muscles and his lack of enthusiasm with life.
“The directors have to pass on all bank loans,” he explained apologetically, “but I can lend you the money out of my personal account. If you will excuse me, I’ll get the money before my assistant closes the vault. And shall I put these inside for you?” He rose and started for the inner door with a deprecating smile.
“Aren’t you going to take a note?” Luck studied the man with sharpened glance.
“My check will be a sufficient record of the transaction, I think.” And Mr. White, with two or three words scribbled at the bottom, proceeded to make the check a record. “I am glad to be able to stake you, Mr. Lindsay, and I hope your trip will be successful.”
He got another Luck Lindsay smile for that, and the apology he had coming to him. And then in a very few minutes Luck hurried out and back to the little house on the edge of town.
“Where’s my bag? So long, boys; I’m going to drift. I’ll change clothes on the train–haven’t got time now. Here’s five dollars, Andy, for the stable bill and so on. Bill, you’re the only one of the bunch that shirked, so you can carry this box of reels to the depot for me. _Adios_, boys, I’m sure going to romp all over that Convention, believe me, if they don’t swear _The Phantom Herd’s_ a winner from the first scene!”
WHEREIN LUCK MAKES A SPEECH
Luck stood on the platform of the Texas Cattlemen’s Convention and looked down upon the work-lined, brown faces of the men whose lives had for the most part been spent out of doors. Their sober attentiveness confused him for a minute so that he forgot what he wanted to say–he, Luck Lindsay, who had faced the great audiences of Madison Square Garden and had smiled his endearing smile and made his bow with perfect poise and an eye for pretty faces; who had without a quiver faced the camera, many’s the time, in difficult scenes; who had faced death more times than he could count, and what was to him worse than death,–blank failure. But these old range-men with the wind-and-sun wrinkles around their eyes, and their ready-to-wear suits, and their judicial air of sober attention,–these were to him the jury that would weigh his work and say whether it was worthy. These men–
And then one of them suddenly cleared his throat with a rasping sound like old Dave Wiswell, his dried little cowman of the picture, and embarrassment dropped from Luck like a cloak flung aside. He was here to put his work to the test; to let these men say whether _The Phantom Herd_ was worthy to be called a great picture, one of which the West could be proud. So he pushed back his mop of hair–grayer than the hair of many here old enough to be his father–with the fiat of his palm, and looked straight into the faces of these men and said what he had to say:
“Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen of this Convention, I consider it a great privilege to be able to stand here and speak to you–a greater privilege than any of you realize, perhaps. For my heart has always been in the range-land, my people have been the people of the plains. I have to-day been honored by the hand-grip of old-timers who were riding circle, trailing long-horns, and working cattle when I was a boy in short pants.
“I have trailed herds on the pay roll of one man who remembers me here to-day, and of others who have crossed the Big Divide. I have seen the open range shrink before the coming of barbed wire and settlers. I have watched the ‘long shadow’ fall across God’s own cattle country.
“Since I entered the motion-picture business, my one great aim and my one great dream has been to produce one real Western picture. One picture that I could present with pride to such a convention as this, and have men who have spent their lives in the cattle industry give it the stamp of their approval; one picture that would make such men forget the present and relive the old days when they were punchers all and proud of it. Such an opportunity came to me last fall and I made the most of it. I got me a bunch of real boys, and went to work on the picture I have called _The Phantom Herd._ From the trail-herds going north I have tried to weave into my story a glimpse of the whole history of the range critter, from the shivering, new-born calf that hit the range along with a spring blizzard, to the big, four-year-old steer prodded up the chutes into the shipping cars.
“I want you, who know the false from the real, to see _The Phantom Herd_ and say whether I have done my work well. I finished the picture yesterday, and I have brought it down here for the purpose of asking you to honor me by accepting an invitation to a private showing of the picture this evening, here in this hall. I want you to come and bring your wives and your children with you if you can. I want you to see _The Phantom Herd_ before it goes to the public–and to-morrow I shall face you again and accept your verdict. You know the West. You will know a Western picture when you see it. I know you know, and I want you to tell me what you think of it. Your word will be final, as far as I am concerned. Gentlemen, I hope you will all be present here to-night at eight o’clock as my guests. I thank you for your attention.”
Luck went away from there feeling, and telling himself emphatically, that he had made a “rotten” talk. He had not said what he had meant to say, or at least he had not said it the way he had meant to say it. But he was too busy to dwell much upon his deficiencies as an orator; he had yet to borrow a projection machine and operator from somewhere–for, as usual, he had issued his invitation before he had definitely arranged for the exhibition, and had trusted to luck and his own efforts to be able to keep his promise.
Luck (or his own efforts) landed him within easy conversational reach of a man who was preparing to open a little theater on a side street. The seats were not in yet, but he had his machine, and he meant to operate it himself, while his wife sold tickets and his boy acted as usher,–a family combination which to Luck seemed likely to be a success. This man, when Luck made known his needs, said he was perfectly willing to “limber up” his machine and himself on _The Phantom Herd_, if Luck would let his wife and boy see the picture, and would pay the slight operating expenses. So that was settled very easily.
At five minutes to eight that evening all of the cattlemen and a few favored, influential citizens of El Paso whom Luck had invited personally sat waiting before the blank screen. Up in the operator’s cramped quarters Luck was having a nervous chill and trying his best not to show it, and he was telling the operator to give it time enough, for the Lord’s sake, and to be sure he had everything ready before he started in, and so forth, until the operator was almost as nervous as Luck himself.
“Now, look here,” he cried exasperatedly at last. “You know your business, and I know mine. You’re going to have me named in your write-ups as the movie-man that run this show for the convention, ain’t you? And I’m going to open up a picture house next week in this town, ain’t I? And I ain’t going to advertise myself as a bum operator, am I? Now you _vamos_ outa here and get down there in the audience, if you don’t want me to get the fidgets and spoil something. Go on–beat it!”
Luck must have been in a strange condition, for he beat it promptly and without any retort, and slid furtively into a chair between two old range-men just as the operator’s boy-usher switched off the lights. Luck’s heart began to pound so that he half expected his neighbors to tell him to close his muffler,–only they were of the saddle-horse fraternity and would not have known what the phrase meant.
_The Phantom Herd_ flashed suddenly upon the screen and joggled there dizzily, away over to one side. Luck clapped his hand to his perspiring forehead and murmured “Oh, my Gawd!” like a prayer, and shut his eyes to hide from them the desecration. He opened them to find that the caste was just flicking off and the first scene dissolving in.
The man at his left gave a long sigh and crossed his knees, and leaned back and began to chew tobacco rapidly between his worn old molars.
_”Oh, a ten dollar hoss and a forty dollar saddle, I’m goin’ to punchin’ Texas cattle.”_
The sub-title dissolved slowly into a scene showing a cow-puncher (who was Weary) swinging on to his rangy cow-Horse and galloping away after the chuck-wagon just disappearing in the wake of the dust-flinging _remuda_. Back somewhere in the dusk of the audience, a man began to hum the tune that went with the words, and the heart of Luck Lindsay gave an exultant bound. He had used lines from “The Old Chisholm Trail” and other old-time range songs for his sub-titles, to keep the range atmosphere complete, and that cracked voice humming unconsciously told how it appealed to these men of the range.
Luck did not slide down in his seat so that his head rested on the chair-back while _The Phantom Herd_ was being shown. Instead, he sat leaning forward, with his face white and strained, and watched for weak points and for bad photography and scenes that could have been bettered.
He saw the big trail-herd go winding away across the level, with Weary riding “point” and Happy Jack bringing up the “drag,” and the others scattered along between; riding slouched in their saddles, hatbrims pulled low over eyes smarting with the dust that showed in a thin film at the head of the herd and grew thicker toward the drag, until riders and animals were seen dimly through a haze.
“My–I can just feel that dust in m’ throat!” muttered the man at his right, and coughed.
Luck saw the storm come muttering up just as the cattle were bedding down for the night. He saw the lightning, and he knew that those who watched with him were straining forward. He heard some one say involuntarily: “They’ll break and run, sure as hell!” and he knew that he had done that part of his work well.
He saw the night scenes he had taken in town. He almost forgot that all this was his work, so smoothly did the story steal across his senses and beguile him into half believing it was true and not a fabric which he had built with careful planning and much toil. He saw the round-up scenes; the day-herd, the cutting-out and the branding, the beef-herd driven to the shipping cars. True, those steers were not exactly prime beef,–he had caught the culls only, late in the season for these scenes–but they passed, with one audible comment that this was a poor season for beef!
“We rounded ’em up and we put ’em in the cars–“
The sub-title sang itself familiarly into the minds of the range men. More than one voice was heard to begin a surreptitious humming of the old tune, and to cease abruptly with the sudden self-consciousness of the singer.
But there was the story, growing insensibly out of the range work. Luck, more at ease now in his mind, studied it critically. There was the quarrel between old Dave and Andy, his son. He saw the old man out with his men, standing his shift of night-guard, stubbornly resisting the creeping years and his load of trouble; riding around the sleeping herd with his head sunk on his chest, meeting the younger guard twice on each complete circle, and yet never seeming to see him at all.
“Sing low to your cattle, sing low to your steers–“
The words and the scene opened wide the door of memory and let whole troops of ghosts come drifting in out of the past. The hall, Luck roused himself to notice, was very, very still; so still that the sizzling sound of the machine at the rear was distinct and oppressive.
There was the blizzard, terrible in its biting realism. There was the old cow and calf, separated from the herd, fighting in the primal instinct to preserve themselves alive,–fighting and losing. There was that other, more terrible fight for existence, the fight of the Native Son against the snow and the cold. Men drew their breath sharply when he fell and did not rise again. They shivered when the snow began to drift against his quiet body, to lodge and shift and settle, and grow higher and higher until the bank was even with his shoulders, to drift over him and make of him a white mound–And then, when Andy staggered up through the swirl, leading his horse and shouting; when he stumbled against Miguel and tried to raise him and rouse him, a sound like a groan went through the crowd.
“Close a call as I ever had was in a blizzard like that,” the old man at Luck’s left whispered agitatedly to Luck behind his palm, when the lights snapped on while the operator was changing for the last reel.
There was Andy, haunted and haggard, at home again with his father. There were those dissolve scenes of the “phantom herd” drifting always across the skyline whenever Andy looked out into the night or rose startled from uneasy sleep. Weird, it was,–weird and real and very terrible. And, at last, there was that wonderful camp-fire scene of the Indian girl who prayed to her gods before she went to meet her lover who was dead and could not keep the tryst. There were heart-breaking scenes where the Indian girl wandered in wild places, looking, hoping, despairing–Luck had planned every little detail of those scenes, and yet they thrilled him as though he had come to them unawares.
He did not wait after the last scene faded out slowly. He slipped quietly into the aisle and went away, while the hands of the old-timers were stinging with applause. Halfway down the block he heard it still, and his steps quickened unconsciously. They were calling his name, back there in the hall. They were all talking at once and clapping their hands and, as an interlude, shouting the name of Luck Lindsay. But Luck did not heed. He wanted to get away by himself. He did not feel as though he could say anything at all to any one, just then. He had seen his Big Picture, and he had seen that it was as big and as perfect, almost, as he had dreamed it. To Luck, at that moment, words would have cheapened it,–even the words of the old cattlemen.
He went to his hotel and straight up to his room, regardless of the fact that it would have been to his advantage to mingle with his guests and to listen to their praise. He went to bed and lay there in the dark, reliving the scenes of his story. Then, after awhile, he drifted off into sleep, his first dreamless, untroubled slumber in many a night.
By the time the Convention was assembled the next day, however, he had recovered his old spirit of driving energy. The chairman had invited him by telephone to attend the afternoon meeting, and Luck went–to be greeted by a rousing applause when he walked down the aisle to the platform where the chairman was waiting for him.
Resolutions had already been passed, the Convention as a body thanking Luck Lindsay for the privilege of seeing what was in their judgment the greatest Western picture that had ever been produced. The chairman made a little speech about the pleasure and the privilege, and presented Luck with a letter of endorsement and signed with due formality by chairman and secretary and sealed with the official seal. Attached to the letter was a copy of the vote of thanks, and you may imagine how Luck smiled when he saw that!
He stayed a little while, and during the recess which presently was called he shook hands with many an old-timer whose name stood for a good deal in the great State of Texas. Then he left them, still smiling over what he called his good luck, and wired a copy of the letter of endorsement to all the trade journals, to be incorporated in his full-page advertising. By another stroke of luck he caught most of the trade journals before their forms closed for the next issue, so that _The Phantom Herd_ was speedily heralded throughout the profession as the first really authentic Western drama ever produced. By still another stroke of what he called luck, an Associated Press man found him out, and was pleased to ask him many questions and to make a few notes; and Luck, wise to the value of publicity, answered the questions and saw to it that the notes recorded interesting facts.
That evening Luck, feeling that he had reached the last mile-post on the road to success, hunted up a few old-timers who appealed to him most as true types of the range, and gave them a dinner in a certain place which he knew was run by an old round-up cook. There was nothing about that dinner which would have appealed to a cabaret crowd. They talked of the old days when Luck was a lad, those old-timers; they talked of trail-herds and of droughts and of floods and blizzards and range wars and the market prices of beef “on the hoof.” They called in the old round-up cook and cursed him companionably as one of themselves, and remembered that more than one of them had run when he pounded the bottom of a frying pan and hollered “Come and get it!” They ate and they smoked and they talked and talked and talked, until Luck had to indulge himself in a taxi if he would not miss the eleven o’clock train north. His only regret, in spite of the fact that he was practically and familiarly broke again, was that circumstances did not permit the Happy Family to sit with him at that table. Especially did he regret not having old Applehead and the dried little man with him that night to make his gathering complete.
“SHE’S SHAPING UP LIKE A BANK ROLL”
“Well,” said Luck to the Happy Family, “we’ve come this far along the trail, and now I’m stuck again. Bank won’t loan any more on the camera, and I’ve got a dollar and six bits to market _The Phantom Herd_ with! Everything’s fine so far; she’s advertised,–or will be when the magazines come out,–and she’s got some good press notices to back her up; but she ain’t outa the woods yet. I’ve got to raise some money somehow. I hate to ask poor old Applehead–“
“Pore old Applehead, my granny!” bawled Big Medicine, laughing his big _haw-haw._ “Pore ole Applehead’s sure steppin’ high these days. He’d mortgage his ranch and feel like a millionaire, by cripes! His ole Come-Paddy cat jest natcherally walloped the tar outa Shunky Cheestely, and Applehead seen him doin’ it. Come-Paddy, he’s hangin’ out in the house now, by cripes, ‘cept when he takes a sashay down to the stable lookin’ fer more. And Shunky, he’s bedded down under the Ketch-all, when he ain’t hittin’ fer the tall timber with his tail clamped down between his legs. Honest to grandma, Luck, you couldn’t hit Applehead at a better time. He’ll borry money er do anything yuh care to ask, except shut up that there cat uh hisn.”
“Well, luck may come my way; I’ll just sit tight a few days and see,” said Luck. “When that positive film comes, I’ll have to rustle money somewhere to get it outa the express office, so we can make more prints. And–“
“And grind our daylights out again on that there drum that never does git wound up?” groaned Big Medicine, and felt his biceps tenderly.
“We won’t rush the next job quite so hard,” Luck soothed, perfectly amiable and easy to live with, now that the worst was over. “We made a darn good set of prints, just the same; boys, you oughta seen that picture! I’ve a good mind to get some house here in town to run it; say, I might raise some money that way, if I can’t do it any other.” And then his enthusiasm cooled. “Town isn’t big enough for a long-enough run,” he considered disgustedly. “I’m past the two-bit stage of the game now.”
“Well, you ask Applehead to raise the money,” advised Weary. “Or one of us will write to Chip for some. Mamma! The world’s full of money! Seems like it ought to be easy to get hold of some.”
“It is–but it ain’t,” Luck stated somewhat ambiguously, and turned the talk to his meeting with the old-timers, and prepared to “sit tight” and wait for his god Good Luck to smile upon him.
The smile arrived at noon the next day, in the form of a wire from Philadelphia. Luck read it and gave a whoop of joy quite at variance with his usual surface calm.
Can Offer You Fifteen Hundred Dollars for Pennsylvania Rights The Phantom Herd Usual Ten Cents Per Foot Positive Prints if Accepted Wire at Once and Ship to This Point
“I hollered too soon,” groaned Luck, when he had read it the second time, pushing back his hair distractedly. “How the devil am I going to send him any positive prints at ten cents a foot or ten cents an inch or any other price? Till I get that shipment of positive, I can’t fill any orders at all! And until I begin to fill orders, I can’t realize on the film. Can you beat that? I’ll have to wire him to wait, and that’s two thousand dollars tied up!”
“Aw, gwan!” Happy Jack croaked argumentatively. “Why don’t you send him what you took to the Convention?”
Luck stared at Happy stupefied before he said a word. “Say, Miguel, you saddle your ridge-runner while I get ready to take this wire hack to town and send it off,” he snapped, preparing to write. “Sure, I’ll send that set of prints! Happy, you can go to the head of the class. Now it’s only a case of sit tight till the money comes. The prints are packed and in the bank vault, so I’ll just get them out and send them C.O.D. to Mr. Crittenden, along with the states rights contract. How’s that for luck, boys?”
“Pretty good–for Luck,” grinned Andy meaningly. “Fly at it, you coming millionaire!”
“Just a case of sit tight, boys. _Adios!”_ cried Luck jubilantly as he hurried away.
Once start along a smooth trail, and everything seems to conspire toward a pleasant trip. To prove it, Luck found another telegram waiting for him in Albuquerque. This was from Martinson, and might be interpreted as an apology more or less abject. Certainly it was an urgent request that he return immediately to Los Angeles and to his old place at the Acme, and produce Western pictures under no supervision whatever.
Luck gave a little chuckle when he pocketed that message, but he did not send any answer. He meant to wait and talk it over with the boys first. “Better proposition than before,” Martinson said. Well, perhaps it would be best to look into it; Luck was too experienced to believe that one success means permanent success; there are too many risks for the free lance to run when a single failure means financial annihilation. If the Acme would come to his terms, it might be to his advantage to take his boys back and accept this peace-offering. At any rate, he appreciated to the full the triumph they had scored.
Next, by some twist of the red tape in the Philadelphia express office,–or perhaps R.J. Crittenden was a good fellow and asked them to do it,–the two thousand dollars came by wire, just three days after Luck had received notice that his shipment of positive film was being held for him at the express office in Albuquerque. Also came other offers, mostly by wire, for states rights to _The Phantom Herd._ And when the Happy Family realized what those offers meant, they didn’t care how hard or how long Luck worked them in the little house which he had turned into a laboratory.
Being human, intensely so in some ways, the first set of prints they turned out Luck sent to Los Angeles with a mental godspeed and a hope that Bently Brown and Martinson would see it and “get wise to what a _real_ Western picture looked like.” There were other orders ahead of Los Angeles in Luck’s book, but they waited a little longer so that he might the sooner taste a little of the sweets of revenge.
Whether Bently Brown and Martinson saw _The Phantom Herd,_ Luck was a long, long time finding out. But he learned that some one else did see it, and that right speedily. For among his many telegrams that came clicking into Albuquerque was this one which makes a fitting end to this story:
Congratulations on _The Phantom Herd_ Wonderful Production New Proposition You to Produce Western Features with Your Present Company on Straight Salary and Bonus Basis Miss Jean Douglas to Play Your Leads if I Can Sign Her up Can You Come Here at Once to Close Deal Answer
“All right, boys, you can run and play.” Luck handed them the telegram, looked at his watch, and began to roll down his sleeves. “I’ll catch the next train for ‘Los’ and see Dewitt,–don’t take any studying to know that’s the thing to do,–and if you’ll pack all this negative, Bill, I’ll take that along and hire the rest of the prints made. Andy, you’re riding herd on this bunch while I’m gone. Just hold yourselves ready for orders, because I don’t know how things will shape up. But believe me, boys, she’s shaping up like a bank-roll!”