Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Jean of the Lazy A By B. M. BOWER

Jean of the Lazy A
Without going into a deep, psychological discussion
of the elements in men's souls that breed
events, we may say with truth that the Lazy A ranch
was as other ranches in the smooth tenor of its life
until one day in June, when the finger of fate wrote
bold and black across the face of it the word that blotted
out prosperity, content, warm family ties,--all those
things that go to make life worth while.
Jean, sixteen and a range girl to the last fiber of her
being, had gotten up early that morning and had washed
the dishes and swept, and had shaken the rugs of the
little living-room most vigorously. On her knees, with
stiff brush and much soapy water, she had scrubbed the
kitchen floor until the boards dried white as kitchen
floors may be. She had baked a loaf of gingerbread,
that came from the oven with a most delectable odor,
and had wrapped it in a clean cloth to cool on the
kitchen table. Her dad and Lite Avery would show
cause for the baking of it when they sat down, fresh
washed and ravenous, to their supper that evening. I
mention Jean and her scrubbed kitchen and the gingerbread
by way of proving how the Lazy A went unwarned
and unsuspecting to the very brink of its disaster.
Lite Avery, long and lean and silently content with
life, had ridden away with a package of sandwiches,
after a full breakfast and a smile from the slim girl
who cooked it, upon the business of the day; which
happened to be a long ride with one of the Bar Nothing
riders, down in the breaks along the river. Jean's
father, big Aleck Douglas, had saddled and ridden away
alone upon business of his own. And presently, in midforenoon,
Jean closed the kitchen door upon an
immaculately clean house filled with the warm, fragrant
odor of her baking, and in fresh shirt waist and her
best riding-skirt and Stetson, went whistling away down
the path to the stable, and saddled Pard, the brown colt
that Lite had broken to the saddle for her that spring.
In ten minutes or so she went galloping down the coulee
and out upon the trail to town, which was fifteen miles
away and held a chum of hers.
So Lazy A coulee was left at peace, with scratching
hens busy with the feeding of half-feathered chicks,
and a rooster that crowed from the corral fence seven
times without stopping to take breath. In the big
corral a sorrel mare nosed her colt and nibbled
abstractedly at the pile of hay in one corner, while the
colt wabbled aimlessly up and sniffed curiously and then
turned to inspect the rails that felt so queer and hard
when he rubbed his nose against them. The sun was
warm, and cloud-shadows drifted lazily across the coulee
with the breeze that blew from the west. You never
would dream that this was the last day,--the last few
hours even,--when the Lazy A would be the untroubled
home of three persons of whose lives it formed so
great a part.
At noon the hens were hovering their chickens in the
shade of the mower which Lite was overhauling during
his spare time, getting it ready for the hay that was
growing apace out there in the broad mouth of the
coulee. The rooster was wallowing luxuriously in a
dusty spot in the corral. The young colt lay stretched
out on the fat of its side in the sun, sound asleep. The
sorrel mare lay beside it, asleep also, with her head
thrown up against her shoulder. Somewhere in a shed
a calf was bawling in bored lonesomeness away from its
mother feeding down the pasture. And over all the
coulee and the buildings nestled against the bluff at
its upper end was spread that atmosphere of homey
comfort and sheltered calm which surrounds always a
home that is happy.
Lite Avery, riding toward home just when the shadows
were beginning to grow long behind him, wondered
if Jean would be back by the time he reached the
ranch. He hoped so, with a vague distaste at finding
the place empty of her cheerful presence. Be looked
at his watch; it was nearly four o'clock. She ought to
be home by half-past four or five, anyway. He glanced
sidelong at Jim and quietly slackened his pace a little.
Jim was telling one of those long, rambling tales of
the little happenings of a narrow life, and Lite was
supposed to be listening instead of thinking about when
Jean would return home. Jim believed he was listening,
and drove home the point of his story.
"Yes, sir, them's his very words. Art Osgood heard
him. He'll do it, too, take it from me, Crofty is shore
riled up this time."
"Always is," Lite observed, without paying much
attention. "I'll turn off here, Jim, and cut across.
Got some work I want to get done yet to-night. So
He swung away from his companion, whose trail to
the Bar Nothing led him straight west, passing the Lazy
A coulee well out from its mouth, toward the river.
Lite could save a half mile by bearing off to the north
and entering the coulee at the eastern side and riding
up through the pasture. He wanted to see how the
grass was coming on, anyway. The last rain should
have given it a fresh start.
He was in no great hurry, after all; he had merely
been bored with Jim's company and wanted to go on
alone. And then he could get the fire started for
Jean. Lite's life was running very smoothly indeed;
so smoothly that his thoughts occupied themselves
largely with little things, save when they concerned
themselves with Jean, who had been away to school for
a year and had graduated from "high," as she called it,
just a couple of weeks ago, and had come home to keep
house for dad and Lite. The novelty of her presence
on the ranch was still fresh enough to fill his thoughts
with her slim attractiveness. Town hadn't spoiled her,
he thought glowingly. She was the same good little
pal,--only she was growing up pretty fast, now. She
was a young lady already.
So, thinking of her with the brightening of spirits
which is the first symptom of the world-old emotion
called love, Lite rounded the eastern arm of the bluff
and came within sight of the coulee spread before him,
shaped like the half of a huge platter with a high rim of
bluff on three sides.
His first involuntary glance was towards the house,
and there was unacknowledged expectancy in his eyes.
But he did not see Jean, nor any sign that she had
returned. Instead, he saw her father just mounting in
haste at the corral. He saw him swing his quirt down
along the side of his horse and go tearing down the
trail, leaving the wire gate flat upon the ground behind
him,--which was against all precedent.
Lite quickened his own pace. He did not know why
big Aleck Douglas should be hitting that pace out of
the coulee, but since Aleck's pace was habitually
unhurried, the inference was plain enough that there was
some urgent need for haste. Lite let down the rails of
the barred gate from the meadow into the pasture,
mounted, and went galloping across the uneven sod.
His first anxious thought was for the girl. Had something
happened to her?
At the stable he looked and saw that Jean's saddle did
not hang on its accustomed peg inside the door, and he
breathed freer. She could not have returned, then. He
turned his own horse inside without taking off the saddle,
and looked around him puzzled. Nothing seemed
wrong about the place. The sorrel mare stood placidly
switching at the flies and suckling her gangling colt in
the shady corner of the corral, and the chickens were
pecking desultorily about their feeding-ground in
expectation of the wheat that Jean or Lite would fling
to them later on. Not a thing seemed unusual.
Yet Lite stood just outside the stable, and the
sensation that something was wrong grew keener. He was
not a nervous person,--you would have laughed at the
idea of nerves in connection with Lite Avery. He felt
that something was wrong, just the same. It was not
altogether the hurried departure of Aleck Douglas,
either, that made him feel so. He looked at the house
setting back there close to the bluff just where it began
to curve rudely out from the narrowest part of the
coulee. It was still and quiet, with closed windows and
doors to tell there was no one at home. And yet, to
Lite its very silence seemed sinister.
Wolves were many, down in the breaks along the
river that spring; and the coyotes were an ever-present
evil among the calves, so that Lite never rode abroad
without his six-shooter. He reached back and loosened
it in the holster before he started up the sandy path
to the house; and if you knew the Lazy A ranch as
well as Lite knew it, from six years of calling it home,
you would wonder at that action of his, which was
instinctive and wholly unconscious.
So he went up through the sunshine of late afternoon
that sent his shadow a full rod before him, and he
stepped upon the narrow platform before the kitchen
door, and stood there a minute listening. He heard
the mantel clock in the living-room ticking with the
resonance given by a room empty of all other sound.
Because his ears were keen, he heard also the little
alarm clock in the kitchen tick-tick-tick on the shelf
behind the stove where Jean kept it daytimes.
Peaceful enough, for all the silence; yet Lite reached
back and laid his fingers upon the smooth butt of his
six-shooter and opened the door with his left hand,
which was more or less awkward. He pushed the door
open and stepped inside. Then for a full minute he
did not move.
On the floor that Jean had scrubbed till it was so
white, a man lay dead, stretched upon his back. His
eyes stared vacantly straight up at the ceiling, where a
single cobweb which Jean had not noticed swayed in
the air-current Lite set in motion with the opening of
the door. On the floor, where it had dropped from his
hand perhaps when he fell, a small square piece of
gingerbread lay, crumbled around the edges. Tragic
halo around his head, a pool of blood was turning brown
and clotted. Lite shivered a little while he stared down
at him.
In a minute he lifted his eyes from the figure
and looked around the small room. The stove shone
black in the sunlight which the open door let in. On
the table, covered with white oilcloth, the loaf of gingerbread
lay uncovered, and beside it lay a knife used to
cut off the piece which the man on the floor had not
eaten before he died. Nothing else was disturbed.
Nothing else seemed in the least to bear any evidence
of what had taken place.
Lite's thoughts turned in spite of him to the man
who had ridden from the coulee as though fiends had
pursued. The conclusion was obvious, yet Lite loyally
rejected it in the face of reason. Reason told him
that there went the slayer. For this dead man was
what was left of Johnny Croft, the Crofty of whom
Jim had gossiped not more than half an hour before.
And the gossip had been of threats which Johnny Croft
had made against the two Douglas brothers,--big
Aleck, of the Lazy A, and Carl, of the Bar Nothing
ranch adjoining.
Suicide it could scarcely be, for Crofty was the type
of man who would cling to life; besides, his gun was
in its holster, and a man would hardly have the strength
or the desire to put away his gun after he has shot
himself under one eye. Death had undoubtedly been
immediate. Lite thought of these things while he stood
there just inside the door. Then he turned slowly and
went outside, and stood hesitating upon the porch. He
did not quite know what he ought to do about it, and
so he did not mean to be in too great a hurry to do
anything; that was Lite's habit, and he had always
found that it served him well.
If the rider had been fleeing from his crime, as was
likely, Lite had no mind to raise at once the hue and
cry. An hour or two could make no difference to the
dead man,--and you must remember that Lite had for
six years called this place his home, and big Aleck
Douglas his friend as well as the man who paid him
wages for the work he did. He was half tempted to
ride away and say nothing for a while. He could let
it appear that he had not been at the house at all and so
had not discovered the crime when he did. That would
give Aleck Douglas more time to get away. But there
was Jean, due at any moment now. He could not go
away and let Jean discover that gruesome thing on the
kitchen floor. He could not take it up and hide it away
somewhere; he could not do anything, it seemed to him,
but just wait.
He went slowly down the path to the stable, his chin
on his chest, his mind grappling with the tragedy and
with the problem of how best he might lighten the blow
that had fallen upon the ranch. It was unreal,--it
was unthinkable,--that Aleck Douglas, the man who
met but friendly glances, ride where he might, had
done this thing. And yet there was nothing else to believe.
Johnny Croft had worked here on the ranch for
a couple of months, off and on. He had not been steadily
employed, and he had been paid by the day instead
of by the month as was the custom. He had worked
also for Carl Douglas at the Bar Nothing; back and
forth, for one or the other as work pressed. He was
too erratic to be depended upon except from day to
day; too prone to saddle his horse and ride to town and
forget to return for a day or two days or a week, as
the mood seized him or his money held out.
Lite knew that there had been some dispute when he
had left; he had claimed payment for more days than
he had worked. Aleck was a just man who paid honestly
what he owed; he was also known to be "closefisted."
He would pay what he owed and not a nickel
more,--hence the dispute. Johnny had gone away
seeming satisfied that his own figures were wrong, but
later on he had quarreled with Carl over wages and
other things. Carl had a bad temper that sometimes
got beyond his control, and he had ordered Johnny off
the ranch. This was part of the long, full-detailed
story Jim had been telling. Johnny had left, and he
had talked about the Douglas brothers to any one who
would listen. He had said they were crooked, both of
them, and would cheat a working-man out of his pay.
He had come back, evidently, to renew the argument
with Aleck. With the easy ways of ranch people, he
had gone inside when he found no one at home,--
hungry, probably, and not at all backward about helping
himself to whatever appealed to his appetite. That
was Johnny's way,--a way that went unquestioned,
since he had lived there long enough to feel at home.
Lite remembered with an odd feeling of pity how
Johnny had praised the first gingerbread which Jean
had baked, the day after her arrival; and how he had
eaten three pieces and had made Jean's cheeks burn
with confusion at his bold flattery.
He had come back, and he had helped himself to the
gingerbread. And then he had been shot down. He
was lying in there now, just as he had fallen, and his
blood was staining deep the fresh-scrubbed floor. And
Jean would be coming home soon. Lite thought it would
be better if he rode out to meet her, and told her what
had happened, so that she need not come upon it
unprepared. There was nothing else that he could bring
himself to do, and his mood demanded action of some
sort; one could not sit down at peace with a fresh
tragedy like that hanging over the place.
He had reached the stable when a horse walked out
from behind the hay corral and stopped, eyeing him
curiously. It was Johnny's horse. Even as improvident
a cowpuncher as Johnny Croft had been likes to
own a "private" horse,--one that is his own and can
be ridden when and where the owner chooses. Lite
turned and went over to it, caught it by the dragging
bridle-reins, and led it into an empty stall. He did
not know whether he ought to unsaddle it or leave it as
it was; but on second thought, he loosened the cinch in
kindness to the animal, and took off its bridle, so that
it could eat without being hampered by the bit. Lite
was too thorough a horseman not to be thoughtful of
an animal's comfort.
He led his own horse out, and then he stopped
abruptly. For Pard stood in front of the kitchen door,
and Jean was untying a package or two from the saddle.
He opened his mouth to call to her; he started forward;
but he was too late to prevent what happened. Before
his throat had made a sound, Jean turned with the
packages in the hollow of her arm and stepped upon the
platform with that springy haste of movement which
belongs to health and youth and happiness; and before
he had taken more than the first step away from his
horse, she had opened the kitchen door.
Lite ran, then. He did not call to her. What was
the use? She had seen. She had dropped her packages,
and turned and ran to meet him, and caught him
by the arm in a panic of horror. Lite patted her hand
awkwardly, not knowing what he ought to say.
"What made you go in there?" came of its own
accord from his lips. "That's no place for a girl."
"It's Johnny Croft!" she gasped just above her
breath. "How--did it happen, Lite?"
"I don't know," said Lite slowly, looking down and
still patting her hand. "Your father and I have both
been gone all day. I just got back a few minutes ago
and found out about it." His tone, his manner and
his words impressed upon Jean the point he wanted her
to get,--that her father had not yet returned, and so
knew nothing of the crime.
He led her back to where Pard stood, and told her to
get on. Without asking him why, Jean obeyed him,
with a shudder when her wide eyes strayed fascinated
to the open door and to what lay just within. Lite
went up and pulled the door shut, and then, walking beside
her with an arm over Pard's neck, he led the way
down to the stable, and mounted Ranger.
"You can't stay here," he explained, when she looked
at him inquiringly. "Do you want to go over and stay
at Carl's, or would you rather go back to town?" He
rode down toward the gate, and Jean kept beside him.
"I'm going to stay with dad," she told him shakily.
"If he stays, I'll--I'll stay."
"You'll not stay," he contradicted her bluntly.
"You can't. It wouldn't be right." And he added
self-reproachfully: "I never thought of your cutting
across the bench and riding down the trail back of the
house. I meant to head you off--"
"It's shorter," said Jean briefly. "I--if I can't
stay, I'd rather go to town, Lite. I don't like to stay
over at Uncle Carl's."
Therefore, when they reached the mouth of the
coulee, Lite turned into the trail that led to town.
All down the coulee the trail had been dug deep with
the hoofprints of a galloping horse; and now, on the
town trail, they were as plain as a primer to one
schooled in the open. But Jean was too upset to
notice them, and for that Lite was thankful. They
did not talk much, beyond the commonplace speculations
which tragedy always brings to the lips of the
bystanders. Comments that were perfectly obvious
they made, it is true. Jean said it was perfectly awful,
and Lite agreed with her. Jean wondered how it
could have happened, and Lite said he didn't know.
Neither of them said anything about the effect it would
have upon their future; I don't suppose that Jean, at
least, could remotely guess at the effect. It is certain
that Lite preferred not to do so.
They were no more than half way to town when they
met a group of galloping horsemen, their coming heralded
for a mile by the dust they kicked out of the trail.
In the midst rode Jean's father. Alongside him
rode the coroner, and behind him rode the sheriff.
The rest of the company was made up of men who had
heard the news and were coming to look upon the
tragedy. Lite drew a long breath of relief. Aleck
Douglas, then, had not been running away.
"Lucky you was with me all day, up to four
o'clock, Lite," Jim said. "That lets you out
slick and clean, seeing the doctor claims he'd been dead
six hours when he seen him last night. Crofty--why,
Crofty was laying in there dead when I was talking
about him to you! Kinda gives a man the creeps to
think of it. Who do you reckon done it, Lite?"
"How'n hell do _I_ know?" Lite retorted irritably.
"I didn't see it done."
Jim studied awhile, an ear cocked for the signal that
the coroner was ready to begin the inquest. "Say,"
he leaned over and whispered in Lite's ear, "where
was Aleck at, all day yesterday?"
"Riding over in the bend, looking for black-leg
signs," said Lite promptly. "Packed a lunch, same as
I did."
The answer seemed to satisfy Jim and to eliminate
from his mind any slight suspicion he may have held,
but Lite had a sudden impulse to improve upon his
"I saw Aleck ride into the ranch as I was coming
home," he said. As he spoke, his face lightened as
with a weight lifted from his mind.
Later, when the coroner questioned him about his
movements and the movements of Aleck, Lite repeated
the lie as casually as possible. It might have carried
more weight with the jury if Aleck Douglas himself had
not testified, just before then, that he had returned
about three o'clock to the ranch and pottered around the
corral with the mare and colt, and unsaddled his horse
before going into the house at all. It was only when
he had discovered Johnny Croft's horse at the haystack,
he said, that he began to wonder where the rider could
be. He had gone to the house--and found him on
the kitchen floor.
Lite had not heard this statement, for the simple
reason that, being a closely interested person, he had
been invited to remain outside while Aleck Douglas
testified. He wondered why the jury,--men whom
he knew and had known for years, most of them,--
looked at one another so queerly when he declared that
he had seen Aleck ride home. The coroner also had
given him a queer look, but he had not made any comment.
Aleck, too, had turned his head and stared at
Lite in a way which Lite preferred to think he had not
Beyond that one statement which had produced such
a curious effect, Lite did not have anything to say that
shed the faintest light upon the matter. He told where
he had been, and that he had discovered the body just
before Jean arrived, and that he had immediately
started with her to town. The coroner did not crossquestion
him. Counting from four o'clock, which Jim
had already named as the time of their separation, Lite
would have had just about time to do the things he
testified to doing. The only thing he claimed to have
done and could not possibly have done, was to see Aleck
Douglas riding into the coulee. Aleck himself had
branded that a lie before Lite had ever uttered it.
The result was just what was to be expected. Aleck
Douglas was placed under arrest, and as a prisoner he
rode back to town alongside the sheriff,--an old friend
of his, by the way,--to where Jean waited impatiently
for news.
It was Lite who told her. "It'll come out all right,"
he said, in his calm way that might hide a good deal of
emotion beneath it. "It's just to have something to
work from,--don't mean anything in particular. It's
a funny way the law has got," he explained, "of
arresting the last man that saw a fellow alive, or the first
one that sees him dead."
Jean studied this explanation dolefully. "They
ought to find out the last one that saw him alive," she
said resentfully, "and arrest him, then,--and leave
dad out of it. There's no sense in the law, if that's
the way it works."
"Well, I didn't make the law," Lite observed, in
a tone that made Jean look up curiously into his
"Why don't they find out who saw him last?" she
repeated. "Somebody did. Somebody must have
gone there with him. Lite, do you know that Art Osgood
came into town with his horse all in a lather of
sweat, and took the afternoon train yesterday? I saw
him. I met him square in the middle of the street, and
he didn't even look at me. He was in a frightful hurry,
and he looked all upset. If I was the law, I'd leave
dad alone and get after Art Osgood. He acted to me,"
she added viciously, "exactly as if he were running
"He wasn't, though. Jim told me Art was going to
leave yesterday; that was in the forenoon. He's going
to Alaska,--been planning it all spring. And Carl
said he was with Art till Art left to catch the train.
Somebody else from town here had seen him take the
train, and asked about him. No, it wasn't Art."
"Well, who was it, then?"
Never before had Lite failed to tell Jean just what
she wanted to know. He failed now, and he went away
as though he was glad to put distance between them.
He did not know what to think. He did not want to
think. Certainly he did not want to talk, to Jean
especially. For lies never came easily to the tongue of
Lite Avery. It was all very well to tell Jean that he
didn't know who it was; he did tell her so, and made
his escape before she could read in his face the fear that
he did know. It was not so easy to guard his fear from
the keen eyes of his fellows, with whom he must mingle
and discuss the murder, or else pay the penalty of having
them suspect that he knew a great deal more about
it than he admitted.
Several men tried to stop him and talk about it, but
he put them off. He was due at the ranch, he said, to
look after the stock. He didn't know a thing about it,
Lazy A coulee, when he rode into it, seemed to wear
already an air of depression, foretaste of what was to
come. The trail was filled with hoofprints, and cut
deep with the wagon that had borne the dead man to
town and to an unwept burial. At the gate he met
Carl Douglas, riding with his head sunk deep on his
chest. Lite would have avoided that meeting if he
could have done so unobtrusively, but as it was, he
pulled up and waited while Carl opened the wire gate
and dragged it to one side. From the look of his face,
Carl also would have avoided the meeting, if he
could have done so. He glanced up as Lite passed
"Hell of a verdict," Lite made brief comment when
he met Carl's eyes.
Carl stopped, leaning against his horse with one
hand thrown up to the saddle-horn. He was a small
man, not at all like Aleck in size or in features. He
looked haggard now and white.
"What do you make of it?" he asked Lite. "Do
you believe--?"
"Of course I don't! Great question for a brother
to ask," Lite retorted sharply. "It's not in Aleck to
do a thing like that."
"What made you say you saw him ride home? You
didn't, did you?"
"You heard what I said; take it or leave it." Lite
scowled down at Carl. "What was there queer about
it? Why--"
"If you'd been inside ten minutes before then,"
Carl told him bluntly, "you'd have heard Aleck say he
came home a full hour or more before you say you saw
him ride in. That's what's queer. What made you
do that? It won't help Aleck none."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" Lite
slouched miserably in the saddle, and eyed the other
without really seeing him at all. "They can't prove
anything on Aleck," he added with faint hope.
"I don't see myself how they can." Carl brightened
perceptibly. "His being alone all day is bad; he can't
furnish the alibi you can furnish. But they can't prove
anything. They'll turn him loose, the grand jury will;
they'll have to. They can't indict him on the evidence.
They haven't got any evidence,--not any more than
just the fact that he rode in with the news. No need
to worry; he'll be turned loose in a few days." He
picked up the gate, dragged it after him as he went
through, and fumbled the wire loop into place over the
post. "I wish," he said when he had mounted with
the gate between them, "you hadn't been so particular
to say you saw him ride home about the same time you
did. That looks bad, Lite."
"Bad for who?" Lite turned in the saddle aggressively.
"Looks bad all around. I don't see what made you
do that;--not when you knew Jim and Aleck had both
testified before you did."
Lite rode slowly down the road to the stable, and
cursed the impulse that had made him blunder so. He
had no compunctions for the lie, if only it had done any
good. It had done harm; he could see now that it had.
But he could not believe that it would make any material
difference in Aleck's case. As the story had been
repeated to Lite by half a dozen men, who had heard
him tell it, Aleck's own testimony had been responsible
for the verdict.
Men had told Lite plainly that Aleck was a fool
not to plead self-defense, even in face of the fact that
Johnny Croft had not drawn any weapon. Jim had
declared that Aleck could have sworn that Johnny
reached for his gun. Others admitted voluntarily that
while it would be a pretty weak defense, it would beat
the story Aleck had told.
Lite turned the mare and colt into a shed for the
night. He milked the two cows without giving any
thought to what he was doing, and carried the milk to
the kitchen door before he realized that it would be
wasted, sitting in pans when the house would be empty.
Still, it occurred to him that he might as well go on
with the routine of the place until they knew to a
certainty what the grand jury would do. So he went in
and put away the milk.
After that, Lite let other work wait while he cleaned
the kitchen and tried to wash out that brown stain on
the floor. His face was moody, his eyes dull with
trouble. Like a treadmill, his mind went over and over
the meager knowledge he had of the tragedy. He could
not bring himself to believe Aleck Douglas guilty of the
murder; yet he could not believe anything else.
Johnny Croft, it had been proven at the inquest,
rode out from town alone, bent on mischief, if vague,
half-drunken threats meant anything. He had told
more than one that he was going to the Lazy A, but it
was certain that no one had followed him from town.
His threats had been for the most part directed against
Carl, it is true; but if he had meant to quarrel with
Carl, he would have gone to the Bar Nothing instead of
the Lazy A. Probably he had meant to see both Carl
and Aleck, and had come here first, since it was the
nearest to town.
As to enemies, no one had particularly liked Johnny.
He was not a likeable sort; he was too "mouthy"
according to his associates. He had quarreled with a
good many for slight cause, but since he was so notoriously
blatant and argumentative, no one had taken him
seriously enough to nurse any grudge that would be
likely to breed assassination. It was inconceivable to
Lite that any man had trailed Johnny Croft to the
Lazy A and shot him down in the kitchen while he was
calmly helping himself to Jean's gingerbread. Still,
he must take that for granted or else believe what he
steadfastly refused to confess even to himself that he
It was nearly dark when he threw out the last pail
of water and stood looking down dissatisfied at the
result of his labor, while he dried his hands. The stain
was still there, in spite of him, just as the memory of
the murder would cling always to the place. He went
out and watered Jean's poppies and sweet peas and
pansies, still going over and over the evidence and trying
to fill in the gaps.
He had blundered with his lie that had meant to
help. The lie had proven to every man who heard him
utter it that his faith in Aleck's innocence was not
strong; it had proven that he did not trust the facts.
That hurt Lite, and made it seem more than ever his
task to clear up the matter, if he could. If he could
not, then he would make amends in whatever way he
Almost as if he were guarding that gruesome room
which was empty now and silent,--since the clock had
not been wound and had run down,--he sat long upon
the narrow platform before the kitchen door and smoked
and stared straight before him. Once he thought he
saw a man move cautiously from the corner of the
shed where the youngest calf slept beside its mother,
He had been thinking so deeply of other things that
he was not sure, but he went down there, his cigarette
glowing in the gloom, and stood looking and listening.
He neither saw nor heard anything, and presently
he went back to the house; but his abstraction was
broken by the fancy, so that he did not sit down again
to smoke and think. He had thought until his brain
felt heavy and stupid; and the last cigarette he lighted;
he threw away, for he had smoked until his tongue was
sore. He went in and went to bed.
For a long time he lay awake. Finally he dropped
into a sleep so heavy that it was nearer to a torpor, and
it was the sunlight that awoke him; sunlight that was
warm in the room and proved how late the morning was.
He swore in his astonishment and got up hastily, a
great deal more optimistic than when he had lain down,
and hurried out to feed the stock before he boiled coffee
and fried eggs for himself.
It was when he went in to cook his belated breakfast
that Lite noticed something which had no logical
explanation. There were footprints on the kitchen floor
that he had scrubbed so diligently. He stood looking
at them, much as he had looked at the stain that would
not come out, no matter how hard he scrubbed. He had
not gone in the room after he had pulled the door shut
and gone off to water Jean's dowers. He was positive
upon that point; and even if he had gone in, his tracks
would scarcely have led straight across the room to the
cupboard where the table dishes were kept.
The tracks led to the cupboard, and were muddled
confusedly there, as though the maker had stood there
for some minutes. Lite could not see any sense in
that. They were very distinct, just as footprints always
show plainly on clean boards. The floor had evidently
been moist still,--Lite had scrubbed man-fashion,
with a broom, and had not been very particular
about drying the floor afterwards. Also he had thrown
the water straight out from the door, and the fellow
must have stepped on the moist sand that clung to his
boots. In the dark he could not notice that, or see that
he had left tracks on the floor.
Lite went to the cupboard and looked inside it,
wondering what the man could have wanted there. It was
one of those old-fashioned "safes" such as our
grandmothers considered indispensable in the furnishing of
a kitchen. It held the table dishes neatly piled: dinner
plates at the end of the middle shelf, smaller plates
next, then a stack of saucers,--the arrangement stereotyped,
unvarying since first Lite Avery had taken dishtowel
in hand to dry the dishes for Jean when she was
ten and stood upon a footstool so that her elbows would
be higher than the rim of the dishpan. The cherryblossom
dinner set that had come from the mail-order
house long ago was chipped now and incomplete, but
the familiar rows gave Lite an odd sense of the
unreality of the tragedy that had so lately taken place
in that room.
Clearly there was nothing there to tempt a thief, and
there was nothing disturbed. Lite straightened up and
looked down thoughtfully upon the top of the cupboard,
where Jean had stacked out-of-date newspapers
and magazines, and where Aleck had laid a pair of
extra gloves. He pulled out the two small drawers just
under the cupboard top and looked within them. The
first held pipes and sacks of tobacco and books of
cigarette papers; Lite knew well enough the contents of
that drawer. He appraised the supply of tobacco,
remembered how much had been there on the morning of
the murder, and decided that none had been taken.
He helped himself to a fresh ten-cent sack of tobacco
and inspected the other drawer.
Here were merchants' bills, a few letters of no
consequence, a couple of writing tablets, two lead pencils,
and a steel pen and a squat bottle of ink. This was
called the writing-drawer, and had been since Lite first
came to the ranch. Here Lite believed the confusion
was recent. Jean had been very domestic since her
return from school, and all disorder had been frowned
upon. Lately the letters had been stacked in a corner,
whereas now they were scattered. But they were
of no consequence, once they had been read, and there
was nothing else to merit attention from any one.
Lite looked down at the tracks and saw that they led
into another room, which was Aleck's bedroom. He
went in there, but he could not find any reason for a
night-prowler's visit. Aleck's desk was always open.
There was never anything there which he wanted to
hide away. His account books and his business
correspondence, such as it was, lay accessible to the
curious. There was nothing intricate or secret about the
running of the Lazy A ranch; nothing that should
interest any one save the owner.
It occurred to Lite that incriminating evidence is
sometimes placed surreptitiously in a suspected man's
desk. He had heard of such things being done. He
could not imagine what evidence might be placed here
by any one, but he made a thorough search. He did
not find anything that remotely concerned the murder.
He looked through the living-room, and even opened
the door which led from the kitchen into Jean's room,
which had been built on to the rest of the house a few
years before. He could not find any excuse for those
He cooked and ate his breakfast absent-mindedly,
glancing often down at the footprints on the floor, and
occasionally at the brown stain in the center. He decided
that he would not say anything about those tracks.
He would keep his eyes open and his mouth shut, and
see what came of it.
You would think that the bare word of a man who
has lived uprightly in a community for fifteen
years or so would be believed under oath, even if his
whole future did depend upon it. You would think
that Aleck Douglas could not be convicted of murder
just because he had reported that a man was shot down
in Aleck's house.
The report of Aleck Douglas' trial is not the main
feature of this story; it is merely the commencement,
one might say. Therefore, I am going to be brief as
I can and still give you a clear idea of the situation,
and then I am going to skip the next three years and
begin where the real story begins.
Aleck's position was dishearteningly simple, and there
was nothing much that one could do to soften the facts
or throw a new light on the murder. Lite watched,
wide awake and eager, many a night for the return of
that prowler, but he never saw or heard a thing that
gave him any clue whatever. So the footprints seemed
likely to remain the mystery they had seemed on the
morning when he discovered them. He laid traps,
pretending to ride away from the ranch to town before
dark, and returning cautiously by way of the trail
down the bluff behind the house. But nothing came of
it. Lazy A ranch was keeping its secret well, and by
the time the trial was begun, Lite had given up hope.
Once he believed the house had been visited in the
daytime, during his absence in town, but he could not be
sure of that.
Jean went to Chinook and stayed there, so that Lite
saw her seldom. Carl also was away much of the time,
trying by every means he could think of to swing public
opinion and the evidence in Aleck's favor. He
prevailed upon Rossman, who was Montana's best-known
lawyer, to defend the case, for one thing. He seemed
to pin his faith almost wholly upon Rossman, and
declared to every one that Aleck would never be convicted.
It would be, he maintained, impossible to convict him,
with Rossman handling the case; and he always added
the statement that you can't send an innocent man to
jail, if things are handled right.
Perhaps he did not, after all, handle things right. For
in spite of Rossman, and Aleck's splendid reputation,
and the meager evidence against him, he was found
guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in
Deer Lodge penitentiary.
Rossman had made a great speech, and had made
men in the jury blink back unshed tears. But he could
not shake from them the belief that Aleck Douglas had
ridden home and met Johnny Croft, calmly making
himself at home in the Lazy A kitchen. He could not
convince them that there had not been a quarrel, and
that Aleck had not fired the shot in the grip of a
sudden, overwhelming rage against Croft. By Aleck's
own statement he had been at the ranch some time before
he had started for town to report the murder. By
the word of several witnesses, it had been proven that
Croft had left town meaning to collect wages which he
claimed were due him or else he would "get even."
His last words to a group out by the hitching pole in
front of the saloon which was Johnny's hangout, were:
"I'm going to get what's coming to me, or there'll be
one fine, large bunch of trouble!" He had not
mentioned Aleck Douglas by name, it is true; but the fact
that he had been found at the Lazy A was proof enough
that he had referred to Aleck when he spoke.
There is no means of knowing just how far-reaching
was the effect of that impulsive lie which Lite had told
at the inquest. He did not repeat the blunder at the
trial. When the district attorney reminded Lite of
the statement he had made, Lite had calmly explained
that he had made a mistake; he should have said that
he had seen Aleck ride away from the ranch instead
of to it. Beyond that he would not go, question him as
they might.
The judge sentenced Aleck to eight years, and
publicly regretted the fact that Aleck had persisted in
asserting his innocence; had he pleaded guilty instead,
the judge more than hinted, the sentence would have
been made as light as the law would permit. It was
the stubborn denial of the deed in the face of all
reason, he said, that went far toward weaning from the
prisoner what sympathy he would otherwise have commanded
from the public and the court of justice.
You know how those things go. There was nothing
particularly out of the ordinary in the case; we read
of such things in the paper, and a paragraph or two is
considered sufficient space to give so commonplace a
But there was Lite, loyal to his last breath in the
face of his secret belief that Aleck was probably guilty;
loyal and blaming himself bitterly for hurting Aleck's
cause when he had meant only to help. There was
Jean, dazed by the magnitude of the catastrophe that
had overtaken them all; clinging to Lite as to the only
part of her home that was left to her, steadfastly
refusing to believe that they would actually take her dad
away to prison, until the very last minute when she
stood on the crowded depot platform and watched in
dry-eyed misery while the train slid away and bore
him out of her life. These things are not put in the
"Come on, Jean." Lite took her by the arm and
swung her away from the curious crowd which she did
not see. "You're my girl now, and I'm going to start
right in using my authority. I've got Pard here in
the stable. You go climb into your riding-clothes, and
we'll hit it outa this darned burg where every man and
his dog has all gone to eyes and tongues. They make
me sick. Come on."
"Where?" Jean held back a little with vague
stubbornness against the thought of taking up life again
without her dad. "This--this is the jumping-off
place, Lite. There's nothing beyond."
Lite gripped her arm a little tighter if anything,
and led her across the street and down the high sidewalk
that bridged a swampy tract at the edge of town
beyond the depot.
"We're taking the long way round," he observed
"because I'm going to talk to you like a Dutch uncle
for saying things like that. I--had a talk with your
dad last night, Jean. He's turned you over to me to
look after till he gets back. I wish he coulda turned
the ranch over, along with you, but he couldn't. That's
been signed over to Carl, somehow; I didn't go into
that with your dad; we didn't have much time. Seems
Carl put up the money to pay Rossman,--and other
things,--and took over the ranch to square it. Anyway,
I haven't got anything to say about the business
end of the deal. I've got permission to boss you,
though, and I'm sure going to do it to a fare-you-well."
He cast a sidelong glance down at her. He could not
see anything of her face except the droop of her mouth,
a bit of her cheek, and her chin that promised firmness.
Her mouth did not change expression in the slightest
degree until she moved her lips in speech.
"I don't care. What is there to boss me about?
The world has stopped." Her voice was steady, and
it was also sullen.
"Right there is where the need of bossing begins.
You can't stay in town any longer. There's nothing
here to keep you from going crazy; and the Allens are
altogether too sympathetic; nice folks, and they mean
well,--but you don't want a bunch like that slopping
around, crying all over you and keeping you in mind
of things. I'm going to work for Carl, from now on.
You're going out there to the Bar Nothing--" He
felt a stiffening of the muscles under his fingers, and
answered calmly the signal of rebellion.
"Sure, that's the place for you. Your dad and Carl
fixed that up between them, anyway. That's to be
your home; so my saying so is just an extra rope to
bring you along peaceable. You're going to stay at
the Bar Nothing. And I'm going to make a top hand
outa you, Jean. I'm going to teach you to shoot and
rope and punch cows and ride, till there won't be a
girl in the United States to equal you."
"What for?" Jean still had an air of sullen
apathy. "That won't help dad any."
"It'll start the world moving again." Lite forced
himself to cheerfulness in the face of his own
despondency. "You say it's stopped. It's us that have
stopped. We've come to a blind pocket, you might
say, in the trail we've been taking through life. We've
got to start in a new place, that's all. Now, I know
you're dead game, Jean; at least I know you used to
be, and I'm gambling on school not taking that outa
you. You're maybe thinking about going away off
somewhere among strangers; but that wouldn't do at
all. Your dad always counted on keeping you away
from town life. I'm just going to ride herd on you,
Jean, and see to it that you go on the way your dad
wanted you to go. He can't be on the job, and so I'm
what you might call his foreman. I know how he
wants you to grow up; I'm going to make it my business
to grow you according to directions."
He saw a little quirk of her lips, at that, and was
vastly encouraged thereby.
"Has it struck you that you're liable to have your
hands full?" she asked him with a certain drawl that
Jean had possessed since she first learned to express
herself in words.
"Sure! I'll likely have both hand and my hat full
of trouble. But she's going to be done according to
contract. I reckon I'll wish you was a bronk before
I'm through--"
"What maddens me so that I could run amuck down
this street, shooting everybody I saw," Jean flared out
suddenly, "is the sickening injustice of it. Dad never
did that; you know he never did it." She turned upon
him fiercely. "Do you think he did?" she demanded,
her eyes boring into his.
"Now, that's a bright question to be asking me, ain't
it?" Lite rebuked. "That's a real bright, sensible
question, I must say! I reckon you ought to be stood
in the corner for that,--but I'll let it go this time.
Only don't never spring anything like that again."
Jean looked ashamed. "I could doubt God Himself,
right now," she gritted through her teeth.
"Well, don't doubt me, unless you want a scrap on
your hands," Lite warned. "I'm sure ashamed of
you. We'll stop here at the stable and get the horses.
You can ride sideways as far as the Allens', and get
your riding-skirt and come on. The sooner you are
on top of a horse, the quicker you're going to come outa
that state of mind."
It was pitifully amusing to see Lite Avery attempt
to bully any one,--especially Jean,--who might almost
be called Lite's religion. The idea of that long,
lank cowpuncher whose shyness was so ingrained that
it had every outward appearance of being a phlegmatic
coldness, assuming the duties of Jean's dad and undertaking
to see that she grew up according to directions,
would have been funny, if he had not been so absolutely
in earnest.
His method of comforting her and easing her
through the first stage of black despair was unorthodox,
but it was effective. Because she was too absorbed in
her own misery to combat him openly, he got her started
toward the Bar Nothing and away from the friends
whose enervating pity was at that time the worst influence
possible. He set the pace, and he set it for
speed. The first mile they went at a sharp gallop that
was not far from a run, and the horses were breathing
heavily when he pulled up, well out of sight of the
town, and turned to the girl.
There was color in her cheeks, and the dullness was
gone from her eyes when she returned his glance
inquiringly. The droop of her lips was no longer the
droop of a weak yielding to sorrow, but rather the
beginning of a brave facing of the future. Lite managed
a grin that did not look forced.
"I'll make a real range hand outa you yet," he
announced confidently. "You remember the roping and
shooting science I taught you before you went off to
school? You're going to start right in where you left
off and learn all I know and some besides. I'll make
a lady of you yet,--darned if I don't."
At that Jean laughed unexpectedly. Lite drew a
long breath of relief.
The still loneliness of desertion held fast the clutter
of sheds and old stables roofed with dirt and
rotting hay. The melancholy of emptiness hung like
an invisible curtain before the sprawling house with
warped, weather-blackened shingles, and sagging
window-frames. You felt the silence when first you
sighted the ranch buildings from the broad mouth of
the Lazy A coulee,--the broad mouth that yawned
always at the narrow valley and the undulations of the
open range, and the purple line of mountains beyond.
You felt it more strongly when you rode up to the gate
of barbed-wire, spliced here and there, and having an
unexpected stubbornness to harry the patience of men
who would pass through it in haste. You grew unaccountably
depressed if you rode on past the stables and
corrals to the house, where the door was closed but
never locked, and opened with a squeal of rusty hinges,
if you turned the brown earthenware knob and at the
same instant pressed sharply with your knee against
the paintless panel.
You might notice the brown spot on the kitchen
door where a man had died; you might notice the brown
spot, but unless you had been told the grim story of
the Lazy A, you would never guess the spot was a
bloodstain. Even though you guessed and shuddered,
you would forget it presently in the amazement with
which you opened the door beyond and looked in upon
a room where the chill atmosphere of the whole place
could find no lodgment.
This was Jean's room, held sacred to her own needs
and uses, in defiance of the dreariness that compassed
it close. A square of old rag carpet covered the center
of the floor, and beyond its border the warped boards
were painted a dull, pale green. The walls were ugly
with a cheap, flowered paper that had done its best to
fade into inoffensive neutral tints. Jean had helped,
where she could, by covering the intricate rose pattern
with old prints cut from magazines and with cheap,
pretty souvenirs gleaned here and there and hoarded
jealously. And there were books, which caught the
eyes and held them even to forgetfulness of the paper.
You would laugh at Jean's room. Just at first you
would laugh; after that you would want to cry, or pat
Jean on her hard-muscled, capable shoulder; but if you
knew Jean at all, you would not do either. First you
would notice an old wooden cradle, painted blue, that
stood in a corner. A button-eyed, blank-faced rag doll,
the size of a baby at the fist-sucking age, was tucked
neatly under the red-and-white patchwork quilt made to
fit the cradle. Hanging directly over the cradle by a
stirrup was Jean's first saddle,--a cheap pigskin affair
with harsh straps and buckles, that her father had sent
East for. Jean never had liked that saddle, even when
it was new. She used to stand perfectly still while her
father buckled it on the little buckskin pony she rode;
and she would laugh when he picked her up and tossed her
into the seat. She would throw her dad a kiss and go
galloping off down the trail,--but when she was quite
out of sight around the bend of the bench-land, she would
stop and take the saddle off, and hide it in a certain
clump of wild currant bushes, and continue her journey
bareback. A kit-fox found it one day; that is how the
edge of the cantle came to have that queer, chewed look.
There was an old, black wooden rocker with an oval
picture of a ship under full sail, just where Jean's
brown head rested when she leaned back and stared
big-eyed down the coulee to the hills beyond. There
was an old-fashioned work-basket always full of stockings
that never were mended, and a crumpled dresser
scarf which Jean had begun to hemstitch more than a
year ago in a brief spasm of domesticity. There were
magazines everywhere; and you may be sure that Jean
had read them all, even to the soap advertisements and
the sanitary kitchens and the vacuum cleaners. There
was an old couch with a coarse, Navajo rug thrown over
it, and three or four bright cushions that looked much
used. And there were hair macartas and hackamores,
and two pairs of her father's old spurs, and her father's
stock saddle and chaps and slicker and hat; and a jelly
glass half full of rattlesnake rattles, and her mother's
old checked sunbonnet,--the kind with pasteboard
"slats." Half the "slats" were broken. There was
a guitar and an old, old sewing machine with a reloading
shotgun outfit spread out upon it. There was
a desk made of boxes, and on the desk lay a shot-loaded
quirt that more than one rebellious cow-horse knew to
its sorrow. There was a rawhide lariat that had parted
its strands in a tussle with a stubborn cow. Jean meant
to fix the broken end of the longest piece and use it
for a tie-rope, some day when she had time, and
thought of it.
Somewhere in the desk were verses which Jean had
written,--dozens of them, and not nearly as bad as
you might think. Jean laughed at them after they
were written; but she never burned them, and she
never spoke of them to any one but Lite, who listened
with fixed attention and a solemn appreciation when
she read them to him.
On the whole, the room was contradictory. But Jean
herself was somewhat contradictory, and the place fitted
her. Here was where she spent those hours when her
absence from the Bar Nothing was left unexplained to
any one save Lite. Here was where she drew into her
shell, when her Uncle Carl made her feel more than
usually an interloper; or when her Aunt Ella's burden
of complaints and worry and headaches grew just a
little too much for Jean.
She never opened the door into the kitchen. There
was another just beyond the sewing-machine, that gave
an intimate look into the face of the bluff which formed
that side of the coulee wall. There were hollyhocks
along the path that led to this door, and stunted
rosebushes which were kept alive with much mysterious
assistance in the way of water and cultivation. There
was a little spring just under the foot of the bluff,
where the trail began to climb; and some young alders
made a shady nook there which Jean found pleasant
on a hot day.
The rest of the house might be rat-ridden and
desolate. The coulee might wear always the look of
emptiness; but here, under the bluff by the spring, and in
the room Jean called hers, one felt the air of occupancy
that gave the lie to all around it.
When she rode around the bold, out-thrust shoulder
of the hill which formed the western rim of the coulee,
and went loping up the trail to where the barbed-wire
gate stopped her, you would have said that Jean had
not a trouble to call her own. She wore her old gray
Stetson pretty well over one eye because of the sunglare,
and she was riding on one stirrup and letting the
other foot swing free, and she was whirling her quirt
round and round, cartwheel fashion, and whistling an
air that every one knows,--and putting in certain
complicated variations of her own.
At the gate she dismounted without ever missing a
note, gave the warped stake a certain twist and jerk
which loosened the wire loop so that she could slip it
easily over the post, passed through and dragged the
gate with her, dropping it flat upon the ground beside
the trail. There was no stock anywhere in the coulee,
and she would save a little trouble by leaving the gate
open until she came out on her way home. She
stepped aside to inspect the meadow lark's nest
cunningly hidden under a wild rosebush, and then mounted
and went on to the stable, still whistling carelessly.
She turned Pard into the shed where she invariably
left him when she came to the Lazy A, and went on up
the grass-grown path to the house. She had the
preoccupied air of one who meditates deeply upon things
apart; as a matter of fact, she had glanced down the
coulee to its wide-open mouth, and had thrilled briefly
at the wordless beauty of the green spread of the plain
and the hazy blue sweep of the mountains, and had
come suddenly into the poetic mood. She had even
caught a phrase,--"The lazy line of the watchful hills,"
it was,--and she was trying to fit it into a verse, and
to find something beside "rills" that would rhyme with
She followed the path absent-mindedly to where she
would have to turn at the corner of the kitchen and go
around to the door of her own room; and until she
came to the turn she did not realize what was jarring
vaguely and yet insistently upon her mood. Then she
knew; and she stopped full and stared down at the loose
sand just before the warped kitchen steps. There were
footprints in the path,--alien footprints; and they
pointed toward that forbidden door into the kitchen of
gruesome memory. Jean looked up frowning, and saw
that the door had been opened and closed again carelessly.
And upon the top step, strange feet had pressed
a little caked earth carried from the trail where she
stood. There were the small-heeled, pointed prints of
a woman's foot, and there were the larger tracks of a
man,--a man of the town.
Jean stood with her quirt dangling loosely from her
wrist and glanced back toward the stables and down
the coulee. She completely forgot that she wanted a
rhyme for "hills." What were towns people doing
here? And how did they get here? They had not
ridden up the coulee; there were no tracks through the
gate; and besides, these were not the prints of riding-boots.
She twitched her shoulders and went around to the
door leading into her own room. The door stood wide
open when it should have been closed. Inside there
were evidences of curious inspection. She went hot
with an unreasoning anger when she saw the wide-open
door into the kitchen; first of all she went over and
closed that door, her lips pressed tightly together. To
her it was as though some wanton hand had forced up
the lid of a coffin where slept her dead. She stood with
her back against the door and looked around the room,
breathing quickly. She felt the woman's foolish amusement
at the old cradle with the rag doll tucked under
the patchwork quilt, and at her pitiful attempts at
adorning the tawdry walls. Without having seen more
than the prints of her shoes in the path, Jean hated the
woman who had blundered in here and had looked and
laughed. She hated the man who had come with the
She went over to her desk and stood staring at the
litter. A couple of sheets of cheap tablet paper,
whereon Jean had scribbled some verses of the range,
lay across the quirt she had forgotten on her last trip.
They had prowled among the papers, even! They had
respected nothing of hers, had considered nothing
sacred from their inquisitiveness. Jean picked up the
paper and read the verses through, and her cheeks reddened
Then she discovered something else that turned them
white with fresh anger. Jean had an old ledger
wherein she kept a sporadic kind of a diary which she
had entitled "More or Less the Record of my Sins."
She did not write anything in it unless she felt like
doing so; when she did, she wrote just exactly what
she happened to think and feel at the time, and she had
never gone back and read what was written there.
Some one else had read, however; at least the book had
been pulled out of its place and inspected, along with
her other personal belongings. Jean had pressed the
first wind-flowers of the season between the pages where
she had done her last scribbling, and these were crumpled
and two petals broken, so she knew that the book
had been opened carelessly and perhaps read with that
same brainless laughter.
She did not say anything. She straightened the
wind-flowers as best she could, put the book back where
it belonged, and went outside, and down to a lop-sided
shack which might pass anywhere as a junk-shop. She
found some nails and a hammer, and after a good deal
of rummaging and some sneezing because of the dust
she raised whenever she moved a pile of rubbish, she
found a padlock with a key in it. More dusty search
produced a hasp and some staples, and then she went
back and nailed two planks across the door which opened
into the kitchen. After that she fastened the windows
shut with nails driven into the casing just above the
lower sashes, and cracked the outer door with twelvepenny
nails which she clinched on the inside with vicious
blows of the hammer, so that the hasp could not be taken
off without a good deal of trouble. She had pulled a
great staple off the door of a useless box-stall, and when
she had driven it in so deep that she could scarcely force
the padlock into place over the hasp, and had put the
key in her pocket, she felt in a measure protected from
future prowlers. As a final hint, however, she went
back to the shop and mixed some paint with lampblack
and oil, and lettered a thin board which she afterwards
carried up and nailed firmly across the outside kitchen
door. Hammer in hand she backed away and read
the words judicially, her head tilted sidewise:
The hint was plain enough. She took the hammer
back to the shop and led Pard out of the stable and down
to the gate, her eyes watching suspiciously the trail for
tracks of trespassers. She closed the gate so thoroughly
with baling wire twisted about a stake that the
next comer would have troubles of his own in getting
it open again. She mounted and went away down the
trail, sitting straight in the saddle, both feet in the
stirrups, head up, and hat pulled firmly down to her
very eyebrows, glances going here and there, alert,
antagonistic. No whistling this time of rag-time tunes
with queer little variations of her own; no twirling of
the quirt; instead Pard got the feel of it in a tender
part of the flank, and went clean over a narrow washout
that could have been avoided quite easily. No
groping for rhythmic phrasings to fit the beauty of the
land she lived in; Jean was in the mood to combat
anything that came in her way.
At the mouth of the coulee, she turned to the left
instead of to the right, and so galloped directly
away from the Bar Nothing ranch, down the narrow
valley known locally as the Flat, and on to the hills that
invited her with their untroubled lights and shadows
and the deep scars she knew for canyons.
There were no ranches out this way. The land was
too broken and too barren for anything but grazing,
so that she felt fairly sure of having her solitude
unspoiled by anything human. Solitude was what she
wanted. Solitude was what she had counted upon having
in that little room at the Lazy A; robbed of it
there, she rode straight to the hills, where she was most
certain of finding it.
And then she came up out of a hollow upon a little
ridge and saw three horsemen down in the next coulee.
They were not close enough so that she could distinguish
their features, but by the horses they rode, by the
swing of their bodies in the saddles, by all those little,
indefinable marks by which we recognize acquaintances
at a distance, Jean knew them for strangers. She
pulled up and watched them, puzzled for a minute at
their presence and behavior.
When first she discovered them, they were driving
a small bunch of cattle, mostly cows and calves, down
out of a little "draw" to the level bottom of the narrow
coulee. While she watched, herself screened effectually
by a clump of bushes, she saw one rider leave
the cattle and gallop out into the open, stand there
looking toward the mouth of the coulee, and wave his
hand in a signal for the others to advance. This looked
queer to Jean, accustomed all her life to seeing men
go calmly about their business upon the range, careless
of observation because they had nothing to conceal.
She urged Pard a little nearer, keeping well behind
the bushes still, and leaned forward over the saddle
horn, watching the men closely.
Their next performance was enlightening, but
incredibly bold for the business they were engaged in.
One of the three got off his horse and started a little
fire of dry sticks under a convenient ledge. Another
untied the rope from his saddle, widened the loop,
swung it twice over his head and flipped it neatly over
the head of a calf.
Jean did not wait to see any more than that; she did
not need to see any more to know them for "rustlers."
Brazen rustlers, indeed, to go about their work in broad
daylight like that. She was not sure as to the ownership
of the calf, but down here was where the Bar Nothing
cattle, and what few were left of the Lazy A,
ranged while the feed was good in the spring, so that
the probabilities were that this theft would strike rather
close home. Whether it did or not, Jean was not one
to ride away and leave range thieves calmly at work.
She turned back behind the bushy screen, rode hastily
along the ridge to the head of the little coulee and
dismounted, leading Pard down a steep bank that was
treacherous with loose shale. The coulee was more or
less open, but it had convenient twists and windings;
and if you think that Jean failed to go down it quietly
and unseen, that merely proves how little you know
She hurried as much as she dared. She knew that
the rustlers would be in something of a hurry themselves,
and she very much desired to ride on them unawares
and catch them at that branding, so that there
would be no shadow of a doubt of their guilt. What
she would do after she had ridden upon them, she did
not quite know.
So she came presently around the turn that revealed
them to her. They were still fussing with the calf,--
or it may have been another one,--and did not see her
until she was close upon them. When they did see her,
she had them covered with her 38-caliber six-shooter,
that she usually carried with her on the chance of getting
a shot at a coyote or a fox or something like that.
The three stood up and stared at her, their jaws
sagging a little at the suddenness of her appearance,
and their eyes upon the gun. Jean held it steady, and
she had all the look of a person who knew exactly what
she meant, and who meant business. She eyed them
curiously, noting the fact that they were strangers, and
cowboys,--though of a type that she had never seen on
the range. She glanced sharply at the beaded, buckskin
jacket of one of them, and the high, wide-brimmed
sombrero of another.
"Well," she said at length, "turn your backs, you've
had a good look at me. Turn--your--backs, I said.
Now, drop those guns on the ground. Walk straight
ahead of you till you come to that bank. You needn't
look around; I'm still here."
She leaned a little, sending Pard slowly forward
until he was close to the six-shooters lying on the
ground. She glanced down at them quickly, and again
at the men who stood, an uneasy trio, with their faces
toward the wall, except when they ventured a glance
sidewise or back at her over one shoulder. She glanced
at the cattle huddled in the narrow mouth of the
"draw" behind them, and saw that they were indeed
Bar Nothing and Lazy A stock. The horses the three
had been riding she did not remember to have seen
Jean hesitated, not quite knowing what she ought to
do next. So far she had acted merely upon instincts
born of her range life and training; the rest would not
be so easy. She knew she ought to have those guns, at
any rate, so she dismounted, still keeping the three in
line with her own weapon, and went to where the
revolvers lay on the ground. With her boot toe she
kicked them close together, and stooped and picked one
up. The last man in the line turned toward her
protestingly, and Jean fired so close to his head that he
"Believe me, I could kill the three of you if I
wanted to, before you could turn around," she informed
them calmly, "so you had better stand still till
I tell you to move." She frowned down at the rustler's
gun in her hand. There was something queer about
that gun.
"Hey, Burns," called the man in the middle, without
venturing to turn his head, "come out of there and
explain to the lady. This ain't in the scene!"
"Oh, yes, it is!" a voice retorted chucklingly.
"You bet your life this is in the scene! Lowry's
been pamming it all in; don't you worry about that!"
Jean was startled, but she did not lower her gun
from its steady aiming at the three of them. It was
just some trick, very likely, meant to throw her off her
guard. There were more than the three, and the fourth
man probably had her covered with a gun. But she
would not turn her head toward his voice, for all that.
"The gentleman called Burns may walk out into the
open and explain, if he can," she announced sharply,
her eyes upon the three whom she had captured so
She heard the throaty chuckle again, from somewhere
to the left of her. She saw the three men in front of
her look at each other with sickly grins. She felt that
the whole situation was swinging against her,--that
she had somehow blundered and made herself ridiculous.
It never occurred to her that she was in any
particular danger; men did not shoot down women in
that country, unless they were drunk or crazy, and the
man called Burns had sounded extremely sane, humorous
even. She heard a rattle of bushes and the soft
crunching of footsteps coming toward her. Still she
would not turn her head, nor would she lower the gun;
if it was a trick, they should not say that it had been
"It's all right, sister," said the chuckling voice presently,
almost at her elbow. "This isn't any real,
honest-to-John bandit party. We're just movie people, and
we're making pictures. That's all." He stopped, but
Jean did not move or make any reply whatever, so he
went on. "I must say I appreciate the compliment you
paid us in taking it for the real dope, sister--"
"Don't call me sister again." Jean flashed him a
sidelong glance of resentment. "You've already done
it twice too often. Come around in front where I can
see you, if you're what you claim to be."
"Well, don't shoot, and I will," soothed the chuckling
voice. "My, my, it certainly is a treat to see a
real, live Prairie Queen once. Beats making them to
"We'll omit the superfluous chatter, please." Jean
looked him over and tagged him mentally with one
glance. He did not look like a rustler,--with his fat
good-nature and his town-bred personality, and his gray
tweed suit and pigskin puttees, and the big cameo ring
on his manicured little finger, and his fresh-shaven
face as round as the sun above his head and almost as
cheerful. Perfectly harmless, but Jean would not
yield to the extent of softening her glance or her
manner one hundredth of a degree. The more harmless
these people, the more ridiculous she had made herself
The chuckly one grinned and removed his soft gray
hat, held it against his generous equator, and bowed so
low as to set him puffing a little afterward. His eyes,
however, appraised her shrewdly.
"Omitting all superfluous chatter, as you suggest,
I am Robert Grant Burns, of the Great Western Film
Company. These men are also members of that company.
We are here for the purpose of making Western
pictures, and this little bit of unlawful branding
of stock which you were flattering enough to mistake
for the real thing, is merely a scene which we were
making." He was about to indulge in what he would
have termed a little "kidding" of the girl, but wisely
refrained after another shrewd reading of her face.
Jean looked at the three men, who had taken it for
granted that they might leave their intimate study of
the clay bank and were coming toward her. She looked
at the gun she had picked up from the ground,--being
loaded with blank cartridges was what had made it look
so queer!--and at Robert Grant Burns of the Great
Western Film Company, who had put on his hat again
and was studying her the way he was wont to study
applicants for a position in his company.
"Did you get permission to haze our cattle around
like this?" she asked abruptly, to hide how humiliated
she really felt.
"Why--no. Just for a few scenes, I did not consider
it necessary." Plainly, the chuckly Mr. Burns
was taken at a disadvantage.
"But it is necessary. Don't make the mistake, Mr.
Burns, of thinking this country and all it contains is
at the disposal of any chance stranger, just because we
do not keep it under lock and key. You are making
rather free with another man's personal property, when
you use my uncle's cattle for your rustling scenes."
"Your uncle? Well, I shall be very glad to make
some arrangement with your uncle, if that is customary."
"Why the doubt? Are you in the habit of walking
into a man's house, for instance, and using his kitchen
to make pictures without permission? Has it been
your custom to lead a man's horses out of his stable
whenever you chose, and use them for race pictures?"
"No, no--nothing like that. Sorry to have
infringed upon your property-rights, I am sure." Mr.
Burns did not sound so chuckly now; but that may have
been because the three picture-rustlers were quite
openly pleased at the predicament of their director.
"It never occurred to me that--"
"That the cattle were not as free as the hills?" The
quiet voice of Jean searched out the tenderest places
in the self-esteem of Robert Grant Burns. She tossed
the blank-loaded gun back upon the ground and turned
to her horse. "It does seem hard to impress it upon
city people that we savages do have a few rights in this
country. We should have policemen stationed on every
hilltop, I suppose, and `No Trespassing' signs planted
along every cow-trail. Even then I doubt whether we
could convince some people that we are perfectly human
and that we actually do own property here."
While she drawled the last biting sentences, she stuck
her toe in the stirrup and went up into the saddle as
easily as any cowpuncher in the country could have
done. Robert Grant Burns stood with his hands at his
hips and watched her with the critical eye of the expert
who sees in every gesture a picture, effective or
ineffective, good, bad, or merely so--so. Robert Grant
Burns had never, in all his experience in directing
Western pictures, seen a girl mount a horse with such
unconscious ease of every movement.
Jean twitched the reins and turned towards him,
looking down at the little group with unfriendly eyes.
"I don't want to seem inhospitable or unaccommodating,
Mr. Burns," she told him, "but I fear that I must
take these cattle back home with me. You probably
will not want to use them any longer."
Mr. Burns did not say whether she was right or
wrong in her conjecture. As a matter of fact, he did
want to use them for several more scenes; but he stood
silent while Jean, with a chilly bow to the four of them,
sent Pard up the rough bank of the little gulley.
Rather, he made no reply to Jean, but he waved his
three rustlers back, retreating himself to where the
bank stopped them. And he turned toward the bushes
that had at first hidden him from Jean, waved his hand
in an imperative gesture, and called guardedly through
cupped palms. "Take that! All you can get of it!"
Which goes far to show why he was considered one of
the best directors the Great Western Film Company
had in its employ.
So Jean unconsciously made a picture which caused
the eyes of Robert Grant Burns to glisten while he
watched. She ignored the men who had so fooled her,
and took down her rope that she might swing the loop
of it toward the cattle and drive them back across the
gulley and up the coulee toward home. Cattle are
stubborn things at best, and this little bunch seemed
determined to seek the higher slopes. Put upon her
mettle because of that little audience down below,--
a mildly jeering audience at that, she imagined,--Jean
had need of her skill and her fifteen years or so of
experience in handling stock.
She swung her rope and shouted, weaving back and
forth across the gulley, with little lunging rushes now
and then to head off an animal that tried to bolt past
her up the hill. She would not have glanced toward
Robert Grant Burns to save her life, and she did not
hear him saying:
"Great! Great stuff! Get it all, Pete. By
George, you can't beat the real thing, can you? 'J get
that up-hill dash? Good! Now panoram the drive
up the gulley--get it ALL, Pete--turn as long as you
can see the top of her hat. My Lord! You wouldn't
get stuff like that in ten years. I wish Gay could
handle herself like that in the saddle, but there ain't a
leading woman in the business to-day that could put that
over the way she's doing it. By George! Say, Gil,
you get on your horse and ride after her, and find out
where she lives. We can't work any more now, anyway;
she's gone off with the cattle. And, say! You
don't want to let her get a sight of you, or she might
take a shot at you. And if she can shoot the way she
rides--good night!"
The young man called Gil,--to avoid wasting
time in saying Gilbert James Huntley,--
mounted in haste and rode warily up the coulee some
distance behind Jean. At that time and in that
locality he was quite anxious that she should not discover
him. Gil was not such a bad fellow, even though he
did play "heavies" in all the pictures which Robert
Grant Burns directed. A villain he was on the screen,
and a bad one. Many's the man he had killed as coldbloodedly
as the Board of Censorship would permit.
Many's the girlish, Western heart he had broken, and
many's the time he had paid the penalty to brother,
father, or sweetheart as the scenario of the play might
decree. Many's the time he had followed girls and
men warily through brush-fringed gullies and over
picturesque ridges, for the entertainment of shop girls
and their escorts sitting in darkened theaters and
watching breathlessly the wicked deeds of Gilbert James
But in his everyday life, Gil Huntley was very goodlooking,
very good-natured, and very harmless. His
position and his salary as "heavy" in the Great Western
Company he owed chiefly to his good acting and his
thick eyebrows and his facility for making himself look
treacherous and mean. He followed Jean because the
boss told him to do so, in the first place. In the
second place, he followed her because he was even more
interested in her than his director had been, and he
hoped to have a chance to talk with her. In his workaday
life, Gil Huntley was quite accustomed to being
discovered in some villainy, and to having some man or
woman point a gun at him with more or less antagonism
in voice and manner. But he had never in his
life had a girl ride up and "throw down on him"
with a gun, actually believing him to be a thief and a
scoundrel whom she would shoot if she thought it
necessary. There was a difference. Gil did not take the
time or trouble to analyze the difference, but he knew
that he was glad the boss had not sent Johnny or Bill
in his place. He did not believe that either of them
would have enough sense to see the difference, and they
might offend her in some way,--though Gil Huntley
need not have worried in the least over any man's
treatment of Jean, who was eminently qualified to attend to
that for herself.
He grinned when he saw her turn the cattle loose
down the very next coulee and with a final flip of her
rope loop toward the hindermost cow, ride on without
them. He should have ridden in haste then to tell
Robert Grant Burns that the cattle could be brought
back in twenty minutes or so and the picture-making
go on as planned. It was not likely that the girl would
come back; they could go on with their work and get
permission from the girl's uncle afterward. But he
did not turn and hurry back. Instead, he waited
behind a rock-huddle until Jean was well out of sight,--
and while he waited, he took his handkerchief and
rubbed hard at the make-up on his face, which had
made him look sinister and boldly bad. Without mirror
or cold cream, he was not very successful, so that
he rode on somewhat spotted in appearance and looking
even more sinister than before. But he was much
more comfortable in his mind, which meant a good deal
in the interview which he hoped by some means to bring
With Jean a couple of hundred yards in advance,
they crossed a little flat so bare of concealment that
Gil Huntley was worried for fear she might look back
and discover him. But she did not turn her head, and
he rode on more confidently. At the mouth of Lazy
A coulee, just where stood the cluster of huge rocks
that had at one time come hurtling down from the
higher slopes, and the clump of currant bushes beneath
which Jean used to hide her much-despised saddle
when she was a child, she disappeared from view. Gil,
knowing very little of the ways of the range folk, and
less of the country, kicked his horse into a swifter pace
and galloped after her.
Fifty yards beyond the currant bushes he heard a
sound and looked back; and there was Jean, riding out
from her hiding-place, and coming after him almost at
a run. While he was trying to decide what to do about
it, she overtook him; rather, the wide loop of her rope
overtook him. He ducked, but the loop settled over
his head and shoulders and pulled tight about the chest.
Jean took two turns of the rope around the saddle horn
and then looked him over critically. In spite of herself,
she smiled a little at his face, streaked still with
grease paint, and at his eyes staring at her from between
heavily penciled lids.
"That's what you get for following," she said, after
a minute of staring at each other. "Did you think
I didn't know you were trailing along behind me? I
saw you before I turned the cattle loose, but I just let
you think you were being real sly and cunning about
it. You did it in real moving-picture style; did your
fat Mr. Robert Grant Burns teach you how? What is
the idea, anyway? Were you going to abduct me and
lead me to the swarthy chief of your gang, or band, or
whatever you call it?"
Having scored a point against him and so put herself
into a good humor again, Jean laughed at him and
twitched the rope, just to remind him that he was at
her mercy. To be haughtily indignant with this honesteyed,
embarrassed young fellow with the streaky
face and heavily-penciled eyelids was out of the
question. The wind caught his high, peaked-crowned
sombrero and sent it sailing like a great, flapping bird to
the ground, and he could not catch it because Jean had
his arms pinioned with the loop.
She laughed again and rode over to where the hat
had lodged. Gil Huntley, to save himself from being
dragged ignominiously from the saddle, kicked his horse
and kept pace with her. Jean leaned far over and picked
up the hat, and examined it with amusement.
"If you could just live up to your hat, my, wouldn't
you be a villain, though!" she commented, in a soft,
drawling voice. "You don't look so terribly bloodthirsty
without it; I just guess I'd better keep it for
a while. It would make a dandy waste-basket. Do
you know, if your face were clean, I think you'd look
almost human,--for an outlaw."
She started on up the trail, nonchalantly leading her
captive by the rope. Gil Huntley could have wriggled
an arm loose and freed himself, but he did not. He
wanted to see what she was going to do with him. He
grinned when she had her back turned toward him, but
he did not say anything for fear of spoiling the joke
or offending her in some way. So presently Jean began
to feel silly, and the joke lost its point and seemed inane
and weak.
She turned back, threw off the loop that bound
his arms to his sides, and coiled the rope. "I wish
you play-acting people would keep out of the country,"
she said impatiently. "Twice you've made me act
ridiculous. I don't know what in the world you wanted
to follow me for,--and I don't care. Whatever it was,
it isn't going to do you one particle of good, so you
needn't go on doing it."
She looked at him full, refused to meet half-way the
friendliness of his eyes, tossed the hat toward him, and
wheeled her horse away. "Good-by," she said shortly,
and touched Pard with the spurs. She was out of
hearing before Gil Huntley could think of the right
thing to say, and she increased the distance between
them so rapidly that before he had quite recovered from
his surprise at her sudden change of mood, she was so
far away that he could not have overtaken her if he had
He watched her out of sight and rode back to where
Burns mouthed a big, black cigar, and paced up and
down the level space where he had set the interrupted
scene, and waited his coming.
"Rode away from you, did she? Where'd she take
the cattle to? Left 'em in the next gulch? Well, why
didn't you say so? You boys can bring 'em back, and
we'll get to work again. Where'd you say that spring
was, Gil? We'll eat before we do anything else. One
thing about this blamed country is we don't have to be
afraid of the light. Got to hand it to 'em for having
plenty of good, clear sunlight, anyway?"
He followed Gil to the feeble spring that seeped from
under a huge boulder, and stooped uncomfortably to
fill a tin cup. While he waited for the trickle to yield
him a drink, he cocked his head sidewise and looked up
quizzically at his "heavy."
"You must have come within speaking distance,
Gil," he guessed shrewdly. "Got any make-up along?
You look like a mild case of the measles, right now.
What did she have to say, anyhow?"
"Nothing," said Gil shortly. "I didn't talk to her
at all. I didn't want to run my horse to death trying
to say hello when she didn't want it that way."
"Huh!" grunted Robert Grant Burns unbelievingly,
and fished a bit of grass out of the cup with his little
finger. He drank and said no more.
"You know the brand, don't you?" the proprietor
of the hotel which housed the Great Western
Company asked, with the tolerant air which the
sophisticated wear when confronted by ignorance. "Easy
enough to locate the outfit, by the cattle brand. What
was it?"
Whereupon Robert Grant Burns rolled his eyes
helplessly toward Gil Huntley. "I noticed it at the time,
but--what was that brand, Gil?"
And Gil, if you would believe me, did not remember,
either. He had driven the cattle half a mile or more,
had helped to "steal" two calves out of the little herd,
and yet he could not recall the mark of their owner.
So the proprietor of the hotel, an old cowman who
had sold out and gone into the hotel business when the
barbed-wire came by carloads into the country, pulled
a newspaper towards him, borrowed a pencil from
Burns, and sketched all the cattle brands in that
part of the country. While he drew one after the
other, he did a little thinking.
"Must have been the Bar Nothing, or else the Lazy
A cattle you got hold of," he concluded, pointing to
the pencil marks on the margin of the paper. "They
range down in there, and Jean Douglas answers your
description of the girl,--as far as looks go. She ain't
all that wild and dangerous, though. Swing a loop
with any man in the country and ride and all that,--
been raised right out there on the Lazy A. Say! Why
don't you go out and see Carl Douglas, and see if you
can't get the use of the Lazy A for your pictures?
Seems to me that's just the kinda place you want.
Don't anybody live there now. It's been left alone ever
since--the trouble out there. House and barns and
corrals,--everything you want." He leaned closer
with a confidential tone creeping into his voice, for
Robert Grant Burns and his company were profitable
guests and should be given every inducement to remain
in the country.
"It ain't but fifteen miles out there; you could go
back and forth in your machine, easy. You go out and
see Carl Douglas, anyway; won't do no harm. You
offer him a little something for the use of the Lazy A;
he'll take anything that looks like money. Take it
from me, that's the place you want to take your pictures
in. And, say! You want a written agreement
with Carl. Have the use of his stock included, or he'll
tax you extra. Have everything included," advised
the old cowman, with a sweep of his palm and his voice
lowered discreetly. "Won't need to cost you much,--
not if you don't give him any encouragement to expect
much. Carl's that kind,--good fellow enough,--but
he wants--the--big--end. I know him, you bet!
And, say! Don't let on to Carl that I steered you out
there. Just claim like you was scouting around, and
seen the Lazy A ranch, and took a notion to it; not too
much of a notion, though, or it's liable to come kinda
"And, say!" Real enthusiasm for the idea began
to lighten his eyes. "If you want good range dope,
right out there's where you can sure find it. You play
up to them Bar Nothing boys--Lite Avery and Joe
Morris and Red. You ought to get some great pictures
out there, man. Them boys can sure ride and rope
and handle stock, if that's what you want; and I reckon
it is, or you wouldn't be out here with your bunch of
actors looking for the real stuff."
They talked a long while after that. Gradually it
dawned upon Burns that he had heard of the Lazy A
ranch before, though not by that euphonious title. It
seemed worth investigating, for he was going to need
a good location for some exterior ranch scenes very soon,
and the place he had half decided upon did not altogether
please him. He inquired about roads and
distances, and waddled off to the hotel parlor to ask Muriel
Gay, his blond leading woman, if she would like to go
out among the natives next morning. Also he wanted
her to tell him more about that picturesque place she
and Lee Milligan had stumbled upon the day before,
--the place which he suspected was none other than
the Lazy A.
That is how it came to pass that Jean, riding out with
big Lite Avery the next morning on a little private
scouting-trip of their own, to see if that fat movingpicture
man was making free with the stock again, met
the man unexpectedly half a mile from the Bar Nothing
Along every trail which owns certain obstacles to
swift, easy passing, there are places commonly spoken
of as "that" place. In his journey to the Bar Nothing,
Robert Grant Burns had come unwarned upon that
sandy hollow which experienced drivers approached
with a mental bracing for the struggle ahead, and with
tightened lines and whip held ready. Even then they
stuck fast, as often as not, if the load were heavy,
though Bar Nothing drivers gaged their loads with that
hollow in mind. If they could pull through there
without mishap, they might feel sure of having no trouble
Robert Grant Burns had come into the hollow
unsuspectingly. He had been careening along the prairie
road at a twenty-mile pace, his mind fixed upon hurrying
through his interview with Carl Douglas, so that
he would have time to stop at the Lazy A on the way
back to town. He wanted to take a few exterior ranchhouse
scenes that day, for Robert Grant Burns was far
more energetic than his bulk would lead one to suppose.
He had Pete Lowry, his camera man, in the seat beside
him. Back in the tonneau Muriel Gay and her mother,
who played the character parts, clung to Lee Mulligan
and a colorless individual who was Lowry's assistant,
and gave little squeals whenever the machine struck a
bigger bump than usual.
At the top of the hill which guarded the deceptive
hollow, Robert Grant Burns grinned over his shoulder
at his character-woman. "Wait till we start back;
I'll know the road then, and we'll do some traveling!"
he promised darkly, and laid his toe lightly on the
brake. It pleased him to be considered a dare-devil
driver; that is why he always drove whatever machine
carried him. They went lurching down the curving
grade into the hollow, and struck the patch of sand that
had worn out the vocabularies of more eloquent men
than he. Robert Grant Burns fed more gas, and the
engine kicked and groaned, and sent the wheels burrowing
like moles to where the sand was deepest. Axles
under, they stuck fast.
When Jean and Lite came loping leisurely down
the hill, the two women were fraying perfectly good
gloves trying to pull "rabbit" brush up by the roots to
make firmer foothold for the wheels. Robert Grant
Burns was head-and-shoulders under the car, digging
badger-like with his paws to clear the front axle, and
coming up now and then to wipe the perspiration from
his eyes and puff the purple out of his complexion.
Pete Lowry always ducked his head lower over the jack
when he saw the heaving of flesh which heralded these
resting times, so that the boss could not catch him
laughing. Lee Milligan was scooping sand upon the other
side and mumbling to himself, with a glance now and
then at the trail, in the hope of sighting a good samaritan
with six or eight mules, perhaps. Lee thought that
it would take about that many mules to pull them out.
The two riders pulled up, smiling pityingly, just as
well-mounted riders invariably smile upon stalled
automobilists. This was not the first machine that had come
to grief in that hollow, though they could not remember
ever to have seen one sunk deeper in the sand.
"I guess you wouldn't refuse a little help, about
now," Lite observed casually to Lee, who was most in
"We wouldn't refuse a little, but a lot is what we
need," Lee amended glumly. "Any ranch within
forty miles of here? We need about twelve good
horses, I should say." Lee's experience with sand had
been unhappy, and his knowledge of what one good
horse could do was slight.
"Shall we snake 'em out, Jean?" Lite asked her, as
if he himself were absolutely indifferent to their plight.
"Oh, I suppose we might as well. We can't leave
them blocking the trail; somebody might want to drive
past," Jean told him in much the same tone, just to tease
Lee Milligan, who was looking them over disparagingly.
"We'll be blocking the trail a good long while if we
stay here till you move us," snapped Lee, who was
rather sensitive to tones.
Then Robert Grant Burns gave a heave and a wriggle,
and came up for air and a look around. He had
been composing a monologue upon the subject of sand,
and he had not noticed that strange voices were speaking
on the other side of the machine.
"Hello, sis-- How-de-do, Miss," he greeted Jean
guardedly, with a hasty revision of the terms when he
saw how her eyebrows pinched together. "I wonder
if you could tell us where we can find teams to pull us
out of this mess. I don't believe this old junk-wagon
is ever going to do it herself."
"How do you do, Mr. Burns? Lite and I offered to
take you out on solid ground, but your man seemed to
think we couldn't do it."
"What man was that? Wasn't me, anyway. I
think you can do just about anything you start out to
do, if you ask me."
"Thank you," chilled Jean, and permitted Pard to
back away from his approach.
"Say, you're some rider," he praised tactlessly, and
got no reply whatever. Jean merely turned and rode
around to where Lite eased his long legs in the stirrups
and waited her pleasure.
"Shall we help them out, Lite?" she asked distinctly.
"I think perhaps we ought to; it's a long walk to
"I guess we better; won't take but a minute to tie
on," Lite agreed, his fingers dropping to his coiled rope.
"Seems queer to me that folks should want to ride in
them things when there's plenty of good horses in the
"No accounting for tastes, Lite," Jean replied
cheerfully. "Listen. If that thin man will start the
engine,--he doesn't weigh more than half as much as you
do, Mr. Burns,--we'll pull you out on solid ground.
And if you have occasion to cross this hollow again, I
advise you to keep out there to the right. There's a
little sod to give your tires a better grip. It's rough,
but you could make it all right if you drive carefully,
and the bunch of you get out and walk. Don't try to
keep around on the ridge; there's a deep washout on
each side, so you couldn't possibly make it. We can't
with the horses, even." Jean did not know that there
was a note of superiority in her voice when she spoke
the last sentence, but her listeners winced at it. Only
Pete Lowry grinned while he climbed obediently into
the machine to advance his spark and see that the gears
were in neutral.
"Don't crank up till we're ready!" Lite expostulated.
"These cayuses of ours are pretty sensible, and
they'll stand for a whole lot; but there's a limit. Wait
till I get the ropes fixed, before you start the engine.
And the rest of you all be ready to give the wheels a
lift. You're in pretty deep."
When Jean dismounted and hooked the stirrup over
the horn so that she could tighten the cinch, the eyes
of Robert Grant Burns glistened at the "picture-stuff"
she made. He glanced eloquently at Pete, and Pete
gave a twisted smile and a pantomime of turning the
camera-crank; whereat Robert Grant Burns shook his
head regretfully and groaned again.
"Say, if I had a leading woman--" he began
discontentedly, and stopped short; for Muriel Gay was
standing quite close, and even through her grease-paint
make-up she betrayed the fact that she knew exactly
what her director was thinking, had seen and understood
the gesture of the camera man, and was close to
tears because of it all.
Muriel Gay was a conscientious worker who tried
hard to please her director. Sometimes it seemed to
her that her director demanded impossibilities of her;
that he was absolutely soulless where picture-effects
were concerned. Her riding had all along been a subject
of discord between them. She had learned to ride
very well along the bridle-paths of Golden Gate Park,
but Robert Grant Burns seemed to expect her to ride--
well, like this girl, for instance, which was unjust.
One could not blame her for glaring jealously while
Jean tightened the cinch and remounted, tying her rope
to the saddle horn, all ready to pull; with her muscles
tensed for the coming struggle with the sand,--and
perhaps with her horse as well,--and with every line
of her figure showing how absolutely at home she was
in the saddle, and how sure of herself.
"I've tied my rope, Lite," Jean drawled, with a
little laugh at what might happen.
Lite turned his face toward her. "You better not,"
be warned. "Things are liable to start a-popping
when that engine wakes up."
"Well, then I'll want both hands for Pard. I've
taken a couple of half-hitches, anyway."
"You folks want to be ready at the wheels," Lite
directed, waiving the argument. "When we start, you
all want to heave-ho together. Good team-work will
do it.
"All set?" he called to Jean, when Pete Lowry bent
his back to start the engine. "Business'll be pickin'
up, directly!"
"All set," replied Jean cheerfully.
It seemed then that everything began to start at once,
and to start in different directions. The engine snorted
and pounded so that the whole machine shook with ague.
When Pete jumped in and threw in the clutch, there
was a backfire that sounded like the crack of doom. The
two horses went wild, as their riders had half expected
them to do. They lunged away from the horror behind
them, and the slack ropes tightened with a jerk.
Both were good rope horses, and the strain of the ropes
almost recalled them to sanity and their training; at
least they held the ropes tight for a few seconds, so that
the machine jumped ahead and veered toward the
firmer soil beside the trail, in response to Pete's turn
of the wheel.
Then Pard looked back and saw the thing coming
after him, and tried to bolt. When he found that he
could not, because of the rope, he bucked as he had not
done since he was a half-broken broncho. That started
Lite Avery's horse to pitching; and Pete, absorbed in
watching what would have made a great picture, forgot
to shut off the gas.
Robert Grant Burns picked himself out of the sand
where he had sprawled at the first wild lunge of the
machine, and saw Pete Lowry, humped over the wheel like
any speed demon, go lurching off across the hollow in
the wake of two fear-crazed animals, that threatened at
any instant to bolt off at an angle that would overturn
the car.
Then Lite let his rope slip from the saddle-horn and
spurred his horse to one side, out of the danger zone of
the other, while he felt frantically in his pockets for his
"Don't you cut my rope," Jean warned, when she
saw him come plunging toward her, knife in hand.
"This is--fine training--for Pard!"
Pete came to himself, then, and killed the engine
before he landed in the bottom of a yawning, waterwashed
hole, and Lite rode close and slashed Jean's
rope, in spite of her protest; whereupon Pard went off
up the, slope as though witches were riding him
At long rifle range, he circled and faced the thing that
had scared him so, and after a little Jean persuaded
him to go back as far as the trail. Nearer he would not
stir, so she waited there for Lite.
"Never even thanked us," Lite grumbled when he
came up, his mouth stretched in a wide smile. "That
girl with the kalsomine on her face made remarks about
folks butting in. And the fat man talked into his
double chin; dunno what all he was saying. Here's
what's left of your rope. I'll get you another one,
Jean. I was afraid that gazabo was going to run over
you, is why I cut it."
"What's the matter over there? Aren't they glad
they're out of the sand?" Jean held her horse quiet
while she studied the buzzing group.
"Something busted. I guess we done some damage."
Lite grinned and watched them over his shoulder.
"You needn't go any further with me, Lite. That
fat man's the one that had the cattle. I am going over
to the ranch for awhile, but don't tell Aunt Ella." She
turned to ride on up the hill toward the Lazy A, but
stopped for another look at the perturbed motorists.
"Well anyway, we snaked them out of the sand, didn't
we, Lite?"
"We sure did," Lite chuckled. "They don't seem
thankful, but I guess they ain't any worse off than they
was before. Anyway, it serves them right. They've
no business here acting fresh."
Lite said that because he was not given the power
to peer into the future, and so could not know that
Fate herself had sent Robert Grant Burns into their
lives; and that, by a somewhat roundabout method, she
was going to use the Great Western Film Company and
Jean and himself for her servants in doing a work
which Fate had set herself to do.
Jean found the padlock key where she had hidden
it under a rock ten feet from the door, and let
herself into her room. The peaceful familiarity of
its four walls, and the cheerful patch of sunlight lying
warm upon the faded rag carpet, gave her the feeling
of security and of comfort which she seldom felt elsewhere.
She wandered aimlessly around the room, brushing
the dust from her books and straightening a tiny fold
in the cradle quilt. She ran an investigative forefinger
along the seat of her father's saddle, brought the finger
away dusty, pulled one of the stockings from the
overflowing basket and used it for a dust cloth. She
wiped and polished the stamped leather with a painstaking
tenderness that had in it a good deal of yearning,
and finally left it with a gesture of hopelessness.
She went next to her desk and fumbled the quirt that
lay there still. Then she pulled out the old ledger,
picked up a pencil, and began to write, sitting on the
arm of an old, cane-seated chair while she did so. As
I told you before, Jean never wrote anything in that
book except when her moods demanded expression of
some sort; when she did write, she said exactly what
she thought and felt at the time. So if you are
permitted to know what she wrote at this time, you will
have had a peep into Jean's hidden, inner life that
none of her world save Lite knew anything about. She
wrote rapidly, and she did not always take the trouble
to finish her sentences properly,--as if she never could
quite keep pace with her thoughts. So this is what
that page held when finally she slammed the book shut
and slid it back into the desk:
I don't know what's the matter with me lately. I feel
as if I wanted to shoot somebody, or rob a bank or run
away--I guess it's the old trouble nagging at me. I KNOW
dad never did it. I don't know why, but I know it just the
same--and I know Uncle Carl knows it too. I'd like to
take out his brain and put it into some scientific machine
that would squeeze out his thoughts--hope it wouldn't hurt
him--I'd give him ether, maybe. What I want is money
--enough to buy back this place and the stock. I don't
believe Uncle Carl spent as much defending dad as he claims
he did--not enough to take the whole ranch anyway. If
I had money I'd find Art Osgood if I had to hunt from
Alaska to Africa--don't believe he went to Alaska at all.
Uncle Carl thinks so. . . . I'd like the price of that machine I
helped drag out of the sand--some people can
have anything they want but all I want is dad back, and this
place the way it was before. . . .
If I had any brains I could write something wonderful
and be rich and famous and do the things I want to do--
but there's no profit in just feeling wonderful things; if I
could make the world see and feel what I see and feel--
when I'm here, or riding alone. . . .
If I could find Art Osgood I believe I could make him
tell--I know he knows something, even if he didn't do it
himself. I believe he did--But what can you do when
you're a woman and haven't any money and must stay where
you're put and can't even get out and do the little you might
do, because somebody must have you around to lean on and
tell their troubles to. . . . I don't blame Aunt Ella so much
--but thank goodness, I can do without a shoulder to weep
on, anyway. What's life for if you've got to spend your
days hopping round and round in a cage. It wouldn't be
a cage if I could have dad back--I'd be doing things for
him all the time and that would make life worth while.
Poor dad--four more years is--I can't think about it. I'll
go crazy if I do--
It was there that she stopped and slammed the book
shut, and pushed it back out of sight in the desk. She
picked up her hat and gloves, and went out with
blurred eyes, and began to climb the bluff above the
little spring, where a faint, little-used trail led to the
benchland above. By following a rock ledge to where
it was broken, and climbing through the crevice to
where the trail marked faintly the way to the top, one
could in a few minutes leave the Lazy A coulee out of
sight below, and stand on a high level where the winds
blew free from the mountains in the west to the mountains
in the east.
Some day, it was predicted, the benchland would be
cut into squares and farmed,--some day when the government
brought to reality a long-talked-of irrigation
project. But in the meantime, the land lay unfenced
and free. One could look far away to the north, and
at certain times see the smoke of passing trains through
the valley off there. One could look south to the
distant river bluffs, and east and west to the mountains.
Jean often climbed the bluff just for the wide outlook
she gained. The cage did not seem so small when she
could stand up there and tire her eyes with looking.
Life did not seem quite so purposeless, and she could
nearly always find little whispers of hope in the winds
that blew there.
She walked aimlessly and yet with a subconscious
purpose for ten minutes or so, and her face was turned
directly toward the eastern hills. She stopped on the
edge of the bluff that broke abruptly there, and sat
down and stared at the soft purple of the hills and the
soft green of the nearer slopes, and at the peaceful blue
of the sky arched over it all. Her eyes cleared of their
troubled look and grew dreamy. Her mouth lost its
tenseness and softened to a half smile. She was not
looking now into the past that was so full of heartbreak,
but into the future as hope pictured it for her.
She was seeing the Lazy A alive again and all astir
with the business of life; and her father saddling Sioux
and riding out to look after the stock. She was seeing
herself riding with him,--or else cooking the things
he liked best for his dinner when he came back hungry.
She sat there for a long, long while and never moved.
A sparrow hawk swooped down quite close to Jean
and then shot upward with a little brown bird in its
claws, and startled her out of her castle building. She
felt a hot anger against the hawk, which was like the
sudden grasp of misfortune; and a quick sympathy
with the bird, which was like herself and dad, caught
unawares and held helpless. But she did not move,
and the hawk circled and came back on his way to the
nesting-place in the trees along the creek below. He
came quite close, and Jean shot him as he lifted his
wings for a higher flight. The hawk dropped head
foremost to the grass and lay there crumpled and quiet.
Jean put back her gun in its holster and went over
to where the hawk lay. The little brown bird fluttered
terrifiedly and gave a piteous, small chirp when
her hand closed over it, and then lay quite still in her
cupped palms and blinked up at her.
Jean cuddled it up against her cheek, and talked to
it and pitied it and promised it much in the way of
fat little bugs and a warm nest and her tender regard.
For the hawk she had no pity, nor a thought beyond
the one investigative glance she gave its body to make
sure that she had hit it where she meant to hit it. Lite
had taught her to shoot like that,--straight and quick.
Lite was a man who trimmed life down to the essentials,
and he had long ago impressed it upon her that
if she could not shoot quickly, and hit where she aimed,
there was not much use in her attempting to shoot at
all. Jean proved by her scant interest in the hawk
how well she had learned the lesson, and how sure she
was of hitting where she aimed.
The little brown bird had been gashed in the breast
by a sharp talon. Jean was much concerned over the
wound, even though it did not reach any vital organ.
She was afraid of septic poisoning, she told the bird;
but added comfortingly: "There--you needn't
worry one minute over that. I'm almost sure there's
a bottle of peroxide down at the house, that isn't spoiled.
We'll go and put some on it right away; and then we'll
go bug-hunting. I believe I know where there's the
fattest, juiciest bugs!" She cuddled the bird against
her cheek, and started back across the wide point of
the benchland to where the trail led down the bluff to
the house.
She was wholly absorbed in the trouble of the little
brown bird; and the trail, following a crevice through
the rocks and later winding along behind some scant
bushes, partially concealed the buildings and the house
yard from view until one was well down into the coulee.
So it was not until she was at the spring, looking at the
moist earth there for fat bugs for the bird, that she had
any inkling of visitors. Then she heard voices and
went quickly around the corner of the house toward the
It seemed to her that she was lately fated to come
plump into the middle of that fat Mr. Burns' unauthorized
picture-making. The first thing she saw when
she rounded the corner was the camera perched high
upon its tripod and staring at her with its one round
eye; and the humorous-eyed Pete Lowry turning a
crank at the side and counting in a whisper. Close
beside her the two women were standing in animated
argument which they carried on in undertones with
many gestures to point their meaning.
"Hey, you're in the scene!" called Pete Lowry, and
abruptly stopped counting and turning the crank.
"You're in the scene, sister. Step over here to one
side, will you?" The fat director waved his pinkcameoed
hand impatiently.
An old bench had been placed beside the house,
under a window. Jean backed a step and sat down upon
the bench, and looked from one to the other. The two
women glanced at her wide-eyed and moved away with
mutual embracings. Jean lifted her hands and looked
at the soft little crest and beady eyes of the bird, to make
sure that it was not disturbed by these strangers, before
she gave her attention to the expostulating Mr.
"Did I spoil something?" she inquired casually,
and watched curiously the pulling of many feet of narrow
film from the camera.
"About fifteen feet of good scene," Pete Lowry told
her dryly, but with that queer, half smile twisting his
Jean looked at him and decided that, save for the
company he kept, which made of him a latent enemy,
she might like that lean man in the red sweater who
wore a pencil over one ear and was always smiling to
himself about something. But what she did was to
cross her feet and murmur a sympathetic sentence to
the little brown bird. Inwardly she resented deeply
this bold trespass of Robert Grant Burns; but she
meant to guard against making herself ridiculous again.
She meant to be sure of her ground before she ordered
them off. The memory of her humiliation before the
supposed rustlers was too vivid to risk a repetition of
the experience.
"When you're thoroughly rested," said Robert
Grant Burns, in the tone that would have shriveled the
soul of one of his actors, "we'd like to make that scene
"Thank you. I am pretty tired," she said in that
soft, drawly voice that could hide so effectually her
meaning. She leaned her head against the wall and
gave a luxurious sigh, and crossed her feet the other
way. She believed that she knew why Robert Grant
Burns was growing so red in the face and stepping about
so uneasily, and why the women were looking at her
like that. Very likely they expected her to prove
herself crude and uncivilized, but she meant to disappoint
them even while she made them all the trouble she
She pushed back her hat until its crown rested
against the rough boards, and cuddled the little brown
bird against her cheek again, and talked to it
caressingly. Though she seemed unconscious of his
presence, she heard every word that Robert Grant Burns
was muttering to himself. Some of the words were
plain, man-sized swearing, if she were any judge of
language. It occurred to her that she really ought to
go and find that peroxide, but she could not forego the
pleasure of irritating this man.
"I always supposed that fat men were essentially;
sweet-tempered," she observed to the world in general,
when the mutterings ceased for a moment.
"Gee! I'd like to make that," Pete Lowry said in an
undertone to his assistant.
Jean did not know that he referred to herself and
the unstudied picture she made, sitting there with her
hat pushed back, and the little bird blinking at her
from between her cupped palms. But she looked at
him curiously, with an impulse to ask questions about
what he was doing with that queer-looking camera, and
how he could inject motion into photography. While
she watched, he drew out a narrow, gray strip of film
and made mysterious markings upon it with the pencil,
which he afterwards thrust absent-mindedly behind his
ear. He closed a small door in the side of the camera,
placed his palm over the lens and turned the little
crank several times around. Then he looked at Jean,
and from her to the director.
Robert Grant Burns gave a sweeping, downward
gesture with both hands,--a gesture which his company
knew well,--and came toward Jean.
"You may not know it," he began in a repressed
tone, "but we're in a hurry. We've got work to do.
We ain't here on any pleasure excursion, and you'll be
doing me a favor by getting out of the scene so we can
go on with our work."
Jean sat still upon the bench and looked at him.
"I suppose so; but why should I be doing you favors?
You haven't seemed to appreciate them, so far. Of
course, I dislike to seem disobliging, or anything like
that, but your tone and manner would not make any
one very enthusiastic about pleasing you, Mr. Burns.
In fact, I don't see why you aren't apologizing for being
here, instead of ordering me about as if I worked for
you. This bench--is my bench. This ranch--is
where I have lived nearly all my life. I hate to seem
vain, Mr. Burns, but at the same time I think it is
perfectly lovely of me to explain that I have a right
here; and I consider myself an angel of patience and
graciousness and many other rare virtues, because I
have not even hinted that you are once more taking
liberties with other people's property." She looked at
him with a smile at the corners of her eyes and just
easing the firmness of her lips, as if the humor of the
situation was beginning to appeal to her.
"If you would stop dancing about, and let your
naturally sweet disposition have a chance, and would
explain just why you are here and what you want to do,
and would ask me nicely,--it might help you more
than to get apoplexy over it."
The two women exclaimed under their breaths to
each other and moved farther away, as if from an
impending explosion. The assistant camera man gurgled
and turned his back abruptly. Lee Milligan, wandering
up from the stables, stopped and stared. No one,
within the knowledge of those present, had ever spoken
so to Robert Grant Burns; no one had ever dreamed of
speaking thus to him. They had seen him when rage
had mastered him and for slighter cause; it was not an
experience that one would care to repeat.
Robert Grant Burns walked up to Jean as if he meant
to lift her from the bench and hurl her by sheer brute
force out of his way. He stopped so close to her that
his shadow covered her.
"Are you going to get out of the way so we can go
on?" he asked, in the tone of one who gives a last
merciful chance of escape from impending doom.
"Are you going to explain why you're here, and
apologize for your tone and manner, which are
extremely rude?" Jean did not pay his rage the
compliment of a glance at him. She was looking at the
dainty beak of the little brown bird, and was telling
herself that she could not be bullied into losing control
of herself. These two women should not have the satisfaction of
calling her a crude, ignorant, country girl;
and Robert Grant Burns should not have the triumph
of browbeating her into yielding one inch of ground.
She forced herself to observe the wonderfully delicate
feathers on the bird's head. It seemed more content
now in the little nest her two palms had made for it.
Its heart did not flutter so much, and she fancied that
the tiny, bead-like eyes were softer in their bright
regard of her.
Robert Grant Burns came to a pause. Jean sensed
that he was waiting for some reply, and she looked up
at him. His hand was just reaching out to her shoulder,
but it dropped instead to his coat pocket and fumbled
for his handkerchief. Her eyes strayed to Pete
Lowry. He was looking upward with that measuring
glance which belongs to his profession, estimating the
length of time the light would be suitable for the scene
he had focussed. She followed his glance to where the
shadow of the kitchen had crept closer to the bench.
Jean was not stupid, and she had passed through the
various stages of the kodak fever; she guessed what
was in the mind of the operator, and when she met his
eyes full, she smiled at him sympathetically.
"I should dearly love to watch you work," she said
to him frankly. "But you see how it is; Mr. Burns
hasn't got hold of himself yet. If he comes to his
senses before he has a stroke of apoplexy, will you show
me how you run that thing?"
"You bet I will," the red-sweatered one promised
her cheerfully.
"How much longer will it be before this bench is in
the shade?" she asked him next.
"Half an hour,--maybe a little longer." Pete
glanced again anxiously upward.
"And--how long do these spasms usually last?"
Jean's head tilted toward Robert Grant Burns as
impersonally as if she were indicating a horse with
But the camera man had gone as far as was wise,
if he cared to continue working for Burns, and he made
no reply whatever. So Jean turned her attention to
the man whose bulk shaded her from the sun, and
whose remarks would have been wholly unforgivable
had she not chosen to ignore them.
"If you really are anxious to go on making pictures,
why don't you stop all that ranting and be sensible
about it?" she asked him. "You can't bully me into
being afraid of you, you know. And really, you are
making an awful spectacle of yourself, going on like
"Listen here! Are you going to get off that bench
and out of the scene?" By a tremendous effort Robert
Grant Burns spoke that sentence with a husky kind of
"That all depends upon yourself, Mr. Burns. First,
I want to know by what right you come here with your
picture-making. You haven't explained that yet, you
The highest paid director of the Great Western Film
Company looked at her long. With her head tilted
back, Jean returned the look.
"Oh, all right--all right," he surrendered finally.
"Read that paper. That ought to satisfy you that we
ain't trespassing here or anywhere else. And if you'd
kindly,"--and Mr. Burns emphasized the word
"kindly,"--"remove yourself to some other spot that
is just as comfortable--"
Jean did not even hear him, once she had the paper
in her hands and had begun to read it. So Robert
Grant Burns folded his arms across his heaving chest
and watched her and studied her and measured her
with his mind while she read. He saw the pulling
together of her eyebrows, and the pinching of her underlip
between her teeth. He saw how she unconsciously
sheltered the little brown bird under her left hand in
her lap because she must hold the paper with the other,
and he quite forgot his anger against her.
Sitting so, she made a picture that appealed to him.
Had you asked him why, he would have said that she
was the type that would photograph well, and that she
had a screen personality; which would have been high
praise indeed, coming from him.
Jean read the brief statement that in consideration
of a certain sum paid to him that day by Robert G.
Burns, her uncle, Carl Douglas, thereby gave the said
Robert G. Burns permission to use the Lazy A ranch
and anything upon it or in any manner pertaining to
it, for the purpose of making motion pictures. It was
plainly set forth that Robert G. Burns should be held
responsible for any destruction of or damage to the
property, and that he might, for the sum named, use
any cattle bearing the Lazy A or Bar O brands for the
making of pictures, so long as he did them no injury
and returned them in good condition to the range from
which he had gathered them.
Jean recognized her uncle's ostentatious attempt at
legal phraseology and knew, even without the evidence
of his angular writing, that the document was genuine.
She knew also that Robert Grant Burns was justified in
ordering her off that bench; she had no right there,
where he was making his pictures. She forced back
the bitterness that filled her because of her own
helplessness, and folded the paper carefully. The little
brown bird chirped shrilly and fluttered a feeble protest
when she took away her sheltering hand. Jean
returned the paper hastily to its owner and took up the
"I beg your pardon for delaying your work," she
said coldly, and rose from the bench. "But you might
have explained your presence in the first place." She
wrapped the bird carefully in her handkerchief so that
only its beak and its bright eyes were uncovered, pulled
her hat forward upon her head, and walked away from
them down the path to the stables.
Robert Grant Burns turned slowly on his heels and
watched her go, and until she had led out her horse,
mounted and ridden away, he said never a word. Pete
Lowry leaned an elbow upon the camera and watched
her also, until she passed out of sight around the corner
of the dilapidated calf shed, and he was as silent as
the director.
"Some rider," Lee Milligan commented to the
assistant camera man, and without any tangible reason
regretted that he had spoken.
Robert Grant Burns turned harshly to the two
women. "Now then, you two go through that scene
again. And when you put out your hand to stop
Muriel, don't grab at her, Mrs. Gay. Hesitate! You
want your son to get the warning, but you've got your
doubts about letting her take the risk of going. And,
Gay, when you read the letter, try and show a little
emotion in your face. You saw how that girl looked
--see if you can't get that hurt, bitter look GRADUALLY,
as you read. The way she got it. Put in more feeling
and not so much motion. You know what I mean;
you saw the girl. That's the stuff that gets over.
Ready? Camera!"
Jean was just returning wet-lashed from burying
the little brown bird under a wild-rose bush near
the creek. She had known all along that it would die;
everything that she took any interest in turned out
badly, it seemed to her. The wonder was that the bird
had lived so long after she had taken it under her
All that day her Aunt Ella had worn a wet towel
turban-wise upon her head, and the look of a martyr
about to enter a den of lions. Add that to the habitual
atmosphere of injury which she wore, and Aunt Ella
was not what one might call a cheerful companion.
Besides, the appearance of the wet towel was a danger
signal to Jean's conscience, and forbade any thought
of saddling Pard and riding away from the Bar Nothing
into her own dream world and the great outdoors.
Jean's conscience commanded her instead to hang her
riding-clothes in the closet and wear striped percale
and a gingham apron, which she hated; and to sweep
and dust and remember not to whistle, and to look
sympathetic,--which she was not, particularly; and to ask
her Aunt Ella frequently if she felt any better, and if
there was anything Jean could do for her. There never
was anything she could do, but conscience and custom
required her to observe the ceremony of asking. Aunt
Ella found some languid satisfaction in replying dolorously
that there was nothing that anybody could do,
and that her part in life seemed to be to suffer.
You may judge what Jean's mood was that day,
when you are told that she came to the point, not an
hour before the bird died, of looking at her aunt with
that little smile at the corners of her eyes and just
easing her lips. "Well, you certainly play your part
in life with a heap of enthusiasm," she had replied, and
had gone out into the kitchen and whistled when she
did not feel in the least like whistling. Her conscience
knew Jean pretty well, and did not attempt to reprove
her for what she had done.
Then she found the bird dead in the little nest she
had made for it, and things went all wrong.
She was returning from the burial of the bird, and
was trying to force herself back to her normal attitude
of philosophic calm, when she saw her Uncle Carl sitting
on the edge of the front porch, with his elbows
resting loosely upon his knees, his head bowed, and his
boot-heel digging a rude trench in the hard-packed
The sight of him incensed her suddenly. Once more
she wished that she might get at his brain and squeeze
out his thoughts; and it never occurred to her that she
would probably have found them extremely commonplace
thoughts that strayed no farther than his own
little personal business of life, and that they would
easily be translated to the dollar sign. His attitude
was one of gloomy meditation, and her own mood supplied
the subject. She watched him for a minute or
two, and his abstraction was so deep that he did not feel
her presence.
"Uncle Carl, just how much did the Lazy A cost
you?" she asked so abruptly that she herself was
surprised at the question. "Or putting it another way,
just how many dollars and cents did you spend in defending
Carl started, which was perfectly natural, and glared
at her, which was natural also, when one considers that
Jean had without warning opened a subject tacitly
forbidden upon that ranch. His eyes hardened a little
while he looked at her, for between these two there was
scant affection.
"What do you want to know for?" he countered,
when she persisted in looking at him as though she was
waiting for an answer.
"Because I've a right to know. Some time,--
within four years,--I mean to buy back the Lazy A.
I want to know how much it will take." Until that
moment Jean had merely dreamed of some day buying
it back. Until she spoke she would have named the
idea a beautiful, impossible desire.
"Where you going to get the money?" Carl looked
at her curiously, as if he almost doubted her sanity.
"Rob a bank, perhaps. How much will it take to
square things with you? Of course, being a relative,
I expect to be cheated a little. So I am going to adopt
sly, sleuth-like methods and find out just how much
dad owed you before--it happened, and just how
much the lawyers charged, and what was the real market
value of the outfit, and all that. Dad told me--
dad told me that there was something left over for me.
He didn't explain--there wasn't time, and I--
couldn't listen to dollar-talk then. I've gone along all
this time, just drifting and getting used to facts, and
taking it for granted that everything is all right--"
"Well, what's wrong? Everything is all right, far
as I know. I can see what you're driving at--"
"And I'm a pretty fair driver, too," Jean cut in
calmly. "I'll reach my destination, I think,--give
me time enough."
"Whatever fool notion you've got in your head,
you'd better drop it," Carl told her harshly. "There
ain't anything you can do to better matters. I came
out with the worst of it, when you come right down to
facts, and all the nagging-"
Jean went toward him as if she would strike him
with her uplifted hand. "Don't dare say that! How
can you say that,--and think of dad? He got the
worst of it. He's the one that suffers most--and--
he's as innocent as you or I. You know it."
Carl rose from the porch and faced her like an
enemy. "What do you mean by that? I know it?
If I knew anything like that, do you think I'd leave a
stone unturned to prove it? Do you think--"
"I think we both know dad. And some things were
not proved,--to my satisfaction, at least. And you
know how long the jury was out, and what a time they
had agreeing. Some points were weak. It was simply
that they couldn't point to any one else. You know
that was it. If I could find Art Osgood--"
"What's he got to do with it?" Her uncle leaned
a little and peered into her face, which the dusk was
"That is what I want to find out." Jean's voice
was quiet, but it had a quality which he had never
before noticed.
"You'd better," he advised her tritely, "let sleeping
dogs lie."
"That's the trouble with sleeping dogs; they do lie,
more often than not. These particular dogs have lied
for nearly three years. I'm going to stir them up and
see if I can't get a yelp of the truth out of them."
"Oh, you are!" Carl laughed ironically. "You'll
stir up a lot of unpleasantness for yourself and the rest
of us, is what you'll do. The thing's over and done
with. Folks are beginning to forget it. You've got a
Jean laughed, and her laugh was extremely unpleasant.
"You get as good as the rest of us get," her uncle
reminded her sharply. "I came near going broke myself
over the affair, if you want to know; and you
stand there and accuse me of cheating you out of
something! I don't know what in heaven's name you
expect. The Lazy A didn't make me rich, I can tell you
that. It just barely helped to tide things over. You've
got a home here, and you can come and go as you
please. What you ain't got," he added bitterly, "is
common gratitude."
He turned away from her and went into the house,
and Jean sat down upon the edge of the porch and
stared away at the dimming outline of the hills, and
wondered what had come over her.
Three years on this ranch, seeing her uncle every day
almost, living under the same roof with him, talking
with him upon the everyday business of life,--and tonight,
for the first time, the forbidden subject had been
opened. She had said things that until lately she had
not realized were in her mind. She had never liked
her uncle, who was so different from her father, but
she had never accused him in her mind of unfairness
until she had written something of the sort in her
ledger. She had never thought of quarrelling,--and
yet one could scarcely call this encounter less than a
quarrel. And the strange part of it was that she still
believed what she had said; she still intended to do the
things she declared she would do. Just how she would
do them she did not know, but her purpose was hardening
and coming clean-cut out of the vague background
of her mind.
After awhile the dim outline of the high-shouldered
hills glowed under a yellowing patch of light. Jean
sat with her chin in her palms and watched the glow
brighten swiftly. Then some unseen force seemed to
be pushing a bright yellow disk up through a gap in
the hills, and the gap was almost too narrow, so that the
disk touched either side as it slid slowly upward. At
last it was up, launched fairly upon its leisurely, drifting
journey across to the farther hills behind her. It
was not quite round. That was because one edge had
scraped too hard against the side of the hill, perhaps.
But warped though it was, its light fell softly upon
Jean's face, and showed it set and still and stern-eyed
and somber.
She sat there awhile longer, until the slopes lay
softly revealed to her, their hollows filled with inky
shadows. She drew a long breath then, and looked
around her at the familiar details of the Bar Nothing
dwelling-place, softened a little by the moonlight, but
harsh with her memories of unhappy days spent there.
She rose and went into the house and to her room, and
changed the hated striped percale for her riding-clothes.
A tall, lank form detached itself from the black
shade of the bunk-house as she went by, hesitated
perceptibly, and then followed her down to the corral.
When she had gone in with a rope and later led out
Pard, the form stood forth in the white light of the
"Where are you going, Jean?" Lite asked her in a
tone that was soothing in its friendliness.
"That you, Lite? I'm going--well, just going.
I've got to ride." She pulled Pard's bridle off the peg
where she always hung it, and laid an arm over his
neck while she held the bit against his clinched teeth.
Pard never did take kindly to the feel of the cold steel
in his mouth, and she spoke to him sharply before his
jaws slackened.
"Want me to go along with you?" Lite asked, and
reached for his saddle and blanket.
"No, I want you to go to bed." Jean's tone was
softer than it had been for that whole day. "You've
had all the riding you need. I've been shut up with
Aunt Ella and her favorite form of torture."
"Got your gun?" Lite gave the latigo a final pull
which made Pard grunt.
"Of course. Why?"
"Nothing,--only it's a good night for coyotes, and
you might get a shot at one. Another thing, a gun's
no good on earth when you haven't got it with you."
"Yes, and you've told me so about once a week ever
since I was big enough to pull a trigger," Jean
retorted, with something approaching her natural tone.
"Maybe I won't come back, Lite. Maybe I'll camp
over home till morning."
Lite did not say anything in reply to that. He
leaned his long person against a corral post and watched
her out of sight on the trail up the hill. Then he
caught his own horse, saddled it leisurely, and rode
Jean rode slowly, leaving the trail and striking out
across the open country straight for the Lazy A. She
had no direct purpose in riding this way; she had not
intended to ride to the Lazy A until she named the
place to Lite as her destination, but since she had told
him so, she knew that was where she was going. The
picture-people would not be there at night, and she felt
the need of coming as close as possible to her father;
at the Lazy A, where his thoughts would cling, she felt
near to him,--much nearer than when she was at the
Bar Nothing. And that the gruesome memory of
what had happened there did not make the place seem
utterly horrible merely proves how unshakable was her
faith in him.
A coyote trotted up out of a hollow facing her,
stiffened with astonishment, dropped nose and tail, and
slid away in the shadow of the hill. A couple of
minutes later Jean saw him sitting alert upon his haunches
on a moon-bathed slope, watching to see what she would
do. She did nothing; and the coyote pointed his nose
to the moon, yap-yap-yapped a quavering defiance, and
slunk out of sight over the hill crest.
Her mind now was more at ease than it had been
since the day of horror when she had first stared black
tragedy in the face. She was passing through that
phase of calm elation which follows close upon the heels
of a great resolve. She had not yet come to the actual
surmounting of the obstacles that would squeeze hope
from the heart of her; she had not yet looked upon the
possibility of absolute failure.
She was going to buy back the Lazy A from her
Uncle Carl, and she was going to tear away that
atmosphere of emptiness and desolation which it had worn
so long. She was going to prove to all men that her
father never had killed Johnny Croft. She was going
to do it! Then life would begin where it had left off
three years ago. And when this deadening load of
trouble was lifted, then perhaps she could do some of
the glorious, great things she had all of her life dreamed
of doing. Or, if she never did the glorious, great
things, she would at least have done something to justify
her existence. She would be content in her cage if she
could go round and round doing things for dad.
A level stretch of country lay at the foot of the long
bluff, which farther along held the Lazy A coulee close
against its rocky side. The high ridges stood out boldly
in the moonlight, so that she could see every rock and
the shadow that it cast upon the ground. Little, soothing
night noises fitted themselves into her thoughts and
changed them to waking dreams. Crickets that hushed
while she passed them by; the faint hissing of a halfwakened
breeze that straightway slept upon the grasses
it had stirred; the sleepy protest of some bird which
Pard's footsteps had startled.
She came into Lazy A coulee, half fancying that it
was a real home-coming. But when she reached the
gate and found it lying flat upon the ground away from
the broad tread of the picture-people's machine, her
mind jarred from dreams back to reality. From sheer
habit she dismounted, picked up the spineless thing of
stakes and barbed wire, dragged it into place across
the trail, and fastened it securely to the post. She
remounted and went on, and a little of the hopefulness
was gone from her face.
"I'll just about have to rob a bank, I guess," she told
herself with a grim humor at the tremendous undertaking
to which she had so calmly committed herself.
"This is what dad would call a man-sized job, I
reckon." She pulled up in the white-lighted trail and
stared along the empty, sagging-roofed sheds and stables,
and at the corral with its open gate and warped
rails and leaning posts. "I'll just about have to rob
a bank,--or write a book that will make me famous."
She touched Pard with a rein end and went on slowly.
"Robbing a bank would be the quickest and easiest,"
she decided whimsically, as she neared the place where
she always sheltered Pard. "But not so ladylike. I
guess I'll write a book. It should be something real
thrilly, so the people will rush madly to all the bookstores
to buy it. It should have a beautiful girl, and
at least two handsome men,--one with all the human
virtues, and the other with all the arts of the devil and
the cruel strength of the savage. And--I think some
Indians and outlaws would add several dollars' worth of
thrills; or else a ghost and a haunted house. I wonder
which would sell the best? Indians could steal the girl
and give her two handsome men a chance to do chapters
of stunts, and the wicked one could find her first
and carry her away in front of him on a horse (they
do those things in books!) and the hero could follow in
a mad chase for miles and miles--
"But then, ghosts can be made very creepy, with
tantalizing glimpses of them now and then in about every
other chapter, and mysterious hints here and there, and
characters coming down to breakfast with white, drawn
faces and haggard eyes. And the wicked one would
look over his shoulder and then utter a sardonic laugh. Sardonic
is such an effective word; I don't believe
Indians would give him any excuse for sardonic laughter."
She swung down from the saddle and led Pard into
his stall, that was very black next the manger and very
light where the moon shone in at the door. "I must
have lots of moonlight and several stormy sunsets, and
the wind soughing in the branches. I shall have to
buy a new dictionary,--a big, fat, heavy one with the
flags of all nations and how to measure the contents
of an empty hogshead, and the deaf and dumb alphabet,
and everything but the word you want to know the meaning
of and whether it begins with ph or an f."
She took the saddle off Pard and hung it up by a
stirrup on the rusty spike where she kept it, with the
bridle hung over the stirrup, and the saddle blanket
folded over the horn. She groped in the manger and
decided that there was hay enough to last him till morning,
and went out and closed the door. Her shadow
fell clean cut upon the rough planks, and she stood for a
minute looking at it as if it were a person. Her Stetson
hat tilted a little to one side, her hair fluffed loosely
at the sides, leaving her neck daintily slender where it
showed above the turned-back collar of her gray sweater;
her shoulders square and capable and yet not too heavy,
and the slim contour of her figure reaching down to
the ground. She studied it abstractedly, as she would
study herself in her mirror, conscious of the individuality,
its likeness to herself.
"I don't know what kind of a mess you'll make of it,"
she said to her shadow, "but you're going to tackle it,
just the same. You can't do a thing till you get some
She turned then and went thoughtfully up to the
house and into her room, which had as yet been left
undisturbed behind the bars she had placed against idle
The moon shone full into the window that faced the
coulee, and she sat down in the old, black wooden rocker
and gazed out upon the familiar, open stretch of sand
and scant grass-growth that lay between the house and
the corrals. She turned her eyes to the familiar bold
outline of the bluff that swung round in a crude oval
to the point where the trail turned into the coulee from
the southwest. Half-way between the base and the
ragged skyline, the boulder that looked like an
elephant's head stood out, white of profile, hooded with
black shade. Beyond was the fat shelf of ledge that
had a small cave beneath, where she had once found a
nest full of little, hungry birds and upon the slope
beneath the telltale, scattered wing-feathers, to show what
fate had fallen upon the mother. Those birds had died
also, and she had wept and given them Christian burial,
and had afterwards spent hours every day with her little
rifle hunting the destroyer of that small home. She
remembered the incident now as a small thread in the
memory-pattern she was weaving.
While the shadows shortened as the moon swung
high, she sat and looked out upon the coulee and the
bluff that sheltered it, and she saw the things that were
blended cunningly with the things that were not. After
a long while her hands unclasped themselves from behind
her head and dropped numbly to her lap. She
sighed and moved stiffly, and knew that she was tired
and that she must get some sleep, because she could not
sit down in one spot and think her way through the
problems she had taken it upon herself to solve. So she
got up and crept under the Navajo blanket upon the
couch, tucked it close about her shoulders, and shut her
eyes deliberately. Presently she fell asleep.
Sometime in the still part of the night which
comes after midnight, Jean woke slowly from
dreaming of the old days that had been so vivid in her
mind when she went to sleep. Just at first she did not
know what it was that awakened her, though her eyes
were open and fixed upon the lighted square of the
window. She knew that she was in her room at the Lazy
A, but just at first it seemed to her that she was there
because she had always been sleeping in that room.
She sighed and turned her face away from the moonlight,
and closed her eyes again contentedly.
Half dreaming she opened them again and stared up
at the low ceiling. Somewhere in the house she heard
footsteps. Very slowly she wakened enough to listen.
They were footsteps,--the heavy, measured tread of
some man. They were in the room that had been her
father's bedroom, and at first they seemed perfectly
natural and right; they seemed to be her dad's footsteps,
and she wondered mildly what he was doing, up
at that time of night.
The footsteps passed from there into the kitchen and
stopped in the corner where stood the old-fashioned
cupboard with perforated tin panels in the doors and at the
sides, and the little drawers at the top,--the kind that
old people call a "safe." She heard a drawer pulled
out. Without giving any conscious thought to it, she
knew which drawer it was; it was the one next the wall,
--the one that did not pull out straight, and so had to
be jerked out. What was her dad . . . ?
Jean thrilled then with a tremor of fear. She had
wakened fully enough to remember. That was not her
dad, out there in the kitchen. She did not know who
it was; it was some strange man prowling through the
house, hunting for something. She felt again the
tremor of fear that is the heritage of womanhood alone
in the dark. She pulled the Navajo blanket up to her
ears with the instinct of the woman to hide, because
she is not strong enough to face and fight the danger
that comes in the dark. She listened to the sound of
that drawer being pushed back, and the other drawer
being pulled out, and she shivered under the blanket.
Then she reached out her hand and got hold of her
six-shooter which she had laid down unthinkingly upon a
chair near the couch. She wondered if she had locked
the outside door when she came in. She could not
remember having done so; probably she had not, since it is
not the habit of honest ranch-dwellers to lock their doors
at night. She wanted to get up and see, and fasten
it somehow; but she was afraid the man out there might
hear her. As it was, she reasoned nervously with herself,
he probably did not suspect that there was any
one in the house. It was an empty house. And unless
he had seen Pard in the closed stall. . . . She wondered
if he had heard Pard there, and had investigated and
found him. She wondered if he would come into this
room. She remembered how securely she had nailed
up the door from the kitchen, and she breathed freer.
She remembered also that she had her gun, there under
her hand. She closed her trembling fingers on the
familiar grip of it, and the feel of it comforted her and
steadied her.
Yet she had no desire, no slightest impulse to get up
and see who was there. She was careful not to move,
except to cover the doorway to the kitchen with her
After a few minutes the man came and tried the
door, and Jean lifted herself cautiously upon her elbow
and waited in grim desperation. If he forced that
door open, if he came in, she certainly would shoot;
and if she shot,--well, you remember the fate of that
hawk on the wing.
The man did not force the door open, which was
perhaps the luckiest thing that ever happened to him. He fussed
there until he must have made sure that it was fastened firmly
upon the inside, and then he left it and went into what had been
the living-room. Jean did not move from her half-sitting
position, nor did she change the aim of her gun. He might come
back and try again.
She heard him moving about in the living-room.
Surely he did not expect to find money in an empty
house, or anything else of any commercial value. What
was he after? Finally he came back to the kitchen,
crossed it, and stood before the barred door. He
pushed against it tentatively, then stood still for a
minute and finally went out. Jean heard him step
upon the porch and pull the kitchen door shut behind
him. She knew that squeal of the bottom hinge, and
she knew the final gasp and click that proved the latch
was fastened. She heard him step off the porch to the
path, she heard the soft crunch of his feet in the sandy
gravel as he went away toward the stable. Very cautiously
she got off the couch and crept to the window;
and with her gun gripped tight in her hand, she looked
out. But he had moved into a deep shadow of the bluff,
and she could see nothing of him save the deeper shadow
of his swift-moving body as he went down to the corral.
Jean gave a long sigh of nervous relaxation, and crept
shivering under the Navajo blanket. The gun she slid
under the pillow, and her fingers rested still upon the
cool comfort of the butt.
Soon she heard a horse galloping, and she went to the
window again and looked out. The moon hung low
over the bluff, so that the trail lay mostly in the shadow.
But down by the gate it swung out in a wide curve to
the rocky knoll, and there it lay moon-lighted and
empty. She fixed her eyes upon that curve and
waited. In a moment the horseman galloped out upon
the curve, rounded it, and disappeared in the shadows
beyond. At that distance and in that deceptive light,
she could not tell who it was; but it was a horseman, a
man riding at night in haste, and with some purpose in
Jean had thought that the prowler might be some
tramp who had wandered far off the beaten path of
migratory humans, and who, stumbling upon the coulee
and its empty dwellings, was searching at random for
whatever might be worth carrying off. A horseman
did not fit that theory anywhere. That particular
horseman had come there deliberately, had given the
house a deliberate search, and had left in haste when
he had finished. Whether he had failed or succeeded
in finding what he wanted, he had left. He had not
searched the stables, unless he had done that before
coming into the house. He had not forced his way
into her room, probably because he did not want to leave
behind him the evidence of his visit which the door
would have given, or because he feared to disturb the
contents of Jean's room.
Jean stared up in the dark and puzzled long over the
identity of that man, and his errand. And the longer
she thought about it, the more completely she was at
sea. All the men that she knew were aware that she
kept this room habitable, and visited the ranch often.
That was no secret; it never had been a secret. No
one save Lite Avery had ever been in it, so far as she
knew,--unless she counted those chance trespassers who
had prowled boldly through her most sacred belongings.
So that almost any one in the country, had he any object
in searching the house, would know that this room
was hers, and would act in that knowledge.
As to his errand. There could be no errand, so far
as she knew. There were no missing papers such as
plays and novels are accustomed to have cunningly hidden
in empty houses. There was no stolen will, no
hidden treasure, no money, no Rajah's ruby, no ransom
of a king; these things Jean named over mentally, and
chuckled at the idea of treasure-hunting at the Lazy
A. It vas very romantic, very mysterious, she told
herself. And she analyzed the sensation of little wet
alligators creeping up her spine (that was her own
simile), and decided that her book should certainly have
a ghost in it; she was sure that she could describe with
extreme vividness the effect of a ghost upon her various
In this wise she recovered her composure and laughed
at her fear, and planned new and thrilly incidents for
her novel.
She would not tell Lite anything about it, she decided.
He would try to keep her from coming over here by
herself, and that would precipitate one of those arguments
between them that never seemed to get them anywhere,
because Lite never would yield gracefully, and
Jean never would yield at all,--which does not make
for peace.
She wished, just the same, that Lite was there. It
would be much more comfortable if he were near
instead of away over to the Bar Nothing, sound asleep
in the bunk-house. As a self-appointed guardian, Jean
considered Lite something of a nuisance, when he wasn't
funny. But as a big, steady-nerved friend and comrade,
he certainly was a comfort.
Jean awoke to hear the businesslike buzzing of an
automobile coming up from the gate. Evidently
they were going to make pictures there at the house,
which did not suit her plans at all. She intended to
spend the early morning writing the first few chapters
of that book which to her inexperience seemed a simple
task, and to leave before these people arrived. As it
was, she was fairly caught. There was no chance of
escaping unnoticed, unless she slipped out and up the
bluff afoot, and that would not have helped her in the
least, since Pard was in the stable.
From behind the curtains she watched them for a
few minutes. Robert Grant Burns wore a light overcoat,
which made him look pudgier than ever, and he
scowled a good deal over some untidy-looking papers in
his hands, and conferred with Pete Lowry in a dissatisfied
tone, though his words were indistinguishable.
Muriel Gay watched the two covertly, it seemed to Jean,
and she also looked dissatisfied over something.
Burns and the camera man walked down toward the
stables, studying the bluff and the immediate surroundings,
and still talking together. Lee Milligan, with
his paint-shaded eyes and his rouged lips and heavily
pencilled eyebrows, came up and stood close to Muriel,
who was sitting now upon the bench near Jean's window.
"Burns ought to cut out those scenes, Gay," he
began sympathetically. "You can't do any more than
you did yesterday. And believe me, you put it over in
good style. I don't see what he wants more than you
"What he wants," said Muriel Gay dispiritedly, "is
for me to pull off stunts like that girl. I never saddled
a horse in my life till he ordered me to do it in the
scene yesterday. Why didn't he tell me far enough
ahead so I could rehearse the business? Latigo! It
sounds like some Spanish dish with grated cheese on
top. I don't believe he knows himself what he meant."
"He's getting nutty on Western dope," sympathized
Lee Milligan. "I don't see where this country's got
anything on Griffith Park for atmosphere, anyway.
What did he want to come away up here in this Godforsaken
country for? What is there TO it, more than
he could get within an hour's ride of Los Angeles?"
"I should worry about the country," said Muriel
despondently, "if somebody would kindly tell me what
looping up your latigo means. Burns says that he's
got to retake that saddling scene just as soon as the
horses get here. It looks just as simple," she added
spitefully, "as climbing to the top of the Berry Building
tower and doing a leap to a passing airship. In
fact, I'd choose the leap."
A warm impulse of helpfulness stirred Jean. She
caught up her hat, buckled her gun belt around her
from pure habit, tucked a few loose strands of hair
into place, and went out where they were.
"If you'll come down to the stable with me," she
drawled, while they were staring their astonishment at
her unexpected appearance before them, "I'll show you
how to saddle up. Pard's awfully patient about being
fussed with; you can practice on him. He's mean
about taking the bit, though, unless you know just how
to take hold of him. Come on."
The three of them,--Muriel Gay and her mother
and Lee Milligan,--stared at Jean without speaking.
To her it seemed perfectly natural that she should walk
up and offer to help the girl; to them it seemed not so
natural. For a minute the product of the cities and
the product of the open country studied each other curiously.
"Come on," urged Jean in her lazily friendly drawl.
"It's simple enough, once you get the hang of it."
And she smiled before she added, "A latigo is just the
strap that fastens the cinch. I'll show you."
"I'll bet Bobby Burns doesn't know that," said
Muriel Gay, and got up from the bench. "It's
awfully good of you; Mr. Burns is so--"
"I noticed that," said Jean, while Muriel was
waiting for a word that would relieve her feelings without
being too blunt.
Burns and Pete Lowry and the assistant had gone
down the coulee, still studying the bluff closely. "I've
got to ride down that bluff," Muriel informed Jean, her
eyes following her director gloomily. "He asked me
last night if I could throw a rope. I don't know what
for; it's an extra punch he wants to put in this picture
somewhere. I wish to goodness they wouldn't let him
write his own scenarios; he just lies awake nights,
lately, thinking up impossible scenes so he can bully us
afterwards. He's simply gone nutty on the subject of
"Well, it's easy enough to learn how to saddle a
horse," Jean told Muriel cheerfully. "First you want
to put on the bridle--"
"Burns told me to put on the saddle first; and then
he cuts the scene just as I pick up the bridle. The
trouble is to get the saddle on right, and then--that
latigo dope!"
"But you ought to bridle him first," Jean insisted.
"Supposing you just got the saddle on, and your horse
got startled and ran off? If you have the bridle on,
even if you haven't the reins, you can grab them when
he jumps."
"Well, that isn't the way Burns directed the scene
yesterday," Muriel Gay contended. "The scene ends
where I pick up the bridle."
"Then Robert Grant Burns doesn't know. I've seen
men put on the bridle last; but it's wrong. Lite Avery,
and everybody who knows--"
Muriel Gay looked at Jean with a weary impatience.
"What I have to do," she stated, "is what Burns tells
me to do. I should worry about it's being right or
wrong; I'm not the producer."
Jean faced her, frowning a little. Then she laughed,
hung the bridle back on the rusty spike, and took down
the saddle blanket. "We'll play I'm Robert Grant
Burns," she said. "I'll tell you what to do: Lay the
blanket on straight,--it's shaped to Pard's back, so that
ought to be easy,--with the front edge coming forward
to his withers; that's not right. Maybe I had better do
it first, and show you. Then you'll get the idea."
So Jean, with the best intention in the world, saddled
Pard, and wondered what there was about so simple a
process that need puzzle any one. When she had
tightened the cinch and looped up the latigo, and
explained to Muriel just what she was doing, she
immediately unsaddled him and laid the saddle down upon
its side, with the blanket folded once on top, and stepped
close to the manger.
"If your saddle isn't hanging up, that's the way it
should be put on the ground," she said. "Now you do
it. It's easy."
It was easy for Jean, but Muriel did not find it so
simple. Jean went through the whole performance a
second time, though she was beginning to feel that
nature had never fitted her for a teacher of young ladies.
Muriel, she began to suspect, rather resented the process
of being taught. In another minute Muriel confirmed
the suspicion.
"I think I've got it now," she said coolly. "Thank
you ever so much."
Robert Grant Burns returned then, and close behind
him rode Gil Huntley and those other desperados who
had helped to brand the calf that other day. Gil was
leading a little sorrel with a saddle on,--Muriel's horse
evidently. Jean had started back to the house and her
own affairs, but she lingered with a very human curiosity
to see what they were all going to do.
She did not know that Robert Grant Burns was perfectly
conscious of her presence even when he seemed
busiest, and was studying her covertly even when he
seemed not to notice her at all. Of his company, Pete
Lowry was the only one who did know it, but that was
because Pete himself was trained in the art of observation.
Pete also knew why Burns was watching Jean
and studying her slightest movement and expression;
and that was why Pete kept smiling that little, hidden
smile of his, while he made ready for the day's work
and explained to Jean the mechanical part of making
"I'd rather work with live things," said Jean after
a while. "But I can see where this must be rather
fascinating, too."
"This is working with live things, if anybody wants
to know," Pete declared. "Wait till you see Burns in
action; handling bronks is easy compared to--"
"About where does the side line come, Pete?" Burns
interrupted. "If Gil stands here and holds the horse
for that close-up saddling--" He whirled upon Gil
Huntley. "Lead that sorrel up here," he commanded.
"We'll have to cut off his head so the halter won't
show. Now, how's that?"
This was growing interesting. Jean backed to a
convenient pile of old corral posts and sat down to watch,
with her chin in her palms, and her mind weaving
shuttle-wise back and forth from one person to another,
fitting them all into the pattern which made the whole.
She watched Robert Grant Burns walking back and
forth, growling and chuckling by turns as things pleased
him or did not please him. She watched Muriel Gay
walk to a certain spot which Burns had previously
indicated, show sudden and uncalled-for fear and haste,
and go through a pantomime of throwing the saddle on
the sorrel.
She watched Lee Milligan carry the saddle up and
throw it down upon the ground, with skirts curled under
and stirrups sprawling.
"Oh, don't leave it that way," she remonstrated.
"Lay it on its side! You'll have the skirts kinked so
it never will set right."
Muriel Gay gasped and looked from her to Robert
Grant Burns. For betraying your country and your
flag is no crime at all compared with telling your
director what he must do.
"Bring that saddle over here," commanded Burns,
indicating another spot eighteen inches from the first.
"And don't slop it down like it was a bundle of old
clothes. Lay it on its side. How many times have I
got to tell you a thing before it soaks into your mind?"
Not by tone or look or manner did he betray any
knowledge that Jean had spoken, and Muriel decided
that he could not have heard.
Lee Milligan moved the saddle and placed it upon its
side, and Burns went to the camera and eyed the scene
critically for its photographic value. He fumbled
the script in his hands, cocked an eye upward at
the sun, stepped back, and gave a last glance to make
sure that nothing could be bettered by altering the detail.
"How's Gil; outside the line, Pete? All right.
Now, Miss Gay, remember, you're in a hurry, and
you're worried half to death. You've just time enough
to get there if you use every second. You were crying
when the letter-scene closed, and this is about five
minutes afterwards; you just had time enough to catch
your horse and lead him out here to saddle him. Register
a sob when you turn to pick up the saddle. You
ought to do this all right without rehearsing. Get into
the scene and start your action at the same time. Pete,
you pick it up just as she gets to the horse's shoulder
and starts to turn. Don't forget that sob, Gay.
Ready? Camera!"
Jean was absorbed, fascinated by this glimpse into a
new and very busy little world,--the world of movingpicture
makers. She leaned forward and watched every
moment, every little detail. "Grab the horn with your
right hand, Miss Gay!" she cried involuntarily, when
Muriel stooped and started to pick up the saddle.
"Don't--oh, it looks as if you were picking up a
wash-boiler! I told you--"
"Register that sob!" bawled Robert Grant Burns,
shooting a glance at Jean and stepping from one foot to
the other like a fat gobbler in fresh-fallen snow.
Muriel registered that sob and a couple more before
she succeeded in heaving the saddle upon the back of the
flinching sorrel. Because she took up the saddle by
horn and cantle instead of doing it as Jean had taught
her, she bungled its adjustment upon the horse's back.
Then the sorrel began to dance away from her, and
Robert Grant Burns swore under his breath.
"Stop the camera!" he barked and waddled irately
up to Muriel. "This," he observed ironically, "is
drama, Miss Gay. We are not making slap-stick
comedy to-day; and you needn't give an imitation of
boosting a barrel over a fence."
Tears that were real slipped down over the rouge
and grease paint on Muriel's cheeks. "Why don't you
make that girl stop butting in?" she flashed unexpectedly.
"I'm not accustomed to working under two directors!"
She registered another sob which the camera never got.
This brought Jean over to where she could lay her
hand contritely upon the girl's shoulder. "I'm
awfully sorry," she drawled with perfect sincerity.
"I didn't mean to rattle you; but you know you never
in the world could throw the stirrup over free, the way
you had hold of the saddle. I thought--"
Burns turned heavily around and looked at Jean, as
though he had something in his mind to say to her; but,
whatever that something may have been, he did not say
it. Jean looked at him questioningly and walked back
to the pile of posts.
"I won't butt in any more," she called out to Muriel.
"Only, it does look so simple!" She rested her elbows
on her knees again, dropped her chin into her
palms, and concentrated her mind upon the subject of
picture-plays in the making.
Muriel recovered her composure, stood beside Gil
Huntley at the horse's head just outside the range of
the camera, waited for the word of command from
Burns, and rushed into the saddle scene. Burns
shouted "Sob!" and Muriel sobbed with her face
toward the camera. Burns commanded her to pick up
the saddle, and Muriel picked up the saddle and flung it
spitefully upon the back of the sorrel.
"Oh, you forgot the blanket!" exclaimed Jean, and
stopped herself with her hand over her too-impulsive
mouth, just as Burns stopped the camera.
The director bowed his head and shook it twice
slowly and with much meaning. He did not say anything at
all; no one said anything. Gil Huntley looked
at Jean and tried to catch her eye, so that he might
give her some greeting, or at least a glance of
understanding. But Jean was wholly concerned with the
problem which confronted Muriel. It was a shame,
she thought, to expect a girl,--and when she had
reached that far she straightway put the thought into
speech, as was her habit.
"It's a shame to expect that girl to do something she
doesn't know how to do," she said suddenly to Robert
Grant Burns. "Work at something else, why don't
you, and let me take her somewhere and show her how?
It's simple--"
"Get up and show her now," snapped Burns, with
some sarcasm and a good deal of exasperation. "You
seem determined to get into the foreground somehow;
get up and go through that scene and show us how a
girl gets a saddle on a horse."
Jean sat still for ten seconds and deliberated while
she looked from him to the horse. Again she made a
picture that drove its elusive quality of individuality
straight to the professional soul of Robert Grant
"I will if you'll let me do it the right way," she said,
just when he was thinking she would not answer him.
She did not wait for his assurance, once she had decided to
accept the challenge, or the invitation; she did
not quite know which he had meant it to be.
"I'm going to bridle him first though," she informed
him. "And you can tell that star villain to back out
of the way. I don't need him."
Still Burns did not say anything. He was watching
her, studying her, measuring her, seeing her as she
would have looked upon the screen. It was his habit
to leave people alone until they betrayed their limitations
or proved their talent; after that, if they remained
under his direction, he drove them as far as their
limitations would permit.
Jean went first and placed the saddle to her liking
upon the ground. "You want me to act just as if you
were going to take a picture of it, don't you?" she
asked Burns over her shoulder. She was not sure
whether he nodded, but she acted upon the supposition
that he did, and took the lead-rope from Gil's hand.
"Shall I be hurried and worried--and shall I sob?"
she asked, with the little smile at the corners of her
eyes and just easing the line of her lips.
Robert Grant Burns seemed to make a quick decision.
"Sure," he said. "You saw the action as Miss Gay
went through it. Do as she did; only we'll let you have
your own ideas of saddling the horse." He turned his
head toward Pete and made a very slight gesture, and
Pete grinned. "All ready? Start the action!"
After that he did not help her by a single suggestion.
He tapped Pete upon the shoulder, and stood with his
feet far apart and his hands on his hips, watching her
very intently.
Jean was plainly startled, just at first, by the
business-like tone in which he gave the signal. Then she
laughed a little. "Oh, I forgot. I must be hurried
and worried--and I must sob," she corrected herself.
So she hurried, and every movement she made counted
for something accomplished. She picked up the bridle
and shortened her hold upon the lead rope, and discovered
that the sorrel had a trick of throwing up his head
and backing away from the bit. She knew how to deal
with that habit, however; but in her haste she forgot
to look as worried as Muriel had looked, and so appeared
to her audience as being merely determined. She got
the bridle on, and then she saddled the sorrel. And for
good measure she picked up the reins, caught the stirrup
and went up, pivoting the horse upon his hind feet as
though she meant to dash madly off into the distance.
But she only went a couple of rods before she pulled
him up sharply and dismounted.
"That didn't take me long, did it?" she asked. "I
could have hurried a lot more if I had known the
horse." Then she stopped dead still and looked at
Robert Grant Burns.
"Oh, my goodness, I forgot to sob!" she gasped.
And she caught her hat brim and pulling her Stetson
more firmly down upon her head, turned and ran up the
path to the house, and shut herself into her room.
While she breakfasted unsatisfactorily upon
soda crackers and a bottle of olives which
happened to have been left over from a previous luncheon,
Jean meditated deeply upon the proper beginning of a
book. The memory of last night came to her vividly,
and she smiled while she fished with a pair of scissors
for an olive. She would start the book off weirdly
with mysterious sounds in an empty room. That, she
argued, should fix firmly the interest of the reader right
at the start.
By the time she had fished the olive from the bottle,
however, her thoughts swung from the artistic to the
material aspect of those mysterious footsteps. What
had the man wanted or expected to find? She set
down the olive bottle impulsively and went out and
around to the kitchen door and opened it. In spite of
herself, she shuddered as she went in, and she walked
close to the wall until she was well past the brown stain
on the floor. She went to the old-fashioned cupboard
and examined the contents of the drawers and looked
into a cigar-box which stood open upon the top. She
went into her father's bedroom and looked through
everything, which did not take long, since the room had
little left in it. She went into the living-room, also
depressingly dusty and forlorn, but try as she would to
think of some article that might have been left there
and was now wanted by some one, she could imagine no
reason whatever for that nocturnal visit. At the same
time, there must have been a reason. Men of that country
did not ride abroad during the still hours of the
night just for the love of riding. Most of them went to
bed at dark and slept until dawn.
She went out, intending to go back to her literary
endeavors; if she never started that book, certainly it
would never make her rich, and she would never be able
to make war upon circumstances. She thought of her
father with a twinge of remorse because she had wasted
so much time this morning, and she scarcely glanced
toward the picture-people down by the corrals, so she
did not see that Robert Grant Burns turned to look at
her and then started hurriedly up the path to the house.
"Say," he called, just before she disappeared around
the corner. "Wait a minute. I want to talk to you."
Jean waited, and the fat man came up breathing hard
because of his haste in the growing heat of the forenoon.
"Say, I'd like to use you in a few scenes," he began
abruptly when he reached her. "Gay can't put over
the stuff I want; and I'd like to have you double for
her in some riding and roping scenes. You're about
the same size and build, and I'll get you a blond wig
for close-ups, like that saddling scene. I believe you've
got it in you to make good on the screen; anyway, the
practice you'll get doubling for Gay won't do you any
Jean looked at him, tempted to consent for the fun
there would be in it. "I'd like to," she told him after
a little silence. "I really would love it. But I've got
some work that I must do."
"Let the work wait," urged Burns, relieved because
she showed no resentment against the proposal. "I
want to get this picture made. It's going to be a
hummer. There's punch to it, or there will be, if--"
"But you see," Jean's drawl slipped across his
eager, domineering voice, "I have to earn some money,
lots of it. There's something I need it for. It's--
"You'll earn money at this," he told her bluntly.
"You didn't think I'd ask you to work for nothing, I
hope. I ain't that cheap. It's like this: If you'll
work in this picture and put over what I want, it'll be
feature stuff. I'll pay accordingly. Of course, I can't
say just how much,--this is just a try-out; you understand
that. But if you can deliver the goods, I'll see
that you get treated right. Some producers might play
the cheap game just because you're green; but I ain't
that kind, and my company ain't that kind. I'm out
after results." Involuntarily his eyes turned toward
the bluff. "There's a ride down the bluff that I want,
and a roping--say, can you throw a rope?"
Jean laughed. "Lite Avery says I can," she told
him, "and Lite Avery can almost write his name in
the air with a rope."
"If you can make that dash down the bluff, and do
the roping I want, why--Lord! You'll have to be
working a gold mine to beat what I'd be willing to pay
for the stuff."
"There's no place here in the coulee where you can
ride down the bluff," Jean informed him, "except back
of the house, and that's out of sight. Farther over
there's a kind of trail that a good horse can handle. I
came down it on a run, once, with Pard. A man was
drowning, over here in the creek, and I was up on the
bluff and happened to see him and his horse turn over,
--it was during the high water. So I made a run
down off the point, and got to him in time to rope him
out. You might use that trail."
Robert Grant Burns stood and stared at her as though
he did not see her at all. In truth, he was seeing with
his professional eyes a picture of that dash down the
bluff. He was seeing a "close-up" of Jean whirling
her loop and lassoing the drowning man just as he had
given up hope and was going under for the third time.
Lee Milligan was the drowning man! and the agony of
his eyes, and the tenseness of Jean's face, made Robert
Grant Burns draw a long breath.
"Lord, what feature-stuff that would make!" he
said under his breath. "I'll write a scenario around
that rescue scene." Whereupon he caught himself. It
is not well for a director to permit his enthusiasm to
carry him into injudicious speech. He chuckled to
hide his eagerness. "Well, you can show me that
location," he said, "and we'll get to work. You'll have
to use the sorrel, of course; but I guess he'll be all right.
This saddling scene will have to wait till I send for a
wig. You can change clothes with Miss Gay and get
by all right at a distance, just as you are. A little
make-up, maybe; she'll fix that. Come on, let's get to
work. And don't worry about the salary; I'll tell you
to-night what it'll be, after I see you work."
When he was in that mood, Robert Grant Burns swept
everything before him. He swept Jean into his plans
before she had really made up her mind whether to
accept his offer or stick to her literary efforts. He had
Muriel Gay up at the house and preparing to change
clothes with Jean, and he had Lee Milligan started for
town in the machine with the key to Burns' emergency
wardrobe trunk, before Jean realized that she was
actually going to do things for the camera to make into
a picture.
"I'm glad you are going to double in that ride down
the bluff, anyway," Muriel declared, while she blacked
Jean's brows and put shadows around her eyes. "I
could have done it, of course; but mamma is so nervous
about my getting hurt that I hate to do anything risky
like that. It upsets her for days."
"There isn't much risk in riding down the bluff,"
said Jean carelessly. "Not if you've got a good horse.
I wonder if that sorrel is rope broke. Have you ever
roped off him?"
"No," said Muriel, "I haven't." She might have
added that she never roped off any horse, but she did
"I'll have to try him out and see what he's like,
before I try to rope for a picture. I wonder if there'll
be time now?" Jean was pleasantly excited over this
new turn of events. She had dreamed of doing many
things, but never of helping to make moving pictures.
She was eager and full of curiosity, like a child invited
to play a new and fascinating game, and she kept wondering
what Lite would have to say about her posing for
moving pictures. Try to stop her, probably,--and
fail, as usual!
When she went out to where the others were grouped
in the shade, she gave no sign of any inner excitement
or perturbation. She went straight up to Burns and
waited for his verdict.
"Do I look like Miss Gay?" she drawled.
The keen eyes of Burns half closed while he studied
"No, I can't say that you do," he said after a
moment. "Walk off toward the corrals,--and, say!
Mount the sorrel and start off like you were in a deuce
of a hurry. That'll be one scene, and I'd like to see
how you do it when you can have your own way about
it, and how close up we can make it and have you pass
for Gay."
"How far shall I ride?" Jean's eyes had a betraying
light of interest.
"Oh--to the gate, maybe. Can you get a long shot
down the trail to the gate, Pete, and keep skyline in the
Pete moved the camera, fussed and squinted, and then
nodded his head. "Sure, I can. But you'll have to
make it right away, or else wait till to-morrow. The
sun's getting around pretty well in front."
"We'll take it right after this rehearsal, if the girl
can put the stuff over right," Burns muttered. "And
she can, or I'm badly mistaken. Pete, that girl's--"
He stopped short, because the shadow of Lee Milligan
was moving up to them. "All right, Miss--say,
what's your name, anyway?" He was told, and went
on briskly. "Miss Douglas, just start from off that
way,--about where that round rock is. You'll come
into the scene a little beyond. Hurry straight up to
the sorrel and mount and ride off. Your lover is going
to be trapped by the bandits, and you've just heard
it and are hurrying to save him. Get the idea? Now
let's see you do it."
"You don't want me to sob, do you?" Jean looked
over her shoulder to inquire. "Because if I were going
to save my lover, I don't believe I'd want to waste
time weeping around all over the place."
Burns chuckled. "You can cut out the sob," he
permitted. "Just go ahead like it was real stuff."
Jean was standing by the rock, ready to start. She
looked at Burns speculatively. "Oh, well, if it were
real, I'd run!"
"Go ahead and run then!" Burns commanded.
Run she did, and startled the sorrel so that it took
quick work to catch him.
"Camera! She might not do it like that again,
ever!" cried Burns.
She was up in the saddle and gone in a flurry of dusts
while Robert Grant Burns stood with his hands on his
hips and watched her gloatingly.
"Lord! But that girl's a find!" he ejaculated, and
this time he did not seem to care who heard him. He
cut the scene just as Jean pulled up at the gate. "See
how she set that sorrel down on his haunches?" he
chuckled to Pete. "Talk about feature-stuff; that girl
will jump our releases up ten per cent., Pete, with the
punches I can put into Gay's parts now. How many
feet was that scene, twenty-five?"
"Fifteen," corrected Pete. "And every foot with
a punch in it. Too bad she's got to double for Gay.
She's got the face for close-up work, believe me!"
To this tentative remark Robert Grant Burns made
no reply whatever. He went off down the path to meet
Jean, critically watching her approach to see how
nearly she resembled Muriel Gay, and how close she
could come to the camera without having the substitution
betrayed upon the screen. Muriel Gay was a leading
woman with a certain assured following among
movie audiences. Daring horsewomanship would
greatly increase that following, and therefore the
financial returns of these Western pictures. Burns was
her director, and it was to his interest to build up her
popularity. Since the idea first occurred to him,
therefore, of using Jean as a substitute for Muriel in
all the scenes that required nerve and skill in riding,
he looked upon her as a double for Muriel rather than
from the viewpoint of her own individual possibilities
on the screen.
"I don't know about your hair," he told her, when
she came up to him and stopped. "We'll run the negative
to-night and see how it shows up. The rest of the
scene was all right. I had Pete make it. I'm going
to take some scenes down here by the gate, now, with
the boys. I won't need you till after lunch, probably;
then I'll have you make that ride down off the bluff
and some close-up rope work."
"I suppose I ought to ride over to the ranch," Jean
said undecidedly. "And I ought to try out this sorrel
if you want me to use him. Would some other day do
"In the picture business," interrupted Robert Grant
Burns dictatorially, "the working-hours of an actor
belong to the director he's working for. If I use you in
pictures, your time will belong to me on the days when
I use you. I'll expect you to be on hand when I want
you; get that?"
"My time," said Jean resolutely, "will belong to
you if I consider it worth my while to let you have it.
Otherwise it will belong to me."
Burns chuckled. "Well, we might as well get down
to brass tacks and have things thoroughly understood,"
he decided. "I'll use you as an extra to double for
Miss Gay where there's any riding stunts and so on.
Miss Gay is a good actress, but she can't ride to amount
to anything. With the clothes and make-up you--
impersonate her. See what I mean? And for straight
riding I'll pay you five dollars a day; five dollars for
your time on the days that I want to use you. For
any feature stuff, like that ride down the bluff, and
the roping, and the like of that, it'll be more. Twentyfive
dollars for feature-stuff, say, and five dollars for
straight riding. Get me?"
"I do, yes." Jean's drawl gave no hint of her inner
elation at the prospect of earning so much money so
easily. What, she wondered, would Lite say to that?
"Well, that part's all right then. By feature-stuff,
I mean anything I want you to do to put a punch in
the story; anything from riding bucking horses and
shooting--say can you shoot?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Well, I'll have use for that, too, later on. The
more stunts you can pull off, the bigger hits these
pictures are going to make. You see that, of course.
And what I've offered you is a pretty good rate; but I
expect to get results. I told you I wasn't any cheap
John to work for. Now get this point, and get it right:
I'll expect you to report to me every morning here, at
eight o'clock. I may need you that day and I may not,
but you're to be on hand. If I do need you, you get
paid for that day, whether it's one scene or twenty you're
to work in. If I don't need you that day, you don't
get anything. That's what being an extra means. You
start in to-day, and if you make the ride down the bluff,
it'll be twenty-five to-day. But you can't go riding
off somewhere else, and maybe not be here when I want
you. You're under my orders, like the rest of the
company. Get that?"
"I'll try it for a week, anyway," she said. "Obeying
your orders will be the hardest part of it, Mr.
Burns. I always want to stamp my foot and say `I
won't' when any one tells me I must do something."
She laughed infectiously. "You'll probably fire me
before the week's out," she prophesied. "I'll be as
meek as possible, but if we quarrel,--well, you know
how sweet-tempered I can be!"
Burns looked at her queerly and laughed. "I'll take
a chance on that," he said, and went chuckling back to
the camera. To have a girl absolutely ignore his position
and authority, and treat him in that off-hand manner
of equality was a new experience to Robert Grant
Burns, terror among photo-players.
Jean went over to where Muriel and her mother were
sitting in the shade, and asked Muriel if she would like
to ride Pard out into the flat beyond the corrals, where
she meant to try out the sorrel.
"I'd like to use you, anyway," she added frankly,
"to practice on. You can ride past, you know, and let
me rope you. Oh, it won't hurt you; and there'll be no
risk at all," she hastened to assure the other, when she
saw refusal in Muriel's eyes. "I'll not take any turns
around the horn, you know."
"I don't want Muriel taking risks like that," put in
Mrs. Gay hastily. "That's just why Burns is going to
have you double for her. A leading woman can't afford
to get hurt. Muriel, you stay here and rest while
you have a chance. Goodness knows it's hard enough, at
best, to work under Burns."
Jean looked at her and turned away. So that was it
--a leading woman could not afford to be hurt! Some
one else, who didn't amount to anything, must take
the risks. She had received her first little lesson in
this new business.
She went straight to Burns, interrupted him in
coaching his chief villain for a scene, and asked him if
he could spare a man for half an hour or so. "I want
some one to throw a rope over on the run," she explained
naively, "to try out this sorrel."
Burns regarded her somberly; he hated to be interrupted
in his work.
"Ain't there anybody else you can rope?" he wanted
to know. "Where's Gay?"
"`A leading woman,'" quoted Jean serenely,
"`can't afford to get hurt!'"
Burns chuckled. He knew who was the author of
that sentence; he had heard it before. "Well, if
you're as fatal as all that, I can't turn over my leading
man for you to practice on, either," he pointed out to
her. "What's the matter with a calf or something?"
"You won't let me ride out of your sight to round
one up," Jean retorted. "There are no calves handy;
that's why I asked for a man."
Whereupon the villains looked at one another queerly,
and the chuckle of their director exploded into a fulllunged
"I'm going to use all these fellows in a couple
of scenes," he told her. "Can't you practice on a
"_I_ don't have to practice. It's the sorrel I
want to try out." Jean's voice lost a little of
its habitual, soft drawl. Really, these picture-people
did seem very dense upon some subjects!
"Well, now look here." Robert Grant Burns caught
at the shreds of his domineering manner. "My part
of this business is producing the scenes. You'll have
to attend to the getting-ready part. You--you
wouldn't expect me to help you put on your make-up,
would you?"
"No, now that I recognize your limitations, I shall
not ask any help which none of you are able or have the
nerve to give," she returned coolly. "I wish I had
Lite here; but I guess Pard and I can handle the
sorrel ourselves. Sorry to have disturbed you."
Robert Grant Burns, his leading man and all his
villains stood and watched her walk away from them to
the stable. They watched her lead Pard out and turn
him loose in the biggest corral. When they saw her
take her coiled rope, mount the sorrel and ride in, they
went, in a hurried group, to where they might look into
that corral. They watched her pull the gate shut after
her, lean from the saddle, and fasten the chain hook
in its accustomed link. By the time she had widened
her loop and turned to charge down upon unsuspecting
Pard, Robert Grant Burns, his leading man and all his
villains were lined up along the widest space between
the corral rails, and Pete Lowry was running over so
as to miss none of the show.
"Oh, I thought you were all so terribly busy!"
taunted Jean, while her loop was circling over her head.
Pard wheeled just then upon his hind feet, but the loop
settled true over his head and drew tight against his
The sorrel lunged and fought the rope, and snorted
and reared. It took fully two minutes for Jean to
force him close enough to Pard so that she might flip
off the loop. Pard himself caught the excitement and
snorted and galloped wildly round and round the
enclosure, but Jean did not mind that; what brought her
lips so tightly together was the performance of the
sorrel. While she was coiling her rope, he was making
half-hearted buck jumps across the corral. When she
swished the rope through the air to widen her loop, he
reared and whirled. She jabbed him smartly with the
spurs, and he kicked forward at her feet.
"Say," she drawled to Burns, "I don't know what
sort of a picture you're going to make, but if you want
any roping done from this horse, you'll have to furnish
meals and beds for your audiences." With that she
was off across the corral at a tearing pace that made the
watchers gasp. The sorrel swung clear of the fence.
He came near going down in a heap, but recovered
himself after scrambling along on his knees. Jean
brought him to a stand before Burns.
"I'll have to ask you to raise your price, Mr. Burns,
if you want me to run this animal down the bluff," she
stated firmly. "He's just what I thought he was all
along: a ride-around-the-block horse from some livery
stable. When it comes to range work, he doesn't know
as much as--"
"Some people. I get you," Burns cut in drily.
"How about that horse of yours? Would you be willing
to let me have the use of him--at so much per?"
"If I do the riding, yes. Now, since you're here,
and don't seem as busy as you thought you were, I'll
show you the difference between this livery-stable beast
and a real rope-horse."
She dismounted and called to Pard, and Pard came
to her, stepping warily because of the sorrel and the
rope. "Just to save time, will one of you boys go and
bring my riding outfit from the stable?" she asked the
line at the fence, whereupon the leading man and all
the villains started unanimously to perform that slight
service, which shows pretty well how Jean stood in
their estimation.
"Now, that's a real, typical, livery-stable saddle and
bridle," she observed to Burns, pointing scornfully at
the sorrel. "I was going to tell you that I'd hate to
be seen in a picture riding that outfit, anyway. Now,
you watch how differently Pard behaves with a rope and
everything. And you watch the sorrel get what's coming
to him. Shall I `bust' him?"
"You mean throw him?" Burns, in his eagerness,
began to climb the corral fence,--until he heard a rail
crack under his weight. "Yes, BUST him, if you want
to. John Jimpson! if you can rope and throw that
Jean did not reply to that half-finished sentence.
She was busy saddling Pard; now she mounted and
widened her loop with a sureness of the result that
flashed a thrill of expectation to her audience. Twice
the loop circled over her head before she flipped it out
straight and true toward the frantic sorrel as he surged
by. She caught him fairly by both front feet and
swung Pard half away from him. Pard's muscles stiffened
against the jerk of the rope, and the sorrel went
down with a bump. Pard backed knowingly and braced
himself like the trained rope-horse he was, and Jean
looked at Robert Grant Burns and laughed.
"I didn't bust him," she disclaimed whimsically.
"He done busted himself!" She touched Pard with
her heel and rode up so that the rope slackened, and
she could throw off the loop. "Did you see how Pard
set himself?" she questioned eagerly. "I could have
gotten off and gone clear away, and Pard would have
kept that horse from getting on his feet. Now you see
the difference, don't you? Pard never would have gone
down like that."
"Oh, you'll do," chuckled Robert Grant Burns,
"I'll pay you a little more and use you and your horse
together. Call that settled. Come on, boys, let's get
to work."
When Lite objected to her staying altogether at
the Lazy A, Jean assured him that she was
being terribly practical and cautious and businesslike,
and pointed out to him that staying there would save
Pard and herself the trip back and forth each day, and
would give her time, mornings and evenings to work on
her book.
Lite, of course, knew all about that soon-to-be-famous
book. He usually did know nearly everything that
concerned Jean or held her interest. Whether, after
three years of futile attempts, Lite still felt himself
entitled to be called Jean's boss, I cannot say for a
certainty. He had grown rather silent upon that subject,
and rather inclined to keep himself in the background,
as Jean grew older and more determined in her ways.
But certainly he was Jean's one confidential friend,--
her pal. So Lite, perforce, listened while Jean told
him the plot of her story. And when she asked him in
all earnestness what he thought would be best for the
tragic element, ghosts or Indians, Lite meditated
gravely upon the subject and then suggested that she
put in both. That is why Jean lavishly indulged in
mysterious footsteps all through the first chapter, and
then opened the second with blood-curdling war-whoops
that chilled the soul of her heroine and led her to
suspect that the rocks behind the cabin concealed
the forms of painted savages.
Her imagination must have been stimulated by her
new work, which called for wild rides after posses and
wilder flights away from the outlaws, while the flash
of blank cartridges and the smoke-pots of disaster by
fire added their spectacular effect to a scene now and
Jean, of course, was invariably the wild rider who
fled in a blond wig and Muriel's clothes from pursuing
villains, or dashed up to the sheriff's office to give the
alarm. Frequently she fired the blank cartridges, until
Lite warned her that blank cartridges would ruin her
gun-barrel; after which she insisted upon using bullets,
to the secret trepidation of the villains who must stand
before her and who could never quite grasp the fact that
Jean knew exactly where those bullets were going to
She would sit in her room at the Lazy A, when the
sun and the big, black automobile and the painted
workers were gone, and write feverishly of ghosts and
Indians and the fair maiden who endured so much and
the brave hero who dared so much and loved so well.
Lee Milligan she visualized as the human wolf who
looked with desire upon Lillian. Gil Huntley became
the hero as the story unfolded; and while I have told
you absolutely nothing about Jean's growing acquaintance
with these two, you may draw your own conclusions
from the place she made for them in her book that she
was writing. And you may also form some idea of
what Lite Avery was living through, during those days
when his work and his pride held him apart, and Jean
did "stunts" to her heart's content with these others.
A letter from the higher-ups in the Great Western
Company, written just after a trial run of the first
picture wherein Jean had worked, had served to stimulate
Burns' appetite for the spectacular, so that the stunts
became more and more the features of his pictures.
Muriel Gay was likely to become the most famous photoplay
actress in the West, he believed. That is, she
would if Jean continued to double for her in everything
save the straight dramatic work.
Jean did not care just at that time how much glory
Muriel Gay was collecting for work that Jean herself
had done. Jean was experiencing the first thrills of
seeing her name written upon the face of fat, weekly
checks that promised the fulfillment of her hopes, and
she would not listen to Lite when he ventured a remonstrance
against some of the things she told him about
doing. Jean was seeing the Lazy A restored to its oldtime
home-like prosperity. She was seeing her dad
there, going tranquilly about the everyday business of
the ranch, holding his head well up, and looking every
man straight in the eye. She could not and she would
not let even Lite persuade her to give up risking her
neck for the money the risk would bring her.
If she could change these dreams to reality by
dashing madly about on Pard while Pete Lowry wound yards
and yards of narrow gray film around something on the
inside of his camera, and watched her with that little,
secret smile on his face; and while Robert Grant Burns
waddled here and there with his hands on his hips, and
watched her also; and while villains pursued or else
fled before her, and Lee Milligan appeared furiously
upon the scene in various guises to rescue her,--if she
could win her dad's freedom and the Lazy A's possession
by doing these foolish things, she was perfectly willing
to risk her neck and let Muriel receive the applause.
She did not know that she was doubling the profit on
these Western pictures which Robert Grant Burns was
producing. She did not know that it would have
hastened the attainment of her desires had her name
appeared in the cast as the girl who put the "punches"
in the plays. She did not know that she was being
cheated of her rightful reward when her name never
appeared anywhere save on the pay-roll and the weekly
checks which seemed to her so magnificently generous.
In her ignorance of what Gil Huntley called the movie
game, she was perfectly satisfied to give the best service
of which she was capable, and she never once questioned
the justice of Robert Grant Burns.
Jean started a savings account in the little bank
where her father had opened an account before she was
born, and Lite was made to writhe inwardly with her
boasting. Lite, if you please, had long ago started a
savings account at that same bank, and had lately cut
out poker, and even pool, from among his joys, that his
account might fatten the faster. He had the same
object which Jean had lately adopted so zealously, but he
did not tell her these things. He listened instead while
Jean read gloatingly her balance, and talked of what she
would do when she had enough saved to buy back the
ranch. She had stolen unwittingly the air castle which
Lite had been three years building, but he did not say a
word about it to Jean. Wistful eyed, but smiling with
his lips, he would sit while Jean spoiled whole sheets
of perfectly good story-paper, just figuring and estimating
and building castles with the dollar sign. If Robert
Grant Burns persisted in his mania for "feature-stuff"
and "punches" in his pictures, Jean believed that she
would have a fair start toward buying back the Lazy
A long before her book was published and had brought
her the thousands and thousands of dollars she was sure
it would bring. Very soon she could go boldly to a
lawyer and ask him to do something about her father's
case. Just what he should do she did not quite know;
and Lite did not seem to be able to tell her, but she
thought she ought to find out just how much the trial
had cost. And she wished she knew how to get about
setting some one on the trail of Art Osgood.
Jean was sure that Art Osgood knew something about
the murder, and she frequently tried to make Lite agree
with her. Sometimes she was sure that Art Osgood
was the murderer, and would argue and point out her
reasons to Lite. Art had been working for her uncle,
and rode often to the Lazy A. He had not been friendly
with Johnny Croft,--but then, nobody had been very
friendly with Johnny Croft. Still, Art Osgood was
less friendly with Johnny than most of the men in the
country, and just after the murder he had left the
country. Jean laid a good deal of stress upon the
circumstance of Art Osgood's leaving on that particular
afternoon, and she seemed to resent it because no one
had tried to find Art. No one had seemed to think his
going at that time had any significance, or any bearing
upon the murder, because he had been planning
to leave, and had announced that he would go that
Jean's mind, as her bank account grew steadily to
something approaching dignity, worked back and forth
incessantly over the circumstances surrounding the murder,
in spite of Lite's peculiar attitude toward the subject,
which Jean felt but could not understand, since
he invariably assured her that he believed her dad was
innocent, when she asked him outright.
Sometimes, in the throes of literary composition, she
could not think of the word that she wanted. Her
eyes then would wander around familiar objects in the
shabby little room, and frequently they would come to
rest upon her father's saddle or her father's chaps: the
chaps especially seemed potent reminders of her father,
and drew her thoughts to him and held them there.
The worn leather, stained with years of hard usage and
wrinkled permanently where they had shaped themselves
to his legs in the saddle, brought his big, bluff
presence vividly before her, when she was in a certain
receptive mood. She would forget all about her story,
and the riding and shooting and roping she had done
that day to appease the clamorous, professional appetite
of Robert Grant Burns, and would sit and stare, and
think and think. Always her thoughts traveled in a
wide circle and came back finally to the starting point:
to free her father, and to give him back his home, she
must have money. To have money, she must earn it;
she must work for it. So then she would give a great
sigh of relaxed nervous tension and go back to her heroine
and the Indians and the mysterious footsteps that
marched on moonlight nights up and down a long porch
just outside windows that frequently framed white,
scared faces with wide, horror-stricken eyes which saw
nothing of the marcher, though the steps still went up
and down.
It was very creepy, in spots. It was so creepy that
one evening when Lite had come to smoke a cigarette or
two in her company and to listen to her account of the
day's happenings, Lite noticed that when she read the
creepy passages in her story, she glanced frequently over
her shoulder.
"You want to cut out this story writing," he said
abruptly, when she paused to find the next page. "It's
bad enough to work like you do in the pictures. This
is going a little too strong; you're as jumpy to-night as
a guilty conscience. Cut it out."
"I'm all right. I'm just doing that for dramatic
effect. This is very weird, Lite. I ought to have a
green shade on the lamp, to get the proper effect. I--
don't you think--er--those footsteps are terribly
Lite looked at her sharply for a minute. "I sure
do," he said drily. "Where did you get the idea,
"Out of my head," she told him airily, and went on
reading while Lite studied her curiously.
That night Jean awoke and heard stealthy footsteps,
like a man walking in his socks and no boots, going all
through the house but never coming to her room. She
did not get up to see who it was, but lay perfectly still
and heard her heart thump. When she saw a dim, yellow
ray of light under the door which opened into the
kitchen, she drew the blanket over her head, and got
no comfort whatever from the feel of her six-shooter
close against her hand.
The next morning she told herself that she had given
in to a fine case of nerves, and that the mysterious
footsteps of her story had become mixed up with the
midnight wanderings of a pack-rat that had somehow gotten
into the house. Then she remembered the bar of light
under the door, and the pack-rat theory was spoiled.
She had taken the board off the doorway into the
kitchen, so that she could use the cookstove. The man
could have come in if he had wanted to, and that knowledge
she found extremely disquieting. She went all
through the house that morning, looking and wondering.
The living-room was now the dressing-room of Muriel
and her mother, and the make-up scattered over the
centertable was undisturbed; the wardrobe of the two
women had apparently been left untouched. Yet she
was sure that some one had been prowling in there in the
night. She gave up the puzzle at last and went back to
her breakfast, but before the company arrived in the big,
black automobile, she had found a stout hasp and two
staples, and had fixed the door which led from her room
into the kitchen so that she could fasten it securely on
the inside.
Jean did not tell Lite about the footsteps. She was
afraid that he might insist upon her giving up staying
at the Lazy A. Lite did not approve of it, anyway, and
it would take very little encouragement in the way of
extra risk to make him stubborn about it. Lite could
be very obstinate indeed upon occasion, and she was
afraid he might take a stubborn streak about this, and
perhaps ride over every night to make sure she was all
right, or do something equally unnecessary and foolish.
She did not know Lite as well as she imagined, which
is frequently the case with the closest of friends. As
a matter of fact, Jean had never spent one night alone
on the ranch, even though she did believe she was doing
so. Lite had a homestead a few miles away, upon
which he was supposed to be sleeping occasionally to
prove his good faith in the settlement. Instead of spending
his nights there, however, he rode over and slept in
the gable loft over the old granary, where no one ever
went; and he left every morning just before the sky
lightened with dawn. He did not know that Jean was
frightened by the sound of footsteps, but he had heard
the man ride up to the stable and dismount, and he
had followed him to the house and watched him through
the uncurtained windows, and had kept his fingers close
to his gun all the while. Jean did not dream of anything
like that; but Lite, going about his work with the
easy calm that marked his manner always, was quite as
puzzled over the errand of the night-prowler as was
Jean herself.
For three years Lite had lain aside the mystery of
the footprints on the kitchen floor on the night after
the inquest, as a puzzle he would probably never solve.
He had come to remember them as a vagrant incident
that carried no especial meaning. But now they seemed
to carry a new significance,--if only he could get at the
key. For three years he had gone along quietly, working
and saving all he could, and looking after Jean in
an unobtrusive way, believing that Aleck was guilty,--
and being careful to give no hint of that belief to any
one. And now Jean herself seemed to be leading him
unconsciously face to face with doubt and mystery.
It tantalized him. He knew the prowler, and for that
reason he was all the more puzzled. What had he
wanted or expected to find? Lite was tempted to face
the man and ask him; but on second thought he knew
that would be foolish. He would say nothing to Jean.
He thanked the Lord she slept soundly! and he would
wait and see what happened.
Jean herself was thoughtful all that day, and was
slow to lighten her mood or her manner even when Gil
Huntley rode beside her to location and talked
enthusiastically of the great work she was doing for a
beginner, and of the greater work she would do in the
future, if only she took advantage of her opportunities.
"It can't go on like this forever," he told her
impressively for the second time, before he was sure of her
attention and her interest. "Think of you, working
extra under a three-day guarantee! Why, you're
what's making the pictures! I had a letter from a
friend of mine; he's with the Universal. He'd been
down to see one of our pictures,--that first one you
worked in. You remember how you came down off that
bluff, and how you roped me and jerked me down off
the bank just as I'd got a bead on Lee? Say! that
picture was a RIOT! Gloomy says he never saw a picture get
the hand that scene got. And he wanted to know who
was doubling for Gay, up here. You see, he got next
that it was a double; he knows darned well Gay never
could put over that line of stuff. The photography
was dandy,--Pete's right there when it comes to camera
work, anyway,--and that run down the bluff, he said,
had people standing on their hind legs even before the
rope scene. You could tell it was a girl and no man
doubling the part. Gloomy says everybody around the
studio has begun to watch for our releases, and go just
to see you ride and rope and shoot. And Gay gets all
the press-notices! Say, it makes me sick!" He
looked at Jean wistfully.
"The trouble is, you don't realize what a raw deal
you're getting," he said, with much discontent in his
tone. "As an extra, you're getting fine treatment and
fine pay; I admit that. But the point is, you've no
business being an extra. Where you belong is playing
leads. You don't know what that means, but I do.
Burns is just using you to boost Muriel Gay, and I say
it's the rawest deal I ever saw handed out in the
picture game; and believe me, I've seen some raw deals!"
"Now, now, don't get peevish, Gil." Jean's drawl
was soft, and her eyes were friendly and amused. So
far had their friendship progressed. "It's awfully
dear of you to want to see me a real leading lady. I
appreciate it, and I won't take off that lock of hair I said
I'd take when I shoot you in the foreground. Burns
wants a real thrilling effect close up, and he's told me
five times to remember and keep my face turned away
from the camera, so they won't see it isn't Gay. If I
turn around, there will have to be a re-take, he says; and
you won't like that, Gil, not after you've heard a bullet
zip past your ear so close that it will fan your hair.
Are--aren't you afraid of me, Gil?"
"Afraid of you?" Gil's horse swung closer, and
Gil's eyes threatened the opening of a tacitly forbidden
"Because if you get nervous and move the least little
bit-- To make it look real, as Bobby described the
scene to me, I've got to shoot the instant you stop to
gather yourself for a spring at me. It's that lightningdraw
business I have to do, Gil. I'm to stand three
quarters to the camera, with my face turned away,
watching you. You keep coming, and you stop just an
instant when you're almost within reach of me. In
that instant I have to grab my gun and shoot; and it
has to look as if I got you, Gil. I've got to come pretty
close, in order to bring the gun in line with you for the
camera. Bobby wants to show off the quick draw that
Lite Avery taught me. That's to be the `punch' in
the scene. I showed him this morning what it is
like, and Bobby is just tickled to death. You see, I
don't shoot the way they usually do in pictures--"
"I should say not!" Gil interrupted admiringly.
"You haven't seen that quick work, either. It'll
look awfully real, Gil, and you mustn't dodge or duck,
whatever you do. It will be just as if you really were
a man I'm deadly afraid of, that has me cornered at
last against that ledge. I'm going to do it as if I meant
it. That will mean that when you stop and kind of
measure the distance, meaning to grab me before I can
do anything, I'll draw and shoot from the level of my
belt; no higher, Gil, or it won't be the lightning-draw
--as advertised. I won't have time to take a fine aim,
you know."
"Listen!" said Gil, leaning toward her with his eyes
very earnest. "I know all about that. I heard you and
Burns talking about it. You go ahead and shoot, and
put that scene over big. Don't you worry about me;
I'm going to play up to you, if I can. Listen! Pete's
just waiting for a chance to register your face on the
film. Burns has planned his scenes to prevent that,
but we're just lying low till the chance comes. It's
got to be dramatic, and it's got to seem accidental. Get
me? I shouldn't have told you, but I can't seem to
trick you, Jean. You're the kind of a girl a fellow's
got to play fair with."
"Bobby has told me five times already to remember and
keep my face away from the camera," Jean pointed
out the second time. "Makes me feel as if I had lost
my nose, or was cross-eyed or something. I do feel as
if I'd lose my job, Gil."
"No, you wouldn't; all he'd do would be to have a
re-take of the whole scene, and maybe step around like
a turkey in the snow, and swear to himself. Anyway,
you can forget what I've said, if you'll feel more
comfortable. It's up to Pete and me, and we'll put it over
smooth, or we won't do it at all. Bobby won't realize
it's happened till he hears from it afterwards. Neither
will you." He turned his grease-painted face toward
her hearteningly and smiled as endearingly as the
sinister, painted lines would allow.
"Listen!" he repeated as a final encouragement,
because he had sensed her preoccupation and had misread
it for worry over the picture. "You go ahead and
shoot, and don't bother about me. Make it real.
Shoot as close as you like. If you pink me a little I
won't care,--if you'll promise to be my nurse. I want
a vacation, anyway."
It seems to be a popular belief among those who are
unfamiliar with the business of making motion
pictures that all dangerous or difficult feats are merely
tricks of the camera, and that the actors themselves
take no risks whatever. The truth is that they take a
good many more risks than the camera ever records;
and that directors who worship what they call "punch"
in their scenes are frequently as tender of the physical
safety of their actors as was Napoleon or any other great
warrior who measured results rather than wounds.
Robert Grant Burns had discovered that he had at
least two persons in his company who were perfectly
willing to do anything he asked them to do. He had
set tasks before Jean Douglas that many a man would
have refused without losing his self-respect, and Jean
had performed those tasks with enthusiasm. She had
let herself down over a nasty bit of the rim-rock whose
broken line extended half around the coulee bluff, with
only her rope between herself and broken bones, and
with her blond wig properly tousled and her face turned
always towards the rock wall, lest the camera should
reveal the fact that she was not Muriel Gay. She had
climbed that same rock-rim, with the aid of that same
rope, and with her face hidden as usual from the camera.
She had been bound and gagged and flung across Gil
Huntley's saddle and carried away at a sharp gallop,
and she had afterwards freed herself from her bonds in
the semi-darkness of a hut that half concealed her
features, and had stolen the knife from Gil Huntley's
belt while he slept, and crept away to where the horses
were picketed. In the revealing light of a very fine
moon-effect, which was a triumph of Pete's skill, she
slashed a rope that held a high-strung "mustang" (so
called in the scenario), and had leaped upon his bare
back and gone hurtling out of that scene and into
another, where she was riding furiously over dangerously
rough ground, the whole outlaw band in pursuit and
silhouetted against the skyline and the moon (which
was another photographic triumph of Pete Lowry).
Gil Huntley had also done many things that were
risky. Jean had shot at him with real bullets so many
times that her nervousness on this particular day was
rather unaccountable to him. Jean had lassoed him
and dragged him behind Pard through brush. She
had pulled him from a quicksand bed,--made of cement
that showed a strong tendency to "set" about his form
before she could rescue him,--and she had fought with
him on the edge of a cliff and had thrown him over;
and his director, anxious for the "punch" that was his
fetish, had insisted on a panorama of the fall, so that
there was no chance for Gil to save himself the bruises
he got. Gil Huntley's part it was always to die a
violent death, or to be captured spectacularly, because
he was the villain whose horrible example must bear a
moral to youthful brains.
Since Jean had become one of the company, he nearly
always died at her hands or was captured by her. This
left Muriel Gay unruffled and unhurt, so that she could
weep and accept the love of Lee Milligan in the artistic
ending of which Robert Grant Burns was so fond.
Jean had never before considered it necessary to warn
Gil and implore him not to be nervous, and Gil took her
solicitude as an encouraging sign and was visibly
cheered thereby. He knew little of guns and fine
marksmanship, and he did not know that it is extremely
difficult to shoot a revolver accurately and instantaneously;
whereas Jean knew very well that Gil Huntley might
be thrown off ledges every day in the week without taking
the risk he would take that day.
The scene was to close a full reel of desperate
attempts upon the part of Gil Huntley to win Muriel;
such desperate attempts, indeed, that Muriel Gay spent
most of the time sitting at ease in the shade, talking
with Lee Milligan, who was two thirds in love with her
and had half his love returned, while Jean played her
part for her. Sometimes Muriel would be called upon
to assume the exact pose which Jean had assumed in a
previous scene, for "close-up" that would reveal to
audiences Muriel's well-known prettiness and help to
carry along the deception. Each morning the two stood
side by side and were carefully inspected by Robert
Grant Burns, to make sure that hair and costumes were
exactly alike in the smallest detail. This also helped
to carry on the deception--to those who were not aware
of Muriel's limitations. Their faces were not at all
alike; and that is why Jean's face must never be seen
in a picture.
This shooting scene was a fitting climax to a long and
desperate chase over a difficult trail; so difficult that
Pard stumbled and fell,--supposedly with a broken
leg,--and Jean must run on and on afoot, and climb
over rocks and spring across dangerous crevices. She
was not supposed to know where her flight was taking
her. Sometimes the camera caught her silhouetted
against the sky (Burns was partial to skyline silhouettes),
and sometimes it showed her quite close,--in
which case it would be Muriel instead of Jean,--clinging
desperately to the face of a ledge (ledges were also
favorite scenes), and seeking with hands or feet for a
hold upon the rough face of the rock. During the last
two or three scenes Gil Huntley had been shown gaining
upon her.
So they came to the location where the shooting scene
was to be made that morning. Burns, with the camera
and Pete and Muriel and her mother and Lee Milligan,
drove to the place in the machine. Jean and Gil
Huntley found them comfortably disposed in the shade,
out of range of the camera which Pete was setting up
somewhat closer than usual, under the direction of
"There won't be any rehearsal of this," Burns stated
at last, stepping back. "When it's done, if you don't
bungle the scene, it'll be done. You stand here, Jean,
and kind of lean against the rock as if you're all in from
that chase. You hear Gil coming, and you start forward
and listen, and look,--how far can she turn, Pete;
without showing too much of her face?"
Pete squinted into the finder and gave the information.
"Well, Gil, you come from behind that bush. She'll
be looking toward you then without turning too much.
You grin, and come up with that eager, I-got-you-now
look. Don't hurry too much; we'll give this scene
plenty of time. This is the feature scene. Jean,
you're at the end of your rope. You couldn't run
another step if you wanted to, and you're cornered
anyway, so you can't get away; get me? You're scared.
Did you ever get scared in your life?"
"Yes," said Jean simply, remembering last night
when she had pulled the blanket over her head.
"Well, you think of that time you were scared. And
you make yourself think that you're going to shoot the
thing that scared you. You don't put in half the punch
when you shoot blanks; I've noticed that all along. So
that's why you shoot a bullet. See? And you come
as close to Gil as you can and not hit him. Gil, when
you're shot, you go down all in a heap; you know what
I mean. And Jean, when he falls, you start and lean
forward, looking at him,--remember and keep your face
away from the camera!--and then you start toward
him kind of horrified. The scene stops right there, just
as you start towards him. Then Gay takes it up and
does the remorse and horror stuff because she's killed a
man. That will be a close-up.
"All right, now; take your places. Sure your gun
is loose so you can pull it quick? That's the feature of
this scene, remember. You want to get it across BIG!
And make it real,--the scare, and all that. Hey, you
women get behind the camera! Bullets glance, sometimes,
and play the very mischief." He looked all
around to make sure that everything was as it should
be, faced Jean again, and raised his hand.
"All ready? Start your action! Camera!"
Jean had never before been given so much dramatic
work to do, and Burns watched her anxiously, wishing
that he dared cut the scene in two and give Muriel that
tense interval when Gil Huntley came creeping into the
scene from behind the bush. But after the first few
seconds his strained expression relaxed; anxiety gave
place to something like surprise.
Jean stood leaning heavily against the rock, panting
from the flight of the day before,--for so must emotion
be carried over into the next day when photoplayers
work at their profession. Her face was dropped
upon her arms flung up against the rock in an attitude
of complete exhaustion and despair. Burns involuntarily
nodded his head approvingly; the girl had the
idea, all right, even if she never had been trained to act
a part.
"Come into the scene, Gil!" he commanded, when
Jean made a move as though she was tempted to drop
down upon the ground and sob hysterically. "Jean,
register that you hear him coming."
Jean's head came up and she listened, every muscle
stiffening with fear. She turned her face toward Gil,
who stopped and looked at her most villainously. Gil,
you must know, had come from "legitimate" and was
a clever actor. Jean recoiled a little before the leering
face of him; pressed her shoulder hard against the ledge
that had trapped her, and watched him in an agony of
fear. One felt that she did, though one could not see
her face. Gil spoke a few words and came on with a
certain tigerish assurance of his power, but Jean did not
move a muscle. She had backed as far away from him
as she could get. She was not the kind to weep and
plead with him. She just waited; and one felt that she
was keyed up to the supreme moment of her life.
Gil came closer and closer, and there was a look in his
eyes that almost frightened Jean, accustomed as she had
become to his acting a part; there was an intensity of
purpose which she instinctively felt was real. She did
not know what it was he had in mind, but whatever it
was, she knew what it meant. He was almost within
reach, so close that one saw Jean shrink a little from his
nearness. He stopped and gathered himself for a quick,
forward lunge--
The two women screamed, though they had been
expecting that swift drawing of Jean's gun and the shot
that seemed to sound the instant her hand dropped.
Gil stiffened, and his hand flew up to his temple. His
eyes became two staring questions that bored into the
soul of Jean. His hand dropped to his side, and his
head sagged forward. He lurched, tried to steady himself
and then went down limply.
Jean dropped her gun and darted toward him, her
face like chalk, as she turned it for one horrified instant
toward Burns. She went down on her knees and lifted
Gil's head, looking at the red blotch on his temple and
the trickle that ran down his cheek. She laid his head
down with a gentleness wholly unconscious, and looked
again at Burns. "I've killed him," she said in a small,
dry, flat voice. She put out her hands gropingly and
fell forward across Gil's inert body. It was the first
time in her life that Jean had ever fainted.
"Stop the camera!" Burns croaked tardily, and Pete
stopped turning. Pete had that little, twisted grin
on his face, and he was perfectly calm and self-possessed.
"You sure got the punch that time, Burns," he
remarked unfeelingly, while he held his palm over the lens
and gave the crank another turn or two to divide that
scene from the next.
"She's fainted! She's hit him!" cried Burns, and
waddled over to where the two of them lay. The two
women drew farther away, clinging to each other with
excited exclamations.
And then Gil Huntley lifted himself carefully so as
not to push Jean upon the ground, and when he was
sitting up, he took her in his arms with some remorse
and a good deal of tenderness.
"How was that for a punch?" he inquired of his
director. "I didn't tell her I was going to furnish the
blood-sponge; I thought it might rattle her. I never
thought she'd take it so hard--"
Robert Grant Burns stopped and looked at him in
heavy silence. "Good Lord!" he snapped out at last.
"I dunno whether to fire you off the job--or raise
your salary! You got the punch, all right. And
the chances are you've ruined her nerve for shooting,
into the bargain." He stood looking down perturbedly
at Gil, who was smoothing Jean's hair back from
her forehead after the manner of men who feel
tenderly toward the woman who cries or faints in their
presence. "I'm after the punch every time," Burns
went on ruefully, "but there's no use being a hog about
it. Where's that water-bag, Lee? Go get it out of
the machine. Say! Can't you women do something
besides stand there and howl? Nobody's hurt, or going
to be."
While Muriel and Gil Huntley did what they could
to bring Jean back to consciousness and composure,
Robert Grant Burns paced up and down and debated within
himself a subject which might have been called "punch
versus prestige." Should he let that scene stand, or
should he order a "re-take" because Jean had, after all,
done the dramatic part, the "remorse stuff"? Of
course, when Pete sent the film in, the trimmers could
cut the scene; they probably would cut the scene just
where Gil went down in a decidedly realistic heap. But
it hurt the professional soul of Robert Grant Burns to
retake a scene so compellingly dramatic, because it had
been so absolutely real.
Jean was sitting up with her back against the ledge
looking rather pale and feeling exceedingly foolish, while
Gil Huntley explained to her about the "blood-sponge"
and how he had held it concealed in his hand until the
right moment, and had used it in the interest of realism
and not to frighten her, as she might have reason to
suspect. Gil Huntley was showing a marked tendency to
repeat himself. He had three times assured her
earnestly that he did not mean to scare her so, when
the voice of the chief reminded him that this was merely
an episode in the day's work. He jumped up and gave
his attention to Burns.
"Gil, take that same position you had when you fell.
Put a little more blood on your face; you wiped most
of it off. That right leg is sprawled out too far. Draw
it up a little. Throw out your left arm a little more.
Whoa-- Enough is plenty. Now, Gay, you take
Jean's gun and hold it down by your side, where her
hand dropped right after she fired. You stand right
about here, where her tracks are. Get INTO her tracks!
We're picking up the scene right where Gil fell. She
looked straight into the camera and spoiled the rest,
or I'd let it go in. Some acting, if you ask me,
seeing it wasn't acting at all." He sent one of his
slant-eyed glances toward Jean, who bit her lips and
looked away.
"Lean forward a little, and hold that gun like you
knew what it was made for, anyway!" He regarded
Muriel glumly. "Say! that ain't a stick of candy
you're trying to hide in your skirt," he pointed out,
with an exasperated, rising inflection at the end of the
sentence. "John Jimpson! If I could take you two
girls to pieces and make one out of the two of you, I'd
have an actress that could play Western leads, maybe!
"Oh, well--thunder! All you can do is put over
the action so they'll forget the gun. Say, you drop it
the second the camera starts. You pick up the action
where Jean dropped the gun and started for Gil. See
if you can put it over the way she did. She really
thought she'd killed him, remember. You saw the real,
honest-to-John, horror-dope that time. Now see how
close you can copy it.
"All ready? START your ACTION!" he barked.
Brutally absorbed in his work he might be; callous
to the tragedy in Jean's eyes at what might have
happened; unfeeling in his greedy seizure of her horror
as good "stuff" for Muriel Gay to mimic. Yet the
man's energy was dynamic; his callousness was born of
his passion for the making of good pictures. He swept
even Jean out of the emotional whirlpool and into the
calm, steady current of the work they had to do.
He instructed Pete to count as spoiled those fifteen
feet of film which recorded Jean's swift horror. But
Pete Lowry did not always follow slavishly his
instructions. He sent the film in as it was, without
comment. Then he and Gil Huntley counted on their fingers
the number of days that would probably elapse before they
might hope to hear the result, and exchanged knowing
glances now and then when Robert Grant Burns seemed
especially careful that Jean's face should not be seen
by the recording eye of the camera. And they waited;
and after awhile they began to show a marked interest
in the mail from the west.
Sometimes events follow docilely the plans that
would lead them out of the future of possibilities
and into the present of actualities, and sometimes they
bring with them other events which no man may foresee
unless he is indeed a prophet. You would never think,
for instance, that Gil Huntley and his blood sponge
would pull from the future a chain of incidents that
would eventually--well, never mind what. Just follow
the chain of incidents and see what lies at the end.
Pete Lowry and Gil had planned cunningly for a
certain readjustment of Jean's standing in the company,
for no deeper reasons than their genuine liking for the
girl and a common human impulse to have a hand in
the ordering of their little world. In ten days Robert
Grant Burns received a letter from Dewitt, president
of the Great Western Film Company, which amply fulfilled
those plans, and, as I said, opened the way for
other events quite unforeseen.
There were certain orders from the higher-ups which
Robert Grant Burns must heed. They were, briefly, the
immediate transfer of Muriel Gay to the position of
leading woman in a new company which was being sent
to Santa Barbara to make light comedy-dramas. Robert
Grant Burns grunted when he read that, though it
was a step up the ladder for Muriel which she would be
glad to take. The next paragraph instructed him to
place the young woman who had been doubling for Miss
Gay in the position which Miss Gay would leave
vacant. It was politely suggested that he adapt the
leading woman's parts to the ability of this young woman;
which meant that he must write his scenarios especially
with her in mind. He was informed that he should
feature the young woman in her remarkable horsemanship,
etc. It was pointed out that her work was being
noticed in the Western features which Robert Grant
Burns had been sending in, and that other film
companies would no doubt make overtures shortly, in the
hope of securing her services. Under separate cover
they were mailing a contract which would effectually
forestall such overtures, and they were relying upon him
to see that she signed up with the Great Western as per
contract. Finally, it was suggested, since Mr. Dewitt
chose always to suggest rather than to command, that
Robert Grant Burns consider the matter of writing a
series of short stories having some connecting thread
of plot and featuring this Miss Douglas. (This, by the
way, was the beginning of the serial form of motionpicture
plays which has since become so popular.)
Robert Grant Burns read that letter through slowly,
and then sat down heavily in an old arm-chair in the
hotel office, lighted one of his favorite fat, black cigars,
and mouthed it absently, while he read the letter through
again. He said "John Jimpson!" just above a whisper.
He held the letter in his two hands and regarded
it strangely. Then he looked up, caught the quizzical,
inquiring glance of Pete Lowry, and beckoned that
secret-smiling individual over to him. "Read that!"
he grunted. "Read it and tell me what you think
of it."
Pete Lowry read it carefully, and grinned when he
handed it back. He did not, however, tell Robert Grant
Burns just exactly what he thought of it. He merely
said that it had to come sometime, he guessed.
"She can't put over the dramatic stuff," objected
Robert Grant Burns. "She's got the face for it, all
right, and when she registers real emotions, it gets over
big. The bottled-up kind of people always do. But
she's never acted an emotion she didn't feel--"
"How about that all-in stuff, and the listening-and--
waiting business she put across before she took a shot at
Gil that time she fainted?" Pete reminded him. "If
you ask me, that little girl can act."
"Well, whether she can or not, she's got to try it,"
said Burns with some foreboding. "She's been going
big, with Gay to do all the close-up, dramatic work.
The trouble is, Pete, that girl always does as she darn
pleases! If I put her opposite Lee in a scene and tell
her to act like she is in love with him, and that he's to
kiss her and she's to kiss back,--" he flung out his
hands expressively. "You must know the rest, as well
as I do. She'd turn around and give me a call-down,
and get on her horse and ride off; and I and my picture
could go to thunder, for all of her. That's the point;
she ain't been through the mill. She don't know
anything about taking orders--from me or anybody else."
It is a pity that Lite did not hear that! He might have
amended the statement a little. Jean had been taking
orders enough; she knew a great deal about receiving
ultimatums. The trouble was that she seldom paid any
attention to them. Lite was accustomed to that, but
Robert Grant Burns was not, and it irked him sore.
"Well, she's sure got the screen personality," Pete
defended. "I've said it all along. That girl don't
have to act. Put her in the part, and she is the part!
She's got something better than technique, Burns. She's
got imagination. She puts herself in a character and
lives it."
"Put her on a horse and she does," Burns conceded
gloomily. "But will you tell me what kind of work
she'll make of interior scenes, and love scenes, and all
that? You've got to have it, to pad out your story.
You can't let your leading character do a whole two--
or three-reel picture on horseback. There wouldn't be
any contrast. Dewitt don't know that girl the way I
do. If he'd had to side-step and scheme and give in
the way I've done to keep her working, he wouldn't put
her playing straight leads, not until she'd had a year or
two of training--"
"Taming is a better word," Pete suggested drily.
"There'll be fun when she gets to playing love scenes
opposite Lee. You better let him take the heavies, and
put Gil in for leads, Burns."
Robert Grant Burns was so cast down by the prospect
that he made no attempt to reply, beyond grunting
something about preferring to drive a team of balky
mules to making Jean do something she did not want to
do. But, such is the mind trained to a profession,
insensibly he drifted away into the world of his
imagination, and began to draw therefrom the first tenuous
threads of a plot wherein Jean's peculiar accomplishments
were to be featured. Robert Grant Burns had
long ago learned to adjust himself to circumstances
which in themselves were not to his liking. He adjusted
himself now to the idea of making Jean the
Western star his employers seemed to think was inevitable.
That night before he went to bed he wrote a play
which had in it fifty-two scenes. Thirty-five of them
were what is known technically as exteriors. In most
of them Jean was to ride on horseback through wild
places. The rest were dramatic close-ups. Robert
Grant Burns went over it carefully when it was finished,
and groaning inwardly he cut out two love scenes which
were tense, and which Muriel Gay and Lee Milligan
would have "eaten up," as he mentally expressed it.
The love interest, he realized bitterly, must be touched
upon lightly in his scenarios from now on; which would
have lightened appreciably the heart of Lite Avery, if
he had only known it, and would have erased from his
mind a good many depressing visions of Jean as the
film sweetheart of those movie men whom he secretly
Jean did not hesitate five minutes before she signed
the contract which Burns presented to her the next
morning. She was human, and she had learned enough
about the business to see that, speaking from a purely
professional point of view, she was extremely fortunate.
Not every girl, surely, can hope to jump in a few weeks
from the lowly position of an inexperienced "extra"
to the supposedly exalted one of leading woman. And
to her that hundred dollars a week which the contract
insured her looked a fortune. It spelled home to her,
and the vindication of her beloved dad, of whom she
dared not think sometimes, it hurt her so.
Her book was not progressing as fast as she had
expected when she began it. She had been working at it
sporadically now for eight weeks, and she had only ten
chapters done,--and some of these were terribly short.
She had looked through all of the novels that she
owned, and had computed the average number of chapters
in each; thirty she decided would be a good,
conservative number to write. She had even divided those
thirty into three parts, and had impartially allotted ten
to adventure, ten to mystery and horror, and ten to lovemaking.
Such an arrangement should please everybody,
surely, and need only be worked out smoothly to
prove most satisfying.
But, as it happened, comedy would creep into the
mystery and horror, which she mentally lumped together
as agony. Adventure ran riot, and straight lovemaking
chapters made her sleepy, they bored her so.
She had tried one or two, and she had found it impossible
to concentrate her mind upon them. Instead, she
had sat and planned what she would do with the money
that was steadily accumulating in the bank; a pitiful
little sum, to be sure, to those who count by the thousands,
but cheering enough to Jean, who had never before
had any money of her own.
So she signed the contract and worked that day so
light-heartedly that Robert Grant Burns forgot his
pessimism. When the light began to fade and grow yellow,
and the big automobile went purring down the trail
to town, she rode on to the Bar Nothing to find Lite,
and tell him how fortune had come and tapped her on
the shoulder.
She did not see Lite anywhere about the ranch, and
so she did not put her hopes and her plans and her good
fortune into speech. She did see her Aunt Ella, who
straightway informed her that people were talking about
the way she rode here and there with those painted-up
people, and let the men put their arms around her and
make love to her. Her Aunt Ella made it perfectly
plain to Jean that she, for one, did not consider it
respectable. Her Aunt Ella said that Carl was going to
do something about it, if things weren't changed pretty
Jean did not appear to regard her aunt's disapproval
as of any importance whatever, but the words stung.
She had herself worried a little over the love-making
scenes which she knew she would now be called upon
to play. Jean, you will have observed, was not given
to sentimental adventurings; and she disliked the idea
of letting Lee Milligan make love to her the way he
had made love to Muriel Gay through picture after
picture. She would do it, she supposed, if she had to;
she wanted the salary. But she would hate it
intolerably. She made reply with sarcasm which she knew
would particularly irritate her Aunt Ella, and left the
house feeling that she never wanted to enter it again as
long as she lived.
The sight of her uncle standing beside Pard in an
attitude of disgusted appraisement of the new Navajo
blanket and the silver-trimmed bridle and tapideros
which Burns had persuaded her to add to her riding
outfit,--for photographic effect,--brought a hot flush
of resentment. She went up quietly enough, however.
Indeed, she went up so quietly that he started when
she appeared almost beside him and picked up Pard's
reins, and took the stirrup to mount and ride away.
She did not speak to him at all; she had not spoken to
him since that night when the little brown bird had
died! Though perhaps that was because she had managed
to keep out of his way.
"I see you've been staking yourself to a new bridle,"
Carl began in a tone quite as sour as his look. "You
must have bought out all the tin decorations they had in
stock, didn't you?"
Jean swung up into the saddle before she looked at
him. "If I did, it's my own affair," she retorted. "I
paid for the tin decorations with my own money."
"Oh, you did! Well, you might have been in better
business than paying for that kind of thing. You
might," he sneered up at her, "have been paying for
your keep these last three years, if you've got more
money of your own than you know what to do with."
Jean could not ride off under the sting of that
gratuitous insult. She held Pard quiet and looked
down at him with hate in her eyes. "I expect," she
said in a queer, quiet wrath, "to prove before long that
my own money has been paying for my `keep' these
last three years; for that and for other things that did
not benefit me in the least."
"I'd like to know what you mean by that!" Carl
caught Pard by the bridle-rein and looked up at her in a
white fury that startled even Jean, accustomed as she
was to his sudden rages that contrasted with his sullen
attitude toward the world.
"What do you think I would mean? Let go my
bridle. I don't want to quarrel with you."
"What did you mean by proving--what do you
expect to prove?" His hand was heavy on the rein,
so that Pard began to fret under the restraint. "You've
got to quit running around all over the country with
them show folks, and stay at home and behave yourself.
You've got to quit hanging out at the Lazy A. I've
stood as much as I'm going to stand of your performances.
You get down off that horse and go into the
house and behave yourself; that's what you'll do! If
you haven't got any shame or decency--"
Jean scarcely knew what she did, just then. She
must have dug Pard with her spurs, because the first
thing that she realized was the lunge he gave. Carl's
hold slipped from the rein, as he was jerked sidewise.
He made an ineffective grab at Jean's skirt, and he
called her a name she had never heard spoken before in
her life. A rod or so away she pulled up and turned
to face him, but the words she would have spoken stuck
in her throat. She had never seen Carl Douglas look
like that; she had seen him when he was furious, she
had seen him when he sulked, but she had never seen
him look like that.
He called her to come back. He made threats of
what he would do if she refused to obey him. He shook
his fist at her. He behaved like a man temporarily
robbed of his reason; his eyes, as he came up glaring at
her, were the eyes of a madman.
Jean felt a tremor of dread while she looked at him
and listened to him. He was almost within reach of
her again when she wheeled and went off up the trail at
a run. She looked back often, half fearing that he
would get a horse and follow her, but he stood just
where she had left him, and he seemed to be still
uttering threats and groundless accusations as long as she
was in sight.
Half a mile she galloped, and met Lite coming
home. She glanced over her shoulder before she
pulled Pard down to a walk, and Lite's greeting, as he
turned and rode alongside her, was a question. He
wanted to know what was the matter with her. He
listened with his old manner of repression while she
told him, and he made no comment whatever until she
had finished.
"You must have made him pretty sore," he said
dispassionately. "I don't think myself that you ought
to stay over to the ranch alone. Why don't you do as
he says?"
"And go back to the Bar Nothing?" Jean shivered
a little. "Nothing could make me go back there!
Lite, you don't understand. He acted like a crazy man;
and I hadn't said anything to stir him up like that.
He was--Lite, he scared me! I couldn't stay on the
ranch with him. I couldn't be in the same room with
"You can't go on staying at the Lazy A," Lite told
her flatly.
"There's no other place where I'd stay."
"You could," Lite pointed out, "stay in town and
go back and forth with the rest of the bunch. It would
be a lot better, any way you look at it."
"It would be a lot worse. There's my book; I
wouldn't have any chance to write on that. And
there's the expense. I'm saving every nickel I possibly
can, Lite, and you know what for. And there's the
bunch--I see enough of them during working hours.
I'd go crazy if I had to live with them. Lite, they've
put me in playing leads! I'm to get a hundred dollars
a week! Just think of that! And Burns says that
I'll have to go back to Los Angeles with them when they
go this fall, because the contract I signed lasts for a
She sighed. "I rode over to tell you about it. It
seemed to be good news, when I left home. But now,
it's just a part of the black tangle that life's made up
of. Aunt Ella started things off by telling me what
a disgrace it is for me to work in these pictures. And
Uncle Carl--" She shivered in spite of herself. "I
just can't understand Uncle Carl's going into such a
rage. It was--awful."
Lite rode for some distance before he lifted his head
or spoke. Then he looked at Jean, who was staring
straight ahead and seeing nothing save what her thoughts
He did not say a word about her going to Los Angeles.
He was the bottled-up type; the things that hit him
hardest he seldom mentioned, so by that rule it might
be inferred that her going hit hard. But his voice was
normally calm, and his tone was the tone of authority,
which Jean knew very well, and which nearly always
amused her because she firmly believed it to be utterly
He said in the tone of an ultimatum: "If you're
bound to stay at the ranch, you've got to have somebody
with you. I'll ride in and get Hepsy Atwood in the
morning. You're getting thin. I don't believe you
take time to cook enough to eat. You can't work on
soda crackers and sardines. The old lady won't charge
much to come and stay with you. I'll come over after
I'm through work to-morrow and help her get things
looking a little more like living."
"You'll do nothing of the sort." Jean looked at
him mutinously. "I'm all right just as I am. I
won't have her, Lite. That's settled."
"Sure, it's settled," Lite agreed, with more than his
usual pertinacity. "I'll have her out here by noon,
and a supply of real grub. How are you fixed for bedding?"
"I won't have her, I tell you. You're always trying
to make me do things I won't do. Don't be
"Sure not." Lite shifted in the saddle with the air
of a man who rides at perfect ease with himself and
with the world. "She'll likely have plenty of bedding
of her own," he meditated, after a brief silence.
"Lite, if you haul Hepsibah out here, I'll send her
"I'll haul her out," said Lite in a tone of finality,
"but you won't send her back." He paused. "She
ain't much protection, maybe," he remarked somewhat
enigmatically, "but it'll beat staying alone nights.
You--you can't tell who might come prowling around
the place."
"What do you mean? Do you know about--"
Jean caught herself on the verge of betrayal.
"You want to keep your gun handy. Just on general
principles," Lite remonstrated. "You can't tell;
it's away off from everywhere."
"I won't have Hepsy Atwood. Haven't I enough to
drive me mad, without her?"
"Is there anybody else that you'd rather have?"
Lite looked at her speculatively.
"No, there isn't. I won't have anybody. It would
be a nuisance having some old lady in the house gabbling
and gossiping. I'm not the least bit afraid, except,--
I'm not afraid, and I like to be alone. I won't
have her, Lite."
Lite said no more about it until they reached the
house, huddled lonesomely against the barren bluff, its
windows staring black into the dusk. Jean did not
seem to expect Lite to dismount, but he did not wait to
see what she expected him to do. In his most matterof-
fact manner he dismounted and turned his horse,
still saddled, into the stable with Pard. He preceded
Jean up the path, and went into the kitchen ahead of
her; lighted a match and found the lamp, and set its
flame to brightening the dingy room.
Jean had not done much in the way of making that
part of the house more attractive. She used the
kitchen to cook in, because the stove was there, and the
dishes. She had spread an old braided rug over the
brown stain on the floor, and she ate in her own room
with the door shut.
Without being told, Lite seemed to know all about her
secret aversion to the kitchen. He took up the lamp
and went now on a tour of inspection through the house.
Jean followed him, wondering a little, and thinking
that this was the way that mysterious stranger came
and prowled at night, except that he must have used
matches to light the way, or a candle, since the lamp
seemed never to be disturbed. Lite went into all the
rooms and held the lamp so that its brightness searched
out all the corners. He looked into the small, stuffy
closets. He stood in the middle of her father's room
and seemed to meditate deeply, while Jean stood in the
doorway and watched him inquiringly. He came back
finally to the kitchen and looked into the cupboard, as
though he was taking an inventory of her supply of provisions.
"You might cook me some supper, Jean," he said,
when he had put the lamp on the table. "I see you've
got eggs and bacon. I'm pretty hungry,--for a man
that had his dinner six or seven hours ago."
Jean cooked supper, and they ate together in the
kitchen. It did not seem so gruesome with Lite there,
and she told him some funny things that had happened
in her work, and mimicked Robert Grant Burns with
an accuracy of manner and tone that would have astonished
that pompous person a good deal and flattered him
not at all. She almost recovered her spirits under the
stimulus of Lite's presence, and she quite forgot that he
had threatened her with Hepsibah Atwood.
But when he had wiped the dishes and had taken up
his hat to go, Lite proved how tenaciously his mind
could hold to an idea, and how even Jean could not
quite match him for stubbornness.
"That mattress in the little bedroom looks all right,"
he said. "I'll pack it outside before I go, so it will
have all day to-morrow out in the sun. I'll have Hepsy
bring her own bedding. Well--so long."
Jean would have sworn in perfect good faith that
Lite led his horse out of the stable, mounted it, and
rode away to the Bar Nothing. He did mount and ride
away as far as the mouth of the coulee. But that night
he spent in the loft over the shop, and he did not sleep
five minutes during the night. Most of the time he
spent leaning against his rolled bedding, smoking and
gazing at the silent house where Jean slept. You may
interpret that as you will.
Jean did not see or hear anything more of him, until
about four o'clock the next afternoon, when he drove
calmly up to the house and deposited Hepsibah Atwood
upon the kitchen steps. He did not wait for Jean to
order them away. He hurried the unloading, released
the wagon brake, and drove off. So Jean, coming from
the spring behind the house, really got her first sight
of him as he went rattling down to the gate.
Jean stood and looked after him, twitched her shoulders
in a mental yielding of the point for the time being,
and said "How-da-do" to the old lady.
She was not so old, as years go; fifty-five or
thereabouts. And she could have whispered into Lite's ear
without standing on her toes or asking him to bend his
head. Lite was a tall man, at that. She had gray
hair that was frizzy around her brows and at the back
of her neck, and she had an Irish disposition without
the brogue to go with it.
The first thing she did was to find an axe and chop a
lot of fence-posts into firewood, as easily as Lite
himself could have done it, and in other ways proceeded to
make herself very much at home. The next day she
dipped the spring almost dry, and used up all the soap
in the house; and for three days went around with her
skirts tucked up and her arms bare and the soles of her
shoes soggy from wet floors. Jean kept out of her way,
but she owned to herself that, after all, it was not
unpleasant to come home tired and not have to cook a
solitary supper and eat it in silent meditation.
The third night after Hepsy's arrival, Jean awoke to
hear a man's furtive footsteps in her father's room.
This was the fifth time that the prowler had come in
the night, and custom had dulled her fear a little. She
had not reached the point yet of getting up to see who
it was and what he wanted. It was much easier to lie
perfectly still with her six-shooter gripped in her hand
and wait for him to go. Beyond stealthily trying her
door and finding it fastened on the inside, he had never
shown any disposition to invade her room
To-night was as all other nights when he came and
made that mysterious search, until he went into the little
bedroom where slept Hepsibah Atwood. Jean listened
to the faint creaking of old boards which told her
that he was approaching Hepsy's room, and she wondered
if Hepsy would hear him. Hepsy did hear him.
There was a squeak of the old bedstead that told how
a hundred and seventy-two pounds of indignant womanhood
was rising to do battle.
"Who's that? Git outa here, or I'll smash you!"
There was no fear but a great deal of determination in
Hepsy's voice, and there was the sound of her bare feet
spatting on the floor.
The man's footsteps retreated hurriedly. Jean
heard the kitchen door open and slam shut with a
shrill squeal of its rusty hinges, and the sound of a man
running down the path. She heard Hepsy muttering
threats while she followed to the door and looked out,
and she heard the muttering continue while Hepsy
returned to bed.
It was very comforting. Jean tucked her gun under
her pillow, laughed to herself for having shuddered under
the blankets at the sound of a man so easily put to
flight, and went to sleep feeling quite secure and for the
first time really glad that Hepsibah Atwood was in the
She listened the next morning to Hepsy's colorful
account of the affair, but she did not tell Hepsy that the
man had been there before. She did not even tell her
that she had heard the disturbance, and was lying with
her gun in her hand ready to shoot if he came into her
room. For a girl as frank and outspoken as was Jean,
she had almost as great a talent as Lite for holding her
"Well, you don't seem crazy about it. What's
the matter?" Robert Grant Burns stood in
his favorite attitude with his hands on his hips and
his feet far apart, and looked down at Jean with a secret
anxiety in his eyes. Without realizing it in the least,
Jean's opinion had come to have a certain weight with
Robert Grant Burns. "What's wrong with that?"
Burns, having sat up until two o'clock to finish that
particular scenario to his liking, plainly resented the
expression on Jean's face while she read it.
"Oh, nothing, only I'm getting awfully sick of these
kidnap-and-rescue, and kiss-in-the-last-scene pictures,
and Wild West stuff without a real Western man in the
whole thing. I'd like to do something real for a
Robert Grant Burns grunted and reached for his
slighted brain-child. "What you want? Mother on,
knitting. Girl washing dishes. Lover arrives; they sit
on front steps and spoon. Become engaged. Lover
hitches up team, girl climbs into wagon, they drive to
town. Ten scenes of driving to town. Lover gets out,
ties team in front of courthouse. Goes in and gets
license. Three scenes of license business. Goes out.
Two scenes of driving to minister and hitching team
to gate. One scene of getting to door. One scene getting
inside the house. One scene preacher calling his
wife and hired girl. One scene `Do you take this
woman,' one scene `I do.' Fifteen scenes getting team
untied and driving back to ranch. That's about as
much pep as there is in real life in the far West, these
days. Something like that would suit you, maybe. It
don't suit the people who pay good nickels and dimes to
get a thrill, though."
"Neither does this sort of junk, if they've got any
sense. Think of paying nickel after nickel to see Lee
Milligan rush to the girl's door, knock, learn the fatal
news, stagger back and clap his hand to his brow and
say `Great Heaven! GONE!'" Jean, stirred to combat
by the sarcasm of Robert Grant Burns, did the
stagger and the hand-to-brow and great-heaven scene with a
realism that made Pete Lowry turn his back suddenly.
"They've seen Gil abduct me or Muriel seven times in a
perfectly impossible manner, and they--oh, why don't
you give them something REAL? Things that are thrilling
and dangerous and terrible do happen out here,
Mr. Burns. Real adventures and real tragedies--"
She stopped, and Burns turned his eyes involuntarily
toward the kitchen. He had heard all about the history
of the Lazy A, though he had been very careful to hide
the fact that he had heard it. Jean's glance, following
that of her director, was a revealing one. She bit her
lip; and in a moment she went on, with her chin held
a shade higher and her pride revolting against subterfuge.
"I didn't mean that," she said quietly. "But--
well, up to a certain point, I don't mind if you put in
real things, if it will be good picture-stuff. You're
featuring me, anyway, it seems. Listen." Jean's face
changed. Her eyes took that farseeing look of the
dreamer. She was looking full at Burns, but he knew
that she did not see him at all. She was looking at a
mental picture of her own conjuring, he judged. He
stood still and waited curiously, wondering, to use his
manner of speech, what the girl was going to spring
"Listen: Instead of all this impossible piffle, let's
start a real story. I--I've--"
"What kind of a real story?" The tone of Robert
Grant Burns was carefully non-committal, but his eyes
betrayed his eagerness. The girl did have some real
ideas, sometimes! And Robert Grant Burns was not
the one to refuse a real idea because it did not come from
his own brain.
"Well," Jean flushed with an adorable shyness at
the apparent egotism of her idea, "since you seem to
want me for the central figure in everything, suppose
we start a story like this: Suppose I am left here at
the Lazy A with my mother to take care of and a ranch
and a lot of cattle; and suppose it's a hard proposition,
because there's really a gang of rustlers that have been
running off stock and never getting caught, and they
have a grudge against my family and grab our cattle
every chance they get. Suppose--suppose they killed
my brother when he was about to round them up, and
they want to drive me and my mother out of the country.
Scare us out, you know. Well,--" she hesitated
and glanced diffidently at the boys who had edged up to
listen,--"that would leave room for all kinds of feature
stuff. Say that I have just one or two boys that I
can depend on, boys that I know are loyal. With an
outfit the size of ours, that keeps me in the saddle every
day and all day; and I would have some narrow escapes,
I reckon. You've got your rustlers all made to
order,--only I'd make them up differently, if I were
doing it. Have them look real, you know, instead of
stagey." (Whereat Robert Grant Burns winced.)
"Lee could be one of my loyal cowboys; you'd want
some dramatic acting, I reckon, and he could do that.
But I'd want one puncher who can ride and shoot and
handle a rope. For that, to help me do the real work
in the picture, I want Lite Avery. There are things
I can do that you have never had me do, for the simple
reason that you don't know the life well enough ever
to think of them. Real stunts, not these made-to-order,
shoot-the-villain-and-run-to-the-arms-of-the-hero stuff.
I'd have to have Lite Avery; I wouldn't start without
"Well, go on." Robert Grant Burns still tried to
sound non-committal, but he was plainly eager to hear
all that she had to say.
"Well, that's the idea. They're trying to drive us
out of the country, without really hurting me. And
I've got my mind set on staying. Not only that, but
I believe they killed my brother, and I'm going to hunt
them down and break up their gang or die in the
attempt. There's your plot. It needn't be overdone in
the least, to have thrills enough. And there would be
all kinds of chance for real range-stuff, like the handling
of cattle and all that.
"We can use this ranch just as it is, and have the
outlaws down next the river. I'm glad you haven't
taken any scenes that show the ranch as a whole.
You've stuck to your close-up, great-heaven scenes so
much," she went on with merciless frankness, "that
you've really not cheapened the place by showing more
than a little bit at a time.
"You might start by making Lee up for my brother,
and kill him in the first reel; show the outlaws when
they shoot him and run off with a bunch of stock they're
after. Lite can find him and bring him home. Lite
would know just how to do that sort of thing, and make
people see it's real stuff. I believe he'd show he was
a real cow-puncher, even to the people who never saw
one. There's an awful lot of difference between the
real thing and your actors." She was so perfectly
sincere and so matter-of-fact that the men she criticised
could do no more than grin.
"You might, for the sake of complications, put a
traitor and spy on the ranch. Oh, I tell you! Have
Hepsibah be the mother of one of the outlaws. She
wouldn't need to do any acting; you could show her
sneaking out in the dark to meet her son and tell him
what she has overheard. And show her listening, perhaps,
through the crack in a door. Mrs. Gay would
have to be the mother. Gil says that Hepsibah has the
figure of a comedy cook and what he calls a character
face. I believe we could manage her all right, for what
little she would have to do, don't you?"
Jean having poured out her inspiration with a fluency
born of her first enthusiasm, began to feel that she
had been somewhat presumptuous in thus offering advice
wholesale to the highest paid director of the Great
Western Film Company. She blushed and laughed a
little, and shrugged her shoulders.
"That's just a suggestion," she said with forced
lightness. "I'm subject to attacks of acute imagination,
sometimes. Don't mind me, Mr. Burns. Your
scenario is a very nice scenario, I'm sure. Do you want
me to be a braid-down-the-back girl in this? Or a
curls-around-the-face girl?"
Robert Grant Burns stood absent-mindedly tapping
his left palm with the folded scenario which Jean had
just damned by calling it a very nice scenario. Nice
was not the adjective one would apply to it in sincere
admiration. Robert Grant Burns himself had mentally
called it a hummer. He did not reply to Jean's tentative
apology for her own plot-idea. He was thinking
about the idea itself.
Robert Grant Burns was not what one would call
petty. He would not, for instance, stick to his own
story if he considered that Jean's was a better one.
And, after all, Jean was now his leading woman, and
it is not unusual for a leading woman to manufacture
her own plots, especially when she is being featured
by her company. There was no question of hurt pride
to be debated within the mind of him, therefore. He
was just weighing the idea itself for what it was worth.
"Seems to me your plot-idea isn't so much tamer
than mine, after all." He tested her shrewdly after
a prolonged pause. "You've got a killing in the first
five hundred feet, and outlaws and rustling--"
"Oh, but don't you see, it isn't the skeleton that
makes the difference; it's the kind of meat you put on
the bones! Paradise Lost would be a howling melodrama,
if some of you picture-people tried to make it.
You'd take this plot of mine and make it just like these
pictures I've been working in, Mr. Burns: Exciting
and all that, but not the real West after all; spectacular
without being probable. What I mean,--I can't
explain it to you, I'm afraid; but I have it in my head."
She looked at him with that lightening of the eyes which
was not a smile, really, but rather the amusement which
might grow into laughter later on.
"You'd better fine me for insubordination," she
drawled whimsically, "and tell me whether it's to be
braids or curls, so I can go and make up." At that
moment she saw Gil Huntley beckoning to her with a frantic
kind of furtiveness that was a fair mixture of
pinched-together eyebrows and slight jerkings of the
head, and a guarded movement of his hand that hung
at his side. Gil, she thought, was trying to draw her
away before she went too far with her trouble-inviting
freedom of speech. She laughed lazily.
"Braids or curls?" she insisted. "And please, sir,
I won't do so no more, honest."
Robert Grant Burns looked at her from under his
eyebrows and made a sound between his grunt of
indignation and his chuckle of amusement. "Sure you
won't?" he queried shortly. "Stay the way you are,
if you want to; chances are you won't go to work right
away, anyhow."
Jean flashed him a glance of inquiry. Did that mean
that she had at last gone beyond the limit? Was Robert
Grant Burns going to FIRE her? She looked at Gil,
who was sauntering off with the perfectly apparent
expectation that she would follow him; and Mrs. Gay,
who was regarding her with a certain melancholy
conviction that Jean's time as leading woman was short
indeed. She pursed her lips with a rueful resignation,
and followed Gil to the spring behind the house.
"Say, you mustn't hand out things like that, Jean!"
he protested, when they were quite out of sight and
hearing of the others. "Let me give you a tip, girl.
If you've got any photo-play ideas that are worth talking
about, don't go spreading them out like that for Bobby
to pick and choose!"
"Pick to pieces, you mean," Jean corrected.
help it; he's putting on some awfully stagey plots, and
they cost just as much to produce as--"
"Listen here. You've got me wrong. That plot of
yours could be worked up into a dandy series; the idea
of a story running through a lot of pictures is great.
What I mean is, it's worth something. You don't have
to give stuff like that away, make him a present of it,
you know. I just want to put you wise. If you've got
anything that's worth using, make 'em pay for it. Put
'er into scenario form and sell it to 'em. You're in this
game to make money, so why overlook a bet like that?"
"Oh, Gil! Could I?"
"Sure, you could! No reason why you shouldn't,
if you can deliver the goods. Burns has been writing
his own plays to fit his company; but aside from the
features you've been putting into it, it's old stuff. He's
a darned good director, and all that, but he hasn't got
the knack of building real stories. You see what I
mean. If you have, why--"
"I wonder," said Jean with a sudden small doubt of
her literary talents, "if I have!"
"Sure, you have!" Gil's faith in Jean was of the
kind that scorns proof. "You see, you've got the dope
on the West, and he knows it. Why, I've been watching
how he takes the cue from you right along for his
features. Ever since you told Lee Milligan how to lay
a saddle on the ground, Burns has been getting tips;
and half the time you didn't even know you were giving
them. Get into this game right, Jean. Make 'em pay
for that kind of thing."
Jean regarded him thoughtfully, tempted to yield.
"Mrs. Gay says a hundred dollars a week--"
"It's good pay for a beginner. She's right, and she's
wrong. They're featuring you in stuff that nobody else
can do. Who would they put in your place, to do the
stunts you've been doing? Muriel Gay was a good
actress, and as good a Western lead as they could
produce; and you know how she stacked up alongside you.
You're in a class by yourself, Jean. You want to keep
that in mind. They aren't just trying to be nice to
you; it's hard-boiled business with the Great Western.
You're going awfully strong with the public. Why,
my chum writes me that you're announced ahead on the
screen at one of the best theaters on Broadway! `Coming:
Jean Douglas in So-and-so.' Do you know what
that means? No, you don't; of course not. But let
me tell you that it means a whole lot! I wish I'd had
a chance to tip you off to a little business caution
before you signed that contract. That salary clause
should have been doctored to make a sliding scale of it.
As it is, you're stuck for a year at a hundred dollars a
week, unless you spring something the contract does
not cover. Don't give away any more dope. You've
got an idea there, if Burns will let you work up to it.
Make 'em pay for it."
"O-h-h, Gil!" came the throaty call of Burns; and
Gil, with a last, earnest warning, left her hurriedly.
Jean sat down on a rock and meditated, her chin in her
palms, and her elbows on her knees. Vague shadows;
of thoughts clouded her mind and then slowly clarified
into definite ideas. Unconsciously she had been growing
away from her first formulated plans. She was
gradually laying aside the idea of reaching wealth and
fame by way of the story-trail. She was almost at the
point of admitting to herself that her story, as far as
she had gone with it, could never be taken seriously by
any one with any pretense of intelligence. It was too
unreal, too fantastic. It was almost funny, in the most
tragic parts. She was ready now to dismiss the book as
she had dismissed her earlier ambitions to become a poet.
But if she and Lite together could really act a story
that had the stamp of realism which she instinctively
longed for, surely it would be worth while. And if she
herself could build the picture story they would later
enact before the camera,--that would be better, much
better than writing silly things about an impossible
heroine in the hope of later selling the stuff!
Automatically her thoughts swung over to the actual
building of the scenes that would make for continuity
of her lately-conceived plot. Because she knew every
turn and every crook of that coulee and every board in
the buildings snuggled within it, she began to plan her
scenes to fit the Lazy A, and her action to fit the spirit
of the country and those countless small details of life
which go to make what we call the local color of the
There never had been an organized gang of outlaws
just here in this part of the country, but--there might
have been. Her dad could remember when Sid Cummings
and his bunch hung out in the Bad Lands fifty
miles to the east of there. Neither had she ever had a
brother, for that matter; and of her mother she had
no more than the indistinct memory of a time when
there had been a long, black box in the middle of the
living-room, and a lot of people, and tears which fell
upon her face and tickled her nose when her father held
her tightly in his arms.
But she had the country, and she had Lite Avery, and
to her it was very, very easy to visualize a story that
had no foundation in fact. It was what she had done
ever since she could remember--the day-dreaming
that had protected her from the keen edge of her loneliness.
"What you doing now?" Robert Grant Burns
came around the corner of the house looking
for her, half an hour later, and found her sitting on the
doorstep with the old atlas on her knees and her hat far
back on her head, scribbling away for dear life.
Jean smiled abstractedly up at him. "Why, I'm--
why-y, I'm becoming a famous scenario writer! Do
you want me to go and plaster my face with greasepaint,
and become a mere common leading lady again?"
"No, I don't." Robert Grant Burns chuckled fatly
and held out his hand with a big, pink cameo on his
little finger. "Let's see what a famous scenario looks
like. What is it,--that plot you were telling me awhile
"Why, yes. I'm putting on the meat." There was
a slight hesitation before Jean handed him the pages
she had done. "I expect it's awfully crude," she
apologized, with one of her diffident spells. "I'm
afraid you'll laugh at me."
Robert Grant Burns was reading rapidly, mentally
photographing the scenes as he went along. He held
out his hand again without looking toward her.
"Lemme take your pencil a minute. I believe I'd have
a panoram of the coulee,--a long shot from out there
in the meadow. And show the brother and you leaving
the house and riding toward the camera; at the gate,
you separate. You're going to town, say. He rides
on toward the hills. That fixes you both as belonging
here at the ranch, identifies you two and the home ranch
both in thirty feet or so of the film, with a leader that
tells you're brother and sister. See what I mean?"
He scribbled a couple of lines, crossed out a couple,
and went on reading to where he had interrupted Jean
in the middle of a sentence.
"I see you're writing in a part for that Lite Avery;
how do you know he'd do it? Or can put it over if he
tries? He don't look to me like an actor."
"Lite," declared Jean with a positiveness that would
have thrilled Lite, had he heard her, "can put over
anything he tries to put over. And he'll do it, if I tell
him he must!" Which showed what were Jean's ideas,
at least on the subject of which was the master.
"What you going to call it a The Perils of the
Prairie, say?" Burns abandoned further argument on
the subject of Lite's ability.
"Oh, no! That's awfully cheap. That would stamp
it as a melodrama before any of the picture appeared
on the screen."
Robert Grant Burns had not been serious; he had been
testing Jean's originality. "Well, what will we call it,
"Oh, we'll call it--" Jean nibbled the rubber on
her pencil and looked at him with that unseeing,
introspective gaze which was a trick of hers. "We'll call
it--does it hurt if we use real names that we've a right
to?" She got a head-shake for answer. "Well, we'll
call it,--let's just call it--Jean, of the Lazy A.
Would that sound as if--"
"Great! Girl, you're a winner! Jean, of the Lazy
A! Say, that title alone will jump the releases ten
per cent., if I know the game. Featuring Jean herself;
pictures made right at the Lazy A Ranch. Say, the
dope I can give our publicity man--"
Thereupon Jean, remembering Gil Huntley's lecture
on the commercial side of the proposition, startled his
enthusiasm with one naive question.
"How much will the Great Western Film Company
pay me extra for furnishing the story I play in? "
"How much?" Robert Grant Burns blurted the
words automatically.
"Yes. How much? If it will jump your releases
ten per cent. they ought to pay me quite a lot more than
they're paying me now."
"You're doing pretty well as it is," Burns reminded
her, with a visible dampening of his eagerness.
"For keeping your cut-and-dried stories from falling
flat, yes. But for writing the kind of play that will
have just as many `punches' and still be true to life,
and then for acting it all out and putting in those
punches,--that's a different matter, Mr. Burns. And
you'll have to pay Lite a decent salary, or I'll quit right
here. I'm thinking up stunts for us two that are
awfully risky. You'll have to pay for that. But it will
be worth while. You wait till you see Lite in action!"
Gil would have been exuberant over the literal manner
in which Jean was taking his advice and putting
it to the test, had he overheard her driving her bargain
with Robert Grant Burns. He would have been exuberant,
but he would never have dared to say the things
that Jean said, or to have taken the stand that she
took. Robert Grant Burns found himself very much
in the position which Lite had occupied for three years.
He had well-defined ideas upon the subject before them,
and he had the outer semblance of authority; but his
ideas and his authority had no weight whatever with
Jean, since she had made up her mind.
Before Jean left the subject of salary, Robert Grant
Burns found himself committed to a promise of an
increase, provided that Jean really "delivered the goods"
in the shape of a scenario serial, and did the stunts
which she declared she could and would do.
Before she settled down to the actual planning of
scenes, Robert Grant Burns had also yielded to her
demands for Lite Avery, though you may think that he
thereby showed himself culpably weak, unless you realize
what sort of a person Jean was in argument. Without
having more than a good-morning acquaintance with
Lite, Burns agreed to put him on "in stock" and to pay
him the salary Jean demanded for him, provided that,
in the try-out of the first picture, Lite should prove he
could deliver the goods. Burns was always extremely
firm in the matter of having the "goods" delivered;
that was why he was the Great Western's leading director.
Mere dollars he would yield, if driven into a corner
and kept there long enough, but he must have results.
These things being settled, they spent about two hours
on the doorstep of Jean's room, writing the first reel of
the story; which is to say that Jean wrote, and Burns
took each sheet from her hands as it was finished, and
read and made certain technical revisions now and then.
Several times he grunted words of approbation, and
several times he let his fat, black cigar go out, while he
visualized the scenes which Jean's flying pencil portrayed.
"I'll go over and get Lite," she said at last, rubbing
the cramp out of her writing-hand and easing her shoulders
from their strain of stooping. "There'll be time,
while you send the machine after some real hats for your
rustlers. Those toadstool things were never seen in this
country till you brought them in your trunk; and this
story is going to be real! Your rustlers won't look much
different from the punchers, except that they'll be riding
different horses; we'll have to get some paint somewhere
and make a pinto out of that wall-eyed cayuse
Gil rides mostly. He'll lead the rustlers, and you want
the audience to be able to spot him a mile off. Lite
and I will fix the horse; we'll put spots on him like a
horse Uncle Carl used to own."
"Maybe you can't get Lite," Burns pointed out,
eyeing her over a match blaze. "He never acted to me
like he had the movie-fever at all. Passes us up with a
nod, and has never showed signs of life on the subject.
Lee can ride pretty well," he added artfully, "even if he
wasn't born in the saddle. And we can fake that rope
"All right; you can send the machine in with a wire
to your company for a leading woman." Jean picked
up her gloves and turned to pull the door shut behind
her, and by other signs and tokens made plain her
intention to leave.
"Oh, well, you can see if he'll come. I said I'd try
him out, but--"
"He'll come. I told you that before." Jean stopped
and looked at her director coldly. "And you'll keep
your word. And we won't have any fake stuff in this,
--except the spots on the pinto." She smiled then.
"We wouldn't do that, but there isn't a pinto in the
country right now that would be what we want. You
had better get your bunch together, because I'll be back
in a little while with Lite."
As it happened, Lite was on his way to the Lazy A,
and met Jean in the bottom of the sandy hollow. His
eyes lightened when he saw her come loping up to him.
But when she was close enough to read the expression
of his face, it was schooled again to the frank
friendship which Jean always had accepted as a matter
of course.
"Hello, Lite! I've got a job for you with the
movies," Jean announced, as soon as she was within
speaking distance. "You can come right back with
me and begin. It's going to be great. We're going
to make a real Western picture, Lite, you and I. Lee
and Gil and all the rest will be in it, of course; but
we're going to put in the real West. And we're going
to put in the ranch,--the REAL Lazy A, Lite. Not these
dinky little sets that Burns has toggled up with bits of
the bluff showing for background, but the ranch just
as it--it used to be." Jean's eyes grew wistful while
she looked at him and told him her plans.
"I'm writing the scenario myself," she explained,
"and that's why you have to be in it. I've written in
stuff that the other boys can't do to save their lives.
REAL stuff, Lite! You and I are going to run the ranch
and punch the cows,--Lazy A cattle, what there are left
of them,--and hunt down a bunch of rustlers that have
their hangout somewhere down in the breaks; we don't
know just where, yet. The places we'll ride, they'll
need an airship to follow with the camera! I haven't
got it all planned yet, but the first reel is about done;
we're going to begin on it this afternoon. We'll need
you in the first scenes,--just ranch scenes, with you and
Lee; he's my brother, and he'll get killed-- Now,
what's the matter with you?" She stopped and eyed
him disapprovingly. "Why have you got that stubborn
look to your mouth? Lite, see here. Before you say a
word, I want to tell you that you are not to refuse this.
It--it means money, Lite; for you, and for me, too.
And that means--dad at home again. Lite--"
Bite looked at her, looked away and bit his lips. It
was long since he had seen tears in Jean's steady, brown
eyes, and the sight of them hurt him intolerably. There
was nothing that he could say to strengthen her faith,
absolutely nothing. He did not see how money could
free her father before his sentence expired. Her faith
in her dad seemed to Lite a wonderful thing, but he
himself could not altogether share it, although he had
lately come to feel a very definite doubt about Aleck's
guilt. Money could not help them, except that it could
buy back the Lazy A and restock it, and make of it the
home it had been three years ago.
Lite, in the secret heart of him, did not want Jean
to set her heart on doing that. Lite was almost in a
position to do it himself, just as he had planned and
schemed and saved to do, ever since the day when he
took Jean to the Bar Nothing, and announced to her
that he intended to take care of her in place of her
father. He had wanted to surprise Jean; and Jean,
with her usual headlong energy bent upon the same
object, seemed in a fair way to forestall him, unless he
moved very quickly.
"Lite, you won't spoil everything now, just when I'm
given this great opportunity, will you?" Jean's voice
was steady again. She could even meet his eyes without
flinching. "Gil says it's a great opportunity, in
every way. It's a series of pictures, really, and they
are to be called `Jean, of the Lazy A.' Gil says they
will be advertised a lot, and make me famous. I don't
care about that; but the company will pay me more, and
that means--that means that I can get out and find
Art Osgood sooner, and--get dad home. And you will
have to help. The whole thing, as I have planned it,
depends upon you, Lite. The riding and the roping,
and stuff like that, you'll have to do. You'll have to
work right alongside me in all that outdoor stuff,
because I am going to quit doing all those spectacular,
stagey stunts, and get down to real business. I've made
Burns see that there will be money in it for his company,
so he is perfectly willing to let me go ahead with
it and do it my way. Our way, Lite, because, once you
start with it, you can help me plan things." Whereupon,
having said almost everything she could think of
that would tend to soften that stubborn look in Lite's
face, Jean waited.
Lite did a great deal of thinking in the next two or
three minutes, but being such a bottled-up person, he
did not say half of what he thought; and Jean, closely
as she watched his face, could not read what was in his
mind. Of Aleck he thought, and the slender chance
there was of any one doing what Jean hoped to do; of
Art Osgood, and the meager possibility that Art could
shed any light upon the killing of Johnny Croft; of the
Lazy A, and the probable price that Carl would put upon
it if he were asked to sell the ranch and the stock; of
the money he had already saved, and the chance that, if
he went to Carl now and made him an offer, Carl would
accept. He weighed mentally all the various elements
that went to make up the depressing tangle of the whole
affair, and decided that he would write at once to Rossman,
the lawyer who had defended Aleck, and put the
whole thing into his hands. He would then know just
where he stood, and what he would have to do, and what
legal steps he must take.
He looked at Jean and grinned a little. "I'm not
pretty enough for a picture actor," he said whimsically.
"Better let me be a rustler and wear a mask, if you
don't want folks to throw fits."
"You'll be what I want you to be," Jean told him
with the little smile in her eyes that Lite had learned to
love more than he could ever say. "I'm going to make
us both famous, Lite. Now, come on, Bobby Burns has
probably chewed up a whole box of those black cigars,
waiting for us to show up."
I am not going to describe the making of "Jean, of
the Lazy A." It would be interesting, but this is not
primarily a story of the motion-picture business, remember.
It is the story of the Lazy A and the problem that
both Jean and Lite were trying to solve. The Great
Western Film Company became, through sheer chance,
a factor in that problem, and for that reason we have
come into rather close touch with them; but aside from
the fact that Jean's photo-play brought Lite into the
company and later took them both to Los Angeles, this
particular picture has no great bearing upon the matter.
Robert Grant Burns had intended taking his company
back to Los Angles in August, when the hot winds
began to sweep over the range land. But Jean's story
was going "big." Jean was throwing herself into the
part heart and mind. She lived it. With Lite riding
beside her, helping her with all his skill and energy and
much enthusiasm, she almost forgot her great undertaking
sometimes, she was so engrossed with her work.
With his experience, suggesting frequent changes, she
added new touches of realism to this story that made the
case-hardened audience of the Great Western's private
projection room invent new ways of voicing their
enthusiasm, when the negative films Pete Lowry sent in to
headquarters were printed and given their trial run.
They were just well started when August came with
its hot winds. They stayed and worked upon the serial
until it was finished, and that meant that they stayed
until the first October blizzard caught them while they
were finishing the last reel.
Do you know what they did then? Jean changed a
few scenes around at Lite's suggestion, and they went out
into the hills in the teeth of the storm and pictured Jean
lost in the blizzard, and coming by chance upon the
outlaws at their camp, which she and Lite and Lee had
been hunting through all the previous installments of
the story. It was great stuff,--that ride Jean made in
the blizzard,--and that scene where, with numbed
fingers and snow matted in her dangling braid, she held
up the rustlers and marched them out of the hills, and
met Lite coming in search of her.
You will remember it, if you have been frequenting
the silent drama and were fortunate enough to see the
picture. You may have wondered at the realism of
those blizzard scenes, and you may have been curious to
know how the camera got the effect. It was wonderful
photography, of course; but then, the blizzard was real,
and that pinched, half frozen look on Jean's face in the
close-up where she met Lite was real. Jean was so cold
when she turned the rustlers over to Lite that when she
started to dismount and fell in a heap,--you remember?
--she was not acting at all. Neither was Lite acting
when he plunged through the drift and caught Jean in
his arms and held her close against him just as that scene
ended. In the name of realism they cut the scene, because
Lite showed that he forgot all about the outlaws
and the part he was playing.
So they finished the picture, and the whole company
packed their trunks thankfully and turned their faces
and all their thoughts westward.
Jean was not at all sure that she wanted to go. It
seemed almost as though she were setting aside her great
undertaking; as though she were weakly deserting her
dad when she closed the door for the last time upon her
room and turned her back upon Lazy A coulee. But
there were certain things which comforted her; Lite was
going along to look after the horses, he told her just the
day before they started. For Robert Grant Burns, with
an eye to the advertising value of the move, had decided
that Pard must go with them. He would have to hire
an express car, anyway, he said, for the automobile and
the scenery sets they had used for interiors. And there
would be plenty of room for Pard and Lite's horse and
another which Robert Grant Burns had used to carry
him to locations in rough country, where the automobile
could not go. The car would run in passenger service,
Burns said,--he'd fix that,--so Lite would be right
with the company all the way out.
Jean appreciated all that as a personal favor, which
merely proved how unsophisticated she really was. She
did not know that Robert Grant Burns was thinking
chiefly of furnishing material for the publicity man to
use in news stories. She never once dreamed that the
coming of "Jean, of the Lazy A" and Jean's pet horse
Pard, and of Lite, who had done so many surprising
things in the picture, would be heralded in all the Los
Angeles papers before ever they left Montana.
Jean was concerned chiefly with attending to certain
matters which seemed to her of vital importance. If she
must go, there was something which she must do first,
--something which for three years she had shrunk from
doing. So she told Robert Grant Burns that she would
meet him and his company in Helena, and without a
word of explanation, she left two days in advance of
them, just after she had had another maddening talk
with her Uncle Carl, wherein she had repeated her
intention of employing a lawyer.
When she boarded the train at Helena, she did not tell
even Lite just where she had been or what she had been
doing. She did not need to tell Lite. He looked into
her face and saw there the shadow of the high, stone wall
that shut her dad away from the world, and he did not
ask a single question.
When she felt bewildered, Jean had the trick
of appearing merely reserved; and that is what
saved her from the charge of rusticity when Robert
Grant Burns led her through the station gateway and
into a small reception. No less a man than Dewitt,
President of the Great Western Film Company, clasped
her hand and held it, while he said how glad he was to
welcome her. Jean, unawed by his greatness and the
honor he was paying her, looked up at him with that
distracting little beginning of a smile, and replied
with that even-more distracting little drawl in her
voice, and wondered why Mrs. Gay should become so
plainly flustered all at once.
Dewitt took her by the arm, introduced her to a
curious-eyed group with a warming cordiality of manner,
and led her away through a crowd that stared and whispered,
and up to a great, beautiful, purple machine with
a colored chauffeur in dust-colored uniform. Dewitt
was talking easily of trivial things, and shooting a
question now and then over his shoulder at Robert Grant
Burns, who had shed much of his importance and seemed
indefinably subservient toward Mr. Dewitt. Jean
turned toward him abruptly.
"Where's Lite? Did you send some one to help him
with Pard?" she asked with real concern in her voice.
"Those three horses aren't used to towns the size of
this, Mr. Burns. Lite is going to have his hands full
with Pard. If you will excuse me, Mr. Dewitt, I think
I'll go and see how he's making out."
Mr. Dewitt glanced over her head and met the
delighted grin of Jim Gates, the publicity manager. The
grin said that Jean was "running true to form," which
was a pet simile with Jim Gates, and usually accompanied
that particular kind of grin. There would be an
interesting half column in the next day's papers about
Jean's arrival and her deep concern for Lite and her
wonderful horse Pard, but of course she did not know
"I've got men here to help with the horses," Mr.
Dewitt assured her, while he gently urged her into the
machine. "They'll be brought right out to the studio.
I'm taking you home with me in obedience to my wife's,
orders. She is anxious to meet the young woman who
can out-ride and out-shoot any man on the screen, and
can still be sweet and feminine and lovable. I'm quoting
my wife, you see, though I won't say those are not
my sentiments also."
"Your poor wife is going to receive a shock," said
Jean in an unimpressed tone. "But it's dear of her
to want to meet me." Back of her speech was an irritated
impatience that she should be gobbled and carried
off like this, when she was sure that she ought to be
helping Lite get that fool Pard unloaded and safely
through the clang and clatter of the down-town district.
Robert Grant Burns, half facing her on a folding seat,
sent her a queer, puzzled glance from under his
eyebrows. Four months had Jean been working under his
direction; four months had he studied her, and still she
puzzled him. She was not ignorant--the girl had been
out among civilized folks and had learned town ways;
she was not stupid--she could keep him guessing, and
he thought he knew all the quirks of human nature, too.
Then why, in the name of common sense, did she take
Dewitt and his patronage in this matter-of-fact way, as
if it were his everyday business to meet strange
employees and take them home to his wife? He glanced
at Dewitt and caught a twinkle of perfect understanding
in the bright blue eyes of his chief. Burns made a
sound between a grunt and a chuckle, and turned his
eyes away immediately; but Dewitt chose to make
speech upon the subject.
"You haven't spoiled our new leading woman--
yet," he observed idly.
"Oh, but he has," Jean dissented. "He has got me
trained so that when he says smile, my mouth stretches
itself automatically. When he says sob, I sob. He just
snaps his fingers, Mr. Dewitt, and I sit up and go
through my tricks very nicely. You ought to see how
nicely I do them."
Mr. Dewitt put up a hand and pulled at his closecropped,
white mustache that could not hide the twitching
of his lips. "I have seen," he said drily, and
leaned forward for a word with the liveried chauffeur.
"Turn up on Broadway and stop at the Victoria," he
said, and the chin of the driver dropped an inch to prove
he heard.
Dewitt laid his fingers on Jean's arm to catch her
attention. "Do you see that picture on the billboard over
there?" he asked, with a special inflection in his nice,
crisp voice. "Does it look familiar to you?"
Jean looked, and pinched her brows together. Just
at first she did not comprehend. There was her name
in fancy letters two feet high: "JEAN, OF THE LAZY
A." It blared at the passer-by, but it did not look
familiar at all. Beneath was a high-colored poster of
a girl on a horse. The horse was standing on its hind
feet, pawing the air; its nostrils flared red; its tail
swept like a willow plume behind. The machine slowed
and stopped for the traffic signal at the crossing, and
still Jean studied the poster. It certainly did not look
in the least familiar.
"Is that supposed to be me, on that plum-colored
horse?" she drawled, when they slid out slowly in the
wake of a great truck.
"Why, don't you like it?" Dewitt looked at Jim
Gates, who was again grinning delightedly and
surreptitiously scribbling something on the margin
of a folded paper he was carrying.
Jean turned upon him a mildly resentful glance.
"No, I don't. Pard is not purple; he's brown. And
he's got the dearest white hoofs and a white sock on his
left hind foot; and he doesn't snort fire and brimstone,
either." She glanced anxiously at the jam of wagons
and automobiles and clanging street-cars. "I don't
know, though," she amended ruefully, "I think perhaps
he will, too, when he sees all this. I really ought to
have stayed with him."
"You don't think Lite quite capable of taking care
of him."
"Oh, yes, of course he is! But I just feel that
Dewitt shifted a little, so that he was half facing her,
and could look at her without having to turn his head.
If his eyes told anything of his thoughts, the President
of the Great Western Film Company was curious to
know how she felt about her position and her sudden
fame and the work itself. Before they had worked
their way into the next block, he decided that Jean was
not greatly interested in any of these things, and he
wondered why.
The machine slowed, swung to the curb, and crept
forward and stopped in front of the Victoria. Dewitt
looked at Burns and Pete Lowry, who was on the front
"I thought you'd like to take a glance at the lobby
display the Victoria is making," he said casually.
"They are running the Lazy A series, you know,--to
capacity houses, too, they tell me. Shall we get
The chauffeur reached back with that gesture of
toleration and infinite boredom common to his kind and
swung open the door.
Robert Grant Burns started up. "Come on, Jean,"
he said eagerly. "I don't suppose that eternal calm of
yours will ever show a wrinkle on the surface, but let's
have a look, anyway."
Pete Lowry was already out and half way across the
pavement. Pete had lain awake in his bed, many's the
night, planning the posing of "stills" that would show
Jean at her best; he had visioned them on display in
theater lobbies, and now he collided with a hurrying
shopper in his haste to see the actual fulfillment of those
Jean herself was not so eager. She went with the
others, and she saw herself pictured on Pard; on her
two feet; and sitting upon a rock with her old Stetson
tilted over one eye and her hair tousled with the wind.
She was loading her six-shooter, and talking to Lite,
who was sitting on his heels with a cigarette in his
fingers, looking at her with that bottled-up look in his
eyes. She did not remember when the picture was
taken, but she liked that best of all. She saw herself
leaning out of the window of her room at the Lazy A.
She remembered that time. She was talking to Gil
outside, and Pete had come up and planted his tripod
directly in front of her, and had commanded her to
hold her pose. She did not count them, but she
had curious impressions of dozens of pictures of
herself scattered here and there along the walls of
the long, cool-looking lobby. Every single one of
them was marked: "Jean, of the Lazy A." Just
On a bulletin board in the middle of the entrance, just
before the marble box-office, it was lettered again in
dignified black type: "JEAN OF THE LAZY A." Below
was one word: "To-day."
"It looks awfully queer," said Jean to Mr. Dewitt,
who wanted to know what she thought of it all; "they
don't explain what it's all about, or anything."
"No, they don't." Dewitt pulled his mustache and
piloted her back to the machine. "They don't have
"No," echoed Robert Grant Burns, with the fat
chuckle of utter content in the knowledge of having
achieved something. "From the looks of things, they
don't have to." He looked at Jean so intently that she
stared back at him, wondering what was the matter;
and when he saw that she was wondering, he gave a
"Good Lord!" he said to himself, just above a
whisper, and looked away, despairing of ever reading the
riddle of Jean's unshakable composure. Was it pose
Was the girl phlegmatic,--with that face which was so
alive with the thoughts that shuttled back and forth
behind those steady, talking eyes of hers? She was not
stupid; Robert Grant Burns knew to his own discomfiture
that she was not stupid. Nor was she one to
pose; the absolute sincerity of her terrific frankness was
what had worried Robert Grant Burns most. She must
know that she had jumped into the front rank of popular
actresses, and stood out before them all,--for the time
being, at least. And,--he stole a measuring sidelong
glance at her, just as he had done thousands of times in
the past four months,--here she was in the private
machine of the President of the Great Western Film
Company, with that great man himself talking to her
as to his honored guest. She had seen herself featured
alone at one of the biggest motion-picture theaters in
Los Angeles; so well known that "Jean, of the Lazy
A" was deemed all-sufficient as information and
advertisement. She had reached what seemed to Robert
Grant Burns the final heights. And the girl sat there,
calm, abstracted, actually not listening to Dewitt when
he talked! She was not even thinking about him!
Robert Grant Burns gave her another quick, resentful
glance, and wondered what under heaven the girl WAS
thinking about.
As a matter of fact, having accepted the fact that she
seemed to have made a success of her pictures, her
thoughts had drifted to what seemed to her more vital.
Had she done wrong to come away out here, away from
her problem? The distance worried her. She had not
even found out who was the mysterious night-prowler,
or what he wanted. He had never come again, after
that night when Hepsy had scared him away. From
long thinking about it, she had come to a vague, general
belief that his visits were somehow connected with the
murder; but in what manner, she could not even form a
theory. That worried her. She wished now that she
had told Lite about it. She was foolish not to have
done something, instead of sticking her head under the
bedclothes and just shivering till he left. Lite would
have found out who the man was, and what he wanted.
Lite would never have let him come and go like that.
But the visits had seemed so absolutely without reason.
There was nothing to steal, and nothing to find. Still,
she wished she had told Lite, and let him find out who
it was.
Then her talk with the great lawyer had been
disquieting. He had not wanted to name his fee for
defending her dad; but when he had named it, it did not
seem so enormous as she had imagined it to be. He
had asked a great many questions, and most of them
puzzled Jean. He had said that he would take up the
matter,--by which she believed he meant an investigation
of her uncle's title to the Lazy A. He said that he
would see her father, and he told her that he had
already been retained to investigate the whole thing, so
that she need not worry about having to pay him a fee.
That, he said, had already been arranged, though he did
not feel at liberty to name his client. But he wanted
to assure her that everything was being done that could
be done.
She herself had seen her father. She shrank within
herself and tried not to think of that horrible meeting.
Her soul writhed under the tormenting memory of how
she had seen him. She had not been able to talk to him
at all, scarcely. The words would not come. She had
said that she and Lite were on their way to Los Angeles,
and would be there all winter. He had patted her
shoulder with a tragic apathy in his manner, and had
said that the change would do her good. And that was
all she could remember that they had talked about.
And then the guard came, and--
That is what she was thinking about while the big,
purple machine slid smoothly through the tunnel, negotiated
a rough stretch where the street-pavers were at
work, and sped purring out upon the boulevard that
stretched away to Hollywood and the hills. That was
what she kept hidden behind the "eternal calm" that
so irritated Robert Grant Burns and so delighted Dewitt
and so interested Jim Gates, who studied her for
what "copy" there was in her personality.
It was the same when, the next day, Dewitt himself
took her over to the big plant which he spoke of as the
studio. It was immense, and yet Jean seemed
unimpressed. She was gladder to see Pard and Lite again
than she was to meet the six-hundred-a-week star whose
popularity she seemed in a fair way to outrival. Men
and women who were "in stock," and therefore within
the social pale, were introduced to her and said nice,
hackneyed things about how they admired her work and
were glad to welcome her. She felt the warm air of
good-fellowship that followed her everywhere. All of
these people seemed to accept her at once as one of
themselves. When she noticed it, she was amused at the
way the "extras" stood back and looked at her and
whispered together. More than once she overheard
what seemed almost to have become a catch-phrase out
here; "Jean of the lazy A" was the phrase.
Jean was not made of wood, understand. In a manner
she recognized all these little tributes, and to a certain
degree she appreciated them. She was glad that
she had made such a success of it, but she was glad
because it would help her to take her dad away from that
horrible, ghastly place and that horrible, ghastly deathin-
life under which he lived. In three years he had
grown old and stooped--her dad!
And Burns twitted her ironically because she could
not simper and lose her head over the attentions these
people were loading upon her! Save for the fact that
in this way she could earn a good deal of money, and
could pay that lawyer Rossman, and trace Art Osgood,
she would not have stayed; she could not have endured
the staying. For the easier they made life for her, the
greater contrast did they make between her and her
Gil brought her a great bunch of roses, unbelievably
beautiful and fragrant, and laughed and told her they
didn't look much like those snowdrifts she waded
through the last day they worked on the Lazy A serial.
For just a minute he thought Jean was going to throw
them at him, and he worried himself into sleeplessness,
poor boy, wondering how he had offended her, and how
he could make amends. Could he have looked into
Jean's soul, he would have seen that it was seared with
the fresh memory of iron bars and high walls and her
dad who never saw any roses; and that the contrast
between their beauty and the terrible barrenness that
surrounded him was like a blow in her face.
Dewitt himself sensed that something was wrong with
her. She was not her natural self, and he knew it,
though his acquaintance with her was a matter of hours
only. Part of his business it was to study people, to
read them; he read Jean now, in a general way. Not
being a clairvoyant, he of course had no inkling of the
very real troubles that filled her mind, though the
effect of those troubles he saw quite plainly. He
watched her quietly for a day, and then he applied the
best remedy he knew.
"You've just finished a long, hard piece of work,"
he said in his crisp, matter-of-fact way, on the second
morning after her arrival. "There is going to be a
delay here while we shape things up for the winter, and
it is my custom to keep my people in the very best condition
to work right up to the standard. So you are all
going to have a two-weeks vacation, Jean-of-the-Lazy-
A. At full salary, of course; and to put you yourself
into the true holiday spirit, I'm going to raise your
salary to a hundred and seventy-five a week. I consider
you worth it," he added, with a quieting gesture
of uplifted hand, "or you may be sure I wouldn't pay
"Get some nice old lady to chaperone you, and go and
play. The ocean is good; get somewhere on the beach.
Or go to Catalina and play there. Or stay here, and go
to the movies. Go and see `Jean, of the Lazy A,' and
watch how the audience lives with her on the screen.
Go up and talk to the wife. She told me to bring you
up for dinner. You go climb into my machine, and
tell Bob to take you to the house now. Run along, Jean
of the Lazy A! This is an order from your chief."
Jean wanted to cry. She held the roses, that she
almost hated for their very beauty and fragrance, close
pressed in her arms, while she went away toward the
machine. Dewitt looked after her, thought she meant to
obey him, and turned to greet a great man of the town
who had been waiting for five minutes to speak to him.
Jean did not climb into the purple car and tell Bob
to drive her to "the house." She walked past it
without even noticing that it stood there, an aristocrat
among the other machines parked behind the great
studio that looked like a long, low warehouse. She
knew the straightest, shortest trail to the corrals, you
may be sure of that. She took that trail.
Pard was standing in a far corner under a shed,
switching his tail methodically at the October crop of
flies. His head lay over the neck of a scrawny little
buckskin, for which he had formed a sudden and violent
attachment, and his eyes were half closed while he
drowsed in lazy content. Pard was not worrying about
anything. He looked so luxuriously happy that Jean
had not the heart to disturb him, even with her comfortseeking
caresses. She leaned her elbows on the
corral gate and watched him awhile. She asked a bashful,
gum-chewing youth if he could tell her where to
find Lite Avery. But the youth seemed never to have
heard of Lite Avery, and Jean was too miserable to
explain and describe Lite, and insist upon seeing him.
She walked over to the nearest car-line and caught the
next street car for the city. Part of her chief's orders
at least she would obey. She would go down to the
Victoria and see "Jean, of the Lazy A," but she was
not going because of any impulse of vanity, or to soothe
her soul with the applause of strangers. She wanted
to see the ranch again. She wanted to see the dear,
familiar line of the old bluff that framed the coulee, and
ride again with Lite through those wild places they had
chosen for the pictures. She wanted to lose herself for
a little while among the hills that were home.
A huge pipe organ was filling the theater with a
vast undertone that was like the whispering surge
of a great wind. Jean went into the soft twilight and
sat down, feeling that she had shut herself away from
the harsh, horrible world that held so much of suffering.
She sighed and leaned her head back against the curtained
enclosure of the loges, and closed her eyes and
listened to the big, sweeping harmonies that were yet so
Down next the river, in a sheltered little coulee, there
was a group of great bull pines. Sometimes she had
gone there and leaned against a tree trunk, and had shut
her eyes and listened to the vast symphony which the
wind and the water played together. She forgot that
she had come to see a picture which she had helped to
create. She held her eyes shut and listened; and that
horror of high walls and iron bars that had haunted her
for days, and the aged, broken man who was her father,
dimmed and faded and was temporarily erased; the
lightness of her lips eased a little; the tenseness relaxed
from her face, as it does from one who sleeps.
But the music changed, and her mood changed with
it. She did not know that this was because the story
pictured upon the screen had changed, but she sat up
straight and opened her eyes, and felt almost as though
she had just awakened from a vivid dream.
A Mexican series of educational pictures were
being shown. Jean looked, and leaned forward with a
little gasp. But even as she fixed her eyes and startled
attention upon it, that scene was gone, and she was
reading mechanically of refugees fleeing to the border
She must have been asleep, she told herself, and had
gotten things mixed up in her dreams. She shook herself
mentally and remembered that she ought to take
off her hat; and she tried to fix her mind upon the
pictures. Perhaps she had been mistaken; perhaps she
had not seen what she believed she had seen. But--
what if it were true? What if she had really seen and
not imagined it? It couldn't be true, she kept telling
herself; of course, it couldn't be true! Still, her mind
clung to that instant when she had first opened her eyes,
and very little of what she saw afterwards reached her
brain at all.
Then she had, for the first time in her life, the strange
experience of seeing herself as others saw her. The
screen announcement and expectant stir that greeted it
caught her attention, and pulled her back from the whirl
of conjecture into which she had been plunged. She
watched, and she saw herself ride up to the foreground
on Pard. She saw herself look straight out at the
audience with that peculiar little easing of the lips and
the lightening of the eyes which was just the infectious
beginning of a smile. Involuntarily she smiled back
at her pictured self, just as every one else was smiling
back. For that, you must know, was what had first
endeared her so to the public; the human quality that
compelled instinctive response from those who looked at
her. So Jean in the loge smiled at Jean on the screen.
Then Lite--dear, silent, long-legged Lite!--came
loping up, and pushed back his hat with the gesture that
she knew so well, and spoke to her and smiled; and a
lump filled the throat of Jean in the loge, though she
could not have told why. Then Jean on the screen
turned and went riding with Lite back down the trail,
with her hat tilted over one eye because of the sun, and
with one foot swinging free of the stirrup in that
absolute unconsciousness of pose that had first caught the
attention of Robert Grant Burns and his camera man.
Jean in the loge heard the ripple of applause among the
audience and responded to it with a perfectly human
Presently she was back at the Lazy A, living again the
scenes which she herself had created. This was the
fourth or fifth picture,--she did not at the moment
remember just which. At any rate, it had in it that
incident when she had first met the picture-people in the
hills and mistaken Gil Huntley and the other boys for
real rustlers stealing her uncle's cattle. You will
remember that Robert Grant Burns had told Pete to
take all of that encounter, and he had later told Jean to
write her scenario so as to include that incident.
Jean blushed when she saw herself ride up to those
three and "throw down on them" with her gun. She
had been terribly chagrined over that performance!
But now it looked awfully real, she told herself with a
little glow of pride. Poor old Gil! They hadn't
caught her roping him, anyway, and she was glad of
that. He would have looked absurd, and those people
would have laughed at him. She watched how she had
driven the cattle back up the coulee, with little rushes
up the bank to head off an unruly cow that had ideas of
her own about the direction in which she would travel.
She loved Pard, for the way he tossed his head and
whirled the cricket in his bit with his tongue, and
obeyed the slightest touch on the rein. The audience
applauded that cattle drive; and Jean was almost
betrayed into applauding it herself.
Later there was a scene where she had helped Lite
Avery and Lee Milligan round up a bunch of cattle and
cut out three or four, which were to be sold to a butcher
for money to take her mother to the doctor. Lite rode
close to the camera and looked straight at her, and Jean
bit her lips sharply as tears stung her lashes for some
inexplicable reason. Dear old Lite! Every line in his
face she knew, every varying, vagrant expression, every
little twitch of his lips and eyelids that meant so much
to those who knew him well enough to read his face.
Jean's eyes softened, cleared, and while she looked, her
lips parted a little, and she did not know that she was
She was thinking of the day, not long ago, when she
had seen a bird fly into the loft over the store-house,
and she had climbed in a spirit of idle curiosity to see
what the bird wanted there. She had found Lite's bed
neatly smoothed for the day, the pillow placed so that,
lying there, he could look out through the opening and
see the house and the path that led to it. There was
the faint aroma of tobacco about the place. Jean had
known at once just why that bed was there, and almost
she knew how long it had been there. She had never
once hinted that she knew; and Lite would never tell
her, by look or word, that he was watching her welfare.
Here came Gil, dashing up to the brow of the hill,
dismounting and creeping behind a rock, that he might
watch them working with the cattle in the valley below.
Jean met his pictured approach with a little smile of
welcome. That was the scene where she told him he got
off the horse like a sack of oats, and had shown him how
to swing down lightly and with a perfect balance,
instead of coming to the earth with a thud of his feet.
Gil had taken it all in good faith; the camera proved now
how well he had followed her instructions. And
afterwards, while the assistant camera-man (with whom Jean
never had felt acquainted) shouldered the camera and
tripod, and they all tramped down the hill to another
location, there had been a little scene in the shade
of that rock, between Jean and the star villain. She
blushed a little and wondered if Gil remembered that
tentative love-making scene which Burns had unconsciously
cut short with a bellowing order to rehearse the
next scene.
It was wonderful, it was fascinating to sit there and
see those days of hard, absorbing work relived in the
story she had created. Jean lost herself in watching
how Jean of the Lazy A came and went and lived her
life bravely in the midst of so much that was hard.
Jean in the loge remembered how Burns had yelled,
"Smile when you come up; look light-hearted! And
then let your face change gradually, while you listen to
your mother crying in there. There'll be a cut-back to
show her down on her knees crying before Bob's chair.
Let that tired, worried look come into your face,--the
load's dropping on to your shoulders again,--that kind
of dope. Get me?" Jean in the loge remembered
how she had been told to do this deliberately, just out of
her imagination. And then she saw how Jean on the
screen came whistling up to the house, swinging her
quirt by its loop and with a spring in her walk, and
making you feel that it was a beautiful day and that
all the meadow larks were singing, and that she had
just had a gallop on Pard that made her forget that
she ever looked trouble in the face.
Then Jean in the loge looked and saw screen--Jean's
mother kneeling before Bob's chair and sobbing so
that her shoulders shook. She looked and saw screen
Jean stop whistling and swinging her quirt; saw her
stand still in the path and listen; saw the smile fade out
of her eyes. Jean in the loge thought suddenly of that
moment when she had looked at dad coming in where
she waited, and swallowed a lump in her throat. A
woman near her gave a little stifled sob of sympathy
when screen-Jean turned and went softly around the
corner of the house with all the light gone from her face
and all the spring gone out of her walk.
Jean in the loge gave a sigh of relaxed tension and
looked around her. The seats were nearly all full, and
every one was gazing fixedly forward, lost in the pictured
story of Jean on the screen. So that was what all
those made-to-order smiles and frowns meant! Jean
had done them at Burns' command, because she had seen
that the others simulated different emotions whenever
he told them to. She knew, furthermore, that she had
done them remarkably well; so well that people
responded to every emotion she presented to them. She
was surprised at the vividness of every one of those cutand-
dried scenes. They imposed upon her, even, after
all the work and fussing she had gone through to get
them to Burns' liking. And there, in the cool gloom of
the Victoria, Jean for the first time realized to the full
the true ability of Robert Grant Burns. For the first
time she really appreciated him and respected him, and
was grateful to him for what he had taught her to do.
Her mood changed abruptly when the Jean picture
ended. The music changed to the strain that had filled
the great place when she entered, nearly an hour
before. Jean sat up straight again and waited, alert,
impatient, anxious to miss no smallest part of that picture
which had startled her so when she had first looked at
the screen. If the thing was true which she half
believed--if it were true! So she stared with narrowed
lids, intent, watchful, her whole mind concentrated upon
what she should presently see.
"Warring Mexico!" That was the name of it; a
Lubin special release, of the kind technically called
"educational." Jean held her breath, waiting for the
scene that might mean so much to her. There: this
must be it, she thought with a flush of inner excitement.
This surely must be the one:
Jean had it stamped indelibly upon her brain. She
waited, with a quick intake of breath when the picture
stood out with a sudden clarity before her eyes.
A "close-up" group of officers and men,--and some
of the men Americans in face, dress, and manner. But
it was one man, and one only, at whom she looked. Tall
he was, and square-shouldered and lean; with his hat
set far back on his head and a half smile curling his lips,
and his eyes looking straight into the camera. Standing
there with his weight all on one foot, in that attitude
which cowboys call "hipshot." Art Osgood! She was
sure of it! Her hands clenched in her lap. Art
Osgood, at Nogales, Mexico. Serving on the staff of
General Kosterlisky. Was the man mad, to stand there
publicly before the merciless, revealing eye of a
motion-picture camera? Or did his vanity blind him to
the risk he was taking?
The man at whom she sat glaring glanced sidewise at
some person unseen; and Jean knew that glance, that
turn of the head. He smiled anew and lifted his
American-made Stetson a few inches above his head and
held it so in salute. Just so had he lifted and held his
hat high one day, when she had turned and ridden away
from him down the trail. Jean caught herself just as
her lips opened to call out to him in recognition and
sharp reproach. He turned and walked away to where
the troopers were massed in the background. It was
thus that she had first glimpsed him for one instant
before the scene ended; it was just as he turned his face
away that she had opened her eyes, and thought it was
Art Osgood who was walking away from the camera.
She waited a minute, staring abstractedly at the
refugees who were presented next. She wished that she
knew when the picture had been taken,--how long ago.
Her experience with motion-picture making, her listening
to the shop-talk of the company, had taught her
much; she knew that sometimes weeks elapse between
the camera's work and the actual projection of a picture
upon the theater screens. Still, this was, in a sense, a
news release, and therefore in all probability hurried
to the public. Art Osgood might still be at Nogales,
Mexico, wherever that was. He might; and Jean made
up her mind and laid her plans while she sat there pinning
on her hat.
She got up quietly and slipped out. She was going
to Nogales, Mexico, wherever that was. She was going
to get Art Osgood, and she didn't care whether she had
to fight her way clear through "Warring Mexico."
She would find him and get him and bring him back.
In the lobby, while she paused with a truly feminine
instinct to tip her hat this way and that before the
mirror, and give her hair a tentative pat or two at the
back, the grinning face of Lite Avery in his gray Stetson
appeared like an apparition before her eyes. She
turned quickly.
"Why, Lite!" she said, a little startled.
"Why, Jean!" he mimicked, in the bantering voice
that was like home to her. "Don't rush off; haven't
seen you to-day. Wait till I get you a ticket, and then
you come back and help me admire ourselves. I came
down on a long lope when somebody said you caught a
street car headed this way. Thought maybe I'd run
across you here. Knew you couldn't stay away much
longer from seeing how you look. Ain't too proud to
sit alongside a rough-neck puncher, are you?"
Jean looked at him understandingly. Lite's exuberance
was unusual; but she knew, as well as though he
had told her, that he had been lonesome in this strange
city, and that he was overjoyed at the sight of her, who
was his friend. She unpinned her hat which she had
been at some pains to adjust at the exact angle decreed
by fashion.
"Yes, I'll go back with you," she drawled. "I want
to see how you like the sight of yourself just as you are.
It--it's good for one, after the first shock wears off."
She would not say a word about that Mexican picture,
she thought; but she wanted to see if Lite also would
recognize Art Osgood, and feel as sure of his identity as
she had felt. That would make her doubly sure of her
self. She could do what she meant to do without any
misgivings whatsoever. She could afford to wait a little
while and have the pleasure of Lite's presence beside
her. Lite was homesick and lonesome;--she felt it in
every tone and in every look;--almost as homesick
and lonesome as she was herself. She would not hurt
him by going off and leaving him alone, even if she had
not wanted to be with him and to watch the effect that
Mexican picture would have upon him. Lite believed
Art Osgood was in the Klondyke. She would wait and
see what he believed after he had seen that Nogales picture
She waited. She had missed Lite in the last day or
so; she had seemed almost as far away from him as
from the Lazy A. But all the while she talked to him
in whispers when he had wanted to discuss the Jean
picture, she was waiting, just waiting, for that Nogales
When it came at last, Jean turned her head and
watched Lite. And Lite gave a real start and said
something under his breath, and plucked at her sleeve
afterwards to attract her attention.
"Look--quick! That fellow standing there with
his arms folded. Skin me alive if it isn't Art Osgood!"
"Are you sure?" Jean studied him.
"Sure? Where're your eyes? Look at him! It
sure ain't anybody else, Jean. Now, what do you
reckon he's doing down in Mexico?"
After all, Jean did not have to fight her way clear
through "Warring Mexico" and back again, in
order to reach Nogales. She let Lite take her to the
snug little apartment which she was to share with Muriel
and her mother, and she fancied that she had been very
crafty and very natural in her manner all the while he
was with her, and that Lite did not dream of what she
had in her mind to do. At any rate, she watched him
stalk away on his high-heeled riding-boots, and she
thought that his mind was perfectly at ease. (Jean, I
fear, never will understand Lite half as well as Lite
has always understood Jean.)
She caught the next down-town car and went straight
to the information bureau of the Southern Pacific,
established for the convenience of the public and the sanity of
employees who have something to do besides answer foolish
She found a young man there who was not averse to
talking at length with a young woman who was dressed
trimly in a street suit of the latest fashion, and who had
almost entrancing, soft drawl to her voice and a most
fascinating way of looking at one. This young man
appeared to know a great deal, and to be almost eager
to pass along his wisdom. He knew all about Nogales,
Mexico, for instance, and just what train would next
depart in that general direction, and how much it would
cost, and how long she would have to wait in Tucson for
the once-a-day train to Nogales, and when she might
logically expect to arrive in that squatty little town that
might be said to be really and truly divided against
itself. Here the nice young man became facetious.
"Bible tells us a city divided against itself cannot
stand," he informed Jean quite gratuitously. "Well,
maybe that's straight goods, too. But Nogales is cut
right through at the waist line with the international
boundary line. United States customhouse on one
corner of the street, Mexican customhouse in talking
distance on the other corner. Great place for holdups,
that!" This was a joke, and Jean smiled obligingly.
"First the United States holds you up, and then the
Mexicans. You get it coming and going. Well,
Nogales don't have to stand. It squats. It's adobe
Jean was interested, and she did not discourage the
nice young man. She let him say all he could think of
on the subject of Nogales and the Federal troops
stationed there, and on warring Mexico generally. When
she left him, she felt as if she knew a great deal about
the end of her journey. So she smiled and thanked the
nice young man in that soft drawl that lingered pleasantly
in his memory, and went over to another window
and bought a ticket to Nogales. She moved farther
along to another window and secured a Pullman ticket
which gave her lower five in car four for her comfort.
With an impulse of wanting to let her Uncle Carl
know that she was not forgetting her mission, she sent
him this laconic telegram:
Have located Art. Will bring him back with me.
After that, she went home and packed a suit-case and
her six-shooter and belt. She did not, after all, know
just what might happen in Nogales, Mexico, but she
meant to bring back Art Osgood if he were to be found
alive; hence the six-shooter.
That evening she told Muriel that she was going to
run away and have her vacation--her "vacation"
hunting down and capturing a murderer who had taken
refuge in the Mexican army!--and that she would
write when she knew just where she would stop. Then
she went away alone in a taxi to the depot, and started
on her journey with a six-shooter jostling a box of
chocolates in her suit-case, and with her heart almost
light again, now that she was at last following a clue that
promised something at the other end.
It was all just as the nice young man had told her.
Jean arrived in Tucson, and she left on time, on the
once-a-day train to Nogales.
Lite also arrived in Tucson on time, though Jean did
not see him, since he descended from the chair car with
some caution just as she went into the depot. He did
not depart on time as it happened; he was thirsty, and
he went off to find something wetter than water to drink,
and while he was gone the once-a-day train also went
off through the desert. Lite saw the last pair of wheels
it owned go clipping over the switch, and he stood in the
middle of the track and swore. Then he went to the
telegraph office and found out that a freight left for
Nogales in ten minutes. He hunted up the conductor
and did things to his bank roll, and afterwards climbed
into the caboose on the sidetrack. Lite has been so
careful to keep in the background, through all these
chapters, that it seems a shame to tell on him now. But
I am going to say that, little as Jean suspected it, he
had been quite as interested in finding Art Osgood as
had she herself. When he saw her pass through the
gate to the train, in Los Angeles, that was his first
intimation that she was going to Nogales; so he had stayed
in the chair car out of sight. But it just shows how
great minds run in the same channel; and how, without
suspecting one another, these two started at the same
time upon the same quest.
Jean stared out over the barrenness that was not like
the barrenness of Montana, and tried not to think that
perhaps Art Osgood had by this time drifted on into
obscurity. Still, if he had drifted on, surely she could
trace him, since he had been serving on the staff of a
general and should therefore be pretty well known.
What she really hated most to think of was the possibility
that he might have been killed. They did get killed,
sometimes, down there where there was so much fighting
going on all the time.
When the shadows of the giant cactus stretched
mutilated hands across the desert sand, and she believed
that Nogales was near, Jean carried her suit-case to the
cramped dressing-room and took out her six-shooter and
buckled it around her. Then she pulled her coat down
over it with a good deal of twisting and turning before
the dirty mirror to see that it looked all right, and
not in the least as though a perfect lady was packing a
She went back and dipped fastidious fingers into the
box of chocolates, and settled herself to nibble candy and
wait for what might come. She felt very calm and selfpossessed
and sure of herself. Her only fear was that
Art Osgood might have been killed, and his lips closed
for all time. So they rattled away through the barrenness
and drew near to Nogales.
Casa del Sonora, whither she went, was an old, twostory
structure of the truly Spanish type, and it was
kept by a huge, blubbery creature with piggish eyes and
a bloated, purple countenance and the palsy. As much
of him as appeared to be human appeared to be Irish;
and Jean, after the first qualm of repulsion, when she
faced him over the hotel register, detected a certain
kindly solicitude in his manner, and was reassured.
So far, everything had run smoothly, like a wellstaged
play. Absurdly simple, utterly devoid of any
element of danger, any vexatious obstacle to the
immediate achievement of her purpose! But Jean was not
thrown off her guard because of the smoothness of the
The trip from Tucson had been terribly tiresome; she
was weary in every fibre, it seemed to her. But for all
that she intended, sometime that evening, to meet Art
Osgood if he were in town. She intended to take him
with her on the train that left the next morning. She
thought it would be a good idea to rest now, and to
proceed deliberately, lest she frustrate all her plans by
Perhaps she slept a little while she lay upon the bed
and schooled herself to calmness. A band, somewhere,
playing a pulsing Spanish air, brought her to her feet.
She went to the window and looked out, and saw that
the street lay cool and sunless with the coming of dusk.
From the American customhouse just on the opposite
corner came Lite Avery, stalking leisurely along in his
high-heeled riding-boots. Jean drew back with a little
flutter of the pulse and watched him, wondering how he
came to be in Nogales. She had last seen him boarding
a car that would take him out to the Great Western
Studio; and now, here he was, sauntering across the
street as if he lived here. It was like finding his bed
up in the loft and knowing all at once that he had been
keeping watch all the while, thinking of her welfare and
never giving her the least hint of it. That at least was
understandable. But to her there was something
uncanny about his being here in Nogales. When he was
gone, she stepped out through the open window to the
veranda that ran the whole length of the hotel, and
looked across the street into Mexico.
She was, she decided critically, about fifteen feet
from the boundary line. Just across the street fluttered
the Mexican flag from the Mexican customhouse. A
Mexican guard lounged against the wall, his swarthy
face mask-like in its calm. While she leaned over the
railing and stared curiously at that part of the street
which was another country, from the hills away to the
west, where were camped soldiers,--the American
soldiers,--who prevented the war from slopping over the
line now and then into Arizona, came the clear
notes of a bugle held close-pressed against the lips of a
United States soldier in snug-fitting khaki. The boom
of the sundown salute followed immediately after. In
the street below her, Mexicans and Americans mingled
amiably and sauntered here and there, killing time during
that bored interval between eating and the evening's
Just beyond the Mexican boundary, the door of a
long, adobe cantina was flung open, and a group of men
came out and paused as if they were wondering what
they should do next, and where they should go. Jean
looked them over curiously. Mexicans they were not,
though they had some of the dress which belonged on
that side of the boundary.
Americans they were; one knew by the set of their
shoulders, by the little traits of race which have nothing
to do with complexion or speech.
Jean caught her breath and leaned forward. There
was Art Osgood, standing with his back toward her and
with one palm spread upon his hip in the attitude she
knew so well. If only he would turn! Should she run
down the stairs and go over there and march him across
the line at the muzzle of her revolver? The idea
repelled her, now that she had actually come to the point
of action.
Jean, now that the crisis had arrived, used her
woman's wile, rather than the harsher but perhaps less
effective weapons of a man.
"Oh, Art!" she called, just exactly as she would have
called to him on the range, in Montana "Hello,
Art Osgood wheeled and sent a startled, seeking
glance up at the veranda; saw her and knew who it was
that had called him, and lifted his hat in the gesture
that she knew so well. Jean's fingers were close to her
gun, though she was not conscious of it, or of the
strained, tense muscles that waited the next move.
Art, contrary to her expectations, did the most natural
thing in the world. He grinned and came hurrying toward
her with the long, eager steps of one who goes to
greet a friend after an absence that makes of that meeting
an event. Jean watched him cross the street. She
waited, dazed by the instant success of her ruse, while
he disappeared under the veranda. She heard his feet
upon the stairs. She heard him come striding down the
hall to the glass-paneled door. She saw him coming
toward her, still grinning in his joy at the meeting.
"Jean Douglas! By all that's lucky!" he was
exclaiming. "Where in the world did you light down
from?" He came to a stop directly in front of her,
and held out his hand in unsuspecting friendship.
"Well, say! This is like seeing you walk out
of that picture that's running at the Teatro
Palacia. You sure are making a hit with those movingpictures;
made me feel like I'd met somebody from
home to stroll in there and see you and Lite come
riding up, large as life. How is Lite, anyway?"
If Art Osgood felt any embarrassment over meeting
her, he certainly gave no sign of it. He sat down on
the railing, pushed back his hat, and looked as though
he was preparing for a real soul-feast of reminiscent
gossip. "Just get in?" he asked, by way of opening
wider the channel of talk. He lighted a cigarette and
flipped the match down into the street. "I've been here
three or four months. I'm part of the Mexican revolution,
though I don't reckon I look it. We been keeping
things pretty well stirred up, down this way. You
looking for picture dope? Lubin folks are copping all
kinds of good stuff here. You ain't with them, are
Jean braced herself against slipping into easy conversation
with this man who seemed so friendly and
unsuspicious and so conscience-free. Killing a man, she
thought, evidently did not seem to him a matter of any
moment; perhaps because he had since then become a
professional killer of men. After planning exactly how
she should meet any contingency that might arise, she
found herself baffled. She had not expected to meet
this attitude. She was not prepared to meet it. She
had taken it for granted that Art Osgood would shun
a meeting; that she would have to force him to face her.
And here he was, sitting on the porch rail and swinging
one spurred and booted foot, smiling at her and talking,
in high spirits over the meeting--or a genius at
acting. She eyed him uncertainly, trying to adjust
herself to this emergency.
Art came to a pause and looked at her inquiringly.
"What's the matter?" he demanded. "You called me
up here--and I sure was tickled to death to come, all
right!--and now you stand there looking like I was a
kid that had been caught whispering, and must be kept
after school. I know the symptoms, believe me!
You're sore about something I've said. What, don't
you like to have anybody talk about you being a moviequeen?
You sure are all of that. You've got a license
to be proud of yourself. Or maybe you didn't know
you was speaking to a Mexican soldier, or something like
that." He made a move to rise. "Ex-cuse ME, if I've
said something I hadn't ought. I'll beat it, while the
beating's good."
"No, you won't. You'll stay right where you are."
His frank acceptance of her hostile attitude steadied
Jean. "Do you think I came all the way down here
just to say hello?"
"Search me." Art studied her curiously. "I
never could keep track of what you thought and what
you meant, and I guess you haven't grown any easier to
read since I saw you last. I'll be darned if I know
what you came for; but it's a cinch you didn't come
just to be riding on the cars."
"No," drawled Jean, watching him. "I didn't. I
came after you."
Art Osgood stared, while his cheeks darkened with
the flush of confusion. He laughed a little. "I sure
wish that was the truth," he said. "Jean, you never
would have to go very far after any man with two eyes
in his head. Don't rub it in."
"I did," said Jean calmly. "I came after you. I'd
have found you if I had to hunt all through Mexico and
fight both armies for you."
"Jean!" There was a queer, pleading note in Art's
voice. "I wish I could believe that, but I can't. I
ain't a fool."
"Yes, you are." Jean contradicted him pitilessly.
"You were a fool when you thought you could go away
and no one think you knew anything at all about--
Johnny Croft."
Art's fingers had been picking at a loose splinter on
the wooden rail whereon he sat. He looked down at it,
jerked it loose with a sharp twist, and began snapping
off little bits with his thumb and forefinger. In a minute
he looked up at Jean, and his eyes were different.
They were not hostile; they were merely cold and watchful
and questioning
"Well, somebody did think so. I've thought so for
three years, and so I'm here." Jean found that her
breath was coming fast, and that as she leaned back
against a post and gripped the rail on either side, her
arms were quivering like the legs of a frightened horse.
Still, her voice had sounded calm enough.
Art Osgood sat with his shoulders drooped forward a
little, and painstakingly snipped off tiny bits of the
splinter. After a short silence, he turned his head
and looked at her again.
"I shouldn't think you'd want to stir up that trouble
after all this while," he said. "But women are queer.
I can't see, myself, why you'd want to bother hunting
me up on account of--that."
Jean weighed his words, his look, his manner, and
got no clue at all to what was going on back of his eyes.
On the surface, he was just a tanned, fairly good-looking
young man who has been reluctantly drawn into an
unpleasant subject.
"Well, I did consider it worth while bothering to
hunt you up," she told him flatly. "If you don't think
it's important, you at least won't object to going back
with me?"
Again his glance went to her face, plainly startled.
"Go back with you?" he repeated. "What for?"
"Well--" Jean still had some trouble with her
breath and to keep her quiet, smooth drawl, "let's make
it a woman's reason. Because."
Art's face settled to a certain hardness that still was
not hostile. "Becauses don't go," he said. "Not with
a girl like you; they might with some. What do you
want me to go back for?"
"Well, I want you to go because I want to clear
things up, about Johnny Croft. It's time--it was
cleared up."
Art regarded her fixedly. "Well, I don't see yet
what's back of that first BECAUSE," he sparred.
"There's nothing I can do to clear up anything."
"Art, don't lie to me about it. I know--"
"What do you know?" Art's eyes never left her
face, now. They seemed to be boring into her brain.
Jean began to feel a certain confusion. To be sure,
she had never had any experience whatever with fugitive
murderers; but no one would ever expect one to act
like this. A little more, she thought resentfully, and
he would be making her feel as if she were the guilty
person. She straightened herself and stared back at
"I know you left because you--you didn't want to
stay and face-things. I--I have felt as if I could
kill you, almost, for what you have done. I--I don't
see how you can SIT there and--and look at me that
way." She stopped and braced herself. "I don't want
to argue about it. I came here to make you go back
and face things. It's--horrible--" She was thinking
of her father then, and she could not go on.
"Jean, you're all wrong. I don't know what idea
you've got, but you may as well get one or two things
straight. Maybe you do feel like killing me; but I
don't know what for. I haven't the slightest notion of
going back; there's nothing I could clear up, if I did
Jean looked at him dumbly. She supposed she
should have to force him to go, after all. Of course,
you couldn't expect that a man who had committed a
crime will admit it to the first questioner; you couldn't
expect him to go back willingly and face the penalty.
She would have to use her gun; perhaps even call on
Lite, since Lite had followed her. She might have felt
easier in her mind had she seen how Lite was standing
just within the glass-paneled door behind the dimity
curtain, listening to every word, and watching every
expression on Art Osgood's face. Lite's hand, also, was
close to his gun, to be perfectly sure of Jean's safety.
But he had no intention of spoiling her feeling of
independence if he could help it. He had lots of faith in
"What has cropped up, anyway?" Art asked her
curiously, as if he had been puzzling over her reasons for
being there. "I thought that affair was settled long
ago, when it happened. I thought it was all straight
"To send an innocent man to prison for it? Do
you call that straight sailing?" Jean's eyes had in
them now a flash of anger that steadied her.
"What innocent man?" Art threw away the stub
of the splinter and sat up straight. "I never knew any
innocent man--"
"Oh! You didn't know?"
"All I know," said Art, with a certain swiftness of
speech that was a new element in his manner, "I'm
dead willing to tell you. I knew Johnny had been
around knocking the outfit, and making some threats,
and saying things he had no business to say. I never
did have any use for him, just because he was so
mouthy. I wasn't surprised to hear--how it ended
"To hear! You weren't there, when it
happened?" Jean was watching him for some betraying
emotion, some sign that she had struck home. She got
a quick, sharp glance from him, as if he were trying to
guess just how much she knew.
"Why should I have been there? The last time I
was ever at the Lazy A," he stated distinctly, "was the
day before I left. I didn't go any farther than the gate
then. I had a letter for your father, and I met him at
the gate and gave it to him."
"A letter for dad?" It was not much, but it was
better than nothing. Jean thought she might lead him
on to something more.
"Yes! A note, or a letter. Carl sent me over with
"Carl? What was it about? I never heard--"
"I never read it. Ask your dad what it was about,
why don't you? I don't reckon it was anything particular."
"Maybe it was, though." Jean was turning crafty.
She would pretend to be interested in the letter, and trip
Art somehow when he was off his guard. "Are you
sure that it was the day before--you left?"
"Yes." Some high talk in the street caught his
attention, and Art turned and looked down. Jean caught
at the chance to study his averted face, but she could not
read innocence or guilt there. Art, she decided, was
not as transparent as she had always believed him to be.
He turned back and met her look. "I know it was the
day before. Why?"
"Oh, I wondered. Dad didn't say-- What did he
do with it--the letter?"
"He opened it and read it." A smile of amused
understanding of her finesse curled Art's lips. "And
he stuck it in the pocket of his chaps and went on to
wherever he was going." His eyes challenged her impishly.
"And it was from Uncle Carl, you say?"
Art hesitated, and the smile left his lips. "It--it
was from Carl, yes. Why?"
"Oh, I just wondered." Jean was wondering why
he had stopped smiling, all at once, and why he hesitated.
Was he afraid he was going to contradict himself
about the day or the errand? Or was he afraid she
would ask her Uncle Carl, and find that there was no
"Why don't you ask your dad, if you are so
anxious to know all about it?" Art demanded abruptly.
"Anyway, that's the last time I was ever over
"Ask dad!" Jean's anger flamed out suddenly.
"Art Osgood, when I think of dad, I wonder why I
don't shoot you! I wonder how you dare sit there and
look me in the face. Ask dad! Dad, who is paying
with his life and all that's worth while in life, for that
murder that you deny--"
"What's that? Paying how?" Art leaned toward
her; and now his face was hard and hostile, and so
were his eyes.
"Paying! You know how he is paying! Paying
in Deer Lodge penitentiary--"
"Who? YOUR FATHER?" Had Art been ready to
spring at her and catch her by the throat, he would not
have looked much different.
"My father!" Jean's voice broke upon the word.
"And you--" She did not attempt to finish the
Art sat looking at her with a queer intensity. "Your
father!" he repeated. "Aleck! I never knew that,
Jean. Take my word, I never knew that!" He
seemed to be thinking pretty fast. "Where's Carl at?"
he asked irrelevantly.
"Uncle Carl? He's home, running both ranches. I
--I never could make Uncle Carl see that you must
have been the one."
"Been the one that shot Crofty, you mean?" Art
gave a short laugh. He got up and stood in front of
her. "Thanks, awfully. Good reason why he
couldn't see it! He knows well enough I didn't do it.
He knows--who did." He bit his lips then, as if he
feared that he had said too much.
"Uncle Carl knows? Then why doesn't he tell? It
wasn't dad!" Jean took a defiant step toward him.
"Art Osgood, if you dare say it was dad, I--I'll kill
Art smiled at her with a brief lightening of his eyes.
"I believe you would, at that," he said soberly. "But
it wasn't your dad, Jean."
"Who was it?"
"You do! You do know, Art Osgood! And you
ran off; and they gave dad eight years--"
Art spoke one word under his breath, and that word
was profane. "I don't see how that could be," he said
after a minute.
Jean did not answer. She was biting her lips to keep
back the tears. She felt that somehow she had failed;
that Art Osgood was slipping through her fingers, in
spite of the fact that he did not seem to fear her or to
oppose her except in the final accusation. It was the
lack of opposition, that lack of fear, that baffled her so.
Art, she felt dimly, must be very sure of his own position;
was it because he was so close to the Mexican line?
Jean glanced desperately that way. It was very close.
She could see the features of the Mexican soldiers
lounging before the cantina over there; through the
lighted window of the customhouse she could see a darkfaced
officer bending over a littered desk. The guard
over there spoke to a friend, and she could hear the
words he said.
Jean thought swiftly. She must not let Art Osgood
go back across that street. She could cover him with
her gun--Art knew how well she could use it!--and
she would call for an American officer and have him
arrested. Or, Lite was somewhere below; she would
call for Lite, and he could go and get an officer and a
"How soon you going back?" Art asked abruptly,
as though he had been pondering a problem and had
reached the solution. "I'll have to get a leave of
absence, or go down on the books as a deserter; and I
wouldn't want that. I can get it, all right. I'll go
back with you and straighten this thing out, if it's the
way you say it is. I sure didn't know they'd pulled
your dad for it, Jean."
This, coming so close upon the heels of her own
decision, set Jean all at sea again. She looked at him
"I thought you said you didn't know, and you
wouldn't go back."
Art grinned sardonically. "I'll lie any time to help
a friend," he admitted frankly. "What I do draw the
line at is lying to help some cowardly cuss double-cross
a man. Your father got the double-cross; I don't stand
for anything like that. Not a-tall!" He heaved a sigh
of nervous relaxation, for the last half hour had been
keyed rather high for them both, and pulled his hat
down on his head.
"Say, Jean! Want to go across with me and meet
the general? You can make my talk a whole lot
stronger by telling what you came for. I'll get leave,
all right, then. And you'll know for sure that I'm
playing straight. You see that two-story 'dobe about
half-way down the block,--the one with the Mexican
flag over it?" He pointed. "There's where he is.
Want to go over?"
"Any objections to taking me along with you?"
This was Lite, coming nonchalantly toward them from
the doorway. Lite was still perfectly willing to let
Jean manage this affair in her own way, but that did
not mean that he would not continue to watch over her.
Lite was much like a man who lets a small boy believe
he is driving a skittish team all alone. Jean believed
that she was acting alone in this, as in everything else.
She had yet to learn that Lite had for three years been
always at hand, ready to take the lines if the team
proved too fractious for her.
Art turned and put out his hand. "Why, hello,
Lite! Sure, you can come along; glad to have you."
He eyed Lite questioningly. "I'll gamble you've heard
all we've been talking about," he said. "That would
be you, all right! So you don't need any wising up.
Come on; I want to catch the chief before he goes off
To see the three of them go down the stairs and out
upon the street and across it into Mexico,--which to
Jean seemed very queer,--you would never dream of
the quest that had brought them together down here on
the border. Even Jean was smiling, in a tired, anxious
way. She walked close to Lite and never once asked
him how he came to be there, or why. She was glad
that he was there. She was glad to shift the whole
matter to his broad shoulders now, and let him take the
They had a real Mexican dinner in a queer little
adobe place where Art advised them quite seriously
never to come alone. They had thick soup with a
strange flavor, and Art talked with the waiter in Mexican
dialect that made Jean glad indeed to feel Lite's
elbow touching hers, and to know that although Lite's
hand rested idly on his knee, it was only one second
from his weapon. She had no definite suspicion of Art
Osgood, but all the same she was thankful that she was
not there alone with him among all these dark, sharpeyed
Mexicans with their atmosphere of latent treachery.
Lite ate mostly with his left hand. Jean noticed
that. It was the only sign of watchfulness that he
betrayed, unless one added the fact that he had chosen
a seat which brought his back against an adobe wall
and his face toward Art and the room, with Jean
beside him. That might have been pure chance,
and it might not. But Art was evidently playing
A little later they came back to the Casa del Sonora,
and Jean went up to her room feeling that a great burden
had been lifted from her shoulders. Lite and Art
Osgood were out on the veranda, gossiping of the
range, and in Art's pocket was a month's leave of
absence from his duties. Once she heard Lite laugh, and
she stood with one hand full of hairpins and the other
holding the brush and listened, and smiled a little. It
all sounded very companionable, very care-free,--not
in the least as though they were about to clear up an old
She got into bed and thumped the hard pillow into
a little nest for her tired head, and listened languidly
to the familiar voices that came to her mingled with
confused noises of the street. Lite was on guard; he
would not lose his caution just because Art seemed
friendly and helpfully inclined, and had meant no
treachery over in that queer restaurant. Lite would not
be easily tricked. So she presently fell asleep.
Sometime in the night Jean awoke to hear footsteps
in the corridor outside her room. She sat up
with a start, and her right hand went groping for her
gun. Just for the moment she thought that she was
in her room at the Lazy A, and that the night-prowler
had come and was beginning his stealthy search of the
Then she heard some one down in the street call out
a swift sentence in Spanish, and get a laugh for an
answer. She remembered that she was in Nogales,
within talking distance of Mexico, and that she had
found Art Osgood, and that he did not behave like a
fugitive murderer, but like a friend who was anxious
to help free her father.
The footsteps went on down the hall,--the footsteps
of Lite, who had come and stood for a minute outside
her door to make sure that all was quiet and that she
slept. But Jean, now that she knew where she was,
lay wide awake and thinking. Suddenly she sat up
again, staring straight before her.
That letter,--the letter Art had taken to her father,
the letter he had read and put in the pocket of his
chaps! Was that what the man had been hunting for,
those nights when he had come searching in that secret,
stealthy way? She did not remember ever having
looked into the pocket of her father's chaps, though they
had hung in her room all those three years since the
tragedy. Pockets in chaps were not, as a general thing,
much used. Men carried matches in them sometimes,
or money. The flap over her dad's chap-pocket was
buttoned down, and the leather was stiff; perhaps the letter
was there yet.
She got up and turned on the light, and looked at her
watch. She wanted to start then, that instant, for Los
Angeles. She wanted to take her dad's chaps out of
her trunk where she had packed them just for the comfort
of having them with her, and she wanted to look
and see if the letter was there still. There was no particular
reason for believing that this was of any particular
importance, or had any bearing whatever upon the
crime. But the idea was there, and it nagged at her.
Her watch said that it was twenty-five minutes after
two o'clock. The train, Lite had told her, would leave
for Tucson at seven-forty-five in the morning. She told
herself that, since it was too far to walk, and since she
could not start any sooner by staying up and freezing,
she might just as well get back into bed and try to
But she could not sleep. She kept thinking of the
letter, and trying to imagine what clue it could possibly
give if she found it still in the pocket. Carl had sent
it, Art said. A thought came to Jean which she tried
to ignore; and because she tried to ignore it, it returned
with a dogged insistence, and took clearer shape in her
mind, and formed itself into questions which she was
compelled at last to face and try to answer.
Was it her Uncle Carl who had come and searched
the house at night, trying to find that letter? If it were
her uncle, why was he so anxious to find it, after three
years had passed? What was in the letter? If it had
any bearing whatever upon the death of Johnny Croft,
why hadn't her dad mentioned it? Why hadn't her
Uncle Carl said something about it? Was the letter
just a note about some ranch business? Then why else
should any one come at night and prowl all through the
house, and never take anything? Why had he come
that first night?
Jean drew in her breath sharply. All at once, like
a flashlight turned upon a dark corner of her mind, she
remembered something about that night. She remembered
how she had told her Uncle Carl that she meant
to prove that her dad was innocent; that she meant to
investigate the devious process by which the Lazy A
ranch and all the stock had ceased to belong to her or
her father; that she meant to adopt sly, sleuth-like
methods; she remembered the very words which she
had used. She remembered how bitter her uncle had
become. Had she frightened him, somehow, with her
bold declaration that she would not "let sleeping dogs
lie" any longer? Had he remembered the letter, and
been uneasy because of what was in it? But what
COULD be in it, if it were written at least a day before
the terrible thing had happened?
She remembered her uncle's uncontrolled fury that
evening when she had ridden over to see Lite. What
had she said to cause it? She tried to recall her words,
and finally she did remember saying something about
proving that her own money had been paying for her
"keep" for three years. Then he had gone into that
rage, and she had not at the time seen any connection
between her words and his raving anger. But perhaps
there was a connection. Perhaps--
"Oh, my goodness!" she exclaimed aloud. She was
remembering the telegram which she had sent him just
before she left Los Angeles for Nogales. "He'll just
simply go WILD when he gets that wire!" She recalled
now how he had insisted all along that Art Osgood
knew absolutely nothing about the murder; she recalled
also, with an uncanny sort of vividness, Art's manner
when he had admitted for the second time that the letter
had been from Carl. She remembered how he had
changed when he found that her father was being punished
for the crime.
She did not know, just yet, how all these tangled
facts were going to work out. She had not yet come to
the final question that she would presently be asking
herself. She felt sure that her uncle knew more,--
a great deal more,--about Johnny Croft's death than
he had appeared to know; but she had not yet reached
the point to which her reasonings inevitably would
bring her; perhaps her mind was subconsciously delaying
the ultimate conclusion.
She got up and dressed; unfastening her window,
she stepped out on the veranda. The street was quiet
at that time in the morning. A sentry stood on guard
at the corner, and here and there a light flared in some
window where others were wakeful. But for the most
part the town lay asleep. Over in what was really the
Mexican quarter, three or four roosters were crowing
as if they would never leave off. The sound of them
depressed Jean, and made her feel how heavy was the
weight of her great undertaking,--heavier now, when
the end was almost in sight, than it had seemed on that
moonlight night when she had ridden over to the Lazy
A and had not the faintest idea of how she was going
to accomplish any part of her task which she had set
herself. She shivered, and turned back to get the gay
serape which she had bought from an old Mexican
woman when they were coming out of that queer
restaurant last evening.
When she came out again, Lite was standing there,
smoking a cigarette and leaning against a post.
"You'd better get some sleep, Jean," he reproved her
when she came and stood beside him. "You had a
pretty hard day yesterday; and to-day won't be any
easier. Better go back and lie down."
Jean merely pulled the serape snugger about her
shoulders and sat down sidewise upon the railing. "I
couldn't sleep," she said. "If I could, I wouldn't be
out here; I'd be asleep, wouldn't I? Why don't you
go to bed yourself?"
"Ah-h, Art's learned to talk Spanish," he said drily.
"I got myself all worked up trying to make out what
he was trying to say in his sleep, and then I found out
it wasn't my kinda talk, anyway. So I quit. What's
the matter that you can't sleep?"
Jean stared down at the shadowy street. A dog ran
out from somewhere, sniffed at a doorstep, and trotted
over into Mexico and up to the sentry. The sentry
patted it on the head and muttered a friendly word or
two. Jean watched him absently. It was all so peaceful!
Not at all what one would expect, after seeing
pictures of all those refugees and all those soldiers
fighting, and the dead lying in the street in some little
town whose name she could not pronounce correctly.
"Did you hear Art tell about taking a letter to dad
the day before?" she asked abruptly. "He wasn't
telling the truth, not all the time. But somehow I believe
that was the truth. He said dad stuck it in the
pocket of his chaps. I believe it's there yet, Lite. I
don't remember ever looking into that pocket. And I
believe--Lite, I never said anything about it, but somebody
kept coming to the house in the night and hunting
around through all the rooms. He never came into my
room, so I--I didn't bother him; but I've wondered
what he was after. It just occurred to me that
"I never could figure out what he was after, either,"
Lite observed quietly.
"You?" Jean turned her head, so that her eyes
shone in the light of a street lamp while she looked up
at him. "How in the world did you know about him?"
Lite laughed drily. "I don't think there's much
concerns you that I don't know," he confessed. "I saw
him, I guess, every time he came around. He couldn't
have made a crooked move,--and got away with it.
But I never could figure him out exactly."
Jean looked at him, touched by the care of her that
he had betrayed in those few words. Always she had
accepted him as the one friend who never failed her,
but lately,--since the advent of the motion-picture people,
to be exact,--a new note had crept into his friendship;
a new meaning into his watching over her. She
had sensed it, but she had never faced it openly. She
pulled her thoughts away from it now.
"Did you know who he was?"
It was like Jean to come straight to the point. Lite
smiled faintly; he knew that question would come, and
he knew that he would have to answer it.
"Sure. I made it my business to know who he was."
"Who was it, Lite?"
Lite did not say. He knew that question was coming
also, but he did not know whether he ought to answer it.
"It was Uncle Carl, wasn't it?"
Lite glanced down at her quickly. "You're a good
little guesser."
"Then it was that letter he was after." She was
silent for a minute, and then she looked at her watch.
"And I can't get at those chaps before to-morrow!"
She sighed and leaned back against the post.
"Lite, if it was worth all that hunting for, it must
mean something to us. I wonder what it can be; don't
you know?"
"No," said Lite slowly, "I don't. And it's something
a man don't want to do any guessing about."
This, Jean felt, was a gentle reproof for her own
speculations upon the subject. She said no more about
the letter.
"I sent him a telegram," she informed Lite irrelevantly,
"saying I'd located Art and was going to take
him back there. I wonder what he thought when he
got that!"
Lite turned half around and stared down at her. He
opened his lips to speak, hesitated, and closed them
without making a sound. He turned away and stared
down into the street that was so empty. After a little
he glanced at his own watch, with the same impulse Jean
had felt. The hours and minutes were beginning to
drag their feet as they passed.
"You go in," he ordered gently, "and lie down.
You'll be all worn out when the time comes for you to
get busy. We don't know what's ahead of us on this
trail, Jean. Right now, it's peaceful as Sunday morning
down in Maine; so you go in and get some sleep,
while you have a chance, and stop thinking about things.
Go on, Jean. I'll call you plenty early; you needn't
be afraid of missing the train."
Jean smiled a little at the tender, protective note of
authority in his voice and manner. Whether she permitted
it or not, Lite would go right on watching over
her and taking care of her. With a sudden desire to
please him, she rose obediently. When she passed him,
she reached out and gave his arm a little squeeze.
"You cantankerous old tyrant," she drawled in a
whisper, "you do love to haze me around, don't you?
Just to spite you, I'll do it!" She went in and left
him standing there, smoking and leaning against the
post, calm as the stars above. But under that surface
calm, the heart of Lite Avery was thumping violently.
His arm quivered still under the thrill of Jean's fingers.
Your bottled-up souls are quick to sense the meaning
in a tone or a touch; Jean, whether she herself knew it
or not, had betrayed an emotion that set Lite's thoughts
racing out into a golden future. He stood there a long
while, staring out upon the darkness, his eyes shining.
Though hours may drag themselves into the past
so sluggishly that one is fairly maddened by the
snail's pace of them, into the past they must go
eventually. Jean had sat and listened to the wheels of the
Golden State Limited clank over the cryptic phrase that
meant so much. "Letter-in-the-chaps! Letter-in-the
chaps!" was what they had said while the train
pounded across the desert and slid through arroyas and
deep cuts which leveled hills for its passing. "Letterin-
the-chaps! Letter-in-the-chaps!" And then a silence
while they stood by some desolate station where
the people were swarthy of skin and black of hair and
eyes, and moved languidly if they moved at all. Then
they would go on; and when the wheels had clicked over
the switches of the various side tracks, they would take
up again the refrain: "Letter-in-the-chaps! Letterin-
the-chaps!" until Jean thought she would go crazy
if they kept it up much longer.
Little by little they drew near to Los Angeles. And
then they were there, sliding slowly through the yards
in a drab drizzle of one of California's fall rains. Then
they were in a taxicab, making for the Third Street
tunnel. Then Jean stared heavy-eyed at the dripping
palms along the boulevard which led away from the
smoke of the city and into Hollywood, snuggled against
the misty hills. "Letter-in-the-chaps!" her tired brain
repeated it still.
Then she was in the apartment shared with Muriel
Gay and her mother. These two were over at the
studio, the landlady told her when she let them in, and
Jean was glad that they were gone.
She knelt, still in her hat and coat and with her
gloves on, and fitted her trunk key into the lock. And
there she stopped. What if the letter were not in
the chaps, after all? What if it were but a trivial note,
concerning a matter long since forgotten; a trivial note
that had not the remotest bearing upon the murder?
"Letter-in-the-chaps!" The phrase returned with a
mocking note and beat insistently through her brain.
She sat back on the floor and shivered with the chill of a
fireless room in California, when a fall rain is at its
drizzling worst.
In the next room one of the men coughed; afterwards
she heard Lite's voice, saying something in an
undertone to Art Osgood. She heard Art's voice mutter
a reply. She raised herself again to her knees,
turned the key in the lock, and lifted the trunk-lid with
an air of determination.
Down next the bottom of her big trunk they lay, just
as she had packed them away, with her dad's six-shooter
and belt carefully disposed between the leathern folds.
She groped with her hands under a couple of ridingskirts
and her high, laced boots, got a firm grip on the
fringed leather, and dragged them out. She had forgotten
all about the gun and belt until they fell with a
thump on the floor. She pulled out the belt, left the
gun lying there by the trunk, and hurried out with the
chaps dangling over her arm.
She was pale when she stood before the two who sat
there waiting with their hats in their hands and their
faces full of repressed eagerness. Her fingers trembled
while she pulled at the stiff, leather flap of the pocket,
to free it from the button.
"Maybe it ain't there yet," Art hazarded nervously,
while they watched her. "But that's where he put it,
all right. I saw him."
Jean's fingers went groping into the pocket, stayed
there for a second or two, and came out holding a folded
"That's it!" Art leaned toward her eagerly.
"That's the one, all right."
Jean sat down suddenly because her knees seemed
to bend under her weight. Three years--and that letter
within her reach all the time!
"Let's see, Jean." Lite reached out and took it from
her nerveless fingers. "Maybe it won't amount to anything
at all."
Jean tried to hold herself calm. "Read it--out
loud," she said. "Then we'll know." She tried to
smile, and made so great a failure of it that she came
very near crying. The faint crackle of the cheap paper
when Lite unfolded the letter made her start nervously.
"Read it--no matter--what it is," she repeated,
when she saw Lite's eyes go rapidly over the lines.
Lite glanced at her sharply, then leaned and took
her hand and held it close. His firm clasp steadied her
more than any words could have done. Without further
delay or attempt to palliate its grim significance,
he read the note:
If Johnny Croft comes to you with anything about me,
kick him off the ranch. He claims he knows a whole lot
about me branding too many calves. Don't believe anything
he tells you. He's just trying to make trouble because he
claims I underpaid him. He was telling Art a lot of stuff
that he claimed he could prove on me, but it's all a lie.
Send him to me if he comes looking for trouble. I'll give
him all he wants.
Art found a heifer down in the breaks that looks like
she might have blackleg. I'm going down there to see about
it. Maybe you better ride over and see what you think
about it; we don't want to let anything like that get a start
on us.
Don't pay any attention to Johnny. I'll fix him if he
don't keep his face shut.
"Carl!" Jean repeated the name mechanically. "Carl."
"I kinda thought it was something like that," Art
Osgood interrupted her to say. "Now you know that
much, and I'll tell you just what I know about it. It
was Carl shot Crofty, all right. I rode over with him to
the Lazy A; I was on my way to town and we went that
far together. I rode that way to tell you good-by." He
looked at Jean with a certain diffidence. "I kinda
wanted to see you before I went clear outa the country,
but you weren't at home.
"Johnny Croft's horse was standing outside the
house when we rode up. I guess he must have just
got there ahead of us. Carl got off and went in ahead
of me. Johnny was eating a snack when I went in.
He said something to Carl, and Carl flared up. I saw
there wasn't anybody at home, and I didn't want to get
mixed up in the argument, so I turned and went on out.
And I hadn't more than got to my horse when I heard
a shot, and Carl came running out with his gun in his
"Well, Johnny was dead, and there wasn't anything
I could do about it. Carl told me to beat it outa the
country, just like I'd been planning; he said it would
be a whole lot better for him, seeing I wasn't an eyewitness.
He said Johnny started to draw his gun, and
he shot in self-defense; and he said I better go while
the going was good, or I might get pulled into it some
"Well, I thought it over for a minute, and I didn't
see where it would get me anything to stay. I couldn't
help Carl any by staying, because I wasn't in the house
when it happened. So I hit the trail for town, and
never said anything to anybody." He looked at the two
contritely. "I never knew, till you folks came to Nogales
looking for me, that things panned out the way
they did. I thought Carl was going to give himself up,
and would be cleared. I never once dreamed he was
the kinda mark that would let his own brother take the
blame that way."
"I guess nobody did." Lite folded the letter and
pushed it back into the envelope. "I can look back
now, though, and see how it come about. He hung
back till Aleck found the body and was arrested; and
after that he just simply didn't have the nerve to step
out and say that he was the one that did it. He tried
hard to save Aleck, but he wouldn't--"
"The coward! The low, mean coward!" Jean
stood up and looked from one to the other, and spoke
through her clinched teeth. "To let dad suffer all this
while! Lite, when did you say that train left for Salt
Lake? We can take the taxi back down town, and save
time." She was at the door when she turned toward
the two again. "Hurry up! Don't you know we've
got to hurry? Dad's in prison all this while! And
Uncle Carl,--there's no telling where Uncle Carl is!
That wire I sent him was the worst thing I could have
"Or the best," suggested Lite laconically, as he led
the way down the hall and out to the rain-drenched,
waiting taxicab.
For hours Jean had sat staring out at the drear
stretches of desert dripping under the dismal rain
that streaked the car windows. The clouds hung leaden
and gray close over the earth; the smoke from the engine
trailed a funereal plume across the grease-wood covered
plain. Away in the distance a low line of hills
stretched vaguely, as though they were placed there to
hold up the sky that was so heavy and dank. Alongside
the track every ditch ran full of clay-colored water
that wrapped little, ragged wreaths of dirty foam around
every obstruction, like the tawdry finery of the slums.
From the smoking-room where he had been for the
past two hours with Art Osgood, Lite came unsteadily
down the aisle, heralded as it were by the muffled
scream of the whistle at a country crossing. Jean
turned toward him a face as depressed as the desert out
there under the rain. Lite, looking at her keenly, saw
on her cheeks the traces of tears. He let himself down
wearily into the seat beside her, reached over calmly,
and took her hand from off her lap and held it snugly
in his own.
"This is likely a snowstorm, up home," he said in
his quiet, matter-of-fact way. "I guess we'll have to
make our headquarters in town till I get things hauled
out to the ranch. That's it, when you can't look ahead
and see what's coming. I could have had everything
ready to go right on out, only I thought there wouldn't
be any use, before spring, anyway. But if this storm
ain't a blizzard up there, a couple of days will straighten
things out."
Jean turned her head and regarded him attentively.
"Out where?" she asked him bluntly. "What are you
talking about? Have you and Art been celebrating?"
She knew better than that. Lite never indulged in
liquid celebrations, and Jean knew it.
Lite reached into his pocket with the hand that was
free, and drew forth a telegram envelope. He released
her hand while he drew out the message, but he did not
hand it to her immediately. "I wired Rossman from
Los Angeles," he informed her, "and told him what
was up, and asked him to put me up to date on that end
of the line. So he did. I got this back there at that
last town." He laid his hand over hers again, and
looked down at her sidelong.
"Ever since the trouble," he began abruptly, but
still in that quiet, matter-of-fact way, "I've been playing
a lone hand and kinda holding back and waiting for
something to drop. I had that idea all along that
you've had this summer: getting hold of the Lazy A and
fixing it up so your dad would have a place to come
back to. I never said anything, because talking don't
come natural to me like it does to some, and I'd rather
do a thing first and then talk about it afterwards if I
have to.
"So I hung on to what money I had saved up along;
I was going to get me a bunch of cattle and fix up that
homestead of mine some day, and maybe have a little
home." His eyes went surreptitiously to her face, and
lingered there wistfully. "So after the trouble I
buckled down to work and saved a little faster, if
anything. It looked to me like there wasn't much hope of
doing anything for your dad till his sentence ran out,
so I never said anything about it. Long as Carl didn't
try to sell it to anybody else, I just waited and got
together all the money I could. I didn't see as there was
anything else to do."
Jean was chewing a corner of her lip, and was staring
out of the window. "I didn't know I was stealing
your thunder, Lite," she said dispiritedly. "Why
didn't you tell me?"
`Wasn't anything to tell--till there was something
to tell. Now, this telegram here,--this is what I
started out to talk about. It'll be just as well if you
know it before we get to Helena. I showed it to Art,
and he thought the same as I did. You know,--or
I reckon you don't, because I never said anything,--
away last summer, along about the time you went to
work for Burns, I got to thinking things over, and I
wondered if Carl didn't have something on his mind
about that killing. So I wrote to Rossman. I didn't
much like the way he handled your dad's case, but he
knew all the ins and outs, so I could talk to him without
going away back at the beginning. He knew Carl,
too, so that made it easier.
"I wrote and told him how Carl was prowling
around through the house nights, and the like of that,
and to look up the title to the Lazy A--"
"Why wouldn't you wait and let me buy it myself?"
Jean asked him with just a shade of sharpness in her
voice. "You knew I wanted to."
"So I got Rossman started, quite a while back. He
thought as I did, that Carl was acting mighty funny.
I was with Carl more than you was, and I could tell
he had something laying heavy on his mind. But then,
the rest of us had things laying pretty heavy on our
minds, too, that wasn't guilt; so there wasn't any way
to tell what was bothering Carl." Lite made no attempt
to answer the question she had asked.
"Now, here's this wire Rossman sent me. You don't
want to get the wrong idea, Jean, and feel too bad about
this. You don't want to think you had anything to do
with it. Carl was gradually building up to something
of this kind,--has been for a long time. His coming
over to the ranch nights, looking for that letter that
he had hunted all over for at first, shows he wasn't right
in his mind on the subject. But--"
"Well, heavens and earth, Lite!" Jean's tone was
exasperated more than it was worried. "Why don't
you say what you want to say? What's it all about?
Let me read that telegram and be done with it. I--I
should think you'd know I can stand things, by this
time. I haven't shown any weak knees, have I?"
"Well, I hate to pile on any more," Lite muttered
defensively. "But you've got to know this. I wish
you didn't, but--"
Jean did not say any more. She reached over and
with her free hand took the telegram from him. She
did not pull away the hand Lite was holding, however,
and the heart of him gave an exultant bound because
she let it lie there quiet under his own. She pinched
her brows together over the message, and let it drop
into her lap. Her head went back against the towel
covered head-rest, and for a minute her eyes closed as
if she could not look any longer upon trouble.
Lite waited a second, pulled her head over against
his shoulder, and picked up the telegram and read it
through slowly, though he could have repeated it word
for word with his eyes shut.
L Avery,
En Route Train 23, S. L. & D. R. R.
Carl Douglas suicided yesterday, leaving letter confessing
murder of Croft. Had just completed transfer of land and
cattle to your name. Am taking steps placing matter
before governor immediately expect him to act at once upon
pardon. Bring your man my office at once deposition may
be required.
"Now, I told you not to worry about this," Lite
reminded the girl firmly. "Looks to me like it takes a
load off our hands,--Carl's doing what he done. Saves
us dragging it all through court again; and, Jean, it'll
let your dad out a whole lot quicker. Sounds kinda
cold-blooded, maybe, but if you could look at it as good
news,--that's the way it strikes me."
Jean did not say a word, just then. She did what
you might not expect Jean to do, after all her strongmindedness
and her independence: She made an
uncertain movement toward sitting up and facing things
calmly, man-fashion; then she leaned and dropped her
very independent brown head back upon Lite's shoulder,
and behind her handkerchief she cried quietly
while Lite held her close.
"Now, that's long enough to cry," he whispered to
her, after a season of mental intoxication such as he had
never before experienced. "I started out three years
ago to be the boss. I ain't been working at it regular,
as you might say, all the time. But I'm going to wind
up that way. I hate to turn you over to your dad without
some little show of making good at the job."
Jean gave a little gurgle that may have been related
to laughter, and Lite's lips quirked with humorous
embarrassment as he went on.
"I don't guess," he said slowly, "that I'm going to
turn you over at all, Jean. Not altogether. I guess
I've just about got to keep you. It--takes two to
make a home, and--I've got my heart set on us making
a home outa the Lazy A again; you and me, making a
home for us and your dad. How--how does that
sound to you, Jean?"
Jean was wiping her eyes as unobtrusively as she
might. She did not answer.
"How does it sound, you and me making a home
together?" Lite was growing pale, and his hands
trembled. "Tell me."
"It sounds--good," said Jean unsteadily.
For several minutes Lite did not say a word. They
sat there holding hands quite foolishly, and stared out
at the drenched desert.
"Soon as your dad comes," he said at last, very
simply, "we'll be married." He was silent another minute,
and added under his breath like a prayer, "And
we'll all go--home."
When Lite rapped with his knuckles on the door
of the room where she was waiting, Jean stood
with her hands pressed tightly over her face, every
muscle rigid with the restraint she was putting upon
herself. For Lite this three-day interval had been too
full of going here and there, attending to the manifold
details of untangling the various threads of their broken
life-pattern, for him to feel the suspense which Jean
had suffered. She had not done much. She had
waited. And now, with Lite and her dad standing
outside the door, she almost dreaded the meeting. But
she took a deep breath and walked to the door and
opened it.
"Hello, dad," she cried with a nervous gaiety.
"Give your dear daughter a kiss!" She had not
meant to say that at all.
Tall and gaunt and gray and old; lines etched deep
ground his bitter mouth; pale with the tragic prison
pallor; looking out at the world with the somber eyes
of one who has suffered most cruelly,--Aleck Douglas
put out his thin, shaking arms and held her close. He
did not say anything at all; and the kiss she asked for
he laid softly upon her hair.
Lite stood in the doorway and looked at the two of
them for a moment. "I'm going down to see about--
things. I'll be back in a little while. And, Jean, will
you be ready?"
Jean looked up at him understandingly, and with
a certain shyness in her eyes. "If it's all right with
dad," she told him, "I'll be ready."
"Lite's a man!" Aleck stated unsmilingly, with a
trace of that apathy which had hurt Jean so in the
warden's office. "I'm glad you'll have him to take care
of you, Jean."
So Lite closed the door softly and went away and
left those two alone.
In a very few words I can tell you the rest. There
were a few things to adjust, and a few arrangements to
make. The greatest adjustment, perhaps, was when
Jean begged off from that contract with the Great
Western Company. Dewitt did not want to let her go,
but he had read a marked article in a Montana paper
that Lite mailed to him in advance of their return, and
he realized that some things are greater even than the
needs of a motion-picture company. He was very nice,
therefore, to Jean. He told her by all means to consider
herself free to give her time wholly to her father
--and her husband. He also congratulated Lite in
terms that made Jean blush and beat a hurried retreat
from his office, and that made Lite grin all the way to
the hotel. So the public lost Jean of the Lazy A
almost as soon as it had learned to welcome her.
Then there was Pard, that had to leave the little
buckskin and take that nerve-racking trip back to the
Lazy A. Lite attended to that with perfect calm and
a good deal of inner elation. So that detail was soon
At the Lazy A there was a great deal to do before the
traces of its tragedy were wiped out. We'll have to
leave them doing that work, which was only a matter
of time, after all, and not nearly so hard to accomplish
as their attempts to wipe out from Aleck's soul the black
scar of those three years. I think, on the whole, we
shall leave them doing that work, too. As much as
human love and happiness could do toward wiping out
the bitterness they would accomplish, you may be sure,
--give them time enough.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?