Jean of the Lazy A
B. M. Bower
Part 2 out of 5
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.
ROBERT GRANT BURNS GETS HELP
"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
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 alto-
gether 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 moving-
picture 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 ranch-
house 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 bur-
rowing 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
"All set?" he called to Jean, when Pete Lowry bent
his back to start the engine. "Business'll be pickin'
"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
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, water-
washed 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 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 SPOILS SOMETHING
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
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 pink-
cameoed 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
"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
"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 under-
lip 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
"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.
A MAN-SIZED JOB FOR JEAN
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
"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
"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
"You'd better," he advised her tritely, "let sleeping
"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
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 to-
night, 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
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
"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 half-
wakened 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.
JEAN LEARNS WHAT FEAR IS LIKE
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
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
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
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.
LITE'S PUPIL DEMONSTRATES
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 God-
forsaken 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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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.
Jean was absorbed, fascinated by this glimpse into a
new and very busy little world,--the world of moving-
picture 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?
"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
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
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