Jean of the Lazy A
B. M. Bower
Part 3 out of 5
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.
TO "DOUBLE" FOR MURIEL GAY
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
"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
"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. Twenty-
five 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 full-
"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,
"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
"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
PICTURES AND PLANS AND MYSTERIOUS FOOTSTEPS
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
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 photo-
play 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 old-
time 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
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
"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
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
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 lightning-
draw 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,
"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."
PUNCH VERSES PRESTIGE
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
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 photo-
players 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
"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,
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
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
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
"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.
A LEADING LADY THEY WOULD MAKE OF JEAN
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 motion-
picture 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
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
"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 love-
making. 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 love-
making 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 thou-
sands, 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
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.
FOR ONCE AT LEAST LITE HAD HIS WAY
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
"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
"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
"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
"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 matter-
of-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
"WHY DON'T YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING REAL?"
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