Jean of the Lazy A
B. M. Bower
Part 4 out of 5
"Well, you don't seem crazy about it. What's
the matter?" Robert Grant Burns stood in
his favorite attitude with his hands on his hips and
his feet far apart, and looked down at Jean with a secret
anxiety in his eyes. Without realizing it in the least,
Jean's opinion had come to have a certain weight with
Robert Grant Burns. "What's wrong with that?"
Burns, having sat up until two o'clock to finish that
particular scenario to his liking, plainly resented the
expression on Jean's face while she read it.
"Oh, nothing, only I'm getting awfully sick of these
kidnap-and-rescue, and kiss-in-the-last-scene pictures,
and Wild West stuff without a real Western man in the
whole thing. I'd like to do something real for a
Robert Grant Burns grunted and reached for his
slighted brain-child. "What you want? Mother on,
knitting. Girl washing dishes. Lover arrives; they sit
on front steps and spoon. Become engaged. Lover
hitches up team, girl climbs into wagon, they drive to
town. Ten scenes of driving to town. Lover gets out,
ties team in front of courthouse. Goes in and gets
license. Three scenes of license business. Goes out.
Two scenes of driving to minister and hitching team
to gate. One scene of getting to door. One scene getting
inside the house. One scene preacher calling his
wife and hired girl. One scene `Do you take this
woman,' one scene `I do.' Fifteen scenes getting team
untied and driving back to ranch. That's about as
much pep as there is in real life in the far West, these
days. Something like that would suit you, maybe. It
don't suit the people who pay good nickels and dimes to
get a thrill, though."
"Neither does this sort of junk, if they've got any
sense. Think of paying nickel after nickel to see Lee
Milligan rush to the girl's door, knock, learn the fatal
news, stagger back and clap his hand to his brow and
say `Great Heaven! GONE!'" Jean, stirred to combat
by the sarcasm of Robert Grant Burns, did the
stagger and the hand-to-brow and great-heaven scene with a
realism that made Pete Lowry turn his back suddenly.
"They've seen Gil abduct me or Muriel seven times in a
perfectly impossible manner, and they--oh, why don't
you give them something REAL? Things that are thrilling
and dangerous and terrible do happen out here,
Mr. Burns. Real adventures and real tragedies--"
She stopped, and Burns turned his eyes involuntarily
toward the kitchen. He had heard all about the history
of the Lazy A, though he had been very careful to hide
the fact that he had heard it. Jean's glance, following
that of her director, was a revealing one. She bit her
lip; and in a moment she went on, with her chin held
a shade higher and her pride revolting against subterfuge.
"I didn't mean that," she said quietly. "But--
well, up to a certain point, I don't mind if you put in
real things, if it will be good picture-stuff. You're
featuring me, anyway, it seems. Listen." Jean's face
changed. Her eyes took that farseeing look of the
dreamer. She was looking full at Burns, but he knew
that she did not see him at all. She was looking at a
mental picture of her own conjuring, he judged. He
stood still and waited curiously, wondering, to use his
manner of speech, what the girl was going to spring
"Listen: Instead of all this impossible piffle, let's
start a real story. I--I've--"
"What kind of a real story?" The tone of Robert
Grant Burns was carefully non-committal, but his eyes
betrayed his eagerness. The girl did have some real
ideas, sometimes! And Robert Grant Burns was not
the one to refuse a real idea because it did not come from
his own brain.
"Well," Jean flushed with an adorable shyness at
the apparent egotism of her idea, "since you seem to
want me for the central figure in everything, suppose
we start a story like this: Suppose I am left here at
the Lazy A with my mother to take care of and a ranch
and a lot of cattle; and suppose it's a hard proposition,
because there's really a gang of rustlers that have been
running off stock and never getting caught, and they
have a grudge against my family and grab our cattle
every chance they get. Suppose--suppose they killed
my brother when he was about to round them up, and
they want to drive me and my mother out of the country.
Scare us out, you know. Well,--" she hesitated
and glanced diffidently at the boys who had edged up to
listen,--"that would leave room for all kinds of feature
stuff. Say that I have just one or two boys that I
can depend on, boys that I know are loyal. With an
outfit the size of ours, that keeps me in the saddle every
day and all day; and I would have some narrow escapes,
I reckon. You've got your rustlers all made to
order,--only I'd make them up differently, if I were
doing it. Have them look real, you know, instead of
stagey." (Whereat Robert Grant Burns winced.)
"Lee could be one of my loyal cowboys; you'd want
some dramatic acting, I reckon, and he could do that.
But I'd want one puncher who can ride and shoot and
handle a rope. For that, to help me do the real work
in the picture, I want Lite Avery. There are things
I can do that you have never had me do, for the simple
reason that you don't know the life well enough ever
to think of them. Real stunts, not these made-to-order,
I'd have to have Lite Avery; I wouldn't start without
"Well, go on." Robert Grant Burns still tried to
sound non-committal, but he was plainly eager to hear
all that she had to say.
"Well, that's the idea. They're trying to drive us
out of the country, without really hurting me. And
I've got my mind set on staying. Not only that, but
I believe they killed my brother, and I'm going to hunt
them down and break up their gang or die in the
attempt. There's your plot. It needn't be overdone in
the least, to have thrills enough. And there would be
all kinds of chance for real range-stuff, like the handling
of cattle and all that.
"We can use this ranch just as it is, and have the
outlaws down next the river. I'm glad you haven't
taken any scenes that show the ranch as a whole.
You've stuck to your close-up, great-heaven scenes so
much," she went on with merciless frankness, "that
you've really not cheapened the place by showing more
than a little bit at a time.
"You might start by making Lee up for my brother,
and kill him in the first reel; show the outlaws when
they shoot him and run off with a bunch of stock they're
after. Lite can find him and bring him home. Lite
would know just how to do that sort of thing, and make
people see it's real stuff. I believe he'd show he was
a real cow-puncher, even to the people who never saw
one. There's an awful lot of difference between the
real thing and your actors." She was so perfectly
sincere and so matter-of-fact that the men she criticised
could do no more than grin.
"You might, for the sake of complications, put a
traitor and spy on the ranch. Oh, I tell you! Have
Hepsibah be the mother of one of the outlaws. She
wouldn't need to do any acting; you could show her
sneaking out in the dark to meet her son and tell him
what she has overheard. And show her listening, perhaps,
through the crack in a door. Mrs. Gay would
have to be the mother. Gil says that Hepsibah has the
figure of a comedy cook and what he calls a character
face. I believe we could manage her all right, for what
little she would have to do, don't you?"
Jean having poured out her inspiration with a fluency
born of her first enthusiasm, began to feel that she
had been somewhat presumptuous in thus offering advice
wholesale to the highest paid director of the Great
Western Film Company. She blushed and laughed a
little, and shrugged her shoulders.
"That's just a suggestion," she said with forced
lightness. "I'm subject to attacks of acute imagination,
sometimes. Don't mind me, Mr. Burns. Your
scenario is a very nice scenario, I'm sure. Do you want
me to be a braid-down-the-back girl in this? Or a
Robert Grant Burns stood absent-mindedly tapping
his left palm with the folded scenario which Jean had
just damned by calling it a very nice scenario. Nice
was not the adjective one would apply to it in sincere
admiration. Robert Grant Burns himself had mentally
called it a hummer. He did not reply to Jean's tentative
apology for her own plot-idea. He was thinking
about the idea itself.
Robert Grant Burns was not what one would call
petty. He would not, for instance, stick to his own
story if he considered that Jean's was a better one.
And, after all, Jean was now his leading woman, and
it is not unusual for a leading woman to manufacture
her own plots, especially when she is being featured
by her company. There was no question of hurt pride
to be debated within the mind of him, therefore. He
was just weighing the idea itself for what it was worth.
"Seems to me your plot-idea isn't so much tamer
than mine, after all." He tested her shrewdly after
a prolonged pause. "You've got a killing in the first
five hundred feet, and outlaws and rustling--"
"Oh, but don't you see, it isn't the skeleton that
makes the difference; it's the kind of meat you put on
the bones! Paradise Lost would be a howling melodrama,
if some of you picture-people tried to make it.
You'd take this plot of mine and make it just like these
pictures I've been working in, Mr. Burns: Exciting
and all that, but not the real West after all; spectacular
without being probable. What I mean,--I can't
explain it to you, I'm afraid; but I have it in my head."
She looked at him with that lightening of the eyes which
was not a smile, really, but rather the amusement which
might grow into laughter later on.
"You'd better fine me for insubordination," she
drawled whimsically, "and tell me whether it's to be
braids or curls, so I can go and make up." At that
moment she saw Gil Huntley beckoning to her with a frantic
kind of furtiveness that was a fair mixture of
pinched-together eyebrows and slight jerkings of the
head, and a guarded movement of his hand that hung
at his side. Gil, she thought, was trying to draw her
away before she went too far with her trouble-inviting
freedom of speech. She laughed lazily.
"Braids or curls?" she insisted. "And please, sir,
I won't do so no more, honest."
Robert Grant Burns looked at her from under his
eyebrows and made a sound between his grunt of
indignation and his chuckle of amusement. "Sure you
won't?" he queried shortly. "Stay the way you are,
if you want to; chances are you won't go to work right
Jean flashed him a glance of inquiry. Did that mean
that she had at last gone beyond the limit? Was Robert
Grant Burns going to FIRE her? She looked at Gil,
who was sauntering off with the perfectly apparent
expectation that she would follow him; and Mrs. Gay,
who was regarding her with a certain melancholy
conviction that Jean's time as leading woman was short
indeed. She pursed her lips with a rueful resignation,
and followed Gil to the spring behind the house.
"Say, you mustn't hand out things like that, Jean!"
he protested, when they were quite out of sight and
hearing of the others. "Let me give you a tip, girl.
If you've got any photo-play ideas that are worth talking
about, don't go spreading them out like that for Bobby
to pick and choose!"
"Pick to pieces, you mean," Jean corrected.
help it; he's putting on some awfully stagey plots, and
they cost just as much to produce as--"
"Listen here. You've got me wrong. That plot of
yours could be worked up into a dandy series; the idea
of a story running through a lot of pictures is great.
What I mean is, it's worth something. You don't have
to give stuff like that away, make him a present of it,
you know. I just want to put you wise. If you've got
anything that's worth using, make 'em pay for it. Put
'er into scenario form and sell it to 'em. You're in this
game to make money, so why overlook a bet like that?"
"Oh, Gil! Could I?"
"Sure, you could! No reason why you shouldn't,
if you can deliver the goods. Burns has been writing
his own plays to fit his company; but aside from the
features you've been putting into it, it's old stuff. He's
a darned good director, and all that, but he hasn't got
the knack of building real stories. You see what I
mean. If you have, why--"
"I wonder," said Jean with a sudden small doubt of
her literary talents, "if I have!"
"Sure, you have!" Gil's faith in Jean was of the
kind that scorns proof. "You see, you've got the dope
on the West, and he knows it. Why, I've been watching
how he takes the cue from you right along for his
features. Ever since you told Lee Milligan how to lay
a saddle on the ground, Burns has been getting tips;
and half the time you didn't even know you were giving
them. Get into this game right, Jean. Make 'em pay
for that kind of thing."
Jean regarded him thoughtfully, tempted to yield.
"Mrs. Gay says a hundred dollars a week--"
"It's good pay for a beginner. She's right, and she's
wrong. They're featuring you in stuff that nobody else
can do. Who would they put in your place, to do the
stunts you've been doing? Muriel Gay was a good
actress, and as good a Western lead as they could
produce; and you know how she stacked up alongside you.
You're in a class by yourself, Jean. You want to keep
that in mind. They aren't just trying to be nice to
you; it's hard-boiled business with the Great Western.
You're going awfully strong with the public. Why,
my chum writes me that you're announced ahead on the
screen at one of the best theaters on Broadway! `Coming:
Jean Douglas in So-and-so.' Do you know what
that means? No, you don't; of course not. But let
me tell you that it means a whole lot! I wish I'd had
a chance to tip you off to a little business caution
before you signed that contract. That salary clause
should have been doctored to make a sliding scale of it.
As it is, you're stuck for a year at a hundred dollars a
week, unless you spring something the contract does
not cover. Don't give away any more dope. You've
got an idea there, if Burns will let you work up to it.
Make 'em pay for it."
"O-h-h, Gil!" came the throaty call of Burns; and
Gil, with a last, earnest warning, left her hurriedly.
Jean sat down on a rock and meditated, her chin in her
palms, and her elbows on her knees. Vague shadows;
of thoughts clouded her mind and then slowly clarified
into definite ideas. Unconsciously she had been growing
away from her first formulated plans. She was
gradually laying aside the idea of reaching wealth and
fame by way of the story-trail. She was almost at the
point of admitting to herself that her story, as far as
she had gone with it, could never be taken seriously by
any one with any pretense of intelligence. It was too
unreal, too fantastic. It was almost funny, in the most
tragic parts. She was ready now to dismiss the book as
she had dismissed her earlier ambitions to become a poet.
But if she and Lite together could really act a story
that had the stamp of realism which she instinctively
longed for, surely it would be worth while. And if she
herself could build the picture story they would later
enact before the camera,--that would be better, much
better than writing silly things about an impossible
heroine in the hope of later selling the stuff!
Automatically her thoughts swung over to the actual
building of the scenes that would make for continuity
of her lately-conceived plot. Because she knew every
turn and every crook of that coulee and every board in
the buildings snuggled within it, she began to plan her
scenes to fit the Lazy A, and her action to fit the spirit
of the country and those countless small details of life
which go to make what we call the local color of the
There never had been an organized gang of outlaws
just here in this part of the country, but--there might
have been. Her dad could remember when Sid Cummings
and his bunch hung out in the Bad Lands fifty
miles to the east of there. Neither had she ever had a
brother, for that matter; and of her mother she had
no more than the indistinct memory of a time when
there had been a long, black box in the middle of the
living-room, and a lot of people, and tears which fell
upon her face and tickled her nose when her father held
her tightly in his arms.
But she had the country, and she had Lite Avery, and
to her it was very, very easy to visualize a story that
had no foundation in fact. It was what she had done
ever since she could remember--the day-dreaming
that had protected her from the keen edge of her loneliness.
A NEW KIND OF PICTURE
"What you doing now?" Robert Grant Burns
came around the corner of the house looking
for her, half an hour later, and found her sitting on the
doorstep with the old atlas on her knees and her hat far
back on her head, scribbling away for dear life.
Jean smiled abstractedly up at him. "Why, I'm--
why-y, I'm becoming a famous scenario writer! Do
you want me to go and plaster my face with grease-
paint, and become a mere common leading lady again?"
"No, I don't." Robert Grant Burns chuckled fatly
and held out his hand with a big, pink cameo on his
little finger. "Let's see what a famous scenario looks
like. What is it,--that plot you were telling me awhile
"Why, yes. I'm putting on the meat." There was
a slight hesitation before Jean handed him the pages
she had done. "I expect it's awfully crude," she
apologized, with one of her diffident spells. "I'm
afraid you'll laugh at me."
Robert Grant Burns was reading rapidly, mentally
photographing the scenes as he went along. He held
out his hand again without looking toward her.
"Lemme take your pencil a minute. I believe I'd have
a panoram of the coulee,--a long shot from out there
in the meadow. And show the brother and you leaving
the house and riding toward the camera; at the gate,
you separate. You're going to town, say. He rides
on toward the hills. That fixes you both as belonging
here at the ranch, identifies you two and the home ranch
both in thirty feet or so of the film, with a leader that
tells you're brother and sister. See what I mean?"
He scribbled a couple of lines, crossed out a couple,
and went on reading to where he had interrupted Jean
in the middle of a sentence.
"I see you're writing in a part for that Lite Avery;
how do you know he'd do it? Or can put it over if he
tries? He don't look to me like an actor."
"Lite," declared Jean with a positiveness that would
have thrilled Lite, had he heard her, "can put over
anything he tries to put over. And he'll do it, if I tell
him he must!" Which showed what were Jean's ideas,
at least on the subject of which was the master.
"What you going to call it a The Perils of the
Prairie, say?" Burns abandoned further argument on
the subject of Lite's ability.
"Oh, no! That's awfully cheap. That would stamp
it as a melodrama before any of the picture appeared
on the screen."
Robert Grant Burns had not been serious; he had been
testing Jean's originality. "Well, what will we call it,
"Oh, we'll call it--" Jean nibbled the rubber on
her pencil and looked at him with that unseeing,
introspective gaze which was a trick of hers. "We'll call
it--does it hurt if we use real names that we've a right
to?" She got a head-shake for answer. "Well, we'll
call it,--let's just call it--Jean, of the Lazy A.
Would that sound as if--"
"Great! Girl, you're a winner! Jean, of the Lazy
A! Say, that title alone will jump the releases ten
per cent., if I know the game. Featuring Jean herself;
pictures made right at the Lazy A Ranch. Say, the
dope I can give our publicity man--"
Thereupon Jean, remembering Gil Huntley's lecture
on the commercial side of the proposition, startled his
enthusiasm with one naive question.
"How much will the Great Western Film Company
pay me extra for furnishing the story I play in? "
"How much?" Robert Grant Burns blurted the
"Yes. How much? If it will jump your releases
ten per cent. they ought to pay me quite a lot more than
they're paying me now."
"You're doing pretty well as it is," Burns reminded
her, with a visible dampening of his eagerness.
"For keeping your cut-and-dried stories from falling
flat, yes. But for writing the kind of play that will
have just as many `punches' and still be true to life,
and then for acting it all out and putting in those
punches,--that's a different matter, Mr. Burns. And
you'll have to pay Lite a decent salary, or I'll quit right
here. I'm thinking up stunts for us two that are
awfully risky. You'll have to pay for that. But it will
be worth while. You wait till you see Lite in action!"
Gil would have been exuberant over the literal manner
in which Jean was taking his advice and putting
it to the test, had he overheard her driving her bargain
with Robert Grant Burns. He would have been exuberant,
but he would never have dared to say the things
that Jean said, or to have taken the stand that she
took. Robert Grant Burns found himself very much
in the position which Lite had occupied for three years.
He had well-defined ideas upon the subject before them,
and he had the outer semblance of authority; but his
ideas and his authority had no weight whatever with
Jean, since she had made up her mind.
Before Jean left the subject of salary, Robert Grant
Burns found himself committed to a promise of an
increase, provided that Jean really "delivered the goods"
in the shape of a scenario serial, and did the stunts
which she declared she could and would do.
Before she settled down to the actual planning of
scenes, Robert Grant Burns had also yielded to her
demands for Lite Avery, though you may think that he
thereby showed himself culpably weak, unless you realize
what sort of a person Jean was in argument. Without
having more than a good-morning acquaintance with
Lite, Burns agreed to put him on "in stock" and to pay
him the salary Jean demanded for him, provided that,
in the try-out of the first picture, Lite should prove he
could deliver the goods. Burns was always extremely
firm in the matter of having the "goods" delivered;
that was why he was the Great Western's leading director.
Mere dollars he would yield, if driven into a corner
and kept there long enough, but he must have results.
These things being settled, they spent about two hours
on the doorstep of Jean's room, writing the first reel of
the story; which is to say that Jean wrote, and Burns
took each sheet from her hands as it was finished, and
read and made certain technical revisions now and then.
Several times he grunted words of approbation, and
several times he let his fat, black cigar go out, while he
visualized the scenes which Jean's flying pencil portrayed.
"I'll go over and get Lite," she said at last, rubbing
the cramp out of her writing-hand and easing her shoulders
from their strain of stooping. "There'll be time,
while you send the machine after some real hats for your
rustlers. Those toadstool things were never seen in this
country till you brought them in your trunk; and this
story is going to be real! Your rustlers won't look much
different from the punchers, except that they'll be riding
different horses; we'll have to get some paint somewhere
and make a pinto out of that wall-eyed cayuse
Gil rides mostly. He'll lead the rustlers, and you want
the audience to be able to spot him a mile off. Lite
and I will fix the horse; we'll put spots on him like a
horse Uncle Carl used to own."
"Maybe you can't get Lite," Burns pointed out,
eyeing her over a match blaze. "He never acted to me
like he had the movie-fever at all. Passes us up with a
nod, and has never showed signs of life on the subject.
Lee can ride pretty well," he added artfully, "even if he
wasn't born in the saddle. And we can fake that rope
"All right; you can send the machine in with a wire
to your company for a leading woman." Jean picked
up her gloves and turned to pull the door shut behind
her, and by other signs and tokens made plain her
intention to leave.
"Oh, well, you can see if he'll come. I said I'd try
him out, but--"
"He'll come. I told you that before." Jean stopped
and looked at her director coldly. "And you'll keep
your word. And we won't have any fake stuff in this,
--except the spots on the pinto." She smiled then.
"We wouldn't do that, but there isn't a pinto in the
country right now that would be what we want. You
had better get your bunch together, because I'll be back
in a little while with Lite."
As it happened, Lite was on his way to the Lazy A,
and met Jean in the bottom of the sandy hollow. His
eyes lightened when he saw her come loping up to him.
But when she was close enough to read the expression
of his face, it was schooled again to the frank
friendship which Jean always had accepted as a matter
"Hello, Lite! I've got a job for you with the
movies," Jean announced, as soon as she was within
speaking distance. "You can come right back with
me and begin. It's going to be great. We're going
to make a real Western picture, Lite, you and I. Lee
and Gil and all the rest will be in it, of course; but
we're going to put in the real West. And we're going
to put in the ranch,--the REAL Lazy A, Lite. Not these
dinky little sets that Burns has toggled up with bits of
the bluff showing for background, but the ranch just
as it--it used to be." Jean's eyes grew wistful while
she looked at him and told him her plans.
"I'm writing the scenario myself," she explained,
"and that's why you have to be in it. I've written in
stuff that the other boys can't do to save their lives.
REAL stuff, Lite! You and I are going to run the ranch
and punch the cows,--Lazy A cattle, what there are left
of them,--and hunt down a bunch of rustlers that have
their hangout somewhere down in the breaks; we don't
know just where, yet. The places we'll ride, they'll
need an airship to follow with the camera! I haven't
got it all planned yet, but the first reel is about done;
we're going to begin on it this afternoon. We'll need
you in the first scenes,--just ranch scenes, with you and
Lee; he's my brother, and he'll get killed-- Now,
what's the matter with you?" She stopped and eyed
him disapprovingly. "Why have you got that stubborn
look to your mouth? Lite, see here. Before you say a
word, I want to tell you that you are not to refuse this.
It--it means money, Lite; for you, and for me, too.
And that means--dad at home again. Lite--"
Bite looked at her, looked away and bit his lips. It
was long since he had seen tears in Jean's steady, brown
eyes, and the sight of them hurt him intolerably. There
was nothing that he could say to strengthen her faith,
absolutely nothing. He did not see how money could
free her father before his sentence expired. Her faith
in her dad seemed to Lite a wonderful thing, but he
himself could not altogether share it, although he had
lately come to feel a very definite doubt about Aleck's
guilt. Money could not help them, except that it could
buy back the Lazy A and restock it, and make of it the
home it had been three years ago.
Lite, in the secret heart of him, did not want Jean
to set her heart on doing that. Lite was almost in a
position to do it himself, just as he had planned and
schemed and saved to do, ever since the day when he
took Jean to the Bar Nothing, and announced to her
that he intended to take care of her in place of her
father. He had wanted to surprise Jean; and Jean,
with her usual headlong energy bent upon the same
object, seemed in a fair way to forestall him, unless he
moved very quickly.
"Lite, you won't spoil everything now, just when I'm
given this great opportunity, will you?" Jean's voice
was steady again. She could even meet his eyes without
flinching. "Gil says it's a great opportunity, in
every way. It's a series of pictures, really, and they
are to be called `Jean, of the Lazy A.' Gil says they
will be advertised a lot, and make me famous. I don't
care about that; but the company will pay me more, and
that means--that means that I can get out and find
Art Osgood sooner, and--get dad home. And you will
have to help. The whole thing, as I have planned it,
depends upon you, Lite. The riding and the roping,
and stuff like that, you'll have to do. You'll have to
work right alongside me in all that outdoor stuff,
because I am going to quit doing all those spectacular,
stagey stunts, and get down to real business. I've made
Burns see that there will be money in it for his company,
so he is perfectly willing to let me go ahead with
it and do it my way. Our way, Lite, because, once you
start with it, you can help me plan things." Whereupon,
having said almost everything she could think of
that would tend to soften that stubborn look in Lite's
face, Jean waited.
Lite did a great deal of thinking in the next two or
three minutes, but being such a bottled-up person, he
did not say half of what he thought; and Jean, closely
as she watched his face, could not read what was in his
mind. Of Aleck he thought, and the slender chance
there was of any one doing what Jean hoped to do; of
Art Osgood, and the meager possibility that Art could
shed any light upon the killing of Johnny Croft; of the
Lazy A, and the probable price that Carl would put upon
it if he were asked to sell the ranch and the stock; of
the money he had already saved, and the chance that, if
he went to Carl now and made him an offer, Carl would
accept. He weighed mentally all the various elements
that went to make up the depressing tangle of the whole
affair, and decided that he would write at once to Rossman,
the lawyer who had defended Aleck, and put the
whole thing into his hands. He would then know just
where he stood, and what he would have to do, and what
legal steps he must take.
He looked at Jean and grinned a little. "I'm not
pretty enough for a picture actor," he said whimsically.
"Better let me be a rustler and wear a mask, if you
don't want folks to throw fits."
"You'll be what I want you to be," Jean told him
with the little smile in her eyes that Lite had learned to
love more than he could ever say. "I'm going to make
us both famous, Lite. Now, come on, Bobby Burns has
probably chewed up a whole box of those black cigars,
waiting for us to show up."
I am not going to describe the making of "Jean, of
the Lazy A." It would be interesting, but this is not
primarily a story of the motion-picture business, remember.
It is the story of the Lazy A and the problem that
both Jean and Lite were trying to solve. The Great
Western Film Company became, through sheer chance,
a factor in that problem, and for that reason we have
come into rather close touch with them; but aside from
the fact that Jean's photo-play brought Lite into the
company and later took them both to Los Angeles, this
particular picture has no great bearing upon the matter.
Robert Grant Burns had intended taking his company
back to Los Angles in August, when the hot winds
began to sweep over the range land. But Jean's story
was going "big." Jean was throwing herself into the
part heart and mind. She lived it. With Lite riding
beside her, helping her with all his skill and energy and
much enthusiasm, she almost forgot her great undertaking
sometimes, she was so engrossed with her work.
With his experience, suggesting frequent changes, she
added new touches of realism to this story that made the
case-hardened audience of the Great Western's private
projection room invent new ways of voicing their
enthusiasm, when the negative films Pete Lowry sent in to
headquarters were printed and given their trial run.
They were just well started when August came with
its hot winds. They stayed and worked upon the serial
until it was finished, and that meant that they stayed
until the first October blizzard caught them while they
were finishing the last reel.
Do you know what they did then? Jean changed a
few scenes around at Lite's suggestion, and they went out
into the hills in the teeth of the storm and pictured Jean
lost in the blizzard, and coming by chance upon the
outlaws at their camp, which she and Lite and Lee had
been hunting through all the previous installments of
the story. It was great stuff,--that ride Jean made in
the blizzard,--and that scene where, with numbed
fingers and snow matted in her dangling braid, she held
up the rustlers and marched them out of the hills, and
met Lite coming in search of her.
You will remember it, if you have been frequenting
the silent drama and were fortunate enough to see the
picture. You may have wondered at the realism of
those blizzard scenes, and you may have been curious to
know how the camera got the effect. It was wonderful
photography, of course; but then, the blizzard was real,
and that pinched, half frozen look on Jean's face in the
close-up where she met Lite was real. Jean was so cold
when she turned the rustlers over to Lite that when she
started to dismount and fell in a heap,--you remember?
--she was not acting at all. Neither was Lite acting
when he plunged through the drift and caught Jean in
his arms and held her close against him just as that scene
ended. In the name of realism they cut the scene, because
Lite showed that he forgot all about the outlaws
and the part he was playing.
So they finished the picture, and the whole company
packed their trunks thankfully and turned their faces
and all their thoughts westward.
Jean was not at all sure that she wanted to go. It
seemed almost as though she were setting aside her great
undertaking; as though she were weakly deserting her
dad when she closed the door for the last time upon her
room and turned her back upon Lazy A coulee. But
there were certain things which comforted her; Lite was
going along to look after the horses, he told her just the
day before they started. For Robert Grant Burns, with
an eye to the advertising value of the move, had decided
that Pard must go with them. He would have to hire
an express car, anyway, he said, for the automobile and
the scenery sets they had used for interiors. And there
would be plenty of room for Pard and Lite's horse and
another which Robert Grant Burns had used to carry
him to locations in rough country, where the automobile
could not go. The car would run in passenger service,
Burns said,--he'd fix that,--so Lite would be right
with the company all the way out.
Jean appreciated all that as a personal favor, which
merely proved how unsophisticated she really was. She
did not know that Robert Grant Burns was thinking
chiefly of furnishing material for the publicity man to
use in news stories. She never once dreamed that the
coming of "Jean, of the Lazy A" and Jean's pet horse
Pard, and of Lite, who had done so many surprising
things in the picture, would be heralded in all the Los
Angeles papers before ever they left Montana.
Jean was concerned chiefly with attending to certain
matters which seemed to her of vital importance. If she
must go, there was something which she must do first,
--something which for three years she had shrunk from
doing. So she told Robert Grant Burns that she would
meet him and his company in Helena, and without a
word of explanation, she left two days in advance of
them, just after she had had another maddening talk
with her Uncle Carl, wherein she had repeated her
intention of employing a lawyer.
When she boarded the train at Helena, she did not tell
even Lite just where she had been or what she had been
doing. She did not need to tell Lite. He looked into
her face and saw there the shadow of the high, stone wall
that shut her dad away from the world, and he did not
ask a single question.
IN LOS ANGELES
When she felt bewildered, Jean had the trick
of appearing merely reserved; and that is what
saved her from the charge of rusticity when Robert
Grant Burns led her through the station gateway and
into a small reception. No less a man than Dewitt,
President of the Great Western Film Company, clasped
her hand and held it, while he said how glad he was to
welcome her. Jean, unawed by his greatness and the
honor he was paying her, looked up at him with that
distracting little beginning of a smile, and replied
with that even-more distracting little drawl in her
voice, and wondered why Mrs. Gay should become so
plainly flustered all at once.
Dewitt took her by the arm, introduced her to a
curious-eyed group with a warming cordiality of manner,
and led her away through a crowd that stared and whispered,
and up to a great, beautiful, purple machine with
a colored chauffeur in dust-colored uniform. Dewitt
was talking easily of trivial things, and shooting a
question now and then over his shoulder at Robert Grant
Burns, who had shed much of his importance and seemed
indefinably subservient toward Mr. Dewitt. Jean
turned toward him abruptly.
"Where's Lite? Did you send some one to help him
with Pard?" she asked with real concern in her voice.
"Those three horses aren't used to towns the size of
this, Mr. Burns. Lite is going to have his hands full
with Pard. If you will excuse me, Mr. Dewitt, I think
I'll go and see how he's making out."
Mr. Dewitt glanced over her head and met the
delighted grin of Jim Gates, the publicity manager. The
grin said that Jean was "running true to form," which
was a pet simile with Jim Gates, and usually accompanied
that particular kind of grin. There would be an
interesting half column in the next day's papers about
Jean's arrival and her deep concern for Lite and her
wonderful horse Pard, but of course she did not know
"I've got men here to help with the horses," Mr.
Dewitt assured her, while he gently urged her into the
machine. "They'll be brought right out to the studio.
I'm taking you home with me in obedience to my wife's,
orders. She is anxious to meet the young woman who
can out-ride and out-shoot any man on the screen, and
can still be sweet and feminine and lovable. I'm quoting
my wife, you see, though I won't say those are not
my sentiments also."
"Your poor wife is going to receive a shock," said
Jean in an unimpressed tone. "But it's dear of her
to want to meet me." Back of her speech was an irritated
impatience that she should be gobbled and carried
off like this, when she was sure that she ought to be
helping Lite get that fool Pard unloaded and safely
through the clang and clatter of the down-town district.
Robert Grant Burns, half facing her on a folding seat,
sent her a queer, puzzled glance from under his
eyebrows. Four months had Jean been working under his
direction; four months had he studied her, and still she
puzzled him. She was not ignorant--the girl had been
out among civilized folks and had learned town ways;
she was not stupid--she could keep him guessing, and
he thought he knew all the quirks of human nature, too.
Then why, in the name of common sense, did she take
Dewitt and his patronage in this matter-of-fact way, as
if it were his everyday business to meet strange
employees and take them home to his wife? He glanced
at Dewitt and caught a twinkle of perfect understanding
in the bright blue eyes of his chief. Burns made a
sound between a grunt and a chuckle, and turned his
eyes away immediately; but Dewitt chose to make
speech upon the subject.
"You haven't spoiled our new leading woman--
yet," he observed idly.
"Oh, but he has," Jean dissented. "He has got me
trained so that when he says smile, my mouth stretches
itself automatically. When he says sob, I sob. He just
snaps his fingers, Mr. Dewitt, and I sit up and go
through my tricks very nicely. You ought to see how
nicely I do them."
Mr. Dewitt put up a hand and pulled at his close-
cropped, white mustache that could not hide the twitching
of his lips. "I have seen," he said drily, and
leaned forward for a word with the liveried chauffeur.
"Turn up on Broadway and stop at the Victoria," he
said, and the chin of the driver dropped an inch to prove
Dewitt laid his fingers on Jean's arm to catch her
attention. "Do you see that picture on the billboard over
there?" he asked, with a special inflection in his nice,
crisp voice. "Does it look familiar to you?"
Jean looked, and pinched her brows together. Just
at first she did not comprehend. There was her name
in fancy letters two feet high: "JEAN, OF THE LAZY
A." It blared at the passer-by, but it did not look
familiar at all. Beneath was a high-colored poster of
a girl on a horse. The horse was standing on its hind
feet, pawing the air; its nostrils flared red; its tail
swept like a willow plume behind. The machine slowed
and stopped for the traffic signal at the crossing, and
still Jean studied the poster. It certainly did not look
in the least familiar.
"Is that supposed to be me, on that plum-colored
horse?" she drawled, when they slid out slowly in the
wake of a great truck.
"Why, don't you like it?" Dewitt looked at Jim
Gates, who was again grinning delightedly and
surreptitiously scribbling something on the margin
of a folded paper he was carrying.
Jean turned upon him a mildly resentful glance.
"No, I don't. Pard is not purple; he's brown. And
he's got the dearest white hoofs and a white sock on his
left hind foot; and he doesn't snort fire and brimstone,
either." She glanced anxiously at the jam of wagons
and automobiles and clanging street-cars. "I don't
know, though," she amended ruefully, "I think perhaps
he will, too, when he sees all this. I really ought to
have stayed with him."
"You don't think Lite quite capable of taking care
"Oh, yes, of course he is! But I just feel that
Dewitt shifted a little, so that he was half facing her,
and could look at her without having to turn his head.
If his eyes told anything of his thoughts, the President
of the Great Western Film Company was curious to
know how she felt about her position and her sudden
fame and the work itself. Before they had worked
their way into the next block, he decided that Jean was
not greatly interested in any of these things, and he
The machine slowed, swung to the curb, and crept
forward and stopped in front of the Victoria. Dewitt
looked at Burns and Pete Lowry, who was on the front
"I thought you'd like to take a glance at the lobby
display the Victoria is making," he said casually.
"They are running the Lazy A series, you know,--to
capacity houses, too, they tell me. Shall we get
The chauffeur reached back with that gesture of
toleration and infinite boredom common to his kind and
swung open the door.
Robert Grant Burns started up. "Come on, Jean,"
he said eagerly. "I don't suppose that eternal calm of
yours will ever show a wrinkle on the surface, but let's
have a look, anyway."
Pete Lowry was already out and half way across the
pavement. Pete had lain awake in his bed, many's the
night, planning the posing of "stills" that would show
Jean at her best; he had visioned them on display in
theater lobbies, and now he collided with a hurrying
shopper in his haste to see the actual fulfillment of those
Jean herself was not so eager. She went with the
others, and she saw herself pictured on Pard; on her
two feet; and sitting upon a rock with her old Stetson
tilted over one eye and her hair tousled with the wind.
She was loading her six-shooter, and talking to Lite,
who was sitting on his heels with a cigarette in his
fingers, looking at her with that bottled-up look in his
eyes. She did not remember when the picture was
taken, but she liked that best of all. She saw herself
leaning out of the window of her room at the Lazy A.
She remembered that time. She was talking to Gil
outside, and Pete had come up and planted his tripod
directly in front of her, and had commanded her to
hold her pose. She did not count them, but she
had curious impressions of dozens of pictures of
herself scattered here and there along the walls of
the long, cool-looking lobby. Every single one of
them was marked: "Jean, of the Lazy A." Just
On a bulletin board in the middle of the entrance, just
before the marble box-office, it was lettered again in
dignified black type: "JEAN OF THE LAZY A." Below
was one word: "To-day."
"It looks awfully queer," said Jean to Mr. Dewitt,
who wanted to know what she thought of it all; "they
don't explain what it's all about, or anything."
"No, they don't." Dewitt pulled his mustache and
piloted her back to the machine. "They don't have
"No," echoed Robert Grant Burns, with the fat
chuckle of utter content in the knowledge of having
achieved something. "From the looks of things, they
don't have to." He looked at Jean so intently that she
stared back at him, wondering what was the matter;
and when he saw that she was wondering, he gave a
"Good Lord!" he said to himself, just above a
whisper, and looked away, despairing of ever reading the
riddle of Jean's unshakable composure. Was it pose
Was the girl phlegmatic,--with that face which was so
alive with the thoughts that shuttled back and forth
behind those steady, talking eyes of hers? She was not
stupid; Robert Grant Burns knew to his own discomfiture
that she was not stupid. Nor was she one to
pose; the absolute sincerity of her terrific frankness was
what had worried Robert Grant Burns most. She must
know that she had jumped into the front rank of popular
actresses, and stood out before them all,--for the time
being, at least. And,--he stole a measuring sidelong
glance at her, just as he had done thousands of times in
the past four months,--here she was in the private
machine of the President of the Great Western Film
Company, with that great man himself talking to her
as to his honored guest. She had seen herself featured
alone at one of the biggest motion-picture theaters in
Los Angeles; so well known that "Jean, of the Lazy
A" was deemed all-sufficient as information and
advertisement. She had reached what seemed to Robert
Grant Burns the final heights. And the girl sat there,
calm, abstracted, actually not listening to Dewitt when
he talked! She was not even thinking about him!
Robert Grant Burns gave her another quick, resentful
glance, and wondered what under heaven the girl WAS
As a matter of fact, having accepted the fact that she
seemed to have made a success of her pictures, her
thoughts had drifted to what seemed to her more vital.
Had she done wrong to come away out here, away from
her problem? The distance worried her. She had not
even found out who was the mysterious night-prowler,
or what he wanted. He had never come again, after
that night when Hepsy had scared him away. From
long thinking about it, she had come to a vague, general
belief that his visits were somehow connected with the
murder; but in what manner, she could not even form a
theory. That worried her. She wished now that she
had told Lite about it. She was foolish not to have
done something, instead of sticking her head under the
bedclothes and just shivering till he left. Lite would
have found out who the man was, and what he wanted.
Lite would never have let him come and go like that.
But the visits had seemed so absolutely without reason.
There was nothing to steal, and nothing to find. Still,
she wished she had told Lite, and let him find out who
Then her talk with the great lawyer had been
disquieting. He had not wanted to name his fee for
defending her dad; but when he had named it, it did not
seem so enormous as she had imagined it to be. He
had asked a great many questions, and most of them
puzzled Jean. He had said that he would take up the
matter,--by which she believed he meant an investigation
of her uncle's title to the Lazy A. He said that he
would see her father, and he told her that he had
already been retained to investigate the whole thing, so
that she need not worry about having to pay him a fee.
That, he said, had already been arranged, though he did
not feel at liberty to name his client. But he wanted
to assure her that everything was being done that could
She herself had seen her father. She shrank within
herself and tried not to think of that horrible meeting.
Her soul writhed under the tormenting memory of how
she had seen him. She had not been able to talk to him
at all, scarcely. The words would not come. She had
said that she and Lite were on their way to Los Angeles,
and would be there all winter. He had patted her
shoulder with a tragic apathy in his manner, and had
said that the change would do her good. And that was
all she could remember that they had talked about.
And then the guard came, and--
That is what she was thinking about while the big,
purple machine slid smoothly through the tunnel, negotiated
a rough stretch where the street-pavers were at
work, and sped purring out upon the boulevard that
stretched away to Hollywood and the hills. That was
what she kept hidden behind the "eternal calm" that
so irritated Robert Grant Burns and so delighted Dewitt
and so interested Jim Gates, who studied her for
what "copy" there was in her personality.
It was the same when, the next day, Dewitt himself
took her over to the big plant which he spoke of as the
studio. It was immense, and yet Jean seemed
unimpressed. She was gladder to see Pard and Lite again
than she was to meet the six-hundred-a-week star whose
popularity she seemed in a fair way to outrival. Men
and women who were "in stock," and therefore within
the social pale, were introduced to her and said nice,
hackneyed things about how they admired her work and
were glad to welcome her. She felt the warm air of
good-fellowship that followed her everywhere. All of
these people seemed to accept her at once as one of
themselves. When she noticed it, she was amused at the
way the "extras" stood back and looked at her and
whispered together. More than once she overheard
what seemed almost to have become a catch-phrase out
here; "Jean of the lazy A" was the phrase.
Jean was not made of wood, understand. In a manner
she recognized all these little tributes, and to a certain
degree she appreciated them. She was glad that
she had made such a success of it, but she was glad
because it would help her to take her dad away from that
horrible, ghastly place and that horrible, ghastly death-
in-life under which he lived. In three years he had
grown old and stooped--her dad!
And Burns twitted her ironically because she could
not simper and lose her head over the attentions these
people were loading upon her! Save for the fact that
in this way she could earn a good deal of money, and
could pay that lawyer Rossman, and trace Art Osgood,
she would not have stayed; she could not have endured
the staying. For the easier they made life for her, the
greater contrast did they make between her and her
Gil brought her a great bunch of roses, unbelievably
beautiful and fragrant, and laughed and told her they
didn't look much like those snowdrifts she waded
through the last day they worked on the Lazy A serial.
For just a minute he thought Jean was going to throw
them at him, and he worried himself into sleeplessness,
poor boy, wondering how he had offended her, and how
he could make amends. Could he have looked into
Jean's soul, he would have seen that it was seared with
the fresh memory of iron bars and high walls and her
dad who never saw any roses; and that the contrast
between their beauty and the terrible barrenness that
surrounded him was like a blow in her face.
Dewitt himself sensed that something was wrong with
her. She was not her natural self, and he knew it,
though his acquaintance with her was a matter of hours
only. Part of his business it was to study people, to
read them; he read Jean now, in a general way. Not
being a clairvoyant, he of course had no inkling of the
very real troubles that filled her mind, though the
effect of those troubles he saw quite plainly. He
watched her quietly for a day, and then he applied the
best remedy he knew.
"You've just finished a long, hard piece of work,"
he said in his crisp, matter-of-fact way, on the second
morning after her arrival. "There is going to be a
delay here while we shape things up for the winter, and
it is my custom to keep my people in the very best condition
to work right up to the standard. So you are all
going to have a two-weeks vacation, Jean-of-the-Lazy-
A. At full salary, of course; and to put you yourself
into the true holiday spirit, I'm going to raise your
salary to a hundred and seventy-five a week. I consider
you worth it," he added, with a quieting gesture
of uplifted hand, "or you may be sure I wouldn't pay
"Get some nice old lady to chaperone you, and go and
play. The ocean is good; get somewhere on the beach.
Or go to Catalina and play there. Or stay here, and go
to the movies. Go and see `Jean, of the Lazy A,' and
watch how the audience lives with her on the screen.
Go up and talk to the wife. She told me to bring you
up for dinner. You go climb into my machine, and
tell Bob to take you to the house now. Run along, Jean
of the Lazy A! This is an order from your chief."
Jean wanted to cry. She held the roses, that she
almost hated for their very beauty and fragrance, close
pressed in her arms, while she went away toward the
machine. Dewitt looked after her, thought she meant to
obey him, and turned to greet a great man of the town
who had been waiting for five minutes to speak to him.
Jean did not climb into the purple car and tell Bob
to drive her to "the house." She walked past it
without even noticing that it stood there, an aristocrat
among the other machines parked behind the great
studio that looked like a long, low warehouse. She
knew the straightest, shortest trail to the corrals, you
may be sure of that. She took that trail.
Pard was standing in a far corner under a shed,
switching his tail methodically at the October crop of
flies. His head lay over the neck of a scrawny little
buckskin, for which he had formed a sudden and violent
attachment, and his eyes were half closed while he
drowsed in lazy content. Pard was not worrying about
anything. He looked so luxuriously happy that Jean
had not the heart to disturb him, even with her comfort-
seeking caresses. She leaned her elbows on the
corral gate and watched him awhile. She asked a bashful,
gum-chewing youth if he could tell her where to
find Lite Avery. But the youth seemed never to have
heard of Lite Avery, and Jean was too miserable to
explain and describe Lite, and insist upon seeing him.
She walked over to the nearest car-line and caught the
next street car for the city. Part of her chief's orders
at least she would obey. She would go down to the
Victoria and see "Jean, of the Lazy A," but she was
not going because of any impulse of vanity, or to soothe
her soul with the applause of strangers. She wanted
to see the ranch again. She wanted to see the dear,
familiar line of the old bluff that framed the coulee, and
ride again with Lite through those wild places they had
chosen for the pictures. She wanted to lose herself for
a little while among the hills that were home.
CHANCE TAKES A HAND
A huge pipe organ was filling the theater with a
vast undertone that was like the whispering surge
of a great wind. Jean went into the soft twilight and
sat down, feeling that she had shut herself away from
the harsh, horrible world that held so much of suffering.
She sighed and leaned her head back against the curtained
enclosure of the loges, and closed her eyes and
listened to the big, sweeping harmonies that were yet so
Down next the river, in a sheltered little coulee, there
was a group of great bull pines. Sometimes she had
gone there and leaned against a tree trunk, and had shut
her eyes and listened to the vast symphony which the
wind and the water played together. She forgot that
she had come to see a picture which she had helped to
create. She held her eyes shut and listened; and that
horror of high walls and iron bars that had haunted her
for days, and the aged, broken man who was her father,
dimmed and faded and was temporarily erased; the
lightness of her lips eased a little; the tenseness relaxed
from her face, as it does from one who sleeps.
But the music changed, and her mood changed with
it. She did not know that this was because the story
pictured upon the screen had changed, but she sat up
straight and opened her eyes, and felt almost as though
she had just awakened from a vivid dream.
A Mexican series of educational pictures were
being shown. Jean looked, and leaned forward with a
little gasp. But even as she fixed her eyes and startled
attention upon it, that scene was gone, and she was
reading mechanically of refugees fleeing to the border
She must have been asleep, she told herself, and had
gotten things mixed up in her dreams. She shook herself
mentally and remembered that she ought to take
off her hat; and she tried to fix her mind upon the
pictures. Perhaps she had been mistaken; perhaps she
had not seen what she believed she had seen. But--
what if it were true? What if she had really seen and
not imagined it? It couldn't be true, she kept telling
herself; of course, it couldn't be true! Still, her mind
clung to that instant when she had first opened her eyes,
and very little of what she saw afterwards reached her
brain at all.
Then she had, for the first time in her life, the strange
experience of seeing herself as others saw her. The
screen announcement and expectant stir that greeted it
caught her attention, and pulled her back from the whirl
of conjecture into which she had been plunged. She
watched, and she saw herself ride up to the foreground
on Pard. She saw herself look straight out at the
audience with that peculiar little easing of the lips and
the lightening of the eyes which was just the infectious
beginning of a smile. Involuntarily she smiled back
at her pictured self, just as every one else was smiling
back. For that, you must know, was what had first
endeared her so to the public; the human quality that
compelled instinctive response from those who looked at
her. So Jean in the loge smiled at Jean on the screen.
Then Lite--dear, silent, long-legged Lite!--came
loping up, and pushed back his hat with the gesture that
she knew so well, and spoke to her and smiled; and a
lump filled the throat of Jean in the loge, though she
could not have told why. Then Jean on the screen
turned and went riding with Lite back down the trail,
with her hat tilted over one eye because of the sun, and
with one foot swinging free of the stirrup in that
absolute unconsciousness of pose that had first caught the
attention of Robert Grant Burns and his camera man.
Jean in the loge heard the ripple of applause among the
audience and responded to it with a perfectly human
Presently she was back at the Lazy A, living again the
scenes which she herself had created. This was the
fourth or fifth picture,--she did not at the moment
remember just which. At any rate, it had in it that
incident when she had first met the picture-people in the
hills and mistaken Gil Huntley and the other boys for
real rustlers stealing her uncle's cattle. You will
remember that Robert Grant Burns had told Pete to
take all of that encounter, and he had later told Jean to
write her scenario so as to include that incident.
Jean blushed when she saw herself ride up to those
three and "throw down on them" with her gun. She
had been terribly chagrined over that performance!
But now it looked awfully real, she told herself with a
little glow of pride. Poor old Gil! They hadn't
caught her roping him, anyway, and she was glad of
that. He would have looked absurd, and those people
would have laughed at him. She watched how she had
driven the cattle back up the coulee, with little rushes
up the bank to head off an unruly cow that had ideas of
her own about the direction in which she would travel.
She loved Pard, for the way he tossed his head and
whirled the cricket in his bit with his tongue, and
obeyed the slightest touch on the rein. The audience
applauded that cattle drive; and Jean was almost
betrayed into applauding it herself.
Later there was a scene where she had helped Lite
Avery and Lee Milligan round up a bunch of cattle and
cut out three or four, which were to be sold to a butcher
for money to take her mother to the doctor. Lite rode
close to the camera and looked straight at her, and Jean
bit her lips sharply as tears stung her lashes for some
inexplicable reason. Dear old Lite! Every line in his
face she knew, every varying, vagrant expression, every
little twitch of his lips and eyelids that meant so much
to those who knew him well enough to read his face.
Jean's eyes softened, cleared, and while she looked, her
lips parted a little, and she did not know that she was
She was thinking of the day, not long ago, when she
had seen a bird fly into the loft over the store-house,
and she had climbed in a spirit of idle curiosity to see
what the bird wanted there. She had found Lite's bed
neatly smoothed for the day, the pillow placed so that,
lying there, he could look out through the opening and
see the house and the path that led to it. There was
the faint aroma of tobacco about the place. Jean had
known at once just why that bed was there, and almost
she knew how long it had been there. She had never
once hinted that she knew; and Lite would never tell
her, by look or word, that he was watching her welfare.
Here came Gil, dashing up to the brow of the hill,
dismounting and creeping behind a rock, that he might
watch them working with the cattle in the valley below.
Jean met his pictured approach with a little smile of
welcome. That was the scene where she told him he got
off the horse like a sack of oats, and had shown him how
to swing down lightly and with a perfect balance,
instead of coming to the earth with a thud of his feet.
Gil had taken it all in good faith; the camera proved now
how well he had followed her instructions. And
afterwards, while the assistant camera-man (with whom Jean
never had felt acquainted) shouldered the camera and
tripod, and they all tramped down the hill to another
location, there had been a little scene in the shade
of that rock, between Jean and the star villain. She
blushed a little and wondered if Gil remembered that
tentative love-making scene which Burns had unconsciously
cut short with a bellowing order to rehearse the
It was wonderful, it was fascinating to sit there and
see those days of hard, absorbing work relived in the
story she had created. Jean lost herself in watching
how Jean of the Lazy A came and went and lived her
life bravely in the midst of so much that was hard.
Jean in the loge remembered how Burns had yelled,
"Smile when you come up; look light-hearted! And
then let your face change gradually, while you listen to
your mother crying in there. There'll be a cut-back to
show her down on her knees crying before Bob's chair.
Let that tired, worried look come into your face,--the
load's dropping on to your shoulders again,--that kind
of dope. Get me?" Jean in the loge remembered
how she had been told to do this deliberately, just out of
her imagination. And then she saw how Jean on the
screen came whistling up to the house, swinging her
quirt by its loop and with a spring in her walk, and
making you feel that it was a beautiful day and that
all the meadow larks were singing, and that she had
just had a gallop on Pard that made her forget that
she ever looked trouble in the face.
Then Jean in the loge looked and saw screen--Jean's
mother kneeling before Bob's chair and sobbing so
that her shoulders shook. She looked and saw screen
Jean stop whistling and swinging her quirt; saw her
stand still in the path and listen; saw the smile fade out
of her eyes. Jean in the loge thought suddenly of that
moment when she had looked at dad coming in where
she waited, and swallowed a lump in her throat. A
woman near her gave a little stifled sob of sympathy
when screen-Jean turned and went softly around the
corner of the house with all the light gone from her face
and all the spring gone out of her walk.
Jean in the loge gave a sigh of relaxed tension and
looked around her. The seats were nearly all full, and
every one was gazing fixedly forward, lost in the pictured
story of Jean on the screen. So that was what all
those made-to-order smiles and frowns meant! Jean
had done them at Burns' command, because she had seen
that the others simulated different emotions whenever
he told them to. She knew, furthermore, that she had
done them remarkably well; so well that people
responded to every emotion she presented to them. She
was surprised at the vividness of every one of those cut-
and-dried scenes. They imposed upon her, even, after
all the work and fussing she had gone through to get
them to Burns' liking. And there, in the cool gloom of
the Victoria, Jean for the first time realized to the full
the true ability of Robert Grant Burns. For the first
time she really appreciated him and respected him, and
was grateful to him for what he had taught her to do.
Her mood changed abruptly when the Jean picture
ended. The music changed to the strain that had filled
the great place when she entered, nearly an hour
before. Jean sat up straight again and waited, alert,
impatient, anxious to miss no smallest part of that picture
which had startled her so when she had first looked at
the screen. If the thing was true which she half
believed--if it were true! So she stared with narrowed
lids, intent, watchful, her whole mind concentrated upon
what she should presently see.
"Warring Mexico!" That was the name of it; a
Lubin special release, of the kind technically called
"educational." Jean held her breath, waiting for the
scene that might mean so much to her. There: this
must be it, she thought with a flush of inner excitement.
This surely must be the one:
"NOGALES, MEXICO. FEDERAL TROOPS OF GENERAL
KOSTERLISKY, WITH AMERICAN SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE
SERVING ON STAFF OF NOTED GENERAL."
Jean had it stamped indelibly upon her brain. She
waited, with a quick intake of breath when the picture
stood out with a sudden clarity before her eyes.
A "close-up" group of officers and men,--and some
of the men Americans in face, dress, and manner. But
it was one man, and one only, at whom she looked. Tall
he was, and square-shouldered and lean; with his hat
set far back on his head and a half smile curling his lips,
and his eyes looking straight into the camera. Standing
there with his weight all on one foot, in that attitude
which cowboys call "hipshot." Art Osgood! She was
sure of it! Her hands clenched in her lap. Art
Osgood, at Nogales, Mexico. Serving on the staff of
General Kosterlisky. Was the man mad, to stand there
publicly before the merciless, revealing eye of a
motion-picture camera? Or did his vanity blind him to
the risk he was taking?
The man at whom she sat glaring glanced sidewise at
some person unseen; and Jean knew that glance, that
turn of the head. He smiled anew and lifted his
American-made Stetson a few inches above his head and
held it so in salute. Just so had he lifted and held his
hat high one day, when she had turned and ridden away
from him down the trail. Jean caught herself just as
her lips opened to call out to him in recognition and
sharp reproach. He turned and walked away to where
the troopers were massed in the background. It was
thus that she had first glimpsed him for one instant
before the scene ended; it was just as he turned his face
away that she had opened her eyes, and thought it was
Art Osgood who was walking away from the camera.
She waited a minute, staring abstractedly at the
refugees who were presented next. She wished that she
knew when the picture had been taken,--how long ago.
Her experience with motion-picture making, her listening
to the shop-talk of the company, had taught her
much; she knew that sometimes weeks elapse between
the camera's work and the actual projection of a picture
upon the theater screens. Still, this was, in a sense, a
news release, and therefore in all probability hurried
to the public. Art Osgood might still be at Nogales,
Mexico, wherever that was. He might; and Jean made
up her mind and laid her plans while she sat there pinning
on her hat.
She got up quietly and slipped out. She was going
to Nogales, Mexico, wherever that was. She was going
to get Art Osgood, and she didn't care whether she had
to fight her way clear through "Warring Mexico."
She would find him and get him and bring him back.
In the lobby, while she paused with a truly feminine
instinct to tip her hat this way and that before the
mirror, and give her hair a tentative pat or two at the
back, the grinning face of Lite Avery in his gray Stetson
appeared like an apparition before her eyes. She
"Why, Lite!" she said, a little startled.
"Why, Jean!" he mimicked, in the bantering voice
that was like home to her. "Don't rush off; haven't
seen you to-day. Wait till I get you a ticket, and then
you come back and help me admire ourselves. I came
down on a long lope when somebody said you caught a
street car headed this way. Thought maybe I'd run
across you here. Knew you couldn't stay away much
longer from seeing how you look. Ain't too proud to
sit alongside a rough-neck puncher, are you?"
Jean looked at him understandingly. Lite's exuberance
was unusual; but she knew, as well as though he
had told her, that he had been lonesome in this strange
city, and that he was overjoyed at the sight of her, who
was his friend. She unpinned her hat which she had
been at some pains to adjust at the exact angle decreed
"Yes, I'll go back with you," she drawled. "I want
to see how you like the sight of yourself just as you are.
It--it's good for one, after the first shock wears off."
She would not say a word about that Mexican picture,
she thought; but she wanted to see if Lite also would
recognize Art Osgood, and feel as sure of his identity as
she had felt. That would make her doubly sure of her
self. She could do what she meant to do without any
misgivings whatsoever. She could afford to wait a little
while and have the pleasure of Lite's presence beside
her. Lite was homesick and lonesome;--she felt it in
every tone and in every look;--almost as homesick
and lonesome as she was herself. She would not hurt
him by going off and leaving him alone, even if she had
not wanted to be with him and to watch the effect that
Mexican picture would have upon him. Lite believed
Art Osgood was in the Klondyke. She would wait and
see what he believed after he had seen that Nogales picture
She waited. She had missed Lite in the last day or
so; she had seemed almost as far away from him as
from the Lazy A. But all the while she talked to him
in whispers when he had wanted to discuss the Jean
picture, she was waiting, just waiting, for that Nogales
When it came at last, Jean turned her head and
watched Lite. And Lite gave a real start and said
something under his breath, and plucked at her sleeve
afterwards to attract her attention.
"Look--quick! That fellow standing there with
his arms folded. Skin me alive if it isn't Art Osgood!"
"Are you sure?" Jean studied him.
"Sure? Where're your eyes? Look at him! It
sure ain't anybody else, Jean. Now, what do you
reckon he's doing down in Mexico?"
JEAN BELIEVES THAT SHE TAKES MATTERS INTO
HER OWN HANDS
After all, Jean did not have to fight her way clear
through "Warring Mexico" and back again, in
order to reach Nogales. She let Lite take her to the
snug little apartment which she was to share with Muriel
and her mother, and she fancied that she had been very
crafty and very natural in her manner all the while he
was with her, and that Lite did not dream of what she
had in her mind to do. At any rate, she watched him
stalk away on his high-heeled riding-boots, and she
thought that his mind was perfectly at ease. (Jean, I
fear, never will understand Lite half as well as Lite
has always understood Jean.)
She caught the next down-town car and went straight
to the information bureau of the Southern Pacific,
established for the convenience of the public and the sanity of
employees who have something to do besides answer foolish
She found a young man there who was not averse to
talking at length with a young woman who was dressed
trimly in a street suit of the latest fashion, and who had
almost entrancing, soft drawl to her voice and a most
fascinating way of looking at one. This young man
appeared to know a great deal, and to be almost eager
to pass along his wisdom. He knew all about Nogales,
Mexico, for instance, and just what train would next
depart in that general direction, and how much it would
cost, and how long she would have to wait in Tucson for
the once-a-day train to Nogales, and when she might
logically expect to arrive in that squatty little town that
might be said to be really and truly divided against
itself. Here the nice young man became facetious.
"Bible tells us a city divided against itself cannot
stand," he informed Jean quite gratuitously. "Well,
maybe that's straight goods, too. But Nogales is cut
right through at the waist line with the international
boundary line. United States customhouse on one
corner of the street, Mexican customhouse in talking
distance on the other corner. Great place for holdups,
that!" This was a joke, and Jean smiled obligingly.
"First the United States holds you up, and then the
Mexicans. You get it coming and going. Well,
Nogales don't have to stand. It squats. It's adobe
Jean was interested, and she did not discourage the
nice young man. She let him say all he could think of
on the subject of Nogales and the Federal troops
stationed there, and on warring Mexico generally. When
she left him, she felt as if she knew a great deal about
the end of her journey. So she smiled and thanked the
nice young man in that soft drawl that lingered pleasantly
in his memory, and went over to another window
and bought a ticket to Nogales. She moved farther
along to another window and secured a Pullman ticket
which gave her lower five in car four for her comfort.
With an impulse of wanting to let her Uncle Carl
know that she was not forgetting her mission, she sent
him this laconic telegram:
Have located Art. Will bring him back with me.
After that, she went home and packed a suit-case and
her six-shooter and belt. She did not, after all, know
just what might happen in Nogales, Mexico, but she
meant to bring back Art Osgood if he were to be found
alive; hence the six-shooter.
That evening she told Muriel that she was going to
run away and have her vacation--her "vacation"
hunting down and capturing a murderer who had taken
refuge in the Mexican army!--and that she would
write when she knew just where she would stop. Then
she went away alone in a taxi to the depot, and started
on her journey with a six-shooter jostling a box of
chocolates in her suit-case, and with her heart almost
light again, now that she was at last following a clue that
promised something at the other end.
It was all just as the nice young man had told her.
Jean arrived in Tucson, and she left on time, on the
once-a-day train to Nogales.
Lite also arrived in Tucson on time, though Jean did
not see him, since he descended from the chair car with
some caution just as she went into the depot. He did
not depart on time as it happened; he was thirsty, and
he went off to find something wetter than water to drink,
and while he was gone the once-a-day train also went
off through the desert. Lite saw the last pair of wheels
it owned go clipping over the switch, and he stood in the
middle of the track and swore. Then he went to the
telegraph office and found out that a freight left for
Nogales in ten minutes. He hunted up the conductor
and did things to his bank roll, and afterwards climbed
into the caboose on the sidetrack. Lite has been so
careful to keep in the background, through all these
chapters, that it seems a shame to tell on him now. But
I am going to say that, little as Jean suspected it, he
had been quite as interested in finding Art Osgood as
had she herself. When he saw her pass through the
gate to the train, in Los Angeles, that was his first
intimation that she was going to Nogales; so he had stayed
in the chair car out of sight. But it just shows how
great minds run in the same channel; and how, without
suspecting one another, these two started at the same
time upon the same quest.
Jean stared out over the barrenness that was not like
the barrenness of Montana, and tried not to think that
perhaps Art Osgood had by this time drifted on into
obscurity. Still, if he had drifted on, surely she could
trace him, since he had been serving on the staff of a
general and should therefore be pretty well known.
What she really hated most to think of was the possibility
that he might have been killed. They did get killed,
sometimes, down there where there was so much fighting
going on all the time.
When the shadows of the giant cactus stretched
mutilated hands across the desert sand, and she believed
that Nogales was near, Jean carried her suit-case to the
cramped dressing-room and took out her six-shooter and
buckled it around her. Then she pulled her coat down
over it with a good deal of twisting and turning before
the dirty mirror to see that it looked all right, and
not in the least as though a perfect lady was packing a
She went back and dipped fastidious fingers into the
box of chocolates, and settled herself to nibble candy and
wait for what might come. She felt very calm and self-
possessed and sure of herself. Her only fear was that
Art Osgood might have been killed, and his lips closed
for all time. So they rattled away through the barrenness
and drew near to Nogales.
Casa del Sonora, whither she went, was an old, two-
story structure of the truly Spanish type, and it was
kept by a huge, blubbery creature with piggish eyes and
a bloated, purple countenance and the palsy. As much
of him as appeared to be human appeared to be Irish;
and Jean, after the first qualm of repulsion, when she
faced him over the hotel register, detected a certain
kindly solicitude in his manner, and was reassured.
So far, everything had run smoothly, like a well-
staged play. Absurdly simple, utterly devoid of any
element of danger, any vexatious obstacle to the
immediate achievement of her purpose! But Jean was not
thrown off her guard because of the smoothness of the
The trip from Tucson had been terribly tiresome; she
was weary in every fibre, it seemed to her. But for all
that she intended, sometime that evening, to meet Art
Osgood if he were in town. She intended to take him
with her on the train that left the next morning. She
thought it would be a good idea to rest now, and to
proceed deliberately, lest she frustrate all her plans by
Perhaps she slept a little while she lay upon the bed
and schooled herself to calmness. A band, somewhere,
playing a pulsing Spanish air, brought her to her feet.
She went to the window and looked out, and saw that
the street lay cool and sunless with the coming of dusk.
From the American customhouse just on the opposite
corner came Lite Avery, stalking leisurely along in his
high-heeled riding-boots. Jean drew back with a little
flutter of the pulse and watched him, wondering how he
came to be in Nogales. She had last seen him boarding
a car that would take him out to the Great Western
Studio; and now, here he was, sauntering across the
street as if he lived here. It was like finding his bed
up in the loft and knowing all at once that he had been
keeping watch all the while, thinking of her welfare and
never giving her the least hint of it. That at least was
understandable. But to her there was something
uncanny about his being here in Nogales. When he was
gone, she stepped out through the open window to the
veranda that ran the whole length of the hotel, and
looked across the street into Mexico.
She was, she decided critically, about fifteen feet
from the boundary line. Just across the street fluttered
the Mexican flag from the Mexican customhouse. A
Mexican guard lounged against the wall, his swarthy
face mask-like in its calm. While she leaned over the
railing and stared curiously at that part of the street
which was another country, from the hills away to the
west, where were camped soldiers,--the American
soldiers,--who prevented the war from slopping over the
line now and then into Arizona, came the clear
notes of a bugle held close-pressed against the lips of a
United States soldier in snug-fitting khaki. The boom
of the sundown salute followed immediately after. In
the street below her, Mexicans and Americans mingled
amiably and sauntered here and there, killing time during
that bored interval between eating and the evening's
Just beyond the Mexican boundary, the door of a
long, adobe cantina was flung open, and a group of men
came out and paused as if they were wondering what
they should do next, and where they should go. Jean
looked them over curiously. Mexicans they were not,
though they had some of the dress which belonged on
that side of the boundary.
Americans they were; one knew by the set of their
shoulders, by the little traits of race which have nothing
to do with complexion or speech.
Jean caught her breath and leaned forward. There
was Art Osgood, standing with his back toward her and
with one palm spread upon his hip in the attitude she
knew so well. If only he would turn! Should she run
down the stairs and go over there and march him across
the line at the muzzle of her revolver? The idea
repelled her, now that she had actually come to the point
Jean, now that the crisis had arrived, used her
woman's wile, rather than the harsher but perhaps less
effective weapons of a man.
"Oh, Art!" she called, just exactly as she would have
called to him on the range, in Montana "Hello,
Art Osgood wheeled and sent a startled, seeking
glance up at the veranda; saw her and knew who it was
that had called him, and lifted his hat in the gesture
that she knew so well. Jean's fingers were close to her
gun, though she was not conscious of it, or of the
strained, tense muscles that waited the next move.
Art, contrary to her expectations, did the most natural
thing in the world. He grinned and came hurrying toward
her with the long, eager steps of one who goes to
greet a friend after an absence that makes of that meeting
an event. Jean watched him cross the street. She
waited, dazed by the instant success of her ruse, while
he disappeared under the veranda. She heard his feet
upon the stairs. She heard him come striding down the
hall to the glass-paneled door. She saw him coming
toward her, still grinning in his joy at the meeting.
"Jean Douglas! By all that's lucky!" he was
exclaiming. "Where in the world did you light down
from?" He came to a stop directly in front of her,
and held out his hand in unsuspecting friendship.
JEAN MEETS ONE CRISIS AND CONFRONTS ANOTHER
"Well, say! This is like seeing you walk out
of that picture that's running at the Teatro
Palacia. You sure are making a hit with those moving-
pictures; made me feel like I'd met somebody from
home to stroll in there and see you and Lite come
riding up, large as life. How is Lite, anyway?"
If Art Osgood felt any embarrassment over meeting
her, he certainly gave no sign of it. He sat down on
the railing, pushed back his hat, and looked as though
he was preparing for a real soul-feast of reminiscent
gossip. "Just get in?" he asked, by way of opening
wider the channel of talk. He lighted a cigarette and
flipped the match down into the street. "I've been here
three or four months. I'm part of the Mexican revolution,
though I don't reckon I look it. We been keeping
things pretty well stirred up, down this way. You
looking for picture dope? Lubin folks are copping all
kinds of good stuff here. You ain't with them, are
Jean braced herself against slipping into easy conver-
sation with this man who seemed so friendly and
unsuspicious and so conscience-free. Killing a man, she
thought, evidently did not seem to him a matter of any
moment; perhaps because he had since then become a
professional killer of men. After planning exactly how
she should meet any contingency that might arise, she
found herself baffled. She had not expected to meet
this attitude. She was not prepared to meet it. She
had taken it for granted that Art Osgood would shun
a meeting; that she would have to force him to face her.
And here he was, sitting on the porch rail and swinging
one spurred and booted foot, smiling at her and talking,
in high spirits over the meeting--or a genius at
acting. She eyed him uncertainly, trying to adjust
herself to this emergency.
Art came to a pause and looked at her inquiringly.
"What's the matter?" he demanded. "You called me
up here--and I sure was tickled to death to come, all
right!--and now you stand there looking like I was a
kid that had been caught whispering, and must be kept
after school. I know the symptoms, believe me!
You're sore about something I've said. What, don't
you like to have anybody talk about you being a movie-
queen? You sure are all of that. You've got a license
to be proud of yourself. Or maybe you didn't know
you was speaking to a Mexican soldier, or something like
that." He made a move to rise. "Ex-cuse ME, if I've
said something I hadn't ought. I'll beat it, while the
"No, you won't. You'll stay right where you are."
His frank acceptance of her hostile attitude steadied
Jean. "Do you think I came all the way down here
just to say hello?"
"Search me." Art studied her curiously. "I
never could keep track of what you thought and what
you meant, and I guess you haven't grown any easier to
read since I saw you last. I'll be darned if I know
what you came for; but it's a cinch you didn't come
just to be riding on the cars."
"No," drawled Jean, watching him. "I didn't. I
came after you."
Art Osgood stared, while his cheeks darkened with
the flush of confusion. He laughed a little. "I sure
wish that was the truth," he said. "Jean, you never
would have to go very far after any man with two eyes
in his head. Don't rub it in."
"I did," said Jean calmly. "I came after you. I'd
have found you if I had to hunt all through Mexico and
fight both armies for you."
"Jean!" There was a queer, pleading note in Art's
voice. "I wish I could believe that, but I can't. I
ain't a fool."
"Yes, you are." Jean contradicted him pitilessly.
"You were a fool when you thought you could go away
and no one think you knew anything at all about--
Art's fingers had been picking at a loose splinter on
the wooden rail whereon he sat. He looked down at it,
jerked it loose with a sharp twist, and began snapping
off little bits with his thumb and forefinger. In a minute
he looked up at Jean, and his eyes were different.
They were not hostile; they were merely cold and watchful
"Well, somebody did think so. I've thought so for
three years, and so I'm here." Jean found that her
breath was coming fast, and that as she leaned back
against a post and gripped the rail on either side, her
arms were quivering like the legs of a frightened horse.
Still, her voice had sounded calm enough.
Art Osgood sat with his shoulders drooped forward a
little, and painstakingly snipped off tiny bits of the
splinter. After a short silence, he turned his head
and looked at her again.
"I shouldn't think you'd want to stir up that trouble
after all this while," he said. "But women are queer.
I can't see, myself, why you'd want to bother hunting
me up on account of--that."
Jean weighed his words, his look, his manner, and
got no clue at all to what was going on back of his eyes.
On the surface, he was just a tanned, fairly good-looking
young man who has been reluctantly drawn into an
"Well, I did consider it worth while bothering to
hunt you up," she told him flatly. "If you don't think
it's important, you at least won't object to going back
Again his glance went to her face, plainly startled.
"Go back with you?" he repeated. "What for?"
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