The Phantom Herd
B. M. Bower
Part 3 out of 4
"Might come in on the eight o'clock train to-night, or to-morrow morning.
You say it was shipped the sixteenth? Ought to be here by morning, sure."
"I'll take a chance," Luck said half to himself, and closed the door.
A round-shouldered, shivering youth, who had been leaning apathetically
against the side of the building, moved hesitatingly up to him. "Say,
do I get it right that you're in the movies?" he inquired anxiously.
"Heard you mention looking for negative. Haven't got a job for a
fellow, have you?"
Luck wheeled and looked him over, from his frowsy, soft green beaver hat
with the bow at the back, to his tan pumps that a prosperous young man
would have thrown back in the closet six weeks before, as being out of
season. The young man grinned his understanding of the appraisement, and
Luck saw that his teeth were well-kept, and that his nails were clean and
trimmed carefully. He made a quick mental guess and hit very close to the
fellow's proper station in life and his present predicament.
"What end of the business do you know?" he asked, turning his face toward
the warmth of the hotel.
"Operator. Worked two years at the Bijou in Cleveland. I'm down on my
luck now; thought I'd try the California studios, because I wanted to
learn the camera, and I figured on getting a look at the Fair. I stalled
around out there till my money gave out, and then I started back to God's
country." He shrugged his shoulders cynically. "This is about as far as
I'm likely to get, unless I can learn to do without eating and a few
other little luxuries," he summed up the situation grimly.
"Well, it won't hurt you to skip a lesson and have dinner with me," Luck
suggested in the offhand way that robbed the invitation of the sting of
charity. "I always did hate to eat alone."
The upshot of the meeting was that, when Luck gathered up the lines, next
day, and popped the short lash of Applehead's home-made whip over the
backs of the little bay team, and told them to "Get outa town!" in a tone
that had in it a boyish note of exultation, the thin youth hung to the
seat of the bouncing buckboard and wondered if Luck really could drive,
or if he was half "stewed" and only imagined he could. The thin youth had
much to learn besides the science of photography and some of it he
learned during that fifteen-mile drive. For one thing, he learned that
really Luck could drive. Luck proved that by covering the fifteen miles
in considerably less than an hour and a half without losing any of his
precious load of boxed negative and coiled garden hose and assistant
camera-man,--since that was what he intended to make of the thin youth.
"I THINK YOU NEED INDIAN GIRL FOR PICTURE"
Still it did not snow, though the wind blew from the storm quarter, and
Applehead sniffed it and made predictions, and Compadre went with his
remnant of tail ruffed like a feather boa. Immediately after supper Luck
attached his new hose to the tank faucet and developed the corral scenes
which he had taken, with the thin youth taking his first lesson in the
dark room. The thin youth, who said his name was Bill Holmes, did not
have very much to say, but he seemed very quick to grasp all that Luck
told him. That kept Luck whistling softly between sentences, while they
wound the negative around the roped half barrel that had not so much as a
six penny nail in it this time, so thoroughly did Andy do his work.
The whistling ceased abruptly when Luck examined his film by the light of
the ruby lamp, however, for every scene was over-exposed and worthless.
Luck realized when he looked at it that the light was much stronger than
any he had ever before photographed by, and that he would have to "stop
down" hereafter; the problem was, how much. His light tests, he
remembered, had been made rather late in the afternoon, when the light
was getting yellow, and he had blundered in forgetting that the forenoon
light was not the same.
He went ahead and put the film through the fixing bath and afterwards
washed it carefully, more for the practice and to show Bill Holmes how to
handle the negative than for any value the film would have. He discovered
that Andy had not unpacked the rewinding outfit, but since he would not
need it until his negative was dry, he made no comment on the subject.
Bill Holmes kept at his heels, helping when he knew what to do, asking a
question now and then, but silent for the most part. Luck felt extremely
optimistic about Bill Holmes, but for all that he was depressed by his
second failure to produce good film. A camera-man, he felt in his heart,
might be the determining factor for success; but he was too stubborn to
admit it openly or even to consider sending for one, even if he could
have managed to pay the seventy-five dollars a week salary for the time
it would take to produce the Big Picture. He could easier afford to waste
a few hundred feet of negative now, he argued to himself.
"Come on down, and I'll show you what I can about the camera," he said to
Bill Holmes. "The light's too tricky to-day to work by, but I'll give you
a few pointers that you'll have to keep in mind when I'm too busy to
think about telling you. Once I get to directing a scene, I'm liable to
be busy as a one-armed prospector fighting a she-bear with cubs. I'm
counting on you to remember what all I'va told you, in case I forget to
tell you again. You see, I've ruined a hundred and fifty feet of negative
already, just by overlooking a couple of bets. You're here to help keep
that from happening again. _Sabe_?"
"Well, there's one or two things I don't have to learn," Bill Holmes told
him by way of encouragement. "You get the camera set and ready, and I can
turn it any speed you want. I'll guarantee that much. I learned that all
right in projection."
"That's exactly why I brought you out here, brother," Luck assured him.
"Oh, Luck Lindsay!" came Rosemary's voice excitedly. "Mr. Forrman wants
you right away quick! Somebody's coming that he doesn't know, and he says
it's up to you!"
"What's up to me?" Luck came hurrying down the ladder backwards. "Has
Applehead gone as crazy as his cat? I've nothing to do with strangers
coming to the ranch."
"Yes," said Rosemary, twinkling her brown eyes at him, "but this is a
woman. Mr. Forrman refuses to take any responsibility--"
"So do I. I don't know of any woman that's liable to come trailing me up.
Where is she?"
From the doorway Rosemary pointed dramatically, and Luck went up and
stood beside her, rolling down his sleeves while he stared at the trail.
Down the slope, head bent to the whooping wind, a woman came walking with
a free, purposeful stride that spoke eloquently of accustomedness to the
open land. Her skirts flapped but could not impede her movements. She
seemed to be carrying some bright-hued burden upon her shoulders, and she
was, without doubt, coming straight down to the ranch as to a
"You can search me," he said emphatically in answer to Applehead's
question. "Must be some _senora_ away off the trail. I never saw her
before in my life."
"We-ell, now, that there lady don't act like she's lost," Applehead
declared, watching her intently as she came on. "Aims to git whar she's
goin', if I'm any jedge of actions. An' she shore is hittin' fur here.
Ain't been ary woman on this ranch in ten year, till Mrs. Green come
"She's none of my funeral; I don't know her from Adam," Luck disclaimed,
and went back into the dark room as though be had urgent business there,
which he had not. In the back of his mind was an uneasy feeling that the
newcomer was "some of his funeral," and yet he could not tell how or why
she should be. In her walk there was a teasing sense of familiarity; he
did not know who she was, but he felt uncomfortably that he ought to
know. He fumbled among the litter on the shelf, putting things in order;
and all the while his ears were sharpened to the sounds that came muffled
through the closed door.
"Oh, Luck Lindsay!" came Rosemary's voice at last, with what Luck fancied
was a malicious note in it. "You're wanted out here!"
Luck fumbled for a minute longer while he racked his brain for some clue
to this woman's identity. For a man who has lived the varied life Luck
had lived, his conscience was remarkably clean; but no one enjoys having
mystery stalk unawares up to one's door. However, he opened the door and
went out, feeling sensitively the curious expectancy of the Happy Family,
and faced the woman who stood just beyond the doorway. One look, and he
stopped dead still in the middle of the room. "Well, I'll be darned!" he
said in a hushed tone of blank amazement.
The woman's black eyes lighted as though flames had darted up behind
them. "How, _Cola_?" she greeted him in the soft, cooing tones of the
younger Indians whose voices have not yet grown shrill and harsh.
"Wagalexa Conka!" It was the tribal name given him in great honor by his
Indians of Pine Ridge Agency.
Through his astonishment, Luck's face glowed at the words. He went up and
put out his hand, impelled by the hospitality which is an unwritten law
of the old West, and is not to be broken save for good cause.
"How! How!" he answered her greeting. "You long ways from home,
Annie-Many-Ponies smiled in a way to make Happy Jack gulp with a sudden
emotion he would have denied. She flashed a quick glance around at the
curious faces that regarded her so intently, and she eased her
shawl-wrapped burden to the ground with the air of one who has reached
her journey's end.
"Yes, I plenty long ways," she assented placidly. "I don't stay by
reservation no more. Too lonesome. One night I beat it. I work for you
"How you know you work for me?" Luck felt nine pairs of eyes trying to
read his face. "That's bad, you run away. You better go back,
Annie-Many-Ponies. Your father--"
"Nah!" Annie-Many-Ponies cried in swift rebellion. "I work for you all
time, I no want monies. I got plenty wardrobe; you give me plenty grub; I
work for you. I think you need him Indian girl in picture. I think you
plenty sorry all Indians go by reservation. You no like for Indians go
home," she stated with soft sympathy. "I sabe you not got monies for pay
all thems Indians. I come be Indian girl for you; I not want monies. You
let me stay--Wagalexa Conka!"
"You come in and eat, Annie-Many-Ponies," Luck commanded with more
gentleness than he was accustomed to show. The girl must have followed
him all the way from Los Angeles, and she must have walked all the way
out from Albuquerque. All this she seemed to take for granted, a mere
detail of no importance beside her certainty that although he had no
money to pay the Indians, he must surely need an Indian girl in his
pictures. Loyalty always touched Luck deeply. He had brought the little
black dog back with him and hidden it in the stable, just because the dog
had followed him all around town and had seemed so pleased when Luck was
loading the buckboards for the return trip. He could not logically
repulse the manifest friendliness of Annie-Many-Ponies.
He introduced her formally to Rosemary, and was pleased when Rosemary
smiled and shook hands without the slightest hesitation. The Happy Family
he lumped together in one sentence. "All these my company," he told her.
"You eat now. By and by I think you better go home."
Annie-Many-Ponies looked at him with smoldering eyes, standing in the
middle of the kitchen, refusing to sit down to the table until the main
question was settled.
"Why you say that?" she demanded, drawing her brows down sullenly. "You
got plenty more Indian girls?"
Luck shook his head.
"You think me not good-looking any more?" With her two slim brown hands
she pushed back the shawl from her hair and challenged criticism of her
beauty. She was beautiful,--there was no gain saying that; she was so
beautiful that the sight of her, standing there like an indignant young
Minnehaha, tingled the blood of more than one of the Happy Family. "You
think I so homely I spoil your picture?"
"I think you must not run away from the reservation," Luck parried,
refusing to be cajoled by her anger or her beauty. "You always were a
good girl, Annie-Many-Ponies. Long time ago, when you were little girl
with the Buffalo Bill show, you were good. You mind what Wagalexa
Annie-Many-Ponies bent her head. "I mind you now, Wagalexa Conka," she
told him quickly. "You tell me ride down that big hill," she threw one
hand out toward the bluff that sheltered the house. "I sure ride down
like hell. I care not for break my neck, when you want big 'punch' in
picture. You tell me be homely old squaw like Mrs. Ghost-Dog, I be homely
so dogs yell to look on me. I mind you plenty--but I do not go by
reservation no more."
"Yow father be mad--I let you stay, he maybe shoot me," Luck argued,
secretly flattered by her persistence.
Annie-Many-Ponies smiled,--a slow, sphinx-like smile, mysteriously sweet
and lingering. "Nah! Not shoot you. I write one letters, say I go work
for you. Now you write one letter by Agent, say you let me stay, say I
work for you, say I good girl, say I be Indian girl for your picture. I
mind you plenty, Wagalexa Conka!" She smiled again coaxingly, like a
child. "I like you," she stated simply. "You good man. You need Indian
girl, I think. I work for you. My father not be mad; my father know you
good man for Indians."
Luck turned from her and gave the Happy Family a pathetic,
what's-a-fellow-going-to-do look that made Andy Green snort unexpectedly
and go outside. One by one the others followed him, grinning shamelessly
at Luck's helplessness. In a moment he overtook them, wanting the support
of their judgment.
"The worst of it is," he confessed, after he had explained how he had
known the girl since she was a barefooted papoose with the "Bill" show,
and he was Indian Agent there; "the worst of it is, she's a humdinger in
pictures. She gets over big in foreground stuff. Rides like a whirlwind,
and as for dramatic work, she can put it over half the leading women in
the business--that is, in her line of Pocohontas stuff."
"Well, why don't you let her stay?" Weary demanded. "She will
anyway--mama! We're not what you can call over-run with women on
"Why don't you make a squaw-man outa Dave?" Pink suggested boldly, "and
let her be his daughter instead of Rosemary?"
"Say, what does that there walka-some-darn-thing mean, that she
calls yuh?" Big Medicine wanted to know. "By cripes, I hate talk I
"Wagalexa Conka?" Luck smiled shamefacedly. "Oh, that's just a name the
Indians gave me. Means Big Turkey, in plain English. Her father, old
Chief Big Turkey, adopted me into the tribe, and they call me by his
name. Annie-Many-Ponies has heard it used ever since she was a kid. By
tribal law I'm her brother. Well, what's the word, boys? Shall we let
her stay or not? We could use her, all right, and put a dash of
old-plains' color in the picture that I haven't got, as it stands. It's
up to you to decide."
"You're wrong," Pink grinned. "She's decided that, herself. Gee,
"Certainly she is; but get this, boys: She isn't going to stay just
because she's pretty, and if I had a different bunch than you fellows,
she'd have to go for that reason. I'm responsible for her--_sabe?_ Bill
Holmes, you get this; I saw you eyeing her pretty strong. That girl is
the daughter of an influential chief, and she comes pretty near being the
pride of the reservation. There can't be any romantic stuff, if they let
her stay. Her father and the Agent will consent, if they do consent, on
the strength of the confidence they have in me. They're going to keep
that confidence. Get that, and get it strong, because I sure mean what
I'm telling you." He eased the tenseness with a laugh. "I don't mean to
offend anybody," he said, "and that's why I'm putting it straight before
the play comes up. Annie-Many-Ponies has got a heart-twisting smile, but
she's a squaw just the same. She's got the ways of the Injun to the
marrow of her bones, and I'll bet right now if you were to shake her hard
enough, you'd jingle a knife out of her clothes." He stopped and lighted
the cigarette he had been carefully rolling. "Well," he finished after
the pause, "does she stay or go?"
The Happy Family answered him with, various phrases, the meaning of which
was that he could suit himself about that; as far as they were concerned,
she could stay and welcome.
So she stayed, and Rosemary hung up a calico curtain across the one
bedroom, so that Annie-Many-Ponies might have a corner to call her own.
She stayed; and Luck rewrote two reels of his scenario so that there
should be a place in it for a beautiful Indian girl who rode like a
whirlwind and did not know the meaning of fear, and who had a mind of her
own, and who was just exactly as harmless in that camp as half a quart of
nitroglycerine, and added thereby a good bit to the load of
responsibility which Luck was shouldering.
"PAM. BLEAK MESA--CATTLE DRIFTING BEFORE WIND--"
"Pam. bleak mesa--snow--cattle drifting before wind. Dale and Johnny dis.
riding to foreground. Reg. cold--horses leg-weary--boys all in--"
Out toward Bear Canyon, where the land to the north rose brokenly to the
mountains, Luck found the bleak stretches of which he had dreamed that
night on the observation platform of a train speeding through the night
in North Dakota,--a great white wilderness unsheltered by friendly
forests, uninhabited save by wild things that moved stealthily across its
windswept ridges. Beyond, the mountains rose barrenly, more bleak than
the land that lay at their feet.
"Pam. bleak mesa--snow--" With the camera set halfway up a gentle slope
commanding a steeper hill beyond, down which the boys would send the
cattle in a slow, uneasy march before the storm, Luck focused his
telephoto lens upon bleakness enough to satisfy even his voracious
appetite for realism. Bill Holmes, his tan pumps wrapped in gunny sacks
for protection against the snow that was a foot deep on the level and
still falling, thrashed his body with his arms, like a windmill whose
paddles have suddenly gone limp in a high wind. When he was ready, Luck
stopped long enough to blow on his fingers and to turn and watch for the
signal from Annie-Many-Ponies, stationed on a higher ridge to the right
of him,--the signal that the cattle were coming.
Through the drive of the snowstorm he saw her tall, straight figure as
through a thin, shifting, white veil. The little black dog, for whom she
had conceived a fierce affection in defiance of Rosemary's tacit
opposition, was lying with its tail curled tight around its feet and its
nose, hunting warmth in the shelter of her flapping garments.
Annie-Many-Ponies was staring away to the north, shielding her keen eyes
from the snow with one slim, brown hand, while she watched for the coming
of the herd.
Luck looked at her, silhouetted against the sky. He had no scene written
in his script to match the picture she made; he had no negative to waste.
But he swung his camera around and, using the telephoto lens he had
adjusted for his cattle scenes, he called to her to hold that pose, and
indulged his artistic sense in a ten-or-twelve foot scene which showed
Annie-Many-Ponies wholly absorbed in gazing upon farther bleakness.
Annie-Many-Ponies was so keenly conscious of her duty to the camera that
she dared not break her pose, even to give the signal, until he had
yelled, "All right, Annie!" and swung the camera back with its recording
eye fixed upon that narrow depression between two blunt ears of hilltop,
through which the herd was to be sent down to the ridge and on past the
camera to the flat, where other scenes were to be taken later on, when
the cattle were hungry enough to browse miserably upon the bosquet of
young cotton woods.
"Cows come!" she called out, because Luck had his back to her at the
moment and did not see the wave of hand she had been told to give him.
Luck, squinting into the view-finder, caught the swaying vanguard of the
herd and swore. He had meant to "pan. bleak mesa" for half a minute
before those swaying heads and horns appeared over the brow of the
ridge. Now, even though he began to turn the crank the instant he
glimpsed them, he would not have quite the effect which he had meant to
have. He would be compelled to make two scenes of it, and pan. his bleak
mesa afterwards and trust to a "cut-in scene" to cover the break. He did
not trust Bill Holmes to turn the crank on that slow, plodding march of
misery. With his diaphragm of the camera wide open to get all the light
possible, because the air was filled with falling snow, he followed the
herd, as it wound snakelike down the easiest descents, making for the
more sheltered small canyons that opened out upon the flat. "Cattle
drifting before the wind," read the script; and now Luck saw them
coming, their snow-whitened backs humped to the driving storm, heads
lowered and swaying weakly from side to side with the shambling motion
of their feet. They were drifting before the wind, just as he had
planned that they should do. That they shuffled wearily down that hill
with poor cows and unweaned calves straggling miserably behind the main
body in "the drag herd," proved how well the boys had done the work
which he had sent them out at daylight to do.
The boys had gone out, under the leadership of Applehead, who knew that
range as he knew his own dooryard, just when daylight began to break
coldly upon the storm that had come with the sunset. Luck had already
ridden out with them and had chosen his location for the blizzard scenes.
He had gone with them over every foot of that drive, and had told them
just where the main body of riders was to fall back behind the ridge that
would hide them from the camera, leaving Andy Green and the Native
Son--since these were the two whom he always visualized in the scene--to
come on alone in the wake of the herd. Under the leadership of old
Applehead, they had combed every draw that sheltered so much as a lone
cow and calf.
Luck had told them to bring in every hoof they could spot and get
over that ridge by ten o'clock. He had a nervous dread of the storm
breaking before noon, and his heart was set on getting that
never-to-be-successfully-faked blizzard scene. Realism ruled him
absolutely, now that he was actually producing some of the big scenes of
this picture. He had told them just where to watch for Annie-Many-Ponies
and the flag she would wave,--a black flag, so that the boys could not
fail to see it in the vague whiteness of the storm. He had located the
jutting ledge behind which Happy Jack was to sneak, that he might watch
for the signal as an extra precaution against an unseasonable appearance
of the two riders over the ridge.
When the herd straggled down in what seemed an endless stream of
storm-driven animals, Luck knew that the boys had done their work well.
He knew cattle as he knew pictures; he knew that a full two thousand came
over that ridge through a shallow pass he had chosen, "'Every hoof' is
right," he remarked to Bill Holmes with a dry approval. "I'd hate to go
hunting meat where that bunch was gathered from. Looks like they'd combed
the country for fifty miles around." He sent a quick glance to the
pinnacle where Annie-Many-Ponies stood waiting to give the signal. He
wished that she had realized the importance of these cattle scenes keenly
enough to have given him the signal at the cost of breaking her pose. But
he had only himself to blame. He should not have taken the risk, even
though he had believed that the cattle would not arrive for another half
hour. He should have been ready; he had told the boys to send them right
over the ridge when they came up to it, because he wanted to preserve
unbroken that indescribable atmosphere of a long, weary journey.
Still they came; a good twenty-five hundred, he was ready to wager, when
the last few stragglers, so weak that they wobbled when they hesitated
before descending a particularly steep place, came down the slope. It
surely did eat up film to take the full magnitude of that march, but Luck
turned and turned and gloated in the bigness of it all.
"All right, Annie," he called out when he had taken the last of the herd
as they filed out of sight into the narrow gully that would lead them to
the flat half a mile below, where he meant to get other scenes. "Wave
flag now for boys to come!"
Annie-Many-Ponies lifted high the black flag and waved it in slow,
sweeping half circles above her head. "Boys, come," she called, a
Luck, still not trusting the camera to Bill Holmes, swung back slowly
to the pass and made a panorama of the desolate hillside and the
chill, forbidding mountains behind. At the pass he stopped. "How
close?" he shouted to Annie. "Come now," she called down to him, and
Luck began to turn the crank again, watching like a hawk for the first
bobbing black specks which would show that the boys were nearing the
crest of the ridge.
They came, on the very instant that he would have chosen for their
coming. Side by side they rode, drooping of shoulders, and yet with their
bodies braced backward for the descent which at the top was rather steep.
"Register cold--horses leg-weary--boys all in--" read the script which
Luck knew by heart. It was cold enough, and the camera must have
registered it in the way the snow was heaped upon their hatbrims, drifted
upon their shoulders, packed in the wrinkles of their clothing and in the
manes and tails of the horses. And the horses certainly were leg-weary;
so weary that Luck knew how the boys must have ridden to gather the
cattle and to put their mounts in that condition of realistic exhaustion.
In the story they were supposed to have ridden nearly all night,--the
night-guard who had been on duty when the storm struck and the cattle
began to drift, and who had stuck to their posts even though they could
not turn the herd.
That might be stretching the probabilities just a shade, but Luck felt
that the effects he wanted to get justified the slight license he had
used in his plot. The effects were there, in generous measure. He
turned the crank on the whole of their descent and got them riding up
into the foreground pinched with cold, miserable as men may be. They
did not look at him--they dared not until he had given the word that
the scene was ended.
"Ride on past, down into that gully where the cattle went," he directed
them sharply. "I'll holler when you're outa sight. You can turn around
and come back then; the scene ends where your hat-crowns bob outa sight.
And listen! You're liable to lose your cattle if you don't spur up a
little, so try and get a little speed into them cayuses of yours!"
Obediently Andy's quirt rose and descended on the flank of his horse. It
started, broke into a shuffling trot, and slowed again to a walk. There
was no speed to be gotten out of those cayuses,--which was what Luck
meant to show on the screen; for this, you must know, was the painting of
one grim phase of the range-man's life. The Native Son spurred his horse
and got a lunge or two that settled presently to the same plodding walk.
Luck pammed them out of sight, bethought him of the rest of the boys, and
commanded Annie-Many-Ponies to call them in.
They came, half frozen, half starved, and so tired they did not know
which discomfort irked them most. They found Luck; his nose purple with
cold marking the footage on his working script with numbed fingers. He
barely glanced at them, and turned away to tell Bill Holmes to take the
camera on down the draw to where that huddle of rocks stood up on the
hillside. Andy and Miguel came back and met the others halfway.
"Say, boss, when do we eat?" Big Medicine inquired anxiously. "By cripes,
I'm holler plumb down to my toes,--and them's froze stiff."
"Eat? We eat when we get these storm scenes taken," Luck told him
heartlessly. "I'm afraid it'll clear up."
"Afraid it'll clear up!" Pink burrowed his chin deeper into his
breath-frosted collar and shivered.
"Oh, quit kicking," the Native Son advised ironically. "We're only living
some of Luck's big minutes he used to tell about."
Luck looked around at them and grinned a little. "Part of the business,
boys," he said. "Think of the picture stuff there is in this storm!"
"Why, sure!" Weary responded with exaggerated cheerfulness. "I've been
freezing artistically ever since daylight. Darn me for leaving my old
sourdough coat at home when I hit for the land of orange blossoms and
singing birds and sunshine."
"Aw, gwan! I never was warm a minute in Los Angeles except when I got hot
at the Acme. Montana never seen the day it was as cold as here."
"Come on, boys, let's get these dissolve scenes of cattle perishing in a
blizzard. After that--hey, Annie! You come, make plenty fire, plenty
coffee. I show you location."
Annie called gently to the little dog, and came striding down through the
snow to fall in docilely three paces behind her adored "brother,"
Wagalexa Conka after the submissive manner of squaws toward the human
male in authority over them.
"Coffee!" Weary murmured ecstatically. "Plenty fire, plenty
Down in the flat where the bushes grew sparsely along the tiny arroyo now
gone dry, the herd had stopped from sheer exhaustion, and were already
nibbling desultorily upon the tenderest twigs. This was what Luck wanted
in his scene, though the cattle must be moved into the location he had
chosen where was just the background effect he wanted to get, with the
bare mesa showing in the far distance. There was a dreary interval of
riding and shouting and urging the cattle up over a low spur of the bluff
and down the other side, and the placing of them to Luck's satisfaction.
I fear that more than one of the boys wondered why that first bit of the
flat would not do, and why Luck insisted that they should bring the herd
to one particular point and no other, and why they must wear out their
horses, and themselves just fussing around among the cattle, scattering
one bunch, bringing others closer together, and driving certain animals
up to foreground, when they very much objected to going there.
Luck had concealed his camera behind the rocks so that he could get a
"close shot" without registering the fact that the cattle were watching
him. His commands to "Edge that black steer over about even with that
white bank!" and later, "Put that cow and calf out this way and drive the
others back a little, so she will have the immediate foreground to
herself," were easier given than obeyed. The cow and calf, for instance,
were much inclined to shamble back with the others, and did not show any
appreciation for the foreground, wherein they were vastly unlike any
other "extras" ever brought before a camera. Still, in spite of all these
drawbacks, the moment arrived when Luck began to turn the crank with his
eyes keen for every detail of that bunch of forlorn, hungry, range cattle
huddled under the scant shelter of a ten-foot bank, while the snows fell
steadily in great flakes which Luck knew would give a grand storm-effect
on the screen. The Happy Family, free for the moment, crowded close to
the fire of dead sagebrush which Annie-Many-Ponies had lighted in the lee
of a high rock, and sniffed longingly at the smell which came steaming up
from the dented two-gallon coffee-boiler blackened from many a camp fire.
Luck was turning the crank and watching his "foreground stuff" so that he
did not at first see the two riders who came loping down the hill which
he was using for background. Whether he would or no, he had got them in
several feet of good scene before he saw them and stopped his camera. He
shouted, but they came on headlong, slipping and sliding in the loose
snow. There could be no doubt that they were headed straight for the
group and felt that their business was urgent, so Luck stepped out from
behind the rocks and started toward them, motioning for them to keep out,
away from the cattle.
"Better let me git in the lead right now," Applehead advised hastily, and
jumped in front of Luck as the two came lunging up. "I know these here
_hombres_, to my sorrer, too, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
But Luck, feeling that his leadership might as well be established then
as any time, pushed the old man back.
"What you want?" he demanded of the foremost who rode up. "Didn't you
hear me tell you to keep out around the cattle?"
"_Adonde va V con mi vaca_?" snapped the first rider in high-keyed
"My brother say where you go with our cattle?" interrupted the other one,
evidently proud of his English.
"I know what he said," Luck snubbed this one bluntly. "I don't know that
they are your cattle. I don't care. We're using them to make motion
pictures. Get outa the way so we can go on with our work." Had he not
spoiled several feet of film because of their coming he might have been
more inclined to placate them. As it was, he did not welcome their
interference, he did not like their looks, and their tones were to his
temper as tow would be to a fire. Their half Mexican, half American dress
irritated him; the interruption exasperated him. He was hungry and cold
and keyed to a high nervous tension in his anxiety to make the most of
his present big opportunity; he knew too well that he might not have
another chance all winter, with the snow falling as if under his
"Get over there outa range of the camera!" he commanded them sharply,
"then you can spout Mex. till you're black in the face, for all I care.
I'm busy." To make himself absolutely understood he repeated the gist of
his remarks in Spanish before he turned his back on them to finish his
Whereupon one swore in Spanish and the other in English, and they both
declared that they would take their cattle right now, and reined their
horses toward the shifting herd.
"Hold on thar, Ramone Chavez!" shouted Applehead, striding forward.
"Didn't you hear the boss tell ye to git outa the way, both of yuh? Yuh
better do it, now I'm tellin' yuh, 'cause if yuh don't, they's goin' to
be right smart of a runction around here! A good big share uh them thar
cattle belongs to me. Don't ye go messin' in there amongst 'em; you jest
ride back outa the way uh that thar camery. Git!"
At Applehead's command they "got," at least as far as the camp fire,
where the bright shawl of Annie-Many-Ponies caught and held their
interest. Annie-Many-Ponies, being a woman who had both youth and
beauty and sensed instinctively the value of both, sent a slant-eyed
glance and a half smile toward Ramone, who possessed more good looks
and more English than his brother. The Happy Family eyed them with a
tolerant indifference and moved aside with reluctant hospitality when
Ramone dismounted shiveringly and came forward to warm his fingers over
"She's cold day, you bet," Ramone remarked ingratiatingly.
"She ain't what you could call hot," Big Medicine conceded drily, since
no one else showed any disposition to reply.
"We don't get much snow like this. You live in Albuquerque, perhaps?"
There was really no excuse for snubbing these two, who had been well
within their rights in making an investigation of this unheralded and
unauthorized gathering of all the cattle on this range. Andy told Ramone
where they were staying and where they came from, and let it go at that.
The less Americanized brother dismounted and joined the group with a nod
"My brother Tomas," announced Ramone, with a flash of white teeth, his
eyes shifting unobtrusively toward Annie-Many-Ponies, who wore a secret,
half-smiling air of provocative interest in him. "Not spik much English,
my brother. Always stay too much at home. Me, I travel all over--Denver,
Los Angeles, San Francisco. I ride in all contests--Pueblo, San
Antonio--all over. Tomas, he go not so often. His head, all for
business--making money--get rich some day. Me, I spend. My hand wide open
always. Money slip fast."
"There's plenty of us marked that way," Weary made good-natured comment,
turning so that his back might feel the heat of the fire.
"Shunka Chistala!" murmured Annie-Many-Ponies in her soft contralto to
the little black dog, and moved away to the mountain wagon, with the dog
following close to her moccasined heels.
Ramone looked after her with frank surprise at the strange words. "Not
Spanish, then?" he ventured.
"Indian," the Native Son explained briefly, and added, perhaps for
reasons of his own, "Sioux squaw."
Ramone very wisely let his curiosity rest there. He had a good excuse,
for Luck, having finished work for the time being, came tramping over to
the fire. At him Ramone glanced apologetically.
"We borrow comfort from your fire, _senor_," he said indifferently.
"She's bad day for riding."
Luck nodded, already ashamed of having lost his temper, yet not at the
point of yielding openly to any overtures for peace. "Soon as we eat," he
said to Weary and those others who stood nearest, "I'll have you cut out
that poor cow and calf and drive 'em down the flat here, so I can get
that other scene I was telling you about."
"Wagalexa Conka, here is plenty hot coffee," came a soft voice at his
elbow, and Luck turned with a smile to take the steaming cup from the
hand of Annie-Many-Ponies.
The Native Son poured a cup and offered it to Tomas Chavez. "_Quire
cafe_?" he asked.
"_Si, senor; Gracias_." Tomas smiled, and took the cup and bowed.
Annie-Many-Ponies herself, with a sidelong glance at Luck to see if she
might dare, carried the biggest cup of coffee to Ramone, and smiled
demurely when he took it and looked into her eyes and thanked her.
In this fashion did the social sky clear, even though the snow continued
to drive against those who broke bread together out there in the dreary
wastes, with the snow halfway to their knees. The Native Son, being half
Spanish and knowing well the language of his father, talked a little with
Tomas. Ramone made himself friendly with any one who would give him any
attention. But Applehead scowled over his boiled-beef sandwich and his
coffee, and kept his back turned upon the Chavez brothers, and would not
talk at all. He eyed them sourly when they still loitered after the meal
was over and the remains packed away in the box by Annie-Many-Ponies, and
Luck had gone to work again with Bill Holmes at his heels and the boys
helping to place the cattle to Luck's liking.
When the Chavez brothers finally did show symptoms of intending to leave,
Luck beckoned to Tomas, whom he judged to be the leader. "Here," he said
in Spanish, when Tomas had come close to him. "I will pay you for using
your cattle. When I am through, my boys will drive them back to the mesa
again. For my picture I may need them again, _senor_. I promise you they
will not be harmed." And he charged in his expense book the sum, "to use
"_Gracias_," said Tomas, and took the five dollars which Luck could ill
afford to give, but which he felt would smooth materially the trail to
their future work. Cattle he must have for his picture; cattle he would
have at any cost,--but it would be well to have them with the consent of
their owners. So the Chavez brothers rode away with smiles for their
neighbors instead of threats, and with five dollars which had come to
them like a gift.
"Yuh might better uh kicked 'em outa here without no softsoapin' about
it, now I'm tellin' yuh!" Applehead grumbled when they were out of
earshot. "You may know your business better'n what I do, but by thunder I
wouldn't uh give 'em no five dollars--ner five cents. 'S like feedin' a
stray dog; yuh won't never git rid of 'em now. They'll be hangin' around
under yer feet--"
"At that, I might have use for them," Luck retorted unmoved. "They're
"Types!" old Applehead exploded indignantly. "Types! They're
sneak-thieves and cutthroats 't I wouldn't trust fur's I could throw a
bull by the tail. That's what they be. Types,--my granny!"
"PLUMB SPOILED, D' YUH MEAN?"
Luck came out of the dark room with the still, frozen, look of a trouble
that has gone too deep for words. Annie-Many-Ponies eyed him aslant and
straightway placed the hottest, juiciest piece of steak on his plate, and
poured his coffee even before she poured for old Dave Wiswell, whom she
favored as being an old acquaintance of the Pine Ridge country.
Once when her father, old chief Big Turkey, had broken his leg and
refused to have a doctor attend him, and had said that he would die if
his "son" did not make his leg well, Luck had looked as he looked now.
Still, he had set chief Big Turkey's leg so well that it grew straight
and strong again. Annie-Many-Ponies might be primitive as to her nature
and untutored as to her mind, but she could read the face of her brother
Wagalexa Conka swiftly and surely. Something was very bad in his heart.
Annie-Many-Ponies searched her soul for guilt, remembered the smile she
had given to Ramone Chavez whom Wagalexa Conka did not like, and
immediately she became humbled before her chief.
Shunka Chistala--which is Sioux for little dog--she banished into the
cold, and hardened her heart, against his whining. It is true that
Wagalexa Conka had not forbidden her to have the little dog in the
house, but in his displeasure he might make the dog an excuse for
scolding her and for taking the part of Rosemary, who hated dogs in the
house, and who was trying, by every ingratiating means known to woman,
to make a friend of Compadre. Rosemary was a white woman and the wife of
Wagalexa Conka's friend; Annie-Many-Ponies was an Indian girl, not even
of the same race as her brother Wagalexa Conka. And although her vanity
might lead her to believe herself and her smile the cause of Luck's
mask-like displeasure, she had no delusions as to which side he would
take in an argument between herself and Shunka Chistala on the one side,
and Rosemary and Compadre on the other; and in the back of her mind
lived always the fear that Wagalexa Conka might refuse to let her stay
and work for him in pictures.
Therefore Annie-Many-Ponies crouched humbly before the rock
fireplace, until Luck missed her at the table and told her to come
and eat; she came as comes a dog who has been beaten, and slid into
her place as noiselessly as a shadow,--humility being the heritage of
her sex and race.
No one talked at all. Even Rosemary seemed depressed and made no attempt
to stir the Happy Family to their wonted cheerfulness. They were worn out
from their long day that had been filled with real hardships as well as
work. In the general silence, Luck's deeper gloom seemed consistent and
only to be expected; for hard as the others had worked, he had worked
harder. His had been the directing brain; his hand had turned the camera
crank, lest Bill Holmes, not yet familiar with his duties, might fail
where failure would be disaster. He had endured the cold and the storm,
tramping back and forth in the snow, planning, directing, doing literally
the work of two men. Annie-Many-Ponies alone knew that exhaustion never
brought just that look into Luck's face. Annie-Many-Ponies knew that
something was very bad in Luck's heart. She knew, and she trembled while
she ate with a precise attention to her table manners lest he chide her
openly before them all.
"How long do you think this storm will last, Applehead?" Luck asked, when
he had walked heavily over to the fireplace for his smoke, and had drawn
a match sharply along the rough face of a rock.
"We-ell, she's showin' some signs uh clearin' up to-night," Applehead
stated with careful judgment, because he felt that Luck's question had
much to do with Luck's plans, and was not a mere conversational bait.
"Wind, she's shiftin', er was, when I come in to supper. She shore come
down like all git-out ever since she started, and I calc'late she's about
stormed out. I look fer sun all day to-morrer, boy." This last in a tone
of such manifest encouragement that Luck snorted. (Back by the table in
the kitchen, Annie-Many-Ponies paused in her piling of plates and
listened breathlessly. She knew that particular sound. Wagalexa Conka
would presently reveal what was bad in his heart.)
"That would be my luck, all right," her chief stated pessimistically.
"What's the matter with the sun, now?" Big Medicine boomed reprovingly.
"Comin' in, you said you had your blizzard stuff, and now if the sun'd
jest come out, by cripes, you'd be singin' songs uh thanksgivin'--er
words to that effect. Honest to gran'ma, there's folks that'd kick if--"
"But I haven't got my blizzard stuff," Luck stated, harshly because of
the effort to speak at all. "All that negative I took to-day is chuck
full of 'static.'"
Annie-Many-Ponies, out in the kitchen, dropped a granite-iron plate, but
the others merely stared at Luck uncomprehendingly.
"Well, say, by cripes! What's statics?" demanded Big Medicine
pugnaciously, as though he meant to ward off from his mind the
realization of some new misfortune.
Luck's lips twitched in the faint impulse toward a smile that would not
come. "Statics," he explained, "is that branch of mechanics that relates
to bodies held at rest by the forces acting on them. In other words, it
is electricity in a stationary charge, the condition being produced by
friction, or induction. In other words--"
"In other words," Big Medicine supplied glumly, "I can shut up and mind
my own business. I get yuh, all right!"
"Nothing like that, Bud," Luck corrected more amiably, warmed a little by
the sympathy he knew would follow close upon the heels of understanding.
"Static is a technical word used a good deal in motion-picture
photography. In this case it was caused, I think, by the difference of
temperature in the metal parts of the camera and negative, and the
weather outside the camera box. I've been keeping it here in the house
where it's warm, and I took it out into the cold and started
work--_sabe_? And the grinding of the bearings, and the action of the
film on the race plate, generated static electricity in tiny flashes
which lighted up the interior of the camera and light-exposed the
negative, as it was passing from one magazine to another. When it's
developed, these flashes show up in contrasty lights, like tiny grape
vines; I can show you that part; I've got about a mile of it, more or
less, there in the dark room."
"Plumb spoiled, d' yuh mean?" Big Medicine asked, his voice hushed before
"Plumb spoiled." Luck threw his cigarette stub viciously into the
blaze. "All that drifting herd, all that panoram of Andy and
Miguel--all--everything I took to-day, with the exception of those last
scenes with the cow and calf. The one where the cow is down and the snow
drifting over her, and the calf huddled there by the carcass,--that's
dandy. Camera and negative were cold as the outside air by that time.
That one scene will stand out big; it's got an awful big punch, provided
I had the stuff leading up to it, which I haven't got."
"Hell!" said Andy softly, voicing the dismay of them all.
Presently old Applehead unlimbered himself from his chair and went out
into the cold and darkness. When he came back, ribbing his knuckles
for warmth, he stood before the fireplace and ruminated dispiritedly
before he spoke.
"Ain't ary hope of it blizzardin' to-morrer, boy," he broke his silence
reluctantly, "'less the wind changes, which she don't act to me like
she's got ary notion of doin'; she's shore goin' to blind ye with sun
to-morrer, now I'm tellin' yuh."
"Well, there won't be any more static in my film," Luck declared with
sudden decision, and carried his camera outside. When he returned
Applehead eyed him solicitously.
"We-ell, this ain't but the middle uh November, yuh want to recollect,"
he said. "We're liable to have purtier storms 'n what this here one was,
'fore winter's over. Cattle'll be in worse condition, too,--ribs stickin'
out so'st you kin count 'em a mile off 'n' more. Way winter's startin'
in, wouldn't s'prise me a mite if we had storms all through till spring
Luck knew the old man was trying in his crude way to encourage him, but
he made no reply, and Applehead relapsed into drowsy meditation over his
pipe. The boys, yawning sleepily, trailed off to bed in the Ketch-all
cabin. Rosemary and Annie-Many-Ponies, having finished washing the dishes
and tidying the kitchen, came through the room on their way to bed,
Annie-Many-Ponies cunningly hiding the little black dog behind her
skirts. Rosemary frowned at the two and went to the door and called
Compadre; but the blue cat, scenting a dog in the house, meowed his
regrets and would not come.
"I'll take 'im down with me," said Applehead, rising stiffly. "He cain't
take no comfort in the house no more--not till he spunks up and licks
that thar dawg a time er two. Comin', Luck?" he added, waiting at the
door. But Luck was staring into the fire and did not seem to hear him, so
Applehead went off alone to where the Happy Family were already creeping
thankfully into their hard bunks.
The house grew still; so still that Luck could hear the wind whispering
in the chimney, coming from the quarter which meant clearing weather. He
sighed, flung more wood on the coals to drive back the chill of the
night, and got out his scenario and some sheets of blank paper and a
pencil. He had sold his typewriter when he was raising money for this
trip, and he was inclined now to regret it. But he sharpened the pencil,
laid a large-surfaced "movie" magazine across his knees, and prepared to
revise his scenario to meet his present limitations.
With a good thousand feet of film spoiled through no real fault of his
own, and with the expenses he knew he must meet looming inexorably before
him, he simply could not afford a leading woman. Therefore, he must
change his story, making it a "character" lead instead of the
conventional hero and heroine theme. Chance--he called it luck--had sent
him Annie-Many-Ponies, who "Wants no monies." He must change his story so
that she would fit into it as the necessary feminine element, but he was
discouraged enough that night to tell himself that, just as he had her
placed and working properly, the Indian Agent or her father, old Big
Turkey, would probably demand her immediate return. In his despondent
mood he had no faith in his standing with the Indians or in the letter he
had written to the Agent. His "one best bet", as he put it, was to make
her scenes as soon as possible, before they had time to reach him with a
letter; therefore he must reconstruct his scenario immediately, so that
he could get to work in the morning, whatever the weather.
He read the script through from beginning to end, and his heart went
heavy in his chest. He did not want to change one scene of that Big
Picture. Just as it stood it seemed to him perfect in its way. It had the
bigness of the West when the West was young. It had the red blood of
courage, the strength of achievement, the sweetness of a great love. It
was, in short, Luck's biggest, best work. Still, without a woman to play
Luck sighed and dampened his pencil on his tongue and drew a heavy line
through the scene where "Marian" first appeared in the story. It hurt him
like drawing a hot wire across his hand. It was his first real
compromise, his first step around an obstacle in his path rather than his
usual bold jump over it. He looked at the pencil mark and considered
whether he could not send for a girl young in the profession, who would
be satisfied with her transportation and thirty or forty dollars a week
while she stayed. He could make all her scenes and send her back. But a
little mental arithmetic, coupled with the cold fact that he did not know
of any young woman who was capable of doing the work he required and
would yet be satisfied with a small salary, killed that new-born hope. He
drew a line through the next scene where the girl appeared.
When he had quite blotted the girl from his story, he was appalled at the
gap he must fill in the continuity and in the theme. He had left old Dave
Wiswell, his dried little cattleman, a childless old man--or else a
"squaw" man whose squaw has, presumably, died before the story began.
Somehow he could not "see" his cattleman as one who would set aside the
barrier of race and take a squaw for his wife. He could not see
Annie-Many-Ponies as anything save what she was--a beautiful young savage
with an odd adornment of civilized speech and some of the civilized
customs, it is true, but a savage for all that. He did not want to spoil
her by portraying her as a half-caste in his picture.
He must make his story a man's story, with the full interest centered
about the man's hopes, his temptations, his achievements. The
woman--Annie, as he saw the woman now--must be of secondary interest. He
laid his head against the chair back in his favorite attitude for
uninterrupted thought, and stared into the fire. In this way he had
stared out into the night of the Dakota prairie; at first brooding in
discontent because things were not as he would have them, then drifting
into dreams of what he would like; then weaving his dreams together and
creating a something complete in itself. So had he created his Big
Picture,--the picture which was already beginning to live in the narrow
strips of negative. A few hundred feet of that negative were even dry and
filed away ready for cutting; unimportant scenes, to be sure, with all of
his "big stuff" yet to be produced. His mind went methodically over the
completed scenes, judging each one separately, seeking some change of
plot that would yet permit these scenes to be used. From there his
thought drifted to the day's work in the blizzard,--the day's work that
had been lost because of atmospheric conditions. Blizzard stuff he must
have, he told himself stubbornly. Not only was that a phase of the range
which he must portray if his picture were to be complete; he must have it
to lead the story up to that tragic, pitifully eloquent scene which had
come out clear and photographically perfect,--the scene of the old cow's
struggle against the storm and of her final surrender, too weak to match
her puny strength against the furies of wind and snow and cold. That
scene would live long in the minds of those who saw it; that scene alone
would lift his picture above the dead level of mediocrity. But he must
have another blizzard....
His eyelids drooped low over his tired eyes; through their narrowing
opening he stared at the yellow glow of the fire. Only half awake, he
dreamed of the herd drifting down that bleak hillside, with Andy and the
Native Son riding doggedly after them. Only half awake, his story
changed, grew indistinct, clarified in stray scenes, held aloof from
him, grew and changed, and was another story. And always in the
background of his mind went that drifting herd. Sometimes snow-whitened,
their backs humped in the wind, their heads lowered and swaying weakly
from side to side, the cattle marched and marched before him, sometimes
obscured by the blackness of night, a vague procession of moving
shadows; sometimes revealed suddenly when the lightning split the
blackness. Like a phantom herd--
"The phantom herd!" Aloud he cried the words. "_The Phantom Herd_!" He
sat up straight in his chair. Here was his title, for which his mind had
groped so long and could not grasp. His title--
"What--that you, Luck?" Andy Green's voice came sleepily from the next
room. "What yuh want?"
"I've got my title!" Luck called back, his voice exultant. "And I've got
my story, too! Get up, Andy, and let me tell you the plot!"
Whereupon Andy proved himself a real friend and an unselfish one. He felt
as if getting up out of bed was the final, supreme torture under which a
man may live; but he got up, for there was something in Luck's voice that
thrilled him even through the clogging sleep-hunger. Presently he was
sitting in his trousers and socks and shirt, sleepy-eyed beside Luck.
"Shoot it outa your system," he mumbled, and began feeling stupidly for
his cigarette papers. "_E--a-ough!_" he yawned, if so inarticulate a
sound may be spelled. "I knew you'd have to work your story over," he
said, more normal of tone after the yawn. And he added bluntly,
"Rosemary's one grand little woman--but she couldn't act if you trained
her a thousand years. What's your next best bet?"
"No next best; it's _the_ picture this time. _The Phantom Herd_. Get that
as a title?"
"Gee!" Andy softly paid tribute. Then he grinned. "By gracious, they
sure didn't act to me like any phantom herd when we first headed 'em
into that wind!"
"Them babies are going to march us up to a pile of real money, though,"
Luck asserted eagerly.
"Listen. Here's the story--the part I've changed; all the first part is
the same--the trail-herd and all. You're old Dave's son, and you're
wild. You quarrel, and he turns you out, thinking he'll let you rustle
for yourself awhile, and maybe tame down and come back more like he wants
you to be. But you don't tame that way. You throw in with Miguel, and you
two turn rustlers. You hold a grudge against your dad, and you rustle
from him mostly, on the plea that by rights what's his is yours--you
know. Annie is Mig's sweetheart, and she's a kind of go-between--keeps
you posted on what's taking place on the outside, and all that. I
haven't," he explained hastily, "doped out the details yet. I'm giving
you the main points I want to bring out. Well, here's the big stuff; you
get a big herd together. You're holding 'em in a box canyon,--I know the
spot, all right,--waiting for a chance to drive them outa the country;
see? This blizzard hits, and you take advantage of it to drive the herd
out under cover of the storm. But the blizzard beats you. You trail 'em
along, but there's only two of you, and you can't keep 'em from swinging
away from the wind. You try to hold the herd into the storm,--that's
where I'll get my big storm effects,--but they swing off in spite of you.
Your horses get tired; all you can do is follow the herd. Lord! I wish
that stuff I took to-day wasn't spoiled! I sure would have had some big
stuff there. Well, Mig's horse goes down in a drifted wash. You're trying
to point the herd then, and the storm's so thick you don't miss him at
first, we'll say.
"Anyway, as I've doped it out, Mig loses his life. You find him
dead--whether then or later I don't know yet. The punch is this: You have
been getting pretty sick of the life, and wishing you had behaved
yourself and stayed with your dad. But you've been afraid of Mig. You
couldn't see any chance of taking the back trail as long as he was alive
to tell on you. Now he's dead. I guess maybe you better find him right
there in the blizzard--hurt maybe--anyway, just about all in. You try to
save him, _sabe_? You can't, though."
"I still don't see no phantom herd," observed Andy, wriggling his toes
luxuriously in the warmth of the fire.
"Well, listen. You'll see it in a minute. You go back home after your
pard's dead. You have a close squeak yourself, see? And the thing works
on your mind. Cutting out the frills, you see things. You see a herd
drifting before a storm, maybe,--a blizzard like yesterday, with your pal
riding point. You try to come up with it--no herd there. You come to
yourself and go back home. Then maybe some black night you're brooding
before a fire like this--I can get a great firelight effect on your face,
sitting like this"--Luck, actor that he was, made Andy see just how the
scenes would look--"have a flare in the fire to throw the light back on
you; see what I mean? And outside a thunderstorm is rolling up. A bright
flash of lightning startles you. You go to the door and open it; you see
the herd drifting past with Mig trailing along on his horse--black
shadows, and then standing out clear in the lightning--"
"How the deuce--"
"I'll do that with 'lap dissolves' and double exposures. Lots of work
that will be, and careful work, but the result will be--why, Lord! It
will be immense! That herd and the lone rider haunt you till you're on
the edge of being crazy. Then I'll bring out somehow that it's a nervous
condition, which of course it is. And I'll bring old Dave in strong; he
follows you some night, and he finds out what you're after. You tell
him--make a clean breast of your rustling, see? Just unburden your mind
to your dad. He's big enough to see that he isn't altogether clear of
guilt himself, for sending you off the way he did. Anyway, that pulls you
out of it. The phantom herd and rider pass over the sky line some
night--Lord, I can see what a picture I can get out of that!--and out of
"Unh-hunh--that's a heap better than your first story, Luck."
"Andy, are you boys going to talk all night?" the voice of Rosemary came
plaintively from the next room.
"Here. You go back to bed," Luck generously commanded. "I just wanted to
get your idea of what it sounds like. I'll block it out before I turn in.
Go on, now."
So Luck wrote his new story of _The Phantom Herd_ that night. He had a
midnight supper of warmed-over coffee and cold bean sandwiches, but he
did not have any sleep. When he had finished with a last big, artistic
scene that made his pulse beat faster in the writing of it, the white
world outside was growing faintly pink under the rising sun.
A LETTER FROM CHIEF BIG TURKEY
Annie-Many-Ponies, keen of eye when her heart directed her glances, saw
the Kyle postmark on a letter while Applehead was sorting Luck's mail
from the weekly batch he had just brought. Luck also spied the Kyle
postmark and the familiar handwriting of George-Low-Cedar, who was a
cousin of Annie-Many-Ponies and the most favored scribe of Big Turkey's
numerous family. There was no mistaking those self-conscious shadings on
the downward strokes of the pen, or the twice-curled tails of all the
capitals. The capital M, for instance, very much resembled a dandelion
stem split and curled by the tongue of a little girl.
George-Low-Cedar and none other had written that letter, and Big Turkey
himself had probably composed it in great deliberation over his pipe,
while the smoke of his _tepee_ fire curled over his head, and his squaw
crouched in the shadow listening stolidly while her heart ached with
longing for the girl-child who had gone a-wandering. Annie-Many-Ponies
slid unobtrusively to the door and flattened her back against the wall
beside it, ready to slip out into the dusk if she read in Wagalexa
Conka's face that the letter was unpleasant.
Luck did not say a word while he held the letter up and looked at it; he
did not say a word, but Annie-Many-Ponies knew, as well as though he had
spoken, that he too feared what the contents might be. So she stood flat
against the wall and watched his face, and saw how his fingers fumbled at
the flap of the envelope, and how slowly he drew out the cheap, heavily
ruled, glazed paper that is sold alongside plug tobacco and pearl buttons
and safety pins in the Indian traders' stores. Staring from under her
straight brows at that folded letter, Annie-Many-Ponies had a swift,
clear vision of the little store set down in the midst of barrenness and
dust, and of the squaws sitting wrapped in bright shawls upon the
platform while their lords gravely purchased small luxuries within. As a
slim, barefooted papoose, proud of her shapeless red calico slip buttoned
unevenly up the back with huge white buttons, and of her hair braided in
two sleek braids and tied with strips of the same red calico, she had
stood flattened against the wall of the store while her father, Big
Turkey, bought tobacco. She had hoped that the fates might be kind and
send her a five-cent bag of red-and-white gum drops. Instead, Big Turkey
had brought her a doll,--a pink-cheeked doll of the white people. In her
cheap suitcase which she had carried wrapped in her shawl on her back to
the ranch, Annie-Many-Ponies still had that doll. So with her eyes fixed
upon the letter, her mind stared trance-like at the vision of that
long-ago day which had been to her so wonderful.
Then Wagalexa Conka looked at her and smiled, and the vision of the store
and the slim, barefooted papoose with her doll vanished. The smile meant
that all was well, that she might stay with Wagalexa Conka and be his
Indian girl in the picture of _The Phantom Herd_. Annie-Many-Ponies
smiled back at him,--the slow, sweet, sphinx-like smile which Luck called
"heart-twisting,"--and slipped out into the night with her heart beating
fast in a strange mixture of joy that she might stay, and of homesickness
for the little store set down in the midst of barrenness and dust, and
for that long-ago day that had been so wonderful.
"Read this," said Luck, still smiling, and gave the letter into the
flour-dusted hands of Rosemary. "Ever see a real, dyed-in-the-wool,
Indian letter? Sure takes a load off my mind, too; you never can tell how
an idea is going to hit an Indian. Pass it on to the boys."
So Rosemary read, with the whole Happy Family crowding close to look over
Kyle, P. Office
Pine Ridge, So. D
at Motion Pictures ranch,
Albequrqe, New M.
I this day gets letter from agent at agency who tell my girl you sisters
are now at New mexicos with you pictures. shes go way one days at night
times and to-morrow mornings i no find him. i am glad she sees you. you
Take care same as with shows them Buffalo bill. all indians have hard
times for cold and much hays and fires of prairies loses much. them
indians shake you hands with good hearts they have with you. send me blue
silks ribbon send Me pictures so i can see you. Again i shake you by
hand with good heart same as I see you. Speak one Letters quick again.
"Pretty good spelling, for an Indian letter," Rosemary commented
suspiciously. "Are you sure an Indian wrote it, Luck Lindsay?"
"Why, certainly, I'm sure!" Luck was shuffling his other letters with the
air of a man whose mind has for the moment lost its load of trouble.
"George-Low-Cedar wrote it. I know his writing. He's Annie's cousin, and
he thinks he's highly educated. Indians have great memories, and once
they learn to spell a word, they never seem to forget it. They learn to
spell in school. What they don't learn is how to put the words together
the way we do. Cousin George is also shaky on capitals, you notice. Now
to-morrow we can go ahead with that big cattle-stuff. I can take my time
about making Annie's scenes; I was afraid I might have to rush them all
through first thing, so as to send her back. I'm sure glad she can stay;
she's good to have around, to help in the house."
Rosemary screwed up her lips and gave him a queer look, but Luck had
turned his attention to another letter, and she did not say what was in
her mind. Annie-Many-Ponies, speaking theoretically, was good to have
around to help Rosemary. In actual practice, however, Rosemary found her
not so good. Personally Annie was fastidiously tidy, which Rosemary
ungenerously set down to youthful vanity rather than to innate
cleanliness. When it came to washing dishes, however, Annie-Many-Ponies
left much to be desired. She was prone to disappear about the time she
reached the biscuit-basin and the frying-pan stage of the thrice-daily
performance. She was prone to fancy she heard Wagalexa Conka calling her,
or Shunka Chistala barking in pursuit of the cat, or a hen cackling out
in the weeds; whatever the sound, it invariably became a summons which
Annie-Many-Ponies must instantly obey. Then she forgot to come back
within the next two or three hours, and Rosemary must finish the dishes
herself. But all this, as Rosemary well knew, was an unimportant detail
of the general scheme of work going on at Applehead's ranch.
To her it seemed wonderful, the way Luck was pushing his picture to
completion against long odds sometimes, fighting some difficulty always.
Much as she secretly resented certain Indian traits in Annie-Many-Ponies,
and pleased as she would secretly have been if the girl had been recalled
to the reservation, she was generously relieved because Luck could now go
ahead with his round-up and trail-herd scenes while the weather was mild
and sunny, and need not hurry the Indian-girl scenes at all.
In the ten days since the blizzard, Luck had worked hard. Some night
scenes in a cow-town he had already taken, driving late in the afternoon
into Albuquerque with his radium flares and his full company. Rosemary's
memory cherished those nights as rare and precious experiences. First
there were the old-time scenes, half Mexican in their atmosphere, when
the dried little man was young, and the trail-herd started north. For
these scenes Luck himself played the part of Dave Wiswell, turning the
camera work over to Bill Holmes. Then there were the scenes of a later
period,--scenes of carousal which depicted her beloved Andy as a very
wild young man who spent his nights riotously. One full day of sunshine
had also been spent at the stockyards there, taking shipping scenes.
On this day the two women had stayed at home, and Rosemary had nearly
quarreled with Annie-Many-Ponies because Annie would not mend her
stockings, but had spent the whole afternoon teaching Shunka Chistala
to chase prairie dogs, the game being to try and frighten them away
from their holes and then catch them. Annie-Many-Ponies attended to the
strategic direction of the enterprise and let Shunka Chistala do most
of the running. The high, clear laughter of the girl and her
unintelligible cries to the little black dog had irritated Rosemary to
the point of tears.
There had been no more days wasted because of spoiled film,--Luck was
carefully guarding against that,--and it seemed to Rosemary that there
were miles of it developed and dried and pigeon-holed, ready for
assembling. That part of the work she was especially interested in,
because it was done in the house.
To her it might seem that miles of film had been made, but to Luck it
seemed as though the work crawled with maddening deliberation. Delays
fretted him. The mounting expense account worried him, though as a matter
of fact it mounted slowly, considering the work he was doing and the size
of the company he was maintaining. When he took film clippings to a town
photographer to have enlargements made for "stills,"--the pictures which
must accompany each set of prints as advertising matter,--the cost of the
work gave him the blues for the rest of that day. Then there were the
Chavez boys, whom he had found it expedient to use occasionally in his
big range scenes and in his "cow-town stuff." They had no conception of
regular rates as extras, but Luck had a conscience, and he had also
established a precedent. Whenever he used them in pictures, he gave Tomas
five dollars and left it to Tomas to divide with Ramone. And five
dollars, added to other fives and tens and twenty-fives, soon amounts to
an amazing whole when anxiety holds the pencil.
As his story had changed and developed into _The Phantom Herd_ plot, it
had lengthened appreciably, because he could not and would not sacrifice
his big range stuff. And double exposures meant double work, of course.
He found himself with a five-reel picture in the making instead of the
four-reeler he had started to produce. Thus he was compelled to send for
more "raw stock." Also, he soon ran out of lumber for his interior sets
and must buy more. As the possibilities of his production grew plainer to
him, Luck knew that he could not slight a single scene nor skimp it in
the making. He could go hungry if it came to that, but he could not
cheapen his story by using make-shift settings.
Thanksgiving came, and they scarcely knew it, for the weather was fine,
and they spent the day far afield and came in after dark, too tired to be
thankful for anything save the opportunity to sleep.
Christmas came so suddenly that they wondered where the month had gone.
Christmas Eve the Happy Family spent in arranging a round-up camp out
behind the house where the hill rose picturesquely, and in singeing
themselves heroically in the heat of radium flares, while Luck took his
camp-fire scenes that were triumphs of lighting-effects and
photography,--scenes which he would later tone red with aniline dyes.
Annie-Many-Ponies and Rosemary brought out the two-gallon coffee boiler
and a can of cream and a small lard pail of sugar, with cups and tin
spoons and a pan of boiled-beef and cold-bean sandwiches. Rosemary called
"Merry Christmas!" when the dying radium flares betrayed her approach,
and the Happy Family jumped up and shouted "Merry Christmas!" to her and
one another, just as exuberantly as though they had been celebrating
instead of adding six hours or so to a hard day's work.
"That was beautiful, Luck Lindsay," Rosemary declared, giving him a bean
sandwich for which he declared himself "strong," and holding the sugar
bucket steady while he dipped into it three times.
"We were watching from the house; and the boys' faces, the way you
had them placed, looked--oh, I don't know, but it just sent shivers
all over me, it was so beautiful. I just hope it comes out that way
in the picture!"
"Better," mumbled Luck, taking great, satisfying bites into the sandwich.
"Wait till you see it--after it's colored--with the chuck-box end of the
wagon showing, and the night horses standing back there in the shadows;
she will sure look like a million dollars!"
"She'll shore depict me cookin' and the smoke bilin' up," poor old
Applehead remarked lugubriously. "Last five minutes er so I could hear
grease a-fryin' on my shins, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
"Well, they don't use radium flares in cold-storage plants," Luck
"I know, by cripes, I'm goin' to mend my ways," Big Medicine
declared meaningly. "I never realized b'fore how fire 'n brimstone's
goin' to feel!"
"Well, I've got to hand it to you, boys," Luck praised them with a smile.
"You sat tight, and when I said 'Hold,' you sure held the pose. You
dissolved perfectly--you'll see."
"Aw, gwan!" contradicted Happy Jack with his mouth full. "I never
dissolved; I plumb melted!"
"If you boys could just see how beautiful you looked," Rosemary reproved,
starting on her second round with the coffee boiler. "I saw it from
behind the camera, and Luck had you sitting so the light was shining on
your faces; honestly, you looked _beautiful_!"
"Aw, gwan!" gurgled Happy Jack, reddening uncomfortably.
"It's late," Luck broke in, emptying his cup the second time. "But I'm
going to make that firelight scene of you, Annie. The wind happens to be
just right for the flame effect I want. Did you make up, as I told you?"
For answer, Annie-Many-Ponies threw back her shrouding red shawl and
stepped proudly out before him in the firelight. Her brown arms were bare
and banded with bracelets of some dull metal. Her fringed dress of
deerskin was heavily embroidered with stained porcupine quills. Her slim
feet were clothed in beaded moccasins. It was the gala dress of the
daughter of a chief, and as the daughter of a chief she stood straight
and slender and haughty before him. The Happy Family stared at her,
astonished. They had not even known that she possessed such a costume.
Ordinarily the Happy Family would have taken immediate advantage of their
freedom and would have gone to bed and to the sleep for which their tired
bodies hungered the more as the food and hot coffee filled them with a
sense of well-being. But not even Rosemary wanted to go and miss any of
that wonderful scene where Annie-Many-Ponies, young savage that she was,
stood in the light of her flaming camp fire and prayed to her gods before
she went to meet her lover. She rehearsed it once before Luck lighted the
radium flares. Then, in the searing heat of that white-hot flame, which
will melt rock as a candle melts, Annie-Many-Ponies crossed herself, and
then lifted her young face and bare arms to the heavens and prayed as the
priest in the mission school had taught her,--a real prayer in her own
Indian tongue, while Luck turned the crank and gloated professionally in
The Happy Family, watching her, remembered that it was Christmas morning;
remembered oddly, in the midst of their work, the old, old story of the
three Wise Men and the Star, and of the Wonder-Child in the manger.
Something there was in the voice and the face of Annie-Many-Ponies that
suggested it. Something there was of adoration in her upturned glance, as
if she too were looking for the Star.
They did not talk much after that, and when they did, their voices were
lower than usual. They banked the fire with sand, and Bill Holmes
shouldered the camera with its precious store of scenes. As they trooped
silently down to the house and to their beds, they felt something of the
magnitude of life, something of the mystery. Behind them, treading
noiselessly in her beaded deerskin moccasins, Annie-Many-Ponies followed
like a houseless wraith of the plains, the little black dog at her heels.
"THE CHANCES IS SLIM AND GITTIN' SLIMMER"
"Must be going to snow," Weary observed with a sly twinkle, "'cause Paddy
cat has got his tail brustled up bigger than a trapped coon."
"Aw, that's because Shunky Cheestely chased him all the way up from the
corral a minute ago," Happy Jack explained the phenomenon. "I betcher he
swaps ends some uh these times and gives that dog the s'prise of his
life. He come purty near makin' a stand t'night."
"We-ell, when he does turn on that thar mongrel purp, they's goin' to be
some dawg scattered around over the premises--now I'm tellin' yuh!"
Applehead cocked his eye toward Annie-Many-Ponies and nodded his head in
solemn warning. "He's takin' a mighty long chance, every time he turns
that thar trick uh chasin' Compadre all over the place; and them that
thinks anything uh that thar dawg--"
"I betcher it's goin' to snow, all right," Happy Jack interrupted the
warning. "Chickydees was swarmin' all over the place, t'day."
"We-ell, now, yuh don't want to go too much on them chickydees,"
Applehead dissented. "Change uh wind'll set them flockin' and chirpin'.
Ain't ary flake uh snow in the wind t'day, fur's I kin smell--and I
calc'late I kin smell snow fur's the next one."
"Oh, let's not talk about snow; that's getting to be a painful subject on
this ranch," Rosemary pleaded, while she placed twelve pairs of steel
knives and forks on the long, white-oilcloth-covered table.
"'Painful subject' is right," Luck stated grimly, glancing up from the
endless figuring and scribbling which seemed to occupy all his time
indoors that was not actually given over to eating and sleeping. "If
you don't begin to smell snow pretty quick, Applehead, I can see where
_The Phantom Herd_ don't have any phantom herd." The corners of his
mouth quirked upward, though his smile was becoming almost a stranger
to his face.
"We-ell, I dunno's you can blame me because it don't snow. I can't make
it snow if it takes a notion not to snow--"
"Oh, come and eat, and never mind the snow," called Rosemary impatiently.
"We've got to mind the snow--or we don't eat much longer!" Luck laid
aside his papers with the tired gesture which betrays heavy anxiety. "The
whole punch of the picture depends on that blizzard and what it leads up
to. It's getting close to March,--this is the twentieth of February,--and
the Texas Cattleman's Convention meets the first of April. I've got to
have the picture done by then, so as to show it and get their endorsement
as a body, in order to boost the sales up where they belong."
"Mamma!" Weary looked up at him, open-eyed. "How long have you had that
notion in your head,--showing the picture to the Cattlemen's Convention?
I never heard of it."
"I might say quite a few things you haven't heard me say before," Luck
retorted, so harassed that he never knew how sharp a snub he had given.
"I've had that in mind from the start; ever since I read when and where
the convention would meet this spring. We've got to have that blizzard,
and we've got to have it before many more days."
"Oh, well, we'll have it," Rosemary soothed, as she would have comforted
a child. "I just know March will come in like a roaring lion! Have some
beans. They're different, to-night. I cooked them with plain salt pork
instead of bacon. You can't imagine what a difference it makes!"
Luck was on the point of snapping out something that would have hurt her
feelings. He did not want baby-soothing. It did not comfort him in the
least to have her assure him that it would snow, when he knew she had
absolutely no foundation for such an assurance. But just before he spoke,
he remembered how bravely she had been smiling at hardships that would
have broken the spirit of most women, so he took the beans and smiled at
her, and did not speak at all.
Trouble, that month, was riding Luck hard. The blizzard that was
absolutely vital to his picture-plot seemed as remote as in June. Other
storms had come to delay his work without giving him the benefit of any
spectacular effect. There had been days of whooping wind, when even the
saddle strings popped in the air like whiplashes, and he could not
"shoot" interior scenes because he could not shelter his stage from the
wind, and everything blew about in a most maddening manner to one who is
trying, for instance, to portray the calmness of a ranch-house kitchen at
There had been days of lowering clouds which brought nothing but
exasperating little flurries of what Applehead called "spit
snow,"--flurries that passed before Luck could get ready for a scene.
There had been one terrific sand storm which had nearly caught them in
the open. But Applehead had warned them, and Luck, fortunately for them
all, had heeded the warning. They had reached shelter just before the
full force of the storm had struck them, and for six hours the air was a
hell of sand in violent flight through the air. For six hours they could
not see as far as the stable, and the rooms were filled with an
impalpable haze of dust which filtered through minute crevices under the
roof and around the doors and windows.
Luck, when that storm broke, was worried over his negative drying in the
garret, until he had hurried up the ladder to see what might be done. He
had found the film practically dry, and had carried it down in much
relief to his dark room which, being light-proof, was also practically
There had been other vexations, but there had been fine, clear days as
well. Luck had used those fine days to their full capacity for yielding
him picture-light. Could he have been certain of getting his "blizzard
stuff" now, he would have left but his one load of financial worry. That
was a heavy one, but he felt he could carry it with a better grace if
only he could be sure that his picture would be completed in time.
"Pass the beans, Luck," Pink broke into his abstraction. "Seems like I've
had beans before, this week, but I'll try them another whirl, anyway."
"Ever try syrup on 'em?" old Dave Wiswell looked up from his plate to
inquire. "Once you git to likin' 'em that way, they go pretty good for
Pink, anxious for variety in the monotonous menu, but doubtful of the
experiment, poured a teaspoon of syrup over a teaspoon of beans, conveyed
the mixture to his mouth, and made a hurried trip to the door. "Say! was
that a joke?" he demanded, when he returned grimacing to his place.
"Joke? No, ain't no joke about that," the dried little man testified
earnestly. "Once you git to likin' 'em that way--"
Pink scowled suspiciously. "I'll take mine straight," he said, and sent a
resentful glance at Annie-Many-Ponies who was tittering behind her palm.
"I calc'late I better beef another critter," Applehead suggested
pacifically. "Worst of it is, the cattle's all so danged pore they ain't
much pickin' left on their bones after the hide's skun off. If that
blizzard ever does come, Luck's shore goin' to have all the pore-cow
atmosphere he wants!"
To Luck their talk, good-humored though it was, hurt him like a blow upon
bruised flesh. For their faith in him they were eating beans three times
a day with laughter and jest to sweeten the fare. For their faith in him
they were riding early and late, enduring hardships and laughing at them.
If he failed, he knew that they would hide their disappointment under
some humorous phase of the failure;--if they could find one. He could not
tell them how close he was to failure. He could not tell them in plain
words how much hung upon the coming of that storm in time for him to
reach the cowmen at their convention. Their ignorance of the profession
kept them from worrying much about it; their absolute confidence in his
knowledge let them laugh at difficulties which held him awake when they
But for all that he went doggedly ahead, trusting in luck theoretically
while he overlooked nothing that would make for success. While Applehead
sniffed the air and shook his head, Luck was doing everything he could
think of to keep things going steadily along to a completion of the
He made all of his "close-ups," his inserts, and sub-titles. He cut
negative by his continuity sheet at night after the others were all in
bed, and pigeon-holed the scenes ready for joining. He ordered what
"positive" he would need, and he arranged for his advertising matter. All
his interior scenes, save the double-exposure "vision" scenes, were done
by the fifteenth of March,--March which had not come in like a roaring
lion, as Rosemary had predicted with easy optimism, but which had been
nerve-wrackingly lamblike to the very middle of the month.
With a dogged persistence in getting ready for the fulfilment of his
hopes, he ordered tanks and printer for the final work of getting his
stuff ready for the market. He had at best a crudely primitive outfit,
though he saw his bank balance dwindle and dwindle to a most despairingly
small sum. And still it did not snow nor show any faint promise of snow.
"Well," he remarked grimly one morning, when the boys asked him at
breakfast about his plans, "you can go back to bed, for all I care. I've
done everything I can do--till we get that snowstorm. All we can do now
is sit tight and trust to luck."
"What day uh the month is this?" Applehead wanted to know. His face was
solemn with his responsibility as a weather prophet.
"The twentieth day of March," Luck replied, with the air of one who has
the date branded deep on his consciousness.
"Twentieth uh March--hm-mm? We-ell, now, I have knowed it to storm, and
storm hard, after this time uh year. But comin' the way she did last
fall, 'n' all this here wind 'n' bluster 'n' snowin' on the Zandias and
never comin' no further down, I calc'late the chances is slim, boy--'n'
gittin' slimmer every day, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
"Well, say! Ain't yuh got a purty fair pitcher the way she stands?" Big
Medicine inquired aggressively. "Seems t' me we've done enough ridin'
and actin', by cripes, t' make half a dozen pitchers better'n what I've
"That isn't the point." Luck's voice was lifeless, with a certain dogged
combativeness that had come into it during the last two months. "We've
got to have that storm. This isn't going to be any make-shift affair.
We've got some good film, yes. But it's like starting a funny story and
being choked off before you get to the laugh in it. We've got to have
that storm, I tell you!" His eyes challenged them harshly to dispute his
"Well, darn it, have your storm, then. I'm willin'," Big Medicine
bellowed with ill-timed facetiousness. "Pink, you run and git Luck a
storm; git him a good big one, guaranteed to last 'im four days or money
refunded. You git one--"
"Listen, Bud." Luck stood suddenly before Big Medicine, quivering with
nervous rage. "Don't joke about this. There's no joke in this at all. No
one with any brains can see anything funny in having failure stare him in
the face. Twelve of us have put every ounce of our best work and our best
patience and every dollar we possess in the world into this venture. I've
worked day and night on this picture. I've worked you boys in weather
that wasn't fit for a dog to be out in. I've seen Rosemary Green slaving
in this dark little hole of a kitchen because we can't afford a cook for
the outfit. You've all been dead game--I'll hand it to you for
that--every white chip has gone into the pot. If we fail we'll have to
borrow carfare to get outa here. And here's Applehead. We've used his
ranch, we've used his house and his horses and himself; we've killed his
cattle for beef, by ----! And we've got just that one chance--the chance
of a storm--for winning out. One chance, and that chance getting slimmer
every day, as he says. No--there's no joke in this; or if there is, I've
lost my appetite for comedy. I can't laugh." He stopped as suddenly as he
had begun his rapid speech, caught up his hat, and went out alone into
the soft morning sunlight. He left silence behind him,--a stunned silence
that was awkward to break.
"It's a perfect shame!" Rosemary said at last, and her lips were
trembling. "He's just about crazy--and I know he hasn't slept a wink,
lately, just from worrying."
"I calc'late that's about the how of it," Applehead agreed, rubbing his
chin nervously. "He lays awful still, last few weeks, and that thar's a
bad sign fer him. And I ain't heerd 'im talkin' in his sleep lately,
either. Up till lately he made more pitchers asleep than he done awake.
Take it when things was movin' right along, Mis' Green, 'n' Luck was
shore talkative, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
"My father, he got one oncle," Annie-Many-Ponies spoke up unexpectedly
from her favorite corner. "Big Medicine man. Maybe I write one letter,
maybe Noisy-Owl he come, make plenty storm. Noisy-Owl, he got awful
strong medicine for make storm come."
"Well, by cripes, yuh better send for 'im then!" Big Medicine advised
gruffly, and went out.
_The Phantom Herd_, as the days slipped nearer and nearer to April, might
almost have been christened _The Forlorn Hope_. On the twenty-first the
sun was so hot that Luck rode in his shirt sleeves to Albuquerque,
stubbornly intending to order more "positive" for his prints in the final
work of putting his Big Picture into marketable form. He did not have the
slightest idea of where the money to pay for the stuff was coming from,
but he sent the letter ordering the stock sent C.O.D. He was playing for
big results, and he had no intention of being balked at the last minute
because of his timidity in assuming an ultimate success which was
beginning to look extremely doubtful.
On the twenty-second, a lark flew impudently past his head and perched
upon a bush near by and sang straight at him. As a general thing Luck
loved to hear bird songs when he rode abroad on a fine morning; but he
came very near taking a shot at that particular lark, as if it were
personally responsible for the sunny days that had brought it out
scouting ahead of its kind.
On the twenty-third the sky was a brassy blue, and Applehead won Luck's
fierce enmity by remarking that he "calc'lated he'd better get his garden
in." Luck went away off somewhere on the snuffy little bay, that day, and
did not return until after dark.
On the twenty-fourth he took the boys away back on the mesa, where the
mountains shoulder the plain, and scattered them on a wide circle,
rounding up the cattle that had been permitted to drift where they would
in their famished search for the scant grass-growth. Bill Holmes and the
camera followed him in the buckboard with the lunch, and Luck, when the
boys had met with their gleanings, "shot" two or three short scenes of
poor cows and their early calves, which would go to help along his range
"atmosphere." To the Happy Family it seemed a waste of horseflesh to comb
a twenty-mile radius of mesa to get a cow and calf which might have been
duplicated within a mile of the ranch. The Happy Family knew that Luck
was wading chin deep in the slough of despond, and they decided that he
kept them riding all day just for pure cussedness.
I suppose they thought that his orders to range-herd the cattle they had
gathered came from the same mood, but they did not seem to mind. They
did whatever he told them to do, and they did it cheerfully,--which, in
the circumstances, is saying a good deal for the Happy Family. So with
the sun warm as early May, and the new grass showing tiny green
blade-tips in the sheltered places, they began range-herding two
thousand head of cattle that needed all the territory they could cover
for their feeding grounds.
The twenty-fifth day of March brought no faintest promise of anything
that looked like snow. Applehead sharpened his hoe and went pecking at
the soil around the roots of his grape-vine arbor, thereby irritating
Luck to the point of distraction. He had reached a nervous tension where
he could not eat, and he could not sleep, and life looked a nightmare of
hard work and disappointments, of hopes luring deceitfully only to crush
one at the moment of fulfilment.
It was because he could not sleep, but spent the nights stretched upon
his side with his wide-open eyes boring into vacancy and a drab future,
that he heard the wind whine over the ridgepole of the squat bunk-house
and knew that it had risen from a dead calm since bedtime. The languor of
nervous exhaustion was pulling his eyelids down over his tired eyes, and
he knew that it must be nearly morning; for sleep never came to him now
until after Applehead's brown rooster had crowed for two o'clock.
He closed his eyes and dreamed that he was "shooting" blizzard scenes
with the snow to his armpits. He was chilled to the middle of his bones,
and his hand went down unconsciously and groped for the blankets he had
pushed off in his restlessness. In his sleep he was yelling to the
Cattlemen's Convention to wait,--not to adjourn yet, because he had
something to show them.
"Well, show'em, dang it, an' shut up!" muttered Applehead crossly, and
turned over on his good ear so that he could sleep undisturbed.
Luck, half awakened by the movement, curled up with his knees close to
his chin and went on with his dream. With the wind still mooing
lonesomely around the corners of the house, he slept more soundly than he
had slept for weeks, impelled, I suppose, by a subconscious easement from
his greatest anxiety.
A slow tap-tap-tapping on the closed door near his head woke him just
before dawn. The lightest sleeper of them all, Luck lifted his head with
a start, and opened his sleep-blurred eyes upon blackness. He called out,
and it was the voice of Annie-Many-Ponies that answered.
"Wagalexa Conka! You come quick. Plenty snow come. You be awful glad
when you see. Soon day comes. You hurry. I make plenty breakfast,
As a soldier springs from sleep when calls the bugle, Luck jumped out
into the icy darkness of the room. With one jerk he had the door open and
stood glorying in the wild gust of snow that broke over him like a wave.
In his bare feet he stood there, and felt the snow beat in his face, and
said never a word, since big emotions never quite reached the surface of
"Day come quick, Wagalexa Conka!" The voice of Annie-Many-Ponies urged
him from without, like the voice of Opportunity calling from the storm.
"All right. You run now and have breakfast ready. We come quick." He held
the door open another half minute, and he heard Annie-Many-Ponies laugh
as she fought her way back to the house through the blinding blizzard. He
saw a faint glow through the snow-whirl when she opened the kitchen door,
and he shut out the storm with a certain vague reluctance, as though he
half feared it might somehow escape into a warm, sunny morning and prove
itself no more than a maddeningly vivid dream.
"Hey! Wake up!" he shouted while he groped for a match and the lamp.
"Roll into your sourdoughs, you sons-uh-guns--"
"Say, Applehead," came a plaintive voice from Pink's hunk, "make
Luck turn over on the other side, can't yuh? Darn a man that talks
in his sleep!"
"By cripes, Luck's got to sleep in the hay loft--er I will," Big Medicine
growled, making the boards of his bunk squeak with the flop of his
Then Luck found the lamp and struck a match, and it was seen that he was
very wide awake, and that his face had the look of a man intent upon
The Native Son sat up in one of the top bunks and looked down at Luck
with a queer solemnity in his eyes. "What is this, _amigo_?" he asked
with a stifled yawn. "Another one of your Big Minutes?"
"_Quien sabe_?" Luck retorted, reaching for his clothes as his small
ebullition subsided to a misleading composure. "Storm's here at last, and
we'll have to be moving. Roll out and saddle your ridge-runners; Annie's
got breakfast all ready for us."
"Aw, gwan!" grumbled Happy Jack from sheer force of habit, and made haste
to hit the floor with his feet before Luck replied to that apparent doubt
of his authority.
"Dress warm as you can, boys," Luck advised curtly, lacing his own heavy
buckskin moccasins over thick German socks, which formed his cold-weather
footgear. "She's worse than that other one, if anything."
"Mamma!" Weary murmured, in a tone of thanksgiving. "She didn't come any
too soon, did she?"
Luck did not reply. He pulled his hat down low over his forehead, opened
the door and went out, and it was as though the wind and snow and
darkness swallowed him bodily. The horses must first be fed, and he
fought his way to the stables, where Applehead's precious hay was
dwindling rapidly under Luck's system of keeping mounts and a four-horse
team up and ready for just such an emergency. He labored through the
darkness to the stable door, lighted the lantern which hung just inside,
and went into the first stall. The manger was full, and the feed-box
still moist from the lapping tongue of the gray horse that stood there
munching industriously. Annie-Many-Ponies had evidently fed the horses
before she called Luck, and he felt a warm glow of gratitude for her
He stopped at the bunk-house to tell the boys that they had nothing to do
but eat breakfast before they saddled, and found them putting on
overcoats and gloves and wrangling over the probable location of the herd
that would have drifted in the night. So they ploughed in a straggling
group to the house, where Annie-Many-Ponies was already pouring the
coffee when they trooped in.
Day was just breaking when they rode out into the full force of the
belated storm and up on the mesa where they had left the cattle scattered
and feeding more or less contentedly at sundown. They had not gone a mile
until their bodies began to shrink under the unaccustomed cold. Bill
Holmes, town-bred and awkward in the open, thankfully resigned to the
Indian girl the dignity of driving the mountain wagon with its four-horse
team, and huddled under blankets, while Annie-Many-Ponies piloted them
calmly straight across country in the wake of the riders whom her beloved
Wagalexa Conka was leading on the snuffy bay. Save for the difference in
his clothes, Annie-Many-Ponies thought that he much resembled that great
little war-chief of the white people who rode ahead of his column in a
picture hanging on the wall of the mission school. Napoleon was the great
little war-chief's name, and her heart swelled with pride as she drove
steadily through the storm and thought what a great war-chief her brother
Wagalexa Conka might have made, were these but the days of much fighting.
There was to be no trouble with "static" this time, if Luck could help
it. To be doubly safe from blurred film, he had brought his ray filter
along, for the flakes of snow were large and falling fast. He had chosen
a different location, because of the direction of the wind and the
difficulty the boys would have had in driving the cattle back in the face
of it to the side hill where he had first taken the scenes of the
To-day he "shot" them first as they were filing reluctantly out through a
narrow pass which was supposed to be the entrance to the box canyon where
the two rustlers, Andy and Miguel, had kept them hidden away.
Artistically speaking, the cattle were in perfect condition for such a
scene, every rib showing as they trooped past the clicking camera
cleverly concealed in a clump of bushes; hip bones standing up, lean legs
shambling slowly through the snow that was already a foot deep. Cattle
hidden for days and days in a box canyon would not come out fat and sleek
and stepping briskly, and Luck was well pleased with the realism of his
picture, even while he pitied the poor beasts.
Later he took the drifting of the herd, and he knew in his heart that the
scenes were better than those he had lost. He took tragic scenes of the
Native Son in his struggle to keep up and to keep going. He took him as
he fell and lay prone in the snow beside his fallen horse while the
blizzard whooped over him, and the snow fell upon his still face. In his
zeal he nearly froze the Native Son, who must lie there during two or
three "cut-back" scenes, and while Andy was coming up in search of him.
When Andy lifted him and found him actually limp in his arms, the anxiety
which a "close-up" revealed in his face was not all art. However, he did
not say anything until Luck's voracious scene-appetite had been at least
"By gracious, I believe the son-of-a-gun is about froze," he snapped out
then; Luck grinned mirthlessly and called to Annie for the precious
thermos bottle, and poured a cup of strong black coffee, added a generous
dash of the apricot brandy which he spoke of familiarly as his
"cure-all," and had the Native Son very much alive and tramping around to
restore the circulation to his chilled limbs before Bill Holmes had
carried the camera to the location of the next scene.
"By rights I should have left you the way you were till I got this last
death scene where Andy buries you under the rock ledge so he can get home
alive himself," Luck told Miguel heartlessly, when they were ready for
work again. "You were in proper condition, brother. But I'm human. So
you'll have to do a little more acting, from now on."
With his mats placed with careful precision, he took his dissolve
"vision stuff" of the blizzard and the death of Miguel,--scenes which
were to torment the conscience of Andy the rustler into full repentance
and confession to his father. While the boys huddled around Annie's camp
fire and guzzled hot coffee and ate chilled sandwiches, Luck took some
fine scenes of the phantom herd marching eerily along the skyline of a
He "shot" every effective blizzard scene he had dreamed of so
despairingly when the weather was fine. Some scenes of especial
importance to his picture he took twice, so as to have the
"choice-of-action" so much prized by producers. This, you must know, was
a luxury in which Luck had not often permitted himself to indulge. With
raw negative at nearly four cents a foot, he had made it a point to shoot
only such scenes as gave every promise of being exactly what he wanted.
But with this precious blizzard that numbed his fingers most
realistically while he worked, but never once worried him for fear the
sun was going to shine before he had finished, he was as lavish of
negative as though he had a million-dollar corporation at his back.
That evening, when they were luxuriating before the fireplace heaped with
dry wood which the flames were licking greedily, Luck became, for the
first time in months, the old Luck Lindsay who had fascinated them at the
Flying U. He told them stories of his days with the "Bill show," and
called upon the giggling Annie-Many-Ponies for proof of their truth;
whereat Annie-Many-Ponies would nod her head vigorously and declare that
it was "No lie. I see him plenty times do them thing. I know." He
disputed energetically with Big Medicine over the hardships of the day's
work; and as a demonstration of the fact that he was perfectly able to go
out right then and shoot another seven hundred feet of film, he seized
upon the _tom-tom_ which Annie-Many-Ponies had made from a green calf
hide and an old cheese box, and in his moccasins he danced the Sioux
Buffalo Dance and several other dances in which Annie-Many-Ponies finally
joined and teetered around in the circle which the Happy Family
enthusiastically widened for the performers.
Work there was yet to do, and plenty of it. Even if the weather came
clear on the morrow as he desired, he must make every minute count, if he
would take his picture to the Cattlemen's Convention. Work there was, and
problems there were to be solved. But he had his big blizzard stuff, and
he had his scenes of the phantom herd. So for an hour or two, on this
evening of triumph, Luck Lindsay threw care into a far corner, and danced
and sang as the Happy Family had never known he could do.
"Here, Annie, take the drum; it's 'call the dog and put out the fire and
all go home.' If my luck stays with me, and the sun shines to-morrow,
we'll take these interiors of the double-exposure stuff. And then we'll
be eating on the run and sleeping as we ride, till that picture pops out
on the screen for the old cattlemen to see. Good night, folks; I'm going
to sleep to-night!"
He went out whistling like a schoolboy going fishing. For luck was with
him once more, and his _Phantom Herd_ was almost a reality as a picture.
A FEW OF THE MINOR DIFFICULTIES
However obliging fate may desire to be, certain of nature's laws must
be observed. Whether luck was disposed to stay with Luck Lindsay or
not, a storm such as the fates had conjured for his needs could not
well blow itself out as suddenly as it had blown itself in; so Luck did
not get all of his interior double-exposure stuff done the next day,
nor his remaining single-exposure stuff either. When his own reason and
Applehead's earnest assurances convinced him that the day after the
real blizzard day was going to be unfit for camera work, Luck took
Weary, Pink, and the Native Son to Albuquerque, rented a little house
he had discovered to be vacant, and set them to work building a drying
drum for his prints, according to the specifications he furnished them.
He hauled his tanks from the depot and showed the boys how to install
them so as to have the benefit of the running water, and got his
printer set up and ready to work; for he knew that he would have to
make his first prints himself, with the help of the Happy Family, the
photographer having neither the room nor the time for the work, and
Luck having no more than barely money enough to pay house rent and the
charges on his tanks and printer.
Then, being an obliging young man when the fates permitted him to indulge
his natural tendencies, Luck made a hurried trip to a certain little shop
that had dusty mandolins and watches and guns and a cheap kodak in the
dingy window. He went in with his watch in his pocket ticking cheerfully
the minutes and hours that were so full of work and worry. When he came
out, the watch was ticking just as cheerfully in a drawer and the chain
was looped prosperously across his vest from buttonhole to empty pocket.
He went straight across to a grocery store and bought some salt pork and
coffee and cornmeal and matches which Rosemary had timidly asked him if
he could get. She explained apologetically that she was beginning to run
out of things, and that she had no idea they were going to have such
awful appetites, and that of course there were two extra people to feed,
and that they certainly could dispose of their share three times a
day,--meaning, of course, Annie-Many-Ponies and Bill Holmes.
Even while his brain was doing swift mental gymnastics in addition and
subtraction, Luck had told her he would get whatever she wanted. His
watch brought enough to buy everything she asked for except a can of
syrup; and that, he told her, the groceryman must have overlooked, for he
certainly had ordered it. He called the groceryman names enough to
convince Rosemary that her list had not been too long for his purse, and
that Luck's occasional statement that he was broke must be taken
figuratively; Luck breathed a sigh of relief that Rosemary, at least, was
once more spared the knowledge that all was not yet plain sailing to a
The next day being sunny, Luck finished the actual camera work on _The
Phantom Herd_. That night he and Bill Holmes developed every foot of
Back to Full Books