B.M. Bower.

The Phantom Herd online

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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
that lead -

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
your life."

"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.



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
her shoulder:

Kyle, P. Office
Pine Ridge, So. D
Monday, Nov.

Luck Lindsay
at Motion Pictures ranch,
Albequrqe, New M.

Friend son,

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.

you father,

"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
admitted reflectively.

"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

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Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Phantom Herd → online text (page 12 of 16)