B.M. Bower.

The Phantom Herd online

. (page 8 of 16)
Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Phantom Herd → online text (page 8 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Then he gravely began to count, not disdaining three pennies in the pile.
"I've got seventy-five dollars in the bank," he said. "Add ninety dollars
salary, and you have a hundred and sixty-five. Add six dollars and
eighty-seven cents, and you have - my pile."

Rosemary twisted her lips and wrote the figures opposite Pink's name.
Next came Weary, then Miguel and Big Medicine and the dried little man
who chewed violently upon a wooden toothpick and said he was good for
eight hundred, and mebby a little mite more.

They pushed their plates to the table's center to make room for their
gesticulating hands and uneasy elbows while they planned ways and means.
They argued over trivial points and left the big ones for Luck to settle.
They talked of light effects and wholesale grocery lists and ray filters
and smoke pots and railroad fares and the problem of cutting down their
baggage so as to avoid paying excess charges. Luck, once he had taken the
mental plunge into the deep waters of so hazardous an enterprise, began
to exhibit a most amazing knowledge of the details of picture making.

To save money, he told them, he would be his own camera man. He could do
without a "still" camera, because he would enlarge clippings from the
different scenes in the negative instead. They'd have to manage the range
stuff with only one camera, which would mean more work to get the various
effects. But with a telephoto lens and a wide angle lens he could come
pretty near putting it over the way he wanted it. "And there'll be no
more blank ammunition, boys," he told them. "So you want to fit
yourselves out with real shells. I'm not going very strong on this
foreground bullet-effect stuff; we can afford to leave that for the
Western four-flushers that can't do anything else. But she's some wild
down where we'll be located, so we'll not be packing empty guns, at that.

"And there's another thing," he went on, talking and making notes at the
same time. "If we're going to do this, we can't get started any too
soon. We may be able to hit a late round-up and get some scenes, which
will save rounding up stock ourselves for it. And there's all that
winter stuff to make, too; we haven't any more time to throw away than
we have money."

"Well, we're ready to hit the trail any time you are," Andy declared.
"To-morrow, if yuh say so. You go ahead with your end of it, Luck, and
I'll be straw boss here in camp and get the outfit packed and ready to
ship outa here on an hour's notice. I can do it, too - believe me!"

"Do you know," said Rosemary, "I'd let James and Weary buy our winter's
supplies and have them sent by freight right on to where we're going.
Things are awfully cheap here. I'll make out a list, and the boys can
attend to that to-morrow. And I'll bake up a lot of stuff for lunches on
the train, too. We're not going to squander money in the dining car."

"Say, we'll just borry one of them dray teams from the Acme corral, by
cripes, and haul our own stuff to the depot!" Big Medicine exclaimed with
enthusiasm. "Save us four or five dollars right there!"

Luck rose and reached for his umbrella as though he had just recalled an
important engagement. "I think I know where to find a buyer for my
machine," he said, "so I'll just get on his trail. To-morrow I'll start
getting my camera outfit together. Andy, I'll turn this end of the
expedition over to you; that idea of getting food supplies here is all
right, within certain limits. Don't buy any cheap, weighty stuff here,
because the freight will eat up all you save. But I'll leave that to you
folks; I guess you've had experience enough - "

"Considering most of us learned our _a-b-c's_ outa Montgomery-Ward
catalogues," Weary observed with a quirk of the lips, "I guess you can
safely leave it to the bunch. Range kids are brought up on them
Wind-river bibles, as we call mail order catalogues. I'll bet you I can
give offhand the freight on anything you can name, from a hair hackamore
to a gang plow."

"Fly at it, then," laughed Luck, with his hand on the doorknob. "I am
going to be some busy myself. I'll just turn over the transportation
problem to you folks. _Adios_."

"Prepare to ride in the chair car," Rosemary called after him warningly.
"Even a tourist sleeper is going to be too luxurious for us; we're going
to squeeze nickels till they just squeal!"

Luck held the door open while he smiled approvingly at her. "That'll be
playing the game right from the start. _Adios_, folks."



Applehead Forrman was worried over his cat, Compadre, which is Spanish
for comrade or something of that sort. It was a blue cat and it was a
big cat, and it had a bellicose disposition, and Applehead was anxious
because it had lately declared war on a neighboring coyote and had not
come out of the battle unscathed. Applehead had heard the disturbance
and had gone out with a rifle and dispersed the coyote, but not until
Compadre had lost half of his tail and a good deal of his
self-assurance. Since that night, almost a week ago, Compadre had been a
changed cat. He had sought dark corners and had yowled when the best
friend he had in the world tried to coax him out to his meals. Applehead
was very patient and very sympathetic, and hunted small game with which
to tempt the invalid's appetite.

On this day he had a fat prairie dog which he had shot, and he was
carrying it around by a hind leg looking for Compadre and calling "Kitty,
kitty, kitty," in the most seductive tones of which his desert-harshened
vocal chords were capable. He looked under the squat adobe cabin which
held all the odds and ends that had accumulated about the place, and
which he called the "ketch-all." He went over and looked under the water
tank where there was shade and coolness. He went to the stable, and from
there he returned to the adobe house, squat like the "ketch-all" but
larger. There was a hole alongside the fireplace chimney at the end next
the hill, and sometimes when Compadre was especially disenchanted with
his world, he went into the hole and nursed his grievances in dark
seclusion under the house.

Applehead got down upon all fours and called "Kitty, kitty, kitty," with
his face close to the hole. It was past noon, and Compadre had not had
anything to eat since the night before, when he had lapped up half a
saucer of canned milk and had apathetically licked a slice of bacon.
Applehead put his ear to the hole and imagined he heard a faint meow from
a far corner. He pushed the prairie dog into the aperture and called
"Kitty-kitty-kitty" again coaxingly.

He was so absorbed in his anxious quest that he did not hear the chuckle
of two wagons coming up through the sand to the corral. He did not even
hear the footsteps of men approaching the house. He did not hear
anything at all except a dismal yowl now and then from the darkness. He
contorted his long person that he might peer into the gloom. He pushed
the prairie dog in as far as he could reach. "Come, kitty-kitty-kitty!"
he coaxed. "Doggone your onery soul, I'm gitting tired of this kinda
performance! You can tromp on me just so fur and no further, now I'm
a-tellin' yuh. That there tail of yourn needs a fresh rag tied to it,
and some salve. But I ain't the burrowin' kind of animal, and I ain't
comin' in under there after yuh. Come, kitty-kitty-kitty! Come on outa
there 'fore I send a charge of birdshot in after yuh!" His voice changed
to a tremulous chant of rising anger. "You wall-eyed, mangy, rat-eatin'
son of a gun, what have I been feedin' yuh fur all these years? You come
outa there! If it wasn't for the love uh God I got in my heart, I'll
fill yuh so full of holes the coyotes'll have to make soup of ye! I'll
sure spread yuh out so thin your hide'll measure up like a mountain
lion! Don't yuh yowl at me like that! Come, kitty-kitty-kitty - ni-ice
kitty! Come to your old pard what ketched yuh the fattest young dog on
the flat for your dinner. Come on, now; you ain't skeered uh me,
shorely! Come on, Compadre - ni-ice kitty!"

"Let me try!" cried Rosemary behind him, her voice startling old
Applehead so that he knocked his head painfully on the rock foundation as
he jerked himself into a more dignified posture. His eyes widened at the
size of the audience grouped behind him, but he had faced more amazing
sights than that in his eventful career. He got stiffly to his feet and
bowed, the prairie dog dangling limply from his hand.

"Howdy! Howdy! Pleased to meet yuh," he greeted them dazedly. Then he
spied Luck standing half behind Weary's tall form, and his embarrassed
smile changed to a joyful grin. "Well, danged if it ain't Luck! How are
yuh, boy? I was jest thinkin' about you right this morning. What wind
blowed you into camp? Come right on in, folks. If you're friends of
Luck's, yuh don't need no interduction in this camp. Luck and me's et
outa the same skillet months on end together. Come on in. I've et, but
they's plenty left." His blue eyes twinkled quizzically over the Happy
Family and then went to Luck. "What yuh up to this time, boy? 'Nother
wild-west show?"

While they were waiting for coffee to boil, Luck told him what he was up
to this time. Told him what it was he meant to do in the way of making a
Western picture that should be worthy the West. He did not say a word
about needing Applehead's assistance; he did not need to say a word about
that. Applehead himself saw where he would fit into the scheme, and he
seemed to take it for granted that Luck saw it also.

"Got all your stuff out from town?" he asked, while he was hunting cups
enough to go around. "If yuh ain't, you can send a couple of the boys in
with a four-horse team after dinner. I d'no about beds, unless yuh got
your own beddin'-rolls with yuh. The missus, she can have a room, and the
rest of yuh will have to knock some bunks together. Mebby we can clean
out the 'ketch-all' and turn that into a bunk house. One I had, it burnt
down last winter; some darn-fool Mexicans got to fightin' in there and
kicked the lamp over. It could have a new roof put on, I reckon; the
walls is there yet. You can take a look around after you eat, and see
what all there is to do. Well, set up, folks; ain't much, but I've
throwed my feet under the table fer less and was thankful to git it, now
I'm a-tellin' yuh!"

Big Medicine bethought him of the remains of the train lunch which they
had frugally saved. He brought that and added it to Applehead's
impromptu meal. The sandwiches were mashed flat, and the pickles were
limp, and the cake much inclined to crumble, but Applehead gave one look
and took off his hat.

"I've et, but I can shore eat again when I git my eyes on cake," he
declared exuberantly, and pulled an empty box up to the table for a seat.
"I wisht Compadre could git a smell uh that there fried chicken; it would
put new life into him, which he needs after tangling with that there
coyote 'tother night."

"We ought to unhitch and give the horses a feed," Luck suggested. "Any
particular place?"

"Well, you know where to put them cayuses as well as I do," Applehead
mumbled, with his mouth full of cake. "I don't care what yuh do around
the danged place. Go along and don't bother me, boy; I'm busy."

"Didn't I tell you how it would be?" Luck reminded Andy and Weary when
they were outside. "That old boy is tickled to death to have us here. He
sure is a type, too. I'll be using him in the picture. And just tale a
look at that corral down there! We'll set up camp this afternoon and
round up some horses, - Applehead always keeps a bunch running back here
on the mesa, - and to-morrow morning we'll get to work. A couple of you
will have to take these teams back this afternoon, too. I'll let you
drive the four-horse in, Weary, and lead the other behind. And I'll send
the Native Son in with Applehead's team and wagon, so you can haul out a
thousand feet of lumber for a stage. Get it surfaced one
side, - fourteen-foot boards, sabe? And about twenty-five pounds of
eight-penny nails. We've got the tools in our outfit. I wonder which
pasture Applehead's team is running in. I'll have one of the boys get
them up, unless - "

"Luck Lindsay!" came Rosemary's high, clear treble. "Aren't you boys
going to eat any dinner?"

"We'll eat when we have more time!" Luck shouted back. "Send Applehead
out here, will you?"

Presently Applehead appeared with a large piece of cake in one hand and a
well-picked chicken wing in the other. "What yuh want?" he inquired
lazily, in the tone that implies extreme physical comfort.

"I want your big team to haul some lumber out from town. Where are they?
If you don't mind catching them up while I help get this stuff unloaded,
we'll have things moving around here directly."

"Shore I'll ketch 'em up fur ye, soon as I find Compadre and give him
this here bone. He's been kinda off his feed since that coyote clumb his
frame. He was under the house, but I reckon so many strange voices kinda
got his goat. There ain't ary yowl to be got outa that hole no more.
Come, kitty-kitty-kitty!"

Luck threw out his hands despairingly, and then laughed. Applehead's
tender solicitude for his cat was a fixed characteristic of the man, and
Luck knew there was no profit in argument upon the subject. He began
unloading the lighter pieces of baggage while the boys fed the livery
teams. The others came straggling down from the house, lighting their
after-dinner cigarettes and glancing curiously at the adobe out-buildings
which were so different from anything in Montana. The sagebrush slopes
wore a comfortable air of familiarity, even though the boys were more
accustomed to bunch grass; but an adobe stable was a novelty.

Fast as they came near him, Luck put them to work. There was plenty to
do before they could even begin work on the Big Picture, but Luck seemed
to have thought out all the details of camp-setting with the same
attention to trifles which he had shown in the making of a picture. In
half an hour he had every one busy, including old Applehead, who, having
located Compadre in the stable loft and left the chicken wing at the top
of the ladder, had saddled his horse and gone off into a far pasture to
bring in all the horses down there, so that Luck could choose whatever
animals he wished to use. Dave Wiswell, the dried little man, was
helping Rosemary wash the dishes and put away the food supplies they had
brought out with them, as fast as Happy Jack could carry them up from
the wagon. Andy Green was ruthlessly emptying the only closet - a roomy
one, fortunately - in the house, and tacking up black paper which Luck
had brought, so that it might serve as a dark room. Big Medicine and
Pink were clearing out the one-roomed adobe cabin which Applehead called
the "ketch-all," so that the boys could sleep there until the bunk-house
was repaired.

Luck was unpacking his camera and swearing softly to himself while he set
it up, and wishing that his experience as assistant camera-man was not
quite so far in the past. He foresaw difficulties with that camera until
he got in practice, but he did not say anything about it to the others.
He got it together finally, put in the two-hundred-foot magazine of
negative that he had brought with him to use while waiting for his big
order to arrive, made a few light tests, and went up to the house to see
if Andy had the dark room dark enough.

He found Andy defending himself as best he could from a small domestic
storm. In his anxiety to have that dark room fixed just the way Luck
wanted it, Andy had purloined a shelf which Rosemary needed, and which
she meant to have, if words could restore it to its place behind the
kitchen stove. Andy had the shelf down and was taking out bent nails with
a new hammer when Luck came to the door with his arms full of packages of
chemicals and a ruby lamp.

"What can a fellow do?" Andy was inquiring plaintively. "There ain't
another board on the place that's the right width. I looked. Luck's got
to have a shelf; you don't expect him to keep all his junk on the floor,
do you? I'm sorry, but I've just got to have it, girl."

"You've just got to put that shelf back, Andy. Where do you expect me to
put things? There isn't a pantry on the place, and only that one dinky
little cupboard over there. I can't keep my dishes on the floor, and
cooking is going to be pretty important, itself, around this camp!"

"Soon as the lumber gets here, I'll have Andy build you a cupboard," Luck
soothed her. "You haven't got many conveniences here, and that's a fact.
But we'll get things straightened out, _pronto_. Got any bones or scraps
left, Mrs. Andy? That little black dog that followed us out is here yet.
He didn't go back with the boys. I found him curled up in the wagon shed
just now; poor little devil looks about starved. His ribs stand out worse
than a cow that's wintered on a sheep range."

With Rosemary's attention diverted to the little black dog, Andy got the
shelf nailed firmly upon the wall of the dark room. And immediately Luck
proceeded to use it to its fullest capacity and announced that he needed
another one, whereat Andy groaned.

"Say, I'm a brave man, all right, but I don't dare to swipe any more
shelves," he protested. "Not from my wife, anyway. Timber must sure be
scarce in this man's country. I never did see a place so shy of boards as
this ranch is."

"Well, let's see if there are any barrels," said Luck. "I've been
studying on how to rig up some way to develop my film. If we can find
some half barrels and knock the heads out, I can wind the negative around
them with the emulsion side out, and dip it in the bigger barrels of
developer; see how I mean? Believe me, this laboratory problem is going
to be a big one till I can see my way to getting tanks and film racks out
here. But I believe barrels will work all right. And, say! There's some
old hose I saw out by the windmill tank; you get that, and see if you
can't run it under the house and up through a hole in the floor. I expect
it leaks in forty places, but maybe you can mend it. And we ought to have
some way to run the water out in a trough or something. You see what you
can do about that, Andy, while I go and unpack the rest of my camera
outfit. There's a garret up over the ceiling, here, and you'll have to
see what shape it's in for drying film. Stop all the cracks so dust can't
blow in. I want to start taking scenes to-morrow morning, you know. I've
got two hundred feet of raw stock to work with till the other gets here.
I've got to develop my tests before to-morrow so I'll know what I'm
doing. I can't afford to spoil any film."

"Well, hardly," Andy agreed. "By gracious, I hope you're making the rest
of the bunch hump themselves, too. Honest, I'd die if I saw anybody
sitting around in the shade, right now!"

"Andy, did you go and take that shelf after all?" came the reproachful
voice of Rosemary from the kitchen, and Luck retreated by way of the
front door without telling Andy just how busy the other boys were.

The "ketch-all," where Big Medicine and Pink were clearing out the
accumulation of years, was enveloped in a cloud of dust. Down in the
corral a dozen horses were circling, with Applehead moving cautiously
about in the middle dragging his loop and making ready for a throw. There
was one snuffy little bay gelding that he meant to turn over to Luck for
a saddle horse, and he wanted to get him caught and in the stable before
showing him to Luck. Happy Jack was wobbling up the path with an
oversized sack of potatoes balanced on his shoulder, and his face a deep
crimson from the heat and his exertions. Down in the stable the little
black dog, enlivened by the plate of bones Rosemary had given him, had
scented the cat in the loft and was barking hysterically up the ladder.

Luck stepped out briskly, cheered by the atmosphere of bustling
preparation which surrounded him. That he was the moving spirit which
directed all these activities stimulated him like good old wine. It was
for his Big Picture that they were preparing. Already his brain was at
work upon the technique of picture production, formulating a system which
should as far as possible eliminate the risk of failure because of the
handicaps under which he must work.

Having to be his own camera-man, and to work without an assistant, piled
high the burden of work and responsibility; but he could not afford to
pay the salaries such assistants would demand. He had a practical
knowledge of camera craft, since he had worked his way up through all
branches of the game, and he was sure that with practice he could do the
photographic work. He hoped to teach Andy enough about it so that he
could help; Andy seemed to have an adaptability superior to some of the
others and would learn the rudiments readily, Luck believed.

The lack of a leading woman was another handicap. He could not afford to
hire one, and he could not very well weave a love story into his plot
without a woman. He was going to try Rosemary, since her part would
consist mostly of riding in and out of scenes and looking pretty, - at
least in the earlier portion. And by the time he was ready to produce the
dramatic scenes, he hoped that she would be able to act the part. It was
a risk, of course, and down deep in his heart he feared that much of her
charm would never reach the screen; but he must manage somehow, since
there would be no money to spend on salaries. He ought to have a
character woman, too, - which he lacked.

But other things he did have, and they were the things that would count
most for success or failure. He had his real boys, for instance; and he
had his real country; and, last and most important of all, he had his
story to tell. In spite of his weariness, Luck was almost happy that
first afternoon at Applehead's ranch. He went whistling about his task of
directing the others and doing two men's work himself, and he refused to
worry about anything.

That evening after supper, when they were all smoking and resting before
Applehead's big rock fireplace, Luck's energy would not let him dwell
upon the trivial incidents of their trip, which the Happy Family were
discussing with reminiscent enjoyment. Applehead's booming laugh was to
Luck as a vague accompaniment to his own thoughts darting here and there
among his plans.

"Aw, gwan!" Happy Jack was exclaiming in his habitual tone of protest.
"Conductor lied to me, is how I come to be over to that place when the
train started to pull out. I was buyin' something. I wasn't talking to no
Mexican girl. I betche - "

"Now, while we're all together," Luck broke suddenly into Happy's
explanation, "I'm just going over the scenario from start to finish and
assign your parts. Applehead, I'm going to cast you for the sheriff. You
won't need to do any acting at all - "

"We-ell, if I do, I calc'late I got some idee uh how a shurf had oughta
ack," Applehead informed him with a boastful note in his voice, and
pulled himself up straighter in his chair. "I was 'lected shurf uh this
county four different terms right hand runnin', and if I do say it, they
wasn't nobody ever said I didn't do my duty. Ary man I went after, I come
purty near bringin' him into camp, now I'm tellin' ye! This here old girl
has shore talked out in meetin', in her time, and there wasn't ary man
wanted to face her down in an argument, now I'm tellin' ye." He got up
and took his old six-shooter off the mantel and held it lovingly in his
palm. Very solemnly he licked his thumb and polished a certain place
along the edge of the yellow ivory handle, and held it so the Happy
Family could see three tiny notches.

"Them's three argyments she shore settled," he stated grimly, and turned
slowly upon Luck.

"Yes-s, I calc'late I can play shurf for ye, all right enough."

Luck looked up at him with his eyes shining, remembering how staunch a
friend Applehead had been in times past, and how even his boastings were
but a na√ѓve recognition of facts concerning himself. Applehead Forrman
was fifty-six years old, but Luck could not at that moment recall a man
more dangerous to meet as an enemy or more loyal to have as a friend.

"I calc'late you can," he agreed in his soft, friendly drawl. "Sit down
and turn your good ear this way, Applehead, so this story can soak in.
You'll see where you come in as sheriff, and you'll sabe just what you'll
have to do. Bud, here, will be the outlaw that blows into the cow-camp
and begins to mix things. He's the one you'll have to settle. So here's
the way the story runs:"

"Say, boss, make it short and sweet, can't you?" Andy begged. He was

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Phantom Herd → online text (page 8 of 16)