B.M. Bower.

The Phantom Herd online

. (page 9 of 16)
Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Phantom Herd → online text (page 9 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

sitting on the floor with his head against Rosemary's knees, and his
eyelids were drooping drowsily. "By gracious, nobody'll have to sing me
to sleep to-night! I'm about ready to hit the hay right now."

"I'll cut out the atmosphere and just stick to the action, then," Luck
conceded. "I want to get you all placed, so we can get to work in the
morning without any delay. _Sabe_?"

"Shoot," murmured Pink, opening his eyes with some effort "I can listen
for five minutes, maybe."

"I can't, I don't believe," the Native Son yawned. "But go ahead,
_amigo_. My heart's with you, anyway, whether my eyes are open or shut."

Luck was pretty sleepy himself, after two nights and a day spent in a
chair car, with another day of hard labor to finish the ordeal. But his
enthusiasm had never been keener than when, in the land of sage and
cactus, he first unfolded his precious scenario and bent forward to
read by the light of the fire. He forgot to skip the "atmosphere."
Scene by scene he lived the story through. Scene by scene he saw his
Big Picture grow vivid as ever the reality would be. Once or twice he
glanced up and saw Applehead leaning forward with his elbows on his
knees and his pipe gone cold in his fingers, absorbed, living the story
even as Luck lived it.

A long, rumbling snore stopped him with a mental jolt. He came back to
reality and looked at the Happy Family. Every one of them, save Rosemary,
was sound asleep; and even Rosemary was dreaming at the fire with her
eyes half closed, and her fingers moving caressingly through the
unconscious Andy's brown hair.

"Let 'em be. You go ahead and read it out," Applehead muttered, impatient
of the pause.

So Luck, with his audience dwindled to one bald-headed old rangeman,
read the story of what he meant to create out there in the wild spaces
of New Mexico.



It is surprising how much time is consumed by the little things of
life, - unimportant in themselves, yet absolutely necessary to a
satisfactory accomplishment of the big things. Luck, looking ahead into
the next day, confidently expected to be making scenes by the time the
light was right, - say nine o'clock in the morning. He had chosen several
short, unimportant scenes, such as the departure of old Dave Wiswell, his
cattleman of the picture, from the ranch; his return, and the saddling of
horses and riding away of the boys. Also he meant to make a scene of the
arrival of the sheriff after having received word of the presence of Big
Medicine, the outlaw, at the ranch. Rosemary, too, as the daughter of old
Dave, must run down to the corral to meet her father. Scattered scenes
they were, occurring in widely separated parts of the story. But they had
to be made, and they required no especial "sets" of scenery; and other
work, such as the building of the stage for interior sets, could go on
with few interruptions. The boys would have to work in their make-up, but
since the make-up was to be nothing more than a sharpening of the
features to make them look absolutely natural upon the screen, it would
not be uncomfortable. This was what Luck had planned for that day.

Before breakfast he had selected a site for his stage, on the sunny
side of the hill back of the house, where it would be partially
sheltered from the sweeping winds of New Mexico. All day he would have
the sun behind him while he worked, and he considered the situation an
ideal one. He had the lumber hauled up there and unloaded, while
Rosemary and Applehead were cooking breakfast for ten hungry people. He
laid out his foundation and explained to the boys just how it should be
built, and even sacrificed his appetite to his impatience by going a
quarter of a mile to where he remembered seeing some old barbed wire
strung along a fence to keep it off the ground so that stock could not
tangle in it. He got the wire and brought it back with him to guy out
the uprights for the diffusers. So on the whole he began the day as
well as even he could desire.

Then little hindrances began to creep in to delay him. For one thing, the
Happy Family had only a comedy acquaintance with grease paint, and their
make-up reminded Luck unpleasantly of Bently Brown's stories. As they
appeared one by one, with their comically crooked eyebrows and their
rouge-widened lips and staring, deep-shadowed eyes, Luck sent them back
to take it all off and start over again under his supervision. The
outcome was that he gave a full hour to making up the faces of his
characters and telling them how to do it themselves. Even Rosemary made
her brows too heavy and her lips too red, and her cheeks were flushed
unevenly. Luck was a busy man that morning, but he was not taking scenes
by nine o'clock, for all his haste.

With a kindly regard for Rosemary's nervousness lest she fail him, he set
up his camera and told her to walk down part way to the corral,
looking - supposedly - to see if her dad had come home. She must stand
there irresolutely, then turn and walk back toward the camera,
registering the fact that she was worried. That sounds simple enough,
doesn't it?

What Luck most wanted was to satisfy himself as to whether Rosemary could
possibly play the part of old Dave's daughter. If she could, he would
sleep sounder that night; if she could not, - Luck was not at all clear as
to what he should do if she failed. He told her just where to walk into
the "scene," which is the range of the camera. He went down part way to
the corral and drew a line with his toe, and told her to stop when she
reached that line and to look away up the trail which wound down among
the rocks and sage. When he called to her she was to turn and walk back,
trying to imagine that she was much worried and disappointed.

"Your dad was to have come last night," Luck suggested. "You tried to
keep him from going in the first place, and now we've got to establish
the fact that he is away behind time getting home. You know, this is
where his horse falls with him, and he lies out all night, and Big
Medicine brings him in next day. You kind of have a hunch that something
is wrong, and you keep looking for him. Sabe." He fussed with the camera,
adjusting it to what seemed to him the right focus. "Want to rehearse it
first?" he added considerately.

"No," Rosemary gasped, "I don't. I know how to walk, and how to turn
around and come back. I've been doing those things for twenty-two years
or so, but Luck Lindsay, if you don't let me do it right away quick, I
just know I'll stub my toe and fall down, or something!" The worst of it
was, she meant what she said. Rosemary, I am sorry to say, was so scared
that her teeth chattered.

"All right, you go on and do it now," Luck permitted, and began to turn
the crank at seventeen in order to hold her action slow, while he watched
her. Groaning inwardly, he continued to turn, while Rosemary went primly
down the winding trail, stood with her toes on the line Luck had marked
for her, gazed stiffly off to the right, and then, when he called to her,
turned and came back, staring fixedly over his head. You have seen little
girls with an agonized self-consciousness walk up an aisle to a platform
where they must bow to their fathers and mothers and their critical
schoolmates and "speak a piece." Rosemary resembled the most bashful
little girl that you can recall.

"All right," said Luck tonelessly, and placed his palm over the lens
while he gave the crank another turn. "We'll try it again to-morrow.
Don't worry. You'll get the hang of it all right."

His very smile, meant to encourage her, brought swift tears that rolled
down and streaked the powder and rouge on her cheeks. She had made a mess
of it all; she knew that just as well as Luck knew it. He gave her
shoulder a reassuring pat as she went by, and that finished Rosemary. She
retreated into the gloomy, one-windowed bedroom with its litter of
half-unpacked suitcases and an overflowing trunk, and she cried
heartbrokenly because she knew she would never in this world be able to
forget that terrible, winking eye and the clicking whirr of Luck's
camera. Just to think of facing it gave her a "goose-flesh" chill, - and
she did so want to help Luck!

With the Happy Family and old Dave, Luck fared better. They, fortunately
for him, were already what he called camera-broke. They could forget all
about the camera while they caught and saddled their horses. They could
mount and ride away unconcernedly without even thinking of trying to act.
Luck's spirits rose a little while he turned the crank, and just for pure
relief at the perfect naturalness of it, he gave that scene an extra ten
feet of footage.

With Applehead he had some difficulty. Applehead looked the part of
sheriff, all right. He wore his trousers tucked inside his boots because
he always wore them so, especially when he rode. He wore his big
six-shooter buckled snugly about his middle instead of dangling far down
his thigh, because he had always worn it that way. He wore his sheriffs
badge pinned on his vest and his coat unbuttoned, so that the wind blew
it open now and then and revealed the star. Altogether he looked exactly
as he had looked when he was serving one of his four terms of office. But
when he faced the camera, he was inclined to strut, and Luck had no
negative to waste. He resorted to strategy, which consisted of a little
wholesome sarcasm.

"Listen, Applehead! the public is going to get the idea that you sure
hate yourself!" he remarked, standing with his hands on his hips while
Applehead came strutting into the foreground. "You'll never make any one
believe you were ever a real, honest-to-God sheriff. They'll put you down
as an extra picked up through a free employment agency and feeling like
you owned the plant because you're earning a couple of dollars. Go back
down there to your horse and wait till some of that importance

Applehead went off swearing to himself, and Luck got a fifteen-foot
scene of the departure of a very indignant sheriff who is with
difficulty holding his anger subordinate to his official dignity. Before
he had time to recover his usual good humor, Luck with further
disparaging comment called him back. Applehead, smarting under the
sarcasm, came ready for war, and Luck turned the crank until the sheriff
was almost within reach of him.

"Gol darn you, Luck, I'll take that there camery and bust it over your
danged head!" he spluttered. "I'll show ye! Call me a bum that's wearin'
a shurf's star fer the first time in his life, will ye! Why, I'll jest
about wear ye out if - "

"All right, pard; I was just aiming to make you come up looking mad. You
did fine." Luck stopped to roll a smoke as though nothing had occurred
but tiresome routine.

Applehead looked down at him uncertainly. He looked at the Happy Family,
saw them grinning, and gave a mollified chuckle. "We-ell, you was takin'
a danged long chance, now I'm tellin' yuh, boy!" he warned. "I was all
set to tangle with yuh; and if I had, I reckon I'd a spiled something
'fore I got through."

It was noon by the sun, and a film of haze was spreading across the sky.
Luck shot another scene or two and shouldered his precious camera
reluctantly, when Rosemary, red-lidded but elaborately cheerful in her
manner, called them in to dinner.

"She's goin' to storm, shore's you live," Applehead predicted, sniffing
into the wind like a dog confronted by a strange scent. A little later
he looked up from his full plate with a worried air. "How's a storm
goin' to hit ye, Luck?" he asked. "Kinda put a stop to the pitcher
business, won't it?"

"Not if it snows, it won't," Luck answered calmly, helping himself to the
brown beans boiled with bacon. "We'll round up a bunch of cattle, and
I'll shoot my blizzard stuff. I'll need more negative, though, for that.
If I knew for sure it's going to storm - "

"I'm tellin' yuh it is, ain't I?" Applehead blew into his saucer of
coffee, - his table manners not being the nicest in the world. "I kin
smell snow two days off, and that there wind comin' up the canyon has got
snow behind it, now I'm tellin' ye. 'Nother thing, I kin tell by the way
Compadre walks, liftin' his feet high and bushin' up what's left of his
tail. That there cat's smarter'n some humans, and he shore kin smell snow
comin', same's I do. He hates snow worse'n pizen." Applehead drank his
coffee in great gulps. "I'll bet he's huntin' a warm corner somewheres,
right now."

"No, he ain't, by cripes!" Big Medicine corrected him. "That there
Come-Paddy cat of yourn has got worse troubles than snow! Dog's got him
treed up the windmill. I seen - "

Applehead did not wait to hear what Big Medicine had seen. He drank the
remainder of his coffee in one great, scalding gulp, and went out to
rescue his cat and to put the fear of death into the little black dog.
When he returned, puffing a little, to his interrupted meal and had told
them a few of the things he meant to do to that dog if it refused to
mend its ways, he declared again that he could "shore smell snow behind
that wind."

"I wish it would hold off till that raw stock gets here," Luck observed
anxiously. "I wired the order in, but at that I'm afraid it won't get
here before the end of the week. I'll have one of you boys pack me some
water into the dark room so I can develop negatives right after dinner. I
want to see how she's coming out before I take any more."

"I thought Andy'd fixed a hose fer that dark room," Happy Jack said
forebodingly. If there was water to be carried, Happy was pessimistically
certain that he would have to carry it.

"I turned that hose over to the missus for a colander," Andy explained
soberly. "By gracious, I couldn't figure out anything else it could be
used for."

"Did you get the barrels fixed like I said?"

"I sure did. Applehead must have had a Dutch picnic or two out here,
from the number of beer kegs scattered all over the place. And a couple
of big whisky - "

"Them there whisky bar'ls I bought and used fer water bar'ls till I got
my well bored. Luck kin mind the time when we hauled water on a sled outa
the arroyo down below." Applehead's eyes turned anxiously to Rosemary,
toward whom he was beginning to show a timidly worshipful attitude.

"You bet I can. Do you remember the time we hitched that big bronk up
with old Wall-eye, to haul water? Got back here a little ways beyond the
stable with two barrels sloshing over the top, and the cat - not this one,
but a black-and-white cat, that was - the cat jumped out from behind a
buck brush. _Hot dog!_ That bronk went straight in the air! Remember that
time?" Luck leaned back in his chair to laugh.

"I shore do," Applehead chuckled. "Luck, here, he was walkin' behind the
sled and drivin', - and he wasn't as big as he is now, even. That was soon
after he come out here to fatten up like. Little bit of a peaked - why, I
bet he didn't weigh over a hundred pounds after a full meal! He was
ridin' the lines an' steadyin' the bar'ls, busy as a dog at a badger
hole, when the cat jumped out, an' that there bronk r'ared back and swung
off short and hit fur the mesa; and Luck here a-hangin' and hollerin',
an' me a-leggin' it to ketch up, and bar'ls teeterin' and - Mind how you
was bound you'd kill that cat uh mine?" he asked Luck, tears of laughter
dimming his eyes. "That was ole Leather Lungs. He tuk sick an' died, year
after that. Luck shore was mad enough to eat that thar cat, now I'm
tellin' yuh!"

The Happy Family laughed together over the picture Applehead had crudely
painted for them. But Luck, although he had started the story, already
was slipping away from the present and was trying to peer into the
future. He did not even hear what Applehead was saying to keep the boys
in a roar of mirth. He was mentally reckoning the number of days since he
had wired his order for a C.O.D. shipment of negative to be rushed to
Albuquerque. Two days in Los Angeles, getting ready for the venture; two
days on the way to Applehead's ranch, one day here, - five days
altogether. He had told them to rush the order. If they did, there was a
chance that it might have arrived. He decided suddenly to make the trip
and see; but first he would develop the exposed negative of the
forenoon's work. He got up with that businesslike air which the Happy
Family had already begun to recognize as a signal for quick action, and
took off his coat.

"Happy, I wish you and Bud would carry me some water," he said. "I'll
show you where to put it; I'm going to need a lot. Will you help me wind
the film on my patent rack, Andy? And I'll want that little team hitched
to the buckboard so I can go to town after I'm through. I've got some
hopes of my negative being there."

"Want the rest of us to work on that stage, don't you, boss?" Weary
asked, pausing in the doorway to roll a smoke. "And please may I wipe off
my eyebrows?"

"Why, sure! - to both questions," answered Luck, going over to his camera.
"I can't do much more till I get more negative, even with the light
right, which it isn't. You go ahead and finish the stage this afternoon.
And be sure the uprights are guyed for a high wind; she sure can blow, in
this man's country."

"You're danged right, she can blow!" Applehead testified emphatically.
"She can blow, and she's goin' to blow. You want to take your overshoes
and mittens, boy, when you start out fer town. You know how cold she can
get on that mesa. Chances are you'll come back facin' a blizzard. And,
say! I wisht you'd take that there dog back with yuh, Luck, 'cause if yuh
don't, him and me's shore goin' to tangle, now I'm tellin' yuh! Mighty
funny note when a cat dassent walk acrost his own dooryard in broad
daylight, no more! Poor ole Compadre was shakin' like a leaf when I clumb
up and got him down of'n the windmill. Way the wind was whistlin' up
there, the chances are he's done ketched cold in 'is tail, and if he has,
yuh better see to it that thar dog ain't within gunshot uh me, now I'm
tellin' yuh!"

Luck did not hear half the tirade. He had gone into the dark room and was
dissolving hypo for the fixing bath, while the boys tramped in with full
water buckets and began to fill the barrels he had placed in a row along
the wall. He was impatient to see how his work of the forenoon would come
out of the developer, and he was quite as impatient to be on his way to
town. Whether he admitted it or not, he had a good deal of faith in
Applehead's weather forecasts; he remembered how often the old fellow had
predicted storms in the past when Luck spent a long winter with him here
in this same adobe dwelling. If it did snow, he must have plenty of
negative for his winter scenes; for snow never laid long on the level
here, and he had a full reel of winter stuff to make.

He called Andy to come and help him wind his exposed film on the crude,
improvised film racks that had lately been beer kegs, and closed the dark
room door upon the last empty bucket that had been carried in full. In
the dull light of the ruby lamp he carefully wound his long strip of
exposed negative, emulsion side out, around the keg which Andy held for
him. His developer bath was ready, and he immersed the film-jacketed keg
slowly, with due regard for bubbles of air.

"You may not know it, but right here in this dark room is where I look
for the real test of success or failure," he confided to Andy, while he
rocked the keg gently in the barrel. "I wish I could afford a good
camera-man; but then, the most of them wouldn't work with this kind of an
outfit; they'd demand all the laboratory conveniences, and that would run
into money. Ever notice that when you can't get anything but the crudest
kind of tools to work with, you generally have to use them yourself? But
it will take more than - oh, _hell_!"

"What's wrong?" Andy Green bent his brown head anxiously down beside
Luck's fast graying mop of hair, and peered at the images coming out of
the yellowish veil that had hidden them. "Ain't they good?"

Luck reached into the water tank and splashed a little water on his film
to check it while he looked. "Now, what in the name of - " He scowled
perplexedly down at the streaked strips. "What do you suppose streaked it
like that?" He lifted worried, gray eyes to Andy's apprehensive frown,
and looked again disgustedly at the negative before he dropped it back
with a splash into the developer.

"No good; she's ruined," he said in the flat tone of a great
disappointment. "Eighty feet of film gone to granny. Well, that's
luck for you!"

Andy reached gingerly into the barrel and brought up the keg so that
he could take another look. He had owned a kodak for years and had
done enough amateur developing to know that something had gone very
wrong here.

"What ails the darned thing?" he asked fretfully, turning to Luck, who
was scowling abstractedly into his barrels of "soup."

"You can search me," Luck replied dully. "Looks like I'd been stung with
a bunch of bum chemicals. Either that, or something's wrong with our
tanks here." He reached down and pulled up the keg by its hooped top,
glimpsed a stain on his finger and thumb and let the keg slip hastily
over into the pure water so that he could examine the stains.

"Iron! Iron, sure as thunder!" he exclaimed suddenly. "Those iron hoops
are what did it." He rubbed his hand vexedly. "I knew better than that,
too. I don't see why I didn't think about those hoops. Of all the
idiotic, fool - "

"What kinda brain do you think you've got in your head, anyway?" Andy
broke in spiritedly. "Way you've been working it lately, engineering
every blamed detail yourself, you oughtn't to wonder if one little thing
gets by you."

"Well, it's done now," Luck dismissed the accident stoically. "Lucky I
started in on those costume and make-up tests of all you fellows, and
that scene of your wife's. And if I'd used the other half barrel instead
of this five-gallon keg for a start-off, I'd have spoiled the whole
bunch. I'll have to throw out all that developer. Blast the luck! Well,
let's get busy." He pulled out the keg and held it up for another
disgusted look. "I won't bother fixing that at all. Call Happy and Bud
back, will you, and have them roll this barrel of developer out and ditch
it? And then take those two half barrels you were going to fix, and wrap
them with clothesline, - that cotton line on one of the trunks, - and knock
off all the hoops. I'm going to beat it to 'Querque and see if that
stuff's there. We'll try developing the rest this evening, after I get
back. Darn such luck!"

The five thousand feet of negative had not arrived, but there was a
letter from the company saying that they had shipped it. Luck, bone-tired
and cold from his fifteen-mile drive across the unsheltered mesa, turned
away from the express office, debating whether to wait for the film or go
back to the ranch. It would be a pretty cold drive back, in the edge of
the evening and facing that raw wind; he decided that he would save time
by waiting here in town, since he could not go on with his picture
without more negative. He turned back impulsively, put his head in at the
door of the express office, and called to the clerk:

"When do you get your next express from the East, brother? I'll wait for
that negative if you think it's likely to come by to-morrow noon or

"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

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Phantom Herd → online text (page 9 of 16)