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THE INDIANS MUST GO
Luck Lindsay had convoyed his thirty-five actor-Indians to their reservation at Pine Ridge, and had turned them over to the agent in good condition and a fine humor and nice new hair hatbands and other fixings; while their pockets were heavy with dollars that you may be sure would not he spent very wisely. He had shaken hands with the braves, and had promised to let them know when there was another job in sight, and to speak a good word for them to other motion-picture companies who might want to hire real Indians. He had smiled at the fat old squaws who had waddled docilely in and out of the scenes and teetered tirelessly round and round in their queer native dances in the hot sun at his behest, when Luck wanted several rehearsals of "atmosphere" scenes before turning the camera on them.
They hated to go back to the tame life of the reservation and to stringing beads and sewing buckskin with sinew, and to gossiping among themselves of things their heavy-lidded black eyes had looked upon with such seeming apathy. They had given Luck an elaborately beaded buckskin vest that would photograph beautifully, and three pairs of heavy, beaded moccasins which he most solemnly assured them he would wear in his next picture. The smoke-smell of their tepee fires and perfumes still clung heavily to the Indian-tanned buckskin, so that Luck carried away with him an aroma indescribable and unmistakable to any one who has ever smelled it.
Just when he was leaving, a shy, big-eyed girl of ten had slid out from the shelter of her mother's poppy-patterned skirt, had proffered three strings of beads, and had fled. Luck had smiled his smile again--a smile of white, even teeth and so much good will that you immediately felt that he was your friend--and called her back to him. Luck was chief; and his commands were to be obeyed, instantly and implicitly; that much he had impressed deeply upon the least of these. While the squaws grinned and murmured Indian words to one another, the big-eye girl returned reluctantly; and Luck, dropping a hand to his coat pocket while he smiled reassurance, emptied that pocket of gum for her. His smile had lingered after he turned away; for like flies to an open syrup can the papooses had gathered around the girl.
Well, that job was done, and done well. Every one was satisfied save Luck himself. He swung up to the back of the Indian pony that would carry him through the Bad Lands to the railroad, and turned for a last look. The bucks stood hip-shot and with their arms folded, watching him gravely. The squaws pushed straggling locks from their eyes that they might watch him also. The papooses were chewing gum and staring at him solemnly. Old Mrs. Ghost-Dog, she of the ponderous form and plaid blanket that Luck had used with such good effect in the foreground of his atmosphere scenes, lifted up her voice suddenly, and wailed after him in high-keyed lament that she would see his face no more; and Luck felt a sudden contraction of the throat while he waved his hand to them and rode away.
Well, now he must go on to the next job, which he hoped would be more pleasant than this one had been. Luck hated to give up those Indians. He liked them, and they liked him,--though that was not the point. He had done good work with them. When he directed the scenes, those Indians did just what he wanted, and just the way he wanted it done; Luck was too old a director not to know the full value of such workers.
But the Acme Film Company, caught with the rest of the world in the pressure of hard times, wanted to economize. The manager had pointed out to Luck, during the course of an evening's discussion, that these Indians were luxuries in the making of pictures, and must be taken off the payroll for the good of the dividends. The manager had contended that white men and women, properly made up, could play the part of Indians where Indians were needed; whereas Indians could never be made to play the part of white men and women. Therefore, since white men and women were absolutely necessary. Why keep a bunch of Indians around eating up profits? The manager had sense on his side, of course. Other companies were making Indian pictures occasionally with not a real Indian within miles of the camera, but Luck Lindsay groaned inwardly, and cursed the necessity of economizing. For Luck had one idol, and that idol was realism. When the scenario called for twenty or thirty Indians, Luck wanted Indians,--real, smoke-tanned, blanketed bucks and squaws and papooses; not made-up whites who looked like animated signs for cigar stores and acted like,--well, never mind what Luck said they acted like.
"I can take the Injuns back," he conceded, "and worry along somehow without them. But if you want me to put on any more Western stuff, you'll have to let me weed out some of these Main Street cowboys that Clements wished on to me, and go out in the sagebrush and round up some that ain't all hair hatbands and high-heeled boots and bluff. I've got to have some whites to fill the foreground, if I give up the Injuns; or else I quit Western stuff altogether. I've been stalling along and keeping the best of the bucks in the foreground, and letting these said riders lope in and out of scenes and pile off and go to shooting soon as the camera picks them up, but with the Injuns gone, the whites won't get by.
"Maybe you have noticed that when there was any real riding, I've had the Injuns do it. And do you think I've been driving that stagecoach hell-bent from here to beyond because I'd no other way to kill time? Wasn't another darned man in the outfit I'd trust, that's why. If I take the Indians back, I've got to have some real boys." Luck's voice was plaintive, and a little bit desperate.
"Well, dammit, have your real boys! I never said you shouldn't. Weed out the company to suit yourself. You'll have to take the Injuns back; nobody else can handle the touch-me-not devils. You can lay off the company if you want to, and while you're up there pick up a bunch of cowboys to suit you. You're making good, Luck; don't take it that I'm criticizing anything you've done or the way you did it. You've been turning out the best Western stuff that goes on the screen; anybody knows that. That isn't the point. We just simply can't afford to keep those Indians any longer without retrenching on something else that's a lot more vital. You know what they cost as well as I do; you know what present conditions are. Figure it out for yourself."
"I don't have to," Luck retorted in a worried tone. "I know what we're up against. I know we ought to give them up--but I sure hate to do it! Lor-dee, but I can do things with that bunch! Remember Red Brother?" Luck was off on his hobby, the making of Indian pictures. "Remember the panoram effect I got on that massacre of the wagon train? Remember the council-of-war scene, and the close-up of Young-Dog-Howls-At-The-Moon making his plea for the lives of the prisoners? And the war dance with radium flares in the camp fires to give the light-effect? That film's in big demand yet, they tell me. I'll never be able to put over stuff like that with made-up actors, Martinson. You know I can't."
"I don't know; you're only just beginning to hit your gait, Luck," the manager soothed. "You have turned out some big stuff,--some awful big stuff; but at that you're just beginning to find yourself. Now, listen. You can have your 'real boys' you're always crying for. I can see what you mean when you pan these fellows you call Main Street cowboys. What you better do is this: Close down the company for two weeks, say. Keep on the ones you want, and let the rest out. And take these Injuns home, and then get out after your riders. Numbers and salaries we'll leave to you. Go as far as you like; it's a cinch you'll get what you want if you're allowed to go after it."
So here was Luck, arriving in due time at the railroad. He said good-by to Young-Dog-Howls-At-The-Moon who had ridden with him, and whose kingly bearing and clean-cut features and impressive pantomime made him a popular screen-Indian, and sat down upon a baggage truck to smoke a cigarette while he waited for the westbound train.
Young-Dog-Howls-At-The-Moon he watched meditatively until that young man had bobbed out of sight over a low hill, the pony Luck had ridden trailing after at the end of the lead-rope. Luck's face was sober, his eyes tired and unsmiling. He had done that much of his task: he had returned the Indians, and automatically wiped a very large item of expense from the accounts of the Acme Film Company. He did not like to dwell, however, on the cost to his own pride in his work.
The next job, now that he was actually face to face with it, looked not so simple. He was in a country where, a few years before, his quest for "real boys"--as he affectionately termed the type nearest his heart--would have been easy enough. But before the marching ranks of fence posts and barbed wire, the real boys had scattered. A more or less beneficent government had not gathered them together, and held them apart from the changing conditions, as it had done with the Indians. The real boys had either left the country, or had sold their riding outfits and gone into business in the little towns scattered hereabouts, or else they had taken to farming the land where the big herds had grazed while the real boys loafed on guard.
Luck admitted to himself that in the past two years, even, conditions had changed amazingly. Land was fenced that had been free. Even the reservation was changed a little. He threw away that cigarette and lighted another, and turned aggrievedly upon a dried little man who came up with the open expectation of using the truck upon which Luck was sitting uncomfortably. There was the squint of long looking against sun and wind at a far skyline in the dried little man's face. There was a certain bow in his legs, and there were various other signs which Luck read instinctively as he got up. He smiled his smile, and the dried little man grinned back companionably.
"Say, old-timer, what's gone with all the cattle and all the punchers?" Luck demanded with a mild querulousness.
The dried little man straightened from the truck handles and regarded Luck strangely.
"My gorry, son, plumb hazed off'n this section the earth, I reckon. Farmers and punchers, they don't mix no better'n sheep and cattle. Why, I mind the time when--"
The train was late, anyway, and the dried little man sat down on the truck, and fumbled his cigarette book, and began to talk. Luck sat down beside him and listened, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and a cold cigarette in his fingers. It was not of this part of the country that the dried little man talked, but of Montana, over there to the west. Of northern Montana in the days when it was cowman's paradise; the days when round-up wagons started out with the grass greening the hilltops, and swung from the Rockies to the Bear Paws and beyond in the wide arc that would cover their range; of the days of the Cross L and the Rocking R and the Lazy Eight,--every one of them brand names to glisten the eyes of old-time Montanans.
"Where would you go to find them boys now?" the dried little man questioned mournfully. "The Rocking R's gone into sheep, and the old boys have all left. The Cross L moved up into Canada, Lord knows how they're making out; I don't. Only outfit in northern Montana I know that has hung together at all is the Flying U. Old man Whitmore, he's hangin' on by his eyewinkers to what little range he can, and is going in for thoroughbreds. Most of his boys is with him yet, they tell me--"
"What they doing? Still riding?" Luck let out a long breath and lighted his cigarette. A little flare of hope had come into his eyes.
"Riding--yes, what little there is to do. Ranching a little too, and kicking about changed times, same as I'm doing. Last time I saw that outfit they was riding, you bet!" The dried little man chuckled, "That was in Great Falls, some time back. They was all in a contest, and pulling down the money, too. I was talking to old man Whitmore all one evening. He was telling me--"
From away out yonder behind a hill came the throaty call of the coming train. The dried little man jumped up, mumbled that it did beat all how time went when yuh got to talking over old days, and hustled two trunks out of the baggage room. Luck got his grip out of the office, settled himself into his coat, and took a last, long pull at the cigarette stub before he threw it away. It was not much of a clue that he had fallen upon by chance, but Luck was not one to wait until he was slapped in the face with a fact. He had intended swinging back through Arizona, where in certain parts cattle still were wild enough to bunch up at sight of a man afoot. His questioning of the dried little man had not been born of any concrete purpose, but of the range man's plaint in the abstract. Still--
"Say, brother, what's the Flying U's home town?" he called after the dried little man with his amiable, Southern drawl.
"Huh? Dry Lake. Yuh taking this train?"
"So long--taking it for a ways, yes." Luck hurried down to where a kinky-haired porter stood apathetically beside the steps of his coach. Dry Lake? He had never heard of the place, but he could find out from the railroad map or the conductor. He swung his grip into the waiting hand of the porter and went up the steps hurriedly. He meant to find out where Dry Lake was, and whether this train would take him there.
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