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"WHERE THE CATTLE ROAMED IN THOUSANDS, A-MANY A HERD AND BRAND ..."--Old Range Song.
If you are at all curious over the name to which Luck Lindsay answered unhesitatingly,--his very acceptance of it proving his willingness to be so identified,--I can easily explain. Some nicknames have their origin in mystery; there was no mystery at all surrounding the name men had bestowed upon Lucas Justin Lindsay. In the first place, his legal cognomen being a mere pandering to the vanity of two grandfathers who had no love for each other and so must both be mollified, never had appealed to Luck or to any of his friends. Luck would have been grateful for any nickname that would have wiped Lucas Justin from the minds of men. But the real reason was a quirk in Luck's philosophy of life. Anything that he greatly desired to see accomplished, he professed to leave to chance. He would smile his smile, and lift his shoulders in the Spanish way he had learned in Mexico and the Philippines, and say: "That's as luck will have it. Quien sabe?" Then he would straightway go about bringing the thing to pass by his own dogged efforts. Men fell into the habit of calling him Luck, and they forgot that he had any other name; so there you have it, straight and easily understandable.
As luck would have it, then,--and no pun intended, please,--he found himself en route to Dry Lake without any trouble at all; a mere matter of one change of trains and very close connections, the conductor told him. So Luck went out and found a chair on the observation platform, and gave himself up to his cigar and to contemplation of the country they were gliding through. What he would find at Dry Lake to make the stop worth his while did not worry him; he left that to the future and to the god Chance whom he professed to serve. He was doing his part; he was going there to find out what the place held for him. If it held nothing but a half dozen ex-cow-punchers hopelessly tamed and turned farmers, why, there would probably be a train to carry him further in his quest. He would drop down into Wyoming and Arizona and New Mexico,--just keep going till he did find the men he wanted. That was Luck's way.
The shadows grew long and spread over the land until the whole vast country lay darkling under the coming night. Luck went in and ate his dinner, and came back again to smoke and stare and dream. There was a moon now that silvered the slopes and set wide expanses shimmering.
Luck, always more or less a dreamer, began to people the plain with the things that had been but were no more: with buffalo and with Indians who camped on the trail of the big herds. He saw their villages, the tepees smoke-grimed and painted with symbols, some of them, huddled upon a knoll out there near the timber line. He heard the tom-toms and he saw the rhythmic leaping and treading, the posing and gesturing of the braves who danced in the firelight the tribal Buffalo Dance.
After that he saw the coming of the cattle, driven up from the south by wind-browned, saddle-weary cowboys who sang endless chanteys to pass the time as they rode with their herds up the long trail. He saw the cattle humped and drifting before the wind in the first blizzards of winter, while gray wolves slunk watchfully here and there, their shaggy coats ruffled by the biting wind. He saw them when came the chinook, a howling, warm wind from out the southwest, cutting the snowbanks as with a knife that turned to water what it touched, and laying bare the brown grass beneath. He saw the riders go out with the wagons to gather the lank-bodied, big-kneed calves and set upon them the searing mark of their owner's iron.
Urged by the spell of the dried little man's plaintive monologue, the old range lived again for Luck, out there under the moon, while the train carried him on and on through the night.
What a picture it all would make--the story of those old days as they had been lived by men now growing old and bent. With all the cheap, stagy melodrama thrown to one side to make room for the march of that bigger drama, an epic of the range land that would be at once history, poetry, realism!
Luck's cigar went out while he sat there and wove scene after scene of that story which should breathe of the real range land as it once had been. It could be done--that picture. Months it would take in the making, for it would swing through summer and fall and winter and spring. With the trail-herd going north that picture should open--the trail-herd toiling over big, unpeopled plains, with the riders slouched in their saddles, hat brims pulled low over eyes that ached with the glare of the sun and the sweep of wind, their throats parched in the dust cloud flung upward from the marching, cloven hoofs. Months it would take in the making,--but sitting there with the green tail-lights switching through cuts and around low hills and out over the level, Luck visioned it all, scene by scene. Visioned the herd huddled together in the night while the heavens were split with lightning, and the rain came down in white-lighted streamers of water. Visioned the cattle humped in the snow, tails to the biting wind, and the riders plodding with muffled heads bent to the drive of the blizzard, the fine snow packing full the wrinkles in their sourdough coats.
It could be done. He, Luck Lindsay, could do it; in his heart he knew that he could. In his heart he felt that all of these months--yes, and years--of picture-making had been but a preparation for this great picture of the range. All these one-reel pioneer pictures had been merely the feeble efforts of an apprentice learning to handle the tools of his craft, the mental gropings of his mind while waiting for this, his big idea. His work with the Indians was the mere testing and trying of certain photographic effects, certain camera limitations. He felt like an athlete taught and trained and tempered and just stepping out now for the big physical achievement of his life.
He grew chilled as the night advanced, but he did not know that he was cold. He was wondering, as a man always wonders in the face of an intellectual birth, why this picture had not come to him before; why he had gone on through these months and years of turning out reel upon reel of Western pictures, with never once a glimmering of this great epic of the range land; why he had clung to his Indians and his one-reel Indian pictures with now and then a three-reel feature to give him the elation of having achieved something; why he had left them feeling depressedly that his best work was in the past; why he had looked upon real range-men as a substitute only for those lean-bodied bucks and those fat, stupid-eyed squaws and dirty papooses.
With the spell of his vision deep upon his soul, Luck sat humiliated before his blindness. The picture he saw as he stared out across the moonlit plain was so clean-cut, so vivid, that he marvelled because he had never seen it until this night. Perhaps, if the dried little man had not talked of the old range--
Luck took a long breath and flung his cigar out over the platform rail. The dried little man? Why, just as he stood he was a type! He was the Old Man who owned this herd that should trail north and on through scene after scene of the picture! No make-up needed there to stamp the sense of reality upon the screen. Luck looked with the eye of his imagination and saw the dried little man climbing, with a stiffness that could not hide his accustomedness, into the saddle. He saw him ride out with his men, scattering his riders for the round-up; the old cowman making sharper the contrast of the younger men, fixing indelibly upon the consciousness of those who watched that this same dried little man had grown old in the saddle; fixing indelibly the fact that not in a day did the free ranging of cattle grow to be one of the nation's great industries.
Of a sudden Luck got up and stood swaying easily to the motion of the car while he took a long, last look at the moon-bathed plain where had been born his great, beautiful picture. He stretched his arms as does one who has slept heavily, and went inside and down to the beginning of the narrow aisle where were kept telegraph forms in their wooden-barred niches in the wall. He went into the smoking compartment and wrote, with a sureness that knew no crossed-out words, a night letter to the dried little man who had sat on the baggage truck and talked of the range. And this is what went speeding back presently to the dried little man who slept in a cabin near the track and dreamed, perhaps, of following the big herds:
Report at once to me at Dry Lake. Can offer you good position Acme Film Company, good salary working in big Western picture. Small part, some riding among real boys who know range life. Want you bad as type of cowman owning cattle in picture. Salary and expenses begin when you show up. For references see Indian Agent.
Dry Lake, Mont.
If you count, you will see that he ran eight words over the limit of the flat rate on night letters, but he would have over-run the limit by eighty words just as quickly if he had wanted to say so much. That was Luck's way. Be it a telegram, instructions to his company, or a quarrel with some one who crossed him, Luck said what he wanted to say--and paid the price without blinking.
I don't know what the dried little man thought when the operator handed him that message the next morning; but I can tell you in a few words what he did: He arrived in Dry Lake just two trains behind Luck.
Luck did not sleep that night. He lay in his berth with the shade pushed up as high as it would go, and stared out at the tamed plain, and perfected the details of his Big Picture. Into the spell of the range he wove a story of human love and human hate and danger and trouble. So it must be, to carry his message to the world who would look and marvel at what he would show them in the drama of silence. He had not named his picture yet. The name would come in its own good time, just as the picture had come when the time for its making was ripe.
The next day he did not talk with the men whose elbows he touched in the passing intimacy of travel; though Luck was a companionable soul who was much given to talking and to seeing his listeners grow to an audience,--an appreciative audience that laughed much while they listened and frowned upon interruption. Instead, he sat silent in his seat, since on this train there was no observation car, and he stared out of the window without seeing much of what passed before his eyes, and made notes now and then, and covered all the margins of his time-table with figures that had to do with film. Once, I know, he blackened his two front teeth with pencil tappings while he visualized a stampede and the probable amount of footage it would require, and debated whether it should be "shot" with two cameras or three to get scenes from different angles. A stampede it should be,--a real stampede of fear-frenzied range cattle in the mad flight of terror; not a bunch of galloping tame cows urged to foreground by shouting and rock-throwing from beyond the side lines of the scene. It would be hard to get, and it could not be rehearsed before the camera was turned on it. Luck decided that it should be shot from three angles, at least, and if he could manage it he would have a "panoram" of the whole thing from a height.
The porter came apologetically with his big whisk broom and told Luck that they would all presently be gazing at Dry Lake, or words which carried that meaning. So Luck permitted himself to be whisked from a half dollar while his thoughts were "in the field" with his camera men and company, shooting a real stampede from various angles and trying to manage so that the dust should not obscure the scene. After a rain--of course! Just after a soaking rain, he thought, while he gathered up his time-table and a magazine that held his precious figures, and followed the porter out to the vestibule while the train slowed.
It was in this mood that Luck descended to the Dry Lake depot platform and looked about him. He had no high expectation of finding here what he sought. He was simply making sure, before he left the country behind him, that he had not "overlooked any bets." His mind was open to conviction even while it was prepared against disappointment; therefore his eyes were as clear of any prejudice as they were of any glamour. He saw things as they were.
On the side track, then, stood a string of cars loaded with wool, as his nose told him promptly. Farms there were none, but that was because the soil was yellow and pebbly and barren where it showed in great bald spots here and there; you would not expect to raise cabbages where a prairie dog had to forage far for a living. Behind the depot, the prairie humped a huge, broad shoulder of bluff wrinkled along the forward slope of it like the folds of a full fashioned skirt. There, too, the soil was bare,--clipped to the very grass roots by hundreds upon hundreds of hungry sheep whose wool, very likely, was crowding those cars upon the siding. Luck wasted neither glances nor thought upon the scene. Dry Lake was like many, many other outworn "cow towns" through which he had passed; changed without being bettered; all of the old life taken out of it in the process of its taming.
He threw his grip into the waiting, three-seated spring wagon that served as a hotel bus, climbed briskly after it, and glanced ahead to where he saw the age-blackened boards of the stockyards. Cattle--and then came the sheep. So runs the epitaph of the range, and it was written plainly across Dry Lake and its surroundings.
They went up a dusty trail and past the yawning wings of the stockyards where a bunch of sheep blatted now in the thirst of mid-afternoon. They stopped before the hotel where, in the old days, many a town-hungry puncher had set his horse upon its haunches that he might dismount in a style to match his eagerness. Luck climbed out and stood for a minute looking up and down the sandy street that slept in the sun and dreamed, it may be, of rich, unforgotten moments when the cow-punchers had come in off the range and stirred the sluggish town to a full, brief life with their rollicking. Across the street was Rusty Brown's place, with its narrow porch deserted of loafers and its windows blinking at the street with a blankness that belied the things they had looked upon in bygone times.
A less experienced man than Luck would have been convinced by now that here was no place to go seeking "real boys." But Luck had been a range man himself before he took to making motion pictures; he knew range towns as he knew men,--which was very well indeed. He looked, as he stood there, not disgusted but mildly speculative. Two horses were tied to the hitching rail before Rusty Brown's place. These horses bore saddles and bridles, and, if you know the earmarks, you can learn a good deal about a rider just by looking at his outfit. Neither saddle was new, but both gave evidence of a master's pride in his gear. They were well-preserved saddles. They had the conservative swell of fork that told Luck almost to a year how old they were. One, he judged, was of California make, or at least came from the extreme southwest of the cattle country. It had a good deal of silver on it, and the tapideros were almost Mexican in their elaborateness. The bridle on that horse matched the saddle, and the headstall was beautiful with silver kept white and clean. The rope coiled and tied beside the saddle fork was of rawhide. (Luck did not need to cross the street to be sure of these details; observation was a part of his profession.) The other saddle was the kind most favored on the northern range. Short, round skirts, open stirrups, narrow and rimmed with iron. Stamped with a two-inch border of wild rose design, it pleased Luck by its very simplicity. The rope was a good "grass" rope worn smooth and hard with much use.
Luck flipped a match stub out into the dust of the street, tilted his small Stetson at an angle over his eyes, went over to the horses, and looked at their brands which had been hidden from him. One was a Flying U, and the other bore a blurred monogram which he did not trouble to decipher. He turned on his heels and went into Rusty's place.
On his way to the bar he cast an appraising glance around the room and located his men. Here, too, a less experienced man might have blundered. One, known to his fellows as the Native Son, would scarcely be mistaken; his dress, too, evidently matched the silver-trimmed saddle outside. But Andy Green, in blue overalls turned up five inches at the bottom, and somewhat battered gray hat and gray chambray shirt, might have been almost any type of outdoor man. Certain it is that few strangers would have guessed that he was one of the best riders in that part of the State.
Luck bought a couple of good cigars, threw away his cigarette and lighted one, set the knuckles of his left hand upon his hip, and sauntered over to the pool table where the two men he wanted to meet were languidly playing out their third string. He watched them for a few minutes, smiled sympathetically when Andy Green made a scratch and swore over it, and backed out of the way of the Native Son, who sprawled himself over the table corner and did not seem to know or to care how far the end of his cue reached behind him.
Luck did not say a word to either; but Andy, noting the smile of sympathy, gave him a keenly attentive glance as he came up to that end of the table to empty a corner pocket. He fished out the four and the nine, juggled them absently in his hand, and turned and looked at Luck again, straight and close. Luck once more smiled his smile.
"No, I don't believe you know me, brother," he said, answering Andy's unspoken thought. "I'd have remembered you if I'd ever met you. You may have seen me in a picture somewhere."
"By gracious, are you the little fellow that drove a stage coach and six horses down off a grade--"
"That's my number, old-timer." Luck's smile widened to a grin. That had been a hair-lifting scene, and Andy Green was not the first stranger to walk up and ask him if he had driven that stage coach and six horses down off a mountain grade into a wide gulch to avoid being held up and the regulation box of gold stolen. It was probably the most spectacular thing Luck had ever done. "Got down that bank fine as silk," he volunteered companionably, "and then when I'd passed camera and was outa the scene, by thunder, I tangled up with a deep chuck-hole that was grown over with weeds, and like to have broken my fool neck. How's that for luck?" He took the cigar from his lips and smiled again with half-closed, measuring eyes. "Yes, sir, I just plumb spoiled one perfectly good Concord coach, and would have been playing leading corpse at a funeral, believe me, if I hadn't strapped myself to the seat for that drive off the grade. As it was, I hung head down and cussed till one of the boys cut me loose. Where did you see the picture?"
"Me? Up in the Falls. Say, I'm glad to meet you. Luck Lindsay's your name, ain't it? I remember you were called that in the picture. Mine's Green, Andy Green,--when folks don't call me something worse. And this is Miguel Rapponi, a whole lot whiter than he sounds. What, for Lordy sake, you wasting time on this little old hasbeen burg for? Take it from me, there ain't anything left here but dents in the road and a brimstone smell. We're all plumb halter-broke and so tame we--"
"You look all right to me, brother," Luck told him in that convincing tone he had.
"Well, same to you," Andy retorted with a frank heartiness he was not in the habit of bestowing upon strangers. "I feel as if I'd worked with you. Pink was with me when we saw that picture, and we both hollered 'Go to it!' right out loud, when you gathered up the ribbons and yanked off the brake and went off hell-popping and smiling back over your shoulder at us. It was your size and that smile of yours that made me remember you. You looked like a kid when you mounted to the boot; and you drove down off smiling, and you had one helanall of a trip, and you drove off that grade looking like you was trying to commit suicide and was smiling still when you pulled up at the post-office. By gracious, I--"
Luck gave a little chuckle deep in his throat. "I did all that smiling the day before I drove off the grade," he confessed, looking from one to the other. "I don't guess I'd have smiled quite so sweet, maybe, if I'd waited."
"Is that the way you make moving pictures, hind-side-foremost?" Andy, his back to the table, lifted himself over the rim to a comfortable seat and began to make himself a cigarette.
"Yes, or both ways from the middle, just as it happens." Luck was always ready to talk pictures. "In that stage-driver picture I made all the scenes before I made that drive,--for two reasons. Biggest one was that I wanted to be sure of having it all made, in case something went wrong on that feature drive; get me? Other was plain, human bullheadedness. Some of the four-flushers I was cursed with in the company,--because they were cheap and I had to balance up what I was paying the Injuns,--they kept eyeing that bluff where I said I'd come down with the coach, and betting I wouldn't, and talking off in corners about me just stalling. I just let 'em sweat. I made the start, and I made the finish. I drove right to where I looked down off the pinnacle--remember?--and saw the outlaw gang at the foot of the grade; I made all the 'dissolves,' and where I went back and captured 'em and brought 'em in to camp. But I didn't drive off the grade into the gulch till last thing, as luck would have it. Good thing, too. That old coach was sure some busted, and I wasn't doing any more smiles till I grew some hide."
Andy Green licked his cigarette and let his honest gray eyes wander from Luck to the darkly handsome face of the Native Son. "Sounds most as exciting as holding down a homestead, anyway. Don't you think so, Mig? And say! It's sure a pity we can't put off some things in real life till we get all set and ready to handle 'em!"
"That's right." Luck's face sobered as the idea caught his imagination. "That's dead right; how well I know it!"
Andy smoked and swung his feet and regarded Luck with interest. "It's against my religious principles to go poking my nose into the other fellow's business," he said after a minute, "but I'm wondering if there's anything in this God-forsaken country to bring a fellow like you here deliberate. I'm wondering if you meant to stop, or if you just leaned too far out the car window on your way through town."
For a half minute Luck looked up at him. He had expected a preparatory winning of the confidence of the men whom he sought. He had planned to lead up gradually to his mission, in case he found his men. But in that half minute he threw aside his plan as a weak, puerile wasting of time, and he answered Andy Green truthfully.
"No, I didn't fall off the train," he drawled. "I just grabbed my grip and beat it when they told me where I was. I'm out on a still hunt for some real boys. Some that can ride and shoot and that know cow-science so well they don't have to glad up in cowboy clothes and tie red bandanna bibs on to make folks think they're range broke."
"And yet you're wasting time in this tame little granger wart on the map!"
"No, not wasting time," smiled Luck serenely. "A little old trunk-juggler up the trail told me about the Flying U outfit that is still sending their wagons out when the grass gets green. I stopped off to give the high-sign to the boys, and say howdy, and swap yarns, and maybe haze some of 'em gently into camp. I wanted to see if the Flying U has got any real ones left."
Andy Green looked eloquently at the Native Son. "Now, what do you know about that, Mig?" he breathed softly behind a mouthful of smoke. "Wanting to rope him out a few from the Flying U bunch. Say! Have you got a real puncher amongst that outfit of long-haired hayseeds?"
The Native Son shook his head negligently and gave Luck a velvet-eyed glance of friendly pity.
"If there is, he's ranging deep in the breaks and never shows up at shipping time," he averred. "I've never seen one myself. They've got one that--what would you call Big Medicine, if you wanted to name him quick and easy, Andy?"
Andy frowned. "What I'd call him had best not be named in this God-fearing little hamlet," he responded gloomily. "I sure would never name him in the day I talked about cow-punchers that's ever dug sand outa their eyes on trail-herd."
The Native Son, still with the velvet-eyed look of pity, turned to Luck. "Andy's right," he sighed. "They've got one that takes spells of talking deliriously about when he punched cows in Coconino County; but I guess there's nothing to it."
"You say you was told that the Flying U outfit has got some real ones?" Andy eyed Luck curiously and with some of the Native Son's pity. "Just in a general way, what happens to folks that lie to you deliberate, when you meet 'em again? I'd like," he added, "to know about how sorry to feel for that baggage humper when you see him--after meeting the Flying U bunch."
The soul of Luck Lindsay was singing an impromptu doxology, but the face of him--so well was that face trained to do his bidding--became tinged with disgust and disappointment. With two "real boys" he was talking; he knew them by the unconscious range vernacular and the perfect candor with which they lied to him about themselves. But not so much as a gleam of the eye betrayed to them that he knew.
"So that's why he went off grinning so wide," he mused aloud. "I was sure caught then with my gun at home on the piano. I might have known better than to look for the real thing here, though you fellows have a few little marks that haven't worn off yet."
"Me? Why, I'm a farmer, and I'm married, and I'm in a deuce of a stew because my spuds is drying up on me and no way to get water on 'em without I carry it to 'em in a jug," disclaimed Andy Green hastily. "All I know about punchers I learned from seeing picture shows when I go to town. Now, Mig, here--".
"Oh, don't go and reveal all of my guilty past," protested the Native Son. "Those three days I spent at a wild-west carnival show have about worked outa my system. I'm still trying to wear out the clothes I won off some of the boys in a crap game," he explained to Luck apologetically, "but my earmarks won't outlast the clothes, believe me."
Luck thoughtfully flicked the ash collar off his cigar. "It won't be any use then to go out to the Flying U, I suppose," he observed tentatively, his eyes keen for their changing expressions. "I may as well take the next train out, I reckon, and drift on down into Arizona and New Mexico. I know about where some real punchers range--but I thought there was no harm in looking up the pedigree of this Flying U outfit. I'm sure some obliged to you boys for heading me off." Back of his eyes there was a laugh, but Andy Green and the Native Son were looking queerly at each other and did not see it there.
"Oh, well, now you're this close, you wouldn't be losing anything by going on out to the ranch, anyway," Andy recanted guardedly. "Come to think of it, there's one regular old-time ranger out there. They call him Slim. He's sure a devil on a horse--Slim is. I'd forgot about him when I spoke. He's a ranger, all right."
Luck knew very well that Andy Green had used the word "ranger" with the deliberate attempt to appear ignorant of the terminology of the range. A cow-puncher comes a long way from being a ranger, as every one knows. A ranger is a man of another profession entirely.
"It used to be a real cattle ranch, they tell me," added the Native Son artfully. "We live out near there, and if you wanted to ride out--"
Luck appeared undecided. He sucked at his cigar, and he blew out the smoke thoughtfully, and contemplated the toe of one neat, tan shoe. Just plain acting, it was; just a playing of his part in the little game they had started. Better than if they had boasted of their range knowledge and their prowess in the saddle did Luck know that the dried little man had told him the truth. He knew that at the Flying U he would find a remnant of the old order of things. He would find some real boys, if these two were a fair sample of the bunch. That they lied to him about themselves and their fellows was but a sign that they accepted him as one of their breed. He looked them over with gladdened eyes. He listened to the unconscious tang of the range that was in their talk. These two farmers? He could have laughed aloud at the idea.
"Well, I might get some atmosphere ideas," he said at last. "If you don't mind having me trail along--"
"Glad to have yuh!" came an instant duet.
"And if I can scare up a horse--"
"Oh, we'll look after that. You can come right on out with us. The boys'll be plumb tickled to death to meet you."
"Are they all farmers, same as you--these boys you mention?" Luck looked up into Andy's eyes when he asked the question.
Andy grinned. "Farmers, yes--same as us!" he said ambiguously and picked up his gloves as he turned to lead the way out.
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