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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Phantom Herd - Chapter 8. "There's Got To Be A Line Drawed Somewheres"
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The Phantom Herd - Chapter 8. 'There's Got To Be A Line Drawed Somewheres' Post by :samuraiwarrior Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :3320

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The Phantom Herd - Chapter 8. "There's Got To Be A Line Drawed Somewheres"


By seven o'clock in the morning,--since that was his ultimatum,--Luck was standing in his bare feet and pajamas, acrimoniously arguing with Martinson over the telephone. Usually he was up at six, but he was a stubborn young man, and the day promised much rainfall, anyway. He would have preferred sunshine; the stand he meant to take would have had more weight in working weather. But since he could not prevent the morning from being a rainy one, he permitted more determination to slip into his tones.

Martinson had spent an unpleasant evening with Bently Brown, or so he declared. He had called up several stockholders of the Acme, and had talked the matter over with them, and--

"Well, cut the preamble, Mart," snapped Luck, trying to warm one foot by rubbing it with the other one. "Do I go on with the work, or don't I?"

"From the looks of the weather--" Mart began to temporize.

"Weather cuts no figure with this matter. You know what I mean. What's the decision?" Luck scowled at the pretty girl on his wall calendar, and began to rub his right foot with the left and to curse the janitor with that part of his brain not occupied with the conversation.

"Well, listen. You come out to the office, after awhile, and we'll go into this matter calmly," begged Martinson. "No use in letting that temper of yours run away with you, Luck. You know we all--"

"What did Bently Brown say? Did you put the proposition up to him as I suggested?"

"Luck, you know I told you Brown wouldn't consider--"

"Say, Mart, get all those rambling words out of your system, and then call me up and tell me what I want to know!" And Luck hung up the receiver and went shivering back to bed. From the things he said to himself, he was letting that temper of his run away with him in spite of Martinson's warning.

He had just ceased having spasms of shivering, and had found his warm nest of the night, and was feeling glad that it was raining so that he could stay in bed as long as he liked, when the phone jingled shrilly again. Had he been certain that it was Martinson, Luck would have lain there and let it ring itself tired. But there is always the doubt when a telephone bell calls peremptorily. He waited sulkily until the girl at the switchboard in the office below settled down to prolong the siege. Luck knew that girl would never quit now that she was sure he was in. He crawled out again, this time dragging the bedspread with him for drapery.

"H'l-lo!" There was no compromise in his voice, which was guttural.

"Luck? This is Martinson. You are to retake all of the Bently Brown pictures which you have made so far, under the personal supervision of Bently Brown himself, who will pass upon all film before accepted by the company. This is final."

"Martinson? This is Luck. You and Bently Brown and the Acme Film Company can go where the heat's never turned off. This is final."

Whereupon Luck slammed the receiver into its brackets, trailed over to a table and gleaned "the makings" from among the litter of papers, programs, "stills," and letters, and rolled himself a much-needed smoke. He was sorry chiefly because he had been compelled to use such mild language over the telephone. It would be almost worth a trip to the office just to tell Martinson without stint what he thought of him and all his works.

He crawled back into bed and smoked his cigarette with due regard for the bedclothes, and wondered what kind of a fool they took him for if they imagined for one minute that he would produce so much as a sub-title under the personal supervision of Bently Brown.

After awhile it occurred to him that, unless he relented from his final statement to Martinson, he was a young man out of a job, but that did not worry him much. Of course, if he left the Acme Company, he would have to look around for an opening somewhere else, where he could take his Happy Family and maybe produce....

Right there Luck got up and unlocked his trunk, which was also his chest of treasures, and found the carbon copy of his range scenario. He had not named it yet. In thinking of it and in talking about it with the boys he had been content to call it his Big Picture. If he could place himself and his Big Picture and his boys with some company that would appreciate the value of the combination, his rupture with the Acme Company would be simply a bit of good luck. While he huddled close to the radiator that was beginning to hiss and rumble encouragingly, he glanced rapidly over the meagerly described scenes which were to his imagination so full of color.

"Pam. bleak mesa--snow--cattle drifting before wind. Dale and Johnny dis. riding to foreground. Reg. cold--horses leg-weary--boys all in--"

To Luck, sitting there in his pajamas as close as he could get to a slow-warming steam radiator, those curtailed sentences projected his mental self into a land of cold and snow and biting wind, where the cattle drifted dismally before the storm. Andy Green and Miguel Rapponi were riding slowly toward him on shuffling horses as bone-weary as their masters. Snow was packed in the wrinkles of the boys' clothing. Snow was packed in the manes and tails of the horses that moved with their heads drooping in utter dejection. "Boys all in," said the script laconically. Luck, staring at the little thread of escaping steam from the radiator valve, saw Andy and the Native Son drooping in the saddles, swaying stiffly with the movements of their mounts. He saw them to the last little detail,--to the drift of snow on their hatbrims and the tiny icicles clinging to the high collars of their sourdough coats, where their breath had frozen.

If he could get a company to let him put that on, he would not care, he told himself, if he never made another picture in his life. If he could get a company to send him and the boys where that stuff could be found--

Well, it was only eight o'clock in the morning, a rainy morning at that, when all good movie people would lie late in bed for the pure luxury of taking their ease. But Luck, besides acting upon strong convictions and then paying the price without whimpering, never let an impulse grow stale from want of use. He reached for the fat telephone directory and searched out the numbers of those motion-picture companies which he did not remember readily. Then, beginning at the first number on his hastily compiled list, he woke five different managers out of their precious eight-o'clock sleep to answer his questions.

Whatever they may have thought of Luck Lindsay just then, they replied politely, and did not tell him offhand that there was no possible opening for him in their companies. Three of them made appointments with him at their offices. One promised to call him up just as soon as he "had a line on anything." One said that, with the rainy weather coming on, they were cutting down to straight studio stuff, but that he would keep Luck in mind if anything turned up.

Then I suppose the whole five called him names behind his back, figuratively speaking, for being such an early riser on such a day. Not one of them asked him any questions about his reasons for leaving the Acme; reasons, in the motion-picture business, are generally invented upon demand and have but a fictitious value at best. And since it is never a matter of surprise when any director or any member of any company decides to try a new field, it would seem that change is one of the most unchanging features of the business.

Luck had no qualms of conscience, either for his treatment of Martinson and his overtures, or for his disturbances of five other perfectly inoffensive movie managers. He dressed with mechanical precision and with his mind shuttling back and forth from his Big Picture to the possibilities of his next position. He folded his scenario and placed it in a long envelope, hunted until he found his rubbers, took his raincoat over his arm and his umbrella in his hand, and went blithely to the elevator. It was too stormy for his machine, so he caught a street car and went straight to the bungalow where the Happy Family were still snoring at peace with the world and each other.

Still Luck had no qualms of conscience. He lingered in the kitchen just long enough to say howdy to Rosemary Green who was anxiously watching a new and much admired coffee percolator "to see if it were going to perk," she told him gravely. He assured Rosemary that he had come all the way out there in the hope of being invited to breakfast. Then he went into a sleep-charged atmosphere and gave a real, old-time range yell.

"Why, I saw that peaked little person with Mr. Martinson," Mrs. Andy remarked slightingly at the breakfast table. "Was that Bently Brown? And he has the nerve to want to stand around and boss you--oh, find, me an umbrella, somebody! I shall choke if I can't go and tell him to his silly, pink face what a conceited little idiot he is!" (You will see why it was that Rosemary Green had been adopted without question as a member of the Happy Family.) "I hope you told him straight out, Luck Lindsay, that these boys would simply tear him limb from limb if he ever dared to butt in on your work. Why, it's you that made the picture fit to look at!"

Luck let his eyes thank her for her loyalty, and held out his empty cup for more coffee. "I came out," he drawled quietly, "to find out what you fellows are going to do about it. Of course, they'll get somebody else to go ahead with the stuff, and you boys can stay with it--"

"Well, say! Did you come away out here in the rain to insult us fellers?" Big Medicine roared suddenly from the foot of the table. "I'll take a lot from you, but by cripes they's got to be a line drawed somewheres!"

"You bet. And right there's where we draw it, Luck," spoke up the dried little man who seldom spoke at the table, but concentrated his attention upon the joy of eating what Mrs. Andy set before him. "I come out here to work for you. That peters out, by gorry I'll go back to chufferin a baggage truck in Sioux, North Dakoty. Kin I have a drop more coffee, Mrs. Green?"

While Rosemary proudly brought her new percolator in from the kitchen and refilled his cup, Luck Lindsay sat and endured the greatest tongue-lashing of his life. Furthermore, he seemed to enjoy the chorus of reproaches and threats and recriminations. He chuckled over the eloquence of Andy Green, and he grinned at the belligerence of Pink and the melancholy of Happy Jack.

"I don't guess you're crazy to work under Bently Brown," he finally managed to slide into the uproar. "Do I get you as meaning to stick with me--wherever I go?"

"You get us that way or you get licked," Weary, the mild-tempered one, stated flatly. "You can fire us and send us home, but you can't walk off and leave us with the Acme, 'cause we won't stay."

That was what Luck had ridden twelve cold, rainy miles to hear the Happy Family declare. He had expected them to take that stand, but it was good to hear it spoken in just that tone of finality. He stacked his cup and saucer in his plate, laid his knife and fork across them in the old range style, and began to roll a cigarette,--smoking at the table being another comfortable little bad habit which Rosemary Green wisely and smilingly permitted.

"That being the case," he began cheerfully, "you boys had best go over with me now and give in your two weeks' notice. I'm director of our company till I quit--see? I'll arrange for your transportation home--"

"Aw, gwan! Who said we was goin' home?" wailed Happy Jack distressfully.

"Now, listen! You're entitled to your transportation money. That doesn't mean you'll have to use it for that purpose--sabe? It's coming to you, and you get it. There's a week's salary due all around, too, besides the two weeks you'll get by giving notice. No use passing up any bets like that. So let's go, boys. I've got an appointment at one o'clock, and I may as well wipe the Acme slate clean this forenoon, so I can talk business without any come-back from Mart, or any tag ends to pick up. Grab your slickers and let's move."

That was a busy day for Luck Lindsay, in spite of the fact that it was a stormy one. His interview with Mart, which he endured mostly for the sake of the Happy Family, developed into a quarrel which severed beyond mending his connection with the Acme.

It was noon when he reached his hotel, and his wrath had not cooled with the trip into town. There were two 'phone calls in his mail, he discovered, and one bore an urgent request that he call Hollywood something-or-other the moment he returned. This was from the Great Western Film Company, and Luck's eyes brightened while he read it. He went straight to his room and called up the Great Western.

Presently he found himself speaking to the great Dewitt himself, and his blood was racing with the possibilities of the interview. Dewitt had heard that Luck was leaving the Acme--extras may be depended upon for carrying gossip from one studio to another,--and was wasting no time in offering him a position. His Western director, Robert Grant Burns whom Luck knew well, had been carried to the hospital with typhoid fever which he had contracted while out with his company in what is known as Nigger Sloughs,--a locality more picturesque than healthful. Dewitt feared that it was going to be a long illness at the very best. Would Luck consider taking the company and going on with the big five-reel feature which Burns had just begun? Dewitt was prepared to offer special inducements and to make the position a permanent one. He would give Burns a dramatic company to produce features at the studio, he said, and would give Luck the privilege of choosing his own scenarios and producing them in his own way. Could Luck arrange to meet Dewitt at four that afternoon?

Luck could, by cancelling his appointment with a smaller and less important company, which he did promptly and with no compunctions whatever. He did more than that; he postponed the other two appointments, knowing in his heart that his chances would not be lessened thereby. After that he built a castle or two while he waited for the appointment. The Great Western Company had been a step higher than he had hoped to reach. Robert Grant Burns he had considered a fixture with the company. It had never entered his mind that he might possibly land within the Great Western's high concrete wall,--and that other wall which was higher and had fewer gates, and which was invisible withal. That the great Dewitt himself should seek Luck out was just a bit staggering. He wanted to go out and tell the bunch about it, but he decided to wait until everything was settled. Most of all he wanted the Acme to know that Dewitt wanted him; that would be a real slap in the face of Mart's judgment, a vindication of Luck's abilities as a director.

What Luck did was to telephone the hospital and learn all he could about Burns' condition. He was genuinely sorry that Burns was sick, even though he was mightily proud of being chosen as Burns' successor. He even found himself thinking more about Burns, after the first inner excitement wore itself out, than about himself. Burns was a good old scout. Luck hated to think of him lying helpless in the grip of typhoid. So it was with mixed emotions that he went to see Dewitt.

Dewitt wanted Luck--wanted him badly. He was frank enough to let Luck see how much he wanted him. He even told Luck that, all things being equal, he considered Luck a better Western director than was Robert Grant Burns, in spite of the fact that Burns had scored a big success with his _Jean, of the Lazy A serial. You cannot wonder that Luck's spirits rose to buoyancy when he heard that. Also, Dewitt named a salary bigger than Luck had ever received in his life, and nearly double what the Acme had paid him. Luck spoke of his Big Picture, and when he outlined it briefly, Dewitt did not say that it seemed to lack action.

Dewitt had watched Luck with his keen blue eyes, and had observed that Luck owned that priceless element of success, which is enthusiasm for his work. Dewitt had listened, and had told Luck that he would like to see the Big Picture go on the screen, and that he would be willing to pay him for the scenario and let him make it where and how he pleased. He even volunteered to try and persuade Jean Douglas, of _Lazy A fame, to come back and play the leading woman's part.

"That's one thing that has been bothering me a little," Luck owned gratefully. "Of course I considered her absolutely out of reach. But with her for my leading woman, and the boys holding up the range end as they're capable of doing--"

Dewitt gave him a quick look. "Yes, my boys are able to do that," he said distinctly. "They have been well trained in Western dramatic work."

Luck braced himself. "When I mentioned the boys," he said, "I meant my boys that I brought from the Flying U outfit, up in Montana. They go with me."

Dewitt did not answer that statement immediately. He inspected his finger nails thoughtfully before he glanced up. "It's a pity, but I'm afraid that cannot be managed, Mr. Lindsay. The boys in my Western company have been with me, some of them, since the Independent Sales Company was organized. They worked for next to nothing till I got things started. Two or three are under contracts. You will understand me when I say that my boys must stay where they are." He waited for a minute, and watched Luck's face grow sober. "I have heard about your Happy Family," he added. "There has been a good deal of discussion, I imagine, among the studios about them. Ordinarily I should be glad to have you bring those boys with you; but as matters stand, it is impossible. Our Western Company is full, and I could not let these boys go to make room for strangers,--however good those strangers might be. You understand?"

"Certainly I understand." But Luck's face did not brighten.

"Can't they stay on with the Acme? From what I hear, the Acme's Western Company is not large at best."

"They can stay, yes. But they won't. The whole bunch gave in their two weeks' notice this morning." There was a grim satisfaction in Luck's tone.

"Left when you did, I suppose?"

"That's just exactly what they did. I told them they better stay, and they nearly lynched me for it."

"Have you made any agreement with them in regard to placing them with another company--for instance?"

"Certainly not. Some things don't have to be set down in black and white."

"I--see." Dewitt did see. What he saw worried him, even though it increased his respect for Luck Lindsay. He studied his nails more critically than before.

"These boys--have they any resources at all, other than their work in pictures? Did they burn their bridges when they came with you?"

"Oh, far as that goes, they've all got ranches. They wouldn't starve." Luck's voice was inclined to gruffness under quizzing.

"As I see the situation," Dewitt went on evenly and with a logic that made Luck squirm with its very truthfulness, "they left their ranches and came with you to work in pictures in a spirit of adventure, we might say. There is a glamour; and your personal influence, your enthusiasm, had its effect. Should they go back to their ranches now, they would carry back a fresh outlook and a fund of experiences that would season conversation agreeably for months to come. They will not have lost financially, I take it. They will have had a vacation which has in many ways been a profitable one. Should the question be laid before them, I venture the assertion that they would urge you to take this position with us.

"They would feel some disappointment of course--just as you would feel sorry not to be able to bring them with you. But no reasonable man would blame you or expect you to bear the handicap of six or seven inexperienced young fellows. You must see that your only hope of placing them would be with some new company just starting up. And this is not the season for young companies. Next spring you might stand a better chance."

"Yes, that's all true enough," Luck admitted, since Dewitt plainly expected some reply. "At the same time--"

"There is no immediate need of a decision," Dewitt hastily completed Luck's sentence. "From all weather reports, this storm is going to be a long one. I doubt very much if you could get to work for several days. I wish you would think it over from all sides before you accept or refuse the proposition, Mr. Lindsay. Lay the matter before your boys; tell them frankly just how things stand. I'll guarantee they will insist upon your accepting the position. I know, and you know, that it will give you a better opportunity than you have had in some time. And I am going to say candidly that I believe you need only the opportunity to make your work stand out above all the others. That is why I sent for you this morning. I believe you have big possibilities, and I want you with the Great Western."

There was that instant of silence which terminates all conferences. Then Luck rose, and Dewitt tilted back his office chair and swung it away from the desk so that he was still facing Luck. So the two looked at each other measuringly for a moment.

"I certainly appreciate your good opinion of me, Mr. Dewitt," Luck said. "Whether I take the place or not, I want to thank you for offering it to me. It all looks fine--the chance of my life; but I can't--"

"No, don't say any more." Dewitt raised his hand. "You do as I suggest; tell the boys just what has passed, if you like. Let them decide for you."

"No, that wouldn't be fair. They'd decide for my interests and forget about their own. I know that."

"Well, let's just wait a day or two. You think it over. Think what you could do with Jean Douglas, for instance. I'll try and get her back; I think perhaps I can. She's married, but I think they'll both come if I make it worth their while. Come and see me day after to-morrow, will you? We'll say four o'clock again. Good-by."

So Luck went away with temptation whispering in his ear.

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