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Riders In The Background

From: The Heritage Of The Sioux

Luck, as explained elsewhere, was sweating and swearing at the heat
in Bear Canon. The sun had crept around so that it shone full into a
certain bowlder-strewn defile, and up this sunbaked gash old Applehead
was toiling, leading the scrawniest burro which Luck had been able to
find in the country. The burro was packed with a prospector's outfit
startlingly real in its pathetic meagerness. Old Applehead was picking
his way among rocks so hot that he could hardly bear to lay his bare
hand upon them, tough as that hand was with years of exposure to heat
and cold alike. Beads of perspiration were standing on his face, which
was a deep, apoplectic crimson, and little trickles of sweat were
dropping off his lower jaw.

He was muttering as he climbed, but the camera fortunately failed to
record the language that he used. Now and then he turned and yanked
savagely at the lead rope; whereupon the burro would sit down upon its
haunches and allow Applehead to stretch its neck as far as bone and
tough hide and tougher sinew would permit Someone among the group
roosting in the shade across the defile and well out of camera range
would laugh, and Luck, standing on a ledge just behind and above the
camera, would shout directions or criticism of the "business."

"Come on back, Applehead," Luck yelled when the "prospectorp" had turned
a corner of rock and disappeared from sight of the camera. "We'll do
that scene over once more before the sun gets too far around."

"Do it over, will ye?" Applehead snarled as he came toiling obediently
back down the gulch. "Well, now, I ain't so danged shore about that
there doin' over--'nless yuh want to wait and do it after sundown. Ain't
nobody but a danged fool It would go trailin' up that there gulch this
kinda' day. Them rocks up there is hot enough to brile a lizard--now,
I'm tellin' ye!"

Luck covered a smile with his moist palm. He could not afford to be
merciful at the expense of good "picture-stuff," however, so he called
down grimly:

"Now you're just about fagged enough for that close-up I want of you,
Applehead. You went up that gulch a shade too brisk for a fellow that's
all in from traveling, and starved into the bargain. Come back down here
by this sand bank, and start up towards camera. Back up a little, Pete,
so you can 'pam' his approach. I want to get him pulling his burro
up past that bank--sabe? And the close-up of his face with all those
sweat-streaks will prove how far he's come--and then I want the detail
of that burro and his pack which you'll get as they go by. You see what
I mean. Let's see. Will it swing you too far into the sun, Pete, if you
pick him up down there in that dry channel?"

"Not if you let me make it right away," Pete replied after a squint or
two through the viewfinder. "Sun's getting pretty far over--"

"Ought to leave a feller time to git his wind," Applehead complained,
looking up at Luck with eyes bloodshot from the heat. "I calc'late mebby
you think it's FUN to drag that there burro up over them rocks?"

"Sure, it isn't fun. We didn't come out here for fun. Go down and wait
behind that bank, and come out into the channel when I give the word.
I want you coming up all-in, just as you look right now. Sorry, but I
can't let you wait to cool off, Applehead."

"Well now," Applehead began with shortwinded sarcasm, "I'm s'posed to be
outa grub. Why didn't yuh up In' starve me fer a week or two, so'st I'd
be gaunted up realistic? Why didn't yuh break a laig fer me, sos't I kin
show some five-cent bunch in a pitcher-show how bad I'm off? Danged if
I ain't jest about gettin' my hide full uh this here danged fool REELISM
you're hollerin' fur all the time. 'F you send me down there to come
haulin' that there burro back up here so's the camery kin watch me sweat
'n' puff my danged daylights out--before I git a drink uh water, I'll
murder ye in cold blood, now I'm tellin' ye!"

"You go on down there and shut up!" Luck yelled inexorably. "You can
drink a barrel when I'm through with this scene--and not before. Get
that? My Lord! If you can't lead a burro a hundred yards without setting
down and fanning yourself to sleep, you must be losing your grip for
fair. I'll stake you to a rocking-chair and let you do old grandpa
parts, if you aren't able to--"

"Dang you, Luck, if you wasn't such a little runt I'd come up there and
jest about lick the pants off you! Talk that way to ME, will ye? I'll
have ye know I kin lead burros with you or any other dang man, heat er
no heat Ef yuh ain't got no more heart'n to AST it of me, I'll haul this
here burro up 'n' down this dang gulch till there ain't nothin' left of
'im but the lead-rope, and the rocks is all wore down to cobble-stone!
Ole grandpa parts, hey? You'll swaller them words when I git to ye,
young feller--and you'll swaller 'em mighty dang quick, now I'm tellin'

He went off down the gulch to the sand bank. The Happy Family, sprawled
at ease in the shade, took cigarettes from their lips that they might
chortle their amusement at the two. Like father and son were Applehead
and Luck, but their bickerings certainly would never lead one to suspect
their affection.

"Get that darned burro outa sight, will you?" Luck bawled impatiently
when Applehead paused to send a murderous glance back toward camera.
"What's the matter--yuh PARALYZED down there? Haul him in behind that
bank! The moon'll be up before you get turned around, at that rate!"

"You shet yore haid!" Applehead retorted at the full capacity of his
lungs and with an absolute disregard for Luck's position as director of
the company. "Who's leadin' this here burro--you er me? Fer two cents
I'd come back and knock the tar outa you, Luck! Stand up there on a
rock and flop your wings and crow like a danged banty rooster--'n' I was
leadin' burros 'fore you was born! I'd like to know who yuh think you

Pete Lowry, standing feet-apart and imperturbably focussing the camera
while the two yelled insults at each other, looked up at Luck.

"Riders in the background," he announced laconically, and returned
to his squinting and fussing. "Maybe you can make 'em hear with the
megaphone," he hinted, looking again at Luck. "They're riding straight
up the canon, in the middle distance. They'll register in the scene, if
you can't turn 'em."

"Applehead!" Luck called through the megaphone to his irritated
prospector. "Get those riders outa the canon--they're in the scene!"

Applehead promptly appeared, glaring up at luck. "Well, now, if I've got
to haul this here dang jackass up this dang gulch, I cal'clate that'll
be about job enough for one man," he yelled. "How yuh expect me t' go
two ways 't once? Hey? Yuh figured that out yit?" He turned then for a
look at the interrupting strangers, and immediately they saw his manner
change. He straightened up, and his right hand crept back significantly
toward his hip. Applehead, I may here explain, was an ex-sheriff, and
what range men call a "go-getter." He had notches on the ivory handle of
his gun--three of them. In fair fights and in upholding the law he had
killed, and he would kill again if the need ever arose, as those who
knew him never doubted.

Luck, seeing that backward movement of the hand, unconsciously hitched
his own gun into position on his hip and came down off his rock ledge
with one leap. Just as instinctively the Happy Family scrambled out
of the shade and followed luck down the gulch to where Applehead stood
facing down the canon, watchfulness in every tense line of his lank
figure. Tommy Johnson, who never seemed to be greatly interested in
anything save his work, got up from where he lay close beside the camera
tripod and went over to the other side of the gulch where he could see

Like a hunter poising his shotgun and making ready when his trained
bird-dog points, Luck walked guardedly down the gulch to where Applehead
stood watching the horsemen who had for the moment passed out of sight
of those above.

"Now, what's that danged shurf want, prowlin' up HERE with a couple uh
depittys?" Applehead grumbled when he heard Luck's footsteps crunching
behind him. "Uh course," he added grimly, "he MIGHT be viewin' the
scenery--but it's dang pore weather fur pleasure-ridin', now I'm tellin'
ye! Them a comin' up here don't look good to ME, Luck--'n' if they

"How do you know it's the sheriff?" Luck for no reason whatever felt a
sudden heaviness of spirit.

"Hey? Think my eyes is failin' me?" Applehead gave him a sidelong glance
of hasty indignation. "I'd know ole Hank Miller a mile off with m' eyes

By then the three riders rode out into plain view. Perhaps the sight of
Luck and Applehead standing there awaiting their arrival, with the
whole Happy Family and Big Aleck Douglas and Lite Avery moving down in
a close-bunched, expectant group behind the two, was construed as
hostility rather than curiosity. At any rate the sheriff and his
deputies shifted meaningly in their saddles and came up sour-faced and
grim, and with their guns out and pointing at the group.

"Don't go making any foolish play, boys," the sheriff warned. "We
don't want trouble--we aren't looking for any. But we ain't taking any

"Well now, you're takin' a dang long chance, Hank Miller, when yuh come
ridin' up on us fellers like yuh was cornerin' a bunch uh outlaws,"
Applehead exploded. But Luck pushed him aside and stepped to the front.

"Nobody's making any foolish play but you," he answered the sheriff
calmly. "You may not know it, but you're blocking my scene and the
light's going. If you've got any business with me or my company, get it
over and then get out so we aim make this scene. What d'yuh want?"

"You," snapped the sheriff. "You and your bunch."

"Me?" Luck took a step forward. "What for?"

"For pulling off that robbery at the bank today." The sheriff could be
pretty blunt, and he shot the charge straight, without any quibbling.

Luck looked a little blank; and old Applehead, shaking with a very real
anger now, shoved Luck away and stepped up where he could shake his fist
under the sheriff's nose.

"We don't know, and we don't give a cuss, what you're aimin' at," he
thundered. "We been out here workin' in this brilin' sun sense nine
o'clock this mornin'. Luck ain't robbed no bank, ner he ain't the kind
that DOES rob banks, and I'm here to see you swaller them words 'fore I
haul ye off'n that horse and plumb wear ye out! Yuh wanta think twicet
'fore ye come ridin' up where I kin hear yuh call Luck Lindsay a thief,
now I'm tellin' ye! If a bank was robbed, ye better be gittin' out after
them that done it, and git outa the way uh that camery sos't we can git
t' work! Git!"

The sheriff did not "git" exactly, but he did look considerably
embarrassed. His eyes went to Luck apologetically.

"Cashier come to and said you'd called him up on the phone about eleven,
claimin' you wanted to make a movin' pitcher of the bank being robbed,"
he explained--though he was careful not to lower his gun. "He swore it
was your men that done the work and took the gold you told him to pile
out on the--"

"I told him?" Luck's voice had the sharpened quality that caused
laggard actors to jump. "Be a little more exact in the words you use."

"Well-l--somebody on the phone 't he THOUGHT was you," the sheriff
amended obediently. "Your men--and they sure WAS your men, because
three or four fellers besides the cashier seen 'em goin' in and comin'
out--they gagged the cashier and took his keys away from him and cleaned
the safe, besides taking what gold he'd piled on the counter for y--for

"So," he finished vigorously, "I an' my men hit the trail fer the ranch
and was told by the women that you was out here. And here we are, and
you might just as well come along peaceable as to make a fuss--"

"That thar is shore enough outa YOU, Hank Miller!" Applehead exploded
again. "I calc'late you kin count ME in, when you go mixin' up with
Luck, here. I'm one of his men--and if he was to pull off a bank robbery
I calc'late I'd be in on that there performance too, I'm tellin' you!
Luck don't go no whars ner do nothin' that I AIN'T in on.

"I've had some considerable experience as shurf myself, if you'll take
the trouble to recolleck; and I calc'late my word'll go about as fur as
the next. When I tell ye thar ain't goin' to be no arrest made in Bear
Canon, and that you ain't goin' to take luck in fer no bank robbery, you
kin be dang shore I mean every word uh that thar!" He moved a step or
two nearer the sheriff, and the sheriff backed his horse away from him.

"Ef you kin cut out this here accusin' Luck, and talk like a white man,"
Applehead continued heatedly, "we'd like to hear the straight uh this
here robbery. I would, 'n' I know Luck would, seein' they've gone t'
work and mixed him into it. His bunch is all here, as you kin see fer
yourself. Now we're listenin' 's long's you talk polite--'n' you kin
tell us what men them was that was seen goin' in and comin' out--and all
about the hull dang business."

The sheriff had not ridden to Bear Canon expecting to be bullied into
civil speech and lengthy explanations; but he knew Applehead Furrman,
and he had sufficient intelligence to read correctly the character of
the group of men that stood behind Applehead. Honest men or thieves,
they were to, be reckoned with if any attempt were made to place Luck
under arrest; any fool could see that--and Hank Miller was not a fool.

He proceeded therefore to explain his errand and the robbery as the
cashier had described it to the clerks who returned after lunch to
finish their Saturday's work at the bank.

"Fifteen thousand they claim is what the fellers got. And one of your
men that runs the camera was keeping up a bluff of taking a pitcher of
it all the time--that's why they got away with it. Nobody suspicioned
it was anything more'n moving-pitcher acting till they found the cashier
and brought him toy along about one o'clock. It was that Chavez feller
that you had working for yuh, and Luis Rojas that done it--them and a
couple fellers stalling outside with the camera."

"I wonder," hazarded Pete Lowry, who had come down and joined the group,
"if that wasn't Bill Holmes with the camera? He was a lot more friendly
with Ramon than he tried to let on."

"The point is," Luck broke in, "that they took advantage of my holdup
scene to pull off the robbery. I can see how the cashier would fall
for a retake like that, especially since he don't know much about
picture-making. Gather up the props, boys, and let's go home. I'm going
to get the rights of this thing."

"You've got it now," the sheriff informed him huffily. "Think I been
loading you up with hot air? I was sent out to round you up--"

"Forget all that!" snapped luck. "I don't know as I enjoy having you
fellows jump at the notion I'm a bank-robber--or that if I had robbed a
bank I would have come right back here and gone to work. What kind of
a simp do you think I am, for gosh sake? Can you see where anyone but a
lunatic would go like that in broad daylight and pull off a robbery
as raw as that one must have been, and not even make an attempt at a
gateway? I'll gamble Applehead, here, wouldn't have fallen for a play as
coarse as that was if he was sheriff yet. He'd have seen right away that
the camera part was just the coarsest kind of a blind.

"My Lord! Think of grown men--officers of the law at that--being
simple-minded enough to come fogging out here to me, instead of getting
on the trail of the men that were seen on the spot! You say they came in
a machine to the bank and you never so much as tried to trace it, or to
get the license number even, I'll bet a month's salary you didn't! It
was a moving-picture stall, and so you come blundering out here to the
only picture company in the country, thinking, by gravy, that it was
all straight goods--oh, can you beat that for a boob?" He shook back his
heavy mane of gray hair and turned to his boys disgustedly.

"Pete and Tommy, you can drive the wagon back all right, can't you?
We'll go on ahead and see what there is at the bottom of this yarn."

Next: Deputies All

Previous: The Song Of The Omaha

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