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Robert Grant Burns Gets Help








From: Jean Of The Lazy A

"You know the brand, don't you?" the proprietor of the hotel which
housed the Great Western Company asked, with the tolerant air which the
sophisticated wear when confronted by ignorance. "Easy enough to
locate the outfit, by the cattle brand. What was it?"

Whereupon Robert Grant Burns rolled his eyes helplessly toward Gil
Huntley. "I noticed it at the time, but--what was that brand, Gil?"

And Gil, if you would believe me, did not remember, either. He had
driven the cattle half a mile or more, had helped to "steal" two calves
out of the little herd, and yet he could not recall the mark of their
owner.

So the proprietor of the hotel, an old cowman who had sold out and gone
into the hotel business when the barbed-wire came by carloads into the
country, pulled a newspaper towards him, borrowed a pencil from Burns,
and sketched all the cattle brands in that part of the country. While
he drew one after the other, he did a little thinking.

"Must have been the Bar Nothing, or else the Lazy A cattle you got hold
of," he concluded, pointing to the pencil marks on the margin of the
paper. "They range down in there, and Jean Douglas answers your
description of the girl,--as far as looks go. She ain't all that wild
and dangerous, though. Swing a loop with any man in the country and
ride and all that,--been raised right out there on the Lazy A. Say!
Why don't you go out and see Carl Douglas, and see if you can't get the
use of the Lazy A for your pictures? Seems to me that's just the kinda
place you want. Don't anybody live there now. It's been left alone
ever since--the trouble out there. House and barns and
corrals,--everything you want." He leaned closer with a confidential
tone creeping into his voice, for Robert Grant Burns and his company
were profitable guests and should be given every inducement to remain
in the country.

"It ain't but fifteen miles out there; you could go back and forth in
your machine, easy. You go out and see Carl Douglas, anyway; won't do
no harm. You offer him a little something for the use of the Lazy A;
he'll take anything that looks like money. Take it from me, that's the
place you want to take your pictures in. And, say! You want a written
agreement with Carl. Have the use of his stock included, or he'll tax
you extra. Have everything included," advised the old cowman, with a
sweep of his palm and his voice lowered discreetly. "Won't need to
cost you much,--not if you don't give him any encouragement to expect
much. Carl's that kind,--good fellow enough,--but he
wants--the--big--end. I know him, you bet! And, say! Don't let on to
Carl that I steered you out there. Just claim like you was scouting
around, and seen the Lazy A ranch, and took a notion to it; not too
much of a notion, though, or it's liable to come kinda high.

"And, say!" Real enthusiasm for the idea began to lighten his eyes.
"If you want good range dope, right out there's where you can sure find
it. You play up to them Bar Nothing boys--Lite Avery and Joe Morris
and Red. You ought to get some great pictures out there, man. Them
boys can sure ride and rope and handle stock, if that's what you want;
and I reckon it is, or you wouldn't be out here with your bunch of
actors looking for the real stuff."

They talked a long while after that. Gradually it dawned upon Burns
that he had heard of the Lazy A ranch before, though not by that
euphonious title. It seemed worth investigating, for he was going to
need a good location for some exterior ranch scenes very soon, and the
place he had half decided upon did not altogether please him. He
inquired about roads and distances, and waddled off to the hotel parlor
to ask Muriel Gay, his blond leading woman, if she would like to go out
among the natives next morning. Also he wanted her to tell him more
about that picturesque place she and Lee Milligan had stumbled upon the
day before,--the place which he suspected was none other than the Lazy
A.

That is how it came to pass that Jean, riding out with big Lite Avery
the next morning on a little private scouting-trip of their own, to see
if that fat moving-picture man was making free with the stock again,
met the man unexpectedly half a mile from the Bar Nothing ranch-house.

Along every trail which owns certain obstacles to swift, easy passing,
there are places commonly spoken of as "that" place. In his journey to
the Bar Nothing, Robert Grant Burns had come unwarned upon that sandy
hollow which experienced drivers approached with a mental bracing for
the struggle ahead, and with tightened lines and whip held ready. Even
then they stuck fast, as often as not, if the load were heavy, though
Bar Nothing drivers gaged their loads with that hollow in mind. If
they could pull through there without mishap, they might feel sure of
having no trouble elsewhere.

Robert Grant Burns had come into the hollow unsuspectingly. He had
been careening along the prairie road at a twenty-mile pace, his mind
fixed upon hurrying through his interview with Carl Douglas, so that he
would have time to stop at the Lazy A on the way back to town. He
wanted to take a few exterior ranch-house scenes that day, for Robert
Grant Burns was far more energetic than his bulk would lead one to
suppose. He had Pete Lowry, his camera man, in the seat beside him.
Back in the tonneau Muriel Gay and her mother, who played the character
parts, clung to Lee Mulligan and a colorless individual who was Lowry's
assistant, and gave little squeals whenever the machine struck a bigger
bump than usual.

At the top of the hill which guarded the deceptive hollow, Robert Grant
Burns grinned over his shoulder at his character-woman. "Wait till we
start back; I'll know the road then, and we'll do some traveling!" he
promised darkly, and laid his toe lightly on the brake. It pleased him
to be considered a dare-devil driver; that is why he always drove
whatever machine carried him. They went lurching down the curving
grade into the hollow, and struck the patch of sand that had worn out
the vocabularies of more eloquent men than he. Robert Grant Burns fed
more gas, and the engine kicked and groaned, and sent the wheels
burrowing like moles to where the sand was deepest. Axles under, they
stuck fast.

When Jean and Lite came loping leisurely down the hill, the two women
were fraying perfectly good gloves trying to pull "rabbit" brush up by
the roots to make firmer foothold for the wheels. Robert Grant Burns
was head-and-shoulders under the car, digging badger-like with his paws
to clear the front axle, and coming up now and then to wipe the
perspiration from his eyes and puff the purple out of his complexion.
Pete Lowry always ducked his head lower over the jack when he saw the
heaving of flesh which heralded these resting times, so that the boss
could not catch him laughing. Lee Milligan was scooping sand upon the
other side and mumbling to himself, with a glance now and then at the
trail, in the hope of sighting a good samaritan with six or eight
mules, perhaps. Lee thought that it would take about that many mules
to pull them out.

The two riders pulled up, smiling pityingly, just as well-mounted
riders invariably smile upon stalled automobilists. This was not the
first machine that had come to grief in that hollow, though they could
not remember ever to have seen one sunk deeper in the sand.

"I guess you wouldn't refuse a little help, about now," Lite observed
casually to Lee, who was most in evidence.

"We wouldn't refuse a little, but a lot is what we need," Lee amended
glumly. "Any ranch within forty miles of here? We need about twelve
good horses, I should say." Lee's experience with sand had been
unhappy, and his knowledge of what one good horse could do was slight.

"Shall we snake 'em out, Jean?" Lite asked her, as if he himself were
absolutely indifferent to their plight.

"Oh, I suppose we might as well. We can't leave them blocking the
trail; somebody might want to drive past," Jean told him in much the
same tone, just to tease Lee Milligan, who was looking them over
disparagingly.

"We'll be blocking the trail a good long while if we stay here till you
move us," snapped Lee, who was rather sensitive to tones.

Then Robert Grant Burns gave a heave and a wriggle, and came up for air
and a look around. He had been composing a monologue upon the subject
of sand, and he had not noticed that strange voices were speaking on
the other side of the machine.

"Hello, sis-- How-de-do, Miss," he greeted Jean guardedly, with a
hasty revision of the terms when he saw how her eyebrows pinched
together. "I wonder if you could tell us where we can find teams to
pull us out of this mess. I don't believe this old junk-wagon is ever
going to do it herself."

"How do you do, Mr. Burns? Lite and I offered to take you out on solid
ground, but your man seemed to think we couldn't do it."

"What man was that? Wasn't me, anyway. I think you can do just about
anything you start out to do, if you ask me."

"Thank you," chilled Jean, and permitted Pard to back away from his
approach.

"Say, you're some rider," he praised tactlessly, and got no reply
whatever. Jean merely turned and rode around to where Lite eased his
long legs in the stirrups and waited her pleasure.

"Shall we help them out, Lite?" she asked distinctly. "I think perhaps
we ought to; it's a long walk to town."

"I guess we better; won't take but a minute to tie on," Lite agreed,
his fingers dropping to his coiled rope. "Seems queer to me that folks
should want to ride in them things when there's plenty of good horses
in the country."

"No accounting for tastes, Lite," Jean replied cheerfully. "Listen.
If that thin man will start the engine,--he doesn't weigh more than
half as much as you do, Mr. Burns,--we'll pull you out on solid ground.
And if you have occasion to cross this hollow again, I advise you to
keep out there to the right. There's a little sod to give your tires a
better grip. It's rough, but you could make it all right if you drive
carefully, and the bunch of you get out and walk. Don't try to keep
around on the ridge; there's a deep washout on each side, so you
couldn't possibly make it. We can't with the horses, even." Jean did
not know that there was a note of superiority in her voice when she
spoke the last sentence, but her listeners winced at it. Only Pete
Lowry grinned while he climbed obediently into the machine to advance
his spark and see that the gears were in neutral.

"Don't crank up till we're ready!" Lite expostulated. "These cayuses of
ours are pretty sensible, and they'll stand for a whole lot; but
there's a limit. Wait till I get the ropes fixed, before you start the
engine. And the rest of you all be ready to give the wheels a lift.
You're in pretty deep."

When Jean dismounted and hooked the stirrup over the horn so that she
could tighten the cinch, the eyes of Robert Grant Burns glistened at
the "picture-stuff" she made. He glanced eloquently at Pete, and Pete
gave a twisted smile and a pantomime of turning the camera-crank;
whereat Robert Grant Burns shook his head regretfully and groaned again.

"Say, if I had a leading woman--" he began discontentedly, and stopped
short; for Muriel Gay was standing quite close, and even through her
grease-paint make-up she betrayed the fact that she knew exactly what
her director was thinking, had seen and understood the gesture of the
camera man, and was close to tears because of it all.

Muriel Gay was a conscientious worker who tried hard to please her
director. Sometimes it seemed to her that her director demanded
impossibilities of her; that he was absolutely soulless where
picture-effects were concerned. Her riding had all along been a
subject of discord between them. She had learned to ride very well
along the bridle-paths of Golden Gate Park, but Robert Grant Burns
seemed to expect her to ride--well, like this girl, for instance, which
was unjust.

One could not blame her for glaring jealously while Jean tightened the
cinch and remounted, tying her rope to the saddle horn, all ready to
pull; with her muscles tensed for the coming struggle with the
sand,--and perhaps with her horse as well,--and with every line of her
figure showing how absolutely at home she was in the saddle, and how
sure of herself.

"I've tied my rope, Lite," Jean drawled, with a little laugh at what
might happen.

Lite turned his face toward her. "You better not," he warned. "Things
are liable to start a-popping when that engine wakes up."

"Well, then I'll want both hands for Pard. I've taken a couple of
half-hitches, anyway."

"You folks want to be ready at the wheels," Lite directed, waiving the
argument. "When we start, you all want to heave-ho together. Good
team-work will do it.

"All set?" he called to Jean, when Pete Lowry bent his back to start
the engine. "Business'll be pickin' up, directly!"

"All set," replied Jean cheerfully.

It seemed then that everything began to start at once, and to start in
different directions. The engine snorted and pounded so that the whole
machine shook with ague. When Pete jumped in and threw in the clutch,
there was a backfire that sounded like the crack of doom. The two
horses went wild, as their riders had half expected them to do. They
lunged away from the horror behind them, and the slack ropes tightened
with a jerk. Both were good rope horses, and the strain of the ropes
almost recalled them to sanity and their training; at least they held
the ropes tight for a few seconds, so that the machine jumped ahead and
veered toward the firmer soil beside the trail, in response to Pete's
turn of the wheel.

Then Pard looked back and saw the thing coming after him, and tried to
bolt. When he found that he could not, because of the rope, he bucked
as he had not done since he was a half-broken broncho. That started
Lite Avery's horse to pitching; and Pete, absorbed in watching what
would have made a great picture, forgot to shut off the gas.

Robert Grant Burns picked himself out of the sand where he had sprawled
at the first wild lunge of the machine, and saw Pete Lowry, humped over
the wheel like any speed demon, go lurching off across the hollow in
the wake of two fear-crazed animals, that threatened at any instant to
bolt off at an angle that would overturn the car.

Then Lite let his rope slip from the saddle-horn and spurred his horse
to one side, out of the danger zone of the other, while he felt
frantically in his pockets for his knife.

"Don't you cut my rope," Jean warned, when she saw him come plunging
toward her, knife in hand. "This is--fine training--for Pard!"

Pete came to himself, then, and killed the engine before he landed in
the bottom of a yawning, water-washed hole, and Lite rode close and
slashed Jean's rope, in spite of her protest; whereupon Pard went off
up the slope as though witches were riding him hard.

At long rifle range, he circled and faced the thing that had scared him
so, and after a little Jean persuaded him to go back as far as the
trail. Nearer he would not stir, so she waited there for Lite.

"Never even thanked us," Lite grumbled when he came up, his mouth
stretched in a wide smile. "That girl with the kalsomine on her face
made remarks about folks butting in. And the fat man talked into his
double chin; dunno what all he was saying. Here's what's left of your
rope. I'll get you another one, Jean. I was afraid that gazabo was
going to run over you, is why I cut it."

"What's the matter over there? Aren't they glad they're out of the
sand?" Jean held her horse quiet while she studied the buzzing group.

"Something busted. I guess we done some damage." Lite grinned and
watched them over his shoulder.

"You needn't go any further with me, Lite. That fat man's the one that
had the cattle. I am going over to the ranch for awhile, but don't
tell Aunt Ella." She turned to ride on up the hill toward the Lazy A,
but stopped for another look at the perturbed motorists. "Well anyway,
we snaked them out of the sand, didn't we, Lite?"

"We sure did," Lite chuckled. "They don't seem thankful, but I guess
they ain't any worse off than they was before. Anyway, it serves them
right. They've no business here acting fresh."

Lite said that because he was not given the power to peer into the
future, and so could not know that Fate herself had sent Robert Grant
Burns into their lives; and that, by a somewhat roundabout method, she
was going to use the Great Western Film Company and Jean and himself
for her servants in doing a work which Fate had set herself to do.





Next: Jean Spoils Something

Previous: And The Villain Pursued Her



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