Pictures And Plans And Mysterious Footsteps





When Lite objected to her staying altogether at the Lazy A, Jean

assured him that she was being terribly practical and cautious and

businesslike, and pointed out to him that staying there would save Pard

and herself the trip back and forth each day, and would give her time,

mornings and evenings to work on her book.



Lite, of course, knew all about that soon-to-be-famous book. He

usually did know nearly everything that concerned Jean or held her

interest. Whether, after three years of futile attempts, Lite still

felt himself entitled to be called Jean's boss, I cannot say for a

certainty. He had grown rather silent upon that subject, and rather

inclined to keep himself in the background, as Jean grew older and more

determined in her ways. But certainly he was Jean's one confidential

friend,--her pal. So Lite, perforce, listened while Jean told him the

plot of her story. And when she asked him in all earnestness what he

thought would be best for the tragic element, ghosts or Indians, Lite

meditated gravely upon the subject and then suggested that she put in

both. That is why Jean lavishly indulged in mysterious footsteps all

through the first chapter, and then opened the second with

blood-curdling war-whoops that chilled the soul of her heroine and led

her to suspect that the rocks behind the cabin concealed the forms of

painted savages.



Her imagination must have been stimulated by her new work, which called

for wild rides after posses and wilder flights away from the outlaws,

while the flash of blank cartridges and the smoke-pots of disaster by

fire added their spectacular effect to a scene now and then.



Jean, of course, was invariably the wild rider who fled in a blond wig

and Muriel's clothes from pursuing villains, or dashed up to the

sheriff's office to give the alarm. Frequently she fired the blank

cartridges, until Lite warned her that blank cartridges would ruin her

gun-barrel; after which she insisted upon using bullets, to the secret

trepidation of the villains who must stand before her and who could

never quite grasp the fact that Jean knew exactly where those bullets

were going to land.



She would sit in her room at the Lazy A, when the sun and the big,

black automobile and the painted workers were gone, and write

feverishly of ghosts and Indians and the fair maiden who endured so

much and the brave hero who dared so much and loved so well. Lee

Milligan she visualized as the human wolf who looked with desire upon

Lillian. Gil Huntley became the hero as the story unfolded; and while

I have told you absolutely nothing about Jean's growing acquaintance

with these two, you may draw your own conclusions from the place she

made for them in her book that she was writing. And you may also form

some idea of what Lite Avery was living through, during those days when

his work and his pride held him apart, and Jean did "stunts" to her

heart's content with these others.



A letter from the higher-ups in the Great Western Company, written just

after a trial run of the first picture wherein Jean had worked, had

served to stimulate Burns' appetite for the spectacular, so that the

stunts became more and more the features of his pictures. Muriel Gay

was likely to become the most famous photo-play actress in the West, he

believed. That is, she would if Jean continued to double for her in

everything save the straight dramatic work.



Jean did not care just at that time how much glory Muriel Gay was

collecting for work that Jean herself had done. Jean was experiencing

the first thrills of seeing her name written upon the face of fat,

weekly checks that promised the fulfillment of her hopes, and she would

not listen to Lite when he ventured a remonstrance against some of the

things she told him about doing. Jean was seeing the Lazy A restored

to its old-time home-like prosperity. She was seeing her dad there,

going tranquilly about the everyday business of the ranch, holding his

head well up, and looking every man straight in the eye. She could not

and she would not let even Lite persuade her to give up risking her

neck for the money the risk would bring her.



If she could change these dreams to reality by dashing madly about on

Pard while Pete Lowry wound yards and yards of narrow gray film around

something on the inside of his camera, and watched her with that

little, secret smile on his face; and while Robert Grant Burns waddled

here and there with his hands on his hips, and watched her also; and

while villains pursued or else fled before her, and Lee Milligan

appeared furiously upon the scene in various guises to rescue her,--if

she could win her dad's freedom and the Lazy A's possession by doing

these foolish things, she was perfectly willing to risk her neck and

let Muriel receive the applause.



She did not know that she was doubling the profit on these Western

pictures which Robert Grant Burns was producing. She did not know that

it would have hastened the attainment of her desires had her name

appeared in the cast as the girl who put the "punches" in the plays.

She did not know that she was being cheated of her rightful reward when

her name never appeared anywhere save on the pay-roll and the weekly

checks which seemed to her so magnificently generous. In her ignorance

of what Gil Huntley called the movie game, she was perfectly satisfied

to give the best service of which she was capable, and she never once

questioned the justice of Robert Grant Burns.



Jean started a savings account in the little bank where her father had

opened an account before she was born, and Lite was made to writhe

inwardly with her boasting. Lite, if you please, had long ago started

a savings account at that same bank, and had lately cut out poker, and

even pool, from among his joys, that his account might fatten the

faster. He had the same object which Jean had lately adopted so

zealously, but he did not tell her these things. He listened instead

while Jean read gloatingly her balance, and talked of what she would do

when she had enough saved to buy back the ranch. She had stolen

unwittingly the air castle which Lite had been three years building,

but he did not say a word about it to Jean. Wistful eyed, but smiling

with his lips, he would sit while Jean spoiled whole sheets of

perfectly good story-paper, just figuring and estimating and building

castles with the dollar sign. If Robert Grant Burns persisted in his

mania for "feature-stuff" and "punches" in his pictures, Jean believed

that she would have a fair start toward buying back the Lazy A long

before her book was published and had brought her the thousands and

thousands of dollars she was sure it would bring. Very soon she could

go boldly to a lawyer and ask him to do something about her father's

case. Just what he should do she did not quite know; and Lite did not

seem to be able to tell her, but she thought she ought to find out just

how much the trial had cost. And she wished she knew how to get about

setting some one on the trail of Art Osgood.



Jean was sure that Art Osgood knew something about the murder, and she

frequently tried to make Lite agree with her. Sometimes she was sure

that Art Osgood was the murderer, and would argue and point out her

reasons to Lite. Art had been working for her uncle, and rode often to

the Lazy A. He had not been friendly with Johnny Croft,--but then,

nobody had been very friendly with Johnny Croft. Still, Art Osgood was

less friendly with Johnny than most of the men in the country, and just

after the murder he had left the country. Jean laid a good deal of

stress upon the circumstance of Art Osgood's leaving on that particular

afternoon, and she seemed to resent it because no one had tried to find

Art. No one had seemed to think his going at that time had any

significance, or any bearing upon the murder, because he had been

planning to leave, and had announced that he would go that day.



Jean's mind, as her bank account grew steadily to something approaching

dignity, worked back and forth incessantly over the circumstances

surrounding the murder, in spite of Lite's peculiar attitude toward the

subject, which Jean felt but could not understand, since he invariably

assured her that he believed her dad was innocent, when she asked him

outright.



Sometimes, in the throes of literary composition, she could not think

of the word that she wanted. Her eyes then would wander around

familiar objects in the shabby little room, and frequently they would

come to rest upon her father's saddle or her father's chaps: the chaps

especially seemed potent reminders of her father, and drew her thoughts

to him and held them there. The worn leather, stained with years of

hard usage and wrinkled permanently where they had shaped themselves to

his legs in the saddle, brought his big, bluff presence vividly before

her, when she was in a certain receptive mood. She would forget all

about her story, and the riding and shooting and roping she had done

that day to appease the clamorous, professional appetite of Robert

Grant Burns, and would sit and stare, and think and think. Always her

thoughts traveled in a wide circle and came back finally to the

starting point: to free her father, and to give him back his home, she

must have money. To have money, she must earn it; she must work for

it. So then she would give a great sigh of relaxed nervous tension and

go back to her heroine and the Indians and the mysterious footsteps

that marched on moonlight nights up and down a long porch just outside

windows that frequently framed white, scared faces with wide,

horror-stricken eyes which saw nothing of the marcher, though the steps

still went up and down.



It was very creepy, in spots. It was so creepy that one evening when

Lite had come to smoke a cigarette or two in her company and to listen

to her account of the day's happenings, Lite noticed that when she read

the creepy passages in her story, she glanced frequently over her

shoulder.



"You want to cut out this story writing," he said abruptly, when she

paused to find the next page. "It's bad enough to work like you do in

the pictures. This is going a little too strong; you're as jumpy

to-night as a guilty conscience. Cut it out."



"I'm all right. I'm just doing that for dramatic effect. This is very

weird, Lite. I ought to have a green shade on the lamp, to get the

proper effect. I--don't you think--er--those footsteps are terribly

mysterious?"



Lite looked at her sharply for a minute. "I sure do," he said drily.

"Where did you get the idea, Jean?"



"Out of my head," she told him airily, and went on reading while Lite

studied her curiously.



That night Jean awoke and heard stealthy footsteps, like a man walking

in his socks and no boots, going all through the house but never coming

to her room. She did not get up to see who it was, but lay perfectly

still and heard her heart thump. When she saw a dim, yellow ray of

light under the door which opened into the kitchen, she drew the

blanket over her head, and got no comfort whatever from the feel of her

six-shooter close against her hand.



The next morning she told herself that she had given in to a fine case

of nerves, and that the mysterious footsteps of her story had become

mixed up with the midnight wanderings of a pack-rat that had somehow

gotten into the house. Then she remembered the bar of light under the

door, and the pack-rat theory was spoiled.



She had taken the board off the doorway into the kitchen, so that she

could use the cookstove. The man could have come in if he had wanted

to, and that knowledge she found extremely disquieting. She went all

through the house that morning, looking and wondering. The living-room

was now the dressing-room of Muriel and her mother, and the make-up

scattered over the centertable was undisturbed; the wardrobe of the two

women had apparently been left untouched. Yet she was sure that some

one had been prowling in there in the night. She gave up the puzzle at

last and went back to her breakfast, but before the company arrived in

the big, black automobile, she had found a stout hasp and two staples,

and had fixed the door which led from her room into the kitchen so that

she could fasten it securely on the inside.



Jean did not tell Lite about the footsteps. She was afraid that he

might insist upon her giving up staying at the Lazy A. Lite did not

approve of it, anyway, and it would take very little encouragement in

the way of extra risk to make him stubborn about it. Lite could be

very obstinate indeed upon occasion, and she was afraid he might take a

stubborn streak about this, and perhaps ride over every night to make

sure she was all right, or do something equally unnecessary and foolish.



She did not know Lite as well as she imagined, which is frequently the

case with the closest of friends. As a matter of fact, Jean had never

spent one night alone on the ranch, even though she did believe she was

doing so. Lite had a homestead a few miles away, upon which he was

supposed to be sleeping occasionally to prove his good faith in the

settlement. Instead of spending his nights there, however, he rode

over and slept in the gable loft over the old granary, where no one

ever went; and he left every morning just before the sky lightened with

dawn. He did not know that Jean was frightened by the sound of

footsteps, but he had heard the man ride up to the stable and dismount,

and he had followed him to the house and watched him through the

uncurtained windows, and had kept his fingers close to his gun all the

while. Jean did not dream of anything like that; but Lite, going about

his work with the easy calm that marked his manner always, was quite as

puzzled over the errand of the night-prowler as was Jean herself.



For three years Lite had lain aside the mystery of the footprints on

the kitchen floor on the night after the inquest, as a puzzle he would

probably never solve. He had come to remember them as a vagrant

incident that carried no especial meaning. But now they seemed to

carry a new significance,--if only he could get at the key. For three

years he had gone along quietly, working and saving all he could, and

looking after Jean in an unobtrusive way, believing that Aleck was

guilty,--and being careful to give no hint of that belief to any one.

And now Jean herself seemed to be leading him unconsciously face to

face with doubt and mystery. It tantalized him. He knew the prowler,

and for that reason he was all the more puzzled. What had he wanted or

expected to find? Lite was tempted to face the man and ask him; but on

second thought he knew that would be foolish. He would say nothing to

Jean. He thanked the Lord she slept soundly! and he would wait and see

what happened.



Jean herself was thoughtful all that day, and was slow to lighten her

mood or her manner even when Gil Huntley rode beside her to location

and talked enthusiastically of the great work she was doing for a

beginner, and of the greater work she would do in the future, if only

she took advantage of her opportunities.



"It can't go on like this forever," he told her impressively for the

second time, before he was sure of her attention and her interest.

"Think of you, working extra under a three-day guarantee! Why, you're

what's making the pictures! I had a letter from a friend of mine; he's

with the Universal. He'd been down to see one of our pictures,--that

first one you worked in. You remember how you came down off that

bluff, and how you roped me and jerked me down off the bank just as I'd

got a bead on Lee? Say! that picture was a RIOT! Gloomy says he never

saw a picture get the hand that scene got. And he wanted to know who

was doubling for Gay, up here. You see, he got next that it was a

double; he knows darned well Gay never could put over that line of

stuff. The photography was dandy,--Pete's right there when it comes to

camera work, anyway,--and that run down the bluff, he said, had people

standing on their hind legs even before the rope scene. You could tell

it was a girl and no man doubling the part. Gloomy says everybody

around the studio has begun to watch for our releases, and go just to

see you ride and rope and shoot. And Gay gets all the press-notices!

Say, it makes me sick!" He looked at Jean wistfully.



"The trouble is, you don't realize what a raw deal you're getting," he

said, with much discontent in his tone. "As an extra, you're getting

fine treatment and fine pay; I admit that. But the point is, you've no

business being an extra. Where you belong is playing leads. You don't

know what that means, but I do. Burns is just using you to boost Muriel

Gay, and I say it's the rawest deal I ever saw handed out in the

picture game; and believe me, I've seen some raw deals!"



"Now, now, don't get peevish, Gil." Jean's drawl was soft, and her

eyes were friendly and amused. So far had their friendship progressed.

"It's awfully dear of you to want to see me a real leading lady. I

appreciate it, and I won't take off that lock of hair I said I'd take

when I shoot you in the foreground. Burns wants a real thrilling

effect close up, and he's told me five times to remember and keep my

face turned away from the camera, so they won't see it isn't Gay. If I

turn around, there will have to be a re-take, he says; and you won't

like that, Gil, not after you've heard a bullet zip past your ear so

close that it will fan your hair. Are--aren't you afraid of me, Gil?"



"Afraid of you?" Gil's horse swung closer, and Gil's eyes threatened

the opening of a tacitly forbidden subject.



"Because if you get nervous and move the least little bit-- To make it

look real, as Bobby described the scene to me, I've got to shoot the

instant you stop to gather yourself for a spring at me. It's that

lightning-draw business I have to do, Gil. I'm to stand three quarters

to the camera, with my face turned away, watching you. You keep

coming, and you stop just an instant when you're almost within reach of

me. In that instant I have to grab my gun and shoot; and it has to

look as if I got you, Gil. I've got to come pretty close, in order to

bring the gun in line with you for the camera. Bobby wants to show off

the quick draw that Lite Avery taught me. That's to be the 'punch' in

the scene. I showed him this morning what it is like, and Bobby is

just tickled to death. You see, I don't shoot the way they usually do

in pictures--"



"I should say not!" Gil interrupted admiringly.



"You haven't seen that quick work, either. It'll look awfully real,

Gil, and you mustn't dodge or duck, whatever you do. It will be just

as if you really were a man I'm deadly afraid of, that has me cornered

at last against that ledge. I'm going to do it as if I meant it. That

will mean that when you stop and kind of measure the distance, meaning

to grab me before I can do anything, I'll draw and shoot from the level

of my belt; no higher, Gil, or it won't be the lightning-draw--as

advertised. I won't have time to take a fine aim, you know."



"Listen!" said Gil, leaning toward her with his eyes very earnest. "I

know all about that. I heard you and Burns talking about it. You go

ahead and shoot, and put that scene over big. Don't you worry about

me; I'm going to play up to you, if I can. Listen! Pete's just

waiting for a chance to register your face on the film. Burns has

planned his scenes to prevent that, but we're just lying low till the

chance comes. It's got to be dramatic, and it's got to seem

accidental. Get me? I shouldn't have told you, but I can't seem to

trick you, Jean. You're the kind of a girl a fellow's got to play fair

with."



"Bobby has told me five times already to remember and keep my face away

from the camera," Jean pointed out the second time. "Makes me feel as

if I had lost my nose, or was cross-eyed or something. I do feel as if

I'd lose my job, Gil."



"No, you wouldn't; all he'd do would be to have a re-take of the whole

scene, and maybe step around like a turkey in the snow, and swear to

himself. Anyway, you can forget what I've said, if you'll feel more

comfortable. It's up to Pete and me, and we'll put it over smooth, or

we won't do it at all. Bobby won't realize it's happened till he hears

from it afterwards. Neither will you." He turned his grease-painted



face toward her hearteningly and smiled as endearingly as the sinister,

painted lines would allow.



"Listen!" he repeated as a final encouragement, because he had sensed

her preoccupation and had misread it for worry over the picture. "You

go ahead and shoot, and don't bother about me. Make it real. Shoot as

close as you like. If you pink me a little I won't care,--if you'll

promise to be my nurse. I want a vacation, anyway."





Pick Your Footing! Pierre Becomes Alarmed About His Property facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback