Chance Takes A Hand
: Jean Of The Lazy A
A huge pipe organ was filling the theater with a vast undertone that
was like the whispering surge of a great wind. Jean went into the soft
twilight and sat down, feeling that she had shut herself away from the
harsh, horrible world that held so much of suffering. She sighed and
leaned her head back against the curtained enclosure of the loges, and
closed her eyes and listened to the big, sweeping harmonies that were
et so subdued.
Down next the river, in a sheltered little coulee, there was a group of
great bull pines. Sometimes she had gone there and leaned against a
tree trunk, and had shut her eyes and listened to the vast symphony
which the wind and the water played together. She forgot that she had
come to see a picture which she had helped to create. She held her
eyes shut and listened; and that horror of high walls and iron bars
that had haunted her for days, and the aged, broken man who was her
father, dimmed and faded and was temporarily erased; the lightness of
her lips eased a little; the tenseness relaxed from her face, as it
does from one who sleeps.
But the music changed, and her mood changed with it. She did not know
that this was because the story pictured upon the screen had changed,
but she sat up straight and opened her eyes, and felt almost as though
she had just awakened from a vivid dream.
A Mexican series of educational pictures were being shown. Jean
looked, and leaned forward with a little gasp. But even as she fixed
her eyes and startled attention upon it, that scene was gone, and she
was reading mechanically of refugees fleeing to the border line.
She must have been asleep, she told herself, and had gotten things
mixed up in her dreams. She shook herself mentally and remembered that
she ought to take off her hat; and she tried to fix her mind upon the
pictures. Perhaps she had been mistaken; perhaps she had not seen what
she believed she had seen. But--what if it were true? What if she had
really seen and not imagined it? It couldn't be true, she kept telling
herself; of course, it couldn't be true! Still, her mind clung to that
instant when she had first opened her eyes, and very little of what she
saw afterwards reached her brain at all.
Then she had, for the first time in her life, the strange experience of
seeing herself as others saw her. The screen announcement and
expectant stir that greeted it caught her attention, and pulled her
back from the whirl of conjecture into which she had been plunged. She
watched, and she saw herself ride up to the foreground on Pard. She
saw herself look straight out at the audience with that peculiar little
easing of the lips and the lightening of the eyes which was just the
infectious beginning of a smile. Involuntarily she smiled back at her
pictured self, just as every one else was smiling back. For that, you
must know, was what had first endeared her so to the public; the human
quality that compelled instinctive response from those who looked at
her. So Jean in the loge smiled at Jean on the screen. Then
Lite--dear, silent, long-legged Lite!--came loping up, and pushed back
his hat with the gesture that she knew so well, and spoke to her and
smiled; and a lump filled the throat of Jean in the loge, though she
could not have told why. Then Jean on the screen turned and went
riding with Lite back down the trail, with her hat tilted over one eye
because of the sun, and with one foot swinging free of the stirrup in
that absolute unconsciousness of pose that had first caught the
attention of Robert Grant Burns and his camera man. Jean in the loge
heard the ripple of applause among the audience and responded to it
with a perfectly human thrill.
Presently she was back at the Lazy A, living again the scenes which she
herself had created. This was the fourth or fifth picture,--she did
not at the moment remember just which. At any rate, it had in it that
incident when she had first met the picture-people in the hills and
mistaken Gil Huntley and the other boys for real rustlers stealing her
uncle's cattle. You will remember that Robert Grant Burns had told
Pete to take all of that encounter, and he had later told Jean to write
her scenario so as to include that incident.
Jean blushed when she saw herself ride up to those three and "throw
down on them" with her gun. She had been terribly chagrined over that
performance! But now it looked awfully real, she told herself with a
little glow of pride. Poor old Gil! They hadn't caught her roping
him, anyway, and she was glad of that. He would have looked absurd,
and those people would have laughed at him. She watched how she had
driven the cattle back up the coulee, with little rushes up the bank to
head off an unruly cow that had ideas of her own about the direction in
which she would travel. She loved Pard, for the way he tossed his head
and whirled the cricket in his bit with his tongue, and obeyed the
slightest touch on the rein. The audience applauded that cattle drive;
and Jean was almost betrayed into applauding it herself.
Later there was a scene where she had helped Lite Avery and Lee
Milligan round up a bunch of cattle and cut out three or four, which
were to be sold to a butcher for money to take her mother to the
doctor. Lite rode close to the camera and looked straight at her, and
Jean bit her lips sharply as tears stung her lashes for some
inexplicable reason. Dear old Lite! Every line in his face she knew,
every varying, vagrant expression, every little twitch of his lips and
eyelids that meant so much to those who knew him well enough to read
his face. Jean's eyes softened, cleared, and while she looked, her lips
parted a little, and she did not know that she was smiling.
She was thinking of the day, not long ago, when she had seen a bird fly
into the loft over the store-house, and she had climbed in a spirit of
idle curiosity to see what the bird wanted there. She had found Lite's
bed neatly smoothed for the day, the pillow placed so that, lying
there, he could look out through the opening and see the house and the
path that led to it. There was the faint aroma of tobacco about the
place. Jean had known at once just why that bed was there, and almost
she knew how long it had been there. She had never once hinted that
she knew; and Lite would never tell her, by look or word, that he was
watching her welfare.
Here came Gil, dashing up to the brow of the hill, dismounting and
creeping behind a rock, that he might watch them working with the
cattle in the valley below. Jean met his pictured approach with a
little smile of welcome. That was the scene where she told him he got
off the horse like a sack of oats, and had shown him how to swing down
lightly and with a perfect balance, instead of coming to the earth with
a thud of his feet. Gil had taken it all in good faith; the camera
proved now how well he had followed her instructions. And afterwards,
while the assistant camera-man (with whom Jean never had felt
acquainted) shouldered the camera and tripod, and they all tramped down
the hill to another location, there had been a little scene in the
shade of that rock, between Jean and the star villain. She blushed a
little and wondered if Gil remembered that tentative love-making scene
which Burns had unconsciously cut short with a bellowing order to
rehearse the next scene.
It was wonderful, it was fascinating to sit there and see those days of
hard, absorbing work relived in the story she had created. Jean lost
herself in watching how Jean of the Lazy A came and went and lived her
life bravely in the midst of so much that was hard. Jean in the loge
remembered how Burns had yelled, "Smile when you come up; look
light-hearted! And then let your face change gradually, while you
listen to your mother crying in there. There'll be a cut-back to show
her down on her knees crying before Bob's chair. Let that tired,
worried look come into your face,--the load's dropping on to your
shoulders again,--that kind of dope. Get me?" Jean in the loge
remembered how she had been told to do this deliberately, just out of
her imagination. And then she saw how Jean on the screen came
whistling up to the house, swinging her quirt by its loop and with a
spring in her walk, and making you feel that it was a beautiful day and
that all the meadow larks were singing, and that she had just had a
gallop on Pard that made her forget that she ever looked trouble in the
Then Jean in the loge looked and saw screen--Jean's mother kneeling
before Bob's chair and sobbing so that her shoulders shook. She looked
and saw screen Jean stop whistling and swinging her quirt; saw her
stand still in the path and listen; saw the smile fade out of her eyes.
Jean in the loge thought suddenly of that moment when she had looked at
dad coming in where she waited, and swallowed a lump in her throat. A
woman near her gave a little stifled sob of sympathy when screen-Jean
turned and went softly around the corner of the house with all the
light gone from her face and all the spring gone out of her walk.
Jean in the loge gave a sigh of relaxed tension and looked around her.
The seats were nearly all full, and every one was gazing fixedly
forward, lost in the pictured story of Jean on the screen. So that was
what all those made-to-order smiles and frowns meant! Jean had done
them at Burns' command, because she had seen that the others simulated
different emotions whenever he told them to. She knew, furthermore,
that she had done them remarkably well; so well that people responded
to every emotion she presented to them. She was surprised at the
vividness of every one of those cut-and-dried scenes. They imposed
upon her, even, after all the work and fussing she had gone through to
get them to Burns' liking. And there, in the cool gloom of the
Victoria, Jean for the first time realized to the full the true ability
of Robert Grant Burns. For the first time she really appreciated him
and respected him, and was grateful to him for what he had taught her
Her mood changed abruptly when the Jean picture ended. The music
changed to the strain that had filled the great place when she entered,
nearly an hour before. Jean sat up straight again and waited, alert,
impatient, anxious to miss no smallest part of that picture which had
startled her so when she had first looked at the screen. If the thing
was true which she half believed--if it were true! So she stared with
narrowed lids, intent, watchful, her whole mind concentrated upon what
she should presently see.
"Warring Mexico!" That was the name of it; a Lubin special release, of
the kind technically called "educational." Jean held her breath,
waiting for the scene that might mean so much to her. There: this must
be it, she thought with a flush of inner excitement. This surely must
be the one:
"NOGALES, MEXICO. FEDERAL TROOPS OF GENERAL KOSTERLISKY, WITH AMERICAN
SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE SERVING ON STAFF OF NOTED GENERAL."
Jean had it stamped indelibly upon her brain. She waited, with a quick
intake of breath when the picture stood out with a sudden clarity
before her eyes.
A "close-up" group of officers and men,--and some of the men Americans
in face, dress, and manner. But it was one man, and one only, at whom
she looked. Tall he was, and square-shouldered and lean; with his hat
set far back on his head and a half smile curling his lips, and his
eyes looking straight into the camera. Standing there with his weight
all on one foot, in that attitude which cowboys call "hipshot." Art
Osgood! She was sure of it! Her hands clenched in her lap. Art
Osgood, at Nogales, Mexico. Serving on the staff of General
Kosterlisky. Was the man mad, to stand there publicly before the
merciless, revealing eye of a motion-picture camera? Or did his vanity
blind him to the risk he was taking?
The man at whom she sat glaring glanced sidewise at some person unseen;
and Jean knew that glance, that turn of the head. He smiled anew and
lifted his American-made Stetson a few inches above his head and held
it so in salute. Just so had he lifted and held his hat high one day,
when she had turned and ridden away from him down the trail. Jean
caught herself just as her lips opened to call out to him in
recognition and sharp reproach. He turned and walked away to where the
troopers were massed in the background. It was thus that she had first
glimpsed him for one instant before the scene ended; it was just as he
turned his face away that she had opened her eyes, and thought it was
Art Osgood who was walking away from the camera.
She waited a minute, staring abstractedly at the refugees who were
presented next. She wished that she knew when the picture had been
taken,--how long ago. Her experience with motion-picture making, her
listening to the shop-talk of the company, had taught her much; she
knew that sometimes weeks elapse between the camera's work and the
actual projection of a picture upon the theater screens. Still, this
was, in a sense, a news release, and therefore in all probability
hurried to the public. Art Osgood might still be at Nogales, Mexico,
wherever that was. He might; and Jean made up her mind and laid her
plans while she sat there pinning on her hat.
She got up quietly and slipped out. She was going to Nogales, Mexico,
wherever that was. She was going to get Art Osgood, and she didn't
care whether she had to fight her way clear through "Warring Mexico."
She would find him and get him and bring him back.
In the lobby, while she paused with a truly feminine instinct to tip
her hat this way and that before the mirror, and give her hair a
tentative pat or two at the back, the grinning face of Lite Avery in
his gray Stetson appeared like an apparition before her eyes. She
"Why, Lite!" she said, a little startled.
"Why, Jean!" he mimicked, in the bantering voice that was like home to
her. "Don't rush off; haven't seen you to-day. Wait till I get you a
ticket, and then you come back and help me admire ourselves. I came
down on a long lope when somebody said you caught a street car headed
this way. Thought maybe I'd run across you here. Knew you couldn't
stay away much longer from seeing how you look. Ain't too proud to sit
alongside a rough-neck puncher, are you?"
Jean looked at him understandingly. Lite's exuberance was unusual; but
she knew, as well as though he had told her, that he had been lonesome
in this strange city, and that he was overjoyed at the sight of her,
who was his friend. She unpinned her hat which she had been at some
pains to adjust at the exact angle decreed by fashion.
"Yes, I'll go back with you," she drawled. "I want to see how you like
the sight of yourself just as you are. It--it's good for one, after the
first shock wears off." She would not say a word about that Mexican
picture, she thought; but she wanted to see if Lite also would
recognize Art Osgood, and feel as sure of his identity as she had felt.
That would make her doubly sure of her self. She could do what she
meant to do without any misgivings whatsoever. She could afford to
wait a little while and have the pleasure of Lite's presence beside
her. Lite was homesick and lonesome;--she felt it in every tone and in
every look;--almost as homesick and lonesome as she was herself. She
would not hurt him by going off and leaving him alone, even if she had
not wanted to be with him and to watch the effect that Mexican picture
would have upon him. Lite believed Art Osgood was in the Klondyke.
She would wait and see what he believed after he had seen that Nogales
She waited. She had missed Lite in the last day or so; she had seemed
almost as far away from him as from the Lazy A. But all the while she
talked to him in whispers when he had wanted to discuss the Jean
picture, she was waiting, just waiting, for that Nogales picture.
When it came at last, Jean turned her head and watched Lite. And Lite
gave a real start and said something under his breath, and plucked at
her sleeve afterwards to attract her attention.
"Look--quick! That fellow standing there with his arms folded. Skin
me alive if it isn't Art Osgood!"
"Are you sure?" Jean studied him.
"Sure? Where're your eyes? Look at him! It sure ain't anybody else,
Jean. Now, what do you reckon he's doing down in Mexico?"