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Jean of the Lazy A By B. M. Bower Characters: 17700

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Jean awoke to hear the businesslike buzzing of an automobile coming up from the gate. Evidently they were going to make pictures there at the house, which did not suit her plans at all. She intended to spend the early morning writing the first few chapters of that book which to her inexperience seemed a simple task, and to leave before these people arrived. As it was, she was fairly caught. There was no chance of escaping unnoticed, unless she slipped out and up the bluff afoot, and that would not have helped her in the least, since Pard was in the stable.

From behind the curtains she watched them for a few minutes. Robert Grant Burns wore a light overcoat, which made him look pudgier than ever, and he scowled a good deal over some untidy-looking papers in his hands, and conferred with Pete Lowry in a dissatisfied tone, though his words were indistinguishable. Muriel Gay watched the two covertly, it seemed to Jean, and she also looked dissatisfied over something.

Burns and the camera man walked down toward the stables, studying the bluff and the immediate surroundings, and still talking together. Lee Milligan, with his paint-shaded eyes and his rouged lips and heavily pencilled eyebrows, came up and stood close to Muriel, who was sitting now upon the bench near Jean's window.

"Burns ought to cut out those scenes, Gay," he began sympathetically. "You can't do any more than you did yesterday. And believe me, you put it over in good style. I don't see what he wants more than you did."

"What he wants," said Muriel Gay dispiritedly, "is for me to pull off stunts like that girl. I never saddled a horse in my life till he ordered me to do it in the scene yesterday. Why didn't he tell me far enough ahead so I could rehearse the business? Latigo! It sounds like some Spanish dish with grated cheese on top. I don't believe he knows himself what he meant."

"He's getting nutty on Western dope," sympathized Lee Milligan. "I don't see where this country's got anything on Griffith Park for atmosphere, anyway. What did he want to come away up here in this God-forsaken country for? What is there TO it, more than he could get within an hour's ride of Los Angeles?"

"I should worry about the country," said Muriel despondently, "if somebody would kindly tell me what looping up your latigo means. Burns says that he's got to retake that saddling scene just as soon as the horses get here. It looks just as simple," she added spitefully, "as climbing to the top of the Berry Building tower and doing a leap to a passing airship. In fact, I'd choose the leap."

A warm impulse of helpfulness stirred Jean. She caught up her hat, buckled her gun belt around her from pure habit, tucked a few loose strands of hair into place, and went out where they were.

"If you'll come down to the stable with me," she drawled, while they were staring their astonishment at her unexpected appearance before them, "I'll show you how to saddle up. Pard's awfully patient about being fussed with; you can practice on him. He's mean about taking the bit, though, unless you know just how to take hold of him. Come on."

The three of them,-Muriel Gay and her mother and Lee Milligan,-stared at Jean without speaking. To her it seemed perfectly natural that she should walk up and offer to help the girl; to them it seemed not so natural. For a minute the product of the cities and the product of the open country studied each other curiously.

"Come on," urged Jean in her lazily friendly drawl. "It's simple enough, once you get the hang of it." And she smiled before she added, "A latigo is just the strap that fastens the cinch. I'll show you."

"I'll bet Bobby Burns doesn't know that," said Muriel Gay, and got up from the bench. "It's awfully good of you; Mr. Burns is so-"

"I noticed that," said Jean, while Muriel was waiting for a word that would relieve her feelings without being too blunt.

Burns and Pete Lowry and the assistant had gone down the coulee, still studying the bluff closely. "I've got to ride down that bluff," Muriel informed Jean, her eyes following her director gloomily. "He asked me last night if I could throw a rope. I don't know what for; it's an extra punch he wants to put in this picture somewhere. I wish to goodness they wouldn't let him write his own scenarios; he just lies awake nights, lately, thinking up impossible scenes so he can bully us afterwards. He's simply gone nutty on the subject of punches."

"Well, it's easy enough to learn how to saddle a horse," Jean told Muriel cheerfully. "First you want to put on the bridle-"

"Burns told me to put on the saddle first; and then he cuts the scene just as I pick up the bridle. The trouble is to get the saddle on right, and then-that latigo dope!"

"But you ought to bridle him first," Jean insisted. "Supposing you just got the saddle on, and your horse got startled and ran off? If you have the bridle on, even if you haven't the reins, you can grab them when he jumps."

"Well, that isn't the way Burns directed the scene yesterday," Muriel Gay contended. "The scene ends where I pick up the bridle."

"Then Robert Grant Burns doesn't know. I've seen men put on the bridle last; but it's wrong. Lite Avery, and everybody who knows-"

Muriel Gay looked at Jean with a weary impatience. "What I have to do," she stated, "is what Burns tells me to do. I should worry about it's being right or wrong; I'm not the producer."

Jean faced her, frowning a little. Then she laughed, hung the bridle back on the rusty spike, and took down the saddle blanket. "We'll play I'm Robert Grant Burns," she said. "I'll tell you what to do: Lay the blanket on straight,-it's shaped to Pard's back, so that ought to be easy,-with the front edge coming forward to his withers; that's not right. Maybe I had better do it first, and show you. Then you'll get the idea."

So Jean, with the best intention in the world, saddled Pard, and wondered what there was about so simple a process that need puzzle any one. When she had tightened the cinch and looped up the latigo, and explained to Muriel just what she was doing, she immediately unsaddled him and laid the saddle down upon its side, with the blanket folded once on top, and stepped close to the manger.

"If your saddle isn't hanging up, that's the way it should be put on the ground," she said. "Now you do it. It's easy."

It was easy for Jean, but Muriel did not find it so simple. Jean went through the whole performance a second time, though she was beginning to feel that nature had never fitted her for a teacher of young ladies. Muriel, she began to suspect, rather resented the process of being taught. In another minute Muriel confirmed the suspicion.

"I think I've got it now," she said coolly. "Thank you ever so much."

Robert Grant Burns returned then, and close behind him rode Gil Huntley and those other desperados who had helped to brand the calf that other day. Gil was leading a little sorrel with a saddle on,-Muriel's horse evidently. Jean had started back to the house and her own affairs, but she lingered with a very human curiosity to see what they were all going to do.

She did not know that Robert Grant Burns was perfectly conscious of her presence even when he seemed busiest, and was studying her covertly even when he seemed not to notice her at all. Of his company, Pete Lowry was the only one who did know it, but that was because Pete himself was trained in the art of observation. Pete also knew why Burns was watching Jean and studying her slightest movement and expression; and that was why Pete kept smiling that little, hidden smile of his, while he made ready for the day's work and explained to Jean the mechanical part of making moving-pictures.

"I'd rather work with live things," said Jean after a while. "But I can see where this must be rather fascinating, too."

"This is working with live things, if anybody wants to know," Pete declared. "Wait till you see Burns in action; handling bronks is easy compared to-"

"About where does the side line come, Pete?" Burns interrupted. "If Gil stands here and holds the horse for that close-up saddling-" He whirled upon Gil Huntley. "Lead that sorrel up here," he commanded. "We'll have to cut off his head so the halter won't show. Now, how's that?"

This was growing interesting. Jean backed to a convenient pile of old corral posts and sat down to watch, with her chin in her palms, and her mind weaving shuttle-wise back and forth from one person to another, fitting them all into the pattern which made the whole. She watched Robert Grant Burns walking back and forth, growling and chuckling by turns as things pleased him or did not please him. She watched Muriel Gay walk to a certain spot which Burns had previously indicated, show sudden and un

called-for fear and haste, and go through a pantomime of throwing the saddle on the sorrel.

She watched Lee Milligan carry the saddle up and throw it down upon the ground, with skirts curled under and stirrups sprawling.

"Oh, don't leave it that way," she remonstrated. "Lay it on its side! You'll have the skirts kinked so it never will set right."

Muriel Gay gasped and looked from her to Robert Grant Burns. For betraying your country and your flag is no crime at all compared with telling your director what he must do.

"Bring that saddle over here," commanded Burns, indicating another spot eighteen inches from the first. "And don't slop it down like it was a bundle of old clothes. Lay it on its side. How many times have I got to tell you a thing before it soaks into your mind?" Not by tone or look or manner did he betray any knowledge that Jean had spoken, and Muriel decided that he could not have heard.

Lee Milligan moved the saddle and placed it upon its side, and Burns went to the camera and eyed the scene critically for its photographic value. He fumbled the script in his hands, cocked an eye upward at the sun, stepped back, and gave a last glance to make sure that nothing could be bettered by altering the detail.

"How's Gil; outside the line, Pete? All right. Now, Miss Gay, remember, you're in a hurry, and you're worried half to death. You've just time enough to get there if you use every second. You were crying when the letter-scene closed, and this is about five minutes afterwards; you just had time enough to catch your horse and lead him out here to saddle him. Register a sob when you turn to pick up the saddle. You ought to do this all right without rehearsing. Get into the scene and start your action at the same time. Pete, you pick it up just as she gets to the horse's shoulder and starts to turn. Don't forget that sob, Gay. Ready? Camera!"

Jean was absorbed, fascinated by this glimpse into a new and very busy little world,-the world of moving-picture makers. She leaned forward and watched every moment, every little detail. "Grab the horn with your right hand, Miss Gay!" she cried involuntarily, when Muriel stooped and started to pick up the saddle.

"Don't-oh, it looks as if you were picking up a wash-boiler! I told you-"

"Register that sob!" bawled Robert Grant Burns, shooting a glance at Jean and stepping from one foot to the other like a fat gobbler in fresh-fallen snow.

Muriel registered that sob and a couple more before she succeeded in heaving the saddle upon the back of the flinching sorrel. Because she took up the saddle by horn and cantle instead of doing it as Jean had taught her, she bungled its adjustment upon the horse's back. Then the sorrel began to dance away from her, and Robert Grant Burns swore under his breath.

"Stop the camera!" he barked and waddled irately up to Muriel. "This," he observed ironically, "is drama, Miss Gay. We are not making slap-stick comedy to-day; and you needn't give an imitation of boosting a barrel over a fence."

Tears that were real slipped down over the rouge and grease paint on Muriel's cheeks. "Why don't you make that girl stop butting in?" she flashed unexpectedly. "I'm not accustomed to working under two directors!"

She registered another sob which the camera never got.

This brought Jean over to where she could lay her hand contritely upon the girl's shoulder. "I'm awfully sorry," she drawled with perfect sincerity. "I didn't mean to rattle you; but you know you never in the world could throw the stirrup over free, the way you had hold of the saddle. I thought-"

Burns turned heavily around and looked at Jean, as though he had something in his mind to say to her; but, whatever that something may have been, he did not say it. Jean looked at him questioningly and walked back to the pile of posts.

"I won't butt in any more," she called out to Muriel. "Only, it does look so simple!" She rested her elbows on her knees again, dropped her chin into her palms, and concentrated her mind upon the subject of picture-plays in the making.

Muriel recovered her composure, stood beside Gil Huntley at the horse's head just outside the range of the camera, waited for the word of command from Burns, and rushed into the saddle scene. Burns shouted "Sob!" and Muriel sobbed with her face toward the camera. Burns commanded her to pick up the saddle, and Muriel picked up the saddle and flung it spitefully upon the back of the sorrel.

"Oh, you forgot the blanket!" exclaimed Jean, and stopped herself with her hand over her too-impulsive mouth, just as Burns stopped the camera.

The director bowed his head and shook it twice slowly and with much meaning. He did not say anything at all; no one said anything. Gil Huntley looked at Jean and tried to catch her eye, so that he might give her some greeting, or at least a glance of understanding. But Jean was wholly concerned with the problem which confronted Muriel. It was a shame, she thought, to expect a girl,-and when she had reached that far she straightway put the thought into speech, as was her habit.

"It's a shame to expect that girl to do something she doesn't know how to do," she said suddenly to Robert Grant Burns. "Work at something else, why don't you, and let me take her somewhere and show her how? It's simple-"

"Get up and show her now," snapped Burns, with some sarcasm and a good deal of exasperation. "You seem determined to get into the foreground somehow; get up and go through that scene and show us how a girl gets a saddle on a horse."

Jean sat still for ten seconds and deliberated while she looked from him to the horse. Again she made a picture that drove its elusive quality of individuality straight to the professional soul of Robert Grant Burns.

"I will if you'll let me do it the right way," she said, just when he was thinking she would not answer him. She did not wait for his assurance, once she had decided to accept the challenge, or the invitation; she did not quite know which he had meant it to be.

"I'm going to bridle him first though," she informed him. "And you can tell that star villain to back out of the way. I don't need him."

Still Burns did not say anything. He was watching her, studying her, measuring her, seeing her as she would have looked upon the screen. It was his habit to leave people alone until they betrayed their limitations or proved their talent; after that, if they remained under his direction, he drove them as far as their limitations would permit.

Jean went first and placed the saddle to her liking upon the ground. "You want me to act just as if you were going to take a picture of it, don't you?" she asked Burns over her shoulder. She was not sure whether he nodded, but she acted upon the supposition that he did, and took the lead-rope from Gil's hand.

"Shall I be hurried and worried-and shall I sob?" she asked, with the little smile at the corners of her eyes and just easing the line of her lips.

Robert Grant Burns seemed to make a quick decision. "Sure," he said. "You saw the action as Miss Gay went through it. Do as she did; only we'll let you have your own ideas of saddling the horse." He turned his head toward Pete and made a very slight gesture, and Pete grinned. "All ready? Start the action!" After that he did not help her by a single suggestion. He tapped Pete upon the shoulder, and stood with his feet far apart and his hands on his hips, watching her very intently.

Jean was plainly startled, just at first, by the business-like tone in which he gave the signal. Then she laughed a little. "Oh, I forgot. I must be hurried and worried-and I must sob," she corrected herself.

So she hurried, and every movement she made counted for something accomplished. She picked up the bridle and shortened her hold upon the lead rope, and discovered that the sorrel had a trick of throwing up his head and backing away from the bit. She knew how to deal with that habit, however; but in her haste she forgot to look as worried as Muriel had looked, and so appeared to her audience as being merely determined. She got the bridle on, and then she saddled the sorrel. And for good measure she picked up the reins, caught the stirrup and went up, pivoting the horse upon his hind feet as though she meant to dash madly off into the distance. But she only went a couple of rods before she pulled him up sharply and dismounted.

"That didn't take me long, did it?" she asked. "I could have hurried a lot more if I had known the horse." Then she stopped dead still and looked at Robert Grant Burns.

"Oh, my goodness, I forgot to sob!" she gasped. And she caught her hat brim and pulling her Stetson more firmly down upon her head, turned and ran up the path to the house, and shut herself into her room.

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