"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.