Jean did not climb into the purple car and tell Bob to drive her to "the house." She walked past it without even noticing that it stood there, an aristocrat among the other machines parked behind the great studio that looked like a long, low warehouse. She knew the straightest, shortest trail to the corrals, you may be sure of that. She took that trail.
Pard was standing in a far corner under a shed, switching his tail methodically at the October crop of flies. His head lay over the neck of a scrawny little buckskin, for which he had formed a sudden and violent attachment, and his eyes were half closed while he drowsed in lazy content. Pard was not worrying about anything. He looked so luxuriously happy that Jean had not the heart to disturb him, even with her comfort- seeking caresses. She leaned her elbows on the corral gate and watched him awhile. She asked a bashful, gum-chewing youth if he could tell her where to find Lite Avery. But the youth seemed never to have heard of Lite Avery, and Jean was too miserable to explain and describe Lite, and insist upon seeing him. She walked over to the nearest car-line and caught the next street car for the city. Part of her chief's orders at least she would obey. She would go down to the Victoria and see "Jean, of the Lazy A," but she was not going because of any impulse of vanity, or to soothe her soul with the applause of strangers. She wanted to see the ranch again. She wanted to see the dear, familiar line of the old bluff that framed the coulee, and ride again with Lite through those wild places they had chosen for the pictures. She wanted to lose herself for a little while among the hills that were home.
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 yet 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.