Produced by Al Haines
[Frontispiece: Charles Ray as Bob Rogeen, and Barbara Bedford as Imogene Chandler.]
THE DESERT FIDDLER
WILLIAM H. HAMBY
ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTOPLAY A THOS. H. INCE PRODUCTION RELEASED BY PATHE PICTURES
GROSSET & DUNLAP
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY
CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.
Charles Ray as Bob Rogeen, and Barbara Bedford as Imogene Chandler . . . _Frontispiece_
Jenkins and Lolita awed by Percy's fiddling.
Lolita tries her wiles on Percy.
Reedy Jenkins makes a proposition to Imogene.
A mutual discovery--they both cared.
Holy Joe shanghaies Imogene's ranchmen and discovers Percy--a willing ally.
"Make it plain to the Chandler girl that this is her last chance to sell before I ruin her crop."
"Shut off the water? Why all the cotton in the valley will be withered in a day."
THE DESERT FIDDLER
Bob Rogeen slept in the east wing of the squat adobe house. Aboutmidnight there was a vigorous and persistent shaking of the screen door.
"Yes?" he called, sleepily.
"They have just telephoned in from the Red Butte Ranch"--it was Dayton,his employer, at the door--"the engine on that tractor has balked.They want a man out there by daylight to fix it."
Bob put up his arms and stretched, and replied yawningly:
"Well, I guess I'm the fixer."
"I guess you are," agreed the implement dealer. "You know the way,don't you? Better ride the gray; and don't forget to take your gun."The boss crossed the _patio_ to his own wing of the house.
The young fellow sat up and kicked along under the edge of the bed,feeling for his shoes.
"A love--lee time to go to work," he growled, good-naturedly. "Here iswhere the early bird catches the tractor--and the devil."
When he came out of the door a few minutes later, buttoning hiscorduroy coat--even in Imperial Valley, which knows no winter, oneneeds a coat on a March night--Rogeen stood for a moment on the stepand put up his long arms again to stretch some of the deep sleep fromhis muscles. He was not at all enthusiastic about odd jobs atmidnight; but in a moment his eyes fell on the slanting moonlight thatshone mistily on the chinaberry tree in the _patio_; the town on theAmerican side was fast asleep; the wind with the smell of sagebrushstirred a clump of bamboo. The desert night had him--and when he rodeaway toward the Mexican line he had forgotten his gun and taken hisfiddle.
He passed through Mexicali, the Mexican town, where the saloons werestill open and the lights over the Red Owl, the great gambling hall,winked with glittering sleeplessness; and out upon the road by theirrigation canal, fringed with cottonwood and willows.
He let the reins drop over the saddlehorn, and brought the fiddle roundin front of him. There was no hurry, he would be there beforedaylight. And he laughed as he ran his right thumb over the strings:
"What a combination--a fool, a fiddle, and a tractor."
Bob could not explain what impulse had made him bring a fiddle with himon the way to mend a balky gasoline engine. As a youth--they hadcalled him rather a wild youth--he had often ridden through the Ozarkhills at night time with his fiddle under his arm. But in the lasteight years he had played the thing only once, and that once had comeso near finishing him that he still carried the receipt of theundertaker who came to bury him the next day.
"Oh, well," Bob grinned into the night as he threw his right knee overthe saddlehorn and put the fiddle to his shoulder, "we'll see how shegoes once more."
For three miles he rode leisurely on, a striking figure in the dimmoonlight--a tall young man on a gray horse, fiddling wildly to thedesert night.
He crossed the bridge over the main canal, left the fringe ofcottonwood and willow, and turned across the open toward the Red ButteRanch. The fiddle was under his arm. Then he saw a shack in the openfield to the right of the road. It was one of those temporarystructures of willow poles and arrow weed that serve for a house forthe renter on the Mexican side. The setting moon was at its back, andthe open doorway showed only as a darker splotch. He lifted the fiddleagain. "Chinaboy, Jap, Hindu, Poor Man, Rich Man, Beggar Man orMexican--I'll give you a serenade all the samee."
The gleeful melody had scarcely jigged its way into the desert nightwhen, in the black splotch of the doorway, a figure appeared--a womanin a white nightdress. Swiftly Bob changed the jig tune into a realserenade, a clear, haunting, calling melody. The figure stood straightand motionless in the dark doorway as long as he could see. Someway heknew it was a white woman and that she was young.
He put the fiddle back in the bag and turned in his saddle to mark thelocation of the hut in his mind--there was a clump of eucalyptus treesjust north of it. Yes, he would know the place, and he would learntomorrow who lived there. That listening figure had caught hisimagination.
But again he grinned into the night, ruefully this time as heremembered the disaster that had followed his last two experiences withthis diabolical instrument of glee and grief.
"Oh, well," he shook his head determinedly and threw his leg across thesaddle, "the first time was with a preacher; the second with a gun; nowwe'll give the lady a chance."
The fiddle and the figure in the doorway had stirred in Bob a lot ofreflections. At twenty he had given up his music and most of thecareless fun that went with it, because a sudden jolt had made him seethat to win through he must fight and not fiddle. For eight years hehad worked tremendously hard at half a dozen jobs across half a dozenstates; and there had been plenty of fighting. But what had he won?--ajob as a hardware clerk at twenty dollars a week.
"Oh, well"--he had learned to give the Mexican shrug of theshoulder--"twenty dollars in a land of opportunity is better than fiftywhere everything is already fixed."
That must be the Red Butte Ranch across yonder. He turned into theleft-hand fork of the road.
"Hello, there!" A tall, rambling fellow rose up from the side of theroad. "Are you the good Samaritan or merely one of the thieves?"
"Neither," replied Bob, guessing this was a messenger from the RedButte, "but I work for both. Where is your balky tractor?"
"This way." The rambling fellow turned to the right and started downthe road, talking over his left shoulder:
"I'm the chauffeur of that blamed tractor--I told Old Benson I didn'tknow any more about it than he does of the New Jerusalem; but he put meat it anyhow.
"I'm a willin' cuss. But the main trouble with me is I ain't got nobrains. If I had, I wouldn't be on this job, and if I was, I could fixthe darn thing myself.
"My dad," continued the guide, "was purty strong on brains, but Ididn't take after him much. If I was as posted on tractors as the oldman was on hell fire, I wouldn't need you."
Something in this hill billy's tone stirred in Bob a suddenrecollection.
"Was he a preacher?"
"Yep, named Foster, and I'm his wandering boy to-night."
Bob lifted his head and laughed. It was a queer world. He inquiredabout the trouble with the tractor.
"I sure hope you can fix it," said Noah Ezekiel. "Old Benson willswear bloody-murder if we don't get the cotton in before the tenth ofApril. He wants to unload the lease."
was scarcely an hour high when the steady, energetic chuck,chuck of the tractor engine told Bob his work was done. He shut itoff, and turned to Noah Ezekiel.
"There you are--as good as new. And it is worth ten men and fortymules. Not much like we used to farm back in the Ozarks, is it?"
"We?" Noah Ezekiel rubbed his lean jaw and looked questioningly at thefixer. "I'm from the Ozarks, but as the silk hat said to the ash can,'Where in hell does the _we_ come in?'"
"You don't happen to remember me?" There was a humorous quirk at thecorner of Rogeen's mouth as he stood wiping the oil and grease from hishands with a bunch of dry grass.
The shambling hill billy took off his floppy-brimmed straw hat andscratched his head as he studied Bob with the careless but always alertblue eyes of the mountain-turkey hunter--eyes that never miss the turnof a leaf nor forget a trail.
Those eyes began at the feet, took in the straight waistline, thewell-knit shoulders. Bob weighed a hundred and eighty and looked asthough he were put together to stay. For a moment Noah Ezekiel studiedthe friendly mouth, the resolute nose, the frank brown eyes; but notuntil they concentrated on the tangled mop of dark hair did a lightdawn on the hill billy's face.
"Well, I'll be durned!" The exclamation was deep and soul-satisfying,and he held out his hand. "If you ain't Fiddlin' Bob Rogeen, I'll eatmy hat!"
"Save your hat." Bob met the recognition with a friendly grin.
"I never saw you but once," reflected Noah Ezekiel, "and that was theSunday at Mt. Pisgah when my dad lambasted you in his sermon forfiddlin' for the dance Saturday night."
"That sermon," Bob's smile was still a little rueful, "lost me the bestjob I had ever had."
"Oh, well," consoled the hill billy, "if you hadn't lost it somethin'might have fell on you. That's what I always think when I have to moveon." And he repeated with a nonchalant air a nonsensical hill parody:
_I eat when I'm hungry, I drink when I'm dry, And if a tree don't fall on me I'll live till I die._
Then his eyes veered round to Bob's fiddle lying to one side on thegrass.
"I notice," he grinned, "dad did not convert you."
"No," said Bob, "but he cured me--almost. I've only played the thingtwice since."
Rogeen picked up his fiddle and started for his horse.
"Well, so long, Noah. You've got a nice place to work out here." Hiseyes swept almost covetously over the five-thousand-acre ranch, levelas a floor, not a stump or a stone. "If I had this ranch I'd raise sixthousand bales of cotton a year, or know the reason why."
"That ain't what the last fellow said," remarked the hill billy,grinningly. "Reedy Jenkins was out yesterday figuring on buyin' thelease; and he said: 'If I had it--I'd raise the rent.'"