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Title: The Real Dramatic Touch
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1201441h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2012
Date most recently updated: February 2012

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The Real Dramatic Touch


Fred M White


Published in The Windsor Magazine, Vol. XLVI, Sep 1917, pp 386-392

IT was a great nuisance, of course, especially for a young man in the first flush of a glorious manhood, properly gilt with a fine overlay of necessary dollars, but there was no help for it. It did not necessarily follow that Perry Brogden was any the less of a business man because his life was entirely devoted to pleasure and the seductive joys of New York. Because he came from a race of business men—the instinct was in his blood—and, rich as he was, he did not view with equanimity the idea of sacrificing a million or two simply because he was too lazy to stretch out his hand and get it. Still, it was the season in New York, the hospitalities of Fifth Avenue were in full blast, and the theatres were more than usually alluring. All this naturally appealed to the fine, athletic young man, who was wont to come up smiling at breakfast-time on the morning after the night before, and declare with perfect truth that he had never felt more fit in his life. Moreover, he belonged to all the exclusive clubs, and there wasn't a single dowager in Fifth Avenue who would not have been delighted to call Perry Brogden her son-in-law.

And now he had come into still more money, left him by a typical backwoods uncle, the genuine "hayseed" who had made his money somewhere north of Patagonia, where he had died after forty years in a wilderness without one solitary glance of Western civilisation. This uncle had been the owner of the Island of—well, let us call it Terra Incognita, a long slice of country, picturesque and romantic, between Brazil and Patagonia, where he had devoted his energies to something like a million head of stock. As a matter of fact, Brogden had never seen him; but this neat little accumulation of dollars had come his way now, and it was up to him to look after it. His idea was to get out to Terra Incognita with a view to making an inventory of things there, and sell the property as quickly as possible to the best advantage. He knew something about ranches, for he had once spent the best part of a year in the role of an amateur cowboy on the plains of Texas, before his father had died and the lure of New York had proved too strong for him.

He didn't in the least want to go—he had no desire to turn his back upon the theatres, where he was favourably known, and where a score or more of actresses called him by his Christian name—but he was wise enough to see the necessity of grace before meat, so to speak, so he hired himself a steam yacht and set off for the long journey beyond the reach of civilisation, taking with him one Larry Hack, a genuine Texas cowboy whom he had made friends with, and who would not only be a friend and companion, but a sound judge of the fat beeves and wool-bearing sheep that formed the population of Terra Incognita. There was an old overseer there, it was true—a dour, sour Scotsman with a taste for solitude—a handful of peons, and certain natives who did much as they liked on the island, so long as they did not interfere with the course of business.

The yacht came, in the course of time, to the little natural harbour, and the overseer was looked up by Perry Brogden and his fidus Achates in a dilapidated old hacienda where Havelock lived and divided his time impartially between his work, his whisky, and certain theological books of the school made popular by Ernest Renan and his satellites. He was a crabbed man, hard as nails, exceedingly bad-tempered, but, withal, industrious and honest, as your Scotsman is the world over.

"You'll no stay here long, I'm thinking, Mr. Perry," he said, as they smoked a pipe together. "It's a mighty fine climate the noo, and a bonny picture, but it's dull—aye, it's dull—and if you could stand it—"

It certainly was a beautiful picture, with those great frowning cliffs on the verge of the sea, and the deep fertile valleys fringed with forest trees behind, a marvellous natural picture and a perfect setting for any romance that might happen along, and Brogden was greatly impressed by it.

"It's grand," he said—"grand! Absolutely made for adventures. Do you ever have any, Mr. Havelock?"

"Never one in forty years," Havelock said. "Hoots, mon, there's nothing here to stir the sluggish blood. We used to have wee bit trouble with the natives, who are part Patagonian Indians, ye ken; but we let 'em alone, and they let us alone. And if we miss a beast or a sheep sometimes—why, it doesn't much matter, and no questions are asked. But maybe it is not your intention to stay here."

"Certainly not," Brogden said emphatically. "I'll just remain long enough to make an inventory, with a view to selling the whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel. How long do you think that'll take me, Havelock?"

"Ah, well," Havelock said guardedly, "perhaps a week, perhaps a month. But we'd better say a month. Because, ye ken, the spirit moves me sometimes, an' it takes a week of whisky to lay it again. Forby, I may keep sober for a fortnight, and then ye'll be all right."

"Oh, take your time," Brogden said. "Meanwhile Larry Hack and myself will do a bit of prospecting. You've got some nice-looking horses here, I see. Just pack us enough grub and blankets to keep us going for three or four days, and we'll have a run round the island. I don't want to interfere with your work, and you needn't hurry over it, either."

For the next few days Brogden and his companion ranged far and near over the glorious country, at one time down in the well-watered valleys, where the grass was nearly knee-deep, and the contented herds were fattening, at another killing game in the forest that fringed the slopes, and anon along the higher ranges, that were capped with snow. It was a glorious life in one of the most glorious climates in the world, and the air, fine as champagne, sang in the veins of the adventurers.

"Aye, it's real grand, this," Larry Hack said. "Knocks spots off Texas. All we want now is a convenient bar and an occasional mix-up, just to make things happy and comfortable. The better I feel, the more I spoil for a fight. Not that we're likely to get it here, anyhow."

"I'm afraid not, Larry," Brogden said regretfully. "The few Indian chaps we've met are picturesque-looking enough, and the right type, according to the pictures, but they are most disgustingly peaceful."

"Well, I guess we've got to make the best of it," Hack said. "Anyway, it's good to be out in the open air again, with a fine horse between one's knees, and, perhaps, with the blessing of Providence, we shall hit something up yet."

A day or two drifted by, until at length they emerged out of the valley past a wide, sweeping plain along the edge of the cliffs, which were broken here and there by sudden declivities and rocky ramparts that fringed the shore. A mile or so ahead, on a bold promontory, stood an old farmhouse, or hacienda, which appeared to be deserted and more or less falling into decay, a house built there, no doubt, in the old days by some sanguine settler, before the advent of old man Brogden, with his new methods and keen business habits. The two men lay there on the grass, smoking their pipes after a hearty tea in the early afternoon, and idly debated as to whether it would be better to push on and make the picturesque ruins their headquarters for the night, or stay and camp where they were. They were still talking it over idly, when Brogden sat up suddenly.

"Here, what's going on over there?" he asked. "I can see figures moving about like bees outside a hive, and—well, if that place isn't on fire, I'm much mistaken."

Surely enough a thin wisp of smoke rose from the hacienda and drifted idly on the amber air. It increased in volume presently, until a dense black pall hung overhead, and yellow tongues of flame lifted themselves above the broken timbers of the house. Round about the blaze a score or more of figures danced excitedly, buzzing around like wasps that had been smoked out of their nest. Brogden grabbed eagerly for his glasses.

"They're Indians," he said, after a long inspection. "Here, Larry, look for yourself. They're Indians on the war-path, and they've set the place on fire. Here is your adventure, my boy—something wrong over there."

"Yes, they're Dagoes, right enough," Hack drawled, "And, by all that's holy, they've got guns, too! There's something going on inside that old building that's got their dander up considerable. Now, shall we cut in and take a hand, or shall we just sit quietly here and see how the land lies? It would be a thousand pities to miss the fun."

By way of reply, Brogden snatched the glasses from his friend's hand and glued them to his eyes.

"It's no ordinary scrap," he said. "There's something going on here that I don't like the look of at all. Look, there are women there! White women, too! American girls dressed in white, and ladies, I should say!"

Amazing as it seemed, it was even as Brogden said. With the aid of the powerful glasses he could see everything that was going on. He saw the natives rushing the building they had set on fire, he saw one of the shuttered windows open, and two girls standing on the verandah, clinging to one another and evidently terrified to the verge of distraction. Then he saw half a dozen men rush frantically towards the blazing mass and snatch up the girls in their arms.

A moment or two later a man appeared, a man dressed as a tourist, in a neat grey flannel suit, a man who had a cigarette in his mouth and in either hand a revolver, which he emptied indiscriminately into the crowd opposite. In Larry's language, he was no slouch of a shot, for half a dozen of the foe suddenly collapsed and lay there on the grass, taking no further interest in the proceedings. Almost immediately there was another rush, and the man in the grey suit was overpowered in his turn and rendered harmless. Then the whole party slowly began to move towards the cliffs where the rocks shelved down to the shore.

"Well, that chap ain't no slouch as a revolver shot," Larry said, speaking in the tones of an expert. "But say, boss, are we goin' to stop frozen here, or are we goin' to hustle round and strike a blow for civilisation?"

"Of course," Brogden said, "it's no use butting headlong into a fray like this. There are only two of us, and we are none too well off for ammunition. If we do anything rash, we shall share the same fate as the rest. No, we must stalk them, and try to take them unawares."

The horses were picketed in a little grove, the provisions hidden, and then, very slowly and cautiously, Brogden and his companion crept through the long grass in the direction of the spot where the Indians had gathered together in a circle, in the centre of which were their captives, bound and helpless. The whole thing was amazing—a sort of spectacular dream, and the last thing in the world to be expected in that peaceful spot.

"Seems almost like a nightmare," Brogden murmured. "Now, who, in the name of Mike, can those people be, and what are they doing here? The man in the grey suit might have just stepped out of his club, and those two women are most beautifully turned out—white muslin dresses, suggestive of Paris, and all the rest of it. I have never seen anything like it outside the theatre before."

"Well, we'll soon know," Larry said cheerfully. "Wbat we've got to do is to get as close as we can and lie low till it gets dark. I don't suppose they'll trouble to post any sentries. Guess they look upon themselves as absolutely safe, which is where we come in later on, when they lie down with clear consciences for a good night's rest. And we, with a couple of revolvers apiece, ought to be able to round up the bag and balance the accounts of those chaps nicely."

"Yes, that's a very good programme," Brogden said impatiently, "especially if they play the game according to the rules. What are they up to now?"

As he spoke, one of the girls in white was jerked to her feet and led away, shrinking and protesting, in the direction of the low cliffs, which hung sheer for twenty feet or so over the edge of the sea. Through the glasses it was plain to see the fear on her face and the look of dumb anguish in her eyes. But her struggles and protestations were— apparently all in vain, for she was urged on, not without violence, towards the edge of the sloping cliff where it came within some twenty feet or so of the sea beneath. And all this was being watched with the keenest interest by the two men, anxious and willing enough to take a hand, but quite conscious of the fact that any interference on their part might lead to unpleasant consequences to themselves without benefiting the hapless victim in the least. They could only sit there and sweat, and swear, and grind their teeth, hoping against hope that something might happen to give them a real chance.

And then gradually they began to understand what was the real intention of those dancing, yelling fiends on the edge of the cliff. They could see that the leader of them—a big man who appeared to belong to another nationality altogether—had passed a rope or a lariat under the woman's arms, and that she was being lowered over the edge of the cliff until she was suspended six or seven feet above the sea. Then the end of the rope was made fast on the top of the cliff, and the woman, helpless and impotent, was left to her fate.

Hack drew a long, deep breath.

"Do you begin to spot what the game is, boss?" he whispered. "Those devils are going to leave that woman there to drown. As the tide rises, so will her fate be sealed. And all we can do is to sit here looking on like a pair of dudes in the stalls of a New York theatre! I have seen some pretty cold-blooded things in my time, but never a stunt like this. Guess that woman's got some secret they want her to tell, and they'll leave her there to drown or call out before it is too late. Here, say, I can't stand this!"

"What are you going to do?" Brogden asked.

"Well, I guess I'm going to crawl back as far as the camp and get hold of a Winchester. You just freeze yourself here till I come back. I ain't no slouch as a shot, as you know, and from here I calculate I can lob a bullet into that big bully in the sombrero, and fix a receipt stamp to his little account. And there ain't no hurry, either. It brings the blood into your face, but I calculate that poor girl's got to wait a spell. And maybe we can save her yet."

Larry Hack was back in a few moments with a rifle in his hand. He gazed long and earnestly in the direction of the speck of white suspended there between heaven and earth over the side of the cliff. Then his lips began to twitch and his eyes to sparkle.

"Say, boss," he said, "you ain't no slouch as a swimmer."

Brogden admitted the compliment, which in his case was no compliment at all, because he really was an expert in the water.

"Yes, that's all right," he said, "but I don't quite see how it helps matters."

"Well, it's like this, general," Hack went on. "You drop into the water and swim out as far as the girl. You can't reach her from the sea, I know, but that's where I come in. Now, from where those chaps are they can't see what's going on, and, as far as I can guess, they seem to be getting pretty busy with the Bourbon. And they won't move till the girl cries out, which I don't suppose'll be till the water reaches her knees, anyhow. Long before that time you ought to be right handy there on the spot, and when the persecuted heroine drops into your arms, you can swim with her round the point. There's a bit of a sandy beach on the far side which you can just see, and you can land her there. You can do that, can't you?"

"Well, that ought to be easy enough," Brogden said. "I can get her ashore without a doubt. But how am I going to lay hands on her?"

"I'll tell you all that," Hack said. "I can creep within a couple of hundred yards or so along yonder ledge of rocks, and I'm going to shoot her free."

"Shoot her free?"

"Guess that's the programme, commander. I can hit that rope at two hundred yard? and cut it in a couple of shots, or I've forgotten how to shoot. Why, I've split a willow wand at three hundred yards before now, and won money over it. Oh, that's all right. Then you get along with the booty, and I'll skirt the camp and join you on the other side with the Winchester and our revolvers. We'll put up some sort of a fight, and maybe, with any luck, get away safely."

It was a desperate chance, but then the situation was desperate, and Brogden was not disposed to hesitate. He had no doubts whatever about his prowess as a swimmer, and he felt convinced that, if Larry's aim was sure, he conld manage to convey the unfortunate girl to safety without very much trouble. If she had ordinary pluck, she might listen to what he had to say, when he got near enough to her to explain, and once he had her safely in his arms he did not doubt the issue. Moreover, from where they were seated, the Indians could not see what was going on, and, so long as they remained where they were, the plan might go forward without hindrance. And once the girl was landed on the beach, and Hack joined his companion, they might have a real fair chance of getting away altogether.

The moment of danger would come, of course, directly Hack fired his first shot. That would certainly alarm the ruffians and bring them to their feet at once. But then, if Hack were cautious, he would be able to hide himself, and the search for him might, in fortunate circumstances, give Brogden the precious moments that he required.

All this having been settled, Brogden divested himself of most of his clothing and plunged boldly into the sea. A quarter of an hour's steady swimming brought him to the point of the cliffs over which the fair victim in white was suspended. He could see that her hands and feet were bound, and that she was supported by leather thongs under her arms. Apparently her captors were not entirely devoid of human feeling, for Brogden could see that the rope was padded. He could also see that the girl was exceedingly fair to look at, with regular features, which features, however, to his surprise, bore the evident marks of paint and powder. Evidently a heroine, no doubt, who was not familiar with the rough life of the South Pacific, and probably, with her unfortunate sister and the man in the flannel suit, had landed on that lone coast from some ship or yacht, which in all probability was not far off.

Those bonds were all in Brogden's favour. They would prevent the helpless heroine from dragging on him, so that, when the time came, she would be compelled to do exactly as he told her. He trod water easily and began to speak.

Hardly were the first words out of his mouth before there came the sound of a shot, followed by a second one, and then, as if by a conjuring trick, the rope broke, and the girl in white fell almost into Brogden's arms. He heard the wild scream that came from her lips as she disappeared under the surface, then, as she came up again, he caught her by the shoulders and turned her gently on her side.

"Don't be frightened," he said. "You are perfectly safe. You can manage to get the tips of your fingers on my shoulders, can't you? But, whatever you do, keep your nerve, and I'll have you out before you know what's happening."

"Is that so?" the girl said, and in a voice so astonishingly cool that Brogden was fairly startled for a moment. "I haven't the remotest idea who you are, but you are rather a comfort. Oh, I'm not going to lose my nerve. This sort of adventure is quite in my line."

Brogden went on marvelling, but said nothing. He wanted all his breath now, despite the fact that his task was an easy one, and that the girl was doing everything he could desire. He swam on steadily round the point, and was drawing into shallow water, when he heard a shout from the cliff, and, looking up, saw Hack gesticulating wildly there, utterly indifferent, apparently, to the fact that he was in full view of the foe.

"Get back, you fool!" Brogden panted.

"Too late," Hack said—"they've spotted me. They spotted me some time ago. And they've got a Maxim gun yonder! Heaven knows where they got it from, but it's there!"

Surely enough, what might have been a Maxim gun was trailing over the edge of the cliff, and what appeared to be another one suddenly showed its nose on the headland behind the gesticulating figure on the cliff. Already on the shelving bit of beach where Brogden intended to land was a band of Indians eagerly awaiting his coming.

They lifted him out of the water and, without further ceremony, rendered him helpless with ropes and rawhides. Then a moment or two later Hack, downcast and disconsolate, and much in the same sorry case, joined his commander.

They were dragged away up the cliffs to the impromptu camp, where the desperadoes were apparently doing themselves remarkably well out of a number of picnic baskets flanked by a small regiment of tempting-looking bottles, over which the big man in the sombrero effectively presided. He was apparently the leader of the gang—no doubt one of those South Sea desperadoes of European origin made familiar to civilisation through the medium of Louis Becke and other picturesque writers who have chosen the Pacific Ocean for the scenes of their stories.

For the moment, at any rate, the persecuted heroine had vanished, so had the other girl, and the man in the flannel suit was not to be seen.

"I think that'll about do," the man in the sombrero said, and immediately the two Maxim guns on either side of the camp vanished. "I think that'll do. Here, Joe, cut away those bonds and offer these gentlemen the hospitality of the circus."

"You want us to drink with you?" Brogden said. "Do you mean to say that you have the infernal cheek—"

"Oh, cut it out!" the chief pirate said genially. "You don't understand, of course. One of our chaps spotted you some time ago, but I didn't come round and exchange cards because, you see, we were busy. And when I saw what you were up to, then I let you go on, because it seemed to me that you'd embroidered some on our original scenario, and I guess we're always open to hints from intelligent strangers. Say, young man, you're a bit of a dandy with a gun, aren't you? When we saw what you were going to do, I didn't interfere, because I'm some of a sportsman myself, and I was ready to bet long odds you couldn't cut that rope at two hundred yards with rifle bullet. Well, yoa did, and I've got a record of it on the film— the thing that you took to be a Maxim gun. Guess you mistook a cinematograph apparatus for a weapon, eh? Well, it was a dandy shot, and it's going to improve our film some. You can see what our game was, but yours was a darned sight better, and if the Broad Highway Film Company have got any sense of gratitude—why, I guess they'll call you part-author of this big new film of ours, and see that you get a handsome royalty."

Brogden sat there with a cold, white light steadily filtering its way to the back of his intelligence.

"So that's the game, is it?" he asked. "Well, you fairly put it over my friend, Mr. Larry Hack, and myself. Yes, I see it's quite all right—I see, on closer acquaintance, that your wild Indians are all duds. But what on earth are you doing here? Why did you come all this way?"

"Local colour, my dear sir, local colour," the big man said. "The finest and most realistic firm in the world is the Broad Highway Film Company. And we're working on a big drama now that's going to make little old New York sit up and take nourishment. There's ten million dollars behind our firm, and the universe has got to know it. And round yonder point is a regular cinematograph ship that's taken us half round the world. I guess it'll be the finest panoramic effect ever seen on the screen, and it'll take two years to complete. Now, say, mister, did you ever hear of an actress called Crystal Rays, and another called Maizie Corn? Well, the first-named star is the lady you pulled out of the water, and the other one you haven't seen yet, and the dude in the flannel suit is our leading man. Some cast, eh?"

"You're right there," Brogden laughed, "I'm from New York, and I know. You might introduce me."

"Certainly, with pleasure, and the artist with the Winchester, the genius who's given us a new sensation in the shape of a thrilling picture. Look here, my champion shot, if you want an engagement at five hundred dollars a week with the Broad Highway Company—why, it's yours!"


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