Merton of the Movies
Harry Leon Wilson
Part 2 out of 7
looking expectantly at the approaching Merton Gill. The three happy
children who came up with him left no one in doubt of the late
Merton was still the artist. He saw himself approach Dexter, vault
into the saddle, put spurs to the beast, and swiftly disappear down
the street. People would be saying that he should not be let to ride
so fast through a city street. He was worse than Gus Giddings. But
he saw this only with his artist's eye. In sordid fact he went up to
Dexter, seized the trailing bridle reins and jerked savagely upon
them. Back over the trail he led his good old pal. And for other
later churchgoers there were the shrill voices of friendly children
to tell what had happened--to appeal confidently to Merton, vaguely
ahead in the twilight, to confirm their interesting story.
Dexter, the anarchist, was put to bed without his goodnight kiss.
Good old Pinto had done his pal dirt. Never again would he be given
a part in Buck Benson's company. Across the alley came the voices of
tired, happy children, in the appeal for an encore. "Mer-tun, please
let him do it to you again." "Mer-tun, please let him do it to you
And to the back porch came Mrs. Gashwiler to say it was a good thing
he'd got that clothesline back, and came her husband wishing to be
told what outlandish notion Merton Gill would next get into the
thing he called his head. It was the beginning of the end.
Followed a week of strained relations with the Gashwiler household,
including Dexter, and another week of relations hardly more cordial.
But thirty dollars was added to the hoard which was now counted
almost nightly. And the cruder wits of the village had made rather a
joke of Merton's adventure. Some were tasteless enough to rally him
coarsely upon the crowded street or at the post office while he
awaited his magazines.
And now there were two hundred and seventy-five dollars to put him
forever beyond their jibes. He carefully rehearsed a scathing speech
for Gashwiler. He would tell him what he thought of him. That
merchant would learn from it some things that would do him good if
he believed them, but probably he wouldn't believe them. He would
also see that he had done his faithful employee grave injustices.
And he would be left, in some humiliation, having found, as Merton
Gill took himself forever out of retail trade, that two could play
on words as well as one. It was a good warm speech, and its author
knew every word of it from mumbled rehearsal during the two weeks,
at times when Gashwiler merely thought he was being queer again.
At last came the day when he decided to recite it in full to the man
for whom it had been composed. He confronted him, accordingly, at a
dull moment on the third Monday morning, burning with his message.
He looked Gashwiler firmly in the eye and said in halting tones,
"Mr. Gashwiler, now, I've been thinking I'd like to go West for a
while--to California, if you could arrange to let me off, please."
And Mr. Gashwiler had replied, "Well, now, that is a surprise. When
was you wishing to go, Merton?"
"Why, I would be much obliged if you'd let me get off to-night on
No. 4, Mr. Gashwiler, and I know you can get Spencer Grant to take
my place, because I asked him yester-day."
"Very well, Merton. Send Spencer Grant in to see me, and you can get
off to-night. I hope you'll have a good time."
"Of course, I don't know how long I'll be gone. I may locate out
there. But then again--"
"That's all right, Merton. Any time you come back you can have your
same old job. You've been a good man, and they ain't so plenty these
"Thank you, Mr. Gashwiler."
No. 4 was made to stop at Simsbury for a young man who was presently
commanding a meal in the palatial diner, and who had, before this
meal was eaten, looked out with compassion upon two Simsbury-like
hamlets that the train rushed by, a blur of small-towners standing
on their depot platforms to envy the inmates of that splendid
At last it was Western Stuff and no fooling.
THE WATCHER AT THE GATE
The street leading to the Holden motion-picture studio, considered
by itself, lacks beauty. Flanking it for most of the way from the
boulevard to the studio gate are vacant lots labelled with their
prices and appeals to the passer to buy them. Still their prices are
high enough to mark the thoroughfare as one out of the common, and
it is further distinguished by two rows of lofty eucalyptus trees.
These have a real feathery beauty, and are perhaps a factor in the
seemingly exorbitant prices demanded for the choice bungalow and
home sites they shade. Save for a casual pioneer bungalow or two,
there are no buildings to attract the notice until one reaches a
high fence that marks the beginning of the Holden lot. Back of this
fence is secreted a microcosmos, a world in little, where one may
encounter strange races of people in their native dress and behold,
by walking a block, cities actually apart by league upon league of
the earth's surface and separated by centuries of time.
To penetrate this city of many cities, and this actual present of
the remote past, one must be of a certain inner elect. Hardly may
one enter by assuming the disguise of a native, as daring explorers
have sometimes overcome the difficulty of entering other strange
cities. Its gate, reached after passing along an impressive expanse
of the reticent fence, is watched by a guardian. He is a stoatish
man of middle age, not neatly dressed, and of forbidding aspect. His
face is ruthless, with a very knowing cynicism. He is there, it
would seem, chiefly to keep people out of the delightful city,
though from time to time he will bow an assent or wave it with the
hand clutching his evening newspaper to one of the favoured lawful
inmates, who will then carelessly saunter or drive an expensive
motor car through the difficult portal.
Standing across the street, one may peer through this portal into an
avenue of the forbidden city. There is an exciting glimpse of
greensward, flowering shrubbery, roses, vines, and a vista of the
ends of enormous structures painted yellow. And this avenue is
sprightly with the passing of enviable persons who are rightly
there, some in alien garb, some in the duller uniform of the humble
artisan, some in the pressed and garnished trappings of rich
It is really best to stand across the street for this clandestine
view of heart-shaking delights. If you stand close to the gate to
peer past the bulky shape of the warder he is likely to turn and
give you a cold look. Further, he is averse to light conversation,
being always morosely absorbed--yet with an eye ever alert for
intrusive outlanders--in his evening paper. He never reads a morning
paper, but has some means of obtaining at an early hour each morning
a pink or green evening paper that shrieks with crimson headlines.
Such has been his reading through all time, and this may have been
an element in shaping his now inveterate hostility toward those who
would engage him in meaningless talk. Even in accepting the gift of
an excellent cigar he betrays only a bored condescension. There is
no relenting of countenance, no genial relaxing of an ingrained
suspicion toward all who approach him, no cordiality, in short, such
as would lead you to believe that he might be glad to look over a
bunch of stills taken by the most artistic photographer in all
Simsbury, Illinois. So you let him severely alone after a bit, and
go to stand across the street, your neatly wrapped art studies under
your arm, and leaning against the trunk of a eucalyptus tree, you
stare brazenly past him into the city of wonders.
It is thus we first observe that rising young screen actor, Clifford
Armytage, beginning the tenth day of his determined effort to become
much more closely identified with screen activities than hitherto.
Ten days of waiting outside the guarded gate had been his, but no
other ten days of his life had seemed so eventful or passed so
swiftly. For at last he stood before his goal, had actually fastened
his eyes upon so much of it as might be seen through its gate. Never
had he achieved so much downright actuality.
Back in Simsbury on a Sunday morning he had often strolled over to
the depot at early train time for a sight of the two metal
containers housing the films shown at the Bijou Palace the day
before. They would be on the platform, pasted over with express
labels. He would stand by them, even touch them, examine the
padlocks, turn them over, heft them; actually hold within his grasp
the film wraith of Beulah Baxter in a terrific installment of The
Hazards of Hortense. Those metal containers imprisoned so much of
beauty, of daring, of young love striving against adverse currents--
held the triumphant fruiting of Miss Baxter's toil and struggle and
sacrifice to give the public something better and finer. Often he
had caressed the crude metal with a reverent hand, as if his wonder
woman herself stood there to receive his homage.
That was actuality, in a way. But here it was in full measure,
without mental subterfuge or vain imaginings. Had he not beheld from
this post--he was pretty sure he had--Miss Baxter herself, swathed
in costly furs, drive a robin's-egg-blue roadster through the gate
without even a nod to the warder? Indeed, that one glimpse of
reality had been worth his ten days of waiting--worth all his
watching of the gate and its keeper until he knew every dent in the
keeper's derby hat, every bristle in his unkempt mustache, every
wrinkle of his inferior raiment, and every pocket from which
throughout the day he would vainly draw matches to relight an
apparently fireproof cigar. Surely waiting thus rewarded could not
be called barren. When he grew tired of standing he could cross the
street and rest on a low bench that encircled one of the eucalyptus
trees. Here were other waiters without the pale, usually men of
strongly marked features, with a tendency to extremes in stature or
hair or beards or noses, and not conspicuously neat in attire.
These, he discovered, were extras awaiting employment, many of them
Mexicans or strange-appearing mongrels, with a sprinkling of
Negroes. Often he could have recruited there a band of outlaws for
desperate deeds over the border. He did not fraternize with these
waifs, feeling that his was another plane.
He had spent three days thus about the studio gate when he learned
of the existence of another entrance. This was a door almost
opposite the bench. He ventured through it and discovered a bare
room with a wooden seat running about its sides. In a partition
opposite the entrance was a small window and over it the words
"Casting Director." One of the two other doors led to the interior,
and through this he observed pass many of the chosen. Another door
led to the office of the casting director, glimpses of which could
be obtained through the little window.
The waiting room itself was not only bare as to floor and walls, but
was bleak and inhospitable in its general effect. The wooden seat
was uncomfortable, and those who sat upon it along the dull-toned
walls appeared depressed and unhopeful, especially after they had
braved a talk through the little window with someone who seemed
always to be saying, "No, nothing to-day. Yes, perhaps next week. I
have your address." When the aspirants were women, as they mostly
were, the someone back of the window would add "dear" to the speech:
"No, nothing to-day, dear."
There seemed never to be anything to-day, and Clifford Armytage
spent very little of his waiting time in this room. It made him
uncomfortable to be stared at by other applicants, whether they
stared casually, incuriously, or whether they seemed to appraise him
disparagingly, as if telling him frankly that for him there would
never be anything to-day.
Then he saw that he, too, must undergo that encounter at the little
window. Too apparently he was not getting anywhere by loitering
about outside. It was exciting, but the producers would hardly look
there for new talent.
He chose a moment for this encounter when the waiting room was
vacant, not caring to be stared at when he took this first step in
forming a connection that was to be notable in screen annals. He
approached the window, bent his head, and encountered the gaze of a
small, comely woman with warm brown eyes, neat reddish hair, and a
quick manner. The gaze was shrewd; it seemed to read all that was
needed to be known of this new candidate.
"Yes?" said the woman.
She looked tired and very businesslike, but her manner was not
unkind. The novice was at once reassured. He was presently
explaining to her that he wished to act in the pictures at this
particular studio. No, he had not had much experience; that is, you
could hardly call it experience in actual acting, but he had
finished a course of study and had a diploma from the General Film
Production Company of Stebbinsville, Arkansas, certifying him to be
a competent screen actor. And of course he would not at first expect
a big part. He would be glad to take a small part to begin with--
almost any small part until he could familiarize himself with studio
conditions. And here was a bunch of stills that would give any one
an idea of the range of parts he was prepared to play, society parts
in a full-dress suit, or soldier parts in a trench coat and
lieutenant's cap, or juveniles in the natty suit with the belted
coat, and in the storm-king model belted overcoat. And of course
Western stuff--these would give an idea of what he could do--cowboy
outfit and all that sort of thing, chaps and spurs and guns and so
forth. And he was prepared to work hard and struggle and sacrifice
in order to give the public something better and finer, and would it
be possible to secure some small part at once? Was a good all-round
actor by any chance at that moment needed in the company of Miss
Beulah Baxter, because he would especially like such a part, and he
would be ready to start to work at any time--to-morrow, or even to-
The tired little woman beyond the opening listened patiently to
this, interrupting several times to say over an insistent telephone,
"No, nothing to-day, dear." She looked at the stills with evident
interest and curiously studied the face of the speaker as she
listened. She smiled wearily when he was through and spoke briskly.
"Now, I'll tell you, son; all that is very nice, but you haven't had
a lick of real experience yet, have you?--and things are pretty
quiet on the lot just now. To-day there are only two companies
shooting. So you couldn't get anything to-day or to-morrow or
probably for a good many days after that, and it won't be much when
you get it. You may get on as an extra after a while when some of
the other companies start shooting, but I can't promise anything,
you understand. What you do now--leave me your name and address and
"Yes, ma'am," said the applicant, and supplied these data.
"Clifford Armytage!" exclaimed the woman. "I'll say that's some warm
"Well, you see"--he paused, but resolved to confide freely in this
friendly seeming person--"you see, I picked that out for a good name
to act under. It sounds good, doesn't it? And my own right name is
only Merton Gill, so I thought I'd better have something that
sounded a little more--well, you know."
"Sure!" said the woman. "All right, have any name you want; but I
think I'll call you Merton when you come again. You needn't act with
me, you know. Now, let's see--name, age, height, good general
wardrobe, house address, telephone number--oh, yes, tell me where I
can find you during the day."
"Right out here," he replied firmly. "I'm going to stick to this
studio and not go near any of the others. If I'm not in this room
I'll be just outside there, on that bench around the tree, or just
across the street where you can see through the gate and watch the
people go through."
"Say!" Again the woman searched his face and broke into her friendly
smile. "Say, you're a real nut, aren't you? How'd you ever get this
And again he was talking, telling now of his past and his struggles
to educate himself as a screen actor--one of the best. He spoke of
Simsbury and Gashwiler and of Lowell Hardy who took his stills, and
of Tessie Kearns, whose sympathy and advice had done so much to
encourage him. The woman was joyously attentive. Now she did more
than smile. She laughed at intervals throughout the narrative,
though her laughter seemed entirely sympathetic and in no way
daunted the speaker.
"Well, Merton, you're a funny one--I'll say that. You're so kind of
ignorant and appealing. And you say this Bughalter or Gigwater or
whatever his name is will take you back into the store any time?
Well, that's a good thing to remember, because the picture game is a
hard game. I wouldn't discourage a nice clean boy like you for the
world, but there are a lot of people in pictures right now that
would prefer a steady job like that one you left."
"It's Gashwiler--that name."
"Oh, all right, just so you don't forget it and forget the address."
The new applicant warmly reassured her.
"I wouldn't be likely to forget that, after living there all those
When he left the window the woman was again saying into the
telephone, "No, dear, nothing to-day. I'm sorry."
It was that night he wrote to Tessie Kearns:
Dear Friend Tessie:
Well, Tessie, here I am safe and sound in Hollywood after a long
ride on the cars that went through many strange and interesting
cities and different parts of the country, and I guess by this time
you must have thought I was forgetting my old friends back in
Simsbury; but not so, I can assure you, for I will never forget our
long talks together and how you cheered me up often when the
sacrifice and struggle seemed more than any man could bear. But now
I feel repaid for all that sacrifice and struggle, for I am here
where the pictures are made, and soon I will be acting different
parts in them, though things are quiet on the lot now with only two
companies shooting to-day; but more companies will be shooting in a
few days more and then will come the great opportunity for me as
soon as I get known, and my different capabilities, and what I can
do and everything.
I had a long talk to-day with the lady out in front that hires the
actors, and she was very friendly, but said it might be quite some
time, because only two companies on the lot were shooting to-day,
and she said if Gashwiler had promised to keep my old job for me to
be sure and not forget his address, and it was laughable that she
should say such a thing, because I would not be liable to forget his
address when I lived there so long. She must have thought I was very
forgetful, to forget that address.
There is some great scenery around this place, including many of the
Rocky Mtns. etc. that make it look beautiful, and the city of Los
Angeles is bigger than Peoria. I am quite some distance out of the
centre of town, and I have a nice furnished room about a mile from
the Holden studios, where I will be hired after a few more companies
get to shooting on the lot. There is an electric iron in the kitchen
where one can press their clothes. And my furnished room is in the
house of a Los Angeles society woman and her husband who came here
from Iowa. Their little house with flowers in front of it is called
a bungalow. The husband, Mr. Patterson, had a farm in Iowa, six
miles out from Cedar Falls, and he cares little for society; but the
wife goes into society all the time, as there is hardly a day just
now that some society does not have its picnic, and one day it will
be the Kansas Society picnic and the next day it will be the
Michigan Society having a picnic, or some other state, and of course
the Iowa Society that has the biggest picnic of all, and Mr.
Patterson says his wife can go to all these society functions if she
wants, but he does not care much for society, and he is thinking of
buying a half interest in a good soft-drink place just to pass the
time away, as he says after the busy life he has led he needs
something to keep him busy, but his wife thinks only of society.
I take my meals out at different places, especially at drug stores.
I guess you would be surprised to see these drug stores where you
can go in and sit at the soda counter and order your coffee and
sandwiches and custard pie and eat them right there in the drug
store, but there are other places, too, like cafeterias, where you
put your dishes on a tray and carry it to your own table. It is all
quite different from Simsbury, and I have seen oranges growing on
the trees, and there are palm trees, and it does not snow here; but
the grass is green and the flowers bloom right through the winter,
which makes it very attractive with the Rocky Mtns. standing up in
the distance, etc.
Well, Tessie, you must excuse this long letter from your old friend,
and write me if any company has accepted Passion's Perils and I
might have a chance to act in that some day, and I will let you know
when my first picture is released and the title of it so you can
watch out for it when it comes to the Bijou Palace. I often think of
the old town, and would like to have a chat with you and my other
old friends, but I am not homesick, only sometimes I would like to
be back there, as there are not many people to chat with here and
one would almost be lonesome sometimes if they could not be at the
studio. But I must remember that work and struggle and sacrifice are
necessary to give the public something better and finer and become a
good screen actor. So no more at present, from your old friend, and
address Clifford Armytage at above number, as I am going by my stage
name, though the lady at the Holden lot said she liked my old name
better and called me that, and it sounded pretty good, as I have not
got used to the stage name yet.
He felt better after this chat with his old friend, and the
following morning he pressed a suit in the Patterson kitchen and
resumed his vigil outside the gate. But now from time to time, at
least twice a day, he could break the monotony of this by a call at
the little window.
Sometimes the woman beyond it would be engrossed with the telephone
and would merely look at him to shake her head. At others, the
telephone being still, she would engage him in friendly talk. She
seemed to like him as an occasional caller, but she remained
smilingly skeptical about his immediate success in the pictures.
Again and again she urged him not to forget the address of
Giggenholder or Gooshswamp or whoever it might be that was holding a
good job for him. He never failed to remind her that the name was
Gashwiler, and that he could not possibly forget the address because
he had lived at Simsbury a long time. This always seemed to brighten
the woman's day. It puzzled him to note that for some reason his
earnest assurance pleased her.
As the days of waiting passed he began to distinguish individuals
among the people who went through the little outer room or sat
patiently around its walls on the hard bench, waiting like himself
for more companies to start shooting. Among the important-looking
men that passed through would be actors that were now reaping the
reward of their struggle and sacrifice; actors whom he thrilled to
recognize as old screen friends. These would saunter in with an air
of fine leisure, and their manner of careless but elegant dress
would be keenly noted by Merton. Then there were directors. These
were often less scrupulously attired and seemed always to be solving
knotty problems. They passed hurriedly on, brows drawn in
perplexity. They were very busy persons. Those on the bench regarded
them with deep respect and stiffened to attention as they passed,
but they were never observed by these great ones.
The waiting ones were of all ages; mostly women, with but a
sprinkling of men. Many of the women were young or youngish, and of
rare beauty, so Merton Gill thought. Others were elderly or old, and
a few would be accompanied by children, often so young that they
must be held on laps. They, too, waited with round eyes and in
perfect decorum for a chance to act. Sometimes the little window
would be pushed open and a woman beckoned from the bench. Some of
them greeted the casting director as an old friend and were still
gay when told that there was nothing to-day. Others seemed to dread
being told this, and would wait on without daring an inquiry.
Sometimes there would be a little flurry of actual business. Four
society women would be needed for a bridge table at 8:30 the next
morning on Stage Number Five. The casting director seemed to know
the wardrobe of each of the waiters, and would select the four
quickly. The gowns must be smart--it was at the country house of a
rich New Yorker--and jewels and furs were not to be forgotten. There
might be two days' work. The four fortunate ladies would depart with
cheerful smiles. The remaining waiters settled on the bench, hoping
against hope for another call.
Among the waiting-room hopefuls Merton had come to know by sight the
Montague family. This consisted of a handsome elderly gentleman of
most impressive manner, his wife, a portly woman of middle age, also
possessing an impressive manner, and a daughter. Mr. Montague always
removed his hat in the waiting room, uncovering an abundant cluster
of iron-gray curls above a noble brow. About him there seemed ever
to linger a faint spicy aroma of strong drink, and he would talk
freely to those sharing the bench with him. His voice was full and
rich in tone, and his speech, deliberate and precise, more than
hinted that he had once been an ornament of the speaking stage. His
wife, also, was friendly of manner, and spoke in a deep contralto
somewhat roughened by wear but still notable.
The daughter Merton did not like. She was not unattractive in
appearance, though her features were far off the screen-heroine
model, her nose being too short, her mouth too large, her cheekbones
too prominent, and her chin too square. Indeed, she resembled too
closely her father, who, as a man, could carry such things more
becomingly. She was a slangy chit, much too free and easy in her
ways, Merton considered, and revealing a self-confidence that
amounted almost to impudence. Further, her cheeks were brown, her
brief nose freckled, and she did not take the pains with her face
that most of the beautiful young women who waited there had so
obviously taken. She was a harum-scarum baggage with no proper
respect for any one, he decided, especially after the day she had so
rudely accosted one of the passing directors. He was a more than
usually absorbed director, and with drawn brows would have gone
unseeing through the waiting room when the girl hailed him.
"Oh, Mr. Henshaw, one moment please!"
He glanced up in some annoyance, pausing with his hand to the door
that led on to his proper realm.
"Oh, it's you, Miss Montague! Well, what is it? I'm very, very
"Well, it's something I wanted to ask you." She quickly crossed the
room to stand by him, tenderly flecking a bit of dust from his coat
sleeve as she began, "Say, listen, Mr. Henshaw: Do you think beauty
is a curse to a poor girl?"
Mr. Henshaw scowled down into the eyes so confidingly lifted to his.
"That's something you won't ever have to worry about," he snapped,
and was gone, his brows again drawn in perplexity over his work.
"You're not angry with poor little me, are you, Mr. Henshaw?"
The girl called this after him and listened, but no reply came from
back of the partition.
Mrs. Montague, from the bench, rebuked her daughter.
"Say, what do you think that kidding stuff will get you? Don't you
want to work for him any more?"
The girl turned pleading eyes upon her mother.
"I think he might have answered a simple question," said she.
This was all distasteful to Merton Gill. The girl might, indeed,
have deserved an answer to her simple question, but why need she ask
it of so busy a man? He felt that Mr. Henshaw's rebuke was well
merited, for her own beauty was surely not excessive.
Her father, from the bench, likewise admonished her.
"You are sadly prone to a spirit of banter," he declared, "though I
admit that the so-called art of the motion picture is not to be
regarded too seriously. It was not like that in my day. Then an
actor had to be an artist; there was no position for the little he-
doll whippersnapper who draws the big money to-day and is ignorant
of even the rudiments of the actor's profession."
He allowed his glance to rest perceptibly upon Merton Gill, who felt
"We were with Looey James five years," confided Mrs. Montague to her
neighbours. "A hall show, of course--hadn't heard of movies then--
doing Virginius and Julius Csesar and such classics, and then
starting out with The Two Orphans for a short season. We were a
knock-out, I'll say that. I'll never forget the night we opened the
new opera house at Akron. They had to put the orchestra under the
"And the so-called art of the moving picture robs us of our little
meed of applause," broke in her husband. "I shall never forget a
remark of the late Lawrence Barrett to me after a performance of
Richelieu in which he had fairly outdone himself. 'Montague, my
lad,' said he 'we may work for the money, but we play for the
applause.' But now our finest bits must go in silence, or perhaps be
interrupted by a so-called director who arrogates to himself the
right to instill into us the rudiments of a profession in which we
had grounded ourselves ere yet he was out of leading strings. Too
often, naturally, the results are discouraging."
The unabashed girl was meantime having sprightly talk with the
casting director, whom she had hailed through the window as
Countess. Merton, somewhat startled, wondered if the little woman
could indeed be of the nobility.
"Hello, Countess! Say, listen, can you give the camera a little peek
at me to-day, or at pa or ma? 'No, nothing to-day, dear.'" She had
imitated the little woman's voice in her accustomed reply. "Well, I
didn't think there would be. I just thought I'd ask. You ain't mad,
are you? I could have gone on in a harem tank scene over at the
Bigart place, but they wanted me to dress the same as a fish, and a
young girl's got to draw the line somewhere. Besides, I don't like
that Hugo over there so much. He hates to part with anything like
money, and he'll gyp you if he can. Say, I'll bet he couldn't play
an honest game of solitaire. How'd you like my hair this way? Like
it, eh? That's good. And me having the only freckles left in all
Hollywood. Ain't I the little prairie flower, growing wilder every
"Say, on the level, pa needs work. These days when he's idle he
mostly sticks home and tries out new ways to make prime old Kentucky
sour mash in eight hours. If he don't quit he is going to find
himself seeing some moving pictures that no one else can. And he's
all worried up about his hair going off on top, and trying new hair
restorers. You know his latest? Well, he goes over to the Selig
place one day and watches horse meat fed to the lions and says to
himself that horses have plenty of hair, and it must be the fat
under the skin that makes it grow, so he begs for a hunk of horse
from just under the mane and he's rubbing that on. You can't tell
what he'll bring home next. The old boy still believes you can raise
hair from the dead. Do you want some new stills of me? I got a new
one yesterday that shows my other expression. Well, so long,
The creature turned to her parents.
"Let's be on our way, old dears. This place is dead, but the
Countess says they'll soon be shooting some tenement-house stuff up
at the Consolidated. Maybe there'll be something in it for someone.
We might as well have a look-in."
Merton felt relieved when the Montague family went out, the girl in
the lead. He approved of the fine old father, but the daughter
lacked dignity in speech and manner. You couldn't tell what she
might say next.
The Montagues were often there, sometimes in full, sometimes
represented by but one of their number. Once Mrs. Montague was told
to be on Stage Six the next morning at 8:30 to attend a swell
"Wear the gray georgette, dearie," said the casting director, "and
your big pearls and the lorgnon."
"Not forgetting the gold cigarette case and the chinchilla neck
piece," said Mrs. Montague. "The spare parts will all be there,
Countess, and thanks for the word."
The elder Montague on the occasion of his calls often found time to
regale those present with anecdotes of Lawrence Barrett.
"A fine artist in his day, sir; none finer ever appeared in a hall
And always about his once superb frock coat clung the scent of
forbidden beverages. On one such day he appeared with an untidy
sprouting of beard, accompanied by the talkative daughter.
"Pa's landed a part," she explained through the little window. "It's
one of those we-uns mountaineer plays with revenooers and feuds; one
of those plays where the city chap don't treat our Nell right--you
know. And they won't stand for the crepe hair, so pop has got to
raise a brush and he's mad. But it ought to give him a month or so,
and after that he may be able to peddle the brush again; you can
never tell in this business, can you, Countess?"
"It's most annoying," the old gentleman explained to the bench
occupants. "In the true art of the speaking stage an artificial
beard was considered above reproach. Nowadays one must descend to
mere physical means if one is to be thought worthy."
A BREACH IN THE CITY WALLS
During these weeks of waiting outside the gate the little woman
beyond the window had continued to be friendly but not encouraging
to the aspirant for screen honours late of Simsbury, Illinois. For
three weeks had he waited faithfully, always within call, struggling
and sacrificing to give the public something better and finer, and
not once had he so much as crossed the line that led to his goal.
Then on a Monday morning he found the waiting-room empty and his
friend beyond the window suffering the pangs of headache. "It gets
me something fierce right through here," she confided to him,
placing her finger-tips to her temples.
"Ever use Eezo Pain Wafers?" he demanded in quick sympathy. She
looked at him hopefully.
"Never heard of 'em."
"Let me get you some."
"You dear thing, fly to it!"
He was gone while she reached for her purse, hurrying along the
eucalyptus-lined street of choice home sites to the nearest drug
store. He was fearing someone else might bring the little woman
another remedy; even that her headache might go before he returned
with his. But he found her still suffering.
"Here they are." He was breathless. "You take a couple now and a
couple more in half an hour if the ache hasn't stopped." "Bless your
heart! Come around inside." He was through the door and in the dimly
lit little office behind that secretive partition. "And here's
something else," he continued. "It's a menthol pencil and you take
this cap off--see?--and rub your forehead with it. It'll be a help."
She swallowed two of the magic wafers with the aid of water from the
cooler, and applied the menthol.
"You're a dear," she said, patting his sleeve. "I feel better
already. Sometimes these things come on me and stay all day." She
was still applying the menthol to throbbing temples. "Say, don't you
get tired hanging around outside there? How'd you like to go in and
look around the lot? Would you like that?"
Would he! "Thanks!" He managed it without choking, "If I wouldn't be
in the way."
"You won't. Go on--amuse yourself." The telephone rang. Still
applying the menthol she held the receiver to her ear. "No, nothing
to-day, dear. Say, Marie, did you ever take Eezo Pain Wafers for a
headache? Keep 'em in mind--they're great. Yes, I'll let you know if
anything breaks. Goo'-by, dear."
Merton Gill hurried through a narrow corridor past offices where
typewriters clicked and burst from gloom into the dazzling light of
the Holden lot. He paused on the steps to reassure himself that the
great adventure was genuine. There was the full stretch of
greensward of which only an edge had shown as he looked through the
gate. There were the vast yellow-brick, glass-topped structures of
which he had seen but the ends. And there was the street up which he
had looked for so many weeks, flanked by rows of offices and
dressing rooms, and lively with the passing of many people. He drew
a long breath and became calculating. He must see everything and see
it methodically. He even went now along the asphalt walk to the
corner of the office building from which he had issued for the
privilege of looking back at the gate through which he had so often
yearningly stared from across the street.
Now he was securely inside looking out. The watchman sat at the
gate, bent low over his paper. There was, it seemed, more than one
way to get by him. People might have headaches almost any time. He
wondered if his friend the casting director were subject to them. He
must carry a box of the Eezo wafers.
He strolled down the street between the rows of offices and the
immense covered stages. Actors in costume entered two of these and
through their open doors he could see into their shadowy interiors.
He would venture there later. Just now he wished to see the outside
of things. He contrived a pace not too swift but business-like
enough to convey the impression that he was rightfully walking this
forbidden street. He seemed to be going some place where it was of
the utmost importance that he should be, and yet to have started so
early that there was no need for haste.
He sounded the far end of that long street visible from outside the
gate, discovering its excitements to wane gently into mere
blacksmith and carpenter shops. He retraced his steps, this time
ignoring the long row of offices for the opposite line of stages.
From one dark interior came the slow, dulled strains of an orchestra
and from another shots rang out. He met or passed strangely attired
people, bandits, priests, choir boys, gentlemen in evening dress
with blue-black eyebrows and careful hair. And he observed many
beautiful young women, variously attired, hurrying to or from the
stages. One lovely thing was in bridal dress of dazzling white, a
veil of lace floating from her blonde head, her long train held up
by a coloured maid. She chatted amiably, as she crossed the street,
with an evil-looking Mexican in a silver-corded hat--a veritable
Snake de Vasquez.
But the stages could wait. He must see more streets. Again reaching
the office that had been his secret gateway to these delights, he
turned to the right, still with the air of having business at a
certain spot to which there was really no need for him to hurry.
There were fewer people this way, and presently, as if by magic
carpet, he had left all that sunlight and glitter and cheerful noise
and stood alone in the shadowy, narrow street of a frontier town.
There was no bustle here, only an intense stillness. The street was
deserted, the shop doors closed. There was a ghostlike, chilling
effect that left him uneasy. He called upon himself to remember that
he was not actually in a remote and desolate frontier town from
which the inhabitants had fled; that back of him but a few steps was
abounding life, that outside was the prosaic world passing and
repassing a gate hard to enter. He whistled the fragment of a tune
and went farther along this street of uncanny silence and vacancy,
noting, as he went, the signs on the shop windows. There was the
Busy Bee Restaurant, Jim's Place, the Hotel Renown, the Last Dollar
Dance Hall, Hank's Pool Room. Upon one window was painted the terse
announcement, "Joe--Buy or Sell." The Happy Days Bar adjoined the
He moved rapidly through this street. It was no place to linger. At
the lower end it gave insanely upon a row of three-story brownstone
houses which any picture patron would recognize as being wholly of
New York. There were the imposing steps, the double-doored
entrances, the broad windows, the massive lines of the whole. And
beyond this he came to a many-coloured little street out of Bagdad,
overhung with gay balconies, vivacious with spindled towers and
minarets, and small reticent windows, out of which veiled ladies
would glance. And all was still with the stillness of utter
Then he explored farther and felt curiously disappointed at finding
that these structures were to real houses what a dicky is to a
sincere, genuine shirt. They were pretentiously false.
One had but to step behind them to discover them as poor shells.
Their backs were jutting beams carried but little beyond the fronts
and their stout-appearing walls were revealed to be fragile
contrivances of button-lath and thin plaster. The ghost quality
departed from them with this discovery.
He left these cities of silence and came upon an open space and
people. They were grouped before a railway station, a small red
structure beside a line of railway track. At one end in black
letters, on a narrow white board, was the name Boomerville.
The people were plainly Western: a dozen cowboys, a sprinkling of
bluff ranchers and their families. An absorbed young man in cap and
khaki and puttees came from a distant group surrounding a camera and
readjusted the line of these people. He placed them to his liking. A
wagon drawn by two horses was driven up and a rancher helped a woman
and girl to alight. The girl was at once sought out by the cowboys.
They shook hands warmly under megaphoned directions from a man back
by the camera. The rancher and his wife mingled with the group. The
girl was drawn aside by one of the cowboys. He had a nobler presence
than the others; he was handsome and his accoutrements seemed more
expensive. They looked into each other's eyes a long time,
apparently pledging an eternal fidelity. One gathered that there
would have been an embrace but for the cowboy's watchful companions.
They must say good-by with a mere handshake, though this was a slow,
trembling, long-drawn clasp while they steadily regarded each other,
and a second camera was brought to record it at a distance of six
feet. Merton Gill thrilled with the knowledge that he was beholding
his first close-up. His long study of the photo-drama enabled him to
divine that the rancher's daughter was going to Vassar College to be
educated, but that, although returning a year later a poised woman
of the world, she would still long for the handsome cowboy who would
marry her and run the Bar-X ranch. The scene was done. The camera
would next be turned upon a real train at some real station, while
the girl, with a final look at her lover, entered a real car, which
the camera would show moving off to Vassar College. Thus conveying
to millions of delighted spectators the impression that a real train
had steamed out of the station, which was merely an imitation of
one, on the Holden lot. The watcher passed on. He could hear the
cheerful drone of a sawmill where logs were being cut. He followed
the sound and came to its source. The saw was at the end of an
oblong pool in which logs floated. Workmen were poling these toward
the saw. On a raised platform at one side was a camera and a man who
gave directions through a megaphone; a neighbouring platform held a
second camera. A beautiful young girl in a print dress and her thick
hair in a braid came bringing Ms dinner in a tin pail to the
handsomest of the actors. He laid down his pike-pole and took both
the girl's hands in his as he received the pail. One of the other
workmen, a hulking brute with an evil face, scowled darkly at this
encounter and a moment later had insulted the beautiful young girl.
But the first actor felled him with a blow. He came up from this,
crouchingly, and the fight was on. Merton was excited by this fight,
even though he was in no doubt as to which actor would win it. They
fought hard, and for a time it appeared that the handsome actor must
lose, for the bully who had insulted the girl was a man of great
strength, but the science of the other told. It was the first fight
Merton had ever witnessed. He thought these men must really be
hating each other, so bitter were their expressions. The battle grew
fiercer. It was splendid. Then, at the shrill note of a whistle, the
panting combatants fell apart.
"Rotten!" said an annoyed voice through the megaphone. "Can't you
boys give me a little action? Jazz it, jazz it! Think it's a love
scene? Go to it, now--plenty of jazz--understand what I mean?" He
turned to the camera man beside him. "Ed, you turn ten--we got to
get some speed some way. Jack"--to the other camera man--"you stay
on twelve. All ready! Get some life into it, now, and Lafe"--this to
the handsome actor--"don't keep trying to hold your front to the
machine. We'll get you all right. Ready, now. Camera!"
Again the fight was on. It went to a bitter finish in which the
vanquished bully was sent with a powerful blow backward into the
water, while the beautiful young girl ran to the victor and nestled
in the protection of his strong arms.
Merton Gill passed on. This was the real thing. He would have a lot
to tell Tessie Kearns in his next letter. Beyond the sawmill he came
to an immense wooden structure like a cradle on huge rockers
supported by scaffolding. From the ground he could make nothing of
it, but a ladder led to the top. An hour on the Holden lot had made
him bold. He mounted the ladder and stood on the deck of what he saw
was a sea-going yacht. Three important-looking men were surveying
the deckhouse forward. They glanced at the newcomer but with a
cheering absence of curiosity or even of interest. He sauntered past
them with a polite but not-too-keen interest. The yacht would be an
expensive one. The deck fittings were elaborate. A glance into the
captain's cabin revealed it to be fully furnished, with a chart and
a sextant on the mahogany desk.
"Where's the bedding for this stateroom?" asked one of the men.
"I got a prop-rustler after it," one of the others informed him.
They strolled aft and paused by an iron standard ingeniously swung
from the deck.
"That's Burke's idea," said one of the men. "I hadn't thought about
a steady support for the camera; of course if we stood it on deck it
would rock when the ship rocked and we'd get no motion. So Burke
figures this out. The camera is on here and swings by that weight so
it's always straight and the rocking registers. Pretty neat, what?"
"That was nothing to think of" said one of the other men, in
apparent disparagement. "I thought of it myself the minute I saw
it." The other two grinned at this, though Merton Gill, standing by,
saw nothing to laugh at. He thought the speaker was pretty cheeky;
for of course any one could think of this device after seeing it. He
paused for a final survey of his surroundings from this elevation.
He could see the real falseness of the sawmill he had just left, he
could also look into the exposed rear of the railway station, and
could observe beyond it the exposed skeleton of that New York
street. He was surrounded by mockeries.
He clambered down the ladder and sauntered back to the street of
offices. He was by this time confident that no one was going to ask
him what right he had in there. Now, too, he became conscious of
hunger and at the same moment caught the sign "Cafeteria" over a
neat building hitherto unnoticed. People were entering this, many of
them in costume. He went idly toward the door, glanced up, looked at
his watch, and became, to any one curious about him, a man who had
that moment decided he might as well have a little food. He opened
the screen door of the cafeteria, half expecting it to prove one of
those structures equipped only with a front. But the cafeteria was
practicable. The floor was crowded with little square polished
tables at which many people were eating. A railing along the side of
the room made a passage to the back where food was served from a
counter to the proffered tray. He fell into line. No one had asked
him how he dared try to eat with real actors and actresses and
apparently no one was going to. Toward the end of the passage was a
table holding trays and napkins the latter wrapped about an
equipment of cutlery. He took his tray and received at the counter
the foods he designated. He went through this ordeal with difficulty
because it was not easy to keep from staring about at other patrons.
Constantly he was detecting some remembered face. But at last, with
his laden tray he reached a vacant table near the centre of the room
and took his seat. He absently arranged the food before him. He
could stare at leisure now. All about him were the strongly marked
faces of the film people, heavy with makeup, interspersed with
hungry civilians, who might be producers, directors, camera men, or
mere artisans, for the democracy of the cafeteria seemed ideal.
At the table ahead of his he recognized the man who had been annoyed
one day by the silly question of the Montague girl. They had said he
was a very important director. He still looked important and
intensely serious. He was a short, very plump man, with pale cheeks
under dark brows, and troubled looking gray hair. He was very
seriously explaining something to the man who sat with him and whom
he addressed as Governor, a merry-looking person with a stubby gray
mustache and little hair, who seemed not too attentive to the
"You see, Governor, it's this way: the party is lost on the desert--
understand what I mean--and Kempton Ward and the girl stumble into
this deserted tomb just at nightfall. Now here's where the big kick
Merton Gill ceased to listen for there now halted at his table,
bearing a laden tray, none other than the Montague girl, she of the
slangy talk and the regrettably free manner. She put down her tray
and seated herself before it. She had not asked permission of the
table's other occupant, indeed she had not even glanced at him, for
cafeteria etiquette is not rigorous. He saw that she was heavily
made up and in the costume of a gypsy, he thought, a short vivid
skirt, a gay waist, heavy gold hoops in her ears, and dark hair
massed about her small head. He remembered that this would not be
her own hair. She fell at once to her food. The men at the next
table glanced at her, the director without cordiality; but the other
man smiled upon her cheerfully.
"Hello, Flips! How's the girl?"
"Everything's jake with me, Governor. How's things over at your
"So, so. I see you're working."
"Only for two days. I'm just atmosphere in this piece. I got some
real stuff coming along pretty soon for Baxter. Got to climb down
ten stories of a hotel elevator cable, and ride a brake-beam and be
pushed off a cliff and thrown to the lions, and a few other little
"That's good, Flips. Come in and see me some time. Have a little
chat. Ma working?"
"Yeah--got a character bit with Charlotte King in Her Other
Husband." "Glad to hear it. How's Pa Montague?"
"Pa's in bed. They've signed him for Camillia of the Cumberlands,
providing he raises a brush, and just now it ain't long enough for
whiskers and too long for anything else, so he's putterin' around
with his new still."
"Well, drop over sometime, Flips, I'm keeping you in mind."
"Thanks, Governor. Say--" Merton glanced up in time to see her wink
broadly at the man, and look toward his companion who still
seriously made notes on the back of an envelope. The man's face
melted to a grin which he quickly erased. The girl began again:
"Mr. Henshaw--could you give me just a moment, Mr. Henshaw?" The
serious director looked up in quite frank annoyance.
"Yes, yes, what is it, Miss Montague?"
"Well, listen, Mr. Henshaw, I got a great idea for a story, and I
was thinking who to take it to and I thought of this one and I
thought of that one, and I asked my friends, and they all say take
it to Mr. Henshaw, because if a story has any merit he's the one
director on the lot that can detect it and get every bit of value
out of it, so I thought--but of course if you're busy just now--"
The director thawed ever so slightly. "Of course, my girl, I'm busy-
-but then I'm always busy. They run me to death here. Still, it was
very kind of your friends, and of course--"
"Thank you, Mr. Henshaw." She clasped her hands to her breast and
gazed raptly into the face of her coy listener.
"Of course I'll have to have help on the details, but it starts off
kind of like this. You see I'm a Hawaiian princess--" She paused,
"Yes, yes, Miss Montague--an Hawaiian princess. Go on, go on!"
"Oh, excuse me; I was thinking how I'd dress her for the last spool
in the big fire scene. Well, anyway, I'm this Hawaiian princess, and
my father, old King Mauna Loa, dies and leaves me twenty-one
thousand volcanoes and a billiard cue--"
Mr. Henshaw blinked rapidly at this. For a moment he was dazed. "A
billiard cue, did you say?" he demanded blankly.
"Yes. And every morning I have to go out and ram it down the
volcanoes to see are they all right--and--"
"Tush, tush!" interrupted Mr. Henshaw scowling upon the playwright
and fell again to his envelope, pretending thereafter to ignore her.
The girl seemed to be unaware that she had lost his attention. "And
you see the villain is very wealthy; he owns the largest ukelele
factory in the islands, and he tries to get me in his power, but
he's foiled by my fiance, a young native by the name of Herman
Schwarz, who has invented a folding ukelele, so the villain gets his
hired Hawaiian orchestra to shove Herman down one of the volcanoes
and me down another, but I have the key around my neck, which Father
put there when I was a babe and made me swear always to wear it,
even in the bath-tub, so I let myself out and unlock the other one
and let Herman out and the orchestra discovers us and chases us over
the cliff, and then along comes my old nurse who is now running a
cigar store in San Pedro and she--" Here she affected to discover
that Mr. Henshaw no longer listened.
"Why, Mr. Henshaw's gone!" she exclaimed dramatically. "Boy, boy,
page Mr. Henshaw." Mr. Henshaw remained oblivious.
"Oh, well, of course I might have expected you wouldn't have time to
listen to my poor little plot. Of course I know it's crude, but it
did seem to me that something might be made out of it." She resumed
her food. Mr. Henshaw's companion here winked at her and was seen to
be shaking with emotion. Merton Gill could not believe it to be
laughter, for he had seen nothing to laugh at. A busy man had been
bothered by a silly girl who thought she had the plot for a
photodrama, and even he, Merton Gill, could have told her that her
plot was impossibly wild and inconsequent. If she were going into
that branch of the art she ought to take lessons, the way Tessie
Kearns did. She now looked so mournful that he was almost moved to
tell her this, but her eyes caught his at that moment and in them
was a light so curious, so alive with hidden meanings, so eloquent
of some iron restraint she put upon her own emotions, that he became
confused and turned his gaze from hers almost with the rebuking
glare of Henshaw. She glanced quickly at him again, studying his
face for the first time. There had been such a queer look in this
young man's eyes; she understood most looks, but not that one.
Henshaw was treating the late interruption as if it had not been.
"You see, Governor, the way we got the script now, they're in this
tomb alone for the night--understand what I mean--and that's where
the kick comes for the audience. They know he's a strong young
fellow and she's a beautiful girl and absolutely in his power--see
what I mean?--but he's a gentleman through and through and never
lays a hand on her. Get that? Then later along comes this Ben Ali
The Montague girl glanced again at the face of the strange young man
whose eyes had held a new expression for her, but she and Mr.
Henshaw and the so-called governor and all those other diners who
rattled thick crockery and talked unendingly had ceased to exist for
Merton Gill. A dozen tables down the room and nearer the door sat
none other than Beulah Baxter. Alone at her table, she gazed raptly
aloft, meditating perhaps some daring new feat. Merton Gill stared,
entranced, frozen. The Montague girl perfectly understood this look
and traced it to its object. Then she surveyed Merton Gill again
with something faintly like pity in her shrewd eyes. He was still
staring, still rapt.
Beulah Baxter ceased to look aloft. She daintily reached for a
wooden toothpick from the bowl before her and arose to pay her check
at the near-by counter. Merton Gill arose at the same moment and
stumbled a blind way through the intervening tables. When he reached
the counter Miss Baxter was passing through the door. He was about
to follow her when a cool but cynical voice from the counter said,
"Hey, Bill--ain't you fergittin' somepin'."
He looked for the check for his meal; it should have been in one
hand or the other. But it was in neither. He must have left it back
on his tray. Now he must return for it. He went as quickly as he
could. The Montague girl was holding it up as he approached. "Here's
the little joker, Kid," she said kindly.
"Thanks!" said Merton. He said it haughtily, not meaning to be
haughty, but he was embarrassed and also fearful that Beulah Baxter
would be lost. "Exit limping," murmured the girl as he turned away.
He hurried again to the door, paid the check and was outside. Miss
Baxter was not to be seen. His forgetfulness about the check had
lost her to him. He had meant to follow, to find the place where she
was working, and look and look and look! Now he had lost her. But
she might be on one of those stages within the big barns. Perhaps
the day was not yet lost. He crossed the street, forgetting to
saunter, and ventured within the cavernous gloom beyond an open
door. He stood for a moment, his vision dulled by the dusk.
Presently he saw that he faced a wall of canvas backing. Beyond this
were low voices and the sound of people moving. He went forward to a
break in the canvas wall and at the same moment there was a metallic
jar and light flooded the enclosure. From somewhere outside came
music, principally the low, leisurely moan of a 'cello. A beautiful
woman in evening dress was with suppressed emotion kneeling at the
bedside of a sleeping child. At the doorway stood a dark, handsome
gentleman in evening dress, regarding her with a cynical smile. The
woman seemed to bid the child farewell, and arose with hands to her
breast and quivering lips. The still-smiling gentleman awaited her.
When she came to him, glancing backward to the sleeping child, he
threw about her an elaborate fur cloak and drew her to him, his
cynical smile changing to one of deceitful tenderness. The woman
still glanced back at the child, but permitted herself to be drawn
through the doorway by the insistent gentleman. From a door the
other side of the bed came a kind-faced nurse. She looked first at
the little one then advanced to stare after the departing couple.
She raised her hands tragically and her face became set in a mask of
sorrow and despair. She clasped the hands desperately.
Merton Gill saw his nurse to be the Montague mother. "All right,"
said an authoritative voice. Mrs. Montague relaxed her features and
withdrew, while an unkempt youth came to stand in front of the
still-grinding camera and held before it a placard on which were
numbers. The camera stopped, the youth with the placard vanished.
"Save it," called another voice, and with another metallic jar the
flood of light was turned off. The 'cello ceased its moan in the
middle of a bar.
The watcher recalled some of the girl's chat. Her mother had a
character bit in Her Other Husband. This would be it, one of those
moving tragedies not unfamiliar to the screen enthusiast. The
beautiful but misguided wife had been saying good-by to her little
one and was leaving her beautiful home at the solicitation of the
false friend in evening dress--forgetting all in one mad moment. The
watcher was a tried expert, and like the trained faunal naturalist
could determine a species from the shrewd examination of one bone of
a photoplay. He knew that the wife had been ignored by a husband who
permitted his vast business interests to engross his whole
attention, leaving the wife to seek solace in questionable quarters.
He knew that the shocked but faithful nurse would presently discover
the little one to be suffering from a dangerous fever; that a
hastily summoned physician would shake his head and declare in
legible words, "Naught but a mother's love can win that tiny soul
back from the brink of Eternity." The father would overhear this,
and would see it all then: how his selfish absorption in Wall Street
had driven his wife to another. He would pursue her, would find her
ere yet it was too late. He would discover that her better nature
had already prevailed and that she had started back without being
sent for. They would kneel side by side, hand in hand, at the
bedside of the little one, who would recover and smile and prattle,
and together they would face an untroubled future.
This was all thrilling to Merton Gill; but Beulah Baxter was not
here, her plays being clean and wholesome things of the great
outdoors. Far down the great enclosure was another wall of canvas
backing, a flood of light above it and animated voices from within.
He stood again to watch. But this drama seemed to have been
suspended. The room exposed was a bedroom with an open window facing
an open door; the actors and the mechanical staff as well were
busily hurling knives at various walls. They were earnest and
absorbed in this curious pursuit. Sometimes they made the knife
penetrate the wall, oftener it merely struck and clattered to the
floor. Five knives at once were being hurled by five enthusiasts,
while a harried-looking director watched and criticised.
"You're a clumsy bunch," he announced at last. "It's a simple thing
to do, isn't it?" The knife-throwers redoubled, their efforts, but
they did not find it a simple thing to do.
"Let me try it, Mr. Burke." It was the Montague girl still in her
gipsy costume. She had been standing quietly in the shadow observing
the ineffective practice.
"Hello, Flips! Sure, you can try it. Show these boys something good,
now. Here, Al, give Miss Montague that stickeree of yours." Al
seemed glad to relinquish the weapon. Miss Montague hefted it, and
"It ain't balanced right," she declared. "Haven't you got one with a
"Fair enough," said the director. "Hey, Pickles, let her try that
one you got." Pickles, too, was not unwilling to oblige.
"That's better," said the girl. "It's balanced right." Taking the
blade by its point between thumb and forefinger she sent it with a
quick flick of the wrist into the wall a dozen feet away. It hung
"There! That's what we want. It's got to be quivering when Jack
shoots at Ramon who threw it at him as he leaps through the window.
Try it again, Flips." The girl obliged and bowed impressively to the
"Now come here and try it through the doorway." He led her around
the set. "Now stand here and see can you put it into the wall just
to the right of the window. Good! Some little knife-thrower, I'll
say. Now try it once with Jack coming through. Get set, Jack."
Jack made his way to the window through which he was to leap. He
paused there to look in with some concern. "Say, Mr. Burke, will you
please make sure she understands? She isn't to let go of that thing
until I'm in and crouched down ready to shoot--understand what I
mean? I don't want to get nicked nor nothing."
"All right, all right! She understands."
Jack leaped through the window to a crouch, weapon in hand. The
knife quivered in the wall above him as he shot.
"Fine and dandy. Some class, I'll say. All right, Jack. Get back.
We'll gun this little scene right here and now. All ready, Jack, all
ready Miss Montague--camera!--one, two, three--come in, Jack." Again
the knife quivered in the wall above his head even while he crouched
to shoot at the treacherous Mexican who had thrown it.
"Good work, Flips. Thanks a whole lot. We'll do as much for you some
"You're entirely welcome, Mr. Burke. No trouble to oblige. How you
"Coming good. This thing's going to be a knockout. I bet it'll gross
a million. Nearly done, too, except for some chase stuff up in the
hills. I'll do that next week. What you doing?"
"Oh, everything's jake with me. I'm over on Number Four--Toys of
Destiny--putting a little pep into the mob stuff. Laid out for two
hours, waiting for something--I don't know what."
Merton Gill passed on. He confessed now to a reluctant admiration
for the Montague girl. She could surely throw a knife. He must
practise that himself sometime. He might have stayed to see more of
this drama but he was afraid the girl would break out into more of
her nonsense. He was aware that she swept him with her eyes as he
turned away but he evaded her glance. She was not a person, he
thought, that one ought to encourage.
He emerged from the great building and crossed an alley to another
of like size. Down toward its middle was the usual wall of canvas
with half-a-dozen men about the opening at one corner. A curious
whirring noise came from within. He became an inconspicuous unit of
the group and gazed in. The lights were on, revealing a long table
elaborately set as for a banquet, but the guests who stood about
gave him instant uneasiness. They were in the grossest caricatures
of evening dress, both men and women, and they were not beautiful.
The gowns of the women were grotesque and the men were lawless
appearing, either as to hair or beards or both. He divined the
dreadful thing he was stumbling upon even before he noted the sign
in large letters on the back of a folding chair: "Jeff Baird's
Buckeye Comedies." These were the buffoons who with their coarse
pantomime, their heavy horse-play, did so much to debase a great
art. There, even at his side, was the arch offender, none other than
Jeff Baird himself, the man whose regrettable sense of so-called
humour led him to make these low appeals to the witless. And even as
he looked the cross-eyed man entered the scene. Garbed in the
weirdly misfitting clothes of a waiter, holding aloft a loaded tray
of dishes, he entered on roller skates, to halt before Baird with
his uplifted tray at a precarious balance.
"All right, that's better," said Baird. "And, Gertie, listen: don't
throw the chair in front of him. That's out. Now we'll have the
entrance again. You other boys on the rollers, there--" Three other
basely comic waiters on roller skates came to attention.
"Follow him in and pile up on him when he makes the grand spill--see
what I mean? Get your trays loaded now and get off. Now you other
people, take your seats. No, no, Annie, you're at the head, I told
you. Tom, you're at the foot and start the rough-house when you get
the tray in the neck. Now, all set."
Merton Gill was about to leave this distressing scene but was held
in spite of himself by the voice of a newcomer.
"Hello, Jeff! Atta boy!"
He knew without turning that the Montague girl was again at his
elbow. He wondered if she could be following him.
"Hello, Flips! How's the kid?" The producer had turned cordially to
her. "Just in time for the breakaway stuff. See how you like it."
"What's the big idea?"
"Swell reception at the Maison de Glue, with the waiters on roller
skates in honour of rich Uncle Rollo Glue. The head waiter starts
the fight by doing a fall with his tray. Tom gets the tray in the
neck and soaks the nearest man banquet goes flooey. Then we go into
the chase stuff."
"Which is Uncle Rollo?"
"That's him at the table, with the herbaceous border under his
"Is he in the fight?"
"I think so. I was going to rehearse it once more to see if I could
get a better idea. Near as I can see now, everybody takes a crack at
"Well, maybe." Montague girl seemed to be considering. "Say, how
about this, Jeff? He's awful hungry, see, and he's begun to eat the
celery and everything he can reach, and when the mix-up starts he
just eats on and pays no attention to it. Never even looks up, see
what I mean? The fight spreads the whole length of the table; right
around Rollo half-a-dozen murders are going on and he just eats and
pays no attention. And he's still eating when they're all down and
out, and don't know a thing till Charlie or someone crowns him with
the punch-bowl. How about it? Ain't there a laugh in that?" Baird
had listened respectfully and now patted the girl on a shoulder.
"Good work, Kid! That's a gag, all right. The little bean's sparking
on all six, ain't it? Drop around again. We need folks like you.
Now, listen, Rollo--you there, Rollo, come here and get this. Now,
listen--when the fight begins--"
Merton Gill turned decisively away. Such coarse foolery as this was
too remote from Beulah Baxter who, somewhere on that lot, was doing
something really, as her interview had put it, distinctive and worth
He lingered only to hear the last of Baird's instructions to Rollo
and the absurd guests, finding some sinister fascination in the
man's talk. Baird then turned to the girl, who had also started off.
"Hang around, Flips. Why the rush?"
"Got to beat it over to Number Pour."
"Got anything good there?"
"Nothing that will get me any billing. Been waiting two hours now
just to look frenzied in a mob."
"Well, say, come around and see me some time."
"All right, Jeff. Of course I'm pretty busy. When I ain't working
I've got to think about my art."
"No, this is on the level. Listen, now, sister, I got another two
reeler to pull off after this one, then I'm goin' to do something
new, see? Got a big idea. Probably something for you in it. Drop in
t' the office and talk it over. Come in some time next week. 'F I
ain't there I'll be on the lot some place. Don't forget, now."
Merton Gill, some distance from the Buckeye set, waited to note what
direction the Montague girl would take. She broke away presently,
glanced brazenly in his direction, and tripped lightly out the
nearest exit. He went swiftly to one at the far end of the building,
and was again in the exciting street. But the afternoon was drawing
in and the street had lost much of its vivacity. It would surely be
too late for any glimpse of his heroine. And his mind was already
cluttered with impressions from his day's adventure. He went out
through the office, meaning to thank the casting director for the
great favour she had shown him, but she was gone. He hoped the
headache had not driven her home. If she were to suffer again he
hoped it would be some morning. He would have the Eezo wafers in one
pocket and a menthol pencil in the other. And she would again extend
to him the freedom of that wonderful city.
In his room that night he tried to smooth out the jumble in his
dazed mind. Those people seemed to say so many things they
considered funny but that were not really funny to any one else. And
moving-picture plays were always waiting for something, with the
bored actors lounging about in idle apathy. Still in bis ears
sounded the drone of the sawmill and the deep purr of the lights
when they were put on. That was a funny thing. When they wanted the
lights on they said "Kick it," and when they wanted the lights off
they said "Save it!" And why did a boy come out after every scene
and hold up a placard with numbers on it before the camera? That
placard had never shown in any picture he had seen. And that queer
Montague girl, always turning up when you thought you had got rid of
her. Still, she had thrown that knife pretty well. You had to give
her credit for that. But she couldn't be much of an actress, even if
she had spoken of acting with Miss Baxter, of climbing down cables
with her and falling off cliffs. Probably she was boasting, because
he had never seen any one but Miss Baxter do these things in her
pictures. Probably she had some very minor part. Anyway, it was
certain she couldn't be much of an actress because she had almost
promised to act in those terrible Buckeye comedies. And of course no
one with any real ambition or capacity could consider such a thing--
descending to rough horse-play for the amusement of the coarser
element among screen patrons.
But there was one impression from the day's whirl that remained
clear and radiant: He had looked at the veritable face of his
heroine. He began his letter to Tessie Kearns. "At last I have seen
Miss Baxter face to face. There was no doubt about its being her.
You would have known her at once. And how beautiful she is! She was
looking up and seemed inspired, probably thinking about her part.
She reminded me of that beautiful picture of St. Cecelia playing on
the piano. . . ."
UNDER THE GLASS TOPS
He approached the office of the Holden studios the following morning
with a new air of assurance. Formerly the mere approach had been an
adventure; the look through the gate, the quick glimpse of the
privileged ones who entered, the mingling, later, with the hopeful
and the near-hopeless ones who waited. But now his feeling was that
he had, somehow, become a part of that higher life beyond the gate.
He might linger outside at odd moments, but rightfully he belonged
inside. His novitiate had passed. He was one of those who threw
knives or battled at the sawmill with the persecuter of golden-
haired innocence, or lured beautiful women from their homes. He
might be taken, he thought, for an actor resting between pictures.
At the gate he suffered a momentary regret at an error of tactics
committed the evening before. Instead of leaving the lot by the
office he should have left by the gate. He should have strolled to
this exit in a leisurely manner and stopped, just inside the
barrier, for a chat with the watchman; a chat, beginning with the
gift of a cigar, which should have impressed his appearance upon
that person. He should have remarked casually that he had had a hard
day on Stage Number Four, and must now be off to a good night's rest
because of the equally hard day to-morrow. Thus he could now have
approached the gate with confidence and passed freely in, with a few
more pleasant words to the watchman who would have no difficulty in
But it was vain to wish this. For all the watchman knew this young
man had never been beyond the walls of the forbidden city, nor would
he know any reason why the besieger should not forever be kept
outside. He would fix that next time.
He approached the window of the casting office with mingled
emotions. He did not hope to find his friend again stricken with
headache, but if it chanced that she did suffer he hoped to be the
first to learn of it. Was he not fortified with the potent Eezo
wafers, and a new menthol pencil, even with an additional remedy of
tablets that the druggist had strongly recommended? It was,
therefore, not with any actual, crude disappointment that he learned
of his friend's perfect well-being. She smiled pleasantly at him,
the telephone receiver at one ear. "Nothing to-day, dear," she said
and put down the instrument.
Yes, the headache was gone, vanquished by his remedies. She was
fine, thank you. No, the headaches didn't come often. It might be
weeks before she had another attack. No, of course she couldn't be
certain of this. And indeed she would be sure to let him know at the
very first sign of their recurrence.
He looked over his patient with real anxiety, a solicitude from the
bottom of which he was somehow unable to expel the last trace of a
lingering hope that would have dismayed the little woman--not hope,
exactly, but something almost like it which he would only translate
to himself as an earnest desire that he might be at hand when the
dread indisposition did attack her. Just now there could be no doubt
that she was free from pain.
He thanked her profusely for her courtesy of the day before. He had
seen wonderful things. He had learned a lot. And he wanted to ask
her something, assuring himself that he was alone in the waiting
room. It was this: did she happen to know--was Miss Beulah Baxter
The little woman sighed in a tired manner. "Baxter married? Let me
see." She tapped her teeth with the end of a pencil, frowning into
her vast knowledge of the people beyond the gate. "Now, let me
think." But this appeared to be without result. "Oh, I really don't
know; I forget. I suppose so. Why not? She often is."
He would have asked more questions, but the telephone rang and she
listened a long time, contributing a "yes, yes," of understanding at
brief intervals. This talk ended, she briskly demanded a number and
began to talk in her turn. Merton Gill saw that for the time he had
passed from her life. She was calling an agency. She wanted people
for a diplomatic reception in Washington. She must have a Bulgarian
general, a Serbian diplomat, two French colonels, and a Belgian
captain, all in uniform and all good types. She didn't want just
anybody, but types that would stand out. Holden studios on Stage
Number Two. Before noon, if possible. All right, then. Another bell
rang, almost before she had hung up. "Hello, Grace. Nothing to-day,
dear. They're out on location, down toward Venice, getting some
desert stuff. Yes, I'll let you know."
Merton Gill had now to make way at the window for a youngish, weary-
looking woman who had once been prettier, who led an elaborately
dressed little girl of five. She lifted the child to the window.
"Say good-morning to the beautiful lady, Toots. Good-morning,
Countess. I'm sure you got something for Toots and me to-day because
it's our birthday--both born on the same day--what do you think of
that? Any little thing will help us out a lot--how about it?"
He went outside before the end of this colloquy, but presently saw
the woman and her child emerge and walk on disconsolately toward the
next studio. Thus began another period of waiting from which much of
the glamour had gone. It was not so easy now to be excited by those
glimpses of the street beyond the gate. A certain haze had vanished,
leaving all too apparent the circumstance that others were working
beyond the gate while Merton Gill loitered outside, his talent, his
training, ignored. His early air of careless confidence had changed
to one not at all careless or confident. He was looking rather
desperate and rather unbelieving. And it daily grew easier to count
his savings. He made no mistakes now. His hoard no longer enjoyed
the addition of fifteen dollars a week. Only subtractions were made.
There came a morning when but one bill remained. It was a ten-dollar
bill, bearing at its centre a steel-engraved portrait of Andrew
Jackson. He studied it in consternation, though still permitting
himself to notice that Jackson would have made a good motion-picture
type--the long, narrow, severe face, the stiff uncomprising mane of
gray hair; probably they would have cast him for a feuding
mountaineer, deadly with his rifle, or perhaps as an inventor whose
device was stolen on his death-bed by his wicked Wall Street
partner, thus leaving his motherless daughter at the mercy of
But this was not the part that Jackson played in the gripping drama
of Merton Gill. His face merely stared from the last money brought
from Simsbury, Illinois, and the stare was not reassuring. It seemed
to say that there was no other money in all the world. Decidedly
things must take a turn. Merton Gill had a quite definite feeling
that he had already struggled and sacrificed enough to give the
public something better and finer. It was time the public realized
Still he waited, not even again reaching the heart of things, for
his friend beyond the window had suffered no relapse. He came to
resent a certain inconsequence in the woman. She might have had
those headaches oftener. He had been led to suppose that she would,
and now she continued to be weary but entirely well.
More waiting and the ten-dollar bill went for a five and some
silver. He was illogically not sorry to be rid of Andrew Jackson,
who had looked so tragically skeptical. The five-dollar bill was
much more cheerful. It bore the portrait of Benjamin Harrison, a
smooth, cheerful face adorned with whiskers that radiated success.
They were little short of smug with success. He would almost rather
have had Benjamin Harrison on five dollars than the grim-faced
Jackson on ten. Still, facts were facts. You couldn't wait as long
on five dollars as you could on ten.
Then on the afternoon of a day that promised to end as other days
had ended, a wave of animation swept through the waiting room and
the casting office. "Swell cabaret stuff" was the phrase that
brought the applicants to a lively swarm about the little window.
Evening clothes, glad wraps, cigarette cases, vanity-boxes--the
Victor people doing The Blight of Broadway with Muriel Mercer--Stage
Number Four at 8:30 to-morrow morning. There seemed no limit to the
people desired. Merton Gill joined the throng about the window.
Engagements were rapidly made, both through the window and over the
telephone that was now ringing those people who had so long been
told that there was nothing to-day. He did not push ahead of the
women as some of the other men did. He even stood out of the line
for the Montague girl who had suddenly appeared and who from the
rear had been exclaiming: "Women and children first!"
"Thanks, old dear," she acknowledged the courtesy and beamed through
the window. "Hullo, Countess!" The woman nodded briefly. "All right,
Flips; I was just going to telephone you. Henshaw wants you for some
baby-vamp stuff in the cabaret scene and in the gambling hell.
Better wear that salmon-pink chiffon and the yellow curls. Eight-
thirty, Stage Four. Goo'-by."
"Thanks, Countess! Me for the jumping tintypes at the hour named.
I'm glad enough to be doing even third business. How about Ma?"
"Sure! Tell her grand-dame stuff, chaperone or something, the gray
georgette and all her pearls and the cigarette case."
"I'll tell her. She'll be glad there's something doing once more on
the perpendicular stage. Goo'-by."
She stepped aside with "You're next, brother!" Merton Gill
acknowledged this with a haughty inclination of the head. He must
not encourage this hoyden. He glanced expectantly through the little
window. His friend held a telephone receiver at her ear. She smiled
wearily. "All right, son. You got evening clothes, haven't you? Of
course, I remember now. Stage Four at 8:30. Goo'-by."
" I want to thank you for this opportunity--" he began, but was
pushed aside by an athletic young woman who spoke from under a broad
hat. "Hullo, dearie! How about me and Ella?"
"Hullo, Maizie. All right. Stage Four, at 8:30, in your swellest
At the door the Montague girl called to an approaching group who
seemed to have heard by wireless or occult means the report of new
activity in the casting office. "Hurry, you troupers. You can eat
to-morrow night, maybe!" They hurried. She turned to Merton Gill.
"Seems like old times," she observed.
"Does it?" he replied coldly. Would this chit never understand that
he disapproved of her trifling ways?
He went on, rejoicing that he had not been compelled to part, even
temporarily, with a first-class full-dress suit, hitherto worn only
in the privacy of Lowell Hardy's studio. It would have been awkward,
he thought, if the demand for it had been much longer delayed. He
would surely have let that go before sacrificing his Buck Benson
outfit. He had traversed the eucalyptus avenue in this ecstasy, and
was on a busier thoroughfare. Before a motion-picture theatre he
paused to study the billing of Muriel Mercer in Hearts Aflame. The
beauteous girl, in an alarming gown, was at the mercy of a fiend in
evening dress whose hellish purpose was all too plainly read in his
fevered eyes. The girl writhed in his grasp. Doubtless he was
demanding her hand in marriage. It was a tense bit. And to-morrow he
would act with this petted idol of the screen. And under the
direction of that Mr. Henshaw who seemed to take screen art with
proper seriousness. He wondered if by any chance Mr. Henshaw would
call upon him to do a quadruple transition, hate, fear, love,
despair. He practised a few transitions as he went on to press his
evening clothes in the Patterson kitchen, and to dream, that night,
that he rode his good old pal, Pinto, into the gilded cabaret to
carry off Muriel Mercer, Broadway's pampered society pet, to the
clean life out there in the open spaces where men are men.
At eight the following morning he was made up in a large dressing
room by a grumbling extra who said that it was a dog's life
plastering grease paint over the maps of dubs. He was presently on
Stage Four in the prescribed evening regalia for gentlemen. He found
the cabaret set, a gilded haunt of pleasure with small tables set
about an oblong of dancing floor. Back of these on three sides were
raised platforms with other tables, and above these discreet boxes,
half masked by drapery, for the seclusion of more retiring merry-
makers. The scene was deserted as yet, but presently he was joined
by another early comer, a beautiful young woman of Spanish type with
a thin face and eager, dark eyes. Her gown was glistening black set
low about her polished shoulders, and she carried a red rose. So
exotic did she appear he was surprised when she addressed him in the
"Say, listen here, old timer! Let's pick a good table right on the
edge before the mob scene starts. Lemme see--" She glanced up and
down the rows of tables. "The cam'ras'll be back there, so we can
set a little closer, but not too close, or we'll be moved over. How
'bout this here? Let's try it." She sat, motioning him to the other
chair. Even so early in his picture career did he detect that in
facing this girl his back would be to the camera. He hitched his
"That's right," said the girl, "I wasn't meaning to hog it. Say, we
was just in time, wasn't we?"
Ladies and gentlemen in evening dress were already entering. They
looked inquiringly about and chose tables. Those next to the dancing
space were quickly filled. Many of the ladies permitted costly wraps
of fur or brocade to spill across the backs of their chairs. Many of
the gentlemen lighted cigarettes from gleaming metal cases. There
was a lively interchange of talk.
"We better light up, too," said the dark girl. Merton Gill had
neglected cigarettes and confessed this with some embarrassment. The
girl presented an open case of gold attached to a chain pendent from
her girdle. They both smoked. On their table were small plates, two
wine glasses half filled with a pale liquid, and small coffee-cups.
Spirals of smoke ascended over a finished repast. Of course if the
part called for cigarettes you must smoke whether you had quit or
The places back of the prized first row were now filling up with the
later comers. One of these, a masterful-looking man of middle age--
he would surely be a wealthy club-man accustomed to command tables--
regarded the filled row around the dancing space with frank
irritation, and paused significantly at Merton's side. He seemed
about to voice a demand, but the young actor glanced slowly up at
him, achieving a superb transition--surprise, annoyance, and, as the
invader turned quickly away, pitying contempt.
"Atta boy!" said his companion, who was, with the aid of a tiny
gold-backed mirror suspended with the cigarette case, heightening
the crimson of her full lips.
Two cameras were now in view, and men were sighting through them.
Merton saw Henshaw, plump but worried looking, scan the scene from
the rear. He gave hurried direction to an assistant who came down
the line of tables with a running glance at their occupants. He made
changes. A couple here and a couple there would be moved from the
first row and other couples would come to take their places. Under
the eyes of this assistant the Spanish girl had become coquettish.
With veiled glances, with flashing smiles from the red lips, with a
small gloved hand upon Merton Gill's sleeve, she allured him. The
assistant paused before them. The Spanish girl continued to allure.
Merton Gill stared moodily at the half-empty wine glass, then
exhaled smoke as he glanced up at his companion in profound ennui.
If it was The Blight of Broadway probably they would want him to
"You two stay where you are," said the assistant, and passed on.
"Good work," said the girl. "I knew you was a type the minute I made
Red-coated musicians entered an orchestra loft far down the set. The
voice of Henshaw came through a megaphone: "Everybody that's near
the floor fox-trot." In a moment the space was thronged with
dancers. Another voice called "Kick it!" and a glare of light came
"You an' me both!" said the Spanish girl, rising.
Merton Gill remained seated. "Can't," he said. "Sprained ankle." How
was he to tell her that there had been no chance to learn this dance
back in Simsbury, Illinois, where such things were frowned upon by
pulpit and press? The girl resumed her seat, at first with
annoyance, then brightened. "All right at that," she said. "I bet we
get more footage this way." She again became coquettish, luring with
her wiles one who remained sunk in ennui.
A whistle blew, a voice called "Save it!" and the lights jarred off.
Henshaw came trippingly down the line. "You people didn't dance.
What's the matter?" Merton Gill glanced up, doing a double
transition, from dignified surprise to smiling chagrin. "Sprained
ankle," he said, and fell into the bored look that had served him
with the assistant. He exhaled smoke and raised his tired eyes to
the still luring Spanish girl. Weariness of the world and women was
in his look. Henshaw scanned him closely.
"All right, stay there--keep just that way--it's what I want." He
continued down the line, which had become hushed. "Now, people. I
want some flashes along here, between dances--see what I mean?
You're talking, but you're bored with it all. The hollowness of this
night life is getting you; not all of you--most of you girls can
keep on smiling--but The Blight of Broadway shows on many. You're
beginning to wonder if this is all life has to offer--see what I
mean?" He continued down the line.
From the table back of Merton Gill came a voice in speech to the
retreating back of Henshaw: "All right, old top, but it'll take a
good lens to catch any blight on this bunch--most of 'em haven't
worked a lick in six weeks, and they're tickled pink." He knew
without turning that this was the Montague girl trying to be funny
at the expense of Henshaw who was safely beyond hearing. He thought
she would be a disturbing element in the scene, but in this he was
wrong, for he bent upon the wine glass a look more than ever fraught
with jaded world-weariness. The babble of Broadway was resumed as
Henshaw went back to the cameras.
Presently a camera was pushed forward. Merton Gill hardly dared look
up, but he knew it was halted at no great distance from him. "Now,
here's rather a good little bit," Henshaw was saying. "You, there,
the girl in black, go on--tease him the way you were, and he's to
give you that same look. Got that cigarette going? All ready.
Lights! Camera!" Merton was achieving his first close-up. Under the
hum of the lights he was thinking that he had been a fool not to
learn dancing, no matter how the Reverend Otto Carmichael denounced
it as a survival from the barbaric Congo. He was also thinking that
the Montague girl ought to be kept away from people who were trying
to do really creative things, and he was bitterly regretting that he
had no silver cigarette case. The gloom of his young face was honest
gloom. He was aware that his companion leaned vivaciously toward him
with gay chatter and gestures. Very slowly he inhaled from a
cigarette that was already distasteful--adding no little to the
desired effect--and very slowly he exhaled as he raised to hers the
bored eyes of a soul quite disillusioned. Here, indeed, was the
blight of Broadway.
"All right, first rate!" called Henshaw. "Now get this bunch down
here." The camera was pushed on.
"Gee, that was luck!" said the girl. "Of course it'll be cut to a
flash, but I bet we stand out, at that." She was excited now, no
longer needing to act.
From the table back of Merton came the voice of the Montague girl:
"Yes, one must suffer for one's art. Here I got to be a baby-vamp
when I'd rather be simple little Madelon, beloved by all in the
He restrained an impulse to look around at her. She was not serious
and should not be encouraged. Farther down the set Henshaw was
beseeching a table of six revellers to give him a little hollow
gayety. "You're simply forcing yourselves to have a good time," he
was saying; "remember that. Your hearts aren't in it. You know this
night life is a mockery. Still, you're playing the game. Now, two of
you raise your glasses to drink. You at the end stand up and hold
your glass aloft. The girl next to you there, stand up by him and
raise your face to his--turn sideways more. That's it. Put your hand
up to his shoulder. You're slightly lit, you know, and you're
inviting him to kiss you over his glass. You others, you're drinking
gay enough, but see if you can get over that it's only half-hearted.
You at the other end there--you're staring at your wine glass, then
you look slowly up at your partner but without any life. You're
feeling the blight, see? A chap down the line here just did it
perfectly. All ready, now! Lights! Camera! You blonde girl, stand
up, face raised to him, hand up to his shoulder. You others,
drinking, laughing. You at the end, look up slowly at the girl, look
away--about there--bored, weary of it all--cut! All right. Not so
bad. Now this next bunch, Paul."
Merton Gill was beginning to loathe cigarettes. He wondered if Mr.
Henshaw would mind if he didn't smoke so much, except, of course, in
the close-ups. His throat was dry and rough, his voice husky. His
companion had evidently played more smoking parts and seemed not to
Henshaw was now opposite them across the dancing floor, warning his
people to be gay but not too gay. The glamour of this night life
must be a little dulled.
"Now, Paul, get about three medium shots along here. There's a good
table--get that bunch. And not quite so solemn, people; don't overdo
it. You think you're having a good time, even if it does turn to
ashes in your mouth--now, ready; lights! Camera!"
"I like Western stuff better," confided Merton to his companion. She
considered this, though retaining her arch manner. "Well, I don't
know. I done a Carmencita part in a dance-hall scene last month over
to the Bigart, and right in the mi'st of the fight I get a glass of
somethin' all over my gown that practically rooned it. I guess I
rather do this refined cabaret stuff--at least you ain't so li'ble
to roon a gown. Still and all, after you been warmin' the extra
bench for a month one can't be choosy. Say, there's the princ'ples
comin' on the set."
He looked around. There, indeed, was the beautiful Muriel Mercer,
radiant in an evening frock of silver. At the moment she was putting
a few last touches to her perfect face from a make-up box held by a
maid. Standing with her was another young woman, not nearly so
beautiful, and three men. Henshaw was instructing these. Presently
he called through his megaphone: "You people are excited by the
entrance of the famous Vera Vanderpool and her friends. You stop
drinking, break off your talk, stare at her--see what I mean?--she
makes a sensation. Music, lights, camera!"
Down the set, escorted by a deferential head-waiter, came Muriel
Mercer on the arm of a middle-aged man who was elaborately garnished
but whose thin dyed mustaches, partially bald head, and heavy eyes,
proclaimed him to Merton Gill as one who meant the girl no good.
They were followed by the girl who was not so beautiful and the
other two men. These were young chaps of pleasing exterior who made
the progress laughingly. The five were seated at a table next the
dancing space at the far end. They chatted gayly as the older man
ordered importantly from the head-waiter. Muriel Mercer tapped one
of the younger men with her plumed fan and they danced. Three other
selected couples danced at the same time, though taking care not to
come between the star and the grinding camera. The older man leered
at the star and nervously lighted a gold-tipped cigarette which he
immediately discarded after one savage bite at it. It could be seen
that Vera Vanderpool was the gayest of all that gay throng. Upon her
as yet had come no blight of Broadway, though she shrank perceptibly
when the partially bald one laid his hand on her slender wrist as
she resumed her seat. Food and wine were brought. Vera Vanderpool
drank, with a pretty flourish of her glass.
Now the two cameras were moved forward for close-ups. The older man
was caught leering at Vera. It would surely be seen that he was not
one to trust. Vera was caught with the mad light of pleasure in her
beautiful eyes. Henshaw was now speaking in low tones to the group,
and presently Vera Vanderpool did a transition. The mad light of
pleasure died from her eyes and the smile froze on her beautiful
mouth. A look almost of terror came into her eyes, followed by a
pathetic lift of the upper lip. She stared intently above the
camera. She was beholding some evil thing far from that palace of
"Now they'll cut back to the tenement-house stuff they shot last
week," explained the Spanish girl.
"Tenement house?" queried Merton. "But I thought the story would be
that she falls in love with a man from the great wind-swept spaces
out West, and goes out there to live a clean open life with him--
that's the way I thought it would be--out there where she could
forget the blight of Broadway."
"No, Mercer never does Western stuff. I got a little girl friend
workin' with her and she told me about this story. Mercer gets into
this tenement house down on the east side, and she's a careless
society butterfly; but all at once she sees what a lot of sorrow
there is in this world when she sees these people in the tenement
house, starving to death, and sick kids and everything, and this
little friend of mine does an Italian girl with a baby and this old
man here, he's a rich swell and prominent in Wall Street and belongs
to all the clubs, but he's the father of this girl's child, only
Mercer don't know that yet. But she gets aroused in her better
nature by the sight of all this trouble, and she almost falls in
love with another gentleman who devotes all his time to relieving
the poor in these tenements--it was him who took her there--but
still she likes a good time as well as anybody, and she's stickin'
around Broadway and around this old guy who's pretty good company in
spite of his faults. But just now she got a shock at remembering the
horrible sights she has seen; she can't get it out of her mind. And
pretty soon she'll see this other gentleman that she nearly fell in
love with, the one who hangs around these tenements doing good--
he'll be over at one of them tables and she'll leave her party and
go over to his table and say, 'Take me from this heartless Broadway
to your tenements where I can relieve their suffering,' so she goes
out and gets in a taxi with him, leaving the old guy with not a
thing to do but pay the check. Of course he's mad, and he follows
her down to the tenements where she's relieving the poor--just in a
plain black dress--and she finds out he's the real father of this
little friend of mine's child, and tells him to go back to Broadway
while she has chosen the better part and must live her life with
these real people. But he sends her a note that's supposed to be
from a poor woman dying of something, to come and bring her some
medicine, and she goes off alone to this dive in another street, and
it's the old guy himself who has sent the note, and he has her there
in this cellar in his power. But the other gentleman has found the
note and has follered her, and breaks in the door and puts up a
swell fight with the old guy and some toughs he has hired, and gets
her off safe and sound, and so they're married and live the real
life far away from the blight of Broadway. It's a swell story, all
right, but Mercer can't act it. This little friend of mine can act
all around her. She'd be a star if only she was better lookin'. You
bet Mercer don't allow any lookers on the same set with her. Do you
make that one at the table with her now? Just got looks enough to
show Mercer off. Mercer's swell-lookin', I'll give her that, but for
actin'--say, all they need in a piece for her is just some stuff to
go in between her close-ups. Don't make much difference what it is.
Oh, look! There comes the dancers. It's Luzon and Mario."
Merton Gill looked. These would be hired dancers to entertain the
pleasure-mad throng, a young girl with vine leaves in her hair and a
dark young man of barbaric appearance. The girl was clad in a mere
whisp of a girdle and shining breast plates, while the man was
arrayed chiefly in a coating of dark stain. They swirled over the
dance floor to the broken rhythm of the orchestra, now clinging, now
apart, working to a climax in which the man poised with his partner
perched upon one shoulder. Through the megaphone came instructions
to applaud the couple, and Broadway applauded--all but Merton Gill,
who stared moodily into his coffee cup or lifted bored eyes to the
scene of revelry. He was not bored, but his various emotions
combined to produce this effect very plausibly. He was dismayed at
this sudden revelation of art in the dance so near him. Imogene
Pulver had once done an art dance back in Simsbury, at the cantata
of Esther in the vestry of the Methodist church, and had been not a
little criticised for her daring; but Imogene had been abundantly
clad, and her gestures much more restrained. He was trying now to
picture how Gashwiler would take a thing like this, or Mrs.
Gashwiler, for that matter! One glimpse of those practically unclad
bodies skipping and bounding there would probably throw them into a
panic. They couldn't have sat it through. And here he was, right up
in front of them, and not turning a hair.
This reflection permitted something of the contemptuous to show in
the random glances with which he swept the dancers? He could not
look at them steadily, not when they were close, as they often were.
Also, he loathed the cigarette he was smoking. The tolerant scorn
for the Gashwilers and his feeling for the cigarette brought him
again into favourable notice. He heard Henshaw, but did not look up.
"Get another flash here, Paul. He's rather a good little bit."
Henshaw now stood beside him. "Hold that," he said. "No, wait." He
spoke to Merton's companion. "You change seats a minute with Miss
Montague, as if you'd got tired of him--see what I mean? Miss
Montague--Miss Montague." The Spanish girl arose, seeming not wholly
pleased at this bit of directing. The Montague girl came to the
table. She was a blithesome sprite in a salmon-pink dancing frock.
Her blonde curls fell low over one eye which she now cocked
inquiringly at the director.
"You're trying to liven him up," explained Henshaw. "That's all--
baby-vamp him. He'll do the rest. He's quite a good little bit."
The Montague girl flopped into the chair, leaned roguishly toward
Merton Gill, placed a small hand upon the sleeve of his coat and
peered archly at him through beaded lashes, one eye almost hidden by
its thatch of curls. Merton Gill sunk low in his chair, cynically
tapped the ash from his tenth cigarette into the coffee cup and
raised bored eyes to hers. "That's it--shoot it, Paul, just a
The camera was being wheeled toward them. The Montague girl, with
her hand still on his arm, continued her wheedling, though now she
"Why, look who's here. Kid, I didn't know you in your stepping-out
clothes. Say, listen, why do you always upstage me? I never done a
thing to you, did I? Go on, now, give me the fishy eye again. How'd
you ace yourself into this first row, anyway? Did you have to fight
for it? Say, your friend'll be mad at me putting her out of here,
won't she? Well, blame it on the gelatin master. I never suggested
it. Say, you got Henshaw going. He likes that blighted look of
He made no reply to this chatter. He must keep in the picture. He
merely favoured her with a glance of fatigued indifference. The
camera was focused.
"All ready, you people. Do like I said, now. Lights, camera!"
Merton Gill drew upon his cigarette with the utmost disrelish,
raised the cold eyes of a disillusioned man to the face of the
leering Montague girl, turned aside from her with every sign of
apathy, and wearily exhaled the smoke. There seemed to be but this
one pleasure left to him.
"Cut!" said Henshaw, and somewhere lights jarred off. "Just stick
there a bit, Miss Montague. We'll have a couple more shots when the
Merton resented this change. He preferred the other girl. She lured
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