Merton of the Movies
Harry Leon Wilson
Part 3 out of 7
him but not in so pronounced, so flagrant a manner. The blight of
Broadway became more apparent than ever upon his face. The girl's
hand still fluttered upon his sleeve as the music came and dancers
shuffled by them.
"Say, you're the actin' kid, all right." She was tapping the floor
with the heel of a satin slipper. He wished above all things that
she wouldn't call him "Kid." He meditated putting a little of
Broadway's blight upon her by saying in a dignified way that his
real name was Clifford Armytage. Still, this might not blight her--
you couldn't tell about the girl.
"You certainly are the actin'est kid on this set, I'll tell the lot
that. Of course these close-ups won't mean much, just about one
second, or half that maybe. Or some hick in the cuttin' room may
kill 'em dead. Come on, give me the fish-eye again. That's it. Say,
I'm glad I didn't have to smoke cigarettes in this scene. They
wouldn't do for my type, standin' where the brook and river meet up.
I hate a cigarette worse'n anything. You--I bet you'd give up food
"I hate 'em, too," he muttered grudgingly, glad to be able to say
this, even though only to one whose attentions he meant to
discourage. "If I have to smoke one more it'll finish me."
"Now, ain't that the limit? Too bad, Kid!"
"I didn't even have any of my own. That Spanish girl gave me these."
The Montague girl glanced over his shoulder at the young woman whose
place she had usurped. "Spanish, eh? If she's Spanish I'm a Swede
right out of Switzerland. Any-way, I never could like to smoke. I
started to learn one summer when I was eight. Pa and Ma and I was
out with a tent Tom-show, me doing Little Eva, and between acts I
had to put on pants and come out and do a smoking song, all about a
kid learning to smoke his first cigar and not doin' well with it,
see? But they had to cut it out. Gosh, what us artists suffer at
times! Pa had me try it a couple of years later when I was doin'
Louise the blind girl in the Two Orphans, playin' thirty cents top.
It was a good song, all right, with lots of funny gags. I'd 'a' been
the laughing hit of the bill if I could 'a' learned not to swallow.
We had to cut it out again after the second night. Talk about
entering into your part. Me? I was too good."
If the distant camera glanced this way it caught merely the
persistent efforts of a beautiful debutante who had not yet felt the
blight of Broadway to melt the cynicism of one who suffered it more
and more acutely each moment. Her hand fluttered on his sleeve and
her left eye continuously beguiled him from under the overhanging
curl. As often as he thought it desirable he put the bored glance
upon her, though mostly he stared in dejection at the coffee cup or
the empty wine glass. He was sorry that she had had that trouble
with the cigar, but one who as Little Eva or poor persecuted Louise,
the blind girl, had to do a song and dance between the acts must
surely come from a low plane of art. He was relieved when, at
megaphoned directions, an elderly fop came to whirl her off in the
dance. Her last speech was: "That poor Henshaw--the gelatin
master'll have megaphone-lip by to-night."
He was left alone at his table. He wondered if they might want a
close-up of him this way, uncompanioned, jaded, tired of it all, as
if he would be saying: "There's always the river!" But nothing of
this sort happened. There was more dancing, more close-ups of Muriel
Mercer being stricken with her vision of tenement misery under the
foul glare of a middle-aged roue inflamed with wine. And there was a
shot of Muriel perceiving at last the blight of Broadway and going
to a table at which sat a pale, noble-looking young man with a high
forehead, who presently led her out into the night to the real life
of the worthy poor. Later the deserted admirer became again a roue
inflamed with wine and submitted to a close-up that would depict his
baffled rage. He clenched his hands in this and seemed to convey,
with a snarling lift of his lip, that the girl would yet be his.
Merton Gill had ceased to smoke. He had sounded on Broadway even the
shallow pleasure of cigarettes. He was thoroughly blighted.
At last a megaphoned announcement from the assistant director
dismissing the extras, keeping the star, the lead, and a few small-
part people, to clean up medium shots, "dramatics," and other work
requiring no crowd. "All you extra people here to-morrow morning,
eight-thirty, same clothes and make-up." There was a quick breaking
up of the revelry. The Broadway pleasure-seekers threw off the
blight and stormed the assistant director for slips of paper which
he was now issuing. Merton Gill received one, labelled "Talent
check." There was fine print upon it which he took no pains to read,
beyond gathering its general effect that the Victor Film-art Company
had the full right to use any photographs of him that its agents
might that day have obtained. What engrossed him to the exclusion of
this legal formality was the item that he would now be paid seven
dollars and fifty cents for his day's work--and once he had been
forced to toil half a week for this sum! Emerging from the stage
into the sunlight he encountered the Montague girl who hailed him as
he would have turned to avoid her.
"Say, trouper, I thought I'd tell you in case you didn't know--we
don't take our slips to that dame in that outside cafeteria any
more. She always pinches off a quarter or may be four bits. They got
it fixed now so the cash is always on tap in the office. I just
thought I'd tell you."
"Thanks," he said, still with the jaded air of the disillusioned. He
had only the vaguest notion of her meaning, but her intention had
been kindly. "Thank you very much."
"Oh, don't mention it. I just thought I'd tell you." She glanced
after him shrewdly.
Nearing the office he observed a long line of Broadway revellers
waiting to cash their slips. Its head was lost inside the building
and it trailed far outside. No longer was any blight to be
perceived. The slips were ready in hand. Instead of joining the line
Merton decided upon luncheon. It was two o'clock, and though waiters
with trays had been abundant in the gilded cabaret, the best screen
art had not seemed to demand a serving of actual food. Further, he
would eat in the cafeteria in evening dress, his make-up still on,
like a real actor. The other time he had felt conspicuous because
nothing had identified him with the ordinary clientele of the place.
The room was not crowded now. Only a table here and there held late
comers, and the choice of foods when he reached the serving counter
at the back was limited. He permitted himself to complain of this in
a practised manner, but made a selection and bore his tray to the
centre of the room. He had chosen a table and was about to sit, when
he detected Henshaw farther down the room, and promptly took the one
next him. It was probable that Henshaw would recall him and praise
the work he had done. But the director merely rolled unseeing eyes
over him as he seated himself, and continued his speech to the man
Merton had before seen him with, the grizzled dark man with the
stubby gray mustache whom he called Governor. Merton wondered if he
could be the governor of California, but decided not. Perhaps an ex-
"She's working out well," he was saying. "I consider it one of the
best continuities Belmore has done. Not a line of smut in it, but to
make up for that we'll have over thirty changes of costume."
Merton Gill coughed violently, then stared moodily at his plate of
baked beans. He hoped that this, at least, would recall him to
Henshaw who might fix an eye on him to say: "And, by the way, here
is a young actor that was of great help to me this morning." But
neither man even glanced up. Seemingly this young actor could choke
to death without exciting their notice. He stared less moodily at
the baked beans. Henshaw would notice him sometime, and you couldn't
do everything at once.
The men had finished their luncheon and were smoking. The animated
Henshaw continued his talk. "And about that other thing we were
discussing, Governor, I want to go into that with you. I tell you if
we can do Robinson Crusoe, and do it right, a regular five-thousand-
foot program feature, the thing ought to gross a million. A good,
clean, censor-proof picture--great kid show, run forever. Shipwreck
stuff, loading the raft, island stuff, hut stuff, goats, finding the
footprint, cannibals, the man Friday--can't you see it?"
The Governor seemed to see it. "Fine--that's so!" He stared above
the director's head for the space of two inhalations from his
cigarette, imbuing Merton Gill with gratitude that he need not smoke
again that day. "But say, look here, how about your love interest?"
Henshaw waved this aside with his own cigarette and began to make
marks on the back of an envelope. "Easy enough--Belmore can fix that
up. We talked over one or two ways. How about having Friday's sister
brought over with him to this island? The cannibals are going to eat
her, too. Then the cannibals run to their canoes when they hear the
gun, just the same as in the book. And Crusoe rescues the two. And
when he cuts the girl's bonds he finds she can't be Friday's real
sister, because she's white--see what I mean? Well, we work it out
later that she's the daughter of an English Earl that was wrecked
near the cannibal island, and they rescued her, and Friday's mother
brought her up as her own child. She's saved the papers that came
ashore, and she has the Earl's coat-of-arms tattooed on her shoulder
blade, and finally, after Crusoe has fallen in love with her, and
she's remembered a good deal of her past, along comes the old Earl,
her father, in a ship and rescues them all. How about that?"
Henshaw, brightly expectant, awaited the verdict of his chief.
" Well--I don't know." The other considered. "Where's your conflict,
after the girl is saved from the savages? And Crusoe in the book
wears a long beard. How about that? He won't look like anything--
sort of hairy, and that's all."
Henshaw from the envelope on which he drew squares and oblongs
appeared to gain fresh inspiration. He looked up with new light in
his eyes. "I got it--got the whole thing. Modernize it. This chap is
a rich young New Yorker, cruising on his yacht, and he's wrecked on
this island and gets a lot of stuff ashore and his valet is saved,
too--say there's some good comedy, see what I mean?--valet is one of
these stiff English lads, never been wrecked on an island before and
complains all the time about the lack of conveniences. I can see a
lot of good gags for him, having to milk the goats, and getting
scared of the other animals, and no place to press his master's
clothes--things like that, you know. Well, the young fellow explores
the island and finds another party that's been wrecked on the other
side, and it's the girl and the man that got her father into his
power and got all of his estate and is going to make beggars of them
if the girl won't marry him, and she comes on the young fellow under
some palms and they fall in love and fix it up to double-cross the
villain--Belmore can work it out from there. How about that? And
say, we can use a lot of trims from that South Sea piece we did last
year, all that yacht and island stuff--see what I mean?"
The other considered profoundly. "Yes, you got a story there, but it
won't be Robinson Crusoe, don't you see?"
Again Henshaw glanced up from his envelope with the light of
inspiration. "Well, how about this? Call it Robinson Crusoe, Junior!
There you are. We get the value of the name and do the story the way
we want it, the young fellow being shaved every day by the valet,
and he can invite the other party over to dine with him and receive
them in evening dress and everything. Can't you see it? If that
story wouldn't gross big then I don't know a story. And all easy
stuff. We can use the trims for the long shots, and use that inlet,
toward the other end of Catalina for the hut and the beach; sure-
fire stuff, Governor--and Robinson Crusoe, Junior is a cinch title."
"Well, give Belmore as much dope as you've got, and see what he can
They arose and stood by the counter to pay their checks.
"If you want to see the rushes of that stuff we shot this morning be
over to the projection room at five," said Henshaw as they went out.
Neither had observed the rising young screen actor, Clifford
Armytage, though he had coughed violently again as they left. He had
coughed most plausibly, moreover, because of the cigarettes.
At the cashier's window, no longer obstructed, he received his
money, another five-dollar bill adorned with the cheerfully
prosperous face of Benjamin Harrison and half that amount in silver
coin. Then, although loath to do this, he went to the dressing room
and removed his make-up. That grease paint had given him a world of
At the casting office he stopped to tell his friend of the day's
camera triumph, how the director had seemed to single him out from a
hundred or so revellers to portray facially the deadly effect of
Broadway's night life.
"Good work!" she applauded. "Before long you'll be having jobs
oftener. And don't forget, you're called again to-morrow morning for
the gambling-house scene."
She was a funny woman; always afraid he would forget something he
could not possibly forget. Once more in the Patterson kitchen he
pressed his suit and dreamt of new eminences in his chosen art.
The following morning he was again the first to reach the long
dressing room, the first to be made up by the grumbling extra, the
first to reach the big stage. The cabaret of yesterday had overnight
been transformed into a palatial gambling hell. Along the sides of
the room and at its centre were tables equipped for strange games of
chance which only his picture knowledge enabled him to recognize. He
might tarry at these tables, he thought, but he must remember to
look bored in the near presence of Henshaw. The Spanish girl of
yesterday appeared and he greeted her warmly. "I got some cigarettes
this time," he said, "so let me pay you back all those I smoked of
yours yesterday." Together they filled the golden case that hung
from her girdle.
"It's swell, all right," said the girl, gazing about the vast room
now filling with richly clad gamblers.
"But I thought it was all over except the tenement-house scenes
where Vera Vanderpool has gone to relieve the poor," he said.
The girl explained. "This scene comes before the one we did
yesterday. It's where the rich old boy first sees Vera playing
roulette, and she loses a lot of money and is going to leave her
string of pearls, but he says it's a mere trifle and let him pay her
gambling losses, so in a weak moment she does, and that's how he
starts to get her into his power. You'll see how it works out. Say,
they spent some money on this set, all right."
It was indeed a rich set, as the girl had said. It seemed to Merton
Gill that it would be called on the screen "One of those Plague
Spots that Eat like a Cancer at the Heart of New York." He lighted a
cigarette and leaned nonchalantly against a pillar to smile a tired
little smile at the pleasure-mad victims of this life who were now
grouping around the roulette and faro tables. He must try for his
"Some swell shack!" The speaker was back of him, but he knew her for
the Montague girl, and was instantly enabled to increase the
blighted look for which he had been trying. "One natty little hovel,
I'll tell the world," the girl continued. "Say, this puts it all
over the Grand Central station, don't it? Must be right smack at the
corner of Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Well, start the little ball
rolling, so I can make a killing." He turned his head slightly and
saw her dance off to one of the roulette tables, accompanied by the
middle-aged fop who had been her companion yesterday.
Henshaw and his assistant now appeared and began grouping the
players at the various tables. Merton Gill remained leaning wearily
against his massive pillar, trying to appear blase under the chatter
of the Spanish girl. The groups were arranged to the liking of
Henshaw, though only after many trials. The roulette ball was
twirled and the lively rattle of chips could be heard. Scanning his
scene, he noted Merton and his companion.
"Oh, there you are, you two. Sister, you go and stand back of that
crowd around the faro table. Keep craning to look over their
shoulders, and give us your side view. I want to use this man alone.
Here." He led Merton to a round table on which were a deck of cards
and some neatly stacked chips. "Sit here, facing the camera. Keep
one hand on the cards, sort of toying with 'em, see what I mean?"
He scattered the piled chips loosely about the table, and called to
a black waiter: "Here, George, put one of those wine glasses on his
The wine glass was placed. "Now kind of slump down in your chair,
like you saw the hollowness of it all--see what I mean?"
Merton Gill thought he saw. He exhaled smoke, toyed contemptuously
with the cards at his right hand and, with a gesture of repulsion,
pushed the wine glass farther away. He saw the hollowness of it all.
The spirit of wine sang in his glass but to deaf ears. Chance could
no longer entice him. It might again have been suspected that
cigarettes were ceasing to allure.
"Good work! Keep it up," said Henshaw and went back to his cameras.
The lights jarred on; desperate gaming was filmed. "More life at the
roulette tables," megaphoned Henshaw. "Crowd closer around that
left-hand faro table. You're playing for big stakes." The gaming
became more feverish. The mad light of pleasure was in every eye,
yet one felt that the blight of Broadway was real.
The camera was wheeled forward and Merton Gill joyously quit smoking
while Henshaw secured flashes of various groups, chiefly of losers
who were seeing the hollowness of it all. He did not, however,
disdain a bit of comedy.
"Yes, Mr. Henshaw." The Montague girl paused in the act of
sprinkling chips over a roulette lay-out.
"Your escort has lost all his chips and you've lost all he bought
The girl and her escort passed to other players the chips before
them, and waited.
"Your escort takes out his wallet, shows it to you empty, and shrugs
his shoulders. You shrug, too, but turn your back on him, facing the
camera, and take some bills out of your stocking--see what I mean?
Give her some bills, someone."
"Never mind, Mr. Henshaw; I already got some there." The pantomime
was done, the girl turned, stooped, withdrew flattened bills from
one of the salmon-pink stockings and flourished them at her escort
who achieved a transition from gloom to joy. Merton Gill, observing
this shameless procedure, plumbed the nether depths of disgust for
Broadway's night life.
The camera was now wheeled toward him and he wearily lighted another
cigarette. "Get a flash of this chap," Henshaw was saying. The
subject leaned forward in his chair, gazing with cynical eyes at the
fevered throng. Wine, women, song, all had palled. Gambling had no
charm--he looked with disrelish at the cigarette he had but just
"All right, Paul, that's good. Now get that bunch over at the crap
Merton Gill lost no time in relinquishing his cigarette. He dropped
it into the wine glass which became a symbol of Broadway's dead-sea
fruit. Thereafter he smoked only when he was in the picture. He felt
that he was becoming screen wise. And Henshaw had remembered him.
The cast of The Blight of Broadway might not be jewelled with his
name, but his work would stand out. He had given the best that was
He watched the entrance of Muriel Mercer, maddest of all the mad
throng, accompanied by the two young men and the girl who was not so
beautiful. He watched her lose steadily, and saw her string of
pearls saved by the elderly scoundrel who had long watched the
beautiful girl as only the Wolf of Wall Street could watch one so
fair. He saw her leave upon his arm, perhaps for further unwholesome
adventure along Broadway. The lights were out, the revelry done.
Merton Gill beyond a doubt preferred Western stuff, some heart-
gripping tale of the open spaces, or perhaps of the frozen north,
where he could be the hard-riding, straight-shooting, two-fisted
wonder-man, and not have to smoke so many cigarettes--only one now
and then, which he would roll himself and toss away after a few
puffs. Still, he had shown above the mob of extra people, he
thought. Henshaw had noticed him. He was coming on.
The Montague girl hailed him as he left the set. "Hullo, old
trouper. I caught you actin' again to-day, right out before the
white folks. Well, so far so good. But say, I'm glad all that
roulette and stuff was for the up-and-down stage and not on the
level. I'd certainly have lost everything but my make-up. So long,
Kid!" She danced off to join a group of other women who were
leaving. He felt a kindly pity for the child. There could be little
future in this difficult art for one who took it so lightly; who
talked so frankly to strangers without being introduced.
At luncheon in the cafeteria he waited a long time in the hope of
encountering Henshaw, who would perhaps command his further services
in the cause of creative screen art. He meant to be animated at this
meeting, to show the director that he could be something more than
an actor who had probed the shams of Broadway. But he lingered in
vain. He thought Henshaw would perhaps be doing without food in
order to work on the scenario for Robinson Crusoe, Junior.
He again stopped to thank his friend, the casting director, for
securing him his first chance. She accepted his thanks smilingly,
and asked him to drop around often. "Mind, you don't forget our
number," she said.
He was on the point of making her understand once for all that he
would not forget the number, that he would never forget Gashwiler's
address, that he had been coming to this studio too often to forget
its location. But someone engaged her at the window, so he was
obliged to go on without enlightening the woman. She seemed to be
"NOTHING TO-DAY, DEAR!"
The savings had been opportunely replenished. In two days he had
accumulated a sum for which, back in Simsbury, he would have had to
toil a week. Yet there was to be said in favour of the Simsbury
position that it steadily endured. Each week brought its fifteen
dollars, pittance though it might be, while the art of the silver
screen was capricious in its rewards, not to say jumpy. Never, for
weeks at a stretch, had Gashwiler said with a tired smile, "Nothing
to-day--sorry!" He might have been a grouch and given to
unreasonable nagging, but with him there was always a very definite
something to-day which he would specify, in short words if the
occasion seemed to demand. There was not only a definite something
every day but a definite if not considerable sum of money to be paid
over every Saturday night, and in the meantime three very definite
and quite satisfying meals to be freely partaken of at stated hours
The leisure enforced by truly creative screen art was often occupied
now with really moving pictures of Metta Judson placing practicable
food upon the Gashwiler table. This had been no table in a gilded
Broadway resort, holding empty coffee cups and half empty wine
glasses, passed and repassed by apparently busy waiters with laden
trays who never left anything of a practicable nature. Doubtless the
set would not have appealed to Henshaw. He would never have been
moved to take close-ups, even for mere flashes, of those who ate
this food. And yet, more and more as the days went by, this old-time
film would unreel itself before the eager eyes of Merton Gill. Often
now it thrilled him as might have an installment of The Hazards of
Hortense, for the food of his favourite pharmacy was beginning to
pall and Metta Judson, though giving her shallow mind to base
village gossip, was a good cook. She became the adored heroine of an
apparently endless serial to be entitled The Hazards of Clifford
Armytage, in which the hero had tragically little to do but sit upon
a bench and wait while tempting repasts were served.
Sometimes on the little bench around the eucalyptus tree he would
run an entire five-thousand-foot program feature, beginning with the
Sunday midday dinner of roast chicken, and abounding in tense
dramatic moments such as corned-beef and cabbage on Tuesday night,
and corned-beef hash on Wednesday morning. He would pause to take
superb closeups of these, the corned beef on its spreading platter
hemmed about with boiled potatoes and turnips and cabbage, and the
corned beef hash with its richly browned surface. The thrilling
climax would be the roast of beef on Saturday night, with close-ups
taken in the very eye of the camera, of the mashed potatoes and the
apple pie drenched with cream. And there were close-ups of Metta
Judson, who had never seriously contemplated a screen career,
placing upon the table a tower of steaming hot cakes, while a
platter of small sausages loomed eloquently in the foreground.
With eyes closed he would run this film again and again, cutting
here, rearranging sequences, adding trims from suddenly remembered
meals of the dead past, devising more intimate close-ups, such as
the one of Metta withdrawing pies from the oven or smoothing hot
chocolate caressingly over the top of a giant cake, or broiling
chops, or saying in a large-lettered subtitle--artistically
decorated with cooked foods--"How about some hot coffee, Merton?"
He became an able producer of this drama. He devised a hundred
sympathetic little touches that Henshaw would probably never have
thought of. He used footage on a mere platter of steak that another
director might have ignored utterly. He made it gripping--the
supreme heart-interest drama of his season a big thing done in a big
way, and yet censor-proof. Not even the white-souled censors of the
great state of Pennsylvania could have outlawed its realism, brutal
though this was in such great moments as when Gashwiler carved the
roast beef. So able was his artistry that Merton's nostrils would
sometimes betray him--he could swear they caught rich aromas from
that distant board.
Not only had the fare purveyed by his favourite pharmacy put a
blight upon him equal to Broadway's blight, but even of this
tasteless stuff he must be cautious in his buying. A sandwich, not
too meaty at the centre, coffee tasting strangely of other things
sold in a pharmacy, a segment of pie fair--seeming on its surface,
but lacking the punch, as he put it, of Metta Judson's pie, a
standardized, factory-made, altogether formal and perfunctory pie--
these were the meagre items of his accustomed luncheon and dinner.
He had abandoned breakfast, partly because it cost money and partly
because a gentleman in eastern Ohio had recently celebrated his
hundred and third birthday by reason, so he confided to the press,
of having always breakfasted upon a glass of clear cold water.
Probably ham and eggs or corned--beef hash would have cut him off at
ninety, and water from the tap in the Patterson kitchen was both
clear and cold. It was not so much that he cared to live beyond
ninety or so, but he wished to survive until things began to pick up
on the Holden lot, and if this did bring him many more years, well
and good. Further, if the woman in the casting office persisted, as
she had for ten days, in saying "Nothing yet" to inquiring screen
artists, he might be compelled to intensify the regime of the Ohio
centenarian. Perhaps a glass of clear cold water at night, after a
hearty midday meal of drug--store sandwiches and pie, would work new
It seemed to be the present opinion of other waiters on the extra
bench that things were never going to pick up on the Holden lot nor
on any other lot. Strongly marked types, ready to add distinction to
the screen of painted shadows, freely expressed a view that the
motion-picture business was on the rocks. Unaffected by the
optimists who wrote in the picture magazines, they saw no future for
it. More than one of them threatened to desert the industry and
return to previous callings. As they were likely to put it, they
were going to leave the pictures flat and go back to type-writing or
selling standard art-works or waiting on table or something where
you could count on your little bit every week.
Under the eucalyptus tree one morning Merton Gill, making some
appetizing changes in the fifth reel of Eating at Gashwiler's, was
accosted by a youngish woman whom he could not at first recall. She
had come from the casting office and paused when she saw him.
"Hello, I thought it was you, but I wasn't sure in them clothes. How
He stared blankly, startled at the sudden transposition he had been
compelled to make, for the gleaming knife of Gashwiler, standing up
to carve, had just then hovered above the well-browned roast of
beef. Then he placed the speaker by reason of her eyes. It was the
Spanish girl, his companion of the gilded cabaret, later encountered
in the palatial gambling hell that ate like a cancer at the heart of
New York--probably at the corner of Broadway and Fifth Avenue.
He arose and shook hands cordially. He had supposed, when he thought
of the girl at all, that she would always be rather Spanish, an
exotic creature rather garishly dressed, nervously eager, craving
excitement such as may be had in cabarets on Broadway, with a marked
inclination for the lighter life of pleasure. But she wore not so
much as a rose in her smoothly combed hair. She was not only not
excited but she was not exciting. She was plainly dressed in skirt
and shirtwaist of no distinction, her foot-gear was of the most
ordinary, and well worn, and her face under a hat of no allure was
without make-up, a commonplace, somewhat anxious face with lines
about the eyes. But her voice as well as her eyes helped him to
She spoke with an effort at jauntiness after Merton had greeted her.
"That's one great slogan, 'Business as Usual!' ain't it? Well, it's
business as usual here, so I just found out from the Countess--as
usual, rotten. I ain't had but three days since I seen you last."
"I haven't had even one," he told her.
"No? Say, that's tough. You're registered with the Service Bureau,
"Well, I didn't do that, because they might send me any place, and I
sort of wanted to work on this particular lot." Instantly he saw
himself saving Beulah Baxter, for the next installment, from a fate
worse than death, but the one-time Spanish girl did not share this
"Oh, well, little I care where I work. I had two days at the Bigart
in a hop-joint scene, and one over at the United doin' some board-
walk stuff. I could 'a' had another day there, but the director said
I wasn't just the type for a chick bathing-suit. He was very nice
about it. Of course I know my legs ain't the best part of me--I sure
ain't one of them like the girl that says she's wasted in skirts."
She grinned ruefully.
He felt that some expression of sympathy would be graceful here, yet
he divined that it must be very discreetly, almost delicately,
worded. He could easily be too blunt.
"I guess I'd be pretty skinny in a bathing-suit myself, right now. I
know they won't be giving me any such part pretty soon if I have to
cut down on the meals the way I been doing."
"Oh, of course I don't mean I'm actually skinny--"
He felt he had been blunt, after all.
"Not to say skinny." she went on, "but--well, you know--more like
home-folks, I guess. Anyway, I got no future as a bathing beauty--
none whatever. And this walkin' around to the different lots ain't
helpin' me any, either. Of course it ain't as if I couldn't go back
to the insurance office. Mr. Gropp, he's office manager, he was very
nice about it. He says, 'I wish you all the luck in the world,
girlie, and remember your job as filin' clerk will always be here
for you.' Wasn't that gentlemanly of him? Still, I'd rather act than
stand on my feet all day filing letters. I won't go back till I have
"Me either," said Merton Gill, struggling against the obsession of
Saturday-night dinner at Gashwiler's.
Grimly he resumed his seat when the girl with a friendly "So long!"
had trudged on. In spite of himself he found something base in his
nature picturing his return to the emporium and to the thrice-daily
encounter with Metta Judson's cookery. He let his lower instincts
toy with the unworthy vision. Gashwiler would advance him the money
to return, and the job would be there. Probably Spencer Grant had
before this tired of the work and gone into insurance or some other
line, and probably Gashwiler would be only too glad to have the
wanderer back. He would get off No. 3 just in time for breakfast.
He brushed the monstrous scene from his eyes, shrugged it from his
shoulders. He would not give up. They had all struggled and
sacrificed, and why should he shrink from the common ordeal? But he
wished the Spanish girl hadn't talked about going back to her job.
He regretted not having stopped her with words of confident cheer
that would have stiffened his own resolution. He could see her far
down the street, on her way to the next lot, her narrow shoulders
switching from light to shadow as she trudged under the line of
eucalyptus trees. He hoped she wouldn't give up. No one should ever
give up--least of all Merton Gill.
The days wore wearily on. He began to feel on his own face the tired
little smile of the woman in the casting office as she would look up
to shake her head, often from the telephone over which she was
saying: "Nothing to-day, dear. Sorry!" She didn't exactly feel that
the motion-picture business had gone on the rocks, but she knew it
wasn't picking up as it should. And ever and again she would have
Merton Gill assure her that he hadn't forgotten the home address,
the town where lived Gighampton or Gumwash or whoever it was that
held the good old job open for him. He had divined that it was a
jest of some sort when she warned him not to forget the address and
he would patiently smile at this, but he always put her right about
the name of Gashwiler. Of course it was a name any one might forget,
though the woman always seemed to make the most earnest effort to
Each day, after his brief chat with her in which he learned that
there would be nothing to-day, he would sit on the waiting-room
bench or out under the eucalyptus tree and consecrate himself anew
to the art of the perpendicular screen. And each day, as the little
hoard was diminished by even those slender repasts at the drug
store, he ran his film of the Gashwiler dining room in action.
From time to time he would see the Montague girl, alone or with her
mother, entering the casting office or perhaps issuing from the
guarded gate. He avoided her when possible. She persisted in
behaving as if they had been properly introduced and had known each
other a long time. She was too familiar, and her levity jarred upon
his more serious mood. So far as he could see, the girl had no
screen future, though doubtless she was her own worst enemy. If
someone had only taught her to be serious, her career might have
been worth while. She had seemed not wholly negligible in the
salmon-pink dancing frock, though of course the blonde curls had not
Then the days passed until eating merely at a drug-store lunch
counter became not the only matter of concern. There was the item of
room rent. Mrs. Patterson, the Los Angeles society woman, had, upon
the occasion of their first interview, made it all too clear that
the money, trifling though it must seem for a well-furnished room
with the privilege of electric iron in the kitchen, must be paid
each week in advance. Strictly in advance. Her eye had held a cold
light as she dwelt upon this.
There had been times lately when, upon his tree bench, he would try
to dramatize Mrs. Patterson as a woman with a soft heart under that
polished society exterior, chilled by daily contact with other
society people at the Iowa or Kansas or other society picnics, yet
ready to melt at the true human touch. But he had never quite
succeeded in this bit of character work. Something told him that she
was cold all through, a society woman without a flaw in her armour.
He could not make her seem to listen patiently while he explained
that only one company was now shooting on the lot, but that big
things were expected to be on in another week or so. A certain
skeptic hardness was in her gaze as he visioned it.
He decided, indeed, that he could never bring himself even to
attempt this scene with the woman, so remote was he from seeing her
eye soften and her voice warm with the assurance that a few weeks
more or less need not matter. The room rent, he was confident, would
have to be paid strictly in advance so long as their relations
continued. She was the kind who would insist upon this formality
even after he began to play, at an enormous salary, a certain
outstanding part in the Hazards of Hortense. The exigencies, even
the adversities, of art would never make the slightest appeal to
this hardened soul. So much for that. And daily the hoard waned.
Yet his was not the only tragedy. In the waiting room, where he now
spent more of his time, he listened one day to the Montague girl
chat through the window with the woman she called Countess.
"Yeah, Pa was double-crossed over at the Bigart. He raised that
lovely set of whiskers for Camillia of the Cumberlands and what did
he get for it?--just two weeks. Fact! What do you know about that?
Hugo has him killed off in the second spool with a squirrel rifle
from ambush, and Pa thinking he would draw pay for at least another
three weeks. He kicked, but Hugo says the plot demanded it. I bet,
at that, he was just trying to cut down his salary list. I bet that
continuity this minute shows Pa drinking his corn out of a jug and
playing a fiddle for the dance right down to the last scene. Don't
artists get the razz, though. And that Hugo, he'd spend a week in
the hot place to save a thin dime. Let me tell you, Countess, don't
you ever get your lemon in his squeezer."
There were audible murmurs of sympathy from the Countess.
"And so the old trouper had to start out Monday morning to peddle
the brush. Took him three days to land anything at all, and then
it's nothing but a sleeping souse in a Western bar-room scene. In
here now he is--something the Acme people are doing. He's had three
days, just lying down with his back against a barrel sleeping. He's
not to wake up even when the fight starts, but sleep right on
through it, which they say will be a good gag. Well, maybe. But it's
tough on his home. He gets all his rest daytimes and keeps us
restless all night making a new kind of beer and tending his still,
and so on. You bet Ma and I, the minute he's through with this
piece, are going pronto to get that face of his as naked as the day
he was born. Pa's so temperamental--like that time he was playing a
Bishop and never touched a drop for five weeks, and in bed every
night at nine-thirty. Me? Oh, I'm having a bit of my own in this
Acme piece--God's Great Outdoors, I think it is--anyway, I'm to be a
little blonde hussy in the bar-room, sitting on the miners' knees
and all like that, so they'll order more drinks. It certainly takes
all kinds of art to make an artist. And next week I got some
shipwreck stuff for Baxter, and me with bronchial pneumonia right
this minute, and hating tank stuff, anyway. Well, Countess, don't
take any counterfeit money. So long."
She danced through a doorway and was gone--she was one who seldom
descended to plain walking. She would manage a dance step even in
the short distance from the casting--office door to the window. It
was not of such material, Merton Gill was sure, that creative
artists were moulded. And there was no question now of his own utter
seriousness. The situation hourly grew more desperate. For a week he
had foregone the drug-store pie, so that now he recalled it as very
wonderful pie indeed, but he dared no longer indulge in this luxury.
An occasional small bag of candy and as much sugar as he could
juggle into his coffee must satisfy his craving for sweets.
Stoically he awaited the end--some end. The moving-picture business
seemed to be still on the rocks, but things must take a turn.
He went over the talk of the Montague girl. Her father had perhaps
been unfairly treated, but at least he was working again. And there
were other actors who would go unshaven for even a sleeping part in
the bar-room scene of God's Great Outdoors. Merton Gill knew one,
and rubbed his shaven chin. He thought, too, of the girl's warning
about counterfeit money. He had not known that the casting
director's duties required her to handle money, but probably he had
overlooked this item in her routine. And was counterfeit money
about? He drew out his own remaining bill and scrutinized it
anxiously. It seemed to be genuine. He hoped it was, for Mrs.
Patterson's sake, and was relieved when she accepted it without
question that night.
Later he tested the handful of silver that remained to him and
prayed earnestly that an increase of prosperity be granted to
producers of the motion picture. With the silver he eked out another
barren week, only to face a day the evening of which must witness
another fiscal transaction with Mrs. Patterson. And there was no
longer a bill for this heartless society creature. He took a long
look at the pleasant little room as he left it that morning. The day
must bring something but it might not bring him back that night.
At the drug store he purchased a bowl of vegetable soup, loaded it
heavily with catsup at intervals when the attendant had other
matters on his mind, and seized an extra half--portion of crackers
left on their plate by a satiated neighbour. He cared little for
catsup, but it doubtless bore nourishing elements, and nourishment
was now important. He crumpled his paper napkin and laid upon the
marble slab a trifling silver coin. It was the last of his hoard.
When he should eat next and under what circumstances were now as
uncertain as where he should sleep that night, though he was already
resolving that catsup would be no part of his meal. It might be well
enough in its place, but he had abundantly proved that it was not,
strictly speaking, a food.
He reached the Holden studios and loitered outside for half an hour
before daring the daily inquiry at the window. Yet, when at last he
did approach it, his waning faith in prayer was renewed, for here in
his direst hour was cheering news. It seemed even that his friend
beyond the window had been impatient at his coming.
"Just like you to be late when there's something doing!" she called
to him with friendly impatience. "Get over to the dressing rooms on
the double-quick. It's the Victor people doing some Egyptian stuff--
they'll give you a costume. Hurry along!"
And he had lingered over a bowl of soggy crackers soaked, at the
last, chiefly in catsup! He hurried, with a swift word of thanks.
In the same dressing room where he had once been made up as a
Broadway pleasure seeker he now donned the flowing robe and burnoose
of a Bedouin, and by the same grumbling extra his face and hands
were stained the rich brown of children of the desert. A dozen other
men of the paler race had undergone the same treatment. A sheik of
great stature and noble mien smoked an idle cigarette in the
doorway. He was accoutred with musket and with pistols in his belt.
An assistant director presently herded the desert men down an alley
between two of the big stages and to the beginning of the oriental
street that Merton had noticed on his first day within the Holden
walls. It was now peopled picturesquely with other Bedouins. Banners
hung from the walls and veiled ladies peeped from the latticed
balconies. A camel was led excitingly through the crowded way, and
donkeys and goats were to be observed. It was a noisy street until a
whistle sounded at the farther end, then all was silence while the
voice of Henshaw came through the megaphone.
It appeared that long shots of the street were Henshaw's first need.
Up and down it Merton Gill strolled in a negligent manner, stopping
perhaps to haggle with the vendor who sold sweetmeats from a tray,
or to chat with a tribal brother fresh from the sandy wastes, or to
purchase a glass of milk from the man with the goats. He secured a
rose from the flower seller, and had the inspiration to toss it to
one of the discreet balconies above him, but as he stepped back to
do this he was stopped by the watchful assistant director who stood
just inside a doorway. "Hey, Bill, none of that! Keep your head
down, and pay no attention to the dames. It ain't done."
He strolled on with the rose in his hand. Later, and much nearer the
end of the street where the cameras were, he saw the sheik of noble
mien halt the flower seller, haggle for another rose, place this
daintily behind his left ear and stalk on, his musket held over one
shoulder, his other hand on a belted pistol. Merton disposed of his
rose in the same manner. He admired the sheik for his stature, his
majestic carriage, his dark, handsome, yet sinister face with its
brooding eyes. He thought this man, at least, would be a true Arab,
some real son of the desert who had wandered afar. His manner was so
much more authentic than that of the extra people all about.
A whistle blew and the street action was suspended. There was a long
wait while cameras were moved up and groups formed under the
direction of Henshaw and his assistant. A band of Bedouins were now
to worship in the porch of a mosque. Merton Gill was among these.
The assistant director initiated them briefly into Moslem rites.
Upon prayer rugs they bowed their foreheads to earth in the
direction of Mecca.
"What's the idea of this here?" demanded Merton Gill's neighbour in
"Ssh!" cautioned Merton. "It's Mass or something like that." And
they bent in unison to this noon-tide devotion.
When this was done Henshaw bustled into the group. "I want about a
dozen or fifteen good types for the cafe," he explained to his
assistant. Merton Gill instinctively stood forward, and was
presently among those selected. "You'll do," said Henshaw, nodding.
The director, of course, had not remembered that this was the actor
he had distinguished in The Blight of Broadway, yet he had again
chosen him for eminence. It showed, Merton felt, that his conviction
about the screen value of his face was not ill founded.
The selected types were now herded into a dark, narrow, low-ceiled
room with a divan effect along its three walls. A grizzled Arab made
coffee over a glowing brazier. Merton Gill sat cross-legged on the
divan and became fearful that he would be asked to smoke the
narghileh which the assistant director was now preparing. To one who
balked at mere cigarettes, it was an evil-appearing device. His
neighbour who had been puzzled at prayer-time now hitched up his
flowing robe to withdraw a paper of cigarettes from the pocket of a
quite occidental garment.
"Go on, smoke cigarettes," said the assistant director.
"Have one?" said Merton's neighbour, and he took one. It seemed you
couldn't get away from cigarettes on the screen. East and West were
here one. He lighted it, though smoking warily. The noble sheik, of
undoubtedly Asiatic origin, came to the doorway overlooking the
assistant director's work on the narghileh. A laden camel halted
near him, sneered in an evil manner at the bystanders, and then,
lifting an incredible length of upper lip, set his yellow teeth in
the nearest shoulder. It was the shoulder of the noble sheik, who
instantly rent the air with a plaintive cry: "For the love of
Mike!--keep that man-eater off'n me, can't you?"
His accent had not been that of the Arabian waste-land. Merton Gill
was disappointed. So the fellow was only an actor, after all. If he
had felt sympathy at all, it would now have been for the camel. The
beast was jerked back with profane words and the sheik, rubbing his
bitten shoulder, entered the cafe, sitting cross-legged at the end
of the divan nearest the door.
"All right, Bob." The assistant director handed him the tube of the
water pipe, and the sheik smoked with every sign of enjoyment.
Merton Gill resolved never to play the part of an Arab sheik--at the
mercy of man-eating camels and having to smoke something that looked
Under Henshaw's direction the grizzled proprietor now served tiny
cups of coffee to the sheik and his lesser patrons. Two of these
played dominoes, and one or two reclined as in sleep. Cameras were
brought up. The interior being to his satisfaction, Henshaw
rehearsed the entrance of a little band of European tourists. A
beautiful girl in sports garb, a beautiful young man in khaki and
puttees, a fine old British father with gray side whiskers shaded by
a sun-hat with a flowing veil twined about it. These people sat and
were served coffee, staring in a tourist manner at their novel
surroundings. The Bedouins, under stern command, ignored them,
conversing among themselves over their coffee--all but the sheik.
The sheik had been instantly struck by the fair young English girl.
His sinister eyes hung constantly upon her, shifting only when she
regarded him, furtively returning when she ceased. When they left
the cafe, the sheik arose and placed himself partly in the girl's
way. She paused while his dark eyes caught and held hers. A long
moment went before she seemed able to free herself from the hypnotic
tension he put upon her. Then he bowed low, and the girl with a
nervous laugh passed him.
It could be seen that the sheik meant her no good. He stepped to the
door and looked after the group. There was evil purpose in his gaze.
Merton Gill recalled something of Henshaw's words the first day he
had eaten at the cafeteria: "They find this deserted tomb just at
nightfall, and he's alone there with the girl, and he could do
anything, but the kick for the audience is that he's a gentleman and
never lays a finger on her."
This would be the story. Probably the sheik would now arrange with
the old gentleman in the sun-hat to guide the party over the desert,
and would betray them in order to get the beautiful girl into his
power. Of course there would be a kick for the audience when the
young fellow proved to be a gentleman in the deserted tomb for a
whole night--any moving-picture audience would expect him under
these propitious circumstances to be quite otherwise, if the girl
were as beautiful as this one. But there would surely be a greater
kick when the sheik found them in the tomb and bore the girl off on
his camel, after a fight in which the gentleman was momentarily
worsted. But the girl would be rescued in time. And probably the
piece would be called Desert Passion.
He wished he could know the ending of the story. Indeed he sincerely
wished he could work in it to the end, not alone because he was
curious about the fate of the young girl in the bad sheik's power.
Undoubtedly the sheik would not prove to be a gentleman, but Merton
would like to work to the end of the story because he had no place
to sleep and but little assurance of wholesome food. Yet this, it
appeared, was not to be. Already word had run among the extra
people. Those hired to-day were to be used for to-day only. Tomorrow
the desert drama would unfold without them.
Still, he had a day's pay coming. This time, though, it would be but
five dollars--his dress suit had not been needed. And five dollars
would appease Mrs. Patterson for another week. Yet what would be the
good of sleeping if he had nothing to eat? He was hungry now. Thin
soup, ever so plenteously spiced with catsup, was inadequate
provender for a working artist. He knew, even as he sat there cross-
legged, an apparently self-supporting and care-free Bedouin, that
this ensuing five dollars would never be seen by Mrs. Patterson.
There were a few more shots of the cafe's interior during which one
of the inmates carefully permitted his half--consumed cigarette to
go out. After that a few more shots of the lively street which, it
was now learned, was a street in Cairo. Earnest efforts were made by
the throngs in these scenes to give the murderous camel plenty of
head room. Some close-ups were taken of the European tourists while
they bargained with a native merchant for hammered brassware and
The bad sheik was caught near the group bending an evil glare upon
the beauteous English girl, and once the camera turned while she
faced him with a little shiver of apprehension. Later the sheik was
caught bargaining for a camel train with the innocent-looking old
gentleman in the sun-hat. Undoubtedly the sheik was about to lead
them into the desert for no good purpose. A dreadful fate seemed in
store for the girl, but she must be left to face it without the
support of Merton Gill.
The lately hired extras were now dismissed. They trooped back to the
dressing room to doff their flowing robes and remove the Bedouin
make-up. Merton Gill went from the dressing room to the little
window through which he had received his robe and his slip was
returned to him signed by the assistant director. It had now become
a paper of value, even to Mrs. Patterson; but she was never to know
this, for its owner went down the street to another window and
relinquished it for a five-dollar bill.
The bill was adorned with a portrait of Benjamin Harrison smugly
radiating prosperity from every hair in his beard. He was clearly
one who had never gone hungry nor betrayed the confidence of a
society woman counting upon her room rent strictly in advance. The
portrait of this successful man was borne swiftly to the cafeteria
where its present owner lavishly heaped a tray with excellent food
and hastened with it to a table. He ate with but slight regard for
his surroundings. Beulah Baxter herself might have occupied a
neighbouring table without coming to his notice at once. He was very
hungry. The catsup-laden soup had proved to be little more than an
In his first ardour he forgot his plight. It was not until later in
the meal that the accusing face of Mrs. Patterson came between him
and the last of his stew which he secured with blotters of bread.
Even then he ignored the woman. He had other things to think of. He
had to think of where he should sleep that night. But for once he
had eaten enough; his optimism was again enthroned.
Sleeping, after all, was not like eating. There were more ways to
manage it. The law of sleep would in time enforce itself, while
eating did nothing of the sort. You might sleep for nothing, but
someone had to be paid if you ate. He cheerfully paid eighty cents
for his repast. The catsup as an appetizer had been ruinous.
It was late in the afternoon when he left the cafeteria and the
cheerful activities of the lot were drawing to a close. Extra people
from the various stages were hurrying to the big dressing room,
whence they would presently stream, slips in hand, toward the
cashier's window. Belated principals came in from their work to
resume their choice street garments and be driven off in choice
Merton Gill in deep thought traversed the street between the big
stages and the dressing rooms. Still in deep thought he retraced his
steps, and at the front office turned off to the right on a road
that led to the deserted street of the Western town. His head bowed
in thought he went down this silent thoroughfare, his footsteps
echoing along the way lined by the closed shops. The Happy Days
Saloon and Joe--Buy or Sell, the pool-room and the restaurant, alike
slept for want of custom. He felt again the eeriness of this
desertion, and hurried on past the silent places.
Emerging from the lower end of this street he came upon a log cabin
where activity still survived. He joined the group before its door.
Inside two cameras were recording some drama of the rude frontier.
Over glowing coals in the stone fireplace a beautiful young girl
prepared food in a long-handled frying pan. At a table in the room's
centre two bearded miners seemed to be appraising a buckskin pouch
of nuggets, pouring them from hand to hand. A candle stuck in a
bottle flickered beside them. They were honest, kindly faced miners,
roughly dressed and heavily bearded, but it could be seen that they
had hearts of gold. The beautiful young girl, who wore a simple
dress of blue calico, and whose hair hung about her fair face in
curls of a radiant buff, now served them food and poured steaming
coffee from a large pot.
The miners seemed loth to eat, being excited by the gold nuggets.
They must have struck it rich that day, Merton Gill divined, and now
with wealth untold they would be planning to send the girl East to
school. They both patted her affectionately, keeping from her the
great surprise they had in store.
The girl was arch with them, and prettily kissed each upon his bald
head. Merton at once saw that she would be the daughter of neither;
she would be their ward. And perhaps they weren't planning to send
her to school. Perhaps they were going to send her to fashionable
relatives in the East, where she would unwittingly become the rival
of her beautiful but cold-hearted cousin for the hand of a rich
young stock-broker, and be ill-treated and long for the old miners
who would get word of it and buy some fine clothes from Joe--Buy or
Sell, and go East to the consternation of the rich relatives and see
that their little mountain flower was treated right.
As he identified this photo-play he studied the interior of the
cabin, the rough table at which the three now ate, the makeshift
chairs, the rifle over the fireplace, the picks and shovels, the
shelf along the wall with its crude dishes, the calico curtain
screening off what would be the dressing room of the little mountain
flower. It was a home-like room, for all its roughness. Along one
wall were two bunks, one above the other, well supplied with
The director, after a final shot of one of the miners being scalded
by his coffee which he drank from a saucer, had said, "All right,
boys! We'll have the fight first thing in the morning."
Merton Gill passed on. He didn't quite know what the fight would be
about. Surely the two miners wouldn't fight. Perhaps another miner
of loose character would come along and try to jump their claim, or
attempt some dirty work with the little girl. Something like that.
He carried with him the picture of the homey little ulterior, the
fireplace with its cooking utensils, the two bunks with their ample
stock of blankets--the crude door closed with a wooden bar and a
leather latch-string, which hung trustfully outside.
In other circumstances--chiefly those in which Merton Gill had now
been the prominent figure in the film world he meant one day to
become--he would on this night have undoubtedly won public attention
for his mysterious disappearance. The modest room in the Patterson
home, to which for three months he had unfailingly come after the
first picture show, on this night went untenanted. The guardian at
the Holden gate would have testified that he had not passed out that
way, and the way through the offices had been closed at five,
subsequent to which hour several witnesses could have sworn to
seeing him still on the lot.
In the ensuing search even the tank at the lower end of the lot
might have been dragged--without result.
Being little known to the public, however, and in the Patterson home
it being supposed that you could never tell about motion-picture
actors, his disappearance for the night caused absolutely no
slightest ripple. Public attention as regarded the young man
remained at a mirror-like calm, unflawed by even the mildest
curiosity. He had been seen, perhaps, though certainly not noted
with any interest, to be one of the group watching a night scene in
front of one of the Fifth Avenue mansions.
Lights shone from the draped windows of this mansion and from its
portals issued none other than Muriel Mercer, who, as Vera
Vanderpool, freed at last from the blight of Broadway, was leaving
her palatial home to cast her lot finally with the ardent young
tenement worker with the high forehead. She descended the brown-
stone steps, paused once to look back upon the old home where she
had been taught to love pleasure above the worth-while things of
life, then came on to the waiting limousine, being greeted here by
the young man with the earnest forehead who had won her to the
The missing youth might later have been observed, but probably was
not, walking briskly in the chill night toward the gate that led to
the outer world. But he wheeled abruptly before reaching this gate,
and walked again briskly, this time debouching from the main
thoroughfare into the black silence of the Western village. Here his
pace slackened, and halfway down the street he paused irresolutely.
He was under the wooden porch of the Fashion Restaurant--Give our
Tamales a Trial. He lingered here but a moment, however, then lurked
on down the still thoroughfare, keeping well within the shadow of
the low buildings. Just beyond the street was the log cabin of the
big-hearted miners. A moment later he could not have been observed
even by the keenest eye.
Nothing marked his disappearance, at least nothing that would have
been noted by the casual minded. He had simply gone. He was now no
more than the long-vanished cowboys and sheriffs and gamblers and
petty tradesmen who had once peopled this street of silence and
A night watchman came walking presently, flashing an electric torch
from side to side. He noticed nothing. He was, indeed, a rather
imaginative man, and he hoped he would not notice anything. He did
not like coming down this ghostly street, which his weak mind would
persist in peopling with phantom crowds from long-played picture
dramas. It gave him the creeps, as he had more than once confessed.
He hurried on, flashing his torch along the blind fronts of the
shops in a perfunctory manner. He was especially nervous when he
came to corners. And he was glad when he issued from the little
street into the wider one that was well lighted.
How could he have been expected to notice a very trifling
incongruous detail as he passed the log cabin? Indeed many a keener-
eyed and entirely valorous night watchman might have neglected to
observe that the leathern latch-string of the cabin's closed door
was no longer hanging outside.
CLIFFORD ARMYTAGE, THE OUTLAW
Dawn brought the wide stretches of the Holden lot into gray relief.
It lightened the big yellow stages and crept down the narrow street
of the Western town where only the ghosts of dead plays stalked. It
burnished the rich fronts of the Fifth Avenue mansions and in the
next block illumined the rough sides of a miner's cabin.
With more difficulty it seeped through the blurred glass of the one
window in this structure and lightened the shadows of its interior
to a pale gray. The long-handled frying-pan rested on the hearth
where the little girl had left it. The dishes of the overnight meal
were still on the table; the vacant chairs sprawled about it; and
the rifle was in its place above the rude mantel; the picks and
shovels awaited the toil of a new day. All seemed as it had been
when the director had closed the door upon it the previous night.
But then the blankets in the lower bunk were seen to heave and to be
thrust back from the pale face of Merton Gill. An elbow came into
play, and the head was raised. A gaze still vague with sleep
travelled about the room in dull alarm. He was waking up in his
little room at the Patterson house and he couldn't make it look
right. He rubbed his eyes vigorously and pushed himself farther up.
His mind resumed its broken threads. He was where he had meant to be
from the moment he had spied the blankets in those bunks.
In quicker alarm, now, he reached for his watch. Perhaps he had
slept too late and would be discovered--arrested, jailed! He found
his watch on the floor beside the bunk. Seven o'clock. He was safe.
He could dress at leisure, and presently be an early-arriving actor
on the Holden lot. He wondered how soon he could get food at the
cafeteria. Sleeping in this mountain cabin had cursed him with a
ravenous appetite, as if he had indeed been far off in the keen air
of the North Woods.
He crept from the warm blankets, and from under the straw mattress--
in which one of the miners had hidden the pouch of nuggets--he took
his newly pressed trousers. Upon a low bench across the room was a
battered tin wash--basin, a bucket of water brought by the little
girl from the spring, and a bar of yellow soap. He made a quick
toilet, and at seven-thirty, a good hour before the lot would wake
up, he was dressed and at the door.
It might be chancy, opening that door; so he peered through a narrow
crack at first, listening intently. He could hear nothing and no one
was in sight. He pushed the latch--string through its hole, then
opened the door enough to emit his slender shape.
A moment later, ten feet from the closed door, he stood at ease,
scanning the log cabin as one who, passing by, had been attracted by
its quaint architecture. Then glancing in both directions to be
again sure that he was unobserved, he walked away from his new home.
He did not slink furtively. He took the middle of the street and
there was a bit of swagger to his gait. He felt rather set up about
this adventure. He reached what might have been called the lot's
civic centre and cast a patronizing eye along the ends of the big
stages and the long, low dressing--room building across from them.
Before the open door of the warehouse he paused to watch a truck
being loaded with handsome furniture--a drawing room was evidently
to be set on one of the stages. Rare rugs and beautiful chairs and
tables were carefully brought out. He had rather a superintending
air as he watched this process. He might have been taken for the
owner of these costly things, watching to see that no harm befell
them. He strolled on when the truck had received its load. Such
people as he had met were only artisans, carpenters, electricians,
property-men. He faced them all confidently, with glances of
slightly amused tolerance. They were good men in their way but they
were not actors--not artists.
In the neatly landscaped little green place back of the office
building a climbing rose grew on a trellis. He plucked a pink bud,
fixed it in his lapel, and strolled down the street past the
dressing rooms. Across from these the doors of the big stages were
slid back, and inside he could see that sets were being assembled.
The truckload of furniture came to one of these doors and he again
watched it as the stuff was carried inside.
For all these workmen knew, he might presently be earning a princely
salary as he acted amid these beautiful objects, perhaps attending a
reception in a Fifth Avenue mansion where the father of a beautiful
New York society girl would tell him that he must first make good
before he could aspire to her hand. And he would make good--out
there in the great open spaces, where the girl would come to him
after many adventures and where they would settle to an untroubled
future in the West they both loved.
He had slept; he knew where--with luck--he could sleep again; and he
had money in his pocket for several more ample meals. At this moment
he felt equal to anything. No more than pleasantly aware of his
hunger, sharpened by the walk in this keen morning air, he made a
nonchalant progress toward the cafeteria. Motor cars were now
streaming through the gate, disgorging other actors--trim young men
and beautiful young women who must hurry to the dressing rooms while
he could sit at ease in a first-class cafeteria and eat heavily of
sustaining foods. Inside he chose from the restricted menu offered
by the place at this early hour and ate in a leisurely, almost
condescending manner. Half-a-dozen other early comers wolfed their
food as if they feared to be late for work, but he suffered no such
anxiety. He consumed the last morsel that his tray held, drained his
cup of coffee, and jingled the abundant silver coin in his pocket.
True, underneath it, as he plumed himself upon his adventure, was a
certain pestering consciousness that all was not so well with him as
observers might guess. But he resolutely put this away each time it
threatened to overwhelm him. He would cross no bridge until he came
to it. He even combated this undercurrent of sanity by wording part
of an interview with himself some day to appear in Photo Land:
"Clifford Armytage smiled that rare smile which his admirers have
found so winning on the silver screen--a smile reminiscent, tender,
eloquent of adversities happily surmounted. 'Yes,' he said frankly
in the mellow tones that are his, 'I guess there were times when I
almost gave up the struggle. I recall one spell, not so many years
ago, when I camped informally on the Holden lot, sleeping where I
could find a bed and stinting myself in food to eke out my little
savings. Yet I look back upon that time'--he mischievously pulled
the ears of the magnificent Great Dane that lolled at his feet--'as
one of the happiest in my career, because I always knew that my day
would come. I had done only a few little bits, but they had stood
out, and the directors had noticed me. Not once did I permit myself
to become discouraged, and so I say to your readers who may feel
that they have in them the stuff for truly creative screen art--'"
He said it, dreaming above the barren tray, said it as Harold
Parmalee had said it in a late interview extorted from him by
Augusta Blivens for the refreshment of his host of admirers who read
Photo Land. He was still saying it as he paid his check at the
counter, breaking off only to reflect that fifty-five cents was a
good deal to be paying for food so early in the day. For of course
he must eat again before seeking shelter of the humble miner's
It occurred to him that the blankets might be gone by nightfall. He
hoped they would have trouble with the fight scene. He hoped there
would be those annoying delays that so notoriously added to the cost
of producing the screen drama--long waits, when no one seemed to
know what was being waited for, and bored actors lounged about in
apathy. He hoped the fight would be a long fight. You needed
blankets even in sunny California.
He went out to pass an enlivening day, fairly free of misgiving. He
found an abundance of entertainment. On one stage he overlooked for
half an hour a fragment of the desert drama which he had assisted
the previous day. A covered incline led duskily down to the deserted
tomb in which the young man and the beautiful English girl were to
take shelter for the night. They would have eluded the bad sheik for
a little while, and in the tomb the young man would show himself to
be a gentleman by laying not so much as a finger upon the
But this soon palled upon the watching connoisseur. The actual shots
were few and separated by barren intervals of waiting for that
mysterious something which photoplays in production seemed to need.
Being no longer identified with this drama he had lost much of his
concern over the fate in store for the girl, though he knew she
would emerge from the ordeal as pure as she was beautiful--a bit
foolish at moments, perhaps, but good.
He found that he was especially interested in bedroom scenes. On
Stage Four a sumptuous bedroom, vacant for the moment, enchained him
for a long period of contemplation. The bed was of some rare wood
ornately carved, with a silken canopy, spread with finest linen and
quilts of down, its pillows opulent in their embroidered cases. The
hide of a polar bear, its head mounted with open jaws, spread over
the rich rug beside the bed. He wondered about this interestingly.
Probably the stage would be locked at night. Still, at a suitable
hour, he could descreetly find out. On another stage a bedroom
likewise intrigued him, though this was a squalid room in a tenement
and the bed was a cheap thing sparsely covered and in sad disorder.
People were working on this set, and he presently identified the
play, for Muriel Mercer in a neat black dress entered to bring
comfort to the tenement dwellers. But this play, too, had ceased to
interest him. He knew that Vera Vanderpool had escaped the blight of
Broadway to choose the worthwhile, the true, the vital things of
life, and that was about all he now cared to know of the actual
play. This tenement bed had become for him its outstanding dramatic
value. He saw himself in it for a good night's rest, waking
refreshed in plenty of time to be dressed and out before the
tenement people would need it. He must surely learn if the big
sliding doors to these stages were locked overnight.
He loitered about the stages until late afternoon, with especial
attention to sleeping apartments. In one gripping drama he felt
cheated. The set showed the elaborately fitted establishment of a
fashionable modiste. Mannequins in wondrous gowns came through
parted curtains to parade before the shop's clientele, mostly
composed of society butterflies. One man hovered attentive about the
most beautiful of these, and whispered entertainingly as she scanned
the gowns submitted to her choice. He was a dissolute--looking man,
although faultlessly arrayed. His hair was thin, his eyes were
cruel, and his face bespoke self-indulgence.
The expert Merton Gill at once detected that the beautiful young
woman he whispered to would be one of those light--headed wives who
care more for fashionable dress than for the good name of their
husbands. He foresaw that the creature would be trapped into the
power of this villain by her love of finery, though he was sure that
the end would find her still a good woman. The mannequins finished
their parade and the throng of patrons broke up. The cameras were
pushed to an adjoining room where the French proprietor of the place
figured at a desk. The dissolute pleasure-seeker came back to
question him. His errant fancy had been caught by one of the
mannequins--the most beautiful of them, a blonde with a flowerlike
face and a figure whose perfection had been boldly attested by the
gowns she had worn. The unprincipled proprietor at once demanded
from a severe-faced forewoman that this girl be sent for, after
which he discreetly withdrew. The waiting scoundrel sat and
complacently pinched the ends of his small dark mustache. It could
be seen that he was one of those who believe that money will buy
The fair girl entered and was leeringly entreated to go out to
dinner with him. It appeared that she never went out to dinner with
any one, but spent her evenings with her mother who was very, very
ill. Her unworthy admirer persisted. Then the telephone on the
manager's desk called her. Her mother was getting worse. The
beautiful face was now suffused with agony, but this did not deter
the man from his loathsome advances. There was another telephone
call. She must come at once if she were to see her mother alive. The
man seized her. They struggled. All seemed lost, even the choice
gown she still wore; but she broke away to be told over the
telephone that her mother had died. Even this sad news made no
impression upon the wretch. He seemed to be a man of one idea. Again
he seized her, and the maddened girl stabbed him with a pair of long
gleaming shears that had lain on the manager's desk. He fell
lifeless at her feet, while the girl stared in horror at the weapon
she still grasped.
Merton Gill would not have lingered for this. There were tedious
waits, and scenes must be rehearsed again and again. Even the agony
of the girl as she learned of her mother's passing must be done over
and over at the insistence of a director who seemed to know what a
young girl should feel at these moments. But Merton had watched from
his place back of the lights with fresh interest from the moment it
was known that the girl's poor old mother was an invalid, for he had
at first believed that the mother's bedroom would be near by. He
left promptly when it became apparent that the mother's bedroom
would not be seen in this drama. They would probably show the doctor
at the other telephone urging the girl to hurry home, and show him
again announcing that all was over, but the expense of mother and
her deathbed had been saved. He cared little for the ending of this
play. Already he was becoming a little callous to the plight of
beautiful young girls threatened with the loss of that which they
held most dear.
Purposely all day he had avoided the neighbourhood of his humble
miner's home. He thought it as well that he should not be seen much
around there. He ate again at four o'clock, heartily and rather
expensively, and loafed about the stages until six. Then he strolled
leisurely down the village street and out the lower end to where he
could view the cabin. Work for the day was plainly over. The
director and his assistant lingered before the open door in
consultation. A property man and an electrician were engaged inside,
but a glance as he passed showed that the blankets were still in the
bunks. He did not wait to see more, but passed on with all evidences
of disinterest in this lowly abode.
He ascertained that night that the fight must have been had. The
table was overturned, one of the chairs wrecked, and there were
other signs of disorder. Probably it had been an excellent fight;
probably these primitive men of the woods had battled desperately.
But he gave little consideration to the combat, and again slept
warmly under the blankets. Perhaps they would fight again to-morrow,
or perhaps there would be less violent bits of the drama that would
secure him another night of calm repose.
The following morning found him slightly disturbed by two unforeseen
needs arising from his novel situation. He looked carefully at his
collar, wondering how many days he would be able to keep it looking
like a fresh collar, and he regretted that he had not brought his
safety-razor to this new home. Still the collar was in excellent
shape as yet, and a scrutiny of his face in the cracked mirror
hanging on the log wall determined that he could go at least another
day without shaving. His beard was of a light growth, gentle in
texture, and he was yet far from the plight of Mr. Montague.
Eventually, to be sure, he would have to go to the barber shop on
the lot and pay money to be shaved, which seemed a pity, because an
actor could live indefinitely unshaven but could live without food
for the merest fragment of time.
He resolved to be on the lookout that day for a barber-shop set. He
believed they were not common in the photodrama, still one might be
He limited himself to the lightest of breakfasts. He had timidly
refrained from counting his silver but he knew he must be frugal. He
rejoiced at this economy until late afternoon when, because of it,
he simply had to eat a heavier dinner than he had expected to need.
There was something so implacable about this demand for food. If you
skimped in the morning you must make amends at the next meal. He
passed the time as on the previous day, a somewhat blase actor
resting between pictures, and condescending to beguile the tedium by
overlooking the efforts of his professional brethren. He could find
no set that included a barber shop, although they were beds on every
hand. He hoped for another night in the cabin, but if that were not
to be, there was a bed easy of access on Stage Three. When he had
observed it, a ghastly old father was coughing out his life under
its blankets, nursed only by his daughter, a beautiful young
creature who sewed by his bedside, and who would doubtless be thrown
upon the world in the very next reel, though--Merton was glad to
note--probably not until the next day.
Yet there was no need for this couch of the tubercular father, for
action in the little cabin was still on. After making the unhappy
discovery in the cafeteria that his appetite could not be hoodwinked
by the clumsy subterfuge of calling coffee and rolls a breakfast
some six hours previously, he went boldly down to stand before his
home. Both miners were at work inside. The room had been placed in
order again, though the little mountain flower was gone. A letter,
he gathered, had been received from her, and one of the miners was
about to leave on a long journey.
Merton could not be sure, but he supposed that the letter from the
little girl told that she was unhappy in her new surroundings,
perhaps being ill-treated by the supercilious Eastern relatives. The
miner who was to remain helped the other to pack his belongings in a
quaint old carpet sack, and together they undid a bundle which
proved to contain a splendid new suit. Not only this, but now came a
scene of eloquent appeal to the watcher outside the door. The miner
who was to remain expressed stern disapproval of the departing
miner's beard. It would never do, he was seen to intimate, and when
the other miner portrayed helplessness a new package was unwrapped
and a safety razor revealed to his shocked gaze.
At this sight Merton Gill felt himself growing too emotional for a
mere careless bystander, and withdrew to a distance where he could
regain better control of himself. When he left the miner to be shorn
was betraying comic dismay while the other pantomimed the correct
use of the implement his thoughtfulness had provided. When he
returned after half--an-hour's rather nervous walk up another
street, the departing miner was clean shaven and one might note the
new razor glittering on the low bench beside the battered tin basin.
They worked late in his home that night; trifling scenes were taken
and retaken. The departing miner had to dress in his splendid but
ill-fitting new garments and to bid an affectionate farewell to his
partner, then had to dress in his old clothes again for some bit
that had been forgotten, only to don the new suit for close-ups. At
another time Merton Gill might have resented this tediously drawn-
out affair which was keeping him from his rest, for he had come to
look upon this structure as one having rights in it after a certain
hour, but a sight of the razor which had not been touched allayed
any possible feeling of irritation.
It was nine-thirty before the big lights jarred finally off and the
director said, "That's all, boys." Then he turned to call, "Jimmie!
Hey, Jimmie! Where's that prop-rustler gone to now?"
"Here, Mr. Burke, yes, sir."
"We've finished the shack stuff. Let's see--" He looked at the watch
on his wrist--"That'll be all for tonight. Strike this first thing
"Yes, sir," said Jimmie. The door was closed and the men walked
away. Merton trailed them a bit, not remaining too pointedly near
the cabin. He circled around through Fifth Avenue to regain the
Softly he let himself in and groped through the dark until his hand
closed upon the abandoned razor. Satisfying himself that fresh
blades had accompanied it, he made ready for bed. He knew it was to
be his last night in this shelter. The director had told Jimmie to
strike it first thing in the morning. The cabin would still be
there, but it would contain no homely furniture, no chairs, no
table, no wash-basin, no safety-razor and, most vital of lacks--it
would be devoid of blankets.
Yet this knowledge did not dismay him. He slept peacefully after
praying that something good would happen to him. He put it that way
very simply. He had placed himself, it seemed, where things could
only happen to him. He was, he felt, beyond bringing them about.
MORE WAYS THAN ONE
Early he was up to bathe and shave. He shaved close to make it last
longer, until his tender face reddened under the scraping. Probably
he would not find another cabin in which a miner would part with his
beard for an Eastern trip. Probably he would have to go to the
barber the next time. He also succeeded, with soap and water, in
removing a stain from his collar. It was still a decent collar; not
immaculate, perhaps, but entirely possible.
This day he took eggs with his breakfast, intending to wheedle his
appetite with a lighter second meal than it had demanded the day
before. He must see if this would not average better on the day's
After breakfast he was irresistibly drawn to view the moving picture
of his old home being dismantled. He knew now that he might stand
brazenly there without possible criticism. He found Jimmy and a
companion property-boy already busy. Much of the furniture was
outside to be carted away. Jimmy, as Merton lolled idly in the
doorway, emptied the blackened coffee pot into the ashes of the
fireplace and then proceeded to spoon into the same refuse heap half
a kettle of beans upon which the honest miners had once feasted. The
watcher deplored that he had not done more than taste the beans when
he had taken his final survey of the place this morning. They had
been good beans, but to do more than taste them would have been
stealing. Now he saw them thrown away and regretted that he could
not have known what their fate was to be. There had been enough of
them to save him a day's expenses.
He stood aside as the two boys brought out the cooking utensils, the
rifle, the miners' tools, to stow them in a waiting handcart. When
they had loaded this vehicle they trundled it on up the narrow
street of the Western town. Yet they went only a little way, halting
before one of the street's largest buildings. A sign above its
wooden porch flaunted the name Crystal Palace Hotel. They unlocked
its front door and took the things from the cart inside.
From the street the watcher could see them stowing these away. The
room appeared to contain a miscellaneous collection of articles
needed in the ruder sort of photodrama. Emptying their cart, they
returned with it to the cabin for another load. Merton Gill stepped
to the doorway and peered in from apparently idle curiosity. He
could see a row of saddles on wooden supports; there were kitchen
stoves, lamps, painted chairs, and heavy earthenware dishes on
shelves. His eyes wandered over these articles until they came to
rest upon a pile of blankets at one side of the room. They were
neatly folded, and they were many.
Down before the cabin he could see the handcart being reloaded by
Jimmie and his helper. Otherwise the street was empty. The young man
at the doorway stepped lightly in and regarded the windows on either
side of the door. He sauntered to the street and appeared to be
wondering what he would examine next in this curious world. He
passed Jimmie and the other boy returning with the last load from
the cabin. He noted at the top of the load the mattress on which he
had lain for three nights and the blankets that had warmed him. But
he was proved not to be so helpless as he had thought. Again he knew
where a good night's rest might be had by one using ordinary
Again that day, the fourth of his double life, he went the mad pace,
a well-fed, carefree youth, sauntering idly from stage to stage,
regarding nonchalantly the joys and griefs, the twistings of human
destiny there variously unfolded. Not only was he this to the casual
public notice; to himself he was this, at least consciously. True,
in those nether regions of the mind so lately discovered and now
being so expertly probed by Science, in the mind's dark basement, so
to say, a certain unlovely fronted dragon of reality would issue
from the gloom where it seemed to have been lurking and force itself
upon his notice.
This would be at oddly contented moments when he least feared the
future, when he was most successfully being to himself all that he
must seem to others. At such times when he leisurely walked a world
of plenty and fruition, the dragon would half-emerge from its
subconscious lair to chill him with its head composed entirely of
repellent facts. Then a stout effort would be required to send the
thing back where it belonged, to those lower, decently hidden levels
of the mind--life.
And the dragon was cunning. From hour to hour, growing more restive,
it employed devices of craft and subtlety. As when Merton Gill,
carefree to the best of his knowledge, strolling lightly to another
point of interest, graciously receptive to the pleasant life about
him, would suddenly discover that a part of his mind without
superintendence had for some moments been composing a letter,
something that ran in effect:
"Mr. Gashwiler, dear sir, I have made certain changes in my plans
since I first came to sunny California and getting quite a little
homesick for good old Simsbury and I thought I would write you about
taking back my old job in the emporium, and now about the money for
the ticket back to Simsbury, the railroad fare is--"
He was truly amazed when he found this sort of thing going on in
that part of his mind he didn't watch. It was scandalous. He would
indignantly snatch the half-finished letter and tear it up each time
he found it unaccountably under way.
It was surely funny the way your mind would keep doing things you
didn't want it to do. As, again, this very morning when, with his
silver coin out in his hand, he had merely wished to regard it as a
great deal of silver coin, a store of plenty against famine, which
indeed it looked to be under a not-too-minute scrutiny. It looked
like as much as two dollars and fifty cents, and he would have
preferred to pocket it again with this impression. Yet that
rebellious other part of his mind had basely counted the coin even
while he eyed it approvingly, and it had persisted in shouting aloud
that it was not two dollars and fifty cents but one dollar and
The counting part of the mind made no comment on this discrepancy;
it did not say that this discovery put things in a very different
light. It merely counted, registered the result, and ceased to
function, with an air of saying that it would ascertain the facts
without prejudice and you could do what you liked about them. It
That night a solitary guest enjoyed the quiet hospitality of the
Crystal Palace Hotel. He might have been seen--but was not--to
effect a late evening entrance to this snug inn by means of a front
window which had, it would seem, at some earlier hour of the day,
been unfastened from within. Here a not-too-luxurious but sufficing
bed was contrived on the floor of the lobby from a pile of neatly
folded blankets at hand, and a second night's repose was enjoyed by
the lonely patron, who again at an early hour of the morning, after
thoughtfully refolding the blankets that had protected him, was at
some pains to leave the place as he had entered it without
attracting public notice, perchance of unpleasant character.
On this day it would not have been possible for any part of the mind
whatsoever to misvalue the remaining treasure of silver coin. It had
become inconsiderable, and even if kept from view could be, and was,
counted again and again by mere blind fingertips. They contracted,
indeed, a senseless habit of confining themselves in a trouser's
pocket to count the half-dollar, the quarter, and the two dimes long
after the total was too well known to its owner.
Nor did this total, unimpressive at best, long retain even these
poor dimensions. A visit to the cafeteria, in response to the
imperious demands of a familiar organic process, resulted in less
labour, by two dimes, for the stubbornly reiterative fingertips.
An ensuing visit to the Holden lot barber, in obedience to social
demands construed to be equally imperious with the physical, reduced
all subsequent counting, whether by fingertips or a glance of the
eye, to barest mechanical routine. A single half-dollar is easy to
count. Still, on the following morning there were two coins to
count. True, both were dimes.
A diligent search among the miscellany of the Crystal Palace Hotel
had failed to reveal a single razor. The razor used by the miner
should in all reason have been found, but there was neither that nor
any other. The baffled seeker believed there must have been crooked
work somewhere. Without hesitation he found either Jimmie or his
companion to be guilty of malfeasance in office. But at least one
item of more or less worried debate was eliminated. He need no
longer weigh mere surface gentility against the stern demands of an
active metabolism. A shave cost a quarter. Twenty cents would not
buy a shave, but it would buy at the cafeteria something more
needful to any one but a fop.
He saw himself in the days to come--if there were very many days to
come, of which he was now not too certain--descending to the
unwholesome artistic level of the elder Montague. He would, in
short, be compelled to peddle the brush. And of course as yet it was
nothing like a brush--nothing to kindle the eye of a director
needing genuine brushes. In the early morning light he fingered a
somewhat gaunt chin and wondered how long "they" would require to
grow. Not yet could he be taken for one of those actors compelled by
the rigorous exactions of creative screen art to let Nature have its
course with his beard. At present he merely needed a shave.
And the collar had not improved with usage. Also, as the day wore
on, coffee with one egg proved to have been not long-enduring fare
for this private in the army of the unemployed. Still, his morale
was but slightly impaired. There were always ways, it seemed. And
the later hours of the hungry afternoon were rather pleasantly
occupied in dwelling upon one of them.
The sole guest of the Crystal Palace Hotel entered the hostelry that
night somewhat earlier than was usual; indeed at the very earliest
moment that foot traffic through the narrow street seemed to have
diminished to a point where the entry could be effected without
incurring the public notice which he at these moments so sincerely
shunned. After a brief interval inside the lobby he issued from his
window with certain objects in hand, one of which dropped as he
clambered out. The resulting clamour seemed to rouse far echoes
along the dead street, and he hastily withdrew, with a smothered
exclamation of dismay, about the nearest corner of the building
until it could be ascertained that echoes alone had been aroused.
After a little breathless waiting he slunk down the street, keeping
well within friendly shadows, stepping softly, until he reached the
humble cabin where so lately the honest miners had enacted their
heart-tragedy. He jerked the latch-string of the door and was
swiftly inside, groping a way to the fireplace. Here he lighted
matches, thoughtfully appropriated that morning from the cafeteria
counter. He shielded the blaze with one hand while with the other he
put to use the articles he had brought from his hotel.
Into a tin cooking pot with a long handle he now hastily ladled
well-cooked beans from the discarded heap in the fireplace, by means
of an iron spoon. He was not too careful. More or less ashes
accompanied the nutritious vegetables as the pot grew to be half
full. That was a thing to be corrected later, and at leisure. When
the last bean had been salvaged the flame of another match revealed
an unsuspected item--a half-loaf of bread nestled in the ashes at
the far corner of the fireplace. It lacked freshness; was, in truth,
withered and firm to the touch, but doubtless more wholesome than
bread freshly baked.
He was again on his humble cot in the seclusion of the Crystal
Palace Hotel. Half-reclining, he ate at leisure. It being
inadvisable to light matches here he ate chiefly by the touch
system. There was a marked alkaline flavour to the repast, not
unpleasantly counteracted by a growth of vegetable mould of delicate
lavender tints which Nature had been decently spreading over the
final reduction of this provender to its basic elements. But the
time was not one in which to cavil about minor infelicities. Ashes
wouldn't hurt any one if taken in moderation; you couldn't see the
mould in a perfectly dark hotel; and the bread was good.
The feast was prolonged until a late hour, but the finger--tips that
had accurately counted money in a dark pocket could ascertain in a
dark hotel that a store of food still remained. He pulled the
blankets about him and sank comfortably to rest. There was always
Breakfast the next morning began with the promise of only moderate
enjoyment. Somehow in the gray light sifting through the windows the
beans did not look as good as they had tasted the night before, and
the early mouthfuls were less blithesome on the palate than the
remembered ones of yesterday. He thought perhaps he was not so
hungry as he had been at his first encounter with them. He
delicately removed a pocket of ashes from the centre, and tried
again. They tasted better now. The mould of tender tints was again
visible but he made no effort to avoid it. For his appetite had
reawakened. He was truly hungry, and ate with an entire singleness
Toward the last of the meal his conscious self feebly prompted him
to quit, to save against the inevitable hunger of the night. But the
voice was ignored. He was now clay to the moulding of the
subconscious. He could have saved a few of the beans when reason was
again enthroned, but they were so very few that he fatuously thought
them not worth saving. Might as well make a clean job of it. He
restored the stewpan and spoon to their places and left his hotel.
He was fed. To-day something else would have to happen.
The plush hat cocked at a rakish angle, he walked abroad with
something of the old confident swagger. Once he doubtfully fingered
the sprouting beard, but resolutely dismissed a half-formed notion
of finding out how the Holden lot barber would regard a proposition
from a new patron to open a charge account. If nothing worse than
remaining unshaven was going to happen to him, what cared he? The
collar was still pretty good. Why let his beard be an incubus? He
forgot it presently in noticing that the people arriving on the
Holden lot all looked so extremely well fed. He thought it singular
that he should never before have noticed how many well-fed people
one saw in a day.
Late in the afternoon his explorations took him beyond the lower end
of his little home street, and he was attracted by sounds of the
picture drama from a rude board structure labelled the High Gear
Dance Hall. He approached and entered with that calm ease of manner
which his days on the lot had brought to a perfect bloom. No one now
would ever suppose that he was a mere sightseer or chained to the
Holden lot by circumstances over which he had ceased to exert the
The interior of the High Gear Dance Hall presented nothing new to
his seasoned eye. It was the dance-hall made familiar by many a
smashing five-reel Western. The picture was, quite normally,
waiting. Electricians were shoving about the big light standards,
cameras were being moved, and bored actors were loafing informally
at the round tables or chatting in groups about the set.
One actor alone was keeping in his part. A ragged, bearded, unkempt
elderly man in red shirt and frayed overalls, a repellent fell hat
pulled low over his brow, reclined on the floor at the end of the
bar, his back against a barrel. Apparently he slept. A flash of
remembrance from the Montague girl's talk identified this wretched
creature. This was what happened to an actor who had to peddle the
brush. Perhaps for days he had been compelled to sleep there in the
interests of dance-hall atmosphere.
He again scanned the group, for he remembered, too, that the
Montague girl would also be working here in God's Great Outdoors.
His eyes presently found her. She was indeed a blonde hussy, short-
skirted, low-necked, pitifully rouged, depraved beyond redemption.
She stood at the end of the piano, and in company with another of
the dance-hall girls who played the accompaniment, she was singing a
ballad the refrain of which he caught as "God calls them Angels in
Heaven, we call them Mothers here."
The song ended, the Montague girl stepped to the centre of the room,
looked aimlessly about her, then seized an innocent bystander, one
of the rough characters frequenting this unsavoury resort, and did a
dance with him among the tables. Tiring of this, she flitted across
the room and addressed the bored director who impatiently awaited
the changing of lights. She affected to consider him a reporter who
had sought an interview with her. She stood erect, facing him with
one hand on a hip, the other patting and readjusting her blonde
"Really," she began in a voice of pained dignity, "I am at a loss to
understand why the public should be so interested in me. What can I
say to your readers--I who am so wholly absorbed in my art that I
can't think of hardly anything else? Why will not the world let us
alone? Hold on--don't go!"
She had here pretended that the reporter was taking her at her word.
She seized him by a lapel to which she clung while with her other
arm she encircled a post, thus anchoring the supposed intruder into
her private affairs. "As I was saying," she resumed, "all this
publicity is highly distasteful to the artist, and yet since you
have forced yourself in here I may as well say a few little things
about how good I am and how I got that way. Yes, I have nine motor
cars, and I just bought a lace tablecloth for twelve hundred
She broke off inconsequently, poor victim of her constitutional
frivolity. The director grinned after her as she danced away, though
Merton Gill had considered her levity in the worst of taste. Then
her eye caught him as he stood modestly back of the working
electricians and she danced forward again in his direction. He would
have liked to evade her but saw that he could not do this
She greeted him with an impudent grin. "Why, hello, trouper! As I
live, the actin' Kid!" She held out a hand to him and he could not
well refuse it. He would have preferred to "up-stage" her once more,
as she had phrased it in her low jargon, but he was cornered. Her
grip of his hand quite astonished him with its vigour.
"Well, how's everything with you? Everything jake?" He tried for a
show of easy confidence. "Oh, yes, yes, indeed, everything is."
"Well, that's good, Kid." But she was now without the grin, and was
running a practised eye over what might have been called his
production. The hat was jaunty enough, truly a hat of the
successful, but all below that, the not-too-fresh collar, the
somewhat rumpled coat, the trousers crying for an iron despite their
nightly compression beneath their slumbering owner, the shoes not
too recently polished, and, more than all, a certain hunted though
still-defiant look in the young man's eyes, seemed to speak
eloquently under the shrewd glance she bent on him.
"Say, listen here, Old-timer, remember I been trouping man and boy
for over forty year and it's hard to fool me--you working?"
He resented the persistent levity of manner, but was coerced by the
very apparent real kindness in her tone. "Well," he looked about the
set vaguely in his discomfort, "you see, right now I'm between
pictures--you know how it is."
Again she searched his eyes and spoke in a lower tone: "Well, all
right--but you needn't blush about it, Kid." The blush she detected
became more flagrant.
"Well, I--you see--" he began again, but he was saved from being
explicit by the call of an assistant director.
"Miss Montague. Miss Montague--where's that Flips girl--on the set,
please." She skipped lightly from him. When she returned a little
later to look for him he had gone.
He went to bed that night when darkness had made this practicable,
and under his blankets whiled away a couple of wakeful hours by
running tensely dramatic films of breakfast, dinner, and supper at
the Gashwiler home. It seemed that you didn't fall asleep so quickly
when you had eaten nothing since early morning. Never had he
achieved such perfect photography as now of the Gashwiler corned-
beef hash and light biscuits, the Gashwiler hot cakes and sausage,
and never had Gashwiler so impressively carved the Saturday night
four-rib roast of tender beef. Gashwiler achieved a sensational
triumph in the scene, being accorded all the close--ups that the
most exacting of screen actors could wish. His knife-work was
perfect. He held his audience enthralled by his technique.
Mrs. Gashwiler, too, had a small but telling part in the drama to-
night; only a character bit, but one of those poignant bits that
stand out in the memory. The subtitle was, "Merton, won't you let me
give you another piece of the mince pie?" That was all, and yet, as
screen artists say, it got over. There came very near to being not a
dry eye in the house when the simple words were flashed beside an
insert of thick, flaky-topped mince pies with quarters cut from them
to reveal their noble interiors
Sleep came at last while he was regretting that lawless orgy of the
morning. He needn't have cleaned up those beans in that silly way.
He could have left a good half of them. He ran what might have been
considered a split-reel comedy of the stew-pan's bottom still
covered with perfectly edible beans lightly protected with Nature's
own pastel-tinted shroud for perishing vegetable matter and
diversified here and there with casual small deposits of ashes.
In the morning something good really did happen. As he folded his
blankets in the gray light a hard object rattled along the floor
from them. He picked this up before he recognized it as a mutilated
fragment from the stale half--loaf of bread he had salvaged. He
wondered how he could have forgotten it, even in the plenitude of
his banquet. There it was, a mere nubbin of crust and so hard it
might almost have been taken for a petrified specimen of prehistoric
bread. Yet it proved to be rarely palatable. It's flavour was
exquisite. It melted in the mouth.
Somewhat refreshed by this modest cheer, he climbed from the window
of the Crystal Palace with his mind busy on two tracks. While the
letter to Gashwiler composed itself, with especially clear
directions about where the return money should be sent, he was also
warning himself to remain throughout the day at a safe distance from
the door of the cafeteria. He had proved the wisdom of this even the
day before that had started with a bounteous breakfast. To-day the
aroma of cooked food occasionally wafted from the cafeteria door
would prove, he was sure, to be more than he could bear.
He rather shunned the stages to-day, keeping more to himself. The
collar, he had to confess, was no longer, even to the casual eye,
what a successful screen-actor's collar should be. The sprouting
beard might still be misconstrued as the whim of a director
sanctified to realism--every day it was getting to look more like
that--but no director would have commanded the wearing of such a
collar except in actual work where it might have been a striking
detail in the apparel of an underworldling, one of those creatures
who became the tools of rich but unscrupulous roues who are bent
upon the moral destruction of beautiful young screen heroines. He
knew it was now that sort of collar. No use now in pretending that
it had been worn yesterday for the first time.
OF SHATTERED ILLUSIONS
The next morning he sat a long time in the genial sunlight watching
carpenters finish a scaffolding beside the pool that had once
floated logs to a sawmill. The scaffolding was a stout affair
supporting an immense tank that would, evidently for some occult
reason important to screen art, hold a great deal of water. The
sawmill was gone; at one end of the pool rode a small sail-boat with
one mast, its canvas flapping idly in a gentle breeze. Its deck was
littered with rigging upon which two men worked. They seemed to be
getting things shipshape for a cruise.
When he had tired of this he started off toward the High Gear Dance
Hall. Something all day had been drawing him there against his will.
He hesitated to believe it was the Montague girl's kindly manner
toward him the day before, yet he could identify no other influence.
Probably it was that. Yet he didn't want to face her again, even if
for a moment she had quit trying to be funny, even if for a moment
her eyes had searched his quite earnestly, her broad, amiable face
glowing with that sudden friendly concern. It had been hard to
withstand this yesterday; he had been in actual danger of confiding
to her that engagements of late were not plentiful--something like
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