Merton of the Movies
Harry Leon Wilson
Part 4 out of 7
that. And it would be harder to-day. Even the collar would make it
harder to resist the confidence that he was not at this time
overwhelmed with offers for his art.
He had for what seemed like an interminable stretch of time been
solitary and an outlaw. It was something to have been spoken to by a
human being who expressed ever so fleeting an interest in his
affairs, even by someone as inconsequent, as negligible in the world
of screen artistry as this lightsome minx who, because of certain
mental infirmities, could never hope for the least enviable eminence
in a profession demanding seriousness of purpose. Still it would be
foolish to go again to the set where she was. She might think he was
So he passed the High Gear, where a four-horse stage, watched by two
cameras, was now releasing its passengers who all appeared to be
direct from New York, and walked on to an outdoor set that promised
entertainment. This was the narrow street of some quaint European
village, Scotch he soon saw from the dress of its people. A large
automobile was invading this remote hamlet to the dismay of its
inhabitants. Rehearsed through a megaphone they scurried within
doors at its approach, ancient men hobbling on sticks and frantic
mothers grabbing their little ones from the path of the monster. Two
trial trips he saw the car make the length of the little street.
At its lower end, brooding placidly, was an ancient horse rather
recalling Dexter in his generously exposed bones and the jaded droop
of his head above a low stone wall. Twice the car sped by him,
arousing no sign of apprehension nor even of interest. He paid it
not so much as the tribute of a raised eyelid.
The car went back to the head of the street where its entrance would
be made. "All right--ready!" came the megaphoned order. Again the
peaceful street was thrown into panic by this snorting dragon from
the outer world. The old men hobbled affrightedly within doors, the
mothers saved their children. And this time, to the stupefaction of
Merton Gill, even the old horse proved to be an actor of rare
merits. As the car approached he seemed to suffer a painful shock.
He tossed his aged head, kicked viciously with his rear feet, stood
absurdly aloft on them, then turned and fled from the monster. As
Merton mused upon the genius of the trainer who had taught his horse
not only to betray fright at a motor car but to distinguish between
rehearsals and the actual taking of a scene, he observed a man who
emerged from a clump of near-by shrubbery. He carried a shotgun.
This was broken at the breech and the man was blowing smoke from the
barrels as he came on.
So that was it. The panic of the old horse had been but a simple
reaction to a couple of charges of--perhaps rock--salt. Merton Gill
hoped it had been nothing sterner. For the first time in his screen
career he became cynical about his art. A thing of shame, of
machinery, of subterfuge. Nothing would be real, perhaps not even
It is probable that lack of food conduced to this disparaging
outlook; and he recovered presently, for he had been smitten with a
quick vision of Beulah Baxter in one of her most daring exploits.
She, at least, was real. Deaf to entreaty, she honestly braved her
hazards. It was a comforting thought after this late exposure of a
In this slightly combative mood he retraced his steps and found
himself outside the High Gear Dance Hall, fortified for another
possible encounter with the inquiring and obviously sympathetic
Montague girl. He entered and saw that she was not on the set. The
bar-room dance-hall was for the moment deserted of its ribald crew
while an honest inhabitant of the open spaces on a balcony was
holding a large revolver to the shrinking back of one of the New
York men who had lately arrived by the stage. He forced this man,
who was plainly not honest, to descend the stairs and to sign, at a
table, a certain paper. Then, with weapon still in hand, the honest
Westerner forced the cowardly New Yorker in the direction of the
front door until they had passed out of the picture.
On this the bored director of the day before called loudly, "Now,
boys, in your places. You've heard a shot--you're running outside to
see what's the matter. On your toes, now--try it once." From rear
doors came the motley frequenters of the place, led by the elder
They trooped to the front in two lines and passed from the picture.
Here they milled about, waiting for further orders.
"Rotten!" called the director. "Rotten and then some. Listen. You
came like a lot of children marching out of a public school. Don't
come in lines, break it up, push each other, fight to get ahead, and
you're noisy, too. You're shouting. You're saying, 'What's this?
What's it all about? What's the matter? Which way did he go?' Say
anything you want to, but keep shouting--anything at all. Say
'Thar's gold in them hills!' if you can't think of anything else. Go
on, now, boys, do it again and pep it, see. Turn the juice on, open
up the old mufflers."
The men went back through the rear doors. The late caller would here
have left, being fed up with this sort of stuff, but at that moment
he descried the Montague girl back behind a light-standard. She had
not noted him, but was in close talk with a man he recognized as
Jeff Baird, arch perpetrator of the infamous Buckeye comedies. They
came toward him, still talking, as he looked.
"We'll finish here to-morrow afternoon, anyway," the girl was
"Fine," said Baird. "That makes everything jake. Get over on the set
whenever you're through. Come over tonight if they don't shoot here,
just to give us a look-in."
"Can't," said the girl. "Soon as I get out o' this dump I got to eat
on the lot and everything and be over to Baxter's layout--she'll be
doing tank stuff till all hours--shipwreck and murder and all like
that. Gosh, I hope it ain't cold. I don't mind the water, but I
certainly hate to get out and wait in wet clothes while Sig
Rosenblatt is thinking about a retake."
"Well"--Baird turned to go--"take care of yourself--don't dive and
forget to come up. Come over when you're ready."
"Sure! S'long!" Here the girl, turning from Baird, noted Merton Gill
beside her. "Well, well, as I live, the actin' kid once more! Say,
you're getting to be a regular studio hound, ain't you?"
For the moment he had forgotten his troubles. He was burning to ask
her if Beulah Baxter would really work in a shipwreck scene that
night at the place where he had watched the carpenters and the men
on the sailboat; but as he tried to word this he saw that the girl
was again scanning him with keen eyes. He knew she would read the
collar, the beard, perhaps even a look of mere hunger that he
thought must now be showing.
"Say, see here, Trouper, what's the shootin' all about, anyway? You
up against it--yes." There was again in her eye the look of warm
concern, and she was no longer trying to be funny. He might now have
admitted a few little things about his screen career, but again the
"Miss Montague--where are you? Oh! Well, remember you're behind the
piano during that gun play just now, and you stay hid till after the
boys get out. We'll shoot this time, so get set."
She sped off, with a last backward glance of questioning. He waited
but a moment before leaving. He was almost forgetting his hunger in
the pretty certain knowledge that in a few hours he would actually
behold his wonder-woman in at least one of her daring exploits.
Shipwreck! Perhaps she would be all but drowned. He hastened back to
the pool that had now acquired this high significance. The
carpenters were still puttering about on the scaffold. He saw that
platforms for the cameras had been built out from its side.
He noted, too, and was puzzled by an aeroplane propeller that had
been stationed close to one corner of the pool, just beyond the
stern of the little sailing-craft. Perhaps there would be an
aeroplane wreck in addition to a shipwreck. Now he had something
besides food to think of. And he wondered what the Montague girl
could be doing in the company of a really serious artist like Beulah
Baxter. From her own story she was going to get wet, but from what
he knew of her she would be some character not greatly missed from
the cast if she should, as Baird had suggested, dive and forget to
come up. He supposed that Baird had meant this to be humorous, the
humour typical of a man who could profane a great art with the
atrocious Buckeye comedies, so called.
He put in the hours until nightfall in aimless wandering and idle
gazing, and was early at the pool-side where his heroine would do
her sensational acting. It was now a scene of thrilling activity.
Immense lights, both from the scaffolding and from a tower back of
the sailing-craft, flooded its deck and rigging from time to time as
adjustments were made. The rigging was slack and the deck was still
littered, intentionally so, he now perceived. The gallant little
boat had been cruelly buffeted by a gale. Two sailors in piratical
dress could be seen to emerge at intervals from the cabin.
Suddenly the gale was on with terrific force, the sea rose in great
waves, and the tiny ship rocked in a perilous manner. Great billows
of water swept its decks. Merton Gill stared in amazement at these
phenomena so dissonant with the quiet starlit night. Then he traced
them without difficulty to their various sources. The gale issued
from the swift revolutions of that aeroplane propeller he had
noticed a while ago. The flooding billows were spilled from the big
tank at the top of the scaffold and the boat rocked in obedience to
the tugging of a rope--tugged from the shore by a crew of helpers--
that ran to the top of its mast. Thus had the storm been produced.
A spidery, youngish man from one of the platforms built out from the
scaffold, now became sharply vocal through a megaphone to assistants
who were bending the elements to the need of this particular hazard
of Hortense. He called directions to the men who tugged the rope, to
the men in control of the lights, and to another who seemed to
create the billows. Among other items he wished more action for the
boat and more water for the billows. "See that your tank gets full-
up this time," he called, whereupon an engine under the scaffold, by
means of a large rubber hose reaching into the pool, began to suck
water into the tank above.
The speaker must be Miss Baxter's director, the enviable personage
who saw her safely through her perils. When one of the turning
reflectors illumined him Merton saw his face of a keen Semitic type.
He seemed to possess not the most engaging personality; his manner
was aggressive, he spoke rudely to his doubtless conscientious
employees, he danced in little rages of temper, and altogether he
was not one with whom the watcher would have cared to come in
contact. He wondered, indeed, that so puissant a star as Beulah
Baxter should not be able to choose her own director, for surely the
presence of this unlovely, waspishly tempered being could be nothing
but an irritant in the daily life of the wonder-woman. Perhaps she
had tolerated him merely for one picture. Perhaps he was especially
good in shipwrecks.
If Merton Gill were in this company he would surely have words with
this person, director or no director. He hastily wrote a one-reel
scenario in which the man so far forgot himself as to speak sharply
to the star, and in which a certain young actor, a new member of the
company, resented the ungentlemanly words by pitching the offender
into a convenient pool and earned even more than gratitude from the
The objectionable man continued active, profuse of gesture and loud
through the megaphone. Once more the storm. The boat rocked
threateningly, the wind roared through its slack rigging, and giant
billows swept the frail craft. Light as from a half-clouded moon
broke through the mist that issued from a steam pipe. There was
another lull, and the Semitic type on the platform became
increasingly offensive. Merton saw himself saying, "Allow me, Miss
Baxter, to relieve you of the presence of this bounder." The man was
impossible. Constantly he had searched the scene for his heroine.
She would probably not appear until they were ready to shoot, and
this seemed not to be at once if the rising temper of the director
could be thought an indication.
The big hose again drew water from the pool to the tank, whence, at
a sudden release, it would issue in billows. The big lights at last
seemed to be adjusted to the director's whim. The aeroplane
propeller whirred and the gale was found acceptable. The men at the
rope tugged the boat into grave danger. The moon lighted the mist
that overhung the scene.
Then at last Merton started, peering eagerly forward across the
length of the pool. At the far end, half illumined by the big
lights, stood the familiar figure of his wonder--woman, the slim
little girl with the wistful eyes. Plainly he could see her now as
the mist lifted. She was chatting with one of the pirates who had
stepped ashore from the boat. The wonderful golden hair shone
resplendent under the glancing rays of the arcs. A cloak was about
her shoulders, but at a word of command from the director she threw
it off and stepped to the boat's deck. She was dressed in a short
skirt, her trim feet and ankles lightly shod and silken clad. The
sole maritime touch in her garb was a figured kerchief at her throat
similar to those worn by the piratical crew.
"All ready, Hortense--all ready Jose and Gaston, get your places."
Miss Baxter acknowledged the command with that characteristic little
wave of a hand that he recalled from so many of her pictures, a
half-humorous, half-mocking little defiance. She used it often when
escaping her pursuers, as if to say that she would see them in the
The star and the two men were now in the cabin, hidden from view.
Merton Gill was no seaman, but it occurred to him that at least one
of the crew would be at the wheel in this emergency. Probably the
director knew no better. Indeed the boat, so far as could be
discerned, had no wheel. Apparently when a storm came up all hands
went down into the cabin to get away from it.
The storm did come up at this moment, with no one on deck. It struck
with the full force of a tropic hurricane. The boat rocked, the wind
blew, and billows swept the deck. At the height of the tempest
Beulah Baxter sprang from the cabin to the deck, clutching wildly at
a stanchion. Buffeted by the billows she groped a painful way along
the side, at risk of being swept off to her death.
She was followed by one of the crew who held a murderous knife in
his hand, then by the other sailor who also held a knife. They, too,
were swept by the billows, but seemed grimly determined upon the
death of the heroine. Then, when she reached midships and the
foremost fiend was almost upon her, the mightiest of all the billows
descended and swept her off into the cruel waters. Her pursuers,
saving themselves only by great effort, held to the rigging and
stared after the girl. They leaned far over the ship's rocking side
and each looked from under a spread hand.
For a distressing interval the heroine battled with the waves, but
her frail strength availed her little. She raised a despairing face
for an instant to the camera and its agony was illumined. Then the
dread waters closed above her. The director's whistle blew, the
waves were stilled, the tumult ceased. The head of Beulah Baxter
appeared halfway down the tank. She was swimming toward the end
where Merton stood.
He had been thrilled beyond words at this actual sight of his
heroine in action, but now it seemed that a new emotion might
overcome him. He felt faint. Beulah Baxter would issue from the pool
there at his feet. He might speak to her, might even help her to
climb out. At least no one else had appeared to do this. Seemingly
no one now cared where Miss Baxter swam to or whether she were
offered any assistance in landing. She swam with an admirable crawl
stroke, reached the wall, and put up a hand to it. He stepped
forward, but she was out before he reached her side. His awe had
delayed him. He drew back then, for the star, after vigorously
shaking herself, went to a tall brazier in which glowed a charcoal
Here he now noticed for the first time the prop-boy Jimmie, he who
had almost certainly defaulted with an excellent razor. Jimmie threw
a blanket about the star's shoulders as she hovered above the
glowing coals. Merton had waited for her voice. He might still
venture to speak to her--to tell her of his long and profound
admiration for her art. Her voice came as she shivered over the
"Murder! That water's cold. Rosenblatt swore he'd have it warmed but
I'm here to say it wouldn't boil an egg in four minutes."
He could not at first identify this voice with the remembered tones
of Beulah Baxter. But of course she was now hoarse with the cold.
Under the circumstances he could hardly expect his heroine's own
musical clearness. Then as the girl spoke again something stirred
among his more recent memories. The voice was still hoarse, but he
placed it now. He approached the brazier. It was undoubtedly the
Montague girl. She recognized him, even as she squeezed water from
the hair of wondrous gold.
"Hello, again, Kid. You're everywhere, ain't you? Say, wha'd you
think of that Rosenblatt man? Swore he'd put the steam into that
water and take off the chill. And he never." She threw aside the
blanket and squeezed water from her garments, then began to slap her
legs, arms, and chest.
"Well, I'm getting a gentle glow, anyhow. Wha'd you think of the
"It was good--very well done, indeed." He hoped it didn't sound
patronizing, though that was how he felt. He believed now that Miss
Baxter would have done it much better. He ventured a question. "But
how about Miss Baxter--when does she do something? Is she going to
be swept off the boat, too?"
"Baxter? Into that water? Quit your kidding!"
"But isn't she here at all--won't she do anything here?"
"Listen here, Kid; why should she loaf around on the set when she's
paying me good money to double for her?"
"You--double for Beulah Baxter?" It was some more of the girl's
nonsense, and a blasphemy for which he could not easily forgive her.
"Why not? Ain't I a good stunt actress? I'll tell the lot she hasn't
found any one yet that can get away with her stuff better than what
"But she--I heard her say herself she never allowed any one to
double for her--she wouldn't do such a thing."
Here sounded a scornful laugh from Jimmie, the prop--boy. "Bunk!"
said he at the laugh's end. "How long you been doublin' for her,
Miss Montague? Two years, ain't it?--I know it was before I come
here, and I been on the lot a year and a half. Say, he ought to see
some the stuff you done for her out on location, like jumpin' into
the locomotive engine from your auto and catchin' the brake beams
when the train's movin', and goin' across that quarry on the cable,
and ridin' down that lumber flume sixty miles per hour and ridin'
some them outlaw buckjumpers--he'd ought to seen some that stuff,
hey, Miss Montague?"
"That's right, Jimmie, you tell him all about me. I hate to talk of
myself." Very wonderfully Merton Gill divined that this was said
with a humorous intention. Jimmy was less sensitive to values. He
began to obey.
"Well, I dunno--there's that motorcycle stuff. Purty good, I'll say.
I wouldn't try that, no, sir, not for a cool million dollars. And
that chase stuff on the roofs down town where you jumped across that
court that wasn't any too darned narrow, an' say, I wisht I could
skin up a tree the way you can. An' there was that time--"
"All right, all right, Jimmie. I can tell him the rest sometime. I
don't really hate to talk about myself--that's on the level. And
say, listen here, Jimmie, you're my favourite sweetheart, ain't
"Yes, ma'am," assented Jimmie, warmly. "All right. Beat it up and
get me about two quarts of that hot coffee and about four ham
sandwiches, two for you and two for me. That's a good kid."
"Sure!" exclaimed Jimmie, and was off.
Merton Gill had been dazed by these revelations, by the swift and
utter destruction of his loftiest ideal. He hardly cared to know,
now, if Beulah Baxter were married. It was the Montague girl who had
most thrilled him for two years. Yet, almost as if from habit, he
heard himself asking, "Is--do you happen to know if Beulah Baxter is
"Baxter married? Sure! I should think you'd know it from the way
that Sig Rosenblatt bawls everybody out."
"Who is he?"
"Who is he? Why, he's her husband, of course--he's Mr. Beulah
"That little director up on the platform that yells so?" This
unspeakable person to be actually the husband of the wonder-woman,
the man he had supposed she must find intolerable even as a
director. It was unthinkable, more horrible, somehow, than her
employment of a double. In time he might have forgiven that--but
"Sure, that's her honest-to-God husband. And he's the best one out
of three that I know she's had. Sig's a good scout even if he don't
look like Buffalo Bill. In fact, he's all right in spite of his
rough ways. He'd go farther for you than most of the men on this
lot. If I wanted a favour I'd go to Sig before a lot of Christians I
happen to know. And he's a bully director if he is noisy. Baxter's
crazy about him, too. Don't make any mistake there."
"I won't," he answered, not knowing what he said.
She shot him a new look. "Say, Kid, as long as we're talking, you
seem kind of up against it. Where's your overcoat a night like this,
and when did you last--"
"Miss Montague! Miss Montague!" The director was calling.
"Excuse me," she said. "I got to go entertain the white folks
again." She tucked up the folds of her blanket and sped around the
pool to disappear in the mazes of the scaffolding. He remained a
moment staring dully into the now quiet water. Then he walked
Beulah Baxter, his wonder-woman, had deceived her public in Peoria,
Illinois, by word of mouth. She employed a double at critical
junctures. "She'd be a fool not to," the Montague girl had said. And
in private life, having been unhappily wed twice before, she was
Mrs. Sigmund Rosenblatt. And crazy about her husband!
A little while ago he had felt glad he was not to die of starvation
before seeing his wonder-woman. Reeling under the first shock of his
discoveries he was now sorry. Beulah Baxter was no longer his
wonder-woman. She was Mr. Rosenblatt's. He would have preferred
death, he thought, before this heart-withering revelation.
THE MONTAGUE GIRL INTERVENES
He came to life the next morning, shivering under his blankets. It
must be cold outside. He glanced at his watch and reached for
another blanket, throwing it over himself and tucking it in at the
foot. Then he lay down again to screen a tense bit of action that
had occurred late the night before. He had plunged through the
streets for an hour, after leaving the pool, striving to recover
from the twin shocks he had suffered. Then, returning to his hotel,
he became aware that The Hazards of Hortense were still on. He could
hear the roar of the aeroplane propeller and see the lights over the
low buildings that lined his street.
Miserably he was drawn back to the spot where the most important of
all his visions had been rent to tatters. He went to the end of the
pool where he had stood before. Mr. Rosenblatt-hardly could he bring
his mind to utter the hideous syllables-was still dissatisfied with
the sea's might. He wanted bigger billows and meant to have them if
the company stayed on the set all night. He was saying as much with
peevish inflections. Merton stood warming himself over the fire that
still glowed in the brazier.
To him from somewhere beyond the scaffold came now the Montague girl
and Jimmie. The girl was in her blanket, and Jimmie bore a pitcher,
two tin cups, and a package of sandwiches. They came to the fire and
Jimmie poured coffee for the girl. He produced sugar from a pocket.
"Help yourself, James," said the girl, and Jimmie poured coffee for
himself. They ate sandwiches as they drank. Merton drew a little
back from the fire. The scent of the hot coffee threatened to make
him forget he was not only a successful screen actor but a
"Did you have to do it again?" he asked.
"I had to do it twice again," said the girl from over her tin cup.
"They're developing the strips now, then they'll run them in the
projection room, and they won't suit Sig one little bit, and I'll
have to do it some more. I'll be swimming here till daylight doth
She now shot that familiar glance of appraisal at Merton. "Have a
sandwich and some coffee, Kid-give him your cup, Jimmie."
It was Merton Gill's great moment, a heart-gripping climax to a two-
days' drama that had at no time lacked tension. Superbly he arose to
it. Consecrated to his art, Clifford Armytage gave the public
something better and finer. He drew himself up and spoke lightly,
clearly, with careless ease:
"No, thanks-I couldn't eat a mouthful." The smile with which he
accompanied the simple words might be enigmatic, it might hint of
secret sorrows, but it was plain enough that these could not ever so
distantly relate to a need for food.
Having achieved this sensational triumph, with all the quietness of
method that should distinguish the true artist, he became seized
with stage fright amounting almost to panic. He was moved to snatch
the sandwich that Jimmie now proffered, the cup that he had refilled
with coffee. Yet there was but a moment of confusion. Again he
wielded an iron restraint. But he must leave the stage. He could not
tarry there after his big scene, especially under that piercing
glance of the girl. Somehow there was incredulity in it.
"Well, I guess I'll have to be going," he remarked jauntily, and
turned for his exit.
"Say, Kid." The girl halted him a dozen feet away.
"Say, listen here. This is on the level. I want to have a talk with
you to-morrow. You'll be on the lot, won't you?"
He seemed to debate this momentarily, then replied, "Oh, yes. I'll
be around here somewhere." "Well, remember, now. If I don't run into
you, you come down to that set where I was working to-day. See? I
got something to say to you."
"All right. I'll probably see you sometime during the day."
He had gone on to his hotel. But he had no intention of seeing the
Montague girl on the morrow, nor of being seen by her. He would keep
out of that girl's way whatever else he did. She would ask him if
everything was jake, and where was his overcoat, and a lot of silly
questions about matters that should not concern her.
He was in two minds about the girl now. Beneath an unreasonable but
very genuine resentment that she should have doubled for Beulah
Baxter-as if she had basely cheated him of his most cherished ideal-
there ran an undercurrent of reluctant but very profound admiration
for her prowess. She had done some thrilling things and seemed to
make nothing of it. Through this admiration there ran also a thread
of hostility because he, himself, would undoubtedly be afraid to
attempt her lightest exploit. Not even the trifling feat he had just
witnessed, for he had never learned to swim. But he clearly knew,
despite this confusion, that he was through with the girl. He must
take more pains to avoid her. If met by chance, she must be snubbed-
up-staged, as she would put it.
Under his blankets now, after many appealing close-ups of the
sandwich which Jimmie had held out to him, he felt almost sorry that
he had not taken the girl's food. All his being, save that part
consecrated to his art, had cried out for it. Art, had triumphed,
and now he was near to regretting that it had not been beaten down.
No good thinking about it, though.
He reached again for his watch. It was seven-thirty and time to be
abroad. Once more he folded his blankets and placed them on the
pile, keeping an alert glance, the while, for another possible bit
of the delicious bread. He found nothing of this sort. The Crystal
Palace Hotel was bare of provender. Achieving a discreet retirement
from the hostelry he stood irresolute in the street. This morning
there was no genial sun to warm him. A high fog overcast the sky,
and the air was chill. At intervals he shivered violently. For no
reason, except that he had there last beheld actual food, he went
back to the pool.
Evidently Mr. Rosenblatt had finally been appeased. The place was
deserted and lay bare and ugly in the dull light. The gallant ship
of the night before was seen to be a poor, flimsy make-shift. No
wonder Mr. Rosenblatt had wished billows to engulf it and mist to
shroud it. He sat on a beam lying at the ship end of the pool and
stared moodily at the pitiful make-believe.
He rounded his shoulders and pulled up the collar of his coat. He
knew he should be walking, but doubted his strength. The little walk
to the pool had made him strangely breathless. He wondered how long
people were in starving to death. He had read of fasters who went
for weeks without food, but he knew he was not of this class. He
lacked talent for it. Doubtless another day would finish him. He had
no heart now for visions of the Gashwiler table. He descended
tragically to recalling that last meal at the drug store-the bowl of
soup with its gracious burden of rich, nourishing catsup.
He began to alter the scenario of his own life. Suppose he had
worked two more weeks for Gashwiler. That would have given him
thirty dollars. Suppose he had worked a month. He could have existed
a long time on sixty dollars. Suppose he had even stuck it out for
one week more-fifteen dollars at this moment! He began to see a
breakfast, the sort of meal to be ordered by a hungry man with
fifteen dollars to squander.
The shivering seized him again and he heard his teeth rattle. He
must move from this spot, forever now to be associated with black
disillusion. He arose from his seat and was dismayed to hear a hail
from the Montague girl. Was he never to be free from her? She was
poised at a little distance, one hand raised to him, no longer the
drenched victim of a capricious Rosenblatt, but the beaming, joyous
figure of one who had triumphed over wind and wave. He went almost
sullenly to her while she waited. No good trying to escape her for a
minute or so.
"Hello, old Trouper! You're just in time to help me hunt for
something." She was in the familiar street suit now, a skirt and
jacket of some rough brown goods and a cloth hat that kept close to
her small head above hair that seemed of no known shade whatever,
though it was lighter than dark. She flashed a smile at him from her
broad mouth as he came up, though her knowing gray eyes did not join
in this smile. He knew instantly that she was taking him in.
This girl was wise beyond her years, he thought, but one even far
less knowing could hardly have been in two minds about his present
abject condition. The pushed-up collar of his coat did not entirely
hide the once-white collar beneath it, the beard had reached its
perhaps most distressing stage of development, and the suit was
rumpled out of all the nattiness for which it had been advertised.
Even the plush hat had lost its smart air.
Then he plainly saw that the girl would, for the moment at least,
ignore these phenomena. She laughed again, and this time the eyes
laughed, too. "C'mon over and help me hunt for that bar pin I lost.
It must be at this end, because I know I had it on when I went into
the drink. Maybe it's in the pool, but maybe I lost it after I got
out. It's one of Baxter's that she wore in the scene just ahead of
last night, and she'll have to have it again to-day. Now--" She
began to search the ground around the cold brazier. "It might be
along here." He helped her look. Pretty soon he would remember an
engagement and get away. The search at the end of the pool proved
fruitless. The girl continued to chatter. They had worked until one-
thirty before that grouch of a Rosenblatt would call it a day. At
that she'd rather do water stuff than animal stuff-especially lions.
"Lions? I should think so!" He replied to this. "Dangerous, isn't
"Oh, it ain't that. They're nothing to be afraid of if you know 'em,
but they're so hot and smelly when you have to get close to 'em.
Anything I really hate, it's having to get up against a big, hot,
hairy, smelly lion."
He murmured a sympathetic phrase and extended his search for the
lost pin to the side of the pool. Almost under the scaffold he saw
the shine of precious stones and called to her as he picked up the
pin, a bar pin splendidly set with diamonds. He was glad that he had
found it for her. It must have cost a great deal of money and she
would doubtless be held responsible for its safe-keeping.
She came dancing to him. "Say, that's fine-your eyes are working,
ain't they? I might 'a' been set back a good six dollars if you
hadn't found that." She took the bauble and fastened it inside her
jacket. So the pin, too, had been a tawdry makeshift. Nothing was
real any more. As she adjusted the pin he saw his moment for escape.
With a gallant striving for the true Clifford Armytage manner he
raised the plush hat.
"Well, I'm glad you found Mrs. Rosenblatt's pin-and I guess I'll be
The manner must have been defective. She looked through him and said
with great firmness, "Nothing like that, old pippin." Again he was
taken with a violent fit of shivering. He could not meet her eyes.
He was turning away when she seized him by the wrist. Her grip was
amazingly forceful. He doubted if he could break away even with his
stoutest effort. He stood miserably staring at the ground. Suddenly
the girl reached up to pat his shoulder. He shivered again and she
continued to pat it. When his teeth had ceased to be castanets she
"Listen here, old Kid, you can't fool any one, so quit trying. Don't
you s'pose I've seen 'em like you before? Say, boy, I was trouping
while you played with marbles. You're up against it. Now, c'mon"--
with the arm at his shoulder she pulled him about to face her-"c'mon
and be nice-tell mother all about it."
The late Clifford Armytage was momentarily menaced by a complete
emotional overthrow. Another paroxysm of shivering perhaps averted
this humiliation. The girl dropped his wrist, turned, stooped, and
did something. He recalled the scene in the gambling hell, only this
time she fronted away from the camera. When she faced him again he
was not surprised to see bills in her hand. It could only have been
the chill he suffered that kept him from blushing. She forced the
bills into his numb fingers and he stared at them blankly. "I can't
take these," he muttered.
"There, now, there, now! Be easy. Naturally I know you're all right
or I wouldn't give up this way. You're just having a run of hard
luck. The Lord knows, I've been helped out often enough in my time.
Say, listen, I'll never forget when I went out as a kid with Her
First False Step-they had lions in that show. It was a frost from
the start. No salaries, no nothing. I got a big laugh one day when I
was late at rehearsal. The manager says: 'You're fined two dollars,
Miss Montague.' I says, 'All right, Mr. Gratz, but you'll have to
wait till I can write home for the money.' Even Gratz had to laugh.
Anyway, the show went bust and I never would 'a' got any place if
two or three parties hadn't of helped me out here and there, just
the same as I'm doing with you this minute. So don't be foolish."
"Well-you see-I don't--" He broke off from nervous weakness. In his
mind was a jumble of incongruous sentences and he seemed unable to
manage any of them.
The girl now sent a clean shot through his armour. "When'd you eat
He looked at the ground again in painful embarrassment. Even in the
chill air he was beginning to feel hot. "I don't remember," he said
at last quite honestly.
"That's what I thought. You go eat. Go to Mother Haggin's, that
cafeteria just outside the gate. She has better breakfast things
than the place on the lot." Against his will the vision of a
breakfast enthralled him, yet even under this exaltation an instinct
of the wariest caution survived.
"I'll go to the one on the lot, I guess. If I went out to the other
one I couldn't get in again."
She smiled suddenly, with puzzling lights in her eyes. "Well, of all
things! You want to get in again, do you? Say, wouldn't that beat
the hot place a mile? You want to get in again? All right, Old-
timer, I'll go out with you and after you've fed I'll cue you on to
the lot again."
"Well-if it ain't taking you out of your way." He knew that the girl
was somehow humouring him, as if he were a sick child. She knew, and
he knew, that the lot was no longer any place for him until he could
be rightly there.
"No, c'mon, I'll stay by you." They walked up the street of the
Western village. The girl had started at a brisk pace and he was
"I guess I'll have to rest a minute," he said. They were now before
the Crystal Palace Hotel and he sat on the steps.
"All in, are you? Well, take it easy."
He was not only all in, but his mind still played with incongruous
sentences. He heard himself saying things that must sound foolish.
"I've slept in here a lot," he volunteered. The girl went to look
through one of the windows.
"Blankets!" she exclaimed. "Well, you got the makings of a trouper
in you, I'll say that. Where else did you sleep?"
"Well, there were two miners had a nice cabin down the street here
with bunks and blankets, and they had a fight, and half a kettle of
beans and some bread, and one of them shaved and I used his razor,
but I haven't shaved since because I only had twenty cents day
before yesterday, and anyway they might think I was growing them for
a part, the way your father did, but I moved up here when I saw them
put the blankets in, and I was careful and put them back every
morning. I didn't do any harm, do you think? And I got the rest of
the beans they'd thrown into the fireplace, and if I'd only known it
I could have brought my razor and overcoat and some clean collars,
but somehow you never seem to know when--"
He broke off, eyeing her vaguely. He had little notion what he had
been saying or what he would say next.
"This is going to be good," said the Montague girl. "I can see that
from here. But now you c'mon-we'll walk slow-and you tell me the
rest when you've had a little snack."
She even helped him to rise, with a hand under his elbow, though he
was quick to show her that he had not needed this help. "I can walk
all right," he assured her.
"Of course you can. You're as strong as a horse. But we needn't go
too fast." She took his arm in a friendly way as they completed the
journey to the outside cafeteria.
At this early hour they were the only patrons of the place. Miss
Montague, a little with the air of a solicitous nurse, seated her
charge at a corner table and took the place opposite him.
"What's it going to be?" she demanded.
Visions of rich food raced madly through his awakened mind, wide
platters heaped with sausage and steaks and ham and corned-beef
"Steak," he ventured, "and something like ham and eggs and some hot
cakes and coffee and--" He broke off. He was becoming too emotional
under this golden spread of opportunity. The girl glanced up from
the bill of fare and appraised the wild light in his eyes.
"One minute, Kid-let's be more restful at first. You know-kind of
ease into the heavy eats. It'll prob'ly be better for you."
"Anything you say," he conceded. Her words of caution had stricken
him with a fear that this was a dream; that he would wake up under
blankets back in the Crystal Palace. It was like that in dreams. You
seemed able to order all sorts of food, but something happened; it
never reached the table. He would take no further initiative in this
scene, whether dream or reality. "You order something," he
concluded. His eyes trustfully sought the girl's.
"Well, I think you'll start with one orange, just to kind of hint to
the old works that something good is coming. Then--lemme see"--she
considered gravely. "Then I guess about two soft-boiled eggs--no,
you can stand three--and some dry toast and some coffee. Maybe a few
thin strips of bacon wouldn't hurt. We'll see can you make the
grade." She turned to give the order to a waitress. "And shoot the
coffee along, sister. A cup for me, too."
Her charge shivered again at the mere mention of coffee. The
juncture was critical. He might still be dreaming, but in another
moment he must know. He closely, even coolly, watched the two cups
of coffee that were placed before them. He put a benumbed hand
around the cup in front of him and felt it burn. It was too active a
sensation for mere dreaming. He put sugar into the cup and poured in
the cream from a miniature pitcher, inhaling a very real aroma.
Events thus far seemed normal. He stirred the coffee and started to
raise the cup. Now, after all, it seemed to be a dream. His hand
shook so that the stuff spilled into the saucer and even out on to
the table. Always in dreams you were thwarted at the last moment.
The Montague girl had noted the trembling and ineffective hand. She
turned her back upon him to chat with the waitress over by the food
counter. With no eye upon him, he put both hands about the cup and
succeeded in raising it to his lips. The hands were still shaky, but
he managed some sips of the stuff, and then a long draught that
seemed to scald him. He wasn't sure if it scalded or not. It was
pretty hot, and fire ran through him. He drained the cup--still
holding it with both hands. It was an amazing sensation to have
one's hand refuse to obey so simple an order. Maybe he would always
be that way now, practically a cripple.
The girl turned back to him. "Atta boy," she said. "Now take the
orange. And when the toast comes you can have some more coffee." A
dread load was off his mind. He did not dream this thing. He ate the
orange, and ate wonderful toast to the accompaniment of another cup
of coffee. The latter half of this he managed with but one hand,
though it was not yet wholly under control. The three eggs seemed
like but one. He thought they must have been small eggs. More toast
was commanded and more coffee.
"Easy, easy!" cautioned his watchful hostess from time to time.
"Don't wolf it--you'll feel better afterwards."
"I feel better already," he announced.
"Well," the girl eyed him critically, "you certainly got the main
chandelier lighted up once more."
A strange exhilaration flooded all his being. His own thoughts
babbled to him, and he presently began to babble to his new friend.
"You remind me so much of Tessie Kearns," he said as he scraped the
sides of the egg cup.
"Oh, she's a scenario writer I know. You're just like her." He was
now drunk--maudlin drunk--from the coffee. Sober, he would have
known that no human beings could be less alike than Tessie Kearns
and the Montague girl. Other walls of his reserve went down.
"Of course I could have written to Gashwiler and got some money to
go back there--"
"Gashwiler, Gashwiler?" The girl seemed to search her memory. "I
thought I knew all the tank towns, but that's a new one. Where is
"It isn't a town; it's a gentleman I had a position with, and he
said he'd keep it open for me." He flew to another thought with the
inconsequence of the drunken. "Say, Kid"--He had even caught that
form of address from her--"I'll tell you. You can keep this watch of
mine till I pay you back this money." He drew it out. "It's a good
solid-gold watch and everything. My uncle Sylvester gave it to me
for not smoking, on my eighteenth birthday. He smoked, himself; he
even drank considerable. He was his own worst enemy. But you can see
it's a good solid--gold watch and keeps time, and you hold it till I
pay you back, will you?"
The girl took the watch, examining it carefully, noting the
inscription engraved on the case. There were puzzling glints in her
eyes as she handed it back to him. "No; I'll tell you, it'll be my
watch until you pay me back, but you keep it for me. I haven't any
place to carry it except the pocket of my jacket, and I might lose
it, and then where'd we be?"
"Well, all right." He cheerfully took back the watch. His present
ecstasy would find him agreeable to all proposals.
"And say," continued the girl, "what about this Gashweiler, or
whatever his name is? He said he'd take you back, did he? A farm?"
"No, an emporium--and you forgot his name just the way that lady in
the casting office always does. She's funny. Keeps telling me not to
forget the address, when of course I couldn't forget the town where
I lived, could I? Of course it's a little town, but you wouldn't
forget it when you lived there a long time--not when you got your
"So you got your start in this town, did you?"
He wanted to talk a lot now. He prattled of the town and his life
there, of the eight-hour talent-tester and the course in movie-
acting. Of Tessie Kearns and her scenarios, not yet prized as they
were sure to be later. Of Lowell Hardy, the artistic photographer,
and the stills that he had made of the speaker as Clifford Armytage.
Didn't she think that was a better stage name than Merton Gill,
which didn't seem to sound like so much? Anyway, he wished he had
his stills here to show her. Of course some of them were just in
society parts, the sort of thing that Harold Parmalee played--had
she noticed that he looked a good deal like Harold Parmalee? Lots of
Tessie Kearns thought he was the dead image of Parmalee. But he
liked Western stuff better--a lot better than cabaret stuff where
you had to smoke one cigarette after another--and he wished she
could see the stills in the Buck Benson outfit, chaps and sombrero
and spurs and holster. He'd never had two guns, but the one he did
have he could draw pretty well. There would be his hand at his side,
and in a flash he would have the gun in it, ready to shoot from the
hip. And roping--he'd need to practise that some. Once he got it
smack over Dexter's head, but usually it didn't go so well.
Probably a new clothesline didn't make the best rope--too stiff. He
could probably do a lot better with one of those hair ropes that the
real cowboys used. And Metta Judson--she was the best cook anywhere
around Simsbury. He mustn't forget to write to Metta, and to Tessie
Kearns, to be sure and see The Blight of Broadway when it came to
the Bijou Palace. They would be surprised to see those close--ups
that Henshaw had used him in. And he was in that other picture. No
close-ups in that, still he would show pretty well in the cage-
scene--he'd had to smoke a few cigarettes there, because Arabs smoke
all the time, and he hadn't been in the later scene where the girl
and the young fellow were in the deserted tomb all night and he
didn't lay a finger on her because he was a perfect gentleman.
He didn't know what he would do next. Maybe Henshaw would want him
in Robinson Crusoe, Junior, where Friday's sister turned out to be
the daughter of an English earl with her monogram tattooed on her
left shoulder. He would ask Henshaw, anyway.
The Montague girl listened attentively to the long, wandering
recital. At times she would seem to be strongly moved, to tears or
something. But mostly she listened with a sympathetic smile, or
perhaps with a perfectly rigid face, though at such moments there
would be those curious glints of light far back in her gray eyes.
Occasionally she would prompt him with a question.
In this way she brought out his version of the Sabbath afternoon
experience with Dexter. He spared none of the details, for he was
all frankness now. He even told how ashamed he had felt having to
lead Dexter home from his scandalous grazing before the Methodist
Church. He had longed to leap upon the horse and ride him back at a
gallop, but he had been unable to do this because there was nothing
from which to climb on him, and probably he would have been afraid
to gallop the beast, anyway.
This had been one of the bits that most strangely moved his
listener. Her eyes were moist when he had finished, and some strong
emotion seemed about to overpower her, but she had recovered command
of herself, and become again the sympathetic provider and
He would have continued to talk, apparently, for the influence of
strong drink had not begun to wane, but the girl at length stopped
"Listen here, Merton--" she began; her voice was choked to a
peculiar hoarseness and she seemed to be threatened with a return of
her late strong emotion. She was plainly uncertain of her control,
fearing to trust herself to speech, but presently, after efforts
which he observed with warmest sympathy, she seemed to recover her
poise. She swallowed earnestly several times, wiped her moisture--
dimmed eyes with her handkerchief, and continued, "It's getting late
and I've got to be over at the show shop. So I'll tell you what to
do next. You go out and get a shave and a haircut and then go home
and get cleaned up--you said you had a room and other clothes,
Volubly he told her about the room at Mrs. Patterson's, and, with a
brief return of lucidity, how the sum of ten dollars was now due
this heartless society woman who might insist upon its payment
before he would again enjoy free access to his excellent wardrobe.
"Well, lemme see--" She debated a moment, then reached under the
table, fumbled obscurely, and came up with more money. "Now, here,
here's twenty more besides that first I gave you, so you can pay the
dame her money and get all fixed up again, fresh suit and clean
collar and a shine and everything. No, no--this is my scene; you
He had waved protestingly at sight of the new money, and now again
"That's all understood," she continued. "I'm staking you to cakes
till you get on your feet, see? And I know you're honest, so I'm not
throwing my money away. There--sink it and forget it. Now, you go
out and do what I said, the barber first. And lay off the eats until
about noon. You had enough for now. By noon you can stoke up with
meat and potatoes--anything you want that'll stick to the merry old
slats. And I'd take milk instead of any more coffee. You've thinned
down some--you're not near so plump as Harold Parmalee. Then you
rest up for the balance of the day, and you show here to-morrow
morning about this time. Do you get it? The Countess'll let you in.
Tell her I said to, and come over to the office building. See?"
He tried to tell her his gratitude, but instead he babbled again of
how much she was like Tessie Kearns. They parted at the gate.
With a last wondering scrutiny of him, a last reminder of her very
minute directions, she suddenly illumined him with rays of a
compassion that was somehow half-laughter. "You poor, feckless dub!"
she pronounced as she turned from him to dance through the gate. He
scarcely heard the words; her look and tone had been so warming.
Ten minutes later he was telling a barber that he had just finished
a hard week on the Holden lot, and that he was glad to get the brush
off at last. From the barber's he hastened to the Patterson house,
rather dreading the encounter with one to whom he owed so much
money. He found the house locked. Probably both of the Pattersons
had gone out into society. He let himself in and began to follow the
directions of the Montague girl. The bath, clean linen, the other
belted suit, already pressed, the other shoes, the buttoned, cloth-
topped ones, already polished! He felt now more equal to the
encounter with a heartless society woman. But, as she did not
return, he went out in obedience to a new hunger.
In the most sumptuous cafeteria he knew of, one patronized only in
his first careless days of opulence, he ate for a long time. Roast
beef and potatoes he ordered twice, nor did he forget to drink the
milk prescribed by his benefactress. Plenty of milk would make him
more than ever resemble Harold Parmalee. And he commanded an
abundance of dessert: lemon pie and apple pie and a double portion
of chocolate cake with ice-cream. His craving for sweets was still
unappeased, so at a near-by drug store he bought a pound box of
The world was again under his feet. Restored to his rightful domain,
he trod it with lightness and certainty. His mind was still a
pleasant jumble of money and food and the Montague girl. Miles of
gorgeous film flickered across his vision. An experienced alcoholic
would have told him that he enjoyed a coffee "hang-over." He wended
a lordly way to the nearest motion-picture theatre.
Billed there was the tenth installment of The Hazards of Hortense.
He passed before the lively portrayal in colours of Hortense driving
a motor car off an open drawbridge. The car was already halfway
between the bridge and the water beneath. He sneered openly at the
announcement: "Beulah Baxter in the Sensational Surprise Picture of
the Century." A surprise picture indeed, if those now entering the
theatre could be told what he knew about it! He considered spreading
the news, but decided to retain the superiority his secret knowledge
Inside the theatre, eating diligently from his box of candy, he was
compelled to endure another of the unspeakable Buckeye comedies. The
cross-eyed man was a lifeguard at a beach and there were social
entanglements involving a bearded father, his daughter in an
inconsiderable bathing suit, a confirmed dipsomaniac, two social
derelicts who had to live by their wits, and a dozen young girls
also arrayed in inconsiderable bathing suits. He could scarcely
follow the chain of events, so illogical were they, and indeed made
little effort to do so. He felt far above the audience that cackled
at these dreadful buffooneries. One subtitle read: "I hate to kill
him--murder is so hard to explain."
This sort of thing, he felt more than ever, degraded an art where
earnest people were suffering and sacrificing in order to give the
public something better and finer. Had he not, himself, that very
day, completed a perilous ordeal of suffering and sacrifice? And he
was asked to laugh at a cross--eyed man posing before a camera that
fell to pieces when the lens was exposed, shattered, presumably, by
the impact of the afflicted creature's image! This, surely, was not
art such as Clifford Armytage was rapidly fitting himself, by trial
and hardship, to confer upon the public.
It was with curiously conflicting emotions that he watched the
ensuing Hazards of Hortense. He had to remind himself that the slim
little girl with the wistful eyes was not only not performing
certain feats of daring that the film exposed, but that she was Mrs.
Sigmund Rosenblatt and crazy about her husband. Yet the magic had
not wholly departed from this wronged heroine. He thought perhaps
this might be because he now knew, and actually liked, that
talkative Montague girl who would be doing the choice bits of this
drama. Certainly he was loyal to the hand that fed him.
Black Steve and his base crew, hirelings of the scoundrelly guardian
who was "a Power in Wall Street," again and again seemed to have
encompassed the ruin, body and soul, of the persecuted Hortense.
They had her prisoner in a foul den of Chinatown, whence she escaped
to balance precariously upon the narrow cornice of a skyscraper,
hundreds of feet above a crowded thoroughfare. They had her, as the
screen said, "Depressed by the Grim Menace of Tragedy that Impended
in the Shadows." They gave her a brief respite in one of those
gilded resorts "Where the Clink of Coin Opens Wide the Portals of
Pleasure, Where Wealth Beckons with Golden Fingers," but this was
only a trap for the unsuspecting girl, who was presently, sewed in a
plain sack, tossed from the stern of an ocean liner far out at sea
by creatures who would do anything for money--who, so it was said,
were Remorseless in the Mad Pursuit of Gain.
At certain gripping moments it became apparent to one of the
audience that Mrs. Sigmund Rosenblatt herself was no longer in
jeopardy. He knew the girl who was, and profoundly admired her
artistry as she fled along the narrow cornice of the skyscraper. For
all purposes she was Beulah Baxter. He recalled her figure as being-
-not exactly stubby, but at least not of marked slenderness. Yet in
the distance she was indeed all that an audience could demand. And
she was honest, while Mrs. Rosenblatt, in the Majestic Theatre at
Peoria, Illinois, had trifled airily with his faith in women and
deceived him by word of mouth.
He applauded loudly at the sensational finish, when Hortense,
driving her motor car at high speed across the great bridge, ran
into the draw, that opened too late for her to slow down, and
plunged to the cruel waters far below.
Mrs. Rosenblatt would possibly have been a fool to do this herself.
The Montague girl had been insistent on that point; there were
enough things she couldn't avoid doing, and all stars very sensibly
had doubles for such scenes when distance or action permitted. At
the same time, he could never again feel the same toward her.
Indeed, he would never have felt the same even had there been no
Rosenblatt. Art was art!
It was only five o'clock when he left the picture theatre, but he
ate again at the luxurious cafeteria. He ate a large steak, drank an
immense quantity of milk, and bought another box of candy on his way
to the Patterson home. Lights were on there, and he went in to face
the woman he had so long kept out of her money. She would probably
greet him coldly and tell him she was surprised at his actions.
Yet it seemed that he had been deceived in this society woman. She
was human, after all. She shook hands with him warmly and said they
were glad to see him back; he must have been out on location, and
she was glad they were not to lose him, because he was so quiet and
regular and not like some other motion-picture actors she had known.
He told her he had just put in a hard week on the Holden lot, where
things were beginning to pick up. He was glad she had missed him,
and he certainly had missed his comfortable room, because the
accommodations on the lot were not of the best. In fact, they were
pretty unsatisfactory, if you came right down to it, and he hoped
they wouldn't keep him there again. And, oh, yes--he was almost
forgetting. Here was ten dollars--he believed there were two weeks'
rent now due. He passed over the money with rather a Clifford
Mrs. Patterson accepted the bill almost protestingly. She hadn't
once thought about the rent, because she knew he was reliable, and
he was to remember that any time convenient to him would always suit
her in these matters. She did accept the bill, still she was not the
heartless creature he had supposed her to be.
As he bade her good-night at the door she regarded him closely and
said, "Somehow you look a whole lot older, Mr. Armytage."
"I am," replied Mr. Armytage.
* * * * * * *
Miss Montague, after parting with her protege had walked quickly,
not without little recurrent dance steps--as if some excess of joy
would ever and again overwhelm her--to the long office building on
the Holden lot, where she entered a door marked "Buckeye Comedies.
Jeff Baird, Manager." The outer office was vacant, but through the
open door to another room she observed Baird at his desk, his head
bent low over certain sheets of yellow paper. He was a bulky, rather
phlegmatic looking man, with a parrot-like crest of gray hair. He
did not look up as the girl entered. She stood a moment as if to
control her excitement, then spoke.
"Jeff, I found a million dollars for you this morning."
"Thanks!" said Mr. Baird, still not looking up. "Chuck it down in
the coal cellar, will you? We're littered with the stuff up here."
"On the level, Jeff."
Baird looked up. "On the level?"
"You'll say so."
"Well, he's a small-town hick that saved up seventy-two dollars to
come here from Goosewallow, Michigan, to go into pictures-took a
correspondence course in screen--acting and all that, and he went
broke and slept in a property room down in the village all last
week; no eats at all for three, four days. I'd noticed him around
the lot on different sets; something about him that makes you look a
second time. I don't know what it is-kind of innocent and bug-eyed
the way he'd rubber at things, but all the time like as if he
thought he was someone. Well, I keep running across him and pretty
soon I notice he's up against it. He still thinks he's someone, and
is very up-stage if you start to kid him the least bit, but the
signs are there, all right. He's up against it good and hard.
"All last week he got to looking worse and worse. But he still had
his stage presence. Say, yesterday he looked like the juvenile lead
of a busted road show that has walked in from Albany and was just
standing around on Broadway wondering who he'd consent to sign up
with for forty weeks--see what I mean?-hungry but proud. He was over
on the Baxter set last night while I was doing the water stuff, and
you'd ought to see him freeze me when I suggested a sandwich and a
cup o' coffee. It was grand.
"Well, this morning I'm back for a bar pin of Baxter's I'd lost, and
there he is again, no overcoat, shivering his teeth loose, and all
in. So I fell for him. Took him up for some coffee and eggs, staked
him to his room rent, and sent him off to get cleaned and barbered.
But before he went he cut loose and told me his history from the
cradle to Hollywood.
"I'd 'a' given something good if you'd been at the next table. I
guess he got kind of jagged on the food, see? He'd tell me anything
that run in his mind, and most of it was good. You'll say so. I'll
get him to do it for you sometime. Of all the funny nuts that make
this lot! Well, take my word for it; that's all I ask. And listen
here, Jeff--I'm down to cases. There's something about this kid,
like when I tell you I'd always look at him twice. And it's
something rich that I won't let out for a minute or two. But here's
what you and me do, right quick:
"The kid was in that cabaret and gambling-house stuff they shot last
week for The Blight of Broadway, and this something that makes you
look at him must of struck Henshaw the way it did me, for he let him
stay right at the edge of the dance floor and took a lot of close-
ups of him looking tired to death of the gay night life. Well, you
call up the Victor folks and ask can you get a look at that stuff
because you're thinking of giving a part to one of the extras that
worked in it. Maybe we can get into the projection room right away
and you'll see what I mean. Then I won't have to tell you the
richest thing about it. Now!"--she took a long breath--"will you?"
Baird had listened with mild interest to the recital, occasionally
seeming not to listen while he altered the script before him. But he
took the telephone receiver from its hook and said briefly to the
girl: "You win. Hello! Give me the Victor office. Hello! Mr. Baird
The two were presently in the dark projection room watching the
scenes the girl had told of.
"They haven't started cutting yet," she said delightedly. "All his
close-ups will be in. Goody! There's the lad-get him? Ain't he the
actin'est thing you ever saw? Now wait-you'll see others."
Baird watched the film absorbedly. Three times it was run for the
sole purpose of exposing to this small audience Merton Gill's notion
of being consumed with ennui among pleasures that had palled. In the
gambling-hall bit it could be observed that he thought not too well
of cigarettes. "He screens well, too," remarked the girl. "Of course
I couldn't be sure of that."
"He screens all right," agreed Baird.
"Well, what do you think?"
"I think he looks like the first plume on a hearse."
"He looks all of that, but try again. Who does he remind you of?
Catch this next one in the gambling hell--get the profile and the
eyebrows and the chin--there!"
"Why--" Baird chuckled. "I'm a Swede if he don't look like--"
"You got it!" the girl broke in excitedly. "I knew you would. I
didn't at first, this morning, because he was so hungry and needed a
shave, and he darned near had me bawling when he couldn't hold his
cup o' coffee except with two hands. But what d'you think?--pretty
soon he tells me himself that he looks a great deal like Harold
Parmalee and wouldn't mind playing parts like Parmalee, though he
prefers Western stuff. Wouldn't that get you?"
The film was run again so that Baird could study the Gill face in
the light of this new knowledge.
"He does, he does, he certainly does--if he don't look like a No. 9
company of Parmalee I'll eat that film. Say, Flips, you did find
"Oh, I knew it; didn't I tell you so?"
"But, listen--does he know he's funny?"
"Not in a thousand years! He doesn't know anything's funny, near as
I can make him."
They were out in the light again, walking slowly back to the Buckeye
"Get this," said Baird seriously. "You may think I'm kidding, but
only yesterday I was trying to think if I couldn't dig up some guy
that looked more like Parmalee than Parmalee himself does--just
enough more to get the laugh, see? And you spring this lad on me.
All he needs is the eyebrows worked up a little bit. But how about
him--will he handle? Because if he will I'll use him in the new
"Will he handle?" Miss Montague echoed the words with deep emphasis.
"Leave him to me. He's got to handle. I already got twenty-five
bucks invested in his screen career. And, Jeff, he'll be easy to
work, except he don't know he's funny. If he found out he was, it
might queer him--see what I mean? He's one of that kind--you can
tell it. How will you use him? He could never do Buckeye stuff."
"Sure not. But ain't I told you? In this new piece Jack is stage
struck and gets a job as valet to a ham that's just about Parmalee's
type, and we show Parmalee acting in the screen, but all straight
stuff, you understand. Unless he's a wise guy he'll go all through
the piece and never get on that it's funny. See, his part's dead
straight and serious in a regular drama, and the less he thinks he's
funny the bigger scream he'll be. He's got to be Harold Parmalee
acting right out, all over the set, as serious as the lumbago--get
what I mean?"
"I got you," said the girl, "and you'll get him to-morrow morning. I
told him to be over with his stills. And he'll be serious all the
time, make no mistake there. He's no wise guy. And one thing, Jeff,
he's as innocent as a cup--custard, so you'll have to keep that
bunch of Buckeye roughnecks from riding him. I can tell you that
much. Once they started kidding him, it would be all off."
"And, besides--" She hesitated briefly. "Somehow I don't want him
kidded. I'm pretty hard-boiled, but he sort of made me feel like a
fifty-year-old mother watching her only boy go out into the rough
"I'll watch out for that," said Baird.
ALIAS HAROLD PARMALEE
Merton Gill awoke to the comforting realization that he was between
sheets instead of blankets, and that this morning he need not
obscurely leave his room by means of a window. As he dressed,
however, certain misgivings, to which he had been immune the day
before, gnawed into his optimism. He was sober now. The sheer
intoxication of food after fasting, of friendly concern after so
long a period when no one had spoken him kindly or otherwise, had
evaporated. He felt the depression following success.
He had been rescued from death by starvation, but had anything more
than this come about? Had he not fed upon the charity of a strange
girl, taking her money without seeing ways to discharge the debt?
How could he ever discharge it? Probably before this she had begun
to think of him as a cheat. She had asked him to come to the lot,
but had been vague as to the purpose. Probably his ordeal of
struggle and sacrifice was not yet over. At any rate, he must find a
job that would let him pay back the borrowed twenty-five dollars.
He would meet her as she had requested, assure her of his honest
intentions, and then seek for work. He would try all the emporiums
in Hollywood. They were numerous and some one of them would need the
services of an experienced assistant. This plan of endeavour
crystallized as he made his way to the Holden lot. He had brought
his package of stills, but only because the girl had insisted on
The Countess made nothing of letting him in. She had missed him, she
said, for what seemed like months, and was glad to hear that he now
had something definite in view, because the picture game was mighty
uncertain and it was only the lucky few nowadays that could see
something definite. He did not confide to her that the definite
something now within his view would demand his presence at some
distance from her friendly self.
He approached the entrance to Stage Five with head bent in
calculation, and not until he heard her voice did he glance up to
observe that the Montague girl was dancing from pleasure, it would
seem, at merely beholding him. She seized both his hands in her
strong grasp and revolved him at the centre of a circle she danced.
Then she held him off while her eyes took in the details of his
"Well, well, well! That shows what a few ham and eggs and sleep will
do. Kid, you gross a million at this minute. New suit, new shoes,
snappy cravat right from the Men's Quality Shop, and all shaved and
combed slick and everything! Say--and I was afraid maybe you
He regarded her earnestly. "Oh, I would have come back, all right;
I'd never forget that twenty-five dollars I owe you; and you'll get
it all back, only it may take a little time. I thought I'd see you
for a minute, then go out and find a job--you know, a regular job in
"Nothing of the sort, old Trouper!" She danced again about him, both
his hands in hers, which annoyed him because it was rather loud
public behaviour, though he forgave her in the light of youth and
kindliness. "No regular job for you, old Pippin--nothing but acting
all over the place--real acting that people come miles to see."
"Do you think I can really get a part?" Perhaps the creature had
something definite in view for him.
"Sure you can get a part! Yesterday morning I simply walked into a
part for you. Come along over to the office with me. Goody--I see
you brought the stills. I'll take a peek at 'em myself before Baird
gets here." "Baird? Not the Buckeye comedy man?" He was chilled by a
"Yes, Jeff Baird. You see he is going to do some five--reelers and
this first one has a part that might do for you. At least, I told
him some things about you, and he thinks you can get away with it."
He went moodily at her side, thinking swift thoughts. It seemed
ungracious to tell her of his loathing for the Buckeye comedies,
those blasphemous caricatures of worth-while screen art. It would
not be fair. And perhaps here was a quick way to discharge his debt
and be free of obligation to the girl. Of course he would always
feel a warm gratitude for her trusting kindness, but when he no
longer owed her money he could choose his own line of work. Rather
bondage to some Hollywood Gashwiler than clowning in Baird's
"Well, I'll try anything he gives me," he said at last, striving for
the enthusiasm he could not feel.
"You'll go big, too," said the girl. "Believe, me Kid, you'll go
In Baird's offices he sat at the desk and excitedly undid the
package of stills. "We'll give 'em the once-over before he comes,"
she said, and was presently exclaiming with delight at the art study
of Clifford Armytage in evening dress, two straight fingers pressing
the left temple, the face in three-quarter view.
"Well, now, if that ain't Harold Parmalee to the life! If it wasn't
for that Clifford Armytage signed under it, you'd had me guessing. I
knew yesterday you looked like him, but I didn't dream it would be
as much like him as this picture is. Say, we won't show Baird this
at first. We'll let him size you up and see if your face don't
remind him of Parmalee right away. Then we'll show him this and
it'll be a cinch. And my, look at these others--here you're a
soldier, and here you're a-a-a polo player--that is polo, ain't it,
or is it tennis? And will you look at these stunning Westerns! These
are simply the best of all--on horseback, and throwing a rope, and
the fighting face with the gun drawn, and rolling a cigarette--and,
as I live, saying good-by to the horse. Wouldn't that get you--Buck
Benson to the life!"
Again and again she shuffled over the stills, dwelling on each with
excited admiration. Her excitement was pronounced. It seemed to be a
sort of nervous excitement. It had caused her face to flush deeply,
and her manner, especially over the Western pictures, at moments
oddly approached hysteria. Merton was deeply gratified. He had
expected the art studies to produce no such impression as this. The
Countess in the casting office had certainly manifested nothing like
hysteria at beholding them. It must be that the Montague girl was a
better judge of art studies.
"I always liked this one, after the Westerns," he observed,
indicating the Harold Parmalee pose.
"It's stunning," agreed the girl, still with her nervous manner. "I
tell you, sit over there in Jeff's chair and take the same pose, so
I can compare you with the photo."
Merton obliged. He leaned an elbow on the chair-arm and a temple on
the two straightened fingers. "Is the light right?" he asked, as he
turned his face to the pictured angle.
"Fine," applauded the girl. "Hold it." He held it until shocked by
shrill laughter from the observer. Peal followed peal. She had
seemed oddly threatened with hysteria; perhaps now it had come. She
rocked on her heels and held her hands to her sides. Merton arose in
some alarm, and was reassured when the victim betrayed signs of
mastering her infirmity. She wiped her eyes presently and explained
"You looked so much like Parmalee I just couldn't help thinking how
funny it was--it just seemed to go over me like anything, like a
spasm or something, when I got to thinking what Parmalee would say
if he saw someone looking so much like him. See? That was why I
He was sympathetic and delighted in equal parts. The girl had really
seemed to suffer from her paroxysm, yet it was a splendid tribute to
his screen worth.
It was at this moment that Baird entered. He tossed his hat on a
chair and turned to the couple.
"Mr. Baird, shake hands with my friend Merton Gill. His stage name
is Clifford Armytage."
"Very pleased to meet you," said Merton, grasping the extended hand.
He hoped he had not been too dignified, too condescending. Baird
would sometime doubtless know that he did not approve of those so-
called comedies, but for the present he must demean himself to pay
back some money borrowed from a working girl.
"Delighted," said Baird; then he bent a suddenly troubled gaze upon
the Gill lineaments. He held this a long moment, breaking it only
with a sudden dramatic turning to Miss Montague.
"What's this, my child? You're playing tricks on the old man." Again
he incredulously scanned the face of Merton. "Who is this man?" he
"I told you, he's Merton Gill from Gushwomp, Ohio," said the girl,
looking pleased and expectant.
"Simsbury, Illinois," put in Merton quickly, wishing the girl could
be better at remembering names.
Baird at last seemed to be convinced. He heavily smote an open palm
with a clenched fist. "Well, I'll be swoshed! I thought you must be
kidding. If I'd seen him out on the lot I'd 'a' said he was the twin
brother of Harold Parmalee."
"There!" exclaimed the girl triumphantly. "Didn't I say he'd see it
right quick? You can't keep a thing from this old bey. Now you just
came over here to this desk and look at this fine batch of stills he
had taken by a regular artist back in Cranberry."
"Ah!" exclaimed Baird unctuously, "I bet they're good. Show me." He
went to the desk. "Be seated, Mr. Gill, while I have a look at
Merton Gill, under the eye of Baird which clung to him with
something close to fascination, sat down. He took the chair with
fine dignity, a certain masterly deliberation. He sat easily, and
seemed to await a verdict confidently foreknown. Baird's eyes did
not leave him for the stills until he had assumed a slightly Harold
Parmalee pose. Then his head with the girl's bent over the pictures,
he began to examine them.
Exclamations of delight came from the pair. Merton Gill listened
amiably. He was not greatly thrilled by an admiration which he had
long believed to be his due. Had he not always supposed that things
of precisely this sort would be said about those stills when at last
they came under the eyes of the right people?
Like the Montague girl, Baird was chiefly impressed with the
Westerns. He looked a long time at them, especially at the one where
Merton's face was emotionally averted from his old pal, Pinto, at
the moment of farewell. Regarding Baird, as he stood holding this
art study up to the light, Merton became aware for the first time
that Baird suffered from some nervous affliction, a peculiar
twitching of the lips, a trembling of the chin, which he had
sometimes observed in senile persons. All at once Baird seemed quite
overcome by this infirmity. He put a handkerchief to his face and
uttered a muffled excuse as he hastily left the room. Outside, the
noise of his heavy tread died swiftly away down the hall.
The Montague girl remained at the desk. There was a strange light in
her eyes and her face was still flushed. She shot a glance of
encouragement at Merton.
"Don't be nervous, old Kid; he likes 'em all right." He reassured
her lightly: "Oh, I'm not a bit nervous about him. It ain't as if he
was doing something worth while, instead of mere comedies."
The girl's colour seemed to heighten. "You be sure to tell him that;
talk right up to him. Be sure to say 'mere comedies.' It'll show him
you know what's what. And as a matter of fact, Kid, he's trying to
do something worth while, right this minute, something serious.
That's why he's so interested in you."
"Well, of course, that's different." He was glad to learn this of
Baird. He would take the man seriously if he tried to be serious, to
do something fine and distinctive.
Baird here returned, looking grave. The Montague girl seemed more
strangely intense. She beckoned the manager to her side.
"Now, here, Jeff, here was something I just naturally had to laugh
Baird had not wholly conquered those facial spasms, but he
controlled himself to say, "Show me!"
"Now, Merton," directed the girl, "take that same pose again, like
you did for me, the way you are in this picture."
As Merton adjusted himself to the Parmalee pose she handed the
picture to Baird. "Now, Jeff, I ask you--ain't that Harold to the
life--ain't it so near him that you just have to laugh your head
It was even so. Baird and the girl both laughed convulsively, the
former with rumbling chuckles that shook his frame. When he had
again composed himself he said, "Well, Mr. Gill, I think you and I
can do a little business. I don't know what your idea about a
contract is, but--"
Merton Gill quickly interrupted. "Well, you see I'd hardly like to
sign a contract with you, not for those mere comedies you do. I'll
do anything to earn a little money right now so I can pay back this
young lady, but I wouldn't like to go on playing in such things,
with cross-eyed people and waiters on roller skates, and all that.
What I really would like to do is something fine and worth while,
but not clowning in mere Buckeye comedies."
Mr. Baird, who had devoted the best part of an active career to the
production of Buckeye comedies, and who regarded them as at least
one expression of the very highest art, did not even flinch at these
cool words. He had once been an actor himself. Taking the blow like
a man, he beamed upon his critic. "Exactly, my boy; don't you think
I'll ever ask you to come down to clowning. You might work with me
for years and I'd never ask you to do a thing that wasn't serious.
In fact, that's why I'm hoping to engage you now. I want to do a
serious picture, I want to get out of all that slap-stick stuff,
see? Something fine and worth while, like you say. And you're the
very actor I need in this new piece."
"Well, of course, in that case--" This was different; he made it
plain that in the case of a manager striving for higher things he
was not one to withhold a helping hand. He was beginning to feel a
great sympathy for Baird in his efforts for the worth while. He
thawed somewhat from the reserve that Buckeye comedies had put upon
him. He chatted amiably. Under promptings from the girl he spoke
freely of his career, both in Simsbury and in Hollywood. It was
twelve o'clock before they seemed willing to let him go, and from
time to time they would pause to gloat over the stills.
At last Baird said cheerily, "Well, my lad, I need you in my new
piece. How'll it be if I put you on my payroll, beginning to-day, at
forty a week? How about it, hey?"
"Well, I'd like that first rate, only I haven't worked any to-day;
you shouldn't pay me for just coming here."
The manager waved a hand airily. "That's all right, my boy; you've
earned a day's salary just coming here to cheer me up. These mere
comedies get me so down in the dumps sometimes. And besides, you're
not through yet. I'm going to use you some more. Listen, now--" The
manager had become coldly businesslike. "You go up to a little
theatre on Hollywood Boulevard--you can't miss it--where they're
running a Harold Parmalee picture. I saw it last night and I want
you to see it to-day, Better see it afternoon and evening both."
"Yes, sir," said Merton.
"And watch Parmalee. Study him in this picture. You look like him
already, but see if you can pick up some of his tricks, see what I
mean? Because it's a regular Parmalee part I'm going to have you do,
see? Kind of a society part to start with, and then we work in some
of your Western stuff at the finish. But get Parmalee as much as you
can. That's all now. Oh, yes, and can you leave these stills with
me? Our publicity man may want to use them later."
"All right, Mr. Baird, I'll do just what you say, and of course you
can keep the stills as long as I got an engagement with you, and I'm
very glad you're trying to do something really worth while."
"Thanks," said Baird, averting his face.
The girl followed him into the hall. "Great work, boy, and take it
from me, you'll go over. Say, honest now, I'm glad clear down into
my boots." She had both his hands again, and he could see that her
eyes were moist. She seemed to be an impressionable little thing,
hysterical one minute while looking at a bunch of good stills, and
sort of weepy the next. But he was beginning to like her, in spite
of her funny talk and free ways.
"And say," she called after him when he had reached the top of the
stairs, "you know you haven't had much experience yet with a bunch
of hard-boiled troupers; many a one will be jealous of you the
minute you begin to climb, and maybe they'll get fresh and try to
kid you, see? But don't you mind it--give it right back to them. Or
tell me if they get too raw. Just remember I got a mean right when I
"All right, thank you," he replied, but his bewilderment was plain.
She stared a moment, danced up to him, and seized a hand in both of
hers. "What I mean son, if you feel bothered any time--by anything--
just come to me with it, see? I'm in this piece, and I'll look out
for you. Don't forget that." She dropped his hand, and was back in
the office while he mumbled his thanks for what he knew she had
meant as a kindness.
So she was to be in the Baird piece; she, too, would be trying to
give the public something better and finer. Still, he was puzzled at
her believing he might need to be looked out for. An actor drawing
forty dollars a week could surely look out for himself. He emerged
into the open of the Holden lot as one who had at last achieved
success after long and gruelling privation. He walked briefly among
the scenes of this privation, pausing in reminiscent mood before the
Crystal Palace Hotel and other outstanding spots where he had so
stoically suffered the torments of hunger and discouragement.
He remembered to be glad now that no letter of appeal had actually
gone to Gashwiler. Suppose he had built up in the old gentleman's
mind a false hope that he might again employ Merton Gill? A good
thing he had held out! Yesterday he was starving and penniless; to-
day he was fed and on someone's payroll for probably as much money a
week as Gashwiler netted from his entire business. From sheer force
of association, as he thus meditated, he found himself hungry, and a
few moments later he was selecting from the food counter of the
cafeteria whatever chanced to appeal to the eye--no weighing of
Before he had finished his meal Henshaw and his so-called Governor
brought their trays to the adjoining table. Merton studied with new
interest the director who would some day be telling people that he
had been the first to observe the aptitude of this new star--had, in
fact, given him a lot of footage and close-ups and medium shots and
"dramatics" in The Blight of Broadway when he was a mere extra--
before he had made himself known to the public in Jeff Baird's first
He was strongly moved, now, to bring himself to Henshaw's notice
when he heard the latter say, "It's a regular Harold Parmalee part,
good light comedy, plenty of heart interest, and that corking fight
on the cliff."
He wanted to tell Henshaw that he himself was already engaged to do
a Harold Parmalee part, and had been told, not two hours ago, that
he would by most people be taken for Parmalee's twin brother. He
restrained this impulse, however, as Henshaw went on to talk of the
piece in hand.
It proved to be Robinson Crusoe, which he had already discussed. Or,
rather, not Robinson Crusoe any longer. Not even Robinson Crusoe,
Junior. It was to have been called Island Passion, he learned, but
this title had been amended to Island Love.
"They're getting fed up on that word 'passion,'" Henshaw was saying,
"and anyhow, 'love' seems to go better with 'island,' don't you
think, Governor? 'Desert Passion' was all right--there's something
strong and intense about a desert. But 'island' is different."
And it appeared that Island Love, though having begun as Robinson
Crusoe, would contain few of the outstanding features of that tale.
Instead of Crusoe's wrecked sailing-ship, there was a wrecked steam
yacht, a very expensive yacht stocked with all modern luxuries, nor
would there be a native Friday and his supposed sister with the
tattooed shoulder, but a wealthy young New Yorker and his valet who
would be good for comedy on a desert island, and a beautiful girl,
and a scoundrel who would in the last reel be thrown over the
Henshaw was vivacious about the effects he would get. "I've been
wondering, Governor," he continued, "if we're going to kill off the
heavy, whether we shouldn't plant it early that besides wanting this
girl who's on the island, he's the same scoundrel that wronged the
young sister of the lead that owns the yacht. See what I mean?-it
would give more conflict."
"But here--" The Governor frowned and spoke after a moment's pause.
"Your young New Yorker is rich, isn't he? Fine old family, and all
that, how could he have a sister that would get wronged? You
couldn't do it. If he's got a wronged sister, he'd have to be a
workingman or a sailor or something. And she couldn't be a New York
society girl; she'd have to be working some place, in a store or
office--don't you see? How could you have a swell young New Yorker
with a wronged sister? Real society girls never get wronged unless
their father loses his money, and then it's never anything serious
enough to kill a heavy for. No--that's out." "Wait, I have it."
Henshaw beamed with a new inspiration. "You just said a sailor could
have his sister wronged, so why not have one on the yacht, a good
strong type, you know, and his little sister was wronged by the
heavy, and he'd never known who it was, because the little girl
wouldn't tell him, even on her death-bed, but he found the chap's
photograph in her trunk, and on the yacht he sees that it was this
same heavy--and there you are. Revenge--see what I mean? He fights
with the heavy on the cliff, after showing him the little sister's
picture, and pushes him over to death on the rocks below--get it?
And the lead doesn't have to kill him. How about that?" Henshaw
regarded his companion with pleasant anticipation.
The Governor again debated before he spoke. He still doubted. "Say,
whose show is this, the lead's or the sailor's that had the wronged
sister? You'd have to show the sailor and his sister, and show her
being wronged by the heavy--that'd take a big cabaret set, at least-
-and you'd have to let the sailor begin his stuff on the yacht, and
then by the time he'd kept it up a bit after the wreck had pulled
off the fight, where would your lead be? Can you see Parmalee
playing second to this sailor? Why, the sailor'd run away with the
piece. And that cabaret set would cost money when we don't need it--
just keep those things in mind a little."
"Well," Henshaw submitted gracefully, "anyway, I think my suggestion
of Island Love is better than Island Passion--kind of sounds more
attractive, don't you think?"
The Governor lighted a cigarette. "Say, Howard, it's a wonderful
business, isn't it? We start with poor old Robinson Crusoe and his
goats and parrot and man Friday, and after dropping Friday's sister
who would really be the Countess of Kleig, we wind up with a steam-
yacht and a comic butler and call it Island Love. Who said the art
of the motion picture is in its infancy? In this case it'll be plumb
senile. Well, go ahead with the boys and dope out your hogwash.
Gosh! Sometimes I think I wouldn't stay in the business if it wasn't
for the money. And remember, don't you let a single solitary sailor
on that yacht have a wronged sister that can blame it on the heavy,
or you'll never have Parmalee playing the lead."
Again Merton Gill debated bringing himself to the notice of these
gentlemen. If Parmalee wouldn't play the part for any reason like a
sailor's wronged sister, he would. It would help him to be known in
Parmalee parts. Still, he couldn't tell how soon they might need
him, nor how soon Baird would release him. He regretfully saw the
two men leave, however. He might have missed a chance even better
than Baird would give him.
He suddenly remembered that he had still a professional duty to
perform. He must that afternoon, and also that evening, watch a
Harold Parmalee picture. He left the cafeteria, swaggered by the
watchman at the gate-he had now the professional standing to silence
that fellow-and made his way to the theatre Baird had mentioned.
In front he studied the billing of the Parmalee picture. It was
"Object, Matrimony-a Smashing Comedy of Love and Laughter." Harold
Parmalee, with a gesture of mock dismay, seemed to repulse a bevy of
beautiful maidens who wooed him. Merton took his seat with a dismay
that was not mock, for it now occurred to him that he had no
experience in love scenes, and that an actor playing Parmalee parts
would need a great deal of such experience. In Simsbury there had
been no opportunity for an intending actor to learn certain little
niceties expected at sentimental moments. Even his private life had
been almost barren of adventures that might now profit him.
He had sometimes played kissing games at parties, and there had been
the more serious affair with Edwina May Pulver-nights when he had
escorted her from church or sociables to the Pulver gate and
lingered in a sort of nervously worded ecstasy until he could summon
courage to kiss the girl. Twice this had actually happened, but the
affair had come to nothing, because the Pulvers had moved away from
Simsbury and he had practically forgotten Edwina May; forgotten even
the scared haste of those embraces. He seemed to remember that he
had grabbed her and kissed her, but was it on her cheek or nose?
Anyway, he was now quite certain that the mechanics of this dead
amour were not those approved of in the best screen circles. Never
had he gathered a beauteous girl in his arms and very slowly, very
accurately, very tenderly, done what Parmalee and other screen
actors did in their final fade-outs. Even when Beulah Baxter had
been his screen ideal he had never seen himself as doing more than
save her from some dreadful fate. Of course, later, if he had found
out that she was unwed--
He resolved now to devote special study to Parmalee's methods of
wooing the fair creature who would be found in his arms at the close
of the present film. Probably Baird would want some of that stuff
From the very beginning of "Object, Matrimony" it was apparent that
the picture drama would afford him excellent opportunities for
studying the Parmalee technique in what an early subtitle called
"The Eternal Battle of the Sexes." For Parmalee in the play was
Hubert Throckmorton, popular screen idol and surfeited with the
attentions of adoring women. Cunningly the dramatist made use of
Parmalee's own personality, of his screen triumphs, and of the
adulation lavished upon him by discriminating fair ones. His
breakfast tray was shown piled with missives amply attesting the
truth of what the interviewer had said of his charm. All women
seemed to adore Hubert Throckmorton in the drama, even as all women
adored Harold Parmalee in private life.
The screen revealed Throckmorton quite savagely ripping open the
letters, glancing at their contents and flinging them from him with
humorous shudders. He seemed to be asking why these foolish
creatures couldn't let an artist alone. Yet he was kindly, in this
half-humorous, half-savage mood. There was a blending of chagrin and
amused tolerance on his face as the screen had him murmur, casting
the letter aside, "Poor, Silly Little Girls!"
From this early scene Merton learned Parmalee's method of
withdrawing the gold cigarette case, of fastidiously selecting a
cigarette, of closing the case and of absently--thinking of other
matters--tamping the gold-tipped thing against the cover. This was
an item that he had overlooked. He should have done that in the
cabaret scene. He also mastered the Parmalee trick of withdrawing
the handkerchief from the cuff of the perfectly fitting morning
coat. That was something else he should have done in The Blight of
Broadway. Little things like that, done right, gave the actor his
The drama progressed. Millionaire Jasper Gordon, "A Power in Wall
Street," was seen telephoning to Throckmorton. He was entreating the
young actor to spend the week-end at his palatial Long Island
country home to meet a few of his friends. The grim old Wall Street
magnate was perturbed by Throckmorton's refusal, and renewed his
appeal. He was one of those who always had his way in Wall Street,
and he at length prevailed upon Throckmorton to accept his
invitation. He than manifested the wildest delight, and he was
excitedly kissed by his beautiful daughter who had been standing by
his side in the sumptuous library while he telephoned. It could be
seen that the daughter, even more than her grim old father, wished
Mr. Throckmorton to be at the Long Island country home.
Later Throckmorton was seen driving his high-powered roadster,
accompanied only by his valet, to the Gordon country home on Long
Island, a splendid mansion surrounded by its landscaped grounds
where fountains played and roses bloomed against the feathery
background of graceful eucalyptus trees. Merton Gill here saw that
he must learn to drive a high-powered roadster. Probably Baird would
want some of that stuff, too.
A round of country-house gaieties ensued, permitting Throckmorton to
appear in a series of perfectly fitting sports costumes. He was seen
on his favourite hunter, on the tennis courts, on the first tee of
the golf course, on a polo pony, and in the mazes of the dance. Very
early it was learned that the Gordon daughter had tired of mere
social triumphs and wished to take up screen acting in a serious
way. She audaciously requested Throckmorton to give her a chance as
leading lady in his next great picture.
He softened his refusal by explaining to her that acting was a
difficult profession and that suffering and sacrifice were necessary
to round out the artist. The beautiful girl replied that within ten
days he would be compelled to admit her rare ability as an actress,
and laughingly they wagered a kiss upon it. Merton felt that this
was the sort of thing he must know more about.
Throckmorton was courteously gallant in the scene. Even when he
said, "Shall we put up the stakes now, Miss Gordon?" it could be
seen that he was jesting. He carried this light manner through minor
scenes with the beautiful young girl friends of Miss Gordon who
wooed him, lay in wait for him, ogled and sighed. Always he was the
laughingly tolerant conqueror who had but a lazy scorn for his
He did not strike the graver note until it became suspected that
there were crooks in the house bent upon stealing the famous Gordon
jewels. That it was Throckmorton who averted this catastrophe by
sheer nerve and by use of his rare histrionic powers--as when he
disguised himself in the coat and hat of the arch crook whom he had
felled with a single blow and left bound and gagged, in order to
receive the casket of jewels from the thief who opened the safe in
the library, and that he laughed away the thanks of the grateful
millionaire, astonished no one in the audience, though it caused
Merton Gill to wonder if he could fell a crook with one blow. He
must practice up some blows.
Throckmorton left the palatial country home wearied by the
continuous adulation. The last to speed him was the Gordon daughter,
who reminded him of their wager; within ten days he would
acknowledge her to be an actress fit to play as his leading woman.
Throckmorton drove rapidly to a simple farm where he was not known
and would be no longer surfeited with attentions. He dressed plainly
in shirts that opened wide at the neck and assisted in the farm
labours, such as pitching hay and leading horses into the barn. It
was the simple existence that he had been craving--away from it all!
No one suspected him to be Hubert Throckmorton, least of all the
simple country maiden, daughter of the farmer, in her neat print
dress and heavy braid of golden hair that hung from beneath her
sunbonnet. She knew him to be only a man among men, a simple farm
labourer, and Hubert Throckmorton, wearied by the adulation of his
feminine public, was instantly charmed by her coy acceptance of his
That this charm should ripen to love was to be expected. Here was a
child, simple, innocent, of a wild-rose beauty in her print dress
and sunbonnet, who would love him for himself alone. Beside a
blossoming orange tree on the simple Long Island farm he declared
his love, warning the child that he had nothing to offer her but two
strong arms and a heart full of devotion.
The little girl shyly betrayed that she returned his love but told
him that he must first obtain the permission of her grandmother
without which she would never consent to wed him. She hastened into
the old farmhouse to prepare Grandmother for the interview.
Throckmorton presently faced the old lady who sat huddled in an
armchair, her hands crooked over a cane, a ruffled cap above her
silvery hair. He manfully voiced his request for the child's hand in
marriage. The old lady seemed to mumble an assent. The happy lover
looked about for his fiance when, to his stupefaction, the old lady
arose briskly from her chair, threw off cap, silvery wig, gown of
black, and stood revealed as the child herself, smiling roguishly up
at him from beneath the sunbonnet. With a glad cry he would have
seized her, when she stayed him with lifted hand. Once more she
astounded him. Swiftly she threw off sunbonnet, blonde wig, print
dress, and stood before him revealed as none other than the Gordon
Hubert Throckmorton had lost his wager. Slowly, as the light of
recognition dawned in his widening eyes, he gathered the beautiful
girl into his arms. "Now may I be your leading lady?" she asked.
"My leading lady, not only in my next picture, but for life," he
There was a pretty little scene in which the wager was paid. Merton
studied it. Twice again, that evening, he studied it. He was
doubtful. It would seem queer to take a girl around the waist that
way and kiss her so slowly. Maybe he could learn. And he knew he
could already do that widening of the eyes. He could probably do it
as well as Parmalee did.
* * * * * * *
Back in the Buckeye office, when the Montague girl had returned from
her parting with Merton, Baird had said:
"Kid, you've brightened my whole day."
"Didn't I tell you?"
"He's a lot better than you said."
"But can you use him?"
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