Merton of the Movies
Harry Leon Wilson
Part 5 out of 7
"You can't tell. You can't tell till you try him out. He might be
good, and he might blow up right at the start."
"I bet he'll be good. I tell you. Jeff, that boy is just full of
acting. All you got to do--keep his stuff straight, serious. He
can't help but be funny that way."
"We'll see. To-morrow we'll kind of feel him out. He'll see this
Parmalee film to-day--I caught it last night--and there's some stuff
in it I want to play horse with, see? So I'll start him to-morrow in
a quiet scene, and find out does he handle. If he does, we'll go
right into some hokum drama stuff. The more serious he plays it the
better. It ought to be good, but you can't ever tell in our trade.
You know that as well as I do."
The girl was confident. "I can tell about this lad," she insisted.
GENIUS COMES INTO ITS OWN
Merton Gill, enacting the part of a popular screen idol, as in the
play of yesterday, sat at breakfast in his apartments on Stage
Number Five. Outwardly he was cool, wary, unperturbed, as he peeled
the shell from a hard-boiled egg and sprinkled salt upon it. For the
breakfast consisted of hard-boiled eggs and potato salad brought on
in a wooden dish.
He had been slightly disturbed by the items of this meal; it was not
so elegant a breakfast as Hubert Throckmorton's, but he had been
told by Baird that they must be a little different.
He had been slightly disturbed, too, at discovering the faithful
valet who brought on the simple repast was the cross--eyed man.
Still, the fellow had behaved respectfully, as a valet should. He
had been quietly obsequious of manner, revealing only a profound
admiration for his master and a constant solicitude for his comfort.
Probably he, like Baird, was trying to do something distinctive and
Having finished the last egg--glad they had given him no more than
three--the popular screen idol at the prompting of Baird, back by
the cameras, arose, withdrew a metal cigarette case, purchased that
very morning with this scene in view, and selected a cigarette. He
stood negligently, as Parmalee had stood, tapped the end of the
cigarette on the side of the case, as Parmalee had done, lighted a
match on the sole of his boot, and idly smoked in the Parmalee
Three times the day before he had studied Parmalee in this bit of
business. Now he idly crossed to the centre-table upon which reposed
a large photograph album. He turned the pages of this, pausing to
admire the pictures there revealed. Baird had not only given him
general instructions for this scene, but now prompted him in low,
"Turn over slowly; you like 'em all. Now lift the album up and hold
it for a better light on that one. It's one of the best, it pleases
you a lot. Look even more pleased--smile! That's good. Put down the
album; turn again, slowly; turn twice more, that's it; pick it up
again. This one is fine--"
Baird took him through the album in this manner, had him close it
when all the leaves were turned, and stand a moment with one hand
resting on it. The album had been empty. It had been deemed best not
to inform the actor that later close-ups of the pages would show him
to have been refreshed by studying photographs of himself--copies,
in fact, of the stills of Clifford Armytage at that moment resting
on Baird's desk.
As he stood now, a hand affectionately upon the album, a trace of
the fatuously admiring smile still lingering on his expressive face,
a knock sounded upon the door. "Come in," he called.
The valet entered with the morning mail. This consisted entirely of
letters. There were hundreds of them, and the valet had heaped them
in a large clothes-basket which he now held respectfully in front of
The actor motioned him, with an authentic Parmalee gesture, to place
them by the table. The valet obeyed, though spilling many letters
from the top of the overflowing basket. These, while his master
seated himself, he briskly swept up with a broom.
The chagrined amusement of Harold Parmalee, the half-savage, half-
humorous tolerance for this perhaps excusable weakness of woman, was
here accurately manifested. The actor yawned slightly, lighted
another cigarette with flawless Parmalee technique, withdrew a
handkerchief from his sleeve-cuff, lightly touched his forehead with
it, and began to open the letters. He glanced at each one in a
quick, bored manner, and cast it aside.
When a dozen or so had been thus treated he was aroused by another
knock at the door. It opened to reveal the valet with another basket
overflowing with letters. Upon this the actor arose, spread his arms
wide in a gesture of humorous helplessness. He held this briefly,
then drooped in humorous despair.
He lighted another cigarette, eyed the letters with that whimsical
lift of the brows so characteristic of Parmalee, and lazily blew
smoke toward them. Then, regarding the smoke, he idly waved a hand
through it. "Poor, silly little girls!" But there was a charming
tolerance in his manner. One felt his generous recognition that they
were not wholly without provocation.
This appeared to close the simple episode. The scenes, to be sure,
had not been shot without delays and rehearsals, and a good two
hours of the morning had elapsed before the actor was released from
the glare of light and the need to remember that he was Harold
Parmalee. His peeling of an egg, for example, had not at first been
dainty enough to please the director, and the scene with the album
had required many rehearsals to secure the needed variety of
expressions, but Baird had been helpful in his promptings, and
"Now, this one you've turned over--it's someone you love better than
anybody. It might be your dear old mother that you haven't seen for
years. It makes you kind of solemn as you show how fond you were of
her. You're affected deeply by her face. That's it, fine! Now the
next one, you like it just as much, but it pleases you more. It's
someone else you're fond of, but you're not so solemn.
"Now turn over another, but very slow--slow--but don't let go of it.
Stop a minute and turn back as if you had to have another peek at
the last one, see what I mean? Take plenty of time. This is a great
treat for you. It makes you feel kind of religious. Now you're
getting it--that's the boy! All right--"
The scene where he showed humorous dismay at the quantity of his
mail had needed but one rehearsal. He had here been Harold Parmalee
without effort. Also he had not been asked to do again the Parmalee
trick of lighting a cigarette nor of withdrawing the handkerchief
from its cuff to twice touch his forehead in moments of amused
perplexity. Baird had merely uttered a low "Fine!" at beholding
He drew a long breath of relief when released from the set.
Seemingly he had met the test. Baird had said that morning, "Now
we'll just run a little kind of test to find out a few things about
you," and had followed with a general description of the scenes. It
was to be of no great importance--a minor detail of the picture.
Perhaps this had been why the wealthy actor breakfasted in rather a
plainly furnished room on hard-boiled eggs and potato salad. Perhaps
this had been why the costume given him had been not too well
fitting, not too nice in detail. Perhaps this was why they had
allowed the cross-eyed man to appear as his valet. He was quite sure
this man would not do as a valet in a high-class picture. Anyway,
however unimportant the scene, he felt that he had acquitted himself
The Montague girl, who had made him up that morning, with close
attention to his eyebrows, watched him from back of the cameras, and
she seized both his hands when he left the set. "You're going to
land," she warmly assured him. "I can tell a trouper when I see
She was in costume. She was apparently doing the part of a society
girl, though slightly overdressed, he thought.
"We're working on another set for this same picture," she explained,
"but I simply had to catch you acting. You'll probably be over with
us to-morrow. But you're through for the day, so beat it and have a
"Couldn't I come over and watch you?"
"No, Baird doesn't like to have his actors watching things they
ain't in; he told me specially that you weren't to be around except
when you're working. You see, he's using you in kind of a special
part in this multiple-reeler, and he's afraid you might get confused
if you watched the other parts. I guess he'll start you to-morrow.
You're to be in a good, wholesome heart play. You'll have a great
chance in it."
"Well, I'll go see if I can find another Parmalee picture for this
afternoon. Say, you don't think I was too much like him in that
scene, do you? You know it's one thing if I look like him--I can't
help that--but I shouldn't try to imitate him too closely, should I?
I got to think about my own individuality, haven't I?"
"Sure, sure you have! But you were fine--your imitation wasn't a bit
too close. You can think about your own individuality this afternoon
when you're watching him."
Late that day in the projection room Baird and the Montague girl
watched the "rush" of that morning's episode.
"The squirrel's done it," whispered the girl after the opening
scene. It seemed to her that Merton Gill on the screen might
overhear her comment.
Even Baird was low-toned. "Looks so," he agreed.
"If that ain't Parmalee then I'll eat all the hard-boiled eggs on
Baird rubbed his hands. "It's Parmalee plus," he corrected.
"Oh, Mother, Mother!" murmured the girl while the screen revealed
the actor studying his photographs.
"He handled all right in that spot," observed Baird.
"He'll handle right--don't worry. Ain't I told you he's a natural
The mail was abandoned in humorous despair. The cigarette lighted in
a flawless Parmalee manner, the smoke idly brushed aside. "Poor,
silly little girls," the actor was seen to say. The girl gripped
Baird's arm until he winced. "There, old Pippin! There's your
million, picked right up on the lot!"
"Maybe," assented the cooler Baird, as they left the projection
"And say," asked the girl, "did you notice all morning how he didn't
even bat an eye when you spoke to him, if the camera was still
turning? Not like a beginner that'll nearly always look up and get
out of the picture."
"What I bet," observed Baird, "I bet he'd 'a' done that album stuff
even better than he did if I'd actually put his own pictures in, the
way I'm going to for the close-ups. I was afraid he'd see it was
kidding if I did, or if I told him what pictures they were going to
be. But I'm darned now if I don't think he'd have stood for it. I
don't believe you'll ever be able to peeve that boy by telling him
The girl glanced up defensively as they walked.
"Now don't get the idea he's conceited, because he ain't. Not one
"How do you know he ain't?"
She considered this, then explained brightly, "Because I wouldn't
like him if he was. No, no--now you listen here" as Baird had
grinned. "This lad believes in himself, that's all. That's different
from conceit. You can believe a whole lot in yourself, and still be
as modest as a new--hatched chicken. That's what he reminds me of,
The following morning Baird halted him outside the set on which he
would work that day. Again he had been made up by the Montague girl,
with especial attention to the eyebrows so that they might show the
"I just want to give you the general dope of the piece before you go
on," said Baird, in the shelter of high canvas backing. "You're the
only son of a widowed mother and both you and she are toiling to pay
off the mortgage on the little home. You're the cashier of this
business establishment, and in love with the proprietor's daughter,
only she's a society girl and kind of looks down on you at first.
Then, there's her brother, the proprietor's only son. He's the clerk
in this place. He doesn't want to work, but his father has made him
learn the business, see? He's kind of a no-good; dissipated; wears
flashy clothes and plays the races and shoots craps and drinks. You
try to reform him because he's idolized by his sister that you're in
"But you can't do a thing with him. He keeps on and gets in with a
rough crowd, and finally he steals a lot of money out of the safe,
and just when they are about to discover that he's the thief you see
it would break his sister's heart so you take the crime on your own
shoulders. After that, just before you're going to be arrested, you
make a getaway--because, after all, you're not guilty--and you go
out West to start all over again--"
"Out there in the big open spaces?" suggested Merton, who had
"Exactly," assented Baird, with one of those nervous spasms that
would now and again twitch his lips and chin. "Out there in the big
open spaces where men are men--that's the idea. And you build up a
little gray home in the West for yourself and your poor old mother
who never lost faith in you. There'll be a lot of good Western stuff
in this--Buck Benson stuff, you know, that you can do so well--and
the girl will get out there some way and tell you that her brother
finally confessed his crime, and everything'll be Jake, see what I
"Yes, sir; it sounds fine, Mr. Baird. And I certainly will give the
best that is in me to this part." He had an impulse to tell the
manager, too, how gratified he was that one who had been content
with the low humour of the Buckeye comedies should at last have been
won over to the better form of photodrama. But Baird was leading him
on to the set; there was no time for this congratulatory episode.
Indeed the impulse was swept from his mind in the novelty of the set
now exposed, and in the thought that his personality was to dominate
it. The scene of the little drama's unfolding was a delicatessen
shop. Counters and shelves were arrayed with cooked foods, salads,
cheeses, the latter under glass or wire protectors. At the back was
a cashier's desk, an open safe beside it. He took his place there at
Baird's direction and began to write in a ledger.
"Now your old mother's coming to mop up the place," called Baird.
"Come on, Mother! You look up and see her, and rush over to her. She
puts down her bucket and mop, and takes you in her arms. She's
weeping; you try to comfort her; you want her to give up mopping,
and tell her you can make enough to support two, but she won't
listen because there's the mortgage on the little flat to be paid
off. So you go back to the desk, stopping to give her a sad look as
she gets down on the floor. Now, try it."
A very old, bent, feeble woman with a pail of water and cloths
tottered on. Her dress was ragged, her white hair hung about her sad
old face in disorderly strands. She set down her bucket and raised
her torn apron to her eyes.
"Look up and see her," called Baird. "A glad light comes into her
eyes. Rush forward--say 'Mother' distinctly, so it'll show. Now the
clench. You're crying on his shoulder, Mother, and he's looking down
at you first, then off, about at me. He's near crying himself. Now
he's telling you to give up mopping places, and you're telling him
every little helps.
"All right, break. Get to mopping, Mother, but keep on crying. He
stops for a long look at you. He seems to be saying that some day he
will take you out of such work. Now he's back at his desk. All
right. But we'll do it once more. And a little more pathos, Merton,
when you take the old lady in your arms. You can broaden it. You
don't actually break down, but you nearly do."
The scene was rehearsed again, to Baird's satisfaction, and the
cameras ground. Merton Gill gave the best that was in him. His glad
look at first beholding the old lady, the yearning of his eyes when
his arms opened to enfold her, the tenderness of his embrace as he
murmured soothing words, the lingering touch of his hand as he left
her, the manly determination of the last look in which he showed a
fresh resolve to release her from this toil, all were eloquent of
the deepest filial devotion and earnestness of purpose.
Back at his desk he was genuinely pitying the old lady. Very lately,
it was evident, she had been compelled to play in a cabaret scene,
for she smelled strongly of cigarettes, and he could not suppose
that she, her eyes brimming with anguished mother love, could have
relished these. He was glad when it presently developed that his own
was not to be a smoking part.
"Now the dissipated brother's coming on," explained Baird. "He'll
breeze in, hang up his hat, offer you a cigarette, which you refuse,
and show you some money that he won on the third race yesterday. You
follow him a little way from the desk, telling him he shouldn't
smoke cigarettes, and that money he gets by gambling will never do
him any good. He laughs at you, but you don't mind. On your way back
to the desk you stop by your mother, and she gets up and embraces
"Take your time about it--she's your mother, remember."
The brother entered. He was indeed dissipated appearing, loudly
dressed, and already smoking a cigarette as he swaggered the length
of the shop to offer Merton one. Merton refused in a kindly but firm
manner. The flashy brother now pulled a roll of bills from his
pocket and pointed to his winning horse in a racing extra. The line
in large type was there for the close-up--"Pianola Romps Home in
Followed the scene in which Merton sought to show this youth that
cigarettes and gambling would harm him. The youth remained obdurate.
He seized a duster and, with ribald action, began to dust off the
rows of cooked food on the counters. Again the son stopped to
embrace his mother, who again wept as she enfolded him. The scene
Step by step, under the patient coaching of Baird, the simple drama
unfolded. It was hot beneath the lights, delays were frequent and
the rehearsals tedious, yet Merton Gill continued to give the best
that was in him. As the day wore on, the dissipated son went from
bad to worse. He would leave the shop to place money on a horse
race, and he would seek to induce the customers he waited on to play
at dice with him. A few of them consented, and one, a coloured man
who had come to purchase pigs'-feet, won at this game all the bills
which the youth had shown to Merton on entering.
There were moments during this scene when Merton wondered if Baird
were not relapsing into Buckeye comedy depths, but he saw the
inevitable trend of the drama and the justification for this bit of
gambling. For the son, now penniless, became desperate. He appealed
to Merton for a loan, urging it on the ground that he had a sure
thing thirty--to-one shot at Latonia. At least these were the words
of Baird, as he directed Merton to deny the request and to again try
to save the youth from his inevitable downfall. Whereupon the youth
had sneered at Merton and left the place in deep anger.
There followed the scene with the boy's sister, only daughter of the
rich delicatessen merchant, who Merton was pleased to discover would
be played by the Montague girl. She entered in a splendid evening
gown, almost too splendid, Merton thought, for street wear in
daylight, though it was partially concealed by a rich opera cloak.
The brother being out, Merton came forward to wait upon her.
"It's like this," Baird explained. "She's just a simple New York
society girl, kind of shallow and heartless, because she has never
been aroused nor anything, see? You're the first one that's really
touched her heart, but she hesitates because her father expects her
to marry a count and she's come to get the food for a swell banquet
they're giving for him. She says where's her brother, and if
anything happened to him it would break her heart. Then she orders
what she wants and you do it up for her, looking at her all the time
as if you thought she was the one girl in the world.
"She kind of falls for you a little bit, still she is afraid of what
her father would say. Then you get bolder, see? You come from behind
the counter and begin to make love, talking as you come out--so-and-
so, so-and-so, so-and-so--Miss Hoffmeyer, I have loved you since the
day I first set eyes on you--so-and-so, so-and-so, so-and-so, I have
nothing to offer but the love of an honest man--she's falling for
it, see? So you get up close and grab her--cave-man stuff. Do a good
hard clench--she's yours at last; she just naturally sags right down
on to you. You've got her.
"Do a regular Parmalee. Take your time. You're going to kiss her and
kiss her right. But just as you get down to it the father busts in
and says what's the meaning of this, so you fly apart and the father
says you're discharged, because his daughter is the affianced wife
of this Count Aspirin, see? Then he goes back to the safe and finds
all the money has been taken, because the son has sneaked in and
grabbed out the bundle and hid it in the ice-box on his way out,
taking only a few bills to get down on a horse. So he says call the
police--but that's enough for now. Go ahead and do that love scene
Slowly the scene was brought to Baird's liking. Slowly, because
Merton Gill at first proved to be diffident at the crisis. For three
rehearsals the muscular arm of Miss Montague had most of the
clenching to do. He believed he was being rough and masterful, but
Baird wished a greater show of violence. They had also to time this
scene with the surreptitious entrance of the brother, his theft of
the money which he stuffed into a paper sack and placed in the ice-
box, and his exit.
The leading man having at last proved that he could be Harold
Parmalee even in this crisis, the scene was extended to the entrance
of the indignant father. He was one of those self-made men of
wealth, Merton thought, a short, stout gentleman with fiery
whiskers, not at all fashionably dressed. He broke upon the embrace
with a threatening stick. The pair separated, the young lover facing
him, proud, erect, defiant, the girl drooping and confused.
The father discharged Merton Gill with great brutality, then went to
the safe at the back of the room, returning to shout the news that
he had been robbed by the man who would have robbed him of his
daughter. It looked black for Merton. Puzzled at first, he now saw
that the idolized brother of the girl must have taken the money. He
seemed about to declare this when his nobler nature compelled him to
a silence that must be taken for guilt.
The erring brother returned, accompanied by several customers.
"Bring a detective to arrest this man," ordered the father. One of
the customers stepped out to return with a detective. Again Merton
was slightly disquieted at perceiving that the detective was the
cross-eyed man. This person bustled about the place, tapping the
cooked meats and the cheeses, and at last placed his hand upon the
shoulder of the supposed thief. Merton, at Baird's direction, drew
back and threatened him with a blow. The detective cringed and said:
"I will go out and call a policeman."
The others now turned their backs upon the guilty man. Even the girl
drew away after one long, agonized look at the lover to whose
embrace she had so lately submitted. He raised his arms to her in
mute appeal as she moved away, then dropped them at his side.
"Give her all you got in a look," directed Baird. "You're saying: 'I
go to a felon's cell, but I do it all for you.' Dream your eyes at
her." Merton Gill obeyed.
The action progressed. In this wait for the policeman the old mother
crept forward. She explained to Merton that the money was in the
ice-box where the real thief had placed it, and since he had taken
the crime of another upon his shoulders he should also take the
evidence, lest the unfortunate young man be later convicted by that;
she also urged him to fly by the rear door while there was yet time.
He did these things, pausing for a last embrace of the weeping old
lady, even as the hand of the arriving policeman was upon the door.
"All for to-day, except some close-ups," announced Baird when this
scene had been shot. There was a breaking up of the group, a
relaxation of that dramatic tension which the heart-values of the
piece had imposed. Only once, while Merton was doing some of his
best acting, had there been a kind of wheezy tittering from certain
members of the cast and the group about the cameras.
Baird had quickly suppressed this. "If there's any kidding in this
piece it's all in my part," he announced in cold, clear tones, and
there had been no further signs of levity. Merton was pleased by
this manner of Baird's. It showed that he was finely in earnest in
the effort for the worth-while things. And Baird now congratulated
him, seconded by the Montague girl. He had, they told him, been all
that could be expected.
"I wasn't sure of myself," he told them, "in one scene, and I wanted
to ask you about it, Mr. Baird. It's where I take that money from
the ice-box and go out with it. I couldn't make myself feel right.
Wouldn't it look to other people as if I was actually stealing it
myself? Why couldn't I put it back in the safe?"
Baird listened respectfully, considering. "I think not," he
announced at length. "You'd hardly have time for that, and you have
a better plan. It'll be brought out in the subtitles, of course. You
are going to leave it at the residence of Mr. Hoffmeyer, where it
will be safe. You see, if you put it back where it was, his son
might steal it again. We thought that out very carefully."
"I see," said Merton. "I wish I had been told that. I feel that I
could have done that bit a lot better. I felt kind of guilty."
"You did it perfectly," Baird assured him.
"Kid, you're a wonder," declared the Montague girl. "I'm that
tickled with you I could give you a good hug," and with that curious
approach to hysteria she had shown while looking at his stills, she
for a moment frantically clasped him to her. He was somewhat
embarrassed by this excess, but pardoned it in the reflection that
he had indeed given the best that was in him. "Bring all your
Western stuff to the dressing room tomorrow," said Baird.
Western stuff--the real thing at last! He was slightly amazed later
to observe the old mother outside the set. She was not only smoking
a cigarette with every sign of relish, but she was singing as she
did a little dance step. Still she had been under a strain all day,
weeping, too, almost continuously. He remembered this, and did not
judge her harshly as she smoked, danced, and lightly sang,
Her mother's name was Cleo, Her father's name was Pat; They called
her Cleopatra, And let it go at that.
OUT THERE WHERE MEN ARE MEN
From the dressing room the following morning, arrayed in the Buck
Benson outfit, unworn since that eventful day on the Gashwiler lot,
Merton accompanied Baird to a new set where he would work that day.
Baird was profuse in his admiration of the cowboy embellishments,
the maroon chaps, the new boots, the hat, the checked shirt and gay
"I'm mighty glad to see you so sincere in your work," he assured
Merton. "A lot of these hams I hire get to kidding on the set and
spoil the atmosphere, but don't let it bother you. One earnest
leading man, if he'll just stay earnest, will carry the piece.
Remember that--you got a serious part."
"I'll certainly remember," Merton earnestly assured him.
"Here we are; this is where we begin the Western stuff," said Baird.
Merton recognized the place. It was the High Gear Dance Hall where
the Montague girl had worked. The name over the door was now "The
Come All Ye," and there was a hitching rack in front to which were
tethered half-a--dozen saddled horses.
Inside, the scene was set as he remembered it. Tables for drinking
were about the floor, and there was a roulette wheel at one side. A
red-shirted bartender, his hair plastered low over his brow, leaned
negligently on the bar. Scattered around the room were dance-hall
girls in short skirts, and a number of cowboys.
"First, I'll wise you up a little bit," said Baird. "You've come out
here to work on a ranche in the great open spaces, and these cowboys
all love you and come to town with you every time, and they'll stand
by you when the detective from New York gets here. Now--let's see--I
guess first we'll get your entrance. You come in the front door at
the head of them. You've ridden in from the ranche. We get the
horseback stuff later. You all come in yelling and so on, and the
boys scatter, some to the bar and some to the wheel, and some sit
down to the tables to have their drinks and some dance with the
girls. You distribute money to them from a paper sack. Here's the
sack." From a waiting property boy he took a paper sack. "Put this
in your pocket and take it out whenever you need money.
"It's the same sack, see, that the kid put the stolen money in, and
you saved it after returning the money. It's just a kind of an idea
of mine," he vaguely added, as Merton looked puzzled at this.
"All right, sir." He took the sack, observing it to contain a rude
imitation of bills, and stuffed it into his pocket.
"Then, after the boys scatter around, you go stand at the end of the
bar. You don't join in their sports and pastimes, see? You're
serious; you have things on your mind. Just sort of look around the
place as if you were holding yourself above such things, even if you
do like to give the boys a good time. Now we'll try the entrance."
Cameras were put into place, and Merton Gill led through the front
door his band of rollicking good fellows. He paused inside to give
them bills from the paper sack. They scattered to their
dissipations. Their leader austerely posed at one end of the bar and
regarded the scene with disapproving eyes. Wine, women, and the
dance were not for him. He produced again the disillusioned look
that had won Henshaw.
"Fine," said Baird. "Gun it, boys."
The scene was shot, and Baird spoke again: "Hold it, everybody; go
on with your music, and you boys keep up the dance until Mother's
entrance, then you quit and back off."
Merton was puzzled by this speech, but continued his superior look,
breaking it with a very genuine shock of surprise when his old
mother tottered in at the front door. She was still the disconsolate
creature of the day before, bedraggled, sad-eyed, feeble, very aged,
and still she carried her bucket and the bundle of rags with which
she had mopped. Baird came forward again.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you. Of course you had your old mother follow
you out here to the great open spaces, but the poor old thing has
cracked under the strain of her hard life, see what I mean? All her
dear ones have been leaving the old nest and going out over the
hills one by one-you were the last to go-and now she isn't quite
"You have a good home on the ranche for her, but she won't stay put.
She follows you around, and the only thing that keeps her quiet is
mopping, so you humour her; you let her mop. It's the only way. But
of course it makes you sad. You look at her now, then go up and hug
her the way you did yesterday; you try to get her to give up
mopping, but she won't, so you let her go on. Try it."
Merton went forward to embrace his old mother. Here was tragedy
indeed, a bit of biting pathos from a humble life. He gave the best
that was in him as he enfolded the feeble old woman and strained her
to his breast, murmuring to her that she must give it up-give it up.
The old lady wept, but was stubborn. She tore herself from his arms
and knelt on the floor. "I just got to mop, I just got to mop," she
was repeating in a cracked voice. "If I ain't let to mop I git rough
till I'm simply a scandal."
It was an affecting scene, marred only by one explosive bit of
coarse laughter from an observing cowboy at the close of the old
mother's speech. Merton Gill glanced up in sharp annoyance at this
offender. Baird was quick in rebuke.
"The next guy that laughs at this pathos can get off the set," he
announced, glaring at the assemblage. There was no further outbreak
and the scene was filmed.
There followed a dramatic bit that again involved the demented
mother. "This ought to be good if you can do it the right way,"
began Baird. "Mother's mopping along there and slashes some water on
this Mexican's boot-where are you, Pedro? Come here and get this.
The old lady sloshes water on you while you're playing monte here,
so you yell Carramba or something, and kick at her. You don't land
on her, of course, but her son rushes up and grabs your arm--here,
do it this way." Baird demonstrated. "Grab his wrist with one hand
and his elbow with the other and make as if you broke his arm across
your knee-you know, like you were doing joojitsey. He slinks off
with his broken arm, and you just dust your hands off and embrace
your mother again.
"Then you go back to the bar, not looking at Pedro at all. See? He's
insulted your mother, and you've resented it in a nice, dignified,
gentlemanly way. Try it."
Pedro sat at the table and picked up his cards. He was a foul-
looking Mexican and seemed capable even of the enormity he was about
to commit. The scene was rehearsed to Baird's satisfaction, then
shot. The weeping old lady, blinded by her tears, awkward with her
mop, the brutal Mexican, his prompt punishment.
The old lady was especially pathetic as she glared at her insulter
from where she lay sprawled on the floor, and muttered, "Carramba,
huh? I dare you to come outside and say that to me!"
"Good work," applauded Baird when the scene was finished. "Now we're
getting into the swing of it. In about three days here we'll have
something that exhibitors can clean up on, see if we don't."
The three days passed in what for Merton Gill was a whirlwind of
dramatic intensity. If at times he was vaguely disquieted by a
suspicion that the piece was not wholly serious, he had only to
remember the intense seriousness of his own part and the always
serious manner of Baird in directing his actors. And indeed there
were but few moments when he was even faintly pricked by this
suspicion. It seemed a bit incongruous that Hoffmeyer, the
delicatessen merchant, should arrive on a bicycle, dressed in cowboy
attire save for a badly dented derby hat, and carrying a bag of golf
clubs; and it was a little puzzling how Hoffmeyer should have been
ruined by his son's mad act, when it would have been shown that the
money was returned to him. But Baird explained carefully that the
old man had been ruined some other way, and was demented, like the
poor old mother who had gone over the hills after her children had
left the home nest. And assuredly in Merton's own action he found
nothing that was not deeply earnest as well as strikingly dramatic.
There was the tense moment when a faithful cowboy broke upon the
festivities with word that a New York detective was coming to search
for the man who had robbed the Hoffmeyer establishment. His friends
gathered loyally about Merton and swore he would never be taken from
them alive. He was induced to don a false mustache until the
detective had gone. It was a long, heavy black mustache with curling
tips, and in this disguise he stood aloof from his companions when
the detective entered.
The detective was the cross-eyed man, himself now disguised as
Sherlock Holmes, with a fore-and-aft cloth cap and drooping blond
mustache. He smoked a pipe as he examined those present. Merton was
unable to overlook this scene, as he had been directed to stand with
his back to the detective. Later it was shown that he observed in a
mirror the Mexican whom he had punished creeping forward to inform
the detective of his man's whereabouts. The coward's treachery cost
him dearly. The hero, still with his back turned, drew his revolver
and took careful aim by means of the mirror.
This had been a spot where for a moment he was troubled. Instead of
pointing the weapon over his shoulder, aiming by the mirror, he was
directed to point it at the Mexican's reflection in the glass, and
to fire at this reflection. "It's all right," Baird assured him.
"It's a camera trick, see? It may look now as if you were shooting
into the mirror but it comes perfectly right on the film. You'll
see. Go on, aim carefully, right smack at that looking-glass--fire!"
Still somewhat doubting, Merton fired. The mirror was shattered, but
a dozen feet back of him the treacherous Mexican threw up his arms
and fell lifeless, a bullet through his cowardly heart. It was a
puzzling bit of trick-work, he thought, but Baird of course would
know what was right, so the puzzle was dismissed. Buck Benson,
silent man of the open, had got the scoundrel who would have played
A thrilling struggle ensued between Merton and the hellhound of
justice. Perceiving who had slain his would-be informant, the
detective came to confront Merton. Snatching off his cap and
mustache he stood revealed as the man who had not dared to arrest
him at the scene of his crime. With another swift movement he
snatched away the mustache that had disguised his quarry. Buck
Benson, at bay, sprang like a tiger upon his antagonist. They
struggled while the excited cowboys surged about them. The detective
proved to be no match for Benson. He was borne to earth, then raised
aloft and hurled over the adjacent tables.
This bit of acting had involved a trick which was not obscure to
Merton like his shot into the mirror that brought down a man back of
him. Moreover, it was a trick of which he approved. When he bore the
detective to earth the cameras halted their grinding while a dummy
in the striking likeness of the detective was substituted. It was a
light affair, and he easily raised it for the final toss of triumph.
"Throw it high as you can over those tables and toward the bar,"
called Baird. The figure was thrown as directed.
"Fine work! Now look up, as if he was still in the air, now down,
now brush your left sleeve lightly with your right hand, now brush
your right sleeve lightly with your left hand.
"All right--cut. Great, Merton! If that don't get you a hand I don't
know what will. Now all outside for the horseback stuff!"
Outside, the faithful cowboys leaped into their saddles and urged
their beloved leader to do the same. But he lingered beside his own
horse, pleading with them to go ahead. He must remain in the place
of danger yet awhile for he had forgotten to bring out his old
mother. They besought him to let them bring her out, but he would
not listen. His alone was the task.
Reluctantly the cowboys galloped off. As he turned to re-enter the
dance-hall he was confronted by the detective, who held two frowning
weapons upon him. Benson was at last a prisoner.
The detective brutally ordered his quarry inside. Benson, seeing he
was beaten, made a manly plea that he might be let to bid his horse
good-by. The detective seemed moved. He relented. Benson went to his
good old pal.
"Here's your chance for a fine bit," called Baird. "Give it to us
now the way you did in that still. Broaden it all you want to. Go to
Well did Merton Gill know that here was his chance for a fine bit.
The horse was strangely like Dexter upon whom he had so often
rehearsed this bit. He was a bony, drooping, sad horse with a thin
neck. "They're takin' ye frum me, old pal--takin' ye frum me. You
an' me has seen some tough times an' I sort o' figgered we'd keep on
together till the last--an' now they got me, old pal, takin' me far
away where ye won't see me no more--"
"Go to it, cowboy--take all the footage you want!" called Baird in a
curiously choked voice.
The actor took some more footage. "But we got to keep a stiff upper
lip, old pal, you and me both. No cryin', no bustin' down. We had
out last gallop together, an' we're at the forkin' of th' trail. So
we got to be brave--we got to stand the gaff."
Benson released his old pal, stood erect, dashed a bit of moisture
from his eyes, and turned to the waiting detective who, it seemed,
had also been strangely moved during this affecting farewell. Yet he
had not forgotten his duty. Benson was forced to march back into the
Come All Ye Dance Hall. As he went he was wishing that Baird would
have him escape and flee on his old pal.
And Baird was a man who seemed to think of everything, or perhaps he
had often seen the real Buck Benson's play, for it now appeared that
everything was going to be as Merton Gill wished. Baird had even
contrived an escape that was highly spectacular.
Locked by the detective in an upper room, the prisoner went to the
window and glanced out to find that his loyal horse was directly
beneath him. He would leap from the window, alight in the saddle
after a twenty-foot drop, and be off over the border. The window
scene was shot, including a flash of the horse below. The mechanics
of the leap itself required more time. Indeed, it took the better
part of a morning to satisfy Baird that this thrilling exploit had
been properly achieved. From a lower window, quite like the high
one, Merton leaped, but only to the ground a few feet below.
"That's where we get your take-off," Baird explained.
"Now we get you lighting in the saddle." This proved to be a more
delicate bit of work. From a platform built out just above the
faithful horse Merton precariously scrambled down into the saddle.
He glanced anxiously at Baird, fearing he had not alighted properly
after the supposed twenty-foot drop, but the manager appeared to be
delighted with his prowess after the one rehearsal, and the scene
"It's all jake," Baird assured him. "Don't feel worried. Of course
we'll trick the bit where you hit the saddle; the camera'll look out
One detail only troubled Merton. After doing the leap from the high
window, and before doing its finish where he reached the saddle,
Baird directed certain changes in his costume. He was again to don
the false mustache, to put his hat on, and also a heavy jacket lined
with sheep's wool worn by one of the cowboys in the dance-hall.
Merton was pleased to believe he had caught the manager napping
here. "But Mr. Baird, if I leap from the window without the hat or
mustache or jacket and land on my horse in them, wouldn't it look as
if I had put them on as I was falling?"
Baird was instantly overcome with confusion. "Now, that's so! I
swear I never thought of that, Merton. I'm glad you spoke about it
in time. You sure have shown me up as a director. You see I wanted
you to disguise yourself again--I'll tell you; get the things on,
and after we shoot you lighting in the saddle we'll retake the
window scene. That'll fix it."
Not until long afterward, on a certain dread night when the earth
was to rock beneath him, did he recall that Baird had never retaken
that window scene. At present the young actor was too engrossed by
the details of his daring leap to remember small things. The leap
was achieved at last. He was in the saddle after a twenty-foot drop.
He gathered up the reins, the horse beneath him coughed plaintively,
and Merton rode him out of the picture. Baird took a load off his
mind as to this bit of riding.
"Will you want me to gallop?" he asked, recalling the unhappy
experience with Dexter.
"No; just walk him beyond the camera line. The camera'll trick it up
all right." So, safely, confidently, he had ridden his steed beyond
the lens range at a curious shuffling amble, and his work at the
Come All Ye Dance Hall was done.
Then came some adventurous days in the open. In motor cars the
company of artists was transported to a sunny nook in the foothills
beyond the city, and here in the wild, rough, open spaces, the drama
of mother-love, sacrifice, and thrills was further unfolded.
First to be done here was the continuation of the hero's escape from
the dance-hall. Upon his faithful horse he ambled along a quiet road
until he reached the shelter of an oak tree. Here he halted at the
"You know the detective is following you," explained Baird, "and
you're going to get him. Take your nag over a little so the tree
won't mask him too much. That's it. Now, you look back, lean forward
in the saddle, listen! You hear him coming. Your face sets--look as
grim as you can. That's the stuff--the real Buck Benson stuff when
they're after him. That's fine. Now you get an idea. Unlash your
rope, let the noose out, give it a couple of whirls to see is
everything all right. That's it--only you still look grim--not so
worried about whether the rope is going to act right. We'll attend
to that. When the detective comes in sight give about three good
whirls and let her fly. Try it once. Good! Now coil her up again and
go through the whole thing. Never mind about whether you're going to
get him or not. Remember, Buck Benson never misses. We'll have a
later shot that shows the rope falling over his head."
Thereupon the grim-faced Benson, strong, silent man of the open,
while the cameras ground, waited the coming of one who hounded him
for a crime of which he was innocent. His iron face was relentless.
He leaned forward, listening. He uncoiled the rope, expertly ran out
the noose, and grimly waited. Far up the road appeared the detective
on a galloping horse. Benson twirled the rope as he sat in his
saddle. It left his hand, to sail gracefully in the general
direction of his pursuer.
"Cut!" called Baird. "That was bully. Now you got him. Ride out into
the road. You're dragging him off his horse, see? Keep on up the
road; you're still dragging the hound. Look back over your shoulder
and light your face up just a little--that's it, use Benson's other
expression. You got it fine. You're treating the skunk rough, but
look what he was doing to you, trying to pinch you for something you
never did. That's fine--go ahead. Don't look back any more."
Merton was chiefly troubled at this moment by the thought that
someone would have to double for him in the actual casting of the
rope that would settle upon the detective's shoulders. Well, he must
practise roping. Perhaps, by the next picture. he could do this
stuff himself. It was exciting work, though sometimes tedious. It
had required almost an entire morning to enact this one simple
scene, with the numerous close-ups that Baird demanded.
The afternoon was taken up largely in becoming accustomed to a pair
of old Spanish spurs that Baird now provided him with. Baird said
they were very rare old spurs which he had obtained at a fancy price
from an impoverished Spanish family who had treasured them as
heirlooms. He said he was sure that Buck Benson in all his vast
collection did not possess a pair of spurs like these. He would
doubtless, after seeing them worn by Merton Gill in this picture,
have a pair made like them.
The distinguishing feature of these spurs was their size. They were
enormous, and their rowels extended a good twelve inches from
Merton's heels after he had donned them.
"They may bother you a little at first," said Baird, "but you'll get
used to them, and they're worth a little trouble because they'll
The first effort to walk in them proved bothersome indeed, for it
was made over ground covered with a low-growing vine and the spurs
caught in this. Baird was very earnest in supervising this progress,
and even demanded the presence of two cameras to record it.
"Of course I'm not using this stuff," he said, "but I want to make a
careful study of it. These are genuine hidalgo spurs. Mighty few men
in this line of parts could get away with them. I bet Benson himself
would have a lot of trouble. Now, try it once more."
Merton tried once more, stumbling as the spurs caught in the
undergrowth. The cameras closely recorded his efforts, and Baird
applauded them. "You're getting it--keep on. That's better. Now try
to run a few steps--go right toward that left-hand camera."
He ran the few steps, but fell headlong. He picked himself up, an
expression of chagrin on his face.
"Never mind," urged Baird. "Try it again. We must get this right."
He tried again to run; was again thrown. But he was determined to
please the manager, and he earnestly continued his efforts. Benson
himself would see the picture and probably marvel that a new man
should have mastered, apparently with ease, a pair of genuine
"Maybe we better try smoother ground," Baird at last suggested after
repeated falls had shown that the undergrowth was difficult. So the
cameras were moved on to the front of a ranche house now in use for
the drama, and the spur lessons continued. But on smooth ground it
appeared that the spurs were still troublesome. After the first
mishap here Merton discovered the cause. The long shanks were curved
inward so that in walking their ends clashed. He pointed this out to
Baird, who was amazed at the discovery.
"Well, well, that's so! They're bound to interfere. I never knew
that about hidalgo spurs before."
"We might straighten them," suggested the actor.
"No, no," Baird insisted, "I wouldn't dare try that. They cost too
much money, and it might break 'em. I tell you what you do, stand up
and try this: just toe in a little when you walk--that'll bring the
points apart. There--that's it; that's fine."
The cameras were again recording so that Baird could later make his
study of the difficulties to be mastered by the wearer of genuine
hidalgos. By toeing in Merton now succeeded in walking without
disaster, though he could not feel that he was taking the free
stride of men out there in the open spaces.
"Now try running." directed Baird, and he tried running; but again
the spurs caught and he was thrown full in the eyes of the grinding
camera. He had forgotten to toe in. But he would not give up. His
face was set in Buck Benson grimness. Each time he picked himself up
and earnestly resumed the effort. The rowels were now catching in
the long hair of his chaps.
He worked on, directed and cheered by the patient Baird, while the
two camera men, with curiously strained faces, recorded his
failures. Baird had given strict orders that other members of the
company should remain at a distance during the spur lessons, but now
he seemed to believe that a few other people might encourage the
learner. Merton was directed to run to his old mother who, bucket at
her side and mop in hand, knelt on the ground at a little distance.
He was also directed to run toward the Montague girl, now in
frontier attire of fringed buckskin. He made earnest efforts to keep
his feet during these essays, but the spurs still proved
"Just pick yourself up and go on," ordered Baird, and had the
cameras secure close shots of Merton picking himself up and going
carefully on, toeing in now, to embrace his weeping old mother and
the breathless girl who had awaited him with open arms.
He was tired that night, but the actual contusions he had suffered
in his falls where forgotten in the fear that he might fail to
master the hidalgos. Baird himself seemed confident that his pupil
would yet excite the jealousy of Buck Benson in this hazardous
detail of the screen art. He seemed, indeed, to be curiously
satisfied with his afternoon's work. He said that he would study the
film carefully and try to discover just how the spurs could be
"You'll show 'em yet how to take a joke," he declared when the
puzzling implements were at last doffed. The young actor felt repaid
for his earnest efforts. No one could put on a pair of genuine
hidalgos for the first time and expect to handle them correctly.
There were many days in the hills. Until this time the simple drama
had been fairly coherent in Merton Gill's mind. So consecutively
were the scenes shot that the story had not been hard to follow. But
now came rather a jumble of scenes, not only at times bewildering in
themselves, but apparently unrelated.
First it appeared that the Montague girl, as Miss Rebecca Hoffmeyer,
had tired of being a mere New York society butterfly, had come out
into the big open spaces to do something real, something worth
while. The ruin of her father, still unexplained, had seemed to call
out unsuspected reserves in the girl. She was stern and businesslike
in such scenes as Merton was permitted to observe. And she had not
only brought her ruined father out to the open spaces but the
dissipated brother, who was still seen to play at dice whenever
opportunity offered. He played with the jolly cowboys and invariably
Off in the hills there were many scenes which Merton did not
overlook. "I want you to have just your own part in mind," Baird
told him. And, although he was puzzled later, he knew that Baird was
somehow making it right in the drama when he became again the
successful actor of that first scene, which he had almost forgotten.
He was no longer the Buck Benson of the open spaces, but the
foremost idol of the shadowed stage, and in Harold Parmalee's best
manner he informed the aspiring Montague girl that he could not
accept her as leading lady in his next picture because she lacked
experience. The wager of a kiss was laughingly made as she promised
that within ten days she would convince him of her talent.
Later she herself, in an effective scene, became the grimfaced Buck
Benson and held the actor up at the point of her two guns. Then,
when she had convinced him that she was Benson, she appeared after
an interval as her own father; the fiery beard, the derby hat with
its dents, the chaps, the bicycle, and golf bag. In this scene she
seemed to demand the actor's intentions toward the daughter, and
again overwhelmed him with confusion, as Parmalee had been
overwhelmed when she revealed her true self under the baffling
disguise. The wager of a kiss was prettily paid. This much of the
drama he knew. And there was an affecting final scene on a hillside.
The actor, arrayed in chaps, spurs, and boots below the waist was,
above this, in faultless evening dress. "You see, it's a masquerade
party at the ranche," Baird explained, "and you've thought up this
costume to sort of puzzle the little lady."
The girl herself was in the short, fringed buckskin skirt, with
knife and revolvers in her belt. Off in the hills day after day she
had worn this costume in those active scenes he had not witnessed.
Now she was merely coy. He followed her out on the hillside with
only a little trouble from the spurs--indeed he fell but once as he
approached her--and the little drama of the lovers, at last united,
was touchingly shown.
In the background, as they stood entwined, the poor demented old
mother was seen. With mop and bucket she was cleansing the side of a
cliff, but there was a happier look on the worn old face.
"Glance around and see her," railed Baird. "Then explain to the girl
that you will always protect your mother, no matter what happens.
That's it. Now the clench--kiss her--slow! That's it. Cut!"
Merton's part in the drama was ended. He knew that the company
worked in the hills another week and there were more close-ups to
take in the dance-hall, but he was not needed in these. Baird
congratulated him warmly.
"Fine work, my boy! You've done your first picture, and with Miss
Montague as your leading lady I feel that you're going to land ace-
high with your public. Now all you got to do for a couple of weeks
is to take it easy while we finish up some rough ends of this piece.
Then we'll be ready to start on the new one. It's pretty well doped
out, and there's a big part in it for you--big things to be done in
a big way, see what I mean."
"Well, I'm glad I suited you," Merton replied. "I tried to give the
best that was in me to a sincere interpretation of that fine part.
And it was a great surprise to me. I never thought I'd be working
for you, Mr. Baird, and of course I wouldn't have been if you had
kept on doing those comedies. I never would have wanted to work in
one of them." "Of course not," agreed Baird cordially. "I realized
that you were a serious artist, and you came in the nick of time,
just when I was wanting to be serious myself, to get away from that
slap-stick stuff into something better and finer. You came when I
needed you. And, look here, Merton, I signed you on at forty
"Yes, sir: I was glad to get it."
"Well, I'm going to give you more. From the beginning of the new
picture you're on the payroll at seventy-five a week. No, no, not a
word--" as Merton would have thanked him. "You're earning the money.
And for the picture after that--well, if you keep on giving the best
that's in you, it will be a whole lot more. Now take a good rest
till we're ready for you."
At last he had won. Suffering and sacrifice had told. And Baird had
spoken of the Montague girl as his leading lady--quite as if he were
a star. And seventy-five dollars a week! A sum Gashwiler had made
him work five weeks for. Now he had something big to write to his
old friend, Tessie Kearns. She might spread the news in Simsbury, he
thought. He contrived a close-up of Gashwiler hearing it, of Mrs.
Gashwiler hearing it, of Metta Judson hearing it.
They would all be incredulous until a certain picture was shown at
the Bijou Palace, a gripping drama of mother-love, of a clean-limbed
young American type wrongfully accused of a crime and taking the
burden of it upon his own shoulders for the sake of the girl he had
come to love; of the tense play of elemental forces in the great
West, the regeneration of a shallow society girl when brought to
adversity by the ruin of her old father; of the lovers reunited in
that West they both loved.
And somehow--this was still a puzzle--the very effective weaving in
and out of the drama of the world's most popular screen idol, played
so expertly by Clifford Armytage who looked enough like him to be
his twin brother.
Fresh from joyous moments in the projection room, the Montague girl
gazed at Baird across the latter's desk, Baird spoke.
"Sis, he's a wonder."
"Jeff, you're a wonder. How'd you ever keep him from getting wise?"
Baird shrugged. "Easy! We caught him fresh."
"How'd you ever win him to do all those falls on the trick spurs,
and get the close-ups of them? Didn't he know you were shooting?"
"Oh!" Baird shrugged again. "A little talk made that all jake. But
what bothers me--how's he going to act when he's seen the picture?"
The girl became grave. "I'm scared stiff every time I think of it.
Maybe he'll murder you, Jeff."
"Maybe he'll murder both of us. You got him into it."
She did not smile, but considered gravely, absently.
"There's something else might happen," she said at last. "That boy's
got at least a couple of sides to him. I'd rather he'd be crazy mad
than be what I'm thinking of now, and that's that all this stuff
might just fairly break his heart. Think of it--to see his fine
honest acting turned into good old Buckeye slap-stick! Can't you get
that? How'd you like to think you were playing Romeo, and act your
heart out at it, and then find out they'd slipped in a cross-eyed
Juliet in a comedy make-up on you? Well, you can laugh, but maybe it
won't be funny to him. Honest, Jeff, that kid gets me under the ribs
kind of. I hope he takes it standing up, and goes good and crazy
"I'll know what to say to him if he does that. If he takes it the
other way, lying down, I'll be too ashamed ever to look him in the
eye again. Say, it'll be like going up to a friendly baby and
soaking it with a potato masher or something."
"Don't worry about it, Kid. Anyway, it won't be your fault so much
as mine. And you think there's only two ways for him to take it, mad
or heart broken? Well, let me tell you something about that lad--he
might fool you both ways. I don't know just how, but I tell you he's
an actor, a born one. What he did is going to get over big. And I
never yet saw a born actor that would take applause lying down, even
if it does come for what he didn't know he was doing. Maybe he'll be
mad--that's natural enough. But maybe he'll fool us both. So
cheerio, old Pippin! and let's fly into the new piece. I'll play
safe by shooting the most of that before the other one is released.
And he'll still be playing straight in a serious heart drama. Fancy
A NEW TRAIL
One genial morning a few days later the sun shone in across the desk
of Baird while he talked to Merton Gill of the new piece. It was a
sun of fairest promise. Mr. Gill's late work was again lavishly
commended, and confidence was expressed that he would surpass
himself in the drama shortly to be produced.
Mr. Baird spoke in enthusiastic terms of this, declaring that if it
did not prove to be a knock-out--a clean-up picture--then he, Jeff
Baird, could safely be called a Chinaman. And during the time that
would elapse before shooting on the new piece could begin he
specified a certain study in which he wished his actor to engage.
"You've watched the Edgar Wayne pictures, haven't you?"
"Yes, I've seen a number of them."
"Like his work?--that honest country-boy-loving-his--mother-and-
little-sister stuff, wearing overalls and tousled hair in the first
part, and coming out in city clothes and eight dollar neckties at
the last, with his hair slicked back same as a seal?"
"Oh, yes, I like it. He's fine. He has a great appeal."
"Good! That's the kind of a part you're going to get in this new
piece. Lots of managers in my place would say 'No-he's a capable
young chap and has plenty of talent, but he lacks the experience to
play an Edgar Wayne part.' That's what a lot of these Wisenheimers
would say. But me--not so. I believe you can get away with this
part, and I'm going to give you your chance."
"I'm sure I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Baird, and I'll try to
give you the very best that is in me--"
"I'm sure of that, my boy; you needn't tell me. But now--what I want
you to do while you got this lay-off between pieces, chase out and
watch all the Edgar Wayne pictures you can find. There was one up on
the Boulevard last week I'd like you to watch half-a-dozen times. It
may be at another house down this way, or it may be out in one of
the suburbs. I'll have someone outside call up and find where it is
to-day and they'll let you know. It's called Happy Homestead or
something snappy like that, and it kind of suggests a layout for
this new piece of mine, see what I mean? It'll suggest things to
"Edgar and his mother and little sister live on this farm and Edgar
mixes in with a swell dame down at the summer hotel, and a villain
tries to get his old mother's farm and another villain takes his
little sister off up to the wicked city, and Edgar has more trouble
than would patch Hell a mile, see? But it all comes right in the
end, and the city girl falls for him when she sees him in his
"It's a pretty little thing, but to my way of thinking it lacks
strength; not enough punch to it. So we're sort of building up on
that general idea, only we'll put in the pep that this piece lacked.
If I don't miss my guess, you'll be able to show Wayne a few things
about serious acting--especially after you've studied his methods a
little bit in this piece."
"Well, if you think I can do it," began Merton, then broke off in
answer to a sudden thought. "Will my mother be the same actress that
played it before, the one that mopped all the time?"
"Yes, the same actress, but a different sort of mother. She--she's
more enterprising; she's a sort of chemist, in a way; puts up
preserves and jellies for the hotel. She never touches a mop in the
whole piece and dresses neat from start to finish."
"And does the cross-eyed man play in it? Sometimes, in scenes with
him, I'd get the idea I wasn't really doing my best."
"Yes, yes, I know." Baird waved a sympathetic hand. "Poor old Jack.
He's trying hard to do something worth while, but he's played in
those cheap comedy things so long it's sort of hard for him to get
out of it and play serious stuff, if you know what I mean."
"I know what you mean," said Merton.
"And he's been with me so long I kind of hate to discharge him. You
see, on account of those eyes of his, it would be hard for him to
get a job as a serious actor, so I did think I'd give him another
part in this piece if you didn't object, just to sort of work him
into the worth-while things. He's so eager for the chance. It was
quite pathetic how grateful he looked when I told him I'd try him
once more in one of the better and finer things. And a promise is a
"Still, Merton, you're the man I must suit in this cast; if you say
the word I'll tell Jack he must go, though I know what a blow it
will be to him--"
"Oh, no, Mr. Baird," Merton interrupted fervently, "I wouldn't think
of such a thing. Let the poor fellow have a chance to learn
something better than the buffoonery he's been doing. I'll do
everything I can to help him. I think it is very pathetic, his
wanting to do the better things; it's fine of him. And maybe some
day he could save up enough to have a good surgeon fix his eyes
right. It might be done, you know."
"Now that's nice of you, my boy. It's kind and generous. Not every
actor of your talent would want Jack working in the same scene with
him. And perhaps, as you say, some day he can save up enough from
his wages to have his eyes fixed. I'll mention it to him. And this
reminds me, speaking of the cast, there's another member who might
bother some of these fussy actors. She's the girl who will take the
part of your city sweetheart. As a matter of fact, she isn't exactly
the type I'd have picked for the part, because she's rather a large,
hearty girl, if you know what I mean. I could have found a lot who
were better lookers; but the poor thing has a bedridden father and
mother and a little crippled brother and a little sister that isn't
well, and she's working hard to send them all to school--I mean the
children, not her parents; so I saw the chance to do her a good
turn, and I hope you'll feel that you can work harmoniously with
her. I know I'm too darned human to be in this business--" Baird
looked aside to conceal his emotion.
"I'm sure, Mr. Baird, I'll get along fine with the young lady, and I
think it's fine of you to give these people jobs when you could get
better folks in their places."
"Well, well, we'll say no more about that," replied Baird gruffly,
as one who had again hidden his too-impressionable heart. "Now ask
in the outer office where that Wayne film is to-day and catch it as
often as you feel you're getting any of the Edgar Wayne stuff. We'll
call you up when work begins."
He saw the Edgar Wayne film, a touching story in which the timid,
diffident country boy triumphed over difficulties and won the love
of a pure New York society girl, meantime protecting his mother from
the insulting sneers of the idle rich and being made to suffer
intensely by the apparent moral wreck of his dear little sister whom
a rich scoundrel lured to the great city with false promises that he
would make a fine lady of her. Never before had he studied the
acting method of Wayne with a definite aim in view. Now he watched
until he himself became the awkward country boy. He was primed with
the Wayne manner, the appealing ingenuousness, the simple
embarrassments; the manly regard for the old mother, when word came
that Baird was ready for him in the new piece.
This drama was strikingly like the Wayne piece he had watched, at
least in its beginning. Baird, in his striving for the better
things, seemed at first to have copied his model almost too
faithfully. Not only was Merton to be the awkward country boy in the
little hillside farmhouse, but his mother and sister were like the
other mother and sister.
Still, he began to observe differences. The little sister--played by
the Montague girl--was a simple farm maiden as in the other piece,
but the mother was more energetic. She had silvery hair and wore a
neat black dress, with a white lace collar and a cameo brooch at her
neck, and she embraced her son tearfully at frequent intervals, as
had the other mother; but she carried on in her kitchen an active
business in canning fruits and putting up jellies, which, sold to
the rich people at the hotel, would swell the little fund that must
be saved to pay the mortgage. Also, in the present piece, the
country boy was to become a great inventor, and this was different.
Merton felt that this was a good touch; it gave him dignity.
He appeared ready for work on the morning designated. He was now
able to make up himself, and he dressed in the country-boy costume
that had been provided. It was perhaps not so attractive a costume
as Edgar Wayne had worn, consisting of loose-fitting overalls that
came well above his waist and were fastened by straps that went over
the shoulders; but, as Baird remarked, the contrast would be greater
when he dressed in rich city clothes at the last. His hair, too, was
no longer the slicked-back hair of Parmalee, but tousled in country
For much of the action of the new piece they would require an
outside location, but there were some interiors to be shot on the
lot. He forgot the ill-fitting overalls when shown his attic
laboratory where, as an ambitious young inventor, sustained by the
unfaltering trust of mother and sister, he would perfect certain
mechanical devices that would bring him fame, fortune, and the love
of a pure New York society girl. It was a humble little room
containing a work-bench that held his tools and a table littered
with drawings over which he bent until late hours of the night.
At this table, simple, unaffected, deeply earnest, he was shown as
the dreaming young inventor, perplexed at moments, then, with
brightening eyes, making some needful change in the drawings. He
felt in these scenes that he was revealing a world of personality.
And he must struggle to give a sincere interpretation in later
scenes that would require more action. He would show Baird that he
had not watched Edgar Wayne without profit.
Another interior was of the neat living room of the humble home.
Here were scenes of happy family life with the little sister and the
fond old mother. The Montague girl was a charming picture in her
simple print dress and sunbonnet beneath which hung her braid of
golden hair. The mother was a sweet old dear, dressed as Baird had
promised. She early confided to Merton that she was glad her part
was not to be a mopping part. In that case she would have had to
wear knee-pads, whereas now she was merely, she said, to be a tired
Still another interior was of her kitchen where she busily carried
on her fruit-canning activities. Pots boiled on the stove and glass
jars were filled with her product. One of the pots, Merton noticed,
the largest, had a tightly closed top from which a slender tube of
copper went across one corner of the little room to where it coiled
in a bucket filled with water, whence it discharged its contents
This, it seemed, was his mother's improved grape juice, a cooling
drink to tempt the jaded palates of the city folks up at the big
The laboratory of the young inventor was abundantly filmed while the
earnest country boy dreamed hopefully above his drawings or tinkered
at metal devices on the work-bench. The kitchen in which his mother
toiled was repeatedly shot, including close-ups of the old mother's
ingenious contrivances--especially of the closed boiler with its
coil of copper tubing--by which she was helping to save the humble
And a scene in the neat living room with its old-fashioned furniture
made it all too clear that every effort would be required to save
the little home. The cruel money-lender, a lawyer with mean-looking
whiskers, confronted the three shrinking inmates to warn them that
he must have his money by a certain day or out they would go into
the streets. The old mother wept at this, and the earnest boy took
her in his arms. The little sister, terrified by the man's rough
words, also flew to this shelter, and thus he defied the intruder,
calm, fearless, dignified. The money would be paid and the intruder
would now please remember that, until the day named, this little
home was their very own.
The scoundrel left with a final menacing wave of his gnarled hand;
left the group facing ruin unless the invention could be perfected,
unless Mother could sell an extraordinary quantity of fruit or
improved grape juice to the city folks, or, indeed, unless the
little sister could do something wonderful.
She, it now seemed, was confident she also could help. She stood
apart from them and prettily promised to do something wonderful. She
asked them to remember that she was no longer a mere girl, but a
woman with a woman's determination. They both patted the little
thing encouragingly on the back.
The interiors possible on the Holden lot having been finished, they
motored each day to a remote edge of the city where outside
locations had been found for the humble farmhouse and the grand
hotel. The farmhouse was excellently chosen, Merton thought, being
the neat, unpretentious abode of honest, hard-working people; but
the hotel, some distance off, was not so grand, he thought, as
Baird's new play seemed to demand. It was plainly a hotel, a wooden
structure with balconies; but it seemed hardly to afford those
attractions that would draw wealthier element from New York. He
forebore to warn Baird of this, however, fearing to discourage a
manager who was honestly striving for the serious in photodrama.
His first exterior scene saw him, with the help of Mother and little
sister, loading the one poor motor car which the family possessed
with Mother's products. These were then driven to the hotel. The
Montague girl drove the car, and scenes of it in motion were shot
from a car that preceded them.
They arrived before the hotel; Merton was directed to take from the
car an iron weight attached to a rope and running to a connection
forward on the hood. He was to throw the weight to the ground,
plainly with the notion that he would thus prevent the car from
running away. The simple device was, in fact, similar to that used,
at Gashwiler's strict orders, on the delivery wagon back in
Simsbury, for Gashwiler had believed that Dexter would run away if
untethered. But of course it was absurd, Merton saw, to anchor a
motor car in such a manner, and he was somewhat taken aback when
Baird directed this action.
"It's all right," Baird assured him. "You're a simple country boy,
and don't know any better, so do it plumb serious. You'll be smart
enough before the show's over. Go ahead, get out, grab the weight,
throw it down, and don't look at it again, as if you did this every
time. That's it. You're not being funny; just a simple country boy
like Wayne was at first." He performed the action, still with some
slight misgiving. Followed scenes of brother and sister offering
Mother's wares to the city folks idling on the porch of the hotel.
Each bearing a basket they were caught submitting the jellies and
jams. The brother was laughed at, even sneered at, by the
supercilious rich, the handsomely gowned women and the dissipated
looking men. No one appeared to wish his jellies.
The little sister had better luck. The women turned from her, but
the men gathered about her and quickly bought out the stock. She
went to the car for more and the men followed her. To Merton, who
watched these scenes, the dramatist's intention was plain. These men
did not really care for jellies and jams, they were attracted solely
by the wild-rose beauty of the little country girl. And they were
plainly the sort of men whose attentions could mean no good to such
Left on the porch, he was now directed to approach a distinguished
looking old gentleman, probably a banker and a power in Wall Street,
who read his morning papers. Timidly he stood before this person,
thrusting forward his basket. The old gentleman glanced up in
annoyance and brutally rebuffed the country boy with an angry
flourish of the paper he read.
"You're hurt by this treatment," called Baird, "and almost
discouraged. You look back over your shoulder to where sister is
doing a good business with her stuff, and you see the old mother
back in her kitchen, working her fingers to the bone--we'll have a
flash of that, see?--and you try again. Take out that bottle in the
corner of the basket, uncork it, and try again. The old man looks
up-he's smelled something. You hold the bottle toward him and you're
saying so-and-so, so-and-so, so-and-so, 'Oh, Mister, if you knew how
hard my poor old mother works to make this stuff! Won't you please
take a little taste of her improved grape juice and see if you don't
want to buy a few shillings' worth'--so-and-so, so-and-so, so-and-
so--see what I mean? That's it, look pleading. Think how the little
home depends on it."
The old gentleman, first so rude, consented to taste the improved
grape juice. He put the bottle to his lips and tilted it. A camera
was brought up to record closely the look of pleased astonishment
that enlivened his face. He arose to his feet, tilted the bottle
again, this time drinking abundantly. He smacked his lips with
relish, glanced furtively at the group of women in the background,
caught the country boy by a sleeve and drew him farther along the
"He's telling you what fine stuff this grape juice is," explained
Baird; "saying that your mother must be a wonderful old lady, and
he'll drop over to meet her; and in the meantime he wants you to
bring him all this grape juice she has. He'll take it; she can name
her own price. He hands you a ten dollar bill for the bottle he has
and for another in the basket--that's it, give it to him. The rest
of the bottles are jams or something. You want him to take them, but
he pushes them back. He's saying he wants the improved grape juice
or nothing. He shows a big wad of bills to show he can pay for it.
You look glad now--the little home may be saved after all."
The scene was shot. Merton felt that he carried it acceptably. He
had shown the diffident pleading of the country boy that his
mother's product should be at least tasted, his frank rejoicing when
the old gentleman approved of it. He was not so well satisfied with
the work of the Montague girl as his innocent little sister. In her
sale of Mother's jellies to the city men, in her acceptance of their
attentions, she appeared to be just the least bit bold. It seemed
almost as if she wished to attract their notice. He hesitated to
admit it, for he profoundly esteemed the girl, but there were even
moments when, in technical language, she actually seemed to "vamp"
these creatures who thronged about her to profess for her jams and
jellies an interest he was sure they did not feel.
He wondered if Baird had made it plain to her that she was a very
innocent little country girl who should be unpleasantly affected by
these advances. The scene he watched shot where the little sister
climbed back into the motor car, leered at by the four New York
club-men, he thought especially distasteful. Surely the skirt of her
print dress was already short enough. She needed not to lift it
under this evil regard as she put her foot up to the step.
It was on the porch of the hotel, too, that he was to have his first
scene with the New York society girl whose hand he won. She proved
to be the daughter of the old gentleman who liked the improved grape
juice. As Baird had intimated, she was a large girl; not only tall
and stoutly built, but somewhat heavy of face. Baird's heart must
have been touched indeed when he consented to employ her, but Merton
remembered her bedridden father and mother, the little crippled
brother, the little sister who was also in poor health, and resolved
to make their scenes together as easy for her as he could.
At their first encounter she appeared in a mannish coat and riding
breeches, though she looked every inch a woman in this attire.
"She sees you, and it's a case of love at first sight on her part,"
explained Baird. "And you love her, too, only you're a bashful
country boy and can't show it the way she can. Try out a little
first scene now."
Merton stood, his basket on his arm, as the girl approached him.
"Look down," called Baird, and Merton lowered his gaze under the
ardent regard of the social butterfly. She tossed away her cigarette
and came nearer. Then she mischievously pinched his cheek as the New
York men had pinched his little sister's. Having done this, she
placed her hand beneath his chin and raised his face to hers.
"Now look up at her," called Baird. "But she frightens you. Remember
your country raising. You never saw a society girl before. That's
it--look frightened while she's admiring you in that bold way. Now
turn a little and look down again. Pinch his cheek once more, Lulu.
Now, Merton, look up and smile, but kind of scared--you're still
afraid of her--and offer her a bottle of Ma's preserves. Step back a
little as you do it, because you're kind of afraid of what she might
do next. That's fine. Good work, both of you."
He was glad for the girl's sake that Baird had approved the work of
both. He had been afraid she was overdoing the New York society
manner in the boldness of her advances to him, but of course Baird
His conscience hurt him a little when the Montague girl added her
praise to Baird's for his own work. "Kid, you certainly stepped neat
and looked nice in that love scene," she warmly told him. He would
have liked to praise her own work, but could not bring himself to.
Perhaps she would grow more shrinking and modest as the drama
A part of the play now developed as he had foreseen it would, in
that the city men at the hotel pursued the little sister to her own
door-step with attentions that she should have found unwelcome. But
even now she behaved in a way he could not approve. She seemed
determined to meet the city men halfway. "I'm to be the sunlight arc
of this hovel," she announced when the city men came, one at a time,
to shower gifts upon the little wild rose.
Later it became apparent that she must in the end pay dearly for her
too-ready acceptance of these favours. One after another the four
city men, whose very appearance would have been sufficient warning
to most girls, endeavoured to lure her up to the great city where
they promised to make a lady of her. It was a situation notoriously
involving danger to the simple country girl, yet not even her mother
frowned upon it.
The mother, indeed, frankly urged the child to let all of these kind
gentlemen make a lady of her. The brother should have warned her in
this extremity; but the brother was not permitted any share in these
scenes. Only Merton Gill, in his proper person, seemed to feel the
little girl was all too cordially inviting trouble.
He became confused, ultimately, by reason of the scenes not being
taken consecutively. It appeared that the little sister actually
left her humble home at the insistence of one of the villains, yet
she did not, apparently, creep back months later broken in body and
soul. As nearly as he could gather, she was back the next day. And
it almost seemed as if later, at brief intervals, she allowed
herself to start for the great city with each of the other three
scoundrels who were bent upon her destruction. But always she
appeared to return safely and to bring large sums of money with
which to delight the old mother.
It was puzzling to Merton. He decided at last--he did not like to
ask the Montague girl--that Baird had tried the same scene four
times, and would choose the best of these for his drama.
Brother and sister made further trips to the hotel with their
offerings, only the sister now took jams and jellies exclusively,
which she sold to the male guests, while the brother took only the
improved grape juice which the rich old New Yorker bought and
generously paid for.
There were other scenes at the hotel between the country boy and the
heavy-faced New York society girl, in which the latter was an ardent
wooer. Once she was made to snatch a kiss from him as he stood by
her, his basket on his arm. He struggled in her embrace, then turned
She was shown looking after him, laughing, carelessly slapping one
leg with her riding crop.
"You're still timid," Baird told him. "You can hardly believe you
have won her love."
In some following scenes at the little farmhouse it became
impossible for him longer to doubt this, for the girl frankly told
her love as she lingered with him at the gate.
"She's one of these new women," said Baird. "She's living her own
life. You listen--it's wonderful that this great love should have
come to you. Let us see the great joy dawning in your eyes."
He endeavoured to show this. The New York girl became more ardent.
She put an arm about him, drew him to her. Slowly, almost in the
manner of Harold Parmalee, as it seemed to him, she bent down and
imprinted a long kiss upon his lips. He had been somewhat difficult
to rehearse in this scene, but Baird made it all plain. He was still
the bashful country boy, though now he would be awakened by love.
The girl drew him from the gate to her waiting automobile. Here she
overcame a last reluctance and induced him to enter. She followed
and drove rapidly off.
It was only now that Baird let him into the very heart of the drama.
"You see," he told Merton, "you've watched these city folks; you've
wanted city life and fine clothes for yourself; so, in a moment of
weakness, you've gone up to town with this girl to have a look at
the place, and it sort of took hold of you. In fact, you hit up
quite a pace for awhile; but at last you go stale on it--" "The
blight of Broadway," suggested Merton, wondering if there could be a
"Exactly," said Baird. "And you get to thinking of the poor old
mother and little sister back here at home, working away to pay off
the mortgage, and you decide to come back. You get back on a stormy
night; lots of snow and wind; you're pretty weak. We'll show you
sort of fainting as you reach the door. You have no overcoat nor
hat, and your city suit is practically ruined. You got a great
chance for some good acting here, especially after you get inside to
face the folks. It'll be the strongest thing you've done, so far."
It was indeed an opportunity for strong acting. He could see that.
He stayed late with Baird and his staff one night and a scene of the
prodigal's return to the door of the little home was shot in a
blinding snow-storm. Baird warmly congratulated the mechanics who
contrived the storm, and was enthusiastic over the acting of the
hero. Through the wintry blast he staggered, half falling, to reach
the door where he collapsed. The light caught the agony on his pale
face. He lay a moment, half-fainting, then reached up a feeble hand
to the knob of the door.
It was one of the annoyances incident to screen art that he could
not go in at that moment to finish his great scene. But this must be
done back on the lot, and the scene could not be secured until the
Once more he became the pitiful victim of a great city, crawling
back to the home shelter on a wintry night. It was Christmas eve, he
now learned. He pushed open the door of the little home and
staggered in to face his old mother and the little sister. They
sprang forward at his entrance; the sister ran to support him to the
homely old sofa. He was weak, emaciated, his face an agony of
repentance, as he mutely pled forgiveness for his flight.
His old mother had risen, had seemed about to embrace him fondly
when he knelt at her feet, but then had drawn herself sternly up and
pointed commandingly to the door. The prodigal, anguished anew at
this repulse, fell weakly back upon the couch with a cry of despair.
The little sister placed a pillow under his head and ran to plead
with the mother. A long time she remained obdurate, but at last
relented. Then she, too, came to fall upon her knees before the
wreck who had returned to her.
Not many rehearsals were required for this scene, difficult though
it was. Merton Gill had seized his opportunity. His study of agony
expressions in the film course was here rewarded. The scene closed
with the departure of the little sister. Resolutely, showing the
light of some fierce determination, she put on hat and wraps, spoke
words of promise to the stricken mother and son, and darted out into
the night. The snow whirled in as she opened the door.
"Good work," said Baird to Merton. "If you don't hear from that
little bit you can call me a Swede."
Some later scenes were shot in the same little home, which seemed to
bring the drama to a close. While the returned prodigal lay on the
couch, nursed by the forgiving mother, the sister returned in
company with the New York society girl who seemed aghast at the
wreck of him she had once wooed. Slowly she approached the couch of
the sufferer, tenderly she reached down to enfold him. In some
manner, which Merton could not divine, the lovers had been reunited.
The New York girl was followed by her father--it would seem they had
both come from the hotel--and the father, after giving an order for
more of Mother's grape juice, examined the son's patents. Two of
them he exclaimed with delight over, and at once paid the boy a huge
roll of bills for a tenth interest in them.
Now came the grasping man who held the mortgage and who had counted
upon driving the family into the streets this stormy Christmas eve.
He was overwhelmed with confusion when his money was paid from an
ample hoard, and slunk, shame-faced, out into the night. It could be
seen that Christmas day would dawn bright and happy for the little
To Merton's eye there was but one discord in this finale. He had
known that the cross-eyed man was playing the part of hotel clerk at
the neighbouring resort, but he had watched few scenes in which the
poor fellow acted; and he surely had not known that this man was the
little sister's future husband. It was with real dismay that he
averted his gaze from the embrace that occurred between these two,
as the clerk entered the now happy home.
One other detail had puzzled him. This was the bundle to which he
had clung as he blindly plunged through the storm. He had still
fiercely clutched it after entering the little room, clasping it to
his breast even as he sank at his mother's feet in physical
exhaustion and mental anguish, to implore her forgiveness. Later the
bundle was placed beside him as he lay, pale and wan, on the couch.
He supposed this bundle to contain one of his patents; a question to
Baird when the scene was over proved him to be correct. "Sure," said
Baird, "that's one of your patents." Yet he still wished the little
sister had not been made to marry the cross-eyed hotel clerk.
And another detail lingered in his memory to bother him. The actress
playing his mother was wont to smoke cigarettes when not engaged in
acting. He had long known it. But he now seemed to recall, in that
touching last scene of reconciliation, that she had smoked one while
the camera actually turned. He hoped this was not so. It would mean
a mistake. And Baird would be justly annoyed by the old mother's
OF SARAH NEVADA MONTAGUE
They were six long weeks doing the new piece. The weeks seemed long
to Merton Gill because there were so many hours, even days, of
enforced idleness. To pass an entire day, his face stiff with the
make-up, without once confronting a camera in action, seemed to him
a waste of his own time and a waste of Baird's money. Yet this
appeared to be one of the unavoidable penalties incurred by those
who engaged in the art of photodrama. Time was needed to create that
world of painted shadows, so swift, so nicely consecutive when
revealed, but so incoherent, so brokenly inconsequent, so
meaningless in the recording.
How little an audience could suspect the vexatious delays ensuing
between, say, a knock at a door and the admission of a visitor to a
neat little home where a fond old mother was trying to pay off a
mortgage with the help of her little ones. How could an audience
divine that a wait of two hours had been caused because a polished
city villain had forgotten his spats? Or that other long waits had
been caused by other forgotten trifles, while an expensive company
of artists lounged about in bored apathy, or smoked, gossiped,
Yet no one ever seemed to express concern about these waits. Rarely
were their causes known, except by some frenzied assistant director,
and he, after a little, would cease to be frenzied and fall to
loafing calmly with the others. Merton Gill's education in his
chosen art was progressing. He came to loaf with the unconcern, the
vacuous boredom, the practised nonchalance, of more seasoned
Sometimes when exteriors were being taken the sky would overcloud
and the sun be denied them for a whole day. The Montague girl would
then ask Merton how he liked Sunny Cafeteria. He knew this was a
jesting term that would stand for sunny California, and never failed
The girl kept rather closely by him during these periods of waiting.
She seemed to show little interest in other members of the company,
and her association with them, Merton noted, was marked by a certain
restraint. With them she seemed no longer to be the girl of free
ways and speech. She might occasionally join a group of the men who
indulged in athletic sports on the grass before the little
farmhouse--for the actors of Mr. Baird's company would all betray
acrobatic tendencies in their idle moments--and he watched one day
while the simple little country sister turned a series of hand-
springs and cart-wheels that evoked sincere applause from the four
New York villains who had been thus solacing their ennui.
But oftener she would sit with Merton on the back seat of one of the
waiting automobiles. She not only kept herself rather aloof from
other members of the company, but she curiously seemed to bring it
about that Merton himself would have little contact with them.
Especially did she seem to hover between him and the company's
feminine members. Among those impersonating guests at the hotel were
several young women of rare beauty with whom he would have been not
unwilling to fraternize in that easy comradeship which seemed to
mark studio life. These were far more alluring than the New York
society girl who wooed him and who had secured the part solely
through Baird's sympathy for her family misfortunes.
They were richly arrayed and charmingly mannered in the scenes he
watched; moreover, they not too subtly betrayed a pleasant
consciousness of Merton's existence. But the Montague girl
noticeably monopolized him when a better acquaintance with the
beauties might have come about. She rather brazenly seemed to be
guarding him. She was always there.
This very apparent solicitude of hers left him feeling pleasantly
important, despite the social contacts it doubtless deprived him of.
He wondered if the Montague girl could be jealous, and cautiously
one day, as they lolled in the motor car, he sounded her.
"Those girls in the hotel scenes--I suppose they're all nice girls
of good family?" he casually observed.
"Huh?" demanded Miss Montague, engaged with a pencil at the moment
in editing her left eyebrow. "Oh, that bunch? Sure, they all come
from good old Southern families--Virginia and Indiana and those
places." She tightened her lips before the little mirror she held
and renewed their scarlet. Then she spoke more seriously. "Sure,
Kid, those girls are all right enough. They work like dogs and do
the best they can when they ain't got jobs. I'm strong for 'em. But
then, I'm a wise old trouper. I understand things. You don't. You're
the real country wild rose of this piece. It's a good thing you got
me to ride herd on you. You're far too innocent to be turned loose
on a comedy lot.
"Listen, boy--" She turned a sober face to him--"the straight lots
are fairly decent, but get this: a comedy lot is the toughest place
this side of the bad one. Any comedy lot."
"But this isn't a comedy lot. Mr. Baird isn't doing comedies any
more, and these people all seem to be nice people. Of course some of
the ladies smoke cigarettes--"
The girl had averted her face briefly, but now turned to him again.
"Of course that's so; Jeff is trying for the better things; but he's
still using lots of his old people. They're all right for me, but
not for you. You wouldn't last long if mother here didn't look out
for you. I'm playing your dear little sister, but I'm playing your
mother, too. If it hadn't been for me this bunch would have taught
you a lot of things you'd better learn some other way. Just for one
thing, long before this you'd probably been hopping up your
reindeers and driving all over in a Chinese sleigh."
He tried to make something of this, but found the words meaningless.
They merely suggested to him a snowy winter scene of Santa Claus and
his innocent equipage. But he would intimate that he understood.
"Oh, I guess not," he said knowingly. The girl appeared not to have
heard this bit of pretense.
"On a comedy lot," she said, again becoming the oracle, "you can do
murder if you wipe up the blood. Remember that."
He did not again refer to the beautiful young women who came from
fine old Southern homes. The Montague girl was too emphatic about
At other times during the long waits, perhaps while they ate lunch
brought from the cafeteria, she would tell him of herself. His old
troubling visions of his wonder-woman, of Beulah Baxter the daring,
had well-nigh faded, but now and then they would recur as if from
long habit, and he would question the girl about her life as a
"Yeah, I could see that Baxter business was a blow to you, Kid.
You'd kind of worshiped her, hadn't you?"
"Well, I--yes, in a sort of way--"
"Of course you did; it was very nice of you--" She reached over to
pat his hand. "Mother understands just how you felt, watching the
films back there in Gooseberry "--He had quit trying to correct her
as to Gashwiler and Simsbury. She had hit upon Gooseberry as a
working composite of both names, and he had wearily come to accept
it--"and I know just how you felt"--Again she patted his hand--"that
night when you found me doing her stuff."
"It did kind of upset me."
"Sure it would! But you ought to have known that all these people
use doubles when they can--men and women both. It not only saves 'em
work, but even where they could do the stuff if they had to--and
that ain't so often--it saves 'em broken bones, and holding up a big
production two or three months. Fine business that would be. So when
you see a woman, or a man either, doing something that someone else
could do, you can bet someone else is doing it. What would you
expect? Would you expect a high-priced star to go out and break his
"And at that, most of the doubles are men, even for the women stars,
like Kitty Carson always carries one who used to be a circus
acrobat. She couldn't hardly do one of the things you see her doing,
but when old Dan gets on her blonde transformation and a few of her
clothes, he's her to the life in a long shot, or even in mediums, if
he keeps his map covered.
"Yeah, most of the doublers have to be men. I'll hand that to
myself. I'm about the only girl that's been doing it, and that's out
with me hereafter, I guess, the way I seem to be making good with
Jeff. Maybe after this I won't have to do stunts, except of course
some riding stuff, prob'ly, or a row of flips or something light.
Anything heavy comes up--me for a double of my own." She glanced
sidewise at her listener. "Then you won't like me any more, hey,
Kid, after you find out I'm using a double?"
He had listened attentively, absorbed in her talk, and seemed
startled by this unforeseen finish. He turned anxious eyes on her.
It occurred to him for the first time that he did not wish the
Montague girl to do dangerous things any more. "Say," he said
quickly, amazed at his own discovery, "I wish you'd quit doing all
those--stunts, do you call 'em?"
"Why?" she demanded. There were those puzzling lights back in her
eyes as he met them. He was confused.
"Well, you might get hurt."
"You might get killed sometime. And it wouldn't make the least
difference to me, your using a double. I'd like you just the same."
"I see; it wouldn't be the way it was with Baxter when you found it
"No; you--you're different. I don't want you to get killed," he
added, rather blankly. He was still amazed at this discovery.
"All right, Kid. I won't," she replied soothingly.
"I'll like you just as much," he again assured her, "no matter how
many doubles you have."
"Well, you'll be having doubles yourself, sooner or later--and I'll
like you, too." She reached over to his hand, but this time she held
it. He returned her strong clasp. He had not liked to think of her
being mangled perhaps by a fall into a quarry when the cable gave
way--and the camera men would probably keep on turning!
"I always been funny about men," she presently spoke again, still
gripping his hand. "Lord knows I've seen enough of all kinds, bad
and good, but I always been kind of afraid even of the good ones.
Any one might not think it, but I guess I'm just natural-born shy.
He glowed with a confession of his own. "You know, I'm that way,
too. Girl-shy. I felt awful awkward when I had to kiss you in the
other piece. I never did, really--" He floundered a moment, but was
presently blurting out the meagre details of that early amour with
Edwina May Pulver. He stopped this recital in a sudden panic fear
that the girl would make fun of him. He was immensely relieved when
she merely renewed the strength of the handclasp.
Back to Full Books