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- Merton of the Movies - 2/62 -
The conqueror of Snake le Vasquez was still frozen, though he had instantly ceased to be Buck Benson, the strong, silent, two-gun man of the open spaces. The irritated voice came again:
"Put that dummy down, you idiot! What you think you're doin', anyway? And say, what you got that other one in here for, when it ought to be out front of the store showin' that new line of gingham house frocks? Put that down and handle it careful! Mebbe you think I got them things down from Chicago just for you to play horse with. Not so! Not so at all! They're to help show off goods, and that's what I want 'em doin' right now. And for Time's sake, what's that revolver lyin' on the floor for? Is it loaded? Say, are you really out of your senses, or ain't you? What's got into you lately? Will you tell me that? Skyhootin' around in here, leavin' the front of the store unpertected for an hour or two, like your time was your own. And don't tell me you only been foolin' in here for three minutes, either, because when I come back from lunch just now there was Mis' Leffingwell up at the notions counter wanting some hooks and eyes, and she tells me she's waited there a good thutty minutes if she's waited one. Nice goin's on, I must say, for a boy drawin' down the money you be! Now you git busy! Take that one with the gingham frock out and stand her in front where she belongs, and then put one them new raincoats on the other and stand him out where he belongs, and then look after a few customers. I declare, sometimes I git clean out of patience with you! Now, for gosh's sake, stir your stumps!"
"Oh, all right--yes, sir," replied Merton Gill, though but half respectfully. The "Oh, all right" had been tainted with a trace of sullenness. He was tired of this continual nagging and fussing over small matters; some day he would tell the old grouch so.
And now, gone the vivid tale of the great out-of-doors, the wide plains of the West, the clash of primitive-hearted men for a good woman's love. Gone, perhaps, the greatest heart picture of a generation, the picture at which you laugh with a lump in your throat and smile with a tear in your eye, the story of plausible punches, a big, vital theme masterfully handled--thrills, action, beauty, excitement--carried to a sensational finish by the genius of that sterling star of the shadowed world, Clifford Armytage--once known as Merton Gill in the little hamlet of Simsbury, Illinois, where for a time, ere yet he was called to screen triumphs, he served as a humble clerk in the so-called emporium of Amos G. Gashwiler--Everything For The Home. Our Prices Always Right.
Merton Gill--so for a little time he must still be known--moodily seized the late Estelle St. Clair under his arm and "withdrew from the dingy back storeroom. Down between the counters of the emporium he went with his fair burden and left her outside its portals, staring from her very definitely lashed eyes across the slumbering street at the Simsbury post office. She was tastefully arrayed in one of those new checked gingham house frocks so heatedly mentioned a moment since by her lawful owner, and across her chest Merton Gill now imposed, with no tenderness of manner, the appealing legend, "Our Latest for Milady; only $6.98." He returned for Snake le Vasquez. That outlaw's face, even out of the picture, was evil. He had been picked for the part because of this face--plump, pinkly tinted cheeks, lustrous, curling hair of some repellent composition, eyes with a hard glitter, each lash distinct in blue-black lines, and a small, tip-curled black mustache that lent the whole an offensive smirk. Garbed now in a raincoat, he, too, was posed before the emporium front, labelled "Rainproof or You Get Back Your Money." So frankly evil was his mien that Merton Gill, pausing to regard him, suffered a brief relapse into artistry.
"You fiend!" he muttered, and contemptuously smote the cynical face with an open hand.
Snake le Vasquez remained indifferent to the affront, smirking insufferably across the slumbering street at the wooden Indian proffering cigars before the establishment of Selby Brothers, Confectionery and Tobaccos.
Within the emporium the proprietor now purveyed hooks and eyes to an impatient Mrs. Leffingwell. Merton Gill, behind the opposite counter, waited upon a little girl sent for two and a quarter yards of stuff to match the sample crumpled in her damp hand. Over the suave amenities of this merchandising Amos Gashwiler glared suspiciously across the store at his employee. Their relations were still strained. Merton also glared at Amos, but discreetly, at moments when the other's back was turned or when he was blandly wishing to know of Mrs. Leffingwell if there would be something else to-day. Other customers entered. Trade was on.
Both Merton and Amos wore airs of cheerful briskness that deceived the public. No one could have thought that Amos was fearing his undoubtedly crazed clerk might become uncontrollable at any moment, or that the clerk was mentally parting from Amos forever in a scene of tense dramatic value in which his few dignified but scathing words would burn themselves unforgettably into the old man's brain. Merton, to himself, had often told Amos these things. Some day he'd say them right out, leaving his victim not only in the utmost confusion but in black despair of ever finding another clerk one half as efficient as Merton Gill.
The afternoon wore to closing time in a flurry of trade, during which, as Merton continued to behave sanely, the apprehension of his employer in a measure subsided. The last customer had departed from the emporium. The dummies were brought inside. The dust curtains were hung along the shelves of dry goods. There remained for Merton only the task of delivering a few groceries. He gathered these and took them out to the wagon in front. Then he changed from his store coat to his street coat and donned a rakish plush hat.
Amos was also changing from his store coat to his street coat and donning his frayed straw hat.
"See if you can't keep from actin' crazy while you make them deliveries," said Amos, not uncordially, as he lighted a choice cigar from the box which he kept hidden under a counter.
Merton wished to reply: "See here, Mr. Gashwiler, I've stood this abuse long enough! The time has come to say a few words to you--" But aloud he merely responded, "Yes, sir!"
The circumstance that he also had a cigar from the same box, hidden not so well as Amos thought, may have subdued his resentment. He would light the cigar after the first turn in the road had carried him beyond the eagle eye of its owner.
The delivery wagon outside was drawn by an elderly horse devoid of ambition or ideals. His head was sunk in dejection. He was gray at the temples, and slouched in the shafts in a loafing attitude, one forefoot negligently crossed in front of the other. He aroused himself reluctantly and with apparent difficulty when Merton Gill seized the reins and called in commanding tones, "Get on there, you old skate!" The equipage moved off under the gaze of Amos, who was locking the doors of his establishment.
Turning the first corner into a dusty side street, Merton dropped the reins and lighted the filched cigar. Other Gashwiler property was sacred to him. From all the emporium's choice stock he would have abstracted not so much as a pin; but the Gashwiler cigars, said to be "The World's Best 10c Smoke," with the picture of a dissipated clubman in evening dress on the box cover, were different, in that they were pointedly hidden from Merton. He cared little for cigars, but this was a challenge; the old boy couldn't get away with anything like that. If he didn't want his cigars touched let him leave the box out in the open like a man. Merton drew upon the lighted trophy, moistened and pasted back the wrapper that had broken when the end was bitten off, and took from the bottom of the delivery wagon the remains of a buggy whip that had been worn to half its length. With this he now tickled the bony ridges of the horse. Blows meant nothing to Dexter, but he could still be tickled into brief spurts of activity. He trotted with swaying head, sending up an effective dust screen between the wagon and a still possibly observing Gashwiler.
His deliveries made, Merton again tickled the horse to a frantic pace which continued until they neared the alley on which fronted the Gashwiler barn; there the speed was moderated to a mild amble, for Gashwiler believed his horse should be driven with tenderness, and his equally watchful wife believed it would run away if given the chance.
Merton drove into the barnyard, unhitched the horse, watered it at the half of a barrel before the iron pump, and led it into the barn, where he removed the harness. The old horse sighed noisily and shook himself with relief as the bridle was removed and a halter slipped over his venerable brow.
Ascertaining that the barnyard was vacant, Merton immediately became attentive to his charge. Throughout the late drive his attitude had been one of mild but contemptuous abuse. More than once he had uttered the words "old skate" in tones of earnest conviction, and with the worn end of the whip he had cruelly tickled the still absurdly sensitive sides. Had beating availed he would with no compunction have beaten the drooping wreck. But now, all at once, he was curiously tender. He patted the shoulder softly, put both arms around the bony neck, and pressed his face against the face of Dexter. A moment he stood thus, then spoke in a tear-choked voice:
"Good-by, old pal--the best, the truest pal a man ever had. You and me has seen some tough times, old pard; but you've allus brought me through without a scratch; allus brought me through." There was a sob in the speaker's voice, but he manfully recovered a clear tone of pathos. "And now, old pal, they're a-takin' ye from me--yes, we got to part, you an' me. I'm never goin' to set eyes on ye agin. But we got to be brave, old pal; we got to keep a stiff upper lip--no cryin' now; no bustin' down."
The speaker unclasped his arms and stood with head bowed, his face working curiously, striving to hold back the sobs.
For Merton Gill was once more Clifford Armytage, popular idol of the screen, in his great role of Buck Benson bidding the accustomed farewell to his four-footed pal that had brought him safely through countless dangers. How are we to know that in another couple of hundred feet of the reel Buck will escape the officers of the law who have him for that hold-up of the Wallahoola stage--of which he was innocent--leap from a second-story window of the sheriff's office onto the back of his old pal, and be carried safely over the border where the hellhounds can't touch him until his innocence is proved by Estelle St. Clair, the New York society girl, whose culture demanded a gentleman but whose heart demanded a man. How are we to know this? We only know that Buck Benson always has to kiss his horse good-by at this spot in the drama.
Merton Gill is impressively Buck Benson. His sobs are choking him. And though Gashwiler's delivery horse is not a pinto, and could
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