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- Merton of the Movies - 4/62 -
bungalow in distant Hollywood, with expensive cigars in elaborate humidors and costly gold-tipped cigarettes in silver things on low tables. One might smoke freely there in every room.
Under more of the Elmer Huff sort of gossip, and the rhythmic clump of the cancelling stamp back of the drawers and boxes, he allowed himself a further glimpse of this luxurious interior. He sat on a low couch, among soft cushions, a magnificent bearskin rug beneath his feet. He smoked one of the costly cigarettes and chatted with a young lady interviewer from Photo Land.
"You ask of my wife," he was saying. "But she is more than a wife-- she is my best pal, and, I may add, she is also my severest critic."
He broke off here, for an obsequious Japanese butler entered with a tray of cooling drinks. The tray would be gleaming silver, but he was uncertain about the drinks; something with long straws in them, probably. But as to anything alcoholic, now--While he was trying to determine this the general-delivery window was opened and the interview had to wail. But, anyway, you could smoke where you wished in that house, and Gashwiler couldn't smoke any closer to his house than the front porch. Even trying it there he would be nagged, and fussily asked why he didn't go out to the barn. He was a poor fish, Gashwiler; a country storekeeper without a future. A clod!
Merton, after waiting in line, obtained his mail, consisting of three magazines--Photo Land, Silver Screenings, and Camera. As he stepped away he saw that Miss Tessie Kearns stood three places back in the line. He waited at the door for her. Miss Kearns was the one soul in Simsbury who understood him. He had confided to her all his vast ambitions; she had sympathized with them, and her never-failing encouragement had done not a little to stiffen his resolution at odd times when the haven of Hollywood seemed all too distant. A certain community of ambitions had been the foundation of this sympathy between the two, for Tessie Kearns meant to become a scenario writer of eminence, and, like Merton, she was now both studying and practising a difficult art. She conducted the millinery and dressmaking establishment next to the Gashwiler Emporium, but found time, as did Merton, for the worthwhile things outside her narrow life.
She was a slight, spare little figure, sedate and mouselike, of middle age and, to the village, of a quiet, sober way of thought. But, known only to Merton, her real life was one of terrific adventure, involving crime of the most atrocious sort, and contact not only with the great and good, but with loathsome denizens of the underworld who would commit any deed for hire. Some of her scenarios would have profoundly shocked the good people of Simsbury, and she often suffered tremors of apprehension at the thought that one of them might be enacted at the Bijou Palace right there on Fourth Street, with her name brazenly announced as author. Suppose it were Passion's Perils! She would surely have to leave town after that! She would be too ashamed to stay. Still she would be proud, also, for by that time they would be calling her to Hollywood itself. Of course nothing so distressing--or so grand--had happened yet, for none of her dramas had been accepted; but she was coming on. It might happen any time.
She joined Merton, a long envelope in her hand and a brave little smile on her pinched face.
"Which one is it?" he asked, referring to the envelope.
"It's Passion's Perils." she answered with a jaunty affectation of amusement. "The Touchstone-Blatz people sent it back. The slip says its being returned does not imply any lack of merit."
"I should think it wouldn't!" said Merton warmly.
He knew Passion's Perils. A company might have no immediate need for it, but its rejection could not possibly imply a lack of merit, because the merit was there. No one could dispute that.
They walked on to the Bijou Palace. Its front was dark, for only twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, could Simsbury muster a picture audience; but they could read the bills for the following night. The entrance was flanked on either side by billboards, and they stopped before the first. Merton Gill's heart quickened its beats, for there was billed none other than Beulah Baxter in the ninth installment of her tremendous serial, The Hazards of Hortense.
It was going to be good! It almost seemed that this time the scoundrels would surely get Hortense. She was speeding across a vast open quarry in a bucket attached to a cable, and one of the scoundrels with an ax was viciously hacking at the cable's farther anchorage. It would be a miracle if he did not succeed in his hellish design to dash Hortense to the cruel rocks below. Merton, of course, had not a moment's doubt that the miracle would intervene; he had seen other serials. So he made no comment upon the gravity of the situation, but went at once to the heart of his ecstasy.
"The most beautiful woman on the screen," he murmured.
"Well, I don't know."
Miss Kearns appeared about to advance the claims of rival beauties, but desisted when she saw that Merton was firm.
"None of the rest can touch her," he maintained. "And look at her nerve! Would your others have as much nerve as that?"
"Maybe she has someone to double in those places," suggested the screen-wise Tessie Kearns.
"Not Beulah Baxter. Didn't I see her personal appearance that time I went to Peoria last spring on purpose to see it? Didn't she talk about the risks she look and how the directors were always begging her to use a double and how her artistic convictions wouldn't let her do any such thing? You can bet the little girl is right there in every scene!"
They passed to the other billboard. This would be the comedy. A painfully cross-eyed man in misfitting clothes was doing something supposed to be funny--pushing a lawn mower over the carpet of a palatial home.
"How disgusting!" exclaimed Miss Kearns.
"Ain't it?" said Merton. "How they can have one of those terrible things on the same bill with Miss Baxter--I can't understand it."
"Those censors ought to suppress this sort of buffoonery instead of scenes of dignified passion like they did in Scarlet Sin," declared Tessie. "Did you read about that?"
"They sure ought," agreed Merton. "These comedies make me tired. I never see one if I can help it."
Walking on, they discussed the wretched public taste and the wretched actors that pandered to it. The slap-stick comedy, they held, degraded a fine and beautiful art. Merton was especially severe. He always felt uncomfortable at one of these regrettable exhibitions when people about him who knew no better laughed heartily. He had never seen anything to laugh at, and said as much.
They crossed the street and paused at the door of Miss Kearns' shop, behind which were her living rooms. She would to-night go over Passion's Perils once more and send it to another company.
"I wonder," she said to Merton, "if they keep sending it back because the sets are too expensive. Of course there's the one where the dissipated English nobleman, Count Blessingham, lures Valerie into Westminster Abbey for his own evil purposes on the night of the old earl's murder--that's expensive--but they get a chance to use it again when Valerie is led to the altar by young Lord Stonecliff, the rightful heir. And of course Stonecliff Manor, where Valerie is first seen as governess, would be expensive; but they use that in a lot of scenes, too. Still, maybe I might change the locations around to something they've got built."
"I wouldn't change a line," said Merton. "Don't give in to 'em. Make 'em take it as it is. They might ruin your picture with cheap stuff."
"Well," the authoress debated, "maybe I'll leave it. I'd especially hate to give up Westminster Abbey. Of course the scene where she is struggling with Count Blessingham might easily be made offensive-- it's a strong scene--but it all comes right. You remember she wrenches herself loose from his grasp and rushes to throw herself before the altar, which suddenly lights up, and the scoundrel is afraid to pursue her there, because he had a thorough religious training when a boy at Oxford, and he feels it would be sacrilegious to seize her again while the light from the altar shines upon her that way, and so she's saved for the time being. It seems kind of a shame not to use Westminster Abbey for a really big scene like that, don't you think?"
"I should say so!" agreed Merton warmly. "They build plenty of sets as big as that. Keep it in!"
"Well, I'll take your advice. And I shan't give up trying with my other ones. And I'm writing to another set of people--see here." She took from her handbag a clipped advertisement which she read to Merton in the fading light, holding it close to her keen little eyes. "Listen! 'Five thousand photoplay ideas needed. Working girl paid ten thousand dollars for ideas she had thought worthless. Yours may be worth more. Experience unnecessary. Information free. Producers' League 562, Piqua, Ohio.' Doesn't that sound encouraging? And it isn't as if I didn't have some experience. I've been writing scenarios for two years now."
"We both got to be patient," he pointed out. "We can't succeed all at once, just remember that."
"Oh, I'm patient, and I'm determined; and I know you are, too, Merton. But the way my things keep coming back--well, I guess we'd both get discouraged if it wasn't for our sense of humour."
"I bet we would," agreed Merton. "And good-night!"
He went on to the Gashwiler Emporium and let himself into the dark store. At the moment he was bewailing that the next installment of The Hazards of Hortense would be shown on a Saturday night, for on those nights the store kept open until nine and he could see it but once. On a Tuesday night he would have watched it twice, in spite of the so-called comedy unjustly sharing the bill with it.
Lighting a match, he made his way through the silent store, through the stock room that had so lately been the foul lair of Snake le Vasquez, and into his own personal domain, a square partitioned off
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