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- Merton of the Movies - 50/62 -
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 artists.
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 to laugh.
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 them.
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 double.
"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 leg?
"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 out."
"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. Man-shy, anyway."
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.
"I know. That's the way with me. Of course I can put over the acting stuff, even vamping, but I'm afraid of men off-stage. Say, would you believe it, I ain't ever had but one beau. That was Bert Stacy. Poor old Bert! He was lots older than me; about thirty, I guess. He was white all through. You always kind of remind me of him. Sort of a feckless dub he was, too; kind of honest and awkward--you know. He was the one got me doing stunts. He wasn't afraid of anything. Didn't know it was even in the dictionary. That old scout would go out night or day and break everything but his contract. I was twelve when I first knew him and he had me doing twisters in no time. I
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