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- Merton of the Movies - 7/62 -
film here showed a running insert of cruel wolves exposing all their fangs. Ralph had lost his rifle. He went now to put his arm through the iron loops in place of the missing bar. The wolves sought to push open the door, but Ralph's arm foiled them.
Then the outside of the cabin was shown, with Black Steve and his three ugly companions furtively approaching. The wolves had gone, but human wolves, ten thousand times more cruel, had come in their place. Back in the cabin Ralph and Hortense discovered that the wolves had gone. It had an ugly look. Why should the wolves go? Ralph opened the door and they both peered out. There in the shadow of a eucalyptus tree stood Black Steve and his dastardly crew. They were about to storm the cabin. All was undoubtedly lost.
Not until the following week would the world learn how Hortense and her manly fiance had escaped this trap. Again had Beulah Baxter striven and suffered to give the public something better and finer.
"A wonder girl," declared Merton when they were again in the open. "That's what I call her--a wonder girl. And she owes it all to hard, unceasing struggle and work and pains and being careful. You ought to read that new interview with her in this month's Silver Screenings."
"Yes, yes, she's wonderful," assented Tessie as they strolled to the door of her shop. "But I've been thinking about comedy. You know my new one I'm writing--of course it's a big, vital theme, all about a heartless wife with her mind wholly on society and bridge clubs and dancing and that sort of dissipation, and her husband is Hubert Glendenning, a studious young lawyer who doesn't like to go out evenings but would rather play with the kiddies a bit after their mother has gone to a party, or read over some legal documents in the library, which is very beautifully furnished; and her old school friend, Corona Bartlett, comes to stay at the house, a very voluptuous type, high coloured, with black hair and lots of turquoise jewellery, and she's a bad woman through and through, and been divorced and everything by a man whose heart she broke, and she's become a mere adventuress with a secret vice--she takes perfume in her tea, like I saw that one did--and all her evil instincts are aroused at once by Hubert, who doesn't really care deeply for her, as she has only a surface appeal of mere sensuous beauty; but he sees that his wife is neglecting him and having an affair with an Italian count--I found such a good name for him, Count Ravioli--and staying out with him until all hours; so in a moment of weakness he gives himself to Corona Bartlett, and then sees that he must break up his home and get a divorce and marry Corona to make an honest woman of her; but of course his wife is brought to her senses, so she sees that she has been in the wrong and has a big scene with Corona in which she scorns her and Corona slinks away, and she forgives Hubert his one false step because it was her fault. It's full of big situations, but what I'm wondering-- I'm wondering if I couldn't risk some comedy in it by having the faithful old butler a cross-eyed man. Nothing so outrageous as that creature we just saw, but still noticeably cross-eyed. Do you think it would lighten some of the grimmer scenes, perhaps, and wouldn't it be good pathos to have the butler aware of his infirmity and knowing the greatest surgeons in the world can't help him?"
"Well," Merton considered, "if I were you I shouldn't chance it. It would be mere acrobatic humour. And why do you want any one to be funny when you have a big gripping thing of love and hate like that? I don't believe I'd have him cross-eyed. I'd have him elderly and simple and dignified. And you don't want your audience to laugh, do you, when he holds up both hands to show how shocked he is at the way things are going on in that house?"
"Well, maybe I won't then. It was just a thought. I believe you have the right instinct in those matters, Merton. I'll leave him as he is."
"Good-night, then," said Merton. "I got to be on the lot to-morrow. My camera man's coming at two. Shooting some Western stuff."
"Oh, my! Really?"
Tessie gazed after him admiringly. He let himself into the dark store, so lately the scene of his torment, and on the way to his little room stopped to reach under the grocery counter for those hidden savings. To-night he would add to them the fifteen dollars lavished upon him by Gashwiler at the close of a week's toil. The money was in a tobacco pouch. He lighted the lamp on his table, placed the three new bills beside it and drew out the hoard. He would count it to confirm his memory of the grand total.
The bills were frayed, lacking the fresh green of new ones; weary looking, with an air of being glad to rest at last after much passing from hand to hand as symbols of wealth. Their exalted present owner tenderly smoothed cut several that had become crumpled, secured them in a neat pile, adding the three recently acquired five-dollar bills, and proceeded to count, moistening the ends of a thumb and finger in defiance of the best sanitary teaching. It was no time to think of malignant bacteria.
By his remembered count he should now be possessed of two hundred and twelve dollars. And there was the two-dollar bill, a limp, gray thing, abraded almost beyond identification. He placed this down first, knowing that the remaining bills should amount to two hundred and ten dollars. Slowly he counted, to finish with a look of blank, hesitating wonder. He made another count, hastily, but taking greater care. The wonder grew. Again he counted, slowly this time, so that there could be no doubt. And now he knew! He possessed thirty-three dollars more than he had thought. Knowing this was right, he counted again for the luxury of it. Two hundred and forty- five obvious dollars!
How had he lost count? He tried to recall. He could remember taking out the money he had paid Lowell Hardy for the last batch of Clifford Armytage stills--for Lowell, although making professional rates to Merton, still believed the artist to be worth his hire--and he could remember taking some more out to send to the mail-order house in Chicago for the cowboy things; but it was plain that he had twice, at least, crowded a week's salary into the pouch and forgotten it.
It was a pleasurable experience; it was like finding thirty-three dollars. And he was by that much nearer to his goal; that much sooner would he be released from bondage; thirty-three dollars sooner could he look Gashwiler in the eye and say what he thought of him and his emporium. In his nightly prayer he did not neglect to render thanks for this.
He dressed the next morning with a new elation. He must be more careful about keeping tab on his money, but also it was wonderful to find more than you expected. He left the storeroom that reeked of kerosene and passed into the emporium to replace his treasure in its hiding place. The big room was dusky behind the drawn front curtains, but all the smells were there--the smell of ground coffee and spices at the grocery counter, farther on, the smothering smell of prints and woolens and new leather.
The dummies, waiting down by the door to be put outside, regarded each other in blank solemnity. A few big flies droned lazily about their still forms. Merton eyed the dusty floor, the gleaming counters, the curtains that shielded the shelves, with a new disdain. Sooner than he had thought he would bid them a last farewell. And to-day, at least, he was free of them--free to be on the lot at two, to shoot Western stuff. Let to-morrow, with its old round of degrading tasks, take care of itself.
At 10:30 he was in church. He was not as attentive to the sermon as he should have been, for it now occurred to him that he had no stills of himself in the garb of a clergyman. This was worth considering, because he was not going to be one of those one-part actors. He would have a wide range of roles. He would be able to play anything. He wondered how the Rev. Otto Carmichael would take the request for a brief loan of one of his pulpit suits. Perhaps he was not so old as he looked; perhaps he might remember that he, too, had once been young and fired with high ideals. It would be worth trying. And the things could be returned after a brief studio session with Lowell Hardy. He saw himself cast in such a part, the handsome young clergyman, exponent of a muscular Christianity. He comes to the toughest cattle town in all the great Southwest, determined to make honest men and good women of its sinning derelicts. He wins the hearts of these rugged but misguided souls. Though at first they treat him rough, they learn to respect him, and they call him the fighting parson. Eventually he wins the hand in marriage of the youngest of the dance-hall denizens, a sweet young girl who despite her evil surroundings has remained as pure and good as she is beautiful.
Anyway, if he had those clothes for an hour or two while the artist made a few studies of him he would have something else to show directors in search of fresh talent.
After church he ate a lonely meal served by Metta Judson at the Gashwiler residence. The Gashwilers were on their accustomed Sabbath visit to the distant farm of Mrs. Gashwiler's father. But as he ate he became conscious that the Gashwiler influence was not wholly withdrawn. From above the mantel he was sternly regarded by a tinted enlargement of his employer's face entitled Photographic Study by Lowell Hardy. Lowell never took photographs merely. He made photographic studies, and the specimen at hand was one of his most daring efforts. Merton glared at it in free hostility--a clod, with ideals as false as the artist's pink on his leathery cheeks! He hurried his meal, glad to be relieved from the inimical scrutiny.
He was glad to be free from this and from the determined recital by Metta Judson of small-town happenings. What cared he that Gus Giddings had been fined ten dollars and costs by Squire Belcher for his low escapade, or that Gus's father had sworn to lick him within an inch of his life if he ever ketched him touching stimmilints again?
He went to the barn, climbed to the hayloft, and undid the bundle containing his Buck Benson outfit. This was fresh from the mail- order house in Chicago. He took out almost reverently a pair of high-heeled boots with purple tops, a pair of spurs, a gay shirt, a gayer neckerchief, a broad-brimmed hat, a leather holster, and--most impressive of all--a pair of goatskin chaps dyed a violent maroon. All these he excitedly donned, the spurs last. Then he clambered down the ladder from the loft, somewhat impeded by the spurs, and went into the kitchen. Metta Judson, washing dishes, gave a little cry of alarm. Nothing like this had ever before invaded the Gashwiler home by front door or back.
"Why, Mert' Gill, whatever you dressed up like that for? My stars, you look like a cowboy or something! Well, I must say!"
"Say, Metta, do me a favour. I want to see how these things look in a glass. It's a cowboy outfit for when I play regular Buck Benson
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