Buck Parvin and the Movies/This is the Life!
"THIS IS THE LIFE!"
MR. ELMER GRIBBLE pecked at the heart of a cantaloupe and soberly regarded the vacant chair on the opposite side of the breakfast table. He was thinking of the time when his wife would not have trusted a servant to pour his morning coffee for him. Once on the backward trail, Mr. Gribble's memory slipped easily to the honeymoon period when there had been no servant to trust—the honeymoon, when Addie did her own cooking.
Mr. Gribble recalled the breaded veal cutlets of his early married life and his mouth watered. He was a very ordinary person, entirely human, and he found it hard to accustom himself to promiscuous parsley decorations and pink tissue-paper frills on the shank of a lamb chop. Prosperity had brought Elmer Gribble nothing which he would not have exchanged for the simple but solid comforts of the honeymoon days—mashed potatoes with brown country gravy, for instance.
Boggs, the butler, entered with stealthy tread and noiselessly deposited a covered dish upon the table before Mr. Gribble.
"That'll be all, " said the master of the house, and Boggs, murmuring deferentially, withdrew to the kitchen. Mr. Gribble did not like Boggs—never had liked him.
"He makes me nervous," was Gribble's usual complaint. "I like my bread with gravy on it and I haven't got the nerve to eat it with that lantern-jawed scarecrow hanging over me and watching every bite!... Oh, I know he's right about it! He's always right and that's what ails him. Bread and gravy may not be used in the best circles, but, confound it, Addie, I was raised on it and I like it! I wish you'd fire that fellow!"
But Boggs remained, Mrs. Gribble insisting that a manservant lent tone to the establishment. Mrs. Gribble had her own way in most things. Mr. Gribble offered futile suggestions, fussed a little and paid the bills, this last being the end for which he was created.
After Boggs had disappeared Mr. Gribble cautiously lifted one edge of the silver cover and a groan escaped him.
"Another omelet!" said he. "And I've got salesmen that I pay less money than Addie pays that infernal cook!"
Enter Adeline Gribble, almost forty, almost fat, yawning lazily into the sleeve of an elaborate dressing sack. A lace and ribbon boudoir cap did its best to conceal a hastily twisted mass of blonde hair, the escaping wisps in strong contrast with the darkly penciled brows. The lady, passing behind her lord but by no means her master, bent and touched her lips to his bald spot.
"I thought you'd be gone by this time," said she. "It isn't a legal holiday, is it?"
"Addie," said Mr. Gribble, suddenly, "do you remember the breaded veal cutlets that we used to have the first year we were married?"
Mrs. Gribble shuddered and rolled her eyes theatrically.
"Never mention that year to me!" she exclaimed. "When I think of the hours I put in over that miserable gas stove, I declare it makes me ill. Mercy! I wouldn't work that hard again for the best man on earth!"
"You didn't seem to mind it so much in those days," suggested the husband.
"That was because I wasn't used to anything better. "There were moments when Mrs. Gribble forgot herself and was frank. "I worked like a slave because you couldn't afford to hire a girl, but I notice the minute you got able we had one. A wife ought to help her husband when he needs it but after he gets his start and can afford a cook and servants——"
"Of course!" interrupted Mr. Gribble. "Of course. Have I ever refused you anything?"
"It wouldn't be healthy for you, my dear," smiled the lady, leisurely beginning on her cantaloupe. She was as soft and dainty and indolent as a pampered white cat and Mr. Gribble watched her face with the anxious manner of one who scents an unpleasant topic in the air.
"I've spoiled you, Addie," said he. It was an unfortunate remark.
Mrs. Gribble sniffed.
"I'm not the spoiling kind," said she, "and you know it. I might even become very famous and it wouldn't spoil me."
Mr. Gribble's head went back between his shoulders as if he had received a blow.
"For pity's sake! You haven't got that fool idea in your head yet, have you?"
"It's not a fool idea, my dear," said Mrs. Gribble with calmness. "It's a very sensible idea. There's many a leading woman who hasn't my natural talent. Nothing but my voice kept me off the stage when I was a girl. I ruined it squalling 'Cash!' when I was in that wretched department store——"
"Oh, don't say that," interrupted Mr. Gribble, vainly hoping to turn the conversation into other channels. "Don't say that. It was there that you met me, my dear. Do you remember——"
"Absolutely ruined it," continued Mrs. Gribble, thus proving herself a lady of single ideas and simple mental processes, "but now that the movies have come in, the voice doesn't matter. It's the face and the acting. Last night I went to three picture shows. I saw that big five-reel feature at the Coliseum and the woman who took the part of the adventuress was terrible—simply terrible! If I couldn't do better than that I'd be ashamed of myself. She didn't get her points over at all—no more expression in her face than there is in a piece of putty! Anne Amber had the other woman's part. I can't see for the life of me why they're always raving about her. They say she's got film charm and screen magnetism and all that sort of thing. Rubbish! She's got big eyes and when you've said that you've said everything! She can't act, and thin? Why, it's pitiful to see her! If people like that can get big reputations, why can't I?"
"Now, Addie, you're not really taking this thing seriously, are you?" Mr. Gribble's face expressed deep concern. "Why should you want to paint yourself up like a cigar store Indian and cavort around in front of a camera? Haven't you got everything you want? A big house and servants and two automobiles and——"
"Everything, Elmer," said Mrs. Gribble, "but a career."
"A career!" exploded her husband. "What business have you got with a career? I'm your career!"
Mrs. Gribble smiled pityingly.
"You don't understand," said she. "A woman has got to have some aim in life. That's why so many of 'em join Shakespeare Clubs and take up suffrage. I'm tired of doing nothing but amusing myself—tired of being idle. Sometimes it seems as if I can't stand it another day."
"If that's the case," said Mr. Gribble, "you might go out in the kitchen and teach that cook a few things. There's a regular job for you, any time you want to tackle it."
"I think I see myself!"
"Well," said Mr. Gribble, "It isn't as hard work as being an actress, Addie."
"Next week," said Mrs. Gribble, calmly ignoring this remark, "I am going over to the Titan Studio and have a talk with Mr. Montague. I've seen him in the pictures so often that I feel as if I know him. I'm going to ask him if he can find a place for me."
"You're what?" ejaculated Mr. Gribble, startled.
"Mr. Montague is a director. He uses a number of people. Directors are always in search of types——"
"Let 'em search, but you keep away from those places!" Mr. Gribble actually raised his voice.
"Why, Elmer," said the wife, "are you prepared to take the responsibility for interfering with my development? Are you?"
"You bet I'm prepared!" said Mr. Gribble. "You ain't going to develop into a darned fool if I have anything to say about it! My wife—an actress? I won't stand for it, and you might just as well hang up your fiddle now, d'ye hear?"
Warm words followed, and in the end Mrs. Gribble wept and called heaven to witness a very unhappy woman. Heaven had already witnessed a very unhappy man.
"I d-d-don't see how you can be so c-c-cruel!" sobbed Mrs. Gribble, snuffling behind her handkerchief.
"I don't either, Addie," said her spouse, miserably, "but it's for your own good."
"I w-w-wanted to go into this with your c-c-consent," quavered Mrs. Gribble, "but now you force me to g-g-go without it!"
Mr. Gribble threw up both hands and left the room. He recognized defeat when he met it, even if he did not salute it with a bow.
Again the Gribbles at table, though not in the breakfast room this time. Mr. Gribble had been late for dinner but his carefully rehearsed excuses were not needed. The lady of his household was so filled with important tidings that she could not possibly have contained a syllable of reproach. The news began to spill over the edges as Mr. Gribble entered the room.
"It's all settled!" she cried. "I'm to start next Thursday!"
Mr. Gribble tucked his napkin into the front of his waistcoat and waved Boggs from the room. Then he asked the question which opened the flood-gates.
"Start what?" said he.
"Why, work, of course—a special two reel feature for the Titan Company—star part, Elmer, think of that!—saw Mr. Montague to-day—oh, my dear, you must meet him—he's exactly the sort of man you^d like and so clever—he had a scenario which exactly fits my personality—the very thing for me—he said as soon as he saw me that I was the perfect type—and he was on the verge of giving up hope of producing it because he hadn't been able to get the woman to look the lead and play it too—the minute I walked into his office he knew that I was the one he'd been hunting for—just as quick as that—didn't even have to ask him for an engagement—he offered this part to me of his own accord—it's a mining camp story with a strong heart interest and wonderful opportunities for emotional acting—he says no young girl could possibly play it and——"
"Wait! Wait!" Mr. Gribble waved his hands over his head. "That's enough! Now what in Sam Hill is this all about, Addie?"
"Why, I've got an engagement!"
"A job, you mean."
"An engagement," corrected Mrs. Gribble. "I'm to have the star part in the picture!"
"Good Lord!" groaned Mr. Gribble. "So soon?"
"Now, Elmer, let's not go all over that again," said the wife. "It won't do the least good. My mind is made up."
Mr. Gribble sighed and selected a fork—the wrong one.
"Well," said he, heavily, "if you must, you must, though why you want to make yourself ridiculous is more'n I know."
"I won^t make myself ridiculous, my dear," said the lady, "and you needn't be afraid that I'll disgrace you. I'm taking a stage name, of course. Adeline Aldine. Mr. Montague thought that would be better than Gribble."
"Oh, he did, did he?" The worm turned sharply at this bit of information. "Too bad about that. I suppose you'll still use the name of Gribble when you're having things charged at the stores, eh!" This sarcasm was wasted.
"Certainly. Aldine is only a stage name. Don't be silly."
"I hope that you told this Montague that you're a married woman!"
"Why should I tell him anything of my private affairs? And, anyway, a big director like Mr. Montague hasn't time for anything but business."
"He better not have!" growled Mr. Gribble, and his wife squealed with delight.
"Why, Elmer, would you really be jealous of me?" she cried.
Mr. Gribble ceased investigating his shrimp cocktail and spoke with feeling.
"I'm jealous of anything that takes you away from me," said he. "I'm jealous of this crazy notion of yours, Addie. But since you've set your heart on it and you're determined to try it, I won't stand in your way. You'll have to have your fling at it and then you'll find that your home is a pretty good place after all. Go ahead, Addie, but don't expect me to wish you luck!"
"You're a darling!" said Mrs. Gribble, blowing him a kiss. "I've always said there never was a man just like you, Elmer!"
"M-well," said Mr. Gribble, slowly, "maybe there's more to me than appears on the surface."
On Wednesday afternoon there was considerable bad language at the studio of the Titan Company. The name of James Montague, director, came in for frequent mention and Buck Parvin, moving picture cowpuncher, voiced a general sentiment.
"Talk about your slave drivers!" said he. "Jim Montague can play Simon Legree without a makeup—all he needs is the bull-whip. Last Monday he told me that I wouldn't have to show up here to-morrow and on the strength of that I framed up a little trip to the beach and asked my girl to go along. Jim waits until to-day and then changes his mind. 'All members of the company on the job at eight o'clock!' My girl is kind of haughty and high-spirited, she is. If I make a date with her, I got to keep it or dig up a better alibi than I've had yet. I don't reckon she'll stand for this. Think I could sue Jim for alienatin' her affections away from me, Ben?"
Ben Leslie, the property man, was not informed upon the legal point, but he was positive about some other points which he mentioned.
"Something has happened to Jim's schedule," said he, "but I don't know what it is. He expected to loaf Thursday and Friday, but this morning he handed me a long list of junk that he wants first thing to-morrow morning. A kitchen set, a red-hot stove and a dishpan full of pancake batter. He says the hotter the stove the better. Now what do you know about that?"
"Not a thing;" said Buck, "except that he won't need it if this weather holds. Those pancakes will just naturally fry in the sun. But seems to me I heard that this picture was going to be a costume affair."
"It is," said Ben. "Shirts of mail, tin helmets and all that sort of stuff. That's why I can't figure out why Jim wants a mop, a scrubbing brush, a washtub and boiler, laundry soap and a rubbing board. Oh, yes, and some dirty clothes."
"Huh!" said Buck. "Jim must be going to stage the beginnin' of some of our best families! I got a lot of dirty clothes up to my room. If this scenario calls for a sure-enough cleanin' I'll bring 'em along."
"You will not," said Ben. "If anybody is going to beat the laundry out of some dough, it will be me. Nothing like taking advantage of the realism in a moving picture."
"Yeh," said Buck, "If they're goin' to have pancakes on tap here to-morrow, I see where I save lunch money."
"You?" chuckled Ben. "You never saved a nickel in your life!"
"I know it," said the cowpuncher. "All silver is quicksilver to me and the only stuff that ever slips between my fingers any faster is gold. I'm like a friend of mine named Billy Williams. Billy used to say that he was born without a nickel and still had it. "Well, so long. I'm goin' to break the news to my girl. The feller that invented the telephone sure saved the rest of us a lot of hair, eh?"
The arrival of Mrs. Gribble at the studio was something of an event. At seven-thirty came an express wagon and a solemn-visaged mulatto woman who superintended the unloading of two trunks and three suitcases. Ben Leslie, tinkering with an old-fashioned cook stove, was the only human in sight at that unearthly hour and to him the mulatto woman appealed.
"Yere's Miss Aldine's stuff. I got to git it unpacked right away. Whah do it go?"
The promptness with which Ben answered the question indicated that he had received definite information of some sort. He led the way to the smallest, stuffiest dressing room in the line, and opened the door. It was unoccupied save by two cockroaches, scurrying in agitated circles.
"Land o' Goshen!" ejaculated the woman. "Miss Addie, she gwine dress in dishyer nasty lil cubby-hole? Why, dey ain' room to hang her gownds, let 'lone me an' her! Dis de bes' 'commodations y'all got fo' a leadin' lady? Common folks mus' have to dress in de street, I reckon.... Oh, well, show me a broom till I sweep up dis trash!"
Promptly at eight o'clock an electric coupé drew up at the street door and Mrs. Gribble descended, faultlessly attired in a blue walking suit, with turban to match. Buck Parvin eyed both lady and coupe with speculative interest.
"Walks like a tragedy queen," was his comment, "but drives up to the door in her own car." Then, after thought: "It can't be done!"
It became evident that the stranger knew her way to Montague's office and the mystery deepened.
"She's been here before, " said Buck. "Maybe it's a society queen, wanting to see how she looks on a screen. Maybe it's commercial stuff. Ben ought to know. I'll ask him."
Mr. Montague nodded approvingly at sight of the newest member of his company, but wasted little time in idle conversation. He was, indeed, all business, and spoke in brisk, clipped sentences.
"Ah, Miss Aldine! Prompt, I see. Dressing room eleven, please. The first scene shows you as the keeper of a boarding house in a mining town—a hard-working woman in reduced circumstances. It's a kitchen scene and you are cooking breakfast for the men. Change at once, please."
"But, Mr. Montague," protested the lady, "don't you think I should know something more about the story—the plot—or how can I do the part justice? You ought to tell me——"
"Not necessary at all," interrupted the director, bending over a typewritten document. "I never allow my actors to read the script. It only confuses 'em and they get their ideas mixed with mine. I will outline each scene as we come to it—explain the business and rehearse the action. The first thing you must learn is to do exactly as you are told. No questions. No objections. Implicit and immediate obedience. Oh, Jennings! Show Miss Aldine to her dressing room. And remember, not too much makeup on the face—about as you are, I should say—but dress a boarding-house keeper in reduced circumstances. Change quickly, please. The stage is waiting for you."
"Is he always—that way?" asked Mrs. Gribble, as she meekly followed Montague's assistant across the stage toward the dressing rooms.
"Huh!" said Jennings. "He's mild this morning—for him. If you want to hear him cut loose, talk back to him or keep him waiting on a scene. He drives a company harder than any man in the world, but he gets results. Sometimes we do forty scenes a day."
After the lady had disappeared, Montague strolled out upon the great stage. The kitchen setting was complete, the carpenter was at work upon a parlor interior, the stove was drawing well and Ben Leslie, who made his boast that he had never yet been asked to do an impossible thing, was mixing an immense quantity of batter in a dishpan, measuring milk and water with a practiced hand. Buck Parvin stood at his elbow, offering advice. A stagehand rushed up to Montague.
"What's this about no diffusers this morning, Mr. Montague?"
"Don't want 'em," said the director. "We want all the sun we can possibly get. The hotter the better. And remember what I told you last night. I'll murder the man who laughs."
"Yes, sir," said the stagehand.
"Oh, Buck!" called Montague.
Parvin approached, grinning.
"Go and borrow Jennings' dress suit. Put on a black mustache and get a cigarette and a cane."
"Aw, say,'* wheedled Buck, "let me in on this, Jim. Who is the beautiful lady?"
"She thinks she's an actress and so far as you're concerned, she is one. Get me! Do exactly what I tell you, don't burlesque anything and ask no questions."
"And you won't come through?" said Buck.
"I'll come through with a right swing if you don't get into that clawhammer."
"I don't know where I 'm going," said Buck, cheerfully, "or why, but I'm on my way. Giddap!"
In the meantime temperament, the eternal feminine and the stern realities of stage life were clashing in an already overcrowded dressing room. Budding ambition about to burst into bloom alone kept the eternal feminine from tears after Mrs. Gribble had squeezed herself into her narrow quarters.
"What a dreadful place!" she cried. "Quick, Martha! My pink house dress and boudoir cap. Do hurry! The stage is waiting."
"De stage kin wait, Miss Addie," said the mulatto woman, calmly. "It kain't go nowhar 'thout y'all on it, I reckon. Yo 'spect I'm gwine th'ow yo' cloze onto yo' any whichaway? A actress got to look like quality folks."
Followed a period of breathless exertion which was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Hurry, Miss Aldine! We are waiting on you!"
"Coming!" cried Mrs. Gribble, frantically powdering her nose. "The cap, quick, Martha! That's the director himself! Just a minute, Mr. Montague!"
The one minute lengthened into seven before a pink silk vision appeared upon the stage, aflutter with lace and ribbons. Being entirely a woman, Mrs. Gribble was prepared to create a sensation and she did, but the sensation was not exactly of the sort which she had expected.
Jimmy Montague was standing by the camera, conferring with Charlie Dupree, the Titan Company's film wizard. Hearing the tap of high-heeled slippers, the director whirled in his tracks and Mrs. Gribble's conception of a boarding-house keeper in reduced circumstances smote him in its gorgeous entirety. Montague staggered and tore his hair.
"Not a bit like it!" he shouted. "Is that your idea of a kitchen slavey, Miss Aldine? You are cooking for twenty miners in Blue Butte, Montana! You don't own a scrap of silk and you've never seen a high-heeled slipper in your life! Go back and take those fluffy-ruffles off and dress the part!"
"I—I'm sorry," said Mrs. Gribble, humbly. "I thought——"
"I'll do the thinking for you!" stormed Montague. "Go back and put on a gingham dress, a dirty one for preference.... You haven't one? Wait a minute!" He raced across the stage and plunged into the wardrobe room, returning immediately with a checkered atrocity known as a Mother Hubbard and a pair of knitted slippers.
"Take off those corsets," he commanded, "and do your hair up in a little knob on the back of your neck! It's contrast I'm after, woman, contrast! I want you to make yourself just as unattractive as possible because in the second reel we show you in your mansion on Fifth Avenue—the butterfly escaped from the chrysalis! As an artist, you must learn to subordinate everything to art—even your personal appearance. It's contrast I must have! Now hurry!"
Much abashed, Mrs. Gribble returned to her dressing room where she wept and explained matters to Martha, who was unpacking the suitcases. The faithful servitor listened with open mouth and saucer eyes.
"Miss Addie, yo' ain' neveh gwine get yo' picture tooken in dis rag?" said she.
"I must. The director says so," wailed the poor lady.
"I'd direct him!" snapped Martha. "Yo' lemme go talk to dat man!"
This time the wait was a long one, but when the Blue Butte boarding-house keeper appeared she was wearing the Mother Hubbard and her hair was neatly coiled at the back of her neck.
Montague surveyed her critically.
"Well, that's some better," said he, grudgingly, "but you look too clean—too tidy. Oh, Langdon!"
The scenic artist whooped from his work room.
"Send a stooge here with a brush and some black paint," ordered Montague. A disreputable looking youth obeyed the summons. "Slop that dress up," said the director. "And you might put a little dab on her nose while you're about it. That hair will never do, either." He laid violent hands upon the neat coil and shook it this way and that until the loose ends appeared in a golden aureole and one braid hung down the lady's back.
"That's more like it," said Montague. "In a picture, we strive for absolute fidelity to life. You are an overworked woman; you have no time to spend on primping—boy, put a little paint on these hands!"
"While Langdon's apprentice splashed away with his brush, Mrs. Gribble found time to look about her. The stage was filling up with the members of the company and her heart leaped as she recognized her film favorites in the flesh—handsome Jack La Rue, the leading man, and Myrtle Manners, the leading woman. She even recognized Buck Parvin, in spite of the almost impenetrable disguise of evening dress, mustache and cane. These were the real actors, the movie stars, and they were to appear in her support! Their listless half-interested attitude went far to convince her that everything which was happening to her was part of the routine and all in the day's work. The thought comforted her immeasurably.
"Now then, to the stove, Miss Aldine!"
She drew a deep breath and advanced, one eye upon the camera. Under skilful stoking the ancient wood-burner was throwing off a surprising amount of heat. Even the stagehands gave it a wide berth.
"You are making pancakes," said Montague, consulting his script. "By the way, I am assuming that you know how to cook?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Gribble. "I can cook."
"Good!" said Montague. "But can you flip a pancake in the air! That is purely a western trick. It comes under the head of atmosphere, local color. Do you know how to do that?"
"I never tried it," said Mrs. Gribble.
"Try it now. We'll rehearse the scene. First you grease the pan with the bacon rind. Then you pour the batter. When the times comes to turn the cake you pick up the frying pan, so, and toss the cake into the air. That stamps you at once as a western woman. This is one of the first scenes in the picture and I want as much atmosphere in it as possible. Try it, please."
Mrs. Gribble bent over the stove. The terrific heat made her gasp, but obedient to stage directions, she greased the pan, spooned out the batter and leaned over the fiery furnace until her very soul seemed to be shriveling in the blast.
"It's about ready now," said Montague. "Flip it!"
Now those who have tried it know that flipping a pancake is an art acquired only by long practice. Mrs. Gribble's first attempt splashed upon the floor.
"Too bad," said Montague. "Make another, please, and save all the cakes. We will need them later for the breakfast scene."
A second attempt fell upon the stove, contributing an unappetizing odor. The third, fourth and fifth also met with disaster. Mrs. Gribble's face was crimson where it was not black; her makeup was furrowed with tiny rivulets; she was rapidly being reduced to a liquid state and all the while Montague, in the shade and not too close to the stove, was patience itself.
"You must keep on until you learn. Again, please," and he spoke of the sacrifices necessary for art's sake. At last the perspiring martyr mastered the technique and the camera man took his place at the crank.
"Now we'll make it," said Montague.
"Ready—action—closer over the stove, Miss Aldine!—go!"
The camera clicked as a camera will even when the magazine is empty, and Mrs. Gribble bent bravely over the despised frying pan. The batter bubbled and widened on the greased surface, grew firm and the bubbles changed to tiny holes. Mrs. Gribble grasped the handle firmly, a toss and a jerk sent the cake flying into the air, it described a perfect half circle and fell back into the pan——
"Stop!" yelled Montague. "You looked at the camera and registered triumph! You must never look at the camera, never! Do it again, please, and watch nothing but the pan. Ready?"
At last the director announced himself as pleased and Mrs. Gribble collapsed into a chair, panting for breath and mopping her face with the sleeve of her Mother Hubbard.
"Next we have a parlor scene," said Montague, briskly. "Your ball dress, please, and at once."
Jennings pounded on her door at least half a dozen times before Mrs. Gribble appeared. She was entirely satisfied with herself until she felt the estimating eye of the director upon her.
"Not so bad," said Montague, glancing at the Paquin gown. "Your shoulders are a little beefy, though.... Oh, Buck!"
"That's me!" answered Parvin, swaggering forward, twirling a cane.
"And this is Mr. Parvin?" gushed the lady. "Do you know, I've seen you do so many wonderful things—on the screen, of course—that I feel as if——"
"Attention, please!" said Montague. "Now this is the business of the scene. You are in your drawing room in New York. This man holds the secret of your past. He comes to you threatening exposure. You plead for mercy. He laughs. You drag yourself to him on your knees. You seize his hands and weep. He spurns you and hurls you to the floor. Then he exits. Rehearse it, please!"
With much prompting and advice, Mrs. Gribble struggled through the scene. Buck's natural weakness for the softer sex asserted itself in the spurning process and Montague yapped savagely.
"I said hurl her, Parvin, and I want you to do it! Slam her down hard!"
"Real hard?" asked Buck.
"You bet your life. You're not only a bad man; you're a brute. Remember that. Understand, Miss Aldine, when a moving picture actor takes a fall, it's a real fall. That's the only way we can make it register. No slides and no subterfuges. Don't try to save your dress and fall as hard as you can. Again, please."
Five times the lady dragged herself after Buck, was by him spurned and hurled to the floor and at last Montague announced himself as satisfied. Mrs. Gribble was more than satisfied. Art is art, but a bruised hip is another matter and so is a ruined gown.
"I—I'm all out of breath!" gasped Mrs. Gribble. "It—it's hard work, isn't it?"
"This emotional actin' ain't nothing," grinned Buck. "Wait till we get to the stunt stuff. You never can tell what a director'll ask you to do. Once I played a outlaw and it was in the script that I had to be lynched——"
"Mercy!" exclaimed Mrs. Gribble.
"They put a rope round my neck, tied it to a limb an' led my hawss out from under me. I come pretty near chokin' to death before Jim got the effect he wanted and then the darned censors cut the hangin' scene plumb out of the film. This emotional stuff is a cinch! Wait till they ask you to fall off a hawss or something like that!"
"Hurry, Miss Aldine!" called Montague. "Get back into that gingham thing. You're in the boarding house again."
The rest of the morning was a cruel nightmare. Mrs. Gribble choked in the steam above a boiler, she draped herself over a tub and renewed her acquaintance with the corrugated surface of a washboard, she ironed four shirts, she scrubbed a floor, she washed a mountain of dirty dishes and dried them upon an unclean towel. Every soft muscle ached, every dainty instinct cried out against these outrages. Her spirit alone sustained her. She was thinking of the second reel and hoping that the promised contrast would be striking enough to make up for the physical discomforts of the first.
"Half an hour for lunch!" called Montague. "Get busy on that dining room set, boys!"
Mrs. Gribble dragged herself to the dressing room and fell in a limp heap upon her trunk.
"Yo' call dat actin'?" demanded Martha. "Looks mo' to me like plain pot-wrastlin'!"
"It will show contrast," sighed Mrs. Gribble.
"An' dat ain't all!" sniffed Martha. "Yo' wouldn't even let Mist' Gribble see yo' in a nasty rag like whut yo' got on an' dese folks done tooken yo' picture in it fo' eve'ybody to laugh at! Dat's contrast, I reckon! I declah to goodness, Miss Addie, I dunno whut yo' see in dishyer movie business to be so crazy 'bout!"
"Be quiet, Martha!" snapped Mrs. Gribble. "Your opinion is not called for!"
"Yas'm, Miss Addie, but I'm tellin' yo'——"
"Will you hush? Take this filthy thing off and get me a kimono."
In an inconceivably short space of time Montague's fist was hammering on the door.
"All ready for you, Miss Aldine! As you were in the last scene, please!"
Mrs. Gribble groaned as Martha assisted her into the loathed Mother Hubbard, and she limped out to serve twenty miners with cold, greasy pancakes, an unsavory mess of pork and cabbage and steaming coffee. It was some slight satisfaction to find that the handsome La Rue was one of her boarders and Buck Parvin's eyes twinkled at her above a thicket of moving picture whiskers, but the presence of professional talent was more than offset by the odor of pork and cabbage which almost made Mrs. Gribble ill. She was thankful that it was her duty to serve the food and not to eat it, but in this she reckoned without James Montague, director.
"You will eat in the kitchen, Miss Aldine," said he.
And eat she did, though her stomach revolted and her soul rebelled. Mrs. Gribble had never liked pork and cabbage, even when she knew who cooked it.
"Is there—very much more of this?" she asked.
"Why, we've only begun," said Montague. "You'll have a change now, though. We'll do some location stuff. The boys are all in their costumes so we might as well make the chases."
"Chases!" said Mrs. Gribble.
"It won't be a real moving picture without chases," said Montague. "Audiences like 'em and expect 'em. This is where you get a chance to show how fast you can run."
"I—I don't think I can run very fast," said Mrs. Gribble.
"You'll have to." Montague referred to his script. "See all these figures? They represent chases. The miners suspect that you have sold information to a Wall Street syndicate. They drive you out of the camp. You flee into the hills. They follow.... Better put on some thick shoes with low heels and take along a cloak to wear between times so that you won't catch cold. Don't change that gingham dress. It's a good thing to run in."
"I haven't done any running since I was a girl," said Mrs. Gribble.
"You'll soon get hardened to it," said Montague, encouragingly. "A moving picture actress has to be a good runner. It's one of the first things she learns. You will be ready to leave in my auto in five minutes and you may take your maid with you."
Mrs. Gribble learned to run. She ran until she could run no more, always with a mob of miners in close pursuit. She ran through the streets of small suburban towns and the inhabitants swarmed to the sidewalks with ironical cheers and yells of "Go to it, Fatty! We're bettin' on you!" She ran on mountain roads covered with sharp, flinty stones; she ran through deep sand; she ran uphill, downhill and 'cross country. Art is long but Mrs. Gribble's breath was short and when it failed her she begged for mercy.
"I—I c-c-can't run another step!" she wailed. "I simply can't!"
"You're a bit fat for this sort of thing," remarked Montague, impersonally, "but you'll soon sweat it off. You waddle too much now; I'm afraid an audience would mistake these scenes for comedy relief. Get your wind and then I'll rest you with some climbing stuff."
The climbing stuff was even more tiring than the runs. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak and soft and oh, so weary!
"Straight up that hill and over the skyline," said Montague. "We'll tilt the camera and keep you in the picture. Ready—action—go!"
Up, up, up she went, spurred on by yells from the heartless director and howls from the bloodthirsty miners.
"Faster! Faster!"shouted Montague. "Make it snappy, Miss Aldine, make it snappy!"
Sick, dizzy and blinded by the streaming perspiration, Mrs. Gribble endeavored to make it snappy. She put the last ounce of her strength into a desperate attempt to reach the summit of the hill, but a loose boulder turned as she stepped on it and she fell heavily, rolling into a patch of whitethorn. Sputtering incoherently, Martha scrambled to the rescue, followed by Montague and Buck Parvin.
"Your maid spoiled a great scene by running in on it," said the director. "Take a rest and then we'll try it again. "
"Look yere, man," snapped Martha, "whut yo' tryin' to do, kill dis lady? Kain't yo' see she's all in?"
"That will do, Martha!" panted Mrs. Gribble. "Hold your tongue!"
"Lots of gameness but no sense," murmured Buck Parvin. "I've seen men that was troubled that way but mighty few women.... Well, ma'am, this is the life!"
Mr. Gribble spoke the truth when he said that there was more to him than appeared upon the surface. Not least of his uncatalogued virtues was the ability to see much, say little and bide his time. Greater men than Elmer Gribble have lacked this gift.
When his wife answered him in monosyllables and dozed at the dinner table he said nothing; when she decided to retire immediately after dessert, he sat alone and grinned at the smoke as it curled upward from his cigar. Later he poked his head in at the door of his wife's room.
"Tired, Addie?" said he.
"Not in the least," sighed Mrs. Gribble. "I'm only relaxing, that's all."
"You like this movie business then?" said he.
"Simply mad about it!"
"Ah hah," said Mr. Gribble.
"Yas'm, Miss Addie," said Martha, "but y'all betteh lemme rub yo' wif dis linimint or yo' won' be able to act none to-morrer."
Mr. Gribble, thus banished to the hall, executed something remotely resembling a double-shuffle.
On the morning of the second day the electric coupé delivered a cargo of aches and pains at the Titan Studio and Buck, watching the lady's progress, rolled a cigarette and mused aloud.
"She walks like that lame camel out to the animal farm," said he. "Yes, she sure favors that nigh hoof a lot.... Good mornin', Miss Aldine. How do you like actin' as far's you've gone?"
"It's lovely!" said Mrs. Gribble. "This is the life, Mr. Parvin!"
"Yeh," said Buck to himself as the lady hobbled into Montague's office, "this is the life, you bet, but not for fat people."
Again Mr. Montague was all business.
"Ah! Gingham again this morning, please, Miss Aldine!"
Mrs. Gribble was disappointed and showed it.
"I thought we might begin the second reel to-day," she pouted.
"Did you! Why, we've hardly begun the first one. It has something like seventy scenes in it. We haven't even touched the stunt stuff yet."
Stunt stuff! Mrs. Gribble recalled Buck Parvin's cheerful prophecies with a slight sensation of uneasiness. There was an anxious note in her voice as she spoke.
"Are—are the stunts any harder than the ones I did yesterday?"
"You didn't do any stunts yesterday," said he. "That was just the usual run of picture stuff. A stunt is something that requires muscle—nerve—courage. Of course, I try to eliminate as many chances of injury as I can. I do not like to have our people hurt. In case they are, the company stands the hospital bills, but even so, a stunt actress is hard to find. Most women lack your courage. I will be frank with you, Miss Aldine. In straight parts you will probably never amount to anything because your acting is very bad, but the stunts will carry you through. If you stick to me, I will make you the leading stunt actress of America."
This was news indeed, but it did not make Mrs. Gribble happy. It made her distinctly uncomfortable.
"And what will I be expected to do?" she asked.
"Oh, pretty much everything in the athletic line," answered Montague, carelessly. "Ride a horse, swim, do a jump once in a while, work with wild animals——"
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Gribble. "I never was on a horse in my life, I can't swim and I'm deathly afraid of animals!"
"You can learn to ride and swim and you'll get used to animals," said Montague. "Just as it happens you won't have to ride or swim in this picture and the scenario does not call for animals. The stunts are easy ones. You will escape from a burning building by means of a rope—the boys will tie it round you and let you down to the ground—you will climb a few fences and do one falling jump into water—oh, that's all right. It won't be over your head, Miss Aldine. Perhaps it would be more spectacular if you could manage a head-first dive——"
"I can't! I can't! I know I can't!" cried Mrs. Gribble.
"Never say you can't do anything until you've tried," said the director. "You will jump on a moving train and off again; you will be in a taxicab collision and a few little things like that. Positively no danger, I assure you, but would you believe that eight women refused to play this part before you turned up? They hadn't the nerve."
"I—I think you might have told me!" said Mrs. Gribble.
"I'm telling you now," said Mr. Montague.
The afternoon shadows were long among the trees of a wooded valley when two men crashed through the underbrush and stood upon the edge of a black pool of water, its surface covered with weeds and moss. This particular spot is an old friend and favorite location of moving picture directors and has appeared in countless films, sometimes as an impenetrable swamp, sometimes as the scene of bloody conflict, but more often as the spot where the unfortunate comedian takes his involuntary bath.
"It's the last hurdle," said one of the men. "If this doesn't finish her, I swear I don't know what to do next."
"Too game for her own good," murmured the other. "When we let her down from the roof and left her hanging in the air for fifteen minutes while Charlie fooled with the camera, I thought she'd surely quit. And she climbed those fences like a scairt cat. What's the idea, Jim?"
"The idea is a cure for film infatuation," said the other. Then, lifting up his voice: "This way with the camera!"
Other figures drew near and last of all came a woman, worn and weary and clad in a gingham dress. She limped painfully to the edge of the pool, looked at the water and the weeds and then at James Montague.
"I'm to jump into this—this mudhole?" said she.
"Yes, Miss Aldine. Off the limb of that tree right Into the middle of it," said the director.
"But ... it's dirty water!" said Mrs. Gribble, faintly.
"Ah, but look at the location!" said Montague. "The background is wonderful and the water isn't more than four feet deep."
"I won't!" cried Mrs. Gribble. "I can't!"
"You must," said the director, with firmness. "I can't spoil this picture just because you're squeamish about a little dirt. We will help you into the tree. Hurry, please, the light is failing."
The habit of obedience prevailed; Mrs. Gribble was assisted into the tree, complaining bitterly.
"It's so far!" said she, looking down at the pool.
"What? A little jump like that?" said the director. "Now we can't rehearse this because we haven't another costume for you. We'll make it the first time. Get out on the limb as far as you can and when I give the word, jump. Make as much of a splash as you can and exit on the other side of the pool. Got the lines, Charlie? All right. Now, Miss Aldine, as soon as you are ready, please."
"I'm afraid!" said the lady. "It's too far!"
"Kain't yo' see yo' got her scairt to death?" demanded Martha, from the brink. "She ain't no divin' Venus, she ain't! Miss Addie, le's quit dis play actin' an' go home!"
"Silence!" commanded Montague. "Now then, Miss Aldine!"
"Miss Aldine!" sniffed Martha. "Yo' wait till her husban' hears 'bout dis foolishness!"
"Ready?" shouted Montague. "Now then—jump!"
Mrs. Gribble looked at the branches above her head, at the pool below and closed her eyes.
"I ca-an't!" she quavered.
"Why don't you jump?" bellowed Montague.
Mrs. Gribble loosed her hold and fell; the black water closed over her head with a mighty splash. She reappeared, festooned with green tendrils and moss, half strangled and sputtering.
"Out! Out on the other side!" yelled Montague.
Mrs. Gribble dragged herself to the bank, a bedraggled spectacle calculated to win pity from any masculine heart. Martha ran to her with the blanket which Montague had provided. Mrs. Gribble, weeping hysterically, allowed herself to be led to a tree and leaned against the trunk for support.
"Dis is enough monkeyshines!" said Martha sternly. "Yo' heah me, Miss Addie? Dis is enough!"
Montague and Dupree had their heads together in close consultation.
"Oh, Miss Aldine!" said the director.
"Yes," answered a weak voice. "What is it now?"
"Get that dress washed to-night," said Montague, "and have it ready the first thing in the morning. We'll have to make this scene over again. Charlie ran out of film."
Mrs. Gribble slipped to the ground in a faint.
Elmer Gribble sat by the side of the bed and held his wife's hand. A smaller man might have found the opportunity to say "I told you so."
"I do not know anything about such matters," said Mr. Gribble, "but it seems to me that you are legally bound to fill this engagement. It would be regarded as a—a sort of a contract——"
"I didn't agree to let that brute Montague drown me!" wailed Mrs. Gribble. "Oh, Elmer, if you could have seen that filthy mudhole! If you care anything for me at all—anything at all!"
"There, there, Addie," said Mr. Gribble, soothingly. "If you're sure that you won't want to go back next week——"
"I hope I'll never see a moving picture studio again!" cried Mrs. Gribble. "I hope I'll never see a film again! Oh, Elmer, get me out of this scrape and I'll never say 'movie' to you as long as I live!"
"I will do the best I can," said Mr. Gribble. "I will see this man Montague to-morrow morning."
Mrs. Gribble wept and fell asleep to dream that Buck Parvin and the camera man were trying to throw her into the Grand Canyon of the Colorado while James Montague stood by and talked of Art and the courage required of a stunt actress. Mr. Gribble still held her hand, patting it gently from time to time. His emotions did not appear upon the surface, but inside of him there was an immense satisfaction and, at wicked intervals, a desire to laugh.
The next morning Buck Parvin, adjusting a shirt of mail in the door of his dressing room, observed another stranger who seemed to know the way to Montague's office.
"There goes prosperity on the hoof," said Buck to Ben. "Head up and tail over the dashboard, too. You reckon he wants to have a picture made of himself?"
Mr. Montague looked up at his visitor and grinned.
"It worked, did it?" said he.
"Like a charm!" said Mr. Gribble. "I am to tell you that you are a brute. Accept my thanks and congratulations on a very complete job."
"I did have to be a bit rough with her," said Montague, "but you said the case was desperate. I think the cure will be lasting."
"I am sure of it," said Mr. Gribble, taking out his pocketbook. The check which he laid in front of the director bore a signature but was otherwise blank. "Fill it in yourself," said Mr. Gribble, "and go as far as you like. It's worth it."
James Montague folded the check carefully and tearing it across, dropped it into the wastepaper basket.
"A laugh is the scarcest thing in the world," said he, "Your wife has handed me several. Shall we consider our original agreement void and the account closed?"
That evening Mr. Gribble searched high and low but could not find his wife. The servants were also missing. As a last resort he entered the kitchen and there discovered Mrs. Gribble in the act of frying a pan of breaded veal cutlets.
"Addie!" said he.
"I told Boggs and the cook that they could take the afternoon and evening off," said she. "We'll have an old-fashioned dinner, Elmer."
"With brown gravy?" said Mr. Gribble.
"Yes, and mashed potatoes.... There, Elmer, that'll do! You mustn't hug the cook. She's busy!"
This may or may not be the reason why James Montague is wearing a very handsome diamond ring.