Buck Parvin and the Movies/Snow Stuff
THE night train, westbound to the Coast, deposited a single passenger upon the Truckee Station platform and slipped clicking down the railroad yards, its brilliant tail-lights gleaming above the snow. "Winter air in the Sierra Nevadas is brisk and biting, and the lone gentleman thrust his fat hands into his overcoat pockets and looked about him with a mixture of curiosity and condescension. Plainly here was one unused to the provinces, and, by the curl of his lip, not particularly impressed with his surroundings.
On one side of the track was the short main street of Truckee, with its thirty-seven saloons. On the other side was the swiftly flowing river, mirroring the lights of the Ice Palace beyond. The stranger shivered and drew his overcoat closely about him. In cold weather the overcoat proclaims the man, and this garment spoke loudly of Broadway check rooms and brighter lights than Truckee's. Its shell was of the finest melton, lined with undyed sealskin, while the rolling collar and the wide cuffs were of astrakhan. Of the man inside the coat it is sufficient to say that he wore too many diamonds, had a bulge where his jawline should have been and dimples in place of knuckles. Everything about him suggested fatness and softness, and he wheezed when he lifted up his voice querulously:
"Here, you! Can I get a carriage in this God-forsaken hole?"
The station loafer whom he addressed chuckled from his perch upon a baggage truck:
"A carriage, mister? What for?"
"To take me to the hotel, of course. What did you think I wanted it for?"
The loafer jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
"Hotel's right across the street," said he. "Folks mostly walk it."
The man in the fur coat grunted, picked up his suitcase and then put it down again.
"Carry this for me!" he commanded.
"Sure!" said the loafer, scenting a quarter. "Why, of course!"
As they were crossing the slushy street, the newcomer planting his patent leathers gingerly, a startling succession of noises rose on the quiet air. First came a long-drawn howl, and before the sound had died away among the pines and tamaracks a dozen tongues answered it. The stranger paused, irresolute. The clamor swelled and grew in volume until the whole night seemed to quiver with it. The man in the sealskin coat recognized the sound. He had once staged a Broadway musical comedy called "The Queen of Saskatchewan," and the phonographed howlings of a wolf pack had been the hit of the piece.
"Wolves!" said he, and looked back at the depot as if meditating flight.
"Naw!" said the loafer, grinning. "Not wolves, but the next thing to it. There's a movie outfit up here makin' Alaska stuff, and every stable in town is full of them darned malemutes and huskies. They fight all day and howl all night, but outside o' that I guess they're all right."
"Oh, the dog teams, eh?" said the stranger, evidently relieved. "They belong to the Titan Company, don't they?"
"Yeh, that's the name of the outfit. There's been five or six companies here this winter makin' snow pictures, but this is the biggest of the bunch. They got skin canoes, seven or eight sledges, fifty dogs, fur clothes till you can't rest, an' even a lot of Japs that they dress up like Eskimoses."
"And what do you think?" said the loafer five minutes afterward to the keeper of the bar in one of the thirty-seven saloons. "Here I'm givin' all this information to the general manager of the company—the Main Finger, just out from New York. Golly! He sure did jump when them malemutes started singin'!"
While the loafer was spending his newly acquired quarter in a manner that seemed good to him, Mr. I. Gordan—for so he wrote himself upon the hotel register—was asking the clerk the usual question of his kind.
"What's doing in town to-night?"
"Well," said the clerk, "there's the saloons and the Ice Palace. That's about all."
"The Ice Palace?"
"That's the building across the river from the depot—they flood the floor with water and let it freeze. Best ice skating in the West. You'd better see that, it's worth while."
"New York is full of ice rinks," said Mr. Gordan.
But a night-owl cannot go to bed as long as the lights are burning, and as the thirty-seven saloons were not inviting, to the Ice Palace Mr. Gordan wended his way. There was a visitors' gallery, but Mr. Gordan believed in being seen as well as in seeing, so he sat on one of the benches reserved for the skaters and his overcoat created a mild sensation among the mackinaws and sweaters. He was too fat to skate, and soon he regretted that such was the case. The regret came after the discovery of a trim young person in a woolly white sweater and a short skirt, who skated alone, performing miracles of grace upon the glassy floor. Mr. Gordan was an expert on feminine charms—had he not selected the broilers for many a musical comedy show!—and his piggy eyes brightened as they followed the lithe, darting figure.
"One swell little gal!" said Mr. Gordan to himself. Then he addressed the man who sat on the bench beside him. This was a weather-beaten individual in a mackinaw coat, heavy boots and a knitted cap. In this northern disguise his best friends would never have recognized Mr. E. Buchanan Parvin, moving-picture cowpuncher. In fact, Buck often had difficulty in recognizing himself.
"Who's the chicken skating alone?" Mr. Gordan spoke with Forty-second Street familiarity. "The one in the plaid skirt."
Buck looked sharply at Gordan before he replied.
"What if I said it was my wife?"
Mr. Gordan became almost confused, but only because Buck continued to regard him with an unwavering eye.
"I didn't know—I didn't mean——" he began, stammering.
"Well, as it happens she ain't my wife," said Buck, "and she ain't no chicken neither. Here's a tip that won't do you a bit of harm. This ain't a chicken country. It's only once in a great while that we see a pig out here too."
Having made his meaning very plain Buck turned his back upon the stranger.
"Huh! The village cut-up!" said Mr. Gordan.
"No-o," said Buck, who was rolling a brown-paper cigarette; "but if you want to do well in this town you better tread light and sing low." After his cigarette was lighted he turned and puffed the smoke into Mr. Gordan's eyes. Mr. Gordan moved to the other side of the rink.
Being a person of one idea at a time and persistence along certain lines, he was rewarded by the information he sought.
"She's an actress—the leading lady with the movie company. Kind of cute, ain't she?"
Mr. Gordan smiled a fat and oily smile.
"I knew I'd seen her before!" said he to himself. "That's Manners, of course!"
An actress! Mr. Gordan sat down to wait, for he knew all about actresses. Of a type unfortunately not rare in certain brightly lighted precincts directly south of Yonkers, he had been associated with musical-comedy productions for many years, hence that knowledge.
"The legitimate, the merry-merry and the movies, they're all alike," mused Mr. Gordan, watching Myrtle Manners cutting figure eights in the middle of the floor. "They 're all alike!"
Mr. Gordan was scarcely qualified to speak for the movies, as his experience of film people was limited. An uncle with a keen nose for the dollar had left him a block of stock in the Titan Company, and it was this block of stock, together with a persuasive line of conversation, that had won for Gordan the position of general Western manager, with powers extraordinary.
"Montague and the rest of the directors are spending entirely too much money," said Gordan. "I'll go out and look round a while on the quiet and see where expenses can be cut down."
"Well, be careful," warned Seligman, the vice-president and actual head of the company. "Don't make any changes without consulting me. A director is a kind of a czar, Izzy. Montague is worse than a czar and he spends money like a Pittsburgh millionaire, but he makes great pictures. "Whatever you do, don't antagonize Montague. The fellow has got now offers from three or four other concerns, and we can't afford to lose him."
Mr. Gordan may have seemed half asleep as he sat upon his bench, but he knew when Myrtle Manners left the floor. He was waddling at her heels when she started for the hotel.
"Oh, Miss Manners! One minute!" he called.
The young woman paused, estimated Mr. Gordan with a swift glance and resumed her way.
"Wait! It's all right!" he wheezed reassuringly. "It ain't what you think at all. Wait!"
Miss Manners waited and Gordan approached.
"My name is Gordan," said he. "I'm the new Western manager. I guess you've heard of me, all right. Just got in on the train, and I saw you skating and recognized you from the pictures."
The young woman bowed, but she did not see the fat hand that was offered her.
"You acted as if you thought I was trying to kidnap you," chuckled Gordan. "We might as well get acquainted now as later, hey? How's Montague getting along with the snow stuff?"
"He is at the hotel working on a scenario," said Miss Manners. "He can tell you better than I can."
"Oh, never mind him now," said Mr. Gordan. "Plenty of time for business to-morrow. Kind of quiet up here, ain't it? Nothing to do in the evenings. I suppose there ain't a restaurant in this town where we could have a little supper, hey?"
"If you are hungry," said the young woman, "you can get sandwiches in the railroad eating house."
"What do you do for a good time?" demanded Gordan.
"We work mostly," said Miss Manners. "That reminds me that we make an early start in the morning. You'll excuse me, I'm sure. Good-night."
This time there was no catching her. Mr. Gordan chuckled as he watched the indignant swirl of the plaid skirt.
"Got a temper, have you, girlie?" said he to himself. "Well, I've seen 'em with tempers before."
As he prepared for bed Mr. Gordan told himself that Truckee would not be so bad after all.
"They're all alike—actresses," said he, as he turned off the light. "They're always upstage until they know you. Now this Manners, I'll bet she's a good feller when she gets acquainted."
If Mr. Gordan had been an early riser he would have witnessed an interesting sight in the departure of a moving-picture company equipped for snow stuff. The historic Donner Lake was to be the scene of the day's work, but at the hour of starting the general Western manager was peacefully slumbering, and nothing short of a cannon would have roused him.
The gray dawn brought the sound of wheels and a six-horse coach, which drew up in front of the hotel. The conveyance was for the leading people and the extra women. A dozen Japanese coolies, carefully selected for their heavy features and high cheekbones, plodded by muffled in furs. These were the moving-picture Eskimos. Each Jap's face was painted a ghastly yellow in order that the natural brown of the skin might not offer too great a contrast when photographed against a snowy background.
Next came the dog teams, three in number. Buck Parvin, driving a gee-pole team, was in the lead, maneuvering seven tail-curled and frisky malemutes for the benefit of the few spectators upon the sidewalk. Buck was made up as an Alaskan musher. He wore a drill parka, a long loose garment that covered him from neck to knee, serving as a protection against wind and cold. The hood and cuffs of his parka were of fur and his feet were incased in mukluks, rude sealskin boots bound about with thongs. The snowshoes he would wear later were strapped upon the sledge. With one eye on his audience and one eye upon the malemutes, Buck straddled the tug behind the wheel dog, and the pop of his thirty-foot whip mingled with his sharp commands.
"Mush—mush on!" he yelled, and the dogs leaped into their collars, moving ahead in a straight line.
"Mush—haw!" The lead dog swung obediently to the left.
"Mush—gee!" The malemutes turned to the right.
"Whoa!" Every dog stopped in his tracks, seemingly waiting for something. There are only five commands that move an Alaskan dog team, and the most important one is the one which Buck forgot to give. Almost immediately the third dog in the line nipped his neighbor smartly on the haunches and in less than two seconds the seven malemutes were piled in a furry heap, rolling, yelling, snapping, snarling and biting.
"Darn it!" said Buck. "I forgot it again!"
He leaped into the midst of the mêlée, kicking and striking right and left with the butt of his whip. The sidewalk loafers came reluctantly to his aid, for an angry malemute bites promiscuously, and order was at last restored and the traces untangled.
"Down!" yelled Buck. "Down, you devils!" The dogs dropped in the snow, whining, fur bristling, quivering with eagerness to renew the combat, but obedient to the fifth and most important command.
"They're just like football players," explained Buck. "If you don't holler 'Down' as soon as they stop moving they begin scrapping among themselves. They're the fightin'est dawgs in the world. I reckon I've refereed fifty battles this week and been bit a million times. You, Skookum, down!"
"Yes, and some day they'll kill each other and I'll have to dock you a hundred apiece for 'em!"
Thus spoke fur-clad authority in the person of James Montague, director. The loafers looked upon him with awe, and not without reason, for he cut a dashing figure. His parka was of reindeer skin, double thickness, the inner slip being of reindeer fawn, soft as velvet. The immense hood of the garment was lined with fox tails, and the skirt was bordered eight inches deep with patches of many-colored furs sewed in intricate patterns. This border represented months and perhaps years of patient labor by the light of a blubber lamp. It was the parka of a great chief and Montague wore it like one, for was he not a czar? Then, too, he had cast himself for the heavy in the picture he was making, and, directorlike, he was dressing that villain in the best the company wardrobe afforded.
"Mush on, Buck!" said he. "You should have been started an hour ago."
Miss Manners, also in parka and furs, touched the director's arm.
"Jim," she said; "Gordan is in town."
"I know it," said Montague. "He left his card for me. Who told you about it?"
"He introduced himself last night." Montague read the meaning behind the words and cocked one eye at his leading woman.
"He did, did he? What's he like?"
"Just about what you said he'd be. I suppose he'll want to see you this morning."
"If he wants to see me," said the czar, "he can come to Donner Lake. I'll leave word for him." He plunged into the hotel and reappeared almost immediately, fuming. "I can't waste a whole morning's good light jawing with a man who doesn't know enough to stay in New York, where he belongs. Come on, folks! All aboard!"
By eleven o'clock Montague had completed five scenes and was rehearsing a sixth—a ticklish bit of action involving the upsetting of a loaded sledge upon a steep side hill. Four times he had attempted to get the desired effect, but without success, and he was perspiring under the fox tails and using language. Perhaps this was why he did not see a fat gentleman roll out of a sleigh and flounder through the snow toward him.
"Try that again, Buck!" shouted Montague. "I want that sledge to turn clear over and start down the hill. And you go headfirst into the snow—and stay there!"
Buck started his dogs, and Montague, conscious of a puffing and wheezing at his elbow, turned to confront Mr. Gordan.
"Well?" said the director, who had forgotten all about the general Western manager. "What do you want?"
Mr. Gordan introduced himself, and it seemed that he wanted several things, including an explanation of Mr. Montague's conduct.
"You got my card; why didn't you wait at the hotel?"
"Because I can't waste the entire morning," said the director shortly. "No, no, Buck, not a bit like it! Rotten! Have I got to come up there and show you how to make a fall?"
"But I left my card," sputtered Mr. Gordan. "I'll talk to you presently," said Montague; "just now I'm busy. Stand back, please."
In this Montague was within his rights. During the actual making of a picture the director is absolute and brooks no interference. A stage manager listens to the voice of the angel who pays for the production; a moving-picture director spends thousands to obtain novel effects, and holds himself accountable only to the high court of results achieved. It is of record that a director once pulled the nose of a great magnate, pulled it in the presence of the entire company and five hundred extra people, and the magnate apologized. He had tried to tell the director his business.
"Stand back, please!" said Montague. "Now then, Buck——"
Mr. Gordan stood back. After a time he spied Miss Manners sitting on a blanket under a tamarack, and Montague was allowed to proceed in peace.
Noon came and the lunch was unpacked. Mr. Gordan drank scalding coffee out of a tin cup and gave further proof of the authority vested in him.
"I see that you had a six-horse team to come out here with," said he. "Is that necessary?"
"What do you want these people to do—walk?" demanded Montague. "They'd get here so tired that they wouldn't be able to work. In the time it would take 'em to walk it I can make three scenes worth a thousand apiece to the company. The coach costs me twenty dollars a day. Anything else you'd like to know?"
In the afternoon Mr. Gordan established unfriendly relations with another important member of the company. Snow stuff tests the patience as well as the resource of a camera man, and Charlie Dupree had been sorely tried that day. He had just succeeded in planting his wooden triangle and setting the tripod upon it, preparatory to "shooting across" an expanse of virgin snow. Miss Manners, fleeing from the villain, was to cross that unbroken surface on snowshoes.
When everything was in readiness for the scene Mr. Gordan, thinking of something he believed Miss Manners would be pleased to hear, trudged heavily across the snow in the line of focus, and Dupree squealed with rage.
"Ah, now you've tracked it all up!" he cried. "Don't you see I got to make another set-up? If you want to walk round get behind the camera!"
"Don't be fresh, young man!" said Mr. Gordan sternly.
It was Miss Manners who said the last word on the subject of the general Western manager. Returning from her nightly spin at the Ice Palace she saw a light in the hotel parlor that Montague used as an office, and tapped on the door. Montague came out into the hall, a pipe between his teeth. His usually jolly face was haggard and lined with weariness. A director who is also an actor and a scenario author leads a hard life and burns his candle at both ends, physical and mental.
"Well, girlie," said he, "what is it?"
"Jim," said the young woman, "I'm not finicky like some of these moving-picture actresses, am I?"
"Not a single finick!" said Montague heartily. "You're a good little sport, Myrtle."
"I try to be; but there's a limit. I know the movie game, Jim—the woman's end of it. We all have to stand for unpleasantnesses once in a while, annoying little things from people who don't understand. It's all in the day's work; but——"
"See here, what's the matter?" interrupted Montague. "Tell your Uncle Jimmy, and he'll fix it up in two shakes."
"I don't know whether you can or not. It's Gordan."
"What?" ejaculated the director. "Has he been bothering you?"
"Only in little ways so far. He seems to think that his position with the company gives him privileges." The girl laughed nervously. "Jim, I don't in the least mind holding hands with a nice man—I rather like it; but this fat, soft creature—B-r-r-r! He gives me the shivers!"
Montague whistled softly to himself.
"I'm not a baby, Jim. I can take care of myself, as you know. If he was an ordinary masher I could slap his face and send him about his business; but he's the Western manager and that makes it difficult. He can make trouble for all of us, and he's the kind of a man that'll do it. How strong is he with Seligman?"
"Pretty strong, I'm told," said Montague ruefully. "He owns a chunk of stock in the concern; but if he owned it all he wouldn't have any right to annoy the women in my company. I'll give him a good bawling-ont the first thing in the morning."
"No, don't do that, Jim; there's a better way. I'll avoid him as much as possible. You see, he doesn't know any better. Chorus girls are the only stage people he knows anything about, and his ideas are wrong. He thinks that all he has to do is to flash his diamonds and make a conquest. Don't say a word to him, but keep your eye on him."
"I'd like to punch his head!" said Montague.
"He wouldn't know what he was being punched for, and you mustn't get in bad on my account, Jim. Perhaps he won't stay but a day or two longer. If I can't make him keep his distance I'll come to you."
"All right," said Montague. "But don't you take any more freshness from him, understand?"
"I won't. And don't stay up any later, Jim. You ought to be in bed. You look worn out."
"I'm fit as a fiddle!" said the director with a grin. "I could lick all the Gordan family—and I will if this fellow bothers you any more. Good-night, dear."
'Good-night, Jim, and thank you."
The director watched his leading woman until her door closed behind her. Then he turned back into his office, and sitting down at the table dropped his chin in his hands.
"This moving-picture game is like a lot of other things," he soliloquized. "It would be all right but for some of the people in it!"
"What next? For the love of Mike, what next?" complained Buck Parvin, as he sat upon his sledge and eyed the seven malemutes reproachfully. "I thought I'd done about every fool stunt that a movie actor could do, but this snow stuff has got me treed and out on a limb!"
"What ails you now?" asked Ben Leslie, the property man. "Seems to me you're always kicking about something!"
"I reckon you'd kick, too, if Jim made you the fall guy," said Buck. "The first time we get a good snowstorm he wants me to lay out in it till I'm all covered over. I says to him: 'Be reasonable,' I says. 'Why can't you pile a lot of snow on me and get through with it quick?' 'Because,' he says, 'It's got to be drifted snow, and we can't pile it so it'll look natural.' 'Have a heart, Jim,' I says. 'I'll freeze sure!' He only laughed. 'You're supposed to be froze,' he says, 'and I want you to look the part when they dig you out!' Can you beat that, Ben? Jim is too darned technical to suit me. There ain't one man in a million that knows what snow looks like when it drifts over a body, but Jim he makes bis picture for that one man!"
"That's why he's an artist, " said Ben.
"Maybe so," said Buck sullenly; "but if they go planting me in the snow for a couple of hours they're liable to have a sure-enough corpse when they dig me out."
"Well," said Ben, "Jim has got his troubles too."
Buck looked across toward the river, where the camera was planted. Montague was detailing the business of a scene to Miss Manners, and proceeding under difficulties by reason of the fact that the general Western manager was interrupting him with suggestions and loudly voiced opinions.
"I never saw Jim take so much gab from anybody," said Leslie. "I guess it's because this bird is a big mogul in the New York office."
"Ain't he the pest, though?" grinned Buck. "I've seen towns where they'd throw such a smoke on that feller that it would darken the sun for forty-eight hours. And fresh? Holy cat, do you know what he calls Myrtle? Little One! He does, on the level! He better not get too gay with that lady or she'll haul off and poke him in the nose. She's husky, that girl is, and hard as nails, and I've seen her give that fat man a couple of looks that would have stopped anybody with a nickel's worth of sense. How does a man like that get a job managing anything?"
"I give it up, " said Ben.
"Now, then, Myrtle," Montague was saying, "we'll rehearse that struggle scene. You've fired the last shot in your gun and I'm closing in on you. You stop on the bank of the river and face me, registering fear. Just before I step over the line to grab you, club your pistol—take it by the barrel. As I come to you with my arms out strike at me hard. I'll dodge it. When I take hold of you resist all you can—fight me away from you. It ought to run about thirty feet, and at the end of the scene you sink down in the snow in a faint."
Together they ran through the scene and Montague stepped toward the camera to give instructions to Dupree.
"One minute!" said Gordan. "I—I wasn't quite satisfied with the way you played that scene, Montague."
"You—what?" Montague turned on him like a flash.
"You didn't put enough snap into it to suit me," explained Gordan. "Not enough fire. I know how such a scene should be played, and there was something lacking. Miss Manners, she did fine; but your work—well, it didn't get across with me, that's all."
It was the last straw. Manager or no manager, this was the end. Montague opened his mouth, but before he could speak Miss Manners was tugging at his parka. He turned to look at her and was arrested by a singular gleam in her eye. There was a reason for that gleam. Mr. Gordan, pursuing his usual system with "actresses," had passed from words to deeds. During the lunch hour he had attempted to kiss her behind a pine tree, and had laughed when she raged at the insult.
"You'll get over it, dearie," he had said. "They always do."
"Jim," said she sweetly, "if you will let Mr. Gordan show us what he means he may be able to suggest something that will strengthen the scene."
The general Western manager puffed out his chest.
"Now you're talking!" said he. "I can show you, all right. I don't know as I could put it into words exactly, but I could act it out for you, Montague, A little more fire; a little more snap. Get me?"
A swift glance passed between director and leading woman; the latter nodded almost imperceptibly.
"Go ahead!" said Montague gruffly.
Mr. Gordan stripped off his overcoat and tossed it behind him. Then he buttoned his cutaway coat and patted his chest.
"Now, then, girlie," said he, "get back there by the river bank and fight just as hard as you want to."
Miss Manners took up her original position, the swift water of the Truckee River behind and below her, and turned to register fear.
"That's great!" said Gordan, removing his hat and throwing it after his overcoat. "Keep looking right at me, girlie! Now, Montague, here's the way I'd play this scene."
Mr. Gordan advanced over the side line, crouching as well as a fat man may, his pudgy hands hooked in front of him like claws. From a distance of five feet he sprang, which was not exactly what Miss Manners expected, and the revolver was pinned at her side. One fat arm encircled her waist, its mate wrapped itself about her throat. She struggled violently to free herself, but Gordan only laughed and held her closer.
"This is what I mean, Montague!" he panted, and forcing the girl's head back bent to kiss her. Montague leaped forward, but he was not needed. Miss Manners freed her right arm with a desperate jerk, and using the heavy revolver as a hammer struck with all her strength. The general Western manager grunted like a smitten ox, and reeling blindly backward plunged into ten feet of melted snow water.
Half an hour later a very wet and vastly uncomfortable fat man awoke, to find himself careening toward Truckee behind seven malemutes.
"Don't wiggle so much!" commanded Buck Parvin. "I had to tie you on to keep you from falling off.... What happened? Why, you forgot the business of that scene you was playing. You was to dodge when she swung the gun, and you didn't do it.... Huh? Why sure it was a accident! You don't think a lady like Miss Manners would bust you that way a purpose! I was standing right there and I heard Jim run over the scene with her. 'Hit at me hard,' he says. 'I'll dodge it.' Then you set Jim's cue out and went in to show him how, but you forgot to duck your head. It all comes of not sticking to your own game. I reckon you know plenty about regular stages that they have inside of theaters, but you don't sabe the movies. On the regular stage they only pretend to hit you. In this business the wallops you get are on the level. And then you're a manager. You ought to stuck to managing. Reminds me of a feller I used to know down in the Pecos country—Red-Eye Riley was his name. Red-Eye could ride a hawss in all the languages what is—Harry Brennan never did have nothing on that bird. Well, Red-Eye joins out with one of them rough-rider shows to be a actor. First day he worked he got to flirting with a pretty girl in the reserves, and was doing right well for himself till he got so interested in the girl that he forgot he was on a bad hawss, and he ain't been able to ride nothing but a wheelchair ever since. Now Red-Eye he would have been a good actor if he hadn't tried to make a mash... Huh? Hurry more and talk less? Why, yes, we'll hurry more if you say so, but don't holler if we have a spill. It's hard to keep one of these fool sleds right side up. Mush—mush on! Hi-yah-yah-yah! Little speed there, Skookum!"
It is rather difficult to keep a dog sledge on even keel. Given a fat man for a load, complications multiply. Malemutes are uncertain brutes. This may explain why Mr. Gordan took nine headers into snowdrifts and became involved in three desperate dogfights on the way to the hotel.
The same road was traveled later by James Montague and Myrtle Manners.
"Jim," said the young woman, "when I gave you the nod I didn't mean to hurt him—much. I meant to tap him on the head before he could get his hands on me and blame it on to the business of the scene. He—he needed a lesson. Then when he jumped at me and was so rough and nasty I think I would have killed him if I could, the beast!"
"He got what was coming to him," said the director grimly.
"And now there'll be trouble!" wailed the girl. "Do you think it would do any good to write Mr. Seligman exactly what happened and why?"
"Dave is a mighty decent old coot," said Montague, "but he's bound to listen to Gordan, I think there's a better way than a letter, but at any rate you needn't worry your head. Seligman won't do anything to me because he needs me in his business, and as long as I've got a company you've got a job. Is that plain to you?"
"Jim," said the leading woman, patting his arm, "you're an angel!"
"Uh-huh," said the director; "but most of my wing feathers have molted."
Mr. Isadore Gordan returned to Fifth Avenue with inflammatory rheumatism in his joints and a three-cornered cut on his forehead that promised to leave a permanent scar. He credited the rheumatism to Truckee's damp climate. The cut upon his forehead, he explained to David Seligman, was a memento of a railroad wreck in the Far West.
Mr. Gordan's verbal report consumed almost an entire morning and contained everything but recommendations to mercy. David Seligman, old and wise and an excellent judge of human nature, smoked black cigars and pondered before he rendered his verdict.
"Well, Izzy," said he, "you must have been a busy man. If I am to do what you say we will have no company left in Truckee at all. To begin with the camera man, he is fresh. Maybe so, but he is the first man to discover that keeping his camera frozen prevents static troubles. He has saved us thousands of dollars by that trick alone, so he can be as fresh as he likes and keep his job. He might think of something else that will save us money. And this Buck Parvin, I know him well. Every time I go West he makes me laugh. I would keep him for that alone.
"With regard to Montague, you can't knock him to me and get away with it. Your personal troubles with him are nothing to mine. I fight with that fellow every time I see him, and then I raise his salary to keep him from thinking that I meant what I said. He is the best director in the country and he stays with us. That is final.
"Now about this leading woman—you may be right. She ain't a star and she owes everything to Montague. I have seen him work an hour with her on one scene until she played it to suit him. If you are sure you can get Miss Delmar away from the Elkay people I will agree to let Manners go. This much I will concede, Izzy; but you can't touch Montague or the rest of the company, so you might as well quit talking. Manners we can spare if we can replace her with Delmar."
An office boy appeared.
"Mr. Seligman," said he, "they're ready to run that snow stuff now. You said you wanted to see it."
"Come along, Izzy," said Seligman. "You ought to be interested in this. It's some that you saw made. Montague writes me that he would like to have your opinion."
They went to the small projecting room, where for half an hour they watched snow scenes as they were thrown upon the screen—commenting, criticizing and commending. No connected story was told by the film; the reels that were shown were made up of miscellaneous scenes from three different pictures.
"Manners isn't so bad in this stuff," said Seligman. "That love scene now—that was well done and she got the points over in good shape."
"Too stiff—not natural enough," said Gordan.
"It was natural enough for me," said Seligman stubbornly. "There she is again!"
There flickered upon the screen the picture of a girl in parka and hood. Behind her was the dark, swiftly flowing Truckee River, and the far background was a snow-covered slope, ragged with tamarack, pine and fir. Mr. Gordan stirred uneasily in his chair.
"She's pretty anyway," said Mr. Seligman. "That's one point that you can't take away from her—her looks."
"She ain't as pretty as Delmar," said Gordan. "And Delmar is smarter."
"Manners is a nice little thing—a perfect lady," said Seligman. "I wonder why she's holding that pistol by the barrel?... Ah, now she registers fear.... Nothing the matter with that acting, eh!... Hello, who's this?"
A fat gentleman in a cutaway coat came crouching into the picture. Mr. Gordan gasped. For an instant an unmistakable profile was silhouetted against the white background, and David Seligman shouted with laughter.
"Well, Izzy," he cried, "since when have you been an actor?"
"Stop that film!" bawled Gordan. "Stop it!"
"What for?" asked Seligman. "Go ahead and run it, boy; I want to see it."
Mr. Gordan subsided, gurgling. The fat gentleman on the screen moved again, closer to the girl.
"You look like you are getting ready to do the Apache dance with her," commented Seligman. "Were you trying to scare her to death?"
"I was showing Montague how to play the scene," muttered Gordan.
"You? You can't show that man anything about acting! He—Good Lord, what's this?"
There came the spring, the embrace and the scuffle. Mr. Seligman stopped chuckling and his voice grew stern.
"What's the idea, Izzy? Do you think you're a grizzly bear?"
The swaying bodies were clearly defined against the whiteness of the snow. David Seligman leaned forward; not a detail of that struggle escaped his keen eyes. It was also given to Mr. Gordan to see himself as others had seen him, and the sight was not a pleasant one.
"Hit him, kid, hit him!" murmured Seligman. "Why don't you hit him?"
Slowly the fat man forced the girl's chin upward, and as he bent over her David Seligman gave vent to an ejaculation of disgust.
"You showing Montague how to play the scene! You just wanted an excuse to kiss the girl. Bah!"
Suddenly there was a flash of a fur-clad arm, the fat man's head snapped as if on a hinge, and Mr. Gordan saw himself reel over the bank and disappear with a mighty splash.
"Oh, good!" shouted Seligman. "Good for you, kid! Hoo-ray!"
"She hit me on purpose," mumbled Mr. Gordan, naming the particular bit of action that interested him the most. "Anybody can see she did. It was a frame-up!"
"Sure she hit you on purpose!" cried Seligman. "Bless her little heart, of course she did! Do you think because we make you a Western manager it gives you a license to pull stuff like that? You would have had no kick coming if she had shot you! And that's why you say she can't act, eh?"
An argument rose in the projecting room, waxed loud and lasted long. Tempers went to smash and the naked truth had an airing.
"I tell you this, Dave," shouted Gordan. "Whatever I did makes no never-minds with me. She goes or I go, and that is all there is about it!"
David Seligman scratched his chin.
"Well, Izzy," said he, "I am sorry you put it that way, because now I wouldn't fire that little woman under any circumstances. Not if she was the worst actress in the world! I got to have better reasons than that she hit you on the head. I always said that she was a perfect lady. And so that was your train wreck! Ho, ho!"
Mr. Gordan's sudden resignation as general Western manager of the Titan Company provoked a great deal of comment in the moving-picture world and speculation as to the cause went wild and unbridled. A rumor traveling westward said that an unauthorized strip of film, appearing with the day's batch—perhaps by accident—had shuffled the seat checks of the mighty, but the young man who was in a position to deny or affirm continued to freeze his camera nightly and keep his own counsel. It took a point-blank question from Buck Parvin to get anything out of him.
"Kid," said the cowpuncher, "It was a smooth piece of work. I was standing right there at the time, and I didn't see Jim give you the office to turn the crank on his royal fatness. When was that little job cooked up?"
"It wasn't cooked at all," answered Charlie Dupree. "I'd been watching that lobster and I knew what he was up to. I thought maybe Seligman would like to know too. You can put a man on the witness stand and he'll lie; but if you pull a moving picture on him—good night! Jim didn't know what I was going to do and he didn't see me swing round to get the focus, but he tumbled as soon as he heard the camera begin to click, and I guess that's why Gordan wasn't licked on the spot."
"I got to hand it to you," said Buck admiringly. "You're a bear!"
"Huh!" said Dupree. "I know action when I see it. Maybe that's why the old man raised my salary."
"He'd have raised mine, too, if there 'd been any pictures of that sled trip back to Truckee," said Buck. "There was sure some action there! But I never have no luck. It's going to snow to-day and Jim is going to freeze me. If I'm dead when they dig me out you send a strip of the film to my girl, will you?"