Buck Parvin and the Movies/The Extra Man and the Milkfed Lion
THE EXTRA MAN AND THE MILKFED LION
WHEN Tommy Dennis began to love the beautiful and talented Myrtle Manners he was an Arab trader squatting in the shade of a date-palm, and she was a Christian maiden—a captive in the harem of Sheik Abdallah, the Scourge of the Sahara.
When first he saw her face at the barred window, lovely in spite of the fear and grief it depicted, Tommy was conscious of a sudden delightful shock that fluttered to the tips of his fingers and toes; and when she stretched out her arms and wept, every sob went straight to Tommy's susceptible heart.
He held his breath as he watched her make a perilous descent from the roof of the harem by means of a rope ladder furnished by a faithless slave, the same who later paid for his treachery to his cruel master, the sheik, by being hurled from that very roof upon the spears of the tribe.
Tommy Dennis was among those present when the beautiful stranger fled from the sheik's oasis on Sharkey, the trained camel; and he murmured a brief but fervent prayer that the ungainly brute might not stumble. After a fashion of his own the Scourge of the Sahara offered up the same supplication—but it was Sharkey's lame foreleg he was thinking of, and not the neck of the Christian maiden. Camels are expensive beasts, requiring time and patience in training; and Abdallah, besides being a sheik and a scourge, was also heavy actor and producing director for the Titan Company and, as such, responsible for its animal stuff.
Later, as a wild Bedouin, armed with a bell-muzzled weapon and mounted upon a milk-white steed that manifested true Arabic love for its master by biting him severely upon the knee-cap. Tommy scoured the plain in pursuit of the lumbering Sharkey, again securing fleeting glimpses of the lovely stranger as she clung desperately to the camel's saddle. Sharkey's footwork was very erratic, consisting of two speeds forward, one sidewise and an abrupt reverse.
After several spirited sprints over dunes and across dry river bottoms, all of which Sharkey managed to win by a neck under shrill protest, the Bedouins, led by Sheik Abdallah, engaged in mortal combat with French troops—and Tommy Dennis was shot dead at the first fire. He did not mind this at all, being used to it; but he was very much annoyed at his Arab steed for kicking him as he fell. Neither were his feelings soothed to any great extent by alighting heavily upon the belled muzzle of his ancient weapon.
Tommy was resurrected in a short blue jacket, which puckered abominably under the arms, and motheaten red trousers several sizes too small for him—a private in the corporal's guard and an eyewitness to the affecting reunion of the lovers inside the French lines, the sandy river bottom doing duty as the Desert of Sahara.
He saw the beautiful Christian maiden fall fainting from Sharkey's back into the arms of her sweetheart, a tall, handsome fellow in the uniform of a captain of the Foreign Legion—he who had just slain the wicked Abdallah in a thrilling encounter with cavalry sabers, it being well known that a sheik never fights with anything else if he can help it.
Tommy was not pleased with the ardent manner in which the gallant officer clasped the limp and yielding form to his bosom and pressed the parted lips with a neatly waxed mustache and imperial. The late Abdallah was not pleased either, judging by his comment. "That was rotten!" he shouted. "No good at all! Myrtle, you forgot to register a recognition before you pulled the fall. Jack, you cloaked the best part of the action with your shoulder when you ran in. Do it again, and try to get some real feeling into it—if you know how."
"Oooo-issch!" sneezed the long-suffering Sharkey, nipping the director upon the arm.
"Ouch!" yelled Mr. Abdallah, whose other name was Jimmy Montague. "Get that fool brute back where he belongs! Now then, all set, Myrtle? Take up a few feet of waste on that film.... Ready—action—go!... What's the matter with that infernal camel! Come on with him!... Look down at Jack, Myrtle!... Now fall!... Oh, hold her close to you, man! That's something like it!... Well, it went better that time, but it's still rotten in spots. Throw out your arms when you fall, Myrtle. Don't flop down like a sack of meal. And sprinkle some water here—Sharkey kicks up an awful dust when he stops quick."
Seven times the beautiful maiden fell into the arms of her beloved before the Scourge of the Sahara announced himself as satisfied, and Sharkey was led away, bubbling and gurgling with rage and indignation. Seven times Tommy Dennis stood stiffly in the corporal's guard, blushing behind his makeup, trembling in every fiber of his being.
This was the lady of his dreams; he had found her at last. What difference did it make to Tommy's fluttering heart that she was the Queen of the Movies, at a salary of one hundred dollars a week, and he but a despised extra man at three dollars a day? Cupid, careless little rascal with his bow and arrow, might take the blame for that. Tommy had found her—that was the main thing—and having found her he was forced to endure seeing her kissed back to consciousness by a supercilious person who wore a handkerchief in his cuff and addressed all extra men as "Here, you!" Tommy had not liked the handsome leading man any too well to begin with. He loathed him now.
It was a slight source of comfort to note the businesslike way in which the young woman freed herself from Jack La Rue's embraces the instant the camera man's hand ceased to move. Tommy also observed that at the finish of the scene she walked away toward the temporary dressing tent, without so much as a word or a glance behind her.
"I'll bet she doesn't like him!" thought Tommy, with a swift fluttering sensation under the blue coat. Then later: "I don't see how any nice girl could!"
Tommy Dennis was twenty—he stood six feet in his stockings ; his nose was straight; his eyes were clear; and, better than all else, his heart was clean. He knew as soon as he saw Myrtle Manners at the barred window of Abdallah's harem that he had never really loved before. He realized that his high-school affairs, which had seemed so serious at the time, were but the silly flirtations of childhood; and the brief but burning passion for the lunch-counter waitress was a youthful indiscretion. By the same process of reasoning he was not more than seven minutes in convincing himself that he would never love again.
When one is twenty it is easy to believe that true love is the only real thing in the world, and fame and fortune but the tinsel stage settings for the One Big Scene, in which the right man plays opposite the right woman forever, and there are no makeovers, no cut-ins and no fogged films.
He wondered as he discarded the dusty uniform of the Legion and washed the paint from his face whether she had noticed him at all. He decided that it was within the range of possibility. He recalled that she was standing behind the camera when the Bedouins swept yelling upon the French outpost. She must have seen the rider who plunged from his saddle at the first volley; and on the whole he was rather glad that his horse had kicked him. It was the sort of thing to draw the spectator's attention. He ceased to regret the bruise on his hip where he had fallen upon his gun. She might have seen that he was painfully hurt as he limped away—might even have been sorry for him. A bruised hip was a small price to pay for a pitying glance from those soft brown eyes. He pictured her as asking questions about him and receiving truthful replies:
"Who is that good-looking young man over there—the one who made such a daring fall?'
"That is Tom Dennis, quite an unusual sort of an extra man. He is a fearless chap; never stops at anything when it comes to making a good picture. He's going to be a great stunt actor some day—that boy."
Tommy was recalled from a dream of imaginary conversation by some of the genuine article close at hand. Buck Parvin was speaking. Buck was a moving-picture cowpuncher, acting during every waking moment. His street costume consisted of a widebrimmed hat of gray felt, a blue flannel shirt, a red bandanna for a cravat, a leather vest thickly studded with shining disks of brass, lavender trousers tucked into highheeled boots; and on special occasions he wore angora chaps and enormous spurs, which tinkled musically as he walked. His hatband was made of rattlesnake skin, and distributed about his person he wore several pounds of Indian beadwork and Mexican silver jewelry. Buck Parvin was one character actor who never left his makeup in the dressing room at the end of the day's work, having, as he said, but three complete changes of wardrobe—put on, take off and go without.
"Well, kid," said Buck, "what do you think of the new leading lady? Quite a doll, ain't she? Pretty soft for that big stiff. La Rue! I'd like to have his job for about a week. I bet ole Jimmy Montague wouldn't have to bawl me out for not huggin' her hard enough. I'd play that scene for nothing. Yes, sir! Myrtle is certainly some dolly!"
"Aw, put the diffuser on that kind of talk!" growled Tommy. "You've got an awful nerve calling her by her first name."
"Oho!" chuckled Buck. "You kind of like her your own self, don't you, kid? I reckon you'll be round here to-morrow acting all over the place. Maybe they'll have a makeover on some of them chases and you'll get a chance to pull another phony fall. Take it from me, Tommy, throw away that slide-trombone of a gun next time, unless you want to bust yourself plumb in two. And lemme tell you something else: Whenever you're on the ground, with horses coming behind you, lay still! They'll all jump over you. You began to crawl and ole Pieface just missed you by an inch."
"Darn it!" said Tommy. "I wasn't crawling; I had to get off that gun."
"Now if you want to catch the lady's eye," said Buck mischievously, "do a real fall! I got mine—right in the eye of the camera too. I thumbed ole Pieface in the neck and he went straight up like he was goin' over backward; an' I slid off him as easy as rolling out of bed. Not a bruise on me. And, believe me, the lady seen me do it; she was lookin' right at me!"
"You make me tired!" said Tommy, grinning in spite of himself. "I fell like a man that was shot."
"You limped like it too," said Buck with a chuckle. "We both of us might have broke our necks and it wouldn't have made any difference. You and me ain't got a Chinaman's chance for a pleasant look from her! They won't be no extry men in Myrtle's picture a-tall. None whatever! If she's going to fall for anybody round here it'll be La Rue."
"I don't believe it," said Tommy stubbornly. "Why, she hardly speaks to him."
"Listen at our banty rooster crow!" mocked Buck. "Tommy, you're a lovely little feller, and I like you; but there's a whole lot you don't know about women. Yes, when it comes to females I should say you was consid'able ignorant. Let your Uncle Buck steer you. He's a pretty wise Injun on this skirt thing."
"Huh!" snorted Tommy. "What do you know about women?"
"Everything," said Buck calmly. "Everything what is. I ought to. Women have throwed me higher in the air than you've ever been away from home. Tommy. Yes, sir; they cert'n'y had their fun with ole Buck—but he got a line on 'em, you bet! Take it from me, it's the dough that counts with the dolls—the dinero; the iron men; the large, smilin' yaller boys. We ain't got no bankroll, Tommy, and we're safe. The camera ain't focused on us at all—see? We're way over yonder on the other side of the hill, plumb out of the picture. As soon as this jane finds out that La Rue drags down one-fifty a week, she's goin' to go ropin' for him."
"Pshaw!" said Tommy. "The trouble with you, Buck, is that you haven't met the right kind of women."
"I ain't, hey?" demanded Parvin, as he fastened his bandanna with the huge silver ring set with turquoise matrices. "Oh, no; I suppose not. There's the women what likes you and there's the women what don't; and they're the only kinds what is. Take it from me, I've met a many of both varieties—an' they was all out for the dough."
Love at first sight is a beautiful theory; but in every-day life there is such a thing as taking a long critical second look. Tommy took several, and each time he saw Myrtle Manners in a new part he discovered added charms. An extra man may look at a moving-picture queen if he has the luck to be selected by the director for a day's work.
Each morning Tommy reported faithfully at the Titan headquarters, and when Jimmy Montague crooked his forefinger and said, "I want you, kid!" that day was ringed on Tommy's calendar with a circle of gold. When the director shook his head and said, "Nothing doing!" Tommy slouched away, with his lower lip drooping and his hands crammed deep in his pockets, a picture of blighted hope.
As the Cattle Queen, in sombrero and short riding skirt, Miss Manners captivated Tommy by her dash and daring in the saddle, and even Buck Parvin admitted that she "sat up in the middle of a hawss" like a cattle queen born. As the brave but heartbroken hospital nurse in the Civil War picture, All for Dixie, she plumbed unsuspected depths of sentiment; but when she played the deserted wife and mother in The Cashier's Disgrace, and wept over the borrowed baby, she touched Tommy in his tenderest spot. He was all hers from that moment.
Then came the wonderful day when she spoke to him. The performers had gone out "on a location" to the outskirts of the city and had been delayed beyond the noon hour. Tommy volunteered to find the nearest restaurant and bring back food.
"Two ham sandwiches and a pint of milk, please," was what she said to him; but Tommy walked in a daze for the rest of the day.
He read a dozen meanings into that innocent remark and was pleased with every one of them.
An actor employed by the Titan Company and working under Director Jimmy Montague had no sinecure. Montague had a reputation as a producer of sensational film dramas. He spent his nights in thinking up new and thrilling stunts for his actors to perform, and in devising scenarios to fit the stunts.
Jimmy's people never knew, when they reported for work on a new picture, whether they would be required to leap off a cliff into forty feet of water, go up in a balloon or track a real lion to the camera's eye. Montague's leading man had to box like a Corbett, wrestle like a Muldoon, ride like a Cody, swim like a fish, climb crags like a goat, dress like a Brummel, make love like a Sothern, and face wild animals like a—Colonel.
Jimmy's specialty was animal stuff. After his tremendous success with The King of Beasts—a three-reel production that appeared in nearly every country under the sun and yielded a dollar harvest which remains a record to this day—the Titan owners saw a great light and began to invest in wild animals.
They had objected when Jimmy insisted on buying a mangy, toothless lion for use in a single production; the poor old brute turned out to be the most profitable investment the company had ever made, paying some eight thousand per cent. With one lion as a nucleus the Titan people rapidly acquired quite a respectable menagerie, and Jimmy Montague's animal stuff became known from St. Petersburg to Tasmania.
There was Selim, the elephant—a star in The Rajah's Revenge and The Heart of Hindustan. Selim was a Hamburg-trained pachyderm, with a fair working knowledge of the German language and a painstaking attention to detail that made him a remarkable moving-picture actor. No desert scene was complete without the camels—Sharkey, Old Blue, Betsy and Mame—unwilling but efficient performers. The lions—King, Duke, Bertha and Babe—had thrilled audiences all over the world; and the monkeys, wolves, snakes, coyotes, elk, deer, hyenas, and the nearsighted comedy tapir, also contributed their bit to the entertainment of the masses.
Every time Sam Packard, the purchasing agent, had a chance to buy a wild animal he snapped it up and looked confidently to Jimmy Montague to invent a scenario to fit the creature.
One morning Montague received a telegram from the head of the firm in New York.
"Jungle stuff worked to death," it read. "Get new scenario quick. Use all animals."
"There's gratitude for you," growled Jimmy as he tossed the telegram to Jack La Rue, who happened to be present. "How the deuce can I ring in lions and elephants and camels without a jungle scenario?"
"Blest if I know!" said La Rue, lighting a cigarette. "You never see 'em anywhere else except in a circus, and——"
"Bully boy!" shouted Montague. "Great suggestion, Jack!"
"What suggestion?" demanded the amazed leading man.
"Why, the circus!" said Jimmy. "It's never been done. We'll make a circus picture and it'll be a knockout!"
"You're a wizard, Jimmy!" said La Rue. "Give you a toothpick to start with and you'll have a lumberyard in ten minutes. How do you do it?"
Jimmy Montague pressed three buttons. The stenographer was first to appear.
"Send a telegram to the house in New York and ask 'em if they've got any stock films of circus parades. Get that off quick! That parade stuff will do fine for cut-ins," said Montague.
Ben Leslie, the property man, and Joe Bates, in charge of the wardrobe department, entered together.
"Joe," said the director, "Jack here wants some silk fleshings—full tights; white or pink will do. Manners ought to be a bareback rider, I suppose—no; hold on. Maybe we can't get anybody to double for her in a real riding act. I've got it! Why not make her a lion tamer? The very thing! Joe, get Manners a Spanish outfit and a lion-tamer's whip. I'll need some ringmaster's boots. That's all I can think of now; but it's enough to get busy on. I'll give you a list later."
"Goin' to do a circus picture?" asked Ben Leslie. Ben was a lean, saturnine individual, as remarkable a personage in his way as any member of the company. Had he been ordered to produce the Kohinoor immediately he would have nodded twice, shifted his fine-cut from one cheek to the other and gone out without a word. And he would have brought back the Kohinoor—or the next best thing. Nothing surprised him; nothing daunted him.
"Yes," said Jimmy Montague, "we're going to do a circus picture. Get busy on it, quick! Ward Brothers' Circus is wintering down at Santa Monica. You can borrow a lot of junk from them. You know Billy Ward, don't you?"
"Sure!" said Ben. "Worked for him once."
"Gee-whiz!" said Montague. "Is there anybody in the world you haven't worked for—once?"
"Reckon not," said Ben, and departed.
"This will be some scenario!" remarked Jimmy to his leading man.
In his brilliant mind the toothpick was already expanding into a telegraph pole; the lumberyard would come later.
"Yes, but I don't get you," said La Rue. "What am I supposed to be in this picture? An acrobat!"
"Bareback rider," said Jimmy succinctly. "In love with the lion tamer. So am I. I'm the ringmaster. We can work up a lot of jealousy stuff. I crab your act. Hit your horse with the whip when you go to do a jump-up. You fake a fall—all that 'Cur-rse you, Jack Dalton!' business. I ain't got it straightened out, yet, of course; but for the blowoff Myrtle's lion-taming stunt goes wrong, I get cold feet, and you tear in and save the lady. Ain't that great?"
"Me?" said La Rue, laying one hand upon his breast. "Me—save the lady? Me—in the cage with a lion? Not on your life! Suppose something goes wrong and he takes a wallop at me?"
"Forget it!" said the director. "We'll use old Duke for the cage scenes. You know what a gentle animal he is! Brought up on a bottle, Kelly tells me."
"So was I," said La Rue; "but I'll eat meat now. That milkfed business doesn't signify anything, Jimmy."
"Oh, rats!" said Montague. "Duke's got the disposition of a great big dog."
"No, he ain't," said the leading man earnestly. "He's got the disposition of a great big cat—and the claws and the teeth, and all the rest of it. Because he hasn't killed anybody yet is no sign that he won't before he's through. Nix on this tame-lion stuff—they're all wild, I tell you! And Manners wouldn't want to work with a lion either."
"She's done animal pictures before," said Jimmy. "That girl ain't afraid of anything."
La Rue passed over the slur.
"There's such a thing as being too brave for your own good," he insisted. "I'm as game as anybody, Jimmy, but it wouldn't get me anything to be clawed up by a milkfed lion. If Duke doesn't look right to me you'll have to double me in that cage scene. I won't work. I'm an actor, not an animal trainer."
"Oh, well," said Montague, "If it comes right down to cases we can let that Dennis kid double you and pull off the rescue; but there ain't any need of it. I've been in the cage with Duke a dozen times myself. He wouldn't harm a fly. You ought to know that I never ask you to take chances. I never got you hurt yet, did I?"
"Oh, no; not at all," said La Rue with sarcasm. "I suppose I wasn't hurt that time when I got pounded on the rocks by the surf up on the Malibu coast. There wasn't a spot on me as big as your hand that wasn't cut or bruised; but of course that didn't hurt! I just thought it did—that's all."
"The trouble with you. Jack," said Montague, "is too darned much temperament. Beat it out of here! I'm going to rib up this scenario."
"You remember, now," warned La Rue. "If Duke doesn't look right to me—nothing doing! You'll have to double me in that scene."
"Get out of here!" said Montague.
Left alone with his toothpick he drew a sheet of paper to him and scrawled upon it.
"The Jaws of Death," said he with a grin. "I guess that's a perfectly miserable title!"
At eleven o'clock Jimmy Montague pushed his chair back from his desk and gazed upon a masterpiece completed.
"If that ain't doping out canned drama while you wait I don't know what is," he remarked with a satisfied sigh. "If the two big stunts in the lion's cage stand up all right I've got another grand picture for the poor old boss. If they fizzle—good night! We'll try fifty-one and fifty-three first. If Duke won't work with a woman I can turn the lion-taming stunt into something else and still have a circus picture."
One very fine thing about the moving-picture business is that no shred of an idea is ever wasted. Scenarios and action plots are subject to change at an instant's notice. A camera-caught accident often forms the basis of a new film drama. Jimmy Montague had once written a scenario round a leading man's broken leg. The picture of the fall from the roof was too good to waste.
The Jaws of Death, as articulated on paper by J. Montague, called for two reels of film, seventeen separate backgrounds or locations—as they are always called when the photographs must be made outside of the studio—and fifty-five scenes. The two big stunts in the lion's cage were numbered fifty-one and fifty-three—almost the closing scenes of the picture. These would be photographed first for economic reasons.
In Jimmy Montague's early days with the Titan Company, when the moving-picture business was in its swaddling clothes and all the men connected with the infant enterprise were learning something daily from the best and the bitterest teacher in the world, Jimmy worked forty men and women for two weeks, consumed miles of film leading up to his one big stunt scene; and he found when he got to it that it was a physical impossibility. The Titan people paid the bills, but the telegrams from New York were hot enough to melt the glass insulators in their flight. Jimmy managed to hold his job, but it was a close call; and after that he decided to make sure of his stunts first. If they succeeded, well and good. If they failed, the loss in time, money and raw film was trifling; and the scenario was deftly twisted about to meet the limitations of man or beast.
This time the limitations were those of Duke, the performing lion; and the circus drama as originally planned would stand or fall upon that brute's behavior. Scenes fifty-one and fifty-three, marked simply Interior Cage, were the crucial ones; so Jimmy set about his newest sensational production tail-first as it were.
In the darkened theater devoted to the Movie Muse the pictures flit upon the screen, incident fitting smoothly into incident to tell a connected story; but in the making a photo-play is the wildest crazy-quilt imaginable—a headless, tailless, cubist affair without form or coherence.
Scenes are photographed with an eye to back-ground or location and no regard for sequence. The complete plan exists only in the magnificent mind of the producing director. Picking up the plot of a moving picture by following the actors at their work would be as easy a task as unraveling Monte Cristo by reading chapters at random. This is one reason why seasoned moving-picture actors seldom ask questions. The director tells them what to do and they do it. Thus Myrtle Manners did not ask questions when she was given a Spanish costume, though she wondered what she was to do with the short rawhide whip.
Jack La Rue did not need to ask questions. He scowled as he inserted his manly form into pink silk fleshings. Jack did not like animals of any sort, and animals did not like him.
Tommy Dennis, picked out of the squad of extra men at the usual morning inspection, asked but one question as he tugged at another suit of pink silk fleshings.
"Say, Buck," said he, "is—is Miss Manners in this picture?"
"I dunno," said Buck, gloomily surveying a clown costume. "All they told me was that I got to ride that ornery trick mule. Jimmy Montague is fixin' to get my head kicked off, I reckon. Look at the clothes they wished on me! What are you made up for, Tommy? The flyin' trapeze or just a parachute jump? Where do these fool pants hook on to the shirt!"
Tommy Dennis, however, had lapsed into dreamy silence. Miss Manners, he reflected, had never seen him in tights. He looked down at his symmetrical limbs with a grave air of satisfaction. A costume of this sort—silk—ought to make a difference.
Charlie Jennings, a retired stock actor of long experience and no small skill with grease paints, entered the extra men's dressing room, carrying a makeup box and a black, curly wig.
"You're elected to be made handsome, Tommy," said he. "Montague says for me to make you up to double La Rue."
To double the leading man! Tommy's heart skipped a beat and then hurried wildly as if to catch up.
"S-a-a-y!" exclaimed Buck, suddenly jealous. "What's coming off here? If this is goin' to be ridin' stunts, why can't I double it? Tommy can have the mule. I can pull stuff on a hawss that La Rue—the big dub!—never knowed was in the book! I'm going to make a holler about this! I'm a rider; I ain't no rough-and-tumble comedian. There's favoritism in this joint!"
"Oh, I guess you don't want this job so bad as you think you do," said Jennings as he darkened Tommy *s eyebrows. "I've got an idea you'd pass it up if they offered it to you."
"What's the stunt?" asked Tommy, trying his best to appear blase and unconcerned.
"Lion stuff!" said the old actor. "Hold that eye still! How do you expect I'm going to make you up if you wiggle all over the place?"
"Lions!" ejaculated Buck. "Excuse me a minute till I put my cue back in the rack. Tommy, you win a job and welcome. I'll take a chance with the mule. Ole Buck here is awful careless, but he ain't mislaid no lions lately. Huh-uh!"
"Are you afraid of lions, kid?" asked Jennings. "Would you go in the cage with Duke?"
"Which one is Duke?" asked Tommy.
"The big one. Think you'd be afraid!"
"Did La Rue pass it up!" Tommy had no intention of committing himself until he knew more of the details.
"Well," said Jennings with tact, "I don't know as Jack's really leary; I heard him tellin' Miss Manners just now that she might be a lion tamer, but he thanked God he was an actor."
"Is that little gal goin' into a lion's cage!" demanded Buck incredulously.
"Sure!" said Jennings. "She's game as they make 'em."
"I never was much afraid of lions," said Tommy. "Even when I was just a little shaver I used to look 'em right between the eyes and make 'em turn away."
"Ho!" sniffed Buck. "But you was outside the cage when you done that hypnotic stuff. It makes a heap of difference to a lion whether you're outside lookin' in or inside with him tryin' to get out. Don't overlook that, son!"
"Well, you needn't worry about Duke," said Jennings. "He's kind and gentle, and works fine in a picture. I wouldn't be afraid to lead him right down the middle of the street by his whiskers."
Buck cackled derisively.
"My! My! That actor man sure don't need no press agent!" he said. "Tommy, you know me! I'm your friend. I like you; but you don't resemble no Daniel-in-the-den to me, and don't you let nobody kid you into pullin' no lion's whiskers. It ain't bein' done this season at all. You could put a million dollars in a cage with a lion—an ole, sickly lion—a lion that had run round nights and dissipated, and never took no kind of care of himself, and wasn't enjoyin' good health—you could stack that dough right up to the roof, and do you think I 'd go in there after it? Not in four thousand years! No, sir! A lion has got something on you any time he starts—an' he don't say nothin' to you before he starts neither. Just b-zing!—and first thing you know you ain't got no face left. I claim I'm gamer 'n any man ought to be and have good sense. I've had the cold chills sometimes thinkin' about the darn fool chances I've took; but little ole Buck Parvin in a cage with a lion? Huh-uh! My folks raised me to know better!"
"What are you trying to do—scare somebody?" snapped Jennings. "Don't pay any attention to him, kid. This is a tame lion."
"Tame— hell!" snorted Buck. "They ain't no tame lions!"
Duke woke up when Tim Kelly and the crew of the animal farm began to trundle his cage toward the canvas studio. He blinked lazily, shook a fly off his nose, yawned twice, and prepared to take a languid interest in his surroundings. It was as if he said:
"Well, boys, what new foolishness is this?"
Nothing that men might do could surprise Duke very much. Beginning life under the canvas of a circus tent, he had seen human beings since the day his eyes opened. Even before he saw them he had smelled them. He had studied them covertly for years, without arriving at a definite conclusion regarding them; there was about him something of the impartial air of one who suspends judgment until all of the evidence has been presented. He looked upon the entire human race with a mixture of grave dignity, quiet patience and noble condescension.
Certainly these two-legged animals were queer creatures—the moving-picture ones queerest of all—but they were good to him; and Duke recognized a certain obligation on his part. He did not know why they wished him to do foolish and undignified things, but it was plain to him that these things pleased his friend Tim Kelly, the boss animal man; so whenever he was called upon, Duke stalked gravely through his part like the obliging old gentleman he was.
Duke liked the animal farm. He liked the long, lazy California days. There were no jolting street parades; no stuffy circus tent with its endless stream of gaping faces; no irritating rattle and thunder of night freights. If Duke had planned a Heaven for tired old lions it would have been like the animal farm, with its kindly attendants, large, comfortable cages, good food and long stretches of drowsy inactivity.
He had but one disquieting memory left him from his circus days—the memory of a swarthy man who made him leap through a fiery hoop, stand on his hind legs, and roll over. Before every performance the swarthy man came into the cage and beat Duke unmercifully with a rawhide whip.
This memory returned vividly whenever Duke saw a whip in a trainer's hand. At such times he would sit up and strike at the rawhide, growling ferociously and showing his teeth, as he had always done when the swarthy man whipped him. He continued to do this long after he learned that, though Tim Kelly might sometimes show him a whip, he never struck him with it.
"Poor old felly!" Tim would say in his soft, crooning voice. "'Tis not me ye're scoldin' at, darlin'; it's the whip. Ye've been abused, Juke—bad luck to the brute that done it to ye!"
Then Tim would toss the whip out of the cage and rub the short hair on Duke's nose; and Duke would stretch himself luxuriously, making gentle dabs at Tim with his great cushioned paws by way of explaining to him that habit bound lions too, and that his growl did not really mean anything of a personal nature. Upon this habit Jimmy Montague had built his scenario. If Duke would growl at a whip in the hands of a woman the picture was as good as made.
Once in the studio Duke looked about him with a patronizing stare, sniffed once or twice, and then, dropping his nose between his paws, composed himself for a nap. He had been fed heavily early in the day and he was very sleepy.
"Ah!" said Jimmy Montague, very elegant in a ring-master's shining tile, cutaway coat, white moleskin breeches, and top boots. "That's my notion of the ideal moving-picture actor! He rolls in, on time to the dot; rubbers round once to see that everything is all right, and then goes to sleep till he's wanted. He never forgets his makeup and doesn't try to do any of the director's thinking for him."
Jimmy crossed toward La Rue, who was sitting on a bench, Ms pink-silk legs crossed and the eternal cigarette between his lips.
"You see how quiet he is," urged Montague. "He's as easy to get along with as a Newfoundland puppy."
La Rue scowled and shook his head.
"The only lion I'll ever go in the cage with will be a dead one," said he. "He's asleep now, Jimmy; but I've seen these tame wild animals wake up at the wrong time—and so have you."
Miss Manners, more beautiful than ever in the Spanish costume, a single yellow rose in her dark hair, looked at Duke anxiously. Tommy Dennis, modestly smothering his silken grandeur in a shabby raincoat, took up a protecting position beside her. After a time he dared to speak, feeling that his elevation to the part of understudy to the leading man permitted him a certain amount of latitude.
"Aw, he's all right!" said Tommy, nodding toward the sleeping beast. "He never hurt anybody in his life. Miss Manners. He's what they call a milkfed lion."
The girl indulged him with a smile.
"He looks peaceful enough now," said she. "I'm always a little nervous with animals, though. Are you?'
"I never have been yet," said Tommy, skirting the thin edge between truth and fiction.
"Did you ever work with this lion before?"
"Not with this one," said Tommy, allowing the lady to draw her own conclusions from the slight shading of the adjective.
"You're doubling La Rue, aren't you?" asked the girl, glancing at the wig. "You don't look much like him."
"I thank you," said Tommy, and they laughed together. Immediately he felt a subtle bond of sympathy between them and risked a bold stroke. "You don't care very much for him yourself, do you?" asked Tommy, marveling at his own audacity.
"I'm not answering questions this morning," smiled Miss Manners.
"You don't have to," said Tommy bluntly. "I know!"
"Indeed?" The slow, rising inflection warned Tommy that it was time to change the subject.
"Say, what about this stunt we're going to do?" he asked. "All they told me was that it was lion stuff."
He said it with the airy nonchalance of one to whom lions were nothing—the merest trifle—an every-day affair.
"I don't know what the action is myself yet," said the girl. "You're not in the first scene, I believe; but in the next one you're to carry me out of the cage."
"Great!" ejaculated Tommy, who at that moment would not have exchanged places with any living man, lion or no lion. "That ought to make a swell picture!"
"Yes," said Miss Manners; "but don't you forget that it's my face that you want to keep toward the camera. I don't want anybody to think that I had to be doubled in this scene!"
"Leave it to me!" said Tommy. "I don't care whether they see me or not, so long as I can help you make a good picture of it. And let me tell you something: When you go in there, look at that lion right between the eyes! Whatever you do, don't turn your head away for a second! Just keep your nerve with you; and remember that a lion can't do a thing so long as you look him square in the eye."
"I've heard that before," said the girl.
"Sure you have, and it's true! I've pulled that eye stuff on lions and things ever since I was a kid, and it 's worked every time."
While Tommy was gilding the dull edges of fact with the glittering alloy of fancy Jimmy Montague had not been idle. His first task was to superintend the placing of the cage—a long, narrow receptacle, constructed with an eye to the focal limitations of a camera lens. The inclosure was swung about so that the narrow front end of the cage, in which was the door, rested opposite the steep tier of bleacher seats upon which the audience was already seated.
A single bar at the back end of the cage was then removed to permit the entrance of the camera. The lines of focus sweeping fanwise from the lens embraced the entire width of the receptacle at the front end, with the door as the exact center of the stage, and broadened out to embrace the audience as a background. Between the bleacher seats and the cage was an open space in which a certain portion of the action must transpire.
The completed picture, when flashed upon the screen, would present to the beholder an unobstructed foreground of the interior of the cage, beyond which the actors appeared against a solid wall of faces, the latter conveying the impression of a crowded circus tent.
"Now then!" said Jimmy Montague briskly, "all you people who are not in this first scene get back over the lines and keep still! Dennis, that means you. Beat it!"
"Remember about keeping your eye on him!" whispered Tommy as he faded away, and the girl nodded.
Tommy took up a position in the far corner of the studio, where for the first time he became conscious of the shabby raincoat. He removed it, deeply regretting that he had not done so sooner.
Into the space between the cage and the bleachers Montague summoned Miss Manners, La Rue and Tim Kelly, conversing with them in low, earnest tones. Tommy could not hear what the director was saying and, to tell the truth, he was not interested in the action of scene fifty-one. He was already playing the hero in scene fifty-three, inventing a dozen methods of rescuing the beautiful lion tamer at risk of life and limb. He wondered if Jimmy Montague would order him to kiss her, and the one drop of bitterness in his cup was the thought that La Rue would probably do that.
"Now here's the action of the first scene," Jimmy was saying. "Myrtle, you're to go into the cage. This old lion is whip-shy. Pull the rawhide on him and he'll begin to act. He'll sit up on his haunches and growl, and make passes with his paws; but he's only bluffing."
" 'Tis what he always does when ye show him the whip," said Tim. "An' it ain't meanness wid him, miss—it's fear! He's been abused in his time an' he can't forget it. He'll git up on his hunkers an' show his teeth an' make an awful powwow; but, bless ye, he don 't mean anything by it. So long as he can see the whip he'll keep on actin'—remember that."
"Good!" said Montague. "Now, Myrtle, as soon as the lion begins to work you register fear. Keep the whip in your hand where he can see it, and back away from him toward the side. Put one arm over your face—like this. Better crouch down against the bars and stay there till the end of the scene. The camera is cutting in the whole front end of the cage, so you won't have to worry about getting out of focus. Jack, when she kneels down by the bars you come forward to the door of the cage and establish yourself. Then register great fear that the lion's turned bad. I want you to get that right square into the camera's eye. That's all; we cut there with an announcement: Dolores Loses Her Nerve—Love to the Rescue."
"Is that the end of the scene?" asked Miss Manners.
"Yes. Then you stand by, and Kelly will make the lion lay down and play dead—and the double will carry you out. Afterward I can make a closeup of La Rue grabbing a pistol out of my pocket, shooting through the bars and running. That'll come after the announcement—to establish that the lion was shot by La Rue. That's all, I guess—except that we won't rehearse this because the lion won't work more than once a day. We'll just go ahead and make the picture."
"You're sure about this lion, are you?" asked Miss Manners.
"Absolutely! Tim and the other animal man will be right outside the door and they could get you out in a flash. Oh, by the way, Tim, it would be a pretty good touch if you and George got a couple of those iron prods you had for the leopard and held 'em up as if you expected to use 'em. We want to make Duke look as ferocious as possible."
Tim Kelly grinned.
"Ye're slandherin' the poor old dog," said he; "but it'll look grand in a picture!"
Montague next turned his attention to the camera man. A producing director is responsible for everything, from the newest extra man to the high-salaried and capable expert who handles the camera.
"Yep!" answered Dupree, the little photographer.
"Got your focus nice and clear, so there won't be any fuzzy backgrounds in this? Camera all threaded up! And be sure you've got a full box there, because I'm going to make these two scenes together, all in one piece."
"Right-oh!" answered Dupree.
Montague turned to the bleachers:
"You extra people, sit still and don't act! And I'll fine anybody a day's pay that makes a noise. I want absolute quiet in this scene—remember!"
The director then became the heavy actor, twitched at the collar of his coat, straightened his tie and moved into position.
"All right, Tim! Wake up the star!"
Tommy Dennis watched the animal man as he rattled the bars of the cage. Duke raised his head inquiringly.
"Up! Git up, Juke!" commanded Kelly, and the big beast heaved himself erect with a sigh. He fixed his sleepy yellow eyes upon Tim's face with an expression of patient resignation plainer than words.
"I haven't the slightest idea what this is all about, said the yellow eyes, "but I am in the hands of my friends. Let's get it over with as soon as possible."
"Gee! He's a whopper when he stands up!" thought Tommy Dennis.
"Get him a little farther back from the door, Tim," whispered Montague. "That's better.... Hold up the iron prods, boys!... Now, then, Myrtle! Ready—action—go!"
Duke had often heard the three words that move the movie world. In his mind they were associated with unusual happenings and sudden developments. He pricked up his ears, for in the dead silence he could hear the ticking purr of the film as it sped past the lens into the takeup box; and turning slightly he caught the glint of the camera's eye at the far end of the cage.
Miss Manners stepped bravely forward, Tim Kelly threw open the door and Duke became aware that he had a visitor. Beyond a slight lifting of his head, Duke remained motionless, regarding this charming stranger with polite and respectful interest. To tell the truth, Duke was rather partial to women. He remembered that in his circus days they had never prodded him with canes or umbrellas, and he placed that to their credit. Over in his corner Tommy Dennis drew a deep breath. It was a milkfed lion, after all!
"The whip! Show him the whip!"
Obedient to the whisper, Miss Manners drew the rawhide from a fold of her skirt and shook it under Duke's nose. Instantly the big brute rose upon his haunches, snarling and striking with his paws and filling the place with his angry protest.
"Ar-r-r-ugh! R-r-r-ugh!" scolded Duke, thinking of the swarthy man with the bad eye.
"Ye're doin' fine, Juke! Bully f'r you!" whispered Tim. "He's only bluffin', miss."
Tommy Dennis took a step forward, his knuckles whitening through the tan as his fingers closed convulsively.
"Don't lose your nerve!" he breathed. "Look him right in the eye!"
Even as the words were on his lips the transformation came. The girl wavered; the whip lowered uncertainly, and she turned slowly from the lion to the camera. Tommy read terror in the staring eyes—in the blind groping of the free hand—in the whole cringing attitude. He sensed panic in the sudden shifting of Montague and La Rue.
"She's afraid!" he groaned. "Why don't they do something?"
There was worse to come. Miss Manners crept toward the side of the cage, where she knelt cowering against the bars. Duke ceased to growl, but he could still see the whip; and, like the dependable actor he was, he continued to register emotion. He squatted on the floor to await developments, and his tail whisked in swift, nervous circles.
"Swell!" whispered Jimmy Montague. "That crouch makes him look as if he was going to do a jump. Establish yourself, Jack!"
Then it happened.
Charlie Dupree, counting his film foot by foot and congratulating himself upon an artistic success, caught a glimpse of a thunderbolt in pink-silk fleshings that shot into the picture from the void beyond the focal lines. Before Dupree could cry a warning, Jack La Rue, establishing himself at the cage door, was hurled violently to the ground, and high over the wild howls and imprecations of director and camera man rose a clarion call:
"It's all right! I'm coming!"
Being an animal man by instinct and training, Tim Kelly was geared up to meet emergencies rather more than halfway. As La Rue was doubled up by his double, Tim launched himself at Tommy's legs; but silk is slippery stuff, and not for nothing had Tommy been the star halfback of a football team. The flying tackle crumpled in a limp heap; Tommy snatched the iron bar from the petrified George, and the next instant he was inside the cage, brandishing the weapon.
Old Duke, still crouching, looked up just in time to receive a terrific blow full upon the tip of his sensitive nose.
"You would, would you!" howled Tommy.
The king of beasts covered his afflicted head with his paws, tucked his tail between his legs and humped his back to the storm. His piteous clamor took on a shrill note of hysteria.
"Run, Miss Manners! I've got him going!"
The command fell on deaf ears. Myrtle had given one terrified glance over her shoulder and fainted, thereby blocking entrance to the cage for several seconds.
To the everlasting credit of Charlie Dupree let it be recorded here that his good right hand did not miss a single revolution of the crank.
"Hey! Keep him in the corner!" yelled Dupree. "Swing round more! You'll cloak the action!"
Tommy Dennis was beyond orders, however, and Duke was past remaining in any corner. There was only one idea left in the lion's battered head, and that was to tear down the bars and escape from this maniac who pursued him so relentlessly and hit him so hard. The cage rocked to Duke's frantic assaults, and at each thump of the iron bar his agonized cries grew louder. His wildly roving eye fell upon the gap that had been made to admit the end of the camera—and Duke leaped for it, plunging his nose into the aperture below the ticking black box. Charlie Dupree grew suddenly pale, but his right hand did not falter.
"Back!" he roared. "You're out of the picture! Back!"
Then Tommy Dennis, reeling and dizzy, exhausted by violent exercise and excess of emotion, added a finishing touch to a remarkable performance. He aimed his valedictory at the top of Duke's head, between the ears, putting into the blow the last remaining ounce of his strength. The heavy bar descended squarely upon the top of the camera, smashing the delicate mechanism into a thousand pieces; and Charlie Dupree, festooned with ruined film but faithful to the last, continued to turn the piece of crank that remained in his hand.
The next thing Tommy knew the iron bar was whisked from his grasp and he was plucked backward, going down underneath an avalanche of striking, swearing humanity. Five strong men sat upon various portions of his person, and the one astride his shoulders seized him by the ears and banged his head upon the floor of the cage. This was Director J. Montague. Duke was whimpering in the far corner, his head in Tim Kelly's lap; and the animal man was weeping and cursing by turns.
"Kill him f'r me!" he raved. "The murdherin' scut has fair slaughtered the best actor we got!"
Tommy Dennis was sullenly collecting his few personal effects when Buck Parvin burst into the dressing-room, out of breath and panting.
"What's this I hear? What's this! Tommy, they tell me you saved the lady, all right; but you saved her so strong that the whole gang had to tear into the cage to save the lion! What kind of a guy are you anyway? Just my fool luck to be down at the hawss corrals and miss a show like that! Did they can you for it?"
Tommy nodded. Then, after a silence:
"What do they say about it?"
"Well," said Buck judiciously, "different people says different things. Now there's Tim Kelly. I seen him before I come away from the farm. Tim says Duke won't never get his tail out from between his legs if he lives to be older 'n Methuselah, an' that, as a movin'-picture lion, he's through—loss o' confidence, and all that stuff. I don't know 'bout the confidence part of it; but, from what I seen, Duke sure is shy a lot of scalp, an' he's got a couple of front teeth that might's well be on a watch-charm as where they are."
"Darn it!" said Tommy. "I think they might have told me what the action was going to be!"
"Ye-ep, they might, at that," said Buck; "but how could they figure you was goin' to go for that lion the way you did? Then there's Dupree, the photographer guy. I seen him cryin' over what's left of his tick-tick. He says he could forgive you for doublin' La Rue at the wrong time, and he ain't got no kick on what you done to the lion; but when you caved in that box it looks like you lost a wellwisher. He 'lows as how he hadn't missed a move you made an' was gettin' a wonderful picture of you a-fannin' that ole snoozer on the bean, when—blooie! And there he was, kneedeep in busted glass and loose film. You'd better try not to meet that guy when you go out—he's hostile! Then there's Montague. Jimmy says you made a bum of the grandest scenario he ever wrote."
"Did anybody else say anything?"
"Well, yes," said Buck. "Myrtle—she was kind of mentionin' you in spots—a little."
"What did she say?"
"I heard her tellin' La Rue that you'd spoiled the best piece of actin' she'd ever done, an' then beat up the lion so horrible they couldn't never get no makeover on it. What made her sorest was that you'd been ribbin' her up to keep her nerve an' then you went an' lost yours!"
"Me?" demanded Tommy. "Lost my nerve—after what I did to that lion!"
"That's what the lady said," remarked Buck, rolling a brown-paper cigarette. "The way she figures it out, you got scared and went kind of daffy!"
There was a silence of two full minutes while Tommy crammed his belongings into his suitcase.
"That does settle it!" he said bitterly. "And I thought I was risking my life—for that!"
Buck Parvin peered at the boy through the smoke as it rose from his nostrils. When he spoke there was something almost like sympathetic understanding in his tone.
"Son," he said, "Uncle Buck—he knows how you feel. He tried to do a lady a favor once by beatin' up her husband when he had a beatin' coming. Spanish lady she was—down in the Pecos country. Ever seen that scar across my ribs?... That's the thanks I got!... Women an' lions—lions an' women—look out for 'em, Tommy! Both of 'em scratch!"