Buck Parvin and the Movies/The International Cup
THE INTERNATIONAL CUP
DAVID SELIGMAN, the vice-president of the Titan Company, with offices on Fifth Avenue, studios in Chicago and Los Angeles, and films at work the wide world over, was more of a sport than a sportsman.
His knowledge of athletics was confined to baseball, as witnessed from a box at the Polo Grounds on a warm Saturday afternoon. What he knew about the national game would not have filled a volume; but what he knew about all other sports and pastimes might have been written in a large round hand upon the back of a postage stamp. Still his reading of the daily papers included a casual survey of the sporting pages; for said he:
"You never know when an idea for a picture is going to hit you or where it is going to come from."
In proof of this statement he laid down his paper one morning and fired a question at his secretary, Marco Lazarus.
"This polo thing—what is it?"
"Polo?" said Marco. "That's a game, Mr. Seligman."
"Sure it's a game! I didn't think it was a business. What I want to know is this: How do they play it?"
"With horses," said Marco, "and long-handled hammers, and a white ball. Once I saw it out at Van Cortlandt Park; and, believe me, there was fine action to it."
"Horses!" said Seligman. "That's right in our line. Send a wire to Montague that he must make a polo picture at once. With all these English lords and dukes coming here next month to play for a cup, and the papers full of it already, everybody is going to be interested in polo. It's new stuff too. A good picture ought to make a mint of money. Tell Montague to rush it!"
"Cert'nly," said Lazarus; "but what if Montague can't get any big league polo players in Los Angeles? You know how hard it is to get anything in them small Western towns, Mr. Seligman. Maybe they don't know what polo is out there."
"A man who lives in Yonkers should know about California!" grunted Dave with withering sarcasm. "Take a trip sometime and go West until you wet your feet in the Pacific Ocean, and everywhere you find skyscrapers and apartment houses, and electric lights and turkey-trotting. And even if Jimmy Montague was sitting on a deserted island in the middle of Salt Lake he would get us what we want. If the fellow falls down on the real stuff he sends us a fake so much better than the original that there is no comparison at all. Wire him at once!"
Jimmy Montague, producing director for the Titan Company and maker of miracles to order, bit hard upon his stubby cigar as he read that telegram.
"Here's a hot one!" said he to Sam Packard, the purchasing agent. "Seligman wants a polo picture and he wants it quick! Now who ever told him there was such a game as that in the world? 'To take advantage of interest in international cup series,' is what he says. Confound Dave! I wish he'd let me alone. Here I'm giving him a picture a week regular as clockwork, and I've got my plans made a month ahead. Next week I wanted to do some water stuff over at Catalina, and here comes this fool telegram—and I have to drop everything. A polo picture! Have we got a polo expert round here?"
"Not that I know of," said Packard. "I tried to stick through one polo match, but it outgamed me. When they began to serve afternoon tea I beat it. Imagine stopping a fellow in the middle of a hot mixup to ask him whether he'd have lemon or cream in his oolong!"
"That's the very thing that is going to make this a tough stunt to get away with," said Montague. "We've got to have the afternoon-tea atmosphere to this picture or it won't get by with the people who know. Polo is a rich man's game—an Englishman's game—and I don't see how we can get any of the real people to fall for us! Our cowpunchers can ride all right enough, but they'd look awful bad in a tea-drinking scene, and they haven't got the right kind of horses either. I know just the sort of men I want, but how the deuce am I going to get 'em? Gee! I wish Dave Seligman would go to Europe again and the boats would quit running for about a year! Every time he horns in with one of his royal commands there's trouble. He put the curse on the jungle stuff, and what happened? Old Duke, the lion, got such a flailing he won't ever be any good in a picture again—and we lost a new camera. I wonder if Ben Leslie knows anything about polo? I'll ask him."
Ben Leslie was the property man—a person of few words and many amazing experiences, each one of which had taught him something worth remembering. He appeared, thoughtfully chewing fine-cut tobacco—an expression of settled melancholy upon his thin features.
"Say, Ben, do you know anything about polo?" asked Montague.
"That horseback croquet?" Leslie shook his head. "I should hope not! Ask Buck Parvin. He claims he invented it."
"I knew I'd get some sort of a tip from Ben," said Montague. "He knows everything in the world—that fellow! Where's Buck?"
Buck was discovered in the extra men's dressing-room at work on a new hatband, an intensely patriotic affair, heavy with red, white and blue beads. Parvin was expecting to work in a Western picture; consequently he was attired in full regalia—angora chaps, spurs, leather vest, and a remarkable collection of cheap silver ornaments. A quirt gay with beadwork hung from his wrist as he jingled into the director's office.
"Welcome, little one!" said Montague. "They tell me you know something about polo."
"Whoever told you that sure spoke a mouthful for once," said Buck modestly. "I reckon I ought to know something about polo! Why, say, man—me and old Butch DeVries wrote the game!"
"Quit kidding!" said Montague. "I want to know."
"And I'm telling you," said Buck. "Polo? Didn't I have a job down on the DeVries Ranch, at Saspamco, trainin' polo ponies for the New York market! And didn't our bunch go over to the fort at San Antone and whale the everlasting socks off the best cavalry team in the country? No—I reckon I just fell asleep and dreamed that! You ask them cavalry people if Buck Parvin knows anything about polo. They'll tell you it's my middle name. Why, look here, Jim—I can do stuff with them wooden balls that ain't possible nohow! I can——"
"Yes, yes!" said Montague. "I'll take your word for it. We want to make a polo picture in a hurry. Can you get the stuff?"
"All but the players," said Buck. "Them Pasadena stables are chock-full of brokendown polo ponies; they rent 'em to tourists for saddle animals. They look all right, but they can't play polo no more—knees busted up mostly. Then we've got to have some of them flat saddles—English postage stamps I call 'em. I know where I can land a few. Gimme five big iron dollars to oil up a friend of mine what works at the Polo Club and he'll come through with pith helmets, mallets and balls for further orders. Gimme ten and I'll make him borrow some boots for us."
"Nothing could be fairer than that," said Montague. "We can fake up something that'll look like a game."
"Don't kid yourself," said Buck. "You can't fake polo strong enough to fool anybody that ever saw the real game. Believe me, the worst-looking thing in the world is a guy tryin' to fourflush on one of them flat English saddles. You can't get by with a fake, Jim; you got to have a few players. Now, what you ought to do is to hire some of them skinny Englishmen. They not only play the game to beat the band but, doggone 'em, they look it! There's something about a lean, blond boy with a loose chin and buck teeth that sort of reminds me of polo—just like a dago makes me think of a hand-organ."
"Holy cat!" ejaculated Montague. "If I could only pick up a typical Englishman or two I could put this picture across and call it 'The International Cup.' I wonder if we could get a few of 'em to stand for a movie stunt? Do you know any, Buck?"
"Not no more, I don't. We had one down to the ranch at Saspamco. I sailed in to lick him once for saying that George Washington wasn't so much and that the best he ought to had was a draw. If those old time Englishmen that come over here to rough-house us for puttin' salt water in their tea could fight like the bird I tangled up with, my hat is off to George—that's all! He must have been there forty ways from the middle of the deck! Yes, sir; ole Cuthbert sure taught me to appreciate history."
Montague paused for reflection.
"Any polo games coming off round here soon?" he asked.
"Not till next month," said Buck. "The Kanakas are going to play here then."
"Can't wait that long," said Jimmy. "I was thinking we could get permission to put a camera on the field and use the pictures of a real match for cut-ins. We'll have to do the best we can with cowpunchers. If I could only land an Englishman or two ! One typical London Johnny would help a lot."
"Why not advertise?" suggested Packard. "You might pick up a remittance man. Those younger sons are always broke."
"And proud as Lucifer!" said Montague. "Still, we might try it, though. You never can tell. I'll stick an ad in the morning papers, giving the street address. If you'd say moving pictures' to an Englishman he'd drop dead!"
"Lovely billiards!" said Buck. "I hope you get enough for a mess. And lemme give you a million dollars' worth of advice for nothing: If you should happen to gaff a sure-enough Englishman don't go braggin' to him about what a great fighter George Washington was. That's how I come to get showed up that time. Just let George stand pat on the record book. Why, say, that crazy Cuthbert galoot made me stand up in the bunkhouse with nothing on me but a shirt and sing God Save the King! to the tune of My Country, 'Tis of Thee. And if that ain't rubbing it in I don't know what is. Then he made me save the whole royal family—one at a time—with a sawed-off shotgun. You listen to your Uncle Buck! Some of them Englishmen are so plumb ignorant and bigoted that they don't give a damn whether the Revolutionary War is over yet or not."
Mr. Kenneth Clifford Devenham sat on the edge of the bed in his lilac-silk pajamas and made a mental inventory of his possessions, beginning with the flat pocketbook on the table and ending with the fat wardrobe trunk in the corner. Somewhere between the two he arrived at the conclusion that he was facing a grave crisis in his temporal affairs.
"Silly ass—to spend all that money at the Grand Cañon!" said Kenneth Clifford to himself. "Now I presume I shall have to go to work—or something of the sort. It won't be for long, of course; and I dare say I shall find it interesting—as an experience."
Having settled the matter in his own mind, the young man rose, treated himself to a refreshing cold shower and dressed with scrupulous care. He was fortunate in possessing youth, optimism, a sunny disposition and a good appetite. These assets were untouched by temporary financial disaster, and he was not particularly dismayed by the thought that, for a time, he must depend upon his own resources. This was California, was it not—the land of opportunity?
True, the money that should have lasted for six months had vanished in four, but Kenneth Clifford had enjoyed every day of the vanished period. He had met many charming people in America and had done his best to repay hospitality in kind. The money had taken wings, but it had fluttered gloriously before flying away.
It was also true that he might have sent an urgent cablegram to Battersby, his solicitor; but there were several reasons why it was best that Battersby should know nothing of his predicament. The memory of Kenneth Clifford's last interview with that excellent old gentleman was still green. He recalled it now in painful detail.
"Remember, Mr. Devenham," Battersby had said, "it was your father's express wish that his estate should be so administered that the disbursing periods occur semi-annually. His orders were definite—I might almost say positive—that under no circumstances should they be shortened. Under no circumstances! I believe it was his idea that these extended periods would teach you to live within your means."
Battersby had looked searchingly at Kenneth Clifford; and the young man, flushing slightly, had replied to the effect that the "guv'nor" had always entertained an entirely erroneous opinion as to his business capacity.
"You shall see," he had remarked with a somewhat lordly air, "that these—er—precautions are quite unnecessary. Quite! I have no intention of making an ass of myself and going beyond my means. I shall get on very comfortably under the present arrangement, I assure you."
"Comfortably is not the word!" Battersby had squeaked. "Luxuriously, my dear sir—luxuriously! The amount you are to receive in a lump sum twice a year is more than ample for one without incumbrances of any sort. I sincerely trust you may find it so."
"You may have no fear." Kenneth Clifford had said this in his most positive manner, striking the floor smartly with his stick to show how much he meant it.
"How long do you expect to remain in America?"
"That I cannot say," the young man had answered. "Possibly I may never return to England at all; in fact, I think it is quite likely. I may marry in the States and grow up with the country—and—and all that sort of thing, you know."
"That would be a pity!" Battersby had said. "A very great pity!"
Kenneth Clifford had thought so himself and, what was more, had devoutly hoped that Alice Burwell might think so, too, seeing that the hardness of that young woman's heart was driving him to lands afar.
The statement to his solicitor as to matrimonial probabilities did not quite coincide with one he had made the night before, when he had asked a certain young woman a certain question for the ninth time in six months, and had received a certain answer.
"I shall go away," Kenneth Clifford had murmured in broken tones—for at least he had done his best to break them—"I shall go away and not annoy you any more. India or South Africa or the States—somewhere. You will never see me again, Alice. Never!" Then, as the lady had not urged him to reconsider when the cue had been so plainly given, he had added rather hastily: "Unless, of course, you change your mind. One word, dear, and I'll catch the first boat.... No; I shall not write. Too much like—er—prolonging the agony. Old Battersby will know my address; I shall keep in touch with him wherever I am. Would you mind if I kissed you just once—for good-by! I beg your pardon! I suppose I should have known better. I thought—but it really doesn't matter what I thought, does it? Quite right! Don't forget, Alice, that Battersby will know where I am, and one word from you—eh? I assure you, on my honor, that I am quite serious! This time it is really good-by."
Kenneth Clifford thought of all these things as he got into his clothes. In a way it was a bit unfortunate, he reflected, that he had gone so strong with Battersby as to future intentions; but having committed himself there remained nothing but to "play the game," as he would have expressed it.
If pride had been unable to stay his hand from the cablegram blank there was another and more powerful incentive to take his medicine in becoming silence. Battersby was also Miss Burwell's solicitor, and Kenneth Clifford had reason to believe that the old gentleman regarded Alice with a fatherly eye. What if he should so far sink the professional in the paternal as to mention the fact that young Devenham—silly goat!—had squandered two thousand pounds in four months? Kenneth Clifford shuddered at the thought. He happened to be well acquainted with Miss Burwell's views on wasters.
Battersby, then, besides being the disbursing agent, was the last line of communication left open between the young man and the object of what he was sadly pleased to term a hopeless but undying affection. Battersby might even become a friend at court—and Kenneth Clifford knew that he stood in sore need of one.
Certainly there was nothing about the young man's manner of ordering breakfast that suggested mental strain.
"Melon, pot of coffee, rolls, rasher of bacon, three soft-boiled eggs. Oh, I say, waiter! If you were out of a situation what would you do?"
The waiter was Irish and therefore equal to emergencies.
"I should go down to union headquarters, sir."
"Ah!" Then, after a pause: "Quite so. But if there were no union headquarters?"
"In that case, sir," said the intelligent waiter, "I think I should buy a morning paper and look in the Male Help Wanted columns, sir."
"Yes, of course—of course!" said Kenneth Clifford. "I should never have thought of that."
An hour later, newspaper in hand, he approached the desk clerk, his manner a mixture of surprise and mild indignation.
"I say, look here!" said Kenneth Clifford. "Do you really mean to tell me that you have professional polo teams in this country? Upon my word, I never heard of such a thing!"
"Neither did I," said the clerk; "but it's getting so now in this country that everybody's out for the dough. Professional polo? I don't believe it's played round here."
"Read this!" said Kenneth Clifford accusingly. He spread the paper on the desk and indicated a paragraph.
WANTED—Polo players; Englishmen preferred. Good money to right parties. Apply to J. Montague, 1525 B Avenue, City. 9 a. m. to 4 p. m.
"Well, what do you know about that!" ejaculated the clerk.
"My dear fellow," expostulated Kenneth Clifford, "I know nothing about it, else I should not have troubled you. Professional polo! It's the most extraordinary thing I ever heard of in my life! Most extraordinary!"
"Why don't you look into it?" suggested the clerk, who was used to providing entertainment for world-worn tourists.
"I shall—this very day. Call me a taxi!"
"Say, Jim! There 's a fellow in the front office who looks like seven million dollars! He came out in one of them multiplication tables on wheels, and it's waiting for him. He wants to see you, but he won't say what for."
"Send him in!" said Montague, interrupted in the middle of his polo scenario.
Jimmy Montague had a wonderfully quick eye for detail, as every successful director must have. Even as his thumb-nail grated inquiringly over the engraved surface of the card, his trained eye appraised the visitor from the top of his sleek, blond head to the soles of his heavy shoes. "What a type!" he thought. "Oh, what a comedy type!" But aloud he said:
"What can I do for you, Mr.—Devenham?"
"You can give me work, I hope," was the totally unexpected response. Kenneth Clifford, with British bluntness, had gone straight to the heart of the matter.
Even then Jimmy Montague failed to comprehend the situation. He was temporarily dazed by an atmosphere of money, taste—and something else he would have characterized as "heaps of class." Extra men seldom call in taxicabs.
"Work?" said Jimmy. "Are—are you an actor?"
"Eh? I beg pardon. An actor, did you say?"
"Yes. Can you act? Have you had any experience?"
Kenneth Clifford blinked his pale blue eyes and stared vacantly.
"Oh, I say!" he remonstrated. "I'm dashed if I see what acting has to do with it—I am, really! I've done a bit in the way of amateur theatricals and all that sort of thing—every fellow has, you know—but, hang it all, what has acting to do with polo?"
Jimmy Montague took his turn at staring.
"Are you a polo player?" he demanded.
"I am," said Kenneth Clifford. "That is what I came to see you about."
Jimmy Montague leaned back in his chair and roared. Kenneth Clifford rose rather stiffly.
"You will pardon me," he said. "If this is an American joke——"
"Hold on!" said Montague hastily. "Don't go away mad! Sit down! I want to talk with you." Kenneth Clifford seated himself on the extreme edge of a chair and regarded Montague steadily. "Now, then," said the director, "do you know what sort of a place this is?"
The young man shook his head. Politeness kept him from expressing the opinion that it was a private madhouse.
"It's a moving-picture studio," said Montague.
"Oh, I say!" cried Kenneth Clifford. "Is it—really! Where they make the films—eh? I've never seen one before!"
He looked about him with wide-eyed interest.
"Yes, this is where we make the films. And if it's work you're after, you're engaged now."
"Look here," said Kenneth Clifford, "how do you know I'd suit?"
"You'll suit, all right!" said Montague with a grin. "And if you'll only be natural in front of a camera you can't help being a tremendous hit."
Kenneth Clifford bent his cane across his knee and rocked back and forth, laughing until the tears came into his eyes.
"This is ripping!" he gasped at last. "I came here to play polo and now I'm an actor! Haw! Haw! Haw! You do things so fast in this country!"
"We have to in this business," said Jimmy Montague. "You'll have a chance to play polo too. We're going to make a polo picture, and you're exactly the type I've been looking for. I'd have picked you out of a thousand men. How are you fixed for riding clothes?"
"Fixed?" said Kenneth Clifeord. "I have them—if that is what you mean."
"Bully!" said Montague. "Got a frock coat and a silk hat!"
"Of—course!" said Kenneth Clifford, feeling very much as if he had been asked whether he owned a change of underwear.
"Move all your junk out to the Marchmont Hotel, in Pasadena," said Jimmy. "Most of the pictures will have to be made out there—the polo scenes and the high-society stuff, you know. We pay all expenses. You'll get five, dollars a day clear. How does that strike you?"
"That will do very nicely."
"It's rather more than we pay extra men, as a rule," said the director; "but I'm going to, write you a part in this picture. It'll give you a chance to show what you can do."
"That's very kind, I'm sure," said the young man—and he took his whirling brain out into the open air.
"What a lark!" he chuckled. "A moving-picture actor! This is an experience! I wonder what I shall look like in the films?"
This last point was one upon which Jimmy Montague had no doubts.
"Oh, that face!" said the director as he tore a half-finished scenario into bits. "A typical bloody, bloomin' Britisher, don't ye know! You couldn't mistake him for anything else. Write him a part? He's going to be the whole bally show!"
Whereupon Mr. James Montague set about writing a moving-picture drama round his one Heaven-sent Englishman—just as he would have written a scenario round a giraffe or a hippopotamus, or any other queer creature at the animal farm. Canned drama to order was Jimmy Montague's specialty, and he knew his business.
All went well with "The International Cup."
The manager of the Marchmont Hotel, scenting advertising from afar and esteeming publicity no less than his right eye, was more than willing that porches and lawns should serve as locations for the high-society stuff; and many of the guests entered into the affair so thoroughly that Charlie Dupree complained aloud.
"Never saw so many goats in my life!" said the camera man. "Soon as they see me turn the crank they want to run and get in the picture, and wave their hands and holler: 'Oh, you!' They must think this is a joke and film doesn't cost anything."
Buck's friend at the Polo Club inclined his ear to reason and disgorged pith helmets, mallets with warped handles, chipped balls and second-hand boots.
The club members themselves—when it was pointed out to them that a moving picture would bring Southern California polo prominently before the eyes of the world—saw no reason why they should refuse the use of the clubhouse and playing field to such a suave gentleman as Mr. Montague.
Buck Parvin collected a noble aggregation of dickey-legged ponies, which looked all the polo they were no longer able to play; and, to Jimmy Montague's great joy, Buck also unearthed three English grooms. When incased in riding breeches, tan boots, silk shirts and pith helmets they came near resembling the real thing—and, with Kenneth Clifford, they were to represent Old England before the camera; while Buck Parvin and three cowpuncher friends were to bear the Stars and Stripes gallantly through countless feet of film.
"It won't be so awfully rotten," said Montague to Buck judicially as he watched Kenneth Clifford Devenham twisting a wiry little red pony in and out between the goal posts, back of which Charlie Dupree was at work focusing his camera.
"Huh!" said Buck, whose bowlegs were painfully apparent in English riding breeches. "It won't be rotten at all. If the ponies don't play out on us we ought to get some darned good action stuff. Take Lord Algy over there—he sure is some polo player! The flunkies ain't so worse when you take a quick flash at 'em, and my boys have been workin' out on them postage stamps for three days. They'll get by all right, but a flat English saddle gets a cowpuncher's goat at first. That Lord Algy—say, he's the pure quill in Englishmen, ain't he? Yes, sir—the clear catnip! You won't make any mistake if you shove that mug of his right up against the camera—they won't take him for no Swede—I tell you those, Jim! Now you know what I meant when I said some Englishmen remind me of polo. He's one."
"Yes; he's the type," said Montague. "Did you see him make that backhanded swipe a while ago? Caught the ball right in the air!"
"Oh, he savvies what side of a hawss to get on at!" said Buck. "And he sure does recognize a polo pony when he sees one. Them grooms—they was all for pickin' out the good-lookers; but Algy, he nosed through the bunch, tried out a few, and then froze to that homely little red runt—the best polo pony in the string. That's Brandy—used to belong to a rich guy down at Riverside. If we knew as much polo as that little red trick, we could write a book about it.... You know, Jim, I kind of like that Englishman! He's so darned wide open and simple, and talks right off his chest. I was askin' him a few questions just to feel him out. He says he started in to buy the Grand Cañon on the instalment plan, but there was too much of it and his dough petered. That's why he's working. Didn't make no bones about it at all and takes the whole thing as a joke. Yes, sir; he's all right! I reckon he knows the war is over. How was he in that high-society stuff over at the hotel this morning? Did he deliver?"
"Right square in the camera's eye," said Montague enthusiastically. "Fell into it as if he hadn't done anything else all his life. When it comes to wearing clothes as if they'd been made for him, and doing the little social stunts, he makes the rest of us look like a lot of hack-drivers dressed up."
"Shucks!" said Parvin. "There's a lot in the way you're raised. Now me—I never even seen one of them claw-hammer coats till I was risin' nineteen; and the first one I ever had on my back was when you made me work in that poker scene. I was scairt stiff for fear the darn thing was goin' to come undone somewheres. It sort of made me feel that I had to begin to act and be genteel, and stick my little finger out when I took a drink; but Lord Algy—say, it wouldn't surprise me if he's been dressed up so often that he don't mind it at all! It's come to be second nature with him."
"He's a bully find!" said Montague. "If he sticks long enough I'll have him in a lot of pictures. "We could do some Western stuff, with him as the tenderfoot—have him ride a bucker, and all that sort of thing.... Buck, how do you score in this fool game?"
"You lam the ball through between the posts!" said Parvin. "Who's got to win, Jim—or does the dope call for a winner?"
"English team wins," said Montague.
"I like your crust," grunted Buck. "I reckon you don't know what an elegant trimming them hands across the sea got the last time they was over here. What's the idea? Algy wins and cops out the swell heiress?"
"Something like that," said the director-author. "He wins Myrtle."
"Why don't you let me win Myrtle once in a while?" demanded Buck. "Fix up a love scene that'll let me hold that leadin' lady's hand for about a thousand feet and you won't have to gimme no dough for it!... All right! Pay off on Lord Algy! Put them English flags up on the goal posts, and me and the rest of the American citizens will crowd in and wallop a few hot ones for Algy to stop. That shows him defending the English goal—see! Then we'll stick up the American flags, and Algy and the noble grooms can shoot a few goals through me. That shows 'em winning. I reckon I better whang a few in there myself to make it look like a close game, and don't forget to tell them boneheaded extry people in the automobiles to wave the right flags and yell every time the ball goes between the posts. How about me faking a fall!"
"Go to it!" said Montague. "Only don't forget that Algy is the star. You always were a frightful film-cannibal, Buck."
"Oh, I don't know!" said Parvin. "I ain't got much on you when it comes to bein' a footage-hog. I've seen you eat up sixty or seventy feet just to die in—many's the time."
"But I play the heavies, and the villain always dies hard," grinned Montague.
"Yes; and you write the pieces too," said Buck. "I notice these scenario writer-actors don't take none the worst of it."
"All right, Charlie!" said the director, moving over behind the camera. "I want both the goal posts in."
"You've got 'em," said the camera man.
"Buck, get on a pony and stand there between the posts!" ordered Montague. "We want to get the horse-height. And don't cut any higher over his head than you have to, Charlie. I don't want too much sky in this picture."
Thanks to Buck's vociferous coaching and Kenneth Clifford's clean, sweeping strokes, the polo scenes passed off successfully.
Buck, who would not be cheated out of his specialty, improvised a thrilling bit in which he raced straight at the camera, Kenneth Clifford in pursuit, with orders to turn the ball at the last instant if possible. Just as Devenham thundered alongside, Buck pitched clear out of the saddle; and Kenneth Clifford capped the climax with a slashing backhand stroke, executed so close to the camera that Charlie Dupree heard the smash of the mallet as it descended. Even the blasé Jimmy Montague yelled at this hair-raising bit of action; but, as soon as the camera man ceased to turn, Kenneth Clifford was out of his saddle and bending over the prostrate Buck.
"Charlie, get some of that quick!" cried Montague. "It ain't in the scene, but it's great stuff!"
"My dear fellow!'* said Kenneth Clifford. "That was a nasty tumble! I hope you're not hurt!"
Up to this time Buck, with true dramatic instinct, had not moved a muscle. As he felt Kenneth Clifford's arm about him he sat up and spat out a mouthful of dirt.
"Hurt!" he said. "It's worse than that. Here I go and pull one of the swellest falls of my life and you swing in across me and cloak the action. We got to do it over again, Algy; and, for the love of Mike, gimme a chance to register that fall on the film! Let the camera see me do it!"
At last everyone was satisfied, including Buck, who got his fall in; and Montague assembled the entire company and the extra people for the final scene on the polo field.
Miss Myrtle Manners, the leading woman, very lovely in a trim-fitting afternoon gown and a picture hat, left the high-wheeled trap in which she had been sitting and approached the sidelines.
"Now, then," said Montague, "here's the blowoff. This is supposed to take place at the end of the game. Devenham, what's the customary thing to do just at the finish?"
Kenneth Clifford blinked.
"Why," said he, "everyone has a brandy and soda."
"Good idea!" said Montague. "I don't know whether the censors will stand for that, but we'll try to put it over on 'em. But what do they do on the field?"
"Oh!" said Kenneth Clifford. "The losers cheer the winners—swing their mallets, and all that sort of thing. Then the winners cheer and everybody shakes hands."
"That's what I want!" said Montague.
"Now here's the action: Myrtle, you stand here on the sidelines. The players will bunch up on the field and cheer. When they do that, Myrtle, you register joy and pride. Then, Devenham, you break away from the bunch and ride over here as fast as you can. See this little piece of paper on the ground? That's where you dismount. Then you cross over this way, toward the camera, and take Miss Manners in your arms——"
"Oh, I say!" expostulated Kenneth Clifford. "It's not done on the polo field—that sort of thing! Really, it isn't!"
"It is in this case," said Montague. "You're supposed to be in love with this lady and she's supposed to be in love with you."
"Oh, I say!" murmured Kenneth Clifford again, staring at Miss Manners.
"That's the action," said Montague. "Better rehearse it a few times.... Not at all like it!" said the director after the first attempt. "You're too stiff, Devenham! Watch me once!"
Montague embraced the lady fervently, much to Kenneth Clifford's amazement; but he profited by the lesson, and after the third rehearsal the director signaled the camera man to make the picture.
"Say, Jimmy," said Miss Manners, "don't you think it would be better if he kissed me? That would be the natural thing to do, you know."
Kenneth Clifford gasped.
"Sure!" said Montague. "As soon as you put your arms round her, Devenham, kiss her—and don't cloak the action when you do it."
"Do I really kiss her—or just make believe?" asked Kenneth Clifford. "It seems such a cheeky thing to do—rather."
"Use your own judgment," said Buck. "If it was me I'd give that lady a real good smack and take a chance on a bawl-out afterward. Jimmy Montague, he always kisses her on the square when he's workin' in a love scene with her; but then—Jim's the director."
"Ah!" said Kenneth Clifford.
"Ready—Action—Go!" shouted the director.
Kenneth Clifford did not kiss the beautiful leading lady, though he was sorely tempted to do so. It would have taken a film expert to tell the difference, however; and as his lips grazed hers he murmured something that caused the young woman to hide her face upon his shoulder to cloak a smile.
"Only fancy, Miss Manners!" he whispered. "They actually pay me a pound a day—for this! I should pay them—really!"
The first time Alice Burwell refused to marry Kenneth Clifford she was convinced that she meant her "No" to be final. The second time she was not quite so sure; and the other seven times she refused him purely from habit.
Kenneth Clifford's broken good-by did not move the lady to any great extent. That also had become a habit. Beginning with the fourth refusal, he had not once failed to conclude the ceremony with a touching little speech of farewell, always with the same little quiver in his voice. On one occasion he had been quite certain he was going to India to be eaten by tigers; again it had been Johannesburg; and the third time he favored New Zealand. After the eighth refusal he purchased a ticket to Paris. These things being so. Miss Burwell was the least little bit indignant when she learned that Kenneth Clifford had really sailed for America.
She waited confidently for a letter, but no such missive arrived. At the end of two months Miss Burwell's surprise was entirely swallowed up in indignation.
Still, if he did not care to write she would never be the one to break the silence. Having satisfied herself upon this point, Miss Burwell called upon Battersby—on business, of course—and Kenneth Clifford's name was mentioned, quite by accident.
"Yes," said the solicitor; "I hear from him regularly. His latest plan is to buy a ranch in the Rocky Mountains near Chicago. He says America is a vast country and the people are most charming."
"Indeed!" said the young woman. "He will remain abroad indefinitely then?"
"So he leads me to believe," remarked Battersby. "It seems a pity, my dear."
"Not at all," said Miss Burwell. "He is old enough to know his own mind; and if he prefers America to England——"
After she had gone Battersby shook his gray head and sighed.
At the end of five months Miss Burwell went to London to visit her aunt. She had reached a state of mind bordering on acute exasperation. Fortunately for London, the young woman was not in the least interested in the Militant Suffrage movement, else had she become what our harassed English cousins term a Bashibazoukess—a lady with a hammer in one hand and a suitcase full of petrol in the other. Alice Burwell was ripe for window-smashing and fiery demonstrations. One may refuse a young man often enough to form the habit, but it is most exasperating to have that young man calmly accept the habit as incurable. The best thing about our habits is the firm belief that we can break ourselves of them at any time.
In London Alice met many young men, some of whom were bright, some stupid, some timid and some overbold. None pleased her; but this would have been hard to guess by her feverish gayety when in company. When alone she played the piano softly in the twilight and sang old songs in an indifferent contralto voice.
One afternoon Miss Burwell slipped into a moving-picture theater. She did not like moving pictures, for they usually made her head ache; but the posters outside depicted the hazards and hardships of life in the Wild West, and she was interested in the subject.
The picture flickering upon the screen was a disappointment. Instead of cowboys and Indians she saw men in pith helmets and white riding breeches careening furiously about a polo field. She closed her eyes to wait for the Indians.
"Look sharp there! He'll ride you down!"
A voice spoke behind her in accents of warning, and Alice opened her eyes. Two players swept into the foreground—one slightly in advance, the other in pursuit. There was a collision; the first rider pitched out of his saddle, and through the dust haze a single figure came dashing, mallet flung aloft. Alice Burwell saw nothing but the face of the rider, life-size upon the canvas, and seemingly so close that she might have touched it by stretching out her hand. There was no mistaking a single feature of that honest and not too handsome countenance. She recognized it at once—would have recognized it anywhere. The man on the polo pony was none other than the recreant Kenneth Clifford. Miss Burwell's fingers closed convulsively upon the handle of her parasol; and if all the truth must be told she made a noise like a startled hen.
The picture disappeared and in its place was an announcement—Love Triumphant.
Again Kenneth Clifford came riding straight into the picture. She saw him fling himself from his pony and leap forward eagerly—and then, and not till then, she saw the girl. With the smile she knew so well, Kenneth Clifford took the stranger in his arms and—yes—he kissed her! Kissed her with all those people looking on! Shame! Before the girl hid her face upon Kenneth Clifford's shoulder there was ample time to see that she was very, very beautiful.
That was enough for Miss Burwell. She left the theater and went for a long walk.
The next afternoon she dodged a bridge party and went back to the moving-picture theater. This time she saw the entire film—Kenneth Clifford arriving at the hotel in a smart trap; Kenneth Clifford escorting the lovely stranger over the lawn; Kenneth Clifford in an earnest tête-à-tête upon the veranda—oh, if she only understood lip-reading! Kenneth Clifford drinking tea, which she knew he loathed and had always refused at her hands! Again she saw him flashing about the polo field—again she saw him ride toward the sidelines; but this time she was watching the girl. What sort of woman was it who would actually return a kiss before such a cloud of witnesses?
One of the theater attachés was an obliging youth, who answered as many of her questions as he could.
"Carn't say, miss; but she's some American actress.... Yes, miss; they 'ave regular companies, same as in the theaters. We recognize the faces from seein' 'em so frequentlike.... 'Im? A new one, miss.... Clever actor, ain't 'e? Somewheres in the States.... Titan Company is wot they calls it.... Thank you, miss!"
Alice went straight to the nearest telegraph office, where she addressed a brief message to Hubert Battersby, Solicitor.
"Why, listen to reason, Algy!" argued Buck. "What do you want to blow the job for? Extry man a couple of months ago, an' now you're playin' a line of special leads while La Rue is on his vacation. Seventy-five a week! Pretty soft—if you ask me! What do you want, anyway?"
They were sitting outside the studio at the Titan headquarters, dressed in the regulation Western garb as it is seen in the movies. Jimmy Montague was putting the finishing touches on a work of art entitled "My Lord the Tenderfoot," with Kenneth Clifford in the name part.
He had been tossed in a blanket by hilarious cowpunchers, dumped into a creek, thrown off a bucking broncho, and treed by Jeff, the tame bear from the animal farm. He had rescued the ranchman's daughter from drowning, saved the property from foreclosure, foiled the wicked foreman, and had but one more scene to play, in which he was to win the lovely Myrtle Manners for the seventh time since he had been an actor. Jimmy Montague was not the man to waste a perfect type when he had one.
"What do you want to quit for, Algy!" persisted Buck. "Feet itchin' to be travelin' again, or what!"
"My dear fellow," said Kenneth Clifford, "I've had a charming experience. I shall never forget it—really; but the truth of the matter is, I've a bit of money coming, which should be here to-morrow. It's from my father's estate—a matter of four thousand a year."
"Four—thousand—dollars!" said he reverently. "No wonder you want to quit! If I had four thousand cents I'd quit with you."
"Not dollars. Buck—pounds, old fellow—pounds!"
Parvin's chin sagged and his tobacco sack slipped from his fingers.
"Wait a minute!" he pleaded. "Look me right between the eyes—I think my mind is going. Now, then, hand it to me easy; there's heart disease in my family. Four thousand pounds a year! Is that twenty thousand dollars in our money, or do I just think so?"
"Something like that," said Kenneth Clifford, grinning.
Buck slid limply off the bench, wiggling his fingers feebly.
"Air!" he murmured. "Gimme air! My socks have got holes in 'em! When I eat I got to count my dough first to see if I've got enough for pie. I drink bartenders' mistakes even; but this guy here—he gets twenty thousand a year just for bein' alive! Air!"
"Oh, I say, Buck! Don't be a silly ass! Money isn't everything."
"That's what I've been tryin' to kid myself into thinkin' for the last twenty years," said Buck, rising and shaking the dust from his clothes. "But if I had all the dough I could spend I reckon I could get along without the things it won't buy."
"Money," said Kenneth Clifford soberly, "will buy you everything in the world but the one thing you want most."
"Is that so? "What do you want that you can't get for twenty thousand a year?"
"A girl," said Kenneth Clifford.
"Excuse me for buttin' in, Algy," said Buck after a pause. "I hadn't no right to ask that question."
"Never mind, old chap," said Kenneth Clifford. "It's all right; but——"
"Hey! You fellows gone to sleep out there? Come on! We're ready for this scene."
It was the voice of authority speaking through the lips of J. Montague, director.
"Right-oh!" said Kenneth Clifford.
"And get a wiggle on you!" said Montague. "The light's changing and I want to get it over quick. This is the action: Buck, you come in with the mail and find Dev sitting on the porch alone. You hand him this letter and go on into the house. Dev, you open the letter and register surprise. Hold that while I count five. We'll make a cut-in of the letter, showing that you've succeeded to the title and the estates and have been called home to England. You come in at five, Myrtle. Ask him what's the matter. Dev, you hand her the letter; and while she reads it you register that you'd propose to her if you wasn't afraid. Start to say something and quit, and turn away with your head down—like this.... Myrtle, you ask him if he's going back to the old country. Dev, you nod your head—yes. Myrtle, do you remember that bully line in Arizona? 'You're going to ride away—without one word—to me!' Hand him that speech. Dev, you grab the letter out of her hands, crumple it up and throw it on the floor, and stamp on it. You give up the title for the girl—see? She holds out her arms to you——! Bing—into a clinch. You kiss—and that's the end of the scene. Got it? All right! Run through it a couple of times."
At the end of the second rehearsal a messenger boy entered, whistling discordantly.
"Say, w'ich of de ginks is named Dev—Dev—aw, some kind of a ham? Dey sent me out from de hotel. W'ich is him?"
"You're a pretty fresh guy for a feller your size," said Buck, taking the boy by the ear. "Telegram for you, Algy!"
"Ah-r-r! Leggo me ear!" growled the lad, kicking at Buck. "Youse movin'-pitcher Jesse Jameses gives me a pain!"
Kenneth Clifford, seated and ready for the final scene, was still staring at the cablegram when Jimmy Montague's voice brought him back to America and the business in hand.
"Come out of it, Dev!" he urged. "We're going to make the picture this time. All set, Buck? Got the letter! Ready—Action—Go!"
Buck swaggered into the focal plane, handed Kenneth Clifford a square envelope, slapped him on the shoulder and passed through the wall representing the front of a Western ranch house.
"Gee!" he whispered to Miss Manners. "Algy got some kind of a jolt in that telegram. He's white as a sheet. You know, that guy has got——"
"Three—four—five!" Montague counted for the cut-in. "Come on, Myrtle!... Oh, wake up, Dev! Get in the picture. Hand her the letter.... Now, then, register hesitation!... That's all right!... 'You're going to ride away—without one word—to me!'... Grab the letter, Dev!... That's right!... Bully! Folks, that comes pretty near being a swell little love scene! Dev, I didn't know you had it in you!"
Miss Manners stepped back and looked up at Kenneth Clifford with a question in her eyes.
"Well, Algy!" she said at length. "Why the realism, may I ask?"
Kenneth Clifford blushed.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I—I've made believe to kiss you so often, my dear, that I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind if—if I had a real one for once—just for good-by, you know."
"Good-by!" said Miss Manners. "Are you going away?"
"Well, rather!" said Kenneth Clifford, drawing the cablegram from his pocket. "You remember I told you something about—a girl? See what she says: 'Stop being an actor and come home!' What I can't understand is this: How in the world did she know what I was doing over here? I haven't told a soul. Most extraordinary thing!"
Miss Manners laughed.
"Why," said she, "the polo picture went to England, of course. I'll bet she saw it and recognized you!"
"Oh, I say!" murmured Kenneth Clifford, aghast. "I should never have thought of that!"
"She couldn't have missed that close-up of you and me at the end of the picture," said Miss Manners mischievously. "Young man, I think you'll have something to explain when you get home!"
"Ah!" said Kenneth Clifford. "In that case I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb!"
And he kissed the lovely Miss Manners when the camera was not looking, which goes to show that Kenneth Clifford was not so slow, after all.