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A Leading Lady They Would Make Of Jean








From: Jean Of The Lazy A

Sometimes events follow docilely the plans that would lead them out of
the future of possibilities and into the present of actualities, and
sometimes they bring with them other events which no man may foresee
unless he is indeed a prophet. You would never think, for instance,
that Gil Huntley and his blood sponge would pull from the future a
chain of incidents that would eventually--well, never mind what. Just
follow the chain of incidents and see what lies at the end.

Pete Lowry and Gil had planned cunningly for a certain readjustment of
Jean's standing in the company, for no deeper reasons than their
genuine liking for the girl and a common human impulse to have a hand
in the ordering of their little world. In ten days Robert Grant Burns
received a letter from Dewitt, president of the Great Western Film
Company, which amply fulfilled those plans, and, as I said, opened the
way for other events quite unforeseen.

There were certain orders from the higher-ups which Robert Grant Burns
must heed. They were, briefly, the immediate transfer of Muriel Gay to
the position of leading woman in a new company which was being sent to
Santa Barbara to make light comedy-dramas. Robert Grant Burns grunted
when he read that, though it was a step up the ladder for Muriel which
she would be glad to take. The next paragraph instructed him to place
the young woman who had been doubling for Miss Gay in the position
which Miss Gay would leave vacant. It was politely suggested that he
adapt the leading woman's parts to the ability of this young woman;
which meant that he must write his scenarios especially with her in
mind. He was informed that he should feature the young woman in her
remarkable horsemanship, etc. It was pointed out that her work was
being noticed in the Western features which Robert Grant Burns had been
sending in, and that other film companies would no doubt make overtures
shortly, in the hope of securing her services. Under separate cover
they were mailing a contract which would effectually forestall such
overtures, and they were relying upon him to see that she signed up
with the Great Western as per contract. Finally, it was suggested,
since Mr. Dewitt chose always to suggest rather than to command, that
Robert Grant Burns consider the matter of writing a series of short
stories having some connecting thread of plot and featuring this Miss
Douglas. (This, by the way, was the beginning of the serial form of
motion-picture plays which has since become so popular.)

Robert Grant Burns read that letter through slowly, and then sat down
heavily in an old arm-chair in the hotel office, lighted one of his
favorite fat, black cigars, and mouthed it absently, while he read the
letter through again. He said "John Jimpson!" just above a whisper. He
held the letter in his two hands and regarded it strangely. Then he
looked up, caught the quizzical, inquiring glance of Pete Lowry, and
beckoned that secret-smiling individual over to him. "Read that!" he
grunted. "Read it and tell me what you think of it."

Pete Lowry read it carefully, and grinned when he handed it back. He
did not, however, tell Robert Grant Burns just exactly what he thought
of it. He merely said that it had to come sometime, he guessed.

"She can't put over the dramatic stuff," objected Robert Grant Burns.
"She's got the face for it, all right, and when she registers real
emotions, it gets over big. The bottled-up kind of people always do.
But she's never acted an emotion she didn't feel--"

"How about that all-in stuff, and the listening-and--waiting business
she put across before she took a shot at Gil that time she fainted?"
Pete reminded him. "If you ask me, that little girl can act."

"Well, whether she can or not, she's got to try it," said Burns with
some foreboding. "She's been going big, with Gay to do all the
close-up, dramatic work. The trouble is, Pete, that girl always does as
she darn pleases! If I put her opposite Lee in a scene and tell her to
act like she is in love with him, and that he's to kiss her and she's
to kiss back,--" he flung out his hands expressively. "You must know
the rest, as well as I do. She'd turn around and give me a call-down,
and get on her horse and ride off; and I and my picture could go to
thunder, for all of her. That's the point; she ain't been through the
mill. She don't know anything about taking orders--from me or anybody
else." It is a pity that Lite did not hear that! He might have amended
the statement a little. Jean had been taking orders enough; she knew a
great deal about receiving ultimatums. The trouble was that she seldom
paid any attention to them. Lite was accustomed to that, but Robert
Grant Burns was not, and it irked him sore.

"Well, she's sure got the screen personality," Pete defended. "I've
said it all along. That girl don't have to act. Put her in the part,
and she is the part! She's got something better than technique, Burns.
She's got imagination. She puts herself in a character and lives it."

"Put her on a horse and she does," Burns conceded gloomily. "But will
you tell me what kind of work she'll make of interior scenes, and love
scenes, and all that? You've got to have it, to pad out your story.
You can't let your leading character do a whole two--or three-reel
picture on horseback. There wouldn't be any contrast. Dewitt don't
know that girl the way I do. If he'd had to side-step and scheme and
give in the way I've done to keep her working, he wouldn't put her
playing straight leads, not until she'd had a year or two of training--"

"Taming is a better word," Pete suggested drily. "There'll be fun when
she gets to playing love scenes opposite Lee. You better let him take
the heavies, and put Gil in for leads, Burns."

Robert Grant Burns was so cast down by the prospect that he made no
attempt to reply, beyond grunting something about preferring to drive a
team of balky mules to making Jean do something she did not want to do.
But, such is the mind trained to a profession, insensibly he drifted
away into the world of his imagination, and began to draw therefrom the
first tenuous threads of a plot wherein Jean's peculiar accomplishments
were to be featured. Robert Grant Burns had long ago learned to adjust
himself to circumstances which in themselves were not to his liking.
He adjusted himself now to the idea of making Jean the Western star his
employers seemed to think was inevitable.

That night before he went to bed he wrote a play which had in it
fifty-two scenes. Thirty-five of them were what is known technically
as exteriors. In most of them Jean was to ride on horseback through
wild places. The rest were dramatic close-ups. Robert Grant Burns
went over it carefully when it was finished, and groaning inwardly he
cut out two love scenes which were tense, and which Muriel Gay and Lee
Milligan would have "eaten up," as he mentally expressed it. The love
interest, he realized bitterly, must be touched upon lightly in his
scenarios from now on; which would have lightened appreciably the heart
of Lite Avery, if he had only known it, and would have erased from his
mind a good many depressing visions of Jean as the film sweetheart of
those movie men whom he secretly hated.

Jean did not hesitate five minutes before she signed the contract which
Burns presented to her the next morning. She was human, and she had
learned enough about the business to see that, speaking from a purely
professional point of view, she was extremely fortunate. Not every
girl, surely, can hope to jump in a few weeks from the lowly position
of an inexperienced "extra" to the supposedly exalted one of leading
woman. And to her that hundred dollars a week which the contract
insured her looked a fortune. It spelled home to her, and the
vindication of her beloved dad, of whom she dared not think sometimes,
it hurt her so.

Her book was not progressing as fast as she had expected when she began
it. She had been working at it sporadically now for eight weeks, and
she had only ten chapters done,--and some of these were terribly short.
She had looked through all of the novels that she owned, and had
computed the average number of chapters in each; thirty she decided
would be a good, conservative number to write. She had even divided
those thirty into three parts, and had impartially allotted ten to
adventure, ten to mystery and horror, and ten to love-making. Such an
arrangement should please everybody, surely, and need only be worked
out smoothly to prove most satisfying.

But, as it happened, comedy would creep into the mystery and horror,
which she mentally lumped together as agony. Adventure ran riot, and
straight love-making chapters made her sleepy, they bored her so. She
had tried one or two, and she had found it impossible to concentrate
her mind upon them. Instead, she had sat and planned what she would do
with the money that was steadily accumulating in the bank; a pitiful
little sum, to be sure, to those who count by the thousands, but
cheering enough to Jean, who had never before had any money of her own.

So she signed the contract and worked that day so light-heartedly that
Robert Grant Burns forgot his pessimism. When the light began to fade
and grow yellow, and the big automobile went purring down the trail to
town, she rode on to the Bar Nothing to find Lite, and tell him how
fortune had come and tapped her on the shoulder.

She did not see Lite anywhere about the ranch, and so she did not put
her hopes and her plans and her good fortune into speech. She did see
her Aunt Ella, who straightway informed her that people were talking
about the way she rode here and there with those painted-up people, and
let the men put their arms around her and make love to her. Her Aunt
Ella made it perfectly plain to Jean that she, for one, did not
consider it respectable. Her Aunt Ella said that Carl was going to do
something about it, if things weren't changed pretty quick.

Jean did not appear to regard her aunt's disapproval as of any
importance whatever, but the words stung. She had herself worried a
little over the love-making scenes which she knew she would now be
called upon to play. Jean, you will have observed, was not given to
sentimental adventurings; and she disliked the idea of letting Lee
Milligan make love to her the way he had made love to Muriel Gay
through picture after picture. She would do it, she supposed, if she
had to; she wanted the salary. But she would hate it intolerably. She
made reply with sarcasm which she knew would particularly irritate her
Aunt Ella, and left the house feeling that she never wanted to enter it
again as long as she lived.

The sight of her uncle standing beside Pard in an attitude of disgusted
appraisement of the new Navajo blanket and the silver-trimmed bridle
and tapideros which Burns had persuaded her to add to her riding
outfit,--for photographic effect,--brought a hot flush of resentment.
She went up quietly enough, however. Indeed, she went up so quietly
that he started when she appeared almost beside him and picked up
Pard's reins, and took the stirrup to mount and ride away. She did not
speak to him at all; she had not spoken to him since that night when
the little brown bird had died! Though perhaps that was because she
had managed to keep out of his way.

"I see you've been staking yourself to a new bridle," Carl began in a
tone quite as sour as his look. "You must have bought out all the tin
decorations they had in stock, didn't you?"

Jean swung up into the saddle before she looked at him. "If I did,
it's my own affair," she retorted. "I paid for the tin decorations
with my own money."

"Oh, you did! Well, you might have been in better business than paying
for that kind of thing. You might," he sneered up at her, "have been
paying for your keep these last three years, if you've got more money
of your own than you know what to do with."

Jean could not ride off under the sting of that gratuitous insult. She
held Pard quiet and looked down at him with hate in her eyes. "I
expect," she said in a queer, quiet wrath, "to prove before long that
my own money has been paying for my 'keep' these last three years; for
that and for other things that did not benefit me in the least."

"I'd like to know what you mean by that!" Carl caught Pard by the
bridle-rein and looked up at her in a white fury that startled even
Jean, accustomed as she was to his sudden rages that contrasted with
his sullen attitude toward the world.

"What do you think I would mean? Let go my bridle. I don't want to
quarrel with you."

"What did you mean by proving--what do you expect to prove?" His hand
was heavy on the rein, so that Pard began to fret under the restraint.
"You've got to quit running around all over the country with them show
folks, and stay at home and behave yourself. You've got to quit hanging
out at the Lazy A. I've stood as much as I'm going to stand of your
performances. You get down off that horse and go into the house and
behave yourself; that's what you'll do! If you haven't got any shame
or decency--"

Jean scarcely knew what she did, just then. She must have dug Pard
with her spurs, because the first thing that she realized was the lunge
he gave. Carl's hold slipped from the rein, as he was jerked sidewise.
He made an ineffective grab at Jean's skirt, and he called her a name
she had never heard spoken before in her life. A rod or so away she
pulled up and turned to face him, but the words she would have spoken
stuck in her throat. She had never seen Carl Douglas look like that;
she had seen him when he was furious, she had seen him when he sulked,
but she had never seen him look like that.

He called her to come back. He made threats of what he would do if she
refused to obey him. He shook his fist at her. He behaved like a man
temporarily robbed of his reason; his eyes, as he came up glaring at
her, were the eyes of a madman.

Jean felt a tremor of dread while she looked at him and listened to
him. He was almost within reach of her again when she wheeled and went
off up the trail at a run. She looked back often, half fearing that he
would get a horse and follow her, but he stood just where she had left
him, and he seemed to be still uttering threats and groundless
accusations as long as she was in sight.





Next: For Once At Least Lite Had His Way

Previous: Punch Verses Prestige



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