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In Los Angeles








From: Jean Of The Lazy A

When she felt bewildered, Jean had the trick of appearing merely
reserved; and that is what saved her from the charge of rusticity when
Robert Grant Burns led her through the station gateway and into a small
reception. No less a man than Dewitt, President of the Great Western
Film Company, clasped her hand and held it, while he said how glad he
was to welcome her. Jean, unawed by his greatness and the honor he was
paying her, looked up at him with that distracting little beginning of
a smile, and replied with that even-more distracting little drawl in
her voice, and wondered why Mrs. Gay should become so plainly flustered
all at once.

Dewitt took her by the arm, introduced her to a curious-eyed group with
a warming cordiality of manner, and led her away through a crowd that
stared and whispered, and up to a great, beautiful, purple machine with
a colored chauffeur in dust-colored uniform. Dewitt was talking easily
of trivial things, and shooting a question now and then over his
shoulder at Robert Grant Burns, who had shed much of his importance and
seemed indefinably subservient toward Mr. Dewitt. Jean turned toward
him abruptly.

"Where's Lite? Did you send some one to help him with Pard?" she asked
with real concern in her voice. "Those three horses aren't used to
towns the size of this, Mr. Burns. Lite is going to have his hands
full with Pard. If you will excuse me, Mr. Dewitt, I think I'll go and
see how he's making out."

Mr. Dewitt glanced over her head and met the delighted grin of Jim
Gates, the publicity manager. The grin said that Jean was "running
true to form," which was a pet simile with Jim Gates, and usually
accompanied that particular kind of grin. There would be an
interesting half column in the next day's papers about Jean's arrival
and her deep concern for Lite and her wonderful horse Pard, but of
course she did not know that.

"I've got men here to help with the horses," Mr. Dewitt assured her,
while he gently urged her into the machine. "They'll be brought right
out to the studio. I'm taking you home with me in obedience to my
wife's, orders. She is anxious to meet the young woman who can
out-ride and out-shoot any man on the screen, and can still be sweet
and feminine and lovable. I'm quoting my wife, you see, though I won't
say those are not my sentiments also."

"Your poor wife is going to receive a shock," said Jean in an
unimpressed tone. "But it's dear of her to want to meet me." Back of
her speech was an irritated impatience that she should be gobbled and
carried off like this, when she was sure that she ought to be helping
Lite get that fool Pard unloaded and safely through the clang and
clatter of the down-town district.

Robert Grant Burns, half facing her on a folding seat, sent her a
queer, puzzled glance from under his eyebrows. Four months had Jean
been working under his direction; four months had he studied her, and
still she puzzled him. She was not ignorant--the girl had been out
among civilized folks and had learned town ways; she was not
stupid--she could keep him guessing, and he thought he knew all the
quirks of human nature, too. Then why, in the name of common sense, did
she take Dewitt and his patronage in this matter-of-fact way, as if it
were his everyday business to meet strange employees and take them home
to his wife? He glanced at Dewitt and caught a twinkle of perfect
understanding in the bright blue eyes of his chief. Burns made a sound
between a grunt and a chuckle, and turned his eyes away immediately;
but Dewitt chose to make speech upon the subject.

"You haven't spoiled our new leading woman--yet," he observed idly.

"Oh, but he has," Jean dissented. "He has got me trained so that when
he says smile, my mouth stretches itself automatically. When he says
sob, I sob. He just snaps his fingers, Mr. Dewitt, and I sit up and go
through my tricks very nicely. You ought to see how nicely I do them."

Mr. Dewitt put up a hand and pulled at his close-cropped, white
mustache that could not hide the twitching of his lips. "I have seen,"
he said drily, and leaned forward for a word with the liveried
chauffeur. "Turn up on Broadway and stop at the Victoria," he said, and
the chin of the driver dropped an inch to prove he heard.

Dewitt laid his fingers on Jean's arm to catch her attention. "Do you
see that picture on the billboard over there?" he asked, with a special
inflection in his nice, crisp voice. "Does it look familiar to you?"

Jean looked, and pinched her brows together. Just at first she did not
comprehend. There was her name in fancy letters two feet high: "JEAN,
OF THE LAZY A." It blared at the passer-by, but it did not look
familiar at all. Beneath was a high-colored poster of a girl on a
horse. The horse was standing on its hind feet, pawing the air; its
nostrils flared red; its tail swept like a willow plume behind. The
machine slowed and stopped for the traffic signal at the crossing, and
still Jean studied the poster. It certainly did not look in the least
familiar.

"Is that supposed to be me, on that plum-colored horse?" she drawled,
when they slid out slowly in the wake of a great truck.

"Why, don't you like it?" Dewitt looked at Jim Gates, who was again
grinning delightedly and surreptitiously scribbling something on the
margin of a folded paper he was carrying.

Jean turned upon him a mildly resentful glance. "No, I don't. Pard is
not purple; he's brown. And he's got the dearest white hoofs and a
white sock on his left hind foot; and he doesn't snort fire and
brimstone, either." She glanced anxiously at the jam of wagons and
automobiles and clanging street-cars. "I don't know, though," she
amended ruefully, "I think perhaps he will, too, when he sees all this.
I really ought to have stayed with him."

"You don't think Lite quite capable of taking care of him."

"Oh, yes, of course he is! But I just feel that way."

Dewitt shifted a little, so that he was half facing her, and could look
at her without having to turn his head. If his eyes told anything of
his thoughts, the President of the Great Western Film Company was
curious to know how she felt about her position and her sudden fame and
the work itself. Before they had worked their way into the next block,
he decided that Jean was not greatly interested in any of these things,
and he wondered why.

The machine slowed, swung to the curb, and crept forward and stopped in
front of the Victoria. Dewitt looked at Burns and Pete Lowry, who was
on the front seat.

"I thought you'd like to take a glance at the lobby display the
Victoria is making," he said casually. "They are running the Lazy A
series, you know,--to capacity houses, too, they tell me. Shall we get
out?"

The chauffeur reached back with that gesture of toleration and infinite
boredom common to his kind and swung open the door.

Robert Grant Burns started up. "Come on, Jean," he said eagerly. "I
don't suppose that eternal calm of yours will ever show a wrinkle on
the surface, but let's have a look, anyway."

Pete Lowry was already out and half way across the pavement. Pete had
lain awake in his bed, many's the night, planning the posing of
"stills" that would show Jean at her best; he had visioned them on
display in theater lobbies, and now he collided with a hurrying shopper
in his haste to see the actual fulfillment of those plans.

Jean herself was not so eager. She went with the others, and she saw
herself pictured on Pard; on her two feet; and sitting upon a rock with
her old Stetson tilted over one eye and her hair tousled with the wind.
She was loading her six-shooter, and talking to Lite, who was sitting
on his heels with a cigarette in his fingers, looking at her with that
bottled-up look in his eyes. She did not remember when the picture was
taken, but she liked that best of all. She saw herself leaning out of
the window of her room at the Lazy A. She remembered that time. She
was talking to Gil outside, and Pete had come up and planted his tripod
directly in front of her, and had commanded her to hold her pose. She
did not count them, but she had curious impressions of dozens of
pictures of herself scattered here and there along the walls of the
long, cool-looking lobby. Every single one of them was marked: "Jean,
of the Lazy A." Just that.

On a bulletin board in the middle of the entrance, just before the
marble box-office, it was lettered again in dignified black type:
"JEAN OF THE LAZY A." Below was one word: "To-day."

"It looks awfully queer," said Jean to Mr. Dewitt, who wanted to know
what she thought of it all; "they don't explain what it's all about, or
anything."

"No, they don't." Dewitt pulled his mustache and piloted her back to
the machine. "They don't have to."

"No," echoed Robert Grant Burns, with the fat chuckle of utter content
in the knowledge of having achieved something. "From the looks of
things, they don't have to." He looked at Jean so intently that she
stared back at him, wondering what was the matter; and when he saw that
she was wondering, he gave a snort.

"Good Lord!" he said to himself, just above a whisper, and looked away,
despairing of ever reading the riddle of Jean's unshakable composure.
Was it pose Was the girl phlegmatic,--with that face which was so alive
with the thoughts that shuttled back and forth behind those steady,
talking eyes of hers? She was not stupid; Robert Grant Burns knew to
his own discomfiture that she was not stupid. Nor was she one to pose;
the absolute sincerity of her terrific frankness was what had worried
Robert Grant Burns most. She must know that she had jumped into the
front rank of popular actresses, and stood out before them all,--for
the time being, at least. And,--he stole a measuring sidelong glance
at her, just as he had done thousands of times in the past four
months,--here she was in the private machine of the President of the
Great Western Film Company, with that great man himself talking to her
as to his honored guest. She had seen herself featured alone at one of
the biggest motion-picture theaters in Los Angeles; so well known that
"Jean, of the Lazy A" was deemed all-sufficient as information and
advertisement. She had reached what seemed to Robert Grant Burns the
final heights. And the girl sat there, calm, abstracted, actually not
listening to Dewitt when he talked! She was not even thinking about
him! Robert Grant Burns gave her another quick, resentful glance, and
wondered what under heaven the girl WAS thinking about.

As a matter of fact, having accepted the fact that she seemed to have
made a success of her pictures, her thoughts had drifted to what seemed
to her more vital. Had she done wrong to come away out here, away from
her problem? The distance worried her. She had not even found out who
was the mysterious night-prowler, or what he wanted. He had never come
again, after that night when Hepsy had scared him away. From long
thinking about it, she had come to a vague, general belief that his
visits were somehow connected with the murder; but in what manner, she
could not even form a theory. That worried her. She wished now that
she had told Lite about it. She was foolish not to have done
something, instead of sticking her head under the bedclothes and just
shivering till he left. Lite would have found out who the man was, and
what he wanted. Lite would never have let him come and go like that.
But the visits had seemed so absolutely without reason. There was
nothing to steal, and nothing to find. Still, she wished she had told
Lite, and let him find out who it was.

Then her talk with the great lawyer had been disquieting. He had not
wanted to name his fee for defending her dad; but when he had named it,
it did not seem so enormous as she had imagined it to be. He had asked
a great many questions, and most of them puzzled Jean. He had said
that he would take up the matter,--by which she believed he meant an
investigation of her uncle's title to the Lazy A. He said that he
would see her father, and he told her that he had already been retained
to investigate the whole thing, so that she need not worry about having
to pay him a fee. That, he said, had already been arranged, though he
did not feel at liberty to name his client. But he wanted to assure
her that everything was being done that could be done.

She herself had seen her father. She shrank within herself and tried
not to think of that horrible meeting. Her soul writhed under the
tormenting memory of how she had seen him. She had not been able to
talk to him at all, scarcely. The words would not come. She had said
that she and Lite were on their way to Los Angeles, and would be there
all winter. He had patted her shoulder with a tragic apathy in his
manner, and had said that the change would do her good. And that was
all she could remember that they had talked about. And then the guard
came, and--

That is what she was thinking about while the big, purple machine slid
smoothly through the tunnel, negotiated a rough stretch where the
street-pavers were at work, and sped purring out upon the boulevard
that stretched away to Hollywood and the hills. That was what she kept
hidden behind the "eternal calm" that so irritated Robert Grant Burns
and so delighted Dewitt and so interested Jim Gates, who studied her
for what "copy" there was in her personality.

It was the same when, the next day, Dewitt himself took her over to the
big plant which he spoke of as the studio. It was immense, and yet
Jean seemed unimpressed. She was gladder to see Pard and Lite again
than she was to meet the six-hundred-a-week star whose popularity she
seemed in a fair way to outrival. Men and women who were "in stock,"
and therefore within the social pale, were introduced to her and said
nice, hackneyed things about how they admired her work and were glad to
welcome her. She felt the warm air of good-fellowship that followed
her everywhere. All of these people seemed to accept her at once as
one of themselves. When she noticed it, she was amused at the way the
"extras" stood back and looked at her and whispered together. More
than once she overheard what seemed almost to have become a
catch-phrase out here; "Jean of the lazy A" was the phrase.

Jean was not made of wood, understand. In a manner she recognized all
these little tributes, and to a certain degree she appreciated them.
She was glad that she had made such a success of it, but she was glad
because it would help her to take her dad away from that horrible,
ghastly place and that horrible, ghastly death-in-life under which he
lived. In three years he had grown old and stooped--her dad!

And Burns twitted her ironically because she could not simper and lose
her head over the attentions these people were loading upon her! Save
for the fact that in this way she could earn a good deal of money, and
could pay that lawyer Rossman, and trace Art Osgood, she would not have
stayed; she could not have endured the staying. For the easier they
made life for her, the greater contrast did they make between her and
her dad.

Gil brought her a great bunch of roses, unbelievably beautiful and
fragrant, and laughed and told her they didn't look much like those
snowdrifts she waded through the last day they worked on the Lazy A
serial. For just a minute he thought Jean was going to throw them at
him, and he worried himself into sleeplessness, poor boy, wondering how
he had offended her, and how he could make amends. Could he have
looked into Jean's soul, he would have seen that it was seared with the
fresh memory of iron bars and high walls and her dad who never saw any
roses; and that the contrast between their beauty and the terrible
barrenness that surrounded him was like a blow in her face.

Dewitt himself sensed that something was wrong with her. She was not
her natural self, and he knew it, though his acquaintance with her was
a matter of hours only. Part of his business it was to study people,
to read them; he read Jean now, in a general way. Not being a
clairvoyant, he of course had no inkling of the very real troubles that
filled her mind, though the effect of those troubles he saw quite
plainly. He watched her quietly for a day, and then he applied the
best remedy he knew.

"You've just finished a long, hard piece of work," he said in his
crisp, matter-of-fact way, on the second morning after her arrival.
"There is going to be a delay here while we shape things up for the
winter, and it is my custom to keep my people in the very best
condition to work right up to the standard. So you are all going to
have a two-weeks vacation, Jean-of-the-Lazy-A. At full salary, of
course; and to put you yourself into the true holiday spirit, I'm going
to raise your salary to a hundred and seventy-five a week. I consider
you worth it," he added, with a quieting gesture of uplifted hand, "or
you may be sure I wouldn't pay it.

"Get some nice old lady to chaperone you, and go and play. The ocean
is good; get somewhere on the beach. Or go to Catalina and play there.
Or stay here, and go to the movies. Go and see 'Jean, of the Lazy A,'
and watch how the audience lives with her on the screen. Go up and talk
to the wife. She told me to bring you up for dinner. You go climb
into my machine, and tell Bob to take you to the house now. Run along,
Jean of the Lazy A! This is an order from your chief."

Jean wanted to cry. She held the roses, that she almost hated for
their very beauty and fragrance, close pressed in her arms, while she
went away toward the machine. Dewitt looked after her, thought she
meant to obey him, and turned to greet a great man of the town who had
been waiting for five minutes to speak to him.

Jean did not climb into the purple car and tell Bob to drive her to
"the house." She walked past it without even noticing that it stood
there, an aristocrat among the other machines parked behind the great
studio that looked like a long, low warehouse. She knew the
straightest, shortest trail to the corrals, you may be sure of that.
She took that trail.

Pard was standing in a far corner under a shed, switching his tail
methodically at the October crop of flies. His head lay over the neck
of a scrawny little buckskin, for which he had formed a sudden and
violent attachment, and his eyes were half closed while he drowsed in
lazy content. Pard was not worrying about anything. He looked so
luxuriously happy that Jean had not the heart to disturb him, even with
her comfort-seeking caresses. She leaned her elbows on the corral gate
and watched him awhile. She asked a bashful, gum-chewing youth if he
could tell her where to find Lite Avery. But the youth seemed never to
have heard of Lite Avery, and Jean was too miserable to explain and
describe Lite, and insist upon seeing him. She walked over to the
nearest car-line and caught the next street car for the city. Part of
her chief's orders at least she would obey. She would go down to the
Victoria and see "Jean, of the Lazy A," but she was not going because
of any impulse of vanity, or to soothe her soul with the applause of
strangers. She wanted to see the ranch again. She wanted to see the
dear, familiar line of the old bluff that framed the coulee, and ride
again with Lite through those wild places they had chosen for the
pictures. She wanted to lose herself for a little while among the
hills that were home.





Next: Chance Takes A Hand

Previous: A New Kind Of Picture



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