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Bobby in MovielandByFrancis Finn
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Bobby in Movieland
CHAPTER I. IN WHICH THE FIRST CHAPTER IS WITHIN A LITTLE OF BEING THE LAST
CHAPTER II. TENDING TO SHOW THAT MISFORTUNES NEVER COME SINGLY
CHAPTER III. IT NEVER RAINS BUT IT POURS
CHAPTER IV. MRS. VERNON ALL BUT ABANDONS HOPE
CHAPTER V. A NEW WAY OF BREAKING INTO THE MOVIES
CHAPTER VI. BOBBY ENDEAVORS TO SHOW THE ASTONISHED COMPTON HOW TO BEHAVE
CHAPTER VII. THE END OF A DAY OF SURPRISES
CHAPTER VIII. BOBBY MEETS AN ENEMY ON THE BOULEVARD AND A FRIEND IN THE LANTRY STUDIO
CHAPTER IX. SHOWING THAT IMITATION IS NOT ALWAYS THE SINCEREST FLATTERY, AND RETURNING TO THE MISADVENTURES OF BOBBY’S MOTHER
CHAPTER X. BOBBY, ASSISTED BY PEGGY, DEMONSTRATES A METHOD OF OBSERVING SILENCE, AND CELEBRATES A RED-LETTER DAY
CHAPTER XI. THE END OF ONE SCENARIO AND THE OUTLINING OF COMPTON’S GREAT IDEA
CHAPTER XII. BOBBY BECOMES FAMOUS OVERNIGHT
CHAPTER XIII. BERNADETTE’S TEMPERAMENT DELAYS THE SCENARIO, AND MRS. VERNON MAKES TWO CHILDREN HAPPY
CHAPTER XIV. MRS. VERNON ATTENDS A MOVING-PICTURE SHOW AND FINDS IN IT A GREAT LESSON UNTHOUGHT OF BY THE AUTHOR
CHAPTER XV. COMPTON’S GREAT SCENARIO IS FINISHED NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON
CHAPTER XVI. CONTAINING NOTHING BUT HAPPY EXPLANATIONS AND A STILL HAPPIER LOVE SCENE
CHAPTER XVII. THE FOUR CHILDREN AROUSE SUSPICION, UNTIL WITH THE MOST MOMENTOUS EVENT IN THIS NARRATIVE, ALL IS MADE CLEAR
In perfect good faith Bobby stepped forward, passed the director, saying as he went, “Excuse me, sir,” and ignoring Compton and the “lady” and “gentleman,” strode over to the bellhop.
“Say, ma; honest, I don’t want to go in. Just all I want is to take off my shoes and socks and walk where the water just comes up to my ankles.”
As the speaker, a boy of eight, was dressed in the fashion common to the youth of Los Angeles and its environment, it is but fair to state that with the taking off of shoes and socks the process of disrobing was really far advanced.
“My mother has let me take mine off,” put in a bare-legged little girl. “We won’t go into the water really at all, Mrs. Vernon. Oh, please let Bobby come along.”
The time was morning—a clear, golden, flower-scented morning in early July. The place was the sandy shore of Long Beach. There were few bathers about, as it was Monday, when the week-enders had returned to their several occupations, while the pleasure-seekers living or lodging there were resting from the strenuous gayety of Sunday.
Mrs. Vernon, a beautiful young woman, in half-mourning, was strolling with her only child and the girl, an acquaintance made on the train, along the sands. They were all transients, presently to take a train north.
Bobby Vernon was a highly interesting child to look at. Rather small for his age, he was lithe and shapely. His complexion was delicately fair, his chestnut hair rather long. All these things were enough to attract attention; but above and beyond these were the features. Blue eyes, cupid mouth, a sensitive upper lip, an eloquent, chubby little nose—all had this in common that they were expressive of his every passing thought and emotion. He had a face, in a word, at once speaking and engaging.
The girl, Peggy Sansone, a year or two older, was a brunette, a decided contrast. She was a chance acquaintance, made by Bobby on the Pullman, with the result that, once they had exchanged a few words, there was no more sleeping during the daylight hours for the other occupants of that car.
Mrs. Vernon felt in her heart it would be more prudent to refuse the request. She feared that she was making a mistake. But she was just then preoccupied and sad. Now, sadness is weakening.
“Well, Bobby, if I give you permission, you won’t go far? And you’ll be back at the station in half an hour, and won’t get lost?”
“I know the way back to the station,” volunteered the girl. “And I’ll promise you to see him back myself. You know, I’ve got my watch.” Here Peggy, with the sweet vanity of childhood, held up for view her dainty wrist watch.
“Whoopee!” cried Bobby, jumping into his mother’s arms, planting a kiss on her brow, dropping down to the sand and, apparently all in one motion, taking off shoes and socks.
Light-heartedly, hand in hand with the girl, he pattered down the sands to the water. The two little ones radiated joy and youth and life. To them the coming half-hour was to be, so they thought, “a little bit of heaven.” The girl had no premonition of the saddest day of her childhood; the boy no thought of the forces of earth and water that were about to change so strangely his and his mother’s life.
It has already been observed that it was a day of golden sunshine; but to one conversant with the waters of Long Beach there was something ominous about the face of the changing sea. It was not high tide; but the surf was showing its milk-white teeth in a beauty profuse and cruel, with the cruelty of the sea which takes and returns no more, while the rollers swept in with a violence and a height that were unusual. The life savers were watchful and uneasy. To the two children, however, the white-lipped ocean was as bland and as gay as the sunshine.
As their feet were covered by an incoming roller the girl screamed and Bobby danced—both for the same reason, for sheer joy. Hand in hand they pattered along, making their way further and further into the pathway of the breakers. In a few minutes they had advanced along the shore to a spot where they were apparently alone.
Then began a series of daring ventures.
“Say!” said Bobby. “This is the first time in all my life that I ever put my feet in the Pacific Ocean. But I know how to swim, all right, and I’m not a bit afraid.” As Bobby spoke he was moving slowly out into the water, which was now nearly up to his knees.
“Hold on! You’re going too far,” said the girl, releasing Bobby’s hand and slipping back. “I’ve been in often, but I’m afraid just the same.”
“Girls are cowards,” Bobby announced. “Come on, Peggy; I’ll take care of you.”
Peggy by way of return fastened her large, beautiful dark eyes in hero worship upon her companion. Nevertheless, instead of accepting his invitation, she drew back a few steps more.
“Now remember, Bobby, you told your mother you were only going ankle-deep. You’re up to your knees now.”
“That’s so,” said Bobby, pausing and turning his back upon the incoming waves. “I ought not to break my word. Say, Peggy”—here Bobby’s face threw itself, every feature of it, into a splendor of enthusiasm—“do you think it would be wrong if I were to fall over and float? Then I wouldn’t be more than ankle-deep anyhow.”
Peggy’s large eyes grew larger in glorious admiration.
Now Bobby being very human—even as you and I—was not insensible to the girl’s expression. It spurred him on to do something really daring. He was tempted at that moment to forget his mother’s words and to go boldly out and meet the breakers in their might. For a few minutes there was a clean-cut battle in the lad’s soul between love of praise and the still, small voice we call conscience; as a consequence of which Bobby’s features twisted and curled and darkened. The battle was a short one, and it is only fair to say that the still, small voice scored a victory.
However, the breakers were not interested in such a fight though it may have appealed with supreme interest to all the choirs of angels. The conflict over, Bobby’s eyes grew bright, and all the sprites of innocent gayety showed themselves at once in his every feature.
“Peggy,” he began, “you are right. A promise is a promise—always. And then I made it to my mother. I would like to show you a thing or two, but—Why, what’s the matter?”
Her expression startled him. If ever tragedy and horror were expressed by the eyes, Bobby saw these emotions in the beautiful orbs of Peggy. Her face had lost its rich southern hue, fear was in her pose and in every feature, but Bobby saw only the tragedy of the eyes. They were unforgettable.
“Bobby!” she gasped. “Run! run!” And the child followed her own advice.
Bobby, infected by her terror, turned. But it was too late. Close upon him curled and roared a huge roller, a white-crested wave. In the moment he looked upon it Bobby saw the rollers in a new light. A few moments before they were gay, frolicsome things, showing their teeth in laughter. Now they were strange, strong monsters foaming at the mouth.
“Oh!” cried Bobby in horror. He said no more; for as he spoke, the wave caught him, spun him around, pulled him down, raised him up, and carried him off in its strong, uncountable arms towards the deep sea. Bobby kicked and struggled; but he was swept on as though he were a toy.
Peggy, meanwhile having run back twenty or thirty paces, turned, and wringing her hands, scanned the troubled waters. She saw no sign of the boy.
Peggy was young and timid. Upon her came an unreasoning fear. Bobby was drowned and maybe it was her fault! Maybe she would be hanged for murder! And how could she face a bereaved and already widowed mother? For the first and only time in her life Peggy ardently wished she were dead. Then, looking neither to left nor right, she ran back along the shore.
Bobby was drowned! But she would tell no one. For the moment a wild thought of running away entered her soul. And she would have run away if she only knew whither to fly.
Still running, she wept and she prayed. She ceased her flight only when she came to the spot where her tiny shoes and socks lay beside those of Bobby’s. Then she sat down and gave loose to her grief. When the first fierce desolation and agony had passed, she put on her shoes and began to think.
Suddenly her drawn face relaxed. Her mother! Had she not always brought her griefs to that tender, loving soul? She would seek her at once and tell all. She glanced at her watch. Forty-five minutes had passed! She had exceeded her time by a quarter of an hour. It was nearly train time. There was not a second to be lost.
As she rose to her feet something unusual had occurred. The ground beneath her seemed to be swinging up and down.
Peggy was a native. In normal circumstances she would have been normally excited; but in her present condition she hardly noticed that she was in the throes of an earthquake.
So calmly ignoring the shouts of men and the hysteria of women who came running out in hundreds from house and hotel, Peggy went forward at a smart trot to bring the awful tidings to Mrs. Sansone, her mother.
To natives of Los Angeles, or to those who have spent some years in that beautiful city—so beautiful that one could easily vision Adam and Eve as its occupants before the Fall—an earthquake tremor is just something more than of passing interest. They remain “unusual calm” when the house shakes, the pictures flap upon the wall, and the crockery rattles in noisy unrest. They regard their earthquakes as tamed creatures—not more formidable, practically speaking, than “a thing of noise and fury, signifying nothing.” When visitors show agitation at the coming of an earth tremor, these old inhabitants—and five years’ residence in Los Angeles makes one something little short of a patriarch—are almost scandalized. Should these strangers go the way that leads to hysteria, the old inhabitants grow properly indignant, and point out that all the tremors in the history of Los Angeles County are as nothing, in point of damage, as compared to one solitary cyclone of the Middle West. No doubt they are right.
However, to a stranger these pranks of mother earth are fraught with terror. Many men and women are not only frightened, but actually become sick. Dizziness and nausea are not uncommon, although the cause be only a slight tremor of but three or four seconds’ duration.
Among those affected on this day, so momentous in her life and that of her only child, was Mrs. Barbara Vernon. When the shock came she was resting on the sands under the shade of one of those gigantic umbrellas rented out at the beaches as a protection from the ardent rays of the sun. Beside her sat Mrs. Sansone, Peggy’s mother.
“Oh, my God!” cried Mrs. Vernon, jumping to her feet and clasping her hands. She would have run straight into the ocean had not Mrs. Sansone laid upon her a restraining hand.
“My dear,” said the old inhabitant, “don’t be frightened. It’s really nothing at all. We who live here don’t mind it in the least.” She patted Mrs. Vernon’s beautiful cheek as she continued: “Why, my little Peggy sees nothing in them. The last time we had an earthquake shock Peggy said that the earth was trying to do the shimmy.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Vernon, “I’m feeling so ill! Let me lean on you, dear. I feel as though I should faint.”
The sympathetic right arm of Mrs. Sansone wound itself about the other’s waist.
“Many strangers are so affected,” she said. “But really there’s nothing to fear. God is here with us right now.”
Mrs. Barbara Vernon unobtrusively made the sign of the cross.
“Thank you,” she said. “My fear is gone; but I feel sick, sick.”
“Lean on my arm, Mrs. Vernon. I will bring you to our Pullman, where you can lie down and rest quietly.”
“But the children!” objected Barbara.
“Leave that to me. At the worst, Peggy knows the way, and she is really a very punctual little girl.”
They had walked but a few paces, when an automobile, moving along the sands, came abreast of them and stopped. The driver, its sole occupant, leaned out.
“Beg pardon,” he said removing his hat, “but I fear one of you ladies is rather indisposed. Anything I can do for you?”
“Indeed you can,” replied Mrs. Sansone very promptly. “This lady is suffering from nausea. The earthquake is something new to her. You would do us a great favor by bringing us to the railroad station.”
“Favor! It will be an immense pleasure to me.” As he spoke the young man jumped out, threw open the door of the tonneau, and, hat in hand, helped the two women in. He was rather a striking personality, thin almost to emaciation, and despite the smile now upon his features, with a face melancholy to the point of pathos.
“Los Angeles,” he remarked as he seated himself at the wheel, “would be the most perfect place in the world if the earth hereabouts would only keep sober. If I had my way,” he continued, in a voice only less pathetic than his countenance, “I’d give the earth the pledge for life. It’s a perfect country when it’s sober.”
Mrs. Sansone laughed.
“Even at that,” continued the melancholy man, allowing himself the indulgence of a slight smile, “what does it amount to, a little bit of an earthquake like that? It is merely a fly in the amber.”
“I agree with you absolutely,” said Mrs. Sansone.
“Which means you’re a native. That other lady—”
“Mrs. Barbara Vernon,” interpolated Mrs. Sansone.
“Thank you, glad to meet you, ma’am,” said the stranger, turning his head and smiling ungrudgingly. “You, I take it, don’t see it as we do. Instead of a fly in the amber, you regard it rather as a shark in a swimming pool.”
“It is very kind of you,” said Barbara, “to go out of your way for me. I can’t tell you how I appreciate your goodness. I shall pray for you.”
The driver’s face changed from melancholy to reverence.
“Please remember that,” he said. As he spoke he thought of the great Thackeray’s great words on the preciousness of living on in the heart of one good woman.
Had Barbara been his own mother he could not have been more attentive. He helped her from the car, placed her in her section, and furtively slipping a dollar into the porter’s responsive fist, got that functionary into a state of useful and eager activity which would have filled, had he seen it, the Pullman superintendent’s heart with wild delight.
“Can’t I get you a physician, Mrs. Vernon?” pleaded the stranger.
“I need none, thank you. You have done infinitely more than I had any right to expect.”
“Well, then, I am going to leave you in the hands of this lady—”
“Mrs. Estelle Sansone,” supplied the owner of that name.
“Thank you, Mrs. Sansone. I am glad to know your name. And,” he continued, turning upon Barbara the most melancholy eyes she had ever seen, while taking reverently her proffered hand, “I beg you, Mrs. Vernon, to remember me in—in—to remember me as you said.”
“Indeed and indeed I will. God bless you!”
“Amen,” answered the young man thickly. His face twitched, he paused as though about to speak, and then suddenly turned and left the car.
“Isn’t he strange!” ejaculated Barbara. “I never saw a more melancholy face.”
“He is very strange,” assented Mrs. Sansone.
There was a depth of meaning in her words, unsuspected by Barbara, for the kind Italian woman had recognized the good Samaritan. This melancholy man was, in her estimation, the greatest screen comedian in the world.
“And,” continued Barbara, when the porter had placed a second pillow under her head, “with all his melancholy, he is so kind and so good!”
“I don’t understand,” commented the Italian. Again the depth of this remark was lost upon Barbara. For Mrs. Sansone knew much of the gossip concerning the great comedian. She knew that he had figured in many episodes which, to say the least, were anything but savory. And now she had met the man in a few intimate moments and seen him kind, gentle, gracious, and with a reverence for a good woman and a good woman’s prayers that had filled her with a feeling akin to awe. As she ministered lovingly to Barbara she meditated upon these opposing truths, and so meditating took a new lesson in the school of experience, a lesson the fruits of which are wisdom.
“I am anxious about my boy,” said Barbara opening her eyes and endeavoring vainly to sit up.
Mrs. Sansone threw a quick glance about the car. Her gaze rested presently upon an elderly woman whose face was eminently kindly. She was every inch a matron. Mrs. Estelle Sansone stepped over to her.
“Pardon me,” she said, “but the lady over there is quite ill, and she is worrying about her little boy, who should have been back by this time. I don’t like to leave her alone while I go in search—”
“And,” broke in the other, “you want some one to take your place? I thank you for asking me. I’ve been a widow for nearly fourteen years, and since my husband’s death I have worked as nurse in the Northwestern Railroad’s emergency ward in Chicago.”
“Why, I couldn’t have made a better choice,” cried Mrs. Sansone.
“It’s my first real pleasure trip—mine and my daughter’s—since my widowhood,” continued the woman, “but the pleasures of travel are as nothing compared with waiting on any good woman in distress.”
The introductions were quickly made, and Mrs. Sansone left the car, feeling that Barbara was in hands better far than her own.
She looked about the station. The clock indicated that in about five minutes the train would start. Mrs. Sansone grew anxious. She hurried along the platform, looking eagerly on every side for some sign of the children. A glance towards the beach rewarded her searching. Peggy, her hair streaming in the wind, was running towards her. Mrs. Sansone’s heart sank. Where was the boy? A sense of calamity seized her. She too ran to meet the child.
“Oh, mother, mother!” cried Peggy, throwing her arms about Mrs. Sansone and bursting into a new agony of grief.
“Dearest,” crooned Mrs. Sansone, raising the child to her bosom, “tell me! What has become of Bobby?”
“Oh, mother! I am afraid!”
“Tell the truth, darling. No matter what—it is your mother who listens. She will understand; she will not scold.”
“Bobby is drowned!”
“Oh, blessed Mary!” cried Mrs. Sansone, restoring Peggy to the sands and clasping her hands in dismay. “I can’t believe it! Tell me, dear, how it happened.”
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