Read CHAPTER II - A LOVE STORY of Ma Pettengill, free online book, by Harry Leon Wilson, on

I had for some time been noting a slight theatrical tinge to the periodical literature supported by the big table in the Arrowhead living room.  Chiefly the table’s burden is composed of trade journals of the sober quality of the Stockbreeder’s Gazette or Mine, Quarry & Derrick or the “Farmer’s Almanac.”  But if, for example, one really tired of a vivacious column headed “Chats on Fertilizers” one could, by shuffling the litter, come upon a less sordid magazine frankly abandoned to the interests of the screen drama.

The one I best recall has limned upon its cover in acceptable flesh tints a fair young face of flawless beauty framed in a mass of curling golden ringlets.  The dewy eyes, shaded to mystery by lashes of uncommon length, flash a wistful appeal that is faintly belied by the half-smiling lips and the dimpling chin.  The contours are delicate yet firm; a face of haunting appeal ­a face in which tears can be seldom but the sprightly rain of April, and the smile, when it melts the sensitive lips, will yet warn that hearts are made to ache and here is one not all too merry in its gladness.  It is the face of one of our famous screen beauties, and we know, even from this tinted half-tone, that the fame has been deserved.

On one of those tired Arrowhead nights, inwardly debating the possible discourtesy of an early bedding after ten wet miles of trout stream, I came again and again to this compelling face of the sad smile and the glad tears.  It recalled an ideal feminine head much looked at in my nonage.  It was lithographed mostly in pink and was labeled “Tempest and Sunshine.”  So I loitered by the big table, dreaming upon the poignant perfections of this idol of a strange new art.  I dreamed until awakened by the bustling return of my hostess, Mrs. Lysander John Pettengill, who paused beside me to build an after-dinner cigarette, herself glancing meantime at the flawless face on the magazine cover.  I perceived instantly that she also had been caught by its not too elusive charm.

“A beautiful face,” I said.

Ma Pettengill took the magazine from me and studied the dainty thing.

“Yes, he’s certainly beautiful,” she assented.  “He’s as handsome as a Greek goddess.”  Thus did the woman ambiguously praise that famous screen star, J. Harold Armytage.  “And the money he makes!  His salary is one of them you see compared with the President’s so as to make the latter seem a mere trifle.  That’s a funny thing.  I bet at least eighteen million grown people in this country never did know how much they was paying their president till they saw it quoted beside some movie star’s salary in a piece that tells how he’s getting about four times what we pay the man in the White House.  Ain’t it a great business, though!  Here’s this horrible male beauty that would have to be mighty careful to escape extermination if he was anything but an actor.  Being that, however, he not only eludes the vengeance of a sickened populace, but he can come out and be raw about it.  Here, let me show you.”

She turned to the page where J. Harold Armytage began to print a choice few of the letters he daily received from admirers of the reputedly frailer sex.  She now read me one of these with lamentable efforts of voice to satirize its wooing note:  “My darling!  I saw that dear face of yours again to-night in All For Love!  So noble and manly you were in the sawmill scene where first you turn upon the scoundrelly millionaire father of the girl you love, then save him from the dynamite bomb of the strikers at the risk of your own.  Oh, my dearest!  Something tells me your heart is as pure and sweet as your acting, that your dear face could not mask an evil thought.  Oh, my man of all the world!  If only you and I together might ­”

It seemed enough.  Ma Pettengill thought so too.  The others were not unlike it.  The woman then read me a few of the replies of J. Harold Armytage to his unknown worshippers.  The famous star was invariably modest and dignified in these.  Tactfully, as a gentleman must in any magazine of wide circulation, he deprecated the worship of these adoring ones and kindly sought to persuade them that he was but a man ­not a god, even if he did chance to receive one of the largest salaries in the business.  The rogue!  No god ­with the glorious lines of his face there on the cover to controvert this awkward disclaimer!  His beauty flaunted to famished hearts, what avail to protest weakly that they should put away his image or even to hint, as now and again he was stern enough to do, that their frankness bordered on the unmaidenly?

I called Ma Pettengill’s attention to this engaging modesty.  I said it must be an affair of some delicacy to rebuff ardent and not too reticent fair ones in a public print, and that I considered J. Harold Armytage to have come out of it with a display of taste that could be called unusual.  The woman replied, with her occasional irrelevance, that if the parties that hired him should read this stuff they probably wouldn’t even then take him out on the lot and have him bitterly kicked by a succession of ten large labouring men who would take kindly to the task.  She then once more said that the movies was sure one great business, and turned in the magazine to pleasanter pages on which one Vida Sommers, also a screen idol, it seemed, gave warning and advice to young girls who contemplated a moving-picture career.

Portraits of Vida Sommers in her best-known roles embellished these pages.  In all of the portraits she wept.  In some the tears were visible; in others they had to be guessed, the face being drawn by anguish.  Her feminine correspondents wished particularly to be told of the snares and temptations besetting the path of the young girl who enters this perilous career.  Many of them seemed rather vague except upon this point.  They all seemed to be sure that snares and temptations would await them, and would Vida Sommers please say how these could be avoided by young and impressionable girls of good figure and appearance who were now waiting on table at the American House in Centralia, Illinois, or accepting temporary employment in mercantile establishments in Chicago, or merely living at home in Zanesville, Ohio, amid conditions unbearably cramping to their aspirations?

And Vida Sommers told every one of them not to consider the pictures but as a final refuge from penury.  She warned them that they would find the life one of hard work and full of disappointments.  It seemed that even the snares and temptations were disappointing, being more easily evaded than many of her correspondents appeared to suspect.  She advised them all to marry some good, true man and make a home for him.  And surely none of them could have believed the life to be a joyous one after studying these sorrowful portraits of Vida Sommers.

“That’s my little actress friend,” said Ma Pettengill.  “Doesn’t she cry something grand!”

“You’ve been cheating me,” I answered.  “I never knew you had a little actress friend.  How did you get her?  And doesn’t she ever play anything cheerful?”

“Of course not!  She only plays mothers, and you know what that means in moving pictures.  Ever see a moving-picture mother that had a chance to be happy for more than the first ten feet of film?  You certainly got to cry to hold down that job.  Ain’t she always jolted quick in the first reel by the husband getting all ruined up in Wall Street, or the child getting stole, or the daughter that’s just budding into womanhood running off with a polished shoe-drummer with city ways, or the only son robbing a bank, or husband taking up with a lady adventuress that lives across the hall in the same flat and outdresses mother?

“Then it’s one jolt after another for her till the last ten feet of the last reel, when everything comes right somewhere on a ranch out in the great clean West where husband or son has got to be a man again by mingling with the honest-hearted drunken cowboys in their barroom frolics, or where daughter has won back her womanhood and made a name for herself by dancing the Nature dance in the Red Eye Saloon for rough but tender-hearted miners that shower their gold on her when stewed.  Only, in this glad time of the last ten feet she still has to cry a-plenty because the clouds have passed and she’s Oh, so happy at last!  Yes, sir; they get mother going and coming.  And when she ain’t weeping she has to be scared or mad or something that keeps her face busy.  Here ­I got some programmes of new pieces Vida just sent me.  You can see she’s a great actress; look at that one:  ‘Why Did You Make My Mamma Cry?’ And these other two.”

I looked and believed.  The dramas were variously and pithily described as The Picture with the Punch Powerful ­The Smashing Five-Reel Masterpiece ­A Play of Peculiar Problems and Tense Situations ­Six Gripping Reels, 7,000 Feet and Every Foot a Punch!  Vida Sommers, in the scenes reproduced from these plays, had indeed a busy face.  In the picture captioned “Why Did You Make My Mamma Cry?” the tiny golden-haired girl is reproaching her father in evening dress.  I read the opening lines of the synopsis:  “A young business man, who has been made successful through his wife’s money, is led to neglect her through pressure of affairs, falls into the toils of a dancer in a public place and becomes a victim of her habit, that of drinking perfume in her tea ­”

But I had not the heart to follow this tragedy.  In another, “The Woman Pays ­Powerful and Picturesque, a Virile Masterpiece of Red-Blooded Hearts,” Vida Sommers is powerfully hating her husband whom she has confronted in the den of a sneering and superbly gowned adventuress who declares that the husband must choose between them.  Of course there can be no doubt about the husband’s choice.  No sane movie actor would hesitate a second.  The caption says of Vida Sommers:  “Her Love Has Turned to Hate.”  It may be good acting, but it would never get her chosen by the male of her species ­the adventuress being what is known in some circles as a pippin.

I studied still another of these documents ­“Hearts Asunder.”  Vida Sommers has sent her beautiful daughter to the spring for a pail of water, though everyone in the audience must know that Gordon Balch, the detestable villain, is lurking outside for precisely this to occur.  The synopsis beautiful says:  “The mother now goes in search of her darling, only to find her struggling in the grasp of Gordon Balch, who is trying to force his attentions on her.”  This is where Vida Sommers has to look frightened, though in a later picture one sees that her fright changed to “A Mother’s Honest Rage.”  The result is that Gordon Balch gets his, and gets it good.  The line under his last appearance is “The End of a Misspent Life.”  Vida Sommers here registers pity.  As Ma Pettengill had said, her face seemed never to have a moment’s rest.

While I studied these exhibits my hostess had not been silent upon the merits of her little actress friend.  Slowly she made me curious as to the origin and inner life of this valued member of an exalted profession.

“Yes, sir; there she is at the top, drawing down big money, with a nice vine-clad home in this film town, furnished from a page in a woman’s magazine, with a big black limousine like a hearse ­all but the plumes ­and a husband that she worships the ground he walks on.  Everything the heart can desire, even to being mother to some of the very saddest persons ever seen on a screen.  It shows what genius will do for a woman when she finds out what kind of genius she’s got and is further goaded by the necessity of supporting a husband in the style to which he has been accustomed by a doting father.  She’s some person now, let me tell you.

“She spent a week with me in Red Gap last fall, and you’d ought to seen how certain parties kowtowed to me so they’d get to meet her.  I found that about every woman under fifty in our town is sure she was born for this here picture work, from Henrietta Templeton Price to Beryl Mae Macomber, who’s expecting any day to be snapped up by some shrewd manager that her type is bound to appeal to, she being a fair young thing with big eyes and lots of teeth, like all film actresses.  Metta Bigler, that teaches oil painting and burnt wood, give Vida a reception in her Bohemian studio in Red Gap’s Latin Quarter ­the studio having a chain of Chianti bottles on the wall and an ash tray with five burnt cigarette ends on a taboret to make it look Bohemian ­and that was sure the biggest thrill our town has had since the Gus Levy All Star Shamrock Vaudeville Company stranded there five years ago.  It just shows how important my little actress friend is ­and look what she come up from!”

I said I wouldn’t mind looking what she come up from if she had started low enough to make it exciting.

Ma Pettengill said she had that!  She had come up from the gutter.  She said that Vida Sommers, the idol of thousands, had been “a mere daughter of the people.”  Her eyes crinkled as she uttered this phrase.  So I chose a chair in the shadow while she built a second cigarette.

Ten years ago I’m taking a vacation down in New York City.  Along comes a letter from Aunt Esther Colborn, of Fredonia, who is a kind of a third cousin of mine about twice removed.  Says her niece, Vida, has had a good city job as cashier of a dairy lunch in Boston, which is across the river from some college, but has thrown this job to the winds to marry the only college son of a rich New York magnate or Wall Street crook who has cast the boy off for contracting this low alliance with a daughter of the people.  Aunt Esther is now afraid Vida isn’t right happy and wants I should look her up and find out.  It didn’t sound too good, but I obliged.

I go to the address in Sixty-seventh Street on the West Side and find that Vida is keeping a boarding house.  But I was ready to cheer Aunt Esther with a telegram one second after she opened the door on me ­in a big blue apron and a dustcap on her hair.  She was the happiest young woman I ever did see ­shining it out every which way.  A very attractive girl about twenty-five, with a slim figure and one of these faces that ain’t exactly of howling beauty in any one feature, but that sure get you when they’re sunned up with joy like this one was.

She was pleased to death when I told her my name, and of course I must come in and stay for dinner so I could see all her boarders that was like one big family and, above all, meet her darling husband Clyde when he got home from business.  The cheeriest thing she was, and I adore to meet people that are cheery, so I said nothing would please me better.  She took me up to her little bedroom to lay my things off and then down to the parlour where she said I must rest and excuse her because she still had a few little things to supervise.  She did have too.  In the next hour and a half she run up and down two flights of stairs at least ten times.  I could hear her sweeping overhead and jamming things round on the stove when she raced down to the kitchen.  Yes, she had several little things to supervise and one girl to help her.  I peeked into the kitchen once while I was wandering through the lower rooms, and she seemed to be showing this girl how to boil potatoes.  I wondered if she never run down and if her happy look was really chronic or mebbe put on for my benefit.  Still, I could hear her singing to herself and she moved like a happy person.

In looking round the parlour I was greeted on every wall by pictures of a charming youth I guessed was darling Clyde.  A fine young face he had, and looked as happy as Vida herself.  There was pictures of him with a tennis racket and on a sailboat and with a mandolin and standing up with his college glee club and setting on a high-powered horse and so forth, all showing he must be a great social favourite and one born to have a good time.  I wondered how he’d come to confer himself on the cashier of a quick-lunch place.  I thought it must be one of these romances.  Then ­I’m always remembering the foolishest things ­I recalled a funny little absent look in Vida’s eyes when she spoke of her darling coming home from business.  I thought now it must of been pride; that he was performing some low job in a factory or store while she run the boarding house, and she didn’t want me to know it.  I thought he must be a pretty fine rich man’s son to stand the gaff this way when cast off by his father for mixing up with a daughter of the people.

It come dinnertime; about a dozen boarders straggling in, with Vida in a pretty frock anxious because darling Clyde was ten minutes late and of course something fatal must of happened to him in crossing a crowded street.  But nothing had.  He showed up safe and sound and whistling in another ten minutes, and became the life of the party.  He looked near as happy as Vida did when she embraced him out in the hall, a fine handsome young fellow, the best-natured in the world, jollying the boarders and jollying me and jollying Vida that he called Baby Girl, or Babe.  I saw, too, that I must of been mistaken about the job he was holding down.  He was dressed in a very expensive manner, with neat little gold trinkets half concealed about him, the shirt and collar exactly right and the silk socks carefully matching the lavender tie.

He kept the table lively all through dinner with jokes and quips from the latest musical comedies and anecdotes of his dear old college days, and how that very afternoon he had won a silver cup and the pool championship of his college club ­and against a lot of corking good players, too, he didn’t mind saying.  Also I noticed we was eating a mighty good dinner; so darned good you didn’t see how Vida could set it up at the price boarders usually pay.

After dinner Clyde sat down to the piano in the parlour and entertained one and all with songs of a comic or sentimental character.  He knew a piano intimately, and his voice was one of these here melting tenors that get right inside of you and nestle.  He was about the most ingratiating young man I’d ever met, and I didn’t wonder any more about Vida’s look of joy being permanent.  She’d look in on the party every once in a while from the kitchen or the dining room where she was helping her Swede do the dishes for fifteen people and set the table for breakfast.

She was about an hour at this, and when at last she’d slipped out of her big apron and joined us she was looking right tuckered but still joyous.  Clyde patted his Baby Girl’s hand when she come in, and she let herself go into an easy-chair near him that one of the boarders got up to give her.  I got the swift idea that this was the first time all day she’d set down with any right feeling of rest.

Then Clyde sung to her.  You could tell it was a song he meant for her and never sung till she’d got the work done up.  A right pretty old song it was, Clyde throwing all the loving warmth of his first-class tenor voice into the words: 

Good night, good night, beloved! 
I come to watch o’er thee,
To be near thee, to be near thee.

I forget the rest, but there was happy tears in Vida’s eyes when he finished in one climbing tenor burst.  Then Clyde gets up and says he has an engagement down to his college club because some of his dear old classmates has gathered there for a quiet little evening of reminiscence and the jolly old rascals pretend they can’t get along without him.  Vida beams on him brighter than ever and tells him to be sure and have a good time, which I’d bet money he’d be sure to.

It was a very pretty scene when they said good night.  Vida pretended that Clyde’s voice was falling off from smoking too many cigarettes at this club.  “I wouldn’t mind you’re going there, but I just know you spend most of the time in the club’s horrid old smoking room!” She tells him this with a pout.  Smoking room of a club!  The knowing little minx!  And Clyde chided her right back in a merry fashion.  He lifted one of her hands and said his Baby Girl would have to take better care of them because the cunnun’ little handies was getting all rough.  Then they both laughed and went out for a long embrace in the hall.

Vida come back with a glowing countenance, and the boarders having dropped off to their rooms when the life of the party went to his club we had a nice chat.  All about Clyde.  She hoped I did like him, and I frankly said he was about the most taking young brat I’d ever been close to.  She explained how their union had been a dream; that during their entire married life of a year and a half he had never spoken one cross word to her.  She said I couldn’t imagine his goodness of heart nor his sunny disposition nor how much everyone admired him.  But the tired thing got so sleepy in ten minutes, even talking about her husband, that she couldn’t keep back the yawns, so I said I’d had a wonderful evening and would have to go now.

But up in the bedroom, while I’m putting my things on, she gets waked up and goes more into detail about her happiness.  I’ve never been able to figure out why, but women will tell each other things in a bedroom that they wouldn’t dream of telling in any other room.  Not that Vida went very far.  Just a few little points.  Like how Clyde’s father had cast him off when they married and how she had felt herself that she was nothing but a bad woman taking advantage of this youth, she being a whole year older than he was; but Clyde had acted stunning in the matter, telling his father he had chosen the better part.  Also it turned out this father hadn’t cast him off from so much after all, because the old man went flat broke in Wall Street a couple of months later, perishing of heart failure right afterward, and about the only thing Clyde would of drawn from the estate anyway was an old-fashioned watch of his grandfather’s with a chain made from his grandmother’s hair when she was a bride.

I gathered they had been right up against it at this time, except for the two thousand dollars that had been left Vida by her Uncle Gideon in the savings bank at Fredonia.  Clyde, when she drew this out, wanted they should go to Newport with it where they could lead a quiet life for a couple of months while he looked about for a suitable opening for himself.  But Vida had been firm, even ugly, she said, on this point.  She’d took the two thousand and started a boarding house that would be more like a home than a boarding house, though Clyde kept saying he’d never be able to endure seeing the woman bearing his name reduced to such ignoble straits.

Still he had swallowed his foolish pride and been really very nice about it after she got the business started.  Now he was always telling her to be sure and set a good table.  He said if you were going to do a thing, even if it was only keeping a boarding house, to do it well.  That was his motto ­do it well or don’t do it at all!  So she was buying the best cuts of meats and all fresh vegetables because of his strict ideas in this matter, and it didn’t look as if they’d ever really make a fortune at it ­to say nothing of there being more persons than I’d believe that had hard luck and got behind in their payments, and of course one couldn’t be stern to the poor unfortunates.

I listened to this chatter till it seemed about time to ask what business Clyde had took up.  It seemed that right at the moment he was disengaged.  It further seemed that he had been disengaged at most other moments since he had stooped to this marriage with a daughter of the people.  I mustn’t think it was the poor boy’s fault, though.  He was willing at all times to accept a situation and sometimes would get so depressed that he’d actually look for work.  Twice he had found it, but it proved to be something confining in an office where the hours were long and conditions far from satisfactory.

That’s how she put it, with glowing eyes and flushed cheeks:  “It proved to be mere dull routine work not in the least suited to darling Clyde’s talents and the conditions were far from satisfactory.  I had the hardest time prevailing on him to give the nasty old places up and wait patiently for a suitable opening.  He was quite impatient with me when he consented ­but, of course, he’s only a boy of twenty-four, a whole year younger than I am.  I tell him every day a suitable opening is bound to occur very soon.  You see, he had so many grand friends, people of the right sort that are wealthy.  I insist on his meeting them constantly.  Just think; only last week he spent Saturday and Sunday at one of the biggest country houses on Long Island, and had such a good time.  He’s a prime favourite with a lot of people like that and they’re always having him to dine or to the opera or to their balls and parties.  I miss him horribly, of course, and the poor dear misses me, but I tell him it will surely lead to something.  His old college chums all love him too ­a boy makes so many valuable friends in college, don’t you think?  A lot of them try to put things in his way.  I couldn’t bear to have him accept a situation unworthy of him ­I know it would kill him.  Why, he wilts like a flower under the least depression.”

Well, I set and listened to a long string of this ­and not a word for me to say.  What could any one of said?  Wasn’t it being told to me by the happiest woman I ever set eyes on?  Yes, sir; I’d never believe how gentle natured the boy was.  Why, that very morning, being worried about something that went wrong with breakfast, which she had to turn out at five A. M. to get started hadn’t she clean forgot to change his studs to a fresh shirt?  And, to make it worse, hadn’t she laid out a wrong color of socks with his lavender tie?  But had he been cross to her, as most men would of been?  Not for one second!  He’d simply joked her about it when she brought up his breakfast tray, just as he’d joked her to-night about her hands getting rough from the kitchen work.  And so forth and so forth!

The poor thing had got so dead for sleep by this time that she was merely babbling.  She’d probably of fallen over in her clothes if I hadn’t been there.  Anyway, I got her undressed and into bed.  She said Clyde’s goodnight song always rung in her ears till she slept.  It didn’t ring long this night.  She was off before I got out the door.  Darned if I hadn’t been kind of embarrassed by her talk, knowing it would never do for me to bust in with anything bordering on the vicious, such as suggesting that if Clyde now and then went into the kitchen and helped Baby Girl with the dishes it would make a very attractive difference in him.  I took another good look at his pictures in the parlour before I let myself out of the house.  He still looked good ­but hell!

I wrote Aunt Esther the same evening not to worry one minute about Vida’s happiness, because I wished we could all be as happy as she was.  All the same I took pains to go round to that boarding house a couple times more because it seemed like the girl’s happiness might have a bum foundation.  Darling Clyde was as merry and attentive as ever and Vida was still joyous.  I guess she kept joyous at her work all day by looking forward to that golden moment after dinner when her boy would sing Good night, good night, beloved ­he’d come to watch o’er her!  How that song did light her face up!

She confided to me one of these times that the funny men are always making jokes about how much it costs a woman for clothes, and she wondered why they didn’t make some of their old jokes about how much it costs for men’s clothes too.  She said I wouldn’t believe how much they had to lay out on Clyde’s clothes so he’d be sure to look right when a suitable opening occurred.  I could take the item of shirts alone that had to be made to order and cost seven-fifty each, to say nothing of collars and ties and suits from what Clyde said was the only tailor in New York that could dress a gentleman so he looked like one.  She said if these funny humourists could see what they spent on her clothes and what they had to spend on Clyde’s, she bet they’d feel mighty cheap.  She laughed like she had a bully joke on the poor things.

She was glad, too, for Clyde’s sake that a suitable opening was just about to occur any moment, because the poor chap said himself it was a dog’s life he was leading, with nothing much to do every day but go to the club and set round.  And how thankful she’d ought to be that he never drank ­the least bit of liquor made him ill ­and so many young men of his class nowadays drank to excess.

No; nothing for me to say and nothing to do.  Here was one happy love match.  So I come home, making Vida promise to write often.

She did write about six times in the next three years.  The chief fact standing out was that the right opening for Clyde hadn’t opened yet ­and he was getting more impatient every day.  He always had something in view.  But I judged he was far-sighted.  And some way when he had got his rope over a job the hondoo wouldn’t seem to render.  He couldn’t cinch anything.  He was as full of blandishment as ever, though, and not a one of his staunch old friends had dropped him on account of his unfortunate marriage.  He was a great diner-out and spent lots of week-ends, and just now was on a jolly houseboat in Florida for three months with an old college mate worth nine million dollars, and wasn’t that nice!  She could just see him keeping the whole party gay with his mandolin and his songs.  The summer before that this same friend had let Clyde have an elegant motor car for his own use, and the foolish boy had actually took her out in it one Sunday, there being a pongee motor coat in the car that fit her beautifully so that none of his rich friends could have told she wasn’t dressed as smartly as they was.  He not only kept her out all afternoon, but would have took her to dinner some place only she had to get back to the boarding house because you couldn’t trust these raw Swedes.

And there was one thing she was going to bring herself to confess to me, no matter if it did sound disloyal ­a dreadful thing about Clyde.  It was ugly of her to breathe a word against him, but she was greatly worried and mebbe I could help her.  The horrible truth was that her boy was betraying an inclination to get fat, and he’d only laugh at her when she warned him.  Many a night her pillow had been wet with tears on this account, and did I believe in any of these remedies for reducing?  Wasn’t there something she could slip into his pudding that would keep him down without his knowing it, because otherwise, though it was a thing no true wife ought to say, her beloved would dig his grave with his teeth.

I thought that was about enough and even ample.  I started a hot answer to this letter, saying that if darling Clyde was digging his grave with his teeth it was her own fault because she was providing the spade and the burial plot, and the quickest way to thin her darling down would be for her to quit work.  But shucks!  Why insult the poor thing?  I got back my composure and wrote her a nice letter of sympathy in her hour of great trouble.  I didn’t say at all that if I had been in her place Mr. Clyde would of long since had my permission to go to the devil.  Yes, sir; I’d have had that lad going south early in the second year.  Mebbe not at that!  A woman never really knows how some other man might of made a fool of her.

Two more years drug on, with about two letters from Vida, and then I get a terrible one announcing the grand crash.  First, the boarding house had died a lingering death, what from Vida buying the best the market afforded and not having learned to say “No!” to parties that got behind, and Clyde having had to lend a couple hundred dollars to a fraternity brother that was having a little hard luck.  She’d run the business on a narrow trail for the last two months, trying to guard every penny, but it got so she and Clyde actually had to worry over his next club dues, to say nothing of a new dress suit he was badly needing.  Then some parties she owed bills to come along and pushed her over the cliff by taking her furniture.  She was at first dreadfully worried about how her boy would stand the blow, but he’d took it like the brave, staunch man he was, being such a help to her when they had to move to a furnished room near the old home where they both had been so happy.  He’d fairly made the place ring with his musical laughter and his merry jesting about their hardships.

Then she’d got a good job as cashier in a big grocery she’d dealt with, not getting a million dollars a year, to be sure, but they were doing nicely, because Clyde took most of his meals with his thoughtful friends ­and then crash out of a clear sky a horrible tragedy happened that for a minute darkened the whole world.

Yes, it was a bitter tragedy.  Clyde’s two-year-old dress suit, that he was bravely wearing without a murmur, had needed pressing and she promised to do it; but she overslept herself till seven-thirty that morning, which made her late at the store, so she’d asked the girl in this rooming house to do it down in the kitchen.  The girl had been willing but weak-minded.  She started with too hot an iron and didn’t put a damp cloth between the iron and the goods.  In the midst of the job something boiled over on the stove.  She got rattled and jumped for that, and when she come back the dress coat of darling Clyde was branded for fair in the middle of the back ­a nifty flatiron brand that you could of picked him out of a bunch of animals by in one second.  The girl was scared stiff and hung the clothes back in the closet without a word.  And poor Clyde discovered the outrage that night when he was dressing for a class reunion of his dear old Alvah Mater.

I had to read between the lines some, but I gathered that he now broke down completely at this betrayal of his trusting nature.  Vida must of been suffering too keenly herself to write me all the pitiful details.  And right on top of this blow comes the horrible discovery, when he takes his mandolin out of the case, that it has been fatally injured in the moving.  One blow right on another.  How little we realize the suffering that goes on all about us in this hard world.  Imagine the agony in that furnished room this night!

Clyde wasn’t made of iron.  When the first flood of grief subsided he seems to of got cold and desperate.  Said Vida in this letter:  “My heart stopped when he suddenly declared in cool, terrible tones:  ’There’s always the river!’ I could see that he had resolved to end it all, and through the night I pleaded with my boy.”

I bet she made mistakes as a grocer’s cashier next day, but it was worth it because her appeals to Clyde’s better nature had prevailed.  He did disappear that day, getting his trunks from the house while she was at the store and not being able to say good-bye because he couldn’t remember which store she was accepting a situation at.  But he left her a nice note.  He wasn’t going to end it all in the river.  He was going off on the private steamboat of one of his dearest friends for a trip round the world that might last a year ­and she mustn’t worry about the silly old dress coat, because his new dinner-jacket suit would be ample for a boat trip.  Also she’d be glad to know that he had a new mandolin, though she wasn’t to worry about the bill for it, because the man didn’t expect his pay on time and, anyway, he could wait, so with fondest love!

And Vida was so relieved at this good fortune.  To think that her despondent boy was once more assured of his rightful position for a whole year, while she was saving her princely wages till she got enough to start another boarding house that would be more like a home.  Wasn’t it all simply too good to be true ­wasn’t it always darkest just before dawn!

I didn’t trust myself to answer that letter, beyond wiring her that if she ever felt she was having any really hard luck to be sure and call on me.  And she went on working and putting her money by.  It was two years later when I next saw her.  I looked her up the first thing when I got to New York.

She was still accepting a position in this grocery, but of course had changed to a much smaller furnished room where she could be cozy and feed herself from a gas stove on the simple plain foods that one just can’t seem to get at high-priced restaurants.

She’d changed a lot.  Lines in her face now, and streaks in her brown hair, and she barely thirty.  I made up my mind to do something harsh, but couldn’t just tell how to start.  She’d had a picture card from her boy the first year, showing the Bay of Naples and telling how he longed for her; but six months later had come a despondent letter from Japan speaking again of the river and saying he often felt like ending it all.  Only, he might drag out his existence a bit longer because another wealthy old chum was in port and begging him to switch over to his yacht and liven up the party, which was also going round the world ­and maybe he would, because “after all, does anything in life really matter?”

That was the last line.  I read it myself while Vida watched me, setting on her little iron bed after work one night.  She had a plain little room with no windows but one in the roof, though very tastefully furnished with photos of Clyde on every wall.  The only other luxury she’d indulged in was a three-dollar revolver because she was deathly afraid of burglars.  She’d also bought a hammer to shoot the revolver off with, keeping ’em both on the stand at the head of her bed.  Yes; she said that was the way the man was firing it off in the advertisement ­hitting it on a certain spot with a hammer.  She was a reckless little scoundrel.  She told me all about how to shoot a revolver while I was thinking up what to say about Clyde.

I finally said if he had ended it all she must cheer up, because it might be for the best.  She considered this sadly and said she didn’t believe dear Clyde had been prepared to die.  I could see she was remembering old things that had been taught her in Sabbath school about God and wickedness and the bad place, so I cheered her on that point.  I told her they hadn’t been burning people for about thirty years now, the same not being considered smart any longer in the best religious circles.  I also tried in a delicate manner to convince her that her boy would never end it all by any free act of his.  I offered to bet her a large sum of money on this at any odds she wanted ­she could write her own ticket.  I said I knew men well enough to be certain that with this one it would be a long life but a merry one.  Gee!  The idea of this four-carder hurting himself!

And I had to cheer her up on another point.  This was that she didn’t have about three babies, all the image of their father.  Yes, sir; she was grieving sorely about that.  It give me a new line on her.  I saw all at once she was mostly mother ­a born one.  Couldn’t ever be anything else and hadn’t ever really felt anything but mothersome to this here wandering treasure of hers.  It give me kind of a shock.  It made me feel so queer I wanted to swear.

Well, I wrastled with that mulish female seven straight days to make her leave that twelve-hour job of hers and come out here with me.  I tried everything.  I even told her what with long hours and bum food she was making herself so old that her boy wouldn’t give her a second look when he got back.  That rattled her.  She took hold of her face and said that massage cream would take all those silly lines out when she got time to rub it in properly; and as for the gray in her hair, she could never bring herself to use a dye, but if Clyde come back she might apply a little of the magic remedy that restores the natural colour.  She also said in plain words that to come out here with me would look like deserting her boy.  Do you get that?

“Dear Clyde is so sensitive,” she says.  “I couldn’t bear the thought of his coming back and finding that I had left our home.”

My work was cut for me, all right.  I guess I’d failed if I hadn’t been helped by her getting a sick spell from worry over what the good God would do to Clyde if he should end it all in some nasty old river, and from the grocery being sold to a party that had his own cashier.  But I won, she being too sick to hunt another job just then.  A least I got a fair compromise.

She wouldn’t come here to live with me, but she remembered that Clyde had often talked of Southern California, where he had once gone with genial friends in a private car.  He had said that some day when he had acquired the means he would keep a home there.  So she was willing to go there herself and start a home for him.  I saw it was the best I could get from her, so I applauded.

I says:  “That’s fine.  You take this three hundred and eighty dollars you got saved and I’ll put a few dollars more with it and get you a little country place down there where you can be out of doors all day and raise oranges and chickens, and enough hogs for table use, and when the dear boy comes back he’ll be awful proud of you.”

“Oh, he always was that,” says Vida.  “But I’ll go ­and I’ll always keep a light in the window for him.”

And a lot of folks say women ought to vote!

So we start for Los Angeles, deserting Clyde just as mean as dirt.  Sure, I went with her!  I didn’t trust her to finish the trip.  As it was, she wanted to get off the train twice before we got to Chicago ­thinking of the shock to her boy’s tender heart if he should come back and find himself deserted.

But then, right after we left Chicago, she got interested.  In the section across from us was a fifty-five-year-old male grouch with a few gray bristles on his head who had been snarling at everyone that come near him ever since the train left New York.  The porters and conductors had got so they’d rush by him like they was afraid of getting bit on the arm.  He had a gray face that seemed like it had been gouged out of stone.  It was like one of these gargles you see on rare old churches in Europe.  He was just hating everyone in the world, not even playing himself a favourite.  And Vida had stood his growling as long as she could.  Having at last give up the notion of tracking back to New York, she plumped herself down in the seat with this raging wild beast and begged for his troubles.  I looked to see her tore limb from limb, instead of which in three minutes he was cooing to her in a rocky bass voice.  His trouble was lumbago or pleurisy or some misery that kept him every minute in this pernickety state.

That was all old mother Vida needed to know.  She rustled a couple hot-water bags and kept ’em on the ribs of this grouch for about two thousand miles, to say nothing of doping him with asperin and quinine and camphor and menthol and hot tea and soothing words.  He was the only son in sight, so he got it good.  She simply has to mother something.

The grouch got a little human himself the last day out and begun to ask Vida questions about herself.  Being one that will tell any person anything at all, she told him her life history and how her plans was now unsettled, but she hoped to make a home out on this coast.  The grouch come right out and asked her how big her roll was, saying he lived out here and it cost something to make a home.  Vida told him she had her two years’ savings of three hundred and eighty good dollars and that I had promised to loan her a few dollars to piece out with.  At this the old boy looked me over carefully and could see no signs of vast wealth because I never wear such in Pullman cars, so he warns her that I’ll have to piece out her savings with a few thousand instead of a few dollars if she’s to start anything worth keeping, because what they do to you in taxes down there is a-plenty.

After which he goes to sleep.

Vida moves over and asks what I meant by saying I’d only have to put in a few dollars when I must of known it would take a few thousand, and didn’t I realize that Clyde would be hurt to the quick if he come back and found she hadn’t been independent?  She indignantly said she’d have to give up the country place and work till she had enough to start another home for paying guests.

I was so mad at this truthful grouch for butting in on my game that I up and told her flat she could never run a boarding house and make it pay; that no woman could who hadn’t learned to say “No!” and she was too much of a mush-head for that.  She was quite offended by this and says firmness has always been considered a strong point in her personality.  A first-class palmist had told her this only two weeks before.  While we are squabbling back and forth the grouch wakes up again and says that he’s in the moving-picture business and will give her a good job in the wardrobe department of the company he’s with, so she must show up there at eight o’clock the next morning.  Just like that!  He didn’t ask her.  He told her.

Vida is kind of took off her feet, but mumbles “Yes, sir!” and puts his card in her bag.  Me?  I was too mad to talk, seeing the girl get into the mill again when I’d tried so hard to get her out.  But I swore to myself I’d stick round and try to get some sense into the cup-custard she called her brain.

So the next morning I took her out to this moving-picture joint that they call a studio ­not a bit like Metta Bigler’s studio in Red Gap ­and sure enough here’s the grouch ready to put Vida on a job.  The job is in a room about ninety feet long filled with boxes and sewing machines and shelves full of costumes, and Vida is to be assistant wardrobe mistress.  Yes, sir; a regular title for the job.  And the pay is twenty-five a week, which is thirteen more than she’d ever dreamed of making before.  The grouch is very decent to her and tells everybody she’s a friend of his, and they all pay polite attention to him because he’s someone important in the works.  It seems he’s a director.  He stands round and yells at the actors how to act, which I had always supposed they knew already but it seems not.  Anyway, I left Vida there to get on to her new duties.

She was full of good reports that night about how well she’d got along, and how interesting the work was, and how she’d helped doctor up another boy.  She said he was one of the world’s greatest actors, because if they give him four or five stiff drinks first he would fall off a forty-foot cliff backwards into the ocean.  She’d helped bandage a sprained wrist for him that he got by jumping out of a second-story window in a gripping drama replete with punch and not landing quite right.

I said to myself it must be a crazy joint and she’d soon give up and let me get her a nice little place on the edge of town that I’d already looked over.  So I let her go three days more, but still she stuck there with great enthusiasm.  Then I had to be leaving for home, so the afternoon of the fourth day I went out to see for myself how things looked.

Vida is tickled to see me and takes me right in where they’re beginning to act a gripping feature production.  Old Bill Grouch is there in front of a three-legged camera barking at the actors that are waiting round in their disguises ­with more paint on ’em than even a young girl will use if her mother don’t watch her.  The grouch is very polite to Vida and me and shows us where to stand so we won’t get knocked over by other actors that are carrying round furniture and electric light stands and things.

They got a parlour in a humble home where the first scene is to be.  There’s a mother and a fair-haired boy of twenty and a cop that’s come to pinch him for a crime.  The play at this point is that the mother has to plead with the cop not to drag her boy off to a prison cell, and she has to do it with streaming eyes.  It was darned interesting.  The boy is standing with bowed head and the cop is looking sympathetic but firm, and mother is putting something into her eyes out of a medicine dropper.  I whisper to Vida and she says it’s glycerine for the tears.  She holds her head back when she puts ’em in and they run down her cheeks very lifelike when she straightens up.

So mother comes forward with her streaming face and they’re all ready to act when the grouch halts things and barks at the boy that he ain’t standing right.  He goes up and shows him how to stand more shamefully.  But the tears on mother’s face have dripped away and have to be renewed.  She was a nice, kind-appearing mother all right, but I noticed she looked peeved when this delay happened.  Vida explains that glycerine don’t damage the eyes really, but it makes ’em smart a lot, and this actress, Miss St. Clair, has a right to feel mad over having to put in some more.

But she does it, though with low muttering when the grouch calls “All right, Miss St. Clair!” and is coming forward to act with this here second batch of tears when the grouch stops it with another barking fit.  He barks at the policeman this time.  He says the policeman must do more acting.

“You know you have a boy of your own,” says he, “and how you’d hate to have him arrested for this crime, but you’re also remembering that law is law and you’re sworn to uphold it.  Try to get that now.  All ready, Miss St. Clair ­we’re waiting for you, Miss St. Clair!”

I’d watched this actress the second time her tears was spoiled and her expression didn’t fit a loving mother’s face one bit.  Her breath come as in scenes of tense emotion, but she hotly muttered something that made me think I must of misunderstood her, because no lady actress would say it, let alone a kind old mother.  However, she backs off and for the third time has this medicine dropper worked on her smarting eyes.  Once more she comes forward with streaming eyes of motherly love, and I’m darned if this grouch don’t hold things up again.

This time he’s barking about a leather sofa against the far wall of the humble home.  He says it’s an office sofa and where in something is the red plush one that belongs to the set?  He’s barking dangerously at everyone round him when all at once he’s choked off something grand by the weeping mother that has lost her third set of tears.  She was wiping glycerine off her face and saying things to the grouch that must of give him a cold chill for a minute.  I’m sometimes accused of doing things with language myself, but never in my life have I talked so interestingly ­at least not before ladies.  Not that I blamed her.

Everyone kept still with horror till she run down; it seems it’s a fierce crime in that art to give a director what’s coming to him.  The policeman and the erring son was so scared they just stood there acting their parts and the grouch was frozen with his mouth half open.  Probably he hadn’t believed it at first.  Then all at once he smiled the loveliest smile you ever seen on a human face and says in chilled tones:  “That will be all, Miss St. Clair!  We will trouble you no further in this production.”  His words sounded like cracking up a hunk of ice for the cocktail shaker.  Miss St. Clair then throws up her arms and rushes off, shrieking to the limit of a bully voice.

It was an exciting introduction for me to what they call the silent drama.

Then I looked at Vida and she was crying her eyes out.  I guessed it was from sympathy with the mother actress, but the grouch also stares at her with his gimlet eyes and says: 

“Here, don’t you waste any tears on her.  That’s all in the day’s work.”

“I ­wasn’t thinking of her,” sobs Vida.

“Then what you crying for?” says he.

“For that poor dear boy that’s being dragged from his mother to prison for some childish prank,” she blubbers.

Me, I laughed right out at the little fool, but the director didn’t laugh.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” says he in low, reverent tones.

Then he begins to look into her face like he’d lost something there.  Then he backed off and looked into it a minute more.  Then he went crazy all over the place.

“Here,” he barks at another actress, “get this woman into your dressing room and get the number five on her quick.  Make her up for this part, understand?  You there, Eddie, run get that calico skirt and black-satin waist off Miss St. Clair and hustle ’em over to Miss Harcourt’s room, where this lady will be making up.  Come on now!  Move!  Work quick!  We can’t be on this scene all day.”

Then, when everybody run off, he set down on the red plush sofa that was now in place, relighted a cigar that smelled like it had gone out three days before, and grinned at me in an excited manner.

“Your little friend is a find,” he says.  “Mark my words, Mrs. Pettijohn, she’s got a future or I don’t know faces.  She’ll screen well, and she’s one of the few that can turn on the tears when she wants to.  I always did hate glycerine in this art.  Now if only I can get her camera wise ­and I’ll bet I can!  Lucky we’d just started on this piece when St. Clair blew up.  Only one little retake, where she’s happy over her boy’s promotion in the factory.  She’s bound to get away with that; then if she can get the water again for this scene it will be all over but signing her contract.”

I was some excited myself by this time, you’d better believe.  Nervous as a cat I found myself when Vida was led out in the sad mother’s costume by this other actress that had made her up.  But Vida wasn’t nervous the least bit.  She was gayly babbling that she’d always wanted to act, and once she had played a real part in a piece they put on at Odd Fellows’ Hall in Fredonia, and she had done so well that even the Methodist minister said she was as good as the actress he saw in Lawrence Barrett’s company before he was saved; and he had hoped she wouldn’t be led away by her success and go on the real stage, because he could not regard it as a safe pursuit for young persons of her sex, owing to there being so little home life ­and now what did she do first?

This director had got very cold and businesslike once more.

“Stop talking first,” says he.  “Don’t let me hear another word from you.  And listen hard.  You’re sitting in your humble home sewing a button on your boy’s coat.  He’s your only joy in life.  There’s the coat and the button half sewed on with the needle and thread sticking in it.  Sit down and sew that button on as if you were doing it for your own son.  No pretending, mind you.  Sew it on as if ­”

He hesitated a minute and got a first-class inspiration.

“Sew it on as if it was a button on your husband’s coat that you told me about.  Every two or three stitches look up to show us how happy you are.  When you get it sewed, take the coat up this way and hug it.  You look still happier at that.  Then you walk over to the mantel, pick up the photograph of your boy that’s there by that china dog and kiss it.  I won’t tell you how to do that.  Remember who he is and do it your own way, only let us see your face.  Then put back the picture slowly, go get the coat, and start to the left as if you were going to hang it up in his room; but you hear steps on the stair outside and you know your boy has come home from work.  We see that because your face lights up.  Stand happy there till he comes in.

“You expect him to rush over to you as usual, but he’s cast down; something has happened.  You get a shock of fright.  Walk over to him ­slow; you’re scared.  Get your arms round him.  He stiffens at first, then leans on you.  He’s crying himself now, but you ain’t ­not yet.  You’re brave because you don’t know about this fight he’s had with the foreman that’s after your boy’s sweetheart for no good purpose.

“Now go through it that far and see if you remember everything I told you.  When we get down to the crying scene after the officer comes on, I’ll rehearse you in that too, only for God’s sake don’t cry in the rehearsal!  You’ll go dry.  Now then!  Coat ­button ­sewing.  Goon!”

Well, sir, I stood there trembling like a leaf while she went through what he’d told her like she’d been at it all her life ­or rather like it was her dear Clyde’s coat and her dear Clyde’s photo and her dear Clyde that come in the door.  Then he rehearsed her in the end of the scene where the cop comes on, and she got that, too, though alarming him because she couldn’t even rehearse it without crying.  I could see this director was nervous himself by this time, thinking she was too good to be true.  But he got her into the chair sewing again, all ready for the real work.

“Remember only three things,” he says:  “Don’t look at this machine, move slowly when you move at all, and don’t try to act.  Now then!  Camera!”

It was a historic occasion, all right.  The lad at the camera begun to turn a crank and Vida begun to act like she wasn’t acting at all.  The director just give her a low word when she had to move.  He didn’t bark now.  And say, that crying scene!  Darned if I didn’t near cry myself looking at her, and I heard this stonefaced director breathing mighty short when she had to stand there with her hands clenched and watch her boy go out the door with this cop.

Vida was too excited to sleep that night.  She said the director had advised her privately not to make a contract just yet, because she would get better terms when she’d showed ’em what she could really do.  For this picture she would get paid seventy-five dollars a week.  A week, mind you, to a girl that had been thinking herself lucky to get twelve in New York.

She was very let down and happy, and cried a little bit out of working hours for me because it was all so wonderful, and her drowned boy might be resting on some river bottom at that very moment.  I said it was a safe bet he was resting, wherever he was; but she didn’t get it and I didn’t say it twice.

And such was the beginning of Vida Sommers’ glittering sob career in the movies.  She’s never had but one failure and they turned that into a success.  It seems they tried her in one of these “Should a Wife Forgive?” pieces in which the wife did not forgive, for a wonder, and she made a horrible mess of it.  She was fine in the suffering part, of course, only when it come to not forgiving at the end ­well, she just didn’t know how to not forgive.  They worked with her one whole day, then had to change the ending.  She’s said to be very noble and womanly in it.

I went home next day, leaving her in pursuit of her art.  But I got glowing letters from her about every week, she doing new pictures and her salary jumping because other film parties was naturally after so good a weeper.  And the next year I run down to see her.  She was a changed woman all right.  She had a home or bungalow, a car, a fashionable dog, a Jap cook, a maid and real gowns for the first time in her life.  But the changes was all outside.  She was still the same Vida that wanted to mother every male human on earth.  She never seemed to worry about girls and women; her idea is that they’re able to look out for themselves, but that men are babies needing a mother’s protection as long as they live.

And of course one of these men she had mothered down there had took a base advantage of her ­this same ugly old grouch of a director.  She locked the bedroom door and told me about it in horrified whispers the first night I got there.  She said it might of been her fault, that he might of misunderstood something she had said about Clyde.  And anyway she’d ought to of remembered that some men are beasts at heart.

Anyway, this infamous brute had come to the house one night and insulted her in the grossest manner, and it was all true about moving-picture directors having designs on unprotected females that work for ’em.  Yielding to his lowest brute instincts he had thrown decency to the winds and made her such an evil proposition that she could hardly bear to put it in words.  But she did.  It seems that the scoundrel had listened to some studio gossip to the effect that she had divorced the husband who deserted her, and so he come right out and said he had been deeply in love with her ever since that first day on the train, and now that she was free, would she marry him?

Of course she was insulted to the limit and told him so in what would probably of made a gripping scene of a good woman spurning the advances of a moral leper.  She overwhelmed him with scorn and horror for his foul words.  How dared he say her Clyde had deserted her, or think she would ever divorce him!  That showed, what a vile mind he must have.  She said he got awful meek and apologetic when he learned that she still clung to the memory of Clyde, who would one day fight his way back to her if he hadn’t ended it all.  She told him fully what a perfect man Clyde was, and she said at last the ugly old wretch just grinned weakly at her in a very painful way, like it hurt him, and said:  “Oh, my dearest, you must try to forgive me.  I didn’t know ­I didn’t know half the truth.”  Then he patted her hand and patted her cheek and choked up and swallowed a couple of times, and says he: 

“I was an old man dreaming and dreams make fools of old men!”

Then he swallowed again and stumbled out through her garden where the orange blossoms had just come.  She said he’d never been offensive since that time, barking as nasty to her as to any of the others when she was acting, so that no one would dream what a foul heart he had, except that he always kept a bunch of white roses in her dressing room.  But she hadn’t cared to make him trouble about that because maybe he was honestly trying to lead a better life.

Some entertainment Vida give me, telling this, setting on her bed under a light that showed up more lines than ever in her face.  She was looking close to forty now ­I guess them crying scenes had told on her, and her yearning for the lost Clyde ­anyway she was the last woman on earth could of got herself insulted even if she had tried her prettiest, only she didn’t know that.  And she’d had her little thrill.  We’ve all dreamed of how we’d some day turn down some impossible party who was overcome by our mere beauty.

I said I’d always known this director was an unspeakable scoundrel, because he insisted on calling me Mrs. Pettijohn.

Then we had a nice talk about Clyde.  She’d had no word for a year now, the last being a picture card saying he would spend the winter in Egypt with some well-known capitalists that wouldn’t take no for an answer.  And did I believe he might now be wandering over the face of the earth, sick and worn, and trying to get back to her; didn’t I think some day he would drag himself to her door, a mere wreck of his former self, to be soothed at last on her breast?  That was why she kept a light burning in the front window of this here bungalow.  He would know she had waited.

Well, I’d never said a word against Clyde except in conversation with myself, and I wasn’t going to break out now.  I did go so far as to hint that an article that had come out about her in this same magazine might draw Clyde back a little quicker than the light in the window.  The article said her salary was enormous.  I thought its rays might carry.

So I come home again and near a year later I get a telegram from Vida:  “Happy at last ­my own has come home to me.”  I threw up my hands and swore when I read this.  The article had said her salary was seven hundred and fifty dollars a week.

The next winter I run down to see the happy couple.  Vida was now looking a good forty, but Clyde was actually looking younger than ever; not a line nor a wrinkle to show how he had grieved for her, and not a sign of writer’s cramp from these three picture cards he had sent her in five years.  She’d been afraid he’d come back worn to the bone.

But listen!  By the time I got there Clyde was also drawing money.  He’d felt a little hurt at first to find his wife a common actress, and asked to see her contract because you couldn’t believe what you see in these magazines.  Then he’d gone round the lot and got to be an actor himself.  I gathered that he hadn’t been well liked by the men at first, and two or three other directors, when Vida insisted he should have a chance to act, had put him into rough-house funny plays where he got thrown downstairs or had bricks fall on him, or got beat up by a willing ex-prize fighter, or a basket of eggs over his head, or custard pies in his perfect features, with bruises and sprains and broken bones and so forth ­I believe the first week they broke everything but his contract.

Anyway, when he begun to think he wasn’t meant for this art, who steps in but this same director that had made such a beast of himself with Vida?  He puts Clyde into a play in which Vida is the mother and Clyde is the noble son that takes the crime on his shoulders to screen the brother of the girl he loves, and it was an awful hit.  Naturally Vida was never so good before and Clyde proved to be another find.  He can straighten up and look nobler when he’s wrongfully accused of a crime than any still actor I ever see.  He’s got now to where they have to handle him with gloves or he’d leave ’em flat and go with another company.  Vida wrote me only last week that they had a play for him where he’s cast off on a desert island with a beautiful but haughty heiress, and they have to live there three months subsisting on edible foods which are found on all desert islands.  But Clyde had refused the part because he would have to grow whiskers in this three months.  He said he had to think of his public, which would resent this hideous desecration.  He thought up a bully way to get out of it.  He said he’d let the whiskers grow for a few scenes and then find a case of safety razors washed ashore, so he could shave himself just before the haughty millionaire’s daughter confessed that she had loved him from the first and the excursion steamer come up to rescue ’em.  I believe he now admits frankly that he wrote most of the play, or at least wrote the punch into it.  A very happy couple they are, Clyde having only one vice, which is candy that threatens his waistline.  Vida keeps a sharp watch on him, but he bribes people to sneak chocolate creams into his dressing room.  The last night I was there he sung “Good-night, Good-night, Beloved!” so well that I choked up myself.

Of course women are crazy about him; but that don’t bother Vida a little bit.  She never wanted a husband anyway ­only a son.  And Clyde must have had something wake up in his brain them years he was away.  He had a queer look in his eyes one night when he said to me ­where Vida couldn’t hear:  “Yes, other women have loved me, but she ­she knows me and loves me!” It’s the only thing I ever heard him utter that would show he might be above a pet kitten in intellect.

And, of course, these letters he gets don’t mean anything in his life but advertising ­Oh, yes!  I forgot to tell you that his stage name is J. Harold Armytage.  He thought it up himself.  And the letters coming in by the bushel really make Vida proud.  In her heart she’s sorry for the poor fools because they can’t have as much of dear Clyde as she has.  She says she’s never deserved her present happiness.  I never know whether I agree with her or not.

She’s a queer one.  Darned if she don’t make a person think sometimes ­listening to her chatter ­that there must be something kind of decent about human nature after all!