THE FILM HOGS
ALL was confusion as the company, having finished “ shooting ” the last scene of J. Gaston Royce’s great picture “Maid, Wife or Widow?” starring those wellknown favorites, Claire Devereaux and W. Ferdinand Reeber, prepared to leave Monomee Island for civilization. A sudden summer
storm, sweeping down from the Arctic on to the scene of their artistic endeavor in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, added a touch of terror to the anxiety with which the actors waited for the sailors to take them off the island. Well out in the bay two ships rode at anchor with steam up, ready for departure. One of them, an ordinary coasting steamer, brought out by contrast the dainty lines and gull-like grace of the other, a small yacht which lay at some distance from it.
J. Gaston Royce, a melancholy, long-haired man with Art written all over his introspective countenance, stood a little to one side of his company in the detached and gloomy grandeur of a Great Director. The actors, no less keenly aware of such social distinctions, had split up into the various grades demanded by their salaries and their parts in the piece, leaving as their dregs a lonely-looking lot of men and women of all ages—the “extras.” The sediment of the dregs, a fat negress, stood by herself at one side with a certain rude dignity of countenance which was enhanced by the isolation thus enforced on her.
“Are Devereaux and Reeber aboard?” J. Gaston Royce called out.
His face expressed annoyance at having to shout to make himself heard above the wind and the rival shouting of the sailors.
“I think so!” an actor called back. “I don’t see them anywhere about. They must have gone on the first boat.”
‘Only one of them,” corrected a sharp-featured girl at his side. “Claire said she told Mr. Reeber never to speak to her again. That last scene fed her up. She says she didn’t mind his hogging everything else, but that last bit was meant to be hers, and he took that too. She was boiling.” And the sharp-featured girl looked pleased.
“They agree on that, anyhow,” one of the men spoke up cheerfully. “Reeber told me almost the same thing about Claire. He swore he wouldn’t go home in the same boat with her. That boy isn’t half fond of himself; he’d make a pouter-pigeon look roundshouldered.”
“They can’t both go on the cruise South, then,” chimed in another. “And as far as that goes, she’s as bad as he is; she pretty nearly falls over backward every time she stands up.
They’re both filmhogs!”
“Is everybody going on the cruise?” a man interposed, and looked inquiringly around him.
“Heaven only knows,” the first speaker answered.
“Everything’s so muddled up. The chap who owns the yacht says he wants everybody to go, and, as far as I can make out, every one’s struggling between the chance to have a big blow-out at somebody else’s expense, and the chance of getting a part in the great and only J. G.’s next great masterpiece. It’s a dead snip we can’t have both. As for me,
I’m for the trip, and my baggage is aboard the yacht now.”
“And mine!” “And mine!” chorused several of the others.
“All aboard!” a petty officer trumpeted through his cupped hands.
Everybody took up the cry.
How many blankets of superficiality, woven of fortune, pride and circumstance, humans pile upon themselves to warm their little egos —and how quickly the rude wind of adversity may strip them off!
“This launch for the yacht, sir! The other’s for the ship,” a sailor said.
Amid the dainty squealings of the company and the hoarse shouts of sailors, the passengers scrambled aboard their respective craft. The director, standing Napoleonically on the landing-stage, was the last to step aboard.
“Everybody on?” he asked perfunctorily.
“Yes, everybody on,” someone shouted impatiently, and the sailors cast off.
Busy figures began to run to and fro like ants on the decks of both ships; chains rattled; the smoke from the boats’ stacks became blacker and thicker; and, in a few minutes, with a parting blast of their sirens to one another, they were under way and speeding in opposite directions.
FROM a high point at the farther end of the island, a solitary figure, with every appearance of great agitation, waved frantically at the departing ships. When they paid no heed, it raced cumberously down the beach to the landing-stage, disclosing itself as a tall, dark young man of a beauty so striking as to be almost feminine. His progress was absurdly retarded by the long skirts of a rich-looking coat which flapped awkwardly about his legs and caused him to settle down to a walk when, on nearing his goal, he perceived both bay and shore to be devoid of life. Reaching the outermost part of the landing st?.ge, he stood on it, gazing despondently after the departing ships, a mute figure of despair.
With a muttered imprecation, he was about to turn
away when his glance was arrested by the sight of a girl emerging from the cluster of frame shacks which marked the site of the deserted movie colony. She was running towards the landing-stage and, as she approached, revealed herself as the fitting mate of the dark young man in the extraordinary quality of her witchlike beauty; small and dark, with the delicate, exotic fragility of a hot-house flower. She hobbled painfully as she ran; and, as she neared him, the young man saw with an ill-natured smile, which he made no attempt to conceal, that one of her high heels had broken off and her hair was coming down. A sneer replaced the smile, however, as he perceived that these minor misfortunes only made a charming dishabille; for they and the heightened color of her face, flushed from running, added to, rather than detracted from, the charm of her perfectly chiselled features, the long, curling lashes, the soulful eyes, the graceful, bird-like carriage and the provocative daintiness with which she elevated the skirt of her smartly tailored costume, revealing charming ankles. So intent was she on avoiding the rocks that it was not until she had almost reached him that she became aware of the dark young man’s presence.
“What! You here?” she exclaimed in frank disgust; and her lip curled disdainfully. “But the boat’s gone!” she added with a cry of dismay, as her eyes swept the deserted bay. “Oh! How dare they go without me!” And her face lost some of its beauty.
“Exactly,” the man nodded with exasperating calmness and a smile meant to be maddening. “Both boats have gone and we’re here alone, a thousand miles from nowhere—the beautiful and famous Miss Claire Devereaux, and, I hope”—he bowed with a sarcastic smile —“the equally famous W. Ferdinand Reeber. Puzzle— what will their millions of admirers do? Make a great picture with us in the leading roles, wouldn’t it?”
“Don’t stand there talking like a fool.” Miss Devereaux stamped her foot. “Do something! And be quick about it!”
“Don’t talk to me like that!” Mr. Reeber said sharply. “There’s nothing to do, anyway.”
“That’s the sort of answer I should expect from you,” said Miss Devereaux promptly. Her eyes flashed. “Oh, you!” she cried contemptuously. “For Heaven’s sake, get a move on! Do something! Swear! Tear a tree up by the roots! Do anything, but don’t stand there like a graven image—or a fashion plate,” she added maliciously, with a glance of contempt at his immaculatelyclad figure. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t believe in giving way to useless heroics,” Mr. Reeber replied coldly.
“ Rot ! ” observed Miss Devereaux.
FERDINAND REEBER defeated in repartee, smiled a Christian smile. The momentary victory thus vouchsafed him, however, was wiped out a moment later by an irreverent sniff from Miss Devereaux.
‘ Don’t be so upstage, ‘Ferdy.’ Pull yourself together now and tell me how you happened to get left.”
Mr. Reeber drew back as though she had struck him. His face paled.
“Don’t call me that!” he said thickly.
Miss Devereaux disregarded his offended manner and tapped impatiently with her foot, commanding him with her eyes, waiting.
“There’s not much to tell,” he said sulkily. “I wanted to think over my new part, so I walked up amongst the trees to get away from the
crowd until it was time to leave. And I missed the boat.” “That’s only half of it,” she said, watching him narrowly. “You also wanted to miss me. More important still, you wanted to be a little late and keep the boat waiting to parade in the centre of the picture up to the last moment. Couldn’t pry you out of it with a crowbar,” she added vindictively.
Mr. Reeber started.
“How did you know?” he asked artlessly, taken unawares.
“Because that’s how I got left, only I was dodging you,” she said simply. “The resemblance ends there, though, for I don’t ‘kid’ myself. Only a fool does that.”
She looked at him meaningly.
“ Er — which boat were you for?” Mr.
Reeber asked, somewhat thawed by the frankness of her confession.
“I—it didn’t matter.
Either.” And in a burst of more offensive frankness she added:
“I hadn’t decided. At first I was going on the cruise, but when I heard you were,too, I changed my mind and said I’d go on the company’s boat. So now they won’t know which one to expect me on.”
“Unfortunate,” he murmured in mock sympathy, “because that’s just what I did—changed back again when I heard you had, so that I could miss you. Pity we’re so fond of one another, isn’t it, because now the people on each boat will think we’re on the other and no one will bother looking for us. So here we are— marooned!”
“Marooned!” Miss Devereaux repeated stupidly. “And with you!”
“Yes, marooned! And with me!” With the words Mr. Reeber lost his temper. “And a fine mess you’ve made of it, with the Simplex people waiting to start me on the biggest thing in my whole career!”
“Why blame it on me?” the girl asked sharply. “Do you know what it’s costing me?” Her voice, too, began to rise with an unpleasant quality in it. “The chance to head my own company and all the scenarios written round me. That’s what—”
“Yes! You!” Reeber interrupted rudely, and his voice climbed higher than hers, drowning it. “If it hadn’t been for the way you’ve acted ever since we came here to work on this film, do you suppose I’d have gone wandering off by myself at the last minute and missed the boat? You—”
“That isn’t true, and you know it,” Miss Devereaux interrupted with a white face. “You’ve hogged the whole film from the very start, even that bit at the last where Eunice comes in! J. Gaston said so himself. He—”
“J. Gaston didn’t! J. Gaston told me—”
“J. Gaston didn’t tell you anything of the kind!” “If you weren’t a woman!”
“If I weren’t a woman, I’d wring your miserable neck; that’s what I’d do! As it is, I’ll ask you, Mr. Reeber, to please disregard the fact that circumstances have made me breàk my word and speak to you again, and please stay on your own end of this island.”
“Certainly!” he agreed with savage promptness. “Which end is it?”
“That!” said Miss Devereaux, and pointed furiously at nowhere in particular.
MR. REEBER bowed sardonically in the grand manner, and registering on Miss Devereaux a last, cold look, strolled with studied nonchalance towards the deserted huts. “First come, first served, anyhow,” he reflected ungallantly as he scanned the row of shacks. “Humph! Not much choice. Guess I’ll take this one, though. It looks the best!”
Miss Devereaux sat on a rock watching him.
“It can’t be for long, anyhow,” she mused. “We’re on the track of the Atlantic boats. They’ve been passing here quite close. . . . The only thing is: How can I signal one without his seeing—get off the island and leave him on it? It would be a kindness to him! Teach him some manners!”
And Miss Devereaux, coldly calculating her piratical plan, glanced vindictively at the unconscious figure of Mr. Reeber as he surveyed with complacence his future residence.
They encountered one another but seldom in the
ensuing days, and then only at a distance and for a moment at a time, for as soon as one perceived the other there was an immediate retreat.
Once they met on the far side of the island, both obviously engaged on the same mission—exploration. That it was barren of results was indicated by the fact that thereafter they remained in the vicinity of the dwellings. “I’m a child of the pavements,” was the way Miss Devereaux put it. And, “Reckon I’ll stick
to the High Street,” was Mr. Reeber’s laconic decision. “Nothing on this bunch of rocks worth catching or picking except eggs and fish, and I can get those nearer home.”
Whenever they met they were obviously ill at ease, each the victim of an intolerable shyness, born, not of a false pride, but of a mutual shame.
They were young and with that extraordinary zest for food of the healthy young. In this case they were very hungry.
The rest was simple. Artists, even of so ethereal a beauty and so aesthetic a nature as those under our consideration, must eat, and ours were not eating. To put it delicately, since it was necessary that they should eat, they could not afford, in the strange circumstances in which they found themselves, to be over-particular as to what food they ate nor how they procured it. Nor were they.
They rummaged like rats through the litter of the deserted cabins, eyeing each other with furtive jealousy as they sought unashamedly for any odd scraps of food or clothes left behind by the carelessness of their late companions. To such extreme had their increasing hunger and the nightly cold driven them.
FOR many days the most cherished memory of Miss Devereaux was the sight of the hitherto immaculate legs of the magnificent W. Ferdinand Reeber, for that was all she could see of her fellow artist protruding from the dust-bin in the rear of J. Gaston Royce’s late residence as, everything but hunger forgotten, that idol of the screen grubbed shamelessly on his hands and knees in its dim interior amongst broken bits of food, seeking any edible portions overlooked by the menials of his late employer. Miss Devereaux’s eyes twinkled with fiendish anticipation as she planted herself in a good gloating position where Mr. Reeber’s eyes could not fail to rest on her as soon as he should withdraw from his undignified position. Mr. Reeber’s eyes did not fail her; and his chagrin was such that Miss Devereaux’s delight would have been painful to any impartial observer.
The island was singularly barren, with the minimum of life upon it. Hence the opportunity of supporting their own depended, for the two artists, largely upon the extent of the leavings of the company and their own good luck in salvaging them by the exercise of such enterprise as Mr. Reeber had already shown so pronounced a flair for. But the chief consideration for each
artist was the maintenance of a decent privacy in the manner of their hunting, although this did not prevent them from exhibiting a sinful pride in the ostentatious display of their spoils. For, quickly recognizing the realities of their strange situation, and with a materialism so unexpected as almost to suggest a reversion to type, Miss Devereaux and Mr. Reeber, in this curious rivalry which now sprang up between them, developed all the better-known characteristics of alley cats, together with many additional flourishes of their own invention which might well have caused that enterprising animal a pang of envy.
Their rivalry was no less keen because it was never mentioned. On it they concentrated their mutual dislike, making it the instrument of its expression by
which it assumed concrete and satisfying form. Each was constantly spurred to fresh effort by the studied flaunting of the other’s findings.
Thus the pleasure Miss Devereaux experienced in casually laying on her window-sill certain over-ripe tomatoes, the past history of which would not perhaps have borne too close a scrutiny, was somewhat embittered by the simultaneous and equally nonchalant appearance of various moldy coats and trousers on Mr. Reeber’s clothes-line. Their thrusts were as unwearied as those of duellists. If Miss Devereaux lunged with a vegetable, Mr. Reeber parried in a sprightly manner with a can of fruit; if she attacked vigorously with some unfair woman’s thing, such, as for instance, a pair of dirty once-white curtains, her rival valiantly defended his position by the nonchalant exhibition of a freshlycaught fish; and both were thoroughly miserable.
DUT their feud was not without its generous moments even from its inception. Mr. Reeber had made himself fairly comfortable the first night in a small house at the door of which he built a roaring fire, in front of which he lay on his expensive coat and smoked, gazing up at the stars. Occasionally he glanced over in the direction of Miss Devereaux’s cabin, but all was in darkness there. Late in the night he crawled cautiously down to the beach and from the bushes saw his companion in misfortune trudging up and down the water’s edge, her cloak wrapped tightly around her as though she were very cold. When he returned to his own fire he made no pretence of going to bed, but lay and smoked with a worried expression, and sprang expectantly to his feet at each slight noise as though he hoped for a call he dare not himself make. The next night, he observed with satisfaction, Miss Devereaux had a fire. But he was more ruthless than ever with her the following day.
Simultaneously each discovered the wisdom of conserving the only clothes they had; and both blossomed out in a startling change of costume. The girl wore a vivid blouse which Reeber recognized because of the disrespectful hilarity it had once excited when it had been worn by one of the “extra” girls, who, no doubt, had thrown it away to evade the stigma on her taste its unique color scheme invited. He was interested in her skirt, a wild-looking, wallpaper effect of mingled red and green. “Petticoat, I guess,” he reflected sagely. “Must be saving her clothes. Wonder if she knows?” and he gnawed uneasily at the stem of his empty pipe. “Holy smoke! Wish I had some tobacco!”
Mr. Reeber was transformed himself, as Miss Devereaux noted with disgust. “A great strong brute like that thinking of his clothes already! Afraid he’ll have none for the boat, I suppose! Lady-killer! But what an awful shirt! And the pants! He looks like Captain Kidd.”
However, her disgust was somewhat tempered by a most unmaidenly and, in one so charmingly petite as Miss Devereaux, most unexpected approval of totally unsuspected qualities in Mr. Reeber which certain lamentable discrepancies in his costume now revealed to her startled eyes.
“Just fancy old W. Ferdinand having hair on his chest!”
Continued on page 39
Continued from page 21
Mr. Reeber, supremely unconscious of the interest he had excited, wore, with a most abandoned expression of rollicking happiness, a pair of tarry breeches which had evidently done their bit before the mast and were now induced to remain in their allotted place on his person by a fragment of decaying rope tied around his middle. The unbeautiful shanks of his naked ankles protruded from the frayed legs of his tarry trousers, and a coarse red undershirt below the bristly expanse of a young beard completed the appearance of an untidy pirate.
AS SOON as she could spare the time from the more pressing duty of replenishing her larder and her wardrobe, Miss Devereaux, with dim memories of the custom being the most honored tradition of a castaway’s code, endeavored to hoist a portion of soiled tablecloth to the top of a tall tree as a signal of distress for passing mariners to see.
Her irritation at her failure^ and the pain of her blistered hands was increased when, on her return to the cabin, she found a folded note on the table. She was indignant at the intruder who had placed it there and was of two minds as to whether or not to pitch it in the fire.
“But I can do that afterwards,” she reflected sagely. “He won’t know.”
The contents of the note were as unexpected as they were laconic:
“This is just to tell you it’s not worth while rigging up a signal. The island is no longer on the course of the Atlantic boats. They take the Northern route to Europe during the summer months. The last one went before we were stranded. There will not be another until the autumn.”
It was unsigned and she was crushed.
Gradually they became accustomed to one another and, in the certainty of a mutual dislike and a lengthy stay, became somewhat careless in the scrupulous avoidance they had previously practised. They passed each other unconcernedly now and with a lamentable lack of shame even when engaged in the more menial of the tasks which the struggle for existence had imposed on them.
“How filthy he is!” Miss Devereaux remarked to herself one day when she had honored Mr. Reeber with a closer scrutiny than their earlier relations had permitted. “The wretch needs a bath, I do believe. It doesn’t seem to worry him, though!”
It was a coincidence that on her return to her cabin she found as before, a note on her table, and with it a small parcel.
“I believe I have a comer on sugar. I know you have one on soap. I saw you washing some clothes the other day. If you care to trade a bar of your soap for some of my sugar, you may keep the
package I am leaving and leave the soap on the big, flat rock by the landing-stage. You will no doubt remember it as the scene of an interesting conversation we once had.”
“Ferdy must be cultivating a sense of humor,” she commented dryly. “New thing for him. Commercial rivalry stirring hissluggish brain. . . . Hike his impudence, though.”
Just then her eye caught the surprising postscript:
“You may keep thesugar anyhow.—R.”
“Hm—mm! A knightly soul! . . . It’s worth while doing,” she commented, “if only to have the wretch clean so long as we are neighbors!”
She was affronted the next day at finding a carefully-cleansed fish on her doorstep, as though it were a gesture of politeness in return. First making certain that her neighbor was looking, Miss Devereaux unceremoniously pitched the fish out on the beach. Her anger was by no means assuaged, however, when, under cover of darkness and at the urge of a sudden hunger born of vivid memories of certain delectable fish dinners, she crept furtively down to the beach to retrieve the fish, only to find it gone, and from the direction of Mr. Reeber’s fire, the unmistakable odor of frying fish.
“No use cutting my nose off to spite my face,” she thought.
THEREAFTER she met half-way such amenities of a practical nature as he offered, but saved her face by a shrewish bargaining, holding out, in the series of diplomatic notes which they mailed to one another at the big rock, for the largest possible portion of such commodities as the man had and she wanted. By a stroke of luck she got the upper hand and kept it.
“What will you give me for a can of tobacco?” she wrote.
The incautious answer came promptly. “The shirt off my back.Anything I’ve got'—I found an old pipe the first day but I’ve never had any tobacco for it.” “So—ho!” She pursed her lips. “Got you now, Ferdy. No t;me for false sentiment. You’ll have to pay up. I have pounds of the filthy stuff.”
“Pay up” her victim did, to such good effect that Miss Devereaux, in taking inventory a few days afterwards, was highly gratified to find that the parsimonious and judicious doling-out of the tobacco which she had practised had rewarded her beyond her wildest dreams. In addition to her own findings and her more legitimate trading, she had become the proud possessor of a broken-toothed comb; a cracked plate and a cup of a different pattern; a quantity of biscuit crumbs (evidently the sweepings of a number of discarded tins); enough old coats and trousers to make a serviceable blanket and, if need be, a skirt; a considerable pile of firewood; and sundry articles of food of a perishable nature which she had cooked on delivery.
“I’ve bled him white,” she told herself triumphantly. And, at a slight twinge of conscience, comforted herself with: “Perhaps he wouldn’t have been so mean with me, but women are more unscrupulous than men, anyhow. I don’t care! I enjoyed it!”
Suddenly the newly-established artery of commerce dried up without any explanation. Reeber was not even to be seen. “That’s strange,” Miss Devereaux thought. “Staying away just when we were getting on a practical basis.” And she missed the occasional sight of his terrible^ red shirt wandering along the beach in search of clams, or emerging from the forest, dragging the enormous limbs of dead trees.
THAT night there was no fire in front of his cabin, and when, in the morning there was still no sign of life, Miss Devereaux marched boldly to the door, knocked, and, at his faint “Come in!” entered. Still dressed in his red undershirt, Mr. Reeber was lying on a bed composed of the intimate union of his own once faultless garments with an uninviting assortment of cast-off clothes he had salvaged from the neighboring back-yards.
“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he said rudely, and stared at her with lack-lustre eyes out of a forest of beard and unattended hair.
“Humph! Illness hasn’t improved his manners. Too bad, just when he was learning to be civil in his notes,” she thought. Aloud, she remarked brusquely:
“Don’t be foolish. You’re ill, aren’t
“It’s nothing,” he growled.
“It’s just enough to show you need somebody to look after you,” she said sharply, as she moved to the window to let some light into the dim interior.
“Thanks, I can do very well without your help,” he replied ungraciously.
“It’s nice to see you so grateful,” she said brightly. “Perhaps you could do without seeing me, but you’re not going to. Don’t fancy I’m trying to be nice,” she hastened to assure him. “It’s not that at all; but I won’t be beholden to a man like you. You put those matches on the shelf where I would be sure to find them when I didn’t have any fire that first night, didn’t you? It just happened that I’d looked in that very place the day before, so I knew you’d planted them. And ever since I’ve bled you over that tobacco my conscience has been giving me a bad time. It’s to stop that, too.” All the time as she talked, Miss Devereaux in a surprisingly capable manner, was straightening Mr. Reeber’s simple effects. “Can you sit up if I fetch you some breakfast? I found a tin of fruit yesterday in J. Gaston’s ash-heap. I keep finding fruit in the most surprising places. His cook must have been as wasteful as he was incompetent. Thank heaven for it!” she rattled on.
“It’s food you need,” she stated later, with conviction. “Vitamines and all that rot. Malnutrition. Nobody can eat fish three times a day with very little else as you’ve been doing, without paying for it. You do as I tell you and we’ll have you up in no time. Here, eat some of this.”
“I won’t!” Mr. Reeber turned his face obstinately to the wall to avoid her spoon.
She held it poised in mid-air.
“Don’t be a fool now,” she said candidly. “You think I’m pampering you; and you’re going to be heroic. This isn’t a film you’re acting in. It’s real life; and I’m trying to save yours. Don’t think for a moment I’m going to give you all the choice viands I’ve burrowed out of ash-heaps and dust-bins in this deserted village for sweet nothing. I’m not Christian enough. I want my ton of flesh. You’ve got to pay it all back. I’m trying to make you a big strong boy so that you can do things for me. I need wood; my roof leaks; I haven’t had any fish or eggs since you’ve been ill; and I have all kinds of things for your willing little hands to do. I’m not doing it for you; I’m doing it for myself.
“There, that ought to fetch him,” she thought and endeavored to look unworried. “Stubborn brute!”
“Oh, well, if that’s the case, I might as well look out for myself too,” W. Ferdinand agreed ungraciously.
“It’s a bargain then,” Miss Devereaux said promptly.
At the end of a few days they were on a sound quarrelling basis and argued stubbornly, but with increasing goodnature, over everything.
“You do the cooking and look after the religious side of this ranch,” he said, “and I’ll do all the horny-handed toil. I like it; I was getting soft.” He stretched his long limbs luxuriously.
“That’s a go!” Miss Devereaux smiled. “We must go house-hunting though, and find another cabin for our diningroom and kitchen. The air’s the only pure thing about here and I think we could do very nicely without the smell in our bedrooms of the pre-historic food we have to eat.”
They shook hands gravely on it.
THE first day he was up Miss Devereaux found her partner struggling ineffectually with his red undershirt, trying to wash it.
“Here! Give that thing to me! You’ll shrink it to nothing. You ought to learn to take care of your things. It’s good wool. I’ve become too fond of that shirt to see it maltreated,” and she pushed him aside.
“So that’s the way you do it, is it?” He watched her with reluctant admiration. “I never would have thought you could do anything like that when—” he hesitated.
“When I was playing the Passion Flower in The Rose of Old Seville, for instance,” she helped him out.
He nodded, grinning boyishly.
“I didn’t think so myself,” Miss Devereaux said grimly as she scrubbed away industriously. “But time does bring its little changes, you know. I
wasn’t always the idol of the silver screen. My real name is Maggie Dempsey, and I used to be a pretty tough nut to crack. I am yet when I’m roused. Y ou may have noticed it? I used to have to help my mother with the washing—or get a good hiding. She was a widow and kept boarders. Aristocratic lot—factory hands. It was their washing. We were proud and wouldn’t take any in from outside. Mother was a Murphy, you know.” Miss Devereaux cocked a droll eye at her interested audience. But Mr. Reeber was not quite sure as yet how to take this amazing confidence. “Your red undershirt made me homesick from the start. I used to think every pure-minded man wore one. That’s why I have such confidence in you now.”
This time Mr. Reeber threw back his head and guffawed with such unrestrained enjoyment as to show all his back teeth.
Miss Devereaux continued with the gravest air in the world:
“Then the family fortunes changed. I got up in the world, went to a business college, became a shorthand typist, got a job on the movies as an ‘extra,’ and here I am just where I started—washing, and washing the shirt of a famous man in the bargain, and happy as a little queen. It just shows what a poor girl can do if she’s got the right stuff in her.” Miss Devereaux gave the red shirt an energetic swish in the suds. W. Ferdinand Reeber lay back and howled.
“Stop that awful noise,” the lady ordered. “What’s your name?” she demanded abruptly, and straightened up to stare at Mr. Reeber over the improvised wash-tub.
MR. REEBER’S jaw fell.
“Why—er—Reeber, of course,” he said lamely.
“Oh, yes. I know all that,” Miss Devereaux said with a touch of impatience. “But who are you? How did you wrangle through, Ferdinand? What’s your murky past? From what gutter sprang the full-blown rose you are today?”
W. Ferdinand flushed, but as he flushed he grinned. Miss Devereaux noted the fact with satisfaction and felt strangely drawn to him. He often grinned now, she reflected.
“Spit it out!” she said cheerfully. “Reeber’s my honest - to - goodness name,” he assured her. “I could swear that on the Koran. Of course I’ve decorated the handle a bit—William Fritz Reeber; ‘Bill,’ they used to call me at home.”
“Imagine you having a home!” she murmured.
He laughed good-naturedly.
“My folks are German, the regular old-fashioned, sauerkraut-eating kind. I was raised on a farm in Nebraska, in the corn belt. . . . Did you ever hear the corn growing at night in the hot weather? ‘Good growin’ weather,’ we used to call it. . . . Pop! Pop! Pop! all night long.” Mr. Reeber looked yearningly at Miss Devereaux, in the grip of a terrible nostalgia and hoping she would understand the bitterness of his longing.
She did, and nodded a dreamy assent, a far-away look in her vivacious brown eyes as she lapsed into the vernacular of their common soil.
“Yep! I used to hear it along the railroad track when the 8.40 flyer came whizzing through. I used to hang on the fence every night for it when I was a kid.”
“The folks live in town now,” continued Mr. Reeber. “Moved in when I began to do well. Dad keeps a livery stable. That’s his idea of being a gentleman and retiring. It’s Reeber and Son; the son’s me. I’ve got some pictures of the livery stable. I’ll show you when we get back,” he volunteered in a burst of pride.
Miss Devereaux glowed as she wiped the suds from her comely arms and laughingly remarked:
“It strikes me, Mister W. Ferdinand Reeber, that when a man expects his red lingerie to be washed by his lady callers, formality is out of place, so hereafter it’s Bill and Maggie between you and me—■! ‘Bill!’ ” She rolled the word unctiously under her tongue. “I think it’s a sweet name. . ._. We’ll just step down to earth and see if we can’t be human again.” “Let’s,” he grinned.
“If you keep on being so friendly,” she warned him, “even I’ll begin to think you’re good-looking.”
Mr. Reeber, used to feminine adulation
though he was, blushed like a schoolboy.
“You know, I’ve been thinking, Maggie,” Bill said one day, “it’s a jolly good thing for us we got left here. For me, I mean,” he added hastily in some confusion.
“Go ahead. You can’t hurt my feelings,” Maggie assured him composedly over her sewing. “You meant both of us. Beaman. Stick to your guns. Shoot!”
I WAS thinking about all the people in this business you and I know who’ve been making money and becoming famous too fast, and taken all the credit of it themselves. They’re like this.” Bill held an eloquent hand on either side of his head. “Swelled head—”
Maggie nodded vigorously.
“Every now and then one of them blows up into smithereens with a loud bang. I’ve been wondering how much longer we’d have stood the strain without cracking.”
“Not very long,” Maggie agreed. “We were about ripe for something to happen. You like being here, then?” she asked.
_ “Well,” Bill said doubtfully, “it’s given me a chance to do a little thinking and I’m learning a lot—unlearning, rather. And I hope we aren’t rescued too soon as long as the grub holds out and the cold weather holds off.”
“How about your contract with Simplex Photoplays?”
Bill, remembering a certain conversation, blushed.
“They can go to blazes for all I care. How about that company of yours you were going to head?” he parried maliciously.
“Ah! That’s a nasty dig, Bill,” Maggie said reproachfully. “Shame! The fact is, grubbing around in these back-yards, I’d forgotten all about it. By the way, I found the most wonderful pair of shoes yesterday; the soles are almost good. I think they must have belonged to the fat negress; they were in a cupboard in her cabin. They’ll be quite a good fit with a few extra pairs of stockings— ‘Dutch’ socks, that is, made out of that old pair of trousers you so kindly gave me,” Maggie added, with due regard for the smallness of her own feet. “I do hope it won’t fain to-night,” she said, looking anxiously at the sky. “Those berries we found yesterday want picking, and the rain will beat them off the bushes.”
“I’ll tell you a secret about this red undershirt of mine you’re so fond of,” Bill said diffidently. And in answer to her look of inquiry: “Honor bright though, no teasing?”
“Honor bright! I won’t tease you.” She made some mysterious sign across her throat with a wet finger.
“Well—it belonged to the fat negress, too. Oh, it’s a man’s undershirt—” Bill blushed—“but the old girl wore it. I remember, because it was on her clothes-line and some of the men were laughing about it.”
“I don’t care whose shirt it was. I think it’s lovely,” Maggie said loyally. “But just imagine W. Ferdinand Reeber, the man whose beauty has driven so many women mad, wearing a red flannel —er—chemise, I suppose one ought to call it. It would ruin you, Bill, if it ever got out.”
“I don’t give a tinker’s cuss! It’s a good warm shirt,” Bill said stoutly.
“By the way,” Maggie interposed, “you must really be more careful with your things. I saw that beautiful overcoat of yours kicking about on the floor yesterday. You’ll need your good clothes on the ship.”
“Oh, those!” said Bill disdainfully. “I use them for my bed now. These clothes I have on are quite good enough for me. If they don’t like them on the ship, they can put me off.”
“Time, the wonder-worker!” breathed Maggie.
“What’s that?” Bill questioned suspiciously.
“Oh, nothing,” she assured him. “Look here,” she said sternly, another time. “How long has this been going on?” She extended a can of fruit and waited expectantly.
“Oh, I—” began Bill lamely.
“Now, don’t squirm and try to think up a good lie. Really, Bill, you’re pathetic. What you call your mind is like an open book to me.” Maggie fastened an accusing eye on him. “Bill Reeber, you’ve been planting this lovely fruit in the ash-heaps and cupboards on my route ever since the first day; and all the time you were pretending you
wouldn’t give me a pleasant look, and making yourself ill, eating fish. No wonder I found so much stuff. And all the time I thought I was so clever and doing so much better than you. I’m so ashamed. It was a dirty trick, Bill, doing without things yourself, sneaking about, doing good by stealth and taking advantage of a poor working-girl. It’s your innate chivalry, that’s what it is. Magnolia brand peaches will haunt me to my dying day.”
But the tears in Maggie’s eyes contradicted her scolding words.
“'T'HAT’S all right. I found a whole 1 case of them,” Bill said uneasily, “the first day. And I didn’t think it was quite playing the game to keep them to myself, because it was bound to be the biggest find either of us would make. You wouldn’t speak to me, so that was the only way I could get you to accept them. I was feeling rotten about grabbing the best cabin anyhow, but I wasn’t going to admit it to you. The stuff I planted, I didn’t want anyhow, because I had lots of fish. I’m very fond of fish,” he said brightly.
“You’re a knightly liar, Bill, but your execution’s rotten. I think I’ll call you ‘Sir Bill.’ D’ye mind?”
“No,” said the flustered knight. “Not if you’ll let me give you a title, too. How about ‘Her Loveliness, Queen Maggie’?” “Oooo-o!” she squealed. “How lovely!” “I suppose when I address you, I’ll have to call you ‘Your Gracious Loveliness’?” Sir Bill reflected.
“Nothing very gracious about me,” said Queen Maggie frankly. “You are the one with the sweet disposition in this little puddle. . . . Oh, Sir Bill, I do believe you’re blushing again! You do have the sweetest blush. I wish I could do it so easily; I’m too brazen. It would be worth another hundred a week on my contract—with the director anyhow.” “Never mind about him,” growled Sir Bill jealously. “As far as that goes, you’re blushing yourself!”
“Oh, you fibber. . . . Let’s blush together then! It’s nice!”
And they did.
“We ought to have a court,” Sir Bill suggested.
“We?” Her Loveliness raised her eyebrows superciliously. “I like your nerve. You’re only a common knight in a red undershirt. Courts are for queens.” “That’s what I meant,” Sir Bill agreed humbly. “A court like a church,” he added daringly, “where I can go to worship. . . . There, you did it that time!” he cried triumphantly.
The fact was so undeniable that she did it again.
“Do you remember those two awful people who were on our island when we landed?” the queen asked. “Aren’t you glad they’ve gone? Weren’t they terrible? And wouldn’t it be hateful to meet them again? And oh! Let’s call it ‘Our
Sir Bill was quick to catch her point. “D’you know what happened to ’em?” he whispered behind his cupped hand as he cast a frightened glance around.
“N-o. What?” she whispered back and leaned toward him with goblin eyes.
“We murdered ’em!” he hissed. “Sh-hh!” He walked grotesquely on tiptoes, repeating: “Sh-hhh!”
She bounded to her feet.
“Let’s bury them and dance on their graves!”
And she was off like a deer.
Sir Bill, racing after her, found her on the beach wrestling ineffectually with a huge boulder.
“Come on!” she ordered merrily. “Do your bit! Help hide the crime!”
And together they rolled up boulders to mark the head and feet of the departed and composed an epitaph between them: “United in death as they never were in life, here lie unlamented the memories of Claire Devereaux and W. Ferdinand Reeber, foully murdered by Mag Dempsey and Bill Reeber.”
“There!” Bill exclaimed complacently. “And a good job too! If you ever call me that name again,” he said threateningly, pointing to the epitaph, “I’ll—I’ll— ” “Come on!” Maggie cried and seized him. “Let’s dance!”
THE custom became a rite, and moonlight nights their favorite time for it. Across the head-stones they would gravely bow and curtsey, the tips of
their fingers lightly touching, as the green petticoat and the red flannel undershirt went gravely through the stately movement of fantastic dances conceived on the moment, emblematic of respect for the dead; or, in more sacrilegious outbursts, they would desecrate the graves with ribald laughter and profane, unholy dances of quick movement and expressive gesture, exotic in the moonlight. Then, hand in hand, they would race together down the shingly beach, laughing like children, until perhaps Maggie gasping for breath, would stop and cry: “Oh, prithee, fair Sir Bill, I fain would stop,” and that was over.
They were indefatigable in pandering to their taste for this make-believe world.
“Where’s the court you promised me?” Maggie demanded in an aggrieved tone. “You’ve done nothing about -it, you great, lazy, hulking, caitiff knight.” “What? Haven’t you seen it? Don’t you know?” Sir Bill, who was sprawling lazily at her feet, countered brazenly. “It’s here, there, everywhere.” He waved his hand in an all-embracing gesture. “Wherever you are—wherever there is worship—that is a court. And we all worship you—all animate and inanimate objects—the stars, the dry land and the sea.” He rolled over lazily to prostrate himself abjectly.
Maggie kicked at him viciously with her bare foot; they were reduced to going bare-foot now; she missed him and stubbed her toe.
“O-oh! You great brute!" She danced awkwardly on one leg, holding the injured toe. “You’re just trying to cozen me so I’ll forget you promised me some fish for dinner. Come! Away with you!” And seizing a brush broom of their own rude manufacture, she drove him with mock shrewishness from the door-step.
“T~NO Y OU walk, or talk to yourself, in your sleep, Willie?” the former Miss Devereaux asked innocently one bright morning.
“No, of course not,” Sir Bill protested virtuously. “Why?”
He evaded her searching glance.
“Oh, nothing,” she replied easily. “Only I thought I heard voices down on the beach last night.”
A few weeks afterwards, Sir Bill stalked up to her door and knocked. “We’re rescued!” he announced gloomily. “Royce has at last found out they left us behind and the darned fool’s sent a boat for us. It’s waiting in the bay.” “Then we’ll have to go after all,” Maggie laughed merrily.
“What d’ye mean?” he demanded, eyeing her sheepishly.
“Why, you great, simple child! Did you seriously think you could do anything like that without my knowing all about it? I’m two steps ahead of you in finesse every turn in the road. Sending those fishermen away like that! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I was down on the beach listening all the time! I only asked you about it the next morning to see what you would say! And, oh—the fibs you told them! I thought you would be sure to hear me giggling!” .
“Oh, well,” Sir Bill muttered into his ragged beard, “it was only for a little longer. I thought you wouldn’t mind. I knew the boats would be coming soon, anyhow.”
“Good thing he’s not quick-witted, or he’d ask me why I didn’t stop them myself,” his listener reflected. Aloud she asked diffidently:
“Need we go right away, though? Couldn’t we send J. G.’s minions back and tell them to come for us later?”
“No. I want to go now,” Bill said stubbornly.
“Oh!” she said, deeply hurt. “Very well, then!” She spoke icily, with her chin up. “Of course, we’ll go at once!” But her thoughts were like a storm. “I might have known it was all in play!” “Because,” Bill continued as though he had not heard her, “I think something ought to be done about the housing situation on Our Island. It’s rotten! I’m going away to buy it and remedy that. That’s one reason. But I won’t be an absentee landlord. We’ll come back at once, and not use so many houses either. We’re living in three now.”
“Ooh!” Maggie gave a squeal of pure delight. “What a love—ly, love—ly place for a honeymoon! Bill!—Do you realize you’ve proposed to me?”
"That was the idea!” Bill said thickly and stepped toward her.
“What an awful beard!” She shivered ecstatically. “But you are strong, Sir Bill. . . . Ooooo!”
“Bill, you do look a fright,” Maggie said approvingly, as she surveyed him somewhat later. “You look like a Holy Roller—whatever that is!”
THEY were walking in the twilight toward the landing-stage and the waiting boat. Once more they were in the garb of civilization, but the change, however much it had smartened up hers, had not appreciably improved Bill’s appear/nee, which was that of a very tall and undeniably nihilistic tramp with hair and beard of an unbelievable raggedness, clad in clothes which had so obviously been slept in for months that they were totally unsuited to the use Bill was now putting them to. By comparison, in his piratical costume, he had looked a gentleman.
“What’s that you have there?” he asked, looking at a parcel she carried. “I didn’t know we had any packing to do. Thought we carried it all on our backs.”
"We do,” Maggie agreed cheerily. “But this is something extra special.” She tore open a corner. “Look!”
Bill peered over her shoulder and saw the red undershirt!
“What in the world is that for?”
“A prayer-rug—I’m going to make one of it.”
“A prayer-rug? What for?”
“To kneel on every day with my face towards Mecca—that’s here—and pray to keep from—” and the former Miss Devereaux extended her hands meaningly on both sides of her head just as she had once seen Bill do.
“What!” That gentleman stopped abruptly as though suddenly struck by a great thought. “Just make it big enough for two, will you?”
Maggie turned twinkling eyes on him. “All right, but you won’t need it!” “Why won’t I?” Bill was flattered. “Because to-morrow I’m going to take a snapshot of you in that rig-out!”
Maggie started to run. She was too late. But the kindly darkness was swifter than her feet and mercifully closed in upon them just as Sir Bill made his capture.