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   Chapter 22 BENEATH THE FLOODLIGHTS

Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8085

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


This brief period of rest was the last Petite Jeanne was to enjoy for many days. The work on that little section of Big Black Mountain progressed more rapidly than had been expected. In order that the re-making of the scenario should progress quite as rapidly, Tom Tobin secured a brief leave of absence from his newspaper work. He and Jeanne, together with Jensie when she could be spared from her beloved Tavern, were together at all hours of day and night.

So long as Tom was with her, Jeanne had no fear of Lorena LeMar's boy friends. Her only fear was that they might discover that she was not Miss LeMar at all, and end by betraying her secret.

"But what do you care!" Tom exploded one day. "You are as good as Lorena LeMar."

"Not in pictures!" Jeanne protested. "No, no! And then you know I have promised. I said, 'Yes, I will be Lorena LeMar.' And Lorena LeMar I must be."

It was with grave misgiving that she approached the movie lot on the first day of actual work. "There is so much I do not know," she told herself. "If it is necessary to explain much to me, what must that sharp-eyed Mr. Soloman think?"

These fears vanished as she saw the rows on rows of faces packed in the stadium ready to witness the actual making of a movie feature, for it was this and nothing less that the keen Mr. Soloman had advertised in big electric words outside the gate.

"I must succeed! I must! I must!" She set her will to the task.

To her vast surprise she found that first day passing as serenely as a journey down a country lane. The scenes were simple ones, the lines short and easy. She came to it all with a simple naturalness that pleased both Soloman and her audience.

But, as the days passed, it seemed to her that the whole affair was like a gigantic machine that gathers speed as its many wheels revolve.

Not three days had passed ere every person in the cast realized that here was a real task, the making of a genuine feature in record time on an improvised stage. "Seldom has it been done," they were told. "All the more reason for succeeding," came their answer.

Powerful lights were hung over the mountain and long after the spectators were gone the cast of the play toiled on.

Important scenes were filmed not once or twice, but six, eight, ten times. Each little detail must be right.

Those burning lights burned into Jeanne's very soul. What matter this? She must smile. She must weep. She must shout for pure joy when the script said, smile, weep, shout.

And all this time she felt the small eyes of Soloman upon her. At times his eyes merely twinkled; at others his lips curled in a smile. Then again he seemed anxious.

When, on rare occasions, he broke the silence to murmur, "Beautiful! Beautiful!" she knew that the praise came from the very depths of his soul and she was glad.

"Does he know that I am not Lorena LeMar?" she said to Tom one night. "He must!"

"N-no. Well, perhaps. I am sure he does not know who you are."

"And if he did?" Jeanne's heart stood still.

"If God found a human as perfect as you are mixed with the angels," Tom smiled, "I think He would let that human remain with the angels."

"But Soloman is not God."

"He's no fool either."

They left it at that, but Jeanne did not cease, at times, to tremble.

There was no picture on the clouds these days. So weary was she when at last each day was done, that she crept away to Lorena LeMar's sumptuous apartment to sleep the hours away.

The long-eared Chinaman, the three-bladed knife, the hearse and the two black horses, Rutledge Tavern, even the laundry bag checked in the little hotel were for the moment crowded out of her life.

And then came the marvelous news that they were to board a special car and speed away to the real mountains.

So weary was Jeanne, by the time she reached that car, that she crept beneath the blankets in her berth and did not awaken until the morning sun and the green hills of Kentucky greeted her eyes.

At noon of that same day Jeanne found

herself seated on a great rock at the foot of Big Black Mountain. She was dressed in boys' unionalls. Her feet were bare. On her head, slouched down about her ears, she wore an old straw hat. Gripped in both hands was a fishing rod made from the branch of a chestnut tree. She was fishing, fishing joyously for "green perch." What mattered it that a movie camera was clicking across the stream, or that the villain of the movie tried in vain to talk to her of love? All this was but play stuff. The fishing was real.

When the fishing was over she dived, clothes and all, into that deep, limpid pool to enjoy a glorious swim while the camera clicked on, and from time to time Ted Hunter, the director, shouted "Cut! Cut!"

"This," Jeanne whispered to Jensie when the day was over and they stood before a spring dashing handfuls of clear, cool water over their faces, "This is not work! It is play."

And so it seemed to them all. Catching the spirit of the mountains, of the easy-going, beauty-loving, loyal people of the Cumberlands, they dreamed the hours away. Only Ted Hunter's sharp "No! No! Not that!" and "Yes! Yes! That's it!" made them realize that they were making a moving picture.

As for the members of the company, in this mellow atmosphere Jeanne came to love them all. Anthony Hope, the droll, handsome youth who in the first and last scenes of the movie made bashful love to her; Scott Ramsey, the aged character actor; Pietro, the young Italian; and even the chubby villain came to have a safe little spot in Jeanne's generous heart.

There were hours off. And what could be more delightful than to don those boys' overalls once more and with Pietro as guard against bears, to climb far up the side of Big Black Mountain?

Having climbed and climbed until they had lost their breath, they came at last upon a lovely spot where the sunlight, sifting through the leafy bower above, wove strange patterns in the moss.

There Pietro threw himself flat upon nature's soft bed to stare up at an eagle wheeling high in the sky. It was then that he spoke to her, sometimes calmly, sometimes passionately, of his hopes, his dreams and his moments of black despair.

"You think I was born in Italy!" he exclaimed. "I was not, but in Chicago. Not beautiful Chicago, but ugly Chicago, the near West Side.

"There are seven of us. Three boys. Four girls. I am the oldest.

"I studied hard. I graduated from High School. And then what? Nothing. I tramped the streets looking for work, any work. There was no work.

"One month, two, three, four, five months!" His voice took on a bitter note. "Six months I tramped the streets! No work.

"I said, 'I will get tough. I will join the 42 Gang.' I-"

"No! No! Never! You would not!" Jeanne's tone was deep with emotion.

"It was not so much that I would not." Pietro sat up. "It was that I could not. My people were honest. I could not steal.

"And then-" His voice mellowed. "Then I met a fat little Jew. He said, 'Come with me, my boy. I will give you a chance.'

"I did not wish to go. I said to myself, 'He is a Jew. A Jew!'

"But what was there to do?

"I went. He has taught me how to act in pictures, this little Jew, your friend, my friend, Mr. Soloman." There was a touch almost of reverence in his voice. "And now, here I am," he concluded.

"And, Miss LeMar-" His eyes appeared to look into her very soul. So deep was her feeling at that moment that she actually feared he was reading her true name from her very eyes. But he was not. "Miss LeMar," he repeated softly, "tell me that this picture, this 'Dogwood in Bloom' story, is to be a success, a real success!"

"Pietro," her hand was on his arm, "if you and I and all the rest can make it a success, then it shall be-a grand, a very glorious success. I can say no more."

"Good!"

Putting out a hand, solemn as a priest in a temple, he lifted her white fingers to his lips and kissed them.

Then, as if a little ashamed, he sprang to his feet to lead the way back down the mountain.

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