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   Chapter 23 GOLDEN DAYS

Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8332

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was night. All alone Jeanne sat upon the side of that man-made section of Big Black Mountain there on the studio lot in Chicago. The faint light that reached her, coming from afar, served only to intensify the shadows of trees and shrubs all about her.

It was perfect, this bit of Big Black Mountain. The trees, the shrubs, the rocks, the little rushing stream, all were perfect.

"Perfect," she whispered. "And the picture we have been making, will it be perfect, too?" Her brow wrinkled. She was to know. To-night was the great night. The picture was finished. To-night came the preview.

"At midnight," she breathed. "Midnight, one o'clock, and after that my hour of enchantment. Shall it truly be? Shall-?"

She broke short off to cast a hurried glance up the slope above her. Had she caught some sound, the snapping of a twig, the rolling of a stone?

"Perhaps nothing," she told herself. "I am excited. This is a grand night."

Ah, yes, this was the night of nights. Two weeks had passed since Lorena LeMar had walked out of her richly furnished apartment and Jeanne had walked in.

Two weeks, fourteen days, and such days as they had been! Jeanne sighed as she thought of it now. And yet her lips were able to form the words "Golden Days." They had been just that, beautiful, glorious, golden days.

"It is perfect, this mountain," she whispered. "Even in the dark one senses the beauty of it. Ah, the rushing cold water, the scent of mountain ivy, the glint of sunbeams through the trees!"

Yes, it was a perfect little corner of Big Black Mountain, but the little French girl's thoughts were far away. They had wandered to the spot where Big Black Mountain itself stretched away, away and away until its glorious green turned to blue that blended with a cloudless sky.

She was thinking of Pietro who rode a donkey so badly he had actually fallen off more than once, and who sang his Italian songs so divinely.

She was thinking of Tom Tobin and wondering vaguely which of the two she liked best.

"I want the picture to be a success for them," she whispered. Her words were almost a prayer. "Oh, God, make the critics kind! It is for them, for Pietro and Jensie, for Old Scott Ramsey, for Soloman and-and for Tom."

Tom had been with her on her visit to Big Black Mountain. Yes, Tom had gone, for by this time the story of the possible success of a real feature written by a Chicago boy and being filmed at Chicago's front door had become town talk.

There had been publicity. "Ah, yes, such publicity!" she sighed. Every day for a week her picture had appeared in the paper. She had been shown among the dogwood blossoms on the movie lot, on the Enchanted Island with a hundred beautiful children crowding about her, in a gondola riding down the lagoon like a queen. Ah, yes, there had been publicity.

"And always," she breathed, "I am not Petite Jeanne at all, but Lorena LeMar. Ah, well, what can it matter? To-day one is a queen, to-morrow she is forgotten.

"And besides-" She smiled a bit wearily. "Besides, how shall I say it? This picture may, after all, be a flop, and if it is, then it is Lorena LeMar who has failed and not I."

Again a little tremor shot up her spine. She had caught a sound above her. She half rose as if to flee. But the night was warm. The day had been a hard one. It was good to be alone. Soon the floodlights would be turned on, the press men with their cameras would be here. To-night was the preview of that much talked of picture, "When the Dogwood Is in Bloom." It had been arranged that the showing should take place in the Children's Theatre on the Enchanted Island of the Fair.

"There is no one up there." She settled back. "Only a few moments more to think."

Strangely enough, her thoughts for a moment whirled through a score of mysteries, the hearse and the two black horses in the dark night, the organ that played its own tunes, the three-bladed knife, the long-eared Chinaman, all these remained as mysteries.

"But these," she told herself, "these are not for to-night. To-morrow or the day after, perhaps."

Oh, were they not, though? One may not always elec

t the hour for the unfolding of life's mysteries. Fate at times takes a hand.

But one may choose the subject of one's own thoughts. Jeanne chose to think of the real Big Black Mountain. What a glorious time she had down there in the hills of Kentucky! Climbing steep slopes, she had dropped upon beds of moss to catch the call of a yellow-hammer or the chatter of a squirrel.

At night she had sat for long hours before a narrow home-made fireplace, to creep at last beneath home-woven blankets, and with Jensie at her side to sleep the long night through.

That had lasted only two days. And then back to the city they were whirled.

"We must go back!" the producer had exclaimed. "The public is clamoring for a look at the task we are at, making a feature right in Chicago."

The public had been there. Every afternoon, as they worked at the unfolding of this tense drama, the stadium had been packed.

The picture had grown, too. Under the inspiration of the hour, new fragments of plot were added, new scenes sprang into being. A mountain feud was added. The scene in a mansion which Jeanne suggested had sprung into being. A friend of Lorena LeMar, a rich society fan of the movies, had thrown her home open to them. And there in the midst of the greatest splendor Jeanne had tripped with dainty feet down a winding marble staircase, only to cast aside her silken finery at last and don her calico gown to go stealing out of the mansion and borrow a ride in a box car back to her beloved mountains.

All this had become part of the thing they were making. Working at white heat, inspired by one grand idea that success was to be achieved where failure had been expected, they had poured their very lives into the business of creating a thing of beauty that in the hearts of men would be a joy forever.

Never, even in the good days of light opera, had Jeanne so thoroughly lost herself in the thing she was doing. Day and night she lived, moved and breathed as Zola, the mountain girl.

She had worked untiringly, not so much for herself as for others. Once again she had gathered about her a golden circle of friends. Pietro, Soloman, Tom, Jensie, Scott Ramsey, all these and many others were included in her Golden Circle.

"And now-" She caught a short breath as she sat there among the trees. "Now we have done all that can be done. To-night we shall know.

"We shall know." How her heart raced. Not one foot of that film had she seen thrown upon the screen. To-night she was to see it all-the picture she had made.

"I-I can't wait!" She sprang to her feet.

At that instant floodlights flashed on. Instantly night was turned into day.

Involuntarily she glanced in the direction from which that disturbing sound had come.

It was only by exerting the utmost of will power that she avoided screaming. There, crouching with the three-bladed knife in his hand, not ten feet away, was the long-eared Chinaman.

"I must not scream! I will not!" She shut her lips tight.

She looked again. He was gone.

Scarcely believing her eyes, she stood staring at the spot.

"I must not say a word," she whispered to herself. "This is to be the big night. There must be no scene! No hue and cry, no wild man-hunt! No! No! No!"

And there was none.

Five minutes later when the photographers came to take one more picture of the "Queen" on the mountainside, she stood calm and smiling as a June bride.

"To think," she said to Tom Tobin when this ordeal was over, "to-morrow this beautiful mountain will be a thing of the past! Not one stick, nor stone, nor even a handful of earth will remain. To-morrow a new picture is to begin, a desert scene, new director, new cast, new setting, a brand new movie world."

"Sort of life-like," Tom philosophized. "We move a little slower, stay a little longer on this good, green earth, that's all."

"Ah, yes, but to-night let us forget." Jeanne gripped his arm impulsively. "This, my friend, is our big moment, yours and mine. Let us dream for a moment, hope for an hour. Let us dare hope.

"And-" Her voice dropped to a whisper. "And if it is not too much, let us pray a little."

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