“How you, Monroe,” said Red Ridingwood. “I’m glad you came down.”
Stahr walked past him, heading across the great stage toward a set that would be used tomorrow. Director Ridingwood followed, realizing suddenly that Stahr walked a step or two ahead. He recognized the indication of displeasure—his own metier was largely the “delivery” of situations through mimetic business. He didn’t know what the trouble was but he was a top director and not alarmed. Goldwyn had once interfered with him, and Ridingwood had led Goldwyn into trying to act out a pan in front of fifty actors—with the result that he anticipated. His own authority had been restored.
Stahr reached the set and stared at it.
“It’s no good,” said Ridingwood. “I don’t care how you light it—”
“Why did you call me about it?” Stahr asked standing close to him. “Why didn’t you take it up with Art?”
“I didn’t ask you to come down, Monroe.”
“You wanted to be your own supervisor.”
“I’m sorry, Monroe,” said Ridingwood patiently. “But I didn’t ask you to come down.”
Stahr turned suddenly and walked back toward the camera set up. The eyes and open mouths of a group of visitors moved momentarily off the heroine of the picture, took in Stahr and then moved vacantly back to the heroine again. They were Knights of Columbus. They had seen the Host carried in procession but this was the dream made flesh.
Stahr stopped beside her chair. She wore a low gown which displayed the bright eczema of her chest and back. Before each take the blemished surface was plastered over with an emollient, which was removed immediately after the take. Her hair was of the color and viscosity of drying blood but there was starlight that actually photographed in her eyes.
Before Stahr could speak he heard a helpful voice behind him:
“She’s radiunt. Absolutely radiunt.”
It was an assistant director and the intention was delicate compliment. The actress was being complimented so that she did not have to strain her poor skin to bend and hear. Stahr was being complimented for having her under contract. Ridingwood was being remotely complimented.
“Everything all right?” Stahr asked her pleasantly.
“Oh, it’s fine,” she agreed, “-except for the —-ing publicity men.”
He winked at her gently.
“We’ll keep them away,” he said.
Her name had become currently synonymous with the expression “bitch.” Presumably she had modelled herself after one of those queens in the Tarzan comics who rule mysteriously over a nation of blacks. She regarded the rest of the world as black. She was a necessary evil, borrowed for a single picture.
Ridingwood walked with Stahr toward the door of the stage.
“Everything’s all right,” the director said. “She’s as good as she can be.”
They were out of hearing range and Stahr stopped suddenly and looked at Red with blazing eyes.
“You’ve been photographing crap,” he said. “Do you know what she reminds me of in the rushes—’Miss Foodstuffs.’”
“I’m trying to get the best performance—”
“Come along with me,” said Stahr abruptly.
“With you? Shall I tell them to rest?”
“Leave it as it is,” said Stahr, pushing the padded outer door.
His car and chauffeur waited outside. Minutes were precious most days.
“Get in,” said Stahr.
Red knew now it was serious. He even knew all at once what was the matter. The girl had got the whip hand on him the first day with her cold lashing tongue. He was a peace—loving man and he had let her walk through her part cold rather than cause trouble.
Stahr spoke into his thoughts.
“You can’t handle her,” he said. “I told you what I wanted. I wanted her mean—and she comes out bored. I’m afraid we’ll have to call it off, Red.”
“No. I’m putting Harley on it.”
“All right, Monroe.”
“I’m sorry, Red. We’ll try something else another time.”
The car drew up in front of Stahr’s office.
“Shall I finish this take?” said Red.
“It’s being done now,” said Stahr grimly. “Harley’s in there.”
“What the hell—”
“He went in when we came out. I had him read the script last night.”
“Now listen, Monroe—”
“It’s my busy day, Red,” said Stahr tersely. “You lost interest about three days ago.”
It was a sorry mess Ridingwood thought. It meant he would have to do the next picture he was offered whether he liked it or not. It meant a slight, very slight loss of position—it probably meant that he could not have a third wife just now as he had planned. There wasn’t even the satisfaction in raising a row about it—if you disagreed with Stahr you did not advertise it. Stahr was his world’s great customer who was always—almost always right.
“How about my coat?” he asked suddenly. “I left it over a chair on the set.”
“I know you did,” said Stahr. “Here it is.”
He was trying so hard to be charitable about Ridingwood’s lapse that he had forgotten that he had it in his hand.
“Mr. Stahr’s Projection Room” was a miniature picture theatre with four rows of overstuffed chairs. In front of the front row ran long tables with dim lamps, buzzers and telephones. Against the wall was an upright piano, left there since the early days of sound. The room had been redecorated and reupholstered only a year before but already it was ragged again with work and hours.
Here Stahr sat at two-thirty and again at six-thirty watching the lengths of film taken during the day. There was often a savage tensity about the occasion—he was dealing with faits accomplis—the net result of months of buying, planning, writing and rewriting, casting, constructing, lighting, rehearsing and shooting—the fruit alike of brilliant hunches or counsels of despair, of lethargy, conspiracy and sweat. At this point the tortuous manoeuvre was staged and in suspension—these were reports from the battle-line.
Besides Stahr there were present the representatives of all technical departments together with the supervisors and unit managers of the pictures concerned. The directors did not appear at these showings—officially because their work was considered done—actually because few punches were pulled here as money ran out in silver spools. There had evolved a delicate staying away.
The staff was already assembled. Stahr came in and took his place quickly and the murmur of conversation died away. As he sat back and drew his thin knee up beside him in the chair the lights in the room went out. There was the flare of a match in the back row—then silence.
On the screen a troop of French Canadians pushed their canoes up a rapids. The scene had been photographed in a studio tank and at the end of each take after the director’s voice could be heard saying “Cut,” the actors on the screen relaxed and wiped their brows and sometimes laughed hilariously—and the water in the tank stopped flowing and the illusion ceased. Except to name his choice from each set of takes and to remark that it was “a good process,” Stahr made no comment.
The next scene, still in the rapids, called for dialogue between the Canadian girl (Claudette Colbert) and the coureur du bois (Ronald Colman) with her looking down at him from a canoe. After a few strips had run through Stahr spoke up suddenly.
“Has the tank been dismantled?”
“Monroe—they needed it for—”
Stahr cut in peremptorily.
“Have it set up again right away. Let’s have that second take again.”
The lights went on momentarily. One of the unit managers left his chair and came and stood in front of Stahr.
“A beautifully acted scene thrown away,” raged Stahr quietly. “It wasn’t centered. The camera was set up so it caught the beautiful top of Claudette’s head all the time she was talking. That’s) just what we want, isn’t it? That’s just what people go to see—the top of a beautiful girl’s head. Tell Tim he could have saved wear and tear by using her stand-in.”
The lights went out again. The unit manager squatted by Stahr’s chair to be out of the way. The take was run again.
“Do you see now?” asked Stahr. “And there’s a hair in the picture—there on the right, see it? Find out if it’s in the projector or the film.”
At the very end of the take Claudette Colbert slowly lifted her head revealing her great liquid eyes.
“That’s what we should have had all the way,” said Stahr. “She gave a fine performance too. See if you can fit it in tomorrow or late this afternoon.”
— Pete Zavras would not have made a slip like that. There were not six camera men in the industry you could entirely trust.
The lights went on; the supervisor and unit manager for that picture went out.
“Monroe, this stuff was shot yesterday—it came through late last night.”
The room darkened. On the screen appeared the head of Siva, immense and imperturbable, oblivious to the fact that in a few hours it was to be washed away in a flood. Around it milled a crowd of the faithful.
“When you take that scene again,” said Stahr suddenly, “put a couple of little kids up on top. You better check about whether it’s reverent or not but I think it’s all right. Kids’ll do anything.”
A silver belt with stars cut out of it… Smith, Jones or Brown…. Personal—will the woman with the silver belt who—?
With another picture the scene shifted to New York, a gangster story, and suddenly Stahr became restive.
“That scene’s trash,” he called suddenly in the darkness. “It’s badly written, it’s miscast, it accomplishes nothing. Those types aren’t tough. They look like a lot of dressed up lollypops—what the hell is the matter. Mort?”
“The scene was written on the set this morning,” said Mort Flieshacker. “Burton wanted to get all the stuff on Stage 6.”
“Well—it’s trash. And so is this one. There’s no use printing stuff like that. She doesn’t believe what she’s saying—neither does Cary. ’I love you’ in a close-up—they’ll cluck you out of the house! And the girl’s overdressed.”
In the darkness a signal was given, the projector stopped, the lights went on. The room waited in utter silence. Stahr’s face was expressionless.
“Who wrote the scene?” he asked after a minute.
“Is he sober?”
“Sure he is.”
“Put about four writers on that scene tonight,” he said. “See who we’ve got. Is Sidney Howard here yet?”
“He got in this morning.”
“Talk to him about it. Explain to him what I want there. The girl is in deadly terror—she’s stalling. It’s as simple as that. People don’t have three emotions at once. And Kapper—”
The art director leaned his head forward out of the second row.
“There’s something the matter with that set.”
There were little glances exchanged all over the room.
“What is it, Monroe?”
“You tell me,” said Stahr. “It’s crowded. It doesn’t carry your eye out. It looks cheap.”
“I know it wasn’t. There’s not much the matter but there’s something. Go over and take a look tonight. It may be too much furniture—or the wrong kind. Perhaps a window would help. Couldn’t you force the perspective in that hall a little more?”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Kapper edged his way out of the row looking at his watch.
“I’ll have to get at it right away,” he said. “I’ll work tonight and we’ll put it up in the morning.”
“All right. Mort, you can shoot around those scenes, can’t you?”
“I think so, Monroe.”
“I take the blame for this. Have you got the fight stuff?”
“Coming up now.”
Stahr nodded. Kapper hurried out and the room went dark again. On the screen four men staged a terrific socking match in a cellar. Stahr laughed.
“Look at Tracy,” he said. “Look at him go down after that guy. I bet he’s been in a few.”
The men fought over and over. Always the same fight. Always at the end they faced each other smiling, sometimes touching the opponent in a friendly gesture on the shoulder. The only one in danger was the stunt man, a pug who could have murdered the other three. He was in danger only if they swung wild and didn’t follow the blows he had taught them. Even so the youngest actor was afraid for his face and the director had covered his flinches with ingenious angles and interpositions.
And then two men met endlessly in a door, recognized each other and went on. They met, they started, they went on. They did it wrong. Again they met, they started, they went on.
Then a little girl read underneath a tree with a boy reading on a limb of the tree above. The little girl was bored and wanted to talk to the boy. He would pay no attention. The core of the apple he was eating fell on the little girl’s head.
A voice spoke up out of the darkness:
“It’s pretty long, isn’t it, Monroe?”
“Not a bit,” said Stahr. “It’s nice. It has nice feeling.”
“I just thought it was long.”
“Sometimes ten feet can be too long—sometimes a scene two hundred feet long can be too short. I want to speak to the cutter before he touches this scene—this is something that’ll be remembered in the picture.”
The oracle had spoken. There was nothing to question or argue. Stahr must be right always, not most of the time, but always—or the structure would melt down like gradual butter.
Another hour passed. Dreams hung in fragments at the far end of the room, suffered analysis, passed—to be dreamed in crowds, or else discarded. The end was signalled by two tests, a character man and a girl. After the rushes, which had a tense rhythm of their own, the tests were smooth and finished—the observers settled in their chairs—Stahr’s foot slipped to the floor. Opinions were welcome. One of the technical men let it be known that he would willingly cohabit with the girl—the rest were indifferent.
“Somebody sent up a test of that girl two years ago. She must be getting around—but she isn’t getting any better. But the man’s good. Can’t we use him as the old Russian Prince in ’Steppes’?”
“He is an old Russian Prince,” said the casting director. “But he’s ashamed of it. He’s a Red. And that’s one part he says he wouldn’t play.”
“It’s the only part he could play,” said Stahr.
The lights went on. Stahr rolled his gum into its wrapper and put it in an ash-tray. He turned questionmgly to his secretary.
“The processes on Stage 2,” she said.
He looked in briefly at the processes, moving pictures taken against a background of other moving pictures by an ingenious device. There was a meeting in Marcus’ office on the subject of “Manon” with a happy ending and Stahr had his say on that as he had before—it had been making money without a happy ending for a century and a half. He was obdurate—at this time in the afternoon he was at his most fluent and the opposition faded into another subject—they would lend a dozen stars to the benefit for those the quake had made homeless at Long Beach. In a sudden burst of giving five of them all at once made up a purse of twenty-five thousand dollars. They gave well but not as poor men give. It was not charity.
At his office there was word from the oculist to whom he had sent Pete Zavras that the camera man’s eyes were 20/19, approximately perfect. He had written a letter that Zavras was having photostated. Stahr walked around his office cockily while Miss Doolan admired him. Prince Agge had dropped in to thank him for his afternoon on the sets and while they talked a cryptic word came from a supervisor that some writers named Marquand had “found out” and were about to quit.
“These are good writers,” Stahr explained to Prince Agge. “And we don’t have good writers out here.”
“Why you can hire anyone!” exclaimed his visitor in surprise.
“Oh we hire them but when they get out here they’re not good writers—so we have to work with the material we have.”
“Anybody that’ll accept the system and stay decently sober—we have all sorts of people—disappointed poets, one-hit playwrights, college girls—we put them on an idea in pairs and if it slows down we put two more writers working behind them. I’ve had as many as three pairs working independently on the same idea.”
“Do they like that?”
“Not if they know about it. They’re not geniuses—none of them could make as much any other way. But these Marquands are a husband and wife team from the East—pretty good playwrights. They’ve just found out they’re not alone on the story and it shocks them—shocks their sense of unity—that’s the word they’ll use.”
“But what does make the—the unity?”
Stahr hesitated—his face was grim except that his eyes twinkled.
“I’m the unity,” he said. “Come and see us again.”
He saw the Marquands. He told them he liked their work, looking at Mrs. Marquand as if he could read her handwriting through the typescript. He told them kindly that he was taking them from the picture and putting them on another where there was less pressure, more time. As he had half expected they begged to stay on the first picture, seeing a quicker credit even though it was shared with others. The system was a shame, he admitted—gross, commercial, to be deplored. He had originated it—a fact that he did not mention.
When they had gone Miss Doolan came in triumphant.
“Mr. Stahr, the lady with the belt is on the phone.”
Stahr walked in to his office alone and sat down behind his desk and picked up the phone with a great sinking of his stomach. He did not know what he wanted. He had not thought about the matter as he had thought of the matter of Pete Zavras. At first he had only wanted to know if they were “professional” people, if the woman was an actress who had got herself up to look like Minna as he had once had a young actress made up like Claudette Colbert and photographed her from the same angles.
“Hello,” he said.
As he searched the short, rather surprised word for a vibration of
last night, the feeling of terror began to steal over him and he choked it off with an effort of will.
“Well—you were hard to find,” he said. “Smith—and you moved here recently. That was all we had. And a silver belt.”
“Oh yes,” the voice said, still uneasy, unpoised, “I had on a silver belt last night.”
Now, where from here?
“Who are you?” the voice said, with a touch of flurried bourgeois dignity.
“My name is Monroe Stahr,” he said.
A pause. It was a name that never appeared on the screen and she seemed to have trouble placing it.
“Oh yes—yes. You were the husband of Minna Davis.”
Was it a trick? As the whole vision of last night came back to him—the very skin with that peculiar radiance as if phosphorus had touched it, he thought if it were a trick to reach him from somewhere. Not Minna and yet Minna. The curtains blew suddenly into the room, the papers whispered on his desk and his heart cringed faintly at the intense reality of the day outside his window. If he could go out now this way what would happen if he saw her again—the starry veiled expression, the mouth strongly formed for poor brave human laughter.
“I’d like to see you. Would you like to come to the studio?”
Again the hesitancy—then a blank refusal.
“Oh, I don’t think I ought to. I’m awfully sorry.”
This last was purely formal, a brush off, a final axe. Ordinary skin-deep vanity came to Stahr’s aid, adding persuasion to his urgency.
“I’d like to see you,” he said. “There’s a reason.”
“Well—I’m afraid that—”
“Could I come and see you?”
A pause again not from hesitation, he felt, but to assemble her answer.
“There’s something you don’t know,” she said finally.
“Oh, you’re probably married.” He was impatient. “It has nothing to do with that. I asked you to come here openly, bring your husband if you have one.”
“It’s—it’s quite impossible.”
“I feel silly even talking to you but your secretary insisted—I thought I’d dropped something in the flood last night and you’d found it.”
“I want very much to see you for five minutes.”
“To put me in the movies.”
“That wasn’t my idea.”
There was such a long pause that he thought he had offended her.
“Where could I meet you?” she asked unexpectedly.
“Here? At your house?”
Suddenly Stahr could think of no place. His own house—a restaurant. Where did people meet—a house of assignation, a cocktail bar?
“I’ll meet you somewhere at nine o’clock,” she said.
“That’s impossible, I’m afraid.”
“Then never mind.”
“All right then nine o’clock, but can we make it near here? There’s a drug store on Wilshire—”
It was quarter to six. There were two men outside who had come every day at this time only to be postponed. This was an hour of fatigue—the men’s business was not so important that it must be seen to, nor so insignificant that it could be ignored. So he postponed it again and sat motionless at his desk for a moment thinking about Russia. Not so much about Russia as about the picture about Russia which would consume a hopeless half hour presently. He knew there were many stories about Russia, not to mention The Story, and he had employed a squad of writers and research men for over a year but all the stories involved had the wrong feel. He felt it could be told in terms of the American thirteen states but it kept coming out different, in new terms that opened unpleasant possibilities and problems. He considered he was very fair to Russia—he had no desire to make anything but a sympathetic picture but it kept turning into a headache.
“Mr. Stahr—Mr. Drummon’s outside and Mr. Kirstoff and Mrs. Cornhill about the Russian picture.”
“All right—send them in.”
Afterwards from six-thirty to seven-thirty he watched the afternoon rushes. Except for his engagement with the girl he would ordinarily have spent the early evening in the projection room or the dubbing room but it had been a late night with the earthquake and he decided to go to dinner. Coming in through his front office he found Pete Zavras waiting, his arm in a sling.
“You are the Aeschylus and the Diogenes of the moving picture,” said Zavras simply. “Also the Asclepius and the Menander.”
“Who are they?” asked Stahr smiling.
“They are my countrymen.”
“I didn’t know you made pictures in Greece.”
“You’re joking with me, Monroe,” said Zavras. “I want to say you are as dandy a fellow as they come. You have saved me one hundred percent.”
“You feel all right now?”
“My arm is nothing. It feels like someone kisses me there. It was worth doing what I did if this is the outcome.”
“How did you happen to do it here?” Stahr asked curiously.
“Before the oracle,” said Zavras. “The solver of Eleusinian mysteries. I wish I had my hands on the son-of-a-bitch who started the story.”
“You make me sorry I didn’t get an education,” said Stahr.
“It isn’t worth a damn,” said Pete. “I took my baccalaureate in Salonika and look how I ended up.”
“Not quite,” said Stahr.
“If you want anybody’s throat cut anytime day or night,” said Zavras, “my number is in the book.”
Stahr closed his eyes and opened them again. Zavras’ silhouette had blurred a little against the sun. He hung on to the table behind him and said in an ordinary voice:
“Good luck, Pete.”
The room was almost black but he made his feet move following a pattern into his office and waited till the door clicked shut before he felt for the pills. The water decanter clattered against the table; the glass clacked. He sat down in a big chair waiting for the benzedrine to take effect before he went to dinner.
As Stahr walked back from the commissary a hand waved at him from an open roadster. From the heads showing over the back he recognized a young actor and his girl, and watched them disappear through the gate already part of the summer twilight. Little by little he was losing the feel of such things, until it seemed that Minna had taken their poignancy with her; his apprehension of splendor was fading so that presently the luxury of eternal mourning would depart. A childish association of Minna with the material heavens made him, when he reached his office, order out his roadster for the first time this year. The big limousine seemed heavy with remembered conferences or exhausted sleep.
Leaving the studio he was still tense but the open car pulled the summer evening up close and he looked at it. There was a moon down at the end of the boulevard and it was a good illusion that it was a different moon every evening, every year. Other lights shone in Hollywood since Minna’s death: in the open markets lemons and grapefruit and green apples slanted a misty glare into the street. Ahead of him the stop-signal of a car winked violet and at another crossing he watched it wink again. Everywhere floodlights raked the sky. On an empty corner two mysterious men moved a gleaming drum in pointless arcs over the heavens.
In the drug store a woman stood by the candy counter. She was tall, almost as tall as Stahr, and embarrassed. Obviously it was a situation for her and if Stahr had not looked as he did—most considerate and polite—she would not have gone through with it. They said hello and walked out without another word, scarcely a glance—yet before they reached the curb Stahr knew: this was just exactly a pretty American woman and nothing more—no beauty like Minna.
“Where are we going?” she asked. “I thought there’d be a chauffeur. Never mind—I’m a good boxer.”
“That didn’t sound very polite.” She forced a smile. “But you people are supposed to be such horrors.”
The conception of himself as sinister amused Stahr-then suddenly it failed to amuse him.
“Why did you want to see me?” she asked as she got in.
He stood motionless, wanting to tell her get out immediately. But she had relaxed in the car and he knew the unfortunate situation was of his own making—he shut his teeth and walked around to get in. The street lamp fell full upon her face and it was difficult to believe that this was the girl of last night. He saw no resemblance to Minna at all.
“I’ll run you home,” he said. “Where do you live?”
“Run me home?” She was startled. “There’s no hurry—I’m sorry if I offended you.”
“No. It was nice of you to come. I’ve been stupid. Last night I had an idea that you were an exact double for someone I knew. It was dark and the light was in my eyes.”
She was offended—he had reproached her for not looking like someone else.
“It was just that!” she said. “That’s funny.”
They rode in silence for a minute.
“You were married to Minna Davis, weren’t you?” she said with a flash of intuition. “Excuse me for referring to it.”
He was driving as fast as he could without making it conspicuous.
“I’m quite a different type from Minna Davis,” she said, “- if that’s who you meant. You might have referred to the girl who was with me. She looks more like Minna Davis than I do.”
That was of no interest now. The thing was to get this over quick and forget it.
“Could it have been her?” she asked. “She lives next door.”
“Not possibly,” he said. “I remember the silver belt you wore.”
“That was me all right.”
They were northwest of Sunset, climbing one of the canyons through the hills. Lighted bungalows rose along the winding road and the electric current that animated them sweated into the evening air as radio sound.
“You see that last highest light—Kathleen lives there. I live just over the top of the hill.”
A moment later she said, “Stop here.”
“I thought you said over the top.”
“I want to stop at Kathleen’s.”
“I’m afraid I’m—”
“I want to get out here myself,” she said impatiently.
Stahr slid out after her. She started toward a new little house almost roofed over by a single willow tree, and automatically he followed her to the steps. She rang a bell and turned to say good night.
“I’m sorry you were disappointed,” she said.
He was sorry for her now—sorry for them both.
“It was my fault. Good night.”
A wedge of light came out the opening door and as a girl’s voice inquired “Who is it?” Stahr looked up.
There she was—face and form and smile against the light from inside. It was Minna’s face—the skin with its peculiar radiance as if phosphorus had touched it, the mouth with its warm line that never counted costs—and over all the haunting jollity that had fascinated a generation.
With a leap his heart went out of him as it had the night before, only this time it stayed out there with a vast beneficence.
“Oh Edna you can’t come in,” the girl said. “I’ve been cleaning and the house is full of ammonia smell.”
Edna began to laugh, bold and loud. “I believe it was you he wanted to see, Kathleen,” she said.
Stahr’s eyes and Kathleen’s met and tangled. For an instant they made love as no one ever dares to do after. Their glance was closer than an embrace, more urgent than a call.
“He telephoned me,” said Edna. “It seems he thought—” Stahr interrupted, stepping forward into the light.
“I was afraid we were rude at the studio, yesterday evening.”
But there were no words for what he really said. She listened closely without shame. Life flared high in them both—Edna seemed at a distance and in darkness.
“You weren’t rude,” said Kathleen. A cool wind blew the brown curls around her forehead. “We had no business there.”
“I hope you’ll both,—” Stahr said, “- come and make a tour of the studio.”
“Who are you? Somebody important?”
“He was Minna Davis’ husband, he’s a producer,” said Edna as if it were a rare joke, “- and this isn’t at all what he just told me. I think he has a crush on you.”
“Shut up, Edna,” said Kathleen sharply.
As if suddenly realizing her offensiveness Edna said “Phone me, will you?” and stalked away toward the road. But she earned their secret with her—she had seen a spark pass between them in the darkness.
“I remember you,” Kathleen said to Stahr. “You got us out of the flood.”
— Now what? The other woman was more missed in her absence. They were alone and on too slim a basis for what had passed already. They existed nowhere. His world seemed far away—she had no world at all except the idol’s head, the half open door.
“You’re Irish,” he said, trying to build one for her.
“I’ve lived in London a long time—I didn’t think you could tell.”
The wild green eyes of a bus sped up the road in the darkness. They were silent until it went by.
“Your friend Edna didn’t like me,” he said. “I think it was the word Producer.”
“She’s just come out here too. She’s a silly creature who means no harm. I shouldn’t be afraid of you.”
She searched his face. She thought, like everyone, that he seemed tired—then she forgot it at the impression he gave of a brazier out of doors on a cool night.
“I suppose the girls are all after you to put them on the screen.”
“They’ve given up,” he said.
This was an understatement—they were all there, he knew, just over his threshold, but they had been there so long that their clamoring voices were no more than the sound of the traffic in the street. But his position remained more than royal—a king could make only one queen—Stahr, at least so they supposed, could make many.
“I’m thinking that it would turn you into a cynic,” she said. “You didn’t want to put me in the pictures.”
“That’s good. I’m no actress. Once in London a man came up to me in the Carlton and asked me to make a test but I thought awhile and finally I didn’t go.”
They had been standing nearly motionless, as if in a moment he would leave and she would go in. Stahr laughed suddenly.
“I feel as if I had my foot in the door—like a collector.”
She laughed too.
“I’m sorry I can’t ask you in. Shall I get my reefer and sit outside?”
“No.” He scarcely knew why he felt it was time to go. He might see her again—he might not. It was just as well this way.
“You’ll come to the studio?” he said. “I can’t promise to go around with you, but if you come you must be sure to send word to my office.”
A frown, the shadow of a hair in breadth, appeared between her eyes.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “But I’m very much obliged.”
He knew that, for some reason, she would not come—in an instant she had slipped away from him. They both sensed that the moment was played out. He must go, even though he went nowhere and left with nothing. Practically, vulgarly, he did not have her telephone number—or even her name, but it seemed impossible to ask for them now.
She walked with him to the car, her glowing beauty and her unexplored novelty pressing up against him, but there was a foot of moonlight between them when they came out of the shadow.
“Is this all?” he said spontaneously.
He saw regret in her face—but there was a flick of the lip also, a bending of the smile toward some indirection, a momentary dropping and lifting of a curtain over a forbidden passage.
“I do hope we’ll meet again,” she said almost formally.
“I’d be sorry if we didn’t.”
They were distant for a moment. But as he turned his car in the next drive and came back with her still waiting, and waved and drove on he felt exalted and happy. He was glad that there was beauty in the world that would not be weighed in the scales of the casting department.
But at home he felt a curious loneliness as his butler made him tea in the samovar. It was the old hurt come back, heavy and delightful. When he took up the first of two scripts that were his evening stint, that presently he would visualize line by line on the screen, he waited a moment, thinking of Minna. He explained to her that it was really nothing, that no one could ever be like she was, that he was sorry.
That was substantially a day of Stahr’s. I don’t know about the illness, when it started, etc., because he was secretive but I know he fainted a couple of times that month because Father told me. Prince Agge is my authority for the luncheon in the commissary where he told them he was going to make a picture that would lose money—which was something considering the men he had to deal with and that he held a big block of stock and had a profit sharing contract.
And Wylie White told me a lot which I believed because he felt Stahr intensely with a mixture of jealousy and admiration. As for me I was head over heels in love with him then and you can take what I say for what it’s worth.