OIL, BY UPTON SINCLAIR
CHAPTER XIII: THE MONASTERY
Bunny was studying and thinking, trying to make up his mind about the problem of capital versus labor. It had become clear to him that the present system could not go on forever -- the resources and wealth of the country thrown into an arena, to be scrambled for and carried off by the greediest. And when you asked, who was to change the system, there was only one possible answer -- the great mass of the workers, who did not have the psychology of gamblers, but had learned that wealth is produced by toil. In the very nature of their position, the workers could only prevail by combining; and so, whether they would or not, they had to develop solidarity, an ideal of brotherhood and co-operation.
Such was the fundamental faith of all "radicals," and Bunny accepted the doctrine joyfully, as a way of escape from the tangle of commercialism and war. Labor was to organize, and take over industry, and rebuild it upon a basis of service. The formula was simple, and worthy of all trust; but alas, Bunny was being forced to admit that the reality was complicated. The makers of the new society were not able to agree upon plans for the structure, nor how to get the old one out of the way. They were split into a number of factions, and spent a good part of their energies quarreling among themselves. Bunny would have thought that here in Southern California at least, the labor movement had enemies enough in the federations of the employers, with their strike-breaking and spy agencies, their system of blacklist and persecution, and their politicians, hired to turn the law against the workers. But alas, it did not seem so to the young radicals; they had to make enemies of one another!
Just now they were in a fever over the Russian revolution; a colossal event that had shaken the labor movement of the whole world. Here for the first time in history the workers had got possession of a government; and what were they making of the chance? The capitalist press of the world was, of course, portraying Russia as a nightmare; but the Soviets continued to survive, and every day of survival was a fresh defeat for the newspaper campaign. The workers could run a government! The workers were running a government! Just look!
So, in every country of the world, the labor movement became divided into two factions, those who thought the workers in their country could follow the example of the Russians, and should organize and prepare to do it; and those who thought that for one reason or another it couldn't be done, and the attempt was madness. This great division showed itself in every faction and school of thought. The Socialists split into those who wanted to follow Russia and those who didn't; the Anarchists split in the same way, and so did the "wobblies"; even the old line labor leaders divided into those who wanted to let the Soviet government alone, and those who wanted to help the capitalists to put it down!
For Bunny this struggle was embodied in the Menzies family. Papa Menzies was an old-time Social-Democrat from abroad, active in the clothing workers' union. Of his six children, two daughters had followed their mother -- an old-time, orthodox Jewess who wore a dirty wig, and kept all the feast days in the home, and wept and prayed for the souls of her lost ones, stolen from the faith of their fathers by America, which had made them work on Saturdays, and by the radical movement, which had made them agnostics and scoffers. Rachel and the oldest boy, Jacob, were Socialists like their father; but the other two, Joe and Ikey, had gone over to the "left wing," and were clamoring for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Bunny received a letter from Rachel. "Dear Mr. Ross" -- she always addressed him that way, alone of his classmates; it was her way of maintaining her proletarian dignity, in dealing with a person of great social pretensions. "We are home after picking all the prunes in California, and next week we begin on the grapes. You said you wanted to attend a meeting of the Socialist local, and there is to be an important one tomorrow evening, at the Garment-workers' Hall. My father and brothers will be there, and would be glad to meet you."
Bunny replied by a telegram, inviting one old and four young Jewish Socialists to have dinner with him before the meeting. He took them to an expensive restaurant -- thinking to do them honor, and forgetting that they might feel uneasy as to their clothes and their table manners. Verily, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the feelings of the disinherited.
Bunny found Rachel quite altered from the drab, hard-working girl he had known. She belonged to that oriental type which can pick fruit in the sun for several weeks without worrying about complexions; she had sunset in her cheeks and sunrise in her spirit, and for the first time it occurred to Bunny that she was quite an interesting-looking girl. She told about their adventures, which seemed to him extraordinarily romantic. Most people, when they indulged in day-dreaming, would picture themselves as the son and heir of a great oil-magnate, with millions of dollars pouring in upon them, and a sporty car to drive, and steel widows and other sirens to make love to them. But Bunny's idea of a fairy-story was to go off with a bunch of youngsters in a rattle-trap old Ford that broke down every now and then, and camp out in a tent that the wind blew away, and get a job picking fruit along side of Mexicans and Japanese and Hindoos, and send home a post-office order for ten or twelve dollars every week!
Papa Menzies was a stocky, powerful-looking man with curly yellow hair over his head, and a deep chest -- though most of it seemed to be in back instead of in front, so much was he bent over by toil. There were certain English letters he could never pronounce; he would say, contemptuously, "Dis talk about de vorld revolution." His son Jacob, the Socialist one, Bunny knew as a stoop-shouldered, pale student, and found him much improved by outdoor life. The other two boys, the young "left wingers," were talkative and egotistical, and repelled the fastidious Bunny, who had not insight enough to guess that they were meeting a young plutocrat for the first time in their lives, and this was their uneasy effort to protect their working-class integrity. Nobody was going to say that they had been overawed! In addition to this, they were hardly on speaking terms with the rest of the family, because of the bitter political dispute going on.
They went to the hall, which was crowded with people, mostly workers, all tense with excitement. There had been a committee appointed to deal with the policy of the "local," and this committee brought in a report in favor of expelling the "left wingers"; also there was a minority report, in favor of expelling everybody else! So then the fat was in the fire; and Bunny listened, and tried valiantly to keep from being disillusioned with the radical movement. They were so noisy, and Bunny had such a prejudice in favor of quiet! He wouldn't expect working people to have perfect manners, he told himself, nor to use perfect English; but did they need to shriek and shake their fists in the air? Couldn't they debate ideas, without calling each other "labor fakers" and "yellow skunks" and so on? Bunny had chosen to call upon Local Angel City of the Socialist party at a critical moment of its history; and decidedly it was not putting on company manners for him!
Here was Papa Menzies, clambering onto the platform, and shouting at his own sons that they were a bunch of jackasses, to imagine they could bring about mass revolution in America. "Vy did de revolution come in Russia? Because de whole country had been ruined by de var. But it would take ten years of var to bring de capitalist class in America to such a breakdown; and meanwhile, vot are you young fools doing? You vant to deliver de Socialist party over to de police! Dey have got spies here -- yes, and dose spies is de mainspring of your fool left ving movement!"
That seemed reasonable enough to Bunny. The business men of Angel City would want the radical movement to go to extremes, so that they might have an excuse to smash it; and when they wanted something to happen, they did not scruple to make it happen. But to say this to the young extremists was like waving a red rag before a herd of bulls. "What?" shouted Ikey Menzies at his own father. "You talk about the police? What are your beloved Social-Democrats doing now in Germany? They have got charge of the police, and they are shooting down Communist workers for the benefit of the capitalist class!"
"Yes, and they will do the same thing in California!" cried the other brother. "You are a bunch of class-collaborators!" That was a new word, and a dreadful one, it appeared. The question was whether the tottering capitalist system could be propped up for another ten years or so; and the "right-wingers" would take office under the capitalists, and help to save them. "You make yourself their agent," proclaimed Joe Menzies, "to bribe the workers by two cents more wages per hour!"
And so there was a bust-up in Local Angel City, as everywhere else in the world; the "reds" withdrew, and presently split into three different Communist groups; and Joe and Ikey Menzies left home, and set up house-keeping with two girl-workers of their own way of thinking. So Bunny was more perplexed than ever; life appeared so complicated, and happiness so hard to find!
One Saturday the telephone rang, and it was Vernon Roscoe calling Dad. Bunny happened to answer, and heard the jovial voice, "Hello, how's the boy Bolsheviki? Say, Jim Junior, I thought you were coming up to my place! Eventually -- why not now? Annabelle is resting from 'Pangs of Passion' -- she'll be glad to see you. VeeTracy is there, and Harvey Manning -- quite a bunch of people over Sunday. Sure, I'll be up! You go ahead, your old man will tell you the way."
Bunny told Dad he had accepted the invitation, and Dad said that Mr. Roscoe's domestic arrangements were such that Bunny ought to be told about them in advance. Annabelle Ames, the moving picture actress, was what people called his mistress, but it wasn't really that, because she was devoted to him, and all their friends knew about it, and it was jist the same as being married; only, of course, there was Mrs. Roscoe, who lived in the house in the city, with her four sons. Mrs. Roscoe went in for society and all that, and had tried to drag Verne in, but he wasn't cut out for that life. Sometimes Mrs. Roscoe would go out to the Monastery, as the country place was called, but of course not when Miss Ames was there; Dad said they must have some system to keep from running into each other. Miss Ames had her own house, near to the studio, and the Monastery was a "show-place," where they took their friends over weekends.
You drove up behind a chain of mountains that lined the coast: another of those wonderful roads, a magic ribbon of concrete, laid out by a giant's hand. The engine purred softly and you raced ahead of the wind, up long slopes and down long slopes, and winding through mazes of hills; there were steep grades and vistas of tumbled mountains, and broad sweeps of valley, and stretches of shore with fishermen's huts, and boats, and nets drying in the sun; then more hills and mountain grades -- for hours you flew, as fast as you pleased, for you were twenty-one now, and Dad no longer expected you to obey the speed-laws.
There was a road that branched off towards the ocean, and after climbing ten miles or so, you came to a high steel fence, and steel gates, and a sign: "Private: Turn Back Here" -- and a wide place in the road, made especially so that you might obey! The gate was open, so Bunny drove on, and climbed another hill, and came over the brow, and then, oh, wonderful! -- a great bowl of yellow and green, two or three miles across, with one side broken out towards the ocean, and in the center of the bowl the grey stone towers of the Monastery! Mountains on every side, and the oil magnate owned everything in sight, both the land and the landscape; if the public wanted to see his retreat, it would have to get a row-boat, or swim.
You rolled down the winding drive, through tumbled masses of rocks and clumps of live oaks a century or two old, and came to a fork in the road, and one way said "Delivery," and the other said, "Guests." If you were so fortunate as to be a guest, your road led under a porte-cochere big enough for half a dozen double-decker stages; a footman appeared, and summoned a chauffeur to take your car, to the garage, and you were escorted into a living-room -- well, it was like going into a cathedral, your eyes would follow the arches overhead, and you might trip yourself on the skin of an aurochs or a gnu or whatever the dickens it was. What grim sardonic architect had played this jest of Gothic towers and steeples and crenellations and machicolations -- here in the midst of a new pagan empire, and called by such a very suggestive name! Assuredly, the Monastery would need to be of pre-reformation style, to fit the ways of the monk who occupied it!
The transept of the cathedral concealed an elevator, Bunny discovered; and out of it tripped suddenly a diminutive vision in lemon-colored chiffon, with lemon-colored stockings and shoes, and a big lemon-colored hat such as shepherdesses used to wear when having their portraits painted. It was complete and costly enough for a fancy-dress ball; and no introduction was needed, for Bunny was one of that ninety percent of all males in the civilized world, and perhaps seventy percent in Madagascar, Paraguay, Nova Zembla, Thibet and New Guinea, who could have told the number of lashes in each of Annabelle Ames' eyelids, or drawn a diagram of her dimples, and the exact course of a tear down her cheek. He had seen her as the "wild" daughter of a Pittsburg steel king, duly chastened and brought to faith in mother, home and heaven; as the mistress of a French king, dying elegantly to expiate elegant sins; as the mistreated and eloping heiress of a Georgian manor-house; as a bare-legged "mountainy-girl" in the Blue Ridge -- "Howdy, stranger, be you-all one of them revenooers?" All this in the "movies"; and now here she was in the "speakies!"
"So this is Mr. Ross!" Her "speakie" was a queer little high treble. "Papa has told me so much about you!" (Papa was Mr. Roscoe.) "I'm so glad to have you here, and do make yourself at home. Do whatever you please, for this is liberty hall." Bunny recalled the caption -- but was it from "Hearts of Steel," or from "The Maid of the Manor?"
"And here is Harve," the mistress of the manor was saying. "Oh, Harve, come here, this is Bunny Ross; Harvey Manning. It's the first time Mr. Ross has been here, and please be nice to him so he'll come back. He's going to college, and reads a lot and knows everything, and we're going to seem so ignorant and frivolous!"
Harvey Manning was coming in through one of the French windows which took the place of the stations of the cross in this cathedral. He was walking slowly, and did not increase his pace; he talked slowly also, a dry sort of drawl -- having never had to hurry, because he came of one of the old families of the state. He had a queer, ugly face, with a great many wrinkles, and Bunny never was clear whether he was old or young. "Hello, Ross," he said, "pleased-to-meecher. I got an uncle that's spending a hundred thousand dollars to put you in jail."
"Is that so?" said Bunny, a trifle startled.
"Sure thing! He's nuts on this red-hunting business, and the pinks are worse than the reds, he says. I've been worried about you."
"Never mind," said Bunny, perceiving that this was a "josh," such as helps to make life tolerable for idle men, young and old. "Dad will spend two hundred thousand and get me out again."
"Come to think of it, I guess Verne would chip in -- wouldn't he, Annabelle?"
"None of my guests ever stay in jail," replied the star. "They phone to Papa, and he phones to the chief of police, who lets them out right away."
She said this without smiling; and Harvey Manning remarked, "You see, Ross, Annabelle has a literal mind."
Yes, that was the truth about this bright luminary of the screen, as Bunny came to observe it; she had a literal mind. All the poetry and romance the public imagined about her -- that was in the public's eye, so to say. All that Annabelle had to contribute was a youthful figure and a pliable face; the highly paid directors did the rest. She produced pictures as a matter of business, and her talk was of production costs, and percentages on foreign sales, just as if it had been an oil well. That was why she got along with Vernon Roscoe, who also had a literal mind. A primrose by the river's brim a yellow primrose was to him, and to Annabelle it was a decoration for an "interior," or a background on "location."
There was a certain grim honesty about this, as Bunny discovered; it was Annabelle's desire to be an actress rather than a mistress. "By Jees," Verne would proclaim to his guests, "it's cost me eight million dollars to make a movie queen out of this baby." And the thirty year old baby had the dream that some day she would achieve a masterpiece, that would earn this eight million and vindicate her honor. Meantime, she paid installments by taking care of Verne -- so publicly that it was quite touching, and respectable according to the strictest bourgeois standards. If the oil magnate had ever had the idea that in taking to his bosom a movie star he was going to lead a wild and roystering life, he had made a sad mistake, for he was the most hen-pecked of all "butter and egg men."
"Now, Papa," Annabelle would say, "you've had enough to drink. Put that down." She would say it before a company assembled in their gladdest rags for a dinner party; and Verne would protest, "My God, baby, I ain't got started yet!"
"Well, you stop before you start tonight. Remember what Doctor Wilkins says about your liver."
Verne would bluster, "To hell with livers!" and the answer would be, "Now, Papa, you told me to make you obey! Have I got to make you ashamed before all this company?"
"Me ashamed? I'd like to see anybody make me ashamed!"
"Well, Papa, you know you'll be ashamed if I tell what you said to me the last time you were drunk."
Verne paused, with his glass half way in the air, trying to remember; and the company burst into clamor, "Oh, tell us! Tell us!"
"Shall I tell them, Papa?" It was a bluff, for Annabelle was very prim, and never indulged in vulgarity. But the bluff went, and the great man set down his glass. "I surrender! Take the stuff away." Whereat everybody applauded, and it gave the party a merry start.
Strange as it might seem, Annabelle was a pious Catholic. Just how she managed to fix things up with her priests Bunny never knew, but she gave freely to charity, and you would find her featured at benefits for Catholic orphan asylums and things of that sort. At the same time her little head was as full of superstitions as an old Negro mammy. She would not have started a picture on a Friday for the whole of Vernon's eight million dollar endowment. When you spilled the salt, she not merely advised you to throw some of it over your shoulder, she did it for you, if necessary. Once, at luncheon, she made a girlfriend eat at a side table, because otherwise there would have been thirteen, and this girl, being the youngest, would have fallen the victim.
At the same time she was very good. She really liked you, and liked to have you around, and when she begged you to come back, she meant it. Nor would she make unkind remarks about you after you were gone. Along with the ecstasies of the artistic temperament, she had escaped its gnawing jealousies; she was one of the few lady-stars before whom it was safe to praise the work of other lady-stars, Bunny found. Also, she had an abiding respect for him, because he had read books, and had ideas about public questions. The fact that Bunny had got his name on the front pages of the newspapers as a dangerous "pink," served to lend him that same halo of mystery and romance, which the public assigned to Annabelle as a luminary of the screen world, and the mistress of a monastery!
"Harve," said Annabelle, "there's time for you to show Mr. Ross over the place before dinner." And so Bunny got to see what a country place could be like, so that he could make his father give him one. But Harvey Manning did not make a very good escort. To show off a show-place you need some one of an admiring disposition, whereas "Harve" had seen too many places, and was inclined to patronize them all.
There were almost as many buildings on this estate as there were tanks at the Paradise refinery; only these were Gothic tanks, with miniature towers and steeples and crenellations and machicolations. There was no chapel or place of worship, nor tombs of ancient abbots; but there was a gymnasium, with a swimming pool of green marble, and a bowling alley, and squash courts and tennis courts, and a nine hole golf course, and a polo field -- everything you would find at the most elaborate country club. There was a stable with saddle horses ridden mostly by grooms, and a library read only by motion picture directors looking up local color -- or at any rate that was Harvey's tale about it.
Also there was a regular menagerie of local creatures. The hired men and their youngsters had discovered that such gifts pleased the master, so they brought in everything they could capture. There was an enclosed park with deer and mountain sheep, and heavily barred dens and grizzly bears shambling over the rocks, and wild cats and coyotes and mountain lions dozing in the shade. There was a giant dome covered with netting, with a big dead tree inside, and eagles seated thereon. An eagle in his native state, sailing with supreme dominion through the azure deep of air, has been a thrilling theme for poets; up sitting in a cage he is a melancholy object. "Some of your red friends in jail!" Harvey Manning remarked in passing.
But even the most blase man of the world has something in which he is interested, so Bunny found. Presently his guide took out his watch and remarked that it was nearly six-thirty, and they must get back to the house. He was "on the water wagon" until that hour of each day, and when it drew near, he was about ready to jump out of his skin. So they strolled back, and a Chinese boy clad in white duck had evidently learned to expect him, and was on hand with a tray. Harvey took two drinks, to make up for lost time, and then he sighed contentedly, and revealed that he could talk without a drawl.
When Bunny came down for dinner there was quite a company assembled -- some in evening dress and some in golf clothes and some in plain business suits like the host -- it was "liberty hall," according to the caption. Roscoe was talking politics to Fred Orpan -- the drubbing they were going to give the Democratic party. Roscoe did the talking, for the other was a queer silent creature, tall and lean, with a tall, lean face, like a horse. He had the strangest grey-green eyes, that somehow looked absolutely empty; you would decide that his head was empty too, when he would listen and say nothing for an hour -- but this would be a mistake, for he was the directing head of a great chain of oil enterprises, and Dad said he was sharp as a steel trap.
Also there was Bessie Barrie, because good form required that she be invited wherever Orpan went. He had backed her in several pictures, and she was "paying the price," as the current phrase ran; but it wasn't quite the same respectable arrangement as in the case of Roscoe and his Annabelle, because Bessie had been in love with her director, and he was still in love with her, and the attitude of the two men was far from cordial. This was explained to Bunny by Harvey Manning, gossip-in-chief, who had now had several more drinks, and got his tongue entirely loosened. Bunny noted that the hostess had tactfully placed the rival males at opposite ends of the table.
They were in a smaller cathedral now, known as the "refectory"; and Bunny was in the seat of honor, at the right of the charming Annabelle, transformed from a lemon-colored shepherdess to a duchess in white satin. On her left sat Perry Duchane, her director, telling about the cuts in the first two reels, which he had brought along for a showing. Next to him was a vacant seat; some lady was late, and Bunny was too young in the ways of the world to know that this is how great personages secure importance to themselves. It was his first meeting with actresses, and how should he know that they sometimes act off-stage?
You remember in that colossal production, "The Emperor of Etruria," the Scythian slave girl who is brought in from the wilds to serve the pleasures of a pampered sybarite, and the scene where the fat eunuchs lay hands upon her? With what splendid fury she claws them and knocks their heads together! Her clothing is torn to shreds in the struggle, and you have glimpses of a lithe and sinewy body -- the extent of the glimpses depending upon the censorship laws of the state in which you see the picture. The scene made a hit with the public, and many producers competed for Viola Tracy -- pronounce it Vee-ola, please, with the accent on the first syllable. She displayed her magnificent fighting qualities next in "The Virgin Vamp," and thereafter escaped dishonor by a hair's breadth in many palpitating scenes. Of late she had acquired dignity, and was now regal on all the billboards of Angel City in "The Bride of Tutankhamen," an alluring figure, with deep-set mysterious black eyes, and a smile fathomless as four thousand years of history.
Well, here she was, stepping out of the billboards, and into the refectory of the Monastery; her Egyptian costume changed for a daring one of black velvet, fresh from Paris, and with black pearls to match. The footman drew out her chair, and she rested one hand upon it, but did not take her seat; her hostess said, "Miss Tracy, Mr. Ross" -- and still she paused, smiling at Bunny, and he smiling at her. It was a striking pose, and Tommy Paley, her director, who had taught her the stunt, and watched it now from the other end of the table, suddenly called, "Camera!" Everybody laughed, and "Vee" most gaily of all -- revealing two rows of white pearls, more regular than the black ones, and worth many times as much to a movie star.
Annabelle Ames got along in the world without ever saying anything unkind about anybody, but that was not "Vee" Tracy's style; she had a fighting tongue, as well as fighting fists, and her conversation gave Bunny the shock of his innocent young life. They happened first to be discussing a lady vamp, recently imported from abroad with much clashing of advertising cymbals. "She dresses in very good taste," said Annabelle, mildly. "Oh, perfect!" said Vee. "Absolutely perfect! She selected her dog to match her face!" And then presently they were talking about that million dollar production, "The Old Oaken Bucket," which was just then waking home memories and wringing tears from the eyes of millions of hardened sinners. Dolly Deane, who played the innocent country maiden seduced by a travelling salesman, was so charmingly simple, said Annabelle. "Oh, yes!" replied Vee. "For the chance to be that simple, she slept with her producer, and two angels, and the director and his assistant; and all five of them told her how an innocent virgin says her prayers."
Bunny, who was a rebel in his own line, sat up and took notice of this conversation; and you may be sure that Vee did not fail to take notice of the young oil prince, flashing him mischief with her sparkling black eyes. The footman brought her a plate of soup in a golden bowl, and she took one glance and cried, "Oh, my God, take it away, it's got starch in it! Annabelle, are you trying to drive me out of the profession?" Then, to Bunny, "They say that nobody can eat a quail a day for thirty days; but Mr. Ross, what would you say if I told you I have eaten two lamb chops and three slices of pineapple every day for seven years?"
"I would ask, is that an Egyptian rite, or maybe Scythian?"
"It is the prescription of a Hollywood doctor who specializes in reducing actresses. We public idols are supposed to be rioting in luxury, but really we have only one dream -- to buy enough Hollywood real estate so that we can retire and eat a square meal!"
"Don't you really ever steal one?" asked Bunny, sympathetically.
She answered, "Ours are the kind of figures that never lie. You can ask Tommy Paley what would happen if they were to see any fat on me when the gentleman heavy tears my clothes off! They would put me into the comics, and I'd earn my living being rolled down hill in a barrel!"
Conversation at this dinner-party, as at most dinner-parties in America at that time, resembled a walk along the edge of a slippery ditch. Sooner or later you were bound to slide in, and after that you could not get out, but finished your walk in the ditch. "Mr. Ross," said Annabelle, in her capacity as hostess, "I notice you aren't drinking your wine. You can trust what we have -- it's all pre-war stuff." And so they were in the ditch, and talked about Prohibition.
The law was two years and a half old, and the leisure classes were just realizing the full extent of the indignity which had been inflicted upon them. It wasn't the high prices -- they were all of them seeking ways to spend money rapidly; but it was the inconvenience, and the difficulties of being sure what you were getting. People escaped the trouble by pinning their faith to some particular bootlegger; Bunny noticed it as an incredible but universal phenomenon that persons otherwise the most cynical, who made it the rule of their lives to trust nobody, would repeat the wildest stories which men of the underworld had told them, about how this particular "case of Scotch" had just been smuggled in from Mexico, or maybe stolen from the personal stock of a visiting duke in Canada.
They discussed the latest developments in the tragedy which had befallen Koski, one of the emperors of their screen-world, who had had a priceless stock in the cellar of his country place, and had taken the precaution to have it walled in with two feet of brick, and guarded by doors such as you would find on a bank vault; but thieves had come during the owner's absence, and bound and gagged the caretaker, and cut through the floor of the drawing room, above the cellar, and hauled out everything with rope and tackle, and carted it away in trucks. Since then Koski had been raising a row with the authorities; he charged that they were standing in with the thieves, and he had brought in an outside detective agency, and threatened a scandal that would shake the pants off the police department. By this means he had got back the greater part of his casks and bottles; but alas, the real stuff was gone, they had all been emptied and refilled with synthetic. And so, after that, there was a convincing story for your bootlegger to tell you; this was some of the original Koski stuff! Millions of gallons of original Koski stuff were being drunk in California, and even in adjoining states.
Suddenly Vee Tracy clapped her hands. "Oh, listen! I have one on Koski! Him and some others! Has anybody heard The Movie's Prayer?"
There was a silence. No one had.
"This is something for all of us to teach our children to recite every night and morning. It is serious, and you mustn't joke."
"Let us pray," said the voice of Bessie Barrie.
"Fold your hands, like good little children," ordered Vee, "and bow your heads." And then with slow and solemn intonation she began:
"Our Movie, which art Heaven, Hollywood by Thy Name. Let Koski come. His Will be done, in studio as in bed."
There was a gasp, and then a roar of laughter swept the table; no explanations were needed, they all knew their emperor, master of the destiny of hundreds of screen actresses. "Go on!" shouted voices; and the girl continued to intone an invocation, which echoed in outline and rhythm the Lord's prayer, and brought in the names of other rulers of their shadow world, always with an obscene implication. It was a kind of Black Mass, and performed the magic feat of lifting the conversation out of the ditch of Prohibition. They talked for a while about the sexual habits of their rulers; who was living with whom, and what scandals were threatened, and what shootings and attempted poisonings had resulted. There were thrilling crime mysteries, which would provide a topic of conversation for hours in any Hollywood gathering; you might hear half a dozen different solutions, each one positive, and no two alike.
They adjourned to the larger cathedral, where the lights were dim, and there appeared, very appropriately in place of the altar, a large white screen. At the far end of the room, was a projecting machine, and the guests distributed themselves in lounging chairs, prepared to pay for their entertainment by watching the first two reels of Annabelle's new picture, and giving their professional judgments on the "cutting." "Pangs of Passion" you may recall as a soul-shaking story about a society bud whose handsome young husband is led astray by a divorcee, and who, in order to make him jealous, begins a flirtation with a bootlegger, and is carried off in a rum-running vessel, and made the victim of the customary pulling and hauling and tearing of feminine costumes. "My God," said Vee Tracy, in an aside to Bunny, "Annabelle has been playing these society flappers since before they were born, and in all that time she's never had a story above the intelligence of a twelve year old child! You'll think it's a joke, but I know it for a fact that Perry Duchane gets a bunch of school children together and tells them the scenario, and if there's anything they don't like, he cuts it out."
And then to Annabelle she said, "It's up to standard, my dear; it will sell all right." And to Bunny, "That's one good thing about Annabelle, you can say that and she's satisfied -- she doesn't ask you if it's a work of art. But others do, and I've made mortal enemies because I won't lie to them. I say, 'Leave art out of it, dearie; we all know our stuff is trash.'"
There was technical discussion, and Bunny had an opportunity to learn about the tricks of "cutting." Also he learned what had been the gross business on a number of Annabelle Ames' pictures, and the inside figures on other successes. Tommy Paley had recently indulged in the luxury of making an artistic and beautiful picture, which the papers had called a "classic"; he and a group of friends had come out something over a hundred thousand in the hole, and he had charged it up to education, and said, "Let the Germans do the art stuff after this!"
All this time there had been a silent spectral figure flitting about the cathedral, clad in white duck coat and trousers and padded purple slippers; the Chinese boy, bearing a tray with little glasses full of pink and yellow and purple and green liquid. He would move from guest to guest, offering his tray, and they would put down empty glasses and take up full ones, and during the entire course of the evening the spectre never made one sound, nor did anyone make a sound to it. Some three hundred years ago an English poet, long since forgotten by the movie world, had asked the question why a man should put an enemy into his mouth to steal away his brains; but here at the Monastery, the anxiety appeared to be that someone might forget to put the enemy into his mouth -- hence this Chinese spectre to save the need of recollecting.
There were a few who did not drink; Annabelle was one, and Vee Tracy another. The spectre had apparently been instructed not to go near Vernon Roscoe, and if Vernon tried to approach the spectre, there would be a sharp warning, "Now, Verne!" But others drank, and tongues were loosened, and hearts poured out as the evening passed. Even Fred Orpan came to life, and revealed a tongue! It was Vernon Roscoe's habit to "josh" everybody, and now he got paid back, as the one-time rancher from Texas sat up in his chair and opened his long horse's face and demanded, in a falsetto voice which sounded as if it came from a ventriloquist: "Anybody here know how this old shyster got his start in life?"
Apparently nobody did know; and Orpan put another question: "Anybody ever seen him in swimming? I bet you never! When it's outdoors, he'll tell you the water is too cold, and when it's indoors he'll tell you it's dirty or something. The reason is, he's got one toe missing, and he's afraid to have it proved on him. When he was drilling his first well, he ran out of money and was clean done for; so he went and took out an accident insurance policy, and then went rabbit-hunting and shot off one of his big toes. So he got the cash to finish the well! Is that true, old socks, or ain't it?"
The company laughed gleefully and clamored for an answer; and Vernon laughed as much as anyone: He didn't mind the story, but you could never get him to tell. Instead, he countered on his assailant, "You ought to hear about this old skeezicks, how he got rich leasing oil lands from Indians. They tell this about a dozen oil men, but Fred was the real one that done it, I know because I was there. It was Old Chief Leatherneck, of the Shawnees, and Fred offered him one-eighth royalty, and the old codger screwed up his eyes and said, 'No take one-eighth, got to have one-sixteenth!' Fred said he couldn't afford that, and begged him to take one-twelfth, but he said, 'One-sixteenth or no lease.' So they signed up for a sixteenth, and now it's the Hellfire Dome, by Jees! Is that so, old skeezicks, or ain't it?"
Said Fred Orpan, "You might complete the story by telling what the old chief does with his royalties. He's got a different colored automobile for each day of the week, and he figures to get drunk three times every day."
"Oh, take me to the Hellfire Dome!" wailed the voice of Harvey Manning. "They won't let me get drunk but one time in a night, and none at all in the daytime!"
There was a large organ in this cathedral, a magic organ of the modern style, which played itself when you put in a roll of paper and pressed an electric switch. It played the very latest jazz tunes from Broadway, and the company danced, and Vee Tracy came to Bunny and said, "My doctor allows me only one drink in an evening, and I want a sober partner." Bunny was glad to oblige, and so the time passed pleasantly. He danced with his hostess, and with the blonde fairy, Bessie Barrie. In between dances they chatted, and the Chinese spectre continued to flit about, and the deeps of the human spirit were more and more unveiled.
In front of Bunny stood Tommy Paley, super director, handsome, immaculate if slightly ruffled, flushed of face, and steady upon his legs if not in his thoughts. "Look here, Ross," he said, "I want you to tell me something."
"What is it?"
"I want to know what it's all about."
"What, Mr. Paley?"
"Life! What the hell are we here for, and where do we go when we get through?"
"If I knew," said Bunny, "I would surely tell you."
"But, lookit, man, I thought you went to college! I never got any education, I was a newsboy and all that. But I thought when a fellow's read a lotta books and goes to college --"
"We haven't got to it yet," said Bunny. "Maybe it comes in the last two years."
"Well, by God, if they tell you, you come tell me. And find out, old son, what the hell we going to do about sex? You can't live with 'em and you can't live without 'em, and what sort of a mess is it?"
"It's very puzzling," admitted Bunny.
"It's the devil!" said the other. "I'd pay anybody ten year's salary if they'd teach me to forget the whole damn business."
"Yes," said Bunny, "but then, what would you direct?"
And the super-director looked at him, bewildered, and suddenly burst out laughing. "By God, that's so! That's a good one! Ho, ho, ho!" And he went off, presumably to pass the good one on.
His place was taken by Harvey Manning, who was no longer able to stand up, but sprawled over a chair, and in a voice of the deepest injury declared, "I wanna know whoze been tellin bout me!"
"Telling what?" asked Bunny.
"Thaz what I wanna know. What they been tellin?"
"I don't know what you mean, Harvey."
"Thass it! What don't you know? Why don't you tell me? Mean say I ain't askin straight? You think I'm drunk -- that it? I say, I wanna know whoze been talkin bout me an what they been sayin. I gotta take care my reputation. I wanna know why you won't tell me. I'm gonna know if I have to keep askin all night." And accordingly he started again, "Please, ole feller, what they been tellin you?"
But just then the Chinese spectre flitted past, and Harvey got up and made ah effort to catch him, and failing, caught hold of a lamp-stand, slightly taller than himself. It was not built like the lamp-posts that he was used to clutching on street-corners; it started to fall, and Bunny leaped and caught it, and Harvey cried, in alarm, "Look out, you're upset tin it!"
Then a funny thing happened. Bunny had noticed at the dinner-table a well-groomed man of the big Western type, polite and unobtrusive; the superintendent of the estate, and one of the few who kept sober. Now it appeared that among the duties of superintendent at a monastery was that of the old-fashioned "bouncer" of the Bowery saloon. He came up, and quietly slipped his arm about Harvey Manning; and the latter, evidently having been there before, set up an agonized wail, "I'd wanna go to bed! I woan go to bed! Dammit, Anderson, lemme lone! If I go to bed now I wake up in the mornin and I can't have a drink till evenin an I go crazy!"
Against that horrible fate poor Harvey fought frantically; but apparently the material inside the shoulders of Mr. Anderson's dresscoat was not the ordinary tailor's padding, and the weeping victim was helpless as in the grip of a boa-constrictor. He went along, even while proclaiming loudly that he wouldn't. "I'll get up again, I tell you! I woan be treated like a baby! I woan come this damn place again! It's an outrage! I'm a grown man an I got a right get drunk if I wanna --" and so his weeping voice died into the elevator!
"Mr. Ross," said Vee Tracy, "there are two cries that one hears at Hollywood parties. The first is, I don't want to go to bed; and the second is, I do."
When Bunny made his appearance on Sunday morning, he had the Monastery all to himself. He breakfasted, and read the papers, which had been delivered from the nearest railroad station; then he went for a stroll, and renewed his acquaintance with the "reds" in the eagle cage. He walked down towards the ocean, and discovered a combination of firebreak and bridle-path, leading over the hills along the coast. He followed this for a couple of miles, until it led down to a long stretch of beach. The owner of the Monastery had erected a barrier here, with signs warning the public to keep out; there was a gate with a spring lock, and on the inside a board with keys hanging on it, and instructions to take one with you, so that you could return. Bunny did this, and continued his walk down the beach.
Presently he came upon a Rhine castle, set upon one of these lonely hills; and in front of it, coming down to the water, a series of terraces and gardens. There were paths, and watercourses, "bridal-veil" falls, and fountains with stone-carved frogs and storks and turtles and tritons -- all suffering from drought, for the water was shut off. You could guess that the owner was away, because the window-shades in the Rhine castle were drawn, and here and there throughout the gardens were great lumps of white sheeting, evidently wrapped about statues. Some of these were on pedestals, and some perched on the stone walls; and directly over the head of each hung an electric light.
It was such a curious phenomenon that Bunny took the trouble to climb into the garden, and lift up the hem of one of these sheets, and was embarrassed to discover the entirely naked round limbs of a large marble lady -- presumably a Lorelei, or other kind of German lady, because you could tell by the shape of the cloth, and by feeling through it, that she had a goblet uplifted in one and, and behind her head a thick marble rope, made by her braided hair. With golden comb she combs it, you remember, and sings a song thereby, das hat eine wundersame gewaltige Melodei; and Bunny was the fisher-boy whom it seized with a wild woe. He peered under half a dozen of the sheets, and counted the rest, establishing the fact that the gardens contained no less than thirty-two large, fat marble ladies with braided hair hanging down their backs. An amazing spectacle it must have afforded, at night when all the lights were turned on -- and no one to behold it but seals! Yes; Bunny looked out over the sea, and there was not a sail in sight, but close to the shore were clusters of rocks, and on these the seals sat waiting to see if he were going to unveil the statues, and bring back the merry days before Prohibition ruined America!
He returned to the beach, and walked on. The sun was high now, and the water tempting; there were more rocks with seals on them, and green-white breakers splashing over them, not high enough to be dangerous, but just enough to be alluring. Bunny made sure he was alone, and then undressed and waded into the water.
The attention of the seals became riveted upon him, and with each step that he took, one of them would give a hump, hump, and get nearer to the water's edge. Some of them were yellow, and some a dark brown, little ones and big ones, each of them enormously fat -- having consumed his own weight in fish in the course of a day. As Bunny swam near, they slid silently off the rocks, politely yielding place to him; when he clambered onto the rocks, they would bob up and form a circle a few yards away, yellow heads and brown heads sticking out of the water, whiskers bristling and mild eyes staring. They were strangely human, a circle of foreign children, watching some visitor who does not know their language and may or may not be dangerous.
California water is always cold, but California sunshine is always warm; so Bunny would swim for a while, and then approach a cluster of rocks, and watch the silent company hump themselves into the water. Whatever he wanted, they would yield to him, the superior being, and content themselves with the places he had left. The green-white seas splashed over him, and underneath their surface was a garden of strange plants, with anemones and abalones clinging, too tightly to be pried off by fingers. White clouds drifted by, making swift shadows over the water, and far out at sea a streak of smoke showed where a steamer was passing.
The world was so beautiful, and at the same time strange, and interesting to be alive in! What must it be like to be a seal? What did they think concerning this arrogant being who commandeered their resting places? Did they see the Rhine castle on the shore, or did they see only fish to eat, and how did they understand so clearly that they must not eat a man? Embarrassing if one of them should be a "red," and rebel against the genial customs of the phocidae! Thus Bunny -- just the same at the age of twenty-one as when first we met him, driving over the Guadalupe grade and speculating about the feelings of ground-squirrels and butcher-birds. He had completed in the meantime a full course at the Beach City High School, and half a course at Southern Pacific University, but neither institution had told him what he wanted to know!
The young philosopher decided that he had had enough, and started to swim in; but then he noticed someone on horseback, galloping down the beach towards him. The figure was bare headed and clad in knickerbockers, and appeared to be a man; but you never could be sure these days, so he swam and waited, and presently made out that it was Vee Tracy. She saw him, and waved her hand, and when she was opposite, reined up her horse. "Good morning, Mr. Ross."
"Good morning," he called. "Is this part of the doctor's prescription?"
"Yes, and it also includes swimming." There was laughter in her face, as if she guessed his plight. "Why don't you invite me to join you?"
"It would embarrass the seals." He swam in slowly, and stood with the waves tumbling about his shoulders.
"It is the morning of the world," said Vee. "Come out, and let us enjoy it."
"Look here, Miss Tracy," he explained, "it so happens that I wasn't expecting company. I am the way the Lord made me."
"O ye sons of men," she chanted, "how long will ye turn my glory into shame?" And she explained, "I once acted in 'King Solomon' -- a religious pageant. We had three real camels, and I was Abishag the Shunammite, the damsel who cherished the king and ministered unto him; and he sang to me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Oh my dove, that art in the cleft of the rocks --"
He was near enough to see the imp of mischief dancing in her black eyes. "Young woman," he said, "I give you fair notice. I have been in this water an hour, and I am cold. I was on my way out."
She continued, "Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men."
He took a few steps, until the breakers barely reached his waist. "I am on the way," he said.
"Who is this that cometh out of the water? My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy --"
"Fair warning!" he announced. "One-two-three!" And when she gave no sign of yielding, he strode out from the waves.
"His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold; his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars."
He stood confronting her, the water playing about his feet.
"Thou are beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me!"
"If that's in the Bible, I suppose it's all right," said Bunny.
"'King Solomon lost a fortune," said the lady on horseback, "so it's the only pageant I was ever in, and it's the only poetry I can recite. But I dare say if I had been in a Greek pageant I could quote something appropriate, for I read they used to run naked in the games, and it did not embarrass them. Is that true?"
"So the books say," said Bunny.
"Well then, let's be Greek! You are a runner, I have heard. Are you in training?"
"My beloved's lips are blue and he's got goose-flesh, so let's have a race, you and my horse, and it'll be a Greek pageant."
"Anything to oblige a lady."
"Ready! Set!" she called sharply -- and then, to his great surprise, pulled a little revolver from under her jacket, and fired it into the air. It was to be a real race!
He started at the rate of twenty miles an hour, or a little better, and heard the horse loping on the sand behind him. He did not know how long the race was to last, so presently he settled down to a long distance gait. He was warm again, and willing to investigate being a Greek. The sky was blue, and the clouds white, and the sea green, and the sand sparkling cold; truly, as the girl had said, it was the morning of the world!
They came to a place where wagon-tracks came down to the beach, and there were fishermen's boats, and three men had just shoved out through the breakers. They rested on their oars, to stare at this amazing spectacle, an entirely naked youth running a race on the beach with a woman on horseback. Their swarthy Italian or Portuguese faces wore broad grins, with white teeth showing. They knew about the Monastery, and this was the latest freak of the idle rich!
But then came a place where the highway came near to the beach. There were tents ahead, and automobiles parked, with canvas covers to protect them from the sun. There were people on the beach; and these, Bunny knew, would not be primitive foreigners, but ranchmen from the interior, having brought their families to spend Sunday away from the baking heat. They would have no toleration for the freaks of the idle rich, neither would they know about the customs of the ancient Greeks; they were sober, church-going people, the sort who formed the Ku Klux Klan, and punished fornications and adulteries by tarring and feathering and riding on a rail. But Vee had challenged Bunny, and he said to himself that it was up to her. Did she really want to be pagan and take the consequences?
He ran on and on. The tents came near, and he saw women stare, and then dive into shelter; he saw the men, not running away, nor turning their heads, but glaring with menace in their faces. What would they do? Seize the obscene intruder, and wrap him perforce in a blanket, and deliver him over to the police? Bunny's quick mind leaped to the outcome -- a streamer -- read across the front page of the "Angel City Evening Howler" --
STAR RACES NUDE OIL RED!
Then suddenly he heard a voice behind him: "I give up! I'm going back!" So he whirled, and the horse whirled, and away they went, even faster than they had come, and both of them shaking with laughter in the morning of the world!
The Greeks had never worn either trousers or shirts, and the process of getting into these garments did not lend itself to romantic or esthetic interpretations. Therefore Vee Tracy rode down the beach while Bunny dressed; and when he rejoined her, she was no longer Greek, but an American young lady upon her dignity, and it would have been bad taste to have referred to her crazy prank.
She was leading the horse with the bridle over its head, and Bunny walked by her side. "Did you notice that nightmare?" she said, as they passed the thirty-two Loreleis in their grave-clothes. "That was one of the dreams of old Hank Thatcher. You've heard of 'Happy Hank,' the California Grape-king?"
"So that's his place!" exclaimed Bunny.
"He dreamed of orgies, and kept half a dozen harems; his wife refused him a divorce to punish him, and when he died she covered up his dream as a kind of public penance."
"Nobody seems to see it but the seals."
"Oh, the papers were full of it; they would never pass up any news about the Thatchers. They send out a reporter once in a while. One time they had a scream of a story -- the reporter had worn a suit of chain mail under his trousers, and the dogs had torn at him in vain!"
"She sets dogs on them?"
"That's why nobody dares go up there to peek at the statues."
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Bunny. "I peeked at half a dozen of them."
"Well, you were lucky. That's why I carried this revolver along; they sometimes come onto the beach, and the neighbors make war on them."
"Why doesn't she put up a fence?"
"She's in a dispute with the county. She claims to own the beach, and every now and then she puts a barrier across it, and the county sends men at night to tear it down. They've been fighting it out for the past ten years. Also the state is trying to put a highway through the tract -- it would save several miles of the coast route -- but she has spent a fortune fighting them; she lives in that castle like a beleaguered princess in the old days -- all the shades drawn, and she steals about from room to room with a gun in her hand, looking for burglars and spies. Ask Harve about it -- he knows her."
"Is she insane?"
"It's a reaction from her life with her husband; he was a profligate, and so she's a miser. They tell a story about him, he used to pay his hands in cash, and would drive about the country in a buckboard with little canvas bags, each containing a thousand dollars in gold. One time he dropped one bag and didn't miss it; one of his hands brought it to him, and old Hank looked at the man with contempt, and put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a half dollar. 'Here,' he said, 'here's the price of a rope; go buy one and hang yourself'!"
"So now she's taking care of the money!"
"Exactly. She pays all her bills by registered mail, and preserves the receipts, and insists on having a return receipt from the post office, and when that comes she files the two together, and when the receipted bill comes back, she files and indexes that. She won't let a bookkeeper do it, because you can't find any employees who can be trusted to attend to things properly. She spends hours poring over her business papers, and discovering other people's carelessness and incompetence. She employs lawyers, and then she employs other lawyers to check them up, and then a detective agency to find out how the lawyers are selling her out. She's convinced the county authorities are persecuting her, and that they're all a lot of crooks -- she mayn't be so wrong in that. She's lean and haggard, and wears herself to a skeleton roaming about the house, dusting the furniture and nagging at the servants because they won't take care of things."
The two walked on down the beach. "Up over that hill," said Vee, "lives old Hank's sister; he left her part of the estate, and the two women have quarrelled about the boundary line and the water-rights. Tessie Thatcher's an old rake-- hires men to work for her, and makes them her lovers, and writes them tootsie-wootsie letters, and then they try to blackmail her, and she tells them to go to hell, and they bring suit for unpaid salaries, and sell the letters to the newspapers, and they're all published; but Tessie doesn't care, she knows that nothing can hurt her social position, she's too rich; and besides, she's an old booze- fighter, and knows how to forget her troubles."
"My God!" exclaimed Bunny. "What property does to people!"
"To women especially," said Vee. "It's too much for their nerves. I look at the old women I meet, and think, which of them do I want to be? And I say, Oh, my God! and jump into my car and drive fifty miles an hour to get away from my troubles, and from people who want to tell me theirs!"
"Is that what you were doing when the judge sent you to jail for a week?" laughed Bunny.
"No," she answered, "that was a publicity stunt, the bright idea of my advertising man."