OIL, BY UPTON SINCLAIR
CHAPTER XIV: THE STAR
Bunny went back to Angel City, and discovered that if he wanted to follow Vee Tracy's program of dodging other people's troubles, he had made a fatal mistake to get interested in a labor college! He went to see Mr. Irving, and found the young instructor up to his ears in the growing pains and disputes of the labor movement. All summer long his job had been interviewing leaders and sympathizers, and trying to get them together on a program. He had managed to get the college started, with three teachers and about fifty pupils, mostly coming at night; but it was all precarious -- the difficulties seemed overwhelming.
There were a handful of progressive and clear-minded men and women in the labor movement; and then there was the great mass of the bureaucracy, dead from the ears up; also a little bunch of extreme radicals, who would rather have no bread at all than half a loaf. The old-line leaders would have nothing to do with the college if these "reds" got in; on the other hand, if you excluded the "reds," they would set up a clamor, and a lot of genuine liberals would say, what was the use of a new college that was so much like the old ones?
The labor movement had its traditions, having to do with getting shorter hours and more pay for the workers; and the old officials were bound by that point of view. The average union official was a workingman who had escaped from day-labor by the help of a political machine inside the union. Anything new meant to him the danger of losing his desk job, and having to go back to hard work. He had learned to negotiate with the employers and smoke their cigars, and in a large percentage of cases he was spending more money than his salary. Here in Angel City, the unions had a weekly paper, that lived by soliciting advertising from business men -- and what was that but a respectable form of graft? When you took any fighting news to an editor of that sort, he would say the dread word "Bolshevism," and throw your copy into the trash basket.
And the same thing applied to the movement in its national aspects. The American Federation of Labor was maintaining a bureau in Washington, for the purpose of combatting the radicals, and this bureau was for practical purposes the same as any patriotic society; its function was to collect damaging news about Russia from all over the world, and feed it to the American labor press. And of course, if any labor man was defiant, and insisted upon telling the other side, he would incur the bitter enmity of this machine, and they would throw him to the wolves. There would be a scare story in the capitalist press, telling how the Communists had got possession of the plasterers' union, or maybe the button workers, and the grand jury was preparing action against a nest of conspirators. The average labor leader, no matter how honest and sincere, shivered in his boots when such a club was swung over his head.
Also there was Harry Seager and his troubles. The Seager Business College had turned out a class of young men and women, thoroughly trained to typewrite, "All men are created free and equal," and also, "Give me liberty or give me death." And now these young people were going about in the business offices of Angel City, and discovering that nobody wanted employees to typewrite anything of that sort! In plain words these young people were being told that the Seager Business College was a Bolshevik institution, and the business men of the city had been warned not to employ its graduates. The boycott was illegal in Angel City, and if any labor men tried to apply it, they would be whisked into jail in a jiffy. But imagine Harry Seager asking the district attorney to prosecute the heads of the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Association, whose campaign contributions had put the district attorney into office!
Bunny went up to Paradise, and there was another bunch of grief. In preparation for the coming struggle over the wage scale, the oil operators were weeding out the "troublemakers," which meant the active union men. And now for the first time, Ross Consolidated was following the policy of the rest. Ben Riley, one of the fellows who met in the Rascum cabin, had been told that he was no longer needed. They had too many men, the foreman had said, but that was a plain lie, because he had taken on half a dozen new men since. No, Ben was a Socialist, and had talked at meetings in Paradise, and distributed Socialist papers that showed the monstrous wastes in the oil industry, and the world-rivalry for oil which was to cause the next great war.
It was Ruth who told Bunny about this; very seriously, with distress in her gentle eyes. "It's a shame, Bunny, because Ben has got no place to go. And here he's got a home, and a wife and two little girls."
Bunny was worried too; Dad had promised this kind of thing should not happen!
"Can't you do something about it?" pleaded Ruth.
"Well, but Ben was a pumper, and that's in the department of operation, and Dad only has to do with the development work. He wouldn't butt in on the superintendent of operation."
"But then, ask him to give Ben a job on development."
"I'll ask him, Ruth, but I know what he'll say. If he undertook to make jobs for men that other departments want to get rid of, he'd make bad feeling. You know what a lot of fuss he makes about good feeling inside the organization."
"Yes, Bunny, but then, what about Ben's feeling, and all the men?" Ruth persisted, with that surprising force that gentle people sometimes display. Ruth did not understand abstract questions, she had no theories about the "class struggle"; but when it came to a human fact, a grievance, then she was possessed by it, and as determined as Paul. These men who came by the cabin to argue and discuss, they were all her friends, and if they did not get a square deal, something must be done!
So here was Bunny, in his old tormenting position, watching a fight which he was powerless to stop, or even to mitigate! Ben Riley managed to get work on a ranch; he had to put in twelve hours a day, but all the same, he would come onto the tract at night and distribute his Socialist literature -- and of course with a burning sense of bitterness, shared by his friends.
Tom Axton was back in the field, at his organizing job, and he and Paul and Bunny had long discussions. Here in the oil workers' union, just as in the labor college, there was the problem of what to do about the "reds." You could never have any big group of workers without Socialists and Communists and I.W.W. among them -- and all busily "boring." Paul was endorsing the position of Axton, that the one thing in the oil industry was to save the union; all the workers must concentrate on that, and avoid every cause of division. To this the Socialists and the Communists made answer, all right, they would help; but as the struggle developed, the bosses would call in the police and the courts, and the oil workers, like all other workers, would find they could not stay out of politics, they would have to master the capitalist state. So far the Socialists and Communists would agree; but then would come the question, how was this mastering to be accomplished -- and at once the two groups would be imitating the Menzies family!
The "Industrial Workers of the World," as they called themselves, were a separate group, men who had been revolted by the corruption and lack of vision in the old-line unions, and had formed a rival organization, the "One Big Union," that was some day to take in all the workers. They were hated by the regular labor leaders, and the newspapers represented them as criminals and thugs. When Bunny met one, he found a young fellow clinging to an ideal in the spirit of the early Christian martyrs. These "wobblies" were now being hunted like wild beasts under the "criminal syndicalism act" of California; everyone who came into a labor camp or industrial plant was liable to be picked up by a constable or company "bull," and the mere possession of a red card meant fourteen years in state's prison. Nevertheless, here they were in Paradise; half a dozen of them had a "jungle" or camping place out in the hills, and they would lure workingmen out to their meetings, and you would see the glare of a camp-fire, and hear the faint echo of the songs they sang out of their "little red song book." To Bunny this was romantic and mysterious; while to Dad and Mr. Roscoe and the managers of Ross Consolidated, it was as if the "jungle" had been located in the province of Bengal, and the sounds brought in by the night wind had been the screams of man-eating tigers!
From these and all other troubles Bunny now had a way of swift escape, the Monastery. Nobody up there had troubles -- or if they did, they didn't load them onto him! "Make this your country club," Annabelle had said; "come when you please and stay as long as you please. Our horses ought to be ridden, and our books ought to be read, and there's a whole ocean -- only watch out for the rip-tides!" So Bunny would run up to this beautiful playground and sometimes Vee Tracy was there, and when she wasn't she would turn up a few hours later -- quite mysteriously.
She was several years older than he, and in knowledge of the world older than he would be at a hundred. Nevertheless, she was a good playmate. It was her business to be young in both body and spirit -- it was the way she earned her living, and she practiced the game all the time. She had to live hard, like an athlete in training, a pugilist before a battle. Who could tell what strange freak might next occur to the author of a novel, or to a "continuity man," or a director dissatisfied with the progress of a melodrama? She would find herself tied upon a wild horse, or to a log in a sawmill, or dragged by a rope at the end of a speed-boat, or climbing a church steeple on the outside. In ages past, in lands barbarian and civilized, the hardships of the ascetic life have been imposed upon women for many strange reasons; but was there ever one more freakish than this -- that she might appear before the eyes of millions in the aspect of a terror-stricken virgin tearing herself from the hands of lustful ravishers!
Anyway, here she was, a playmate for a young idealist running away from other people's troubles. They would take Annabelle's unused horses, and ride them bareback over the hills to the beach, and gallop them into the surf and swim them there, to the great perplexity of the seals; or they would turn the horses loose, and run foot-races, and turn hand-springs and cartwheels -- Vee would go, a whirlwind of flying white limbs and flying black hair, all the way into the water, and the waves would be no wilder than her laughter. Then they would sit, basking in the sun, and she would tell him stories about Hollywood -- and assuredly the waves were no wilder than these. Anything might happen in Hollywood, and in fact had happened -- and Vee knew the people it had happened to.
Bunny would go away, and find himself haunted by a figure in a scanty one-piece bathing suit, a figure youthful, sinewy but graceful, vivid, swift. It was evident that she liked him, and Bunny would wake up from his dreams and realize he liked her. He would think about her when he ought to be studying; and his thinking summed itself up in one question, "Why not?" Echo, in the form of Dad and Mr. Roscoe and Annabelle Ames and their friends, appeared to be answering, "Why not?" The one person who would have answered otherwise was Henrietta Ashleigh, and Henrietta, alas, was now hardly even a memory. Bunny was not visiting the blue lagoon, nor saying prayers out of the little black and gold books.
Bunny would call Vee Tracy on the telephone, at the studio or at her bungalow, and she was always ready for a lark. They would go to one of the restaurants where the screen folk dined, and then to one of the theatres where the same folk were pictured, and she would tell him about the private lives of these people -- stories even stranger than the ones made up for them. Very soon the screen world was putting one and one together in its gossip. Vee Tracy had picked up a millionaire, an oil prince -- oh, millions and millions! And it was romantic, too, he was said to be a Bolshevik! The glances and tones of voice that Bunny encountered gave new echoes of the haunting question -- "Why not?"
Sitting on the beach, half dug into the sand, and staring out over the blue water, Vee told him something about her life. "I'm no spring chicken, Bunny, don't imagine it. When I came into this game, I had my own way to make, and I paid the price, like every other girl. You'll hear them lie about it, but don't be fooled; there are no women producers, and no saints among the men."
Bunny thought it over. "Can't they be satisfied with finding a good actress?"
"She can be a good actress in the daytime, and a good mistress at night; the man can have both, and he takes them."
"It sounds rather ghastly," said the other.
"I'll tell you how it is, there's such fierce competition in this game, if you're going to get ahead, nothing else matters, nothing else is real. I know it was that way with me; I hung round the doors of the studios -- I was only fifteen -- and I starved and yearned, till I'd have slept with the devil to get inside."
She sat, staring before her, and Bunny, watching her out of the corner of his eye, saw that her face was grim.
"There's this to remember too," she added; "a girl meets a man that has a wad of money, and can take her out in a big car, and buy her a good meal, and a lot of pretty clothes, and set her up in a bungalow, and he's a mighty big man to her, it's easy to think he's something wonderful. It's all right for moralists to sniff, that don't know anything about it; but the plain truth is, the man that came with the cash and offered me my first real start in a picture -- he was just about the same as a god to me, and it was only decent to give him what he wanted. I had to live with him a few months, before I knew he was a fat-headed fool."
There was a silence. "I suppose," said Vee, "you're wondering why I tell you this. I'm safe now, I've got some money in the bank, and I might set up for a lady -- put on swank and forget the ugly past. If I'd told you I was an innocent virgin, how would you have known? But I said to myself, 'By God, if having money means anything to me, it means I don't have to lie any more."'
Said Bunny: "I know a man that says that. It made a great impression on me. I'd never known anybody like it before."
"Well, it makes you into a kind of savage. I've got an awful reputation in the picture world -- has anybody told you?"
"Not very much," he answered.
She looked at him sharply. "What have they told you? All about Robbie Warden, I suppose?"
"Hardly all," he smiled. "I heard you'd been in love with him, and that you'd sort of been in mourning ever since."
"I made a fool of myself twice over a man; Robbie was the last time, and believe me, it's going to stay the last. He put up the money for the best picture I ever made, and he was handsome as a god, and he begged me to marry him, and I really meant to do it; but all the time he was fooling with two or three other women, and one of them shot him, so that was the end of my bright young dream. No, I'm not in mourning, I'm in rejoicing because I missed a lot of trouble. But if I'm a bit cynical about love, and a bit unrefined in my language, you can figure it out."
And Vee shook the mountain of sand off her bare legs and stood up. "Here's how I keep off the fat," she said, and put her hands down on the sand where it was wet and firm, and stood the rest of herself upon them, her slender white limbs going straight up, and her face, upside down, laughing at Bunny; in that position she walked by slow handsteps down to the water, and then threw herself over in the other half of a handspring, and lighted on her feet and dashed into the breakers. "Come on in! The water's fine!"
Bunny thought over this conversation, and learned from it his usual lesson of humility. Vee had had to fight for her success; whereas he had never had to fight for anything. If he wanted a moving picture career, Dad would arrange it for him, the studio doors would fly open. And the same with any other sort of career he could think of. How could he afford to pass judgment on anybody? Also, while he listened to Vee Tracy, he had the memory of Eunice Hoyt to keep him humble. No, people didn't know what was right about sex; or at any rate, if they did, they didn't make it clear. It was disagreeable to have to think about so many other men; but then, too, it helped to clear the atmosphere. She wouldn't expect to marry him right off; there were marriages among the screen people, but apparently not until they had made sure they were happy. Also, it enabled Bunny to be certain that Vee would not be shocked by the knowledge that she was haunting his dreams.
They were at the Monastery, and had been dancing, and went out upon one of the loggias, or platforms, or terraces, or whatever you call the outside of a cathedral. There was a moon shining down -- the same that had shone on Bunny and Eunice, and on Bunny and Nina Goodrich. There was organ music inside, and the scent of flowers outside, and Bunny was thinking to himself, "What am I going to do about this?" It couldn't go on, that was certain; he had got so that he was trembling all over. And yet, somehow, he seemed to be tongue-tied. So far, all the girls had had to propose to him, and it was quite absurd. What the dickens was the matter with him?
In a faltering voice he suggested, "Let's dance." Vee stood up, and he stood up; they had danced out onto this loggia, or terrace or platform, and now they would dance back, and he would be, literally, just where he had been before. No, that wouldn't do! He had a sudden fit of desperation; and instead of the particular kind of embrace which has to do with dancing, he put his arms about her in a way that made it impossible for her to dance. This was a crude procedure, no credit to a junior classman and leader of fashion in a high-toned university. Bunny knew it, and was in a panic. She would not understand -- she would be angry, and send him away!
But no, she was not angry; and somehow, she was able to understand. There is an old saying, that fingers were made before forks, and in the same way it is true that embraces were made a long time before words. Bunny became aware that his clasp was being returned -- and by a pair of capable arms, that were able to hold a girl upside down in the air and carry her into the surf! It was all right! "Oh, Vee!" he whispered. "Then you do care for me!" Her lips met his, and they stood there in the moonlight, locked together, while the organ music rose to a shout.
"Vee, I was so scared!" And she laughed. "You silly boy!" But suddenly she drew back her head.
"Bunny, I want to talk to you. There's something I must say. Let me go, and sit down, please -- no, in that chair over there! I want us to talk quietly."
There was fear in her voice, and he did what she asked. "What is it, Vee?"
"I want us to be sensible, and know what we're doing. It seems to me hardly anybody I know can be happy in love, and I swore to God I never would get into it again."
"You'll have to get a new God!" Bunny had managed to recover the use of his tongue.
"I want us to promise to be happy! Any time we can't be happy, let's quit, and not have any fuss! Let's be sensible, and not go crazy with jealousy, and torment each other."
"You'll be a plenty for me," declared Bunny. "I surely won't make you jealous!"
"You don't know what you'll do! Nobody ever knows! It's the devil's own business-- oh, you've no idea what I've seen, Bunny! You're nothing but a babe in arms."
"You'll be good to me, Vee, and raise me up!"
"How do you know what I'll do? How do you know anything about me? You want me, without really knowing what I am or what I'll do! I could have told you a million lies, and how would you have known? The next woman that comes along will tell you a million and one, and how will you know about her?"
"That's too easy, Vee -- you'll tell me!"
He sank down on his knees before her, and took one of her hands, intending to comfort her; but she pushed it away. "No, I don't want you to do that. I want you to think about what I'm saying. I want us to decide in cold blood."
"You make my blood cold," he laughed, "telling about the vamps of Hollywood!"
"Bunny, a man and a woman ought to tell each other the truth -- all the time. They ought to trust each other that much, no matter how much it hurts. Isn't that so?"
"You bet it's so."
"If that means they give each other up, all right -- but they've no business holding each other by lies. Will you make that bargain, Bunny?"
"And I want you to know, I don't want any of your money."
"I haven't got any money, Vee -- it's all Dad's. That is the first painful truth."
"Well, I don't want it. I've got my own, and I'll take care of myself. I've got a job, and you'll have yours, and we'll let each other alone, and meet when it makes both of us happy."
"That's too easy for a man, Vee!"
"It'll be a game, and those are the rules, and if we break the rules, it's cheating."
Bunny could assure her that he had never cheated in a game, and would not cheat in this one. So he overcame her fears, and she was in his arms again, and they were exchanging those ravishing kisses, of which for a time it seems impossible ever to have enough. Presently she whispered, "Someone will come out here, Bunny. Let me go in, and I'll dance a bit, and then make my excuses and get away, and you come up to my room."
Had anybody seen them in the moonlight? Or had Vee whispered the secret to Annabelle? Or was it just the light of happiness radiating from the eyes of the young couple? Anyhow, it was evident next day that the truth was out, and there was an atmosphere of festivity about the Monastery. Nobody went so far as to sprinkle rice on the pair, or to throw old shoes at them, or tie white ribbons to their cars; but there were friendly smiles, and sly jests, enough to keep the play spirit alive. Annabelle, of course, was enraptured; she had planned this from the beginning, she had picked this young oil prince for her friend from the day that Verne had told her about him. And Verne -- well, you can imagine that when he started to make jokes on such a subject, nobody was left in doubt as to what had happened!
Strangely enough, when Bunny got home, he found this spirit of orange blossoms and white ribbons in some mysterious way communicated to Dad. Could it be that Verne, the old rascal, had taken the trouble to telephone the news? Here was Dad, shining with satisfaction, and Bunny could read his every thought. Dad had met Vee Tracy, and liked her fine. A motion picture star -- by golly, that was something to brag about! That was the right sort of career for a young oil prince -- quite in the aristocratic tradition! Bunny would have something else in his mind now but this fool Bolshevik business!
Presently here was Dad trying to drop hints -- with about as much tact as you would expect from a full grown rhinoceros! Had Vee Tracy been up at the Monastery this time? Say, that was a live wire, that girl! Verne said she got as high as four thousand a week; and that was no press agent money either. She had more brains than all the male dolls put together; she had money salted away, owned lots all over Hollywood. She'd come to Verne to ask his advice about Ross Consolidated, and he had told her to go the limit, and by golly, she had brought him a cashier's check for fifty thousand dollars, and had got a block of the stock at the opening price, and now it was worth three times that, and Vee said that Verne had saved her from six rapings! Then the old rhinoceros went on and explained what Vee had meant -- that she wouldn't have to act in six pictures!
And then there was Bertie, who got the news at once because it happened that Charlie Norman's bootlegger was in love with Annabelle Ames' sister. Right away Bertie was curious to meet Vee Tracy, and ordered Bunny to bring her to lunch. Vee was uneasy about this -- declaring that sisters always poisoned men against sweethearts. But Bunny laughed and said he had plenty of anti-toxins against Bertie. So they met, and everything went off beautifully; Vee was humble, and anxious to please, and Bertie was the great lady, supremely gracious. That was according to the properties, for Vee was only an actress, while Bertie was in real "society," her doings appearing in a sanctified part of the newspaper, where the screen people seldom broke in. After the luncheon, Bertie told her brother that Vee was all right, and maybe she would teach him a little sense; which, from a sister, was the limit of cordiality.
So there they were, everything hunkydory. Bunny's sleep was no longer disturbed by dreams; the dream had become a reality, and it was his. When they visited the Monastery, they were placed in connecting rooms; and when he went to visit Vee at her bungalow, the discreet elderly lady who kept house for her would quietly disappear. As for the moving picture colony, it said nothing more -- having already said everything there was to say.
Bunny would call Vee on the telephone, and if it was a Saturday or holiday, they would make a date; but if it was a weekday, Vee would say, "No, Bunny, you ought to stay home and study."
He would answer, "Oh, bosh, Vee, I'm a whole week ahead of my classes."
"But Bunny, if I make you neglect your work, your father will get down on me!"
"Dad's more in love with you than I am! He thinks you're the brightest star in the movie zodiac."
"We just mustn't overdo it, Bunny! Your conscience will get to troubling you, and you'll blame it on me."
"Dog-gone-it, Vee, you boss me worse than if we were Annabelle and Roscoe."
"Well, let me tell you, if I manage to keep my oil prince as long as Annabelle has kept hers, I'll count myself a lucky woman!"
Gregor Nikolaieff was back from his trip to Alaska, with more troubles for the conscience of a young idealist. Gregor was gaunt and hollow-eyed, like Paul returned from Siberia. Poor unsuspecting foreign youth -- he had shipped on what the sailors call "the hell fleet of the Pacific," and had found himself trapped in a desolate bay, walled in by mountains on one side and ocean on the other, housed in barracks whose floors were wet by the tides, sleeping in vermin-ridden bunks, and eating food like that fed to the inmates of county jails. No way of escape, save on ships that would not take you! While Bunny had been romping in the Pacific with Vee and the seals, Gregor had been near to drowning himself in the same ocean.
Also Rachel Menzies had come home, with more troubles; there was a strike of the clothing workers! Quite unforeseen and spontaneous -- hundreds of workers, driven beyond endurance by petty oppressions, had walked out in the middle of a job; the movement had spread all over this Angel City, paradise of the "open shop." The workers were crowding into the union offices and signing up, and a regular mass-struggle was under way. But Papa Menzies, one of the intellectuals among the strikers, a man of force and insight -- Papa Menzies was sitting at home, with his frantic Hebrew wife clinging to his coat-tails and wailing that if he went out and took part in the strike, the police would get him and ship him off to Poland to be shot, and never to see his family again!
As a result of this strike, Rachel was not going to be able to come to college. Bunny, elegant young gentleman of leisure, who had never known what it was to need money in his life, could not understand this, and had to be told in plain words that Rachel's family had been making sacrifices to get her an education, and all these plans were knocked out. Then of course Bunny wanted to get Dad to help; what was the use of having a rich father, if you couldn't serve your friends in a pinch? But Rachel answered no, they had always been independent, and she would not think of such a thing; she would have to skip a term in the university.
"But then you won't be in my class!" exclaimed Bunny -- realizing suddenly how much he needed an antitoxin for the dullness of Southern Pacific culture!
"It's very kind of you, Mr. Ross," she answered, sedately. "But perhaps you will come to the meetings of the Socialist local."
"But see here, really, I can get the money without the least trouble; and you don't have to consider it a gift, you can pay it back when you want to. Won't it be easier to earn money if you have a college degree?"
Rachel admitted that; she had meant to get a position as a social worker -- she had come to this university because there were special courses which would make such a career possible. Bunny pleaded, why not take Dad's money, with no strings to it whatever, and pay him back ten or twenty dollars a month out of her future salary. But Rachel was stubborn -- some strange impulse born of her "class-consciousness."
He felt so keenly about it that without saying anything to her, he got into his car and drove to the home of the Menzies family. He had the address in his notebook, and it did not occur to him that she or her family might be embarrassed to have him see the way they lived -- in a wretched slum district, crowded into a little three-room house on the back of a lot, without a shred of a green thing in sight. It was a rented place, Papa Menzies having put his money into Socialism, instead of into real estate and shrubbery. Bunny found him in a crowded front room, with furniture and books, and a job of sewing, and the remains of a meal of bread and herring, and the proofs of an article which he was getting ready for a strike bulletin, and a fat old Jewish lady rushing about in a panic, trying to put things away from the sight of this alarmingly fashionable visitor.
None of that bothered the old man; he was used to confusion, and all wrapped up in the strike. He told Bunny about it, and read his article, a bitter statement of the grievances of the clothing workers. And then Bunny got down to the question of Rachel and her education, insisting that Chaim Menzies should persuade his daughter not to give up her career. Mrs. Menzies sat, staring with her large dark eyes, trying to understand; and suddenly she broke into a torrent of excited Yiddish, of which it was just as well that Bunny could not make out a word. For Mamma Menzies placed no trust in this handsome young goy, and put the worst possible construction upon his visit; he was trying to lure their daughter into sin, and maybe he had already done so -- who could tell what sort of life she was living, with all these atheist and Socialist ideas in her head, and going to a college run by a lot of Krists!
Papa Menzies bade her sternly to hold her tongue, which according to the Hebrew law she was supposed to do; but apparently she took her Hebrew law with as many allowances as the Krists took their's. In the middle of her torrents of Yiddish, Chaim thanked Bunny for his kindness, and explained that what was worrying Rachel was the hard time the family would have during the strike. If Bunny would help the family, then it would be easy for Rachel to help herself. So they shook hands, and Bunny went home to report to Dad that he had acquired the responsibility of supporting half a dozen Jewish clothing workers!
Bunny was back at Southern Pacific. It was the line of least resistance; a nice, clean occupation, honorific and easy on the nerves. One who was good-looking and wealthy, and knew how to charm the professors, could get by with almost no work at all, and have abundant time to read Bolshevik propaganda, and watch strikes happen; also to sport about town with a moving picture star, to drive and dine and dance with her, and escort her to weekend parties of the Hollywood elite.
He might even have found time to visit the studio and watch her at work on her new picture; but she would not let him do this. She was too much in love with him, she could not concentrate with him looking on. Moreover, she said, her work was horrid, all pictures were horrid; Bunny wouldn't like what she was doing. It was just a way she earned her living, and she had to do what other people told her; it was without any relation to life, and Bunny, who was serious and educated, would think it childish, or worse. She liked him to be serious, he was a dear and all that, and one of the few men who really could tell her something about the world; he must go on being like that, and not pay any attention to her pictures.
It struck Bunny as a little mysterious; she protested too much. And before long he discovered the reason -- in some of the gossip about the screen world which filled pages upon pages of the newspapers. Vee Tracy was working on a picture about Russia! She was to be a beautiful princess of the old regime, caught in the storm of the revolution, falling into the hands of the Bolsheviks, and making one of her famous "getaways" with the aid of a handsome young American secret service man! Vee had been working on this picture for the past six months; and right in the middle of it, she had gone and got herself a "parlor Bolshevik" for a lover, and now was afraid to let him know what she was doing!
Poor Bunny, he was making such earnest and devoted efforts to ride on two horses at once! And the horses kept getting farther and farther apart, until he was all but split in the middle! Here was this strike of the clothing workers, breaking in upon the peace of America's premier "open shop" city. It was the climax of a series of disorders -- first a walkout of the street railwaymen, and then of the carpenters; it was evident that the program of the reds, "boring from within," was having a terrifying success, and the thing had to be stopped, once for all. The city council passed an anti-picketing ordinance, which forbade anyone to even make an ugly face in front of a place where there was a strike. Since not all the clothing workers had faces of natural beauty, there was much infringement of this law, and very soon the papers were full of accounts of riots, valiantly put down by the police. A part of Bunny's curriculum at the university consisted of having Rachel Menzies describe to him and the rest of the "red bunch" how girls who were doing nothing but walking up and down the street in pairs, were being seized by the police and having their arms twisted out of joint.
Then one morning Rachel did not show up in class; next day came a note for Bunny telling him that Jacob Menzies had been clubbed almost insensible on the picket-line. Jacob was the "right wing" brother, the pale, stoop-shouldered one who had been earning his education by pressing students' pants; and Bunny had so far departed from the safe rule of dodging other people's troubles that he felt it his duty to drive over to the Menzies' home, and have his feelings harrowed by the sight of Jacob Menzies in bed, pale as the sheets, and with a Hindoo turban wound about his head. There was Mama Menzies, with tears streaming down her cheeks, wailing over and over one Yiddish word that Bunny could understand -- "Oi! Oi! Oi!" Chaim Menzies, the father, was nowhere to be seen, because he had torn his coat-tails loose from his wife's fingers, and was over at strike headquarters, doing his duty.
The next afternoon, coming out from his classes, Bunny saw on a newsstand the familiar green color of the "Evening Booster," and his eye was caught -- as it was meant to be caught -- by flaring headlines:
POLICE RAID RED CENTER
So Bunny purchased a paper -- as it was meant that he should do -- and read how that morning a squad from police headquarters had invaded the rooms of the clothing workers' union, and taken off nearly a truck-load of documents which were expected to prove that the disturbance in the city's industry was being directed and financed by the red revolutionists of Moscow. The officials of the union were under arrest, one of those apprehended being Chaim Menzies, "self-confessed socialistic agitator."
So there was another job for Bunny. He didn't know quite how to set about it, and Dad was on the way to Paradise, and could not be consulted. Bunny went to see Dad's lawyer, Mr. Dolliver, a keen-witted, soft-spoken gentleman who had no sympathy with reds, but, like all lawyers, was prepared for any weird trouble his wealthy clients might bring along. He called up police headquarters and ascertained that the self-confessed socialistic agitator was to be arraigned the following day; bail would be set at that time, and it would be up to Bunny to have the cash on hand, or real estate to twice the amount. Bunny said he wanted to see the prisoner, and Mr. Dolliver said he knew the chief of police, and might be able to arrange it.
He wrote a note, and Bunny went over to the dingy old building which had been erected to serve a city of fifty thousand, and was now serving one of a million. The chief proved to be a burly person in civilian clothing, smelling strongly of civilian whiskey; he requested Bunny to sit down, and summoned a couple of detectives, and began an obvious effort to find out all that Bunny knew about Chaim Menzies, and Bunny's ideas, and Chaim's ideas. And Bunny, who was growing up fast in an ugly world, gave a carefully phrased exposition of the difference between the right and left wings of the Socialist movement. Finding that he could not be trapped into indiscretions, and knowing that he was a millionaire's son, and could not be thrown into a cell, the chief gave him up, and told one of the detectives to take him in to see the prisoner.
So Bunny got a glimpse of his city's jail. The old building was cracked, and had been condemned as a menace to life by half a dozen successive commissions; nevertheless, here it was, a monument to the greed of real estate speculators, who cared nothing about a city's good name, provided only its tax-rate were low. The mouldy old place stank, and if you looked carefully, you might see vermin crawling on the walls. The prisoners were confined in a number of "tanks," which were steel-barred cages holding thirty or forty men each, with no ray of daylight, and not enough artificial light to enable anyone to read. This city, so oddly named "Angel," appeared anxious to cultivate all possible vices in its victims, for it provided them no reading matter, and no exercise or recreation, but permitted them to have cards, dice and cigarettes -- and the jailers secretly smuggled in whiskey and cocaine to such as had money for bribes.
In one of these tanks sat Papa Menzies -- on the floor, since there was no other place to sit. He appeared quite contented, having gathered round him the entire congregation of the cell, to hear about the struggle of the clothing workers, and how it was up to the toilers of the world to organize and abolish the capitalist system. When Bunny appeared, the old man jumped up and grabbed him by the hand; and Bunny said quickly, "Mr. Menzies, you should know that this gentleman with me is a detective."
Papa Menzies grinned. "Sure, I got notting to hide. I been a member of de Socialist party for tventy years. I believe in de ballotbox -- dey vill find notting to de contrary, unless dey make it. I have been telling dese boys vat Socialism is, and I vill tell dis gentleman, if he vants to listen. I have been helping de cloding vorkers stand togedder for decent conditions, and I am going on vid it de day I git out again." So that was that!
And in the evening Bunny phoned to his father and told him the situation. Bunny had been accustomed to sign his father's name to checks of any size, and had been careful not to abuse the privilege; but now he was proposing to draw fifteen thousand dollars, because they would probably fix the bail very high, in the hope of keeping the old man in jail until the strike had been broken. There was no risk involved, Bunny declared, for Menzies was the soul of honor, and would not run away.
Dad made a wry face over the telephone -- but what could he do? His dearly beloved son was ablaze with indignation, and insisted that he knew all about it, there was no possibility whatever that this old clothing worker might be a secret agent of the Soviet government, deliberately planted in Angel City to destroy American institutions. How Bunny could know such things Dad couldn't imagine, but he had never known his boy to be so wrought up, and finally he said all right, but to have Mr. Dolliver send somebody to court with the money, so that Bunny would not get his name into the newspapers again.
The matter was handled as Dad ordered; the lawyer's clerk went to court, and came back and reported that the prisoners had appeared, but Chaim Menzies had not been among them. His case had been taken over by the Federal authorities, because it had been discovered that he was born in Russian Poland, and it was proposed to cancel his naturalization papers and deport him. Chaim had been transferred to the county jail, another condemned structure, fully as dingy and filthy as the city jail. There was no longer anything you could do about it, because in these deportation cases the courts were refusing to intervene, holding them to be administrative matters. The Democratic attorney-general had failed in his effort to get the nomination for president by his campaign against the reds, but the machinery he had set going was still grinding out misery for guilty and innocent alike.
So here was some real trouble for Bunny! Over at the Menzies home was Rachel, white-faced and pacing the floor, and Mamma Menzies wailing and tearing her clothing. It was impossible even to get word to poor Chaim -- he was "incommunicado"; indeed, he might already have been put onto a train for the east. After that there would be no chance for him whatever -- he would be dumped onto a steamer for Dantzig, and there turned over to the Polish "white terror."
Bunny insisted that something must be tried, and so Mr. Dolliver called in a couple of still more expensive lawyers -- at Dad's expense -- and they debated habeas corpuses and injunctions and other mystical formulas, and made out a lot of papers and tried this court and that, all in vain. Meantime, in response to frantic commands from his son, Dad broke the speed laws from Paradise; and when he arrived, there were Bunny and his Jewish girlfriend waiting on his front porch. They dragged him into his den and made him listen to a disquisition on the difference between the right and left wings of the Socialist movement, with a complete description of the activities of a literature agent of the Socialist party. In the middle of it Rachel burst into tears, and sank down upon the sofa; and Dad, who was really no more able to stand a woman weeping than was Bunny, went over and patted her on the shoulder, and said, "There, there, little girl, never mind! I'll get him out, even if I have to send a man to New York!"
So Dad stepped out and sped away in his car. That was about lunchtime -- and a little before three o'clock of that same day, who should emerge from a taxi-cab in front of the Menzies tenement but Chaim himself, dirty and unshaven, but smiling and serene, and ready to continue his labors for his "cloding vorkers"! He hadn't the least idea how it had happened; the keepers of the county jail had volunteered no information as they turned him loose, and Chaim had not stopped for questions. He never did know, and neither did his daughter, for what Dad told Bunny was strictly confidential, a bit of oil men's secret lure.
"What did I do? I called in an old friend of ours, Ben Skutt."
"Ben Skutt!" Bunny had not thought of their "lease hound" for years.
"Yes, Ben is high up in this defense business now, and he did it for me."
"What did you tell him?"
"Tell him? I told him one grand."
"That's bootlegger's slang. I gave him five hundred dollars, and said, 'Ben, go and see the man that's got that old kike in jail and tell him to turn him loose, and then come back to me and I'll give you another five hundred!"'
"My God!" said Bunny.
And Dad took a couple of puffs at his big cigar. "Now you see why we oil men have to be in politics!"
Besides completing Bunny's political education, this incident was important to him in another way; it was the cause of Vee Tracy's taking over the management of his life. Ross senior got the moving picture lady on the telephone that very evening, and he said, "Look here, Vee, you're laying down on your job!"
"How do you mean, Mr. Ross?"
"My name is Dad," said the voice, "and what I mean is that you're not taking care of my son like I wanted you to do. He's been a-gettin' into trouble with these Bolshevikis again, and it's all because you don't see enough of him."
"But Mr. -- Dad -- I've been trying to make him study -- I thought that was what you wanted."
"Well, you forget about him studyin', that's all bunk, it ain't a-goin' to do him no good, and besides, he don't do it; he jist goes off to Socialist meetin's, and he'd better be with you."
"Oh, Dad!" There was a little catch in Vee's voice. "There's nothing I'd like better! I'm just crazy about that boy!"
"Well, you take him under your wing and keep him there, and if you can get him loose from these reds, I'll remember you in my will."
So after that Bunny found that he could have a date with his beloved at any hour of the day or night. She never told him the reason -- no, her idea of truth-telling did not go that far! She let him think it was because of his overwhelming charms, and his male egotism was satisfied with the explanation. She would make feeble pretenses at resistance. "Oh, Bunny, Dad will think I'm wasting your time, he'll call me a vamp!" And Bunny would answer, "You goose, he knows that if I'm not with you, I may be off at some Socialist meeting."
They were so happy, so happy! The rapture of fresh young souls and fresh young bodies, eager, quivering in every nerve! Their love suffused their whole beings; everything became touched with magic -- the sound of their voices, the gestures of their hands, even the clothing they wore, the cars they drove, the houses they lived in. They flew together -- the telephone girls were overworked keeping them in touch. Bunny became what in the slang of the time was known as a "one-arm driver"; also he studied the arts of cajoling professors and cutting lectures. His conscience was easy, for had he not done his duty by the Socialist movement, with that "one grand" of Dad's? Besides, the strike was over, and the clothing workers had won a few concessions; the leaders had been released, and the promised "Moscow revelations" forgotten by the ewspapers, and therefore by everybody else.
Vee would still not let Bunny come to the studio where she was working. For the next picture, perhaps, but not this one; he and his Bolsheviks wouldn't like it, and he must put off seeing it as long as possible. But all the rest of her time was his -- every precious instant! The elderly housekeeper received a five dollar bill now and then, and was deaf, dumb and blind. Vee's room in the bungalow was upstairs, the only second-story room, open on all four sides, and with ivy wreathing its windows; inside it was all white, a bower of loveliness. Here they belonged to each other; and tears of ecstasy would come into Vee's eyes. "Oh, Bunny, Bunny! I swore I'd never do this; and here I am, worse in love than I ever dreamed -- Bunny, if you desert me, I shall die!" He would smother her fears in kisses; it was a case for the application of another old saying, that actions speak louder than words!
There was no cloud in the sky of their happiness; except just one little cloud, no bigger than a man's hand! Bunny did not see it at all; and the woman saw it for an instant or so, and then looked the other way. Oh, surely the rose will bloom forever!
The hands of destiny, turning upon the face of the movie clock, had brought Vee's hour of glory again. The great picture was ready, and once more she was on all the billboards of the city: "Schmolsky-Superba presents Viola Tracy in the twelve-reel Superspecial, 'The Devil's Deputy, Million Dollar Heart Drama of the Russian Revolution."' The scene which ornamented the billboards disclosed Vee, as usual with her lingerie torn, crouching in the arms of the ineffably handsome young American secret service agent, and the agent presenting a revolver to a mass of tangled black whiskers, behind which hideous foreign faces lurked.
Also there was publicity in the newspapers, columns and columns about the picture, the authors of the book, the continuity man and the director and the writer of the titles and the artists and the decorators and the costumers and the musicians; but most of all about the star. Was it to be expected that the publicity man should drop no hint to the reporters about the fascinating young oil prince who had now become Miss Tracy's most intimate friend? It had been expected by Bunny, and maybe by Dad, but assuredly not by anyone else. The reporters laid siege to the young prince, and sweet, sentimental sob- sister ladies sought to lure him into revealing how it felt to be the very, very dearest friend of such a brilliantly scintillating star of the movie heavens. One day it was rumored they were engaged to marry, and the next day they were not; and if they said nothing, the reporters knew what they ought to have said. And when Bunny would not give his picture, they snapped him on the street, and when he turned his face away, they gave it a jolly caption: "Oil Prince Is Shy!"
"The Devil's Deputy" was to have its "world premiere" at Gloobry's Million Dollar Melanesian Theatre; and these "world premieres" are, as you may know, the great social events of Southern California. Searchlights search the clouds and bombs boom in the sky; red fire makes an imitation Hades in the streets, and kleig lights make day in the arcade which the million dollar Melanesians hold upright upon their naked shoulders. The crowds pack the streets, and swarms of burglars invade the city, because all the police department is required to make a pathway for the movie stars as they move in their appointed courses, from their shining ten thousand dollar limousines, across the sidewalk and through the arcade and under the million dollar portals. The kleigs glare upon them, and a dozen moving picture cameras grind, and flashlights boom, and the crowd surges and quivers and murmurs with ecstasy.
Never in all human history has there been such glory; never have the eyes of mortals beheld such royal pageantry! Trappers and hunters have perished in the icy wastes of the arctic to bring the ermines and sables in which these queens are robed; divers have been torn by sharks to bring up their pearls from the depths of tropic seas, and miners have been crushed in the deep earth to dig their blazing diamonds; chemists have blown themselves up in search for their cosmetics and dyes, and seamstresses have grown blind embroidering the elaborate designs which twinkle upon their silken ankles. All this concentrated in one brief glory-march -- do you wonder that heads are high and glances regal? Or that the crowd surges, and. rushes wildly, and women faint, and ambulances come clanging?
Inside the theatre, over the head of one of the million dollar Melanesians, is a huge megaphone; and as the great ones descend from their cars, a giant's voice acquaints the audience with their progress. "Mr. Abraham Schmolsky is coming through the arcade. Mr. Schmolsky is accompanied by Mrs. Schmolsky. Mrs. Schmolsky wears a blue satin opera cloak trimmed with chinchilla, made by Voisin, just brought by Mrs. Schmolsky from Paris. Mrs. Schmolsky wears her famous tiara of diamonds. Mr. and Mrs. Schmolsky are now entering the theatre. Mr. and Mrs. Schmolsky have stopped to talk with Mr. and Mrs. Jajob Gloobry."
And so on and on, thrill after thrill -- until at last, exactly at the sacred hour of eight-thirty, the supreme, the superthrill of the evening:
"Miss Viola Tracy is descending from her car. Miss Tracy is accompanied by her friend, Mr. J. Arnold Ross, junior, discoverer and heir-apparent of the Ross Junior oil field, of Paradise, California. Miss Tracy and Mr. Ross are coming through the arcade. Miss Tracy wears a cloak of gorgeous ermine furs; her slippers are of white satin, trimmed with pearls. She wears a collar of pearls and a pearl head-dress, presented to her by Mr. J. Arnold Ross, senior. Miss Tracy and Mr. Ross junior are in the lobby, shaking hands with Mr. and Mrs. Schmolsky and Mr. and Mrs. Gloobry" -- and so on, until Miss Tracy and Mr. Ross junior are in their seats, and history is at liberty to begin.
So Bunny saw the Russian picture. His beloved was the beautiful bride of a grand duke; the gestures, the kisses, the raptures of love, which had been rehearsed upon himself, were now lavished upon a magnificent, sharp-whiskered personage in a military uniform with many stars and orders. This personage was haughty but high-minded, and his grand duchess was the soul of charity; and oh, such lovely gentle peasants as she had to exercise her charity upon! How sweetly they curtsied, how charmingly they danced, and gathered to cheer and throw flowers after the grand ducal carriage! It was a beautiful, almost idyllic world -- one was tempted really to doubt whether any world so perfect ever had existed on earth.
There was only one thing wrong with it, and that was a secret band of villains with twisted, degenerate faces, some of them with wild hair and big spectacles, others with ferocious black whiskers and knives in their boots. They met to concoct anarchist manifestoes, intended to seduce the sweet innocent peasants; and to make dynamite bombs to blow up noble-minded grand dukes. They drank in booze-dens, and grabbed women by the arms and man-handled them, right out before one another. There was no wickedness these creatures did not do, and their leaders, with the face of a rat and the arms of a gorilla, made evident to the dullest mind why the picture was called "The Devil's Deputy."
Then came the young secret service man, clean-cut, smooth-shaven, quick on the trigger. His job was to get messages from the American embassy to the American fleet, and later on to save the treasure of the embassy from the Bolsheviks. For of course you know what happened in Russia -- how this band of villains with twisted faces rose up and overthrew the government, and killed the haughty but just grand duke with cruel tortures. It was, of course, the grand duchess that the Devil's Deputy especially wanted; and first he chased her about the castle, and battered in the doors, and the young secret service hero dashed with her from room to room. Blood ran down his face from a bullet wound, but he carried her out of a window of the castle, and away they flew on horseback, over hills and dales covered with the familiar Russian eucalyptus trees.
And then presently they were trapped in St. Petersburg, and the Devil's Deputy laid his foul hands on Vee, and tore her lingerie to shreds, as the billboards had promised you he would. But here came the hero with his automatic, and he held the mob at bay, while Vee behind her back made signals to a friend of the hero who was preparing one of the villains' own bombs to throw at them -- could you imagine more poetic justice than that? Vee and her savior fled, this time in a motorcar, over roads of the well-known Russian concrete, through the well-known mountains of the suburbs of St. Petersburg, and came to the River Neva, with its eucalyptus groves concealing a speed-boat. There was another mad chase, which ended in the capture of the agonized pair, and more tearing of Vee's lingerie by the Devil's Deputy.
But -- don't be worried -- at the most critical instant came the American Navy, that whole glorious flotilla which we kept in the River Neva during the war. Old Glory floated in the breeze, and the band played "The Stars and Stripes Forever," and the million dollar audience burst into enraptured cheering. A launch from a battleship came dashing up, the Devil's Deputy leaped into the water with one of his own bombs in his mouth, and Viola Tracy and the secret service man stood clasped in an attitude which was familiar to Bunny, and hardly less so to the million dollar audience.
All the time this story was unfolding, Bunny was privileged to sit and hold the heroine's hand. Once she leaned to him and whispered, "Is it so very bad?" His answer was, "It is up to standard. It will sell." It was the formula she had used with Annabelle Ames; and Bunny felt a tight pressure of his hand. It was clever of him, as well as kind!
The screen was dark, and the cheering died away, and the lights came up, and the moving picture world crowded about Vee Tracy, and Mr. Schmolsky, the producer, and Tommy Paley, the director, and all the rest of the personages whose services had been faithfully catalogued on the film. There was hand-shaking and chatter; and meantime the crowds stood about, gaping at the celebrities -- it was hard to get the theatre empty after a "world premiere." The throngs in the lobby, and outside in the arcade, were still held back by the police -- many had stood for three hours, in order to see their favorites emerge.
Vee and her lover went out among the last, greeting this one, greeting that one, the observed of all observers. Bunny saw many he knew, and among them one face he had not expected -- Rachel Menzies! She saw him, and he saw that she saw him; and straightway it became a point of honor with a young idealist, he must not fail to treat her as well as anybody else. Rachel, a poor working-girl, and class-conscious, pitiful in a dingy, worn coat and a faded, out-of-fashion hat -- Rachel must not think that he would slight her in this expensive company! He went straight to her. "How do you do, Miss Menzies? I didn't know you were a movie fan."
"I'm not," she answered. "But I wanted to see what they would do to the Russian revolution."
"There wasn't much in it for us," said Bunny; and she answered, grimly, "No, there was not."
He would have liked to talk with her, but not in this place. "Can I help you out?" he asked; and turned as if to seek a way through the crowd.
But at that moment came Vee! With all the throngs of the great ones about her, with all the praise they poured upon her, there was one thing she really cared about, and that was Bunny -- she did not want to be separated from him! And straightway, of course, the honor of a young idealist was still more deeply involved. He must not be unwilling to introduce his dingy working-girl friend to the gorgeous lady of the ermines and pearls! "Meet Miss Viola Tracy," he said. "Vee, this is Miss Rachel Menzies, a classmate of mine at the university."
Equally, it was a point of honor with Vee to be cordial. "Oh, how do you do, Miss Menzies?" And she held out her hand. Rachel did not move to take the hand, but stood very stiff and straight, and answered, "How do you do, Miss Tracy." To Bunny, who knew her, the voice sounded strange and dead; but of course Vee had no means of knowing what her voice ought to be, and the withheld hand might easily be shyness at meeting the most important person in all Hollywood that night. Vee was still cordial as she inquired, "And how did you like the picture?"
Bunny heard that question -- more dangerous than any bomb ever made by a Devil's Deputy! He groped in his bewildered mind for something to say -- "Miss Menzies is a Socialist, like me" -- anything of that playful sort; but before he could get his tongue to move, Rachel had answered, swift and deadly, "I think it's the most poisonous thing I ever saw on the screen."
There was no mistaking that for shyness, or anything else. And Viola Tracy stared at this amazing creature. "Oh, indeed, Miss!"
"Yes, and people who helped to make it will someday have on their conscience the blood of millions of young men."
Bunny broke in, "You see, Vee --"
But she put out her hand to stop him. "Wait! I want to know what you mean!"
"I mean that this picture is part of the propaganda to get us into a war with Russia, and a woman that lends herself to such work is a disgrace to her sex."
Vee glared, and fury leaped into her face. "You bitch!" she cried, and her hand shot out, and smack! she landed a blow across Rachel's cheek.
For one horrible moment Bunny stood numb; he saw the red start to Rachel's face, and the tears start to her eyes; then he sprang between them, and caught Vee's hand to stop another blow. "No, Vee, no!" A burly policeman completed the job of blocking the way between the two antagonists, and Rachel faded back into the crowd -- something it was easy enough to do, since everybody was pushing to the front. In the confusion Bunny became aware of one hideous thing -- a young man jabbing at them and demanding, "What is it? What is the matter? What happened, Miss Tracy? What was the trouble, officer?" Bunny whispered into Vee's ear, "Quick! It's a reporter!" He grasped her arm, and they fled through the crowd.
Sitting in their car, with Bunny driving, Vee whispered, "Who is that woman?"
"Her family are Jewish clothing workers. Her father's the man who got arrested -- don't you remember I told you?"
"Oh! That girl!"
"Yes. You see, you stepped on her class-consciousness."
Vee's teeth were clenched. "Oh, the odious creature!"
"But Vee! Don't forget you asked her what she thought."
"Oh, so insolent! Outrageous!"
"But dear, you take the liberty of saying what you think. Don't you grant her the same right?"
"Bunny! You are going to defend her!" And before he could reply, she cried, in a voice of fury, "I hate those people, I hate them! They're nasty, they're low, they're jealous -- they haven't an idea but to take away things from people who've slaved to earn them."
There was a long silence. Bunny drove; and when Vee spoke again, it was to ask, "Where are you going?"
"Don't forget the Schmolsky's supper party."
"No, I won't go to any supper party, it would choke me. Take me home -- right away."
He obeyed; and when she was in the bungalow, she fled to her room. He followed, and found the ermine cloak on the floor, and Vee in a heap on the bed, without regard to the costliest of embroidered silk gowns. She was convulsed with sobbing, and he made out the words, "It's going to ruin us!"
Suddenly she sat up, blinded by her tears, and stretched out her arms. "Oh, Bunny, Bunny, don't let's have our love killed! Don't let's quarrel like all the others! Bunny, I don't care about those people, they can say anything they please to me, I'll never mind again! I'll apologize to that girl, I'll let her walk on me, I'll do anything you say! But oh, please don't let's stop loving each other!"
It was the first time he had ever seen Vee break down; and of course it always produces a great impression upon the protective male. He took her in his arms, tears and all, without regard to the costliest of broadcloth evening suits. Their love flamed up, and their troubles were melted in the fire, and they swore that nothing, nothing should ever, ever tear them apart.
Long afterwards, as they lay in each other's arms, Vee whispered, "Bunny, that girl is in love with you!"
"Oh, absurd, Vee!"
"Why do you say so?"
"She's never given the least sign of such a thing."
"How would you know a sign?"
"But dear --"
"Of course she's in love with you! How could anybody fail to be in love with you, Bunny?"
It was not worth while to try to argue. It appeared to be a peculiarity of women, they were always sure that all other women were in love with their man. When he had told Vee about Henrietta Ashleigh, she had been sure that Henrietta was desperately enamored, and that only her pride of caste had kept her from trying to hold him. Likewise, when he told her about Ruth, she was sure this poor country lass was pining her heart out. That was the reason she was so indifferent to the charms of oil-workers, and not because she was wrapped up in Paul. Sisters didn't make so much fuss over brothers -- no, that was rubbish! Bunny remembered that Bertie said this same thing; and strangely enough, Eunice Hoyt had said it also -- it had been one reason why she hated to have him go up to Paradise. Bunny decided that it was better not to tell women about one another; and especially not to introduce them, if it could possibly be avoided!
Morning came, and the newspapers were outside the door of their room. Sitting up in bed in silken garments they devoured -- no, not the elaborate accounts of the world premiere with details of the gowns worn by the women -- that would come later. First, their eyes leaped to the headline:
STAR SLAPS RIVAL IN LOBBY
There it was! The reporter, having been unable to get the real story, had made the inevitable romantic assumption. Another triangle of the screen world! He had written a highly playful article about the world-famous star, emerging in the hour of her glory upon the arm of the young oil prince -- about whom so many interesting rumors were being circulated. Seeing him leave her side and join some other woman, the star had rushed over in a fit of jealous fury and smacked the other woman in the face. There was an interview with Officer Tony Reber of the Angel City police department, who had stepped between the enfuriated combatants. The star had called her rival an awful name, which the officer's modesty would not permit him to repeat. "But I'll say this," he told the world, "she certainly packs an awful punch, that lady. If I was to hit anybody as hard as that I would sure get canned."
Bunny met the other combatant on the campus that same day, and her face was pale and her dark eyes sombre. "Mr. Ross," she began, quickly, "I want to tell you I'm ashamed for what I said."
"You don't have to be ashamed," he replied. "It was true."
"I know, but I had no right to say it to a friend of yours, and after all you have done for me. It was just that I was so wrought up over that picture."
"I understand," Bunny said. "Miss Tracy wishes me to tell you she is truly sorry for what she did."
"I know, you'd make her sorry. But I don't care about that -- we Jews have been struck many times, and we workers also, and there'll be more of it before the class war is over. The real harm is one she can never atone for -- that hideous picture that's going out to poison the people's minds -- millions upon millions of them. For that she can never apologize."
It was an aspect of the matter that had somehow fallen into the background of Bunny's consciousness during all the excitement. "I've nothing good to say about the picture," he replied, "but I think you must make allowances for Miss Tracy. She doesn't know as much about Russia as you and I."
"You mean she doesn't know there were hideous cruelties in old Russia -- that the Tsardom was another word for terror?"
"Yes, but then --"
"She doesn't know that the men she portrays as criminals have most of them been in the dungeons of the Tsar for the sake of their faith?"
"She may not know that, Miss Menzies. It's hard to realize how ignorant people can be, when they read nothing but American newspapers and magazines."
"Well, Mr. Ross, you know that I'm not a Bolshevik; but we have to defend the workers of Russia from world reaction. That picture is a part of the white terror, and the people that made it knew exactly what they were doing -- just as much as when they beat my brother over the head and started to deport my father."
"Yes," said Bunny, "but you must understand, an actress does not write the story, and she's not always consulted about the parts she plays."
"Ah, Mr. Ross!" Rachel's face wore a pitying smile. "She would tell you that, and you're so anxious to believe the best about people! Well, I'm going to tell you what I think, and maybe you won't ever speak to me again. A woman who makes a picture like that is nothing but a prostitute, and the fact that she's highly paid makes her all the more loathsome."
"Oh, Miss Menzies!"
"I know, it sounds cruel. But that's a murder picture, and that woman knew it perfectly well. They paid her money and jewels and fur cloaks and silk lingerie, and her face on the billboards and in all the newspapers; and she took the price -- as she's done many times before. I don't know one thing about her private life, Mr. Ross, but I'll wager that if you investigate, you'll find she's sold herself, body as well as mind, all the way from the bottom up to the pedestal she's on now!"
And so Bunny decided that he had better postpone for a while the plan he had had in mind, of having Vee Tracy and Rachel Menzies meet and understand each other!