Aunt Jane's Nieces out West eBook: Page1

L. Frank Baum (2003)




  Aunt Jane's Nieces Out West

  By Edith Van Dyne

  1914

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER

  I CAUGHT BY THE CAMERA

  II AN OBJECT LESSON

  III AN ATTRACTIVE GIRL

  IV AUNT JANE'S NIECES

  V A THRILLING RESCUE

  VI A. JONES

  VII THE INVALID

  VIII THE MAGIC OF A NAME

  IX DOCTOR PATSY

  X STILL A MYSTERY

  XI A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS

  XII PICTURES, GIRLS AND NONSENSE

  XIII A FOOLISH BOY

  XIV ISIDORE LE DRIEUX

  XV A FEW PEARLS

  XVI TROUBLE

  XVII UNCLE JOHN IS PUZZLED

  XVIII DOUBTS AND DIFFICULTIES

  XIX MAUD MAKES A MEMORANDUM

  XX A GIRLISH NOTION

  XXI THE YACHT "ARABELLA"

  XXII MASCULINE AND FEMININE

  XXIII THE ADVANTAGE OF A DAY

  XXIV PICTURE NUMBER NINETEEN

  XXV JUDGMENT

  XXVI SUNSHINE AFTER RAIN

  CHAPTER I

  CAUGHT BY THE CAMERA

  "This is getting to be an amazing old world," said a young girl, still inher "teens," as she musingly leaned her chin on her hand.

  "It has always been an amazing old world, Beth," said another girl whowas sitting on the porch railing and swinging her feet in the air.

  "True, Patsy," was the reply; "but the people are doing such peculiarthings nowadays."

  "Yes, yes!" exclaimed a little man who occupied a reclining chair withinhearing distance; "that is the way with you young folks--alwaysconfounding the world with its people."

  "Don't the people make the world, Uncle John?" asked Patricia Doyle,looking at him quizzically.

  "No, indeed; the world could get along very well without its people; butthe people--"

  "To be sure; they need the world," laughed Patsy, her blue eyestwinkling so that they glorified her plain, freckled face.

  "Nevertheless," said Beth de Graf, soberly, "I think the people havestruck a rapid pace these days and are growing bold and impudent. The lawappears to allow them too much liberty. After our experience of thismorning I shall not be surprised at anything that happens--especially inthis cranky state of California."

  "To what experience do you allude, Beth?" asked Uncle John, sitting upstraight and glancing from one to another of his two nieces. He was agenial looking, round-faced man, quite bald and inclined to be a triflestout; yet his fifty-odd years sat lightly upon him.

  "Why, we had quite an adventure this morning," said Patsy, laughingagain at the recollection, and answering her uncle because Bethhesitated to. "For my part, I think it was fun, and harmless fun, atthat; but Beth was scared out of a year's growth. I admit feeling alittle creepy at the time, myself; but it was all a joke and really weought not to mind it at all."

  "Tell me all about it, my dear!" said Mr. Merrick, earnestly, forwhatever affected his beloved nieces was of prime importance to him.

  "We were taking our morning stroll along the streets," began Patsy, "whenon turning a corner we came upon a crowd of people who seemed to begreatly excited. Most of them were workmen in flannel shirts, theirsleeves rolled up, their hands grimy with toil. These stood before abrick building that seemed like a factory, while from its doors othercrowds of workmen and some shopgirls were rushing into the street andseveral policemen were shaking their clubs and running here and there ina sort of panic. At first Beth and I stopped and hesitated to go on, butas the sidewalk seemed open and fairly free I pulled Beth along, thinkingwe might discover what the row was about. Just as we got opposite thebuilding a big workman rushed at us and shouted: 'Go back--go back! Thewall is falling.'

  "Well, Uncle, you can imagine our dismay. We both screamed, for wethought our time had come, for sure. My legs were so weak that Beth hadto drag me away and her face was white as a sheet and full of terror.Somehow we managed to stagger into the street, where a dozen men caughtus and hurried us away. I hardly thought we were in a safe place when thebig workman cried: 'There, young ladies; that will do. Your expressionwas simply immense and if this doesn't turn out to be the best film ofthe year, I'll miss my guess! Your terror-stricken features will make aregular hit, for the terror wasn't assumed, you know. Thank you very muchfor happening along just then.'"

  Patsy stopped her recital to laugh once more, with genuine merriment, buther cousin Beth seemed annoyed and Uncle John was frankly bewildered.

  "But--what--what--was it all about?" he inquired.

  "Why, they were taking a moving picture, that was all, and the workmenand shopgirls and policemen were all actors. There must have been ahundred of them, all told, and when we recovered from our scare I couldhear the machine beside me clicking away as it took the picture."

  "Did the wall fall?" asked Uncle John.

  "Not just then. They first got the picture of the rush-out and thepanic, and then they stopped the camera and moved the people to a safedistance away. We watched them set up some dummy figures of girls andworkmen, closer in, and then in some way they toppled over the big brickwall. It fell into the street with a thundering crash, but only thedummies were buried under the debris."

  Mr. Merrick drew a long breath.

  "It's wonderful!" he exclaimed. "Why, it must have cost a lot of money toruin such a building--and all for the sake of a picture!"

  "That's what I said to the manager," replied Patsy; "but he told us thebuilding was going to be pulled down, anyhow, and a better one built inits place; so he invented a picture story to fit the falling walls and itdidn't cost him so much as one might think. So you see, Uncle, we are inthat picture--big as life and scared stiff--and I'd give a lot to see howwe look when we're positively terror-stricken."

  "It will cost you just ten cents," remarked Beth, with a shrug; "that is,if the picture proves good enough to be displayed at one of those horridlittle theatres."

  "One?" said Uncle John. "One thousand little theatres, most likely, willshow the picture, and perhaps millions of spectators will see you andPatsy running from the falling wall."

  "Dear me!" wailed Patsy. "That's more fame than I bargained for. Domillions go to see motion pictures, Uncle?"

  "I believe so. The making of these pictures is getting to be an enormousindustry. I was introduced to Otis Werner, the other day, and he told mea good deal about it. Werner is with one of the big concerns here--theContinental, I think--and he's a very nice and gentlemanly fellow. I'llintroduce you to him, some time, and he'll tell you all the wonders ofthe motion picture business."

  "I haven't witnessed one of those atrocious exhibitions for months,"announced Beth; "nor have I any desire to see one again."

  "Not our own special picture?" asked Patsy reproachfully.

  "They had no right to force us into their dreadful drama," protestedBeth. "Motion pictures are dreadfully tiresome things--comedies andtragedies alike. They are wild and weird in conception, quite unreal andwholly impossible. Of course the scenic pictures, and those recordinghistorical events, are well enough in their way, but I cannot understandhow so many cheap little picture theatres thrive."

  "They are the poor people's solace and recreation," declared Mr. Merrick."The picture theatre has become the laboring man's favorite resort. Itcosts him but five or ten cents and it's the sort of show he canappreciate. I'm told the motion picture is considered the saloon's worstenemy, for many a man is taking his wife and children to a picturetheatre evenings instead of joining a gang of his fellows before the bar,as he formerly did."

  "That is the best argument in th
eir favor I have ever heard," admittedBeth, who was strong on temperance; "but I hope, Uncle, you are notdefending the insolent methods of those picture-makers."

  "Not at all, my dear. I consider the trapping of innocent bystanders tobe--eh--er--highly reprehensible, and perhaps worse. If I can discoverwhat picture manager was guilty of the act, I shall--shall--"

  "What, Uncle?"

  "I shall hint that he owes you an apology," he concluded, rather lamely.

  Beth smiled scornfully.

  "Meantime," said she, "two very respectable girls, who are not actresses,will be exhibited before the critical eyes of millions of stupid workmen,reformed drunkards, sad-faced women and wiggling children--not indignified attitudes, mind you, but scurrying from what they supposed wasan imminent danger."

  "I hope it will do the poor things good to see us," retorted Patsy. "Tobe strictly honest, Beth, we were not trapped at all; we were the victimsof circumstances. When I remember how quick-witted and alert that managerwas, to catch us unawares and so add to the value of his picture, I canquite forgive the fellow his audacity."

  "It wasn't audacity so much as downright impudence!" persisted Beth.

  "I quite agree with you," said Mr. Merrick. "Do you wish me to buy thatfilm and prevent the picture's being shown?"

  "Oh, no!" cried Patsy in protest. "I'm dying to see how we look. Iwouldn't have that picture sidetracked for anything."

  "And you, Beth?"

  "Really, Uncle John, the thing is not worth worrying over," replied hisniece. "I am naturally indignant at being drawn into such a thing againstmy will, but I doubt if anyone who knows us, or whose opinion we value,will ever visit a moving picture theatre or see this film. The commonpeople will not recognize us, of course."

  You must not think Beth de Graf was snobbish or aristocratic because ofthis speech, which her cousin Patsy promptly denounced as "snippy." Bethwas really a lovable and sunny-tempered girl, very democratic in hertastes in spite of the fact that she was the possessor of an unusualfortune. She was out of sorts to-day, resentful of the fright she hadendured that morning and in the mood to say harsh things.

  Even Patricia Doyle had been indignant, at first; but Patsy's judgmentwas clearer than her cousin's and her nature more responsive. She quicklysaw the humorous side of their adventure and could enjoy the recollectionof her momentary fear.

  These two girls were spending the winter months in the glorious climateof Southern California, chaperoned by their uncle and guardian, JohnMerrick. They had recently established themselves at a cosy hotel inHollywood, which is a typical California village, yet a suburb of thegreat city of Los Angeles. A third niece, older and now married--LouiseMerrick Weldon--lived on a ranch between Los Angeles and San Diego, whichwas one reason why Uncle John and his wards had located in this pleasantneighborhood.

  To observe this trio--the simple, complacent little man and his two youngnieces--no stranger would suspect them to be other than ordinarytourists, bent on escaping the severe Eastern winter; but in New York thename of John Merrick was spoken with awe in financial circles, where hismany millions made him an important figure. He had practically retiredfrom active business and his large investments were managed by hisbrother-in-law, Major Gregory Doyle, who was Miss Patsy's father and solesurviving parent. All of Mr. Merrick's present interest in life centeredin his three nieces, and because Louise was happily married and had nowan establishment of her own--including a rather new but very remarkablebaby--Uncle John was drawn closer to the two younger nieces and devotedhimself wholly to their welfare.

  The girls had not been rich when their fairy godfather first found them.Indeed, each of them had been energetically earning, or preparing toearn, a livelihood. Now, when their uncle's generosity had made themwealthy, they almost regretted those former busy days of poverty, beingobliged to discover new interests in life in order to keep themselvesoccupied and contented. All three were open-handed and open-hearted,sympathetic to the unfortunate and eager to assist those who neededmoney, as many a poor girl and worthy young fellow could testify. In alltheir charities they were strongly supported by Mr. Merrick, whoseenormous income permitted him to indulge in many benevolences. None gaveostentatiously, for they were simple, kindly folk who gave for the purejoy of giving and begrudged all knowledge of their acts to anyone outsidetheir own little circle.

  There is no doubt that John Merrick was eccentric. It is generallyconceded that a rich man may indulge in eccentricities, provided hemaintains a useful position in society, and Mr. Merrick's peculiaritiesonly served to render him the more interesting to those who knew himbest. He did astonishing things in a most matter-of-fact way and actedmore on impulse than on calm reflection; so it is not to be wondered atthat the queer little man's nieces had imbibed some of his queerness.Being by nature lively and aggressive young women, whose eager interestin life would not permit them to be idle, they encountered manyinteresting experiences.

  They had just come from a long visit to Louise at the ranch and afterconferring gravely together had decided to hide themselves in Hollywood,where they might spend a quiet and happy winter in wandering over thehills, in boating or bathing in the ocean or motoring over the hundredsof miles of splendid boulevards of this section.

  Singularly enough, their choice of a retreat was also the choice of ascore or more of motion picture makers, who had discovered Hollywoodbefore them and were utilizing the brilliant sunshine and clearatmosphere in the production of their films, which were supplied topicture theatres throughout the United States and Europe. Appreciatingthe value of such a monster industry, the authorities permitted thecameras to be set up on the public streets or wherever there was anappropriate scene to serve for a background to the photo-plays. It was nounusual sight to see troops of cowboys and Indians racing through thepretty village or to find the cameraman busy before the imposingresidence of a millionaire or the vine-covered bungalow of a more modestcitizen. No one seemed to resent such action, for Californians admire themotion picture as enthusiastically as do the inhabitants of the Easternstates, so the girls' "adventure" was really a common incident.