ATTENDS A MOVING-PICTURE SHOW

It was Monday, the day on which Mr. Joseph Heneman had counted to finish
all that part of the picture in which the four children were to appear.
And it looked, in the morning, as though he would be right in his
reckoning. But in the closing scene, the scene in which Bobby was to
surpass himself, there came an unexpected hitch, and no other than our
friend, Miss Bernadette Vivian, was the cause.

Like most rising artists, Bernadette was temperamental, which, in other
words, signifies that she was too easily swayed by her feelings. Now it
had happened that on the previous evening she had met a most pleasing
and engaging young man; and with the two it was a case of love at first
sight. On this day, therefore, her shapely head was filled with visions
of orange blossoms, bridal veils and a teasing wonder as to what kind of
engagement ring he would select. With all these matters on her mind, is
it at all surprising that she was in no mood to represent a mother
meeting her lost children?

She was, in this particular scene, to register the agony of separation,
the ecstasy of meeting, and the tears of joy, all of which things Miss
Bernadette signally failed to accomplish. The only thing that could have
brought comfort to her soul and any expression of joy to her face would
be her young man advancing smilingly upon her, holding in his dear hand
a diamond engagement ring. In vain did Heneman expostulate with her; in
vain did Compton remonstrate. In vain, too, did the four children, whom
she really loved, cast upon her glances of friendly reproach. Nothing
could arouse her from “love’s young dream,” than which, we are credibly
informed by a poet, “there’s nothing half so sweet in life.”

Up to this day Bernadette had been ambitious. She was a star in embryo,
and her laurels were in the winning. But the young man whose bright
smile still haunted her was very wealthy. Upon marrying him she would
retire at once.

If Mr. Heneman said things that any proper censor would properly delete,
let it be said in his defense that he said them under his breath; for
the director, as no doubt four guardian angels urged in his behalf at
heaven’s chancery, ever cherished the highest reverence for children.

By four o’clock of that evening the director was unnerved, Compton
almost frantic, the children in ill humor. They were all worn out. And
if the four youthful thespians did quarrel a little and sulk for almost
ten minutes, let it be said in their behalf that before going home they
all abjectly apologized one to the other, and proved once more the truth
of Tennyson’s lines:

_Oh, blessings on the falling-out_
_Which all the more endears!_

During all this Miss Bernadette, happily seated and with crossed legs,
powdered her nose, consulted her hand mirror and, for the nonce an
unmitigated flapper, gazed heavenward with a smile that would have been
absolutely idiotic on a young lady less favored of feature. The distress
of all her friends impressed her not in the least. In fact, it never
dawned upon her consciousness that anybody was distressed. Truly, love
is blind.

“Attention, please!” called Heneman when it was nearing five o’clock.
“The weather is rather close and it has been a trying day. Perhaps
that’s the reason we can’t get this reuniting business over. I’m sorry,
but we’ll have to try it over to-morrow at ten. The play is going to be
a big thing, and so far you’ve made it a big thing. But we don’t want an
anti-climax to spoil it all.”

“What kind of an aunty is that?” asked Bobby.

This remark sent them all off in good humor.

Bobby went to confession before going to the suite. He confessed, by the
way, every week, and went with Peggy to communion every morning. Also,
he lingered to make a special and earnest prayer for that falling star,
Bernadette, and I fear that if Bernadette, in the light of what happened
that evening, were to have learned the import of that prayer, she would
have waylaid Bobby and given him a sound spanking.

“O good Lord”—such was the import of Bobby’s prayer—“bring that nice
young lady, Bernadette Vivian, to her senses; and do it in a hurry so
that to-morrow we can shoot that scene the way it ought to be shot, and
be done with it.”

That night the lovers met and there were five minutes of unbroken bliss.
In these five minutes they plighted their troth over and over. Nothing
in the heavens above or the earth beneath or the waters under the earth
could ever dissever their souls. In the next five minutes there arose a
slight difference about the style of the engagement ring; and before the
quarter was quite ended both were in a towering rage and vowed
repeatedly never, never to look upon each other’s face again. Then the
idol of her heart went out and got drunk—a weakness of his of which
Bernadette was entirely ignorant—and left his fond one bathed in tears.

It was a bad night for Bobby, too. An inconsiderate friend of Compton’s,
Benny Burnside, meeting Bobby as he returned from confession, asked the
boy whether it was true that his mother was dead.

“Of course she is not dead,” answered Bobby resolutely.

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear it! So that woman they found dead in the woods
at San Luis Obispo was not your mother after all,” continued the admired
one of every flapper in the land. It was he who had said that Compton
was a gay Lothario.

Bobby’s lips quivered.

Thereupon Mr. Benny Burnside told him, not without some embroidery to
make the story more convincing, of the reports of the detective agency
on the case. If Mr. Burnside did not fully convince the lad of his
mother’s death, it was not due to any lack of effort on his part.

Bobby, on retiring, had several sleepless hours. Faith struggled with
alleged fact, and the struggle brought with it agony and tears. But the
boy was not alone in the fight. To his aid he summoned the Mother of
God, his guardian angel, his patron saint. Before midnight confidence
returned; and Bobby, his face still wet with tears, fell into a
dreamless sleep.

On that same day, in the morning hours, Mrs. Barbara Vernon, seated on
the ranchman’s front porch, a deep peace upon her face, touched once
more with the glow of health, looked out calmly upon a world made
strangely beautiful through the magic given only to the eye of the
convalescent. Never, even in the first blush of maidenhood, had she
looked more beautiful. Sickness had etherealized her beauty. Upon her
features was the resignation which, falling short of joy, gives
contentment touched with melancholy.

“Oh, Mrs. Vernon!” cried two eager voices, their owners rushing through
the front door in a race to reach her first. Agnes and Louis were
flushed with unusual excitement. Something big had come into their
lives.



“What is it, my dears? Good news?”

In answer to which, Louis, raising his voice to a shrill pipe, poured
forth a volume of sound as intelligible as though his mouth were
cluttered with pins.

“But what is it?” asked Barbara, breaking into a smile. “I can’t make
out a word you say.”

“Let me talk, Louis,” said Agnes, making sure of the success of this
request by clapping her hand over the excited youth’s mouth, and keeping
it there. “Mrs. Vernon, there’s a matinee at the moving-picture house of
San Luis Obispo this afternoon, and—and—” Here Agnes manifested her
excitement by losing her breath, taking advantage of which, Louis, very
much handicapped by the restraining hand still held over his mouth, made
an effort to say, “Won’t you come?” giving the effect, however, of a
bulldog’s growl.

“And,” continued Agnes, “it’s a swell show. And, oh, Mrs. Vernon,
wouldn’t you like to come with us?”

“I don’t think,” Barbara made answer, “that I am in a mood just yet for
anything like that. I am sure you can go by yourselves.”

The hand of Agnes dropped, as did her jaw. Louis dug his fists into his
eyes. The girl’s lips quivered.

“But if you would like to have me,” amended the convalescent, reading
sympathetically the signs of woe in the children, “why, of course—”

“Whoop-la!” yelled Louis, running at breakneck speed towards the door
and yelling in his flight. “Hey, dad! she’s going to go.”

“Oh, you are so kind, Mrs. Vernon!” cried Agnes. “Just now papa got a
long-distance telephone call from San Luis Obispo. There’s a friend of
his there who went to the picture show last night, and he called dad up
to tell him what a nice, clean picture it was. He says that it’s a
first-run picture. The proprietor of the movie house there generally
uses older runs, but there’s some kind of convention in the town this
week, and so he engaged this new picture and raised the admission price
from twenty to forty cents, and added three matinees. And the man said
that if dad wanted to go he would hold five tickets for us. And dad said
he would go and take ma and us children, provided you would go. Oh,
isn’t that a treat? We’ll start in an hour. Dad thinks that the ride and
a picture like that will do you a lot of good.”

“Why didn’t you let me know at first that you couldn’t go unless I went?
Indeed I’m sure it will make me happy, if for nothing else than that it
will give joy to two of the dearest little children I have ever met.”

And so fifteen minutes later Barbara, Mr. and Mrs. Regan, and the happy
children were speeding onward to San Luis Obispo.

The lobby of the San Luis Obispo moving-picture house was thronged, and
there was a crush at the ticket office. As Regan and his party pushed
their way to the entrance, the ticket seller was announcing that the
house was sold out.

To get through this unheard-of crowd Mr. Regan was forced to use his
elbows freely. Mrs. Vernon and his family, according to his directions,
followed him in close single file. None of them had an opportunity to
notice the posters and the pictures of various scenes in the much
heralded play. Had the lobby been less thronged, it is doubtful whether
they would have attended the performance.

“To accommodate all,” cried a strong voice as they reached the ticket
taker, “there will be another performance at four o’clock sharp; and
until a quarter to four positively no more seats will be sold.”

At two-thirty to the second, but a few minutes after the Regan party had
seated themselves, the lights went out and the “News of the Week” was
flashed upon the curtain. The assembled crowd, filling every seat, had
not come for the “News of the Week”; hence they were in no wise
disappointed when it was taken off, with most of the news left out. The
manager with a view to the second performance was shortening his
program.

There was a moment’s pause, and then there flashed upon the screen the
words, “You Hardly Can Tell”; whereupon everybody sat up and adjusted
himself for the promised treat.

Perhaps the only exception was Mrs. Vernon. Seated between Agnes and
Louis, she was affectionately watching now one, now the other, and
rejoicing in their eager joy.

The story at the first moved slowly, a close-up being given of a few of
the leading characters, including first and foremost the fair Vivian.

“Isn’t she sweet!” exclaimed Agnes breathlessly.

“She has a nice face,” returned Barbara, raising her eyes momentarily to
the screen and then turning them once more upon Agnes.

Suddenly the girl’s face changed from admiration to merriment.

“Oh, look! Ain’t he funny!”

Mrs. Vernon did look and gasped.

There grinning upon them all with a fatuous face, made still more
fatuous by the arrangement of his hair, was her old friend—and more
than friend—John Compton! There came back vividly to her the memory of
their last meeting, something over ten years ago, when she had parted in
sorrow and he in anger, and, as he said bitterly, forever. She was glad
to see his face once more—glad and disappointed. She had expected more
of him. His name by this time should have been known far and wide, not
as a wearer of the motley, but as a writer, a thinker, a leader of men;
and why had he disappointed her expectations? At the moment a feeling of
remorse came upon her. She meditated.

“I was just. But was I kind? It is true I could never bring myself to
marry a man who refused to believe in God. But was I not brutal in the
way I refused him? Possibly, if I had been gentle and patient, he might
have been brought to the truth. Forgive, O my God, the offenses of a
proud and unthinking youth.” Thus meditating she was suddenly brought
back to the present by a roaring and laughing and stir that were little
short of tumult. Agnes jumped to her feet, and remembering herself, sat
down again exclaiming, “Oh! oh! oh!” Louis had risen uttering yelps of
delight, and remained standing until a justly aggrieved man behind him
dragged him back to his seat.

Mrs. Vernon raised her eyes and saw Bobby Vernon!

“O God! O my God!” she exclaimed, jumping up herself and for a moment on
the point of rushing up the aisle to catch her Bobby in her arms. Her
long discipline of self-restraint, however, asserted itself. She
reseated herself, and catching a hand of Agnes in her own, squeezed it
until the child winced.

Yes, it was her own Bobby. The twisted mouth, the bellhop uniform, the
serio-comic face—these were all, in a way, no matter of surprise to
her; for Bobby, as no one knew better than herself, was a born mimic.
But he was alive! Bobby was alive! “O God!” she whispered, “there is a
faith that can move mountains. Blessed be Thy name!” She followed the
picture now, but in a way almost unheard of. It was to her a long, sweet
meditation. Over and over she murmured, “My son that was dead has come
to life again!” “With God all things are possible.” “Oh, my son, my
son!” Tears coursed down her cheeks, tears of joy incredible. But no one
noticed her. All were absorbed in the play, and when the lights were
turned on and the performance over, Agnes was astounded beyond measure
at Barbara, who embraced her almost violently and said:

“It was the sweetest, most touching thing I ever saw. It has taught me
never to fail in trusting in God.”

Now Agnes thought it was the most mirth-provoking thing she had ever
seen, and, as to trusting in God, that lesson, like the flowers that
bloom in the spring, had nothing to do with the case.

Before leaving the theater Mrs. Vernon, excusing herself, had a few
words privately with the manager.