But oftener she would sit with Merton on the back seat of one of the waiting automobiles. She not only kept herself rather aloof from other members of the company, but she curiously seemed to bring it about that Merton himself would have little contact with them. Especially did she seem to hover between him and the company's feminine members. Among those impersonating guests at the hotel were several young women of rare beauty with whom he would have been not unwilling to fraternize in that easy comradeship which seemed to mark studio life. These were far more alluring than the New York society girl who wooed him and who had secured the part solely through Baird's sympathy for her family misfortunes.
They were richly arrayed and charmingly mannered in the scenes he watched; moreover, they not too subtly betrayed a pleasant consciousness of Merton's existence. But the Montague girl noticeably monopolized him when a better acquaintance with the beauties might have come about. She rather brazenly seemed to be guarding him. She was always there.
This very apparent solicitude of hers left him feeling pleasantly important, despite the social contacts it doubtless deprived him of. He wondered if the Montague girl could be jealous, and cautiously one day, as they lolled in the motor car, he sounded her.
"Those girls in the hotel scenes--I suppose they're all nice girls of good family?" he casually observed.
"Huh?" demanded Miss Montague, engaged with a pencil at the moment in editing her left eyebrow. "Oh, that bunch? Sure, they all come from good old Southern families--Virginia and Indiana and those places." She tightened her lips before the little mirror she held and renewed their scarlet. Then she spoke more seriously. "Sure, Kid, those girls are all right enough. They work like dogs and do the best they can when they ain't got jobs. I'm strong for 'em. But then, I'm a wise old trouper. I understand things. You don't. You're the real country wild rose of this piece. It's a good thing you got me to ride herd on you. You're far too innocent to be turned loose on a comedy lot.
"Listen, boy--" She turned a sober face to him--"the straight lots are fairly decent, but get this: a comedy lot is the toughest place this side of the bad one. Any comedy lot."
"But this isn't a comedy lot. Mr. Baird isn't doing comedies any more, and these people all seem to be nice people. Of course some of the ladies smoke cigarettes--"
The girl had averted her face briefly, but now turned to him again. "Of course that's so; Jeff is trying for the better things; but he's still using lots of his old people. They're all right for me, but not for you. You wouldn't last long if mother here didn't look out for you. I'm playing your dear little sister, but I'm playing your mother, too. If it hadn't been for me this bunch would have taught you a lot of things you'd better learn some other way. Just for one thing, long before this you'd probably been hopping up your reindeers and driving all over in a Chinese sleigh."