Baird here returned, looking grave. The Montague girl seemed more strangely intense. She beckoned the manager to her side.
"Now, here, Jeff, here was something I just naturally had to laugh at."
Baird had not wholly conquered those facial spasms, but he controlled himself to say, "Show me!"
"Now, Merton," directed the girl, "take that same pose again, like you did for me, the way you are in this picture."
As Merton adjusted himself to the Parmalee pose she handed the picture to Baird. "Now, Jeff, I ask you--ain't that Harold to the life--ain't it so near him that you just have to laugh your head off?"
It was even so. Baird and the girl both laughed convulsively, the former with rumbling chuckles that shook his frame. When he had again composed himself he said, "Well, Mr. Gill, I think you and I can do a little business. I don't know what your idea about a contract is, but--"
Merton Gill quickly interrupted. "Well, you see I'd hardly like to sign a contract with you, not for those mere comedies you do. I'll do anything to earn a little money right now so I can pay back this young lady, but I wouldn't like to go on playing in such things, with cross-eyed people and waiters on roller skates, and all that. What I really would like to do is something fine and worth while, but not clowning in mere Buckeye comedies."
Mr. Baird, who had devoted the best part of an active career to the production of Buckeye comedies, and who regarded them as at least one expression of the very highest art, did not even flinch at these cool words. He had once been an actor himself. Taking the blow like a man, he beamed upon his critic. "Exactly, my boy; don't you think I'll ever ask you to come down to clowning. You might work with me for years and I'd never ask you to do a thing that wasn't serious. In fact, that's why I'm hoping to engage you now. I want to do a serious picture, I want to get out of all that slap-stick stuff, see? Something fine and worth while, like you say. And you're the very actor I need in this new piece."