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The Moving Picture Boys on the War Front, a novel by Victor Appleton

Chapter 1. A Call To Battle

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"Come on now, ready with those smoke bombs! Where's the Confederate army, anyhow? And you Unionists, don't look as though you were going to rob an apple orchard! Suffering snakes, you're going into battle and you're going to lick the boots off the Johnnie Rebs! Look the part! Look the part! Now, then, what about the cannon? Got plenty of powder in 'em so there'll be lots of smoke?"

A stout man, with perspiration running down his face, one drop trickling from his nose, was hurrying up and down the field.

On one side of him was a small army composed of what seemed to be Civil War Union soldiers. A little farther back was a motley array of Confederates. Farther off was an apple orchard, and close beside that stood a ramshackle farmhouse which was soon to be the center of a desperate moving-picture battle in the course of which the house would be the refuge of the Confederates.

"The old man is sort of on his ear this morning, isn't he, Blake?" asked Joe Duncan of his chum and camera partner, Blake Stewart. "I haven't heard him rage like this since the time C. C. dodged the custard pie he was supposed to take broadside on."

"Yes, he's a bit nervous, Joe; but----"

"Nervous isn't the word for it, Blake. He's boiling over! What's it all about, anyhow? Is he mad because I was a bit late getting here with the extra reels of film?"

"No, he didn't say a word about that. It's just that he can't get this battle scene to suit him. We've rehearsed it and rehearsed it again and again, but each time it seems to go worse. The extras don't seem to know how to fight."

"That's queer, considering all the war preparations that have been going on here since we got in the game against Germany," observed Joe Duncan, as he made some adjustments to his camera, one of several which he and Blake would use in filming part of a big serial, a number of scenes of which were to center around the battle in the apple orchard. "With all the volunteering and drafting that's been going on, soldiers quartered all over and as thick as bees around the cities, you'd think these extra fellows would know something about the game, wouldn't you?"

"You'd think so; but they seem to be afraid of the guns, even though they are loaded with blanks. Here comes Mr. Hadley again, and he's got fire in his eyes!"

Mr. Hadley, producer of the Consolidated Film Company, approached Jacob Ringold, a theatrical manager who was in charge of the company taking the parts in "The Dividing Line," which was the name of the Civil War play.

"Look here, Jake!" exclaimed Mr. Hadley, "is this supposed to be a desperate, bloody battle, or a game of tennis?"

"Why, a battle scene, of course, Mr. Hadley!"

"Well, I'm glad to know it! From the way most of your people just rehearsed it, I thought I might be in the wrong box, and looking at a college football game. But no, I wrong the college game! That would be more strenuous than this battle scene, at least as far as I've watched it. Can't you get a little more life into your people?"

"I'll try, Mr. Hadley," answered the manager, as the producer walked over to the two boys who stood near their cameras waiting for the word to be given, when they would begin grinding out the long reels of celluloid film.

"This is positively the worst production I've ever been in!" complained Mr. Hadley to Blake. "Did you ever see such a farce as when the Confederates were hidden in the orchard and the Unionists stormed over the stone wall? You'd think they were a lot of boys going after apples. Bah! It makes me weary!"

"It isn't very realistic," admitted Blake.

"Mr. Ringold's talking to them now like a Dutch uncle," observed Joe, as he idly swung the crank of his camera, the machine not being in gear.

"Well, I hope it does some good," observed the producer. "If it isn't better pretty soon, I'll let all these extra men go and hire others myself. I want that battle scene to look halfway real, at least."

"It'll be a failure, I know it will," observed a melancholy-looking man who strolled up at this juncture. "I saw a black cat as I came from my room this morning, and that's always a sign of bad luck."

"Oh, leave it to you to find something wrong!" exploded Mr. Hadley. "Can't you look on the cheerful side once in a while, C. C.?" he asked, forgetting that he, himself, had been prophetic of failure but a few moments before.

"Humph!" murmured C. C., otherwise Christopher Cutler Piper, a comedian by profession and a gloom-producer by choice, "you might have known those fellows couldn't act after you'd had one look at 'em," and he motioned to the mobs of extra men, part of whom formed the Confederate and the other half the Union armies. "There isn't a man among them who has ever played Macbeth."

"If they had, and they let it affect them as it does you, I'd fire them on the spot!" laughed Mr. Hadley; and at this, his first sign of mirth that day, Blake, Joe and some of the others smiled.

"I don't want actors for this," went on the producer. "I want just plain fighters--men who can imagine they have something to gain or lose, even if they are shooting only blank cartridges. Well, I see Jake has finished telling them where they get off. Now we'll try a rehearsal once more, and then I'm going to film it whether it's right or not. I've got other fish to fry, and I can't waste all my time on 'The Dividing Line.' By the way," he went on to Joe and Blake, "don't you two young gentlemen make any long-time engagements for the next week."

"Why?" asked Blake.

"Well, I may have a proposition to submit to you, if all goes well. I'll talk about it when I get this battle scene off my mind. Now, then, Jake, how about you?"

"I think it will be all right, Mr. Hadley. I have talked to my extra actors, and they promise to put more verve and spirit into their work."

"Verve and spirit!" cried the producer. "What I want is _action_!"

"Well, that's the same thing," said the manager. "I've told them they must really get into the spirit of the fight. I think if you try them again----"

"I will! Now, then, men--you who are acting as the Confederates--you take your places in and around the farmhouse. You're supposed to have taken refuge there after escaping from a party of Unionists. You fortify the place, post your sentries and are having a merry time of it--comparatively merry, that is, for you're eating after being without food for a long time.

"The farmhouse is the property of a Union sympathizer, and you eat all the more heartily on that account. He has two daughters--they are Birdie Lee and Miss Shay," he added in an aside to the moving picture boys. "Two members of your company--yes, I'm speaking to you Confederates, so pay attention--two members of your company make love to the two daughters, much to their dislike. In the midst of the merry-making and the love scenes the Union soldiers are reported to be coming. You Johnnie Rebs get out and the fight begins.

"And let me tell you if it isn't a better fight this time than any you've put up before, you can pack your duds and get back to New York. You've missed your vocation, take it from me, if you don't do better than you have! Now, then, Union soldiers, what I said to the enemy applies to you. Fight as though you meant it. Now, one more rehearsal and I'm going to start you on the real thing."

Under the direction of the assistants of Mr. Ringold, while Mr. Hadley looked on critically, the Confederates took their positions in and about the old house. They rehearsed the merry-making scenes and Miss Lee and Miss Shay took the parts of the daughters of the Union sympathizer. The two girls, being actresses of some experience, did very well, and the extra people evidently improved, for Mr. Hadley nodded as if satisfied.

"Now, then, Unionists, move up!" he called. "March along the road as if you didn't care whether you met Stonewall Jackson and his men or not. Get a reckless air about you! That's better. Now, then, some action! Lively, boys!"

This part, too, went better; and after a little more rehearsal the producer called to Blake and Joe.

"Go to it, boys! Get the best results you can from this mimic battle. Maybe you'll soon be where it's hotter than this!"

"What does he mean?" asked Joe, as he picked up his camera and took his position where he could film the scenes at the farmhouse.

"I don't know," answered Blake, who was to take pictures of the marching Unionists. "Maybe there are more stunts for us to do in Earthquake Land."

"If there are I'm not going! I'd rather do undersea stuff than be around volcanoes."

"So would I. But we'll talk about that later. Say, that looks better!" and he motioned to the so-styled Confederates, who did seem to be putting more life into their work.

"Yes," agreed Joe. "I guess when it comes to shooting, and all that, there'll be action enough even for Mr. Hadley."

A little later the mimic battle scene was in full swing. Hundreds of blank cartridges were fired, smoke bombs filled the air with their dense vapor, and in the distance bursting shells tore up the earth, far enough removed from the positions of the men to preclude any danger.

The Unionists closed in around the farmhouse. Close-up scenes were made, showing Birdie Lee and Miss Shay fighting off their Confederate admirers.

Then came the turn in the battle where the Southern force had to give way.

"Burn the house, boys!" cried their officer; and this would be flashed on the screen later as a lead.

The dwelling, which had been purchased with the right to burn it, was set afire, and then began a scene that satisfied even the exacting producer. Great clouds of smoke rolled out, most of it coming from specially prepared bombs, and amid them and the red fire, which simulated flames, could be seen the Union leader carrying out his sweetheart, Birdie Lee.

Blake and Joe ground away at their cameras, faithfully recording the scenes for the thrill and delight of those who would afterward see them in comfortable theaters, all unaware of the hard work necessary to produce them.

The Confederates made a last stand at the barn. They were fired upon by the Unionists and finally driven off down the road--such as were left of them--while the victorious Northern fighters put out the fire in the house and the scene ended in the reuniting of long-separated lovers.

"Well, I'm glad that's over!" remarked Mr. Hadley, as he came up to Blake and Joe where they were taking their cameras apart in readiness for carrying them back to the studio. "It didn't go so badly, do you think?"

"I think it'll be a fine picture!" declared Joe.

"The last stand of the Confederates was particularly good," observed Blake.

"Good!" cried the producer. "That's a fine line for a leader--'The Last Stand.' I must make a note of it before I forget it. And now you boys can go back to New York. Have the films developed the first thing and let me know how they have come out."

"They'll probably be spoiled," put in the gloomy voice of C. C.

Mr. Hadley looked around far something to throw at him, but having nothing but his note book, which was too valuable for that, contented himself with a sharp look at the gloomy comedian.

"When will you want us again, Mr. Hadley?" asked Blake, as he and Joe made ready to go back in the automobile to New York, the "Southern" battle scene having taken place in a location outside of Fort Lee on the New Jersey bank of the Hudson River, where many large moving picture studios are located.

"Oh, that's so! I did want to talk to you about something new I have in mind," said Mr. Hadley. "Blake--and you, too, Joe--are you game for some dangerous work?"

"Do you mean such as we had in Earthquake Land?" asked Blake.

"Or under the sea?" inquired his partner.

"This is a call to battle," replied Mr. Hadley. "And it's real battle, too! None of this smoke-bomb stuff! Boys, are you game for some actual fighting?" _

Read next: Chapter 2. The Accident

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