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CHAPTER I FILMING A SMASH
"All aboard for Oak Farm!"

"Are we all here; nobody missing?"

"What a relief to get out of the hot city, with summer coming on!"

"Yes, I'm so glad we can go!"

These were only a few of the expressions that came from a motley assemblage of persons as they stood in a train shed in Hoboken, one June morning. Motley indeed was the gathering, and more than one traveler paused to give a second look at the little group. Perhaps a brief list of them may not be out of place.

There were four pretty girls, two of the innocent type that can so easily forget their own good looks; two not so ingenuous, fully aware that they had certain charms, and anxious that they be given full credit for them.

Then there was a man, with rather long black hair, upon which perched, rather than fitted, a tall silk hat that had lost its first sheen. If ever "actor" was written in a man's make-up it was in the case of this personage. Beside him stood, attired much the same, but in garments that fitted him better, another who was obviously of the theater, as were the two girls who were so aware of their own good looks.

Add to this two or three young men, at least two of whom seemed to hover near the two girls who were innocently unaware of their beauty; a bustling gentleman who seemed nervous lest some of the party get lost, a motherly-looking woman, with two children who were here, there and everywhere; another man who looked as though all the milk and cream in the world had turned sour, and finally one on whose round German face there was a gladsome smile, which seemed perpetual—and you have the main characters.

No, there was one other—a genial man who seemed to be constantly trying to solve some puzzle, and taking pleasure in it.

And these personages were waiting for a train. That was evident. You might have puzzled over their occupation and destination, as many other travelers did, and the problem would not have been solved, perhaps, until you had a glimpse of the markings on their trunks. But when you noted the words: "Comet Film Company," you understood.

"Oh, won't it be just delightful, Ruth!" exclaimed one of the younger girls.

"It certainly will, Alice. I'm just crazy to get out where I can gather new-laid eggs and know they are fresh!"

"Little housekeeper!" exclaimed the man standing beside the one who looked as though he dreamed of nothing else but "Hamlet."

"Well, Daddy dear, won't it be just fine to have fresh eggs?" demanded the one addressed as Ruth. "If Alice thinks it's easy to get them in the city——"

"Now Ruth DeVere, you know I was only chaffing!" exclaimed Alice. "But I don't believe you'll get much chance to gather eggs, Ruth."

"Why not?"

"Those two youngsters will claim that as one of their daily—chores—I believe they're called on a farm," and with laughing brown eyes she motioned to the boy and girl who, at that moment, were playing tag around the motherly-looking woman.

"Oh, yes, I suppose Tommy and Nellie will be after them," agreed Ruth. "But I can go with them."

"And jump off the beam in the barn down into the hay! Won't that be fun!" cried Alice. "I haven't done that—not in years, when we went once to grandfather's farm. Oh, for a good jump into the fragrant hay!"

"Why, Alice, you wouldn't do that; would you?" asked Ruth, as she straightened her sailor.

"She may—and you may all have to!" spoke the man who seemed in charge of this odd theatrical company.

"How is that, Mr. Pertell?" asked Ruth.

"Well, you know we're going to make moving pictures of all sorts of rural scenes that will fit in the plays, and jumping into a haymow may be one of them," he laughed.

"I refuse to do any such foolishness as that!" broke in the tragic actor. "I have demeaned myself enough already in this farce and travesty of acting, and to jump into a haymow—ye gods! Never!" and he seemed to shudder.

"Oh, I guess you'll do it, Mr. Bunn, or give up your place to someone who will," said Mr. Frank Pertell, the manager, calmly.

The tragic actor sighed, and said nothing.

"Huh! Yes! Jumping around in barns! Some of us will break our arms or legs, that's certain!" exclaimed the man who looked as though all the world were sad. "I know some accident will happen to us yet."

"Oh, cheer up, Mr. Sneed. The worst is yet to come, Sir Knight of the Doleful Countenance!" exclaimed a fresh-faced young man who carried under his arm a small box, from which projected a handle and a small tube. The initiated would have known it at once as a camera for taking moving pictures. "It will be jolly out there at Oak Farm, I'm sure."

"That's right, Russ! Don't let Mr. Sneed get gloomy on such a fine day!" whispered Alice DeVere. "But when is our train coming?"

"It will be made up soon," Russ Dalwood answered. "Perhaps it is ready now. I'll go and inquire."

The two girls, before spoken of as being too well aware of their own good looks, were talking together at one side of the big concrete platform beneath the train shed. As they strolled about and talked, one of them, from time to time, applied a chamois to her already well-powdered nose, and took occasional glimpses of herself in the tiny mirror imbedded in the top of the box that contained her "beautifier." Occasionally the two would glance at Alice and Ruth, and make remarks.

"Train will soon be ready for us," announced Russ Dalwood, coming back to join the rest of the theatrical troupe which, instead of presenting plays in a theater, posed for them before the clicking eye of the camera, the films later to be shown to thousands in the chain of moving picture playhouses which took the Comet Company's service. "We can go aboard in five minutes!" Russ added.

"That's good," sighed Ruth. "There's is nothing so tiresome as waiting. Which track will it be on, Russ?"

"Number thirteen!"

"What! Great Scott! Track thirteen! I'm not going!" cried Pepper Sneed, who had come to be known as the "grouch" of the company.

"Not going! Why not, I'd like to know?" demanded Mr. Pertell.

"Why—track thirteen—that's unlucky, you know. Something is sure to happen!"

"Well, as we have to get to Beatonville, where Oak Farm is located, and as this is the only road that goes there, I'm afraid we'll have to take that train, whether it's on track thirteen or not," declared Mr. Pertell. "Unless," he added with gentle sarcasm, "you can get the company to switch it to another track."

Mr. Sneed did not answer, but later Paul Ardite, who was one of the younger members of the company, saw the actor tieing a knot in his watch chain, and tossing a penny into a rubbish heap.

"What in the world are you doing that for?" demanded Paul.

"Trying to break the hoodoo!" exclaimed Mr. Sneed. "To start out to do new film work on track thirteen! Whew! That's terrible!"

But Paul only laughed.

"Now, is everyone here?" asked Mr. Pertell a little later, when a railroad man, through a megaphone, announced the make-up of the train.

"It seems so," remarked Mr. DeVere, who spoke in a hoarse and husky whisper, difficult to understand. In fact, as you will learn later, it was this affliction that had caused him to be acting for moving pictures instead of in the legitimate drama.

Mr. Pertell took a rapid survey of his little company, and then went off to make sure that the trunks containing the various costumes had been properly checked.

"Funny thing about Beatonville," remarked Russ to Ruth.

"Why so?" she asked.

"Oh, every time I inquired of the brakeman, or starter, where the train for that place left from, they'd laugh. I thought there must be some joke, and I asked about it."

"Was there?"

"Well, not much of one. It seems that Beatonville is about the last place in Jersey that anyone ever heads for. I guess it must consist of the depot and one house—the one where the agent lives. There is only one train a day and the place is so lonesome, the starter said, that the engineer hates to stop there."

"Oh, well, we aren't going there for pleasure—we're going to work," put in Ruth. "Besides, Oak Farm isn't exactly in Beatonville; is it, Russ?"

"No, a few miles out, I believe. Well, it will be a rest for us after the rush of the city, anyhow."

"All aboard!" called a brakeman, and the Comet Film Company, bag and baggage, started for the train that was to take them to new scenes of activity.

"Why do you carry your camera, Russ?" asked Ruth, when she and her sister were seated near the young man, on whom devolved the duty of "filming," or taking, the various scenes of the plays it was planned to produce.

"Oh, I didn't know but what I might see something to 'shoot' it at," he answered, with a laugh. "You know Mr. Pertell sometimes sends films to the Moving Picture Weekly Newspaper—scenes of current events. I might catch one for him on the way."

"I see. Have you ever been to Oak Farm, Russ?"

"Yes, I went up there when Mr. Pertell looked it over to see if it would do for our new rural dramas."

"What sort of a place is it?" asked Alice.

"Very nice—for a farm."

"Isn't there something queer about it?" asked Ruth. "I mean wasn't there some sort of a mystery connected with Sandy Apgar, the young farmer who works it? You know we met him in New York," she added to Alice.

"Yes, I remember."

"Mystery?" spoke Russ, musingly. "Well, I believe there is something wrong about the place—not exactly a mystery, though. Maybe it's some sort of trouble. Well, here we go!"

The train had started out into the "wilds of Jersey," as Wellington Bunn, the tragic actor, put it. It was about forty miles to Beatonville, the trip occupying nearly two hours, for the train was not a fast one. The members of the company conversed on various topics in regard to some of the projected plays.

The train had stopped at a small station, and was gathering speed when there suddenly came such an application of the air brakes as to cause several persons in the aisle to fall. Others slid from their seats, or were thrown against the backs of the seats in front of them.

"What is it?"

"What's the matter?"

"An accident—let's get out!"

Before anyone could do anything, though, there was a terrific smash, and amid the wild tooting of a whistle could be heard the crashing and splintering of wood. Then the train came to a stop with a jerk that further scattered the frightened passengers.

"A smash-up!"

"A collision!"

"Oh, let's get out of here!"

No one could tell who was saying these things. They were shouted over and over again.

Russ Dalwood picked himself up from the floor of the car. A glance told him that no member of the company had been more than jarred or shaken, for their car was intact, and no windows were broken.

He helped Alice back to her seat, from which she had slid. Ruth had risen to her feet. Russ caught up his camera and made for the door.

"Oh, where are you going?" cried Alice, nervously clutching her leather purse. "Is any one hurt?"

"I don't know—I'm going to see," answered Russ. "And I'm going to film this smash. I may be able to get some good pictures for our newspaper service, Mr. Pertell," he added, as he hurried out.



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