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CHAPTER IV A QUEER PROPOSAL
Oak Farm was a most delightful place. Ruth and Alice agreed to this even before the first meal was served. They stood at the window of their room—a large one with two beds—and gazed across the green meadows, off to the greener woodland and then to the distant hills which girt the valley holding Oak Farm in its clasp.

The hills were purple now with the coming of night—a deep purple like the depth of a woodland violet—and their tops were shrouded in mist.

At the foot of the hills ran a little river, and now it looked like some ribbon of silver, twining in and out amid the green carpet of the fields.

"Oh, isn't it beautiful—just beautiful!" sighed Ruth.

"Do you mean the odor of that fried chicken?" asked Alice, with a frank laugh, as she let down her hair, preparatory to putting it up again, in the general process of "dressing." "It is delightful; but I would hardly call it 'beautiful.'"

"Oh, you know what I mean!" returned Ruth, not turning from the window which gave a view of the distant hills. "I'm speaking of the scenery."

"Oh, yes, I suppose it is beautiful," agreed Alice, who, truth to tell, was not gifted with a very strong ?sthetic sense. "But I suppose Mr. Pertell came here because it was so practical for the rural dramas."

"Beauty counts in them, too," said Ruth, softly. "Oh, just look at the purple light on those hills, Alice!"

"Can't, my dear. I've dropped a hairpin and I can't see it in the dark. Gracious, I never thought! We won't have any electric lights here, and no gas. I wonder if we'll have to go back to candle days."

"They weren't so bad," observed Ruth. "I think it must have been fine in the Colonial days, to have the candles all aglow, and——"

"Candle fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Alice, who could be very outspoken at times. "Give me an incandescent light, every time. It's getting dark here. I wonder what system of illumination they have?"

"Kerosene lamps," replied Ruth. "There's one on the mantel. I'll light it."

"Do, that's a dear. I've dropped another hairpin, and I need every one."

There was silence in the bedroom of the old-fashioned country house for a space. Ruth lighted the lamp, and drew down the window shades.

The girls freshened themselves up after their journey, and prepared to descend to the dining room. From the kitchen came more delicious odors as Mrs. Apgar and her helper finished preparing the evening meal.

Scattered about, in other apartments of the big farmhouse, were the other members of the film theatrical company. Mr. DeVere had been given a room near his daughters', and they could hear him talking in his husky voice to Mr. Pertell, who was across the hall.

"When are they going to begin taking the pictures?" asked Ruth, as she helped Alice hook up a waist that fastened in the back.

"Oh, not for some days yet, I fancy," was the answer. "Mr. Pertell will have to look around, and pick out the best backgrounds for the different scenes. I wonder what sort of parts I'll get? Something funny, I hope; like tumbling into the river and being rescued."

"Alice! You wouldn't want anything like that!" cried Ruth, much shocked.

"Wouldn't I, though! Just give me a chance. I can swim, you know!"

"Yes, I know, but tumbling into the river—with your clothes on—it might be dangerous!"

"Oh, well, if we're in the moving picture business we will have to learn to take chances. I read in the paper the other day how a couple leaped from the Brooklyn Bridge with a parachute—a man and woman."

"Yes, I know; but we're not going to do anything like that! Papa wouldn't let us."

"No, I suppose not," and Alice sighed as though she really wanted to indulge in some such daring "stunt" as a bridge leap.

"I know one part you're going to have, Ruth," went on Alice, as she surveyed herself in the glass.

"What is it?" asked Ruth, eagerly. "Shall I like it?"

"I think you will, dear. It's laid in an old mill—there is one on Oak Farm, I believe. You're to be imprisoned in it, and your lover rides up—probably on one of those silly milk-white steeds I object to—and rescues you—breaks down the door in fact—and gets you just as you are about to be bound on the mill wheel."

"Really, Alice?" cried Ruth, clasping her hands in delight, for she dearly loved a romantic r?le.

"Really and truly—truly rural, I call it."

"How did you hear of it?"

"Oh, I overheard daddy and Mr. Pertell talking about it. Mr. Pertell asked daddy if he'd object to your taking a part like that."

"And what did dad say?"

"Oh, he agreed to it, as long as you weren't in danger. But I want something funny. I believe I'm to be a sort of 'cut-up' country maid, in some of the plays. I'm to upset the milk pails, tie a tin can to the calf's tail, hide under the sofa, when your country 'beaus' come to see you, and all that."

"Oh, Alice!"

"That's all right—I just love parts like that. None of the love business for me!"

"I should say not—you're entirely too young!" exclaimed Ruth, with sudden dignity.

"Pooh! You're not so old! Oh, there goes the supper bell. Come on! I'm starved!"

The entire theatrical troupe gathered about the table, and a merry party it was. That Mrs. Apgar was a good cook was one of the first matters voted on, and there was not a dissenting voice. It was well that there was plenty of chicken, for nearly everyone had more than the first helping.

"Ach! But I'm glad that I came here!" announced Mr. Switzer, as he passed his plate for more. "Ven I get so old dot I can vork no more, I am coming here!" and he leaned back with a contented sigh.

Even Pepper Sneed smiled graciously, and for once seemed to have no fault to find, and no dire prediction to make.

"The meal is very good," he said to Pop Snooks, the property man.

"Glad you think so—even if we did come out on track thirteen," was the reply. "I think that accident was the best thing that could happen. It delayed us so we all had fine appetites."

After supper the members of the company went on the broad veranda, to sit in the dusk of the evening and listen to the call of the night insects.

"We'll all have a day or so of rest," Mr. Pertell said. "That is, you folks will, while I lay out my plans and decide what we are to make first. Russ, I'll want you, the first thing in the morning, to take a walk around the farm with me, and we'll decide on which are the best backgrounds."

"Oh, may I come!" cried Alice, before Ruth could restrain her.

"Why, yes, I guess so," answered the manager, slowly. "Only we'll probably do a deal of walking."

"I don't tire easily," Alice replied.

"Oh, by the way, Mr. Apgar," said Mr. Pertell after a pause, turning to the farmer, "I am planning one play that has a barn-burning incident in it. Have you some old barn on the premises I could set fire to."

"Good land!" exclaimed the farmer, starting from his chair. "Set fire to a barn! Why th' idea! Th' sheriff will git after you, sure pop. That's arson, man!"

"Oh, no, not the way I'd do it," laughed the manager. "I'd be willing to pay you for the barn, so no one would lose anything. Haven't you some such building on the place—one that isn't of much use?"

"Wa'al, I reckon there might be," was the slow answer, as if the farmer could not understand the strange proposition. "But as fer settin' fire to it; wa'al, I reckon you'll have to git permission of th' mortgagee. You see we're in trouble about this place. Sandy, maybe you'd better tell him," and he turned to his son.


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