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CHAPTER V SANDY'S STORY
For a moment or two Mr. Pertell seemed rather embarrassed. He feared he had forced some unpleasant secret from the farmer, and he did not want to hurt his feelings. Then, too, he remembered that Sandy had hinted at some trouble at the farm. This was probably it, and it had to do with money.

"Perhaps you would rather not talk about it," suggested the manager, after a pause. He and Sandy were at one end of the porch now, the others having gone in. Felix Apgar, preferring to let his son do the talking, had risen from his chair, and was going slowly down the gravel walk to close the gate lest some stray cow wander in from the highway and eat his wife's favorite flowers.

"Oh, I reckon I might jest as well tell you," spoke Sandy, slowly. "It's bound to come out sooner or later, and then everybody in Beatonville will hear of our trouble."

"Then it is trouble?" asked Mr. Pertell.

"That's what it is."

"If I could do anything to help," suggested the manager, "I would be glad to."

"No, I don't reckon you could, unless you wanted to invest quite a sum of money in this farm," returned the young man.

"Well, I'm afraid I'm hardly ready to do that," declared Mr. Pertell. "Farming isn't in my line, and I've got about all my spare funds invested in the moving picture business. But if a loan would help you——"

"That's th' trouble!" interrupted Sandy. "We've got too much of a loan now, and we can't pay it off. Th' place is 'mortgaged up to th' handle,' as they say out this way. That's why pa couldn't give you permission to burn a barn.

"We have an old shack, that's almost toppling over, and it would be better burned and out of th' way. But I guess Squire Blasdell would object if you sot fire to it. The squire pretty near owns our place with this mortgage; or, rather with th' mortgages of folks he represents. He's a lawyer," he added simply. "But maybe if you paid him what he thought the barn was wuth he'd let you fire it."

"Then I'll have to talk to him," went on Mr. Pertell. "I need a barn-burning in one scene. It will be very effective, I think."

"Gosh! But you movin' picture fellers certainly do things," commented Sandy. "You hire yachts to make believe take a trip to Europe, and now you're wantin' to burn a barn! I never heard tell th' like of such doin's."

"Oh, that's nothing to what some of them do," remarked the manager. "Why, some of my competitors have bought old steamboats, taken them out in mid-ocean, and set fire to them, just to get a rescue picture."

"Get out!" cried Sandy, clearly incredulous.

"That's a fact," declared Mr. Pertell. "And, more than once, some of them have bought old locomotives and coaches, and set them going toward each other on the same track, to make a railroad collision."

"Do you mean it?" cried Sandy.

"I certainly do. Why, one manager actually burned up a whole mining town just to get a good picture. He destroyed more than twenty shacks. Of course they weren't very elaborate ones, but he got a fine effect."

"Wa'al, then I reckon burnin' one barn isn't so wonderful," observed Sandy.

"No, indeed. And I'll see Squire Blasdell the first thing in the morning to get my plans ready for this. But I'm sorry to hear of your trouble, Sandy, I sure am. What caused it; did the crops fail?"

"No, we've always had pretty good crops, or we wouldn't stay here," answered the young farmer. "But I don't reckon we'll be able to stay here much longer. It will be hard for pa and ma, too. They don't want to leave—it will break 'em all up. They've lived here all their lives, and they counted on dyin' and bein' buried here. But I reckon they won't now."

"Why not? Are you about to be put off the farm?"

"We will be, by fall, unless I can raise four thousand dollars—and I can't do that, nohow," said Sandy, sadly.

"That's too bad," spoke the manager, sympathetically. "How did it all come about? That is, if you don't mind telling me."

"Oh, no. I don't mind," answered the young farmer, in rather hopeless tones. "You see father had a brother—Uncle Isaac he was, and he was quite a business man, in a way. He used to farm it, but he gave that up, and went into other schemes. I never knew rightly what they were, but he used to make money—at least he must have got it somehow, for he didn't work.

"Well, one time, several years ago, he came to pa and borrowed quite a sum—more than five thousand dollars I've heard pa say it was. He and ma had inherited most of it only a short time before from pa's granduncle Nathan and they decided to keep it ready to pay off th' mortgage, but 'fore pa could do that Uncle Isaac come and borrowed it."

"But why did your uncle need to borrow money when he had so much of his own?" asked Mr. Pertell, curiously.

"Wa'al, there was some business deal on. I never understood th' right of it, and I don't believe pa did, either. All I know is that Uncle Isaac got pa's money. I believe he wanted to go into some scheme—Uncle Isaac did—and didn't have quite enough cash. He promised to pay pa back in a few weeks, and give him big interest for the use of the money.

"Pa set quite a store by Uncle Isaac, and so he let him have th' money that ought to have gone to pay off th' mortgage. And then things went wrong. Uncle Isaac died before he could pay pa back th' money, and from then on things went from bad to worse, until now we're goin' to lose th' farm."

"But my dear man!" exclaimed Mr. Pertell, "if your uncle owed your father money, and your father had a note, or any paper to prove his claim, he could collect from your uncle's estate."

"That's th' trouble," said Sandy. "There wasn't no estate."

"But he must have left something! What became of the money he got from your father?"

"Nobody knew. You see poor Uncle Isaac went crazy before he died, and was put in th' asylum. In fact, that's where he died. He was clean out of his mind."

"But did you try to find what he had done with the money? I should have thought you could do that."

"We did try, and even got a lawyer to try," replied Sandy. "But it was no use. Uncle Isaac would only laugh at us. Poor fellow, he meant all right, but his head give way. He wouldn't have cheated pa for the world. It was jest an accident—that's all."

"You see he was near our threshing machine one day when there was an accident. Somethin' broke and Uncle Isaac was hit on th' head. Not hard enough to kill him, but it made him forget things, and he died that way."

"But couldn't you tell from the papers he left where he had invested the money—his own, as well as your father's?"

"That's th' odd part of it. We couldn't find a scrap of paper, nor a dollar, among his things. You see Uncle Isaac was queer, even before he went crazy. He didn't believe in banks, and he used to hide his papers and money in all sorts of out-of-the-way places. He lived all alone—an old bachelor."

"Did you search for his things?" asked Mr. Pertell, who was much impressed by Sandy's story.

"Oh, yes! We searched all over!" exclaimed Sandy. "But we couldn't find a thing. It's too bad, for Uncle Isaac never would have done it for th' world, if he had been in his right mind."

"No, I suppose not," agreed Mr. Pertell. "Have you any papers to show that your father let him have the money?"

"Oh, yes, we've got a note. But it's no good. Uncle Isaac is dead, and he didn't leave nothin'. We've searched all over, and couldn't find a thing. No, I reckon th' only thing to do is to lose the farm. But it will come hard on pa and ma—it surely will."

Mr. Pertell said nothing. There was little he could say to make the sad lot of the Apgar family any easier. The manager wished he could provide the money himself, but, as he had said, he had invested all his surplus cash in the moving picture business. The taking of the rural dramas was going to cost considerable, too, and there would be the added expense of burning the barn.

Mr. Pertell was paying a fair price for the use of the farm, and for the board and lodging of his company. This would, in a measure, help the Apgars, but it would not be anywhere near enough to save the place.

"Well, it certainly is too bad," agreed the manager. "When I see Squire Blasdell to ask permission to burn the barn, I'll see if he won't wait a bit about foreclosing. Then perhaps we can think up some other plan—or we may even help you find the money," he added, hopefully.

"There ain't much chance of that," returned Sandy. "We've hunted high and low for that money, or for any papers to tell where it might be. As for Squire Blasdell, he's harder than flint. He wouldn't wait a day after th' money was due. No, we've got to lose the farm."

Truly there seemed no way out, but Mr. Pertell was not one to give up easily. He made up his mind that when he got the chance he would see some of his friends in New York. He might be able to induce one of them to provide the money, and take up the mortgage, holding it until it could be paid off gradually. But he said nothing of this now, for he did not want to raise false hopes.

"Well, I reckon I'll turn in," announced Sandy, after a bit. "I'm not used to staying up late. Is everything all right?"

"Oh, yes, indeed—very nice," replied the manager. "I'm going to start in planning to-morrow."

Sandy arose to go in, and, as he did so he peered out toward the road. The moon had risen and it was quite light. Mr. Pertell saw a dark figure slouching along the highway.

"That you, 'Bige?" called Sandy, evidently thinking he saw some neighbor. But the man in the road did not answer. Instead he broke into a run, as though frightened.

"That's queer!" exclaimed Sandy. "I'm going to see who that is."

"I'm with you!" declared the manager, and they hurried down the gravel path.



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