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CHAPTER XX THAT MAN

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, we will now get ready for our big play," announced Manager Pertell to his company of actors and actresses one morning. "It will be the biggest farm drama we have yet attempted. One scene will include the burning of the barn, and the rescue of one of you ladies from the structure."

"Not any of that for mine," remarked Miss Pennington, pertly. "I'm not going to run any chances in a burning building."

"There won't be any chances," returned Mr. Pertell, quietly. "I will have everything arranged in advance so that there will be no danger. That is why I want to start in plenty of time. We will have a number of rehearsals. I am going to have part of the roof of the barn cut away before we start the fire."

"What for?" asked Russ.

"So there will be no danger of anyone getting caught in the burning structure. The cut-out section can be placed back again, after it is sawed, or chopped out, and it will not show in the picture. But it will be a measure of safety. Now, Russ, you come out with me and we'll figure on the best position to get the pictures, and the best part of the roof to cut away."

"Who's going to be rescued?" asked Miss Dixon. "If it's all the same to you I'd rather not be one of those characters."

"You won't be," replied Mr. Pertell, with a laugh. "I have cast Alice and Ruth for that. There'll be a double rescue scene."

"Oh, I don't know that I can do it very well," said Ruth, quickly, though she did not say she was afraid.

"You can do it all right," declared Mr. Pertell, confidently. "In fact, you won't have to do anything, except allow yourself to be carried down a ladder. You see, you and your sister will pretend to be caught in the burning barn. The only way to get you out is through the roof.

"Paul Ardite, as a farmer's son, goes up a ladder and chops a hole in the roof. But the roof will be sawed away beforehand. You see, I want no delay with you inside the burning structure. Then Paul carries you down the ladder, and Mr. Sneed will rescue Alice.

"That will be fine!" cried Alice, in her lively manner. "I've always wanted to be carried down a ladder. You won't mind; will you, Daddy?" and she appealed to Mr. DeVere.

"Oh, I guess not, if the ladder is good and firm," he replied in his husky voice.

"That's just the point; it won't be!" predicted Mr. Sneed in his usually gloomy manner. "It's bound to break!"

"Comforting; isn't he?" laughed Alice. "I'm not afraid, Mr. Sneed."

"No, but I am," he went on. "I don't want that part, Mr. Pertell."

"You'll have to take it," said the manager, decidedly. "I have no other one I can cast for the part."

"Can't you give it to Mr. Bunn?" asked the "grouch."

"Eh? What's that? Me carry someone from a burning building? Not much!" exclaimed the tragic actor. "I resign right now."

"Well, I must say neither of you is very gallant," laughed Alice. "Paul, I guess you'll have to rescue both of us!"

"I'd be pleased to do it!" he retorted, gaily.

"Oh, I suppose I can manage it," grumbled Mr. Sneed, fairly shamed into taking the part.

"Good!" exclaimed the manager. "Mr. Bunn, you will be one of the fire-fighters in the bucket brigade. You'll help pass the buckets of water along to put out the fire."

"What? I become a country fireman?" demanded the tall-hatted actor.

"Certainly."

"I refuse! I will take no such part. I cannot lower myself to it."

"Very well," said Mr. Pertell, calmly. "You may resign, but you know what it means—no more engagements."

"Oh, give me the screed," returned the actor, petulantly. "I'll do it!"

Preparations for the rural play went on apace. The barn-burning scene was only one of many, though it was the climax. Rehearsals began and Russ and Mr. Pertell decided on the barn incidents and the place where the roof was to be cut.

A carpenter had been engaged to do this properly, so that it would not show in the moving picture that the roof had been fixed in advance.

In order to have the big play a success Mr. Pertell allowed the players to rehearse leisurely and at considerable length. There was plenty of rest for all. On one afternoon Paul and Russ, when there was nothing to do, paid another visit to the cabin in the woods, to see if there were any signs of the mysterious man. But he was not there, nor was there any evidence that he had returned to the place. Nor had he been seen about the farm since. He and his dog, if it was his, seemed to have disappeared.

The summer was now passing, and the character of work on the farm changed with the advancing season. Threshing time came, and several good films were obtained of the men at work at the big machine which went from farm to farm to thresh the grain.

Mr. Pertell built a little play about the work, the principal scene in one being where the threshers were at work, and afterward they were shown at dinner in the open air. And such appetites as those men had! A number of Mrs. Apgar's neighbors came over to help her cook, as is usually the case when the threshers come, so altogether some good films were obtained of this phase of rural life.

Getting in the hay was another occasion for making some interesting pictures, and Alice, as she had longed to do, was allowed to ride in on one of the big loads. Afterward, when it was put into the barns she jumped into the soft and fragrant pile of the mow, and was filmed that way, the scene to be used in one of the many rural dramas.

In fact, all sorts of scenes about the farm were caught on the films, to be used later as plays should develop. The farm animals, too, made up some of the pictures, and the mule which ran away with Mr. Bunn was used for some comic pictures. Mr. Pertell, however, did not ask anyone to ride him, as he wanted no accidents. In fact, it is doubtful if he could have gotten any of his company to try this, even through fear of discharge.

"We'll have a rehearsal of the barn-burning scene to-day," announced Mr. Pertell one morning. "It has gone off pretty well so far, and if there is no hitch to-day we'll film it to-morrow and get the real picture. Everybody ready, now."

"Are we to be carried down the ladders?" asked Ruth, for the former rehearsals had not included this.

"I think so," answered the manager. "The carpenter promised to be here to cut the roof, too, so we may be able to go through the whole scene just as we will in the play. Russ, you come out and watch, and select the best places for your camera, so there will be no hitch to-morrow."

"I hope that ladder will be good and strong," remarked Mr. Sneed. "I wouldn't want it to break with me on it."

"Nor would I," laughed Alice. "Still, that might make a funny picture for you, Mr. Pertell."

"Oh, Alice!" chided Ruth.

"The ladder is all right—it's a new one," said Paul. "I've seen it, and given it a trial. It would even hold Pop Snooks, and he's our heavy-weight."

"I made that ladder myself," said the property man.

"I hope it isn't like the imitation fence you made once, that came down with Mr. Switzer," said Ruth.

"Ach, himmel! I hopes not!" exclaimed the German actor. "Dot voult be too bad. It vos bad unough to fall on der fence, but a latter—ach!"

"Don't worry," said Pop. "The ladder will hold an elephant. I have tried it a dozen times."

The moving picture players were gathered about the barn, and the preliminary scenes were rehearsed. The carpenter had come and as soon as he had made the cut in the roof, the more important parts of the play would be gone through with.

The ladder had been tested and found to be perfectly secure, so that any little fear Mr. De Vere may have had for the safety of his daughters was dispelled.

"Well, now we're ready for the main scene, I think," said Mr. Pertell. "Carpenter, you can get busy while we take a rest."

As Ruth and Alice, with Paul and Russ, were walking off toward a little clump of trees, to sit down in the shade, Alice, glancing across the fields, saw a figure that caused her to cry out:

"That man! That lame man! There he is!"

"And this time he doesn't get away from us!" cried Paul, as he darted toward the mysterious stranger.



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