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CHAPTER XXI A CHASE
The unknown interloper pursued his usual tactics. That is, he turned and fled as soon as he saw Paul coming toward him. And he went surprisingly fast for a lame man. Alice was the first to notice this.

"Look!" she cried. "That man limps hardly at all now."

"That's so," agreed Ruth. "Perhaps he only did that as a disguise."

"Excuse me!" called Russ. "I've got to get in on this chase," and he left the two girls, and ran after Paul, who had started ahead of him.

"Oh, please be careful!" cried Ruth, nervously.

"Does that mean Paul—or Russ?" asked Alice, mischievously.

"Both!" said Ruth, with decision. "That man may be a desperate character."

"He doesn't act so," declared Alice, with a laugh. "See, he is running away."

"Yes, but if the boys catch him he may turn on them—and he may—he may have a weapon, Alice."

"Don't be silly, Ruth. Paul and Russ are able to look out for themselves. But how fast that man can run!"

The stranger was indeed making good time across the fields, and Russ and Paul did not seem to be catching up to him very fast. He had had a good start.

The other members of the company had gone in a different direction, and as the chase had started behind the old barn, neither Mr. Pertell nor any of the others could see what was taking place.

"What had we better do?" asked Ruth, with much anxiety.

"I don't see that we can do anything," replied Alice. "We certainly can't join in the pursuit."

"No, but we might tell someone—give an alarm," went on Ruth.

"No," decided Alice, after a moment of thought. "I think Russ and Paul can do better alone. We don't know what that man has done, if anything, and perhaps when the boys catch up to him he may be able to offer a perfectly good explanation. Then, in case we had set others after him, it would not be fair to him. Besides, if you think there is danger you oughtn't to want any more to share it."

"That is so," agreed Ruth. "Perhaps it will be better to let them try by themselves."

But Paul and Russ evidently were going to have no easy task in capturing the mysterious man. He was running well now, and limping scarcely at all. Either he had feigned it before, or had, in the meanwhile, recovered from his injury.

The two girls watched the chase until a depression in the fields hid the three from sight.

"We'd better go back," suggested Ruth, after a bit.

"Yes," agreed Alice, "but we won't tell the others what has happened."

As it turned out, however, the girls were not able to carry out this intention. For Mr. Pertell had a new idea in regard to some of the scenes, and wanted to consult with Russ about it.

"Where is he?" the manager asked, coming from the farmhouse with a bundle of papers in his hand, after having called a rest period in the barn-burning rehearsals.

"He's after—that man," replied Alice, hesitatingly, and then she told what had happened.

"That man again!" cried Sandy Apgar, who overheard what was said. "He'll not get away this time. I'm goin' after him on a hoss!"

He hurried to the stable, and leaped on the back of one of the lighter farm animals, not even stopping for a saddle.

"Which way was he headed?" he asked the girls.

Ruth and Alice showed him, and Sandy set off over the fields in a strange cross-country run, with a man-hunt at the end of it.

There was nothing for the company of players to do but await the outcome, while the chase was kept up.

Meanwhile, what of Russ, Paul and the mysterious man?

When Paul turned around, after being on the chase for a little time, and saw Russ coming toward him, he stopped to allow the young moving picture operator to come up to him. For he saw that the pursuit was to be a long one, and the man had such a start of him that a few seconds' delay would make no difference.

On and on over the fields went the stranger, until he was headed down a highway.

"When he gets on that it will be easier going," remarked Russ.

"Yes, for both of us," agreed Paul. "I wonder what in the world his game can be, anyhow?"

"We'll find out—if we ever get him," panted Russ. "Come on! This is going to be 'some run,' as the poets say."

The man gained the highway, and raced along that for some distance. Paul and Russ tried to take a short cut across the field to reach the same road, but they got into a marshy place and sank in, nearly up to their knees.

"He knew this was here!" cried Russ, as he drew himself out of a sticky place.

"He evidently did, and avoided it," agreed his friend. "And we blundered into it—worse luck!"

They had considerable difficulty in reaching the road, and by that time the mysterious man was even further in advance. But they pluckily kept to the chase.

"There he is!" cried Russ, as they came to a turn in the road, and saw a straight stretch before them. "He hasn't gained so very much."

The man was running well, and there seemed to be no return of his lameness.

The neighborhood was a lonely one, and there were no houses in sight. Nor had the young men engaged in the chase met any persons since starting out.

Doggedly they kept on.

"This would make a good picture film!" exclaimed Russ.

"It sure would," agreed Paul. "Only we haven't time to do it. Say, he can run some; can't he?"

"He sure can. Oh, look at that, would you!" cried Russ.

They had now come in sight of a white house, standing back a little from the road. And in front of the house stood an automobile runabout.

What caused Russ to cry out was the sight of the mysterious man leaping into the auto, the engine of which had evidently been left running. In another moment he was off down the road, going at the limit of speed of the machine.

"Well, we might as well give up now," said Paul, coming to a stop. "I'm done up, anyhow."

"Same here," agreed Russ. "That is, unless we can find another auto."

They saw a man run from the farmhouse from in front of which the auto had been so audaciously taken. He was a physician, it appeared.

"The idea! The idea!" he cried. "That perfect stranger ran up and took my auto. Was he a friend of yours?" he asked as Russ and Paul came up. He looked at them suspiciously.

"A friend! No indeed!" exclaimed Paul. "We want to catch him; but we can't do it now."

They heard the sound of hoofbeats in the road behind them, and, turning, they saw Sandy coming along on the farm horse. He had taken a short cut, guessing or hoping that the chase would lead that way.

"Where is he?" cried the young farmer, as he galloped up.

"Gone!" replied Paul.

"In an auto," added Russ.

"My auto," corrected the doctor. "The impertinent chap had the nerve to take my machine, and I need it, too."

"I'll get him!" cried Sandy, as he clapped his heels to the side of his panting horse.

"You can never get him while he's in that machine!" called Paul.

"Maybe the auto will have a break-down!" the young farmer answered over his shoulder. "Such things have happened."

"Indeed they have—to me often enough," remarked the doctor. "I have had more break-downs in that car than I like to remember. But just when we want one, so we may be able to catch that scoundrel, it may not happen."

"If Mr. Sneed was here he'd be sure to cause something to happen," remarked Russ, jokingly. Sandy galloped on down the road after the mysterious man in the automobile he had so daringly taken.


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