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CHAPTER XXIII THE MONEY BOX
"What did he say?"

"Who was he?"

"What was his object?"

These, and a dozen other questions like them, were showered on Sandy Apgar when he arrived at the farm, some little time later, after having seen the mysterious man safely locked up in the town jail.

"Now there's no use askin' me who he is, or what he wants," declared the young farmer. "All I know is that I caught him. He won't talk."

"You did a good piece of work," declared Mr. Pertell, "and a day or so of jail food may make the fellow change his mind. Well, it's too late to do any moving pictures to-day. We'll put off the barn-burning until to-morrow."

"Well, there's one thing we can't put off until to-morrow and that is looking after that dog," remarked Sandy. "The poor fellow may be frantic by now."

"May we go with you?" asked Alice.

"Surely," answered Sandy.

"Come along, Ruth—and anybody else who wants to," she added.

"Count me in!" exclaimed Paul.

"The same here," laughed Russ.

So the five set off for the lonely cabin.

"I can't understand how the dog came to be there, though," mused Russ, as they walked on through the woods. "That fellow wasn't at the cabin the last time we looked."

"But that was several days ago," Paul reminded him. "He may have been staying there ever since, thinking we had given up going there. That's very likely it."

And this proved to be the case. The man had apparently moved back into the cabin. The room was arranged about as it had been the day the girls took shelter in the place, but there was this change—that a fine collie dog was chained near the big fireplace.

And if ever a dog was glad to see anyone it was that same collie. He jumped about, barking joyfully, but was held back by a strong chain, fastened to his collar.

"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Sandy kindly, and the dog wagged his tail in friendly greeting.

"Oh, I wish we could keep him!" exclaimed Alice, who loved animals.

"I guess we'll have to—until that feller gits out of jail," spoke the young farmer. "They won't allow no animals in the lockup. We'll take him to the farm."

The dog made friends at once, and seemed particularly fond of Alice. She was patting him, when she happened to turn his collar around. A brass plate came into view and as the girl read something on it she uttered a cry of surprise.

"Look!" she exclaimed. "This is the lost dog!"

"What lost dog?" asked Russ.

"Don't you remember—the one Mrs. Delamont lost when we were in the wreck, coming up here. See, there is his name—Rex III. We have found him for her. How glad she will be!"

"You're right!" exclaimed Paul, after examining the collar. "Here are the initials 'H. A. D.' Weren't those hers?" he asked of Ruth.

"Yes, I have her name and address," replied the girl. "We must send her word at once."

"I don't understand how the man got the dog," observed Russ.

"He might have been at the scene of the wreck, and when he saw the chance he slipped into the baggage car and took Rex," explained Paul. "I suppose he'll tell about that, if he ever confesses. It's a queer business all around."

The fine dog seemed to like his new friends, and skipped and frisked about them as they went back to Oak Farm. And there the dog made his home, though it would not be for long, since Mrs. Delamont would be sure to send for her prize pet when she learned where he was.

"Oh, but I shall hate to let you go!" cried Alice, as she put her arms about the neck of Rex.

"Well, I hope there won't be no more interruptions or delays," remarked Mr. Pertell the next day. "We must get that barn-burning film sure, for I have some other plans to carry out, with winter coming on."

"You don't mean to say you're going to keep on in this moving picture business all winter, do you?" asked Mr. Sneed.

"I certainly do," remarked the manager.

"Well, all I've got to say is that we'll freeze to death," went on the "grouch" in gloomy tones. "You can count me out of it," he added. "I'm not going to freeze for anybody."

"No one asked you to," replied the manager. "Come now, everyone get ready for the fire scene. We'll go over it once more, to be sure we're all right for the final. The roof will be cut and then we'll touch off the place.

"Sandy, see to it that there are plenty of pails of water for the bucket brigade. Mr. Bunn, you're to be one of that crowd, you remember."

"Yes," responded the actor, with a heavy sigh. "I suppose I must lower my art to the level of the movies. Oh, why did I ever get into this wretched business?"

Ruth, Alice and the others went out to the old barn. All was in readiness for the big scene. The ladder for the rescue of the moving picture girls was in readiness, and Paul and Mr. Sneed made sure that it was safe.

"Now then, carpenter, up on the roof with you, and cut out that section so there won't be any doubt but what it will come loose readily when Paul chops at it with his axe," ordered the manager.

The carpenter began his work. He ascended to the roof by the ladder, and was soon cutting and sawing away. The others watched him, half idly, little prepared for the dramatic scene that was to follow. Mr. and Mrs. Apgar had come out to witness the making of the fire film.

"I'll sort of hate to see the old barn go, useless as it is," said the farmer. "It was one of the first buildin's on the farm, and Uncle Isaac used to be terrible fond of stayin' out here. In fact before he died he spent a lot of time out here after th' accident, sittin' all by himself, and sometimes talking a lot of nonsense. His mind was goin' then, I reckon, only none of us knowed it. Yes, poor Uncle Isaac was terrible fond of this old barn, and I sure will hate to see it go up in smoke."

"I wish Uncle Isaac had been fonder of business, an' had left some word where his money went—and ours, too," observed Sandy. "I don't want to blame him for what he couldn't help, but it sure is hard for us!"

The carpenter was chopping away, taking off a section of the roof, to afford easy egress for Ruth and Alice when the time should come. Suddenly he uttered a cry of surprise.

"What's the matter—cut yourself?" called Sandy.

"No, but I've cut into something queer. Better come up here and see what it is—I don't want to touch it."

"I hope it isn't a hornet's nest!" exclaimed Sandy.

"No, it isn't that."

The others wondered what the queer find might be, as Sandy and Russ hurried up the ladder.

As they reached the roof, which at this point was nearly flat, they saw that the carpenter, in taking off a section, had uncovered what proved to be a small secret room. It was built into the barn in such a manner, between false walls, that its existence had never in the past been suspected.

It was a small place, just large enough to contain a table and a chair, and there were no openings or windows on the sides. It must have been a dark place, but there was an old lantern on the table, showing that the occupant, whoever he had been, was not left in the gloom.

But there was something else on the table besides the lantern. This was a large tin box, the sort that valuable papers are usually kept in, and at the sight of it, as Sandy gazed down into the secret room, through the hole in the roof, the young farmer cried:

"There it is! There's Uncle Isaac's money box! The lost is found, and now, if there's only the money and papers in it we'll not lose our farm after all! The Lord be praised! If only the money is there!"

"You can soon tell!" remarked Russ. "drop down in there and take a look."

"What is it? What have you found?" called Mr. Pertell from the ground. "We want to get the pictures."

"Wait a minute!" Sandy begged. "We've found——"

"Wait, don't tell them yet," suggested Russ. "It won't do to raise the hopes of the old people, and then disappoint them. The box may be empty."

"That's right," agreed Sandy. "I'll soon know, though." He hung by his hands to the edge of the opening, and then dropped down into the secret room, so strangely revealed.

"The box is locked!" he cried.

"Here's my hatchet—break it open," suggested the carpenter.

"Guess I might as well—no telling where the key would be," said Sandy. With the hatchet he soon had lifted the cover of the box. Then he gave a joyful cry.

"It's here!" he shouted. "It was Uncle Isaac's box, all right, and the money's here—quite a lot of it, and some valuable papers worth more. Hurray! The farm is saved, after all! Tell pop and mom!"

"No, we'll let you tell them," said Russ. "Come and tell them yourself."

"How'm I goin' t' git up?" asked Sandy, trembling with excitement and new hope, as he fingered the dusty bills that would mean so much to him and his parents.

"Here's a rope," suggested the carpenter, for he had been using one at his work. "We'll drop it down to you, and you can tie it to the box. Then you can come up on the rope yourself."

This was soon done, and a little later Sandy was standing beside his aged parents, showing them the find.

"It's money—real money!" he cried. "The money Uncle Isaac owes us. Now we can pay off the mortgage on the farm. You won't have t' move off th' farm!—Pop—Mom! You can stay here!"

"Praise the Lord!" cried the farmer, reverently. "My prayer has been granted; I can die on the old place!"

"Why, Pa, don't talk about dyin' now!" protested Mrs. Apgar, through her tears. "We're goin' t' live—live on th' old place!"

"That's what we be!" he cried.

A close examination of the contents of the box disclosed the fact that it contained considerable wealth. There were some bonds and stocks, as well as a large sum in cash. At least five thousand dollars of this belonged to the Apgars, representing the loan they had made to Uncle Isaac. And as he left no other heirs, eventually the entire wealth would come to the farmer.

"This has been a lucky day for us!" exclaimed Sandy, as he put the wealth in a secure place in the house.

"Well, it will be an unlucky one for us, if we don't get this fire film," remarked Mr. Pertell, half humorously.

"Just so," returned Russ.

There was much discussion over the find, and then an examination was made of the secret room. From within the sliding panel door, by which entrance was gained, could easily be seen. But outside, it was so well hidden that it is doubtful if anyone but one who knew the trick could have found it.

Mr. Apgar recalled that the barn stood on the farm when he had purchased the estate years before. It had belonged to an eccentric man, and there was little doubt that he had built the secret room for his own use—though what it was could only be guessed.

"And Uncle Isaac must have discovered the hidden door when he was out here in the barn so much," said Sandy. "Lunatics are cunning, sometimes, I've heard. He probably found th' place and kept it to himself, as a good place to hide his valuables.

"That's why he spent so much time out here. I used to wonder sometimes, at having him appear from inside the old barn, when I never suspected he was on hand. He was in this room, all right."

"It certainly was a good hiding place," agreed Mr. Pertell. "It was lucky he did not shut himself up and die in here, or you would never have known where to look for him. He must have left his money box here one day, closed the place up and then came his unfortunate loss of mind, after he was hurt. He forgot all about where he had left the wealth, and of course he couldn't tell anyone. Well, I'm glad you've got it back."

"So am I!" chuckled Sandy. "Now if we only had some explanation as to why that queer chap was always hanging about this farm we'd be all right."

"Maybe he knew your Uncle Isaac," suggested Ruth.

"No, that man's a stranger around here," declared Sandy.

After some little further talk about the queer find, Mr. Pertell again suggested that the taking of the picture be resumed.

Sandy seemed to hang back and the manager asked him:

"Do you want to give up your part in it, now that you have your money again? Don't you want the barn burned?"

"Oh, yes; it ain't that!" the young farmer hastened to assure the manager. "It's a good thing we didn't burn the barn before we found the money. I was only wishin' I could send word of it to Squire Blasdell, so he could call off the foreclosure. I hate to see them signs up."

"Then you go and tell him the good news," suggested the manager, generously. "We've had so many delays on this thing that a little more won't hurt. Go tell the squire."

So Sandy went off, and the players had an unexpected rest.


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