THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS SNOWBOUND
The Proof on the Film
LAURA LEE HOPE
Author of "The Moving Picture Girls," "The Moving Picture Girls at Oak Farm," "The Outdoor Girls Series," "The Bobbsey Twins Series," Etc.
The World Syndicate Publishing Co. Cleveland New York Made in U.S.A. Copyright, 1914, by Grosset & Dunlap
Press of The Commercial Bookbinding Co. Cleveland
I TROUBLE 1
II AN UNPLEASANT VISITOR 10
III RUSS TO THE RESCUE 20
IV A FUNNY FILM 27
V A QUEER ACCIDENT 36
VI NEW PLANS 46
VII OFF TO THE WOODS 56
VIII A BREAKDOWN 63
IX THE BLIZZARD 73
X AT ELK LODGE 79
XI THROUGH THE ICE 89
XII THE CURIOUS DEER 99
XIII THE COASTING RACE 106
XIV ON SNOWSHOES 114
XV A TIMELY SHOT 124
XVI IN THE ICE CAVE 132
XVII THE RESCUE 139
XVIII SNOWBOUND 148
XIX ON SHORT RATIONS 158
XX THE THAW 166
XXI IN THE STORM 174
XXII THE THREE MEN 181
XXIII THE PLAN OF RUSS 191
XXIV THE PROOF ON THE FILM 199
XXV THE MOVING PICTURE 207
THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS SNOWBOUND
"Daddy is late; isn't he, Ruth?" asked Alice DeVere of her sister, as she looked up from her sewing.
"A little," answered the girl addressed, a tall, fair maid, with deep blue eyes, in the depths of which hidden meaning seemed to lie, awaiting discovery by someone.
"A little!" exclaimed Alice, who was rather plump, and whose dark brown hair and eyes were in pleasing contrast to her sister's fairness. "Why, he's more than an hour late, and he's seldom that! He promised to be back from the moving picture studio at four, and now it's after five."
"I know, dear, but you remember he said he had many things to talk over with Mr. Pertell, and perhaps it has taken him longer than he anticipated.
"Besides you know there are some new plans to be considered," went on Ruth. "Mr. Pertell wants to get some different kinds of moving pictures—snow scenes, I believe—and perhaps he has kept daddy to talk about them. But why are you so impatient? Are you afraid something has happened to him?"
"Gracious, no! What put that idea into your head?"
"Well, I didn't know whether you had noticed it or not, but poor daddy hasn't been quite himself since we came back from Oak Farm. I am afraid something is bothering him—or worrying him."
"Perhaps it is his voice, though it has seemed better of late."
"I think not," said Ruth, slowly, as she bent her head in a listening attitude, for a step was coming along the hallway in the Fenmore Apartment, where the DeVere girls and their father had their rather limited quarters.
"That isn't he," said Ruth, with a little sigh of disappointment. "I thought at first it was. No, I don't mean that it was his voice, Alice. That really seems better since he so suddenly became hoarse, and had to take up moving picture work instead of the legitimate drama he loves so much. It is some other trouble, Alice."
"I hadn't noticed it, I confess. But I suppose you'll say that I'm so flighty I never notice anything."
"I never called you flighty, dear. You are of a lively disposition, that's all."
"And you are a wee bit too much the other way, sister mine!" And then, to take any sting out of the words, Alice rose from her chair with a bound, crossed the room in a rush, and flung her arms about her sister, embracing her heartily and kissing her.
"Oh, Alice!" protested the other. "You are crushing me!"
"I'm a regular bear, I suppose. Hark, is that daddy?"
They both listened, but the footsteps died away as before.
"Why are you so anxious?"
"I want some money, sister mine, and daddy promised to bring my moving picture salary up with him. I wanted to do a little shopping before the stores close. But I'm afraid it's too late now," the girl added, ruefully. "Daddy said he'd be here in plenty of time, and he never disappointed me before."
"Oh, if that's all you're worrying about, I'll lend you some money."
"Will you, really? Then I'll get ready and go. There's that little French shop just around the corner. They keep open after the others. Madame Morey is so thrifty, and there was the sweetest shirt waist in the window the other day. I hope it isn't gone! I'll get ready at once. You be getting out the money, Ruth, dear. Is there anything I can get for you? It's awfully kind of you. Shall I bring back anything for supper?"
"Gracious, what a rattlebox you're getting to be, Alice," spoke Ruth, soberly, as she laid aside her sewing and went to the bureau for her pocketbook.
"That's half of life!" laughed the younger girl. "Quick, Ruth, I want to get out and get back, and be here when daddy comes. I want to hear all about the new plans for taking moving picture plays. Is that the money? Thanks! I'm off!" and the girl fairly rushed down the hall of the apartment. Ruth heard her call a greeting to Mrs. Dalwood, who lived across the corridor—a cheery greeting, in her fresh, joyous voice.
"Dear little sister!" murmured Ruth, as she sat with folded hands, looking off into space and meditating. "She enjoys life!"
And certainly Alice DeVere did. Not that Ruth did not also; but it was in a different way. Alice was of a more lively disposition, and her father said she reminded him every day more and more of her dead mother. Ruth had an element of romanticism in her character, which perhaps accounted for her dreaminess at times. In the work of acting and posing for moving pictures, which was what the two girls, and their father, a veteran actor, were engaged in, Ruth always played the romantic parts, while nothing so rejoiced Alice as to have a hoydenish part to enact.
Alice hastened along the streets, now covered with a film of newly fallen snow. It was sifting down from a leaden sky, and the clouds had added to the darkness which was already coming that November evening.
"Oh, it's good to be alive, such weather as this!" Alice exulted as she hastened along, the crisp air and the exercise bringing to her cheeks a deeper bloom. Her eyes shone, and there was so much of life and youth and vitality in her that, as she hastened along through the falling snow, which dusted itself on her furs, more than one passerby turned to look at her in admiration. She was a "moving picture" in herself.
She lingered long in the quaint little French shop, there were so many bargains in the way of lingerie. Alice looked at many longingly, and turned some over more longingly, but she thought of her purse, and knew it would not stand the strain to which she contemplated putting it.
"I'll just have to wait about the others, Madame," she said, with a sigh. "I've really bought more now than I intended."
"I hope zat Mademoiselle will come often!" laughed the French woman.
Back through the streets, now covered with snow, hastened Alice, tripping lightly, and now and then, when she thought no one was watching her, she took a little run and slide, as in the days of her childhood. Not that she was much more than a child still, being only a little over fifteen. Ruth was two years her senior, but Ruth considered herself quite "grown up."
"I wonder if daddy has come back yet?" Alice mused, as she hastened on to the apartment. "That looks like Russ Dalwood ahead of me," she went on, referring to the son of the neighbor across the hall. Russ "filmed," or made the moving pictures for the company by whom Mr. DeVere and his daughters were engaged. "Yes, it is Russ!" the girl exclaimed. "He has probably come right from the studio, and he'll know about daddy. Russ! Russ!" she called, as she came nearer to the young man.
He turned, and a welcoming smile lighted his face.
"Oh, hello, Alice!" he greeted, genially. "Where's Ruth?"
"Just for that I shan't tell you! Don't you want to walk with me?" she asked, archly. "Why must you always ask for Ruth when I meet you alone?"
"I didn't! I mean—I—er——"
"Oh, don't try to make it any worse!" she laughed at his discomfiture. "Let it go at that! Did you just come from the studio?"
"Yes, and we had a hard day of it. I forget how many thousand feet of film I reeled off."
"Was my father there?"
"Yes, he was with Mr. Pertell when I came out."
"I wonder what makes him so late?"
"Oh, there's a rush of work on. But I think he'll be along soon, for I heard Mr. Pertell say he wouldn't keep him five minutes."
"That's good. Oh, dear! Isn't it slippery!" she cried, as she barely saved herself from falling.
"Take my arm," invited Russ.
"Thanks, I will. I came out in a hurry to do a little shopping. Ruth is at home. There, I told you after all. I'm of a forgiving spirit, you see."
"I see," he laughed.
They stepped along lightly together, laughing and talking, for Russ was almost like a brother to the DeVere girls, though the two families had only known each other since both had come to the Fenmore Apartment, about a year before.
"Did they film any big plays to-day?" asked Alice. "I know Mr. Pertell said he wouldn't need Ruth and myself, so of course they didn't do anything really good. Not at all conceited; am I?" she asked, with a rippling laugh.
"Well, you're right this time—there wasn't much of importance doing," Russ replied. "Miss Pennington and Miss Dixon had some pretty good parts, but the stuff was mostly comic to-day."
"That suited Mr. Switzer, then. I think he is the nicest German comedian I ever knew, and I met quite a number when father was appearing in real plays."
"Yes, Switzer is a good sort. But you should have seen Mr. Sneed to-day!"
"Found fault with everything; eh?"
"I should say so, and then some, as the boys say. He said something was sure to happen before the day was over, and it did—a stone wall fell on him."
"Really, but not real stone. It was one of Pop Snooks's scenic creations. One of the pieces of wood hit Mr. Sneed on the head, so something happened. And what a fuss he made! He's the real grouch of the company, all right. Well, here we are!" and the young man guided his companion into the hallway of the Fenmore.
"See you again!" called Alice, as she went into her door and Russ into his.
"Is that you, Alice?" called Ruth, from an inner room.
"Yes, dear. Has daddy come home?"
"Not yet. I wonder if we'd better telephone?"
"No, I just met Russ, and he said daddy would be right along. He's planning something with Mr. Pertell."
The table was nearly prepared when a step was heard in the hall.
"There he is now!" cried Alice, as she flew to open the door before her father could get out his key. But as he entered, and Alice reached up to kiss him, she cried out in amazement at the look on his face.
"Why, Daddy! Has anything happened?" she asked.
"Yes," he said in his hoarse voice—a hoarseness caused by a throat affection. "Yes, something has happened, or is going to. I'm in serious trouble!"
AN UNPLEASANT VISITOR
Ruth overheard the question asked by Alice, and her father's answer. She came in swiftly, and put her arms about him, as her sister had done.
"Oh, Daddy dear, what is it?" she asked, anxiously.
"I—I'll tell you—presently," he replied, chokingly. "I am a little out of breath. I am getting too—too stout. And my throat has bothered me a good deal of late. Would you mind getting me that throat spray and medicine Dr. Rathby left? That always helps me."
"I'll get it," offered Alice, quickly, as her father sank into a chair, and while she searched in the medicine closet for it, there was a dull ache in her heart. More trouble! And there had been so much of it of late. The sun had seemed to break through the clouds, and now it had gone behind again.
And while the girls are thus preparing to minister to their father, I will tell my new readers something of the previous books of this series, and a little about the main characters.
In the initial volume, entitled "The Moving Picture Girls; Or, First Appearances in Photo Dramas," I related how Mr. Hosmer DeVere, a talented actor, suddenly lost his voice, by the return of an old throat affection. He had just been "cast" for an important part in a new play, but had to give it up, as he could not speak distinctly enough to be heard across the footlights.
The DeVere family fortunes were at low ebb, and money was much needed. By accident Russ Dalwood, a moving picture operator, suggested to one of the girls that their father might act for a moving picture film company, as he would not have to use his voice in such employment.
How Mr. DeVere took the engagement, and how Ruth and Alice followed him, as well as their part in helping Russ to save a valuable camera patent—all this you will find set down in the first book.
In the second volume, entitled "The Moving Picture Girls at Oak Farm; Or, Queer Happenings While Taking Rural Plays," the scene was shifted to the country. There you may read of many strange occurrences, as well as funny ones—how Alice fell into the water—but there! I must save my space in this book for the happenings of it. I might add that, incidentally, the girls helped to solve a strange mystery concerning Oak Farm, and solved it in a way that made glad the hearts of Mr. and Mrs. Felix Apgar, the parents of Sandy, and of the heart of Sandy himself.
Mr. Frank Pertell was the manager of the Comet Film Company, with whom Mr. DeVere and his daughters had an engagement, and the entire company, including the DeVeres, spent a whole summer at Oak Farm, in New Jersey, making rural plays.
The company had just returned to New York City, to finish some dramas there, and Mr. Pertell was working on new plans, which were not, as yet, fully developed.
The Comet Film Company included a number of people, and you will meet some of them from time to time as this story advances. You have already heard of a few members. In addition there was Wellington Bunn, a former Shakespearean actor, who could never seem to get away from an ambition to do Hamlet. Pepper Sneed was the "grouch" of the company, always finding fault, or worrying lest something happen. Paul Ardite was the "leading juvenile," the father of the moving picture girls being the leading man. The girls themselves, though comparatively new to the business, had made wonderful strides, for they had the advantage of private "coaching" at home from Mr. DeVere.
Miss Pearl Pennington and Miss Laura Dixon were former vaudeville actresses, who had gone into the "movies," and between them and the DeVeres there was not the best of feeling; caused by the jealousy of the former.
Carl Switzer, a German with a marked accent, generally did "comics." Then there was Mrs. Maguire, who did "old woman" parts. She had two grandchildren, Tommy and Nellie, who frequently played minor roles.
"Do you feel any better, Daddy?" asked Ruth, as she took from her father's hand the atomizer he had been using on his throat.
"Yes, the pain is much less. Dr. Rathby's medicine is a wonderful help."
"Do you feel like—talking?" inquired Alice gently, for she saw that the worried look had not left her father's face.
"Yes," he answered, with a smile, "but I do not want to burden you girls with all of my troubles."
"Why shouldn't you?" asked Ruth, quickly. "Who would you share your troubles with, if not with us? We must help each other!"
"Yes, I suppose so," returned Mr. DeVere, in a low voice. "And yet, after all, I suppose this is not such a terrible trouble. It will not kill any of us. But it will make a hard pull for me if I cannot prove my contention."
"What is that?" asked Alice. "Is there some trouble with the film company? You haven't lost your engagement; have you, Daddy?"
"Oh, no, it isn't that," he answered. "I'll tell you. Just a little more of that spray, please, Alice. I will then be better able to talk."
In a few moments he resumed:
"Did you ever hear me speak of a Dan Merley?"
"You mean that man who came to see you when we lived in the other apartment—the nicer one?" asked Ruth, for the Fenmore was not one of the high-class residences of New York. The DeVeres had not been able to afford a better home in the time of their poverty. And when better days came they had still remained, as they liked their neighbors, the Dalwoods. Then, too, they had been away all summer at Oak Farm.
"Yes, that was the man," replied Mr. DeVere. "Well, in my hard luck days I borrowed five hundred dollars from him to meet some pressing needs. I gave him my note for it. By hard work, later, I was able to scrape the five hundred dollars together, and I paid him back.
"Unfortunately Dan Merley was a bit under the influence of drink when I gave him the cash, and he could not find my promissory note to return to me.
"He promised to send it around to me the next day, and, very foolishly, as I see it now, I let him keep the money, not even getting a receipt for it. I am not a business man—never was one. I trusted Dan Merley, and I should not have done so."
"Why?" asked Ruth.
"Because he came to me to-day, for the first time in several months, and demanded his five hundred dollars. I told him I had paid it, and tried to recall to him the circumstances. But, as I said, he was slightly intoxicated when I gave him the bills, and his mind was not clear. He declares positively that I never paid him, and he says he will make trouble for me if I do not hand him over the money in a short time."
"But you did give it to him, Daddy!" exclaimed Alice.
"Of course I did; but I have no proof."
"Did you pay him by check?" asked Ruth, who was quite a business woman, and keeper of the house.
"Unfortunately I was not prosperous enough in those days to have a bank account," answered Mr. DeVere. "A check would be a receipt; but I haven't that. In fact, I haven't a particle of evidence to show that I paid the money. And Dan Merley has my note. He could sue me on it, and any court would give him a judgment against me, so he could collect."
"But that would be paying him twice!" exclaimed Alice.
"I know it, and that is the injustice of it. It would be out of the question for me to raise five hundred dollars now. My throat treatment has been expensive, and though we are making good money at the moving picture business, I have not enough to pay this debt twice."
"He is a wicked man!" burst out Alice.
"My dear!" Ruth gently reproved.
"I don't care! He is, to make daddy pay twice!"
"Yes, it is hard lines," sighed the veteran actor. "I have begged and pleaded with Merley, imploring him to try and remember that I paid him, but he is positive that I did not do so."
"Do you suppose he really thinks so—that he is honest in his belief that you never paid him?" asked Ruth.
"Well, it is a hard thing to say against a man, when I have no proof," replied Mr. DeVere, "but I believe, in his heart, Dan Merley knows I paid him. I think he is just trying to make me pay him over again to cheat me."
"Oh, how can he be so cruel?" cried Alice.
"He is a hard man to deal with," went on her father. "A very hard man. This has been bothering me all day. I simply cannot pay that five hundred dollars; and yet, if I don't——"
"Can they lock you up, Daddy?" Alice questioned, fearfully.
"Oh, no, dear, not that. But he can make it very unpleasant for me. He can force me to go to court, and that would take me away from the film studio. I might even lose my engagement there if I had to spend too much time over a lawsuit.
"But, worst of all, my reputation will suffer. I have always been honest, and I have paid every debt I owed, though sometimes it took a little while to do it. Now if this comes to smirch my character, I don't know what I shall do."
"Poor Daddy!" said Ruth, softly, as she smoothed his rumpled hair.
"There, girls, don't let me bother you," he said, as gaily as he could. "Perhaps there may come a way out."
"Why don't you ask the advice of Mr. Pertell?" suggested Ruth.
"I believe I will," agreed her father. "He is a good business man. I wish I was. If I had been I would have insisted on getting either a receipt from Merley, or my note back. But I trusted him. I thought he was a friend of mine."
"Well, let's have supper," suggested Alice. "Matters may look brighter then."
"And I'll go see Mr. Pertell this evening," promised Mr. DeVere. "He may be able to advise and help me."
The meal was not a very jolly one at first, but gradually the feeling of gloom passed as the supper progressed. Mr. DeVere told of what had happened that day at the film studio where the moving pictures were made.
"Now I think I'll go see Mr. Pertell," the actor announced, as he rose from the table. "He said he would be in his office late to-night, as he is working on some new plans."
"What are they, Daddy?" asked Alice. "Are we to go off to some farm again?"
"Not this time. I believe there are to be some winter scenes taken, though just where we will go for them has not been announced. Well, I'm off," and, kissing the girls good-bye, Mr. DeVere went out.
Ruth and Alice, in his absence, discussed the new source of trouble that had come to them. They had been so happy all summer, that the blow fell doubly heavy.
"Isn't it just horrid!" exclaimed Ruth.
"Too mean for anything!" agreed Alice. "I wish I had that Dan Merley here. I—I'd——"
But Alice did not finish. Ruth had looked at her, to stop her rather impulsive sister from the use of too violent an expression. But there was no need of this. An interruption came in the form of a knock at the door.
"Who is it?" asked Ruth, and there came a little note of fear into her voice, for she was timid, and she realized at once that it was not one of their kind neighbors from across the hall. Russ, his mother, and his brother Billy always rapped in a characteristic manner.
"It's me—Dan Merley, and I want to see the old man!" was the answer. The girls drew together in fright, for they recognized by the thickness of the voice that the owner was not altogether himself.
"Oh!" gasped Alice, and then the door was pushed open, for the catch had been left off, and a man came unsteadily into the room.
RUSS TO THE RESCUE
"Where's the boss?" asked the man, as he leaned heavily against the table. "I want to see the boss."
"Do you—do you mean my—my father?" faltered Ruth, as she stepped protectingly in front of Alice.
"That's jest who I mean, young lady," and the new-comer leered at her. "Is he in? If he isn't I won't mind an awful lot. I'll wait for him. This is a nice place," and, without being invited he slouched into a chair.
"My—my father is——"
"He'll be back in just a little while!" interrupted Alice, briskly. "Did he tell you to come here?"
"Nope! I told myself!" replied the man. "I'm glad I did, too. This is nice place and you're nice girls, too. Sisters, I take it?"
"You need not discuss us!" exclaimed Ruth with dignity. "If you will leave word what your business with my father is I will have him call on you."
"What, leave? Me leave? Nothin' doin', sister. I'm too comfortable here," and he leaned back in the chair and laughed foolishly.
"What—what did you want to see Mr. DeVere about?" inquired Ruth, though she could well guess.
"I'll tell you what it's about," said Dan Merley, confidentially. "It's about money. I want five hundred dollars from your father, and I want it quick—with interest, too. Don't forget that."
"My father paid you that money!" Ruth declared, with boldness.
"He did not!" denied the unpleasant visitor. "He owes it to me yet, and I want it. And, what's more I'm going to have it!"
"That is unfair—unjust!" said Ruth, and there was a trace of tears in her voice. "My father paid you the money, and you promised to give him back the note—the paper that showed you had loaned it to him. But you never did."
"How do you know all this?" he asked.
"Because my father was just telling us about it—a little while ago. He said you had—forgotten."
"Yes, I know! He said I'd been drinking too much; didn't he?"
Ruth and Alice drew further back, offended by his coarse language.
"He—he said you were not—quite yourself," spoke Alice gently.
"Oh ho! Another one! So there's two of you here!" laughed the man. "Well, this certainly is a nice place. I guess I'll stay until the boss comes back. That is, unless you have the five hundred dollars here, and want to pay me," he added, with a sickly grin.
"You have been paid once," Ruth insisted.
"I have not—I never was paid!" Dan Merley cried. "I want my money and I'm going to have it! Do you hear? I'm going to have it, and have it soon! You tell your father that from me!" and he banged his fist on the table.
Ruth and Alice looked at each other. The same thought was in both their minds, and it shone from their eyes. They must leave at once—the door was slightly open.
"No more monkey business!" cried the unwelcome caller. "I lent your father that money and he never paid me back. He may say he did; but he can't prove it. I hold his note, and if he doesn't pay me I'll——"
"What will you do?" interrupted a new voice, and with relief Ruth and Alice looked up, to see Russ Dalwood entering the room.
"Excuse me," he said to the girls, "I knocked, but you did not seem to hear. Possibly there was too much noise," and he looked at the man significantly. "Is there any trouble here?" the young moving picture operator asked.
"Oh, Russ, make him—make him go!" begged Alice, half sobbing. "He wants to see my father—it's some sort of unjust money claim—and he wants to enforce it. Father has gone out——"
"And that's just where this person is going!" announced Russ, advancing toward the man.
"What's that?" demanded Merley in an ugly tone.
"I said you were going out. It's your cue to move!"
"I don't move until I get my five hundred dollars," answered the visitor. "I've waited for it long enough."
"My father paid you!" protested Ruth.
"I say he did not!" and again the man banged the table with his fist.
"Well, whether he did or not is a question for you and Mr. DeVere to settle," said Russ, in firm tones. "You will kindly leave these young ladies alone."
"I will; eh? Who says so?"
"And who are you?"
"A friend. I must ask you to leave."
"Not until I get my five hundred dollars!"
"Look here!" exclaimed Russ, and, though he spoke in low tones, there was that in his voice which made it very determined. "You may have a valid claim against Mr. DeVere, or you may not. I will not go into that. But he is not at home, and you will have to come again. You have no right in here. I must ask you to leave."
"Huh! You haven't any right here either. You can't give me orders."
"They are not my orders. This is a request from the young ladies themselves, and I am merely seeing that it is carried out. You don't want him here; do you?" he asked, of the two girls.
"Oh, no! Please go!" begged Ruth.
"I want my money!" cried the man.
"Look here!" exclaimed Russ, taking hold of Merley's shoulder. "You will either leave quietly, or I'll summon a policeman and have you arrested. Even if you have a claim against Mr. DeVere, and I don't believe you have, that gives you no right to trespass here. Take your claim to court!"
"I tell you I want my money now!"
"Well, you'll not get it. You have your remedy at law. Now leave at once, do you hear?"
"Yes, I hear all right, and you'll hear from me later. I will go to law, and I'll have my five hundred dollars. I'll bring suit against Mr. DeVere, and then he'll wish he'd paid me, for he'll have to settle my claim and costs besides. Oh, I'll sue all right!"
"I don't care what you do, as long as you get out of here!" cried Russ, sharply, for he saw that the strain was telling on Ruth and Alice. "Leave at once!"
"Suppose I don't go?"
"Then I'll put you out!"
Russ looked very brave as he said this. Ruth glanced at him, and thought he had never appeared to better advantage. And between Russ and Ruth there was—but there, I am getting ahead of my story.
"Are you going?" asked the young moving picture operator, again.
"Well, rather than have a row, I will. But I warn you I'll sue DeVere and I'll get my money, too. It's all nonsense for him to say he paid me. Where's his proof? I ask you that. Where's his proof?"
"Never mind about that," returned Russ, calmly. "It's your move, as I said before. And you can give a good imitation of a moving picture film showing a man getting out of a room."
With no good grace the man arose clumsily from his chair, and with leers at Ruth and Alice, who were clinging to each other on the far side of the room, the visitor started for the door.
"I'll see you again!" he called, coarsely. "Then maybe the laugh will be on my side. I'm going to have my money, I tell you!"
Russ kept after the man, and walked behind him to the door. There Dan Merley paused to exclaim, in loud tones:
"You wait—I'll get my money out of DeVere—you'll see!"
Then he stumbled on down the hallway, and Russ quickly closed and locked the door.
"Oh, Russ!" exclaimed Ruth. Then she sank into a chair, and bent forward with her head pillowed in her arms on the table.
"There, there," said the young man gently, as he put his hand on her head. "It's all right—he's gone. Don't be afraid."
"Oh, but what a dreadful man!" cried Alice. "I could——"
"Don't, dear," begged her sister gently, as she raised her head. There were tears in her eyes. Russ gently slipped his hand over her little rosy palm.
A FUNNY FILM
For a moment Ruth remained thus, while, Alice, with flashing eyes, stood looking at the door leading into the hall, as if anticipating the return of that unpleasant visitor. Then Ruth lifted her head, and with a rosy blush, and a shy look at Russ, disengaged her hand.
"I—I feel better now," she said.
"That's good," and he smiled. "I don't believe that fellow will come back. I'll stay here. Is your father out?"
"Yes, and all on account of that horrid man," answered Alice. "Oh, it was so good of you to come in Russ!"
"I happened to be coming here anyhow," he answered. "When I saw the door open, and heard what was said, which I could not help doing, I did not stand on ceremony."
"It was awfully good of you," murmured Ruth, who now seemed quite herself again. "I suppose you heard what that man said?"
"Not all," he made reply. "It was something about money though, I gathered. He was demanding it."
"Yes, and after father has already paid it," put in Alice. "That's where daddy has gone now—to consult Mr. Pertell as to the best course of action."
Between them, Ruth and Alice told about Dan Merley's claim, and the injustice of it. Russ was duly sympathetic.
"If I were your father I would pay no attention to his demand," the young moving picture operator said.
"But suppose he sues, as he threatened?" asked Ruth.
"Let him, and fight the case in court when it comes up. Merley may be only 'bluffing', to use a common expression."
"But it annoys daddy almost as much as if the case were real, you see," said Ruth. "Won't you sit down, Russ? Excuse our impoliteness, but really we've been quite upset."
"Thanks," he laughed as he took a chair. "You need cheering up. You come to the studio to-morrow and forget your troubles in a good laugh."
"Why?" asked Alice. "Ruth and I are not down for any parts to-morrow."
"No, but Mr. Switzer is going to do some comic stunts, and Mr. Bunn and Mr. Sneed are in them with him. There are to be some trick films, I believe."
"Then we'll go," decided Alice. "I think a laugh would do me good."
Gradually the little fright wore off, and when Mr. DeVere returned shortly afterward the girls were themselves again, under the happy influence of Russ.
"What luck, Daddy?" asked Alice, as her father came in. He shook his head, as she added: "Russ knows all about it," for she gathered that he might not like to speak before the young man. "What did Mr. Pertell say?"
"He advised me to wait until Merley made the next move, and then come and see him again. He said he would then send me to the attorney for the film company, who would handle my case without charge."
"How good of him!" cried Ruth, impulsively.
"Mr. Pertell gave daddy the same advice Russ gave us," added Alice. "Oh, it was so good to have him here when that dreadful man came in," she went on.
"What man?" asked Mr. DeVere, in surprise. "Was someone in here while I was gone—those camera scoundrels, Russ?"
"No, it was Dan Merley himself!" exclaimed Ruth, "and he was so horrid, Daddy!" There was a hint of tears in her voice.
"The impertinent scoundrel!" exclaimed Mr. DeVere, in the manner that had won him such success on the stage. "I shall go to the police and——"
"No, don't Daddy dear," begged Ruth laying a detaining hand on his arm, as he turned to the door. "That would only make it more unpleasant for us. We would have to go to court and testify, if you had him arrested. And, besides, I don't know on what charge you could cause his arrest. He really did nothing to us, except to hurt our feelings and scare us. But I fancy Russ scared him in turn. Don't go to the police, Daddy."
"All right," he agreed. "But tell me all about it."
They did so, by turns, and Mr. DeVere's anger waxed hot against Merley as he listened. But he realized that it was best to take no rash step, much as he desired to. So he finally calmed down.
"If I could only prove that I had paid that money," he murmured, "all would be well. I must make it a point, after this, to be more business-like. It is like locking the stable door after the automobile is gone, though, in this case," he added, with a whimsical smile.
Russ remained a little longer, and then took his leave. Ruth saw to it, even getting up out of bed to do it, that the chain was on the hall door. For she was in nervous doubt as to whether or not she had taken that precaution. But she found the portal secure.
"That man might come back in the night," she thought. But she did not confide her fear to Alice.
Morning revealed a new and wonderful scene. For in the night there had been a heavy storm, and the ground of Central Park was white with snow. A little rain had fallen, and then had frozen, and the trees were encased in ice. Then as the sun shone brightly, it flashed as on millions of diamonds, dazzling and glittering. Winter had come early, and with more severity than usual in the vicinity of New York.
"Oh, how lovely!" cried Alice, as she looked out. "I must have a slide, if I can find a place! Ruth, I'm going to wash your face!"
"Don't you dare!"
But Alice raised the window, and from the sill took a handful of snow. She rushed over to her sister with it.
"Stop it! Stop it! Don't you dare!" screamed Ruth. Then she squealed as she felt the cold snow on her cheeks.
"What's the matter with you girls in there?" called Mr. DeVere from his apartment. "You seem merry enough."
"We are," answered Alice. "I've washed Ruth's face, and I'm going to wash yours in a minute."
"Just as you like," he laughed. And then he sighed, for he recalled a time when his girlish wife had once challenged him the same way, when they were on their honeymoon. For Mrs. DeVere had been vivacious like Alice, and the younger daughter was a constant reminder to her father of his dead wife—a happy and yet a sad reminder.
Alice came rushing in with more snow, and there was a merry little scene before breakfast. Then Mr. DeVere hurried to the film studio, for he was to take part in several dramas that day.
"I know I'll be late," he said, "for the travel will be slow this morning, on account of the snow. And I have to go part way by surface car, as I have an errand on the way down town."
"We're coming down, also," Ruth informed him.
"Why, you're not in anything to-day," he remarked, pausing in the act of putting on his overcoat. "You're not cast for anything until 'The Price of Honor,' to-morrow."
"But we're going down, just the same," Alice laughed. "We want to see some of the funny films."
"Come ahead then," invited Mr. DeVere. "Better use the subway all you can. Even the elevated will have trouble with all this sleet. Good-bye," and he kissed them as he hurried out.
The girls made short shrift of the housework, and then left for the place where the moving pictures were made.
As I have described in the first book of this series how moving pictures are taken, I will not repeat it here, except to say that in a special camera, made for the purpose, there is a long narrow strip of celluloid film, of the same nature as in the ordinary camera. The pictures are taken on this strip, at the rate of sixteen a second. Later this film is developed, and from that "negative" a "positive" is made. This "positive" is then run through a specially made projecting lantern which magnifies the pictures for the screen.
As Alice and Ruth got out at the floor where most of the scenes were made they heard laughter.
"Something's going on," remarked the younger girl.
"And it doesn't sound like Mr. Sneed, our cheerful 'grouch,' either," answered Ruth.
As they went in they saw Carl Switzer, the German comedian, climbing a high step-ladder with a pail of paste in one hand, and a roll of wall paper in the other. He was in a scene representing a room, which he was to decorate.
"Is diss der right vay to do it?" Mr. Switzer asked, as he paused half way up the ladder, and looked at Mr. Pertell.
"That's it. Now you've got the idea," replied the manager. "Begin over again, and Russ, I guess you can begin to run the film now," for the young moving picture operator was in readiness with his camera.
"You must tremble, and shake the ladder," advised the manager, who was also, in this case, the stage director. "You want to register fear, you see, because you are an amateur paper hanger."
"Yah. Dot's right. I know so leedle about der papering business alretty yet dot I could write a big book on vot I don't know," confessed Mr. Switzer.
"All ready now—tremble and shake!" ordered the manager.
The comic film that was being made was a reproduction of a scene often played in vaudeville theaters, where an amateur paper hanger gets into all sorts of ludicrous mishaps with a bucket of paste, rolls of paper and the step ladder. It was not very new, but had not been done for moving pictures before.
"Here I goes!" called Mr. Switzer. "I am shaking!"
"Good!" encouraged Mr. Pertell. "Now, Mr. Bunn, you come in, as the owner of the house, to see if the paper hanger is doing his work properly. You find he is not, for he is going to put the wrong sort of paper on the ceiling. Then you try to show him yourself."
"Do I wear my tall hat?"
"Oh, yes, of course, and I think Mr. Switzer, you had better let——"
But the directions were never completed, for at that moment, in the excess of his zeal, Mr. Switzer shook the step ladder to such good effect that it toppled over and with him on it.
Down he came on top of Wellington Bunn, in all his dignity and the glory of the tall hat, and paste flew all over, liberally spattering both actors.
A QUEER ACCIDENT
"Get that Russ! Every motion of it!" cried the manager. "That will make it better than when we rehearsed it. Spatter that paste all over Mr. Bunn while you're at it, Mr. Switzer."
"Stop! Stop, I say! I protest. I will not have it!"
"Vell, you goin' to git it, all right!" cried the German, and with the brush he liberally daubed the Shakespearean actor with the white and sticky stuff. All the other players were laughing at the ridiculous scene.
"More paste!" ordered Mr. Pertell. "More paste there, Mr. Switzer. Don't be afraid of it, Mr. Bunn! It's clean!"
"Oh, this is awful—this is terrible!" groaned the tragic actor. "My hat is ruined."
And such did seem to be the case, for the shining silk tile was filled with paste, the outside also being well covered.
Mr. Bunn tried to get away from the slapping brush of Mr. Switzer, but the German was not to be outwitted. The two had fallen to the floor under the impact of the comic player, and were now tangled up in the ladder.
"That's good! That's good!" laughed Mr. Pertell. "Get all of that, Russ! Every bit!"
"I'm getting it!" cried the operator, as he continued to grind away at the crank of the moving picture camera.
Again Mr. Bunn tried to get up and away, but the ladder, through which his legs had slipped, hampered him. Then a roll of the paper got under the feet of both players. It unreeled, and some paste got on it. The next instant part of it was plastered over Mr. Switzer's face, and, being unable to see, he pawed about wildly, spattering more paste all over, much of it getting on Mr. Bunn.
"Better than ever. Use some more of that paper!" ordered the manager. "Paste some on Mr. Switzer, if you can, Mr. Bunn."
"Oh, I can all right!" cried the older actor. "Here is where I have my revenge!"
He scooped up a hand full of paste, spread it on a piece of paper, and clapped it over the face of the German, for that player had removed the first piece that was stuck on. And thus they capered about in the scenic room, making a chaos of it.
Russ took all the pictures for the future amusement of thousands who attended the darkened theaters.
Of course it was horseplay, pure and simple, and yet audiences go into paroxysms of mirth over much the same things. The love of slap-stick comedy has not all died out, and the managers realize this.
"I don't know when I've laughed so much," confessed Alice, holding her aching sides as she sat down near Ruth, when the little comedy was over.
"Nor I, my dear. I think the old saying is true, after all, that 'a little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the best of men.'"
"This was certainly nonsense," admitted Alice. "Oh, come over and let's see Miss Pennington and Miss Dixon in that new play—'Parlor Magic.' It's very interesting, and rather funny."
The two older actresses were to play in a little scene where a young man—in this case Paul Ardite—attempted to do some tricks he had been studying. He was supposed to come to grief in making an omelet in a silk hat, and have other troubles when he tried to take rabbits out of parlor vases, and such like nonsense.
This was one of the trick films—that is, it was not a straight piece of work. It depended for its success on the manipulation of the camera, on substituting dummies for real persons or animals at certain points, the interposition of films and many other things too technical to put into a book that is only intended to amuse you.
"How are you?" asked Miss Pennington, as Ruth and Alice came over to their side of the studio. "You are looking quite well."
"And we are well," answered Alice. "We want to see you act," for the filming had not yet begun.
"For instruction or amusement?" asked Miss Dixon, and her voice had something of a sneer in it. She and her chum were not on the most friendly terms with Ruth and Alice.
"Both amusement and instruction," responded Alice, sweetly—in a doubly sweet voice under the circumstances. "One can learn from anyone, you know," and she pretended to be interested in one of the tricks Paul was practicing while getting ready for the camera.
Alice could say things with a double meaning at times, and probably this was one of them.
"Oh!" was all Miss Dixon said, and then she called: "Paul, come here; won't you? I want you to fasten my glove."
"Certainly," he agreed, with a look at Alice which was meant to say: "I don't want to do this, but I can't very well get out of it."
Paul, I might add, had been quite interested in Miss Dixon before the advent of Alice, and the vaudeville actress rather resented the change. She took advantage of every opportunity to make Paul fetch and carry for her as he had been wont to do.
The parlor magic play was successfully filmed and then, as Alice and Ruth had some shopping to do, to get their costumes ready for their appearance before the camera next day, they prepared to leave. They stopped for a moment, however, to watch their father in his play—"A Heart's Cavalier." This was rather a pretentious drama, and called for really good acting, the nature of which appealed to the veteran player.
It was really a delight to watch him, for he gave a finished performance, and the loss of his voice was no handicap here. He could whisper the words, or utter them in a low tone, so that the motion of his lips might be seen by the audience.
If you have ever seen motion pictures, and I am sure you all have, you know that often you can tell exactly what the characters are saying by watching the form of their lips.
Deaf persons, who have learned to know what other persons are saying, merely by watching their lips, are able to "hear" much more than can the ordinary individual what goes on in moving pictures. In this they have a distinct advantage.
But of course the story the celluloid film tells is mostly conveyed by the action of the characters, and Mr. DeVere was an expert in this.
"Good-bye, Daddy," called Alice, when he was out of the scene for a moment. "We'll be back, and you can take us out to lunch."
"All right," he laughed. "Make your poor old daddy spend his hard-earned money, will you?"
"You know you're just crazy to do it," said Ruth. "Come on Alice."
The next day called for hard work for both the moving picture girls, and there were a number of outdoor scenes to do. They were glad of this change, however.
Some of the scenes Ruth and Alice had parts in, as well as Paul Ardite, were filmed out in Bronx Park, with the still natural wildness of that beauty spot as background. One scene was down near the beaver pond, and with the snow on the ground, and the sleet still on the trees, the pictures afterward turned out to be most effective. Special permission had to be obtained to use the camera in the park, there being a rule against it.
Alice had one part which called for feeding the birds with crumbs scattered over the snow. And, just when they wanted this not a bird—even a sparrow—was in sight. In vain they went to different parts of the park, looking for some, and scattered many crumbs.
"I guess we'll have to give it up, and come back some other time," Russ said finally. "I don't want to make another trip, either," he went on. "It wastes so much time, and we're going to be be very busy soon."
"What about those new plans?" asked Ruth.
"They are to be announced to-morrow, I believe," was the answer. "A lot of snow dramas are to be filmed."
"Good!" cried Alice. "I love the snow."
"Oh, quick! There are some birds!" called Ruth. "See, over there, Alice. Scatter the crumbs!"
Russ had them in his pocket in readiness, and soon the snow was covered. The birds did their part well, and as Alice stood near them, throwing crumbs to the hungry sparrows and starlings, they fluttered about her, and flocked at her feet.
"Good!" cried Russ, who was busy with the camera. "It couldn't be better. This will make a fine film."
Alice presented a pretty picture as she stood there in her furs, scattering crumbs to the birds, and the little feathered creatures proved the best sort of actors, for they were not self-conscious, and did not stop to peer at the camera, the clicking of which they did not mind in the least.
"Well, that's done; now I think we'll go back," Russ said, when he had ascertained, by looking at the register on the side of the camera, that enough feet of the film had been used on that scene. For, in order to have each scene get its proper amount of space, both as regards time and length of film a strict watch is kept on how much celluloid is used.
A manager, or director, will decide on the importance of the various scenes, and then divide up the film, giving so many feet to each act.
The standard length of film is a thousand feet. It comes in thousand foot reels, but some plays are so elaborate that two, three or even seven reels have been given up to them. Great scenic productions, such as "Quo Vadis?" use up many thousand feet of film.
Russ and the two girls, with Paul, started back from the Bronx. They were to stop in at the studio, but on reaching there the girls found that their father had gone home, leaving a note saying he was going to see the doctor about his throat.
"Poor daddy!" murmured Ruth. "He does have such trouble!"
"Has Merley bothered him again?" asked Russ.
"No, he has heard nothing from him," answered Alice. "But daddy worries about it. Five hundred dollars means more to him now than five thousand may later. For I hope daddy will get rich some day," she finished, with a laugh.
The three walked on together to the subway, and got out at the station nearest their house. On the way they had to cross one of the surface car lines, and, just as they reached the corner, they heard a shout of alarm or warning, evidently directed at someone in danger from an approaching electric car.
"What is it?" cried Ruth, clinging to Alice.
"I don't know," answered the younger girl. "Oh, yes, there it is!" she cried, pointing.
Three men were on the car tracks, and two of them seemed to be trying to pull one away, out of the path of an approaching car. The shouts came from a number of pedestrians who had seen the danger of the man.
The latter seemed to be caught by the foot on the rail, though how this was possible was difficult to understand, as the rail was flat.
The motorman was doing his best to stop the car, but the rails were slippery and it was easily seen that he could not do it. Then he added his shouts to those of the others.
"Oh, he'll be killed!" cried Alice, covering her face with her hands. Ruth had also turned aside.
"No, he won't!" cried Russ, with conviction. "They'll get him off, I think. There! He's free! I guess they took off his shoe."
As he spoke the girls looked, and they saw the man fall in a peculiar way, to one side, so as to be out of the path of the car, which swept past him. The vehicle, however, seemed to hit him, but of this neither Russ nor the girls could be sure.
"That's a queer accident," murmured Russ, as he started toward the scene of it. "Come on, girls."
Ruth and Alice went with him. There was a little crowd about the fallen man, and at the sight of the fellow's face Alice suddenly cried:
"Look! That is Dan Merley!"
Alice's announcement caused her sister to start in surprise. Ruth looked as if she could not understand, and Alice repeated:
"See, the man who fell is Dan Merley—the one who says daddy owes him five hundred dollars."
"I believe you're right!" agreed Russ, who had had a good look at the impudent fellow the night he invaded the DeVere rooms. "And I know one of those other men—at least by sight. His name is Jagle. Let's see what is going on here."
Fortunately no very large crowd gathered, so the girls felt it would be proper for them to remain, particularly as the accident was not of a distressing nature.
The motorman had stopped his car and had run back to the scene with the conductor.
"What's the matter here? What did you want to get in the way of the car for, anyhow?" demanded the motorman. He was nervously excited, and the reaction at finding, after all, he had not killed a man, made him rather angry.
"Matter? Matter enough, I should say!" replied one of the men with Merley. "My friend is badly hurt. Someone get an ambulance! Fripp, you call one."
"That was Jagle who spoke," Russ whispered to the girls. "But I don't know the other one."
"He doesn't seem to be badly hurt," remarked the motorman. The conductor, with a little pad and pencil, was getting the names of witnesses to be used in case suit was brought. This is always done by street car companies, in order to protect themselves.
"Hurt? Of course he's hurt!" exclaimed the man Russ called Jagle. "See that cut on his head!"
There was a slight abrasion on Merley's forehead, but it did not seem at all serious.
"Aren't you hurt, Dan?" asked Jagle.
"Of course I am!" was the answer. "I'm hurt bad, too. Get me home, Jim."
"If he's hurt the best place for him is a hospital," remarked the motorman. "But I can't see where he's hurt."
"I can't walk, I tell you," whined Merley, and he attempted to get up, but fell back. One of his friends caught him in his arms.
"There, you see! Of course he's hurt!" declared Jagle. "Go call an ambulance, Fripp."
"I'll get an ambulance if he really needs one," spoke a policeman, who had just come up on seeing the crowd. "Where are you hurt?"
"Something's the matter with my legs," declared Merley. "I can't use my right one, and the left one is hurt, too. My foot got caught between the rail and a piece of ice, and I couldn't get loose. My friends tried to help me, but they couldn't get me away in time. I'm hurt, and I'm hurt bad, I tell you! I think one of my legs must be run over."
"Nothing like that!" declared the motorman. "There's been no legs run over by my car!"
That was very evident.
"Get me away from here," groaned Merley.
"Well, if you're really hurt I'll call an ambulance and have you taken to the hospital," offered the policeman as he went to turn in a call.
"I sure am hurt," insisted Merley. "Why, I can hardly move now," and he seemed to stiffen all over, though there was no visible sign of injury.
"Why doesn't someone get a doctor?" a boy in the crowd asked.
"There'll be one in de hurry-up wagon!" exclaimed another urchin. "A feller in a white suit—dem's doctors. I know, cause me fadder was in de 'ospital onct."
Merley's two friends carried him to a drug store not far from the scene of the accident. Ruth and Alice shrank back as he was borne past them, for they feared he might recognize them, and cause a scene. But if he saw them, which is doubtful, he gave no sign.
"Here comes de hurry-up wagon!" cried the lad who had thus designated the ambulance. "Let's see 'em shove him on de stretcher! Say dis is great!"
"I think we had better be going, Alice, dear," said Ruth. "Daddy wouldn't like us to be in this crowd."
"Oh, I want to stay and see what happens. Besides, it might be important," Alice objected. "This is Dan Merley, who might make trouble for papa. We ought to see what happens to him. I think that whole accident was queer. He didn't seem to be hit at all, and yet he says he can't move. We ought to stay."
"If you want to go, I'll stay and let you know what happens," offered Russ. "I don't mind."
"Perhaps that would be best," said Ruth.
"All right," agreed Alice, and she and her sister, with a last look at the crowd around the ambulance, started for their apartment.
Russ came along a little later.
"What happened?" asked Ruth, when he had knocked on the door of their hall and had been admitted.
"Not much," he replied. "They took Merley home, instead of to a hospital. He wouldn't go to an institution, he said."
"Did those other two men go with him?" asked Alice.
"Who, Fripp and Jagle? No, they wouldn't be allowed to ride on the ambulance. But they got a taxicab and went off in that. I heard Jagle say to the ambulance surgeon, that he was a doctor, and that he'd attend his friend when he got him home."
"Is Jagle a doctor?" asked Alice. "He didn't look like one."
"He's a sort of doctor," Russ replied. "I think he's a quack, myself. I wouldn't have him for a sick cat. But he calls himself a doctor and surgeon. So that's all that happened."
"It was enough, anyhow," remarked Ruth. "I don't like to see anybody hurt."
"I'm not so sure that fellow was hurt," said Russ, slowly.
"What do you mean?" Alice asked, curiously.
"Well, he might have imagined he was. I guess he was pretty well scared at seeing that car come down on him. But I watched when he was put in the ambulance and he seemed as well as either of his friends. Only he kept insisting that he could not walk."
"It was certainly a queer accident," said Alice. "But, in spite of the fact that he is a bad man, and wants to make trouble for daddy, I hope he isn't seriously hurt."
"I don't believe it is serious," said Russ. "But it might easily have been, though, if he had fallen in front of the car instead of away from it."
"Well, there is nothing that hasn't its good side," remarked Ruth. "Emerson's idea of the law of compensation works out very nicely in this case."
"Kindly translate, sister mine," invited Alice, laughingly.
"Why, you know Emerson holds that one advantage makes up for each defect. In this case Merley has had an accident—a defect. That may cause him to stop annoying daddy—a distinct advantage to us."
"Oh, Ruth, how queer you are!" exclaimed Alice with a laugh. "I never heard of such an idea."
"Who was this Emerson—a moving picture fellow?" asked Russ.
"No, he was a great writer," explained Ruth. "I'll let you take one of his books."
"I wish you would," said Russ, seriously. "I never had much of a chance to get an education, but I like to know things."
"So do I," agreed Ruth. "I never tire of Emerson."
Mr. DeVere was surprised when he heard about the accident to Merley.
"I can't understand it," said the girls' father. "He must have been hurt, and yet—er—was he in a sensible condition, Russ?"
"Oh, yes, he seemed to be himself, all right," the young moving picture operator replied, thoughtfully. "I haven't gotten to the bottom of it myself."
And indeed it developed that there was a strange plot back of the accident—a plot which involved the moving picture girls in an amazing way, as will soon appear.
But puzzle over the odd accident as they might, neither Mr. DeVere, his daughters, nor Russ could understand what it involved.
"At any rate, as you say, Ruth," the actor remarked with a smile, "there is some compensation. He may not annoy me for some time; and, meanwhile, I may think of a plan to prove I really paid that money."
"I hope so, Daddy!" she exclaimed. "Is your throat any better?"
"Yes, much," he replied with a smile. "Dr. Rathby is going to try a new kind of spray treatment, and I had the first one this afternoon. It helped me wonderfully."
"That's good!" exclaimed Alice.
The next day's papers contained a slight reference to the accident. It was not important enough to warrant much space, and about all that was said was that Merley claimed to have received an injury that made him helpless, though its nature was a puzzle to the physician sent around by the street car company.
"Well, if he's helpless, and the Lord knows I wish that to no man," said Mr. DeVere, reverently, "he will not come here bothering you girls again. If he confines his attacks to me I do not so much mind, but he must leave you alone."
"That's what I say!" cried Russ.
When Mr. DeVere and his daughters arrived at the moving picture studio that afternoon, for they were not to report until then, they found notices posted, requesting all members of the company to remain after rehearsal to hear an "important announcement."
"I wonder what it can be?" said Ruth.
"Probably it's about the new plans Mr. Pertell has been working on," suggested Alice.
"I think so," Russ said. He knew something of them, but had not permission to reveal them.
And this proved to be the case. After the day's work was ended, and it included the filming of several scenes for important dramas, Mr. Pertell called his players together, and said:
"Ladies and gentlemen—also Tommy and Nellie, for you will be in on this, I hope—we are going to leave New York City again, and be together in a new place to make a series of plays."
"Leave New York!" gasped Miss Pennington.
"I hope we don't go to Oak Farm again!" cried Miss Dixon. "I want to be in some place where I can get a lobster now and then."
"There will be no lobsters at Deerfield!" said Mr. Pertell, with a smile, "unless there are some of the canned variety."
"How horrid!" complained Miss Pennington.
"Will there be deers there?" asked Tommy, with big eyes.
"I think there will, sonny," answered the manager.
"Reindeers—like Santa Claus has?" little Nellie wanted to know.
"Well, I guess so!" laughed Mr. Pertell. "At any rate, I plan to take you all there."
"Where is Deerfield, if one may ask?" inquired Miss Dixon, pertly.
"Deerfield is a sort of backwoods settlement, in one of our New England States," explained the manager. "It is rather isolated, but I want to go there to get some scenes for moving pictures with good snow, and ice effects as backgrounds."
"Are there good hotels there?" Miss Pennington demanded.
"We are going to stop in a big hunting lodge, that I have hired for the occasion," Mr. Pertell replied. "I think you will like it very much."
"Hold on! One moment!" exclaimed Mr. Sneed, the grouchy actor. "You may count me out of this! I shall go to no backwoods, in the middle of winter, and freeze. I cannot stand the cold. I shall resign at once!"
"One moment. Before you decide that, I have something else to say to you," said Mr. Pertell, and there was a smile on his face.
OFF TO THE WOODS
The moving picture players looked curiously at the manager, and then at Mr. Sneed. They were used to this action on his part, and also on the part of Mr. Bunn—that of resigning when anything did not suit them. But matters with either of them seldom went farther than the mere threat.
"I know it will not be as pleasant, as regards weather conditions, at Elk Lodge, Deerfield, as it was at Oak Farm," said Mr. Pertell. "But the lodge is a big building, very quaint and picturesque, I have been told, and it has all the comforts, and many of the conveniences, of life. There are big, open fireplaces, and plenty of logs to burn. So you will not freeze."
"Open fires are always cold," complained Mr. Sneed. "You roast on one side, and freeze on the other."
"Oh, I think it won't be quite as bad as that," laughed the manager. "But that is not all I have to say. In consideration of the fact that there will be some inconveniences, in spite of all I can do, I am willing to make an increase of ten per cent. in the salaries of all of you, including Tommy and Nellie," and he smiled at the two children.
"Oh, goodie! I'm going!" cried the small lad.
"So'm I," voiced his sister.
There was a moment of silence, while all the members of the company looked at Mr. Sneed, who had raised the first contention. He seemed to think that it was necessary for him to say something.
"Ah—ahem!" he began.
"Yes?" spoke Mr. Pertell, questioningly.
"In view of all the facts, and er—that I would have to give two weeks' notice, and under all the circumstances, I think—er—I will withdraw my resignation, if you will allow me," the grouchy actor went on, in a lofty manner.
"Ah!" laughed Mr. Pertell. "Then we will consider it settled, and you may all begin to pack up for Elk Lodge as soon as you please."
"When are we to leave?" asked Mr. DeVere.
"In a few days now. I have one more play I want to stage in New York, and then we will leave for the country where we can study snow and ice effects to better advantage than here. We want to get out into the open. Russ, I must have a talk with you about films. I think, in view of the fact that the lights out in the open, reflected by the snow, will be very intense and high, a little change in the film and the stop of the camera will be necessary."
"I think so myself," agreed the young moving picture operator. "In fact, I have been working on a little device that I can attach to our cameras to cut down the amount of light automatically. It consists of a selenium plate with a battery attachment——"
"Oh, spare us the dreadful details!" interrupted Miss Pennington, who was of a rather frivolous nature.
"Well, there is no longer need of detaining you," spoke Mr. Pertell. "Work for the day is over. We will meet again to-morrow and film 'A Mother's Sorrow,' and that will be the last New York play for some time. I presume it will take a week to get ready to go to Deerfield, as there are many details to look after."
"Oh, I just can't wait until it's time to go to the backwoods!" cried Alice, as she and Ruth were on their way home that evening. "Aren't you crazy about it, sister mine?"
"Well, not exactly crazy, Alice. You do use such—er—such strong expressions!"
"Well, I have strong feelings, I suppose."
"I know, but you must be more—more conservative."
"I know you were going to say 'lady-like,' but you didn't dare," laughed Alice.
"Well, consider it said, my dear," went on Ruth, in all seriousness, for she felt that she must, in a measure, play the part of a mother to her younger sister.
"I don't want to consider anything!" laughed Alice, "except the glorious fun we are going to have. Oh, Ruth, even the prospect of that dreadful Dan Merley making daddy pay the debt over again can't dampen my spirits now. I'm so happy!"
She threw her arms about Ruth and attempted a few turns of the one-step glide.
"Oh, stop! I'm slipping!" cried Ruth, for the sidewalk was icy. "Alice, let me go!"
"Not until you take a few more steps! Now dip!"
"But, Alice! I'm going to fall! I know I am! There! I told you——"
But Ruth did not get a chance to use the favorite expression of Mr. Sneed, if such was her intention. For she really was about to fall when a young man, who was passing, caught her, and saved her from a tumble.
"Oh!" she gasped, in confusion, as she recovered her balance.
"I beg your pardon," laughed the young fellow, with sparkling eyes.
"I should beg yours!" faltered Ruth, with a blush.
"It was all my fault—I wanted her to dance!" cried Alice, willing to accept her share of the blame.
"Yes, this weather makes one feel like dancing," the young fellow agreed, and then with a bow he passed on.
"Alice how could you?" cried Ruth.
"How could I what?"
"Make me do that."
"I didn't mean to. Really, he was nice; wasn't he? And say, did you notice his eyes?"
"Oh, Alice, you are hopeless!" and Ruth had to laugh.
The two moving picture girls reached home without further mishap, if mishap that could be called, though all the way Alice insisted on waltzing about happily, and trying in vain to get Ruth to join in, and try the new steps. Passersby more than once turned to look at the two pretty girls, who made a most attractive picture.
The drama next day was successfully filmed and then followed a sort of week's vacation, while the picture players prepared for the trip to the woods.
They were to go by train to Hampton Junction, the nearest station to Deerfield. This last was only a small settlement once the center of an important lumber industry, but now turned into a hunting preserve, owned by a number of rich men. As the Lodge was not in use this season, Mr. Pertell had engaged it for his company.
In due time the baggage was all packed, the various "properties" had been shipped by Pop Snooks and everything was ready for the trip. The journey from the railroad station at Hampton Junction to Elk Lodge, in Deerfield, was to be made in big four-horse sleds, several of them having been engaged, for it was reported that the snow was deep in the woods. Winter had set in with all its severity there.
Finally all the members of the company were gathered at the Grand Central Terminal, New York. The players attracted considerable attention, for there was that air of the theater about them which always seems so fascinating to the outsider, who knows so little of the really hard work that goes on behind the footlights. Most of the glitter is in front, in spite of appearances.
"Why, it's like setting off for Oak Farm!" remarked Alice, as she stood beside her sister, Paul and Russ.
"Only there isn't any mystery in prospect," spoke Paul. "I wonder how the Apgars are getting on, now that their farm is safe?"
"They're probably sitting about a warm fire, talking about it," Russ said.
"There may be just as much of a mystery in the backwoods as there was at Oak Farm, if we can only come across it," suggested Alice. "I wish we could discover something queer."
"Oh, Alice!" protested Ruth.
Mr. Sneed was observed to be walking about, peering at the various sign boards on which the destination of trains was given.
"What are you looking for?" asked Russ.
"I want to see that we don't start out on track thirteen as we did when we went to Oak Farm, and had the wreck," the actor answered. "I've had enough of hoodoos."
"You're all right this time—we leave from track twenty-seven," called Mr. Pertell. "All aboard for Deerfield and Elk Lodge!"
There was snow everywhere. Never could Ruth, Alice, and the other members of the Comet Film Company remember so much at one time. They seemed to have entered the Polar regions.
Along the tracks of the railroad the white flakes were piled in deep drifts, and when they swept out from a patch of woodland, and had a view across the fields, or down into some valley, they could see a long, unbroken stretch of white.
"It sure is some snow," observed Russ, who sat in the seat with Ruth, while Paul had pre-empted a place beside Alice. This last in spite of the fact that Miss Dixon invitingly had a seat ready for the young actor beside herself. But she was forced to be content with a novel for companionship.
"Yes, and we're going to get more snow," remarked Mr. Sneed, who sat behind Russ. "We'll get so much that the train will be delayed, and we'll have to stay on it all night; that's what will happen."
"Und ve vill starf den; ain't dot so?" inquired Mr. Switzer, with a jolly laugh from across the aisle. "Ve vill starf alretty; vill ve not, mine gloomy friendt?"
"We sure will," predicted the grouch of the company. "They took the dining car off at the last station, and I understand there isn't another one to be had until we get to Hampton Junction. We sure will starve!"
"Ha! Dot is vot ve vill not do!" laughed Mr. Switzer, with conviction. "See, I haf alretty t'ought of dot, und I haf provided. Here are pretzels!" and he produced a large bag of them from his grip. "Ve vill not starf!"
"Ha! Pretzels!" scoffed Mr. Sneed. "I never eat them!"
"Maybe you vill before you starf!" chuckled Mr. Switzer, as he replaced them. "I like dem much!"
The other members of the company laughed—all but Mr. Sneed and Wellington Bunn. The former went forward to consult a brakeman as to the prospects of the train becoming snowbound, while Mr. Bunn, who wore his tall hat, and was bundled up in a fur coat, huddled close to the window, and doubtless dreamed of the days when he had played Shakespearean roles; and wondered if he would play them again.
The train went on, not that any great speed was attained, for the grade was up hill, and there had been heavy storms. There was also the prospect of more snow, and this, amid the rugged hills of New England, was not reassuring.
"But we expect hard weather up here," said Mr. Pertell to his company. "The more snow and ice we have, the better pictures we can get."
"That's right!" agreed Russ.
"Humph! I'm beginning to wish I hadn't come," growled Mr. Sneed, who had received information from a brakeman to the effect that trains were often snowbound in that part of the State.
A few feathery flakes began falling now, and there was the promise of more in the clouds overhead, and in the sighing of the North wind.
"Does your throat hurt you much, Daddy?" asked Ruth, as she noticed her father wrapping a silk handkerchief closer about his neck.
"Just a little; I think it is the unusual cold," he replied. "But I do not mind it. The air is sharper here than in New York; but it is drier. Perhaps it may do me good. I think I will use my spray," and he got out his atomizer.
There were not many passengers beside the members of the film theatrical company in the car in which Ruth and her sister rode. Among them, however, were two young ladies, about the age of Alice, and as Ruth went down the aisle once, to get a drink of water, she noted that one of the strangers appeared to be ill.
"Pardon me," spoke Ruth, with ready sympathy, "but can I do anything to help you?"
"She has a bad headache," replied the other. "My sister always gets one when she travels. Fortunately we have not much farther to go."
"Oh, Helen, I shall be so glad when we get there," said the suffering one.
"Never mind, Mabel, we will soon be there," soothed the other.
"If you don't mind—I'd like to give you my smelling salts," offered Ruth. "They always help me when I have a headache, which is seldom, I'm glad to say."
"I wish I could say that," murmured the afflicted one.
"Suppose you let me give the bottle to you," suggested Ruth. "I'll have my sister bring some spirits of cologne, too. Then you can bathe your head."
"You are very kind," responded the other.
Soon the four girls were in the ladies' compartment of the parlor car in which the picture company was traveling. There was a lounge there, and on this the girl called Mabel was soon receiving the ministrations of the others.
Her head was bathed in the fragrant cologne, and the use of the smelling salts relieved the slight feeling of indisposition that accompanied the headache.
"I feel so much better now," she declared, after a little. "I—I think I could sleep."
"That would be the best thing for you, my dear," said Ruth, as she smoothed her hair. "Come," she whispered to the others, "we will sit back here and let her rest," and she motioned them to come into the curtained-off recess of the compartment.
There the other girl said that she and her sister were on their way to visit relatives over the holidays. They were Mabel and Helen Madison, of New York.
"And right after Christmas we're going to Florida," Helen confided to Ruth and Alice.
"Oh, it must be lovely there, under the palms!" exclaimed the latter. "I do so want to go."
"It is quite a contrast to this, I should imagine," remarked Ruth, as she gazed out of the window on the snowy scene.
"Does your company ever get as far as Florida?" asked Helen, for Ruth and Alice had told her their profession.
"We haven't yet," replied Ruth, "though once, when we were small, daddy played in St. Augustine, and we were there. But I don't remember anything about it."
"We are going to a little resort on Lake Kissimmee," said Helen Madison. "Perhaps we may see you there, if you ever make pictures in Florida."
"I hardly think we are going that far," observed Ruth. "But if we do we shall look for you."
Ruth little realized then how prophetic her words were, nor how she and Alice would actually "look" for the two girls.
A little later Mabel awakened from a doze, and announced that her head felt much better. Then, as it would soon be time for her and her sister to get off, for they were nearing their destination, they went back to their seats to get their luggage in readiness.
"I like them; don't you?" asked Alice, as she and Ruth rejoined their friends.
"Indeed I do! They seem very sweet girls. I would like to meet them again."
"So would I. Perhaps we shall. It would be lovely if we could go to Florida, after our winter work is over. I'm going to ask Mr. Pertell if there's any likelihood of our doing so."
But Alice did not get the opportunity just then, as she and Ruth went to the door to bid their new girl acquaintances good-bye. Then came the announcement that in a short time Hampton Junction would be reached.
"Better be getting your possessions together," advised Mr. Pertell to his company. "It is getting late and I don't want to have you travel too much after dark."
The train came to a stop at Hampton Junction, and from the car emerged the picture players. Ranged alongside the small building that served as the depot were several large sleighs, known in that country as "pungs," the bodies being filled with clean straw. There were four horses to each, and the jingle of their bells made music on the wintry air.
"Oh, we're going to have a regular straw ride!" cried Alice, clapping her hands at the sight of the comfortable-looking sleighs. "Isn't this jolly, Ruth?"
"I'm sure it will be, yes. Come now, have you everything?"
"Everything, and more too!"
"Daddy, are you all right?" went on Ruth, for she had gotten into the habit, of late, of looking after her father, who seemed to lean on her more and more as she grew older.
"Everything, daughter," he replied. "And my throat feels much better. I think the cold air is doing it good."
"That's fine!" she laughed, happily. "Now I wonder which of these sleighs is ours?"
"I'll tell you in a minute," said Mr. Pertell. "I want to see the lodge-keeper. Oh, there he is! Hello, Jake Macksey!" he called to the sturdy man, in big boots, who was stalking about among the sleds, "is everything all right for us?"
"Everything, Mr. Pertell," was the hearty answer. "We'll have you out to Elk Lodge in a jiffy. My wife has got a lot of stuff cooked up, for she thought you'd be hungry."
"Indeed we are!" grumbled Mr. Sneed.
"But if dere iss stuff cooked I can safe mine pretzels!" chuckled Mr. Switzer.
The baggage was stowed in one sled, and in the others the members of the picture company distributed themselves.
"All right?" asked Jake Macksey, who was a veteran guide and hunter, and in charge of Elk Lodge.
"All ready!" answered Mr. Pertell.
"Drive lively now, boys!" called the hunter. "It's getting late, and will soon be dark, and the roads aren't any too good."
"Oh my!" groaned Mr. Sneed. "I'm sure something will happen!"
With cracks of the whips, and a jingling of sleighbells, the little cavalcade started off. The gloom settled slowly down, but Ruth and Alice helped dispel it by singing lively songs. Over the snow-covered road they went, now on a comparatively level place, and again down into some hollow where the drifts were deep. The horses pulled nobly.
They came to a narrow place in the road, where the snow was piled high on either side. There was room for but one sled at a time.
"I hope we don't meet anyone here," said Mr. Macksey. "If they do we'll have a hard job passing. G'lang there!" he called to his horses.
They were half-way through the snow defile, when the leading sleigh, in which rode Ruth and Alice, swerved to one side. There was a crashing sound, a splintering of wood, and the two forward horses went down in a heap.
"Whoa! Whoa!" called Mr. Macksey, as he reined in the others.
"What's happened?" asked Mr. DeVere.
"Some sort of a breakdown," answered the hunter.
"Serious?" the actor wanted to know, trying to peer ahead in the gloom.
"I can't tell yet," was the answer. "Here, can someone hold the reins while I get out?" he asked.
"I will," offered Russ, and he held the rear team. The horses who had fallen had struggled to their feet and were quiet now. But the front part of the sled seemed to have sagged into the snow.
"I thought so!" exclaimed Mr. Macksey, as he got up after peering under the vehicle. "No going on like this."
"What happened?" asked Alice.
"One of the forward runners has broken. There must have been a defect in it I didn't notice."
"Can't we go on?" asked Mr. Sneed.
"Not very well," was the answer. "We've broken down, and unfortunately we're the leading sleigh. I don't know how to get the others past it."
"Well, I knew something would happen," sighed the human grouch. And he seemed quite gratified that his prediction had been verified.
The two other sleds had, as a matter of necessity, come to a halt behind the first one. The defile in the snow was so narrow that there could be no passing. Those who had broken the road through the drifts had not been wise enough to make a wide path, and now the consequences must be taken.
In fact it would have been a little difficult to make at this point a path wide enough for two sleighs. The road went between two rocky walls, and though in the summer, when there was no snow, two vehicles could squeeze past, in the winter the piling up of the snow on either side made an almost impassable barrier.
To turn out to right or left was out of the question, for the snow was so deep that the horses would have floundered helplessly in it.
"Well, what's to be done?" asked Mr. DeVere, as he buttoned his coat collar up around his neck, and looked at his two daughters.
"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you all to get out," said Mr. Macksey. "I want to get a better look at that broken runner, and see if it's possible to mend it. Bring up a lantern," he called to one of the drivers of the other sleds. "We'll soon need it."
The moving picture players in the broken-down sled piled out into the snow. Fortunately they had come prepared for rough weather, and wore stout shoes. Ruth and Alice, as well as Russ and Paul, laughed at the plight, and Mr. Switzer, with a chuckle, exclaimed:
"Ha! Maybe mine pretzels vill come in useful after all!"
"That's no joke—maybe they will," observed Mr. Sneed, gloomily. "We may have to stay here all night."
"Oh, we could walk to Elk Lodge if we had to," put in Mr. Macksey, as he took the lantern which the other driver brought up.
"It wouldn't be very pleasant," replied Mr. Sneed, "with darkness soon to be here, and a storm coming up."
"You're right about the storm, I'm afraid," answered the veteran hunter. "I don't like the looks of the weather a bit. And it sure will be dark soon. But we'll have a look at this sled," he went on. "Give me a hand here, Tom and Dick," he called to the other drivers, who had left their teams.
They managed to prop up the sled, so a better view could be had of the forward runner. Then the extent of the damage was made plain. One whole side had given way, and was useless. It could not even be patched up.
"Too bad!" declared the hunter. "Now, if it had only been the rear sled it wouldn't worry me so.
"For then we could pile the stuff from the back sled into the others, and go on, even if we were a bit crowded. But with the front sled blocking this narrow road, I don't see how we are to go on."
"If we could only jump the two rear sleds over this broken one, it would be all right," said Alice. "It's like one of those moving block puzzles, where you try to get the squares in a certain order without lifting any of them out."
"That's it," agreed Mr. Macksey. "But it's no easy matter to jump two big sleds, and eight horses, over another sled and four horses. I've played checkers, but never like that," he added.
"But we must do something," insisted Mr. Pertell. "I can't have my company out like this all night. We must get on to Elk Lodge, somehow."
"Well, I don't see how you're going to do it," responded the hunter. "You could walk, of course; but you couldn't take your baggage, and you wouldn't like that."
"Walk? Never! I protest against that!" exclaimed Mr. Bunn.
"'He doth protest too much!'" quoted Paul, in a low voice. "Come on, Ruth—Alice—shall we walk?"
"I'd like to do it—I'm getting cold standing here," cried Alice, stamping her feet on the edge of the road. "Will you, Ruth?"
"I'm afraid we'd better not—at least until we talk to daddy, my dear," was the low-voiced answer. "Perhaps they can get the sled fixed."
But it did not seem so, for Mr. Macksey, with a puzzled look on his face, was talking earnestly to the two drivers. The accident had happened at a most unfortunate time and place.
"We can't even turn around and go back a different road, the way it is," said the hunter. "There isn't room to turn, and everybody knows you can't back a pung very far before getting stuck."
"Then what are we to do?" asked Mr. Pertell.
The hunter did not answer for a minute. Then he said:
"Well, we've got twelve horses here, and I can manage to squeeze the two rear teams past the stalled sled. Then if you'd like to take chances riding them to Elk Lodge——"
"Never!" cried Mr. Bunn, with lively recollections of a time he had ridden a mule at Oak Farm. "I shall stay here forever, first!"
"Well, if you don't want to do that," said Mr. Macksey, and to tell the truth few members of the company seemed in favor of the idea, "if you don't want to do that I might ride on ahead and get a spare sleigh I have at the Lodge. I could get back here before very late, and we'd get home sooner or later."
"And we would have to stay here?" asked Mr. DeVere.
"I see no help for it. There are plenty of blankets in the sleds, and you can huddle down in the straw and keep warm. I'll get back as soon as I can."
There really seemed nothing else to do, and, after talking it over, this plan was practically decided on. But something happened to change it. The wind had been rising constantly, and the snow was ever falling thicker and faster. The players could see only a little way ahead now from the place where they were stalled.
"This would make a good film, if you could get it," remarked Paul to Russ.
"Too dark," replied the camera operator. "Do you know, I don't like this," he went on in a low voice to the young actor.
"You don't like what?" Paul wanted to know.
"The way this weather is acting. I think there's going to be a big storm, and here we are, stalled out in the open. It will be hard for the girls and the women, to say nothing of Tommy and Nellie."
"That's what it will, Russ; but what can be done?"
As he spoke there came a sudden fierce rush of wind and a flurry of snow. It took the breaths of all, and instinctively they turned from it, for the snow stung their faces. The horses, too, disliked to face the stinging blast, and shifted their places.
"Get behind such shelter as you can!" cried Mr. Macksey, above the roar of the storm. "This is a genuine blizzard and it's death to be unprotected. Get into the sleds, and cover up with the blankets. I'll have to go for help!"
AT ELK LODGE
The warning by Mr. Macksey, no less than the sudden blast of the storm, struck terror to the hearts of not only the moving picture girls, but to all the other players. For it was something to which they were not used—that terrible sweep of wind and blinding snow.
There had been heavy storms in New York, but there the big buildings cut off the force of the wind, except perhaps in some street canyon. But in the backwoods, on this stretch of open fields, there was no protection except that furnished by nature; or, in this case, by the sleds.
For a moment after the veteran hunter had called his warning no one moved. They all seemed paralyzed by fear. Then Mr. Macksey called again:
"Into shelter, every one of you! What do you mean; standing there in this storm? Get under the blankets—crouch down at the side of the sleds. I'll go for help."
"But you—you'll freeze to death—I can't permit you to go!" protested Mr. Pertell, yelling the words into the other's ear, to make himself heard above the storm.
"No, I'm used to this sort of thing!" the hunter replied. "I know a short cut to the lodge, and I can protect myself against the wind. I'll go."
"I don't like it!" repeated Mr. Pertell, while Mr. Macksey was forcing him back toward the protecting sled.
Meanwhile the others, now, if never before, feeling the need of shelter, were struggling through the blinding snow toward the broken sled, from which they had wandered a short time before while listening to the attempts made at solving the problem of getting on.
"Isn't this awful!" gasped Ruth, as she clung to Alice.
"Awful? It's just glorious!" cried the young girl. "I wouldn't have missed it for worlds."
"Oh, Alice, how can you say so? We may all die in this terrible storm!"
"I'm not going to think anything of the kind!" returned the other. "We'll get out of it, somehow, and laugh at ourselves afterward for being so silly as to be afraid. Oh, this is great!"
She was really glorying in the fierce outburst of nature. Perhaps she did not understand, or appreciate, it, for she had never seen anything like it before, and in this case ignorance might have been akin to bliss.
But the others, especially the drivers of the two sleds, with anxious looks on their cold faces, were trying to seek the shelter they so much needed, and also look to the restless horses. For the animals were now almost frantic with their desire to get away from that cutting wind and stinging snow.
"Unhitch 'em all!" roared Mr. Macksey to his men. "Take the horses from the sleds and get 'em back of as much shelter as you can find. Otherwise they may bolt and upset something. I'll take old Bald-face, and see if I can't get some kind of help."
Though what sort of aid he could bring to the picture actors in this time of storm and stress he hardly knew. But he was not going to give up without trying.
Ruth and Alice were trying to struggle back through the snow to their sled, and not making very successful work of it, when they felt arms at their sides helping them, and Russ and Paul came along.
"Fierce; isn't it!" cried Russ in Ruth's ear.
"Awful, and yet this sister of mine pretends that she likes it."
"I do!" declared Alice. "It's glorious. I can't really believe it's a blizzard."
"It's the beginning of one, though," Paul assured her. "I hear the drivers saying so. Their blizzards up here start in with a squall like this, and soon develop into a bad storm. This isn't at its worst yet."
"Well, I hope I see the worst of it!" said Alice.
"Oh, how can you so tempt fate?" asked Ruth, seriously.
"I'm not tempting fate, but I mean I do like to see a great storm—that is, if I'm protected, as I am now," and Alice laughed through the whirling snow into Paul's face, for he had wrapped a fold of his big ulster about her.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Ruth.
"What's the matter?" asked Russ, anxiously.
"I'm so worried."
"Don't be—yet," he said, reassuringly.
"But we may be snowed in here for a week!"
"Never mind—Mr. Switzer still has his pretzels, I believe."
She could not help laughing, in spite of their distress.
"Oh, poor daddy!" cried Alice, as she reached the sled, and Paul prepared to help her in, "he is trying to protect his poor throat." Mr. DeVere wore a heavy coat, the collar of which he had turned up, but even this seemed little protection, and he was now tying a silk handkerchief about his collar.
"I have the very thing for him!" cried Paul, taking off a muffler he wore.
"Oh, but you'll need that!" protested Alice, quickly.
"Not a bit of it—I'm as warm as toast," he answered. "Here you are, sir!" he called to Mr. DeVere, and when the latter, after a weak resistance, had accepted it (for he was really suffering from the cold), Alice thanked Paul with a look that more than repaid him for his knightly self-sacrifice.
The players were by now in the sled, which, in its damaged condition, had been let down as nearly level as possible. The blankets were pulled up over the side, and Mr. Macksey was preparing to unhitch one of the horses, and set off for help. Then one of the drivers gave a sudden cry, and came running up to his employer.
"Look!" he shouted. "The wind's shifted. It's blowing right across the top of this cut now. We'll be protected down here!"
This was indeed true. At the beginning of the squall, which was working up to a blizzard, the wind had swept up the canyon-like defile between the hills of earth and snow. But now the direction of the gale had shifted and was sweeping across the top of the depression. Thus those at the bottom were, in a measure, protected from the blast.
"By hickory!" exclaimed Mr. Macksey, "that's right. The wind has changed. Folks, you'll be all right for a while down here, until I can get help."
"Must you go?" asked Ruth, for now they could talk with more ease. Indeed, so fiercely was the snow sweeping across the top of the gulch that little of it fell into the depression.
"Oh, sure, I've got to get help," the hunter said. "You folks can't stay here all night, even if the wind continues to blow across the top, which makes it much better."
"Indeed and I will not stay here all night!" protested Mr. Bunn. "I most strenuously object to it."
"And so do I!" growled Mr. Sneed. "There is no need of it. I might have known something unpleasant would happen. I had a feeling in my bones that it would."
"Well, you'll have a freezing feeling in your bones if I don't get help," observed Mr. Macksey, grimly.
"And I am hungry, too," went on Mr. Sneed. "Why was not food brought with us in anticipation of this emergency?"
"Haf a pretzel!" offered Mr. Switzer, holding one out.
"Away with the vile thing!" snapped Mr. Sneed.
Mr. Macksey was about to leap on the back of the horse and start off, when the same driver who had noticed the change in the wind called out:
"I say, Mr. Macksey, I have a plan."
"What is it?"
"Maybe you won't have to go for help, after all. Why can't we take the forward bob from under the rear sled and put it in place of the broken one on the first sled? We can easily pass the bob by the second sled even if the place is narrow."
"By hickory! Why didn't you think of that before?" demanded the hunter. "Of course we can do it! Lively now, and we'll make the change. Got to be quick, or it'll be pitch dark."
It would have been very dark long ago had it not been for the snow, which gave a sort of reflected light.