THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS AT PANAMA
Stirring Adventures Along the Great Canal
CHAPTER I TO THE RESCUE II ON THE BRINK III A SURPRISE IV A DELAYED LETTER V ANOTHER SURPRISE VI SOMETHING QUEER VII IN NEW YORK VIII OFF FOR PANAMA IX THE LITTLE BOX X THE SECRET CONFERENCE XI ALONG THE CANAL XII ALMOST AN ACCIDENT XIII IN THE JUNGLE XIV IN DIRE PERIL XV IN CULEBRA CUT XVI THE COLLISION XVII THE EMERGENCY DAM XVIII THE BIG SLIDE XIX JOE'S PLIGHT XX AT GATUN DAM XXI MR. ALCANDO'S ABSENCE XXII A WARNING XXIII THE FLASHLIGHT XXIV THE TICK-TICK XXV MR. ALCANDO DISAPPEARS
THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS AT PANAMA
TO THE RESCUE
With a series of puffs and chugs a big, shiny motor cycle turned from the road into the graveled drive at the side of a white farmhouse. Two boys sat on the creaking saddles. The one at the front handle bars threw forward the clutch lever, and then turned on the power sharply to drive the last of the gases out of the twin cylinders.
The motor cycle came to a stop near a shed, and the two lads, swinging off, looked at each other for a moment.
"Some ride, that!" observed one. "You had her going then, Blake!"
"Just a little, Joe—yes. It was a nice level stretch, and I wanted to see what she could do."
"You didn't let her out to the full at that; did you?"
"I should say not!" answered the one who had ridden in front, and guided the steed of steel and gasoline. "She'll do better than ninety miles an hour on the level; but I don't want to ride on her when she's doing it."
"Nor I. Well, it was a nice little run, all right. Funny, though, that we didn't get any mail; wasn't it?"
"It sure was. I think somebody must be robbing the post-office, for we ought to have had a letter from Mr. Hadley before this," and he laughed at his own joke.
"Yes," agreed Joe, "and I ought to have had one from—"
He stopped suddenly, and a blush suffused the tan of his cheeks.
"Might as well say it as think it," broke in Blake with another laugh that showed his white, even teeth. "Hasn't Mabel written to you this week?"
"What if she hasn't?" fired back Joe.
"Oh, nothing. Only—"
"Only I suppose you are put out because you haven't had a postcard from Birdie Lee!" challenged Joe.
"Oh, well, have it your own way," and Blake, with a shrug of his broad shoulders, began to wheel the motor cycle into the shed.
"No, but it is queer; isn't it?" went on Joe. "Here we've been back from the flood district over two weeks now, and we haven't had a line from Mr. Hadley. He promised to write, too, and let us know what sort of moving pictures he might be in line for next. Our vacation will soon be over, and we don't want to be idle."
"That's right," agreed his chum. "There's no money in sitting around, when the film isn't running. Oh, well, I suppose Mr. Hadley has been so busy that he hasn't had time to make his plans.
"Besides," Blake went on, "you know there was a lot of trouble over the Mississippi flood pictures—reels of film getting lost, and all that—to say nothing of the dangers our friends ran. Birdie Lee said she'd never forget what they suffered."
"I don't blame her. Well, maybe they haven't got straightened out enough yet to feel like writing. But it sure is nice here, and I don't mind if we stay another week or so," and he looked up the pleasant valley, on one side of which was perched the farmhouse where the two moving picture boys had been spending their vacation.
"It sure is nice," agreed Blake. "And it's lots more fun since we got this motor cycle," for they had lately invested in the powerful vehicle on which they had made many trips about the surrounding country.
As Blake went to put the machine in the shed, which their farmer-landlord had allowed them to use, Joe turned to glance back along the road they had come.
The farmhouse was set up on a little hill, above the road, and a glimpse of the highway could be had for a long distance. It was the sight of something coming along this thoroughfare that attracted Joe's attention.
"What are you looking at?" asked Blake, returning after having put away the motor cycle.
"That horse and buggy. Looks to me as though that horse was feeling his oats, and that the fellow driving him didn't know any more about handling the reins than the law allows."
"That's right, Joe. If he doesn't look out he'll have an upset, or a runaway."
The vehicle in question was a light buggy; drawn by a particularly large and spirited horse. Seated in the carriage, as the boys could see from their point of vantage, were two men. Who they were could not be distinguished at that distance, but the carriage was rapidly coming nearer.
"There he goes!" suddenly cried Joe.
As his chum spoke Blake saw that one of the reins had parted, probably because the driver pulled on it too hard in trying to bring the restive steed down to a walk.
Once the spirited horse felt that he was no longer under control, save by one line, which was worse than none, he sprang forward, and at once began to gallop, pulling after him the light carriage, which swayed from side to side, threatening every moment to collapse, overturn, or at least be torn loose from the horse.
"There he goes!" yelled Joe again.
"I should say so!" agreed Blake. "There are going to be some doings soon!"
This was evident, for the horse was running away, a fact not only apparent in itself, but heralded by the looks on the faces of the two occupants of the carriage, and by their frightened cries, which the wind easily carried to the watching Joe Duncan and Blake Stewart.
On the road below them, and past the boys, swept the swaying carriage in a cloud of dust. As it was momentarily lost to sight behind a grassy knoll, Blake cried:
"The broken bridge, Joe! The broken bridge! They're headed right for it!"
"That's right!" exclaimed his chum. "How can we stop them?"
Once having recognized the danger, the next thought that came to the minds of Blake and Joe, trained for emergencies, was how to avert it. They looked at each other for a second, not to gain a delay, but to decide on the best possible plan of saving the imperiled men.
"The broken bridge," murmured Blake again. "That horse will never be able to make the turn into the temporary road, going at the speed he is!"
"No, and he's probably so frightened that he'll not try it," agreed Joe. "He'll crash right through the barrier fence, and—"
He did not finish his sentence, but Blake knew what his chum meant.
About half a mile beyond the farmhouse the road ran over a bridge that spanned a deep and rocky ravine. About a week before there had been an accident. Weakened by the passing of a heavy traction threshing engine, it had been broken, and was ruled unsafe by the county authorities.
Accordingly the bridge had been condemned and partially torn down, a new structure being planned to replace it. But this new bridge was not yet in place, though a frail, temporary span, open only to foot passengers and very light vehicles, had been thrown across the ravine.
The danger, though, was not so much in the temporary bridge, as in the fact that the temporary road, connecting with it, left the main and permanent highway at a sharp curve. Persons knowing of the broken bridge made allowances for this curve, and approached along the main road carefully, to make the turn safely into the temporary highway.
But a maddened horse could not be expected to do this. He would dash along the main road, and would not make the turn. Or, if he did, going at the speed of this one, he would most certainly overturn the carriage.
The main highway was fenced off a short distance on either side of the broken bridge, but this barrier was of so frail a nature that it could not be expected to stop a runaway.
"He'll crash right through it, run out on the end of the broken bridge and——"
Once more Joe did not finish.
"We've got to do something!" cried Blake.
"Yes, but what?" asked Joe.
"We've got to save them!" cried Blake again, as he thought of the two men in the carriage. He had had a glimpse of their faces as the vehicle, drawn by the frenzied horse, swept past him on the road below. One of the men he knew to be employed in the only livery stable of Central Falls, on the outskirts of which he and Joe were spending their holiday. The other man was a stranger. Blake had only seen that he was a young man, rather good-looking, and of a foreign cast of countenance. Blake had momentarily put him down for an Italian.
"The motor cycle!" suddenly cried Joe.
"What?" asked Blake, only half comprehending.
"We might overtake them on the motor cycle!" repeated his chum.
A look of understanding came into Blake's eyes.
"That's right!" he cried. "Why didn't I think of that before, instead of standing here mooning? I wonder if we've got time?"
"We'll make time!" cried Joe grimly. "Get her out, and we'll ride for all we're worth. It'll be a race, Blake!"
"Yes. A race to save a life! Lucky she's got plenty of gas and oil in her."
"Yes, and she hasn't had a chance to cool down. Run her out."
Blake fairly leaped toward the shed where he had wheeled the motor cycle. In another instant he and Joe were trundling it down the gravel walk to the road.
As they reached the highway they could hear, growing fainter and fainter, the "thump-thud," of the hoofs of the runaway horse.
Joe held the machine upright while Blake vaulted to the forward saddle and began to work the pedals to start the motor. The cylinders were still hot from the recent run, and at the first revolution the staccato explosions began.
"Jump up!" yelled Blake in his chum's ear—shouting above the rattle and bang of the exhaust, for the muffler was open.
Joe sprang to leather, but before he was in his seat Blake was letting in the friction clutch, and a moment later, at ever gathering speed, the shining motor cycle was speeding down the road to the rescue. Would Joe and Blake be in time?
ON THE BRINK
"What—what's your plan, Blake?" yelled Joe into his chum's ear, as he sat behind him on the jolting second saddle of the swaying motor cycle.
"What do you mean?" demanded Blake, half turning his head.
"I mean how are you going to stop that runaway, or rescue those fellows?"
"I haven't thought, yet, but if we can get ahead of the horse we may be able to stop him before he gets to the road-barrier or to the dangerous turn."
"That's right!" panted Joe, the words being fairly jolted out of him. "Head him off—I see!"
"Hold fast!" exclaimed Blake, as the conductor does when a trolley car goes around a curve. "Hold fast!"
There was need of the advice, for a little turn in the road was just ahead of them and Blake intended to take it at almost top speed.
Bumping, swaying, jolting, spitting fire and smoke, with a rattle, clatter and bang, on rushed the motor cycle on its errand of rescue.
"Hark!" cried Joe, close to Blake's ear, "Listen!"
"Can't, with all this racket!" yelled back Blake, for he had opened the throttle to gain a little increase of power. "What's the matter?"
"I thought I heard the horse."
"Hearing him won't do any good," observed Blake grimly. "We've got to see him and get ahead!"
And he turned on a little more gasoline.
While Blake and Joe are thus speeding to the rescue of the men in the runaway, we will take a few moments to tell our new readers something about the boys who are to figure prominently in this story.
Joe Duncan and Blake Stewart were called the "Moving Picture Boys," for an obvious reason. They took moving pictures. With their curious box-like cameras, equipped with the thousand feet of sensitive celluloid film, and the operating handle, they had risen from the ranks of mere helpers to be expert operators. And now they were qualified to take moving pictures of anything from a crowd, shuffling along the street, to a more complicated scene, such as a flood, earthquake or volcanic eruption. And, incidentally, I might mention that they had been in all three of these last situations.
The first volume of this series is called "The Moving Picture Boys," and in that I introduced to you Blake and Joe.
They worked on adjoining farms, and one day they saw a company of moving picture actors and actresses come to a stream, near where they were, to take a "movie drama."
Naturally Blake and Joe were interested at once, and making the acquaintance of Mr. Calvert Hadley, who was in charge of the taking of the play, or "filming it," as the technical term has it, the two boys were given an opportunity to get into the business.
They went to New York, and began the study of how moving pictures are taken, developed from the films, the positives printed and then, through the projecting machine, thrown on the screen more than life size.
The process is an intricate one, and rather complicated, involving much explanation. As I have already gone into it in detail in my first book of this series, I will not repeat it here. Those of you who wish to know more about the "movies" than you can gain by looking at the interesting pictures in some theater, are respectfully referred to the initial volume.
Joe and Blake were much interested in the Film Theatrical Company. My former readers will well remember some members of that organization—C.C. Piper, or "Gloomy," as he was called when not referred to as just "C.C."; Birdie Lee, a pretty, vivacious girl; Mabel Pierce, a new member of the company; Henry Robertson, who played juvenile "leads"; Miss Shay, and others in whom you are more or less interested.
After various adventures in New York City, taking films of all sorts of perilous scenes, Joe and Blake went out West, their adventures there being told in the volume of that name. They had their fill of cowboys and Indians, and, incidentally, were in no little danger.
Afterward they went to the Pacific Coast, thence to the jungle, where many stirring wild animal scenes were obtained, and afterward they had many adventures in Earthquake Land. There they were in great danger from tremors of the earth, and from volcanoes, but good luck, no less than good management, brought them home with whole skins, and with their cases filled with rare films.
Having finished in the land of uncertainty, the work assigned to them by Mr. Hadley and his associates, Joe and Blake had gone for their vacation to the farm of Mr. Hiram Baker, near Central Falls. But their intention of enjoying a quiet stay was rudely interrupted.
For not long after they had arrived, and were resting quietly under a cherry tree in the shade, Mr. Ringold, with whom they were also associated in moving picture work, called them up on the long distance telephone to offer them a most curious assignment.
This was to go to the flooded Mississippi Valley, and get moving pictures of the "Father of Waters" on one of "his" annual rampages.
Of course Blake and Joe went, and their adventures in the flood fill the volume immediately preceding this one.
And now they had returned, anticipating a second session of their vacation. They had brought a motor cycle with which to go about the pretty country surrounding Central Falls.
"For," reasoned Blake, "we haven't much time left this summer, and if we want to enjoy ourselves we'll have to hustle. A motor cycle is the most hustling thing I know of this side of an automobile, and we can't afford that yet."
"I'm with you for a motor cycle," Joe had said. So one was purchased, jointly.
It was on returning from a pleasant ride that our heroes had seen the runaway with which we are immediately concerned. They were now speeding after the maddened horse dragging the frail carriage, hoping to get ahead of and stop the animal before it either crashed into the frail barrier, and leaped into the ravine, or upset the vehicle in trying to make the turn into the temporary road.
"There he is!" suddenly cried Blake. The motor cycle, bearing the two chums, had made the curve in the road successfully and was now straightened up on a long, level stretch. And yet not so long, either, for not more than a quarter of a mile ahead was another turn, and then came the bridge.
"I see him!" answered Joe. "Can you make it?"
"I'm going to!" declared Blake, closing his lips firmly.
Every little bump and stone in the road seemed magnified because of the speed at which they were moving. But Blake held the long handles firmly, and, once the curve was passed, he turned the rubber grip that let a little more gasoline flow into the carbureter to be vaporized and sprayed into the cylinders, where the electric spark exploded it with a bang.
"We—are—going—some!" panted Joe.
"Got—to!" assented Blake, grimly.
On swayed the thundering, rattling motor cycle. The carriage top had either been let down, or some of the supports had broken, and it had fallen, and the boys could now plainly see the two men on the seat. They had not jumped, but they had evidently given up trying to make the horse stop by pulling on the one rein, for the animal was speeding straight down the center of the road.
"We aren't catching up to him very fast!" howled Joe into Blake's ear, and he had to howl louder than usual, for they were then passing along a portion of the road densely shaded by trees. In fact the branches of the trees met overhead in a thick arch, and it was like going through a leafy tunnel.
This top bower of twigs and branches threw back the noise of the explosions of the motor cycle, and made an echo, above which it was almost impossible to make one's voice heard.
"Look out!" suddenly cried Blake. "Hold fast!"
At first Joe imagined that his chum was going to make another curve in the road, but none was at hand. Then, as Blake watched his chum's right hand, he saw him slowly turn the movable rubber handle that controls the gasoline supply. Blake was turning on more power, though now the machine was running at a higher rate than Joe or Blake had ever traveled before.
With a jump like that of a dog released from the leash, the motor cycle seemed to spring forward. Indeed Joe must needs hold on, and as he was not so favorably seated as was his chum, it became a matter of no little trouble to maintain a grip with his legs and hands.
"We—sure—are—going—some!" muttered Joe. But he did not open his mouth any more. It was too dangerous at the speed they had attained. A jolt over a stone, or a bit of wood, might send his teeth through his tongue if he parted his jaws. So he kept quiet.
Ahead of them the carriage swayed and swerved. The horse was a speedy one, but no creature of bone, blood, muscles and sinews can distance a fire-spitting and smoke-eating machine like a motor cycle. The distance was gradually being cut down.
But now, just ahead of them, was the curve, immediately beyond which was the broken bridge, and also the temporary one, shunting off at a sharp angle from the main highway.
"Look out! Hold on!" once more cried Blake, speaking in quick tones.
For a moment Joe wondered at the added caution, and then he sensed what Blake was about to do.
To one side of them stretched a level field. The road made a slight detour about it, just before meeting the ravine, and by crossing this field it was possible for the boys to reach the bridge ahead of the swaying carriage. But at the speed they were now running it was dangerous, and risky in the extreme, to run across the uneven meadow. Blake, however, evidently was going to chance it.
"Hold fast!" he cried once more, and Joe had no more than time to take a firmer grip on the bar in front of him, and to cling with his legs to the foot supports and saddle, than they were off the road, and into the green field. The fence had been taken down to allow for the storage of bridge-building material in the meadow.
"Now we'll get him!" cried Blake, but he spoke too soon. For the motor cycle had not gone ten feet into the uneven field, jolting, swaying and all but throwing off the moving picture boys, than the sound of the explosions suddenly ceased, and the machine began to slacken speed.
With a quickness that was added to by the rough nature of the ground, the motor cycle slowed up and stopped.
"What's the matter?" cried Joe, putting down his feet to support the machine.
"Something's busted—gasoline pipe, I guess!" cried Blake. "Come on! We've got to run for it!"
The accident had occurred only a short distance from the road. Together the two chums, leaping clear of the motor cycle, made for it on the run.
But they were too late. They had a glimpse of the runaway horse dashing straight at the fence barrier.
The next moment there was a splintering crash, and he was through it.
"Oh!" cried Blake.
The thunder of the horse's hoofs on what was left of the wooden approach to the broken bridge drowned his words.
Then the animal, with a leap, disappeared over the jagged edges of the planks. The boys expected to see the carriage and the two occupants follow, but to their intense surprise, the vehicle swayed to one side, caught somehow on one of the king beams of the bridge and hung there.
"Come on!" cried Blake, increasing his speed; "we've got a chance of saving them yet!"
They reached—only just in time—the broken and collapsed carriage with its two front wheels mere twisted and splintered spokes. The moving picture boys reached it, and with strong and capable hands pulled it back from the brink of the ravine, over which it hung. In the depths below the horse lay, very still and quiet.
"Pull back!" directed Blake, but Joe needed no urging. A slight difference—inches only—meant safety or death—terrible injury at best, for the ravine was a hundred feet deep. But those few inches were on the side of safety.
So evenly was the carriage poised, that only a little strength was needed to send it either way. But Joe and Blake pulled it back on the unwrecked portion of the bridge approach.
The two men were still on the seat, but it had broken in the middle, pitching them toward the center, and they were wedged fast. Hank Duryee, the town livery driver, did not seem to be hurt, though there was an anxious look on his face, and he was very pale, which was unusual for him.
As for the other man he seemed to have fainted. His eyes were closed, but his swarthy complexion permitted little diminution in his color. There was a slight cut on his head, from which had trickled a little blood that ran down to his white collar.
"Easy, boys!" cautioned Hank, and his voice rasped out in the quiet that succeeded the staccato noise from the motor cycle. "Go easy now! A touch'll send us down," and he gazed shudderingly into the depths below.
"We've got you," Blake assured him, as he and Joe drew still farther back on the platform of the bridge what was left of the carriage. As they did so one of the rear wheels collapsed, letting the seat down with a jerk.
"Oh!" gasped Hank, and a tremor seemed to go through the insensible frame of the other.
"It's all right," Blake assured the livery stable driver. "You can't fall far."
"Not as far as down—there," and Hank pointed a trembling finger into the depths of the ravine.
"Can you get out—can you walk?" asked Joe.
"Yes. I'm more scared than hurt," Hank made answer.
"How about him?" asked Blake, motioning to the other occupant of the carriage.
"Only a little cut on the head, where he banged, up against the top irons, I guess. A little water will fetch him around. My! But that was a close shave!"
He staggered out on the broken bridge. His legs were unsteady, through weakness and fear, but not from any injury.
"How did it happen?" asked Joe.
"Horse got scared at something—I don't know what—and bolted. I didn't want to take him out—he's an old spitfire anyhow, and hasn't been driven in a week. But this feller was in a hurry," and he nodded toward the unconscious man, "and I had to bring him out with Rex—the only horse in the stable just then.
"I said I was afraid we'd have a smash-up, and we did. The line busted near Baker's place, and—well, here we are."
"Better here than—down there," observed Joe in a low voice.
"That's right," agreed Hank. "Now let's see what we can do for him. Hope he isn't much hurt, though I don't see how he could be."
"Who is he?" asked Blake, but the livery stable driver did not answer. He was bending back the bent frame of the dashboard to more easily get out the swarthy man. Joe and Blake, seeing what he was trying to do, helped him.
Soon they were able to lift out the stranger, but there was no need of carrying him, for he suddenly opened his eyes, straightened up and stood on his feet, retaining a supporting hand on Hank's shoulder.
"Where—where are we?" he asked, in a dazed way. "Did we fall?"
He spoke with an accent that at once told Blake and Joe his nationality—Spanish, either from Mexico or South America.
"We're all right," put in Hank. "These young fellows saved us from going over into the gulch. It was a narrow squeak, though."
"Ah!" The man uttered the exclamation, with a long sigh of satisfaction and relief. Then he put his hand to his forehead, and brought it away with a little blood on it.
"It is nothing. It is a mere scratch and does not distress me in the least," he went on, speaking very correct English, in his curiously accented voice. He appeared to hesitate a little to pick out the words and expressions he wanted, and, often, in such cases, the wrong words, though correct enough in themselves, were selected.
"I am at ease—all right, that is to say," he went on, with a rather pale smile. "And so these young men saved us—saved our lives? Is that what you mean, senor—I should say, sir?" and he quickly corrected his slip.
"I should say they did!" exclaimed Hank with an air of satisfaction. "Old Rex took matters into his own hands, or, rather legs, and we were just about headed for kingdom come when these fellows pulled us back from the brink. As for Rex himself, I guess he's gone where he won't run away any more," and leaning over the jagged edge of the bridge the stableman looked down on the motionless form of the horse. Rex had, indeed, run his last.
"It is all so—so surprising to me," went on the stranger. "It all occurred with such unexpected suddenness. One moment we are driving along as quietly as you please, only perhaps a trifle accentuated, and then—presto! we begin to go too fast, and the leather thong breaks. Then indeed there are things doing, as you say up here."
He smiled, trying, perhaps, to show himself at his ease. He was rapidly recovering, not only from the fright, but from the effects of the blow on the head which had caused the cut, and rendered him unconscious for a moment.
"It sure was a narrow squeak," declared Hank again. "I don't want any closer call. I couldn't move to save myself, I was so dumbfounded, and the carriage would have toppled down in another, second if you boys hadn't come along and hauled it back."
"We saw you pass Mr. Baker's house," explained Blake, "and we came after you on the motor cycle. Tried to get ahead of you, but the old machine laid down on us."
"But we got here in time," added Joe.
"You did indeed! I can not thank you enough," put in the Spaniard, as Joe and Blake both classed him. "You have saved my life, and some day I hope not only to repay the favor, but to show how grateful I am in other ways. I am a stranger in this part of your fine country, but I expect to be better acquainted soon. But where is our horse?" he asked quickly, not seeming to understand what had happened. "How are we to continue our journey?" and he looked at his driver.
"We're at the end of it now, in more ways than one," Hank answered, with a smile. "You're just where you wanted to go, though not in the style I calculated on taking you."
"But I do not comprehend, sir," said the Spaniard, in rather puzzled accents. "I have engaged you to take me to a certain place. There is an accident. We go through a fence with a resounding crash—Ah! I can hear that smash yet!" and he put his hands to his ears in a somewhat dramatic manner.
"Then everything is black. Our horse disappears, and—"
"He's down there, if you want to know where he disappeared to," broke in Hank, practically.
"It is no matter—if he is gone," went on the Spaniard. "But I do not comprehend—assimilate—no, comprehend—that is it. I do not comprehend what you mean when you say we are at our journey's end."
"I'll tell you," exclaimed Hank, as he glanced at Joe and Blake in a manner that caused them to wonder. "You said you wanted to find—"
"Pardon me—my card, gentlemen!" and the stranger extended a rectangle of white on which was engraved the name Vigues Alcando.
Blake took it, and, as he did so, from the pocket whence the Spaniard had extracted the card, there fell a letter. Joe picked it up, but, to his surprise it was addressed to himself and Blake jointly, and, in the upper left hand corner was the imprint of the Film Theatrical Company.
"Why—why," began Joe. "This is for us! Look, Blake!"
"For you! That letter for you?" cried Mr. Alcando. "Are you the moving picture boys?"
"That's what they call us," answered Joe. "This is Blake Stewart, and I'm his chum, Joe Duncan."
"Is it possible—is it possible!" cried Mr. Alcando. "And you have saved my life! Why—I—I—er—I—Oh! To think of this happening so! You are—you are—!" He put his hands to his head and seemed to sway.
"Look out! He's going to fall!" warned Blake, springing forward to catch the Spaniard.
A DELAYED LETTER
But Mr. Alcando, to Americanize his name, did not faint. After reeling uncertainly for a moment, he obtained command of his muscles, straightened up, and stood rigid.
"I—I beg your pardons," he said, faintly, as though he had committed some blunder. "I—I fear I am not altogether myself."
"Shouldn't wonder but what you were a bit played out," put in Hank. "What we've just gone through with was enough to knock anyone out, to say nothing of the crack you got on the head. Maybe we'd better get a doctor?" and his voice framed a question, as he looked at Joe and Blake.
"No, no!" hastily exclaimed the Spaniard, for he was of that nationality, though born in South America, as the boys learned later.
"I do not require the services of a physician," went on Mr. Alcando, speaking rapidly. "I am perfectly all right now—or, I shall be in a few moments. If I had a drink of water—"
His voice trailed off feebly, and he looked about rather helplessly.
"There used to be a spring hereabouts," said Hank, "but I haven't been this way in some time, and—"
"I know where it is!" interrupted Blake. He and Joe, with a training that had made it necessary for them to "size up," and know intimately their surroundings, for use in taking moving pictures, had sensed the location of a bubbling spring of pure water along the road on their first visit to it. "It's right over here; I'll get some," Blake went on.
"If you will be so kind," spoke the Spaniard, and he extended a collapsible drinking cup.
Blake lost little time in filling it, and soon after drinking Mr. Alcando appeared much better.
"I am sorry to give all this trouble," the Spaniard went on, "but I have seemed to meet with considerable number of shocks to-day. First there was the runaway, which I certainly did not expect, and then came the sudden stop—a stop most fortunate for us, I take it," and he glanced, not without a shudder, in the direction of the gulch where the dead horse lay.
"And then you pulled us back from the brink—the brink of death," he went on, and his voice had in it a tone of awe, as well as thankfulness. "I can not thank you now—I shall not try," he went on. "But some time, I hope to prove—
"Oh, what am I saying!" he broke in upon himself. "I never dreamed of this. It is incomprehensible. That I should meet you so, you whom I—"
Once more his hands went to his head with a tragic gesture, and yet it did not seem that he was in physical pain. The cut on his head had stopped bleeding.
"It is too bad! Too bad! And yet fate would have it so!" he murmured after a pause. "But that it should turn in such a queer circle. Well, it is fate—I must accept!"
Joe and Blake looked at each other, Blake with slightly raised eyebrows, which might mean an implied question as to the man's sanity. Then the moving picture boys looked at Hank, who had driven them about on several excursions before they bought the motor cycle.
Hank, who stood a little behind the Spaniard, shrugged his shoulders, and tapped his head significantly.
"But I must again beg your pardon," said Mr. Alcando quickly. "I most certainly am not myself this day. But it is the surprise of meeting you whom I came to seek. Now, if you will pardon me," and he looked at the letter, addressed to Blake and Joe jointly—which epistle had been handed to him after it had been picked up from the ground.
"And were you really looking for us?" asked Joe, much puzzled.
"I was—for both of you young gentlemen. My friend the driver here can testify to that."
"That's right," said Hank. "This gentleman came in on the New York express, and went to our livery stable. He said he wanted to come out to Baker's farm and meet you boys.
"I happened to be the only one around at the time," Hank went on, "and as I knew the road, and knew you boys, I offered to bring him out. But I wish I'd had some other horse. I sure didn't count on Rex running away.
"And when I found I couldn't stop him, and knew we were headed for the broken bridge—well, I wanted to jump out, but I didn't dare. And I guess you felt the same way," he said to Mr. Alcando.
"Somewhat, I must confess," spoke the Spaniard, who, as I have said, used very good English, though with an odd accent, which I shall not attempt to reproduce.
"And then came the smash," went on Hank, "and I didn't expect, any more than he did, that you fellows would come to our rescue. But you did, and now, Mr. Alcando, you can deliver your letter."
"And these really are the young gentlemen whom I seek?" asked the Spaniard. "Pardon me, I do not in the least doubt your word," he added with a formal bow, "but it seems so strange."
"We are the moving picture boys," answered Blake with a smile, wondering what the letter could contain, and, wondering more than ever, why a missive from the Film Theatrical Company should be brought by this unusual stranger.
"Then this is for you," went on Mr. Alcando. "And to think that they saved my life!" he murmured.
"Shall I read it, Joe?" asked Blake, for the Spaniard extended the letter to him.
"Sure. Go ahead. I'll listen."
Blake took the folded sheet from the envelope, and his first glance was at the signature.
"It's from Mr. Hadley!" he exclaimed.
"What's up?" asked Joe, quickly.
Blake was reading in a mumbling tone, hardly distinguishable.
"Dear boys. This will introduce—um—um—um—who is desirous of learning the business of taking moving pictures. He comes to me well recommended—um—um" (more mumbles). "I wish you would do all you can for him—um—and when you go to Panama—"
That was as far as Blake read. Then he cried out:
"I say, Joe, look here! I can't make head nor tail of this!"
"What is it?" asked his chum, looking over; his shoulder at the letter the Spaniard had so strangely brought to them.
"Why, Mr. Hadley speaks of us going to Panama. That's the first we've had an inkling to that effect. What in the world does he mean?"
"I hope I have not brought you bad news in a prospective trip to where the great canal will unite the two oceans," spoke the Spaniard in his formal manner.
"Well, I don't know as you'd call it bad news," said Blake, slowly. "We've gotten sort of used to being sent to the ends of the earth on short notice, but what gets me—excuse me for putting it that way—what surprises me is that this is the first Mr. Hadley has mentioned Panama to us."
"Is that so?" asked Mr. Alcando. "Why, I understood that you knew all about his plans."
"No one knows all about Hadley's plans," said Joe in a low voice. "He makes plans as he goes along and changes them in his sleep. But this one about Panama is sure a new one to us."
"That's right," chimed in Blake.
"We were speaking of the big ditch shortly before the runaway came past," went on Blake, "but that was only a coincidence, of course. We had no idea of going there, and I can't yet understand what Mr. Hadley refers to when he says we may take you there with us, to show you some of the inside workings of making moving pictures."
"Did you read the letter all the way through?" Joe asked.
"Perhaps I can explain," interrupted the Spaniard. "If you will kindly allow me. I came to New York with an express purpose in view. That purpose has now suffered—but no matter. I must not speak of that!" and there seemed to be a return of his queer, tragic manner.
"I am connected with the Equatorial Railroad Company," he resumed, after a momentary pause, during which he seemed to regain control of himself. "Our company has recently decided to have a series of moving pictures made, showing life in our section of the South American jungle, and also what we have done in the matter of railroad transportation, to redeem the jungle, and make it more fit for habitation.
"As one of the means of interesting the public, and, I may say, in interesting capitalists, moving pictures were suggested. The idea was my own, and was adopted, and I was appointed to arrange the matter. But in order that the right kind of moving pictures might be obtained, so that they would help the work of our railroad, I decided I must know something of the details—how the pictures are made, how the cameras are constructed, how the pictures are projected—in short all I could learn about the business I desired to learn.
"My company sent me to New York, and there, on inquiry, I learned of the Film Theatrical Company. I had letters of introduction, and I soon met Mr. Hadley. He seems to be in charge of this branch of the work—I mean outdoor pictures."
"Yes, that's his line," said Joe. "Mr. Ringold attends to the dramatic end of it. We have done work for both branches."
"So I was told," went on Mr. Alcando. "I asked to be assigned a teacher, and offered to pay well for it. And Mr. Hadley at once suggested that you two boys would be the very ones who could best give me what I desired.
"He told me that you had just returned from the dangers of the Mississippi flood section, and were up here resting. But I made so bold upon myself to come here to entreat you to let me accompany you to Panama."
Mr. Alcando came to a stop after his rather lengthy and excited explanation.
"But Great Scott!" exclaimed Blake. "We don't know anything about going to Panama. We haven't the least idea of going there, and the first we've heard of it is the mention in this letter you bring from Mr. Hadley."
"It sure is queer," said Joe. "I wonder if any of our mail—"
He was interrupted by the sound of rapid footsteps, and a freckle-faced and red-haired boy, with a ragged straw hat, and no shoes came running up.
"Say—say!" panted the urchin. "I'm glad I found you. Here's a letter for you. Pa—pa—he's been carryin' it around in his pocket, and when he changed his coat just now it dropped out. He sent me down with it, lickity-split," and the boy held out an envelope bearing a special delivery stamp. Blake took the missive mechanically.
While Blake was tearing off the end of the envelope, preparatory to taking out the enclosure, Joe looked sharply at the red-haired lad who had so unexpectedly delivered it.
"How'd your father come to get our letter, Sam?" asked Joe, for the lad was the son of a farmer, who lived neighbor to Mr. Baker.
"Sim Rolinson, the postmaster, give it to him, I guess," volunteered Sam. "Sim generally takes around the special delivery letters himself, but he must have been busy when this one come in, and he give it to pa. Anyhow, pa says he asked him to deliver it."
"Only he didn't do it," put in Joe. "I thought something was the matter with our mail that we hadn't heard from New York lately. Your father was carrying the letter around in his pocket."
"But he didn't mean to!" spoke Sam quickly. "He forgot all about it until to-day, when he was changing his coat, and it fell out. Then he made me scoot over here with it as fast as I could. He said he was sorry, and hoped he hadn't done any damage."
"Well, I guess not much," Joe responded, for, after all, it was an accommodation to have the letters brought out from the post-office by the neighbors, as often happened. That one should be forgotten, and carried in a pocket, was not so very surprising.
"Then you won't make any fuss?" the barefoot lad went on, eagerly.
"No—why should we?" inquired Joe with a smile. "We won't inform the postal authorities. I guess it wasn't so very important," and he looked at Blake, who was reading the delayed letter.
"Whew!" finally whistled Joe's chum. "This is going some!"
"What's up now?"
"Another surprise," answered Blake. "This day seems to be filled with 'em."
"Is it about Panama?"
"You've guessed it. Mr. Hadley wants us to go there and get a series of moving pictures. Incidentally he mentions that he is sending to us a gentleman who wants to go with us, if we decide to go. I presume he refers to you," and Blake nodded in the direction of Mr. Alcando.
"Then you have confirmatory evidence of what my letter says?" asked the Spaniard, bowing politely.
"That's what it amounts to," Blake made answer. "Though, of course, seeing that this is the first we've had Panama brought up to us, we don't really know what to say about going there."
"Hardly," agreed Joe, at a look from his chum.
"And yet you may go; shall you not?" asked the Spaniard, quickly. He seemed very eager for an answer.
"Oh, yes, we may—it's not altogether out of the question," said Blake. "We'll have to think about it, though."
"And if you do go, may I have the honor of accompanying you to the Isthmus?" Again he seemed very anxious.
"Well, of course, if Mr. Hadley wants you to go with us we'll take you," answered Joe slowly. "We are employed by Mr. Hadley, as one of the owners of the Film Theatrical Company, and what he says generally goes."
"Ah, but, gentlemen, I should not want you to take me under compulsion!" exclaimed the Spaniard, quickly. "I would like to go—as your friend!" and he threw out his hands in an impulsive, appealing gesture. "As a friend!" he repeated.
"Well, I guess that could be arranged," returned Blake with a smile, for he had taken a liking to the young man, though he did not altogether understand him. "We'll have to think it over."
"Oh, of course. I should not ask for a decision now," said Mr. Alcando quickly. "I shall return to my hotel in the village, and come out to see you when I may—when you have made your decision. I feel the need of a little rest—after my narrow escape. And that it should be you who saved my life—you of all!"
Again the boys noted his peculiar manner.
"I guess we had better be getting back," suggested Hank. "Have to foot it to town, though," he added regretfully, as he looked at the smashed carriage. "I hope the boss doesn't blame me for this," and his voice was rueful.
"I shall take it upon myself to testify in your favor," said the Spaniard with courtly grace. "It was an unavoidable accident—the breaking of the rein, and the maddened dash of the horse off the bridge. That we did not follow was a miracle. I shall certainly tell your employer—as you say your boss," and he smiled—"I shall tell him you could not help it."
"I'd take it kindly if you would," added Hank, "for Rex, though he had a terrible temper, was a valuable horse. Well, he won't run away any more, that's one sure thing. I guess that carriage can be patched up."
"Why don't you ask Mr. Baker to lend you a rig?" suggested Blake. "I'm sure he would. I'll tell him how it happened."
"That is kind of you, sir. You place me more than ever in your debt," spoke the Spaniard, bowing again.
"How did you know we were here?" asked Joe of the boy who had brought the delayed special delivery letter.
"I stopped at Mr. Baker's house," Sam explained, "and Mrs. Baker said she saw you come down this way on your motor cycle. She said you'd just been on a ride, and probably wouldn't go far, so I ran on, thinking I'd meet you coming back. I didn't know anything about the accident," he concluded, his eyes big with wonder as he looked at the smashed carriage.
"Are you able to walk back to the farmhouse where we are boarding?" asked Blake of Mr. Alcando. "If not we could get Mr. Baker to drive down here."
"Oh, thank you, I am perfectly able to walk, thanks to your quickness in preventing the carriage and ourselves from toppling into the chasm," replied the Spaniard.
Hank, with Mr. Alcando and Sam, walked back along the road, while Blake and Joe went to where they had dropped their motor cycle. They repaired the disconnected gasoline pipe, and rode on ahead to tell Mr. Baker of the coming of the others. The farmer readily agreed to lend his horse and carriage so that the unfortunate ones would not have to walk into town, a matter of three miles.
"I shall remain at the Central Falls hotel for a week or more, or until you have fully made up your mind about the Panama trip," said Mr. Alcando on leaving the boys, "and I shall come out, whenever you send me word, to learn of your decision. That it may be a favorable one I need hardly say I hope," he added with a low bow.
"We'll let you know as soon as we can," promised Blake. "But my chum and I will have to think it over. We have hardly become rested from taking flood pictures."
"I can well believe that, from what I have heard of your strenuous activities."
"Well, what do you think about it all?" asked Joe, as he and his chum sat on the shady porch an hour or so after the exciting incidents I have just narrated.
"I hardly know," answered Blake. "I guess I'll have another go at Mr. Hadley's letter. I didn't half read it."
He took the missive from his pocket, and again perused it. It contained references to other matters besides the projected Panama trip, and there was also enclosed a check for some work the moving picture boys had done.
But as it is with the reference to the big canal that we are interested we shall confine ourselves to that part of Mr. Hadley's letter.
"No doubt you will be surprised," he wrote, "to learn what I have in prospect for you. I know you deserve a longer vacation than you have had this summer, but I think, too, that you would not wish to miss this chance.
"Of course if you do not want to go to Panama I can get some other operators to work the moving picture cameras, but I would rather have you than anyone I know of. So I hope you will accept.
"The idea is this: The big canal is nearing completion, and the work is now at a stage when it will make most interesting films. Then, too, there is another matter—the big slides. There have been several small ones, doing considerable damage, but no more than has been counted on.
"I have information, however, to the effect that there is impending in Culebra Cut a monstrous big slide, one that will beat anything that ever before took place there. If it does happen I want to get moving pictures, not only of the slide, but of scenes afterward, and also pictures showing the clearing away of the debris.
"Whether this slide will occur I do not know. No one knows for a certainty, but a man who has lived in Panama almost since the French started the big ditch, claims to know a great deal about the slides and the causes of them. He tells me that certain small slides, such as have been experienced, are followed—almost always after the same lapse of time—by a much larger one. The larger one is due soon, and I want you there when it comes.
"Now another matter. Some time after you get this you will be visited by a Spanish gentleman named Vigues Alcando. He will have a letter of introduction from me. He wants to learn the moving picture business, and as he comes well recommended, and as both Mr. Ringold and I are under obligations to people he represents, we feel that we must grant his request.
"Of course if you feel that you can't stand him, after you see him, and if you don't want to take him with you—yes, even if you don't want to go to Panama at all, don't hesitate to say so. But I would like very much to have you. Someone must go, for the films from down there will be particularly valuable at this time, in view of the coming opening of the Canal for the passage of vessels. So if you don't want to go, someone else representing us will have to make the trip.
"Now think the matter over well before you decide. I think you will find Mr. Alcando a pleasant companion. He struck me as being a gentleman, though his views on some things are the views of a foreigner. But that does not matter.
"Of course, as usual, we will pay you boys well, and meet all expenses. It is too bad to break in on your vacation again, as we did to get the flood pictures, but the expected big slide, like the flood, won't wait, and won't last very long. You have to be 'Johnnie on the Spot' to get the views. I will await your answer."
For a little while, after he had read to Joe the letter from Mr. Hadley, Blake remained silent. Nor did his chum speak. When he did open his lips it was to ask:
"Well, what do you think of it, Blake?"
Blake drew a long breath, and replied, questioningly:
"What do you think of it?"
"I asked you first!" laughed Joe. "No, but seriously, what do you make of it all?"
"Make of it? You mean going to Panama?"
"Yes, and this chap Alcando. What do you think of him?"
Blake did not answer at once.
"Well?" asked Joe, rather impatiently.
"Did anything—that is, anything that fellow said—or did—strike you as being—well, let's say—queer?" and Blake looked his chum squarely in the face.
"Queer? Yes, I guess there did! Of course he was excited about the runaway, and he did have a narrow escape, if I do say it myself. Only for us he and Hank would have toppled down into that ravine."
"That's right," assented Blake.
"But what struck me as queer," resumed Joe, "was that he seemed put out because it was we who saved him. He acted—I mean the Spaniard did—as though he would have been glad if someone else had saved his life."
"Just how it struck me!" cried Blake. "I wondered if you felt the same. But perhaps it was only because he was unduly excited. We might have misjudged him."
"Possibly," admitted Joe. "But, even if we didn't, and he really is sorry it was we who saved him, I don't see that it need matter. He is probably so polite that the reason he objects is because he didn't want to put us to so much trouble."
"Perhaps," agreed Blake. "As you say, it doesn't much matter. I rather like him."
"So do I," assented Joe. "But he sure is queer, in some ways. Quite dramatic. Why, you'd think he was on the stage the way he went on after he learned that we two, who had saved him, were the moving picture boys to whom he had a letter of introduction."
"Yes. I wonder what it all meant?" observed Blake.
The time was to come when he and Joe were to learn, in a most sensational manner, the reason for the decidedly queer actions of Mr. Alcando.
For some time longer the chums sat and talked. But as the day waned, and the supper hour approached, they were no nearer a decision than before.
"Let's let it go until morning," suggested Blake.
"I'm with you," agreed Joe. "We can think better after we have 'slept on it.'"
Joe was later than Blake getting up next morning, and when he saw his chum sitting out in a hammock under a tree in the farmyard, Joe noticed that Blake was reading a book.
"You're the regular early worm this morning; aren't you?" called Joe. "It's a wonder some bird hasn't flown off with you."
"I'm too tough a morsel," Blake answered with a laugh. "Besides, I've been on the jump too much to allow an ordinary bird the chance. What's the matter with you—oversleep?"
"No, I did it on purpose. I was tired. But what's that you're reading; and what do you mean about being on the jump?"
"Oh, I just took a little run into the village after breakfast, on the motor cycle."
"You did! To tell that Spaniard he could, or could not, go with us?"
"Oh, I didn't see him. I just went into the town library. You know they've got a fairly decent one at Central Falls."
"Yes, so I heard; but I didn't suppose they'd be open so early in the morning."
"They weren't. I had to wait, and I was the first customer, if you can call it that."
"You are getting studious!" laughed Joe. "Great Scott! Look at what he's reading!" he went on as he caught a glimpse of the title of the book. "'History of the Panama Canal' Whew!"
"It's a mighty interesting book!" declared Blake. "You'll like it."
"Perhaps—if I read it," said Joe, drily.
"Oh, I fancy you'll want to read it," went on Blake, significantly.
"Say!" cried Joe, struck with a sudden idea. "You've made up your mind to go to Panama; haven't you?"
"Well," began his chum slowly, "I haven't fully decided—"
"Oh, piffle!" cried Joe with a laugh. "Excuse my slang, but I know just how it is," he proceeded. "You've made up your mind to go, and you're getting all the advance information you can, to spring it on me. I know your tricks. Well, you won't go without me; will you?"
"You know I'd never do that," was the answer, spoken rather more solemnly than Joe's laughing words deserved. "You know we promised to stick together when we came away from the farms and started in this moving picture business, and we have stuck. I don't want to break the combination; do you?"
"I should say not! And if you go to Panama I go too!"
"I haven't actually made up my mind," went on Blake, who was, perhaps, a little more serious, and probably a deeper thinker than his chum. "But I went over it in my mind last night, and I didn't just see how we could refuse Mr. Hadley's request.
"You know he started us in this business, and, only for him we might never have amounted to much. So if he wants us to go to Panama, and get views of the giant slides, volcanic eruptions, and so on, I, for one, think we ought to go."
"So do I—for two!" chimed in Joe. "But are there really volcanic eruptions down there?"
"Well, there have been, in times past, and there might be again. Anyhow, the slides are always more or less likely to occur. I was just reading about them in this book.
"Culebra Cut! That's where the really stupendous work of the Panama Canal came in. Think of it, Joe! Nine miles long, with an average depth of 120 feet, and at some places the sides go up 500 feet above the bed of the channel. Why the Suez Canal is a farm ditch alongside of it!"
"Whew!" whistled Joe. "You're there with the facts already, Blake."
"They're so interesting I couldn't help but remember them," said Blake with a smile. "This book has a lot in it about the big landslides. At first they were terribly discouraging to the workers. They practically put the French engineers, who started the Canal, out of the running, and even when the United States engineers started figuring they didn't allow enough leeway for the Culebra slides.
"At first they decided that a ditch about eight hundred feet wide would be enough to keep the top soil from slipping down. But they finally had to make it nearly three times that width, or eighteen hundred feet at the top, so as to make the sides slope gently enough."
"And yet slides occur even now," remarked Joe, dubiously.
"Yes, because the work isn't quite finished."
"And we're going to get one of those slides on our films?"
"If we go, yes; and I don't see but what we'd better go."
"Then I'm with you, Blake, old man!" cried Joe, affectionately slapping his chum on the back with such energy that the book flew out of the other's hands.
"Look out what you're doing or you'll get the librarian after you!" cried Blake, as he picked up the volume. "Well, then, we'll consider it settled—we'll go to Panama?"
He looked questioningly at his chum.
"Yes, I guess so. Have you told that Spaniard?"
"No, not yet, of course. I haven't seen him since you did. But I fancy we'd better write to Mr. Hadley first, and let him know we will go. He'll wonder why we haven't written before. We can explain about the delayed letter."
"All right, and when we hear from him, and learn more of his plans, we can let Mr. Alcando hear from us. I guess we can mosey along with him all right."
"Yes, and we'll need a helper with the cameras and things. He can be a sort of assistant while he's learning the ropes."
A letter was written to the moving picture man in New York, and while waiting for an answer Blake and Joe spent two days visiting places of interest about Central Falls.
"If this is to be another break in our vacation we want to make the most of it," suggested Joe.
"That's right," agreed Blake. They had not yet given the Spaniard a definite answer regarding his joining them.
"It does not matter—the haste, young gentlemen," Mr. Alcando had said with a smile that showed his white teeth, in strong contrast to his dark complexion. "I am not in so much of a haste. As we say, in my country, there is always manana—to-morrow."
Blake and Joe, while they found the Spaniard very pleasant, could not truthfully say that they felt for him the comradeship they might have manifested toward one of their own nationality. He was polite and considerate toward them—almost too polite at times, but that came natural to him, perhaps.
He was a little older than Joe and Blake, but he did not take advantage of that. He seemed to have fully recovered from the accident, though there was a nervousness in his actions at times that set the boys to wondering. And, occasionally, Blake or Joe would catch him surreptitiously looking at them in a strange manner.
"I wonder what's up?" said Blake to Joe, after one of those occasions. "He sure does act queer."
"That's what I say," agreed Joe. "It's just as though he were sorry he had to be under obligations to us, if you can call it that, for saving his life."
"That's how it impresses me. But perhaps we only imagine it. Hello, here comes Mr. Baker with the mail! We ought to hear from New York."
"Hasn't Birdie Lee written yet?" asked Joe.
"Oh, drop that!" warned Blake, his eyes flashing.
There was a letter from Mr. Hadley, in which he conveyed news and information that made Blake and Joe definitely decide to make the trip to Panama.
"And take Alcando with us?" asked Joe.
"I suppose so," said Blake, though it could not be said that his assent was any too cordial.
"Then we'd better tell him, so he'll know it is settled."
"All right. We can ride over on the motor cycle."
A little later, after a quick trip on the "gasoline bicycle," the moving picture boys were at the only hotel of which Central Falls boasted. Mr. Alcando was in his room, the clerk informed the boys, and they were shown up.
"Enter!" called the voice of the Spaniard, as they knocked. "Ah, it is you, my young friends!" he cried, as he saw them, and getting up hastily from a table on which were many papers, he began hastily piling books on top of them.
"For all the world," said Joe, later, "as though he were afraid we'd see something."
"I am delighted that you have called," the Spaniard said, "and I hope you bring me good news."
"Yes," said Blake, "we are going—"
As he spoke there came in through the window a puff of air, that scattered the papers on the table. One, seemingly part of a letter, was blown to Blake's feet. He picked it up, and, as he handed it back to Mr. Alcando, the lad could not help seeing part of a sentence. It read:
"... go to Panama, get all the pictures you can, especially the big guns...."
Blake felt himself staring eagerly at the last words.
IN NEW YORK
"Ah, my letters have taken unto themselves wings," laughed the Spaniard, as he stooped to pick up the scattered papers. "And you have assisted me in saving them," he went on, as he took the part of the epistle Blake held out to him.
As he did so Mr. Alcando himself had a glimpse of the words Blake had thought so strange. The foreigner must have, in a manner, sensed Blake's suspicions, for he said, quickly:
"That is what it is not to know your wonderful American language. I, myself, have much struggles with it, and so do my friends. I had written to one of them, saying I expected to go to Panama, and he writes in his poor English, that he hopes I do go, and that I get all the pictures I can, especially big ones."
He paused for a moment, looking at Blake sharply, the boy thought. Then the Spaniard went on:
"Only, unfortunately for him, he does not yet know the difference between 'guns' and 'ones.' What he meant to say was that he hoped I would get big pictures—big ones, you know. And I hope I do. I suppose you do take big moving pictures—I mean pictures of big scenes, do you not?" and he included Joe in the question he asked.
"Oh, yes, we've taken some pretty big ones," Blake's chum admitted, as he thought of the time when they had so recently been in the flooded Mississippi Valley, and when they had risked danger and death in the jungle, and in earthquake land.
"Though, I suppose," went on Mr. Alcando, as he folded the part of a letter Blake had picked up, "I suppose there are big guns at Panama—if one could get pictures of them—eh?" and again he looked sharply at Blake—for what reason our hero could not determine.
"Oh, yes, there are big guns down there," said Joe. "I forget their size, and how far they can hurl a projectile. But we're not likely to get a chance to take any pictures, moving or otherwise, of the defenses. I fancy they are a sort of government secret."
"I should think so," spoke Blake, and there was a curious restraint in his manner, at which Joe wondered.
"Yes, we probably won't get much chance to see the big guns," went on the Spaniard. "But I am content if I learn how to become a moving picture operator. I shall write to my friend and tell him the difference between the word 'one' and 'gun.' He will laugh when he finds out his mistake; will he not?" and he glanced at Blake.
"Probably," was the answer. Blake was doing some hard thinking just then.
"But so you have decided to go to the Canal?" asked the Spaniard, when he had collected his scattered papers.
"Yes, we are going down there," answered Blake, "and as Mr. Hadley wishes you to go along, of course we'll take you with us, and teach you all we know."
"I hope I shall not be a burden to you, or cause you any trouble," responded the Spaniard, politely, with a frank and engaging smile.
"Oh, no, not at all!" returned Joe, cordially. He had taken quite a liking to the chap, and anticipated pleasure in his company. Usually when he and Blake went off on moving picture excursions they had some members of the Film Theatrical Company with them, or they met friends on the way, or at their destination. But neither C.C. Piper, nor any of the other actors were going to the Canal, so Blake and Joe would have had to go alone had it not been for the advent of Mr. Alcando.
"We're very glad to have you with us," added Blake. "How soon can you be ready to go?"
"Whenever you are. I can leave to-day, if necessary."
"There isn't any necessity for such a rush as that," Blake said, with a laugh. "We'll finish out our week's vacation, and then go to New York. Our cameras will need overhauling after the hard service they got in the flood, and we'll have to stay in New York about a week to get things in shape. So we'll probably start for the Canal in about two weeks."
"That will suit me excellently. I shall be all ready for you," said the Spaniard.
"Then I'll write to Mr. Hadley to expect us," Blake added.
The boys left Mr. Alcando straightening out his papers, and started back through the town to the farm.
"What made you act so funny, Blake, when you picked up that piece of paper?" asked Joe, when they had alighted from their motor cycle at the Baker homestead a little later.
"Well, to tell you the truth, Joe, I was a bit suspicious."
"What about; that gun business?"
"Yes," and Blake's voice was serious.
"Buttermilk and corn cakes!" cried Joe with a laugh. "You don't mean to say you think this fellow is an international spy; do you? Trying to get secrets of the United States fortifications at the Canal?"
"Well, I don't know as I exactly believe that, Joe, and yet it was strange someone should be writing to him about the big guns."
"Yes, maybe; but then he explained it all right."
"You mean he tried to explain it."
"Oh, well, if you look at it that way, of course you'll be suspicious. But I don't believe anything of the sort. It was just a blunder of someone who didn't know how, trying to write the English language.
"It's all nonsense to think he's a spy. He came to Mr. Hadley well recommended, and you can make up your mind Mr. Hadley wouldn't have anything to do with him if there was something wrong."
"Oh, well, I don't exactly say he's a spy," returned Blake, almost wavering. "Let it go. Maybe I am wrong."
"Yes, I think you are," said Joe. "I like that chap, and I think we'll have fine times together."
"We'll have hard work, that's one thing sure," Blake declared. "It isn't going to be easy to get good pictures of the big ditch. And waiting for one of those Culebra Cut slides is going to be like camping on the trail of a volcano, I think. You can't tell when it's going to happen."
"That's right," agreed Joe with a laugh. "Well, we'll do the best we can, old man. And now let's go on a picnic, or something, to finish out our vacation. We won't get another this year, perhaps."
"Let's go down and see how they're coming on with the new bridge, where the horse tried to jump over the ravine," suggested Blake, and, a little later they were speeding in that direction.
The final week of their stay in the country went by quickly enough, and though the boys appreciated their vacation in the quiet precincts of Central Falls, they were not altogether sorry when the time came to leave.
For, truth to tell, they were very enthusiastic about their moving picture work, and though they were no fonder of a "grind" than any real boys are, they were always ready to go back to the clicking cranks that unwound the strips of celluloid film, which caught on its sensitive surface the impressions of so many wonderful scenes.
They called at the hotel one evening to tell Mr. Alcando that they were going to New York the following day, and that he could, if he wished, accompany them. But they found he had already left. He had written them a note, however, in which he said he would meet them in the metropolis at the offices of the moving picture concern, and there complete plans for the trip to Panama.
"Queer he didn't want to go in to New York with us," said Blake.
"There you go again!" laughed Joe. "Getting suspicious again. Take it easy, Blake."
"Well, maybe I am a bit too fussy," admitted his chum.
Their trip to, and arrival in, New York was unattended by any incidents worth chronicling, and, taking a car at the Grand Central Terminal, they were soon on their way to the film studios.
"Well, well! If it isn't Blake and Joe!" cried C.C. Piper, the grouchy actor, as he saw them come in. "My, but I am glad to see you!" and he shook their hands warmly.
"Glad something pleases you," said Miss Shay, with a shrug of her shoulders. "You've done nothing but growl ever since this rehearsal started." Blake and Joe had arrived during an intermission in the taking of the studio scenes of a new drama.
"Is he as bad as ever?" asked Joe of Mabel Pierce, the new member of the company.
"Well, I don't know him very well," she said, with a little blush.
"He's worse!" declared Nettie Shay. "I wish you'd take him out somewhere, boys, and find him a good nature. He's a positive bear!"
"Oh, come now, not as bad as that!" cried Mr. Piper. "I am glad to see you boys, though," and really he seemed quite delighted. "What's on?" he asked. "Are you going with us to California? We're going to do a series of stunts there, I hear."
"Sorry, but we're not booked to go," said Blake. "I guess it's Panama and the Canal for us."
Mr. Piper seemed to undergo a quick and curious change. His face, that had been lighted by a genial smile, became dull and careworn. His manner lost its joyousness.
"That's too bad!" he exclaimed. "Panama! You're almost sure to be buried alive under one of the big Culebra slides, and we'll never see you again!"
OFF FOR PANAMA
There was a moment of silence following Mr. Piper's gloomy prediction, and then Miss Shay, with a laugh, cried out:
"Oh, what a shame! I'd keep still if I couldn't say anything nicer than that."
"Not very cheerful; is he?" spoke Joe.
"About the same as usual," commented Blake, drily.
"Well, it's true, just the same!" declared C.C. Piper, with an air of conviction.
"'The truth is not to be spoken—at all times,'" quoted Miss Pierce.
"Good for you!" whispered Joe.
C.C. seemed a little put out at all the criticism leveled at him.
"Ahem!" he exclaimed. "Of course I don't mean that I want to see you boys caught in a landslide—far from it, but—"
"But, if we are going to be caught that way, you hope there will be moving pictures of it; don't you, C.C.?" laughed Blake. "Now, there's no use trying to get out of it!" he added, as the gloomy actor stuttered and stammered. "We know what you mean. But where is Mr. Ringold; or Mr. Hadley?"
"They're around somewhere," explained Miss Shay, when the other members of the company, with whom they had spent so many happy and exciting days, had offered their greetings. "Are you in such a hurry to see them?" she asked of Blake.
"Oh, not in such an awful hurry," he answered with a laugh, as Birdie Lee came out of a dressing room, smiling rosily at him.
"I guess not!" laughed Miss Shay.
Soon the interval between the scenes of the drama then being "filmed," or photographed, came to an end. The actors and actresses took their places in a "ball room," that was built on one section of the studio floor.
"Ready!" called the manager to the camera operator, and as the music of an unseen orchestra played, so that the dancing might be in perfect time, the camera began clicking and the action of the play, which included an exciting episode in the midst of the dance, went on. It was a gay scene, for the ladies and gentlemen were dressed in the "height of fashion."
It was necessary to have every detail faithfully reproduced, for the eye of the moving picture camera is more searching, and far-seeing, than any human eye, and records every defect, no matter how small. And when it is recalled that the picture thrown on the screen is magnified many hundred times, a small defect, as can readily be understood, becomes a very large one.
So great care is taken to have everything as nearly perfect as possible. Blake and Joe watched the filming of the drama, recalling the time when they used to turn the handle of the camera at the same work, before they were chosen to go out after bigger pictures—scenes from real life. The operator, a young fellow; whom both Blake and Joe knew, looked around and nodded at them, when he had to stop grinding out the film a moment, to allow the director to correct something that had unexpectedly gone wrong.
"Don't you wish you had this easy job?" the operator asked.
"We may, before we come back from Panama," answered Blake.
A little later Mr. Ringold and Mr. Hadley came in, greeting the two boys, and then began a talk which lasted for some time, and in which all the details of the projected work, as far as they could be arranged in advance, were gone over.
"What we want," said Mr. Hadley, "is a series of pictures about the Canal. It will soon be open for regular traffic, you know, and, in fact some vessels have already gone through it. But the work is not yet finished, and we want you to film the final touches.
"Then, too, there may be accidents—there have been several small ones of late, and, as I wrote you, a man who claims to have made a study of the natural forces in Panama declares a big slide is due soon.
"Of course we won't wish the canal any bad luck, and we don't for a moment want that slide to happen. Only—"
"If it does come you want it filmed!" interrupted Blake, with a laugh.
"That's it, exactly!" exclaimed Mr. Ringold.
"You'll find plenty down there to take pictures of," said Mr. Hadley. "We want scenes along the Canal. Hire a vessel and take moving pictures as you go along in her. Go through the Gatun locks, of course. Scenes as your boat goes in them, and the waters rise, and then go down again, ought to make a corking picture!"
Mr. Hadley was growing enthusiastic.
"Get some jungle scenes to work in also," he directed. "In short, get scenes you think a visitor to the Panama Canal would be interested in seeing. Some of the films will be a feature at the Panama Exposition in California, and we expect to make big money from them, so do your best."
"We will!" promised Joe, and Blake nodded in acquiescence.
"You met the young Spaniard who had a letter of introduction to you; did you not?" asked Mr. Hadley, after a pause.
"Yes," answered Blake. "Met him under rather queer circumstances, too. I guess we hinted at them in our letter."
"A mere mention," responded Mr. Hadley. "I should be glad to hear the details." So Blake and Joe, in turn, told of the runaway.
"What do you think of him—I mean Mr. Alcando?" asked the moving picture man.
"Why, he seems all right," spoke Joe slowly, looking at Blake to give him a chance to say anything if he wanted to. "I like him."
"Glad to hear it!" exclaimed Mr. Hadley heartily. "He came to us well recommended and, as I think I explained, our company is under obligations to concerns he and his friends are interested in, so we were glad to do him a favor. He explained, did he not, that his company wished to show scenes along the line of their railroad, to attract prospective customers?"
"Yes, he told us that," observed Joe.
"What's the matter, Blake, haven't you anything to say?" asked Mr. Hadley in a curious voice, turning to Joe's chum. "How does the Spaniard strike you?"
"Well, he seems all right," was Blake's slow answer. "Only I think—"
"Blake thinks he's an international spy, I guess!" broke in Joe with a laugh. "Tell him about the 'big guns,' Blake."
"What's that?" asked Mr. Hadley, quickly.
Whereupon Blake told of the wind-blown letter and his first suspicions.
"Oh, that's all nonsense!" laughed Mr. Hadley. "We have investigated his credentials, and find them all right. Besides, what object would a South American spy have in finding out details of the defenses at Panama. South America would work to preserve the Canal; not to destroy it. If it were some European nation now, that would be a different story. You don't need to worry, Blake."
"No, I suppose it is foolish. But I'm glad to know you think Mr. Alcando all right. If we've got to live in close companionship with him for several months, it's a comfort to know he is all right. Now when are we to start, how do we go, where shall we make our headquarters and so on?"
"Yes, you will want some detailed information, I expect," agreed the moving picture man. "Well, I'm ready to give it to you. I have already made some arrangements for you. You will take a steamer to Colon, make your headquarters at the Washington Hotel, and from there start out, when you are ready, to get pictures of the Canal and surrounding country. I'll give you letters of introduction, so you will have no trouble in chartering a tug to go through the Canal, and I already have the necessary government permits."
"Then Joe and I had better be packing up for the trip," suggested Blake.
"Yes, the sooner the better. You might call on Mr. Alcando, and ask him when he will be ready. Here is his address in New York," and Mr. Hadley handed Blake a card, naming a certain uptown hotel.
A little later, having seen to their baggage, and handed their particular and favorite cameras over to one of the men of the film company, so that he might give them a thorough overhauling, Blake and Joe went to call on their Spanish friend.
"Aren't you glad to know he isn't a spy, or anything like that?" asked Joe of his chum.
"Yes, of course I am, and yet—"
"Still suspicious I see," laughed Joe. "Better drop it."
Blake did not answer.
Inquiry of the hotel clerk gave Blake and Joe the information that Mr. Alcando was in his room, and, being shown to the apartment by a bell-boy, Blake knocked on the door.
"Who's there? Wait a moment!" came in rather sharp accents from a voice the moving picture boys recognized as that of Mr. Alcando.
"It is Blake Stewart and Joe Duncan," said the former lad. "We have called—"
"I beg your pardon—In one moment I shall be with you—I will let you in!" exclaimed the Spaniard. The boys could hear him moving about in his apartment, they could hear the rattle of papers, and then the door was opened.
There was no one in the room except the young South American railroad man, but there was the odor of a strong cigar in the apartment, and Blake noticed this with surprise for, some time before, Mr. Alcando had said he did not smoke.
The inference was, then, that he had had a visitor, who was smoking when the boys knocked, but there was no sign of the caller then, except in the aroma of the cigar.
He might have gone into one of the other rooms that opened from the one into which the boys looked, for Mr. Alcando had a suite in the hotel. And, after all, it was none of the affair of Blake or Joe, if their new friend had had a caller.
"Only," said Blake to Joe afterward, "why was he in such a hurry to get rid of him, and afraid that we might meet him?"
"I don't know," Joe answered. "It doesn't worry me. You are too suspicious."
"I suppose I am."
Mr. Alcando welcomed the boys, but said nothing about the delay in opening his door, or about the visitor who must have slipped out hastily. The Spaniard was glad to see Blake and Joe, and glad to learn that they would soon start for Panama.
"I have much to do, though, in what little time is left," he said, rapidly arranging some papers on his table. As he did so, Blake caught sight of a small box, with some peculiar metal projections on it, sticking out from amid a pile of papers.
"Yes, much to do," went on Mr. Alcando. And then, either by accident or design, he shoved some papers in such a way that the small box was completely hidden.
"We have just come from Mr. Hadley," explained Joe, and then he and Blake plunged into a mass of details regarding their trip, with which I need not weary you.
Sufficient to say that Mr. Alcando promised to be on hand at the time of the sailing of the steamer for Colon.
In due time, though a day or so later than originally planned, Blake and Joe, with their new Spanish friend, were on hand at the pier. Mr. Alcando had considerable baggage, and he was to be allowed the use of an old moving picture camera with which to "get his hand in." Blake and Joe, of course had their own machines, which had been put in perfect order. There were several of them for different classes of work.
Final instructions were given by Mr. Hadley, good-bys were said, and the boys and Mr. Alcando went aboard.
"I hope you have good luck!" called Birdie Lee to Blake, as she waved her hand to him.
"And so do I," added Mabel Pierce to Joe.
"Thanks!" they made answer in a chorus.
"And—look—out—for—the—big slides!" called Mr. Piper after them, as the steamer swung away from the pier.
"Gloomy to the last!" laughed Blake.
So they were off for Panama, little dreaming of the sensational adventures that awaited them there.
THE LITTLE BOX
Blake and Joe were too well-seasoned travelers to care to witness many of the scenes attendant upon the departure of their vessel. Though young in years, they had already crowded into their lives so many thrilling adventures that it took something out of the ordinary to arouse their interest.
It was not that they were blase, or indifferent to novel sights, but travel was now, with them, an old story. They had been out West, to the Pacific Coast, and in far-off jungle lands, to say nothing of their trip to the place of the earthquakes, and the more recent trip to the flooded Mississippi Valley.
So, once they had waved good-by to their friends and fellow-workers on the pier, they went to their stateroom to look after their luggage.
The two boys and Mr. Alcando had a room ample for their needs, and, though it would accommodate four, they were assured that the fourth berth would not be occupied, so no stranger would intrude.
When Blake and Joe went below Mr. Alcando did not follow. Either he liked the open air to be found on deck, or he was not such a veteran traveler as to care to miss the sights and sounds of departure. His baggage was piled in one corner, and that of the boys in other parts of the stateroom, with the exception of the trunks and cameras, which were stowed in the hold, as not being wanted on the voyage.
"Well, what do you think of him now?" asked Joe, as he sat down, for both he and Blake were tired, there having been much to do that day.
"Why, he seems all right," was the slowly-given answer.
"Nothing more suspicious; eh?"
"No, I can't say that I've seen anything. Of course it was queer for him to have someone in his room that time, and to get rid of whoever it was so quickly before we came in. But I suppose we all have our secrets."
"Yes," agreed Joe. "And he certainly can't do enough for us. He is very grateful."
This was shown in every way possible by the Spaniard. More than once he referred to the saving of his life in the runaway accident, and he never tired of telling those whom he met what the boys had done for him.
It was truly grateful praise, too, and he was sincere in all that he said. As Joe had remarked, the Spaniard could not do enough for the boys.
He helped in numberless ways in getting ready for the trip, and offered to do errands that could better be attended to by a messenger boy. He was well supplied with cash, and it was all Joe and Blake could do to prevent him from buying them all sorts of articles for use on their trip.
Passing a sporting goods store that made a specialty of fitting out travelers who hunted in the wilds, Mr. Alcando wanted to purchase for Blake and Joe complete camping outfits, portable stoves, guns, knives, patent acetylene lamps, portable tents, automatic revolvers and all sorts of things.
"But we don't need them, thank you!" Blake insisted. "We're not going to do any hunting, and we won't camp out if we can help it."
"Oh, but we might have to!" said Mr. Alcando, "then think how useful these outfits would be."
"But we'd have to cart them around with us for months, maybe," said Joe, "on the slim chance of using part of the things one night. We don't need 'em."
"But I want to do something for you boys!" the Spaniard insisted. "I am so grateful to you—"
"We know that, by this time," declared Blake. "Please don't get anything more," for their friend had already bought them some things for their steamer trip.
"Ah, well then, if you insist," agreed the generous one, "but if ever you come to my country, all that I own is yours. I am ever in your debt."
"Oh, you mustn't feel that way about it," Blake assured him. "After all, you might have saved yourself."
"Hardly," returned the Spaniard, and he shuddered as he recalled how near he had been to death on the bridge.
But now he and Blake and Joe were safely on a steamer on their way to Panama. The weather was getting rather cool, for though it was only early November the chill of winter was beginning to make itself felt.
"But we'll soon be where it's warm enough all the year around," said Joe to Blake, as they arranged their things in the stateroom.
"That's right," said his chum. "It will be a new experience for us. Not quite so much jungle, I hope, as the dose we had of it when we went after the wild animals."
"No, and I'm glad of it," responded Joe. "That was a little too much at times. Yet there is plenty of jungle in Panama."
"I suppose so. Well, suppose we go up on deck for a breath of air."
They had taken a steamer that went directly to Colon, making but one stop, at San Juan, Porto Rico. A number of tourists were aboard, and there were one or two "personally conducted" parties, so the vessel was rather lively, with so many young people.
In the days that followed Joe and Blake made the acquaintance of a number of persons, in whom they were more or less interested. When it became known that the boys were moving picture operators the interest in them increased, and one lively young lady wanted Blake to get out his camera and take some moving pictures of the ship's company. But he explained, that, though he might take the pictures on board the steamer, he had no facilities for developing or printing the positives, or projecting them after they were made.
In the previous books of this series is described in detail the mechanical process of how moving pictures are made, and to those volumes curious readers are referred.
The process is an intricate one, though much simplified from what it was at first, and it is well worth studying.
On and on swept the Gatun, carrying our friends to the wonderland of that great "ditch" which has become one of the marvels of the world. Occasionally there were storms to interrupt the otherwise placid voyage, but there was only short discomfort.
Mr. Alcando was eager to reach the scene of operations, and after his first enthusiasm concerning the voyage had worn off he insisted on talking about the detailed and technical parts of moving picture work to Joe and Blake, who were glad to give him the benefit of their information.
"Well, you haven't seen anything more suspicious about him; have you?" asked Joe of his chum when they were together in the stateroom one evening, the Spaniard being on deck.
"No, I can't say that I have. I guess I did let my imagination run away with me. But say, Joe, what sort of a watch have you that ticks so loudly?"
"Watch! That isn't my watch!" exclaimed his chum.
"Listen!" ordered Blake. "Don't you hear a ticking?"
They both stood at attention.
"I do hear something like a clock," admitted Joe. "But I don't see any. I didn't know there was one in this stateroom."
"There isn't, either," said Joe, with a glance about. "But I surely do hear something."
"Maybe it's your own watch working overtime."
"Mine doesn't tick as loud as that," and Blake pulled out his timepiece. Even with it out of his pocket the beat of the balance wheel could not be heard until one held it to his ear.
"But what is it?" asked Joe, curiously.
"It seems to come from Mr. Alcando's baggage," Blake said. "Yes, it's in his berth," he went on, moving toward that side of the stateroom. The nearer he advanced toward the sleeping place of the Spaniard the louder became the ticking.
"He's got some sort of a clock in his bed," Blake went on. "He may have one of those cheap watches, though it isn't like him to buy that kind. Maybe he put it under his pillow and forgot to take it out. Perhaps I'd better move it or he may not think it's there, and toss it out on the floor."
But when he lifted the pillow no watch was to be seen.
"That's funny," said Blake, musingly. "I surely hear that ticking in this berth; don't you?"
"Yes," assented Joe. "Maybe it's mixed up in the bedclothes." Before Blake could interfere Joe had turned back the coverings, and there, near the foot of the berth, between the sheets, was a small brass-bound box, containing a number of metal projections. It was from this box the ticking sound came.
"Why—why!" gasped Blake. "That—that box—"
"What about it?" asked Joe, wonderingly.
"That's the same box that was on his table the time we came in his room at the hotel—when we smelled the cigar smoke. I wonder what it is, and why he has it in his bed?"
THE SECRET CONFERENCE
Blake was silent a moment after making this portentous announcement. Then he leaned forward, with the evident intention of picking up the curious, ticking box.
"Look out!" cried Joe, grasping his chum's hand.
"What for?" Blake wanted to know.
"It might be loaded—go off, you know!"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Blake. "It's probably only some sort of foreign alarm clock, and he stuffed it in there so the ticking wouldn't keep him awake. I've done the same thing when I didn't want to get up. I used to chuck mine under the bed, or stuff it in an old shoe. What's the matter with you, anyhow? You act scared," for Joe's face was actually white—that is as white as it could be under the tan caused by his outdoor life.
"Well, I—I thought," stammered Joe. "Perhaps that was a—"
"Who's getting suspicious now?" demanded Blake with a laugh. "Talk about me! Why, you're way ahead!"
"Oh, well, I guess I did imagine too much," admitted Joe with a little laugh. "It probably is an alarm clock, as you say. I wonder what we'd better do with it? If we leave it there—"
He was interrupted by the opening of the stateroom door and as both boys turned they saw their Spanish friend standing on the threshold staring at them.
"Well!" he exclaimed, and there was an angry note in his voice—a note the boys had never before noticed, for Mr. Alcando was of a sunny and happy disposition, and not nearly as quick tempered as persons of his nationality are supposed to be.
"I suppose it does look; as though we were rummaging in your things," said Blake, deciding instantly that it was best to be frank. "But we heard a curious ticking noise when we came down here, and we traced it to your bunk. We didn't know what it might be, and thought perhaps you had put your watch in the bed, and might have forgotten to take it out. We looked, and found this—"
"Ah, my new alarm clock!" exclaimed Mr. Alcando, and what seemed to be a look of relief passed over his face. He reached in among the bed clothes and picked up the curious brass-bound ticking box, with its many little metallic projections.
"I perhaps did not tell you that I am a sort of inventor," the Spaniard went on. "I have not had much success, but I think my new alarm clock is going to bring me in some money. It works on a new principle, but I am giving it a good test, privately, before I try to put it on the market."
He took the brass-bound, ticking box from the bed, and must have adjusted the mechanism in a way Blake or Joe did not notice, for the "click-click" stopped at once, and the room seemed curiously still after it.
"Some day I will show you how it works," the young Spaniard went on. "I think, myself, it is quite what you call—clever."
And with that he put the box in a trunk, and closed the lid with a snap that threw the lock.
"And now, boys, we will soon be there!" he cried with a gay laugh. "Soon we will be in the beautiful land of Panama, and will see the marvels of that great canal. Are you not glad? And I shall begin to learn more about making moving pictures! That will please me, though I hope I shall not be so stupid a pupil as to make trouble for you, my friends, to whom I owe so much."
He looked eagerly at the boys.
"We'll teach you all we know, which isn't such an awful lot," said Joe. "And I don't believe you'll be slow."
"You have picked up some of it already," went on Blake, for while delaying over making their arrangements in New York the boys and their pupil had gone into the rudiments of moving picture work.