THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS ON THE WAR FRONT
The Hunt for the Stolen Army Films
BY VICTOR APPLETON
AUTHOR OF "THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS," "THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS UNDER THE SEA," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR-CYCLE," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS AERIAL WARSHIP," ETC.
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1918, by GROSSET & DUNLAP
The Moving Picture Boys on the War Front
I A CALL TO BATTLE 1
II THE ACCIDENT 11
III MONSIEUR SECOR 20
IV ALL ABOARD 29
V ANXIOUS DAYS 39
VI A QUEER CONFERENCE 47
VII "PERISCOPE AHOY!" 56
VIII BEATEN OFF 65
IX SUSPICIONS 72
X THE FLASHLIGHT 80
XI THE DEPTH CHARGE 88
XII IN ENGLAND 97
XIII UNDER SUSPICION 105
XIV IN CUSTODY 114
XV THE FRONT AT LAST 121
XVI THE FIRING LINE 130
XVII BOWLED OVER 138
XVIII TRENCH LIFE 145
XIX GASSED 153
XX "GONE!" 161
XXI ACROSS NO MAN'S LAND 170
XXII CAPTURED 179
XXIII THE AIRSHIP RAID 189
XXIV BURIED ALIVE 199
XXV THE END OF LABENSTEIN 206
THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS ON THE WAR FRONT
A CALL TO BATTLE
"Come on now, ready with those smoke bombs! Where's the Confederate army, anyhow? And you Unionists, don't look as though you were going to rob an apple orchard! Suffering snakes, you're going into battle and you're going to lick the boots off the Johnnie Rebs! Look the part! Look the part! Now, then, what about the cannon? Got plenty of powder in 'em so there'll be lots of smoke?"
A stout man, with perspiration running down his face, one drop trickling from his nose, was hurrying up and down the field.
On one side of him was a small army composed of what seemed to be Civil War Union soldiers. A little farther back was a motley array of Confederates. Farther off was an apple orchard, and close beside that stood a ramshackle farmhouse which was soon to be the center of a desperate moving-picture battle in the course of which the house would be the refuge of the Confederates.
"The old man is sort of on his ear this morning, isn't he, Blake?" asked Joe Duncan of his chum and camera partner, Blake Stewart. "I haven't heard him rage like this since the time C. C. dodged the custard pie he was supposed to take broadside on."
"Yes, he's a bit nervous, Joe; but——"
"Nervous isn't the word for it, Blake. He's boiling over! What's it all about, anyhow? Is he mad because I was a bit late getting here with the extra reels of film?"
"No, he didn't say a word about that. It's just that he can't get this battle scene to suit him. We've rehearsed it and rehearsed it again and again, but each time it seems to go worse. The extras don't seem to know how to fight."
"That's queer, considering all the war preparations that have been going on here since we got in the game against Germany," observed Joe Duncan, as he made some adjustments to his camera, one of several which he and Blake would use in filming part of a big serial, a number of scenes of which were to center around the battle in the apple orchard. "With all the volunteering and drafting that's been going on, soldiers quartered all over and as thick as bees around the cities, you'd think these extra fellows would know something about the game, wouldn't you?"
"You'd think so; but they seem to be afraid of the guns, even though they are loaded with blanks. Here comes Mr. Hadley again, and he's got fire in his eyes!"
Mr. Hadley, producer of the Consolidated Film Company, approached Jacob Ringold, a theatrical manager who was in charge of the company taking the parts in "The Dividing Line," which was the name of the Civil War play.
"Look here, Jake!" exclaimed Mr. Hadley, "is this supposed to be a desperate, bloody battle, or a game of tennis?"
"Why, a battle scene, of course, Mr. Hadley!"
"Well, I'm glad to know it! From the way most of your people just rehearsed it, I thought I might be in the wrong box, and looking at a college football game. But no, I wrong the college game! That would be more strenuous than this battle scene, at least as far as I've watched it. Can't you get a little more life into your people?"
"I'll try, Mr. Hadley," answered the manager, as the producer walked over to the two boys who stood near their cameras waiting for the word to be given, when they would begin grinding out the long reels of celluloid film.
"This is positively the worst production I've ever been in!" complained Mr. Hadley to Blake. "Did you ever see such a farce as when the Confederates were hidden in the orchard and the Unionists stormed over the stone wall? You'd think they were a lot of boys going after apples. Bah! It makes me weary!"
"It isn't very realistic," admitted Blake.
"Mr. Ringold's talking to them now like a Dutch uncle," observed Joe, as he idly swung the crank of his camera, the machine not being in gear.
"Well, I hope it does some good," observed the producer. "If it isn't better pretty soon, I'll let all these extra men go and hire others myself. I want that battle scene to look halfway real, at least."
"It'll be a failure, I know it will," observed a melancholy-looking man who strolled up at this juncture. "I saw a black cat as I came from my room this morning, and that's always a sign of bad luck."
"Oh, leave it to you to find something wrong!" exploded Mr. Hadley. "Can't you look on the cheerful side once in a while, C. C.?" he asked, forgetting that he, himself, had been prophetic of failure but a few moments before.
"Humph!" murmured C. C., otherwise Christopher Cutler Piper, a comedian by profession and a gloom-producer by choice, "you might have known those fellows couldn't act after you'd had one look at 'em," and he motioned to the mobs of extra men, part of whom formed the Confederate and the other half the Union armies. "There isn't a man among them who has ever played Macbeth."
"If they had, and they let it affect them as it does you, I'd fire them on the spot!" laughed Mr. Hadley; and at this, his first sign of mirth that day, Blake, Joe and some of the others smiled.
"I don't want actors for this," went on the producer. "I want just plain fighters—men who can imagine they have something to gain or lose, even if they are shooting only blank cartridges. Well, I see Jake has finished telling them where they get off. Now we'll try a rehearsal once more, and then I'm going to film it whether it's right or not. I've got other fish to fry, and I can't waste all my time on 'The Dividing Line.' By the way," he went on to Joe and Blake, "don't you two young gentlemen make any long-time engagements for the next week."
"Why?" asked Blake.
"Well, I may have a proposition to submit to you, if all goes well. I'll talk about it when I get this battle scene off my mind. Now, then, Jake, how about you?"
"I think it will be all right, Mr. Hadley. I have talked to my extra actors, and they promise to put more verve and spirit into their work."
"Verve and spirit!" cried the producer. "What I want is action!"
"Well, that's the same thing," said the manager. "I've told them they must really get into the spirit of the fight. I think if you try them again——"
"I will! Now, then, men—you who are acting as the Confederates—you take your places in and around the farmhouse. You're supposed to have taken refuge there after escaping from a party of Unionists. You fortify the place, post your sentries and are having a merry time of it—comparatively merry, that is, for you're eating after being without food for a long time.
"The farmhouse is the property of a Union sympathizer, and you eat all the more heartily on that account. He has two daughters—they are Birdie Lee and Miss Shay," he added in an aside to the moving picture boys. "Two members of your company—yes, I'm speaking to you Confederates, so pay attention—two members of your company make love to the two daughters, much to their dislike. In the midst of the merry-making and the love scenes the Union soldiers are reported to be coming. You Johnnie Rebs get out and the fight begins.
"And let me tell you if it isn't a better fight this time than any you've put up before, you can pack your duds and get back to New York. You've missed your vocation, take it from me, if you don't do better than you have! Now, then, Union soldiers, what I said to the enemy applies to you. Fight as though you meant it. Now, one more rehearsal and I'm going to start you on the real thing."
Under the direction of the assistants of Mr. Ringold, while Mr. Hadley looked on critically, the Confederates took their positions in and about the old house. They rehearsed the merry-making scenes and Miss Lee and Miss Shay took the parts of the daughters of the Union sympathizer. The two girls, being actresses of some experience, did very well, and the extra people evidently improved, for Mr. Hadley nodded as if satisfied.
"Now, then, Unionists, move up!" he called. "March along the road as if you didn't care whether you met Stonewall Jackson and his men or not. Get a reckless air about you! That's better. Now, then, some action! Lively, boys!"
This part, too, went better; and after a little more rehearsal the producer called to Blake and Joe.
"Go to it, boys! Get the best results you can from this mimic battle. Maybe you'll soon be where it's hotter than this!"
"What does he mean?" asked Joe, as he picked up his camera and took his position where he could film the scenes at the farmhouse.
"I don't know," answered Blake, who was to take pictures of the marching Unionists. "Maybe there are more stunts for us to do in Earthquake Land."
"If there are I'm not going! I'd rather do undersea stuff than be around volcanoes."
"So would I. But we'll talk about that later. Say, that looks better!" and he motioned to the so-styled Confederates, who did seem to be putting more life into their work.
"Yes," agreed Joe. "I guess when it comes to shooting, and all that, there'll be action enough even for Mr. Hadley."
A little later the mimic battle scene was in full swing. Hundreds of blank cartridges were fired, smoke bombs filled the air with their dense vapor, and in the distance bursting shells tore up the earth, far enough removed from the positions of the men to preclude any danger.
The Unionists closed in around the farmhouse. Close-up scenes were made, showing Birdie Lee and Miss Shay fighting off their Confederate admirers.
Then came the turn in the battle where the Southern force had to give way.
"Burn the house, boys!" cried their officer; and this would be flashed on the screen later as a lead.
The dwelling, which had been purchased with the right to burn it, was set afire, and then began a scene that satisfied even the exacting producer. Great clouds of smoke rolled out, most of it coming from specially prepared bombs, and amid them and the red fire, which simulated flames, could be seen the Union leader carrying out his sweetheart, Birdie Lee.
Blake and Joe ground away at their cameras, faithfully recording the scenes for the thrill and delight of those who would afterward see them in comfortable theaters, all unaware of the hard work necessary to produce them.
The Confederates made a last stand at the barn. They were fired upon by the Unionists and finally driven off down the road—such as were left of them—while the victorious Northern fighters put out the fire in the house and the scene ended in the reuniting of long-separated lovers.
"Well, I'm glad that's over!" remarked Mr. Hadley, as he came up to Blake and Joe where they were taking their cameras apart in readiness for carrying them back to the studio. "It didn't go so badly, do you think?"
"I think it'll be a fine picture!" declared Joe.
"The last stand of the Confederates was particularly good," observed Blake.
"Good!" cried the producer. "That's a fine line for a leader—'The Last Stand.' I must make a note of it before I forget it. And now you boys can go back to New York. Have the films developed the first thing and let me know how they have come out."
"They'll probably be spoiled," put in the gloomy voice of C. C.
Mr. Hadley looked around far something to throw at him, but having nothing but his note book, which was too valuable for that, contented himself with a sharp look at the gloomy comedian.
"When will you want us again, Mr. Hadley?" asked Blake, as he and Joe made ready to go back in the automobile to New York, the "Southern" battle scene having taken place in a location outside of Fort Lee on the New Jersey bank of the Hudson River, where many large moving picture studios are located.
"Oh, that's so! I did want to talk to you about something new I have in mind," said Mr. Hadley. "Blake—and you, too, Joe—are you game for some dangerous work?"
"Do you mean such as we had in Earthquake Land?" asked Blake.
"Or under the sea?" inquired his partner.
"This is a call to battle," replied Mr. Hadley. "And it's real battle, too! None of this smoke-bomb stuff! Boys, are you game for some actual fighting?"
Not at all to the discredit of the moving picture boys is it to be considered when it is recorded that, following this question on the part of Mr. Hadley, they looked sharply at one another.
"A call to battle!" murmured Joe.
"Actual fighting?" added his chum wonderingly.
"Perhaps I'd better explain a bit," went on the film producer. "Most unexpectedly there has come to me an opportunity to get some exceptional pictures. I need resourceful, nervy operators to act as camera men, and it is only paying you two a deserved compliment when I say I at once thought of you."
"Thank you," murmured Blake.
"No thanks necessary," responded Mr. Hadley.
"So now I am ready to put my offer into words. In brief, it is——"
At that moment back of the farmhouse (which was partly in ruins, for the fire had been a real one) a loud explosion sounded. This was followed by shouts and yells.
"Somebody's hurt!" cried Mr. Hadley, and he set off on a run toward the scene, followed by Blake and Joe.
And while they are investigating what had happened, advantage will be taken of the opportunity to tell new readers something of the former books in this series, so they may feel better acquainted with the two young men who are to pose as "heroes," as it is conventionally termed, though, in truth, Joe and Blake would resent that word.
"The Moving Picture Boys" is the title of the first volume of the series, and in that the readers were introduced to Blake Stewart and Joe Duncan while they were working on adjoining farms. A moving picture company came to the fields to make certain scenes and, eventually, the two young men made the acquaintance of the manager, Mr. Hadley.
Blake and Joe were eager to get into the film business, and their wish was gratified. They went to New York, learned the ins and outs of the making of "shifting scenes," as the Scotchman called them, and they had many adventures. The boys became favorites with the picture players, among whom were the gloomy C. C., Miss Shay, Miss Lee, Harris Levinberg and Henry Robertson. Others were added from time to time, sometimes many extra men and women being engaged, in, for instance, scenes like these of "The Dividing Line."
Following their adventures in New York, which were varied and strenuous, the moving picture boys went out West, taking scenes among the cowboys and Indians.
Later they moved on, with the theatrical company, to the coast, where they filmed a realistic picture of a wreck. In the jungle was where we next met Blake and Joe, and they were in dire peril more than once, photographing wild animals, though the dangers there were surpassed when they went to Earthquake Land, as they called it. The details of their happenings there will be found in the fifth volume of the series.
Perilous days on the Mississippi followed, when Blake and Joe took pictures of the flood, and later they were sent to Panama to make views of the digging of the big canal.
Mr. Hadley was a producer who was always eager for new thrills and effects. And when he thought he had exhausted those to be secured on the earth, he took to the ocean. And in "The Moving Picture Boys Under the Sea," the book that immediately precedes the present volume, will be found set down what happened to Blake and Joe when, in a submarine, they took views beneath the surface.
They had not long been home from their experiences with the perils of the deep when they were engaged to make views for "The Dividing Line," with its battle pictures, more or less real.
"What's the matter? What happened? Is any one hurt?" cried Mr. Hadley, as he ran toward the scene of the explosion, followed by Blake and Joe. They could see, by a large cloud of smoke, that something extraordinary had occurred. The figures of several men could be noted running about.
"Is anybody hurt?" demanded the producer again, as he and the two boys reached the place. "I'll send the ambulance, if there is." For when a film battle takes place men are often wounded by accident, and it is necessary to maintain a real hospital on the scene.
"I don't believe any one's hurt," remarked Mr. Robertson, who did juvenile leads.
"Unless it might be C. C.," remarked Mr. Levinberg, who was usually cast as a villain. "And small loss if he was laid up for a week or so. We'd be more cheerful if he were."
"Is C. C. hurt?" asked Joe.
"No; but I guess he's pretty badly scared," answered Mr. Robertson. "After this I guess he'll have more respect for a smoke bomb."
"Was that what exploded?" asked Mr. Hadley.
"Yes," replied the "villain." He pointed to Mr. C. C. Piper walking along in the midst of a group of soldiers. "It happened this way: We were talking about the battle scene, and C. C. kept saying it would be a failure when projected because the smoke bombs were not timed right. He said they should explode closer to the firing line, and some of the men who handled them said they held them as long as they dared before throwing them.
"Old C. C. sneered at this, and said he could hold a smoke bomb until the fuse was burned down out of sight, and then throw it and get better results. So they dared him to try it."
"Well?" asked Mr. Hadley, as the actor paused.
"Well, C. C. did it. He held the smoke bomb, all right, but he didn't throw it soon enough, and, as a result, it exploded almost in his face. Lucky it's only made of heavy paper and not very powerful powder, so he was only knocked down and scorched a little. But I guess he'll have more respect for smoke bombs after this."
"Foolish fellow!" remarked Mr. Hadley. "He never will listen to reason. I hope he isn't badly hurt."
"It's only his feelings, mostly," declared the juvenile actor.
Mr. Piper, otherwise called C. C., came limping along toward the producer and the moving picture boys.
"Mr. Hadley, you may have my resignation, effective at once!" cried the tragedian.
"Oh, don't say that, Mr. Piper. You're not hurt——"
"Well, it isn't any thanks to one of your men that I'm not. I offered to show them how to throw a smoke bomb, and they gave me one with an extra short fuse. It went off almost in my face. If my looks aren't ruined my nerves are, and——"
"No danger of your nerve being gone," murmured Blake, nudging his chum.
"I should say not!"
"Anyhow, I resign!" declared C.C. savagely.
But, as he did this on the average of twice a week, it had become so now that no one paid any attention to him. Mr. Hadley, seeing that he was in no danger and hardly even painfully scorched, no longer worried about the gloomy comedian.
"And now to get back to what we were talking about before that interruption came," said Mr. Hadley to the moving picture boys. "Do you think you'd like to tackle the job?"
"What is it?" asked Blake.
"Give us an idea," added his chum.
"Well, it isn't going to be any easy work," went on the producer. "And I might as well tell you, first as last, that it will be positively dangerous on all sides."
"Like anything we've done before?" Blake wanted to know.
"Not exactly. Earthquake Land is as near like it as anything that occurs to me. In short, how would you like to go to Europe?"
"To the war?" cried Joe.
"Yes; but to take films, not prisoners!"
"Great!" cried Blake. "That suits me, all right!"
"The same here!" agreed Joe instantly. "Tell us more about it!"
"I will in a few days," promised the producer. "I have several details to arrange. Meanwhile, I have a little commission for you along the same line, but it's right around here—or, rather, down in Wrightstown, New Jersey, at one of the army camps.
"I can tell you this much: If you go to Europe, it will be as special agents of Uncle Sam, making films for the use of the army. You will be commissioned, if my plans work out, though you will be non-combatants. The war department wants reliable films, and they asked me to get some for them. I at once thought of you two as the best camera men I could pick out. I also have a contract for getting some films here of army encampment scenes, and you can do these while I'm waiting to perfect my other arrangements, if you like."
"Down at Wrightstown, is it?" cried Joe. "Well, I guess we can take that in. How about it, Blake?"
"Sure we can. That is, if you're through with us on this serial."
"Yes. The most important scenes of that are made now, and some of my other camera men will do for what is left. So if you want to go to the Jersey camp I'll get your papers ready."
"We'll go," decided Blake.
Two days later, during which they wondered at and discussed the possibilities of making films on the battle fronts of Europe, the two youths were in Wrightstown.
One incident occurred while they were at work there that had a considerable bearing on what afterward happened to them. This was after Joe and Blake had finished making a fine set of films, showing the drilling of Uncle Sam's new soldiers, the views to be used to encourage enlistments about the country.
"These are some of the best views we've taken yet in this particular line," observed Joe to Blake, as they sent the boxed reels to New York by one of their helpers to be developed.
"Yes, I think so myself. Of course, they're peaceful, compared to what we may take in France, but——"
He was interrupted by the unexpected return of Charles Anderson, nicknamed "Macaroni," their chief helper, who hurriedly entered the tent assigned to the two boys.
"What's the trouble, Mac?" asked Joe, that being the shortened form of the nickname. "You look worried."
"And so would you, Joe, if you'd had an accident like mine!"
"An accident?" cried Blake, in some alarm.
"Yes! At least, he said it was an accident!"
"Who said so?"
"What accident was it?"
"Why, he ran into me with his auto, and the army films are all spoiled—light-struck!"
"Whew!" whistled Blake, and Joe despairingly banged his fist against his camera.
Macaroni sank down on a chair. Blake said, afterward, their young assistant gave a very fair imitation, as far as regarded the look on his face, of C.C. Piper.
"Ruined! Just plumb ruined!" murmured Charles Anderson.
"But what happened? Tell us about it!" begged Joe. "You say some one ran into you?"
"Yes. I was in the small auto taking the films you gave me to the station, and I had just about time to catch the express when I saw this fellow turning out of one of the side streets of the camp."
"What fellow?" asked Blake.
"I don't know his name," answered Macaroni. "But he's a Frenchman sent here, I've heard, to help instruct our men. He's some sort of officer."
"And his machine ran into yours?" asked Blake.
"Smack into me!" answered his helper. "Knocked the box of films out on the road, and one wheel went over it. Cracked the box clean open, and, of course, as the film wasn't developed, it's light-struck now, and you'll have to take all those marching scenes over again!"
"That's bad!" murmured Joe. "Very bad!"
"Did you say it was an accident?" asked Blake pointedly.
"That's what he said," replied Charlie. "He made all sorts of apologies, admitted it was all his fault, and all that. And it was, too!" burst out Macaroni. "I guess I know how to be careful of undeveloped films! Great hopping hippodromes, if I couldn't drive a car any better than that Frenchman, I'd get out of the army! How he has any license to buy gasolene, I can't imagine! This is how it was," and he went into further details of the occurrence.
"I brought the films back, covering 'em with a black cloth as soon as I could," went on Charles; "but I guess it's too late."
"Let's have a look," suggested Blake. "It may not be so bad as you think."
But it was—every bit, and Joe and Blake found they would have to make the whole series over, requiring the marching of thousands of men and consequent delay in getting the completed films to the various recruiting centers.
"Well, if it has to be done, it has to be," said Joe, with a philosophic sigh. "And making retakes may delay us in getting to Europe."
"That's right!" agreed Blake. "But who is this fellow, anyhow, Charlie? And what made him so careless? An accident like this means a lot to us and to the Government."
"I should say it did!" agreed Macaroni. "And it was the funniest accident I ever saw!"
"How so?" asked Joe.
"Well, a little while before you finished these films this same French officer was talking to me, asking if there were to be any duplicates of them, and questions like that."
"And you told him?"
"Yes. I didn't see any reason for keeping it secret. He isn't a German. If he had been I'd have kept quiet. But he's an accredited representative from the French Government, and is supposed to be quite a fighter. I thought he knew how to run an auto, but he backed and filled, came up on the wrong side of the road, and then plunged into me. Then he said his steering gear went back on him.
"Mighty funny if it did, for it was all right just before and right after the accident. He was all kinds of ways sorry about it, offered to pay for the damage, and all that. I told him that wouldn't take the pictures over again."
"And it won't," agreed Blake. "That's the worst of it! Did you say you had seen this Frenchman before, Mac?"
"Yes; he's been around camp quite a while. You must have seen him too, you and Joe; but I guess you were so busy you didn't notice. He wears a light blue uniform, with a little gold braid on it, and he has one of those leather straps from his shoulder."
"You mean a bandolier," suggested Joe.
"Maybe that's it," admitted Macaroni. "Anyhow, he's a regular swell, and he goes around a lot with the other camp officers. They seem to think he knows a heap about war. But, believe me, he doesn't know much about running an auto—or else he knows too much."
"Well, seeing that he's the guest of this camp, and probably of Uncle Sam, we can't make too much of a row," observed Blake. "I'll go and tell the commandant about the accident, and have him arrange for taking a new series of views. It's too bad, but it can't be helped."
"It could have been helped if anybody with common sense had been running that auto, instead of a frog-eating, parlevooing Frenchman!" cried Macaroni, who was much excited over the affair.
"That's no way to talk about one of our Allies," cautioned Joe.
"Humph!" was all Charles answered, as he looked at the wrecked box of film. "I s'pose he'll claim it was partly my fault."
"Well, we know it wasn't," returned Blake consolingly. "Come on, we'll get ready to do it over again; but, from the way Mr. Hadley wrote in his last letter, he'll be sorry about the delay."
"Is he eager for you to get over on the other side?" asked the helper.
"Yes. And I understand he asked if you wanted to go along as our assistant, Mac."
"He did? First I wasn't going, but now I believe I will. I don't want to stay on the same side of the pond with that Frenchman! He may run into me again."
"Don't be a C. C.," laughed Joe. "Cheer up!"
"I would if I saw anything to laugh at," was the response. "But it sure is tough!"
The moving picture boys felt also that the incident was unfortunate, but they were used to hard luck, and could accept it more easily than could their helper.
The commanding officer at the camp was quite exercised over the matter of the spoiled films.
"Well," he said to Blake when told about it, "I suppose it can't be helped. It may delay matters a bit, and we counted on the films as an aid in the recruiting. There have been a good many stories circulated, by German and other enemies of Uncle Sam, to the effect that the boys in camp are having a most miserable time.
"Of course you know and I know that this isn't so. But we can't reach every one to tell them that. Nor can the newspapers, helpful as they have been, reach every one. That is why we decided on moving pictures. They have a wider appeal than anything else.
"So we army men felt that if we could show pictures of life as it actually is in camp, it would not only help enlistments, but would make the fathers and mothers feel that their sons were going to a place that was good for them."
"So they are; and our pictures will show it, too!" exclaimed Blake. "On account of the accident we'll be a bit delayed, and if that Frenchman runs his auto——"
"Well, perhaps the less said about it the better," cautioned the officer. "He is our guest, you know, and if he was a bit awkward we must overlook it."
"And yet, after all, I wonder, with Mac, if it was a pure accident," mused Blake, as he walked off to join Joe and arrange for the retaking of the films that were spoiled. "I wonder if it was an accident," he repeated.
In the days that followed the destruction of the army films and while the arrangements for taking new pictures were being made, Joe and Blake heard several times from Mr. Hadley. The producer said he was going to send Macaroni abroad with the two boys, if the wiry little helper would consent to go; and to this Charles assented.
He would be very useful to Joe and Blake, they felt, knowing their ways as he did, and being able to work a camera almost as well as they themselves.
"Did the boss tell you just what we were to do?" asked Blake of Joe one day, when they were perfecting the details for taking the new pictures.
"No. But he said he would write us in plenty of time. All I know is that we're to go to Belgium, or Flanders, or somewhere on the Western front, and make films. What we are to get mostly are pictures of our own boys."
"Most of them are in France."
"Well, then we'll go to France. We're to get scenes of life in the camps there, as well as in the trenches. They're for official army records, some of them, I believe."
"And I hope that crazy Frenchman doesn't follow us over and spoil any more films," added Charles, who was loading a camera.
"Not much danger of that," was Joe's opinion.
"Come, don't nurse a grudge," advised Blake.
It was about a week after this that the two boys were ready to take the first of the camp pictures over again.
"Better make 'em double, so there won't be another accident," advised Charles.
"Oh, don't worry! We'll take care of them this time," said Blake.
The long lines of khaki-clad soldiers marched and countermarched. They "hiked," went into camp, cooked, rushed into the trenches, had bayonet drill, and some went up in aeroplanes. All of this was faithfully recorded by the films.
Blake and Joe were standing together, waiting for the army officer to plan some new movements, when a voice behind the two lads asked:
"Pardon me! But are these the new official films?"
Joe and Blake turned quickly before replying. They saw regarding them a slim young fellow with a tiny moustache. His face was browned, as if from exposure to sun and air, and he wore a well-fitting and attractive blue uniform with a leather belt about his waist and another over his shoulder.
"Yes, these are the official films," answered Blake.
"And are you the official artists?"
"Camera men—just plain camera men," corrected Joe.
"Ah, I am interested!" The man spoke with a slight, and not unpleasing, accent. "Can you tell me something about your work?" he asked. "I am very much interested. I would like to know——"
At that moment Macaroni slid up to Blake with a roll of new film, and hoarsely whispered:
"That's the guy that knocked into me and spilled the beans!"
The Frenchman, for it was he, caught the words and smiled.
"Pardon," he murmured. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Monsieur Secor, and I believe I did have the misfortune to spoil some films for you. A thousand pardons!" and Monsieur Secor, with a quick glance at the two boys, bowed low.
Blake was about to make a sharp reply to the polite Frenchman, when he happened to remember what the commanding officer had said. That was that this man was, in reality, a guest of the nation. That he had come over instructed to give as much help as he could in getting the new soldiers in readiness to go "over the top."
"And so I guess I'd better not say what I was going to," mused Blake. Then, to Monsieur Secor he replied:
"I'm sorry, but we're not supposed to talk about our work without the permission of the commanding officer. You see——"
"Ah, I comprehend!" exclaimed the Frenchman, with another bow—a bow altogether too elaborate, Joe thought. "That is as it should be! Always obey orders. I asked, casually, as I am much interested in this motion picture work, and I have observed some of it in my country. So it was your films that I had the misfortune to spoil? I greatly regret it. I suppose it made much extra work for you."
"It did, Monsieur Secor," replied Joe rather shortly. "That is the work we are doing now."
"And if you will excuse us," went on Blake, "we shall have to leave this place and go to the other side of the parade ground. I'm sorry we cannot tell you more of our work, but you will have to get an order from——"
"Non! Non!" and the blue-uniformed officer broke into a torrent of rapid French. "It does not matter in the least," he began to translate. "I asked more out of idle curiosity than anything else. I will watch as much of your work as is permissible for me to see. Later I shall observe the finished films, I hope."
"If you don't bust 'em again!" murmured Macaroni, when out of the officer's hearing. "I wouldn't trust you any too much," he added, as he and the two chums moved away to get views of the soldiers from a different angle.
"What's wrong between you and Monsieur Secor?" asked Joe. "I mean, aside from his having run into you, which he claims was an accident?"
"Well, maybe it was an accident, and maybe it wasn't," said Charles.
"But that isn't all. I know you, Mac. What else do you mean?" demanded Blake, as Joe began to set up the camera in the new location.
"Well, I don't want to make any accusations, especially against a French officer, for I know they're on our side. But I heard that Sim and Schloss are pretty sore because you fellows got this work."
"Sim and Schloss!" repeated Blake. "That Jew firm which tried to cut under us in the contract for making views of animals in Bronx Park?"
"That's the firm," answered Macaroni. "But they're even more German than they're Jews. But that's the firm I mean. One of their camera men was telling me the other day they thought they had this army work all to themselves, and they threw a fit when they heard that Hadley had it and had turned it over to you."
"It goes to show that Duncan and Stewart are making a name for themselves in the moving picture world," said Blake, with a smile.
"It goes to show that you've got to look out for yourselves," declared Charlie Anderson. "Those fellows will do you if they can, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that this frog-eating chap was in with them, and maybe he spoiled your films on purpose, by running into me."
"Nonsense!" cried Blake, speaking confidently, though at heart a little doubtful. "In the first place. Monsieur Secor wouldn't do anything to aid a German firm. That's positive! Again he would have no object in spoiling our films."
"He would if he's in with Sim and Schloss," suggested Joe, taking sides with their helper. "If he could throw discredit on us, and make it appear that we were careless in doing our work, our rivals could go to the war department and, in effect, say: 'I told you so!' Then they could offer to relieve us of the contract."
"Well, I suppose that's true," admitted Blake. "And we haven't any reason to like Sim and Schloss either. But I don't believe they could plot so far as to get a French officer to help them as against us.
"No, Charlie," he went on, having half convinced himself by his reasoning, "I can't quite agree with you. I think it was an accident on the part of Monsieur Secor. By the way, what's his army title?"
"He's a lieutenant, I believe," answered Joe. "Anyhow, he wears that insignia. He's mighty polite, that's sure."
"Too polite," said Macaroni, with a grim smile. "If he hadn't waited for me to pass him the other day he might not have rammed me. Well, it's all in the day's work, I reckon. Here they come, boys! Shoot!"
Blake and Joe began grinding away at the camera cranks, with their helper to assist them. Charles Anderson was more than a paid employee of the moving picture boys. He was a friend as well, and had been with the "firm" some time. He was devoted and faithful, and a good camera man himself, having helped film many large productions.
In spite of what he had said, Blake Stewart was somewhat impressed by what Charles had told him. And for the next few days, during which he was busily engaged on retaking the films, he kept as close a watch as he could on Lieutenant Secor. However, the attitude and conduct of the Frenchman seemed to be above suspicion. He did not carry out his intention, if he really had it, of seeking permission from the commanding officer to observe more closely the work of Blake and Joe. And for a few days before the last of the new films had been taken the blue-uniformed officer was not seen around the camp.
Blake and Joe were too busy to ask what had become of him. Then, too, other matters engaged their attention. For a letter came from Mr. Hadley, telling them and Charles to hold themselves in readiness to leave for England at any time.
"It's all settled," wrote the producer. "I have signed the contracts to take moving picture films of our boys in the French trenches, and wherever else they go on the Western front. You will get detailed instructions, passes, and so on when you arrive on the other side."
"When do we sail?" asked Joe, after Blake had read him this letter, and when they were preparing to go back to New York, having finished their army camp work.
"The exact date isn't settled," answered his partner. "They keep it quiet until the last minute, you know, because some word might be flashed to Germany, and the submarines be on the watch for us."
"That's so!" exclaimed Joe. "Say, wouldn't it be great if we could get one?"
"One what?" asked Blake, who was reading over again certain parts of Mr. Hadley's letter.
"A submarine. I mean film one as it sent a torpedo to blow us out of the water. Wouldn't it be great if we could get that?"
"It would if the torpedo didn't get us first!" grimly replied Blake. "I guess I wouldn't try that if I were you."
"I'm going to, if I get a chance," Joe declared. "It would make a great film, even a few feet of it. We could sell it to one of the motion weeklies for a big sum."
"It's hardly worth the risk," said Blake, "and we're going to have plenty of risks on the other side, I guess."
"Does Mr. Hadley say how we are to go?" asked Joe.
"From New York to Halifax, of course, and from there over to England. They search the ship for contraband at Halifax, I believe, or put her through some official form.
"From England we'll go to France and then be taken to the front. Just what will happen when we get on the other side nobody knows, I guess. We're to report at General Pershing's headquarters, and somebody there, who has this stunt in hand, will take charge of us. After that it's up to you and Charles and me, Joe."
"Yes, I suppose it is. Well, we'll do our best!"
"Sure thing!" assented Blake.
"We will if some ninny of a frog-skinning Frenchman doesn't try to ram us with an airship!" growled Macaroni. He had never gotten over the accident.
"I believe you are growing childish, Mac!" snapped Blake, in unusual ill-humor.
The last of the army camp films had been made and sent in safety to the studios in New York, where the negatives would be developed, the positives, printed by electricity, cut and pasted to make an artistic piece of work, and then they would be ready for display throughout the United States, gaining recruits for Uncle Sam, it was hoped.
Blake and Joe said good-bye to the friends they had made at the Wrightstown camp, and, with Macaroni, proceeded to Manhattan. There they were met by Mr. Hadley, who gave them their final instructions and helped them to get their outfits ready.
"We'll take the regular cameras," said Blake, as he and Joe talked it over together, "and also the two small ones that we can strap on our backs."
"Better take the midget, too," suggested Joe.
"That's too small," objected the lanky helper. "It really is intended for aeroplane work."
"Well, we may get some of that," went on Joe. "I'm game to go up if they want me to."
"That's right!" chimed in Blake. "I didn't think about that. We may have to make views from up near the clouds. Well, we did it once, and we can do it again. Pack the midget, Charlie."
So the small camera went into the outfit that was being made ready for the steamer. As Blake had said, he and his partner had, on one occasion, gone up in a military airship from Governor's Island, to make some views of the harbor. The experience had been a novel one, but the machine was so big, and they flew so low, that there was no discomfort or danger.
"But if we have to go over the German lines, in one of those little machines that only hold two, well, I'll hold my breath—that's all!" declared Joe.
Finally the last of the flank films and the cameras had been packed, the boys had been given their outfits, letters of introduction, passports, and whatever else it was thought they would need. They had bidden farewell to the members of the theatrical film company; and some of the young actresses did not try to conceal their moist eyes, for Blake and Joe were general favorites.
"Well, do the best you can," said C. C. Piper to them, as he and some others accompanied the boys to the pier "somewhere in New York."
"We will," promised Blake.
"And if we don't meet again in this world," went on the tragic comedian, "I'll hope to meet you in another—if there is one."
"Cheerful chap, you are!" said Blake. "Don't you think we'll come back?"
Christopher Cutler Piper shook his head.
"You'll probably be blown up if a shell doesn't get you," he said. "The mortality on the Western front is simply frightful, and the percentage is increasing every day."
"Say, cut it out!" advised Charlie Anderson. "Taking moving pictures over there isn't any more dangerous than filming a fake battle here when some chump of an actor lets off a smoke bomb with a short fuse!"
At this reference to the rather risky trick C. C. had once tried, there was a general laugh, and amid it came the cry:
"All aboard! All ashore that's going ashore!"
The warning bells rang, passengers gathered up the last of their belongings, friends and relatives said tearful or cheerful good-byes, and the French liner, which was to bear the moving picture boys to Halifax, and then to England, was slowly moved away from her berth by pushing, fussing, steaming tugs.
"Well, we're off!" observed Blake.
"That's so," agreed Joe. "And I'm glad we've started."
"You aren't the only ones who have done that," said Macaroni. "Somebody else has started with you!"
For answer the lanky helper pointed across the deck. There, leaning up against a lifeboat, was Lieutenant Secor, smoking a cigarette and seemingly unconscious of the presence of the moving picture boys.
For a moment even Blake, cool as he usually was, seemed to lose his head. He started in the direction of the Frenchman, against whom their suspicions were directed, thinking to speak to him, when Joe sprang from his chair.
"I'll show him!" exclaimed Blake's chum and partner, and this served to make Blake himself aware of the danger of acting too hastily. Quickly Blake put out his hand and held Joe back.
"What's the matter?" came the sharp demand. "I want to go and ask that fellow what he means by following us!"
"I wouldn't," advised Blake, and now he had control of his own feelings.
"Because," answered Blake slowly, as he smiled at his chum, "he might, with perfect truth and considerable reason, say it was none of your business."
"None of my business? None of our business that he follows us aboard this ship when we're going over to get official war films? Well, Blake Stewart, I did think you had some spunk, but——"
"Easy now," cautioned Macaroni. "He's looking over here to see what the row's about. There! He's looking right at us."
The Frenchman did, indeed, seem to observe for the first time the presence of the boys so close to him. He looked over, bowed and smiled, but did not leave his place near the rail. He appeared to be occupied in looking at the docks and the shipping of New York harbor, glancing now at the tall buildings of New York, and again over at the Jersey shore and the Statue of Liberty.
"Come on back here—behind the deckhouse," advised Blake to his chum and Macaroni. "We can talk then and he can't see us."
And when they were thus out of sight, and the vessel was gathering way under her own power, Joe burst out with:
"Say, what does all this mean? Why didn't you let me go over and ask him what he meant by following us on board this vessel?"
"I told you," answered Blake, "that he'd probably tell you it was none of your business."
"Why isn't it?"
"Because this is a public vessel—that is, public in as much as all properly accredited persons who desire may go to England on her. Lieutenant Secor must have his passport, or he wouldn't be here. And, as this is a public place, he has as much right here as we have.
"And of course if you had asked him, Joe, especially with the show of indignation you're wearing now, he would have told you, and with perfect right, that he had as much business here as you have. He didn't follow us here; I think he was on board ahead of us. But if he did follow us, he did no more than some of these other passengers did, who came up the gangplank after us. This is a public boat."
Joe looked at his chum a moment, and then a smile replaced the frown on his face.
"Well, I guess you're right," he announced. "I forgot that anybody might come aboard as well as ourselves. But it does look queer—his coming here so soon after he spoiled our films; whether intentionally or not doesn't matter."
"Well, I agree with you there—that it does look funny," said Blake Stewart. "But we mustn't let that fact get the better of our judgment. If there's anything wrong here, we've got to find it out, and we can't do it by going off half cocked."
"Well, there's something wrong, all right," said Charlie Anderson, smiling at his apparently contradictory statement. "And we'll find out what it is, too! But I guess you're right, Blake. We've got to go slow. I'm going below to see if our stuff is safe."
"Oh, I don't imagine anything can have happened to it—so soon," said Blake. "At the same time, we will be careful. Now we must remember that we may be altogether wrong in thinking this Frenchman is working against us in the interests of our rivals, Sim and Schloss. In fact, I don't believe that firm cares much about the contract we have, though they have tried to cut in under us on other matters. So we must meet Lieutenant Secor halfway if he makes any advances. It isn't fair to misjudge him."
"I suppose so," agreed Joe. "Yet we must be on our guard against him. I'm not going to give him any information about what we are going across to do."
"That's right," assented Blake. "Don't talk too much to anybody—especially strangers. We'll be decent to this chap, but he is no longer a guest of our nation, and we don't have to go out of our way to be polite. Just be decent, that's all—and on the watch."
"I'm with you," said Joe, as Macaroni came back to say that all was well in their cabin where they had left most of their personal possessions. The cameras and the reels of unexposed film were in the hold with their heavy baggage, but they had kept with them a small camera and some film for use in emergencies.
"For we might sight a submarine," Joe had said. "And if I get a chance, I'm going to film a torpedo."
By this time the vessel was down in the Narrows, with the frowning forts on either side, and as they passed these harbor defenses Lieutenant Secor crossed the deck and nodded to the boys.
"I did not know we were to be traveling companions," he said, with a smile.
"Nor did we," added Blake. "You are going back to France, then?"
The lieutenant shrugged his shoulders in characteristic fashion.
"Who knows?" he asked. "I am in the service of my beloved country. I go where I am sent. I am under orders, Messieurs, and until I report in Paris I know not what duty I am to perform. But I am charmed to see you again, and rest assured I shall not repeat my lamentable blunder."
"No, I'll take good care you don't run into me," muttered Macaroni.
"And you, my friends of the movies—you camera men, as you call yourselves—you are going to France also?"
"We don't know where we are going, any more than you do," said Blake.
"Ah, then you are in the duty, too? You are under orders?"
"In a way, yes," said Blake. "We are, if you will excuse me for saying so, on a sort of mission——"
"Ah, I understand, monsieur! A thousand pardons. It is a secret mission, is it not? Tut! Tut! I must not ask! You, too, are soldiers in a way. I must not talk about it. Forget that I have asked you. I am as silent as the graveyard. What is that delightful slang you have—remember it no more? Ah, I have blundered! Forget it! Now I have it! I shall forget it!" and, with a gay laugh, he smiled at the boys, and then, nodding, strolled about the deck.
"He's jolly enough, anyhow," remarked Joe.
"Yes, and perhaps we have wronged him," said Blake. "The best way is not to talk too much to him. We might let something slip out without knowing it. Let him jabber as much as he likes. We'll just saw wood."
"I suppose he'd call that some more of our delightful slang, and translate it 'render into small pieces portions of the forest trees for the morning fire,'" laughed Joe. "Well, Blake, I guess you're right. We've got to keep things under our hats!"
"And watch our cameras and films," added Charlie. "No more accidental-purpose collisions for mine!"
In the novelty and excitement of getting fairly under way the moving picture boys forgot, for the time being, the presence of one who might be not only an enemy of theirs but of their country also. It was not the first time Blake and Joe had undertaken a long voyage, but this was under auspices different from any other.
The United States was at war with a powerful and unscrupulous nation. There were daily attacks on merchantmen, as well as on war vessels, by the deadly submarine, and there was no telling, once they reached the danger zone, what their own fate might be.
So even the start of the voyage was different from one that might have been taken under more favorable skies. Soon after they had passed into the lower bay word was passed that the passengers would be assigned to "watches," or squads, for lifeboat drill, in anticipation of reaching the dangerous submarine zone.
And then followed anxious days, not that there was any particular danger as yet from hostile craft, but every one anticipated there would be, and there was a grim earnestness about the lifeboat drills.
"I have been through it all before—when I came over," said Lieutenant Secor to the boys; "but it has not lost its terrible charm. It is a part of this great war!"
And as the ship plowed her way on toward her destination the anxious days became more anxious, and there were strained looks on the faces of all.
A QUEER CONFERENCE
Halifax was safely reached, nothing more exciting having occurred between that port and New York than a severe thunder storm, and, after the usual inspection by the English authorities, the ship bearing the moving picture boys was once more on her way.
The lifeboat drills were rigorously kept up, and now, as the real voyage had begun, with each day bringing nearer the dreaded submarine peril, orders were given in regard to the display of lights after dark. The passengers were ordered to be in readiness, to keep life preservers at hand, and were told that as soon as the actual danger zone was reached it would be advisable for all to keep their clothing on at night as well as during the day.
"But the destroyers will convoy us, won't they?" asked Charlie Anderson.
"Oh, yes! They'll be on hand to greet us when the time comes," answered Blake. "Uncle Sam's as well as King George's. But, for all that, a submarine may slip in between them and send a torpedo to welcome us."
"Then's when I'm going to get busy with the small camera," declared Joe.
"A heap of good it'll do you to get some pictures of it, if the ship is blown up," remarked his chum.
"Oh, well, I'm going to take a chance. Every ship that's torpedoed doesn't sink, and we may be one of the lucky ones. And if I should happen to get some views of a destroyer sinking a submarine—why, I'd have something that any camera man in the world would be proud of!"
"That's right!" agreed Blake. "But don't take any chances."
Joe promised to heed this advice, and he was really enthusiastic about his chance of getting a view of an oncoming torpedo. That he might get views of a warship or a destroyer sinking one of the Hun undersea boats was what he dreamed about night and day.
It was the day before they were actually to enter the danger zone—the zone marked off in her arrogance by Germany—that something occurred which made even cautious Blake think that perhaps they were justified in their suspicions of the Frenchman.
The usual lifeboat drills had been held, and the passengers were standing about in small groups, talking of what was best to be done in case the torpedo or submarine alarm should be given, when Macaroni, who had been down in the cabin, came up and crossed the deck to where Blake and Joe were talking to two young ladies, to whom they had been introduced by the captain.
By one of the many signs in use among moving picture camera men, which take the place of words when they are busy at the films, Macaroni gave the two chums to understand he wanted to speak to them privately and at once. The two partners remained a little longer in conversation, and then, making their excuses, followed their helper to a secluded spot.
"What's up?" demanded Joe. "Have you made some views of a torpedo?"
"Or seen a periscope?" asked Blake.
"Neither one," Charlie answered. "But if you want to see something that will open your eyes come below."
His manner was so earnest and strange, and he seemed so moved by what he had evidently seen, that Blake and Joe, asking no further questions, followed him.
"What is it?" Joe demanded, as they were about to enter their cabin, one occupied by the three of them.
"Look there!" whispered the helper, as he pointed to a mirror on their wall.
Blake and Joe saw something which made them open their eyes. It was the reflection of a strange conference taking place in the stateroom across the passageway from them, a conference of which a view was possible because of open transoms in both staterooms and mirrors so arranged that what took place in the one across the corridor was visible to the boys, yet they remained hidden themselves.
Blake and Joe saw two men with heads close together over a small table in the center of the opposite stateroom. The tilted mirror transferred the view into their own looking-glass. The men appeared to be examining a map, or, at any rate, some paper, and their manner was secretive, alone though they were.
But it was not so much the manner of the men as it was the identity of one that aroused the curiosity and fear of the moving picture boys—curiosity as to what might be the subject of the queer conference, and fear as to the result of it.
For one of the men was Lieutenant Secor, the Frenchman, and the other was a passenger who, though claiming to be a wealthy Hebrew with American citizenship, was, so the boys believed, thoroughly German. He was down on the passenger list as Levi Labenstein, and he did bear some resemblance to a Jew, but his talk had the unmistakable German accent.
Not that there are not German Jews, but their tongue has not the knack of the pure, guttural German of Prussia. And this man's voice had none of the nasal, throaty tones of Yiddish.
"Whew!" whistled Joe, as he and Blake looked into the tell-tale mirror. "That looks bad!"
"Hush!" cautioned Blake. "The transoms are open and he may hear you."
But a look into the reflecting glasses showed that the two men—the Frenchman and the German—had not looked up from their eager poring over the map, or whatever paper was between them.
"How long have they been this way?" asked Blake, in a whisper, of Charlie.
"I don't know," Macaroni answered. "I happened to see them when I came down to get something, and after I'd watched them a while I went to tell you."
"I'm glad you did," went on Blake; "though I don't know what it means—if it means anything."
"It means something, all right," declared Joe, and he, like the others, was careful to keep his voice low-pitched. "It means treason, if I'm any judge!"
"Treason?" repeated Blake.
"Yes; wouldn't you call it that if you saw one of our army officers having a secret talk with a German enemy?"
"I suppose so," assented Blake. "And yet Lieutenant Secor isn't one of our officers."
"No, but he's been in our camps, and he's been a guest of Uncle Sam. He's been in a position to spy out some of the army secrets, and now we see him talking to this German."
"But this man may not be a subject of the Kaiser," said Blake.
"Sure he is!" declared Charlie. "He's no more a real Jew than I am! He's a Teuton! Germany has no love for the Jews, and they don't have any use for the Huns. Take my word for it, fellows, there's something wrong going on here."
"It may be," admitted Blake; "but does it concern us?"
"Of course it does!" declared Joe. "This Frenchman may be betraying some of Uncle Sam's secrets to the enemy—not only our enemy, but the enemy of his own country."
"Yes, I suppose there are traitorous Frenchmen," said Blake slowly, "but they are mighty few."
"But this means something!" declared Macaroni.
And Blake, slow as he was sometimes in forming an opinion, could not but agree with him.
In silence the boys watched the two men at their queer conference. The tilted mirrors—one in each stateroom—gave a perfect view of what went on between the Frenchman and the German, as the boys preferred to think Labenstein, but the watchers themselves were not observed. This they could make sure of, for several times one or the other of the men across the corridor looked up, and full into the mirror on their own wall, but they gave no indication of observing anything out of the ordinary.
The mirrors were fastened in a tilted position to prevent them from swinging as the ship rolled, and as they did not sway there was an unchanged view to be had.
"I wonder what they're saying," observed Blake.
They could only guess, however, for though the men talked rapidly and eagerly, as evidenced by their gestures, what they said was not audible. Though both transoms were open, no sound came from the room opposite where the boys were gathered. The men spoke too low for that.
"I guess they know it's dangerous to be found out," said Joe.
"But we ought to find out what it's about!" declared Macaroni.
"Yes, I think we ought," assented Blake. "This Frenchman has been in our country, going about from camp to camp according to his own story, and he must have picked up a lot of information."
"And he knows about our pictures, too!"
"Well, I don't imagine what we have taken, so far, will be of any great value to Germany, assuming that Lieutenant Secor is a spy and has told about them," Blake said.
"We've got to find out something about this, though, haven't we?" asked Joe.
"I think we ought to try," agreed his chum. "Perhaps we should tell Captain Merceau. He's a Frenchman, and will know how to deal with Secor."
"Good idea!" exclaimed Joe. "If we could only get him down here to see what we've seen, it would clinch matters. I wonder——"
But Joe ceased talking at a motion from Blake, who silently pointed at the mirror. In that way they saw the reflection of the men in the other cabin. They arose from their seats at the table, and the map or whatever papers they had been looking at, were put away quietly in the Frenchman's pocket.
He and the German, as the boys decided to call Labenstein, spoke in whispers once more, and then shook hands, as if to seal some pact.
Then, as the boys watched, Lieutenant Secor opened the door of the stateroom, which had been locked. He stepped out into the corridor, and was now lost to view.
The next moment, to the surprise of Blake and his two friends, there came a knock on their own door, and a voice asked:
"Are you within, young gentlemen of the cameras? I am Lieutenant Secor!"
Sudden and unexpected was the knocking, and it found the boys unready to answer it. They had no idea that the conspirators—either or both of them—would come directly from their conference to the room where a watch had been kept on them.
"Do you think he saw us?" asked Joe, in a whisper.
"S'posing he did?" demanded Charlie. "We have the goods on him, all right."
Blake held up a hand to enjoin silence, though the remarks of his friends had been made in the lowest of tones.
The knock was given again, and the voice of the Frenchman asked:
"Are you within, my friends of the camera? I wish to speak with you!"
"One moment!" called Blake, in a tone he tried to make pleasant. Then he motioned to Joe and Charlie to seem to be busy over the midget camera, which was kept ready for instant use. At the same moment Blake threw a black focusing cloth over the mirror, for he thought the Frenchman might notice that it was in a position to reflect whatever took place in the opposite room.
"Act natural—as if you were getting ready to make some pictures," Blake whispered in Joe's ear, and then opened the door.
"Pardon me for disturbing you," began Lieutenant Secor, "but I have just come down from on deck. They are having a special lifeboat drill, and I thought perhaps you might like to get some views of it. Also, I have a favor to ask of you."
"Come in," said Blake, as he opened the door wider. At the same time he noticed that the door of the stateroom across the corridor was shut.
"Just came down from deck, did he?" mused Joe, as he took note of the Frenchman's false statement. "Well, he must have run up and run down again in jig fashion to be able to do that. I wonder what he wants to ask us?"
Joe and Charlie pretended to be adjusting the small camera, and Blake smiled a welcome he did not feel. Black suspicion was in his heart against the Frenchman. An open enemy Blake could understand, but not a spy or a traitor.
"I thought perhaps you might like to get some of the views from on deck," went on Lieutenant Secor, smiling his white-toothed smile. "They are even lowering boats into the water—a realistic drill!"
Blake looked at Joe as much as to ask if it would be advisable to get some views. At the same time Blake made a sign which Joe interpreted to mean:
"Go up on deck and see what's going on—you and Charlie. I'll take care of him down here."
"Come on!" Joe remarked to their helper, as he gathered up the small camera. "We'll take this in."
"I thought you might like it," said the Frenchman. "That's why I hurried down to tell you."
"Now I wonder," thought Blake to himself, as Joe made ready to leave, "why he thinks it worth his while to tell that untruth? What is his game?"
At the same time an uneasy thought came to Joe.
"If we go up and leave Blake alone with this fellow, may not something happen? Perhaps he'll attack Blake!"
But that thought no sooner came than it was dismissed, for, Joe reasoned, what harm could happen to his chum, who was well able to take care of himself? True, the Frenchman might be armed, but so was Blake. Then, too, there could be no object in attacking Blake. He had little of value on his person, and the films and cameras were not in the stateroom. And there were no films of any value as yet, either.
"Guess I'm doing too much imagining," said Joe to himself. "This fellow may be a plotter and a spy in German pay—and I haven't any doubt but what he is—but I reckon Blake can look after himself. Anyhow, he wants me to leave Secor to him, and I'll do it. But not too long!"
So Joe and Charlie, taking the small camera with them, went up on deck. There they did find an unusual lifeboat drill going on. The danger zone was now so close that Captain Merceau and his officers of the ship were taking no chances. They wanted to be prepared for the worst, and so they had the men passengers practise getting into the boats, which were lowered into the water and rowed a short distance away from the ship.
The women and children, of whom there were a few on board, watched from the decks, taking note of how to get into the boats, and how best to act once they were in their places.
"Going to film this?" asked Charlie of Joe.
"No, I think not," was the answer. "It's interesting, but there have been lots of drills like it. If it were the real thing, now, I'd shoot; but I'm going to save the film on the chance of getting a sub or a torpedo. This is a sort of bluff on the part of you and me, anyhow. Blake wanted to get us out of the cabin while he tackled Secor, I reckon. What his game is I don't know."
"I can come pretty near to guessing," said Macaroni, as he stretched his lank legs, which had, in part, earned him the nickname. "That fake lieutenant is planning some game with the German spy, that's his game."
"Maybe," admitted Joe. "But I don't see how we figure in it."
"Perhaps we will after we've gotten some reels of valuable film," suggested Charlie. "Don't crow until you've ground out the last bit of footage."
"No, that's right. Look, that boat's going to spill if I'm any judge!"
Excited shouts and a confusion of orders drew the attention of the boys and many others to a lifeboat where, amidships on the port side, it was being lowered away as part of the drill. There were a number of sailors in it—part of the crew—and, as Joe and Charlie watched, one of the falls became jammed with the result that the stern of the boat was suddenly lowered while the bow was held in place.
As might have been expected, the sudden tilting of the boat at an acute angle threw the occupants all into one end. There were yells and shouts, and then came splashes, as one after another fell into the ocean.
Women and children screamed and men hoarsely called to one another. For a moment it looked as though the safety drill would result in a tragedy, and then shrill laughter from the men who had fallen into the water, as well as cries of merriment from those who still clung to the boat, showed that, if not intended as a joke, the happening had been turned into one.
The sailors were all good swimmers, the day was sunny and the water warm, and in a short time another boat had been rowed to the scene of the upset, and those who went overboard were picked up, still laughing.
"I might have taken that if I had known they were going to pull a stunt like that," said Joe, a bit regretfully. "However, I guess we'll get all the excitement we want when we get to the war front."
"I believe you!" exclaimed Charlie. "There's our German spy," he added, pointing to the dark-complexioned and bearded man who had been seen, through the mirrors' reflections, talking to the Frenchman. He had evidently hurried up on deck to ascertain the cause of the confusion, for he was without collar or tie.
The boat was righted, the wet sailors went laughing below to change into dry garments, and the passengers resumed their usual occupations which, in the main, consisted of nervously watching the heaving waves for a sight of a periscope, or a wake of bubbles that might tell of an on-speeding torpedo.
Mr. Labenstein, to credit him with the name on the passenger list, gave a look around, and, seeing that there was no danger, at once went below again.
"Wonder how Blake's making out?" asked Charlie of Joe, as they walked the deck. "Do you think we'd better go down?"
"Not until we get some word from him. Hello! Here he is now!" and Joe pointed to their friend coming toward them.
"Well?" asked Joe significantly.
"Nothing much," answered Blake. "He was as nice and affable as he always is. Just talked about the war in general terms. Said the Allies and Uncle Sam were sure to win."
"Did he want anything?" asked Charlie. "He said he was going to ask a favor, you know."
"Well, he hinted for information as to what we were going to do on the other side, but I didn't give him any satisfaction. Then he wanted to know whether we would consider an offer from the French Government."
"What'd you say to that?"
"I didn't give him a direct answer. Said I'd think about it. I thought it best to string him along. No telling what may be behind it all."
"You're right," agreed Joe. "Lieutenant Secor will bear watching. Did he have any idea we were observing him?"
"I think not. If he did, he didn't let on. But I thought sure, when he came across the corridor and knocked, that he'd discovered us."
"So did I, and I was all ready to bluff him out. But we'll have to be on the watch, and especially on the other side."
"What do you mean?" asked Blake.
"Well, I have an idea he's after our films, the same as he was before, either to spoil them or get them for some purpose of his own. Just now we aren't taking any, and he hasn't any desire, I suppose, to get possession of the unexposed reels. But when we begin to make pictures of our boys in the trenches, and perhaps of some engagements, we'll have to see that the reels are well guarded."
"We will," agreed Blake. "What was going on up here? We heard a racket, and Labenstein rushed up half dressed."
"Lifeboat spilled—no harm done," explained Charlie. "Well, I might as well take this camera below if we're not going to use it."
"Come on, Blake," urged Joe. "They're going to have gun drill. Let's watch."
The vessel carried four quick-firing guns for use against submarines, one each in the bow and stern, and one on either beam. The gunners were from Uncle Sam's navy and were expert marksmen, as had been evidenced in practice.
"Are we in the danger zone yet?" asked one of the two young women whose acquaintance Blake and Joe had made through the courtesy of Captain Merceau.
"Oh, yes," Blake answered. "We have been for some time."
"But I thought when we got there we would be protected by warships or torpedo-boat destroyers," said Miss Hanson.
"We're supposed to be," replied Joe. "I've been looking for a sight of one. They may be along any minute. Look, there comes a messenger from the wireless room. He's going to the bridge where the captain is. Maybe that's word from a destroyer now."
Interestedly they watched the messenger make his way to the bridge with a slip of paper in his hand. And then, before he could reach it, there came a hail from the lookout in the crow's nest high above the deck.
He called in French, but Joe and Blake knew what he said. It was:
"Periscope ahoy! Two points off on the port bow! Periscope ahoy!"
Decks that, a moment, before, had exhibited scenes of quietness, though there was a nervous tenseness on all sides, at once assumed feverish activity. Officers on duty, hearing the cry of the lookout, called to him to repeat his message, which he did, with the added information that the submarine, as evidenced by the appearance of the periscope cutting the water, was approaching nearer, and with great swiftness.
"Here she comes, Blake!" cried Joe, as the two boys stood together at the spot from which they had been watching the wireless messenger a moment before. "Here she comes! Now for a chance at a picture!"
"You're not going below, are you?" cried Blake.
"Why not?" asked Joe, pausing on his way to the companionway.
"Why, we may be blown up at any moment! We may be hit by a torpedo! I don't see why they haven't loosed one at us before this, as their periscope is in sight. You shouldn't go below now! Stay on deck, where you'll have a chance to get in the boat you're assigned to!"
"I've got to go below to get the small camera," answered Joe. "I ought to have kept it on deck. I'm going to, after this, to have it ready."
"But, Joe, the torpedo may be on its way now—under water!"
"That's just what I want to get a picture of! I guess if we're going to be blown up, being below deck or on deck doesn't make much difference. I want to get that picture!"
And, seeing that his chum was very much in earnest, Blake, not to let Joe do it alone, went below with him to get the camera. But on the way they met Charlie coming up with it.
"She's all loaded, boys, ready for action!" cried the lanky Macaroni. "I started down for it as soon as I heard the lookout yell! I didn't know what he was jabbering about, seeing I don't understand much French, but I guessed it was a submarine. Am I right?"
"Yes!" shouted Joe. "Good work, Mac! Now for a picture!"
And while Joe and his two friends were thus making ready, in the face of imminent disaster, to get pictures of the torpedo that might be on its way to sink the ship, many other matters were being undertaken.
Passengers were being called to take the places previously assigned to them in the lifeboats. Captain Merceau and his officers, after a hasty consultation, were gathered on the bridge, looking for the first sight of the submarine, or, what was more vital, for the ripples that would disclose the presence of the torpedo.
But perhaps the most eager of all, and certainly among the most active, were the members of the gun crews. On both sides of the vessel, and at bow and stern, the call to quarters had been answered promptly, and with strained but eager eyes the young men, under their lieutenants, were watching for the first fair sight of something at which to loose the missiles of the quick-firing guns.
"Give it to her, lads! Give it to her! All you can pump in!" yelled the commander of the squad on the port side, for it was off that bow that the lookout had sighted the periscope.
And while the hurried preparations went on for getting the passengers into the lifeboats, at the falls of which the members of the crew stood ready to lower away, there came from the port gun a rattle and barking of fire.
The periscope had disappeared for a moment after the lookout had sighted it, but a slight disturbance in the water, a ripple that was different from the line of foam caused by the breaking waves, showed where it had been.
And by the time Joe and Blake, with the help of Charlie, had set up their small camera, the tell-tale indicator of an undersea boat was again in view, coming straight for the steamer.
"There she is!" cried Blake.
"I see her!" answered Joe, as he focussed the lens of the machine on the object "I'll get her as soon as she breaks!"
The mewing picture boys, as well as Charlie, had forgotten all about the need of taking their places at the stations assigned to them, to be in readiness to get into a boat. They were sharply reminded of this by one of the junior officers.
"Take your places! Take your places!" he cried.
"Not yet!" answered Joe. "We want to get a shot at her first!"
"But, young gentlemen, you must not shoot with that. It will be ineffectual! Let the gunners do their work, I beg of you. Take your places at the boats!"
"That's all right!" exclaimed Blake "We're only going to shoot some moving pictures."
"Ah, what brave rashness!" murmured the French officer, as he hurried away.
Blake and Joe, with Charlie to steady the machine, for the steamer was now zigzagging at high speed in an effort to escape the expected torpedo, were taking pictures of the approach of the submarine. The underwater craft was still coming on, her periscope in the midst of a hail of fire from the steamer's guns. For, now that the vessel was making turns, it was possible for two gun crews, alternately, to fire at the German boat.
"There goes the periscope!" yelled Charlie, as a burst of shots, concentrated on the brass tube, seemed to dispose of it.
But he had spoken too soon. The submarine had merely drawn the periscope within herself, it being of the telescope variety, and the next moment, with a movement of the water as if some monster leviathan were breaking from the ocean depths, the steel-plated and rivet-studded back of the submarine rose, glistening in the sun and in full view of those on deck, not two hundred yards away.
"There she blows!" cried Charlie, as an old salt might announce the presence of a whale. "There she blows! Film her, boys!"
And Blake and Joe were doing just that.
Meanwhile even wilder excitement, if possible, prevailed on deck. There was a rush for the boats that nearly overwhelmed the crews stationed to lower them from the sides, and the officers had all they could do to preserve order.
"The torpedo! The torpedo at the stern!" cried the lookout, who, notwithstanding his position of almost certain death should the ship be struck, had not deserted his elevated post. "They have loosed a torpedo at the stern!"
Blake and Joe, who were well aft, looked for a moment away from the submarine, and saw a line of bubbles approaching the stern and a ripple that indicated the presence of that dread engine of war—an air-driven torpedo.
And as if the ship herself knew what doom awaited her should the torpedo so much as touch her, she increased her speed, and to such good purpose that the mass of gun-cotton, contained in the steel cylinder that had been launched from the submarine, passed under the stern. But only a few feet from the rudder did it pass. By such a little margin was the ship saved.
And then, having a broader mark at which to aim, the gunners sent a perfect hail of lead and shells at the underwater boat, and with such effect that some hits were made. Whether or not they were vital ones it was impossible to learn, for there was a sudden motion to the submarine, which had been quietly resting on the surface for a moment, and then she slipped beneath the waves again.
"Driven off!" cried Blake, as he and Joe got the final pictures of this drama—a drama that had come so near being a tragedy. "They've beaten her off!"
"But we're not safe yet!" cried Charlie. "She may shoot another torpedo at us from under water—she can do that, all right! Look out, boys!"
There was need of this, yet it was impossible to do more toward saving one's life than to take to the boats. And even that, under the inhuman and ruthless system of the Huns, was no guarantee that one would be saved. Lifeboats had, more than once, been shelled by Germans.
The appearance of the submarine had added to the panic caused by the sight of the periscope, and there was a rush for the boats that took all the power and authority of the officers to manage it.
There was a period of anxious waiting, but either the submarine had no other torpedoes, or, if she did fire any, they went wide, or, again, the gunfire from the vessel may have disabled her entirely. She did not again show herself above the surface. Even the periscope was not observed.
Having nothing to picture, Blake and Joe turned away from the camera for a moment. Some of the lifeboats had already been filled with their loads when Charlie, pointing to something afar off, cried:
"Here comes another boat!"
On the horizon a dense cloud of black smoke showed.
For a moment there was more terror and excitement aboard the Jeanne, if it were possible, after it became certain that another craft, the nature of which none knew, was headed toward the French steamer. Then an officer gifted with sound common-sense, cried out in English, so that the majority could understand:
"It is a destroyer! It is a destroyer belonging to the Stars and Stripes coming to our rescue. Three cheers!"
Nobody gave the three cheers, but it heartened every one to hear them called for, and the real meaning of the smoke was borne to all.
"Of course it can't be a submarine!" exclaimed Blake. "They don't send out any smoke, and there aren't any other German boats at sea. It's a destroyer!"
"One of ours, do you think?" asked Charlie.
"Perhaps. Uncle Sam has a lot of 'em over here to act as convoys. Probably this is our escort coming up a little late to the ball," said Joe.
"But we did very well by ourselves," observed Blake. "It was a narrow squeak, though."
And indeed it was a narrow escape. The Jeanne had, unaided, driven off the undersea boat, and perhaps had damaged her by the rain of shot and shell poured at her steel sides. They could not feel sure of this, though, for the approach of the destroyer was probably known to the submarine, for they have underwater telephones which tell them, by means of the throbbing of the screws and propellers in the water, just about how far away another ship is, and what speed she is making, as well as the direction from which she is coming.
Whether the submarine had expended her last torpedo, or whether having missed what she intended for a vital shot she deemed there was not time to launch another and had sunk out of sight, or whether she were disabled, were questions perhaps never to be answered.
At any rate, the approach of the destroyer, which came on with amazing speed, served to make the Jeanne comparatively safe. The lifeboats were emptied of their passengers, and once more there was a feeling of comparative safety as the passengers again thronged the decks.
On came the destroyer. She proved to be one of Uncle Sam's boats, and the joy with which she was greeted was vociferous and perhaps a little hysterical. She had learned by wireless of the appearance of the French craft in the danger zone, and had come to fulfill her mission. She had been delayed by a slight accident, or she would have been on hand when the submarine first approached.
The wireless message that had come just as the German craft appeared had been from the destroyer, to bid those aboard the Jeanne have no fear, for help was on the way. And soon after the grim and swift craft from the United States had begun to slide along beside the Jeanne two more destroyers, one of them British, made their appearance, coming up with the speed of ocean greyhounds.