The Moving Picture Girls Under the Palms
Lost in the Wilds of Florida
LAURA LEE HOPE
AUTHOR OF "THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS," "THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS AT OAK FARM," "THE BOBBSEY TWINS SERIES," "THE OUTDOOR GIRLS SERIES," ETC.
THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO. CLEVELAND NEW YORK
Made in U.S.A.
Copyright, 1914, by GROSSET & DUNLAP
PRESS OF THE COMMERCIAL BOOKBINDING CO. CLEVELAND
I Overboard 1
II To the Rescue 11
III A Disquieting Item 18
IV Fire on Board 28
V Disabled 37
VI By Wireless 46
VII In Port 54
VIII St. Augustine 63
IX In the Dungeon 70
X The Motor Races 80
XI On to Lake Kissimmee 88
XII A Warning 96
XIII Out in the Boat 104
XIV Under the Palms 113
XV In Peril 119
XVI A Strange Attack 129
XVII Out of a Tree 139
XVIII The Animated Logs 147
XIX Into the Wilds 157
XX Lost 164
XXI The Long Night 172
XXII Ashore 180
XXIII The Palm Hut 186
XXIV The Lost Are Found 195
XXV Out of the Wilds 203
"All ready now! In position, everyone!"
Half a score of actors and actresses moved quickly to their appointed places, while overhead, and at the sides of them hissed powerful electric lights, and in front of them stood a moving picture camera, ready to be operated by a pleasant-faced young man.
"Ready?" came in questioning tones from Mr. Pertell, the stage director, as he looked sharply from one to the other.
A tall, well-built man, with iron-gray hair, nodded, but did not speak.
"Let her go, Russ!" Mr. Pertell exclaimed.
"Vait! Vait a minute!" called one of the actors, with a pronounced German accent.
"Well, what's the matter now, Mr. Switzer?" asked the director, with a touch of impatience.
"I haf forgotten der imbortant babers dot I haf to offer mine enemy in dis play. I must have der babers."
"Gracious, I should say so!" said the manager. "Where's Pop Snooks?" and he looked around for the property man, who had to produce on short notice anything from a ten-ton safe to a hairpin.
"Hi, Pop!" called Mr. Pertell. "Make up a bundle of important, legal-looking papers, with seals on. Mr. Switzer has to use 'em in this play. I forgot to tell you."
"Have 'em for you right away!" cried the property man, and a little later Mr. Switzer had his "babers."
"I guess we're all right now. Start up, Russ," ordered the stage director, who was also the manager of the troupe.
"That was a mistake on the part of Mr. Pertell; wasn't it, Ruth?" asked one of the young actresses—a pretty girl—of her sister, who stood near her in the mimic scene.
"Yes, indeed, Alice. But it isn't often he makes one."
"No, indeed. Oh, we mustn't talk any more. I see him looking at us."
"Begin!" called the manager, sharply, and the play proceeded, while the young moving picture operator clicked away at the handle of his camera, the long strip of film moving behind the lens with a whirring sound, and registering views of the pantomime of the actors and actresses at the rate of sixteen a second.
The above was done several times a day in the New York studio of the Comet Film Company, which was engaged in making moving pictures.
The play went on through the various acts. Only part of it was being "filmed" now—the interior scenes. Later, others would be taken outdoors.
"Time out—hold your positions!" suddenly exclaimed the operator. "Film's broken. I've got to mend it."
Everyone came to a standstill at that. In a few seconds the damage was repaired, and the play went on. It was, in the main, a "parlor" drama, and there were to be only a few outdoor scenes.
"That will do for the present," said Mr. Pertell. "You may all take a rest now. This will be our last New York play for some time—that is, after we get the outdoor scenes for this."
"Where are we going next?" asked the elderly actor before mentioned. He spoke in very hoarse voice, and it was evident that he had some throat affection. In fact, it was the ailment which had forced him to give up acting in the "legitimate," and take to the "movies."
"We are going to Florida—the land of the palms!" announced the manager. "You know I spoke of tentative plans for a drama down there when we were in the backwoods. Now I have everything arranged, and we will leave on a steamer for St. Augustine one week from to-day."
"Hurrah for Florida!" exclaimed a young actor, with a strikingly good-looking face. "There's where I've always wanted to go."
"So have I!" exclaimed a young girl who stood near him,—a girl with merry, brown eyes. "Will you take me out after oranges, Paul?" she asked, mischievously.
"Certainly, Alice," he answered.
"Why don't you say orange blossoms while you're about it?" inquired another actress, with a pert manner.
Alice blushed, and her sister Ruth looked sharply at Miss Laura Dixon, who had made the rather pointed remark.
"I'm willing to make it orange blossoms!" laughed the young fellow. "That is, if they're in season."
"Ah, stop all this nonsense!" exclaimed Alice. "I want to ask Mr. Pertell a lot of questions about where we're going, and all that. Oh, to think we are really going to Florida!"
"Yes, we are all going," went on Mr. Pertell. "I think—"
"One moment, if you please!" interrupted a middle-aged actor whose face seemed to indicate that he lived more on vinegar than on the milk of human kindness. "We are not all going, if you please, Mr. Pertell."
"Who is not going, Mr. Sneed, pray?" the manager wanted to know.
"I, for one. I have gone through many hardships and dangers acting in moving pictures for you, but I draw the line at Florida."
"Why, I think it's perfectly lovely there!" exclaimed Miss Pearl Pennington, a chum of Miss Dixon.
"Do you call alligators lovely?" asked Mr. Pepper Sneed, who was known as "the actor with the grouch." He was always finding fault. "Lovely alligators!" he sneered. "If you want to go to Florida, and be eaten by an alligator—go. I'll not!"
Some of the younger members of the company looked rather serious at this. They had not counted on alligators.
"Now look here!" exclaimed Mr. Pertell. "That's all nonsense. We are going where there are no alligators; but I'll pay anyone who is injured in the slightest by one of the saurians a thousand dollars!"
"Then I'll go!" cried Mr. Sneed, who was rather "close," and fond of money. "But I'm not going to stand a very big bite for that sum!" he stipulated, while the others laughed.
"I'll grade the payments according to the bites, at the rate of a thousand dollars a big bite," declared the manager, also laughing.
"Now then, you may make your plans accordingly. As I said, we leave by steamer for St. Augustine by way of Jacksonville this day week."
"And will all the scenes be taken in St. Augustine?" asked one of the company.
"No, we shall go into the interior. I expect we may go to a place near Lake Kissimmee, and there—"
"Lake Kissimmee!" exclaimed Alice DeVere, in surprise.
"What about it?" asked Mr. Pertell. "Are you afraid to go there?"
"No, but two girls whom we met on the train going to Deerfield, when we were preparing to make the ice and snow dramas, were going to a place near there. We may meet them."
"That's so!" agreed Ruth.
"I hope you will," went on Mr. Pertell. "Lake Kissimmee, however, is only one of the interior places we shall touch. I will tell you more detailed plans later."
"I—ah—er—presume we shall have a little time to—er—see the sights of St. Augustine; will we not?" asked one of the actors, in affected, drawling tones.
"Oh, yes, plenty of time, Mr. Towne," answered Mr. Pertell. Claude Towne was a new member of the company, rather a "dudish" sort of chap, and not, as yet, very well liked. He dressed in what he considered the "height of fashion."
The week that followed was a busy one for every member of the Comet Film Company. Not that they were required to do much acting in front of the camera; for, after the outdoor scenes in connection with the current play were made, Russ Dalwood, the operator, packed up his belongings ready for the Florida trip.
The others were doing the same thing, and Mr. Pertell was kept busy arranging for transportation, and hotel accommodations, and for the taking care of such films as he would send back from the interior of Florida, since none would be developed there. This work would have to be done, and positives printed for the projecting machines, in New York. This custom was generally followed when the company went out of town.
"Well, are we all here?" asked Mr. Pertell one morning as he reached the steamer, which lay at her dock in New York, ready for the trip to the land of the palms.
"I think so," answered Russ, who had with him a small moving picture camera. He had an idea he might see something that would make a good film.
"No one missing?" went on the manager. "That's good. Oh, by the way, did Mr. Towne arrive? He 'phoned to me that he might be a little late."
"Yes, he's here," answered Russ. "The last I saw of him he was looking in a mirror, arranging his necktie."
"Humph! He's too fond of dress," commented the manager, "but he does well in certain society parts, and that's why I keep him."
The confusion of the passengers and late freight coming aboard gradually grew less. Whistles sounded their bass notes, and gongs clanged.
"All ashore that's goin' ashore!" came the warning cry, and there was a hurried departure of those who had come to see friends or relatives off on the voyage.
The moving picture company were gathered together in one place on the deck, and they waved to other members of the company who were not to make the trip, for Mr. Pertell employed a large number of actors, and only a comparatively few of them were going to Florida. The others would continue to work in New York.
The steamer moved slowly away from the dock, in charge of a fussy tug, but presently she began forging ahead under her own steam, moving slowly at first. Soon, however, the vessel was well down the harbor.
Alice and Ruth DeVere, with Russ Dalwood and Paul Ardite, were standing amidships, on the port side, looking down into the water. A little in advance of them stood Mr. Towne and Miss Pennington. The latter had been much in the new actor's company of late.
"They seem quite interested in each other," remarked Russ, in a low tone.
"Yes, they have something in common," added Alice—"a love of good clothes."
"I like nice things myself," put in Ruth, straightening a bow she wore. "You shouldn't say such things, Alice."
"Oh, but you like them in the right way—so do I, for that matter. But I don't go to the extremes they do, and neither do you."
"Hush! They'll hear you," cautioned her sister, for Alice was very impulsive at times.
Indeed the dudish actor and Miss Pennington were glancing rather curiously in the direction of our friends. Then Miss Dixon came along, whispering something that caused the other to laugh.
"Fawncy that now! Only fawncy!" exclaimed Mr. Towne, in his exaggerated English drawl. "That's a good joke—on them!"
"I wonder if they mean us?" spoke Paul. "If I thought so I'd go ask them what the joke was, so we could laugh, too."
"Oh, don't," begged Ruth, who disliked "scenes."
The mirth of Miss Dixon and Miss Pennington seemed to increase rather than diminish, and Mr. Towne was now fairly roaring with merriment. He laughed so hard, in fact, that he coughed, and leaned back against the rail for support.
And then something happened. Just how no one could explain, but Mr. Towne went overboard, his arms and legs wildly waving, and his cane flying far out into the river. He struck the water with a splash, just as one of the deckhands yelled:
TO THE RESCUE
"Lower a boat!"
"Throw him a life preserver!"
"Stop the ship!"
Wild and excited were the cries that followed the accident. Russ and Paul were among the first to act, the former getting a life preserver from one of the racks, while Paul caught up one of the round, white life rings and tossed it far out toward a commotion in the water that indicated where Mr. Towne had disappeared. They had to throw the articles toward the stern of the steamer, as she was in motion, and Mr. Towne was soon some distance astern.
"Stop the ship!" repeated scores of voices, when the nature of the accident was understood.
Discipline and boat drill were at a high state of perfection aboard the steamer, and soon, with a warning blast of her whistle, the craft trembled under the power of her reversed engines.
"Lower away a boat! Smartly, men!" called one of the officers, as he ran up to the davits whence hung a life-boat.
And while preparations are under way to rescue the unfortunate actor, may I take just a few moments to acquaint my new readers with something of the former books of this series?
The initial volume was entitled "The Moving Picture Girls; Or, First Appearances in Photo Dramas." In that was related how Hosmer DeVere, a talented actor, suddenly lost his voice, through the return of a former throat ailment. He was unable to go in his part in a legitimate drama, and, through the suggestion of Russ Dalwood, who lived in the same apartment house with the DeVeres, in New York, Mr. DeVere took up moving picture acting.
His two daughters, Ruth, aged seventeen, and Alice, aged fifteen, also became engaged in the work, and later they were instrumental in doing Russ Dalwood a great service in connection with a valuable patent he had evolved for a moving picture machine.
The second volume was called "The Moving Picture Girls at Oak Farm; Or, Queer Happenings While Taking Rural Plays." In that book was told how the acquaintance was made of Sandy Apgar, who ran a farm in New Jersey. As Mr. Pertell was looking for some country scenes to use in connection with his moving picture dramas, he took his entire company out to Oak Farm, hiring it from the Apgars.
A curious mystery was solved by the girls, and other members of the company—a mystery that involved the happiness of the old couple who owned Oak Farm, but were on the verge of losing it.
"The Moving Picture Girls Snowbound; Or, The Proof on the Film," was the title of the third book. As its name indicates, the girls and other members of the company were really snowbound. After the summer at Oak Farm, and the fall spent in New York, Mr. Pertell decided to make some dramas in the backwoods of New England, where there was much snow and ice. And for a time there was almost too much snow, for Elk Lodge, where the company of players was housed, was almost buried by a blizzard.
Before going to the backwoods, Mr. DeVere had been much annoyed, and alarmed, by an unjust demand, and how a certain illegal suit against an electric car company was called off, through a discovery made by Ruth and Alice, you may read of in the book.
Russ got "the proof on the film" and when this moving picture was shown privately it caused Dan Merley's lawyer to say:
"You win! We are beaten!" And Mr. DeVere was at ease after that.
Many beautiful films were made at Elk Lodge, and some wonderful pictures of snow and ice scenes resulted from the trip to the backwoods. Then the company returned to New York, and now we find them en route for Florida, when the accident to Mr. Towne occurred.
Mr. DeVere and his two daughters lived in the Fenmore Apartment house, in New York City. Across the hall lived Mrs. Sarah Dalwood, and her sons, Russ and Billy, the latter aged about twelve. The Dalwoods and the DeVeres became very friendly, and Russ thought there never was a girl like Ruth. Paul Ardite, the younger leading man of the Comet Film Company, thought the same thing of Alice.
Frank Pertell was the manager and chief owner of the film company. He had a large studio in New York, where all indoor scenes of the plays were enacted, and where the films were made for rental to the various chains of moving picture theaters throughout the country.
He engaged many actors and actresses, but only the principal ones with whom the stories are concerned will be recounted.
Wellington Bunn and Pepper Sneed were the ones who made the most trouble for the manager. Mr. Bunn was an former Shakespearean actor. With his tall hat and frock coat—which costume he was seldom without—Mr. Bunn was a typical tragedian of the old school.
Mr. Sneed was different. He had no particular ambition toward stardom, but he disliked hard work, and he was rather superstitious. Then, too, he was always looking for trouble and often finding it. In short, he was the "grouch" of the company.
Mrs. Margaret Maguire was a motherly member of the troupe. She played "old woman" parts with real feeling, perhaps the more so as her two grandchildren, Tommy and Nellie, were dependent upon her. The youngsters usually went with the company, and were taken on the Florida trip. Occasionally they acted small parts.
Carl Switzer was the German comedian, and was a first-rate actor in his line. His jollity proved an offset to the gloom of Mr. Sneed.
Pop Snooks, the efficient property man, has already been mentioned. His work was easier when the company was on the road, as there the natural scenery was depended on to a great extent.
Pearl Pennington and Laura Dixon were former vaudeville actresses who had gone into the "movies." Some said it was because they failed to longer draw on the stage. Whether or not this was so, it was certain that the two had very large ideas of their own abilities. They cared little for Ruth and Alice, and the latter had few interests in common with Miss Pennington and Miss Dixon. Paul Ardite has been mentioned. With the exception of Mr. Towne the players had been associated together for some time.
But, just at present Mr. Towne was "disassociated" from the others.
"Oh, can you see him?" cried Ruth, as she clung to Alice. "I—I can't bear to look!"
"Of course I can see him!" Alice returned. "He's trying to swim. Oh, he has grabbed the life ring!"
"That will keep him up," spoke Paul. "Are they lowering the boat?"
"There she goes!" cried Russ. "Ha! I've got an idea. I'll film this, and Mr. Pertell may be able to use it in some drama."
He hurried to where he had set down the small moving picture camera, and while the boat was being lowered by the sailors Russ got views of that.
Then he moved closer to the rail, and took more views as the small craft was sent away under the force of the sturdy arms of the rowers.
"This will be great!" Russ cried.
"Oh, but it seems so cold-blooded!" murmured Ruth. "To take a picture of a drowning man."
"I don't think he is drowning," Paul observed. "He has the ring, and that will keep him up until the boat reaches him. They are almost to him, and he seems able to swim well."
"That's good," declared Alice. She had not turned her head away as had her sister. In fact, in spite of being two years younger than Ruth, Alice often showed more spirit. She was of an impulsive nature, and Mr. DeVere used to say she was very like her dead mother. Ruth was tall and fair, and of a romantic nature. Alice was more practical.
"There! They've got him!" cried Paul, as the boat came up to the actor in the water.
"That's good!" sighed Ruth. "Oh, I was so alarmed. I think I will go below, Alice, when they bring him on deck."
"You don't need to," said her sister. "He's probably all right, except that his fine clothes are spoiled."
"That's so!" chuckled Russ, who was industriously grinding away at the handle of the camera.
A DISQUIETING ITEM
"Man the falls!"
This order was given by one of the officers as the boat containing the rescued actor came close to the ship's side. The sailors stood ready to hoist the boat to the davits again, when the tackle blocks should have been made fast by the hooks to the ring bolts at bow and stern.
"Best chance I ever had to get a rescue picture," remarked Russ, as he reeled away at the film.
The young operator even managed to get in a favorable position, and take views as the blocks were being made fast to the boat. Then, as it was hoisted up, he pictured that.
"Is he all right?" asked Mr. Pertell of the sailors in the boat, when the craft was raised to the level of the rail.
"Aye, aye, sir," answered the steersman. "Only a bit wet."
But Mr. Towne was more than a bit wet. He was completely soaked, and a more bedraggled-looking specimen of humanity would be hard to find.
"Oh, the poor man!" exclaimed Ruth, who had thought better of her determination to go below.
"It's his own fault," snapped Miss Pennington. "He should not have carried on so."
"Well, it was partly our fault," interposed Miss Dixon, who was perhaps more just. "We were laughing with him."
"Don't go too close!" cautioned Miss Pennington, as she saw her friend advancing toward the group of sailors, and others who surrounded the rescue party. They were helping Mr. Towne out of the boat.
"Why shouldn't I go close?" Laura wanted to know.
"You might get your dress wet. Mine spots terribly."
"Oh, so does mine. I forgot; and sea water stains so badly!"
So the two actresses drew away.
"There, I guess that will do," remarked Russ, as he saw that there was no more film left in the camera. "Now, Mr. Pertell, you'll have to get some story written around these scenes. Add more to them, and you'll have a good reel."
"I'll do it, Russ. I'm glad you were here to take them, so long as it did not turn out seriously."
"Do you—er—ah—mean to say that you filmed me?" demanded the dudish actor, who had overheard this colloquy.
"I got some pictures of you—yes," admitted Russ. "I couldn't resist the temptation."
"I demand that those pictures be destroyed!" cried Mr. Towne, who seemed to have recovered rapidly from his unexpected bath.
"What for?" asked Mr. Pertell, in surprise. "I haven't seen them, of course—can't until they're developed, and that won't be for some time. But I should say the rescue pictures would make a fine film."
"But I want it burned up. I won't have it shown!" insisted Mr. Towne.
"Do you suppose for one instant—er, ah—that I am going to let the public see me like this?" and Mr. Towne glanced at his wet and dripping garments—garments that, but a short time ago, had been a walking testimonial of the tailor's art. Now they were wet and misshapen.
"Why, you can't expect a man who has just been rescued from New York Bay to look as though he came out of a band-box; can you, dear man?" asked Mr. Pertell. "Of course you look wet—the public will expect to see you wet—dripping with water, in fact. Water always comes out well in the movies, anyhow. Of course the public wants to see you wet!"
"But I don't want them to!" protested the actor. "I have never been shown in pictures except when I was well dressed, and I do not propose to begin now. I will pose for you as soon as I get dry clothes on, but not in—these!" and he made a despairing motion toward his ruined garments.
"Oh, you are too fussy!" laughed Mr. Pertell. "Those pictures will have to go. The scene was too good to spoil, as long as you were not drowned."
"I was in no danger of drowning," returned Mr. Towne, coldly. "I am a good swimmer. I was taken by surprise, that is all."
"Well, it made good pictures," declared the manager, indifferently.
"Too bad I couldn't get you just as you went overboard!" sighed Russ. "I was taken by surprise, too; but I did the best I could. We can have you do that part over."
"Never!" cried Mr. Towne, angrily. "I will never be seen in an undignified position again, nor in clothes that have not been freshly pressed," and he stalked away toward his stateroom.
"I can sympathize with you, my dear fellow," murmured Mr. Bunn, who was as careful of his dignity, in a way, as was the other. "They have made me do the most idiotic things in some of the dramas," the older man went on. "I have had to play fireman, and ride in donkey carts, slide down hill and all such foolishness—all to the great detriment of my dignity."
"Yes, this moving picture business is horrid," agreed Mr. Towne, who was dripping water at every step. "But what is a chap to do? I tried the other sort of drama—on the stage, you know; but I did not seem to have the temperament for it."
"Ah, would that I were back again, treading the boards in my beloved Shakespeare, instead of in this miserable moving picture acting," sighed the tragedian.
The excitement caused by the mishap to Mr. Towne soon subsided. The steamer got on her way again, once the small boat had been hoisted up, and several tugs and motor craft that had gathered to give aid, if needed, went on their courses.
"Well, that's something for a start," remarked Alice, as she walked the deck with Ruth.
"Yes, I knew something would happen," spoke Mr. Sneed, gloomily. "I felt it coming."
"How could you?" asked Paul, winking at Russ.
"Because to-day is Friday. Something always happens on Friday."
"Yes, we generally have fish for dinner," remarked Russ, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"You may laugh," sneered the gloomy actor, "but the day is not over yet. I am sure that something else will happen. The ship may sink before it gets to Florida."
"Oh!" cried Ruth.
"Don't be silly!" laughed Alice, while Russ gave Mr. Sneed a meaning look and remarked in a low voice:
"That's enough of such talk, old man. It gets on the girls' nerves. Why can't you be cheerful?"
"I never am—on Friday," grumbled Mr. Sneed.
"No, and on very few other days," commented Russ, as he went below to take the film out of his camera in readiness to ship it back to New York for development.
Ruth and Alice had done much traveling with their father when he was engaged in the legitimate drama, for he was with a number of road companies, that went from place to place. Water journeys were, however, rather a novelty to them, and now that the excitement of the rescue was over they went about the ship, looking at the various sights.
The Tarsus was not a big vessel, but it was a new and substantial craft engaged in the coast trade. A fairly large passenger list was carried and, as this was the winter season, many tourists were heading for the sunny South—the warm beaches of the coast, or the interior where the palms waved their graceful branches in the orange-scented breezes.
"How is your throat, Daddy?" asked Ruth, as Mr. DeVere joined his daughters in a stroll about the deck.
"Much better, I think," he said. His voice was always hoarse now, totally unlike the vibrant tones in which he was used to speak his lines. "The pain seems less. I have hopes that the warm air of Florida may improve, and even cure it, in connection with the medicine I am taking."
"Oh, wouldn't that be just great!" cried Alice, as she clasped her arms about his neck. "Perhaps you could go back to the real theaters then, Daddy."
"I might," he replied with a smile at her; "but I do not know that I would. I am beginning to like this silent 'drama.' It is a rest from the hard work we old actors used to have to do. There is much less strain. And if I went back to the legitimate, I would have to take you with me," he added.
"Never, Daddy!" cried the younger girl. "I am going to remain with the 'movies'! I would be lost without them."
"Assuredly, they have been a great blessing to us," observed Ruth, quietly. "I do not know what we would have done without them, when you were stricken the second time," and she looked fondly at her father. She thought of the dark days, not so far back, when troubles seemed multiplying, when there was no money, and when debts pressed. Now all seemed sunshine.
"Yes, it would be a poor return to the movies, to desert them after all they did for us," agreed Mr. DeVere. "That is, as long as they care for us—those audiences who sit in the dark and watch us play our little parts on the lighted canvas. A queer proceeding—very queer.
"I little dreamed when I first took up the profession immortalized by Shakespeare, that I would be playing to persons whom I could not see. But it is certainly a wonderful advance."
Down the bay, out through the Narrows and so on out to sea passed the Tarsus, carrying the moving picture players. The day was cold, and a storm threatened, but soon the frigid winter of the North would be left behind. This was a comforting thought to all, though Alice declared that she liked cold weather best.
Mr. Towne came up on deck, again faultlessly attired. His unexpected bath had not harmed him, in spite of the fact that it was cold, for he had at once taken warm drinks, and been put to bed, for a time, in hot blankets.
He could talk of nothing, however, save the fact that he was to be shown in the wet clothing he so despised.
"It is a shame!" he declared. "If I could find that film I would destroy it myself."
"It is safely put away," laughed Russ.
The day passed, and evening came. On through the darkness forged the Tarsus, while about her were the flashing beams from lighthouses, or the bobbing signal lamps from other ships.
Ruth and Alice were in their stateroom, talking together before retiring. Alice had that day's paper and was idly glancing over it. She yawned sleepily, when an item suddenly caught her eye.
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed. "That must be dreadful!"
"What is it?" asked Ruth, who was letting down her long hair.
"Why here's an item from some place in Florida. It says that two girls went out in a motor boat, to gather specimens of rare swamp flowers, and have not been heard of since. It is feared they may have been upset and drowned, or that alligators attacked them. Oh, how dreadful!"
"Don't let Mr. Sneed hear about that," cautioned Ruth. "Where in Florida was it?"
"The item is dated from Winterhaven, but it says that the girls started from some place near Lake Kissimmee."
"Oh!" cried Ruth, pausing with the comb half way through a thick strand of hair, "suppose it should be those two girls we met?"
"I don't imagine it could be," reasoned Alice. "They did not look like girls who would be bold enough to go off after swamp blooms. But think of the poor girls, whoever they are, out all alone at night, with maybe alligators around their boat! Oh, I hope we don't have to go too far into the wilds."
"We may," remarked Ruth, uneasily, as she reached for the paper to read for herself the disquieting item.
FIRE ON BOARD
Ruth sat for some moments in silence after she had read in the paper the short account of the missing girls. She had come to a pause in arranging her luxuriant hair for the night and, with it only half combed, leaned back in the small chair the stateroom afforded. Alice was reclining on her berth.
"Does it worry you, Ruth?" the younger girl finally asked.
"A little, yes." Ruth was unusually quiet, and there was a far-away look in her deep blue eyes.
"Oh, don't take it so seriously," rallied Alice, in her vivacious way, though at first she, too, had been affected by what she read.
"But it is serious."
"Oh, it may be only one of those 'newspaper yarns,' as Russ calls them."
"Alice, your language, of late—"
"There, sister mine! Please don't scold—or lecture. I'm too sleepy," and she finished with a yawn that showed all her white, even teeth.
"I'm not scolding, my dear, but you know I must look after you in a way, and—"
"Look after yourself, my dear. With your hair down that way, and that sweet and innocent look on your face, and in your eyes—you are much more in need of looking after than I. Someone is sure to fall in love with you, and then—"
"Alice, if you—"
"Don't throw that hair brush at me!" and the younger girl covered herself with a quilt, in simulated fear. "I—I didn't mean it. I'll be good!" and she shook with laughter.
Ruth could not but smile, though the serious look did not leave her face. She was very like her father. The least little matter out of the ordinary affected him, and usually on the sad, instead of on the "glad" side. He, like Ruth, was of a romantic type, inclined to anticipate too much. Alice was more matter of fact, not to say frivolous, though she could be very sensible at times.
"Well, I suppose we must go to bed," sighed Ruth at length. "But I'm afraid I sha'n't sleep."
"On account of thinking of those girls?"
"Yes, just imagine them out all alone in some dismal swamp, perhaps, without a light, hungry—afraid of every sound—"
"Please stop! You're getting on my nerves."
"I didn't mean to, my dear," was the gentle answer.
"I know you didn't, and it was mean of me to talk that way," and a plump, bare arm stole around the other's neck, while a hand was run through the golden hair. "But, don't let's think so much about them. Perhaps they are not those two girls we met, after all."
"Oh, I don't believe they can be," Ruth agreed. "That would be too much of a coincidence. But they are two girls—"
"Not necessarily. Maybe it's only an unfounded rumor. Russ says newspaper men often 'plant' a story like this off in some obscure place, and then use it as the basis for one of those lurid stories in the Sunday supplements.
"I shouldn't wonder a bit but what this was one of those cases. So, sister mine, go to sleep in peace, and in the morning you'll have forgotten all about it. Only don't let's tell any one, for some of the company, like Mr. Sneed, might make trouble for Mr. Pertell, saying alligators were there."
"Well, there are."
"Perhaps. But who cares? I'd like to get one ordinary-sized 'gator."
"Why, Alice! What for?"
"I've always wanted an alligator bag, and I never could afford it. Now's my chance. But we may never get far enough into the interior for that. By the way, where did it say those girls started from? I didn't half read it."
"From Sycamore, near Lake Kissimmee."
"Well, Mr. Pertell did mention that we might get to the lake, but he didn't specify Sycamore."
"No, and now I'm going to try and do as you said, and forget all about it," and Ruth laid aside the paper and resumed putting up her hair for the night.
"I wonder what will happen to-morrow?" mused Alice, as she slipped into her robe, and thrust her feet into bath slippers.
"What do you mean?" Ruth's voice was rather muffled, for her hair was over her face now.
"I mean Mr. Towne fell in to-day, and—"
"Gracious, I hope you don't infer that it's someone else's turn to-morrow!"
"Hardly!" laughed Alice. "Hand me that cold cream, please, the salt air has chapped my face. Oh, say, did you notice how much color Laura had on to-day? If ever there was a 'hand-made' complexion hers was!"
"You shouldn't say such things!"
"Why not? When they're true! And such eyes as she made at poor Mr. Towne!"
Ruth slipped a rosy palm over her sister's lips, but Alice pulled it away, and laughingly added:
"She found that her glances failed to reach Paul, and so she's trying her 'wireless' on—"
"Alice, you must stop. Someone may hear you!"
"Can't! Daddy has the stateroom on one side, and Mr. Pertell the other, and they're both sound sleepers. But I've finished anyhow. You put out the light," and with a bound, having completed her toilette, Alice was in her berth.
Ruth sighed, and then sat again staring off into space. It must have been some little time, too, for when she turned to look at her sister, Alice was breathing deeply in sleep.
"Dear Alice!" murmured Ruth, and she bent over her for a moment, and kissed her lightly on the cheek—as gently as the fall of a rose petal. Soon the older sister, too, was asleep.
In order that there might be no trouble among the members of the moving picture company over the statement made in the newspaper that perhaps the two girls had fallen victims to alligators, Ruth, next morning, carefully cut out the item, and put it away among her things.
"It may be silly," she said to Alice, "but—"
"It is silly to imagine anything like that," was the quick retort.
"But it's best to be on the safe side," finished Ruth, gently. "Mr. Sneed is so peculiar."
"I agree with you there, sister mine. Well, you've taken the precautions, anyhow. My, I'm hungry! I hope breakfast is ready."
"You are not troubled with mal-de-mer, then?"
"Not a bit of it, and I never was out on the ocean before. It isn't a bit rough; is it?"
"Well, we did roll some during the night, but then the sea is calm. Wait until we get a storm."
"I do hope one comes!"
"Well, I mean just a little one, with waves like little hills, instead mountains."
The only members of the film company who did not present themselves at the breakfast table were Miss Pennington and Miss Dixon.
They breakfasted in their staterooms, but it was noticed that the trays came out about as well filled as they went in, from which it might be gathered that they were not altogether free from the toll the sea exacts from most travelers.
"My, how charming you look!" observed Paul to Alice as he joined her on deck, and arranged her steamer chair out of the wind. She had on a new jacket, and a little toque, the brown fur of which matched her eyes, and brought out, in contrast, the damask of her cheeks.
"Thank you," she laughed in retort. "I might say the same of you. That's a good-looking coat."
"A little different from the usual, yes. The man said it was imported—"
"Just as if that made it any better."
"It doesn't—only different. Where did you get that rug? It's an odd pattern."
"My! But the compliments are flying this morning. It's one daddy picked up somewhere. Isn't the weather glorious?"
"Now we're on a safe topic," laughed Paul. "Here come Russ and Ruth. My, but she's stunning!"
"I'm glad you appreciate her," Alice said. Really, Ruth made a picture, for she had on a long white cloak, and with a turban trimmed with ermine, and her fair hair and blue eyes, she looked like some Siberian princess, if they have princesses there, and I suppose they must.
The four young people chatted and laughed together, while the Tarsus plowed on her way. It was a day of idleness, save that Russ took a few pictures of scenes on shipboard for future use.
In the afternoon, while Ruth and Alice were reclining luxuriously in their steamer chairs, they observed one of the officers come up from below, and run toward the bridge. There was something in his manner that startled Alice, and she sat up suddenly, exclaiming:
"I hope nothing has happened!"
"Happened? Why should it? What do you mean?" asked Ruth. But immediately a look of fear came into her own eyes—a look born of suggestion merely.
"Oh, I don't know," and Alice tried to laugh, but it did not ring true. "It was just a notion—"
She did not finish, for another officer came on the run from forward, and he, too, sought the bridge. Then the two girls saw curling up from one of the hatchways on the lower forward deck, a little wisp of smoke, and immediately afterward there sounded through the ship the clanging of bells.
"What's that?" cried Ruth, casting aside her rug, and struggling to her feet, no easy matter from a steamer chair. "What's that?"
"Some alarm," said Alice, faintly.
Paul came running toward them.
"Oh, what is it?" gasped Ruth, impulsively clasping him by the arm.
"Don't be frightened," said Paul, but Alice noticed that his lips trembled a little. "It's only a—fire drill."
As he spoke there was an outpouring of sailors from many places, and lines of hose were reeled out.
The wisp of smoke from the forward hatchway had increased now, though the hatch cover was on.
Up on the bridge the girls could see the captain leaving his post in charge of one of the officers. The ship, too, seemed to be turning about.
"Are you sure it is only fire—drill?" asked Alice.
"Why, that's what a sailor told me," answered Paul, slowly.
"Look," said Alice, and she pointed to the curling smoke.
More clanging bells resounded, and more lines of hose were run out. There was no doubt, now, that the Tarsus was making a complete turn.
Then, as the captain and one officer left the bridge there rang out the cry:
"Fire! Fire! The ship's on fire! Lower the boats!"
Panics start so easily, especially at the mere mention of the word "fire," that it is no wonder there was at once an incipient one aboard the Tarsus. But the captain, who was a veteran, acted promptly and efficiently.
Some of the sailors had made a rush for the boats, but the captain, coming down from the bridge on the run, flung himself in front of the excited men. He pushed one or two of them aside so violently that they fell to the deck. Then the commander, in a voice that rang out above the startled calls, cried out:
"Get back, you cowards! If we do take to the boats it will be women and children first! But we're not going to! Stop that noise!"
His hand went, with an unmistakable gesture, to his pocket. Perhaps he was about to draw a weapon, but there was no need.
His ringing words, the lash of "coward," that cut like a knife, and his bearing, had an immediate effect.
"Stop those shouts of 'fire!'" he cried, and the excited men and women became quiet.
"Now get back to your places—every one of you!" he ordered the sailors. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, to leave your mates to answer the fire call alone," and he pointed to where a number of hands were about the hatchway, from which smoke was still coming. But the wind was taking it away from the ship now, which was the reason why the vessel had been turned around.
"Get to your quarters!" the captain commanded, and the men slunk away. The danger of a panic was over—at least for the time.
Ruth and Alice stood where they had risen from their steamer chairs, their hands clasped, and Alice had thrust her rosy palm into the broad one of Paul. He held it reassuringly.
"Oh, what shall we do?" murmured Ruth.
"There isn't another ship in sight," added Alice, as she looked about the horizon.
"We can call one soon enough," said Paul. "They'll start the wireless if they have to."
Mr. DeVere came hurrying up, his eyes searching about for his daughters. A look of relief came over his face as he saw them.
"You had better go below, and get what things you can save while there is time," he said, hoarsely. "We may have to take to the boats any minute."
"Listen, the captain is going to say something," warned Paul.
Nearly all the passengers were now gathered on deck, as were most of the sailors, but the latter were engaged in fighting the fire through the forward hatchway. Those who were not needed at that particular place were at the other fire stations, in readiness for any emergency.
The Tarsus now lay motionless on the ocean, rolling to and fro slowly under the influence of a gentle swell. There was scarcely any wind, and the smoke, which had constantly grown thicker and blacker, even with the efforts made to subdue the flames, arose in a straight pillar of cloud.
"There is no danger!" began the captain, and there were a few murmurs at these rather trite words under the circumstances.
"I mean just what I say!" went on the commander, and there was no mistaking his sincerity. "There is no danger—at present," he continued. "There is a slight fire among the cargo in one of the small forward holds. But it is cut off from the rest of the ship by fire-proof doors, and we are flooding that compartment. The fire will be out shortly, I expect.
"So there is absolutely no need of taking to the boats. Later on, if there should be, I will give you ample warning, and I might add that we carry a sufficient complement of boats and life rafts to accommodate all. And should we take to the boats, the weather is in our favor. So you see you should not worry."
"But suppose we have to take to the boats at night?" asked Mr. Sneed, who seemed to have the faculty for hitting on the most unhappy aspect of any situation.
"The fire cannot possibly get beyond control before morning, even if it is not put out," the captain replied. "So there will be no need of boats in the night. Even if there were, we have powerful searchlights, and each boat carries her own storage battery lighting plant. Now, please be reasonable."
His words had a calming effect, and those who had rushed up to take to the boats now began to disperse.
Russ, who had come on deck with Mr. DeVere, was seen talking to Mr. Pertell. As the two advanced toward Ruth and Alice the girls heard Russ saying:
"I'm going to make moving pictures of the fire scenes."
"A good idea!" commented Mr. Pertell. "If the captain will let you."
"I'll ask him."
Captain Falcon, after a moment of consideration, agreed that the young operator might take views showing the fire-fighters at work.
"I wish I had had it going when they made that rush for the boat, though," Russ said.
"I am glad you did not," returned the captain, gravely. "I would not have an audience see what cowards some of my men were to so far forget themselves. That is better forgotten. Doubtless they were mad with fear. But I am glad you did not get that picture."
Russ, however, might be pardoned for still wishing he had it, for he had the true instinct of a moving picture operator—he wanted to get everything possible.
He now set up his camera in different parts of the ship, and made a number of separate views. The black smoke would come out particularly well on the film, he knew.
The men were shown at their various stations, and of those at the hatchway where the smoke came up, several different views were made. Captain Falcon was also shown, directing the fire-fighting.
In order to cut off the draft from the fire the hatchway had been covered with heavy tarpaulins, the hose being put through holes cut in them.
There was some relaxation of the tension following the captain's little speech, but even yet there were serious faces among the passengers, as the volume of smoke seemed to grow instead of diminish. Captain Falcon, too, was observed to be laboring under a strain.
"I wonder if it is true—as he says—that there is no danger?" observed Alice, as she, Paul and Ruth walked about uneasily, pausing now and then to observe the men at work.
"Oh, I think so," answered Paul, quickly. "He would have no object in deceiving us, and let matters go so long that it would be necessary to take a risk in getting to the boats. If he did that he might be censured by the owners. I think he really believes there is no danger. And when he thinks otherwise he will give us ample warning."
"Let us hope so," murmured Mr. DeVere. "Fire is a terrible element—terrible, and at sea there is nothing more awful! I trust we may be spared from it."
"Let's go see if the wireless is working," suggested Ruth. "It will take our minds off the fire to know that help is being called for—and perhaps on the way."
"Yes, it is working," announced Alice, as they drew near the quarters occupied by the wireless operator and heard the spiteful snapping of the notched wheel of the spark-gap apparatus.
They looked in and saw the operator with the telephone receivers on his ears, while with nervous fingers he pressed the key that made and broke the circuit, thus sending out from the wire aerials between the masts the dots and dashes that, flying through the air, were received on other aerials and translated from meaningless clicks into words fraught with meaning.
"I must get a picture of that, too," observed Russ, as he came up behind Paul, Ruth and Alice. "May I?" he asked of the captain, who, at that moment came to give an order.
"Yes," nodded the commander. And while the vivid blue spark shot from the revolving wheel to the connection, where it was made and interrupted as the operator pressed the key, or allowed it to spring up, Russ made a short film. The young man who was sending a message looked up as he finished and smiled at the group observing him.
"I got that smile, too," Russ informed him.
"Did you get any reply?" asked Captain Falcon, as the operator removed the receivers in order to hear the commander's question.
"The Bell, of the Downing Line, is within fifty miles of us," the operator replied. "She can come up when we need her."
"I don't think we shall," the captain said. "But kindly ask her to stand by during the night."
"Then the fire isn't altogether under control?" asked Paul.
"Not as much so as I would like to see it," answered the commander, frankly. "But we are keeping at it."
He wrote out the message he wished sent to the Bell, and then the little audience gathered again at the door of the wireless room to watch the operator at work.
Russ made films as long as the daylight lasted, but finally the coming of night forced him to stop, and he put away his camera.
The fighting of the fire still went on, though little of it could be observed now. There were no flames to be seen, but doubtless, down in the hold, where the cargo burned, there were angry, red tongues of fire. But the compartment was kept closed. It was now nearly full of water, the captain reported, and the fire must soon be extinguished.
"Unless it has crept to another compartment," ventured Mr. Sneed.
"Hush! Don't let anyone hear you say such things!" cried Russ, indignantly.
Dinner was not a very cheerful meal, but all managed to eat something. And the night was an uneasy one. What sleep there was came only in catnaps, for there was the constant noise of the pumps, and the running about of the sailors on the decks.
The Tarsus was still motionless, save only as she rolled with the sea, which was still calm. Captain Falcon found that to proceed would be to drive the smoke aft into the cabins, and he did not want to do this. So he had the main engines shut down.
Through the night the fire was fought, and in the morning it was a gray and haggard captain who faced the anxious group of passengers gathered in the main saloon.
"What is the report?" asked Mr. Pertell.
"Not very encouraging," was the answer. "We are now disabled, and the fire is still burning."
For a moment no one spoke, after the portentous words of Captain Falcon. Men and women looked at each other. The members of the moving picture company glanced from face to face. What would come next?
"Does this mean—does it indicate that we are to take to the boats?" asked Mr. DeVere, solemnly.
"Not necessarily," the captain replied. "I have come to put the matter plainly to you. The fire gained, in the night, and it reached the engine room compartment. We are, therefore, temporarily disabled, and cannot proceed, as we could have done had not this occurred. For we had the first blaze out.
"Now, those who wish will be put into life boats, with such of their belongings as it is practicable to take with them."
"What is the other alternative?" asked Mr. Pertell, as the captain paused, thus indicating that he had another proposition to make.
"The second question is—Will you wait for the Bell to come up? She is within about fifty miles of us, I should judge, and can reach us inside of three hours."
"In the meanwhile—the fire may gain?" suggested Mr. Sneed in gloomy tones.
"It may—yes. It probably will, if it reaches the coal bunkers. That is what I am afraid of, and why I speak thus plainly."
"Then I'm going to take to a boat!" exclaimed the "grouch."
"So will I!" put in Mr. Bunn.
"Wait," advised Mr. Pertell. "If possible I wish to keep all the members of my company together. I have not the fear that some of you have. I trust Captain Falcon."
"Thank you!" exclaimed the commander, evidently greatly pleased with this mark of confidence. "At the same time I stand ready to lower boats for those who may wish it. The sea is comparatively calm, and you will have to use boats anyhow, if you are taken off by the Bell."
"Must that be done?" asked Alice, in a low voice.
"If we cannot subdue the fire, I am afraid so, Miss DeVere," answered the captain. "But there is no danger in that. It is often done."
"Then I say, let's wait for the other vessel," decided Mr. DeVere. "There may finally be no necessity for leaving our own ship, I take it?" he asked.
"There may—it's a chance."
"Then let's take it!" cried Russ. "How will you summon the Bell?"
"By wireless. I was only waiting for your decision to write out the message. She has been expecting a call from us, but she has probably drifted farther off than she was last evening. I will summon her."
A little later the wireless began crackling out its call to the unseen Bell, and preparations were made to lower away the boats promptly, in case the fire should suddenly gain greater headway. Then there was nothing to do but wait, and fight the flames.
"I insist, though, on being put in a boat!" cried Mr. Sneed. "I want to get off this dangerous ship."
"I do, too!" exclaimed Mr. Bunn.
"I advise you both to stick to this ship," spoke Mr. Pertell, seriously.
"Never!" cried the grouch, and the former Shakespearean actor echoed the word.
"Let them go," decided Captain Falcon, in a low voice to the moving picture manager. "I can send them away in a boat, with some sailors, and tell my men to row slowly, so as not to take them too far away from us. Then, when the Bell comes up, they can go aboard her, if our fire is not out by then. Let them go."
"All right," agreed Mr. Pertell, and orders were given to lower a boat. Mr. Bunn and Mr. Sneed got together what belongings they could, and entered it.
"I must get a moving picture of this!" cried Russ.
"Do!" said Mr. Pertell.
"I forbid it!" exclaimed Mr. Sneed. Perhaps he did not want to be shown deserting the ship and the company.
But Russ brought out his camera, and soon the film was moving, as the boat was lowered to the surface of the sea. Then it was soon pulling away from the Tarsus, and Russ got those views too.
"Wait! Wait for me!" cried a voice, and up on deck came Mr. Towne. He had a valise in each hand, which probably contained his best suits. "Wait!" he cried. "I want to be saved, too."
"There's no danger; you'll be saved more by staying here than by going with them," said Mr. Pertell. "Besides, you might soil your clothing if you went in the small boat. Another ship is coming for us."
"Oh—er—I certainly would not like to spoil any of my suits—the one I fell overboard in is almost ruined. I—er—I ah—shall stay!" and he went below again.
The wireless was still crackling out its call for aid, and soon an answer was received, saying that the Bell was on her way.
"She's coming!" cried the operator, as he gave the dispatch to the captain. Russ, who had enough of the pictures of Mr. Bunn and Mr. Sneed leaving in the boat, filmed the captain in the act of receiving this message of good cheer. Later it was worked into a stirring drama, called "The Burning Ship."
With all else that was going on, the work of fighting the blaze in the hold was not for a moment given up. Water and live steam were turned in among the cargo, the pumping apparatus fortunately not having been disabled when the rest of the machinery went out of commission.
Russ made more moving pictures, since he now had a good light, and as the fire-fighting was in another part of the ship it made a different series of views.
"Oh, isn't this the most awful thing you ever saw, or heard of?" cried Miss Pennington, coming on deck where Ruth and Alice stood. "Fate seems to be against us at every turn!"
She was very pale, and looked wretched, as did her chum Miss Dixon.
"I guess they didn't take time to make up their complexions," whispered Alice.
"Hush!" cautioned her sister.
"I could cry!" declared Miss Dixon. "I never slept a wink all night." She looked it, too.
"Oh, we'll be all right," said Paul. "The other ship is coming for us, and if necessary we can be transferred to her."
"Will we have to go in one of the small boats, like that?" Miss Pennington wanted to know, as she pointed to the one in which were Mr. Bunn and Mr. Sneed, some distance off, now.
"That's the only kind they have on board," said Mr. DeVere, who had shortly before joined his daughters.
"Oh, I never could go in one of those—never!" the former vaudeville actress cried, tragically.
"Ha! Dose is goot boats! I in der German nafy vos," put in Mr. Switzer, "und dey are fery safe."
"Oh, but they look so small, and they hold so little. How can one get enough to eat in them?" asked Miss Dixon, clasping her hands, and looking with her rather effective eyes, first at Mr. Towne, and then at Paul.
"Ha! You dakes along vot you eat!" exclaimed the German. "Pretzels iss fine! Haf one!" and he extended a handful of small ones. Since the company had been snowbound he had always a few in his pocket. He called them his "mascots."
"No, thank you. I never eat them!" declared Miss Dixon, with turned-up nose.
"Let's go see if there is any further report by wireless from the Bell," suggested Ruth, who saw kindling wrath in the eyes of her sister. Alice never could get along well with the two actresses, and she was very likely to say something that might lead to a quarrel.
"I'll come along," said Paul.
"So will I," echoed Mr. Towne. In spite of his affected mannerisms, he could be "nice," at times. It was Ruth who had said this, but then Ruth had such a kind heart that she generally found a good quality in nearly everyone, whatever their failings.
"Yes, she's coming on at full speed," reported the wireless operator. "She'll be with us in about an hour, now. And I guess it's time, too," he added in a low voice.
"Why?" asked Russ, when the girls had passed on.
"Because I believe the fire is gaining. I think it's in one of the coal bunkers now, and that means it will burn steadily, and may eat through the side of the ship."
The operator turned to his apparatus, for he had been told to keep in constant communication with the oncoming rescue ship.
As Paul rejoined the girls, there sounded through the Tarsus a dull explosion, that made the ship tremble.
The commander was hurrying along the deck. Many of the passengers, who had gone below to pack their belongings in anticipation of being transferred, now came rushing out of their staterooms.
"What was it?"
"Are we going to blow up?"
"Is the ship sinking?"
"Don't be alarmed!" Captain Falcon exhorted them, but, even as he spoke, there came a second dull rumbling, a trembling of the vessel, and another explosion, louder than the first. There were screams from frightened women and children, and a number of men passengers made a rush for the boats, as the sailors had done before.
"Stand back!" cried Captain Falcon, and again his hand went to his pocket as though to draw a weapon. "Stand back! The same rule applies to you men passengers as to the sailors. Women and children first! Do you hear? Stand back!"
The rush was halted almost before it started. Then Mr. Switzer, who had taken no part in it, said slowly:
"Dot is right. Gentlemen, ve are forgetting ourselves!"
"And it took him—above everyone else—to remind them of it," said Mr. DeVere in a low voice. He had remained by the side of his daughters.
"Mr. Switzer is a bigger man than any of us thought," murmured Ruth. "Oh, Daddy, is the boat going to sink?"
"We are going to be blown up!" exclaimed a big man, who, with others, had made a half start for the boat, and then had hung back shamefacedly.
"If you say that again!" cried Paul, in a fierce whisper, "I'll throw you overboard! This is no time to start a panic!"
The man slunk away. There came another explosion, not so loud as the first, but enough to cause the men to start involuntarily, and to bring frantic screams from the women passengers.
"What is that, Captain?" asked Mr. Pertell.
"Nothing to be alarmed about," was the calm answer.
"They sound alarming enough," declared a woman.
"But they are not," the commander insisted. "They are only slight explosions of coal gas in some of the bunkers. The fire is slowly eating into them but the explosions are not heavy enough to cause any serious damage to the ship.
"The Bell will soon be up to us. In fact, we could see her now, were it not for the slight haze. And, as it is evident that you will have to be taken off in her, I am going to lower the boats, and let you row away from this ship.
"You will be picked up by the Bell as soon as she gets here, and, in any event, you would have to take to the small boats. So you might as well start. I will have all your baggage brought on deck ready for transfer," he added to the moving picture manager.
"Very good," assented Mr. Pertell. "I am sorry this has occurred, but perhaps it is best that we leave the ship."
"It will be better for your peace of mind, though really I think we can conquer the fire," the captain went on. "But we are disabled, and may not be able to proceed for some time."
"What are you going to do when we are gone?" asked Alice, who, with Ruth, had recovered some of her equanimity by this time. "Are you coming with us, Captain Falcon—you and your sailors?"
"I am going to stick by the ship!" he answered, and there was a proud ring in his voice. "I believe I can save her, and then we'll make repairs, and get to port under our own steam. I want to save the owners salvage, if I can."
"There speaks a brave man," murmured Mr. DeVere. "And there are many such unknown, who are going down the sea in ships every day. A brave man!"
"Man the falls!" ordered Captain Falcon to those sailors who were not engaged in fighting the fire. "Man the falls, and stand by to lower the boats!"
"Oh, must we really go in those little things?" cried Miss Pennington, as she heard this.
"Certainly," answered Russ, who was near her. "You wouldn't expect to swim; would you?"
"Horrid thing!" snapped the actress. "Come, Laura. Don't leave me. I'm so frightened!"
"So am I," declared her companion. "It's awful!"
"Their fright hasn't made them pale, at any rate," whispered Alice. "They've taken on color, lately."
"Oh, my dear, you mustn't say such things," chided Ruth.
The work of getting the passengers and their baggage into the boats was soon under way. There was some confusion, not a little evidence of fright on the part of many, and some tears. But among the bravest were little Tommie and Nellie. They thought it all a lark, and probably, in their case, it was the bliss of ignorance.
Russ, who had been standing near Ruth and Alice, suddenly started for his stateroom.
"Where are you going?" asked Ruth, as the call came for them to take their places in a boat.
"For my moving picture camera! I'm going to get views of this. It's too good to miss!"
"It seems so—so—" began Ruth, but Alice interrupted with:
"Why shouldn't he get the film? There is really no danger of death, and it is a chance that he may never have again. A film like this could be worked into a great play!"
"Spoken like a real artist of the movies!" cried Mr. Pertell. "Go ahead, Russ. Get all you can; but don't take any chances."
Then the young operator busied himself with making a film that was afterward said to be one of the best in the world showing a rescue from a burning ship. And the beauty of it was that it was real. There was no posing, and the ship was not an old hulk chartered for the occasion, and set fire to, as has been done more than once.
As the women and children were first helped to the boats, and the craft then carefully lowered to the sea, Russ took picture after picture. Fortunately the sea and weather were both calm, and, after the first little fright, no one made any disturbance.
The boat containing Mr. Bunn and Mr. Sneed had returned part way to the ship, the sailors having heard the explosions, and desiring to aid in the work of saving the passengers if there was any need, for their craft could hold many more.
But there was no need. There was ample room in the other boats, and, as Captain Falcon had said, the explosions were really of little moment—at least, for the present.
Boat after boat was loaded and lowered away, and not an accident marred the work. True, Mrs. Maguire, in her anxiety to see that Nellie and Tommy were safe, nearly fell overboard, but a burly sailor caught her just in time.
"How are you coming on, Russ?" asked Mr. Pertell who, with Pop Snooks, was seeing to the bringing up of the baggage, and the other property of the moving picture company.
"Fine," answered the young operator. "This will be a great film!"
"Glad to hear it! It will be our turn soon."
"I'm going to stick till the last boat. I want to get all the views I can."
Russ spoke simply, but he well knew the danger he ran in remaining until the last boat was sent away. The ship might be in no real danger; even as Captain Falcon had said; but, on the other hand, the fire might have spread more than the commander realized. But Russ, like many another picture operator, was not afraid to do his duty as he saw it, even in the face of danger.
Suddenly a great shout arose.
"Wonder what's happened now?" remarked Mr. Pertell. He knew a moment later, for the shout took to itself words:
"The rescue ship!"
"There comes the Bell!"
Sweeping up through the mist came the ship that had responded to the wireless calls for aid. On she came at full speed, and when she caught sight of the Tarsus she sent out a reassuring blast from her great whistle. It was answered in kind.
"Now you're all right!" cried Captain Falcon over the side, to those in the small boats. "Row the passengers over to her," he ordered the sailors, "and then come back to your ship!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" was the answer. And be it said to the credit of those sailors that not one of them shirked, or tried to desert, which might have been easily forgiven in the face of the danger.
"I've got to get a picture of her!" cried Russ, as he focused the camera on the oncoming ship. And a fine picture he obtained.
"Oh, now we're all right, Daddy!" cried Ruth, as she nestled close to her father. Mr. DeVere had been allowed to go in the boat with his daughters, as there was plenty of room, and all the other women had been provided for.
"I wasn't worrying," declared Alice.
"Oh yes, it's easy to say that now," sighed Ruth. "But I'm sorry for poor Captain Falcon."
"He is a brave man," said Mr. DeVere, again.
The Bell came as close as was safe, and a little later the small boats rowed to her accommodation ladder, which had been lowered. Then began the risky work of getting from the small boats to this ladder, and so aboard the Bell. For there was now a little sea on, and the boats rose and fell to a considerable degree.
But the sailors were skillful, and soon all the passengers and baggage were transferred. Russ was the last to leave the Tarsus, and the last to go aboard the Bell, for he wanted every view he could get.
He was received with a cheer, given not only by his friends, but by the passengers and crew of the Bell.
For Mr. Pertell had told of the devotion to duty of the young operator, and his act was duly appreciated.
Back to the burning vessel—perhaps, for all they knew, back to their doom—rowed the sailors of the Tarsus. The chief mate of the Bell, at the request of his commander, went to consult with Captain Falcon. On returning, the mate reported that Captain Falcon felt he could get the fire under control, and also make repairs to enable him to get his ship to port.
"Then we will proceed," said Captain Blackstone, of the Bell. He gave the signal to go ahead, and soon the ill-fated Tarsus, with the smoke pall hanging about her, was left behind.
But it is a pleasure to record that, after a hard fight, Captain Falcon and his men did subdue the flames, and, after harder work, temporary repairs enabled them to limp into port. Thus the commander saved his ship, and also avoided the payment, on the part of the owners, of heavy salvage. Later he was suitably rewarded by his superiors.
"Oh, but what an experience!" lamented Miss Pennington, as she sank into a steamer chair after the rescue. "I wonder what sort of a stateroom we'll have here, Laura?"
"They'll be lucky if they get even a berth," grumbled Paul. For the Bell carried a number of passengers, and the addition of those from the Tarsus rather crowded her.
But accommodations were found for all, though the quarters were rather cramped. The Bell was bound direct for St. Augustine, and in due season, and without further mishap, the moving picture company reached that oldest city in the United States.
"Oh, isn't it beautiful!"
"The most gorgeous place I ever saw!"
Alice and Ruth were standing in the doorway of the hotel to which the moving picture company had been taken. They were looking out into the ladies' court—into a sun-lit and palm-girded garden, wherein a fountain played, the water falling with a musical tinkling.
Birds flitted here and there amid the bright flowers, but to the moving picture girls the palms seemed the most wonderful of all. Such palms!
"I never realized that the great Creator could make anything so beautiful," murmured Ruth, reverently. "And, Oh! Alice; to think that we can enjoy it!"
"Yes, isn't it wonderful, after all the storm and stress of the fire, to be in this lovely, calm place?"
"And the best part of it is that we're getting paid for it!" observed a voice behind the two girls. They turned, with a start, for they had lost themselves in a dreaming reverie, to find Russ and Paul smiling at them. It was Paul who spoke.
"It does seem a shame to take the money under these circumstances," added Russ, with a laugh.
"It's like a vacation," agreed Alice. "Oh, but isn't it just—just too—"
She was evidently searching for a fitting simile.
"Alice," warned Ruth, gently. She was endeavoring to wean her sister from the habit of using slang expressions; but Alice always boasted that she liked to take "short cuts," and that slang—that is, her refined variety—offered the best method of accomplishing this very desirable object.
"Oh, I was only just going to say—scrumptious!" laughed the younger girl. "You don't mind that; do you, sister mine? This is really the most scrumptiously scrumptious place I've ever seen!"
"I'm afraid you're hopeless," was the smiling retort.
"Well, it's certainly swell—that's my word for it," answered Russ, with a frank laugh.
Indeed, Mr. Pertell had not spared expense in taking out his moving picture company. And he had a method in going to one of the largest and finest hotels in St. Augustine. He intended to stage some scenes of one of the Southern plays there, and having his actors and actresses right in the hotel made it much more practical.
"Let's take a walk," proposed Russ. "There's nothing to do to-day."
It was the morning after their arrival and Mr. Pertell was not quite ready to proceed with making films. The fire aboard the Tarsus, and the necessity of taking another vessel, had rather upset everyone, so a day or so of rest had been decided upon.
"Where shall we go?" asked Alice, readily falling in with the proposal. "You'll come, won't you, Ruth?"
"I think so—yes."
"There are lots of places to see," suggested Paul. "This is the oldest city in the United States. I've got some guide books up in my room, and a lot of views. We'll pick out some points of interest and visit them."
"We'll have plenty of chance to see the sights," remarked Russ. "I understand there are to be a number of films made in the city and vicinity, so you'll probably have to act out around Fort Marion and at Fort Mantanzas, as well as in the slave market. I'll be with you in a minute. I just want to get my little hand camera, to make a few snap-shots."
While waiting for him and Paul to return, the girls slipped up to their room a minute.
"Just to freshen up," as Alice put it, though really there was no need in her case, nor on the part of Ruth, either. The day was perfect—like summer—and the girls, knowing they were coming to the land of the palm and orange blossom, had brought suitable dresses.
Ruth wore white, with a mere suggestion of trimming in blue, and with her fair hair and blue eyes she was a picture that made more than one man—elderly as well as young—turn for a second look.
The darker beauty of Alice was well set off by her dress of light tan pongee with maroon trimming, and her sparkling brown eyes were dancing with life, and the love of life, as she came out to join her sister and the young men.
"Primping, as usual," mocked Russ, but with a laugh that took the sting out of his words.
"Naturally," agreed Alice, determined not to let him "fuss" her.
They strolled out under the beautiful loggia, through an avenue of palms and many tropical plants, and breathed deeply of the perfumed air.
"Oh, it is perfect—just perfect!" sighed Ruth. "I think the Garden of Paradise must have been in Florida."
"There you go!" cried Alice. "First you know you'll want to go off and live the simple life under a palm tree, with bananas for lunch and oranges for dinner. And when your—er—your hero—we'll say, comes riding on that milk-white steed I so despise, you'll be so thin that he won't know you."
"Thank you!" returned her sister. "But a svelte figure is much to be desired these days."
"Not that you're getting stout!" declared Alice. "Really it is I who ought to diet on bananas and—"
"Orange blossoms," finished Paul.
"Thanks," and she bowed gracefully to him.
"Well, Paul, where is it to be—you're the guide?" asked Russ, as they emerged on King street. "Where's your map?"
"I have it. What do you say we go out to the old city gates, and then to Fort Marion?"
"Wherever you say," agreed Alice. "It is all new to us."
They soon reached the north bend of St. George street and stood before the old city gates. These once formed part of the northerly line of defence of the ancient city.
"Built in 1743," declaimed Alice, as she read from the bronze tablet set in the masonry by the D.A.R. "My, how long ago that seems; doesn't it?"
"A mere trifle!" replied Russ, airily. "Get together there, and I'll snap you," he invited. "If you think that's old we'll go to the Fountain of Youth a little later, and renew our youngness."
"Oh, is that really here?" cried Ruth, with such sudden interest that they all laughed.
"Yes, my ancient sister, it is," said Alice. "Dost wish to quaff a cup?"
"Merely for the novelty of it—yes," answered Ruth, and she too, laughed. Her cheeks were the color of bridesmaid roses, and Russ, as he looked at her, wished—
But there—What's the use of being mean and telling on a good chap?
The pictures taken, they strolled on. At Fort Marion, on the banks of the Mantanzas River, they found much of interest; but agreed to explore it more in detail at another time.
"You'll have to be filmed here, anyhow," Russ told the girls. "There's an important drama, with several scenes, laid here."
"Are we in it?" asked Ruth.
"Yes, the whole company; and Mr. Pertell said he'd have to hire some supers, too."
By this Russ meant that the manager would have to engage extra persons to impersonate the unimportant characters in the play, as is often done in "mob" scenes in the theaters.
"Now for the orange grove, and then—the Fountain of Youth!" cried Paul, as they came out of the old fort.
"What a delightful combination!" exclaimed Alice.
"Youth—and—orange blossoms!" and she clapped her hands, her eyes shining.
"Be careful," warned Ruth in a low voice, as the young men went on ahead.
"Why, sister of mine?"
"Don't talk so much of orange blossoms."
"Pooh! I'm not thinking of getting married!"
"Well, wasn't that what you meant?"
"Not at all, I only meant—"
"I don't believe you knew what you did mean. Come on, we'll be lost!" and she caught Ruth by the arm and hurried on after Russ and Paul.
IN THE DUNGEON
"Oh, if we could only stay here forever!"
"It would be Paradise!"
Thus Ruth and Alice exclaimed as they entered the orange grove, a short distance from the city gates. And indeed the scene that greeted them, and the sweet odors, might well call for this praise and desire from even the most blase tourist.
Even Russ, grown accustomed by his calling to odd scenes, was impressed by the wonderful sight, and as for Paul, who had something of the romantic nature of Ruth, it was a pure delight to him.
"I wonder if they will take any pictures here?" said Ruth, softly—at first it seemed as if one must talk in whispers so as not to disturb the beauty of the place.
"Oh, I'm going to film you here," announced Russ. "Stand still a moment and I'll snap you now. There's a pretty place."
Ruth and Alice assumed graceful poses, and soon their likenesses were registered on the film. Russ never tired of taking pictures, and when he was not making moving ones he was using his small hand camera. How many times he had taken the likeness of Ruth it would be hard to estimate.
They wandered about the orange grove, and the young men bought some of the delicious fruit, right from the trees, and fully ripe. It had a flavor all its own.
"Let me show you how to eat an orange," suggested one of the men of the grove, as he saw the young people going about, "in the way it is usually done when no orange spoons are to be had."
"Somebody has said," went on the man, "that you need to lean over a bathtub to eat an orange this way, but it's worth while. You get a little smeared up doing it; but you can wash in the spring over there," and he pointed to one amid a pile of stones.
Then with his keen knife he cut the orange in a peculiar spiral manner, with the skin left on so that eventually he had a long yellow strip, with the sections of orange clinging to the yellow rind.
"Now, all you've got to do is to run your mouth along that strip," he directed, "and you get all the juice—that is, all you don't miss. It takes a little practice; but I've got some black boys that can get every drop. Watch!"
Rapidly he ate along the extended strip of skin, to which clung the cut sections of orange. In a moment it was clean.
"It's an awfully crude way of doing it—but, as long as we're in an orange grove, let's do as the orange 'grovers' do," laughed Alice.
"I'm game!" cried Paul.
"Same here!" put in Russ, and they cut their oranges as the man had done. The latter then prepared one each for Ruth and Alice, and amid much laughter—the girls and the young men leaning far over so as not to drip the juice on their clothes—they finished the delicious fruit.
"Now bring on your bathtub!" cried Russ.
"There's the spring," the man said. "There's a basin near it, and it's clean."
Laughing over the new way of eating oranges, but voting that it was worth while, even if it was a bit "smeary," the young folks washed their hands and faces, and kept on through the grove, growing more and more glad at every step that they had come to Florida.
"And now for the Fountain of Youth!" cried Paul.
"I don't feel that I need it, after that delicious orange," laughed Ruth.
"Indeed, if you get any younger, you'll go back to kindergarten days," remarked Paul.
"Thank you. I don't want to be quite as young as that."
The Fountain of Youth, one of the curiosities of St. Augustine, is on Myrtle avenue, two blocks north of the orange grove, and the four laughing young people were soon there.
"Is this really the fountain Ponce de Leon thought would give eternal youth?" asked Ruth, half-seriously, as they stood near the little roofed-over spring.
"That is the legend," declared Paul. "Of course that's not saying it's so. But the spring has one peculiar quality."
"What's that?" asked Russ.
"The waters rise and fall without any particular cause. Sometimes they are higher than at others, and none of the other wells, or springs, in this vicinity do that. So you see it may be miraculous after all."
"Let's try it," suggested Alice, who was always ready for anything new.
"Oh, but perhaps it isn't good water," objected Ruth, more cautious. "We may get typhoid, or something like that."
"Nonsense!" laughed Alice, but she looked questioningly at Paul.
"Lots of people drink the water," he said. "Allow me," and he lowered a small bucket attached to a rope made fast to the roof of the well.
He drew it up, brimming over, and with a low bow handed some of the water to Alice, pouring it into a small collapsible cup he happened to have with him.
"Drink! And may you never grow old!" he said, and there was more of meaning in his eyes than in his words.
"We'll all sample it!" cried Russ, and as Ruth was induced, just for the fun of the thing, to try some, they heard the murmur of voices behind them.
"Save some for us!" was the call, and Miss Pennington and Miss Dixon came up.
"We'll all be young together," said Alice. Though she and her sister were not very chummy with the two former vaudeville actresses, they were not exactly unfriendly. And who could be unfriendly in that beautiful spot, and on the reputed site of the Fountain of Youth?
"The more you drink the younger you get!" bantered Paul, as Miss Dixon asked him for a second cup.
"Gracious, then I'll turn into a baby," exclaimed Miss Pennington. "I've been here once before this morning, and I took several glasses."
"Back to juvenile roles for yours!" cried Russ. "Mr. Pertell will have to look for another leading lady."
"I haven't noticed any effect yet," she said, as she took out a vanity box, and surreptitiously used her chamois, leaving a more brilliant tint on her face.
"It takes time," went on Russ, half-seriously. "You will awaken in the morning, crying for a rattle."
Thus they made merry near the well, with its queer square stones built into pillars to hold up the roof.
"Poor Ponce de Leon," sighed Ruth. "How disappointed he must have been when he found out that his life was slipping away in spite of the Fountain of Youth. I wonder if he really believed he had found it?"
"He couldn't have—when he came to die," remarked Russ, practically.
"But it is a pretty story," Ruth said, softly. "Poor Ponce de Leon!"
"The Indians told him this was the fountain," said Paul, who had been reading history. "Near this fountain was found a large coquina cross. The cross was located by the discovery of a silver casque, which contained documents telling of the matter, and one seems to fix the date of the first visit of Ponce de Leon to Florida. That was in 1513, according to the documents found in the casque.
"Am I boring you?" he asked quickly, for he thought the two former vaudeville actresses looked as though they wanted to talk of something else besides dry historical facts.
"No, indeed!" cried Alice. "I just love to hear about this."
"Do go on," urged Ruth, and even Miss Pennington condescended to say:
"It sounds interesting."
"I'll read you what one of the old documents said," went on Paul. "'As we bore down upon him we found him to be an Indian, in a skin boat with a skin sail, running to a point twenty feet in the air, with a bow at the top. In the boat, which I describe in my descriptive image, I went ashore with the Indian. We landed near a spring that they call the Fountain of Youth; there they had a temple built where they worshipped the sun, and there I built a cross out of coquina, which is a natural formation of the sea, and I laid it with the rising and setting sun. In the heart of the cross I placed a descriptive image of myself, and took possession in the name of our beloved Catholic King.'
"That's in the document," went on Paul, "and the paper was given to the United States, through courtesy of the Governor of Sevilla, in 1908."
"How interesting," murmured Alice. "And to think that we are standing on such historic ground! Think of the ancient Indians worshipping the sun here," and she looked up at the flaming orb.
"The sun is paying altogether too much attention to me!" complained Miss Pennington, with a laugh. "It will spoil my complexion, in spite of the Fountain of Youth. I must be going."
"Oh, by the way, Russ," she called back over her shoulder, "Mr. Pertell was looking for you."
"Was he?" asked the young operator. "Then I'd better be getting back."
"I fancy we all had," spoke Ruth. "It must be near lunch time. Come along, Alice."
Russ, back at the hotel, found that the manager had decided to make as the first film one showing some of his players at Fort Marion, and he wanted Russ to go out there with him and plan the scenario, which would be undertaken in a day or two.
The time quickly passed, for it was so lovely in St. Augustine, and there were so many things to see, that night seemed to follow quickly on the heels of morning.
Arrangements having been made, the company one morning went to the old fort and there Russ filmed many scenes. The play was to be called "The Spanish Prisoner," the background of the old fort being most effective.
The players were filmed, going through their various parts on what was once the drawbridge in front of the portcullis, near the old watchtower on the stairway that was originally an inclined way, by which artillery was hauled up to the terre plein.
Ruth and Alice were in many of the scenes, but there came a rest for Alice who, always interested in matters of antiquity, wandered about the old fort by herself, Ruth and Mr. DeVere being engaged.
The girl finally made her way to what had been the old guard room and dungeon. In the guard room was a table and some chairs, for the fort is in charge of a detachment from the United States Army, and accommodations are provided for visitors.
Alice sat down in one of the chairs, and looked at the big open fire-place at one end of the guard rooms. She recalled some of its history that Paul had read to her that morning.
The dungeon was accidently discovered in 1835 and two iron cages, containing the skeletons of a man and woman, were found fastened to the wall.
"Poor creatures! What a horror it must have been!" thought Alice, as she looked toward the narrow opening to the black dungeon.
"Ugh! It's getting on my nerves, staying here!" she exclaimed, for she was all alone. "I'm going!"
As she rose she heard a noise near the doorway by which she had entered. Turning quickly, expecting to see one of the company, she was horrified to see by the light which entered through a barred window, an aged colored man facing her. He did not approach, but bowing before her exclaimed in quavering tones:
"Den I find yo', my Missie! Old Jake look eberywhere fo' you,' but he find yo'! I knowed I'd find yo' some day, an' now I has, but it's been a pow'ful long time, honey! A long time!" and with outstretched hands, as he took a battered hat from his head, he approached her. Alice screamed and got behind the table.
THE MOTOR RACES
With wildly beating heart, Alice watched the approach of the colored man, and then, somehow or other, it came to her in a flash that she need not fear him.
His bearing was most deferential, as of some old slave toward a cherished mistress. His manner was gentle and, after advancing a short distance toward her, he stopped, bowed again, placed his battered hat over his heart, and said:
"I knowed I'd find yo' some day, Missie, an' now I has. Yo' ain't gwine t' send po' ole Jake away; is yo', Missie?"
Alice, having repressed the desire to scream, was now more calm and, as quietly as she could she said:
"You must go out of here, Jake. Go out, and I will come out, too."
"Yes'm, Missie, dat's what I'll do," he said. "Ole Jake'll do jest as his missis says. Oh, but it' pow'ful good t' see you' once mo', Missie!"
"You must go now," repeated Alice, firmly.
And, without another word, he turned and shuffled out. But he had no sooner reached the entrance to the dungeon than Alice, who had remained behind the table, not knowing whether to go out or not, saw the old colored man seized by a soldier—one of those detailed at the fort.
"Here now, Jake!" the soldier exclaimed, "haven't I told you time and again to keep away from here? You know you haven't any right to come in this part of the fort!"
"Yais, sah, Cunnel, I knows it, sah," replied the aged negro, with a low bow. "But yo' see, I done found mah li'l Missie what I'se been lookin' fo' so long! Dat's why I come heah!"
"Great Scott! Have you been bothering some of the women visitors?" cried the soldier and, wheeling about on his heel, he hurried into the dungeon, which Alice had just decided to leave. He met her coming out, and by her agitated manner must have guessed that something had happened.
"I beg your pardon, Miss," began the soldier, with a salute, "but has old Jake annoyed you?"
"Oh, not at all," she answered, as calmly as she could. "He only startled me for a moment; that is all. I was here alone, foolishly, perhaps—"
"Oh, no, that's all right," interrupted the soldier. "We want the visitors to go about as they please, alone or in company. Old Jake's as harmless as a kitten. He isn't just right up here," he said, touching his head, and speaking in low tones.
"I thought as much," responded Alice, with a smile.
"He's perfectly harmless," went on the soldier, looking out to see the aged negro shuffling off. "You see, he used to be a slave in some Southern family," the army man explained. "He was given his freedom, but never took it, and they say he went insane when his mistress died. He had taken care of her since she was a baby, and he took it very much to heart."
"Poor old man," murmured Alice.
"Yes, we all like him around here," the soldier continued. "He has a notion now that his 'little mistress,' as he calls her, is only lost, and he keeps searching for her. Sometimes he scares the lady visitors, so we try to keep him out of the lonely parts of the fort. But he must have slipped in here when no one was watching. I'll give him a good lecture."
"Oh, please don't be harsh to him!" pleaded Alice. "Really he did nothing!"
"But he scared you, Miss."
"Oh, not much. Only for a second. Then I guessed what his trouble was. Please say you won't scold him!" she pleaded.
"Well, I guess I'll have to, if you ask me that way, Miss," said the soldier with the air and manner of a Southern colonel. "We can't refuse the ladies anything, you know," and he bowed and smiled in a frank manner that pleased Alice.
"Then you won't punish him?" she asked.
"Punish him? Oh, no, Miss. Old Jake is just like a child. He sort of lives in the fort. No, I won't do any more than tell him to keep away from here, for them's the captain's orders, Miss."
"All right," she answered. "And now I think I had better join my friends. What a horrible place this is!" she added, with a backward look at the dungeon.
"You may well say that, Miss. But it isn't so bad now as it must have been in the old days. It's a queer world, that men would make such a place to put a fellow creature in," and with this somewhat philosophical remark the soldier saluted again, as Alice bade him good-bye.
"Why, where have you been?" Ruth asked, as sister appeared. "We have been looking all over for you. Where were you?"
"Jail! Alice, don't joke about such things."
"No, sister mine, I was only in a deep, dark dismal dungeon, and I had such a romantic adventure."
"Oh, do tell us about it!" begged Miss Pennington.
"Did you meet a handsome prisoner?" asked Miss Dixon.
"Yes, a regular Othello."
"Othello? Who speaks of Othello?" interrupted Mr. Bunn. "I have played him many times!" and he threw back his shoulders, and tried to give himself the airs he was wont to assume in the theater.
Alice told her story, minimizing her fright as much as possible.
"It was romantic," said Ruth, softly, as her sister concluded. "Only, dear, you musn't go off in any more strange dungeons alone."
"I won't," was the promise, given readily enough.
The making of moving pictures was soon over for the day, and the company returned to the hotel. Some of the members went to their rooms, while the others sat about in the beautiful tropical garden, listening to the mingled music of the band and the fountain.
"Good stunt on for to-morrow," said Russ, coming up behind Ruth, and taking a chair near her.
"What is it?" asked Paul, who was with Alice. "Any more fort stuff?"
"No, but it's out near the fort. Mr. Pertell is arranging for a motor boat race, with you girls in rival boats. You know there is a speed course on Mantanzas Bay, and he's hired two of the fast boats. It's going to be a regular race, for the two fellows who run the boats are real water rivals.
"Mr. Pertell has induced them to act the parts for him, and there'll be some fun. Part of our company is to be in one boat, and part in the other, and some will be on the fort wall, outside the old moat, watching the boats come up. It ought to make a dandy picture."
"I'm sure it will," declared Ruth, who was always interested in the mechanical end, as well as in the artistic side. Russ had taught her considerable about the technical part of the business of making moving pictures.
"A motor boat race will be simply fine!" Alice exclaimed. "I hope the boat I am in wins."
"There's no telling," Russ went on. "As I said, the men who own the boats are real rivals, so each will do his best to come out ahead. There'll be no fake about this—if you'll excuse the use of slang," he added.
That evening, seated in the palm garden, Mr. Pertell explained to his company something of the plans for the next day, telling of the plot of the play in which the motor boat race was to figure.
"That sounds interesting," commented Mr. DeVere.
"Do those boats go very fast?" inquired Mr. Sneed.
"Rather—they are two of the fastest boats in the world," answered the manager.
"Then there's sure to be an accident," predicted the grouchy actor. "I think you may count me out of this play, Mr. Pertell. I have had enough of water stuff."
"Well, you're due to have a bit more," observed Mr. Pertell, drily. "For you fall overboard from one of the boats, at the conclusion of the race."
"I fall overboard!" was the startled exclamation.
"Yes, and Mr. Bunn dives in after you. You are both good swimmers—you remember you told me so."
The use of the dock of the St. Augustine Power Boat Club had been loaned for the making of the moving picture, and next day, with such of his company as were to go in the boats, Mr. Pertell went to the float. Others of the players took their places on the wall of the fort.
Two cameras were to be used, Russ working one to show the start and finish of the race, and Pop Snooks the other, to depict the action of the players not in the boats.
The motor boats were powerful and handsome craft. The skippers of each were at the wheel as the players took their places, and each boat carried a blackened and greasy mechanician, as looking after high-powered motors was no simple matter.
"Well, are we all ready?" asked the manager, as he assigned the players to their places.
"All ready, sir," answered Mr. DeVere.
Alice was in one boat, well up in front beside the captain-owner, while Ruth occupied a similar position in the other craft.
"You may start, if you please," said the manager, with a nod at Russ and another at the skippers.
A moment later the air was filled with the thundering, rattling exhaust of the motors as the boats swept away from the float.
The motor race was on.
TO LAKE KISSIMMEE
The staccato explosions of the motor boats, the cheers of the spectators, of whom there were many; the clicking of the camera operated by Russ, and the shouts of the picture-players themselves as they went through the "business" prescribed for this act of the play, made the scene a gay one.
"This will make a fine film," declared Mr. Pertell, who was in the boat with Alice, Mr. Bunn, Mr. Sneed and Mr. DeVere.
"I think so," agreed the latter. "I am glad we came to Florida."
"Is your throat better?" the manager asked.
"Indeed yes—much better. That is, it does not pain me, but I still retain my hoarseness, as you notice."
"Yes, and I am selfish enough to wish that it will stay with you a little longer," the manager said. "That is, only so that you will not leave me and go back to the legitimate," he added, quickly. "For I want you in moving pictures. I have some other plans when we finish work here, and you and your daughters will be much needed."
"I am glad you have such a good opinion of us," murmured the veteran actor.
"Where are we going from here?" asked Alice.
"That's a secret," laughed the manager. "I haven't it all worked out myself, as yet."
The boats sped on, the rival skippers striving to gain the lead. The men in charge of the motors, too, did everything in their power, in the way of changing the gasoline mixture, or by means of copious oiling, to get one more revolution out of their engines. But the boats seemed very evenly matched. A big wave was thrown up on either bow of each boat.
Russ, after getting pictures of the start, had gone with his camera, by a short cut, to a little promontory on shore, where he got other views of the boats racing through the water. Then he went farther on and, getting into another motor boat, took his place near the finish line, to film the end of the race.