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Blake spent a week at Culebra Cut, making pictures of the removal of the great mass of earth that had slid into the water. The chief engineer, General George W. Goethals, had ordered every available man and machine to the work, for though the Canal had not been formally opened, many vessels had started to make trips through it, and some of them had been blocked by the slide. It was necessary to get the dirt away so they could pass on their voyage.
So with dredges, with steam shovels, and hydraulic pumps, that sucked through big flexible pipes mud and water, spraying it off to one side, the work went on. Blake had Mr. Alcando to help him, and the Spaniard was now expert enough to render valuable assistance. While Blake was at one scene, getting views of the relief work, his pupil could be at another interesting point.
Blake had telegraphed to New York that the one picture above all others desired had been obtained—that of a big slide in the Culebra Cut. He did not tell how Joe had nearly lost his life in helping get the films, for Blake was modest, as was his chum, and, as he said, it was "all in the day's work."
Joe was left to recover from the shock and slight injuries at Gatun, while Blake and Mr. Alcando were at Culebra. For the shock to the young moving picture operator had been greater than at first supposed, though his bodily injuries were comparatively slight.
"Well, what's next on the programme?" asked Joe of Blake, about two weeks after the accident, when Blake had returned from Culebra. Most of the work there was done, and the Canal was again open, save to vessels of extreme draught.
"I guess we'll go on making pictures of Gatun Dam now; that is, if you're well enough," spoke Blake. "How do you feel?"
"Pretty fair. How did Alcando make out?"
"All right. He's learning fast. We can trust him with a camera now, out alone."
"That's good. I say, Blake," and Joe's voice took on a confidential tone, "you haven't noticed anything strange about him, have you?"
"Strange? What do you mean?"
"I mean while he was off there with you. Anything more about that alarm clock of his? And did anything more develop about his knowing the captain of that vessel that sunk the Nama?"
"No, that was only coincidence, I think. Why, I can't say that I've noticed anything suspicious about him, Joe, if that's what you mean," and Blake's voice had a questioning tone.
"That's what I do mean," spoke Joe. "And if you haven't I have."
"I've been watching Alcando since you and he came back, and I think he's decidedly queer."
"Suspicious, you mean?"
"I mean he acts as though something were going to happen."
"Another landslide?" asked Blake with a laugh. "No chance of that here at Gatun Dam."
"No, but something else could happen, I think."
"You mean the—dam itself?" asked Blake, suddenly serious.
"Well, I don't exactly know what I do mean," Joe said, and his voice was troubled. "I'll tell you what I noticed and heard, and you can make your own guess."
"Go on," invited Blake. "I'm all ears, as the donkey said."
"It's no laughing matter," retorted his chum. "Haven't you noticed since you and Alcando came back," he went on, "that he seems different, in a way. He goes about by himself, and, several times I've caught him looking at the dam as though he'd never seen it before. He is wonderfully impressed by it."
"Well, anybody would be," spoke Blake. "It's a wonderful piece of engineering. But go on."
"Not only that," resumed Joe, "but I've heard him talking to himself a lot."
"Well, that's either a bad sign, or a good one," laughed his chum. "They say when a fellow talks to himself he either has money in the bank, or he's in love. You can take your choice."
"Not when it's the kind of talk I overheard Alcando having with himself," Joe resumed. "I went out on the dam yesterday, and I saw him looking at it. He didn't see me, but I heard him muttering to himself."
"What did he say?" Blake wanted to know.
"I didn't hear it all," was Joe's answer, "but I caught two sentences that made me do a lot of thinking. They were these: 'I just hate to do it, though I'll have to, I suppose. But I'll not put the blame on'—" and Joe came to a pause.
"Well, go on," urged Blake.
"That's all there was," Joe continued. "I couldn't hear any more. What do you suppose he meant?"
"He might have meant nothing—or anything," Blake remarked slowly. "It sounds to me as though he meant that he had made a failure of the moving picture business, and was going to quit. That must be it. He meant that he had to give it up, though he hated to, and that he wouldn't blame us for not giving him better instruction."
"Could he have meant that?"
"He could," Blake replied, "for, to tell you the truth, he'll never be a good operator. He hasn't a correct eye for details, and he can't focus worth a cent, though that might be overcome in time. He does well enough for ordinary work, but when it comes to fine details he isn't in it. I found that out back there at Culebra when he was working with me. Of course he was a lot of help, and all that, but he's a failure as a moving picture operator."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Joe, with genuine sympathy.
"So am I to have to come to that conclusion," Blake went on. "I guess he knows it, too, for he said as much to me. So I guess that's what his talking to himself meant."
"Perhaps it did. Well, we did our best for him."
"We surely did, and I guess he appreciates that. He said so, anyhow."
"And so you're going to get some Gatun pictures and then quit—eh?"
"That's it, Joe, and the sooner we get them the sooner we can get back home. I've had all I want of Panama. Not that it isn't a nice place, but we've seen all there is to see."
"We might try a little more of the jungle."
"We got enough of those pictures before," Blake declared. "No, the dam will wind it up, as far as we're concerned."
If Mr. Alcando felt any sorrow over his failure as a moving picture operator he did not show it when next he met the boys. He was quite cheerful.
"Are you fully recovered, Joe?" he asked.
"Oh, sure! I'm all right again."
"I only wish I could have had a hand in rescuing you," the Spaniard went on. "It would have been a manner of paying, in a slight degree, the debt I owe you boys. But fate took that out of my hands, and you were saved by the same sort of slide that covered you up."
"Yes, I guess I was born lucky," laughed Joe.
Preparations for taking several views of the big Gatun Dam from the lower, or spillway side, were made. One afternoon Mr. Alcando asked if he would be needed in making any views, and when Blake told him he would not, the Spaniard went off by himself, taking a small camera with him.
"I'm going to try my luck on my own hook," he said.
"That's right," encouraged Blake. "Go it on your own responsibility. Good luck!"
"He's trying hard, at all events," said Joe, when their acquaintance had left them.
"Yes," agreed Joe. "He wants to make good."
Several times after this Mr. Alcando went off, by himself for more or less prolonged absences. Each time he took a camera with him.
It was a small machine, made more for amateurs than for professionals, but it gave good practice.
"How are you coming on?" asked Blake one day, when Mr. Alcando returned after a trip which, he said, had taken him to Gatun Dam.
"Oh, pretty well, I think," was the answer, as the Spaniard set down his camera and carrying case. "I got some good scenes, I believe. When are you going to make the last of the spillway views?"
Blake did not answer. He was listening to a curious sound. It was a ticking, like that of an alarm clock, and it came from the interior of the carrying case that held extra reels of film for the little camera Mr. Alcando had.
Blake felt himself staring at the black box.
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