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While Blake was tearing off the end of the envelope, preparatory to taking out the enclosure, Joe looked sharply at the red-haired lad who had so unexpectedly delivered it.
"How'd your father come to get our letter, Sam?" asked Joe, for the lad was the son of a farmer, who lived neighbor to Mr. Baker.
"Sim Rolinson, the postmaster, give it to him, I guess," volunteered Sam. "Sim generally takes around the special delivery letters himself, but he must have been busy when this one come in, and he give it to pa. Anyhow, pa says he asked him to deliver it."
"Only he didn't do it," put in Joe. "I thought something was the matter with our mail that we hadn't heard from New York lately. Your father was carrying the letter around in his pocket."
"But he didn't mean to!" spoke Sam quickly. "He forgot all about it until to-day, when he was changing his coat, and it fell out. Then he made me scoot over here with it as fast as I could. He said he was sorry, and hoped he hadn't done any damage."
"Well, I guess not much," Joe responded, for, after all, it was an accommodation to have the letters brought out from the post-office by the neighbors, as often happened. That one should be forgotten, and carried in a pocket, was not so very surprising.
"Then you won't make any fuss?" the barefoot lad went on, eagerly.
"No—why should we?" inquired Joe with a smile. "We won't inform the postal authorities. I guess it wasn't so very important," and he looked at Blake, who was reading the delayed letter.
"Whew!" finally whistled Joe's chum. "This is going some!"
"What's up now?"
"Another surprise," answered Blake. "This day seems to be filled with 'em."
"Is it about Panama?"
"You've guessed it. Mr. Hadley wants us to go there and get a series of moving pictures. Incidentally he mentions that he is sending to us a gentleman who wants to go with us, if we decide to go. I presume he refers to you," and Blake nodded in the direction of Mr. Alcando.
"Then you have confirmatory evidence of what my letter says?" asked the Spaniard, bowing politely.
"That's what it amounts to," Blake made answer. "Though, of course, seeing that this is the first we've had Panama brought up to us, we don't really know what to say about going there."
"Hardly," agreed Joe, at a look from his chum.
"And yet you may go; shall you not?" asked the Spaniard, quickly. He seemed very eager for an answer.
"Oh, yes, we may—it's not altogether out of the question," said Blake. "We'll have to think about it, though."
"And if you do go, may I have the honor of accompanying you to the Isthmus?" Again he seemed very anxious.
"Well, of course, if Mr. Hadley wants you to go with us we'll take you," answered Joe slowly. "We are employed by Mr. Hadley, as one of the owners of the Film Theatrical Company, and what he says generally goes."
"Ah, but, gentlemen, I should not want you to take me under compulsion!" exclaimed the Spaniard, quickly. "I would like to go—as your friend!" and he threw out his hands in an impulsive, appealing gesture. "As a friend!" he repeated.
"Well, I guess that could be arranged," returned Blake with a smile, for he had taken a liking to the young man, though he did not altogether understand him. "We'll have to think it over."
"Oh, of course. I should not ask for a decision now," said Mr. Alcando quickly. "I shall return to my hotel in the village, and come out to see you when I may—when you have made your decision. I feel the need of a little rest—after my narrow escape. And that it should be you who saved my life—you of all!"
Again the boys noted his peculiar manner.
"I guess we had better be getting back," suggested Hank. "Have to foot it to town, though," he added regretfully, as he looked at the smashed carriage. "I hope the boss doesn't blame me for this," and his voice was rueful.
"I shall take it upon myself to testify in your favor," said the Spaniard with courtly grace. "It was an unavoidable accident—the breaking of the rein, and the maddened dash of the horse off the bridge. That we did not follow was a miracle. I shall certainly tell your employer—as you say your boss," and he smiled—"I shall tell him you could not help it."
"I'd take it kindly if you would," added Hank, "for Rex, though he had a terrible temper, was a valuable horse. Well, he won't run away any more, that's one sure thing. I guess that carriage can be patched up."
"Why don't you ask Mr. Baker to lend you a rig?" suggested Blake. "I'm sure he would. I'll tell him how it happened."
"That is kind of you, sir. You place me more than ever in your debt," spoke the Spaniard, bowing again.
"How did you know we were here?" asked Joe of the boy who had brought the delayed special delivery letter.
"I stopped at Mr. Baker's house," Sam explained, "and Mrs. Baker said she saw you come down this way on your motor cycle. She said you'd just been on a ride, and probably wouldn't go far, so I ran on, thinking I'd meet you coming back. I didn't know anything about the accident," he concluded, his eyes big with wonder as he looked at the smashed carriage.
"Are you able to walk back to the farmhouse where we are boarding?" asked Blake of Mr. Alcando. "If not we could get Mr. Baker to drive down here."
"Oh, thank you, I am perfectly able to walk, thanks to your quickness in preventing the carriage and ourselves from toppling into the chasm," replied the Spaniard.
Hank, with Mr. Alcando and Sam, walked back along the road, while Blake and Joe went to where they had dropped their motor cycle. They repaired the disconnected gasoline pipe, and rode on ahead to tell Mr. Baker of the coming of the others. The farmer readily agreed to lend his horse and carriage so that the unfortunate ones would not have to walk into town, a matter of three miles.
"I shall remain at the Central Falls hotel for a week or more, or until you have fully made up your mind about the Panama trip," said Mr. Alcando on leaving the boys, "and I shall come out, whenever you send me word, to learn of your decision. That it may be a favorable one I need hardly say I hope," he added with a low bow.
"We'll let you know as soon as we can," promised Blake. "But my chum and I will have to think it over. We have hardly become rested from taking flood pictures."
"I can well believe that, from what I have heard of your strenuous activities."
"Well, what do you think about it all?" asked Joe, as he and his chum sat on the shady porch an hour or so after the exciting incidents I have just narrated.
"I hardly know," answered Blake. "I guess I'll have another go at Mr. Hadley's letter. I didn't half read it."
He took the missive from his pocket, and again perused it. It contained references to other matters besides the projected Panama trip, and there was also enclosed a check for some work the moving picture boys had done.
But as it is with the reference to the big canal that we are interested we shall confine ourselves to that part of Mr. Hadley's letter.
"No doubt you will be surprised," he wrote, "to learn what I have in prospect for you. I know you deserve a longer vacation than you have had this summer, but I think, too, that you would not wish to miss this chance.
"Of course if you do not want to go to Panama I can get some other operators to work the moving picture cameras, but I would rather have you than anyone I know of. So I hope you will accept.
"The idea is this: The big canal is nearing completion, and the work is now at a stage when it will make most interesting films. Then, too, there is another matter—the big slides. There have been several small ones, doing considerable damage, but no more than has been counted on.
"I have information, however, to the effect that there is impending in Culebra Cut a monstrous big slide, one that will beat anything that ever before took place there. If it does happen I want to get moving pictures, not only of the slide, but of scenes afterward, and also pictures showing the clearing away of the débris.
"Whether this slide will occur I do not know. No one knows for a certainty, but a man who has lived in Panama almost since the French started the big ditch, claims to know a great deal about the slides and the causes of them. He tells me that certain small slides, such as have been experienced, are followed—almost always after the same lapse of time—by a much larger one. The larger one is due soon, and I want you there when it comes.
"Now another matter. Some time after you get this you will be visited by a Spanish gentleman named Vigues Alcando. He will have a letter of introduction from me. He wants to learn the moving picture business, and as he comes well recommended, and as both Mr. Ringold and I are under obligations to people he represents, we feel that we must grant his request.
"Of course if you feel that you can't stand him, after you see him, and if you don't want to take him with you—yes, even if you don't want to go to Panama at all, don't hesitate to say so. But I would like very much to have you. Someone must go, for the films from down there will be particularly valuable at this time, in view of the coming opening of the Canal for the passage of vessels. So if you don't want to go, someone else representing us will have to make the trip.
"Now think the matter over well before you decide. I think you will find Mr. Alcando a pleasant companion. He struck me as being a gentleman, though his views on some things are the views of a foreigner. But that does not matter.
"Of course, as usual, we will pay you boys well, and meet all expenses. It is too bad to break in on your vacation again, as we did to get the flood pictures, but the expected big slide, like the flood, won't wait, and won't last very long. You have to be 'Johnnie on the Spot' to get the views. I will await your answer."
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