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For a little while, after he had read to Joe the letter from Mr. Hadley, Blake remained silent. Nor did his chum speak. When he did open his lips it was to ask:
"Well, what do you think of it, Blake?"
Blake drew a long breath, and replied, questioningly:
"What do you think of it?"
"I asked you first!" laughed Joe. "No, but seriously, what do you make of it all?"
"Make of it? You mean going to Panama?"
"Yes, and this chap Alcando. What do you think of him?"
Blake did not answer at once.
"Well?" asked Joe, rather impatiently.
"Did anything—that is, anything that fellow said—or did—strike you as being—well, let's say—queer?" and Blake looked his chum squarely in the face.
"Queer? Yes, I guess there did! Of course he was excited about the runaway, and he did have a narrow escape, if I do say it myself. Only for us he and Hank would have toppled down into that ravine."
"That's right," assented Blake.
"But what struck me as queer," resumed Joe, "was that he seemed put out because it was we who saved him. He acted—I mean the Spaniard did—as though he would have been glad if someone else had saved his life."
"Just how it struck me!" cried Blake. "I wondered if you felt the same. But perhaps it was only because he was unduly excited. We might have misjudged him."
"Possibly," admitted Joe. "But, even if we didn't, and he really is sorry it was we who saved him, I don't see that it need matter. He is probably so polite that the reason he objects is because he didn't want to put us to so much trouble."
"Perhaps," agreed Blake. "As you say, it doesn't much matter. I rather like him."
"So do I," assented Joe. "But he sure is queer, in some ways. Quite dramatic. Why, you'd think he was on the stage the way he went on after he learned that we two, who had saved him, were the moving picture boys to whom he had a letter of introduction."
"Yes. I wonder what it all meant?" observed Blake.
The time was to come when he and Joe were to learn, in a most sensational manner, the reason for the decidedly queer actions of Mr. Alcando.
For some time longer the chums sat and talked. But as the day waned, and the supper hour approached, they were no nearer a decision than before.
"Let's let it go until morning," suggested Blake.
"I'm with you," agreed Joe. "We can think better after we have 'slept on it.'"
Joe was later than Blake getting up next morning, and when he saw his chum sitting out in a hammock under a tree in the farmyard, Joe noticed that Blake was reading a book.
"You're the regular early worm this morning; aren't you?" called Joe. "It's a wonder some bird hasn't flown off with you."
"I'm too tough a morsel," Blake answered with a laugh. "Besides, I've been on the jump too much to allow an ordinary bird the chance. What's the matter with you—oversleep?"
"No, I did it on purpose. I was tired. But what's that you're reading; and what do you mean about being on the jump?"
"Oh, I just took a little run into the village after breakfast, on the motor cycle."
"You did! To tell that Spaniard he could, or could not, go with us?"
"Oh, I didn't see him. I just went into the town library. You know they've got a fairly decent one at Central Falls."
"Yes, so I heard; but I didn't suppose they'd be open so early in the morning."
"They weren't. I had to wait, and I was the first customer, if you can call it that."
"You are getting studious!" laughed Joe. "Great Scott! Look at what he's reading!" he went on as he caught a glimpse of the title of the book. "'History of the Panama Canal' Whew!"
"It's a mighty interesting book!" declared Blake. "You'll like it."
"Perhaps—if I read it," said Joe, drily.
"Oh, I fancy you'll want to read it," went on Blake, significantly.
"Say!" cried Joe, struck with a sudden idea. "You've made up your mind to go to Panama; haven't you?"
"Well," began his chum slowly, "I haven't fully decided—"
"Oh, piffle!" cried Joe with a laugh. "Excuse my slang, but I know just how it is," he proceeded. "You've made up your mind to go, and you're getting all the advance information you can, to spring it on me. I know your tricks. Well, you won't go without me; will you?"
"You know I'd never do that," was the answer, spoken rather more solemnly than Joe's laughing words deserved. "You know we promised to stick together when we came away from the farms and started in this moving picture business, and we have stuck. I don't want to break the combination; do you?"
"I should say not! And if you go to Panama I go too!"
"I haven't actually made up my mind," went on Blake, who was, perhaps, a little more serious, and probably a deeper thinker than his chum. "But I went over it in my mind last night, and I didn't just see how we could refuse Mr. Hadley's request.
"You know he started us in this business, and, only for him we might never have amounted to much. So if he wants us to go to Panama, and get views of the giant slides, volcanic eruptions, and so on, I, for one, think we ought to go."
"So do I—for two!" chimed in Joe. "But are there really volcanic eruptions down there?"
"Well, there have been, in times past, and there might be again. Anyhow, the slides are always more or less likely to occur. I was just reading about them in this book.
"Culebra Cut! That's where the really stupendous work of the Panama Canal came in. Think of it, Joe! Nine miles long, with an average depth of 120 feet, and at some places the sides go up 500 feet above the bed of the channel. Why the Suez Canal is a farm ditch alongside of it!"
"Whew!" whistled Joe. "You're there with the facts already, Blake."
"They're so interesting I couldn't help but remember them," said Blake with a smile. "This book has a lot in it about the big landslides. At first they were terribly discouraging to the workers. They practically put the French engineers, who started the Canal, out of the running, and even when the United States engineers started figuring they didn't allow enough leeway for the Culebra slides.
"At first they decided that a ditch about eight hundred feet wide would be enough to keep the top soil from slipping down. But they finally had to make it nearly three times that width, or eighteen hundred feet at the top, so as to make the sides slope gently enough."
"And yet slides occur even now," remarked Joe, dubiously.
"Yes, because the work isn't quite finished."
"And we're going to get one of those slides on our films?"
"If we go, yes; and I don't see but what we'd better go."
"Then I'm with you, Blake, old man!" cried Joe, affectionately slapping his chum on the back with such energy that the book flew out of the other's hands.
"Look out what you're doing or you'll get the librarian after you!" cried Blake, as he picked up the volume. "Well, then, we'll consider it settled—we'll go to Panama?"
He looked questioningly at his chum.
"Yes, I guess so. Have you told that Spaniard?"
"No, not yet, of course. I haven't seen him since you did. But I fancy we'd better write to Mr. Hadley first, and let him know we will go. He'll wonder why we haven't written before. We can explain about the delayed letter."
"All right, and when we hear from him, and learn more of his plans, we can let Mr. Alcando hear from us. I guess we can mosey along with him all right."
"Yes, and we'll need a helper with the cameras and things. He can be a sort of assistant while he's learning the ropes."
A letter was written to the moving picture man in New York, and while waiting for an answer Blake and Joe spent two days visiting places of interest about Central Falls.
"If this is to be another break in our vacation we want to make the most of it," suggested Joe.
"That's right," agreed Blake. They had not yet given the Spaniard a definite answer regarding his joining them.
"It does not matter—the haste, young gentlemen," Mr. Alcando had said with a smile that showed his white teeth, in strong contrast to his dark complexion. "I am not in so much of a haste. As we say, in my country, there is always maņana—to-morrow."
Blake and Joe, while they found the Spaniard very pleasant, could not truthfully say that they felt for him the comradeship they might have manifested toward one of their own nationality. He was polite and considerate toward them—almost too polite at times, but that came natural to him, perhaps.
He was a little older than Joe and Blake, but he did not take advantage of that. He seemed to have fully recovered from the accident, though there was a nervousness in his actions at times that set the boys to wondering. And, occasionally, Blake or Joe would catch him surreptitiously looking at them in a strange manner.
"I wonder what's up?" said Blake to Joe, after one of those occasions. "He sure does act queer."
"That's what I say," agreed Joe. "It's just as though he were sorry he had to be under obligations to us, if you can call it that, for saving his life."
"That's how it impresses me. But perhaps we only imagine it. Hello, here comes Mr. Baker with the mail! We ought to hear from New York."
"Hasn't Birdie Lee written yet?" asked Joe.
"Oh, drop that!" warned Blake, his eyes flashing.
There was a letter from Mr. Hadley, in which he conveyed news and information that made Blake and Joe definitely decide to make the trip to Panama.
"And take Alcando with us?" asked Joe.
"I suppose so," said Blake, though it could not be said that his assent was any too cordial.
"Then we'd better tell him, so he'll know it is settled."
"All right. We can ride over on the motor cycle."
A little later, after a quick trip on the "gasoline bicycle," the moving picture boys were at the only hotel of which Central Falls boasted. Mr. Alcando was in his room, the clerk informed the boys, and they were shown up.
"Enter!" called the voice of the Spaniard, as they knocked. "Ah, it is you, my young friends!" he cried, as he saw them, and getting up hastily from a table on which were many papers, he began hastily piling books on top of them.
"For all the world," said Joe, later, "as though he were afraid we'd see something."
"I am delighted that you have called," the Spaniard said, "and I hope you bring me good news."
"Yes," said Blake, "we are going—"
As he spoke there came in through the window a puff of air, that scattered the papers on the table. One, seemingly part of a letter, was blown to Blake's feet. He picked it up, and, as he handed it back to Mr. Alcando, the lad could not help seeing part of a sentence. It read:
"... go to Panama, get all the pictures you can, especially the big guns...."
Blake felt himself staring eagerly at the last words.
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