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Blake and Joe were too well-seasoned travelers to care to witness many of the scenes attendant upon the departure of their vessel. Though young in years, they had already crowded into their lives so many thrilling adventures that it took something out of the ordinary to arouse their interest.
It was not that they were blasť, or indifferent to novel sights, but travel was now, with them, an old story. They had been out West, to the Pacific Coast, and in far-off jungle lands, to say nothing of their trip to the place of the earthquakes, and the more recent trip to the flooded Mississippi Valley.
So, once they had waved good-by to their friends and fellow-workers on the pier, they went to their stateroom to look after their luggage.
The two boys and Mr. Alcando had a room ample for their needs, and, though it would accommodate four, they were assured that the fourth berth would not be occupied, so no stranger would intrude.
When Blake and Joe went below Mr. Alcando did not follow. Either he liked the open air to be found on deck, or he was not such a veteran traveler as to care to miss the sights and sounds of departure. His baggage was piled in one corner, and that of the boys in other parts of the stateroom, with the exception of the trunks and cameras, which were stowed in the hold, as not being wanted on the voyage.
"Well, what do you think of him now?" asked Joe, as he sat down, for both he and Blake were tired, there having been much to do that day.
"Why, he seems all right," was the slowly-given answer.
"Nothing more suspicious; eh?"
"No, I can't say that I've seen anything. Of course it was queer for him to have someone in his room that time, and to get rid of whoever it was so quickly before we came in. But I suppose we all have our secrets."
"Yes," agreed Joe. "And he certainly can't do enough for us. He is very grateful."
This was shown in every way possible by the Spaniard. More than once he referred to the saving of his life in the runaway accident, and he never tired of telling those whom he met what the boys had done for him.
It was truly grateful praise, too, and he was sincere in all that he said. As Joe had remarked, the Spaniard could not do enough for the boys.
He helped in numberless ways in getting ready for the trip, and offered to do errands that could better be attended to by a messenger boy. He was well supplied with cash, and it was all Joe and Blake could do to prevent him from buying them all sorts of articles for use on their trip.
Passing a sporting goods store that made a specialty of fitting out travelers who hunted in the wilds, Mr. Alcando wanted to purchase for Blake and Joe complete camping outfits, portable stoves, guns, knives, patent acetylene lamps, portable tents, automatic revolvers and all sorts of things.
"But we don't need them, thank you!" Blake insisted. "We're not going to do any hunting, and we won't camp out if we can help it."
"Oh, but we might have to!" said Mr. Alcando, "then think how useful these outfits would be."
"But we'd have to cart them around with us for months, maybe," said Joe, "on the slim chance of using part of the things one night. We don't need 'em."
"But I want to do something for you boys!" the Spaniard insisted. "I am so grateful to you—"
"We know that, by this time," declared Blake. "Please don't get anything more," for their friend had already bought them some things for their steamer trip.
"Ah, well then, if you insist," agreed the generous one, "but if ever you come to my country, all that I own is yours. I am ever in your debt."
"Oh, you mustn't feel that way about it," Blake assured him. "After all, you might have saved yourself."
"Hardly," returned the Spaniard, and he shuddered as he recalled how near he had been to death on the bridge.
But now he and Blake and Joe were safely on a steamer on their way to Panama. The weather was getting rather cool, for though it was only early November the chill of winter was beginning to make itself felt.
"But we'll soon be where it's warm enough all the year around," said Joe to Blake, as they arranged their things in the stateroom.
"That's right," said his chum. "It will be a new experience for us. Not quite so much jungle, I hope, as the dose we had of it when we went after the wild animals."
"No, and I'm glad of it," responded Joe. "That was a little too much at times. Yet there is plenty of jungle in Panama."
"I suppose so. Well, suppose we go up on deck for a breath of air."
They had taken a steamer that went directly to Colon, making but one stop, at San Juan, Porto Rico. A number of tourists were aboard, and there were one or two "personally conducted" parties, so the vessel was rather lively, with so many young people.
In the days that followed Joe and Blake made the acquaintance of a number of persons, in whom they were more or less interested. When it became known that the boys were moving picture operators the interest in them increased, and one lively young lady wanted Blake to get out his camera and take some moving pictures of the ship's company. But he explained, that, though he might take the pictures on board the steamer, he had no facilities for developing or printing the positives, or projecting them after they were made.
In the previous books of this series is described in detail the mechanical process of how moving pictures are made, and to those volumes curious readers are referred.
The process is an intricate one, though much simplified from what it was at first, and it is well worth studying.
On and on swept the Gatun, carrying our friends to the wonderland of that great "ditch" which has become one of the marvels of the world. Occasionally there were storms to interrupt the otherwise placid voyage, but there was only short discomfort.
Mr. Alcando was eager to reach the scene of operations, and after his first enthusiasm concerning the voyage had worn off he insisted on talking about the detailed and technical parts of moving picture work to Joe and Blake, who were glad to give him the benefit of their information.
"Well, you haven't seen anything more suspicious about him; have you?" asked Joe of his chum when they were together in the stateroom one evening, the Spaniard being on deck.
"No, I can't say that I have. I guess I did let my imagination run away with me. But say, Joe, what sort of a watch have you that ticks so loudly?"
"Watch! That isn't my watch!" exclaimed his chum.
"Listen!" ordered Blake. "Don't you hear a ticking?"
They both stood at attention.
"I do hear something like a clock," admitted Joe. "But I don't see any. I didn't know there was one in this stateroom."
"There isn't, either," said Joe, with a glance about. "But I surely do hear something."
"Maybe it's your own watch working overtime."
"Mine doesn't tick as loud as that," and Blake pulled out his timepiece. Even with it out of his pocket the beat of the balance wheel could not be heard until one held it to his ear.
"But what is it?" asked Joe, curiously.
"It seems to come from Mr. Alcando's baggage," Blake said. "Yes, it's in his berth," he went on, moving toward that side of the stateroom. The nearer he advanced toward the sleeping place of the Spaniard the louder became the ticking.
"He's got some sort of a clock in his bed," Blake went on. "He may have one of those cheap watches, though it isn't like him to buy that kind. Maybe he put it under his pillow and forgot to take it out. Perhaps I'd better move it or he may not think it's there, and toss it out on the floor."
But when he lifted the pillow no watch was to be seen.
"That's funny," said Blake, musingly. "I surely hear that ticking in this berth; don't you?"
"Yes," assented Joe. "Maybe it's mixed up in the bedclothes." Before Blake could interfere Joe had turned back the coverings, and there, near the foot of the berth, between the sheets, was a small brass-bound box, containing a number of metal projections. It was from this box the ticking sound came.
"Why—why!" gasped Blake. "That—that box—"
"What about it?" asked Joe, wonderingly.
"That's the same box that was on his table the time we came in his room at the hotel—when we smelled the cigar smoke. I wonder what it is, and why he has it in his bed?"
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