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Blake, Joe and Charles looked at one another. Then they glanced at Captain Merceau. For one wild moment Blake had it in mind to suspect the commander; but a look at his face, which showed plainly how deeply chagrined he was at the failure to keep the two under surveillance, told the young moving picture operator that there was no ground for his thought.
"They got away!" repeated Joe, as though he could hardly believe it.
"Yes, I regret to say that is what my officer reports to me. It is too bad; but I will at once send out word, and they may be traced and apprehended. I'll at once send word to the authorities." This he did by the same messenger who had brought the intelligence that the Frenchman and the German had secretly left.
When this had been done, and the boys had got themselves ready to go ashore and report, Captain Merceau told them how it had happened. He had given orders, following the report made by Blake and his chums, that Secor and Labenstein should be kept under careful watch. And this was to be done without allowing them to become aware of it.
"However, I very much doubt if this was the case," the captain frankly admitted. "They are such scoundrels themselves that they would naturally suspect others of suspecting them. So they must have become aware of our plans, and then they made arrangements to elude the guard I set over them."
"How did they do that?" asked Blake.
"By a trick. One of them pretended to be ill and asked that the surgeon be summoned. This was the German. And when the guard hurried away on what he supposed was an errand of mercy, the two rascals slipped away. They were soon lost in the crowd. But we shall have them back, have no fear, young gentlemen."
But, all the same, Blake and his chums had grave doubts as to the ability of the authorities to capture the two men. Not that they had any fears for themselves, for, as Joe said, they had nothing to apprehend personally from the men.
"Unless they are after the new films we take," suggested Charles.
"Why should they want them?" asked Blake. "I mean, our films are not likely to give away any vital secrets," he went on.
"Well, I don't know," answered the lanky helper, "but I have a sort of hunch that they'll do all they can and everything they can to spoil our work for Uncle Sam on this side of the water, as they did before."
"Secor spoiled the films before," urged Blake. "He didn't know Labenstein then, as far as we know."
"Well, he knows him now," said Charles. "I'm going to be on the watch."
"I guess the authorities will be as anxious to catch those fellows as we are to have them," resumed Blake. "Putting a ship in danger of an attack from a submarine, as was undoubtedly done when Labenstein waved my flashlight, isn't a matter to be lightly passed over."
And the authorities took the same view. Soon after Captain Merceau had sent his report of the occurrence to London to the officials of the English war office, the boys were summoned before one of the officers directing the Secret Service and were closely questioned. They were asked to tell all they knew of the man calling himself Lieutenant Secor and the one who was on the passenger list as Levi Labenstein. This they did, relating everything from Charlie's accident with the Frenchman to the destruction of the submarine by the depth charge just after Labenstein had flashed his signal, assuming that this was what he had done.
"Very well, young gentlemen, I am exceedingly obliged to you," said the English officer. "The matter will be taken care of promptly and these men may be arrested. In that case, we shall want your evidence, so perhaps you had better let me know a little more about yourselves. I presume you have passports and the regulation papers?" and he smiled; but, as Blake said afterward, it was not exactly a trusting smile.
"He looked as if he'd like to catch us napping," Blake said.
However, the papers of the moving picture boys were in proper shape. But they were carefully examined, and during the process, when Joe, addressing Charles Anderson, spoke to him as "Macaroni," the officer looked up quickly.
"I thought his name was Charles," he remarked, as he referred to the papers.
"Certainly. But we call him 'Macaroni' sometimes because he looks like it—especially his legs," Joe explained.
"His legs macaroni?" questioned the English officer, regarding the three chums over the tops of his glasses. "Do you mean—er—that his legs are so easily broken—as macaroni is broken?"
"No, not that. It's because they're so thin," Joe added.
Still the officer did not seem to comprehend.
"It's a joke," added Blake.
Then the Englishman's face lit up.
"Oh, a joke!" he exclaimed. "Why didn't you say so at first? Now I comprehend. A joke! Oh, that's different! His legs are like macaroni, so you call him spaghetti! I see! Very good! Very good!" and he laughed in a ponderous way.
"At the same time," he went on, "I think I shall make a note of it. I will just jot it down on the margin of his papers, that he is called 'Macaroni' as a joke. Some other officer might not see the point," he added. "I'm quite fond of a joke myself! This is a very good one. I shall make a note of it." And this he proceeded to do in due form.
"Well, if that isn't the limit!" murmured Joe, when the officer, having returned their papers to them, sent them to another department to get the necessary passes by which they could claim their baggage and make application to go to the front.
"It's a good thing this officer had a sense of humor," remarked Blake, half sarcastically, "or we might have had to send back for a special passport for one stick of macaroni."
If Blake and his chums had an idea they would at once be permitted to depart for "somewhere in France" and begin the work of taking moving pictures of Uncle Sam's boys in training and in the trenches, they were very soon disillusioned. It was one thing to land in England during war times, but it was another matter to get out, especially when they were not English subjects.
It is true that Mr. Hadley had made arrangements for the films to be made, and they were to be taken for and under the auspices of the United States War Department.
But England has many institutions, and those connected with war are bound up in much red tape, in which they are not unlike our own, in some respects.
The applications of Blake and his chums to depart for the United States base in France were duly received and attached to the application already made by Mr. Hadley and approved by the American commanding officer.
"And what happens next?" asked Blake, when they had filled out a number of forms in the English War Office. "I mean, where do we go from here?"
"Ah, that's one of your songs, isn't it?" asked an English officer, one who looked as though he could understand a joke better than could the one to whom macaroni so appealed.
"Yes, it's a song, but we don't want to stay here too long singing it," laughed Joe.
"Well, I'll do my best for you," promised the officer, who was a young man. He had been twice wounded at the front and was only awaiting a chance to go back, he said. "I'll do my best, but it will take a little time. We'll have to send the papers to France and wait for their return."
"And what are we to do in the meanwhile?" asked Blake.
"I fancy you'll just have to stay here and—what is it you say—split kindling?"
"'Saw wood,' I guess you mean," said Joe. "Well, if we have to, we have to. But please rush it along, will you?"
"I'll do my best," promised the young officer. "Meanwhile, you had better let me have your address—I mean the name of the hotel where you will be staying—and I'll send you word as soon as I get it myself. I had better tell you, though, that you will not be allowed to take any pictures—moving or other kind—until you have received permission."
"We'll obey that ruling," Blake promised. He had hoped to get some views of ruins caused by a Zeppelin. However, there was no hope of that.
On the recommendation of the young officer they took rooms in London at a hotel in a vicinity to enable them to visit the War Department easily. And then, having spent some time in these formalities and being again assured that they would be notified when they were wanted, either to be given permission to go to France or to testify against the two suspects, the moving picture boys went to their hotel.
It was not the first time they had been in a foreign country, though never before had they visited London, and they were much interested in everything they saw, especially everything which pertained to the war. And evidences of the war were on every side: injured and uninjured soldiers; poster appeals for enlistments, for the saving of food or money to win the war; and many other signs and mute testimonies of the great conflict.
The boys found their hotel a modest but satisfactory one, and soon got in the way of living there, planning to stay at least a week. They learned that their food would be limited in accordance with war regulations, but they had expected this.
There was something else, though, which they did not expect, and which at first struck them as being decidedly unpleasant. It was the second day of their stay in London that, as they were coming back to their hotel from a visit to a moving picture show, Joe remarked:
"Say, fellows, do you notice that man in a gray suit and a black slouch hat across the street?"
"I see him," admitted Blake.
"Have you seen him before?" Joe asked.
"Yes, I have," said Blake. "He was in the movies with us, and I saw him when we left the hotel."
"So did I," went on Joe. "And doesn't it strike you as being peculiar?"
"In what way?" asked Charles.
"I mean he seems to be following us."
"What in the world for?" asked the assistant.
"Well," went on Joe slowly, "I rather think we're under suspicion. That's the way it strikes me!"
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