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Blake and Charlie nodded their heads as Joe gave voice to his suspicion. Then, as they looked across once again at the man in the slouch hat, he seemed aware of their glances and slunk down an alley.
"But I think he has his eye on us, all the same," observed Blake, as the boys went into their hotel.
"What are we going to do about it?" inquired Charlie. "Shall we put up a kick or a fight?"
"Neither one," decided Blake, after a moment's thought.
"Why not?" inquired Macaroni, with rather a belligerent air, as befitted one in the midst of war's alarms. "Why not go and ask this fellow what he means by spying on us?"
"In the first place, if we could confront him, which I very much doubt," answered Blake, "he would probably deny that he was even so much as looking at us, except casually. Those fellows from Scotland Yard, or whatever the English now call their Secret Service, are as keen as they make 'em. We wouldn't get any satisfaction by kicking."
"Then let's fight!" suggested Charlie. "We can protest to the officer who told us to wait here for our permits to go to the front. We can say we're United States citizens and we object to being spied on. Let's do it!"
"Yes, we could do that," said Blake slowly. "But perhaps we are being kept under surveillance by the orders of that same officer."
"What in the world for?"
"Well, because the authorities may want to find out more about us."
"But didn't we have our passports all right? And weren't our papers in proper shape?" asked Charlie indignantly.
"As far as we ourselves are concerned, yes," said Blake. "But you must remember that passports have been forged before, by Germans, and——"
"I hope they don't take us for Germans!" burst out Charlie.
"Well, we don't look like 'em, that's a fact," said Blake, with a smile. "But you must remember that the English have been stung a number of times, and they aren't taking any more chances."
"Just what do you think this fellow's game is?" asked Charlie.
"Well," answered Blake slowly, and as if considering all sides of the matter. "I think he has been detailed by the English Foreign Office, or Secret Service, or whoever has the matter in charge, to keep an eye on us and see if we are really what we claim to be. That's all. I don't see any particular harm in it; and if we objected, kicked, or made a row, it would look as if we might be guilty. So I say let it go and let that chap do all the spying he likes."
"Well, I guess you're right," assented Joe.
"Same here," came from their helper.
"Anyhow, we might as well make the best of it," resumed Blake. "If we had a fight with this chap and made him skedaddle, it would only mean another would be put on our trail. Just take it easy, and in due time, I think, we'll be given our papers and allowed to go to the front."
"It can't come any too soon for me," declared Joe.
So for the next few days the boys made it a point to take no notice of the very obvious fact that they were under surveillance. It was not always the same man who followed them or who was seen standing outside the hotel when they went out and returned. In fact, they were sure three different individuals had them in charge, so to speak.
The boys were used to active work with their cameras and liked to be in action, but they waited with as good grace as possible. In fact, there was nothing else to do. Their moving picture apparatus was sealed and kept in the Foreign Office, and would not be delivered to them until their permits came to go to the front. So, liking it or not, the boys had to submit.
They called several times on the young officer who had treated them so kindly, to ask whether there were any developments in their case; but each time they were told, regretfully enough, it seemed, that there was none.
"But other permits have been longer than yours in coming," said the officer, with a smile. "You must have a little patience. We are not quite as rapid as you Americans."
"But we want to get to the war front!" exclaimed Joe. "We want to make some pictures, and if we have to wait——"
"Possess your souls with patience," advised the officer. "The war is going to last a long, long time, longer than any of us have any idea of, I am afraid. You will see plenty of fighting, more's the pity. Don't fret about that."
But the boys did fret; and as the days passed they called at the permit office not once but twice, and, on one occasion, three times in twenty-four hours. The official was always courteous to them, but had the same answer:
"No news yet!"
And then, when they had spent two weeks in London—two weeks that were weary ones in spite of the many things to see and hear—the boys were rather surprised on the occasion of their daily visit to the permit office to be told by a subordinate:
"Just a moment, if you please. Captain Bedell wishes to speak to you."
The captain was the official who had their affair in charge, and who had been so courteous to them.
"He wants us to wait!" exclaimed Joe, with marked enthusiasm. For the last few days the captain had merely sent out word that there was no news.
"Maybe he has the papers!" cried Macaroni.
"I'm sure I hope so," murmured Blake.
The boys waited in the outer office with manifest impatience until the clerk came to summon them into the presence of Captain Bedell, saying:
"This way, if you please."
"Sounds almost like a dentist inviting you into his chair," murmured Joe to Blake.
"Not as bad as that, I hope. It looks encouraging to be told to wait and come in."
They were ushered into the presence of Captain Bedell, who greeted them, not with a smile, as he had always done before, but with a grave face.
Instantly each of the boys, as he admitted afterward, thought something was wrong.
"There's something out of the way with our passports," was Joe's idea.
"Been a big battle and the British have lost," guessed Macaroni.
Blake's surmise was:
"There's a hitch and we can't go to the front."
As it happened, all three were wrong, for a moment later, after he had asked them to be seated, Captain Bedell touched a bell on his desk. An orderly answered and he was told:
"These are the young gentlemen."
"Does that mean we are to get our permits?" asked Joe eagerly.
"I am sorry to say it does not," was the grave answer. "I am also sorry to inform you that you are in custody."
"In custody!" cried the three at once. And Blake a moment later added:
"On what grounds?"
"That I am not at liberty to tell you, exactly," the officer replied. "You are arrested under the Defense of the Realm Act, and the charges will be made known to you in due course of time."
"Arrested!" cried Joe. "Are we really arrested?"
"Not as civil but as military prisoners," went on Captain Bedell. "There is quite a difference, I assure you. I am sorry, but I have to do my duty. Orderly, take the prisoners away. You may send for counsel, of course," he added.
"We don't know a soul here, except some moving picture people to whom we have letters of introduction," Blake said despondently.
"Well, communicate with some of them," advised the captain. "They will be able to recommend a solicitor. Not that it will do you much good, for you will have to remain in custody for some time, anyhow."
"Are we suspected of being spies?" asked Joe, determined to hazard that question.
Captain Bedell smiled for the first time since the boys had entered his office. It was a rather grim contortion of the face, but it could be construed into a smile.
"I am not at liberty to tell you," he said. "Orderly, take the prisoners away, and give them the best of care, commensurate, of course, with safe-keeping."
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