"What have you guessed, Hugh?" demanded Arthur, knowing from the manner of the scout master that he had apparently solved the mystery.
Hugh was laughing now. The strained look had passed from his young face. It seemed to him like a jump from the sublime to the ridiculous.
"If you fellows will look over to one side to where that man was turning the handle of some sort of box just as if he might be an organ grinder, you'll guess what it all means," Hugh told them, pointing as he spoke.
Cries of wonder and comprehension immediately arose from Alec and Arthur, though even then Billy and Stallings did not seem to fully grasp the facts.
"Motion-picture actors at work!" exclaimed Alec.
"Oh! did you ever hear of such a thing?" gurgled Billy, at the same time beginning to lose the haunted look on his face.
"Sure thing!" added Arthur, grinning now. "That chap is the camera man—-what is it they call it, a cinematoscope or something that way. He's been grinding like mad while all that battle on the walls was taking place. And I can see him laughing from here, as if that last scrap pleased him a whole lot."
"Well, if that don't beat everything!" said Monkey Stallings, in mingled awe and delight. "To think of a company finding out about that queer old imitation castle, and coming all the way up here so as to stage one of their Shakespeare plays around it!"
"And look at all the actors they've gone and fetched along with them, will you?" Billy went on to say. "Why, there must be scores of men and women there, all dressed in fancy costumes. Gee! it must cost rafts of money to stage just one of those dramas."
"Oh!" said Hugh; "expense doesn't seem to enter into their calculations when they think they've got something that will go. A thousand people have been used in, one play, I've read, and as much as two hundred thousand dollars spent on it!"
"Say, here's our same old luck come along again, fellows!" declared Arthur, as though it gave him a tremendous amount of satisfaction to realize it. "I've always had a sort of hankering after a chance to learn just how these queer people managed when staging one of their plays, and as sure as you live we're in a fair way to find out now."
"Was there ever anything so strange as our being up here just at the time they came to play their game?" demanded Monkey Stallings. "Why, it begins to look as if they must have engaged the old castle especially to cast their play here, and make it seem the real stuff, don't you think so, Hugh?"
"That's not so very remarkable, after all," ventured Hugh, as all of them continued to stare at the many moving figures, apparently resting for the next stage in the exciting drama that was being reeled off. "I understand that all those big companies have spies out everywhere about the country."
"Spies!" echoed Billy; "and what for, Hugh, when we're not at war with anybody?"
"There's a tremendous amount of competition afloat between the numerous companies," explained the other. "They are looking for all sorts of queer settings for their plays. Houses have to be burned down, bridges blown up, railroad trains ditched, and all manner of stunts pulled off to satisfy the public greed for thrilling spectacles."
Alec gave a plain, unmistakable groan.
"That's it," he said disconsolately, "it's going to spell my finish. I knew that I didn't have that heavy feeling for nothing. There was something in the air that told me my fine dreams were going to be wrecked, sooner or later. Chances are now this big company has gone and stepped in to buy the old castle for a song, and in the course of their reproduction of history they expect to blow the same up, or at least set fire to that part made of wood. It's all off, boys!"
"But you've got your pictures to show for it, Alec," Hugh told him, consolingly, "and your aunt wouldn't think of taking back your camera after you've done so well with it. She can see that it isn't your fault, no matter what happens to the old building now."
Alec gave a cry of triumph.
"Say, that's right, Hugh, and thank you for reminding me I'm carrying that same camera at this very minute. What's to hinder me snapping off a few pictures on my own account of what's going on over there? What do you say to that, Hugh?"
"I should say you'd be foolish not to take the chance," returned the scout leader.
It was surprising to see how Alec forgot his keen disappointment as he commenced to focus his instrument upon the easily seen building, with all those strange costumed figures about the walls.
"The sun is just right for a cracker-jack snap-shot from here," he remarked, as he proceeded to press the bulb, and then carefully change the exposure so that he might not inadvertently take two pictures on the same portion of film; for Alec was exceedingly systematic in most things he did, which was one secret for his wonderful success at photography, a profession that allows no haphazard habits.
"There, I reckon they're staging another picture over yonder, boys!" cried Arthur, as a new bustle was noticed amidst the group of players. "Two of the men appear to have been knocked out in that attack, for there's a chap who looks like he might be a doctor attending to them under that tree. I wonder if they'd care to let me lend a hand at that part of the game? I'm sure I can be of help."
Arthur was never happier than when plying his favorite vocation of amateur surgeon. He had really done some fine work along those lines, and received the approbation of those who were well up in medical practice.
"Whee, if all that scrapping was half-way real!" burst out the admiring Billy; "the only thing I wonder at is how any of those fellows manage to come out of the fight with whole heads or limbs. Some of them were sent crashing down when that short ladder was hurled back by the defenders on the walls. It looked pretty real stuff from here."
"It is pretty near the genuine thing." said Hugh. "I've often wondered whether they faked those wonderful affairs, but after, what I've seen this day I'm going to believe they're as close to the original as can be. There, you see how the fat man beside the operator is waving his arms. He's got a megaphone, too, and as the scene goes along he bawls through that to tell them to keep on, or change the way they're doing things."
Alec got ready to take another snap-shot when the battle was well on. He was as excited as Hugh had ever seen him, and the other took occasion to warn the photographer to be careful.
"Get a grip on yourself, Alec," he said. "Hold yourself steady, or else you'll be making some fearful blunder, and spoiling the best chance you ever had to get a prize picture. Now they are starting in again, you see!"
Every one of the five scouts was straining his eyesight to the extreme limit in the, endeavor not to lose the slightest incident. Never before had such a glorious opportunity come to any of their kind to actually watch how those astonishing scenes of olden times were taken by the motion-picture players; and they did not want to miss any part of it.
Again did the great noise break forth as the valiant assailants commenced their new attack upon the apparently impregnable walls of the ancient castle, so gallantly defended by the occupants.
This small army of players had descended on the region like a flood of seventeen-year locusts. An hour or two before and there had apparently not been a living thing in the neighborhood of the mansion, and now it was the centre of a swarming horde of earnest workers, each trying to earn his salary as best he knew how, both by shouting, and also fighting in yeoman style.
"Oh! why can't we get closer than this, Hugh?" begged Alec, after he had taken another snap at the animated spectacle that would later on thrill many a boyish heart in the way of a picture, and also cause a feeling of envy to arise because a cruel fate had prevented them from participating in the wonderful adventure.
"Nothing to hinder that I can see," he was told. "Fact is, I was going to suggest that same thing myself. So let's get a move on, fellows."
Eagerly they kept pace with Hugh as he started to run toward the castle. It would be a shame not to take full advantage of the golden opportunity offered them to get in close touch with these motion-picture actors who, unaware of the fact that they had a small and select audience in the way of Boy Scouts, were each and every one working like troopers to fulfill their difficult duties.
Alec kept close "tabs" on what was going on ahead presently, possibly fearing that the excited, fat manager, who was dancing up and down, mopping his forehead with a red bandanna with one hand, and waving the megaphone with the other when not shouting through the same, might call the scene off, the boy stopped short, focussed again on the amazing picture, and got another snap-shot at closer range.
In this fashion the runners managed to come close up before there was a sudden cessation to all the tumult of hideous war, and the actors, laughing and evidently enjoying it to the utmost, began to crowd around the stage director as if to learn whether the scene had met with his approval.
WITH THE MOTION-PICTURE PEOPLE
"Where did you boys spring from, I'd like to know?"
It was the perspiring stage manager who asked this question when Hugh and the other four scouts came hurrying up to where he was sitting on a rock, fanning himself with his hat, while the dozens of knights, squires and bowmen were puffing cigarettes, and apparently resting up for the next exciting scene in the wonderfully realistic drama of olden times.
"Well, you see, sir, we happen to belong to a scout troop over in Oakvale," explained Hugh. "We came up here to spend the weekend, and transact some business at the same time. This chap here, Alec Sands, has a peculiar old aunt in the city who is anxious to buy just such a quiet retreat as this place, where she wouldn't hear a sound, for she's got a case of nerves, you see. And one of our objects was to take some pictures of the castle, as well as spy around a bit."
The red-faced stage-director laughed even as he kept on mopping his forehead. Evidently it mattered little to him that the air was quite chilly, for his duties kept him so much on the jump he was sweltering from the perspiration of hard, honest labor.
"Say you so, my young friend?" he exclaimed. "Well, if we leave any part of the old ruin intact when we're through with this series of startling pictures the old lady can doubtless buy it at a small figure."
"Does that mean you'll wreck a big structure like this, sir, just to get a picture of it being blown up?" asked Alec, dismayed.
"Oh, that doesn't cut any figure in the bill!" he was told flippantly. "The public demands the best there is, and money must flow like water in order to keep up with our rivals. We're going to give them something novel this time, you see."
"How, sir?" Monkey Stallings found the courage to ask, his curiosity getting the better of his modesty.
"This new play isn't really a play at all," said the stout man, with a touch of pride in his voice. "It's a stunt of my own we're pulling off to-day. You see, the public sometimes expresses a desire to learn just how these magnificent pictures are done, and we expect to show them the whole thing from beginning to end. They'll see my company starting out in a string of motor cars for this place; watch them getting rigged out in their spic-and-span suits of mail, and old-time stuff; feast their eyes on just such wonderful feats as you have seen pulled off beside these massive walls; and step by step, be taken into our confidence as we progress, until finally the amazing climax arrives. Right now you can hear the machine clicking away, as the operator takes a crack at the players resting between their acts. Perhaps it may please you chaps to know that you'll be seen in the finished production along with the rest of the troupe."
Billy seemed quite awed at the idea. He was observed to slyly pull down his vest, and straighten himself up as though on dress parade. If countless thousands of people were going to gaze upon his person throughout the whole length and breadth of the land, Billy wanted to do his family justice, and not disgrace his bringing up.
Plainly, the stage director seemed to be considerably interested in the scouts. Possibly he may have had a boy or two of his own in his metropolitan home who also wore the khaki, and consequently any fellow who sported such a uniform was of some value in his eyes. Then again, in his hard labors, the coming of Hugh and his four comrades may have seemed like a breath of fresh air, something to temporarily distract him from the routine of his trying business.
At any rate, he seemed disposed to continue the conversation while his people were resting, and making ready for the next act in the drama of publicity.
"Although all this seems very wonderful to you boys," he went on to remark, lighting a cigarette as he spoke, at which he took several puffs and then nervously threw it away again, "it represents only one little event in the bustling activities of my force here, as any regular member of it could tell you."
"I suppose you must have been around some, sir?" ventured Monkey Stallings, at which the red-faced manager looked queerly at him and then chuckled.
"Well, it's a hustling age, you know," he told them. "I've been at this business over four years now, and so far it hasn't quite reduced me to a skeleton in spite of the fierce work. I've taken the leading members of my famous players across the desert in Egypt to the pyramids, explored Spain and the heart of India, traveled across Japan, gone into China, camped in Central American jungles, wandered into the heart of Africa hunting big game, toured away up in Alaska as well as traveled all through the Wild West, and in Mexico among the fighting that's always going on down there. And I've got a few more stunts mapped out that will dwarf everything else that's ever been undertaken. Oh! this is only a little picnic for a motion-picture stage director."
He may have been stretching the truth more or less, but then Hugh saw no reason to disbelieve what he said. The boy realized that in these modern days those who would succeed in the midst of fierce competition must have something very unusual to offer the fickle public in the way of adventure and novel effects. Why, the mere fact of this manager learning about the deserted castle in the lonesome valley, and fetching such an army of players all the way up there to impersonate the genuine characters of olden days, was proof enough that what he had just been saying might be considered in the line of reason. At all events, there was no ground on which to doubt him.
Billy was casting frequent nervous glances over toward the spot where the operator was still grinding lustily away, seeking to get a good picture of the actors in one of their off-periods, when they were taking things easy after a recent "engagement."
When, by accident, Monkey Stallings chanced to step in the way, Billy hastily moved his position. When a Worth was being immortalized in this fashion far be it for a worthy scion of the race to allow a mere Stallings to crowd him out. When, presently, the grinding ceased, with the operator hurrying across to report his success to the bustling stage director, Billy grinned in conscious triumph, for he felt convinced that he stood out prominently in that picture, so that any one who saw it must notice what a handsome chap one of the Boy Scouts appeared to be on the screen, at least.
The man who was running all this wonderfully complicated affair looked just like a goodnatured, red-faced bank cashier, but Hugh realized that he must have an amazing capacity for detail work, as well as a remarkable faculty for organization.
Now and then he would refer to a sheaf of papers he carried around with him, fastened together with a little arrangement that allowed of their being rapidly turned over from time to time. Doubtless this was his plan of campaign. Hugh would have given something for the privilege of examining the same, but lacked the assurance to ask such a favor of one who was an utter stranger to him, and moreover could not afford to spend much time with a pack of mere boys.
It could be seen that the players expected to be soon called around the managing director for instructions connected with motion pictures were taken. So Hugh pulled at the sleeves of Monkey Stallings, to intimate that they had better fall back.
Arthur had already left them. Hugh hardly needed to take a look around to understand what it was that had drawn the other. Yes, he was over there where the man in a business suit seemed to be bathing the limb of a super who had suffered more or less severely when the ladder on which he was mounted had been roughly dislodged from the walls, throwing all upon it to the ground beneath.
If Arthur were given half a chance he would soon be busily engaged assisting the doctor wrap some linen bandages about that bruised limb. By his eager remarks he would also arouse considerable interest on the part of the company's physician, who probably always accompanied the troupe wherever they traveled, as his services were in frequent demand. Indeed, sometimes he became a very busy man.
"I wonder," Billy was saying, becoming more and more audacious, it seemed, on the principle that give one an inch and he will want an ell—-"I wonder now if he'd listen to me if I asked him to let us have a chance to get in the next picture?"
Monkey Stallings laughed harshly at hearing that.
"Well, you are a greeny, Billy, I must say," he declared. "Stop and think for a minute, will you, how silly it would look to see a bunch of Boy Scouts dressed in khaki clothes helping those old-time yeomen tackle the walls of that ancient castle. Why, we'd queer the whole business, that's what!"
"Yes, but didn't you hear him say we'd appear in that last scene?" disputed the eager Billy, loth to give up his ambitious plan to have a leading place in the exposition showing how this famous group of motion-picture players did their perilous work.
"Sure he did," retorted the other, with a shrug of his shoulders as if he pitied Billy's ignorance, "but then you must remember that was intended to show the players resting up between acts, and not at their work. There's a whole lot of difference between the two jobs, let me tell you."
Billy made no reply, but it could be seen that he looked greatly disappointed as he watched the myriad of actors begin to get in position for the opening of the next scene. This might possibly represent the triumphant entry of the assailants into the castle of the enemy, which, in turn, would lead up to the rescue of the lovely heroine just when the villainous knight was about to hurl her into the blazing tower.
The chattering began to die away as the harsh voice of the stage director was heard through his megaphone, giving directions as to how this or that group should carry out their parts. Hugh wondered how many turns it would take before that exacting manager felt like calling it a satisfactory picture. Perhaps they might be forced to repeat the scene many times, simply because some clumsy fellow did something to injure its value.
Alec was busily manipulating his camera, and Hugh chuckled when he found that the other was taking in the entire scene, showing the operator with his instrument, as well as the scouts gathered near by. Billy, too, had made the same discovery, for he was smiling as sweetly as he knew how, and had again assumed that martial attitude which he seemed to consider made him such a striking figure.
Evidently this little expedition was bound to be fruitful with results, and on their return home those who were along would have something to show for their labors. Even if that eccentric relative of Alec's lost the chance to obtain a quiet retreat "far from the madding crowd," as Billy had once described it, their week-end outing promised to be well worth the effort it cost them individually and collectively.
They watched everything that was being done. It was astonishing to see what an amount of stuff the players had fetched along from the city, in order to carry out the battle scene true to the original, as they understood it. Why, even the rude bridge that had been thrown across the moat had been fashioned beforehand, and was carried with them in sections, like one of those ready-built houses Hugh remembered seeing advertised, that "any boy could put together."
The stage director was fuming, and saying a lot of hard things, as though some of the stupid acts of the army of supers nearly drove him distracted. By degrees he managed to whip his forces into the shape he wanted before he gave the warning signal that the fun was about to commence.
"Whee!" Billy was saying half to himself as he stared at the bustling scene, "but wouldn't it be great if only we'd been asked to put on some suits like those fellows are wearing, and have a chance to climb up the ladders? I bet you now we'd show them how to break through, no matter what the men on the walls tried to put on us. But shucks! that'd be too big luck; and besides, it could hardly be fair for us boys to steal the thunder of those hard-working actors. There, he's going to give the signal for the mimic war to begin. Everybody take a big breath and sail in! Now, go it, you terriers; the battle's on again!"
THE ASSAULT ON THE "CASTLE."
"Yes, there goes the signal!" burst from the excited Alec, as they saw the manager suddenly raise his hand, and fire a revolver three times in quick succession.
Immediately everybody seemed to get busy at once. Most of the battle-scarred veterans, who knew their business so well, started in just about where the last stirring scene had left off. Possibly those who had been "killed" in the former desperate assault had found time to come mysteriously to life again, leaving a dummy in their stead to be ruthlessly trampled on, now assumed new places in the ranks, to make the assailants and defenders look more like a veritable "host."
The scouts held their breath in very awe. What they were looking at was indeed quite enough to make any one do that. Certainly no such remarkable scene had ever before been "set" since those actual days when Crusaders and Saracens met in mortal combat on the plains of the Holy Land, and knights went forth to battle in joust and tournament wearing a fair lady's glove on their helmet as a talisman for luck.
Of course Hugh, as well as most of his young companions, had read some of the romantic works of Sir Walter Scott, and were familiar with his vivid descriptions of just such warlike pictures as they now saw delighted Hugh, indeed, was of the opinion that it might be one of these that the famous players of the motion picture world were now acting, and the name of "Ivanhoe" was uppermost in his mind as he watched the progress of the furious battle.
There were women folks in the castle, too, for occasionally they could be seen frantically spurring their defenders on to renewed exertions. Others may have been playing the part of prisoners, for the boys discovered a white handkerchief waving from a window in one of the turrets, as though to encourage the assailants in their work. Perhaps this was Rebecca in her cell, Hugh thought.
All of this just about suited the imagination of red-blooded boys as proper and right. It had been virtually going on ever since the world began, and would in all probability endure so long as men lived on this planet.
Now and then, when one of the scouts discovered something that particularly interested him, and to which he wished to draw the attention of his mates, he found it necessary to fairly bawl the fact, so as to be heard above the wild clamor.
As a rule, this appertained to Monkey Stallings and Billy. Hugh was wrapped up in observing all that went on, and it required his undivided attention, just as on the occasion of his visiting a big circus where wonderful events were taking place in three rings at the same time.
Arthur Cameron, on his part, was mentally figuring on how much surgical attention some of these doughty warriors would need after this amazing fracas; and when Arthur had his mind set upon that entrancing subject he might be considered blind to all ordinary matters.
As for Alec, his one idea was to snap off an occasional picture that would show the astonishing thing he and his lucky comrades had run across when the motion-picture players came to make use of the imitation castle on the peak. The only trouble with Alec was a dreadful fear that his supply of film might run out, and then he stood a chance of missing what was likely to prove the best part of the whole proceedings.
Already he had reached Number Ten on his last roll, with but two more to wind up. Oh, what would he not have given for a couple more rolls of a dozen exposures each; just then they would have been worth their weight in silver to the ambitious photographer.
Vague hopes had been playing at leap-tag in the mind of the scout picture-taker. He wondered if there might not be some way in which they could succeed in influencing that hopping stage manager to promise to sell them a duplicate set of the pictures when they were ready for showing to the public. Alec knew that they were rented out, and sometimes sold outright. If Hugh now, with his persuasive tongue, could only exact such a promise from the gentleman in charge, would it not be a splendid achievement to incidentally have the picture included in the programme to be run at the town hall for some local benefit; and then hear the shouts from the boys of Oakvale when they discovered familiar uniforms and faces amidst the actors at rest?
From various remarks which the boys had heard shouted by the stage directors in giving his last directions they understood that this attack was calculated to carry the fort. Already the men who wielded that heavy battering ram made from a convenient log, seemed to be smashing in the stout oaken front door, never built to resist such a desperate assault. It quivered with each blow.
The director was shouting a medley of orders through that wonderful megaphone of his. He seemed to be able to see everything that took place. Hugh compared him to what he had once read about the eminent conductor of orchestra and musical festivals, Theodore Thomas, who when more than a hundred musicians were practicing under his direction, with a fearful outburst of sound and melody, would suddenly stop the proceedings, and scold a certain player whose instrument had "flatted," or come in just an ace behind the regular time.
And every member of that vast company was keeping a wary eye on the director all the time seeming to be working like mad. They were waiting to catch the signal that was to inaugurate the final scene, where those on the walls were to weaken, allowing one after another of the ascending men on the ladders to crawl over the parapet.
The door was really giving way now under the bombardment brought to bear upon it. Indeed, not to be premature those who wielded the battering ram had to slacken their efforts more or less, though pretending to work as furiously as heretofore.
One thing alone seemed lacking, according to the mind of Billy, to make the battle seem the real thing. There were no cannon shots, and even the rattle of muskets and small arms appeared lacking.
Later on, when by chance in a carping, critical mood he mentioned this fact, he was greeted by a roar of derision from Monkey Stallings and Alec, who told him to brush up a little on history. He must remember that in those ancient days gunpowder had not been invented, and that consequently all missiles that passed through the air had to be hurled by machines fashioned after the style of the familiar rubber sling so well known to all boys.
"It's coming soon now, fellows!" shouted the Stallings boy, whose quick eye no doubt noted certain preparations for the final scene, such as a gathering of the assailants on the ladders, now no longer being overthrown, and also clinging to such projections of the stone walls near the escarpment as they could find.
Alec held his hand.
"Only one more picture!" he was groaning, disconsolately, at the same time determined that it should be the climax of the whole affair, when the castle walls were actually carried by the energetic horde pushing against them.
More wildly than ever waved those frantic appeals for "help" from the narrow window slits in the tower room. The "fair lady" was apparently doing everything in her power to encourage her knight and his followers to renewed efforts in her behalf.
Of course, it was a foregone conclusion that the gallants who were doing the assaulting would be victorious in the end. Motion-picture patrons differ from those who attend the grand opera, since they will not stand to have their drama turn out disagreeably. Right must always triumph over might, regardless of how it actually happens in real life; and the villainous knight was sure to be punished as soon as the heroic leader of the attacking party could force an entrance to the castle, and chase after him to the tower room.
Hugh drew a long breath.
Just as the sagacious Monkey had declared at the top of his voice, the finish was close at hand now. At any second Hugh expected to hear the volley of shots from the stage director's weapon sounding high above the clamor. Indeed, much of the racket had died down, showing that the actors themselves were looking for it, and did not want to do anything to smother the welcome sound that would mean their release from further toil and turmoil, for the moment, at least.
All this while the operator was grinding away assiduously. He knew his duty was to get down everything that happened regardless of what his judgment might be. If certain sections of the film proved objectionable from any cause it would be an easy matter to eliminate that part; whereas nothing new could be supplied without going over the whole scene again at tremendous cost of energy.
It was certainly an education for Hugh. He had never dreamed that such a splendid chance would come his way, allowing him to learn just how motion pictures were made. Truly, the wonderful good luck that had been the portion of himself and comrades for so long a period seemed to still follow their footsteps, as one of the boys had only recently declared.
And just then the shrill voice of Monkey Stallings rang out again, this time with a note of genuine alarm pervading its tones.
"Look, oh, look!" was what he shrieked, excitedly; "that wall is sure going to collapse right down on those men! That's real, not make-believe! Oh, Hugh, can't something be done to warn the poor fel—-there, it's coming now!"
And right through it all the imperturbable operator kept grinding away. It was a part of his business to get everything down, real or imitation; and even an accident that imperiled human life might make good "stuff."
IMITATION AND REALITY
Perhaps it was almost mechanically that Alec pressed the bulb of his camera at just the very second when that wall was toppling over. He had a faint recollection afterwards of doing so, though only filled with horror at the moment itself.
There was a sudden cessation to all the clamor as the accident happened. Indeed, the three quick reports from the director's revolver hardly seemed needed to bring a halt to the proceedings. As the door was about burst in, anyway, and some of the men could not longer be restrained from clambering over the top of the walls, it would answer just as well as though things had proceeded in their regular routine.
Immediately afterwards a new kind of noise burst forth. Women shrieked, and men shouted. There were also cries of pain intermingled with the rest, Hugh noticed.
Before the scout master could even give an order he missed one of his companions. Of course, this was Arthur Cameron. The sight of that mass of rock toppling over upon several of the motion-picture actors, and carrying others down amidst a perfect jumble of heaped up stones, acted on Arthur as a red flag does upon the angry bull in the ring.
Nothing could have kept him back, for his ears would have been deaf even to an order from the leader, whom he delighted to obey. Arthur's surgical instincts were aroused, and he saw the path of duty before him. And Arthur never shirked his duty.
Hugh waited not upon the order of his going, but immediately chased after the other. Monkey Stallings was not far behind him, with Billy tagging along of necessity. As for Alec, he only waited to gather up his beloved camera, even neglecting to turn the last exposure down as a completed roll.
In fact everyone seemed to be trying to converge upon the spot where the wall had collapsed. The manager was pushing his way through the crowd, waving his megaphone, and looking somewhat alarmed, for he felt dismayed at the idea of having so many of his supers being injured more or less seriously. It would mean not only pain and suffering for the poor fellows but a pretty heavy bill of damages to pay by the company.
And yet, such is the force of education which becomes second nature with men, that even in the midst of all this confusion the manager could think to bawl out to the operator not to neglect to get all this in his reel, as it was going to show what actual perils the actors ran in making their pictures.
Another queer thing happened that must be set down. Hugh actually forgot he was only a boy, and had been given no authority over these men. He saw that the first to arrive on the scene acted as though ignorant of the best way to go about rescuing the poor chaps who were partly buried under all that wreckage of the fallen wall.
So what did he do but begin to order them about as though they were slaves. He told a couple of them off to lift a heavy stone from the lower limbs of a man who seemed to be unconscious, and then there came Arthur actually directing them how to raise the wounded super and carry him to where he could be laid under the nearest tree.
Stranger still the men did just as they were bidden. In moments like this the stronger mind dominates the situation, regardless of age or stature. Those supers were in the habit of taking orders, and never stopped to question when told to follow out a line of work, especially when the command came in a tone of authority.
That was the remarkable picture that met the eye of the stage manager when he presently reached the scene. Hugh seemed to be telling the others what to do as if all his life he had been accustomed to the position of chief. No wonder the experienced manager stared at the boy who wore the faded suit of khaki, and even allowed a faint smile to wreathe his lips; for did he not have a beloved lad like that at home, and in his heart he felt that perhaps some day, in a time of desperate necessity, his son might likewise rise to an occasion as this young chap was doing.
There was no lack of eager workers, and they seemed to fall in with whatever Hugh told them to do. He pointed this way and that as he directed them to dig in the mass of debris for any unfortunate who might be buried quite out of sight. And not once did it enter into the head of the earnest lad that the machine close by was clicking away merrily through it all, showing everything that was being done in the shadow of a real tragedy. Here was realism for fair!
Already three poor chaps had been either carried off or assisted. There were two of them grunting as though quite badly injured. Arthur, now joined by the regular doctor who accompanied the troupe of actors on their many lengthy trips, was busily engaged, endeavoring to ascertain the extent of the damages. A dozen of the awed actors and actresses surrounded the impromptu field hospital, and upon every face could be seen only the deepest sympathy.
Still, after the worst was known and the last of the injured taken care of, no doubt the task of completing the picture would go on, just as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. These roving players become so accustomed to accepting risks in the pursuit of their calling that a little thing like this cannot be allowed to interfere with the main object of their business for any great length of time.
Other supers would be called upon to take the places of those injured, if there was any necessity for reenforcements, and the work of completing the drama would proceed apace.
By degrees the mass of fallen material was pulled aside, many hands making light work. Half a dozen of the agile players had managed to save themselves, receiving only slight skin abrasions which would hardly keep them from earning their salaries.
There were just four who had been carried or helped to the "hospital" under the tree near by in the grounds of the castle. It was when the pleasing fact had been communicated by one of the workers that the last victim of the accident was found, with no fatalities to account for, that the stage manager came up to Hugh with outstretched hand.
He had his megaphone slung over his back as a sportsman might his fowling-piece. With that everlasting red bandanna he was mopping his forehead again, and this time it may have been as much anxiety as action that started the perspiration streaming down his rosy face.
"I want to thank you from my heart, son," he told the pleased scout master, as he gripped his hand in a warm clutch. "You have proved yourself a jewel in this emergency. If this is one of the things scouts learn, I'm glad my boy has taken up the subject. I'm proud of you all. I don't see, how we could have done things half as well if you hadn't been on the ground to assist, yes, to take the lead. Once more, I thank you!"
He glanced to where Arthur, with his coat thrown off, was working over one of the victims of the near-tragedy. The sight seemed to affect the stage manager, for he nodded his head violently, and Hugh believed he could see a moisture in his eyes just then.
"I had another boy some years back, I want to tell you," he said, softly. "He was drowned while swimming in the river. His companions succeeded in getting Tad out, but they were utterly ignorant as to how to go to work to restore him to consciousness—-and so my boy died. I believe before Heaven that if they had been raised in the knowledge of the things you Boy Scouts learn in these days, my poor wife and I need not have suffered such a cruel loss. When I learned something about the education of a scout, I made up my mind that since I had still one son left to me there would never be a repetition of that calamity. He is now a patrol leader in his troop in Brooklyn, and can swim like a duck. Come, let's go over and see what the worst is going to be."
Hugh gladly accompanied the genial stage manager. His heart burned within him, not with silly pride, but sincere gratification, on account of what he had just heard. The boy's mind was so wrapped up in the glorious possibilities that an aspiring scout ever has at his finger-tips that commendation like this always pleased him. It was Hugh's ambition to have the Oakvale Troop embrace every lad of suitable age in and around his home town. He would not have a single one refused an opportunity to enjoy those privileges and advantages which membership with the scouts assures.
So they joined the circle around the temporary "hospital." The doctor had not allowed the anxious crowd to press in too closely, for he understood the value of plenty of fresh air and working room when engaged in cases of this kind. Besides, most of the picture players knew from former experiences what they must do, and were only eager to be of any possible help.
Even the women, clad in their strange gowns of a bygone age, and wearing astonishing head-dresses and shoes, showed remarkable courage. Their nerves had been steeled by long association with perils of various types, so that they manifested none of the weaknesses people expect to find in connection with the gentler sex. One of the leading actresses was assisting in washing quite an ugly wound that a poor fellow had received in his arm. He seemed to be bearing his suffering like a hero, and acted as though he rather enjoyed having one of the heroines play the part of nurse to a humble understrapper.
Hugh allowed his eyes to fall with pardonable pride upon his chum, Arthur, for he saw that, as usual, the ambitious amateur surgeon was doing fine work, of which no one need be ashamed.
And all of this remarkable happening was being faithfully recorded upon the rapidly shifting thousand feet of film in the hopper of the machine, to later on astonish gaping crowds with a faithful delineation of the perils attending the ordinary life of a motion-picture player.
WHEN SWORDS CLASHED
"I wonder if that winds up the whole show?" asked Billy Worth, a short time later, as Alec and Monkey Stallings joined him, while there was an unusual bustle among the numerous retinue of the hard-working stage manager.
"Not on your life, Billy," observed Alec, "though I'm all in myself so far as taking any more wonderful pictures goes, because I've used my last film, which I consider hard luck. Hugh just told me the worst is yet to come."
"What! are they going to make out to burn the old castle down? Is that worrying you, Alec?" asked the Stallings boy.
"Sure it is," frankly confessed Alec. "Of course, the fire will be a whole lot of a fake; that is, much smoke, and no real danger to the girl shut up in that high turret room; but, all the same, it's going to do considerable harm to the building, which may queer it for Aunt Susan's purposes."
"Well, what can you say?" demanded Billy. "These people have put up the money to cover any damage they may do, and money talks every time. Here comes Hugh back to tell us what the programme is. He's just left that hustler of a director, and the chances are Hugh knows all about it, because he's made a big hit with the manager."
"Hugh always does make people look up to him, somehow," mused Alec, as though it often puzzled him to know just how the other managed it.
"There, Arthur has joined him, too, and is coming along," Billy went on to say. "He's about finished helping the doctor take care of the wounded yeomen who had the bad luck to be caught when that treacherous old wall caved in."
The scout master, accompanied by Arthur, quickly joined them, to be greeted by a shower of eager questions.
"I can tell you all about it, fellows," said Hugh, making as if to ward off an attack. "Mr. Jefferson, the manager, says he figures on completing his work in the one visit, and has made all necessary preparations. It's a tremendous job to fetch his big company all the way from New York up here. If they make good to-day they expect to go back in the morning, or perhaps to-night, if they can catch the late train. Otherwise they'll have to make another try to-morrow. Personally, I think they'll make good to-day."
"What's the next stunt, Hugh?" asked Alec, his voice more or less betraying the eagerness and concern he felt.
"Oh, from what I can gather," answered the scout master, smilingly, "it runs about like this: The forces headed by the hero knight have carried the outer works of the fortress castle in which the villain has the fair heroine shut up in that turret room. The invaders, having made a breach in the walls and swarmed over in various places, will now pursue the few desperate defenders of the castle through this passage; and that, with many a desperate hand-to-hand fight. Always the knight in armor is seen hewing his way steadily through all opposition, with one object in view. Of course this is to meet the scoundrel, and finish him, which he eventually does after a dreadful sword fight."
"Whew!" gasped Billy, listening with round eyes to the stirring story.
Alec, too, was deeply interested, but his professional instinct caused him to remark:
"They'll have to burn heaps and heaps of flashlight powder to get all those inside effects. Wish they'd let me see just how they manage it, but it would be apt to queer the value of the picture to have, a modern Boy Scout appear in it. If I get a good chance, though, I've a notion to ask Mr. Jefferson."
"You'll never be able to make it, Alec," Hugh told him. "He's the busiest man on earth. He has to be thinking of fifty things at once."
"Go on, Hugh, and tell us the rest," urged Billy, pawing at the sleeve of the other, which action he doubtless meant to be an urgent second to his appeal.
"Every once in a while there will be glimpses shown of Rebecca in her dungeon, looking out of the little opening, and carrying on as if nearly frightened to death, for gusts of smoke will be circling around her, and she is supposed to know that the fire is getting closer all the time."
"Wow, that must make it a thriller for fair!" exclaimed Monkey Stallings, who was known to love exciting stories, though his watchful mother kept a tight rein on his propensity to indulge along those lines, and censored all books he brought into the house before allowing him to devour them.
"Of course," remarked Alec, flippantly. "It goes without saying that eventually knight in shining armor, Ivanhoe, or whoever he may be, gets to the locked door of the turret tower room, bursts his way through, and saves the lovely maiden, like they always do in stories of those olden times. But here's hoping the fire doesn't get out of control, and set in to destroy the best part of this wonderful castle. Such things have been known to happen, I've read."
"Gosh!" ejaculated Billy with morse than his accustomed vigor, "you're only thinking of the humbug old castle, Alec, and what chance there would be for your rich aunt to buy the same if half burned down. Guess you forget the poor girl shut up in that lonesome turret room; what d'ye suppose would become of her if the fire got beyond control?"
"And not a ladder in sight, either," added Monkey Stallings, dismally, as he swept his eyes around in a nervous way. "As for a fire company, there isn't one closer than Danbury, which is all of ten miles away. Whew! I'm beginning to wish the whole business was over with, boys, and the troupe jogging along back to the town they came from in all those big automobiles."
Hugh made no remark just then, but perhaps this suggestion of possible trouble cause him a little concern. He could be seen looking gravely toward the immense pile of real and imitation stone as though mentally figuring what it might be possible to do in a sudden emergency.
As numerous events in the past had proved, Hugh Hardin was always a great hand for mapping out things beforehand. He believed in the principle of preparing for war in times of peace, so as not to be taken unawares.
"A man insures his home," Hugh often said in explanation of this habit, "when everything seems lovely and safe, not when the fire is raging, and his property going up in flame and smoke."
The stage manager had determined that there was no need of repeating the last wild scene where the castle was taken, and a tottering wall fell unexpectedly in the midst of the furious struggle. Let it stand, he had determined, accident and all. It appeared to be almost perfect "copy," and would show up as a faithful portrayal of the stupendous perils attending the efforts of his company in enacting just one phase of a romantic drama of the days of chivalry.
"I notice that they are meaning to use two machines and a couple or camera men, so as to get all the excitement down pat," ventured Alec, presently, as they stood and watched the hurrying people of the play in their remarkable attire suggestive of those feudal days of old.
"One is to be kept busy outside," explained Hugh, "while the other takes pictures of the fighting going on through the corridors and apartments of the castle, while the knight and his valorous retainers are battling their way closer and closer to the place where the captive 'maiden' is held fast behind the locked door. I got all that stuff straight from Mr. Jefferson, and those are his own words, so don't laugh."
"Huh! it's too serious a business to do much laughing," grunted Billy. "I'm just itching all over to see how it comes out. There, that must have been the signal to start. I can see some of the men beginning to make an awful smoke with the apparatus they're handling. What a good imitation of the real thing it is!"
"Whoopee! listen to the big swords clashing inside the castle, will you?" cried Monkey Stallings. "Say, we're missing great stunts, believe me, in having to stay out here. I've got half a notion——-"
However, Monkey did not finish the sentence, whatever rash notion was flitting through his active mind. Possibly he had indulged in a wild dream that for one of his climbing abilities it might prove feasible to reach a window above, and by thrusting his head through the aperture see something of the wonderful things going on in the passages where the crowd was thronging.
It was the fact of Hugh looking meaningly at him that caused Monkey to stop in the midst of his sentence, for he saw by the expression on the face of the scout master that Hugh would not permit any meddling. The enormous expense and labor attending the taking of that picture must not be wasted through any injudicious act on the part of himself or one of his chums.
As the minutes passed the confusion became almost a riot, so it seemed to Billy. The shouts of the fighting men grew hoarse with constant repetitions, for naturally they had to give vent to their emotions, or else much of their efforts would have lacked in the genuine feeling. How those swords did whack and beat upon each other as slowly but surely the defenders of the castle were being cut down one by one!
It was terribly realistic, too, with the vast volumes of smoke rising up in billows, and here and there what seemed to be a red tongue of fire shooting through the appalling waves of black vapor.
Presently, as the boys understood, matters would reach a climax. This was when the hero knight attained the goal for which he was striving so valiantly.
Then he would be seen attacking the fastened door furiously, while inside and out that ominous smoke curled in wreaths about him. In the end, just when it seemed as though all would be lost, of course, the knight must batter his way in through the broken door, and the dashing rescue would be complete.
Hugh was beginning to feel nervous, and with a reason. While his chums' were wholly wrapped up in observing the numerous exciting incidents that fell under their observation, and connected with the work of the laboring players, the scout master had made a sudden discovery that worried him.
It was a very small matter, and would never have been noticed by any one whose training had not been that of a scout, accustomed to observing everything happening around him. But small matters may become deciding factors.
The wind had shifted all of a sudden, and besides coming from a new quarter was rapidly growing in violence. Hugh knew this from the way the smoke had turned and was now sweeping toward the southeast. This fact, while trifling in itself, might, as he well knew, assume a terrible significance when it was remembered that a dozen industrious supers were playing with fire, and causing it to appear that the whole wing of the castle were enveloped in flames, real or make-believe.
Hugh had eyes for nothing else after making that thrilling discovery. He watched with his nerves on edge, and at the same time began to think within that active brain of his what his plan of campaign must be should the worst that he feared come to pass.
Those hoarse shouts of the combatants, the clang of steel smiting steel, the roar of the manager's voice through his big megaphone, the shrieks of the women connected with the troupe, induced by the real excitement of the occasion—-all these sounds fell upon deaf ears as Hugh gripped his chum Arthur by the arm and called his attention to the impending peril, becoming greater with every second.
"The wind, don't you see it's whipped around, and is coming from a new quarter?" was the tenor of what he called in the other's ear. "If that fire gets away from those supers it's going to give them a heap of trouble! Yes, it will chase those fighters out of the passages in a hurry, and I'm afraid it'll even cut off the poor girl who is supposed to be locked in that turret room."
"Hugh, look! look!" ejaculated Arthur, in sudden excitement; "Just as you said, I do believe the fire has got beyond their control already. Listen to the way everybody is whooping it up now. It's real fright that we hear, and no make-believe!"
WELL DONE, SCOUTS!
Hugh was glad that he had foreseen just such an emergency as the one that now confronted the motion-picture players. It afforded him a chance to get busy without wasting any precious time in laying out plans.
The men who had been inside the building began to come rushing out, some dragging comrades who may have temporarily found themselves unable to walk, owing to the fatigue influenced by their recent terrific efforts, and also the weight of the armor which they were wearing.
Everybody looked alarmed and distressed, and with reason, for it was now seen that the wing where the girl was shut up in that turret room was enveloped in real flames, which, whipped by the rising wind, threatened to consume the whole structure in so far as it consisted of wood made to resemble genuine stone.
The director was again shouting hoarsely through his megaphone, but he was now up against a situation that none of them had foreseen, so that consequently no preparations had been made toward meeting it. Men ran this way and that as though they had temporarily taken leave of their senses. Women could be seen wringing their hands, and shrieking wildly.
Although the outside camera man undoubtedly realized that this was anything but a sham now, he never once ceased grinding away at his machine. Long experience in these lines had convinced him of the great value of a stirring scene like this; and besides, his services were hardly needed in the work of saving the one whose life seemed to be in deadly peril.
"We must do something, and right away at that!" called Hugh. "Come along with me, every one, I've got a scheme that may be made to work."
They followed close at his heels. Evidently it did not enter into the head of the scout master to think, of applying for permission from the stage manager before starting to try out his suddenly formed plan. Hugh realized very well that this was an occasion where that energetic gentleman would be at a loss what to tell him. Besides, a wideawake scout, accustomed to doing his own thinking, should be better equipped to manage such an affair as this than a man whose talents ran in quite another direction.
The first thing Hugh sought to get hold of was a long and stout rope which he had noticed lying on the ground near by, together with numerous other things which the company had thought to fetch along with them, having an eye to possible need.
"Lay hold of that ax, Alec!" he told the other, who had managed to leave his beloved camera back of a tree, under the impression that it would hinder him in the execution of the work Hugh had laid out for himself and churns to perform.
Some of the players had by this time begun to notice the little bunch of khaki-clad lads running toward the burning wing of the castle. They commenced to shout out to them, perhaps encouragingly, or it may be intending to warn them not to attempt anything rash.
Little Hugh cared what their cries might mean. He had his plan arranged, and believed it could be carried to success if only speedy action were taken.
"We've got to get to the roof of that tower!" he told the others, as they drew near the fire, and could begin to feel the heat it was beginning to throw out as it crept upward, whipped by the rising wind. "Billy, I want you and Arthur to stay down under the walls and be ready to receive the girl, if we manage to, get things going. Understand that, both of you?"
"All right, if you say so, Hugh!" replied Arthur, though it could be noticed that he looked greatly disappointed because he had not been selected to accompany the rescuing party.
Billy did not make any reply. Perhaps he was, secretly, as well pleased to be assigned to that task, because Billy, being a heavy-weight, never made a success of climbing; and from all appearance there was bound to be more or less of that style of work ahead of those who were chosen to go aloft.
Having thus divided his party, Hugh hurried toward a window of the main building close by. He remembered that it was possible to gain, the roof of the castle—-and unless the flames became too menacing—-by creeping along this they would be able to reach the top of the turret tower. If no other means were found available for gaining access to the room of the prisoner, Hugh expected to make good use of that axe, and force an entrance through the roof itself, as he had seen the Oakvale volunteer firemen do on more than one occasion.
Billy and Arthur watched their chums climbing hastily through that window. Doubtless their hearts were throbbing with excitement, and deep down those two were hoping and praying that not only would Hugh, Alec and Monkey Stallings be able to come back alive and unharmed, but that they might also accomplish the object that had enlisted their services.
Meanwhile the trio of scouts found themselves groping their way along smoke-filled passages. Hugh made the others keep in close touch with him while this was going on. He did not mean that they should become separated, and something dreadful mar their endeavor to make themselves useful.
Fortunately the fire had not as yet reached the stairway leading upward, so that in a brief space of time the three scouts found themselves in the corridor where so lately a terrific combat had been taking place. They even stumbled over some fragment of imitation steel armor which may have been hurriedly thrown aside at the time the alarm of fire had sounded, causing such a hasty stampede on the part of the motion-picture players.
Apparently, while the retreat of the actors in this near-tragedy had been of a hurried nature, they had seen to it that no one of their number had been left in the corridor to become a victim of the flames. Hugh made sure of this, even as he pushed his way along.
A minute later and the boys were climbing out of a certain window on to the roof. Hugh had taken note of that very circumstance himself when prowling about the remarkable building; in fact, he had even half pulled himself up to see what the roof looked like, though never dreaming at the time he would so soon find need of his knowledge.
Monkey Stallings was, of course, in his element. None of the others could do nearly so well as he when it came to this sort of thing. Probably Hugh had remembered this circumstance when picking the acrobat out as one of his party, instead of choosing Arthur Cameron.
He sent the Stallings boy on ahead, and gave him to understand that he was expected to assist the others whenever he could. So they managed to gain the roof of the main building, and started in, the direction of the wing that was being fast enveloped in fiercely leaping flames.
When the trio of scouts were discovered by the clusters of appalled actors down below, and many fingers were pointed up at them, cheers began to arise. Undoubtedly those quick-witted players guessed what Hugh had in mind, and as it seemed to be the only possible chance to save the poor girl from her prison room, they one and all wished the courageous lads godspeed in their mission.
Hugh felt considerably relieved when he discovered that it would be possible to gain the other roof from the main structure. There was really no time to lose, however, for the fire seemed to be getting a pretty good headway, and any delay was likely to imperil their chances of success.
They had to get down on their hands and knees and crawl part of the way across. Had they been less agile they never could have made it, and just here it was seen how wisely the scout master had acted when he failed to choose clumsy if willing Billy Worth as one of their number.
Once upon the smaller roof covering the turret tower, Hugh found that it was a matter of impossibility to lower themselves so as to gain the slits of windows in the walls, made more for appearances than for any particular use. And even though they were able to reach one of these he doubted whether any of them could manage to crawl through.
There was nothing for it then but to attack the roof with the ax, which Alec had managed to cling to through all his climbing. Hugh snatched the implement from the hands of his churn, and went at it. The ax bit into the roof with each hearty blow, and Hugh worked like a beaver, knowing that there was constant danger they might be caught by the creeping flames before their object had been accomplished.
Afterwards, when speaking about their experiences up there on that roof, Alec and Monkey Stallings always declared they had never seen any one wield an ax with more telling effect than Hugh did on that wonderful occasion. Those who were below had a fair view of what was going on aloft, whenever the wind carried the smoke aside, as their encouraging cheers testified from time to time.
When Hugh found his muscles beginning to lag, he handed the implement over to Alec, knowing the other must be fairly wild to have a hand in the labor. How the chips did fly and scatter with each and every blow of that descending ax! Alec put every ounce of vim he could muster into each stroke, while if he faltered there was Monkey Stallings opening and shutting his two hands as though eager to take up the good work.
Then came the critical moment when the ax cut through, and a small gap appeared out of which a spiral of smoke began to ooze. Larger grew the hole, and then Alec, dripping with perspiration, fairly gasping for breath, handed the ax over to the third member of the group, after which the work continued furiously.
Finally Hugh stopped Monkey Stallings and made motions that he was about to go through the aperture. The others saw him vanish, and a brief but terrible period of suspense followed. Then through the gap in the roof appeared the head of the young woman who was playing the romantic part of the Jewess, Rebecca. Through all this tragic happening she, must have managed to retain her self-possession in a way that was simply wonderful, for she was now able to do her part toward working up through the hole in the roof, assisted by the two scouts above.
When those below discovered how success had thus far rewarded the efforts of Hugh and his equally quick-witted fellow scouts, the cheer that broke forth could have been heard miles away, so great was their admiration for the work of the three boys.
However, there was still more to be done if they would escape from the trap arranged between the rival elements, the wind and the fire. To return over the same route by which they had come was now impossible, since the fire had cut off escape by that course.
This was a possibility foreseen by Hugh when he concluded to take that long and serviceable rope aloft with him. By this means the girl could first be lowered to the ground at a point where the flames had not yet reached; and afterwards it would be little trouble for, himself and chums to also slide down to safety. Hugh always paid much attention to details.
Accordingly this was what they hastily set about doing. They were fortunate in having to deal with a plucky little woman. She understood just what was expected of her, and indeed, to see the way she assisted them secure the rope about her body under the arms, and then bade them swing her free, from the parapet of the tower, one might suspect that she had long since practiced for just this sort of thrilling picture.
All went well, and one by one the three scouts came sliding down the rope later on, none of them so much as having an eyelash singed, though the flames roared as if angry at having lost a victim.
"And," Billy was heard to remark when the boys could break away from the excited players, all of whom wanted to squeeze their hands, and say what they thought of the clever work, "Don't forget every minute of the time that camera man was turning his crank like fury. He got it all down pat, too, boys, as maybe we'll see for ourselves one of these fine days."
OAKVALE GETS A THRILL
"What's the news, Alec?" demanded Billy Worth, some weeks after the events narrated in the foregoing chapters took place.
They were just entering the town hall of Oakvale, where there was about to be given a select entertainment consisting of the most part of educational motion pictures. It was intended for the benefit of the local orphan asylum, so that every seat in the big building was being rapidly filled.
A number of the other members of the scout organization were gathered near by, as a special section of the chairs had been reserved for the troupe, for certain reasons which no one seemed exactly to understand. It was only known that Hugh and Lieutenant Denmead, the regular scout master, had made some arrangement with those who were, responsible for getting up the benefit performance.
"Oh! I had a letter from my Aunt Susan in this afternoon's mail," replied Alec, as he nodded to several acquaintances near by, girls belonging to Oakvale High School.
"About that place up in the country where we spent our last week-end outing, and had such a lively time—-eh, Alec?" suggested Billy, with a wide grin.
"Yes, and the meanness of you fellows keeping the whole business to yourselves all this time," commented Blake Merton, severely.
"We just know there was something remarkable happened to you up there," spoke up Don Miller, the leader of the Fox Patrol, "but no matter what we hinted, never a word could we get any of you to explain about it. What's it all mean, Hugh?"
"Wait and see," was the mysterious answer that again baffled the curiosity of the eager listeners, some of whom had really begun to hope that Hugh might think it time to remove the seal of absolute secrecy with which the outing had been enveloped so long. "And Alec, suppose you tell us what your aunt said in her letter. You don't look as if it held good news, that's certain."
Alec laughed good-naturedly.
"Oh! she complimented me like everything because of those grand pictures I sent her, and said that the account I gave of the thrilling happenings up there made her satisfied with the little investment she had incurred. I was welcome to the camera, and she also meant to send me another present soon, because she found herself quite interested in scout work. But she couldn't think of putting the deal through for that—-er—-place. She says after what happened there, it's likely to be a shrine for curious-minded folks for a long time to come, and as she wants absolute quiet, that would not suit her. So you see, just as I expected, that deal's off."
All this strange manner of talk greatly aroused the listeners curiosity. They tried in turn to coax Hugh, Billy, Alec, Arthur or Monkey Stallings to "open up and tell us what it all means, won't you like a good fellow?" but those worthies only looked wise, nodded their heads, and told them to "hold their horses," and in good time they would be treated to a little surprise that would pay them for all their waiting.
The hall soon filled up, with seating space at a premium. It was in a good cause and backed by the Women's League for Town Improvement. The orphans needed a good many things to make them comfortable for the winter, and this was to be one of several methods employed to obtain these articles, which the town did not see fit to supply.
Walter Osborne, Bud Morgan and several of the other scouts had been silently watching Hugh and his immediate chums. Their attention was especially directed toward Billy Worth, who seemed to be so nervous that he could hardly keep his seat.
"It's my opinion," remarked Walter, sagely, "that there's going to be something of a surprise sprung on the rest of us to-night. I've been keeping tabs on Billy, and to see him grin, and look so happy and proud gives the thing away. He just can't keep his face straight, he feels so important."
"But what can it be?" asked Jack Durham. "The whole entertainment to-night is made up of Professor Wakefield with his violin, and three selected moving pictures."
"Yes," added Bud Morgan, referring to a paper he held in his hand, "and one of these is a comic, a second a trip through the island of Ceylon, showing things just as if a fellow was there on the spot, while the third and last seems to be a series of pictures showing just how a company of players go about when engaged in making one of their wonderful films."
"I don't see how Billy can expect to be in touch with any of those things," commented Walter, more puzzled than ever. "We'll just have to wait and see, as Hugh told us. It may be that they've coaxed Hugh to consent to get up there on the platform to-night, and tell all about what happened to them the time they went off to spend the week-end up the country."
"Walter, I wouldn't be surprised if you'd guessed it, after all," said one of the other fellows; and then as a loud clapping of hands announced that the well-known local violinist was about to make his bow to the big audience, the boys stopped exchanging opinions, and settled down to the policy of "watchful waiting" so often spoken of by the occupant of the Executive Chair at Washington.
The educational value of the "Trip through Ceylon" could not be gainsaid, and the humorous film caused much laughter, and boisterous merriment. Finally the announcement was made that they were now about to be treated to a most wonderful series of pictures, showing the details of how one of the best-known companies of moving-picture artists went about their work when engaged in producing a drama of olden days, with an appropriate setting and background.
They were first of all discovered starting forth from their hotel in the city, and taking train for some place in the country, together with much paraphernalia connected with their undertaking, so that it looked very much like an exodus on the part of a whole village of fashionables.
Next the pictures showed them leaving the train, at some country town, where a whole string of capacious cars awaited them, into which they crowded, joking and laughing, and carrying bundles without end.
Then another scene disclosed the company clad in all manner of remarkable garments, all of which might be recognized as having to do with the historical time of the Crusades, when knights in armor attended by their faithful squires were wont to roam the country in search of adventure.
Of course the younger element in the audience watched all this with exceeding interest. They doubtless sensed with that intuition boys always display, that sooner or later there would necessarily come along heaps of fighting, and stirring pictures, when those men in shining armor met in deadly combat.
One by one, the scenes passed in review, and finally there was flashed upon the screen a picture of what seemed to be a veritable olden castle, true to tradition, turreted tower, drawbridge, portcullis, deep moat, apparently unscalable walls, and all.
Just at this interesting juncture, as the music happened to die down temporarily, a boy who had been around some was heard to say aloud, though he had not expected to make himself conspicuous:
"If that isn't the old place called Randall's Folly, I'll eat my hat!"
Walter Osborne gave Dud Morgan a quick dig in the ribs.
"Hey! it's coming, you mark my words if it isn't!" he hissed in the other's ear. "Just look at Billy Worth there, bobbing up and down as if he might be sitting on tacks. And see how he grins, and looks prouder than a turkey gobbler. Something's going to break loose right away, Bud, believe me."
Well, it did.
When presently, after that first onslaught of the gallant followers of the hero knight, the motion-picture players were seen to be "resting up" between acts, and those who had been injured in the fracas were being attended to, a shout arose.
"Hey! what's this I see?" yelled a boy's strident voice. "Right there along with all them knights and ladies there's a Boy Scout helping take care of the fellows knocked out in that scrap. And, say, it's our own Arthur Cameron, would you believe it?"
"And there's Hugh! Yes, and look at our Billy Worth strutting around there as big as life. Oh, you Billy, it takes, you to get in, the limelight every time!"
All sorts of shouts were rising in different parts of the hall as the audience discovered the well-known lads belonging to their own town. Most of them began to understand now why those fellows had persisted in keeping so mute. Evidently they must have known that this wonderful picture was coming in time to be shown at the benefit performance.
Everybody was eagerly waiting to see what followed. When the wall fell there was a series of low exclamations of horror, for they were intelligent enough to realize that this had not been a part of the real programme, and also that the chances were some of the unfortunates must have been severely injured.
Then came the picture revealing how the five scouts sprang forward and assisted in the work of rescuing those caught by the falling rocks; also how Arthur, as might be expected, did his part in taking care of the injured. How proud many of those present felt at seeing the manly way in which Hugh and his comrades rose to the occasion, and did their calling great credit.
A tense stillness followed those loud cheers, for, an announcement had been displayed relating how, owing to a shift of the wind, the fire had spread, causing a sudden evacuation of the forces battling in the passages and rooms of the castle; and also how through some misfortune the lovely heroine was really and truly caught up there in that lonely tower room, hemmed in by the cruel flames.
Then, as the startling scene moved on, the five hundred eager spectators saw Hugh lead his fellow scouts to the rescue—-watched three of them vanish through that gaping window, to appear a little later on the roof, followed with strained eyes their furious attack on the roof of the tower, and finally saw them lower the lady in safety to the ground, where Billy and Arthur, and many of the motion-picture players, waited to receive them.
And last but not least, just as the scene closed, the three scouts were discovered sliding swiftly down the rope past the hungry tongues of fire.
The triumph of the scouts was complete. Men shouted, boys shrilled, and women laughed and cried and kissed each other. Never before had such excitement taken possession of an audience in Oakvale. How proud it made them to realize that their local organization was being advertised all over the broad land, yes, even in other foreign lands as well, it might be, so that Oakvale would soon become famous because of its scout troop.
Through it all Hugh seemed to sit unmoved, though he shook hands with the admiring crowds as they came up to offer congratulations, and laughed heartily to see how Billy Worth strutted around, swelled with pride.
"It was a whole lot of fun while it lasted," Hugh was telling a bunch of the fellows, after the show was over. "But when a thing is done with you can't extract much enjoyment out of the memory. What I'm more concerned about right at this, minute is where we are going to find another chance for an outing in the coming Thanksgiving holidays. I'd like some of you to get busy thinking up a scheme, that will just about fill the bill."
That somebody did engineer a plan along lines that promised to take some of the fellows out of the beaten rut for the brief holidays, can be set down as certain, judging from the nature of the title of the succeeding volume of this series, "The Boy Scouts on the Roll of Honor," and which, it is hoped; all who have enjoyed the present story will procure without delay.