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The Moving Picture Boys on the War Front, a novel by Victor Appleton

Chapter 3. Monsieur Secor

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Macaroni sank down on a chair. Blake said, afterward, their young assistant gave a very fair imitation, as far as regarded the look on his face, of C.C. Piper.

"Ruined! Just plumb ruined!" murmured Charles Anderson.

"But what happened? Tell us about it!" begged Joe. "You say some one ran into you?"

"Yes. I was in the small auto taking the films you gave me to the station, and I had just about time to catch the express when I saw this fellow turning out of one of the side streets of the camp."

"What fellow?" asked Blake.

"I don't know his name," answered Macaroni. "But he's a Frenchman sent here, I've heard, to help instruct our men. He's some sort of officer."

"And his machine ran into yours?" asked Blake.

"Smack into me!" answered his helper. "Knocked the box of films out on the road, and one wheel went over it. Cracked the box clean open, and, of course, as the film wasn't developed, it's light-struck now, and you'll have to take all those marching scenes over again!"

"That's bad!" murmured Joe. "Very bad!"

"Did you say it was an _accident_?" asked Blake pointedly.

"That's what _he_ said," replied Charlie. "He made all sorts of apologies, admitted it was all his fault, and all that. And it was, too!" burst out Macaroni. "I guess I know how to be careful of undeveloped films! Great hopping hippodromes, if I couldn't drive a car any better than that Frenchman, I'd get out of the army! How he has any license to buy gasolene, I can't imagine! This is how it was," and he went into further details of the occurrence.

"I brought the films back, covering 'em with a black cloth as soon as I could," went on Charles; "but I guess it's too late."

"Let's have a look," suggested Blake. "It may not be so bad as you think."

But it was--every bit, and Joe and Blake found they would have to make the whole series over, requiring the marching of thousands of men and consequent delay in getting the completed films to the various recruiting centers.

"Well, if it has to be done, it has to be," said Joe, with a philosophic sigh. "And making retakes may delay us in getting to Europe."

"That's right!" agreed Blake. "But who is this fellow, anyhow, Charlie? And what made him so careless? An accident like this means a lot to us and to the Government."

"I should say it did!" agreed Macaroni. "And it was the funniest accident I ever saw!"

"How so?" asked Joe.

"Well, a little while before you finished these films this same French officer was talking to me, asking if there were to be any duplicates of them, and questions like that."

"And you told him?"

"Yes. I didn't see any reason for keeping it secret. He isn't a German. If he had been I'd have kept quiet. But he's an accredited representative from the French Government, and is supposed to be quite a fighter. I thought he knew how to run an auto, but he backed and filled, came up on the wrong side of the road, and then plunged into me. Then he said his steering gear went back on him.

"Mighty funny if it did, for it was all right just before and right after the accident. He was all kinds of ways sorry about it, offered to pay for the damage, and all that. I told him that wouldn't take the pictures over again."

"And it won't," agreed Blake. "That's the worst of it! Did you say you had seen this Frenchman before, Mac?"

"Yes; he's been around camp quite a while. You must have seen him too, you and Joe; but I guess you were so busy you didn't notice. He wears a light blue uniform, with a little gold braid on it, and he has one of those leather straps from his shoulder."

"You mean a bandolier," suggested Joe.

"Maybe that's it," admitted Macaroni. "Anyhow, he's a regular swell, and he goes around a lot with the other camp officers. They seem to think he knows a heap about war. But, believe me, he doesn't know much about running an auto--or else he knows too much."

"Well, seeing that he's the guest of this camp, and probably of Uncle Sam, we can't make too much of a row," observed Blake. "I'll go and tell the commandant about the accident, and have him arrange for taking a new series of views. It's too bad, but it can't be helped."

"It could have been helped if anybody with common sense had been running that auto, instead of a frog-eating, parlevooing Frenchman!" cried Macaroni, who was much excited over the affair.

"That's no way to talk about one of our Allies," cautioned Joe.

"Humph!" was all Charles answered, as he looked at the wrecked box of film. "I s'pose he'll claim it was partly my fault."

"Well, we know it wasn't," returned Blake consolingly. "Come on, we'll get ready to do it over again; but, from the way Mr. Hadley wrote in his last letter, he'll be sorry about the delay."

"Is he eager for you to get over on the other side?" asked the helper.

"Yes. And I understand he asked if you wanted to go along as our assistant, Mac."

"He did? First I wasn't going, but now I believe I will. I don't want to stay on the same side of the pond with that Frenchman! He may run into me again."

"Don't be a C. C.," laughed Joe. "Cheer up!"

"I would if I saw anything to laugh at," was the response. "But it sure is tough!"

The moving picture boys felt also that the incident was unfortunate, but they were used to hard luck, and could accept it more easily than could their helper.

The commanding officer at the camp was quite exercised over the matter of the spoiled films.

"Well," he said to Blake when told about it, "I suppose it can't be helped. It may delay matters a bit, and we counted on the films as an aid in the recruiting. There have been a good many stories circulated, by German and other enemies of Uncle Sam, to the effect that the boys in camp are having a most miserable time.

"Of course you know and I know that this isn't so. But we can't reach every one to tell them that. Nor can the newspapers, helpful as they have been, reach every one. That is why we decided on moving pictures. They have a wider appeal than anything else.

"So we army men felt that if we could show pictures of life as it actually is in camp, it would not only help enlistments, but would make the fathers and mothers feel that their sons were going to a place that was good for them."

"So they are; and our pictures will show it, too!" exclaimed Blake. "On account of the accident we'll be a bit delayed, and if that Frenchman runs his auto----"

"Well, perhaps the less said about it the better," cautioned the officer. "He is our guest, you know, and if he was a bit awkward we must overlook it."

"And yet, after all, I wonder, with Mac, if it was a pure accident," mused Blake, as he walked off to join Joe and arrange for the retaking of the films that were spoiled. "I wonder if it was an accident," he repeated.

In the days that followed the destruction of the army films and while the arrangements for taking new pictures were being made, Joe and Blake heard several times from Mr. Hadley. The producer said he was going to send Macaroni abroad with the two boys, if the wiry little helper would consent to go; and to this Charles assented.

He would be very useful to Joe and Blake, they felt, knowing their ways as he did, and being able to work a camera almost as well as they themselves.

"Did the boss tell you just what we were to do?" asked Blake of Joe one day, when they were perfecting the details for taking the new pictures.

"No. But he said he would write us in plenty of time. All I know is that we're to go to Belgium, or Flanders, or somewhere on the Western front, and make films. What we are to get mostly are pictures of our own boys."

"Most of them are in France."

"Well, then we'll go to France. We're to get scenes of life in the camps there, as well as in the trenches. They're for official army records, some of them, I believe."

"And I hope that crazy Frenchman doesn't follow us over and spoil any more films," added Charles, who was loading a camera.

"Not much danger of that," was Joe's opinion.

"Come, don't nurse a grudge," advised Blake.

It was about a week after this that the two boys were ready to take the first of the camp pictures over again.

"Better make 'em double, so there won't be another accident," advised Charles.

"Oh, don't worry! We'll take care of them this time," said Blake.

The long lines of khaki-clad soldiers marched and countermarched. They "hiked," went into camp, cooked, rushed into the trenches, had bayonet drill, and some went up in aeroplanes. All of this was faithfully recorded by the films.

Blake and Joe were standing together, waiting for the army officer to plan some new movements, when a voice behind the two lads asked:

"Pardon me! But are these the new official films?"

Joe and Blake turned quickly before replying. They saw regarding them a slim young fellow with a tiny moustache. His face was browned, as if from exposure to sun and air, and he wore a well-fitting and attractive blue uniform with a leather belt about his waist and another over his shoulder.

"Yes, these are the official films," answered Blake.

"And are you the official artists?"

"Camera men--just plain camera men," corrected Joe.

"Ah, I am interested!" The man spoke with a slight, and not unpleasing, accent. "Can you tell me something about your work?" he asked. "I am very much interested. I would like to know----"

At that moment Macaroni slid up to Blake with a roll of new film, and hoarsely whispered:

"That's the guy that knocked into me and spilled the beans!"

The Frenchman, for it was he, caught the words and smiled.

"Pardon," he murmured. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Monsieur Secor, and I believe I did have the misfortune to spoil some films for you. A thousand pardons!" and Monsieur Secor, with a quick glance at the two boys, bowed low. _

Read next: Chapter 4. All Aboard

Read previous: Chapter 2. The Accident

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