Chapter X. Unexpected Excitement
 

"Well, what do you know about that, Tom?" asked Ned, as they stood on deck watching the chase. "Isn't he the greatest ever-- Mr. Period, I mean?"

"He certainly is. I'd like to see what happens when he catches that Turbot chap."

"Bless my pocket handkerchief!" cried Mr. Damon. "I don't believe he will. Mr. Period's legs aren't long enough for fast running."

"Those scoundrels were after us, up to the last minute," spoke Mr. Nestor, as the ship moved farther out from the dock. Tom and his friends could no longer see the excitable picture man after his rival, but there was a commotion in the crowd, and it seemed as if he had caught the fellow.

"Well, we're free of him now," spoke the young inventor, with a breath of relief. "That is, unless they have set some one else on our trail," and he looked carefully at the passengers near him, to detect, if possible, any who might look like spies in the pay of the rival moving picture concern, or any suspicious characters who might try to steal the valuable camera, that was now safely locked in Tom's cabin. Our hero, however, saw no one to worry about. He resolved to remain on his guard.

Friends and relatives were waving farewells to one another, and the band was playing, as the big vessel drew out into the North, or Hudson, river, and steamed for the open sea.

Little of interest marked the first week of the voyage. All save Koku had done much traveling before, and it was no novelty to them. The giant, however, was amused and delighted with everything, even the most commonplace things he saw. He was a source of wonder to all the other passengers, and, in a way, he furnished much excitement.

One day several of the sailors were on deck, shifting one of the heavy anchors. They went about it in their usual way, all taking hold, and "heaving" together with a "chanty," or song, to enliven their work. But they did not make much progress, and one of the mates got rather excited about it.

"Here, shiver my timbers!" he cried. "Lively now! Lay about you, and get that over to the side!"

"Yo! Heave! Ho!" called the leader of the sailor gang.

The anchor did not move, for it had either caught on some projection, or the men were not using their strength.

"Lively! Lively!" cried the mate.

Suddenly Koku, who was in the crowd of passengers watching the work, pushed his way to where the anchor lay. With a powerful, but not rough action, he shoved the sailors aside. Then, stooping over, he took a firm grip of the big piece of iron, planted his feet well apart on the deck, and lifted the immense mass in his arms. There was a round of applause from the group of passengers.

"Where you want him?" Koku calmly asked of the mate, as he stood holding the anchor.

"Blast my marlin spikes!" cried the mate. "I never see the like of this afore! Put her over there, shipmate. If I had you on a voyage or two you'd be running the ship, instead of letting the screw push her along. Put her over there," and he indicated where he wanted the anchor.

Koku calmly walked along the deck, laid the anchor down as if it was an ordinary weight, and passed over to where Tom stood looking on in amused silence. There were murmurs of surprise from the passengers at the giant's strength, and the sailors went forward much abashed.

"Say, I'd give a good bit to have a bodyguard like that," exclaimed a well-known millionaire passenger, who, it was reported, was in constant fear of attacks, though they had never taken place. "I wonder if I could get him."

He spoke to Tom about it, but our hero would not listen to a proposition to part with Koku. Besides, it is doubtful if the simple giant would leave the lad who had brought him away from his South American home. But, if Koku was wonderfully strong, and, seemingly afraid of nothing, there were certain things he feared.

One afternoon, for the amusement of the passengers, a net was put overboard, sunk to a considerable depth, and hauled up with a number of fishes in it. Some of the finny specimens were good for eating, and others were freaks, strange and curious.

Koku was in the throng that gathered on deck to look at the haul. Suddenly a small fish, but very hideous to look at, leaped from the net and flopped toward the giant. With a scream of fear Koku jumped to one side, and ran down to his stateroom. He could not be induced to come on deck until Tom assured him that the fishes had been disposed of. Thus Koku was a mixture of giant and baby. But he was a general favorite on the ship, and often gave exhibitions of his strength.

Meanwhile Tom and his friends had been on the lookout for any one who might be trailing them. But they saw no suspicious characters among the passengers, and, gradually, they began to feel that they had left their enemies behind.

The weather was pleasant, and the voyage very enjoyable. Tom and the others had little to do, and they were getting rather impatient for the time to come when they could put the airship together, and sail off over the jungle, to get moving pictures of the elephants.

"Have you any films in the camera now?" asked Ned of his chum on day, as they sat on deck together.

"Yes, it's all ready for instant use. Even the storage battery is charged. Why?"

"Oh, I was just wondering. I was thinking we might somehow see something we could take pictures of."

"Not much out here," said Tom, as he looked across the watery expanse. As he did so, he saw a haze of smoke dead ahead. "We'll pass a steamer soon," he went on, "but that wouldn't make a good picture. It's too common."

As the two lads watched, the smoke became blacker, and the cloud it formed grew much larger.

"They're burning a lot of coal on that ship," remarked Ned. "Must be trying for a speed record."

A little later a sailor stationed himself in the crow's nest, and focused a telescope on the smoke. An officer, on deck, seemed to be waiting for a report from the man aloft.

"That's rather odd," remarked Ned. "I never knew them to take so much interest in a passing steamer before; and we've gone by several of late."

"That's right," agreed Tom. "I wonder--"

At that moment the officer, looking up, called out:

"Main top!"

"Aye, aye, sir," answered the sailor with the glass. "She's a small steamer, sir, and she's on fire!"

"That's what I feared. Come down. I'll tell the captain. We must crowd on all steam, and go to the rescue."

"Did you hear that?" cried Ned to Tom, as the officer hurried to the bridge, where the captain awaited him. "A steamer on fire at sea, Tom! why don't you--"

"I'm going to!" interrupted the young inventor, as he started for his cabin on the run. "I'm going to get some moving pictures of the rescue! That will be a film worth having."

A moment later the Belchar, the vessel on which our friends had embarked, increased her speed, while sudden excitement developed on board.

As the Belchar approached the burning steamer, which had evidently seen her, and was making all speed toward her, the cloud of smoke became more dense, and a dull flame could be seen reflected in the water.

"She's going fast!" cried Mr. Nestor, as he joined Ned on deck.

"Bless my insurance policy!" cried Mr. Damon. "What a strange happening! Where's Tom Swift?"

"Gone for his camera," answered his chum. "He's going to get some pictures of the rescue."

"All hands man the life boats!" cried an officer, and several sailors sprang to the davits, ready to lower the boats, when the steamers should be near enough together.

Up on deck came Tom, with his wonderful camera.

"Here you go, Ned!" he called. "Give me a hand. I'm going to start the film now."