Chapter VII. What the Camera Caught
 

"Well, is she working, Tom?" asked our hero's chum, a little later, when they had set the camera up on a box in the garden. It pointed toward the main shop door, and from the machine came a clicking sound. The electric light was glowing.

"Yes, it's all ready," replied Tom. "Now just act as if it wasn't there. You walk toward the shop. Do anything you please. Pretend you are coming in to see me on business. Act as if it was daytime. I'll stand here and receive you. Later, I'll get dad out here, Koku and Eradicate. I wish Mr. Period was here to see the test, but perhaps it's just as well for me to make sure it works before be sees it."

"All right, Tom, here I come."

Ned advanced toward the shop. He tried to act as though the camera was not taking pictures of him, at the rate of several a second, but he forgot himself, and turned to look at the staring lens. Then Tom, with a laugh, advanced to meet him, shaking hands with him. Then the lads indulged in a little skylarking. They threw snowballs at each other, taking care, however to keep within range of the lens. Of course when Tom worked the camera himself, he could point it wherever he wanted to, but it was now automatic.

Then the lads went to the shop, and came out again. They did several other things. Later Koku, and Eradicate did some "stunts," as Tom called them. Mr. Swift, too, was snapped, but Mrs. Baggert refused to come out.

"Well, I guess that will do for now," said Tom, as he stopped the mechanism. "I've just thought of something," he added. "If I leave the light burning, it will scare away, before they got in front of the lens, any one who might come along. I'll have to change that part of it."

"How can you fix it?" asked Ned.

"Easily. I'll rig up some flash lights, just ordinary photographing flashlights, you know. I'll time them to go off one after the other, and connect them with an electric wire to the door of my shop."

"Then your idea is--" began Ned.

"That some rascals may try to enter my shop at night. Not this particular night, but any night. If they come to-night we'll be ready for them."

"An' can't yo'-all take a picture ob de chicken coop?" asked Eradicate. "Dat feller may come back t' rob mah hens."

"With the lens pointing toward the shop," spoke Tom, "it will also take snap shots of any one who tries to enter the coop. So, if the chicken thief does come, Rad, we'll have a picture of him."

Tom and Ned soon had the flashlights in place, and then they went to bed, listening, at times, for the puff that would indicate that the camera was working. But the night passed without incident, rather to Tom's disappointment. However, in the morning, he developed the film of the first pictures taken in the evening. Soon they were dry enough to be used in the moving picture machine, which Tom had bought, and set up in a dark room.

"There we are!" he cried, as the first images were thrown on the white screen. "As natural as life, Ned! My camera works all right!"

"That's so. Look! There's where I hit you with a snowball!" cried his chum, as the skylarking scene was reached.

"Mah goodness!" cried Eradicate, when he saw himself walking about on the screen, as large as life. "Dat shorely am wonderful."

"It is spirits!" cried Koku, as he saw himself depicted.

"I wish we had some of the other pictures to show," spoke Tom. "I mean some unexpected midnight visitors."

For several nights in succession the camera was set to "snap" any one who might try to enter the shop. The flashlights were also in place. Tom and Ned, the latter staying at his chum's house that week, were beginning to think they would have their trouble for their pains. But one night something happened.

It was very dark, but the snow on the ground made a sort of glow that relieved the blackness. The camera had been set as usual, and Tom and Ned went to bed.

It must have been about midnight when they were both awakened by hearing the burglar alarm go off. At the same time there were several flashes of fire from the garden.

"There she goes!" cried Ned.

"Yes, they're trying to get into the shed," added Tom, as a glance at the burglar-alarm indicator on the wall of the room, showed that the shop door was being tried. "Come on!"

"I'm with you!" yelled Ned.

They lost little time getting into their clothes, for they had laid them out in readiness for putting on quickly. Down the stairs they raced, but ere they reached the garden they heard footsteps running along the wall toward the road.

"Who's there?" cried Tom, but there was no answer.

"Koku! Eradicate!" yelled Ned.

"Yais, sah, I'se comm'!" answered the colored man, and the voice of the giant was also heard. The flashlights had ceased popping before this, and when the two lads and their helpers had reached the shop, there was no one in sight.

"The camera's there all right!" cried Tom in relief as he picked it up from the box. "Now to see what it caught. Did you see anything of the fellows, Koku, or Eradicate?" Both said they had not, but Eradicate, after examining the chicken house door by the aid of a lighted match, cried out:

"Somebody's been tryin' t' git in heah, Massa Tom. I kin see where de do's been scratched."

"Well, maybe we'll have the picture for you to look at in the morning," said Tom.

The films were developed in the usual way in the morning, but the pictures were so small that Tom could not make out the features or forms of the men. And it was plain that at least three men had been around the coop and shop.

By the use of alcohol and an electric fan Tom soon had the films dry enough to use. Then the moving picture machine was set up in a dark room, and all gathered to see what would be thrown on the screen, greatly enlarged.

First came several brilliant flashes of light, and then, as the entrance to the shop loomed into view, a dark figure seemed to walk across the canvas. But it did not stop at the shop door. Instead it went to the chicken coop, and, as the man reached that door, he began working to get it open. Of course it had all taken place in a few seconds, for, as soon as the flashlights went off, the intruders had run away. But they had been there long enough to have their pictures taken.

The man at the chicken coop turned around as the lights flashed, and he was looking squarely at the camera. Of course this made his face very plain to the audience, as Tom turned the crank of the reproducing machine.

"Why, it's a colored man!" cried Ned in surprise.

"Yes, I guess it's only an ordinary chicken thief, after all," remarked Tom.

There was a gasp from Eradicate.

"Fo' de land sakes!" he cried. "De raskil! Ef dat ain't mah own second cousin, what libs down by de ribber! An' to t'ink dat Samuel 'Rastus Washington Jackson Johnson, mah own second cousin, should try t' rob mah chicken coop! Oh, won't I gib it t' him!"

"Are you sure, Rad?" asked Tom.

"Suah? Sartin I'se suah, Massa Tom," was the answer as the startled colored man on the screen stared at the small audience. "I'd know. dat face ob his'n anywhere."

"Well, I guess he's the only one we caught last night," said Tom, as the disappointed chicken thief ran away, and so out of focus But the next instant there came another series of flashlight explosions on the screen, and there, almost as plainly as if our friends were looking at them, they saw two men stealthily approaching the shop. They, too, as the chicken thief had done, tried the door, and then, they also, startled by the flashes, turned around.

"Look!" cried Ned.

"Great Scott !" exclaimed Tom. "Those are the two rivals of Mr. Period! They are Mr. Turbot and Mr. Eckert!"

"Same men I pushed out!" cried Koku, much excited.

There was no doubt of it, and, as the images faded from the screen, caused by the men running away, Tom and Ned realized that their rivals had tried to put their threat into execution--the threat of making Tom wish he had taken their offer.

"I guess they came to take my camera,--but, instead the camera took them," said the young inventor grimly.