Fenn Masterson's Discovery: or, The Darewell Chums on a Cruiseñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Here comes the water-tower!” shouted several.
“Look out there!”
“Clear the way!”
An insistent clanging of a fire gong to the accompaniment of barking dogs told that some piece of apparatus was dashing along the street. The boys felt some one from behind thrust them to one side.
“Look out!” a policeman shouted in their ears. “Do you want to be killed?”
They shrank back, burying themselves in the crowd on either side of the way, just as the water tower, with the plunging horses foam-flecked and heaving, dashed by.
“They’ve sent for more engines from Frenchtown!” cried some one in the throng.
“They’ll need all they can get.”
“The warehouse’ll go next!”
“They’d better use dynamite!”
“This shows we ought to have a fire boat!”
“This department don’t know how to handle a blaze like that!”
Remarks of this nature kept floating to the ears of the boys as they hurried along, arm in arm, so they would not become separated in the press that was on every side of them.
Above the din sounded a shrill whistle, and a fire-engine, spouting sparks, with the stoker at the back, clinging to the rail with one hand, and with the other throwing soft coal on the glowing mass under the boiler, crammed his head out to see how much farther the panting horses had to run.
The blazing elevator was hidden from sight of the boys by several buildings that intervened, but by looking up they could see the lurid sky, and the smoke-laden air, in which glowed dull red sparks, like stars. Suddenly the crowd, of which the four chums formed a part, swung around a corner. Then a terrible, but vivid scene was presented.
On the end of a big wharf, with the black lake as a background, was the flaming structure. It stood out boldly, like a picture framed in ebony, illuminating itself by leaping, licking tongues of yellow fire, that seemed to tumble and toss – to twist and coil about like devouring serpents.
Up shot the flames – far above the slanting, narrow roof of the elevator. The windows shone out as though millions of candles had been placed in them. Through some casements, darting spears of fire glanced, as if to transfix anything in their path, not satisfied with what was within. The piles of grain made a dense smoke, and the peculiar structure of the building, like some immense chimney, gave a draught that seemed to doom the elevator to complete destruction.
At the foot of the building could be seen a dark mass of firemen, moving here and there. In spots it was illuminated by little spurts of flame, where the engines were puffing like mad to send the quenching water on the fiercely burning timbers.
“They’ll never stop that fire!” shouted a man close to the chums. “The roof’ll cave in soon!”
“Why don’t they use the stand pipes in the elevator?” asked another man. “No engine they’ve got can throw water to the roof.”
“The stand pipes are melted by now,” was the answer.
“They tried ’em, but it got too hot. There she goes!”
The flames seemed to make one final leap, as if to reach a higher point in the air than they had yet attained. There was a sound as though a great gun had exploded and the roof, blown off by the heated air inside, and by the gases generated from the burning grain, was scattered into a thousand pieces.
Then, as if satisfied that it had accomplished what it set out to do, the fire died down a little. The top stories of the elevator toppled in, and the mass seemed to crumple up. Owing to the packed heaps of grain it was burning slowly, now that most of the wood work was consumed.
“That’s another blow to Hayward!” spoke a voice so close to Fenn’s ear that the boy started in spite of himself.
“Hush!” cautioned a man, who was beside the one who had first spoken, “some one might hear you.”
“No one knows what I’m talking about,” was the answer. “I guess Hayward will be willing to talk business now. He can’t stand many such losses as this, even if he does own most of Bayville. I understand he didn’t carry much insurance on this grain, as it was stored for quick movement. Now, when I see him – ”
The man stopped suddenly, for Fenn was looking right at him. Somehow the youth knew instinctively that he was talking about the Mr. Hayward who had been injured in the auto accident. What could it mean? Why was the speaker glad that the westerner had suffered a loss in the elevator fire? Fenn wanted to hear more.
But the man who had first spoken, said nothing further. He grasped his companion by the arm, and nodded toward Fenn. The other boys were still watching the fire, and were some distance away from Stumpy.
“Were you – ” began the first speaker, looking at Fenn, when his companion suddenly drew him back among the crowd.
“Stop! Stop!” Fenn heard him whisper. “I must get hold of him and – ”
There was some mystery here. Fenn vaguely felt it, but he could not tell what it was. There was a movement in the throng, and Fenn’s chums were pressed back to where he stood.
“Here comes some more engines!” was the cry.
Additional steamers, summoned from an adjoining city, rattled up. The fire, which had died down, seemed to break out afresh, as the flames seized on new material.
“I tell you I’m going to find out about him!”
This was the voice of the man who had spoken of Mr. Hayward. Fenn glanced around. The fellow, who had a sinister face, was making his way toward him.
“Maybe they’re thieves or pickpockets,” thought Fenn. “I guess we’d better get out of here while we have the chance.”
He leaned forward and grasped Bart by the arm.
“Come on!” he hoarsely whispered.
“What for?” inquired Bart. “The fire isn’t half over.”
“Come on,” repeated Fenn earnestly. “I think Captain Wiggs may want us.”
He was so insistent, and nodded in such a peculiar way that Bart realized something unusual was in the wind. Pulling Ned and Frank close to him, Fenn whispered:
“I think some pickpockets are trying to rob us. I’ve brought my money with me. Let’s get out of here.”
The boys made a quick turn in the crowd, and worked their way to where the press was not so thick. Fenn led the way, looking back to see if the men were following.
They were. The man with the sinister face, and his companion, were trailing close after the boys.
“Come on!” cried Fenn, suddenly breaking into a run.
But the men were not to be so easily left behind. They, too, quickened their pace, and pursued the four chums, though what their motive was the boys could only guess.
The boys soon found themselves mixed up in another part of the crowd, that had, apparently, come down a side street leading to the lake front. They had some trouble disengaging themselves from it, and, when they again had a fairly clear street to run through, they were some distance from the fire.
“Did we lose ’em?” asked Fenn, panting from the run.
“What? Who?” asked Frank, who did not exactly understand the cause for the sudden retreat.
“Those two – pickpockets,” replied Fenn, not knowing exactly how to classify the strange men.
“Here comes a couple of fellows on the run,” said Ned. “I guess they’re still after us. Let’s wait and ask what they want. They haven’t any right to follow us.”
“No, no!” urged Fenn. “Come on back to the steamer.”
He seemed so much in earnest that his chums did not stop to ask questions, but increased their speed. Just as they reached the wharf, at the end of which the Modoc was tied, another fire engine, hastening to the elevator blaze, dashed by.
There was a quick clanging of the gong, and a shrill screech from the whistle. It was instantly followed by a shout.
“The engine struck one of the men!” cried Frank, looking back. “He’s knocked down! Run over I guess! Come on back!”
The boys hesitated. They did not want to leave an injured man, even if he and his companion had been pursuing them. The street, at this point, was deserted, save for the two strangers. The engine did not stop, the horses being urged on by the driver, who did not want to have the reputation of arriving last at the conflagration.
“Come on back and help him,” urged Bart, who was always anxious to aid persons in distress, even if they were enemies.
The others hesitated. It was rather a risk, Fenn thought. But the problem was solved for them. The man who had been knocked down by the engine arose to his feet. Supporting himself on the shoulder of his companion he limped off up the street, and away from the boys.
“I guess he isn’t badly hurt,” remarked Ned. “He’ll not chase us any more. That engine came along just in time.”
“Except I guess it’s too late to help put out the fire,” said Frank. “There can’t be much left of the elevator.”
“But what did we run for?” asked Ned. “Who were those chaps, Fenn?”
Fenn explained what he had heard, and expressed the belief that the men had some business enmity against Mr. Hayward.
“They seemed delighted that the elevator, containing his grain, burned down; or at least the one man did,” he said. “Then, when they saw I was listening, though I didn’t really intend to, they acted as though they wanted to get hold of me, and see why I was so interested. I thought they might be pickpockets, but now I don’t believe they were.”
“We must tell Captain Wiggs about it,” suggested Frank.
“I don’t believe I will,” answered Fenn. “I don’t want him to laugh at me, and I think he surely will if I suggest that the men chased us. He’ll probably think we took two harmless citizens for burglars. No, I think the best plan will be to wait and see what turns up.”
“I’ll tell you what you can do,” spoke Ned.
“What?” inquired Fenn.
“You can ask Captain Wiggs who owned that grain in the burned elevator. He’ll know, as he was going to get a load there.”
“Good idea,” responded Fenn. “I will.”
The boys were soon aboard the ship again. They found that the men in the rowboat had returned, as the side of the elevator nearest the lake had all burned away, and their hose was no longer effective. The fire was under control now, but was still blazing well. Enough engines had arrived to prevent it spreading.
“Well, this knocks my plans all askew,” remarked the commander of the Modoc, when the boys came on deck. “I don’t know where to get my grain, now.”
“Did you say the same company that owned this steamer owned that grain?” asked Fenn, seeing a good chance to obtain the information he wanted.
“No, I said they owned the elevator,” replied the captain. “The grain is a separate matter. I don’t know whose that was. Whoever it belonged to won’t get much good from it.”
“Is there any way of telling who owned it?” asked Fenn, for he thought, even though the men had mentioned the name “Hayward,” that it might be some other man than the one injured in the auto accident – some one else than the father of Ruth.
“Why, I can tell by looking at my order slips,” replied Mr. Wiggs. “Why are you so interested?”
“I was wondering if it was any one I knew,” answered Fenn, a little evasively, as he did not want to explain what had happened.
“Um – let’s see,” and Captain Wiggs who, followed by the boys had gone to the main cabin, began thumbing over the pages of a small book he took from his pocket. “‘Proceed to’ – no, that’s not it – ‘take cargo’ – um – no, it must be on the next page – Oh, yes, here it is. ‘Get cargo of grain at Lakeville, from Robert Hayward Company.’ That’s it. The grain belonged to Robert Hayward – why – er – say, boys, that’s the name of the man who was hurt back there in Darewell – he and his daughter Ruth – you know him – why, Fenn, he was at your house!”
“So he was!” exclaimed Fenn, his knowledge thus unexpectedly confirmed.
“Quite a remarkable coincidence!” went on the Captain. “Very strange! Well, strange things are always happening. You didn’t hear what started the fire, did you?”
“I heard a policeman say it was spontaneous combustion,” said Frank, “but they always give that as a cause, when they can’t think of any other.”
“I don’t s’pose they’ll ever find out,” remarked the captain. “Well, I can’t do anything more. We’d better turn in, although it’s most morning. Soon as it gets daylight I’ll have to hustle around and find out what I’m going to do.”
Captain Wiggs was a very busy man the next day, sending messages to the steamer’s owners to ascertain their wishes. The boys visited the elevator, in which great piles of grain were still smouldering, in spite of the tons of water poured on them. Fenn kept a lookout for the mysterious men, but did not see anything of them.
Captain Wiggs had to remain tied up at Lakeville until he received orders to proceed to the next port for a cargo that would be awaiting him there. The boys spent the time on shore, visiting various scenes of interest.
“Well, we’re off again!” cried the commander, on the morning of the third day, as he came hurrying down the dock, waving a telegram in his hand. “Tying-up is no fun. You may get under way as soon as possible, Mr. Sidleton,” he added to the first mate.
Steam was up, and, in a short time the Modoc was again plowing the waters of Lake Erie. Gradually Lakeville was left behind, and soon they were out of sight of land.
“Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!”
A bell suddenly sounded, with queer double strokes.
“Eight bells!” exclaimed Captain Wiggs, as he arose from a deck chair where he had been sitting, to the boys. “Time for mess,” and he led the way toward the dining saloon.
As he was about to descend the companionway he looked over the rail. Astern of the Modoc was a small steam yacht, coming on at a swift speed.
“That’s queer,” murmured the captain.
“What is?” asked Fenn, for the boys were privileged characters.
“That yacht,” replied the commander. “She’s been following us all the morning; ever since we left Lakeville. I wonder what the game is? Steward, bring me the glass,” he called, and, when the binoculars were handed to him, the captain took a long look at the pursuing craft.
For nearly a minute Captain Wiggs continued his observation of the on-coming boat. Then, laying aside the glass, he remarked:
“I can’t make anything out of her. It’s a strange boat. Never saw her on the lakes before. And they seem to have an uncommon interest in us. A couple of men on deck are taking turns in looking at us through a telescope.”
“Two men?” asked Fenn, beginning to get excited.
“There are two on deck, but of course there must be more somewhere aboard,” replied the captain.
“And has one of them a – a sort of mean looking face?” went on Fenn.
“Well, from what I can see of him through the glass, he doesn’t look to be a very cheerful chap.”
“I’ll wager it’s those men after us!” exclaimed Fenn, turning to his chums.
“What men?” inquired Captain Wiggs.
“The men who chased us when we were at the elevator fire,” and Fenn told of the adventure.
“I wish you had mentioned that to me before,” said the commander, looking grave. “This thing may be serious.”
“Why? Do you think they are thieves?” asked Bart.
“There’s no telling what they are,” and the captain took another observation at the steamer in the rear. “You know the lakes are part of the dividing line between the United States and Canada. Often criminals from both countries find it to their advantage to conduct some of their operations on the water, and there are any number of questionable characters plying on this lake. I can’t make out why those men should want you boys, or Fenn, more particularly, unless they think he may know something of their operations, and they want to stop him from talking.”
“Well, they can’t prevent me!” boasted Fenn.
“Don’t be too sure,” cautioned the captain. “Of course you have nothing to fear as long as you are with me, aboard the Modoc, but don’t run any chances while ashore. Meanwhile those fellows have got to catch us first. They’ve got nerve, I must say, pursuing us as if they were government officers and we were smugglers.”
“Do smugglers cross the lake?” asked Ned.
“They try to, and, sometimes they succeed. But I wish you boys would go down to dinner. I want to keep watch of this boat. When you finish, come up on deck, and you can stand guard, while I eat. We’ll keep tabs on her then, and we needn’t let any of the crew here know about it. It’s just as well to keep matters a little quiet until we find out what it all means.”
The boys did not linger long over their dinner, and were soon on deck again. They found Captain Wiggs gazing at the pursuing steam yacht through the glass.
“She’s coming on,” he said. “Seems to have plenty of speed, but I guess we can show her a little ourselves. I’ll give orders to the engineer to increase our rate some. Then we’ll see what happens. You keep watch, and let me know when I come back.”
He handed the binoculars to Fenn, and went below. The four chums took turns looking at the on-coming craft. Presently they noticed that their own steamer was making faster progress through the water.
“I guess we’ll leave ’em behind now,” observed Frank.
“Then you’ve got another guess coming,” responded Fenn. “They’ve put on more steam.”
The other boat seemed to spurt through the waves that were piled up in front of her sharp prow. She easily kept right after the Modoc, and even seemed to approach closer.
“I wonder what they’ll do when they catch up to us?” asked Bart.
“Wait until they catch us,” suggested Ned.
“Well, boys, how about it?” called Captain Wiggs, as he came on deck. “Have you polished up the anchor chain, as I asked you to. The regular polisher-boy is sick, and I’m short handed.”
“You didn’t tell us – ” began Fenn, when a smile on the face of the commander warned him that it was only a joke.
“How is our friend, the enemy?” inquired Captain Wiggs, reaching for the glass.
“Well, we haven’t lost her,” replied Frank.
“So I see,” observed the commander. “I think I’ll have to try a little trick.”
He went to the pilot house and soon the Modoc was sweeping away from her course in a long, graceful curve.
“There, now we’ll see if they are following us, or whether they are just on the same course by accident, and are using us for pace-makers,” remarked the captain, as he came back to where the boys were.
In less than a minute the course of the pursuing vessel was also changed, and on she came, after the Modoc, the black smoke pouring from her funnel, testifying to the fact that the engine room force was piling on the fuel to make more steam.
“She’s going to catch us or burst her boilers,” remarked the captain, with a grim smile. “Well, we’ll see. I made them show their hand. They evidently believe we’re bound for the Canadian shore, and they think they have us outside the protection of the United States now, and can do as they please.”
He hurried to the pilot house, and soon there were several signals of the engine room bells.
“We’ll see if we can’t get a few more knots out of her,” observed the commander as he came back, and took a hurried look at the yacht astern. “I guess the Modoc has some speed left in her yet, even if she is only a freighter.”
True, the big steamer did go faster, but so did the pursuing boat. The chase was leading straight toward Canada now.
“Can’t seem to shake ’em off,” murmured the captain, with a somewhat worried look on his face. “I’ve a good notion to lay-to, and see what they want.”
“I – I wouldn’t,” said Fenn.
“Why not?” asked the captain quickly. “You haven’t done anything wrong; have you?”
“No, but – ”
“Then I think I’ll just ask them the meaning of this unwarranted chase. They haven’t any right to keep after me like this, unless they’re a government vessel, and they’re not that or they would have shown their colors long ago. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll stop!”
He turned toward the pilot house to give the order. Fenn took up the binoculars, which the captain had laid down, and looked through them at the strange steam yacht. He could make out the two men on deck, one of them – he with the sinister face – staring at the little knot of boys, who seemed, so unaccountably, to have become involved in a mystery.
Following the ringing of the engine room bells, the Modoc’s speed began to slacken. Captain Wiggs came back to where the boys were and remarked.
“Now we’ll see what will happen.”
Hardly had he spoken than there sounded from the pursuing craft, which had not slackened speed, a shrill hissing. Then a white cloud appeared to hover over her.
“She’s broken a steam pipe!” cried the captain. “Too much pressure! I thought she couldn’t stand it!”
The strange craft was almost lost to sight in the cloud of white vapor that enveloped her, while, from the midst of it, came excited cries.
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