Harrie Hancock.

The Motor Boat Club at the Golden Gate: or, A Thrilling Capture in the Great Fog



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The stranger proved to be a long, low, white schooner yacht hailing from San Diego as the home port, but now bound for Hawaii.

"Do you know the steam yacht 'Victor' when you see her?" Tom shouted over the "Panther's" rail.

"Yes," came back the testy answer. "And sometimes we see too much of her. We did this morning."

"You did?" Halstead demanded, excitedly. "Where?"

"Back on our course. She came along through the fog like a thief, without signaling. If my first mate hadn't been in the bow at the moment, and able to pass the order back like lightning, that infernal steam yacht would have sunk us."

"How far away do you think the 'Victor' is now?" Tom demanded.

"At a good guess, say twelve miles ahead of you, on a pretty straight course for the Golden Gate."

"Thank you, Captain!"

"You're welcome."

As the schooner yacht's sails filled, and she bore away on her course, a dozen people on the "Panther's" deck let up a wild cheer.

"Fog or no fog, we'll catch up with the 'Victor' if we have luck," declared Captain Tom Halstead. Then his face took on a troubled look.

"I forgot," he muttered. "The captain of the 'Victor' will hear our fog horn, and – oh, confound a fog-horn on a chase like this!"

"Perhaps this is where a lawyer can help you out," smiled Mr. Jephson. "You're now a dozen miles behind the 'Victor.' Well, Captain, if you tone down your fog-horn so that it can't be heard for more than half or three quarters of a mile, it will still make noise enough to warn any innocent craft out of your path. Can't you tone down the horn?"

"Yes," answered Tom, rather dubiously, "if it will be strictly straightforward and legal."

"As a representative of the United States courts, I'll take all the responsibility," Mr. Jephson pledged himself. "I know," he added, "that I haven't, really, a legal right to authorize you to go forward without signals. That right belongs to the Navy, and to revenue cutter commanders. But I'll take the responsibility upon myself, Captain Halstead. All innocent vessels proceed under regular signals, anyway, and that does away with the risk of collision."

The young motor boat captain needed no further urging. He called Joe on deck. Together the two chums worked over the fog-horn until the hail it sent forth would not carry more than a half mile.

In the meantime, Third Officer Costigan, on the bridge, had been making use of his arithmetic. Figuring that the "Victor" was twelve miles ahead of the "Panther" and still following the same course at the same speed, the third mate had to calculate the time that would elapse before the motor yacht would be just two miles astern of its quarry.

At the same time Ab Perkins was briefly busy, at least. It fell to his share to see that the power tender was all in trim for lowering over the side. Provisions and water, a compass and a fog-horn had to be added to the usual equipment of the boat.

Firearms were stocked aboard, as well, and a greater supply of lines than the tender usually carried.

Meanwhile, of course, the "Panther" was traveling at increased speed, this speed being carefully regulated to fit in with the problems that Third Officer Costigan was so carefully solving.

For the next two hours Captain Tom Halstead strolled nervously about, Mr. Jephson, Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Ross and a few others were observed to be similarly afflicted with restlessness.

Just before noon Tom Halstead climbed the stairs to the bridge, consulting Mr. Costigan's figures carefully.

"Slow down the speed," Halstead ordered, after a few moments of listening that brought to them no sound showing another vessel to be near. "Mr. Perkins, stand by and lower the tender."

As the "Panther" slowed up there was a rush to the port rail, for the tender was to carry a goodly crew. When the little power boat lay in the water alongside, Captain Tom Halstead was the first to go over the side. He was followed by Jed Prentiss, who was to act as engineer officer of this expedition. Then came Mr. Jephson and his two deputy marshals. Next followed Joe Dawson, who did not go in the capacity of engineer. Messrs. Baldwin and Ross next followed, then two of the "Panther's" seamen, and, last of all, Ted Dyer. Quartermaster Bickson had been in the power boat when it was lowered, thus making twelve altogether in the party.

"Cast off," called Tom, sharply, while Joe, already at the steering seat, threw the wheel over to port. "Mr. Perkins, you're in command of the yacht."

"Any signals to arrange with us, Captain?" called the young first mate.

"No! I don't believe you'll see us again in a hurry," Tom replied, as the power launch darted away, "unless we come back on board the 'Victor!'"

From the yacht's rail came a subdued cheer. Halstead waved his hand to his first mate.

A few bucketfuls of water slopped over into the tender. The sea was running high for such a small craft. Those in the launch, however, thought of nothing but the goal ahead.

CHAPTER XXII
A STERN LOOMS UP IN THE FOG

Joe Dawson, at the wheel of the power tender, bent grimly over the compass.

There was little need for him to look about him, anyway, since it was not possible to see anything distinctly at a greater distance than three boat-lengths away.

Almost immediately the "Panther" dropped back out of view. The big motor yacht was now to go along only at her slow cruising speed, but the launch was to make greater haste.

Tom Halstead had taken his post well up in the bow of the rolling little craft. He was listening intently for any betraying sounds ahead in their course.

"This is hardly a big enough boat for a sea like this," grumbled Mr. Jephson, who had taken up his post close to the young captain.

"The sea is a good deal on the roll to-day," Halstead assented, briefly.

"Why, this little craft acts as though she'd turn over and dump us all in the ocean," muttered the assistant district attorney, uneasily.

"The crowd we have aboard makes her sit lower than usual in the water," Tom explained.

"Is there any real danger of our tipping over, Captain?" insisted Mr. Jephson.

"Why, it might happen, of course, sir."

"Do you think it is going to happen?" demanded Mr. Jephson, anxiously.

There are many men, brave enough elsewhere, who are cowards on a heavy sea with only a small boat between themselves and the water. Back on the "Panther" the district attorney's representative had felt no sense of danger.

"Why, I don't know whether the boat is going to heel over, or not," Tom replied. "You are right in supposing that it isn't quite a large enough craft for the job in hand, but it was the only thing we had."

"I can't swim, but I'll try to keep my nerve," grimaced Mr. Jephson.

Whatever the others thought of their chances of being pitched into the ocean, none of them said anything.

Halstead looked back, presently, to inquire:

"Mr. Prentiss, can't you deaden the noise of our exhaust still more?"

"I'm trying to," replied the young assistant engineer. "Think I'm going to succeed, too."

After a few moments the tender ran along all but noiselessly. Though the exhaust still gave forth some little sound, it was wholly likely that this reduced noise would not be heard above the machinery running on the "Victor" if the expedition in the tender should be so fortunate as to catch up with the steam yacht.

The twelve men sat huddled there in the cramped space, trying to blind their minds to the danger of capsizing in the rolling sea. For more than half an hour the tender ran ahead at nearly its best speed, ere Tom Halstead called back:

"Joe, take my signals. I think we're getting in closer – to something!"

Eagerly all bent forward to listen. After a minute or two more it seemed to them that they really could hear, faintly, the rather distant sound of the moving machinery of some steam craft. Yet this noise, none too distinct, was muffled still more by the ceaseless wash of the rolling sea, whose waves broke in white crests everywhere about them.

Halstead, whose ears were perhaps the keenest on board, listened and occasionally signaled for the launch to be veered a little either to port or starboard.

Surely, they were creeping up on something that ran by machinery, though through the curtain of white no eye could make out the form of a vessel.

Somewhere, away to starboard, a great, deep note boomed out.

"That's some big vessel, like a liner," Tom whispered to Jephson. Then, from away off to port sounded the tolling bell of a sailing vessel. Both appeared to be headed toward the "Panther" launch.

"They seem to be about half a mile apart," Halstead whispered. "The 'Victor,' I think, will pass between the two craft. While that deep whistle and solemn bell are going the people on the steam yacht are not so likely to hear us. Pass the word to Mr. Prentiss to increase speed a little, if he can do so without making more noise at the exhaust."

A little faster spurted the power tender, and a little worse became the tossing in that rolling sea. All the members of the party were in drenched clothing by this time. The water came aboard faster under this burst of speed; the two seamen began to bail it out.

"If I ever get out of this boat alive, large yachts will be small enough for me in the future," Mr. Jephson told himself, nervously.

Tom Halstead was paying no heed to the incoming water. That was Joe's affair, since Joe Dawson was handling the craft.

"Pass the word to Jed to watch for signals from me," whispered Tom Halstead, tensely, a few minutes later.

"Then you think – " began the district attorney's assistant eagerly.

"Pass the word for me, please," Tom broke in.

In the gray fog ahead some craft was moving by steam power. Those in the launch could now hear the regular thump-thump, soft though it was, of machinery ahead.

Yet, to most of the silent watchers it came as something of a shock when, out of the mist ahead, there suddenly loomed, indistinctly, the stern of a hull.

Away to starboard sounded the deep whistle of the big steamship, while over to port the bell of that sailing vessel tolled. The noise enabled Halstead to creep in more closely with less dread of being discovered too soon.

A moment's breathlessness, then "Victor – San Francisco" stood out boldly before the eyes of the people in the launch as that boat shot in by the yacht's stern.

They were taking grave chances, now, of being swamped at the very door of success. None knew this better than Tom Halstead and Joe Dawson as they jointly man?uvred to run the tender up stealthily, while Jed Prentiss, trembling inwardly, kept his hand on the lever, ready to obey the slightest signal for speed.

Then, swiftly, Tom Halstead, a rifle strapped over his back, rose in the bow. In one hand he held a line to the other end of which was attached a grappling hook.

With a practiced eye and hand he measured the distance, poising the coil for a throw. Just as the tender stole in closer he made the throw.

All hands watched breathlessly for a second or two. Then, as straight and true as a well-aimed bullet, the grappling hook fell and caught at the "Victor's" stern rail.

Not an instant did the young motor boat skipper lose. There was no time to inquire whether someone else wanted to go first. Tom Halstead seized the tautening line with both hands, and began to climb as only a sailor can go up a rope.

His head quickly appeared above the steam yacht's stern rail. Tom Halstead slipped onto the deck just in time to see two men walking slowly aft. One of them was in uniform – perhaps he was the captain of the steam yacht. But the other, in civilian dress, the young motor yacht captain knew instantly from the description of him which he had heard.

"Frank Rollings, the absconding cashier!" flashed through Tom's mind.

CHAPTER XXIII
ROLLINGS'S LAST RUSE

Both approaching men were regarding the deck, talking in earnest tones as they came astern.

"If we should pass out of this fog," Rollings was saying, "and if the 'Panther' should prove to be close to us – "

Just at this point the speaker stopped. He panted, then staggered back, clutching at his uniformed companion.

In almost the same instant both caught sight of lone Tom Halstead.

Though not quite alone, either, for Tom had succeeded in unlimbering his rifle, and both strangers now found themselves staring down into the muzzle.

"Don't stir, please!" mocked Tom Halstead, coolly.

"How in the world did he get on board?" faltered Rollings, hoarsely, his face ashen with terror.

The uniformed man with him saw the grappling hook resting over the stern rail, and did not need to ask.

At this instant Tom Halstead felt himself being pushed from behind, and took a step forward. Then Ted Dyer bounded onto deck beside him, bringing another rifle into play.

"They're boarding us!" gasped Rollings, in the voice of a man who felt himself dying from fright.

The uniformed man with him did not move; neither did he show any signs of fear, though he was facing the business ends of two rifles.

Joe Dawson was on deck, now. Joe turned long enough to toss down a light line. It came up again, carrying the hooks of a boarding-ladder. Joe dropped this into place, then, with a quiet grin, turned to inspect the scene on deck.

Suddenly the man in uniform turned and ran, defying possible shots.

"Turn out the whole crew!" he bawled. "A posse is coming on board. Stand by to fight!"

"Shall I drop the fellow?" quivered Ted.

"No," came Halstead's quick answer. Then, as Frank Rollings summoned the strength to wheel about as if to bolt, Halstead shouted, warningly:

"Rollings, if you try to move, you won't get three steps away!"

At this instant one of the United States deputy marshals came up over the rail.

"Officer," called Tom, "there's the man you've cruised so far to arrest."

Though he had a rifle strapped over his back, the marshal drew his revolver as he ran forward.

"Frank Rollings, you're a United States prisoner. Put up your hands!"

With a moan that was half a scream, Rollings, instead, sank to the deck in a huddled heap.

"A man with no more nerve than you have should not try to loot a bank," growled the officer, as he snapped handcuffs onto the wrists of the seemingly palsied wretch.

The other deputy was on board, by now, and other members of the boarding party were coming up fast. Mr. Jephson was among the foremost of them.

"Come forward to the bridge," he called, now taking charge. "We'll take command of this whole craft. Deputy, make it your whole business to prevent your prisoner from getting away. Hold on to him, but come forward with us."

The same uniformed, bearded man appeared suddenly around the pilot house as the party swept forward along the port side of the yacht. Rollings, his knees doubling under him, had to be dragged.

The uniformed man suddenly raised a rifle, shouting:

"Stand by, men! We'll put a stop to this nonsense!"

"Drop that gun, or we'll open fire on you!" shouted Mr. Jephson, sternly.

The boarding party moved swiftly forward. Behind the captain stood a mate and four or five seamen, all looking irresolute. Of a sudden the mate wheeled, throwing a rifle over the rail at starboard. The seamen with him instantly followed his example.

Even the bearded captain had lowered the muzzle of his rifle. It is easier to be brave on the side of the law than against it.

"Put that captain in irons," Mr. Jephson ordered the marshal who had no prisoner to cumber him.

Sullenly, the captain of the "Victor" submitted to being handcuffed.

"All of the rest of the officers and crew muster up in the bow," called Mr. Jephson. "Captain Halstead, I call upon you to take command of this yacht for the present. The quartermaster of this craft may remain in the wheel house if he'll take orders straight."

"Aye, aye, sir," the quartermaster called, briefly, through one of the lowered windows of the pilot house.

Tom Halstead, still carrying his rifle and holding it ready, ran up to the bridge.

Stepping over to the signaling apparatus, Halstead rang for speed enough to furnish bare headway.

"Quartermaster," the new commander of the "Victor" called down through the wheel house speaking-tube, "you'll keep to the same course you've been following, and sound the fog whistle every thirty seconds."

"Captain," called Mr. Baldwin, a few moments later, "can you put one of your party up there on the bridge? We have yet other duties to perform here."

"Take the bridge, Mr. Prentiss," called Tom, for he understood instantly what other work was likely to be on hand, and he knew that Joe Dawson would want a hand in it.

Aft of the captain's quarters there was a main deck house. Into this cabin Rollings and the captain of the steam yacht were taken. Mr. Jephson was now talking to the two prisoners as solemnly as though holding actual court.

"Do you think the 'Panther' will overtake us here, out on the high seas, Captain?" questioned Mr. Baldwin, just as they entered this cabin. "That is, will he recognize the 'Victor's' fog-whistle?"

"He'll make a good guess at it, I think," laughed Halstead. "I've just directed Mr. Prentiss, in ten minutes more, to begin sounding whole bunches of blasts in quick succession. Ab will be clever enough to guess that it is our crowd celebrating a capture."

"Now, then, Rollings," declared Mr. Jephson, sternly, "it is time for you to tell us where the money stolen from the Sheepmen's Bank is hidden aboard this craft?"

"You won't find five hundred dollars on board," replied the cashier, with a ghastly smile.

"My man, it may save you some years on the sentence that is coming to you if you tell us promptly where to find the stolen money," warned the United States assistant district attorney, sternly.

"I've said all I'm going to say," returned Rollings, sullenly.

"Captain Blake," asked Jephson, turning toward the bearded one, "you also have much to answer for in the courts. Do you desire to win any leniency by telling us, now, what you can?"

"All I've anything to do with here," retorted Captain Blake, "is the running of this yacht. That work you've taken from me. So I've nothing to do, and nothing to say."

Mr. Jephson, however, continued to question first one prisoner, then the other, though in vain, until Mr. Baldwin broke in:

"Jephson, you can't make these fellows talk. They're afraid they'd only run their necks further into the noose of the law. Besides, this rascal, Rollings, hopes that, if you can't find the money, he'll win complete pardon in the matter by restoring most of it later on. It'll save a good deal of time, I imagine, if you place both these fellows under close guard by one of your deputies, then lead us in a search through this craft."

By this time Jed Prentiss, following orders, had begun to turn loose on the fog-horn, sounding it so rapidly that Ab Perkins, somewhere behind in the mist with the "Panther," must be able to guess what had happened.

One of the deputies now guarded Rollings and Captain Blake, while the other had gone below to the engine room. There the engineer's crew had agreed to serve faithfully under the new command, but the deputy was there to see to it that they didn't change their minds. Quartermaster Bickson and one of his seamen had driven the crew of the "Victor" to the forecastle, and mounted guard over them.

The searchers, comprising Mr. Jephson, Mr. Baldwin and the latter's captain, Halstead, were joined by Mr. Ross, Joe Dawson and Ted Dyer.

"There are enough of us here," laughed Mr. Baldwin, "to turn this craft inside out in another half hour."

First of all, Frank Rollings's own quarters were searched, as a matter of course. It had been learned, since coming aboard, that the absconding cashier was now the owner of the "Victor," having bought her secretly three days before his flight.

There was no safe in the owner's cabin. The desk stood wide-open, with hardly a scrap of paper in it. The mattress was yanked from the bed, ripped and thoroughly searched, but not a trace of the stolen money was found. The pillows were served in the same fashion, with no better results. Other nooks and corners of the cabin were explored, without success. Nor were any better results achieved in the captain's cabin.

Cabin, dining room and state-rooms below were explored. By this time the searchers had broken up into smaller parties. The more they searched the more dispirited did the hunters become.

"We're not going to find the missing money with ease," announced Mr. Jephson, when he had rounded up all his searching force on deck.

"We've looked in about every possible place except the forecastle, the water butts and the coal bunkers," declared Jason Ross, disgustedly.

"The money isn't likely to be in any of those places," declared Mr. Jephson, shaking his head. "Hullo, what's that racket?"

Off in the fog a horn was sounding frantically.

Tom Halstead laughed.

"You ought to know that tune, Mr. Jephson. You've heard it days enough. That's the 'Panther' coming up with us, with Ab Perkins in command. He understood our signal, as I thought he would. He'll be hailing us within two minutes."

"But that won't be finding the money," broke in Joseph Baldwin, impatiently.



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