Harrie Hancock.

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



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Part of the time the "Victor" sounded its fog-horn with pauses longer than the rules of the sea permitted in so deep a fog. It looked as though those aboard the steam yacht were willing to leave it to the "Panther" to warn away other craft from them both. However, thus far in the day, no other vessel had sounded through the fog. Apparently, these two craft had all of this part of the sea to themselves.

In the silence and under the white pall even the interest of the chase could not prevent the time from passing with deadly monotony for Ab Perkins. Quite plainly it impressed also the others that way, for the cabin passengers, two or three at a time, disappeared below. Messrs. Baldwin and Ross remained on deck more than any of the cabin party, though even they went inside, restlessly, every now and then.

At last the deck was bare, save for Ab Perkins and the bow watch. In the pilot house stood the quartermaster and his seaman helper. On the bridge Mr. Costigan paced back and forth, glad that the fog was not too thick for him to make out the first officer forward.

One of Ab's reasons for being well up forward was that he might more readily hear the sound of fog-horn or of bell from any other vessel hidden away in this white gloom.

It was a long while before he heard anything, but at last it came:

"Help! Don't run me down!"

The voice came from low down upon the water, somewhat ahead and barely to port.

Quick as a flash the bow watch turned to see if the first officer and the bridge watch had heard. Both Perkins and Costigan had sprung to see what might come to them out of the fog.

"Careful!" warned Ab, in a steady voice. "Take the sound of my voice for your guide. I'm at the port rail, moving toward you."

Suddenly, out of the fog, there came into view, near at hand, a ship's yawl. It contained a single man, dark, rather tall and about thirty years of age. He was dressed carelessly, yet had much the air of a gentleman. His clothing seemed to be soaked with moisture, as though he had been long exposed to the elements. With his back to the bow of the yawl, the man turned to glance over his shoulder as he handled a pair of oars.

"Don't run me down!" shouted the stranger. "Stop and take me aboard in heaven's name."

Ab Perkins had already swiftly caught up a coil of rope, which he deftly poised for a clean throw.

"We stop for nothing – mark that!" called First Officer Perkins, firmly. "Catch this rope, or we've got to leave you behind!"

The yawl was drifting by, and barely thirty feet from the motor yacht's hull, when Ab made the throw. He was a master at such feats. The coil unspread as it went whirling through the air, and a length lay across the yawl.

"Get it! Grab it!" panted sympathetic Ab.

The stranger just managed the feat, leaping up and holding on as though for dear life, while the yawl, checked in its headway, was swung around. Desperately the stranger bent down, taking a hitch with the rope.

The bow watch had sprung to help Ab make fast the inside end of the line.

"There you've got it," called Ab, cheeringly. As the "Panther" was going but eight miles an hour the stranger was able, without risk, to haul the small boat in alongside.

"Can you climb?" Ab called down, in a low voice.

"I – I think so."

"Only a few feet needed, then we can reach your arm-pits," Ab called, encouragingly.

It was not long ere young Perkins and the bow watch were able to help the stranger aboard.

The young first officer's first thought, on seeing the yawl sweep into view, was that a trick had been attempted by the enemy, for the "Victor" had recently slipped ahead. But Ab's first glimpse at the stern of the yawl showed the name, painted in goodly black letters, "S. S. Dolbear." In the bottom of the yawl lay two life preservers bearing the same name.

"How on earth do you come to be away out here at sea, in a small boat?" demanded Ab of the stranger.

"I was a freight clerk aboard the liner 'Dolbear,' bound from Auckland, New Zealand, to San Francisco," replied the rescued one.

"What happened to the 'Dolbear'?"

"Foundered, five days ago. Life boats crowded, so that the last three of us had to take to the yawl. We tried to keep up with the other boats, but fell behind the first night. Next morning we were alone on the ocean. After two days one man in our party became crazed and jumped over into the sea. Last night the other man with me did the same. Oh, it was a gruesome experience, I assure you."

"It must have been," returned Ab Perkins, sympathetically.

"Sir, that yawl is bumping alongside," broke in the bow watch.

"Cut her loose, then, and let her drift," ordered Ab. "We can't be encumbered with any useless lumber. Then return to your watch. Mr. Costigan, warn the engine room to increase our speed as much as you find necessary. We can't let the 'Victor' go on getting ahead of us. Run right up parallel again."

"Yes, sir," from the third officer.

"You're hungry, I suppose," suggested Ab, looking at the stranger. "I'll pass word for our second stew – "

"I guess I shall be hungry when I get it fully through my head that I'm safe," laughed the rescued one. "Just at present I'd rather go below and warm myself."

Ab blew his mate's whistle for the third seaman of the watch.

"My man," he directed, "take this man down to the motor room. Tell Mr. Randolph it will be all right for Mr. – "

"Cragthorpe is my name," supplied the stranger.

"Tell Mr. Randolph it will be all right for Mr. Cragthorpe to dry himself off in the engine room," continued First Officer Perkins. "When you get hungry, come up on deck. Mr. Costigan will see that you're fed if I'm not here."

The rescued one, after offering profuse thanks, was led below by the seaman guide.

"Mr. Costigan, what do you know about the 'Dolbear'?" called up Ab, softly.

"She belongs to the New Zealand line, and is due in 'Frisco about this present time," replied the third officer from the bridge.

"Then it's all right, as far as Cragthorpe goes?"

"I think so, sir."

"All I wanted," Ab finished, "was to be easy in my mind that the stranger didn't come from the 'Victor.' Don't let us get at all astern again, Mr. Costigan."

"I won't, sir."

In the meantime Jeff Randolph, sitting out through a long and lonely watch in the engine room, was not sorry to see company coming his way.

For some time they chatted together. Cragthorpe seemed greatly interested in finding such young officers aboard the motor yacht. He asked many questions about the Motor Boat Club.

At last Jeff Randolph rose, excusing himself and stepping just outside the engine room door, though lingering near enough to hear a signal from the bridge, if one came. The young assistant engineer wanted to stretch his legs after sitting a long time by the motors. No sooner was the motor boat boy out of sight than the stranger rose swiftly. Snatching up a wrench, he prowled about the motors as though looking for something.

At last he evidently discovered what he wanted. Instantly he laid the wrench on a bolt-head.

CHAPTER XIV
MR. CRAGTHORPE IS MORE THAN TROUBLESOME

Luckily, at that moment, the Florida boy turned about, glancing into the engine room.

What he saw made Jeff stare, then gasp. Both operations were over in the space of a second.

"Here, you infernal rascal!" shouted Jeff. "Stop it!"

Nor did he content himself with that startled roar. The Florida boy carried his fighting pluck with him at all times.

Though Cragthorpe was about half as large again as the young assistant engineer, Randolph made a direct spring for him.

Cragthorpe didn't have time to complete his mischief to the engine just then.

Instead, he swung around, aiming the wrench at Jeff's head. But young Randolph halted, instantly picked up another wrench, and sent it whizzing.

Boiling with wrath, the Florida boy didn't aim particularly. He didn't care where his wrench landed, provided that it served the purpose.

The flying missile struck hard against the knuckles of Cragthorpe's right hand, forcing him to let his own weapon drop.

Then Jeff fairly flew at the larger stranger.

"You won't play any tricks while I'm here on watch," panted Jeff Randolph, as he clinched with his adversary. So impetuous was the Florida boy's assault that he carried Cragthorpe down to the floor.

There, locked in each other's arms, they rolled and fought. The pit in which the motors stood was railed off, preventing their fighting their way into the moving machinery.

Both combatants displayed a good deal of staying power. For the first sixty seconds they fought without either seeming to gain any advantage. It was a grim, lonely duel, in which neither could accept less than complete victory.

No word was spoken. Neither cared to waste breath in speech. Jeff fought for a strangle hold as his best chance. Cragthorpe tried to get in a blow between the boy's eyes.

Once Randolph got briefly on top, but the stranger rolled over on him, and then the fighting went on more furiously than ever.

However, the stranger's superior weight and a considerable advantage in muscle soon told over the Florida boy's clear, savage grit. Though he would not yield an inch, Jeff had to admit to himself that he could not hope to hold out much longer.

After another sixty seconds of it, during which the Florida boy was breathing sorely, Cragthorpe managed to free one hand. Raising the clenched fist with the swiftness of lightning, he brought that fist down, aiming the blow to land on Jeff's forehead just above his eyes.

The blow fell, though glancingly. Now there came a quick step behind the stranger.

With a brutal oath, Cragthorpe sprang up to confront the burning glance of Captain Tom Halstead.

Halstead had just come on deck again, after his nap. Learning from Ab about the stranger, and quick to suspect, under such circumstances, the young motor boat skipper had hastened below.

"Caught you, you sneak, didn't I?" jeered Tom, harshly, dodging back and shedding his deck ulster with almost a single motion.

Then the young captain of the "Panther" threw himself on guard. Not an instant too soon, for Cragthorpe had sprung forward to grapple with him.

The two fists of the young skipper, moving with lightning-like rapidity, caused Cragthorpe to retreat, throwing up his own hands as soon as he saw it was to be a game of fisticuffs.

As Tom crouched low, Cragthorpe attempted to leap in over his guard. It was good tactics for one three inches taller. Yet Halstead was no novice in boxing. He threw up his left on guard, holding back his assailant, then tried to cut under and up with his right. He landed, though not with much force, against Cragthorpe's ribs. It was enough to drive the older combatant back until he could alter his guard.

In the meantime, Jeff lay on the floor, further forward in the engine room. The Florida boy had not wholly lost consciousness, but he was half-dazed, seeking to remember what had happened.

Now, at it again went Halstead and his enemy, each sparring cautiously, each alternately retreating or forcing the other all around the open part of the engine room.

Once Cragthorpe caught Tom near the railing, and let drive hard with both fists, seeking to push the young skipper over the railing and in among the moving machinery.

But Tom dodged artfully as he parried and struck back, and in an instant more was away from his perilous position.

Not once did the young skipper think of calling upon Cragthorpe to quit it and surrender. Halstead knew the fellow was there for too serious business to allow himself to be talked to a standstill.

At last, as Cragthorpe retreated past him, almost stepping on the young assistant engineer's face, Jeff rallied his senses enough to recall what had happened.

For a few moments Tom Halstead cleverly fought his opponent forward, putting up effective parries and raining in his blows so fast that Cragthorpe had all he could do to save himself from being floored.

In those few moments Jeff managed to crawl past both, and down toward the engine room door.

The tide of battle turned, now, briefly at least. Cragthorpe, stung to greater fury by a glancing blow on the end of his nose, hurled himself into the fray with so much added energy that Halstead was compelled to give ground.

"Jeff, can you understand me!" panted Tom, as he retreated, an inch at a time, keeping his fists moving fast.

"Y-yes," stammered the Florida boy, still a bit dazed.

"Then pass the word for help, like a flash!"

But Jeff lingered by the doorway, holding to the frame for support. Only one thing was plain in the Florida boy's mind – that running away wasn't in his line.

"A-a-h!" vented Cragthorpe, gleefully. He had suddenly closed in quickly on Halstead, aiming a blow that it seemed must send the young captain to the floor senseless.

And so it would have done – only Tom wasn't there. He ducked low, passing under Cragthorpe's extended arm, and came up behind him, forcing the stranger to wheel about.

That left the rascal with his back turned to the Florida boy.

Jeff's mind was becoming a bit clearer every instant. Now he left the doorway, gliding forward.

Tom saw Jeff's new move, and half-guessed the meaning of it. By clever sparring the young skipper held Cragthorpe just where he stood, until —

Jeff leaped upon the big stranger from behind. He wound his arms around Cragthorpe's throat, then held on with all the strength he could summon.

Another oath escaped the wretch's lips. It was stopped by Halstead's right fist landing across his mouth.

"This is a gentleman's boat – no profanity allowed," mocked Tom, sending in another blow that struck his man in the region of the belt, causing him to double up in torment.

Two more blows Tom drove in. Cragthorpe sank to the floor.

"Let go of him, Jeff. I can handle him," ordered Captain Tom. "Get to the speaking tube and direct Mr. Costigan to send the extra deckhand down here on the jump."

Cragthorpe lay on the floor. The fight was not by any means driven out of him, but the wind was, for the moment, at least. Then steps were heard. Mr. Costigan himself came in, followed by the extra deck-hand, for Ab had relieved the third mate on the bridge.

"So that's what our new gentleman has been doing, is it, sir?" demanded Mr. Costigan, his Irish quickness enabling him to guess much at the first glance.

"Have you handcuffs with you, Mr. Costigan?" asked Tom.

"I have, sir."

"Then put them on this fellow."

With a right good will Mr. Costigan and the sailor rolled Cragthorpe over, not very gently at that, and forced his wrists together, manacling the wretch. Then they dragged him to his feet.

"Jupiter!" muttered Tom, staring hard. "I've seen this fellow somewhere before. And now I have it! By Jove, he's the gallant fellow I had to knock from the observation platform on the Overland Mail!"

"You needn't be quite so glad. We haven't quite evened our account yet," snarled the fellow. "But I'm not the man you think I am."

"Do you deny you're the fellow I struck on the observation platform of a car of the Overland Mail the other day?" Tom Halstead snorted.

"I can't be. I've just come from Auckland," leered the fellow.

"We picked him up from a small boat that bore the name of the liner, 'Dolbear,'" interjected Mr. Costigan. "The 'Dolbear' is due about now from Auckland."

"Then the boat was painted, as to her name, on board the 'Victor,'" said Tom. "I understand we ran behind her a bit at one time this afternoon."

"Yes, sir."

"It's from the 'Victor' this fellow came, then, boat and all," declared Captain Halstead, positively. "Now, bring the fellow up on deck and let everyone have a look at him."

As it was time to call the new watch up, anyway, this was now done. Cragthorpe tried to make a fight against being taken to the deck, but, manacled as he was, he could put up no effective resistance.

The cabin passengers, too, were called. Tom and Jeff stated the case against the fellow.

"Of course you're justified in locking this man up in the brig, if there is one aboard," observed Mr. Jephson.

"Yes; there's a brig on board," Tom nodded, "and that's where a man goes after trying to tamper with our engines on a chase like this."

The "brig" is a ship's prison. On the "Panther" it was a small room, not more than five by seven feet, with two berths and two stools in it. The door was an iron grating. Even on a yacht a brig is often needed, as a place of confinement for a drunken or crazy sailor.

Dick Davis ascended to the bridge to stand the new watch.

"Take the fellow to the brig, Mr. Costigan, and see that he's securely locked in. Collins, see that the man gets his meals three times a day."

"I'll make you mighty sorry for this, you boy skipper!" growled Cragthorpe, as he was led away.

"That's the fellow I knocked from the train, isn't it, Joe?" demanded Halstead, turning to his chum.

"He's not dressed as well, and he has a few days' growth of beard on his face, but I'm positive he's the same fellow," answered Joe Dawson, quietly.

CHAPTER XV
THE MIDNIGHT ALARM

"Still the sound of machinery," muttered Dick Davis, pacing the bridge just before dark. "I imagine the skipper of that other craft wishes he could have put a mute on his engines."

"He has even taken to blowing his fog-horn again," replied young Halstead. "It's just sheer luck that he hasn't been run down by some vessel coming from the opposite direction."

"I guess our fog-horn has protected him," suggested Dick. "We may have passed some other craft whose fog-horns didn't carry sound as far as ours. Hearing our fog-horn, such vessels might have given us such a wide berth that the 'Victor' naturally escaped collision."

It was about eight o'clock, when Tom and Joe were finishing the evening meal in the captain's cabin, that a sudden sharp blast came through the bridge speaking tube.

"Right here at the other end, Mr. Davis," Captain Tom answered.

"I think you'll be interested in coming to the bridge, sir. The fog is lightening a bit, and I can see a couple of stars overhead."

"Whew! That's good news! Do you still hear the 'Victor's' machinery?"

"Yes; I've been keeping very close to her."

Halstead quickly told the news to Joe Dawson. Both reached for their ulsters, then ran out on deck. Tom's first discovery was that he could hear, distinctly, the subdued clank-clank made by the invisible steam yacht.

Yes; the fog was surely lifting. Overhead, especially, things were clearing.

"We seem to be running out at the edge of the fog-bank, Mr. Davis," was the young captain's greeting, as he climbed to the bridge, followed by the young chief engineer.

For five minutes or more Tom Halstead stood there, watching the fog.

"I'm sure enough of the news, now, to go aft and tell Mr. Baldwin," he declared, finally.

Tom found all the cabin passengers at table in the deck dining saloon, aft of the owner's quarters. They were not more than two-thirds through the meal, but the table became instantly deserted.

Twenty minutes later the watchers at the port rail made out, briefly, a part of the hull of the "Victor." The two craft were but little more than two hundred yards apart.

Ten minutes later both craft passed almost completely out of the fog. A cheer went up from the deck of the "Panther." There was no answer from the pursued craft.

Running up to the bridge, and snatching up a megaphone, Joseph Baldwin bawled lustily:

"We're still with you, you pirates! You can't shake us!"

Still no sound of human voice came from the steam yacht. The answer was of another sort. Great clouds of smoke began to pour from the "Victor's" funnel.

"They're going to try a spurt," chuckled Halstead, gleefully. "Well, let 'em. We don't even have to get up more steam for a spurt. All we have to do is to feed in the gasoline quicker."

Within five minutes the "Victor" was racing along at more than twenty miles an hour. On board the "Panther," however, Joe Dawson did not even feel it necessary to go below to look at the motors. Jed Prentiss was down there in the engine room, and Jed was a boy who knew what he was doing. Second Officer Davis gave the speed orders from the bridge; Jed carried out the orders. The "Panther," now widening the interval to four hundred yards in this clearer atmosphere, ran along parallel with the steam yacht.

"They may fool us yet," chuckled Halstead, turning around to the owner. "But they'll have to do it with something better than speed."

"If they get away from you, Captain Halstead," replied the owner, his face beaming, "I promise, in advance, to forgive you. It won't be your fault. Lord, how you've hung to them! What a report I shall have to send Delavan on the officers he sent me!"

Then, suddenly, Halstead thought of the prisoner down in the brig.

"Pass the word for Second Steward Collins," he directed, and that yacht's servant soon reported.

"You didn't forget to feed the prisoner, Collins?"

"Oh, no, sir," and the steward rattled off the names of the dishes that had been supplied the man in the brig.

"He seems to have fed nearly as well as we did," laughed Skipper Tom. "Well, that's right; just because we lock a fellow up is no reason why we should starve him. The prisoner had a good appetite?"



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