Harrie Hancock.

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



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"Excellent, sir."

"He's locked in tightly?"

"Yes, sir."

Ten minutes later Captain Halstead took the trouble to go below to the brig.

It was somewhat stuffy down there, but that couldn't be helped.

From the center of the ceiling a single incandescent lamp supplied the illumination of the room.

As Tom Halstead peered in through the grating he saw Cragthorpe seated on a stool in the far corner.

Tom did not speak. The fellow glared at him, then looked away.

"The door is locked tightly, all right," murmured Captain Halstead to himself, after rattling the bars and examining the lock.

No sooner had he turned away, and stepped out of sight, than Cragthorpe rose like a caged tiger. A leer expressive of the utmost cruelty parted his teeth. He shook his fist menacingly after the departing young skipper. He was able to do that much, for Mr. Costigan, following the usual course in such cases, had removed the handcuffs after depositing the prisoner in the brig.

"Perhaps you think I'm here, simply awaiting your pleasure, my young salt water cub!" snarled Cragthorpe to himself.

Tom Halstead, however, gave the fellow little further thought. He was too happy over the lifting of the fog. It is possible for two craft of the size of these to run all day within two hundred yards of each other through a fog, judging each other's positions only by sounds. The slow speed of fog-time makes this possible. Yet it requires splendidly expert seamanship on both craft. The ordeal is bound to be wearing on the deck and watch officers. Tom and his three mates felt utterly tired after their experience, but the passing out of the belt of the fog had brought huge relief to them.

Up to ten o'clock that evening the "Victor" maintained her fast speed. The air was now thoroughly clear in every direction. Tom could have kept the other craft in sight even had the steam yacht shown no lights. But the commander of the "Victor" had all his running lights going.

"You'll call us, if anything whatever happens that's worth our knowing, won't you, Captain?" asked Joseph Baldwin, joining the young sailing master, who stood close to the bridge steps on the port side.

"Yes, sir. Certainly."

"All of us chaps in the cabin are going to turn in soon," continued Mr. Baldwin, with a slight yawn. "We're fagged, both from the lack of sleep and the suspense. Now, however, our minds are easier. Yonder is the boat that carries Frank Rollings and the millions he stole from the bank. Our fuel will last as long as theirs will. We can follow as far as they can go."

"Wouldn't it be a jarring surprise if it turned out that we've been following a dummy, Mr. Baldwin?" Halstead asked. "What if we follow for days and days, yet, and then learn that neither Rollings nor his plunder is on board?"

Joseph Baldwin started, then retorted:

"Yes; but it won't happen, Captain. In the first place, the detectives of the Bankers' Association found out positively that Rollings had gone aboard, and that the yacht had then got under way at once.

The captain of that boat was expecting Rollings – was prepared for him – and has the defaulter on board at this moment."

"I hope so, sir, for I'm satisfied that we're yet going to lay alongside of that craft and search her."

"Of course we are. Good night, Captain."

"Good night, sir. I'm going to turn in, myself, for a while."

Half an hour later the young skipper was sound asleep. So, for that matter, were all the officers and crew who were not on duty.

Sky and surrounding atmosphere continued clear through the rest of Dick Davis's watch on the bridge. That young second mate was pacing back and forth contentedly. The two yachts, now making about a fourteen-mile speed, were close together, and Davis had little to watch save the general handling of the boat.

Out of a hatchway forward a head was cautiously thrust up. Davis did not happen to see that head. There was no reason why he should be looking for it.

The owner of that head saw Davis turn and pace over to starboard. Swiftly, and silently, the man sprang out of the hatchway, after observing that the quartermaster's head was bent over the compass. The sailor in the wheel house with the quartermaster was not looking in Davis's direction at the moment.

So the prowler gained the port side of the deck-house, and stole aft without hindrance. It was Cragthorpe, the late prisoner in the brig. Now, besides being free, he carried a five-gallon can of gasoline that he had found below deck.

Away back to the after deck he ran, crouching low. There he halted, staring about him. An evil smile flickered over his lips. With little conscience, he was also without fear for himself.

An instant later he began sprinkling gasoline about him. The task was quickly accomplished. He drew out a box of blazer matches, striking one of them and tossing it down where a pool of gasoline lay.

There was a flare, in a second, but Cragthorpe had vanished almost as quickly as the flare appeared.

Dick Davis caught a glimpse of the glow.

"Quartermaster, send your man aft to investigate a blaze there. Let him run!"

The blaze, however, was spreading and mounting so fast that the alert young second officer did not have to pause to guess.

"Fire!" shouted the sailor, running forward. But Dick Davis had already sprung to the alarm bells.

CHAPTER XVI
THE FIRE DRILL IN EARNEST

The sailor's cry of "Fire," the most dreaded that can rise at sea, disturbed Captain Tom Halstead's sound rest. He half awoke.

Then it sounded again:

"Fire!"

In prompt confirmation of the cry, the electric bell began ringing in his room. Directly over it glowed an electric light in a red bulb – the fire signal to the cabin.

Tom Halstead fairly leaped from his bed. He got on all the clothing needed with the speed of a fireman.

Dick Davis's hand had come, first, to the bell rousing the watch below. He rang that first, but Halstead's bell immediately afterward.

As Halstead burst open the door of his cabin the red glow was in his face.

Down in the mates' and crew's quarters the fire-bell was ringing steadily. Officers and men came tumbling up the stairs.

"Stand by the handling of the ship, Mr. Davis!" roared the young captain from the deck. "I'll have men enough for the fighting of the fire."

As the first heads showed from below, Halstead roared:

"Mr. Perkins, the starboard hose. Mr. Costigan, the port! Two men each and yourselves to a hose. The rest report to me."

The hose lay in butts from which they were lifted and fastened to the deck hydrants. While one man was securing each hose to a hydrant, a mate and another sailor ran aft with the line along either rail.

"The rest of you get fire axes," shouted Captain Halstead. "Jump up onto the bridge and go aft over the deck-house. Mr. Davis, instruct Mr. Prentiss to connect the pump in the engine room. Tell him to give us instant pressure."

Though he had heard the fire call, Jed was too dependable to allow either curiosity or fear to take him from his post. When the order came, through the speaking tube, young Prentiss was standing by, ready to connect the pump with one of the motors.

Through the two lengths of hose the water leaped almost instantly.

Captain Tom had run with his axe-men over the deck-house.

He found the after deck ablaze, and also the sides of the deck-house aft.

How it had all happened the young sailing master did not trouble himself to ask, at first. It was more than enough for him to know that there was a fire aboard, and to know where it was located.

"Get up close, Mr. Perkins and Mr. Costigan!" he shouted, from the top of the deck-house. "Let the flames have the water at full, direct pressure. Steady, now! Throw in every drop of water where it will hit the hottest, highest flames."

Seldom had fire-drill at sea been more promptly or intelligently carried out. It was fortunate, at the very outset, that the blaze had started so near the time for the changing of the watches. The men were rested and ready for prompt rising.

The slight rolling of the boat carried gasoline along the decks, bearing the flames with it. A pitching at the bow, slight though it was, brought these running streams of flame down upon the crews with the hose. They had to depress the nozzles almost at their feet, in order to assure themselves of safe standing room.

"Give me one of those axes," shouted Halstead, taking the implement from a sailor. "Now, two of you jump down aft with me on the deck. Never mind the fire! Remember, we've got to fight it for our lives anyway!"

Down into the clearest spot he could find young Halstead leaped. Ab Perkins, seeing him, turned the stream full on the blazing deck around the young sailing master. That was all that saved Halstead from perishing. The water kept the flames down so that he was able to lay about him, loosening several of the deck planks.

One of the sailors had landed close beside the young skipper. He, too, laid about him. The second seaman, however, ran over to the other side of the deck-house, looking for some spot where he might work protected by the other hose.

The hoarse shouting of orders, the running of feet overhead and the sharp, sinister hiss of water coming in contact with fire, all combined to arouse the owner of the imperiled yacht.

Joseph Baldwin sprang from his bed, dashed aside the starboard curtains, and caught a reflection of the glow.

"Fire!" he gasped, turning pale. "Halstead and his comrades surely have enough to handle this time."

Then, with frenzied haste, the owner fell to pulling on his clothes. He, too, broke some of his own records in the matter of dressing. In a very few moments he was outside, and climbing the bridge steps. Then he dashed aft.

The breeze that was blowing was unfavorable to the fire fighters. The factors in their favor, however, were the prompt discovery of the trouble and the thinness with which the gasoline was spread.

The blaze was at its worst in the middle of the after deck. It was the realization of this fact that had caused young Captain Halstead to take the desperate leap and make the bold effort that now stood to his credit.

"That boy has no sense of fear," cried Mr. Baldwin to himself.

As a matter of fact, Halstead had escaped unscorched. His promptness, good judgment, and the protecting streams from the hose had saved him from disastrous consequences that might be expected to follow such a hazardous act.

By now the hosemen were able to get far enough aft to wet down the blazing parts of the wall of the after deck-house.

Within five minutes from the time it started the blaze was brought down to where it required only persistent hosing to drown it completely.

From time to time a sudden gust of the light breeze fanned up the fire briefly at some point, but the fire fighters no longer feared for their safety.

Mr. Ross and Dr. Gray had been aroused by the sounds of fire-fighting; the others in the cabin staterooms slept on, for Dick Davis had wisely refrained from touching the button that would have sounded the heavy gong in the main cabin.

"How could the thing have started!" asked Mr. Ross, bewilderedly.

"It was set, by someone," replied Tom Halstead, joining Mr. Baldwin and the latter's friends. "It was a gasoline blaze, pure and simple."

"Who could have – " began Dr. Gray.

"I saw myself that the prisoner was safely locked in," broke in the young skipper. "Yet he's the only one I could suspect."

Almost at a run Halstead started forward, followed by Ab Perkins.

Down below, these two investigators found the door of the brig open. The lock had been picked. On the floor of the brig Tom found what was left of a steel table fork such as the crew used.

"He forced the tines and shank out of the handle, and worked it over into a pick-lock," muttered the young skipper. "I respect the fellow's ingenuity, if nothing else."

But where was Cragthorpe himself? Two searching parties, one under Ab and the other commanded by Third Officer Costigan, searched until Dick Davis, still on the bridge past his hour, broke in with:

"Why, Captain, you can guess what became of the fellow? When our blaze was under way the 'Victor' turned and steamed nearer to us. The rascal jumped overboard, of course, swam back and was picked up. It must have been all part of a plan. At any rate, when the watch officer on the steam yacht saw the blaze on board this craft, he knew well enough what it meant, and stood by to rescue the Cragthorpe fellow."

"That's what has happened to him," nodded Mr. Baldwin. "He's safe again with the other rascals."

So the searching parties were recalled, the new watch was set, and quiet at last settled down over the yacht.

It was two o'clock in the morning when Tom Halstead again sought his rest. That fire had stirred him up so that he did not at once feel drowsy. A fire at sea, on a gasoline motor yacht, is a trebly serious affair. If the flames ever get close to the gasoline supply the blaze is almost certain to wind up abruptly in a fearful, devastating explosion.

"I've had some lively times at sea, before this," the young skipper muttered, "but this voyage has already gone ahead of anything I've ever had happen at sea. I hope we're through with visitors from the 'Victor.'"

At last he closed his eyes and slept, for Halstead was not a highly nervous youngster. When he was free from the demands of duty, and physically tired, he was not usually long in finding his rest.

Even in his sleep the lad did not lie quietly. He began to toss and thrash, dreaming that he was fighting it out again with Cragthorpe. It was like a nightmare, for, in his dream, the young captain of the "Panther" felt himself to be getting the worst of the struggle.

Then, all of a sudden, Tom Halstead awoke, roused by a sensation of choking. A man knelt over him in his bed. Halstead's hands were lashed, while a rope was noosed about his neck.

On the front wall of the cabin was a ship's clock. A shaded light burned near the dial of the clock, giving illumination to enable one to read the clock's dial from the bed.

That light also showed Tom the face and figure of his present oppressor – Cragthorpe, in the flesh!

"Now, we're going to have a chance to talk over the other side of this question!" chuckled the wretch, in Tom's ear. "I remained aboard – risked everything – in order to have this precious meeting. Just us two here – fine, isn't it?"

CHAPTER XVII
CRAGTHORPE INTRODUCES HIS REAL SELF

"Now, if you find you've anything to say," continued Cragthorpe, in the same low voice, "you can say it when the time comes. But don't try to call out, and don't attempt any impudence, or I'll pull this noose tight. You know what that will mean!"

Undeniably Tom Halstead paled. Upon his feet, with at least a fighting chance, the young motor boat captain, while he might have feared death, would not have run away from it. He had a record for showing grit.

But this was a time when no amount of courage could give him a chance. He read it in Cragthorpe's eyes that the fellow intended to keep the upper hand, and to abuse it, to the end.

"You felt fine and important when you told that big Irishman to lead me off to the brig, didn't you!" began the tormentor.

"What else could I do!" demanded Halstead, in a low voice. "Wouldn't you have done the same by me, if the boot had been on the other foot!"

"And you struck me that cowardly blow over at Oakland the other day," cried Cragthorpe, who seemed to have nursed his wrath until it angered him to the striking point.

"When you went to school," mocked Tom, his coolness returning rapidly, "you studied out of a different book of definitions from the one I had. I was never taught that it was cowardice to defend a woman."

"What call had you to defend her?" insisted Cragthorpe, with a show of increasing anger. "Was it any of your affair?"

"Yes; the fact that the young woman was annoyed by you was excuse enough for my act."

"You spoiled my last chance with her when you humiliated me by a blow that I didn't get a chance to return at the time."

"I'm glad to hear that," retorted Tom, candidly.

"Oh, you are, are you?"

The working of passion in Cragthorpe's face was a fearful sight to see.

"And a fine thing you did for the young woman!" hissed the fellow. "I wanted to marry her. She has money enough to make her a prize," sneered the wretch. "Her brother is to go on trial for his life in a few days, and I am the only witness who could save him from the chain of evidence that the authorities are weaving about him. I made the offer to the girl to save her brother if she would wed me."

"You cowardly – cur!" uttered Tom Halstead, in cool disdain.

Cragthorpe started; then deeper lines of passion graved themselves in his features.

"Yes," continued Tom, scornfully, "you're about the lowest sort of cur that could possibly breathe. To charge a woman such a price for her brother's life and good fame!"

Cragthorpe suddenly restrained his growing anger. He leered down into the face of his straightforward young enemy.

"However, I am to make money in another way," he continued, cheerfully. "Frank Rollings is my cousin. After my failure with the girl he found me so desperate and ugly that, without telling me what he was about to do, he enlisted me in his present fine enterprise."

"Took you along with him to help him guard his stolen treasure, did he!" jeered Captain Tom Halstead.

"Yes, if it interests you," snarled Cragthorpe.

"It'll interest your precious cousin a lot more, before he gets through with you," sneered Halstead. "He'll be lucky if you don't make away with him and try to secure all the stolen money for yourself!"

Cragthorpe started, almost as though the young skipper had hit on the head the nail of his intentions.

"Here! Chew on this, instead of words!" flashed the wretch.

He suddenly forced the young skipper's mouth open, wedging in a crumpled up handkerchief. This he followed with another, gagging his victim.

Scenting more dastardly work to come, Tom Halstead fought furiously with the little chance that was left to him. His hands were secured, in front of him, but his feet and legs were free. He struggled with all his might, trying to use his bound hands, together, on the head of Cragthorpe, as that wretch again bent over him.

In his struggles Halstead rolled over on his side. His lashed hands reached briefly under the edge of the bed. In this way he hoped to gain purchase enough to pull himself free and yank himself to his feet. It was a slight hope, yet the only one the motor boat boy could see.

In the brief interval before Cragthorpe seized him roughly, hurling him back into the middle of the bed, Tom's hands touched something on the under side of the frame. He didn't know what it was he had touched.

In that brief though furious struggle Halstead had succeeded in working out the handkerchiefs. His oppressor caught up one of them.

"I'll gag you in better shape, this time," he proposed.

At that instant the door of the cabin opened. Cragthorpe, busy with his scheme of revenge, did not hear it. But Halstead lay so that he saw the door move ajar; he saw the head of the sailor who, with this watch, served in the wheel-house.

Over the seaman's face swept a look of the most intense amazement. He darted back into the darkness, for an instant, then returned.

"One moment – wait!" spoke Tom Halstead, sharply.

"Confound you – not so loud, if you value your safety!" warned Cragthorpe.

Had not the rascal been so intensely absorbed he would have felt and noted the light breeze that blew in with the opening of the door. But Cragthorpe was passion-ridden at the moment. The door closed, with the sailor and Third Officer Costigan in the room.

That "one moment – wait!" Mr. Costigan and the sailor had the presence of mind to understand was directed at them.

"That girl – and her brother – you were lying to me about them," taunted Halstead. "You can't tell me their names."

"I can't – eh?" sneered Cragthorpe, harshly. "The girl's name is Rose Gentry, and her brother's name Robert Gentry."

"And the brother is accused of murder, and you could prove him innocent? Yet you refused to save the brother because Rose Gentry would not marry you and let you own her fortune! It's a lie!"

"It's the truth," snarled Cragthorpe, hotly. "And you helped doom the brother when you struck me down before Rose Gentry. You made her despise me the more."

"She did well to despise you," retorted Tom Halstead, bluntly. "You ought to be clubbed!"

That was exactly what happened, ere Cragthorpe could open his mouth. The seaman had been crouching behind the fellow, a belaying-pin in his right hand. At the word from Halstead the sailor struck, and Cragthorpe fell to the floor, stunned.

Leaving the sailor to attend to Cragthorpe, Mr. Costigan now bounded forward to free the young captain's hands.

"How on earth did this happen, sir?" demanded the third officer, as he cut away the cord from the boy's wrists.

"I dreamed I was fighting the fellow," laughed Tom, "but woke up to find he had slipped my hands into that noose. He had this other noose around my neck, threatening to draw it uncomfortably tight if I tried to make any outcry."



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