Harrie Hancock.

The Motor Boat Club off Long Island: or, A Daring Marine Game at Racing Speed





CHAPTER I
A BREATHLESS MOMENT IN THE FOG

CLA-A-ANG! Cla-a-ang!

The Rocket, a sixty-foot motor cruiser, her engine slowed down to ten miles an hour, had just moved out of comparatively clear water into a thickish bank of fog. The bell, probably on board a sailing craft, had just been heard for the first time off the starboard bow of the cruiser, and close at hand.

Joe Dawson, forward lookout on the Rocket, leaned ahead, framing his mouth with his hands as he shouted:

Ahoy, there! Keep to your own port, captain!

Cla-a-ang! Cla-a-ang!

The sound of the bell was appallingly nearer, now, seemingly almost upon the motor boat.

Captain Tom Halstead, at the Rockets wheel, abaft of midship, sounded a shrill warning from his crafts auto whistle.

Too-oot!

At the same time Halstead threw his own wheel over to go to port of the bell-ringing stranger.

It was a fog that seemed to grow denser with every foot of headway. The water at the hull alongside was barely visible.

Then through the mist ahead shot the tip of a bowsprit. Despite the signals, or through misunderstanding them, the sailing vessel was keeping to her course. She was due either to ram the Rocket, or to be rammed by that agile little cruising craft.

There was but one thing to do to reverse the engine with lightning speed. The engine controls lay convenient to the young skippers hand and feet as he stood by the wheel. He was just reaching for the reversing lever, in fact, when, from well aft sounded another boys warning:

Racing craft about to ram your port quarter, captain!

While, from one of the two men passengers rose an almost despairing shriek:

I cant stand this sort of thing. Id sooner jump overboard!

Captain Tom, however, without betraying any excitement, sprang so that he could easily glance astern. Instead of the reversing gear, he grabbed for the speed ahead. One glance aft showed him a long, narrow motor craft diving out of the fog. To reverse would mean a collision with the motor boat; to go ahead would mean a smash against the sailing craft. Whatever was to be done had to be thought out at electric speed, all in a second.

Toms judgment was for speed ahead. In that sudden emergency he increased the fog speed greatly, at the same time throwing his wheel over as far as it would go.

Thus he escaped a violent meeting with the racing craft, but ranged up alongside of the sailing vessel, a schooner that now appeared dimly, in an almost ghostly light, her rail, soon parallel with the Rockets, being only a few yards away.

You lobster smack! cried Joe, contemptuously. Why do you ship lubbers for officers?

The stupid handling that the sailing craft had displayed was enough to rouse anger in the mind of anyone endangered by the gross carelessness.

Get out, you floating oil-stove! came back, sullenly, from the sailing crafts quarter deck.

Your gasoline dories ought to be confined to duck ponds.

Joe grinned. His wrath was easily dissipated at any time. Anyway, young Captain Halstead, swiftly wearing away to port and again slowing down the speed, put an end to conversation with the stranger.

In this man?uvre the unknown racing motor craft had, of course, been given ample room, and was doubtless well out of reach by this time. But Jed Prentiss, his face still a trifle white, stood on the same spot on the after deck from which he had sounded warning of the swift, narrow boats coming.

Now, Moddridge, urged a heavy, easy, persuasive voice, get a grip on yourself and be a man. You see for yourself how easily our new skipper carries himself and the boat in a tight squeeze.

But my dear Delavan, protested the one addressed as Moddridge, I simply cant stand this sort of thing. My nerves

Your nerves have always been the master of a fool slave, retorted Mr. Delavan, good humoredly. Come, be born again, and rule your nerves and your wits.

That scooter acted like a regular pirate, uttered Jed Prentiss, under his breath. Rushing over the old ocean, and never a sound from her whistle or bell!

Mr. Francis Delavan, owner of the Rocket, tall, broad-shouldered, rosy-cheeked and athletic looking despite his fifty years, stepped across the short after deck, going up the short flight of steps at starboard and posting himself on the bridge deck beside Skipper Tom.

Whats your speed now, captain? inquired the owner.

Slowed down to six, sir, replied young Halstead, punctuating his reply by sounding the auto whistle.

Thats a wise speed, captain, nodded the owner. I havent been in as thick a fog as this all season.

Are you going to stay here a little while, sir? queried Tom.

Why? Anything I can do for you?

You might sound the whistle, every thirty seconds, sir, if you will. That will give me a much better chance to pay heed to the lookouts.

All right, captain, laughed the owner, drawing out a handsome watch. If I make the intervals forty, instead of thirty seconds, put me in irons as soon as you like.

Captain Tom smiled, but made no other reply. All the young sailing masters attention was centered on the work in hand. There is nothing at all like play about handling a sixty-foot craft in such a fog. As the incident just closed had shown, there are other lives than those of ones own sailing party that are at stake in a possible collision in the fog.

Are you going to try to keep out in this fog, sir? asked Halstead, some two minutes later.

Yes, came the owners decisive answer. Though Moddridge doesnt appear to think so, it is well worth while to risk big stakes on a meeting with the big Kaiser Wilhelm. It may be worth a small fortune to me.

There are times when money doesnt mean much to me, put in Eben Moddridge, who had followed his friend up to the bridge deck, which, on the Rocket, instead of being forward, was somewhat abaft of amidships.

Moddridge was a pale, thin, hollow-cheeked, nervous looking man of forty, and of a height of five feet four. Not much to look at was Mr. Moddridge, yet, in his own way, he was a good deal of a power in Wall Street.

Moddridge, retorted the owner, firmly, this is a time when you can do only one useful thing. Go below and turn in. Ill wake you when the fog has lifted.

What? I lie down? demanded Eben Moddridge, in a startled voice. And then very likely go down to the fishes without ever waking up?

We havent that kind of a captain, now, replied Mr. Delavan, easily. You just saw how easily he pulled the Rocket out of a dangerous trap. If Captain Bill Hartley had stood in Halsteads place wed have been smashed fore and aft.

Hartley was an excellent skipper, retorted Moddridge, peevishly. He was a most careful man. He never would have gone into a fog. He wouldnt take a chance of being wrecked.

That was why I had to get rid of him, Eben, retorted Mr. Delavan. Hartley was an old maid, who never ought to have tried to follow the sea. If it looked like rain hed run for harbor and drop anchor.

A very wise and careful sailing master, insisted Mr. Moddridge.

Yes; Hartley had nerves to pretty near match your own, mocked Mr. Delavan. But he wasnt the kind of man for the kind of work we have in hand nowadays. And now, Moddridge, I know that your talk, and mine, is bothering Captain Halstead. Go down aft again, and dont bother the lookout by talking to him. Be a good fellow.

Muttering, and with many shakings of the head, the smaller man obeyed. He would try to be brave, but nothing could conceal from Eben Moddridge the certainty that they were shortly to be sunk.

The Kaiser could slip in by us easily, in this mean fog, declared Mr. Delavan.

Not if she keeps to her usual course on this part of the trip, Halstead answered. Shed be in these waters in passing, and we havent heard any fog-whistle heavy enough to come from a craft of that size.

All these minutes the owner, who possessed the faculty of keeping his mind on two things at once, had not forgotten to sound the auto whistle at regular intervals.

I think, sir, Tom spoke presently, I had better keep to mere headway now.

Do so, if thats your best judgment, nodded Francis Delavan. But remember, captain, that to-days game is one that has to be played in earnest.

We wont miss the Kaiser Wilhelm, if she comes in soon, and follows her usual course, Halstead answered.

Though Tom still kept one hand on the wheel, the Rocket seemed almost to rest motionless on the gentle swell.

It was an August day. The motor craft, a handsome sixty-foot affair of racing build and with powerful engines, lay on the light, fog-covered swell some twelve miles nearly due south of Shinnecock Bay on the southern coast of Long Island.

Readers of former narratives in this series will remember how Mr. Prescott, a Boston broker, organized the Motor Boat Club among the sea-trained boys at the mouth of the Kennebec River, in Maine.

Tom Halstead was fleet captain of the Club, and Joe Dawson the fleet engineer. They were the two most skilled members.

Readers will also remember how these two sixteen-year-old handlers of motor boats were sent by Mr. Prescott to enter the sea-going service of Horace Dunstan, a wealthy resident of the island of Nantucket, south of Cape Cod. It will be remembered how Tom Halstead and Joe Dawson, with Jed Prentiss, a Nantucket boy, as comrade, went through a series of dangerous yet exhilarating adventures which resulted in the detection and capture by the United States authorities of a crew of filibusters who were attempting to smuggle out of the country arms and ammunition intended for revolutionists in the republic of Honduras. It was while at Nantucket that these three members of the Motor Boat Club had also, after going through a maze of search and adventure, discovered the missing Dunstan heir and insured to the latter a great inheritance that Master Ted Dunstan had been upon the point of losing.

And now we find the same three young Americans aboard the Rocket, a somewhat larger craft than either of the others that Captain Tom Halstead had handled. It will not take long to account for the presence of the trio aboard this craft in Long Island waters.

The Meteor, Horace Dunstans boat at Nantucket, was now in charge of two Nantucket boys for whom Jed had secured membership in the Motor Boat Club. This was the first day for Tom, Joe and Jed aboard the Rocket.

Francis Delavan, the owner, was one of the men who make the History of Money in Wall Street. Besides being a daring operator there Delavan was also the president of and a big stockholder in the Portchester and Youngstown Railroad, more commonly known as the P. & Y. Now, the P. & Y., while one of the smaller railroads of the country, was, on account of its connections, a property of considerable value.

Mr. Delavan was not one of the multi-millionaires who keep palatial summer homes on the south side of Long Island. Just at present he contented himself with a suite of rooms at the Eagle House in East Hampton, spending some days of every week in New York City.

The Rockets former captain, Hartley, was entirely too timorous and cautious a master to suit an owner who loved a spice of danger and adventure on the salt water. So Mr. Delavan had felt obliged to let Captain Hartley go. Griggs, the former engineer, had not been over-brave, either. Griggs had had trouble with a rough character on shore, and, upon being threatened by him with serious bodily harm, had promptly deserted his post on the Rocket, going to parts unknown.

Thus, at the time when the Rocket was laid up, and yet most urgently needed by her owner, Mr. Delavan had met his friend Mr. Prescott in New York. What followed was that Tom, Joe and Jed had been wired to leave Nantucket, if convenient for Mr. Dunstan, and proceed at once to Shinnecock Bay. As two young friends of Jeds had been trained well enough to be able to handle the Meteor satisfactorily, Tom, Joe and Jed had traveled to Long Island with all speed. This was their first forenoon aboard the Rocket, and it was destined to prove a lively one.

All three were in their natty, sea-going, brass-buttoned blue uniforms of the Motor Boat Club. Each wore an officers visored cap. Jed, when serving as steward, changed his blue to white duck, but he also served frequently in engine room or on deck.

Just now, as fore and aft lookouts were needed, and as the big motor was running smoothly, control of the engine was managed through the deck-gear near the steering wheel.

For another half-hour the Rocket barely moved over the water, though now her nose was pointed east, in the track of in-coming steamships. Mr. Moddridge had quieted down enough to stretch himself in one of the wicker chairs on the low after deck, where he chewed nervously at the end of a mild cigar that was seldom lighted. In this time no other craft came near them, or, if it did, failed to sound fog signals.

And now the fog was lifting slowly. The lookouts were able to see over the waters for a distance of some two hundred feet at least.

A morning fog, in August, off the Long Island coast, isnt likely to last long, said Mr. Delavan. In half an hour more you may be able to see the horizon on every side.

I hope so, nodded Captain Tom. Fog has few delights for the sailor. Without fog we could make out a huge craft like the Kaiser at a great distance. Listen, sir! Did you hear that?

Again the sound came, though faintly, from far away.

Whoo-oo-oo! whoo-oo-oo! It was a hoarse, deep-throated, powerful blast on a fog-whistle.

That comes from some big craft, sir; as like as not the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.

Have you ever seen that steamship?

No, sir; but Ive studied her pictures. I think Id know her if I saw her.

Im hoping and praying that you do see her this day, rejoined Mr. Delavan. Ive a pretty big barrel of money at stake on seeing that steamship. Well, she isnt in sight now, so Im going below to get some cigars.

His easy manner was in sharp contrast to the fidgeting nervousness of Eben Moddridge. As soon as the owner had vanished into the cabin the nervous one almost trotted up onto the bridge deck.

You havent any means of knowing, for a certainty, that that is the Kaiser Wilhelm? asked Mr. Moddridge, sharply.

No, sir; I can only hope that it is, Captain Tom responded.

I hope its the Kaiser; I hope it is, I hope it is, cried Mr. Moddridge. As further evidence of the excited state of his mind that gentleman commenced to pace the bridge deck, from side to side, with quick, agitated steps.

Wonder why on earth both are so eager for a glimpse of one of the biggest passenger ships afloat? wondered Halstead, attending, now, to the whistle at two-minute intervals, as well as steering. But, pshaw! Its none of my business why the owner and his friend want or dont want things. Thats their own affair. Stick to your wheel and your other duties, Tom, old fellow!

Yet, though Halstead honestly tried to drive the matter out of his mind, it was human nature that he should still wonder and catch himself making all sorts of guesses. The words a fortune exert a strong magic over most human minds. Tom had heard the owner declare that a fortune hung in the balance on this days work.

Well, if there is any fortune at stake on my giving these gentlemen a glimpse of the Kaiser Wilhelm, Halstead told himself, its my sole business to see that I give them the look-across at the big ship. Thats all I need to know.

Whatever large steam craft it was that was sounding the fog-horn slightly south of a due east line from the Rocket, she was coming nearer with every minute. The increase in the volume of sound told that much.

How are we making the stranger, Halstead? inquired Mr. Delavan, returning to the bridge deck, a lighted cigar between his teeth. He dropped into a comfortable arm-chair.

Shes coming nearer, sir, and we can see for three or four hundred feet, now, in every direction. Theres but a slight chance of the vessel getting by us.

What ails you, Moddridge? demanded Mr. Delavan, turning and gazing wonderingly at his friend.

Im nervous, of course, returned that gentleman.

Pshaw! Sit down and let your nerves rest.

But I cant!

Stand up, then, pursued Mr. Delavan, coolly. But youre tiring yourself out, Moddridge, with that jerky gait over such a short course.

Delavan, have you no mind, no nerves? cried Moddridge, raspingly. When you stop to think of the great amounts of money that are at stake. When you

Eben Moddridge paused, out of breath.

Well? insisted Mr. Delavan, placidly.

Oh, pshaw! snapped the nervous one. Theres no use in talking to you, or trying to make you understand. Youve no imagination.

For which Im very thankful, responded the owner, blowing out a cloud of smoke.

The fog was lifting more and more, the suns rays trying to pierce what was left of the haze.

You may as well come in, lookouts, hailed Captain Tom.

Jed, if youre through with deck duty, called Mr. Delavan, suppose you begin to think of getting lunch.

All right, sir, Prentiss answered, and disappeared.

Oh, Delavan, man, groaned Mr. Moddridge, how on earth can you talk about eating when everything lies at stake as it does?

Why, after I get the word, rejoined the owner, I shall be hungry enough to eat anything.

But what if the news be of the worst kind?

Let us hope it wont be, Moddridge.

Yet, if it is? You dont mean to say, Delavan, that you could think of eating then?

Confound you, man, drawled Mr. Delavan. What do you think my stomach knows about news?

The sounding of the fog-horn had died out some minutes ago, as the vanishing fog rolled further and further away. And now, Tom, gazing keenly ahead, saw a big black hull rapidly emerge out of a bank of fog more than a mile away. He looked sharply for a few seconds. Then

Gentlemen, announced the young skipper, pointing, that craft over to the eastward is, I think, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.

CHAPTER II
A WHIFF OF FORTUNE

MR. DELAVAN immediately raised a pair of marine glasses to his eyes, taking a long, careful look at the great hull.

Yes; thats the Kaiser, he agreed.

Theres a smaller craft, astern, that may interest you also, sir, reported Jed, from the after deck.

Mr. Delavan turned quickly, though not with such a start as did his friend, Moddridge.

Astern, or, rather, over the port quarter, appeared a long, narrow racing hull. It was evidently the same motor craft that had so nearly rammed them in the deep fog.

Confound that hoodoo boat, muttered Mr. Delavan, in a low tone, to his companion. Id give quite a bit to know who are aboard that craft.

S-s-so would I, stammered Moddridge. It looks queer. Whoever they are, theyre dogging us, of course.

Thats what Id like to know, returned Delavan, musingly.

Shall I keep to the same course, sir? asked Captain Tom, as soon as his employer looked around.

Why, now, Ill tell you what I want you to do, captain, answered the owner. Run out towards the Kaiser, though you neednt be at pains to make it too plain that youre seeking the big ship. After you get the Rocket somewhat near, take a wide, sweeping turn to landward of the big craft. Run fairly near, keeping your port hull about parallel with the Kaisers starboard. Run alongside for a little distance, until your orders are changed. Moddridge and I are going down into the cabin, to take our stations at port-holes. Prentiss will stand by the cabin doorway to pass up, in a low voice, any orders that I may give him for you. Is that all clear, captain?

Quite clear, sir.

Then come below, Moddridge, continued the owner, turning to his friend. And for goodness sake, man, if you can, behave differently. Dont let your legs shake so under you.

I c-c-cant help it, stammered the smaller man, nervously.

Youre not going to the hangman, man! laughed Mr. Delavan, jovially, as he led the way below.

I reckon Id better drop down into the engine room for signals, hadnt I? proposed Dawson. Tom nodded, and his chum vanished, though his head soon reappeared, framed in the engine room hatchway. The beauty of a gasoline motor engine is that when all is running smoothly and no signals from the bridge are to be expected, the engineer may spend much of his time up on deck. On the bridge deck, near the wheel, are controls by means of which the helmsman can change the speeds, stop or reverse at will.

As Captain Tom headed in the direction ordered he heard Jed reporting to the owner that the long racing boat astern did not appear to be making any efforts to overtake the Rocket or to reach the Kaiser Wilhelm. Instead, the racing boat seemed to be playing wholly a waiting game. This racing craft was about thirty-two to thirty-five feet long. She was not fitted for cruising, but only for fast spurts. She had, instead of a cabin, a deck-over hood forward that protected her engine and galley from the spray.





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