The Motor Boat Club off Long Island: or, A Daring Marine Game at Racing Speed
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The “Kaiser Wilhelm” being one of the swiftest of the ocean grayhounds, and the “Rocket” now making at least sixteen miles an hour, it was not long before young Halstead was ready to carry out the second part of his sailing orders.
He steered the “Rocket” so that she made a wide sweep around, then came up parallel with the big ocean steamship. There was about four hundred feet of water between the big hull and the little one as the two craft ran along parallel.
Tom yanked the bell-pull for more speed. This Joe provided, looking up once in a while to make sure that he was keeping up with the swift “Kaiser Wilhelm.”
“Ask Mr. Delavan if we’re running all right, Jed,” requested the young captain.
“Yes,” nodded Jed, after repeating the message without moving.
The big steamship’s deck was covered with passengers, most of them crowding fairly close to the starboard rail. It was plain that the voyagers felt some curiosity regarding this dapper, trim little cruising craft that kept so handily along with the racing grayhound.
There was a great fluttering of handkerchiefs, which Tom acknowledged by several short blasts on the auto whistle. The “Kaiser’s” heavy whistle responded.
“That’s all. Mr. Delavan says to head about for East Hampton,” Jed reported.
With a parting toot from the whistle, Halstead altered the course.
“Make your best speed, captain,” was the next order young Prentiss transmitted.
So it was not long before the “Kaiser” and the “Rocket” were some miles apart. Mr. Delavan came on deck, smiling. Tom tried not to wonder, though he could not help guessing what the Wall Street magnate could have accomplished by means of this brief, eventless cruise alongside the larger vessel.
But Mr. Moddridge! His face was positively wreathed in smiles. All his fears seemed to have vanished. The smaller man was still nervous, but it was the agitation of intense joy.
“It’s all right, Halstead,” beamed Mr. Delavan.
“I suppose it must be, sir,” smiled the youthful skipper.
“You’re puzzled, aren’t you, lad?”
“Why, I’m trying not to be, as, of course, it’s none of my business.”
“Of course it isn’t,” laughed Mr. Moddridge, uneasily. “But what wouldn’t he give to know, Delavan?”
“Why, I can give you a hint or two,” smiled the big, good-natured man.
“Don’t you say anything,” protested Moddridge, paling.
“Nonsense,” laughed Mr. Delavan. “Halstead, did you notice one man who stood at the rail of the big craft? A man tall and very broad-shouldered, a man of seventy, with considerable of a stoop, but with the nose and eyes that make one think of an eagle? His clothes fitted him loosely. He isn’t what you’d call a man of fashion, but a man whom, once you saw him, you’d never forget.”
“And at his right hand stood a man who looked like a clergyman?” inquired Halstead.
“I see you marked the man. Do you know who he is?”
“No, sir, though I’m sure I’ve seen his portrait in the newspapers.”
“H’m! I guess you have,” chuckled Mr.Delavan. “Well, that’s Gordon, the great man in the steel world, the colossal banker, the man who lends nations money.”
“You didn’t make this trip just to make sure that he was aboard?” Tom hazarded.
“Of course not, captain. I had that information days ago, by cable. But Gordon has been doing big things abroad, things that will rouse the world’s market and shake fortunes up or down. By to-morrow morning Wall Street will be seething, just on guesses as to what Gordon has done in Paris and what speculations he’ll make, now that he has returned.”
“Delavan!” cried Moddridge, sharply. “I protest. Not another word.”
“Nonsense!” retorted the big man, cheerily. “Halstead, whoever makes the right guess as to what big money deals Gordon has arranged abroad can make barrels of money in Wall Street during the next two or three days. Those who guess wrong will lose their money. Money will be made, and money will be lost in Wall Street, during the next few days – all on guessing which way Gordon’s cat jumped in Paris.”
“And all the while no one will know, except Mr. Gordon himself?” smiled Tom Halstead.
“That’s the point,” chuckled Francis Delavan, contentedly.
“S-s-stop!” cried Moddridge, warningly. But his large friend, disregarding him utterly, continued:
“On that same ship a man came over whom Moddridge and I trust. Our man has a great knack for drawing people out. It was his task to talk with Gordon at every good opportunity, and to get from the great man some indication as to the real news. Our man was paid by us, and paid well, but he also gets a substantial share of the profits we hope to make. He has made every effort to get a tip from Gordon, and it was that information that our man, by two or three simple movements, signaled to us.”
“And now I suppose you’re going to unbosom yourself, and tell this young boat-handler just what our information is?” groaned Eben Moddridge.
“No, I am not,” grinned Mr. Delavan. “I don’t believe Halstead even cares a straw about knowing. If he had our information he isn’t the sort of lad who’d venture his little savings in the vortex of Wall Street speculation.”
“Thank you. You’ve gauged me rightly, sir,” laughed Halstead.
“But now you can guess why I’m so anxious to reach East Hampton just as early as you can possibly get us in,” continued Mr. Delavan. “I have a long distance telephone wire of the main trunk line, all the way to offices in New York, reserved for my instant use. One minute after I reach the telephone booth my orders will be known by my secret agents in New York. To-morrow morning Wall Street will seethe and boil over Gordon’s return, but my agents – our agents, for Moddridge is in it – will have their orders in time to do an hour or two of effective work before the Stock Exchange closes this afternoon. Now, you understand, captain, why I want to crowd on every fraction of speed to reach East Hampton.”
“Joe Dawson is working the motor for every bit of speed,” Captain Tom replied, quietly.
Moddridge, plucking at his friend’s sleeve, drew him aside to whisper:
“No matter how well you may like the boy, Delavan, you had no business to tell him all that you did.”
“Nonsense,” replied the owner, in a voice loud enough to reach the young skipper’s ears. “Prescott knows this young chap like a book. Prescott assured me that there isn’t a tighter-mouthed, or more loyal, dependable young fellow in the world. When a young man is sailing your boat on rush business he should have some idea of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.”
The “Rocket” was now going at a full twenty-five miles an hour, her powerful, compact engine fairly throbbing with the work. While the boat might have been pushed two miles an hour faster, Dawson did not think it wise to attempt it except for life and death business.
The racing boat that they had noted astern was now somewhat ahead. This craft now turned, came back at rushing speed, circled about the “Rocket” in safe seaway, then started ahead again.
“Confound that boat,” grumbled Mr. Delavan, staring hard at the decked-over hood, “I’d like to know whether the people I suspect are hidden under that hood.”
“Looks as though the boat meant to follow us into East Hampton, doesn’t it, sir?” Halstead conjectured.
“I may as well tell you, Halstead – ”
“Delavan! Can’t you be silent?” groaned Moddridge.
“I may as well tell you,” resumed the easygoing owner, “that the boat ahead probably carries, concealed, two daring Wall Street operators, or their spies, who, at any cost, want the very information that Moddridge and I possess. They must have watched our approach to the ‘Kaiser’ through a glass, and now they’ve sped close to us in the effort to see whether they could guess anything from our faces. Their next moves will be to keep with us going in, and even to attempt to overhear what we may telephone to New York.”
“They’d rather steal your news than get their own honestly, would they?” muttered Halstead. “A good many people are like that about everything, I guess.”
The racing craft had gained at least a quarter of a mile in the race for East Hampton. Jed had just gone below to spread lunch for the owner and guest when the racing boat was seen to be slowing down. It was not long before she lay almost motionless on the rolling surface of the ocean.
“What’s that they’re doing?” cried Mr. Delavan, as the watchers saw a piece of bunting flutter up to the head of the single short mast of the racing craft.
“The United States flag, field down,” replied keen-eyed Halstead.
“The signal of distress?”
Francis Delavan’s round, good-humored face betrayed instant signs of uneasiness, mingled with disgust.
“Captain Halstead, do we have to heed that signal?” he demanded. “That is, are we obliged to pay heed?”
“The laws of the ocean compel us to go close and hail her,” replied Tom, altering the “Rocket’s” course slightly, so as to run near the motionless boat.
“It’s a trick,” grumbled Mr. Delavan. “They’ll claim that their engine has broken down. They’ll want to demand a tow.”
“Do you want us to extend any help?” Tom inquired.
“Not unless we’re obliged to. But, of course, captain, neither you nor I can flagrantly defy the laws of navigation.”
“Luncheon is ready, gentlemen,” called Jed, from the deck below.
“Oh, bother luncheon!” muttered Moddridge.
“Not so, my dear fellow,” retorted Delavan, his old, easy manner returning. “We have much work to do, my dear fellow, and we must keep our furnaces running. Luncheon is the best of ideas. Come along. Captain, I look to you to guard my interests.”
Just as the “Rocket,” her speed lessened, ran up close to the racing craft, Mr. Delavan disappeared into the cabin, almost dragging his friend and guest after him.
In the cockpit of the speed boat appeared only two men, both of a rough, seafaring type, clad in oilskins and sou’westers. There might, however, be several other men concealed around the motor under the decked-over hood.
“Boat ahoy!” hailed Captain Tom, running fairly close, then stopping speed and reversing for a moment. “What’s the cause of your signal?”
“Engine broken down,” responded one of the men aboard the other boat.
“Well, you’re in no danger,” was Captain Halstead’s smiling answer. “You’re riding on a smooth sea.”
“But we can’t stay out here on the open ocean,” came the reply across the water. “You’re the only other craft near enough to help. We ask you to tow us into port.”
“We’re in a hurry,” replied Halstead. “Really, we can’t spare the speed.”
“But we’re in distress,” argued the man in the other boat. “We ask you for a tow that you’re quite able to give. What’s the answer?”
“That,” retorted Skipper Tom. He pointed at the mast of the “disabled” craft, to which was rigged a small, furled mainsail. “The wind is right, and you can easily make port, even under a small spread of canvas. You’re not in actual distress, and we are in haste. Good-bye!”
Joe’s grinning face appeared at the engine room hatchway for a moment, though it vanished below as the half-speed ahead bell rang. The “Rocket” forged ahead, followed by ugly words from the racing craft.
“Neatly done, Halstead,” greeted the voice of Mr. Delavan, as that gentleman, holding a napkin, appeared at the cabin door below for an instant. “I heard it all.”
“If that fellow hadn’t had his canvas rigged we might have had to stand by him,” replied Halstead.
A few minutes later it was seen that the racing craft was coming in slowly, under that small sail. It looked probable, then, that the break in her engine had been genuine.
Going at full speed, the “Rocket” was not long in making Shinnecock Bay. Soon afterward the young captain ran his craft in at a pier, on which stood a waiting automobile.
“I’ll be back for the rest of my lunch soon, steward,” announced the owner, stepping ashore. He entered the automobile, and was whirled away through the streets of East Hampton. Mr. Moddridge remained in the cabin, though he played nervously with knife and fork, eating little.
In fifteen minutes Francis Delavan returned, walking lazily from the touring car to the deck of his boat, his face expressive, now, of indolent content.
“Take us out a little way, captain,” requested the owner. “We want some good, cool sea air in which to finish the meal, eh, Moddridge?”
“I – I’m too excited to eat,” protested the smaller man. “Tell me, is everything all right at the New York end?”
“Oh, yes, I fancy so,” drawled the owner. “Steward, some more of that excellent salad, if you please.”
As Captain Tom slipped his craft out of Shinnecock Bay once more they made out the mysterious speed boat, still under sail and at a distance, making slowly for the Long Island coast.
“Whatever those fellows have guessed at or discovered,” chuckled Mr. Delavan, glancing at the other boat and then at his watch, as he came on deck, “they can’t hope to reach a telephone in time to catch the Stock Exchange open to-day. Good! Prentiss, come up here. Call Dawson aft if he can leave his engine.”
As the little group met near the wheel Francis Delavan drew out a pocket-book, which he opened.
“Young gentlemen,” he observed, “I believe Moddridge and I have been able to play a most important game in the money world to-day. That was largely through the bright services of my new crew aboard the ‘Rocket.’ Accept this card, each of you, as a little indication of my appreciation.”
The “card” that was held out to each was a twenty-dollar bill. Halstead glanced at it hesitatingly, while his two comrades looked at him.
“Don’t be backward,” urged Mr. Delavan, good-humoredly. “This sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. You’ve really earned it to-day, and my luncheon will set better if you take the money.”
“Thank you,” said Tom, in a low voice. “But we’re under regular salaries to serve your interests, Mr. Delavan.”
It was a little whiff from the gale of fortune that the two Wall Street men believed had blown their way this day.