Harrie Hancock.

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





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 were running all right, Jed, requested the young captain.

Yes, nodded Jed, after repeating the message without moving.

The big steamships 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 Kaisers heavy whistle responded.

Thats 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.

Its all right, Halstead, beamed Mr. Delavan.

I suppose it must be, sir, smiled the youthful skipper.

Youre puzzled, arent you, lad?

Why, Im trying not to be, as, of course, its none of my business.

Of course it isnt, laughed Mr. Moddridge, uneasily. But what wouldnt he give to know, Delavan?

Why, I can give you a hint or two, smiled the big, good-natured man.

Dont 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 isnt what youd call a man of fashion, but a man whom, once you saw him, youd 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 Im sure Ive seen his portrait in the newspapers.

Hm! I guess you have, chuckled Mr.

Delavan. Well, thats Gordon, the great man in the steel world, the colossal banker, the man who lends nations money.

You didnt 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 worlds 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 hell 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 Gordons cat jumped in Paris.

And all the while no one will know, except Mr. Gordon himself? smiled Tom Halstead.

Thats 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 youre 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 dont believe Halstead even cares a straw about knowing. If he had our information he isnt the sort of lad whod venture his little savings in the vortex of Wall Street speculation.

Thank you. Youve gauged me rightly, sir, laughed Halstead.

But now you can guess why Im 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 Gordons 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 friends 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 skippers ears. Prescott knows this young chap like a book. Prescott assured me that there isnt 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 hes doing and why hes 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, Id 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, doesnt it, sir? Halstead conjectured.

I may as well tell you, Halstead

Delavan! Cant 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 theyve 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.

Theyd 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.

Whats that theyre 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?

Yes, sir.

Francis Delavans 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 Rockets course slightly, so as to run near the motionless boat.

Its a trick, grumbled Mr. Delavan. Theyll claim that their engine has broken down. Theyll want to demand a tow.

Do you want us to extend any help? Tom inquired.

Not unless were 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 souwesters. 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. Whats the cause of your signal?

Engine broken down, responded one of the men aboard the other boat.

Well, youre in no danger, was Captain Halsteads smiling answer. Youre riding on a smooth sea.

But we cant stay out here on the open ocean, came the reply across the water. Youre the only other craft near enough to help. We ask you to tow us into port.

Were in a hurry, replied Halstead. Really, we cant spare the speed.

But were in distress, argued the man in the other boat. We ask you for a tow that youre quite able to give. Whats 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. Youre not in actual distress, and we are in haste. Good-bye!

Joes 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 hadnt 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.

Ill 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 Im 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 cant 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.

Dont be backward, urged Mr. Delavan, good-humoredly. This sort of thing doesnt happen every day. Youve 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 were 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.

CHAPTER III
THE BUYER OF SOULS

WHEN the Rocket was tied up at her pier at East Hampton, at a little before four oclock that afternoon, and while Tom and Jed were still busy at the hawsers, the owner and his guest slipped away.

No orders for the rest of the day, or to-morrow, remarked Halstead, as soon as he realized the fact. Oh, well, the orders will probably come down later on. Weve enough to keep us busy for a while, anyway.

There is, in fact, always enough to be done aboard a good-sized motor cruiser when the crew have her in at her berth. There is the engine to be gone over, deck and steering tackle to be inspected and perhaps repaired, the searchlight and signal lanterns to be taken care of, and a hundred other routine duties. The steward has his hands full of housekeeping affairs.

I dont see that speed boat in anywhere, commented Jed, looking over the harbor.

She must put up at some other point of the Bay, Tom replied. Well, the game of her people was beaten to-day, so I dont suppose we shall have to feel any more concern about the speed boat.

Never did Tom Halstead make a more erroneous guess. That same speed boat, as subsequent events will show, was destined to become intensely involved in the affairs of all aboard the Rocket.

At five oclock Jed began to busy himself, in the galley forward, with the preparation of such a meal as young appetites, sharpened by the sea air, demanded. An hour later that meal was ready, and eaten to the last morsel.

Darkness found Tom and Joe pacing the pier together, while Jed reclined lazily in one of the wicker deck chairs on the deck aft.

I really wish Mr. Delavan had given us some hint of to-morrows orders, muttered Halstead.

If he wanted to sail early to-morrow I believe hed have said so, replied Joe.

That might be true enough for most days, argued Halstead. But think what an unusual day this has been for him. His mind is on the biggest game of a money kings year.

He seemed to take it easily enough, rejoined Dawson.

Why, thats his business mask, Joe. Our new owner is a man who has made himself successful by not allowing himself to get so rattled that he gets everyone around him on pin-points. He felt the excitement of the days work well and plenty. Dont have any hazy ideas about that.

But what a fearfully nervous chap little Mr. Moddridge is, observed Dawson. It really makes one begin to stutter, just to look at him when hes worried.

Joe, announced the young skipper, after a look at his watch, if you and Jed will stay with the boat Im going to run up to the hotel, just to see if theres any definite word for us.

Dont take the word from Moddridge, then, laughed Dawson.

The young skipper didnt hurry; there was no need of that, and the night, away from the water front, was warm and close. East Hampton is a busy summer resort, and the streets were thronged with girls in summer white and holiday mood, a sprinkling of young men, a good many children and some older people. Not a few turned to gaze after the erect young sailor, in his natty uniform, as Halstead strolled along taking in the sights. Tom knew where the Eagle House was, for that was where he and his mates had first reported to the Rockets owner. In a few minutes he stepped into the lobby of that handsome summer hostelry.

Is Mr. Delavan in? he asked of a clerk at the office desk.

Mr. Delavan left about half an hour ago, was the answer. He and his friend went away in an auto, but I think they went only for a short spin to get the air. If you wish to wait, captain, make yourself at home here.

Thank you, nodded Tom, courteously. I believe I will wait.

Passing out onto the porch the young skipper seated himself near the railing. Wind, fog and sunshine had all left their impress of drowsiness on Halstead. Before long he sat with half-closed eyes, thinking slowly of the events of the day, and wondering not a little what unusual business it could be that Messrs. Delavan and Moddridge were pursuing. Back of the young captain men and women were strolling up and down the veranda in little groups, laughing and chatting.

Half sleepily Tom felt a paper touch against his hand. More or less instinctively his fingers closed upon it. Then, with something of a start he sat more upright, bringing that hand from his side to his lap.

It was a single, small sheet, folded once. Opening it, Captain Tom read these typewritten words:

As a most important matter of business take a walk at once, out over the Bridge Road. Continue walking, perhaps for a quarter of a mile, until you are accosted. Remember that Fortune rarely knocks at any mans door. This is your opportunity to line your pockets with greenbacks of large denominations. Come and meet one who truly enjoys seeing a young man prosper, and who will take pleasure in showing you how you may soon have a fine bank account. But come at once, as your well-wishers time is very limited.

Arabian Nights! Fairy tales! smiled Captain Tom Halstead, showing his teeth. Who is putting this up on me, and what is the joke, I wonder?

He was about to toss away the piece of paper, after tearing it up, when a new thought stayed him.

There may be something real in this, thought the boy. Mr. Delavan and his friend certainly appeared a bit worried over that racing craft. If theres anything behind this note Mr. Delavan will want to know what its about, and so shall I.

Young Captain Halstead was already on his feet, his shrewd, keen eyes looking over the veranda crowd. Yet he saw no one upon whom he could settle as a likely suspect. He could only conclude that whoever had casually slipped the paper into his hand had already purposely disappeared.

I believe Ill accept this invitation to take a walk, mused the young skipper. If theres anything real behind the note I may as well find out what it is. If theres nothing but a hoax in it Ill be willing to admit that I snapped at it.

There was plenty of time to take the walk and be back before Mr. Delavans return was looked for. Asking one of the hotel employes where to find the Bridge Road, young Captain Halstead set out briskly. Nor did he have to go far before he came to the bridge that gave the road its name. A little way past the bridge in question the road became more lonely. Then Halstead came to the edge of a forest, though a thin one of rather recent growth.

Ill walk on for five minutes, anyway, decided Captain Tom. After that, if nothing happens, itll be time to think of turning back.

Hist! That sound came so sharply out of the dark depths that the boy started, then halted abruptly.

Halstead! Captain Halstead! hailed a voice.

Where are you? Tom asked, in a louder tone than that which greeted him.

Youre Captain Halstead, are you? insisted a voice, not much above a whisper, which the young skipper now located in a clump of bushes between two tall spruce trees.

Yes; Im Halstead. Who wants me?

Step in this way, please.

So Tom stepped unhesitatingly from the road, and walked toward the voice, at the same time demanding:

Are you the one who handed me a note?





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