Harrie Hancock.

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





Yes, but not quite so loudly, please.

Why not? challenged Halstead, simply.

Well, because our business is to be er well, confidential.

Tom Halstead found himself standing before a tall, slim, well-dressed young man. More than that he could not see in the partial darkness, so the young skipper struck a match and held it up.

Here, exclaimed the stranger, hastily, what are you doing?

Trying to get a better idea of you, and whether you are in the least ashamed of your business with me, Tom replied, quietly.

The stranger, who proved to be red-haired, stood more quietly, gazing intently at this composed young motor boat boy.

Well, inquired the stranger, at last, and speaking more pleasantly, are you satisfied with my appearance?

Ill admit being curious to know what your business with me can be, Halstead replied.

You read my note through?

Yes, of course. But that did not tell me your business, or your name, Tom answered.

Oh, I can tell you all about my business with you, in a few minutes, the other assured the young skipper.

And your name, too?

Why are you so particular about my name?

Why, you see, smiled Captain Tom, down in our little country town, the place where I was raised, we always rather wondered at any man who seemed ashamed or reluctant to give his name.

Oh, I see, laughed the other. And, on the whole, captain, I think your point is rather well taken. So, to begin with, my name is Calvin Rexford. Now, as to my business, you are willing to make a little money now, and a great deal more later on, are you not?

How much money? asked Tom Halstead, bluntly.

Can you guess how much there is here? inquired Rexford. He took from one of his pockets and held out a small, compact roll of bills. Tom coolly struck another match, scanning the roll, and discovering that there was a twenty-dollar bill on the outside of it.

Theres five hundred in this little pile, observed Mr. Rexford. Half a thousand dollars. Thats just the starter, you understand. If you obey certain orders youll get another little lump of money like this. In the end therell be a sum big enough for you to live on the rest of your days. Like the sound of it? And this half thousand goes to you at once, in return for a promise or two. Now, can we undertake business together?

Though Captain Tom Halsteads eyes had momentarily glistened at the tempting sight of so much money, he now asked, composedly:

Whats the business?

Youre skipper of Francis Delavans Rocket, arent you?

Yes.

You expect to continue to hold the position?

Probably all through this summer.

Then see here, Captain Halstead, all you have to do is to follow certain orders. One of them, for instance, is, whenever you see another craft near that hoists a red pennant, crossed diagonally by a single white stripe, youre to have something happen to your boat so that you cant proceed for some time.

You can make believe something happens to the boat, you know.

Youve got hold of the wrong party, my friend, answered the young skipper, as quietly as ever. The fellow you want is my chum, Joe Dawson, the Rockets engineer.

Rexford looked Tom Halstead over as keenly as was possible in the darkness.

Do you mean, captain, he demanded, finally, that well have to let your friend in on this?

Of course, Tom nodded, if theres really anything to be done along the lines youre describing.

What kind of a fellow is this Joe Dawson?

Well, replied Tom, reflectively, Joes hot tempered once in a while. If you proposed anything to him that he considered crooked, hed most likely hit you over the head with a wrench.

So you call my offer a crooked one, do you? insisted Rexford, a curious note in his voice.

Youre proposing to buy us out to pay us to sell out our employer, arent you? asked Halstead, directly.

Why, I am trying to show you how you can make a very handsome sum of money by being accommodating, said the young man, slowly.

Youre asking us to sell out our employer and our own sense of honor, arent you? persisted the young motor boat captain.

Look here, Halstead, you dont want to be foolish, remonstrated the red-haired one. Im willing enough to let your friend into this matter, and Ill make it highly profitable for you both. But dont get too stiff about it. Im only making a very handsome offer to buy some of your interest and time.

Oh, smiled Halstead, quizzically. Pardon me. I thought you were trying to buy my soul.

The irony, however, was wasted on the other. Well, now you understand that Im not, laughed Rexford, easily. So we can begin to talk real business. Let us begin by dropping this money into your pocket.

He attempted to slip the roll of banknotes into one of the boys coat pockets, but Halstead quickly side-stepped, receiving the proffered money in his right hand.

Oh, very well, laughed Rexford, do just as you please with the money. Its yours, you know.

Thank you, acknowledged the young skipper. Then, before Rexford could even guess what he meant to do, Tom Halstead swung back his right arm, bringing his hand up over his shoulder.

Here, stop that! quivered Rexford, darting forward and clutching the young skippers arm. But the move was too late, for Captain Tom had already hurled the compact little mass of banknotes as far as he could through the forest. On account of Rexfords sudden movement neither of them heard the money drop to earth.

What do you mean by that? demanded the red-haired one, hoarsely, his breath coming fast, his eyes gleaming angrily.

You told me to do as I pleased with the money, retorted Tom. So I got it out of my hands as quickly as possible. I dont like that kind of money.

Do you mean to say that you throw our business over? cried Rexford.

Of course I do, smiled Tom. Are you so slow-witted that it cost you all that money to find it out?

Confound you, Ive a good mind to give you a good beating, came tempestuously from the others lips.

Try it, again smiled Halstead, undauntedly.

Then we cant get you on our side? demanded Rexford, his tone suddenly changing to one of imploring. Still smiling, Captain Tom shook his head. There was a quick step in the bushes behind him, and a sturdy pair of arms wound themselves about the young skipper, while Rexford leaped at him from in front.

If we cant count on Halstead, declared a new voice, from the rear, then we cant let him get away from us, either not when there are millions at stake!

CHAPTER IV
TOM HALSTEADS FIGHT AGAINST ODDS

TOMS sea-trained muscles could always be relied upon to stand him in good stead at need. He strove, now, like a young panther, to free himself. But this was a battle of one boy against two men, and one of the latter had the boys arms wrapped close to his body in a tight embrace.

There was a short, panting struggle, after which the young skipper was bent over. He lurched to the earth, face downward, while his yet unseen assailant fell heavily upon him.

Fight fair, cant you? growled the captain of the Rocket.

This isnt a fight, retorted the voice of the newcomer. Its a matter of self-preservation. Lie still, cant you. I dont want to have to club you out of your senses. It isnt a gentlemans kind of work.

Youre right it isnt, gritted Halstead, though he now lay more quietly, for the auburn-haired Rexford had thrown himself, also, upon him. There isnt anything about this business that smacks of the gentleman, the boy added, tauntingly.

Hold your tongue, will you? demanded the unknown one, angrily.

When it pleases me most, growled Captain Tom, fast getting into an ugly, reckless mood.

Rexford, I can hold him, went on the man. Station yourself by the youngsters head. Go as far as you like, if he tries to make any noise. Now, young man, I think you would better listen, while I do the talking. Were sorry enough to treat you in this fashion, but its all your own fault.

How is that? challenged the youthful skipper.

We gave you a fine chance to make your fortune. You wouldnt have it. Now, if we let you go, youd spoil all our plans by repeating what has happened to your employer.

Right! snapped Captain Tom. Thats just what Im going to do.

Just what youre not going to do, retorted the man. Itll be many a day before youll see anyone we dont want you to see.

What are you talking about? demanded Halstead, gruffly.

Youll find out. Rexford, get out some cord, and well tie this young Indian up. If he tries to yell, hit him as hard as you like, and after that well gag him. Remember, Halstead, youve got to keep quiet and go with us. If you behave quietly you wont be hurt at all. Youll only be held for safe keeping for a few weeks. Then youll be turned loose, with a little purse to console you for your present loss of liberty.

That didnt sound very dangerous, but the young motor boat skipper was not one who would tamely submit to any such proposition. Yet he said nothing as the unknown man rose from his back, to kneel beside him while Rexford tied his hands.

Just as that shifting was accomplished, however, Tom Halstead rolled swiftly over on his back. With a cry of anger the man made a swift movement to bend over the lad. It was an unfortunate move. One of Halsteads flying feet caught him squarely in the face. Another kick was aimed at Rexford, who sprang back out of the danger zone.

Now I dont care what you do to the boy! snarled the unknown, after venting a groan of pain and raising his hands to his face, which, however, had not been struck hard enough to mark it. Sail in, Rexford, and help me teach the young idiot a lesson.

But Captain Tom had made brisk use of that moment of freedom. As his heels struck the earth again he threw his arms and body forward, leaping to his feet. In the instant he started running.

Here, you cant get away dont attempt it! growled the unknown, bolting after the boy.

Rexford, being at one side, ran so as to head off the young skipper ere he could reach the road. And Rexford at once showed signs of being a sprinter.

If either of the pair caught hold of him Tom Halstead knew that capture would be swift enough. Well ahead of the unknown, Halstead veered enough to give him another momentary start on Rexford.

Tom darted to a young oak tree, one of whose branches hung low. This gave an opportunity not to be overlooked at such a moment. Leaping at the branch, grappling with it with both hands, Halstead drew himself up with a sailors speed and surety. From that he stepped like a flash to the next higher branch. Now, he grinned down at his enemies.

Rexford and the unknown collided with each other just beside the trunk of that tree.

I hope you wont either of you try to follow me up here, hinted Captain Tom, mockingly. If you do, I shall have to kick one of you in the face.

Holding on above him, he swung one foot suggestively. It was not too dark for the pair below to realize how much bodily risk there would be in attacking this gritty youngster in his present place of advantage.

Youre all right up there, admitted Rexford, coldly. We cant come up after you without getting damaged heads. But, my boy, what is to hinder us from throwing enough stones up there to make it pretty warm for you?

Toms grin of confidence suddenly vanished. He had overlooked the possibility of being dislodged by a volley or two of stones. Had the field been clear for a six-foot start from his tormentors he would have felt like taking the chance of leaping down and taking to his heels once more. But they were right at hand, below. The boy felt himself trapped.

Dont let him get away, advised Rexford. Im going into the road after a few stones.

The unknown got even closer to the base of the tree. Rexford, after a careful look at the relative positions of trapper and trapped, ran out to the road.

Who are we? Who are we? C-o-l-b-y! Rah! rah! rah!

Down the road came volleys of ringing yells, as though from the throats of a lot of happy savages.

Rah! rah! rah!

College boys, or a lot of young fellows masquerading as such! flashed jubilantly through Tom Halsteads brain.

Rah! rah! rah! Wow! Right here! Trouble! Hustle! roared Tom, as huskily as his lung power permitted.

Stop that, you infernal imp! snarled Rexford, leaping back from the road.

Colby! Here on the run! Trouble! roared Halstead at the top of his voice.

Whats that? Whos there? came a hail from up the road.

Whizz-zz! Thump! A stone, guided by Rexfords hand, came through the air, glancing from one of Halsteads shins.

Hustle here quick! Follow the voice! roared Tom.

He ducked his head just in time to avoid a stone propelled at his face by Rexford.

Rah! rah! Hold on! Were coming. Trouble, you say? Colby to the mix-up and the happy ending!

Come, Rexford! Weve got to sprint, advised the unknown.

Up the road the sound of charging feet came nearer. Rexford and his companion sprang into the woods, running as fast as they could go. But Halstead wisely concluded to remain treed until he beheld more than a dozen athletic looking young men under the tree. Then he slid to the ground.

Did you call trouble? demanded one of the newcomers.

I did, the young skipper admitted.

Then hand over the goods! Show us the face of trouble, or take your punishment as a raiser of false hopes! insisted the leader of the boys.

And be quick about it. We havent seen any trouble in an hour, proclaimed another of the boisterous crowd.

Come into these woods with me, begged Halstead. Scatter and sprint. There are two men trying to get away the rascals! If you can find them for me Ill try to have them held by the police for assault.

What do they look like?

Halstead gave a quick description of Rexford. Of the unknown one the young skipper could say only that he was a dark-haired man of thirty, clad in a gray suit.

The spirit of adventure being upon these young fellows, they scattered, dashing through the woods on a chance of finding anything that might look like a scrimmage. Five minutes of strenuous chasing, however, failed to discover Rexford or his companion, who must have known these woods well. Then the rah-rah boys, hot and disgusted, came back to the road.

See here, young man, remarked one of their leaders, severely, you havent been trifling with our young hopes, have you?

On my word of honor, no, Tom replied, earnestly. Then a happy, somewhat vengeful thought struck him.

See here, fellows, he went on, I know pretty near the spot where a roll of five hundred dollars lies in the woods yonder. If you can find it I guess it will be yours, for frolic or dividing, just as you like.

But that proved an almost dangerous piece of information to offer.

Five hundred what? scowled the leader of the young men.

Weve found a crazy boy! roared another.

To the asylum with him!

No! Drag him along and duck him that will be enough!

Whooping, these irresponsible young fellows charged down upon Halstead. But he knew better than to run. Laughing, he stood his ground.

Oh, well, if you wont believe me, he said, with mock resignation, let it go at that. But what are you going to do?

Listen, child! roared the leader of the crowd. We are pushing forward for the surprise and capture of East Hampton. Willst go with us, and witness scenes of military glory?

Im gladly with you for going to town, replied the young skipper.

Then come along. Preserve the utmost silence and stealth, all ye, my brave men, ordered the leader, leaping out into the road.

Rah, rah, rah! they answered him, roaringly, and turned their faces townward. Tom glad to get out of it all so easily, stepped along with them.

What was that about trouble, younker? one of the supposed college boys asked Halstead. Did you think you saw a shadow among the trees?

It was a good deal more than a shadow, insisted Halstead. I was attacked by two men.

Toms questioner looked at him searchingly, then replied good-humoredly:

Oh, well, say no more about it, and I guess the fellows will forget. It gave us a good excuse for a sprint, anyway.

To Halstead it looked as though these college boys suspected him of some hoax, but were good-naturedly willing to overlook the joke on them. The young skipper was willing to accept the protection of their boisterous, husky companionship on any terms until safely out of the woods and over the bridge once more. As he found himself entering the town again Tom slipped away, unobserved, from the noisy dozen or more. Two or three minutes later he was back at the hotel.

Inquiry showed that Messrs. Delavan and Moddridge had not yet returned. Captain Tom again sought a veranda chair, and, sitting down, awaited their coming.

CHAPTER V
MR. MODDRIDGES NERVES CUT LOOSE

UP in Mr. Delavans suite of rooms Eben Moddridge paced the floor in great excitement. For Captain Tom Halstead had just finished his story of the nights queer happening.

Francis Delavan, on the other hand, drew slowly, easily, at his cigar, his outward composure not in the least ruffled.

Yet, at the outset, Moddridge had been the one to doubt the young motor boat skippers strange yarn. Delavan, on the other hand, had believed it implicitly. At the end the nervous smaller man was also a believer.

Frank, declared Eben Moddridge, this is a simply atrocious state of affairs. There is a plot against us, and a desperate, well-organized one.

Let them plot, then, smiled Delavan. Its all right, since we are warned. Yet, Halstead, Im just a bit disappointed that you didnt pretend to fall in with the schemes of your strangers. You would have learned more of what is planned against us.

I dont believe they intended to tell me anything definite, sir, Captain Tom answered, slowly. They spoke of a signal, on seeing which I was to pretend that the Rocket was disabled and unable to proceed. I have an idea, Mr. Delavan, that all their other instructions would have been as vague, as far as real information is concerned.

I dare say you are right, my boy, nodded the Rockets owner. You did best, after all, no doubt. I must confess myself puzzled, though. Your descriptions of the two men dont fit any possible enemies that I can call to mind.

They were most likely agents, acting for someone else, dont you think, Mr. Delavan?

Undoubtedly, captain.

Frank, broke in Eben Moddridge, in a shaking voice, as he halted, looking the picture of nervous breakdown, you must engage detectives instantly.

Nonsense, Eben, retorted his friend.

Or at least, two or three strong, daring men who will remain with you, to defend you against any possible attack.

Mr. Delavan laughed heartily.

Eben, he demanded, what on earth ails you?

Oh, I am so nervous! moaned the other. I see dangers, horrors, ahead of us!

Francis Delavan grinned. Then, noting the ashen-gray look on his friends face, he stepped over, walking with the nervous one and laying a kindly hand on the others shoulder.

Eben, you always let yourself get unduly excited. What you need, just now, is a good, sound nights sleep.

Sleep? shuddered the nervous one. I couldnt think of it. My nerves

Youve let them cut loose again, Eben, and make life a burden to you. Theres no need of it.

But you know, Frank, the big money deals were engaged in. You know well that some men would give their souls to possess our information, both that which we have and expect to get.

True, perhaps, admitted Mr. Delavan, nodding. But the only way they have tried to reach us is through the bribing of our young captain. Halstead and his friends cant be bribed, so the rascals cant hope to do anything. I have full faith in our crew.

Something terrible is almost certain to happen, just the same, insisted Mr. Moddridge, his voice quaking.

Oh, nonsense, man! Go to sleep. Your nerves need rest.

Laugh at me, muttered Moddridge, his face now showing a sickly smile. But the day will come soon, Frank, when you will wish you had listened to me.

But havent I listened to you? inquired Mr. Delavan, with a mock-injured air. Eben, are you going to be disappointed because I wont let my nerves rule me, too?

I wish your nerves did get the upper hand once in a while, groaned the smaller man. Then youd know what I feel. I tell you, Frank, the immediate future looks dark dark!

Mr. Delavan laughed jovially.

Something fearfully unfortunate is going to happen, insisted the man of nerves.

Something very unfortunate, assented Delavan. Were going to add something in the way of millions to our fortunes, and those millions will have to be looked after. Eben, a rich mans lot isnt a happy one, is it?

Happy? groaned Moddridge. I should say not.

Then Ill tell you what to do, proposed Mr. Delavan. Turn your miserable fortune over to Halstead, and then sit by to watch him going to pieces with worry.

Mr. Moddridge, however, refused to be comforted, or to take a humorous view of anything.





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