The Motor Boat Club off Long Island: or, A Daring Marine Game at Racing SpeedŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďYes, but not quite so loudly, please.Ē
ďWhy not?Ē challenged Halstead, simply.
ďWell, because our business is to be Ė er Ė well, confidential.Ē
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.
ďHere,Ē exclaimed the stranger, hastily, ďwhat are you doing?Ē
ďTrying to get a better idea of you, and whether you are in the least ashamed of your business with me,Ē Tom replied, quietly.
The stranger, who proved to be red-haired, stood more quietly, gazing intently at this composed young motor boat boy.
ďWell,Ē inquired the stranger, at last, and speaking more pleasantly, ďare you satisfied with my appearance?Ē
ďIíll admit being curious to know what your business with me can be,Ē Halstead replied.
ďYou read my note through?Ē
ďYes, of course. But that did not tell me your business, or your name,Ē Tom answered.
ďOh, I can tell you all about my business with you, in a few minutes,Ē the other assured the young skipper.
ďAnd your name, too?Ē
ďWhy are you so particular about my name?Ē
ďWhy, you see,Ē smiled Captain Tom, ďdown 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.Ē
ďOh, I see,Ē laughed the other. ďAnd, 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?Ē
ďHow much money?Ē asked Tom Halstead, bluntly.
ďCan you guess how much there is here?Ē 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.
ďThereís five hundred in this little pile,Ē observed Mr. Rexford. ďHalf a thousand dollars. Thatís just the starter, you understand. If you obey certain orders youíll get another little lump of money like this. In the end thereíll 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?Ē
Though Captain Tom Halsteadís eyes had momentarily glistened at the tempting sight of so much money, he now asked, composedly:
ďWhatís the business?Ē
ďYouíre skipper of Francis Delavanís ĎRocket,í arenít you?Ē
ďYou expect to continue to hold the position?Ē
ďProbably all through this summer.Ē
ďThen 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, youíre to have something happen to your boat so that you canít proceed for some time.
You can make believe
something happens to the boat, you know.Ē
ďYouíve got hold of the wrong party, my friend,Ē answered the young skipper, as quietly as ever. ďThe fellow you want is my chum, Joe Dawson, the ĎRocketísí engineer.Ē
Rexford looked Tom Halstead over as keenly as was possible in the darkness.
ďDo you mean, captain,Ē he demanded, finally, ďthat weíll have to let your friend in on this?Ē
ďOf course,Ē Tom nodded, ďif thereís really anything to be done along the lines youíre describing.Ē
ďWhat kind of a fellow is this Joe Dawson?Ē
ďWell,Ē replied Tom, reflectively, ďJoeís hot tempered once in a while. If you proposed anything to him that he considered crooked, heíd most likely hit you over the head with a wrench.Ē
ďSo you call my offer a crooked one, do you?Ē insisted Rexford, a curious note in his voice.
ďYouíre proposing to buy us out Ė to pay us to sell out our employer, arenít you?Ē asked Halstead, directly.
ďWhy, I am trying to show you how you can make a very handsome sum of money by being accommodating,Ē said the young man, slowly.
ďYouíre asking us to sell out our employer and our own sense of honor, arenít you?Ē persisted the young motor boat captain.
ďLook here, Halstead, you donít want to be foolish,Ē remonstrated the red-haired one. ďIím willing enough to let your friend into this matter, and Iíll make it highly profitable for you both. But donít get too stiff about it. Iím only making a very handsome offer to buy some of your interest and time.Ē
ďOh,Ē smiled Halstead, quizzically. ďPardon me. I thought you were trying to buy my soul.Ē
The irony, however, was wasted on the other. ďWell, now you understand that Iím not,Ē laughed Rexford, easily. ďSo we can begin to talk real business. Let us begin by dropping this money into your pocket.Ē
He attempted to slip the roll of banknotes into one of the boyís coat pockets, but Halstead quickly side-stepped, receiving the proffered money in his right hand.
ďOh, very well,Ē laughed Rexford, ďdo just as you please with the money. Itís yours, you know.Ē
ďThank you,Ē 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.
ďHere, stop that!Ē quivered Rexford, darting forward and clutching the young skipperís 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 Rexfordís sudden movement neither of them heard the money drop to earth.
ďWhat do you mean by that?Ē demanded the red-haired one, hoarsely, his breath coming fast, his eyes gleaming angrily.
ďYou told me to do as I pleased with the money,Ē retorted Tom. ďSo I got it out of my hands as quickly as possible. I donít like that kind of money.Ē
ďDo you mean to say that you throw our business over?Ē cried Rexford.
ďOf course I do,Ē smiled Tom. ďAre you so slow-witted that it cost you all that money to find it out?Ē
ďConfound you, Iíve a good mind to give you a good beating,Ē came tempestuously from the otherís lips.
ďTry it,Ē again smiled Halstead, undauntedly.
ďThen we canít get you on our side?Ē 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.
ďIf we canít count on Halstead,Ē declared a new voice, from the rear, ďthen we canít let him get away from us, either Ė not when there are millions at stake!Ē
TOM HALSTEADíS FIGHT AGAINST ODDS
TOMíS 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 boyís 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.
ďFight fair, canít you?Ē growled the captain of the ďRocket.Ē
ďThis isnít a fight,Ē retorted the voice of the newcomer. ďItís a matter of self-preservation. Lie still, canít you. I donít want to have to club you out of your senses. It isnít a gentlemanís kind of work.Ē
ďYouíre right it isnít,Ē gritted Halstead, though he now lay more quietly, for the auburn-haired Rexford had thrown himself, also, upon him. ďThere isnít anything about this business that smacks of the gentleman,Ē the boy added, tauntingly.
ďHold your tongue, will you?Ē demanded the unknown one, angrily.
ďWhen it pleases me most,Ē growled Captain Tom, fast getting into an ugly, reckless mood.
ďRexford, I can hold him,Ē went on the man. ďStation yourself by the youngsterís 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. Weíre sorry enough to treat you in this fashion, but itís all your own fault.Ē
ďHow is that?Ē challenged the youthful skipper.
ďWe gave you a fine chance to make your fortune. You wouldnít have it. Now, if we let you go, youíd spoil all our plans by repeating what has happened to your employer.Ē
ďRight!Ē snapped Captain Tom. ďThatís just what Iím going to do.Ē
ďJust what youíre not going to do,Ē retorted the man. ďItíll be many a day before youíll see anyone we donít want you to see.Ē
ďWhat are you talking about?Ē demanded Halstead, gruffly.
ďYouíll find out. Rexford, get out some cord, and weíll tie this young Indian up. If he tries to yell, hit him as hard as you like, and after that weíll gag him. Remember, Halstead, youíve got to keep quiet and go with us. If you behave quietly you wonít be hurt at all. Youíll only be held for safe keeping for a few weeks. Then youíll be turned loose, with a little purse to console you for your present loss of liberty.Ē
That didnít 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 Halsteadís flying feet caught him squarely in the face. Another kick was aimed at Rexford, who sprang back out of the danger zone.
ďNow I donít care what you do to the boy!Ē 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. ďSail in, Rexford, and help me teach the young idiot a lesson.Ē
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.
ďHere, you canít get away Ė donít attempt it!Ē 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 sailorís 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.
ďI hope you wonít either of you try to follow me up here,Ē hinted Captain Tom, mockingly. ďIf you do, I shall have to kick one of you in the face.Ē
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.
ďYouíre all right up there,Ē admitted Rexford, coldly. ďWe canít 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?Ē
Tomís 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.
ďDonít let him get away,Ē advised Rexford. ďIím going into the road after a few stones.Ē
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.
ďWho are we? Who are we? C-o-l-b-y! Rah! rah! rah!Ē
Down the road came volleys of ringing yells, as though from the throats of a lot of happy savages.
ďRah! rah! rah!Ē
ďCollege boys, or a lot of young fellows masquerading as such!Ē flashed jubilantly through Tom Halsteadís brain.
ďRah! rah! rah! Wow! Right here! Trouble! Hustle!Ē roared Tom, as huskily as his lung power permitted.
ďStop that, you infernal imp!Ē snarled Rexford, leaping back from the road.
ďColby! Here on the run! Trouble!Ē roared Halstead at the top of his voice.
ďWhatís that? Whoís there?Ē came a hail from up the road.
Whizz-zz! Thump! A stone, guided by Rexfordís hand, came through the air, glancing from one of Halsteadís shins.
ďHustle here quick! Follow the voice!Ē roared Tom.
He ducked his head just in time to avoid a stone propelled at his face by Rexford.
ďRah! rah! Hold on! Weíre coming. Trouble, you say? Colby to the mix-up and the happy ending!Ē
ďCome, Rexford! Weíve got to sprint,Ē 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.
ďDid you call Ďtroubleí?Ē demanded one of the newcomers.
ďI did,Ē the young skipper admitted.
ďThen hand over the goods! Show us the face of trouble, or take your punishment as a raiser of false hopes!Ē insisted the leader of the boys.
ďAnd be quick about it. We havenít seen any trouble in an hour,Ē proclaimed another of the boisterous crowd.
ďCome into these woods with me,Ē begged Halstead. ďScatter and sprint. There are two men trying to get away Ė the rascals! If you can find them for me Iíll try to have them held by the police for assault.Ē
ďWhat do they look like?Ē
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.
ďSee here, young man,Ē remarked one of their leaders, severely, ďyou havenít been trifling with our young hopes, have you?Ē
ďOn my word of honor, no,Ē Tom replied, earnestly. Then a happy, somewhat vengeful thought struck him.
ďSee here, fellows,Ē he went on, ďI 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.Ē
But that proved an almost dangerous piece of information to offer.
ďFive hundred Ė what?Ē scowled the leader of the young men.
ďWeíve found a crazy boy!Ē roared another.
ďTo the asylum with him!Ē
ďNo! Drag him along and duck him Ė that will be enough!Ē
Whooping, these irresponsible young fellows charged down upon Halstead. But he knew better than to run. Laughing, he stood his ground.
ďOh, well, if you wonít believe me,Ē he said, with mock resignation, ďlet it go at that. But what are you going to do?Ē
ďListen, child!Ē roared the leader of the crowd. ďWe are pushing forward for the surprise and capture of East Hampton. Willst go with us, and witness scenes of military glory?Ē
ďIím gladly with you for going to town,Ē replied the young skipper.
ďThen come along. Preserve the utmost silence and stealth, all ye, my brave men,Ē ordered the leader, leaping out into the road.
ďRah, rah, rah!Ē they answered him, roaringly, and turned their faces townward. Tom glad to get out of it all so easily, stepped along with them.
ďWhat was that about trouble, younker?Ē one of the supposed college boys asked Halstead. ďDid you think you saw a shadow among the trees?Ē
ďIt was a good deal more than a shadow,Ē insisted Halstead. ďI was attacked by two men.Ē
Tomís questioner looked at him searchingly, then replied good-humoredly:
ďOh, well, say no more about it, and I guess the fellows will forget. It gave us a good excuse for a sprint, anyway.Ē
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.
MR. MODDRIDGEíS NERVES CUT LOOSE
UP in Mr. Delavanís suite of rooms Eben Moddridge paced the floor in great excitement. For Captain Tom Halstead had just finished his story of the nightís 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 skipperís strange yarn. Delavan, on the other hand, had believed it implicitly. At the end the nervous smaller man was also a believer.
ďFrank,Ē declared Eben Moddridge, ďthis is a simply atrocious state of affairs. There is a plot against us, and a desperate, well-organized one.Ē
ďLet them plot, then,Ē smiled Delavan. ďItís all right, since we are warned. Yet, Halstead, Iím just a bit disappointed that you didnít pretend to fall in with the schemes of your strangers. You would have learned more of what is planned against us.Ē
ďI donít believe they intended to tell me anything definite, sir,Ē Captain Tom answered, slowly. ďThey spoke of a signal, on seeing which I was to pretend that the ĎRocketí 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.Ē
ďI dare say you are right, my boy,Ē nodded the ďRocketísĒ owner. ďYou did best, after all, no doubt. I must confess myself puzzled, though. Your descriptions of the two men donít fit any possible enemies that I can call to mind.Ē
ďThey were most likely agents, acting for someone else, donít you think, Mr. Delavan?Ē
ďFrank,Ē broke in Eben Moddridge, in a shaking voice, as he halted, looking the picture of nervous breakdown, ďyou must engage detectives instantly.Ē
ďNonsense, Eben,Ē retorted his friend.
ďOr at least, two or three strong, daring men who will remain with you, to defend you against any possible attack.Ē
Mr. Delavan laughed heartily.
ďEben,Ē he demanded, ďwhat on earth ails you?Ē
ďOh, I am so nervous!Ē moaned the other. ďI see dangers, horrors, ahead of us!Ē
Francis Delavan grinned. Then, noting the ashen-gray look on his friendís face, he stepped over, walking with the nervous one and laying a kindly hand on the otherís shoulder.
ďEben, you always let yourself get unduly excited. What you need, just now, is a good, sound nightís sleep.Ē
ďSleep?Ē shuddered the nervous one. ďI couldnít think of it. My nerves Ė Ē
ďYouíve let them cut loose again, Eben, and make life a burden to you. Thereís no need of it.Ē
ďBut you know, Frank, the big money deals weíre 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.Ē
ďTrue, perhaps,Ē admitted Mr. Delavan, nodding. ďBut the only way they have tried to reach us is through the bribing of our young captain. Halstead and his friends canít be bribed, so the rascals canít hope to do anything. I have full faith in our crew.Ē
ďSomething terrible is almost certain to happen, just the same,Ē insisted Mr. Moddridge, his voice quaking.
ďOh, nonsense, man! Go to sleep. Your nerves need rest.Ē
ďLaugh at me,Ē muttered Moddridge, his face now showing a sickly smile. ďBut the day will come soon, Frank, when you will wish you had listened to me.Ē
ďBut havenít I listened to you?Ē inquired Mr. Delavan, with a mock-injured air. ďEben, are you going to be disappointed because I wonít let my nerves rule me, too?Ē
ďI wish your nerves did get the upper hand once in a while,Ē groaned the smaller man. ďThen youíd know what I feel. I tell you, Frank, the immediate future looks dark Ė dark!Ē
Mr. Delavan laughed jovially.
ďSomething fearfully unfortunate is going to happen,Ē insisted the man of nerves.
ďSomething very unfortunate,Ē assented Delavan. ďWeíre going to add something in the way of millions to our fortunes, and those millions will have to be looked after. Eben, a rich manís lot isnít a happy one, is it?Ē
ďHappy?Ē groaned Moddridge. ďI should say not.Ē
ďThen Iíll tell you what to do,Ē proposed Mr. Delavan. ďTurn your miserable fortune over to Halstead, and then sit by to watch him going to pieces with worry.Ē
Mr. Moddridge, however, refused to be comforted, or to take a humorous view of anything.ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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