Harrie Hancock.

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





Halstead, said Mr. Delavan, going over and resting a hand on the young captains shoulder, I dont expect to need the Rocket for any purpose to-morrow, but I cant tell definitely yet. Go back on board. To-morrow keep all hands on board or close by, so that you can take the boat out if needed. Enjoy yourselves all you can. Eat the best that you can find aboard. Dont bother about to-nights happenings my friend, Moddridge, will attend to all of that. If it happens that you, or Dawson, are approached again by strangers, let them think that you might be induced to fall in with their plans, after all, and then you can let me know what follows. Moddridge and I are playing a peculiar and big game with the money market, and Ive no doubt that others would like to steal or bribe their way into it. But I trust you. Good night, my boy.

So Captain Tom strolled back to the pier, thinking over a good many things. As he came in sight of the Rocket at her berth he noted that the only lights showing were one deck light, aft, and the gleam that came through the port-holes of the crews quarters forward. It looked as though Joe Dawson and Jed Prentiss had turned in for the night, or were about to do so.

One of the small Shinnecock Bay freight boats lay in at the other side of the same pier. A good many cases and barrels were piled up, as though awaiting shipment. Captain Tom stepped over to his own side of the pier, still thinking intently.

Just as the young skipper turned toward the Rockets gang-plank a heavy object came up over one of the freight piles, flying through the air. Some instinct of danger made young Halstead leap aside. Bump! An iron hitching weight struck the gang-plank with a bang.

For just an instant Captain Tom stood gazing at that heavy missile almost in a daze.

That was aimed at my legs. The intention must have been to cripple me! leaped to his lips.

Then, in a lustier voice, he roared:

Joe! Jed! Tumble out on deck! lively, now!

CHAPTER VI
THE SIGN OF MISCHIEF

THE next instant after that rousing hail there was a sound of scrambling below. Halstead did not wait. Turning, he raced around the end of that pile of freight. He was in time to hear a loud splash in the water astern of the little freight steamer, though not in time to see who or what jumped. Then he heard Joe and Jed on the Rockets deck.

Over here, fellows! he called. And come quickly! Then as his two friends, partly disrobed, rushed to his side, Captain Tom pointed to the water.

Someone threw a weight at me, he explained. He jumped in. Watch to see him rise. Jed, you watch from the other side of the pier. Joe, take the end and hustle!

Thus distributed, the crew of the Rocket watched and listened for the rising of Tom Halsteads recent assailant. Time went by, however, until it was certain that no human being could any longer remain under water. Yet no head showed, nor was any being heard making the shore.

Then the two other boys came back to their young leader, who was looking extremely thoughtful.

I wonder, mused Tom, aloud, whether Ive had a good one played on me? You see that weight resting yonder on our gang-plank. That was thrown at me from behind this pile of freight. After yelling for you fellows, I rushed over here just in time to hear a splash. And now it has struck me that some mighty smooth chap may have pitched another weight into the water, then doubled around the freight and so got ashore and away.

That was the trick, I guess, nodded Joe Dawson, thoughtfully. But what on earth was it all about, anyway, Tom?

Well take a look over this freight tub first, and then Ill tell you, proposed Halstead, swinging himself on board the little steamer. But every door and hatchway on that craft had been made fast for the night, and there appeared to be no one aboard. Then the young skipper led his friends back to the Rocket.

Now, lets have the yarn, begged Jed, who, from being sleepy ten minutes before, was suddenly very much awake.

After they had seated themselves on the top of the cabin, Halstead, in low tones, described his brief adventures of the evening.

Whatever someones plan is, he wound up, earnestly, it seems to be a sure thing that they dont want this boat to keep in commission. That weight, if I hadnt jumped, would very likely have broken one of my legs. So, fellows, do you believe weve any right to sleep all hands at the same time, while tied to this pier?

Though Im soon going to be pretty drowsy, admitted Joe Dawson, I honestly dont believe weve any right to go below without a watch. Im ready to stand my share of watch.

Me, too, pledged Jed, ungrammatically.

Then well divide the night, to six in the morning, into three watches, concluded the young motor boat skipper, looking at his timepiece. You fellows go below as soon as you like. Ill take the first third of the night.

Joe and Jed were not long in going below, but the former was soon on deck again.

Heres something from the engine room that may come in handy, in case of need, hinted Dawson, laying two wrenches on top of the deck-house beside the young captain. You can use em for clubs, or throw em, if you see anything moren shadows about.

Tom Halstead laughed, though he held the wrenches, balancing them and figuring on what sort of missiles they would make at need.

The night grew late as Captain Tom still watched. Even the lights in the nearby hotels began to go out. All life on the water had stopped some time before. Halstead had already brought the weight aboard and stowed it in the cabin below. He wanted to show it to his employer in the morning.

Once or twice Halstead thought he heard suspicious sounds near the pier. Each time, gripping a wrench in his right hand, he went boldly to investigate. No real sign of a prowler, however, appeared as the time glided by.

Its so quiet I could almost think I had been dreaming things to-night, thought Tom, musingly, as he looked out at the few lights that shone over the water. We fellows will have to try to keep this weight-throwing affair from Mr. Moddridge, or the poor fellow will have another heavy nervous attack. I dont believe Mr. Delavan will tell him, if we dont.

At two bells past midnight (one oclock) the young skipper called Jed on deck, then turned in. The crews quarters on the Rocket consisted of two tiny staterooms, each containing two berths, and little else. Tom and Joe berthed together. Joe was breathing soundly, in deepest sleep, when Halstead turned in. The latter, later in the night, was so deep in slumber that he did not know when Jed called Joe to take the last night watch on deck.

Captain Tom, in fact, knew nothing until Joe Dawson stepped into the little stateroom and shook him by the shoulder.

Its nearly eight oclock, old fellow, rang Joes cheery voice, and Jed has nearly finished cooking the best breakfast he could find on board. Cant you smell it?

Indeed I can, answered the young skipper, turning out hastily, and with an almost guilty feeling over having slept so long. What if the owner should come aboard, wanting an immediate start made? While dressing he made a remark of that kind to Dawson, who only smiled.

Wheres the boat that belongs at the port davits? asked the young skipper, as he stepped on deck and immediately noted the absence of the small boat.

Oh, a fellow came along and asked if he could have the boat for a little while, said Joe, dryly.

And you let him have it?

I figured that I had to, laughed Joe. The fellow was our owner.

Mr. Delavan? What did he want the boat for?

He said Mr. Moddridge was sound asleep, for a wonder, and that he had slipped down for a little early morning exercise.

What time did he take the boat? questioned Captain Tom.

About six oclock. He rowed out south over the bay, and I havent seen him since.

Well, I suppose its the owners business if he wants to borrow his own boat and go for a row on the bay, replied Tom.

Breakfast! hailed Steward Jed. The chums disappeared below decks forward, and for the next half hour gave most of their thoughts to the enjoyment of the morning meal. Then the young engineer and captain returned to the deck.

Mr. Delavan said he wasnt likely to use this craft to-day, and Ill be as well pleased if he doesnt, said Halstead. An August morning mist was just more than barely visible as it formed out on the ocean, rolling slowly inward. The remainder of the forenoon was likely to be as foggy as on the day before.

The rest will do the engine good, said Dawson meditatively. These engines that are made for racing speeds are all right at the trick if the speed isnt pushed too often. We did quite some speeding yesterday, so Im glad if the engine does get a rest.

Thats right, nodded Tom. No matter if you take the finest care possible of a gasoline motor, if the engine is pushed too hard and some little thing goes wrong, the average owner is likely to think he has an incompetent engineer.

That wasnt the way, though, with Mr. Prescott, argued Joe. Nor with Mr. Dunstan, either. They both trusted everything about the boats to us. Theyd sooner blame the boat or engine-builders than blame us.

From all indications, pursued Captain Tom, Mr. Delavan is likely to prove the most indulgent owner of all. Say, I wonder what Mr. Delavan would look like, worried?

It would be easier to guess what Mr. Moddridge would look like, laughed Joe.

Speaking of angels quoted Captain Tom, dryly. Joe wheeled about to look up beyond the shore end of the pier. Eben Moddridge was coming toward them on a nervous, jerky run. He reached the pier and boarded the boat, all out of breath.

Is Mr. Delavan aboard? he demanded, pantingly.

Mr. Delavan took the small boat from the port davits and went for a row, sir, at about six this morning, reported Captain Tom.

And hasnt returned? asked Mr. Moddridge, eyes and mouth opening wide at the same time. Which way did he go?

Out toward the inlet, sir, Joe answered, pointing southward.

And the fog rolling in there now! exclaimed Moddridge, looking more nervous every instant. Then what are you doing here? Why arent you out yonder trying to find your employer?

We will start, if you wish, Captain Tom agreed.

Wish? echoed the nervous one, I command it!

Eben Moddridge, not being the owner, could issue no order that the young skipper was bound to obey. But Halstead himself thought it would be wholly wise to go out in search of his employer. The Rockets bow and stern hawsers were quickly cast off by Jed, while Joe gave the wheel a few vigorous turns in the engine room. The craft fell off from the pier, then, at slow speed, nosed straight out for the inlet.

Jed, take a forward watch, at port side, called the young skipper. Mr. Moddridge, do you mind keeping a lookout at starboard?

The nervous one stationed himself on the side indicated, not far from the young helmsman.

Something has happened to Frank! I know it, I know it! muttered Eben Moddridge, in deep agitation. Oh, why did I sleep so late? Why didnt I keep an eye open to watch that reckless fellow? But hell never consent to be governed by me.

Tom, though he said nothing, smiled a bit grimly, at thought of what it would be like for one to be ruled by Eben Moddridge.

At first, despite the growing fog, the searchers could see for a few hundred feet to either side of them. This gradually narrowed down to two hundred feet, or so, at the inlet. A little further out they could make nothing out distinctly at a distance greater than sixty feet Captain Halstead sounded the whistle frequently, now.

Stop the boat! yelled Eben Moddridge, frantically, after a while, as he peered ahead at starboard. Dont you see it? Dont you see that?

He was pointing, jumping up and down, staring wildly. Tom caught sight of the object, too. He did not stop the boat, but slackened her speed down to little more than bare headway, throwing the helm hard over and bringing the boats nose sharply around to starboard.

Jed, a boat-hook! shouted the young skipper. Be ready to make fast as soon as we get alongside.

Joe Dawson sprang up from the engine room for a brief look. No wonder he started, for the Rocket was slowly, cumbrously, describing a circle around an object that proved to be the port boat, bobbing up and down on the light waves. The small boat was keel up. Eben Moddridge, as he stared at it, became speechless from dread and terror.

Jed, at the right moment, made fast with the boat-hook, drawing the small craft in alongside. While he was doing so Joe suddenly cried:

And say! Look there!

Coming in on the start of the flood tide, floated a straw hat and a coat beyond a doubt those lately worn by Francis Delavan.

Now, what do you say to that? gasped Eben Moddridge, turning deathly pale and looking as though he must sink to the deck.

A great fear was tugging at the heart of Captain Tom Halstead, though he managed to reply, calmly enough:

I dont know just what it means, Mr. Moddridge, but its surely the sign of mischief of some sort.

CHAPTER VII
WORKING OUT THE PUZZLE

JED, amid all the excitement, deftly captured with the boat-hook the painter of the small boat, then towed that little craft astern, making it fast.

Captain Tom now man?uvred the Rocket alongside of the floating coat. The straw hat was also recovered and pulled aboard.

Theyre his both the hat and the coat! cried Moddridge, in shaking accents. See, here are even letters belonging to Delavan in this pocket!

The nervous one never looked nearer to swooning than he did at that moment. He tried to rise, but would have tottered backward had not Joe Dawson caught him and steadied him.

Easy, sir. Youll best keep your wits now, all of em, counseled Joe, quietly. If theres any work to be done, youll have to direct it, you know.

With Joes aid Eben Moddridge reached the rail. Then Joe brought a chair and Mr. Moddridge sat down.

You cant see the the poor Delavan? fluttered Moddridge, in the greatest agitation, as he stared out over the waters.

We havent sighted Mr. Delavan as yet, Captain Tom replied. But you may be sure, sir, were going to make a most thorough search.

Prentiss, help me below, begged Moddridge, his face still ashen white and his teeth chattering. I I cant stand any more of this.

Indeed, the poor fellows looks fully bore out his words as Jed helped him below.

Put him in a berth, Tom murmured after them. Better stay with him for the present, Jed.

Then the Rocket was started on a very slow cruise over all the waters nearby. After a few minutes Captain Halstead began to feel that further search, especially in the fog, would be useless. Yet he continued the hunt for more than an hour. No further traces, however, were found of the boats owner or late owner. Which?

Every few minutes Jed was sent up to deck to ask uselessly for news.

Hows Mr. Moddridge getting along? queried Captain Tom, at last.

If he does any worse, confided Jed, he wont live to reach the pier. I never saw a man more unstrung. He keeps insisting that he knows Mr. Delavan is dead drowned.

And Im almost equally positive that nothing of the sort has happened to Mr. Delavan, Tom Halstead retorted.

You ? gasped Jed, wonderingly, but could go no further, his astonishment was so intense.

Im of the same opinion as Tom, Joe Dawson added, quietly.

You two have been talking it over, then? Jed queried.

Not very much, Joe replied. But there are some things about this case that look mighty queer for a drowning.

But it looks, protested Jed, as though Mr. Delavan had accidentally tipped the boat and gone overboard.

When you once begin to think, retorted Joe, stubbornly, it looks like nothing of the sort.

Jed Prentiss looked wonderingly from one to the other, but Tom cut in with:

Take the wheel, Joe, and keep the whistle sounding, for the fog is still thicker than I like to see it. Im going below to talk with Mr. Delavans friend. Jed, youll be more useful on deck, at present.

Moddridge was lying in a berth in the cabin, moaning and holding a handkerchief over his eyes.

Ive come to ask you what Im to do, sir? Tom called briskly, thinking thus to rouse the nervous one to action.

The only response was another moan.

Come, rouse yourself, please, and think whats to be done in your friends interests, urged the young skipper.

There was another moan, before Moddridge answered, in a sepulchral voice:

Dont ask me, Halstead.

Right! I guess I wont, Tom rejoined, thoughtfully. Youre so utterly upset that I guess I can furnish better instructions myself.

Oh, yes, please, begged the other, helplessly. And leave me alone, Halstead, or else keep quiet.

But Ive got to ask some questions, sir, and youll have to answer them, Tom went on. So, sir, it seems to me that you will do best to come on deck, into the open air.

Do you you really think so? faltered the stricken one.

It will be much better for you to be in the air, Mr. Moddridge.

Id go if I could, but I feel that I simply havent the strength to get there, mumbled the nervous man.

Ill show you how, responded Captain Tom, briskly, almost cheerily. Steady, now, sir. There; its as easy as can be.

Tom Halstead lifted the little man bodily out of the berth, getting a good hold on him and carrying him out to the after deck, where he deposited the collapsed burden in one of the wicker arm-chairs.

Now, in the first place, Mr. Moddridge, began Tom, try to get it fixed in your mind that your friend isnt drowned that there isnt the least probability of any such fate having overtaken him.

Nonsense! declared Eben Moddridge, feebly.

Perhaps you think Mr. Delavan stood up in the boat, and it tipped and let him over, argued Tom. But that was next-door to impossible.

How impossible? demanded Moddridge, taking notice sufficiently to sit up a little more.

Why, the port boat, Mr. Moddridge, on account of her heavy keel, her comparatively broad beam and other peculiarities, belongs to a class of what are called self-righting boats. It would take a deliberate effort, by a very strong man, to capsize such a boat. Shes towing astern now. After a good deal of effort we righted her.

For a moment Eben Moddridge looked hopeful. Then he sank back once more, all but collapsing.

Nonsense, he remonstrated. Any little boat of that size can be easily tipped over.

The boat cant be capsized easily, I assure you, Tom argued. I know the type of boat, and understand what I am talking about. Now, we found the boat capsized. It probably took more than one man to do it. Mr. Delavan could hardly have done it alone. If it took others to help in capsizing the boat, what is more likely than that others have seized him, and then upset the boat in order to make it appear that he had fallen overboard and been drowned? Mr. Moddridge, are there, or are there not, men who would be glad to seize Mr. Delavan for a while, for the benefit of what information they might expect to frighten or torment out of him?

Yes, yes, yes! cried the nervous man, firing up for the instant and rising to his feet full of new, brief energy. Then he sank back into the chair.

But I dont believe that happened, he went on, brokenly. I am quite convinced that my friend was drowned by the capsizing of the small boat.

Wait a few moments, Mr. Moddridge, and well show you, then, proposed Captain Tom, turning and making a signal to Joe Dawson. Jed, keep the bridge deck, and sound the whistle regularly.

Captain and engineer disappeared below, going to their room. They were quickly back, clad only in their bathing suits.

Now, you keep your eyes on us, Mr. Moddridge, young Halstead requested. Mr. Delavan is a heavy man, but Joe and I, together, are much heavier than he. Well show you how hard it is to upset a boat of this type.

Though the boats own oars had not been recovered, there was another pair aboard that would serve. Joe brought these, while Halstead brought the port boat alongside of the barely moving motor boat. Both boys stepped down into the smaller craft. Joe applied himself at the oars. A slight lifting of the fog now made objects visible for a radius of some two hundred feet.

Watch us, called Tom, when the port boat was some forty feet away from the Rocket.

Both boys stood up, each resting a foot on the same gunwale of that little port boat. They bent far forward. The boat heeled; they even forced it to take in some water from the gently rolling sea. Then, as they stepped back, the little craft quickly righted itself.

Now, come on, Joe, proposed the young skipper. Well both stand with our backs to the gunwale. Well tip the boat, and then fall backward into the water, just as though it were a real accident.

Wholly at home on or in the water, the two chums went through the man?uvre with reckless abandon. Once more they succeeded in making the little craft heel over and take in some water.





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