The Motor Boat Club off Long Island: or, A Daring Marine Game at Racing Speedñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Now!” shouted Halstead.
Both boys lurched heavily backward, striking the water and causing the port boat to heel more than it had done. Both splashed and disappeared under the water, but the boat righted itself as soon as relieved of the weight of their bodies.
Clutching the port rail of the “Rocket,” Eben Moddridge looked on in almost a trance of fascination. A slight gasp left his lips as he saw the young captain and engineer vanish under the waves; but they quickly reappeared, swimming for the port boat, and climbing on board after recovering the oars.
“Now, you ought to be convinced that this boat couldn’t have been capsized and left floating keel-up by any accident to Mr. Delavan,” hailed Tom Halstead, as Joe rowed in alongside.
“I – I am convinced —almost,” chattered Moddridge, excitedly.
“Then please take our word for whatever you can’t quite realize,” begged the young skipper, as he clambered aboard the “Rocket.” “Come on, Joe, we’ll get into dry clothes. Mr. Moddridge, be sure of one thing: if any accident happened to Mr. Delavan, there were others present when it happened.”
With that parting assurance Halstead and his chum vanished below. Almost incredibly soon they were once more on deck, appareled in dry clothing. Jed then went to bale out the port boat, which was next hoisted to her proper davits.
As Captain Tom, still thinking fast and hard, took his place at the wheel, Eben Moddridge, even though he moved somewhat shakily, managed to climb the steps from the after deck and take the chair nearest to the young skipper.
“Halstead,” he queried, hoarsely, “you even went so – so – far as to declare that you d-d-don’t believe Frank Delavan to be drowned.”
“I don’t believe it in the least,” Captain Tom declared, stoutly. “Now, Mr. Moddridge, if we’re to be of real help to you, you must answer some questions, and you must answer them fully and clearly. Will you do so?”
“I – I’ll try.”
“On your honor as a man, sir, do you know of any reason why Mr. Delavan should want to disappear, leaving behind the impression that he had been drowned?”
“G-g-good heavens, no!” shuddered the nervous one. “Want to disappear? Why Frank Delavan has every reason in the world for wanting to keep in close touch with New York, and with me, his associate in some present big deals.”
“Then, if he has disappeared, as seems evident, it must have been through the compulsion of some other parties?”
“Yes – most absolutely, yes!”
“Mr. Moddridge,” pursued the “Rocket’s” young skipper, impressively, “have you any idea who those other persons are?”
Moddridge’s face worked peculiarly for a few seconds, before he replied, slowly, hesitatingly:
“I might suspect any one of a score of men – perhaps almost the same score that Frank Delavan might name under the same conditions. But I pledge you my word, Halstead, that I do not know enough to suspect any one man above all others.
It would be all guess-work.”
Hesitatingly as this response had been delivered, Tom, watching his man, felt certain that Eben Moddridge was trying to speak the truth.
“Then,” said the young skipper, at last, very deliberately, “since it’s a pretty sure thing, in our minds, that Mr. Delavan wasn’t drowned through accident, there can’t be much sense in trying further to find his body. Instead, our search must be after those who may be holding him, against his will, aboard some craft in these waters.”
Joe, listening nearby, nodded his approval of this decision.
“We can’t do much, though, until this confounded fog lifts,” groaned young Halstead.
Just as he was reaching to sound the whistle once more Captain Tom’s hand was arrested by a sound that made Joe and Jed also start slightly.
Then out of the fog, three hundred feet away, going at fifteen miles an hour, or more, glided swiftly the same long, narrow racing craft they had encountered the day before.
That strange craft crossed the “Rocket’s” bow, at least a hundred and fifty feet away.
“Racer ahoy!” bawled the youthful skipper, in his loudest voice.
But the swift craft vanished into the fog on the other side.
Was it fancy, or were all three of the young motor boat boys dreaming when they believed that back from that swift-moving racer came a sound of mocking laughter?
“Get into the engine room, Joe,” shouted Captain Tom. “Jed, up forward, on lookout!”
With that the young skipper swung around his speed control. The “Rocket,” obeying the impulse, leaped forward, then gradually settled down into a steady gait, while the young skipper strenuously threw his steering wheel over.
“What are you going to do, Halstead?” demanded Eben Moddridge, leaping to his feet as he caught the infection of this new excitement.
“Do?” uttered Captain Tom. “That’s the same craft that hung about us yesterday, plainly trying to nose into our secrets. The same craft that afterwards tried to play a trick on us to make us reach East Hampton late. And just now the fellows aboard the stranger laughed at us. What am I going to do? Why, sir, we’re going after her, going to overhaul her, if there’s the speed in the ‘Rocket.’ We’ll even try to board that stranger, Mr. Moddridge, and see whether Francis Delavan is aboard against his own will!”
THE DASHING STERN CHASE
NOT a single objection did the man of nerves offer. Ordinarily he might have jumped with fear at the proposal to go at fast speed through the fog. Though the mist was already lifting a good deal, as it had done on the day before, there was still enough of a curtain ahead to make it more than just risky to go rushing along.
In the white bank ahead the racing boat was already lost to sight. Captain Tom raised his hand to pull the cord of the auto whistle.
“If I show ’em where I am, though,” he thought, at once, “the man handling that other craft will know enough to swing off onto another course. He can leave me behind easily enough.”
The auto whistle, therefore, did not sound. Captain Tom understood fully the risk he was taking in “going it blind” – and fast, too – right on this pathway of Long Island navigation. But he made up his mind that he would very soon begin to sound his whistle, whether he sighted the other craft or not.
“If they haven’t changed their course I’ll soon be in sight of them,” the young skipper reflected, anxiously. “Oh, that this fog lifts soon!”
Having guessed the other boat’s course, Tom could follow it only by compass, as any other method would be sure to lead him astray.
Both boats’ engines were equipped with the silent exhaust. While not absolutely noiseless, these exhausts run so quietly that a boat’s presence at any considerable distance cannot be detected through them.
One thing was certain. At present the fog was lifting rapidly. All would soon be well if another deep bank of mist did not roll in off the sea.
Jed, watching the gradual going of the fog, was straining his eyes for all he was worth for the first glimpse of that racing craft. Engineer Joe had not further increased the “Rocket’s” speed, for Tom, if he was getting somewhat off the course of the other boat, did not want to be too far away when the lifting of the white curtain should show him the enemy.
“Hist!” The sharp summons caused Tom Halstead quickly to raise his glance from the compass. Jed Prentiss, standing amidships, for he had run back, was pointing over the port bow. Tom could have yelled with delight, for off there, in the edge of the bank, now some eight hundred feet distant, was a low, indistinct line that could hardly be other than the racing boat.
“Ask Joe to kick out just a trifle more speed, not much,” muttered Captain Halstead, as Jed, his eyes shining, moved nearer.
Under the new impulse the “Rocket” stole up on that vague line, which now soon resolved itself into the hull of the racing craft.
By this time the chase was discovered from the other motor boat. There was a splurge ahead; the hull dimmed down to the former indistinct line. After a few moments the racing craft was out of sight again.
“Crowd on every foot of speed you can, Joe,” was the word Jed passed from the young captain. Dawson, crouching beside his motor, was watching every revolution of the engine that he was now spurring.
And now the fog began to lift rapidly. A thousand feet ahead, driving northeast, the racing craft could be made out. She was running a few miles away from the coast and nearly parallel with it.
During the last few minutes Eben Moddridge had been strangely silent, for him. Even now, as he stepped up beside the wheel, he was far less nervous than might have been expected.
“Can you overtake that other boat?” he inquired.
“I’ve got to,” came Captain Tom’s dogged reply, as he kept his gaze sharply ahead.
“She seems like a very fast craft.”
“She’s faster than this boat,” replied Halstead, briefly.
“Good heavens! Then she will show us a clean pair of heels,” quivered Mr. Moddridge.
“That’s not so certain, sir.”
Tom was so sparing of his words, at this crisis in the sea race, that Mr. Delavan’s friend felt himself entitled to further explanation.
“You say she’s faster, but intimate we may catch her,” muttered Mr. Moddridge. “How can that be?”
“Motor engines sometimes go back on a fellow at the worst moment,” Captain Tom explained. “That may happen to the other fellow. He may have to slow down, or even shut off speed altogether.”
“But that might happen to us, too,” objected Mr. Moddridge.
“It might, but there are few engineers on motor boats that I’d back against Joe Dawson,” Halstead continued. “Then again, Mr. Moddridge, the fellow who is steering the boat ahead doesn’t handle his wheel as slickly as he might. By the most careful steering I hope to gain some on him.”
So rapidly was the fog lifting that the skippers of the two boats could now see the ocean for a half mile on either side, ahead or astern. The racing craft, after a few minutes, put on still another burst of speed.
“Ask Joe if he has every bit crowded on?” called Captain Tom. Jed called down into the engine room, then reported back:
“Joe says he may get a little more speed out of the engine, but not much. We’re pretty near up to the mark.”
So Tom Halstead, whitening a bit at the report, setting his teeth harder, devoted his whole energies to trying to steer a straighter course than did the boat ahead.
“There’s some kind of a rumpus on the stranger,” called Jed. “Look at that fellow rushing for the hood forward.”
Plainly there was some excitement out of the usual on board the stranger. Jed, snatching up a pair of marine glasses, swiftly reported:
“Someone is trying to fight his way out of the hood, and the others are trying to force him back. Whee! It looks as though someone had just hurled something out overboard from the hood.”
“Did you see anything strike the water?” demanded Captain Tom.
“It looked so, but it’s a big distance to see a small object, even through the glass.”
“Keep your eye on where you saw that something go overboard,” directed Captain Tom Halstead. “Try to pilot me to that spot. It may be a message – from Mr. Delavan.”
It was a difficult task to scan the water so closely. But Jed did his best, and, after a few moments, called back excitedly:
“Better slow down your speed, captain. I think I see something dancing on the water. It’s bobbing up and down – something.”
Jed Prentiss seemed almost to have his eyes glued to the marine glasses, so intently did he watch.
“Half a point to port, captain,” he shouted, presently. “Headway, only. Joe, can you leave the engine to bring me a hand-net while I keep my eye on that thing bobbing on the water?”
Dawson leaped up from the engine room, going swiftly in search of the desired net.
“Half a point more to port, captain,” called Jed. “Steady – so! Thank you, old fellow” – as Joe handed him the net. Eben Moddridge had now hurried to the port rail as the boat drifted up alongside the thing that Prentiss was watching. It proved to be a leather wallet, floating on the waves. So neatly did Jed pilot that, soon, he was able to lean over the rail, make a deft swoop with the net, and —
“I’ve got it!” he shouted.
Captain Tom Halstead instantly gave speed ahead through the bridge controls, trying to gain as swiftly as he could the very considerable distance that had been lost. “It’s Frank’s wallet – his own. There’s his monogram on it,” cried Eben Moddridge, his voice quaking.
“See if there is any message inside,” shouted Tom, still keeping his gaze on that hull ahead, while Joe bounded below to nurse his motor on to better performances.
Mr. Moddridge’s fingers trembled so in trying to open the soaked wallet that Jed took it from him.
“Your friend’s money,” reported Prentiss, taking out a compact mass of banknotes and passing them to Mr. Moddridge. “Here are some cards, too, and that’s all.”
“See if anything is written on any of the cards,” Tom directed.
“Nothing on any of them,” Jed quickly reported.
“It’s Frank Delavan’s wallet, though,” cried Eben Moddridge.
“And Mr. Delavan is aboard that boat, a prisoner,” returned Tom Halstead. “The best he could do was to throw the wallet overboard in the hope that we’d see it and know where to look for him. There was only a small chance of our seeing it, but Jed did, and we won. Confound ’em! They seem to be gaining on us!”
As it became more evident that the stranger was gradually pulling further ahead of the “Rocket,” Eben Moddridge’s face began to twitch, his breath coming shorter and faster.
“M-m-must we lose?” he faltered.
“No race is lost until it is finished,” Captain Tom replied, tersely.
“But you can’t overtake that boat?”
“It’s a speedier craft than ours, but I’ll follow ’em, even if they get hull down on the horizon,” Halstead retorted. “I’ll keep to the course if they beat us out of sight. I won’t give up while we’ve any gasoline left.”
The stranger was now a mile ahead. Tom figured that, in an hour, the other boat’s lead would be very likely increased by four or five miles more. Surely enough, two or three miles more were gained in the next thirty minutes. Then —
“Hurrah!” shouted Tom Halstead. “Oh, if it’s only as good as it looks!”
“What is it?” queried Eben Moddridge, brokenly, not even rising from his chair.
“See how the other craft is slowing her speed. It looks as though her engine had given out at just the right time for us.”
Indeed, the stranger seemed rapidly coming down to bare headway. Then she barely drifted. The “Rocket,” eating up the miles, swiftly gained on the other motor boat.
“It looks like a real enough break in their engine,” reported Jed, his eyes once more at the glasses. “They’re rushing about under the hood. I can see that much. They seem dreadfully bothered about the engine.”
Tom had steered the “Rocket,” by this time, within a half mile of the stranger’s pointed stern.
“Now, we’ll run down upon them!” glowed the young skipper.
“What will you do when you do get alongside?” asked Eben Moddridge, tremulously.
PLAYING A SAILOR’S TRICK
“FIGHT, if we have to,” was Tom’s laconic reply.
“Oh, dear, I do hope that won’t be necessary,” cried Moddridge, in deeper agitation. “All quarrelsome noises and thoughts get upon my nerves to a dreadful extent.”
“We won’t fight unless they put us to it,” answered Halstead. “And, of course,” he added, with a slight smile, “we may get the worst of it. We may get ourselves fearfully whacked about.”
“Oh, dear!” groaned Moddridge again.
Nor was the nervous man one whit reassured by seeing Joe, after slowing up the engine somewhat, step up on deck bearing a couple of wrenches. As for Jed Prentiss, that youth had laid down the marine glasses to pick up a formidable looking boat-hook.
Even with her lessened speed the “Rocket” was now within less than a quarter of a mile of the racing craft.
“Confound it! Now, what does that mean?” vented Tom, disappointedly, as he beheld one of the men aboard the other craft leap to his post at the wheel. In another moment the answer came. The racing boat was moving through the water again. Every instant her propeller churned up the water a little faster.
“They’ve fixed their engine,” quavered Captain Tom. “What we’ve now got to find out is whether their motor is strong enough to get them away from us.”
For some three or four minutes the two craft remained about the same distance apart, despite the fact that Joe Dawson, who had dropped down once more into the engine room, was coaxing his motor along as skilfully as he could. Then, at last, the stranger began to draw ahead.
“The lucky scoundrels!” gritted Tom. “They’re able to go at least pretty close to their full speed. See ’em eat up the miles again!”
“At least, then, there’ll be no fight,” declared Mr. Moddridge, in a tone of relief.
“Nor will your friend and our employer have any chance to get back to his own boat at present,” retorted Tom Halstead. Ordinarily he could stand this nervous man’s agitated spells, though just now they wore upon the young skipper’s patience.
For a few miles the chase continued, the stranger gaining all the while. The two boats had been running, lately, about five miles off the Long Island coast. Now, the stranger could be seen heading much more to the northward, as though intent on making the coast.
“Jed,” directed the young skipper, “see whether you can pick up the mouth of Cookson’s Inlet ahead of the stranger.”
“There’s a break in the beach over yonder,” reported Prentiss, soon. “It doesn’t appear to be more than fifty feet wide.”
“It’s sixty-two feet,” responded Tom Halstead, who had made a hard study of all this part of the Long Island coast “And confound them if they try to go in there.”
“Why?” inquired Eben Moddridge.
“It’s mighty shallow water, the other side of the inlet,” Captain Halstead explained. “That other boat probably doesn’t draw more than two and a half feet of water. Our draught, on account of our very heavy engine, is nearer nine feet. I don’t know just how far we can follow them in that little bay. In some places the water isn’t over four feet deep.”
“Then they are not playing fairly,” muttered Moddridge, in a tone of deep disgust.
“Rascals rarely do play a fairer game than they’re obliged to do,” answered Tom, with a queer little smile. “However, all we can do is to stick to them as long as we are able.”
With two boats going at such high speed it was not long before the mouth of the inlet was made. The stranger, however, passed through about four minutes ahead of the “Rocket.”
Once in the bay the motor boat boys found themselves not far from a low, sandy island, on which were a few trees and three small cottages.
“There they are, passing the other side of the island,” hailed Jed, pointing to the top of the stranger’s single mast, visible for an instant before it disappeared behind a rise in the sandy surface of the island.
“It looks as though they’re just running around the island,” muttered Tom Halstead. “We won’t follow; we’ll meet ’em.”
Putting the “Rocket” about, the young skipper steered for the other end of the island. In a few minutes he passed around it, to discover that the strange craft had put about, and was going back the way it had come.
“I think, sir,” explained the young skipper, turning to Mr. Moddridge, “that the shortest way out of this hide-and-seek game will be to keep right after that pirate’s stern.”
“All right,” nodded Moddridge, hesitatingly. “Yet why do you call that other boat a pirate?”
“Any boat deserves the name that sails on queer business, and is even afraid to show her name-plate at her stern,” Halstead rejoined.
The stranger still led, in that race in the narrow way between the island and the main shore.
“Good enough, too,” growled Halstead, as his keen eyes noted a slight change in the color Of the water ahead. “They are leading us into the shallows. Jed, get the lead, run up to the bow and cast it in a hurry!”
Even as he gave the order, the young skipper, his hands trembling slightly from vexation, turned the speed control to lessen the “Rocket’s” headway.
Jed, poising the lead, made the neat cast of a practiced sailor, letting the flannel-tagged line pay out rapidly between his fingers. At the instant the line slackened Prentiss, half-turned toward the helm, sang drawlingly back:
“And a qua-arter, two!”
That signified two and a quarter fathoms, or thirteen and a half feet of water under the bottom of the cruiser, which drew about nine feet.
Rapidly hauling in, while the “Rocket” now hardly more than crawled along in these shallows, Prentiss heaved the lead once more.
“And a scant – two!” he reported. Joe Dawson, leaping to the deck, ranged up alongside of Jed. The water had a shallower look ahead.
“A-a-and three-qua-arters – one!” came the hail from the leadsman.
Ten and a half feet meant a foot and a half to spare under the deepest point of the cruiser’s keel.
Once more Jed poised the lead for the heave, but Joe, taking a more knowing look, shouted back:
“Reverse her, captain, or you’ll poke her nose in the mud!”
Instantly Captain Halstead’s hand flew to the reversing lever. Slowly the motor boat stole backward. The stranger had passed around to the seaward side of the little island, and was making for the inlet.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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