The Motor Boat Club off Long Island: or, A Daring Marine Game at Racing Speedñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“They’re playing with us!” grumbled Skipper Tom. “The fun’s all theirs, for they’ve got the faster craft.”
Just as soon as the “Rocket” had once more five feet of water to spare under her hull Halstead decided to head about, the way he had come, and put on all speed for the inlet. Yet, so expensive of time was this proceeding that, when the Delavan boat once more glided through the inlet, the stranger was three miles out to sea, heading south.
“That fellow must be laughing at us,” faltered Eben Moddridge.
“Of course he is,” flared Tom Halstead. “And I could grind my teeth, if that sort of work would do any good.”
“W-w-what can we do?” stammered the nervous one.
“Only keep up the chase until one or the other breaks down, or runs out of gasoline,” replied the young skipper, doggedly.
For almost an hour more the boats continued to head south. All but the high parts of Long Island were below the horizon. Yet Halstead, calling Jed to the wheel, though still directing the course, believed that he was gaining on the other boat, even if very slowly.
“We’ve gasoline enough aboard,” the young skipper explained to the nervous man, “to keep running for twenty-four hours yet. I hope that other fellow hasn’t.”
“B-b-b-but see here,” quavered Moddridge, a new alarm dawning upon his mind, “if that other crowd should let us get alongside, and th-then s-s-s-shoot at us – it would be awful!”
“That’s a chance we’ve simply got to take,” replied Tom Halstead, coolly, “if we’re to try to reach Mr. Delavan and get him back aboard his own boat.”
“I – I – I couldn’t s-s-stand anything of that sort!” almost screamed the nervous one.
“Then will you get off the boat, sir, and walk?” inquired the young skipper, with perhaps pardonable irritation. This exhibition of weak-kneed manhood made him indignant.
Erelong the stranger was a good twenty miles south of the nearest point on the Long Island coast. Both boats had traveled fast over the gently-rolling sea. The conditions would have been ideal for a race, had the stakes been less important.
“Maybe their gasoline is running so low that those fellows are ready to be reasonable,” grinned Joe Dawson, turning from the stand he had taken near the bow. It could be seen, now, that the stranger was slowing down her speed. Presently she was lying to.
“That must be a confession of a tank low with gasoline,” cried Captain Tom, jubilantly, hastening forward with the glasses. “Steer straight for her, to come up on the port side, Jed.”
Seeing Joe again disappear below, to reappear with a pair of ugly-looking wrenches, Eben Moddridge turned very pale, and next hastened, shakily, to the steps leading down to the after deck. Thence he vanished into the cabin.
“Say,” uttered Joe, disdainfully, “I wish I had his fighting blood!”
Still the stranger lay to, only two men showing in her cockpit. As the “Rocket” came much closer to her possible prey Tom Halstead again took the wheel, while Jed stood close to where his prized boat-hook lay.
Tom shut off most of the speed as he ran in closer to port of the stranger. The two men visible aboard the other boat were now standing by the rail, looking curiously enough at the motor boat boys.
“‘Rocket’ ahoy!” hailed one of them, as Tom man?uvred his craft within easy talking-distance of the other. “Have you been following us?”
“Some!” admitted Halstead, dryly.
“To see whom you have aboard.”
“Only us two boat-handlers on board,” replied one of the pair.
“Tell that to the mermaids,” retorted Captain Tom, grimly.
“Don’t you believe us?” demanded the same speaker, the larger of the rough-looking seafaring pair.
“I’m not very good at believing,” was the younger skipper’s reply.
“Then wait until we get slowly under way, and you can come up alongside. I guess you can board us, on this gentle sea, without scraping either hull,” proposed the speaker aboard the racer.
That offer, made in seeming good faith, almost staggered Tom Halstead for the moment. Why the stranger should run away for hours, then suddenly agree to be boarded, was not at once apparent.
“Unless they want to get one of us aboard, or want to try the mighty risky trick of capturing us on the high seas,” reflected the young skipper. “However, all we’re here for is to find and rescue Mr. Delavan. We’ve simply got to try to do that.”
So he nodded, allowed his boat to fall away, then come up alongside the racing boat, now under slow headway.
As the two hulls bumped slightly, Jed Prentiss made fast to the other craft’s rail with his boat-hook. Tom Halstead, with a wrench dropped into a hip pocket out of sight, leaped over the other boat’s rail down into the cockpit.
“You spoke about someone being aboard here?” quizzed the larger of the two strangers. “You can go ahead and find out your mistake. Open anything you want; look anywhere you please.”
Halstead’s first swift look in under the hood showed him only the motor housed there. While Joe Dawson and Jed Prentiss watched keenly, suspiciously, from the “Rocket’s” rail, the young skipper searched minutely under that hood deck. There was not a human being there, nor any trace of late occupancy by any. There were lockers. Tom raised the lid of every one. He might, in his dismayed wonder, have explored the gasoline tank, had he not known that the opening was too small to permit the entrance of a man’s body.
“Through in there? Satisfied?” called the larger of the two men, half-mockingly. “There are two lockers out here, and an after compartment out here in the cockpit.”
As soon as he was satisfied that there was no other possible place under the hood, Halstead accepted the invitation to make a search of the cockpit lockers and storage spaces. Yet it was all quite in vain.
Suddenly, however, the young skipper straightened himself, glaring down at a straight, not very distinct line that ran the length of the cockpit, even extending under the hood. As he looked swiftly up, he encountered the mocking gazes of the two boat handlers.
“That was a slick trick,” Captain Tom admitted, speaking dryly, though with an effort. “That line was made by the dirty keel of a small boat. In Cookson’s Bay, while hidden from us by that little island, you put the small boat over the side, and some of your passengers went ashore. Then you decoyed us all this distance out to sea to have the joy of laughing at us.”
“Blessed if I can guess what the lad means, friend,” said one of the rough pair to the other.
But Captain Tom Halstead, as he leaped back aboard the “Rocket,” and turned to them with flashing eyes, retorted gamely:
“I’m planning to have the pleasure, mighty soon, of showing you the value of the last laugh!”
THE MONEY STORM BREAKS LOOSE
AS soon as the “Rocket” had fallen away from the mocking strangers and was heading back at nearly full speed for the Long Island coast, Eben Moddridge came almost totteringly on deck.
“Poor Frank Delavan wasn’t aboard that other boat,” he groaned.
“No,” answered Halstead, trying hard to keep his disapproval of the other’s cowardice from sounding in his voice.
“Then, good heavens! We must get back to East Hampton without loss of a moment,” cried the owner’s friend.
“Don’t you think we’ll do a lot better to hustle back to Cookson’s Bay?” demanded the young skipper. “We all of us know, as well as we need to, that Mr. Delavan was aboard that racing boat this morning, so we must agree that Mr. Delavan was carried ashore while that other craft had the island between us and them. We’re out to find Mr. Delavan, aren’t we? If we are, sir, the trail starts from Cookson’s Bay.”
“But there are other matters you don’t understand,” replied Moddridge, nervously. “Both Delavan and I have interests at work in Wall Street. Those interests involve many millions of dollars. While I was hoping every minute to come up with Frank Delavan, the chase seemed to me to be the main thing. But I should have been in East Hampton hours ago, to answer frantic appeals for instructions that must have been coming in over the long distance telephone.”
“Then do you instruct me, sir, to head for East Hampton, and leave Mr. Delavan to take his chances in the hands of rascals?”
“Don’t – don’t put it in that way,” begged Mr. Moddridge, shivering.
“Unfortunately, sir, I don’t see any other way to put the question,” young Halstead answered.
Eben Moddridge wavered, thinking it all over in an evident frenzy. While he was thus pondering Captain Tom was heading straight in for where he knew Cookson’s Inlet to be.
“It’s – it’s – bad either way,” Moddridge finally confessed. “If I delay in reaching the telephone Frank and I may lose millions through some unfortunate turn in Wall Street. And, on the other hand, if poor Frank has vanished, perhaps never to turn up again, he and I may both be ruined in the money world.”
“As between losing some millions, and all,” spoke Tom, as judicially as he could, “I should say it would be better to risk some of the money and keep on after Mr. Delavan himself.”
“If that’s the way it appears to you, then do so,” replied Eben Moddridge, slowly, hesitatingly. “Oh, dear, I simply can’t think when I am so nervous.”
“This is a funny sort of an associate to take into a big money deal,” thought Halstead, wonderingly. The young skipper discovered, later, that Moddridge was a power in Wall Street simply because he had inherited more millions than he was capable of handling. He was valuable when men wanted more money for financial operations than they themselves controlled. Moddridge was in the present big Delavan deals simply because Moddridge had discovered that he could always trust Mr. Delavan.
So Tom headed for Cookson’s Bay, making that shallow little body of water in less than an hour. Another hour was spent in lowering the port boat and in rowing Moddridge both to the little island and to the main shore. It was a sparsely settled region. Only one of the cottages on the little island was occupied, and that only by a bachelor who admitted that he had been asleep at the time when the two motor boats had dodged about the island. He aided, however, in searching the other two cottages, but no sign was found of Mr. Delavan or of his probable captors. The search was continued on the main shore, with no better results.
“Now, we simply must get back to East Hampton,” urged Moddridge, and Halstead was reluctantly of the same opinion.
“If Frank can’t be found soon,” chattered the nervous one, as the “Rocket” headed toward her pier at East Hampton, “and if the news becomes public, then every stock he is heavily interested in will go away down on the Stock Exchange.”
“Why?” asked Tom Halstead.
“Why, people will think there’s something queer about the disappearance,” Moddridge explained. “Take the P. & Y. Railroad, for instance. Its capital is eighty million dollars. Delavan owns fifteen million of that himself. He’s the president, biggest stockholder, and the virtual czar of that railroad. If Frank can’t be found, what will folks be apt to think? Why, simply that he has been guilty of criminally mismanaging the railroad, for his own profit, and that now he has fled to some foreign country to hide away from the American law. P. & Y. stock will take a fearful drop.”
“That won’t happen, all in a day, will it?” questioned Captain Tom.
“It might. It will be sure to happen within a very few days, if Frank doesn’t show up again. Wall Street is the most sensitive place in the world. Let a breath of suspicion blow against a certain stock, and that stock drops and drops, until perhaps it goes down out of sight. Everyone who has his whole fortune invested in that stock may be ruined by the smash. If the P. & Y. stock goes down, it will knock Frank’s deals and mine into a cocked hat.”
“Why?” asked Tom, wonderingly.
“Why?” repeated Eben Moddridge, shiveringly. “Why, I’ve told you that Frank holds fifteen millions of P. & Y. stock. I hold five millions myself. Frank told you, yesterday, that we were plunging in Steel and other allied stocks that Mr. Gordon influences heavily. Steel and those other stocks are going to work up and down, like a see-saw, for the next few days. To raise the funds for our operations Frank and I have been pledging our P. & Y. stock, which stands at 102. But suppose Delavan can’t be found, and P. & Y. drops to forty – or even thirty?” gasped Eben Moddridge. “What would happen then?”
“Well, what would happen?” questioned Tom Halstead, to whom the whole vast Wall Street game was a great puzzle.
“Why, if P. & Y. tumbles like that,” continued Eben Moddridge, “the great banking houses that have been advancing us money on P. & Y. stock to play with Steel and allied stocks will be forced to call in their loans in order to protect themselves. Frank Delavan and I are pledged as heavily as we possibly can be. We couldn’t raise five million dollars more between us. So, if the bottom drops out of the P. & Y. stock Delavan and myself stand to be wiped off the board in all our deals – ruined!”
The last word came from Moddridge in a sobbing gasp. He was clutching at the rail as the “Rocket” moved in nearer to her pier.
“Halstead,” he continued soon, “as quickly as we land, I want you to get a carriage and rush to the telephone office with me. I’m so excited I feel as though I’d fall over in a faint. You must go with me – remain with me until this fearful ordeal is over.”
Half a dozen well-dressed, alert-looking young men who stood on the pier seemed to be greatly interested in the “Rocket” as that boat was berthed. Jed was at the wheel as Captain Tom stood by the rail, ready to leap ashore.
“Mr. Francis Delavan aboard?” hailed one of the young men, just as the young skipper’s feet touched the pier.
“Why do you want to know?” Halstead cross-questioned.
“I’m from the New York ‘Herald’,” replied the young man. “I am here to interview Mr. Delavan.”
“I’m from the ‘World’,” added another young man. Halstead at once understood that this group was made up of reporters.
“Mr. Delavan didn’t go out with us this morning,” replied Captain Tom, while Eben Moddridge surveyed the reporters, uneasily. Seeing a cab up the road, Halstead signaled it vigorously.
“Where is Mr. Delavan?” demanded the “World” representative.
“That’s Mr. Delavan’s business. I can’t tell you,” replied Tom, a bit stiffly.
“Is his friend, Mr. Moddridge, aboard? Is that Mr. Moddridge?” asked another of the reporters. The nervous man, under the concentrated gaze of six reporters, became more nervous than ever.
“Gentlemen,” went on Halstead, hurriedly, drawing out his watch just as the vehicle rolled down to the pier and stopped, “it’s twenty-five minutes of three, and the Stock Exchange in New York closes at three o’clock. That is Mr. Moddridge on board, but he is in a rush to reach the telephone office, and he can’t lose even a second until he has talked with New York.”
Halstead almost led the nervous one from the boat to the cab, helping him inside, and getting in with him.
“Wait here, gentlemen, if you wish to talk with Mr. Moddridge,” coaxed Tom. As the cab started one of the reporters bounded up onto the step, from which he was adroitly yanked by Jed Prentiss. Then the driver whipped his horses forward, and the reporters were distanced for the time being.
Yet one of the press scribes, as he ran along in the vain effort to overtake the cab, shouted:
“There’s a mysterious report in New York that everything is wrong with the P. & Y., and that Delavan has absconded to some other country. Can you say anything to that, Mr. Moddridge?”
If Moddridge could, he didn’t. Instead, his jaw dropped. He reeled to one side as though about to fall from the seat. Tom hastily changed to the same seat, supporting the worried man.
“So the news has already reached New York and Wall Street?” he asked, faintly.
“If it has,” whispered Halstead, watching to see whether the driver was trying to listen, “then it’s because the crowd back of the trouble took pains to send word in early this morning. Mr. Moddridge, the news must have been known hours ago, since reporters have had time to get away out here from the city.”
“If – ”
“Don’t try to say any more, Mr. Moddridge,” urged Halstead, again in a whisper. “The driver may be trying to overhear.”
As they reached the telephone office, and got out, Tom hurriedly paid the driver, then escorted Mr. Moddridge inside. The manager of the office looked up to say, briskly:
“The wire in booth number two is waiting for you, Mr. Moddridge.”
“Come in the booth with me, Halstead,” begged Moddridge, shaking. “I may need you, if my voice is too unsteady.”
So the young skipper followed his employer’s friend into the booth, making sure that the door was tightly closed. Hardly had this been done when three of the reporters, who had followed in another carriage, entered the office. The manager, however, would not allow them near the booth.
The telephone instrument was already directly connected with a broker’s office in Wall Street, New York City. Immediately after he had rung Moddridge asked:
“Is that you, Coggswell? How is everything going?”
Tom Halstead, standing close to the receiver, could hear the reply:
“Oh, is that you, Mr. Moddridge? Where on earth is Mr. Delavan?”
“He is not here just now.”
“Mr. Moddridge,” came the earnest voice from the other end of the wire, “I hope you will be able to get hold of Mr. Delavan at the earliest possible moment. P. & Y. has gone down, to-day, from 102 to 91. There’ll be a further drop unless you can bring Delavan to the fore.”
Eben Moddridge groaned. Tom could see perspiration oozing out on the nervous one’s face and neck.
“There are persistent rumors,” continued Broker Coggswell, “that Delavan has secretly and systematically wrecked the P. & Y. Railroad, and that the road’s finances are in a bad condition. The newspapers have taken up the yarn, and there’s a bad flurry in all Delavan stocks.”
“The reporters are out here, trying to interview me,” admitted Mr. Moddridge.
“Then,” begged the New York broker, “produce Delavan at the earliest possible moment, and let the reporters interview him. It will do a lot to steady your interests in Wall Street. Where is Mr. Delavan, anyway?”
“I can’t tell you that over the wire, Mr. Coggswell. I’ll write you this afternoon.”
“Is it true that Delavan has fled, and is in hiding on account of financial irregularities with the P. & Y. Railroad?”
“It’s wholly false, Coggswell,” cried Moddridge, hoarsely.
“Then hurry up and produce him, or the banks will call your loans, and you’ll both go under in the crash, besides dragging a good many scores of innocent people down with you.”
“Oh, I hope it won’t be as bad as that,” shivered Moddridge.
“If you and Delavan go under during the next few days,” warned Broker Coggswell, “Wall Street is so shaky and suspicious that a good many failures will result.”
“I’ll put Delavan in touch with you at the earliest possible moment,” promised Eben Moddridge. “And now, as my watch tells me it’s ten minutes to closing time on the Stock Exchange, I’ll wait right here for the day’s final news.”
As soon as he had turned away from the instrument Moddridge looked out through the glass door of the booth at the reporters hovering by the street door.
“There’s a side door out of this place, Halstead,” whispered the nervous one. “I don’t want to have to meet all those reporters again. Slip into another booth and ’phone the Eagle House to have Delavan’s car rushed down to the side door.”
Tom Halstead accomplished this, returning to the booth before Broker Coggswell called up Mr. Moddridge.
It was a few minutes after three when that call came.
“You, Moddridge?” demanded the New York broker’s voice.
“P. & Y. has broken down to 86. If it goes to 85 in the morning, either you’ll have to put up extra collateral for your loans and Delavan’s, or the bankers will call in your loans.”
“Good heavens!” shuddered Mr. Moddridge.
“But Delavan’s reappearance will stop all the wild rumors, and P. & Y. ought to climb back up where it belongs. Be swift and active, Mr. Moddridge, for you know how many millions are at stake. I shall be here at my office for two hours yet for the situation looks black at this end.”
“Brace up, sir, please do,” begged Tom, anxiously, as Eben Moddridge turned away from the instrument and rose, his face haggard and ashen gray, his knees tottering under him. “The reporters will see you. Think what they may imagine if you look scared to death. A frightened face may cost you millions at this time! Throw your head up and back. Laugh, then keep smiling. That’s right; now come!”
Delavan’s automobile was waiting up the street a little way. As soon as the clever chauffeur saw the pair appear at the side door, the machine glided up to that side door, the nearer tonneau door open. Into it stepped Moddridge and the young skipper, the latter closing the door. The machine turned and was rolling away just as the reporters, suddenly alert, hurried to the spot.
Arrived at the hotel, Eben Moddridge got to his room as quickly as possible. There, all disguise dropping, he began to shake so that he was forced to drop into a chair.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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