The Motor Boat Club off Long Island: or, A Daring Marine Game at Racing Speedñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Tell the clerk I want no cards; that I’m too busy to see any callers,” directed the nervous one. “Tell him, on no account, to let anyone get up here. Yet, Halstead, someone must see the reporters. Why can’t you do it? Your nerve is all right. See them! Talk to them. But don’t let them know we can’t find Delavan. Go! To the clerk, first, then the reporters.”
Slipping downstairs, Captain Tom Halstead was able to fill both orders at the same time, for the reporters were all at the clerk’s desk, offering their cards. At sight of Halstead the six scribes bore down upon him.
“You can’t see Mr. Moddridge for two or three hours, anyway,” Tom assured the gentlemen of the press. “Every instant of his time is taken up. If there’s anything I can properly tell you, I’ll do so.”
“Where’s Delavan?” the six chorused together.
“Why do you want to know that?” inquired Halstead, innocently.
“Why?” replied one of the reporters. “Because it is reported and believed that Francis Delavan has wrecked the P. & Y. Railroad, that he has sent the proceeds of his work out of the country, and that he has followed the money. There’s another story to the effect that Delavan, overcome with horror, has committed suicide by drowning himself in nearby waters. There’s a big tumble in Wall Street, already, and the money storm is breaking loose!”
TOM HALSTEAD’S QUICK WIT AT WORK
“NOW, where is Francis Delavan?”
Six gentlemen of the press launched that question at Captain Tom Halstead’s head. Their voices and their eyes put the question together.
But the young man, smiling serenely, was ready for them.
“Mr. Delavan left, early this morning, for a pleasure trip on the water, and he hasn’t returned yet,” replied the “Rocket’s” skipper.
That was wholly the truth.
“Where did Mr. Delavan go?”
“He didn’t tell me where he was going.”
“How soon will he be back?”
“He didn’t tell me that, either.”
“Did he go on the ‘Rocket’?”
“Captain,” demanded one of the reporters, eyeing the lad keenly, “pardon me for asking you if you answered that last question truthfully.”
“On my honor I did,” Halstead replied, promptly. “Yesterday Mr. Delavan went out on the ‘Rocket.’ To-day only his friend, Mr. Moddridge, went out with us.”
“See here, captain,” demanded another reporter, bruskly and somewhat roughly, “don’t you know, quite well, that Delavan has skipped away, probably out of the country, for good?”
“I give you my word, gentlemen, that I don’t know it, or even believe it. Indeed, while I do not presume to feel myself in Mr. Delavan’s confidence, I am very sure that he cannot be many miles from here at this moment.”
“Then where is he?”
“Not being in Mr. Delavan’s confidence, I can’t tell you.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“Not – not exactly.”
That reply conveyed the impression the young skipper hoped it would, namely, that he simply didn’t want to tell where the Wall Street man was supposed to be.
“All I can tell you,” Tom Halstead added, “is that Mr.
Delavan is probably not many miles away from here at this moment, that he will undoubtedly turn up very soon, and that he will be pretty angry over the stories that his brief absence have caused.”
Not being easily daunted or turned aside, these New York reporters continued their siege of the young skipper for at least another quarter of an hour. Tom, however, could not be trapped into saying more than he had already said. Yet he spoke so simply, and with such candor, that he imagined the reporters themselves were beginning to believe that too much ado had been made over Mr. Delavan’s brief absence, and that Wall Street had gone astray on another crazy story. However, still intent on seeing Eben Moddridge, and perhaps hoping to find Mr. Delavan himself before the day was over, the reporters lounged about the lobby or at the hotel entrance.
As soon as he could do so without attracting the attention of any of the others, Halstead strolled over to the “Sun” reporter, a fair-haired, alert, athletic-looking young man.
“Do you know that brown-haired, tall young man, in the blue suit?” asked Halstead, rather carelessly.
“I do not,” answered the “Sun” man.
“Yet he belongs to your party, doesn’t he?” pursued the young skipper.
“Why, he was with us, yes.”
“Do you know the other reporters?”
“All of them.”
“But you don’t know the brown-haired young man?”
“No,” answered the “Sun” man. “I don’t believe he’s from a New York paper. He may belong to one of the Brooklyn dailies. Shall I ask him who he is and what paper he serves?”
“Oh, no, thank you,” Tom answered, carelessly. “It’s just the slightest curiosity on my part. He makes me think, a little, of a fellow I knew in my own town.”
But as the motor boat boy presently strolled away his mind was moving fast. He had already suspected that the brown-haired young man, with the well-tanned face, did not belong to the party of reporters, though he pretended to.
For Halstead, rarely mistaken in a voice, had heard the fellow speak twice. Though the tone was low, it had brought back a memory of the night before.
“If it’s the same fellow,” flashed through the boy’s mind, “then his hair, last night, was lighter, and his cheeks fairer. Since then he must have dyed his hair and stained his face. He wore a gray suit, then, and a yachting cap, but I’d wager a lot the fellow yonder is the one who directed the fellow calling himself Rexford, and one of the pair that chased me up a tree. The voice is the same, I’m sure, though now he’s talking lower and trying to disguise his voice.”
The more Halstead covertly studied the suspected one the more he became convinced of the whole truth of his guess.
“Then, if he’s one of the fellows who tried to tempt me last night, he’s working for or with the very crowd that have caused Mr. Delavan to vanish,” breathed the young captain. Feeling that his excitement must be showing in his eyes, Halstead forced himself to cool down a good deal.
“That fellow you asked about claims his name is Ellis, and that he’s on a Brooklyn newspaper,” murmured the “Sun” man, drifting by the young motor boat captain.
“Thank you,” acknowledged Tom Halstead, courteously, yet almost indifferently. To himself, however, as the real reporter strolled away, the boy muttered:
“Ellis, eh? And a Brooklyn newspaper? What a cool liar the fellow is!”
Though they had now waited but a few minutes after giving up young Halstead as a bad interviewing job, the reporters were now once more besieging the desk clerk to send their cards up to Eben Moddridge.
“It’s no use, gentlemen, I tell you,” insisted the clerk. “I’m not to let anyone near Mr. Moddridge until he informs me that he is at leisure.”
“That fellow who calls himself Ellis is the only one who doesn’t insist at all,” muttered the young skipper, covertly watching the game.
Bye and bye, however, “Ellis” drew two of the real reporters aside, engaging them in low, earnest conversation. The other reporters joined the party, all hands talking together for some fifteen minutes. Then once more the “Sun” reporter, as soon as he could do so without attracting attention from his comrades, sauntered up to Captain Tom, standing on the veranda just outside the entrance.
“That fellow Ellis claims to have a whole lot of inside track,” whispered the “Sun” man. “He tells us he knows that Francis Delavan, overcome with remorse at having looted the assets of the P. & Y. Railroad, drowned himself near the mouth of the inlet this morning. He claims that the body has been recovered, but that an effort is being made to keep it from the coroner.”
“Then the fellow lies,” retorted Tom bluntly, indignantly. “You’ve been good to me in telling me this, so I’m going to assure you again, on my honor, that Mr. Delavan isn’t dead; and I’m equally certain that he has done nothing wrong.”
The “Sun” man looked keenly at the boy, concluding that the blue-uniformed young skipper was telling the truth as he knew it.
“Thank you,” said the reporter, simply. “I’ll try to keep you posted on any other wild rumors I hear. But I wish you’d lead me, alone, to Delavan.”
“I will,” promised Tom, artlessly.
“When the time comes that I have a right to.”
Just as the “Sun” reporter walked away the young skipper caught sight of Jed, standing under a tree in the grounds, making signs. Beside Jed stood a big, broad-shouldered hulking young fellow with a face as freckled as the map of the Thousand Islands.
Taking a last look inside, and seeing Ellis still chatting with two of the New York reporters, Halstead ran down the veranda steps, crossing the grounds to his Nantucket friend.
“Say, cap,” began Jed, affectionately, “I’m terribly sorry, but I guess I’ve got to quit this cruise. It’s mean, but there’s trouble at home. Mother’s ill. I’ve just had a wire from Dad. He doesn’t say it’s the worst, Tom, but he advises me to come home. So I’ve got to go by the next train, which leaves in twenty minutes. You won’t blame me, old fellow, will you!”
“Blame you?” repeated Halstead, quickly. “Of course not. I’d drop anything if I had the same kind of a telegram. We’ll miss you, of course, Jed, but it can’t be helped. Well get along somehow.”
“Oh, I’m not going to leave you thrown down,” retorted young Prentiss. “Cap, this is my friend, Hank Butts. Hank is right out of sea-faring stock for a hundred years back. And he can cook, too. Say, Tom, he was down at Nantucket, two years ago, on the Life Saving Service cutter. Even then he could cook, eh, Hank?”
“Some,” laconically responded the freckle-faced youth. “And I can handle boats – some – though I don’t know much about motors.”
“I just ran into him on the way up here, Tom,” confided Jed. “But say, I know all about him, from two years ago. Can you give him the job until I show up back again, anyway?”
“Yes,” agreed Halstead at once. “Of course, subject to Mr. Delavan’s approval.”
“Then good-bye, and good luck to you all,” cried Jed Prentiss, after hastily looking at his watch. “I’ve got to run. I’ve said good-bye to Joe already. Tom, I’ve left my uniforms on board – if you can squeeze Hank into ’em.”
With a hasty hand pressure for both youths Jed Prentiss scurried away, intent on reaching his Nantucket home at the earliest possible moment.
Captain Tom had stepped around so that the bush was between himself and the hotel entrance. Hank followed.
“Shall I go on board and look about at the new job?” queried Hank Butts.
“Yes,” nodded Tom, instantly adding: “By hokey – no!”
For at that very moment Ellis was coming out alone through the hotel entrance. The fellow glanced backward, to make sure he was not observed by any of the genuine reporters. Then he slipped rapidly through the grounds.
“See that fellow hurrying over there, in the blue suit?” questioned young Halstead.
“Yep,” nodded Hank Butts.
“Think you could follow him, no matter where he goes, so he wouldn’t suspect you were following him?”
“Sure,” nodded Hank. “Nothing easier.”
“Then do it,” blazed Tom Halstead, in a frenzied undertone. “And I will follow, keeping only you in sight. In that way, he won’t have any chance to know I’m after him, and he doesn’t know you.”
Hank, like a well disciplined follower of the sea, sauntered away without asking another question. Captain Tom watched him for a few moments, then, when Ellis had passed out of sight, the young skipper trailed after Hank Butts, at that moment about to vanish from his view.
“Ellis was hanging around, to spread stories against Mr. Delavan, and also to find out what is happening,” quivered the young motor boat captain. “Now, I’ll bet Ellis is going straight to his employer – and I’m going to follow him right up to that same rascally chief!”
GOING STRAIGHT TO HEADQUARTERS
IT was an exhilarating thought that the fellow in the lead of the strange procession, who was unquestionably a sham reporter, was going straight to the headquarters of the whole conspiracy.
Had Ellis been suspicious and looked back, only to behold Tom Halstead in his wake, it would have been easy enough for the fellow to turn aside from wherever he was going. As it was, however, only unknown Hank Butts was visible, once in a while, in the chase, and Hank, in overalls and a farmer’s straw hat, didn’t look like anything clever. Moreover, Hank was doing his level best to appear more simple. He went through the streets greeting people he knew, or thought he knew, in a careless fashion. Once they got beyond the town, on a road going eastward, Hank fell back out of sight of Ellis, though still keeping on the trail. The first time it was necessary for this Long Island boy to let himself be seen as Ellis turned for a look backward, Hank yanked off his hat, nimbly chasing a butterfly, which he missed.
“This friend of Jed’s knows his business all right,” thought Tom Halstead, admiringly, as he followed, just managing to keep in touch with young Butts, yet wholly behind and out of sight of Ellis. “Hank looks like a Simple Simon, which, in itself, is almost a sure sign that he’s no fool.”
After tramping more than a mile down a dusty, lonely country road, Ellis hauled up under a tree, removing his hat and mopping his face. Hank, without shying, went straight on.
“Howdy,” greeted Butts, nonchalantly. Then, sighting another butterfly, he went off after it at full speed, catching this one and wrapping it carefully in a handkerchief.
“Interested in such things?” asked Ellis, following Hank down the road.
“Yep,” replied young Butts, unconcernedly, “when there’s a fool professor in town willing to pay me for such stuff.”
“Oh, you’re collecting ’em for someone else, are you?” Ellis wanted to know.
“Now, did I say quite that?” asked Hank, with a foolish grin. “Say, mister, I’m minding my business, ain’t I?”
“And you’re a regular boor about it, too,” retorted Ellis, sharply.
“I reckon that’s my business, too, ain’t it?” mocked Hank.
Disgusted with this country bumpkin, as he doubtless considered him, Ellis stalked on again. But Hank had accomplished his purpose. Thereafter Ellis, not suspecting him of anything clever, paid no heed to him.
“Hank is as near all right as, anyone I’ve seen,” chuckled Tom Halstead, who, having crept close for once, behind the shelter of a fringe of sumac bushes, had overheard the talk. “I can trust Jed’s friend.”
Thereafter Halstead did not take the risk of getting too close. He was satisfied with keeping track of Hank only.
After more than another mile had been covered, however, Hank came loping back over the course. Tom stepped aside into the bushes.
“Hsst!” he hailed.
“I knew you’d stop me,” whispered Hank, hauling up short. “And I thought you’d better know what’s going on ahead. Quite a bit down the road there’s an auto hauled up at the side, and a feller in it just signaled the chap you set me to watching. Your feller is hiking forward to meet the goggles in the auto. What do I do now?”
Captain Tom’s hesitation was brief. He would have liked to ask Hank to wait near by, but remembered the fact that young Butts was not in the Delavan confidence. It might be better, on the whole, to send Jed’s friend back to East Hampton.
“Skip back and aboard the boat,” the young captain directed, hurriedly. “Don’t tell a soul, except Joe Dawson, what you’ve been doing, and don’t go up into town away from the boat.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” nodded Hank, understandingly. “But don’t stay to watch me out of sight, or your man may skip off in that auto with his goggles friend.”
The advice was good. Keeping off the road, crouching low behind the bushes that fringed the highway, Halstead hastened forward as noiselessly as he could travel. After going a quarter of a mile he heard the quiet running of an automobile engine.
“Whoever has that car wants to be ready to start on the instant without even having to wait to crank up,” throbbed the young skipper, moving more stealthily than before. Instantly, too, he became more excited, for now he could hear the low hum of voices in conversation.
The noise of the automobile’s engine guided the young motor boat captain better than any other sound could have done. Crawling between the bushes, he came, at last, to a point directly opposite the auto at the roadside, and barely more than a score of feet away. Halstead crawled to this spot and lay there, securely hidden.
“You’ve done as well as you could, Ellis, no doubt,” a man’s voice was saying.
“I’m sure of that, Mr. Bolton,” replied the young man. “I’ve made those New York reporters suspicious. I’ve done the trick so strongly, in fact, that everyone of them will send his paper a story that will make Wall Street jump in the morning. Even if any of the reporters suspect that Delavan may be alive, they’ll give some space in their papers to the hint of remorse and suicide. P. & Y. ought to fall at twenty points when the Stock Exchange opens in the morning.”
“It will,” declared the man addressed as Bolton. “But I hope it will drop even more than that. The lower P. & Y. goes, Ellis, the better it will be for me. I want that railroad, and I’m going to get it!”
“Oh, you are, are you?” thought listening Tom Halstead, deeply interested.
“But I’m certain you’ll have to get Delavan to a safer place, Mr. Bolton,” continued Ellis, earnestly. “I’m afraid there’ll be a big search for him. You know Moddridge still has a goodish bit of money that’s not tied up in his new deals.”
“Moddridge!” sniffed Bolton, contemptuously. “Pooh! That’s the least of our worries. Moddridge simply won’t do anything – won’t have courage enough, with Delavan out of the way. Moddridge is a feeble-minded idiot of finance.”
“But there are other people who stand to lose heavily through a drop in P. & Y.,” urged Ellis. “Some of them have money enough to hire an army of detectives and spies. If Delavan is found before P. & Y. touches bottom price in the market your profits will be much smaller.”
“I know it,” nodded Bolton. “But Delavan simply isn’t going to be found, until I’ve got enough P. & Y. stock at my own figures. Then he can come back and boost the stock up again – meaning millions in profits for Justin Bolton!”
“If you’re absolutely sure he won’t be found before our plans go through successfully – ” hesitated Ellis.
“Found?” echoed Bolton, with a rough laugh. “Not until I want it, Ellis. See here, this is what I am going to do with Delavan, to-night.”
Some whispered words followed.
“Get him out on the ocean?” cried Ellis, a note of delight in his voice. “And keep him out there for days, a close prisoner? Good! Nothing better can be done, if it isn’t traced back to you.”
“Oh, it won’t be,” declared Justin Bolton, with a grunt of conviction. “Ellis, I’m planning this all too deeply. I couldn’t get in on that Steel business. I don’t know what tips Delavan’s agent got from Gordon, and I don’t know what Delavan and Moddridge started to do in that direction. But when I heard that both had pledged their P. & Y. stock with the bankers I saw at once how to drive the bankers into selling the pledged P. & Y. stock to save themselves. And others will sell. There’ll be a panic in Wall Street to-morrow. We’ll pick up the P. & Y. for song-prices. Delavan’s final return will show the folly of the scare. P. & Y. will then go up again, and I’ll clear the millions I want. Ellis, you and Rexford won’t be poor men any more after that!”
Inch by inch Tom Halstead had continued to creep forward. He wanted to get a good look at Justin Bolton. He wanted, if possible, to find some way of “catching on behind” the touring car when it rolled away, for in that manner, he believed, he could find his way direct to imprisoned Francis Delavan.
Justin Bolton sat alone on the front seat of the machine, Ellis stood in the roadway, two feet off. Beside Bolton dozed an ugly-looking bull-dog.
One of Tom’s movements under the bushes made a slight sound. Neither of the men heard it, but the bull-dog awoke. The animal thrust up its ugly head, sniffing. Then, with a growl it sprang out of the car, dashing into the bushes. Tom had only time to hug the ground more closely, praying that he might escape detection. But the bull-dog rushed straight to the spot of hiding. Too late the young skipper rolled over, to leap to his feet. As he did so, the bull-dog sprang at him. In a moment Tom felt the brute’s teeth at his throat. The teeth did not sink through the skin, but Captain Tom knew that the least movement to shake off the animal would cause those strong jaws to fasten.
Ellis dashed into the bushes after the dog.
“What’s wrong?” shouted Justin Bolton, in a voice of alarm.
“Wrong?” echoed Ellis, glaring down at the hapless young motor boat skipper. “Everything on the list is wrong! Your dog has caught the captain of Delavan’s boat. And the infernal young meddler must have heard every word of our talk!”
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