The Motor Boat Club off Long Island: or, A Daring Marine Game at Racing SpeedŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďTell the clerk I want no cards; that Iím too busy to see any callers,Ē directed the nervous one. ďTell him, on no account, to let anyone get up here. Yet, Halstead, someone must see the reporters. Why canít you do it? Your nerve is all right. See them! Talk to them. But donít let them know we canít find Delavan. Go! To the clerk, first, then the reporters.Ē
Slipping downstairs, Captain Tom Halstead was able to fill both orders at the same time, for the reporters were all at the clerkís desk, offering their cards. At sight of Halstead the six scribes bore down upon him.
ďYou canít see Mr. Moddridge for two or three hours, anyway,Ē Tom assured the gentlemen of the press. ďEvery instant of his time is taken up. If thereís anything I can properly tell you, Iíll do so.Ē
ďWhereís Delavan?Ē the six chorused together.
ďWhy do you want to know that?Ē inquired Halstead, innocently.
ďWhy?Ē replied one of the reporters. ďBecause 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. Thereís another story to the effect that Delavan, overcome with horror, has committed suicide by drowning himself in nearby waters. Thereís a big tumble in Wall Street, already, and the money storm is breaking loose!Ē
TOM HALSTEADíS QUICK WIT AT WORK
ďNOW, where is Francis Delavan?Ē
Six gentlemen of the press launched that question at Captain Tom Halsteadís head. Their voices and their eyes put the question together.
But the young man, smiling serenely, was ready for them.
ďMr. Delavan left, early this morning, for a pleasure trip on the water, and he hasnít returned yet,Ē replied the ďRocketísĒ skipper.
That was wholly the truth.
ďWhere did Mr. Delavan go?Ē
ďHe didnít tell me where he was going.Ē
ďHow soon will he be back?Ē
ďHe didnít tell me that, either.Ē
ďDid he go on the ĎRocketí?Ē
ďCaptain,Ē demanded one of the reporters, eyeing the lad keenly, ďpardon me for asking you if you answered that last question truthfully.Ē
ďOn my honor I did,Ē Halstead replied, promptly. ďYesterday Mr. Delavan went out on the ĎRocket.í To-day only his friend, Mr. Moddridge, went out with us.Ē
ďSee here, captain,Ē demanded another reporter, bruskly and somewhat roughly, ďdonít you know, quite well, that Delavan has skipped away, probably out of the country, for good?Ē
ďI give you my word, gentlemen, that I donít know it, or even believe it. Indeed, while I do not presume to feel myself in Mr. Delavanís confidence, I am very sure that he cannot be many miles from here at this moment.Ē
ďThen where is he?Ē
ďNot being in Mr. Delavanís confidence, I canít tell you.Ē
ďDo you know where he is?Ē
ďNot Ė not exactly.Ē
That reply conveyed the impression the young skipper hoped it would, namely, that he simply didnít want to tell where the Wall Street man was supposed to be.
ďAll I can tell you,Ē Tom Halstead added, ďis 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.Ē
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. Delavanís 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 ďSunĒ reporter, a fair-haired, alert, athletic-looking young man.
ďDo you know that brown-haired, tall young man, in the blue suit?Ē asked Halstead, rather carelessly.
ďI do not,Ē answered the ďSunĒ man.
ďYet he belongs to your party, doesnít he?Ē pursued the young skipper.
ďWhy, he was with us, yes.Ē
ďDo you know the other reporters?Ē
ďAll of them.Ē
ďBut you donít know the brown-haired young man?Ē
ďNo,Ē answered the ďSunĒ man. ďI donít believe heís 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?Ē
ďOh, no, thank you,Ē Tom answered, carelessly. ďItís just the slightest curiosity on my part. He makes me think, a little, of a fellow I knew in my own town.Ē
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.
ďIf itís the same fellow,Ē flashed through the boyís mind, ďthen 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 Iíd 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, Iím sure, though now heís talking lower and trying to disguise his voice.Ē
The more Halstead covertly studied the suspected one the more he became convinced of the whole truth of his guess.
ďThen, if heís one of the fellows who tried to tempt me last night, heís working for or with the very crowd that have caused Mr. Delavan to vanish,Ē breathed the young captain. Feeling that his excitement must be showing in his eyes, Halstead forced himself to cool down a good deal.
ďThat fellow you asked about claims his name is Ellis, and that heís on a Brooklyn newspaper,Ē murmured the ďSunĒ man, drifting by the young motor boat captain.
ďThank you,Ē acknowledged Tom Halstead, courteously, yet almost indifferently. To himself, however, as the real reporter strolled away, the boy muttered:
ďEllis, eh? And a Brooklyn newspaper? What a cool liar the fellow is!Ē
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.
ďItís no use, gentlemen, I tell you,Ē insisted the clerk. ďIím not to let anyone near Mr. Moddridge until he informs me that he is at leisure.Ē
ďThat fellow who calls himself Ellis is the only one who doesnít insist at all,Ē muttered the young skipper, covertly watching the game.
Bye and bye, however, ďEllisĒ 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 ďSunĒ 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.
ďThat fellow Ellis claims to have a whole lot of inside track,Ē whispered the ďSunĒ man. ďHe 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.Ē
ďThen the fellow lies,Ē retorted Tom bluntly, indignantly. ďYouíve been good to me in telling me this, so Iím going to assure you again, on my honor, that Mr. Delavan isnít dead; and Iím equally certain that he has done nothing wrong.Ē
The ďSunĒ man looked keenly at the boy, concluding that the blue-uniformed young skipper was telling the truth as he knew it.
ďThank you,Ē said the reporter, simply. ďIíll try to keep you posted on any other wild rumors I hear. But I wish youíd lead me, alone, to Delavan.Ē
ďI will,Ē promised Tom, artlessly.
ďWhen the time comes that I have a right to.Ē
Just as the ďSunĒ 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.
ďSay, cap,Ē began Jed, affectionately, ďIím terribly sorry, but I guess Iíve got to quit this cruise. Itís mean, but thereís trouble at home. Motherís ill. Iíve just had a wire from Dad. He doesnít say itís the worst, Tom, but he advises me to come home. So Iíve got to go by the next train, which leaves in twenty minutes. You wonít blame me, old fellow, will you!Ē
ďBlame you?Ē repeated Halstead, quickly. ďOf course not. Iíd drop anything if I had the same kind of a telegram. Weíll miss you, of course, Jed, but it canít be helped. Well get along somehow.Ē
ďOh, Iím not going to leave you thrown down,Ē retorted young Prentiss. ďCap, 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?Ē
ďSome,Ē laconically responded the freckle-faced youth. ďAnd I can handle boats Ė some Ė though I donít know much about motors.Ē
ďI just ran into him on the way up here, Tom,Ē confided Jed. ďBut say, I know all about him, from two years ago. Can you give him the job until I show up back again, anyway?Ē
ďYes,Ē agreed Halstead at once. ďOf course, subject to Mr. Delavanís approval.Ē
ďThen good-bye, and good luck to you all,Ē cried Jed Prentiss, after hastily looking at his watch. ďIíve got to run. Iíve said good-bye to Joe already. Tom, Iíve left my uniforms on board Ė if you can squeeze Hank into íem.Ē
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.
ďShall I go on board and look about at the new job?Ē queried Hank Butts.
ďYes,Ē nodded Tom, instantly adding: ďBy hokey Ė no!Ē
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.
ďSee that fellow hurrying over there, in the blue suit?Ē questioned young Halstead.
ďYep,Ē nodded Hank Butts.
ďThink you could follow him, no matter where he goes, so he wouldnít suspect you were following him?Ē
ďSure,Ē nodded Hank. ďNothing easier.Ē
ďThen do it,Ē blazed Tom Halstead, in a frenzied undertone. ďAnd I will follow, keeping only you in sight. In that way, he wonít have any chance to know Iím after him, and he doesnít know you.Ē
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.
ďEllis was hanging around, to spread stories against Mr. Delavan, and also to find out what is happening,Ē quivered the young motor boat captain. ďNow, Iíll bet Ellis is going straight to his employer Ė and Iím going to follow him right up to that same rascally chief!Ē
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 farmerís straw hat, didnít 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.
ďThis friend of Jedís knows his business all right,Ē 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. ďHank looks like a Simple Simon, which, in itself, is almost a sure sign that heís no fool.Ē
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.
ďHowdy,Ē 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.
ďInterested in such things?Ē asked Ellis, following Hank down the road.
ďYep,Ē replied young Butts, unconcernedly, ďwhen thereís a fool professor in town willing to pay me for such stuff.Ē
ďOh, youíre collecting íem for someone else, are you?Ē Ellis wanted to know.
ďNow, did I say quite that?Ē asked Hank, with a foolish grin. ďSay, mister, Iím minding my business, ainít I?Ē
ďAnd youíre a regular boor about it, too,Ē retorted Ellis, sharply.
ďI reckon thatís my business, too, ainít it?Ē 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.
ďHank is as near all right as, anyone Iíve seen,Ē chuckled Tom Halstead, who, having crept close for once, behind the shelter of a fringe of sumac bushes, had overheard the talk. ďI can trust Jedís friend.Ē
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.
ďHsst!Ē he hailed.
ďI knew youíd stop me,Ē whispered Hank, hauling up short. ďAnd I thought youíd better know whatís going on ahead. Quite a bit down the road thereís 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?Ē
Captain Tomís 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 Jedís friend back to East Hampton.
ďSkip back and aboard the boat,Ē the young captain directed, hurriedly. ďDonít tell a soul, except Joe Dawson, what youíve been doing, and donít go up into town away from the boat.Ē
ďAye, aye, sir,Ē nodded Hank, understandingly. ďBut donít stay to watch me out of sight, or your man may skip off in that auto with his goggles friend.Ē
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.
ďWhoever has that car wants to be ready to start on the instant without even having to wait to crank up,Ē 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 automobileís 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.
ďYouíve done as well as you could, Ellis, no doubt,Ē a manís voice was saying.
ďIím sure of that, Mr. Bolton,Ē replied the young man. ďIíve made those New York reporters suspicious. Iíve 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, theyíll 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.Ē
ďIt will,Ē declared the man addressed as Bolton. ďBut 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 Iím going to get it!Ē
ďOh, you are, are you?Ē thought listening Tom Halstead, deeply interested.
ďBut Iím certain youíll have to get Delavan to a safer place, Mr. Bolton,Ē continued Ellis, earnestly. ďIím afraid thereíll be a big search for him. You know Moddridge still has a goodish bit of money thatís not tied up in his new deals.Ē
ďModdridge!Ē sniffed Bolton, contemptuously. ďPooh! Thatís the least of our worries. Moddridge simply wonít do anything Ė wonít have courage enough, with Delavan out of the way. Moddridge is a feeble-minded idiot of finance.Ē
ďBut there are other people who stand to lose heavily through a drop in P. & Y.,Ē urged Ellis. ďSome 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.Ē
ďI know it,Ē nodded Bolton. ďBut Delavan simply isnít going to be found, until Iíve got enough P. & Y. stock at my own figures. Then he can come back and boost the stock up again Ė meaning millions in profits for Justin Bolton!Ē
ďIf youíre absolutely sure he wonít be found before our plans go through successfully Ė Ē hesitated Ellis.
ďFound?Ē echoed Bolton, with a rough laugh. ďNot until I want it, Ellis. See here, this is what I am going to do with Delavan, to-night.Ē
Some whispered words followed.
ďGet him out on the ocean?Ē cried Ellis, a note of delight in his voice. ďAnd keep him out there for days, a close prisoner? Good! Nothing better can be done, if it isnít traced back to you.Ē
ďOh, it wonít be,Ē declared Justin Bolton, with a grunt of conviction. ďEllis, Iím planning this all too deeply. I couldnít get in on that Steel business. I donít know what tips Delavanís agent got from Gordon, and I donít 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. Thereíll be a panic in Wall Street to-morrow. Weíll pick up the P. & Y. for song-prices. Delavanís final return will show the folly of the scare. P. & Y. will then go up again, and Iíll clear the millions I want. Ellis, you and Rexford wonít be poor men any more after that!Ē
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 ďcatching on behindĒ 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 Tomís 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 bruteís 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.
ďWhatís wrong?Ē shouted Justin Bolton, in a voice of alarm.
ďWrong?Ē echoed Ellis, glaring down at the hapless young motor boat skipper. ďEverything on the list is wrong! Your dog has caught the captain of Delavanís boat. And the infernal young meddler must have heard every word of our talk!Ē
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