The Motor Boat Club off Long Island: or, A Daring Marine Game at Racing Speedñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
STEALING A SWIFT MARCH
“GR-R-R!” snarled the bull-dog, still holding lightly onto Halstead’s neck, ready to sink his fangs in at the first sign of resistance.
At Ellis’s startling information Mr. Bolton leaped from his car, crossing the road and bounding over among the bushes.
“So we’ve got you, have we – the young man who refused to aid us for a good price?” cried the dog’s owner, exultantly. “Ellis, this isn’t bad news. It’s about the best thing that could have happened. We’ll stuff this young man’s mouth up, tie him and take him to keep his employer company. It reduces the danger of any successful pursuit by the ‘Rocket.’”
Tom Halstead wasn’t a coward, as everyone familiar with his career well knows. But the dog had the upper hand at this moment, and any attempt to show fight would have been sheer folly.
“I guess you’ll agree to offer no nonsense, won’t you, Halstead?” chuckled Mr. Bolton, roughly. “If you do, I’ll call my dog off, though the beast will be at hand if needed.”
Captain Halstead’s blood was boiling over the hopelessness of this defeat in what he had hoped would be the very hour of his success. Before he could reply, however, the dog made the next move.
Behind the whole group was a quick, light step. The dog was the first to hear it. Springing back from the young skipper with a new growl of warning, the brute turned, making a fresh spring.
Hank Butts had just crossed the stone wall that bordered the road. In his two hands Hank held a rock slightly larger than his head. Nor did the freckle-faced youth seem greatly alarmed. As the bull dog sprang Hank calmly bent forward and dropped the heavy rock on the animal’s head just in the nick of time.
Without uttering a sound the savage brute dropped to the ground, dead. Ellis leaped forward at the newcomer, but Hank Butts, with a speed that seemed strange in him, snatched up the dog and hurled it full in the face of the sham reporter.
“Here, you young rascal!” roared Justin Bolton, as Ellis toppled over backward. He rushed at Hank, but Mr. Bolton was a stout, middle-aged man – no match in agility for a country boy.
“Get back before I have to do something impolite, mocked Hank, sidestepping and throwing himself on guard. But Tom Halstead, leaping to his feet at the first sign of rescue, now tripped Justin Bolton neatly. That astounded person fell backward, striking the ground heavily.
“This way, Hank, on the hustle!” called Tom, making a plunge for the road. Halstead was in the automobile, at the steering wheel, like a flash. Hank, trembling slightly, but all a-grin, followed.
Ellis was the first to regain his feet, though Bolton was close behind him as he gained the road. They were just a second or so too late. With the machine cranked up, the engine running, Halstead had only to give the steering wheel a turn and push on the speed. The car rolled ahead, then began to travel fast just as the angry pair dashed up.
In another instant Halstead had distanced them, speeding the car eastward down the country road.
Bang! There was a single shot. A bullet sped by their heads, but both boys were crouching low. There was a second shot, but this time no bullet was heard. The swift car had borne them out of revolver range.
“Hank,” exploded Tom, gleefully, “I want to say that I’ve known some real fellows, but you’re one of the best ever. But how did you manage it? I thought you were on your way back to East Hampton.”
“I ought to have been,” admitted Hank Butts, soberly. “But – well, I suppose I’ve a notion for minding other people’s business. I was just aching to see how you came out, so – well, I follered.”
“And the luckiest thing for me that you did,” asserted young Halstead, shutting off much of the speed, now, and running along more slowly. “But see here, Hank, can you run this car for a moment or two?”
“I can steer it,” Hank agreed.
Tom surrendered the wheel to this new friend, and climbed over backward into the tonneau. He promptly examined the cushions under the rear seat. As he had hoped, he found a large locker space under the seat, and some tools.
“See here, Hank, listen,” admonished Halstead, leaning over the back of the front seat. “I think our people will run after us a little way in the hope that we’ll leave the auto and take to our heels. I’m going to stay here and hide under the back seat. There’s a wrench or two there that I can fight with if I’m cornered. If Bolton will only overtake his machine and go where I think he’ll go, I’ll be on the track of the biggest kind of news. But this time I want you to really run back to East Hampton. Don’t even think of waiting to see what happens to me. Get aboard the ‘Rocket’ and tell Joe Dawson, from me, to get the engine all ready for an instant start. Then he wants to be near the cigar store, close to the pier, so I can call him over the telephone there if I want to send him any message. Tell him to have the tank full of gasoline, ready for a long chase. Here, I’ll give you a note that’ll make Joe Dawson pay a whole lot of attention to you. Shut off the engine.”
Hank Butts ran the car in at the side of the lonely road and stopped. Halstead hastily scribbled on an envelope:
Joe, trust Hank Butts to the limit. He’s all right. Tom.
“Take this,” ordered the young skipper. “Now, after I get in under the seat, pile the cushions over it again as they should go.”
Captain Tom quickly stowed himself away, finding the space rather cramped after all. Under the edge of the seat he slipped the end of his jackknife, to keep the lid raised barely enough for a supply of air. This done, Hank placed the cushions.
“Now take to the woods and make a real travel back to East Hampton,” muttered Tom. “Be quick about it, before Bolton and Ellis get in sight.”
“Good-bye, Cap. Best of luck!” breathed Hank Butts, fervently. Then the confined young skipper heard his new friend leap down into the road and scamper away.
There followed some weary moments, full of suspense and anxiety. The young motor boat boy hoped that the rascally pair would pursue their car thus far, but he knew, too, that they might be suspicious enough to explore that locker space under the big rear seat. Though Tom gripped a wrench tightly, this pair might both be armed and ready to proceed to any lengths to prevent the defeat of their plot to wrest millions from an excited stock market.
At last Halstead heard running steps, followed by a shout:
“There’s the car! Just as I had hoped!”
The running steps slowed down to a walk. Then, as the new arrivals drew near, Justin Bolton’s voice proclaimed, triumphantly:
“I thought it might be so. Those boys didn’t dare take the risk of stealing a valuable car, so, as soon as they got away safely, they deserted the machine.”
“I hope they haven’t done anything to disable the car,” hinted Ellis, concernedly. “I don’t know who that hulking Simple Simon chap is, but young Halstead undoubtedly knows enough about gasoline motors to know how to leave one in mighty bad shape.”
“We’ll soon know,” declared Bolton, as he reached the car. “Why, the engine seems to be running all right. Jump in, and we’ll try the car a little way.”
After the pair had gotten in at the front the car rolled ahead. Whoever was at the wheel let the speed out a few notches, then slowed down and stopped the car.
“It’s all right, Ellis, and a tremendously fortunate thing for us. Now, you can get out and go back to East Hampton. Sorry I can’t take you back, but it wouldn’t do for me to take the slightest risk of being seen and recognized with you.”
“That’s all right,” nodded Ellis, leaping down to the ground.
“You know just what to do, young man, and you won’t fail me?”
“Not with the big reward that’s in sight,” laughed Ellis.
“Good-bye, for a little while. Be alert!”
The car started ahead again, though not at great speed. Plainly Bolton was in no immediate hurry about what he had to do. As he guided the car along he hummed, merrily, in a low voice.
“Just as though he were an honest man,” muttered Halstead, indignantly.
Often, indeed, was the young motor boat skipper tempted to try the lifting of the lid of the seat enough to look at the country through which they were now passing. But the risk that Justin Bolton might be taking a backward glance at the same moment seemed too great.
Twice, as sounds told, they passed other automobiles headed in the opposite direction. Peeping through the narrow crevice that he had made with his knife-end – an opening that was concealed by the overlapping cushions – Halstead saw that daylight was now rapidly waning.
Twenty minutes later it was fully dark. The car now turned off the soft road over which it had been running, to a more gravelly road. Then the car stopped altogether.
“All well, sir?” hailed a voice that made Halstead start. The tones were those of that red-haired young man, Rexford.
“Not quite all well,” replied the voice of Bolton, though the speaker seemed hardly worried. “We ran into that young captain of the ‘Rocket,’ Halstead, and into another young fellow, a human cyclone. They know something of our game, but they were glad enough to get away from us.”
Calvin Rexford gave vent to a low, prolonged whistle of amazement.
“However,” Bolton continued, “they don’t know enough of what we’re doing to spoil our enterprise. As I said, we got rid of them.”
He then gave a rather truthful account of the meeting in the woods, of the seizure of the auto and of its abandonment, as Bolton supposed.
“I don’t like the sound of that story,” said Rexford, uneasily.
“Nor do I, either,” agreed Justin Bolton. “Still, the boys don’t know the most important part of what they’d like to find out – where Frank Delavan is. And, now, Rexford, how has Delavan been behaving?”
“Naturally, he hasn’t been giving us any trouble,” laughed Rexford. “We haven’t given him any chance.”
“I think I’ll take a look at him; though, mind you, he mustn’t have the slightest glimpse of me.”
“I think that can be easily arranged,” replied the red-haired one. “But did the boys, this afternoon, hear your name?”
“I don’t believe they did,” replied Bolton, stepping out of the car. “It might disarrange our plans some if they did happen to know my name.”
The next words, spoken by Rexford, were not distinguishable to Tom Halstead, crouching under that rear seat. He raised the lid somewhat as soon as he was satisfied that the two speakers were moving away.
The car had been run in under a shed, open at one end. Bolton and Rexford being out of sight, Tom softly raised the lid, cushions and all, then replaced the leather cushions and leaped hastily to the ground.
The shed had been built onto a barn that was now rather dilapidated. Two hundred feet beyond the barn was an old, spacious house of two stories. Toward this the two men were walking.
“So that’s Mr. Delavan’s prison, is it?” thought the young skipper, throbbing with the excitement of his discovery. “Whereabouts is this place? Probably near Cookson’s Inlet. I wonder if the water can be seen from any point around here?”
Then, gazing after the two men, Tom saw them disappear into the house. There seeming to be no one else about, the boy stole slowly toward the house. He had reached an old, tumble-down summer-house when the sound of voices made him hide there. Two other men, middle-aged and strangers, came from the direction of the house, going towards the barn. They had been talking in undertones, but ceased before they came near enough for the young motor boat captain to make out anything.
“Confound ’em,” grumbled Halstead, a few moments later. For the two men, having reached the barn, now lighted pipes and stood there, smoking and chatting in undertones.
Halstead could not move from where he crouched. If he did he ran the almost certain chance of being discovered. Thus some ten or twelve minutes passed. The young skipper of the “Rocket” studied the old house, trying to guess in what part of it Francis Delavan was confined against his will. Not a single light, however, showed from the outside.
Someone was coming away from the house. As he came nearer, Halstead made him out to be Rexford. That young man kept on past the barn to the shed. He soon returned slowly in the car, the two men with pipes swinging aboard as he passed them.
To Tom’s great alarm the car stopped close to the summer house. The two strangers now stepped out again, going toward the main house. Hardly had they vanished when Justin Bolton came out once more, going straight to the automobile, though he did not board it.
“You understand your orders fully now, Rexford?” inquired Bolton. “You know what to do to-night, and you are aware that, this house having served its brief purpose, we shall not use it again. The launch will remain where it is, in hiding, for a day or two, at least. Then, when all is ready, the launch will take you and your charge out to sea. You know the rest?”
“It’s all quite clear, thank you, Mr. Bolton,” Rexford replied.
“I shall rely upon you, then, Rexford. Don’t fail me.”
“No fear, Mr. Bolton. You are wagering millions on the game, but I have at least a fortune at stake. Trust me. I won’t fail you.”
“Good-night, then, Rexford. Caution and good luck!”
“Good-night, Mr. Bolton. We’ll both be richer when I see you again,” laughed the red-haired one, recklessly.
Justin Bolton walked rapidly away. Had Tom Halstead wished to follow, he could not have done so. Rexford, sitting in the nearby car, would have been sure to see the boy.
Ten minutes passed. Then another crunching was heard on the gravel. This time the young motor boat captain felt as though his heart must stop beating. The two strange men now appeared, carrying the helpless form of Francis Delavan between them.
“Stow him in carefully. Drop these blankets over him,” directed Rexford. Francis Delavan, bound and gagged for the journey, was placed in the bottom of the tonneau and covered over. One of the men got in beside him, the other sitting on the front seat with Calvin Rexford.
Honk! The toot from the automobile’s horn was unintentionally jeering, for Tom Halstead was left behind, helpless, at the very instant when he longed, as never before, to be of the utmost service.
THE MELTING OF MILLIONS
IT would have been worse than useless to have tried to jump into the breach just before the car started. At the least, Tom Halstead would have been made a prisoner by these desperate plotters.
Free, though he could not immediately aid Mr. Delavan, the young skipper could at least carry word of what he had seen. He could rouse Eben Moddridge to action, or, anyway, to the putting up of money that would put other and more capable men in action.
Yet the boy felt like grinding his teeth in chagrin and bitter disappointment as he saw that swift touring car glide swiftly off the grounds to the road.
He had started to run after the car, hoping to overtake it before it got fully under speed, and to catch on in some way behind. But almost at once he saw that there was nothing to catch hold of at the rear, and immediately afterwards the car shot ahead at a speed of forty miles an hour.
“Whee! I hope the officers stop them, somewhere, for speeding,” thought Halstead, with a half hopeful grin as he slowed down to a walk. It would hardly do, however, to expect the car to be stopped for going only forty miles an hour on Long Island.
As the young skipper stepped out, panting, through the gate, he remembered the necessity of proceeding cautiously, lest he run afoul of Justin Bolton, who could not be far away, and was on foot. That scheming financier carried a revolver, and had shown himself not slow to use it. After half an hour Halstead felt that the danger of meeting Bolton was slight, and hurried on faster.
It was late in the evening when Tom Halstead entered the hotel grounds at East Hampton. A short distance away he had halted long enough to remove all excessive amounts of dust from clothing and shoes. In order to appear neither excited nor in haste, he sauntered slowly enough through the grounds, approached the veranda, stood there two or three minutes, walked about a bit in the lobby – long enough to see that two of the New York reporters were still on the scene – and at last escaped, without attracting special notice, up the stairs. Now he hastened to the door of Mr. Moddridge’s rooms, and knocked briskly.
“It’s Halstead, Mr. Moddridge,” he replied, in answer to a shaking query from within. The door flew open like magic.
“Halstead? Where have you been all these hours?” came the peevish question, as Eben Moddridge, in negligee attire and looking like a more than ill man, faced the young skipper. “You – ”
Tom went inside, closed the door, and led the nervous one to an inner room. Here the motor boat boy poured out the whole story of what he had been through.
“Why, your new boy, Butts, hasn’t been near me with a word of this,” gasped Moddridge, presently.
“That must have been because he didn’t know you, of course,” evaded Halstead, easily. “But now, Mr. Moddridge, it will be necessary to pull all your wits together if you’re to save your friend and yourself. What should be the first move?”
“Oh, dear,” cried the nervous one, pacing the floor, “I honestly don’t know. I don’t see my way. Why did Delavan ever allow himself to get into such a dreadful mess? If he had followed my advice – ”
“If your advice is any good, sir,” put in Tom, crisply, “it ought to be useful, just now, in finding out the way to extricate Mr. Delavan from his present troubles. Now, what ought to be the first step?”
With most men Halstead would have thought himself presuming to go so far. But the case was tremendously pressing, and it took more than a little to get Eben Moddridge started.
By slow degrees Moddridge pulled himself together. He wouldn’t hear to calling in the reporters and making the whole story public as far as it was known.
“The public would regard it all as a cock-and-bull invention, gotten up to hide Delavan’s supposed flight,” the nervous one rather sensibly declared. “And, if we were to drag Bolton’s name in, Bolton would be very likely to give us the trouble of proving the whole story, mostly on your unsupported word, Halstead, with a little corroboration, of course, from your very eccentric new steward – Butts, did you call him? Besides, if Frank Delavan were here, I think he would prefer to scheme secretly to punish Justin Bolton, instead of going after him openly.”
“Who is this Bolton?” asked Tom Halstead.
“A man whom Delavan helped to make the start of his fortune. But Bolton is unscrupulous and dangerous; Frank had to drop him years ago.”
The idea of sending for detectives Eben Moddridge also declined to entertain.
“No matter how secretly we may think we hire detectives,” he objected, “it is pretty sure to leak out. The Wall Street public would take that as a sensational feature, and P. & Y. would drop lower than ever in the market. No, no, Halstead; we won’t think of hiring detectives until we have tried other means. Now, what remains to be done!”
Tom Halstead pondered before he answered:
“Bolton’s intention seems to be to take Mr. Delavan off Long Island on that racing launch. It will probably be at some point within twenty or thirty miles of here, either east or west. If we could put enough men on watch, we could find out when that launch attempts to put out to sea. But you object to using detectives. I wonder if there are any other men we could trust, instead of using detectives? Say,” proposed the young skipper, suddenly, “you both trust your broker, Coggswell, don’t you?”
“Very thoroughly,” admitted Moddridge, pausing in his nervous walk to stare hard at the young skipper.
“Then why not get hold of Coggswell, at his home to-night, over the telephone? Ask him to send out some of his clerks whom he knows to be reliable. He might even send out a few other young men that he could vouch for?”
“But what good would they be?” asked Eben Moddridge.
“I can take the map of this coast, sir, and lay out stations for these young men, so that there’ll be one or two of ’em every few miles east and west of here. I can give them perfect descriptions of the racing launch. They can be provided with marine glasses. Just the instant that any one of them spots the racing launch he can telephone me. Then, whether the launch has Mr. Delavan aboard, and is putting out to sea, or is going after him, I can do my best to follow in the ‘Rocket.’ Since you are opposed to hiring detectives, Mr. Moddridge, that’s the best thing I can see that is left to do.”
After some further talk the nervous financier agreed to this. He called up Broker Coggswell by ’phone, at the latter’s home in New York. Mr. Coggswell agreed to send down twenty capable and honest young men by the earliest train in the morning.
That being all that could be done for the present, Captain Tom Halstead returned to the “Rocket.” Joe Dawson and Hank Butts were both up, waiting for him. For the next hour, sitting on the deck house of the boat, in the dark, still watches of the night, talking in whispers, the boys discussed all the latest phases of the puzzling affair. Then Tom turned in below, Joe doing likewise, leaving Butts on deck for the first watch.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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