Roy Rockwood.

The Speedwell Boys and Their Ice Racer: or, Lost in the Great Blizzard





The Speedwells did not notice that Barry left the rest of the party there and went over the hill himself. He was back in a moment, and just then Billy got the kite into the air, and it began to tug at the Speedwells bobsled.

All aboard! yelled Billy, and ran to take his place behind the girls.

Down the track they rushed and out across the flat. The kite tugged bravely and carried them over the rise. And just as they went over this little hill Dan uttered a cry of alarm. Right across their track, on the steep bank of the river, lay a great tree-branch that had not been there when the boys made their first trip behind the kite!

CHAPTER XII
THE FOLLOW ME

The danger of a smash and overturn was imminent. The heavy bobsled was plunging toward the obstruction, and there was neither time nor space to steer clear of the branch.

The girls, breathless from the swift ride, could scarcely scream; and Billy was himself speechless. But Dan did not lose his head.

In a trice he whipped out his claspknife, sprung open the blade, and just before the collision occurred he cut the kite-string.

The huge kite turned a somersault in the air, and then plunged to the ice. But the boys and girls on the bobsled did not notice that.

The sled smashed into the tree-branch and stuck. Dan went over on his head, but arose unhurt. The others had managed to cling to the sled.

I know who did this! yelled Billy, when he got his breath. It was that Spink fellow.

Oh! he wouldnt do such a thing, said Mildred, timidly. It it must have fallen here.

Not much, declared Billy.

When they dragged the bobsled back to the rest of the crowd, Spink had already gone home. As Dan said, smiling, there was no chance for a row then; and before Billy met Barry Spink again, he had got quieted down and, on Dans advice, did not accuse the fellow of the mean trick.

The kite was smashed all to pieces. Dan decided that that method of coasting was perilous, after all.

Besides, there was other work and other plans to take up the Speedwell boys attention; already Dan and Billy were giving their minds to the new iceboat, which they believed would prove a very swift craft indeed.

The regatta committee, headed by Mr. Darringford and made up of influential sportsmen of Riverdale and vicinity, had set the date for the iceboat races in that week between Christmas and New Years, when business is slack. It was holiday week at the academy, too, and the Darringford Machine Shop hands had a few days off.

Seldom had any public sports taken hold on the people of Riverdale like this iceboat sailing.

Its the greatest stunt ever, Biff Hardy declared, and if the cold weather keeps up all the grandfathers and grandmothers in town as well as the rest of us will be out cavorting on the ice.

There were some spills and a few minor accidents. But with the ice in the condition it was, there was little peril of accidents on the Colasha save through absolute carelessness.

Dan and Billy were busy these days racing in the Fly-up-the-Creek.

Nobody but the family knew it; but most of the parts of the wonderful new boat Dan had invented, were finished. The engine had been set up and tried on the barn floor. Then the boys went over to Compton and got the parts Mr. Troutman had made for them, and with the parts Mr. Speedwell had helped them build, and certain others from the Darringford shops, the brothers secretly removed them all to John Bromleys dock, and assembled them in an old fish-cleaning shed.

The boys were very secret about it. Ever since the first plans Dan had drawn disappeared so mysteriously at Island Number One, the brothers had been worried for fear somebody had found and would make use of them.

The principle upon which the motor-auxiliary worked was novel and Dan was confident that by the aid of the rapidly-driven wheel that would grip the ice under the boat amidships, and her spread of canvas, the new craft would beat anything in the line of an iceboat ever seen on the Colasha.

Mr. Darringford joked with the boys a good deal about the invention. He had examined the parts they had had built at the shops with much curiosity, and threatened to steal their ideas. But Dan and Billy knew they could trust him to the limit. It had been through Mr. Darringford that the Speedwell boys had obtained their real start in the racing game with their Flying Feathersthe motorcycles which were the particular output of the machine shops.

Nobody, Dan was sure, would guess the combination he had invented without seeing all the parts assembled. Only their father was in their confidence in the building of the boat.

Therefore, if any craft appeared like theirs at the regatta they could be sure that the lost plans had been made use of.

And if anybodys guilty, declared Billy Speedwell, its Barry Spink. He is crowing to the other fellows that hes got us beaten already, and he wont let anybody look into that shed behind his mothers barn where the boat is being built.

If hes doing it all himself, Im not afraid, chuckled Dan. Not if he had our plans fifty times over.

But he isnt. There is a foreigner working there Ive seen him. He is a mechanic Mrs. Spink hired in the city, Wiley Moyle says, and theyre paying him eight dollars a day.

Ow! that hurts!

I believe its true, just the same, said Billy. Spink has got his heart set on beating us.

If thats the price hes paying for it, he really ought to win, returned the older lad. Eight dollars a day gee!

The Speedwell family down to little Adolph were vastly interested in the new boat. Finally, when it came time to put it together, the question of naming the craft came to the fore.

Naming the Fly-up-the-Creek had been something of an inspiration; but now they all wanted a hand in the christening of Dans new invention. The matter was so hotly discussed that Mrs. Speedwell suggested finally drawing lots for the name.

One evening as they sat around the reading lamp each member of the family wrote his or her choice on a slip of paper (Dolph printed his in big, up-and-down letters) and then the papers were shaken up in a bowl.

Dolph was blindfolded and with great gravity drew a slip. It was Carries choice, and the paper read Follow Me and thus the motor-iceboat was christened.

CHAPTER XIII
THE STRANGER

It was both a cold and windy day on which Dan and Billy finally got the motor-iceboat down upon the ice. It was in Christmas week.

I reckon that old blizzard you were telling about is pretty near due, Dannie, quoth the younger boy, blowing his fingers to get some semblance of warmth into them, for the boys and old Bromley had to work without gloves part of the time.

Theres a storm brewin, declared the old boatman, cocking his eye toward the streaky looking clouds that had been gathering ever since daybreak. You can lay to that! And it wouldnt surprise me if it brought a big snow, boys. Ye know we aint relly had our share of snow this winter so fur. Weve had ice enough, the goodness knows!

You bet, agreed Billy, with a chuckle. And ice gathers some fast, too if you take it from Money Stevens.

Whats happened to him now? asked Dan.

Why, Money went fishing up Karnac Lake way last Saturday didnt you hear? Says he would have had great luck, if only he could have kept the hole open through which he was fishing. He swears he hooked a pickerel so big that he couldnt get it through the hole hed cut in the ice!

That sure must have been some pickerel, chuckled Dan. Now, John, what do you think of this craft?

By gravy! I dont know what to think of it, boy, grunted the old boatman. It aint like nothin in the heavens, or on the airth, nor agin in the waters under the airth! If you say that dinky little ingine is goin to make her go, why I reckon go she will! But seeins believin.

Right-O! agreed Dan, smiling. And we will proceed to put the matter to the test right now before we step the mast. Get aboard.

But Old John wouldnt do that. He preferred to watch the proceedings from the dock and he said so.

I aint got so many more years ter live no way ye kin fix it, he said, grinning. Lemme live em whole. I wouldnt venter on one o them sailin iceboats, let erlone this contraption.

Dan and Billy pushed out from the shore and started the engine. Dan could easily manipulate the power as well as steer the Follow Me. Billy was passenger only on this trial trip.

There was a stiff breeze blowing and they headed directly into it. The moment the wheel under the boat gripped the ice she began to drive ahead. As Dan gradually increased its revolutions they moved faster and faster, while the whine of the engine and the sharp strokes of the wheel-points joined in an ever-increasing roar.

Behind them the ice showed a plain trail of punctures from the wheel-points. The Follow Me left a trail that might easily be followed anywhere on the ice.

But its speed was not great at first. Dan increased it slowly and, when she rounded to and headed back toward the landing, Billy was flatly disappointed.

Crickey! this isnt going to do much, Dan. Why, the old boat can beat her.

What did you expect? asked his brother, smiling.

But, old man! were going to race with this thing!

Of course.

And the Fly-up-the-Creek can beat her out easy.

Sure of that; are you?

What you got up your sleeve, Dannie? the other demanded. Did you get all the speed out of her you could?

You saw that she was wide open, chuckled Dan. But you forget that we had no sail set. Lets get the mast up and the sail bent on. Then well give her a fair trial.

Billy shook his head, however. He had believed that his brothers invention was going to prove as fast as a power-launch, without any canvas.

The mast and sail were both ready. They had the new boat rigged in an hour. There was still a full hour before sunset and again Dan took his place in the stern while Billy raised the sail.

The canvas of the Follow Me was not as heavy as that of the Speedwells first iceboat. They had made some short runs in the Fly-up-the-Creek that had equalled fifty miles an hour and more. Billys heart had fallen pretty nearly to his boots. He did not believe the Follow Me could do anything like that.

But Dan only grinned at him. The wind filled the sail almost immediately and the motor-iceboat staggered away from Bromleys dock. The old boatman stood there and watched them with a grim face, for the new craft started very slowly. She seemed really to hobble at first.

Them boys air going to be disappointed by jings! muttered Bromley. And thats too bad. But these yere new-fangled notions

By gravey! whats happened?

Suddenly the put, put, put! of the engine reached his ears. And at the same time the sail filled and bellied full. The motor-iceboat leaped ahead, the exhaust became a rumble, and the Follow Me shot up the river faster it seemed to Bromley than he had ever seen any craft move before.

She crossed the frozen stream diagonally and in two minutes was out of sight behind the humpback of Island Number One! Her disappearance left the old man breathless.

Some boat that, said a voice behind him.

Heh? exclaimed John Bromley, turning to see a strange man standing coolly on his private wharf.

Thats a fine sailer, said the stranger.

Mebbe tis, returned John, eyeing the man fixedly.

The latter was a keen-looking chap, lean and wiry, and dressed in a long, loose, gray ulster, buckled about his waist with a belt. He returned the old boatmans look, after a moment, with interest.

You know those chaps who are running that boat? asked the stranger.

I reckon I know the Speedwells pretty well, grunted John.

Speedwell eh? Is that their name?

Yes, it is.

What business have they got over on that island?

What business have you got asking me? returned the old man, freezingly.

I want to know.

Keep wanting. Everything comes ter them that waits, they tell me.

You are of a sour temper, I see, observed the stranger, eyeing Bromley quite calmly.

Mebbe. But my temper is none of your business. Something else is.

Whats that, old timer? asked the thin man, grinning slightly.

Youre on a piece of the earth I own. Get off it, said John Bromley, advancing truculently. This dock is mine and I own to the road. You git back to the road and stay there.

The man eyed him for a few seconds, as though to see whether he really meant the command, or not. It was quite plain that Bromley meant it. He was beginning to roll up his sleeves, and old as he was he looked to be a bad man to tackle.

Oh! very well, said the stranger, backing off. No offense meant.

And thats lucky, too, growled John. For if you was meanin offense I might come out into the road to you, at that!

The stranger said no more, but gradually oozed off the scenery, as Bromley told the boys afterward. But that fellers got some reason for nosin around here, the old boatman added, as he helped fasten the motor iceboat to the spiles of the dock. I didnt like his looks not a little bit.

Do you suppose it is somebody trying to see what kind of an invention you have here, Dannie? asked the awed Billy.

For the second trip of the motor iceboat had convinced the younger Speedwell lad that his brother was a marvel. He wasnt talking much about that trip, but if John Bromley had considered the speed of the Follow Me quite surprising, how much more impressed was Billy and even Dan himself.

It was true they had had a favoring breeze and a stiff breeze, too. The wind would have driven the boat at high speed, alone. But with the auxiliary motor at work the Follow Me had traveled at a breath-taking pace. She had gone the length of Island Number One, and the island beyond it, rounded the farther end of that second island, and come rushing back down the river to John Bromleys dock in an almost unbelievably short time.

It doesnt matter who the fellow was, said Dan, finally; you know we dont want anybody examining this boat. John understands that; dont you, John?

Ill keep me eye on her, growled the boatman. Theyve got to be wide awake to beat old John. You leave it to me.

But both boys felt some worriment of mind as they scurried around that evening in the motor truck, picking up the cans of milk from the dairies.

If it had begun to snow they might have felt better about it. With a storm under way it would not be likely that anybody would seek out the Follow Me at John Bromleys lonely dock, for any purpose.

The Speedwell boys got back to the house, however, finished the chores for that night, and went in to supper before a single flake of the promised storm had fallen.

CHAPTER XIV
GATHERING TROUBLE

The telephone tinkled in the kitchen just after Dan had pulled off his boots. He and Billy were the last to go to bed on this evening, for it was so cold that they had gone out to the milk room to blanket all the bottled milk for fear the bottles would freeze and burst their caps.

Billy, still having his boots on, went down the back stairway and Dan heard him speaking into the instrument. It was several moments before the older boy realized that Billy was growing excited.

And no wonder! Billy was listening to something over the phone that quite amazed him. In the first place he was surprised to hear old John Bromleys voice.

Bromley seldom if ever called them up, although the boys had paid for having him put on the party wire. It was handy for them to be in communication with Old John, summer and winter.

You and Dan had better come down here, said the boatman, his voice very low. Theres something

It died out there and Billy asked him to repeat it. Old John seemed to keep right on whispering:

Ive chased em off, but they come back.

Who has come back? What dye mean? gasped Billy.

And so you better come. Dont want em hear me talkin

What under the sun are you getting at, John? exclaimed Billy. Lets have the details.

Bromleys voice on the wire was strong for a moment. Now, you wait

And that was all every last word Billy heard! He rattled the hook, and shouted into the mouthpiece, and tried to call Central. He got her after a while and demanded that Bromley be called again.

Doesnt answer! snapped the girl, after a fruitless minute.

Dan, hearing Billys voice rising to crescendo, pulled on his boots again and ran down to the kitchen. Youll wake the whole house up, he exclaimed, admonishingly.

Well, what do you know about this? Billy demanded.

About what?

Something has happened down to Old Johns

He turned and made frantic efforts to get Central again. She said finally: Dont answer. I think hes got the receiver off the hook.

Billy, at this, repeated as near as he could remember the broken sentences he had heard over the wire.

Sure it was Bromley? asked Dan.

I hope I know his voice, even when he whispers, replied Billy, with scorn.

Wed better go down there, said Dan, slowly. John is old; something might have happened.

I reckon something has happened, all right, all right! growled Billy, beginning to struggle into his coat.

Wait till I speak to father. We mustnt go without telling him. Get out the motorcycles, Billy.

Betcher! responded his brother, unlocking the kitchen door.

Five minutes later they were astride their machines and were wheeling for the crossroad that led down to Bromleys dock. The wind cut like a knife and it was pitch dark. Without their headlights they would not have dared venture along the black road. Now and then it seemed to Dan a flake of snow stung his cheek. The long-gathering storm was about due.

They shut off the noisy engines as they slid down the hill to the rivers brink. The Flying Feathers rattled a little over the ruts; but they approached the dock rather quietly, after all.

There wasnt a light anywhere about the premises not even in Old Johns little green painted shack where he had lived alone so many years.

Lets go easy, Billy, advised Dan.

They hopped off their wheels and stood them carefully under the trees by the roadside. They quenched the light of their lamps, too; but Dan removed his lamp and carried it in his hand against emergencies.

Dont see a soul around, breathed Billy. Shall we hail the old man?

Not yet, returned Dan, quite as disturbed now as was his brother.

They were almost at the door of the cabin when Billy suddenly clutched Dans arm. He pointed toward the outer end of the dock.

Where wheres that other mast? he demanded.

What you cant see it in this black night, Billy, Dan declared.

He, too, recognized the lofty mast of the Fly-up-the-Creek. The mast of the motor iceboat should have stood beyond it; but

Its gone! gasped Billy, and started on the run down the dock.

Wait! called Dan, softly.

He raised his hand to knock upon the door of Bromleys hut, but halted in a panic. Out on the ice seemingly from a great distance sounded the explosions of a motor exhaust!

Theyve robbed us! shrieked Billy, from the end of the dock. Look, the Follow Me is gone!

Dan did not wait to rap on Old Johns door. He lifted the latch and found it unbolted. As he stumbled into the place he fell over a body lying on the floor. Opening his lamp, he turned the ray upon the obstruction. It was Bromley, bound hand and foot, and gagged, lying helpless on the floor, but very much awake!

The old mans eyes glared like a mad cats in the dark; and when Dan jerked away the bandage that had smothered his speech, the old boatman let go some deep-sea language that at another time would have quite startled the Speedwells.

Those sculpins jumped on me three of em. I knowed they was sneakin erbout, an I was tryin ter warn ye over the phone. But while I was talkin ter Master Billy they rushed me broke right inter the house here an grabbed me.

Ye kin see I did some fightin, said Bromley, who was now sitting down and holding his head, on one side of which a big lump had come into sudden being. Theres my butter crock smashed I heaved it at one of the villings I did so!

But three ter one is big odds for an old feller like me. Ye see what they done to me? And they went off with your new boat, Master Dan. Thats what they was after.

What did they look like? queried Dan, sharply.

They was masked every one o them, replied Bromley.

They went up the river, Dan, said Billy, eagerly. Didnt you hear the exhaust of their engine?

I couldnt place it.

I could, declared Billy, earnestly. I was out on the end of the dock, and I marked it well. Twas up-stream

Yed better telephone to the constable, said Old John.

To Josiah Somes? laughed Billy. A fat lot of good that would do us.

You phone to the sheriff, John, commanded Dan, suddenly deciding the matter. And tell father about it, if he asks. But Billy and I will follow the robbers.

Say! them three villings was powerful mean to me, objected the boatman. What theyd do to a couple of boys





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