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   Chapter 12 WHAT STEVE SAW

The Adventure Club Afloat By Ralph Henry Barbour Characters: 11071

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Waiting was weary work after that. It was two hours and a half to sunrise and, since two of their number were sufficient to keep watch, the others presently went below and napped. Steve and Bert Alley remained on deck. Steve, although he perhaps needed sleep more than anyone, refused to trust other eyes than his own, and while darkness lasted he watched the white path cast across the water by the Adventurer's searchlight. But darkness and silence held until shortly after four, when the eastern sky began to lighten. The next half-hour passed more slowly than any that had gone before. Gradually their range of vision enlarged, and Steve, peering into the greyness, drew Bert's attention to a darker hulk that lay a few hundred yards up the harbour. They watched it anxiously as the light increased. That it was a boat of about the size of the Follow Me and that is was painted dark became more and more apparent. Then, quite suddenly, a ray of rosy light shot up beyond Eastern Point and the neighbouring motor-boat lay revealed. Steve sighed his disappointment. She was not the Follow Me after all, but a battered, black-hulled power-boat used for gill-netting.

One by one, as the light strengthened, the others stumbled on deck, yawning and rubbing their sleepy eyes. The Adventurer was anchored more than a mile from the inner harbour, and between her and Ten Pound Island lay a big, rusty-red salt bark, high out of water, and five fishing schooners. But these, aside from the disreputable little gill-netter, were all the craft that met their gaze.

"Either," said Steve wearily, "she never came in at all or she's up in the inner harbour. I'll wager she didn't get out again last night. We'll go up and mosey around, I guess. Ossie, how about some coffee?"

"I'll make some, Steve. Guess we'd better have an early breakfast too."

"It can't be too early to suit me," murmured Bert Alley, as he dragged his feet down the companion way and toppled onto a berth. The Adventurer weighed anchor and in the first flush of a glorious Summer dawn, chugged warily up the still harbour. She kept toward the eastern shore and the boys swept every pier and cove with sharp eyes. Then Rocky Neck turned back them and they picked a cautious way over sunken rocks to the entrance of the inner harbour. By this time it was broad daylight and their task was made easier. Still, as the inner harbour was nearly a mile long and a good half-mile wide, and indented with numerous coves, the search was long. They nosed in and out of slips, circled basins and ran down a dozen false clues supplied by sailors on the fishing schooners that lined the wharves. And, at seven o'clock they had to acknowledge defeat. The Follow Me was most surely not in Gloucester Harbour. Nor, for that matter, was there a cabin-cruiser that resembled her in any way. It was the latter fact that puzzled them, for they had somehow become convinced that the darkened craft that had led them past the breakwater last night was, if not the Follow Me, at least a boat of her size. "And," said Harry Corwin, "we know that that boat did come in here, for we saw her light disappear behind the breakwater. Let's look around again."

"If she came in for gasoline," said Phil, "we might find out whether she got it. There can't be many places where she could fill her tanks." The Adventurer was slowly rounding a point that lay between the cove from which she had just emerged and Western Harbour, and Wink Wheeler, who was sitting on the rail on the starboard side of the deck, gave utterance to an exclamation of surprise and pointed ahead to where a drab-coloured power-boat had suddenly emerged into sight nearly a half-mile away.

"Look at that!" he cried.

"That's not the Follow Me, you idiot," said Joe.

"No, but where'd she come from?" demanded Wink.

For a moment the boys stared and then Steve leaned quickly over the chart. "By Jiminy!" he muttered. "There's a way out there. Look, fellows! See where it says 'Drawbridge'? Evidently you can get through there into the Squam River, and the river takes you out into Ipswich Bay! It's dollars to doughnuts that's where they took the Follow Me!" Steve drew down the throttle and the cruiser lunged forward in response. "We'll have a look, anyway," he said. "It was stupid of me not to have noticed that on the chart, but it's hardly big enough to be seen."

Straight for the beach at the curve of the wide cove sped the Adventurer, her nose set for the drawbridge that showed against the blue sky. As they got closer an outlet showed clear, a narrow space between the bridge masonry, with a strong current coming through from the further side.

"Gee, it doesn't look very big," said Joe. "And how about head-room, Steve?"

"Room enough," was the answer, as the Adventurer slowed down. "They'll raise the draw if we whistle, I suppose, but we don't need to."

"We'll scrape our funnel, as sure as shooting!" cried Perry as the cruiser neared the bridge.

"We'll miss by two feet," answered Steve untroubledly.

They held their breaths and watched nervously as the shadow of the bridge fell across the boat. Then, with the sound of the engine and exhaust echoing loudly, the cruiser dug her nose into the out-running tide and shot safely through to emerge into a narrow canal that stretched straight ahead before them until it joined the river. They breathed easier as the bridge was left behind. Once in the river it was necessary to go cautiously and watch the channel buoys, for the ch

art showed a depth of only four feet at low tide for the first mile and a half. If they had not all been so absorbed in the fate and recovery of the Follow Me they would have enjoyed that journey down the Squam River immensely, for it was a beautiful stream, quiet and tranquil in the morning sunlight. Summer camps and cottages dotted the shores and green hills hemmed it in. They had breakfast on the way, eating it for the most part on deck. Now and then the Adventurer paused while they examined a motor-boat moored in some cove.

"There's one thing certain," said Steve. "Those folks couldn't have brought the Follow Me through here in the dark. If they did come through that cut last night they anchored and waited for light. Keep a watch for gasoline stations, fellows."

They found the first one at Annisquam, near where the yacht club pier stuck out into the channel. Steve sidled the Adventurer up to a landing and, while Han held her with the hook, made inquiry of a grizzled man in faded blue jumpers.

"We're looking for a motor-boat called the Follow Me," he explained. "Have you seen her?"

The man shook his head. "What was she like?" he asked.

Steve described her, aided by Harry Corwin, and the man pushed his old straw hat back, and rubbed his forehead reflectively. Finally: "There was a launch answerin' to that description stopped here about"-he gazed at the sun-"about two hours ago, I cal'ate. She was black, but she didn't have no name on her so far as I could see. I sold 'em thirty gallons o' gas an' they went on out toward the bar."

"Who was on her?" asked Steve quickly.

"Two or three men I never seen before. Three, I cal'ate there was. She wasn't here very long. They come up to the house an' got me up from the breakfast table. Said they was in a hurry. Come to think on it, boys, I believe they'd painted the name out on the stern. They ain't stolen her, have they?"

"That's just what they have done," answered Steve. "Shove off, Han! Thank you, sir. About two hours ago, you say?"

"Might be a little less than two hours. Well, I hope you get her. I didn't much like the looks of the fellers aboard her."

"Where do you think they'd take her?" called Joe as the boat swung her stern around.

"I dunno. They might switch around into the Essex River, or they might take her in Ipswich way, or they might head straight for Newburyport. If they wanted to hide her I cal'ate they might run in behind Plum Island somewheres."

"Sounds pretty hopeless," said Steve as the Adventurer took up her way again. "Look at this chart and see all the places she might be, will you? It's a regular what-do-you-call-it-labyrinth!"

"It certainly is," agreed Joe. "And there's a lot of shallows about here, too. Where's this Plum Island he spoke of?"

Steve pointed it out, a seven-mile stretch of sand behind which emptied four or five small rivers. "Shall we try it?" he asked.

"Might as well be thorough," Joe replied. "What do you say, Harry?"

"I say yes. Seems to me they'd be mighty likely to slide into some such place if only to paint a new name on."

"We'll have a look then," agreed Steve. The Adventurer dipped her way across Squam Bar and Steve swung the wheel. "Southeast, one-fourth south," he muttered, looking from the chart to compass. "Watch for a black spar buoy off the lighthouse. If they took the Follow Me into Essex Bay, though, we're running right away from her."

To port, the sand dunes shone dazzlingly in the sunlight and a long stretch of snow-white beach kept pace with them as they made for the entrance to Plum Island Sound. Several boats, sailing and power craft, had been sighted, but nothing that looked in the least like the Follow Me. The sun climbed into a hazy blue sky and the day grew hot in spite of the light westerly breeze. Steve picked up his buoys, a black and then two red, and swung the cruiser in toward the mouth of the Ipswich River. The chart showed feet instead of fathoms in places and Steve slowed down cautiously until they were in the channel. They left Ipswich Light on the port beam and kept on past the river mouth and into the sound.

"What happens," asked Harry Corwin, looking at the chart over Steve's shoulder, "when there aren't any soundings shown?"

"Just what I was wondering myself," replied the navigator. "It doesn't tell you anything after you pass that last red spar buoy. Still, with those two rivers coming in beyond up there, there must be enough water for us if we can find it. I've about arrived at the conclusion that the Follow Me was mighty well named, Harry. We've been following her for twelve hours, pretty near, and as things look now we'll be still following her a week from Christmas!"

"I suppose," sighed the captain of the lost boat, "that what we should have done was report it to the police and stayed right where we were. Dad's going to be somewhat peeved if we lose that boat."

"I thought she belonged to you and Tom," said Wink Wheeler.

"So she does, but dad gave her to us and he's rather fond of her himself."

"Well, it's too bad," Wink answered, "but I don't believe we'll ever find her now. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack, this sort of thing. We don't even know for sure that she isn't down around New York somewhere by this time!"

"Yes, we do," said Steve quietly.

"We do? How do we?"

"Because I'm looking at her," was the reply. Steve nodded ahead and pushed back the throttle. "If that isn't the Follow Me I'll-I'll eat her!"

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