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   Chapter 13 BULLETS FLY

The Adventure Club Afloat By Ralph Henry Barbour Characters: 12255

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

A half-mile or so beyond a black cruiser lay at anchor at the mouth of a cove on the island side of the sound. She was broadside-to and one look at her was enough for Harry Corwin. "It is!" he cried. "We've got her, fellows!"

"Not yet," warned Phil as the fellows clustered from all parts of the boat. "That's her, but how are we going to get her back? Hadn't we better stop here, Steve, and decide what to do? Those men aren't going to give her up just for the asking, I guess."

"Right," agreed Steve. "Bow anchor, Han! Let her go as soon as you're ready. Now then, fellows, let's think what's to be done." The Adventurer pulled at the anchor line with her nose, found further progress stopped and slowly began to swing around with the tide. "There are three of them at least, according to the gasoline chap back there, and there are twelve of us, but if they have guns-"

"We've got two revolvers," said Perry eagerly. "Shall I get them, Steve?"

"Yes, fetch them up here, but we don't want to use them unless in self-defence. Don't forget the cartridges, Perry. Now suppose we mosey up to where we can talk to them, fellows."

"That's the ticket," agreed Wink Wheeler. "If they get to acting ugly, why, I guess there are enough of us to handle them. I think the best way is to beat it right up there and tell them to hand the boat over."

"And if they decline?" inquired Phil.

"Go in and take it!"

"And, as like as not, get shot full of holes! No, thanks!" This from "Brownie."

"How would it do for some of us to land and keep out of sight and come around back of them?" asked Cas Temple.

"What are we going to do with them if we catch them?" Tom Corwin wanted to know. "Take them back and hand them over to the police?"

"I don't believe they'll let us catch them," answered Phil. "Either they'll take to that small boat they've got astern there or they'll try to make a dash past us."

"It is!" he cried. "We've got her, fellows!"

"Much good that would do them!" Harry shrugged his shoulders. "The Adventurer can sail all around our boat."

"We're not getting anywhere," observed Steve, who had been all the while watching the other craft attentively. "And they've seen us at last, for they're looking over the top of the cabin."

"Well, let's do something," said Perry, who was back with the two revolvers and as many boxes of cartridges. "Can they go the other way or do they have to pass us to get out of this place, Steve?"

"They can go the other way for about five miles according to the chart, but they can't get out. There's a bridge there. And, anyway, I guess it's only navigable for small boats at high tide. Perry, for the love of lemons, drop those things and let them alone."

"They aren't loaded," said Perry, injuredly.

"That's the kind that always blow your head off. Well, what's the decision, fellows?"

Everyone talked at once for a minute, and, at last, Phil said: "Why not do the natural thing and ask for our boat? Why let them think that we expect trouble? Perhaps when they see that the game's up they'll give in sensibly."

"That's the idea," agreed Harry and most of the rest. "Let's breeze right up to them and talk big."

"We'll never get the Follow Me by lying here, anyway," said Steve, turning to the wheel. "Get your anchor up, Han. Give him a hand, someone. Wink, open a box of those cartridges and load the revolvers, will you? But keep them out of Perry's way! All right now. Settle down, fellows, and we'll try a bluff."

The Adventurer went on and the distance between the two boats lessened rapidly. They could see two men watching them over the top of the cabin, but there was no sign of alarm visible aboard the Follow Me. When the Adventurer was almost opposite the black cruiser Steve threw out the clutch, turned the wheel and let her run shoreward. "We're getting out of the channel," he said to Harry. "Watch for sand-bars." He slipped the clutch in again and again disengaged it. The two boats were some twenty yards apart now and the men on the Follow Me were observing the newcomers unblinkingly from the cockpit.

Steve leaned over the rail and sent a hail across. "Follow Me, ahoy!" he called. "We'll trouble you for that boat, please."

For a moment there was no answer. Then one of the two men in sight moved forward and drawled: "Speaking to us, are you? What was it you said?"

"I said we'd trouble you for that boat," repeated Steve. "It happens to belong to us, you see."

"This boat?"

"That identical boat."

"Belongs to you!"

"You've got it."

"That's a good joke, friend. We've owned this boat three years. Where do you come in?"

"She's the Follow Me, even if you have painted her name out, and you took her from her anchorage in Plymouth Harbour last night. What's the use of throwing a fool bluff like that?"

The man laughed hoarsely and his companion joined him. "Run away, kids!" he said finally. "You're crazy with the heat. This boat's the Esmeralda, of Providence, and she belongs to me and this feller. What do you mean, took her? Callin' me a thief, are you?"

"I'm not taking the trouble to. If you know what's good for you you'll dig out of there and do it quick."

"Is that so?" drawled the man. "Well, ain't that nice? An' supposin' it don't suit me to hand over my boat to you? Then what you goin' to do?"

"Take her," answered Steve quietly. "There are twelve of us here and we've followed you all the way from Plymouth, and we aren't likely to let you bluff us off now. Come on, now, what do you say?"

"Come on and take her, kids!" was the answer. "We're scared to death!" The men thought that extremely funny, and laughed a lot over it. Just then, Steve, leaning outboard over the railing, felt someone tug at his arm.

"Look at the middle port, Steve," whispered Phil.

Steve looked. The nearer side of the Follow Me was in shadow, but a quivering beam of sunlight, reflected from the surface of the water, glinted on the muzzle of a revolver held just inside the open port.

"Every fellow under cover," said Steve quietly. "That means you, too, Joe. Duc

k! They've got a gun trained on us. Who's the best shot here?"

"Wink," answered Joe.

"Give him one of the revolvers. Are you there, Wink?"

"Yes," answered the other from the forward companion way.

"Get a bead on that middle port. You'll see a gun sticking through there. Don't shoot unless they shoot first. Better go into the other cabin. There's no harm in letting them see you, but don't keep your head exposed. Someone hand me that other revolver."

On the other boat Steve's silence was accepted as a confession of indecision and a jeering laugh came across the water. The Adventurer was drifting toward the shore now, and Steve turned and slipped the clutch into reverse and churned back a few yards. Then he faced the men again.

"You can't get away with it, you know," he said untroubledly. "We can stay here as long as you can. If you run we'll follow you, and at the first port we'll hand you over to the authorities. You've only got thirty gallons of gas and that won't take you far. If you have any sense you'll pile into your tender and light out while you've got a good chance."

It was evident that those on the stolen boat had glimpsed Wink's revolver, for one of the men leaned toward his companion and spoke in low tones and their eyes sought the port. After a moment the spokesman replied placatingly. "Maybe you're right, Sport. Guess you've got us this time. But this ain't any place to go ashore. Tell you what we'll do. We'll run her back to Gloucester and hand her over to you there. That's fair, ain't it?"

"It doesn't listen well," answered Steve. "You land on the other side there and you'll only have to walk a few miles to a train."

"Yeah, walk about six miles across sand dunes in a sun hot enough to blister you! Nothin' doin', Sport. Take it or leave it."

"Leave it, thanks."

For answer one of the men climbed to the cabin roof and went forward. "He's going to pull up anchor," warned Joe, peering over the rail. Steve's voice rang out sharply:

"If you touch that cable we'll shoot!"

The man paused, stared across doubtfully and went on.

"Can you hear me, Wink?" asked Steve softly.

"Yes," came from the after cabin.

"If he lays a hand on the anchor cable, shoot, but shoot wide."

"All right, Steve!"

"Say," called the man in the cockpit, "don't you start nothin', because we got you covered. If there's any shootin' you'll get the worst of it."

The man forward dropped to a knee, his gaze turned warily toward the enemy, and took hold of the anchor cable. As he did so Steve whipped his revolver into sight and flattened himself against the bulkhead. A sharp report broke the silence and a bullet sang its way across the Follow Me's bow. The man dropped the rope and sprang back along the roof to tumble frightenedly into the cockpit. From the cabin of the Adventurer floated up the acrid smoke of Wink's revolver. The man at the stern of the other boat had instantly disappeared.

"Look out," shouted Perry from the forward cabin. "They're going to shoot from the ports! Come down from there, Steve!"

But Steve's hand was on the clutch and, as the Adventurer began to go astern, his other hand turned the spokes of the wheel and the cruiser's bow came slowly around toward the Follow Me. "Come up here, Wink," he called, and then: "Put that hatch up all the way and keep behind it," he added as Wink slipped to his side. "Can you get them from there?"

"Fine!" answered the other cheerfully.

"I'll try to keep her bow-on. Careful not to kill anyone, old man. Shoot for their arms."

"How can I when they're out of sight down there?" Wink complained. "All I can do is shoot for the ports."

"Don't shoot at all unless you have to," Steve cautioned. "We don't want to knock any more splinters off her than necessary."

"We're too near, Steve. The deck's getting in the way."

"I'll back her off." The Adventurer retreated until Wink, his elbow resting on the closed cover of the chart-box, could train his revolver on the Follow Me's ports. Several of the others emerged from the cabins and huddled from sight on the deck.

"What's the next act, Steve?" inquired Phil.

Steve shook his head. "I'm wondering," he answered. "About all we can do is keep them from running away until they talk sense."

"Why not let them run? We can go faster than they can."

"I'm afraid of tricks," responded Steve. "I don't know these waters, and I suspect that they do. They might manage to give us the slip as they did last night. I guess when they find they can't get away they'll come to terms." Steve raised his head cautiously above the chart-box on his side and a bullet promptly ploughed through the frame of the open window in front of him and went singing astern.

"Rotten shooting," observed Wink, as Steve ducked to safety. "Shall I give 'em one, Steve?"

Steve hesitated and then shook his head. "What's the use? You'd only plug a hole in the Follow Me's cabin. Wait until they show themselves."

"Well, you take care not to show yourself," advised Wink, peering warily past the smoke-stack. "Those murderous pirates are shooting to kill, I guess."

Another shot rang out across the dancing water and a bullet flattened itself against a pipe stanchion. "Guess you'd better put a shot into each of those ports," said Steve. "Maybe they'll keep away from them. Sorry to damage your boat, Harry."

"Bother the damage!" said Harry. "Plug her full of lead if you like!"

Wink's revolver spoke, and: "Bull's-eye," he announced calmly. Another shot followed. "Got that one, too," he muttered. "Can't see the other port from here, Steve. Smokestack's in the way. You try it."

Steve tried and missed, the bullet knocking a long splinter from the edge of the cabin roof, and at the same moment a pistol aboard the Follow Me barked and Perry, sitting crouched on one of the seats, uttered an exclamation. Phil, beside him, turned anxiously. Perry's face expressed blank amazement as he pushed his right sleeve up and gazed at a wound from which the blood was spurting.

"Gosh," he said awedly, "I'm shot!"

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