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   Chapter 14 A RUSE THAT FAILED

The Adventure Club Afloat By Ralph Henry Barbour Characters: 12896

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"I should think so!" cried Phil. "Come on down and let me fix it."

"What is it?" asked Steve anxiously.

"Perry's hit in the arm. They must have shot along the side, and the bullet glanced from something. Come on, Perry."

"All you fellows get out of here," commanded Steve. "It might happen again, and you're not doing any good here, anyway. The chest's in the bottom locker in our cabin, Phil. Is it bad?"

"Don't think so," was the reply from the companion way. "Only a flesh wound, I guess. I'll look after it."

Steve had forgotten to try a second shot at the port, but Wink again let go at where the glint of a revolver muzzle showed and a cry of pain came across the water.

"Got him!" said Wink.

"You must have," agreed Steve. "I hope you didn't hurt him much."

"Suffering snakes!" ejaculated Wink. "Why shouldn't I hurt him? They potted Perry, didn't they? What are we supposed to do! Lie around here and let them shoot us full of lead and just smile? Why, you pig-headed, solid concrete-"

But Wink's flow of eloquence was interrupted by two shots from the Follow Me. There was a tinkling of glass as one of them smashed through the upper frame of the window on Steve's side. The other ploughed into the chart-box. Wink instantly fired back twice, aiming at the two ports he commanded. "Harry's boat will look like a sieve," he chuckled as he broke his revolver and jammed fresh cartridges into it. "Get busy there, Steve!"

For answer Steve's revolver spoke twice and the thud of the bullets came to them. "Got the boat anyway," chuckled Wink. "We can scare 'em even if we can't pot 'em! Better back up a little, Steve. I don't want to bust our flag-pole."

Once more the Adventurer increased the distance between her and the adversary, and once more the engine beneath their feet relapsed into a quiet purr as the load was taken off again.

"If it wasn't that we'd bust the Follow Me," exclaimed Steve savagely, "I'd ram them! They're knocking our paint off and breaking our glass and raising the dickens!"

Wink glanced across the deck. Steve, his revolver laid on the floor beside him, was knotting a handkerchief about his hand with his teeth. "Hello!" exclaimed Wink. "Did they get you!"

"No, it's only a piece of glass. It's bleeding a bit, that's all." Steve gave a final tug at the knot and seized his revolver again. "I wish they'd show themselves!"

"They probably wish the same of us," laughed Wink. "How long does this keep up? I'm getting hungry!"

"It keeps up until they give in," responded Steve determinedly. "Below there! Tell Ossie to start on the dinner."

"Dinner!" exclaimed Ossie from the aft companion. "Suppose they plugged a bullet into the galley?"

"Don't be an idiot," begged Steve impatiently. "You've got four inches of planking and a pile of rope and a refrigerator and a lot of other stuff between you and the bullets. Get busy and do your bit!"

"All right, Steve. I'd forgotten about the refrigerator. But you can bet I'm not going to leave the door open!" This jest was rewarded with a laugh from the others as Ossie pushed his way past them and dived hurriedly across the deck to the forward companion way. "Pistols and coffee for twelve," he added as he disappeared.

For several minutes there was no further sound or movement aboard the Follow Me. "They're probably fixing up the chap who got plugged," opined Wink cheerfully, as he watched the ports. "Wish we had a rifle, Steve. We could get them right through the hull, I guess."

"Yes, and if we had a torpedo we could sink her," said Cas Temple from the hatch. "Suppose they've run out of cartridges, Steve?"

"I don't believe so. I guess they don't think it's worth while wasting what they've got."

A cheering aroma of coffee stole up from the galley and murmurs of satisfaction were heard. Perry, his forearm bandaged neatly and scientifically, crowded his way up the after companion. "Say, Steve, let me have a shot at them, will you?" he begged earnestly. "Just one, Steve, like a good fellow!"

"How's the arm, Perry?"

"Oh, all right, I guess. It hurts a little. Phil's got it so blamed tight that I can't close my fingers. Will you, Steve?"

Steve was denied an answer by a sudden interruption from Wink. "She's moving, Steve!" he cried. "They've started her!"

"But they're anchored!" exclaimed Joe.

"They've cut the line. Probably reached through a port on the other side," said Steve, working quickly at the controls. "It's lucky we didn't have ours down, too!"

The Follow Me, gathering headway, pushed for the channel, and the Adventurer lunged forward with a mighty splashing of her screw, Steve bringing her head around as fast as he could. "How the dickens are they steering her, Harry?" he demanded, staring in puzzlement at the empty cockpit of the other craft.

"There's an auxiliary wheel forward, in the stateroom. They're coming around, fellows. Get under cover! Steve, you'd better drop!"

The others scuttled for the companion ways, and none too soon, for, as the Follow Me swung around into the channel those behind her ports had a clean sweep of the Adventurer's bridge deck and a fusillade of shots swept across the forty or fifty yards dividing the boats. Steve and Wink had dropped below the rail, while, in the cabins, the others were taking good care to crouch beneath the level of the ports. Some eight shots were fired, but, although several took effect on various parts of the bridge, the fact that the Adventurer was now plunging around in a half-circle at a full twelve miles an hour and the other boat was running at top speed down the channel made accuracy impossible. Neither Steve nor Wink had a chance to reply until it was too late for their shots to be effective. By that time the two cruisers had straightened out on the course and the chase had begun.

Harry Corwin was entrusted with Steve's revolver and, standing on the dining table set from locker to locker across the galley, he could thrust head and shoulders through the hatch. But the cockpit of the Follow Me remained empty and the entrance to the cabin was closed. Wink, his revolver ready, had returned to his post and watched grimly while the Adventurer, her engine fairly humming, slowly wore down the distance that separated her from the enemy.

"They're certainly getting some speed out of her," called Wink admiringly. The rest of the company had returned to th

e bridge and were watching eagerly. Tom Corwin, who had remained unaffected by the potting of the Follow Me's hull, was fighting mad now because the thieves had lost the bow anchor, and sputtered wrathfully as he gazed over Steve's shoulder. "If I was Harry I'd put a bullet through that door," he muttered. "I wish someone would let me have a shot at them!"

"You couldn't hit her at this distance, with the boats swinging," said Steve. "Wonder why it doesn't occur to them to cut away that tender. It's taking a mile off their speed."

"Afraid of getting hit, I guess," replied Joe.

"It doesn't seem to me that we're gaining very fast."

"We're not, but we're gaining fast enough. Hello!" The Follow Me, having approached the end of the island, had turned her nose to port straight for the end of the beach. "How much does she draw, Tom?"

"Two feet and a half; same as this."

"And the chart shows two feet of water there at low tide!" exclaimed Steve. "And it's nearly dead low now, I guess. She's taking a chance, all right!"

The channel ran straight ahead, close to the shore of the mainland, and if the Follow Me's exploit proved successful she was due to increase her dwindling lead by a good mile unless the Adventurer accepted the challenge and followed her example. For a minute Steve hesitated. Then: "If she can do it, we can," he muttered, and slowly turned the wheel, his eyes darting to the chart. "No depth shown here," he said. "Two feet further along. Then four and seven. If we can get to the point of sand there we're all right."

They watched the Follow Me breathlessly. She was dancing almost in the breakers now and for a long moment it seemed that she would surely pile herself on the spit that ran seaward from the end of the island. But she got by safely and the Adventurer plunged after her. There were strained faces on the bridge deck then and Ossie was seen to lay a tentative hand on the cushion of the nearer seat. Steve, with grim countenance, kept his eyes on the rollers, trying his best to follow in the wake of the other boat. Here and there white water hinted at shoals and it was between two of these that the Follow Me had gone. Steve eased the wheel and slowed the engine a trifle and the Adventurer, rocking in the long swells that were breaking on the beach hardly more than a stone-throw to port, went on. Steve was in the act of breathing a long sigh of relief when there came a jar that threw several of the boys off their balance and brought cries of consternation to their lips. For one horrid moment the Adventurer hung with her propeller churning the sand, and then shook herself free and lunged forward again.

Shouts of relief went up and a smile of triumph came to Steve's face as he pulled her back into the course and slipped into deeper water. The Follow Me was still a good eighth of a mile ahead and swinging northward around the curve of beach. "They're going to make for Newburyport," said Steve. "Watch them try to get me into trouble now, Joe."

"How do you mean?"

"They're keeping in close to shore. See? Look on the chart."

"I see twelve little black crosses about there. What do they mean? Oh, I get you. 'Emerson Rocks,' eh? But I don't see them!"

"No, they're sunken. The Follow Me's running as near them as she dares, hoping that we'll try to cut the corner more and strike. Those fellows know this coast as I know the inside of my hat! But we'll fool them this time!"

So close to the submerged danger did the Adventurer go that Perry, watching over the side, caught a glimpse of a dark mass under the green water. Then the chase straightened out once more and Steve drew the throttle wide, experimented with the spark for a moment and sent the white cruiser surging along in pursuit. There could be no doubt as to the outcome of the race. It was only a question of time. The thieves had staked all on the attempt to elude the Adventurer in the shallows, and now they were doomed to open water, for Plum Island ran straight and unbroken for seven miles, and not until the entrance to Newburyport Harbour was reached was there the smallest chance to slip out of sight.

Ossie announced that dinner would be ready in a few minutes, but no one paid any attention. Every eye was fixed on the Follow Me, which, dead ahead, was scurrying along at a rate which Tom, who had thought he knew the engine thoroughly, marvelled at. But the distance was shortening between pursued and pursuer. Off the life-saving station the fleeing craft was scarcely a hundred yards in advance, and it became more and more certain that the boats would be on even terms long before the seven-mile stretch was half traversed.

Wink went below and summoned Harry Corwin down from his perch, much to the relief of Ossie, whose preparations for dinner had not been made easier by having to dive under the table every time he sought the ice-chest, and posted him at a port in the forward cabin. "If they won't give up," he explained, "we'll have to go on plugging them. I'll take it in the other cabin. Better fire first from one port then from another. That'll keep them guessing. It's just as well for them not to know that we've got only two pieces of artillery!"

"All right," said Harry, "but there's no use staying here now, is there? There's nothing in sight but a sea-gull!"

"No, but be ready when we get abreast, Harry. I think that gun pulls to the right a little. You might watch it."

Wink returned to the deck, followed by Harry as far as the companion, and looked forward at the Follow Me. Since he had gone below the positions of the boats had altered noticeably, and now, had he wished, he might easily have put a bullet through the mahogany door beyond the cockpit. Steve was bearing seaward a little, intending to run up on the starboard side of the black cruiser.

"I'll bet they're doing a whole lot of thinking about now," said "Brownie." "Guess I'll go down and sit on the floor again. They'll be able to plug us in another minute or so."

"You'd all better beat it," said Steve. "If the bullets begin to fly again someone will get hurt."

Slowly but certainly the bow of the Adventurer crept up on the Follow Me's stern. Some sixty feet of water divided them. Beyond the black cruiser lay the long yellow beach, dazzling in the noonday sunlight. Suddenly the Follow Me's bow turned straight for the breakers and Steve gave a cry.

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