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H. Irving (Harrie Irving) Hancock.

The Motor boat club in Florida : or, Laying the ghost of Alligator Swamp online

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from coming on board here to-night in the
midst of the storm, if we have one.''

* ^ Yassuh ! yassnh ! Dat ghost can done come,
ef it wanter. ' '

*^I wonder if it will?" asked Miss Silsbee,
musingly.

''Don' say dat, Missy! Don', fo' de Inb ob
hebben!" begged Ham, growing terror-stricken.
''Many time dat ha'nt done go wheah it been
asked ter go. Don' 'vite it heah! Ole Marse
Satan, he shuah ter ride in de gale dis night,
an' ole Marse Satan, he am emnff, fo' shuah!
'Sense me, now, ladies an' gem men. I gotter
finish clearin' off en de table."

With that, the steward began to remove
dishes and other things in a hurry, his feet
sounding constantly in the passage forward of
the cabin. Then, at last, he appeared to in-
quire :

"Is dat all fo' me, now, ladies an' gemmeni"
' "Yes; we shan't need you any more. Ham,"
replied Mrs. Tremaine.

Ordinarily, Ham would have gone to the gal-
ley, where, with hot water ready, he would. have
cleaned up all the dishes.

"But Ah ain't so shuah dere gwine ter he any
mawnin ', " he muttered to himself, after he had
bobbed his head up into the open for a long look



IN FLORIDA 27

at the threatening sky overhead. So Ham came
out on deck, to walk about as long as he could
still find it safe to do so.

Following the early winter twilight an in-
creasing darkness had settled down over the
waters. Every few minutes Captain Tom, once
more at the wheel, turned on the electric search-
light, swinging it around in an arc of a circle
before the boat, seeking to inform himself of
any danger that might lie in their path. For
the rest, the young skipper was content to steer
through the darkness, having only the binnacle
light upon the compass for a guide, and carry-
ing the chart memorized in his mind.

For the last hour the waves had been crested
with white-caps. Every now and then a mass
of foam leaped over the bulwarks of the bridge
deck, the water retreating through the scuppers.
The wind was blowing at nearly twenty-five
miles an hour. Yet, so far, there was nothing
in the actual weather that could make a capa-
ble captain's mind uneasy. Joe, after a look
out into the black night, and after wetting his
finger and holding it up in the breeze, had gone
below, where he found his motors working sat-
isfactorily. So he had turned into his bunk,
hoping to catch an hour or two of sleep ere the
call came for duty on deck all through the night.

The ^* Restless'' was rolling and pitching con-



28 THE MOTOE BOAT CLUB

siderably, but as yet the motion was no more
than was agreeable to those who love the sea
and its moods. As Ham came np on deck, how-
ever, he saw that the life-lines had been
stretched. That had been Joe Dawson's last
work before turning in.

* ^You'll want to keep awake to-night. Ham,"
called Tom, when he saw his dark visage.

^^Yassuh! yassuh!" came willingly from the
colored man, who, however, could go to sleep
standing up anywhere.

Though none of the passengers below was ex-
actly afraid, none cared to turn in early that
night. After the men had smoked as much as
they cared to, the quartette in the cabin started
a game of euchre.

Tom, who had last been relieved at seven
o'clock, in order that he might go below for
supper, kept at the wheel alone, until eleven
o'clock. Then, catching sight of the steward's
head through the doorway of the motor room,
he shouted the order to call Joe Dawson on
deck.

Joe came with the promptness of a fireman re-
sponding to an alarm. He took a look about
him at the weather, then faced his chum.

** Between Marquesas and Tortugasf he
asked.

^'Yes. Look I"



IN FLORIDA 29

'At just that moment the red eye of the re-
volving light over on Dry Tortngas, some miles
away, swung around toward them.

*'I'm glad the gale has held off so long," mut-
tered Joe. *^This is the nastiest part of the
way. Half an hour more, if a squall doesn't
strike us, and we'll he where we'll feel easier."

'^It's queer weather, anyway," said Skipper
Tom musingly. ^ ' I figured we 'd he in the thick
of a souther hy eight o 'clock. ' '

'^Mayhe the storm has spent itself south of
lis," ventured Joe Dawson, hut Halstead shook
his head.

^^ No; it's going to catch us. No douht ahout
that. Hullo! Feel that?"

The first drops of rain struck the hacks of
their necks. Nodding, Dawson dived helow,
coming up soon in his oilskins and sou'wester.
He took the wheel while Tom vanished briefly
for similar clothing and headgear.

Swish-sh-sh! Now, the rain began to drive
down in great sheets, illumined by two faint
flashes of winter lightning. Immediately after-
ward came a rush of wind from the south that
sang loudly through the rigging on the signal
mast.

**Now, we'll soon be in for it in earnest,"
muttered Tom Halstead, taking the wheel from
his chum and casting an anxious look for the



30 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB

next '*red eye'* from the revolving liglit over
on Tortngas.

Voices sonnded on the after deck. Henry
Tremaine was calling to his wife and ward to
get on their rain coats and come np for a brief
look at the weather.

**Joe," mnttered the yonng skipper, sharply,
* ' go back to those people and tell them the only
place for them is going to be below. Tell Mr.
Tremaine he'd be endangering the ladies to
have 'em on deck, even for a minnte or two.
Pnsh 'em below and lock the after companion-
way, if you have to ! "

Joe easily made his way aft ta carry ont these
instructions. Hardly had Dawson returned
when another and greater gust of wind overtook
the * ^Restless." Her nose was buried deep in
the water, as she pitched. Then, on the crest
of the following wave, the little craft's bow
rose high. The full gale was upon them in five
minutes more — a wind blowing fifty-five miles
an hour. Running before the wind the cruiser
steered easily enough. Tom could manage the
wheel alone, though Joe stood by to lend a hand
in case of accident or emergency.

Up onto "deck stumbled Ham Mockus, clutch-
ing desperately at the deckhouse and life-lines.

*'Fo' de Lawd's sake, dis shuah gwine finish
US I" yelled the steward in terror. He was so



IN FLORIDA 31

badly frightened, in fact, that both boys felt
sorry for him.

*^ Don't you believe it," Captain Tom bellowed
at him. '* We've been out in a heap sight worse
gales than this. ' '

^*In dis boat?" wailed Ham, hoarsely.

'^ Eight in this boat, in one worse gale," re-
plied Halstead, thinking of the September
northeaster experienced on the other side of
Florida, as told in * ^ The Motor Boat Club and

THE WiEELESS."

**Biit Ah reckon ole Marse Satan didn't gwine
ride on dat gale," protested Ham Mockus.

''Nor on this gale, either," rasped Halstead,
sharply.

*'Den yo' don' know," retorted the steward,
with an air of conviction. *^Yo's all right,
Marse Tom, but yo' ain't raised on dis west
coast like Ah wuz. ' '

* ' Get below, ' ' counseled Joe Dawson. * * You '11
drown up here. Ham."

For, by now, the decks were awash, and there
was a threat that, at any moment, the great
combers would be rolling fairly across the bul-
warks. Dawson drove the black man below,
forcing him to close the motor room hatch.

Five minutes later, however, the hatch opened
again, and Oliver Dixon appeared in rain coat
and cap.



32 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB

'*I thouglit you miglit need an extra hand up
here/' volunteered Dixon, speaking in a loud
voice to make himself heard over the howling
gale. * * So I told the ladies I'd come on deck for
a while."

^^No, we don't need anyone, thank you," Tom
shouted hack at him. **We'll soon he past
Tortugas, and then we'll he in open waters for
hours to come."

Yet Dixon showed no intention of returning
below. Tom Halstead did not like to order him
below decks. Dixon, making his way to where
he could lean against the cabin deck-house, was
not likely to be at all in the way.

** There's no accounting for tastes," muttered
Joe, under his breath. *^If I were a passenger
on this boat, and had a snug cabin to go to, that
would be good enough for me. I wonder why
I dislike this fellow so?"

By the time that they had the Tortugas light
well astern Captain Tom jerked his head slightly
backward, then glanced meaningly at his chum
before looking straight ahead.

**Yes; we're in the open," nodded Joe.
''Good!"

Yet the gale, if anything, was increasing in
severity. Staunch a craft as she was, the ''Rest-
less" creaked almost as though in agony. Tim-
bers will act that way in any heavy sea.



IN FLOEIDA 33

**Take the wheel, Joe!*' shouted Skipper Tom,
presently. ^^My arms ache.''

And well they might, as Joe knew, for, with
such a sea running, the wheel acted as though it
were a thing of life as it fiercely resisted every
turn.

As Dawson stepped into place, bracing him-
self, and with both strong young hands resting
on the spokes, Tom Halstead, holding lightly
to one of the life lines, started to step backward
to the deck-house. Just then a great, combing
wave broke over the boat, from astern, racing
the full length with fearful force. Joe Dawson,
hearing it come, partly turned to meet it. Hal-
stead was caught, lurching as he let go of the
life line to clutch at the deck-house. Dixon's
foot shot out, tripping the young skipper. Los-
ing his footing and deprived of grip at the same
instant, Tom Halstead rose on the billow as it
swept along.

Over the port side went the great mass of
water. It would have carried Skipper Tom
with it, all in a flash, but Joe, dropping the
wheel and diving to hit the port bulwark, threw
his hands upward, clutching desperately at his
friend's leg.

Then Dawson held on — ^how he gripped!

A moment more and the force of that invad-
ing billow was spent. Joe, panting under the

3^ The Motor Boat Ctub in Florida.



34 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB

strain of that fight against tons of water in mo-
tion, drew Halstead to him in safety.

Bnt the ^^ Restless,'' with no hand at the
wheel, was lurching around into the trough of
the sea. The next wave might engulf her.

Sure that his friend was safe, Joe Dawson
sprang to the wheel. While he was still fight-
ing with the steering gear, Tom Halstead stood
at his side. Between them, not without effort,
they put the bobbing little cork of a cruiser on
her course, once more, on that seething, boiling
stretch of waters.

^^Can you hold her, Joe?" panted Tom, husk-
ily, in his friend 's ear.

Dawson nodding, Tom stepped back to Dixon,
who regarded the young captain with curiously
blazing eyes.

*^I think you'd better go below, sir," shouted
Halstead.

**Why — ^why — do you mean ?"

*^I mean nothing," retorted Tom, dryly, '* ex-
cept that the deck is no place for you in this
weather. We can handle the yacht better if all
passengers are below."

^^But "

Captain Tom's eyes gleamed resolutely.

**Will you go below, sir, or shall I have to
call the steward to help me put you below? I
mean it, Mr. Dixon. I'm captain here!"



IN FLOEIDA 35

Gripping at the lines, Dixon sullenly made
his way to the motor room hatch. Halstead
swmig it open, gently but firmly aiding his pas-
senger below.

*'Did he trip you!" asked Joe, when the
hatch had been closed and his chum stood be-
side him.

*^It's an awful thing to say, and I guess he
didn't, but I almost thought so,'' Halstead
shouted back.

**He's bad, I think," gro.wled Joe, which was
a good deal for that quiet young engineer to say.
*' Yet I can't see any earthly reason for his treat-
ing you like that."

**Nor I, either," admitted the youthful sail-
ing master. **0h, of course he didn't mean to.
The whole thing is too absurd ! "

Ten minutes later, feeling that it would be
better to go below and see how the hull was
standing the severe strain, Halstead called to
Ham to stand by Joe on deck. Then Tom went
below.

Once down there, it struck him to step
through the passageway. There was a peep-
hole slide in the door opening into the cabin.
Halstead stood there, shifting the slide so that
he could look beyond.

'*If the ladies are still up," he told himself,
**I can see how they are bearing the excitement.



36 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB

If they look very scared, I'll go in and try to
pnt some courage into them. ' '

As Halstead looked through the small peep-
hole, he saw Tremaine and that gentleman's
wife and ward seated at the further end of the
cabin table, bending over a book that Tremaine
held open. At the sideboard stood young
Dixon.

' ^Now, what's he doing?' ' wondered Halstead,
curiously.

With the water bottle in one hand, Oliver
Dixon was pouring into it a few drops from the
vial he had placed in his vest pocket in the late
afternoon.

In the meantime, up on the bridge deck, Joe
Dawson at first waited for the return of his chum
without any feeling of curiosity. Yet, after
many minutes had passed the young fleet engi-
neer of the Motor Boat Club began to wonder
what his comrade was doing below.

**Ham," ordered Joe, at last, **go below and
find Captain Halstead. See if anything has
happened. ' '

Glad enough to get away from the deck, where
the billows were pouring over and threatening
to carry him overboard, the colored steward
made his way, clutching at the life-lines, to the
motor room door.

''Get that hatch shut!" roared Joe. ''Don't



IN FLOEIDA 37

leave it open for a five-ton wave to get down iii
there at the motors!'*

Ham shut the hatch with a bang, then ran
through the passageway to the cabin door.

'* 'Sense me, ladies an' gemmen," begged
Ham, poking his head through the doorway.
'^Any ob yo' done seen Cap'n HalsteadT'

**Why, no," replied Mr. Tremaine, looking
up. *^He hasn't been through this cabin — at
least, not within the last hour. Isn't he on
deck!"

*'No, sah. Marse Dawson, he-um up at de
wheel. He gwine sent me heah to look fo' de
cap'n."

*^You were forward, a while ago, Dixon,"
spoke Mr. Tremaine. ^^Did you see Halstead?"

'^Not even a glimpse of him," replied that
young man.

*^Is the captain lost?" demanded Mrs. Tre-
maine, a tremor in her tone.

'*I'se spec he must be," declared Ham,
solemnly. '* He-um ain' forrard, an' he-um ain^
on de bridge. He-um ain' here, neider."

'* Don't alarm the ladies. Ham," spoke Mr.
Tremaine, sharply. *^If Captain Halstead came
below, then of course he didn't go overboard.
Look forward. If you don't find the captain
promptly, come back for me, and I'll help you.'^

Ham departed, going back through the



38 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB

passageway. Then, emitting a frenzied yell,
shaking in every limb, Ham half lurched, half
tottered back into the cabin. His appearance of
utter fright was such as to cause the ladies to
rise, holding to the table for support while the
boat rocked and dipped.

As for Ham, he fell against the sideboard,
holding on there, his eyes rolling wildly, imtil
little more than the scared whites of them conld
be seen.

'^What do yon mean, you black idiot?' ' roared
Mr. Tremaine, darting at the steward and clutch-
,ing him, administering a sound shaking.

**Cap'n Halstead, he ain' on board!'' wailed
Ham Mockus. Then, in a greater outburst of
terror, he screamed hoarsely:

'^Dat ain' de worst! De Ghost ob Alligator
Swamp am on board — Ah done seen it so close
dat Ah s 'pec it reach out an ' grab me ! ' '

Though none of the passengers believed in
ghosts, this information, at such a time, was
enough to make them gasp.

**Wut Ah done tell yo'f" roared Ham, his
voice deepening in the frenzy of his terror. * * Ah
tole yo'-all dat ole Marse Satan gwine ride on
dis great wind ternight! He sho' is doin' dat.
Oh, Lawdy!"

Slipping from the grasp of Henry Tremaine,
Ham Mockus sank groveling to the floor.



IN FLOEIDA 39



CHAPTER III

THE MYSTEKY OF THE NIGHT

•*^^^ OME, get up, you imp !'' roared Mr. Tre-

1 i maine, angrily, as lie bent over. He
seized the steward by the collar, and
dragged that frightened individual to his feet.

^^Ham, you simpleton, there's no such thing
as a ghost,'' uttered Mr. Tremaine, sharply.

*'0h, ain' dere, den?" demanded Ham, in high
disgust at such ignorance. ^*Yo' go out an'
meet it, den!"

**I will," agreed Henry Tremaine, gripping
the negro tightly by the arm. *^ Where did you
see that ghost T'

**In de passageway, sah."

* * Then come along and show it to me. ' '

Mr. Tremaine spoke with such an air of dis-
belief and firmness that Ham Mockus began to
gather some courage from such leadership.

*^But, den, sah, mebbe dat ghos' don' show
himself to white folks ob de quality kind, ' ' sug-
gested the steward.

*'If we don't see the ghost, then you've all the
less reason to be afraid," retorted Henry Tre-
maine. **But come along and see whether you
can show the ghost to me."



40 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB

As Tremaine marclied tlie badly scared stew-
ard out into the passageway, the ladies started
to follow, out of sheer curiosity. So badly was
the yacht rolling that Dixon went with them, to
steady them and save them from being pitched
headlong.

'*It was right erlong in dis passageway, sah,^'
Ham offered solemn assurance. *^An' Ah done
heard a feahful sound — o-o-o-oh!''

Ham suddenly gave a bound that took him
out of Tremaine 's clutch. He darted to the for-
ward end of the passageway, then halted,
crouching, his eyes rolling almost as fast as the
propeller shafts could revolve.

Unquestionably there had been a sound.
Henry Tremaine, far from superstitious,
thought he had heard the same sound. As he
halted, rooted to the spot, he heard a distinct
knocking.

^* There's something at the other side of this
closet door,'' spoke Tremaine, with a positive
air. Reaching out, he drew out the hook by
which the door was secured in place. As he
pulled the door open, Tom Halstead, looking
more than half dead, lurched out of the little
compartment in which he had been a prisoner.
Tremaine caught him and steadied him.

*' What's the matter, lad?" demanded the
charter-man.



IN FLOEIDA 41



**Air/' whispered Halstead, hoarsely.
'* Nearly died in there!''

^^Your fans — quick, ladies,'' cried Mr. Tre-
maine.

Out where the ventilators were working, the
youthful sailing master was quickly revived.
Then Mr. Tremaine led him back to the cabin,
and dropped him into a seat, while the ladies
plied their fans vigorously.

'^Oh, I guess I'm all right, now," protested
Skipper Tom, looking up with a smile.

*^But how came you in that place?" ques-
tioned Mr. Tremaine.

< ^ Why, one of our air compartments is in that
place," muttered Tom. ^^I stepped in there,
just to make sure that all was right. While I
was there the yacht lurched and the door
slammed to. The hook on the outside must have
been standing up. Then it dropped, fitting just
into place. I made an awful racket, hoping to
attract someone's attention. Then I began to
get dizzy for lack of air."

^ * That was what that idiot. Ham, thought was
the noise the ghost made," grimaced Mr. Tre-
maine. ^^But, good heavens, Halstead! What
a fearful accident to have happened. And, here
in the cabin, we couldn't hear your clatter on
this night of all nights. ' '

** Joe could have brought you through, I guess,



42 THE MOTOB BOAT CLUB

sir/' Tom smiled. *^Yet I'm glad I didn't
smother in there to-night. It's much safer, in
a gale like this, to have two men on the bridge
deck. I*m going back there now."

''Are you steady enough?" asked Mrs. Tre-
maine.

' ' Oh, I 'm all right, ' ' vaunted Halstead. ' ' I '11
go up on deck, now, and feel better for the air. ' '

Mr. Tremaine insisted on going forward with
him as far as the motor room hatch, seeing the
young skipper safe out on deck. Then the
charter-man turned upon Ham, whose eyes were
rolling at a more furious rate than ever, and
dragged him back to the cabin. -

''Ham, you infernal scared-cat!" roared Tre-
maine, as he stood the steward up by the side-
board. Then the charter-man explained what
really had happened.

"Yet you said you saw a ghost!" finished Mr.
Tremaine.

"Ah done fought Ah did, we 'en Ah heahed
dat awful noise," chattered Ham Mockus.

Tom Halstead 's condition rapidly improved as
he groped his way to Joe's side on the bridge
deck, and stood gulping in great draughts of the
air that was blowing so forcefully about him.
Next, he shouted, in his chum's ear, an account
of what had happened to him.

"Mighty curious," Joe bawled back, with a



IN FLOEIDA 43

shake of his head. ^ ' About one chance in a mil-
lion, I should say, that the door could close and
hook itself. ' '

''How else could it have happened?" Hal-
stead demanded.

At that, Joe had to admit that he had no
theory of his own to fit the case. While they
were still talking about it, Henry Tremaine, in
rain-coat and visored cap, opened the hatch, and
came out onto the deck.

''Keep hold of the life-ropes, sir," Tom yelled
at him. "Look out for this wave coming!"

Such a great weight of water rolled in over
the low stern, flooding swiftly forward, that the
"Eestless" went low in the sea ere the salty ebb
went out through the running scuppers.

"The weather's growing stiff er, isn't it?"
demanded Mr. Tremaine, after the deluge had
passed.

"Not growing any better, sir, anyway."

"I've just told the ladies the weather is
moderating a good deal," Tremaine went on,
talking at the top of his voice, in order to make
himself heard. '^They haven't lost their cour-
age yet, and there's no sense in their being al-
lowed to get scared. They won 't turn in, though.
Say they'd rather sit up until the boat pitches a
good deal less. Do you consider that there ^s
any real danger to-night. Captain?"



44 THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB

*'Yes,'* admitted Tom, honestly.

''What is it?''

''Why, the 'Eestless,' I believe, sir, is full^
staunch enough to weather such a gale if she cart
be kept going ahead. Yet the force of the roll-
ing water to-night is something terrific. If our
propeller shafts snapped, under the strain, and
we drifted in the trough of the sea, I don't know
how long we could keep afloat."

' ' That 's the only danger 1 ' ' asked Henry Tre-
maine, eyeing the young sailing master keenly.

"That's the greatest danger, sir."

'^What are the others!"

"Why, sir, some of the hull timbers might be
forced so that a leak would be sprung, or, of
course, we might go onto some uncharted reef
or rock. This is a mean bit of coast to sail on
with no local pilot aboard."

"You're not afraid of disaster, are you, Cap-
tain Halstead ! " '

Tom's smile was swift and reassuring.

"I expect, sir, to land you at some point in
Oyster Bay by breakfast time," answered the
young commander.

For some moments Henry Tremaine studied
the clean, clear-cut face and steady, resolute eyes
of Captain Tom. Then he glanced at the sturdy,
unflinching figure of Joe Dawson at the wheel.

"Halstead," the charter-man shouted back,



IN FLORIDA 45

''since I have to be out here on rough waters,
and in the big blow, I am glad I'm with you two.
I couldn't be in braver hands. When I do turn
in to-night it will be to sleep soundly. ' '

How true the latter part of his prediction
would come Tremaine could not guess as he
groped his way down below.

This night of hurricane ivas full of dangers,
even though the propeller shafts should hold and
the motors continue to work under the strain.
A score of times, at least, each of the young navi-
gators had to fight the grave danger of being
lifted and carried overboard on the curling crest
of one of the many huge, combing waves that
piled over the stern of the '* Restless" and
dashed thunderously along the low deck of the
yacht.

Everv now and then, while Tom was at the
wheel, Joe went below to look over his motors.
Once he found them becoming overheated. It
was necessary to slow the speed down to seven
miles, and at this lessened gait the boat rolled
more than ever. Yet Joe had to fight it out with
the motors, even though headway was lost.

When, at last, late in the night, the speed had
been put up to nine miles, Joe came up on deck
and Skipper Tom went briefly below. He found
all his passengers still up in the cabin.

**I just came below," smiled Captain Hal-



46- THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB

stead, *'to assure you all tliat it will loe wholly
safe for you to turn in, if you wish. I wouldn't
say that if I didn't believe it. Mr. Tremaine,
we've had to slacken the speed for quite a while,
to cool our engines, so we won't make Oyster
Bay as early as I had expected."

The ladies, who could hardly hold their eyes
open, expressed a desire for sleep. Tremaine
and young Dixon assisted them as far as their
stateroom door, then came back.


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Online LibraryH. Irving (Harrie Irving) HancockThe Motor boat club in Florida : or, Laying the ghost of Alligator Swamp → online text (page 2 of 12)