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       The Motor Boat Club in Florida; or, Laying the Ghost of Alligator Swamp, p.1

           H. Irving Hancock
 
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The Motor Boat Club in Florida; or, Laying the Ghost of Alligator Swamp


  Produced by The Online Distributed Proofreading Team athttps://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from imagesgenerously made available by The Internet Archive)

  Dixon Became Strangely Agitated.

  _Frontispiece._]

  The Motor Boat Club in Florida

  OR

  Laying the Ghost of Alligator Swamp

  By H. IRVING HANCOCK

  Author of The Motor Boat Club of the Kennebec, The Motor Boat Club at Nantucket, The Motor Boat Club off Long Island, The Motor Boat Club and the Wireless, etc., etc.

  Illustrated

  PHILADELPHIA HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY

  COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY HOWARD E. ALTEMUS

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER PAGE I. A KINK IN THE GULF STREAM, 7 II. HAM TURNS OUT TO BE A PROPHET, 24 III. THE MYSTERY OF THE NIGHT, 39 IV. “BOAT-CALL FOR THE POLICE,” 52 V. TOM HAS SOME OF HIS OWN WAY, 60 VI. THE ISLAND WHERE THERE WERE NO ALLIGATORS, 69 VII. DODGING THE OLDEST INHABITANTS OF THE EVERGLADES, 80 VIII. A CRACK SHOT AT THE GAME, 91 IX. THE GHOST INVITED, 101 X. THE VISITATION OF THE NIGHT, 110 XI. TOM HAS A SPOOK HUNT OF HIS OWN, 120 XII. WHAT BEFELL THE YOUNG SKIPPER, 128 XIII. HENRY TREMAINE PUSHES THE VOODOO, 139 XIV. TOM HALSTEAD, STRATEGIST, 151 XV. THE WHOLE BAG OF GAME, 159 XVI. HAM PROMISES TO BE BRAVE HEREAFTER, 168 XVII. IN THE CIRCLE OF ’GATORS, 174 XVIII. A FEARFUL TWO MINUTES, 184 XIX. A TRUCE, UNTIL——, 195 XX. AN INNOCENT EAVESDROPPER, 204 XXI. DIXON STOCK DROPS, 214 XXII. KICKING WATER IN THE WAKE OF THE “BUZZARD,” 227 XXIII. DIXON’S COWARDLY ACT, 233 XXIV. CONCLUSION, 242

  The Motor Boat Club in Florida

  CHAPTER I

  A KINK IN THE GULF STREAM

  “REALLY, I can hardly believe that it’s winter at all,” declared Mrs.Tremaine, languidly, as she threw open her deck coat. “I find it hard——”

  “Now, my dear, don’t try to do anything hard. It’s sure to fatigueyou,” laughed Henry Tremaine, coming up from the cabin companionway,where he had paused long enough to light a pipe.

  “But here it is,” argued Mr. Tremaine’s pretty young wife, “well intothe month of December. We are out at sea, out of sight of land, savefor a few of these horrid keys. There’s hardly any breeze; the sun iswarm—so warm, in fact, that I am afraid it will work ravages with mycomplexion. And, actually, the air is so warm and so full of indolencethat I feel more inclined to go below and sleep than to do anythingelse.”

  Though Mrs. Tremaine was not more than twenty-four years of age, herhusband was a middle-aged man who had seen many more nooks of the worldthan she had.

  “My dear,” he answered, “you are just beginning to experience the charmof the Florida winter.”

  “It _is_ delightful,” she assented. “Yet, it is so warm that thefeeling one has is almost uncanny.”

  “If you’re on deck in a few hours,” broke in Captain Tom Halstead,smilingly, “I’ll promise you much cooler winds, Mrs. Tremaine. You’rein the Gulf Stream, just now, and on an unusually mild day.”

  “Don’t we remain in the Gulf Stream all through the present voyage?”asked the pretty young matron, vaguely.

  “Oh, no, indeed, madam. We’re almost out of it now, in fact. You see,we’re in the Florida Straits, between southernmost Florida and Cuba,and therefore in the very track of the Gulf Stream. Even at our slowcruising speed we shall soon be past Key West. After that we shallsteer in a more northerly direction. It’s four o’clock now. By elevento-night we shall be between the Marquesas Keys and Dry Tortugas. Bythen we shall have been for some time out of the warm Gulf Stream, andthe air will be much cooler.”

  “But the wind is from the south, and has been all day,” objected Mrs.Tremaine, languidly. “It will still be following us.”

  “Possibly,” assented Captain Tom Halstead.

  “And the south wind is always mild and friendly,” pursued the youngwoman.

  “Is it?” chuckled Halstead.

  “Isn’t it?”

  “I trust it will be so to the end of the present voyage,” amiablyreplied the young skipper of the motor boat cruiser “Restless.” “Yet,at this time of the year, some of the worst gales come out of thesouth.”

  As Captain Tom finished speaking he stepped aft to the very stern ofthe boat. He remained for some moments intently studying the weather.

  The “Restless,” a fifty-five foot speedy cruiser, was now going alongat the comparatively slow gait of twelve and a half miles an hour.She could go at more than double that speed, but on a long voyage itwas wise to travel more moderately and burn much less gasoline inproportion.

  Captain Tom Halstead had just come on deck, from a berth in the motorroom forward. His chum, Joe Dawson, the engineer of the “Restless,”was now on the bridge deck, where he had taken his trick at the wheelwhile the young skipper snatched some four hours’ sleep.

  Captain Halstead figured on reaching Oyster Bay by four o’clock thefollowing morning, thence proceeding to the mouth of the CaloosahatcheeRiver. This country is on the west coast of Florida, below Tampa Bay.

  Though Tom Halstead did not tell his passengers so, he had beencalled a little ahead of time, just in order that he might look atthe weather. Young Halstead—he was but sixteen years of age—had justcome aft when he joined briefly in the conversation with Mr. and Mrs.Tremaine.

  Now, after gazing to the southward some little time, he turned and wentforward.

  “Does look nasty, doesn’t it, Joe?” he murmured in his chum’s ear. JoeDawson, giving the wheel a turn, nodded silently.

  “I’m glad you called me, old fellow,” Tom went on.

  “Nervous, old chap?” inquired Joe, glancing keenly at the skipper.

  “No; not exactly,” smiled the youthful captain. “Yet, in strangewaters, so full of keys and reefs, I’m not exactly fond of a storm.”

  “Why not change the course, then, and go to the west of Dry Tortugas?”suggested Joe Dawson. “Then you’d have clearer water.”

  “And be some hours later in reaching the river,” rejoined Halstead.“Mr. Tremaine has made it clear to me that he wants to eat breakfaston land. I don’t believe there’s much danger, anyway, in the channelbetween Marquesas and Dry Tortugas. The charts are rather reassuring.”

  Tom sighed slightly, though there was the same cheery look in his eyesas he took the wheel from his chum.

  Joe Dawson, happening to glance aft, saw a girlish figure come upout of the companionway and sink down into a deck chair beside youngMrs. Tremaine. The new arrival on deck was Ida Silsbee, a dark,really beautiful girl of nineteen, in appearance a decided contrastto blond Mrs. Tremaine. Ida Silsbee, too, was ordinarily active andenergetic—another respect in which she differed radically from herfriend.

  “Now, I can chase Dixon out of the motor room,” muttered Joe, in a lowvoice. “I don’t like the fellow down there with the
motors, yet itisn’t nice to be rude to him.”

  Tom nodded. His thoughts were on course and weather.

  Joe dropped down into the motor room, the door of which was closeto the wheel. Lounging on one of the seats, smoking a cigarette,was Oliver Dixon, a smooth-faced, dark brown-haired young man ofultra-fashionable appearance. His was a handsome face, and the browneyes could light up most tenderly. The young man’s mouth was far frombeing weak looking; on the contrary it was framed by thin lips, andhad, at times, a wholly cruel look. Yet he was of a type of man thatmakes friends readily.

  From the start of the voyage, at St. Augustine, far up on the eastcoast of Florida, Joe had taken an unaccountable dislike to thedandyish young man.

  “Really wonderful, the way these motors work, Dawson,” observed Mr.Dixon, looking up as Joe entered.

  “Yes,” nodded Joe. “A little oil, fed steadily, and they go on turningthe propeller shaft day after day, if necessary. Miss Silsbee is ondeck, and looks as though she had had a wonderfully refreshing nap.”

  Dixon rose, stretched, went up the short steps, tossed his cigaretteoverboard, then strolled aft.

  “Didn’t take long to get rid of that chap,” grinned Joe, talking in anundertone, as he stepped up to his chum’s side once more. Looking outof the corner of one eye, Dawson saw Dixon talking animatedly with IdaSilsbee, who did not seem in the least bored by his company.

  “Notice how the wind’s freshening, Joe!” asked the young skipper, twominutes later.

  “Yes; and a bad looking haze rising, too,” nodded Dawson. “I don’t likethe weather’s looks.”

  “No more do I. Joe, we’ll be fighting our way through a southerly galeall night.”

  “All gales look alike to me,” laughed the young engineer. “We’veweathered every other gale in the past. I don’t believe we’ll go downin this one.”

  “Oh, the ‘Restless’ is staunch enough, as far as seaworthiness goes,”retorted Halstead. “All that can possibly make us uneasy is the dreadthat we might hit some uncharted reef.”

  From the talk of the chums it appeared plainly enough that, though theyspoke easily, they much wished the coming night were through with, andthat they had their boat inside of Oyster Bay.

  _Their_ boat—yes. They owned this handsome craft, did these two boys,and had come into the possession of it through deeds of daring andsterling seamanship.

  Readers of the preceding volumes of this series are aware of how TomHalstead and Joe Dawson, born near the mouth of the Kennebec River, inMaine, came to handle the motor cruiser of George Prescott, a brokerof Boston. Aided by their employer the boys went through some rousingadventures in breaking up the crew of Smugglers’ Island. As a resultof the fine seamanship displayed by these two youths, Mr. Prescott hadconceived the idea of founding the Motor Boat Club of the Kennebec.This club, now deservedly famous, was composed, at first, of Maineboys born of seafaring stock and trained to meet the dangers of saltwater life. By degrees boys in other sections of the Atlantic coast,similarly trained to the sea life, and to the handling of motors, hadbeen added to the club.

  All this was outlined in the first volume, “THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB OF THEKENNEBEC.” In the second volume, “THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB AT NANTUCKET,”was narrated how Tom and Joe, with the help of a Nantucket boy whowas soon added to the club, solved the mystery of the abduction ofthe Dunstan heir, at the same time going through a maze of thrillingadventures. In the third volume, “THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB OFF LONG ISLAND,”we find Tom and Joe, reinforced by a Long Island youth, Hank Butts,serving two financiers, Francis Delavan and Eben Moddridge, through along sea chase and helping to break up a Wall Street conspiracy. Fortheir loyalty and in recognition of the amazing perils the boys hadcheerfully encountered, Francis Delavan had presented the two chumswith the “Restless,” while Hank Butts had been rewarded with a smallermotor craft for use along the southern coast of Long Island.

  In the volume just before the present one, “THE MOTOR BOAT CLUB AND THEWIRELESS,” we found Tom, Joe and Hank all three again at sea, havingchartered the “Restless” to one Powell Seaton, for what they thoughtwould be a very quiet cruise. Having the motor cruiser equipped witha wireless telegraph apparatus, which Joe Dawson had fitted himselfto operate, our young Motor Boat Club friends found themselves againsuddenly plunged into adventures of the most exciting description.

  At the close of the engagement with Mr. Seaton, Hank Butts had felt itbest to return to his Long Island home and his aged parents, but Tomand Joe had gradually cruised south along the coast, making more than aliving in chartering their fine craft to a number of different sailingparties.

  At St. Augustine, Henry Tremaine had chartered the “Restless” to takehimself and his party southward around the coast of Florida, and thennorthward again, up the west coast as far as Oyster Bay. The charterwas to run for a month, and Skipper Tom understood that there would beconsiderable cruising along the Florida keys during that period.

  Mrs. Tremaine was a bride of a year, being her husband’s second wife.Ida Silsbee was an heiress, the daughter of one of Mr. Tremaine’sfriends, now deceased, and was now Mr. Tremaine’s ward. Oliver Dixonwas the cousin of a schoolgirl friend of Miss Silsbee’s. The Tremaines,having met him at St. Augustine, and being pleased with the young man,had invited him to join them on the present cruise.

  As for Dixon, he had been greatly attracted to Ida Silsbee from thefirst moment of meeting.

  Captain Tom had understood that Mr. Tremaine owned some sort of winterhome along the Caloosahatchee River.

  There were but two staterooms aboard the “Restless.” One of these wasoccupied by the ladies, the other by Mr. Tremaine and Mr. Dixon. Atnight, Captain Tom, when not on deck, converted one of the cabin seatsinto a berth. Joe slept, when he could find time for sleep, in one ofthe bunks of the motor room, not caring to be far from his engines.

  A third member of the crew, for this run only, was Ham Mockus, a negroin his twenties, who served as cook and steward. He had shipped only inorder to reach his home near Oyster Bay.

  “Going to turn in, Joe?” asked Halstead, as the two chums stoodtogether on the bridge deck.

  “Not so close to supper,” laughed Joe. “I may get a little napafterwards. But——”

  Dawson paused, as though almost ashamed to voice his thought.

  “You think it’s going to be a case of all hands on duty all through thenight, eh?” laughed Halstead.

  “Pretty likely,” nodded Joe. “And I guess I’d better tumble Ham out ofhis bunk. It’s time he was going to the galley.”

  “Yes,” nodded Skipper Halstead. “Tell Ham to get the meal on as earlyas he can. It’s going to be rough weather for serving a meal.”

  As Joe stepped down the short flight of steps to the motor room, aloud, prolonged snore greeted him.

  “Come along, now! Tumble out of that!” called Joe, good-naturedly,bending over the bunk in which the colored steward, lying on his back,was blissfully sleeping.

  “E-e-eh? W’ut?” drowsed Ham Mockus.

  “Get up and get your galley fire going. You want to rush the supper,too,” added Joe, half dragging the steward from his berth. “It’s justas well to wake up, Ham, and to be in a hurry. You needn’t tell theladies, and scare ’em, but there’s going to be a hard blow to-night.”

  “A stohm, sah?” demanded the negro, showing the whites of his eyes.

  “A big one, unless I miss my guess.”

  “Fo’ de Lawd’s sake, sah!” gasped the colored steward. “An’ in dislittle bit uv a gas-tub, at dat!”

  “Avast there!” growled Joe. “I’ll kick your starboard light overboardif you call this craft names. You’d better understand, Ham, that the‘Restless’ is as good as a liner.”

  “Huh! It sho’ ain’t much bigger dan a rowboat, an’ nuffin’ but dem twopeanut roasters to keep pushin’ de propellers ’gainst monst’ous waves,”snorted Ham, pulling on his shoes and standing up to fit on his whitecanvas coat. “Fore de Lawd, ef Ah done t’ought
Ise gwineter git inter ahurricane in dis yere lobstah smack——”

  “Will you quit calling our boat hard names, and get your fire started?”demanded Joe Dawson, scowling, and taking a step toward the negro.

  “Yes, sah! Yes, sah!” exclaimed Ham, moving fast. But there was a wildlook in his eyes, for Ham was a sea-coward if there ever was one.Though he started the galley fire, and made other moves, the stewardhardly knew what he was doing.

  “Er stohm comin’—a reg-lar hurricane, an’ dis yere niggah ain’ donebeen inside er chu’ch in a month!” Ham groaned to himself.

  As Joe Dawson returned to the bridge deck he noted some increase in thehaze to the southward. The wind, too, was kicking up a bit more, thoughas yet the sea was running so smoothly that a landlubber would neverhave suspected that the “Restless” was moving in the track of diretrouble to come.

  “Can you take the wheel just a moment, old fellow?” requested TomHalstead. “I don’t want to bother our passengers, but, now that bothladies are on deck, I want to go below and make sure that the stateroomport-holes are tightly closed.”

  Mr. Tremaine was now talking to the ladies, Dixon having vanished. Tomwent through the passage connecting the motor room with the cabin. Ashe went he stepped as softly as usual. Even in turning the handle ofthe door into the cabin he made no noise. And so, quite unexpectedly,the young skipper came upon Oliver Dixon.

  Dixon stood at the cabin table, facing aft. In one hand he held avial of water, or what appeared to be water. Now, he lifted a papercontaining whitish crystals, all of which he emptied into the vial,corking the container and giving the mixture several shakes.

  Holding the bottle up to the light, in order to make sure that all thecrystals had dissolved, Dixon happened to turn enough to see CaptainHalstead.

  “Confound you, boy, what are you doing there?” gasped Dixon, becomingsuddenly so excited that he dropped the bottle to the soft carpet.

  Tom flushed at the use of the word “boy.” On his own craft he waswholly entitled to be called “captain.” But he replied, steadily:

  “Pardon me, Mr. Dixon, but I saw you doing something with the bottle,and I waited so that I wouldn’t take the risk of jogging your elbow inpassing you.”

  Oliver Dixon, a little pale about the mouth, and with a suspicious lookin his eyes, stared at the young sailing master.

  “Well, what are you doing here, anyway?”

  The tone and manner were so offensive that Halstead flushed in earnestthis time, though he answered, quietly enough:

  “Pardon me, Mr. Dixon, but as commander and part owner, I don’t have toexplain my presence in any part of this craft.”

  “You were spying on me!” hissed the other, sharply.

  Tom Halstead opened his eyes very wide.

  “I might ask, Mr. Dixon, whether you are in the habit of doing thingsthat would interest a spy?”

  Dixon drew in his breath sharply, first flushing, then all the colorleaving his face. But the young man was quick to feel that he wasmaking matters worse.

  “Don’t mind me, Halstead,” he begged, quickly. “You startled me, and Ihardly know what I’m saying. I—I—I—am South for my nerves, you know.”

  “No; I didn’t know,” replied Skipper Tom, quietly. He felt a good dealof wonder at the statement, for Oliver Dixon looked like anything but anervous wreck.

  “You—you won’t mention this?” begged the young man, bending to pick upthe vial, which he thrust into a vest pocket.

  “Why, I don’t see anything either to tell or to conceal,” remarkedCaptain Halstead.

  “I—I don’t want Miss Silsbee—or the Tremaines, either, for that matter,to know that I’m so—so nervous,” almost stammered Oliver Dixon.

  “I’m not in the habit of carrying tales of any kind,” retorted theyouthful skipper, rather stiffly.

  He passed on to the staterooms at the after end of the cabin. Dixonfollowed him with a scowl full of suspicion and hate. Could Halsteadhave seen that look he would have been intensely astonished.

  By the time he had attended to the stateroom portholes and had come outagain, Halstead found Ham in the cabin, spreading the cloth for theevening meal. So as not to be in the steward’s way, Tom went up by theafter companionway. As Tom stepped to the deck the clatter of dishescame up after him.

  “The steward isn’t setting the dinner table so soon, is he?” asked Mrs.Tremaine, in her usual languid voice.

  “Yes, madam.”

  “But I thought we had made it plain that we didn’t want dinner served,any night, earlier than seven o’clock.”

  “There’s a reason, to-night, Mrs. Tremaine,” replied Skipper Tom,standing there, uniform cap in hand. “It is best to have the meal overearly because—well, do you see the sky to the southward?”

  The haze at the lower horizon had spread into a darkening cloud thatwas overtaking the boat.

  “Are we going to have a storm?” asked Mrs. Tremaine, in quickapprehension.

  “Well, a bit of a blow, anyway,” admitted the young captain. “It mayprove, Mrs. Tremaine, to be just a little kink out of the Gulf Stream,which we are now leaving.”

  “Is it going to be one of the ugly, southerly December gales which I’veread cross the Gulf of Mexico with such violence?” asked Ida Silsbee,turning around quickly.

  “We’ll hope it won’t be much,” replied Captain Tom, smiling. “You cansee that I don’t look very worried.”

  “Oh, you can’t fool me, Captain Halstead,” cried Mrs. Tremaine, risingfrom her chair with what was unusual haste for her. “You know more thanyou are telling! Things are going to happen to-night!”

  More things, indeed, than Captain Tom Halstead yet dreamed!

  Before Skipper Tom had turned to walk forward a long, rolling wave, aforetaste of the weather to come, had rolled in from the south, causingthe “Restless” to take a plunge. A shorter wave followed, rocking thecraft noticeably. In an instant the colored steward’s head was poked upthrough the companionway.

  Ham took a look about him at the weather, and an eerie glint flashed inhis eyes.

  “’Fore de Lawd, dere’s goin’ ter be wedder dis night!” he muttered.“Don’t Ah know?”

  “Ham,” called Ida Silsbee, laughingly, “if it rains this evening, andkeeps us below, you’ll have a fine chance to tell us that story aboutthe Ghost of Alligator Swamp.”

  “On sech a night like as dis’ll be?” demanded Ham Mockus, rollinghis eyes. “’Scuse me, Missy Ida. Ah don’t talk ’bout ghosts _on deirnight_!”

  “What’s going to be the matter with to-night, Ham?” inquired Mrs.Tremaine, showing signs of listless interest.

  “Ter-night?” repeated the colored man, slowly. “’Scuse me, Mis’Tremaine, but dis is gwine ter be der berry—’Scuse me. Ah mean, oleSatan is shuah gwine ter be in de gale ter-night!”

 
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