Chapter XVI. Fighting Fire
 

"Betty, do you think we can win?"

It was Mollie who asked this as she stood beside her chum at the wheel of the Gem. The boat was churning through the water, gradually creeping up on the craft that had gotten away ahead of her. Behind came other boats, starting as the crack of the official pistol was heard.

"Of course we'll win!" exclaimed Betty, as she changed the course slightly. She wanted to keep it as straight as possible, for well she knew that the shortest distance between any two points is in a straight line.

"We wouldn't miss that lovely prize for anything," called Grace from up forward, where she was helping Amy look after the laboring motor.

A number of prizes had been provided by the regatta committee; the chief one for this particular race was a handsome cut-glass bowl, that had been much admired when on exhibition at the club house.

The course was a triangular one of three miles, and now all the craft that were competing were on the last "leg" of the triangle.

"We're creeping up on her!" whispered Amy, as she directed the attention of Grace to the boat just ahead of them. It was a light, open affair, with a two-cylinder motor, but speedy, and two girls in it seemed to be working desperately over their machinery. Something seemed to have gone wrong with one of the cylinders, for Betty could detect a "miss" now and then.

"Yes, we're coming up," admitted Grace, as she skillfully put a little oil on a cam shaft. "If we can only hold out!"

"Oh, trust Betty for that."

"It isn't that-- it's the motor. One never knows when they are not going to 'mote.' But this one seems to be coming on well," and Grace glanced critically at the various parts.

They were well out in Rainbow Lake now, and many eyes were watching the race. One of the last boats to get away had given up, for the girls in charge could not remedy the ignition trouble that developed soon after they started. This left five. The Gem was second in line, but behind her a very powerful boat was gradually creeping up on her, even as she was overhauling the boat that got away first.

"Can't you turn on a little more gasoline?" asked Mollie.

"I think I can-- now," spoke Betty. "I wanted to give it gradually."

She opened the throttle a little more, and advanced the spark slightly. The result was at once apparent. The Gem shot ahead, and the girls in the leading boat looked back nervously.

"One of them is that pretty girl Will danced with so often at the ball," said Mollie, as she got a glimpse of the rival's face.

"Yes, and the other is her cousin, or something," spoke Betty. "I was introduced to her. It's mean, perhaps, to beat you, girls," she whispered, "But I'm going to do it."

The chugging of many motors-- the churning to foam of the blue waters of the lake-- a haze of acrid smoke hanging over all, as some cylinder did not properly digest the gasoline vapor and oil fed to it, but sent it out half consumed-- spray thrown up now and then-- the distant sound of a band-- eager eyes looking toward the stake buoys-- tense breathing-- all this went to make up the race in which our outdoor girls were taking part.

Foot by foot the Gem crept up on the Bug, which was the name of the foremost boat. Drop by drop Betty fed more gasoline to her striving motor. The other girls did their duty, if it was only encouragement. Those in the Bug worked desperately, but it was not to be. The Gem passed them.

"We're sorry!" called Betty, as she flashed by. The other girls smiled bravely.

The Gem was now first, but the race was far from won. They were on the last leg, however, but in the rear, coming on, and overhauling Betty and her chums as they had just overhauled the others, was the speedy Eagle. She had been last to get off, but had passed all the others.

"They are after us," spoke Mollie, as she held the wheel a moment while Betty tucked under her natty yachting cap some wind-tossed locks of hair.

"But they shan't get us," declared the Little Captain grimly. "We haven't reached our limit yet."

Once more she gave more gasoline, but the rivals in the rear were settling down now to win the race for themselves. The Eagle came on rapidly. The finish line was near at hand, but it seemed that Betty and her chums had the upper hand.

Suddenly Grace cried:

"One of the wires is broken. It's snapped in two, and it's spouting sparks!"

There came a noticeable slowing down to the speed of the motor. The Gem lagged. The Eagle was in hot pursuit. Betty acted quickly.

"Put on those rubber gloves!" she ordered. "Take a pair of pliers, and hold the ends of that wire together. That will make it as good as mended until after the race. Amy, you help. But wear rubber gloves, and then you won't get a shock. Quick, girls!"

The breaking of the wire threw one cylinder out of commission. The Gem was one third crippled. There came a murmur from the pursuing boat. There was a commotion in the forward engine compartment of Betty's boat. This was caused by Grace and Amy seeking to repair the damage.

A moment later the resumption of the staccato exhaust of the motor told that the break had been repaired-- temporarily, at least. The boat shot ahead again, at her former speed, and only just in time, for her rival was now on even terms with her.

"Oh, Betty, we can't do it!" Mollie said, pathetically. "We're going to lose!"

"We are not! I've got another notch I can slip forward the gasoline throttle, and here it goes! If that doesn't push us ahead nothing will-- and---- "

"We don't get that cut glass," finished Mollie.

But just that little fraction was what was needed. The Gem went ahead almost by inches only, but it was enough. The Eagle's crew of three girls tried in vain to coax another revolution out of her propeller, but it was not to be, and the Gem shot over the line a winner. A winner, but by so narrow a margin that the judges conferred a moment before making the announcement. But they finally made it. The Gem had undoubtedly won.

"Oh!" exclaimed Grace as she climbed out into the cabin, and thence to the deck, followed by Amy. "Oh, my hand is numb holding the ends of that wire together. I didn't dare let go---- "

"It was brave of you!" exclaimed Betty, patting Grace on the shoulder. "If you had let go we would have lost. We'll bathe your hand for you in witch hazel."

"Oh, it is only cramped. It will be all right in a little while."

"What a din they are making!" cried Amy, covering her ears with her hands.

"They are saluting the winner," said Mollie, as she noted the tooting of many boat whistles. Betty slowed down her boat, and saluted as she swept past the boat of the judges.

"Well, I'm glad it's over," sighed Grace. "It was nervous work. I'm going to make some chocolate, and have it iced. It was warm up there by the motor."

"And you both need baths," remarked Mollie with a laugh. "You are as grimy as chimney sweeps."

"Yes, but we don't mind," said Amy. "You won, Betty! I'm so glad!"

"We won, you mean," corrected the Little Captain. "I couldn't have done it except for you girls,"

Many craft saluted the Gem as she came off the course.

"I wish Uncle Amos could have seen us!" exclaimed Betty. "He would have been proud." The girls remained as spectators for the remainder of the carnival, and then, the day being warm, they went to their dock. Near it was a sandy bathing beach, and soon they were swimming about in the limpid waters of Rainbow Lake.

"Here goes for a dive!" cried Mollie, as she climbed out on the end of the pier, and mounted a mooring post. She poised herself gracefully.

"Better not-- you don't know how deep it is," cautioned Betty.

"I'm only going to take a shallow dive," was the answer and then Mollie's slender body shot through the air in a graceful curve, and cut down into the water. A second later she bobbed up, shaking her head to rid her eyes of water.

"That was lovely!" cried Grace.

"Did I splash much?"

"Not at all."

"It's real deep there," said Mollie. "Some day I'm going to try to touch bottom."

The girls splashed about, refreshing themselves after the race. Then came calm evening, when they sat on deck and ate supper prepared by Aunt Kate.

"Now you girls just sit right still and enjoy yourselves," she told them, when they insisted on helping. "You don't win motor boat races every day, and you're entitled to a banquet."

That night there was another informal dance at the Yacht Club, and the girls had a splendid time. Mr. Stone and Mr. Kennedy exerted themselves to see that our friends did not lack for partners, and Grace was rather ashamed of the suspicions she had entertained concerning the twain.

The carnival came to an end with a series of water sports. There were swimming races for ladies, and Mollie won one of these, but her chums were less fortunate. The carnival had been a great success and many congratulations were showered on Messrs. Stone and Kennedy for their part in it.

"We are glad it is over," said Mr. Stone, as he and his chums sat on the deck of the Gem one evening, having called to ask the girls to go to another dance. But Betty and her chums voted for staying aboard, and proposed a little trip about the lake by moonlight. Soon they were under way.

It was a perfect night, and the mystic gleam of the moon moved them to song as they swept slowly along under the influence of the throttled-down engine.

Suddenly Mr. Kennedy, who was sitting well forward on the trunk cabin with Grace, sprang to his feet, exclaiming:

"What's that?"

"It looks like a fire," said Grace.

"It is a fire!" cried Mr. Stone. "Say, it's that hay barge we noticed coming over this evening, tied up at Black's dock. It's got adrift and caught fire!"

"Look where it's drifting!" exclaimed Betty.

"Right for the Yacht Club boathouse!" added Mollie. "The wind is taking it there. Look, the fire is increasing!"

"And if it runs against the boat house there'll be no saving it!" said Mr. Kennedy. "There's no fire-boat up here-- there ought to be!"

"Girls!" cried Betty, "there's just a chance to save the boat house!"

"How?" demanded Amy.

"If we could get on the windward side of that burning barge, throw a line aboard and tow it out into the middle of the lake, it could burn there without doing any damage!"

"By Jove! She's hit the nail on the head!" declared Mr. Stone, with emphasis. "But dare you do it, Miss Nelson?"

"I certainly will dare-- if you'll help!"

"Of course we'll help! Steer over there!"

The burning hay, fanned by a brisk wind, was now sending up a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke. And the barge was drifting perilously near the boathouse. Many whistles of alarm smote the air, but no boat was as near as the Gem.