Chapter XII. One Way to Win
 

"We have no time now," Jack told Cora, "but as soon as the races are over I will ask what that fellow told the judges. Certainly he must have said that he had a right to, the girl's prize, or they would not have given it to him."

"But how the poor thing hurried off! Why, she hardly had a chance to know that she won," replied the sister. "I think it a shame that the creature should be treated like something really wild," and she turned to watch the foamy wake that the little canoe was tracing, as the girl from Fern Island hurried to hide herself again where ever she might go. The signal precluded the possibility of further interest just then in the strange case, but indeed Cora's mind was not so readily shifted. She wanted to know about that girl.

The speed boats were next to be tried out. What a splendid showing! Who would have dreamed that such handsome craft were on the waters of Cedar Lake? Of course they were all private boats, and their flags flaunted proudly before the spellbound spectators.

The Peter Pan was among the very finest. In this were our boy friends from Chelton, and as they lined up the admiration expressed was unstinted. The Sprint was another splendid speed boat, built with torpedo stern and a queer spray hood at the bow. This was being run by a girl--a young lady noted for her skill at any sort of motor.

"Oh, I hope our boys win," exclaimed Bess, as if that hope needed to be made known.

"They have a good chance," argued Cora. "Of course so many things may happen that there is absolutely no surety of any machinery on the water." She looked to see that the oil cup levers of the Petrel were down to prevent the lubricant flowing before it was needed and also gave a critical survey of the little wire that connected on the cylinder. It emitted a clear "fat" spark as she touched it to the metal, and this seemed to satisfy her.

"I guess ours is all right; isn't it?" asked Hazel. "Wouldn't it be fine if we won something!"

"I fully intend to," declared Cora.

"That means that we will," responded Belle. "If Cora intends!"

"They're off!" called out Hazel, "look at Jack!"

He was standing over the engine evidently making sure that even at the start he should not loose a single atom of the power that twirled the propeller. Ed was at the steering wheel. Walter was at the side, and with him was Paul Hastings.

"There's Paul!" exclaimed Bess, when they could make out that the fourth figure in the boat was that of the boy's friend. "I thought he would run another boat."

"He wouldn't want any other to beat the Peter Pan," explained Hazel, "and at the same time he would not take the glory of it from the boys who have it for the season. That's Paul," she finished proudly.

The first "leg" of the course had been covered, and the three best boats, the Peter Pan, the Sprint, and the Lady B. were all in line. A dozen others were trailing, and while they showed less speed it was not safe to say that they could not catch up with the three stars. From buoy to buoy over the triangular course the boats fairly shot, and a beautiful sight they made on the green-hilled basin of Cedar Lake.

The course was covered once and then the second round was started by the boats that had qualified. These were only five in number, one of them being a very queer looking craft, built high on the sides like a huge box and showing at the bow a double point, like a pair of slippers. This of course attracted considerable attention, and it shot past the Sprint, which was run by the young lady who had hoped to meet with no rival such as a home-made boat, to say the least.

"Can't that go? Look at it!" the spectators were exclaiming.

"See, Paul is at the Peter Pan's engine!" said Cora, as the color of that boy's cap made it plain that he had taken Jack's place. "I hope Jack has not strained his wrist, or done anything like that."

"Very likely Paul is just seeing if everything is right," said Hazel. "See, there, Jack has his place again."

During the second and third trials all interest was centered on the Peter Pan, the Hague, (the home-made boat), and the Sprint. Now this would be ahead, and now that, until it seemed that there could be but little difference in the merits of any of the three. Of course most of the sympathy was with the Sprint, because a girl was striving to outdo the boys. At the same time, the Hague, being such an oddity, and the lake folks knowing that this had been built by the boys who were running it, came in for its share of applause.

"There is not a boat on the lake that can fairly beat the Peter Pan," Hazel declared almost feverishly, for the others were threatening to do so. "I have heard Paul say so."

"He ought to know," said Cora with a sly wink, "but that big tub, the Hague, is something new. Perhaps it has the power of a destroyer."

"It is big and clumsy enough to have any sort of power," remarked Belle. "I should just be sick if it did win."

"All's fair, in a fair race," remarked Cora. "See the Hague is ahead!"

One more course was to be made, and every eye and every mind was centered on this, the final test.

The Peter Pan shot out bravely and safely. The Sprint made a splendid second! Then the Hague! Something seemed wrong. It was "missing." That could plainly be heard from the girl's boat. Away they flew, yard after yard being made in wonderfully short time. The Sprint was doing well with the Peter Pan. The Hague suddenly shot forward, passed every thing--passed the Sprint--passed the Peter Pan and won!

"Hurrah for the tub!" yelled the crowd. "Hurrah for home talent!" shouted the throng. But the young lady in the Sprint throttled down and her boat drifted over to the boys.

"How was that?" she asked breathlessly.

"I don't know," replied Paul "but I'm going to find out. We were second and you made a splendid run--but I'm going to look into the glories of the Tub!"

So keen was the disappointment of the girls in the Petrel that they seem to have lost heart for their own race, which came next. But when Ed and Jack called out to them, and Paul waved his cap in his own quiet way, the encouragement dispelled their lost of interest.

Cora spun the flywheel, and the boat took its place. She looked every inch a girl to win, while Hazel kept close to the steering wheel and the twins did their part in just looking pretty. The motor girls' boat was the cynosure of every eye, as it happened to be the only boat in that class run by girls.

The signal was given and they started off.

"Steady!" Jack called. "Go it, sis!"

He should hardly have done this, but his boyish love for the girls and their boat could not be restrained. Then they waved, and the maroon and white flag stood out tense and defiant like some animate thing.

Not a word was spoken by the girls. It seemed so important to pay all attention to the machine upon which depended the loss or gain of a victory--if we may say that a victory can be lost.

"Look out!" called Hazel suddenly and a boat crossed their path so closely that Cora was obliged to throttle down, and Hazel had to run straight for a buoy to avoid a collision, and the craft hit the course marker. Then the Petrel stopped short! It simply wouldn't move!

"Oh!" sighed Belle and Bess in one voice, but Cora jumped up and tried for a spark. None came!

She looked at the connections. They seemed all right.

"Maybe it's in the gas," she said nervously, while the other boats were passing them by.

She yanked down the bulkhead board that hid the gasoline tank. Then she saw the cause of the trouble.

"Short circuited!" she exclaimed. "That happened when we struck the buoy. It jarred the battery wires together," and the next instant she had adjusted the difficulty and the engine, glad to be off again, seemed to try to make up for the lost seconds.

Every one in the Petrel breathed a sigh of relief. The anxiety had been intense.

"I was certainly afraid we would have to row to shore," Belle said, taking a more comfortable position.

"We will make up for it," declared Cora, throwing on full speed and directing Hazel as to the best way to hold the wheel exactly straight and in doing so to get all possible distance out of each explosion of the engine.

They finished in a tie over the first course. This was encouraging, for the little Mischief, their closest opponent, was acknowledged a fine boat.

Two more courses were to finish the race, unless there was another tie. The girls scarcely noticed the frantic efforts of the boys in the Peter Pan who were encouraging and directing at the top of their lungs. The young men in the Mischief were anxious. They could never stand it to be beaten by a couple of country girls! But, on the second trial Cora's boat won, and then came the final test.

Up the lake they went again! Now the Petrel was ahead and now the Mischief until the closeness of the two became absorbing.

"The best race of the day!" the judges were declaring. "Neither has it all her own way!"

"Plucky girls," said another of the men at the stand. "Whatever happened when they stopped they must have been well able to handle, from the way they caught up again. I thought they were out of it that time!"

"We all did," put in some one else, "but I have seen that little girl on the lake before. She knows something about a motor boat."

"Here they come!" Jack yelled. "Just look at Cora! Isn't she fine!"

"And Hazel!" put in Paul with a smile.

"How about Bess and Belle?" asked the fickle Walter. "I think they look just sweet!"

Only two more "legs," and the Petrel was still ahead!

One was covered, with the Mischief so close that only those in the best position could tell which one led.

"Steady, Hazel!" cautioned Cora. Straight as an arrow she directed the wheel.

Then there was a splash from a nearby motor boat. A shout and screams!

"Overboard!" yelled the frantic onlookers. "A child overboard!"

It was just at the side of the Petrel!

"Hazel! The engine! Bess, the wheel!" shouted Cora, and before any one knew what she was about, she had jumped into the water and was making for the spot were the child had gone under.

The boys in the Mischief did not stop. Hazel took the engine and Bess the wheel, realizing that Cora meant for them to finish.

Presently she came up with the child in her arms!

"Go it, girls!" she called, "Win! Win!"

The Mischief was close alongside. Cora was clinging to the side of the boat from which the child had dropped, while the almost fainting mother was recovering her little one. The others assisted Cora in, and forgot all about her race.

But Cora stood spellbound in the cockpit, dripping wet. She stood there ignoring the thanks poured out on her.

"Steady, Hazel!" she called. "Win--win for me!"

That was enough. The motor girls, those in the Petrel, realizing that their leader was safe, now determined to "win for her."

The Mischief had gained in the time that Cora swung overboard, and now was just abreast of the Petrel. The slight change of course also told in the last few yards, but now Hazel and Bess forgot everything but the call of Cora to win, and their boat, like a flash, sprang up to its opponent and passed it by the closest record made in any of the races.

"Hurrah! Hurrah!" rang out in their ears.

"A double victory!" shouted one of the judges. Then the Petrel was turned back to get Cora who was in the other motor boat.

The boys in the Peter Pan had not seen Cora dive over for the child, but as quickly as they heard the report, that was now being spread about, they made for the boat from which the accident occurred.

Back with them went the boat of the accident crew, and when Cora finally returned to her own craft she had an escort of honor to the judges stand.

"First prize for the Petrel!" announced the head judge. "And the honor medal for life-saving to Miss Cora Kimball, the leader of our brave little crew of motor girls."