Tom Swift And His Motor-Boat by Victor Appleton
Chapter XVIII. The Pursuit
For an instant after Tom's exultant cry the men in the boat ahead were not aware that they were being pursued. Then, as the explosions from the motor of the Red Streak sounded over the water, they turned to see who was coming up behind them. There was no mistaking the attitude of the young inventor and his companion. They were leaning eagerly forward, as if they could reach out and grasp the criminals who were fleeing before them.
"Put on all the speed you can, Tom!" begged Mr. Damon. "We'll catch the scoundrels now. Speed up the motor! Oh, if I only had my automobile now. "Bless my crank shaft, but one can go so much faster on land than on water."
The lad did not reply, but thought, with grim humor, that running an automobile over Lake Carlopa would be no small feat. Mr. Damon, however, knew what he was saying.
"We'll catch them! We'll nab 'em!" he cried. "Speed her up, Tom."
The youth was doing his best with the motor of the Red Streak. He was not as well acquainted with it as he was with the one in his boat, but he knew, even better than Andy Foger, how to make it do efficient work. It was a foregone conclusion that the Red Streak, if rightly handled, could beat the Arrow, but there were several points in favor of the thieves. The motor of Tom's boat was in perfect order, and even an amateur, with some knowledge of a boat, could make it do nearly its best. On the other hand, the Red Streak's machinery needed "nursing." Again, the thieves had a good start, and that counted for much. But Tom counted on two other points. One was that Happy Harry and his gang would probably know little about the fine points of a motor. They had shown this in letting the motor of the boat they had first stolen get out of order, and Tom knew the ins and outs of a gasoline engine to perfection. So the chase was not so hopeless as it seemed.
"Do you think you can catch them?" asked Mr. Damon anxiously.
"I'm going to make a big try," answered his companion.
"They're heading out into the middle of the lake!" cried the eccentric man.
"If they do, I can cut them off!" murmured Tom as he put the wheel over.
But whoever was steering the Arrow knew better than to send it on a course that would enable the pursuing boat to cut across and shorten the distance to it. After sending the stolen craft far enough out from shore to clear points of land that jutted out into the lake, the leading boat was sent straight ahead.
"A stern chase and a long chase!" murmured Mr. Damon. "Bless my rudder, but those fellows are not going to give up easily."
"I guess not," murmured Tom. "Will you steer for a while, Mr. Damon?"
"Of course I will. If I could get out and pull the boat after me, to make it go faster, I would. But as I always lose my breath when I run, perhaps it's just as well that I stay in here." Tom thought so too, but his attention was soon given to the engine. He adjusted the timer to get if possible a little more speed out of the boat he had borrowed from Andy, and he paid particular attention to the oiling system.
"We're going a bit faster!" called Mr. Damon' encouragingly, "or else they're slacking up."
Tom peered ahead to see if this was so. It was hard to judge whether he was overhauling the Arrow, as it was a stern chase, and that is always difficult to judge. But a glimpse along shore showed him that they were slipping through the water at a faster speed.
"They're up to something!" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Damon a moment later. "I believe they're going to fire on us, Tom. They are pointing something this way."
The lad stood up and gazed earnestly at his boat, which seemed to be slipping away from him so fast. One of the occupants was in the stern, aiming some glittering object at those in the Red Streak. For a moment Tom thought it might be a gun. Then, as the man turned, he saw what it was.
"A pair of marine glasses," cried the lad. "They're trying to make out who we are."
"I guess they know well enough," rejoined Mr. Damon. "Can't you go any faster, Tom?"
"I'm afraid not. But we'll land them, sooner or later. They can't go very far in this direction without running ashore and we'll have them. They're cutting across the lake now."
"They may escape us if it gets dark. Probably that's what they're working for. They want to keep ahead of us until nightfall."
The young inventor thought of this too, but there was little he could do. The motor was running at top speed. It could be made to go faster, Tom knew, with another ignition system, but that was out of the question now.
The man with the glasses had resumed his seat, and the efforts of the trio seemed concentrated on the motor of the Arrow. They, too, wished to go faster. But they had not skill enough to accomplish it, and in about ten minutes, when Tom took another long and careful look to ascertain if possible whether or not he was overhauling the thieves, he was delighted to see that the distance between the boats had lessened.
"We're catching them! We're creeping up on them!" cried Mr. Damon. "Keep it up, Tom." There was nothing to do, however, save wait. The boat ahead had shifted her course somewhat and was now turning in toward the shore, for the lake was narrow at this point, and abandoning their evident intention of keeping straight up the lake, the thieves seemed now bent on something else.
"I believe they're going to run ashore and get out!" cried Mr. Damon.
"If they do, it's just what I want," declared the lad. "I don't care for the men. I want my boat back!"
The occupants of the Arrow were looking to the rear again, and one---Happy Harry, Tom thought---shook his fist.
"Ah, wait until I get hold of you!" cried Mr. Damon, following his example. "I'll make you wish you'd behaved yourselves, you scoundrels! Bless my overcoat! Catch them if you can, Tom."
There was now no doubt of the intention of the fleeing ones. The shore was looming up ahead and straight for it was headed the Arrow. Tom sent Andy's boat in the same direction. He was rapidly overhauling the escaping ones now, for they had slowed down the motor. Three minutes later the foremost boat grated on the beach of the lake. The men leaped out, one of them pausing an instant in the bow.
"Here, don't you damage my boat!" cried Tom involuntarily, for the man seemed to be hammering something.
The fellow leaped over the side, holding something in his hand.
"There they go! Catch them!" yelled Mr. Damon.
"Let them go!" answered the lad as the men ran toward the wood. "I want my boat. I'm afraid they've damaged her. One of them tore something from the bow."
At the same instant the two companions of the fellow who had paused in the forward part of the Arrow saw that he had something in his hand. With yells of rage they dashed at him, but he, shaking his fist at them, plunged into the bushes and could be heard breaking his way through, while his companions were in pursuit.
"They've quarreled among themselves," commented Mr. Damon as high and angry voices could be heard from the woods. "There's some mystery here, Tom."
"I don't doubt it, but my first concern is for my boat. I want to see if they have damaged her."
Tom had run so closely in shore with the Red Streak that he had to reverse to avoid damaging the craft against the bank. In a mass of foam he stopped her in time, and then springing ashore, he hurried to his motor-boat.