THE GO AHEAD BOYS AND THE RACING MOTOR-BOAT
Author of "Dodging the North Sea Mines," "With Joffre on the Battle Line," "Fighting in France," "The Go Ahead Boys on Smugglers' Island," "The Go Ahead Boys and the Treasure Cave," etc. etc.
Every normal boy loves a motor-boat, but words fail to express his enthusiasm when that boat is also a racer. Behind the events recorded in this story are certain facts, so that the tale is largely true. The author will be glad if the account of life in the open, the adventures and fortunes, good or ill, the contests and exciting experiences interest his readers even partly as much as they did the boys who shared in the actual occurrences. I have tried to write a story filled with action, but devoid of sensationalism and false representations. If my boy friends enjoy the company of the Go Ahead boys I shall feel repaid for my labor.
I THE START II ON THE WAY III JOHN DISAPPEARS IV THE LOST IS FOUND V THE MISSING BAG VI IN THE TAVERN VII AN UNWELCOME PARTY VIII THE COMING OF THE CALEDONIA IX A FRIEND IN NEED X IN TROUBLE XI RESCUED XII A BATTLE WITH ARMS AND LEGS XIII A SURPRISE XIV A SURPRISING PASSENGER XV AN UPSET XVI THE RESCUE XVII SENDING FOR SAM XVIII A TEST XIX THE LOST FISH XX SAM'S WARNING XXI THE SUMMONS IN THE NIGHT XXII A COLLISION XXIII THE CALL IN THE NIGHT XXIV THE MAN IN THE BOAT-HOUSE XXV THE OWNER OF THE BOND XXVI CONCLUSION
THE GO AHEAD BOYS AND THE RACING MOTOR-BOAT
"Here we go!"
"Look quick, or we'll be out of your sight."
The long, low motor-boat glided smoothly out from the dock to which it had been made fast. Behind it the water boiled as if it had been stirred by some invisible furnace. The graceful lines of the boat, its manifest power and speed, formed a fitting complement to the bright sunshine and clear air which rested over the waters of the Hudson River.
On the dock, which the Black Growler was leaving so rapidly behind her, were assembled various members of the families represented by the four boys on board the motor-boat. Younger brothers and sisters, two uncles, several aunts, not to mention the various fathers and mothers united in a final word of farewell. Handkerchiefs were waved and the sounds of the last faint call came across the intervening waters.
The Black Growler was leaving Yonkers to be gone more than a month. The trip was one to which the Go Ahead boys had looked forward with steadily increasing interest.
In the first place the boat belonged to Fred Button, one of the quartet. Fred now was at the wheel and the expression of pride on his face as he occasionally glanced behind him at his companions was one that indicated something of the feeling in his heart. And indeed there was a substantial basis for Fred's pride. Among the many boats on the river the Black Growler moved as if she belonged in a class of her own. People on board the cat boats or yachts, and even the passengers on a great passing steamer, all stood looking with manifest interest at the dark-colored little boat which was speeding over the waters almost like a thing alive.
Fred Button, the owner and present pilot of the swift motor-boat was the smallest, or at least the shortest, of the four boys. His age was the same as that of his companions, all of whom were about seventeen. His round body and rounder face were evidences that in time what Fred lacked in length he might provide in breadth. Among his companions he was a great favorite and frequently was called by one of the several nicknames which his comrades had bestowed upon him. Peewee or Pygmy, the latter sometimes shortened to Pyg, were names to which he answered almost as readily as to his Christian name.
His most intimate friend of the four was John Clemens, whose nickname, "String," indicated what his physique was. He was six feet three inches in height, although his weight was not much more than that of the more diminutive Fred. "The long and the short of it" the two boys sometimes were called when they were seen together.
Grant was the one member of the Go Ahead boys who easily led in whatever he attempted. His standing in school was high and his time in the hundred yards dash stood now as a school record. His fund of general information was so large that some years before, in a joke he had been dubbed Socrates. That expressive name, however, had recently been shortened to Soc.
George Washington Sanders, one of the most popular boys in his school, frequently was referred to as Pop, by which designation his friends indirectly expressed their admiration for one who, even if he bore the name of the Father of his Country, was laughingly referred to as the Papa of the Land. This nickname in the course of time had been shortened to Pop.
Already the four Go Ahead boys had had several stirring experiences in their summer vacations. One of these had been spent at Mackinac Island where their adventures had been chiefly concerned with Smugglers' Island. Together they had made a voyage to the West Indies where their experiences on a desert island have been already recorded. Together they had investigated the mysteries connected with an old house near George's country home, a place shunned by the country folk because of its reputation of being haunted. Another delightful summer had been spent by the boys in a camp in the Canadian woods. All these experiences had only prepared the way for the days which now were confronting them.
Every one was confident that the Black Growler would give a good account of herself in the motor-boat races which were to be held on the St. Lawrence River. The grandfather of Fred Button, who was the fortunate owner of an island in the majestic river, had invited the boys to spend a month with him in his cottage. Incidentally he had explained that their visit would be at the time when the boat races occurred, which he had no question they all would greatly enjoy. He was unaware that Mr. Button had already purchased a motor-boat of marvelous speed, although at the time he had no thought that it would be entered in any contest or races.
Yielding to Fred's persuasions at last his father had somewhat reluctantly given his consent for the boat to be entered, as well as for Fred to invite the other three Go Ahead boys to spend the coming weeks together on the island.
All these thoughts were more or less in the minds of the Go Ahead boys when the Black Growler swiftly started on her long voyage.
"Are you going to keep her going like this all the time?" demanded John as the swift little boat steadily continued on her way.
"She doesn't like to slow up," replied Fred glancing behind him as he spoke.
"She had better slow up than blow up," retorted John.
"No danger of that," laughed Fred. "The first thing you know we'll be in the canal."
"I hope not," laughed Grant. "It will be a great day when the Go Ahead boys learn how to use the English language. You don't mean 'in' the canal, you mean 'on' the canal."
"Perhaps he means what my grandfather used to call the 'ragin' canawl'," suggested Grant.
"Maybe we'll be both IN it and ON it," laughed Fred. "If we should happen to strike a rock or bump into another boat it wouldn't be very hard to understand what would follow."
"That makes me think," said Grant solemnly. "Are you sure that you know how to steer? If we were traveling on the Erie Canal as they used to go soon after it was opened—"
"When was that?" broke in George.
"1825. The Erie Canal extended from Albany to Lake Erie and was constructed chiefly because DeWitt Clinton worked for it with might and main from 1817 to 1825."
"Good for you!" laughed George, "It's pretty hard to trip up old Soc when it comes to figures. Now, I myself happen to know how long the canal is and so I shall be able to tell whether you reeled off your figures, depending upon our ignorance or whether you gave them because you knew what they are. How long is the Erie Canal?" he added slowly.
"Three hundred and fifty and one-half miles, though I find some authorities give it as three hundred and fifty-two miles," laughed Grant.
"Splendid! Splendid!" retorted George solemnly. "I suppose you know all about all the other great canals too."
"I have looked them up," replied Grant simply. "I don't believe in starting off on a trip like ours without finding out some of the facts connected with it."
"Don't ask me! Don't ask me!" protested John quickly. "I haven't been looking them up, so I don't know."
"I didn't say I was going to ask you," retorted Grant. "I told you I was going to inform you. I looked them up for the benefit of my benighted companions. Now there's the Cape Cod Canal," he added. "I don't believe there's one of you that knows anything about it."
"If we don't stop you, there won't be one of us that doesn't know ALL about it," said John, pretending to be discouraged by the attitude of his friend. "I suppose we'll have to have it," he added solemnly, "so the sooner we get it out of the way the better. Tell us and have it over with."
"The Cape Cod Canal," said Grant as he looked sternly at John, "is eight miles long, it is twenty-five feet deep and one hundred feet wide."
"My, now I am almost ready to go back home!" said George solemnly. "I cannot imagine finding out anything more important than that. Have you noticed these Palisades we have been passing? Did you ever see anything more beautiful than the river? Pretty soon we'll come to the Highlands and to West Point and I want to say to you right now, Soc, that I would rather know about these things than I would to hear about a ditch that is one hundred feet wide and twenty-five feet deep and eight miles long. What's the good of knowing that anyway?"
"I shall try to improve your mind before we come back home," said Grant, shaking his head.
"You don't expect to accomplish much in just a month, do you?" interposed George.
"Not much more than to get ready to prepare to begin to start to commence on the contract."
"My, what a fluent talker my friend is!" said George. "He never is at a loss for a word. It doesn't make any difference to him whether he knows what it means or not."
"Never mind your old facts and figures," spoke up Fred. "I want you to notice that big! black yacht yonder. Isn't she a beauty?"
"She is that," replied Grant with enthusiasm. "I can almost make out her name," he added as he looked through the field-glasses. "There it is C-a-l-e-Caledonia," he added quickly.
"They have got quite a good many people on board," suggested George as he noticed a group of boys and girls near the rail, who apparently were as deeply interested in the motor-boat as the Go Ahead boys were in the big, black yacht.
"Let's have a race with her," suggested George. "Start her up, Fred, and see if the yacht will try to keep up with us."
Fred laughingly complied with the request, although neither of his companions had any suspicion of the many experiences they were to have with the passengers and crew of the Caledonia before either vessel returned to New York.
 See "The Go Ahead Boys and The Treasure Cave."
 "The Go Ahead Boys and the Mysterious Old House."
 See "The Go Ahead Boys and the Island Camp."
ON THE WAY
The proposed race, however, did not take place. The graceful Caledonia steadily continued on her way without increasing her speed. There were calls from the deck where the boys noticed several young people standing near the rail. It was plain that there was great admiration on each boat for the beauty and speed of the other. There were calls and cheers, and waving of handkerchiefs to express their feelings. Perhaps it was in part due to this fact that the Black Growler soon began to pull away from the larger boat and not long afterward the Caledonia was left far behind.
"That's the kind of a boat I'm going to have when I get rich!" said George enthusiastically. "I should like to spend about four months a year on board a craft like that."
"That's all right," spoke up Grant, "but I think after about two months of it you would want something else. You see I know you better than you know yourself."
"Yes, I see," retorted George sharply. "You make me think of what Josh Billings said that 'it's a good deal better not to know so many things than it is to know so many things that ain't so!'"
"Never you mind, fellows," spoke up Fred. "This boat suits me all right. You wait until you see that cup the Black Growler is going to win."
"I hope we shan't have to wait too long," said John dryly.
"You'll wait until the race comes off," declared Fred. "I'm not taking any cups before I win them, but when the time comes you wait and see me run away from any boat that tries to keep up with us. I have been on the St. Lawrence before and unless there is something a good deal better than I have ever seen there, we shall simply show our heels to any motor-boats on the river. And they say there are more motor-boats between Clayton and Ogdensburg than anywhere else in America."
"How many?" inquired John.
"I have been told that there are more than a thousand."
"Well," said George, "I'm deeply impressed by the modesty of Peewee. He simply thinks this boat will outclass nine hundred and ninety-nine others that will be madly chasing him all summer long, trying to keep pace with him."
"But he hasn't won the cup yet," said Grant quietly.
"That's right. That's right," spoke up Fred, pretending to be annoyed by the bantering of his friends. "There are always some people that try to take the joy out of life. I heard of an old man the other day who was so disgruntled that when he met a friend on the street who saluted him with a hearty 'good morning' this old man looked all over the sky to make sure he couldn't find a cloud somewhere and say that it wasn't a 'good' morning."
"What did he do if he didn't find any?" laughed George.
"Why he put his hand on his stomach as if he had a pain and shook his head and closed his eyes and groaned out, 'Yes, it's a fine day, but I am sure it is a weather-breeder. We'll have rain to-morrow.'"
"Do you know there are a lot of people like that?" said George. "I met an old woman up near our farm one summer who always said when anybody asked her how she was that she 'enjoyed' poor health. And I guess she did. I never knew any one who took such pride in her aches and pains as she did. One day when the doctor had been to see her she had told him all the pains she suffered and the poor old doctor had to sit there and listen to her for almost an hour. Finally, when he left she started out of the house after him calling to him to come back because she had just thought of another ache that she hadn't told him about."
The boys laughed and silence for a time rested upon the little boat. The Black Growler was moving swiftly and still was attracting attention from every boat she met. Following the channel they kept well out in the river, but the towering hills and the attractive shores were all within sight and manifestly did much to impress the Go Ahead boys.
"Tell me, Fred," spoke up John at last. "Do they have these races on the St. Lawrence every summer?"
"They have had for the past few years and they have had water sports too."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, they have swimming, tilting contests, canoe races, diving and I don't know what all."
"Did you ever go in any of them?" inquired John.
A solemn expression came over Fred's face as he said, "Yes, once."
"What did you go into?"
"I tried to walk the greased pole. There was a silver cup on the end of it and the fellow who could walk out and take it could claim it."
"Did you get the cup?"
"I did not," replied Fred shortly.
"I'm surprised, Peewee. I don't know a fellow in all my acquaintance that I think could walk better on a greased pole than you."
"Huh," muttered Fred. "You ought to have seen me. That pole was a part of a telegraph pole. It stuck out from the dock about fifteen feet. It was covered with grease and the grease had been rubbed in."
"How many times were you allowed to try?" asked George.
"And you couldn't go in five trials?"
"I didn't go. The first time I stepped on the pole my feet flew out from under me and I sat down on the river about six or seven feet below. I sat down hard too."
"Did you enjoy it?" laughed John.
"I did not," replied Fred slowly, "but the people on the docks and along the banks seemed to have a fine time."
"What did you do next?" laughed George.
"I tied some old sacking on my feet and tried to wipe up the grease as I went along."
"And didn't that work?"
"Nay, verily it didn't work. I took my seat that time on the pole and then when I slipped, I tried to throw my arms around it. But for some good reason I didn't delay very long, before I dropped with a splash into the St. Lawrence."
"I hope they will have those things this summer," spoke up John.
"You would be a good one to walk on a greased pole," said George soberly. "You wouldn't take much space and if you could once get a footing you could reach forward almost to the end and grab the cup."
"If I did," retorted John, "you can rest easy that I wouldn't let go of it."
"How soon do we come to West Point?" inquired Grant.
"In about an hour," answered Fred.
"Do you know, I sometimes think I should like to go there," said George.
"Couldn't be done, my son," spoke up John.
"Why can't it be done?"
"Because a fellow that enters West Point has to pass an examination."
"Don't you think I could pass it?" demanded George as his friends laughed.
"It depends on what it is," answered John.
"If they would examine you about the old Meeker House and running tin tubes from the kitchen into the front room and a few other things like that maybe you would pass."
"That's all right," spoke up George promptly. "I know something about what a fellow has to do before he passes the West Point examinations anyway and that's more than some fellows I know can say."
"What do you know that we don't?" inquired John.
"How old does a fellow have to be to enter West Point?" demanded George.
"I don't know," replied John somewhat foolishly. "I suppose he has to be about eighteen, at least I suppose a fellow eighteen could enter."
"Could he enter if he was twenty-one?" inquired George.
"He could," spoke up Grant. "A fellow has to be between seventeen and twenty-two years of age before he can take the preliminary examinations. But there's another qualification almost as necessary," he added. "He has got to be free from infirmities."
"No hope for Pop then," said John solemnly. "He has too many infirmities."
"What, for example?" demanded George.
"His appetite is abnormal, his confidence in himself colossal, his willingness to condescend to the level of his superiors is—"
"You're getting all mixed up," interrupted George. "A fellow has to pass a good physical examination and that is all there is to it. Of course if he has too long a tongue or too small a head it might shut him out."
"Of course," assented John. "How does a fellow get a chance to try the examination anyway?"
"He has to be named by his congressman. Most of them, I guess, have a preliminary examination for all the boys that want to enter and then select the one who passes the best examination. But even if he passes, his troubles have only begun, for they make every fellow work his way."
"The government appropriates some money for every cadet, doesn't it?" inquired John.
"Yes," replied George, "$709.50 per year. That is supposed to cover the necessary expenses. It is not only hard work but the boys don't get but one leave of absence in all the course, and even that isn't given until after the first two years."
"But they have vacations, don't they?" inquired John.
"If you want to call them vacations," laughed Grant. "From about the middle of June to the end of August the cadets go into camp. They are busy every day."
"What does a fellow have to pass an examination in in order to enter West Point?"
"English grammar, English composition, algebra through quadratic equations, plane geometry, descriptive geography, physical geography, United States history and the outlines of general history."
"I think I'll go if that's all," laughed John, who was well known to have troubles with most of his examinations in school.
"Look at that boat over yonder!" suddenly interrupted Fred, pointing to a motor-boat about one hundred feet away. "It looks to me as if it was trying to pass us."
"That's just what it is trying to do," said Grant eagerly.
"Don't you let them do it, Peewee."
"That's just what I intend not to do," said Fred resolutely.
In a moment the speed of the Black Growler was increased, but it was also manifest as the boys glanced behind them that the boat they had noticed was in swift pursuit.
 See "The Go Ahead Boys and the Mysterious Old House."
The rival boat was distant about one hundred feet, moving in a line nearly parallel with that which the Black Growler was following.
"I believe I have seen that boat before," muttered Fred. "Can any of you fellows make out the name?"
George hastily took the field-glasses and gazed earnestly at the swiftly moving boat. "I can make out some of the letters, Fred," he said slowly. "I can see V—a—r, the next letter looks like n."
"What's that?" demanded Fred abruptly.
"I can't make out the whole of it yet," answered George. "I don't see what Varn spells anyway."
"You better look again," suggested Fred. "I think I know the boat. I guess it's the Varmint."
"That's it," said George quickly. "Only there's something right after the word. I can't just see what that is."
"Here, let me take those glasses," said Grant quickly. "I don't believe you can find anything. Your mother told me that she doesn't want any better evidence that your clothes are hanging in the right places in the closet than for you to say that you had looked for them and they aren't there."
"Listen to the words of our modest friend," said George as he handed the glasses to his comrade. "Grant is a good boy. The only difficulty with him is he doesn't realize how good he is."
"If he doesn't," spoke up John, "it isn't because he doesn't try."
"Keep still, fellows," said Grant, waving his hand at the other Go Ahead boys. "I'm just about to find out what the name of that motor-boat that is beating us—"
"'Beating' us nothing!" interrupted Fred. "Can't you see that she isn't gaining a foot?"
"I can't even see her name yet," said Grant. "You had better slow up a bit, Pygmy. That will give you a good excuse."
In response, Fred increased the power of the fast moving motor-boat.
"I have it. I have it," called Grant exultantly a moment later. "It is Varmint II."
"It is what?" demanded Fred quickly as he glanced behind him for a moment.
"Varmint II, that's what it is," said Grant positively. "What do you know about that?"
Fred was silent a moment before he replied. "Two years ago when I was visiting at my grandfather's I saw the Varmint run away from all the boats in the race. This must be a new one and if she's swifter than the other one then there will be some race, let me tell you. I'm going to try her out a little now."
In accordance with his words Fred changed the course which the Black Growler was following until he was nearer the rival boat. It was plain now that the crew of the Varmint II were deeply interested in the Black Growler. They were watching her movements and eagerly talking to the man at the wheel.
For several minutes the race continued and then abruptly the Varmint II shut off part of her power and speedily dropped behind.
"I told you what would happen," said Fred exultantly. "I would like to run away from that boat in a race. There isn't a boat on the St. Lawrence I would like better to beat."
"But you don't even know she is going to be on the St. Lawrence or in that race," suggested John.
"That's right. That's right," said Fred dolefully. "There's always somebody taking the joy out of life. You mark my words, that boat is going to the St. Lawrence and we'll find her in the race when we leave the stake."
"I hope so," said Grant. "It will be a great race if she's in it! But honestly, Fred, if you knew a little more about steering a boat I think you could win from her. How would it do for you to get somebody to steer, the day of the race?"
"That's right," spoke up George quickly. "All the Black Growler needs is a pilot."
"That—is—most—certainly true," said John slowly, winking at Grant as he spoke.
"Huh," spoke up Fred. "It's a pity there isn't enough gray matter somewhere in this crowd to spell me at the wheel. I have run all the way from New York and I'm tired and yet there isn't a fellow here who is able to steer this boat."
"Beg your pardon," said John. "Ill steer her with great gladness."
"I don't doubt your 'gladness,'" said Fred. "What I'm afraid of is your ability. If it was Grant now steering and we struck a rock he would never own up that that wasn't the very place he was steering for. However, String, take hold here awhile and give me a rest."
"Where are we going to stop for dinner?" inquired George. "This mad race has brought on an attack of hunger with me."
"That's all right," laughed Fred. "I think the only thing you can say is that you are less hungry some times than others. We can stop anywhere you want."
"Then I say we stop at Poughkeepsie," said Grant.
"Poughkeepsie will do for me all right," said John soberly.
A half-hour later the graceful little motor-boat was lying alongside a dock at Poughkeepsie. Two of the boys had remained on board to guard their possessions while two had gone to a restaurant to purchase a luncheon with which they were to return to the boat.
John and George had volunteered their services for the latter purpose and about fifteen minutes after their departure George was seen returning to the dock, his arms well laden with packages of fruit and sandwiches.
"Where's String?" Fred asked as his friend stepped on board and deposited his packages.
"I don't know. I lost him up here."
"Poor John. Lost in Poughkeepsie. I'm afraid we'll have to advertise."
"There's one thing we won't do though," said Grant.
"What's that?" inquired Fred.
"We shan't wait for him to come before we begin operations."
"It does my heart good to hear you speak so truthfully," said George, as at once he opened the packages and passed the various articles of food which he had obtained.
So busily engaged were the boys that time passed rapidly and a half-hour later George said, "What do you suppose has become of that fellow? I told you that his mother said that he was worse than I am and couldn't find any of his belongings, but I didn't know that he would lose himself."
"Have you ever been in Poughkeepsie?" inquired Grant soberly.
"I have never stopped here."
"Then I have no need for other explanations. I know what has become of John."
"Then you'll be the one to go and get him."
"I guess not," laughed Fred.
"No, if he doesn't show up within fifteen minutes the Black Growler proceeds gracefully on its way and leaves little Johnnie to come after us. Maybe he can work his way by driving mules for a canal boat."
"There isn't any canal here," said Fred.
"Well, we'll leave it to him to settle the way he will come. We shan't wait for him."
"Who's captain of this ship, anyway?" spoke up Fred.
"That's the question that has often puzzled me too," said Grant soberly.
"Well, I am," said Fred.
"You are? Then let me tell you, Captain Peewee, you will have a mutiny on your hands before you know it. This boat is going on to Albany. We have got to get there to-night and if John doesn't care enough about going with us he will have to take the consequences. Do you know I think he may have lost his nerve and gone back home."
"Don't you believe it," said Fred sharply. "John will be here in a few minutes. He never will lose his nerve."
Fifteen minutes however elapsed and still the absent member of the Go Ahead boys did not return.
When fifteen more minutes had passed, Fred, who had insisted that some investigation should be made and a search for John begun, was overruled by his two companions and in spite of the captain's protests, the Black Growler slipped quickly away from the dock and proceeded steadily on her way up the Hudson.
There were no mishaps although twice Fred stopped to secure fresh supplies of gasoline. No trace of the Varmint II had been seen and if she too was headed for the far away St. Lawrence, there was nothing to indicate the fact. And yet Fred became more positive with the passing minutes that among his rivals in the race in which his own swift motor-boat was already entered, would be found the boat whose pursuit he had found it so difficult to shake off.
The boys by the middle of the afternoon were tired. There was no opportunity for exercise and in spite of the beauty of the region through which they were passing there was a certain monotony in their voyage which at last became wearisome.
The sun was sinking low in the western sky when Fred at last said, "I think we'll make Albany in about an hour."
"Do you think we'll find String there?" inquired George.
"I hope so. If it was any other of the Go Ahead boys I would say we would be sure to find him there, but no one knows what Jack will do. The only certain thing about him is his uncertainty. Don't you remember—"
"I'm telling you," interrupted Grant, "that we'll find John waiting for us at the dock. He knows where we're going to land."
"If String is there I'll agree to pay for the dinner to-night," said George. "My own feeling is that he hasn't left Poughkeepsie yet."
It was still light when at last the Black Growler approached the dock where she was to be tied up for the night. The three Go Ahead boys were peering ahead of them with interest, every one looking among the men on the docks for their missing companion.
THE LOST IS FOUND
"He isn't there," exclaimed George gleefully. "I'm safe on my dinner."
"I believe you are right," said Fred in a low voice after he had glanced along the docks several times searching for his missing friend.
"Of course I'm right," said George. "I am always right. That's the reason why your fond parents wanted me to go with you on this trip. Somebody has to go along who understands modern life, so I reluctantly gave up my own convenience and came along to look after these poor benighted Go Ahead boys."
"Keep quiet a minute, George," said Grant, "we all appreciate your kindness. Just now, however, I would rather see String than hear you."
"Not seeing String you must listen to me," laughed George again. "Let me see, I don't buy the dinner, and it seems to me that one or the other of my friends agreed to provide one if I was mistaken about John."
"No such agreement was made," declared Fred sharply.
"Is that so, Grant?" demanded George, turning to the remaining member of the party.
"It certainly is," declared Grant. "You were the only one to make the offer."
"Then I suppose I shall have to put up with it," said George disconsolately. "Now as soon as we get everything ship-shape, we had better go up to the hotel."
"Shall we take our bags or send down for them?" inquired Grant.
"If we don't take them some one else will," said Fred quickly. "We can lock up everything else, but we don't want to leave anything on board that can be taken away."
"Just as you say," said Grant, as taking his bag in his hand he stepped quickly to the dock.
Already a small assembly had gathered and was commenting upon the beauty of the little motor-boat. The pride of Fred had been satisfied so many times throughout the day that he was not unduly moved now by the words which he overheard. In a brief time he and his two companions were walking up State Street and soon secured rooms for the night in their hotel.
An hour later when they entered the dining-room they were amazed to behold their missing friend John seated at a small table at which there were three places besides the one he had taken.
For a moment the three Go Ahead boys stopped and gazed in amazement at him, and then, without a word being spoken, all three silently advanced to the table which he had reserved and apparently without recognizing the presence of their friend at once seated themselves.
"Why don't you say something?" demanded John, a grin appearing on his face as he spoke.
"I'm going to say something in a minute," said George. "I want to read through this program first to find out what I'm to have for my dinner."
"'Program' is a good word," said Grant soberly. "When George has such a chance to get a square meal he always has a regular program mapped out."
"That's all right," retorted George, without glancing up from the menu card.
"Why don't you say something?" demanded John again.
"My friend," said Grant soberly, gazing a moment at John as he spoke, "words are not adequate to express our feeling. How is it with you?"
"I'm fine," said John. "Why don't you ask me where I have been and how I came to Albany?"
"You're in Albany and that is enough to satisfy all the curiosity we have," said Grant.
"It doesn't satisfy me," said John. "When three fellows run away from you and leave you high and dry in a city like Poughkeepsie why all I can say is that—"
"That's enough to say, Johnnie. That will do," interrupted George, waving his right hand at his friend.
"You are simply mistaken," said John, the grin appearing on his face once more. "I want to tell you that whether you want it or not you are going to hear from me and in more ways than one."
"'Threatened people live long,'" spoke up Fred. "At the same time, String, you'll have to own up that we waited for you as long as we thought we could before we started for Albany. I didn't want to be out after dark in the Black Growler."
"I appreciate all your kind feelings," laughed John. "Now I want you to sympathize with me. I had gone to half a dozen different places doing my best to select certain good things for our luncheon. I had a choice assortment too, let me tell you. Why Pop's eyes would have popped out if he had seen what I had obtained, but alas when I came down to the dock I saw the Growler running up the river as if she was trying to get away from me."
"Did you come up by train?" inquired Fred.
"I did not come up by train," retorted John, speaking deliberately.
"How did you come?" asked George, interested now in spite of his effort to appear indifferent.
"Didn't you see the aeroplane?" asked John.
"Aeroplane? No, we didn't see any," said Grant quickly.
"Well, I didn't either," said John, "so that's one way that I didn't come."
"Oh, leave him alone," said George, "he is just bursting with his story. He wants to tell us and we shan't be able to stop him, so let's have our dinner and you may rest easy that before we are done you'll know all of John's story and some beside. To-morrow it will grow big and fast. It's like the pumpkins out in South Dakota. They say that a man has to be on horseback when he plants them."
"How's that?" laughed John.
"Why the vines grow so fast that the only way he can escape is to put his horse into his best paces. Even then they don't always escape."
"What happens if they are overtaken?" asked John.
"Oh, the pumpkin vines grow right around them and cover them up and choke off their wind and do other various stunts."
"Fine! Fine," laughed John, "My story isn't growing like that though let me tell you. This story is true. It's a complete narrative of truthful John. I was about to turn back and make inquiries when I could get an express train for Albany, when what should I see coming up to the dock but the Varmint II. As soon as the people on board saw me they immediately began to urge me to come with them. They had seen the Growler just pulling out and leaving me in my unfortunate plight."
"I guess they suspected what you had in the basket," laughed Fred.
"That may be," acknowledged John. "At all events it saved them buying a good spread, for they took me on board right away and we trailed you all the way up the Hudson. I tell you, Peewee, it's a comfort to ride in a good boat. That Varmint II can travel! Oh, I don't know how many knots an hour!"
"Can she beat the Black Growler?" inquired Fred anxiously.
"Beat her! Beat her!" retorted John. "Why you would think the Black Growler was standing still the Varmint can pull away from her so fast."
"I don't believe that," said Fred, shaking his head.
"Well, you will have to, for they are going to the same place we are. They have entered her in the motor-boat races and as she belongs to the same class that your tub does you will have a fine chance to see her win the cup. That's about the only chance you'll have too, in my opinion." John winked at George and Grant, who immediately in doleful tones expressed their sympathy for Fred.
"It's too bad," declared George, "after a fellow's father has given him a boat such as the Black Growler to find out that it doesn't stand any show in the race. Now if you had found that out before you had bought the boat, Fred, just think how much money, time, labor, trouble, perplexity, sleeplessness, loss of appetite—"
"Never that," broke in Grant, shaking his head. "All the other things, yes, but loss of appetite, never. Just look at him!"
John insisted upon relating his experiences and increased the interest of his friends in spite of their efforts to appear indifferent when he said there were three young people on board the Varmint, who were expecting to spend the summer on an island near Fred's grandfather's and were also confident that the boat race was to be the supreme event of the summer.
In spite of his declaration that he was not anxious, it was plain to his friends that Fred was somewhat cast down by the glowing reports which his companion had brought concerning the swift rival motor-boat.
"To-morrow we'll be on the 'ragin' canawl,"' said Grant. "Now then, I want to know if there is any fellow in this crowd who knows anything about the world's great canals."
"We don't know anything," said Fred. "We heard you talking this morning, but how much of what you said is true nobody knows, not even yourself."
"It's all true," retorted Grant. "As I told you I wasn't willing to start on a trip like this without knowing something about what I was doing."
"When do you start on that new line?" laughed George.
"It doesn't make any difference," said Grant. "Now the Panama Canal, for example belongs to the United States, doesn't it?"
"It does," acknowledged Fred.
"Well, now as a future citizen of this country just tell me between what places that canal extends. If there is one fellow in this crowd who can give me the right answer I will pay for the dinner for all the Go Ahead boys."
"Panama," said John promptly.
"Panama what?" retorted Grant sharply.
"Why the Panama Canal is located at the City of Panama," said John somewhat abashed by the manner of his friend.
"That's good as far as it goes," said Grant, "but I want to know if you know where the other end of the canal is located."
The three boys looked blankly at one another and for an instant no one spoke.
"The canal extends between Colon and the City of Panama," said Grant hastily.
"That's exactly what I was going to say," said George. "You took the words right out of my mouth. You did it so that you wouldn't have to pay for the dinner to-morrow. I guess every one of us knows where the Panama Canal is."
"All right," said Grant. "I'll take your word for it, if you'll tell me how long it is."
Again there was silence among the Go Ahead boys as they glanced foolishly at one another.
"Of course every young American is sure to know such simple facts as that," said Grant condescendingly, "but for my own satisfaction, I am willing to state that it is exactly fifty and one-half miles long."
"How deep is it?" said Fred sharply.
"It is about forty-one feet," answered Grant promptly. "Of course in the lakes it is deeper than that and it is from three hundred to six hundred and forty-nine feet wide. Why, I don't believe," he continued, "that some American boys I happen to know although they passed right through it, could tell me how long the Sault Ste. Marie Canal is. I have a dim suspicion too that they don't know what it connects."
"I know that," said George. "It connects Lake Superior with St. Mary's River and Lake Huron."
"I'm glad you're right once in your life," said Grant. "Now tell me how long that canal is."
"I can't tell a lie, Mr. Schoolmaster," said George, "the Sault Ste. Marie Canal is two miles long."
"All right, I don't have to buy the dinner to-morrow," said Grant.
"There may be some other things you'll have to do though," said John. "You're not done with me yet. No, sir," he added emphatically "that is NOT all!"
THE MISSING BAG
Early the following morning the Go Ahead boys were moving swiftly over the waters of the Erie Canal. Most of the country through which they were passing was new to them, and, rested as they were from the voyage of the preceding day, they were deeply interested in the various scenes through which they were moving.
The speedy Growler still aroused the interest of the people who saw the graceful little boat. The speed at which Fred was driving was not as great as when they had been on the Hudson. The stream was narrower and frequently there were long canal-boats to be passed.
The experiences when they arrived at the locks were alike novel and filled with interest. After they had watched the slowly rising waters and several times had been lifted to a different level the novelty, however, wore off and by the middle of the forenoon the Go Ahead boys were beginning to tease one another.
"There's one thing," said John, "that's as fixed as the sun."
Nobody made any response to his startling suggestion and after he had glanced quizzically at his companions John continued, "No crowd ever left a fellow at Poughkeepsie and went on without him without having to pay the price. I'm telling you, fellows, that just as sure as the sun shines there's something coming to every one of you, and most of all to Grant."
"Why am I selected for this special favor?" demanded Grant quickly.
"If you don't know there isn't any one who can tell you," retorted John. "All I'm saying is that action and reaction are equal, even if the Panama Canal is fifty and one-half miles long."
"Speaking of canals," said Grant. "I want to know if anybody knows how long the Suez Canal is."
"Speak up, Professor," said George dejectedly. "We have got to hear it, so we might as well have it now as any time. How long is it?"
"It's exactly one hundred miles. Now if there's any Go Ahead boy who can tell what the Suez Canal connects, it will be my turn to pay for the dinner."
There was a silence following Grant's words while the Go Ahead boys looked foolishly at one another. Not one of them was able to answer the simple question.
"The Suez Canal," began Grant, "connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea."
"How do you know?" demanded Fred. "You have never seen it."
"I don't have to see it to know. I have never seen London, but I am quite confident there is a city by that name. By the way, fellows, if you'll wait a minute I'll show you something I put in my bag. I saved it for a day just like this."
Rising from his seat Grant hastily sought his bag and in a brief time rejoined his companions.
"What's the matter?" demanded John, as he saw an expression of consternation on the face of his friend.
"Matter!" retorted Grant. "Matter enough. Somebody brought the wrong bag."
"Let me see," said John, rising and examining the bag, which Grant had placed on the seat near him. "That's not mine."
"It surely isn't mine," said George.
"I won't claim it either," added Fred as he glanced behind him.
"Well, it isn't mine," said Grant. "Somebody made a mistake at the hotel this morning and instead of giving me what belonged to me they have sent my bag off in some other direction and given me a bag that belongs to some one else."
"Try your keys," suggested John. "Maybe it isn't as bad as you think."
"The keys don't fit," declared Grant after he had tested them all.
"Maybe there's a catch or a trick of some kind. Look again, Soc, and see if there isn't some way to find out what there is inside that bag. That's about the only way you can tell whose it is."
"I have been trying," retorted Grant sharply. "It's locked and I haven't any key that will fit it."
"It feels pretty heavy," said John as he lifted the bag in question.
"Yes, it's heavier than mine," acknowledged Grant. "I don't see how that porter could have made any such mistake."
"I don't see any way out of it, Soc, but for you to take your bag back to Albany," said Fred.
"I'm not going back," declared Grant. "I'll send the bag back by express and telegraph the hotel to send my bag in the same way to Utica. If they get busy right away it ought to be there by the time we are."
"No use, my dear friend," said John, shaking his head. "Your bag by this time is on its way to Timbuctoo or San Francisco. Some other fellow has it and if he has and isn't making remarks that sound like echoes of yours, it is only because he hasn't yet found out his mistake."
The perplexity in which Grant found himself was increasing. Many of his necessary articles and much of his clothing that he would require on the trip were contained in the missing bag. He was unable to see the sly wink which John gave Fred when the latter looked questioningly at him.
So insistent was Grant that the Black Growler was stopped at Schenectady to enable him to send a telegram to the hotel at which the Go Ahead boys had stopped the preceding night at Albany.
No one had offered to assist him in his task and the boy alone carried the bag which he believed had been given him in place of his own to the express office. There, in accordance with the word which he had already sent the hotel, he shipped the bag to Albany.
When he returned to the motor-boat so engrossed was he with his own troubles that he failed to discover the grin which appeared on the faces of two of the Go Ahead boys.
"You might have offered to go back to get my bag," suggested Grant sharply when he resumed his seat on board.
"Yes, we might," said Fred. "We might have offered to buy a new one for you and fit it out with all the things you need, but we thought we wouldn't. You need the lesson, Soc. You have been telling all the world how to do it so long that it is time for you to begin to find out some things for yourself."
Grant made no reply and indeed he had little to say until the boat stopped at an attractive village where the boys obtained their luncheon.
When the voyage was resumed, Grant's confidence that his own missing bag would be found when they arrived at Utica in a measure served to restore his good nature and throughout the afternoon he took an active part in the bantering in which the boys engaged.
Occasionally Fred relinquished his task at the wheel and permitted his friends to take turns in steering the boat. The banks of the canal were free from rocks and even if the swift little motor-boat was turned from her course no great amount of damage could follow.
There were other boats they were informed that had preceded them and among them the references to the swift Varmint II were frequent.
On such occasions Fred's passengers at once resumed their task of informing their captain how small his chances of winning the race were becoming. Apparently the Varmint had everything her own way.
Fred did his utmost to appear indifferent to the words of his companions, but in spite of it all it became plain to the other boys that he was seriously disturbed by the comments they made.
There were times when, the course being clear, the speed of the Black Growler was increased almost to her maximum. At such times the farmers in the fields stopped in their labors and stared at the motor-boat, which almost seemed to be shooting through the country.
At other times when they were passing through villages or met a heavily laden canal-boat the Black Growler moved slowly and seemed to share in the need of caution.
It was late in the afternoon when at last the little party arrived at Utica.
"We'll go up to the hotel and have our dinner," said Grant. "I do not know that I owe the rest of you anything, but I'm going to take pity on you and do what I at first thought I wouldn't. I'm going to give you a dinner."
"That's very kind," said John, winking at Fred as he spoke. "Meanwhile who's going to look after our bags?"
"I'm going to find out first if mine is here to be looked after," said Grant. "Come on with me, Jack, and I'll go to the express offices and see if it is there."
John followed his friend, but their labors were not crowned with success when after an absence of an hour they returned to the place where the Black Growler was awaiting them. Not a word had been received from Albany nor had Grant succeeded in finding any trace of his missing baggage.
"Never mind," he said quickly. "I'll have to make the best of it. I'm not going to spoil all the fun of the trip crying over spilled milk."
Again John winked at Fred, but no words were spoken after the boat and its belongings had been left in charge of a man and the boys together had started for their hotel.
It was still light when they returned to the dock and Fred said, "I wonder how it would do for us to go on a bit farther. There are hotels all along the way and I think it would be good fun to stop at some one of those country taverns."
"We're with you," said George. "We want to get all the experiences we can on this trip."
"I guess it will be something you will remember," said Grant.
IN THE TAVERN
About half-past eight o 'clock the Go Ahead boys returned to the dock where the Black Growler had been left. A hasty examination convinced them that all their belongings were safe. In accordance with the suggestion which had been made they soon decided to set forth on their voyage. Just how far they would go was left undecided.
"I hear," said Fred, "that we can stop at a village half-way between here and Rome. They say it is all right. If we don't like to sail in the night then we can stop there, but if we want to we can keep on until we get to Rome or Oneida. That's about as far as we'll want to go anyway."
"I think it will be good fun," said John, "to travel through the country by night. Perhaps we'll find some more places like the old Meeker House."
"I'm afraid," laughed George, "that we'll find our ghosts a little more substantial than they were in that old place."
"I wish we could find my bag," spoke up Grant. "It's strange it didn't come to Utica. I left word with the express office though to send it ahead just as soon as they received it."
"Maybe we'll find the ghost of it," suggested Fred.
Meanwhile they had cast off and the Black Growler was moving noiselessly over the waters of the Erie Canal. They were soon beyond the borders of the attractive city, but after they had passed the first village on their way George said quickly, "Fellows, I believe it's going to rain. Look at those clouds over yonder." As he spoke George pointed to some heavy clouds that could be seen massing in the western sky.
"I don't want to get caught out here in a thunder storm," said John.
"We shan't be," said Fred. "I'll put on a little more speed and we'll go on to the next place. That's where the hotel or tavern is that they told me about in Utica. It won't rain before we get there for it is only four or five miles ahead. If it is going to rain we can stop. If it doesn't we can keep on if we want to."
Conversation ceased as the speed of the swift little boat increased. Less than a half-hour had elapsed when the boys found that they were entering the village to which Fred had referred.
"How about it, Fred?" called John. "It looks pretty black to me."
"It does to me, too," replied Fred. "I think the best thing for us to do will be to stop. We'll find a place where we can leave the motor-boat and then we'll go up to the hotel and if we have to we'll stay there all night."
The boys all agreed to the suggestion and in a brief time the graceful little boat was covered in such a way that she was protected from the coming storm, which now was almost upon them.
Hastily the boys took their bags and at once started for the hotel which they were informed was only a few yards distant.
With difficulty they made their way along the darkened street, and in a few minutes arrived at their destination.
Just as they entered, the storm broke. There was a long roll of thunder followed by a blinding flash and then the rain began to fall in torrents.
"Just in time, weren't we?" said Fred with a laugh. "You're always right if you do what I tell you to. It was my suggestion and I am glad that for once in your lives you had wisdom enough to do what I said."
"That remains to be seen," said Grant dryly as he looked about the room in which they found themselves. "It seems to me that the motto over the door of this place ought to be, 'He who enters here leaves soap behind.'"
"Where did you find that?" laughed George.
"Didn't you ever hear of the motto over the Bridge of Sighs?"
Whether the boys had ever heard of the famous bridge or not was not manifest, for at that moment in the midst of a deafening peal of thunder the landlady entered the room where the boys were waiting.
"What can I do for you?" she inquired as the thunder ceased.
"We're caught in the storm and thought perhaps we might stay here all night," suggested Fred.
"The house is pretty full," said the woman dubiously. "I don't know whether I can give you rooms or not."
At that moment there came a burst of loud laughter from the bar-room. It was plain that many of the men who were employed on the canal also had sought shelter in the little tavern. The house was old, so old that the boards in the floor were warped and the low ceilings gave evidence of the many years that had passed since they had been placed there. Not a door fitted its frame and the windows were all small, the panes being not much more than seven by nine. Whatever was done in one part of the house plainly was likely to be known also in other parts. The noisy men, who were drinking in the bar-room, whose shouts and songs and cries now were even more distinctly heard, could not confine their loud demonstrations to the room in which they had assembled even if they had been so inclined.
"If you don't mind," suggested Fred to the landlady, "I think we would like to go up to our rooms."
"Have you had any supper?" inquired the woman.
"Yes, we got some in Utica," replied Fred.
"Where are you goin'?"
"We expect to go to the St. Lawrence River."
"You don't tell me," exclaimed the woman. "How be you goin'?"
"We have got a motor-boat."
"Land sakes! You don't say so! That's a terrible long ways and I don't see how you can get there with a boat all the way."
"The storm caught us and we thought we had better stop here for the night than try to go on any farther."
"Where do you come from?" inquired the woman, who busied herself lighting two candles while she was talking.
"We came from Albany this morning," replied Fred, who did not think it necessary to go more into details concerning their expedition.
"My, you must have come pretty fast. Now, if you'll follow me I'll show you to your rooms."
Fred glanced uneasily behind him as from the bar-room at that moment there came another noisy outburst that was almost alarming in its character.
"How many men are there in there?" inquired Fred, nodding his head toward the room as he spoke.
"It's about full," replied the landlady. "A stormy night like this drives a good many of the boatmen and the hands under cover."
"They are a noisy lot," suggested Fred.
"They are a tough crowd," said the woman feelingly. "Sometimes they go off and don't pay me a cent. That's one reason why I make everybody pay before I give them a room."
"Do you mean that we'll have to pay before we take the room?" inquired John.
"Yes, sir, that's just what I say. That's the rule o' this house."
"Well, I guess we'll see the rooms first then," said George.
Conversation ceased as the woman, who was stout and consequently slow in her movements, led the way up the creaking stairway and then through the hall on the second floor. The floor here also was loose and every step was announced by creakings, while various other sounds were emitted as the boards resumed their accustomed places.
"Here you be," said the woman at last as she stopped before the rooms at the end of the hall-way.
"We're directly over the bar-room, aren't we?" inquired John as another noisy outburst came from below.
"Yes, but you won't mind that after a bit," explained the landlady. "You'll get used to it same as I have. I go to sleep and don't pay no more attention to the noises than I do to the wind that blows."
By this time she had opened the doors, which were unlocked, and entered the rooms.
The boys looked ruefully at one another when they became aware in the dim light of the condition of the rooms to which they had been shown.
"I don't believe those windows have seen soap and water since the Erie Canal was built," whispered George to Grant. "When did you say that was?"
"Keep quiet a minute, Pop," retorted Grant.
The rain was beating against the windows with renewed force. The storm apparently was at its height. For them to go on in the Black Growler was almost impossible. There was nothing to be done, except to make the best of the conditions in which they now found themselves.
Soon after the withdrawal of their landlady, who had been paid in advance for the use of the rooms, although breakfast was not included as the boys explained they might have to leave the village before sunrise, they prepared for bed. They were thoroughly tired by the new experiences of the past day and in spite of their surroundings and the noise of the men below and of the storm, which still was raging, they decided to retire.
Their rooms did not connect and as George and Grant withdrew, Fred said, "If we need your help in the night, fellows, don't fail to come right away."
"Are you scared, Peewee?" laughed George.
"Yes, I am, and I don't mind saying so," retorted Fred. "I don't like the sound that comes from that room downstairs."
Fred's feelings were not relieved when he found it was impossible to lock the doors. An old fashioned iron latch was the only means by which each door was opened and there were not even bolts or buttons by which the door could be fastened.
"I'm going to put a chair against the door," said Fred. "I'm afraid something will happen before morning."
Nor was Fred disappointed, for two hours after the boys were in bed the door of the room which Fred and John occupied was stealthily opened by some one in the hall.
 The Go Ahead Boys and the Mysterious Old House.
AN UNWELCOME PARTY
"Who's there? Who's there?" demanded Fred sharply.
The noise in the room below had prevented him from sleeping soundly. Several times he sat erect in bed, convinced that some one was in the room. Even when his fears proved to be groundless he was unable to ignore the shouts and songs and calls that frequently indicated that the men in the room below were angry. Before he had retired he had obtained a glimpse of the shouting assembly when a door had been opened and the sight had not soothed his feelings. And now he was positive some one was trying to open the door of their room.
Aroused by the call of his friend, John also quickly sat up and stared about him. There was no mistaking the fact that some one was trying to enter by the door which yielded slightly to the pressure and the chair which had been placed by Fred to protect them had been moved back a few inches from its place.
"Who's there? Who's there?" demanded Fred sharply.
No reply was given to his question although the door slowly was closed again and the sound of the footsteps of some one moving down the hall was plainly heard.
"What do you suppose that was?" demanded Fred in a whisper.
"Somebody was trying to break in," replied John.
"What do you suppose he wanted?"
"He wanted to get in."
"I don't know. You'll have to ask him, I guess," replied John drowsily for by this time he had resumed his place on the pillow.
"I think he wanted our money," suggested Fred.
"He didn't want much then. Maybe he wanted our money and our lives."
"All the same I'm scared. I don't like this place. I don't know why we stopped here. It must be past one o'clock now and yet hear those men yell down there in the bar-room. I'm going to see what time it is."
Fred climbed out of bed and striking a match looked at his watch. "It's quarter past one," he said, but the sound which came from John did not indicate that he was specially interested in the report of the watch.
Fred looked out of the window and saw that the storm long since had passed. The air was cool and fresh and had it not been for the uproar in the hotel the night would have been an ideal one.
Before he rejoined his companion Fred replaced the chair so that it barred the opening of the door.
Convinced that he had done all in his power he climbed back into bed once more and in spite of his declaration when daylight came that he had not been asleep John was not convinced.
"Come on, String," said Fred when once more he had looked at his watch to discover the time. "It's five o'clock. It's time for us to be moving. I wouldn't have breakfast in this hole if they paid me for it."
"Why can't you leave a fellow alone and let him sleep? I'm tired. I got left at Poughkeepsie and I had a hard day yesterday too."
"No, sir," said Fred firmly. "This party starts from this place in thirty minutes. Any one who isn't ready will have to come by canal-boat. The Black Growler leaves here at five-thirty sharp."
With a groan John arose and began to dress, although he protested feelingly all the time against the unreasonable demands of Fred.
The other two Go Ahead boys were speedily aroused and twenty minutes later they departed from the hotel.
"It looks worse in the morning than it does at night and we thought that wasn't possible when we came here last evening," said George when the Go Ahead boys looked behind them after their departure.
"I think I will send that landlady a Christmas present of a cake of soap," said Grant soberly.
"She wouldn't know what it was for," laughed John, "if you did."
"My, I would like to hear what my mother would say if she could see the inside of that old tavern."
"The worst thing of all," said Fred, "was the riot in the bar-room. I didn't sleep a wink last night."
"You didn't sound that way, Freddie," said George.
"What time did the noise downstairs stop, Peewee?" inquired John.
"It didn't stop, I guess," laughed Fred. "The landlady said the storm drove all the canal-men into the house, but it didn't seem to me there was anything that drove them out. I shouldn't like to meet one of those men in a dark alley."
"You don't have to meet them," suggested George. "We have lived through the night somehow and are all safe. Now if the Black Growler is ready we are. We'll get our breakfast at Rome, I suppose."
"That's what we will," said Fred, quickening his pace as he spoke.
"Look yonder!" exclaimed John, abruptly halting as he spoke and pointing in surprise at their motor-boat, which was only a few yards distant.
In response to his suggestion the Go Ahead boys all stopped and stared in amazement at the sight before them.
On board the Black Growler were at least a half-dozen men and it required no explanation to enable the boys to understand that they were a part of the noisy assembly which had made night hideous in the hotel.
"Here," called Fred, running ahead of his companions. "What are you doing in that boat?"
"Who are you?" demanded one of the occupants, turning and facing Fred as he spoke.
"That's my boat," declared Fred.
"You don't say so!" replied the man in shrill tones, at which his companions laughed loudly.
For a moment Fred stopped and stared blankly at the men, who had apparently made themselves fully at home on board his motor-boat. The awnings had been taken in and the self-invited guests had been examining various parts of the fleet little craft.
"Did you ever hear," continued the spokesman, "that possession is nine points of the law and that the tenth isn't worth fighting about? Maybe we'll ask you to prove that this boat is yours. According to the records of my private secretary this here yacht is mine. I'm goin' on a cruise up to Buffalo and I have invited a few o' my pals to come along with me."
The men were a brutal and powerful lot. Every one showed the effect of the night which he had spent in the bar-room. The boys were powerless to compel them to leave the boat if they did not choose to do so.
The predicament in which the Go Ahead boys now found themselves seemed to appeal strongly to the men on board. They laughed loudly and the leader who had spoken before, said, "Why don't you come on board? If this boat is yours all you have to do is to come and take it."
"It is, all right. That is our boat," said Fred.
"If you don't get out I shall have to get some one to put you out."
"Don't be so unkind, mister," retorted the leader, while his companions again united in a shout of glee. "There aren't many men around this place that will want to undertake that job. If you would really like to have us go ashore it seems to me the best plan would be for you to come and throw us out."
Once more the unwelcome guests laughed loudly at the words of their leader, while the confusion among the Go Ahead boys became more marked.
Withdrawing a few feet from the bank Fred called his companions about him and in low tones they discussed the course of action which they ought to follow.
"We had better go up and get the constable," suggested John. "Get out a warrant for these men. They won't make any trouble even if the constable comes down alone."
"I'm not so sure," said Fred. "What do you think, Grant?"
"I don't believe the men intend to stay on board," replied Grant. "They probably were attracted by the appearance of the Black Growler and when they saw us coming they put up a bold front and just tried to scare Fred."
"What do you think is the best thing to do?" inquired Fred.
"My suggestion is to go back to the boat, not have much to say to the men and get ready to start. They won't bother us, at least I don't believe they will."
"What shall we do if they make trouble?"
"It will be time enough to decide that when we have to," replied Grant. "I'm sure they won't make any trouble after they see that we are going to start."
"All right, we'll try it," said Fred dubiously, and once more returning to the place where the Black Growler was awaiting them, the three bags which contained the belongings of the boys were placed on board and ignoring the bantering of the men, they at once prepared to cast off.
"You don't mean to say we're going to start now, do you?" inquired the leader.
"Yes," said Fred shortly.
"Why, we didn't think you'd go for an hour yet. We haven't got our trunks."
Again his companions laughed loudly at the wit of their leader, but as yet not one of them had made any move to leave the boat.
Fred's alarm was plain in spite of the boldness with which he cast off the bow line. Grant already had performed a similar service with the stern line and the boys were now ready to depart.
"It's nice of you to invite us to go along with you," said the leader. "This is a purty little boat and me and my pals will enjoy a ride in her."
"We're going to start now," said Fred quietly, striving to conceal his fear.
"Why, I guess we're ready, aren't we?" said the leader as he glanced at his companions.
"I reckon we are, cap'n," replied one of the men.
The six men occupied most of the available space on board the little boat. Striving to appear indifferent to their presence Fred advanced to the wheel, turned on the power and prepared to depart.
THE COMING OF THE CALEDONIA
In response to Fred's action there was a loud shout of protest from the men on board. Every one still was manifesting the effect of the drunken spree through which they had passed the preceding night. As yet, however, they had not offered any violence and although Fred's heart was beating rapidly he resolutely stuck to his task and in a brief time the Black Growler darted forward like a thing alive.
For a moment the uninvited passengers apparently were startled by the unexpected action of the young captain. They speedily recovered, however, from their surprise, and one of the men turning to the leader said, "My, ain't she purty, Jim!"
"She is that," replied Jim promptly. "She looks better than she did when I took my last trip to Niag'ra. When I left my house on Fifth Avenoo I didn't think she'd ever measure up to what she was that time, but she is goin' one better. Yes, sir, she's all that you say she is."
Still the men did not interfere with Fred in his management of the motor-boat. Apparently too they did not have any objection to the voyage. Indeed the Go Ahead boys already were aware of the fact that every one of their self-invited guests had brought a small bundle with him. They naturally inferred that these bundles contained most of the earthly possessions of their noisy passengers.
"How is it, Jim!" called another of the men. "Isn't it about time we had breakfast?"
"That's right," spoke up another. "I'm hungry, too. Seems to me I would like one o' them grape fruits."
"Grape fruits? You don't know what they be," retorted Jim.
"You tell us what they be," responded the man, unabashed by the rebuke of the leader.
"Don't you know?" retorted Jim scornfully. "Why grape fruit's the stuff that grows on grape vines."
"Get out!" said the other one. "I guess I know enough about the country to know that grapes grow on grape vines."
"In course they do," acknowledged Jim, "but this isn't grapes, this is grape FRUIT. It takes a special vine to grow it."
"Does it grow right on the vine?"
"In course it does. What do you think, it grows under the ground like tomatoes?"
"Tomatoes don't grow under the ground," spoke up another of the party. "It's potatoes that grow under the ground."
"It's all one," retorted Jim glibly. "Potatoes and tomatoes. I knew one grew in the air and the other grew in the ground."
"What about the grape fruits, Jim?" demanded the first speaker.
"Well, they grow on the vines. They are just like big yeller grapes. Many 's a time out on my country estate I have climbed the ladder and picked 'em from the vines that grow so high they hid the sight of the street from the piazzy of my bungaloo."
"I'm wondering where you got this yacht, Jim," inquired another.
"Never mind how I got it as long as we have got it. That's the main thing," interrupted another one. "What I want to know, is about those grape fruits we're talking about. How does it taste?"
"Fine. Fine," answered Jim promptly. Then turning to the boys he inquired, "Have you got anything on board to eat?"
"You see that monemint up yonder," interrupted another pointing to a tall granite shaft that could be seen in the distance. The entire party including the boys at once looked in the direction indicated and saw a beautiful memorial stone, although few of them were aware of what it commemorated.
"Yes, that's my granddad's tombstone," said one of the tramps.
"I guess he must have been some man," exclaimed one of his companions. "It's a pity the rest of the family didn't take after him."
"We did, but we didn't want to hog the whole thing. We had to let some one else have a chance too."
Meanwhile the Black Growler was speeding swiftly over the waters of the Erie Canal. Fred was driving at high speed and as the boat sped forward he was keenly watching for the coming of a boat that might provide help for the Go Ahead boys in their predicament.
Several canal-boats had been passed, but there was no one on board who appeared to be able to help.
The unwelcome guests still talked noisily to one another, but in the main they ignored the boys and as yet had not offered any violence.
"Who's running this 'ere boat, Jim?" suddenly spoke up one of the passengers. "I thought you said this was your yacht."
"I did say so," answered Jim promptly. "I'm just taking out a pleasure party. Didn't you never go to no picnic afore? I want you to be good, for we have got comp'ny on board. When you have got guests you have to be perlite whether you want to be or not."
Still the Black Growler was moving swiftly. The waters over which she was passing seethed and boiled as if they had been heated by unseen fires. Even Fred had lost a part of his alarm as he began to suspect that his uninvited passengers did not know how to manage the boat. If they did, it was difficult to understand why they had not yet driven the boys away and taken charge.
There was another thought in Fred's mind that was perplexing. He suspected that the supply of gasoline was running low. He had neglected to have the tank filled the preceding night, believing that he had a supply ample to carry them forward until they could obtain more. Suppose the motor-boat should stop? What would the men do? They might accuse him of deliberately stopping and in that event he was aware that there might be serious trouble. Indeed, he was still puzzled to understand why the men appeared to be so contented. If they had been workers on the canal, or had been employed by any of the boats why was it that they were free this morning? He was aware that the little city of Rome could not be far away.
If once he should be able to bring the Black Growler safely within the borders of the city he was confident he would be able to rid himself speedily of the men, whose presence with every passing moment was becoming more difficult to bear.
He looked eagerly ahead for signs of the city. He was unable to discover any, however, but his fears increased as he became more positive that his supply of gasoline was low. If only it would last a half-hour longer!
On either side of the canal was a level stretch of country and near to the water no houses were to be seen. His friends had taken seats on the deck forward. In low tones they conversed among themselves, but Fred was too busy in his own task either to heed what they were saying or to join in their conversation.
A few minutes later, after the speed of the boat had materially decreased, Fred said abruptly, "We have got to stop."
"What for?" demanded the leader, quickly rising as he spoke and turning toward the young pilot.
"Our gasoline is gone."
"Look here, young fellow," said the leader of the gang after he had silently glared at Fred a moment, "I don't want you to try any of your games on us. We're bad men. Now then, you keep this boat goin'," he added threateningly.
"I only wish I could do it," said Fred.
"Are you givin' us straight goods when you say your gasoline is gone?"
"What are you goin' to do?"
"Nothing. That's the trouble. You can't do anything without gasoline. I am thinking of letting some of my passengers go ahead and get enough to carry us into the town. Do you know how far it is to Rome?"
"Must be about three mile."
"That wouldn't be very much of a walk," said Fred glibly.
For some unexplained reason his courage now had returned and he stood in less fear of his rough and noisy guests.
"What are you goin' to do?" again demanded the leader.
"There isn't anything I can do," retorted Fred sharply, "unless some of you will go ahead and get some gasoline."
"That's right, Jim," spoke up one of his companions. "We'll go and get his gasoline. Tell him to give us four dollars and we'll get a good supply."
"That's right," spoke up Jim quickly. "We can't get gasoline without some money."
"Oh, one of us will go along and pay the bills," spoke up John, who up to this point had taken no part in the conversation.
"How much money you got?"
"I guess we have got just enough to buy fifteen gallons of gasoline."
"All right, then, give it to us and we'll get the gasoline for you."
"I told you that we shan't give you the money," said John. "We'll go with you. Perhaps we can get a ride on a canal-boat or something."
"You won't save much time that way," retorted Jim. "The only thing to do is to let us have the money and save yourselves a lot of trouble."
"We're not going to give you any money," said John quietly. "I told you that before. The thing for you to do is to clear out, every one of you if you don't want to help."
Unknown to his companions John had been keeping a careful outlook on the canal behind them. In the distance he had seen a yacht approaching that he was confident was the Caledonia, which they had passed when first they had set forth on their voyage. He was confident also that the coming of the yacht, together with the number of men that comprised her crew, would be sufficient to overawe the half-dozen men that had forced their company upon the Go Ahead boys.
"Yonder comes the Caledonia!" he exclaimed suddenly. "They will give us a lift as soon as they catch up with us."
Instantly the eyes of every one on board the Black Growler were turned toward the approaching yacht.
Apparently the sight had markedly different effects. The Go Ahead boys were elated, but their passengers after a hasty glance and a few words spoken in low tones to one another, instantly seizing their bundles leaped ashore and ran swiftly toward the road which was not more than fifty yards distant.
A FRIEND IN NEED
In response to the signal of distress which Fred waved from the deck of the Black Growler as the Caledonia approached, the speed of the big yacht was checked and she stopped not far from the motor-boat. It was still early in the morning and the owners or guests on board the Caledonia were not seen on deck.
"What's wrong? What's the trouble?" called the captain, leaning over the rail and speaking to Fred.
"We have had trouble," replied Fred. "A gang of tramps or canal men forced themselves on board and we have just gotten rid of them. When they saw the Caledonia coming they all ran."
"Well, if you have got rid of them," said the captain gruffly, "what more do you want? If you go ahead they won't catch up with you."
"But we can't go ahead."
"Our gasoline is out."
"We don't run by gasoline," said the captain, "and I'm afraid steam wouldn't do you any good."
"Perhaps you might give us a tow as far as Rome."
"Perhaps we might and then—"
"What's the trouble?" Fred looked up quickly as he saw a man about fifty years of age approaching the rail and standing near the captain of the yacht. He wore a yachting cap and it was plain to the perplexed boy that he either was the owner of the beautiful boat or one whose word counted for much.
"We have had our troubles," explained Fred once more. "A gang of tramps forced their way on board our boat and they have just left us. Our gasoline is out and I was asking the captain if he would be willing to give us a tow as far as Rome."
"Of course he will," said the man heartily. "Have you got a painter long enough?"
"I'm afraid not," replied Fred.
"Then we'll toss you a rope."
The captain at once responded to the word of the man who had been speaking to Fred and in a brief time a rope was thrown on board the little motor-boat.
"Are you all ready?" called the man from the deck.
"Yes, sir," replied Fred heartily, for by this time he and his friends had made the rope fast and were prepared to start.
"All right then, captain, go ahead."
The Caledonia at once resumed her way and the Black Growler obediently followed about twenty-five feet behind the larger boat.
Before they arrived at Rome other people, in addition to the man who assisted the boys, were seen on the deck of the Caledonia. It was evident that the party had not followed the example of the Go Ahead boys in spending any nights at hotels. They slept on board and the port-holes of what undoubtedly were beautiful little cabins were plainly seen along the sides of the yacht.
It was manifest too that the story of the misfortunes of the Go Ahead boys was speedily told, for a party of five young people in addition to the older ones assembled in the stern of the Caledonia and laughingly greeted the boys in the boat that was being towed.
A short time afterward the boats entered the little city of Rome. When they arrived at a place where a landing safely could be made Fred shouted to the people on the Caledonia, "We'll cast off now. Thank you for all you have done. You have helped us out of a bad fix."
"You're very welcome, I'm sure," replied the man who had arranged for their relief from their predicament.
"Are you going down the St. Lawrence?" he added.
"Yes, sir," replied Fred, "as far as Alexandria Bay."
"Then we may see you again," called the man. "We expect to be on an island near there. My name is Stevens. If you expect to be in Alexandria Bay very long don't fail to look us up."
"Thank you, sir," replied Fred, and his companions were as interested as he in his word. "We certainly shall do so. Thank you again for all that you have done to help us."
The Caledonia quickly resumed her voyage, while the boys waving their handkerchiefs in response to the tokens of good will that came from the strangers who had helped them, speedily made their boat fast and went ashore.
In response to their inquiries they were directed to a place where they could obtain a breakfast and not many minutes had elapsed before the four Go Ahead boys were seated about a table busily engaged in their repast.
"I tell you I'm hungry," said John as he called for a second piece of beefsteak.
"That's the way you would be all the time," said George, "if you would only get up early in the morning."
"That doesn't go. I was up all night long," spoke up Fred. "I didn't sleep any last night."
"I noticed that," said Grant. "The sound that came from your room showed very plainly that you were not sleeping and yet I cannot understand why a fellow should make all those noises if he is wide awake."
"It was John you heard," retorted Fred.
"Yes, I heard John too," said Grant. "It was a duet most of the time. Now aren't you glad," he added, "that I told you how wide the Erie Canal is? You see there was plenty of room for the Caledonia to pass us and take us in tow."
"How wide is the Erie Canal?" spoke up George. "I don't believe you can remember it now yourself. You haven't your notes with you. None of that," he added quickly as Grant felt in his pocket for a paper. "Tell me on your word of honor how wide the Erie Canal is."
"Seventy feet wide on the surface and fifty-six feet wide at the bottom," said Grant promptly.
"I suppose we'll have to take your word for it," said George as his friends laughed at his discomfiture. "We can't dispute you and even if you don't know anything about it you tell it as if you believed it to be the most solemn truth in the world."
"It's true, just as I'm telling you," said Grant.
"How about the new canal that New York State is building now?"
"I have told you about that too," said Grant, "but then you have to have a good many review lessons with some people."
"That's all right, but just the same tell me about the new canal. How wide is it?"
"That's one hundred and twenty-three to one hundred and seventy-one feet wide on the surface, and seventy-five feet wide at the bottom. Of course there are some places," Grant added, "when it runs into a lake or a pond where it is a good deal wider than that. But as far as the digging is concerned that's the width."
"Is it deeper than the Erie Canal?"
"Yes, sir. The Erie Canal is about seven feet deep and the new one is about twelve feet deep. It's going to be deep enough to take in boats of three thousand tons."