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The Trial Run

THREE boys sat in the cabin of a sturdy motorboat tied to a dock at Key West and listened to the lapping of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico against the hull of their craft. The faces of the boys were grimy with oil and smudge. Their hands were even more dirty. Their clothes were torn and soiled with grease and tar. But in spite of this, and an obvious weariness which caused them to sit with relaxed and outstretched legs, there was an air of triumph about the trio.

“Well,” remarked the tallest of the three, “we have her hooked up at last.”

“You said it, Beanpole,” murmured a short, stout lad. “And I'm mighty glad of it.”

“It was sure hard work,” agreed the third member. “But it's done!”

“And the next thing,” went on the tall youth, “is to see if she'll work.”

“Oh, she'll work all right!” declared the boy with the brick-colored hair.

“You seem pretty sure of it, Red!” exclaimed the tall one.

“I hope he's right, after all our work,” sighed the stout lad.

“Why shouldn't I be sure of it, Shorty?” asked the one whose conspicuous hair had gained him the nickname of Red. “If the rocket motor made our sled go in Alaska, and if it made the auto scoot over the desert sands, I don't see why the same kind of an engine won't make this boat skip along like nobody's business, eh, Beanpole?”

“Sure, it ought to, Bert,” responded Harry Donovan. “We installed the rocket motor just as Mr. Sarnof told us to, and it ought to be easier for the dingus to send a boat along in water than a sled over grass or an auto over sands.”

“It's the same principle,” commented Dick West-berry.

“Sure it is,” agreed Bert Armitage, as he ran his blackened fingers through his thick, red hair leaving a certain deposit thereon. “Lots of things work in theory, but when it comes to practice it isn't so hot.”

“Well, there's only one thing to do,” observed Harry, trying to find a clean place on one finger so that he might scratch an itching nose. Noting his chum's vain efforts Bert, with a chuckle, advised:

“Rub it on the door.”

“Thanks, it's stopped tickling now,” said the tall lad, wrinkling his nose slightly.

“Then I'll be the goat and ask what one thing more we have to do,” came from Dick. “But if it has anything to do with tightening any more bolts, count me out.

“I didn't mean that,” retorted Harry. “I don't see why it's so hard for you fellows to guess. Now that we have the rocket motor installed we ought to———”

“Don't tell! Let me guess!” begged Dick, playfully, though he, like his chums, was so tired that he did not move from his lazy, reclining position on the locker seat of the cabin.

“Take the Hippocampus out for a trial run,” suggested Bert before his stout companion could get set for saying the same thing.

“That's right!” agreed Harry. “We had our little old Sea Horse out before, with the gasoline motor in, and now that we've worn ourselves to a frazzle putting in the rocket engine, the only way to make sure we can get any speed out of the Hippocampus, with her new outfit, is to take her out to sea.”

“I'm with you there!” echoed Bert. “But I'm not worrying. The rocket motor worked all right on the block.”

“Lots of engines work well on the block and develop a lot of brake horse power,” said Dick. “But when it comes to pushing an auto or a boat they fall down.”

“Well, we'll soon know,” suggested Harry. “Let's go clean up a bit and have a trial run. The weather's fine.”

“Couldn't be better!” agreed Bert.

“And this sure is one nifty little boat, Red!” observed Harry. “It was swell of your uncle to let us have it.”

“Oh, Uncle Ade isn't such a bad sort!” admitted Bert.

“He sure is interested in our rocket motor,” announced Harry.

“That's right, Beanpole!” agreed Bert. “He's been asking me every day, lately, when we're going to try it out.”

“Maybe he'll want to come along,” suggested Harry. “He ought to have the first ride.”

“He's gone off on a business trip and won't be back until tomorrow, fellows,” Bert answered. “I guess we'll have to try it on our own.”

“Come on them—let's go!” called Dick. “I mean let's go and wash. Connecting those controls through what used to be the shaft tunnel of the old Sea Horse was dirty work.”

“At the crossroads!” commented Bert with a chuckling laugh. “But the worst is over.”

The begrimed boys climbed out onto the dock to which several other motor and sailing craft were moored, but before going into the outskirts of Key West, where they were spending their vacation with Mr. Adrian Armitage, Bert's uncle, they turned for another look at the trim and sturdy craft in which they were destined to have many stirring adventures.

“Not a bad little boat,” remarked Harry.

“A peach!” declared Dick.

“And it was a good idea to change the name from Sea Horse to the Hippocampus,” said Bert. “We owe that to you, Harry.”

“It's the same thing, only Latin instead of English,” stated the tall lad.

“Well, it was a swell idea,” was Dick's opinion. “We've got to give you credit for it, Beanpole.”

“Oh, I've a knack that way—it's a gift!” said Harry, airily turning aside the compliment. “Anyhow it sort of makes our boat stand out from the others.”

“The best name around Key West,” declared Bert. “A lot of the dockmen have asked me what it means, and you should see ‘em look when I spout it out.”

“It's a good name and she's a good boat, but she won't be any good unless she runs!” declared Dick.

“We'll soon settle that,” Harry told his chums. “And my guess is that she'll run to beat the band!”

“Well, let's go clean up!” suggested Bert. “We'll have time for a good run before supper.”

“And, boy, can I eat!” murmured Dick.

“You're always hungry!” taunted the tall lad.

“It would make anybody hungry to work the way we've been working the last two weeks!” declared Bert. “But we can depend on Marie to get us up a good feed, even if Uncle Ade isn't home. She says he left word that we had to be fed up.”

Dick and Harry followed their chum to his uncle's house, situated on a quiet side street, not far from the waterfront, and soon they were scrubbing away with sand-soap much to the amazement of Marie, the Spanish cook, who, with her voluble tongue, expressed her opinion of the queer lads who worked so hard to get dirty and then worked so hard to get clean.

“Why they no stay clean all time?” Marie asked Celeste, the maid.

“Who knows?” was the characteristic reply.

Still wearing their old clothes, for they could not tell what changes and adjustments their newly engined craft might need, but with comparatively clean hands and faces, the trio returned to the Hippocampus and prepared to cast off. They were observed by a number of other boatmen and dock workers to whom the reconstruction of the former gasoline-motored craft, Sea Horse, had been a source of many days' wonder.

Truly the Hippocampus was something to wonder at, for her engine was one of the newest known to science—a motor operated on the principle of a skyrocket which surges into the void by reason of the power of gases ejected from the end, the gases being generated by burning powder.

This principle of rocket propulsion had, in the past, been applied to a big sled and also to a caterpillar-traction automobile, in which the boys, who had become known as “rocket riders,” had journeyed to the Sahara Desert in search of an ancient, lost city. Their trip to Alaska had been in company with Mr. Alex Sarnof, a gifted Russian who was a pioneer in adapting the rocket principle to other uses than a pyrotechnic.

So it was with considerable curiosity, not unmingled with scoffing, that a crowd gathered at the dock to see the rocket riders prepare to try their strange craft.

“Well, we might as well start,” observed Bert as he and his chums cast off the last mooring rope and climbed into the cockpit which was aft of the roomy trunk cabin.

“No time like the present,” observed Harry.

“But we'll look pretty sick if we start out and have to be towed back before all this crowd if our rocket motor stalls,” said Dick.

“If she doesn't work the first time she will the second,” declared Harry. “I'm not worrying. I've checked over everything and I'm sure we're right.”

“So am I!” added Bert. “But the crowd will sure give us the razzberry if we don't make good.”

“We shall!” insisted the tall lad.

They pushed the boat away from the dock float with oars which Dick had insisted on carrying, saying:

“If we get stuck before we get out very far we might manage to paddle back.”

“It's going to be hard work to paddle a boat like the Hippocampus, my boy!” objected Bert. But the oars went in.

As the strange craft moved slowly out into the harbor, many comments could be heard amid the watching throng.

“They've lost their propeller!” exclaimed one man. “Better stop ‘em before they get too far from the dock! Their propeller's gone!”

“They never had one!” said a lounger who had spent most of his time during the past week watching the boys work on their boat.

“Never had a propeller!” exclaimed the first speaker. “How in the world can they run a boat without a propeller?”

“This one goes on hot air, I guess,” someone remarked. “Anyhow, I seen a lot of smoke comin' from them tubes under the stern. But she'll never run that way. Not in a thousand years!”

“That's what I say!” chimed in several, and a tall, lanky man added:

“They'll just natchally drift an' some of us'll have t' go out an' tow ‘em in. Well, I'll git my old punt ready. I might as well make a dollar as th' next man.”

Not exactly oblivious of all this talk, but ignoring it, the three boys shoved the Hippocampus out so that she had a clear channel. Then Harry took his place at the auxiliary steering wheel fastened to the after cabin wall forward of the cockpit and called to Bert:

“All ready at the mixing valve?”

“O. K.!” answered the red-haired lad shortly.

“How's your spark, Dick?” asked the tall youth.

“All set to switch on!”

“Then let's go!” ordered Dick, in the role, temporarily, of captain. “Open her up, Bert 1 Shoot your spark, Dick!”

Suddenly there was a rumble and a roar and the Hippocampus trembled, shivered, and shook from bow to stern. Harry grasped the wheel nervously.

Would she run?

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