Carol Norton.

The Phantom Yacht





CHAPTER I
FRIENDS PARTED

The face of Dories Moore was as dismal as the day was bright. It was Indian summer and the maple trees under which she was hurrying were joyfully arrayed in red and gold, while crimson, yellow and purple flowers nodded at her from the gardens that she passed with unseeing eyes. She was almost blinded with tears; her scarlet tam was awry, as though she had put it on hurriedly, and her sweater coat, of the same cheerful hue, was unbuttoned and flapping as she fairly ran down the village street. In her hand was a note which had been the cause of the tears and the haste. On it were a few penciled words:

Dori dear, we are leaving sooner than we expected. Im sending this to you by little Johnnie-next-door. Do come right over and say good-bye to someone who loves you best of all.

Your sister-friend,
Nann.

At a large old colonial house at the edge of the town, just where the meadows began, the girl turned in at a lilac-guarded gate and hurried up the neatly graveled walk. Her eyes were again brimming with tears as she glanced up at the curtainless windows that looked as dismal and deserted as she felt. Hurrying up the steps, she lifted the quaintly carved old iron knocker and shuddered as she heard the sound echoing uncannily through the big unfurnished rooms. Her sensitive mouth quivered when she heard the sound of running feet on bare floors and when the door was flung open by another girl of about the same age, Dori leaped in and, throwing her arms about her friend, she burst into tears.

Why, Dories! Dear, dear Dori, dont cry so hard. There were sudden tears in the warm brown eyes of Nann Sibbett, as for a moment she held her friend tenderly close.

One might think that I was going a million miles away. She tried to speak cheerfully. Boston isnt so very far from Elmwood and some day, soon, I am sure that you will be coming to visit me.

An April-like smile flickered tremulously on the lips of the younger girl as she stepped back and straightened her tam. Well, that is something to look forward to, she confessed. It will be a little strip of silver lining to as black a cloud as ever came into my life. Of course, Dories amended, losing father was terrible, but I was too young to know the loneliness of it, and being poor when we should be rich is awfully hard. Sometimes I feel so rebellious, O, nobody knows how rebellious I feel. But losing ones money is nothing compared to losing ones only friend.

The other girl, who was taller by half a head, actually laughed. Why, Dories Moore, here you talk as though you would not have a single friend left when I have moved away. There isnt a girl at High who hasnt been green with envy because I have had the good fortune to be your best friend ever since we were in kindergarten, and just as soon as Im out of town theyll be swarming around you, each one aspiring to be your pal.

There was a scornful curl on the sensitive lips of the listener.

As though I would let anyone have your place, Nann Sibbett. Never, never, never, not if I live to be a thousand years old. Then with an appealing upward glance, But youll probably like some city girl heaps better than you ever did me. I suppose youll forget all about me soon.

Silly! Nann exclaimed brightly, giving her friend an impulsive hug. Dont you remember when you were eleven and I was twelve, we had a ceremony out in the meadow under the twin elms and we vowed, just as solemnly as we knew how, that we would be adopted sisters and that real born sisters could not be closer.

Dories nodded, smiling again at the pleasant recollection. Do you know, Nann, she put in, I sort of feel that we were intended to be sisters some way. It was such a strange coincidence that our birthdays happened to fall on the same day, the third of September.

Maybe if they hadnt, Nann chimed in, you and I wouldnt have been best friends at all, for, dont you remember, way back in kindergarten days, you were so shy you didnt make friends with anyone, and when Miss Sally wanted to find a seat for you that very first morning, she chose me because it was our birthday. After that, since I was a year older, I felt that I ought to look out for you just as a big sister really should.

Dories nodded, then as she glanced into the bare library, in the wide doorway of which they were standing, she said dismally, O, Nann, what good times weve had in this room. I can almost see now when we were very little girls curled up on that window seat near the fireplace studying our first primer, and on and on until last June when we were cramming for our sophomore finals.

I know. Nann looked wistfully toward the corner which Dories had indicated. I dont believe we will either of us know how to study alone. Then, fearing that tears would come again, she caught her friends hand as she exclaimed, Dories dear, this room is too full of ghosts of our past. Lets go out in the garden. Dad had to go to the bank to finish up some business, and I had to stay here to see that the last load of furniture got off safely. It left just before you came. Were going to store it for a time and live in a very fine hotel in Boston. Wont that be a lark for a change?

Dories spoke bitterly, Well, for one thing I am thankful, and that is that your father didnt lose his money the way my father did, though how it happened I never knew and mother never told me.

Maybe it will all come back some time in a manner just as mysterious, her friend said cheerfully as she led her down the steps around the house. Neither of the girls spoke of Nanns dear mother, who had so recently died, and whose passing had made life in the old house unendurable to the daughter and her father, but they were both thinking of her as they wandered into the garden which she had so loved. Nann slipped an arm about her friend as she paused to look at the blossoms.

Autumn flowers are always so bright and cheerful, arent they, Dori? She was determined to change the younger girls dismal trend of thought. That bed of scarlet salvia over by the evergreen hedge seems to be just rejoicing about something, and the asters, of almost every color, look as though they were dressed for a party. Theyre happy, if we arent.

Stupid things! Dories said petulantly. They dont know or care because you, who have tended and watered and loved them, are going away forever and ever.

Yes, they do know, Nann said, smiling a bit tremulously, for last night when I came out to give them a drink, I told them all about it, but theyre just trying to make the best of it. They know its as hard for me to go away from my old home as it is for them to have me go, but theyre trying to make it easier for me, I guess.

Dories flashed a quick glance up at her companion. Then, impulsively, Oh, Nann, how selfish I always am! Of course its hard for you to leave your old home and go among strangers. Here all the time Ive just been thinking how hard it is for me to have you go. Then, making a little bow toward the bed of radiant asters, the girl of many moods called to them: Youre setting a good example, you little plant folk in your bright blossom tams. From now on Ill be just as cheerful as ever I can. Smiling up at her companion, Dories exclaimed, And all this time Ive had some news that I havent told you. Answering verbally her friends questioning look, she hurried on, Im going away myself for the month of October. At least I suppose I am, and thats one of the things that has made me so dismally blue. Nann stopped in the garden path which they had been slowly circling and gazed into the pretty face of her friend, hardly knowing whether to congratulate or condole. Instead of doing either, she queried, But why are you so dismal about it, Dori? Ive often heard you say that you did wish you could see something of the world beyond Elmwood?

I know it and I still should wish it if you were going with me, but this journey is anything but pleasant to anticipate.

Do tell me about it. Im consumed with curiosity. Nann drew her friend to a garden seat and sat with an arm holding her close. Now start at the beginning. Who are you going with, where and why? The question, simple as it seemed, brought tears with a rush to the violet-blue eyes of the younger girl, but remembering her recent resolve, she sat up ramrod-straight as she replied, making her mouth into as hard a line as she could. The one I am going with is an old crab of a great-aunt whom I have never seen. Im ever so sure she is a crab, although my angel mother always smooths over that part of her nature when shes telling me about her. Shes rich as Cr?sus, if that fabled person really was rich. Im never very sure about those things.

Nann laughed. He was! Youre safe in your comparison. But he got much of his money by taking it away from other people with the cruel taxes he levied.

Oh, well, of course my Great Aunt Jane isnt so terribly rich, Dories modified, but Mother said she had plenty for every comfort and luxury, and whats more, Mums did agree with me when I said that she must be queer. That is, Mother said that even my father, who was Great-Aunt Janes own nephew, couldnt understand her ways. Then, with eyes solemn-wide, the narrator continued: Nann Sibbett, as Ive often told you, I dont understand in the least what became of our inheritance. If Mother knows, she wont tell, but Im suspicious of that crabby old Aunt Jane. I think she has it. There now, thats what I think.

Nann was interested and said so. But, Dori dear, youve sidetracked. You began by saying that you were going somewhere. I take it that your Great-Aunt Jane has invited you to go somewhere with her. Is that right?

It is! the other girl said glumly. But, believe me, I dont look forward to the excursion with any great pleasure. Then she hurried on. Think of it, Nann, that awful old lady has actually requested that I spend the whole dismal month of October with her down on the beach at some lonely isolated place called Siquaw Point.

But if Dories expected sympathy, she was disappointed. Oh, Dori! was the excited exclamation that she heard, I know about Siquaw Point. An aunt of mine went there one summer, and she just raved about the rocky cliffs, the sand dunes and the sea. Id love it, I know, even in the middle of winter, and, dear, sometimes October is a beautiful month. You may have a wonderful time.

But Dories refused to see any hope of happiness ahead. The Garden of Eden would be a dismal place to me if I had to be alone in it with my Great-Aunt Jane.

Nann laughed, then hearing a siren calling from the front, she sprang up, held out both hands to her friend as she exclaimed, Theres my chauffeur-dad waiting to bear me stationward, but, dear, Ive thought of one thing that will help some. To get to Siquaw Point you will have to go through Boston. If youll let me know the day and the hour Ill be at the station to speed you on your way.

How the younger girls face brightened. Nann, darling, she exclaimed, will you truly? Then that will give me a chance to see you again in just a few weeks, maybe only two, for its nearly October now.

Righto! was the cheerful reply. Theres that siren again. I must go. Will you come and say good-bye to Dad?

But the other girl shook her head, her eyes brimming with tears. Id rather not now. You tell him for me. Im going home across lots. I dont want anyone to see how near I am to crying. As she spoke two tears splashed down her cheeks. Nann caught her in a close embrace. Dear, dear sister-friend, she said, Im going to be just as lonely as you are. Then, stooping, she picked an aster and held it out, saying brightly, This golden aster wants to go with you to tell you that were going to be as cheerful as we can, come what may. See you next month, Dori, sure as sure.

Nann turned at the corner of the house to wave, and then Dories walked slowly across lots thinking over the conversation she had had with her dearly loved friend. She paused a moment under the twin elms where, in the long ago, they had vowed to be loyal as any two sisters could be. Then, with a deep sigh, she went on to the cosy brown house under other spreading elms that she called home.

CHAPTER II
BANISHING GHOSTS

There was a cheerful bustle in the kitchen when Dories opened the side door. Her mother was preparing the noon meal with her customary wordless song, although now and then a merry message to the frail boy, who so often sat in a low chair near the stove, was sung to the melody. Just then the newcomer heard the lilted announcement: Footsteps I hear, and now will appear my very dear little daughter.

Dories was repentant. Oh, Mother, if I havent stayed out too late again, and youve had to stop your sewing to get lunch.

Little Peter paused in his whittling long enough to remark, Dori, youve been crying. What for?

But a tactful mother shook her head quickly at the small boy, saying brightly, O, I was glad to stop sewing and stretch a bit. That brocade dress is hard to work on. I dont know how many machine needles it has broken. But since it belongs to a rich person she wont mind paying for them.

After putting the golden aster in a vase, Dories snatched her apron from its hook in the closet and put it on with darkening looks. Mother Moore, she threatened, if you dont go and lie down on the lounge until lunch is ready, Im not going to let you sew a single bit more today. Its just terribly wicked, and all wrong somehow, that you have to make dresses for other women to keep us alive when my very own fathers very own Aunt Jane is simply rolling in wealth, and

Tut! Tut! Little firefly! Her mother laughingly shook a stirring spoon in her direction. If you had ever seen your stately old Aunt Jane, you just couldnt conceive of her rolling in anything. That would be much too undignified.

But, Mother, you know I meant that figuratively, not literally. She is rich and we are poor. Now I ask you what right has one member of a family to have all that his heart desires and another to have to sew for a living.

Little Peter tittered: Its her heart, if its Great-Aunt Jane youre talking about. A sharp retort was on the girls lips when her mother said cheerily, Now, kiddies, lets talk about something else. Mrs. Doran sent us over a whole pint of cream. Shall we have it whipped on those last blackberries that Peter found this morning out in Briary Meadow, or shall I make a little biscuit shortcake?

Shortcake! Shortcake! I want shortcake! Peter sang out.

But, Mother, youre too tired to make one, Dories protested.

Then you make it, Dori, Peter pleaded.

You know I couldnt make a biscuit shortcake, Peter Moore, not if my life depended on it. The girl was in a self-accusing mood. I never learned how to do anything useful. Dories was putting the pretty lunch dishes on a small table in the kitchen corner breakfast-nook as she talked.

The understanding mother, realizing the conflicting emotions that were making her young daughter so unhappy, brought out the flour and other ingredients as she said, Never too late to learn, dear. Come and take your first lesson in biscuit-making.

Half an hour later, as they sat around the lunch table, Dories told as much of her recent conversation with her best friend as she wished to share. Then they had the blackberry shortcake and real cream, and even Peter acknowledged that it was most as good as Mothers.

When the kitchen had been tidied and Peter had gone to his little upper room for the nap that was so necessary for the regaining of his health, Dories went into the small sewing room which formerly had been her fathers den and stood looking discontentedly out of the window. Her mother had resumed sewing on the rich brocaded dress. When the hum of the machine was stilled, she glanced at the pensive girl and said: Dori dear, this is the first afternoon that I can remember, almost, that you have been at home with me. You and Nann always went somewhere or did something. You are going to miss your best friend ever so much, I know, but there was a break in the voice which caused the girl to turn and look inquiringly at her mother, who was intently pressing a seam, and who finished her sentence a bit pathetically, its going to mean a good deal to me, daughter, to have your companionship once in a while.

With a little cry the girl sprang across the room and knelt at her mothers side, her arms about her. O, Mumsie, was there ever a more selfish girl? I dont see how you have kept on loving me all these years. Then her pretty face flushed and she hesitated before confessing: I hate to say it, for it only shows how truly horrid I am, but I liked to be over at Nanns, where the furniture was so beautiful, not threadbare like ours. She was looking through the open door into the living-room, where she could see the old couch with its worn covering. I ought to have stayed at home and helped you with your sewing, but I will from now on.

The mother, knowing that tears were near, put a finger beneath the girls chin and looked deep into the repentant violet blue eyes. Kissing her tenderly, she said merrily, Very well, young lady, if you wish to punish yourself for past neglects, sit over there in my low rocker and take the bastings out of this skirt.

Dories obeyed and was soon busy at the simple task. To change the subject, her mother spoke of the planned trip. It will be your very first journey away from Elmwood, dear. At your age I would have been ever so excited.

The girl looked up from her work, a cloud of doubt in her eyes. Oh, Mother, do you really think that you would have been, if you were going to a summer resort where the cottages were all shut up tight as clams, boarded up, too, probably, and with such a queer, grumphy person as Great-Aunt Jane for company? The girl shuddered. Every time I think of it I feel the chills run down my back. I just know the place will be full of ghosts. I wont sleep a wink all the time Im there. Im convinced of that.

Her mothers merry laugh was reassuring. Ghosts, dearie? she queried, glancing up. Surely you arent in earnest. You dont believe in ghosts, do you?

Well, maybe not, exactly, but there are the queerest stories told about those lonely out-of-the-way places. You know that there are, Mother. I dont mean made-up stories in books. I mean real newspaper accounts.

But it doesnt matter what kind of paper theyre printed on, Dori, her mother put in, more seriously, nothing could make a ghost story true. The only ghosts that haunt us, really, are the memories of loving words left unsaid and loving deeds that were not done, and sometimes, she concluded sadly, it is too late to ever banish those ghosts. Then, not wishing to depress her already heart-broken daughter, she said in a lighter tone, After all, why worry about your visit to Siquaw Point, when, as yet, you havent heard that your Great-Aunt Jane has really decided to go. I expected a letter every day last week, but none came, so she may have given up the plan for this year. Then, after glancing up at the clock, she added, Three, and almost time for the postman. I believe I hear his whistle now.

At that moment Peter bounded in, his face rosy from his nap. Postmans coming, he sang out. Come on, Dori, Ill beat you to the gate.

The girl rose, saying gloomily, This is probably the fatal day. Im just sure therell be a letter from Great-Aunt Jane. I dont see why she chose me when shes never even seen me.

When Dories reached the front door, she saw that Peter was already out in the road, frantically beckoning to her. Hurry along, Dori. The postmans just leaving Mrs. Dorans, he called; then as the mail wagon, drawn by a lean white horse, approached, the small boy ran out in the road and waved his arms.

Mr. Higgins, who had stopped at their door ever since Peter had been a baby, beamed at him over his glasses. Law sakes! he exclaimed, Do I see a bandit? Guess youve been reading stories about Dick Dead-shot holding up mail coaches in the Rockies. Sorry, but there aint nothin for you. Then, smilingly, he addressed the girl. Likely in a day or two Ill be fetchin you a letter, Dori, from your old friend Nann Sibbett. Itll be powerfully lonesome around here for you, I reckon, now shes gone.

The girl nodded. Just awfully lonesome, Mr. Higgins, and please do bring me a letter soon. Just then Johnnie Doran called for Peter to come over and play, and the girl went slowly back to the house.

Her mother looked up inquiringly. No letter at all, Dories announced in so disappointed a tone that she laughingly confessed, Mother, I do believe that Im made up of the contrariest emotions. I do hate the thought of spending that dismal month of October with Great-Aunt Jane at Siquaw Point, but I hate even worse going back to High without Nann.





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