Carol Norton.

The Phantom Yacht





Gee-whiliker! Dick ejaculated, removing his cap and wiping his brow. Talk about buried treasure. If its as hard to get at as it is to get through this door, I

He was interrupted by the younger girl, who said: Lets pretend there is a treasure behind this door, and after all, maybe there is. Perhaps the air pilot is a smuggler of some kind and brings things here to hide. Dories had made a suggestion which had not occurred to the boys.

Thats so! Dick agreed. But if he gets into the next room, he must have an entrance around at the back of the ruin. No one has been through this door since the flood undermined the old house.

Gib was still trying to open the stubborn door. He put his shoulder against it. Come on, Dick, help a fellow, will you? he sang out.

The boys pushed as hard as they could and the door moved just the least bit, then seemed to wedge in a way that no further assaults upon it could effect.

Whizzle! What if that pilot feller is on the other side holdin it. What if he is?

But he couldnt be, Nann protested. We all agreed long ago that he couldnt be here because how could he arrive in the airplane without being heard?

I know what Im a-goin to do, Gibs expression was determined. Im a-goin to smash a hole in that ol door and crawl through.

Dick sprang to get a heavy stone from one of the crumbling side walls and Gib, having procured another, the two boys began a battering which soon resulted in a loud splintering sound and one of the heavy panels was crashed in.

Gib wiggled his way through and Dick handed him the searchlight. Huh, were bright uns, we are! came in a muffled voice from the other room. Thars as much rubbish a holdin the door on this side as thar was on the other, but I, fer one, jest wont move a stick o it.

No need to! Nann said blithely. Make that hole a little bigger and we can all go through the way you did.

This was quickly done and the boys assisted the two girls through the opening. Then they stood close together looking about them as Dick flashed the light. The room was not quite as much of a wreck as the salon had been. In it a mahogany table stood and the chairs with heavily carved legs and backs had been little harmed. With a little cry of delight, Nann dragged Dories toward an old-fashioned mahogany sideboard. Dont you love it? she said enthusiastically, turning a glowing face toward her companion. Wouldnt you adore having it? But before Dories could voice her admiration, Dick, having looked at his watch, exclaimed: Gee-whiliker, Ill have to beat it if I am to catch that early train back to Boston. I hate to break up the party. He hesitated, glancing from one to the other.

Of course you must go! Nann, the sensible, declared. Theres another week-end coming. Then turning to her friend, who was still holding the picture, she said: Dori, lets leave the painting of our princess standing on the old mahogany sideboard. When this had been done, she addressed the picture: Good-bye, Lady of the Phantom Yacht.

Keep those sweet blue eyes of yours wide open that you may tell us what mysterious things go on in this old ruin while we are away.

The pictured eyes were to gaze upon more than the pictured lips would be able to tell.

CHAPTER XXIII
LETTERS OF IMPORTANCE

The young people found the grey of dawn in the sky when they emerged through the hole under one corner of the roof and a new terror presented itself. What if the receding tide had left their boat high and dry. But luckily there was still enough water in the narrow creek to take them out to the cove. Since they were in haste, the sail was put in place and a brisk wind from the land took them out and around the point. There was still too high a surf to make possible a landing on the platform rock and so the girls were obliged to go with the boys as far as the inlet in which Gib kept his punt. The white horse had been tied to a scrubby tree near, but, before he mounted, Dick took off his hat and held out a hand to each of the girls in turn, assuring them that he had been ever so glad to meet them and that if all went well, he would return the following week-end.

And we will promise not to visit the old ruin again until you come, Nann told him. The boys face brightened. O, I say! he exclaimed, thats too much to ask. But Gib assured him that half the fun was having him along.

Just before they rode away, Dick turned to call: Keep a watch-out on our cabin, will you, Nann? I really dont believe anyone has been there, however. Mother remembered that she had left the back door open.

All right. We will. Good-bye.

Slowly the girls walked toward their home-cabin. Do you suppose we ought to tell Aunt Jane that we visited the old ruin at midnight? Dories asked.

Why, no, dear, I dont, was the thoughtful reply. Your Aunt Jane told us to do anything we could find to amuse us, dont you recall, that very first day after we had opened up the cottage and were wondering what to do?

Dories nodded. I remember. She must have heard us talking while we were dusting and straightening the living-room. That was the day that I said I believed the place was haunted, and you said you hoped there was a ghost or something mysterious.

Nann stopped and faced her companion. Her eyes were merry. Dori Moore, she exclaimed, I believe your aunt did hear my wish and that she has been trying to grant it by writing those mysterious messages and leaving them where we would find them.

Maybe you are right, her friend agreed. I wish we could catch her in the act. Then Dories added: Nann, if Aunt Jane is really doing that just for fun, then she cant be such an old grouch as I thought her. You know I told you how I was sure that I heard her chuckling.

The older girl nodded, then as the back porch of the cabin had been reached, they went quietly up the steps and into the kitchen.

Its going to be a long week waiting for Dick to return, Dories said as she began to make a fire in the stove. What shall we do to pass away the time?

Nann smiled brightly. O, well find plenty to do! she said. There is that box of books in the loft. Surely there will be a few that we would like to read and that your Aunt Jane would like to hear. We have left her alone so much, Nann continued, dont you think this last week that we ought to spend more time adding to her happiness if we can?

Dories flushed. I wish Id been the one to say that, she confessed, since Great-Aunt Jane loved my father so much when he was a boy.

Although the girls had their breakfast early, it was not until the usual hour that Dories took the tray in to her aunt. Nann followed with something that had been forgotten. They were surprised to see the old woman propped up in bed reading the book of ghost stories which Dories had left in the room. She fairly beamed at them when they entered. Then she asked, Do you girls believe in ghosts?

Oh, no. Aunt Jane, Dories began rather hesitatingly. That is, I dont believe that I do.

The sharp grey eyes, in which a twinkle seemed to be lurking, turned toward Nann. Do you? she asked briefly.

No, indeed, Miss Moore, I do not, was the emphatic reply, then, just for mischief, the girl asked, Do you?

Indeed I do, was the unexpected response. A ghost visited me last night and told me that you girls had gone with Gibralter Strait and the Burton boy over to visit the old ruin.

Aunt Jane! Miss Moore! came in two amazed exclamations.

We did go. I sincerely hope you do not object, the older girl hastened to say.

No, I dont object. Theres nothing over there that can hurt you. Now Id like my breakfast, if you please.

When the girls returned to the kitchen, Dories whispered, Nann, how in the world did she know?

The older girl shook her head. Mysteries seem to be piling up instead of being solved, she said.

Do you suppose Aunt Jane knows who the air pilot is and why he goes to the old ruin? Dories wondered as they went about their morning tasks.

Ill tell you what, lets stay around home pretty closely for a few days and see if anyone does visit Aunt Jane, shall we?

The old woman seemed to be glad to have the companionship of the girls. They read to her in the morning, and on the third afternoon their suspicions were aroused by the fact that their hostess asked them why they stayed around the cabin all of the time. It was quite evident to them that she wanted to be left alone.

Would it be too far for you to walk into town and see if there isnt some mail for me? Miss Moore inquired early on the fourth morning of the week. I am expecting some very important letters. That boy Gibralter was told to bring them the minute they came, but these Straits are such a shiftless lot. Then, almost eagerly, looking from one girl to another, she inquired: It isnt too far for you to walk, is it? You can hire Gibralter to bring you back in the stage.

Wed love to go, Nann said most sincerely, and Dories echoed the sentiment. The truth was the girls had been puzzled because Gib had not appeared. Indeed, nothing had happened for four days. Although they had searched everywhere they could think of, there had been no message for them telling in how many days they would know all. An hour later, when they were walking along the marsh-edged sandy road leading to town, they discussed the matter freely, since no one could possibly overhear. If Aunt Jane really has been writing those notes and leaving them for us to find, do you suppose that she has stopped writing them because she thinks we suspect her of being the ghost? Dories asked.

I dont see why she should suspect, as we have said nothing in her hearing; in fact, we were out on the beach when I told you that I thought your Aunt Jane might be writing the notes, Nann replied.

Dories nodded. That is true, she agreed. Then she stopped and stared at her companion as she exclaimed: Nann Sibbett, I dont believe that Aunt Jane writes them at all. I believe Gibralter Strait does. There hasnt been a note for four days anywhere in the cabin, and Gib hasnt been to the point in all that time. There, now, doesnt that seem to prove my point?

It surely does! Nann said as they started walking on toward the town. Only I thought we agreed that probably Gib couldnt write. But I do recall that he said he went to a country school in the winter months when his father didnt need him to help in the store.

If Gib writes them he is a good actor, Dories commented. He certainly seemed very much surprised when we showed him the notes, you remember.

Nann agreed. Its all very puzzling, she said, then added, What a queer little hamlet this is? They were passing the first house in Siquaw Center. I dont suppose there are more than eight houses in all, she continued. What do you suppose the people do for a living?

Work on the railroad, I suppose, Nann guessed. They had reached the ramshackle building that held the post office and general store when they saw Gib driving the stage around from the barns. Hi thar! he called to them excitedly. I got some mail for youns. I was jest a-goin to fetch it over, like I promised Miss Moore. It didnt come till jest this mornin. Thars some mail for youns, too. A letter from Dick Burton. He writ me one along o yourn.

The girls climbed up on the high seat by Gibs side. The day had been growing very warm as noon neared and they had found it hard walking in the sand, and so they were not sorry that they were to ride back. Gib gave them two long legal envelopes addressed to Miss Moore and the letter from Dick.

Eagerly Nann opened it, as it had been written especially to her, and after reading it she exclaimed: Well, isnt this queer?

What? Dories, who was consumed with curiosity, exclaimed.

Dick writes that he told his mother that he had found that upper front room window open and the blind swinging, but she declares that she knows all of the upper windows were closed and the blinds securely fastened. She had been in every room to try them just before she left, and that was what had delayed her so long that, in her hurry, she took the key out of the back door, hung it in its hiding place, without having turned it in the lock. Dick says that hes wild to get back to Siquaw, and that the first thing he is going to do is to search in that upper room for clues.

Gib nodded. Thats what he wrote into my letter. Hes comin down Friday arter school lets out, sos well have more time over to the ruin. Dick says hes sot on ferritin out what that pilot fella does thar.

Old Spindly seemed to feel spryer than usual and trotted along the sandy road at such a pace that in a very little while they had reached the end of it at the beach.

Wall, so long, Gib called when the girls had climbed down from the high seat, but before they had turned to go, he ejaculated: By time, if I didnt clear fergit ter give youns the rest o yer mail. Here tis! Leaning down, he handed them another envelope. Before they could look at it, he had snapped his whip and started back toward town. The girls watched the old coach sway in the sand for a minute, then they glanced at the envelope. On it in red ink was written both of their names.

Well of all queer things! Nann ejaculated. Tearing it open, they found a message: Today you will know all.

CHAPTER XXIV
A SURPRISING REVELATION

The girls stood where Gib had left them staring at each other in puzzled amazement. Well, what do you make of it? Dories was the first to exclaim. Nann laughingly shook her head. I dont know unless this confirms our theory that Gib writes the notes. I almost think it does.

They started walking toward the cabin. Well, time will tell and a short time, too, if we are to know all today, Dories remarked, then added, That long walk has made me ravenously hungry and we havent a thing cooked up. Then she paused and sniffed. What is that delicious odor? It smells like ham and something baking, doesnt it?

We surely are both imaginative, Nann agreed, for I also scent a most appetizing aroma on the air. But who could be cooking? We left Miss Moore in bed and anyway, of course, it is not she.

They had reached the kitchen door and saw that it was standing open and that the tempting odor was actually wafting therefrom. Puzzled indeed, they bounded up the steps.

A surprising sight met their gaze. Miss Jane Moore, dressed in a soft lavender gown partly covered with a fresh white apron, turned from the stove to beam upon them; her eyes were twinkling, her cheeks were rosy from the excitement and the heat.

Aunt Jane! Miss Moore! the girls cried in astonishment. Ought you to be cooking? Are you strong enough?

Of course I am strong enough, was the brisk reply. Havent I been resting for nearly two weeks? I thought probably you girls would be hungry after your long walk. Then, as she saw the legal envelopes, she added with apparent satisfaction: Well, they have come at last, have they? Put them in on my dresser, Dories; then come right back. It is such a fine day I thought we would take the table out on the sheltered side porch and have a sort of picnic-party.

It was hard for the girls to believe that this was the same old woman who had been so grouchy most of the time since they had known her. Would surprises never cease? The girls were delighted with the plan and carried the small kitchen table to the sunny, sheltered side porch and soon had it set for three.

When they returned they found the flushed old woman taking a pan of biscuits from the oven. How good they looked! Then came baked ham and sweet potatoes, and a brown Betty pudding. The elderly cook seemed to greatly enjoy the girls surprise and delight. They made her comfortable in an easy willowed chair at one end of the table facing the sea and, when the viands had been served, they ate with great relish. To their amazement their hostess partook of the entire menu with as evident a zest as their own. Dories could no longer remain silent. Aunt Jane, she blurted out, ought you to eat so heartily after such a long fast? You havent had anything but tea and toast since we came.

Nann had glanced quickly and inquiringly at the old woman, and the suspicions she had previously entertained were confirmed by the merry reply: Ill have to confess that Ive been an old fraud. Miss Moore was chuckling again. Every time you girls went away and I was sure you were going to be gone for some time, I got up and had a good meal.

But, Aunt Jane, Dories brow gathered in a puzzled frown, why did you have to do that? It would have been a lot more fun all along to have had our dinners all together like this.

Miss Moore nodded. Yes, it would have been, but Im an odd one. There was something I wanted to find out and I took my own queer way of going about it.

D did you find it out, Aunt Jane? Dories asked, almost anxiously.

Yes and no, was the enigmatical answer. Then, tantalizingly, she remarked as she leaned back in her comfortable willow chair, having finished her share of the pudding, This is wonderful weather, isnt it, girls? If it keeps up I wont want to go back next Monday. Perhaps well stay a week longer as I had planned when we first came. Then before the girls could reply, the grey eyes that could be so sharply penetrating turned to scrutinize Dories. You look much better than you did when we came. You had a sort of fretful look as though you had a grudge against life. Now you actually look eager and interested. Then, after a glance at Nann, You are both getting brown as Indians.

Would Miss Moore never come to the subject that was uppermost in the thoughts of the two girls? If she had written the message telling them that today they were to know all, why didnt she begin the story, if it was to be a story?

How Dories hoped that she was to hear what had become of the fortune she had always believed should have been her fathers. Her own mother had never told her anything about it, but she had heard them talking before her father died; she had not understood them, but as she grew older she seemed vaguely to remember that there should have been money from somewhere, enough to have kept poverty from their door and more, probably, since her fathers Aunt Jane had so much.

But Miss Moore rose without having satisfied their burning curiosity. Now, girls, she said, Ill go in and read my letters while you wash the dishes. Later, when the fog drifts in, build a fire on the hearth and Ill tell you a story. Then she left them, going to her own room and closing the door.

Im so excited that I can hardly carry the dishes without dropping them, Dories confided to Nann when at last they had returned the table to its place in the kitchen and were busily washing and drying the dishes. What do you suppose the story is to be about?

You and your mother and father chiefly, I believe, Nann said with conviction.

Aunt Janes saying that she had a story to tell us proves, doesnt it, that she wrote the messages?

I think so, Dori.

I hope the fog will come in early, the younger girl remarked as she hung up the dish-wiper on the line back of the stove.

It will. It always does. Now lets go out to the shed and bring in a big armful of driftwood. Theres one log that Ive been saving for some special occasion. Surely this is it.

As Nann had said, the fog came in soon after midafternoon; the girls had drawn the comfortable willow chair close to the hearth. The wood was in place and eagerly the girls awaited the coming of their hostess. At last the bedroom door opened and Miss Moore, without the apron over her lavender dress, emerged. Although she smiled at them, the discerning Nann decided that the letters had contained some disappointing news. Dories at once set fire to the driftwood and a cheerful blaze leaped up. When Miss Moore was seated the girls sat on lower chairs close together. Their faces told their eager curiosity.

Glancing from one to the other, their hostess said: Dori, you and Nann have been the best of friends for years, I think you wrote me.

Oh, yes, Aunt Jane, was the eager reply, we started in kindergarten together and weve been in the same classes through first year High, but now Nanns father has taken her away from me. They are going to live in Boston. And so a favorite dream of ours will never be fulfilled, and that was to graduate together.

If only your mother would consent to come and live with me, then your wish would be fulfilled, the old woman began when Dories exclaimed, Why, Aunt Jane, I didnt even know that you wanted us to live with you in Boston.

Miss Moore nodded gravely. But I do and have. I have written your mother repeatedly, since my dear nephew died, telling her that I would like you three to make your home with me, but it seems that she cannot forget.

Forget what? Dories leaned forward to inquire. Nann had been right, she was thinking. The something they were to know did relate to her fathers affairs, she was now sure.





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