Carol Norton.

The Phantom Yacht





The old woman seemed not to have heard, for she continued looking thoughtfully at the fire. I know that she has forgiven, she said at last. Your mother is too noble a woman not to do that, but her pride will not let her forget. Then, turning toward the girls who sat each with a hand tightly clasped in the others, the speaker continued: I must begin at the beginning to make the sad story clear. I loved your father, as I would have loved a son. I brought him up when his parents were gone. The money belonged to my father and he used to say that he would leave your fathers share in my keeping, as he believed in my judgment. I was to turn it over to my nephew when I thought best. She was silent a moment, then said: When your father was old enough to marry, I wanted him to choose a girl I had selected, but instead, when he went away to study art, he married a school teacher of whom I had never heard. I believed that she was designing and marrying him for his money, and I wrote him that unless he freed himself from the union I would never give him one cent. Of course he would not do that, and rightly. Later, in my anger, I turned over to him some oil stock which had proved valueless and told him that was all he was to have. Then began long, lonely years for me because I never again heard from the nephew whose boyish love had been the greatest joy life had ever brought me. I was too stubborn to give him the money which legally I had the right to withhold from him, and he was so hurt that he would not ask my forgiveness. But, when I heard that my boy had died, my heart broke, and I knew myself for what I was a selfish, stubborn old woman who had not deserved love and consideration. Then, but far too late, I tried to redeem myself in the eyes of your mother. I wrote, begging her to come and bring her two children to my home. I told her how desolate I had been since my boy, your father, had left. Very courteously your mother wrote that, as long as she could sew for a living for herself and her two children, she would not accept charity. Then I conceived the plan of becoming acquainted with you, for two reasons: one that I might discover if in any way you resembled your father, and the other was that I wanted you to use your influence to induce your mother to forget, as well as forgive, and to live with me in Boston and make my cheerless mansion of a house into a real home.

She paused and Dories, seeing that there were tears in the grey eyes, impulsively reached out a hand and took the wrinkled one nearest her.

Dear Aunt Jane, how you have suffered. Nann noted with real pleasure that her friends first reaction had been pity for the old woman and not rebellion because of the act that had caused her to be brought up in poverty. Mother has always said that you meant to be kind, she was convinced of that, but she never told me the story. This is the first time that I understood what had happened. Truly, Aunt Jane, if you really wish it, I shall urge Mother to let us all three come and live with you.

Selfishly I would love to, because I would be near Nann, if for no other reason, but I have another reason. I believe my father would wish it. Mother has often told me that, as a boy, he loved you.

The old woman held the girls hand in a close clasp and tears unheeded fell over her wrinkled cheeks. But its too late now, she said dismally.

Dories and Nann exchanged surprised glances. Too late, Aunt Jane? Dories inquired. Do you mean that you do not care to have us now?

No, indeed, not that! The old woman wiped away the tears, then smiled tremulously. I havent finished the story as yet. This is the last chapter, I fear. I ought to be glad for your mothers sake, but O, I have been so lonely.

Then, seeing the intense eagerness in her nieces face, she concluded with, I must not keep you in such suspense, my dear. That long legal envelope brought me news from your fathers lawyer. It is news that your mother has already received, I presume. The stock, which I turned over to your father years ago, believing it to be worthless, has turned out to be of great value. Your mother will have a larger income than my own, and now, of course, she will not care to make her home with me.

O, Aunt Jane! To the surprise of both of the others, the girl threw her arms about the old womans neck and clung to her, sobbing as though in great sorrow, but Nann knew that the tears were caused by the sudden shock of the joyful revelation. The old woman actually kissed the girl, and then said: I expected to be very sad because I cannot do something for you all to prove the deep regret I feel for my unkind action, but, instead, I am glad, for I know that only in this way would your mother acquire the real independence which means happiness for her. With a sigh, she continued: Ive lived alone for many years, I suppose I can go on living alone until the end of time. Then she added, a twinkle again appearing in her grey eyes, and now you know all.

O, Aunt Jane, then you did write those messages and leave them for us to find?

I plead guilty, the old woman confessed. I overheard you and Nann saying that you wished something mysterious would happen. I had been wondering when to tell you the story, and I decided to wait until I heard from the lawyer. I know you are wondering how Gibralter Strait happened to give you that last message the very day a letter came telling about the stock. That is very simple. One day when Mr. Strait came for a grocery order, you were all away somewhere. I gave him that last message and told him to keep it in our box at the office until a letter should arrive from my lawyer, then they were to be brought over and that letter was to be given to you girls. The old woman leaned back in her chair and it was quite evident that her recent emotion had nearly exhausted her. Nann, excusing herself thoughtfully, left the other two alone.

Dori, the old woman said tenderly, as you grow older, dont let circumstances of any nature make you cold and critical. If I had been loving and kind when your girl mother married my boy, my life, instead of being bleak and barren, would have been a happy one. No one knows how I have grieved; how my unkindness has haunted me.

Just then Dories thought of her sweet-faced mother who had borne the trials of poverty so bravely, and again she heard her saying, The only ghosts that haunt us are the memories of loving words that might have been spoken and loving deeds that might have been done.

Impulsively the girl leaned over and kissed the wrinkled face. I love you, Aunt Jane, she whispered. And I shall beg Mother to let us all live together in your home, if it is still your wish. Then, as Miss Moore had risen, seeming suddenly feeble, Dories sprang up and helped her to her room and remained there until the old woman was in her bed.

When the girl went out to the kitchen where her friend was preparing supper, she exclaimed, half laughing and half crying: Nann Sibbett, Im so brimming full of conflicting emotions, I dont feel at all real. Pinch me, please, and see if I am.

Instead Ill give you a hard hug; a congratulatory one. There! Did that seem real? Then Nann added in her most sensible, matter-of-fact voice: Now, wake up, Dori. You mustnt go around in a trance. Of course the only mystery that you are interested in is solved, and wonderfully solved, but Im just as keen as ever to know the secret the old ruin is holding.

Ill try to be! Dories promised, then confessed: But, honestly, I am not a bit curious about any mystery, now that my own is solved. A moment later she asked: Nann, do you suppose Mother will want me to come home right away?

Why, I shouldnt think so, Dori, her friend replied. You always hear from your mother on Friday, so wait and see what tomorrow brings.

The morrow was to hold much of interest for both of the girls.

CHAPTER XXV
PUZZLED AGAIN

As soon as their breakfast was over, Dories asked her Aunt if she were willing that the girls go to Siquaw Center for the mail. I always get a letter from Mother on the Friday morning train, was the excuse she gave, and, of course, I am simply wild to hear what she will have to say today; that is, if she does know about well, about what you told us that fathers lawyer had written.

Miss Moore was glad to be alone, for she had had a sleepless night. She had long dreamed that, perhaps, when she became acquainted with her niece, that young person might be able to influence the stubborn mother to accept the home that the old woman had offered, and that peace might again be restored to the lonely, repentant heart. But now, just as that dream seemed about to be fulfilled, the mother was placed in a position of complete independence, and so, of course, she would never be willing to share the home of her husbands great-aunt. The desolate loneliness of the years ahead, however few they might be, depressed the old woman greatly. Dories, seeing tears in the grey eyes, stooped impulsively, and, for the second time, she kissed her great-aunt. If you will let me, Im coming to visit you often, she whispered, as though she had read her aunts thoughts. Then away the two girls went.

It was a glorious morning and they skipped along as fast as they could on the sandy road. Mrs. Strait, with a baby on one arm, was tending the general store and post office when the girls entered. No one else was in sight.

Good morning, Mrs. Strait. Is there any mail for Miss Dories Moore? that young maiden inquired.

Yeah, thar is, an a picher card for tother young miss, was the welcome reply.

Dories fairly pounced on the letter that was handed her. Good, it is from Mother! I am almost sure that she will want me to come home, she exclaimed gleefully. But when the message had been read, Dories looked up with a puzzled expression. How queer! she said. Mother doesnt say one thing about the stock; not even that she has heard about it, but she does say that she and Brother are leaving today on a business journey and that she may not write again for some time. Ill read you what she says at the end: Daughter dear, if your Aunt Jane wishes to return to Boston before you again hear from me, I would like you to remain with her until I send for you. Peter is standing at my elbow begging me to tell you that he is going to travel on a train just as you did. I judge from your letters that you and Nann are having an interesting time after all, but, of course, you would be happy, I am sure, anywhere with Nann! Dories looked up questioningly. Dont you think it is very strange that Mother should go somewhere and not tell me where or why?

Nann laughed. Maybe she thought that she would add another mystery to those we are trying to solve, she suggested, but Dories shook her head. No, that wasnt Mothers reason. Perhaps O, well, whats the use of guessing? Who was your card from?

Dad, of course. I judge that he will be glad when his daughter returns. O, Dori, Nann interrupted herself to exclaim, do look at that pair of black eyes peering at us out of that bundle! She nodded toward the baby, wrapped in a blanket, that had been placed in a basket on the counter.

The girls leaned over the little creature, who actually tried to talk to them but ended its chatter with a cracked little crow. He aint a mite like Gib, the pleased mother told them. The rest of us is sandy complected, but this un is black as a crow, an jest as jolly all the time as youns see him now.

What is the little fellows name, Mrs. Strait? Nann asked.

The woman looked anxiously toward the door; then said in a low voice: Im wantin to give the little critter a Christian name Moses, Jacop, or the like, but his Pa is set on the notion of namin em all after geography straits, an I aint one to hold out about nothin. She sighed. But its long past time to christen the poor little mite.

Nann and Dories tried hard not to let their mirth show in their faces. The older girl inquired: Why hasnt he been christened, Mrs. Strait? Cant you decide on a name?

Wall, yo see its this a-way, the gaunt, angular woman explained. Gib didnt fetch home his geography books, an school dont open up till snow falls in these here parts. So babyll have to wait, I reckon, bein as Gib dont recollect no strait names. Then, with hope lighting her plain face, the woman asked: Do you girls know any of them geography names?

Dories and Nann looked at each other blankly. Why, there is Magellan, one said. And Dover, the other supplemented.

Mrs. Strait looked pleased. Seems like that thar Dover one ought to do as wall as any. Please to write it down sos Pa kin see it an tother un along side of it.

The girls left the store as soon as they could, fearing that they would have to laugh, and they did not want to hurt the mothers feelings, and so, after purchasing some chocolate bars, they darted away without having learned where Gib was.

Not that it matters, Nann said when they were nearing the beach. He wont come over, probably, until tomorrow morning with Dick.

But Dick said he would arrive on Friday, Dories reminded her friend.

Yes, I know, but if he leaves Boston after school is out in the afternoon, he wont get there until evening.

They might come over then, Dories insisted. A few moments later, as they were nearing the cabin, she added: There is no appetizing aroma to greet us today. Aunt Jane is probably still in bed. Then, turning toward Nann, the younger girl said earnestly: Truly, I feel so sorry for her. She seems heartbroken to think that Mother and Peter and I will not need to share her home. I believe she fretted about it all night; she looked so hollow-eyed and sick this morning.

Dories was right. The old woman was still in bed, and when her niece went in to see what she wanted, Miss Moore said: Will you girls mind so very much if we go home on Monday. I am not feeling at all well, and, if I am in Boston I can send for a doctor. Here I might die before one could reach me.

Of course we want to go whenever you wish, Dories declared. She did not mention what her mother had written. There would be time enough later.

Out in the kitchen Dories talked it over with Nann. Youll be sorry to go before you solve the mystery of the old ruin, wont you? the younger girl asked.

Nann whirled about, eyes laughing, stove poker upheld. Ill prophesy that the mystery will all be solved before our train leaves on Monday morning, she said merrily.

After her lunch, which this time truly was of toast and tea, Miss Moore said that she felt as though she could sleep all the afternoon if she were left alone, and so Dories and Nann donned their bright-colored tams and sweater-coats, as there was a cool wind, and went out on the beach wondering where they would go and what they would do. Lets visit the punt and see that nothing has happened to it, Dories suggested.

They soon reached the end of the sandy road. Nann glanced casually in the direction of Siquaw, then stopped and, narrowing her eyes, she gazed steadily into the distance for a long moment. Dont you see a moving object coming this way? she inquired.

Dories nodded as she declared: Its old Spindly, of course, and I suppose Gib is on it. I wonder why he is coming over at this hour. It isnt later than two, is it?

Not that even. Dories glanced at her wrist-watch as she spoke. For another long moment they stood watching the object grow larger. Not until it was plain to them that it was the old white horse with two riders did they permit their delight to be expressed. Dick has come! He must have arrived on the noon train. It must be a holiday! Dories exclaimed, and Nann added, Or at least Dick has proclaimed it one. Then they both waved for the boys, having observed them from afar, were swinging their caps.

Isnt it great that I could come today? was Dicks first remark after the greetings had been exchanged. Class having exams and I was exempt.

Nanns eyes glowed. Isnt that splendid, Dick? I know what that means. Your daily average was so high you were excused from the test.

The city boy flushed. Well, it wasnt my fault. Its an easy subject for me. Im wild about history and I dont seem able to forget anything that I read. Then, smiling at the country boy, he added: Gib, here, tells me that you havent visited the old ruin since I left. That was mighty nice of you. Ive been thinking so much about that mysterious airplane chap this past week, its a wonder I could get any of my lessons right.

Isnt it the queerest thing? Nann said. That airplane hasnt been seen or heard since you left.

I aint so sure. Gib had removed his cap and was scratching one ear as he did when puzzled. Pa n me both thought we heard a hummin one night, but twas far off, sort o. I reckond, likes not, that pilot fellar lit his boat way out in the water and slid back in quiet-like.

Dick, much interested, nodded. He could have done that, you know. He may realize that there are people on the point and he may not wish to have his movements observed. Then eagerly: Can you girls go right now? The tide is just right and we wanted to give that old dining-room a thorough overhauling, you know.

Yes, we can go. Aunt Jane is going to sleep all of the afternoon. Then impulsively Dories turned toward the red-headed boy. Gib, she exclaimed contritely, Im just ever so sorry that I called Aunt Jane queer or cross. Something happened this week which has proved that she is very different in her heart from what we supposed her to be. She has just been achingly lonely for years, and some family affairs which, of course, would interest no one but ourselves, have made her shut herself away from everyone. Im ever so sorry for her, and I know that from now on Im going to love her just dearly.

So am I, Nann said very quietly. I wish we had realized that all this time Miss Moore has been hungering for us to love and be kind to her. We girls sometimes forget that elderly people have much the same feelings that we have.

I know, Dick agreed as they walked four abreast toward the creek where the punt was hid, I have an old grandmother who is always so happy when we youngsters include her in our good times. Then he added in a changed tone: Hurray! Theres the old punt! Now, all aboard! Ever chivalrous, Dick held out a hand to each girl, but it was to Nann that he said with conviction: This is the day that we are to solve the mystery.

CHAPTER XXVI
A CLUE TO THE OLD RUIN MYSTERY

The voyage up the narrow channel in the marsh was uneventful and at last the four young people reached the opening near the old ruin. They stopped before entering to look around that they might be sure the place was unoccupied. Then Dick crept through the opening in the crumbling wall to reconnoiter. Alls well! he called to them a moment later, and in the same order as before the others followed. Everything was just as it had been on their former visit.

Dick flashed his light in the corner where they had seen the picture of old Colonel Wadbury, and the sharp eyes, under heavy brows, seemed to glare at them. Dories, with a shudder, was secretly glad that they were only pictured eyes.

Sh! Hark! It was Dick in the lead who, having stopped, turned and held up a warning finger. They had reached the door out of which they had broken a panel the week before.

What is it? What do you hear? Nann asked.

A sort of a scurrying noise, Dick told her. Nothing but rats, I guess, but just the same you girls had better wait here until Gib and I have looked around in there. Perhaps youd better go back to the opening, he added as, in the dim light, he noted Dories pale, frightened face. The younger girl was clutching her friends arm as though she never meant to let go. Im just as afraid of rats, she confessed, as I am of ghosts.

Well wait here, Nann said calmly. Rats wont hurt us. They would be more afraid of us than even Dori is of them.

Dick climbed through the hole in the door, followed closely by Gib. Nann, holding a lighted lantern, smiled at her friend reassuringly. Although only a few moments passed, they seemed like an eternity to the younger girl; then Dicks beaming face appeared in the opening. It was very evident that he had found something which interested him and which was not of a frightening nature. The boys assisted the girls over the heap of debris which held the door shut and then flashed the light around what had once been a handsomely furnished dining-room. Dories first glance was toward the sideboard where they had left the painting of the beautiful girl. It was not there.

The boys also had made the discovery. Which proves, Dick declared, that Gib was right about that airplane chap having been here. He must have taken the picture, but why do you suppose he would want it?





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