Carol Norton.

The Phantom Yacht





I guess youre right, Dick had been looking behind the heavy piece of mahogany furniture as he spoke, and, whoever was here has left something. The rats we heard scurrying about were trying to drag it away, to make into a nest, I suppose.

Arising from a stooping posture, the boy revealed a note book which he had picked up from behind the sideboard.

He opened it to the first page and turned his flashlight full upon it. Those plaguity little rats have torn half of this page nearly off, he complained, but I guess we can fit it together and read the writing on it.

October fifteen, Dick read aloud. Then paused while he tried to fit the torn pieces. There, now I have it, he said, and continued reading: At Mothers request, I came to her fathers old home, but found it in a ruined state. The natives in the village tell me there is no way to reach the place, as it is in a dangerous swamp, sort of a quick-mud, all about it, and whats more, one garrulous chap tells me that the place is haunted. Well, I dont care a continental for the ghost, but Im not hankering to find an early grave in oozy mud.

I dont recollect any sech fellow, Gib put in, but Dick was continuing to read from the note book:

I didnt let on who I was. Didnt want to arouse curiosity, so I took the next train back to Boston. I simply cant give up. I must reach that old house and give it a real ransacking. Mother is sure her papers are there, and if they are, she must have them.

The next page revealed a rapidly scrawled entry: October 16th. Lay awake nearly all night trying to think out a way to visit that old ruin. Had an inspiration. Shall sail over it in an airplane and get at least a birds-eye view. Glad I belong to the Boston Aviation Club.

October 18. Did the deed! Sailed over Siquaw in an aircraft and saw, when I flew low, that there was a narrow channel leading through the marsh and directly up to the old ruin.

Ill come in a seaplane next time, with a small boat on board. Mothers coming soon and I want to find the deed to the Wetherby place before she arrives. It is her right to have it since her own mother left it to her, but her father, I just cant call the old skinflint my grandfather, had it hidden in the house that he built by the sea. When Mother went back, she asked for that deed, but he wouldnt give it to her. She told him that her husband was dead and that she wanted to live in her mothers old home near Boston, but he said that she never should have it, that he had destroyed the deed. He was mean enough to do it, without doubt, but I dont believe he did it, somehow. I have a hunch that the papers are still there.

October 20. Well, I went in a seaplane, made my way up that crooked little channel in the swamp. Found more in the ruin than I had supposed I would. First of all, I hunted for an old chest, or writing desk, the usual place for papers to be kept. Located a heavy walnut desk in what had once been a library, but though there were papers enough, nothing like a deed.

Had a mishap. Had left the seaplane anchored in a quiet cove. It broke loose and washed ashore. Wasnt hurt, but I couldnt get it off until change of tide, along about midnight. Being curious about a rocky point, I took my flashlight and prowled around a bit. Saw eight boarded-up cottages in a row, and to pass away the time I looked them over. Was rather startled by two occurrences. First was a noise regularly repeated, but that proved to be only a blind on an upper window banging in the wind. That was the cottage nearest the point. Then later I was sure I saw two white faces in an upper window of a cottage farther along. Sort of surprising when you suppose youre the only living person for a mile around. O well, ghosts cant turn me from my purpose. Got back to the plane just as it was floating and made off by daybreak. Havent made much headway yet, but shall return next week.

Dick looked up elated. There, that proves that Mother did forget to fasten that blind, he exclaimed. Dories was laughing gleefully. Nann, she chuckled, to think that we scared him as much as he scared us. You know we thought the person carrying a light on the rocks was a ghost, and he, seeing us peer out at him, thought we were ghosts.

Nann smiled at her friend, then urged Dick continue reading, but Dick shook his head. Cant, he replied, for there is no more.

But he came again, Nann said. We know that he did, because he left this little note book.

And what is more, he took away with him the painting of his lovely girl-mother, Dories put in.

Dick nodded. Dont you see, he was addressing Nann, cant you guess what happened? When he came and found a panel had been broken in this door and the painting on the sideboard, he realized that he was not the only person visiting the old ruin.

Even so, that wouldnt have frightened him away. He evidently is a courageous chap, shouldnt you say? Nann inquired, and Dick agreed, adding: Well then, what do you think happened?

It was Gib who replied: I reckon that pilot fellar found them papers he was lookin fer an aint comin back no more.

But perhaps he hasnt, Nann declared. Suppose we hunt around a little. We might just stumble on that old deed, but even if we did, would we know how to send it to him?

Dick had been closely scrutinizing the small note book. Yes, we would, he answered her. Here is his name and address on the cover. He goes to the Boston Tech, I judge.

O, what is his name? Dories asked eagerly.

Wouldnt you love to meet him? the younger girl continued.

I intend to look him up when I get back to town, Dick assured them, and wouldnt it be great if we had found the papers; that is, of course, if he hasnt.

Nann glanced about the dining-room. Theres a door at the other end. Its so dark down there I hadnt noticed it before.

The boys went in that direction. Perhaps it leads to the room where the desk is. We havent seen that yet. Dories and Nann followed closely.

Dick had his hand on the knob, when again a scurrying noise within made him pause. Likes not all this time that pilot fellars been in there waitin fer us to clear out. Gib almost hoped that his suggestion was true. But it was not, for, where the door opened, as it did readily, the young people saw nothing but a small den in which the furniture had been little disturbed, as the walls that sheltered it had not fallen.

One glance at the desk proved to them that it had been thoroughly ransacked, and so they looked elsewhere. In all the stories I have ever read, Dories told them, there were secret drawers, or sliding panels, or

A removable stone in a chimney, Nann merrily added. But I believe that old Colonel Wadbury would do something quite novel and different, she concluded.

While the girls had been talking, Dick had been flashing his light around the walls. An excited exclamation took the others to his side. There is the pilot chaps entrance to the ruin. He pointed toward a fireplace. Several stone in the chimney had fallen out, leaving a hole big enough for a person to creep through.

Perhaps he had never been in the front room, then, Nann remarked.

I hate to suggest it, Dories said hesitatingly, but I think we ought to be going. Its getting late.

Ill say we ought! Dick glanced at his time-piece. Tides have a way of turning whether there is a mystery to ferret out or not. We have all day tomorrow to spend here, or at least part of it, he modified.

At Gibs suggestion they went out through the hole in the back of the fireplace. The narrow channel was easily navigated and again they left the punt, as on a former occasion, anchored in the calm waters on the marsh side of the point. Then they climbed over the rocks, and walked along the beach four abreast. They talked excitedly of one phase of what had occurred and then of another.

You were right, Dick, when you said that the mystery about the pilot of the airplane would be solved today. Nann smiled at the boy who was always at her side. Then she glanced over toward the island, misty in the distance. And to think that that girl-mother and her daughter are really coming back to America.

Do you suppose they will come in the Phantom Yacht? Dories turned toward Gib to inquire.

I dont reckon so, that boy replied. I callate we-uns saw the skeleton of the Phantom Yacht over to the island that day we was thar, Miss Nann. A storm came up, Pa said, an he allays thought that thar yacht was wrecked.

If thats true, then everyone on board must have been saved, Nann said. Of that much, at least, were sure.

The boys left the girls in front of their home-cabin, promising to be back early the next day. On entering the cottage, Dories went at once to her aunts room and was pleased to see that she looked rested. A wrinkled old hand was held out to the girl, and, when Dories had taken it, she was surprised to hear her aunt say, Im trying to be resigned to my big disappointment, Dories; but even if I do have to live alone all the rest of my days, Im going to make you and Peter my heirs. Your mother cant refuse me that. Tears sprang to the girls eyes. She tried to speak, but could not.

Her aunt understood, and, as sentimentality was, on the whole, foreign to her nature, she said, with a return of her brusque manner, There! Thats all there is to that. Please fetch me a poached egg with my toast and tea.

CHAPTER XXVII
RANSACKING THE OLD RUIN

It was midmorning when the girls, busy about their simple household tasks, heard a hallooing out on the beach. Nann took off her apron, smiling brightly at her friend. Good, there are the boys! she exclaimed, hurrying out to the front porch to meet them. Dories followed with their tams and sweater-coats.

Weve put up a lunch, Nann told the newcomers. Miss Moore said that we might stay over the noon hour. We have told her all about the mystery we are trying to fathom and she was just ever so interested. They were walking toward the point of rocks while they talked.

Gib leaned forward to look at the speaker. Say, Miss Dori, he exclaimed, Miss Moores been here sech a long time, likes not she knew ol Colonel Wadbury, didnt she now?

No, she didnt know him, Dories replied. He was such an old hermit he didnt want neighbors, but she did hear the story about his daughters return and how cruel he had been to her. Aunt Jane wasnt here the year of the storm. She and her maid were in Europe about that time, so she really doesnt know any more than we do.

We didnt start coming here until after it had all happened, Dick put in.

Im so excited. Nann gave a little eager skip. I almost hope the pilot of the seaplane has not found the deed and that we may find it and give it to him.

So do I! Dick seconded. Over the rugged point they went, each time becoming more agile, and into the punt they climbed when Gib, barefooted as usual, had waded out and rowed close to a flat-rock platform. The tide was in and with its aid they floated rapidly up the channel in the marsh. Shall we enter by the front or the back? Nann asked of Dick.

The front is nearer our landing place, was the reply. Lets give the old salon a thorough ransacking. I feel in my bones that we are going to make some interesting discovery today, dont you, Gib?

Dunno, was that lads laconic reply. Mabbe so.

A few moments later they were standing under the twisted chandelier listening to the faint rattle of its many crystal pendants. Nann made a suggestion: Lets each take a turn in selecting some place to look for the deed, shall we?

Oh, yes, lets, Dories seconded. That will make sort of a game of it all.

Dick held the flashlight out to the older girl. You make the first selection, he said.

Nann took the light and, standing still with the others under the chandelier, she flashed the bright beam around the room. Theres a broken door almost crushed under the sagging roof. She indicated the front corner opposite the one by which they had entered. There must have been a room beyond that. I suggest that we try to get through there.

But Dick demurred. Im not sure that it would be wise, he told her. The roof might sag more if that door were pulled away. They heard a noise back of them and turned to see Gib making for the entrance. Ill be back, was all that he told them. When, a moment later, he did return, he beckoned. Come along out, he said. Theres a way into that thar room from the outside.

He led them to a window, the pane of which had been broken, leaving only the frame. They peered in and beheld what had been a large bedroom. A heavy oak bed and other pieces of furniture to match were pitched at all angles as the rotting floor had given way. Dick stepped back and looked critically at the sagging roof, then he beckoned Gib and together they talked in low tones. Seeming satisfied with their decision, they returned to the spot where the girls were waiting. We dont want you to run any risk of being hurt while you are with us, Dick explained. We want to take just as good care of you as if you were our sisters. Then he assured them: We think it is safe. Gib showed me how stout the cross-beam is which has kept the roof from sagging farther.

And so they entered the room through the window. For an hour they ransacked. There was no evidence that anyone had been in that room since the storm so long ago. Queer, sort of, aint it? Gib speculated, scratching his ear. Yod think that pilot fellard a been all over the place, wouldnt yo now?

Lets go back to the front room again and let Dori choose next for a place to search, the ever chivalrous Dick suggested.

A few seconds later they again were under the chandelier. Dories, as interested and excited now as any of them, took the light and flashed it about the room, letting the round glow rest at last on the huge fireplace. Thats where Ill look, she told the others. Lets see if there is a loose rock that will come out and behind which we may find a box with the deed in it.

Nann laughed. Like the story we read when we were twelve or thirteen years old, she told the boys. But though they all rapped on the stones and even tried to pry them out, so well had the masonry been made, each rock remained firmly in place and not one of them was movable.

Now, Dick, you have a turn. Dories held the flashlight toward him, but he shook his head. No, Gib first.

The red-headed boy grinned gleefully. Ill choose a hard place. I reckon ol Colonel Wadbury hid that thar deed somewhars up in the attic under the roof. Dories looked dismayed. O, Gib, dont choose there, for we girls couldnt climb up among the rafters. But Nann put in: Of course, dear, Gib may choose the loft if he wishes. But how would you get there?

Gib had been flashing the light along the cracked, tipped ceiling of the room. Suddenly his freckled face brightened. Come on out agin. He sprang for the low opening as he spoke. Then, when they were outside, he pointed to the spot where the roof was lowest. Yo gals stay here whar the punt is, he advised, while me n Dick shinny up to whar the chimneys broke off. Bet yo we kin git into the garrit from thar. Bet yo we kin.

Dick was gazing at the roof appraisingly. O, I guess its safe enough, he answered the anxious expression he saw in the face of the older girl. If our weight is too much, the roof will sag more and close up our entrance perhaps, but we can slide down without being hurt, I am sure of that.

The girls sat in the punt to await the return of the boys, who, after a few moments scrambling up the sloping roof, actually disappeared into what must have once been an attic.

I never was so interested or excited in all my life, Nann told her friend. I do hope we will find that deed today, for tomorrow will be Sunday, and I feel that we ought to remain with your Aunt Jane and put things in readiness for our departure on Monday.

Yes, so do I. Dories glanced up at the roof, but as the boys were not to be seen, she continued: I am interested in finding the deed, of course, but I just cant keep my thoughts from wandering. I am so glad that Mother will not have to keep on sewing. She has been so wonderful taking care of Peter and me the way she has ever since that long ago day when father died. Then she sighed. Of course I wish she hadnt been too proud to accept help from Aunt Jane. But almost at once she contradicted with, In one way, though, I dont, for if I had lived in Boston all these years, I would never have known you. But now that you are going to live in Boston, how I do wish that Mother and Peter and I were to live there also.

Maybe you will, Nann began, but Dories shook her head. I dont believe Mother would want to leave her old home. It isnt much of a place, but she and Father went there when they were married, and we children were born there. Then, excitedly pointing to the roof, Dories exclaimed: Here come the boys, and they have a packet of papers, havent they?

Nann stepped out of the punt to the mound as she called, O, boys, have you found the deed?

We dont know yet, Dick replied, but the girls could see by his glowing expression that he believed that they had.

They all sat in the punt, which had been drawn partly up on the mound and which afforded the only available seats. Dick and Nann occupied the wide stern seat, while Dories and Gib in the middle faced them. Dick unfastened the leather thong which bound the papers and, closing his eyes, just for the lark of it, he passed a folded document to each of his companions. Then he opened them as he said laughingly:

Just four. How kind of old Colonel Wadbury to help us with our game! Now, Nann, report about yours first. Is it the Wetherby deed?

After a moments eager scrutiny, Nann shook her head. Alas, no! Its something telling about shares in some corporation, she told them.

Well, well keep it anyway to give to our pilot friend, Dick commented.

Mine, Dories said, is a deed, but it seems to be for this Siquaw Point property.

Dick reported that his was a marriage license, and Gib dolefully added that his was some government paper, the meaning of which he could not understand. He handed it to Dick, who, after scrutinizing it, said: Well, at least one thing is certain, it isnt the deed for which we are searching. Then, rising, he exclaimed: Now its my turn. I want to go back to the salon. I had a sort of inspiration awhile ago. I thought I wouldnt mention it until my turn came.

They left the punt and followed the speaker to their low entrance in the wall. Although they were curious to know Dicks plan, no one spoke until again they stood beneath the rattling chandelier. At once the boy flashed the round light toward the corner where the piercing eyes under shaggy brows seemed to be watching them. Then he went in that direction. Dories shuddered as she always did when she saw that stern, unrelenting old face. Why, Dick, Nann exclaimed, do you suspect that the picture of the old Colonel can reveal the deeds hiding-place?

The boy was on his knees in front of the painting. Yes, I do, he said. At least I happened all of a sudden to remember of having heard of valuable papers that were hidden in a frame back of a painting. That is why I wanted to look here. He had actually lifted the large painting in the broken frame. Dories cried out in terror: O, Dick, how dare you touch that terrible thing? He looks so real and so scarey. The boy addressed evidently did not hear her. Handing the flashlight to Nann, he asked her to hold it close while he tore off the boards at the back.

For a tense moment the four young people watched, almost holding their breath.

Wall, it aint thar, I reckon. Gib was the first to break the silence.

Youre right! Dick placed the painting from which the frame had been removed against the wall and was about to step back when the rotting boards beneath him caved in and he fell, disappearing entirely. Dories screamed and Gib, taking the light from Nann, flashed the glow from it down into the dark hole. Dick! Dick! Are you hurt? Nann was calling anxiously.

After what seemed like a very long time, Dicks voice was heard: Im all right. Dont worry about me. Gib, see if there isnt a trap-door or something. I seem to have fallen into a vault of some kind. Then after another silence, I guess Ive stumbled onto steps leading up. A second later a low door in the dark corner opened and Dick, smiling gleefully, emerged, covered with dust and cobwebs. Give me the light and lets see what this door is. Then, after a moments scrutiny, Aha! That vault was meant to be a secret. The door looks, from this side, like part of the paneling.

Oh, Dick! Nann cried exultingly. Thats where the Wetherby deed is. Down in that old vault.

I bet yo shes right. Gib stooped to peer into the dark hole.





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