Carol Norton.

The Phantom Yacht





The boney white horse came to a sudden stop at the edge of the beach, nor would it attempt to go any farther. The boy leaped over a wheel and threw open the back door. Guess youll have to walk a piece along the beach, Miss Moore. The coach gets stuck so often in the sand ol Methuselah aint takin no chances at tryin to haul it out, he informed the occupants.

The girls were almost surprised to find that the horse hadnt been named after a strait. Miss Moore threw back her veil and opened her eyes at once. Upon hearing what the boy had to say, she leaned forward to gaze at the largest cottage in the middle of the row. She spoke sharply: Gibralter, why didnt your father carry out my orders? I wrote him distinctly to open up the cottage and air it out. Why didnt he do that when he brought over the supplies, thats what Id like to know? I declare to it, even if he is your father, I must say Simon Strait is a most shiftless man.

The boy said at once, as though in an effort to apologize: Pas been real sick all summer, Miss Moore, and like twas he fergot it, but I kin open up easy, if I kin find suthin to pry off the boards with. I think likely Ill find an axe, anyhow, out in the back shed whar I used to chop wood fer you. Im most sure I will.

Miss Moore sank back. Well, hurry up about it, then. Ill stay in the coach till you get the windows uncovered. When the boy was gone, the woman turned toward her niece. Open up that small black bag, Dories; the one near you, and get out the back-door key. Theres a hammer just inside on the kitchen table, if its where I left it. She continued her directions: Give it to Gibralter and tell him, when he gets the boards off the windows, to carry in some wood and make a fire. A fog is coming in this minute and its as wet as rain.

The key having been found, the girls ran gleefully around the cabin in search of the boy. They found him emerging from a shed carrying a hatchet. He grinned at them as though they were old friends. Some cheerful place, this! he commented as he began ripping off the boards from one of the kitchen windows. You girls must o needed sea air a lot to come to this place out o season like this with a a wall, with a old lady like Miss Moore is. Dories felt sure that the boy was thinking something quite different, but was not saying it because it was a relative of hers about whom he was talking. What she replied was: I cant understand it myself. I mean why Great-Aunt Jane wanted to come to this dismal place after everyone else has gone.

They were up on the back porch and, as she looked out across the swampy meadows over which a heavy fog was settling, then she continued, more to Nann than to the boy: I promised Mother I wouldnt be afraid of ghosts, but honestly I never saw a spookier place.

The boy had been making so much noise ripping off boards that he had only heard the last two words. Spooks war yo speakin of? he inquired.

Well, I guess yoll think thars spooks enough along about the middle of the night when the fog horns a moanin an the surfs a crashin out on the pint o rocks, an whats more, thar is folks at Siquaw Center as says thars a sure enough spook livin over in the ruins that used to be ol Colonel Wadburys place.

The girls shuddered and Dories cast a Didnt I tell you so glance at her friend, but Nann, less fearful by nature, was interested and curious, and after looking about in vain for the ruin, she inquired its whereabouts.

Gibralter enlightened them. O, tisnt in sight, he said, that is, not from here. Its over beyant the rocky pint. From the highest rock thar you kin see it plain.

Then as he went on around the cottage taking off boards, the girls followed to hear more of the interesting subject. Fine house it used to be when my Pa was a kid, but now thars nothing but stone walls a standin. A human bein couldnt live in that ol shell, nohow. But the boy could not resist the temptation to elaborate the theme when he saw the wide eyes of his listeners, long about midnight folks at the Center do say as how theyve seen a light movin about in the old ruin. Nobodys dared to go near nuf to find out what tis. The swamps all about are like quicksand. If you step in em, wall, golly gee, its good-bye fer yo. Leastwise thats what ol-timers say, an so the spook, if thar is one over thar, is safe nuf from introosion.

While the boy had been talking, he had removed all of the wooden blinds, his listeners having followed him about the cabin. Dories had been so interested that she had quite forgotten about the huge key that she had been carrying. O my! she exclaimed, suddenly noticing it. But then you didnt need the hammer after all. Now Ill skip around and open the back door, and, Gibralter, will you bring in some wood, Aunt Jane said, to build us a fire?

While the boy was gone, Nann confided merrily, There now, Dories Moore, youve been wishing for an adventure, and here is one all ready made and waiting. Pray, what could be more thrilling than an old ruin surrounded by an uncrossable swamp and a mysterious light which appears at midnight?

The boy returned with an armful of logs left over from the supply of a previous summer. Gib, Nann addressed him in her friendliest fashion, may we call you that? Gibralter is so long. Id like to visit your ruin and inspect the ghost in his lair. Really and truly, isnt there any way to reach the place?

The boy looked as though he had a secret which he did not care to reveal. Well, maybe there is, and maybe there isnt, he said uncommittedly. Then, with a brightening expression in his red-brown eyes, Anyway, Ill show you the old ruin if yoll meet me at sun-up tomorrow mornin out at the pint o rocks.

Im game, Nann said gleefully. It sounds interesting to me all right. How about you, Dori?

O, Im quite willing to see the place from a distance, the other replied, but nothing could induce me to go very near it. Neither of the girls thought of asking the advice of their elderly hostess, who, at that very moment, appeared around a corner of the cabin to inquire why it was taking such an endless time to open up the cottage. Luckily Gib had started a fire in the kitchen stove, which partly mollified the womans wrath. After bringing in the bags and supplies, the boy took his departure, and they could hear him whistling as he drove away through the fog.

CHAPTER V
A NEW EXPERIENCE

With the closing in of the fog, twilight settled about the cabin. The old woman, still in her black bonnet with the veil thrown back, drew a wooden armed chair close to the stove and held her hands out toward the warmth. Open up the box of supplies, Dories, she commanded, and get out some candles. Then you can fill a hot-water bottle for me and Ill go right to bed. No use making a fire in the front room until tomorrow. You girls are to sleep upstairs. Youll find bedding in a bureau up there. It may be damp, but youre young. It wont hurt you any.

Dories, having opened up the box of supplies, removed each article, placing it on the table. At the very bottom she found a note scribbled on a piece of wrapping paper: Out of candles. Send some tomorrer.

Miss Moore sat up ramrod-straight, her sharp gray eyes narrowing angrily. If that isnt just like that shiftless, good-for-nothing Simon Strait. How did he suppose we could get on without light? I wish now I had ordered kerosene, but I thought, just at first, that candles would do. In the dusk Nann had been looking about the kitchen. On a shelf she saw a lantern and two glass lamps. O, Miss Moore! she exclaimed, Dont you think maybe there might be oil in one of those lamps?

No, I dont, the old woman replied. I always had my maid empty them the last thing for fear of fire. Nann, standing on a chair, had taken down the lantern. Her face brightened. I hear a swish, she said hopefully, and so it must be oil. With a piece of wrapping paper she wiped off the dust while Dories brought forth a box of matches.

A dim, sputtering light rewarded them. It wont last long, Nann said as she placed the lantern on the table, So, Miss Moore, if youll tell us what to do to make you comfortable, well hurry around and do it.

Comfortable? Humph! We wont any of us be very comfortable with such a wet fog penetrating even into our bones. The old woman complained so bitterly that Dories found herself wondering why her Great-Aunt Jane had come at all if she had known that she would be uncomfortable. But she had no time to give the matter further thought, for Miss Moore was issuing orders. Dories, you work that pump-handle over there in the sink. If it needs priming, we wont get any water tonight. Well, thank goodness, it doesnt. Thats one thing that went right. Nann, you rinse out the tea kettle, fill it and set it to boil. Now you girls take the lantern and go to my bedroom. Its just off the big front room, so you cant miss it; open up the bottom bureau drawer and fetch out my bedding. Well hang it over chairs by the stove till the damp gets out of it.

Nann took the sputtering lantern and, being the fearless one of the two, she led the way into the big front room of the cabin. The furniture could not be seen for the sheetlike coverings. In the dim light the girls could see a few pictures turned face to the wall. Oh-oo! Dories shuddered. Its clammily damp in here. Think of it, Nann, can you conceive what it would have been like for me if I had come all alone with Aunt Jane? Well, I know just as well as I know anything that I would never have lived through this first night.

Nann laughed merrily. O, Dori, she exclaimed as she held the lantern up, Do look at this wonderful, huge stone fireplace. Im sure were going to enjoy it here when we get things straightened around and the sun is shining. You see if we dont. Nann was opening a door which she believed must lead into Miss Moores bedroom, and she was right. The dim, flickering light revealed an old-fashioned hand-turned bed with four high posts. Near was an antique bureau, and Dori quickly opened the bottom drawer and took out the needed bedding. With her arms piled high, she followed the lantern-bearer back to the kitchen. Miss Moore had evidently not moved from her chair by the stove. Put on another piece of wood, Dori, she commanded. Now fetch all the chairs up and spread the bedding on it.

When this had been done, the teakettle was singing, and Nann said brightly, What a little optimist a teakettle is! It sings even when things are darkest.

You mean when things are hottest, Dori put in, actually laughing.

The old woman was still giving orders. The dishes are in that cupboard over the table, she nodded in that direction. Fetch out a cup and saucer, Dories, wash them with some hot water and make me a cup of tea. Then, while I drink it, you can both spread up my bed.

Fifteen minutes later all these things had been accomplished. The old woman acknowledged that she was as comfortable as possible in her warm bed. When they had said good-night, she called, Dories, I forgot to tell you the stairway to your room leads up from the back porch. Then she added, as an afterthought, You girls will want to eat something, but for mercy sake, do close the living-room door so I wont hear your clatter.

Nann, whose enjoyment of the situation was real and not feined, placed the sputtering lantern on the kitchen table while Dories softly closed the door as she had been directed. Then they stood and gazed at the supplies still in boxes and bundles on the oilcloth-covered table. I never was hungrier! Dories announced. But there isnt time to really cook anything before the light will go out. Oh-oo! Think how terrible it would be to have to climb up that cold, wet outside stairway to a room in the loft and get into cold, wet bedding, and all in the dark.

Nann laughed. Well, Ill confess it is rather spooky, she agreed, and if I believed in ghosts I might be scared. Then, as the lantern gave a warning flicker, the older girl suggested: What say to turning out the light and make more fire in the stove? It really is quite bright over in that corner.

I guess its the only thing to do, Dori acknowledged dolefully. O goodie, she added more cheerfully as she held up a box of crackers. These, with butter and some sardines, ought to keep us from starving.

Great! Nann seemed determined to be appreciative. And for a drink lets have cambric tea with canned milk and sugar. Now the next thing, where is a can opener?

She opened a drawer in the kitchen table and squealed exultingly, Dories Moore, see what Ive found. She was holding something up. Its a little candle end, but it will be just the thing if we need a light in the night when our oil is gone.

Goodness! Dories shuddered. I hope well sleep so tight we wont know it is night until after its over.

Nann had also found a can opener and they were soon hungrily eating the supper Dories had suggested. I call this a great lark! the older girl said brightly. They were sitting on straight wooden chairs, drawn close to the bright fire, and their viands were on another chair between them.

The kitchen is so nice and warm now that I hate plunging out into the fog to go upstairs, Dori shudderingly remarked. I presume that is where Aunt Janes maid used to sleep. Mumsie said she had one named Maggie who had been with her forever, almost. But she died last June. That must be why Aunt Jane didnt come here this summer.

When the girls had eaten all of the sardines and crackers and had been refreshed with cambric tea, they rose and looked at each other almost tragically. Then Nann smiled. Dont lets give ourselves time to think, she suggested. Lets take a box of matches. You get one while I relight the lantern. I have the candle end in my pocket. Now, bolster up your courage and open the door while I shelter our flickering flame from the cold night air that might blow it out.

Dories had her hand on the knob of the door which led out upon the back porch, but before opening it, she whispered, Nann, you dont suppose that ghost over in the ruin ever prowls around anywhere else, do you?

Of course not, silly! Nanns tone was reassuring. There isnt a ghost in the old ruin, or anywhere else for that matter. Now open the door and lets ascend to our chamber.

The fog on the back porch was so dense that it was difficult for the girls to find the entrance to their boarded-in stairway. As they started the ascent, Nann in the lead, they were both wondering what they would find when they reached their loft bedroom.

CHAPTER VI
A LIGHT IN THE DARK

The girls cautiously crept up the back stairway which was sheltered from fog and wind only by rough boards between which were often wide cracks. Time and again a puff of air threatened to put out the flickering flame in the lantern. With one hand Nann guarded it, lest it suddenly sputter out and leave them in darkness. There was a closed door at the top of the stairs, and of course, it was locked, but the key was in it.

Doesnt that seem sort of queer? Dories asked as her friend unlocked the door, removed the key and placed it on the inside.

Well, it does, sort of, Nann had to acknowledge, but Im mighty glad it was there, or how else could we have entered?

Dories said nothing, but, deep in her heart, she was wishing that she and Nann were safely back in Elmwood, where there were electric lights and other comforts of civilization.

Holding the lantern high, the girls stood in the middle of the loft room and looked around. It was unfinished after the fashion of attics, and though it was quite high at the peak, the sloping roof made a tent-like effect. There were two windows. One opened out toward the rocky point, above which a continuous inward rush of white breakers could be seen, and the other, at the opposite side, opened toward swampy meadows, a mile across which on clear nights could be seen the lights of Siquaw Center.

A big, old-fashioned high posted bed, an equally old-fashioned mahogany bureau and two chairs were all of the furnishings.

They found bedding in the bureau drawers, as Miss Moore had told them. Placing the lantern on the bureau, Nann said: If we wish to have light on the subject, wed better make the bed in a hurry. You take that side and Ill take this, and well have these quilts spread in a twinkling.

Dories did as she was told and the bed was soon ready for occupancy. Then the girls scrambled out of their dresses, and, just as they leaped in between the quilts, the flame in the lantern sputtered and went out.

Dories clutched her friend fearfully. Oh, Nann, she said, we never looked under the bed nor behind that curtained-off corner. I dont dare go to sleep unless I know whats there.

Her companion laughed. What do you spose is there? she inquired.

How can I tell? Dories retorted. Thats why I wish we had looked and then I would know.

Her friends voice, merry even in the darkness, was reassuring. I can tell you just as well as if I had looked, she announced with confidence. Back of these curtains, you would find nothing but a row of nails or hooks on which to hang our garments when we unpack our suitcases, and under the bed there is only dust in little rolled-up heaps like as not. Now, dear, lets see who can go to sleep first, for you know we have an engagement with our friend, Gibralter Strait, at sunrise tomorrow morning.

You say that as though you were pleased with the prospect, Dories complained.

Pleased fails to express the joy with which I anticipate the Nann said no more, for Dories had clutched her, whispering excitedly, Hark! What was that noise? It sounds far off, maybe where the haunted ruin is.

Nann listened and then calmly replied: More than likely its the fog horn about which Gib told us, and that other noise is the muffled roar of the surf crashing over the rocks out on the point. If there are any more noises that you wish me to explain, please produce them now. If not, Im going to sleep.

After that Dories lay very still for a time, confident that she wouldnt sleep a wink. Nann, however, was soon deep in slumber and Dories soon followed her example. It was midnight when she awakened with a start, sat up and looked about her. She felt sure that a light had awakened her. At first she couldnt recall where she was. She turned toward the window. The fog had lifted and the night was clear. For a moment she sat watching the white, rushing line of the surf, then, farther along, she saw a dark looming object.

Suddenly she clutched her companion. Nann, she whispered dramatically, there it is! Theres a light moving over by the point. Do you suppose thats the ghost from the old ruin?

The what? Nann sat up, dazed from being so suddenly awakened. Then, when Dories repeated her remark, her companion gazed out of the window toward the point.

Hm-m! she said, Its a light all right. A lantern, I should say, and its moving slowly along as though it were being carried by someone who is searching for something among the rocks.

Doris hold on her friends arm became tighter. Its coming this way! Im just ever so sure that it is. Oh, Nann, why did we come to this dreadful place? What if that light came right up to this cottage and saw that it wasnt boarded up and knew someone was here and

Nann chuckled. Arent you getting rather mixed in your figures of speech? she teased. A lantern cant see or know, but of course I understand that you mean the-well-er-person carrying the lantern. I suppose you will agree that it is a person, for ghosts dont have to carry lanterns, you know.

How do you know so much about ghosts, since you say there are no such things? Dori flared.

Well, nothing cant carry a lantern, can it? was the unruffled reply. Then the two girls were silent, watching the light which seemed now and then to be held high as though whoever carried it paused at times to look about him and then continued to search on the rocks.

Slowly, slowly the light approached the row of boarded-up cabins. The girls crept from bed and knelt at the window on the seaward side. Nann, because she was interested, and Dori because she did not want to be left alone.

Do you think its coming this far? came the anxious whisper. Nann shook her head. No, she said, its going back toward the point and so Im going back to bed. Im chilled through as it is.

They were soon under the covers and when they again glanced toward the window the light had disappeared. Seems to have been swallowed up, Nann remarked.

Maybe its fallen over the cliff. I almost hope that it has, and been swept out to sea.

Meaning the lantern, I suppose, or do you mean the carrier thereof?

Nann Sibbett, I dont see how you can help being just as afraid of whatever it is, or, rather of whoever it is, as I am.





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