Carol Norton.

The Phantom Yacht





Dories rose. We ought to be getting back. She glanced at the sun as she spoke. Aunt Jane may be needing us. The other two stood up and for a moment Nann gazed down at the ruin; then she called to it: Some day I am coming to visit you, old house, and find out the secret that you hold.

Dories shuddered and seemed glad to climb down on the side of the rocks where the sun was shining so brightly and from where one could not see the dismal swamp and the crumbling old ruin.

CHAPTER IX
A MYSTERIOUS MESSAGE

As they walked along the hard, glistening beach, Nann glanced over the shimmering water at the gray, forbidding-looking island in the distance, almost as though she thought that the Phantom Yacht might again be seen sailing toward the place where the dock had been. Poor Darlina, she said turning toward the others, how I do hope that she is happy now.

Caint no one tell as to that, I reckon, Gib commented, when Dories asked: Gibralter, how long ago did all this happen? How old would that girl and boy be now?

Pa was speakin o that long about last week, was the reply. He reckoned twas ten year since the Phantom Yacht sailed off agin with the mother and the two little uns. Thatd make the boy, Pa said, about nineteen year old he callated, an the wee girl about fifteen.

Then little Darlina would be about our age, Dories commented.

Why do you think that her name would be the same as her mothers? Nann queried.

O, just because it is odd and pretty, was Dories reason. Then, stepping more spryly, she said: I do hope Aunt Jane has not been awake long, fretting for her breakfast. Weve been gone over two hours I do believe.

Gee! Gib exclaimed, looking around for his horse. Ill have ter gallop as fast as the ol colonel did that thar night I was tellin yo about or Pall be in my wool. Id ought tove had the milkin done this hour past. So long! he added, bolting suddenly between two of the boarded-up cottages they were passing. Thars my ol steed out by the marsh, he called back to them.

The girls entered the kitchen very quietly and tiptoed through the living-room hoping that their elderly hostess had not yet awakened, but a querulous voice was calling: Dories, is that you? Why cant you be more quiet? Ive heard you prowling around this house for the past hour. Going up and down those outside stairs. I should think you would know that I want quiet. I came here to rest my nerves. Bring my coffee at once.

Yes, Aunt Jane, the girl meekly replied. Then, darting back to the kitchen, she whispered, her eyes wide and startled, Nann, somebody has been in this house while weve been away. I do believe it was that that person we saw at midnight carrying a lantern. Aunt Jane has heard footsteps creaking up and down the stairs to our room.

Nanns expression was very strange. Instead of replying she held out a small piece of crumpled paper.

I just ran up to the loft to get my apron, she said, and I found this lying in the middle of our bed.

On the paper was written in small red letters: In thirteen days you shall know all.

I have nine minds to tell Aunt Jane that the cabin must be haunted and that we ought to leave for Boston this very day, Dories said, but her companion detained her.

Dont, Dori, she implored. Im sure that there is nothing that will harm us, for pray, why should anyone want to? And Im simply wild to know, well, just ever so many things. Who prowls about at midnight carrying a lighted lantern, what he is hunting for, who left this crumpled paper on our bed, and what we are to know in thirteen days; but, first of all, I want to find a way to enter that old ruin.

Dories sank down on a kitchen chair. Nann Sibbett, she gasped, I believe that you are absolutely the only girl in this whole world who is without fear. Well, more resignedly, if you arent afraid, Ill try not to be. Then, springing up, she added, for the querulous voice had again called: Yes, Aunt Jane, Ill bring your coffee soon. Turning to Nann, she added: We ought to have a calendar so that we could count the days.

I guess we wont need to. Nann was making a fire in the stove as she spoke. More than likely the spook will count them for us. There, isnt that a jolly fire? Polly, put the kettle on, and well soon have coffee.

Dories, being the Polly her friend was addressing, announced that she was ravenously hungry after their long walk and climb and that she was going to have bacon and eggs. Nann said merrily, Double the order. Then, while Dories was preparing the menu, she said softly: Nann, doesnt it seem queer to you that Great-Aunt Jane can live on nothing but toast and tea? Of course, she amended, this morning she wishes toast and coffee, but she surely ought to eat more than that, shouldnt you think?

She would if she got out in this bracing sea air, but lying abed is different. One doesnt get so hungry. Nann was setting the kitchen table for two as she talked. After the old womans tray had been carried to her bedside, Dories and Nann ate ravenously of the plain, but tempting, fare which they had cooked for themselves. Nann laughed merrily. This certainly is a lark, she exclaimed. I never before had such a good time. Ive always been crazy to read mystery stories and here we are living one.

Dories shrugged. Im inclined to think that Id rather read about spooks than meet them, she remarked as she rose and prepared to wash the dishes.

When the kitchen had been tidied, the two girls went into the sun-flooded living-room, and began to make it look more homelike. The dust covers were removed from the comfortable wicker chairs and the pictures, that had been turned to face the walls while the cabin was unoccupied, were dusted and straightened.

Now, lets take a run along the beach and gather a nice lot of drift wood, Nann suggested. You know Gibralter told us that this is the time of year when the first winter storm is likely to arrive.

Dories shuddered. I hope it wont be like the one that wrecked Colonel Wadburys house eight years ago. If it were, it might undermine all of these cabins, and, how pray, could we escape if the road was under water?

Oh, that isnt likely to happen, Nann said comfortingly. Our beach is higher than that lowland. It it does, wed find a way out, but, Dories, please dont be imagining things. We have enough mystery to puzzle us without conjuring up frightful catastrophes that probably never will happen.

Dories stopped at her aunts door to tell her their plans, but the old woman was either asleep or feined slumber, and so, tiptoeing that she might not disturb her, the girl went out on the beach, where Nann awaited her. They were hatless, and as the sun had mounted higher, even the bright colored sweater-coats had been discarded.

Its such a perfect Indian summer day, Nann said. I dont even see a tiny, misty cloud. As she spoke, she shaded her eyes with one hand and scanned the horizon.

Isnt the island clear? Even that fog bank that we saw early this morning has melted away. Then, whirling about, Dories inquired, Nann, if we should see something white coming around that bleak gray island, what do you think it would be?

Why, the Phantom Yacht, of course.

What would you do, if it were?

I dont know, Dori. I hadnt even thought of the coming of that boat as a possibility, and yet Nann turned a glowing face, I dont know why it might not happen. That little woman, for the sake of her children, might try a second time to win her fathers forgiveness. If she came, what a desolate homecoming it would be; the old house in ruin and the fate of her father unknown.

For a moment the two girls stood silent. A gentle sea breeze blew their sport skirts about them. They watched the island with shaded eyes as though they really expected the yacht to appear. Then Nann laughed, and leaping along the beach, she confessed: I know that Ill keep watching for the return of the Phantom Yacht just all of the while. The first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. Then, as she picked up a piece of whitening driftwood, she asked, Dori, would you rather have the glistening white yacht appear in the sunrise or in the moonlight?

Dories had darted for another piece of wood higher up the warm beach, but, on returning, she replied: Oh, I dont know; either way would make a beautiful picture, I should think. Then, after picking up another piece, she added: Id like to meet that pretty gold and white girl, wouldnt you?

Maybe we will, Nann commented, then sang out: Do look, Dori, over by the point of rocks, there is ever so much driftwood. I believe that will be enough to fill our wood shed if we carry it all in. Ive always heard that there are such pretty colors in the flames when driftwood burns.

The girls worked for a while carrying the wood to the shed; then they climbed up on the rocks to rest, but not high enough to see the old ruin. When at length the sun was at the zenith, they went indoors to prepare lunch, and again the old woman asked only for toast and tea.

After a leisurely noon hour, the girls returned to their task; there really being nothing else that they wanted to do, and, as Nann suggested, if the rains came they would be well prepared. For a time they rested, lying full length on the warm sand, and so it was not until late afternoon that they had carried in all of the driftwood they could find.

Goodness! Dories exclaimed, shudderingly, as she looked down at her last armful. Doesnt it make you feel queer to know that this wood is probably the broken-up skeleton of a ship that has been wrecked at sea?

I suppose that is true, was the thoughtful response. They had started for the cabin, and a late afternoon fog was drifting in.

Suddenly Nann paused and stared at the one window in the loft that faced the sea. Her expression was more puzzled than fearful. For one brief second she had seen a white object pass that window. Dories turned to ask why her friend had delayed. Nann, not wishing to frighten the more timid girl, stooped to pick up a piece of driftwood that had slipped from her arms.

Im coming, dear, she said.

On reaching the cabin, Nann went at once to the room of the elderly woman, who had told them in the morning that she intended to remain in bed for one week and be waited on. There she was, her deeply-set dark eyes watching the door when Nann opened it and instantly she began to complain: I do wish you girls wouldnt go up and down those outside stairs any oftener than you have to. They creaked so about ten minutes ago, they woke me right up. Then she added, Please tell Dories to bring me my tea at once.

Nann returned to the kitchen truly puzzled. It was always when they were away from the cabin that the aunt heard someone going up and down the outside stairway. What could it mean? To Dories she said, in so calm a voice that suspicion was not aroused in the heart of her friend, While you prepare the tea for your aunt, Ill go up to the loft room and make our bed before dark.

Dories had said truly, Nann Sibbett seemed to be a girl without fear.

CHAPTER X
SOUNDS IN THE LOFT

Nann half believed that the white object she had seen at the loft window was but a flashing ray of the setting sun reflected from the opposite window which faced the west, and yet, curiosity prompted her to go to the loft and be sure that it was unoccupied. This resolution was strengthened when, upon reaching the cabin, she heard Miss Moores querulous voice complaining that the outer stairs leading to the room above had been creaking constantly, and she requested the girls not to go up and down so often while she was trying to sleep. Nann, knowing that they had not been to their bedroom since morning, was a little puzzled by this, and so, bidding Dories prepare tea for her great-aunt, she went out on the back porch and started to ascend the stairway. When the top was reached, she discovered that the door was locked. For a puzzled moment the girl believed that the key was on the inside, but, stopping, she found that she could see through the keyhole. Although it was dusk, the window in the loft room, which opened toward the sea, was opposite and showed a faint reflection of the setting sun. Nann was relieved but still puzzled, when a whispered voice at the foot of the stairway called to her. Turning, Nann saw Dories standing in the dim light below, holding up the key. Did you forget that we brought it down? she inquired.

As Nann hurriedly descended, she noticed that the stairs did not creak, nor indeed could they, for each step was one solid board firmly wedged in grooves at the sides.

I believe that we are all of us allowing our imaginations to run away with us, Miss Moore included, Nann said as she returned to the kitchen. Then added, Instead of making our bed now, I will clean the glass lamps and fill them with the oil that Gibralter brought while it is still twilighty.

This she did, setting briskly to work and humming a gay little tune.

It never would do for Nann Sibbett, the fearless, to allow her imagination to run riot.

Before the lamps were ready to be lighted, the fog, which stole in every night from the sea, had settled about the cabin and the fog horn out beyond the rocky point had started its constantly recurring, long drawn-out wail.

Goodness! Dories said, shudderingly, listen to that!

Im listening! Nann replied briskly. I rather like it. Its so sort of appropriate. You know, at the movies, when the Indians come on, the weird Indian music always begins. Now, thats the way with the fog.

She paused to scratch a match, applied the flame to the oil-saturated wick of a small glass lamp and stood back admiringly. There, friend o mine, she exclaimed, isnt that cheerful?

Dories, instead of looking at the circle of light about the lamp, looked at the wavering shadows in the corners, then at the heavy gray fog which hung like curtains at the windows. She huddled closer to the stove. If this place spells cheerfulness to you, she remarked, Id like to know what would be dismal.

Nann whirled about and faced her friend and for a moment she was serious.

Im going to preach, she threatened, so be prepared. I havent the least bit of use in this world for people who are mercurial. What right have we to mope about and create a dismal atmosphere in our homes, just because we cant see the sunshine. We know positively that it is shining somewhere, and we also know that the clouds never last long. I call it superlative selfishness to be variable in disposition. Pray, why should we impose our doleful moods on our friends?

Then, noting the downcast expression of her friend, Nann put her arms about her as she said penitently, Forgive me, dear, if I hurt your feelings. Of course it is dismal here and we could be just miserable if we wanted to be, but isnt it far better to think of it all as an adventure, a merry lark? We know perfectly well that there is no such thing as a ghost, but the setting for one is so perfect we just cant resist the temptation to pretend that

Nann said no more for something had suddenly banged in the loft room over their heads.

Dories sat up with a start, but Nann laughed gleefully. You see, even the ghost knows his cue, she declared. He came into the story just at the right moment. He cant scare me, however, Nann continued, for I know exactly what made the bang. When I was upstairs I noticed that the blind to the front window had come unfastened, and now that the night wind is rising, the two conspired to make us think a ghost had invaded our chamber. Then, having placed a lighted lamp on the kitchen table and another on a shelf near the stove, the optimistic girl whirled and with arms akimbo she exclaimed, Mistress Dori, what will we have for supper? You forage in the supply cupboard and bring forth your choice. I vote for hot chocolate!

How would asparagus tips do on toast? This doubtfully from the girl peering into a closet where stood row after row of bags and cans.

Great! was the merry reply. And well have canned raspberries and wafers for desert.

It was seven when the meal was finished and nearly eight when the kitchen was tidied. Nann noticed that Dories seemed intentionally slow and that every now and then she seemed to be listening for sounds from above. Ignoring it, however, Nann put out the light in one lamp and, taking the other, she exclaimed, The earlier we go to bed, the earlier we can get up, and Im heaps more interested in being awake by day than by night, arent you, Dori? Are you all ready?

Dories nodded, preparing to follow her friend out into the fog that hung like a damp, dense mantle on the back porch. But, as soon as the door was opened, a cold, penetrating wind blew out the flame. How stupid of me! Nann exclaimed, backing into the kitchen and closing the door. I should have lighted the lantern. Now stand still where you are, Dori, and Ill grope around and find where I left it after I filled it. Didnt you think I hung it on the nail in the corner? Well, if I did, it isnt there. Get the matches, dear, will you, and strike one so that I can see.

But that did not prove to be necessary, as a sudden flaming-up of the dying fire in the stove revealed the lantern standing on the floor near the oil can. Nann pounced on it, found a match before the glow was gone, and then, when the lantern sent forth its rather faint illumination, they again ventured out into the fog.

All the way up the back stairway Dories expected to hear a bang in the room overhead, but there was no sound. She peered over Nanns shoulder when the door was opened and the faint light penetrated the darkness. See, I was right! Nann whispered triumphantly. The blind blew shut and the hook caught it. Thats why we didnt hear it again.

Lets leave it shut, Dories suggested, then we wont be able to see the lantern out on the point of rocks if it moves about at midnight.

Nann, realizing that her companion really was excitedly fearful, thought best to comply with her request, and, as there was plenty of air entering the loft room through innumerable cracks, she knew they would not smother.

Too, Dories wanted the lantern left burning, but as soon as Nann was sure that her companion was asleep, she stealthily rose and blew out the flickering flame.

CHAPTER XI
A QUERULOUS OLD AUNT

It was daylight when the girls awakened and the sun was streaming into their bedroom. Nann leaped to her feet. It must be late, she declared as she felt under her pillow for her wristwatch. She drew it forth, but with it came a piece of crumpled yellow paper on which in small red letters was written, In twelve days you shall know all.

Dories luckily had not as yet opened her eyes and Nann was sitting on the edge of the bed with her back toward her companion. For a moment she looked into space meditatively. Should she keep all knowledge of that bit of paper to herself? She decided that she would, and slipping it into the pocket of her sweater-coat, which hung on a chair, she rose and walked across the room to gaze at the door. She remembered distinctly that she had locked it. How could anyone have entered? Not for one moment did the girl believe that their visitor had been a ghostly apparition that could pass through walls and locked doors.

Hmm! I see, she concluded after a seconds scrutiny. I did lock the door, but I removed the key and put it on the table. A pass-key evidently admitted our visitor. Then, while dressing, Nann continued to soliloquize. I wonder if the person who walks the cliff carrying the lantern was our visitor. Perhaps its the old Colonel himself or his man-servant who hides during the day under the leaning part of the roof, but who walks forth at night for exercise and air, although surely there must be air enough in a house that has only one wall.

Having completed her toilet, she shook her friend. If you dont wake up soon, you wont be downstairs in time for breakfast, she exclaimed.

Dories sat up with a startled cry. Oh, Nann, she pleaded. Dont go down and leave me up here alone, please dont! Ill be dressed before you can say Jack Robinson, if only you will wait.

Well, Ill be opening this window. I want to see the ocean. As Nann spoke, she lifted the hook and swung out the blind, then exclaimed:

How wonderfully blue the water is! Oho, someone is out in the cove with a flat-bottomed boat. Why, I do believe it is our friend Gibralter. Come to think of it, he did say that he had been saving his money for ever so long to buy what he calls a sailing punt.

Nann leaned out of the open window and waved her handkerchief. Then she turned back to smile at her friend. It is Gib and hes sailing toward shore. Do hurry, Dori, lets run down to the beach and call to him.

Tiptoeing down the flight of stairs, the two girls, taking hands, scrambled over the bank to the hard sand that was glistening in the sun.





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