Carol Norton.

The Phantom Yacht





The boy, having seen them, turned his boat toward shore, and, as there was very little wind, he let the sail flap and began rowing.

The tide was low and there was almost no surf.

Want to come out? he called as soon as he was within hailing distance.

Oh, how I wish we could, Nann, the fearless, replied, but we have duties to attend to first. Come back in about an hour and maybe well be ready to go.

All right-ho! the sea breeze brought to them, then the lad turned into the rising wind, pulled in the sheet and scudded away from the shore.

That surely looks like jolly sport, Nann declared as, with arms locked, the two girls stood on a boulder, watching for a moment. Then, We ought to go in, for Great-Aunt Jane may have awakened, Dories said.

When the girls tiptoed to the chamber on the lower floor, they found Miss Moore unusually fretful. What a noisy night it was, she declared, peevishly. I came to this place for a complete rest and I just couldnt sleep a wink. I dont see why you girls have to walk around in the night. Dont you know that you are right over my head and every noise you make sounds as though it were right in this very room?

Im sorry you were disturbed, Aunt Jane, Dories said, but she was indeed puzzled. Neither she nor Nann had awakened from the hour that they retired until sunrise.

When the girls were in the kitchen preparing breakfast, Dories asked, Nann, do you think that Great-Aunt Jane may be I dont like to say it, but you know how elderly people do, sometimes, wander mentally.

No, dear, the other replied, I do not think that is true of your aunt. Then chancing to put her hand in the pocket of her sweater-coat, and feeling there the crumpled paper, Nann drew it out and handed it to Dories.

Why, where did you find it? that astonished maiden inquired when she had read the finely written words, In twelve days you shall know all.

Under my pillow, was the reply, and so you see who ever leaves these messages has no desire to harm us, hence there is no reason for us to be afraid. At first I thought that I would not tell you, but I want you to understand that your Great Aunt Jane may have heard footsteps over her head last night, even though we did not awaken.

Well, if you are not afraid, Ill try not to be, Dories assured her friend, but in her heart she knew that she would be glad indeed when the twelve days were over.

Later when Dories went into her aunts room to remove the breakfast tray, she bent over the bed to arrange the pillows more comfortably. Then she tripped about, tidying the room. Chancing to turn, she found the dark, deeply sunken eyes of the elderly woman watching her with an expression that was hard to define. Jane Moore smiled faintly at the girl, and there was a tone of wistfulness in her voice as she said, I suppose you and Nann will be away all day again.

Why, Aunt Jane, Dories heard herself saying as she went to the bedside, were you lonely? Would you like to have me stay for a while this morning and read to you?

Even as she spoke she seemed to see her mothers smiling face and hear her say, The only ghosts that haunt us are the memories of loving deeds left undone and kind words that might have been spoken. As yet Dories had not even thought of trying to do anything to add to her aunts pleasure.

She was gratified to see the brightening expression. Well, that would be nice! If you will read to me until I fall asleep, I shall indeed be glad.

Nann, who had come to the door, had heard, and, as the girls left the room, she slipped an arm about her friend, saying, That was mighty nice of you, Dori, for I know how much pleasanter it would be for you to go for a boat ride with Gibralter. Ill stay with you if you wish.

No, indeed, Nann. You go and see if you cant find another clue to the mystery.

I feel in my bones that we will, that maiden replied as she poured hot water over the few breakfast dishes. It would be rather a good joke on well on the ghost, if we solved the mystery sooner than twelve days. Dont you think so?

But there are so many things that puzzle us, Dories protested. I wish we might catch whoever it is leaving those messages. That, at least, would be one mystery solved.

Ill tell you what, Nann said brightly. Lets put on our thinking caps and try to find some way to trap the ghost tonight. Well, good-bye for now! Gib and I will be back soon, I am sure. Im just wild to go for a little sail with him in his queer punt boat.

Dories stood in the open front door watching as her friend ran lightly across the hard sand, climbed to a boulder and beckoned to the boy who was not far away.

With a half sigh Dories went into her aunts room. Catching a glimpse of her own reflection in a mirror she was surprised to behold a fretful expression which plainly told that she was doing something that she did not want to do in the least. She smiled, and then turning toward the bed, she asked, What shall I read, Aunt Jane?

Are there any books in the living room? the elderly woman inquired. The girl shook her head. There are shelves, but the books have been removed.

There was a sudden brightening of the deeply sunken eyes. I recall now, the older woman said, the books were packed in a box and taken up to the loft. Suppose you go up there and select any book that you would like to read.

For one panicky moment Dories felt that she must refuse to go alone to that loft room which she believed was haunted. She had never been up there without Nann.

Well, are you going? The inquiry was not impatient, but it was puzzled. Yes, Aunt Jane, Ill go at once. There was nothing for the girl to do but go. Taking the key from its place in the kitchen, she began to ascend the outdoor stairway. How she did wish that she were as fearless as Nann.

The door opened when the key turned, and Dories stood looking about her as though she half believed that someone would appear, either from under the bed or from behind the curtains that sheltered one corner.

There was no sound, and, moreover, the loft room was flooded with sunlight. The box, holding the books, was readily found. Dories approached it, lifted the cover and was about to search for an interesting title when a mouse leaped out, scattering gnawed bits of paper. Seizing the book on top, Dories fled.

What is the matter? her aunt inquired when, almost breathless, the girl entered her room.

Oh I I thought it was but it wasnt it was only a mouse.

Of course it was only a mouse, Miss Moore said. I sincerely hope that a niece of mine is not a coward.

I hope not, Aunt Jane. Then the girl for the first time glanced at the book she held. The title was Famous Ghost Stories of England and Ireland.

Very entertaining, indeed, the elderly woman remarked, as she settled back among the pillows, and there was nothing for Dories to do but read one hair-raising tale after another. Often she glanced at her wrist-watch. It was almost noon. Why didnt Nann come?

CHAPTER XII
A BLEACHED SKELETON

When Gibralter saw Nann crossing the wide beach that was shimmering in the light of the early morning sun, he turned the punt boat and sailed as close to the point of rocks as he dared go. Then, letting the sail flap, he took the oars and was soon alongside a large flat boulder which, at low tide, was uncovered, although an occasional wave did wash over it.

Quick! Watch whar ye step, he cautioned. Thar now. Heres yer chance. Heave ho. Then he added admiringly as the girl stepped into the middle of the punt without losing her balance, Bully fer you. Thats as steady as a boy could have done it. Whars the other gal? Was she skeered to come?

Nann seated herself on the wide stern seat of the flat-bottomed boat before she replied. Dori wanted to come just ever so much, but she thought that she ought to stay at home this morning and read to her Great-Aunt Jane.

Wall, I dont envy her none, the lad said as he stood up to push the boat away from the rocks. That ol Miss Moore is sure sartin the crabbiest sort o a person seems like to me. Then as he sat on the gunnel and pulled on the sheet, he added, beaming at the girl, Say, Miss Nann, are ye game to sail over clost to the island yonder? Likes not wed find the skeleton o The Phantom Yacht if it got wrecked thar, as Pa thinks mabbe it did.

Oh, Gib, the girls voice expressed real concern, I do hope that beautiful snow-white yacht was not wrecked. I dont believe that it was. I feel sure that those sailors took it safely back across the sea with that poor heart-broken mother and the boy who was such a handsome little chap, and the wee gold and white girl whom your daddy said looked like a lily. Honestly, Gib, Id almost rather not sail over to that cruel island where so many boats have gone down. If the Phantom Yacht is there, Id rather not know it. Id heaps rather believe that it is still sailing, perhaps on the blue, blue waters of the Mediterranean.

The boy looked his disappointment. I say, Miss Nann, he pleaded, come on, say youll go, just this onct. Im powerful curious to see what the shoals look like. Ive been savin and savin for ever so long to buy this here punt boat jest sos I could cruise around over thar. Miss Nann, wont you go?

The girl laughed. Gibralter, you look the picture of distress. I just cant be hard-hearted enough to disappoint you. If youll promise not to wreck me, Ill consent to go at least near enough to see just what the island looks like.

With that promise the boy had to be content. A brisk breeze was blowing from the land and so, before very long, the two and a half miles that lay between the shore and the outer shoals were covered and the long gaunt island of jagged gray rocks loomed large before them.

The shoalsll come up, sudden-like, clost to the top of the water, most any time now, Gib said, so keep watchin ahead. If you see a place whar the colors different, sort o shallow lookin, jest sing out an Ill pull away.

Nann, thrilling with the excitement of a new adventure, looked over the side of the punt and into water so deep and dark green that it seemed bottomless, but all at once they sailed right over a sharp-pointed rock. Then another appeared, and another.

Gib! the girls cry was startled, youd better stop sailing now and take the oars, slowly, for if we hit a rock, way out here, and capsize, pray, who would there be to save us?

Nann shuddered as she gazed ahead at the gray, grim island. A flock of long-legged, long-beaked and altogether ungainly looking seabirds arose from the rocks with shrill, unearthly screams, and, after circling overhead for a moment they landed a safe distance away. There was no other sign of life.

Gibralter let the sail flap at the girls suggestion and began to row slowly along on the sheltered side of the island.

Hark! Nann said, lifting one hand. Just hear how the surf is pounding on the outer coast. Dont go too far, Gib; see how the water swirls around the rocks where they jut out into the sea.

As he rowed slowly along, the boy kept a keen-eyed watch along the shore. Thard ought to be a place whar a body could land safely, he said at last. Then added excitedly as he pointed: Looket; thars a big flat shoal that goes way up to the island, an Im sure as anything this here punt could slide right up over it an never touch bottom. Are ye game to try it, Miss Nann? Say, are ye?

The girl looked at the wide, flat shoal that was about two feet under water and which was evidently connected with the island. Then she looked at the eager face of the boy. I dare, if you dare, she said with a bright smile.

Gibralter managed to row the punt boat within a length of the island over the submerged shoal, and then it stuck.

Well, Nann remarked, I suppose we will have to stay here until the rising tide lifts us off.

Nary a bit of it, the boy replied as he stripped off his shoes and stockings. This done he stepped over the side of the boat, which, lightened of his weight, again floated.

Taking the rope at the bow, the lad pulled and tugged until the punt was high and dry, then Nann leaped out. Standing on a rock, she shaded her eyes and gazed back across the three miles of sparkling blue waters. She could see the eight cottages in a row on the sandy shore. How strange it seemed to be looking at them from the island.

We mustnt stay long, Gib, she said to the lad who was examining the rocks with interest. When the tide rises the waves will be higher and that punt boat of yours may not be very seaworthy.

Thars nothin onusual on this here side, the boy soon reported. Twont take long to climb up top and see whats on the other side. As he spoke, he began to climb over the rocks, holding out his hand to assist the sure-footed girl in the ascent.

There doesnt seem to be a green thing growing anywhere, Nann remarked as she looked about curiously, even in the crevices there is nothing but a silvery gray moss. Then she inquired, Are there any serpents on this island, Gib?

The boy shook his head. Never heard tell of anything hereabouts, cept just an octopus. Pa says onct a fishermans boat was pulled under by one of them critters with a lot of arms sort o like snakes.

Nann stood still and stared at the boy. Gibralter Strait, she cried, if I thought there was one of those terrible sea-serpents about here, Id go right home this very instant. Why, Id rather meet a dozen ghosts than one octopus.

I guess twant nothin but a story, the boy said, sorry that he had happened to mention it. Guess likely that was all. Then, as they had reached the top of the rocks that were piled high, they stood for a moment side by side gazing down to the rugged shore far below.

The boy suddenly caught the girls arm. Look! Look! he cried. Thats what I was wantin to find. He pointed toward a whitening skeleton of a boat that was high on the rocks well out of reach of the surf and about two hundred feet to the left of where they were standing. Like as not that wrecks been thar nigh unto ten year, shouldnt you say? An if so, why mightnt it be The Phantom Yacht as well as any other? I should think it might, shouldnt you, Miss Nann?

I suppose so, the girl faltered. But oh, how I do hope that it isnt. I want to believe that the mother with her boy and girl are safe, somewhere. Then pleadingly, Dont you think wed better start for home now, Gib? I do want to get away before the tide turns, and even if that old skeleton should be The Phantom Yacht, there would be no way for us to prove it. You never did know the real name of the boat, did you?

No. the boy confessed, I never did. Sort o got to thinkin Phantom Yacht was its name, but likes not twasnt.

The bleached skeleton of the boat was soon reached and the lad, leaving Nann standing on a broad flat rock, scrambled down nearer and began searching for something that might identify it as the craft which, many years before, had sailed, white and graceful, to and fro in the sheltered waters of the bay, and which had been called The Phantom Yacht.

Half an hour passed, but search as he might, the disappointed boy found nothing that could identify the boat. The storms of many winters had stripped it, leaving but a whitened skeleton and, before long, even that would be broken up and washed on the shore where the cottages were, to be gathered and burned as driftwood.

It was with real regret that Gibralter at last left the wrecked boat and returned to the side of the girl. He found her gazing into the swirling green waters beyond the rocks as though she were fascinated.

What ye lookin at, Miss Nann? he inquired.

She turned toward him, wide-eyed. Gib, she said, I thought I saw that octopus you were telling about. Look, there it is again! See it stretching out a long brown arm.

The boy laughed heartily. That thars sea weeds, Miss Nann, he chuckled, one o the long streamer kind. Then he added, more seriously, Wed better scud long. Pears like the tide is turnin. Then his optimistic self once again, All the better if it has turned. Itll take us to Siquaw Point a scootin.

When they reached the ridge of the island, the boy looked regretfully back at the grim skeleton. Dye know, Miss Nann, he remarked, Im sure sartin that were leavin without findin a clue thats hidin thar waitin to be found. Im sure sartin we are.

It was a habit with the boy to repeat, perhaps for the sake of emphasis.

Wall, Nann declared, to be real honest, Gib, Id heaps rather be standing on that sandy stretch of beach over there where the cottages are than I would to find any clue that the old skeleton may be concealing. Then she laughed, as she accepted his proffered assistance to descend the rocks. I dont know why, but I feel as though something skeery is about to happen. Maybe Im more imaginative on water than I am on land.

They slid and scrambled down the rocks and were nearing the bottom when an ejaculation of mingled astonishment and dismay escaped from the boy.

What is it, Gib? the girl asked anxiously. Has the skeery something happened already?

The punt. Taint thar. The tide rose soonern I was countin on and likes not that boat o mine is sailin out to sea.

For one panicky moment the girl stood very still, her hand pressed on her heart. Then she recalled something that her father once had said: When danger threatens, keep a clear head. That will do more than anything else to avert trouble.

The boy, shading his eyes, was searching for the escaped punt far out on the shining waters, but Nann, looking about her, made a discovery. Then she laughed gleefully. The boy turned toward her in astonishment. Then, being very quick witted, he too understood. You don need to tell me, he said, Im on! We changed our location, so to speak, when we went to look at the wreck, and that fetched us down at a different place on this here side.

Nann nodded. I do believe that well find the punt beyond the rocks yonder, she hazarded. And they did. Ten minutes later the boy had pushed the boat safely over the submerged shoal. The rising tide carried them swiftly out of danger of the hidden rocks. Although Nann said nothing, she kept intently gazing into the dark green water. She would far rather meet any number of ghosts on land, she assured herself, than even catch a glimpse of one of those dreadful sea monsters.

It was nearly one oclock when Dories, who was standing on the porch of the cabin, saw the flat-bottomed boat returning, and she ran down to the shore to meet her friend.

Did you find a clue? she called as Nan leaped ashore.

I dont believe so, was the merry response. We found an old whitening skeleton of some ill-fated boat, but Im not going to believe it is the Phantom Yacht. Not yet, anyway. Then Nann turned to call to the boy who was pushing his punt away from the rocks, See you tomorrow, Gib, if you come this way. Thank you for taking me sailing.

As soon as the girls had turned back toward the cottage, Dories exclaimed, Nann, I believe that I have thought of a splendid way to trap the ghost tonight, but Im not going to tell you until just before we go to bed.

CHAPTER XIII
BELLING THE GHOST

There was a sharp, cold wind that afternoon and so Nann suggested that they make a big fire on the hearth in the living room and write letters. Miss Moore had told them that she wished to be left alone.

We have used up nearly all of the wood in the shed, Nann said as she brought in an armful.

Theres lots of driftwood on the shore. Lets gather some tomorrow, Dories suggested as she made herself comfortable in a deep, easy willow chair near the jolly blaze which Nann had started. Now Im going to write the newsiest kind of a letter to mother and brother. I suppose youll write to your father.

Nann nodded as she seated herself on the other side of the fireplace, pencil and pad in readiness. For a few moments they scribbled, then Dories glanced up to remark with a half shudder, Do hear that mournful wind whistling down the chimney, and here comes the fog drifting in so early. If it werent for the fire, this would be a gloomy afternoon.

Again they wrote for a time, then Dories glanced up to find Nann gazing thoughtfully into the fire. A penny for your thoughts, she called.

Nann smiled brightly. They were rather a jumble. I was wondering if, by any chance, you and I would ever meet the wee girl and the handsome little boy who sailed away on the Phantom Yacht; then, too, I was wondering who was playing a practical joke on us.

Meaning what?

Why the notes, of course. Nann folded her finished letter, addressed the envelope and after stamping it, she glanced up to ask, Why not tell me now, how you intend to trap the joker.

You mean the spook. Well this is it. I found a little bell today. One that Aunt Jane used, I suppose, to call her maid in former years.





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