Carol Norton.

The Phantom Yacht





Nanns merry laughter rang out. Ive heard of belling a cat, she said, but never before did I hear of belling a ghost.

Dories smiled. Oh, I didnt mean that we were to catch the well, whoever it is that leaves the messages, first, and then hang a bell on him. That, of course, would be impossible.

Well, then, what is your plan?

But before Dories could explain, a querulous voice from the adjoining room called, Girls, its five oclock! I do wish you would bring me my toast and tea. The air is so chilly, I need it to warm me up.

Contritely Dories sprang to the door. She had entirely forgotten her aunts existence all of the afternoon. Wouldnt you like to have part of the supper that Nann and I will prepare for ourselves? she asked. Well have anything that you would like.

Toast and tea are all I wish, and I want them at once, was the rather ungracious reply. And so the girls went to the kitchen, made a fire in the stove and set the kettle on to boil.

Goodness, Id hate to have nothing to eat but tea and toast day in and day out, was Dories comment. Then to her companion, Its your turn to choose from the cupboard tonight and plan the supper.

All right, and Ill get it, too, while you wait on Miss Moore.

An hour later the girls had finished the really excellent meal which Nann had prepared, and, for a while, they sat close to the kitchen stove to keep warm. The wind, which had been moaning all of the afternoon about the cabin, had risen in velocity and Dories remarked with a shudder that it might be the start of one of those dismal three-day storms about which Gib had told them.

It may be as terrible as that hurricane that swept the sea up over the wall and undermined old Colonel Wadburys house, she continued, bent, it would seem, on having the picture as dark as she could.

Wont it be great? Nann smiled provokingly. You ought to be glad, for surely the spook that carries the lantern down on the point will be blown away. Then, chancing to recall something, she asked, But you havent told me your plan yet. How are you going to bell the ghost?

My plan is to hang a little bell on the knob after we have locked our door. Then, of course, if we have a midnight visitor, he wont be able to enter without ringing the bell, Dories explained.

Poor Aunt Jane, if it does ring, Nann remarked. How frightened she will be.

Dories drew her knees up and folded her arms about them. Well, I do believe that we would be most scared of all, she said.

Then why do it? This merrily from Nann. And, whats more, if it is a ghost, it will be able to slip into our room without awakening us. Whoever heard of a ghost having to stop to unlock a door?

Maybe not, Dories agreed, but if we are going to have any real enjoyment during our stay in this cabin, we must frighten away the ghost that seems to haunt it. I think my plan is an excellent one and, at least, Id like to try it.

Very well, maiden fair. Nann rose as she spoke.

On your head be the result. Now, shall we ascend to our chamber?

Taking the lantern, she led the way, and Dories followed, carrying a small bell. When the loft room was reached the lantern was placed on a table. Nann carefully locked the door and, removing the key, she placed it by the lamp.

Then she held the small bell while Dories tied it to the knob. This done, they hastily undressed and hopped into bed.

Lets leave the light burning all night so that we may watch the bell, the more timid maiden suggested.

How her companion laughed. Why watch it? she inquired. We surely will be able to hear it in the dark if it rings. There is very little oil left in the lantern, so wed better put the light out now, and then, if along about midnight we hear the bell ringing, we can relight it and see who our visitor may be.

Nann Sibbett, Im almost inclined to think that you write those messages yourself, just to tease me, for you dont seem to be the least bit afraid. This accusingly.

Honest, Injun, I dont write them! Nann said with sudden seriousness. I havent the slightest idea where the messages come from, but I do know that whoever leaves them does not mean harm to us, so why be afraid? Now cuddle down, for Im going to blow out the light.

Dories ducked under the quilt and, a moment later, when she ventured to peer out, she found the room in complete darkness, for, as usual, a heavy fog shut out the light of the stars.

How long do you suppose it will be before the bell rings? she whispered.

Well, Im not going to stay awake to listen, Nann replied, but she had not slept long when she was suddenly awakened by her companion, who was clutching her arm. Did you hear that noise? What was it? Didnt it sound like a faint tinkle?

The two girls sat up in bed and stared at the door.

CHAPTER XIV
A PUNT RIDE

The faint tinkle sounded again. Nann sprang up and lighted the lantern. To her amazement the bell was gone. Surprised as she was, she had sufficient presence of mind not to tell her timid companion what had happened. Very softly she turned the knob. The door was still locked. She glanced at the window; the blind was still hooked. Then, blowing out the light, she said in a tone meant to express unconcern, All is serene on the Potomac as far as I can see. After returning to bed, however, Nann remained awake, long after her companions even breathing told that she was asleep, wondering what it could all mean. Toward morning Nann fell into a light slumber, from which she was awakened by the sun streaming into the room. Sitting up, she saw that Dories was dressed and had opened the blinds. For a moment she sat in a dazed puzzling. What was it that she had been pondering about in the night? Remembering suddenly, she glanced quickly at the door. There hung the little bell as quietly as though it had never disappeared. Dories, hearing a movement, turned from the window where she had been gazing out at the sparkling sea.

Good morning to you, Nancy dear, she said gaily. O, such a lovely day this is! How I hope that I may go sailing with you and Gib. Then, as she saw her friend continuing to stare at the bell as though fascinated, Dories remarked, Well, I guess the ghost took warning all right and stayed away. We wont find a little paper in our room this morning, Ill wager. As she talked, she was crossing the room to the door. Lifting the little bell, she dropped it again with a clang.

Nann sprang out of bed, all excited interest. Dories, what happened? Why did you drop the bell?

Dories pointed to the floor where it lay. Nann bent to pick it up. Tied to the clapper was a bit of paper and on it was written in the familiar penmanship and with the same red ink, In eleven days you will know all.

Instead of acting frightened, Dories look was one of triumph. There now, Mistress Nann, she exclaimed, you are always saying that it is not a being supernatural that is leaving these notes. What have you to say about it this morning?

That I am truly puzzled, was the confession Nann was forced to make; that the joker is much too clever for us, but well catch him yet, if Im a prophet. She was dressing as she talked.

Dories, standing near the window, was examining the paper. It seems to be the sort that packages are wrapped in, she speculated. Then, after a silent moment and a closer scrutiny, Nann, do you suppose that it is written with blood?

Good gracious, no! the denial was emphatic. Why do you ask such an absurd question?

Well, that was what the red ink was made of in one of the ghost stories that I read to Aunt Jane yesterday morning.

Nann, having completed her toilet, went to the window to look out. Good! she exclaimed. There is Gibralter Strait in his little punt boat. He seems to have plenty of time to go sailing. Oh, I remember now. He did tell me that their country school does not open until after Christmas. So many boys are needed to help their fathers on the farms and with the cranberries until snow falls.

I suppose I ought to stay at home again this morning and read to Aunt Jane. Dories voice sounded so doleful that her friend whirled about, and, putting loving arms about her, she exclaimed: Not a bit of it! You may sail with Gibralter this morning and I will stay here and read to your Great-Aunt Jane.

But when the two girls visited the room of the elderly woman, she told them that she wished to be left quite alone.

Dories went to the bedside and, almost timidly, she touched the wrinkled head. Dont you feel well today, Aunt Jane! she asked, feeling in her heart a sudden pity for the old woman. Isnt there something I could do for you?

For one fleeting moment there was that strange expression in the dark, deeply-sunken eyes. It might have been a hungry yearning for love and affection. Impulsively the girl kissed the sallow cheek, but the elderly woman had closed her eyes and she did not open them again, and so Nann and Dories tiptoed out to the kitchen.

Poor Aunt Jane! the latter began. She hasnt had much love in her life. I dont remember just how it was. She was engaged to marry somebody once. Then something happened and she didnt. After that, Mother says she just shut herself up in that fine home of hers outside of Boston and grieved.

Poor Aunt Jane, indeed! Nann commented as she began to prepare the breakfast. She must be haunted by many of the ghosts that your mother told about, memories of loving deeds that she might have done. With her money and her home, she could have made many people happy, but instead she has spent her life just being sorry for herself. Then more brightly, Im glad we can both go sailing with Gib.

Half an hour later, the girls in their bright colored sweater-coats and tams raced across the beach. The red-headed boy was on the watch for them and he soon had the punt alongside the broad rock which served as a dock. Do you want passengers this morning? Nann called gaily.

Sure sartin! was the prompt reply. Then, when the two girls were seated on the broad seat in the stem the lad hauled in the sheet and away they went scudding. Where are you going, Gib? Nann inquired curiously.

Well cruise long the water side o the ol ruin, he told them. Pa says hes sure sartin he saw a light burnin thar agin late las night, an likes not, well see suthin.

CHAPTER XV
A GLOOMY SWAMP

The girls were as eager as the boy to view the old ruin from the water, and the breeze being brisk, they were quickly blown down the coast and into the quiet sheltered water beyond the point. O, Gib, Dories cried fearfully, do be careful! There are logs under the water along here that come nearly to the top. Is it a wreck?

No, taint. Its all thats left of the long dock I was tellin yo about whar the Phantom Yacht used to tie up. Pa said ol Colonel Wadbury had lights clear to the end of it and that, when twas lit up, twas a purty sight.

It must have been, Nann agreed. Then Dories inquired: Doesnt it make you feel strange to realize that you are on the very spot where the Phantom Yacht once sailed?

And where some day it may sail again, Nann completed.

The high rocky point cut off the wind and so Gib let the sail flap as they slowly drifted toward the swamp.

Thars all thats left of that sea wall I was tellin about, the boy nodded at huge rocks half sunken in mire.

The reeds are higher than our heads, Dories commented; then she asked, Is there a path through the marsh, do you think, Gib?

No, Im sure thar aint one, the boy declared. Men Dick Burton would have found it if thar had been. Weve looked times enough from the land side. We never could get here by water, bein as we didnt have a boat. Thats why Ive been savin to get a punt. Dick, he put in some toward it, an so its half hisn.

Who is Dick Burton? Nann inquired.

Didnt I tell you? Gib seemed surprised. Sort o thought o course you knew bout the Burtons. Dicks folks own the cabin thats nearest the rocks. Hes a city feller bout my age, or a leetle older, I reckon. Hes been comin to these parts ever since we was shavers. Youd ought to know him, this to Nann, he lives in Boston, whar you come from.

The girl addressed laughed good-naturedly. Gib, she queried, have you ever been up to Boston?

The boy reluctantly confessed that he had not. Then the girl explained that since it was much larger than Siquaw Center, two people might live there forever and not become acquainted.

Yeah. Gib had evidently not been listening to the last part of Nanns remark. I do wish Dick was here now that weve got the punt, he said. I sure sartin wish he was.

Why? Dories inquired as she let one hand drift in the cool water.

Wall, men he allays thought maybe thar was a channel through the swamp up toward the old ruin. If he was here wed set out to find it.

But why cant Dori and I help you as much as he could? Nann queried. I believe you are right, Gib, she continued before the boy had time to reply. Ive seen swamps before, and there was always a narrow channel through them where the tide washed when it was high. See ahead there, where the swamp comes down to the waters edge, I wish youd take the sail down, Gib, and row as close to it as you can.

The boy looked his amazement.

But, I say, Miss Nann, likes not wed hit a snag, likes not we would.

Whos skeered now? the girl taunted. The boy flushed. Not me! he protested, and taking down the sail he rowed along the water side of the dense reedy growths. Yo see thars nothin, he began when Nann, leaning forward, pointed as she cried excitedly, There it is! Theres an opening in the swamp leading right up to that haunted house.

Nann was right. A narrow channel of clear water appeared among the reeds that were higher than their heads. It led toward the middle of the marsh and was wide enough for a larger boat than theirs to pass through.

Now, the next question is, do we dare go in? Nann was gleeful over her find and how she wished that Gibs friend, Dick Burton, were there to share with them that exciting moment.

Well, that question is easy to answer, Dories hastened to say. We most certainly do not dare.

The boy, having removed his nondescript cap, was scratching his ear in a way that he always did when puzzled. Then there was a sudden eager light in his red-brown eyes. Replacing his hat, he seized the oars and began to row rapidly back up the shore and toward the row of eight cottages.

Nann was puzzled and voiced her curiosity. Got to get back to Siquaw in time for the ten-ten train, was all the information she received.

Since he had said nothing of this when they started out, and had seemed to be in no hurry whatever, Nann naturally wondered about it.

Some light might have been thrown on his action had she seen him, one hour later, as he sat on the high stool at his fathers desk in the general store. He was painstakingly writing, and, when the ten-ten train arrived, Gibralter Strait was on the platform waiting to send to the nearby city of Boston the very first letter that he had ever written.

CHAPTER XVI
OUT IN THE DARK

All the next day the girls waited and watched, but Gibralter Strait appeared neither on land nor on sea to explain his queer actions. Their hostess asked Dories to read to her and so the morning was passed in that way. Nann, busy at a piece of fancy work she was making for a Christmas present, sat listening. In the afternoon the girls were told to amuse themselves. This they did by climbing to the tip-top rock, sitting there in the balmy sun and speculating about the old ruin; about the reason for Gibs sudden departure for his home the day before, and about the boy and girl who had sailed away on the Phantom Yacht. It was not until a fog, filmy at first, but rapidly increasing in density, began to hide the sun that they thought of returning homewards. As they passed the cabin nearest the rocks, Dories said, This is the Burton cottage, I suppose. I wonder if Dick is our kind of boy?

Meaning what? Nann wondered.

O, you know as well as I do. I like Gib, of course. Hes a splendid boy, but he hasnt had a chance. I merely meant a boy from families like our own.

I rather think so, Nann replied, as she gazed at the boarded-up cabin. Then suddenly she stopped and stared at one of the upper windows. The blind had opened ever so slightly and then had closed again, but of this Nann said nothing. She was afraid that she was becoming almost as imaginative as Dories. Then suddenly she recalled something. Gib had said that his father had seen a light in the old ruin the night before. And what was more, she and Dories knew there had been someone carrying a lantern on the beach near the rocks at least twice since they had been there. What if the lantern-carrier hid in the Burton cottage during the day? He couldnt live in the old ruin, since it had only one wall standing.

Luckily, Dories had been interested in watching the waves breaking at her feet. Turning, she called, O, but its getting cold and damp. Lets run the rest of the way.

When they reached their home cabin, Nann went at once to inquire if Miss Moore wished her supper. The girl was sure that she heard a scurrying noise in the old womans room. The door was closed and there was silence for a brief moment before she was told to enter. Puzzled, Nann glanced quickly at the bed and noted that the old womans cap was awry. She also saw something else that puzzled her, but she merely said, What would you like tonight with your tea, Miss Moore?

Nothing at all but toast, and tell Dories to be sure it doesnt burn. I dont relish it when it has been scraped. The tone in which this was said was impatient and fretful. It was evident that the old woman was not in as pleasant a mood as she had seemed to be in the morning.

Returning to the kitchen, where the kettle was already boiling, Nann made the tea and toasted the bread as well as she could over the blaze; then Dories arranged her aunts tray attractively and took it in to her. While she was gone, Nann stood staring out of the window at the gathering dusk. She believed she had a clue to one of the mysteries surrounding them, but decided not to tell her friend until she was a little more certain about it herself.

When Dories returned to the kitchen she said, Day-dreaming, Nann?

No, dusk-dreaming, was the smiling reply; then, Now lets get our evening repast. What shall it be?

Together they looked in the closet, each selecting a canned vegetable and something for desert. This is a lazy way to live, Nann began, when Dories exclaimed: Do you realize that we havent had one of those notes today? I believe my bell scared away the ghost after all.

Nann laughed merrily. Nary a bit of it, my friend. Didnt his spooky highness tie his last note to the bell clapper? I suppose that is why we didnt hear it tinkle again.

But we havent found a note today O dear! Dories broke off to exclaim: The fire must be going out, Nann, she called; youre the magician when it comes to stirring up a blaze. What do you suppose is the matter?

A quick glance within brought the amused answer: Wood needed, my dear, thats all! Which reminds me of Dads wondering why the car wont go when its out of gas. As she spoke she turned toward the wood box and found it empty. Hmm! she ejaculated, that means one of us will have to hie out to the shed after more wood if we want a hot supper.

Dories, after a swift glance at the black fog-hung window, suggested, Lets change our menu and have a cold spread.

Nixy, my dear, Nann said brightly. Ill be wood-carrier. Ill sally forth with a lighted lantern, like that mysterious midnight prowler. I wont be able to bring in much wood, but I believe a piece or two will provide all the heat well need to warm up canned things. She was lighting the lantern as she talked. The lamp was burning on the kitchen table, and, while her friend was gone, Dories laid out the dishes and silver.

Nann, having reached the shed, groped about for the leather thong. To her surprise the door was not fastened, and, as she stood peering into the dense blackness, she was sure that she heard a scrambling noise inside. Then all was still. Nann scratched one of the matches that she had brought with her. In the far corner stood an empty barrel and in front of it was piled the wood that she and Dories had gathered on the beach. Not another thing was to be seen, and although she stood listening intently for several seconds, not another sound was heard.

A rat probably, the girl thought as she placed her lantern on the floor and picked up several pieces of wood.

Returning to the kitchen, Nann threw her armful of wood into the box near the stove, when Dories suddenly leaped forward, exclaiming excitedly, There it is. Theres the note we have been wondering about.

Why why, so it is! Nann stared as though she could hardly believe her eyes. Then, springing up, she cried joyfully: Dories Moore, weve caught the ghost. He was leaving this paper when I went out. He must still be in the woodshed somewhere, for I bolted the door on the outside. He must have been hiding in that old empty barrel when I looked in. Light the lantern again and lets go out this minute and see who is there.





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