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Title: Witches Cove - A Mystery Story for Girls
Author: Snell, Roy J. (Roy Judson), 1878-1959
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Witches Cove - A Mystery Story for Girls" ***

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                      _Mystery Stories for Girls_



                              Witches Cove


                                  _By_
                              ROY J. SNELL


                          The Reilly & Lee Co.
                          Chicago    New York


               _Printed in the United States of America_

                            _Copyright, 1928
                                  by_
                          The Reilly & Lee Co.
                         _All Rights Reserved_



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I Mysteries of the Night                                            11
  II Sculling in the Night                                            23
  III In the Dungeon                                                  34
  IV The Face in the Fire                                             42
  V Three Gray Witches                                                58
  VI Off for Further Adventure                                        80
  VII Some Lobsters                                                   84
  VIII From Out the Fog                                              109
  IX Off Black Head                                                  121
  X The Tilting Floor                                                137
  XI The Wavering Red Light                                          149
  XII The Little Man of Witches Cove                                 170
  XIII Under Fire                                                    178
  XIV The Passing of Black Gull                                      193
  XV The Searching Pencil of Light                                   200
  XVI The Old Fort                                                   212
  XVII Secrets Told                                                  221
  XVIII Kidnapped                                                    230
  XIX A Fire on the Beach                                            241
  XX The Chase                                                       245
  XXI On Air and Sea                                                 254
  XXII The Story Told                                                261



                              WITCHES COVE



                               CHAPTER I
                         MYSTERIES OF THE NIGHT


It was night on Casco Bay off the coast of Maine. There was no moon.
Stars were hidden by a fine haze. The distant harbor lights of Portland,
eight of them, gleaming faintly in pairs like yellow cat’s eyes, served
only to intensify the blackness of the water and the night.

Ruth Bracket’s arms moved backward and forward in rhythmic motion. She
was rowing, yet no sound came from her oarlocks. Oars and oarlocks were
padded. She liked it best that way. Why? Mystery—that magic word
“mystery.” How she loved it!

In the stern of the little punt sat slim, black-haired, dark-eyed Betty
Bronson, a city girl from the heart of America who was enjoying her first
summer on the coast of Maine.

Betty, too, loved mystery. And into her life and that of her stout
seashore girl companion had come a little mystery that day. At this very
moment, as Ruth rested on her muffled oar, there came creeping across the
silent waters and through the black of night a second bit of mystery.

The first mystery had come to them on shore in the hold of a beached
three-masted schooner.

Ruth knew the schooner well enough. She had been on board her a dozen
times and thought she knew all about her—but she didn’t.

The owner, a dark-skinned foreigner who had purchased the schooner six
months before, used her for bringing wood to the islands. There is, so
they say, an island in Casco Bay for every day in the year. Each island
has its summer colony. These summer folks like an open fire to sit by at
night and this requires wood. The schooner had been bringing it in from
somewhere—from Canada some said. No one seemed to know for sure.

Being an old schooner the wood-carrying craft must be beached from time
to time to have her seams calked. They beached her at high tide. Low tide
found her stranded. The return of high tide carried her off again.

In this there is no mystery. The mystery began when Ruth and Betty, along
with other girls and boys of the island, swarmed up a rope ladder to the
tilted deck of the beached schooner.

Being of a bolder nature than the others, having always a consuming
desire to see the hold of so ancient a ship, Ruth had led Betty into the
very heart of the schooner and had opened a door to pursue her
investigation further when a harsh voice called down to her:

“Here now. Come out’a da sheep!”

It was a foreign skipper.

Startled, the girls had quickly closed the door and bolted up the
gangway. Not, however, until they had seen a surprising thing. They had
seen three bolts of bright, red cloth in that cabin back of the hold.
Were there others? They could not tell. The place had been quite dark.

“Looked like silk,” Betty had said a few moments later as they walked
down the beach.

“Can’t tell,” Ruth replied. “Probably only red calico, a present for the
wood chopper’s wife.”

“Three bolts?”

“Three wood choppers’ wives with seven children apiece,” Ruth laughed.

She had found this hard to believe. There certainly was something strange
about those bolts of cloth, and the foreign skipper’s desire to get them
away from the cabin.

And now, as they listened in the night on the bay with muffled oars at
rest, they caught the creak of oarlocks. The schooner had got off the
beach with the tide. She was anchored back in the bay. That the dory had
come from her they did not doubt.

“Where are they going?” Betty asked in a faint whisper as the sound of
rowing grew louder, then began to fade away in the distance.

“House Island, perhaps.”

“There’s nothing over there.”

“Only an abandoned house and the old fort. No one living there. Strange,
isn’t it?”

“Really mysterious,” Betty agreed.

“We’ll row around the _Black Gull_, then we’ll go home,” said Ruth.

Visiting the _Black Gull_, an ancient six-master that had lain at anchor
in the harbor months on end, was one of Ruth’s chief delights.

Steam and gasoline, together with the high price of canvas, high wages
and demand for speed, had brought this slow going craft to anchor for
good.

So there she stood, black and brooding, her masts reaching like bare arms
toward heaven, her keel moving with the tide yet ever chafing at the
massive anchor chain that was never drawn.

Night was the time to visit her. Then, looming out of the dark, she
seemed to speak of other days, of the glory of Maine’s shipping, of fresh
cut lumber, of fish and of the boundless sea.

It was then that Ruth could fancy herself standing upon the deck, with
wind singing in the rigging and setting the sails snapping as they boomed
away over a white-capped sea.

They had rowed to the dark bulk that they knew to be the _Black Gull_ and
had moved silently along the larboard side, about the stern and half way
down the starboard side, when of a sudden a low exclamation escaped
Ruth’s lips. Something had brushed against her in the dark.

The next instant a gurgling cry came from the bow of the boat. This was
followed by a splash.

“She—she’s overboard!” thought Ruth, reversing her strokes and back
paddling with all her might.

“Ruth!” came a call from the water. “I’m over here! Some-something pulled
me in.”

So astonished was the stout fisher girl that for a moment she did not
move. Something had taken her companion overboard. What could it have
been?

By the time she had come to her senses, Betty had gripped the gunwales of
the boat and was calling for help. The next moment, drenched with salt
water, but otherwise unharmed, she sat shivering in her place.

“Some-something caught me under the chi-chin,” she chattered, “and
ov-over I wen-went.”

“I felt it,” said Ruth. “Let’s see what it was.”

Slowly, deftly, she brought the punt about and alongside. Then, with both
hands she groped in the dark.

“I have it!” she exclaimed. “It’s a rope ladder. How queer! There’s no
one staying out here. There never was a ladder before. It goes up to the
deck.”

“Let’s go up,” said Betty. “What a lark!”

“You are drenched. You’ll catch your death of cold.”

“B-best thing to d-do,” said Betty, beginning to chatter again, “to take
off my clo-clothes and wring them out.”

“Right!” said Ruth, fumbling for the painter. “Guess it’s safe enough.
Just tie the boat to the ladder.”

A moment of feeling about and struggling with ropes, then up they went,
like blue-jackets, hand over hand. Another moment on deck and Betty was
doing a wild whirling dance in the dark while her companion’s strong
hands wrung out her clothes.

“Boo-oo, it’s cold!” shivered the city girl as she struggled to get back
into her sodden and wrinkled garments.

“Come on,” said Ruth. “Now we’re here, we might as well explore. There’s
a cabin forward—the Captain’s. We’ll be out of the wind if we get in
there.”

They were more than out of wind in that cabin. They found a great round
stove set up there. With the aid of two matches Ruth examined its flue,
and with a third she lighted the fire that was laid in it. The next
moment Betty and her clothes were drying before a roaring fire.

“Think of being in such a place at ten o’clock at night!” Betty said with
a delighted shudder.

“Might not be so good,” said Ruth. “That ladder wasn’t left there
accidentally. Someone’s been here.”

“Tell you what!” she added suddenly. “While you are drying out I’ll play
I’m the ship’s watch, and pace the deck.”

“You don’t think——”

“Don’t think anything,” said Ruth as she disappeared through the door.
“It isn’t safe to take too many chances, that’s all.”

Ruth had not been on deck three minutes before, lost to all sense of
impending danger, she walked the deck, captain of this great sailing
craft.

Few girls are more generously endowed with imagination than are the
fisher-folk’s daughters of the coast of Maine. None are more loyal to
their state and their seaboard.

As this girl now paced the deck in the dark, she saw herself in slicker
and high boots with a megaphone at her lips shouting commands to nimble
seamen who swarmed aloft. Sails fluttered and snapped, chains rattled,
rigging creaked as they swept adown the boundless sea.

But now the scene was changed. No longer was she aboard a great shipping
boat, but an ancient man-o’-war. An enemy’s sloop threatened her harbor.
With bold daring she set the prow of her ancient craft to seaward ready
to do battle with the approaching foe.

Once more, her craft, half fancied, half real, is a cutter, chasing
smugglers and pirates.

Pirates! How her blood raced at the thought. There had been pirates in
those half-forgotten days, real, dark-faced pirates with cutlasses in
their teeth and pistols at their belts. Not an island on the bay but has
its story of buried treasure. And as for smugglers’ coves, there was one
not a mile from the girl’s home.

“Smugglers!” she whispered the word. Rumors had run rife in the bay these
last months. Dark craft, plying the waters, were supposed to be
smugglers’ boats. A bomb had sunk a revenue cutter. “Smugglers!” the
people had whispered among themselves.

She thought now of the three bolts of red cloth in the beached schooner’s
hold, and of the dory that had passed them in the night.

“Smugglers!” she thought. Then, “Probably nothing to it. Only a wood
hauler.”

Then her heart skipped a beat. She had thought of the rope ladder. What a
hiding place for smuggled goods, this deserted six-master, lying alone in
the dark waters of the bay!

“What if it were used as a smuggler’s store room,” she thought as her
pulse gave a sudden leap. There was a fire laid in the cabin. The ladder
was down. “What if some of them are on board at this very moment.”

She thought of the slim city girl sitting alone there in the dark.
Turning, she started toward the cabin when a sudden sound from the water
arrested her.

The next instant, a few hundred yards from the ship, a light flared up.
The sight that struck her eye at that moment froze the blood in her
veins.

For a full half moment she stood stock still. Then with a sudden effort
she shook herself into action to go tip-toeing down the deck and thrust
her head in at the cabin door and whisper:

“Betty! Betty! Quick! Get into your clothes! There’s something terrible
going to happen. Quick! We must get off the ship!”



                               CHAPTER II
                         SCULLING IN THE NIGHT


The thing Ruth saw on the water was startling, mysterious. Nothing quite
like it had ever come into her life before. She could not believe her
eyes. Yet she dared not doubt them. A moment before she had dreamed of
pirates with pistols in their belts. Now out there on the sea they were,
or at least seemed to be, in real life. There could be no denying the
existence of a boat on those black waters of night; a long narrow boat
propelled by six pairs of sweeping oars swinging in perfect rhythm. This
much the flare of light had shown her.

More, too; there was no use trying to deny it. She had seen the men only
too clearly. Dressed in long, black coats, with red scarfs about their
necks and broad-brimmed hats on their heads, with their white teeth
gleaming, they looked fierce enough.

Strangest of all, there were pistols of the ancient sort and long knives
in their belts.

What made her shudder was the sign of skull and cross-bones on the black
flag they carried.

“Pirates! What nonsense!” she thought. “Not been one off the Maine coast
in a hundred years.” Pausing to listen, she caught again the creak of
oarlocks.

“Betty! Betty!” she whispered frantically. “Hurry! We’ll be trapped!”

Poor Betty! She certainly was having her troubles. Frightened half out of
her wits; expecting at any moment to be arrested for trespassing, or who
knows what, she struggled madly with her half dry and much wrinkled
garments.

“It’s all my fault,” she half sobbed. “I insisted on coming up here. Now
we shall be caught. I—I hope they don’t hang us at the yardarm.”

This last, she knew, was nonsense; but in the excitement she was growing
a trifle hysterical.

At last, with shoes and stockings in her hands, she emerged from the
door.

Gripping her arm tight and whispering, “Don’t speak! Not a sound!” Ruth
led her rapidly to the end of the rope ladder.

“Follow me. Drop in the boat. Sit perfectly still.”

Tremblingly, Betty obeyed. Presently they were in the punt. The sound of
rowing came much more clearly now. They could even hear the labored
breathing of the oarsmen.

Thankful for the darkness, Ruth thrust an oar into a socket at the back
of the boat and began wabbling it about in the water. She was sculling,
the most silent way to move a boat through the water.

“We-we’ll go round the bow,” she thought, as a sudden sound set her heart
racing.

“If only they don’t light another flare!”

With a prayer on her lips which was half supplication for forgiveness and
half petition for safety, she threw all her superb strength into the task
before her.

Many times she had rowed around the _Black Gull_. Never before had it
seemed half so far.

Now they had covered half the distance, now three-quarters. And now there
came a panic-inspiring gleam of light on the sea. It lasted a second,
then blinked out.

“Only a match.” Her heart gave a bound of joy. “But if they strike
another, if they are attempting to light a flare!” She redoubled her
energy at the oar. Great beads of perspiration stood out on her brow as
they rounded the stern of the ship.

Even then catastrophe threatened, for the ship’s anchor chain, touched by
the punt, sent out a rattling sound.

“What was that?” came a bass voice from the sea.

An instant later the sea was all aglow with a second flare. But luck was
with them. They had rounded the ship’s hull and were out of sight.

“If they row around her, we are caught,” whispered Betty.

Ten seconds passed, twenty, thirty, forty, a minute. Then came the sounds
of a boat bumping the ship and of men ascending the rope ladder.

“Not coming!” Ruth breathed a sigh of relief.

“We’ll just move back under the stern by the rudder,” she whispered a
moment later. “Even if they look over the side they won’t be able to see
us there.”

“Who-who are they?” Betty’s question carried a thrill.

“I don’t know.”

“What do they look like?”

Ruth told her.

“Oh, oh!” Betty barely suppressed a gasp.

“But they can’t be!” she said the next moment.

“They are,” said Ruth. “And they are going to man the _Black Gull_ and
sail her away. The wind is rising. There’s plenty of sail. A sail boat
makes no noise. What’s to hinder?”

“What could they want with her?”

“Don’t know; for exhibition, sea pageant, moving pictures, or something.
Captain Munson, the owner, has been offered ten thousand dollars for her.
Moving picture company wants her. She’s the last six-master in the
world.”

“Betty,” she whispered, impressively, after there had been time for
thought, “we’ve got to do something. We can’t let the _Black Gull_ go
like this. The _Black Gull_ doesn’t belong just to Captain Munson. She
belongs to all us Maine folks. That’s why he won’t sell her. She stands
for something, for a grand and glorious past, the past of our coast and
of the most wonderful state in the Union.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” she whispered. “They’re all on board now.
We’ll scull around and get their boat. We’ll tow it ashore so they can’t
escape, then spread the alarm. Even if they get out to sea, the fast
cutter will catch them and bring them back.”

“I h-hope,” chattered Betty, half beside herself with fear, “that they
don’t catch us. I wouldn’t like to walk the plank.”

“They won’t,” said Ruth. There was an air of conviction in her tone. Alas
for conviction.

Once more their punt, creeping forward in the dark, rounded the ship’s
hull and came at last to a point but a boat’s length from a long, dark
bulk just ahead.

“Their boat,” thought Ruth. “We’ll be away in a moment.” But they were
not.

That they were taking grave chances, Ruth knew right well. Her heart was
in her throat as she sent her punt gliding through the dark. Only
thoughts of her beloved Maine and the ancient six-master that stood for
so much that was grand and glorious in the past could have induced her to
run the risk. Run the risk she did. Trouble came sooner than she dreamed.

She breathed a sigh of relief when the dim light told her that there was
no one in the long boat that had brought the black-robed crew to the
ship.

Her relief was short lived. She had succeeded in untying the painter of
that other boat and swinging it half about, when there came a harsh
jangling of chains. A rusty chain dangling from the side of the ship had
caught in the stern of the long boat and, slipping free, had gone
thudding against the hull. Ten seconds of suspense ended with a gruff:

“Who’s there?” and the sudden flash of a brilliant electric torch which
brought the two girls out in bold relief.

At once there followed exclamations of astonishment as dark figures
crowded the deck above them.

“Trying to steal our boat,” said one.

“Ought to walk the plank,” came from another.

“Up with ’em!” said another, placing a foot on the top rung of the
ladder.

Ruth sat there, red-faced, defiant. Betty was beginning to cry softly,
when a fourth person spoke up suddenly:

“Lay off it, boys! Can’t you see they’re just girls? I don’t know what
they are about, but I’m bound to say it can’t be anything wrong. One of
’em is Tom Bracket’s girl. I know her well.”

Ruth’s heart gave a great leap of joy. She had recognized her champion’s
voice. He was Patrick O’Connor, the skipper of a sea-going tug, one of
her father’s good friends.

At once her head was in a whirl. What could it all mean? Captain O’Connor
dressed as a pirate and aiding in a night raid of the harbor? The thing
seemed impossible.

Her thoughts were broken short off by the voice of the man on the ladder.

“I’m still in favor of havin’ ’em tell their story. An’ mebby girls don’t
care for pie and hot coffee an’ the like.”

“We’ll leave it to them,” said Captain O’Connor. “If they want to come up
we’ll be glad to have them. If they don’t, then they have their punt. Let
them go. What do you say, girls?”

“Come on,” said Ruth. There was a large lump in her throat. “We’ve got to
go up. ’Twon’t do to let them misunderstand.”

Truth was, there were things she did not understand and that she wanted
dreadfully to know about.

So, once more, hand over hand, they went up the rope ladder and tumbled
in upon the deck.

Ten minutes later the two girls found themselves seated one on either
side of Captain O’Connor before the massive mahogany table in the cabin
of the _Black Gull_.

The table was piled high with good things to eat. A great copper kettle
filled with doughnuts, a basket of sandwiches, two hams roasted whole, a
steaming tank of coffee, and pies without end, graced the board. A merry
band of pirates, surely. Most surprising of all was the fact that the
pirate at the head of the table, blackest and fiercest of them all, was
none other than Captain Munson, owner of the _Black Gull_.

“Now,” said Captain Munson, and there was a friendly smile on his
formidable face, “I am sure you will enjoy the meal more fully if you
tell us first why you were about to take our boat.”

“Rest assured,” he said, as he saw the crimson flush on Ruth’s cheek,
“you stand absolved. You shall not walk the plank.”



                              CHAPTER III
                             IN THE DUNGEON


“Please,” said Ruth, “I—I—” She choked as she looked into the many pairs
of eyes around the table in the _Black Gull’s_ cabin, and stammered, “We
thought you were,—no, we didn’t think. We knew you were not real pirates,
but we thought you—were—were going to stea-steal the _Black Gull_. And
we—we thought we could stop you.”

No laugh followed these stammered remarks. Each man sat at attention as
Captain Munson asked in a kindly tone:

“And why did you wish to save the _Black Gull_?”

“Because she stands for something wonderful!” The girl’s tones were
ringing now. “Because she tells the story of Maine, our grand and
glorious state we all love so well.”

“Boys,”—the pirate chieftain’s dark eyes glistened—“I propose three
cheers for Ruth and her dauntless companion.”

Never did the walls of that cabin ring with lustier shouts than when
those men ended with, “Ra, Ra, Ra! Ruth, Ruth, Ruth! Betty! Betty!
Betty!”

“And now for the feast!” exclaimed the Chief. “Fourteen men on a dead
man’s chest. Buckets of blood! There never was a pirate crew but liked
their victuals. Ho! You scullions, hove to with the viands!”

All this talk made Betty shudder, but Ruth only sat and stared.

They were hungry enough after the long row across the bay and without
asking further questions they accepted the cold chicken, coffee,
doughnuts and huge wedges of pie and did full justice to all.

A half hour later, as the pirate crew joined ringing notes of a pirate
chanty ending with a rousing, “Heave ho, Ladies, Heave ho!” the girls
pushed their punt away from the towering hull of the _Black Gull_ and
went rowing away into the night.

Ruth’s arms had swung in rhythmic motion for a full ten minutes before
she spoke. Then dropping her oars, she said in a deep, low tone,

“Of all the things I ever heard of, that beats ’em.”

“I thought,” said Betty, solemnly, “that I had seen strange things, but
that beats them all.”

“And somehow,” Ruth said, still more soberly, “I have a feeling that this
is the beginning of something very big and mysterious, and perhaps
awfully dangerous.”

“That is just the way I feel about it,” said Betty, with a shudder.

After that they lapsed into silence, and Ruth renewed her silent rowing.

The hour was late. Betty’s head began to nod. Ruth, alone with her
thoughts, was swinging her oars in strong, sweeping strokes when a
curious thing struck her eye. They were passing the ancient abandoned
fort on House Island, a massive pile of solid granite, when through a
narrow space where cannon had frowned in the long ago, a light appeared.
One instant it shone there clear and bright, the next it was gone.

“How strange!” she thought. “No one is ever there.” At once she
registered a resolve to visit the fort to have a look into this new
mystery.

Once more she thought of the ancient wood-carrying schooner, of the bolts
of silk cloth in her hold, and of the dory that had passed them in the
night.

“It’s astonishing,” she told herself, “the way events connect themselves
up, woven together in a pattern like a rug. But you have to trace them
out one by one before the pattern comes out clear and strong.”

The moon was out. The stars were shining when their punt touched the
sandy beach of the island that had always been Ruth’s home.

A half hour later that same moon, looking down upon a brown and
weather-beaten fisherman’s cottage, beamed through narrow panes of glass
upon two girls sleeping side by side. One was large and strong and ruddy.
Her arms, thrown clear of the covers, showed the muscular lines of an
athlete. Endless miles of rowing, clam digging in the early morning,
hauling away at the float line of lobster traps, had done this. There was
about the girl’s whole make-up a suggestion of perfect physical
well-being which is found oftener than anywhere else in a seacoast
village.

The other girl, as you will know, was slim, active and with nerves tight
as fiddle strings. Her life had been lived in the city. A few months
before she had gone with her father to live at a school by the side of
Lake Michigan. Now, for the summer, she was staying with a wealthy young
married woman in her summer cottage on the island. She was with Ruth for
but this one night.

As one looked at Betty lying there in repose, he read in her face and
figure signs of strength. The slender arms and limbs were not without
their suggestion of power. Her strength was the quick, nervous strength
of a squirrel; useful enough for all that. One might be sure that she
would leap into action while others searched their troubled minds for a
way out.

Strangely matched as they might be, these girls were destined to spend
much of their summer together and to come to know in a few brief weeks
how much of mystery, adventure and romance the rugged coast of Maine has
to offer those who come there to seek.

“Betty,” said Ruth as she sprang out of bed next morning, “do you know
what day this is?”

“Wouldn’t need two guesses if I didn’t know,” said Betty. “Listen to the
boom of cannons. It’s the Glorious Fourth of July.”

“To-day,” said Ruth, “we must do something exciting.”

“What shall it be?” Betty’s tone was eager.

“Listen!” said Ruth, seized with a sudden inspiration, “I’ve got a
dollar.”

“So have I.”

“We’ll spend them all for Roman candles.”

“Roman can—”

Ruth held up a hand. “We’ll get Pearl Bracket to go along. We’ll row over
to House Island in the evening and eat a picnic lunch on the grass before
the fort that overlooks the bay. The sunset is wonderful from there.

“Then when it’s getting dark, we’ll go into the old fort and have a sham
battle with Roman candles.”

“Sham battle?”

“Sure! The boys did that last year, Don and Dewey, Chet and Dill and some
others. They said it was no end of fun. They’re all going up the bay for
fireworks this year, so we’ll have the fort all to ourselves. We’ll get
Pearl Bracket to go along.

“It’s something of an adventure, just going into that old fort at night.
Secret passages and dungeons with rusty old handcuffs chained to the
wall, and all that. Quite a place.”

“I should think so. Is it very old?”

“The fort? Almost a hundred years, I guess. Used to be cannons there.
They’re gone now. No one’s been there for years and years. Just big and
empty and sort of lonesome.”

“But how do you play sham battle in there?”

“All scatter out with tallow candles in tin cans, just a little light.
Each one has an armful of Roman candles. When you hear something move you
know it is an enemy who has broken into the fort, and you shoot a candle
at him, shoot low at his feet. Be dangerous if you didn’t.

“But think what fun!” she enthused. “You’re creeping along between stone
walls, all damp and old. Just a little light. Dark all around. All of a
sudden down the long passage a little stir, and like a flash your fuse
sputters. Bang-pop-pop-pop-bang! Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, five
balls of fire leap away at the enemy and he is shot, defeated, routed
into wild retreat.”

“I should think he might be,” said Betty. “But it should be great sport.
I’m for it. Any jolly thing on the Fourth of July.”



                               CHAPTER IV
                          THE FACE IN THE FIRE


Ruth let out a little half-suppressed scream. A pasteboard tube slipped
from her grasp and fell to the floor. A purple ball of fire bursting
forth from the tube shot across the floor, climbed a stone wall, then
suddenly blinked out. The yellow gleam of a tallow candle shot downward.
A tin can struck the floor with a dull thud. The candle blinked out. Then
all about the girl’s trembling figure was darkness, darkness so complete
that it seemed you might cut it with a knife.

It was terrifying, that darkness, in an underground place at night. Yet
it was not the darkness that affected her most. Nor was it the ball of
fire that had danced about her feet.

There had been another ball of fire, and through that red ball of fire
she had seen a face.

“The face!” she whispered. “The eyes! I must have blinded him. How
perfectly terrible! Whatever am I to do?”

What, indeed? She could not turn and run. Which way should she run? The
candle was out. She had counted on the candle to show her the way. The
way she had taken was winding, many turns, many corners, and always stone
walls.

“And now,” she thought with a sinking feeling at the pit of her stomach.
“Oh! Why did I come?

“We started out to stage a sham battle. And I have blinded a man.”

A man! Her thoughts were sobering now. Questions arose. What was the man
doing here in the heart of the old abandoned fort on House Island? That
_was_ a question.

“His face was low down, close to the stone floor, as if he were
crawling.”

Her heart skipped a beat. “Perhaps he was crawling. Perhaps I did not
injure him after all. He may be at my very feet now. Crawling!” The
thought drove her overwrought nerves into tremors.

“Matches!” she thought suddenly. There was a penny box of them in her
pocket. Until now, in her excitement, she had forgotten them.

The box out, she broke three matches trying to light one. When the fourth
flared up, it so startled her that she dropped it.

In time, however, the candle was lit. Then, with bulging eyes she stared
before her.

“Nothing,” she told herself in surprise.

She took three steps forward. Still nothing. She advanced ten yards.
Nothing.

“Must have been here,” she told herself. “But there is nothing and no
one.” She began to shudder again. Had the Roman candle she had fired into
the dark revealed a lurking ghost? Surely this ancient fort was spooky
enough. But no! Ghosts were nonsense.

“I saw him,” she told herself stoutly.

“A man was here,” she assured herself. “I saw him. I could not have been
mistaken. He is here for no good purpose—couldn’t be. I couldn’t have
blinded him, else he could not have found his way to—to wherever he has
gone. He’s using this fort without permission—perhaps for illegal
purposes.”

No longer able to control herself, she went racing on tip-toe down the
narrow winding corridor.

There came a sudden burst of moonlight, and she found herself standing in
a stone archway, looking out upon a sort of open court grown wild with
tall grass, brambles and rose bushes.

Old Fort Skammel, built before the Civil War, has been abandoned for
years to the rats and bats that have found a home there. Yet there is
something suggestive of grandeur and protecting power hovering over it
still.

Ruth had felt this as she sat with Betty and Pearl at the foot of its
massive masonry and ate her Fourth of July evening lunch.

Following out her plan of the morning, they had rowed over here, she and
Betty Bronson and Pearl Bracket, for a little picnic. Having been brought
up on the island across the bay, the abandoned fort did not inspire in
Ruth the awesome fear that it did in some others.

“Rats in there,” Ruth had said, munching at a bun.

“Big as cats,” said Pearl.

“’Fraid of fire, though,” said Ruth. “Won’t hurt you if you have a
light.”

“Betty,” said Ruth, changing the subject as she watched the red glow of
the sunset, “I never see a sunset but I feel like I’d like to get on a
ship and go and go until I come to where that red begins.”

“Yes,” said Betty, “I sometimes feel that way myself.”

“But you’ve traveled a lot.”

“Not so much.”

“But you’ve lived on the banks of the Chicago River and traveled on the
Great Lakes. And now you’re here. That’s a great deal. I—why I’ve only
been on the sea.”

“The sea is wonderful,” said Betty. “It’s a little world all its own.
When you come to it you feel that you have found something that no one
you know has ever seen before.”

“I suppose so,” said Ruth, “but of course I’ve always known the sea.”

“And been everywhere on it.”

“No, only a little way. Why,” Ruth said, sitting up, “right over yonder,
not a hundred miles from here, is one of the most interesting islands in
the world. Monhegan they call it. I’ve never seen it. But I shall some
day, I am sure.

“It’s sixteen miles from shore, a great rock protruding out of the sea.
If there wasn’t a smaller rock standing right in front of it and making
sort of a harbor, no one could ever land there, for most of its headline
is bold, a hundred, two hundred feet high. These rocks have strange
names. Burnt Head, White Head, Black Head and Skull Rock, that’s the
names they’ve given them. They say you can catch beefsteak cod right off
the rocks. It’s got a history, too. Captain John Smith was there once and
Governor Bradford. I want to go there and watch the breakers come
tumbling in. It’s wild, fascinating, you’ve no idea.”

“Must be lonesome,” said Betty.

“Lonesome? Well, perhaps,” Ruth said musingly. “Yes, I guess so. The sea
always makes me feel small and lonesome. Out there almost everything is
ocean.”

That was all they said of Monhegan. Little they dreamed of the part that
bewitching island would play in their lives during the weeks that were to
follow.

Pearl had been timid about taking part in the sham battle. At last the
others talked her over. So, armed each with a bundle of Roman candles and
a tallow candle stuck in a tin can, they had made their way silently down
the long corridor that led to the gun room, from which massive cannons
had once looked down upon the bay.

“Spooky in here at night,” Pearl had said with a shudder. The sound of
her voice awakened dead echoes and live bats.

Betty felt like turning back, but Ruth plodded on. Down a long, steep
stairway, across a circular court, then into a narrow passage they went,
until Ruth with a sudden pause whispered:

“There! There! I hear ’em.”

“Here,” she said, holding out her burning candle. “Get a light from this
and shoot straight ahead.”

With trembling fingers Ruth lighted a Roman candle, watched the fuse
sputter for a second, then jumped as pop-pop-pop, three balls of fire
went shooting down between stone walls to send an astonishing number of
rats scurrying for shelter.

It would be difficult indeed to find a more exciting game than the one
that followed. And such a setting! An ancient and abandoned fort. Down
these narrow passageways and resounding corridors had sounded the
tramp-tramp-tramp of marching soldiers. Through long night watches in
time of peace, in stress of war, weary night guards had patrolled their
solemn beats. From these narrow windows eyes had scanned the bay, while
like giant watch dogs, grim cannons loomed at the gunner’s side.

In this small room, where chains, lifted and dropped, give out a
lugubrious sound, some prisoner has sat in solitary confinement to
meditate upon his act of desertion or of treachery against the land that
offered him food and shelter.

The three girls thought little of these things as they parted to go each
her own way down separate corridors to meet sooner or later with screams
of terror and laughter as one stealing a march upon another set balls of
fire dancing about her feet.

A move in the dark or the slightest sound called forth a volley of red,
blue, green and yellow fire. More often than not it was a rat or a bat
that drew the fire, but there is quite as much sport in sending a huge
rat scurrying for cover as in surprising a friendly enemy.

So the battle had gone merrily on until Ruth, finding herself alone in a
remote corner of the fort and, hearing a sound, had fired a volley with
the result we have already seen.

“And now, here I am all alone,” she told herself. “Wonder where the
others are?”

“They are in there alone with that strange man,” she told herself.
“How—how terrible!”

That she could do nothing about it she knew well enough, and was troubled
about their safety.

“If anything serious should happen to them I never could forgive myself!”
she thought with a little tightening at the throat. “They are such good
pals. And it was I who proposed that we go on that wild chase, I who
really insisted.”

She was beginning to feel very uncomfortable indeed about the whole
affair.

She and Pearl had been pals for a long time. In the same Sunday School
class and the same grade at school, they were always together. At the
beach, swimming, boating and fishing in summer, tramping and skating in
winter, they shared their joys and sorrows.

“And now,” she asked herself, “where is she? And where is Betty?”

Relighting her candle, she turned about to go inside and search for them.

“No use,” she told herself. “Place is a perfect labyrinth, passages
running up and down, this way and that. Never would find them. Have to
wait. Have—”

She broke short off. Had she caught some sound? Were they coming? Or, was
it some other person, the man of the face in the fire? She shrank back
against the wall, then called softly:

“Girls! Betty! Pearl! Are you there?” There came no answer. “Have to
wait,” she told herself.

She fell to wondering about that mysterious face, and what in time she
should do about it.

She and Pearl were fortunate in having as a day teacher a splendid
patriotic woman. That very day they had come upon her sitting on the
grassy bank of their island that overlooks Portland harbor. They had
dropped to places beside her, and together for a time they had listened
to the _bang-bang_ of fireworks and the _boom-boom_ of cannons, had
watched flags on ships and forts and towers flapping in the breeze. Then
Pearl, who was at times very thoughtful, had said:

“It makes me feel all thrilly inside and somehow I think we should be
able to do something for our country, something as brave and useful as
Betsy Ross, Martha Washington and Barbara Fletcher did.”

“You can,” the teacher had said quietly. “You can honor these by helping
to make this the finest land in the world in which to live.

“One thing more you can do, wherever there is an old fort, a soldiers’
home, or a monument dedicated to our hallowed dead, you can help prevent
their being defaced or defiled or used for any purpose that would bring a
reproach upon the memory of those who lived and died that we might be
free.”

“I wonder,” Ruth said to herself, “what sort of den I came upon just now
in this grand old fort?”

Then, very quietly, very solemnly, she made the resolve that, come what
might, the whole affair should be gone into, the mystery solved.

“If only they would come!” she whispered impatiently.

“Ruth! Ruth! Is that you?” sounded out in a shrill whisper from the
right.

“Yes! Yes! Here I am.”

“Shsh! Don’t talk,” she warned as Pearl began to babble excitedly. “We
must get out of here at once.”

“Why? Wha—”

“Don’t talk. Come on!”

A moment later a punt with three dark forms in it crept away from the
shadowy shore.

They rowed across the bay in awed silence. Having reached the shore of
their own island, they breathed with greater freedom; but even here, as
they climbed the steep board stairway that led from the beach to the
street above, they found themselves casting apprehensive backward
glances.

Once in the main street of their straggling village, with house lights
blinking at them from here and there, they paused for a moment to whisper
together, then to talk in low tones of the probable outcome of their
recent mysterious adventure.

“I fully expected to see the _Black Gull_ gone when I looked out of the
window this morning,” said Ruth. “But she wasn’t.”

“Still chafing at her chains. Poor old _Black Gull_!” Pearl always felt
this way about the discarded ship of other days.

“What did you think?” said Ruth. “You wouldn’t expect the owner of the
boat to steal it himself. And he was a member of that terrifying band.”

“But the old wood-hauling boat and the silks in her hold, (they were all
sure the bolts of cloth were silk by this time) and the dory from her
that passed us in the night,” said Betty. “They’re different.”

“And the face I saw in the fire,” said Ruth with a shudder. “Such a
strange face it was, dark and hairy and eyes that gleamed sort of red and
black. Oh! I tell you it was terrible! I am glad we’re all here!”

“You—you wouldn’t go back,” said Pearl. “Not for worlds.”

“Yes,” Ruth said slowly, “I think I would, but in the daytime. Daytime
would be different. And someone should go. If that grand old fort is
being used by rascals they should be found out.”

“And there’s been _so_ many whispers about smugglers this summer,” said
Pearl. “Smuggling in goods and men, they say. All sorts of men that
shouldn’t be allowed to come to America at all.”

“That’s it!” said Pearl excitedly. “That’s what he was! One of them, one
of the men America don’t want.”

“Who?”

“That man, the face in the fire!”

“You can’t be sure,” said Betty.

“No,” said Ruth, “not until we go back there. Then perhaps we won’t.”

They parted a moment later, Ruth to go to her cottage on the slope, Pearl
to her home on the water front, and Betty to the big summer cottage that
tops the hill.

As Ruth lay in her bed by the window, looking out over the bay that
night, she felt that the cozy and comfortable little world she knew, the
bay, the cluster of little islands, the all enclosing sea, had suddenly
become greatly agitated.

“It’s as if a great storm had come sweeping down upon us,” she told
herself.

“Mystery, thrills, adventure,” she said a moment later. “I have always
longed for these, but now they have begun to come I—I somehow feel that I
should like to put out my two hands and push them away.”

With that she fell asleep.



                               CHAPTER V
                           THREE GRAY WITCHES


The next afternoon Pearl Bracket went fishing. She felt the need of an
opportunity for quiet thought. The events of the past few days had
stirred her to the very depths. A quiet, dreamy girl, she was given to
sitting across the prow of her brother’s fishing boat or the stern of her
ancient dory as it drifted on a placid bay. But this day only Witches
Cove would do.

To this imaginative girl Witches Cove had ever been a haunting place of
many mysteries. A deep dark pool on three sides by the darkest of firs
and hemlocks, on the north of the island where no sunbeams ever fell, it
had always cast a spell of enchantment about her.

There, when the tide was coming in, water rushed over half submerged
rocks to go booming against the granite wall, then to return murmuring
and whispering of many things.

Pearl sat in the stern of her dory on this particular afternoon and
recalled all the strange tales that had been woven about the cove.

At one time, so the story ran, it had been a smugglers’ cove. Here in the
days of long ago, dark gray, low lying crafts came to anchor at dead of
night to bring ashore cargoes of rich silks, tea, coffee and spices.

Still farther back it had been a pirates’ retreat. Even the renowned
Captain Kidd had been associated with the place.

“On a very still day,” Uncle Jermy Trott had told her once in deepest
secrecy, “you can still see a spar lyin’ amongst the rocks. That spar
came from a Spanish Gallion. I’ve seen it. I know. An’ I’ve always held
that a treasure chest were lashed to it an’ that it were left there as a
markin’ thing, like skulls and cross-bones were on land.”

Pearl had never seen the spar. But more than once her fish-hook had
snagged on something down there that was soft like wood and she had lost
the hook and part of her line.

To-day, however, she thought little of the spar at the bottom of the
cove. She thought instead of the strange doings aboard the _Black Gull_
and of Ruth’s face in the fire.

“I’m going back to the old fort,” she told herself stoutly. “There’s more
to that than we think.”

“And still,” she thought, as she dragged a larger cunner from the water,
“that’s Ruth’s discovery. It’s only fair to let her go to the bottom of
it. Nothing important ever happens to me. I—”

She paused to look at the cunner she had caught. Its coloring was
curious, all red, blue, green and purple.

“Like he’d been dipped in burning sulphur,” she told herself. “Nothing in
Witches Cove is the same as anywhere else. They say it’s the three gray
witches. Tom McTag saw ’em once, three gray witches coming up out of the
water behind the fog. Boo! It’s spooky here even in daytime. Seems like
eyes were peering at you. Seems—”

Her glance strayed to the bank. Then she did receive a shock. Eyes were
staring at her, two pairs of glaring red eyes.

For a full moment she sat there petrified. Then, as her senses returned
to her, she made out the figures of two huge black cats half hidden in
the green shrubs that capped the rocky wall of Witches Cove.

“They’re not real,” she told herself. “They’re witches’ cats.”

To prove this, she caught up the blue, green, purple cunner and sent it
flying toward the cats.

That settled it. Growling, snarling, sending fur flying, they were upon
the fish and at one another, tooth and nail in an instant.

“Here, you greedy things!” she exclaimed. “Stop that! Here’s another and
yet another!” Two cunners followed the first.

It was just as the cats settled down to their feast that her ear caught a
movement farther up the bank and a quick look showed her a very small
man, wearing great horn rimmed glasses. Squatting there on the steep
bank, he was staring at her, then at the cats. For a moment he remained
there. The next he turned and disappeared.

“Someone living in the old Hornaby Place,” she told herself with a quick
intake of breath. “Must be. Cats wouldn’t be here. Nobody’s been there
for more than six years, and it’s the only place on the island. I
wonder—”

She wondered many things before she was through. And in the meantime she
caught some fish; not the sort she had hoped to catch, however. Pearl, as
has been said, was a dreamer. One often dreams of bigger and better
things. It was so with her fishing.

Then, of a sudden, she caught her breath and set her teeth hard as she
tugged at the stout codfish line.

“It’s a big one,” she told herself as the look of determination on her
round freckled face deepened. “A big cod, or maybe a chicken halibut. If
only I can land him!”

Two fathoms of line shot through her fingers, cutting them till they
bled.

“Can’t hold him—but I’ve got to!” she told herself as, wrapping the line
about her hands, she braced herself against the gunwale, tipping her dory
to a rakish angle.

“I’ll land him,” she avowed through tight set teeth. “Don won’t laugh at
me to-night.”

Like many another girl born and bred on the rugged coast of Maine, Pearl
was fond of hand-line fishing. Time and again she had begged her big
brother, Don, to take her deep-sea fishing in his sloop.

“Why, little girl,” he would laugh, “look at you! You’re no bigger than a
fair-sized beefsteak cod yourself. If you got one on a line he’d pull you
overboard. Then we’d have an awful time telling which was you and which
the fish, one or t’other. You just stay and wash your dishes, sister.
We’ll catch the fish.”

Pearl did wash her dishes. She did a great many other things besides. But
when the work was done and the tide was right, she would dig a pail of
clams for bait and go rowing away to the Witches Cove.

Usually she returned with a string of cunners and shiny polloks.

That there were some wary old rock cod hiding away in the secret watery
recesses at the bottom of Witches Cove she had always known. That a
halibut weighing fifty pounds had once been caught there she knew also.

So to-night, with hopes high and nerves all a-tingle, she tugged at the
line.

“Tire him out,” she told herself grimly. She threw her shoulders back and
gave a tremendous tug. Without warning the line went dead slack.

“Lost him,” she all but sobbed.

“But no.” As she reeled rapidly in, there came another tug. Not so strong
now. She had no difficulty pulling the catch toward her.

“Tangled round some kelp before,” she told herself disappointedly. “Only
a small one after all.”

That she was partly wrong, she knew in a moment. A broad spot of white
appeared in the dark waters beneath her, and a moment later she was
landing a halibut weighing perhaps twenty-five pounds.

“Oh, you beauty!” she exclaimed. “Now they can’t say I’m not a
fisherman!”

The two kinds of fish most relished by the coast of Maine people are
sword fish and young halibut. Pearl’s mother would be delighted. Don and
some of the other boys were off on a long fishing cruise. There had been
no really fine fish in the house for more than a week.

For some little time, while she regained her poise, Pearl sat admiring
her catch.

“I got you,” she said at last.

Then of a sudden her face clouded. “After all,” she told herself, “it’s
nothing, catching a fish. The grand old times are gone. Nothing ever
really happens. If only I’d lived in the days of great, great, great
grandfather Josia Bracket. Those were the brave days!”

As she closed her eyes she seemed to see Casco Bay as it had been in the
pioneer times when the first Bracket landed there.

“No houses, no stores, no steamships,” she told herself. “No city of
Portland, no summer tourists, no ferry boats. Only a cabin here, another
there, woods and water and skulking Indians, and the whole wide world to
live and fight in. What wonderful days!”

As she opened her eyes she started. As if willing to conform to her
wishes, nature had blotted out the present as far as that might be done.
A heavy fog drifting silently in from the sea had hidden the wharves and
storage houses in Portland Harbor, and the homes that line the shore of
Peak’s Island. Even the cliffs that formed Witches Cove were growing
shadowy and unreal.

A fog, however, be it ever so dense, cannot shut out all signs of
progress. A moment had passed when the ding-dong of a bell reached her
ears.

“There!” she exclaimed, shaking her fist at the bell buoy which, however
invisible through the fog, kept up its steady ding-dong. “There now!
You’ve gone and spoiled it all. I’d like to tie my sweater about your
noisy tongue!

“But of course that won’t do. The boat from Booth Bay Harbor will be
passing in an hour or two. If this fog keeps up, the pilot will need your
noisy voice to guide him through.”

“Oh, well,” she sighed, “what’s the use of fussing? Fish a little longer,
then go home.”

She settled back in the bow of her light dory, with the prow tilting at a
rakish angle, baited her hook and cast the line overboard.

Fishing wasn’t likely to be over exciting now. She had made her record
catch. Never before had she landed one so large and fine. What she wanted
most of all was to sit and dream a while, to dream of the brave deeds of
long ago.

And such a time to dream! Even the cliffs twenty yards away were lost to
her sight now. A ring of white fog, her boat and her own little self,
that was all there was to her present world.

“Indians over there on Peak’s Island,” she told herself, still dreaming.
“Indians and some French. Settlers on Portland Head all crowded into the
stockade. Going to be a battle. Some soldiers in a big ship anchored far
out. They don’t know. A message is needed. I’ll go in my little dory.

“Will you please be still!” she exclaimed as the bell buoy clanged louder
than ever as a great swell came sweeping in from the sea.

The bell did not keep still. _Ding-dong, Ding-dong, Ding-dong_, it spoke
of cliffs and shallows and of a channel between that was safe, wide and
deep.

The girl gave her attention to fishing. Cunners took her bait. She caught
a small one, but threw him back. A great old cod, red with iodine from
the kelp, gave her a thrill. He snapped at her bait, snagged on the hook,
then shook himself free.

“Go it!” she exclaimed. “What’s cod beside chicken halibut? Wouldn’t—”

She broke short off. The ding-dong of that buoy bell never had sounded so
near before.

_Ding-dong, Ding-dong._ It seemed to be at her very side. She gave a pull
at her anchor line.

“Fast enough,” she told herself. “Not drifting toward the buoy. Besides,
wouldn’t drift that way. Tide’s setting out.”

The big red cod or another of his sort claimed her attention. She teased
him by bobbing bait up and down. She loaded the hook with juicy clams and
tried again. This time it seemed that success must crown her efforts. The
fish was hooked. She began reeling in.

“A beauty!” she whispered as a great red head appeared close to the
surface. And then, with a last mighty effort, the fish tore himself free.

“Oh!” she cried, “You—”

_Ding-dong, Ding-dong._

She started, looked about, then stood straight up to stare open mouthed
at what she saw.

And at that moment, faint and from far away there came the hoarse hoot of
the fog horn on the steamer from Booth Bay Harbor.

“A hundred passengers on that boat,” she thought as her heart stood
still, “perhaps two hundred, three hundred people, men, women and
children, many little children coming home from a joyous vacation.”

She looked again at the thing she had seen and could scarcely believe her
eyes.

Dim, indistinct but unmistakable, had appeared the outline of a steel
frame, and at its center a large bell.

“Like a ghost,” she told herself.

“But it’s no ghost!” Instantly she sprang into action. Cutting her fish
line, she allowed it to drift. Dragging up her dripping anchor, she
dropped it into the boat. Then, gripping the oars, she put all her
strength into a dozen strokes that brought her with a bump against the
side of the steel frame from which the bell hung suspended.

The next thing she did was strange, indeed. Having removed her heavy wool
sweater, she wrapped it tightly about the clapper of the bell, then tied
it securely there with a stout cod line.

“There now,” she said, breathing heavily as she sank to a sitting
position on one of the hollow steel floats that prevented the bell and
its frame from sinking. “Now, perhaps you will keep still and let me
dream.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, suddenly attempting to stand up. “The dory’s gone!”

It was true. In her haste to muffle the bell, she had failed to tie her
painter securely. Now it had drifted away into the fog.

“Time to dream now,” she told herself ruefully. “May never do anything
else.”

To one who knows little of the ways of boats and buoys and other things
belonging to the sea, the girl’s acts might seem madness.

They were not. By some mischance, the chain fastened to a huge rock at
the bottom of the channel, which held the bell buoy to its place, had
given way. The bell buoy still clanging its message, now a false message
indeed, was drifting out to sea. If the S. S. Standish, the Booth Bay
Harbor steamer, were guided by this false message catastrophe would
befall her. With all on board she would go crashing into a cliff or be
piled upon some rocky shoal.

Pearl could see it all, just as it would happen. A terrible crash, then
unutterable confusion. Men shouting, children crying, women praying,
seamen struggling and the black sea closing down upon a sinking ship.

“But now, thank God,” she said fervently, “it shall not be. Not hearing
the bell, having no sure guide, they will stand away till the fog lifts.”

Then of a sudden her heart went cold and beads of perspiration started
out on her forehead. What was to come of her? With her dory gone, she was
going straight out to sea on the frame of a drifting buoy. What chance
could there be?

A moment of calm thought, a whispered prayer, and she shut the thought
from her mind. She was doing her plain duty. She was in God’s care. That
was enough.

The hoot of the steamer’s fog horn sounded louder. Nearer and nearer they
came. They had passed the Witch Rock bell in safety. There was need of
Pearl’s bell buoy now.

Of a sudden she caught the clang of the bell, the pilot’s signal for half
speed.

“He’s missed the bell. They are safe. They’ll lay outside until the fog
lifts. Thank-thank God!”

Still she drifted out to sea. But her own peril was lost in great joy
because of the safety of others.

Another jangling of bells. Quarter speed.

A thought struck her all of a heap. Hastily unwrapping the bell clapper
of the buoy, she struck the bell a sharp tap. Again, again and yet again
this strange signal sounded. It was the pilot’s signal for half speed.

Three times she repeated it. Then came the ship’s bell with the same
signal.

“They heard,” she whispered tensely.

Then, with a throbbing heart, she sent out in Morse signals the call for
help, S. O. S.

There sounded the rattle of chains. They were lowering a boat.

Moments of silence followed, then from out the fog there came,

“Ahoy there!”

Sweeter words were never heard by any girl.

“Ahoy there!” she called back.

A moment more, and four astonished seamen stared at a girl riding a
drifting buoy.

                            * * * * * * * *

“What you doing on the buoy?” said the kind-hearted and grateful captain
as Pearl climbed aboard the steamer and was surrounded by curious
passengers.

“Why I—I was fishing. I caught a chicken halibut and——”

Of a sudden her eyes went wide; her dory and chicken halibut were gone.

“Yes, yes, go on,” said the eager members of the group. She succeeded in
finishing her story, but all through the telling there flashed into her
mind the picture of her dory and the only chicken halibut she had ever
caught, drifting out to sea.

All up and down the deck, as they waited for the fog to lift, grateful
passengers and crew repeated the girl’s story. And always at the end they
added, “Lost her fish. Lost her dory. Too bad!”

“Well, young lady,” a gruff Irish voice said as Pearl spun round to
listen, “you seem born to adventure.”

The girl found herself looking into the eyes of Captain Patrick O’Connor,
he of the pirate crew of the _Black Gull_.

“Yes, I do,” she replied in uncertain tones.

“Lay by this, young lady,” the Captain went on, “that buoy chain was
cut.”

“Cut?”

“Certain was. Them buoys are inspected regular. Look! They’ve brought the
buoy alongside. They’re hoistin’ her on board. Mark my word, the chain’s
not worn much, not enough to cause her to break.”

It was not. As they examined the end of the chain, they found no marks of
hammer, file or hack-saw, but the last link was nearly as perfect as when
first forged.

“Of course, they wouldn’t leave the cut link to tell on ’em,” O’Connor
leaned over to whisper in the girl’s ear. “They’re told on sure enough,
all the same.”

“But-but—” the girl stammered, trying in vain to understand, “if I hadn’t
found it, if I hadn’t silenced its lying tongue, you’d have gone on the
rocks.”

“So we would, young lady. And there’s them hidin’ away along these here
waters as would have been glad to see it. There’s twenty-four men aboard
this ship, that’s hated worse than death by some.

“Come over here in the corner,” he bent low to whisper in her ear, “an’
I’ll tell you a few things. You’re old enough to know ’em, old enough and
wise enough to help some, I’ll be bound.”

The story he told her was one of smugglers uncaught, of goods brought in
without duty, and of men refused right of entry into the United States
who, nevertheless, were here.

“They land from somewhere, somehow, in Portland Harbor, or in Casco Bay,”
he added. “It’s our duty, the duty of every good American, to find out
how and where they come from.

“I suppose your cousin Ruth told you about seeing us pirates the other
night?” he said, leaning close.

“Yes.” The girl’s heart leaped. Was a secret to be told? Yes, here it
came.

“We wasn’t real pirates; you guessed that. It was only a blind, a
masquerade party, but a party with as firm a purpose as ever American
patriot ever held. We’re bound together, us twenty-four, in a solemn vow
to rid Casco Bay of this menace to our land. And you can help, for a girl
sees things sometimes that men never get near.”

“Yes,” said Pearl.

She wanted to tell of the bolts of cloth on the wood schooner, of the
dory in the night and the face in the fire. “But those,” she told
herself, “are more Ruth’s secrets than mine. I’ll wait and ask her
first.”

Meanwhile the fog was clearing. The rocks of Cushing’s Island and the
shore line of Peak’s Island were showing through. Very soon they were
moving slowly forward. Before Pearl knew it, they were at the dock in
Portland Harbor.

“Young lady,” said the Captain of the _Standish_, “we’d like a few facts
to enter in our log. Will you please come to my cabin?”

Very much confused at being the guest of so great a man, Pearl found it
hard to answer questions intelligently.

When at last the ordeal was over, the Captain led her to the steamer’s
side.

“Look down there,” he said, smiling.

“A new dory, all green and red!” said Pearl.

“And a halibut,” said the Captain. “You lost a halibut, didn’t you say?”

“Why yes, I——”

“The dory and fish are yours,” he said gruffly. “Present from passengers
and crew. Little token of—of—Oh, hang it, girl! Climb down and show us
you can row her.”

Pearl went down a rope ladder like a monkey. A moment later, waving a
joyous, tearful farewell to her new friends, she turned the shining
dory’s prow toward home and rowed away.



                               CHAPTER VI
                       OFF FOR FURTHER ADVENTURE


Pearl returned home that evening to find a door to new and strange
adventure standing wide open before her.

Donald, her brother, was seated before a small fire in the low
old-fashioned fireplace at the back of their living room.

“Don!” she cried joyously. “You home?”

“Yep.” Big, broad shouldered, sea tanned, Don turned to smile at her.

“Don, I caught a halibut, a twenty-five pounder!”

“No?”

“I did.”

“Let’s see it.”

“I—I can’t. It went out to sea in my dory. But Don! I’ve got a new dory
and a bigger halibut.”

“No?” Don rose.

“Come on. I’ll show you.”

“That,” said Don after inspecting the dory fore and aft, and listening to
her story, “is a right fine dory, staunch and seaworthy. I’d like to take
it to Monhegan.”

“Monhegan?” Pearl’s heart gave a great leap. Monhegan! The dream island
of every coast child’s heart. Don was going there.

“Yes,” said Don. “Swordfishing is played out, and the canners have all
the horse mackeral they can use this season. I’ve decided to pack my
lobster traps on the sloop and go up about there somewhere, mebby only
Booth Bay Harbor. All depends. They say lobster catches are fine on the
shoals up there.”

“But Don,” Pearl’s eyes shone with a new hope, “if you take my dory,
you’ll take me. You won’t spend all your time tending lobster pots.
There’s fine fishing up there. I caught a halibut. You’ll take me, won’t
you?”

“Well,” said Don, thoughtfully, “I might. You’d get lonesome, though.
Nobody but me and you and the sea; that is, nobody that we know.”

“Take Ruth, too,” Pearl said quickly. “You should have heard her talk
about Monhegan over there by the old fort. She’ll be wild to go. And she
is considerable of a fisherman, good as most men.”

Don considered the proposition. Ruth was his cousin. They had been much
together on the sea. Unlike his dreamy little sister, she had always been
able and practical.

“Why, yes,” he said at last, “I don’t see why she shouldn’t go, if she
wants to.”

Ruth was overjoyed at the prospect. She had no trouble in obtaining
permission to go, for, though Don had barely turned twenty, he was known
as one of the ablest seamen on all Casco Bay, and no one feared to sail
with him.

So, one day when the sky was clear and the water a sheet of blue, they
rounded the island and went scudding away toward the island of many
dreams.

As old Fort Skammel faded from their sight, Ruth thought of the unsolved
mystery hidden there and resolved to delve more deeply into it as soon as
she returned from this trip.

Someone has said that all of life is closely interwoven, that warp and
woof, it is all one. Certainly this at times appears to be true. There
was that lurking in the immediate future which was to connect experiences
at Monhegan with the old fort’s hidden secret. But this for a time was
hidden by the veil of the future which ever hangs like a fog just before
us.



                              CHAPTER VII
                             SOME LOBSTERS


It was strange. As Donald Bracket shaded his eyes to peer into the
driving fog he seemed to see a face. The muscles of that face were
twisted into a smile. Not a pleasant smile, it came near being a leer.

Of course, there was no face; only an after image that had somehow crept
up from the shadowy recesses of his brain. A very vivid image, it
remained there against the fog for many seconds before it slowly faded.

“Peter Tomingo,” he said to himself. “It’s fairly spooky, as if he had
sent us out to get into this mess, knowing we’d fall into it.

“But then,” he thought a moment later as he steered his sloop square into
the heart of a great wave, “he didn’t know. No one could foretell such a
storm four days in advance. Besides, he couldn’t count on my coming out
this very day.”

“Whew!” He caught his breath. Cutting its way through the crest of the
wave, his twenty-foot fishing boat went plunging down the other side. For
a matter of seconds the air about him was all white spray. This passed,
but the driving fog remained.

“Good thing the canvas is there.” He tightened a rope that held a
protecting canvas across the prow of his boat. “Be dangerous to get one’s
motor wet in such a blow. Might be fatal.”

Once more, wrinkling his brow, he stared into the fog. “Wish I could
sight Monhegan. Wish——”

An exclamation escaped his lips. He drew his hands hastily across his
eyes. The face, the crafty smile, were there again. The lips appeared to
move. They seemed to be saying:

“The shoal is just there. Plenty da lobsters. Plenty big. Wanta go. Boat
too small, mine. Too far froma da shore. Plenty da lobster. Get reech
queek.”

“Well, anyway, he told the truth,” Don said to himself. “There are
lobsters aplenty.” He glanced down at a crate where a mass of legs, eyes
and great green pinchers squirmed and twisted while the boat, worried by
the ever increasing storm, rolled and pitched like a bit of drift in a
mountain cataract.

He threw a look at the two water drenched girls, Pearl and Ruth, who sat
huddled in the prow, and his brow wrinkled.

“Have to get out of this,” he told himself, taking a fresh grip on his
steering stick. “Only question is, where?”

That indeed was the question. Fifteen miles to the westward was the
mainland and rocky shores little known to him. He was far from his usual
fishing ground. Somewhere out there in the fog, perhaps very near,
scarcely a mile long, a mere granite boulder jutting out of the sea, was
the island called Monhegan. Smaller rocks jutting up from the sea formed
a safe harbor for this island. Once there he could weather the storm in
safety. Again he shaded his eyes to peer into the fog.

For a full moment, with straining eyes, he stood there motionless. Then
of a sudden a sigh of satisfaction escaped his lips. Towering a hundred
or more feet above the sea, a bold headline loomed before him.

“Black Head,” he whispered. “That’s better.”

Touching his lever, he set his boat at a slight angle to the rushing
waves, then took a deep breath. The battle was begun, not finished. The
channel that led to Monhegan’s cozy harbor was narrow. It was guarded by
nature’s sentinels—black and frowning rocks on one side, reefs booming
and white on the other. Many a stauncher boat than his had turned back
before these perils. The rocky shore of Monhegan has taken its toll of
lives all down the years.

“It is to be a battle,” he exulted, “and I shall win!”

In the meantime, while his immediate attention was devoted to the present
struggle, the questions regarding Tomingo and the lobster industry were
revolving themselves in the back of his mind.

They, the three of them, Don, Ruth and Pearl, had reached the mainland
nearest to the island of Monhegan, Booth Bay Harbor, in safety. There
they had taken up their abode in an abandoned fisherman’s shack. Shortly
after that Don had met Tomingo.

To Tomingo he had confided his plans for lobster trapping. Tomingo had
told him of the reef far out from the mainland, but near Monhegan, where
the lobster fishing was unusually good. Without thinking much about it,
he had followed the tip. The weather had been fine. Having piled his
motor boat high with lobster pots, he had gone pop-popping away toward
Monhegan.

He had experienced no difficulty in finding the long sunken reef Tomingo
had pointed out on the chart. He had baited his pots with codfish heads,
then dropped them one by one along the reef. After adjusting the bright
red floats, each marked with his initials, he had cast an appraising eye
along the tossing string of them, then turned his boat’s prow toward his
shack.

“Fifteen miles is a long way to come for lobsters,” he had thought to
himself. “But the reefs close in are fished out. If the catch is good
I’ll do well enough.”

A two days’ storm had kept him from his traps. The morning of this, the
third day, had promised fair weather; so with his sister and cousin on
board, he had ventured out. Nature had kept but half her promise. Fair
weather had continued while he was visiting the shoal. The work of
lifting the traps had been particularly difficult. Ruth had given him a
ready hand at this. Six traps were fairly loaded with lobsters. A seventh
had been torn in pieces by a fifteen pound codfish that had blundered
into it. Another trap had been demolished by a dogfish. All the other
traps had yielded a fair harvest.

“It sure was a good catch,” the boy told himself as he thought of it now.
“Never had a better.”

“But that Tomingo,” he thought again. “Why did he tell me about it, me, a
stranger and an American?”

That, indeed, was a question worthy of consideration. The conflict
between native born and foreign born fishermen all along the Maine coast
has for many long years been a hard-fought and bitter one. At times
floats have been cut and traps set adrift and sharp battles fought with
fists and clubbed oars. It seemed inconceivable, now that he thought of
it, that any foreigner should have told him of this rich fishing ground.

“It is true,” he told himself, “that Tomingo’s boat is smaller and less
seaworthy than mine. I wouldn’t want to come this far in it myself. But
some of his friends and fellow countrymen have far better boats than
mine. Why should they not fish that shoal?”

He could not answer this question. “There’s a trick in it somewhere, I’ll
be bound, and I’ll find it soon enough without doubt. Meanwhile there is
business at hand.”

And, indeed, there was. The frowning rocks of Black Head, Burnt Head and
Skull Rock loomed squarely before him. He had been told enough to know
that this was the back of the island, that he must round the point to the
left, circle half about the island and enter from the other side.

“Going to be a hard pull,” he said, setting his teeth hard, “but if the
old engine stays with me I’ll make it.”

The memory of that next hour will remain with the boy as long as the
stars shine down upon him and the sun brightens his mornings.

The wind, the fog, the storm, the falling night. Above the roar of the
sea a long-drawn voice, hoarse and insistent, never ending, the voice of
Manana, the great fog horn that, driven by great engines, watched over
night and day, warned of rocky shoals and disaster.

With that voice sounding in his ears, with damp spray cutting sharply
across his face, with his light craft like a frightened rabbit leaping
from wave to wave, he steered clear of Black Head, White Head and Skull
Rock, to round the point and come swinging round toward the narrow
entrance where he would find safe haven or a grave.

He was heading for what he believed to be the channel when a light
creeping slowly across the sky caught and held his attention. It was
growing dark now, difficult to see ten yards before him. He needed to get
in at once. For all this, the mysterious light intrigued him. Beginning
at the right, it moved slowly over a narrow arc against the black sky.
Pausing for the merest fraction of a second, it appeared to retrace its
way over an invisible celestial way.

“What can it be?” For a moment he was bewildered. Then, like a flash it
came to him. He was looking at the crest of the great rock that lay
before Monhegan. On Monhegan a powerful light was set. As it played
backward and forward it tinged the crest of Manana, as the rock was
called, with a faint halo of glory.

“What a boon to the sailor!” he thought. “What real heroes are those who
live on this bleak island winter and summer! What—”

His thoughts broke straight off. Before him he had caught an appalling
sound, the rush of surf beating upon a rocky shoal.

Reflected from Manana, a single gleam of light gave him further warning.
The shoals were just before him. The waves there were breaking mountain
high. Turning his boat squarely about, he set his engine to doing its
best and trusted himself to the trough of a wave. Instantly there came a
drenching crash of cold black water.

He clung desperately to his course. Any moment the engine, deluged by a
greater sea, might go dead. Then would come the end.

“But there’s no other way.” He set his teeth hard.

Once more he caught the moving gleam across the sky. That gleam saved
him. He held to a course perpendicular to its line of motion as long as
he dared. Then, swinging through a quarter circle he shot straight ahead.
Five minutes later, drenched to the skin, panting from excitement and
well nigh exhausted, but now quite safe, he ran his boat alongside a punt
where a yellow light gleamed.

“Hello!” said a voice. A lantern held high revealed a boyish face.
“Pretty lucky you got in. Nasty night. Some blow!” said the boy.

“Wouldn’t have made it,” said Don, “only I caught the gleam on the crest
of Manana. It guided me in.”

“Tie up,” invited the boy. “I’ll take you ashore in my punt.”

“What you got there?” he asked in a surprised tone as the light of his
lantern fell upon the crate.

“Lobsters,” said Don.

“Lobsters?” The boy let out a whistle of surprise. “Where’d you get ’em?”

“On a shoal, little way out.” Don hadn’t meant to tell that. He hadn’t
liked the sound of that whistle. He spoke before he thought.

“You’d better watch out,” said the other boy. Then without allowing time
for further remarks, “All set? Hop in then. I got to go ashore. The gang
will be looking for me.”

As the young stranger rowed the two girls and Don ashore, Don wondered
over his strange warning.

“You better look out!” What could he have meant? He wanted to ask.
Natural reserve held him back.

Only once during the short journey was the silence broken. They were
passing a boat covered with canvas and sunk to the gunwale.

“What’s that for?” Don asked.

“Lobster pond. Keep lobsters there.”

“Why do they keep them?”

“There are a hundred or more of us summer folks out here,” the other boy
explained. “We like a lobster salad now and then. They keep them for us.
Mighty decent of them to bother. A fine lot, these fishermen. Real
sports.”

Don thought it strange that lobsters should be kept when there was a
steady market for them and they were to be caught out here with
comparative ease. However, he asked no further questions.

“Thanks for the lift.” He stood looking up at the few lights that gleamed
through the fog. “Suppose I’ll have to stay here all night.”

“Suppose so. I’d take you to our cottage, but it’s small. We’re full up.
Couldn’t crowd one more in an end. There’s a summer hotel up yonder.”

“Summer hotel. Four dollars up. Society folks.” Don looked down at his
sodden garments. “No, thanks. Where do the fisherfolk live? I’m one of
them.”

“Why——” The boy appeared surprised. “Captain Field lives just down there
beyond the wharf. But you wouldn’t go there?”

“Wouldn’t? Why not?” Something in the other boy’s tone angered Donald.

“You ought to know.” The boy’s tone was sharp. He turned to go.

“But I don’t.”

“Then you’re dumb. That’s all I have to say for you. You’re breaking into
the closed season on lobsters. You couldn’t do anything worse.”

“The closed season!” Don’s eyes opened wide. “You’re crazy. There’s no
closed season on lobsters, not in the State of Maine.”

“On Monhegan there is, and believe me it’s tight closed. Try it out and
see.”

“But that would have to be a law. No one owns the shoals.”

“Guess if you lived on this rocky island winter and summer, heat, cold,
supplies, no supplies, if you took it all as it came, you’d feel that you
owned the shoals. That’s the way the folks here feel. They want time to
fish for cod and take summer parties about, so they haul up their traps
and call June to November a closed season.

“Listen!” The other boy’s tone was kindly now. “You seem a decent sort. I
don’t know what got you out here. But you go back. Take your traps with
you. When people live in a place like this they’ve got a right to make a
few laws. Know those Italian fishermen over at the Bay?” he asked
suddenly.

“Yes, one of them. Tomingo.”

“Tomingo. That’s his name. He’s their leader. They tried trapping on the
Monhegan shoals. Know what happened? Someone cut their floats. Never
found their traps, nor the lobsters in ’em. Goodnight. Wish you luck.”
The boy disappeared into the fog.

So that was it! And that was why Tomingo was so willing to direct him to
rich lobster fields! Don sat limply down upon a rock. The two girls stood
staring at him in silence.

“He wanted to keep us off any ground he might wish to trap on, and wanted
to repay a debt to these Monheganites,” he said to his companions.

For five minutes he sat there enshrouded in fog, buried in thought.

“Closed season!” he exploded at last. “What nonsense! Who ever heard of
such a thing? Of course, we won’t pay any attention to it. And if they
cut my floats I’ll have them in jail for it. There are laws enough
against that.”

With this resolve firmly fixed in his mind, but with an uneasy feeling
lurking there as well, he thought once more of supper and a bed for the
night.

“We’ll go to this Captain Field’s place,” he said to the girls. “I’ll
tell him I am a fisherman from Peak’s Island. That’s true. I’ll get an
early start in the morning. He need never know about my catch of
lobsters.”

With this settled in his mind he led the way round the bank, across the
wharf and up the grass grown path that led to the dimly gleaming light
that shone from Captain Field’s window.

A half hour later, with thoughts of the forbidden lobsters crowded far
back in the hidden recesses of their minds, the trio found themselves
doing full justice to great steaming bowls of clam chowder topped by a
wedge of native blueberry pie.

All this time and for a long while after, Don talked of sails and
fishing, nets, harpoons, and long sea journeys with his smiling,
lean-faced and fit appearing host. Captain Field, though still a young
man, had earned his papers well, for he had sailed the Atlantic in every
type of craft and had once shipped as a harpooner on a swordfishing boat
outfitted in Portland harbor.

As they talked Don’s eyes roved from corner to corner of the cabin.
Everything within was scrupulously clean, but painfully plain, much of it
hand hewn with rough and ready tools.

As if reading his thoughts, the young Captain smiled as he said:

“There’s not a lot of money to be had on Monhegan. The ground’s too rough
for farming or cattle. We fish in summer and trap lobsters in winter. But
we must have an eye on the purse strings every day of the year.”

As he said this a curly-haired girl of eight and a brown-faced boy of six
came to kneel by their mother’s knee to say their goodnight prayers.

As he bowed his head with them, something very like a stab ran through
Don’s heart and a voice seemed to whisper:

“You are a thief. You are robbing these little ones and their honest
parents of their bread. They endure all the hardships of the year. You
come to reap a golden harvest from their lobster fields while their backs
are turned.”

He retired soon after. The bed they gave him was a good one. He was
tired, yet he did not sleep. For a full hour he thrashed about. Then a
sudden resolve put him to rest.

As is the way with persons endowed with particularly splendid physique,
Ruth, in the broad rope bed beside her cousin, fell asleep at once. She
had wrestled long that day with trap lines. The struggle to reach shore
had been fatiguing. Her sleep was sweet and dreamless.

Not so with Pearl. Her mind ever filled with fancy, was now overflowing.
She was now on Monhegan, the island of her dreams. She recalled as if
they were told yesterday the tales she had heard told of this island by
her seafaring uncle before she was old enough to go to school.

“Oh, Uncle,” she had cried. “Take me there! Take me to Monhegan!”

“Some day, child,” he had promised.

Alas, poor man, he had not lived to fulfill his promise. Like many
another brave fisherman, he had lost his life on the dreary banks of
Newfoundland.

“Dear Uncle,” she whispered as her throat tightened, “now I am here.
Here! And I know you must be glad.”

The storm was still on. She could hear the distant beat of waves on Black
Head, Burnt Head and Skull Rock. The great fog horn still sent out its
message from Manana.

“Hoo-who-ee-Whoo-oo!” Sometimes rising, sometimes falling, it seemed a
measureless human voice shouting in the night. The sound of it was
haunting.

Rising and wrapping a blanket about her, the girl went to the low window
sill, to drop upon the floor and sit there staring into the night.

There was little enough to see. The night was black. But across the crest
of that great rock, the spot of light played incessantly.

“Fifteen miles out to sea,” she thought. “Seems strange. One does not
feel that this house rested on land. It is more as if this were a ship’s
cabin, the lighthouse our search light, the fog horn our signal, and we
sail on and on into the night. We——”

She was awakened from this dream by an unfamiliar sound, thundering that
was not waves beating a shore, that might have been the roar of the
distant battle front.

A moment passed, and then she knew.

“A seaplane,” she thought suddenly. “And on such a night! Why, that can
mean only one thing, a trans-Atlantic flyer!”

How her heart leaped at the thought! She recalled with a tremor the day
she got news of “Lindy’s marvelous achievement.”

Such flyers had become fairly common now. Yet she had never seen one in
his flight.

“If he comes near enough,” she said to herself, straining her eyes in a
vain attempt to pierce the inky blackness of the night.

Then a new thought striking her all of a heap set her shuddering. “What
if he does not realize he is near Monhegan? If he is flying low, he will
crash.”

Involuntarily a little prayer went up for the lone navigator of the night
air.

Nor was the prayer unheeded. As she looked a dark spot appeared over
Manana. Then the plane came into full view. As if set to the task, the
light from the island beacon followed the aviator in his flight. Ten
seconds he was in full view. Then he was gone, passed on into the night.

“Why!” the girl exclaimed, catching her breath, “How—how strange!”

The thing she had seen _was_ strange. A broad-winged seaplane with a wide
fusilage that might have been a cabin for carrying three or four
passengers, had passed. The strange part of it all was that it was
painted the dull gray-green of a cloudy sea, and carried not one single
insignia of any nation.

“The Flying Dutchman of the air,” she thought as a thrill ran up her
spine.

For a long time she sat there staring at the darkness of night that had
swallowed up the mysterious ship of the air.

At last, with a shudder, for the night air of Monhegan is chill even in
summer, she rose to creep beneath the blankets beside her sleeping
companion.

She was about to drift away to the land of dreams, when she thought of
Captain O’Connor and what he had told her of smugglers along the Maine
coast.

“Can it be?” she thought. “But no! One would not risk his life crossing
the ocean in a seaplane just to smuggle in a few hundred dollars’ worth
of lace or silk or whatever it might be. ’Twouldn’t be worth the cost.

“But men,” she thought quite suddenly. “He said something about smuggling
men into the country. It might be——”

Her eyes were drooping. The day had been long. The salt sea air lay heavy
upon her. She fell asleep.

It was a little dark when Don arose. The girls were still asleep.
Somewhat to his surprise, as he reached the beach he found the boy of the
previous night there before him.

“Sleep here?” he asked good-naturedly.

“Nope.” There was something in Don’s look that made this boy like him.
“Going so soon? Want me to take you out?”

“Thanks. Yes.”

“Where is Captain Field’s lobster pond?” Don asked as the punt bumped the
side of his boat.

“That green one.” The boy opened his eyes wide. “Why?”

“Nothing. Give me a lift, will you?” Don was tugging at the crate of
lobsters in the bottom of his motor boat.

“There!” he sighed as the crate dropped into the punt. “Just row me over
to the Field lobster pond, will you?”

Once there, to the boy’s astonishment, Don loosed the lacings of the
canvas on Field’s lobster pond, then one at a time he took the lobsters
from his crate and dropped them into the pond.

“He buy them from you?” The younger boy was incredulous.

“No.”

“You quitting?”

Don nodded.

“I like you for that.” The other boy put out a hand. For a second Don
gripped it. Then, together they rowed back to the motor boat.

The sea was calm now. Twirling the wheel to his motor, Don went
pop-popping away to his lobster traps. Having lifted these, he piled them
high on the deck, then turned his prow once more toward Monhegan. His
lobster fishing days on Monhegan shoals were at an end. But he was not
going to leave Monhegan, not just yet. The wild charm of the place had
got him. Strange and startling things were yet to greet him there.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                            FROM OUT THE FOG


Despite the fog that lay low over the water, the sea was choppy. The
fisherman who rode in the improvised crow’s nest in the forward rigging
of the fishing sloop rose ten feet in air to fall, then to rise and fall
again. There was a tossing, whirling motion that would have made most
girls deathly sick. Not so this one; for the fisherman who stood there
ever gripping the harpoon, with alert eyes watching, ever watching the
narrow circle of fogbound ocean, was Ruth.

Swordfish had been reported off Monhegan; in fact Captain Field had
brought in a modest-sized one only the day before.

Although Don and the two girls had decided that lobster trapping on the
Monhegan shoals was unfair to those daring souls who made their home on
these wave-beaten shores, they were spending a few days on the island.

“May never be here again,” Don had said. “From all I can see, it’s not
quite like anything on earth.

“I’m going to Booth Bay on the mail tug. The sea has calmed down quite a
bit. If you girls want to have a try at something, deep sea cod, horse
mackerel, or even swordfish, why there’s the sloop. Safe enough as long’s
you keep in sound of the fog horn or sight of the island. Go ahead.”

Because swordfishing is quite the most thrilling type of fishing on all
the coast, and because these huge battlers of the deep bring a marvelous
price when caught, Ruth had elected to go swordfishing. And here they
were.

There was some fog, but as long as the hoarse _Whoo-whooo-oo_ of the fog
horn on Manana sounded in their ears, they were safe. That sound would
guide them back.

Dressed as she was in faded knickers and a ragged lumberjack, with a
boy’s cap pulled down tight over her unruly locks, one might easily have
taken this stalwart girl of the Maine coast for a boy, or, at the
distance, even for a man.

“Guess we won’t see any to-day,” she shouted back to Pearl at the wheel.

“Thickening up,” Pearl replied.

“May burn off later.”

“May.”

“We might drop anchor and try for cod,” said Ruth. “There are lines and
bait in the forward cabin. We——”

She broke short off to stare away to the right. The next second she
gripped her harpoon more securely as she uttered a command almost in a
whisper.

The capable hands of her sixteen-year-old cousin gave the wheel a turn.
The boat bore away to the right. The look on Pearl’s face became
animated. She knew what the command meant. A great fish of one sort or
another had broken water.

“Probably a horse mackerel,” she told herself. “Might be a swordfish,
though. If it is—if she gets him! Oh, boy!”

The two girls had not been harpooning often, so this little adventure was
a real treat. Even a horse mackerel would be worth something.

“But a swordfish,” Pearl told herself with a real thrill, “one of them
may be worth a hundred dollars. And oh, boy! think of the thrill of the
chase!”

The big girl in the crow’s nest was not dreaming. With blue eyes intent,
with the color in her cheek heightened with excitement, she was studying
an object that, now lifting on the crest of a wave, showed black against
the skyline and now, with scarcely a perceptible motion, disappeared
beneath the sea.

“Never saw a fish behave like that,” she told herself. “Acts like a
log—almost—not quite. A log does not go under unless a wave hits it. This
thing does. Shaped like a swordfish. But whoever heard of a swordfish
acting that way?”

Once more she turned her head to broadcast an order in a tone that was
all but a whisper.

“It is a swordfish,” she whispered back, ten seconds later. “I saw his
sword. He’s a monster!”

A swordfish! Her mind was in a whirl. Suppose they got him! A hundred
dollars. What did it not mean to those fisherfolk! A new suit for her
father, a dress for herself, a new stove for the kitchen and perhaps a
new punt. They needed a new one badly.

“A swordfish! It is! It is!” Her heart pounded furiously against her ribs
as the boat came closer, ever closer to that languid black monster that
now rising, now sinking, seemed half asleep.

A moment passed. Pearl caught the black gleam before her, and her eyes
shone as her tense muscles gripped the wheel. Pearl was standing up now.
Breathlessly she waited.

As for the girl in the crow’s nest, for the first time in her life she
was experiencing “buck fever.” Little wonder. Never before had she cast
for a swordfish, yet here before her a monster cut the waves. His
five-foot sword dripped with foam as he rolled lazily over and sank.

“Gone!” The tense muscles that had frozen her hands to the harpoon
relaxed.

A minute passed. And then——

“There! There he is!” came in a tense whisper from the stern.

Towering above the sea, her bronze face alight, the girl in the crow’s
nest lifted an arm. With skill and precision she poised her harpoon, then
let fly.

“Got him!” came from the stern.

Something splashed into the water. An empty keg sealed up tight and
fastened securely to the harpoon rope, had been thrown overboard. It
would mark the progress of the struggling fish.

But, strangely enough, the great fish did not struggle overmuch. After a
few wallowing flounders in an unavailing attempt to break away from the
harpoon line, he went down in a swirl of foam. A moment later he rose to
the top and swam heavily away.

Pearl knew what to do. She followed the fish.

“Acts awful queer,” was the big girl’s comment. A cold dread was gripping
her heart. What if this fish was sick?

“People don’t eat sick fish,” she told herself. “He’d be a dead loss.”

No food from the sea is more highly prized than is the steak of a
swordfish. None brings a higher price in the market. But if the fish was
not sound, then all their work went for nothing.

What was this? Some strange object was moving across the surface of the
water. Now on the crest of a wave, it plunged into the trough, then, like
some living thing, climbed the next wave.

“But it can’t be alive,” she told herself. “It’s only a mass of cloth and
twisted stick. Something tailing behind.”

For a moment she stared at this extraordinary phenomenon, an inanimate
object moving like a living thing across the water. Then of a sudden she
realized that this curious object was following the swordfish.

Like a flash it came over her, and her heart sank. This was a marker,
just as her floating barrel was. Someone had caught the fish before her.

“It’s some of those city folks who make their summer home on Monhegan,”
she told herself. “Been fishing with a kite. That’s the remains of their
kite gliding along down there. They got a fish and have been playing him,
tiring him out. That’s why he’s so sort of dead. Oh! Gee!” She rested her
head on her arm and wanted to cry.

Angling for swordfish with a kite is a sport indulged in by expert
fishermen all along the Atlantic coast. A live herring or other fish of
its size is attached to a hook on a line hanging from a kite. The kite is
then sailed from a boat over the water in such a manner that the live
bait, now beneath the water, now above it, moves along over the surface
like a small flying fish. The quarry, seeing this tempting prize, strikes
it, then the fight begins. The task of the sportsman is to tire the great
fish out. Of course, if the slender line is broken the prize is lost. The
battle sometimes lasts for hours.

It was no sad face that Ruth presented to the yellow oilskin-clad city
boy and girl whose motor boat, the _Speed King_, soon hove into view. She
wasn’t sorry she had spoiled their game. She was glad. She felt that they
had no right to make play out of what was work to her and had been to her
ancestors for generations.

“What did you do that for?” The city boy in the prow of the boat lifted a
clouded and angry face to Ruth. To do him full justice, he had taken her
for a boy.

“Do what?” Ruth asked belligerently.

“Harpoon our fish.”

“How’d I know it was your fish?”

“Had a line on him.”

“Couldn’t see your line.”

“He was about done for. We’d have had him in another half hour. We’ve
been after him for five hours.” The boy held up hands that were cut and
bleeding from handling the line. “It’s our first one, too.”

“Well,” said Ruth, and her tone was cold, “since you claim the fish, take
him. He won’t give you much trouble now. All I want is my line and keg.
That ought to satisfy you.”

Ruth knew that it wouldn’t satisfy. She knew all about this sportsman’s
ideas of catches. She had murdered their prize. That’s the way they would
look at it. If they didn’t take the fish with such and such tackle, so
heavy a line and pole, just such a reel, they had nothing to boast of.
She had spoiled their game. But she didn’t care. They had spoiled hers,
too, and it was more than just a silly game, it was bread and butter, a
new stove, some new clothes, a——

The boy began to speak again. His words burned with anger. “That don’t
satisfy us, you know it don’t, you meat hunter you——”

The young girl with very bright eyes that rode beside him, tugging at his
arm, stopped the angry flood. She whispered in his ear. Ruth heard, and
her face flushed.

What she had said was, “Don’t. It’s a girl.”

This made her more angry than ever, but she controlled her emotions and
said no more.

A moment later the _Speed King_ turned about and left the circle of
fog-ridden sea to Ruth and Pearl and to the great fish that had ceased to
struggle.

“Well,” said Ruth, rising wearily from her place fifteen minutes later,
“since they don’t seem to want the fish, guess we’d better take him home.
He’s worth a lot of money, and we need it.”

There was no spirit in her voice. There was no spring in her usually
buoyant self as she did the work of dispatching the fish, taking the keg
and lashing the prize for a tow to port. She had won what she wanted, but
now she had it she was sure she was not going to enjoy it, not even the
new dress.

Late that evening she delivered the prize to Captain Field, who promised
to carry it to market for her. She wasn’t going to get a great deal of
joy out of the money, but one could not quite throw it away.

“It’s tough luck,” Don said as she told him the story that evening. “I
suppose those city people must have their sport, but it’s a little hard
to understand why one person’s sport should interfere with another’s
business.”



                               CHAPTER IX
                             OFF BLACK HEAD


In the meantime, notwithstanding the fact that Ruth and Pearl were on far
away Monhegan, the old Fort Skammel mystery was not entirely neglected,
nor was the sleepy old fortress allowed to bask unmolested in the sun.

With her two newly made pals away, Betty Bronson, who had lived for a
long time on the banks of the romantic Chicago River, and who had but
recently been taken up by a wealthy benefactress, found life hanging
heavy on her hands. The ladies in the big summer cottage on the hill,
which was her present home, drank quantities of tea, played numberless
games of bridge, and gossiped as ladies will. All of which interested
Betty not at all.

Fishing off the dock was not exciting. She tried for cunners off the
rocks at the back of the island and was promptly and efficiently drenched
from head to toe by an insolent wave.

After three days of this sort of thing she was prepared for any wild and
desperate adventure. Hiring a punt from Joe Trott, she rowed across the
bay to the old fort.

The day was bright and the bay calm. The grass by the old fort was as
motionless and silent as were the massive stones which made up the walls
of the fort.

“Peaceful,” she thought. “What could be more so? Like the schoolhouse by
the road, the old fort is a ragged beggar sunning.”

No sooner had she gripped a flashlight and crept through a narrow square
where once a massive cannon had protruded, than all this was changed. As
if to make reality doubly real, the sun for a moment passed under a
cloud, and the great silent circular chamber, which had once known the
cannons’ roar, became dark at midday.

“Boo!” she shuddered and was tempted to turn back. Just in time she
thought of tea and bridge. She went on.

“Ruth said it was down these stairs at the right,” she told herself,
stepping resolutely down the ancient stone stairway. “Down a long
passage, around a curve, through a small square dungeon-like place, then
along a narrow passageway. Ooo-oo! That seems a long way.”

She was thinking of the face Ruth had seen in the fire. Just why she
expected that face to remain there, like an oil painting on the floor,
she probably could not have told. Perhaps she did not expect it. That she
did expect to meet with some adventure, make some discovery, or
experience a thrill was quite certain.

“I wish Ruth were here,” she told herself. “It’s really her mystery; but
I’ll save it for her.”

At that she disappeared down the narrow passageway that led to the dim
unknown.

Had she known just what was happening to Ruth at that moment she would
have been surprised and startled. Ruth was experiencing adventure all her
own.

On that day, still wondering and brooding over her curious experience
with the swordfish and trying without much success to get the consent of
her mind to enjoy the swordfish money gotten in such a strange manner,
Ruth had gone for a walk to the back of the island.

Once there, fish and money were driven from her mind, for the view from
the crest of Black Head, a bold headland towering two hundred feet above
the sea, was glorious beyond compare. The day was clear. There was no
storm, yet great breakers, racing in from the sea, sent out long, low
rushes of sound as they broke against the impregnable black barrier.

As her keenly appreciative eyes took in the long line of fast racing
gray-green surf, they suddenly fell upon a sight that made her blood run
cold.

“What a terrible chance! How—how foolish!” she exclaimed as, springing
from her rocky seat, she went racing back over the island.

Having arrived at the head of a rugged trail that led downward, she came
to a sudden pause.

This, in view of the fact that she honestly believed that the boy and
girl on the rocks by the rushing surf were in grave danger, might seem
strange. Strange or not, she walked deliberately now. Dropping here,
clinging there to drop again, she had made her way half the distance to
them when she paused again to at last take a seat there in the sun.

The path from there on was steep but straight. She could reach the ones
below in less than a moment’s time. But she would not, at least not yet.

“What’s the use?” she told herself a little bitterly. “Wouldn’t be so bad
if one didn’t really like them. But I do.”

It was a rather strange situation. The boy and girl who were endangering
their lives by playing in the high rolling surf were the very ones who
had followed the swordfish the day before.

With her eyes on the shining surf and the two dancing figures before her,
she gave herself over to reflection.

The boy and girl below were tempting death. There was no question about
it. They were playing in the surf at an exceedingly dangerous moment.
True, there was no wind, no storm upon the sea. But there had been a
storm somewhere. That was evident. It might have happened on the faraway
coast of Florida. No matter, the seas that had risen then had journeyed
northward. Now they were reaching higher and higher on the sloping rock
where the boy and girl played.

“They think the ocean is a plaything!” Ruth said almost bitterly. Having
lived her life in a fisherman’s cabin by the sea, she knew the ocean was
no plaything. Twice in her short life she had looked into eyes that saw
nothing, on arms that would never move again, lifeless forms given up by
the sea.

As she watched, in spite of her dislike for sports that tempted
providence, she found herself fascinated by the wild, nymph-like daring
of the twelve-year-old girl who in a single cotton garment drenched with
salt spray, hatless and bare of feet, sprang far out after the receding
waves to turn and rush back as the surf came thundering in.

Now as she watched, the spray hid her. She sprang to her feet.

“There! There! She’s gone!”

But, no, the spray cleared and the girl, drenched, chilled but
triumphant, threw up her arms and laughed.

“Who can help but like them, these rich men’s children!” she exclaimed.
“They are frank and fearless. They never quarrel. They are generous to a
fault. And yet—” she paused for a moment to reflect, “they don’t seem to
have any notion of the value of life. They have never been taught to be
afraid.”

Not taught to be afraid. That was it. Too much fear was destructive; too
little fear quite as bad.

Receding, the sea appeared to give up its attempt to snatch the daring
ones to its breast. Ruth’s eyes and thoughts drifted away from the boy
and girl on the rocks. She joyed in the beauty and power of nature
revealed in that long line of thundering surf. Nowhere in all her life
had she seen such surf as came beating in at the back of Monhegan.

Great men have felt the charm of it in all ages. Captain John Smith once
tarried to raise a garden there. Governor Bradford of Plymouth Plantation
was once there. And, at this very moment, Ruth caught a glimpse of a
shock of white hair which belonged to one of the greatest inventors of
modern times.

“Suppose he is sitting there watching the surf and trying to estimate the
amount of power that is being wasted,” she thought with a smile.

But there was the surf again. Booming in louder than before it sent spray
forty feet high on Black Head’s impregnable stronghold. There, too, were
the daring ones, the boy and the wildly dancing girl.

“There! There!” she whispered tensely once more. “She is gone. The waves
have her.”

Once more she was mistaken. With a scream of triumph the child emerged
from the spray.

“Wish I had never seen them,” she mumbled angrily.

The death of a human being, particularly a child with all the bright
glories of life before her, is something to give pause to every other
human being in the world.

It did seem an unkind act of Providence that had thrust these two young
people who knew so little of fear and of the sea into the presence of one
who had experienced so much of the ocean’s wild terrors.

She had seen this boy and girl twice before. There had been the painful
swordfishing episode. Then once, as she had guided her motor boat into
the tiny harbor at Monhegan, a cry had struck her ear. She had taken it
for a cry of distress. Surf had been rushing in masses of gray foam over
the shoals before Monhegan. There had been something of a fog. Having
caught the outlines of a green punt there in the foam, she had exclaimed:

“They have lost their oars. Their boat will be smashed on the rocks!”

With infinite pains, in danger every moment of losing her motor boat, she
had worked her way close, then had shouted to them.

To her great disgust, she had seen the boy turn and laugh. Once again
they were using the ocean as a plaything. Having thrown an anchor
attached to a long painter among the rocks, they were riding the surf in
their shallow punt.

A strange providence had saved them.

“But now they are at it again,” she told herself. “I’ll leave this
island. I won’t be their keeper. I—”

She broke off, to stand for ten seconds, staring. A piercing scream had
struck her ear. No cry of joy, this. As she looked she saw the boy alone
on the slanting rock. On the crest of a wave she caught a fleck of white
that was not foam.

“The girl! She’s out there! She’s swimming. She—”

Like a flash she shot down the rocky path. At the same instant an old
man, his gray hairs flying, sprang down the other bank of the rocky run.

The old man reached the spot before her.

“No! No! Not you!” she panted. She knew that no white-haired patriarch
could brave that angry swirl of foam and live.

The aged inventor knew this quite well. He knew something more. He had
measured the boy’s strength and prowess and found it wanting.

“Not you either,” he panted as the suddenly panic-stricken and
heart-broken city boy prepared to leap to the rescue.

“Not you!” The old man seized him and pinned him to the rock. “If someone
is to undo the harm done by your recklessness it must be another.” The
aged inventor paused, out of breath.

That other was Ruth. No one knew that better than she. The time had come
when she must battle with death for the life of another.

“Go! Go for a boat!” she shouted to the boy and the man. Her voice
carried above the roar of the surf. With that she leaped square into the
arms of a gigantic wave to be carried away by it toward the spot where
the white speck, which had a moment before been a joyous twelve-year-old
girl, struggled more feebly and ever more feebly against the forces that
strove to drag her down.

The battle that followed will always remain a part of Monhegan’s colorful
history.

Two thoughts stuck in Ruth’s mind as, throwing the foam from her face,
she struck for the place where the white spot had last been. She must get
a firm grip on the girl; then she must go out, out, OUT. Nothing else
could save them. By a great good fortune this was a moment of comparative
calm. But such calms are deceiving. Ruth was not to be deceived. The
ocean was a cat playing with a mouse. At any moment it might be raging
again. To attempt a landing on the rocks, to allow one’s self to be cast
high against Black Head’s pitiless wall was to meet death at a single
blow.

“I must go out, out, OUT. There is life,” she told herself over and over.

But first the girl. A low wave lifted her. Riding its crest, she caught a
glimpse of that slight figure. But now she was gone, perhaps forever.

But no; there she was closer now, still battling feebly against the blind
forces dragging her down.

With almost superhuman strength the fisher girl leaped against the waves.
Now she had covered half the distance, now two-thirds, and now she
reached the child. As if to torment her, a wave snatched her away. She
disappeared.

“Gone!” she murmured.

But no, there she was, closer now. Her hand shot out. She grasped a shred
of white. It gave way. A second stroke, and she had her.

Gripping her firmly with one hand, she swam with the other. Swimming now
with all her might, she made her way out until the sea grew wild again.

Nothing could be done now but keep heads above the foam and spray. One,
two, three waves, each one higher than the last, carried them toward the
terrible wall of stone. Now they were five yards back, now eight, now
ten. With an agonizing cry, the girl saw the rocks loom above them.

But now, just in the nick of time, as if a hand had been laid upon the
water and a mighty voice had whispered, “Peace! Be still!” the waves
receded.

Ruth, looking into the younger girl’s eyes, read understanding there.

“Can you cling to my blouse? I can swim better.”

The girl’s answer was a grip at the collar that could not be broken.

The next moment a fearful onrush found them farther out, safer. But
Ruth’s strength was waning. There was no haven here. A boat was their
only hope.

Hardly had she thought this than a dark prow cut a wave a hundred yards
beyond them. Above the prow was a sea-tanned face.

“Captain Field!” She shouted aloud with joy. Captain Field is the
youngest, bravest of all the Atlantic seaboard.

“Now we will be saved,” she said, huskily. The girl’s grip on her jacket
tightened.

The rescue of two girls by a small fishing schooner tossed by such a sea
was no easy task. More than once it seemed the boat would be swamped and
all lost. Three times the waves snatched them away as they were upon the
point of being drawn aboard. But in the end, steady nerves, strong
muscles and brave hearts won. Dripping, exhausted, but triumphant, Ruth
and the one she had saved were lifted over the gunwale. At once the
staunch little motor boat began its journey to a safe harbor, and all the
comforts of home.



                               CHAPTER X
                           THE TILTING FLOOR


That evening Ruth sat before a tiny open grate in her room at Field’s
cabin. She was alone; wanted to be. The summer folks were giving a
concert up at the big hotel. Pearl and Don had gone. She had wanted to
sit and think.

She had been angry for hours. “I’ll leave Monhegan in the morning,” she
told herself, rising to stamp back and forth across the narrow room. “If
Don isn’t ready to go, I’ll take the tug to Booth Harbor and go down by
steamer. I won’t stay here, not another day!”

She slumped down in her chair again to stare moodily at the fire. What
had angered her? This she herself could not very clearly have told.
Perhaps it was because they had tried to make a heroine of her. She
hadn’t meant to be a heroine, wouldn’t be made one. The whole population
of the island, a hundred and fifty or more, had flocked down to the dock
when Captain Field brought her and the rescued girl in.

There had been shouts of “What a wonder! A miracle girl!”

An artist had wanted her to pose for a portrait. “So romantically
rugged,” he had said as he gripped her arm with fingers that were soft.

“Romantically rugged.” She didn’t want her portrait painted; had only
wanted dry clothes.

“They had no right to do it,” she told herself savagely. “If that boy and
girl hadn’t been tempting God and Providence by playing in the surf, I
wouldn’t have been obliged to risk my life to save the girl. And on top
of that they have the nerve to want me to pose as a heroine!”

She slumped lower in her chair. Yes, she’d go home to-morrow. She had
begun by loving Monhegan. The bold, stark beauty of it had fascinated
her. Nowhere else did the surf run so high. Nowhere else were the
headlands so bold. No surf was so green, blue and purple as that which
rose and fell off Black Head, Burnt Head and Skull Rock.

But now the cold brutality of nature as demonstrated here left her
terrified and cold.

Perhaps, after all, she was only in a physical slump after a heroic
effort. For all that, she had formed a resolve to leave Monhegan in the
morning. Like a spike in a mahogany log, the resolve had struck home. It
would not be withdrawn.

As for Pearl, she was at that moment listening to such music as it was
seldom her privilege to hear—Tittle’s Serenade done on harp, flute,
violin and cello. Her eyes were half closed, but for all that she was
seeing things. She was, as in a vision, looking into the night where a
single ray of light fell upon a mysterious dark-winged seaplane speeding
away through the fog above the sea.

                            * * * * * * * *

It was at noon of that day that Betty found herself moving slowly,
cautiously down the narrow passageway at the heart of old Fort Skammel,
that was supposed to lead to the spot where Ruth had seen the face in the
light of her Roman candle on the Fourth of July.

The place was spooky enough in daytime. In truth, day and night were
alike in those subterranean passageways which had once led from dungeon
to dungeon and from a battery room to one at a farther corner of the
massive pile of masonry. No ray of light ever entered there. The walls
were damp and clammy as a tomb.

Still, urged on by mystery and who knows what need of change and
excitement, the slender, dark-eyed girl pushed forward down this
corridor, round a curve, across a small room which echoed in a hollow way
at her every footstep, then round a curve again until with a wildly
beating heart she paused on the very spot where Ruth had fired the
eventful Roman candle.

Nor was she to wait long for a thrill. Of a sudden, of all places in that
dark, damp and chill passage, a hot breath of air struck her cheek.

Her face blanched as she sprang backward. It was as if a fiery dragon,
inhabiting this forsaken place, had breathed his hot breath upon her.

Be it said to her credit that, after that one step backward, she held her
ground. Lifting a trembling hand, she shot the light of her electric
torch before her.

That which met her gaze brought an exclamation to her lips. Not ten feet
before her a square in the floor, some three feet across, tilted upward.
Moved by an invisible, silent force, it tilted more and more. A crack had
appeared between the floor and the tilting slab. From this crack came the
blast of heat that fanned her cheek.

“The fort is on fire,” she told herself in a moment of wild terror.

Then, in spite of her fright, she laughed. How could a structure built
entirely of stone burn? The thing was absurd; yet there was the heat from
that subterranean cavity.

“There!” She caught her breath again. The heat waves had been cut short
off. She looked. The slab of stone was dropping silently down.

“It—why it’s as if someone lifted it to have a look at me!” she told
herself as a fresh tremor shot up her spine.

She did not doubt for a moment that this conclusion was correct. In spite
of this, and in defiance of her trembling limbs that threatened to
collapse, she moved forward until she stood upon the very slab that had
been lifted.

“Don’t seem different from the others,” she told herself. “Nothing to
mark it.”

“Well,” she told herself as her eager feet carried her farther and
farther from that haunting spot, “I’ve done a little exploring. I’ve made
a discovery and had a thrill. That’s quite enough for one day.”

“Ought to tell someone,” she mused as she sat before the wood fire in the
great fireplace of the big summer cottage on the hill that evening. “But
then, I wonder if I should? It’s really Ruth’s mystery. She should have a
share in its uncovering. I’ll go back to-morrow and see what more I can
discover,” she told herself at last.

Had she but known it, reinforcements were shortly to be on the way. In
Don’s room on Monhegan, Ruth, Pearl and Don had just held a consultation.
In the end they agreed that they should start for home in the morning.

A short while after this, Ruth, as she was about to fall asleep, reached
a comforting conclusion:

“Since I saved that girl’s life,” she told herself, “it should square
that swordfish affair. I can now spend the swordfish money with a good
conscience. I shall have a new punt as soon as I reach Portland Harbor.”

Don’s boat was a sailing sloop with a “kicker” (a small gasoline motor)
to give him a lift when the wind was against him. The day they started
for home was unusually calm. Sails bagged and flapped in the gentle
breeze. The little motor pop-popped away, doing its best, but they made
little progress until toward night, when a brisk breeze came up from the
east. Then, setting all sail, and shutting off the motor, they bent to
the wind and went gliding along before it.

There is nothing quite like a seaworthy sail boat, a fair wind and a
gently rippling sea. At night, with the sea all black about you and the
stars glimmering above, you appear to drift through a faultless sky
toward worlds unknown.

Ruth and Pearl, after their exciting experiences on Monhegan, enjoyed
this to the full. Not for long, however, for there was something in the
salt sea air and the gently rocking boat which suggested long hours of
sleep. So, after wrapping themselves in blankets, with a spare sail for a
mattress, they stretched out upon the deck and were soon lost to the
world of reality and at home in the land of dreams.

It was on this same calm day that Betty returned to old Fort Skammel and
the scene of the tilting stone floor.

Just what she expected to see or do, she could not perhaps have told.
Driven on by the spirit of adventure, and beckoned forward by the lure of
mystery, she just went, that was all.

As it turned out, she saw that which gave her food for thought during
many a long hour.

Having made her way, with hesitating steps and backward glances, to the
spot where Ruth had seen the face-in-the-fire, she threw her light ahead;
then, with a quick little “Oh-oo” took an involuntary step backward.

The square section of stone floor was now tilted to a rakish angle. It
appeared stationary. Beneath it was revealed an open space some three
feet across.

As the girl switched off her light and stood there trembling, she
realized that a faint unearthly yellow light shone from the half dark
space beneath the stone.

For a full moment, with no sound save the wild beating of her heart to
disturb the silence of the place, she stood there motionless.

Then, seeing that nothing happened, she plucked up courage, and, without
turning on her torch, dropped on hands and knees, to creep toward the
oblong of yellow light.

Three times her heart leaped into her mouth. A small stone rolling from
beneath her hand wakened low echoes in the place. A stone that gave way
beneath her suggested that she might at any moment be plunged into an
unknown abyss below. Some sound in the distance, probably made by a rat,
all but made her flee. In time she found herself gazing down into the
space beneath the tilted floor.

The sight that met her gaze was worthy of her effort. A small square room
lay beneath her and in that room, revealed by the witch-like yellow
light, piled on every side and in great squares at the center, were bolts
and bolts of richly colored silks and boxes beyond number, all filled, if
one were to be guided by the three that had been broken open, with silk
dresses, red, blue, orange, green, silver and gold, fit for any princess
of old.

“Oh! Ah!” she said under her breath.

Then, just as she was beginning to wonder and to plan, there sounded far
down some dark corridor heavy footsteps.

In wild consternation, without again switching on her torch, she sprang
away down the narrow passageway. Nor did she draw an easy breath until
she was in her punt and half way across the bay.

Then as she dropped the oars for a second she drank in three long breaths
of air to at last release a long drawn “Whew!”

She had not been in the big summer cottage on the hill five minutes, her
brain pulsating from a desire to tell someone of her marvelous discovery,
when the rich lady of the house told her of a yachting party to start
early next morning.

“We will be gone three or four days,” she was told. “Pack your bag well,
and don’t forget your bathing suit.”

“Three days! Oh—er—” She came very near letting the cat out of the bag
right there, but caught herself just in time.

“Why! Don’t you want to go?” Her benefactress stared at her in
astonishment. “It will be a most marvelous trip, all the way to Booth Bay
and perhaps Monhegan, and on Sir Thomas Wright’s eighty-foot yacht. You
never saw such a boat, Betty. Never!”

“Yes, yes, I’d love to go.” Betty’s tone was quite cheerful and sincere
now. She had caught that magic name Monhegan.

“Ruth and Pearl are up there,” she told herself. “It’s a small island. I
am sure to see them. I’ll tell Ruth. It’s her secret. Then, when we come
back—” She closed her eyes and saw again those piles and piles of
shimmering silken dresses.

“I’d like to try them on, every one,” she told herself with a little
gurgle of delight that set the others in the room staring at her.

But Ruth and Pearl, as you already know, were on their way home.



                               CHAPTER XI
                         THE WAVERING RED LIGHT


“Look, Don. What a strange red light.” Pearl, who had been curled like a
kitten on the prow of the boat, rose on her elbows to point away to sea.

“Where?” Don asked.

“Over by Witches Cove.”

“Plenty of lights on the sea,” he grumbled. He was tightening the last
bolts in the pride of his life, his sloop with a kicker, which he had
whimsically named _Foolemagin_. They had been home from Monhegan a full
day now. His motor had gone wrong, and he was repairing it. In a few
moments she would be cutting the waters down the bay. He did not wish to
be disturbed.

“But this one acts so strangely,” Pearl persisted. “It sort of wavers up
and down, like—like a ship in distress.”

“Distress! What nonsense!” the boy exclaimed impatiently as he tossed
down a hammer and seized a wrench. “There is no sea tonight. A little
swell, that’s all. How could a ship go aground on a night like this?”

“There now!” he sighed at last. “She ought to do for a trial trip.”

Releasing his boat from the float to which she was anchored, he threw the
motor into gear. Purring as sweetly as a cat on the hearth, the motor set
the boat gliding through the water.

“What could be finer?” He dropped back on the circular seat in the stern.

Indeed, what could? The sea, the night and a boat. Such a boat, too!
True, the hull of the _Foolemagin_ had seen much service. But it was
strongly built, and Don Bracket knew his business. He had calked her
well. And her motor was nearly new. Little wonder that the boy’s heart
swelled with joy and pride as the boat, responding to the lightest touch,
headed for the open sea.

The boy had worked hard and long for this prize. In a twelve-foot punt he
had rowed hundreds of miles. Setting lobster pots, trapping crabs,
digging clams for the summer folks, he had added a dime here, a quarter
there, a dollar now and then until there was enough.

“Now,” he thought, “since Monhegan disappointed me, I’ll get busy here at
home. I’ll make a lot more lobster pots. I’ll set them out by Green
Island, Witches Cove and the Hue and Cry. I’ll get big ones, five
pounders, beauties.”

In his dreaming he quite forgot the girl who still lay half curled up
back of the prow. To one who did not know her, Pearl might have seemed a
kitten sort of girl, soft, dreamy and purring. Not so Don. He knew she
could swim as strong and far as he, that she could row a punt or drag a
lobster pot from the shoals with the best of them.

She could relax it is true. Everyone should be able to do that. She was
relaxed now, staring dreamy eyed into the gathering darkness. But of a
sudden she sat bolt upright.

“Look, Don!” she cried. “Look at the wavering red light. Over by Witches
Cove.” They were much nearer now. “It is someone in distress. Must be.”

Without reply, Don turned the prow of his boat toward the shoals back of
Witches Cove, set his motors doing their best, then leaned back to watch
with half closed eyes that wavering light.

“Lights,” said the girl, as if half talking to herself.

“There are plenty of lights about the bay these days—too many,” said the
boy. “Mysterious doings, I’d say. That fellow in the cabin by Witches
Cove knows something about it all, I’ll be bound. He may have something
to do with this light, decoy or something. But I’ll see.”

He kept his boat headed squarely for the light.

The girl did not answer his remarks. They had set her thinking all the
same. There had been strange doings about the bay. And not the least
mysterious person who might be connected with them was the man who had
taken up his abode in the abandoned cabin among the black clump of firs
that cast their dark shadows over Witches Cove.

Many and strange were the thoughts that passed through her mind as they
came closer and closer to that dark sea cove about which weird and
fantastic tales had been woven.

There were persons who could not be induced to fish there; no, not even
at midday, and now it was night.

For this girl whose home had always been on Peak’s Island, this cove had
always held a charmed fascination. As a small child, listening to the
tales of gray witches that rose from its depths in the dark of the moon,
she had time and again begged to be taken there.

As soon as she was old enough to row a punt this far, she had fairly
haunted the spot on Saturdays and holidays. The banks of this pool were
steep and rocky. There were spots where its depths even at low tide
exceeded twenty feet. There were times when the waters were as dark and
green as old jade. At such times the movement of the incoming tide seemed
caused by some monster disturbed in his slumbers at the pool’s bottom,
and the rush of water among the rocks seemed a whispering voice. The very
fish she caught there were different. As if touched by the brush of a
great artist, they took on fantastic colors—red, deep blue, purple and
green. The girl loved the spot. She thrilled now as she neared it.

It had been on one of her Saturday afternoon fishing trips, not two weeks
back, as you may remember, that she had first discovered that someone had
taken up his abode on this small rocky and hitherto uninhabited island.

She fell to thinking now of the two great cats and the little man with
the wide-rimmed glasses.

“There! Right back there!” she said suddenly as the light, swinging clear
of the sea, continued to waver backward and forward in a jerky and
uncertain manner.

“I know,” the boy answered. “Be there in a minute. It may be some false
alarm. Be ready for a sudden start if I need to make it. If it’s
smugglers or booze runners we may have to run for it. They don’t love
company too well.”

The thing they saw as they rounded the reef and stood close in,
astonished them much. Lying on her side, with a gash in her side, was a
one time smartly rigged sailboat. Holding to the mast, and waving a
lantern around which was wound a red cloth, was a boy a year or two
younger than Don. Clinging to him for support as the heavy swell lifted
and lowered the wreck was a mere slip of a girl.

“Not a day past twelve,” was Pearl’s mental comment.

In an instant she recognized them. Yet she could not believe her eyes.

“It can’t be,” she said in a low tone, more to herself than to Don. “But
it is! It’s the girl Ruth saved from the surf at Monhegan, and her
brother.”

The strangest part of all was that the girl at this moment showed no sign
of terror. Her black eyes danced, as much as to say, “Well, here is a
real lark!”

“Where’d you come from?” Don asked.

“Monhegan.”

“Monhegan!” Don gasped. A girl and a boy in a sailboat coming fifty miles
over an open sea. The thing seemed incredible.

“We didn’t mean to come so far,” said the boy. “Went out for a little
lark. Didn’t know much about this boat. Uncle gave her to me a week ago.
She got going and I couldn’t head her in, so we just came on down. Some
joke, eh?”

Don didn’t see any joke in it. A fine boat wrecked and all that, but he
had to admit that affairs do not look the same to all people.

“What you going to do?” he asked.

“Can’t you take us ashore?”

“Yes. But this boat of yours?”

“Let her bust up. Don’t care much for sailing. Dad’s getting me a motor
launch.”

“You mean—” Don stared incredulous. True, the sailboat was an old model.
For all that, she had been a fast one in her day, and could easily be
made seaworthy.

“Cost thousands,” he thought.

“Don! Don!” Pearl was tugging at his arm, whispering excitedly in his
ear. “Ask them to let us have it. We can fix it up. I want it for my very
own.”

So excited was she that her whisper came near to being a low scream. The
strange boy heard, and smiled.

“If you can save her, she’s yours,” he promised. “Only get us out of
this. We’re wet and getting cold.”

To Don the thing that the other boy proposed—that the boat, any boat for
that matter, should be left to pound its heart out like a robin beating
its breast against a cage, seemed a crime little short of murder. To a
boy whose ancestors for generations have belonged on the sea, a ship is a
living thing.

“We’ll take you over,” he said shortly. “Get in. Quick.”

Without further word, the boy and girl climbed aboard.

By great good fortune Ruth was at the dock when they came in. To her was
entrusted the task of conducting the boy and girl to warm quarters where
they might find a change of clothing.

In Ruth’s cottage the boy and girl sat beside the fisher girl in silence,
dreamily watching the fire.

“Do you mean to say,” said Ruth, breaking the silence, “that your
sister’s very narrow escape from drowning made no impression upon you,
that you are as willing as ever to gamble with your life?”

“She didn’t drown, did she?” the boy looked at her and laughed. “She had
luck. Her time hadn’t come, that’s all. No use making a fuss about that.”

“Life,” Ruth said quietly, “is a precious possession. No one has a right
to think of it lightly.”

“Life,” said the boy with a toss of the head, “is a joke. We’re here
because we’re here and because we are to have a good time. What’s the use
of making a fuss?”

Ruth looked at him but said no more.

In her own room an hour later she sat looking off at the bay. Her
thoughts were sadly mixed. She felt that the plan of life that had always
been hers was slipping.

“Much work, friends, a home and a little pleasure now and then, holidays,
and—and—

“‘Life,’” she quoted thoughtfully, “‘is a joke. Life is a joke. What’s
the use of making a fuss?’”

She took down a box from a what-not in the corner. There was money in the
box, the last of the swordfish money. She had bought a punt because it
was truly needed. She had meant to spend the remainder for useful things
about the house and for fishing tackle which was also very practical.

But now, “Life is a joke.” She allowed the coins to slip through her
fingers like grains of sand.

“A figured taffeta dress,” she thought. “I’ve always wanted one, and a
new hat, and new pumps. I’ll have them, too. Life is a joke.”

Had she truly convinced herself that it was not worth while to look upon
the business of living as a serious matter? Who can say? Perhaps she did
not know herself.

As for Don and Pearl, they hurried back and were soon busily engaged in
the business of preparing to salvage the wreck.

To Pearl, who kept repeating to herself, “If we can only do it. If only
we can!” the moments consumed by Don in rolling barrels and carrying
chains to the sloop seemed endless. But at last with the meager deck of
the _Foolemagin_ piled high, they headed once more for Witches Cove.

The cove, as they neared it this time, seemed more fearsome and ghostly
than ever before. The moon was under a cloud. The clump of firs hung like
a menacing thing over the cliff. The light from the mysterious stranger’s
cabin was gone. Pearl shuddered as she caught the long drawn wail of a
prowling cat.

She shook herself free from these fancies. There was work to be done.
Would they succeed? She prayed that they might. The tide was still
rising. That would help. The empty barrels, once they were sunk beneath
the surface and chained to the broken hull, would help to buoy the
sailboat up.

With practiced hand Don began the task that lay before him. Pearl helped
when she could.

The first gray streaks of dawn were showing across the water when, with a
little sigh of satisfaction, Don beached the disabled boat on their own
sandy shore.

“With a line from shore,” said Don, “she’ll be safe here until noonday
tide. Then I’ll get her drawn up high and dry.”

Pearl did not reply. Curled up in the prow of his motor boat, she had
fallen fast asleep.

“Brave girl,” he whispered. “If we can make that boat tight and seaworthy
she shall be all your own.”

                            * * * * * * * *

At eleven o’clock of a moonless, starlit night Pearl lay on the deck of
the boat, her own first sailing boat. The work of repair was done. The
_Flyaway_, as they had rechristened her, had gone on her maiden trip
’round the island and down the bay. She had proven herself a thing of
unspeakable joy. Speed, quick to pick up, with a keel of lead that held
her steady in a heavy blow, responsive to the lightest touch on rudder or
sail, she was all that mind might ask or heart desire.

Already Pearl loved her as she might a flesh and blood companion. To lie
on her deck here beneath the stars was like resting in the arms of her
mother.

Three hours before, Ruth had rowed Pearl out in her new punt. Then,
because there was work to do ashore, she had rowed back again.

One “Whoo-o! Whoo-o!” through cupped lips and she would come for her.

The night was still. Scarcely a vessel was stirring on the bay. Only
once, a half hour or so before, she had caught the creak of oars. She had
not so much as risen on elbow to see what boat it might be. Had she done
so, she would have experienced a shock.

“Getting late,” she told herself. “Have to go in.”

Rising on her knees, she cupped her hands to utter the old familiar call,
“Whoo-oo-ee.”

A call came echoing back. She listened for the sound of Ruth’s shoving
off. Instead she caught low exclamations of surprise.

“Oh, Pearl,” came in troubled tones, “the punt’s gone! Did you see
anybody?”

“No.” The girl was on her feet, fumbling the sail. “But I heard them.
They were headed for Portland Harbor. They must have stolen it. Quick!
Get some boat and come out. There’s a stiff breeze. We’ll catch them
yet.”

“Right!” Ruth went racing down the beach.

For a girl Pearl displayed an astonishing amount of skill with sail and
rigging. Before Ruth in a borrowed dory bumped alongside she had the sail
up and was winding away at the anchor rope. A minute more and they were
gliding silently through the night.

“Nothing like a sailboat for following a thief,” Ruth whispered.
“Silent.”

“Not a sound. Slip right onto them.”

“Hope we can!” The older girl’s work-hardened fingers gripped a long oar.
If they overhauled the thief there’d be no tardy justice. He’d get it
good and plenty right on the side of the head. It was the way of the bay.
They were heartless wretches, these Portland wharf rats. On the sea boat
stealing is bad as horse stealing on land. Yet if one of these men missed
the last ferry he took the first rowboat he came upon, rowed across the
bay, then cut her adrift. The owner was not likely to see his boat again.

As the water glided beneath them and the semi-darkness advanced to
swallow them up, Ruth kept an eye out for a light or a movement upon the
water. Twice she thought they were upon them. Each time, with an intake
of breath, she gave Pearl whispered instructions and the boat swerved in
its course. Each time they were disappointed. A floating barrel, a clump
of eel grass had deceived them.

And now they were nearing a vast bulk that loomed dark and menacing
before them. Old Fort Georges, built of stone before the Civil War, now
abandoned save as a storeroom and warehouse, lay directly in their path.

This fort, that was said by some to be a storing place for enough army
explosives to blow the whole group of islands out to sea, had always cast
a spell of gloom and half terror over the girl at the helm. She was glad
enough when Ruth told her to swing over to the right and give it a wide
berth.

The fort is built on a reef. To pass it one must allow for the reef.
Pearl, who knew these waters as well as any man, was swinging far out
when her cousin whispered:

“Wait! Swing her in a bit. I heard a sound over there. Like something
heavy being dropped into a boat.”

As Pearl obeyed her heart was in her mouth. Eerie business, this skulking
about an abandoned fort at midnight.

What followed will always remain a mass of confused memories in Pearl’s
mind. As the boat glided along, something appeared before them. With a
suddenness that was startling, Ruth cut down the sail, then seized the
rudder. Even so they missed the other boat, Ruth’s punt, by a very narrow
margin.

They shot by, but not before Ruth, jumping clear of the sailboat, landed
in the punt.

As she gripped at her breast to still her heart’s mad beating, Pearl
caught sounds of blows, then cries for mercy, followed by muttered words
of warning. There came a splash, then another. Then save for the labored
pant of someone swimming, all was still.

At once wild questions took possession of Pearl. What if her cousin had
been thrown overboard? Here she was with sail down, a girl, defenseless.

Gripping the rope, she hauled madly at the sail. It went up with a sudden
start, then stuck. She threw her whole weight upon it. It gave way
suddenly, to drop her sprawling upon the deck. She lost her hold. The
sail came down with a bang.

She was in the midst of her third frantic attempt to get under way, to go
for help, when a voice quite near her said:

“It’s all right. Let the sail go. I’ll hoist it. Catch this painter.”

“Ruth!” Pearl’s tone voiced her joy.

A rope struck across the deck. She caught it. The next moment her cousin
was climbing on board.

“It _was_ my punt,” said Ruth quietly.

“But the men? What did they do?”

“Went overboard, and swam for the fort. Let ’em shiver there till
morning. Do ’em good. Teach ’em a lesson.”

“Something queer, though,” she said as she made the painter fast. “They
seemed terribly afraid I’d beat up their cargo. Must be fresh eggs. Let’s
have a flashlight. We’ll take a look.”

A circle of light fell across the punt. A long drawn breath of excitement
escaped the girl’s lips.

“No wonder they were in a hurry to get away!” There was genuine alarm in
her tone.

“Why? What is it?” Pearl gripped her arm.

“Dynamite,” Ruth answered soberly. “Enough to blow us all to Glory
sixteen times. And if I had struck a stick of it squarely with my oar—”
Again she let out a long low sigh.

“Well, we’ve got it,” she concluded. “Next thing is something else.”

There really was only one thing to be done; that was to take the dynamite
to the office of the Coast Guard in Portland and to tell the officer all
there was to tell about it. This they did on the next morning. When this
was done they considered the matter closed. It was not, however, not by a
long mile.



                              CHAPTER XII
                     THE LITTLE MAN OF WITCHES COVE


That day, after Ruth had delivered her fear-inspiring cargo, which had
doubtless been stolen from Fort Georges, to the proper authorities, she
went uptown to shop. There she selected with care a figured taffeta
dress, a bright new hat and new shoes.

“I won’t show them to anyone until Sunday,” she told herself. When an
uneasy feeling took possession of her she stilled it by whispering, “Life
is a joke.” Had she been asked quite suddenly what that had to do with a
figured taffeta dress, she might not, perhaps, have been able to tell.

That same day, Pearl took her new dory and rowed away to her favorite
fishing ground, Witches Cove.

She had not been fishing long when she caught sight of the mysterious
little man who, with his two great black cats, had come to live in the
abandoned cottage above the cove.

At first he was seated on a tall rock, studying the sea with a great
brass telescope. Presently, however, she saw that he had left the rock
and was making his way down the fern grown rocks near her. As he came,
she studied him out of one corner of her eye. She lost two perfectly good
cunners doing this, but it was worth the price. This man was peculiar, a
“new type,” one of Pearl’s learned friends would have called him. He was
short almost to deformity. He was bow-legged and very broad shouldered.
He wore dark glasses which completely hid his eyes. Pearl thought nothing
of this last. Many persons living by the ocean wear such glasses to
protect their eyes from the dazzling reflection that comes from the
mirror-like surface of the sea.

“Hello, little girl,” he said quietly as he settled himself on a rock
overhanging the sea. “How’s the fishing?”

Pearl resented being called little, though indeed she was small for
sixteen. She was a little frightened too. Witches Cove is a lonely spot,
and as we have said before, quite spooky with all its black and green
reflections and its constant murmuring that seems to come from nowhere.

But she had come to fish. Between the man and her boat were twenty feet
of deep water. Besides, the man intrigued her. So she stayed.

“The fishing is fine,” she said.

“Often think I’ll try it.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Too busy.”

For a moment there was silence. Pearl had caught sight of a great cunner
down there among the waving kelp. She was tempting him with a delicious
bit of soft clam.

Up went her line, down again, away to one side.

“O-o! He got it!” she murmured, drawing in her line. With a deft hand she
replaced her bait with a bit of tougher clam meat. Thirty seconds later a
three-pounder was beating a tattoo in the bottom of her boat.

“That is a good one,” said the stranger. “Can you now afford a moment for
talk?”

“Why?”

“It may be worth your while.”

“Well.” The girl settled back.

The man began to speak. In the twenty minutes that followed, this mystery
man of the rocky isle told the girl things she had never dreamed of. He
had opened up for her a new and quite terrible world. He ended by
startling her with his knowledge of recent events.

“Someone stole your cousin’s punt,” he said quite suddenly, tilting on
his tiptoes above the black waters.

Pearl looked at him in surprise. “Last night.”

“It was loaded with explosives when you got it back.”

Again the girl stared.

“Look out for those men. They’re dangerous. We’ve nearly got them three
times. They escaped us. Can’t find out where they stay.”

Pearl thought of the face-in-the-fire, and old Fort Skammel. Her heart
gave a great bounce, but she said nothing.

“How do you know such things?” she asked after a moment.

He leaned far forward. “I’ll tell you something, but you must not repeat
it.”

“I won’t.”

“Well, then, I’m a Secret Service man.” Her heart bounced again. She had
read books about such men, and they were thrilling and scarey.

“Thanks,” she said. “I won’t tell. And I—I’ll help if I can. It’s my
country.”

“That’s the spirit. Come to me anytime you have a thing to tell.”

A fish took her bait. She pulled him in. When she looked up, the man was
gone.

Late that evening Betty returned from her yachting party. She had had a
glorious time, had traveled aboard the most marvelous yacht, all shining
brass and mahogany, satin cushions and lace curtains. She had had as her
traveling companions such notable people as she had never hoped to know.
A senator, a great yachtsman, a wonderful actress and a real poet had
been in the party. For all this she found herself over and over longing
to be back at the island where she might confide her marvelous secret to
those who had a right to know.

They ran over to Monhegan. When she found that Ruth and Pearl were gone,
her desire to be back increased tenfold.

Hardly had she raced up to the big cottage on the hill to change from
middy and short blue skirt to blouse and knickers than she went tearing
at a perilous rate down the hill toward Ruth’s house.

By great good fortune both Ruth and Pearl were there.

“Oh, girls!” she exclaimed in an excited whisper. “I have a most
beautiful secret! There’s a hole in the floor and it’s all full of the
most marvelous silk things!”

“A hole in the floor!” said Ruth, quite mystified by the girl’s wild
rambling.

“Come down to the beach.” Betty dragged at their arms. “No one will hear
us there. I—I’ll tell you all about it. Oh, girls! We must do something
about it! We truly must!”

Away to the beach they went. There on the golden sand with the dark
waters murmuring at their feet, with the lights of Portland Harbor
winking and blinking at them, and the moon looking down upon them like
some benevolent old grandfather, the two girls listened while Betty
unfolded the story of her two visits to old Fort Skammel.

“A warm room,” she said at the end in a voice that was husky with
excitement, “a warm room, all glowing with a weird yellow light, and full
of silk things, dresses and dresses, all pink and gold, and blue and
green. You never saw any like them.”

“We’ll go over there,” said Ruth, “but not at night.”

“No, not at night.” Betty shuddered.

“When we have all seen it, we’ll tell someone, perhaps Captain O’Connor.
Can’t go to-morrow morning,” Ruth said thoughtfully. “I promised to go
over and lift Don’s lobster traps. Might get back in time to go over in
the afternoon.”

So they left the beach with the Portland lights still winking and
blinking at them, to return home and to their beds.

As Ruth lay once more in her own bed looking out on the harbor, she
caught the slow movement of some great dark bulk, and knew it was the
ancient sailing ship, _Black Gull_. Never before had this ship spoken so
clearly of the glorious past of dear old Maine, of ships and the sea, of
settlement and glorious conquest, and of her brave sons who in every
generation had given their lives for freedom.

Never before had she so longed to see the old ship, with every patched
and time-browned sail set, go gliding out into the free and open sea.
Perhaps this longing was prophetic of that which was shortly to come.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                               UNDER FIRE


It was another day, another golden link in the wondrous chain that is
life. Both Ruth and Betty were some distance away from their island home,
from cottage and big summer house. Fort Skammel, with its haunting
mysteries, and Witches Cove were far away in the dreamy distance and well
nigh forgotten in the charm of rocks, sky, sea and summer fragrance that
was all about them. They had come on a little journey all their own,
these two, and for a purpose. At the present moment Ruth was seated upon
a rocky ledge completely surrounded by wild sweet peas in full bloom and
Betty was somewhere out to sea in a punt.

Green Island, the rugged bit of broken waste on which Ruth sat, is the
home of the seagulls. No one has ever lived on that island, but, as
evening falls on Casco Bay, many a seagull, weary with his day’s search
for food, may be seen winging his way across the dark waters to this, his
haven of rest.

Of all the spots near Portland Harbor, the rugged shoals off Green Island
are best for lobster fishing. Don had set a number of traps here. Having
been called to Portland, he had asked Ruth to sail the _Foolemagin_ out
to the island to lift the traps and bring in the catch.

She had asked Betty to go with her. Betty had brought clams and a cod
line. There is no better cod fishing to be had than on the shoals by
Green Island.

Betty had asked permission to fish over the shoals from Ruth’s punt.
Since the day was calm, Ruth had given consent. Such a thing is always
risky, for a sudden fog or a squall may come up at any moment. But
perhaps Ruth still held in the back of her head the city boy’s
declaration, “Life is a joke.” At any rate, Betty had gone. The weather
had continued calm and clear.

Looking out to sea, Ruth’s eye caught the gleam of Betty’s slender white
figure standing up in her punt, fishing. For a time she thought of Betty
and almost envied her. She had seen so much of the world and of life.

“Well, some people are lucky,” she told herself. “No use disliking them
for their luck.”

At that, forgetting Betty, she sank back upon a bed of fragrant wild
sweet peas, to stare dreamily at the drifting white clouds. Then, without
really intending to, she fell fast asleep.

She was startled from her sleep a half hour later by a resounding boom
that shook the rugged island to its base and set a thousand seagulls
soaring and screaming as only seagulls can.

“Target practice,” she told herself, in no great alarm. “Ten-mile guns.
Oh, listen!”

Came a loud scream as a shell passed at terrific speed through the air,
and again a deafening boom.

“Closer to the island than usual,” she told herself. “Glad I’ve lifted
the lobster traps. Guess I’ll get out.”

She was standing now, looking down at her staunch little motor boat that
gently bumped the rocky shore of a sheltering cove.

A sudden thought struck her all of a heap. She came to earth with a jolt.

“Betty!” she thought. “Betty Bronson! She doesn’t know about the guns.
She can’t. She’ll be killed, blown to bits!”

Fort McKinley is ten miles from Green Island. At certain times of the
year a target is set on a raft and a schooner detailed to drag it about.
When the target is in position near Green Island, a plane circling low
over the water warns fishing crafts away. Then the great guns of the
fort, firing projectiles weighing a thousand pounds and more, break their
long silence. Ten miles from the fort, close to the drifting target, the
huge projectile falls. It strikes the water with a loud report. It
bounces, rises once more in air and, singing its song of hate and
defiance, flies through the air to at last sink to the bottom a hundred
fathoms below. Into this target practice Betty had blundered.

“I wish I could warn her,” Ruth told herself now. “The man in the
seaplane should do it. But he probably does not see her at all. Little
dark boat against a broad expanse of dark sea. How could he? And besides,
perhaps there is no danger after all. The firing for to-day may stop any
minute. The target ship may move off in some other direction.”

The firing did not cease. The target ship did not move away.

“Ought to be getting back home.” Ruth’s gaze swept a hazy sky, then fell
to her staunch little sloop. “Going to storm. Can’t tell how bad. Hate to
spend a night out here.” But without Betty she could not go.

Turning, she made her way down the rocky slope to the spot where her boat
was moored.

Her hand was on the painter when again, closer, more terrifying, there
came a Zss-Spt-Boom.

Dropping the painter, she turned and walked hurriedly back up the hill.

With strained attention her eyes sought that small white figure. It was
nowhere to be seen.

“Gone!” Vast relief was expressed in her tone. “Thought she’d see how
unsafe it was.”

Just to make assurance doubly sure, she took up her field glasses and
swept the black waters.

One moment of silent attention and she dropped the glasses as if they
were hot.

The sight that met her gaze as her eager eyes behind strong field glasses
sought out the lone fisherman, set her heart beating madly. A shell,
striking some distance back of the little boat, then bouncing in air
again, appeared to pass over the city girl’s head.

It was then, for the first time that Betty awoke to her peril. This
awakening was like the sudden ending of a dream. The very abruptness of
it was her undoing. She had just succeeded in hooking a great fish.
Perhaps it was a thirty-pound cod, a ray or a sunfish. She will never
know, for, having brought it half way up from the depths, she was shaken
to the very core of her being by this terrific boom and nerve wracking
scream.

She threw herself backward, tangled with the cod line, set the boat
tilting, tried in vain to recover her balance and without knowing how it
had all happened, suddenly found herself free of the cod line but
submerged in cold salt water and clinging frantically to the bottom of
her overturned punt.

Ruth, standing on the hill, saw all this. She saw more; that the girl was
still within the danger zone and that the target schooner was moving in a
direction that momentarily increased her peril.

“I must go to her,” she told herself with a little gasp of fear. “There
is no other way.”

With one short word of prayer for strength, the fishergirl of the Maine
coast dashed down the slope, jumped into her sloop, threw over the wheel,
then went pop-popping straight away toward the imperiled girl and her
overturned punt. Straight on into the path of the raging terror that was
intended for enemies in time of war she went, without one thought of
turning back.

“One thing,” she thought more calmly, “is in my favor. My boat is white.
The seaplane scout may see me. He can signal them to stop firing.”

Boom! Zing! Boom! the terror sounded again.

Her heart skipped a beat. Perspiration stood out on her nose. She felt
deathly cold all over. Yet a firm and steady hand steered the motor boat
straight on its course.

Of a sudden from over her head there came the thunder of motors. For ten
seconds it was deafening. Then, quite as suddenly as it had started, it
ceased.

Ruth’s heart stood still. “What now?” she thought. The pop-popping of her
own tiny motor seemed but the discharge of a toy pistol.

She was soon enough to know what was next. Glancing up, she dodged and
barely escaped leaping into the sea. The great seaplane seemed about to
fall upon her.

The plane, of course, was not as close as it had seemed. It was so close
that, as the motor suddenly ceased its throbbing, she caught the singing
of struts as the plane went zooming on through the air. She did not hear
distinctly the words that were shouted down to her, but she did catch the
import of their meaning. It was a warning that she was in great danger
and must get out of those waters at once. As an answer she could only
shout back that a girl in an overturned punt was in far greater danger
than she. She pointed in the direction of Betty and the punt. This
pointing must have accomplished more than all her screams, for certainly
her last words were lost in the sudden thunder of motors.

The plane was up and off again. Had he understood? Would he flash a
signal that meant, “Cease firing?” She dared hope so.

Ten seconds later she realized how brave the sea scout had been. A
glancing shell passed through the air at the very spot where, a few
seconds before, his plane had been.

“If there is another shot?” she thought. She dared not think further.

But now, once again her eyes were upon the punt and Betty. Already she
was alongside.

“Here! Give me your hand!” she said in words that came short and quick.
Betty obeyed. She dropped with a thump in the bottom of the boat. Then,
with all speed, they were away.

Not until they were safe on Green Island did they realize that the sea
scout had flashed a message and firing had ceased.

“Well,” Ruth sighed as they dropped in the sun among the wild sweet peas,
“we—we’re safe.”

“Are we?” Betty’s face still showed signs of terror.

“Yes. They never shoot at the island. But you’ve got to get out of those
clothes,” Ruth added quickly.

In silence she helped Betty out of her sodden garments. After rubbing and
chafing her limbs until the pink of health came to them, she wrapped her
in her own storm coat and told her to lie there in the sun while she
wrung her clothes out and spread them on the rocks to dry.

“You—your punt!” Betty said at last with a choke in her voice that came
near to a sob.

“They’re firing again now,” said Ruth. “We may be able to get it and tow
it in later. Can’t now. But didn’t you hear the guns?” she asked.

“The guns? Why, yes, I guess I did. Must have—as in a dream. They’re
always booming away over at the fort. And I was having such wonderful
luck! Lots of cod, one ten-pounder. And a polluk long as I am. Just
hooked one so big I couldn’t land him when that terrible thing happened!
But Ruth—do you truly think we can save your punt?”

“Might. I hope so. Current is strong. That will carry it away. Hope they
stop soon.”

“I hope so,” said Betty dreamily. The shock, the bright sunshine, the
drug-like scent of wild sweet peas were getting the better of her. Soon,
with head pillowed on her arm, she was fast asleep.

As she slept Ruth thought of many things, of the seagulls soaring
overhead, of her lost punt, of the booming, bursting shells, of the old
ship _Black Gull_ and of the strange secret room in the depths of old
Fort Skammel.

The firing ceased without her knowing it. Betty awoke and struggled into
her wind-blown, sundried garments. Still she sat staring dreamily at the
sea.

Then a sudden burst of sound broke in upon her day dreams.

“The plane,” she said, springing to her feet. “It’s coming close.”

“See!” said Betty. “He’s not flying. He’s scooting along on the surface
of the water. He’s towing something. Oh, good!” She leaped into the air
to do a wild dance.

“It’s your punt! It’s not lost! He found it! He’s bringing it in!”

This was all quite gloriously true. Very soon the seaplane came to a halt
before the island. The aviator unbuckled himself; then walked back along
the fusilage to drop into the punt and begin rowing shoreward.

As he came close Ruth saw that he was a young army officer with a clean,
frank face.

“You’re lucky,” he said to Betty. “Lucky to have such a brave friend. You
might have been killed.”

Betty’s arm stole round Ruth’s waist. Ruth’s face took on an unusual rosy
tint.

“I’ve brought back your punt,” he said in apparent embarrassment. “It’s
rather a long swim back to my plane.”

“I—I’ll row you out,” said Ruth, springing forward.

“I hoped you might.”

As the young officer sat in the stern and Ruth rowed him out to sea he
noted with apparent pleasure the play of the splendid muscles in her
brown arms.

“Some seaman,” he complimented her.

Again Ruth flushed.

As they swung in beside the seaplane the girl’s eyes took in every detail
of the plane.

“Never saw one so close before,” she said.

“Want to take a ride?”

“Not now.”

“Sometime?”

“Perhaps.”

“Do you know,” she said as he stood up in the punt, “a friend of mine, my
cousin, saw a plane pass Monhegan in the dead of night. Trans-Atlantic
plane, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes. Only none have crossed for a long time. Say!” he said, sitting down
again. “What sort of a plane was it?”

“Large, sea-colored plane. No name. No insignia. No mark of any kind.”

“That’s queer. Listen!” He put a hand on her arm. “Keep that dark. You
may have made an important discovery. Men are coming to this country that
we don’t want here. Things have happened. There’s more than one way to
get into America these days.”

“Strange,” he mused, “you can’t make a great discovery, invent some new
thing, do a daring deed, but those who are selfish, heartless, who wish
to kill, destroy, tear down, take possession of it! But I must go. Hope I
see you again soon.”

“Thanks for bringing back the punt,” Ruth said.

“Don’t mention it.”

He sprang upon the fusilage. Ruth rowed away. Motors thundered. The plane
glided away, rose, then speedily became a speck in the sky.

Ruth bumped the rocky shore with a crash that nearly overturned the punt.
She was thinking of many things.

They did not go to old Fort Skammel that evening. It was late when they
got back to their island and Betty’s nerves were pretty well shaken up by
the happenings of the day.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                       THE PASSING OF BLACK GULL


That night as the hours of slumber approached Ruth lay on her bed looking
out toward the bay. The night was hot and sultry. A lazy warm breeze from
the land waved the thin curtains in a ghostlike fashion. There was no
need for covers, so she lay there allowing the breeze to fan her toes.
Half awake, half asleep, she mused and dreamed of many things.

The night was dark, the sky overcast. Neither moon nor stars shone
through. The scene before her, save for a wavering light here and there,
was black. “Like a beautiful picture suddenly wiped out by the swing of a
broad, black brush,” she told herself.

Still there were the lights. One might imagine them to be anything. In
her fancy she told herself that the red light, very high above the water,
was hung on the mast of the old wood hauling schooner.

“And her hold is packed full of valuable silks,” she told herself. It was
easy to dream on such a night. One might imagine anything and believe it.

She stared away toward old Fort Skammel. A light flared over there.
“They’re carrying the silks from that hot little underground room,” she
told herself, and at once became quite excited about it.

“Should have gone over there this very day,” she mused.

But no, the light vanished. It showed no more. “Couldn’t load all that in
the dark. To-morrow,” she said. There was an air of finality in her tone.

She tried to see the ancient schooner, _Black Gull_. Too dark for that.
She could imagine it all the same. She could see her swinging there at
anchor, a dark, brooding giant, whispering of the past, telling of
glorious old State of Maine days, that were gone forever.

“I love you, love you, love you,” the girl whispered as if the dark old
ship were a person, a gallant knight of her dreams.

At that, leaning back on her pillow, one brown hand beneath her head, she
fell asleep.

Just how long she slept she may never know. Enough that she suddenly
found herself sitting up wide awake and staring out at the bay that was
all aglow with a strange, lurid, unearthly light.

“It’s the end of the world,” she told herself and wondered at her own
calmness.

“It’s Portland Harbor. It’s on fire, burning up!” came a little more
excitedly as she found herself more truly awake.

It was only as she sprang to her feet and stood there in the window with
her dream robes blowing about her that she realized the full and terrible
truth.

Then she covered her eyes with her hands as she sank to the bed with a
sharp cry.

“_Black Gull_, you are on fire. You are burning up!”

And there she had at last the solemn truth. At once her mind was in a
whirl. How had it happened? She recalled the curious visit she and Betty
had made there in the night and of the remarkable pirate band that had
come to join them. Had these men returned? Had a match carelessly
dropped, a stove overheated, brought the great catastrophe?

What could be done? Nothing. There was no fireboat. No pipe line could
reach her. _Black Gull_ was doomed.

In a state of suppressed excitement that held her nerves at the bursting
point, she sat there watching a spectacle such as is the lot of few to
see.

At first the blaze, flaming fiercely, fanned by the off shore breeze,
went raging out to sea. But at last, all at once, as if awed by this
sublime spectacle, the death of a great ship, the wind dropped and the
blaze, like flames of some gigantic candle, rose up—up—up until it seemed
to the watching girl that they must reach the sky and set the planets,
the stars, the very universe aflame.

As she sat there, lips apart, pupils dilated, motionless, watching, the
spectacle became a thing of many dreams. Now the flames were but the
burning of a stupendous campfire, the dark bulk that stood half
concealed, half revealed, docks, lighthouses, islands, were figures of
reposing and crouching giants.

Then the flames became a ladder of fire. Down this ladder, a thousand
angels, whose wings could not be touched by fire, swarmed.

The ship burned with a clear, red flame now. The water about her became a
pool of red and old rose. At the edge of this pool small bulks moved,
motor boats, row boats, launches.

“What can they do?” she murmured. “Nothing. Let them go to bed. They are
like hunting hounds, in at the death.”

She wondered vaguely if the person responsible for this catastrophe were
circling there, too. Strangely enough, she fancied she could pick the
man, a dark-faced foreigner with a shock of black hair.

“The face-in-the-fire,” she thought.

For a moment she thought of dressing, of launching her punt and going on
a still hunt for the man. In the end, she sat there watching to the end
the death of much that was dear to her.

The end came with a suddenness that was startling. The masts had fallen,
one at a time. Slowly, regularly, like seamen dropping from a ladder into
a dory, they fell to send sparks shooting skyward. Then, with a thunder
that was deafening, there came the shock of a terrific explosion.

For a space of seconds all the fire at the center of the earth seemed to
be shooting skyward. Then darkness and silence, such as the girl had
never known, settled over all.

Only the sea spoke. With a wild rushing breath it whispered of wind and
storms, of treachery and death. Three times its whisper came loudly from
the sandy beach. Then softly, it repeated its message until it died to
nothing, and a breeze springing up from nowhere caught it up and carried
it out to sea.

Springing to her feet, her arms flung wide, the girl stood there for a
full moment. Rigid, silent, she was swearing vengeance on the destroyers
of _Black Gull_.

Dropping to her place, again she scanned the sea. One by one, like death
candles, lights were appearing. Here one, there one, they formed at last
the flaming outline of a ship’s deck. All had been burned or blown away
but the stout hull that for so many years had done battle with the waves.
For an hour these burned brightly. Then, one by one they blinked out. The
tide was rising. The sea had come to the rescue. It was extinguishing the
fire. On the morrow the black skeleton of a gallant ship would show there
above the restless waves.

“Gone!” she all but sobbed as she buried her face in the pillow. “_Black
Gull_ is gone forever.”



                               CHAPTER XV
                     THE SEARCHING PENCIL OF LIGHT


Early next morning Ruth and Pearl sailed the _Flyaway_ to the scene of
the night’s conflagration. No more mournful sight can be found than the
wreck of a great ship, lifting its shattered form above the sea. They did
not linger long. One thing Ruth observed, and that to her advantage in
the future. The explosion had blown a hole in the right side of the ship.
This left an open space above the water some ten feet wide. Other than
this, save at extreme high tide, the ship’s hull rose above the water.

“Makes sort of a harbor,” said Pearl. “Believe you could sail the
_Flyaway_ right inside. Make a grand place to weather a squall.”

The three girls, Betty, Ruth and Pearl, fully intended going to old Fort
Skammel that day. But life on the islands in Casco Bay is a busy one.
Fish must be caught, clams dug, crabs and lobsters trapped and boiled.
Summer visitors must be served for it is their money that fills the flour
box, and the coal bin, too.

There was to be a great party up at the big hotel. Crabmeat salad was on
the menu. The Brackets and Byrans were to supply the meal. So, all day
long Ruth and Pearl picked away at boiled crabs, heaping up a little
mountain of white meat.

“It’s too late to go to the fort now,” said Ruth as she straightened up
to ease her aching back. “Let’s go for a sail instead.”

So a sail it was. They dropped down around the island and, skimming along
over a faultless sea, came at last just as the shadows were deepening to
Witches Cove.

“Let’s drop anchor and have our supper here,” suggested Pearl.

“Three gray witches may rise from the water and ask to join us,” said
Ruth with a low laugh.

“Let them,” said Pearl, sending the anchor with a plunk into the sea.
“There are worse creatures about than gray witches. Here’s hoping they
don’t come too close to us.”

The tide was setting in. The _Flyaway_ which, like some active child,
seemed always aching to be away, swung and turned, turned and dragged at
anchor until she lay within a few feet of the rocky shore. Lying on the
deck, munching crabmeat sandwiches and whispering of many things, the
girls did not notice this until, with a suddenness that was startling,
some dark object came flying through the air to land lightly on the deck.

“Boo!” exclaimed Pearl, springing up.

“Only a black cat,” laughed Ruth. “Smelled our crabmeat. There are some
cunners in the box by the mast. Give him one.”

The girls had settled down once more to quiet murmuring, when from the
rocks on the shore came a call.

“Ahoy, there! Something tells me you have one of my cats.”

“Or he has us,” said Pearl.

“Oh! It is you?” It was the little Secret Service man who spoke. “How are
you? Anything new?”

“You should know!” said Ruth. “_Black Gull_ is gone!”

“Yes, that’s right. But I don’t see——”

“Then you don’t see very well. She was blown up. Wasn’t supposed to be
any explosives in her hold, was there? Who put them there?”

Ruth went on to remind him of her stolen punt and of the explosives she
had found in it. She told him too of the secret meeting of the mock
pirates on the _Black Gull_.

“Does look like the work of the man smugglers,” he admitted. “Question
is, were they using the old ship as a storehouse for stolen explosives,
or did they wish to destroy the meeting place of those who have been
attempting to bring them to justice?”

“Well, at any rate,” he said after a moment’s silence, “the _Black Gull_
is gone, and that’s one more loss to charge against them. Something tells
me that their days in this, the Land of the Free and the Home of the
Brave, are numbered.”

“I hope so,” said Ruth fervently.

“Ruth,” whispered Pearl, leaning close, “shall we tell him about Fort
Skammel?”

“No. Not yet,” the other girl whispered back.

His lunch finished, the black cat was returned to his master, then in the
darkness the _Flyaway_ edged out to the channel and away toward home.

In order to avoid the deeper channel where larger boats might be
encountered, they sailed close to old Fort Skammel. There in the shadows
of those ancient walls they met with further adventure.

As they came very close to the fort that at this point towers straight
above the sea, the night suddenly went dark. It was as if some ghost of
other days, a prisoner perhaps who had died in the fort’s dungeon, had
turned off the light of the Universe.

Ruth shuddered and suddenly felt herself grow cold all over.

“Only a very dark cloud before the moon,” she told herself. “No danger.
Know the way in the dark.”

So she did, but there was danger all the same. That she knew well enough
in a moment, for of a sudden there came the pop-pop of a gasoline motor
and a boat swinging round the point of the island began following them.

“No one lives on the island,” she said to Pearl in a low tone tense with
emotion. “They must be following us. They burned _Black Gull_ last night.
Now they are after us. Well, if the wind holds they won’t get us.”

She put her boat exactly before the wind. Her deck tipped till it dipped
water. Yet the staunch-hearted girl did not alter the course by so much
as an inch.

“Show ’em, _Flyaway_. Show ’em!” She spoke in tender tones as if the
schooner were a child.

They were gliding silently up the bay when a pencil of light like a hot
finger reached forward to touch them, then blinked out.

“Powerful electric torch,” the girl told herself.

A moment, two, three passed. The pop-popping grew louder.

“Gaining,” she said with a sigh that was a sob. “Should have told all.
Had the customs officials, Civil Service, Captain O’Connor and all after
them,” she said to Pearl. “But that room in the old fort. I wanted to see
it. Silks, dresses, such things as she’d never seen, that’s what Betty
said.”

The pencil of light felt for them again out of the dark, found them, then
swung away.

“Nearer,” said Ruth. “Much nearer. Get us. And then?”

She leaned far forward, trying to see into the night. Fort Georges was
ahead there somewhere, and——

The sudden reach of the white finger of light showed her something—a dark
bulk straight ahead.

Quick as a flash she shot a line free, gripped a yardarm, reefed the
sail, reached out into the dark, felt something, braced herself against
it, held the schooner away, but allowed her to move forward until with a
sigh she lost the touch of that hard bulk and all but fell into the sea.

The schooner swerved to the right, then glided forward once more.

“Hist!” Ruth whispered. “We are inside the sunken hull of _Black Gull_.
For—for the moment, even in death she has saved us.

“Quick!” she said ten seconds later. “We will leave the _Flyaway_ here
and take to our dory.”

As they crept away into the night with muffled oars making no sound, they
saw the pencil of light searching the bay for them. It searched in vain.

A half hour later they were on their own beach. At once Don in the
_Foolemagin_ was away with three armed men to scour the bay. They found
the _Flyaway_ where the girls had left her, inside the scarred hull of
_Black Gull_, but the motor boat with its creeping pencil of white light
had vanished off the sea.

“To-morrow,” Ruth said to Pearl as she bade her good night, “shall be the
last day. Either we visit the mystery room of old Fort Skammel or we turn
the whole affair over to the authorities.”

Before retiring Ruth sat for a long time before her window, looking out
into the night, thinking things through.

The night was too dark to see far. In a way, she was thankful for that.
_Black Gull_ was gone. She felt a tightening at the throat. When she
recalled how the broken and charred skeleton of this once noble boat had
saved her from something very terrible, she wanted to cry. Two unruly
tears did splash down on her cheek.

“I must be brave,” she told herself. “There is much work to do.”

Work. They would go to old Fort Skammel in the morning. She was sure of
that. And then?

The whole affair, or group of affairs, as she looked back upon them, now
appeared to be coming together. The old wood ship with the bolts of cloth
in her hold, the dory’s creaking oars in the night, their visit to _Black
Gull_, the strange pirate band, the face-in-the-fire, the curious little
man at Witches Cove, the mysterious room at the heart of the old fort,
their pursuers this very night, it all appeared to be reaching out to
join into a solid whole.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Betty’s experience off Green Island
with the big guns and the seaplane might prove to be a part of the drama,
though how I can’t see.”

A sound from off the bay reminded her of the great dark seaplane Pearl
had seen off Monhegan.

“Monhegan and the girl I saved from the sea,” she said to herself. “How
do they work in? Well, perhaps they don’t. As life is built up, some
stones must be thrown aside.

“Life,” she said quite suddenly, “life is a joke.”

Somehow the words did not seem to ring true. She was tempted to wonder
how she had come to believe that at all.

“It was the way that boy said it, I suppose,” she told herself. “Some
people have a way about them. They are hard to resist.”

Stepping to the chest of drawers in one corner of her room, she took out
the figured taffeta dress. It was a very attractive dress—pink roses over
a background of pale gray. She had never worn it. To wear it would be to
declare to her little world that she believed life was a joke. At least
that was the way she felt about it. So, as yet, she did not feel ready to
put it on.

Spreading it out on the bed, she looked at it for a long time. Then,
carefully folding it up again, she put it back in the drawer.

After that, with all the realization of what to-morrow might bring forth,
she did something she had not done since she was a little child. She
dropped on her knees beside her humble bed, and placed her palms together
in prayer.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                              THE OLD FORT


Coming events do not always cast their shadows before them; or, if they
do, those shadows are so filmy and ghostlike that only one endowed with
the keenest of vision is able to see them. Never was there a fresher,
calmer sea than that which greeted the three girls, Betty, Pearl and
Ruth, when they pushed off in Ruth’s punt that morning bound for Fort
Skammel. A perfect morning, not a shadowy suggestion of adventure. And
yet——

An hour after they left the sandy beach of the island, Ruth’s unnerved
fingers dropped a lighted electric torch on the floor at the heart of the
ancient fort. It fell with a dull thud, and blinked out.

“Hot,” Ruth whispered. “The air down there is hot!”

“I told you,” Betty whispered back. She was working feverishly,
struggling to free a second flashlight from the tangled mesh of her
knitted sweater pocket.

Sensing what she was about, Ruth whispered:

“Get—get it?”

“Not yet.” The younger girl’s words came in short gasps.

Little wonder that they were startled. Having penetrated into the very
heart of the old fort, having made their way through a one-time secret
passage to a dungeon, they had come at last to the door in the floor. And
the door stood wide open. Against their cheeks, grown cold from constant
contact with clammy air, had blown a breath that seemed hot like the
blast of a furnace.

They had come to a sudden halt, and there they stood.

Even in the broad light of day there is something gloomy, foreboding and
mysterious about old Fort Skammel. Children who have ventured across the
bay to the all but deserted island, where this ancient abandoned fort
stands, will tell you of curious tales of adventures met with there, how
the red eyes of rats as big as cats gleamed at them in the dark, how they
have discovered secret passageways that led on and on until in fright
they turned and went racing back into the bright light of day, and how at
times ghostlike voices sounded down the echoing aisles.

In a little cove where the sand was snow white the three girls had drawn
their punt high on the beach. Pearl had volunteered to stand guard
outside. The other two had begun wending their way over a path that winds
between tall grass and bushes to the fort.

Finding themselves at last before a great open stone archway that led
directly into the chill damp of the fort, they had paused to listen and
to think. The next moment, with a little quickening at her heart, Ruth
had led the way into the semi-darkness of a stone corridor, and from
there on and on into the deepening darkness. Now, here they were. Ruth
had longed to look into that mysterious room. The opening to it was now
at her feet, yet she felt more inclined to run away than to linger.

“Can’t you get it?” she whispered again, as no light appeared.

“It’s caught in my pocket. No, now I have it.”

The next instant a yellow light brought out once more the damp and
dripping walls of stone with the mysterious opening in the floor at their
feet.

“It was hot.” Ruth’s tone was full of awe. “I felt it. I felt hot air on
my cheek!”

“So did I.”

Putting out two fingers, Ruth felt the fanning of hot air. “Warm,” she
said, “not hot. Just seemed that way. But how could it be?”

“Can’t be a stove?”

“No. Tons of granite above.” Her eyes sought the low stone arch over
their heads.

“Going to see,” said Ruth stoutly, dropping on her knees.

With a gasp Betty put out a hand to stop her. She was too late. Ruth had
caught the ledge and swung down. Betty could but follow. The next instant
they were looking upon a strange scene. This room, warmed by some
mysterious power, as Betty had said, was piled high with bales and boxes
of every description.

One of the boxes had slid from its place and burst open, revealing a half
dozen silk dresses of bright and varied hues.

At once Ruth’s heart was in her throat. Here was treasure. Where was its
keeper?

A rapid survey of the room revealed the surprising fact that there was no
keeper, or at least, if there was one, he was away.

The thing that the two girls did after recovering from their astonishment
might, by some cold and practical people, seem the height of folly.
Certainly, under the circumstances, it could not be called wise. But who
of us all behave wisely at all times?

Placing the flashlight carefully in the niche in the wall, Ruth picked up
the top dress of the half dozen in the broken cardboard box.

It was a beautiful thing of purple, so thin and soft that it waved like a
rippling sea.

“How strange!” she murmured. “Just my size.”

Before she knew what she was about, her khaki waist and knickers were off
and the beautiful dress was on.

Not a moment had passed before Betty, too, was dressed in silk, a
marvelous creation of flaming red.

And then, faint and from far away, there echoed down the long-abandoned
corridors the sound of footsteps.

“This way!” Seizing the flashlight, with no thought of how she was
garbed, Ruth leaped up and out, then on tiptoe went racing down the aisle
that led away from the chamber of mysteries, and on and on into the dark.

Madly the feet of the two girls flew down a winding corridor, wildly
their hearts beat, as they fled from resounding footsteps.

Now the round circle of yellow light from their electric torch guided
them. And now, as Ruth suddenly realized that the light would reveal
their whereabouts, the light blinked out, and, dropping to a walk, then
to a slow creep, guided only by the sense of touch, they moved along
between the dripping walls.

“Could anything be worse?” said Betty.

“Nothing,” Ruth came back.

She was thinking, thinking hard. Tales had been told of ancient wells dug
there years ago to enable the garrison to withstand a siege. That the
wells now stood uncovered down there somewhere in the depths of the
earth, she knew all too well.

“If we blunder into one of those!” Her heart stopped beating.

“The dresses!” Betty whispered suddenly. “Our khakis! We left them. We
must go back for them. They will have us arrested.”

“We can’t. They won’t,” said Ruth, still pushing ahead in the dark.

“Ought to turn on the light,” she told herself. “Must! It’s not safe.”

Pausing to listen, she caught the shuffling scamper of rats, the snap of
bats. But louder still came the tramp—tramp of heavy feet.

In her fear and despair, she sprang forward, to go crashing against a
solid wall.

Knocked half senseless, she sank to her knees. There for a moment she
remained motionless. For a moment only, then she was on her feet and
away. Her eyes had caught a faint glimmer of light. Far down the narrow
passage to the left shone the steady light of day.

“Light!” she whispered solemnly. “Light and hope.”

One moment of mad racing and they were blinking in the sunlight.

The race was not over. Out of the passage, down a set of ancient stone
steps, into the grass and bushes, skirts tight and high, they flew until
they came up short and panting at the beach.

There in the calm morning were Pearl and the punt.

“You’re here!” Ruth puffed. “Thank God, you’re here!”

Next moment she stood knee deep in water, launching the punt. Then with a
little gasp of hope, she swung the punt about and began rowing as if for
her very life.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                              SECRETS TOLD


For a full ten minutes the three girls appeared to act a perfect scene in
a moving picture. Ruth rowed furiously. Betty sat with eyes fixed on the
receding shoreline. Pearl stared at Ruth and Betty with unbelieving eyes.

At the end of that time Ruth dropped her oars to mop her brow. They were
now well out in the bay. Fishing boats and motor launch dotted the bay.
It was day, bright and fair. No one was pursuing them. To all appearances
they were as safe here as at home.

“Where did you get them?” Pearl was still staring at their silk dresses.

“Why—er—” Ruth began, with mock gravity, “that’s a marvelous place down
there in the old fort. You go in dressed in cotton blouse and knickers
and you come out all togged up in silk.”

“Ruth,” said Betty, “we’ll be arrested!”

“Let ’em try it!” said Ruth. “If we’d taken the whole pile they wouldn’t
dare. They’re trespassers, smugglers, thieves, perhaps. It’s safe enough.
But girls,” her tone grew suddenly sober, “it’s time some one in
authority took a hand. This has been a perfectly glorious adventure,
thrilling, mysterious and all that, but it’s gone quite far enough. Who
shall we tell?”

“My little man at Witches Cove,” said Pearl. “He is a Secret Service man.
Besides, he’s quite wonderful.”

“All right, then. Witches Cove it is,” said Ruth, gripping her oars once
more. “We’ll hug the right shore. That way, anyone that’s watching can’t
tell for sure where we’re going.”

In spite of this precaution some one knew whither they were headed, and
no good came of it.

The little man of Witches Cove had an uncanny way of anticipating the
arrival of visitors to his rugged shores. They found him seated on a
great boulder with his feet dangling perilously near the water.

“Well, now!” he exclaimed. “Here we are all dressed up for a party. Two
sisters and Cinderella. I suppose I am to fit out our little sister with
a silver slipper.”

His round, good humored face grew suddenly sober as Ruth told their
reason for coming. He interrupted her but once. Then he cautioned her to
lower her voice.

“You have truly made a marvelous discovery,” he said when she had
finished. “I’ve been looking for some such thing. It comes a little
sooner than I expected. Three of my men will be on the afternoon boat
from Boston. As soon as they are here we will formulate plans for action.
In the meantime I shall have an eye on the old fort. They cannot remove a
schooner load of silks from under my nose, I assure you.

“As for you,” his gaze swept the circle of three eager faces, “this, I
take it, is going to be a splendid day for fishing. And when you fish,”
his smile broadened, “you keep very still. In other words, mum it is. You
must not breathe a word to another soul.”

“We won’t,” they said in unison.

So the day was well begun. But it was not ended, not by a good deal.

The three girls did not go fishing, at least not at once. They did accept
the little man’s counsel in regard to the earlier happenings of the
morning. Not one word regarding them passed their lips.

They did wish to go fishing, later in the day, but in the meantime there
was work to be done. Summer folks must have their clam chowder. To Ruth
and Pearl fell the lot of digging the clams. All forenoon, under the
boiling sun, ankle deep in mud and sand, they dug and clawed away with
their clam forks until three great baskets were heaped high with
blue-black clams. Then they hurried home to dinner.

By mid-afternoon they were ready for a well-deserved lark.

Betty joined them at the pier. Ruth had drawn the _Flyaway_ alongside,
had put on board their lines, bait and lunch, and was preparing to cast
off the line when her eyes fell upon a woebegone and drooping little
figure on the dock.

“It—it—Well, I never!” she exclaimed. “It’s the little girl I saved from
the surf up at Monhegan.”

“Hey, there!” she called. “I thought you’d gone back to Monhegan.”

“No.” The girl’s head shook slowly.

“Mother got afraid when we sailed away down here in that boat you fixed
up. She thought Monhegan was too wild and dangerous. But it isn’t!” Her
spirit flared up like a torch. “It’s just glorious. It’s dreadfully dull
down here. We—” she looked at the boy at her side, and Ruth saw that it
was her brother, “we’re going to do something terrible pretty soon!”

“Oh, please don’t,” said Ruth. “I say! We’re going fishing. Want to go
along?”

The girl looked up at the boy. “Go ahead.” He pushed her toward the
_Flyaway_.

Ruth recognized this as a generous act. She wanted to ask him to come,
too, but it had been agreed that this was to be a girls’ party.

It was Don who saved the day for her. He was on the _Foolemagin_, busy
mending a lobster trap.

“Going round the island in a little while to lift some traps,” he said,
looking at the boy. “Care to go along?”

“Be glad to.” The boy turned and helped his sister aboard the _Flyaway_.
Ruth cast off the line. The sail went up. She swung about. Then they went
skimming down the bay.

Pearl and the little city girl went forward to lie upon the prow and
watch the water gliding by. Ruth and Betty remained at the wheel.

“Betty,” said Ruth, quite suddenly, “is life a joke?”

“Is life a joke?” Betty gave her a quick look as she suspected her of
playing a trick upon her. “No,” she said slowly when she realized that
her friend was in earnest, “life is not a joke. Life is beautiful,
wonderful. How could anything that is all this be a joke? Why? What made
you ask?”

As the boat glided smoothly over the water, Ruth told her why; told her
of the city boy’s laugh and of his remark about life. She told, too, of
the figured taffeta dress, the alligator shoes and the gay hat.

When she had finished, little Betty, who was so young, yet who had seen
so much of life, of its joys and sorrows, its struggles, pains and
triumphs, sat with half-closed eyes, thinking.

“Do you know what life is?” she said at last. “Life is a struggle, a
glorious, terrible battle. You begin it when you begin life. You end it
when you breathe your last breath. To hope, to dream, to struggle on,”
her slight figure grew suddenly tense, “to fall and rise again. To see a
star, a gleam of hope, to battle toward it, to be beaten back, defeated,
to turn again to hope and dream and win, only to see a fairer light, a
lovelier vision farther on the way, then to hope and dream again. That—”
she ended, throwing her arms wide, “that is life, a beautiful, glorious
thing! No! No! It can’t be a joke! It can’t be!”

“But Ruth,” she said presently, “what have your new dress and shoes and
hat to do with life being a joke?”

“Well,” the flicker of a smile played about the big girl’s face, “I
thought if life were a joke, then one might as well have what she wants.
I’ve always wanted those things, so I—I got them.”

“They spell happiness to you?”

“I—I suppose so.”

“Then you had a right to them. Everyone has a right to happiness. Did you
ever think of that? Every man, woman and little child has a right to
happiness bought at a fair price. And the price of a new dress, shoes and
a hat is not too much. There now!” Betty ended, “I’ve done a lot of
preaching. Here’s Witches Cove. Give me a nice fat clam and a big hook. I
feel lucky to-day.” With a laugh she began unwinding her line.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                               KIDNAPPED


The dull gray of evening hung over a calm sea. From out the west came
threats of sudden storm that, sweeping in with the speed of thought,
might at any moment turn twilight into darkest night.

The two boys, Don and the city boy, Lester Hilton, had just completed the
laborious task of dragging a heavy dory up a rock-strewn beach. Don had
left some lobster traps here. He had come ashore to pick them up.

Shading his eyes, Don gazed out to sea. Some object out there caught his
eye.

“It can’t be a barrel,” he said in a puzzled drawl. “It’s too big. Can’t
be a sailboat, nor a motorboat, nor a punt, unless it is adrift. No one
is staying out while such clouds are threatening.”

Climbing to a higher level, he paused to look again, and at once there
came over his face a look of deep concern.

“It can’t be,” he muttered. “How could it happen on a calm sea?” Closing
his eyes for a moment to secure a clearer vision, he stood there erect,
motionless.

Then, with the suddenness of one who has received a terrible revelation,
he exclaimed:

“It’s Pearl and Ruth and your sister in the _Flyaway_. Their mast is
gone. They are powerless. In five minutes it will be dark. Soon the sea
will be white with foam. They are out there, your sister and mine, out
there! Just think!”

Lester did think. One instant his mind sped, the next his hand was on the
dory.

“Yes,” said Don, “but you must go alone.”

“Alone?” The younger boy stood appalled.

“The dory will ride almost any storm. You must reach them, take them off
the schooner and bring them round the island to the lee side.”

All the time he talked Don was helping to shove the dory off. “You can’t
possibly reach them before the storm and complete darkness come. Both of
us couldn’t, not half way.

“I will guide you. I’ll find you a light so strong you’ll see all the
way.”

The younger boy stared as if he thought his companion mad.

“In the center of the island,” Don spoke rapidly, “there is a powerful
searchlight, a government light for use only in time of war or a great
emergency. You have no idea of its power, hundreds of thousands of candle
power. The keeper is away, but I know how to swing it into place, to put
on the power, to direct its rays. Go! Quickly!” He gave the dory a stout
shove, then went racing up the bank.

The impossible sometimes happens. That a thirty-foot sailing vessel, as
staunch a craft as ever sailed the rock-ribbed sea, with a mast twice the
required thickness, should be drifting helpless with mast and sail cast
off and lost from sight, should lie helpless in a calm sea while a storm
came tearing in from off the land was, in time of peace, you might say,
impossible. Yet all this was just what was happening. The _Flyaway_ was
hopelessly adrift. What was more, Pearl Bracket, the golden-haired,
freckle-faced girl of Peak’s Island, and Ruth with her city friends,
twelve-year-old Jessie Hilton and Betty, were aboard. How could all this
happen in one calm afternoon?

It had all come about so suddenly that even the four girls shuddering
there on the mastless schooner could scarcely believe it had happened at
all. They had sailed to Witches Cove. Having dropped anchor within the
shadows of the overhanging rocks, they had tried their hand at fishing.

It had been a curious afternoon, not exactly cloudy, yet not exactly
clear. A haze, a lazy mist, drifted here and there. Never did Witches
Cove seem so spooky as now. Once as Pearl looked up from her fishing she
saw a film of gray rise in the darkest corner of the pool. As if
fashioned by an invisible hand it took the form of a witch with high hat
and hooked nose. She was even riding a broom.

Pearl touched Ruth’s arm and pointed. Ruth saw and shuddered.

“Gray Witch is riding to-day,” she said. “Something is sure to happen.”
In this she was not wrong.

The fishing was unusually good. Soon the deck of the _Flyaway_ was alive
with flapping fish. In the excitement the Gray Witch and all else was
forgotten.

Then had come the supreme moment. Jessie had hooked a twelve-pound rock
cod. The cod had showed fight. Before she could draw him in he had fouled
the line among the kelp. So securely was he hooked that even then he
could not escape. So, with three girls tugging at one line and the fish
at the other, the red kelp went swinging and swaying back and forth at
the bottom of the pool.

It was just at the moment when the kelp seemed about to lose its hold on
the rock and to come floating to the top with the magnificent fish in its
wake, that Pearl, chancing to look away, dropped the line to spring back
in an attitude of fear.

She found herself looking into a pair of dark eyes. Instinct told her to
whom those eyes belonged. “The face-in-the-fire,” her mind registered.

“The—the bombers!” she had whispered to Ruth.

Like a flash all that the little man of Witches Cove had told her passed
through her mind. He, the man of the rocky island, was a Secret Service
man in the employ of his government. He had been stationed there to trace
and if possible capture two men who had been stealing high explosives
from the Army and Navy store houses. These men were supposed to belong to
a band that was opposed to all organized society. Several disastrous
explosions had been laid to their door.

“If you can assist me in capturing them,” the Secret Service man had
said, “you will not alone perform a great service to your country, but
may save many lives as well.”

And here were the very men! Pearl could not doubt it. She shot one wild
glance toward the cabin on the rocks. No one was in sight. Little hope
for aid.

“No use,” she said aloud as she recognized the second man. It was one of
the men who had stolen Ruth’s punt and loaded it with dynamite. A cold
shudder ran up her spine.

“Not a bit of use in the world,” the man went on in a cold voice. “We got
you. We’ll teach you to meddle!”

At that, to her great terror, he produced a long whip such as was once
used by cruel slave owners. Cracking this about their ankles, he ordered
them down into the _Flyaway’s_ cabin. Once they were down, he closed the
door behind them.

For a whole hour, feeling the gentle roll of the boat, knowing they were
going somewhere but having no notion what the destination might be, they
cowered in great fear. Finding courage only by praying to the great
Father of all, they waited they knew not what.

At the end of that time they caught the sound of the strokes of an axe.
This was followed by a sickening splash.

“The mast is gone!” Pearl thought to herself. “Will they sink our boat
and leave us to drown?”

The two men had evidently planned for them a more cruel fate. Having cut
away the mast and taken the oars, they set the motor boat in which they
had reached the schooner going once more, and left the _Flyaway_ and her
crew to drift helpless in the storm.

“Be broken up on the rocks!” Pearl’s eyes were dry, but in her heart was
a solid weight of sorrow.

                            * * * * * * * *

Don was racing up a rocky trail while Lester was tugging with all his
might at the long oars, driving the heavy dory farther and farther out
into the face of the oncoming storm.

Then, like the dropping of a purple curtain on a stage, came wind, rain
and deep darkness.

The testing of Lester Hilton, the reckless and daring city boy who
believed that life was a joke, was at hand. He now stood face to face
with triple peril—night, the sea and the storm. He had no compass. There
was no light to guide him. There was now only to wait and hope. This was
hardest of all.

With unfaltering footsteps Don hastened on into the dark until just
before him a long low bulk loomed. This was the power house. In this
house was the hoisting machine and the powerful dynamos that lifted the
great searchlight. To break a window, to crawl through, to touch a lever
setting a dynamo purring, to switch on a light, to throw a second lever,
was but the work of a moment.

Then again, he was outside. A little up the hill, like a gigantic black
ghost, some object was rearing itself upward. This was a frame on which
the powerful searchlight rested. When not in use it lay prone. It must
now be raised to an upright position. Powerful machinery was doing this.

It was still leaning at a rakish angle when the boy sprang up the ladder.
By the time it snapped into position he was in the small cabin above.
Here again he threw on an incandescent lamp. One moment of suspense and a
great light flashed far out over the sea.

“Ah!” he breathed.

With skillful hand he began spraying the sea with light as a gardener
sprays a lawn. Here, there, everywhere the light traveled. Once, for ten
seconds his eyes were fixed upon a small gasoline boat ploughing its way
through the tossing waves. Then that spot went dark. As yet his search
was unrewarded.

But now, as the light swung closer in, it fell upon a boy in a large
dory. He was battling the storm to keep his dory afloat.

“Lester.” Don’s heart swelled.

Swift as the flight of a gull, the light shot outward until it fell upon
a mastless boat wallowing in the trough of a wave. There it came to rest.

How the young city boy, little accustomed to the sea, pulling for the
spot marked by that light, battled his way forward until at last,
drenched, hands blistered, well nigh senseless with fatigue, he
overhauled the crippled boat, and how after that three girls and a boy
fought the storm and won will remain one of the tales to be told round
island cottage fires on stormy nights.

One incident of that night will always remain burned on Don’s brain. As
he held his light steadily in its place, there struck his ears a
deafening crash that was not thunder, and instantly the sky was illumined
by a glare that was not lightning. When, a half hour later, he was free
to search the sea for the floundering motor boat which his light had
first picked up, it had disappeared.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                          A FIRE ON THE BEACH


As Don at last threw off the powerful searchlight and descended the steel
stairway that led to the ground, two problems stood out in his mind. He
had broken all rules in using the searchlight. There had been strict
rules about that. No civilian was to touch it.

“Well,” he told himself, “they may send me to jail if they must. I’d do
it again for my sister and for them.”

The other question that puzzled him was one regarding that explosion at
sea. Since he knew nothing of the afternoon’s happenings at Witches Cove
and their aftermath at sea, he could make little of it.

As for the four girls, they had, it seemed to Ruth at least, lived a
lifetime in a few hours. In one short afternoon they had experienced
peace, hope, joy, near triumph, fear, disaster and all but death. What
more could there be to life?

The little city girl had behaved wonderfully. She had sat wide eyed, calm
and silent through it all.

The city boy puzzled Ruth most of all. Battling the waves like a veteran
seaman, he reached them alone in the heavy dory. Then, without a word, he
put his shoulder to an oar and began helping them to beat their way back
to land.

“And he thinks life is a joke,” Ruth told herself. Then in a flash it
came to her. This boy once thought that life was a joke. He did not
really believe it; was not living as if life were a joke.

“He’ll forget all he thinks,” she told herself, “and become a wonderful
man. I am glad.”

When they had circled a rocky point and come to the lea, they drove their
boat on a narrow beach. There they built a roaring fire and sat down to
dry their clothes. There Don joined them.

“How did you lose your mast? What was that explosion?” he demanded
excitedly.

It was Ruth who told of the afternoon’s events. In the telling she was
obliged to add much about old Fort Skammel and the bombing smugglers that
he had not known before.

“But did you hear that explosion at sea?” he asked as she ended.

“Yes,” said Ruth, “and I have my ideas. Looks to me as if we had seen the
last of those two men.”

“You think their motor boat blew up?”

“I think they had explosives on board and that the jarring of the waves
set them off.”

“Hm!” said Don. “That might be true.”

Early next morning Don tuned up the _Foolemagin_ and went in search of
the _Flyaway_. He found her piled up on the beautiful broad beach on Long
Island. Save for a bump here and there and the loss of her mast, she was
quite unharmed.

In a half hour’s time he had her pulled off and in tow.

“Get her in shipshape by noon,” he told Pearl over a belated breakfast.
“Uncle Joe has a mast he took from an old boat. I’ll put it in and you
can give her a tryout.”

It was during this tryout of the _Flyaway_ that the three girls bumped
square into the last great adventure of the season.



                               CHAPTER XX
                               THE CHASE


They had just circled the last pleasure yacht anchored before the island
and were squared away for a trip down the bay, when their attention was
attracted by a small motor boat apparently stranded in mid-channel.

“The ferry will run them down if they don’t watch out,” said Ruth,
reaching for their ancient brass field glass.

“It—well, now what?” She dropped the glass to stare at the boat with the
naked eye. “It’s your little friend the Secret Service man from Witches
Cove,” she told Pearl. “There are three men with him and they seem no end
excited. One is trying frantically to get the engine going. The other
three are waving wildly at us. Head her in that way. Give her all the
sail.”

Pearl swung about. In an incredibly short time they were within hailing
distance.

“That boat can sail some, can’t she?” the little man shouted.

“She can,” said Ruth through cupped hands.

“Come alongside and take us on board. They’re getting away.” The Secret
Service man swung his arm down the bay, where through the light fog a
second motor boat was just passing behind the island.

“Who’s getting away?” Ruth asked in some astonishment as they came close
up.

“The bombers—the smugglers—the—the wild rascals, whoever they may be, you
know as well as I.” The man was in a great state of perspiration. “They
just left old Fort Skammel.”

The three girls stared as if they had seen a ghost.

“They can’t have,” said Ruth as soon as she found her voice. “They’re
dead, blown into a thousand pieces by their own dynamite.”

“Strange,” puffed the little man as he scrambled aboard the _Flyaway_,
followed by his three companions.

“Let her drift,” he said as he saw Ruth eyeing the stalled motor boat.
“Someone will pick her up. There’s important matters afoot. What’s one
motor boat more or less?”

“Dead! Blown to pieces!” he exclaimed as soon as he had taken three deep
breaths. “Show us you are sailors, and we’ll prove to you that they are
neither dead nor blown to pieces. I saw that wild looking fellow with the
tangled black hair and shining eyes, saw him plainly.”

“The man of the face-in-the-fire,” Ruth said to Pearl, as she set the
_Flyaway_ to skimming up the bay. “The very one. Must be. What do you
know about that!”

Not one of the three knew what about it, so they were silent until they
too had rounded the island and saw the fleeing boat, a low, dark affair
of moderate speed, popping along dead ahead.

“Well, will we overhaul them?” the little man asked anxiously.

“Will if the wind holds. May drop any time,” said Ruth. “Little fog. May
burn off. May thicken. Can’t tell.” With a boy’s cap jammed tight over
her head, she stood there swaying with the boat and giving her every inch
of sail she’d carry.

“It’s to be a race,” she told herself, “a race between the _Flyaway_ and
that motor boat.” There was something altogether unusual about the whole
affair. If these were the men, if indeed they had escaped the storm and
the explosion, as indeed they appeared to have done, then the _Flyaway_,
which they had attempted to destroy along with the three of them, was
hunting down the very ones who had meant to destroy her.

“Good old _Flyaway_!” she whispered. “Do your best!”

“We’ll catch them,” she told herself a short time later. “And then?” She
dared not think what might follow. These were desperate men. If caught,
they would serve long terms in prison. They would not surrender without a
battle.

It was strange the thoughts that passed through her mind as they sped
along. Now she was thinking of that secret room in old Fort Skammel. How
was it heated? Were the silks still there? If the men were captured, what
then? The silks would be confiscated by the customs office.

“There’s some sort of law that gives the finder a share,” she told
herself. “We found them right enough.” She thrilled at the thought of
owning a room half filled with silk dresses and bolts of silk cloth.

A moment later she was talking with the little Secret Service man,
joining him in an effort to unravel the tangled web of mysteries that had
been woven about them.

She spoke first of the ancient wood carrying schooner, of its dark
foreign skipper and the bales of cloth in the hold. The little man seemed
astonished.

“There,” he said, “I think you are entirely wrong. Did you ever happen to
look at that skipper’s hands?”

Ruth had not.

“They’re hard as pine knots and the muscles of his arms are like wooden
beams. You don’t get a man like that for smuggling or stealing. They love
physical labor too much and the contentment that comes with it.”

He agreed with her when she said that the smugglers had a hand in the
destruction of _Black Gull_. That the cache in the old fort was theirs,
neither of them doubted.

When Ruth spoke of the dark seaplane Pearl had seen off Monhegan on that
stormy night, he seemed greatly surprised and excited.

“Are we doing the best we can?” he asked suddenly, wrinkling his brow and
looking up at the sail.

“Our level best,” said Ruth. “And if the wind holds it is good enough.
See, we have gained half the distance already.”

It was true. They had now come so close to the fleeing craft that they
were able to make out moving figures on her.

Lifting the glass, Ruth studied the sea and the power boat for a moment.
Then, quite suddenly she dropped the glass. She had looked straight into
that dark visage, the face-in-the-fire.

“How can one explain it?” she said, as a shudder ran through her stout
frame.

“Explain what?” the little man asked.

Ruth told him of their harrowing experience of the previous day and of
the tremendous explosion at sea.

“There is no explanation at present,” he said quietly. “There may never
be any. We who spend our lives delving into hidden mysteries know that
half of them are never solved.”

In spite of the realization that they were off on a perilous mission,
Ruth felt a comforting warmth take possession of her. Only yesterday,
with every hope apparently gone, she had been drifting on a sailless,
mastless boat out to sea in the face of a storm. Now, with that same
boat, she was treading on the heels of those who had willed her death.
The end of all the summer’s excitement and mystery was near.

But what was this? A thin film of smoke rose from the power boat ahead.
Ten seconds had not passed before this had become a veritable pillar of
black towering toward the sky. “Their boat is on fire!” she cried.

“Smoke screen,” said the little man, still calm. “There! There! See? They
are taking to their dory! We’ll get them now.”

“But what is that a little way over there to the right, close to that
little rocky island?”

All eyes followed the direction she had indicated. Then as one, they
exclaimed:

“A seaplane! A seaplane! The dark, trans-Atlantic plane! We have lost
them!”

That the men should escape now seemed inevitable. The seaplane was moving
rapidly across the water. Soon she would be upon the dory from the
smoking schooner. A hasty scramble aboard her, and they would rise to
speed away at such a pace as no sailboat ever knew.

Ruth was ready to sit down and cry. She had risked so much. She had
experienced such terrible things. She had hoped and hoped again. Truly
she had come to know what life was. And now—

But again a surprise leaped at them from the air. The thunder of an
airplane motor, not that of the dark seaplane, but another, struck their
ears. As it doubled and redoubled in volume Ruth thought of the young air
scout who had assisted her in saving Betty’s life off Green Island, and a
great surge of hope welled up within her.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                             ON AIR AND SEA


The scene that followed will remain in the memories of the three girls as
long as life shall last. The sea, a thin fog, a great dark plane rising
slowly like a black swan from the water, a small American pursuit plane
appearing on the distant horizon.

“Is it our young aviator?” Ruth asked herself, gripping at her breast to
still her heart’s wild beating. “Will he be in time?”

Higher and higher rose the giant plane. Nearer and nearer came its little
pursuer.

When she had risen to a height of a thousand feet, the dark marauder
began thundering away.

But of a sudden, a white gleam appeared above her. The little silver
plane was possessed of great speed. The black giant, laden with hundreds
of gallons of gasoline for a long journey, was slow in picking up. The
tiny pursuer was upon her. The fight was on.

“It’s like a catbird attacking a crow,” Ruth told herself. “What will the
end be?”

With a daring that set the girl’s blood racing, the young aviator swooped
down upon his broad winged opponent.

“He—he’ll crash into them,” she thought in sudden terror, “He—he has!”

“No! No!” said Betty who, all unconscious of her actions, was dancing
wildly about the deck. “There! There he is! He’s come out from behind.”

Again the little plane rose. Again, he came down, this time to the right
and all but upon a broad wing of the Devil Bird.

Then came a short, sharp, insistent sound that was not made by motors.

“They—they’re shooting,” said Ruth as a fresh terror seized her. “We must
get closer. They may bring him down.”

Gripping a rope, she sent her sail upward, then prepared to glide ahead
at full speed.

But now, matters took a fresh turn. So close did the young aviator dive
in that the great black plane was set wobbling. It was with the utmost
difficulty that she righted herself.

Hardly had this been accomplished when the little plane, with all the
ferocity of a bird robbed of her young, was upon her again.

“He’ll be killed!” screamed Betty, now fairly beside herself. “There!
There he goes!”

But the little plane did not drop. It wobbled and twisted, turned half a
flip-flop, righted itself and was at the dark antagonist once more.

Again the pop-pop-pop-pop of shots.

This time, however, it broke short off as the black plane, after an
instant of seeming to hang motionless in air, suddenly went into a tail
spin.

“There! There!” Betty closed her eyes.

When she opened them the black plane was gone.

“Where—where—” she stammered.

“Gone to the bottom,” said Ruth solemnly. “We’ll get over there at once.
They may rise. It—it’s terrible to think—”

“Poor fellows,” said the little man. “They will never come up. The plane,
with her heavy motors and her loaded tanks, took them straight to the
bottom. They deserved little enough. They were the enemies of law and
order and all government. Since men must live as neighbors, laws of
conduct cannot be avoided. They were blind to all this. They saw wrongs
in every land; men rich and living extravagantly who deserved to live on
hard bread and wear rags, other men living in poverty, and they said, ‘We
must destroy.’

“Nothing was ever gained by destruction. Wrongs must be righted by laws,
and by instilling into the hearts of all men a feeling of brotherly
kindness. Those who will destroy will in the end bring destruction upon
themselves.”

The little pursuit plane had come to rest on the sea. For a half hour
both plane and sail boat cruised the waters there, but no sign of the
missing plane rose from the depths.

When the little plane at last drew in close Ruth saw, with a sudden
tremor at her heart, that the young aviator of that other day by Green
Island was in the forward cockpit.

“Sorry to spoil your game,” he said, standing up. “But he was about to
get away. And that wouldn’t do. Done enough damage already.”

“Quite enough,” said the little man. “We owe you a vote of thanks. You
were lucky to escape. There was shooting.”

“They did all the shooting,” said the young man. “I was only trying to
force them down for you.”

“Well,” said the little man, “you did that with a vengeance. And now,” he
said briskly, “we better get back to old Fort Skammel. These young ladies
tell me that there’s a secret cache of silks there. I have no doubt there
are papers of great importance there too.”

“Like to ride back with me?” said the young aviator, looking at Ruth.
“I—I promised you a trip, you know.”

“Yes,” said Ruth, climbing into the plane.

“We’ll get over to the fort and keep guard there until you arrive,” said
the aviator, waving them goodbye as Ruth’s last strap was safely buckled
into place.

It was a strange world that Ruth looked down upon as she sped along—her
own little world seen from above. Islands, homes, ships, all floated like
miniature affairs of paper beneath her. Then, much too soon, they were
skimming the bay for a landing.

All was serene and dreamy about old Fort Skammel as the two, Ruth and her
pilot, came ashore there. Dragon flies darted here and there. Spider webs
drifted by.

“The calm of a Sabbath afternoon,” said the young pilot. “How good it is
to be alive!”

“Life,” Ruth replied, blinking at the sun and struggling to reassemble
her scattered thoughts, “could not be sweeter.”

An hour later, with the Secret Service man in the lead and an armed guard
stationed along the corridors, the little company entered the room of
many mysteries.

They were all there, Ruth, Pearl, Betty and even the little city girl who
had come over in a row boat. And such a time as they had feasting their
eyes on the softness and beauty of the silks laid out before them.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                             THE STORY TOLD


A few moments later the men from the revenue cutter were passing boxes
and bales of silk up from the strangely snug underground room, and had
begun carrying them down dim corridors to the ancient granite dock that
had once served the fort.

“Ingenious chaps, those fellows were,” the little Secret Service man
said, touching an electric heater. “Ingenious and resourceful. Heated the
place with electricity.”

“But where did they get the current?” Ruth asked.

“There’s an electric power cable passing across the island. They wired
this place, then waited for a time when the current was off to tap the
line, I suppose.”

“So that’s it,” said Ruth.

“There is a great deal more that remains to be explained,” said the
little man. “I fancy I shall find it all recorded here.” He patted a
great heap of books and papers which he had collected from one corner of
the room. “If you young folks wish to come out to Witches Cove rather
late in the afternoon, I am quite sure I shall have a lot to tell. Like
to come?”

“Would we!” said Ruth.

“Try us,” said Betty, standing on tiptoes in her excitement.

“That’s settled, then. Come in the _Flyaway_ at dusk. I’m sure the three
gray witches will be there to greet you. So will I, and my two black
cats.”

“It’s a pity,” he said a little later as he stood by the great heap of
silks that lay on the dock ready to be transported to the customs house,
“that I can’t permit each one of you to select a wardrobe from among
these beautiful creations, but the law wouldn’t permit that.”

As their eyes rested on the broken bundles from which rich garments of
rare beauty shone through, they felt that he spoke the truth.

That evening, just as the shadows had turned the dark green waters of
Witches Cove to pitchy black, the three girls, Ruth, Pearl and Betty,
rode into that little natural harbor of many mysteries. Having dropped
anchor, they rowed Ruth’s punt silently to the rocky shore, then mounted
the rugged natural stairway to the cabin that crowned the crest.

A curious light, flickering and dancing, now waving, now glowing bright,
played hide and seek through the cabin’s two small windows. A driftwood
fire was burning in the large room of the place.

Before this fire, on the skin of some great bear whose grinning white
teeth seemed ready to devour them, sat the little man. On either side of
the hearth the two black cats sat blinking. Before him was a heap of
papers and a thick black book.

“Sit down,” he said, moving over to give them room. Lifting a simmering
pot from the hearth, he poured them delicious hot chocolate in cups as
blue-green as the waters of Witches Cove.

“We drink to the health of all loyal sons and daughters of Maine,” he
said, lifting a cup to his lips.

“It’s all written here,” he said after a moment of solemn meditation.
“Written down in this book.” He patted the fat black book.

“It’s strange,” he said thoughtfully, “that men cannot resist recording
deeds of daring. Whether they be done for lawful or unlawful purposes,
makes no difference. Even the Buccaneers had their historians.

“The author of this,” again he touched the book, “was none other than
that dark fellow, whom you called the ‘face-in-the-fire’ man.

“It’s a remarkable story,” he went on. “Lindbergh crossed the ocean once
alone, and the whole world went mad. This man made seven round trips from
Europe to America and there was not one shout. Because,” he
paused—“because almost no one knew. Seven men knew. They dared not tell.
He brought them to America one at a time in the gray seaplane in which he
to-day met so tragic a death. Our nation refused them entrance. He
brought them. Very soon now they will be found and sent back. But because
these men could not pay him, he engaged in silk smuggling. He used the
old fort as a hiding place because no one would expect to find him
there.”

“But why?” Ruth leaned forward eagerly. “Why did he do all this?”

“He crossed the ocean seven times bringing each time a man,” the speaker
went on impressively. “Each time he recrossed the lonely old ocean alone.
Think of it! Seven times! An unbroken record!

“Loyalty,” he stared thoughtfully at the fire, “loyalty is a wonderful
thing. But loyalty to a wrong cause can bring only disaster.

“This man and his seven friends believed that the private ownership of
property was wrong, that your home, your boat, your horse, your dog, yes
and perhaps your very father and mother, should belong to the State. That
all men should own everything, and no individual anything.”

“How terrible!” said Ruth.

“You think so,” the little man said. “So do I. So do most Americans. And
yet that was the principle for which they stood. For this principle they
would smuggle, bomb, cast helpless girls adrift in a dismantled boat,
destroy all.”

“That,” said Ruth, “is a terrible way to live.”

“We think so. We believe that you have done your country a great service.
You will not go unrewarded.”

“The thing I can’t understand,” said Betty, “is why they remained in the
old fort and kept their silks there after they knew that Ruth and I had
been in that room.”

“They thought you were at the bottom of the sea where they meant you to
be,” the little man smiled. “You would have been, too, had it not been
for that chap you call Don and the fearless city boy.”

“Yes, we would,” Ruth said solemnly.

“And that,” said the little man, “is the end of the story. You have all
been fortunate. You have helped solve mysteries and have known
adventures.

“Your lives from this day may flow as smooth as a river, but the memory
of this summer, with its joys and hopes, its perils, despairs, its
defeats and victories can never be taken from you.”

“To-morrow night,” he said, as he walked with them to their waiting boat,
“Witches Cove will be dark. My black cats and I are leaving to-morrow.
Good night, good-bye, and good luck.”

That night Ruth sat looking out once more from her room upon the moonlit
bay. Her summer of adventure was over. Betty was returning to Chicago.
The cottages were closing. Soon there would be left only the fisher folks
and the sea.

“Life,” she told herself, “is quite wonderful, and not a joke at all.”
She doubted if anyone really, truly in the depths of their hearts, ever
thought it was.

So, sitting there in her chair, dreaming in the moonlight, she allowed
her head to fall forward and was soon fast asleep.


                                THE END.



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original printed text—this e-text
  is public domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.





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