Gladys E. Johnson. Moon Country (1924) 301 pp. Illustrated by Charles Hargens, Jr.
As children growing up on the San Mateo County coast near Pescadero, Quentin Lloyd and Joan Pride were fascinated by tales of fabled Spanish treasure. Legend had it that Joan’s grandfather, Ol’ “Sinful” Pride, had lured a ship filled with gold onto the rocks with a false lighthouse and had hidden the treasure in a cave on the coast. On the night that Quentin and Joan were going to go try to find the treasure once and for all, Quentin’s family is shocked to learn of his father’s suicide in San Francisco. They abandon their house for the city. Years later, after his family’s fortune had been ruined in the 1906 earthquake and his health severely damaged after being gassed in France during the war, Quentin returns to his childhood home, and finds a drifter named Riddle squatting in the house. Joan has also just returned, in order to care for her aunt, and she and Quentin renew their friendship. Then strange things start happening. First, “Portuguese Maria,” a slightly deranged, alcoholic, old woman—who had fueled Quent and Joan’s childhood fantasies—is murdered in her home. Quentin then starts hearing strange noises in his house, leading him to think (against his better judgment) that perhaps the old place is haunted. Then he discovers another body on the beach, this time it is a Portuguese laborer. While he is trying to get someone to help him drag it to higher ground, the undertow takes it back out to sea. Joan’s aunt and her longtime servant, Ada Sterritt, both begin acting very strangely. After Quentin evicts Riddle, someone takes a shot at him and he and Joan become convinced that the key to the mysterious events is that long-lost treasure. Riddle comes back and he, Quentin, and Joan make a fantastic discovery. Buried in a secret room of the house is a chest filled with gold and jewels …
“The man looked up. ‘I think it’s [sic] earthquake loot, Joan. Treasure stolen from San Francisco during the earthquake of nineteen-six when the business district and half of the best homes in the city were leveled by fire. Look, there isn’t a coin here that bears a later date-mark than nineteen-five. This glass was probably the show-case in some jewelry store. This’—his hand swept toward the gleaming jewels in the tray—‘probably the loot of several stores and wealthy homes as well. The gold coins were doubtless stolen.’
‘By glory, Mr. Lloyd, I bet you struck it!’ boomed Riddle. ‘Somebody made a haul in the three days when the city was burning and homes were left wide open. Why, people run away an’ left their valuables lyin’ right out in plain sight an’ sneak thieves struck a harvest.’” (p. 272-273)
Setting: San Mateo County (Pescadero)
Baird & Greenwood 1327