A tall, slender girl with dark hair captured under a broad-brimmed white straw hat carefully descended the metal steps of the railroad car, lightly taking the porter's hand as he helped her down the steep incline. She looked older than her almost thirteen years at that moment, her eyes dark and worried, even as they darted about the unfamiliar surroundings in eager interest. The fresh sea breeze was brisk that day, and the blue streamers of ribbon from her hat whipped in her face. She flicked them away restlessly as she turned to face the thin, bearded older man descending the steps behind her.
"Do be careful, Dad," she said solicitously as she extended a gloved hand, helping him from one side as the porter gave him a hand down at the other.
"Chickadee," he sighed, arching his eyebrows in slight exaggeration, "are you going to fuss over me like an old mother hen for the duration?"
"Oh, Dad," Betty Roberts said in exasperation, "I'm just worried about you. You have no idea how you frightened us all."
David Roberts straightened, removing his hat for a moment to take a deep cleansing breath of sea air, coughing instead since the depot area was thick with soot and cinders. "I don't know about that, young lady. I remember a case of measles..."
"I didn't pass out in the middle of a workday and lose 30 pounds!" Betty retorted spiritedly. She offered her arm to her father. "But let's not quarrel. I wonder if Kit or Cilla-"
Her words were interrupted by the plaintive call of a young girl over the hiss and spark of the steam locomotive. "Cousin Elly! Uncle David! Here we are!"
They turned as one toward the wrought-iron fence that girdled the area of the depot and saw a fresh-faced girl of thirteen waving at them as she passed through one of the gates. She was dressed in a light green cotton frock that blew about her knees, and one gloved hand waved a handkerchief in enthusiastic greeting while she braced her smart white cloche hat with the other.
"There's Kit!" Betty said excitedly, waving in return. Then with girlish dismay, she added, "Oh, look, Dad! Kit's hair is bobbed, too, and I know Aunty is terribly strict. 'Nice' girls have been having their hair bobbed for years now. I don't understand why I can't have mine done."
Her father regarded her with luminous dark eyes, smiling at her through his beard. "Because your mother said so."
"Oh, Dad." She looked down at her dark blue middy dress, now limp and heavy from rigors of the journey, and then again at the bright, light garment of the cousin now trotting toward her. "I'm always so unfashionable."
"Not from my point of view," he said with an endearing grinjust as the whirlwind that was Catherine Augusta Albright struck them.
"Oh, it's so lovely to see you!" "Kit" said breathlessly, throwing her arms around her uncle first, then shifting to bestow a hug on Betty, smothering her momentarily. "Mamma sent Cil and I down to fetch you; it seems like we've been waiting for ages! When the ticket agent told me the train from Fall River was late, I simply wanted to collapse-"
Her words tumbled over one another, pell-mell, until David Roberts grasped her gesturing hands and laughed. "There's no need to rush, Catherine. We are here through July, after all."
"Oh, goodness!" Kit blushed prettily and again Betty looked down at herself with a sigh. "Mamma says I do tend to go on when I get excited." She laughed. "Elly, tell me you'll restrain me if I do this when we're out togetheror else everyone will think you're with a really sad apple!"
"I'll try," Betty said, cheering. She'd been about to tell Kit to call her "Betty," as everyone at home did, but abruptly decided not to. It would be nice to be "someone else" for a month instead of dull Betty Roberts from Elkhart, Indiana.
Her father glanced from the excited girl to the queue of railed wooden carts being loaded with steamer trunks, hat boxes, grips, and other paraphernalia from the baggage car. "Kit, dear, if you and Cilla are escorting us home, who will be taking care of our baggage?"
"Oh, Cilla's arranging that at the express office. Mr. Fantoninihe's one of our neighborswill come up tonight in his touring car and carry your things back to the house. Mamma said you needed to get plenty of fresh air, so at first Cilla and I thought to take you home on the bloomer, but then we decided the motorbus would be better since we'd go right along the shore-"
"You wanted to take us home on a...what?" Betty interrupted in surprise. "Not the motorbus-"
Kit stared at her, then indicated a trolley approaching. It was the open-sided variety that Betty was familiar with in Elkhart during the summer months. "The bloomer."
"Oh," Betty said, flushing in embarrassment, and her father offered with a smile, "We call those 'open-air cars' at home, Catherine."
Kit looked blank for a moment, then laughed. "Isn't that a daisy? We both live in the same country but you don't use the same words we do." Then her eyes danced. "Just wait till the weekend when the auto tourists show up from Massachusetts. You'll never guess what they call sarsparilla and other kinds of soda pop!"
Betty, still overwhelmed by her garrulous cousin, shook her head.
Kit answered with repressed laughter, "Tonic," pronouncing it with a twang so that it sounded more like "tawnic." "Isn't that just too funny?"
They were saved from answering by the more dignified approach of a tall, slender girl of sixteen. Her hair, peeping out from under the sky blue hat which matched the smart little tailored dress she wore, was a bright gold, unlike her younger sister's darker blond, but their blue-grey eyes were alike in shape and color and both girls had similar oval faces and light complexions. "Kitty, dearest, there's no need to wear out their ears before we even get home."
"Pooh," Kit replied as her more reserved sister kissed her uncle's cheek and shook hands with Betty, then her eyes widened. "Or am I doing that? I'm not, am I, Elly?"
Her dismay was so comical that Betty relaxed and laughed.
In short order they were escorted to the street, which was busy with motorcars, some with tonneaus jammed full of every sort of equipage for a summer vacation, including bath chairs, marquees and oversized umbrellas, and thence to the marked stops for the trolleys and 'buses. The refreshing breeze was even sharper there, and Betty and her father found themselves imitating the cousins in keeping tight control of their hats.
"We had a two-days' gale ending yesterday," Cilla explained of the generous wind. "When it finally becalms the weather will be just glorious. We've planned some nice relaxing things that we can all do together, like a neighborhood clambake, but of course Mother says you need rest, Uncle David, so-"
Betty fancied at that moment that her father would become apoplectic. "Now understand this, young ladies! I will concur that I was very ill and that I do need to rest, and that I will make my best attempt to do. But I will not be wrapped in cotton wool. Do I make myself clear?"
Kit's eyes were enormous and even the self-possessed Cilla looked taken aback. "Yes, sir!" the latter pronounced with her younger sister as an obedient echo. Betty only stifled laughter behind one white-gloved hand, then frowned at the soot smirching the pale material. Hastily she brushed it away, also giving her skirt a good shake.
Presently, in between the line of enclosed trolleys and open bloomer cars that alternated at the stops, the long trucklike motorbus appeared. It was painted rich vermilion and black with ornate gold and white lettering that spelled out "Newport/Portsmouth Excursion Line" along its broad sides. Its windows were opened wide to the salt air and Betty could see at least two occupants.
As the 'bus braked to a halt, it appeared Cilla had noticed them as well, for Betty saw her cousin's face flush, then turn deathly pale. As the 'bus door was opened with a resounding rattle, she lifted her chin defiantly and mounted the steps, disdaining her uncle's helping hand, deposited two nickels in the fare box, and then, to Betty's surprise, sailed coldly past the two people seated at the very front to obtain seats closer to the rear of the vehicle, her back ramrod straight and her gaze set firmly past them!
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young