A Motorbus Ride
They could hardly have missed her passage. These were two well-bred young men in expensive-looking tennis flannels, both carrying racquets, with straw boaters seated on their laps, and as Priscilla stalked past them, the taller of the two fair-haired, with a sharp, handsome face, narrow gray eyes, and a sarcastic smile, broke into a plaintive, hoarse song that Betty thought she should recognize, "'I'd walk a mil-lion miles for one o' your smiles, my Cil-illl-laaaaaa.'"
Betty entered the 'bus next only to see both boys break out in impolite laughter; the second young man had curly brown hair and a round face still marked with faint freckles, one that might have been pleasant had it not been crossed with a derisive smile. She was apt at making quick observations and even as she walked rapidly past them to join her expressionless cousin, she noted the boys' kittennis slippers, equipment, the gold wristwatch on the blond boy's armand guessed they were probably fairly wealthy.
"Aren't you feeling well, Cilla?" she whispered covertly as she settled in the basketweave seat beside her, watching Kit and finally her father come aboard to take seats behind them.
"I'll be fine," Cilla said frostily, "when either we or they get off this 'bus."
From his seat the taller boy continued his singing, an exaggerated piece which sounded to Betty vaguely like some type of spiritual. She turned to ask Kit about it, since Cilla seemed to have settled into studied silence, only to find the younger girl making an unpleasant face.
"Isn't he splendid at it?" she whispered half-enviously. "No one does imitations better than Stevieit's a pity he's such a pill sometimes."
Betty glanced back to see the young man spreading his arms and making some type of odd face, his companion bursting into laughter again. He had lowered his voice but she swore he had said "Mommy" or "Mammy." "Imitating whom?"
For what seemed the hundredth time since the train had arrived, Kit stared at her. "Al Jolson. The Jazz Singer. You know..." and then she exclaimed in a horrified voice, "Elizabeth Ann Roberts, do you mean to tell me you haven't seen a talkie yet?"
Goodness! Betty thought little resentfully, she might as well be wearing old brogans and carrying a market basket of pullets! But before she could speak her father said reasonably, "I'm afraid we haven't allowed them to go, Catherine. Only one of the theatres in Elkhart has converted to sound and it's one with a bad reputation. It was a burlesque house before the management began picture shows. Your Aunt Clare and I decided we didn't want our children going there."
Cilla fixed a disapproving glare on her little sister. "Kitty, that was terribly rude."
"I'm sorry," Kit said a bit miserably, then flared, retorting in whispered tones, "Well, you should talk after all. You flounced right past both Steve and Rory without so much as a polite hello."
Her sister said stiffly, not bothering to lower her own voice, "I see no need to be polite to the likes of them," then averted her face to the right toward the window as if to examine the storm-weathered, peeling wooden buildings as the 'bus passed between them.
"Uncle David," Kit asked anxiously, "you won't mind if we take Elly to the Majestic, will you, for the vaudeville show? There aren't any hoochie-coochie dancers, or Mother would never allow us to go. There's a new bill coming up in a few weeks..."
Betty allowed her attention to drift away from Kit's words, Cilla's icy airs, and the now-quiet boys in the seats up front as the 'bus left the close-fitted buildings and narrow streets of Newport and tantalizing glimpses of the sea appeared. They passed first a bay dotted with magnificent sailing craft, their sails furled, and other vessels anchored the length of a long wharf labeled "Yacht Club," then the 'bus wound through several miles of narrow gravel road with stone and wood cottages dotted on either side, some of them sheltered behind low concrete barriers, and open fields bounded by crumbling stone walls blanketed with bright pink primroses, ivy, and the tangled vines of other unrecognized wildflowers. The road wound up and down hill, then reached a straightaway on which, to their right, an enormous edifice constructed of red granite blocks rose behind an impossibly green lawn. Betty found herself gasping.
"Oh," Kit said, offhand, "that's Shamrock Cliff. One of the summer cottages."
"'Cottage,'" Betty repeated, aghast. "But that's a castle!"
Cilla smiled faintly for the first time since they'd seen the two young men. "Just wait, Elly. There's more to come. See, there's Castle Hill, where the Coast Guard station is."
Betty's eyes feasted on the sturdy lighthouse with its multi-color, gaily flapping signal flags until it was out of sight, then the swaying motorbus negotiated a right curve and she forgot both the "castle" and the station. She leaned over Cilla without asking pardon, her mouth ajar and eyes wide in delight, for to their right a breathtaking vista opened, scrubby grass and verdant vines that tumbled down to rock and shingleand the ocean. It stretched out before her, blue and green and pewter gray, the surf rolling into the shore in a froth of white spume. Along the shingle strolled women under parasols or wide-brimmed, beribboned hats, men in straw boaters, boys in short pants and girls in pinafores. Bathers in every sort of costume from thick Victorian relics to the "scandalous" modern knitted one-piece suits lounged on the dark layers of shale and limestone that edged the water, watching small children in striped flannel suits collect snails and shells. The broad expanse of ever-shifting water was dotted with ships, from small graceful catboats with their pristine white sails to stolid grey Navy cruisers to the big grimy coal bunkers chugging their way into the harbor.
"Oh," said Betty, dazzled, finally aroused from her daze.
She became aware that Kit was speaking to her. "This is Brenton Point, Elly. Out there you can see Jamestown and Beavertail that's the lighthouseand here is The Reef," and she discreetly indicated a huge grey clapboard Victorian-style home on the opposite side of the road. "It belongs to the Budlongs. There are the stables in the rear and the gardens and as we go around the curve you'll be able to see the gatehouse and the windmill."
Betty asked, wide-eyed, "Is this one of the Newport mansions? We read about them in history class."
"Goodness," Kit giggled, "we haven't even reached Bellevue Avenue yet!"
Betty digested that newest piece of information with the knowledge that her father was smiling at her broadly. He looked better already, she decided, with faint ruddy color on his cheeks and the strained expression around his eyes eased, and she relaxed her vigilance to give her full attention to the seaside scenery.
In the next twenty minutes she would feast her eyes on more seaside homes, beautiful many-storied granite, brick, or clapboard houses that appeared as palaces to her, yet her cousins assured her she was nowhere near the haunts of the very rich yet. Some homes had solariums, or long galleries of windows on the upper stories; behind others she could see tennis courts, croquet lawns, hedged gardens. She recalled reading that these were not even the people's real homes; most of them actually resided in New York City or Philadelphia and came to Newport only for the summer months. Betty could only imagine what kind of town homes these people had if these 10- and 20-room rambling structures were "summer cottages," using Kit's nomenclature.
Presently the 'bus made a left turn onto an avenue that seemed comprised chiefly of dignified old shade trees and thick, tall stone walls broken only by iron gates.
"This," Cilla said softly, "is Bellevue Avenue."
Later Betty would be glad that the young men seated ahead of them were self-occupied, for she knew she rode past the glittering mansions with her mouth parted in astonishment. A few of them resembled the photographs she had seen in her St. Nicholas magazines of Versailles or Buckingham Palacebetween the gaps of the formidable granite wall, she glimpsed marble walls, wide porticos, iron gates, glittering entryways, chandeliers. She dimly heard a still-chattering Kit check off the names of the homes: The Elms, Marble House ("home of the Vanderbilts"), Beechwood ("Mrs. Astor's home, you knowher husband died on the Titanic"), Rosecliff, Belcourt Castle. By the time the 'bus halted to allow the two young men to depart, she felt as if she had made a visit to the Land of Oz.
Priscilla gave her head a shake of satisfaction as the boys descended the steps of the 'bus. "Good riddance!" her sweet cousin said with such vehemence that Betty was amazed.
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young