A Mystery Revealed
One afternoon had already taught Betty not to take her cousin at face value. "Oh, Kit, really-"
Kit rolled her eyes heavenward. "You're as bad as Cilla." She sighed, but her voice still dropped mysteriously. "All right. Do you recall tonight when Pietro...Mr. Andreas...mentioned 'young Burrows' and ThadI mean Mr. Matthewsgave him a nudge under the table?"
She could hardly have ignored it; the "nudge" had shifted the entire table, spilling a large quantity of gravy, and Cilla, with a scarlet face, had retreated in the kitchen for a washcloth.
"'Young Burrows' is Dick. His family has always lived in that pretty stone cottage we passed before the 'bus turned in at our gate. We've grown up together, for all that Dick is five years older than Cil. When he was still going to school here he'd walk with us every morning, rain or shine. In any case, Dick went into the Merchant Marine when he was seventeen and was away for four years. When he came back in February we hardly recognized him, he'd grown so tall and brown, but when he visited, it was still the same old Dickwell, at least for me. For Cilla it was different."
"But she's only sixteen," Betty protested.
"Goodness, don't look so shocked! Girls hereabouts have been known to get married at fourteen. I know I wouldn't do it. I'm looking forward to high school and maybe secretarial school if Mamma can help out and I can work my way through. But things were different between Cilla and Dick the moment he returned."
Kit tucked her slim legs under her and turned sideways so she could face Betty. "That's not the problemalthough Mamma said Cilla could cry her eyes out if she liked; she isn't allowed to be married until she's graduated from high school. Mamma only finished the grammar school and is very insistent that we have all the schooling we can. No, the problem's with Dick. After he was home for a month, of course he decided he must get a job. What he did was make the mistake of getting one with the Carlisles."
"Carlisle. Wasn't that the name..."
"Yes, the fair-haired young man on the motorbus. That's Stevie...Steven. I'm sorry. I can't help admiring himhe's sooooo handsome, and Cil says I'm such a goose about nice-looking boys. In any case, Dick went to work for the Carlisles, and just about a month ago Mrs. Carlisle accused him of theft. Dick swears up and down he had nothing to do with it, but they can't find anyone else who might be responsible and Dick did disappear mysteriously the day the necklace vanished and so he was fired and then questioned by the police several times. The police told Mrs. Carlisle they could find no evidence that Dick had stolen the pendant-"
"Pendant?" Betty was confused. "You mean...as in a necklace? Why would a man want to steal a necklace?"
Kit looked surprised. "Why, for its value, of course! The Carlisles aren't members of Society like the folks on Bellevue Avenue, but the family does have moneythat's Carlisle as in the Carlisle Paper Corporation." Betty nodded, impressed, for the Elkhart school system used Carlisle paper products. "They own Shellcote, that beautiful shingle house you pointed out just after we passed Bailey's Beach, the one with the tennis courts. Mr. Carlisle is a pretty good joeoh, you won't tell Mamma I'm using slang, will you; she hates that-"
Her cousin drew in a long breath. "Mr. Carlisle is nice, but his wife wanders around with her nose in the air as if she's a member of the 400the Society people, you knowand Stevie is just as bad. For their twentieth wedding anniversary last November, Mr. Carlisle gave her a lovely filigree necklace with a shell pendant encrusted with small, absolutely exquisite diamonds and a line of tiny perfect pink pearls at the edge of the shellwe haven't seen it, of course, as we don't get invited to that sort of party, but it was described in the Society pages. I just love reading the Society pages, don't you? All those lovely parties they go to, and the charity functionsit's just so thrilling..."
Betty emitted a deep sigh and Kit recollected her original conversation with another abrupt change of subject. "The pendant's shockingly expensive. Mrs. Carlisle wore it to all the Christmas and Easter fêtes in New York, and of course she brought it here with her to wear to all the summer garden-parties.
"Then it disappeared, and Dick was heard in the house on a day he was supposed to be working outside. Dick would only swear he hadn't stolen anything, and if the Carlisles wanted to dismiss him for being off the property when he should have been at work, that was fine, he'd done wrong and would take his medicine like a man. But he refuses to admit he has taken the pendant."
"And what do you think? I can already tell that Cilla believes he is innocent."
Kit looked scornful. "If you knew Dick you would know it would be impossible for him to be guilty. You might as well ask your minister to burgle the church."
Betty said dubiously, in words that might have been her practical mother's, "But he's been away. He might have chosen bad companions-"
"Now you sound like everyone else," Kit concluded with a sigh, untangling her legs and beginning to rise.
"Oh, Kit, I didn't mean-"
"I guess you didn't. Anyway, it's late. Mamma always makes sure the boys get a good meal before they go out in their boats and we always get up to help her. Good night, Elly."
The door closed behind Kit with such an dreadful click that Betty pushed the book aside and buried her face in the bedclothes for several minutes. Then, with a heavy heart, she rose, washed tears from her face in the rose-patterned basin supplied with its matching pitcher upon the dresser, and tiptoed down the hall and then the back stairs, the book tucked under her arm.
As she suspected, a slit of light was visible under her father's door and she gave a hesitant knock which he answered with a soft, knowing, "Come in, chickadee."
Betty peered into the room, somewhat like her own but with the windows on the opposite wall; the bed was a double, however, rather than a single, covered with a light, moss-colored cotton spread, the pitcher and basin on the bureau decorated in bright blue delft. Her father was sitting in an elderly overstuffed armchair that had been wedged in one corner especially for his comfort, reading a magazine he had found downstairs. He waved it at her in greeting; it was an ancient copy of Harper's that, from the martial cover, appeared to be vintage Great War.
"I can see your aunt either isn't much for reading or doesn't have timepresumably both. I'm sure you'll be pleased to know we're beating the Hun!" he said with a grin. "Lonesome?"
How did he always know? "May I sit with you awhile?"
"As if I would say no."
And so she settled cross-legged at his feet, leaning against his flannel-clad legs as she reopened her book, a bound copy of the St. Nicholas magazine. Her father glanced down at her. "Where did you get that?"
Betty peeked upward. "From my trunk," she offered, then paused. "I brought six."
He couldn't help choking back laughter. "No wonder the porter struggled with your things! Your mother wondered if they shouldn't get stronger men!" After a beat, he asked wistfully, "I don't suppose I could borrow one-"
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young