By afternoon, after having joyfully danced around her father as she displayed her new acquisitions, she joined her cousins on the beach. She was so young during the Roberts' last sojourn to the seashore that it was a virtually new experience to carefully cross the soft sand and coarse-edged stone to spread old blankets above the tide line and stretch out in the short-skirted, short-sleeved playsuits. Betty wondered momentarily what her mother would think of her dressing in something that exposed so much of her limbs, then dismissed the thought from her mind.
They had carried along a hamper of sandwiches and fruit, and Cilla had brought a deck of cards, so for the first half hour the cousins sat cross-legged in the lee of a oversized, rather tattered canvas parasol the Middletown girls referred to as a "beach umbrella" playing "Rook" and eating their luncheon. Then Cilla settled back to read her novel, an Augusta Huiell Seaman mystery Betty was anxious to borrow, leaving Betty and Kit to wander the beach for the next forty minutes. Surprisingly, they spoke briefly and then only about the weather and the shore, Kit seemingly having chattered herself out on the trip to Newport. They had left their sandals and stockings back at "camp" and now waded barefoot in the shallow surf as Betty spied one attractive shell after another and soon was gathering the pretty objects in a handkerchief. Then Kit perked.
"Let's go back, Elly," she said, snatching Betty's hand up and very nearly spilling the shells she had so carefully collected.
Kit indicated their "spot" on the beach, where Cilla was just rising to greet a young man striding toward her. "There's Dick."
"Dick?" Then Betty recalled the conversation of the previous evening. Dick Burrows, the boy accused of stealing? Then she grasped Kit's hand, pulling her backward. "Maybe we shouldn't..."
"Elizabeth Roberts, whyever not?"
"You...said Cilla was sweet on Dick. Perhaps they want to talk privately."
"Pooh," retorted Kit, shaking her hand free.
Betty followed reluctantly, but was relieved when Cilla and Dick both seemed pleased to see them. She liked Dick immediately: he was a tall, sturdy young man with a plain square face, honest brown eyes, and thin brown hair. He looked rather exhausted at the moment, the blue traced under his eyes from sleeplessness evident even in his well-tanned face, but his expression was so forthright that Betty understood why Kit had been so negative about the suggestion that Dick had fallen among bad companions.
As they approached, they could see that the older girl's eyes were wide and brimming with tears, turning them as blue as the cornflowers that grew wild around the fence of Surf House. "-you leave everyone will think you did it, Dick! It will be as much an admission of guilt as if you confessed."
"Why shouldn't I go?" Dick asked wearily. He was standing with legs slightly apart, his hands clasped behind his back holding his cap. "Everyone here thinks I did itwell, perhaps not everyone," he amended, as Cilla emitted a short, incoherent protest, "but most folks do. A fellow can still make a new start out West and not have everyone staring at him as if he were an insect pinned to a board."
"Oh, Dick," Kit breathed then. "You can't mean it-"
He noticed them then, having had eyes only for Priscilla. "I can, Catherine, and I dare say I will go. And all of Middletown can go hang, for all I care."
His forceful delivery of the strong sentiment was followed by a quick apology as he realized Betty was a stranger. Kit introduced them and Betty clasped his warm, dry hand in greeting.
"Mr. Burrows-" she began timidly.
"It's Dick, miss," he amended swiftly.
"Dick, then," she continued with relief, for he appeared more a high school student than a young man struggling to make his way in the world. "Dick, Kit told me a little about the accusation made against you. But...what did happen?"
"Why, Elly-" Cilla protested, her cheeks flushing scarlet, but Dick threw himself down on the sand disconsolately, unmindful of his smart grey knickers. "Sit down for a bit then, and I'll tell you. No, it's all right, Cil. I'd rather have her hear it from me than from one of the folks in town swapping lies at my expense."
So Betty and Kit joined Priscilla on the blankets while Dick began his story, twisting his soft cap in his hands. It wasn't a long tale. He told of feeling like a slacker in not workinghis father was a fisherman and existence in the Burrows household was often hand-to-mouthand finally applying as a grounds servant at the Carlisle estate. The position name was a misnomer, as he had various duties both outside and inside the sprawling house. Despite the supercilious taunts of Steven and some of his friends and the officious manner of Mrs. Carlisle, he had enjoyed the varied types of work: helping in the kitchen garden, pruning hedge borders, cleaning the tennis court and the swimming pool, playing steward at the Carlisles' frequent parties, helping with spring cleaning.
On the afternoon of the theft, he had not been working in the house, nor had been asked to enter. He had spent the morning preparing the clay tennis courts for an afternoon game Steven and Rory were having with two visiting classmates from their old preparatory school and then trimming the hedge and lawns in the vicinity of the courts in anticipation of the visit. He had then taken his luncheon with the gardener and his assistants and the coachman.
"There was an errand I needed to do," Dick finished miserably, "and I asked Mr. Sherrandhe's the gardener and that morning in charge of meif I might take an hour off. He's pretty strict, is Mr. Sherrand, and he warned me that Mr. Carlisle might not be happy that I was taking time off in my workday to take care of a personal matter. I told him that it was an important errand and I wouldn't be longer than an hour and that I was perfectly willing that Mr. Carlisle dock me one or even two hours' pay for the time I was gone. So I was given permission and left the grounds.
"When I returned the house was in an uproar. Miss Diana Davis, who writes the society column for the Newport Daily News, had telephoned Mrs. Carlisle earlier that morning asking if she could chat with her about the Midsummer Cotillion that's being held next week. She wanted to take a photograph for the paper, so Mrs. Carlisle went upstairs to get dressed, and when JosetteMrs. Carlisle's French maidwas sent to fetch the shell necklace, it had vanished!"
"So you were blamed," Betty said slowly, "because you had left the house and they thought you had gone upstairs and taken-"
"That's just it," Dick said bitterly. "No one knew I was gone! You see, Mrs. Whatley, who is the housekeeper, heard a noise in the bath just before Mrs. Carlisle went up, and called out asking who was there. She said-" He took a deep breath and finished, "She said I answered her! 'I' apparently told her that I had brought a bouquet of fresh roses for the hall table and while there I had 'an emergency of nature' and had needed to use the lavatory! She said she'd warned me that servants weren't allowed to use the family bath, that I'd apologized, and then she'd had to run downstairs when her bell rang for her. And there were fresh roses on the hall table."
The silence was absolute. "I told Mr. Carlisle, and Mrs. Carlisle, as well as the police, what I had done. That I had gone off the property and hadn't been in the house. I wasn't believed- -but there is no conclusive evidence against me except for what Mrs. Whatley heard."
"Of course half the townespecially Steve and Rory's set believes he did it," Cilla said fiercely. "I heard Mrs. Carlisle the next day, talking about how her husband should have known better than to hire common 'fisherfolk' and sailor trash from out of the alleys. As if Dick is some tramp rather than a high school graduate and once in the Merchant Marine!"
"Could...could Mrs. Whatley have been lying?" Betty asked. Dick was twisting his cap so violently that she was afraid that his strong, chapped hands could actually rip the thick cloth.
"I don't see why she would need to. We'd never had any hard words. She comes from New York, like most of the house staff, but I don't recall any of them having any hard feelings against Rhode Islanders. They laugh at us for talking 'funny' sometimes, but that's all."
"She might had she taken the necklace herself," Kit said with inspiration. "What if she needed money?"
"And how would we go about proving that?" Cilla responded gloomily.
The four young people sat in silence for a few minutes, then Dick gracefully rose from the sand, dusting off his knickers and stockings. Cilla also rose hurriedly, so rapidly that she lost her balance. Dick caught her by the hands and their eyes met.
"Please promise me you won't rush off without thinking more about this, Dick," she entreated, without noticing that the wind had caught her wide-brimmed bonnet and slipped it down her head. Dick took a deep, shuddering breath at the sight of her bright, tousled head and tear-filled eyes. Finally he said, "I'll do that, Cil, but I can't see any other way out at the moment. A new life among strangers must be better than being distrusted all your life by the people you've always thought trusted you." He paused, then freed her hands. "I promise I'll be here at least until the clambake. In the meantime, I'll be going out with Dad every morning. I hate fishing, but at least on the boat no one gossips about me."
So that was why Cilla had looked so troubled this morning when she talked about fishermen, Betty realized!
Cilla replied with dignity, belying her swollen eyes, "Very well, Dick. Perhaps things will change."
Then he donned his cap, nodded politely at Kit and Betty, and walked resolutely back toward the road. His stiff, straight back made Betty's throat contract.
"There must be something we can do."
"We're only girls," Cilla responded in a defeated voice. She slipped back to her seat under the umbrella, gazing miserably at the green-jacketed book she had so avidly been reading only a half-hour earlier. With a heavy-hearted expression she handed it to Betty.
"Here, Elly," she said wearily. "I think I've had my fill of mysteries for a while."
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young