An Invitation and a Discovery
"Look," Steve said after a while, "Cook packed us a huge lunch full of all sorts of goodies. How about sharing it with usto show there are no hard feelings?"
When Kit had enthusiastically agreed, Steve asked Rory if he would fetch the oilskin pouch of food serving as ballast in the kayak. This repast proved to be as good as Steve's word, and as they enjoyed a variety of baked goods including old-fashioned turnovers and fluffy pastries, the boys began to talk about all manner of things, including the theatre productions they had seen in New York and Philadelphia over the winter.
"Mamma says we may go to the new vaudeville series at the Majestic when it opens next week," Kit offered, dying to contribute something to that line of conversation. "I saw a piece in Photoplay about a wonderful comedy team that's supposed to be on the bill, George Burns and Gracie Allen. Now that talkies are here, Photoplay says they might appear in a film."
"I've seen them," Steve interjected, laughing, before Rory could even respond. He plucked a twig from the ground, rolled it in his right hand as if it were a cigar, and said in a rough sort of voice, "Gracie, how's your brother?" And in another moment he was speaking in a woman's falsetto, "Oh, the one who was dead? He's better now."
Kit clapped her hands with enthusiasm and laughed. "And I bet you sound just like them, too!"
"Oh, he does," Rory responded eagerly. "We went to all the shows we could manage last winter, then went back afterwards and gave our own production for the grinds in the dorms. They couldn't get over the way Steve could mimic everyone from Weber and Fields to the yaps of Madame Lerner's poodle act!"
Steven, without being asked, launched into several imitations which Betty failed to recognize, but the boy's inflections and faces were so convulsive that she couldn't help laughing. Even her father smiled at him several times. Then, reluctantly, Steven glanced at the impressive wristwatch Betty had seen when they first arrived.
"Well, folks, we ought to be getting back. Motherdear is having a dinner party tonight and I'm expected there all neat and pretty at six. It's a deuced bore but it makes her happy. We'd better get back, Rory-"
"Miss Albright," Rory said hastily, as if his courage might run out, as he rose from his seat on the sand, "I'm having my sailboat taken out of drydock tomorrow. She should be ready for her first run on Saturday afternoon. Would you and your sister and Elly like to come along?and you, too, sir, of course," he added to David Roberts. "The Zephyr is a large craft and very stable. Also, I have plenty of life preservers and both Steve and I are strong swimmers as well as good sailors."
"Ror-" Steven started to protest, then saw the sudden illumination on Kit's face as she exclaimed. "Oh, Rory, that would be just splendid! And I know Cilla would be fond of it. You wouldn't mind, would you, Uncle David? Chaperoning us, I mean?"
"If your mother approves, I shan't mind. I haven't been out for a sail in years. Your father took us once, when you were quite small." Still, Betty could tell her father was dubious about the source of the invitation.
"Mamma won't mind as long as you're along, Uncle David," Kit assured. Her eyes were starry. "Thank you so much for the invitation, Rory. What time would you like us to arrive?"
In a few minutes the plans for the outing were settledalthough Betty detected a abrupt glower in Steven Carlisle's manner that seemed to have appeared the moment he was no longer the center of attention. Presently he hefted the empty parcel of food and started down the beach with Rory in tow. They could hear the boys' voices drifting backward, caught by the wind.
"I thought that tub of yours needed major repairs."
"The Zeph's not a tub. And my pop doesn't think she's so bad. He's having old man Bonelli look at the sails tomorrow and then getting someone to clean her up Saturday morning..."
Then the breeze shifted and the voice of the sea drowned out those of the young men.
"Steve was right about one thing, it is getting late, and we have a long hike before we get back to the house," David Roberts spoke up briskly, but an overjoyed Kit was already bubbling over with energy. "Oh, yes, let's go! I can't wait to tell Mamma. Just thinkan afternoon on a beautiful sailboat!"
Indeed, as Betty and her father buckled into their return walk, it was all they could do to keep up with the excited girl, and finally, when they had covered approximately half the distance, an exuberant Kit turned on her heel, facing them, to ask, "Please may I run on ahead, Uncle David? I'm simply dying to tell Mamma about the invitation."
He waved her on. "We'd like to take our time anyway. Tell Aurelia we'll be there in time to wash up and change for supper."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Kit almost sang, waving farewell as she half-danced, half-trotted ahead.
Father and daughter continued to take their time, enjoying the comforting growl of the surf, the seagulls crying, the peep of sparrows and other birds in the underbrush. To the west the sun lowered by degrees toward the horizon, but to their right the sky was still blue although clouds were beginning to blot the dividing line between sea and sky. Eventually Betty's smaller hand stole into her father's larger one, as if she were a little girl again.
"Chickadee," he spoke up suddenly, as they covered the final half-mile to Surf House.
"Do me a favor and don't ever take up with a boy like that."
Betty halted, staring at him, mystified. "What?"
He ran his hand over his beard, then smiled. "Young Mr. Carlisle. Now if you happen to meet a nice young man who's also rich, I say a happy life to you. But keep away from fellows like Carlisle."
"But he seemed fine, Dad. After hearing Dick's story, especially from Priscilla, I thought he'd be dreadful, but he's not. Well, perhaps a bit full of himself, but not bad." She paused. "Of course Kit's behavior was disgraceful! Mother would send Pat to her room for flirting so, never mind me. And after the way Kit stood up for Dick, acting so with Steven Carlisle just seemed...wrong."
"I need to have a discreet word with your aunt. Kit is much too young to behave that way around young men. Aurelia's too busy to properly supervise her."
"I suppose he turns her head with all those compliments. Sometimes I get the feeling Kitty is a little jealous of Cilla because she's so pretty."
"Nonsense. They're both lovely girls. And so are you. Care to sit for a minute?"
Betty nodded and they took seats in the sand before a grassy tussock, using it as a backrest.
"Young Carlisle's a rather handsome young man. And no doubt respectful when he needs to besuch as in front of a chaperon. But he's slick. Says the things he knows people want to hear."
"Like a politician?" Betty said with a sly smile, having heard his opinions of that segment of the population many times.
Her father laughed. "Yes, machine politician, junior league. I hope you never have to want for anything when you go out into the world, but I think I'd prefer you marry a laborer than a fellow like Steven."
She laid her hand on his as they sat watching the surf. Finally, regretfully, she saw him glance at his watch, not an expensive instrument like Steven Carlisle's, but the worn, familiar pocket watch inherited from his father, and knew without words that it was time for supper. Together they trudged up the ridge to the house, but just before they reached the crest Betty spoke up, "Dad, may I ask a favor?"
"What's that, chickadee?"
"Don't talk to Aunty until we've had this outing, please? Kit will enjoy it so much. And the invitation was from Rory, after all. He seemed terribly pleased that he could be a host at something rather than Steven. And you will be there to chaperon, so you can keep an eye on her. Besides, if you talk to Aunty directly, Kit will know why-"
He finished, "-and perhaps she'll be angry at you?"
Betty nodded mutely, leaving her father to purse his lips thoughtfully. Finally he nodded. "It's against my better judgment, but all right. I will say something when I feel the time is right, though."
She embraced him enthusiastically. "Thanks, Dad."
Kit was singing a gay little air as they entered the house; when they peeked into the dining room, she was dancing about the table, feet scarcely seeming to touch the floor as she laid plates, napkins, silverware. Aunt Aurelia emerged from the pantry at that moment, a freshly-baked loaf of bread set in the plate in her hands. She placed it on the kitchen table before asking, "Well, what do you think, David?"
"About young Master Madison's invitation?" Betty's father answered with a smile. "It seems sincere enough. Had Steven Carlisle extended the courtesy, I'd have said no."
"If you hadn't, I would have," his sister-in-law responded crisply. "Now clean up for dinner, both of you."
If Aunt Aurelia was simple to convince, Priscilla was far more difficult. Her initial reaction was to say hotly, "Of course you turned him down immediately," and her mood turned frosty when she discovered that not only was Kit tremendously excited about the upcoming affair, but that her mother and uncle sanctioned it.
"If the invitation had come from Mr. Carlisle, I would have forbidden it," Aunt Aurelia explained once again. "The boy takes too many liberties with his position in society. But Rory Madison appears to be a nice boy aside from his choice in friends."
"He did seem to want to 'make up,'" Betty coaxed. "And Steve even admitted he and his mother may have said things they didn't mean about Dick."
"Don't you think it fair to give Rory a chance, at least?" Kit pleaded. "Please, Cil. If Saturday is fair it will be a lovely day to sail."
Cilla fastened her eyes on her dinner plate, industriously eating a last scrap of snap beans before responding. "All right, Kit, I'll do it for your sake. And perhaps for Rory's. And since Mamma has taught me proper manners I will speak civilly to Steven Carlisle. But please don't expect me to enjoy his company."
Kit breathed a sigh of relief and Betty finally relaxed. Dessert as a result was rather playful, with much chatter about the proposed trip to the vaudeville show, which seemed to have overwhelmed plans for Independence Day.
Later, humming to herself as she scraped her leftovers into the scrap jar, Betty's eyes idly drifted about the kitchen. They focused on the neat stack of tin pails standing near the doorway.
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed, and Kit turned from her position at the sink where she was rinsing dishes. "What's wrong, Elly?"
"I never did run back to fetch the pail," she realized aloud. "The one we'd planned to put the blueberries in. I left it near the dunes where Dad and I were sitting."
"No one will steal it. We'll pick it up tomorrow," Kit shrugged, offhand, but Betty quickly finished and returned the apron she had borrowed to its nail in the pantry. The kitchen had remained stuffy from the evening's cooking and she longed to be back outside. This was just the excuse. "I'll just dash down there and get it. It won't take me a half an hour. I know exactly where it is."
On light feet, she trotted from the kitchen and out the rear entryway, slipping her shoes off beside the open door. It was about a half hour before sunset and the breeze was rising off the ocean in intermittent gusts. Betty breathed in the cool, salt-scented air, lifting her arms overhead and, taking delight in the breeze rushing through her clothing and hair, impulsively spun in a circle, giddy from happiness.
Immediately feeling foolish for that spasm of childish behavior, she continued down the lane, taking her time, until it dwindled into grass just feet from the twisted, stunted old oak that marked the boundary of her aunt's property and also the top of the rise. From here the land sloped downward, the grass becoming more sparse and mixed with sand until it finally vanished altogether, except for the odd rough tussocks of coarse grass and sea oats.
She picked her way down through the gullies that edged the land beyond the oak, bare toes curling comfortably in the still warm sand and grass. The sun was low enough in the sky that she was forced to squint to make out the outcropping of rock and grass where she had left the tin pail. Sure enough, she could see the glint of it, silver-red in the rays of the setting sun, directly where she had left it. Reaching the tussock, she scooped it up by its wooden handgrip, then turned to take in one last view of the ocean for the day.
To her surprise, now that her vision of the dunes was unobstructed, she realized she was not alone. The dark speck that a few minutes earlier she had taken for a plover or seagull turned out to be a young man walking along the beach in her direction. At first she could see nothing but a dark blur for a moment, then began to pick out details: dungarees, a long-sleeved shirt, work boots. His bowed head was bare and as he approached, still unaware of her presence, she could see that his hair was so close-cropped that it almost looked as if his head had been shaved at one time.
When the man was about thirty yards away, his pace slowed. He stopped, facing out to sea with his back to Betty. She could see his arms move, then a wreath of white smoke appeared over his head. Curious, she silently willed him to turn around, then reluctantly realized she needed to be heading back.
At just that moment, the man stretched, turned, yawning idly.
It was Artie Dale.
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young