A Loss of Temper
For the first time during their visit, Betty was the sleepyhead and Kit did indeed need to wake her. For once it was Kit who was ebullient in the early morning light and Betty who drowsily took her time washing and dressing. An equally reluctant Cilla, who seemed to have had second thoughts about the day's excursion, was helping her mother and Maureen dish out breakfast in the kitchen, and the two younger girls could hear her plaintively ask if she must go along. Aunt Aurelia responded that she had already accepted and it would be only polite.
By Aunt Aurelia's exacting clock they were settled on the motorbus in enough time to arrive at the Madison home well before their scheduled rendezvous at the boat dock. The house, a stiff, forbidding stone and grey clapboard edifice mounted on the hill just north of Shellcote, the Carlisle's estate, bore the name Mist Manor, incongruous with its dominating hard edges and stone walls.
The venerable gatekeeper directed them down to the dock, but as the four strolled down the oyster-shell drive to the boathouse, it became obvious that there was some trouble, for raised voices were coming from inside that structure, and the large sailboat that they might have expected to be in the water was still in its slip.
Next Steven Carlisle emerged from behind the large Dutch doors of the boathouse, slamming the upper door against the clapboard side of the structure so forcefully that it not only bounced, but a divot of wood flew from its whitewashed side. He had tightly grasped by a shirt sleeve a struggling figure they immediately recognized as Artie Dale. Although they were still a fair distance from the building, they could distinctly hear every word of Steven's outraged diatribe: "-had no permission to go inside the boat!" It was only then that Betty recalled that Artie had mentioned that his job this morning was at the home of the Madisons.
Artie wrested his sleeve free from the younger man's grip just as Rory burst from the boathouse, thrusting himself between the two antagonists, protesting loudly, "Steve, simmer down! He had to go down to the lockers to get the repair kit. That's where Dad keeps it."
"I know I'm just hired help here, but I don't appreciate being called a thief, Mr. Carlisle!" Artie barked, his coarse, raspy voice under tight control. "Mr. Madison is correct. His father told me that any repair kit I needed was in a locker belowdecks. He did not tell me which one, so I had to look in all three."
David Roberts instinctively slowed his pace, the girls following suit as they watching the entire encounter with dismay. The three combatants were so intent upon their argument that none paid them the least attention.
Steven straightened abruptly when Rory added, "I know the robbery spooked you, buddy, but you don't have to take it out on everyone."
Had Steven thought that going along with Rory's invitation would help to turn the tide of Priscilla's bad opinion of him, he completely ruined anything he had accomplished by retorting savagely, "You can talk, Rory! You didn't have some cheap sneak-thief like Dick Burrows invade your home and take something your mother loved. Mother adored that pendant! It was a special gift from Father and an expensive piece to boot."
Betty could have sworn Artie's eyes flickered to them, perhaps even taking in the sudden, brilliantly scarlet flash of Cilla's cheeks. He said mildly but firmly, "I don't believe it's been proven that Mr. Burrows committed the crime."
Steven laughed harshly. "He'd like you to believe that, wouldn't he? Sweet Dick, always like some courtly knight without the charger. As if anyone could be as good as he pretends to be!"
"Is that so?" Priscilla said, so softly that her family almost did not hear her. Lifting her chin, she stepped away from them and with dignity she walked within two feet of the quarreling young men and stated precisely, "Clearly you judge everyone by your own boorish behavior, Steven Carlisle. What I can't understand is why anyone with a personality like yours has any friends at all. Perhaps it's not only Dick, but Rory who's a courtly knight for putting up with you."
Rory's face turned white as paste, and even Steven looked slightly shaken as he wheeled to face the infuriated girl. Betty thought of the blazing eyes that had shone from Cilla's pale countenance as Steve had uttered the fatal words against Dick and decided she would not like to be facing those eyes now.
"Evidently you haven't heard the news, Miss Priscilla," Steven said spitefully, with a touch of sarcasm on the "Miss." "My father telephoned the Newport Chief of Police just this morning to see if there has been any progress finding my mother's pendant. He was told by the chief himself that some new evidence had been foundthat Dick Burrows was seen at McIllveray's Pawn Shop on the same day that the pendant disappeared."
The blood drained from Cilla's face so quickly that Betty feared her cousin would faint. "That's a lie."
"Why not ask yourself, then?" retorted the older boy. "Better yet, ask your precious Dick."
Cilla turned away from him, burying her face in her hands, and despite all efforts, could not keep them from hearing her starting to weep. Now David Roberts, having watched the encounter with mounting concern, stepped forward, eyes flashing.
"Mr. Carlisle, I run a newspaper. I've had many types of men cross my path, from the dregs of society to ones who had so much money they could afford to use currency to light a cigar. And in all that time, I don't think I have ever met a young man of your stature who was quite so rudeor cowardly, unless you think it somehow manly of you to treat a woman so in public." He turned to Rory, somehow tempering the anger in his voice. "Mr. Madison, I'm afraid I'll have to recant my acceptance to your invitation. I refuse to have my daughter or my nieces associating with your...friend."
He said the final word in such contempt that Steven balled his fists, his jaw set, but Rory, his face scarlet in shame, put a firm, restraining grip on his friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry about this, sir."
"I'm certain you are," the older man retorted, then turned to gather a weeping Cilla in the crook of one arm. "Come along, sweetheart. When we get to the gatehouse I'll call for a taxi."
"Sir!" Rory called as they began to walk away. "Tell the hack to put it on my dad's account."
"You can be certain of that, too, Mr. Madison," was the grim response, and then David Roberts added a last, sharp comment, "And I believe Mr. Dale is owed an apology!"
Betty turned on her heel at that remark, to see if either boy would actually comply, but Steven was already storming up to the big, cold house, fury evident in every step, with Rory following him. She could hear him shout, "Those were my guests, Steve! How could you treat them like that..." before his voice became inaudible. Then her glance flickered, just briefly, to Artie.
To her surprise, he seemed to be grinning in a certain smug triumph. Then he saluted her with a touch of his left forefinger to the bill of the inevitable cap and turned back to what he'd evidently been doing before they arrived, checking out the sailboat.
Later, after they had returned to Surf House and Aunt Aurelia was attempting to nurse Cilla with a shoulder to cry on and chamomile tea, and poor Kit explained over and over again how "Steve was so nice the other day," Betty left the turmoil and looked for her father, only to find him out on the wide front porch, pacing up and down with his hands thrust in his trouser pockets, muttering angrily to himself.
"Dad?" she asked hesitantly, watching him from behind the screen door with its ornate scrollwork. Her father was ordinarily so mild-mannered that it was astonishing not only to have seen his temper flare earlier, but to find the anger still fanned within him. The last time she had seen him so incensed was last fall, when he had caught George teasing a weasel in a snare; her little brother had heard some choice words about being malicious to helpless animals, even if this one had been helping himself to fresh eggs from Mother's hens.
He halted in mid-step, saw her shadowed form at the door, collected himself. "What is it, chickadee?"
As she stepped outdoors, his face softened. She hugged him tightly, then looked up at him. "You were splendid up there, Dad."
He shook his head. "No, I wasn't. I lost my temper. I may have given young Mr. Carlisle something to think about, but I also let him know that he 'got my goat,' as your uncle George would so colorfully put it." Inside, they could hear Cilla say, a bit too loudly, "For goodness sakes, Kit, stop apologizing. I certainly can't blame you for being fooled by Steve's play-acting," and she could feel his body stiffen in her embrace.
"That young pup," he grumbled. "I've never believed in whippings, but Carlisle should have been turned over his father's knee at least once and given a good spanking, like the spoiled child he is."
"Kit told me it's his mother who indulges him," Betty offered.
"And your mother tells me I indulge the three of you all too much," he responded, "but despite my worst effortsat least to your mother's eyesyou and Patty and George are decent human beings."
"Dad," she asked, her eyes wide and dark with dread, "do you think Steven was telling the truth about Dick being in..." She wound her tongue around the unfamiliar and disagreeable words, "...a pawn shop?"
"I wouldn't be surprised. It would be just like that boy to lord the truth over someone to hurt them." And then he kissed her forehead, his voice brighter. "But I intend to find out. I'm going to telephone for a taxicab. I think I'd like to talk to the editor of the Daily News."
"But Dad," she protested as he gently broke her embrace, "you aren't supposed to be working!"
He blinked at her, large dark innocent eyes. "This isn't work, chickadee. It'll just be a friendly chat."
And with a familiar bounce in his step, he strode into the house, allowing the door to bounce shut behind him. She peered through the screen to only see him lift the earpiece from the cradle of the telephone and give the box a good crank, saying cheerfully, "Hello, Central?"
"If mother finds out," she sighed deeply, "she'll have a fit."
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young