Maureen ladled out hot oatmeal for them despite the summer season: it was Aunt Aurelia's breakfast tradition, one the quiet maid refused to break despite the heat. Betty realized that at times she considered Maureen almost part of the kitchen she worked in. She was quiet and colorless, and when you tried to draw her into conversation she responded as briefly as possible. What she did and did well was prepare food and keep the kitchen spotless. At her parents' home today, Betty wondered, would she pop from her shelldo a jig, play games with a niece or nephew, cuddle an infant, sing a song?
She mused over that idea through oatmeal, toast, and eggs, and as they helped clean the table a friendly knock came at the back doorDick, immaculate in a fresh shirt and tie and crisply creased trousers.
The Albright girls, clad in their best weekday dresses and broad-brimmed hats, with cardigans donned against the temporary morning chill, carried Aunt Aurelia's capacious picnic hamper between them, Betty, dressed in a similar fashion, following with a small basket of fruit. David Roberts was last out the door, in light trousers and shirt and tie, a straw boater rakishly posed on his head, the jug of switchell as his contribution. His daughter secretly thought the hat made him look like a member of a barbershop quartet.
The truck was less polished than its company; a battered Ford Model T with great rusted spots that had been ineffectually covered with successive layers of black paint, but it was scrubbed and swept clean, the bed spread with marsh hay, and leaned against the back of the cab was a collection of camp stools that Dick's father and uncles used when hunting in the fall. The girls clambered in the rear of the truck, nestling in the rustling hay, while David joined Dick in the cab and then they were off.
Tucked under the prickly woollen blankets also provided, Betty drank in the brisk, salt-scented air. The sky grew brighter in the east and patches of still-grey sky overhead showed that the fog would soon lift. Meanwhile, homes along the road twinkled to life with kitchen and porch lights, the crickets still sang, and over the water they could hear the sharp calling of the gulls seeking their morning meal.
"Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies..." she began singing impulsively, and Kit and Cilla joined in, hesitant at first, then more enthusiastically. When they slowed at the crossroads, Betty could hear her father's pleasant baritone raised in accompaniment from inside the cab and a tenor voice that could only be Dick's.
They continued to sing as the truck proceeded northward, gradually slowing as other cars, trucks, and even surreys and farm wagons joined the procession. It was a long wait as once through Portsmouth they were required to turn northwest and queue to take the ferry from Aquidneck Island to Bristol.
Now the rising sun fanned a golden glow over the eastern horizon, over the rippling waves of the Atlantic. Houses, sheds, barns and trees on the outlying islands were sketched in dark silhouette against saffron and orange and pale blue.
The girls had continued singing even as the truck rumbled its way on the ferryboat, and now someone in another car or carriage accompanied them. They continued with "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," "America," and then "You're a Grand Old Flag." By the time the truck made its unsteady way down the rocking ferry ramp and scrambled to solid ground, fully four or five groups were singing along with the old songs, which, when all the patriotic tunes were exhausted, segued into sentimental favorites: "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair," "The Old Oaken Bucket," "On Top of Old Smoky." Two boys knelt backwards in the tonneau of the touring car in front of them waving small American flags, and as they inched up Hope Street they could hear the marching bands warming up in the distance. Betty thrilled to the spectacle of it all.
Finally they were directed by an already perspiring, heavyset police officer into a field of marsh grass and buttercups. Hefting the baskets, blankets, and camp chairs, and feeling more like native bearers in some type of African adventure serial, they skirted cars, sleepy horses crunching the contents of their feedbags, and stones to the main street where, despite the early hour, people were already "settling in."
Their timely departure having served them well, they presently found an unobstructed view of Hope Street directly next to a large retinue that contained what appeared to be, upon listening to their boisterous conversation, two married sisters, their husbands, parents, and four restless children, not to mention a large Newfoundland dog. Betty missed her own collie, Edgar, and longed to pet the massive black, silken animal, but it sat next to a big picnic hamper, its collar draped with red-white-and-blue ribbon, unperturbed and more well-behaved than the wriggling children it accompanied.
She then found her attention drawn to the way her father had arranged the camp chairstwo to one side and three to another, with the capacious hamper, jug, and an extra camp chair in between. Dick and Cilla had already ascertained that the two chairs set apart were for their use and the young couple sat talking quietly, looking into each other's eyes, while Kit shook her head but was diverted by Betty's inquiries about the parade, Independence Days past, the state of ladies' sunbonnets, and anything else she could think of to draw attention away from them.
As the sun rose, it kindled other than heat, and Betty found she was grateful for Aunt Aurelia's foresight in packing them a hamper. They raided it to find turnovers along with the coveted cookies.
Cilla had tucked the Authors cards in her purse, so after they had refreshed themselves, she brought them out and the three girls and David began playing the game, Dick averring that he would prefer to watch, not being much of a reader. They were thus employed when a shadow fell over Betty's field of vision and a shy male voice greeted them.
Standing before them, looking like something from a fine young men's clothing advertisement in freshly creased white duck trousers, a white shirt, creamy leather shoes, and an amusing little red-white-and-blue bow tie, his straw boater held before him, was Rory Madison. His face was already flushed as if anticipating some type of blow, and indeed, Kit's eyes flashed dangerously before Cilla said politely, "Good morning, Mr. Madison. Happy Independence Day."
"Miss Cilla, Miss Kit, Miss Elly," and he nodded at each, then to Dick and David. "Mr. Roberts, Mr. Burrows. Happy Independence Day."
There followed an awkward silence, and then Rory gathered his courage and said sturdily, "I'm not here to spoil your good time. I simply wanted to apologize again for what happened last Saturday."
Her voice as smooth as glass, Cilla responded, "That's not necessary, Mr. Madison. We received your kind note and understand it wasn't your fault."
Rory said desperately, "I don't think I could ever apologize adequately enough! Steve acted abominably to you and you were my guests, but he is my oldest friend."
David Roberts, sympathy aroused by the anguish in the young man's eyes, indicated the empty camp chair with a gentle extension of his hand. "Why don't you take a seat, Rory?" he asked with a kindly voice, and for the first time some hope appeared in that person's expression.
"You wouldn't mind?"
The elder man regarded the rebellious Kit with mild eyes, then Betty chimed in, "Yes, please join us, Rory."
He settled gingerly on the remaining canvas seat, hat still clenched in his hands. "Thank you kindly."
"We thought you'd be out sailing today," Kit commented sharply and found herself nudged by Betty's foot.
"It's-" Rory began without seeming to notice Kit's bad manners, then clamped his mouth shut for a moment before answering more smoothly, "Father's decided my sailboat needs more extensive repairs. He's sent it to the shipyard."
And it wouldn't be coming back, Betty knew, if Artie was correct in his suspicions about the Madison family finances.
"Father was very upset over what happened at the slip on Saturday," continued Rory, downcast. "He and Mother have even asked if I shouldn't give Steve up as a friend. He's gone a bit wild at college and it makes Mother quite agitated." He turned an entreating face to Cilla, who looked like a picture in her best broad-brimmed hat. "Steve and I have been chums...why, since we were small boys. We've always gone to the same schools and been in the same set. We've shared everything for yearseven clothing and sports equipment and the keys to each other's homes. Would it be right for a fellow to desert his best friend, even if he has been acting oddly?"
"I suppose it would depend on why the fellow did so," Cilla said gently. "If you abandoned him because his financial situation changed or he became sick, that would be horrid of you. But if a friend develops bad habits, ones he does nothing to change, you would have to think about what it is doing to you as well. You're known by the company you keep."
Rory's face took on a pained look, and in an effort to distract him as well as do a bit of "detecting" on her own, Betty asked casually, "I'm going to attend college when I'm old enough, Rory. What's it like?"
He shrugged. "Like high school, I suppose. Except you have to pay for it."
Betty was taken aback. "Oh, that can't be. Or what would be the use of going?"
Rory appeared embarrassed. "I didn't mean it that way. There are more subjects, and they're more difficult, of course. And more extracurricular activities: sports, theatre, the Red Cross, debating, clubs. But I suppose a fellow sees all those moving pictures about college boys and reads the magazine stories and you expect it to be...well, different. Exciting. Classes are still classes. You learn to judge what the professor wants and simply give it back to him."
Betty thought it a very cynical view of a place she'd imagined to be so glorious, but kept silent on that opinion. Instead she inquired, "Oh, I've heard the extracurricular activities are grand! All the different clubs and sororities and fraternities. Are you in a fraternity?"
He looked a bit abashed. "Father asked me to hold back until I was settled into college. Steve wanted to join immediately, but he waited for me. I suppose it would be better if we had joined."
Kit had acted as if she had not wanted to say anything further to him, but could not resist insisting pointedly, "But aren't those fraternities dreadful? I've heard all the stories about how they 'haze' the boys who are joiningmake them swim an icy river or run a gauntlet of other boys with sticks! Plus they drink themselves silly or try to get into the girls' dormitories. It's disgraceful. Why on earth would you want to join anything like that?"
Rory spoke up in defense. "They've put a stop to most of that now. At Yale it's not allowed. The Dean of Boys and the Board of Governors will dismiss any boy or group of boys who are found to be hazing other boys in a way that's dangerous. There are all sorts of ways a fellow can get into troublehe doesn't h-h-have to join a fraternity." Then he blushed and, with what sounded like an old stammer creeping out, apologized for his outburst.
Betty found herself patting his shoulder; imagine her trying to comfort an upperclassman! Pat would have a fit of jealousy. "I didn't mean to bring up any bad memories."
"It was my own fault," the older boy said after a minute or two of staring at his slim, smooth fingers. "There's a very fashionable set of young men at school and of course Steve was dying to belong. They did all sorts of exciting things like going into the city to the theatre-" and here he blushed again. "-and the burleycue." He looked up to meet David Roberts' sober eyes as if pleading for understanding. "And to nightclubs and speakeasies, too, I'm afraid. It was considered quite a lark to be drinking under the nose of the copsI mean the police. I think I went mostly because Steve did; he has a way of making everything a lot of fun, even if you did wake next morning with a splitting headache. Anyway, another thing the fellows liked to do was wager on most anything, from horse racing to football." He looked at his hands again, then confessed, "I love sports and I have my favorite teams. And I simply had to support them by...well, putting some money on them, or the other chaps would have jeered."
His laugh was painful. "I'm dreadful at gambling and lost a good deal of money. Steve offered to pay my losses for me, but instead I went home at Easter holiday and owned up to Father. He went quite pale when I told him what I owedand it wasn't a tenth of Steve's losses! But he told me he would pay off my debt if I vowed never to gamble again, and I did and I haven't, and I won't."
The last two words were emphatic and he set his jaw so resolutely that Betty wondered how she could ever suspect him of stealing Mrs. Carlisle's pendant.
"Well," Rory said after a moment, "I suppose I've bent your ears long enough. I did promise to join my cousin Miranda and her companions at the crossroads." He stood up, then offered his hand in a friendly manner. "Thank you for allowing me to sit and speak with you."
Hands were shaken all round and then Rory departed to be swallowed by the now milling crowd. Cilla expelled a deep breath just as the trumpeting sound of brass instruments and the clash of drums could be heard further down the parade route. "Well, what do you think of that?"
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young