Dick said gravely, "Perhaps getting away from Steven Carlisle is all he needs."
"Isn't it funny how everyone says that?" Betty mused.
"Oh, heavens, who wants to talk about him any longer?" Kit said impatiently. "Look! Here comes the mayor to open the parade!"
In the next hour and a half they joined the crowd in cheering and clapping, for the parade was as indeed splendid as Cilla had indicated. Officials drove by in beautiful motorcars, polished to a precise shine and decorated with all manner of bunting and red-white-and-blue flowers, or in horse-drawn landaus and surreys, the prancing animals decked in flowers and patriotic rosettes. There were several bands, including the city's own and the boys from the Bristol High School, and floats from local businesses and the veterans' associations. A troop of men, veterans of the last war, some looking about to burst in khaki uniforms now too small for them, marched proudly by and the whistles and shouts of the crowd were nearly deafening.
Penultimate in the parade were five older men mounted on fine bay horses kitted out in cavalry regalia, marching behind two Boy Scouts solemnly carrying a banner that announced them as veterans of the Spanish-American War.
Then a hush fell over the crowd as a final touring car came by. This was a big, Prussian-blue Pierce Arrow decorated with so much bunting and with so many small American flags that the vehicle itself could scarcely be seen. A young soldier was driving, and in the wide back seat were three elderly men in blue uniforms waving to the crowd. Banners on each side of the machine announced them as Bristol's Civil War Veterans.
The reverence was short-lived as someone in the crowd shouted "Hurrah! Hurrah for our boys! Hurrah for the United States!" and then they were all cheering the old soldiers as the parade ended and children and adults milled noisily into the street to follow or return to their homes, and Betty and her family also collected their belongings and returned to the Burrows' truck. It was now extremely warm and the girls put up parasols stowed in the truck for just that purpose as they inched their way back to the ferry and thence to Middletown.
Anticipating the steamy return journey, Aunt Aurelia had cold lemonade and shortbread cookies waiting for them when they arrived; Dick was asked if he would like to stay for the family picnic, but he was already bespoken at the Burrows' family "doings." He and Cilla did speak privately for at least fifteen minutes, left alone on the front porch by simple command of Aunt Aurelia's warning glance, and took his leave soon afterward. Cilla returned looking placid, but there occasionally flashed a distinctly unhappy look in her already grave eyes as she tasted the refreshments.
Betty realized that Cilla must have asked him about the trip to the pawnshop, for after they changed into cooler, more informal clothing and prepared for their beach sojourn, the older girl said she would much prefer to stay at the house where it was shady and cool. Aunt Aurelia counseled Kit to leave her be, and the rest of them trooped off to spend the remainder of the afternoon on the sands, swimming and enjoying the refreshing breeze off the water.
Late in the afternoon Betty, returning to the house to use the lavatory, tentatively peeked through the screen to the front porch. As they were leaving they had seen Cilla take a book and a pitcher of cold lemonade there, but the younger girl could see that the liquid had scarcely been touched and the book was lying closed on the porch railing while Cilla stared out to sea.
The door creaked as Betty stepped out on the porch, and the girl turned, looked surprised, then smiled wanly. "Hello, Elly."
She had probably thought it was Kit, or her mother, Betty decided. "I don't want to bother you," she said earnestly. "I just wanted to make sure you didn't need anything."
"I'm fine." Cilla sighed, turning away to stare at the ocean again, then, after a moment, faced her cousin resolutely. "Elly, I'm glad you came back up here. I wanted to apologize. I'm sorry if I've ruined your trip."
"Ruined?" Betty echoed, startled, her hand falling from the handle of the screen door.
"All this..." Cilla swallowed. "All this going on over Dick."
Betty had to smother the urge to laugh aloud, for she knew her cousin was in deadly earnest. How could Cilla know that putting together the pieces of Dick's puzzle so far had proved so challenging for her?
"Oh, Cil, please don't worry about that," she protested. "It hasn't been a bother at all. I think it's splendid the way you have stood behind Dick while other people have been so free to accuse him. And I don't blame you. I don't believe for a minute he took that shell pendant." She bit her lip, then said guardedly, "And do you know what else? I think very soon now something's going to come up that will clear him."
Now Betty had to stammer because she feared she had said too muchwas her faith in Artie's haphazard detecting all that strong? "It's not something I-I know, b-but I'm certain something will happen soon."
Cilla smiled bravely, and Betty could see that her words appeared to be simple consolation without meaning. Oh, if she could only tell what she knew!
But she just shyly smiled when Cilla gave her a hug and told her confidingly, "I'm sorry about something else as wellthat we didn't get to talk more."
"You can talk to me right now," Betty responded with sunny grin, returning the hug. "Everyone's been speaking about the clambake for weeks nowbut no one's told me yet what it is! Besides a big party, that is."
"Oh, goodness!" And Cilla laughed for the first time that afternoon. "It's a neighborhood tradition. Mamma said it was going on even when she and Papa bought his house, just before I was born. There were less people here then, of course, and everyone was more familiar with each other. Now people come from everywhere in the areafrom Portsmouth and even Newport."
"Goodness! Who writes all the invitations!" was Betty's unexpected response.
"Invitations? I don't think there's ever been such a thing. A date is set, and folks just arrive with foodwell, desserts and other vegetables, breads and biscuits, and melons, that is. The rest of the food is cooked in a pit on the beach-"
When she had finished explaining how the food was prepared, Betty asked gently, "Won't you come back to the beach with me? It's so cool and beautiful now. And when I went past the kitchen, your mother said she'd be bringing down a nice cold watermelon soon."
Cilla kissed her forehead. "You're sweet, Elly. Of course I shall come. Let me get my hat."
And she did seem to enjoy herself again as they sampled the watermelon and played a lively game of "I Spy," and when the sun began to sink toward the horizon, Aunt Aurelia, with a canvas chair in one hand and a basket with their picnic supper in the othermosquito coils perched on top of the gay green gingham coverjoined them.
As the sun brushed the edge of the horizon a slouching figure came strolling along the shingle, idly kicking shells and ocean-scrubbed rock before him. Betty tried not to straighten too much because even in the diminished light she could tell that the visitor was none other than Artie Dale. He grinned as he drew closer and recognized them, but it was an all-encompassing smile and his opening remarks after saying hello and asking them how they'd enjoyed the holiday were directed at Aunt Aurelia.
"Found a good source of little necks this morning, ma'am," he told her with a respectful flick of fingers at his cap. "You've been such a good customer so far that I thought I'd give you first pick on 'em."
"Oh, I'd love some little necks," Aunt Aurelia said with a smile. "We haven't had steamers yet, have we, girls, and they're the best for it. But good heavens, Mr. Dale, don't tell me you were out working this morning! Everyone deserves a holiday."
"Oh, I didn't go clamming," he said carelessly. "It was just so beautiful this morning I couldn't resist going out in the Madisons' skiff just to enjoy it. Once the fog started to lift it was pretty out there...the sea nice and calm, like a pewter plate...no-" He searched for words. "Ever see one of those 'black pearls,' ma'am? I did one once, in the window of a fancy jewelry store. They call them 'black,' but they're not. They're really grey. That's what the sea looked like this morning, a pearla real one."
Betty's eyes snapped open in awareness, but he merely gave a wry grin as Betty's father laughed. "Mr. Dale, you should write poetry."
"I'm afraid that's my one 'pearl' for a long time to come, sir," the young man responded raspingly, then touched his cap again in farewell. "I'll see you tomorrow then, ma'am, and I hope you enjoy 'em."
The multitude of rainbow-colored fireworks later on were wonderful, vividly clear even from their secluded little perch on the sands, but Betty couldn't help wonder what was louder for the rest of the evening, the booms of the gunpowderor the beating of her excited heart.
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young