Even the inhabitants of Surf House were still abed when the first preparations began for the clambake. Before dawn, the men of the neighborhood had chosen a spot and dug the pit in which the seafood and some of the vegetables would be cooked. It was lined with fresh seaweed and then in the pit they layered clams, crabs, and lobster. Once full, more seaweed was tamped around the pit and then a fire was built over it. Throughout the day men and older boys would take turns monitoring the low fire, stoking it when it became too cold, dosing it with salt water when it grew too hot. Much later in the afternoon, sweet corn and potatoes would be added. The shellfish and vegetables would steam slowly and be succulent and tender by nightfall.
Other boys built firepits which would be used to fry fish and tripods so that kettles could be suspended over the fires. The beach was flanked on both sides by rows of trees and here "comfort stations" were designated, marked to be visible even after dark. The smallest boys raced about finding driftwood for the fires and raising Ned by shooting off what firecrackers were left from the Fourth.
In the meantime, if the kitchens of the surrounding neighborhoods were anything like that of Surf House, Friday morning and afternoon were a flurry of activity. Aunt Aurelia and Maureen rose at dawn, not only to get breakfast for Pietro and Thad, but to bake loaf after loaf of bread, both cheese and crusty French, and also batches of biscuits. As soon as these came from the oven, Betty and Kit would wrap them in waxed paper and add them to bushel baskets. Cilla helped knead dough and "pitched in" when needed.
By early afternoon when most of the baskets were full, Betty's father telephoned Mr. Fantonini, who appeared with his motorcar and transported both David and the baskets the six miles down the beach where the clambake was being held. He returned an hour later sandy, windblown, and bright-eyed, jotting down notes for a column he planned to write for the newspaper when they arrived home and as cheerful as a boy.
"You'll never guess what they're doing, chickadee," he said as he bounced in the back door, shaking sand from his shoes. "Someone brought iron pipingI believe it was Horace Madisonand they're setting up an arbor and planning to line it with Japanese lanterns. Some girls were plaiting vines and daisies to wrap around the poles so they won't look so bare. Madison also told one of the boys he'd give them all rides on his new motor cycle later tonight."
Plaiting daisies out in the fresh air and windblown motor cycle rides. Betty gave a little sigh and morosely blew a stray lock of hair away from her damp face. Despite the windows being wide open and the fresh summer breeze flapping the curtains, it was broiling in the kitchen and perspiration beaded everyone's foreheads.
Aunt Aurelia glanced from girl to girl, then shook her head at her brother-in-law. "David, you have completely ruined my work crew."
"Have I?" he asked in surprised, then looked at the girls' weary faces. "I suppose they look as if they could use parole, don't they?"
Betty glanced from the puckish grin growing on her father's face to the twinkle forming in Aunt Aurelia's eye, and cried out despite herself, "Oh, please may we go?"
"Wash up, then run upstairs and change," Aunt Aurelia responded, receiving a rather sticky hug from Kit. "Remember we'll be staying late, so take everything you need for later. When Maureen and I come on the 'bus we'll bring the mosquito coils and blankets, but take a sweater-"
The girls had already vanished, their feet making a sound like thunder up the back stairs. Now Aurelia did laugh, a rare full peal from her, then looked critically at David, who was leaning against the door jamb, the delighted grin still stretched across his now tanned face, his rolled-up sleeves revealing sun-browned arms.
"David Chapin Roberts," she said in satisfaction, "I do believe I can tell Clara I'm sending you home well."
* * * * *
It was only when they were at the side of the road, in fresh sun dresses, hats and comfortable sandals that Betty recollected something her father had said. "Horace Madison? Isn't that Rory's father?"
He glanced down at her and couldn't help pulling her close in a hug. "It certainly is."
"I told you everyone comes from miles around," Cilla reminded as she shaded her eyes, scanning the south road for signs of Mr. Fantonini's return. "Of course you won't see anyone from the mansions, but many of the summer people from Newport show up. They usually bring grand desserts-"
Her voice broke off as her face darkened. "Oh, I see what you're saying. Yes, there's a very good chance the Carlisles will be there as well."
"I'm going to give Steven Carlisle a piece of my mind about his behavior at the Madisons," Kit burst out indignantly, to be quickly silenced by Cilla's "You certainly will not! The best way to answer his horrid behavior is to not respond to him at all."
"Just like Dick has done?" retorted Kit thoughtlessly, and Betty gasped as Cilla turned sheet white. Kit gave a cry of despair.
"Oh, I always say the wrong thing! You try to look after me and I act like such a goose!" and she threw herself in her sister's arms in tears. For a few minutes Cilla held her close, while the blood returned to her cheeks, then she loosened Kit's embrace and pulled her handkerchief from the pocket of her sun dress, patiently drying Kit's eyes.
"Here," she said kindly, "now blot your eyes with your own hankie and if you close them on the ride down to the beach no one may ever know you've been crying. I know you didn't mean it that way, Kitty. I just thought of Dick-"
Knowing that more talk would make Kit begin crying afresh, Cilla tucked her handkerchief up again. "There, see, here comes Mr. Fantonini. Let him see you smile."
By the time the big touring car arrived, Kit indeed was smiling wanly, but her face grew thoughtful again as soon as the three girls were bundled into the wide rear seat. Betty, behind her father and next to Kit, could hear her cousin ask Cilla soberly, "I haven't forgotten that Dick said he would leave after the clambake if the police hadn't found out what happened to Mrs. Carlisle's pendant. What will you do?"
Betty couldn't help herself; she leaned forward to see Cilla's reaction and saw the older girl merely nod in resignation. "If that's what Dick thinks it will take to make it right, then I have no right to stand in his way. We can always correspond, and perhaps in a couple of years," and here Cilla blinked as her eyes filled, "if Dick and I still feel the same way about each other, I'll join him out West. And if notwell, then it wasn't meant to be, was it?"
This time it was Kit's turn to offer solace and a handkerchief and Betty settled back in the car seat, shivering, wishing desperately for her father's hug.
* * * * *
By dusk the clambake was in "full swing," in the slang of the college students in the crowd.
Horace Madison's generous contribution of piping, plus some ingenuity on the part of himself and several of the other men, had created a fairyland of the serving area, where sawhorses and planks covered with a Joseph's coat of oilcloths literally did groanor rather creakwith the weight of food placed on them. The pipes made a palisade around the tables, which were arranged in rows of five with scant space between them, and they had been wound with daisy chains and smilax vines gathered from nearby yards. As dusk fell, one of the men had fetched a ladder, and with Madison and Rory's help, Japanese lanterns illuminated with votive candles were carefully suspended from the pipes. There was little breeze as evening cast its bluish light and Rory checked before handing up each lantern that the candle was secure; still, men set out pails of sand and water near each corner of the palisade and Madison made certain the lanterns were out of reach of the tallest man's head.
Now lighted, they glowed in soft, flickering colors: palest blue, foam pink, sea green, soft yellow, rosy carmine, bright lilac, ghostly white. Every so often even the adults would stop and smile at them as they bobbed above the heads of the merrymakers.
Betty tipped her head upward to look at them as she approached one of the tables from a nearby firepit. She balanced a bowl of smoking steamers in one hand and planned to pour some melted butter from one of the generous pitchers provided into a paper cup so that she could extract the succulent clams from their shells, peel them, and eat them dipped in hot butter. For a moment she stared wistfully at the colorfully glowing lanterns, listening as she did so to the soft babble of the crowd competing with the steady pulse of the surf, occasionally overwhelmed by the growl of Horace Madison's motor cycle as the genial man carried eager riders up and down the water line. Then, obeying her chiding digestion, she turned her complete attention to the table, deciding how to manage her dish and still cut a slice of her aunt's cheese bread set at the edge of the table with other loaves, so she was startled when a familiar, rasping voice spoke up to her left.
"How's tricks, kid?"
Artie's hands shot out to steady her plate as she started and turned toward him. "Didn't mean to make you lose your dinner. Quite a wingding they throw here." He glanced at the table. "What did you need?"
She searched his face. In the combination light from kerosene lamps and the Japanese lanterns, she could clearly see a livid, swollen bruise on his right cheek that had not been there when he had said farewell to her days earlier.
"Are you all right?" she asked instantly.
His grindespite what looked like a split, inflamed lower lip told the story even as he answered, "Couldn't be better. Did you want a slice of bread? This?" She nodded mutely; he cut off a generous slice of the cheese bread, laying it on her plate, and then secured the knife by thrusting it back into the block provided.
Now an older man appeared at his left. He was stout, with whitening dark hair, wearing an ill-fitting cream-colored suit that seemed out of place on the beach although some other men, including Horace Madison, were also dressed in summer suits, and Betty could just see that there was still a third man, tall and thin, hovering some feet behind both of them. She could not make him out very well in the dusk, but he appeared to be wearing a leather jacket much too heavy for the warm weather.
A whoop of joy came from their left and suddenly the small campfires next to the firepit, divested of their cooking apparatus, roared up, scattering sparks and soot as several of the partygoers deposited armfuls of driftwood on them to make one large bonfire.
Priscilla appeared at Betty's right elbow, with Dick behind her. "Elly! There you are! I know you love to sing, so I wanted to catch you. That's the signal that they're going to start the singalong. Mr. Grady plays the guitar and one of the Miner cousins has a banjo, so we'll have a jolly time." She blinked at the figure at Betty's left, then said delightedly, "Why, Mr. Dale! I didn't know you'd be returning for the clambake! How is your aunt?"
Artie took her proffered hand while murmuring some words about his relative being in better health, trying to avoid Dick's curious stare, for although the young man had heard about the Albrights' notable clam-seller, he had never been introduced before now. Priscilla did the honors and Dick kept his voice level as he responded, "Pleased to meet you finally, Mr. Dale. I've heard a great deal about you."
"Nothing too scandalous, I hope," Artie answered cheerfully.
From the depths of the crowd surrounding the now-dancing fires, an all-too-well-known voice shouted out, "C'mon, Jakey, get some more wood on. We want to see each other out here when you're done!"
The obliging "Jakey," whomever he was, and his compatriots complied and in a few seconds had they had thrown still more combustibles on the fires: driftwood, brush, paper scraps, and anything else so that they roared up once more, the leaping flames illuminating the onlookers three deep. And there approaching the food tables with an easy stride and a smug face was Steven Carlisle, his parents some steps behind them, his mother deep in conversation with the Daily News reporter who had "just happened" to attend.
"Well, well," Artie said, more to the stout man to his left than to Betty, but she and Priscilla and Dick heard every word, "look who's here, right in the spotlight where we want him. Very exciting."
"Artie!" Betty hissed, "what are you up to?"
"Fireworks aren't always for Fourth of July, kid," he answered carelessly, sauntering forward to meet Steve, his thumbs hooked in the pockets of his blue jeans. "Hiya, Stevie."
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young