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Authors: Antoinette Stockenberg

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BOOK: Beloved
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"
Mother, I do hate to argue but I think the victim actually got brain fever and died.
"

Bing was sitting opposite Jane; she felt him give her a gentle kick in the shin. She looked at him and ventured a tiny smile. He was right; these people were a piece of work.

Jane wondered what Phillip Harrow thought of the whimsical, if not downright absurd, argument the Crate family was having over the Legend of the Cursed Rose. Presumably he
'
d had higher hopes for the level of dinner conversation.

"
What do you think, Phillip?
"
Cissy asked, voicing Jane
'
s thoughts.
"
Who
'
s right?
"

Phillip shook his head diplomatically.
"
We have three different opinions: from an amateur historian, a retired scholar, and a woman of immense experience. I couldn
'
t begin,
"
he said dryly,
"
to choose among them.
"

"
Get it looked at by a doctor.
"

All eyes turned to McKenzie. It was the first thing he
'
d said since they sat down at the table.

He was looking directly at Jane. His hazel eyes were intensely expressive.

"
Excuse me?
"
she said, puzzled.

"
You should get the scratch looked at by a doctor,
"
he repeated. And then, as if that expanded version of his remark had exhausted him, he stayed silent throughout the entire next course.

The conversation during the fish course drifted amiably around the problems and pleasures of living on an island thirty miles from the mainland. All the while Jane was wondering why Phillip had invited McKenzie. His interest in being there seemed to range from zip to nil.

After a while, Phillip tried to draw out McKenzie.
"
Mac, how
'
s Jeremy? Your boy must be, what

seven, eight years old now?
"

"
He
'
s ten. And he
'
s fine.
"

"
And Celeste?
"

"
She
'
s well.
"

So. He was married. Or divorced. Divorced.

"
Good. Is she still with Rooney, Smith and Amel?
"

McKenzie nodded, and that was that. Really, he was practically rude. If he hated being there that much, why come at all? Shyness was one thing; but
this
....

Jane decided, almost from a sense of perverseness, to make him talk.
"
I was wondering, John, how your property runs. You must have a long, narrow strip of land between Bing
'
s house and mine?
"

McKenzie looked up from his cranberry-stuffed bass, warned her away from the topic with a level look, and returned to his food.
"
Nope. I don
'
t.
"

Bing laughed rather self-consciously and explained.
"
Mac
'
s property is what realtors call
'
landlocked
'
; it doesn
'
t front on the road. He drives over my land

which used to be owned by relations of his

to get to his own. It
'
s not all that unusual with these old plats. Have you traipsed over to his place yet, by the way? Wonderful property.
Spectacular
views, good acreage

and you can
'
t have a quieter neighbor than one with a tree farm.
"

"
Oh, I see,
"
Jane said, thwarted in her effort to make McKenzie talk.
"
What you mean is Mr. McKenzie has an easement over your property.
"

Phillip interrupted.
"
No, Mac has something better:
Bing
'
s word as a gentleman,
"
he said blandly.

Mr. Crate chimed in with a gracious,
"
Hear, hear.
"

Bing colored and changed the subject, leaving at least one puzzle solved.
McKenzie is here because he has to be,
Jane realized.
He has to stay on friendly terms with his neighbors.
Judging from the black look on his face, that took an effort.

Cissy had been uncharacteristically quiet for the last little while. Now, like a child too long ignored, she became restless.
"
What I want to know,
"
she said in a fretful voice,
"
is who actually carries out the curse when a rose is cursed? Is it some kind of ghost? A ghost in the garden?
"

"
Cissy, really,
"
her brother said.
"
It
'
s not as though we can look it up.
"

"
Is it the ghost of the one in the grave?
"
she persisted, ignoring her brother
'
s hal
f
hearted attempt to shut her up.
"
Or is it God? Or the devil? Or even Nature, some kind of vindictive Nature?
"

She was deadly earnest, and Jane found that endearing.
"
Yes, and what
about
that curse of the Mummy
'
s Tomb, now that we
'
re at it?
"
she threw in impishly.
"
Who
'
s responsible for that one?
"

"
You laugh, Jane,
"
said Mrs. Crate.
"
But some say Nantucket has more ghosts per square mile than anywhere else in
America
. There are whole books written on the subject.
"

"
You
'
re not serious,
"
Jane said, grinning. But she was scanning people
'
s faces, aware that everyone at the table
— except Cissy, of course

seemed to know something that she did not. It was hard to pin down: a veiled look of reserve; a sense that some subjects were better left alone.

"
Perhaps it
'
s because we have so many old houses,
"
Dorothy volunteered nervously.
"
So many people have passed through them over the centuries.
"

"
I suppose that
'
s true,
"
Jane answered, changing her tone.
"
You do get a sense of it when you walk around. Almost since the day I got here I
've felt ..
. I don
'
t know, a sense of
déjà vu
...
almost as if long ago someone had
once ..."

She looked around, embarrassed. She had become the absolute focal point of the table; everyone was watching her intently. Her mind flashed back to a moment a couple of hours ago, when she
was slipping on a pair of plain
gold earrings. Her plan had been to get in and out of the evening without anyone taking much notice of her.

Her plan had
obviously
failed.

Chapter
5

 

Y
ou
can
'
t walk home.
"

"
You
'
ll freeze to death.
"

"
We
'
ll drive you.
"

The combined forces of Mrs. Crate and her daughter Dorothy were too much for Jane. Despite the fact that she
'
d enjoyed the walk over and was looking forward to a brisk return walk to clear her head after the dinner party, she agreed to let them drop her at her door. Phillip began sorting out guests and coats and scarves in his elegantly paneled entry hall. In the inevitable crush of people, Jane found herself tucked between Bing and McKenzie.

"
Damn,
"
murmured Bing, holding open her coat for her.
"
The Crates have no right to take you home. Look,
"
he said in a low voice.
"
Will you be home tomorrow afternoon?
"

Jane laughed and said,
"
Where else?
"
Then she saw that his blue eyes were dancing with interest. Or maybe it was just the wine. She couldn
'
t tell; she was feeling a little pleasure-hazed herself.
"
Tomorrow, then,
"
she murmured, smiling.

"
Tomorrow
'
s going to be foul. Plan on snow.
"

She
'
d been so intent about Bing that she
'
d forgotten about McKenzie, who was standing behind them.

"
Oh?
"
Jane said. She was still annoyed with him for snubbing everyone all evening long.

McKenzie flipped up the collar of his heavy jacket and pulled down a floppy tweed hat over his brow; he had the look of a man battening down the hatches.
"
That
'
s a nor
'
easter brewing out there,
"
he said, as if it were
her
fault.

"
Is that something I should care about?
"
Jane asked coolly.

McKenzie shrugged.
"
Only if you
'
ll need to get your car out of your driveway.
"

"
Mac
'
s right!
"
Bing said.
"
Have you made arrangements to have your driveway plowed when it snows?
"

"
Well, no,
"
Jane confessed.
"
I
'
m from condo country. What do I know about snow plows?
"

"
I
'
ll take care of it,
"
Bing reassured her.
"
And think about getting a phone, would you?
"
he added in a plaintive voice.
"
How the heck do I reach you from
New York
? Smoke signals?
"

Wine or not, Bing seemed to be coming on strong. Wine or not, she seemed to be liking it. Everyone said good-bye to everyone else, except that Bing took her hand and held it longer than anyone else, and then they were out in the cold, being swept along to their cars by a raw, scudding wind. She was surprised to see McKenzie set off on foot.

"
Mac! Want a lift?
"
Bing cried out.

McKenzie waved him away with a
"
Thanks, I
'
ll pass,
"
and was quickly swallowed up by darkness.

No one lived all that far from anyone else, but in March, on a dark road, the distances were just enough to be awkward. Jane was glad she
'
d accepted a lift from the Crates after all. The thought of ending up walking alongside a ditch with McKenzie was strangely unnerving.

As for Mr. Crate, he drove the way he spoke and the way he ate: slowly. While they sat waiting for the car to warm up, Mrs. Crate said to her husband, as if Jane were not present,
"
Why does Phillip persist in treating that man as if they were equals? They
'
re nothing of the sort. Phillip
'
s an
Andover
man. I
'
m not sure Mac even has a diploma, for God
'
s sake. After all, he spent his high school years in reform school.
"

BOOK: Beloved
4.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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