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Authors: Antoinette Stockenberg

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BOOK: Beloved
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"
Oh, you mean your dad wanted you to play basketball with him and stuff like that?
"

"
Yeah

stuff like that,
"
Jane said, cutting in her brushstroke with an expert hand.

"
Have you ever been married?
"
Cissy asked absently.

"
Nope.
"

"
How come?
"

In new company, as at family weddings, the question was inevitable. Still, it didn
'
t get any easier to answer with practice.
"
I dunno,
"
Jane said vaguely.
"
Haven
'
t found anyone, I guess. Besides, haven
'
t you seen the infamous Harvard study on single women my age? Our chances are better of getting killed by a terrorist.
"

"
That
'
s crazy. Look at you: tall, auburn hair, good voice, green eyes. You could have about anyone.
"
Paint was oozing from the brush down Cissy
'
s forearm; she tried rubbing her arm on her pants and became more thoroughly covered with paint than the wall she was working on.

"
Have you ever been involved, at least?
"
Cissy persisted.

Jane was glad not to have to disappoint her.
"
Yes,
"
she said,
"
I
was
involved once

when I was at Rhode Island School of Design. But he got a job in
Chicago
, and I chose not to follow him out there.
"

"
Why not? Didn
'
t you get along?
"

"
Sure we did.
"
Maybe too well; he bored her.

"
Too bad, then,
"
Cissy answered promptly.
"
That was your mistake. What would you do if Phillip Harrow asked you out?
"
she suddenly asked.

"
He
'
d better not; I don
'
t have a thing to wear,
"
Jane quipped. After a moment she added,
"
Phillip
'
s not married?
"

"
He was, to a wealthy woman. But his wife died five or six years ago. They were out sailing and got caught in a squall. He almost drowned trying to save her. They were only married a year, I think. Everyone said he just about died over it. It
'
s only recently that he
'
s started seeing women again.
"

Jane poured some paint into her roller pan.
"
You seem to know an awful lot about his love life,
"
she teased.

Cissy
'
s cheeks took on a pretty shade of pink.
"
Well, I was kind of interested for a while. But he
'
s too old

f
orty.
"

"
Oh, yeah,
"
Jane agreed.
"
One foot in the grave.
"

****

By the time Phillip Harrow
'
s dinner party rolled around, Jane had gone back to her condo in
Connecticut
for her car, her clothes, and her own linens. The week had flown by. She
'
d spent one day sorting and piling up furniture for a dump run. Another day, talking to every house painter on the island. Another, collecting estimates for knocking out a new kitchen. Before she knew it, the week was over and she wasn
'
t any further along on the white-paint front.

Which was just as well. Because the more she studied the room she and Cissy had painted, the more boring it looked. The house deserved better. It had lots of charm
and character and old-fashioned detail. She began to think about wallpaper instead.

After all, the town was full of inspiration:
  in
the beautifully papered rooms in the shingled and clapboarded houses that stood cheek by jowl on every street and lane. Some of them were stately homes built by whaling captains, and some were simple lean-tos built by ordinary folk. Some had elegance, some had charm, some had both. Most had wallpaper.

At first it was the wallpaper that drew Jane out for a quick walk through town every evening. Most of the houses were closed down for the winter, of course; but she did her best to peek into the ones that weren
'
t. She
'
d drag her steps to get a better look into the open-shuttered parlors, or suddenly decide to retie her shoe in front of some door with sidelights. Through the glass she
'
d see wonderful patterns and colors: florals and bamboos, stripes and Orientals; rich reds, deep greens, subtle off-shades of every color in between.

Before long she was hooked on the houses themselves. She became quite shameless, hopping up and down the brick sidewalks when the windows were too high to see into, pausing on every incline to see what she could see. From the pediments outside to the curved staircases inside, she couldn
'
t get enough of the antique homes. By rights she should have been arrested for peeping. But she convinced herself that the owners understood that the historic treasures they lived in belonged, in some small way, to every American.

The more she prowled, the more Jane saw that somehow
Nantucket
Town
had been spared the ravages of modernization. There were no ugly apartment boxes; no factories; no malls; no office blocks. The town was wonderfully consistent, with its lane after lane of eighteenth and early nineteenth century houses. The sa
l
tboxes, Federals, Greek Revivals

even the whimsi
cal Queen Annes, with their tur
ret
s
and towers and verandas
— s
he loved every house without reservation.

And she loved the ghosts that went with them. In every foggy, lamplit lane she could see them: well-dressed ships
'
captains arm in arm with their wives; ordinary seamen, relishing their time ashore before shipping out for another two
or three
year voyage; young Quaker girls in their coal skuttle bonnets, chattering and giggling on their way home from Monthly Meeting. They were there, the ghosts were, because there were no apartment buildings or office centers or mini-malls to block Jane
'
s view of them. It was that simple.

****

"
Well? What do you think of our Little Grey Lady?
"

The question was put to Jane by Mrs. Whitney Crate, a sharp old woman who lived down the road, and she was apparently referring to
Nantucket
, not herself. Mrs. Crate had been the first to arrive at Phillip
'
s dinner party and would no doubt be the fi
rst to leave: probably at nine-
thirty, whether her husband was done with his coffee or not.

Jane tugged the black sheath she wore over her knees a little more primly and smiled.
"
I haven
'
t seen much of the island, only
Nantucket
town,
"
she said.
"
But the town itself seems nearly perfect.
"

Mrs. Crate smiled importantly and said,
"
We
like it.
"

Mrs. Crate had a forty-something daughter who lived with her. Like her mother, Dorothy Crate was smug and slow to warm up. She was sitting next to her mother, sipping sherry and sizing up the new neighbor.

"
Has Phillip told you? I dabble in local history,
"
Dorothy said to Jane with a fluttery wave of her hand.
"
I
'
d always meant to get
an oral history from your ...
aunt, but somehow things never worked out. Mrs. Merchant wasn
'
t the most .
..
approachable woman, you understand. One never knew what, exactly, to expect. She was
quite
the cha
racter around here. A very ...
mysterious
woman. Yes ... yes  ...
mysterious.
"

Jane murmured something noncommittal in response and wandered over to the sideboard to accept a sherry from Bing, who was pouring for their host.

"
Oral historian, my eye,
"
Bing whispered to her as he handed her a glass.
"
She is
such
a fraud.
"

Jane caught her breath, afraid that Bing might have been overheard. But no; Cissy had taken Jane
'
s seat and was filling in mother and daughter on the progress at Lilac Cottage.

"
There
'
s just nothing Jane can
'
t do,
"
Cissy was saying in an awestruck voice.
"
This morning I dropped in and there she was with a sledgehammer, knocking out the rath and plaster

"

"
Lath
and plaster, you noodle,
"
said Bing. His voice was warm and amused and his gaze equally so, as it passed from his sister to Jane and lingered there.
"
Is this true, Jane? Are you superwoman?
"

Jane flushed and said,
"
Anybody can tear down a wall. The question is, who
'
ll put it back together for me? I haven
'
t found a contractor yet.
"

"
You might want to call the guys who did my place,
"
said Bing.
"
Remind me to give you their card before I go back to
New York
Monday. Phillip put me on to them. Where
is
our host, anyway?
"

Their host was in the kitchen, consulting with the cook. When he came out, he rubbed his hands together and said,
"All here except for
McKenzie. Bing? Any sign of him?
"

"
Haven
'
t seen him all day.
"

A shadow passed over Phillip
'
s face, like a hawk
'
s over a pond. Then it was gone, and Jane was left with only a vague sense of unease, nothing more.

Phillip
'
s smile was urbane.
"
We won
'
t be able to wait dinner, I
'
m afraid, or it
'
ll be
my
head that ends up on the platter.
"
He glanced i
n the direction of the entry hal
l.

On cue, the doorbell chimed. In half a doze
n strides Phillip was in the hal
l. Jane heard a low exchange of voices, and then Phillip ushered in his truant guest: Mr. McKenzie. Mac, that is, McKenzie.

At first Jane thought that he was merely there on some errand, because somehow he didn
'
t quite fit in with the rest of the company. He was dressed acceptably enough

a tweed jacket over a dark plaid shirt and wool slacks

but it was a far cry from Phillip
'
s Ralph Lauren look and Bing
'
s loose, New Yorky elegance. His shaggy hair was neatly combed, but certainly not styled; Jane was willing to bet it had never, ever, been touched by mousse. He towered over the others, but that wasn
'
t it, either. He looked out of place most of all because of his hands: big, powerful, unmanicured.

He
'
s country,
Jane decided.
And not just fashionably so.
Mac McKenzie was the real thing

for better or worse.

He greeted the women with a stiff smile and shook hands with Bing and poor Mr. Crate, who
'
d finally come out of hiding from the corner bookcase where he
'
d spent the past half hour browsing.

BOOK: Beloved
9.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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