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Authors: Antoinette Stockenberg

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BOOK: Beloved
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Phillip filled in the last of the evening
'
s introductions.
"
Jane Drew, I
'
d like you to meet John McKenzie.
"

"
We
'
re already on a first-name basis,
"
McKenzie said dryly.

"
I
'
m just not sure which one,
"
Jane replied with her mother
'
s smile. So he
was
one of the owners, then.
"
Is it John, or is it Mac?
"

"
Mac, to those who know me.
"

"
Well, John, then I guess
'
Mac
'
will have to wait.
"
God
. What wa
s it with
the
guy? Just
getting his name squared away wa
s going to take a U.N. effort.

A look of sympathy for Jane flashed over Phillip
'
s face, as if he understood her sense of frustration with the man.

"
Shall we go in?
"
he suggested to the company.

The group fell into the kind of disjointed chitchat that usually accompanies a move from one room to another. Cissy was demanding to know how McKenzie had got Buster to
"
stay,
"
and Mr. Crate was asking Phillip about a first edition of
Great Expectations
that he
'
d been thumbing through. Bing was chatting amiably in Jane
'
s ear about contractors.

And from behind her Jane heard, or thought she heard, Mrs. Crate murmur to her daughter,
"
What
'
s that felon doing here?
"
But she couldn
'
t be sure. Maybe Mrs. Crate had said,
"
What
'
s that fellow doing here?
"
Felon or fellow, she didn
'
t seem to want McKenzie included in the company.

The table setting was quietly spectacular, thoroughly in keeping with the rest of the furnishings: antique
Meissen
and
Waterford
on satiny damask, and heavy silver candlesticks surrounding a floral arrangement of breathtaking loveliness.

"
I have always loved this room, Phillip,
"
Dorothy gushed.
"
What a shame it
'
s dark out; your view of the ocean is so much better than ours.
"

"
I keep forgetting there
'
s an ocean
out
there,
"
Cissy said, craning her neck.
"
All
we
see are bushes

look! You can see the lights of a big ship!
"

"
That
'
s not a ship, Ciss; it
'
s a fishing trawler,
"
said Bing.
"
Don
'
t be silly; nobody would fish in March,
"
Cissy retorted.

"
Ah, sweet Cissy,
"
said Phillip, slipping his napkin from its silver ring.
"
Where do you suppose the
'
fresh fish
'
we buy locally comes from?
"

"
Well, I suppose I thought

rom warmer water. You shouldn
'
t make fun of me, Phillip,
"
she added with dignity. Her cheeks were deeply flushed.

She
does
have a thing for him,
Jane decided. It was really very sweet. Of course, Cissy was too hopelessly naive for a man like Phillip; his type would have to be able to recognize
Meissen
at a glance and understand the dollar value of a water view. Someone like Dorothy Crate, for instance. Jane was sitting diagonally across from her and had the chance to study her. Dorothy was attractive, carefully preserved

despite her lightly grayed hair

and well spoken. Her manners were impeccable, even if she
was
a bit of a fraud.

The first course was brought out by a jacketed butler: a bisque of lobster.
All that
'
s missing is the string quartet,
Jane thought, impressed.

Dorothy Crate batted her eyes at Phillip.
"
I understand congratulations are in order, Phillip; you
'
ve sold the property in Bourne! How wonderful for you! Who bought it?
"

A look of bland reserve settled on Phillip
'
s handsome brow. Clearly he preferred not to discuss his business dealings at his own dinner party. But he answered easily,
"
A designer outlet. They
'
ll do well. It
'
s a good location.
"

End of story. Dorothy swung her gaze carefully over the top of Mac McKenzie
'
s head and focused on Bing Andrews instead.

"
And how goes the
Melowe
Museum
, Bing?
"
she asked.
"
Are the funds still flowing? It can
'
t be easy being the Director of Development nowadays when so many others are chasing the same few dollars.
"

"
I do my best to outrun them,
"
Bing acknowledged, smiling.

"
My brother knows everybody worth knowing,
"
Cissy added.
"
You should see his Rolodex. Just last week he managed to shake down someone for a thirty-thousand
-
dollar contribution to the museum. It
'
s true what they say about him: When Bing Andrews walks into a room, hold on to your wallet,
"
she said cheerfully.

"
It
'
s for a noble cause,
"
Bing said, laughing; but he was obviously embarrassed by his sister
'
s effusiveness.

Jane gave Bing a sideways look. Yes, she could see it: He
was clearly the type who could charm a possum out of a tree. If he were less well born, he might have been selling time-shares, or conning little old ladies into buying triple
-
paned windows they didn
'
t need. But he was as rich as he was engaging, and so he spent his time extracting money and art out of acquaintances who had too much of both. It was a perfect fit.

The conversation turned to the halting state of the economy, although it seemed pretty obvious to Jane that most of the guests had nothing to fear from it. No one asked her what she did for a living, which spared her from having to admit she
'
d lost her job. The presumption seemed to be that she was a millionaire.

"
Will you be living in Lilac Cottage year-round, Miss Drew, or just the summers?
"
It was Mrs. Crate, and she was giving Jane precisely two choices.

Before Jane had a chance to speak, Cissy answered for her.
"
Neither! She
'
s dumping it!
"

Instantly Jane felt the temperature drop ten degrees. Several of the party had lived on the island all their lives; naturally they would resent a money-grubbing carpetbagger.
"
Well, I wouldn
'
t say
dumping
it, exactly. I ...
I plan to make every effort to properly restore the cottage.
"

"
No kidding?
"
said Cissy.
"
You said you wanted to slap a coat of paint on it and sell it. But a
restoration
—you'll
be here for a year. Cool!
"

The girl was infuriating. Jane glanced around the table, wondering why on earth she
'
d blurted out a commitment she had no intention of fulfilling. Phillip, on her left, was giving her a look so penetrating that she wilted under it. McKenzie was sipping his soup, oblivious to her embarrassment. Bing
'
s smile was, as always, sympathetic. As for Mrs. Crate and her daughter, they were wearing carbon copies of the same expression: suspicion.

Damn it!
she thought.
This is what comes from getting to know your neighbors personally. You begin not wanting to disappoint them.

"
Excuse me,
"
poor Mr. Crate mumbled into the painful silence.
"
Would you please pass the salt?
"

Thankful for the diversion, Jane lifted the shaker nearest her, even though there was another at Mr. Crate
'
s elbow, and handed it to him. The simple act of lifting made her wince in pain; her shoulder had been aching for a week now.

"
What
'
s wrong?
"
Cissy demanded to know.
"
You made a face.
"

Jane tried to make light of it.
"
I got a deep scratch from a rosebush in the graveyard behind the house the other day, and I think it
'
s got worse. I suppose my urban immune system hasn
'
t adjusted to country living.
"

"
For goodness
'
sake,
"
said Mrs. Crate.
"
I
'
ve been a gardener all my life. Nothing
'
s ever happened to me.
"

Bing also was puzzled.
"
Are you sure the infection is from the rosebush, and not from some rusty nail around the house?
"

"
Did you put Bactine on it?
"
asked Cissy, pushing away the bisque as a child would her spinach.

"
Do you know,
"
mused Dorothy,
"
this reminds me of an old
Nantucket
legend. I
'
m not quite positive about the details, but there
'
s a story of a grieving mother who planted a rose on the grave of her convict son. She couldn
'
t afford a stone, you see. The rose is supposed to have been cursed ever since.
"

"
You
'
re quite right, dear,
"
said Dorothy
'
s mother.
"
I remember it now. Except that it was the convict
'
s wife, not his mother, who planted the rose. Or

was it a father and not a son who was buried? I can
'
t recall.
"

Mr. Crate took off his wire-rimmed glasses and began polishing a lens with his handkerchief. He cleared his throat.
"
I believe the legend is that it was a murderer who planted the rose on his victim
'
s grave, out of remorse.
"

"
Nonsense!
"
snapped Mrs. Crate.
"
I never heard that. It was a wife and her husband. Absolutely.
"

"
Really,
"
said Jane, fascinated by all the versions.
"
Do you remember where this cursed rose is supposed to be growing?
"

"
In the North Burying Ground, wasn
'
t it, dear?
"

"
No, Mother. I think, the South.
"

"
North, South, whatever. Surely the important part of the legend is that later someone scratched herself on a thorn and her
hand fell off

"

BOOK: Beloved
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ads

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