Late May 1917
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
At four in the morning, it wasn’t always easy to remember why the hell I was trudging alone down a deserted beach in the gray murk of pre-dawn, the sand cold on my bare feet, my kit bag heavy in my hand.
But the relentless rhythm of the waves to my left—slapping the shore then hissing and foaming in retreat—reminded me what I was doing down here today and every morning for the past few weeks.
They were out there, somewhere, hiding in the dark waters. The enemy.
And it was my job to find them.
The United States had been at war with Germany not quite two months, but there were already signs that Germany would very much like to bring the fight to our side of the Atlantic. We’d seen U-boats skulking just offshore since April, slipping in close to the beaches then darting away. Just trying to frighten us, maybe. Or scouting the coast in preparation for putting a more sinister scheme in motion.
The thought made me walk a little faster.
By mid-summer, the ports of Boston and New York would commence sending ship after ship of soldiers and supplies and food to our Allies in Europe, and the prowling U-boats would be on those ships like the wolf-pack they’d been likened to, torpedoes at the ready. There was a brand-new navy installation here on our island, set to guard the sea lanes leading to those ports, but the aviators with their seaplanes and dirigibles could see only so much from their bird’s-eye view.
That’s where I and my friends came in.
I swung my bag as I strode down the firmer sand just above the water-line. This had all been my father’s idea originally. I think he came up with it as a way to keep me from high-tailing it up to Boston to enroll in officer training. My going off to fight on another continent was not something he would countenance; doing nothing wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned. But guarding our home against the threat of attack was acceptable—mostly—to both of us. Father was nothing if not clever.
In the growing light, I spotted the scrubby beach rose thicket at the top of the beach, near where the dunes began: the place where we left our clothes when we were going for a swim. It was far enough from my family’s hotel that guests almost never wandered near, but out of sheer habit, I paused to take a long look and listen. Good, I was alone. I hurried up to the thicket, dropped my kit bag and took off my sweater, then got to work unbuttoning my shirt.
It had taken me a week or two to forgive my father; at first, I was just plain mad that I wouldn’t be joining Mitchell, Chambers, and the other men from my college crew team to go to war. But I felt better about staying once I started recruiting my friends here to help, and even more so when the commanding officer of the air station, Captain Abbott, enthusiastically welcomed our help when Father and I approached him. Once his initial shock wore off, that is. I grinned, remembering his expression as he’d watched me demonstrate exactly how we would guard the shore. Good thing he didn’t have a weak heart.
The eastern sky was brighter now, the deep blue beginning to fade into that strange colorlessness that would resolve into the gold of sunrise. I stood still for a moment to watch the subtle blooming of the light, then quickly finished taking off my clothes and dropped them on the sand. I took another look around to make sure I was still unobserved, then bent to my kit bag and pulled out a length of sleek, dense fur, warm in my hands, before bundling my clothes away and—
“Gods, Malcolm, what’s taking you so long? We’re waiting for you!”
I lifted my head and looked down the beach. My friend Luthais stood waist-deep in the water, a length of fur like the one I held tossed over his shoulder, hooked casually by one finger. When he saw me looking, he waved.
I smiled to myself and yelled back, “I’m coming already!”
I shoved my bag into the thicket, then went quickly down to the water’s edge. The sand behind me was just warming from gray to tan as I slipped my sealskin over my head and shoulders and sank into the waves, to join my fellows in watching for the U-boats that threatened my other home.
Late May 1917
Dad and I watched a stream of laughing, jostling young men pour onto the platform of South Station from the New York train. A few of them were already in uniform. They were bound for basic training at Camp Devens, a couple of hours west of the city…and after that for France to join the fighting, I supposed.
“There must be hundreds of them,” I said, raising my voice so that Dad could hear me above the clamor of voices and trains. The boys looked sturdy and so blithe, as if they would dance rather than march into battle. “Do you think they’ve all enlisted?”
“I expect so. Almost all my students have,” Dad said. He himself was wearing a brand-new uniform with the insignia of a captain; tomorrow it would be his turn to get on a train. “I hope Helen was able to get a seat.”
Or hadn’t missed the train altogether. Or changed her mind about spending the summer on Cape Cod with me. For heaven’s sake, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the summer on Cape Cod. But Dad didn’t have to know that.
“I hope we’ll recognize her,” I said. “It’s been—what, six years since we saw her? Seven?”
A passing youth lugging a duffel bag caught my eye and winked. I felt my cheeks grow hot and looked away, then wished I hadn’t—civilians were supposed to be supportive of our soldier boys, even if they weren’t yet in uniform. I hoped I hadn’t hurt his feelings.
Dad squinted after him in the afternoon sun slanting through the frosted glass ceiling over the platforms. “Maybe I should go with you after all. Two young women traveling without a chaperone—”
“Yes, and you’d miss your train to Washington and be declared AWOL and get clapped in irons, and then what good would you be?” I took his arm and squeezed it, to belie my scolding tone. “Helen and I will chaperone each other. And Gran’s already arranged for a wagon to meet us in Mattaquason and bring us to the ferry. We won’t have to lift a finger.” I nodded toward my trunks stacked on the platform, marked with my and Dad’s identical initials, ELV—Emmeline Laura and Ernest Lowell Verlaine.
Dad sighed and examined his watch then slipped it back into his pocket. “I can’t help worrying even though you are a young lady now. I suppose I’d better get used to it if you’re going to college in the fall.”
I pretended I hadn’t heard him—which wasn’t hard in the din of the station—and resumed scanning the crowds. “Oh! Is that her?” I gasped. Before Dad could respond, I darted into a mass of people. I’d spotted something all right, but it wasn’t my cousin.
I wormed my way around more boys carrying everything from carpet bags to cardboard suitcases, trying not to lose sight of my goal—a Red Cross booth near the far door to the main waiting room, adorned with a big, eye-catching bouquet of red roses and festooned with posters. It was one of those posters that had caught my eye: “FIVE THOUSAND BY JUNE” it read, above an illustration of a calm-looking, beautiful nurse in cap and cape. “GRADUATE NURSES YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU.” I wasn’t a graduate nurse, but surely they would take trainees. Five thousand was an awful lot of nurses, after all. Here was my chance—and the reason why I didn’t really want to go to Cape Cod.
I’d had one goal since April, when we had entered the war: find some way to be a part of it. If I’d been a boy, I would have joined up immediately. Since I wasn’t, the next best thing I could do to help us beat the Kaiser was to become a nurse and take care of the boys who were fighting.
I hadn’t said anything about it to Dad, because I knew he wouldn’t agree to let me go. I’d more or less spent my entire life with him in the Geology Department at his university, playing with his rock specimens when small and doing lessons with my governesses in an empty office after that. It had been a cozy, secure way to grow up. But now that I was older, I felt like one of those specimens, wrapped in cotton wool and tucked into a box for safekeeping.
Tomorrow he was leaving for Washington to do some kind of secret war work—something to do with cartography, I’d guessed—and, irony of ironies, all I wanted to do was go with him so that I could find my own war work to do. Instead, I’d probably be more securely wrapped in layers of cotton wool than ever on Cape Cod with my grandmother and, in the fall, at a select women’s college.
But if I was old enough to be sent off to college, I didn’t see why I shouldn’t be old enough to go to nursing school instead. I’d sent away for a catalogue for a nursing correspondence course I’d seen advertised in the back of a magazine and had it packed away in my trunk. As soon as I got to Gran’s I would enroll—I’d held off because I’d hoped my cousin Helen might want to take it with me, so we could study together. I figured that if I did well on this course over the summer, the Red Cross would have to take me. But maybe a more direct approach would work, here and now.
I was thrilled to see that one of the women in the booth wore a nurse’s cap and pinafore in addition to her Red Cross armbands. I paused to straighten the jacket of my new gray-blue linen suit, pretended I had a steel yardstick in my spine as my second governess, Miss Hayter, had taught me—she was very strict about posture—and approached the booth with a firm step.
“Good afternoon!” I said brightly to the two women there. In addition to the nurse there was an older woman in an asymmetrically swooping hat like a swan’s wing, just like the ones in this month’s McCall’s Magazine. “I’m so glad to see you here—how is the membership drive doing?”
The woman in the fashionable hat smiled at me. “Very well, my dear. Would you like to become a member?”
I opened my purse and fished around in it. “Oh, I’ve already joined, thank you, but I’m happy to contribute again.” I slid a couple of quarters into the collection box, and hoped the coins’ satisfying jingle would soften them up for the rest of what I was about to say. “Actually, I was hoping you could help me.”
“Oh?” she asked. The one in the nurse’s cap said nothing, but narrowed her eyes as she looked at me.
“Yes. I…” I swallowed and tried not to show that her silence had rattled me. “I will be taking a nursing correspondence course this summer and hoped that come fall, instead of going to college, I could look forward to being engaged by the Red Cross for overseas duty. I understand this particular course has been very highly recommended—”
“Which one?” the nurse interrupted me. “The National School for Nurses, out of St. Louis?”
“Yes, that’s the one!” If she’d heard of them, they must be good. “They even set up your hospital experience for—”
“How old are you?” she interrupted again.
I glanced at the lady in the swooping hat, who was gazing at me with limpid blue eyes, and sighed to myself. “I’ll be eighteen in March. The National School—”
The nurse snorted. “They’re rubbish. They keep getting shut down and reopening under new names. That’s their latest—a few months back they were the American Academy of Nursing Science, and before that the Professional Nurses’ School of the United States. And even if they weren’t a sham outfit, you’re far too young. The Red Cross is only taking graduate nurses over the age of twenty-five. We can’t be sending children over there.”
Twenty-five? Why, the war would be long over before I was that old. “But—but the army is taking eighteen-year-olds for soldiers if their parents agree—”
“That’s different,” she said quickly.
“How is it different? Why are eighteen-year-old girls less acceptable than eighteen-year-old boys, if they both want to serve their country?” My temper was starting to rise; I hoped my voice hadn’t shown it.
“Boys are much more mature at that age than girls. As is being made plain by this conversation.” She looked down her nose at me—not very successfully, as I was taller than she. “If—and I repeat, if you are still interested in nursing when you are twenty-five, the Red Cross will be prepared to consider you.” She turned away, ostensibly to adjust a poster affixed to one of the booth’s supports, but I still caught her muttered, “Stupid romantic girls, wasting our time…”
I couldn’t help it—the tears started to my eyes. I lifted my chin, and turning on my heel, dove back into the crowd milling beyond the booth. Fine—maybe the Red Cross wasn’t willing to take young, inexperienced nurses. But did she have to be so—so condescending about it?
“Miss—my dear child, wait—” A hand touched my elbow, and I turned. The other woman from the booth was there beside me. “I’m so sorry about Miss Richards,” she said hurriedly. “I think headquarters thought having a real nurse at an enrollment booth would attract people, but honestly, I think she’s scared more people away than brought them in. She wanted to go overseas, she told me, but they wouldn’t take her—some health thing, she said—and I think she’s bitter about it.”
I knew she was trying to make me feel better, but the scorn in the nurse’s face and voice had burned too deep. “Thank you—it’s nothing—”
“No, it’s not! She could have said the same thing much more kindly.” She put her hand on my arm again and fixed me with a sincere, sympathetic look. “You may not be able to go overseas, but there are still things you can do for our boys over there—important things! The local chapters all need our help and support. Do you knit? The Red Cross has promised to send a million and a half pairs of socks to our overseas troops. You’ll be doing a real service if you could complete even one pair of socks.”
My last governess, Miss Nutting, and I had joined the Red Cross the day after war was declared. I’d been knitting socks every spare moment I had and rolling bandages at our weekly local meetings. But I couldn’t wound this woman the way her colleague had me. “Socks—yes, ma’am, I can do that.”
“Thank you, dear. I know we can count on you.” She patted my arm, gave me a sunny smile, and went back to the booth.
“There you are!” Dad had caught up with me.
“I’m sorry I ran off—it wasn’t her after all.” I hoped my hat brim shaded my eyes sufficiently to conceal any tell-tale brightness.
“I didn’t think it was. I believe she’s over there.” He pointed.
I stood on tiptoe to follow his finger. A petite, dark-haired young woman was stepping out of the train, followed by a stout, middle-aged man who struggled with a pair of large valises, a basket, two umbrellas, and a newspaper. I forgot my upset and dashed toward my cousin, dodging and weaving between groups of soldiers.
“Oh, thank you, sir,” she was saying in a clear, carrying voice to the stout man. “I don’t know how I should have managed without your help.” She took the basket and one each of the valises and umbrellas from him. He opened his mouth as if to reply, but at that moment Helen spotted me. “And there’s my cousin and her father come to meet me!” she cried, managing to wave gracefully despite her burdens. “Emma! Cousin Emma!”
The stout man looked nervously around him at that, and by the time I reached her, he had melted into the crowd shuffling toward the main waiting room.
“Helen!” I wanted to hug her but suddenly felt shy, so instead I took her valise and shook her hand warmly. “How was your trip? Who was that man you were talking to?”
She grimaced. “I’ll tell you later. I’m fine—now let me look at you! How tall you are! I can’t stop thinking of you as little Emma with the straw-colored braids and torn stockings.”
“Oh, pooh.” I could feel myself blushing. “You’re making yourself sound ancient.” I remembered her eyes, big and brown and ringed by long, thick eyelashes. But her once-chubby face was now fashionably rounded, framed by waving, almost black hair. Her skin was smooth and creamy and her lips a lovely rose. She looked like an advertisement for Ivory soap in one of the fancier color magazines.
“Believe me, I feel years older. Hello, Professor Verlaine.” Helen smiled shyly as Dad joined us. “Thank you so much for taking the trouble to meet me, sir. I’m very grateful.” She tucked her arm in mine. “Won’t we have fun? You and I always got along when we were kids, didn’t we?”
“We sure did,” I said. Helen and I had been great chums the times all the families were together. I’d always longed for an older sister, growing up, and would have liked one just like her: she was so pretty and always seemed so smart and sure of herself. Maybe this summer I’d finally have that sister.
Dad took Helen’s ticket and went to see that her luggage got transferred to the Cape train. I took advantage of our being alone to ask her, “Who was that man who got off the train with you? A friend of your father’s? It was nice of him to look out for you—”
“Oh, Emma.” She shook her head. “I’d never seen him before in my life. He saw me traveling alone and tried to…you know. He wanted me to come to his hotel with him when we got to Boston.”
“Oh!” I hoped my shock didn’t show on my face, but it probably did. Dad always said I should avoid playing cards because I’m terrible at hiding how I feel. It was something I’d planned to work on this summer for when I went to nursing school. Nurses were never supposed to show disgust or fear when working with patients, so I needed to start practicing now. Of course, if Nurse Richards had her way, I’d never get anywhere near a wounded soldier—
“It’s all right.” Helen smiled mischievously. “I pretended not to have any idea what he meant and told him that as soon as I saw how much he looked like my papa, I knew he had to be terribly good and kind. It stops them every time.”
How horrid! The man had looked perfectly respectable. “So…um…you’ve had this happen before?”
“Yes.” She shrugged. “At least he kept any of the boys from bothering me. They can be harder to deal with than the old ones. Poor Emma, I have shocked you, haven’t I?” She patted my hand. “Let’s talk about something else. What fun we’ll have this summer! Picnics and boating and sea-bathing! I’ve never been sea-bathing—have you?”
“No. I haven’t been to the Cape since I was born.” Not that Gran didn’t invite us every summer. But Dad never wanted to go. Perhaps it would have reminded him too much of my mother. And he and Gran…they were always cordial toward each other, but there was something bubbling underneath the polite surface that I’d never been able to figure out.
“Since—you mean you’ve never visited your grandmother?”
I shook my head. “She comes to Boston to stay with one of my uncles and see us a few times a year. But I can swim. I learned in New Hampshire on the lakes.”
Further conversation was halted by the conductor’s shouting, “All aboard!” We hurried over to our train and boarded it, Dad fussing over whether we had our baggage tickets. And then when everything had been taken care of, he stood in the aisle by our seats and held my hands in his. Even his neatly-clipped beard looked sad.
“My dear child,” he began, and then fell silent. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know what to say or had too much to say and couldn’t decide where to begin. Probably the second, because I felt the same way. I squeezed his hands and swallowed the lump in my throat.
“If there had been any other way…” he continued. “I tried so hard to make them let me bring you to Washington with me.”
He’d tried to bring me? The lump in my throat got bigger. “It’s all right, Daddy. Gran will take good care of me.”
His face sort of crumpled. “I wish to God I didn’t have to send you down there! Maybe your Uncle Robert—there’s still time—”
“Dad!” Stay with Uncle Robert, whom even Gran, his own mother, called the most boring man in Boston? “We can’t change everything now. If I can’t go with you, I’m going to Gran. With Helen.”
He fell silent, staring at me pleadingly, and I relented. I didn’t care that we were in the middle of a crowded passenger car—I gave him a fierce hug. The realization that I wouldn’t see him for months hit me like an express train.
“She’ll be fine,” Helen said kindly, when we finally let go of each other. “I promise I’ll take good care of her too, sir. Why, Aunt Dorinda wrote that she’s even gotten a telephone. We can call you immediately if we need to.”
He didn’t appear reassured; his mild blue eyes were clouded with something that I couldn’t at first identify. “Yes, yes. But Emma, please—”
I glanced behind me. The conductor was coming through the cars, politely evicting all non-passengers. “What, Daddy?”
“Please…be careful. If anything happens, I’ll come right away, Army or not.”
I finally figured out what I was seeing: fear. “Dad—?”
Then the conductor was there, and my father was giving me one last kiss and making his way out to the platform. I waved as long as I could see him, until the train slid out of the bright station and headed south out of town. Oh, Daddy…but no, I wouldn’t cry. How could I, when all those boys in the station had been so cheerful even though they were heading someplace much less pleasant than a visit to their grandmothers?
I sat back in my seat and pictured my father going back to our house before he caught his own train tomorrow. It was closed and dust-sheeted, the icebox emptied and Mrs. Keegan, our cook-housekeeper, gone to do war work. When would I see it again? And then I had to laugh because I would certainly see it that fall, if only to pack up my winter things before going to coll—to wherever I’d end up.
“Funny that your father never remarried.” Helen’s voice interrupted my thoughts. There was an odd, speculative note in her voice that I didn’t understand.
“Well, most men would, with a small daughter to care for.”
“I guess we were too comfortable together to want to change things. In the summers I used to go with him and his graduate students on his rock-collecting trips in New Hampshire.” Now that I thought of it, I was glad that he wouldn’t be trying to clamber around the mountains this summer; his health hadn’t been the best over the winter. A nice quiet desk job wouldn’t leave him gray-faced and short of breath and groping for the little nitroglycerin pills that the doctor had given him.
“What a pity we’re at war now—you could have had a marvelous time with them.” Helen winked.
“I suppose,” I said dubiously. Honestly, they’d been more like overgrown schoolboys than serious scholars. But speaking of college students—“Helen, maybe you can help me. My father is determined that I should go to college in the fall if the war is still on—probably Bryn Mawr since it’s closer to Washington where he’ll be. And I don’t want to go.”
“Why not? Are you afraid college would be too hard for you?”
“No! Dad made me sit for the entrance exams already, and I did fine. But it…well, it seems like such a waste of time. This war is probably the biggest thing that will ever happen in our lives, and I want to be part of it.” I tried to put the scornful look on the Red Cross nurse’s face out of my mind. “I’d thought about applying to nursing school.”
Helen took out a small brass compact and examined herself in its mirror. “That’s very patriotic, but if you became a nurse, you might be taking a job from some other girl who needs the money. Going to college—what an opportunity! Besides,” she continued, “the last I heard, you had to be at least twenty-one to go to nursing school.”
“Twenty-one! But surely they need a lot of nurses now that we’re at war—maybe they’ll make exceptions…” I saw her skeptical expression and sighed. All right, maybe they wouldn’t. My dreams of being a nurse were getting more remote by the minute, but I wasn’t going to give up yet. “Would you go to college if you were me?”
Helen dabbed at her nose with the compact’s puff, then snapped it shut. “Like a shot. But I have five younger brothers and sisters, and they all need shoes and coats and things. So no college for me, and no nursing school either. In fact, when I go home I’ll be starting out as a career girl.”
“Really?” Now that was brave; very few females worked, though Dad had said he wouldn’t be surprised if that changed what with the war taking young men away.
“Mm-hm. There’s a job waiting for me as a secretary at the office of a friend of my father’s. The girl that’s there leaves in September to get married, and I’ll be taking her place. It’ll relieve the money situation at home a bit, and maybe make it possible for one of my brothers to think about college. Isn’t that great?” She smiled sweetly at me.
Poor Helen! I knew that her family wasn’t wealthy. Helen’s grandfather—he’d been Gran’s youngest brother—had run away to New York as a boy but hadn’t prospered there. I cast a surreptitious glance at my pretty cousin. Only now, on closer examination, did I see the scuffed-though-carefully-polished shoes, the not-quite-this-season hat, the inexpensive frock. Helen was setting aside her dreams and taking a job to help her family make ends meet. It was perfectly splendid of her.
The train, which had been clacking along at its usual rhythm, suddenly slowed, then squealed to a stop. A murmur of consternation arose from the other passengers.
“What is it?” Helen asked. “Is everything all right?”
“I don’t know.” I leaned over to peer out our window.
“There’s an express coming up from Fall River,” a conductor passing through our car told us twenty minutes later. “We can go as soon as they’re through. Trains on war business get right of way.”
The twenty minutes had lengthened to more than an hour before we were on our way again, but we finally chuffed into the station in Mattaquason. It was a small, gaily-painted building heavily adorned with gingerbread trim and looked like it had come straight from a storybook illustration. While Helen took care of our baggage, I went in search of our ride to the Monomoyick ferry. I found a weathered old wagon waiting out front, harnessed to a somnolent-looking horse. On the wagon’s seat was an equally weathered old man with fearsomely bushy whiskers, sound asleep.
“Sir?” I said, hesitantly.
“Won’t wake him if you whisper like that,” said a man in a peaked cap—the stationmaster, maybe?—who emerged from the station just then. He paused and looked at me. “You Dorinda Wetherell’s granddaughter?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Heard you were coming. Remember your mother. You look like her.”
Oh. I knew I did—Dad had said so—though my eyes were brown while hers had been blue. But I hadn’t expected this—that there would be people who’d known her. It gave me an odd feeling of belonging in this place I’d never seen. “Really? I wish I—”
But the man had already turned away. “HEY ABE,” he shouted, and slapped the side of the wagon with the flat of his hand. “YOUR FARES ARE HERE.”
Mumbling, the old man slowly sat up and glowered at me. Fortunately, Helen appeared just then with a porter who loaded our trunks into the back of the wagon. The stationmaster helped us up into the seat behind the driver and shouted, “THE FERRY, ABE.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said. Thank goodness he’d been here. I wasn’t sure I’d have been able to wake our driver.
“Don’t mention it.” The stationmaster pulled his watch from his pocket and frowned at it, but just then the horse leaned into the traces with more energy than he’d seemed capable of, and we lurched and rumbled out of the station yard and onto the dusty road. After a few turns and a mile or so past scattered cedar-shingled houses washed gray by the ocean wind, it took us onto what must be the main street of Mattaquason. Three or four white clapboard churches with short steeples and two neat rows of shops lined its sides, but all were closed, with drawn shades in their windows.
“Is it always this quiet, do you think?” Helen murmured to me.
“I don’t know.” Compared to Boston, it looked like a ghost town. If there hadn’t been a handful of people out on the street, strolling casually about, I would have been tempted to tell our driver (if I could shout loudly enough) to take us back to the station because there must have been some mistake.
I pulled Gran’s last letter out for reassurance. Yes, the livery wagon had been waiting for us—now all we had to do was catch the ferry (the Never Late, a very encouraging name, I thought) for the short ride across the channel separating Monomoyick Island from the mainland.
At the end of Main Street was a sprinkling of small warehouses and disreputable-looking buildings. When we reached them we turned right again onto a rutted road that ran parallel to the shore, half-heartedly paved with some sort of white material like smooth, flat gravel. A collection of docks and shacks draped with drying nets crowded the water’s edge, and a strong fishy scent pervaded the air. Boats—mostly fishing boats—rode serenely at their moorings. A group of sleeker (and cleaner) pleasure boats, both sail and motor, clustered together at one end of the harbor, like a group of gossiping society matrons. It was as quiet as Main Street had been.
A short dock with a slightly better-maintained shed stood at the end of the road. Mounted on the shed’s roof was a cheerfully painted sign reading NEVER LATE. I breathed a sigh of relief…but something didn’t seem right. The dock was deserted, and the shed’s ticket window was tightly shuttered. When I climbed down and knocked on it, no one answered.
“I don’t understand,” I said, turning back to Helen.
Abe, who’d remained silent throughout the drive, let out a sudden harrumph. “Last boat’s at five now with the war, ain’t it? No lights showin’ at dusk. Ferry’ll start half-past eight tomorrow, fer the churchgoers down island to git to town. Both of ‘em,” he added with a sardonic chuckle.
“But we were supposed to catch the five o’clock boat. Gran said—” I began.
“Oh!” Helen sat up straighter. “The train was delayed—remember?”
I thought of the stationmaster looking at his watch as we’d left the station. No wonder the town had been deserted; everyone was probably at home having supper. “Why didn’t you say anything?” I demanded of Abe. “You knew we were catching the ferry.”
He shrugged. “Didn’t ask me, did ye?”
I restrained the impulse to call him some very bad names I’d learned from Dad’s students a few summers ago and walked to the end of the dock to stare across the stretch of water, barely a mile, to the island. Gran was probably there, wondering what had happened to us. Funny how the war could affect our lives, though it was happening thousands of miles away.
I heard Helen climb down from the wagon. “We could call Aunt Dorinda from the post office, couldn’t we?” she asked hopefully, coming to stand with me.
“Except that the post office will be closed, too. I guess we could go back to the station and use their telephone.” I shaded my eyes and squinted at the water. A small boat appeared to be coming toward us from the island, rowed by a solitary figure.
“Do you think he’ll take us back there?” Helen nodded toward Abe. “There might be a hotel in town we can stay at—”
“May I be of assistance, ladies?” called a voice behind us.
I turned. A young man was walking up from a smaller dock where a shiny mahogany runabout was tied, a few dozen yards from where we stood. He was nattily dressed in a dark blue blazer and white duck trousers.
“Umm….” I said, remembering the man who’d tried to pick Helen up on the train. He wasn’t trying to do something similar, was he? Abe would be no help if he were. Should I scream or hit him with my purse?
But Helen had no such fears. “Oh, I hope you can!” she said, taking my arm. Her other hand she let flutter before her in a pretty gesture of helplessness. “Our train was delayed and we’ve missed the last ferry. We’re on our way to stay with Mrs. Wetherell—she’s my great-aunt…that is, she’s my cousin’s grandmother,” she added, giving my arm a little shake.
The young man took off a dazzlingly white yachting cap as he halted before us, revealing a head of sleek blonde hair parted in the middle. He had wide-set green eyes, a handsome, straight nose, and a firm chin. Only his mouth seemed somehow wrong. One of my governesses, Miss Ayers, had been obsessed with reading character from facial features. We spent hours in the Museum of Fine Arts looking at portraits of historical figures and speculating what personal traits the sitters must have had. It was nonsense, of course, but I still found myself doing it sometimes.
“Wetherell?” he said, smiling at me. All right, I’d probably imagined the pout; he had a nice enough smile. “Are you any relation to the Boston Wetherells?”
“They’re my mother’s family,” I said. “Do you know them? My grandmother lives here now—she left the Boston house to my Uncle Robert when Grandfather died.”
The young man raised an eyebrow. “Uncle Robert being the president of Wetherell Capital? My father banks with them. You’ve missed the ferry, you say?”
I nodded. “I don’t know what we’re going to do—maybe you know of someone with a telephone we might use?”
“I can do better than that. I can take you over on my boat.” He smiled at me.
Helen dropped my arm and clapped her hands. “Your boat? How wonderf—” She stopped and looked abashed. “But we couldn’t ask you to go out of your way like that.”
“Not at all. I’d be happy to be of service to a Wetherell.” He gave the name a sort of verbal caress. “I hope you’re here for a good long visit?”
“All summer,” Helen said quickly. “Do you live on the island too, Mr.—?”
“No. My family’s house is on the bluff, up from the lighthouse.” A note of pride had entered his voice. “And I haven’t introduced myself, have I? I’m George Osborn.” He looked at me expectantly, as if I should know who he was.
I opened my mouth, hoping something sensible would emerge from it, but Helen was already replying. “How do you do, sir? I’m Helen Sutton, and this is Emma Verlaine. We’d be happy to accept your offer if it isn’t too much trouble. Wouldn’t we, Emma?”
I hesitated. If Helen didn’t have any concerns about the idea, then it was probably all right. But still—“If—if you’re sure…”
“It’ll be a pleasure, Miss Verlaine. Just give me a moment and I’ll have the Fast Lady here directly.” He smiled at me, then turned and walked quickly back toward his boat.
Helen waited until he was out of earshot then poked me triumphantly. “Ooh, this is much better than the ferry! Isn’t he handsome? I think he likes you, Emma.”
“Oh, pooh.” I laughed nervously, then said, “Do you think so? How can you tell?”
Helen smiled. “Oh, I can tell.”
This was probably another one of the things I’d missed out on by not going to school. But I wasn’t sure I wanted this Mr. Osborn to “like” me, even if he was being nice enough to bring us over to the island. For one thing, why hadn’t an able-bodied young man like him volunteered for the army, like the ones we’d seen in South Station—oh! “Helen! Our trunks!”
Helen glanced over her shoulder at the wagon. Abe and the horse seemed to have dozed off again. “Don’t worry. Just say something about our bags and blush as prettily as you did a minute ago, and he’ll have them unloaded and on his boat in no time. I can never blush when I need to; it’s such a useful skill.”
I blushed again, to my chagrin. “I didn’t do it on purpose!”
She poked me again. “I was only teasing. I’m sure he’ll be glad to take care of them for us.”
She was right. When Mr. Osborn came putt-putting up to the Never Late’s dock and tied up his boat, I hesitantly mentioned our luggage. He looked at the wagon and may have winced—I couldn’t tell from where I stood—but squared his shoulders and went up to Abe. “I say, good man—lend me a hand with the ladies’ trunks, will you?”
Abe opened one eye. “Cain’t,” he wheezed. “My rheumaticks are kickin’ up something fierce. And b’sides, that ain’t my job. I jist drive.”
I looked from our things piled on the wagon to Mr. Osborn’s boat. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to fit everything in anyway—”
“Hello! Are you here to visit Mrs. Wetherell?” someone called. I felt something bump into the dock and turned.
A dory—the one I thought I’d seen crossing the channel?—had drawn up alongside us. A young man was seated at its oars, holding onto the edge of the dock and looking up at me with a quizzical half-smile. His brown hair was tousled and he wore a shapeless cotton jersey, sleeves rolled partway up his tanned forearms.
“Yes,” I said. His eyes were light brown, almost amber-colored and startling in his tanned face. There was nothing off about his mouth, I couldn’t help noticing; Miss Ayers would definitely have approved. “Did she send you? Our train was late so we missed the ferry.”
He nodded. “She guessed something like that had happened and asked me to come see if you’d arrived. I can bring you right over.”
“That won’t be necessary,” George Osborn said, coming to stand by me. “I’ll bring the young ladies across. You can see to their baggage, boy.” He dug into his pocket, pulled out a dime, and flipped it toward the boat.
“But—” I looked at the young man in the dory. After all, Gran had sent him for us.
The young man didn’t move, but watched the coin bounce off one of his oars and fall into the water. Then he smiled, a soft, curious smile.
That smile caught me, just as his eyes had. The corners of his mouth quirked with humor and a certain wickedness that made me wish I could hear what he was thinking, though after Mr. Osborn’s condescending behavior, it wasn’t hard to guess.
“It’s all right,” he said to me. “I’m happy to oblige your grandmother in whatever way’s needed. You go.”
It took me a minute to realize Mr. Osborn was trying to catch my attention. I tore my gaze away from the young man and let him help me into his boat. He settled Helen on the bench seat next to me, cast off the lines holding us to the dock, put the engine in gear, and turned us toward Monomoyick.
I looked back and was surprised to see that Abe had evidently forgotten his rheumatism and was helping the young man load our trunks into the boat. Gran’s friend was evidently very persuasive. When they were done, he took up his oars once more and pulled them with long, easy strokes that propelled him swiftly across the channel behind us. Considering how much lower the dory rode in the waves with our belongings on it, he must be extraordinarily strong. If only I’d thought to ask him his name—
Something round and sleek and brown poked up suddenly from the surface of the water, not far from the boat. I blinked at it for a few seconds before realizing what it was. “Helen, look!” I pointed. “I think it’s a seal!”
Mr. Osborn glanced casually at it. “Oh, yes. There are a lot of them around here. Smelly things. The fishermen think they steal their fish.”
I frowned. That hardly seemed fair—after all, the seals had been here first. Wouldn’t the fish more properly be theirs?
Helen made a face. “It gives me a turn, seeing animals wandering around free like that. But then, I’m a city girl.”
I think Mr. Osborn said something in reply, but I was too interested in watching the seal to pay attention. It seemed to be looking at me…and there was another, its whiskered nose pointed inquisitively toward our boat.
“Hello,” I said softly, though there was no way they could hear me. Their dark, shining eyes seemed to gaze directly into mine. I had a sudden urge to jump in and swim over to them.
Gran was waiting on the Never Late’s island dock as Mr. Osborn cut the engine and eased alongside it. “There you are, girls!” she said, tossing a line to Mr. Osborn. “Was your train late? I thought I saw Abe’s wagon over there and sent Malcolm to look for you. Did you see him? Helen, my dear, it’s lovely to see you again.”
So the young man in the dory was named Malcolm, was he? I was up on the dock before Mr. Osborn had quite finished tying his boat to it. “Yes, we saw him, Gran. He’s bringing our trunks across. I’m so glad we’re here!” I took Gran’s outstretched hands and kissed her cheek.
Gran was as handsome as ever, though it seemed funny to see her in a spring frock and cardigan rather than the tweed suits she always wore when visiting us at Christmas. “Well, all’s well that ends well,” she said briskly. “Thank you, young man—?”
“Gran, this is Mr. Osborn, who was kind enough to bring us over,” I explained as he helped Helen onto the dock. She’d waited nicely for him to do so, as I probably should have.
He removed his hat. “It was my pleasure, Mrs. Wetherell. I’ll say, though, that it’s nonsensical of them to stop the ferry at five when it’s May and no one needs running lights on till after seven. We wouldn’t be aiding and abetting the Germans, if there are even any out there. But I can’t complain about the rule, at least not right now.” He smiled at me. “And please, Miss Verlaine, call me George. ‘Mr.’ is too formal for Cape Cod.”
Gran cleared her throat. “Nonsensical or not, Captain Abbott has asked us to comply with it for the duration.”
“Who’s Captain Abbott?” I asked.
“He’s the commander of the naval air station here on the island—didn’t I write you about it? It opened just before we declared war. They have seaplanes and dirigibles to help guard the approaches to Boston Harbor and Nantucket Sound against U-boats.”
An air station! Now that I thought about it Gran had mentioned it, but it hadn’t really sunk in. Since my nursing school correspondence course didn’t seem to be all it was cracked up to be—though I wasn’t sure that horrid Miss Richards hadn’t made it all up just to spite me—maybe I could get work at this air station. Dad’s secretary in the Geology Department had showed me how to use a typewriter, and Dad bought me a book on teaching yourself shorthand because he thought it might be useful for me to learn for note-taking in college. He couldn’t be upset at me doing war work if I were living with Gran, could he? This just might turn out to be a better summer than I’d expected.
Gran was still speaking. “It isn’t easy to keep over three hundred young men in order on a remote place like this. I think the captain’s curfew has something to do with that.” She looked at George Osborn. “You’re not an islander, young man.”
It was phrased as a statement, but he took it as a question. “No, ma’am, but I hope to spend more time here, especially if the Ocean Hotel is still holding its dances.”
Dances? I looked at Helen. She raised an eyebrow at me and said, “I hope you do. Emma and I will be put out if you don’t come and make sure we aren’t wallflowers.”
“You aren’t likely to be,” Gran said drily. “Mr. Galbraith at the hotel is doing his part to help keep the men from the station entertained, so you’ll have more dance partners than there are dances.”
They continued chatting, but I couldn’t help turning back to look out at the channel. The dory with our baggage was nearly across. “That was fast,” I murmured to myself.
Gran heard me. “There’s no one faster than Malcolm with a pair of oars in his hands,” she said, smiling fondly. Evidently they were friends. “He’s been a tremendous help, with the ferry being on reduced hours.”
“Lucky for him. He can save up for a motor boat with the extra work he’s putting in,” George commented.
Gran laughed. “He doesn’t charge us. Why should he? His father owns the hotel.” She tilted her head to indicate a horse and wagon waiting near the end of the dock, which couldn’t have been less like the one we’d been picked up in by the bewhiskered Abe. The wagon was painted glossy sea green, with “The Ocean Hotel” emblazoned on its sides in royal blue and gold. “And he loves rowing too much to use the hotel’s motorboat. He rowed for Harvard, after all.”
George’s face reddened. I thought of the coin he’d tossed to Malcolm and Malcolm’s smile as he watched it drop into the water and turned away in embarrassment. It was more pleasant to watch the boat skimming across the channel toward us.
“That looks like fun,” I said, mostly to myself.
“Get Malcolm to teach you to row. He’d be happy to, I expect,” Gran said.
Hmm. “Maybe I will,” I said.
Copyright © 2021 Marissa Doyle