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Shifting Sands

Sara Ware Bassett

  Produced by Dianna Adair, Marc-Andre Seekamp, La MonteH.P. Yarroll and the Online Distributed Proofreading Teamat

  After days of fog Stanley Heath, a stranger whose power-boat runsaground on the treacherous Cape Cod shoals, stumbles into the Homesteadand into the life of Marcia Howe, a young widow with whom half the menin the village are already in love. Out of his clothing falls a leathercase crammed with gems and the enigma of this puzzling possessionprovides the pivot around which the story revolves. Marcia's blind,intuitive belief in the man's innocence brings its own reward. Thehamlets of Wilton and Belleport, already so well known to Miss Bassett'sreaders, are again the setting of this new novel. A sparkling love storyof Cape Cod.

  Shifting Sands

  Other Books by SARA WARE BASSETT

  The Harbor Road The Green Dolphin Bayberry Lane Twin Lights





  Shifting Sands

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  _Our lives are like the ever shifting sands Which ocean currents whirl in the ebb and flow Of their unresisting tides_

  Chapter I

  _The Widder_ lived on the spit of sand jutting out into Crocker's Cove.

  Just why she should have been singled out by this significant sobriquetwas a subtle psychological problem. There were other women in Belleportand in Wilton, too, who had lost husbands. Maria Eldridge was a widowand so was Susan Ann Beals. Indeed death had claimed the head of manya household in the community, for to follow the sea was a treacherousbusiness.

  Nevertheless, despite the various homes in which solitary women reigned,none of their owners was designated by the appellation allotted toMarcia Howe.

  Moreover, there seemed in the name the hamlet had elected to bestow uponher a ring of satisfaction, even of rejoicing, rather than the note ofcondolence commonly echoing in the term. Persons rolled it on theirtongues as if flaunting it triumphantly on the breeze.

  "Marcia ought never to have married Jason Howe, anyway," asserted AbbieBrewster when one day she reminiscently gossiped with her friend,Rebecca Gill. "She was head an' shoulders above him. Whatever coaxed herinto it I never could understand. She could have had her pick of half adozen husbands. Why take up with a rollin' stone like him?"

  "She was nothin' but a slip of a thing when she married. Mebbe she hadthe notion she could reform him," Rebecca suggested.

  "Mebbe," agreed Abbie. "Still, young as she was, she might 'a' knownshe couldn't. Ten years ago he was the same, unsteady, drinkin' idlerhe proved himself to be up to the last minute of his life. He hadn'tchanged a hair. Such men seldom do, unless they set out to; an' JasonHowe never set out to do, or be, anything. He was too selfish an' toolazy. Grit an' determination was qualities left out of him. Well,he's gone, an' Marcia's well rid of him. For 'most three years now,she's been her own mistress an' the feelin' that she is must be highlyenjoyable."

  "Poor Marcia," sighed Rebecca.

  "Poor Marcia?" Abbie repeated. "Lucky Marcia, I say. 'Most likely she'dsay so herself was she to speak the truth. She never would, though.Since the day she married, she's been close-mouthed as an oyster. Whatshe thought of Jason, or didn't think of him, she's certainly kept toherself. Nobody in this village has ever heard her bewail her lot. Shemade her bargain an' poor as 'twas she stuck to it."

  "S'pose she'll always go on livin' there on that deserted strip ofsand?" speculated Rebecca. "Why, it's 'most an island. In fact, it is anisland at high tide."

  "So 'tis. An' Zenas Henry says it's gettin' to be more an' more so everyminute," Abbie replied. "The tide runs through that channel swift asa race horse an' each day it cuts a wider path 'twixt Marcia an' theshore. Before long, she's goin' to be as completely cut off from themainland at low water as at high."

  "It must be a terrible lonely place."

  "I wouldn't want to live there," shrugged the sociable Abbie. "Butthere's folks that don't seem to mind solitude, an' Marcia Howe's oneof 'em. Mebbe, after the life she led with Jason, she kinder relishesbein' alone. 'Twould be no marvel if she did. Furthermore, dynamitecouldn't blast her out of that old Daniels Homestead. Her father an'her grandfather were born there, an' the house is the apple of her eye.It is a fine old place if only it stood somewheres else. Of course,when it was built the ocean hadn't et away the beach, an' instead ofbein' narrow, the Point was a wide, sightly piece of land. Who'd 'a'foreseen the tides would wash 'round it 'til they'd whittled it downto little more'n a sand bar, an' as good as detached it from the coastaltogether?"

  "Who'd 'a' foreseen lots of pranks the sea's played? The Cape's a-swirlwith shiftin' sands. They drift out here, they pile up there. What'sterra firma today is swallered up tomorrow. Why, even Wilton Harbor'sfillin' in so fast that 'fore we know it there won't be a channel deepenough to float a dory left us. We'll be land-locked."

  "Well, say what you will against the sea an' the sand, they did a goodturn for Marcia all them years of her married life. At least they helpedher keep track of Jason. Once she got him on the Point with the tiderunnin' strong 'twixt him and the village, she'd padlock the skiff an'there he'd be! She had him safe an' sound," Abbie chuckled.

  "Yes," acquiesced Rebecca. "But the scheme worked both ways. Let Jasonwalk over to town across the flats an' then let the tide rise an' therehe be, too! Without a boat there was no earthly way of his gettin' home.Marcia might fidget 'til she was black in the face. He had the best ofexcuses for loiterin' an' carousin' ashore."

  "Well, he don't loiter and carouse here no longer. Marcia knows where heis now," declared Abbie with spirit. "I reckon she's slept more durin'these last three years than ever she slept in the ten that went before'em. She certainly looks it. All her worries seem to have fallen awayfrom her, leavin' her lookin' like a girl of twenty. She's pretty as apicture."

  "She must be thirty-five if she's a day," Rebecca reflected.

  "She ain't. She's scarce over thirty. I can tell you 'xactly when shewas born," disputed the other woman. "But thirty or even more, she don'tlook her age."

  "S'pose she'll marry again?" ventured Rebecca, leaning forward anddropping her voice.

  "Marry? There you go, 'Becca, romancin' as usual."

  "I ain't romancin'. I was just wonderin'. An' I ain't the only personin town askin' the question, neither," retorted Mrs. Gill with asniff. "There's scores of others. In fact, I figger the thought is theuppermost one in the minds of 'most everybody."

  Abbie laughed.

  "Mebbe. In fact, I reckon 'tis," conceded she. "It's the thought thatcome to everyone quick as Jason was buried. 'Course, 'twouldn't bedecent to own it--an' yet I don't know why. Folks 'round about here arefond of Marcia an' feel she's been cheated out of what was her rightfuldue. They want her to begin anew an' have what she'd oughter have hadyears ago--a good husband an' half a dozen children. There's nothin' tobe ashamed of in a wish like that. I ain't denyin' there are certainpersons who are more self-seekin'. I ain't blind to the fact that onceJason was under the sod, 'bout every widower in town sorter spruced upan' began to take notice; an' before a week was out every bachelor hadbought a new necktie. Eben Snow told me so an' he'd oughter know bein'the one that sells 'em."


  "It's true. An' why, pray, shouldn't the men cast sheep's eyes atMarcia? Can you blame 'em? She'd be one wife in a hundred could a bodywin her. There ain't a thing she can't do from shinglin' a barn down totrimmin' a hat. She's the match of any old salt at sailin' a boat an'can pull an oar strong as the best of 'em. Along with that she can
sew,cook, an' mend; plow an' plant; paper a room. An' all the time, whatevershe's doin', she'd bewitch you with her smile an' her pretty ways. It'sa marvel to me how she's kept out of matrimony long's this with so manymen millerin' 'round her."

  "She certainly's takin' her time. She don't 'pear to be in no hurry toget a husband," smiled Rebecca.

  "Why should she be? Her parents left her with money in the bank an' theHomestead to boot, an' Marcia was smart enough not to let Jason makeducks and drakes of her property. She dealt out to him what she thoughthe better have an' held fast to the rest. As a result, she's uncommonwell-off."

  "All men mightn't fancy havin' a wife hold the tiller, though."

  Rebecca Gill pursed her lips.

  "Any man Marcia Howe married would have to put up with it," Abbieasserted, biting off a needleful of thread with a snap of her finewhite teeth. "Marcia's always been captain of the ship an' she alwayswill be."

  Gathering up her mending, Rebecca rose.

  "Well, I can't stay here settlin' Marcia's future," she laughed. "I'vegot to be goin' home. Lemmy'll be wantin' his supper. He can't, though,accuse me of fritterin' the afternoon away. I've darned every pair ofstockin's in this bag an' there was scores of 'em. You turn off suchthings quicker when you're in good company."

  A scuffling on the steps and the sound of men's voices interrupted thewords.

  The kitchen door swung open and Zenas Henry's lanky form appeared on thethreshold. Behind him, like a foreshortened shadow, tagged his crony,Lemuel Gill.

  "Well, well, 'Becca, if here ain't Lemmy come to fetch you!" Abbiecried. "'Fraid your wife had deserted you, Lemmy? She ain't. She wasjust this minute settin' out for home."

  "I warn't worryin' none," grinned Lemuel.

  "What you two been doin'?" Abbie inquired of her husband.

  "Oh, nothin' much," answered the big, loose-jointed fellow, shufflinginto the room. "We've been settin' out, drinkin' in the air."

  The carelessness of the reply was a trifle overdone, and instantlyaroused the keen-eyed Abbie's suspicions.

  She glanced into his face.

  "Guess we're goin' to have rain," he ventured.

  "I wouldn't wonder," rejoined Lemuel Gill.

  Humming to prove he was entirely at his ease, Zenas Henry ambled to thewindow and looked out.

  "Where you been settin'?" demanded Abbie.

  "Settin'? Oh, Lemmy an' me took sort of a little jaunt along the shore.Grand day to be abroad. I never saw a finer. The sea's blue as acorn-flower, an' the waves are rollin' in, an' rollin' in, an'--"

  "They generally are," Abbie interrupted dryly. "Just where'd youparticularly notice 'em?"

  Lemuel Gill stepped into the breach.

  "'Twas this way," began he. "Zenas Henry an' me thought we'd take abit of a meander. We'd been to the postoffice an' was standin' in thedoorway when we spied Charlie Eldridge goin' by with a fish-pole--"

  "Charlie Eldridge--the bank cashier?" Rebecca echoed. "But he ain't nofisherman. What on earth was he doin' with a fish-pole?"

  "That's what we wondered," said Lemuel.

  "Charlie Eldridge with a fish-pole," repeated Abbie. "Mercy! Where doyou s'pose he was goin'?"

  "I never in all my life knew of Charlie Eldridge goin' a-fishin',"Rebecca rejoined. "Not that he ain't got a perfect right to fish if hewants to outside bankin' hours. But--"

  "But Charlie fishin'!" interrupted Abbie, cutting her friend short."Why, he'd no more dirty his lily-white hands puttin' a squirmin' wormon a fish-hook than he'd cut off his head. In fact, I don't believe he'dknow how. You didn't, likely, see where he went."

  "Wal--er--yes. We did."

  Zenas Henry wheeled about.

  Clearing his throat, he darted a glance at Lemuel.

  "Havin' completed the business that took us to the store--" he began.

  "Havin', in short, asked for the mail an' found there warn't none,"laughed Abbie, mischievously.

  Zenas Henry ignored the comment.

  "We walked along in Charlie's wake," he continued.

  "Followed him?"

  "Wal--somethin' of the sort. You might, I s'pose, call it follerin',"Zenas Henry admitted shamefacedly. "Anyhow, Lemmy an' me trudged alongbehind him at what we considered a suitable distance."

  "Where'd he go?" Rebecca urged, her face alight with curiosity.

  "Wal, Charlie swung along, kinder whistlin' to himself, an' ketchin' hispole in the trees and brushes 'til he come to the fork of the road. Thenhe made for the shore."

  "So he was really goin' fishin'," mused Abbie, a suggestion ofdisappointment in her voice.

  "He certainly was. Oh, Charlie was goin' fishin' right 'nough. He wasaimed for deep water," grinned Zenas Henry.

  "He wouldn't ketch no fish in Wilton Harbor," sniffed Rebeccacontemptuously. "Wouldn't you think he'd 'a' known that?"

  "He warn't," observed Zenas Henry mildly, "figgerin' to. In fact,'twarn't to Wilton Harbor he was goin'."

  With a simultaneous start, both women looked up.

  "No-siree. Bank cashier or not, Charlie warn't that much of a numskull.He was primed to fish in more propitious waters."

  "Zenas Henry, do stop beatin' round the bush an' say what you have tosay. If you're goin' to tell us where Charlie Eldridge went, out withit. If not, stop talkin' about it," burst out his wife sharply.

  "Ain't I tellin' you fast as I can? Why get so het up? If you must knowan' can't wait another minute, Charlie went fishin' in Crocker's Cove."

  "Crocker's Cove!" cried two feminine voices.

  Zenas Henry's only reply was a deliberate nod.

  "Crocker's Cove?" gasped Abbie.

  "Crocker's Cove?" echoed Rebecca.

  "Crocker's Cove," nodded Zenas Henry.

  "Mercy on us! Why--! Why, he--he must 'a' been goin'"--began Abbie.

  "--to see _The Widder_," Rebecca interrupted, completing the sentence.

  "I'd no notion he was tendin' up to her," Abbie said.

  "Wal, he warn't 'xactly tendin' up to her--least-way, not today. Notwhat you could really call tendin' up," contradicted Zenas Henry, atwinkle in his eye. "Rather, I'd say 'twas t'other way round. Wouldn'tyou, Lemmy? Wouldn't you say that instead 'twas she who tended up tohim?"

  Sagaciously, Lemuel bowed.

  The tapping of Abbie's foot precipitated the remainder of the story.

  "You see," drawled on Zenas Henry, "no sooner had Charlie got into theboat an' pulled out into the channel than he had the usual beginner'sluck an' hooked a stragglin' bluefish--one of the pert kind that ain'tfer bein' hauled in. Law! You'd oughter seen that critter pull! He 'mosthad Charlie out of the boat.

  "I shouted to him to hang on an' so did Lemmy. We couldn't help it. Theidiot had no more notion what to do than the man in the moon.

  "In our excitement, we must 'a' bellered louder'n we meant to, 'causein no time _The Widder_ popped outer the house. She took one look atCharlie strugglin' in the boat, raced down to the landin' an' put out tohim just about at the minute he was waverin' as to whether he'd chuckpole, line, an' sinker overboard, or go overboard himself.

  "Quicker'n scat she had the fish-pole, an' while we looked on, Charliedropped down kinder limp on the seat of the boat an' begun tyin' up hishand in a spandy clean pocket handkerchief while _The Widder_ gaffed thefish an' hauled it in."

  "My soul!" exploded Abbie Brewster. "My soul an' body!"

  "Later on," continued Zenas Henry, "Charlie overtook us. He'd stowedaway his fish-pole somewheres. Leastway, he didn't have it with him.When Lemmy an' me asked him where his fish was, he looked blacker'nthunder an' snapped out: 'Hang the fish!'

  "Seein' he warn't in no mood for neighborly conversation, we left himan' come along home."