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The Terrible Tide

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. About the Book
  3. About the Author
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Dedication
  7. Chapter 1
  8. Chapter 2
  9. Chapter 3
  10. Chapter 4
  11. Chapter 5
  12. Chapter 6
  13. Chapter 7
  14. Chapter 8
  15. Chapter 9
  16. Chapter 10
  17. Chapter 11
  18. Chapter 12
  19. Chapter 13
  20. Chapter 14
  21. Chapter 15
  22. Chapter 16
  23. Chapter 17
  24. Chapter 18
  25. Chapter 19
  26. Chapter 20
  27. Chapter 21
  28. Chapter 22
  29. Chapter 23
  30. Chapter 24
  31. Chapter 25
  32. Chapter 26
  33. Chapter 27
  34. Chapter 28
  35. Chapter 29
  1. Looking for more suspense?
  1. Cover
  2. Begin Reading

About the Book

Cliff House may be haunted, but no ghost is as scary as the women who live there.

Holly Howe is just beginning to get traction in the cutthroat world of New York modeling when a car accident ruins her good looks forever. She retreats to the backwoods of Canada, to recuperate in her brother’s ramshackle country house. Howe Hill is a wreck—dusty, ugly and utterly lacking in modern facilities—and her brother is no more hospitable. When she hears of a job in town taking care of an ancient invalid, Holly leaps on it. If nothing else, Cliff House must have indoor plumbing.

Eerie by day, the invalid’s mansion is terrifying by night. The other housekeeper is convinced it’s haunted by the old woman’s husband, but Holly fears no poltergeist. It’s the old widow in the upstairs room that frightens her—and the secrets that lurk behind her dull, silver eyes.

Review quotes.

“The epitome of the ‘cozy’ mystery.” - Mostly Murder.

“The screwball mystery is Charlotte MacLeod’s cup of tea.” - Chicago Tribune.

“Charm, wit, and Holmesian logic.” - Audiofile.

About the Author

Charlotte MacLeod (1922–2005) was an internationally bestselling author of cozy mysteries. Born in Canada, she moved to Boston as a child, and lived in New England most of her life. After graduating from college, she made a career in advertising, writing copy for the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company before moving on to Boston firm N. H. Miller & Co., where she rose to the rank of vice president. In her spare time, MacLeod wrote short stories, and in 1964 published her first novel, a children’s book called “Mystery of the White Knight.”

In “Rest You Merry” (1978), MacLeod introduced Professor Peter Shandy, a horticulturist and amateur sleuth whose adventures she would chronicle for two decades. “The Family Vault” (1979) marked the first appearance of her other best-known characters: the husband and wife sleuthing team Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn, whom she followed until her last novel, “The Balloon Man,” in 1998.

The Terrible Tide

Charlotte MacLeod writing as Alisa Craig

 

For the Radles

Chapter 1

“WATCH IT, FAN,” CRIED Holly. “You’re popping your seams.”

“I don’t give a damn. Heave on this crowbar, can’t you?”

Fan Howe was panting. Sweat beaded her blotchy red forehead. More stitches burst in the brown pants suit she’d bought three years ago at a Westchester shopping mall. Now it was baggy, stained, fuzzed with enough catches to make her look like a worn-out Teddy bear.

“I’m heaving as hard as I can, Fan. You know I shouldn’t be doing this. They told me at the hospital to take it easy.”

“You can’t baby yourself forever,” Fan snapped back. “Come on, put some beef in it.”

“Three weeks out after four weeks in isn’t exactly babying myself. Anyway, vandalism’s not my thing.”

“Holly, for God’s sake! These old farmhouses are abandoned, falling apart. Why let good lumber lie around and rot? Roger needs it.”

That was the clincher. What Roger Howe needed, Roger got, even if his wife and sister had to fight, steal, and wade through acres of poison ivy to find it for him. When Roger had decided to leave the bank and devote himself to his real love, which was certainly not Fan but the reproducing of fine antique furniture, Fan had left her comfortable home in a fashionable New York suburb and immigrated to Canada without a whimper.

Moving to New Brunswick had made sense, back in Westchester. The province had gorgeous scenery and status as a center for arts and crafts. Moreover, Roger and Holly had inherited a house there from some relatives they’d never seen. At that time, they hadn’t seen the property, either.

Holly herself had never set eyes on the place Fan had grandly rechristened Howe Hill until she’d needed a quiet place to recuperate and decided she might as well claim her half-share of its amenities. She’d soon found out there weren’t any, except for a handsome view of the Bay of Fundy and its incredible tides. The house was almost as derelict as the one she and Fan were dismantling now. Holly was still stunned at Fan’s calm acceptance of its discomforts and inconveniences for the sake of Roger and his art.

She was also astonished by her brother’s emergence as a master craftsman. That he was still the self-centered cold fish she’d known and mildly disliked since she could remember came as no surprise at all.

Nobody could actively hate Roger Howe. He never did anything rotten, at least not on purpose. His manners were courteous even when they didn’t have company. When he remembered to say anything at all, he made the right sorts of noises. On the surface, Roger was a model husband and a fair enough brother, but if Holly’d realized what he was really like to live with, she’d have stayed far, far away from Howe Hill.

How could she have known? Born fifteen years apart to career-oriented parents, she and he had never been given much chance to get acquainted. When she was little, Holly had met her big brother now and then on stopovers between school and summer camp. She had vague memories of a tall youth, handsomer than she’d ever be, who’d stayed in his room assembling model airplanes and never said anything to her except, “Don’t touch my tools.” Why couldn’t he be here to say it now?

Goaded to desperation, Holly threw all her weight on the hateful crowbar. Rusty nails gave with a screech. Fan whooped.

“Look at that! Roger will swoon for joy.”

Holly doubted that. She’d never seen her brother joyful, not even at his wedding, where she’d been forced to wear a silly pink ruffled gown and a Little-Bo-Peep bonnet. She’d thrown up in the bonnet at the reception to show them they couldn’t make a fool of her and get away with it.

After that, Roger and Fan had been rather standoffish with Holly until they’d met again at the funeral. Their parents had been killed in a car smash. Holly had cried because she’d always hoped some day her mother and father would stick around long enough so she could get to know them, and now she never would. Roger had shown only a decent gravity until he’d found out his only legacy was a few thousand dollars and half-interest in the Canadian farmhouse. Then he’d blown his stack.

“Come on,” Fan was urging. “Let’s get the rest of it.” Sighing, Holly picked up the wrecking bar and tried to dig it in behind what must once have been a charming overmantel. “Not that way! You’ll splinter the wood.” Fan grabbed the tool and worked it skillfully under the wide board. “Good work, Fan. You’re quite a demolition expert.”

“I ought to be. I’ve done enough of it by now.”

Fan wasn’t complaining, merely stating a fact. Maybe she was happier in Jugtown than she’d been back in Westchester. There she’d played the model housewife, angling for Roger’s praise and getting only his calm acceptance. Here she could wallow in valiant self-sacrifice as she battled tooth and claw to make her husband’s dream come true.

Roger ought to be pleased by today’s haul, assuming he had no qualms about receiving stolen property. Anyway, Fan didn’t seem to need so many pats on the head as she used to. She’d made up her mind she was married to a genius. Everybody knew what wives of great men had to go through before they got to write their memoirs. Fan was already compiling her scrapbook.

Holly might come in for a paragraph or two. “My sister-in-law, tragically disfigured by the accident that ended her career as a professional model—”

Nuts to that. Holly wasn’t going to be disfigured. At least not permanently. Anyway, not much. She’d get back into modeling.

Sure she would. The scars on her face and body had to heal before plastic surgery could begin. Then there’d be more healing, and by then she’d have lost her contacts. The flesh machine would have ground out too many fresher, smoother, prettier, younger girls. She was a has-been at twenty-one, and she might as well admit it.

Right now, Holly didn’t care as much as she’d thought she would. Modeling was just something she’d drifted into because her half of the inheritance hadn’t been enough to send her to college. She’d done some fashion shows, then wound up in front of a camera because she was tall and skinny and had good cheekbones. Having no illusions about her beauty or talent, she’d been untemperamental to work with. Photographers liked her vivid blue eyes, her habit of turning up on schedule with her face already fixed and her light brown hair already combed. They’d begun steering better assignments her way. She’d been on the way up, until she’d been so suddenly and agonizingly brought down. Well, back to the wrecking bar.

They were in luck. The nail holes had rotted out and the panel came off without a struggle. Holly was all for quitting then and there, but Fan insisted they stay and rescue as many as they could of the old hand-forged nails.

That was a tedious, touchy job. If pulled too fast or bent too far, the nails would snap off. Holly broke two, then left the rest to Fan and went to stare out the window. This was beautiful country, if only she didn’t have to view it while listening to her sister-in-law’s groaning and muttering. She tried to concentrate on the birds flitting among the tangled briars she and Fan would soon have to fight their way through to where they’d hidden the truck. All at once, something else caught her attention.

“What do you know? We’re going to have company.”

“Who? Where? Quick, get back from that window.”

“What for? I thought you said we weren’t doing anything wrong.”

“Don’t be funny.” Fan elbowed Holly out of the way and peeked anxiously through the spider-webbed pane. “It’s okay, they’re turning—well, can you beat that?”

“Beat what?” Holly managed to catch a glimpse over Fan’s head before the two walkers disappeared. All she learned was that the woman had glossy black hair and the man was wearing a tweed cap and a blue plaid shirt. “What’s so exciting? Do you know them?”

“I know her.” Fan’s face was one vast, malicious grin. “So this is why she takes long walks in the country. For exercise, she says. I’ll bet that guy gives her plenty.”

“Goody gumdrops, a scandal. Who is she?”

“Claudine Parlett, the village virgin, or so we’ve been led to believe. She runs an antique shop and everything else she can poke her nose into. Come on, we’d better leave in case they take a notion to come back. Not that way, stupid! Out the side door.”

Holly was only too happy to obey. They wrestled their booty through brush and briar to the Howes’ old truck and stowed it under a dirty tarpaulin in case a shower happened to come up and soak the wood. At that moment there was only one tiny cloud in the whole, vast, late-summer sky. As Fan said, though, you couldn’t be too careful.

Chapter 2

FAN ENTERTAINED HERSELF ALL the way home wondering whose husband Claudine Parlett was sneaking out to meet. Since all the husbands in Jugtown dressed pretty much alike in tweed caps and plaid shirts, she had a wide-open field for speculation.

Holly, not knowing any of the men and not giving a hoot anyway, sat gritting her teeth against the lurches and yearning for the hot bath she wouldn’t be able to take. The Howes still hadn’t been able to afford indoor plumbing.

When they’d made their decision to sell out of the Establishment and move to the Good Life, Fan and Roger had been dismayed to find they really hadn’t much to sell. They’d played the status-symbol game like their neighbors even though Roger’s salary at the bank had been barely adequate to keep them afloat. Their equity in the Westchester house had been next to nil. Furnishings they couldn’t afford to ship had been sacrificed for whatever they’d bring. They’d practically been down to living on roots and berries before Roger landed his first and only customer.

They were still struggling to make ends meet. Holly’s contribution to the weekly housekeeping money was already making a difference in the standard of living at Howe Hill. It was as well Fan and Roger didn’t know how little was left of that fabulous model’s income she’d supposedly been making. Holly had a pretty clear idea of how welcome she’d be once her cash ran out. If she was forced to leave before she healed, though, where could she go?

At least the hideous ride was over. Fan swung the rattling truck into the weedy, unkempt dooryard. Holly tried to heave herself out of the van. The deep slash on her left thigh, kept unhealed and inflamed by overexertion, gave such a wicked twinge that she fell back on the seat with a yelp.

“Hold on, let me give you a hand.”

That was Roger’s lone assistant, Bert Walker, the only one around here who ever appeared to remember that Holly was a human being with genuine medical problems. In fact, for an old gaffer who looked, smelled, and often talked like a hobo, Bert could show surprising gallantry. Holly sometimes wondered what his history had been. In any event, as long as she managed to keep upwind of him, Holly enjoyed Bert’s company more than anyone else’s she’d met so far in Jugtown.

Bert was her authority on local history. According to him, the first settlers were Loyalists who fled Boston around 1776. Among them were potters who sailed up the Bay of Fundy looking for a clay pit at which to establish themselves as makers of fine chinaware. They’d found some clay; but soon learned nobody in this wilderness cared about fine china, only heavy crocks to salt down their food in, and sturdy jugs to hold their drink.

Since the growing season was shorter than the drinking season, jugs sold better than crocks. Within a few years, the potters were concentrating on this one profitable item, and their settlement had become known as Jugtown.

The clay pit had been worked out long ago, but Jugtown hung on. Nowadays some of the locals were trying to capitalize on its quaint name, hoping to attract more tourists. So far, they hadn’t. The antique dealers, the knitters and weavers and rug hookers, the whittlers who carved little sea gulls and perched them on bits of driftwood still had to rely on shops in more popular resort areas as outlets. Right now, Roger Howe seemed to be the only craftsman around who wasn’t worrying about where he could sell his products.

Fan took credit for the recent upturn in the Howes’ fortunes. It was she who’d pawned her engagement ring to pay for advertisements in a couple of antique collectors’ magazines, and it was through one of those ads that they’d got in touch with Mrs. Brown.

Mrs. Brown, according to what Holly had been able to gather from Fan, was an interior decorator who specialized in doing period rooms for the rich and the even richer. Since fine antiques were becoming so scarce, Mrs. Brown sometimes had to resort to reproductions.

Naturally, such clients as hers would never be satisfied with ordinary commercial copies. Even the wealthiest and fussiest, however, couldn’t cock a nostril at an expertly handcrafted replica of an authentic museum piece, made with eighteenth-century tools and techniques, using the same well-seasoned woods and even the same smelly glues that might have been found in the workshops of Samuel McIntire or Duncan Phyfe.

Roger had become one of Mrs. Brown’s trade secrets. She’d promised to give him all the work he could handle, provided he stopped running ads so that her competitors wouldn’t know where she was getting her fabulous reproductions. So far, she’d kept her word. For over a year now, Roger had been supplied with orders, including sketches, detailed explanations, and exact descriptions of what Mrs. Brown wanted, at such a rate that he was always behind schedule.

Because of his time-consuming methods and his fanatical insistence on absolute fidelity to every detail, Roger had lagged to a point where he’d been forced to get help with some of the less-exacting work. He was paying Bert Walker on a day-to-day basis out of the American cash with which Mrs. Brown always settled her sizable bills. At first Holly thought this was just sloppy business practice. Now that she knew where Roger got his lumber, she thought perhaps there was more to it than sloppiness.

Fan must be bursting to show Roger the magnificent slabs of solid walnut they’d ripped off, but she wouldn’t remove the tarpaulin while Bert was still around. He’d be too apt to recognize whose parlor the paneling had come from. Holly would have liked to keep the handyman chatting awhile, just to get back at Fan for making her help, but she was in no shape for conversation. Moving stiffly because her leg was hurting so much, she started toward the house.

“I’m going to lie down for a while.”

“Oh?” Roger was cool and courteous as always. “I thought you might enjoy helping Fan fix dinner.”

“I can manage by myself,” snapped his wife. “I always do, don’t I?”

“Stop it!”

The resentment that had been boiling up ever since Holly’d got here finally spilled over. “Listen to me, both of you. When I wrote about coming up here, I explained that I’d been badly injured and needed to rest. You told me to come ahead and take it easy, but from the minute I got here, you’ve been running me like a pack horse. If I’d known what you had in mind, I’d have gone someplace where I’d at least get paid for doing it instead of slaving my guts out and paying board on top of it, in a house that’s as much mine as yours. All right, Fan. Now that you’ve tried to land me back in the hospital and set me up for a charge of breaking and entering, what’s next on the agenda? Do I peel the potatoes or rob the town bank?”

Roger and Fan were both making shushing gestures, rolling their eyes at Bert, who was enjoying the scene hugely. Roger started a speech about giving his sister a richer experience of life in Jugtown. Fan fussed around being solicitous and placatory. Bert said the only thing that made sense.

“They need a hired girl out at Cliff House.”

All three quit squabbling and said, “What?” in unison.

“Mrs. Parlett’s still hangin’ on out there by the toenails. Claudine was on to me about ’er Saturday when I went to pick up the groceries for Annie, askin’ if I knew anybody willin’ to help out.”

“Doing what?”

The handyman had begun fiddling with his braces buckles, embarrassed for some reason. “Help Annie shove a little gruel into ’er three times a day an’ change ’er nightgown, I s’pose. She can’t do a hand’s turn for herself, poor soul.”

“Why? Does she have some awful disease?”

“Yep. I got it, too. Old age.”

Bert didn’t haul off the joke with his usual gusto. What was he so fidgety about all of a sudden?

“Who’s Annie?” Holly prodded. “Her daughter?”

“Nope. I guess likely you’d call ’er the housekeeper. Annie’s been at Cliff House long as I can remember.”

“Then Annie must be an old woman, too. Is that why Claudine wants more help out there?”

“That’s it.” Bert welcomed the explanation like a long-lost brother. “Claudine don’t think them two ought to be out there by their lonesomes, not now.”

“How much does the job pay?”

“Claudine didn’t say. Not much, most likely. You’d get your board an’ keep.”

“I’ll take it.” Anything was better than helping Fan tear Jugtown apart. “What do I do, just barge in and start changing nightgowns?”

Bert seemed to be experiencing a strange mixture of relief and alarm. “You better talk to Claudine first. Her an’ Ellis are the next o’ kin, not that blood’s any thicker’n water in that fam’ly. Anyway, Mrs. Parlett’s only their great-aunt by marriage, though it wouldn’t cut much ice either way, I don’t s’pose. Yep, you talk to Claudine. I got to get home to my supper. You want me in the mornin’, Roger?”

“As early as possible, please. I’ve had another letter from Mrs. Brown about that Sheraton highboy, and I haven’t even finished the piecrust tables yet. Fan, I wish you would kindly try to make Mrs. Brown understand I am not a furniture factory.”

“Roger, we mustn’t antagonize her.”

“I have no wish to antagonize her. I merely want her to understand that I am not a machine. The carving on that highboy alone will take a week, perhaps longer.”

“Can’t Bert help you with it?”

“Bert is not a master woodcarver.”

“Jack of all trades an’ master o’ none, that’s me,” said the ancient. “I never carved nothin’ fancier than a half-moon in the door of a backhouse. You want fancy carvin’, you talk to my nephew.”

“Then talk to him, Roger!”

Holly heard in Fan’s cry the same end-of-the-rope despair that had set off her own outburst. Roger, for a wonder, must have caught it, too. At any rate, he didn’t brush off Bert’s suggestion with his usual silent disdain of the idea that anybody else could come up to his standards.

“What sort of carving does this nephew do, Bert?”

“Started out makin’ signs, an’ quarterboards for yachts. Then it got so they was sendin’ for him all over Canada. If somebody wants a special job, like the linenfold panelin’ for that big estate in Toronto, Sam goes an’ does it. Carved statues for a cathedral in Quebec; all sorts o’ stuff. He’s been commissioned to do some work in Ottawa before the next Royal visit if this dratted gov’ment quits horsin’ around an’ votes the money.”

“There, Roger,” said Holly. “If he’s good enough for Queen Elizabeth, he ought to be able to satisfy Mrs. Brown.”

“Perhaps. He first has to satisfy me. I’m willing to talk to your nephew, Bert. I suppose he’s off on some affair of state at the moment?”

Bert either didn’t notice Roger’s sarcasm or didn’t think it worth bothering about. “Nope. Matter of fact, Sam came home last night. Goin’ to stick around till his mother gets out o’ the hospital. Lorraine’s goin’ to Saint John for some operation. Don’t ask me what, eh. I never pay no attention to women’s ailments. Sam might be as well pleased to while away the time helpin’ you out ’stead o’ settin’ around doin’ nothin’.”

Bert clambered into a pickup truck even more decrepit than the Howes and clattered off down the rutted lane. Roger stepped back inside the workshop. Fan and Holly went over to the house.

“Holly, you go and rest,” said Fan. “I don’t need help. Roger was just being overprotective of me. He still thinks I’m his sweet little girl bride.”

She emitted a deprecating whinny, trying to make the fantasy sound halfway plausible. Poor Fan! Holly couldn’t help showing some compassion.

“Not many men have wives like you, Fan. I can see how devoted Roger is.”

She didn’t have to say what Roger was devoted to. Fan was happy enough with the remark as it stood. Deciding she’d done her good deed for the day, Holly limped off to clean up and snatch a little rest.

Chapter 3

THE HOWES WERE VERY polite to each other at dinner. Roger and Fan made mild attempts to persuade Holly she shouldn’t take the job at Cliff House. They talked about Holly’s own welfare. What they meant was that Roger didn’t like the idea of his sister’s working as a domestic in Jugtown, and Fan didn’t want to lose Holly’s weekly board money.

Holly wasn’t fooled by Roger’s harping on her being company for Fan, either. Without her around, he wouldn’t have the relief of being spared some of Fan’s incessant bidding for notice. It must have been tough on both husband and wife these past three years, stuck here alone together, each wanting what the other wouldn’t give.

For a wonder, Fan didn’t say a word about having seen Claudine Parlett in the woods with a man. Could she possibly suspect the man had been Roger? Of course not, how could she? Roger would never do anything so human. Anyway, how could he have got so far from the shop and beaten them back to it? The only transportation at Howe Hill was the truck Fan had been driving.

Still, Roger did have a tweed cap and a plaid shirt, and the man had been tall. Tallish, anyway. Who cared? Holly went to bed as soon as the dishes were done. By morning, Fan and Roger had talked themselves into thinking they could make the Jugtowners believe Holly only wanted the job at Cliff House to keep her from being too bored while she convalesced. Fan was all ready to drive her downtown for the interview with Claudine.

“I suppose you know where to go,” Holly remarked as they turned into Queen Street.

“Oh sure, it’s right here on the main drag. Claudine turned her folks’ house into an antique shop. I guess I told you that yesterday. She and her brother live upstairs.”

“Maybe it was the brother we saw her with yesterday.”

“Not on your life. Ellis is one of those gangly teenage types, all hands and feet with hair straggling down over his neck.”

“Anyway, they keep the place looking nice,” Holly said to change the subject. There were boxes of marigolds and trailing vinca below the many-paned bow window. Inside was a charming display of bone china.

“That’s Claudine’s doing. Ellis spends his time scavenging for junk he can fix up and palm off on the tourists. They do all right, one way and another. I couldn’t say how well, of course. Claudine’s close-mouthed about her affairs in more ways than one.”

Holly didn’t want to hear any more about that. She let herself down from the van and entered the showroom, Fan chugging at her heels. They found Claudine selling a luster pitcher to a customer, figuring with a pencil on a paper bag.

“With the exchange, that comes to forty-eight dollars and thirty-two cents in American money.”

The prosperous-looking woman who wanted the pitcher fished an ostrich skin wallet out of her suede handbag and started counting out money. “Twenty, forty, five, six, seven, eight. And three dimes. I don’t seem to have any—wait a second, I always have pennies at the bottom of my bag. No, I’m afraid I don’t. Exactly two cents short.”

She laughed gaily, confidently, expecting to be told, “Forget it.” Instead, Claudine picked up the pitcher and set it back on the shelf. The customer turned red, scooped the money into her purse, wheeled furiously, and stalked out of the shop. Claudine turned to Fan, her face a polite blank.

“Fan Howe. You’re quite a stranger.”

Fan, still goggle-eyed at the way Claudine had thrown away a fifty-dollar sale for two lousy cents, giggled self-consciously. “I know. Somehow, I never find the time to get to meetings.”

Claudine gave that remark the silent contempt it deserved. She just stood there. Fan wasted no more breath on small talk.

“This is my sister-in-law, Holly Howe, who’s staying with us. Bert Walker says you need somebody to help out at Cliff House, and Holly thought it might be a way to pass the time.”

Claudine raised one well-shaped eyebrow. She’d be quite good-looking, Holly thought, if she ever cracked a smile.

“News does get around, doesn’t it? Have you any nursing experience, Miss Howe?”

“None whatever.” Holly could be brusque, too. “But I’ve just spent a month in the hospital, as you may have guessed from my scars, and I know the routines. I can’t do heavy work yet, but I can cook and keep house after a fashion, and you don’t need a nursing degree to empty a bedpan. Your aunt isn’t really sick, is she? Bert gave us to understand she’s just old and incapable.”

“And so’s the woman who’s supposed to take care of her,” Fan put in with her usual tact.

At that, Claudine’s poker-face softened. “Annie Blodgett’s an angel straight out of heaven. I don’t know what I’d ever do without her.”

“I’m not trying to steal anybody’s job,” Holly began.

Claudine wasn’t listening. Like the rest of them, she had something to get off her chest.

“Poor Annie. Cliff House is the only home she’s known since she was a little girl. She took care of Cousin Edith and Great-aunt Maude and Great-uncle Jonathan and Great-aunt Mathilde, and now she needs somebody to look after her. If Earl Stoodley had his way, she’d be out in the road and my great-aunt in a nursing home, but I won’t stand for that and he knows it. I’m as much a trustee as he is, and I’ll fight him as long as there’s a breath left in me. But something’s got to be done. God knows what might happen out there, one lying helpless and the other not much better. It’s terrible for me, not being able to go and see for myself how things stand.”

But why shouldn’t Claudine go if she wanted to? Fan had driven out around Parlett’s Point once so that Holly could see Cliff House, which was the best Jugtown could offer as a sightseeing tour. As Holly recalled, the big Victorian gothic house was only a few miles out of town. If Claudine could prowl the hinterlands with her boyfriend, why couldn’t she walk that comparatively short distance along a good, paved road?

“Well, I can’t let things run on any longer,” Claudine was saying. “You may as we’ll give it a try. Keep her clean and fed. That’s all anybody can do for her now.”

Claudine’s voice wavered on those last few words. Holly thought she was actually going to break down, but she didn’t.

“I don’t know what you expect for wages. Earl wouldn’t stand for more than fifty a week plus your room and board, I do know that. It’s not much, but it’s a case of take it or leave it. He won’t spend a penny more than he can help, and he grudges even that little bit.”

Holly felt sorry for Claudine, though she wasn’t sure why. “I’m not too concerned about the money. As Fan mentioned, I’m mainly looking for something to do till my scars heal. At least there won’t be many people out there staring at me.” She tried to laugh.

Claudine nodded. “That’s true. Nobody will see you but Annie and Bert Walker, unless Earl Stoodley chooses to barge in and throw his weight around. Bert does the chores every night, but he never goes beyond the kitchen. Nobody does. You remember that.”

“Not even the doctor?”

“We don’t bother the doctor. What’s the use? All right then, Holly. I’ll phone up and tell Annie you’re coming. You go pack your belongings. And I presume you understand once you’re there, you stay. Annie needs a person who’s going to be around when she’s needed, not running back and forth to the village every time she takes the notion.”

“I couldn’t run if I wanted to,” Holly snapped back. “Shall I take my own towels and bedding, or what?”

At that, Claudine managed a bleak smile. I expect there’s linen at Cliff House the moths haven’t eaten yet. You’re not going to any resort hotel, you know. Cliff House was a beautiful place in its day, but it’s pretty rundown now. It’s still filled with beautiful things, though, which is why we have to be so particular about no visitors. Even relatives,” she added, with a tight-lipped glance at Fan.

Fan shrugged.

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