Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (9 page)

BOOK: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
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"I'm not sure but that it wouldn't be the Lord's work to put them somewhere they can be safe," said Mr. Stonecrop. "A place where they can be cared for."

"And since they haven't a one of them got a deed, there's no reason we can't." Sheriff Elwell smiled and held his lapels open so that Turner could see his pistol.

Turner tried again to draw away, but Mr. Stonecrop would have none of it. Turner felt the man's arm lean more heavily upon him, as if the cue to use him hadn't come yet.

"There will be those in town who insist that we should keep the school up, that we should spend even more money than we have from the town treasury on other schemes well-intentioned but foolish. You will hear talk of Christian charity and neighborliness and so on. We've tried it before, to no effect. But some people—say, the saintly Newtons—will come to you, Reverend, as a kind of rallying point—unless you make clear from the start that you stand with the interests of the town and against the dangers the island represents."

Turner felt Mr. Stonecrop's hand move down to his arm. He was being readied.

"I'm not at all sure where I stand yet, Mr. Stonecrop."

Turner felt the mountain shift, felt himself thrust forward. The cue had come.

"Turner, go on ahead and tell your good father where you left your bat and glove this morning."

"They're on the front porch," said Turner's father.

"My boy Willis brought them up," said the Deacon. "Seems he found them on the shore."

Turner felt the eyes of the room come upon him.

"I was on Malaga Island," he said.

Reverend Buckminster licked his lips. "What were you doing on Malaga Island?"

What could he say? That he had practiced with Lizzie, dug for clams, and eaten them later in a chowder so good that he might have given up Eden for it? That he had spread his arms and flown with the Tripps? That he had sat quietly by the water's edge and dreamed dreams? That he had found a place that was more home than home?


"In whose boat?"

"Reverend Griffin's dory."

Reverend Buckminster looked at Turner as though his son were Peter about to betray the Lord. Turner wondered what was so awful about going out in Reverend Griffin's dory. He wondered if there was some new rule for a minister's son that he hadn't come up against yet—if there could possibly be yet another rule that he hadn't come up against already.

"You went out in a Negro's dory. How do you know what might happen?"

"Nothing happened."

"It's not his fault, Reverend," said Mr. Stonecrop smoothly. "It's not his fault at all. That's how they are. They're sly and crafty, making out all the time that they're dumb. But they're thinking, thinking, plotting, plotting. Here's the minister's son, they think, and if we can just get him on our side, we'll get the minister. And if we get the minister, we get the church. And if we get the church—you see how it goes. That's how they used your son. And it wasn't the old Preacher Griffin that they sent out to you, boy, was it? No, sir. It wasn't the old preacher. Why don't you go on ahead and tell your father who you were with today."


"Speak up, son. I don't think your father heard you."

"Lizzie Griffin." And Turner felt dirty, as though he really had been caught doing something vile. And he knew that what Mr. Stonecrop was saying was an out-loud lie. A dirty, stinking, out-loud lie. But he couldn't figure how it was a lie.

"Lizzie Griffin. A Negress, Reverend, just Turner's age. The daughter of the only Jonah this town has ever seen. Good Lord, son, I hope you didn't enter her house. There are enough stories going around about you."

Silence from Turner. Reverend Buckminster blowing out his breath.

"So you did go in," said Mr. Stonecrop. "Well, a minister's son should know that stories tend to stay around and settle in, so that after a time no one is asking whether or not they're true. They just become true. True about you, and true about all those associated with you."

"Gentlemen," said Reverend Buckminster slowly, "there clearly are real dangers I had not anticipated." He looked at Turner, and Turner saw in his eyes—distrust. "Perhaps the Lord is leading you in your efforts. And if so, then what else could the minister of First Congregational say but that he is with you in this?"

"That, Reverend, is what we came to ask," said Mr. Stonecrop. "And it will not be long before Phippsburg is free from this sordidness, and we can start to rebuild ourselves. Someday soon, the settlement on Malaga Island will be no more."

And that was the moment that Turner realized what was being plotted. And there wasn't a thing he could say without helping the plot all the more.

He thought suddenly of Mrs. Hurd. "First to the nose, then to the eye."

Mr. Stonecrop discarded his prop.


Turner had been given a new commandment:Thou shalt not step one of thine feet upon Malaga Island, lest thou be smitten, and smitten mightily, saith the Reverend Buckminster. But if Turner happened to climb down the granite ledges to the muddy shore, and if Lizzie Bright happened to have come over in her dory to dig clams ... well, Reverend Buckminster had said nothing about not talking with her, or throwing a baseball with her, or sitting by the green-blue sea with her.

And so he did. Almost every day.

And on the way back into town, he came up with something to tell his father. In fact, Reverend Buckminster was surprised at his son's new and urgent interest in bird watching. It was an interest, he remarked, that Turner shared with the young Charles Darwin.

Turner, who had never heard of Charles Darwin, cocked an eyebrow and nodded. He supposed that this was so. He was glad of it. And his father's smile made him feel as if he might be worth something after all—until he remembered he was out-loud lying.

Turner hoped Charles Darwin wasn't a minister. He hoped he lived in the Territories. He hoped he played baseball, because these high glory days of summer were baseball days if any days were baseball days, with blue skies, warm seas, and high clouds lazy above the ocean horizon. And every morning the sea breeze bustled up and called Turner until he followed it to the shore where Lizzie waited for him, her bucket half full of clams.

Blue days, as the tide washed away the twin footprints Lizzie and Turner left along the beach. Blue days, as they walked among the sharp-edged mussels, prying open their blue-black shells to tickle their orange tendons. Blue days, as they sprinted against the sea breeze and chased the gulls until Turner finally, finally, finally touched a tail feather. Blue days, as they dangled their legs over the granite ledges and felt the gigantic continent behind them.

And it was on one of their climbs, on one of those blue days that was gushing into a bright copper, that Turner reached up and put his hand on something wet and clammy and slimy and moving, recoiled with a yelp, and startled Lizzie beneath him. She tried but could not quite find her balance and fell down to the mudflats, striking her head on a granite outcropping just before she dropped to the bottom.

"Lizzie!"Turner cried, half falling himself until he was beside her, his hands under her head, startled by how quickly they were covered with her blood. "Lizzie!"

"Don't you get—" she said, then stopped. "Whatever you do," she started again, "don't get blood on that shirt." She put her hand up to her forehead, and it shook. "You better get me back to my granddaddy. I'm so dizzy."

She tried to stand up, Turner behind and holding on to her, but her feet didn't go where she wanted them to, and Turner had to steer her as she swayed and zigzagged to the dory. The blood leaked through her fingers and dripped to the sand.

"Almost there."

"I can hardly see," she said slowly, and Turner's stomach tightened.

When they reached the boat, Lizzie stood there stupidly, not quite sure what to do. "Climb in," said Turner, but he had to lift her front leg for her, and once she was in, she fell into a loose heap in the bow, and her eyes closed.

Turner figured that the more awake Lizzie was, the better she would be, so he hollered at her, and when she did not open her eyes, he splashed seawater into her face until she sputtered and opened them. "Keep them open, or I'll splash you again."

"If you splash me again, I won't help you get that blood off your shirt."

"Just keep your eyes open, Lizzie Bright." He shoved the dory out stern first into the New Meadows and noticed how choppy it had become, with even some whitecaps tumbling between him and Malaga. He settled himself, took the two oars and fixed them to the oarlocks, then dipped them in and was surprised at how the water took them, almost sweeping one oar under the boat and the other out of his hand. He imagined watching the oar drifting away out to the open bay and wondered how he would ever get across if that happened.

He kept turning around to look at Lizzie. "Are your eyes open?" he called. "Lizzie, open your eyes. Open your dang eyes."

"A minister's son ... a minister's son shouldn't say ... shouldn't say dang." Turner's stomach grew tighter and tighter with the slow sprawl of her words.

"Keep your eyes open," he said, and bent back to the oars, trying to get the stern steady and the bow pointed to the island. It was harder than he had realized. Much harder. The water was running out against him, and every whitecap that struck him broadside sent water into the bottom of the boat. The dory felt clumsy, and it would not keep its nose where it was supposed to go. Soon he was no longer trying to point it at the island's north end but at its south end, and with every stroke in toward the island, he felt the boat drifting down and away from it.

He began to row with a frantic energy, the oars chewing raggedly at the water. But the waves kept turning the bow from Malaga, and the oars kept slipping out of the locks, and by the time he had gotten them back in, the boat had skewed all around and was slipping up and down in the troughs.

"Head the dory ... the dory into the waves," said Lizzie feebly.

Turner did not reply. He was watching the granite ledges slip past, the pines above them bending with the wind out to sea.

"Into the waves," said Lizzie again.

He turned around. "I know, Lizzie. I'll get it. Keep your eyes open. Both of them."

They were now well away from Malaga and heading stern first down the New Meadows. The waves chopped briskly as they rushed out to the bay and to the sea beyond, and Turner gave up any notion of trying to make it back to the island. Instead, he turned the bow against the running tide to maneuver the dory in close to the mainland, where he might find some mudflats to run up to. But now the ledges came right down to the New Meadows, and there were no open mudflats. The water was choppier in close, and twice he struck a stone ridge just beneath the surface, the second time so hard he was afraid it might bash in the boards. He moved the dory out farther again.

Lizzie, who had felt the bashing just beneath her, raised her head. "You missed the island."


"You missed the island. How could you miss the island?"

"The tide's too strong. It's taking us out with it."

Lizzie put her hand to her head, and Turner thought she might be sick. "I'm going to fall asleep," she murmured.

"You can't fall asleep, Lizzie. You've got to keep your eyes open."

"When you reach the point ... when you reach Bald Head ..."

"When I reach Bald Head,"Turner repeated.

"The tide will slack some. You can ground.... The tide will slack some."Then Lizzie was quiet.

Turner looked ahead and saw the rock ledges streaking past and the shore bending away. He moved the dory in closer to the land and stopped rowing altogether except to keep the bow into the waves. His arms felt drained, and he wasn't sure he could make them do what he wanted them to do when the slack water came. But he waited and watched, hollering back to Lizzie now and again to be sure she stayed awake.

But she wasn't hollering back.

The copper of the sky had deepened into a dark red, and the dark red was now deepening into the purple of early night. When Turner looked over his shoulder to the east, more than a few stars had already yawned themselves awake and were stretching to begin their run. On the ledges above him there passed a farmhouse, then another, and still another, where yellow lamps were glowing out the windows. He felt the air cooling quickly.

Then the rhythm of the waves changed. In a moment they had lost their choppiness and had lengthened into long swells that came slow and syrupy. The boat smoothed out, and it was easy to keep the bow to the low stretches of water that swiped at the dory's nose.

Turner thought immediately that they must be at the point. When he looked at the shore, it was hard to tell whether it was bending away or whether it just got lost in the gathering darkness. But he turned into it anyway, rowing with all the might he could summon in his drained arms, pushing back with his legs and grunting with each pull, not even calling to Lizzie because he could not speak and pull at the same time. He felt the dory skim across the swells, cutting through their rhythm, and figured that finally, finally he was setting their course.

As the purple of the sky spread all the way across to the west, he rowed. As more and more stars roused themselves, he rowed. And as the wind picked itself up and wrestled with the tops of the swells, he rowed.

He rowed until he realized he had missed the point and they were well out into the bay.

And then he stopped.

Now the purple spread from horizon to horizon, and the stars that had clustered in the east were fading with the early light of the rising moon. The swells lengthened even more, so that the dory rocked up and down as gently as ever it might, and if it had not been for the farmhouse lights on the shoreline, Turner would hardly have been able to tell that the dory was moving at all.

He was not afraid, and was surprised to find that he wasn't. As long as he could keep the shoreline lights from dipping under the waves, he knew that he was in sight of shore. And he knew that the tide would have to stop flowing sometime and head back up the New Meadows. Already he could sense it weakening when he dipped the oars into the water. He could even make some headway into shore before his tired arms gave out and he was pulled back to where he had started. He was thirsty and more than a little bit hungry, but without the panic of hopelessness.

BOOK: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
13.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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