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     Please enjoy the first chapter of   
        "Sea Glass And Fireflies."

Chapter One

   Elsie Hayward cried through most of her wedding day. Or what should have been her wedding day. Her betrothed, Gabriel, had been lost at sea five months before. So instead of a white gown, she wore a traveling cloak, and in place of the wedding march, she was listening to her mother trying to talk her out of her impending journey.

   Elsie had assumed that no more need be said about it, but her mother had other ideas. She waylaid Elsie in the drawing room while she waited for her father to take her to the train station.

   “I don’t understand why you are so determined to leave.” Mrs. Hayward stopped pacing and sat beside Elsie on the sofa.

   “Uncle Max says I can stay with him for as long as I want to. I’ll be better off away from all this.” Elsie waved her hand to indicate the sofa, the drawing room, and the entire town of Holderness.

   “But how can you be better off in Sherwood Bay?” Her mother was not able to suppress a shudder.

   “I like Sherwood Bay. I haven’t been there in two years.”

The solitude of Uncle Max’s home on the New Hampshire seacoast was exactly what she needed right now.

   “You won’t forget Gabriel there,” Mrs. Hayward said. She crossed her ankles and smoothed the imagined wrinkles in her skirt.

   “I am not trying to forget Gabriel, though I know you wish I would. And furthermore, I know you’re pleased he did not become your son-in-law today.”

   “Elsie!” Mrs. Hayward’s hand flew to her chest as she gave a little gasp. “It’s not as if I am glad that he died.” She picked up her teacup from the mahogany side table and took a fortifying sip.

   Elsie slumped down into the sofa cushions. “I know you aren’t. But you didn’t want me to marry him, either.”

   Her mother took her time gathering her answer. “I won’t speak ill of the dead. I will only say—” She brought a hand to her lips and stopped speaking. It looked like holding her words in was costing her dearly. Her teacup rattled in its saucer as she placed it back on the table.

   “I know,” Elsie recited, for she’d heard it over and over during her engagement. “He was only a seaman. We would not have had an easy life.” Her hand felt bare without Gabriel’s engagement ring. There was still a pale mark where he’d slipped it onto her finger less than a year ago. She’d returned it to his mother yesterday.

   “He could not have supported you. It would have been more difficult than you can imagine.”

   “Be that as it may, Mother, I was supposed to marry him today. If his ship had not been lost, we would be leaving together on the train this afternoon. He would be sitting beside me right now.” She wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. “I can’t stay here; it’s too difficult. I’m going to Uncle Max’s.”

   Her mother folded her hands in her lap and shook her head. “You’ll be bored silly there.”

   “I’d like to be bored silly for a change.”

   After Gabriel’s death, Elsie’s life had become a series of heartbreaking days—the funeral, condolence callers, somber meetings with her parents and Gabriel’s mother, solitary walks on the beach, countless hours weeping in her bedroom. In a matter of days, Elsie had unraveled all the plans she’d made over the few months of her engagement. Since then, she had fallen into a listless haze.

   When Uncle Max wrote and suggested she come stay with him, she accepted his invitation at once. Her father and sister had agreed that it was a splendid idea.

   Her mother had not.

   “You are much better off here”—she took Elsie’s hand—“where I can look after you.”

    Several loud thumps came from the direction of the staircase. That would be Elsie’s trunks being taken out to the carriage.

   “I need this time, Mother. I think of him whenever I pass by the docks and when I look out my window to the sea.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. “He’s around every corner here.”

   “I thought you were feeling better. You seem happier of late.”

   “The last month or so I’ve had days where I felt almost content. But the wedding day has brought it all back. The pain is just as fresh now as when I first heard he was gone.”

   “The problem is that you have not let go of your grief, Elsie. You hold on to it too tightly. It’s time to think of your future. But I see that you are set on going to Max’s.” She frowned and said under her breath, “I only wish it wasn’t quite so far.”

   This was the closest she would get to her mother’s blessing, so she did not point out that staying home would drive her to distraction. Elsie stood and crossed the room to the window that overlooked the back garden, where purple anemones were just beginning to bloom.

   “Ready to leave, Elsie?” her father asked as he came into the room, buttoning up his overcoat.

   “Yes,” Elsie said at the same time her mother said, “No.”

   “We’re having a chat,” Mrs. Hayward said. “You don’t need to leave this moment, do you?”

   “If we want to make that train, we do,” her husband replied.

   “I think we’ve said all we need to, Mother. Thank you for understanding.”

   “I don’t know that I understand, but I know that you are going regardless of what I say.”        Mrs. Hayward stood and held out her arms to Elsie, who allowed herself to be enfolded in her mother’s rose-scented embrace. When Mrs. Hayward pulled away, she straightened Elsie’s black velvet collar. “Write to me, won’t you?”

   “I will.”

   “And do try to have a bit of decorum,” her mother said, inspecting Elsie from head to foot with the kind of glance she used to give her every day before school.


   “Max does let you run a bit wild, dear.” She settled herself on the sofa and reached for her teacup.

   “Oh, Mother, it’s not as if I’ll be meeting the president’s wife in Sherwood Bay.”

   “You can’t have that attitude, not if you want to find another beau.”

    Elsie just stared at her, unable to form a response.

    Mr. Hayward, standing in the doorway, held up his pocket watch. “We really must go.”

    Elsie kissed her mother on the cheek and picked up her beaded bag off the sofa.

    She followed her father outside, stepped into the carriage, and tossed her bag onto the seat next to her. Elsie crossed her ankles and glanced out the window facing the harbor.

   When her father got in, she turned to him. “You’d think Mother would have a bit more faith in her brother to keep me respectable. She acts as if I am three years old.”

   Mr. Hayward signaled to the coachman, and they were off. Gravel crunched under the carriage wheels as they crept away from the house, gathering speed as the horses trotted through the streets.

  “She knows Max is a bit of a free spirit.” He smiled and looked at her with greenish-blue eyes that mirrored her own. “And so are you.”

   “Has it occurred to her that that’s why we get along so well?”

   “I imagine it has.”

   “She needn’t bother about my decorum. I’m not going to Sherwood Bay to pay social calls.” All she wanted there was peace and quiet, and above all to escape the oppressive atmosphere at home. Since Gabriel’s death, Mrs. Hayward had alternated between consoling Elsie with kind words and disparaging Gabriel whenever a chance presented itself.

   “I wish you’d allow me to accompany you,” Mr. Hayward said as they trundled along. For the last three days, he’d been pressing to be her chaperone.

   “I’ll be fine on the train. You’ll escort me into my coach, and Uncle Max will meet me at the station in Portsmouth.”

   “Not a little girl anymore, I suppose.”

   “No. I was to be married today.” She wiped her eyes and pushed aside thoughts of what she would have been doing right now if Gabriel hadn’t died.

   “You’ll have your day.” He gave her knee a little pat.

   “I hope so. I’m getting rather old.”

   “Fiddlesticks. You’ll find the right man when you least expect it.”

   “I thought I already had.”

    Her father didn’t reply but took her hand. She leaned her head on his shoulder until the carriage pulled into the station.

   Once her trunks had been stowed, Mr. Hayward escorted her to her private coach. Uncle Max had arranged it, for which she was grateful. It wouldn’t do to cry in front of her fellow travelers.

   “Goodbye, Elsie. And please, do write.”

   “I will, once I get settled.” She kissed him on the cheek and climbed into the coach. He closed the door after her and touched the glass with his gloved hand.

   Then he was gone.

   Now she really was alone, for the first time in she knew not how long. She kicked her shoes off and tucked her feet up on the seat. Tears obscured her view out the window. Her eyes appeared gray in the dull glass pane, and her light brown hair took on a muddy hue. A cluster of freckles, just on the crest of her right cheekbone, was not even visible in this light.

   Memories chased each other through her mind as a whistle sounded and the train pulled out of the station. Growing up in a coastal town not far from Boston, Elsie had found the beach a constant source of amusement and adventure. Her usual companion was her best friend, Charles. While she combed the sand for treasure, he dug deeper in search of shipwrecks. Sea glass turned up almost every day, but the shipwreck didn’t appear until they were twelve years old, the same day she met Gabriel.

   The masts were exposed after three days of driving rain and relentless wind. The next morning, the parks were empty; every child in town was on the beach exploring the ancient wreck at low tide. Elsie and Charles were making up stories about where the ship had come from when Gabriel sauntered over and introduced himself. That was ten years ago, and he’d been their friend ever since.

   Gabriel was unlike any of the boys Elsie had grown up with in Holderness. Though only two years older than she and Charles, he carried himself like a man. And yet his face had a cherubic quality, especially when he smiled and showed his dimples. He had black, wavy hair, and eyes that called to mind the green perfume bottles on her mother’s vanity. Gabriel’s life ambition was to be a captain, like his father. He hadn’t attended school with Elsie and Charles, spending most of his time on the docks or at sea. He worked as a deckhand on his father’s ship, the Scalloper. When he joined Elsie and Charles in town, he amused them with tales about the places he’d lived up and down the eastern seaboard. Charles had often said his stories sounded too fantastic to be true.

   When they were eighteen, Charles moved to San Francisco. Life for Elsie would have been lonely indeed if it hadn’t been for Gabriel.

   Elsie arrived in Portsmouth shortly after nightfall. She hurried off the train, eager to leave the cramped space behind. The train’s shrill whistle signaled its next departure as she walked aimlessly around the platform, looking for any sign of her uncle. She sighed. He’d forgotten she was arriving tonight.

   “Miss Elsie!” a voice called.

    She turned to find her uncle’s coachman jogging toward her.

   “Tom,” she said, the slight tension in her shoulders disappearing.

   “Oh, you’ve grown since I saw you last, miss.”

    Tom still had the same wide grin and long black frock coat flapping around his knees.

   “How long has it been? Two years?” Elsie asked.

   “Yes, nineteen-nine was the last time you were here. And now you look quite the lady.”

   She smiled for the first time in hours. Tom probably still saw her as an eight-year-old girl scampering around the stables.

   “I’ll see about your trunks.” He hurried toward a mountain of luggage stacked beside the train tracks.

   Elsie took a deep breath of fresh, salty air as she went in search of the carriage. The clear spring evening held just a hint of coolness. Stars twinkled overhead, and crickets chirped in some hidden pocket nearby. As a child, every summer visit to New Hampshire had started here, at the Portsmouth station.

   With its back windows and rust-colored trim, Uncle Max’s brougham stood out among the buggies and motorcars. Elsie opened the door and peeked inside, hoping to find him lounging on the velvet bench, but it was empty.

   After Tom returned and stowed her trunk, she joined him on the driver’s seat—she’d had enough of enclosed carriages for one day.

   Soon they were on their way to Sherwood Bay, a bustling port town a few miles outside Portsmouth. The road wound through a lush forest, white birch trees bright among the maples, firs, ashes, and elms. At the crest of a hill, the dense canopy gave way to open sky. Far below, the beach glistened in the moonlight. Elsie removed her hat and held it in her lap, relishing the evening breeze in her hair.

   They trotted along the coast road to Birch Street, and soon Uncle Max’s home came into view. Perched on a slightly raised bluff, the twilight-blue house with white trim and green porch railings was far enough away from stormy waves but close enough to afford views of the ocean from almost every window. Elsie had thoroughly explored its many snug nooks as a child. A narrow staircase at the end of the third-floor hallway led outside to a fenced balcony, where, looking up, one could see the round tower room. Many an evening had been spent on the balcony, waiting for stars to appear.

   Tom dropped Elsie off at the front porch, and she mounted the steps. Before she had time to knock, the dark green front door swung open.

   “Elsie!” said the housekeeper. “I trust you had a pleasant journey. Your room’s all ready—it hasn’t changed a bit since you were a little girl, but you certainly have. I think you’ve grown even taller since the last time I saw you.” She opened the door wider. “Come in, dear, come in.”

   “Hello, Mrs. Holt,” Elsie said, smiling.

    Mrs. Holt had worked there for as long as Elsie could remember. She kept the house running smoothly and did so alongside Mr. Anderson, who had several responsibilities around the estate. Perhaps estate was too grand a word for it, but Uncle Max employed a number of people to maintain his sprawling, secluded property.

   Elsie stepped inside, welcoming the heat and light. The house smelled just as she remembered, like summer grass and winter sunshine, fresh-tilled earth, and cozy fires.

   Mrs. Holt took Elsie’s cloak and hung it inside the closet beside the front door before turning back to Elsie, her eyes moist.

   “I was so sorry to hear about your—the ship, the wedding…that is…your Gabriel.”

   “Thank you, Mrs. Holt.” Elsie’s eyes pricked with tears.

   “You let me know if there’s anything I can do for you. Anything at all.” She softly patted Elsie’s arm.

   “I will.” Mrs. Holt kept looking at her, but Elsie wasn’t sure what else to say on the matter.    “Is my uncle awake?” She peeked into the library, where he was often found in the evenings, reading or dozing in a chair beside the hearth.

   “Yes, but where he is I couldn’t say.” Mrs. Holt put her hands on her hips. “He went out with that assistant of his hours ago, and they’ve yet to return. I thought, with you arriving, he’d have stayed at home.”

   “I’ll see him in the morning. I’m hardly fit for one of his lectures tonight.” Elsie barely stifled a yawn as she crossed the entryway to the oak staircase.

   Mrs. Holt followed along and touched Elsie’s shoulder lightly before she reached the stairs.

“Are you hungry? Would you like supper?”

   “I would love some of your spice cake, if you have any on hand.”

    Mrs. Holt beamed. “I did find time to bake one this morning, knowing your fondness for it.”

   Though the cook could make any dish under the sun, Mrs. Holt insisted on being the only one in the house to prepare her special spice cake recipe.

   “I’ll have that, then, and some milk, please,” Elsie said, her hand on the banister.

   “A drop of brandy in it to ward off the chill?” Mrs. Holt gave her a tiny wink.

   “That would be welcome.”

   “I’ll have Daisy bring it up to your room.” She dashed off to the kitchen.

   Elsie made her way up the stairs, completely forgetting to skip the creaky eighth step. Her bedroom overlooked the back gardens and commanded a spectacular view of the beach during the day. Not only were the curtains blue—a stunning royal hue—but the quilt was a patchwork of it, from cobalt to robin’s egg. Even the porcelain ewer and basin at the washstand were decorated with tiny blue roses. A mahogany vanity and chair were set up beside a matching wardrobe, and a pile of old favorite books still sat on the nightstand. She pulled the pins out of her hair, placed her hat on the vanity, and shook her hair loose with the aid of her fingers.

   She crossed the room to the deep window seat and opened the windows, welcoming the cool breeze. The Mason jar full of sea glass she’d been collecting since childhood sat in its customary place on the sill. Sinking into the velvet cushions, Elsie closed her eyes and listened to the distant waves.

   After a few minutes there was a knock on the door.

  “Come in,” she called, and Daisy came in with a tray.

  “Thank you, Daisy.”

  Daisy put the tray on the nightstand, then left the room. Elsie took a few bites of the spice cake and drank half of the brandy-laden milk. It was more than just a touch, she noticed with a grin. She lay down on her bed fully clothed and closed her eyes. Before she had time to remove her shoes, the sea lulled her into peaceful sleep.

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