Granite Island [MultiFormat]
Click on image to enlarge.
eBook by Nina M. Osier
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Cecily Stinnett dreams bigger dreams, and different ones, than most young girls in 1940's Maine. Her love for her cousin, James Court, nearly destroys those dreams; yet life with a man who can help her fulfill them quickly turns bitter. Is there any way she can have it all? Or does being born bright, ambitious, and female mean that her choices will always be not just difficult--but downright impossible?
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, Published: 2001
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2006
* * * *
3 Reader Ratings:
The old building shook as if the wharf beneath might fall apart at any second, and dump it into the heaving waters of the harbor. Crouching on his bed, in a little room under the eaves, six-year-old Jamie listened to the storm and wept--but not from fear.
Not fear of the weather or of the maddened ocean, anyway. His wiry little body ached with fast developing bruises, and his skinned back burned from his uncle's belt.
I won't let him do that to me again. He hates me, and it's not my fault! I didn't do anything that bad ... did I?
The boy scrubbed at his eyes with a shirt sleeve, because he hadn't done as Uncle Robert ordered him and undressed as soon as the man pushed him in here and went away. He could see nothing, in this room where he wasn't trusted with candle or oil lamp; where Aunt Louisa usually left him a light that would last just long enough so he could get ready and crawl into bed. On an ordinary night there would be a lantern burning at the wharf's end, and the moon might be shining. But tonight all was black, so that if he hadn't known the rooms over "the shop" (as local folk called his uncle's place of business) intimately he wouldn't have dared to venture out. But he didn't need to see the narrow corridors, or the steep staircases, to make his way down from his nook beneath the steeply pitched roof.
They were all asleep now, of course. Uncle Robert and Aunt Louisa in their bedroom, and his cousins--six of them, three boys and three girls--in their two rooms. Sometimes his oldest boy cousin, Sammy, taunted small James about his separate quarters: "You're so special, you get to have your own room! What makes you so special, anyway, besides being a little bastard?" But no one had to explain to Jamie that living under the roof wasn't a privilege. It was cold there in winter, hot in summer, airless all the year round--and most of all, it was lonesome. Isolating him not as a mark of favor, but to keep the tainted child safely away from those born in proper wedlock.
This wasn't the first time he'd slipped out at night. Young though he was, James Stinnett Court had roamed this Maine waterfront alone so many times that doing it while all was still and silent (from 9 p.m., when all decent folk on Granite Island went to bed, until between 3 and 4 a.m. when fishermen's houses started showing lamplight at their windows) only seemed like a pleasant adventure. On quieter nights, at least, it had seemed that way ... but when the shop's door tore itself out of his small hands and started opening and shutting in time with the wind, he thought for a paralyzed moment about dashing back inside and regaining his attic refuge before anyone could hear and come to investigate.
No. Even if Uncle Robert didn't catch him (and his cousins probably were awake by now, since the door's fearful banging could surely be heard above the wind and surf!), Jamie would still get blamed for this. And then his uncle would beat him, again ... he couldn't take more right now. And he wasn't going to, either!
He left the door swinging on its hinges, crashing back and forth and letting sheets of rain drench the shop's interior, and he ran. Across the packed dirt at the wharf's head, where customers parked their vehicles. Not up the road that ascended a steep hill as it left the waterfront, but into the woods beside it. Onto the path that the Stinnett children, legitimate offspring of Robert and Louisa as well as their bastard cousin James, used to make their way toward school each morning, until the winter's ice and snow forced them to take the longer way of the road instead.
Where was he going tonight? Surely not to the schoolhouse, although he ought to be there tomorrow morning. For a moment James let himself picture it, how his teacher would react if she came to work (long before any of her students showed up, as was her habit) and found him sitting on the doorstep in his present condition. His shirt bloody and untucked, just as he'd shrugged it on after Uncle Robert made him take his shirt off and his pants down for the whipping. His clothing soaked, his hair sodden, his shoes muddy and caked with wet autumn leaves.
Sitting on the doorstep? No. He wasn't going to want to sit anywhere for awhile, including on the unforgiving seat of his half of one of the schoolhouse's double desks, even though he normally loved escaping there from "home."
He shared that desk with his cousin Cecily, who wasn't one of Uncle Robert's brood. She belonged to Uncle Jay and Aunt Caroline, who lived in the big white house through whose yard Jamie had to walk when he followed this path to school. Cecily was Jamie's own age, and she had no siblings. Aunt Caroline, he'd heard Aunt Louisa telling other women (now that the shop had a telephone, which Aunt Louisa used for hours each afternoon on what definitely wasn't business), could "breed but not carry."
Aunt Caroline was beautiful, and she and Cecily lived alone in that big house most of the time because Uncle Jay was a shipmaster. A stern man considerably Uncle Robert's junior in age, as tall and tough and handsome as Uncle Robert was short and round and homely. Uncle Robert only scared Jamie when he was angry, because then his temper turned him into the wielder of a rivet-studded belt. Uncle Jay, on the other hand, scared Jamie all the time. He was so big, and his voice was so loud! And he handled his womenfolk so, well ... not roughly, exactly. But Jamie shivered every time he thought about watching Uncle Jay sweep first Aunt Caroline (a tiny woman, whose clipped British accent made Aunt Louisa scorn her almost as much as did her inability to produce live babies) and then little Cecily clear of the ground when he hugged them.
Uncle Robert didn't hug anybody, except perhaps Aunt Louisa in private, and Aunt Louisa only hugged her own children. Never her dead sister-in-law's bastard, James. She took proper care of him, kept him sheltered and clothed and fed, but he couldn't remember a time when he'd sat on her lap the way his nearest-age cousin still did. Not that he wanted to at six, of course! But it seemed strange that he couldn't remember doing it when he was younger ... in church, on Sunday nights or at prayer-meeting, Cecily always wound up in either her mother's or her father's lap. To fall asleep there, and be carried home, although she was getting so big now that she hardly fit into Aunt Caroline's arms.
James thought about all those things as he climbed the path up Stinnett's Hill, slipping in the mud and falling several times before he reached the place where the trees ended. Below the edge of Aunt Caroline's lawn, which looked almost like that of a summer estate ... the boy scrambled up the remaining yards of pathway, between granite boulders and over ledges that poked above the thin soil (ledges slippery with wet moss, and soil thick with low-bush blueberry plants that in daylight would be ruddy from fall's first frosts).
The wind still howled and battered at him, but the rain had stopped now. The clouds were blowing away, literally, and from behind them came the moon. Full and brilliant, the remnants of the storm-clouds scudding across its face, as the stars (billions of them, just as "countless" as the Bible said!) also reappeared.
Did anyone know he was gone yet? Would anyone come looking for him? And did it matter, since he wasn't planning to be found?
Or maybe he was, and just didn't want to admit it, because why else had he come here? James walked across the lawn (which, although well tended and still green even this late in the year, was nowhere near as wastefully broad as that of most summer places). He stood by the steps, the ones that led to a sea-ward facing front door since all good Maine coastal homes turned their backs on the land, and he wondered what to do next.
He could see no lights inside, but that only meant the front rooms were unoccupied. Not that no one was awake. What time was it by now? So late, surely, that only in a house where there was turmoil--death, or sickness, or impending birth--would a decent Granite Islander be anywhere except in bed.
The deep voice caught him unaware, and so did the footsteps on the wet turf behind him. As did the hands that seized him, painfully because even his arms were bruised from tonight's unusually vigorous beating, and lifted him aloft.
"Ouch!" he said, too startled to attempt his usual stoicism.
"What's the matter? Did you hurt yourself? You look like you've fallen down," his younger uncle's voice said, and for all its sea-trained power it didn't sound fearsome at all right now. Just worried, and oddly gentle. "Don't worry, I'll take you home. But let's wait for morning now, all right?"
I don't want to go home! James didn't utter the words, but only because he managed to swallow them before they escaped. All his wakefulness, all the frenetic energy that had borne him along during the climb from the harbor, deserted him now. Like the six-year-old he was, he wrapped his small arms around the neck of the big man who held him; and he buried his face against his uncle's shoulder. And after a moment, after the strong arms closed around him warmly, he couldn't stop himself from crying at last.
"If I'd known about this before.... "Joshua John Stinnett spoke softly to his wife, because the two children in the huge bed were just settling into sleep. His daughter, Cecily, back into slumber after waking briefly; and his nephew, James, from exhaustion. "Do you think we need to get the doctor for him, Caroline?"
"No. It's better to keep these things in the family, dearest." The small, lovely, brown-haired woman he'd married on a whim ten years earlier, a whim that this ordinarily deliberate and pragmatic man had never for one moment regretted, pursed her lips. "He's bruised, and his back's a mess; but I've done everything the doctor would do, or could do, already. I only wish I could think this was the first time that ever happened to him! But it wasn't. You saw the scars, as well as I did."
"Yes." Jay, as Joshua John Stinnett was always called by those to whom he wasn't simply "Cap'n" or "Skipper," tightened his arm around his love. They'd stripped the little boy together, and bathed him in front of the big, warm kitchen range, with lamplight in plenty because Caroline liked to see what she was doing and they could afford the fuel. Tight-fisted as he could be in business, with his wife and his daughter Jay could never bear to be anything except generous.
Oh, he'd wanted this so much when he was Jamie's age! A safe, comfortable place to live, instead of that wretched "shop" down on the wharf (which his father ran before his older brother took over). A woman to touch him gently and with love, a full belly, and the certainty of waking in the morning to peace. Instead of to his widowed, embittered, and always impoverished (despite what should have been a lucrative business) father's jibes ... dear God.
Where he'd spent his own hellish childhood, he had put his small nephew without a thought. Although today's players were different, of course. Robert wasn't Papa, Louisa wasn't Mama, and their six kids plus Jamie didn't make a family equivalent to Robert, Jay, and Marianne Stinnett of long ago. Nineteen, fourteen, and five years old, respectively, when their mother died trying to birth a stillborn fourth child ... why didn't I even think about bringing Marianne's baby home for Caroline and me to raise?
"I wish I'd been well when he was born, but I was so sick after I had Cecily. And she was still so tiny, not even a month old, when Marianne had Jamie." Caroline, as she so often did, seemed to be reading her husband's thoughts. "But if I'd known that expecting Louisa and Robert to take him would lead to this! Jay, we aren't letting him go back there to live. Ever. Are we, now?"
Another thing about Caroline was that here, in this home, she was the boss. And she knew it, too. Instead of being annoyed, Captain Stinnett smiled at the confidence in his petite wife's voice. He answered in the gentle tone that other adults never heard from him, "Of course not, sweetheart. From this night on, he's ours." * * * *
Nestling into the soft bed, and gaining warmth from both its covers and his cousin's sleepy body, James Stinnett Court heard his uncle's words and hoped with all his soul that he was still awake. He didn't think he could stand it, if all this turned out to be a dream.