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Different Drummers

by

Jean Houghton-Beatty



CHAPTER ONE

Kathleen McCreadie Conroy stood aft of the ship and leaned against the rail, her gaze focused on the small crowd cordoned off behind a makeshift barrier at dockside. In the middle of the group her family stood huddled together against the chill wind blowing upriver from the Irish Sea. She saw her older sister Nina look at her watch and whisper to their mother, who in turn glanced anxiously around and mumbled something back. Were they eager to be gone or just worn out from the pain of parting? Little Dorothy yawned and shifted from foot to foot, then giggled as big brother Kevin ruffled her hair and gave her an understanding hug. Dad stood slightly apart from the others and puffed on his pipe. Every now and then he looked up at Kathleen and gave her a thumbs up.

After the long drawn-out good-byes were over, her family would leave the dockside, comforting arms across each other’s shoulders. They’d probably have a bit of a weep until some unforeseen happening distracted them, something to make them smile. Perhaps then they’d comment on the weather. Not a bad day after all, they may very well say, and here it was almost a week still to go until June. Then later, with the lamps lit and curtains drawn against the night, they’d sit around the table and talk about Kathleen and how happy she’d looked as she headed out to sea.

She half stretched a hand toward them, then drew it back and turned it into a sort of cheerful wave.

Shore men and deck hands yelled to each other as they went about the business of casting off. Any minute now and the SS Belgravia would set sail for New York.

“Don’t forget to send chewing gum and chocolate,” Kevin shouted in his newly deep voice. It had broken only weeks earlier and he was proud of the new, grown-up sound.

“And don’t forget the nylons,” shouted Nina. “You promised. Send as many pairs as you can.”

Dorothy put her hands around her mouth and yelled as hard as she could. “Come back Kathleen. Come back soon. Thanks again for giving me your pearl earrings.”

Her father waved his cloth cap above his head and laughed up at her with the saddest face she’d ever seen. Her mother sent her one last pained look then raised a suddenly frail hand and crossed herself.

“Good-bye, God Bless, we love you,” they all shouted together.

“Good-bye, I love you too.”

The siren sounded and as the ship eased away from the stage, a roar went up from the crowd at dockside. The harsh cries of the seagulls as they tore across the decks mingled with the noise. The birds dived screaming toward the river then lifted their wings just inches from the water to soar again up and over the ship. The little tugs pulled the huge ship toward the middle of the river and Kathleen watched her family grow ever smaller. They waved their big white handkerchiefs and she waved back until eventually they coalesced with the crowd. She stared at the spot until the Liverpool dockside itself melded into the miles of waterfront, then with a long, deep sigh, she crossed over to portside as the ship sailed out of the Mersey and turned left into the Irish Sea. Only when the Welsh hills were no more than distant mounds on the horizon did she finally turn and look about her. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose, and then put the smile back on her face.

As she headed for the Cabin Class stairs, she swung her handbag and even made herself hum a few bars of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” while she traipsed around B Deck searching for her cabin. She knocked softly on the door. After all, the ship had been underway for ages. It wouldn’t be polite to barge in. A tall blonde girl answered her knock. She gave Kathleen a brief appraising look, then flashed a welcoming smile and opened the door wide. She extended an elegantly manicured hand and introduced herself as Georgina Nightingale from Chicago.

“I’m Kathleen McCreadie.”

She gave a little embarrassed grin. “I mean it’s Conroy, not McCreadie.”

“I thought you’d gotten lost, or even missed the boat,” Georgina said as she closed the cabin door, “then I guessed you were probably up on deck telling your folks good-bye.”

Kathleen nodded. “My whole family stood on the dockside more than two hours. I knew they wouldn’t budge until we sailed.”

“Was it hard?”

“A bit, but it’s to be expected. You see I’ve never gone away before, never had to say good-bye. Anyway, I’ll be over it soon. There’s such a lot to look forward to. First New York and then I’m headed for South Carolina.”

“Ah. I’ve never been there,” Georgina said. “Never been further south than Washington, DC.”

“My husband’s home is in South Carolina,” Kathleen said.

“And I’ll lay you two to one, you’re a brand new bride.”

Kathleen smiled. “How’d you guess?”

The tightness in her shoulders eased. Georgina was about her own age and friendly too. The next twenty minutes were spent sorting out sleeping arrangements, moving suitcases and deciding on drawers in the tiny cabin’s single dresser.

Georgina kicked off her shoes and flopped on her bed. “I think you’re very brave to leave your home and family. I don’t know if I could do it. I’ve only been gone a month and can’t wait to get back home.”

“I wouldn’t call it brave,” Kathleen said. “I’ve married a wonderful man. Bob, well, he’s marvelous, and besides, I’ve always dreamed of going to America. I’m very excited.”

She delved into her handbag and pretended to search for the keys to her luggage. Why hadn’t her mother-in-law answered her mother’s letter, or the one she herself had written? And on her wedding day, why hadn’t Bob’s family sent even so much as a congratulations card? Did they disapprove of their son marrying an English girl? Was there a girl in Eddisville, South Carolina they would rather he’d married? She shook off her uneasiness, remembering all those tender love letters Bob himself had written.

Kathleen and Georgina hit it off right away. The American girl had sailed from New York a month earlier and knew the ropes. She knew how to book for second sitting meals and made sure the table they got was near the band.

* * *

As Kathleen lay in bed that night and listened to the gentle deep breathing of Georgina, she snuggled down and focused on Bob. She relived that magical January night they’d met in the Rialto. In his American soldier’s uniform, Corporal Bob Conroy was the handsomest man she’d ever seen. She hadn’t believed in love at first sight until that night. When he told her he’d joined the army in July 1943, on his eighteenth birthday, she’d done a fast mental calculation. It was now 1952, which made Bob twenty-six years old.

Theirs had been a whirlwind romance. When she told her parents only two weeks later that Bob had asked her to marry him, she’d been unprepared for their negative reaction. How could she even think about marrying a man she’d only just met, they’d wanted to know. And wasn’t it just last week she’d been madly in love with Ron. Bob didn’t just live across the road, her dad reminded her. He lived across the Atlantic. What were his prospects, and what did Kathleen really know about him? Not much, Kathleen had to admit, but couldn’t they see how shy he was and how he hated to brag. Had her parents forgotten how it was when they were young, how nothing else mattered except the wonder of it all?

The last thing Kathleen remembered before the soft swell of the ocean lulled her to sleep was Father O’Kelly smiling gently at her and Bob as he pronounced them man and wife.

* * *

Late the next night, Kathleen brought out an envelope of photographs and spread them on her bed to show to Georgina.

“This is my favorite.”

She held out a picture of her and Bob with Buckingham Palace in the background. “We were on our honeymoon. He left for Texas the day after we got back to Chester and I haven’t seen him since.”

Georgina said Bob was handsome all right, then picked up one of the pictures at random. Kathleen told her it was a picture of her father’s bakery in Chester, with the family standing in front of the building. Yes, that was her Mum and Dad in the center, arms around each other. Dorothy and Kevin were still in school, and Nina, her older sister, was a hairdresser.

Georgina looked at the picture more closely. “Who’s the gorgeous hunk on the end with his arm on your shoulder? That’s not Bob is it?”

“No, he’s just an old flame.”

Kathleen tried to sound off-handed. She’d loved Ron Velnes once but that was before Bob came on the scene. On their wedding day, as she stood with Bob on the steps of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, she’d stared in surprise at Ron standing across the road. She’d thought she was over him but the sudden unexpected sense of loss had caught her off guard. He’d held her gaze as he crossed the street toward them. Then, with awful nerve, he’d taken her in his arms and kissed her full on the lips.

“Good-bye, Kath. Be happy, and think of me once in a while.” He’d smiled that crooked smile of his but somehow it didn’t reach his eyes. Then he’d dropped his arms to his side and walked almost casually away.

“Who in the hell was that?” Bob had asked, as he glared after Ron’s retreating figure.

“Just an old friend.” She’d smiled up at Bob and reached for his hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll never see him again.”

Still, she’d been unable to resist that one last look as Ron disappeared around the bend in the road.

When Georgina handed the picture back to Kathleen, she shoved it in the envelope without even looking at it.

The Atlantic was unusually calm for May, and every day the sun shone warm out of a cloudless sky. The crossing began to take on an unreal quality for Kathleen. Was this girl really her, this girl sitting every day by the pool of a great ocean-going liner, soaking up the sunshine with her brand new American friend? And at night in the ballroom, did she actually dance with everyone from the chief purser, to the leader of the band, to a university student from India? But always at midnight, when the band played the last waltz, she closed her eyes and pretended her partner was Bob. Her time was winding down. In less than a week she’d be with him and she couldn’t wait.

The biggest thrill of all came at the farewell party on the last night when the ship’s captain stopped by the Cabin Class ballroom. He strolled in and began chatting with a few passengers here and there, and when he passed by the girls’ table, he leaned forward to wish them well. He made as if to walk away then almost as an afterthought, he smiled at Kathleen.

“May I have this dance?” he said with a casual smile.

Kathleen beamed as she got to her feet and let the captain lead her around the floor. He was a good dancer and Kathleen closed her eyes with the wonder of it all.

When she finally returned to the table, Georgina smiled. “Well, that’s something to remember for the rest of your life,” she said in a good-natured way. “Wish he’d asked me too.”

Kathleen nodded and stared straight ahead, unable to believe that she had just danced with the captain of the SS Belgravia. This was really something to write home about.

 

* * *

 “I haven’t made a hotel reservation in New York yet,” Georgina said as they packed their things before going to bed. “How do you feel about me coming to the Hillshire with you? It’ll save us both some money if we share a room, and since neither of us is leaving till the next day, we can do some sightseeing together. Would you like that?”

“Would I? Oh, Georgina, you know I would. And you can help me buy a new dress. It has to be extra special, something that’ll make me look like a million dollars. I want to be wearing it when I step off the bus in Eddisville. That’s when I’ll meet Bob’s family and first impressions are so important don’t you think.”

Early the next morning, the SS Belgravia sailed up the Hudson River toward New York Harbor. Kathleen put on her sunglasses against the blinding glare of the sun’s reflection on the water and looked toward the Manhattan skyline. As tugboats guided them in, weaving through the sea traffic, gulls screamed around their ship, while other ships sounded their foghorns to welcome one of Great Britain’s ocean-going liners into port.

“I can’t believe I’m actually here,” she said to Georgina. “See there, that building, the tallest one with the spire? That’s the Empire State Building. I’d have known it anywhere. Will we have time to go up?”

“If you like,” Georgina said, laughing. “We’re docking early. That gives us most of today and nearly all of tomorrow to see the sights. Your train doesn’t leave till late in the afternoon.”

And now, as the ship sailed past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, they had their arms across each other’s shoulders and cheered along with everyone else. Somebody started to sing “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and because it was the same tune as “God Save the Queen,” Kathleen hummed along. Soon everybody was singing and as they belted out “The Sidewalks of New York,” she joined in because she knew the words.

She was here at last. Dreary England, with its bombed out buildings and shortages, even though the war ended years ago, was now an ocean away. She was surrounded by America, the richest, most glamorous country in the world, land of opportunity and movie stars. Tomorrow, she’d board the train for South Carolina to be at last with Bob, who at this very moment could already be heading out of Texas for Eddisville, his home, their home. This was where she’d start her new life.

She looked across the ever-narrowing stretch of water. The tiny yellow ants crawling along the dockside took on shape and became the famous yellow cabs she’d seen in a hundred films.

An American voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “Will all persons other than those holding United States passports please form an orderly line outside the library entrance?”

Georgina held Kathleen’s arm. “You’ll probably be held up here for ages,” she said, “but don’t worry. I’ll wait for you in the lounge.”

Kathleen looked toward the library. The queue was already snaking along the quarterdeck. “No, you go on ahead to the hotel. I’ll have no problem with this.”

Georgina frowned. “Kathleen, are you sure? This is all so new to you.”

“I know,” she said and laughed. “That’s what makes it so exciting. When I’m through, I’ll just hop in a taxi and be at the Hillshire before you’ve even unpacked.”

“Well, O.K.” Georgina retied the ribbon on her ponytail and pulled on her gloves. “Maybe I can get us tickets for the theater tonight. I heard the purser tell someone that Audrey Hepburn’s playing on Broadway in Gigi. Would you like that?”

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do,” Kathleen said, and then after she waved good-bye, it was all she could do not to dance to the back of the queue.

She pulled out her special wallet filled with papers—passport, green card, health certificate, the paraphernalia needed to gain access into the United States. She saw again her father’s face. Who did these Yanks think they were, he’d wanted to know, making his daughter pass a medical exam before she was thought good enough to marry one of their precious soldiers? To appease him Kathleen had said surely foreign girls marrying British soldiers would have to undergo a similar exam. Of course, she didn’t know this but at least it seemed to satisfy her dad.

The sun was warm on her back as she inched ever closer to the library door. She pulled out her compact to powder her nose and apply fresh lipstick, then made sure the seams were straight on her very last pair of nylons.

“Next.”

A uniformed official at the door beckoned her inside and pointed to a vacant chair in front of one of the five desks spaced at intervals along the library’s back wall. Kathleen returned his smile, and then strode across the library floor.

The man behind the desk wasn’t much older than she was and a dead ringer for Jimmy Stewart. He had the same handsome, decent face. At the table behind him was another official, his head bent over a stack of papers. He looked up as Kathleen reached the desk and nodded automatically in her direction before turning back to his work. He was plainly the senior member, the supervisor. He wore glasses and except for chewing on an unlit cigar, could easily have passed for President Truman.

She tried flashing her knock-’em-dead smile at Jimmy Stewart, whose only response was to cast a tense, sidelong glance at Harry Truman. She lowered her eyes and fiddled with the clasp of her purse, hating herself for being so forward, still flirting even though she’d been married more than three months. This man was busy, overloaded, plainly scared stiff of his boss, and had absolutely no time for banter with the likes of her.

He moved to the small table beside the desk. “Step over here, please. We need to take your fingerprints.”

He took her outstretched hand and rolled her thumb across the pad before pressing it onto the first square on the card.

Something inside her rattled. “Fingerprints? What on earth do you need my fingerprints for?”

“It’s for your dossier, part of the profile we have on you.” His voice sounded jaded, weary, as though none of this was his idea. When every fingerprint was taken, he motioned to the chair in front of his desk, indicating she should sit. He looked again at her papers on the desk in front of him, then up at her.

“We have some questions to ask which you must answer as honestly and truthfully as you can. First, do you now or have you ever belonged to or been affiliated in any way with the Communist Party?”

Kathleen stared at him, waiting for him to smile. Surely he was joking. But he tapped his pen on the desk and returned her stare, waiting for her reply. The Communist Party? What business was it of theirs what her political affiliations were? Oh, she knew all about the Cold War, had heard all the talk in England. You couldn’t turn on the radio, or read the papers without seeing something about it. The international clock was ticking like a time bomb, the fuse all but used up. The rest of the world could do nothing but watch from the sidelines, wait for the moment when the Soviet Union or the United States got so carried away with their paranoia of each other that one day, one of them, either some demented Russian or American, would push the button and trigger off World War III.

But what did any of that have to do with her? She wasn’t a Russian. She was English, for God’s sake, America’s closest ally.

Along the row of desks, other passengers were showing their papers, obviously being asked the same set of questions. It was all routine. Some of the stiffness left her shoulders and she stopped clicking the clasp on her bag. Still, a little voice inside her warned she’d better tell the truth. She faked a carefree smile.

“I did go to a couple of meetings with my uncle, but that was ages ago.”

There was a jerk in her chest and the hairs on the back of her neck bristled as Harry Truman spun around to face her. He yanked his chair over to Jimmy Stewart’s desk, forcing him to move to the side. The dead cigar was thrown into the trashcan beside the desk, then the man leaned toward her. As he laced his pudgy hands together, she noticed his nails were bitten down to the quick. He had darting ferret eyes, eyes trained to search out the miscreants. Got one, they plainly said as they glowered at her across the desk.

“You say you attended meetings of the Communist Party, not once but twice?” He was looking less like President Truman by the minute.

She cast her eyes down and prayed for a crack to open up in the floor right down to the river, something she could fall into. “It was for an essay at school,” she said. “Something to do with different cultures. You know, different philosophies, that sort of thing.”

“And what about this uncle of yours? Was he a card-carrying member?”

“Well, yes, he was, but it wasn’t like you think.”

Uncle Joe had been a member of the Party for three years and peddled the Daily Worker outside the Horse and Jockey pub in Chester every market day. When her dad had asked him why he was fool enough to stand for hours in all types of weather selling a paper nobody gave a damn about, Uncle Joe said anything was better than sitting at home listening to his nagging wife. It must have been true too, because after she ran off with their insurance salesman, he stopped going to meetings and never sold another Daily Worker.

The family had thought the story winsome and funny, but how to explain her eccentric, lovable Uncle Joe to this man, now drumming his fingers on the desk and staring at her. There wasn’t one chance in a million he’d understand. He leaned toward Jimmy Stewart and whispered something, something about her luggage. With a sympathetic half smile meant only for her, and an almost imperceptible shrug, the younger man left the room.

The ferret reached for a form from the stack at the edge of the desk. “We’ll need that in writing,” he said as he slid the sheet of paper toward her.

She scraped her chair back about a foot.

“I went to those meetings six years ago when I was only seventeen,” she said, cursing the quake in her voice. “I told you it was research for a school project. And as for my Uncle Joe, well he wasn’t a proper Communist. There was nothing fanatical about him. Anyway, he’s been dead a couple of years, so I don’t see how that matters now.”

The interrogator crouched lower in his chair, a leopard out for the kill. “You don’t see how that matters now? A close relative of yours was a fullyfledged member of the Communist Party, and for whatever reason, and however long ago, you yourself attended Party meetings. You’ll see how much it matters when I tell you Communist ideology is unacceptable in the United States. Didn’t you know that?”

His voice was tense, coiled, deliberately low, causing her to lean forward. His beady little eyes grew smaller, into tiny points of light. He was goading her all right, watching for any change of expression, something he could grab at. She hadn’t thought about it before but she bet he drank. It was written all over his big red face.

She rubbed her sweaty palms along her skirt. Surely she didn’t look suspicious. Still, better to play it safe. She struggled to keep the growing panic from creeping into her voice. “I’ve never given a thought to joining any party. Not the Conservative, Labor, Liberal, or the Communist Party.” She clasped her hands together. “Most especially not the Communist Party.”

She dredged up a weak, trembling grin. “I’m not in the least political. You won’t believe this, but I don’t even know the name of our local M.P.” An image of the very conservative Nigel Bartholomew-Hinde, who’d won by a landslide in the last election and who lives just a few streets away, flashed before her.

The ferret gave her a questioning look as he rubbed the side of his nose.

“M.P. That stands for Member of Parliament,” she said. A tiredness was creeping over her and she was ready to throw in the towel. “That’s it. There isn’t anything else I can say.”

The ferret turned as Jimmy Stewart reappeared accompanied by a middle-aged woman. “Go with her, please,” he said to Kathleen, his voice more gentle now.

“What for?”

“I’m sorry but you’ll have to be searched.”

“Searched.”

Flaming heat raced up her neck. Along with the fear and unfamiliar feeling of inferiority being thrust upon her, her throat ached from the lump that had lodged itself there. If she blinked even once, tears would roll down her cheeks.

“I’ve never been searched in my life. I’m not carrying anything important.”

One of the ship’s stewards approached the men from behind. He carried a tray of refreshments for the American officials. Clearly sensing the grilling she was undergoing, he winked at her and smiled the most encouraging smile she’d ever seen. He’d been the steward at her table. Just the sight of him was so reassuring, so normal in what had become an alien place, it was all she could do not to run to him, grab his hand, and beg him to get her out of there. She looked around the library. British people were everywhere. They wouldn’t let her come to any harm. And after all, this was a British ship, a little bit of England on a faraway shore.

She turned back to the ferret and brushed away the tears with the back of her hand. “I’m sorry I can’t make you see I’m only an ordinary English girl, newly married to an American soldier. But I paid passage on this ship and I’m also a British subject. I think I have the right to place a call to the British Embassy. And also, please, I’d like someone to send for the captain.”

Somehow, probably from all the movies she’d seen, she knew she was within her rights.

The ferret smirked. “You want us to send for the captain. Do you honestly think the captain of a ship such as this would come, even if we asked him?”

Kathleen started to click the clasp on her purse again—open, close, open, close. “Yes, he’ll come. You see, I know him.”

Would you call dancing with the captain at the ship’s farewell party last night knowing him? It was a long shot, but after all, they had talked as they’d waltzed around the room. He’d asked her name and she’d questioned him all about his glamorous life at sea. Even when the dance had ended, they’d talked at least another minute, as he slowly led her back to her table. After a short speech to the cabin class passengers, he’d waved good-bye, and then made his way out the room. She’d been so flattered, she could have died. She was the only one in the whole ballroom he’d asked to dance. Surely if the interrogator sent for him, the captain would remember her. This was after all the SS Belgravia, one of the largest ships afloat. The captain of such a vessel would be no man to be trifled with. Did the ferret want to create an international incident?

She looked again at the other people patiently waiting their turn, but who were now showing much interest in what is going on in her corner.

She turned again to her interrogator. “Yes, send for the captain, please. He’ll vouch for me and he’s bound to ask for an explanation.”

She sensed the ferret’s sudden uncertainty and almost said demand instead of ask but better not lose her edge.

He shifted in his chair, then for the next couple of minutes looked again through her papers, or pretended to. Eventually, he turned to the searcher and waved her away. He picked up the big red stamp at the side of the desk and banged it hard on every paper she had, before handing them back to her.

“If you move from the address noted, you must notify the Immigration Department immediately. Failure to do so could result in deportation.”

She leaned back and closed her eyes to sort out the bees buzzing around in her brain. She had the feeling this man had known all along she was no more a Communist than he was. Eventually she heaved herself out of the chair and didn’t look at him as she picked up her papers, then turned, and headed for the door. Once outside the library, she leaned against the ship’s rail and stared out at the river, waiting for the trembling to ease and the nausea to go away. Finally, she made her way to the cabin to collect the last of her things.

Half an hour later, as she walked toward the gangplank, Jimmy Stewart came out of the shadows. “Welcome to America,” he said. “I wish you well in your new life, and hope you won’t judge us too harshly. We’re going through a difficult time right now. Read all you can about Joseph McCarthy. You’ll see what I mean.”

Almost in control again, she smiled at him. “Yes, I will. And thank you.”

“No hard feelings?”

“None whatsoever,” she said as she shook his outstretched hand.

After gliding through customs without a hitch, she stood on the wharf with her luggage beside her and took one long last look at the Belgravia. She turned her face to the sky, and let the warm sun wash over her before flinging her arms high, trying to capture the feeling of the gulls overhead. And it worked. They called out a welcome as they soared on the gentle updrafts of air, some even seeming to hang still in the almost windless sky.

A taxi pulled up to the curb. “The Hillshire on Fifty-ninth Street, please.”

She stepped inside and readied herself for the thrill of a lifetime—a ride through the dazzling streets of New York in a yellow cab.

* * *

At last in the Hillshire Hotel with Georgina, Kathleen didn’t elaborate on the incident in the ship’s library except in a passing sort of way. Their time together in New York was short and why waste even a minute of it talking about international politics when there was so much of this wonderful city to see. Perhaps one day she would tell Bob about it. Now was not the time.

Within an hour of arriving at the hotel, she and Georgina headed out again for Macy’s to look for that very special dress Kathleen would wear when she came face to face with her mother-in-law that very first time.

“This is pretty.” Georgina held up a periwinkle dress in a silky fabric with matching jacket. “It’s your size too, a ten, and it’s also fifty percent off.”

“Ah yes, this is it.” Kathleen took the ensemble from Georgina and held it high before taking it to the fitting room. She slipped the dress over her head and pirouetted in front of the mirror.

“You’ll have to get it,” Georgina said. “When Bob’s mother sees you in that, she’ll think her son married a movie star. Besides, the blue is the exact same color as your eyes.”

Kathleen splurged on the wide-brimmed navy blue hat, trimmed with little flowers the same color as the outfit. The high heeled navy shoes she bought had platform soles, ankle straps, and even little detachable pom-poms on the front. She’d wanted a pair this snappy for years.

That night and in the pouring rain they went to the theater to see Audrey Hepburn in Gigi. It was still raining three hours later when they hailed a cab to take them back to the hotel. Kathleen stepped out behind Georgina, eyes cast down to make sure her raincoat didn’t trail in a puddle. A bright object glittered there, almost covered by the murky water. She reached down and plucked out a ring with a large green stone in its center flanked by what looked like two diamonds.

Back in their room, Kathleen wiped it with a tissue then handed it to Georgina. “What do you make of it? It was in that puddle.”

Georgina held it up to the light. “Somebody’s probably tearing their hair out right about now wondering whatever happened to this.”

“You’re not trying to tell me that huge green stone’s a real emerald, are you?”

Georgina nodded. “I’d almost swear to it. I know for sure the diamonds are real.” She looked up, her eyes bright as the stones in the ring.

“What should we do now?” Kathleen asked. “I can’t keep it if it’s valuable, but I’m not sure about turning it in at the desk.”

“Me neither. Who can you trust these days?”

Georgina sat on the edge of the bed, still staring at the ring. “I noticed an antique jewelry shop just a couple of blocks away from this hotel. Let’s go there tomorrow after breakfast and have it appraised. If it’s valuable, we’ll have to report it to the police. And if it’s worth as much as I think it is, whoever claims it is bound to offer a reward.”

Kathleen grinned. “In that case, how can I say no.”

* * *

The next morning the jeweler examined the ring. “The large stone is a true emerald flanked by flawless diamonds. The setting is definitely foreign.”

He pushed his glasses to the top of his head as he listened to the girls tell him how Kathleen found the ring. “As regards price, well, excuse me for just a minute.” He disappeared into another room, taking the ring with him, returning in a few minutes with a small bottle and a chamois. He cleaned the ring carefully and held it up to the light again before placing it on a small black velvet cushion. He shone a bright light on it for them to see.

”Take a good look at the emerald. Do you see the inner glow deep in the center?”

”Yes,” Kathleen whispered. “There’s a sort of fire-glow coming from it.”

The shop door opened and a policeman entered. He ambled toward them and tipped his cap. “Good morning, Mr. Frank, ladies. Now which one of you found this ring?”

Goose pimples popped out on Kathleen’s arms. The jeweler had called the police. Surely he didn’t think she’d stolen it. She half raised her hand.

“I did. When I stepped out of the taxi last night, there it was lying in the gutter outside the hotel.”

“That’s true,” Georgina said. “I was with her and we have other witnesses. The taxi driver as well as the hotel doorman saw her pick it up.”

The policeman pushed his cap to the back of his head. “Oh, I believe you all right. Still, it’ll have to be handed over. Something this valuable will never go unclaimed. You’ll need to come to the station to fill out some papers. It’s just around the corner. Shouldn’t take more than ten or twenty minutes.”

“But what happens if nobody claims it?” Georgina asked.

“The rules are if nobody claims it within one year, it’s yours.”

Kathleen gulped. “You mean there really is such a thing as finders, keepers?”

The policeman smiled at her and slowly shook his head. “Don’t even think about it, little lady. If this ring isn’t claimed in one week, my mother wasn’t born in Ireland.”

At the police station, Kathleen couldn’t recall the Conroys’ street address in Eddisville and asked Georgina if it would be all right if she wrote down her address in Chicago. Afterwards they went for a quick lunch in the Hillshire’s snack bar. Then, because Kathleen was leaving first, Georgina helped her lug her two suitcases to the sidewalk to wait for a cab.

She held on to Kathleen’s arm while she talked. “I don’t want to sound like the voice of doom, but be careful, Kathleen. Are you sure somebody will be there to meet you?”

“Of course they will.” Kathleen smiled, trying to reassure herself as well as the sharp-eyed Georgina. “There are only two buses a day to Eddisville from Columbia. It’s just a small town. If I’m not on one, then they’ll know I’ll be on the other. Besides, I can always get a taxi.”

Georgina handed her a piece of paper. “This is my address and telephone number. If you should ever need me, all you have to do is pick up the phone. Now promise me at least that much.”

Kathleen stuck the scrap of paper in her purse. “I promise, but I don’t know why you’re so worried about me. Nothing’s going to go wrong. You seem so, so apprehensive.”

“I know. It’s just that I hate to see you go. And, well”

“Well what?”

“You’re such a dreamer. In every other respect you’re so level-headed. But you’ve got these romantic ideas about America, and especially the South, as if it’s some sort of Shangri La. This isn’t the movies, Kathleen. It’s the real thing. You think there’re magnolias growing outside every house and mint juleps on every table don’t you?”

Kathleen laughed. “Don’t be silly. I don’t even know what a mint julep is.”

Georgina laughed then too. “Neither do I. I guess I’m just as crazy as you are. Somebody offered Bette Davis one in a movie I saw once about the South.”

They hugged as the yellow cab pulled up in front of the hotel.

“Pennsylvania Station, please,” Kathleen said as she stepped inside.

She looked through the rear window and waved to Georgina until the taxi was caught up in the hundreds of other cars on the busy street.

The red cap picked up Kathleen’s luggage as she stepped out of the taxi at Pennsylvania Station. After telling him her destination, she followed him through the cavernous building to the right ticket counter. He touched his cap and smiled when she tipped him the two quarters Georgina said were appropriate. She paid her fare, then sat on the nearest bench to look around and people-watch. The train was leaving at three forty-five. She smiled to herself, remembering the tune she’d jitterbugged to a thousand times at the Rialto. “You leave the Pennsylvania Station at a quarter to four, read the magazine and then you’re in Baltimore…”


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