Young Dan Pride
The gray day ended as it began, too cold for May, and threatening a storm. Now the wind swept out of the east, lashing the sea. It drove the tide up through the harbor and past the town, into the great salt marsh beyond.
Here, for half the course of the clock, the sea would invade the land. The black tide, branching and re-branching into its creeks and waterways, would fill and overflow the ancient beds of salt hay. It would hide, for a time, the treacherous salt ponds. Then, around midnight, the tide would halt and slowly draw back into the sea.
But all night long the wind and the rain, like powers of darkness, would turn this wasteland into a wild witches’ sabbath.
Back in the town, the rain began to fall. It streamed against the windshield of the Jeep Wagoneer making its way down Main Street.
Dan Pride wiped the steam from the window and saw his own face– and the anxiety in it. Quickly he made his face go cold and safe. Then he gazed at the town. His father at thirteen had known these very stores, these great trees, these houses with their fences and lilacs. He tried hard to see his father at his own age, confident and happy, walking through this town. But he could only see himself minutes ago, climbing down from the Boston bus with his suitcases and his violin, with his face set cold and safe. He could still see the men on the street corner- the watchful men with their sharp features. They had seemed alien, talking among themselves in their strange coastal dialect, and Dan stood apart, unsure of what to do.
It was a lonely wait, there on the sidewalk. Then, through the first drops of rain came Billy Ben, like a burst of sunshine. The hired man was ruddy and square, with a big face as friendly as a window.
“Welcome to York, Dan Pride! What’s the matter, too proud for the welcome committee?” But his ready laugh with the men was meant for Dan as well.
With mock ceremony he handed the boy into the Jeep and threw the luggage into the back, foreign labels showing. But when he came to the violin case, his manner changed.
“Well, what do ya know?” he said softly. “We got ourselves another fiddler!” He pushed the violin behind the suitcases and slammed the door, as if Dan had something to hide.
The men exchanged glances and moved into the store. Uneasy, Dan stared after them. But Billy Ben jumped in with a cheerful shrug and started up the Jeep. “Off for Pride’s Point!” he said.
“How far is it, please?” asked Dan, suddenly self-conscious of his English accent.
“Twelve miles out in the marsh, the old way.” Billy Ben looked at the boy. “Say, you had any supper? You look used up.”
“Yes, thanks, on the plane,” Dan told him.
The London plane, the last link with his old life, was behind him. What lay ahead he had no way of knowing.
Billy Ben struck up a whistle as if to cheer the tired boy beside him. They left the town behind and headed inland, past farms and woodlots. But Dan could always glimpse the river, running fast with the tide, and the rain pelting hard onto its surface.
“Well, Dan Pride,” his companion said suddenly, “what do ya think of our town?”
Dan noticed suddenly that Billy Ben was a young man, still in his twenties, he estimated. With his sharp brown eyes he didn’t seem to be a man that could easily be fooled. “I liked what I saw of York. Really,” Dan said thinly.
“You like it like poison,” laughed Billy Ben. “But I guess York must seem pretty dull after London, and some of them other cities you’ve lived in.”
“It isn’t that,” Dan said quickly. “It’s just that the men back there didn’t seem … friendly.”
Billy Ben shrugged. “No ambition, that’s all. They work part time up at the shipyard, and spend the rest of the time hangin’ around town hatchin’ up trouble. You got to plan if ya wanna to get somewhere.”
“But it almost seemed as if they didn’t like me, personally, for some reason.”
Billy Ben hesitated. “Didn’t your daddy ever tell you about the town? About growin’ up at Pride’s Point?”
“No, though I often asked him. I expect he was homesick.”
Billy Ben shook his great head. “That weren’t it. Even foreign correspondents talk about home, I guess.” He glanced at Dan. “I’ll tell you this much. It isn’t you they don’t like. It’s who you are. Some folks in town had just as soon all Prides cleared out of York, and stayed out.”
Dan looked at him in disbelief, then watched the windshield wipers sweep back and forth. Cleared out and stayed out. Cleared out and stayed out, the wipers seemed to say.
But the Prides were an honorable family. Long ago they had even settled the town, his mother had told him. Swiftly his temper rose at those unknown men on the corner. He turned to Billy Ben. “Why? Why shouldn’t they like the Prides?”
“Small town stuff,” said Billy Ben in an easy tone, ignoring the sudden heat in Dan’s voice. “Prides have always been standoffish. And, there was somethin’ happened back in witchcraft times. Most folks in town don’t even know what it was all about. But they keep ahold of the grudge just the same.”
Witchcraft times. Grudge. Dan stared out of the window. So this is why the men had been silent. They resented the fact that Prides were proud of their family heritage, and for something that happened long ago and been mostly forgotten. Wearily, he held to one thought: his Uncle Julian, at least, would have a welcome for him.
Billy Ben changed the subject. “What you been doin’ with yourself, Dan Pride? Tell us about it.”
It was a subject which brought Dan no pleasure. But the man meant to be friendly. So he told a little of his life in Europe during the happy years, which were already growing hazy.
Billy Ben ran his tongue over his generous lips. “Travel, that’s the thing. Livin’ like a lord in the big cities. You speak all those languages, Danny boy?”
Dan shook his head. “I didn’t live like a lord. And I went mostly to schools where they taught in English.”
“You speak different, though. Real British. And then what?”
Dan went on tonelessly. “After my parents were killed in the plane crash, I went to a boarding school near London. During the holidays I went to camp on the continent. Once I stayed with the family of one of my schoolmasters in Paris.”
There, it was over. Three years of loneliness explained so often, and always told in these few, empty words. Not a hint of the grief, and the shameful new fears of being unwelcome among “friends”, and not being very clever at anything, and being smaller than others his age. No mention of the long hours he had learned to pass in the kinder company of books.
But Billy Ben’s eyes were shining enviously. “Pretty special for a thirteen-year-old, I’d say.”
Dan looked at the man, surprised at his envy. Billy Ben couldn’t seem to imagine what it was really like to be without a home and family.
The Jeep bumped on over the dirt road. Outside, the woods gave way to a clutter of sumac and scrub pine. Here and there they passed shacks built close to the road, each with a small boat overturned in the yard. This was a wild area, good for nothing but the bleakest of living.
Dan wondered how much further they must go before he would be at his uncle’s house. It did not matter that he had never met his father’s brother Julian. What mattered was that he would have a home again, a family life that might be as happy and loyal as his own had been.
He peered through the rain, eager for his first glimpse of the great salt marshes. His curiosity getting the best of him, he asks, “What is Pride’s Point like?”
“It’s self-sufficient, like the old places are, with its own orchard and gardens and such. And it stays the same while the world keeps a-changin’.” Then Billy Ben’s voice grew matter-of-fact. “But if I had it, I’d make it differ’nt. I’d make it pay me good hard money.”
“Does anyone live on the island besides Prides?”
Billy Ben gave a short laugh. “Just us Coreys. And I’ve lived there all my life, except for a spell in York, workin’ at the shipyard. Coreys have always worked for Prides,” he added, “and that’s a long time. The Prides raised the old house back in Puritan times there above the point, so as to be safe from the Indians. And they’ve kept themselves to themselves ever since.”
Suddenly the wilderness ended, and Dan caught a glimpse of lawns and bright flower beds and a friendly colonial house. Smoke rose from a chimney and lights were glowing cheerfully, though night had not yet fallen. Had they crossed the bridge without his knowing it, and could this be Pride’s Point? With a quick hope, Dan turned to Billy Ben.
But Billy Ben shook his head. “That place belongs to the Bishops.”
“Are they neighbors of ours?”
“You mean your daddy never told you ’bout the Bishops?”
Dan shook his head.
“Just keep clear of the Bishops.”
Why? Dan wanted to ask. But Billy Ben was staring ahead into the rain, and there had been a roughness in his voice like an order. And in that moment, Dan saw something strange.
Just beyond the Bishop place, the road turned aside at a ledge. Here, half hidden by the thicket and drenched by the rain, crouched a figure. For an instant the eyes held Dan’s, bright with a greeting, or a warning. Then they were past. Dan looked back, uncertain whether he had seen a human figure, or anything at all.
Before he could speak of it, the Jeep dipped down an incline and made a sharp turn. Dan stared in wonder, the figure by the road forgotten. There before them and far beyond stretched the great salt marsh. Mile on desolate mile reached abroad into the half-light of the evening. In this eerie limbo raged the wind and the rain with nothing to break their fury. And through the whole wild wasteland the creeks were roiling and twisting like bright snakes among the islands.