Waking of a Dream Copyright © 2008 Sarah Morin. All rights reserved. No part of this work shall be used or reproduced by any means without prior written permission from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1: Maybelle's Homecoming
Ramsgate, Cape Cod
Maybelle Johnson could not remember a time when she had allowed herself to breathe deeply in her father's presence. After her mother died, there had been no one to shield her from his violent temper, so she carefully maintained an unassuming demeanor in his presence.
If Maybelle had a more docile nature, life would have been much easier for her; Elias Johnson was a stern, uncompromising man who expected nothing less than complete obedience from his only daughter. A strong sense of duty, which was often mingled with fear, compelled Maybelle to submit to her father's will in most things, but there were some commands to which she just could not acquiesce. One of those commands was marriage to a man someone else had picked out for her.
That was when the trouble started.
"By God, you will obey me, or else!" her father exclaimed. "You will marry a man of my choosing. Of my choosing. Are we clear on that?"
"But I've just barely finished my last year at Bradford," she protested.
"And God knows why I sent you there! Yes, it was your mother's final wish that you attend, and I sought to honor it, for her sake. But what did I tell you were the conditions of your going?"
Maybelle did not reply as promptly as she should have, so he struck her across the cheek with enough force to send her reeling backward. "Well? What did I tell you?"
"That as soon as I completed my last term at Bradford Academy, I must marry," she whispered.
Her father raised his hand. "Pardon? I didn't quite catch that."
Having no wish to feel another stinging blow from her father's heavy hand, Maybelle repeated what she had said in a louder voice.
"Exactly," he said. "And you will keep your end of the bargain, as I have kept mine."
Ordinarily she would have ceased arguing at this dangerous point, but the matter was too important for her to let go. "But – I was hoping I might continue on to college, instead."
Her father turned purple with rage. "That's absolutely out of the question! You will marry, or you will leave this house, and be damned!"
Maybelle didn't dare say anything after that. Her father was capable of making good on his threat; and she had nowhere else to go.
Her cheek smarted, and tears stung her eyes. Her mother would never have allowed her to be treated in such a manner.
"Don't you dare cry," her father said coldly. "Or I will give you something worth crying about. Now get out of my sight!"
Maybelle turned on her heel and fled to the safety of the shore.
If the past were any indication, her father would get his way. In all likelihood, by the end of the summer she would be Mrs. Somebody-or-Other.
Maybelle could not argue that she was too young. She was eighteen, and her mother had been married at seventeen. Her only other excuse, that she wished to complete her education first, had been rendered ineffective as soon as she came home to Ramsgate.
Her father clearly hoped that, after finishing at Bradford Academy, she would be willing to marry and settle down without a fuss. He had hesitated sending her away in the first place, as he felt too much education made women into carping, cantankerous fishwives who could never be satisfied with their lot in life. Perhaps he had been right to worry; those four years away only whetted Maybelle's appetite for more adventure. Though it was merely a short train ride away, Bradford gave Maybelle the chance to see another place besides the town she had lived in all her life, and to meet people with loftier goals than getting married and sinking into prosaic existences. It had been unbearable to leave the hustle and bustle of Haverhill, a booming mill town, to come back to humdrum Ramsgate. A tiny village sandwiched between Eastham and Orleans, Ramsgate was a ghost town for most of the year, and the pace was too slow and dreary for a young woman who craved excitement.
At least the summer brought some activity with the mingling of the local and visiting youths. On the beach, where all classes of society were free to gather, there was a striking informality in the relaxed atmosphere. Of course, some of the older locals disapproved of the "excessive jollity" of the youth, but wisely said little about it. The town's livelihood depended on the influx of summer tourists.
Maybelle's father was once an innkeeper, but had retired some time ago. His inn, called The Mainstay, was located further inland on Main Street. They used to live in the adjoining section built specially for the innkeeper's use, but when her father's health declined, he was advised by his doctor to move closer to the ocean, where the air was better. Ever since his wife died of consumption, Elias Johnson was never a man to quibble where health was concerned, so he promptly followed the doctor's advice. Still, even though he had hired a manager to take over The Mainstay, Mr. Johnson retained a keen interest in his inn, and when he felt well enough, he would pay a visit to see that things were running smoothly. Maybelle relished the one or two days a month he went to town, as they gave her a respite from his scolding.
Maybelle was forced to swallow her tears, for she was not alone on the beach. Far from it – it was a stultifying July Sunday, and anyone who was outside was at the shore. She looked glumly at the ocean and tried to cherish the last moments of her freedom. But even here, there was no freedom to be had. All that surrounded her were more reminders of things she was not allowed to do.
To escape the heat, many of the young women went for a swim after the bathing machines were trotted out and set up with much fanfare. The weathered wooden walls and roofs of the large, box-like structures were patched in many places, attesting to the constant use of these devices, which were designed to preserve modesty. Once the last of the clamoring crowd of ladies had crammed themselves into a cabin, the bathing machines were rolled into the ocean so their inhabitants would be able to enter the water away from prying eyes. At which point several of the young men disappeared as well, likely to a remote area where they could sneak a few glimpses of the maidens through an illicitly set-up telescope.
Maybelle would have given anything to join the other young ladies, but her father didn't approve of women swimming, even if it was behind the safety of the bathing machines' walls. And though there were strict "chin to knees" beach-attire laws in place to preserve modesty, Maybelle's father didn't approve of the "skimpy" bathing gowns that all the young women wore. So while the others cooled off in the ocean, Maybelle stood there and perspired under the layers of clothing propriety demanded. She sighed and patted her face with her handkerchief, taking care not to touch her cheek. She did not want to dislodge the powder she had put on to conceal her bruise.
Her father's authority touched every aspect of her life – even down to the dresses she was permitted to wear. Her father took the biblical admonition "women shall adorn themselves modestly and without braided hair and costly array" literally, so she was never allowed to wear sleeves shorter than her wrists or gowns without high-necked collars. As if this wasn't unfashionable enough, her father insisted she wear, at the very least, two petticoats even in the summer. At present she was wearing a somber navy-colored linen gown. How she longed to wear fashionable shirtwaists like the other girls, but her father thought them too mannish-looking. Next thing you know, he'd said, she'd be clamoring to wear trousers!
It had been so long since Maybelle was allowed to wear anything stylish. Her one consolation was that her ugly, drab gowns could not hide all of her attractive features – a tall, willowy figure, milk-white complexion and almond-shaped gray eyes; this enabled her to hold her head high among her peers.
Laughter broke into Maybelle's heat-induced reverie, and she turned to see a group of girls standing nearby. The sun gleamed on their hatless heads, and their hair, frizzled from their swim in the salty ocean, cascaded loosely down their backs. One of the laughing girls, Priscilla Thierry – a girl whom Maybelle had known and detested since childhood – glanced at Maybelle and whispered something to the group. They all started snickering.
Maybelle scowled and turned away. At the moment, she was too occupied with avoiding her impending marriage to worry about foolish gossip. She had brought a book with her – The Odyssey – to pretend to read so that she could think without being bothered.
But it was too hot to concentrate. Maybelle put her book aside and wiped her brow, pulling several strands of hair out of her bun as she did so. Sighing, she removed her hat, set it on her blanket and set to pinning up the loose strands. As she did so, a capricious breeze mussed her hair, completely collapsing her bun. Maybelle managed to brush her hair out of her eyes just in time to see that her hat was no longer on the blanket.
Frantically, Maybelle looked around and saw her wayward hat skittering along the beach where the water met the shore, as if it had decided to go for a swim. She ran after it, but it was too late. By the time she reached the water, her hat had gone out to sea, and she watched in dismay as it rode out on the waves and then rolled back in, always staying tantalizingly out of arm's reach so she could not snag it from the water.
Maybelle waited until her hat neared the shore and plunged into the surf to retrieve it. She missed, and her hat went out to sea again. She waded in a little deeper. Next time her hat came close to shore, she would grab it.
A large wave broke right where she was standing and knocked her to her knees. After she recovered from the shock, she got to her feet and assessed the damage to her person. The waves had soaked her gown, but not her hair and face. She took a mirror from her pocket, and was relieved to see that although the powder had worn off her cheek, the bruise was not as noticeable, now that the swelling had gone down a bit. A discreet dab or two from her compact once she was out of the water would once again conceal the mark.
But her hat was still gone. Maybelle returned to shore, sorely dejected. How could she go home without it? Her father would be furious. She had enough trouble hiding one bruise (the powder she had just now reapplied barely masked it from view); she had no wish to bring additional blemishes upon her delicate complexion.
"Wait, Maybelle, I'll get your hat for you," she heard a voice behind her say.
She turned to see Jack O'Connell rush into the ocean. Maybelle's heart skipped a beat. So the rumors were true – he had returned to Ramsgate after all.
Jack O'Connell had what her father would have called a "reputation." The rumors among the locals were rife with intrigue, adventure and scandal. He was a drifter, and there was no end to the tales about the places he had been and what he had done. One of the most sensational stories was that he owned a bordello in New Orleans. It was also said that he made a fortune playing the stock market. This in itself was not so bad, but the fact that he had invested in a new-fangled women's undergarment called a "brassiere" appalled those townspeople with fairer sensibilities.
However, he must have lost this fortune somewhere along the way; while in Ramsgate, he worked as a gardener and occasionally caddied for a local golf course. These were certainly not the actions of a man who had money to burn. People had to come up with their own reasons he lost his alleged wealth. The most popular story was that he sank his fortune in a shady business deal and lost everything when he was double-crossed by his partner.
Maybelle doubted these stories were true, but if they were, it would have aroused her interest rather than her scorn. Here was a man who could call his soul his own! No overbearing father would ever push him unwillingly into marriage.
It was a brave girl who dared to be seen in his company for more than a few moments – any longer than that and she'd be ripped to shreds by the gossipmongers. Of course, it figured that he was the only man Maybelle had ever wanted to spend more than a few moments with. And she very willingly did this last summer when he was in town.
They had parted as good friends when that summer was over, but once Jack left, it was as though he had never even come to Ramsgate. Maybelle never received a single letter from him. She would have written, but she did not know where he was. He had promised to forward an address to her as soon as he was settled, but he never did. It was all well and good that he had returned to Ramsgate for another summer, but Maybelle wasn't inclined to pick things up where they had left off. She wasn't enough of a fool to open herself up to disappointment twice.
So when Jack triumphantly returned to shore with her sodden hat – which was a little battered by the surf but otherwise unscathed – she resisted the urge to simply pluck it from his hands and walk away from him. That would not do; she must express her gratitude. After all, he had done her a service, and though she could not be cordial, she must be polite. "Thank you kindly, Mr. O'Connell."
There, she had done it, and was now free to go. She started to walk away but he grabbed her hand. "Mr. O'Connell? When you said goodbye to me last summer, I was Jack."
She pulled free of his grip. "You never wrote me."
Jack laughed. "Is that why you've made yourself scarce since I came back? Hoping not to run into me? Well, I'm sorry I didn't write. I would've, but I lost your address on the way to California."
"I see," Maybelle said flatly.
"You're still angry at me, aren't you?" Jack asked, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
"Well, it is rather unfeeling of you to say such a thing, even if it is the truth!"
"I didn't mean to be unfeeling," he said earnestly. "But in the end, does it really matter that I didn't write? For here I am at Ramsgate, once again, walking along the shore with you."
"So it's 'all's well that ends well' with you, I see." Easy for him to say – he did not know how many weeks she had checked the mail, breathless with anticipation, only to come crashing down in despair when there was no letter from him. Clearly, he did not care for her as much as she thought he had.
"I didn't worry too much about losing your address because I planned to return to the Cape next summer," he said, attempting to placate her.
"You might have told me that," she said reproachfully.
He shrugged. "I would have, if I had known before I left."
Maybelle suddenly awakened to the fact that every eye in that corner of the beach was on them. She looked around, embarrassed, and her eyes came to rest on Priscilla and her friends, whose eyes glittered with malicious glee.
"Your dress is rumpled and full of sand!" Priscilla said merrily. "Better not go home like that, or your father will have a fit!"
"And you had better put on your hat, your nose is as red as a lobster," Maybelle muttered under her breath. She was not brave enough to say it loudly, for she had no wish to start a feud, which would only add to her troubles. Her father strictly forbade fighting.
But Jack had heard what she said, and laughed. Priscilla immediately pounced on this fresh opportunity to tease Maybelle. "Still courting the caddy, then?"
Maybelle flushed with suppressed rage and she clenched her fists. If only she could go over there and slap that smirk off Priscilla's face!
Jack laid his hand on her arm. "Forget her, Maybelle, she's not worth it. Come on, I'll take you home."
The last thing she wanted to do was to go home with a soaked gown and disheveled hair. And escorted by Jack, no less! The gossipmongers would have a field day speculating what had gone on between them.
Such a thought made Maybelle blush, but she masked her embarrassment with a polite smile. "No, I think I fancy a walk down the beach. Will you join me?"
"I'd be delighted to," he said cheerfully.
After Maybelle retrieved her book and parasol, she took Jack's arm and went off with him. Let Priscilla gossip with whom she would!
Once they had put some distance between themselves and the crowd, they laughed and chatted as though they had never been apart.
"This is just like old times, isn't it?" Jack said fondly.
Maybelle nodded, though she was conscious of a certain electricity in the atmosphere that hadn't been present last summer. She felt a flutter in her stomach when her gray eyes met his brown ones, or when she caught him running his hand through his chestnut hair. And for the first time in her life, Maybelle was glad her father made her wear long sleeves, because walking arm in arm with him gave her goose bumps.
"Before I saw that you had lost your hat, I thought you had finally gotten sense enough to take advantage of the water," Jack said, interrupting her thoughts. "I must say this is the first time I've ever met a woman whose clothes had more sense than she did – although there's been a few close calls." He winked at her.
If it had been last summer, she would have joked that she couldn't think why her father would object, as it was such a hideous hat, but she suddenly had the burning desire not to call Jack's attention to how drab her clothes were.
"Well, I must say I welcomed the chance to get wet. After all, this is lovely weather for it, don't you think?"
Jack wiped his forehead with his hand and nodded. "It's goddamn hot."
Maybelle often overlooked Jack's "grammatical errors," as she politely called them, but this one was really too much. She stopped and gaped at him, and was relieved to see that he immediately realized he had crossed a line.
"I'm truly and deeply sorry for having offended you, and will never ever again swear or even use slang in your presence, so help me God." Though his tone was grave, his eyes twinkled and a smile played around his lips. "I'd forgotten how excitable you townsfolk are."
Maybelle frowned. "Must you always tease?"
"I don't know – must you always carry a book everywhere you go? You look like a stuffy old school marm." He yanked the book out of her hands. "What is this, anyway – a guide to proper etiquette for well-mannered young ladies? Ah – The Odyssey! I've never read it. Is it any good?"
"What do you mean, you've never read it?" Maybelle asked. "It's a cornerstone in practically every curriculum!"
"I never paid as much attention in school as I ought to have," he said ruefully.
She impulsively pressed the book into his hands. "Here, you may borrow it if you like."
Jack's eyes lit up. "Really? Thanks!"
"But try not to lose my book, like you lost my address," she said, wagging her finger at him as he put the well-worn volume in his coat pocket.
"Oh, come on, Maybelle! There are a lot worse sins a man could commit. Things that you, in your sheltered existence, couldn't even imagine."
"You don't have to be well traveled to understand the evil that man is capable of inflicting on his fellows," she retorted. "No man, or woman, is immune to sin and temptation."
"Is that so?" Jack smiled mischievously and leaned closer. "Perhaps someday I will find out what dark temptations lurk in that pretty little head of yours?"
He gently caressed her cheek – the same cheek her father had slapped. Terrified that the powder she had so carefully reapplied would be dislodged by his touch, Maybelle took a step back. "Do you tease all the girls this way?"
"Only the beautiful ones."
"All I am to you is a pretty face, then?" Maybelle asked, pretending to be insulted so he wouldn't come any closer.
But Jack was not dissuaded, and closed the distance between them. "You're a very pretty face." He stroked her cheek again.
She backed away, but it was too late. Jack's eyes widened.
Embarrassed, Maybelle covered her bruise with her hand.
"Well, well, what have we here?" trilled a voice overhead.