When the Tide Rushes InWhen the Tide Rushes In

Chapter One

Seven Years Later . . .

Eliza Lancaster parked her shiny new Packard behind the hearse. “Congratulations, Mama. You had to go and die to get your way, but you finally got us together.”

Throngs had gathered in the Gladstone Cemetery, but the first face Eliza recognized was Oliver Weinberger’s. She slumped in her seat and groaned when Oliver waved and sprinted toward her. With his long, skinny legs and big, brown doe eyes, he looked like a panic-stricken whitetail deer on the first day of hunting season.

She glanced at the hordes of people staring in her direction and wondered how many had come out of sheer curiosity to gawk at a marked woman. Or at least one presumed to be marked. Privy to the nasty gossip that had continued to circulate through the small town, her pulse raced. Eliza didn’t need to hear the whispers to know what they said about her. Surely, Oliver knows. He lives here. Jeepers, has he no pride?

He hunched over with his head slightly leaning toward the open window and panted. “Ah, my sweet. I trust you received my telegram.”

Eliza feigned a smile and nodded. She hadn’t responded to the wire. Now, sensing a flicker of hope in his high-pitched voice, she wished that she had. He seemed to interpret her failure to reply as an affirmative answer to his request. Eliza had no desire to create the illusion they were a couple and give rise to his fantasies, but neither could she humiliate him by spurning him publicly before a mob of curious spectators. She’d accept his offer to escort her to the memorial service and deal with the consequences later. At the moment, it appeared she was holding up a funeral.

Oliver jerked open the door. “I was beginning to worry, Eliza. We mustn’t tarry. The preacher’s waiting.” He lifted his felt hat and blotted his damp forehead with a handkerchief. “I’m sorry about your mother—she was a grand lady. We were quite close, you know.”

Eliza nodded. “Yes. Mama reminded me often.”

His face lit up. “She told you we were close?”

“No. She reminded me often that she was a grand lady.”

His brow furrowed.

“I’m teasing, Oliver. Yes, she was quite fond of you.” Eliza had known since grade school that Oliver was everything her mama had ever wanted for her. But she wanted much more—or according to one’s viewpoint, perhaps she wanted much less. In either case, Eliza knew what she wanted and Oliver Weinberger was not his name.

“Eliza?” Oliver’s treble voice lifted. “I don’t mean to rush you, love, but we’re late.”

She reached up and placed her lacy-gloved hand into his outstretched palm. Without a word, she shifted her body and stepped out of the car. Her peep-toe heels dug into the soft dirt. She grimaced when sweat from Oliver’s clammy palm penetrated her thin glove.

With his head tilted back, Oliver peered down his long, Roman nose and with his index finger, smoothed his pencil thin mustache. “Ready, my dear?”

Her gaze met his. When a childhood memory invaded her thoughts, she gasped and tried to shove it back where it belonged—in the past. The timing couldn’t be worse. She clinched her lips tightly. Don’t think about it, Lizzie. Don’t! You know what’ll happen . . . Armadillo face . . . now you’ve done it. Armadillo face. I can’t make it go away. Don’t start laughing. Not now. Armadillo face. The name she called Oliver in the sixth grade stuck through the years. It’s not funny. She swallowed hard. Think of something else. Mary had a little lamb, his—

Oliver tugged at his pinstriped waistcoat and crooked his arm. With her composure regained, she looked into his woeful eyes, smiled slightly and slid her arm into his. As they strolled past, the crowd parted, creating a narrow human avenue. Nauseating smells filled the hot, humid Gulf Coast air with the stench of cheap perfume, body odor, and stale tobacco mixed with an overwhelming fragrance of far too many floral sprays. Eliza winced and held her breath.

Oohs and ahhs followed them as Oliver escorted her toward the dark canopy located in the center of the graveyard, where generations of Gladstones lay buried. On a mound behind the freshly dug grave, stood a life-sized statue of a man on a horse—Papa Gid—holding a cotton boll. Etched on the impressive marble slab were the words “Gideon P. Gladstone III, Alabama Cotton King, 1852-1918.”

As they inched their way toward the tent, Oliver stooped and whispered, “Eliza, I do hope it isn’t inappropriate for me to say at such a somber time—but you look lovely, my dear—even in mourning. Oh, how I’ve missed you.”

Eliza tried to muster a smile. She whispered out of the corner of her mouth, “Step it up, Oliver. This is taking far too long.” When a gust of wind blew a wavy strand of platinum blonde hair into her eyes, she reached up and gently tucked it beneath her gray slouch fedora. Dressed in a Madeleine Vionnet Original, Eliza selected the black silk shantung suit with metallic cloth trimmings exclusively for Aunt Merle’s benefit. Although Eliza preferred her red Chanel halter-neck, which showed off her tiny waist and newly acquired tan, she knew her aunt wouldn’t consider it proper attire for a funeral. Her aunt had already worked herself into a dither over what people were saying. According to Aunt Merle, rumor had it that the Gladstone heiress left home seven years ago after a young hoodlum took advantage of her. Exactly what it meant, no one seemed to know for sure, although there’d been much speculation as the nasty rumors circulated. But Eliza had no intention of satisfying the gossips with any sort of explanation.

Arm in arm with Oliver, she strolled with her head held high and nodded when men tipped their hats as she walked past. Don’t look so smug, people. I know what you’re thinking. Frankly, I wish every word of the gossip were true. She bit her tongue to keep from blurting the words aloud. Eliza sucked in a deep breath, conscious by the women’s uplifted brows and the men’s shameless smiles that a sudden puff of wind had caused the bias-cut skirt to cling to her shapely body. She rolled her eyes and considered giving them something truly shocking at which to stare. She thought of her father lying on his deathbed at the manor, and out of respect, quickly dismissed the idea. Eliza adored her daddy.

Oliver thrust his chin forward and pulled at his tie. “Ah, the breeze is a welcomed relief.” He lifted his eyes toward the sky. “We could use a good rain to cool things off a bit.”

Not in the mood to indulge in idle chatter about the weather, Eliza felt no urgency to respond. Four chairs sat under the canvas tent and only one empty. Oliver stepped back into the crowd when Eliza let go of his arm and took her seat—twenty minutes late.

Pastor Hawkins’ jaw dropped and his eyes bulged when Eliza sat and crossed her legs, revealing shiny silk stockings. She bit the corner of her lip and adjusted her skirt.

Cousin Bonnie sat in the slatted wooden seat next to Eliza. Aunt Merle and Uncle Henry occupied the other two chairs. Aunt Merle pursed her lips and made a point to look at her watch.

Eliza reached for Bonnie’s hand and gave it a little squeeze. She mouthed the words, “Good to see you, cuz. I’ve missed you.”

“Lizzie. I’m so sorry—”

Eliza smiled slightly and acknowledged the expression of sympathy with a nod.

Pastor Hawkins stood behind a wooden podium with his arms tightly folded. He cleared his throat and lifted a Bible from the pedestal. With his brow furrowed, he peered over the top of his wire-rimmed spectacles and glared in Eliza’s direction. “May we begin?”

Eliza fidgeted with her earbob, aware that his comment was not so much a question, but an acknowledgement of her inexcusable tardiness.

The elderly, rotund preacher pulled a large handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped sweat from his bald head. With a perfected pastoral quiver in his voice, he began. “Our hearts are deeply grieved as we gather here today to commemorate the life of Alamanda Victoria Gladstone Lancaster, a precious saint if ever there was one. A true Biblical scholar, I venture to say the dear lady wrote more of my sermons than I did and with amazing unction, I might add.”

Eliza shifted in her chair and glanced about as heads bobbled up and down in apparent agreement. Her lip curled at the notion that her mother may have written the flowery eulogy.

The preacher continued to read from notes stuck between the pages of his Bible. “A pillar of the community, this dear, generous sister shared her wisdom with us all—bold and unwavering in the face of opposition, she stood firm in her beliefs.”

Unwavering. What an accurate word. Eliza couldn’t deny the one thing she and her mother had in common was their stubbornness.

Pastor Hawkins blew his nose and flipped a page. His voice trembled. When he dabbed his eyes and drew a deep breath, Eliza suspected the sympathetic gestures were in his notes.

His voice lifted. “Ah, yes, Mrs. Lancaster personified the virtuous woman described in the book of Proverbs. Surely, her worth was far above rubies . . . strength and honor were her clothing; and in her tongue was the law of kindness—”

Eliza crinkled her brow and tilted her head toward Bonnie. “I think I may be at the wrong funeral,” she whispered while listening to the glowing attributes Pastor Hawkins credited to the dearly departed. “He can’t be talking about Mama. Can he?”

Bonnie hid her mouth with a lace handkerchief. Aunt Merle stretched her neck and gave both young women a stern look.

The Reverend paused and nodded toward the widow Blanchard, who stood and proceeded to play a mournful sounding tune on her accordion, while a men’s trio belted out the words to “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” Eliza swallowed hard. Our family circle broke seven years ago. Though she could never forgive her mama for ruining her life, she had no doubt her mother made her peace with God—just not with her. Her thoughts drifted to the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who . . . No, Lord. I can’t. It’s too much to ask.

Aunt Merle reached over and nudged Eliza, who understood it to be her cue. She stepped up and dutifully tossed a rose atop her mother’s casket. As she gazed into the dark hole, Eliza determined that even on 2,000 acres, there wasn’t enough room in the ground for Mama and all the secrets buried long before her death. Why did Kiah Grave leave without saying goodbye? Eliza made a silent vow to stay in Goat Hill until the grave secret could be unearthed.

Pastor Hawkins had barely begun on Part II of his Farewell to Alamanda, when an unexpected cloudburst had everyone scrambling for cover. Thunder boomed as streaks of lightning flashed across the sky. The crowd scattered, seeking refuge as the rain peppered down. Everyone disappeared except the four surviving relatives and the preacher. Gusts of wind whipped underneath the canvas cover, causing it to billow, while sheets of rain rushed in, drenching the seated occupants.

The eloquent orator appeared oblivious to the hammering downpour and continued to read from his notes. “In addition, our dear departed sister leaves to mourn her devoted sister-in-law, Merle Lancaster, who shared Alamanda’s love for the arts. Together they—”

With the rain stinging her face, Eliza glanced over at Aunt Merle and supposed someone should tell Pastor Hawkins to cut it short. Poor grieving Merle appeared too distraught to notice they were getting soaked. She sobbed hysterically, while Henry wrapped his arm around her, trying to offer comfort. Yet it seemed the harder he tried, the louder she wailed. Aunt Merle’s crisp, black taffeta dress—now limp—clung to her tightly corseted body.

Uninvited comical mental pictures popped into Eliza’s head, prompting an irrepressible urge to laugh. She could almost hear her mother’s voice, scolding. Stop it, Eliza. You’re acting like a Loudermilk. Her mother always used the poor Loudermilk family as a measuring rod whenever she wanted to reprimand her daughter for uncouth behavior. Eliza pressed her lips together in an attempt to stop the inevitable giggles, which seemed to take root in the pit of her stomach at the most inopportune times. After the first little tee-hee escaped, there was no stopping the embarrassing snickering. Lizzie lowered her head when her body began to shake.

Bonnie’s brows arched. “What’s funny?” she whispered.

Eliza cupped her hand over her mouth and replied, “Absolutely nothing, but I can’t stop laughing.” Mortified, she slipped a monogrammed handkerchief from her clutch bag. She slid the dainty linen cloth under the veil and clasped it tightly over her mouth. What could possibly be funny? Her mama was dead. Aunt Merle was overwrought with grief, and the preacher was not yet finished with his elaborate farewell.

A gust of whirling wind blew rain in from Uncle Henry’s side. If given the opportunity, surely he would opt to leave, although she knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t feel it his place to suggest it. She decided as the nearest kin, it was her call. Eliza bolted from her seat.

“Let’s go people!” She blurted, right in the middle of “dust to dust.”

With neither protest nor delay, Pastor Hawkins lifted a sanctimonious brow and snipped, “Shall we pray.” Eliza was convinced the brief prayer would go down in history as the shortest one he’d ever uttered. At the sound of “Amen,” Bonnie grasped Lizzie by the hand.

“Thank you, Lizzie. I’m glad you shortened the rites. Lightning scares me.”

Eliza chuckled. “Everything scares you, Bonnie. You look swell, kiddo. I hope you’ll stop by the manor so we can visit.”

“Oh, honey, I’d love to, but Joe’s going out of town tomorrow. I need to get home. Lizzie, I wish …” she paused. “Never mind.”

Eliza lifted a shoulder. “What’s bothering you, ducky? Go ahead and say it.”

“Lizzie, you may fool some people with your fake smile, but you aren’t fooling me. Where’s the fun-loving girl I once knew? It’s been seven years. It’s time to forgive.”

Eliza bristled. “No, Bonnie. Mama ruined my life. I have no idea what she held over Kiah’s head, but she ran him out of town. I know she did. I’ll never forgive her!”

Bonnie’s eyes glistened, as she opened her arms. “One thing about you has never changed. You’re still stubborn . . . but I love you.” She turned and waved as she ran.

Eliza’s throat tightened. If only she could turn back time. She approached her vehicle—and stopped short—startled to see Oliver standing beside the automobile, water dripping from his black felt hat. “Oliver! I thought you left.”

“I waited for you, my dear.” He gestured toward a 1938 LaSalle parked at the bend in the road. “That’s my coupe. May I drive you to the manor?”

“I have my car, thank you.”

“But, dear, you shouldn’t be alone at a time like this. Perhaps I should ride with you.”

“No, Oliver.” She winced at the coldness in her voice. Was she turning into her mother?

He nodded. “I understand. We all have to mourn in our own way, I suppose.”

“Yes. I suppose,” she murmured. She wasn’t sure what he meant, but she had no desire to have him expound on the subject. Jeepers, Oliver, what do I have to do for you to catch on?

Oliver opened her door and she slid in. She tossed her hat on the seat, removed her gloves and attempted to reset the finger waves in her wet hair. Eliza didn’t want to be mean to Oliver, but she wished he would share his affections with someone who could appreciate them. She groaned, as she watched him trudge toward his vehicle, hat in hand. Poor Oliver. It wasn’t his fault. He was caught in the middle of a feud—a feud that even death couldn’t squash.

She grumbled aloud, “You’re dead, Mama, yet I’m still trying to beat you at your game. When I sent Oliver away, I gave myself a notch. But I can’t win, can I? Thanks to you, I lost the only love I’ve ever known—or ever will know. But you won’t win, either, because I wouldn’t marry Oliver Weinberger if he were the last man alive.”

In no particular hurry to leave, Eliza sat in the parked car, remembering things she spent seven years trying to forget. Raindrops trickled down the windshield, like giant tears. She dreaded going back to Gladstone to face Aunt Merle, after the shameless way she giggled at the funeral. But Eliza knew she’d go back. She had two very good reasons and neither of them had anything to do with Aunt Merle. Her father lay dying at the manor, and Eliza wanted to be by his side. Then, there were the secrets. She pounded the steering wheel and screamed, “Why, Mama? What did you do to make him leave?”

Eliza loved her mother, although she never expected anyone to believe it. Yet she didn’t like her. She never believed her mother loved her, although she found it conceivable that Alamanda might’ve been proud of her—proud that her daughter wasn’t homely so she could show her off. But Mama was also proud of her Rolls, her fox stole and the diamond necklace Papa Gid gave her on her fortieth birthday. Mama took pride in Gladstone and all the trimmings. Eliza was a trimming.

The sun peeked from behind the clouds, as the rain slackened to a drizzle. Millions of tiny white marble chips surrounded each burial plot and glistened like diamonds as the light reflected off the wet fragments. She rolled down the window and sniffed. The shower left a clean, fresh smell.

Eliza glanced around the cemetery and sighed. No doubt she’d be planted there one day. She may as well be lying in the grave now. She wasn’t alive—not really. A person without a heart ceases to live. She stared at the countless stone angels hovering atop the huge marble headstones, marking the graves of infamous blood relatives. Eliza surmised there were more angels in the cemetery than there were in heaven.

She gazed across the field at her grandfather’s imposing statue and shivered. “Ridiculous,” she muttered. “If anyone marks my resting place with a sculpture of me riding to heaven on a stone stallion, I’ll beg permission to return from the dead, long enough to swat the guilty party with my burial shroud.” An amusing idea caused her jaw to drop. Before leaving Goat Hill, why not choose a tombstone and write her epitaph? She’d already written her obituary. The thought of the impetuous act years ago caused her to laugh, but the laughter faded into snorts, which soon evolved into soft sobs. She felt a warm wetness on her cheeks as tears trickled down her neck.

“What’s wrong with me?” She laughed when there was nothing funny, and now she cried when there was no need. All the tears in the world wouldn’t bring Kiah Grave back into her life. “Oh, Kiah—”Saying his name aloud made cold shivers trickle down her spine.

Eliza dried her face and pondered over a suitable epitaph. Her lips pressed together when she thought of the ideal lines: Eliza Lancaster, daughter of Will and Alamanda. Born: The day she met him. Died: The day he left. Cause of Death: SSM (Silver spoon in mouth.) “Perfect!”

Eliza didn’t dispute the fact that according to the latest census, her birth took place on May 2, 1914. Yet, she didn’t begin to live until eighteen years later—May 4, 1932. That was the day she and Bonnie went joy-riding in Lizzie’s new Model A and met Kiah Grave on a narrow dirt road near the railroad tracks. Had it really been only seven years? It seemed like such a long, long time ago. But she remembered it well—

***

“Did he get it? Did he?”

“He did, Lizzie. The scarf flew in his face.” Bonnie squealed. “Isn’t he a dreamboat? You think he jumped off the morning run, or do you reckon he’s waiting to hop the next train?”

“Why don’t I turn the car around and ask him.” Lizzie snickered.

“Are you crazy? You can’t turn around here. If you get out of the ruts, we’re likely to slide in the ditch, and we’ll be in big trouble—Uncle Will warned you not to cross the tracks.”

“So he did.” Lizzie crinkled her nose and grinned.

“Lizzie, I don’t like the expression on your face. I hope you aren’t planning something stupid.”

“Stupid? Of course not.” She clutched the steering wheel tightly and stomped the brake to the floorboard, causing the car to come to a jarring halt.

Bonnie buried her face in her hands, slumped down in the seat and moaned. “Eliza Lancaster, you know your mama will have a conniption fit if she finds out you flirted with a hobo—and you know she’ll find out. You can’t spit in this town without someone reporting it. ”

“All the more reason to do it, dear cuz—let’s give them something to talk about.”

“Lizzie, no. Don’t. It’s not proper. We don’t even know him. He’s a . . . a tramp, for crying out loud. Let’s go. Suppose someone sees us? What if your daddy takes your car away?”

“I’ll cry.” Lizzie chuckled. “Daddy can’t stand to see me cry.” The gears made a loud grinding noise when she jerked the shift into reverse. “Besides, we can’t possibly leave,” she said as the car shot backward. “He has my favorite scarf.”

Bonnie screamed. “Watch out!”

Lizzie’s shiny new Model A Ford, which her daddy had given her for her eighteenth birthday, spun around on the wet clay road and slammed into the ditch.

Bonnie clasped her hand over her heart. “I knew this would happen. Lizzie, we’re going to be in—” Her eyes widened. “Oh no! He’s running toward us. What are we gonna do?”

“Flirt, silly.” Lizzie pinched her cheeks and fluffed her hair. “How do I look?” She glanced in the rearview mirror. “Oh, Bonnie, catch me, I think I’m falling in love.”

“And what’s new?” Bonnie rolled her eyes. “I declare, you’re so dramatic.”

“I mean it this time. Isn’t he dreamy? Take a gander at those arms.”

“I see them. They’re red . . . just like his neck. Lizzie, you can forget him. I can imagine what Aunt Ali would say if you brought him to the family picnic.”

Lizzie smiled and batted her lashes when the handsome fellow approached the vehicle.

He propped his bare foot on the running board and bent forward, his head slightly leaning into the window. The hairs on the back of Lizzie’s neck bristled, when she felt his warm breath on her face. Slung over his shoulder was a red bundle and a pair of worn brogans tied to the end of a pole.

“Can I help, ladies?”

Lizzie tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and flashed a quick grin. “Why, thank you. I certainly hope so.”

He stepped back and eyed the embedded tires. “Don’t worry, Miss. It’s not as bad as it looks. I’ll run up the road and see if I can find something to put under the wheels.” After taking a few steps, he turned around and pulled a scarf from his pocket. His blue eyes twinkled. “I believe this thingamajig belongs to you. Maybe you should tie it next time.”

“Thanks. You can throw your—” She eyed the pole and fumbled over her words.

“Bindle? Is that the word m’lady’s choking on?” His fingers raked through a mass of inky black curls.

Lizzie’s face burned. Yet, in an odd sort of way, she found it quite charming that he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. “I wasn’t choking. I simply didn’t know what to call it.”

“Try clothes.” His square jaw jutted forward. “I gather you don’t know the difference between a vagabond and a banker. We men of distinction pack our morning coats in red flannel when we travel, to keep from lugging around a smelly old cowhide suitcase.”

“No need for such haughtiness. I merely wanted to tell you to toss it on the rumble seat.”

He stiffened. “I suppose you’re accustomed to telling folks what to do, but I’m not in the habit of taking orders.” He shoved his bindle against the fence post and stalked down the road, looking madder than a run-over dog.

Bonnie crinkled her brow. “Lizzie, I can’t figure him. He’s almost rude.”

“Don’t be silly. He’s playing hard to get.”

“But isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?”

Lizzie gave a short laugh and took a second look at her reflection in the rearview mirror. “Well, I think he chose first, but I invented this game.”

Within the half hour, the handsome hobo returned, carrying two four-foot long boards on his shoulder. After making a track in the clay, he said, “If you ladies will kindly step out, I’ll crank ’er up. I think I’ll be able to get it out.”

“You think?” Lizzie cocked her head to the side, attempting to look coy. “Do you know how to drive?” It seemed a logical question, since he obviously didn’t own wheels.

His nostrils flared. “I wouldn’t have volunteered if I didn’t know how to operate an automobile Miss, but if you think you can get the car out of the ditch, I’ll not trouble you further.” He threw up his hand and with a smirk, muttered, “Toodle-do, ladies. Have a nice day.”

Lizzie flung the door open and leaped out. “Please! Don’t leave us stranded. I’m sorry.”

He trudged back to the vehicle, slid in and sat on the soft, gray seat covers. The motor revved and the car rocked. Then with a jolt, the Model A made a quick lunge and settled into the well-traveled ruts. Sporting an arrogant grin, he stepped out and strutted like a proud banty rooster. His gaze traveled from the front bumper to the rumble seat as he strode around, admiring the car.

Lizzie whispered, “If only he’d look at me the way he’s eyeballing this piece of metal.”

He gasped. “What a beauty. A real sweet patootie.”

“Why, thank you. I thought you’d never notice. Oh, silly me. You were referring to the car, weren’t you?” Lizzie shrugged when he ignored her. “Where are you headed?”

“Miss, do you have a habit of making everyone’s affairs your own?”

She feigned a pout. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to pry. I was offering you a ride.”

His blushing face grimaced. He grabbed his bindle stick and mumbled an apology, albeit a weak one. “Thanks. A ride would be swell.” With his head lowered, he added, “If it won’t put you out.” His next words caught her by surprise. “Would you happen to know the whereabouts of the Gladstone Plantation?”

Did you enjoy the first chapter of author Kay Chandler‘s book When the Tide Rushes In?

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