What Lies Beneath by Marissa Doyle
War. Spies. Gossip and lies. Mythical Creatures. Falling in love. And it’s still only July.
It’s 1917, and everyone is doing their bit now that America has entered the Great War—everyone except 17-year-old Emma Verlaine. Her overprotective dad won’t let her go to nursing school while he’s off doing war work; instead, she’s been sent to stay for the summer with her Gran on an island off Cape Cod, and the most she’ll be able to do for the war effort is knit socks. Socks!
As it happens, island life isn’t so bad. There are the seals that seem even more fascinated by her than she is by them. There’s the new Navy Air Station that guards the coast from German U-boats where she’s determined to get a job. But most of all there’s Malcolm, whose family owns a resort hotel on the island and who gives her swimming lessons and delicious kisses.
But danger lurks in the waters off the island. Only Emma can save her new home—if she accepts that everything she thought she knew about her life is a lie, and that the seals are following her for a very good reason…
What reviewers are saying:
Malcolm and Emma are appealing characters, and their sea-crossed romance keeps readers turning pages…. Engaging and fun. ~Kirkus Reviews
“What Lies Beneath” beautifully knits patriotism, self-discovery, and bravery galore into a mystical pattern of young love and legendary lore! ~ 5 stars, InD’tale Magazine
Read an Excerpt
Late May 1917
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
At four in the morning, it wasn’t always easy to remember why the hell I was trudging alone down a deserted beach in the gray murk of pre-dawn, the sand cold on my bare feet, my kit bag heavy in my hand.
But the relentless rhythm of the waves to my left—slapping the shore then hissing and foaming in retreat—reminded me what I was doing down here today and every morning for the past few weeks.
They were out there, somewhere, hiding in the dark waters. The enemy.
And it was my job to find them.
The United States had been at war with Germany not quite two months, but there were already signs that Germany would very much like to bring the fight to our side of the Atlantic. We’d seen U-boats skulking just offshore since April, slipping in close to the beaches then darting away. Just trying to frighten us, maybe. Or scouting the coast in preparation for putting a more sinister scheme in motion.
The thought made me walk a little faster.
By mid-summer, the ports of Boston and New York would commence sending ship after ship of soldiers and supplies and food to our Allies in Europe, and the prowling U-boats would be on those ships like the wolf-pack they’d been likened to, torpedoes at the ready. There was a brand-new navy installation here on our island, set to guard the sea lanes leading to those ports, but the aviators with their seaplanes and dirigibles could see only so much from their bird’s-eye view.
That’s where I and my friends came in.
I swung my bag as I strode down the firmer sand just above the water-line. This had all been my father’s idea originally. I think he came up with it as a way to keep me from high-tailing it up to Boston to enroll in officer training. My going off to fight on another continent was not something he would countenance; doing nothing wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned. But guarding our home against the threat of attack was acceptable—mostly—to both of us. Father was nothing if not clever.
In the growing light, I spotted the scrubby beach rose thicket at the top of the beach, near where the dunes began: the place where we left our clothes when we were going for a swim. It was far enough from my family’s hotel that guests almost never wandered near, but out of sheer habit, I paused to take a long look and listen. Good, I was alone. I hurried up to the thicket, dropped my kit bag and took off my sweater, then got to work unbuttoning my shirt.
It had taken me a week or two to forgive my father; at first, I was just plain mad that I wouldn’t be joining Mitchell, Chambers, and the other men from my college crew team to go to war. But I felt better about staying once I started recruiting my friends here to help, and even more so when the commanding officer of the air station, Captain Abbott, enthusiastically welcomed our help when Father and I approached him. Once his initial shock wore off, that is. I grinned, remembering his expression as he’d watched me demonstrate exactly how we would guard the shore. Good thing he didn’t have a weak heart.
The eastern sky was brighter now, the deep blue beginning to fade into that strange colorlessness that would resolve into the gold of sunrise. I stood still for a moment to watch the subtle blooming of the light, then quickly finished taking off my clothes and dropped them on the sand. I took another look around to make sure I was still unobserved, then bent to my kit bag and pulled out a length of sleek, dense fur, warm in my hands, before bundling my clothes away and—
“Gods, Malcolm, what’s taking you so long? We’re waiting for you!”
I lifted my head and looked down the beach. My friend Luthais stood waist-deep in the water, a length of fur like the one I held tossed over his shoulder, hooked casually by one finger. When he saw me looking, he waved.
I smiled to myself and yelled back, “I’m coming already!”
I shoved my bag into the thicket, then went quickly down to the water’s edge. The sand behind me was just warming from gray to tan as I slipped my sealskin over my head and shoulders and sank into the waves, to join my fellows in watching for the U-boats that threatened my other home.
Late May 1917
Dad and I watched a stream of laughing, jostling young men pour onto the platform of South Station from the New York train. A few of them were already in uniform. They were bound for basic training at Camp Devens, a couple of hours west of the city…and after that for France to join the fighting, I supposed.
“There must be hundreds of them,” I said, raising my voice so that Dad could hear me above the clamor of voices and trains. The boys looked sturdy and so blithe, as if they would dance rather than march into battle. “Do you think they’ve all enlisted?”
“I expect so. Almost all my students have,” Dad said. He himself was wearing a brand-new uniform with the insignia of a captain; tomorrow it would be his turn to get on a train. “I hope Helen was able to get a seat.”
Or hadn’t missed the train altogether. Or changed her mind about spending the summer on Cape Cod with me. For heaven’s sake, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the summer on Cape Cod. But Dad didn’t have to know that.
“I hope we’ll recognize her,” I said. “It’s been—what, six years since we saw her? Seven?”
A passing youth lugging a duffel bag caught my eye and winked. I felt my cheeks grow hot and looked away, then wished I hadn’t—civilians were supposed to be supportive of our soldier boys, even if they weren’t yet in uniform. I hoped I hadn’t hurt his feelings.
Dad squinted after him in the afternoon sun slanting through the frosted glass ceiling over the platforms. “Maybe I should go with you after all. Two young women traveling without a chaperone—”
“Yes, and you’d miss your train to Washington and be declared AWOL and get clapped in irons, and then what good would you be?” I took his arm and squeezed it, to belie my scolding tone. “Helen and I will chaperone each other. And Gran’s already arranged for a wagon to meet us in Mattaquason and bring us to the ferry. We won’t have to lift a finger.” I nodded toward my trunks stacked on the platform, marked with my and Dad’s identical initials, ELV—Emmeline Laura and Ernest Lowell Verlaine.
Dad sighed and examined his watch then slipped it back into his pocket. “I can’t help worrying even though you are a young lady now. I suppose I’d better get used to it if you’re going to college in the fall.”
I pretended I hadn’t heard him—which wasn’t hard in the din of the station—and resumed scanning the crowds. “Oh! Is that her?” I gasped. Before Dad could respond, I darted into a mass of people. I’d spotted something all right, but it wasn’t my cousin.
I wormed my way around more boys carrying everything from carpet bags to cardboard suitcases, trying not to lose sight of my goal—a Red Cross booth near the far door to the main waiting room, adorned with a big, eye-catching bouquet of red roses and festooned with posters. It was one of those posters that had caught my eye: “FIVE THOUSAND BY JUNE” it read, above an illustration of a calm-looking, beautiful nurse in cap and cape. “GRADUATE NURSES YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU.” I wasn’t a graduate nurse, but surely they would take trainees. Five thousand was an awful lot of nurses, after all. Here was my chance—and the reason why I didn’t really want to go to Cape Cod.
I’d had one goal since April, when we had entered the war: find some way to be a part of it. If I’d been a boy, I would have joined up immediately. Since I wasn’t, the next best thing I could do to help us beat the Kaiser was to become a nurse and take care of the boys who were fighting.
I hadn’t said anything about it to Dad, because I knew he wouldn’t agree to let me go. I’d more or less spent my entire life with him in the Geology Department at his university, playing with his rock specimens when small and doing lessons with my governesses in an empty office after that. It had been a cozy, secure way to grow up. But now that I was older, I felt like one of those specimens, wrapped in cotton wool and tucked into a box for safekeeping.
Tomorrow he was leaving for Washington to do some kind of secret war work—something to do with cartography, I’d guessed—and, irony of ironies, all I wanted to do was go with him so that I could find my own war work to do. Instead, I’d probably be more securely wrapped in layers of cotton wool than ever on Cape Cod with my grandmother and, in the fall, at a select women’s college.
But if I was old enough to be sent off to college, I didn’t see why I shouldn’t be old enough to go to nursing school instead. I’d sent away for a catalogue for a nursing correspondence course I’d seen advertised in the back of a magazine and had it packed away in my trunk. As soon as I got to Gran’s I would enroll—I’d held off because I’d hoped my cousin Helen might want to take it with me, so we could study together. I figured that if I did well on this course over the summer, the Red Cross would have to take me. But maybe a more direct approach would work, here and now.
I was thrilled to see that one of the women in the booth wore a nurse’s cap and pinafore in addition to her Red Cross armbands. I paused to straighten the jacket of my new gray-blue linen suit, pretended I had a steel yardstick in my spine as my second governess, Miss Hayter, had taught me—she was very strict about posture—and approached the booth with a firm step.
“Good afternoon!” I said brightly to the two women there. In addition to the nurse there was an older woman in an asymmetrically swooping hat like a swan’s wing, just like the ones in this month’s McCall’s Magazine. “I’m so glad to see you here—how is the membership drive doing?”
The woman in the fashionable hat smiled at me. “Very well, my dear. Would you like to become a member?”
I opened my purse and fished around in it. “Oh, I’ve already joined, thank you, but I’m happy to contribute again.” I slid a couple of quarters into the collection box, and hoped the coins’ satisfying jingle would soften them up for the rest of what I was about to say. “Actually, I was hoping you could help me.”
“Oh?” she asked. The one in the nurse’s cap said nothing, but narrowed her eyes as she looked at me.
“Yes. I…” I swallowed and tried not to show that her silence had rattled me. “I will be taking a nursing correspondence course this summer and hoped that come fall, instead of going to college, I could look forward to being engaged by the Red Cross for overseas duty. I understand this particular course has been very highly recommended—”
“Which one?” the nurse interrupted me. “The National School for Nurses, out of St. Louis?”
“Yes, that’s the one!” If she’d heard of them, they must be good. “They even set up your hospital experience for—”
“How old are you?” she interrupted again.
I glanced at the lady in the swooping hat, who was gazing at me with limpid blue eyes, and sighed to myself. “I’ll be eighteen in March. The National School—”
The nurse snorted. “They’re rubbish. They keep getting shut down and reopening under new names. That’s their latest—a few months back they were the American Academy of Nursing Science, and before that the Professional Nurses’ School of the United States. And even if they weren’t a sham outfit, you’re far too young. The Red Cross is only taking graduate nurses over the age of twenty-five. We can’t be sending children over there.”
Twenty-five? Why, the war would be long over before I was that old. “But—but the army is taking eighteen-year-olds for soldiers if their parents agree—”
“That’s different,” she said quickly.
“How is it different? Why are eighteen-year-old girls less acceptable than eighteen-year-old boys, if they both want to serve their country?” My temper was starting to rise; I hoped my voice hadn’t shown it.
“Boys are much more mature at that age than girls. As is being made plain by this conversation.” She looked down her nose at me—not very successfully, as I was taller than she. “If—and I repeat, if you are still interested in nursing when you are twenty-five, the Red Cross will be prepared to consider you.” She turned away, ostensibly to adjust a poster affixed to one of the booth’s supports, but I still caught her muttered, “Stupid romantic girls, wasting our time…”
I couldn’t help it—the tears started to my eyes. I lifted my chin, and turning on my heel, dove back into the crowd milling beyond the booth. Fine—maybe the Red Cross wasn’t willing to take young, inexperienced nurses. But did she have to be so—so condescending about it?
“Miss—my dear child, wait—” A hand touched my elbow, and I turned. The other woman from the booth was there beside me. “I’m so sorry about Miss Richards,” she said hurriedly. “I think headquarters thought having a real nurse at an enrollment booth would attract people, but honestly, I think she’s scared more people away than brought them in. She wanted to go overseas, she told me, but they wouldn’t take her—some health thing, she said—and I think she’s bitter about it.”
I knew she was trying to make me feel better, but the scorn in the nurse’s face and voice had burned too deep. “Thank you—it’s nothing—”
“No, it’s not! She could have said the same thing much more kindly.” She put her hand on my arm again and fixed me with a sincere, sympathetic look. “You may not be able to go overseas, but there are still things you can do for our boys over there—important things! The local chapters all need our help and support. Do you knit? The Red Cross has promised to send a million and a half pairs of socks to our overseas troops. You’ll be doing a real service if you could complete even one pair of socks.”
My last governess, Miss Nutting, and I had joined the Red Cross the day after war was declared. I’d been knitting socks every spare moment I had and rolling bandages at our weekly local meetings. But I couldn’t wound this woman the way her colleague had me. “Socks—yes, ma’am, I can do that.”
“Thank you, dear. I know we can count on you.” She patted my arm, gave me a sunny smile, and went back to the booth.
“There you are!” Dad had caught up with me.
“I’m sorry I ran off—it wasn’t her after all.” I hoped my hat brim shaded my eyes sufficiently to conceal any tell-tale brightness.
“I didn’t think it was. I believe she’s over there.” He pointed.
I stood on tiptoe to follow his finger. A petite, dark-haired young woman was stepping out of the train, followed by a stout, middle-aged man who struggled with a pair of large valises, a basket, two umbrellas, and a newspaper. I forgot my upset and dashed toward my cousin, dodging and weaving between groups of soldiers.
“Oh, thank you, sir,” she was saying in a clear, carrying voice to the stout man. “I don’t know how I should have managed without your help.” She took the basket and one each of the valises and umbrellas from him. He opened his mouth as if to reply, but at that moment Helen spotted me. “And there’s my cousin and her father come to meet me!” she cried, managing to wave gracefully despite her burdens. “Emma! Cousin Emma!”
The stout man looked nervously around him at that, and by the time I reached her, he had melted into the crowd shuffling toward the main waiting room.
“Helen!” I wanted to hug her but suddenly felt shy, so instead I took her valise and shook her hand warmly. “How was your trip? Who was that man you were talking to?”
She grimaced. “I’ll tell you later. I’m fine—now let me look at you! How tall you are! I can’t stop thinking of you as little Emma with the straw-colored braids and torn stockings.”
“Oh, pooh.” I could feel myself blushing. “You’re making yourself sound ancient.” I remembered her eyes, big and brown and ringed by long, thick eyelashes. But her once-chubby face was now fashionably rounded, framed by waving, almost black hair. Her skin was smooth and creamy and her lips a lovely rose. She looked like an advertisement for Ivory soap in one of the fancier color magazines.
“Believe me, I feel years older. Hello, Professor Verlaine.” Helen smiled shyly as Dad joined us. “Thank you so much for taking the trouble to meet me, sir. I’m very grateful.” She tucked her arm in mine. “Won’t we have fun? You and I always got along when we were kids, didn’t we?”
“We sure did,” I said. Helen and I had been great chums the times all the families were together. I’d always longed for an older sister, growing up, and would have liked one just like her: she was so pretty and always seemed so smart and sure of herself. Maybe this summer I’d finally have that sister.
Dad took Helen’s ticket and went to see that her luggage got transferred to the Cape train. I took advantage of our being alone to ask her, “Who was that man who got off the train with you? A friend of your father’s? It was nice of him to look out for you—”
“Oh, Emma.” She shook her head. “I’d never seen him before in my life. He saw me traveling alone and tried to…you know. He wanted me to come to his hotel with him when we got to Boston.”
“Oh!” I hoped my shock didn’t show on my face, but it probably did. Dad always said I should avoid playing cards because I’m terrible at hiding how I feel. It was something I’d planned to work on this summer for when I went to nursing school. Nurses were never supposed to show disgust or fear when working with patients, so I needed to start practicing now. Of course, if Nurse Richards had her way, I’d never get anywhere near a wounded soldier—
“It’s all right.” Helen smiled mischievously. “I pretended not to have any idea what he meant and told him that as soon as I saw how much he looked like my papa, I knew he had to be terribly good and kind. It stops them every time.”
How horrid! The man had looked perfectly respectable. “So…um…you’ve had this happen before?”
“Yes.” She shrugged. “At least he kept any of the boys from bothering me. They can be harder to deal with than the old ones. Poor Emma, I have shocked you, haven’t I?” She patted my hand. “Let’s talk about something else. What fun we’ll have this summer! Picnics and boating and sea-bathing! I’ve never been sea-bathing—have you?”
“No. I haven’t been to the Cape since I was born.” Not that Gran didn’t invite us every summer. But Dad never wanted to go. Perhaps it would have reminded him too much of my mother. And he and Gran…they were always cordial toward each other, but there was something bubbling underneath the polite surface that I’d never been able to figure out.
“Since—you mean you’ve never visited your grandmother?”
I shook my head. “She comes to Boston to stay with one of my uncles and see us a few times a year. But I can swim. I learned in New Hampshire on the lakes.”
Further conversation was halted by the conductor’s shouting, “All aboard!” We hurried over to our train and boarded it, Dad fussing over whether we had our baggage tickets. And then when everything had been taken care of, he stood in the aisle by our seats and held my hands in his. Even his neatly-clipped beard looked sad.
“My dear child,” he began, and then fell silent. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know what to say or had too much to say and couldn’t decide where to begin. Probably the second, because I felt the same way. I squeezed his hands and swallowed the lump in my throat.
“If there had been any other way…” he continued. “I tried so hard to make them let me bring you to Washington with me.”
He’d tried to bring me? The lump in my throat got bigger. “It’s all right, Daddy. Gran will take good care of me.”
His face sort of crumpled. “I wish to God I didn’t have to send you down there! Maybe your Uncle Robert—there’s still time—”
“Dad!” Stay with Uncle Robert, whom even Gran, his own mother, called the most boring man in Boston? “We can’t change everything now. If I can’t go with you, I’m going to Gran. With Helen.”
He fell silent, staring at me pleadingly, and I relented. I didn’t care that we were in the middle of a crowded passenger car—I gave him a fierce hug. The realization that I wouldn’t see him for months hit me like an express train.
“She’ll be fine,” Helen said kindly, when we finally let go of each other. “I promise I’ll take good care of her too, sir. Why, Aunt Dorinda wrote that she’s even gotten a telephone. We can call you immediately if we need to.”
He didn’t appear reassured; his mild blue eyes were clouded with something that I couldn’t at first identify. “Yes, yes. But Emma, please—”
I glanced behind me. The conductor was coming through the cars, politely evicting all non-passengers. “What, Daddy?”
“Please…be careful. If anything happens, I’ll come right away, Army or not.”
I finally figured out what I was seeing: fear. “Dad—?”
Then the conductor was there, and my father was giving me one last kiss and making his way out to the platform. I waved as long as I could see him, until the train slid out of the bright station and headed south out of town. Oh, Daddy…but no, I wouldn’t cry. How could I, when all those boys in the station had been so cheerful even though they were heading someplace much less pleasant than a visit to their grandmothers?