The Village by the Sea

The Village by the Sea

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by Paula Fox

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When Emma's father goes to the hospital for surgery, she is sent to stay with Aunt Bea the "terror" and kindly Uncle Crispin. Emma wonders how she will survive two weeks with the always hostile Aunt Bea.

Luckily, Emma makes a friend, Bertie, and the two girls begin a project on the beach. Together they build tiny houses out of stones, shells, and all sorts of


When Emma's father goes to the hospital for surgery, she is sent to stay with Aunt Bea the "terror" and kindly Uncle Crispin. Emma wonders how she will survive two weeks with the always hostile Aunt Bea.

Luckily, Emma makes a friend, Bertie, and the two girls begin a project on the beach. Together they build tiny houses out of stones, shells, and all sorts of sea treasures. Here at the beach with Bertie, Emma finds comfort and friendship and takes pride in her carefully planned village.

Then one day Emma and Bertie's village is destroyed...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Emma, 10, is sent to stay with her aunt and uncle during her father's bypass surgery. With her constant, caustic jibes and her sudden, braying laugh, Aunt Bea lives up to her reputation as a ``terror''; in Emma's words, ``Aunt Bea's remarks about people were like being punched in the same spot over and over again.'' Emma overhears exchanges that reveal Bea's history as an alcoholic; she is perceptive enough to recognize her Uncle Crispin's fear of a relapse, to note occasional chinks in Bea's armor and to grasp that Bea has developed the habit of resentment``a kind of addiction, too.'' Acting out her malice, Bea destroys Emma's sole object of pleasure during her visita miniature village built with her friend Bertie from material scavenged on the beachand Emma departs with a hot lump of hatred in her throat. Her hatred dissolves, however, upon finding evidence of her aunt's bitter, sad self-knowledge; in its place comes a measure of understanding and the ability to take her first untroubled breath in days. Fox's mastery of characterization is fully apparent in this quiet but intensely affecting story. She deftly draws us into Emma's experience, perfectly capturing the simultaneous naivete and wisdom with which Emma regards the puzzle that is her aunt. Using simple but telling imagery and beautifully lucid prose, she traces the associative, instinctively hopeful workings of a child's mind. Equally remarkable are the nuances with which Fox renders the acerbic, seemingly impenetrable Bea. Her portrayal compels readers to consider the tragic consequences of such acrimonyto wonder, as Emma does, what it would be like ``to be a person people were happy not to see,'' and ultimately to share in the subtle but redemptive compassion that is among the novel's finest achievements. A Richard Jackson Book. Ages 10-12. (September)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.77(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Village by the Sea

By Paula Fox


Copyright © 1988 Paula Fox
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3745-7


A Question

All that afternoon and through supper, a question Emma wanted to ask her father stuck in her throat like a piece of apple skin. When it was time for her to go to bed, she felt it was her last chance. He would be leaving for the hospital early the next morning after Uncle Crispin came to take her to Long Island, to Peconic Bay, where she was to stay with him and his wife, her Aunt Bea, for two weeks.

Her father was resting in an armchair, a blanket across his knees and an old wool scarf of her mother's around his shoulders, even though it was the middle of June and so warm that Emma herself was wearing a thin cotton T-shirt.

She stood close but not so close she was crowding him. He couldn't bear that now, she knew, someone leaning over him or pressing against a chair he was sitting in, even if it was her mother.

"Are you afraid?" she asked.

He touched her wrist briefly, then his hand fell back to his lap.

"I imagine there's a timid animal inside me," he said. "When it's afraid, I feel it tremble. It can't hear. It only knows the fear it feels. It doesn't have memory or an idea of the future. It lives in the present — the right now — and I try to remember it is only a part of myself, a small frightened thing I can pity. When I'm able to do that, something happens. The animal grows less afraid."

His face was nearly as white as the daisies on the table next to where Emma's mother was standing, listening. For a moment, he rested his head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes. Then he opened them and smiled at Emma.

"You know how you feel when Dr. Forde has to give you a shot?"

She nodded. But she felt that her whole self was afraid when Dr. Forde leaned toward her with the hypodermic syringe in his hand. She had never imagined a scared little animal inside her that she might comfort by saying: This will be over soon. It was always her mother or her father who said that to her.

"Daddy will get better," her mother said. "The operation he's going to have has become an everyday sort of thing. Thousands of people have had heart bypass surgery."

She wanted to say: But this is my father, not thousands of people — and how can any operation be an everyday thing?

Her father was speaking in such a low voice, Emma had to lean forward to catch his words.

"I believe I will get well," he said. "One thing about being sick is that I want to tell the truth all the time. That is the truth."

He bent his head toward her as though he were about to tell her a secret. "You know that we hardly ever see Aunt Bea. We talk on the telephone at Christmas, a few holiday words. I used to call her on her birthday. It only seemed to make her angry, and she'd rake up old family troubles." He looked puzzled for a moment, then went on. "She can be a terror, but I don't think Uncle Crispin will let her make your life a misery." He laughed suddenly. "He runs her like a small-time circus. And fortunately for him, my sister is the most indolent creature in the world."

"What's indolent?" Emma asked.

"Lazy," said her mother. "She's only your half-sister, Philip," she corrected him, with a briskness in her voice that had all but disappeared these last months.

"I remember her," Emma said.

"You only saw her once," her mother noted. "And that must be at least three years ago."

"She's hard to forget," her father said faintly.

"She asked me why I was so bow-legged —"

"You're not bow-legged," her mother broke in. "That's typical of Bea."

"She had a present for me," Emma went on, recalling her aunt vividly, sitting in the very chair where her father was sitting now, how she seemed to be wearing twice as many clothes as most people wore, and how her huge gray eyes had so much white around the irises, they resembled the eyes of a big doll.

"She kept asking me why I didn't do exercises to correct my legs. I was wondering about the present she was holding. I thought she'd never give it up. I said I wasn't bow-legged, Mom, and she sort of pushed the present at me. It was a box of water-colors."

"I don't recall any present," her mother said, looking at her father, whose head had fallen back against the chair. She went to him and put her hand very gently on his neck.

"She asked me if I knew how to mix colors to make other colors," Emma said. "When I said I didn't, she said, 'ridiculous!'"

Her parents weren't listening to her. She saw how slowly her father reached up to touch her mother's hand.

Emma thought: We are all scared.

"Her laziness is a help," her father said. "She used to make fun of me when I was a kid, but she'd suddenly get bored and go off somewhere to daydream. Just stay out of her way as much as you can."

"It isn't such a long time," her mother said. "And I'll have to be away so much. You'd be stuck with babysitters."

"I'm ten," Emma said, with a touch of indignation. "I could stay alone. I have stayed alone."

"Out there on Long Island, you'll have the beach and the bay," her mother said. "Emma, I'd be worried — you here all day. And I'll be worried enough."

Emma knew there would be times when her mother might have to spend the whole day at the hospital.

Her father said, "There isn't anyone else, Emma."

He was asking her to do something for him. He was telling her how sick he was, that he didn't want her to spend one day with his sister who was nearly twenty years older than he was, and what he'd called a terror. Life was going to be hard for a while, for all of them.

She understood what he was asking of her. But she wanted to cry, to let him see tears run down her cheeks, to go to her room and slam the door, or, at least, to look gloomy and let her shoulders droop.

She saw her suitcase near the front door, and next to it, a shopping bag full of puzzles and books and a diary she hardly ever wrote in.

"What I'd like," her father began, "would be if you'd write down in your diary everything that happens — at least what is interesting or important to you. Next month, when I'm on my feet again, I'll be able to read what it was like for you out there with those two, if you'll let me. I know a diary is supposed to be private. But this time, maybe you'll keep one for both of us."

The moment for crying and looking glum had passed. Her own heart seemed to quiver as though her father had reached out and touched it the way he had touched her mother's hand.

Her mother was giving Emma the look that stated it was past time to go to bed. She didn't want to leave them. She felt they were all in one of those places where people parted, train stations or airports.

"Why is Aunt Bea like that?" she asked, stalling.

"Envy," said her mother in a matter-of-fact way.

Her father said, "It might help if you remember that we all feel envious now and then. Haven't you?"

"Philip, she must go to bed," her mother protested. "And you don't have the strength to spare for a lecture."

"I'm not lecturing," he said, his voice momentarily strong. "I envy anyone with a healthy heart."

Emma stared at her father. The little animal of fear inside her had grown very large. Her mother came to her side and stroked her hair. "I'll telephone you every evening," she said.

"I'll call you, too," her father said, "as soon as I can."


Uncle Crispin

Emma wondered if Uncle Crispin had been somewhere around the day Aunt Bea had given her the watercolors. Aunt Bea filled the whole space of her memory just as she had filled the chair. Still, she thought she would have remembered him if he'd been there, he was so tall and so thin, and his eyes were a color she'd never seen before, yellowish, almost golden and flecked with green spots.

His head was bent forward tensely as he drove along the twisting highways. Huge trucks passed with explosions of wind that rattled and rocked the little car they were in. Now and then he took one hand from the steering wheel he was gripping so tightly and pressed a leather patch that had come partly loose from an elbow of his tweed jacket. He glanced at Emma and smiled.

"I don't suppose you have a needle and thread?" he asked. "Though if we stopped here for a bit of sewing, I daresay the authorities would cart us away. Aren't these roads dreadful? I always think I'll take the wrong ramp and never be heard from again. Or else a truck will scoop up the car and hurl it into the heavens."

"Are you from England?" Emma asked.

"Yes. I was born in St. Ives, in Cornwall. I think there's a nursery rhyme, isn't there?"

Emma hesitated a moment, then recited:

"As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives
. Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?"

"That's the one," said Uncle Crispin. "Do you happen to know the answer?"

His voice was soft, and he spoke to her so politely she guessed he hadn't spent much time with children and hadn't heard what they were supposed to be like. She didn't shout out the answer as she would have ordinarily, but said, "One," in as polite a way as he'd spoken.

"I think so," he said. "Though there are those who say no one was going to St. Ives. Rather a sad little rhyme, isn't it? Well, when I was fourteen or so, my father and mother brought me to your country, now mine, too. I went to school and studied the violin and eventually became a teacher of music. Did you know your father was once a student of mine? Ah ... here's the last ramp I have to worry about. Your Aunt Bea says I have as much sense of direction as a sofa. But now it's a straight road all the way."

"I think I knew you were my father's teacher," Emma said.

"That's how I met Bea," he continued. "Your father and I became friends. One day, long before he met your mother, I took him a piece of rare violin music I had come across, and there was his sister, Beatrice, who had dropped by to visit him."

Recalling Aunt Bea, how she sat in the chair as unmoving as a large stone, it was hard for Emma to imagine her dropping by anyplace. That visit had been years ago. Maybe Aunt Bea was only half a terror then. Time changed people. Emma had seen photographs of her parents when they were children. Would anyone have guessed how that thin little boy or the plump, sleepy-looking little girl would look twenty-five years later? With her own thick brown hair that she could hardly drag a comb through some mornings, and ordinary blue eyes, how would she look twenty-five years from now?

What color had Uncle Crispin's hair been before it had turned so white? He looked nearly as old as her only living grandparent, her mother's father, who lived in California and whom she had once visited for a week.

Her grandfather had a horse called Wraith, she recalled, and she had been lifted up to sit in the saddle with him. How scared and joyful she had been, high above the ground on a living animal! It made her happy now, thinking of the ride they had taken through a great wide meadow of tall grass which brushed against her bare legs, her grandfather's arm strong around her waist. The memory blew away like mist in a breeze. She was back in the present, in the worry of her father's illness, the worry of what it was going to be like living with Aunt Bea for two weeks.

"Your father was a gifted violinist," Uncle Crispin said. "In a way, I'm sorry he didn't go on with his career. But it's a hard life being a concert violinist — there are so many good musicians struggling to find work. I'm sure he's a fine teacher. Are you interested in music? Do you play?"

"The recorder," she replied. "Everybody in school has to learn to play."

"Good!" he said as though he really meant it. "You'll find it an immense comfort as time goes on. I teach most of the year and give private lessons in the summer. But I try to play for myself every day. A life without music would hardly be life."

The idea that music could be a comfort was a new one for Emma. When her father played his violin at home in the small room off the kitchen which was like a big closet, his forehead wrinkled, his mouth was shut tight, and he looked lost in a dream.

"Is it strange to have your father teaching in your own school? Do you have to take his class?" he asked.

"He's the only music teacher, so I have to," she answered. She hadn't thought it strange; it was certainly difficult at times. The children teased her and said her father went to sleep and snored in some of his classes. It wasn't true but she felt embarrassed just the same. Yet if she happened to pass his class-room and glimpse students looking at him with interest, she felt proud.

"Teachers' kids get scholarships," she said. "That's why I go to the school." There were days when she wished she went to a school where she didn't know anyone except a few other children, where teachers didn't give her a special smile when they passed her in the corridors.

"It must be hard for you to think about anything but your father right now," Uncle Crispin said. "My mother was very sick for a time when I was a boy. I remember I felt as if I was sitting on a little chair in a huge empty house, no people, or cats or dogs, no books and furniture and pictures, and that I wouldn't be able to get up and move until she returned from hospital to give me her hand. Isn't that odd?"

"But she did come back," Emma said, her heart suddenly pounding.

"Yes, she came back," he answered. "And so will your father. I'm sure of that. I've been reading up on the operation. The doctors have it down pat these days."

She didn't want to hear about the operation right now. She asked him quickly about his name. "I never knew anyone called Crispin," she said.

"It's not too common, but you run across it every so often. St. Crispin was a Christian missionary in Gaul. He was martyred in 287. He was a shoemaker and is the patron saint of all shoemakers. When you come to read Shakespeare, his Henry the Fifth, you'll find Crispin there:

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered —
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.

Emma was startled. He seemed for a moment to have become another person, his voice booming, one hand gesturing at the windshield. But when he spoke again, it was in the mild, slightly apologetic voice she was getting used to.

"We've exchanged rhymes," he said, smiling, "so we shall be friends."

"What does martyred mean?" asked Emma, rather hoping he wouldn't burst into poetry again.

"To die for your faith," he replied.

They had left the gasoline stations and shopping malls behind them. Sparse woods of stunted pine trees grew beside the road.

"See how the sky has grown so vast," he said. "It's because we're close to the sea."

She had noticed the light changing, touching the dark green pines with a white gleam. In the bright blue sky, she saw the white spark of an airplane's wing.

"Nearly there," Uncle Crispin said after a while. A few minutes later, he turned off the blacktop onto a sand road that led through thick strands of pine and oak, many of the trees not much taller than Emma.

Uncle Crispin stopped the car.

"Emma, I want you to know how welcome you are. We're so glad to have this chance to know you — even in this circumstance." He fell silent.

Emma wondered if she should thank him. He was fiddling with the loose patch on his jacket again. His hand fell back to the steering wheel as he turned directly to her. "Your Aunt Bea is a changeable creature," he said. "She's harder on herself, really, than on anyone else. But sometimes she can be a little sharp. You'll learn, though, that her bark is really much worse than her bite. And, you see, we haven't had children stay with us. She tires easily. I do hope you will understand...." He smiled at her, his eyes like two golden fish in his lined face. But there was worry there, too. This last year she had learned to recognize that look on the faces of grown-ups.

He peered through the windshield. "See," he said, "there's our chimney. We have lovely fires in winter when the wind blows cold off the water."

He gave a deep sigh and started the car. Had he said all he'd meant to about Aunt Bea? She was afraid, sitting in the warm sunlight that poured into the car as though it were a pitcher to be filled up. She longed to be home. There had been something hidden in Uncle Crispin's words. They don't want me here, Emma thought, and I don't want to be here either.

She imagined her mother calling them, saying, "Please take our little hippopotamus. She only weighs a thousand pounds and won't be a bit of trouble." She grinned. What would Uncle Crispin say if she told him what she was thinking? They went over a bump. "Here we are," he said.

When her father had told her Aunt Bea and Uncle Crispin lived in a log cabin, Emma had thought their house would look like the set of Lincoln Logs someone had given her for Christmas a few years ago. But as Uncle Crispin drove out from among the trees onto a large circular clearing covered with broken white shells, she saw that the house was not at all like the small cabin in the woods she had had in mind.


Excerpted from The Village by the Sea by Paula Fox. Copyright © 1988 Paula Fox. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Brief Biography

Brooklyn, New York
Date of Birth:
April 22, 1923
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Attended Columbia University

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The Village by the Sea 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Emma and Bertie were very good friends that made a village out of shells. Uncle Crispin was a kind of person that loved and complamented everyone. Hovever, he loved to drink alcohol a lot. Aunt Bea was addicted to beer a lot also. then in the middle of the book the village got distroied. But were they the ones who distroied it. Read it. This book was very exciting.