To The Lonely Seas And The Sky -- Part 4
As a further historical note, the cities of Ludington and Hamlin are also quite real--or at least, Hamlin used to be. Ludington, MI continues to thrive as a tourist town, its days of industry long in its past. Hamlin no longer exists except in the interpretive signs along the Big Sable River and the twisted metal that remains near the new Hamlin Dam in Ludington State Park, a reminder of the two dam bursts that eventually spelled the settlement's end in the early 1900's.
- 2 Published Oct 15, '13
Ellie stood on the top step of the lighthouse porch, shaking her head as the fading form of Mr. Nichols disappeared over the windy sand dunes.
Trouble has never found itself a better target, she smiled ruefully. I wonder how Mrs. Nichols puts up with him. Ellie frowned as she thought of the answer. He’s gone all the time. That’show.
Her fingers unconsciously stroked her chin. She leaned against the column of the porch, her eyes shifting from the sprawling dunes behind the lighthouse to the darkening skies over the lake. As much as she made an effort not to think of her husband, sometimes, there was no stopping the memories.
Corbin. Ellie moved her arms in front of her chest, bracing against the wind as it tangled the dune grass and whipped up the sandover the beach. Courageous, adventurous, sea-faring Corbin.
They had met when Ellie was seventeen, four years after the family had settled into the small but bustling lumbering village of Hamlin on the shores of the Big Sable River.
Seven miles north of the city of Ludington, Hamlin was a world all its own. Nestled on a riverside deep in the woods were boarding houses, stores, private residences, a school house and mills, lined up along the clearing on both sides of the river. Lumber jacking and industries related to timber perpetuated the rapidly growing settlement.
Beyond the buildings on the riverbank, however, the scenery faded back into untamed wilderness. While her classmates spent their days braiding each other’s hair and comparing dress patterns, Ellie spent her teenage years winding her way up and down the river in a canoe, exploring the Lake Hamlin dam that made the Big Sable River hospitable to the loggers, and climbing the sand dunes in front of the “big lake”, as they referred to Lake Michigan, in search of butterflies, dragonflies and toads. Johann, her brother of only 8 years at the time, was her constant companion.
“Look, Ellie!” He would exclaim, running toward her with his net, his most recent catchin tow. “Is it a Monarch?” He’d ask excitedly, a brightly-colored butterfly flapping vigorously in the net.
Ellie sat on the side of a dune, her bare feet in the sand and her face to the sun. Her shoes, stockings and bonnet rested nearby in a growth of dune grass. Carina von Erich, long suffering and patient, had tried to break Ellie of her preference for sunlight over parasols and lace, but Ellie didn’t mind the darkening of her complexion each summer, especially if it meant she was able to chase her brother in the dunes and cool off in the lake water. The deep woods of west Michigan suited her much better than life in crowded, smelly Baltimore ever had.
“Not that one, Johann. See the yellow and black? That’s a tiger swallowtail.” Ellie explained. “Remember the picture in your schoolbook?”
“Ohhh…” His blue eyes lit up as he handed her the net. Of all of their siblings, Ellie and Johann looked the most alike, with Liesl coming in as a close third. Theyhad both inherited the dark brown hair of their father, his deep blue eyes, andthe distinctly Spanish facial features of their mother's family. They were a delicate mixture between the two ethnicities that their parents represented, and it was always to Ellie's pride that she was easily recognized as Carina and Everard von Erich's daughter.
Ellie reached into the net and offered the colorful bug her hand. The butterfly curiously accepted, walking onto her hand as she lifted it from the net.
“Let’s see if he’ll fly off to his friends again. Perhaps he knows a monarch he can introduce you to.” Ellie suggested, the two of them watching the contented swallowtail with anticipation.
Moments passed and the butterfly seemed perfectly happy just sitting with Ellie, basking in the sun. “Why doesn’t he fly, Ellie?" Johann asked, sitting down next to her in the sand and watching the butterfly intently.
"The wind is strong today. See how he's turning about, feeling which way he has to go?" Ellie observed. "He's like a sailor, Johann. He has to feel the wind. Then, he can harness and move with it."
Mere weeks later, as Ellie sat in the dunes and Johann ran about with his net, Johann had appeared over the crest of a dune with the form of a stranger at his side. To her surprise, Ellie made out the silhouette of a young man accompanying her brother as she squinted to see into the sun.
Suddenly remembering her state of partial undress, she jumped to pull her stockings back up her legs, tie her boots and put a bow in her bonnet. She moved as quickly as she could, frantically muttering under her breath in German, the nature of which Mama surely wouldn’t have approved.
"Ellie, Ellie!" Johann ran ahead, sand kicking up behind his bare feet. "Guess who I met while catching butterflies?" He asked, plopping into the sand before her.
Ellie, one stocking up to her knee and the other barely over her ankle, gazed up upon the handsome, stubbly face of the stranger.
"Good day, Miss. Corbin Taylor." The brown-haired,hazel-eyed man spoke with a Scottish brogue. He extended a hand down to where she sat blushing in the sand.
"Eleonora von Erich." Ellie said, taking his hand and noting his strong features and similarly strong physique. Corbin bent at the waist to kiss her hand and then released it gently--almost hesitantly. "I do hope my brother isn't bothering you."
"Not at all, Miss von Erich. In fact, he was just teaching me his technique." Corbin had said, the smile that would quickly win her heart flashing over his lips as he brought his other hand from behind his back to reveal a net, a monarch butterfly inside.
"Well, you're a fast study, Mr. Taylor." Ellie had marveled."Johann has been trying to catch a monarch for months."
"Aye, they're fast, that's the truth. But like I told him, it's all in the wrist. If you know how they think, how they move, you can anticipate where they'll fly, and sometimes they'll fly right into your net." Corbin said, handing the net to Johann.
Johann slipped his hand into the net next to the butterfly. The monarch was quick to explore Johann’s waiting hand. As Johann lifted the net, the butterfly flicked his wings, tested the wind, and within afew seconds, he was airborne over their heads, lingering for a few moment before catching the wind stream south.
Ellie, taking full advantage of the distraction, had managed to pull her stockings up while Corbin Taylor and her brother watched the butterfly's ascent. She had both feet in her boots and one of them nearly laced when Corbin's eyes flitted back down to her.
"Where do you live, Miss von Erich?" He asked, sitting down next to her in the sand.
"Please, call me Ellie." She insisted.
"Right, then. Ellie. And you must then call me Corbin." He smiled flirtatiously.
Ellie blushed slightly and then returned his gaze confidently. "My brother and I live in Hamlin near the shingle mill. Father is a lumberjack."
"Tell me, Eleonora," He said, his tone teasing, "Do you often roam the dunes in bare feet without a petticoat?"
Ellie's shyness disappeared instantly at the challenge. "As a matter of fact, Corbin, I do. I find a petticoat and stockings are entirely unnecessary and in fact an impediment to hiking, canoeing and exploring the dunes and lake."
"You canoe?" He asked, his eyebrows jumping up in surprise.
"Certainly. I do many unladylike things." Ellie said, immediately regretting her choice of words, but maintaining her composure long enough to change the subject. "And where do you live?"
Corbin gazed out at the lake. "The sea is my home. I'm here with my father, negotiating terms of transportation for the mill you mentioned. We sail again in two weeks."
Ellie had known instantly that if she allowed the relationship to progress as she felt it may, Corbin would frequently be absent. But over the course of the next week, he met her parents, her sisters, and many of her friends. She had met his father, the gruff, no-nonsense John Taylor, and several of his shipmates from the tall mast vessel which was docked in Ludington. They spent their days roaming the wilderness of the Lake Michigan shoreline with Johann, combing the river in Ellie's canoe, and Corbin even took her into town one night, giving Ellie a chance to use the fancy dress that Mama had made her the year before.
“My, my. A petticoat! I’m flattered.” Corbin had whispered as she took his arm upon exiting the house.
“Mama made me.” Ellie whispered and rolled here yes, a smile catching between them as he helped her onto his waiting horse.
Carina von Erich’s expression became stern as the two looked back, her impressive ears clearly overhearing their discourse from the doorway of the cabin.
“Auf,weidersehen, Mama!” She had called as Corbin climbed up and took the reins.
“Auf weidersehen, liebchen.” Carina replied as Everard appeared behind his wife in time to wave goodbye.
In town as Corbin and Ellie sat in the sand, gazing at the brilliant colors of the setting sun that Corbin had proposed. Ellie hadn't hesitated when she agreed to marry him. They first paid a visit to Corbin’s father’s ship to tell the old Captain the news. After genuine congratulations from the crusty sailor, they rode back to Hamlin in record time, anxious to tell Ellie’s family. At the small cabin in Hamlin, they were met with joy at the news.
Two days later, Ellie and Corbin were married at the small church in Hamlin, their parents in proud attendance. Corbin was quick to secure a cabin near Ellie's parents' home, where they spent the next two days. They were two days that had passed too quickly.
Ellie exhaled, her eyebrows drawn in and her mouth set in a firm frown. Their relationship had started off with understanding and acceptance, and perhaps it would have continued as such. Ellie missed Corbin terribly and often feared for his life as he traveled the world over, but she received letters and money faithfully. Who knows how long she could have continued in such a way had he not changed the tide of her expectations.
It was four years ago that Corbin had begun to promise her that he'd stop sailing and come home. Four years of broken promises, that familiar voice begging her, "Just one more year, lass. Please, Eleonora. That's all father wants of me. And you know I can't very well tell him no."
"Why can't you? You've been on a ship with him since you were three years old, Corbin. When will it have been long enough? You don't need to stay with him for the money. Father can get you a job here. They need men for lumber jacking. You could work at the mill or even sail for the local merchants in Ludington if you cannot bear to leave the water entirely. You don't have to spend your life at sea!" She had exclaimed one night as they sat in bed in their small cabin. "You could spend your life with me." She had offered feebly.
He had insisted that was what he wanted, but every year, it was another excuse. The money still came, letting her know that he was alive--or at least that he had been a few months or weeks ago. But the frequency of his visits declined, his letters slowed, and Ellie found it was easier to resent him than cry for what she would certainly never have. The internal pain and anguish that resulted from Corbin’s absence was expressed externally in anger and bitterness. Ellie had pondered divorce, but she knew her father would never abide it and her mother would die of shame. But she was living her life alone, even when Corbin was in town. The resentment that protected her feelings in his absence was causing them to drift apart, even when the nomadic sailor returned for short weeks to the cabin in the woods.
While Corbin was sympathetic to her loneliness, Ellie still struggled with a pain that was uniquely hers. In the eight years of visits from her husband, she had failed time and time again to get pregnant. He couldn't even give her a companion in the form of a child to rear, and while Ellie wasn't sure with whom the fault laid, her anger demanded that she not blame herself.
Rain began to dot the sand dunes. The front of the storm was edging over the land. Ellie took one more great breath, squared her shoulders and moved inside just as a thin, bitter rain began to fall.Last edit by Joe V on Oct 16, '13
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