To The Lonely Seas And The Sky -- Part 6
The fictional tale of lighthouse keepers in the 1880's, tending a Lake Michigan lighthouse. The characters in this story are completely fictional, while the lighthouse is quite real and still in use. The details of its function, while not necessarily specific to this exact light, are consistent with the general function of lighthouses in this era.
- 2 Published Oct 20, '13
Liesl was thankful that her sister had reminded her to take the lantern as she moved carefully and quickly down the winding staircase. She often forgot that daylight lingered longer at the top of the 112-foot tower. While the balcony may be illuminated by the final display of sunlight, the house and all below would be cast in shadowy twilight.
At the bottom of the stairs, the connecting hallway lay in darkness. Liesl held up her lantern and rushed through the house to the house stairs. She could hear him as she neared, spurring her feet to move even faster.
Liesl burst into the bedroom, the lantern light illuminating the bed immediately before her.
Samuel lay on his right side, his breathing labored and strained. Arched back, dripping sweat and tensed hands gripping at the sheets brought Liesl to the bedside, setting the lantern down on the table.
“Samuel.” Liesl sat in front of her husband, grabbing the medicine bottle and spoon.
“Lis...?” Samuel looked up from the bed, his voice confused and hoarse. “Lis, why is it getting worse?” He whispered.
“Shhh, I have your medicine." Liesl said, immediately giving him three spoonfuls of the medication.
Samuel drank it slowly, his expression unchanged as he swallowed the sour liquid. "Lis, you have to call the doctor..." He whispered.
Liesl's heart raced. "The doctor? Why?"
Samuel shook his head. "I don't know. Something's wrong. It's just that something's wrong..." He said, his eyes pleading up at her.
Liesl picked up the lantern and looked at the wound. "It isn't bleeding anymore, Samuel." Liesl said, excitement in her voice. "I think it's getting better!"
"No, Liesl. It isn't better. Something is wrong. Please, you must believe me. You must send for the doctor, that malevolent little Dutchman..."
"Dr. Van Meier?"
"Yes, Dr. Van Murder. He's the only one who can make this pain stop." Samuel groaned. "Who'd have thought it'd come to this--begging for the painful attention of the town physician. Let it never be said that God cannot weave a tale of the cruelest irony..." Samuel's voice trailed off and his eyes closed tightly against the constant throbbing in his leg.
Liesl couldn't help but smile gently at Samuel's persevering sense of humor, even in the considerable amount of pain he was experiencing. "The doctor cannot come now, Samuel. It's nighttime. A storm approaches. I can send Ellie for him in daytime, but for tonight, the medicine will have to suffice."
Samuel nodded, understanding apparent in his eyes. He lifted an unsteady arm toward her. Liesl moved onto the bed, sitting up against the wall. Samuel wrapped his arm around her waist, resting his head on her lap. Quiet moments passed, only the sound of Samuel's steadying respirations rising in the night. Liesl closed her eyes in helplessness as she realized her husband trembled with pain, unable to calm his overactive nerves.
"Tell me a story, Lis." Samuel whispered.
Liesl looked down in surprise. "What?"
"Tell me a story. Anything." He asked, taking a shaky breath as his grip tightened on her waist. "Take my mind somewhere else until I fall asleep."
Liesl paused, mulling over tales she might tell--and then she thought of one. "Well, I have a story, but it would be most inappropriate." She said, her thinly veiled tease quickly reaping the intended results.
Samuel's eyebrows rose at the idea. "In what way would it be inappropriate?"
"Well," Liesl began, "A woman never tells a gentleman her truest, deepest thoughts."
"I'm no gentleman. I'm your husband." Samuel replied, offering her a pained smile.
"How is it that an open wound increases your humor tenfold?" Liesl laughed.
"You were simply fortunate enough to have married a man whose only defense against pain is levity, I suppose." Samuel grimaced.
Liesl scooted down the wall and moved closer to Samuel, resting her back and head on the pillow. "That I am fortunate is certainly true." She replied, her chin in his hair. She could hear his breath steadying as she simply drew near to him. Perhaps the medication will fully alleviate this burden, she hoped silently.
"Indeed, indeed. And myself likewise. Now, what story of scandal do you have to relay?" Samuel asked, meeting her eyes in the flickering light of the lantern.
Liesl smiled. "Well, I was about seventeen." Memories came back in a wave. Liesl paused to relish the recollections, each of them like tiny glass figurines in a showcase: pristine, well-cared for, and shimmering in the perfect glow of hindsight. "You know, Father was always very strict with his daughters about the gentlemen we met." She thrust out her chin and purposefully thickened her accent. "Now young ladies, you vill conduct yourselves properly, as your Mama has alvays taught you. And you girls vill be home vis your Faser bevore ze sun sets, ja?" She mimicked, shaking her head fondly at the memory. "I didn't think he'd survive the shock when I brought a young man home one night to join the family table, but I knew when you caught up with me after class that day, I oughtn't let you go."
"Wise decision. Some other young lady may have caught my eye." Samuel smiled sleepily, the medication clearly starting to take effect.
Liesl shook her head smartly. "I was hardly worried about that, considering you hadn't let me be since I arrived in Hamlin four years earlier. But you changed between seventeen and eighteen. Something about you had matured without question over the summer."
"Was it the beard?" Samuel asked, his heavy eyes knowing. "Essie Van Aaler told me one day after class she had always wanted to marry a man with a beard."
"She didn't!" Liesl exclaimed, careful not to jump lest she cause Samuel to move. Her eyes darkened with disproval. "Well, I cannot speak for Mrs. Van Aaler, but Mama raised her daughters to be smarter than the likes of Easy Essie."
"You remember her nickname. How wonderful." Samuel slurred slightly, clearly fading despite his best efforts.
"The entire class probably recalls her nickname, dear. She strove to keep it long into adulthood from what I understand. But back to my story, I recall standing by the fence one day near the schoolyard. Your sister came up to me, rolling her eyes because all the girls in class were suddenly interested in her brother. She scoffed at you across the yard, and I initially couldn't believe that the thin, scraggly-haired boy who had followed me around the schoolyard for four years had grown into a tall, handsome young man...who was still following me around, no less."
"No man in his right mind would decline such a pursuit." Samuel whispered, his eyes closing as he gazed sleepily up at Liesl.
"And from then on, I didn't protest, either." Liesl smiled back, her gaze drifting to the window where the pattering of raindrops began to catch her attention. Lightning flashed intermittently at a distance and the rumble of thunder was just becoming audible through the brick walls of the house.
After noticing Samuel across the schoolyard, Liesl had waited, knowing he'd eventually approach. Her excellent peripheral vision gave her the benefit of observing Samuel's friends, who took turns both encouraging and ribbing him to go talk with her. Liesl quickly discovered that the excited glances from the growing crowd of young men were instantly dispersed with the slightest movement of her eyes in their direction. Finally, the school bell rang, the children lined up in front of the door, and as Liesl lingered near the back of the throng entering the building, Samuel split from his friends and came up next to her.
"Good day, Liesl." He had said, looking ahead and taking a deep breath as they walked up the steps.
"Good day, Samuel. Was your summer nice?" She asked casually, her eyes cast modestly ahead.
"Um, well, yes. I mean, no. Well, sort of, I suppose." He said, scratching his head, his hand disappearing into that thick blonde hair. "I missed you, Liesl."
Liesl turned to meet his eyes, not entirely believing that the handsome, stammering young man in front of her was the same awkward boy who had been smitten with her for years. Why had she never seen him before? She wondered. As she studied him before responding, something told her she had better not ignore him this time.
Walking to and from school with Samuel every day, Liesl had started to see who the person behind the familiar face truly was. And to her astonishment, they complimented each other in most everything. Soon, Liesl could barely believe that weeks before, Samuel had been a stranger of four years whose only pastime was gazing at her from across the yard. Liesl knew it was time to let him meet her parents.
Everard von Erich had been adamantly against the proposed dinner guest at first, Liesl recalled. But her mother, wise and patient, had taken her father aside, the two of them speaking in hushed, occasionally rising tones in the cabin while Liesl and Samuel waited outside.
Liesl couldn't quite understand his particular objections. After all, Ellie had married two years prior when Liesl had been but fifteen. There had been no objections to Corbin Taylor, who had left the scene as quickly and unceremoniously as he had appeared. And here was Samuel Kappel--polite, quiet, and unassuming--and father wouldn't even allow him at the table? As Liesl and Samuel sat in the shade of the looming Oak tree while awaiting his answer, she had become angry.
"I don't understand." She had fumed to Samuel.
"Understand what?" He had asked.
"Father raises such a fuss now, but two years ago, he let a stranger marry my sister. A stranger who hasn't been back for more than a handful of weeks over the span of his marriage!"
Samuel paused in thought. "Perhaps that was easier for him."
"Easier? What do you mean?"
"Well, Mr. Taylor left, but your sister is still here. His business didn't remove her from Hamlin--quite the opposite, in fact. But I won't be leaving you, Liesl. I want you with me wherever I go. If life takes me away from Hamlin, it will take you with me. That was never a threat with Ellie and Corbin. Perhaps that is what worries your father now." Samuel said, resting his head against the tree trunk and looking her in the eye.
Liesl hesitated, but before she could speak, the rising tone within the house indicated that the matter would not be easily settled.
Samuel's attention was immediately upon the cabin. "What in the...?"
English had left the conversation. Fluent Spanish and German, neither voice relenting, became audible outside the cabin.
Liesl groaned. "No, not again! This will never be settled."
Just then, Ellie had come walking around the corner of the cabin, her face confused as she paused to listen to the argument within. Her eyes fell on Samuel and Liesl, and suddenly, she understood.
Looking back at the house and squaring her shoulders, Ellie charged through the wooden front door, the conversation stopping immediately.
"Ruhig sein! Callarse!" The Spanish and German commands for silence halted the raging quarrel seconds after leaving Ellie's lips. "Was ist das? Qué es esto?" She demanded an explanation.
Liesl began to laugh, Samuel looking at her in confusion. "What's so funny?"
"Ah, nothing, nothing at all. It's just that of all of their children, Ellie inherited the lion's share of Mama and Father's stubbornness. Since she married, that tenacity has made increasingly bold appearances. My parents aren't sure what to make of it when their own stubbornness gets replayed before them by their own daughter, but Johann, Maidie and I are all in favor of Ellie's newfound resolve. She's the only one among us who can quiet them down when they get to squabbling, especially when the argument goes multilingual."
"That's the sign that it's getting out of hand?"
"Without a doubt. Used to be, before Ellie premiered her recently discovered gift, the only thing to do when Spanish and German started cropping up in conversation was take a walk or find a quiet hole to hide in until it wore out."
"I admit, I can understand half of what is being said in there, and the half I can understand, I don't particularly agree with." Samuel sighed. "Of all the times to wish I spoke Spanish."
"Du bist Duetsch?" Liesl asked. (You're German?)
"Nein. Meine Eltern sind Deutsch." Samuel replied. (No, my parents are German).
"Ah. We were born in Germany and came to America when I was little. We lived in Baltimore until the war was over, then moved here." Liesl explained.
"Baltimore? Really? Why did you move here?" Samuel asked.
Liesl had looked off into the forest, remembering a conversation she had overheard one night as she fell asleep between her sisters in their crowded room in Baltimore. Mama and Father had surely thought her asleep, but she could hear their whispers across the room.
"...somewhere new." Father was telling Mama.
"I agree, but where? Where will it be different enough that we can start over...again? Where can we go where the ghosts of war won't follow you--won't follow her?" Carina von Erich had asked her husband.
Through squinted eyes, Liesl could see her parents gaze over the bed as they pondered the question, their eyes falling on Ellie.
Father had exhaled. "She hates the city. So do I. We'll go north, Carina. We'll go north where there are trees and sand and fresh water. Ja, fresh water. A fresh start."
Liesl looked back at Samuel, her smile forced. "We had hoped to start again in Baltimore, but the war changed that. So we came here, and here, we found our new life."
As Liesl had finished speaking, the door to the cabin had opened. Her parents had walked out together, Ellie watchfully walking behind them.
Everard von Erich had welcomed Samuel to his table, and from then through the end of their year-long courtship, the two had been on good terms. By the time Ellie and Samuel married when she turned eighteen, Samuel had secured work with her father as a lumberjack.
Samuel built a cabin near Ellie's cabin, glad that his wife's sister was nearby to keep her company while he worked long days in the forest. At night, Johann, Samuel, and Everard would return from the woods. Samuel, Liesl and Ellie would eat dinner together most nights, sit by the fire, and eventually, Ellie would return home, leaving Liesl and Samuel to their own diversions. For two years, the rhythm of life continued uninterrupted. Until Samuel's father had come to them with an offer.
The government had offered the severely crippled Jens Kappel a position as a lighthouse keeper. Jens, obviously unable to accept the position, asked that it be deferred to his eldest son.
"It's a good job, Samuel. The lighthouse has quarters for its keeper and enough of a salary to raise children. And it's nearby--you would only be a few miles removed from home. Think about it." He urged, grimacing as he moved his left leg. Antje Kappel, who stood behind Jens's chair, placed a hand on her husband's shoulder.
They had thought about it, and despite Liesl's concern over leaving Ellie, they had accepted the offer and moved to Grand Pointe au Sable a few months after their conversation with Samuel's father.
Liesl snapped out of her reminiscence and immediately looked down at her sleeping husband. Samuel's chest rose and fell evenly, his facial expression released from the hallmarks of pain. She pressed her lips to his forehead, closed her eyes and lingered, savoring the sensation of his body against hers.Last edit by Joe V on Oct 29, '13
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