To The Lonely Seas And The Sky -- Part 8
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.
- 3 Published Nov 20, '13
Liesl rocked back in forth in the chair by the wood burning stove, staring into the bright, dancing flames. Rain steadily increased until it produced a drenching downpour, its cadence beating against the kitchen window. She twisted her hair unconsciously between her fingers as she sat basking in the heat, unaware of the rain and deep in thought.
Something told her that all was far from well with Samuel. While his condition had been worse a week prior, he wasn’t healing as a healthy young man ought. Every time Liesl changed the dressings, she was disappointed by the lack of progression toward normalcy that she noted in the bleeding, angry tissue.
He should have been out of bed days ago, Liesl admitted to herself somberly, her hair knotting around her anxious fingertips. At the rising feeling of unrest in her stomach, she pondered her options. There was no way to summon the physician until the morning. Perhaps…perhaps Ellie would be agreeable to checking the wound, just this once.
Deep instinct immediately rejected the thought. When Samuel had been injured and brought back to the lighthouse from the lifesaving station, his life hung tenuously in the balance for several days. Liesl had tended his every need while attempting to maintain the light as well. Upon hearing of the accident, Ellie had rushed to Grand Pointe au Sable, ready and willing to assist Liesl with whatever she could—except the one thing Liesl had expected.
Liesl sat back in her chair and sighed, her brow furrowed. Ellie never spoke of what she had seen when she and Mama had set off one summer years ago in July during the war. The experience had been a vacation for Liesl, Maidie and Johann, who found themselves under the liberal care of their kindly old neighbor. The elderly Mrs. Appleton indulged them to their hearts’ content, the frugal widow loosening her purse strings upon assuming care of the three exuberant children.
Mama, much like Ellie, had been intentionally vague in her description of their travels. All Liesl really knew was that the two of them had assisted a few men who were injured in battle, but that her father wasn’t among them. It was always implied that the men who they had met had serendipitously been acquainted with her father. They had assured Mama and Ellie that he was safe, well out of harm’s way. Four months later, Ellie and Mama returned to Baltimore, but quiet, reserved Ellie was never quite the same.
Liesl had been content to believe that story. And why should she question it? After all, what would Mama and Ellie possibly have to keep from her? The voice of reason loudly protested her rising suspicion. But many years ago, doubt had slowly begun creeping in around that voice, suggesting that perhaps there had been more to that journey than any of Ellie’s siblings knew.
One day in Hamlin, the children had been sitting at their desks in the schoolhouse when a ruckus outside caught their attention. Immediately, every child ran for the window, crowding around their teacher to see what had caused the commotion of voices.
From out of the forest emerged four lumberjacks, Father among them, a man on their shoulders. Liesl had stood petrified, aghast at the sight of blood dripping down into the sand, a screaming man with a bloody, crushed leg carried between them.
And then, a petite girl had run up to them, meeting them just outside the tree line at the bottom of the rising dune. That hair, that dress… Liesl had thought, cocking her head in confusion. Why does she look so familiar?
She turned to ask Ellie that very question and realized her older sister was gone.
Liesl’s attention snapped back to the window, her eyes disbelieving. She pounded on the glass, trapped against the wall by the rest of the students. “Ellie!” She yelled, fear rising in her throat. What was Ellie doing?
But Ellie hadn’t turned—hadn’t even acknowledged that she heard her sister’s voice. She had removed the sash from her dress, tied it around the injured man’s leg, and was using one of the lumberjack’s shirts to bandage the wound. The men around her watched in amazement as the seventeen-year-old girl cinched up the dressing and then instructed the blood-spattered lumberjacks to pick the man back up on their shoulders.
The class spilled out the front door and down the schoolhouse steps, all present gaping in disbelief as Ellie cleared the way through town to the doctor’s house, shouting down the road for assistance. Dr. Van Meier had run out of his office, his eyes widening at the sight. He motioned for the men to set their injured comrade down in the street. The man’s body came to rest in the dusty road.
Liesl had approached the scene, pushing her way through the skirts and trousers, afraid for her brave sister. When she squeezed through the masses to the front of the crowd, she froze in terror at what she saw.
Dr. Van Meier worked quickly to stop the stream of blood that had resumed its furious flow from the torn, pulsating mass of blood that had once been a leg. The young man had been screaming, but now he lay silent, gulping air as the doctor worked. And as Liesl peered between legs and skirts, she could see the reason the patient had calmed down so quickly.
The sight of Ellie holding the young man in her lap, looking deep into his half-conscious eyes and whispering confident words of reassurance had never left Liesl. Liesl was even more surprised when she looked to the left and saw her father sitting in the road a few feet away, watching his eldest daughter with tears running into his beard. Ellie, locked into the injured man’s eyes, saw and heard nothing of the world outside of herself and the young man in her lap. Likewise, the trembling man clung to Ellie’s arms and held to her gaze as if she were his last link to life. When Dr. Van Meier called for the men to lift the young man again, Ellie followed, emerging only after the surgery was over.
After surgery, Ellie had walked out of the building like a zombie, returning home without saying a word to Liesl. Curious as the day is long, Liesl had slipped into the doctor’s office unnoticed, well below eye level of the adults in the crowded room. The patient lay in bed, slowly regaining consciousness as the chloroform wore off.
Liesl shimmied up to the bedside, gazing in awe at the young man stretched out over the bed. The bottom of his leg was gone, his right knee bandaged in clean white cloth. His eyelids fluttered and his face turned in the direction of voices. Seconds later, Liesl was staring straight into his perfect brown eyes.
The young man smiled slowly, raising his hand and pointing a finger at Liesl. “You’re… She… You look like…her…” He murmured, his heavy eyes closing.
Since then, Liesl had harbored the gnawing suspicion that Ellie’s experiences during the war were much more extensive than she had ever let on to her siblings, and though Liesl dared not broach the subject directly, Ellie’s avoidance of Samuel after his injury had caused Liesl to consider anew what lay hidden behind her older sister’s wise blue eyes. The incident at the schoolhouse betrayed a deep, almost reflexive ease with serious injury and nonchalance in the face of suffering that allowed Ellie to react before anyone else. Where had that come from? Liesl knew she may only ever wonder.
But despite her apparent familiarity with injuries, Ellie busied herself with cleaning, tending the lens and lamp, and making food. She seemed to have no problem with the accoutrements of injury—she made no excuses when the need arose to clean the bandages or retrieve medicine from the cabinet. But Ellie avoided Samuel’s room beyond reasonable denial, only entering when Liesl found herself elbows deep in a task that precluded her from tending him herself. Not only did she avoid his room, but Liesl could see a pain in her sister’s eyes when she even inquired after him. She was able to participate in the conversation, but her eyes had a tendency to wander off to a far corner, staring into nothing, an intense longing evident in her gaze.
Footsteps in the tower brought Liesl’s eyes to focus on the dimly lit front hall just outside the kitchen. Moments later, Ellie emerged from the hallway to the tower into the front hall. But before either sister could say a word, their attention was captured and refocused on a pounding knock coming from the front door.Last edit by Joe V on Nov 22, '13
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