Real life is interfering with the schedule. I’ll post the story this morning, and hope I can add another post at noon when the story normally goes up.
The Lantern in the Tower
by Elizabeth Cheatham Walton
Chapter 2: Shadows on the Wall
Patty started out, far up the beach where the white foam could not possibly touch her shoes. She sank into the sand. Slowly she pulled one foot out and then the other, plodding heavily along close to the great dunes that lined the beach above the high tide mark.
“This will never do,” thought Patty. “I’ll get there tomorrow at this rate.”
Down toward the sea she went, closer and closer to the scallops of foam, but the sand remained soft and dry. As she put each foot forward, the heel sank deep, followed by the instep and the toe.
“What is the matter?’ thought Patty; then she knew.
She had known all the time, but her fear of the sea had pushed the knowledge out of her mind. The tide was in and the only hard sand was under water. She must wade if she were to reach the lighthouse in time.
Patty was shaking now. She looked down at her shoes. She had often seen the fishermen wade through the breakers. either they sloshed along in their big boots, or took off their shoes and rolled up their trousers. But suppose the waves pulled her out? She, Patty, wasn’t as big and strong as a fisherman. She looked out beyond the white foam at the blackness. Time was passing, minute by minute, as each foam scallop rippled up on to the sand.
Patty sat down and unlaced her shoes. Her cold, stiff hands fumbled at the strings, but with a little more time than it took at night, she had the double knots untied and the strings pulled out of the eyelets enough to let her jerk them off. The stockings followed in a second. She stuffed them into her pocket, tied the shoe laces together, and slung them over her shoulder. She dared not leave them there on the sand, for high shoes cost what seemed an enormous sum to a poor fisherman’s family in those war days.
She stepped into the shallow ripples and felt the firm sand under her feet. The water was cold, but it made her hurry instead of starting off in a hesitating, fearful way. A bigger wave swirled around her ankles with its strong pull back. Her breath came in short gasps. she felt as though the awful blackness were opening to take her in. But on she went. When the waves were small and the shallow water rippled around her toes, she felt better. The bigger waves made her shiver with fear. The worst of it was she could never tell what size a wave would be. somewhere out in the darkness she heard a crash of falling water. With a roar and a splash it rushed on toward the shore, but not until the white foam was spinning around her ankles did she know how big a wave it was. It was too late then to do anything but brace herself against the terrible pull that always followed.
It seemed to Patty that she had walked for hours and hours. She looked for the light but saw only the sky full of stars, and around her the foam and the sand and the darkness.
She began to fear that the fishermen had gathered their crowd and reached the light before her. Terror slowly crept over Patty. She saw herself struggling on and on along the coast, lost, and her dark journey coming to no end.
Frantically she looked up for the light and for a minute forgot the sea. She stepped out too far as a big wave came in, swirling around her legs. The foam gushed up and clutched at the bottom of her dress. Then with a mighty pull the wave started back to sea. Patty screamed, but there was no one to hear her cry. She staggered a step nearer deep water. The wave pulled at her, and the sand was sucked out from under her feet. She struggled toward the land, but another wave came, and still another. She couldn’t stand up. She couldn’t. She couldn’t. Still, she must warn Andy. Shaking and cold, she gave one frantic pull away from the strong, curling waves. A few smaller waves came in and Patty took the chance they gave her. With a final big effort she was on the soft sand. She longed to throw herself down and shake and cry, but she clenched her teeth and hurried on. the fishermen, whom she hoped were far behind her, were not taking time out to shake and cry.
And just then the light shone off in the darkness – a great star, bigger than all the rest, gleaming part way up the sky. Patty’s throat twitched and she swallowed hard. The light was still burning. She had beaten the fishermen to the tip of the Cape.
New strength came into Patty’s legs. She ran up the beach, searching for the walk of single boards, her fears all forgotten. In a few minutes she would tell Andy all that the fishermen planned, and he would know what to do.
Down near the light she found the walk and ran up to the keeper’s cottage. With doubled-up fists she hammered on the door. Inside a dog barked.
“Andy!” called Patty. “Andy!”
There was no answer. Only the dog barked.
“Andy!” called Patty. “Andy!”
There was no answer. Only the dog barking.
Patty ran to the window and rapped. In a minute Belle was standing on her hind feet with her front paws on the sill.
“Belle!” called Patty. “Belle! where’s Andy?”
Belle stopped barking and began to wag her tail and give joyous little whimpers. Still no one came to the door. Patty began to worry. She was losing time. Perhaps Andy was at the lighthouse. Surely if he were at the keeper’s cottage, he would be awake by now and downstairs to find out what the commotion was about.
She left Belle at the window and ran on to the tower. It loomed up before her, atop the greatest dune on the Cape, a tall red brick structure with a round copper top. She raced up the wooden steps to the top of the dune, and then on to the platform built around the lighthouse base. Her guess was right. The door was ajar, and there was a light inside.
Patty stepped across the threshold. Andy was not there, but a lighted lamp stood on the floor casting its glow around the room. Before her the circular staircase mounted to the lantern chamber at the top and around the walls of the big circular ground-floor room; each in its separate red brick niche, gleamed the great copper cans of whale oil, ready to supply the light. One had been pulled a little way out of its niche. Probably Andy had gone to the top with oil for the lantern. She ran to the foot of the steps and looked up.
“Andy!” she called. “Andy!”
Before there was time for an answer, Patty heard Belle barking loudly again and heavy steps on the board walk.
“They’ve come,” thought Patty, “and I haven’t warned Andy!”
She stood undecided what to do.
Steps were coming to the platform outside the tower.
Patty stood terrified, a forlorn figure of a girl, in her bare feet, wet dress, and wind blown hair.
The heavy feet stamped around the platform. In a few minutes the first fisherman would be in the tower.
For a second time Patty noticed the big copper can pulled forward a little out of its niche. Noiselessly her bare feet raced across the room. She held her breath to make herself small and squeezed in behind the can. Just as she ducked down into the niche, the door of the tower was flung open and a bearded man in high rubber boots strode into the room.
Patty curled herself into as small a space as possible. She longed to move the big can back against her, but her arms were too small and frail to stretch around its big slippery sides and pull. She breathed quietly, hoping that no piece of her bright red dress was sticking out, or that no reflection of a scared young girl could be seen in the gleaming copper from any angle of the room.
Feet stamped on the floor; then deep voices whispered in hoarse muffled tones.
“He’s nowhere ‘bout the house,” said one.
“What about the dog?” asked another.
“Setters don’t bite,” was the answer to that; “but I shut her up in the little pantry anyway, where barking can’t be heard too far.”
Patty was glad setters wouldn’t bite. They might have killed Belle if she had shown fight.
“Do you suppose he’s up in the tower?” asked one.
“Figure he is,” replied another. “Look at that can. He’s moved it out and taken oil up to fill the lantern.”
Patty thought they must surely hear her panting breath, and she wondered why her shaking knees and arms didn’t make a loud rat-a-tat-tat against the shining copper. At any minute the men might pull the big can farther out or attempt to shove it back in place. But they were not as much concerned with the can as Patty feared. They had much more important business on hand that night.
“Shall we go up?” asked a deep voice.
“Go up,” jeered another, “and put ourselves in his hands like that? Don’t you know the little ladder and trap door that leads to the lantern chamber?”
There was silence in the room. Apparently none or very few of them had ever been up in the tower.
The jeering voice continued on. “There’s a tiny, wobbly ladder at the top and a trap door opening on to the floor of the lantern chamber. We’d have to go up one by one and poke our heads through, and unless we could think of some mighty good excuse for doing that this early in the morning, he’d crack us over the head one by one and keep the lantern burning.”
There was silence again.
“No,” the voice continued. “We’ll hide here and wait till he comes down; then we’ll all jump on him at once.”
Patty’s brown eyes grew dark with anger. She might be a girl – a girl who was afraid of the sea – but she knew that all of them jumping on one man was being a coward of the worst kind. She had a contempt for the man who had suggested it and for the others who had not disagreed.
“Where will we hide?” asked a thick voice. “Behind those cans?”
Patty gave a sharp gasp and rested her forehead against the cool copper of the can in front of her. They would find her now when they started moving out the cans and getting behind them. They would find her spying on them, and what would they do?
But the men were talking again. She gulped down her terror and listened.
The jeering one laughed under his breath.
“Those cans!” he scoffed. “A fly couldn’t hide behind them. The niches aren’t big enough, or else the cans are too big. We’ll stay right outside the door and then pop in.”
Patty was weak all over. She was saved, at least for the present, because a fly couldn’t hide behind those cans. She knew better, but she was glad the fishermen didn’t.
“Listen!” whispered one. “Is he coming?”
There was a silence.
“Get out!” a big voice commanded. “Don’t leave any light here but his lamp!”
A scuffle and scurry followed; then silence again.
Patty’s heart cried out to warn Andy, but what could she do? The sound of his footsteps came down faintly to her from far up in the tower. It wasn’t even a loud clump, clump, but merely a rhythmic swish, so far he was above her head.
There was nothing she could throw out to make him go back up the stairs. Anything she could do would merely make him hurry down, and the fishermen would overpower them both. She could only listen and wait. Perhaps when they had gone she could untie Andy. They had promised her father not to harm him, merely tie him up. But would they keep their promise?
The sound above Patty’s head became louder and louder; then the wooden steps began to creak; and at last a man’s big footfalls sounded quite close by. He was on the last landing and he was whistling softly. He was on the last step and Patty could make out the tune he was whistling. It was a song they had often sung together at home, never dreaming that trouble was so close. He was down on the ground floor of the lighthouse and still the whistling continued.
Patty heard him walking around. Blue-black shadows reared themselves along the wall. He had picked up the lamp. The steps still continued, and the patches of golden light and shadow changed places behind Patty. Andy was coming her way. He was going to put the big copper can back in place. This was something she had not thought of. Of course, he would put the can in place before he left the tower. It was he who was going to find her and give her away to the fishermen.