Nikki Leigh
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Widow’s Walk

Chapter One

 

October 3, 1841

Sunday Evening

 

Brilliant flashes of lightning lit the night sky and the thunder rumbled my soul. The cold raindrops brushed my cheek while the storm drew near. Intense heartbeats hammered in my chest as I thought of father and his crew. Their fishing boat was on its way home. We hadn’t heard exactly when they planned to return, but this storm worried me. I reminded myself that my concern could be unfounded.

Through the years, I watched many storms approach the Cape Ann coastline. We lived on a section of the Massachusetts coast which didn’t see many hurricanes but, this one promised to be powerful. The cool early morning breeze turned into a cold, stiff wind. My thoughts crossed the churning waters of the Atlantic, which spread in front of me. I couldn’t help but worry about Father. Once his boat was in sight, I could relax because then the lighthouse beacon would guide him safely into the harbor. Waves pounded the rock cliffs far below my perch on our widow’s walk. My eyes caught the light from the Stormy View lighthouse.

The beacon reassured me that father would find his way home. I knew in my heart that he could get home, once he saw the coastline. The beacon shone above our small fishing village of Misty Cove. Clusters of clouds were visible in the light, making them appear ominous.

The gale moved closer to shore as I scanned the horizon for father’s fishing boat from my perch on the widow’s walk atop our home. Would Father stay at sea until the storm passed? I pulled my coat collar against the cold rain and opened the door to scurry back inside the house.

My dear friend Abigail waited for me inside where she was working on the wedding dress I would wear in a few days. I could try to hide my concern, but Abigail knew me well.

“Lizbeth, are you all right?” her soft voice called out to me.

“I need to sit by the fire and get warm. The temperature has dropped since this afternoon.” I walked straight to the hearth.

Abigail looked in my direction. Concern lined her face. “Could you see anything from the widow’s walk?”

A chill raced up my spine when I heard the words widow’s walk this close to my wedding. My fiancée, William was safe onshore, but Father might be in danger.

Abigail added the final touches to my wedding dress. I wanted something simple, but she had wonderful ideas that made my dress a treasure.

“You’re soaked.” Abigail walked to me, a cloth in hand, and shook her head. “I’ll dry your hair. I won’t allow a cold to interfere with your wedding.” She laid one of mother’s quilts over my shoulders and ruffled  my hair.

“Speaking of your wedding, if your mother was here, she would have this talk with you.” I knew what she was about to say. “We should talk about your…behavior on your wedding night.”

With a touch of hesitation, I spoke in a low voice. “Sara and I talked about that.”

Abigail coughed. “I’m not sure that Sara’s advice would be the best in this situation.”

“Abigail, I know you mean well, but I won’t listen to you insult Sara. She’s cared for father and me since I was a young child and father has been happy with her. There’s no reason to ignore her now.”

Abigail sputtered as she spoke. “H-he can’t think that she would be the best person to talk to about—”

“Abigail, you said your piece.” She opened her mouth to speak, but I held up a hand. “This is the end of the conversation.”

Her hands worked on my hair with rough movements. She was mad, but I wouldn’t let her insult Sara. Both women were special to me, besides it was easier to discuss things like that with Sara. I needed to think of something more peaceful. I remembered the time when I met William, who became my best friend when I was six years old and he was nine.

Twelve years later, he was still my best friend and fiercest protector. Anyone who was cruel to me had to deal with William. He’d always been at my side to save me from harm. No other young men sparked the same enthusiasm in me. William stirred excitement along with love, loyalty and devotion; a good foundation for our marriage. If my mother was here, I’d talk to her about it, but she died giving birth to my younger brother. I was only three years old at the time and a year later I lost my brother too.

“In any case, the preparations for your wedding are almost done.” She peered out the window as she spoke.

“I wish this storm would move off our coast.”

I looked into Abigail’s weathered face. She took great care to dress her best, but her face and hair were mussed from the weather earlier in the afternoon. Scant streaks of gray within her brown hair gave her an air of sophistication. Years ago when I commented on Abigail’s blue eyes, she told me they were the same shade as mothers. People said they were mistaken for sisters when they were young.

“I’ll feel better when father’s boat has docked. Mr. Lockwood shouldn’t have insisted they go out this late in the season.” I paced the floor. “Do they think father will get home before the storm hits?”

Abigail rose from her seat, wrapping a wrinkled hand around my shoulder. “Your father has sailed these waters for years. It would take an incredible storm to keep him away. He always says that the Stormy View lighthouse is his constant star to guide him home.” Her words were a comfort, but I noticed the shadow of concern in her eyes.

“What do we need to do before Wednesday?” I counted the things that remained on my fingers. “Our invitations are delivered. My beautiful dress is almost finished.” A wave of sadness washed over me. “I considered wearing a veil, but I’d rather wear a wild flower headdress. Besides, Mrs. Gardner refused to order a veil for me.” I struggled to push her from my mind.

This was not a time to think about my problems with Ida Gardner. Many happy thoughts had filled my days over the past few weeks. William was almost finished renovating our house. Normally, he would be on the boat with father, but it was better for him to stay and work on our home. With reports of a storm off the coast, completing the roof became our top priority. He finished a day early.

Sara and I would work on the interior of the house after we moved in. We had already moved mother’s linens into the cupboards beside my dishes. Sara and I canned beans, corn, and other foods during the summer. I helped with the finishing touches on our furniture. William assembled the chairs, tables and our bed. I sanded the rough sawn lumber and applied finishes when they were complete. The renovations to our home would be ready before we moved in next week. Father owned the house for years and we renovated it to accommodate ourselves.

“I finished attaching this piece of lace on the shoulder. What do you think?” I studied her work.

The vivid blue lace would match my eyes while the pale yellow flowers would blend with my blonde hair. My light coloring was a contrast to William’s dark good looks. His dark brown eyes matched his dark brown hair. Hours on the fishing boat gave his skin a deep tanned appearance. My skin didn’t darken, even after many hours along the docks or on the water. Our contrasting appearances complemented each other.

“I want to check the weather. Nolan should be by shortly in the landaulet. It’s an ostentatious carriage, it will  keep us warm this winter. I’ll have to take you for a ride.” Abigail’s eyes shone bright as she looked at me. “Would you and William like to use it after the wedding? You could travel to your new home in comfort.”

“I’ll ask William and see what he thinks. He may have a surprise planned.” A warm smile crossed my face each time I thought of my fiancée.

I heard rocks crunch in front of the house and I glanced out the window. With a couple of steps, Abigail stood beside me and we saw Nolan stop near the front door. Their horse pranced while Nolan struggled to tie him to a fence post. A crack of thunder rang through the air. The horse reared back and brought his front hooves down near the gate. Nolan grabbed the reins and held fast to calm the horse until the lightning ceased.

I noticed Nolan Westley’s profile in the storm. He was a distinguished man. His hair was thinning, but he combed it over to give the impression of more hair A tall, thin man, he walked with an air which exuded  confidence. The residents of Misty Cove were fortunate to have him as our mayor.

His gray hair blew free in the wind. He maintained a neat mustache and beard, which added to his fine appearance. Abigail and Nolan made a handsome couple and the town folks treated them with respect.

I opened the front door when Nolan climbed the steps. “Come in and get out of the storm.”

“Thank you for meeting me. This is a strong one. Are you both all right?” He shook the rain from his head in the foyer.

“We’re fine.” My shoulders tensed when I turned to him. “Have you heard any word about father and the Misty Pride?”

“I haven’t heard anything, but he’s a skilled captain and knows these waters better than anyone. They will come within sight of the lighthouse, and the beam will guide him into the harbor.” He sounded certain.

“I’m sure you’re right. Mr. Lockwood shouldn’t have made them go out this late in the season. He’s a selfish and greedy man.” My anger flared and I stomped on the floor.

“Your father wouldn’t go out this late unless it was important.” He gripped my arm, and I felt his strength.

“Mr. Lockwood has enough money, but one day he’ll have to consider other people. I don’t know what will have to happen to make him change.” What could I ever do about Mr. Lockwood?

“I don’t like your being alone in this storm. You can come home with us if that would make you feel better.”

Abigail sounded like a mother hen.

“In a few days, I’ll be a married woman and there will be times when William is away. I better get used to spending some time alone.” I walked Abigail toward the door and gave her a quick hug. “You need to get home before the storm gets worse. Nolan, take care of her, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

We walked outside together and I realized just how bad the storm had become. I hugged Nolan and Abigail before they stepped into the landaulet. The wind whipped my skirts and the hard rain fell on my head. I hiked up the dress hem and ran toward the house, boots sloshing in the mud.

“Close the door tight behind us and check the windows. If they aren’t closed, they’ll make a racket in this storm,” Abigail continued, as Nolan nudged her across the carriage.

“I will. But I’ll rest better knowing you’re home safe,” I called out, trying to be heard over the howling wind.

“Sleep well and I’ll check on you in the morning,” Nolan bellowed.

I closed the door and noticed the candle had burned low and I searched for a replacement. It was a dark night, and I shouldn’t be without a light. I entered the keeping room and reached for my wedding dress. The lace Abigail added to the shoulders was a wonderful touch that came from one of mother’s dresses. A small piece of mother would be at our wedding. What would it be like to have mother with me? I doubted that my mother could be more dedicated to my happiness than Abigail and Sara.

With a candle in hand, I climbed the stairs to my room and lit the oil lamp on my bedside table. My chamber set was near the window. Earlier in the day I filled the pitcher with water. I poured it into the bowl and washed my face. This simple cleansing ritual relaxed me.

I pulled my rocking chair in front of the window that faced the harbor. Tomorrow I planned to visit our house and work with William. My ride to the house would depend on how bad the storm was in the morning. It might pass us overnight. I hoped father would return sometime late the next day, after the storm had moved away from our coastline. My eyes grew tired as I peered into the stormy night and before I knew it, I dozed off.

***

A crash of thunder woke me. Tree branches slammed against the side of our house, rain pelted the window keeping me awake as the storm bore down on us. I shifted in the chair and tried to soothe the crick in my neck.

I wrapped myself in a robe and raised the wick in the lamp before walking down the stairs with care. A knock on the door startled me as I reached the bottom step. I peered through the side window, but I  couldn’t make out who it was in the dark. A flash of lightning lit the sky and I smiled when I recognized William.

“Lizbeth, are you all right?” His tone was frantic.

With a sense of panic, I opened the door. “I’m fine. Get out of the rain.”

I helped him out of his soaked coat. He wore his banyan, the blue morning coat I made for him. The coat seemed out of place. I wasn’t used to seeing him in his sleepwear.

William glanced at his attire and his face turned red. “I didn’t think about my clothes, or lack of them.” He

cleared his throat and continued, “My only thought was to make sure you were safe.” He paused for a moment and looked in my eyes. “Are you all right?”

I smiled at him and reached up to hug him around the neck. “I’m fine. This is a solid old house and I was asleep until the storm worsened.” Branches from a nearby tree hit the house causing me to jump at the noise. It must’ve been a large branch to make such a ruckus. “How did you get here?”

I led him into the keeping room and stoked the embers on the hearth. After wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, I added several logs to rekindle the fire.

“Thank you. This is so warm.” He snuggled into the blanket.

William shivered while I stoked the fire and pleaded silently for heat to penetrate the room. Slowly the fire grew larger and radiated some warmth. I sat on the floor beside William’s slat back chair and the bottom of my robe spread along the chair legs.

“I appreciate your concern, but you could’ve been seriously hurt.” I touched his knee. “How will you get back home in this weather?”

William’s eyes grew large. “I didn’t think about that. The important thing was to make sure you’re all right.”

His smile was genuine and I held his cold hands in mine. I rubbed them and shared my warmth with him. “It isn’t proper, but you should stay here because I won’t risk your being hurt. Father would understand under the circumstances. He’d be upset if you left me alone in this storm.” I smiled at him and said, “We could stay awake here on the rockers. What do you think?”

With a soft touch to my cheek, he spoke to me. “Why don’t you sit beside me? You can tell me how our wedding plans are coming.” He stood and slid the chair next to his.

I sat near him, recounted the day’s events and enjoyed the warmth from the fireplace. Deep down I knew

that I should lock myself in my room or send William away but I couldn’t find the motivation to do either.

***

Something banged loudly against the side of the house and the noise woke me. William wasn’t in the chair next to me. I stood and dropped my blanket to the floor. He wasn’t in the kitchen or the washroom. I ran up the stairs and looked for him. He wasn’t in the house.

“William, where are you?” My words held an anxious tone. The wind blew hard and rain pounded the windows.

The front door slammed with a thud and William entered the hallway.

“Why were you outside?” I asked.

“The shutters blew loose and I secured them.” He pushed back a loose strand of my hair with his cold wet hand. “Did I wake you when I went outside?”

“The loud noise woke me. Come back to the fire with me.” My voice was barely audible, “Do you think father is safe?”

William held my hand and kissed my cheek, “He’ll probably stay away from the coast and wait out the storm. When he sees the lighthouse, he’ll adjust his course to stay out of harm’s way.”

“That means his life is in the hands of Edward Grimes.” Panic rose within me.

“Not necessarily. Your Father knows this coast better than anyone I know. He’s a strong and capable man. I’ll climb onto the widow’s walk and look around. Stay here where it is dry.”

“I have to see for myself,” was my determined reply.

William shook his head and laughed, “You will do  what you want. It’s a good thing I love you, even with that stubborn streak.”

I hugged him and grabbed the spyglass before we started up the stairs. William pushed the door open and we stepped onto the narrow platform. Clouds hung lower in the sky and lightning gave them an eerie appearance.

The centuries old trees in the yard creaked under the strain of the wind. I could barely see the waves as I struggled to make out the white caps. With a sudden feeling of dread, I realized the problem.

“William, the light isn’t shining.” I squeezed his arm.

“Give me the spyglass for a moment.” I handed him the scope.

“Oh please, no!” I heard his hushed words through the wind and rain.

“What do you see?” The walkway was narrow and I lost my footing in the rain.

William grabbed my arm and held me. “Lizbeth, you need to go inside. I have to get Mr. Westley.” He moved me toward the door and held my arm tight as we walked down the tapered stairs. “Will you stay in the house and out of the storm?”

“Did you see father?” My voice was shrill.

“Promise me you will stay here.” He looked stern.

“I’ll stay, but only if you insist.” I pursed my lips and hoped he wouldn’t.

“I think it’s the Misty Pride and they need the light at once. Please don’t make me worry about you too.”

“Father is in danger.” I choked on the words.

“Stay here where you will be safe.” He kissed me with fierce determination and disappeared into the night.

I had a clear view of his horse carrying him down the muddy road from my bedroom window. That was the best place to watch. I tried to see the Misty Pride in the intermittent flashes of lightning, but there were only shadows on the rough sea.

I perched on the window seat and tried to stay calm, but it was no use. The lighthouse remained dark, but William was on his way. How much time did they have to help father and the crew? I needed to be by his side and help protect father.

I rose from my window and pulled on my boots and cloak. Taking the stairs two at a time, I hastily unlocked the door and it blew backward in the wind. Once I started toward the front yard, the wind gusted and I landed in a mud puddle. Pushing my hands against the ground, I stood and slogged through the mud before I reached the barn door.

William’s words echoed in my mind. He didn’t need to worry about me too and it would risk the lives of father and his men if I followed William. For once in my life, I decided to stay put although it would drive me crazy. I turned back to the house and climbed the stairs to take a seat at my window. Watching out the rain soaked window, I prayed for the safe return of the two most important men in my life.

Copyright 2004 – Nikki Leigh

(Widow’s Walk is Book One of the Misty Cove Chronicles)

 

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