A steadfast faith kept nurse Maggie Hunter going through the darkest days of the Great War. But her fiance's death overseas shattered her trust in God and her heart. Now an injured man has washed up on the shores of her Nantucket home, and to save him, Maggie must put more than her skill and dedication on the line....
Wartime tragedy cost Stefan Witte everything--and converted him to the cause of peace. But to deliver vital information to American authorities, he must fight Maggie's stubborn refusal to believe or forgive. Soon he will risk his life to win her trust--and their heaven-sent future together.
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May 11, 2009
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Excerpt from Gift from the Sea by Anna Schmidt
Maggie Hunter gazed out the windows that encased the cupola at the top of her family's inn. She rocked slightly from side to side, her arms folded tightly across her body, as the cold, sleety rain lashed at the glass like a whip. She came here often now in spite of the gray and blustery January weather that promised a long and especially harsh winter. She came to wait for the tears she had not yet shed in the long months since she'd received the news of her fiance's death. It was here in this cupola where she and Dr. Michael Williams had spent some of their happiest hours. Here they had played as children, dreamed the dreams of teenagers and planned a life together. It was here that Michael had proposed marriage. And here Michael had scanned the waters of the Atlantic, gazing through her father's telescope every day in search of any sign of the German U-boat that might be lurking offshore. And it was here, in this glass-enclosed room on a clear, warm April day less than a year earlier, that Michael had announced his intention to volunteer as a medic. America had finally entered the Great War, and he was determined to do his part.
Every day, just after completing her shift as a nurse at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Maggie made this pilgrimage. The inn was her home and her family's business. She stood at the windows replaying the events of the summer day just three months later when Michael's father, Dr. Thomas Williams, had pulled his carriage up to the inn's entrance and slowly climbed down. His stooped shoulders seemed to bear a heavy load. The pounding of the sea against the shore and the high winds that foretold a summer electrical storm drowned out most of her father's deep voice as he came out to greet the doctor. But she had caught snatches of their conversation--"just come...his mother...devastated...Michael...gone..."--before Tom Williams broke down completely, sobbing against her father's shoulder.
Maggie had not cried that terrible day, even when her mother held her tight, murmuring words of consolation, assuring her that in time she would come to understand God's will in all of this. And hearing those words, Maggie felt the icy fingers of rage grip her heart and freeze her unborn tears. God? What kind of God took fine young men in the prime of their lives, when they were on the verge of greatness, of doing good work, of making a better world for others?
Through the weeks and months that followed she buried herself in work, often volunteering for extra shifts and private duty so that she was exhausted enough to assure a dreamless sleep.
Now Maggie pulled her coat closer and buried her fingers inside the cuffs. The cupola was unheated, and even with the protection of being enclosed, the wind and cold found every crevice. Still she stayed, her heart and mind focused on the past and the dreams of what might have been that had died with Michael.
Maggie turned at the faint sound of her name. Her mother's voice, once strong and commanding, had become so weakened by her exhaustion after a recent bout of influenza as to be almost unrecognizable.
Maggie stepped to the doorway. "Up here," she called. "I'll be down in a minute."
"It's so raw out. Can you see your father coming?"
Maggie stepped back to the window and peered out into the gathering gloom of the late afternoon. Far in the distance she could just make out the comforting silhouettes of the lightships that guarded the coast. Her father was part of a volunteer group that patrolled assigned sections of the beaches at dawn and dusk. Maggie tried to see through the sleet streaking the window and the patchy fog. A figure--no, two--carrying something between them.
"Someone's coming," she called back, "but I don't think it's Papa." Even as he approached his fiftieth year, Gabe Hunter still moved with the elegant grace and purposeful stride of a man years younger. Although he had taken the death of every Nantucket son to heart and stayed up nights worried about finances and his beloved wife's health, he refused to abandon his faith.
"Are they coming here?" her mother asked.
"Yes. I'll be right down," she said and took a long, steadying breath before entering the narrow entry at the top of the spiral stairway and latching the trapdoor behind her.
"I'll stir the fire," her mother said, already on her way down the back stairs.
Maggie removed her coat and hung it on an upstairs hall tree. She was wearing her nurse's uniform. Her shift had been as long and exhausting as ever. So many new patients to attend to as new cases of the suspected influenza spread across the island like the omnipresent fog. Everyone on staff at the hospital had been given a dose of the vaccine developed by a doctor in Pittsburgh to prevent the flu virus, and so far it had been effective. In fact, it had been so effective that Doc Williams had insisted that anyone dealing with the public be vaccinated. That had included her parents, and although her mother had contracted the disease after receiving the vaccine, her case was far milder than some Maggie had seen in the hospital.
She pressed her palms over the white apron that had been pristine and starched earlier in the day and was now limp and soiled. She fumbled with tying a fresh bow as she ran down the wide circular stairway that ended in the large, welcoming and deserted lobby of the inn. The flames of the fire flared as her mother poked at the top log; then she crossed the hall to perform a similar prodding on the fire laid in the large dining room. Maggie straightened the guest register and other items on the front desk. Any visitor to the inn held the promise of a paying customer--always a rarity in winter and even more so now because of the war.
Not a minute too soon, Maggie positioned herself behind the desk and plastered a smile on her face as the wide front door crashed open, rattling the etched-glass panes. In an instant the lobby was filled with the full force of the storm as well as the figures of two men, completely soaked and carrying between them a third.
"Papa!" Maggie cried as she rushed forward to shut the door and attend to her father. He and their neighbor, Sean Chadwick, were bent nearly double under the weight of a man who appeared to be quite unconscious. Or perhaps the man was dead.
The one thing that was sure to bring Lucie Hunter on the run was any indication that her beloved Gabriel might need her. The minute she heard Maggie's cry of alarm, she ran to the lobby. At the same instant their housekeeper, Sarah Chadwick, burst through the curtain that separated the front desk area from the kitchen and family quarters.
"Sean, what is it?" Sarah's eyes were wide with fear and panic as she glanced from her fisherman husband to the inert form he and Gabe carried.
They eased the man onto one of the long wooden benches near the entrance; then Sean stood upright as he stretched his back in relief of having put down the heavy load. The five of them stood in a semicircle staring at the bedraggled body dressed in a black rubber diving suit.
"Sean found him on the beach," Maggie's father explained to her mother.
"He was barely moving when I spotted him," Sean added. "It's a wonder I saw him at all."
"No diving shoes," Papa noted. Instead the man wore two pairs of heavy wool socks tucked securely under the legs of the diving suit. The socks were covered in ice. "I suspect he was attempting to swim ashore."
"War or not, you know better than to go out in a storm like this," Sarah said, fussing over her husband as she helped him remove his rain slicker and shook it out before hanging it on the hall tree.
"You've lost your hat," Lucie added as she, too, relieved her husband of his coat.
"It's along the road," Gabe replied absently, his eyes returning to the young man.
Maggie took a step closer and studied the stranger. "Is he dead?" she asked. At the moment, he seemed more sea creature than human. Nevertheless, he could bring questions from islanders already hyper-paranoid about the possibility of an imminent invasion.
The young man twitched and muttered something incomprehensible but clearly not English. All three women gave a little yelp of surprise and took a step backward.
"He's not dead," Gabe confirmed.
Sarah carefully pulled back the tight hood that covered much of the man's face and all of his hair, and her eyes teared. "Oh, Sean, he's no older than our own George," she whispered as she dropped to her knees next to the inert body.
Sarah Chadwick had worked at the inn from the day it had opened. She and her husband, Sean, a native Nantucket fisherman, had lost their only son to the war. George, who had been like a brother to Maggie, had volunteered with Michael that same April day and had died in battle just a week before they'd received the news of Michael's death. The family had lived in the smaller cottage overlooking the harbor where Maggie's grandparents had lived when they were alive. Since George's death, the cottage had been closed and Sarah and Sean had taken a small room on the third floor of the inn.
"What are you going to do?" Lucie asked her husband.
"Oh, we must care for him," Sarah exclaimed before Gabe could form a reply.
"We don't even know him," Maggie pointed out. He was wet and filthy and she should have felt repulsed. Yet there was something about him that made it impossible for her to turn away. Maybe it was the golden hair that reminded her of summer days and hay drying in the fields and Michael stealing a kiss as they crossed the dunes.
"Sarah's right," Sean said with quiet determination. "We have to attend to him. He's almost surely suffering from frostbite and who knows what else."
"But look at him--he doesn't look like anyone we've ever seen on the island. And who goes swimming or diving in such weather? He could be working for the enemy," Maggie said, amazed at the need to state the obvious.
"Whatever his purpose, he is a young man in trouble. God makes no distinction between His children when they are in need," Lucie reminded her.
Maggie turned to her father. "Surely, the authorities must be notified."
"Excellent point," Gabe replied. "Lucie, love, would you ring for Thomas?"
Maggie's relief was short-lived. Although Dr. Williams and her father were in charge of security on this east side of the island, she knew by her father's tone that the doctor was to be called to treat a patient--not as an authority. "I meant the coast guard--that authority."
Her father nodded. "The storm's got to run its course. There's a full-scale freeze-up in the harbor with no steamboat service for the last two days, so there's no hope for a transfer until the ice starts to break up," he said. "For now this young man is hardly a threat, and when he comes to, we may well be able to glean more information."
"Besides," Lucie added, "we are surmising that he is not one of our own. It's unfair to assume anything just because--"
The young man moaned as one hand dropped off the edge of the sofa and his fingers fell open, revealing a small gold cross.
"He's a Christian," Sarah said, smiling as if that alone solved everything.
Maggie's father moved to the man's head as Sean prepared to take his legs. "Maggie, go up ahead of us and turn down the bed there in number three."
"But number three is--"
One look from her father was all it took for Maggie to head for the stairs. Number three was their largest guest room, occupying the premier corner of the inn and offering a panoramic view of the Atlantic as well as Nantucket Sound. It hardly seemed the right place to take a complete stranger who was almost certainly the enemy.
"I'll call Dr. Williams," Sarah volunteered. Her leather soles made clicking sounds on the wide-planked floor as she headed down the hallway to the alcove where the telephone sat on a small side table. They had placed it there for the convenience and privacy of their guests as well as the family.
"Let me cover the bed with a rubber sheet," Maggie's mother said as she rushed up the stairs ahead of the men.
By the time her father and Sean had made it up the stairway and maneuvered the man to the high four-poster bed, Gabe was perspiring and his breath came in irregular huffs. "Heavy," he commented as they heaved the man onto the bed--diving suit and thawing, dripping socks and all.
"Who could he be?" Mama wondered aloud.
Gabe stepped closer and considered the stranger's matted mass of blond hair, which matched his dirty, close-cropped beard. "I have no idea," Gabe replied. "Maggie has a point. He's not from around here--that's certain."
Sarah entered the room and went immediately to the bedside. "The doctor is on a call. I left word for him to come when he could." She brushed the stranger's hair away from his forehead with two fingers. "He can't stay in these wet clothes," she said to Mama.
Gabe nodded. "Maggie, go get a pair of my pajamas and some fresh linens. We'll need to change this bed once we've cleaned him up."
"Go on," her mother instructed, shooing her toward the open door.
"But--" Maggie protested as her mother closed the door. "What if he's a spy?" she muttered, finishing her thought as she stood alone in the hallway. It had not escaped her notice that even the man's socks were not the kind normally seen in Nantucket--or in America for that matter. Her grandmother had been an expert seamstress and quilter. Her mother's knitting and needlework were legendary on the island. Maggie knew the difference between American and foreign-made goods. Even the cut of the diving suit was unique. And what if he were only one of many who had come ashore? Had anyone else considered the idea that enemy invaders might even now be plotting the occupation of Nantucket Island?
Am I the only person in this household who thinks this man's sudden arrival is more than a little strange? She rummaged through her father's bureau until she unearthed his oldest pair of pajamas.