It had been arranged to journey down to the deserted beach with Carin now happily secured in a new wheelchair and wrapped in a heavy Ulster coat that settled onto her fragile shoulders like a collapsed canvas tent. And there with ease we expectantly talked quietly and waited as she wore her favourite Hermes scarf and gloves, she would certainly be protected against any unwelcomed elements that might present itself to her on that dispassionate deserted beach.
At the last minute, I realised that the path that reached down to the beach had been easy to navigate for any wheelchair access. But ascending back up to the path to the car, that just might just be a dangerous task. I quickly decided I needed Otto to drive the car to the beach and then later to return us all to the hospital with the cheerful Pietro, our young hospital orderly, adroitly manoeuvring Carin.
With the awkward to control wheelchair and with myself and Gertrude carefully following we safely arrived at that now atmospheric barren beach. It was by now that unreal breath of time that had arrived being neither day nor night. Or as the writer, Ellen Glasgow recalled it as:
‘The last hour of the day.’
Carin now gazed out across the silent sea and I perched on an uncomfortable rock beside her. But both Gertrude and Pietro remained standing. And both now surveying the empty horizon together both unaware of why they were really here. But we waited like young excited children to be rewarded as a favoured family treat
Then I was delighted to hear the sound of a purring engine and then our car emerged from the drifting sea mist. It was good old reliable Otto waving and smiling at us through the open window. He was indeed a very welcomed sight.
It was in fact the first time I had ever witnessed any car driven on any beach and it seemed rather unreal to listen to its descending heavy Vulcan tyres moving over on the defenceless grains of sand and hidden pools.
After Otto had climbed from the car he reached into the vehicle and extracted a heavy wicker hamper, a small card table as well as several small canvas chairs. He was always well prepared it seemed.
Gertrude then laid the table spreading a starched white tablecloth onto its surface then placed some paper plates with cups and saucers and numerous cut sandwiches and cream cakes and some fruit that remained welcomed and untouched I noticed. Gertrude then kindly offered some nourishment to all of us before enjoying any of the delights herself. How thoughtful. Then we sat comfortably and eagerly enjoying this impromptu meal. Then when finished we sat and waited and watched as we sipped our cooling drinks.
I was always uncertain about this popular myth if that’s what it was concerning those solitary singing Swedish fishermen. I was always very surprised how many of these folklore myths survived from the 19th century and then flourished again somehow into the 20th century. And perhaps time embellishes the story in its telling to the listener. Who knows?
I knew about and heard or read somewhere about the Yeti snowman and the many other European tales of their historic past, especially from Russia.
And who can ever attempt to explain that ghostly smiling gentleman or the three-cornered hat gas lighter as he was known who wanders it seems the Palace of Versailles’ ghostly corridors and who is forever annoyingly switching ceiling lights on or off, and all fifteen thousand of them, but not at the same time?
Or the headless horseman of Krakow, usually a bringer or harbinger of dreaded news it is claimed?
And then I suddenly heard a dozen or so voices singing a Cappella and can you believe … actually in Swedish? It was so moving I started to cry. I was so emotional after the wait:
“Bittida en morgon innan solen uppran
Herr Mannelig her Herr Mannellig”
We could of course now see their ghostly images and shapes of those fishermen and their stitched nets being cast out far and wide into the deep. And with the gentle slapping of the waves and a tang of seaweed in the air as they assaulted the beach as a background accompaniment it seemed somehow unreal. It was as if the voices and the sea were heard in complete harmony. A pure joy to hear. I have never experienced anything like it since or perhaps ever will.
Carin of course sang with passion and pain as she remembered the words that meant so very much to her. And I suppose to all of her past generations and had done so since her youth. And always would remain sealed in her heart.
So the legend of the voices was not a myth I now realised but a magical occasion that was for us all to see and hear. How fortunate we had been to participate in this unexpected theatre before our soon departure.
Then those voices sadly began to fade away slowly but distinctly but not before another song from her youth was sung but never finished:
“A Riden sa valliga…”
Then those dying voices finally faded into the embers of the dying night air. And we few souls reluctantly prepared to take our own now welcomed leave. We all certainly had been very moved and privileged I suppose by this nocturnal phenomenon. And more importantly, the wish of a dying woman had been fulfilled to hear and see this mirage. We were all then I suppose in communion with Carin in what she was experiencing. Of that, I’m very sure.
Then just before we departed that desolate beach the mournful toll of a solitary iron bell suddenly reached our ears. We all froze at its unexpected intrusion as you can imagine. Its musical peal arrived not from any known land, but from all about us. Perhaps even from the very depth of the sea itself. How frightening. Yet its tone was as clear as crystal I still remember after all these years.
So could this be THAT forgotten bell? I eagerly speculated that had been ripped from that prison wall a hand unknown that had once previously been incessantly ringing that morning long ago perhaps? I am now convinced, that it had been brother Jerome’s untimely death to that lost sleeping village of long ago, but now sadly abandoned.
Suddenly into this atmospheric beach a pronouncement of a coming death by its ringing had entered into our company. But not happy for us I noticed, but it seemed just for the ailing countess herself as her own life slowly faded away, and to be seen before by my own tired eyes in the next few weeks.
The sea I noticed now remained as calm as Christmas eve in a Cistercian monastery.
It would be the final time my dear friend Carin ever listened again to the whisper or witnessed that supernatural shining sea then stretched out under the full moon before her. And with one last glance, we all prepared to depart that abandoned beach and return to the warmth of the hospital.
And later all of us remained comfortably cocooned in the returning car. Lost in our own thoughts of what we had heard and just about witnessed that night. From a grassy dune a startled rabbit I noticed gazed at our departure with interest then hopped away. Rather like our little party that had visited that deserted beach then finally departed but in a very different mood from when we had arrived earlier.
The next day we would soon be departing for Munich.
With some words, her final written memories, strangely enough, came to a frustrating end. The remaining pages Karen discovered years later had suffered badly from water damage, leaving them almost unable to be read or be separated. She had then foolishly attempted to repair the pages if possible with basic heat treatment but to no avail. One can only speculate what she needed me to know with concern for her closest friend. And perhaps later inform her of her own joy of Karen’s approaching motherhood? One will never know of course and maybe one was never supposed to enter that domain of uncertainty.
And certainly, the political party that both women had espoused so deeply to for so many years within their hearts and publically was now on the triumphant unstoppable march to a Germanic victory in those dying days of the failing “Weimar Republic.” Only years later would there be such appalling consequences that the so-called “Third Reich” would inflict from the ballot box to the unprepared people of Europe!
To be continued……
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell