Synopsis: A brief but instructive tale on behavior and morality, dear reader. This is a cautionary story for our modern times as we step gently into the 20th century, from July 1901 to August 1902.
Karl Krentz rolled the Havana cigar in his mouth with the tip of his thumb and index finger of his right hand, while his left hand methodically opened and closed behind his back. He surveyed the broad expanse of beach below from the high grassy knoll.
To his left were the flashing white cliffs that he had always found so compelling. Krentz, at the moment, felt quite pleased with his place in the world as he stood alone dressed in jodhpurs, wearing polished brown leather riding boots, and a white shirt open at the collar.
By any definition Karl Krentz would be considered a handsome man with a rugged, tanned complexion, lean figure, and broad shoulders. Young women glanced over furtively whenever he entered a room, and mothers whispered knowingly to their daughters behind their fans.
Yet, on closer inspection, there was an imperfection, albeit hardly noticeable except to the most observant: Behind Krentz' cautious eyes there resided an insincerity and ruthlessness that knew no limits. He allowed the cigar to slip from his fingers, and then took his time deliberately grinding it into the sand beneath the heel of his boot. His mouth curled up into a satisfied smile when he saw the figure move along the beach.
Pretty Samantha Carlson headed for the secluded inlet below the cliffs, as she had done so many times during the last two months of the summer. Within a few minutes Krentz was on the beach striding rapidly toward her. The young woman's countenance was partially obscured by her white parasol, but then she saw him, and the shadow lifted from her expectant face. “Darling,” she called out and dashed to him, pressing her face against his chest.
Krentz gazed at her innocent blue eyes and kissed her gently on the lips. He then gripped her shoulders and held her at arm's length. “Is it possible you are getting too fond of me, my little butterfly?”
“My noble sir,” she said while fluttering her eyes in feigned worship. “I could not survive without you beside me every waking moment.”
Krentz laughed. “You are a delight.”
“Of course.” He paused. “I am glad you didn't disappoint me on my last visit here.”
“What do you mean, Karl?”
“I shall be leaving tomorrow.”
“I do not understand my darling. Leave? But you'll be returning of course.”
“Possibly sometime next summer. If Mrs. Krentz wishes to.”
“You mean … your mother?”
“My mother? No. I'm to be married next week.”
In the next few seconds it seemed to Krentz that several emotions raced across Samantha's face, one following upon the other in rapid succession. “This is some sort of jest? You are saying this to try my love—of course, I understand. But, Karl, you must know I adore you.” Her smile slowed down.
“My dear child, you certainly can not believe that our harmless and enjoyable flirtation, was anything more serious than that.” He hoped she was not about to make a scene.
All color drained from Samantha's face, and the parasol fell from her hand. “I have only one question for you, Karl. Are you to be married?”
“I am,” he said sternly. “I have been engaged to Miss Arnold for a year.” Krentz picked up the parasol, shook off the sand, and handed it to Samantha. “You need to get hold of yourself. Put this behind.” But as he admonished the young woman, even Krentz could not fail to see the terrible desperation on her face.
Samantha's hand went to her forehead and then she fainted, collapsing on the dazzling white sand. Krentz knew he could not just leave her, as the tide swept over this area rapidly. The advancing water would, in a short time, cut off any retreat.
Picking her up, he carried her from the inlet, finally putting her down under the shade of some oleander bushes higher up on the beach. Krentz was considering what he should do next, when the young woman's eyes opened and skimmed over her surroundings with a bewildered expression. Karl Krentz felt a touch of pity. “My dear, Samantha, I am sorry. I never thought you would take our little romance so hard as this.”
Samantha sat up slowly and looked sideways at Krentz. He reached out to touch her face, but she flung his hand away. A fierce loathing was directed at him. “You are a monster.” With that, Samantha Carlson rose to her feet. She started down the beach but turned back to him. “The pain you shall feel...”
Krentz was married a week later. On the day he married Rosalind Arnold, Samantha Carlson was carried to the asylum a raving maniac.
* * * *
Mrs. Krentz stood on the front porch of the beach house and stared out at the placid ocean on a sultry August day, a year later. Her husband had returned to the city for two weeks on an important business matter. A nurse-girl remained nearby, holding in her arms a beautiful smiling baby boy with large, black eyes.
As they stood there a young woman appeared at the other end of the porch, surprising Rosalind Krentz. This unexpected stranger was dressed in the most unusual attire: Around her head was a wreath of flowers, a necklace of shells, and woven bracelets on both wrists. “You needn't be afraid of her,” the nurse-girl said. “It's crazy Samantha, ma'am. She's harmless as a lamb, poor thing.”
Rosalind Krentz could only stare at the pitiful creature. In spite of her dress and uncombed hair, Mrs. Krentz thought she was extremely pretty. But her eyes had a barren look, devoid of real understanding. “What made her so?” Rosalind asked in a low voice.
“She was crossed in love, I heard some say, ma'am. I don't know exactly. She was real wild when they first took her away. The 'sylum that is. She's quiet enough now, but the doctors do say she will never be right again.”
“Poor thing,” Rosalind said as she smiled at the young woman.
Samantha stepped closer. “You are Karl Krentz' wife?” Rosalind said she was. “And is that his baby?” pointing to the beaming child who waved his hands gleefully in the arms of the nurse.
“It's his baby and mine.”
Samantha's gaze remained on the child for a second, and then she said to the mother, “I've been expecting you.”
“You have?” Mrs. Krentz wanted to humor this poor woman. “I hope you are glad to see us.”
After this, Samantha came daily. Rosalind Krentz was strangely attracted to the young woman. On every visit Samantha would bring small seashells or curious stones. She paid a great deal of attention to the child, fondling and caressing it on their walks along the beach. Rosalind enjoyed Samantha's companionship, and wanted her husband to meet this unfortunate woman.
Karl Krentz returned two days later than expected. He told the carriage driver at the train station to go as fast as possible. He had missed his wife and child terribly.
“Jane, where is Mrs. Krentz?” he said to the nurse-girl upon discovering they were not in the house.
“Out walking about two hours ago, sir. But I was just thinkin' it a bit queer. Mrs. Krentz said she would take just a short walk.”
“Which way did she go?”
“I think toward the inlet, near the rocks.”
Krentz looked out the window. “The tide has been in more than an hour.” He felt a vague uneasiness. “She and the child were alone?”
“Oh, no sir. She was with who they call around here, crazy Samantha--”
“Who?” Karl Krentz caught his breath.
“Samantha Carlson, sir.”
Krentz dashed out the door and raced down the path to the beach. Once there he ran along the water's edge in long powerful strides toward the inlet.
Nearing the white cliffs he slowed down to pull off his jacket and tossed it on the sand. As he expected, the waves were sweeping over the inlet. He yelled for his wife, wading up to his waist in the water. Terror gripped him. “Rosalind! Rosalind!” A wave nearly knocked him off his feet.
He had no idea how long he waited for the tide to start out, but when he headed to the inlet, the late afternoon sun was in his eyes. He found them almost immediately. His beautiful wife lay face up on the beach. Close against her bosom was his dear, dead baby. Not far away from his wife and child was the woman with the clear blue eyes, who had loved him with such a fierce passion, and whose heart he had broken.
Two weeks later Karl Krentz stood perfectly still on the high grassy knoll and stared out to sea. The sun was just beginning to retreat below the horizon. A cigar lay at his feet, its ashes still glowing. Slowly and deliberately he raised his right hand, which now gripped a pistol with his initials engraved in its smooth handle.
Below, someone strolled along the water's edge. Krentz pulled the trigger and the pistol shot shattered the silence. In the distance a wave crashed onto the beach. And then it was quiet.
Krentz waved his arm and then his mouth curled up into a satisfied smile. He quickly reached the beach, where a tall, regal woman moved unhurriedly toward him. She had on a short black jacket, black riding pants, and black leather boots. A moment later he stood in front of her. Jet black hair flowed over her shoulders and dark eyes inspected him carefully. “You are late, Karl,” she said in a soft voice with a faint trace of an accent.
“Forgive me my darling, Raina.” He glanced up at the darkening sky. “The moon will be out tonight. I want to show you a favorite place of mine,” Karl Krentz said pointing to the inlet.
Walter has written both fiction and non-fiction. His latest ebook novel A Genetic Abnormality will be out September 1, 2014. It can be found at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/463326 . For radio stories go to http://www.prx.org/pieces/68054-ozark-reflections-an-american-story . Walter can also be found on Linkedin.