Lovely Lady by the Lake - a fiction short story
Kenyon College, Gambier, OH
Note: This story is set at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio located near the center of the state. It is the oldest private college in Ohio. Its buildings are unique in that they are of collegiate Gothic revival architecture.
Kenyon College is considered one of the "Hidden Ivies" and is one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the nation. It is also home to 'The Kenyon Review', a literary journal, and one of the best in the nation.
With his sport jacket slung over his one shoulder and his satchel over the other, he walked down the hill towards the lake. It was a beautiful autumn day, his classes were over, and he just wanted to relax and grade some papers. Professor Dan Martin noticed a pretty woman sitting on the grass by the lake. He thought he'd sit near her and perhaps he could get to know her.
But, as he reached the spot and sat down on the sun-warmed grass, she got up and began walking along the lake. Her walk was lilting and elegant. He, Dan Martin, Dr. Dan Martin, English professor at Kenyon College, watched her as she walked along the lake.
Hmm - wonder who she is? I've never seen her before. Wonder if she is student, faculty or what? he thought. From his satchel he pulled out some student essays and began grading them. He needed to be away from his office before students began stopping by to chat. Here he could enjoy the beautiful scenery and the fine autumn day.
After an hour and a half, as the sun descended and a cool breeze blew up, he pulled on his sport jacket, stuffed his essays back in his satchel and walked back to the President's mansion.
He was staying in one of the many empty bedrooms of the President's mansion for the next week while the interior of his house was being re-painted. The painters had promised to have it painted within a week and the college president had graciously offered him a room at the college revival Gothic mansion so he wouldn't have to take a motel/hotel for the week.
Dan had graciously accepted. He was comfortably placed in one of the bedroom suites that contained a large fireplace on the far wall and on these crisp autumn evenings, a good crackling fire was wonderful.
He was invited to dinner that night with the President and his wife. After coffee and dessert and some small talk, he excused himself and returned to his bedroom suite to finish grading his essays.
The next afternoon was again a warm and pleasant one so again, at the end of his classes he returned to the lake. Again, he notice the lovely lady by the lake. He sat down near her and as she started to rise, he said to her, "The lake is beautiful, isn't it?" There was a long pause and he cleared his throat.
"What?, Oh, I'm sorry, did you say something to me?" she inquired.
"Yes, the lake - beautiful isn't it?" he smiled at her and noticed her large, warm brown eyes.
"Quite beautiful - in fact, I was lost in my thoughts just now looking at it," she smiled back noticing his bright blue eyes.
"Would you like to join me in a walk around the lake?" he asked.
"No, actually, it has been so peaceful to sit here, but I must leave now," she said as she began turning away. Dan quickly rose to his feet, extended his hand and introduced himself.
"I'm Dan Martin, an English professor here at the college, and you are . . ."
"Lauren," she said quickly as she just as quickly pulled back and removed her hand and started to walk away.
"Lauren - that's a pretty name - it suits you," said Dan, " and a last name?"
"Just Lauren," she said smiling looking back as she continued walking toward the lake. "So nice meeting you, but I must go," she said looking at her watch. Again, she left walking along the lake. Dan watched as she disappeared behind the trees. Beautiful woman, thought Dan. Just as beautiful as a fresh spring flower. I must get to know her.
That evening after dinner, Dan returned to his room, placed some logs in the fireplace with some newspaper underneath and then started a warm fire. He sat down to do some reading - John Donne, tonight. About a half hour into his reading, he heard a loud knock or thump and then muffled voices arguing. But, they were so muffled he couldn't make out what they were saying. But one thing he did notice was the anger in the voices.
He opened his door and stood in the hallway. The voices and sounds seemed more distant. He walked up and down the hall but the other three bedrooms were empty so he returned to his room. Again, he could hear the muffled voices, but in a few minutes they quieted down and then ceased.
It was always so calm, peaceful, and quiet here at Kenyon College. This was not a hotbed of noise or rebellion - ever. He sat and continued his reading for another hour and then turned in. He was awakened about two a.m. to again angry sounds nearby. Again, with the arguing and muffled sounds, he rolled over in bed, put the pillow over his head and eventually fell back asleep.
At breakfast with the president the next morning he mentioned the noise he had heard the night before and early in the morning.
"Marie and I are in the other wing of the house sleeping," he said, "so we didn't hear a thing. But there is a new botany professor, just hired recently, and his wife in the third floor suite. They are very private and keep to themselves. They have been here a couple of weeks and are staying up there until they find a home here in Gambier. I hope they aren't disturbing you," he said and smiled.
"No, no," Dan said, "Just thought it was strange that's all. It is always so quiet around here. No problem though and my accommodations are fine. In fact, I thank you much for taking me in this week. Well, I hope to meet the new professor and his wife soon," said Dan smiling.
Dan looked at this watch, excused himself and quickly ran up the stairway to retrieve his satchel. He left the mansion and quickly walked down Poet's Path on his way to the English building. He was running late and nearly tripped over a beautiful pair of slender legs and feet.
"So sorry and so clumsy of me . . ." he started to say and then recognized her - Lauren. "Good morning," he said and smiled at her lovely face.
"Good morning," she said as she sipped her coffee. "Morning rush?", she giggled.
"Yes, eight o'clock class," he sheepishly said. "What are you doing here?" he asked as he looked around and only saw a tardy student or two hurrying to class.
"Drinking my coffee and taking in this beautiful campus," she said. "But, go, go - you are late - the clock chimed eight o'clock a few minutes ago. You don't want your students calling you 'the tardy professor,' now do you?
He laughed. "I've been called worse, believe me," he said. "Today - this afternoon -" he continued, "will you be at the lake?"
"Perhaps," she said and rose and began walking in the opposite direction. She had not walked far when she looked over her shoulder and smiled at him and then continued on her way.
Well, he thought, the odds are in my favor and he rushed off to class.
That afternoon when he arrived at the lake she was not sitting there. May be too good to be true to see her here again, he thought.
He pulled out some papers and began grading some more. He had been there about fifteen minutes when he heard lapping water. He looked up to see Lauren rowing in a boat towards the side of the lake.
He rose and walked down to the lake and helped her out of the small rowboat. She smiled up at him. "Good to see you," he said.
"Likewise," she added. They sat on the grass and talked and talked. First, small talk and then more about him, but he noticed Lauren did not reveal much about herself.
"Do you come here to the lake often?" she asked him.
"Yes, I come here to relax and do some grading before starting office hours later in the afternoon," he explained.
"And, you are a professor in the English department?" she asked pleasantly.
"Yes - actually English literature - I teach the literature from Shakespeare through the 18th century Romantic Poets," he said. "And, you?"
"I studied English literature long ago - my concentration was in the 18th century Romantic Poets," she said as she focused on him.
"Really, where did you study?" he asked.
"Oxford University," she said as she looked out at the lake wistfully. "It seems a lifetime ago now, though." He noticed she was tearing up as she said this.
"Oxford - that's the place to study English literature. I'd love to pick your brain sometime over the Romantic Poets," he said as he smiled at her again.
"Certainly, anytime; I'm always up for a good discussion on the Romantic Poets," she said. But, I do have to leave now; how about tomorrow? Same time, same place?" she asked cheerfully as she brushed some tears away.
"Sure, great," he said. "I'll see you here tomorrow." He shook her hand and felt it was soft, warm and lovely.
"Lauren - " he began.
"Shhuu," she said. "Tomorrow, then," and she walked toward the lake with Dan and he helped her into the rowboat. She rowed across the lake, her tanned, fit and slightly muscular arms rowing a straight path across.
He watched her disembark from the boat and disappear through the trees.. Dan was mesmerized. She was beautiful and mysterious this lovely lady by the lake.
As he finished up office hours with students, Dan closed up his office and locked the door. He was off to meet a few of his colleagues at a nearby pub for some collegiate conversation.
When he returned to his room he began making a fire in the fireplace. More papers to grade, he thought. They never seemed to end. As he picked up his satchel he glanced outside. He saw a figure in the old Kenyon cemetery reading the old tombstones. They were there from the 19th century when the college had been founded.
He looked closer at the figure. It looked like Lauren, but he couldn't be sure. The woman was bound up in a coat and with a beret on her head. He knocked on the window, but she didn't seem to hear. Slowly, she walked from tombstone to tombstone reading and then she walked off onto campus and disappeared behind a building.
I wonder if that was Lauren, he thought. Strange, it seemed like her and if it was, what was her connection with this college? He settled down to grade some essays but his thoughts kept returning to Lauren. He couldn't get her lovely face out of his mind or the fact she had teared up when they talked about Oxford. She was so mysterious. She refused to reveal her full name to him and she seemed to keep their conversations only to general subjects. Whenever they got to something personal like Oxford, she suddenly had to leave. He had to get to know more about her, that was just all there was to it.
As he finished up his grading and was getting ready for bed, again he was disturbed by hearing the muffled voices. Again, there was anger and a argument was ensuing. This time he walked out to the hallway and found the stair way to the third floor. As he walked up the stairs the voices became louder. A few times he made out partial sentences and now he could definitely tell the the voices of a man and a woman.
They were in a heated discussion. Dan wanted to knock on the door and tell them to pipe down. Their suite was right over his and the reason he could hear them in his room. He hesitated. He didn't want to make a scene in the President's mansion and actually the man would be a colleague of his this coming term. And, then again, it was none of his business really. But, he hoped they stopped soon and he hoped they found a house soon and moved.
It didn't stop. They continued arguing way into the night and it did not cease again until some time in the early morning. How could two people argue so loudly for so long? Didn't they realize their voices would carry?
At breakfast with the president the next morning Dan asked. "Don't the new professor and his wife ever come up for air or join you for dinner or breakfast?"
"As I said, they keep to themselves. They take all their meals in their suite," he explained. "I know how busy they are with moving and finding a new house, so I leave them alone. He is doing his job and preparing for the coming term, but maybe I should gently insist on their appearing for dinner. You are certainly a colleague he could meet," he sighed.
After classes were completed, Dan went once more to the lake that afternoon but never saw sight of Lauren. He stayed for no more than an hour and then went into town for a long walk. He couldn't get Lauren out of his mind. He stopped at the pub for dinner and then walked back to the mansion, way after dinner time.
He was tired and went directly up the stairs and as he hit the second floor landing he heard the arguing again, but this time it was out and out screaming and shouting. Then he heard a loud slap, a woman scream and a thud.
He dropped what he was carrying and ran up the stairway to the third floor. The screaming continued, followed by sobs. As Dan reached the door to the suite, he heard a woman scream, "no, no!" so he tried the door - locked - he tried kicking the door in and by this time the housekeeping staff had come running from all directions as they heard the ruckus.
A woman was crying and sobbing and the man was screaming, and when several of staff helped Dan break in the door, Dan was astounded to see that the man was about to hit the woman with a fireplace poker. He quickly grabbed the poker out of the man's hand, swung him around and punched him hard square in the face. The man crumpled to the floor.
The others were helping the hysterical woman as Dan nursed his knuckles. Police sirens were wailing as the staff had called 911 when they heard the screaming and now several policemen bounded up the stairs and entered the room.
Dan finally had a moment to get a good look at the woman and was stunned. It was Lauren.
"Lauren," he said walking toward her, putting his arms around her and holding her. Lauren looked at him and her cheeks flushed red.
"What are you doing here?" she stammered.
"I'm in the room downstairs," he said.
"What?" she asked between sobs.
"Long story," he said. "Are you all right?" he asked lifting her tear stained face toward him. She had an ugly red mark on the side of her face. Paramedics gently pushed him aside to check on Lauren. Both Lauren and her husband were checked by the paramedics and then taken to the hospital, followed by one of the policemen.
Dan filed a police report of the events of the entire week and then the events of that night. The college president was beside himself and when informed of the incident went to huddle with his PR staff on how to handle this with the media and the press. The first thing they did was fire the new botany professor.
Much later that night, Dan, a huge bouquet of pink roses in his hands, walked into Lauren's hospital room. She thanked him profusely for the flowers.
"I'm so sorry," she said, "for what has happened. I'm so embarrassed for myself and everyone," she said tearing up. "Thank you for what you did. I'm sorry you had to do it, but thank you."
"Lauren - I'm just so happy to get you away from him. How long has this been going on?" he asked gently.
"Too long," she said. "I told him I was divorcing him several days ago and he just went mad," she said. "I should have done this before we arrived in Gambier and I should have let him come here alone," she said. "As we looked at homes, I realized our marriage was over, it was a sham, and I told him I was filing for divorce. The rest you have probably heard this week," she said sadly.
"Our short times at the lake have been the only respite I have had since we arrived here," she said.
"I'm glad you are here, despite the situation," said Dan. "And, I'm glad I could be of some help. He's been fired by the college and has been told he has 24 hours to pack up and leave. The police may arrest him for attempted assault or murder, I really don't know that part yet. But, I hope you will stay," said Dan sincerely.
"Perhaps," she said wistfully
Several days later, sitting out in the warm sunshine along side the lake, Dan and Lauren finally had that discussion about the Romantic Poets.
Today, Dan and Lauren have connecting offices in the English department of Kenyon College. Lauren is now the premiere professor and expert in the area of 18th century English Romantic Poets and will begin teaching this coming term. And, will a romance ensue between them?
"Perhaps," said Lauren as she and Dan sat and opened up a picnic dinner by the lake.
The English Romantic Poets - 18th Cent.
Samuel Taylor Cooleridge
George Gordon, Lord Byron
Anna Laetitia Barbauld
Charlotte Turner Smith
Their poetry was natural, emotional and with personal artistic themes. They emphasized illusion over reason and the pastoral over the urban.