Isabelle's Burden

PART ONE

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PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
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PART FIVE
PART SIX
PART SEVEN
EPILOGUE
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by Beckers

***

He respected the deep and one day, far in the future, anticipated dying and resting peacefully in its murky depths.

David Grief loved to wake early when they were at sea. He liked nothing better than to roll out of his bunk just when the sun was beginning its ascent. He would stand at the wheel of the Rattler and watch the striking ginger glow as it poured out over the ocean. Almost like the innocent child he once was, David would marvel at the way darkness turned to light, how fog departed, and he would experience a blissful state of freedom like no other.

Who needed a wife and brood of screaming kids when you had a ship and the South Seas?

Slipping on a shirt in the darkness of his cabin, Grief thought a bit cynically about poor Mauriri. He was visiting his mother in law along with his lovely spouse and two children. As much as Mauriri loved his family what he wouldn’t give, Grief thought, to be on the high seas with him right now. The muscular native became just as antsy as Grief when he was away from the Rattler too long.

On the other hand, David reflected, when his friend was at home with Lianni, Tahnee and Tevaki he was also deeply content. Perhaps there was something to be said for monogamy. Once in awhile, particularly when he watched Mo playing on the beach with his son, Grief envied Mauriri his family obligations.

Dispensing with thoughts of his partner, keenly anticipating his morning and eager to pull anchor, Grief swiftly stepped up the ladder which brought him to the top deck of his cherished ship. As much as he loved to sail, Captain Grief was ready to go home to Matavai and a good stiff drink.

The sun was just beginning to show itself and he smiled.

The only person up earlier than Grief was Tah Mey. The Polynesian had crewed with Grief and Mauriri for nearly three years and there was no better a man to have aboard, especially when delicate cargo was stowed down below.

Delicate. Grief nearly laughed aloud, thinking about the third and final person currently on board the Rattler. He could hardly call Isabelle Reed delicate. The woman could hold her own in any number of barroom brawls and he had heard her use language that would make a sailor blush.

Once while he, Mauriri and Isabelle were visiting Tara Rum, Chief Mikiri from the Pikini tribe told Grief in secret that Isabelle had the cunning and spirit of a man to go along with her unique beauty. “Such women make suitable mistresses,” he had said, “but they are also troublesome wives. Stay clear, Captain Grief.” he warned. David assured the chief that he and Isabelle were not serious, she was a business associate and friend, and Mikiri seemed to breath a little easier. But what Grief remembered vividly was the chief’s favorite wife standing behind him, rolling her eyes at her husband’s words. How he had managed to keep his composure at that time Grief did not know.

Actually the delicates presently stowed in his ship consisted of four burdensome horses Isabelle and Tah Mey had brought to the Rattler a few days ago from Dira Tinga. They were healthy animals, David conceded, but other than displaying some odd drippy markings on their rumps, flanks and forelegs he wasn’t certain what all the excitement was about. Never the less, the horseflesh was brought aboard and Isabelle was meticulous with their stalling and care.

He had seen very little of her this trip but if he needed Isabelle for one reason or another he always knew where he could find her. “I’m beginning to think you love these horses more than I love the Rattler.” he told her yesterday afternoon while watching the woman brush the animals and feed them lunch.

“They’re my life, David.” she said firmly and seriously but did not elaborate.

Grief crinkled a brow in her direction then shrugged. He would never understand the mind of a business woman. They were a different breed altogether. Grief smiled at his silent, bad wit and left her to the horses.

“Get some sleep, Tah Mey.” Grief called to the his first mate, “We’ll be in Matavai by three o’clock this afternoon. I’m going to need you fresh to help Miss Reed unload her cargo.”

Tah Mey smiled his gratitude but before departing he paused and pointed to the rear of the ship, “Captain Grief, you may want to have Miss Reed go below and rest up as well.”

Surprised, David spotted the unconscious but shapely lump with a light windbreaker covering her. She lay atop the peaked flat of his ship’s stern.

“She fell asleep there?” he asked Tah Mey.

“I got up at three o’clock. I wanted to unroll the new sails for the morning cruise. A half hour later she came up from the hold, waved at me, then paced the deck. I don’t think she slept a wink all night -- until now.”

“She’s been preoccupied.” Grief nodded.

'They’re my life, David.'

As Tah Mey made his way below Grief walked over to where Isabelle lay and was about to wake her with a gruff bark and friendly poke of a forefinger against her shoulder. Except looking upon her now, how her fingers curled about the material of the windbreaker at her chest; the innocent and nearly childlike way she cocked her head, her lashes laying at even arches on her creamy cheeks, Grief reconsidered.

Isabelle Reed was an attractive woman at any time but when she was like this, her expression at ease and unaware that someone was watching her, when her dark hair was being blown about and the morning sun tinged it with ripples of red-gold, there was a beauty about the lady that could not be matched. It took a man’s breath away. David Grief was no exception. Yes, when she was like this he could almost … almost ….

She shifted slightly, breaking Grief out of his trance.

He quickly about faced and left Isabelle to her dreams. Grief eventually lifted the anchor and, setting sail, enjoyed the morning as he planned. He settled himself behind the wheel of the Rattler and sailed, looking occasionally over at the sleeping woman, wondering what was going through her mind. She obviously had worries.

It didn’t surprise him when, a mere half hour later, Isabelle sat up and slid off the flat. Slowly, stretching the sleep from her body and donning the windbreaker, she smiled at Grief when she spotted him.

“I provided a perfectly good bunk for you below, Isabelle. If you didn’t want it you should have let me know.” he quipped.

“Sorry. I was restless.” Isabelle leaned against the rail and looked away from Grief to the ocean. “I always get this way when I’m involved with a risky investment.”

“Not buying land that you think have gold nuggets on them again, are you?”

She shook her head and chuckled at his reminder. It was a bad lack of judgment from the early months Isabelle spent on Matavai. She had been duped by a shady land seller and nearly involved Collin Trent and his church in her scheme involving what she thought was large gold deposits on a spread of land. Thankfully, David and Mauriri had been there to help her out of the situation. “No, I learned my lesson about poor land investments long ago, David. Now when I take on a project or speculation it involves something I know about.”

“Horses.”

“Yes.” She turned to look at him, “They’re brindles, David. Striped horses. Nature’s mistake. Very rare and expensive. Only a few men have enough cash to buy them and in one week two of them are coming to Matavai to look at my purchase.”

“Could be a big windfall for you, eh?”

“David, with the money I can make on those four horses I could pay off the bank. The stable will be all mine, free and clear. Do you know what that feels like? No debt whatsoever?”

Grief looked away from her, knowing she meant no harm but feeling the sting anyway, “No, I’m sorry to say I don’t.”

“Oh.“ Isabelle blinked, regretting the lapse, recalling how difficult it was for Grief to keep himself solvent.

After a moment Isabelle and Grief looked at one another and smiled.

“The horses need work, Isabelle.” he said, “All four are edgy.”

“You would be skittish too if you were poked and prodded then rushed onto a ship all in the matter of hours. They haven’t been able to run for days, David, and they don’t understand it. You have to remember the brindles are barely broken ...” Isabelle looked down at her hands, self-conscious, realizing she was rambling, sounding defensive. She appreciated that David wasn’t being hyper-critical. He was just reminding her of the liability she had taken on. “I‘ll have to work on calming them during the next week or those two wealthy gents from New Zealand will look elsewhere.” She didn’t say it aloud but now, more than ever, failure was not an option.

Grief could now understand why Isabelle was losing sleep. She must have put out a great deal of her own personal cash on the animals, hoping to be generously compensated. “I’m sure you will do fine, Isabelle,” Grief assured, sensing her discomfort. “and I’ll be the first to lift a glass of champagne in your honor once the brindles sell.”

Once again, the couple returned smiles.

“Think you can push this tub into double-time so I can start working on them this evening?”

“I think so.”

Isabelle winked at Grief as she made her way passed him then descended below deck.

***

Grief was as good as his word. They reached Matavai by late afternoon.

As they docked he spotted Sparrow and Jack on shore. He asked them to help Tah Mey unload the horses and they were happy to oblige. Isabelle’s men were waiting at Lavinia’s and, spotting the Rattler, came to the dock and took charge, walking the animals to her stable.

Before Isabelle parted company with Grief she called to him, “David, come on by tonight and I’ll have supper waiting. We can talk.”

Curious, Grief considered her for a moment. “Something up?”

“No, not really. Just a … proposition.” Isabelle smiled mildly.

“Around seven o’clock?” he asked.

“If you don’t show I’ll come to Lavinia’s looking for you.” Isabelle chuckled a warning then, with a short wave, followed her men and horses.

Grief laughed with good humor then made a beeline for the seaside tavern.

***

“Miss Isabelle, what will you do with the money you make on these animals?” Paiku asked, petting the nose of the brindle closest to him. The Polynesian stable boy had helped the men place the nervous horses in their compartments, the stalls he had personally cleaned and laid straw down in, and he could see why his employer found them so beautiful. They were nearly hypnotizing, the brindles, the way they looked at you with their big brown, soulful eyes.

“I’m paying off debts and putting money away, Paiku. One of these days I’m going to be wealthy. Maybe I’ll build an inn on Matavai. It will be a large, beautiful house and all the finest families in Europe will visit our little island paradise and stay with me. I’ll be a success and no one will ever …” Isabelle trailed off and looked at the young Polynesian as he stared at her. “Let’s just say I have plans.”

“I hope you are successful, Miss Isabelle. You are a good person and deserve it.”

Isabelle reached up and patted his shoulder, genuinely pleased by Paiku’s compliment, “My boy, that deserves a night off. Why don’t you go home? I have everything pretty well in hand. Besides, we won’t be able to work with them any more this evening. It’s getting dark.”

“And you are expecting company?” he asked, not so easily fooled.

Isabelle smile, “No pulling the wool over your eyes.” Then, as he was leaving, “Be sure to get here early tomorrow. At sun up we run these brindles!”

“I’ll be here!” Paiku called and was out the gate.

*****

It was six forty five when Grief and Jack ended their talk, sitting at a table in Lavinia’s tavern.

They had been drinking rum and discussing the appearance of a daring and dangerous French pirate who was currently pillaging the South Seas. He and his crew were causing an inordinate amount of trouble and giving local law enforcement a hard time. Grief was concerned because although he and Isabelle had been lucky during their voyage others hadn’t. Captain Skinner from the Lovely Lass had been hit hard, losing his entire load at their hands and one of his crew. A ruthless brigand shot him when he refused to hand over a pocket watch.

Grief and Mauriri were due to pick up a shipment in Tonga early next week. They would have to listen around, be certain they were not in unwarranted danger, before they left.

“Going back to the Rattler?” Jack had asked when Grief stood with him.

“No, I’m going to dinner at Isabelle’s.”

Jack lifted his brows, “Really?”

Grief caught the barely disguised salacious look from his friend and sometime crewman. “We need to talk business.” he assured, “And dinner comes along with it. I half expect her to ask me to ship her new horses when they are sold.”

Jack nodded, oddly disappointed. “Goodnight, David.” he called and left the bar.

Grief was getting ready to head out the door himself when a grizzled seaman entered and the two men recognized one another. “I’ll be damned. Russell Frattric. What’s an old sea dog like you doing in our part of the world? I thought you retired and were having scones with the Queen of England!” he bantered.

“Not on your life, Grief. I’m dropping off supplies for Lavinia, wetting my whistle and …” He patted his pocket area, “I’m ready to play cards with a man worthy of my skill. You game, David?”

Grief glanced out the door, at the twilight, knowing he had an appointment but also knowing easy money when it came his way. Frattric was a horrible card player. “Well,” he said, “one game won’t hurt.”

Isabelle would understand if he was a little late.

~~~

Isabelle Reed’s home overlooked her stables. The bottom level, suitable for business, included her office, storage space, and a small kitchen. The top level, her living quarters,  consisted of a medium sized bedroom and small bathroom. Isabelle had loved the property and its large stable the moment she found it. She was particularly pleased that the former owner had installed indoor plumbing, despite the fact there was no hot water.

After finishing with the brindles, checking to be certain Paiku and her other stable hands had fed and brushed them well, Isabelle started supper - a simple meat and potatoes meal just the way David liked it - then allowed herself the luxury of a soak.

For her last birthday Claire had given Isabelle some fragrant bath salts and Isabelle applied them to the water with great zest. She relaxed in the bath, warmed by several kettles of boiling water, and thought about her plans for the future.

More and more David Grief came to mind when she considered her expectations. Isabelle had promised herself that she would never fall in love with a man again, especially after that fiasco with Roger Addison, but the longer she remained on Matavai and watched the happiness of the native couples which surrounded her, the more Isabelle longed for something even better than financial satisfaction.

She wasn’t fool enough to think of Grief as a husband. He made it very clear that he did not want a wife. If he aspired to holy matrimony David would have wed Lavinia a long time ago … Isabelle’s pondering smile lost a bit of its sparkle as she laid back in the tub. Yet, there was more to life than marriage. Lavinia didn’t know when she had it good. She should have left matters alone. Her loss was Isabelle’s gain. At least … it would be if she could ever get David to fully trust her.

Pushing herself from the tub and toweling dry, Isabelle reconsidered a relationship between she and Captain Grief. They would be friends … but who said friends couldn’t indulge in a little intimacy? Isabelle suspected David was a wonderful lover. She had seen it in the eyes of a few of the native girls when they spotted him - whispering over secret affairs Isabelle could only assume - and of course Lavinia had no complaints -- other than his lack of commitment.

Drying her hair, Isabelle moved to the bedroom and inspected her wardrobe. Maybe she should wear a pretty dress and wow him with her feminine glamour. Yet, if she did that the preparation for seduction would be far too obvious. Instead, Isabelle slipped on a clean pair of dark jodhpurs and a new red blouse she bought last week when they had visited Fiji. Fastening the blouse Isabelle decided to leave the two top buttons undone, allowing a tantalizing and scandalous view of her upper chest. If he mentioned it, and knowing Grief he probably would, Isabelle would merely tell him it was an accident and: “How did that pop open?” -- which could lead to a conversation of another kind ...

Isabelle’s smile was wide. Tonight could be the beginning of something quite wonderful.

**

Grief had won his third hand by the time Mauriri entered Lavinia’s.

When he heard the gruff laughter and sighs of: “How does he do it?” coming from a corner table, Mauriri knew exactly where his partner was. “David!” he called, waving at his friend as a girl pressed a drink into the Polynesian’s hand.

“Mo, come on over and join the game. We can use a fifth hand.” Grief motioned and was blithely unaware that it was nine o’clock.

**

At eight fifteen Isabelle had supper removed from the stove and warming on a low flame in the oven.

He was over an hour late. Why was she not surprised?

Isabelle sat on the top step of the small back porch which led out into her stables. She had a kerosene lamp sitting next to her left hip. Her right elbow rested on the knee of a long leg; her chin balanced on the palm of her hand. Isabelle could just go after him at Lavinia’s as she told him she would but … that just seemed so terribly desperate.

She sat up, stretched a bit, and sighed, “Damn you, David Grief." Isabelle whispered another curse then stood. One of these days he was going to surprise her by not disappointing her. “I‘ll not go running after you this time, Captain. It‘s your loss.”

She would go into the kitchen, throw out dinner, and lock up tight for the night.

Unexpected, a loud, distressed whinny was heard from the stalls followed by the sound of something falling.

Isabelle looked over but could see nothing in the dark. She picked up her lamp and stepped off the porch.

It was a clear night but Isabelle was grateful for the extra light. She approached the stall with the uneasy brindle and, lifting her lamp while gently patting the horse on his long nose, scanned the area. “What’s the matter big guy?” She cooed soothingly, peering about. She saw nothing but a fallen pail inside.

Then suddenly, Isabelle saw a slithering beast in the straw. A bright flash of yellow through the pale straw caught her attention. “Snake.” she whispered, nervous.

Matavai had more than its fair share of venomous snakes and it would be Isabelle’s bad luck to have one of them invading the stall of one of her most priceless acquisitions. Quietly, she sat her lamp down on a protruding shelf then quickly trotted over to open the large gateway that led to the outside of her property. Once she got the snake out of the stall she didn’t want it anywhere near her yard. She would have to dispense with it quickly. Isabelle grabbed a rake which was leaning against the fencing. She then scooted over to the stall-gate and quietly opened the door. She peered inside again, lifting her rake, and looked about.

Silently, Isabelle picked up the pail and placed it back on its hook. She then worked her way over to the rope which bound the brindle to a long metal pole, keeping him steady. She pulled it, freeing the animal, thinking to slip it out of the stall so she could attack the snake.

Regrettably the horse, already uneasy, suddenly panicked and instead of allowing Isabelle to ease him out of the stall he jumped and moved violently from side to side.

“Easy boy!” Isabelle shouted.

She saw the snake clearly now as it slithered out of the stall and away from them. It was a Colubrid, a non venomous snake simply looking for warmth or a nice mousy snack. Isabelle had little time to bask in her good fortune. The brindle was neighing loudly. It’s body movements were panicked, wild and totally out of control.

“It’s okay!” Isabelle cried, trying all in vain to grasp the rope that had been pulled from her hands.

The next thing Isabelle saw were swirls of color and bubbles of white light. The brindle had slammed her hard against a wall, her head connecting with the heavy metal pail she just hung up. She quickly lost her footing in the small space and fell to her knees on the straw strewn floor.

If she thought she was in pain before, the pail connecting with her head, Isabelle did not know the half of it.

A hoof suddenly came crashing down on the woman’s shoulder and the agony she felt was indescribable. She fell, her back on the ground and she was unable to roll away. Isabelle, anticipating what was coming, attempted to fold herself into a fetal position. Her lean body was slammed again and again by the driving weight of a frenzied animal hooves. Her arms, legs, chest and mid drift were aflame with agony.

Finally, the brindle was away from her, rushing from the stall, panicked as if a demon was chasing it.

Before she lost consciousness, Isabelle could hear the other horses whinnying, annoyed or frightened by all of the commotion. It wasn’t just the brindles but also King, Alee and Dante too.

“It’s okay …” Isabelle murmured to them, lost in pain and a world that no one else, whether they were in the same space or not, could see or hear. “Dinners ready … David will be here any minute now.” she murmured.

She coughed, tasting blood, then Isabelle Reed's world closed down.

***

They made their exit from Lavinia‘s tavern with an extra skip in their walk and thoroughly proud of their accomplishment. There was almost nothing better than a profitable succession of card games.

“This certainly beats a week with Lianni’s mother, doesn’t it?” Grief crowed, patting his pants pockets and the extra cash they contained.

“Oh, the visit wasn‘t so bad, David.” Mauriri assured.

“You cannot tell me, Mo, that you did not hate every minute of it.” Grief chuckled lightly.

“I love my mother in law.” Mo insisted, as they walked down the tiki-torch lighted main street, just outside of Lieutenant Morlais office. “She’s a good woman and the kids always enjoy a trip to the other side of the island.”

“And at no time during that visit did you think about being with me on the Rattler?”

Mauriri paused, unable to tell Grief otherwise, and both men shared a confidential but hardy laugh. “It’s after ten o‘clock. I better get home before Lianni has my hide. I told her I was only going to drop in for a hour or two and …”

Grief slowed his step as he remembered, “Oh God.”

“What is it?”

Grief closed his eyes and opened them again, trying to shake off the numbing effects of the booze. “I forgot. I was supposed to have dinner tonight with Isabelle. I told her I would be there by seven o’clock.”

Mauriri exploded with laughter.

“It’s not funny, Mo. She’s going to kill me. Isabelle hates being stood up.”

“The woman has a great right arm and a more than painful punch, David. I don’t envy you.” Mauriri continued to snicker.

Reaching into his pockets once again, feeling the paper money sliding between his fingers, Grief said, “I’ll give her half my winnings from tonight. If there is one thing Isabelle Reed understands it’s making a profit on something she had absolutely nothing to do with.” He smiled, a little relieved. “Yeah, that should satisfy her.”

“Are you going to see her now?”

Grief looked up at his friend, a flash of panic in his eyes. “Are you kidding? She told me she was going to come and get me if I didn’t show up on time. Seeing as how she didn’t do what she promised she’s probably royally angry. Approaching her now would be suicide. I’ll give Isabelle the night to cool down.”

“I think that’s a good idea. Besides, you need to sober up a little before you go near her. I’ll walk you to the Ratter, David. You’re going to need a good night sleep, my friend.”

Again the men laugh quietly and moved off.

~~~

Isabelle lay alone, cold and in pain on the floor of the stall all night.

She slipped in and out of consciousness and dreamed many things: She could see her brindles running free in a field ... David was on the Rattler laughing at something said to him … Lavinia and Claire were walking on the beach in their bare feet … Tahitian music was playing … Collin and Lieutenant Morlais were arguing … She saw Mauriri with Lianni and they were happy - so in love - and Lianni was telling Isabelle she should go home to England and find a good man to take care of her … and David whispered his agreement. 

He would drink champagne when she left …

Morning brought a loyal stable boy but very little relief.

***

END OF PART ONE.

Brindles may not be quite as rare as they once were, around the turn of the twentieth century but, to those who own them, they are a rare treasure indeed.
For more info and photos see link below:

Brindles.