Isabelle's Burden
PART FIVE
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^^^^^

Morning brought with it a slowly clearing fog.

“So what you’re saying is …” Mauriri lifted the heavy box and passed it to Jack who was halfway up the latter between their cargo hold and the deck, “ … you tried to take advantage of her and Isabelle, with what limited strength she had left, smack you a good one across the face?”

Grunting, Grief picked up the final box and placed it brusquely in his friend’s outstretched hands. “It wasn’t like that. I was just … kissing her goodnight. She over-reacted.”

“She slapped you over a small cheek-kiss, hunh?” Mauriri sniggered, knowing it wasn’t true.

“It was more than that.” Grief conceded, “But I wasn‘t taking advantage of anything.”

“David,” Jack climbed the stairs after relaying the final box to Sparrow for storage. He had listened in on the tête-à-tête between the friends from the beginning and, although he was a man of few words, Jack felt the need to intercede. “A wise man once said: 'Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.'* Forgive my observation but Isabelle wasn’t exactly telling a fib. You do seem to enjoy rescuing helpless young women. I get the impression that she doesn’t want to be merely another female for the illustrious Captain Grief to salvage then charm.”

“Isabelle has been trying to lure me into her web for well over a year.” Grief reminded, “Just when I relent a little she ….”

Mauriri chuckled, “She’s like you. She wants to be in control. Bad timing, my friend.”

“And maybe,” Jack added, “In the situation she find herself in discipline - or at least permission - isn’t such a small thing to ask, David.”

Grief looked at Jack for a moment. He’d chew on that a bit.

With well wishes, last minute directives, a hardy pat on the back and a warning about pirates and their present danger, David Grief left his companions and ship. He watched from the dinghy, rowing to shore, as the Rattler made its careful way out to sea.

^^^^^

Even with the aid of her medication she did not sleep well during the night. Isabelle thought she heard whispers in the dark which did not truly exist, except in the recesses of her mind. The squeak of a floorboard, the sound of the house settling for the night, was enough to stir her out of a light, fretful sleep and set her to shivering. She was alone and defenseless. Perhaps she should have remained at Lavinia’s …

Considering how she and David Grief parted during the evening Isabelle wondered if he would return, to finish what he started with her horses, but she needn’t have worried. The minute the sun came up, Isabelle groggily turned in her bed, looking out her window, and saw him - in the patchy fog - crossing the yard to the stables. She assumed he must have slept on the Rattler during the night. The poor man must have had to awaken especially early to …

Then she remembered the ship’s voyage. He would have to get up early so Mauriri and the rest could leave. Where else did David have to go at this hour but here?

Admiring his vigor, despite their altercation, Isabelle noted that Grief already had a few of her stable hands with him and was giving commands. He seemed very determined. It was evident he wanted to get this whole state of affairs over with so he would not - she gulped a bit - have to worry any further about her and those brindles. Grief had promised her he would help her and, despite matters, was being honorable.

Damn the man.

Isabelle was torn. What she said last night had merit. He was developing another crush on her just because she was injured. It really had nothing to do with her. It was the situation. Romantically, Grief had made it very clear over the past months that she was not his type. She was being foolish, thinking what they once shared could escalate again into fiery passion. There was a time when she had been so sure where his affection lay - despite his comments to the contraire - but now, after all they had endured, Isabelle knew David Grief’s heart would never belong to her.

Yet, if it that were true he should never have kissed her. It was gulling despite how gentle and sweet he was. Did he understand what it was he had done? Isabelle moaned. If she thought about it too deeply for much longer she would go crazy.

“Enough.“ Isabelle spoke aloud, dispensing with the topic of Captain Grief. It was now time, despite this set-back, to prove herself a strong, capable woman. With an effort, Isabelle attempted to sit up on the bed. Nature called and the water closet was only thirteen feet away.

“Hello!” Came a feminine call, “Anyone here?”

Startled, Isabelle sat still. It was still early. “Lianni?”

“No.” She walked up the stairs, carrying a basket filled with a number of interesting items. “Lianni will be up later today. Meanwhile you will contend with me.” The woman walked carefully up the final stair and enter the bedroom.

“Lavinia?” Isabelle exclaimed, startled yet again.

“Yes.” She put the basket down on top of Isabelle’s dresser and stared at her one time patient with a dramatic expression that exhibited condemnation. “And you are in deep trouble, Isabelle Reed.”

^^^^^^

On his way to the church, to see Colin, Grief nodded and waved at a few acquaintances who acknowledged him in the middle of town. One old salt, standing on Lavinia’s tavern porch, called out: “Grief, where have to been keep’in yourself?! Our cards are get‘tin cold without your company.”

“Keeping busy!” he replied and moved on. The way David figured it the less said the better. Really, what could he tell them? ‘Oh, I’m babysitting some rare horseflesh for a woman who, right now, would like nothing better than to see me in her own circumstance, trampled underneath one of the heavy beasts.’

Grief entered the church to see Colin, bent forward with his white work shirt’s sleeves rolled up to the elbow, shining a pew with a combination of fresh water and waxy plant juice. “Getting things tidy for services this Sunday?” David asked, smiling as he entered. “I thought you had women that came in once a week to do this for you, Colin?”

“I did but with hurricane season approaching next month a great many of the western ladies have left for home. The natives do what they can but they have family obligations of their own. So many are afraid of angering their island gods by serving in the house of the white man’s God.” Colin sighed and stopped rubbing with his cloth, “Seems like a new climate is approaching, in more ways than one. Honestly David, as much as I love it here sometimes I just don’t think I’m getting through to these people.” He sighed with regret and gave a last swipe at the wood.

“You are. The fact that the natives are entertaining the idea that there is a God other than the ones they grew up with means you are making progress.”

Colin nodded, somewhat satisfied. He knew it but sometimes it was nice to hear such things said from a mouth other than his own

“I was told you wanted to see me.”

“Oh yes.” Colin stood upright, “I know how worried you were about Mauriri making the latest pick up without you, David, so I made some inquiries about the latest movements of the Terreur. It seems that the pirate ship has dropped from sight. There have been no recent raids. Some think that they have pillaged enough for awhile and are holed up.”

“What do others think?”

Colin smiled and looked down at the pew, depositing the cloth into his cleaning bowl. “That the Terreur is biding its time. It’s spotted something good for the taking and is waiting for an opportune moment to strike.” He paused once again and looked up at Grief, “When they attack again it will be big …”

“… and the pirates will leave no survivors.” Grief looked away from Colin, worry once again etched on his face. “I hope they aren’t waiting for the Rattler. We do have somewhat of a reputation.”

Colin grimaced. He had meant to be encouraging, telling David there had been no raids for awhile, but he had just heightened his anxiety. “Mauriri is an excellent seaman and has a good crew with him, David. He’ll be fine.”

“Thanks Colin.”

The cleric saw Grief was about to leave and he said to him, “How is Isabelle? I hear that she is back in her own home. That’s encouraging.”

His back stiffened a little at the mention of her name. “She’s doing better.”

There was a thoughtfulness in Grief’s eyes that held secrets. Colin did not think he was currently thinking about his friends out on the high seas but the woman Colin himself had just enquired about, “Her horses are doing well?”

“Yes. When the buyers arrive tomorrow there should be no problems.”

Concerned, noting that David was not looking directly at him, as if he was embarrassed and hiding an important confidence, Colin approached. “Is there something David? A problem? You seem a little preoccupied.”

“No I …” He started then, thinking better of it and recalling the friendly relationship he had built up with the kindly young Reverend, David said, “I think I may have did something stupid. Isabelle trusted me and I … I was arrogant. I thought I knew what she was feeling and it backfired on me.”

Colin was going to ask him what he had done but, bearing in mind the type of odd rapport David and Isabelle had, he said: “I know Isabelle is fiercely independent. Her accident makes her rely on people. Any other time perhaps what you did would be welcomed with open arms but now -- in her current frame of mind -- it was construed as an insult?”

Grief blinked. She asked him if he would have kissed her if she hadn’t been harmed … ‘Yeah, I might have.’ His timing was terrible, as Mauriri had said, but he had been thinking about her, how they lived their unusual lives, and how Isabelle had developed. They had often joked about him making Isabelle “an honest woman” but truly, when it came down to it, she had made the final decision on her own. David was finding her more and more attractive the longer they lived together on the big island of Matavai. He was beginning to wonder what it would be like if he took the leap with Isabelle after all. It wasn’t just their history holding him back, insisting David give her the latitude to flourish on her own, but genuine fear.

He continually attempted to pull back from her, never forgetting the past they shared, and the lies she told. It was incredibly small of him, he knew. Grief wanted to trust her completely. Honestly he did. She deserved his faith after all this time.

Yet, he didn’t want a rebound relationship with any woman. That’s what he had with Veronica Gray and even Jenny Duval after Lavinia had let him go … But Isabelle Reed, with her wide, all-seeing eyes, lovely smile and relentless pursuit of him was hardly that. She was bold, courageous and marginally amoral but not in a way that would cause harm to those she cared about … Perhaps if someone cared for her in return … if she could see that he was willing to take a chance … and if he could prove to her that he recognized her abilities and the fact she was worthy of love …

“David?”

“Hunh?” He looked at Colin.

The young cleric’s expression was enquiring, asking if there was anything more he could do for him.

Appearing a bit more animated, Grief gently punched Colin on the shoulder. “Keep the faith.” he said and about-faced, leaving the church.

“David!” Claire met Grief at the bottom of the church’s few steps, “I’m glad I caught you before you left for Isabelle’s.” She passed the handsome Captain a tin of warm biscuits, “This is for her. Take a few for yourself and the stable hands.”

“This is very generous, Claire, but why don’t you take them to Isabelle yourself?”

“Right now if I see Isabelle I may say or do something we will both regret.” The young woman’s expression grew stern, “She used me and it will take awhile for that ache to fade.”

“Don’t be angry with her for too long, Claire.” Grief heard himself say, “Isabelle needs her friends. Remember, she‘s hurting and a little more than desperate right now. She never would have did what she did to you if she didn‘t feel she absolutely had to.”

“You’re probably right.“ Claire looked away from him, the betrayal still fresh, but she appeared soothed by his words. She nodded shortly, deciding to think about it later on her own, then quickly changed the subject. “I’ve also got the latest report about the Terreur.”

“Colin told me. It’s out of sight.”

“It seems it‘s come from out of hiding.” Claire pulled a small piece of folded paper from her apron pocket, “This comes from my source in Fiji. There’s been another incident.”

“That didn’t take long.”

“The Terreur attacked the Lady Jane three days ago.”

Grief frowned, “The Lady Jane isn't a cargo ship, it's a passenger. Not too much bounty to be had there.”

“I thought so too. Seems that the pirates did kidnap a few people, however.”

“Dignitaries of some kind? Ransom?”

“No one of note as far as I can tell. No news agency has heard anything yet. The investigators are staying quiet for some reason. If I hear anymore I’ll let you know, David.” Claire nodded and began to move away.

“Claire,” Grief stopped her, suddenly. His eyes met hers, “Go see Isabelle sometime soon.”

Relenting, she smiled mildly, “I will … sometime soon.”

^^^^^

“This is Heaven.” Isabelle murmured, laying back in the warmth of the bathtub, in the fragrant rose-scented water. Her injured shoulder was unbound and bare, striped with the colors of her grievance - black, blue and green - but very carefully placed by her side. Lavinia told her if she attempted to move it, if she jerked it about in any way, there would not just be agonizing pain but the native woman would immediately pull her out of paradise, dry her off and send Isabelle back to bed with a heavy dose of medication.

But even after that threat, as she lay in the bath, Isabelle could only think of Lavinia as an angel.

“I have breakfast warming below for both you and the men.” Lavinia walked into the bathroom with a few towels in her firm, russet colored hands and a kettle of hot water. She lay the towels next to the clawed feet of Isabelle’s tub and slowly poured the kettle into the already balmy water. “Feel good?” she asked Isabelle, identifying the peace in her expression.

“I haven’t felt this marvelous in a long time.” Isabelle’s opened her eyes and they held the other woman‘s, “Lavinia … thank you. You are being incredibly kind.” and she meant it as sincerely as it sounded.

When Lavinia first arrived, her expression grave, and told her how much trouble she was in Isabelle immediately thought the tavern owner was furious with how Isabelle had left her establishment without so much as a thank you or goodbye. Isabelle began to apologize profusely. But she soon came to realize that it was not Lavinia who was offended but Claire.

Isabelle knew her young friend would be hurt but dear, innocent Claire sometimes did not understand what it was to be rash in the midst of losing all you had worked for, had always worked for. Isabelle Reed led a strange, adventurous and often times dangerous life, both on Matavai and in Europe. She had to think on her feet. Or, in this case, flat on her back. There was no time to lose … and the matter was quickly becoming very personal.

Lavinia, surprisingly, agreed with her. “Claire is sweet and I think she’s slowly getting the idea that not everything around her has simple explanations. She‘s always lived surrounded by very narrow perimeters, but the more she absorbs life here on Matavai the better she understands and accepts areas of gray.” Lavinia added, “She hasn’t exactly been involved with the same calamities either of us have experienced in our lives, Isabelle. Her time will come.”

Isabelle smiled at Lavinia. One thing more they had in common.

“Lean forward at the waist, not moving your arm or twitching your shoulder, and I’ll wash your back and neck.” Lavinia said, pushing up straying stands of Isabelle’s already bound hair.

Laughing, forgetting for a moment who her bather was, Isabelle leaned forward and said: “Should be fairly clean. David washed my back last night ...” She suddenly felt Lavinia’s hand, which was pushing the cloth over her skin, stiffen and stop movement. “Oh.” Isabelle glanced back over her shoulder, “I didn’t mean … That is, I was covered and he was being kind …”

“You don’t have to explain, Isabelle.” Lavinia gently rubbed her neck and back again, “Remember, David and I have moved on. I am now dating a very handsome land owner, you know.”

“Nilo Rumha, ‘Novelist Extraordinaire‘.” Isabelle quoted something she had read on the man, “They call him the Polynesian Samuel Clemens**. You certainly know how to pick them, Lavinia. He‘s very rich and quite a catch.”

“I didn’t even know who he was when he asked me to take a walk with him on the beach a couple months ago. Just another handsome customer, I thought. We have a lot in common. He’s like Mauriri, western taught but retaining much of his heritage. He’s wonderful company.”

“Do you love him?” Isabelle asked, looking straight ahead, staring at the chain which connected to the plunger which held the water in her tub.

Lavinia hesitated then, “He’s asked me to marry him.”

Isabelle’s eyes widened and she turned very slowly to look at her companion, “Lavinia!” She smiled when the other woman grinned in return, “What was your answer?”

“I told him I would have to think about it … but I think my answer will be yes.”

Again the women made eye contact.

“I’m very happy for you. I mean that.”

“I believe you, Isabelle.”

After a moment, as Lavinia continued washing area‘s of Isabelle’s body she could not reach on her own, she asked - “Can I ask you a personal question, Lavinia?”

“I think this would be the right time for it,” Lavinia teased, “Go ahead."

Isabelle‘s expression grew earnest, “You are an exception in the life of Captain David Grief. Every woman he has ever been attracted to has had a problem of some kind. They required his help or his understanding … Basically the women needed whatever it was he could do for them … but not you.”

Isabelle was not sure if David had ever mentioned to Lavinia about that girl his father convinced him was not worthy of his special effort but David later discovered she was innocent of the crime shre was accused of -- so she did not mention it. Besides, Isabelle had always felt this was a confidence he had shared with only she. Isabelle would be deeply disappointed if she discovered his other friends knew about it as well.

“What was it about you that attracted David?”

“What makes you think I was an exception?”

Isabelle blinked, puzzled. “I just never …”

“Isabelle, when I met David I was in the midst of some financial challenges that nearly caused me to close down the bar. With his help, the opportunities he brought my way with his sea sailing cronies, I became solvent again. David was there for me emotionally, spiritually and finally physically. We had some great times.”

“But he stayed with you even after everything was fine again.”

“He loved me but we weren’t exactly exclusive for the longest time. David stuck around because I am … was willing to be with him. I cared for him in many different ways and I was well-located.” A little sadly Lavinia sat back on her heels. “In a nutshell, I was comfortable, Isabelle. Me and my tavern were a nice place to go when he needed to rest from the dangers he had put himself in while out at sea.”

Isabelle leaned back in the tub and stared at Lavinia, at the thoughtful and slightly poignant expression as she looked down at the rim of the tub. “The woman David Grief finally goes to and falls in love with when she is not in peril will be the love of his life, won’t she?”

“I’m not sure that woman will ever exist for him …” Lavinia looked up to meet Isabelle’s eyes, “ … but if she does, and he recognizes her, that woman’s life will be filled with love, laughter, excitement, drama … and she will be very happy.” Then Lavinia smiled, “As I will be with Nilo Rumha.”

The two women simply gazed at one another for a few moments. An exchange of acceptance and appreciation.

Thoughtfully, knowing the confidence she just shared with Isabelle meant more to both ladies then the simple judgment it imparted, Lavinia stood and tossed the wash cloth at her companion. She turned to walk out the door, needing some space between she and the other woman, even if it was only for a few minutes. A raw and real emotion was getting to Lavinia. As she left she called, “I’ll be right back. I’m going to deliver breakfast to the men, isabelle. You soak awhile longer and when I return will pull you out and dry you off …”

And she was gone.

Isabelle leaned back once again and rested quietly in the warm water. She wasn’t entirely certain what just happened but knew it was significant. She felt as if Lavinia was giving her a sort of permission and Isabelle felt a strange gratitude in her effort -- as futile as it was.

Nothing they had ever shared would belong solely to Isabelle Reed. She was sure of it.

^^^^^^

He had met Lavinia briefly at the corral, dishing out breakfast to the men, and she told him that she had left Isabelle’s house only five minutes previously. He passed her the warm biscuits Claire had given to him and said he was going to check on Dante and King while the others finished up and continued on with the brindles.

When he got to the stable Grief ran into Paiku who had already rented out King for the morning and was preparing Dante for his next customer as well. There was nothing more for Grief to do.

He then began to think of Isabelle again and how disappointed she had been with him last evening. He looked over at her house and, summoning up some courage, David thought this might be a good opportunity to apologize.

Grief entered and got halfway up the stairs to the top floor when it occurred to him that Isabelle might have fallen asleep again. It was still fairly early and the house was very quiet. He then, creeping slowly up and looking into the bedroom, saw her bed was disheveled and empty.

Concerned and walking silently into the room, he turned about. That’s when he saw her.

Lavinia had said nothing about Isabelle being in the bath.

He hadn’t meant to be a voyeur. It wasn’t in his nature. But now, looking into the bathroom, watching the naked picturesque brunette as she lounged in her tub, her eyes closed, humming a soft melody, David Grief was lost in the beauty before him.

He remembered back to the evening before when he had rubbed her injured leg, how firm but smooth it had felt beneath his hands. Then there was sensations while washing her bare back, noting the scars and bruises …. It hadn’t been just sensual but profoundly emotional. He wanted Isabelle well again. He did not want something like this to ever happen to her again … and he would make sure she was safe from now on.

Grief could not turn his head. Try as he might, he was unable to walk away. It was as if his feet were trapped in quicksand.

She then shifted slightly in the tub, frowned and whispered, “Ouch.”

That single word was enough to break David out of his trance. Carefully, he moved out of Miss Reed’s point of vision and noiselessly walked to the stairs. Taking a short breath he called, “Isabelle, it’s David. Are you okay?”

“David,” he heard her return call, “I’m in the bath. Everything is fine.”

“Good. Umh …” He paused and steeled himself. “Listen, I’m sorry about last night. You were right. I was out of line.”

There was a hesitation.

She said, “I’m sorry too, David. You’ve been a considerate man and very good to me. I might have over-reacted a little bit. I do that sometimes if you haven't noticed.”

He nearly chuckled, “Every once in awhile ... but I diserved your wrath this time." Then: "I promise I won't do that to you again. I'll try to be a better gentleman.” he said.

Again, Grief noted a pause and when Isabelle spoke again he sensed a hint of regret in her tone.

“Thank you, David. I’ll see you later today and we can talk. We still have another tutorial before the New Zealanders come in tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.” he replied, “See you later, Isabelle.” and he walked down the stairs once again, feeling better than he had when first arriving.

Not so strangely, as Grief walked from the house, he could not keep a vision of Venus, standing nude on the half shell, from his mind.

^^^^^

“There are spirits out in those woods.” Lianni told Isabelle much later in the afternoon. She had brought Tahnee and Teveki with her and they were now down in the stable helping Paskow with the cleaning of stalls and filling the horses troughs with fresh water. “It’s in the area behind your home and stables, Isabelle.”

“Spirits?” Isabelle tried not to smile from her bed, knowing how the Matavai natives took their mystical teachings so seriously. “What makes you say that?”

Lianni approached her with a covered tray, a plate which contained lunch. “I hear curious sounds, whispers, and I sometimes think I hear people moving around, brush being kicked about.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean spirits, Lianni. Maybe there are teenagers out there roaming about.”

She placed the tray on Isabelle’s lap. “I suppose but I heard it yesterday too. I don’t usually hear such noises out in these woods.” She added, “I hope you do not mind but I plan on leaving very early today, before nightfall. I have the children to consider.”

Isabelle smiled mildly, “Of course.” she reached out and gently brushed fingers over Lianni’s barely expanding mid section, “And another on the way.”

Shifting subjects, Lianni patted her own stomach, “Have you ever considered having children, Isabelle?”

Miss Reed was about to retort with a clearly negative answer when she thought better of it and said, “Yes. Once a long time ago. I thought it would be a nice idea.” Isabelle glanced out her bedside window and watched as Teveki carried a heavy pale of water to one of the troughs, spilling more on the ground than into the receptacle. She chuckled at the scene, “I suppose now I’ll just have to live vicariously through you and Mauriri.”

“When you’re better I would love to have you back to the house. You and David can come together.” she suggested.

Isabelle turned from the window and looked once again at the attractive native woman. ‘Playing matchmaker.' she thought, watching Lianni randomly dusting her dresser. 'Oh, let her try.' Isabelle thought with good humor. “Yes. That would be nice. Thank you, Lianni.”

^^^^^

They were expecting a peaceful evening. All of them. But who could know that they were teetering on the edge of a potential catastrophe.

Only 'the spirits' knew for sure.

^^^^

THE END OF PART FIVE.

^^^^

* Canterbury Tales/ Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400).

** Samuel Clemens (1835 - 1910) - aka - Mark Twain (writer of Tom Sawyer and The Prince and the Pauper amongst other books)