Isabelle's Burden



During the morning of the following day, in the main area of town near the beach, Mauriri was crossing the sand on his way to a dinghy. It was early but well after sunup. The way Grief had imbibed the evening before Mauriri was certain his friend wouldn’t get out of bed until noon, unless he was forcibly pulled from his bunk aboard the Rattler.

They had some significant refurbishing to do on the ship before they took off on their next pick up and delivery. It was a week away but there was no time like the present to take care of small tasks. David purchased patching supplies - as well as picking up Isabelle’s horses - while they were in Dira Tinga. Today was slightly overcast, no blazing sun up above to hinder, and it gave them the perfect opportunity to get to work …

Besides, Mauriri considered sheepishly, it was also an ideal time to get out of the house. Lianni was noticeably peeved last night when he came back from Lavinia‘s. She didn’t say too much but she had turned her shoulder to him when he slipped into bed. Then this morning, over breakfast, she gave him the silent treatment. The kids didn’t seem to notice as they argued and played at the breakfast table but Mauriri knew he was in trouble. Serving him a plate of pheasant eggs, whilst making eye contact, Lianni scowled.

Okay, it was true. He did get in a little late last night and probably drank a few too many glasses of whiskey. But David had been gone for nearly two weeks! What was wrong with indulging in a little “man time” with your best friend? Poker was a bonding ritual, after all. It’s not like he did it every night.

“This too shall pass.” Mauriri whispered as he was about to push the dinghy into the ocean.

A loud whinny was heard from the middle of town.

Alerted, Mauriri looked up and watched as Jack McGonigall and a few other men attempted to wrangle an intriguingly colored horse which was snorting and raising its front legs in fear and fury. Curious, recalling David’s description of Isabelle’s new brindles, Mauriri left the small boat and moved forward to help them.

When they finally got the animal under control an enlightened Jack looked to Mauriri and said: “Better get this one back to Isabelle. I bet she doesn’t even know he’s escaped.”

Mauriri, for a reasons he would later not be able to explain, felt nervous. Something was not right. He was compelled to go with Jack to the stables.

As they walked Jack asked, “Have you heard about the Terreur?”

“The new ship of pirates that have targeted our area of Tahiti? Yeah, David and I are a little concerned.” He glanced at Jack, “We may need an extra crewman as a lookout for our trip next week. You interested?”

“Let me know when you’re getting ready to leave.”

They were thirty feet in front of the opened main gate of Isabelle’s stable when a panicked Paiku shot from the exit and, seeing the men, stopped and pointed inside. The look of dread on the native boy’s face was frightening. “Miss Isabelle!’ he cried.

Mauriri and Jack looked at one another briefly then, releasing the horse’s reigns into the boy‘s hand, ran inside. They spotted Isabelle, who lay in the stable on her side, and the Polynesian dropped to his knees beside her. Mauriri very carefully examined both she and the surrounding situation.

“Oh no.” Jack whispered, gently pushing Isabelle’s hair away from her bruised face, hearing her whimper though still unconscious.

“She needs a doctor.” Mauriri told Jack, “Go!”

Jack nodded and was off at a run.


Grief crawled slowly up the ladder, his head throbbing, and squinted against the bright sunlight of mid morning. He knew better than to drink so heavily when first arriving back on Matavai after a long voyage. He told himself over a hundred times that moderation was the key to not waking up feeling like hell the following day. Yet, when he got involved with cards, camaraderie and cash - like he did last night - paying for his over indulgences the next day was inevitable.

“At least I’m one hundred and eighty dollars better-off then last night.” he murmured to himself as he stepped onto the deck and stretched, “Or no.” he recalled, blinking. “Make that ninety dollars.”

He had to give Isabelle at least half of his win. It was the only way they could remain friends and partners and not come to blows. He nearly smiled at the notion. David dreaded seeing her today, knowing Isabelle was going to be furious with him. He could just see the frown on her pretty features, Isabelle’s eyes veiled as she tried to ignore him, her fists bunching with the urge to punch him in the face. But she’d forgive him. She always did.

Actually, it seemed Isabelle was forgiving him for a lot of things these days.

Grief walked over to the rail and looked into the water, recalling.

Three weeks ago in the marketplace they ran into each other near the produce. Isabelle was wearing a white blouse and blue skirt, her hair braided to the back of her head, and she appeared quite fetching. While selecting mangos Isabelle told him the fencing around her property was falling apart but she was hopeless when it came to selecting the right materials for repair. Longevity was important. Not a mere patch job, she insisted. David, seeing a friend in need, told Isabelle he would help her shop that very day and even aid in erecting the fence.

She was pleased and they made eye contact, something interesting passing between them.

But then he was abruptly distracted when an old acquaintance, Lawrence Benton vacationing from Aukland, walked up to them and introduced his beautiful cousin, Bernadette. She was a fair haired woman in her mid to late twenties with a lovely, shy smile. She was a refined lady with poise who never had to work physically hard a day in her life … and Grief was obviously enchanted. He gave her that charming grin that made a woman’s pulse race. She reciprocated by looking demurely over her lace fan. They spoke for awhile. When Grief finally remembered Isabelle he turned around to introduce her to the Bentons … but she was gone.

He didn’t see her again for two days and when they did finally speak Isabelle told him he was very rude. Grief apologized and after awhile she, with a ‘What am I going to do with you?’ expression, forgave him. She then fed both he and Mauriri lunch that afternoon.

David never did help her with the fence.

Then there was two weeks ago -- before her trip to Fiji. A rushed Isabelle asked David to stop by Claire’s newspaper office and drop off an advertisement for the stables. Grief, distracted by a run in with Lieutenant Morlais, had completely forgotten about it. When the paper came out upon her return, without the ad, Isabelle was fit to be tied. She questioned Claire angrily, wanting to know what had happened, but then had to ask forgiveness when Grief pulled the rumpled and well washed notice from his back pocket. He bought Isabelle a drink at Lavinia’s, told her he wouldn’t be so careless next time, and she grudgingly forgave him once again. ‘Next time I’ll just do it myself.’ she had said with a half smile. He agreed, that would probably be the best thing.

And now last night … It was a small thing, missing supper, and it would quickly pass. But Grief really did have to get his act together. He was fowling up terribly, especially with Isabelle, and despite what he kept telling himself it did matter. He hated seeing the disappointment on the woman‘s face. Six months ago, before they had formed a three way partnership with Mauriri, he probably wouldn’t have felt so deeply troubled but now, after all she had done for him, pulling he and Mauriri out of debt, Grief wanted to do something special for Isabelle.

The fence, he thought … and just hoped she didn’t misinterpret his intentions. Helping a friend did not necessarily mean he was ready to start picking out curtains or a China pattern with her. Sometimes Isabelle’s earthy demeanor, her way of making him feel that romance was the next best step between them, made their partnership awkward but, he had to admit, always interesting.

He’d take her the money this afternoon and apologize shamefacedly as always.  Then he would tell her he was ready to build that fence. Maybe he could offer to take Isabelle to dinner. That always put a smile on her face.

Satisfied, Grief stretched and looked off into the horizon. A distant cloud cover obscured his vision but he could see a few dots. They were ships which had either left Matavai early this morning or were coming into the harbor. He wondered if the Terreur was out there somewhere, close, waiting for an unsuspecting, weakly fortified ship to prey upon.


Recognizing the voice and its urgency, Grief moved to starboard and looked over the railing. “Colin, what is it?’

The young Reverend looked up at Grief from his dinghy and raised a hand to his brow, blocking away the afternoon sun. “You have to come to Lavinia’s right away. It’s Isabelle. There‘s been an accident. It happened last night …”

“She’s hurt?”

“It’s bad, David. Very bad. She was nearly killed.”

Grief felt a chill run from the middle of his shoulder blades to the back of his skull.


Claire and Mauriri were upstairs waiting in the darkened hall outside the room Isabelle had been brought to. A mainland doctor and Lavinia were seeing to her now while her friends awaited the verdict on her condition.

That’s how Grief found them, expressions dour, when he rushed up the tavern stairs. “What happened?” he asked, anxiously.

“Jack and I found her.” Mauriri said, “Sometime last night she must have went out into the stables. One of the new brindles …” He paused and shrugged, “I don‘t know.”

Grief looked imploringly at Claire, “Is she … going to live?” he asked, recalling Colin’s dread.

The Reverend, who had followed David up, placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. If he had ever believed David and Isabelle were not close he quickly changed his mind when the Captain, showing a deep concern, had jumped into his dinghy nearly from the top wrung of the Rattler’s shipside hanging ladder. Grief then grasped the oars away from Colin, rowing the dinghy himself to shore.

Claire shook her head back and forth, upset. The white handkerchief in her hands was rumpled and damp. “The doctor said he’d let us know. Thank God he’s still on the island. He’s due to leave tonight.”

The door opened and Lavinia emerged, softly closing it behind her. She acknowledged Grief and Colin before saying, “She’s going to be all right.”

The exhale at her news was collective.

“Dr. Mosley said her shoulder had separated but he managed to snap it back into place. She’s bruised and her left leg is damaged but not irreparably. She was very lucky. Anyone less resilient would be dead.”

“It’s a miracle.” Colin whispered.

“She’s going to need a lot of bed rest and I think it’s best we keep her here.” Lavinia continued, “That way both Claire and I, and my girls, can take care of her while she recovers.”

“Shouldn’t she be taken to a hospital?” Mauriri asked.

“Isabelle awoke long enough to tell us that she needed to stay here. She had things to do. Something about brindles and New Zealanders.”

Her friends, except for David, allowed nervous chuckles.

“One track mind. Leave it to Isabelle.” Claire said with a small, relieved beam.

Lavinia continued, “The doctor said it would be fine. Besides, he really doesn‘t want her to move any more than she has to.”

The bedroom door opened again and Dr. Mosley, graying and crag-faced, motioned to them. “You can come in but speak quietly.” he said with a Bostonian accent, “She’s asleep.”

She lay on the white-gauzed canopied bed wearing a butter colored, light nightgown. She was covered by a soft comforter and Isabelle appeared to, indeed, be asleep. Her hair was down about her shoulders, one of which was now bound heavily, the arm raised on a soft pillow. Her face - at peace - was badly bruised. Her right cheek and eye seemed to have gotten the worst of it but there was also a small cut which marred her bottom lip. More bruises and abrasions were visible, some hidden by her clothing.

‘Vulnerable.’ was the first word that came to Grief and he felt the strength leave his legs. He sat down in the chair the doctor had vacated. She looked like an angel, a battered and defenseless ethereal being. These thoughts caused his heart to flutter. David could only stare at Isabelle, deeply fretful and feeling something that made guilt an effortless emotion.

“When I saw the blood on her mouth I was very concerned,” the doctors said, “I thought it might have been internal bleeding.”

“But it's not?” Mauriri briefly looked up at the man then back at Isabelle.

“No it's a superficial cut. Somehow Miss Reed must have balled herself up, preventing the rest of her body from being hurt as badly as it could have been. She was smart despite the pain in her shoulder. As heavy as that brindle was, if it had hit her straight on, she would have been killed.’

“That horse should be shot.” Grief’s expression grew hard, his voice deep and livid, as he stared at her.

“It’s not the horse’s fault, David.” Colin said, quickly. “I’m sure it was only behaving instinctually.”

Dr. Mosley glanced at Grief. Had he and Miss Reed become lovers? His attitude seemed to indicate something more than what the doctor had always been led to believe. “Before she fell off to sleep Isabelle told me she remembered very little but there had been a snake. She was certain about that.” he informed, “It must have been what spooked the horse.” The doctor closed his black bag, “My friends I’ll be back in a week. Take care of her.”

“A week?” Grief suddenly stood. He looked at the medical man, appalled. “You can’t go anywhere. What if something were to go wrong? What if she starts to hemorrhage or something?”

Lavinia looked from Isabelle to David, at his fearful display. Somehow she had always known that Isabelle meant more to him than what he let on. Even now she wondered if he was aware of his stance; how he suddenly took on the appearance of a troubled spouse.

“David,” The doctor walked to him and placed both hands on the Captain’s shoulders, “ Miss Lavinia and Claire are good nurses. More than anything Isabelle needs bed rest. Her shoulder has to heal. If something happens I’ll be on Tonga. You can come for me. But knowing this young lady’s tenacity, “ he smiled and glanced at Isabelle, “she’s going to will herself into getting better in no time.”

Grief did not look convinced but he accepted what Dr. Mosley said, only because he had no other choice.

To them all the doctor said, “She’s not to leave that bed until I return. Stay with her. Wait on her hand and foot if necessary.” he advised, “I‘m leaving medications. Isabelle needs to take them every four hours. And make sure she eats.”


She awoke with a strange taste in her mouth and a burning in her throat. The discomfort was mild in comparison to the terrible aching pain of her shoulder. What the devil had she done now? Isabelle blinked open her eyes and tried to remember. She looked around, unfamiliar with the room, then focused on the door as a figure backed in and placed a bowl on her bedside table.

“Lavinia?” she asked.

Stunned, the native woman looked at Isabelle then forced a smile. “So you are awake. Good. I'm glad you decided to join us. I have lunch here for you.” She sat down in the chair beside the bed, "I'll help you." she said, lifting a spoon.

“I’m thirsty.” Isabelle whispered.

“Oh.“ Quickly, Lavinia put down the spoon and got her a glass of water. “Let me help you.” she said again, gently lifting the woman’s head, helping Isabelle to drink from the glass.

Isabelle drank deeply and was grateful. When finished, she lay back on her pillows and looked down at her wrapped arm. Isabelle merely stared at it without saying a word.

Finally, settled in the chair again, Lavinia asked: “Do you remember?”

“I remember the frightened horse, a snake … and pain.” she said. She also recalled some splintered but vivid dreams. “Not much else.” Isabelle concluded.

“The doctor said you’re going to be all right but need rest.”

“I‘m at your place?” Isabelle asked, hearing some vague laughter and the clink of glasses from downstairs. At Lavinia’s nod she smiled, “And you’re taking care of me?” The incongruity of the situation amused Isabelle. While she and the Polynesian woman had never really been enemies there was always a certain coolness between them -- and for good reason. “Thank you, Lavinia. You‘re very generous. I‘ll pay you back someday. I promise.”

“Forget it.” Lavinia took a damp cloth from a tin pan by the bed and squeezed out excess moisture, “It’s been a couple days since your accident. Paiku is watching the stables …” She was about to pat down Isabelle’s perspiring brow when Lavinia saw alarm in her patient’s eyes.

Unexpected, Isabelle’s exclaimed, “My business! My brindles!” She tried to sit up but cried out in pain.

“Stop it, Isabelle.” Lavinia, a strong woman despite her size, eased Isabelle back into the bed. “Everything is fine. Your horses are being tended to and rented, taken care of by your hands, and the brindles are being run. Jack, Mauriri and David are helping … and we all will continue to help until you’re well enough to get back on your feet. Don’t worry about anything.”

Isabelle grabbed Lavinia’s wrist, tense. “Please, you don’t understand. I have men coming in five days to see the brindles …”

“And they’ll be shown.” Lavinia put her hand over Isabelle’s fingers as they grasped like steel, “Paiku’s not completely ignorant when it comes to horseflesh, Isabelle. You taught him a lot. He can be a showman, believe me. I’m sure they‘ll sell. If not this time then next time …”

“No!” she nearly wept.

Lavinia, stunned by Isabelle’s passionate, tearful reaction which was so unlike her, brushed the woman’s hair back away from her face, “Calm down.” she urged. “Tell me what is really wrong, Isabelle.”

Breathing heavily, trying to prevent her lower lip from trembling, Isabelle confessed: “I used the last of my reserve funds to buy the brindles. I have NO cash for rent, feed or anything else! If they don’t sell, Lavinia … I’m ruined!”


They heard the news last evening from Lavinia and now the men were puzzled and a little saddened.

“I thought she had money in the bank.” Mauriri said, leaning his broad back against the gate, talking to his partner. “Isabelle seemed to always be putting drafts into the mainland bank, setting up a nest egg, and planning for the future. What could have happened?”

'They’re my life, David.'

Grief nodded thoughtfully, standing beside Mauriri, watching as one of the stable hands ran a brindle. The other three horses were awaiting their turns. “On the ship, on our way here, Isabelle talked about some bad investments. We were joking about it, how all that was behind her. Maybe she’s involved with something we know nothing about?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.” Mauriri snorted, “The woman is ambitious.” Then he thought again, “But not stupid.”

Grief looked to Mauriri for a moment, “At least she didn’t involve the Rattler finances in whatever it was. I checked and we still have a couple thousand in the bank.” He paused, “I wanted to ask you if we could take some of it out.”

Mauriri look his question, “Something further needs to be done to the Rattler?”

“No, I wanted to put up some new fencing for Isabelle. The stables and surrounding area is looking shabby. She told me she …”

“If she doesn’t get those brindles sold it won’t matter.” Mauriri snarled, impatient. “David, that money is for the ship and only the ship. We can’t keep helping your girlfriends out of trouble when they screw up.”

Grief looked at Mauriri with indignant surprise, “Number one: Isabelle’s not my girlfriend. She’s a friend to us both. Number two: I recall us helping Lavinia out last year when the bar fell on hard times. Did you gripe then?”

Mauriri sighed and shook his head back and forth, “You’re right. I’m sorry, David. I guess I was just having flashbacks …”

“I know.” They were speaking of a time, place and woman that they both promised never to bring up in casual conversation ever again. She had nearly destroyed their relationship and partnership and if it wasn’t for their friends pushing them back together again … “Isabelle is a friend to us just as Lavinia is. She needs our help and support. If I can build her that fence, if we can rent out a few horses and if we can help her sell those brindles … We may be able to save her stables. She needs us, Mo.”

Before Mauriri could reply Claire approached them, walking up to the fence, a telegram in her hand.

“I have news.” she said, “It may explain a few things. I sent a telegram to one of my contacts, attempting to get in touch with Isabelle’s brother, to let him know what happened to her. This is what I got in return ...” She read, “Samoa, on the thirteenth of May was struck by the tail of a major hurricane. Many homes were destroyed, including that of the Mayor … and also William Reed and family. All are safe but currently homeless until rebuilding is completed. Miss Reed’s donation to her brother‘s cause is appreciated.”

Grief and Mauriri glanced at one another.

Claire looked up at the men, “The hurricane took everything from William and his family. Isabelle did what any faithful sister would do during a moment of crisis. She sent him nearly all her money so they could begin again. William, of course, said he would eventually pay her back … but we all know how those things go.” Claire stared at the two men and sighed, “Poor Isabelle. First her brother’s tragedy and now her own injury. It's not fair.”

There was silence from the woman and two men while they considered an option or two.

“We’ll have to make sure those brindles sell.” Grief finally said.

“David,” Mauriri looked at him seriously, “we have a trip scheduled next week.”

“So we’ll be a day or two late, Mo.”

“It’s a pick up and delivery, David. We can’t be late or someone else will grab it. We can‘t ignore this one. It‘s the last haul before our weather turns bad. In two or three weeks, when the seas are too choppy to sail, we may be in the same situation as Isabelle or even William Reed.”

“So you’re saying we should leave Isabelle when she needs us most?”

“No.” Mauriri looked slightly awkward, “Of course not.”

As if she were watching a bad-mitten match, Claire looked from one man to the other.

“Listen,” Grief countered, “why don’t you, Sparrow and Tah Mey make the trip on your own. I’ll stay here and help with the New Zealanders.”

Mauriri considered it, “I told Jack he could crew too. With those pirates out there we’ll need an extra set of eyes.”

“Okay.” Grief nodded. He then reached up and patted his partner’s shoulder, “Thanks, Mo. I’m sure you and the men will do fine without me.”

“Not for the first time.” The Polynesian joked, breaking the uneasiness they all felt.

“David,” Claire spoke up. “I think you should go see Isabelle. She’s awake and very worried.” The young woman added, “We can’t get her to eat.”

Grief nodded. It was time he faced his own demons … not to mention Isabelle Reed.


“Hi. Miss me?” He walked into the room unannounced and looked down at Isabelle, showing her a bouquet of island flowers he brought for her.

“David.” she whispered and looked up at him, groggy but pleased. She was sitting up on the bed, resting on pillows, but had dozed. “I was wondering where you had gone off to.”

He ignored the implied question for a moment, “How do you feel?” he asked and laid the flowers at the foot of her bed.

“Sleepy. The medication.”

“Claire says you’re not eating.”

“Not hungry.”

“You have to eat, Isabelle. You need to get strong.” He sat in the bedside chair, “We need to get you back on the ship. Sailing is going to be very dull without you constantly telling us what we’re doing wrong.”

She laughed, softly.

“So eat.” he pressed.

She looked away from him momentarily, not wanting to hear it, but knowing the words were wise.

“Isabelle,” Grief, once again touched by her exposure, reached forward and took one of her hands in his.

This surprised Isabelle and she looked at him.

“We know about William and what happened to your savings …”

“You know?” Her tone became grave and slightly offended. “How do you …?”

“Claire tried to notify William about your accident. She learned about the hurricane.”

“Oh.” Isabelle concentrated on his hand holding hers. The fingers were warm and gentle against her skin, despite his big sailor’s hands. “Then I guess you know I’m in a world of hurt. And not just because I’m injured.”

“Lavinia told us.”

“Of course she did.”

“We’re going to sell those horses for you, Isabelle. I promise we’ll get you whatever price you are asking.”

She looked up into his eyes. There was such sincerity there. “How can you promise me something like that? David, you know very little about the business of buying and selling horseflesh. Few people on Matavai do.”

“Teach me. Before next Tuesday.”

She slipped her hand out of his and shook her head back and forth. “That‘s not funny.”

“I‘m not trying to be funny. What do you have to lose?”

She thought about it a moment. “You have a point.” Isabelle sighed then looked up at him once again, “Why are you doing this for me, David?”

It took him only a moment - “Because I care.”

He said the same thing a long time ago. She had asked him why he was trying so hard to reunite her with her brother. It warmed Isabelle then and the sentiment did the same now. “Okay,” She smiled softly and looked directly into his eyes.

Grief returned her smile briefly then, recalling what else there was that he needed to speak about, looked guilty. “I … umh.” David looked away from Isabelle, thinking intensely of the words he would use.

Isabelle was confused, “What is it?”

Once again, he looked up and met her eyes, “I’m so sorry I missed our supper.”

“What supper?” she asked, genuinely puzzled.

David stared at her a moment. Isabelle did tell the doctor that she remembered only a few things about that evening. Was it possible she had forgotten about their appointment, the breaking of bread together?

“Oh wait,” She searched her memory, “Yes, we were supposed to get together for a meal, to talk about the Rattler books, I think. Am I right?”


“We can do that anytime, David.” She shrugged her uninjured shoulder, appearing unfazed.

“Isabelle if I had shown as I promised you might not have been …” He hesitated, feeling deeply ashamed. “This might not have happened to you.”

“It might have happened anyway.” Isabelle’s face was neutral, “I don’t blame you, David. I was the one to put myself in danger. I should have been more careful.”

She saw the visible relief in him, how his frame eased and his eyes closed, thanking her or God.

“What happened anyway? Why didn‘t you show?” she asked.

“Poker game.” He admitted, grimacing. “If it will make you feel any better I planned to give you half of my winnings.”

“And that would be?”

“Ninety …” he started then, “One hundred and eighty dollars.”

“You had a great night.” she said, impressed. “Give it to Lavinia. It’s the least I can offer her for putting me up like this.” Isabelle yawned.

“You’re really not angry with me?” he asked just to be certain.

“For missing dinner?” she chuckled, softly. “No David, I’m not angry. I guess I should have expected it. After all, it was our first night back.”

“Thank you, Isabelle. I was so worried …” Grief stood then leaned down to give her a gentle goodbye kiss.

He was stunned when she not so subtly turned her head away from him in rejection.

“I’m exhausted, David.” Isabelle said, carefully pushing herself down into the bed, not looking at him. “We’ll talk again later when I‘m feeling more up to it.”

“Umh, okay.” he said, standing erect and staring at her curiously. ‘She said I’m forgiven but …?’ Thoughtfully, he turned to the exit, feeling he may have missed something.

Grief opened the door.

“Oh David,” Isabelle called, her eyes closed.

“Yes?” He turned, hoping for something indefinable.

“Why don’t you take your flowers down to Lavinia and have her put them in water.”

“I will.” he said …. 'your flowers' ….

“Thanks again. They are lovely.”

David Grief, feeling a deep but enigmatic loss, did as he was told.