The Isle of Virtue (part 3):

As Pieter slept, Isabel watched him and wondered what this new obsession with the mountain meant, if anything. She saw his jaw relax, and his mouth slowly open and then he began to snore. He’d sleep now for quite a while—certainly the rest of the afternoon—and possibly even through the night until the following morning. She turned and glanced out the window, searching for the mountain, but still she could barely make it out through the cloud-cover and the gathering darkness of evening. Just then, she remembered a small brass telescope that she had been given years ago by her father. He had explained to her that it had originally been a gift from her own grandfather, on her mother’s side, the colonel in General Vallejo’s army. He had given it to her father as a gift upon his ordination to the priesthood, saying he hoped it would help him see the heavens and to find God. But if not that, then at least that it might help him find his way here on earth. And that was the same hope her own father expressed to her, when he gave the telescope to Isabel on the occasion of her marriage to Pieter.

She hadn’t seen nor thought of that little telescope in years, but thought she remembered where she had stored it, in a box at the back of their closet. She hurried off to search for the box, excited by the prospect of setting it up as a surprise for her husband. She indeed found it where she had remembered, tucked into the same box where she stored her wedding dress and other items from their early marriage. She pulled it out and examined it; it was small, just a simple spyglass on a tripod. But it was well-constructed, heavy, and made of brass and ebony. There was an inscription on the side, but it had faded and was in a foreign language that she didn’t recognize. Seeing it now made her miss her father. How quickly the years pass by; how much she yearned to talk with him again.

Isabel carried the telescope back to the window and set it on a small table. She slid the table up close to the sill, and extended the tripod to raise the scope to a comfortable height for viewing. She glanced through it but it was too dark outside now to see anything. They’d have to wait until the morning. So she went to the kitchen and made herself a simple supper and after she ate, she threw a few logs into the stove and then went to bed; leaving Pieter comfortably nestled in the chair by the window, where he snored throughout the night, content within the world of his dreams, but making it difficult for Isabel to enjoy her own. In the middle of the night she finally tossed a pillow at his head, and this stopped his snoring long enough for her to cover her own with her pillow; and she drifted off to sleep before he started up again.

In the morning Pieter felt renewed; and he showed no signs of lingering problems from his accident the previous day. Upon waking he immediately noticed the new telescope and he leaned forward in his chair to have a look through it.

“Aaahhh, yesss! That’s better…yup.” He approved of the enhanced view and turned to thank his wife, but she was still fast asleep. Glancing again through the telescope he focused it upon the mountain and gazed intently, attempting to discover new details. The mist had lifted, which gave him a clear view to the base of it, though the top was still shrouded in clouds. Just then something caught his eye. “Oh! And what’s this?!” Pieter observed a thin, light line, snaking up the side of the mountain; it followed a course from the treeline near the base, zigging and zagging up, and then it disappeared as the wind blew layers of mist across his view. He stood up and went into the kitchen and made Isabel her coffee, set it on the nightstand, and then returned to his chair to continue his examination of the mountain. But he barely had sat down, when a new thought entered his mind and he bolted up again. He gathered a few things, put on his jacket, boots and hat and left the house, quietly closing the door behind him so as not to wake his wife.

Isabel was already awake; but she was still groggy from the interrupted night of sleep she had had, so she was unable to call out to her husband before he had rushed out the door. She gathered her wits a few moments later, and the smell of coffee roused her foggy mind. Reaching to the nightstand for her mug, she took several sips from it and sighed contentedly. Her body ached this morning, as it often did, but the coffee was a nice momentary distraction.

Pieter pushed the rowboat out into the water and climbed inside. As he rowed out across the bay he felt a rush of excitement. He pulled hard on the oars and they cut through the water, and the little dinghy lurched forward. “This’ll just be a little test,” he said to himself as he left the bay and proceeded out into open waters. “I won’t go the whole way, just give it a little try and see how it goes. Sample the waters a bit.”

It wasn’t the best day to be out on the water, especially in a small boat such as his. Tiny whitecaps danced upon the surface of the strait, and the wind was picking up from the east, blowing directly into Pieter’s face. “It’s not ideal…but it could be worse! Let’s just see how far I can go.” His rowboat lifted and crashed down with a thump, repeatedly, as he continued to row out across the sea towards the mountain. “Ten miles isn’t all that far, maybe I could do it today after all.” And it was true, he had made a lot of progress already, buoyed by a good night’s sleep and an over-abundance of excitement. But it was getting more difficult as the wind continued to increase, whipping him in the face, slowing his momentum, and beginning to push water into the boat. His arms were getting tired and his back began to tighten up. And it looked now as though he was farther from the mountain than he had been just moments ago.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Isabel sat in the chair by the window and put her eye to the telescope. She also noticed the trail which climbed the side of the mountain, which her husband had seen earlier, but she saw much more as well. The wind blew the clouds away and revealed the mountain peak. The trail climbed to the top and vanished into the surrounding rock. But near the very top, just to the side of the summit, she noticed a structure standing. It was small, and painted white, a beacon against the dark granite rock upon which it stood. She focused the telescope upon this building to get a better view. It was quite small, perhaps only ten feet square, and it had a little dome at the top of its peaked roof, and atop this little dome was a small cross. Isabel smiled as the recognition dawned on her; this was an Orthodox chapel. Memories of her father again rose in her mind, and she sighed wistfully. Her own father had built a very similar chapel himself on their island, when she was just a little girl; and he had served as priest in it for his entire career. She never knew there was a chapel across the water on that mountain; she wondered who built it, and if it was still in use.

Just then she caught sight of another bright white speck. This one was very tiny, down in the water—like a flake of salt, lost at sea. She aimed the telescope at this dot and brought it into focus. It was her husband, with the white bandage she had placed around his head. “Looks like he lost his hat,” she muttered to herself, as she watched him struggle with the oars. “What is he trying to do?! The old fool. Is he trying to row across to that mountain of his?!” She watched him as the wind battered his boat, and drove Pieter back towards their island. “He’s not going anywhere today. That’s for sure. Not in this wind.” She chuckled a little as she watched him finally give up, bring the boat around, and make his way back towards the shelter of the bay.

“He’ll be wanting some hot tea when he gets back,” she said as she got up and went to the kitchen. “And some nice fish soup. I’ll heat that up for him as well.”


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