The Grotto

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 20 Mar 2023



The Stream and valley floor        

(the reason I now post pictures in color is that color and richness now enter the lives of Jonathan's disciples)

The next morning Jonathan gave his followers a tour of his estate.  As he led them up the hill to his shack he told them not to be disappointed by the squalor of the thing, as he’d only a few scraps to build it with.  He made this part of the tour brief, only letting them glance for a moment through the door at his curious desk.

          The next scene was more impressive, as the spring and its surrounding grotto were quite remarkable as they stood, especially in the morning light.  But he again cautioned them not to judge the site as it was, but to picture what it might be, with human tending.  When they pushed through the bushes up the steep hillside and came to the old tree and the spring, the first of them knelt until they all knelt and prayed.  Jonathan told them to cup their hands and drink from the pool, for inspiration for the shrine they were to build there.

          The thing was not hard to imagine.  The ground, for some thirty feet in front of the spring, was level and carpeted with moss and grass, making a little terrace.  A sheer rock wall formed the back of this plot, which was nicely framed by the ancient tree, whose intertwining branches shaded the area.

          Projecting out from this rock face, which also looked ancient, as it was scarred with tiny cracks, there stretched a rectangular block at knee height, the size of a tub, and into this the water poured from a fissure in the rock face a few feet above.  Here it dallied and swirled in a shallow, oblong pool, till at the further end it spilled over to the ground in a pretty sheet then across the terrace in a foot wide bed to the hillside, never seeming to lose its magic as it trickled along.

          Next they pushed through some thick bushes and followed the brook down the hillside.  It came out in the clearing of the valley floor, close to where they’d camped.  Here it meandered in a slightly wider bed, bottomed with pebbles, and nourished the grasses and trees that covered this fair plot.  There were at least five acres of flat, park-like land in this floor.  Further along the trees thinned out and gave way to an open marsh.  The brook disappeared here, the water seeped back into the earth from whence it came, and the marsh tapered off into bullrushes.  On the surrounding hillsides there was thorny brush, and a few scrawny trees here and there, patches of dry grass and barren rock.

          The youths were quite pleased with their new home.  When Jonathan asked them how they’d like to lay out the village they came alive with talk and wanted to start right away.  He quieted them, and while the women unpacked, he led the men over every foot of the valley floor, and marked the few trees they could cut there.  Most of the timber would be dragged from the surrounding hills.  He didn’t want to deforest his little grove.  They felled one tree that afternoon to begin making a large table to eat and work at.

          Jonathan knew he’d have to spend most of his time directing their efforts.  That evening he came up with a rough schedule and laid out his plan.  He’d reserve the first three hours of morning for himself, he told them, and be in his cabin, where he was not to be disturbed.

          "You'll have your morning chores," he said, "and can begin work on the shrine.  You’ll be its keepers.  Adorn it as you like.  There’s brush to clear away and stairs to be cut into the hillside using flat stones.  You might make some benches for the grotto, and the rock face can be cleaned up, or even decorated.  I leave all that to you.  The rest of the day I’ll be with you to build our settlement."

          Jonathan figured that in the next month or two he could finish his narrative and even bind it up and make out another fuller and neater copy now that he had so much paper.  Then he’d see what to do with it.  He wouldn't even allow himself to think on this yet, as he knew from experience that the best way to kill a project was to wonder about its end, or implications.

          So the very next day he resumed his narrative, sneaking his papers and pen from the cellar and putting them away when his time was up.  The rest of his days were filled with healthy labor, roaming the environs with his lads for trees to cut down and dragging them back with the help of the burros, sawing wood and setting up walls.  The women started a garden and helped a great deal with the cabin raising.

          All this while Jonathan talked and talked, almost all day long, in his new role of teacher.  He found his pupils good listeners and eager to learn.  But they were ignorant in certain areas, especially regarding their individuality and feelings.  He could baffle any one of them by asking what they, personally, would like to do next.  They’d never been given a choice before and had no idea what to say.  They were also clumsy at thinking through processes.  Too often they’d been told exactly what to do.

          But he wasn’t disconcerted.  He thought of it as the chance to fill in an almost blank slate with his own ideals.  He could try his own system of ethics, which was based on the previous age, and see what effect it had with these cyphers, children of a blank world.  He did this quite tactfully, proceeding slowly.  But he could see that they were cheerful and tried to think deliberately whenever he gave them a choice.  It was pleasant to see them breaking out of their shells and trying to become such people as could one day manage their own affairs by themselves.

          Only Mary seemed a bit disconsolate.  She was younger than the others and probably missed her mother and friends.  He would send her back, he decided, with Peter and Paul to get more supplies in a few days, so that she could visit with them a brief time before returning.

          Meanwhile he kept her close to him as much as he could.  He gave her the chore of coming to him each morning when his three hours were up, as he lost all track of time when composing.  He took time in the afternoons and evenings to have conversations with her, to make up for the family she missed.  Even in this task of comforting her he was pleased, and very glad to hear her say, the night before she was to set off with the caravan to town, that she looked forward to returning and hoped with all her heart to be able to stay on.  Then she expressed some misgivings about her aptitude, and how she might have been poorly chosen for this honor, being different than the rest.

          "These doubts to me," said Jonathan, "are signs of a very good conscience.  Of all who were sent with me I’m most glad I was awarded you.  I need you fully as much as I need any of them, if not more so.  I know you listen to me more closely than any of the others, and you hear between the words what they do not."  With these words and a smile he turned and proceeded up the path to his cabin.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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