The narrator sees the old couple riding through the rain and wonders why they get off their horse so far from shelter. The narrator calls to them, inviting them into take shelter under the pines. The old man doesn’t hear at first, but soon he does and looks around until he notices the narrator. The old woman slides off the horse and the old man attempts to carry her, but the narrator runs out to help carry her to the trees, setting her down against the trunk while the old man comforts her.
Axl’s attempt to carry Beatrice indicates that she is, once again, growing too weak to walk. Axl, however, remains in good health. It also shows Axl’s continued love for Beatrice even though Querig is slain and they have presumably begun to remember their past together.
The narrator listens as the old woman tells Axl that she remembers their son lives on an island and it is nearby. Axl wonders how that is possible, but Beatrice swears she can hear the sea nearby and says they forgot because of the mist but she knows their son is there. Axl thinks it’s just her fever, but the woman tells him to ask the narrator. The narrator wonders if he’s supposed to stay silent, but instead turns and tells Axl, “The good lady’s right, sir.” Axl looks alarmed, but the narrator goes on describing the close proximity of the island and explains that he can bring them over there in his boat once the rain clears. Axl asks if the narrator is a boatman, and he says that he is. Axl fearfully holds his wife closer.
The island represents the afterlife, so by saying their son is there, Beatrice is confirming that he is actually dead and that she is ready to go to him. Axl wants to convince her this is wrong because he wants her to stay with him, but Beatrice will no longer allow Axl to tell her what to think and which of her memories are real and which are not. Axl’s alarm at the narrator’s answer is due to his growing realization that Beatrice is about to go to the island and that he might not be going with her.
Axl asks if there is shelter with a fire nearby to warm Beatrice. The narrator says he has one in the cove, but Axl says that they’d better stay under the tree and they don’t really have an interest in going to the island. Beatrice, shocked, asks what Axl means and insists on going to the cove. Axl agrees to bring her there but is reluctant to let the narrator carry her despite his own weakness. From the cove, the narrator points out the island, calls it “a gentle place,” and wonders if the couple is there “of their own will.”
Axl’s reluctance to go to the cove is explained by his realization that the closer they get to the sea, the sooner the narrator (who is evidently a boatman) will put their relationship to the test. Unlike Beatrice, Axl is not ready for this, which indicates that he knows their relationship is not strong enough for the boatman to be willing to bring them to the island together.
Beatrice calls to the narrator and asks if the island they see is the same she heard of in stories where a person can walk alone forever without running into another person. The narrator says that it may be, but he has no way of confirming. Beatrice asks if it’s true that couples can be taken there together so they are not separated, but the narrator gives her another evasive answer, saying it’s only his job to carry people who want to go across the water. Beatrice asks if the narrator could bring her and Axl there together so they won’t have to part, and the narrator assures her that they would be permitted to be together there. This excites Beatrice, who also hopes to occasionally run into their son.
The narrator’s unwillingness to provide direct answers to Beatrice’s questions serves to draw both her and Axl out even more. Beatrice is the only one showing any excitement or asking questions, which shows that she is the only one who is really ready to be taken to the island. Axl’s silence reveals his fear that he is about to lose Beatrice.
The narrator prepares to get the boat and give the couple time to decide what to do when Beatrice asks if they’ll be questioned. The narrator says he nearly forgot about that, but that they will be. Axl is sent away while the woman talks about her memories of Axl. After a while, the narrator says it’s time for him to talk to Axl. The narrator shares a memory that Beatrice had told him about her and Axl walking together with a basket of eggs. Axl smiles and says he remembers. The boatman says they should go get the boat ready and they start walking back.
With their memories returning, Beatrice and Axl are able to share their most treasured memory. When the boatman tells Axl that they should get the boat ready, it lulls Axl into a false sense of security because he believes they have passed the test and that now it is over.
On the way, the narrator asks if there are any memories that cause “particular pain,” assuring Axl he is no longer being formally questioned. Axl shares the story of the abrupt departure of their son and says he shares the blame, having created a toxic home life after discovering his wife’s infidelity. Their son had vowed never to return and was gone even after the couple was “happily reunited.” When they got word that their son had died of plague, Axl says he “forbade her to go to his grave” because he still had “a craving to punish” even as he “spoke and acted forgiveness.” The narrator asks what has changed since then to make Axl love his wife again, and Axl explains that there was no one thing, but that he had gradually fallen back in love with her.
Although Axl is able to recall in detail what made him hate Beatrice, he is unable to remember how he learned to love her again. Furthermore, he admits to harboring negative thoughts and feelings about her, even though he insists that this was all in the past and it is different now. Still, his inability to remember how or why he fell back in love with Beatrice shows that it was not as memorable to him as the pain she had caused him and his desire to cause her pain in turn.
When they return to Beatrice, Axl wants to carry her to the boat but the narrator insists on doing it, which makes Axl suspicious. When they get to the boat, Axl gets in, but the narrator says he can only bring one person at a time because the water is choppy. He will return shortly for Axl. At first, Axl refuses to get out, but eventually his wife tells the narrator to give them a moment. She tells Axl that she trusts the boatman will return for him and asks him not to argue. Axl asks her if she thinks the only reason their love has grown so strong is because the mist had erased their pasts long enough for old wounds to heal, but she says that doesn’t matter now and encourages him to apologize so the narrator will return for him. Axl agrees to get out of the boat and the narrator hears him tell his wife goodbye. Axl walks past the narrator, who tells him to wait, and continues walking off into the distance.
Axl clearly understands that if he gets out of the boat, there is a chance that the boatman will not come back for him and it will be the last time he sees Beatrice. Whether Beatrice understands this or not is less clear, but it is telling that she finds it easy to send him out of the boat now, especially when just the day before she had been so scared of him leaving her for even a moment because she didn’t want to lose him. Axl’s decision to get out of the boat and Beatrice’s decision to encourage him to do so, even though they both promise each other they will see each other soon, implies that they both realize and accept that they will not be on the island together. This is further confirmed by the fact that Axl walks away entirely, not even stopping to listen to the boatman or to watch Beatrice be taken away. This can be read as indicating that the love that they had such confidence in has failed under the stress of the “buried giant” of Beatrice’s affair and Axl’s resentment. But it can also be read as a recognition of the brutal realities of human life and death. Being taken to the island can be read as a metaphor for dying—and dying, the novel makes clear, is always something that happens alone.