On Distant Shores

Illustration by David Young.

Episode 24

A dinner party! It sounded so grown-up, Maggie thought, even as she realised her Sunday dress would probably not do for such an affair. She wished there had been time and money for some new dresses to be made up before she left, yet she knew there had not. In any case, she could not begrudge her mother or father, who had given so much to make sure she could go, anything at all.

The coachman helped them both down from the landau, and Maggie followed her aunt into a spacious townhouse with an impressive set of front steps and a shiny black door. Her eyes widened as she took in the elegant marble foyer and sweeping staircase. She’d never seen anything so grand. A maid took Margaret’s mantle and reticule, and clumsily Maggie gave her her shawl.

Her aunt, she saw, had slit open a letter that had been lying on a silver tray and was now reading it with a little smile on her face.

“Excellent,” she said and turned to Maggie. “My sister-in-law, Isabel, will join us for dinner tonight. But as for now, my dear, you must be truly fatigued. Why don’t you rest?”

Maggie nodded, for in truth all the excitement of arriving was taking its toll and she felt quite tired. A maid showed her to her room, and she gazed in wonder at the silk bed hangings and Turkish carpet, a small city garden visible from the large bay window. The sight of that little scrap of land, pretty as it was, suddenly made her feel homesick for the first time since she’d arrived, for in her mind’s eye she could so easily see the rolling green fields and reddish roads of Prince Edward Island. Her home.

Swallowing, Maggie turned from the window, shed her shoes, and lay down on the bed, the counterpane as soft as a cloud. She was asleep within minutes.

That evening, having brushed down her Sunday dress and added a fresh lace collar, Maggie headed downstairs to meet her aunt’s sister-in-law, a true Bostonian. Anticipation fluttered in her middle, along with a few nerves. Isabel Moore might look down her nose at someone like her.

“Isabel!” Margaret rose from her seat as Isabel Moore was ushered into the drawing-room. Maggie rose as well, smoothing her hands along the sides of her skirt. She watched Margaret embrace Isabel, a pretty woman with dark hair and clear porcelain skin, although Maggie guessed her to be in her late twenties.

“I have news,” Margaret said, drawing Isabel forward. “But first you must meet my dear niece, Maggie MacDougall.”

“News?” Isabel repeated, and as she turned to greet her Maggie saw there were faint crows’ feet on either side of her eyes and lines of strain marking her forehead. “Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.”

After such pleasantries had been dispensed with, Isabel turned back to Margaret.

“You have news? Pray do not keep me in suspense.”

“Your father,” Margaret said triumphantly, “has agreed.”

Maggie didn’t know what they were talking about, but she gathered this was news of some importance, for what little colour she possessed drained out of Isabel’s face and she clutched the armrests of her chair as if for support.

“Agreed?” she questioned faintly, and Margaret laughed and shook her head.

“Isabel, you look as if you might faint! In truth, I expected you to greet such news with a good bit more cheer.”

Isabel smiled, but Maggie thought she still looked rather pale and worried.

“I am just so surprised. I did not expect him to relent.”

“Are you having second thoughts?”

Isabel didn’t speak for a moment, and Maggie decided she must be. She wondered what on earth the two women were talking about.

“No,” she finally said. “No, I am not. But if it all comes to pass, what shall become of the school?”

“You need not concern yourself with that,” Margaret said and Isabel shook her head, insistent.

“But I must. I confess the teaching has tried me at times, but that school has been my life for ten years or more, Margaret. I will not see it come to naught for the sake of my own folly.”

Margaret pursed her lips.

“You think this folly?”

“I do not know,” Isabel whispered. She really did look quite pale.

“I’m sure a teacher can be found,” Margaret said, and before she could think or guard her speech, Maggie burst forth with what, to her, seemed a marvellous and obvious idea.

“Why don’t I teach at the school, Aunt Margaret?”

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