On Distant Shores – Episode 05


Henry nodded soberly. China’s closed-door policy kept many Western traders from offering their goods, although they were eager to import China’s offerings of tea, silk and spices. Led by the British East India Company, many traders – Americans included – had begun trafficking in opium, smuggling it into China through third parties, despite the nation’s imperial decree against it. The result had been profitable for the West, and disastrous to the East.

“It’s true,” Henry agreed, “but it has become difficult to obtain goods from China, namely because the officials are so suspicious. The time is ripe for an investment, to bring China’s saleable goods to our shores.”

Margaret’s gaze narrowed.

“And why should the Chinese officials allow you into Canton?”

“I have connections,” Henry replied simply. “It’s a risk, but one that could have a tidy profit.”

“It takes months to travel to China,” Margaret said after a moment. “With the negotiations and a return trip, you’d be gone at least a year.”

Henry nodded, his mouth no more than a grim line.

Abruptly Margaret rose from her chair and went to stand by the long windows facing the street. Her back was straight and stiff, her shoulders thrown back.

“How bad is it, Henry?” she asked with a thread of steel running through her words.

Henry sighed and ran a hand through his thinning sandy hair.

“Bad enough. Do you remember that dinner we had here, back in thirty-two? Your brother was so full of this country and saw the possibilities on land: railroads, canals, cities, in what was nothing more than forest and plain.”

“If Rupert was right,” Margaret interjected, smiling to soften her words, “then perhaps you should follow his advice and invest in this country.”

“I did,” Henry told her bleakly, and she felt a sudden, cold stab of fear. “I invested in the railroads and the canals and everything that collapsed when the banks became scared and wanted it all back.”

“And you never told me?” Margaret couldn’t quite keep the hurt from her voice.

“I didn’t want to worry you.” He rose from his chair to stand by her, laying a hand on her shoulder as they both gazed out at the darkening street. “I want to keep you and Charlotte safe, Margaret. That’s all.”

“And you must go to China yourself?” Margaret kept her stare on the street, her voice flat. “You haven’t captained a ship in years, Henry.”

“I know.” If there was a shadow of regret in Henry’s voice, they didn’t acknowledge it. “But the negotiations with China will be delicate. I’ll need to see to them myself.”

“Of course.” Margaret nodded her acceptance, but she felt her spirits flag. Not only would Henry be leaving her for a year at the least, but he would be travelling to one of the most dangerous and unsettled harbours in the world. She turned her head and let her lips brush the hand that still weighed heavily on her shoulder. “You must do as you see fit.”

“Only with your blessing,” Henry said. She raised her eyes to his, saw the worry and strain etched in fine lines on his weathered face and wondered how she’d not seen it before.

“Of course,” she said softly. “You have it. Always.”

 

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.