On Distant Shores – Episode 07

The ensuing silence felt like a thunderclap. Harriet stared at her daughter in dismay.

“Maggie, you could not undertake such a journey by yourself!”

“No,” Allan said flatly, his tone clearly stating that this was the end of the discussion.

“Won’t you even think about it? You went all the way to Red River by yourself, Mam, when you were just a bit older than me. I’ve seen nothing of this world, and I want to before I’m too old!”

“Maggie, you’re only sixteen,” Harriet murmured, and Maggie turned on her with tear-filled eyes.

“We could find a chaperone for the sea journey. Aunt Margaret will be alone now that Uncle Henry is going to sea, and I could be company for her. I’d stay through the winter and come back next spring. Please.”

Harriet sat speechless, amazed at the urgency and desperation with which her daughter pleaded. She’d known Maggie was restless, but this?

“No,” Allan said again, “and that’s final.” He rose from his chair and walked quickly inside, the door slamming behind him.

“Mam,” Maggie whispered. “You could talk to him.”

She sat down in the chair her father had vacated, her fingers pleating her apron.

“I know you and Papa are happy here, but does that mean I must be? So many in our family sought their own fortunes. Papa did himself! Why can’t I?”

Harriet stared helplessly at her daughter, knowing it was a reasonable enough request. And yet Allan clearly didn’t think so. After a moment she reached over and patted Maggie’s hand.

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said quietly. “Although, I warn you, it may be nothing.”

Maggie’s face shone as she enveloped Harriet in a quick, tight hug.

* * * *

The church hall was buzzing with conversation as Isabel followed Margaret to the front row.

“I’ve heard he speaks quietly,” Margaret explained as she sat down. “The poor man’s voice has given out. I can only imagine what he’s endured.”

Isabel sat beside Margaret and glanced at the programme. She felt a little thrill of excitement.

“What a courageous man,” Margaret said. “His wife died on the voyage back. Terribly sad.” Her eyes clouded as she gave a little shake of her head.

Isabel’s excitement flagged as she considered the sufferings of American’s first foreign missionary. What might seem enthralling from the first row of a church hall could be dangerous or even deadly, she realised with a pang of conscience. She turned to Margaret.

“And where is my brother this evening? As a sea captain, I thought he might be interested in Mr Judson’s travels.”

“Undoubtedly,” Margaret replied. “I’m quite sure he’d like nothing more, especially in light of his own forthcoming travels.”

Isabel’s eyes widened, for she had not heard that her brother intended to travel. Gazing at Margaret, she wondered if her smile seemed a bit fixed.

“His travels?” she repeated. “But where is he going?”

“China,” Margaret replied. “For trade. There is much to be had there, or so he tells me.” She fanned herself with her programme. “These church
halls do get overheated, don’t they?”

“China,” Isabel repeated blankly. “But he has not said!” she exclaimed. “And why should he travel so far?”

“He was going to tell you all at the dinner on Sunday,” Margaret explained with a shrug.  “I suppose I shouldn’t have said anything, but it is difficult to keep such news to oneself.”

“I can only imagine,” Isabel replied. “Will it be dangerous?”

Margaret shrugged again. A shadow passed over her eyes and she looked away.

“I can hardly say. One hears things, of course. The voyage is long, and the Chinese are angry about the dreadful opium that is being smuggled in.”

“But Henry surely won’t be trading in that?”

“Of course not!” Margaret’s face darkened. “His competitor, Russell and Company, may have no trouble dealing in the odious stuff, but Henry has higher principles than turning a quick profit.” Her mouth tightened. “Even so, it is not a restful place to be. The Manchu emperor does not like foreigners.”

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 tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.