On Distant Shores – Episode 13

The sails of Henry’s clipper ship snapped in the wind as he and Margaret stood on the quay of Boston Harbour. The Charlotte Rose, named after their daughter, was one of the fastest out of Boston and perfect for carrying tea and spices from China. Clipper ships were relatively new to sea trade, and they did not have the storage capacity of other ships, although with their many sails they were certainly faster.

Even so, the thought of Henry battling the seas on board that boat made Margaret shudder with fear. She turned to Henry with a smile, determined for him not to see how afraid she was.

“I shall miss you,” Henry said quietly, his expression tender as he gazed down at Margaret. “I shall write to you as often as I can.”

Margaret nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She didn’t want to point out that letters would take months to arrive, or even longer. His promise provided little comfort.

“And I shall think of you every day,” she said, her voice only a little choked. “And pray for you.”

“Ah, Margaret.” Gently Henry drew her into his arms. “I know this is not easy for you.”

Margaret pressed her face against the scratchy wool of his coat, her eyes closed against the hot onslaught of tears. She did not want to cry at this most precious of farewells, and with little Charlotte at her side, too. She wished she’d been able to convince Henry of her good cheer, but he knew her too well.

Finally she drew in a deep breath and pulled away from him.

“Go safely now,” she said, and this time her voice sounded sure and strong. “I trust you to God.”

Henry stroked her cheek.

“And you go safely as well, my love,” he said, softly enough that only she could hear.

“Papa.” Charlotte yanked on the bottom of Henry’s coat. “Aren’t you going to hug me, too?”

“Of course I am, my poppet,” Henry said with a jolly smile, although Margaret saw his dear blue eyes were shadowed with worry.

Was it the same fear she felt, or was he simply worried for her own well-being? She had a terrible, creeping feeling that Henry was not being completely honest with her about the dangers of travel
to China. The rough seas,
the hostile Chinese government . . . all of it kept her awake most nights, staring at the ceiling, envisioning all the terrible ways things could go wrong. Ways she might lose Henry for ever.

Henry swung Charlotte up into his arms, and then hoisted her to his shoulder.

“See that ship there?” he said, pointing to the clipper readying to sail.

“Yes, of course I do,” Charlotte said. She clapped one hand on her bonnet to keep it from flying away in the wind, the strings whipping against her wind-reddened cheek.

“You see the name of it?” Henry asked, and Charlotte squinted, making out the black letters painted on the side of the ship.

“The Charlotte Rose!” she finally proclaimed in triumph. “That’s me!”

“It certainly is,” Henry affirmed, swinging her back down on to solid ground. He kept one arm around his little girl as he nodded towards the ship. “I will think of you every day while I’m on that ship. I’ll have to, won’t I, with your name right there on the side?”

“Every day?” Charlotte wrinkled her nose. “But how long will you be gone, Papa?”

Henry exchanged a quick, guarded look with Margaret, but she kept her face as expressionless as she could. Henry already knew her opinion on this subject: a year was an incalculable amount of time to a child. Charlotte might not even remember him when he returned. If he returned.

“I shall bring you a present next Christmas,” Henry finally said.

“Christmas!” Charlotte exclaimed. “But that’s ages away.”

And more than she even knew, Margaret thought sourly, for Henry did not mean this Christmas, but the one next year. Seventeen months away. It seemed like for ever.

“Never mind, Charlotte,” she said briskly, drawing her daughter closer to her. “We’ll have fun plotting Papa’s journey on the big map in his study. And the time will go by quickly enough.”

Charlotte frowned, still trying to comprehend such a large amount of time. Margaret squeezed her shoulder.

“Say goodbye to your papa, sweetie,” she said softly, and Charlotte dutifully stepped forward.

“Goodbye, Papa.”

“Goodbye, my precious girl.” Henry enveloped his daughter in a great big bear hug before turning to his wife. “Margaret . . .”

“God speed,” Margaret said, blinking hard. “You are in my thoughts always.”

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.