On Distant Shores – Episode 14

Mindless of the crowds of stevedores working the docks, Henry swept his wife into his arms and kissed her soundly on the mouth.

“Henry!” Margaret tried to sound scandalised, but failed. She needed that kiss to sustain her for the many long, lonely months to come.

With one hand pressed to her lips, her other holding tightly on to Charlotte, she watched as Henry boarded the Charlotte Rose, and as the ship pushed off from the dock, she felt her heart die a little within her.

Both she and Charlotte were quiet on the carriage ride back to their home in Back Bay. Charlotte rested her head against her mother’s shoulder, as if to absorb the pain Margaret felt coursing through her. She stroked her daughter’s soft cheek, grateful for her company at least in the long months ahead.

Back at the house, Margaret listlessly sifted through the post that had been left on a silver salver as she waited for their maid, Ella, to bring tea.

“A letter from Prince Edward Island,” she said aloud.

Her sister-in-law Harriet wrote to her regularly once a month with all of the family’s news, but since she’d only received a letter from her a week ago, Margaret was surprised to find another sent so quickly after. She hoped it did not bring ill news.

“What is it, Mama?” Charlotte asked as she perched next to Margaret on the settee.

“It’s from your aunt.” Margaret quickly scanned the letter, her frown of concern quickly turning into an excited smile. “She’s asking if your cousin Maggie can come to stay with us for a while. Keep us company! Isn’t that lovely?” She smiled brightly at her daughter, the pain in her heart lightening just a little. A little company, at this moment, would be most welcome.

* * * *

Isabel sat in one of the uncomfortable chairs pushed to the side of the ballroom and tapped her slippered foot in tempo with the lively waltz that was playing. She watched, feigning a disinterested air, as several couples waltzed by her, the women’s skirts brushing Isabel’s tapping foot in a swirl of silk.

She glanced at Elizabeth Ascott, the nineteen-year-old girl sitting next to her. Elizabeth watched the waltzing with forlorn eyes, her empty dance card dangling from one wrist. Isabel felt a stab of pity for the girl; she, at least, had never had to deal with the disappointment of an unfilled dance card. She had always been in demand, until Ian had married Caroline Campbell and overnight Isabel had become unwanted.

Now, she was a spinster, and in this case, a chaperone, for the girl’s mother had asked her to keep an eye on her. Isabel had agreed, trying to ignore the indignation and hurt this innocent request caused. Of course no-one would think she was going to dance. She hadn’t danced in years.

She hadn’t minded quite so much, until now. Now, remembering Rufus Anderson’s all too compassionate gaze, she minded very much indeed.

The waltz finally ended, and Isabel stood up, shaking out her skirts.

“I, for one, am parched,” she informed the disconsolate Elizabeth. “Shall we get some punch?”

Elizabeth eyed her reluctantly. Isabel could see a dark emotion in the girl’s eyes, something between pity and fear. Undoubtedly Elizabeth was imagining her own future, and praying she would not end up like Isabel.

Abruptly Isabel turned and strode across the ballroom. Elizabeth could come if she wished. Impotent rage and, worse, desperation, fired her body. She could not live like this. Not for the rest of her life. She could not remain a pitied spectator, a dreaded wallflower.

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”.