On Distant Shores – Episode 15

Isabel accepted a glass of cool punch and took a much-needed sip. She should not have come tonight. She rarely went to such evenings, knowing all too well the desolation they caused to well up within her. Yet tonight she’d agreed because her father had cajoled her, and she hated to disappoint him. She knew he still sometimes pretended as if, at thirty, she had a chance at a normal life, marriage and children, even if everything pointed to the opposite.

Except she did have a chance at marriage. Rufus Anderson had given her that chance. Isabel closed her eyes, imagining that list that Mr Anderson had mentioned, the list of prospective wives for missionary-minded men. What kind of women would be on such a list? How did one go about actually marrying such a man? She could not imagine it, yet she had spent a good amount of time in the last week attempting to do just that.

Of course she’d left the office of the Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in a huff of indignant denial. She was not in quite such a sorry state as to put her name on some sort of list, for men to pick and choose the candidates as they so wished! The idea was preposterous.

Yet, even so, in her loneliest moments, Isabel was forced to concede it held some merit. She wanted a husband, perhaps even children one day. She wanted a life. And if she had to go to such dire extremes to get those things, well, what of it?

At least, Isabel told herself, she would have some choice in the matter. She did not have to marry anyone she did not like. Just as the man could refuse, so could she. She would have some power, at least.

“Good evening, Isabel. What a lovely gown. I don’t believe you’ve worn it before, have you?”

Isabel turned to see Patience Fairley smiling sweetly at her. She recognised the supposed compliment for the barb it truly was; Patience had not seen this gown before because she’d had no occasion to wear it before today. Most women, even among the highest circle of Boston society, would wear a gown more than once in a season.

“It is lovely, is it not?” Isabel agreed, keeping her voice and manner pleasant by sheer force of will.

Patience was her own age, and had married a decade ago. She had long since cultivated the smug satisfaction of the successful matron, with four young children and a husband who, with the passage of years, had become florid and corpulent. Still, Patience knew how much she had in comparison to Isabel.

“Are you still teaching at that school?” Patience asked in a tone that suggested that it would be rather dreadful if she was.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am,” Isabel said, and saw Patience’s expression soften into pity.

“I suppose it keeps you occupied,” she stated almost mournfully, and Isabel gritted her teeth.

“Indeed it does, as do all good works. But as it happens, I shall be leaving the school shortly.” The words shocked Isabel even as they came out of her mouth, and she watched with dazed satisfaction as Patience’s complacent expression faltered.

“Is that so? And for what reason, pray?”

Isabel smiled mysteriously.

“I’m afraid I cannot say. But you shall hear of it soon enough.”

Patience narrowed her eyes, frowning, as if she suspected Isabel was lying, yet could not say so.

And the fact was that she was lying – or nearly. What had made her say such a thing? She had no intention of leaving the school.

Unless she married. Unless she put her name down on that list.

“Please do excuse me,” Isabel murmured. “I must bring a glass of punch to my charge.”

She hurried across the ballroom, delivering the beverage to the doleful Elizabeth. And as she settled back into her seat for another hour of tedium, Isabel determined this was not how she was going to spend the rest of her life.

She was going to put her name on that list.

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”.