On Distant Shores – Episode 16

The wind blowing off Charlottetown’s harbour was chilly, even though it was already early summer, and the island was leafy and green. Harriet tucked Maggie’s shawl more firmly around her, and smiled ruefully as her daughter jerked away.

“Don’t fuss, Mam.”
“I just want you to be warm.”
“I’m fine,” Maggie said firmly.

And with her flushed cheeks and shining eyes, she looked more than fine. She looked, Harriet thought with a sorrowful pang she couldn’t quite suppress, like she was embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, and was more than ready to do so.

“Let your mam fuss,” Allan said gruffly.

He’d been in a bit of a temper all morning, and Harriet knew it was because he didn’t like the thought of letting his oldest child leave the nest. Yet he’d given his reluctant blessing for Maggie to sail to Boston and reside with his sister, Margaret, while her husband was away on a merchant voyage to China.

But now the day was here, Harriet was fighting her own fears and even regrets. Boston was so far away, and full of so many enticements to a country lass like Maggie. More worrying than Maggie going at all was the fear that she might never come back.

Just then Maggie’s chaperone, Mrs Dunston, bustled up to them, her wide skirts brushing both Harriet and Allan. With her wide sleeves and her hair dressed in elaborate braids looped over her ears, Mrs Dunston looked, Harriet thought rather grimly, like a fashion plate. She’d been visiting her sister in Charlottetown, but had already made it quite clear that she much preferred Boston society to the rustics of PEI.

Harriet would have preferred an island native to accompany Maggie on the ship journey, but there had been few choices and Mrs Duston was eminently suitable.

“Well, then, my dear! Are you quite ready?” She eyed Maggie’s homespun dress and old-fashioned shawl rather beadily. Harriet noticed she had eschewed a shawl for a lace pelerine over her gown, quite the latest fashion.

“Yes, I’m more than ready!” Maggie exclaimed, and Mrs Dunston narrowed her eyes slightly at her charge’s obvious high spirits. “Very well. You may say your farewells and then we shall board.” She turned only slightly away, making Harriet feel a stirring of resentment. She knew Maggie would not want embraces and tears with the fashionable Mrs Dunston in hearing.

“Well, then,” Allan said, stepping forward. “You take care.”

“I will, Da.”

Unmindful of the chaperone standing so close, Allan enfolded his daughter in his arms. After a second’s resistance Maggie hugged him fiercely back, and Harriet was glad.

“Write every week and mind your aunt Margaret,” he told her, stepping back.

“I will.”

Allan nodded at Harriet, and she stepped forward, cupping Maggie’s cheek even as she swallowed down the tears that had lodged in her throat.

“I love you, Maggie.”

Maggie flushed, her eyes darting to Mrs Dunston, who was now tapping one slippered foot in thinly disguised impatience.

“I just want you to remember it,” Harriet said firmly. “I know you’re bursting with excitement now, but in a week or a month, whatever it is, you might be feeling homesick and I want you to have something to hold on to.” Quickly she pressed a card into Maggie’s hand. “I want you to have something to remember us by.”

Maggie’s eyes brightened now not with excitement, but emotion and maybe even tears.

“Thank you, Mam,” she whispered, and heedless of Mrs Duston, Harriet pulled her daughter to her in a tight hug.

A few minutes later Mrs Dunston was leading Maggie up the gang plank, and then into the ship. Allan reached for Harriet’s arm.

“We should go back,” he said. “The farm won’t wait for us all day.”

“I know.” Harriet fished for the handkerchief in her pocket and tried surreptitiously to dab her eyes.

Allan, of course, noticed.

“Harriet!” he exclaimed. “What are these tears? You were the one who wanted her to go so badly.”

“I know.” Harriet sniffed, giving him a watery smile. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t feel a little sadness that she is going.”

Allan pulled her towards him, resting his chin on her head for a moment.

“She’ll be all right,” he told her. “She’ll find her way back, you’ll see.”

Harriet nodded, wanting to believe it, yet she couldn’t help but feel that Allan was trying to convince himself as much as her.

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”.