On Distant Shores – Episode 17

The drawing-room windows were open to the fragrant night air as Stephen Moore sipped his port, his slippered feet stretched out.

Across from him his wife sat placidly with her embroidery hoop, and Isabel made up the third point of this domestic triangle, a book forgotten in her lap. It had become the custom when there were no outside engagements for the three of them to spend a quiet evening at home in various pursuits, whether reading or embroidery or, for her father only, a leisurely perusal of the paper.

Isabel could not concentrate on her book – a slim volume of poetry by Tennyson – because she had decided tonight she would tell her parents of her plan to add her name to Rufus Anderson’s list. The thought of admitting what she planned to do set her heart thudding and made her palms slick. She was not so naive to think her parents would approve of her decision, or let her go without a protest.

“Isabel,” her mother murmured reprovingly, “you are fidgeting. It is not ladylike.”

Isabel flushed. There was no greater sin in her mother’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. She stared blindly down at her book. “I have quite a lot on my mind,” she continued, her words no more than a whisper.

Arabella raised her eyebrows.

“I did not realise you were so preoccupied.” She completed several neat stitches before raising her gaze to Isabel once more. “That school takes too much of your time.”

Isabel knew her mother didn’t like her spending so much time at the First School. A bit of charity met with approbation, but eight hours a day, in her mother’s mind, smacked of being a bluestocking, or worse, a reformer.

“It is not the school that preoccupies me,” she said.

Both her parents must have heard some of the stridency in her tone for her mother simply waited, her embroidery forgotten, and her father looked up from his paper.

Isabel took a deep breath.

“I have made a decision regarding the rest of my life.”

Arabella’s eyebrows arched once more.

“There is no need to be melodramatic.”

Stephen tried for a smile.

“What is this all about, sweetheart?”

Isabel took another breath. She felt almost dizzy with nerves.

“I spoke to Mr Rufus Anderson of the Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions –”

“Missions?” Arabella interjected, her tone scandalised. “You cannot be considering becoming a missionary?”

“No,” Isabel replied evenly, “I am not. Single women are not allowed to become missionaries.”

“And rightly so,” Stephen said. “It is a far too dangerous for a lady.”

“Missionaries,” Isabel continued, staring straight ahead, “need to be married.”

This was met with a profound silence.

“I cannot,” Arabella finally said quietly, “conceive what you are thinking to propose.”

“Mr Anderson told me of a list,” Isabel said. She clutched the book in her lap tightly, her knuckles turning white. “A list of suitable women who might wish to . . .” She stopped, took another breath, her fingers aching from how tightly she clutched her little book. “Who might wish to marry a missionary,” she finished, her voice dropping to a whisper.

The silence that followed this information was, Isabel thought numbly, quite deafening. It rang in her ears.

“Izzy,” Stephen said, using her pet name. “I’m confused. What does such a list have to do with you?”

“I can quite see where this is going,” Arabella told him frostily. “Our daughter thinks to put her name on this list.”

Stephen stared at her in mute appeal, clearly expecting her to deny such an allegation. Isabel forced herself to let go of her book and smoothed her skirt before folding her hands in her lap.

“It is true, Father. It is perfectly respectable.”

“It is not,” Arabella countered, her tone suddenly turning fierce. “A list! Of spinsters! You cannot think to include yourself in such a number.”

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”.