On Distant Shores – Episode 23

Maggie MacDougall stood on the deck of the ship that had taken her all the way from provincial PEI to the grand harbour of Boston itself. The city lay before her, shining under a summer sun, the tall, proud shape of the Boston Light seeming to watch over the many ships in the busy port, bidding them enter.

“Tie your bonnet strings,” Mrs Dunston, her dragon-like chaperone, chided. “Or it shall sail clear off into the water.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs Dunston.” Meekly Maggie tied the ribbons, although a good part of her wanted to tear off the restricting item, toss it to the wind, and whoop for joy.

She was here at last! The journey from PEI had only taken a few days, but they’d seemed interminable to Maggie, especially under Mrs Dunston’s beady eye. She’d had to endure several extended lectures on Boston society and expected behaviour, and Maggie quickly gathered that her country ways and best Sunday dress were not up to city standards – or at least those of Mrs Dunston. Yet, even the worry that she might embarrass her aunt or seem like a country bumpkin to most Bostonians did little to dim Maggie’s enthusiasm. After living for 16 years having not travelled much more than a mile from her home, except for one voyage to Boston for her uncle’s wedding, she was finally having a grand adventure, all on her own. The thought made her spirit fizz and she broke out into another huge, unladylike grin, much to Mrs Dunston’s disapproval.

Aunt Margaret was waiting for her at the harbour, and recognised her right away.

“Maggie!” She moved quickly towards her, her face wreathed in smiles, and embraced her warmly. “You’ve grown since I last saw you! But I shall always remember your fiery hair. Just like your mother’s.” Her hands on her shoulders, Margaret drew back to give Maggie a thorough inspection.

Maggie tried not to squirm under her elegant aunt’s scrutiny. She was far more conscious of her worn dress and countryish air next to Margaret than the fussy Mrs Dunston. Margaret might have come from Scotland, the same as her mother, but she spoke and looked like an American now.

Her dress was of the latest fashion, in cheerful sprigged cotton with wide gigot sleeves, full not from shoulder to elbow, but rather elbow to wrist as was the latest style, and a bodice that came to a point at her waist. Even Mrs Dunston had not dressed so fine.

No matter her gown, Margaret was very beautiful. Her dark, gleaming hair was dressed in elaborate curls and swirls, and her eyes were bright, her cheeks prettily flushed. All of it together made Maggie feel young and clumsy, and for the first time since stepping on to the ship in Charlottetown she felt unsure of herself.

“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance again,” she said, bobbing a little half-curtsey, and Margaret looked startled before letting out a rich chuckle and drawing Maggie to her once more.

“Oh, my dear! You needn’t stand on formality with me. Why, your mother and I lived in the same house for many years, and were as close as sisters. It grieves my heart that we hardly see each other now.” Her smile turned a bit sad for a moment, but then she shook her head and brightened once more. “But I am so pleased to have you with me now.”

Slipping her arm through Maggie’s, she turned to Mrs Dunston, who was descending upon them like a ship in full sail.

“Thank you so much for taking care of dear Maggie.”

Maggie said nothing as the two women exchanged pleasantries before parting company.

“Now, we must get you home,” Margaret said as she led her to a shining black landau with two bay horses at its front. “You must be exhausted.”

“Oh, I feel well enough, Aunt Margaret,” Maggie said earnestly. Her aunt had so wonderfully put her insecurities to rest, and once more Maggie was determined to enjoy every last drop of this adventure.

The ride alone from the harbour back to Margaret’s elegant townhouse was an adventure in itself. Maggie had never seen so many buildings so close together, from the splendid open marketplace of Faneuil Hall to the imposing brick front of the Old North Church.

And the people! First, as they left the harbour, she saw immigrants in all manner of dress, humble and plain as she was. The further they drove towards Back Bay the more upscale the neighbourhood and its residents became, and Maggie saw smart-looking businessmen in top hats and frock coats, elegant ladies with wide skirts and parasols.

“Do you remember much of Boston from your last visit?” Margaret asked and she turned away from the sights with a little reluctance.

“A bit, but it feels new this time,” Maggie confessed. “I was only nine years old and everything was such a flurry, with Uncle Ian and Uncle Rupert both marrying.”

“Yes, I suppose it was,” Margaret agreed with a smile. “Well, Rupert and Eleanor might be far away in the Western Territories now, but your uncle Ian still lives in the city. I shall be sure to have him and his lovely wife Caroline for a dinner party.”

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”.