On Distant Shores – Episode 27

High summer was always one of the busiest times in a farmer’s life, and this summer was no exception for the MacDougalls. Harriet found she missed Maggie’s help with the household chores and the management of the kitchen garden, but even more, she longed for her daughter’s sunny presence and cheerful chatter. Her fourteen-year-old son George worked in the fields with Allan, and quiet, serious ten-year-old Anna helped Harriet, but she knew her youngest child missed Maggie as well. They had never been apart before.

One afternoon, a fortnight after Maggie had left on the ship, Harriet stood out on the front porch, one hand raised to shield her eyes from the glare of the summer. She could see Allan in the potato field, bent over the tender new plants as he and George weeded. There was so much work to be done, Harriet thought with a sigh, with the weeding and watering, the care of the animals, the ceaseless toil for both the land and the living. Allan was only forty-six years old, but from a distance she saw how tired he looked stooped over in the field, and the realisation gave her a little pang of sorrow. How quickly the years slipped away, and yet surely God would grant them many more together.

“Mam?” Anna stood in the kitchen doorway. “The raspberry jam is ready to be set.”

“Good lass.” Harriet turned away from the sight of the fields, and her husband still stooped over. She pushed aside the worry and sorrow as she smiled at her daughter. There was work to be done.

Yet, that evening, after the children had gone to bed and she and Allan sat in their usual chairs with the night falling softly all around, Harriet felt the worry pick at her again. Allan’s dark hair was liberally streaked with grey, and a life out of doors had given him deep creases by his eyes and from his nose to his mouth. He squinted in the light of the oil lamp as he bent his head to the bridle he was mending, and Harriet felt that twist of anxiety inside. She must have made some sound, for Allan glanced up, the creases by his eyes deepening as he smiled at her.

“Now, what was that sigh for?”

“I didn’t mean to,” Harriet admitted. “It’s only there is so much work to be done.”

Allan lifted one powerful shoulder in a shrug.

“No more than there ever is this time of year.”

“I’m not the lass I once was,” Harriet said, and Allan frowned.

“I should have considered, with Maggie gone, that more work would fall to you. We can hire a girl –”

“No, no,” Harriet said quickly. “There’s no need for that.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes, I’m certain.” She paused, threading her needle carefully before she spoke again. “If we were to hire anyone, I’d think a man to help you with the harvest would be best.”

“A man? I’m not in need of any help. I’ve got George, after all.”

Harriet glanced up from her darning.

“It’s a good deal of work for just one man and a boy,” she said. “You’ve hired men before.”

“For a season,” Allan allowed. “When I was tending my father’s land as well as our own. But there’s no need of that since we sold his acreage.”

“Even so,” Harriet murmured.

“What are you about, Harriet?” Allan asked mildly enough, although she recognised that thread of steel in his voice. “What’s got you in such a fash?”

“Neither of us is getting any younger, Allan.”

“You think I’m too old for this?” he demanded, and she couldn’t tell if he was angry or amused. Probably both.

“No, but I know your father worked himself to death on this land and I don’t want to see the same happen to you.”

“My father was far older than I am when he breathed his last. And he died the way any farmer would hope to – strong until the very end.” Allan leaned forward and covered Harriet’s hand with his own work-roughened one. “I know having Maggie leave us has cost you, whether you’ll admit it or not. And I feel my years more keenly when I see what a young woman our Maggie is. But I don’t need a man to help me now, and hiring one won’t keep me alive any longer than Providence allows.” He gave her a rueful smile.

“God surely ordains all our days, my love. I trusted that when I sailed away from you all those years ago, and I trust it now.”

Tears pricked Harriet’s eyes and she nodded, her throat tight.

“Aye,” she said. “I trust it as well.”

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”.