On Distant Shores – Episode 28

It had been an entire fortnight since Isabel had written to Mr Anderson of the Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and she had not had a single reply – a fact which filled her with both relief and irritation. She realised she had been foolish to think that a suitable candidate for a husband would present himself immediately, yet placing her name on that list had felt so monumental a decision that it was dispiriting not to have an immediate response.

And, in her most private and pained moments, Isabel wondered if a candidate would choose her at all. The thought of the humiliation she would experience if it were ever to be made known that she’d put her name on such a list and not been chosen made her insides writhe in an agony of anticipated embarrassment.

After two weeks she started to think nothing would ever happen. She would be thirty-one next month, but what man would choose such a spinster, especially if he wanted children? She pushed all thoughts of mission work or marriage out of her mind and attempted to concentrate on her work with the First School.

It was a balmy evening in mid-June when she returned home to find a letter addressed to her on the silver salver by the front door. Her heart bumped in her chest and she tore it open, heedless of how she ripped the envelope. Quickly she scanned the lines and her heart stopped bumping and seemed to freeze instead. Mr Anderson had a possible candidate and wished to see her at her earliest convenience, preferably tomorrow.

At four o’clock the next afternoon Isabel presented herself at the office where she’d had that first wretched interview. She was even more nervous now, and she knew it made her seem haughtier than ever. She spoke coolly to Mr Anderson’s clerk and declined his offer of tea. When Mr Anderson came to the door, Isabel swept past him, her head held high.

“Miss Moore. Thank you for attending me so quickly.”

She nodded regally, her throat too tight to form words. She knew her behaviour bordered on rudeness, but she realised, to her own shame, that she would rather Mr Anderson think her rude than pitiable.

“A situation has arisen,” Mr Anderson said, folding his hands on his desk and looking at her over the rim of his spectacles.


“There is a young man, a God-fearing, studious and earnest young man.” She nodded, feeling her face drain of colour. He was talking about her potential husband. “He wishes to take a wife.”

She swallowed.

“I see.”

Mr Anderson straightened his cravat, suddenly seeming hesitant, almost nervous.

“Generally, in these situations, we simply make an introduction. There is a period of courtship of at least two months, and then, God willing, a marriage. After a couple has been married some time – preferably at least for a month – an appointment is made in the missionary field.”

“Is that not the case in this instance, Mr Anderson?”

He seemed almost relieved that she grasped the particulars so quickly.

“Indeed it is not, Miss Moore. For you see, this young man is already in the mission field. He left three years ago, before we made the provision that all missionaries must be married.”

“I see,” Isabel said after a moment, even though she did not. How could she marry a man who was already abroad?

“When he first wrote last year, I suggested that he return to this country and find himself a wife. But the fact of the matter is he is reluctant to leave his important work, and travel takes so much time. Considering your own situation, it seemed perhaps a solution could be found.”

Isabel blinked, trying to make sense of his words. He meant, she realised with an icy ripple of humiliation, her age. She was too old to wait around to see if this nameless man and she would suit.

“What,” she asked, swallowing dryly, “do you suggest?”

“You could travel to where he is,” Mr Anderson said, as though it were obvious. “As it happens, another missionary’s wife is making the journey, so you would have a chaperone.”

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”.