On Distant Shores – Episode 32

“And on whose behalf are you inquiring about an education, Mr Flanagan?”

He blinked, and Maggie imagined he was trying to untangle her aunt’s fancy words. Aunt Margaret did have a rather eloquent turn of phrase.

“My own, ma’am.”

Margaret did not reply, but rather her gaze swept over Seamus from his bare head to his worn and patched-over boots.

“How old are you, Mr Flanagan?” she finally asked.

“Eighteen, ma’am.”

“You see, our oldest student now is only eleven.”

Maggie felt a stab of sympathy as she saw Seamus Flanagan’s shoulders slump in unmistakable disappointment.

“I see. So there’s a limit to how old you can be to learn?”

“There isn’t, is there, Aunt Margaret?” Maggie burst out, and by the quick, quelling look her aunt gave her it was not appreciated. “Not officially,” she added more quietly and Margaret nodded rather briskly.

“Not officially, no. But surely you have some gainful employment, Mr Flanagan?”

Seamus flushed at the implied rebuke.

“I work nights as a watchman by the harbour.”

“You are quite young for such a position of responsibility.”

“My uncle owns a warehouse,” Seamus replied with dignity. “He hired me. And since my days are my own, I wanted to get some education. Learn how to read.” He nodded towards Maggie, although his gaze remained steady on her aunt. “Is it as the young lady says? There’s no limit to how old you can be?”

“There is not,” Margaret said. “But I must confess I am reluctant to admit so old a pupil as yourself.”

Seamus’s gaze didn’t waver.

“And why might that be, ma’am? Are you saying I’ll cause a problem?”

“You might not mean to –”

“I just want to learn, ma’am. I thought that’s what this school was about.”

“Please, Aunt Margaret,” Maggie burst out again, and received another reproving look.

“Come back tomorrow,” Margaret told Seamus, her tone still cool. “I’ll have an answer for you then.”

He nodded, thanked her, and the door creaked closed once more. Margaret turned to Maggie.

“I did not think,” she said stiffly, “you would contradict me so in front of a stranger.”

Maggie flushed.

“I didn’t mean to, Aunt Margaret. I’m sorry. He wanted to learn so –”

“We cannot take every newly arrived immigrant into this school.”

“We haven’t turned away anyone else,” Maggie pointed out, and now Margaret flushed.

“He is a man, Maggie, and we are two ladies. It is neither seemly nor safe.”

“But your husband’s man is right outside the door!” Maggie protested. “With a flintlock! And you’ve never been concerned about seemliness before, Aunt Margaret.”

* * * *

Maggie was confused, for her aunt’s frostiness was so at odds with the woman she’d come to know and love over the last month.

“Why don’t you want to admit him?”

Margaret pressed her lips together and shook her head, and Maggie didn’t think she was going to answer. Finally she let out little sigh.

“In truth I do not know. But we’ve never had a grown man in our school before, Maggie, and I am not certain I am comfortable with his rough ways.”

“His ways aren’t much rougher than mine,” Maggie said quietly, and Margaret gave her a surprised glance.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“I’m no Boston socialite, Aunt Margaret, and nothing will turn me into one. I’ve lived my whole life on a farm and my parents were born in Scotland, same as yours, and you yourself. You were all immigrants once, as fresh off the boat as Seamus Flanagan, if a little richer.”

Margaret’s eyes narrowed.

“You seem to have taken a liking to this young man.”

“No,” Maggie said, although she wondered if she was speaking the truth. “I just want what’s fair. If we don’t teach him to read, who will?”

Margaret stared at her for a long moment, and then with another sigh she reached for her mantle and reticule.

“Very well. When he returns tomorrow I will tell him he can attend the school, on probation, for one week only. Does that satisfy you?” She softened her words with a smile, although she still didn’t look entirely happy.

“Yes, Aunt Margaret,” Maggie said, as meek as a church mouse. “That satisfies me very 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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.