On Distant Shores – Episode 36

The ship anchored some distance from the Ghat, and a boat came to escort the American passengers to the shore. Once on land Isabel was overwhelmed once again by the strangeness of it all. People shouted and babbled what to her sounded like gibberish, and more than one raggedy urchin had grabbed her sleeve, making some rather incomprehensible supplication, until someone wiser and more experienced than she sent them off with a sharp word.

“You shall get used to it, my dear,” Katherine said in sympathy, “but it is overwhelming at first.”

“Yes,” Isabel responded weakly. She was feeling quite faint, for the day was oppressively hot, and her clothes felt unbearably restrictive. She fanned the mosquitoes away from her face as Katherine directed their bags into a wagon, and then led her towards a palankeen.

“I have never seen such a conveyance!” Isabel exclaimed, for the enclosed wooden carriage was hoisted on poles and carried by four brawny Indians. Although they moved steadily, the jostling felt far worse to Isabel than a proper carriage led by horses, although she did not say so. In truth she could not say anything at all.

Matters improved when the palankeen stopped in front of a neat Swiss-cottage-style abode on a quiet street with fenced-in gardens and an air of middle-class respectability.

“Perhaps Mr Jamison will be waiting for you,” Katherine said, her eyes alight at what she perceived to be the romance of it all.

Isabel could only nod. The thought that she might now finally come face to face with the man she intended to marry was frightening to her. She had read his letter so many times during the sea voyage that the paper had worn to near transparency in places, and she had almost every word memorised.

Not that the letter told her much of George Jamison. She knew he was from Philadelphia, had gone to Yale University, and had three younger sisters and an older brother who practised law. He had wanted to be a missionary since he was a child, and was currently working on a Bible translation into Burmese with the famed Adoniram Judson, America’s first foreign missionary and the man who had inspired Isabel to attempt this amazing adventure in the first place.

Beyond that, the letter gave very little away. What manner of man was he? Mr Anderson had said he was studious and earnest, but would he be kind and gentle as well? Would he have a sense of humour? Would he find her attractive or interesting?

Now she might find the answers to some of those questions herself, and yet for a moment Isabel was too nervous even to leave the palankeen.

“Come, my dear,” Katherine said. “The day has been exhausting for you. Come inside and have something cool to drink and rest upstairs. Then we shall see about Mr Jamison.”

Isabel nodded in grateful acceptance, glad for this temporary reprieve. Although, she acknowledged as she headed up the little stone path to the cottage, if Mr Jamison was in residence she could hardly avoid him!

Inside the house it was much cooler, and Isabel accepted a glass of nimboo pani, a drink made from limes that was tart and refreshing. Katherine introduced her to Andrew Marshman and his wife Clara, who were working on a translation of the Bible into Bengali.

“Miss Moore has come to marry George Jamison,” Katherine explained. “They have been introduced through the Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.” Introduced was surely stretching the truth a bit, but Isabel did not correct her. Katherine smiled expectantly. “Has Mr Jamison arrived yet from Burma to greet her?”

Andrew and Clara exchanged looks, and Isabel felt her heart somersault in her chest. Why did they not say anything?

“He has not arrived,” Andrew finally said, sounding strangely reluctant, and Isabel wondered if he had already summed her up and found her wanting. The thought made her face burn.

“How long a journey is it to Burma?” she asked, her voice sounding tight to her own ears.

“A few weeks at most.
But . . .” Andrew Marshman hesitated, glancing at his wife again, who nodded her encouragement for him to continue, her lips set in a firm line, her eyes troubled. “I am
sorry to tell you that Mr Jamison will not be coming at all. He died two months ago, of a fever.”

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”.