On Distant Shores – Episode 37

Isabel threw down the embroidery hoop she’d been listlessly working on and stared moodily out of the windows of the Marshmans’ cottage, the shutters ajar to let in a bit of air during the hottest part of the day. The weather, Isabel thought, had been insufferable, with a muggy, still heat that was so damp, mould had grown on her embroidery overnight. Clara Marshman, her hostess and a missionary’s wife – just as she had intended to be a missionary’s wife – had brushed it off and said such things were common during India’s rainy season.

Isabel could not imagine living in such a place. And yet, until a fortnight ago when she’d learned her intended, George Jamison, had died of dysentery, she had been fully intending to live in such a place, or worse. George Jamison had ministered in Burma, which by all accounts was a more savage place than this.

Restless now, Isabel rose from her cane chair and paced the confines of the guest bedroom she’d been given at the Marshmans’ residence, a Swiss-style cottage in Serampore, on the outskirts of Calcutta. What was she going to do now? Andrew Marshman had informed her at dinner last night that a ship was sailing to Boston in a week’s time. He’d offered to book her passage on it, and Isabel had murmured something about needing to think.

Yet what, really, was there to think about? She could not remain in India; she did not even want to remain here. She had no husband, and therefore she had no role. But to return to Boston, humiliated, a woman who had traversed half the world chasing after a husband who had died before she could so much as meet him! It was too awful to contemplate.

With a groan, Isabel sank back into her chair, her head in her hands.

“Miss Moore? My dear?” With a light knock Clara, Andrew’s wife, opened the door to Isabel’s bedroom and smiled tentatively. She had made some efforts to be friendly, Isabel knew, but she had been too bewildered and miserable to respond in kind. Really, she acknowledged with an uncomfortable pang of guilt, she’d been a rather wretched house guest.

Now she rose and ushered Clara in.

“Do come in, Mrs Marshman. You have been so kind to house me here.”

“It is no trouble, I assure you. I am only so sorry for the difficulty in which you now find yourself.”

Isabel smiled rather thinly, glad for Clara’s understanding, even if she felt her hostess understood too much. She was a woman who had already seen thirty, and she had not met her fiancé before intending to wed him. Clara Marshman had clearly surmised Isabel’s desperation.

“It must be a deep disappointment to you,” Clara ventured cautiously, “to find yourself without recourse in a strange and hostile land.”

Isabel glanced at her rather sharply, for she had been expecting the older woman to murmur some meaningless sympathy about how awful it was to have her fiancé die before she’d arrived. Meaningless, because she had never met George Jamison and had no idea whether they would have suited or not. Now that he was dead, she was honest enough to acknowledge that, based on his one rather sober letter, she suspected they wouldn’t have.

“It is a disappointment, to be sure,” she said, and Clara picked at an invisible thread in the cuff of her dress, a style, Isabel noted, that was nearly a decade out of date. She supposed missionaries’ wives didn’t have much cause for – or interest in – fashion.

“Have you considered,” Clara asked carefully, “your possibilities?”

“I did not know they existed in the plural. It seems the singular one available to me is a return passage to Boston.” Isabel stared out of the window, the watery sunlight filtering through the slats of the shutter, so Clara wouldn’t see the naked grief and despair on her face.

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”.