On Distant Shores – Episode 41

It had been nearly a fortnight since Clara Marshman had suggested the idea of marrying the sympathetic widower to Isabel. A ship sailing to Boston had come and gone, and Isabel had not been on it. She had agreed to attend a small dinner party that the widower, Joshua Casey, was attending and had met the man in question. It had not gone well.

Even in the peaceful sanctuary of the Marshmans’ sitting-room Isabel shuddered to remember Casey’s belligerent expression, the way he’d looked her up and down as if she were a horse he was considering to purchase.

Clara, sensing the introduction had not gone well, had finally rescued her, murmuring something about how Mr Casey could be quite direct, and Isabel had simply shaken her head. Boston was preferable than marriage to such a man.

Yet now she’d missed the sailing, and Andrew had informed her another ship would not leave Calcutta until August. She could not stay with the Marshmans indefinitely, abusing their hospitality, and yet she did not know what other recourse she had. There were, apparently, no other eligible gentlemen in all of Calcutta in want of a wife – or at least a thirty-year-old spinster who had come all the way to India intending to marry a man.

“There you are.” Clara swept into the sitting-room, looking amazingly cool and lively. Isabel felt as if she might wilt from the damp heat, and her clothes stuck to her in awkward places. She gave Clara a tired smile.

“I don’t know how you manage this heat.”

“You shall grow accustomed to it, I’m sure,” Clara said. “But in the meantime, it will be some weeks before the next sailing, and I remember you had spoken of teaching at a charity school back in Boston?”

Isabel regarded her with some wary surprise.


“We have started a small girls’ school here in Serampore,” Clara said. “And since you will be with us for a few weeks at least, I thought you might make yourself useful by helping to teach the little ones. They are sweet, and eager to learn.”

“Of course,” Isabel stammered in her surprise and uncomfortable realisation that for nearly a month she had not made herself useful at all. She knew Clara was too kind a soul ever to suggest such a thing to her, yet she felt her uselessness sorely.

“It will be good for you, I think,” Clara said quietly, and Isabel, feeling her heart lighten, was inclined to agree.

She started at the school the very next day. The girls’ school was about as different from the First School as could be, with its floor of packed earth and mud brick walls, the airless room buzzing with flies, yet the moment Isabel stepped across that humble threshold she felt a welcome rush of familiarity. This was a school room, no matter the walls or the floors, and she finally felt at home. She knew what to do.

The main teacher, Elizabeth Benton, was another missionary’s wife, and was happy to have Isabel’s help. Within minutes of her arrival Isabel found herself settled on a rough wooden stool with a battered primer on her lap, and a cluster of rapt, dark-eyed and dark-haired little girls gathered around her. She began reading, and even though she knew she was only doing what she had done in Boston for many years and found so wearying, she felt her heart now lift with joy.

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”.