On Distant Shores – Episode 42

The days which had been so endless and empty began to fly by. Andrew Marshman asked again if he should book passage on the next ship to Boston, and Isabel realised with a start that it had been several weeks since she’d started teaching.

“I suppose I shall have to go,” she said, surprised at how much she didn’t want to, and not because she was reluctant to return to Boston – she was loath now to leave India. “I cannot remain here for ever.”

Andrew said nothing, for he was too kind-hearted to agree with her and too pragmatic to suggest otherwise.

The day the ship sailed into Calcutta’s harbour Isabel felt her joy-lightened heart turn heavy. It was another step towards her return to Boston and the life she’d once known. Would she return to the First School, and finish out all her days as she’d begun them? Even though she’d enjoyed teaching in Serampore, she still dreaded a return to the stifling familiarity of Boston and the strictures of society there.

That evening Andrew returned from the harbourside, where he’d inquired about booking passage for Isabel, with a couple in tow, a man
and wife.

“You will never guess who I found on the quayside, having docked in Calcutta on their way to Burma!”

Startled, Isabel realised she recognised the man. It was Adoniram Judson, America’s first foreign missionary, whom she’d heard speaking in Boston over a year ago now, and who had inspired her to consider the mission field for herself. He looked older and more frail now, his hair wispy but his eyes still bright, and he intended to return to Burma with his wife, Sarah.

Andrew made the introductions, and Isabel murmured her own greetings. She felt strangely shy in front of this great man, and self-conscious about her predicament, which took some explaining over supper.

“How tragic for Mr Jamison to die so suddenly,” Adoniram said with a sad smile. He spoke in a hoarse whisper, for a long-standing pulmonary infection had robbed him of his voice. “He was a kind, if rather serious, man. We laboured together for several years. But Providence wills.” Mr Judson, Isabel knew, had experienced his own share of grief. Sarah, the woman who sat beside him now, was his third wife, as he’d buried the first two. “Tell me, Miss Moore,” he asked, “how do you find India?”

“I find it quite difficult,” Isabel confessed, inspired to honesty by the grave attentiveness of the experienced missionary. “The weather is so hot and damp, and everything so unfamiliar. And yet the days I’ve spent at the school here have been some of the happiest of my life.” As she said the words, she realised with a pang of shock just how true they were.

Adoniram smiled.

“Your honesty is refreshing.”

“I must confess, I came to India with some vague notion of adventure, which was quite wrong of me. I have been suitably chastened in my chasing of such vain things, I fear.”

“And what will you do now?” Adoniram’s wife asked. “It seems such a pity to return all the way to America after such a long and arduous journey.”

“I fear I have no choice. India holds little opportunity for a woman alone.”

“But if you were married, there could be opportunities in abundance,” Adoniram said thoughtfully, and Isabel felt herself blush.

“I am afraid, sir, such opportunities have not arisen here.”

“Not in Calcutta, but what of Burma?”

A wary excitement leapt within her.

“Are you saying there is another gentleman in Burma who wishes to wed?”

“Jack Braeburn has been labouring with Mr Jamison at our mission in Burma. He is, I am grieved to report, without a wife.”

Isabel shook her head in confusion.

“But I thought all missionaries were required to marry. George Jamison was an exception.”

“Mr Braeburn was married,” Adoniram said quietly. “His wife was taken of the dysentery at the same time as Mr Jamison. I received the letter telling me the sad news upon my arrival here.”

“Oh, no,” Clara said softly. “Poor Jack.”

Isabel glanced at Clara. She must have met this Jack Braeburn when he’d come through Calcutta. She would have to ask about him later. That is, if she was actually considering Mr Judson’s proposition. Did she really want to travel to an even stranger and more dangerous place, to marry a man she’d never met, a man still grieving for another woman?

“You must think on it, my dear,” Adoniram said, patting her hand. “It is, of course, an important decision. But I can attest to Mr Braeburn’s character. He is a kind man, full of humour and vigour, and will remain so, I trust, despite his recent tragic loss.”

“I shall think on it,” Isabel promised, even as her mind whirled with the suddenness of this new possibility.

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”.