On Distant Shores – Episode 48

Henry frowned, and Margaret knew he still didn’t like the thought of her doing anything risky or dangerous, or what he saw as his own work.

“And if I forbid it?”

She gazed at him seriously, for their marriage had never held such strictures before.

“Would you?” she asked quietly and he stared at her hard before his face broke into a tired smile.

“How could I? I married you for your spirit, Margaret, and that is not one of obedience.”

“Obedience!” She tutted, smiling. “It is surely overrated.”

“I expect so,” Henry agreed as he gathered her into his arms. “Although I wouldn’t much know, having never experienced such a thing.”

She laughed, and he pressed a kiss against her hair.

“Be careful,” he whispered, all traces of laughter gone. “Be careful, because I’ve had to imagine life without you once before, and I do not intend to do it again.”

Margaret knew he was referring to when she’d had typhoid, before Charlotte had been born. She reached up to press her hand against his cheek.

“You will never have to, Henry,” she told him, and then stood on her tiptoes to kiss his lips.

* * * *

Harriet stood on the porch of their farmhouse with a basket of yellow beans against her hip and shaded her eyes against the sun. She could see Allan, no more than a speck in the distance, ploughing a field for potatoes. The slighter figure of their thirteen-year-old son George walked next to him. She could see the bulky shapes of their two workhorses plodding through the churned-up soil quite slowly, and wondered if it was the horses dictating the speed of the plough, or her husband.

“Anna?” she called into the house. Her younger daughter poked her head out of the door, her mouth stained with strawberry jam. “I thought you were feeding your brother,” she said in exasperation and Anna grinned.

“I was! But the oatcakes looked so good, Mam, and the jam’s so fresh . . .”

“Made this morning, and I wonder if we’ll have any for winter!”

Harriet came into the house, smiling at the sight of five-year-old Archie sitting at the table, his mouth as smeared as Anna’s. He even had jam in his hair, as red as Harriet’s own. Quickly Harriet took a tin pail and cup from the hook by the door.

“You watch your brother now,” she said as she wrapped several of the fresh oatcakes in muslin and put them in the pocket of her apron. “I’m going to take something out to your father and brother.”

“I can do it, Mam,” Anna offered, but Harriet shook her head. She knew how her youngest daughter liked to dally, and she had an urge to see Allan for herself.

“You stay here and clean the jam out of your brother’s hair. I’ll be back soon enough.”

Hauling the bucket, she stepped out into the bright sunshine of a summer morning, the river glinting diamond-bright in the distance. The distinctive red soil of the island came up in clouds of dust as Harriet walked the worn path towards Allan and George’s plodding figures.

There was more grey than brown in Allan’s hair now, she realised with a pang as she drew closer. He was only forty-six, but it was a hard life, working the land, and Allan had been doing it for nearly 20 years.

He turned as he heard her approach, a smile creasing his face.

“Harriet! You’re a sight for sore eyes. I thought you’d send Anna with the water.”

“I had a hankering to see you for myself,” she said, and set down the pail. Allan called the horses to a halt and wiped his brow.

“It’s hot out here, and that’s a fact. A cup of cold water will be welcome, wouldn’t it, lad?”

George nodded his agreement and Harriet handed them both tin cups of water and watched as they drank it all.

“Perhaps you should hire another boy to help with these fields,” she said, keeping her voice mild and light. She knew how Allan resisted the idea that he was getting older and needed help. In truth, she resisted it herself; he was still a man in the prime of his life – or so she prayed. Yet worry ate away at her peace of mind, for she could not deny to herself that Allan moved a little slower than he had even a year ago.

“I’ve got George,” Allan answered, clapping a hand on his son’s shoulder.

“Even so –”

“It’s a sad day,” Allan cut her off, an edge to his voice, “when my wife doubts whether I can manage my own holding.”

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”.