Isabel had spent three days in Moulmein and so far they had been the most awful days of her life. It wasn’t the strangeness of the city, with its rickshaws and zayats, its stately colonial neighbourhood of British-style buildings and the sluggish, yellow Salween River, but rather the strangeness she felt in herself and her position.
All the cautious optimism and shy hope she’d felt while on the flat-bottomed boat with Adoniram Judson and his family had leaked right out of her as she’d stepped ashore in Moulmein’s crowded harbour and seen John Braeburn jerk back in surprise. Clearly she wasn’t what he’d been expecting – or hoping for.
He’d greeted the Judsons warmly, offering his condolences on the recent death of their young son, Henry. Adoniram’s wife, Sarah Judson, a woman Isabel had only seen act in the kind of gracious, gentle manner she never seemed to manage, accepted his condolences and was soon making sure they were all comfortable in the palankin that would take them to the Judsons’ home.
Isabel had sat stiffly in the strange conveyance, her knees brushing those of Mr Braeburn, who sat right across from her and still managed not to converse with her or look at her at all.
In the three days since that awkward introduction he had continued his silence, at least directed towards Isabel, and beyond a murmured greeting when they crossed paths in the Judsons’ household, he did not speak or engage with her in any way.
Which begged the question, Isabel thought as she gazed out at the ramshackle buildings and pointed peaks of the many zayats of this foreign city, all shrouded in a yellow haze, just what was she doing here?
She fought an intense wave of homesickness which threatened to sweep over her with tidal force. She’d come so far, and yet she felt as adrift and purposeless as ever.
The Judsons were kind and welcoming, but she barely knew them and she did not share their zeal for missionary work. She’d travelled across the seas for marriage, not out of a sense of deep religious vocation.
And while Mr Judson had suggested she might remain in Burma to help them with their work, Isabel wondered at such a possibility. She did not know if she possessed the strength or courage, much less the desire.
Sighing, she leaned her head against the bed post, one hand wrapped around it as she fought tears.
“Dear Isabel.” The door had opened and Isabel opened her eyes and straightened, a flush spreading to her face. Sarah Judson smiled at her in sympathy. “I’m sorry to see you looking so desolate.”
“I’m sorry for you to have caught me in such a moment of self-pity,” Isabel answered. “Truly I am grateful to you, and your most generous hospitality.”
“But it is a strange season for you, is it not?” Sarah said, coming with easy familiarity to sit beside Isabel on the bed and put one arm around her. Isabel stiffened under the surprising embrace but then found herself relaxing. “We must see you properly settled.”
“I’m not sure how,” Isabel said slowly, her voice choking just a little. She fought the urge to bury her head in Sarah’s shoulder.
“I think,” Sarah answered, a faint thread of humour in her voice, “I can think of a way.”