On Distant Shores – Episode 57

Harriet tapped her foot to the rhythm of the fiddle being played in one corner of the Campbells’ swept barnyard. The Scottish community on PEI was having a ceilidh in celebration of the ploughing being done, and nearly everyone had come along to join in the merriment.

Harriet’s heart was light as she looked around at her neighbours and friends. Allan was talking with a few other farmers, and he looked hale and full of health, the husband she remembered rather than the pale, drawn man he’d been lately. Perhaps he’d just been tired, she thought with relief. Winters did take their toll.

With a pang she imagined how Maggie would enjoy such an occasion. She was old enough to dance now, and there were surely a few farmers’ sons who might have had their eye on her for a partner. Harriet suppressed a sigh. She missed her daughter, her ready smile and easy companionship that made the long days of chores and cooking fly faster.

She’d be home soon, she consoled herself, now that Henry had returned from China. Harriet had already written the letter asking for Maggie’s return; all that remained was for Allan to arrange the passage.

“Care for a dance?” Allan had left the group of men he’d been chatting with and now stood in front of Harriet, his dear, weathered face creased into a smile.

“I certainly would, Allan MacDougall,” Harriet replied teasingly. “I was wondering when you would ask.”

“After nearly twenty years of marriage, I didn’t think you’d have to wait for me to ask,” Allan replied as she took his arm. “But here I am, asking. May I have a dance with my lovely young wife?”

“I don’t know about the young part,” Harriet answered. “But yes, you may.”

Her heart felt buoyant with happiness as Allan took her in his arms and they joined the crowd sweeping across the barnyard in a waltz, dust swirling in the air.

“You look as bonnie as you did when I first asked you to wait for me,” Allan assured her as they danced among the other couples. “Back at Duart Castle.”

Harriet laughed.

“Away with you. I know there’s more grey than red in my hair now.”

“When I look at you, I still see that young woman willing to stand faith for me,” Allan answered, and Harriet felt a lump form in her throat. Allan had never been one for flattery, or easy compliments, and she hadn’t minded. Now she heard a sincerity in his voice that left her quite speechless.

“I shall stand faith for you as long as I live, Allan MacDougall,” Harriet said when she finally trusted herself to speak. “Wherever we are.”

As he whirled her around the yard, Harriet’s mind drifted through the years that had brought them here. She and Allan had always been childhood friends back on her home island of Mull, but when Allan’s family had emigrated to the New Scotland, Upper Canada, Harriet’s faith in both Allan and her God had been sorely tested.

Years had passed before she’d received a letter from him. It had been the machinations of others rather than the fickleness of Allan’s heart that had caused Harriet to suffer that silence, and her own heart had, in its suffering, nearly gone its own wayward path. She’d almost married another, and was thankful every day that she hadn’t gone so far as to take the vows.

When she and Allan had finally found each other in a lonely cabin near Red River, she’d known God had always meant them to be together. And together they were, and would be for as many years as God saw fit to grant them.

The fiddle ended its merry song and with consternation Harriet saw Allan put a hand to his chest. His face was flushed, his eyes bright, and he rubbed his chest with a wry smile.

“No matter how I wish it otherwise, I’m not the young man I once was, even if you still look the same. I’m as breathless as if I’d been pitching hay all afternoon.”

Harriet tried to quell the sudden churning of fear she felt in her belly. And only moments ago she’d been resting sweetly in the knowledge that her husband looked hale again. She slipped her arm through his as they left the cleared yard.

“Come have a cup of cider with me,” she told Allan. “I would fain sit down myself.”

Allan nodded, and didn’t protest when Harriet led him to a wooden bench and went to fetch their cups of cider herself.

She had just turned around to return to Allan when a sudden cry rent the air and stopped the lively chatter all through the yard. Harriet felt her heart lurch right into her throat, and the hot cider spilled over her hands as she started forward.

A space had cleared around the bench where Allan had been sitting, except he wasn’t there now. As Harriet hurried forward her heart seemed to stop beating altogether.

Allan had collapsed and was lying unconscious on the ground.

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.