On Distant Shores – Episode 59

“One moment, Malton.”

From behind the heavy damask drapes Margaret could hear Robert Forbes moving around his study. She stared at the letter clenched in her trembling hands, willing her legs not to shake. If she was discovered now, there could be absolutely no excuse. She would be ruined; Henry’s business might be ruined. She had risked everything, and for what? A piece of paper whose value was not certain? It seemed absurd that she had attempted such folly. At least she’d had time to hide behind the drapes before the door to the study had opened.

Robert Forbes continued to shuffle the papers on his desk and Margaret heard another man enter the room. Malton, she supposed, Elizabeth’s husband. That was why Elizabeth had visited unexpectedly; her husband must have had business with Rose’s.

What if the men stayed in the study to discuss their business? Margaret might be stuck here for hours. And how on earth would she extricate herself without notice when – or if – the time finally came? Feeling sick with nerves, she closed her eyes and pressed back against the wall.

The men spoke for a few minutes, though Margaret could barely take in what they were saying. Something about insurance and shipping, but she couldn’t hear enough to make any sense of it.

Her legs felt like water and her heart was pounding so hard it hurt to breathe. She tried to take quiet, shallow breaths, afraid some small movement might alert the men to her presence.

Then she heard the chair creak as Robert stood up and finally the door opened and closed again with a click. The study was blessedly silent, and Margaret sagged against the wall.

Her fingers still trembling, she folded the letter and forced it into the small confines of her reticule. Then, her heart still pounding, she went to the door.

The wood-panelled door was thick and muffled any sound from the entrance hall. Margaret knew she was taking a great risk in even opening it a crack. She pressed her ear against the door and heard only the muffled ticking of the grandfather clock. No creak of floorboards, no murmur of voices. She must take a chance.

Holding her breath, she opened the door and saw no-one. She forced herself to open it further, and then she slipped out and made for the front door. She had just turned the handle when she heard the doors to the drawing-room open and without a backward glance she slipped through the front door and out into the blessed freedom of the street.

She walked as quickly as she could without attracting unseemly attention down the street, past mansion after gracious mansion until she was well on her way to the Back Bay and home.

It was only when Margaret was safely ensconced in her own drawing-room that her hands stopped shaking and her heartbeat slowed. She called for tea and sank into a chair, wobbly with relief.

The door opened and she jerked upright, then laughed self-consciously as she saw Henry come into the room.

“You look as if you’ve seen a ghost,” he remarked with a smile. “Did I startle you?”

“My nerves are a bit strained,” Margaret admitted. “But I hope this might be of use to you.” She pulled the folded letter from her reticule and handed it to him.

Henry read it silently, a frown settling between his brows.

“Forbes is taking on Russell and Company? That’s been kept quiet,” he finally said, and Margaret’s heart sank.

“Is it any use? Will it appease Zexu?”

Henry glanced up, his frown deepening.

“Where did you get this?”

“Off Robert Forbes’s desk.”

“Margaret!” He shook his head, looking as if he might scowl, but then he broke into a smile instead. “You are a marvel,” he said, and drew her up from the chair and into her arms. “I pray this will appease Zexu. It’s certainly more information than he had before.” He kissed her tenderly. “What on earth would I do without you?”

“Pray you never need find out,” Margaret answered, and kissed him back.

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.