On Distant Shores – Episode 64

His chances. The words rattled around in Maggie’s brain over the course of the next week, as her uncle Henry arranged passage on a ship to Charlottetown. Her father’s chances, as if life and death were simply a matter of luck, a capricious whim of fate.

But she hadn’t been raised to believe in such things. She believed in a hand of destiny that hovered with sovereign knowledge over all things. Not silly, capricious chance.

She wondered at her father’s chances as they sailed northward. She was not travelling alone. Margaret, Henry and little Charlotte had all come, as had Ian, her mother’s brother, and his wife Caroline. And best of all, Seamus had booked his own passage on the same ship.

“If this is my only opportunity to ask your father for your hand, then I’ll take it,” he said, and tears had filled Maggie’s eyes at both the love shining in his eyes and the realisation that if this were his only chance, her father might be going to die.

Standing at the rail as the ship sailed into Charlottetown’s harbour, Maggie was assailed with memories of her father, all of them achingly poignant. The craggy seams of his face splitting into a smile, the way he silently considered a question before making his own measured answer. She had chafed occasionally against his stolid, plodding ways on the farm, but she’d trusted him completely and loved him utterly. The thought of a world where he wasn’t patiently tending to his tasks seemed a terrifying thing.

Seamus joined her at the rail. He’d kept his distance from her on this passage, sensing her need to be with her family. But now she wanted him, and she reached for his hand as Charlottetown’s familiar line of buildings, from the military fort to the lighthouse, came into view.

“It is a beautiful place,” he said quietly.

“Yes,” she said softly, remembering how just a few short months ago she’d wanted to escape it. “It is.”

It was nearing evening by the time they drove up to the MacDougalls’ farmstead in a hired wagon. The island was alive with spring; the horses’ hooves churned up red dust and verdant fields rolled to the horizon, the sparkle of the sea visible as no more than a glimmer where sky met land.

The house seemed uncommonly quiet and even empty as the wagon rolled into the yard. Maggie scrambled down from the board, barely aware of the others behind her.

“Mam? Da?” She hurried up the weathered steps and flung open the door, her heart beating painfully hard. Blinking in the interior gloom, she took a step into the front room.

“Ah, Maggie, cridhe. I knew you’d come.” Her mother came from the main bedroom, her hair falling from its pin, her face drawn and haggard.

“Is it too late?” Maggie whispered as her mother enfolded her in an embrace.

“No, cridhe. Not too late. Your father is still with us,
but –” Harriet’s voice broke and she drew a shuddering breath. “God help us, it won’t be long.”

“Oh, Mam.” Maggie pressed her hot face against her mother’s shoulders, tears seeping from under her lids. “I shouldn’t have gone to Boston. If I’d been here, I could have helped . . .”

“Nonsense, child. There is nothing you nor anyone could have done.” Harriet drew a little away from her, her smile sorrowful, the weight of the world on her shoulders and reflected in her eyes. “Now, Maggie, will you have tears when you greet your father? He wants to see you smile, and remember you happy.”

“Oh, Mam.” Her voice choked, Maggie held her hands up to her tear-streaked face and wiped her cheeks. “I’ll try.”

“Good girl.” Harriet went to greet the others and, drawing a deep breath, Maggie turned to the bedroom where she knew her father lay.

The first sight of him made her still right there in the doorway, realisation pouring through her afresh. Her father looked like a shadow of the man he’d once been, the man she remembered. His hair was thin and sparse, his face gaunt and pale against the pillow. His eyelids fluttered as Maggie approached, and although he couldn’t speak he lifted one hand feebly to bid her greeting.

“Da,” Maggie whispered, and came to sit by his bed. She reached for his hand and gently pressed it against her cheek. “It’s Maggie, Da. I’ve come home.”

He nodded, and Maggie felt his fingers stir against her face.

“It’s so good to see you again, Da. I’ve missed you, you know. I thought I’d love Boston, but I discovered I’m more of a farm girl than I thought, or perhaps even wished to be.” She let out a trembling laugh and her father’s worn face creased into a lopsided smile. “But I did find a different kind of love. One I never expected to find.” She heard the door creak open behind her and knew instinctively it was Seamus. “I’ve found a man, Da. A good man, a man I know you’d like and respect. And he wants to marry me.”

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”.