Here is another short story I wrote for a romance competition. The sub-genre is historical romance. It didn’t win a prize, but as usual it is the judges comments that I find most important.
Unfortunately, the three judges did not agree with each other on any point other than that the dialogue was natural. So although I did garner a few useful comments, I felt conflicted as to whether it was a good story or not.
The first judge absolutely loved the story and would have liked to see it developed into a full novel. This judge gave it 28/30.
The second judge said it wasn’t their cup of tea at all. They rated it very poorly.
The third judge made the most useful comments. This person pointed out that POV was blurred and that the passive voice was used too often. Otherwise this judges comments were mostly positive but the score was only 17/30.
I have edited the story slightly with those points in mind. Let me know in the comments if you like it.
by Ally McCormick
Everybody knew Duncan Campbell was a dependable Presbyterian. So his wife and eldest son, Alex, were aghast when he instructed them to take the family home from church without him.
“I’ve business to do in the village,” he said.
Alex saw his mother’s mouth clamp into a firm line. Commerce on the Sabbath was unthinkable.
Late that same afternoon, Alex and one of his brothers were leisurely dropping stones into the wee brook that ran across their front yard. They watched their father gallop in on a borrowed horse. He thundered down the clay roadway, jumped the very same brook and the picket fence in one bound and called for his wife. Alex could see his small mother make a brave stand on the timber porch, barring entrance to their modest dwelling. No doubt she feared her husband’s motivations.
With a giddy laugh Duncan ignored her glower and taking her elbows in his hands, he pumped them vivaciously until her arms unfolded. Grasping her hips, he effortlessly lifted her up and around, neatly securing her onto the porch behind him. Unhindered, he progressed into the front room, presumably to his chair, and most of the children rushed to his side.
Alex noted his mother patting her hair pins and setting her apron straight. She furtively checked left and right no doubt looking to ensure the neighbors had not witnessed her husband’s flirtatious actions. But Alex knew that there was only himself and a pair of thin hens in sight. The nearest cabin being a half mile away.
“I have secured us passage,” Mr Campbell hollered from inside.
Alex followed his mother in. From the doorway, he saw his father beam at young Annie who was already obediently bringing him a mug full of cool water. Annie set it on the board at his side and settled at his feet.
Duncan Cameron waved a thin slip of paper at his wife.
“What say ye woman? Passage on Munro’s ship to sail a week from Monday. Passage for all of us.”
“All of us?” Margaret Campbell gasped.
She hurried to his side and examined the paper. Although illiterate, she recognized the names of her husband Duncan and their eight children from Alexander all the way down to baby John.
“To be sure, wasnae easy,” Duncan continued, “there were but eight places offered. I submitted that the bairn didnae count and wee Maggie would share a crib with her sister.” He ruffled Annie’s dark curls.
“That’s no fair…” Annie began to protest.
“Hush now,” Alex’s deep voice interrupted from the door. “How is it that I am not consulted, Sire?”
“When did it come about that I had to ask my son’s permission?” Duncan growled back.
“I am my own man. Surely I have the right to decide my future?”
“There is no future here son,” his father’s voice was sour. “And while ye bide under my roof, ye’ll do well to respect my decisions.” His voice softened. “Come now Alexander, tis yer future what concerns me most. I hear tell New Zealand is a land of beauty with minerals and farms for the taking. And none of this cauld that hinders us so.”
“Is there fishing there papa?” his twelve year old son asked, for they knew little of farming.
“Ay, and naw just in the summertime.”
“And is it full of heathens papa?” his eldest daughter asked while the other children chatted on excitedly.
Alex looked to his mother who had been silently twisting her apron in the way she always did when she was conflicted. Finally she found her voice.
“And what of Ma? Will we leave her behind, ne’er to see her again?”
“There is nae room for her at all, my dear, but Cousin Angus assures me that he is preparing his own smaller ship to sail four months hence. We will buy her passage, if it so pleases her.”
“What of our ship, papa?” another daughter asked.
Pulling her onto his knee he told them all of the fine looking vessel called the Gertrude. He illuminated their journey which would take them off the harsh island to which their people had been exiled from Scotland three score years since.
But his discourse was interrupted by Alex slamming the front door.
Standing on the porch, Alex heard his mother soothe her husband. “Let him be. He needs time.”
Alex hoisted himself onto the borrowed horse and urged it out onto the forested road. Ordinarily he’d give his right arm to find an easier lifestyle. However there was something that he was not prepared to give up. That something had a name—Flora Cameron.
Alex had been courting her in secret because Flora’s father, Roderick, had decreed that his only daughter would not be married before she turned 18. It was a strange thing, when most fathers were only too pleased to marry off their daughters.
Nevertheless, Alex was assured that the lass would take his hand. Certainly she had taken his handkerchief and a variety of other fairings he’d surreptitiously offered her.
He trotted past the vacant school house with barely a glance. Its authoritarian schoolmaster had been one of the first to abandon Cape Breton Island some months before.
With all these departures, the little village of St Anne’s was splintering apart like a block of toffee under an axe. Even nearby Baddeck town was losing many of its founding members. Abandoned farms were purchased by the likes of Mr Munro who was a land grabbing entrepreneur if ever there was one. Yet Alex knew that his father trusted the man implicitly. If only Flora could accompany them, Alex would gladly join his father aboard one of Munro’s ships. But Alex had heard his father say there was no more room on board, not even for his grandmother. Besides, how could Flora come if they were not and could not be married.
He soon came upon the Cameron homestead surrounded by its walnut and pear orchards. Hesitating in front of their tidy wattle fence, he prayed for courage. Then at the base of their verandah he hallooed loudly, hoping Flora would answer his call.
But Mrs Cameron appeared, still removing her apron. She looked askance at the unexpected visitor.
“Guid evening Mrs Cameron. Wad ye kindly send Hector oot?” Hector was Flora’s younger brother. It wouldn’t do to go calling on the lass herself.
“Why Alexander Campbell! Is there a problem, Sir?” Hector used the honorific Sir, because Alex was several years Hector’s elder.
“Nae indeed Hector. I bring news. I thought to tell ye that I … ah we … that is my kinfolk, are to sail on the Gertrude when she shortly makes her departure.”
“Well! That is news. Though I’m much obliged of ye for delivering it in person.”
Reddening, Alex knew that it was strange since he had hardly spoken more than the occasional word to Hector in his lifetime.
“I’m indeed grateful at yer thoroughness,” Hector continued. “I suppose you’ll be alerting the whole neighborhood.”
“Just so, indeed,” Alex lied. “I’ll be on my way then.”
He rode quickly from the place, continuing to the furthest acre of the Cameron property where he sought a lonely tree stump in a shaw of walnuts. Here he reflected on the hash he’d made and the falsehood he’d uttered.
He was about to abandon the spot when he spied Flora, dressed only in a cotton house-gown, running towards their secret copse. She had a flushed pallor to her fair skin. Feeling a burning need to protect her, he leaped forward until they were standing so close they were almost touching.
“I am sorely vexed at yer news,” she said.
“Would that we were married. Then I could stay with thee,” he replied.
Her eyes widened.
“Is that a proposal of sorts?” she asked boldly.
“If thou so wants it,” he responded rashly.
“I do indeed. Fer if ye was to leave wi’oot me I wad naw have the will to breathe.”
“Hush, do not speak so. How canst we be married when thine father has forbidden it?”
“We could elope to Baddeck town. Even papa cannot defy our Lord, if he were to join us in holy matrimony,” she answered naively.
“When would we do it?” Alex wondered aloud.
“Why naw the now? Though the reverend wad have taken to his bed afore we arrived.”
“Then it is well, I have a horse.”
“That is prodigious. We could be thare afore the reverend finishes his evening meal.”
“And if wanchance the minister will nae marry us? What then my love?”
Glowing at the endearment love, she blithely replied, “Then I’ll be ruined and ye’ll have yer asylum on yonder ship.”
Flora mounted the horse from the tree stump and Alex straddled in behind. He wondered if she could hear his heart it was beating that loud. Breathing in her intoxicating scent, a combination of wood smoke and sea water, he set off at a trot. He soon noticed that if he leaned forward in just a certain way, her mahogany hair caught endearingly on his stubbly chin.
Flora sunk back against him in a scandalous fashion and his heart tripped erratically. It was not that he minded, but he would have to dismount before they reached the more populous town.
He began to heed her quivering, though he never knew its origin; whether excitement or simply because the thin fabric of her dress was doing little to warm her in the gloamin’ shadows.
Before he could censor himself, he wrapped his arms around her and lowering his chin slightly, he ran his lips across her cheek. He felt her stiffen in his embrace.
“Miss Cameron, my apologies, that was inexcusable.” He made to release her.
But she merely turned and stretched towards him archly presenting her own plump mouth.
He hardly dared believe it, but if she were willing then why not? There was no-one else about.
He bent to meet her. Waves of heat spread throughout his body. A primal moan escaped his throat when her fingers brushed his thigh. The horse stumbled again, ripping their lips apart. “Oh the agony of it,” he thought. He knew now that the need for them to marry was urgent before he stole from her what was not yet his to take. Pulling her body back against his chest, he whipped up the reins, forcing the horse to canter.
Ten minutes later, they saw the kirk spire and holding the bridle he led them to the rectory door.
The pastor was shocked to find the illicit couple. Under such a circumstance, he did not hesitate to sanctify their union using his wife and eldest son as witnesses.
After the business of marrying was quickly attended to, Alex took his new bride and sought out his grandmother’s nearby cottage. He knew she would never turn him away.
She listened stiffly to their explanation.
“Well I can’t deny that your sudden marriage is a cause for dismay Alex, though I’m mighty glad you chose a healthy looking lass. I’ll also not deny that there’ll be nothing left for me here when my only daughter leaves on that big boat. Something will have to be done about that, to be sure.”
Alex was amazed at how quickly his grandmother took charge of the situation, designing a scheme to solve both their problems at once. It was decided that she would indeed take the next ship, but she would insist to the families that Alex and his young wife accompany her for assistance and security during the passage.
Knowing the young couple needed to consummate their union before the bride’s father discovered them, she offered lodgings in her good room. Then, announcing a sudden urge for an evening stroll, she bade them goodnight.
Alex pulled Flora’s trembling frame into his arms. Struggling to steady his breathing, his fingers worked the ribbon and buttons on her bodice. As the garment fluttered to the rug he discovered her lips again.
“Are you happy my love?” he asked her eventually.
“I’ve never felt so blissful nor so secure,” she replied earnestly.
The warm glow of the hearth projected their entwined shadows across the room. With a silent prayer, Alex welcomed life’s new season.