North Norfolk coast, England, September 1880
The thing about a long brisk walk, thought Isabella as she got dressed, is that it can be a marvellous antidote to hopelessness. It is action, and that is something.
She set out as soon as dawn’s orange light brightened the sky and before anyone else was awake. Quietly descending the stairs, she buttoned up her coat and opened the heavy oak front door into the misty newborn day. It had been a cold summer, stolen by storms, and although it was early September, autumn was already showing off on the gilded leaves of the horse-chestnut tree in the rectory garden.
Despite living with her parents and sister, Isabella preferred to walk alone. This was her daily constitutional, and she used it as a weapon in her arsenal for fighting the gloom that threatened to overcome her. As she walked through the village to the sea, she kept her mind fixed on the mundane practical details of her life. She did not allow her thoughts to travel to the dreams of exploring the world; that hope had gone now. Every few steps gave her a little stab of pain in her lower back, an ailment that seemed to come and go depending on her spirits. She winced, but tried to ignore it. Her long tweed skirt and bonnet kept her warm as she walked purposefully onto the dunes.
Once at the beach she fixed her eyes on the long, flat horizon. The mud-churned waters of the North Sea absorbed her thoughts. She paused and took a deep breath, feeling her lungs expand. For a moment she was able to enjoy the view.
Isabella felt guilty for the heaviness in the pit of her stomach that did not seem to leave. It was the sense that life was passing her by, that she was playing the role of a spectator rather than a participant.
On this particular morning, walking on into the wind, Isabella tried to think of what she was thankful for. Her younger sister came to mind. Sweet, placid, good-natured Catherine. If Catherine, with her easy laugh, was able to be content, why couldn’t she be? Isabella looked out to sea. She had come to the end of the beach and there was only a difficult path uphill ahead of her. She wouldn’t go further today.
More than an hour since she had set off, Isabella walked back up through the gateway of the rectory.
She was still thinking of Catherine as she turned the knob of the front door, and was hit by the smell of baking bread wafting through from the kitchen. Her stomach rumbled. She walked into the wide hallway, with its polished wood floor, and after taking off her bonnet and coat, went into the dining room for breakfast.
Catherine was standing by the window, arms crossed and brow furrowed; she turned to greet her sister.
‘What is it?’ Isabella asked, immediately concerned.
‘A telegram arrived a few minutes ago… Mama read it and left so quickly, she didn’t say who it was from, but I know it’s bad news.’
‘Catherine!’ Isabella laughed at her sister’s ability to fear the worst.
‘Isabella, she was shocked! I am worried it’s John in London, or something has happened to one of the children.’
‘She would have said if it was; it might not be bad news…’ Isabella offered. ‘There must be an explanation.’
Catherine sat down at the table with a sigh, and Isabella took her place opposite.
‘Well, we can’t do anything but wait for her to return and tell us. Let’s have breakfast; no point in it getting cold.’ She could see Hattie had left a covered bowl of porridge on the side counter. The new housemaid was often up before Isabella, cleaning, laying and lighting the fires before the family were awake.
Isabella poured herself a cup of China tea. The silver strainer slipped, so with her teaspoon she fished out the leaves that had escaped, and added milk. Isabella passed the teapot to Catherine, but she gave a slight shake of her head in refusal. ‘Not for me.’
It was a few minutes later that Reverend Buckley and his wife joined their daughters.
‘What did the telegram say?’ Catherine asked instantly.
Reverend Buckley raised his eyebrows, and walked over to the chair at the head of the table.
‘What a situation we find ourselves in, with so little to go on.’ Isabella watched him push his reading glasses back to the bridge of his nose. He only needed them for reading, but never seemed to take them off, his kind eyes peering from above the spectacles when he talked. ‘The telegram was from your Aunt Emily in New Zealand. It seems Hamish has gone missing.’ He rubbed his forehead. ‘She is asking for help.’
‘What do you mean “missing”… is there foul play?’ Isabella asked, feeling her stomach twist.
‘Foul play?’ Catherine gasped.
‘Now, girls, let’s not get hysterical,’ said Mrs Buckley, but Isabella saw a redness brightening on her mother’s neck, meeting her strawberry-blonde hair, not fully succumbed to the grey that was woven through it. She moved to sit down at the table.
‘There isn’t much information. Emily asked for you to join her, Isabella. Of course, that is out of the question. I don’t know what help you could be in this situation…’ Reverend Buckley said this not unkindly, but as if it was a matter of fact. ‘We will write to your brother, but with his family and commitments in London, I think it is unlikely he would be able to take six months to sail to New Zealand and back.’
Isabella sat forward in her seat, eyes focused on her father, her thoughts working furiously. Please can I go, she silently pleaded, to God, or her father, or anyone who had the power to make it so, but she said nothing.
Reverend Buckley returned to his study, and Isabella and Catherine went to the drawing room. Their mother had an appointment to keep in Holt, the small market town five miles away from the Buckleys’ home.
‘Issy, if you were allowed, you would go, wouldn’t you?’
‘Yes,’ replied Isabella, feeling a slight blush rise to her cheeks, because it was not concern for her aunt and uncle that took precedence in her mind; it was the idea she might be able to travel to New Zealand and leave, albeit temporarily, her safe, parochial life.
Catherine let out a deflated sigh. Her elbow on the side table, she rested her face in her hand.
‘I wish Uncle Hamish and Emily hadn’t emigrated. New Zealand is just so far away.’
At lunch the situation was discussed again.
‘Hamish is such a clever, responsible sort, I can’t think how he could have just disappeared…’ Mrs Buckley said with fustration. ‘There will be a cost to travel to New Zealand, and not only financial. Who could take such a length of time out of their daily responsibilities, to travel across the world?’
‘Indeed,’ agreed Reverend Buckley. He paused, absently putting his hand to his heart and stroking the lapel of his jacket. ‘My health will not permit me to travel. So, we are in a quandary. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone in New Zealand whom we can call on.’
Isabella was waiting for the right time to speak, to declare her position. Now seemed as good a time as any. ‘Father, I would behappy to go,’ she said, feeling her heart beat faster, her corset suddenly feeling too tight. She glanced across at her mother, who shook her head with displeasure.
‘Without a chaperone it would be unthinkable, my dear,’ her father said.
‘Surely that is not so! Times are changing, Father.’
‘Isabella, really!’ said Mrs Buckley.
Reverend Buckley searched his daughter’s face and finally said, ‘Let us think on it. No more on the subject now.’
For the next few days, Isabella’s parents pursued every avenue to find someone to help Aunt Emily. A telegram was sent to New Zealand, asking for more information, but no reply came. Reverend and Mrs Buckley spent hours writing letters to friends and acquaintances, asking if they had connections in Auckland.
By the end of the week, it looked like an answer was found. The brother of their son John’s business partner happened to be in Auckland. He would be contacted and asked to visit Emily. Isabella’s parents and sister were jubilant, but Isabella was bereft. She felt as if a waiter had offered her a platter of something delicious, and then as soon as she put out her hand to take it, had whisked the platter away.
‘What is it?’ Isabella called, hearing her father from his study as she walked past. She pushed the open door to see him drop a telegram onto his desk.
‘It seems that our contact is in fact leaving Auckland this very day, sailing to Perth. He will not have time to visit Emily, and cannot help.’
‘Papa…’ Isabella said, stepping forward.
He looked at her and shook his head. ‘I know you would like to go and be with Emily.’ He paused and let out a heavy sigh. ‘We need to find you a chaperone, and then I wonder if it might be a possibility.’ He spoke as if talking to himself, looking out of the window. ‘You would be a strength for Emily, that much is true.’ Then, looking up and speaking directly to his daughter, he said, ‘If Hamish is dead, Emily and the boys must come home. Are you prepared for that?’
‘I think so, but really Papa, he can’t be dead. I feel sure there is an explanation.’
‘Until we know, we have to consider the worst. I will pray on it, and you should too.’
Isabella nodded, left her father and went to find Catherine. She tried to busy herself with the pastel of her sister that she was working on, but uncharacteristically her sitter was distracted.
‘Should we invite William for supper? He might have advice,’ Catherine asked as Isabella outlined her silhouette. Isabella raised her eyebrows at Catherine, who ignored the teasing in her eyes.
Dr William Fisher had moved to Norfolk a few years previously. He came to join a practice in Holt, and, as his parents were old friends of Mrs Buckley’s, he was a welcome and frequent guest at their table.
‘What a good idea!’ Isabella said, knowing her sister’s ulterior motive. Catherine rolled her eyes, and pretended to throw her book in her sister’s direction. They both laughed and Catherine left the room to enquire of their mother.
It was agreed that William should be invited and Nathanael, the groom, despatched with a note.
William arrived at eight that evening. The atmosphere in the room changed as soon as he walked in.
‘Good evening, young man,’ Reverend Buckley said, getting up to shake his hand.
‘Sir,’ William said, with a nod, and with his left hand flattened down his thick auburn hair, before turning to Isabella and Catherine. ‘You are both looking lovely,’ he complimented, with a broad smile, as he flicked back the tails of his frock coat to take a seat.
As he sat down, Catherine announced, ‘We have some terrible news. Our Uncle Hamish is missing in New Zealand. Isabella wants to go and help his wife, Emily, with the boys as they try to find him.’ She blushed at her outburst.
‘Goodness!’ William said, looking at Isabella.
‘I can’t go without a chaperone, but I am hoping one might be found.’
‘It doesn’t surprise me that you would want to go, Isabella, but of course I agree, a chaperone is necessary. It’s a long way.’
Isabella didn’t say that the length of the journey would be a thrill to her.
‘Enough about New Zealand, tell us about your day, William,’ she said.
While he was entertaining them with a story of medical misadventure – always at his own expense – they were called to supper. The conversation was jovial, although William seemed contemplative. He sat between Catherine and Mrs Buckley, but Isabella felt his eyes on her.
The next morning Isabella stood in front of her easel facing Catherine; she was concentrating on getting the green of her eyes exactly right. Her sister was sitting at the window seat in the study, looking out at the late-blossoming hydrangeas and the perfectly manicured lawn.
‘If you do go, what will I do without you?’ Catherine asked. Isabella, aware that her sister was struggling to stay still, did not respond initially, focusing on perfecting the left eyebrow. She got it right, and looked up in satisfaction.
‘I am sure one of our friends will keep you entertained! Perhaps I will come home and you and William will be engaged?’
Isabella watched her sister’s face flush with pleasure, but she said with a hint of sadness, ‘It is not looking promising, though, is it? He is more interested in you than me.’
‘Our friendship is entirely platonic, and you know that. He is thirty-two, he’s like a little brother,’ Isabella said firmly, but she knew that William was drawn to her. When he had visited the night before, he and Isabella had ended up deep in conversation about his travels in India and his work with the Leprosy Mission in the Punjab. He had held a volunteer post at the mission hospital for three years. Just before his first furlough he had contracted cerebral malaria, and returned home on his doctor’s insistence. After much deliberation, he didn’t return to India, but instead moved near his maternal roots in Norfolk to practise family medicine. ‘A small Norfolk town is less romantic than colourful India,’ he had told Isabella, ‘but it has its own charms and challenges.’
Catherine had sat quietly with them, laughing at William’s jokes, and busying herself with her embroidery.
Now, Isabella, focusing on her canvas, sketched Catherine’s right eyebrow, and then put down the pastel to throw another log on the fire in the grate. Her mother always berated her for not calling Hattie to deal with the fire, but if it was just herself and Catherine, Isabella reverted to doing it, however unladylike it seemed. She sighed and stretched her arms up, lengthening her back, and easing the tightness she felt.
‘Would you like to come for a walk?’ she asked Catherine.
‘It’s still too cold. I think I’ll stay by the fire and finish my embroidery.’
‘Oh, my delicate sister!’ Isabella teased.
Catherine smiled with acceptance, and stood up to look at the progress of her portrait.
‘Issy, you have such talent; it’s a remarkable likeness of me.’
Isabella did find satisfaction in art, but she couldn’t paint all day. She gave Catherine a kiss on the cheek in thanks, ignored the briskness in the air and the dull ache in her back and went upstairs to change into her tweed dress and boots.
Once outside, Isabella tied her bonnet close. The Buckleys’ gardener, Walter Olby, was edging the driveway with his spade, cutting off clods of turf to neaten the border of the lawn.
‘Good morning, Walter. Wonderful work you’re doing.’
He smiled, gave her a nod and doffed his cap. Isabella headed off down the lane and crossed the bracken-covered dunes to the coast. The North Sea pounded the beach.
She breathed in the salty dampness and watched the silt-filled waves. Two seals were popping their heads playfully out of the cold swell just offshore. Isabella kept walking, her back to the wind. The September sun had appeared from behind the clouds again and she already felt brighter. For some reason she thought of the cherry tree that she could see from her bedroom window. Its cycle of life seemed to taunt her; changing from naked bark to pale-green shoots, to pink flurries, and then to dark-green leaves. All the while, her life had appeared to stand still. But now, at last, she wondered if there was to be a shift in the coming season. A voyage across two oceans. Could it really happen?
‘Isabella!’ called a voice from the dunes behind her.
She turned into the wind to see William walking fast in her direction. He was dressed in his dark wool frock coat, one hand on his head to stop his hat from flying off. Isabella stood still, waiting for him to be close enough to hear her greeting.
‘Glad I found you!’ he said with a boyish smile. ‘Walter said you were down here. I wanted to talk more last night, but I saw that your parents were tired – I thought it best not to stay late.’
‘Shall we walk?’ he suggested, and they continued companionably along the beach.
‘Aren’t you working today?’
‘I had a visit in the village; old Mrs Hewson’s arthritis has flared up. I thought I would come and see you.’ William paused and looked at her. ‘Isabella, to tell you the truth, I need to talk to you.’
Something in his voice made Isabella stop. ‘What is it?’
He reached out to gently touch her arm, resting his hand on her sleeve for a moment. It was a sign of affection that she was not used to from him, or any man. Glancing up, she noticed that he was sweating. She watched a trickle of moisture run down from his hairline to his neck.
He stepped back, suddenly; something changed in his eyes.
‘Oh, just that I am here to help… always here, that is…’
‘Dear Will, if I don’t find a chaperone, I won’t be going anywhere.’
‘Would it be helpful for me to tell you about my voyage to India? It was quite some time at sea…’
They walked on, but Isabella had a feeling that William was hiding something from her.
The following Sunday, Isabella sat back in the pew after singing the second hymn of the Holy Communion service. She was finding it hard to concentrate, and she guessed her sister was too. She watched Catherine absorbed in teasing a loose cotton thread out of her shawl as they listened to their father preach.
Isabella focused on the stained-glass window to her left. It was of a boat and fishermen. Probably the disciples, she thought. She let her mind wander, and was reminded of meeting a Chinese man who had visited their home when she was about ten. He had sailed from China to England and he spoke English fluently. He talked about brave warriors and the great mandarins, and Isabella was captivated. Long after he left, she requested books on China and wanted to read stories of the country and people so different from her own. The desire to travel was birthed in her at that point, and the feeling that she would be at home with people who were not her own.
As Isabella concentrated on the window above her, she wondered if, had she been a man, she would have joined the navy and sailed to far off ports. As it was, she had only travelled as far as Iona in the Inner Hebrides, and spent a summer as a lady’s companion to a cantankerous old woman in Paris. Isabella knew her role and duty was now with her parents, but the lack of challenge or stimulation she felt was sometimes overwhelming. The sense that she was made for something more and somewhere else was always there.
The following morning Isabella was alone in the drawing room, as her mother and sister were visiting neighbours. She heard a knock at the front door, and the footsteps of Hattie running to open it. There was the sound of a man’s voice she recognised. A moment later there was a tap on the drawing room door, and William presented himself.
‘Hello, Isabella, I hoped you would be in.’
Isabella rose and offered him a chair. He perched on the edge.
‘I am sorry everyone is out, it’s just me here,’ she said, sitting back down.
‘I wanted to talk to you privately, so that is helpful.’
‘What is it?’
‘I am supposed to be on call, so I can’t stay long, but I had to say this… Isabella, would you let me be your chaperone to New Zealand?’ he paused, and then added, ‘As your husband?’
‘My husband?’ Isabella laughed, but her heart fluttered in panic.
William continued quickly, ‘I am sure you know I enjoy your company very much, and our conversations have been the highlight of my move to Norfolk.’
‘I know, William, but…’
‘I am very concerned by your aunt’s letter from New Zealand. I know you are adamant about going to help her and I admire you for that.’ He paused. ‘I think we could be very happy together.’ He took a deep breath and waited for her response.
Isabella felt a flush growing on her cheeks. Could they be happy together? He was very dear to her, but what about Catherine? Of course, there had been a meeting of minds between herself and William, but he was five years her junior, only two years older than Catherine.
‘Please… give me an answer,’ William said with a strained cough.
Isabella saw the vulnerability in his eyes. ‘William… I don’t know what to say. Did you tell anyone that you were going to ask me?’
‘No. I should have gone to your father for permission, but I wanted to talk to you as soon as possible. I woke up this morning with the idea and it seemed so perfect, I couldn’t wait.’
For something to do, Isabella stood up and stoked the fire, her hand shaking on the poker. She thought quickly. She knew William was unaware of her sister’s affection for him and she wouldn’t break Catherine’s confidence. The silence between them felt heavy. She sat back down, took a deep breath and then told him exactly what she was feeling.
‘I cannot accept your proposal; even though it is the most wonderful thing I have ever been asked. I am sorry.’
‘If you don’t want to marry me now, I will wait for you.’
‘I am sorry, William. I can’t.’
The sound of the front door opening and female voices made them both jump.
‘Say no more on this, Isabella, I have been foolish,’ William muttered, walking towards the door. It was opened by Mrs Buckley.
‘William, dear! I hope you are not leaving?’
‘Yes, sadly it was a brief call. I have a patient to visit.’
‘But where is your bag?’ Catherine asked.
‘Ah yes, I won’t need it for this visit, I’ll be back to the surgery shortly,’ he sounded flustered. Catherine looked at him – and then at Isabella.
William gave a brief nod to Mrs Buckley and Catherine, and left.
Catherine sat down next to Isabella, staring at her, waiting for her to say something.
‘What is wrong with William? Did he say anything to you?’
‘I think he was running late, that’s all…’ Isabella said. She stood and picked up her shawl. ‘I must go and fetch my book,’ she murmured.
Once upstairs in her bedroom, Isabella fell into the high-backed armchair next to the sash window. She looked out over the garden and fields beyond, the sound of William’s words reverberating in her ears.
There was the cherry tree, its leaves on the cusp of russet.
Should I have said yes?
After a while Isabella heard Catherine call from downstairs. She got up and opened her bedroom door. ‘I’m up here, I’ll be down in a moment.’
She checked her face in the mirror and tightened her shawl around her shoulders to protect her from the chill. Her back was aching again, and she would have to sit by the fire to avoid further discomfort.
She eventually entered the drawing room. Catherine looked up.
‘You forgot your book?’
‘You said you were going to get it?’
‘Oh, yes, how silly, I got distracted.’
Catherine leaned forward. ‘Issy, I know you will say I am being silly, but I want to help William’s surgery in some way; the stories of Florence Nightingale have inspired me,’ she whispered. ‘I know I cannot make William love me, and if he has said anything to you, you must tell me…’ she paused, but Isabella said nothing. ‘I want to help him, to work with him. What do you think?’
‘Oh, Catherine, I…’
Isabella was saved by the announcement of lunch, relieved she did not have to answer Catherine immediately.
Hawaii, January 1876
Aolani sat on the floor, leaning her pregnant body against the white clapboard wall, as the mynah bird called loudly in the trees above. Focused, she methodically threaded white and pink frangipani flowers into a lei while her father and older brother, Kainalu, sat in wicker chairs nearby and discussed the day. The late afternoon air was warm, freshly pungent from recent rain. Aolani stopped her threading to concentrate on the conversation.
Their father lifted himself out of his chair. He was strong and muscular, but his face was holding the pain of stiffness in his bones.
‘My child, I will go and lie down now. Tell your mother when she returns.’
‘Yes, Makua,’ she said, surprised, as her father never seemed to tire.
When he was inside, she gathered her things, and ordered the servant to light the candles around the house and on the outside lanai. It was not yet completely dark, but Aolani felt a sense of urgency to beat back the oncoming night.
In the early hours her father woke with a high fever and sore throat. Aolani’s mother said it was nothing, he would get better – he was a resiliant man, a chief, one of the ali’i. Aolani wondered if nobility could spare him sickness. Someone said he must have caught something from one of the haole merchants. Someone else suggested it was a curse, that he must have broken a kapu, which weakened his mana.
Aolani took to sitting with him; if she could be close by, it helped her not to worry. She continued to thread leis for something to do, stopping to help her mother cool him down with a wet cloth and try to encourage him to drink. Everyone said he would pull through, but Aolani could only see him getting weaker.
‘He will not die. We will pray to Ke Akua. We cannot even think of his death; if we do, we will be accepting it,’ her mother said firmly.
Aolani watched her brother trying to step into as many of his father’s roles as he could, but some positions he could not take on. Their father was a member of the House of Nobles, appointed by the monarch on the advice of his Privy Council; he was a businessman and chief of his people. He was looked to for wisdom and direction.
Two weeks into the sickness, Aolani was sitting with her father. It was midday, his eyes were closed and his breathing laboured. She held his hand, silently praying. She heard something, and turned to see Kainalu walk into the room. As he did, their father opened his eyes and with a weak arm, beckoned for his son. Kainalu came close, and his father took his face in his hands. Their noses touched, and the chief let out a long breath.
‘My blessing be upon you,’ he said with a raspy, feeble voice.
He then lay back on his pillow, and gave out his final breath.
‘Makua!’ Aolani cried, grasping his shoulders.
Kainalu put his ear to their father’s mouth. She watched Kainalu looking for a pulse, and when none was found, he turned to her, shaking his head, with a look of desolation.
‘No!’ Aolani beat the mattress with her fists and then collapsed into Kainalu’s embrace, as he pinned down her flailing arms. Her mother was there, and Aolani felt more than heard her cry, which rose and broke like a wave through her body, joining her own.
Word got out and soon the house was filled with the wails of grief.
The next day the chief’s coffin was placed in the family’s hale pili. Four attendants, each bearing kahili standards, stood like guards on either side of the catafalque, which was covered in wreaths of flowers. The kahili wavers stood as if carved from stone, while men and women crowded into the open doorway. Outside, a group of singers began a series of songs to his memory. Aolani watched them as if they were strangers singing for someone else, not for her father.
The vigil lasted for twenty-four hours and the next day, two of the chief’s most loyal warriors tattooed the date and location of his death over their hearts. His life would not be forgotten.
When Aolani’s father’s body was burned there was stillness in the air. Just the crackling and spitting of the flames could be heard. No breeze playing with the palm trees. It seemed that even the birds had stopped their calling.
Early the following morning, Kainalu took his father’s remains to the water. Though the family no longer held to the ancient belief that the chief’s body would turn into a god, they still followed the tradition of releasing his ashes into the life-giving ocean.
From the shore, Aolani, heavy with pregnancy, watched Kainalu and ten other warriors row out in their wooden outrigger canoes. A warm wind had returned and the palm trees responded. Strands of Aolani’s hair flickered and danced around her face. The canoes sliced through the waves as the sun rose over Le’ahi, the volcanic ridgeline jutting out into Waikiki Bay. Kainalu, and her husband, Fili, were in the same canoe. Their powerful arms plunged and pulled the paddles through the water. Aolani felt sure she heard her father’s voice in the air, calling her ‘his little wahine’. He had been an attentive father, and she had grown up in the security of his love. She remembered how, when she was a child, he would stop any meeting to pick her up and put her on his lap, or listen to what she had to say. She knew death was part of life, but this was too soon.
The men stopped just past the reef where the turquoise water became dark blue. They moved their canoes to make a circle and chanted a song of lament. The haunting sound was carried by the wind over the waters to the mourners on the beach. Aolani saw Kainalu touch the jar of ashes to his forehead for a long moment. He opened the lid and threw the contents into the ocean as the rise of the swell lifted his canoe. Each man followed by taking the white orchid lei from around his neck and placing it in the water. A floating remembrance to honour a life well lived.
The group of women on the beach let out a high-pitched call to the heavens.
Aolani watched as her mother swayed with emotion. She was tall, regal, with a straight back and dark, deep-set eyes. Her black hair was long and thick with silver strands running through. Aolani did not go to her mother, and she did not join the women in their calls of sorrow. She waited for her husband to come back. She needed his strength.
The canoes returned and Fili walked straight from the boat to Aolani. He was a giant of a man, like her father had been.
‘Ku’u lei,’ Fili whispered as he dropped down to where she was sitting and pulled her close. She could see there were tears in his eyes. She was not the only one to feel adrift without her father and she buried her face in the warmth of his neck.
Tucked against her husband’s body, Aolani watched the waves break on the shore. They sat there until the mourners had departed, but Aolani was loath to leave the beach, the last connection with her father. This was the beach where she had grown into a woman. Her father had sat with her on the sand, helping her walk, then swim. Aolani knew when she and Fili got up to leave this spot, it would be time to look to the future. Time to focus on the child that was growing in her womb.
Kainalu walked towards them. Despite the heat of the sand, he was barefoot, wearing breeches and a loose cotton shirt.
‘Sister, you need to be with our mother. I have to go to the plantation, and I don’t want to leave her without any of her children close.’
Aolani looked out to the horizon and sighed. ‘You are right,’ she said, reaching for his hand to pull her up.
Fili rose too, and put his arm around Kainalu. ‘Tell me what you need me to do.’
‘Mahalo, brother,’ Kainalu smiled, but the weight of responsibility and sadness sloped his shoulders. Aolani put her arms around him and hugged him close, wanting to imbue strength to her sibling, but her reserves were empty. She searched his eyes to see if this grief had opened up the pain of his widowerhood; although long ago now, she knew he still mourned his wife and child.
‘Let us go,’ Kainalu said as he pulled away.
Aolani walked slowly behind her brother and husband as they headed through the palm trees. When they got to the house, she touched the feather standards adorned with kapa cloth which crossed the entrance of the home. They were a sign of nobility, but what was the value of power on earth, when life was gone? Her father could have no influence from the grave. She felt a sickness in her gut, taking her appetite and stealing her joy. She stroked her belly. This baby was her first, and her father would not be there to bestow a blessing on her child.
Aolani hoped for a boy. She would give him her father’s name, Kahanuola. It meant ‘breath of life’. The very thing that had been taken from him.