If you haven’t read Scattered, there are some minor spoilers in the following two scenes. For the first few years I was working on Scattered, I had the Chapter 1 shipwreck taking place in December, so that Maggie was on Sable Island for Christmas. Quite late in the process, I looked up a weather chart to double-check what the conditions would have been like, and I discovered that the average December temperatures range from about -1°C to 5°C, often accompanied by wind, rain, and sometimes snow. If the weather was like that, it’s unlikely Maggie would have been doing half the things I have her doing, so I changed the whole timeline of the novel by five months and had the shipwreck in May. It would still be fairly cold then, but a bit more believable that Maggie would be wandering up and down the beach and riding her beloved horse.
As the shipwreck now occurred in May, I obviously couldn’t have a Christmas Day scene. In the published novel, Christmas was changed to the 8th birthday of Maggie’s little sister Emily. Maggie is on Sable Island wondering where her sister is and what she’s doing. By changing it to a birthday, that still allowed me to have Emily’s 12-year-old brother Jack turn up in Halifax to give Emily a present.
I’ve reprinted the deleted Christmas scenes below. If you’ve read the novel, you’ll notice a couple of other changes. The mare called Sapphire in the published novel was originally a stallion called Star. I changed that after a couple of my horse-loving beta readers told me a mare would be more likely than a stallion to do some of the things I had the horse doing. Also, Collins was changed to Tom in the final version, and Mrs Muldoon ended up on the cutting room floor.
Lessons learned? First, check the weather conditions before writing one word of your novel. Second, have some horsey friends. Third, if you decide to change the name of your horse from Star to Sapphire, don’t do a global substitute because it will also change start, started, starting, startle, starboard and all of those other starry words. Enjoy!
Sable Island, Christmas Day 1882
Maggie had been dreading Christmas. The enforced separation from Jack and Emily gnawed at her heart and the thought of celebrating so soon after the loss of all those souls on the Excelsior was almost sacrilege. But Mrs McDonald had been right. Focusing on the preparations had helped to take her mind off of her troubles, if only temporarily. Now the day was here, she found herself looking forward to it. She’d met a few of the folk from the other lighthouse stations already, but this would be the first time they’d all gathered together. Maggie was just adding the finishing touches to some decorations in the parlour, when Mrs McDonald found her.
‘Well, the roast’s well under way and I’ve got the pudding ready to go in.’ Mrs McDonald plopped into an armchair. ‘I suppose I should be getting dressed, but I need to sit for a minute.’
‘You deserve a rest. I’m sure the others will pitch in when they arrive.’
‘I couldn’t have done it without your help, m’girl. You’ve been a godsend and that’s the truth.’
Maggie felt a lump in her throat. ‘I’m the one who should be thanking you. The way you’ve taken me in and made me feel a part of your family. You have no idea what that’s meant to me.’
They exchanged a glance that said more than the words ever could. ‘Well that’s enough of that,’ Mrs McDonald said at last. You’ll have us both crying and then we’d have some explaining to do.’ She gestured to the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘There’s still an hour or so before the others arrive. I’d say that’s time to give your horse a Christmas present.’
Maggie thought about protesting, but seeing Star was as much part of her daily routine now as breathing. She stopped by the pantry to pick up a couple of carrots, and then headed to the beach.
The air was always crisper along the shore. She instinctively looked over to the sand dune where she’d first seen Star. She’d spent hours in that first week making pencil sketches of him on top of that dune, or at least trying to before he’d see her and head in her direction. She’d managed to cobble together enough images to make a realistic representation and was using them as reference material for the hooked rug she was making.
She took the path around to the lake and found the stallion near the spot where they’d plotted her ill-fated escape by rowboat. At least the memory brought a smile now. It really had been a foolish scheme and the occasional pang in her elbow reminded her of the fact.
She fed Star a carrot and stroked the side of his head. ‘So you’re not in the mood for posing on top of the dune today, Star?’
The horse shook his head and let out a snort.
‘Mrs McDonald thought I was mad for trying to get your image onto that rug. She said it was too complicated. But it’s half-finished now and I think she’s coming around. I just hope I can do you justice.’
Star nudged her coat pocket, and Maggie gave him the remaining carrot.
‘It will be my way of taking you with me wherever I go.’ She cupped the horse’s face in her hands and looked into his soulful eyes. ‘Every time I look at it, I’ll remember how you saved me.’
The noonday meal was a resounding success. Beef was substituted for turkey on account of the plentiful herd on the island, and supplemented with baked potatoes, turnips and carrots. But Maggie’s favourite part was the dessert. The raisin fruit cake doused with custard reminded her of home.
After the adults had been served cups of tea, Mrs McDonald passed around a plate of gingerbread men for the children. Collins reached in and grabbed one as she walked by.
‘I’m a child at heart, you know Missus,’ Collins said as he bit the piece in two.
Mrs McDonald smacked the young labourer’s hand in mock annoyance as he winked at her. Collins had helped Maggie in many ways since her arrival. If truth be told, she thought he may have been a little sweet on her, though she’d never encouraged it.
Before the festivities wound down, Mrs Muldoon from North Station House was persuaded to play some Christmas carols on the upright piano in the parlour. Maggie closed her eyes as she sang songs she had loved in the old country—Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, The First Nowell, O Come all Ye Faithful. It was as if the angels were joining in from some far-off heavenly choir. Maggie’s heart welled within her as she sang.
What were Jack and Emily doing today? She hoped they were together. She hoped they were with a good family who had made them feel at home. Perhaps they were sleeping after a Christmas feast of roast turkey, happy with some new toys they’d been given. The alternative wasn’t worth thinking about. That they were cold and alone, without a kind word on Christ’s special day. Maggie tried to shake the thought from her mind, and let her voice join the angels once more.