Return to the Misty Shore
Twentieth Anniversary Edition
by Bonnie Leon
In the spring of 1885, Luba Engstrom meets Nicholas Matroona, a strong, brooding Native from the island of Unalaska. Against her parents’ wishes, she elopes, believing love will be enough to bridge the gap between the civilized world of Juneau and the primitive culture of Nicholas’s small village. After all, before Luba was born, her mother lived on a wild Alaskan island until she was forced to leave when a tsunami destroyed her people. But from the moment Luba arrives at Nicholas’s home, she struggles to adapt and learn the village ways.
Will the conflict between her husband’s belief in ancient gods and her faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer destroy Luba and Nicholas’s relationship?
Was she being foolish? Chasing after a man she didn’t know?
Nineteen-year-old Luba Engstrom had been at the docks when she first saw him. He was loading boxes into a warehouse. Short and muscled, he moved with such grace and power Luba couldn’t help but notice him. His black hair, cropped close to his head, accented his angular features, and he whistled as he sorted and stacked crates, as if he enjoyed the work.
This morning she would return. Maybe he would be there again. She wore her most flattering dress and piled her thick black hair on her head the way most of the white women did. She looked in the mirror before leaving. The lavender in the dress deepened the golden hue of her skin and softened her chocolate-brown eyes.
Already several men had expressed interest in courting her, but Luba hadn’t met anyone who interested her. That was, not until now.
When she reached the wharf, she searched for the man. Almost right away she saw him. His dark hair peeked out from underneath a cloth cap. For several minutes, Luba watched him unload cargo, wishing she could summon the courage to approach him. Finally, with her heart banging in her chest, she quieted the trembling in her hands and, as nonchalantly as possible, strolled down the pier.
She didn’t look at him, but instead watched the fishermen unload their catch. Soon unable to resist, she glanced his way.
At that very moment, he looked up. Her eyes cemented to his. A slow smile lifted the man’s lips, making him look even more handsome.
Luba wrenched away her gaze and turned to regard the boats moored along the dock.
A deep voice came from behind her. “Looks like the fishing has been good today.”
Luba’s pulse thrummed as she turned to face the stranger, who stood close enough that she could see the gold flecks in his eyes. Would he see how she felt? She stepped back and watched the gulls squabbling over tidbits in the wash. Her mind went blank. What should she say?
He leaned against the wooden railing that ran along the pier. “Do you come here often?”
“Yes. I like to watch the boats come and go.”
“I thought I saw you yesterday.”
Her mouth went dry. He’d noticed her. “I wonder about all the places the ships have been and where they are traveling next. Someday I would like to sail away and explore the world.”
“Not me. I like home.” The man stood up and held out his hand. “I’m Nicholas Matroona.”
Luba took it. “It’s nice to meet you, Nicholas. I’m Luba Engstrom.” Such strength in his hand. If only her palm wasn’t sweating.
“Luba. That is a nice name. Where are you from?”
“Right here, but my mother is from the Aleutians.”
“You are Aleut?”
“So am I.”
Luba looked into his dark-brown eyes and knew he was the one she had been waiting to meet.
They talked a little more that day. Nicholas told her how he lived on the large island of Unalaska and had come to Juneau looking for better prices for the pelts his people caught. He explained how most of the natives’ income came from fur sales, so getting the best price possible was important. He’d accomplished little in the way of fur sales since arriving in Juneau, but still hoped to find new buyers.
When Luba prepared to leave, Nicholas stopped her. “I am glad we met. I hope I can see you again.”
She didn’t dare let him know she felt the same … not yet. “You are very bold, Mr. Matroona.”
“Is it wrong for me to want to spend time with a beautiful woman?”
Blood made a hot rush to her face as she met his steady gaze. Luba turned away and watched a loaded barge slosh through the waves. “I’ve always wondered what is in all those boxes.” She looked at Nicholas.
His penetrating eyes were still on her.
“I have to go.” She walked away, then stopped and looked over her shoulder. “I would like to see you again.”
Nicholas lifted a brow and doffed his cap.
Luba hurried her steps. “Slow down. You’re walking too fast.” She picked up her skirt, stepped around a puddle, and sprinted a few paces to catch up with her father.
Erik grinned. “I can’t help it if your legs are too short.”
Luba stepped in front of him, stopped, and planted her hands on her hips. “You’re the one who told me ‘God makes each of us according to His special design.’” A wagon loaded with wooden crates rumbled past. “Are you saying He made a mistake?” She folded her arms over her chest and waited for an answer. She had him this time.
Erik smirked. “Absolutely not. But He does allow flaws. That way we don’t get too cocky.” He stepped around Luba and continued up the muddy street. “You are pretty short,” he cast over his shoulder and chuckled.
“Maybe I’m not short. Maybe you’re too tall—with legs like a wobbly newborn moose,” she called after him in Aleut.
“Cut that out,” Erik tossed back at her.
She chuckled. He had never learned the language of her mother.
Luba gazed at the hills surrounding the town of Juneau. Sunshine created bright splotches of green with deep, olive shadows among the trees. What a beautiful day.
Luba ran to catch up with Erik and matched his steps. Her thoughts wandered to Nicholas. Her mind always seemed full of him.
I need to tell Mama and Daddy about him. She glanced at her father. He’d likely disapprove. Nicholas was a stranger.
The thought of Nicholas’s handsome face melted away her pessimism. He was different from anyone she’d ever known—intense but kind. And not a lot older than she. They’d only met two weeks before, but she was in love with him. It had happened so fast, but sometimes that’s how love worked. And who was she to question it?
Luba and Nicholas met often. Nicholas seemed wise for his years. He looked at the world differently than she, but that made him more appealing. Unfamiliar emotions swept through her each time she thought of him, and when they were apart, all she could think of was seeing him again.
She needed to tell her parents about him, but how? Just the idea turned her mouth dry. He wasn’t from here and his life was unlike theirs.
“You look like you’re off in another world,” Erik said, barging in on Luba’s thoughts.
“Oh. No, I was just thinking.”
Should she tell him? “How beautiful the day is.” She stretched her arms over her head and looked up toward the hills. “I’m so glad to see the sun. It feels good after all the months of rain and snow. I was beginning to think summer would never come.”
“It does feel nice, but I wouldn’t bet that the rain’s done yet. Your mother’s chomping at the bit to get the garden planted. If I don’t get it plowed soon, she’ll be spitting mad.” He looked down the street at the mercantile. “Sure hope the store’s got a good supply of tools. After Joseph got done with my hoe, there’s not much left of it.” He frowned. “I can’t believe your brother tried to make a spear out of it.”
“Thirteen-year-old boys are daft.”
“You may be right.” They approached the store. “It looks like the good weather has brought out the whole town.”
Luba groaned when she saw the crowd. How long would they have to wait?
“Well, I’m in no hurry. The sooner we get done here, the sooner I’ll have to go to work.” Erik held the door and stepped inside. He leaned against the counter and watched the interaction between customers as Luba stood beside him.
A young native man tipped his hat to Luba.
Though she’d never met him, she nodded before turning her attention to a basket of apples sitting beside the front counter. She took one. “Daddy, can I have an apple?”
“Sure. I’ll put it on the bill.”
“They’re not bad,” the young man said.
“Maybe we ought to get two,” Erik said. “Toss me one, Luba.”
She took another apple from the bin and pitched it to her father. Luba looked at the stranger.
Small and agile-looking, he carried himself with confidence. Even dressed in well-used traveling clothes and a frayed cap, he was handsome. His face looked like he smiled often.
She bit into the apple. Where was he from and why was he in Juneau? Juice splashed her mouth as she chewed.
“Good?” he asked.
“Mmm, yes.” She took another bite. “You’re new in town.”
“Just finished school, and I’m on my way home. I plan to teach.”
“And where is home?”
“A small village on Unalaska Island.”
That was the same place Nicholas was from. Luba took another bite of apple. “I always loved school. I’ve even thought about teaching one day.”
“Really?” The man adjusted his cap slightly forward. “Most of the children in my village don’t have any formal education. They learn about living and surviving and nature, but not history or science or literature. I hope to change that.”
The lilt in his voice, the way it rose at the end of each sentence, reminded her of her mother. “Are you Aleut?”
“You speak a little like my mother.”
The store proprietor, Mr. Stevens, stepped behind the counter. “Erik, what can I do for you?”
Erik turned his attention to Mr. Stevens.
“Daddy, do you need me?” Luba asked.
“No, I can manage. Why?”
“Oh, I just had some errands to run.” Maybe she would see Nicholas.
“Go on ahead. I’ll see you at home.”
“Thanks, Daddy.” Luba stood on her tiptoes and kissed Erik on the cheek. “I won’t be late.” She looked at the young teacher. “Good luck in your new job … I don’t even know your name.”
“Well, good luck, Michael. It was nice to meet you.”
He gave her a slight nod. “Good to meet you too.”
Luba hurried out the door and down the street toward a nearby tavern where Nicholas sometimes did business.
What would her mother and father think if they knew she was going to a saloon?
Return to the Misty Shore$3.99 – $14.99
Luba walked down the street, her steps creating a hollow rapping sound on the wooden sidewalk. She stopped in front of the saloon and glanced up and down the street. She didn’t see anyone she knew, so she went inside.
The interior seemed dark after the bright morning sunlight. She stood just inside the door and waited for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. The room reeked of alcohol, sweat, and cigarette smoke. She spotted Nicholas sitting at a table across the room. Why would he spend time in such a place?
He pushed to his feet, crossed to Luba, and ushered her outside. “What do you think you’re doing? You do not belong here.”
“I came looking for you. And why can’t a woman go inside a saloon if she wants?”
Nicholas’s expression hardened.
“I just thought you might like to take a walk with me,” Luba said.
His mouth softened. “That’s not a bad idea.” His handsome face creased into a smile, and he clasped her hand in his.
She could feel his strength and trembled. I love you, Nicholas Matroona.
“A walk, yes. But I do not want you to go into the tavern again. It is not a proper place for a woman.”
Luba bristled at his authoritarian tone.
“Still, I am glad you came to see me.”
He gave her hand an affectionate squeeze, and Luba’s irritation evaporated.
“Where would you like to walk?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere.” Would she get her first kiss today?
They wandered down the wooden sidewalk to a road that ran alongside the bay.
“Do your parents know you’re with me?” Nicholas asked.
“No, but they wouldn’t mind.”
“If that’s so, why do you not tell them?”
Luba’s step faltered. “I will.”
“Soon. Maybe after church on Sunday.” She stopped. “Would you come to church? I can introduce you then.”
Nicholas looked back toward town. “Sure. What time is the meeting?”
“Nine thirty at the little church on Main Street.”
Nicholas raised his eyebrows. “You do not go to the Orthodox Church?”
“No. I’ve never been, but I hear it’s beautiful inside.”
“They usually are.” His tone was derisive.
He seemed almost angry about the church. Why? “When do you plan to return to Unalaska?”
“I still have some bargaining to do here. Plus, I make good money working at the docks.” He looked out at the sea. “I wish I could go today, but I will be here for a few more weeks. I do not like the city—too many people, too much noise. On Unalaska all you hear is the wind, the sea, and the birds. It is peaceful. This place is full of clatter.” Nicholas rested his hand on Luba’s arm. His gaze was tender. “You would like my home.”
Luba’s heart caught. Was he going to ask her to marry him?
“Have you ever been to the Aleutians?”
“Yes. Well, not exactly. Unless you count the time when my mother was there. I wasn’t born yet.”
“Why did she leave? I could never leave my home.”
“She had no choice.”
“There is always a choice.”
“That’s not true.” Luba moved away from Nicholas. “When my mother was only sixteen, a tidal wave destroyed her village. She and her younger sister were the only ones who lived. If they stayed, they would have died. My father helped them survive.”
“Your father? I thought you said everyone was killed.”
“My stepfather. He was an explorer and when he saw that Mama and Iya were alone, he took them with him to find a new home for them.”
Nicholas’s expression softened. “You’re right. Sometimes we don’t have a choice.” He put his arm around Luba’s shoulders. “How did your mother get here?”
Luba liked the feel of his arm around her. She felt protected, cared for. “Mama, Iya, and my father traveled for eleven months. They fell in love and got married. He brought her here.”
“He is a white man?”
Nicholas’s arm tensed.
“Is something wrong with that?” Luba asked.
“No,” he said, but he compressed his lips and turned away.
Anna Engstrom strolled along the street, heading for the post office. The roadway was congested with residents eager to get out and enjoy the first taste of summer.
Happy to be free of the cabin, Evan and Joseph charged down the lane ahead of her. When they met up with four other boys, they waved to her and raced off.
Anna waved back. She wouldn’t see them until supper. Melancholy welled up inside her.
Joseph was thirteen, and Evan fifteen—nearly men. The children had grown so quickly. And her sister, Iya, had moved to Oregon where she worked at the Chemawa Indian School. Anna missed her.
Now that Luba was a woman, she would soon have a family of her own. Anna sighed. Where had the time gone?
She rounded a corner and came upon Luba and a man she didn’t recognize.
Luba quickly stepped away from him and dropped her gaze to the street.
“Luba?” Anna stopped and looked at her daughter, then the man with her.
Luba avoided her mother’s gaze.
“Well, are you going to introduce me to your friend?” Anna asked.
“Oh. Yes. Of course.” Luba turned to the man. “This is Nicholas Matroona. Nicholas, this is my mother, Anna Engstrom.”
Anna reached for the young man’s hand.
Dark eyes scrutinized her as he shook her hand soundly.
“It is good to meet you, Nicholas.”
He offered the briefest smile. “A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Engstrom.”
“Are you a new friend of Luba’s?”
Luba broke in. “Yes. We just met.”
Anna studied her daughter. Was she lying?
His voice pleasant and casual, Nicholas said, “I’ve been in Juneau a few weeks.”
“Do you plan to stay?”
“No. I’m from Unalaska and will be going home soon.”
No one said anything for a long moment. Nicholas finally asked, “Luba told me you used to live in the Aleutians?”
Anna nodded. “Yes, and I do not think it was far from your home.”
Nicholas looked surprised.
“I was young and there were no maps. I’m sure I could find it if I talked to others from the islands.”
“Maybe you should go back.”
“I have no reason. My life is here. It is better to leave the past where it is.” Anna straightened the fold on her sleeve cuff. “I better get to the post office.” She leveled a firm gaze at Nicholas. “I will trust you with my daughter. Please make sure she gets home safely.”
Anna lifted a brow. “It is a mother’s job to care for her children.”
Luba folded her arms across her chest. “I am not a little girl anymore.”
“No?” Anna turned and continued on her way.
Return to the Misty Shore$3.99 – $14.99