In 1842, Douglas Elling loses his beloved wife and his young daughter
to a house fire due to some rumors that he is an abolitionist. Three
years later, in 1845, his friend's daughter, Abigail "Abby" Milton arrives
from England to be his ward, intent on finding a new place to thrive and
to forget her past. Troubled by grief, Douglas Elling makes little to no
effort to attempt to befriend Abby, while Abby focuses more on
learning about the Southern culture in Charleston, South Carolina. One
day, as Abby overhears something she shouldn't have, her views and
opinions on Douglas shift, and she slowly begins to change, but will she
change too late?
Set against the backdrop of South Carolina in 1840s, TROUBLE THE WATER by Jacqueline
Friedland is a tour-de-force to be reckoned with. Sweet and tender, this
is a story with a slow-burning chemistry between the main leads, in
addition to plenty of historical facts for readers who are seeking a well-
researched historical fiction novel. It's a story not to be rushed through,
and but one to savor.
What I really enjoyed about TROUBLE
THE WATER is Douglas Elling and his flirtations with Abby, be it
over a play he was reading or when he was encouraging her to pursue
her interests and goals. Abby was not focused on only one goal but had
different ideas for herself than what her parents hoped, and she
pursued them with gusto. I liked that the romance was slow and sweet;
Douglas was a gentleman and much cared for Abby's emotions. Tidbits
about Southern ways of life as well as expected manners are shown
throughout the novel, and I imagine that quite a lot of them will be
surprising. There is also a focus on the Underground Railroad and what
the slaves had to go through in order to escape. I did find myself
wishing the mystery of the house fire had more of a focus, and I also
would have loved to have seen more of Abby's friends while she was a
ward at Douglas' estate. For fans of the antebellum South, slow and
sweet romances that will warm the heart, as well as bits and pieces of
the history behind the Underground Railroad, TROUBLE THE WATER is a read waiting to be
Abigail Milton was born into the British middle class,
but her family has landed in unthinkable debt. To ease
their burdens, Abby’s parents send her to America to live
off the charity of their old friend, Douglas Elling. When
she arrives in Charleston at the age of seventeen,
Abigail discovers that the man her parents raved about is
a disagreeable widower who wants little to do with her.
To her relief, he relegates her care to a governess,
leaving her to settle into his enormous estate with
little interference. But just as she begins to grow
comfortable in her new life, she overhears her benefactor
planning the escape of a local slave—and suddenly,
everything she thought she knew about Douglas Elling is
turned on its head.
Abby’s attempts to learn more about Douglas and his
involvement in abolition initiate a circuitous dance of
secrets and trust. As Abby and Douglas each attempt to
manage their complicated interior lives, readers can’t
help but hope that their meandering will lead them
straight to each other. Set against the vivid backdrop of
Charleston twenty years before the Civil War, Trouble the
Water is a captivating tale replete with authentic
details about Charleston’s aristocratic planter class,
American slavery, and the Underground Railroad.
Douglas urged his horse onward at a feverish pace, gripped
by panic that his wife might have been taken, or his
daughter. The evening’s vacant streets worked in his favor
as the animal tore across the cobblestones, racing
furiously toward his estate. The horse huffed and spat,
sweating into the moonlight, as Douglas struggled to focus
on speed, rather than on his dread. Rounding the corner
onto Lightbourne Street, where candlelight emanated from
the windows of quiet houses, he had the sudden thought that
it couldn’t be today. Whatever that dis- tasteful man,
Wilson Bly, meant by the threat, Douglas told him- self, it
wouldn’t be this very same day when he had only just been
alerted to the possibility of danger. He began to relax
slightly, feeling added relief now that he was so close to
home. He eased up on the horse, slowing to a trot and
patting the animal’s hide in recognition of its exertion.
He and the horse continued east at a lighter pace, and
Douglas inhaled deeply, trying to calm his racing heart. As
the humid air filled his lungs, he caught the scent of
smoke, sudden and sour. His alarm returned afresh, beastly
in its force. Digging his heels into the horse’s sides, he
urged the animal to resume its breakneck pace. They
barreled across the remainder of Lightbourne, and Douglas
began to detect the din of disaster, shouts, and clamor
from afar. As the horse cut onto Meeting Street, Douglas
was greeted by a vision that would terrorize him the rest
of his days.
The Elling estate was alight against the dark night in
roaring, spitting flames. Fire was bursting forth from the
east side of the house, licking its way up the walls,
reaching its hands sky- ward, like crackling, roaring calls
of prayer. There were people running every which way,
bodies emerging and disappearing behind the fog of smoke in
a frenzied crush as they tried to help manage the fire.
Douglas searched the crowd for his family as he rode on-
ward, forcing the horse toward the fire. “Sarah! Cherish!
They could still be inside!” He shouted into the air of the
maddened crowd around him. At the perimeter of the property
he jumped from his horse, still screaming as he rushed
toward the flames. “Sarah! Cherish!”
“No, Mr. Elling!” The family butler ran out from the
masses, from the darkness, and grabbed Douglas’s coattails,
trying to hold him where they stood at the edge of the
“Jasper! Oh, thank God! Where are my girls?” Douglas
shouted over the popping and crackling of the fire.
“Please, Mr. Elling, there is nothing we can do now. Come
with me, to safety.” Jasper pulled Douglas’s arm, trying to
move him back toward the street, toward the faceless crowd
of on- lookers.
“No, take me to Sarah!” Douglas shouted again. “Where
are they?” His voice was eclipsed by the sound of roof
crumbling into the house below it.
“Mr. Elling, I am so sorry!” Jasper leaned close and
shouted into Douglas’s ear to be heard over the commotion.
“The market! I was out at the market!” He shouted that
again, as if his prior whereabouts were the main focus.
“I am so sorry, sir!” Jasper was repeating himself, his
bursting words nearly meaningless to Douglas. Though if
the man was shouting, Douglas reasoned, Sarah and Cherish
must be safe. People didn’t shout at times of death.
There was no com- fort in shouted words.
“Where are they?” Douglas pressed, his eyes searching the