A Race Against Time – Episode 01

Christian was feeling rather pleased with himself. He had just come from receiving his results for a particularly vicious exam he had sat early last week. Not only had he done well, he had come top of the class.

The issue had been that Christian’s father, Sir Henry Grenfell-Darling, had been disappointed that Christian wanted to attend university. The family held property – a significant amount – in London, Shropshire, Oxfordshire and Leicestershire.

Christian’s father had never attended university and proclaimed it hadn’t precluded him from managing their huge fortune and estates. He was old, he said, and Christian should take up some of his responsibilities when he came of age at twenty-one.

As an only child and heir to that huge fortune Christian had the ability to wrap his father around his little finger.

His father gave in on the understanding that Christian would take up his duties once he obtained his degree, or, if he was “no good at it” then he must return home immediately.

But now, with such outstanding results, Christian knew beyond any reasonable doubt that he had made the right decision attending this marvellous and prestigious university, and decided 1901 was going to be his year.

Christian blew into his hands. Despite his high excitement, it was bitterly cold. The grounds around the university were thick with frozen snow.

He looked ahead of him and noticed a young woman leaving the library at great speed. Unfortunately, she’d come a cropper and had fallen head first on to the ice at an awkward angle.

Christian practically skated to her side. He helped her up, brushed her down and threw her bag of heavy books over his shoulder.

When he looked at her properly he noticed she had been crying.

“I’m – I’m a medical student,” she said, trembling and shivering where she stood.

The fall had caused her great distress. Christian, after checking she had suffered no broken bones, insisted on leading her to the nearest tea shop, just off the university grounds, for a reviving cup of tea.

“It’s all right, I’ll be fine,” she said.

“No. I insist. It was a bad fall. As a medical student, you must know that shock can creep up on you. It would be remiss of me to let you walk away without making sure you are fully recovered.”

She smiled.

“Very well,” she said. “I do feel a bit shaky.”

The windows to the tea room were steamed up. A fire in the grate made it warm and welcoming. It was a tea room he frequented.

“What stray have you got there, Christian?” the landlady, Mrs McFadden, asked.

“This young lady is no stray,” he said. “She is soon to be a doctor.” He winked at the young woman. “And she is a damsel in distress. We are in dire need of hot, sweet tea, if you please, Mrs McFadden.”

When the tea arrived Christian produced a silver flask from his overcoat pocket.

“Brandy,” he said. “Just a dribble. I’m reliably informed it’s the best medicine for shock. Far better than any concoction they might brew in those hospital laboratories.”

The young woman placed a trembling hand over her cup.

“I shouldn’t.”

“I insist.”

“You do seem to insist a lot,” she said.

“I’m known for it,” he said gaily.

Her accent was like a song, soft and melodious. Christian had never heard that particular accent before. He smiled as she accepted a spit of brandy in her tea and sipped at it.

“Thank you. I feel a little less shaky now,” she said.

“Good. Now, why don’t you tell me why you were crying?”

“I wasn’t exactly crying. I was more . . . more upset.”

“Well, you were upset enough to produce tears.”

The girl smiled and reached down to look at her hands.

“Of course, you do not have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Christian said. “After all, it is none of my business.”

She stared at Christian with eyes as big as saucers and didn’t answer so Christian tried another tack. He wasn’t one for giving up.

“Is it the recent news that Queen Victoria has passed away?”

“No, although that is very sad news.”

“Have you failed an exam?”

“Never!” she said resolutely.

“Is it . . .?”

“Do you have something in your pocket that can dull the pain of a broken heart?” she interrupted.

“I’m afraid not,” Christian said. “But you can have my friendship if it will help to dull it to an ache.”

She laughed gently, and held out her tiny, cold hand, which Christian took in his.

“My name’s Elswita Williams.”

“And I am Christian Grenfell-Darling. First-year mathematics student and all-round knight in shining armour.”

“Nice to meet you, sir,” she said, giving a little bow over the table.

And at that moment, a new friendship was built on laughter and sadness.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.