On Distant Shores – Episode 01

“Ether is a dangerous substance and utterly inappropriate for use in a hospital.” James Henderson’s voice rang out across the salon, leaving a ripple of speculative murmur in its wake.

Seated on a cream divan, Caroline Crombie tensed even as she kept smiling. Across the room she saw her husband, Dr Ian Crombie, stiffen as well, colour flaring into his pale face, and she gave a tiny shake of her head.

After a second’s pause Ian heeded her silent warning, and he managed a rueful smile, though his eyes still looked troubled.

It was an ill-kept secret that Ian had been experimenting with the use of ether as an anaesthetic for the last five years. He funded these experiments with his own time and money, and yet still they were disapproved of by Boston’s medical community. James Henderson might have been choosing to be deliberately provocative, considering he was currently a guest in the Crombies’ salon, but his opinion was no more than what most of the other guests in the stuffy room thought, if they had an opinion at all.

Henderson was continuing to bluster, Ian noticed, but interest had thankfully died when he refused to take up the argument.

Ian suppressed a sigh, his glance straying to the clock on the mantel. When Caroline had suggested these salons, fashioned after the ones that took place in a libertarian France, as described by the eminent Monsieur Tocqueville who had graced the American shores in the early 1830s, he had agreed. They’d both envisioned argument and lively debate, the exchange of ideas – or, at least, the respect of them. Instead they encountered men like Dr Henderson, determined to pontificate, as well as resist anything that hinted at innovation.

A staid matron dressed in pink satin launched into a lengthy description of her pallid daughter’s charms. Ian took the opportunity to excuse himself.

He strode out of the room to the balcony overlooking a quiet and peaceful Charles Street. A balmy spring breeze caressed his flushed face and his fingers curled around the wrought-iron railing.

A year ago he never would have been able to afford a house such as this. Their new wealth rested uneasily on Ian, considering he had not earned a penny of it himself. A year ago Caroline’s uncle, Edward Rydell, had died, leaving her an unexpected fortune.

Five years ago Rydell had been disgraced in Boston when his name had been linked with that of a counterfeiter, Matthew Dearborn. Ian had been present the night Dearborn died, had watched the wretched man be engulfed in the flames of a fire he had started by his own hand, fed by thousands of counterfeit bills he’d been storing in a harbourside warehouse.

Ian had been partly responsible for identifying Rydell’s role in the crime, yet as a nobleman, Rydell had escaped the hand of the law and had returned to Scotland to live out his days in quiet anonymity. He’d sold his estates and invested the money in wiser and more lawful investments, so that when he died, there existed a tidy sum for his only heir – Caroline.

It was hardly a fortune, but it was enough money to buy this house and see them situated comfortably in Boston, allowing them to live in the manner to which Caroline had always been accustomed. Ian knew he should be grateful, but the fact remained he wasn’t the one providing for her at all.

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”.