Far From The Island – 05

For a few seconds, the only sound in the drawing-room was the ticking of the clock, as Fiona’s new employer stared at her in amazement.

It was obvious to Fiona that Mrs Cunningham thought her outspoken, but she refused to look away, sticking out her chin stubbornly and trying not to think about the consequences. After a terrifying moment, to her utter bewilderment, Mrs Cunningham laughed. A brief sound, more like a bark than a chuckle, but it was definitely a sign of amusement.

“Then I sincerely trust, Miss Matheson,” she said, getting to her feet and extending her hand, “that we will learn to respect each other, for I suspect I would not like to earn your disapproval.”

For the first time since they had met, Fiona noticed that Mrs Cunningham’s smile reached her eyes.

“For my part, I am glad to be here,” she said cautiously, wondering if this would prove to be the truth. Though she undoubtedly cared for her son, Mrs Cunningham’s feelings were not unequivocal. There would be opportunity aplenty, it seemed to Fiona, for her to disagree with this formidable woman.

“I will take you to see Francis directly.”

Fiona turned to follow Mrs Cunningham up the broad sweep of stairs to meet, for the first time, the young man she had agreed to nurse.

Francis had, in defiance of his invalid state, dressed formally for the occasion in a three-quarter-length sack coat with matching trousers, a mustard waistcoat and a striped shirt. A brown neckerchief took the place of a collar and tie, and though his mirror told him his pale blue eyes were rather hollow, his cheeks gaunt, and his complexion rather pale, he felt he could just about pass muster.

A sharp rap on the door heralded the arrival of his mother and the female who would be his nurse.

“This is Miss Matheson, Francis,” she said, sweeping into the room, “who has come to be your –”

“Nanny,” Francis said.

“Companion,” his mother said smoothly. “You will forgive my son’s ill manners,” she said, turning to the girl by her side. “Francis feels –”

“Francis feels he has no need of a nursemaid,” Francis interrupted bitterly. “I am not done for just yet, Mother.” As if to contradict this statement, he fell into a paroxysm of coughing which had him collapsing into a chair, wheezing, his eyes streaming.

“As you can see,” his mother said, unable to hide her distaste, “my son is more of an invalid than he cares to acknowledge.”

Mortified, but still too busy trying to catch his breath to speak, Francis glowered.

“Perhaps it would be better if you left Francis and me alone to get acquainted.” Miss Matheson spoke for the first time.

She had a pretty voice, the Highland lilt softening her words. Eyeing her cautiously, Francis was surprised to note that she was quite young, and very pretty, which was much better than the harridan he had pictured, but at the same time much worse.

“Perhaps that would be best,” his mother said, failing to disguise her relief, and Francis drew her a sardonic look which she ignored. “I will have them send your things up, Miss Matheson. Your room is adjacent to this one; that way you will be able to hear Francis’s bell.” With a curt nod, she left the room.

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”.