“So what do you think, Doctor, is it working?” Francis Cunningham buttoned his shirt back up and pulled his waistcoat together.
Frowning, Matthew put his stethoscope back in his leather bag.
“There are certainly signs.”
“Oh, come on, it’s not like you to be so cautious. I feel so much better. Hardly any night sweats, and yesterday I walked a full
mile without getting out of breath.”
“Yes, but it is possible that the disease is merely taking its natural course. It is relatively common for patients to experience some temporary alleviation of symptoms.”
“No, this is no temporary thing. Ask Fiona.” Francis pushed the screen aside. “You tell him, Fiona, how much better I’ve been. Even my mother has commented on it.”
“It’s true, you have been much less tired of late, and the coughing fits have certainly eased, but like Doctor Usher, I would urge caution.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, can’t you see I’m sick of caution!” Francis exclaimed impatiently. “I’ve been getting better since the start of the year, and I’m going to keep on getting better, I’m sure of it. We can beat this thing, I know we can.”
“Francis . . .”
“No, I won’t listen. I won’t! This is a new century, a new beginning for me, and I’m going to make the best of it.”
“A positive attitude will certainly help,” Matthew said.
“Exactly,” Francis said.
“And perhaps in a couple of months we will have more solid evidence that the treatment is working,” the doctor added.
“We’d better, because in a couple of months I’ll have more than myself to think about,” Francis said.
“What do you mean?” Fiona asked.
“Ever since the New Year, sitting there like an outcast in the midst of my mother’s party, I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t want to spend another New Year alone. You were right, Fiona.”
“I was right?” Fiona was now thoroughly alarmed. “What do you mean, I was right? What have you done, Francis?”
“I’ve asked Emily to marry me, and she’s said yes.”
“Congratulations is what you’re supposed to say. I don’t know why you’re looking so shocked, it was your idea,” he said with a frown.
“My idea was that you see Emily again, not that you ask her to marry you! Does your mother know?”
“Not yet. I wanted to tell you first.”
Seeing that Francis was looking quite downcast, Fiona forced a smile.
“Then I am honoured,” she said, kissing his cheek. “And I congratulate you with all my heart, if it is really what you wish.”
“We love each other, Fiona. If we have each other, then that’s all that matters. At least, that’s what Emily says.”
“And I’m sure she is right.”
“Excellent.” Francis, revived, jumped to his feet and rubbed his hands together. “Right, may as well face the dragon in her den. I’m going to share the good news with my mother. I’ll see you in a few days, Matthew. Wish me luck, both of you.”
As the door closed behind him, Fiona turned to Matthew.
“What do you think?”
“I think he’s a grown man, and I wouldn’t dream of telling him his business. To be honest, Fiona, I’m glad to have a moment alone with you. There’s something I wanted to talk about.”
“Oh.” The New Year’s kiss had not been repeated. It had not even been mentioned between them, though in the immediate aftermath Fiona had spent a good few sleepless hours pondering its significance. But New Year was weeks ago, and since then Matthew had shown no sign of being interested in her as anything other than Francis’s carer.
“It’s about the clinics I’ve been working in,” Matthew said.
“The clinics?” Fiona didn’t know whether to be relieved or annoyed.
“You know, the free ones. I’ve been thinking, Fiona, that you are wasted here. And if Francis is getting married, you’re going to be out of a job. Have you thought of that?”
“Well, no, I – I suppose you’re right.”
“You’re a natural nurse, Fiona, and we’re desperate for help. Why not come with me next week and test the water? There’s so much you could do, and if you enjoy it, you could train formally.”
“Goodness. I could be a real nurse, you mean? It does sound tempting.”
“Come with me next week. I’m sure Francis won’t mind you taking the day off.”
“He might not, but Mrs Cunningham –”
“Never mind her. Think about it, Fiona. Think about the good you could do. And we’d be together. Working together.” Matthew tugged at his cravat, looking suddenly a little unsure. “I’d like to work with you. You must know that I admire you.”
“Oh.” Her heart was beating too fast, the way it had when he’d kissed her. He was looking at her in quite an un-doctorly way, and she liked it. She liked him.
“I, well, I admire you, too,” she said shyly.
“Excellent,” Matthew said in a fair imitation of Francis. “Here, I’ll write down the address. There’s a tram from the Botanic Gardens.” He scribbled a note, then picked up his bag. “Until then. And don’t worry about Francis. Only time will tell with this illness.”
“The odds are against him, though, aren’t they?”
“Statistically. But you know, Fiona, the longer I’m in this business, the more I think that statistics mean nothing compared to the human spirit. Francis wants to live, and Emily has given him a reason to do so. And this is the twentieth century now, after all. Anything is possible.”