Far From The Island – 23

“There’s no use in denying it. I know that you’ve been pestering Fiona.” Francis Cunningham glared at his elder brother.

“So the wee lass has been telling tales, has she?” Roddy sneered. “Well, whatever she’s been saying, it’s a pack of lies. I’ve never laid a hand on her.”

“Not for want of trying! And it’s not Fiona who’s been complaining about you, if you must know. On the contrary, whenever I ask her she tells me not to worry, and assures me she’s not interested in the slightest.”

“Oh. Well, then. That’s just fine.”

Roddy, whose ego was a fragile flower, was obviously struggling with the implications of this information, Francis noted grimly. His brother didn’t like being dismissed so casually. Knowing Roddy, that was exactly what was at the root of the problem. It wasn’t that Roddy had any real intentions, but the more Fiona ignored his advances, the more he would press her.

Ella, Fiona’s cousin, had made that exact point when she sought Francis out privately yesterday.

“Fiona says she can manage him, but the more she smiles that lovely wee smile of hers, the more that horrible brother of yours will see it as a challenge,” Ella had pointed out.

And she was right. Until now, his own infirmity and Fiona’s protestations that she was managing the situation had kept Francis reluctantly silent, but now, with Ella’s evidence and his own increasing strength giving him confidence, Francis had decided to confront his brother on the subject.

“Fiona is employed as my nurse and I insist you leave her alone,” he demanded.

Roddy laughed.

“And if I don’t, you’ll do precisely what, my poor, weak little brother? I doubt this wonder treatment you’ve been receiving at the hands of the noble Doctor Usher has made you quite strong enough to play fisticuffs with me. So what will you do, eh? Run and tell Mama?”

“Tell Mama what?” Constance Cunningham, who had decided to pay a call on her younger son with a view to discussing Miss Emily Paterson’s unwelcome visits, swept imperiously into the room. Seeing Francis, fists clenched, squaring up to her favourite son, she stopped in her tracks. “What is going on? Francis, have you taken leave of your senses?”

Constance angrily shook out the skirts of an elegant day dress she had donned in the expectation of visitors to tea who had not turned up. Red silk inserted with cream lace at the bosom and neck, with long sleeves full at the wrist and a double flounce, it was in the latest fashion and quite wasted on her family.

“May I remind you that you are extremely poorly,” she said to Francis. “Far too poorly to be quarrelling with your brother.”

“But don’t you see, Mother, that is just it,” Francis said exasperatedly. “There can be no doubting how much better I am these days.”

“And no doubting how quickly your condition could worsen again if you are exposed to too much excitement,” a voice said tartly. Fiona, who had just returned from her afternoon off, was staring in consternation at the scene before her.

“If you will excuse me,” Roderick said with a mock bow, “I, too, have had enough excitement for one day. I bid you all good day.”

“Are you never off duty, Fiona?” Francis said, as his brother left the room. “I’d have thought you’d have had enough nursing for today, after an afternoon at that free clinic of Matthew Usher’s over in Govan.”

“Free clinic?” Constance Cunningham had tried very hard to be grateful to Fiona for the changes she had brought about in Francis’s fragile health, and this she managed, usually by attributing the greater part of it to Dr Usher. Constance tried to be grateful, too, for the change in Francis himself, who was rarely ill-tempered these days, and had a new zest for life, but in this Constance had signally failed.

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”.