Far From The Island – Episode 14

“Not long to go now. About fifteen minutes, if that clock is right,” Ella Ogilvie said excitedly. “I can’t believe it’s going to be a new century.”

Fiona Matheson looked around the crowded front room of the large tenement flat which Ella shared with three other young women.

“I can’t believe I’m at a party on a Sunday,” she said, pulling a face. “The Reverend MacLeod would have a fit if he could see us right now.”

“Och, away. Even on Heronsay, they’ll be celebrating.”

“Aye. Maybe they’ll have a toast to Father, down the bothy,” Fiona said.

Ella’s merry smile faded, and she gave her cousin a quick hug. Having Fiona here in Glasgow had been so wonderful, and these last few weeks she’d been almost her old self. It was easy to forget the tragedies that were behind her move from the island home she’d known all her life.

“It’s been a hard year for you, Fi.”

Fiona blinked away her tears.

“Father always loved the New Year. Five minutes to midnight and off he’d go out the back door so he could be our first foot. They’ll be holding the ceilidh tomorrow night, since today’s the Sabbath.”

Last year, Euan had been her partner for far more than his fair share of dances. Last year, her father had been strong enough to play the fiddle, and even to give her a birl around the floor. Seeing Ella looking at her with such concern, she managed a misty smile.

“I’m fine. New Year, new Fiona. And new Francis, too. You wouldn’t believe the difference in him.”

“You really think the new treatment’s working?”

Fiona shrugged.

“Oh, it’s far too early to say for certain. I think it’s as much to do with the new doctor, and having someone treat him as if he’s not chapping on death’s door. Even his mother has noticed a difference.” Fiona chuckled. “Poor Francis, when she came up to his rooms yesterday to tell him that he was well enough to attend their Hogmanay party, you should have seen his face!”

“You should have brought him here,” Ella said, surveying the crush with mock dismay. “We’ve not only got the entire close here, I think we’ve got all of Partick.”

“He wanted to come, but I wouldn’t let him. You know how things are with his mother. It wasn’t much of an olive branch, but it could be a start.”

“And what’s that lovely doctor of yours up to tonight? Why didn’t you bring him along?” Ella asked with a teasing smile.

“Goodness, Ella, Matthew I mean Doctor Usher he’s Francis’s doctor, nothing more,” Fiona said firmly.

“You’re blushing. Admit it, he is handsome.”

“He’s very kind.”

“And you like him?”

“He’s an excellent doctor. Francis likes him very much.” Fiona fanned her heated face. “Talking of handsome men, where’s yours?” she asked. Having met John Harrison several times now, she was still struggling to like him, but there was no doubting he was good looking. More importantly, Ella loved him, and Fiona was trying very hard to overcome her reservations about the man her beloved cousin was going to marry.

“He’s gone to fetch us a sherry for the bells.”

“Sherry! If I’m to be a heathen and party on the Sabbath, I’d far rather have some uisge beatha.”

“To be honest, so would I,” Ella said, making a face, “but John thinks whisky is a man’s drink.”

Fiona pursed her lips.

“Have you talked to him yet? About the future, I mean.”

Her cousin shrugged.

“You’re getting married in a few months, and he hasn’t a clue that you’re expecting to carry on working. You have to talk to him, Ella,” Fiona said earnestly.

Ella shook off her hand impatiently.

“I’ve decided it’s better to wait until after the wedding.”

Fiona was shocked.

“Ella! You can’t be serious.”

“You don’t understand. I love John and he loves me.”

“Then you should be able to talk to him,” Fiona persisted.

Ella shook her head.

“I need to prove myself first. Prove I can be a good wife. Prove that I can get along with all the boys at this new school of his. Prove that I can make him happy. A few months, that’s all I need to make myself indispensable, and then I’ll tell him the truth.”

“But, Ella, you’d be deceiving him. Besides, if you make yourself too indispensable, he’s hardly likely to let you go off and work elsewhere. What if he just doesn’t agree with you? It will be too late then, you’ll already have promised to love, honour and obey. And once you’re married there will be bairns to consider. Have you thought of that?”

Ella flushed and pouted.

“Of course I have. For goodness’ sake, Fi, in a minute or two we’re going to be in a new century. It will be nineteen hundred, not the Dark Ages. Just because we’re married doesn’t mean we have to have bairns straight away.”

Fiona stared at her cousin aghast, wondering how much of what she said was pure bluster. That Ella loved John Harrison she did not doubt. But if he truly loved her, she could not help thinking, then surely to goodness they could talk frankly. That Ella felt she could not or would not made Fiona worry more and more that Ella wasn’t anywhere near as sure of the man as she professed to be. But what could she say that would not cause a breach between them?

“I know what I’m doing, Fiona,” Ella said with a hint of sullenness.

“I hope so.”

“What are you ladies looking so glum about?” John Harrison interrupted when he returned, handing each of the girls a dainty glass of sherry and putting an end to the conversation.

As Ella slipped her hand into his arm and smiled up at him with a doting look on her face, Fiona eyed John’s tumbler of amber malt covetously, though she said nothing.

The clock on the mantelpiece struck the first chime of midnight, and everyone in the room broke into cheers. John Harrison gave Ella a chaste peck on the cheek, and politely shook Fiona’s hand, but others were not so reserved. As the last stroke of midnight sounded, strains of “Auld Lang Syne” could be heard from the street, Fiona was enveloped in a series of exuberant hugs and hand-shakings, a fiddle began to scrape, and the shindig began.


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