Glasgow, May 1900
“Congratulations to you both,” Fiona said, raising her dainty glass of sherry in the air.
“Thank you.” Ella noted that her cousin was just pretending to sip the sweet wine, but the hotel waiters would not have dreamed of offering a woman the whisky she knew Fiona would have much preferred as a toast.
Ella smiled nervously and clung tighter to the arm of the man by her side. Her husband. She was now Mrs John Harrison!
Holding out her left hand so that Fiona could admire the simple gold wedding band, Ella stole a glance up at John. He was so handsome, and she loved him so much. That tiny quiver of doubt she’d had at the altar just before she made her vows was nerves, nothing more, she told herself as she listened to John tell
Dr Usher about the school tenure he was to take up next week.
It was unusual for a new staff member to begin mid-term, but the man John was due to replace had taken ill suddenly. As a consequence, they had been obliged to bring their wedding forward, and would only have a few days in Rothesay for their honeymoon before it would be goodbye to Glasgow and hello to their new life.
Ella’s stomach quivered again. She still hadn’t found the right moment to talk to John about her own ambitions, what with the wedding and making arrangements for the move and handing her private pupils over to another tutor. But there was no need to fret, she told herself firmly. It wasn’t as if she doubted she would receive John’s full support when she did broach the subject. She had never hidden her desire to teach in a school. He realised, of course he did, that the reason she was so supportive of his own career was that she aspired to have the same herself. She would talk to him. Perhaps when they were alone on honeymoon.
She lifted her husband’s hand and pressed a tiny, nervous kiss on his palm.
“Ella? Is something wrong?”
“No, silly. Everything is perfect.” She stood on tiptoe to whisper in John’s ear. “I love you.”
Her husband blushed fiery red. He was not a demonstrative man, but his fingers tightened around hers, and the look he gave her made Ella’s cheeks colour, too. He loved her. She loved him. Everything would be fine. This time the smile she gave Fiona was full of her old confidence and ablaze with happiness.
“Good luck!” Fiona shouted as she waved Ella and her new husband off.
“She seems very happy,” Matthew said.
“But you’re still worried about her?”
Fiona was obliged to laugh.
“You’re too perceptive, Doctor Usher.”
Matthew smiled down at her and tucked her hand into his arm.
“It’s early yet. Why don’t you walk with me on Glasgow Green, and tell me what’s really worrying you. No, don’t try to pretend it’s just Ella. You’ve been on edge all day.”
As they left the small function suite and made their way towards the park, Fiona was torn between the need to confide in Matthew, for she had no idea where she would even spend the night following her dismissal by Mrs Cunningham, and the equally strong urge to keep her own counsel. She was being daft, she knew that, for if anyone could help her it was Matthew, but still there was an independent streak in her which stubbornly wished to solve her problems entirely by herself. And a bit of her, if she was honest, shied away from what Matthew and others might read into her turning to him for assistance. Yet she had no real option. As they crossed through the park gates, she took a deep breath.
“I’ve been dismissed,” she said, and recounted the confrontation with Mrs Cunningham. “I know that I could go back and have Francis take up my case, but I won’t spend another moment under that woman’s roof. In a way, she’s done me a favour. She’s provided the jolt I needed to sort out my future, but I have to confess I have no idea where to start. I want to be a nurse, but how best to do that, and where?”