They were seated on a bench looking out over the River Clyde, just in front of the new People’s Palace museum. Matthew had listened solemnly and without interruption to her story, and now he was frowning.
“I’ve heard that the Govan Combination Poor Law Hospital, just along from our clinic, is due for a big programme of expansion. You could train there. It’s true you’d get a lot of practical experience, but you’d more often than not be nothing more than a skivvy.” Matthew sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Well, you know what these places are like, Fiona. Overcrowded, poorly staffed, and most of the patients . . .”
“. . . are beyond help,” Fiona finished sadly.
“Exactly. If you want to train properly, the best place for you to go is the Royal Infirmary. They have a real forward-thinking attitude towards nurses’ training, though there’s three months of examinations and lectures to complete before you even begin on the wards. And then it’s four years, Fiona, of dedicated hard work with very little time for anything else. Are you sure it’s what you want?”
“You mean that I’d have to give up working at the free clinic with you?”
“I mean that you’d have to put your nursing vocation first.”
He meant she would have to choose. He meant she could not be a nurse and a wife. But he had not asked her to be his wife, and she was not at all sure, now she thought of it, what she would say if he did.
She cared for him. She respected him. When he kissed her, when he put his arms around her, he was gentle and tender, but never once had she been worried that he’d get carried away. Because Matthew was a gentleman, Fiona reminded herself. And because she herself had given him no sign that she wished for more. Which brought her back to the question of what it was she did wish for.
She had been holding herself in check with regards to Matthew, Fiona now realised. She was not yet ready to let herself love him, though she knew she could, but though she wanted to be married, and though she had always wanted a family of her own, she wanted other things, too. Was that so wrong?
“Why is it that women have to choose when men do not?” Fiona exclaimed.
Matthew laughed softly.
“You are thinking of Ella again. I am not asking you to choose, Fiona. I am merely saying that our own plans would have to be put on hold.” He turned towards her on the bench, his knees brushing against her skirts, and tilted her chin up, looking deep into her eyes. “I’ve barely established the clinic. I have so many ideas, so many plans, I think sometimes my head will explode with them. It’s not that I don’t want a wife and family, I do, but ”
“Not quite yet,” Fiona finished for him.
“Exactly. But I don’t want to take advantage of you, Fiona. I will not ask you to wait if you ”
“No.” Relief flooded her, overcoming her natural reticence. Fiona caught his hand and kissed his fingers. “No. I mean, I agree. We must be patient.”
Matthew smiled, obviously as relieved as she, and jumped to his feet, pulling her with him.
“I’m glad we sorted things out. It has been preying on my mind. Now, I would offer to take you home to stay at my parents’ until you can make other arrangements, but I know you’d refuse and I know that they’d read far too much into it, so instead I’ll take you to a friend of Nurse McKinley who has a boarding house for respectable young ladies. Two of them are nurses at the Royal. You can talk to them, and decide for yourself what you want to do.” He put his arm around her, and kissed her cheek. “The future, Miss Fiona Matheson, is yours for the taking.”