Fiona cast aside her notes.
“Numbers are all very well, but they don’t tell the true story, if I’m honest, Roddy. It’s the twentieth century you said so yourself and yet there are people in Glasgow who are starving, suffering and dying in conditions that are positively Dickensian. The workplaces are no better. Machines are dangerous things, and human beings are just that human.
“Don’t you think you’ve a responsibility to take better care of your employees? Surely there are things you can do to make that factory of yours safer? What is the cost of a few guard rails or protective garments compared to the cost you incur in the loss of an experienced worker?”
She stood up and began to pace the room.
“Besides, it is not just the loss of your employees I’m talking about. These men have families. Families who go hungry when the breadwinner is ill. Families whose children grow up thin and weak if they grow up at all, for the water they drink is contaminated, and the houses you rent to them have middens rife with disease, to say nothing of the damp. These bairns are your future workforce, remember, Roddy.” She leaned towards him pleadingly. “It would take so little to make such a big difference.”
He was silent for a long time. Remembering belatedly that she had promised Matthew to remain calm and rational, Fiona felt a pang of guilt.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I did not mean to get so worked up.”
“By the sounds of it, it is I who should be sorry,” Roddy said bleakly. “I had no idea. Are things really so bad?”
“Perhaps you could come and see for yourself,” she said impulsively. “You could go out with Matthew on his home visits. Speak to people. Show them that you want things to change.”
“Show them that I’m not my father,
you mean,” Roddy said.
“I did not mean to imply . . .”
“Aye, you did, and you were right,” Roddy said with a wry smile. “You’re a shrewd wee thing, and you’ve put me to shame with what you have told me today.”
“Matthew Doctor Usher told
me . . .”
“To stick to the facts, I have no doubt.” Roddy got to his feet. “You were right, facts and figures are all very well, and they are what I’ll need if I’m to convince the board to put money into Doctor Usher’s clinic, to say nothing of fixing up our property, sick pay and whatever else is needed, but they don’t tell the real story. I’ll take you up on that offer to accompany Doctor Usher on his rounds. I make no promises, mind.”
This time, Fiona had no hesitation in taking his hand and clasping it warmly between her own.
“If I’d known that all I needed to do to earn a look like that from you was to promise to pay a visit to the slums, I would have done it long ago,” Roddy said with a glint of his former rakish charm. “It’s a shame you are a woman of principles, else I’d be tempted to ask for a kiss.”
“Now I know that you really have changed, Roddy Cunningham,” Fiona said, extricating herself.
“How is that?” he challenged.
“A few months ago, you wouldn’t have taken the trouble to ask,” she said, smiling to herself as she closed the door on the sound of his laughter.
* * * *
“It’s good to see you.” Matthew wrapped his arms around Fiona and kissed her.
“We’re in the middle of Union Street,” she said, blushing.
He let her go reluctantly.
“We’re like ships in the night these days.”
“I have to take my turn at working nights, Matthew.”
Her big eyes pleaded with him for understanding. Gazing down at her gamine face framed by her silky black hair, the skin which retained the freshness of her island upbringing, and the generous mouth he longed to kiss much more thoroughly, Matthew struggled with the urge to cast caution to the wind and ask her to marry him right now, as soon as it could be arranged.
“I’ve missed you,” he said softly.
She dropped her gaze.
“We knew it would be like this when I started at the hospital.”
The hospital she loved. It was selfish of him to wish she had not quite such a strong vocation, especially since he was just as driven as she was.
“You’re right, of course,” Matthew said. “We did. Only when you look at me like that, I can’t help wishing . . .” He broke off, annoyed at himself for having said even this much. He loved her, of that he was absolutely certain, though whether she loved him he was less sure. He would not rush her, nor would he force her to view marriage as a choice which precluded working, as her friend Ella did.
“Ignore me,” Matthew went on, giving himself a mental shake and guiding her towards the door of the Georgia Tea Room. “I’m just a bit fed up at having to miss the meeting with Cunningham. Let’s get some cake, and you can tell me how it went.”