On Distant Shores – Episode 12


Ian did not know how to make amends to Caroline. He did not know if he could. The thought of accepting Edward Rydell’s money for his own purposes made his stomach churn and his body burn with a righteous anger he’d thought he’d surrendered long ago. It was nearly 20 years ago that Rydell had cheated Ian of his family farm back on the Isle of Mull, and as an adult Ian could see his own foolish part in the sorry tale.

He supposed it was reasonable for Caroline to expect him to use the funds she had inherited, yet just the suggestion had set a new fury pulsing through him, followed by a deep, wounding regret.

“And I thought I was yours.” Caroline’s sorrowful voice echoed through his mind and heart. He wished she could understand. He even wished he could feel differently. He also knew he couldn’t, and doubted he ever would.

His concerns about Caroline and her inheritance were momentarily pushed aside when Ian arrived in Hartford. He hired a hansom to take him to Horace Wells’s dental practice, already anticipating the rousing discussions they would have, the experiments they might perform. He had been collaborating with Wells for several years, and they’d progressed from using the ether on small animals to using it on themselves. The goal, of course, was for it to be accepted by the medical community at large, but based on the loud opinions of some of Ian’s older colleagues, he wondered how – and even if – it would come to pass.

Horace was in a fever of excitement as Ian arrived.

“Take your coat off, man, and come right into the laboratory,” he bid Ian, shoving aside stacks of dusty books and piles of papers.

Ian stepped gingerly amid the detritus, surprised and a bit alarmed by the way Wells’s house had descended into dust and dirt in the months since he had last been there. Admittedly, as a single man, Wells had never been the most tidy of gentlemen, yet he’d employed a rather dour woman to do the scouring and cooking several times a week. If the state of the sitting-room was anything to go by, she had not been in attendance for some time.

In just his shirtsleeves, Ian came into the laboratory. It, at least, was in a better state than the sitting-room, although he noticed a crumb-scattered plate and a dirty glass pushed to the side.

When had he become so fastidious, Ian wondered, even as he acknowledged that the state of Wells’s house did not alarm him as much as the feverish glitter in his eyes. Together they were most unsettling.

“I’ve been experimenting on myself, of course,” Horace began, and Ian’s eyebrows rose.

“Have you? Without an assistant? But I thought we agreed –”

“I had no choice. You have been busy in Boston.”

Ian did not know if he was imagining the slight note of scorn in his colleague’s voice.

“I have a profession to maintain,” he said stiffly. “As do you.” He glanced once more around the lab. “Have you seen many patients?”

Wells simply shrugged in response.

“There are more important things to attend to.”

“I agree the research is paramount,” Ian said after a moment. He felt a deep and growing unease at the state of his friend. “But there are professional obligations –”

“Well, we can certainly make use of your professional status,” Wells interrupted, his tone turning sardonic. “The only way for the use of ether to be accepted by the medical community is to perform an experiment in public.” He paused, his face flushed, triumphant. “And what better place than the operating theatre of the Massachusetts General Hospital?”

Ian stared, excitement and trepidation warring within him. He agreed with Wells in principle, but the reality was that attempting to arrange such an experiment could cost him his position – and thus his livelihood. Then he really would have no choice but to rely on Rydell’s money.

Wells narrowed his eyes.

“You’re not frightened, are you, Crombie?” he asked softly.

Ian stiffened.

“Of course not,” he said, knowing he was being drawn by the most obvious and base of methods, yet unable to respond in any other way. He drew himself up, his expression cool. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good.” Wells was already rolling up his sleeves. “Now, let’s get down to business. I want you to put me under the ether, and operate on my arm.”

“We’ve done this before –”

“This time you’re only to give me enough for my eyelids to flutter. We’ll see how low the dosage can go. That will give those stuffy surgeons in Boston something to think about.”

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.