On Distant Shores – Episode 18


“I am a spinster, Mother,” Isabel reminded her quietly. “I shall be thirty this spring. Thirty.”

“You have no idea what sort of men would go fishing for a wife,” Arabella said. “They could be the lowest, basest of creatures! And to marry a man you barely know –”

“I would come to know him,” Isabel protested.

“You will not,” Arabella said flatly. “I cannot believe you considered it for a moment! A missionary’s wife!”

“To be a missionary is a high calling,” Stephen said mildly. He looked at his daughter, clearly troubled, although Isabel was glad to see her father did not object the way her mother had. She was not surprised. Arabella had been born to wealth but Stephen was a self-made man. Her mother had more pretensions to snobbery than her father ever would.

“And to be a missionary’s wife,” Arabella returned, “is to be subjected to all sorts of rude deprivations, to have your children succumb to all manners of dreadful disease, and then die alone in a foreign and hostile land!” Her voice rang out shrilly, and Isabel blinked in shock at the force in her mother’s voice. It occurred to her that her mother’s objection might not come from snobbery, but from concern and even fear.

“Arabella,” Stephen murmured, and with visible effort her mother controlled herself.

“I will not allow it. Your father will not allow it.”

Stephen turned to Isabel with a frown.

“This is unorthodox, to say the least, Isabel.”

“It is respectable,” she insisted. “Allowed by the Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions! How can you object?”

Stephen rubbed a hand over his face.

“It is not,” he said after a moment, “what we ever envisioned for you.”

“And what did you envision?” Isabel asked, her voice trembling with emotion. “To live with you all of my days, an object of pity and even scorn?”

“It is not so,” Stephen said. “You have many pleasant and worthwhile occupations –”

“They are simply ways to pass the time,” Isabel said flatly. “I want more.”

“Isabel, you are not thinking clearly!” Arabella cried. “You are not considering all you would be sacrificing, all you would endure! And to be the wife of a stranger, a man who could be hard or harsh –”

“I hope I have more discernment in choosing a husband,” Isabel said stiffly.

“You are not showing such discernment by presenting such a plan to us in the first place!” Arabella exclaimed.

Isabel turned to her father, knowing her fate lay in his hands. He stared at her sorrowfully for a long moment and then slowly shook his head.

“I am sorry, Isabel. I appreciate that the lot God has granted you in this life holds its own tribulations, but I cannot countenance such a plan as this.”

Isabel’s hands clenched into fists in her lap.

“I am of age –” she began, but her father shook his head.

“You are a member of my household,” he stated flatly. “And if you draw me thus, I will have to speak more plainly.” His face settled into a frown. “I forbid it.”

* * * *

Ian straightened his frock coat and cravat before knocking on the door of the office of the Chief of Surgery, John Collins Warren. Warren had granted him an audience when Ian had written him a note, asking to discuss matters of consequence in regards to anaesthesia, but Ian was under no illusions about his time with the revered doctor. He would have 10 minutes to make his case, maybe less.

“Enter.”

Ian opened the door and slipped inside. Warren sat behind his desk, papers spread out in front of him. He did not rise as Ian came to stand before him.

“Crombie,” he acknowledged, his tone neutral. “You wished to discuss something with me, I believe?”

“Yes, sir. The subject of anaesthesia.”

“I assume you are speaking of the use of nitrous oxide to dull pain,” Warren interjected dryly.

“Doctor Holmes himself suggested the word . . .”

Warren waved his hand in dismissal.

“Continue.”

“I have taken an interest in the matter myself,” Ian resumed. “With a certain gentleman, a dentist.”

“I know,” Warren interjected dryly, “of your rather frequent visits to Hartford.”

Ian flushed. Dr Warren did not sound precisely disapproving, but there was no hint of approbation in his tone either. Ian had not realised the Chief of Surgery was so aware of his movements.

“The time I’ve taken has been my own, sir.”

“I am not interested in explanations or excuses,” Warren said shortly. “What is it you wish to suggest to me, Doctor Crombie?”

Ian swallowed.

“My colleague, Mr Wells, would like to demonstrate the use of ether in a formal setting,” he said. His voice sounded too loud, almost brash. “Preferably in the Bulfinch operating theatre.”

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”.