On Distant Shores – Episode 19


Dr Warren’s words seemed to echo in the sudden frosty stillness of the room. Ian could feel his heart thumping hard under his shirt. Had he just jeopardised his position? If so, then he would be dependent on his wife’s inheritance – the fortune of Edward Rydell.

“You have been a doctor here for how long?” Warren asked after a moment. “Five years?”

“Six.” Ian swallowed. He tried not to fidget like a schoolboy under Warren’s narrowed gaze.

“Not as long as all that, then,” Warren mused. “I have been here since the doors of this institution opened in eighteen twenty-one. Nearly twenty years.”

“Your accomplishments are well known, sir,” Ian said, hoping he did not sound sycophantic. He spoke the truth. John Collins Warren had helped to found the hospital, established the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery, and had also served as Dean of Harvard Medical School. His surgical skills were unparalleled.

Warren smiled wryly.

“Thank you, Crombie, but such flattery is not necessary.”

Ian flushed again. He wished he had not risen to Wells’s juvenile challenge, accusing him of cowardice. To think he might have just jeopardised his entire future by putting forth such a bold suggestion.

“I am willing,” Warren said abruptly, “to consider it.”

Ian blinked.

“You are?”

“Do not sound so incredulous. I did not say I thought this idea would have a successful outcome.”

“No, sir,” Ian said quickly. His mind reeled with the implication of Warren’s words. He realised he had never truly expected the Chief of Surgery to consider allowing Wells to experiment in the revered Bulfinch Theatre.

“In fact,” Warren continued, his tone turning censorious, “I have every belief that it will be a dismal failure. The idea that any substance could completely numb the human body boggles the mind.”

“That it does, sir,” Ian agreed, and Warren favoured him with the faintest flicker of a smile.

“And it is that possibility that makes me agree to your preposterous suggestion,” Warren finished. “Write me a formal proposal, Crombie, and I will put my stamp upon it.”

“Yes, sir.”

Warren nodded his dismissal.

“It will not be I who is the fool when this all turns out to be a humbug,” he said, and Ian swallowed.

No, he would be the fool. Still, Warren’s warning could not diminish his ebullient mood as he returned home that night, intending to send a letter to Wells in the next day’s post.

He whistled as he hurried up the walk, throwing off his hat and cloak before coming into the drawing-room and sweeping a bemused Caroline into his arms.

“What is the meaning of this?” she exclaimed, laughing, after Ian had kissed her soundly.

“John Collins Warren, the Chief of Surgery, has agreed to allow us to perform a surgery with the use of ether, and in the Bulfinch Theatre, no less!”

Caroline drew back a little from him.

“Us?”

“Wells and me, I mean,” Ian clarified, and Caroline slipped from his arms.

“Odd,” she said, her hand to her throat. “I thought you meant you and me.”

Ian stared at her in bewilderment.

“Surely you could not think . . . the Bulfinch Theatre . . .”

“Of course I did not think I would be present,” Caroline said, her voice sharpening. “I am not quite so deluded. But I did think, for a moment at least, that the successes in your research were mine also, as your wife. That you wished to share them with me.” Her voice trembled and she turned away. “Silly me.”

This was about Rydell’s money, Ian thought with a pang of irritation. Caroline could not let go of the fact that he refused to use it and in consequence she saw everything as a slight.

“The success belongs to both of us, Caroline,” Ian said evenly. “Of course it does. No matter what funds I use.”

“I am afraid I disagree,” Caroline said softly. She turned back to face him, her lovely face pale, her eyes wide and sad. “You have never shared your research with me.”

He let out an annoyed huff of breath.

“If you mean do I keep you informed of all the particulars, then, as a woman . . .”

She shook her head.

“No, Ian. I fear it is something you will never understand, and that makes it all the harder. I hoped we would be partners, of a sort. At least in heart and mind. But ever since I offered my inheritance you have withdrawn from me with both. And it grieves me sorely.” She smiled sadly, her lips trembling. “Which, in turn, I fear, only annoys you more.”

Ian stared at her, wishing he could offer words of comfort, yet not knowing what they would be. He knew she was, at least in part, correct in her suspicions. He had drawn away from her rather than face a battle about Rydell’s money. He just hadn’t realised she’d noticed.

“Caroline –” he began, but she shook her head, her eyes now bright with tears.

“Let us not speak of it,” she murmured, and brushed past him into the hall.

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”.