On Distant Shores – Episode 39

Margaret knew her niece would not listen to any warnings. Ever since Seamus had entered the First School, respectfully asking to learn, Maggie had been unreasonably defensive of him. When his sister Aisling had joined the happy group of pupils, Maggie had welcomed her effusively, shooting Margaret several challenging looks which she’d resolutely ignored. She was delighted to welcome the shy, well-behaved Aisling Flanagan, who at ten years old was a perfectly suitable pupil for the school. It was Seamus, with his deep voice and workman’s hands and broad shoulders, that she did not like seeing there.

That afternoon she asked Seamus to stay behind to discuss his maths work, and sent Maggie to wait outside with her husband’s man who always guarded the schoolhouse door.

Seamus stood in front of her teacher’s desk, his cap in his hands, his head bowed.

“Your maths, Mr Flanagan, is perfectly acceptable. In fact, you have an admirable grasp of all the particulars.”

Seamus glanced up, his face carefully bland.

“Thank you kindly, Mrs Moore. That is very good to hear.”

“I kept you back today not to discuss your mathematics ability,” Margaret said briskly, “but my niece Maggie.”

If anything, Seamus’s expression went blander. Margaret had no idea what the man was thinking, which was disconcerting.

“What about your niece do you care to discuss with me, ma’am?”

Margaret was further disconcerted to hear how well he spoke. He’d learned much in the last month he’d been attending the school.

“She is developing an affection for you, Mr Flanagan. An affection I cannot countenance.”

“I’ve done nothing to encourage such feelings.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Margaret interjected coolly. “However, my niece is young and impressionable and has come to Boston with ideas of adventure and romance, as any young girl might do. The very fact that you’re in this school is reason enough for her to lose her head entirely.”

Seamus stared at her for a moment. Margaret wished she knew what he was thinking.

“I assure you, I won’t do anything to make it worse.” His brogue had thickened, and bizarrely that made Margaret feel satisfied.

“See that you don’t,” she said briskly, and handed him back his maths work. “Otherwise I do not see how you will be able to continue at this school.”

* * * *

Ever since the failure of the ether experiment, Ian had been existing in a wretched fog of humiliation and even grief, for the failed operation felt like the death of his dreams. He’d been working with Horace Wells for years on the use of ether as an anaesthetic, and even as his superiors at the Massachusetts General Hospital ridiculed and insulted him. Now they had just cause to do so, for Horace Wells had made a fool of him, as well as of all their work.

After he’d been practically booed off the operating theatre stage, Wells had pushed past him and stormed out of the room. Ian had not tried to stop him. What was there to say? Wells had failed and Ian had not been courageous enough to force him to step aside.

He’d known, before Wells had ascended the stage, that he was unfit to perform the operation. But Wells had been belligerent and Ian hadn’t insisted, and now he had no idea if they would chance upon such an opportunity again.

When he returned home that evening Caroline was waiting in the front hall, looking pretty and fresh in a pale pink gown with wide sleeves cinched at the elbow, her hair in tight clusters of curls at each temple.

“Ian!” She rose, her face wreathed in smiles, hands outstretched. “Tell me how the operation went. I haven’t been able to sit still for a moment, I’ve been in such a state about it!”

“Have you?” Ian said rather sourly, knowing he was being unfair. “Well, I’ll tell you how it went then. A complete and utter failure.”

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