On Distant Shores – Episode 40

Caroline looked at him in amazement, her smile wavering. Ian turned away, divesting himself of his coat and hat.

“Oh, my dear,” she murmured. “I am so very sorry. Come into the parlour and I’ll have Tilly fetch you a plate.”

It was several hours past their usual suppertime, and Ian hadn’t even had a good reason to stay away for so long. He simply hadn’t wanted to face Caroline and the admission of his own failure.

“Thank you,” he muttered, and followed her into the parlour.

“I suppose it was Wells,” Caroline said as she fetched a little fringed stool for his feet.

Self-consciously Ian raised his feet and allowed her to position him more comfortably. He felt coddled, like a child or
an invalid.

“I suppose,” Caroline continued as she sat across from him, “he needed a bit of courage to perform the operation? And so he partook of that terrible substance.”

“That terrible substance,” Ian reminded her, “is what we hope will be used in countless operations, saving, God willing, many lives.”

Caroline’s expression clouded, and she bit her lip as she looked quickly away. Ian felt even worse. He was angry and disappointed and bitter, but none of it was directed towards Caroline. And what kind of sorry excuse for a man took out his professional disappointments on his wife?

“I’m sorry, Caroline. You are perfectly right, of course. Wells was under the influence of ether when he performed the operation. I tried to dissuade him from going ahead, but he would hear none of it.”

“I’m so sorry, Ian.” She reached over and clasped her hand with his, and Ian gave her fingers a half-hearted squeeze.

“You realise you are now married to the laughing stock of Massachusetts General Hospital? You should have heard the uproar in the theatre when everyone realised Wells had failed. The medical students were laughing like it was the most amusing joke they’d ever heard.” He felt bitterness sharpen his words. The memory still stung terribly.

“It is Wells who failed, not you,” Caroline replied staunchly. “Another opportunity will
arise –”

“Not at Massachusetts.” Ian cut her off. “No-one will forget that failure. It shall follow me all of my days.”

“One forgets failure as soon as one encounters success. You believe in the possibility of ether, Ian. You will persevere, and that is what is important.”

Ian said nothing. He felt too downcast to be encouraged by Caroline’s words; they only irritated him, made him feel like a child who had failed at his lessons, which he knew was unfair.

Caroline drew a breath and Ian tensed, knowing instinctively what was coming next.

“Ian, it seems clear that Wells is unfit to continue your experiments. But there is no reason why you should not do so. If you had your own source of funding –”

“Your uncle’s money, I suppose?” he filled in, his tone sneering, and Caroline met his gaze directly.

“My inheritance. Why won’t you use it, Ian? It is now yours by right –”

“It is tainted by Rydell’s thievery.”

“Then am I tainted as well?” Caroline demanded, her voice shaking. “For I am related to Edward Rydell by blood. I know full well what he did twenty years ago now, Ian, taking your family’s land, but it is my money now and it can be used for good. Don’t you see how using his money would redeem the past rather than have us remain in it?”

Ian said nothing, just set his jaw. They had discussed this too many times already.

Caroline rose, gathering her skirts around her.

“You are acting like a hypocrite,” she said quietly. “For you take the money quickly enough when it pays for fripperies or fuel, or whatever else we’ve used it for. But as for your precious ether experiment, that must come from your own pocket.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“If I don’t understand,” Caroline said as she walked from the room, “it is because you do not wish me to.” She turned at the door to face him, her eyes flashing. “But I believe I understand all too well, Ian. I will not offer again.”

She left with a rustling of her skirts, and Ian sank back into his chair, his head in his hands. He was a hypocrite, a stupid, prideful one, and yet he did not know if he could act differently. His experiments with ether had given him a sense of self-worth that had just been swept away in light of Wells’s failure. Accepting Rydell’s money now would simply be too much injury to bear.

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”.