On Distant Shores – Episode 50

Gathering his hat and coat, Ian headed out to the humid summer night with Peter Smythe at his side. They chatted inconsequentially about hospital matters as they walked towards the Union Oyster House, and it wasn’t until they had a dozen oysters each in front of them that Ian realised the real reason Smythe had invited him out.

“It’s a good business you’re finished with that ether nonsense,” he said, and Ian stilled.

“I wouldn’t say finished,” he answered, even though he knew he’d said as much to Caroline. “One failed experiment hardly ends the matter. Scientific progress would not exist under such strictures.”

Smythe prodded one of his oysters rather doubtfully.

“I suppose, but it’s a dodgy business, Crombie, don’t you think? That Wells fellow . . . he’s a loose cannon if I ever saw one. I won’t say a word against ether, because what do I know of the stuff? But I’d stay away from Wells, if I were you.”

“Why?” Ian asked sharply. “What has he done?”

Smythe shrugged uncomfortably.

“I’ve seen him outside of the hospital, wandering about and looking half out of his mind. Muttering things, too, not nice at all. Quite a nasty character, if you ask me.”

“Quite,” Ian murmured, his mind spinning. He hadn’t even known Horace Wells was still in Boston. The failed experiment had obviously affected him badly, but had it sent him over the edge into addiction and madness?

“Now, what do you think of Anderson’s latest record?” Smythe asked cheerfully, clearly feeling that his duty to warn Ian had been dispatched. “Removed a tumour in forty-two seconds.”

“And the patient bled to death,” Ian said shortly. “Hardly a success.”

“There’s nothing we can do about that,” Smythe answered with a shrug.

Ian did not bother to reply.

If the operation had been conducted under ether, the surgeon could have taken his time, staunched the blood. If only other medical men could see the use of it, and be convinced to try again.

Ian was still thinking about his ether research when he took his leave of Smythe and headed back home. Guilt settled upon him as he realised Caroline would be waiting, perhaps worried, since he’d sent no message. She wouldn’t rebuke him, though, and that only added to his guilt. He did not know how to solve the matter and make up with his wife – save doing that which he knew he could not, accepting Rydell’s money.

“There you are, Crombie.”

A few steps from his front door Ian faltered, blinking in the gloom.

“Wells?” he asked uncertainly, for the man barely resembled the esteemed dentist he’d been a few weeks ago. His hair was unkempt, his face smudged with dirt, his eyes wild. “You don’t look well, man.”

“Don’t I?” Wells let out a wild laugh. “And I wonder who is to blame for my fall in fortunes, Crombie!” He came towards him, his hands balled into fists at his side.

Ian stepped back, conscious now of a very real danger.

“Speak sense, Horace,” he said urgently. “There need be no blame –”

“But I blame you,” Wells answered as he took another menacing step towards Ian. “For suggesting I wasn’t fit to perform the surgery! Doubting me every step of the way. Is it any wonder I failed?”

“What’s done is done,” Ian said evenly.

He gauged the distance between him and Wells, wondering if he could subdue the man and get to his door. He was not a fighting man, and the thought of two doctors brawling in the street made him wince. If anyone saw, it could be the ruination of his career.

“Come inside, Wells,” he said after a moment. “My house is right here. Come inside and we’ll talk.” Although he did not relish the idea of bringing Wells, unstable as he was, into his house, he saw no other way to subdue the man.

“I know where your house is, Crombie,” Wells answered. “I’ve been waiting here half the night for you.”

All Ian saw was the glint of moonlight on metal as Wells came towards him, one arm raised in a menacing arc.

“Horace –” he began, and then felt a searing pain in his chest. With one hand still stretched out to appeal to his one-time friend, he fell to the ground, and all was darkness.

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”.