On Distant Shores – Episode 52

Ian blinked slowly in the dim lighting, every muscle in his body aching unbearably. He took a breath and felt a sharp, stabbing pain in his chest. He tried to raise his hand to examine where he was hurt, but the effort cost him too much and his arm fell uselessly back to the pillow.

“Ian! Thank heaven you’re awake.”

He blinked again and Caroline came into focus, her face pale, her eyes anxious. He turned his head and saw he was in his own bedroom, the curtains drawn against the weak morning sunlight. He could see twists of paper that held medicine powders on the table by the bed, and fresh linen bandages folded on a chair. Judging by all this, he’d been bed-ridden and unconscious for some time.

“What happened?” His voice sounded croaky and hoarse.

Caroline bit her lip.

“Don’t you remember?”

“No . . . wait.” He closed his eyes, the memories filtering slowly into his consciousness. He’d been walking home from the hospital, no, from the Oyster House where he’d shared a meal with a colleague who had warned him about proceeding with the ether experiments. And then, right outside the door, he’d come across Horace Wells, looking almost mad. He’d had a knife – Ian had seen it flash in the moonlight.

He opened his eyes and stared at Caroline.

“Did Horace Wells attack me?”

She nodded unhappily.

“I saw it from the window. I was looking for you, since you were so late, and I saw him raise his arm, the knife in his hand . . .” She drew in a ragged breath, her eyes shadowed with memory. “Oh, Ian, I’ve never been so afraid. I ran outside at once.”

“You shouldn’t have. He could have harmed you.” He struggled, uselessly, to raise himself in his bed. “He didn’t, did he?”

“No, he did not. He was raving, Ian, and out of his mind. After he attacked you he turned the knife on himself.”

“God have mercy on his soul.” Ian shook his head, too dazed to comprehend fully the extent of the evening’s horror.

“I’m afraid there was a great commotion. The neighbours came out, and someone fetched one of the police. They took Doctor Wells away.”

“He’s not dead?”

“He wasn’t when they took him, but I don’t know. He was bleeding terribly.”

Ian grimaced, pain shooting through him as he tried to settle himself more comfortably against the pillows.

“I hate for you to have witnessed such a scene.”

“I hate it, too,” Caroline answered with a trembling smile. “Ian, I thought he’d killed you!” Her eyes turned glassy with tears and she blinked rapidly, her voice becoming choked. “I thought you were dead.”

Ian managed a small smile, even though his whole body ached abominably, and his chest where Wells had stabbed him still throbbed with a red-hot pain.

“It will take more than a single stab wound to finish me off, I daresay. You’re stuck with me, for now at least.”

“And happily so.” She touched his hand lightly, as if afraid to hurt him, and drew a shuddering breath. “Ian, this whole business has made me realise how wrong it’s been of me to try to force you to take Uncle Edward’s money, and how childish I’ve been in holding it against you, and letting it come between us. I hate to think I might have lost you when we still had ill feeling towards one another.”

Ian could see how sincere and anxious Caroline looked, her face pinched, her teeth sunk into her lower lip, and he struggled to respond. He could not bear to think of his ether research now, or her uncle’s money, and yet even in his pain-clouded state he recognised the truth of her words, and knew he had been distant from his wife for far too long.

With effort he reached for her hand and grasped it loosely.

“If anyone has been childish, Caroline, it is I, for holding a grudge for nigh on twenty years.” He drew a breath, the movement making his chest throb once more. “I’m sorry for letting the past diminish our present, and even our future. I pray it will no longer be so.”

Caroline smiled and gently squeezed his hand.

“We needn’t talk about that now. I just want you to get well.”

Ian nodded, fatigue crashing over him once more.

“I will,” he promised, even as he closed his eyes. “I still have work to do here.” And then, with Caroline still by his side, sleep claimed him.

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”.