Evelyn Darby, née Crawford, was born in 1822 in York Street, Dublin, the eldest of three daughters of Surgeon William Crawford and his wife Maria. Dr Will Fitzgerald’s mother, Sarah, was born in 1824 and the youngest daughter, Keziah, was born in 1830. Evelyn and Sarah always disliked each other, and this was compounded by the fact Keziah was their parents’ favourite daughter. Matters would come to a tragic head in April 1844.
Evelyn and Sarah had taken Keziah for a walk and while arguing, they hadn’t noticed Keziah had run on ahead of them. They searched for her and discovered Keziah had been knocked down and killed by an omnibus. As the eldest daughter, Evelyn knew her father would blame her for not keeping a closer eye on Keziah. So while Sarah was speaking to a police constable, Evelyn gave in to cowardice and ran away.
Knowing if she stayed in Ireland, her father would use his medical connections to find her, so Evelyn pawned her fur-lined hat, cloak and gloves and used the money to travel to Cork by coach and on to Queenstown (now Cobh) which was the last port of call for ships to America. She found work as a governess and for almost six months, saved every penny of her wages, then sailed to New York.
Evelyn settled in Philadelphia and married Marcus Darby. During the American Civil War, she served as a nurse in Mower General Hospital. At first, she was only allowed to roll bandages, make beds, scrub floors and empty bedpans. Later, she could wash the patients and clean medical instruments. Eventually, she was permitted to prepare medicines, apply dressings and assist in operations.
After the war, Evelyn nursed Marcus, who had been shot in the back of the head at Cedar Creek in October 1864. He suffered from memory loss and rapid and extreme changes in mood – including violence – and died in May 1885. As they had no children, Evelyn decided to go home to Dublin. She sold the house and purchased a passage from New York to Queenstown. In Dublin, she took a room at the Hammam Hotel on O’Connell Street and started looking for work.
Evelyn answered a newspaper advertisement for a nurse to an elderly gentleman with senile decay and was interviewed by the gentleman’s young doctor and then by the gentleman himself. After explaining her background, Dr Smythe complimented his doctor on recommending family to him first. Not having expected to find any remaining family in Dublin, she discovers Dr Will Fitzgerald is Sarah’s son.
Evelyn becomes Dr Jacob Smythe’s nurse, she moves into number 8 Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) and although Will, his wife Isobel, and Will’s father John, are welcoming, Sarah reacts hysterically on being told her estranged sister has returned to Dublin and wants nothing to do with Evelyn. Gradually, however, Sarah’s defences crumble and the sisters meet again for the first time in over forty years.
But Evelyn still feels like an outsider. She has never been invited to number 67 and having witnessed Sarah give John a scathing look, knows her sister doesn’t love her husband but doesn’t know why. Will there ever be a time when Evelyn can feel trusted and accepted by all the Fitzgerald family?
Dublin, Ireland, July 1887. The city is struggling in a seemingly never-ending heatwave and Will receives devastating news from his father. John has only months to live but his dying wishes leave Will reeling. With the Fitzgeralds suddenly facing money worries, some difficult decisions must be made. Can Will and John repair their complicated relationship before it’s too late?
When a tragic accident brings unexpected truths to light, Isobel discovers a forgotten life intertwined with her grandmother’s. Nothing can prepare her for Lily’s story but will learning of their families’ pasts bring Isobel peace or further heartbreak?
Read an excerpt from Chapter One…
Will followed his mother and Isobel up the stairs and opened the door for them. A white-faced Evelyn was kneeling beside his father’s armchair, holding his hand while Harriett was seated on the sofa, blinking back tears. Both ladies got up and rushed to his mother while his father struggled out of the armchair, rolling his eyes in silent relief.
“Sarah.” Evelyn hugged her sister tightly, then made way for Harriett. “Oh, what a relief.”
“I’m quite all right,” his mother assured them. “I needed some air and now I need some tea, which will be here shortly. Will has been telling me of your tea-making, Harriett.”
“My tea-making was much appreciated,” Harriett replied with a weak smile and a glance at his father, who was trying not to grimace. “Come and sit down, Sarah.”
As the four ladies turned away and went to the sofa, Will tapped his father’s arm.
“Are you in pain?” he whispered.
“A little, but I’ll tell you when it’s time to administer morphine,” his father whispered back. “As per usual, I’ll call to number 30 in the morning for my weekly visit to the children,” he continued in a normal tone. “I want to continue to visit them for as long as I can.”
“Of course, and, Mother, would you accompany Father?”
“Will, I’m not an invalid yet – I don’t need accompanying,” his father snapped.
“It’s so that Mother, Isobel, you and I can discuss future practicalities,” he replied calmly. “As well as that, it’s the twins’ birthday tomorrow and Mother will be coming to number 30 in any case for luncheon.”
“I’m sorry, Will,” his father replied quietly. “I completely forgot.”
“Your father and I will call to number 30 at nine o’clock,” his mother said. “Ah, the tea,” she added as the door opened and Tess and Maura came in, each carrying a tea tray. “Thank you, I shall pour.”
When the tea was drunk, Harriett got to her feet and Will stood up and put his cup and saucer on the nearest tray, then did likewise with Harriett’s and his father’s.
“Don’t get up, John,” she said, bending and kissing his cheek. “It’s late but before I leave, if I can be of any assistance to you or Sarah or both of you – day or night – please call or send for me. And, John? Break the news to Jim soon?”
“Thank you, Harriett, I will. And Evelyn, I shall also break the news to Jacob soon, but I fear you will have to continually remind him.”
“Yes,” Evelyn replied sadly. “His memory is deteriorating fast.”
Will glanced at Isobel, who peered down at her hands, no doubt wondering how soon it would be before Dr Smythe forgot he ever loved her grandmother Isabella Laban. Isobel dreaded it and if Will was honest, so did he. To forget the name and face of the love of your life… He walked to the door via the sofa and squeezed Isobel’s shoulder as he passed, while Evelyn announced that she, too, must leave.
“I’ll walk with you until a cab stops,” he said and escorted them from the room.
“Your father is in pain,” Harriett told him as they went down the stairs.
“Yes, he says he’s in only a little pain, but I don’t believe him. He knows morphine will not just reduce pain but dull his senses and induce sleep. He wants to stay alert for as long as possible, and that means being in pain. I can’t allow that and I won’t allow that.”
He thanked and saw Harriett to the door of number 68 then continued along Merrion Square South with Evelyn.
“Will,” she began. “It’s time I knew why your mother no longer loves your father. If I’m to be frank with her, she must be frank with me.”
“I thought Father would have told you this evening.”
“In front of Mrs Harvey?”
“Harriett knows, for reasons you will be told in due course, because Mother does want to explain why, but you should hear Father’s explanation, too. We’ll arrange a time and a place for you to listen to each of them.”
“Thank you. What are your thoughts on cremation?” she asked, and he spread his hands helplessly.
“Up to today, I didn’t have any. Apart from religious considerations, with the only crematorium in the United Kingdom being just outside London, I simply assumed my patients would never wish to avail of it. So when Father…” Tailing off, he sighed and Evelyn squeezed his arm. “Did you ever hear of someone being cremated in America?”
“There’s a crematorium near Washington, Pennsylvania, but no, I didn’t. Your father’s decision is unusual to say the least and I suspect there are certain motivations behind it which have nothing to do with prevention of disease in overcrowded graveyards and the many other reasons in its favour.”
“There are, but if anyone asks, please say…”
“Of course,” she replied as they reached the junction with Merrion Street Upper. “Oh, there’s a cab coming,” she added, pointing to it and Will put up his hand. “I can’t neglect my duties to Dr Smythe, but if there’s anything I can do to help or any advice I can give, just call.”
“Thank you,” he said as the cab stopped and he helped her inside. “Number 8 Rutland Square, please,” he instructed the cabman and paid the fare. “Goodnight, Evelyn.”
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