Dublin, Ireland, 1881. Will and Isobel Fitzgerald settle into number 30 Fitzwilliam Square, a home they could once only have dreamed of. A baby is on the way, Will takes over the Merrion Street Upper medical practice from his father and they are financially secure. But when Will is handed a letter from his elder brother, Edward, stationed with the army in India, the revelations it contains only serves to further alienate Will from his father.
Isobel is eager to adapt to married life on Fitzwilliam Square but soon realises her past can never be laid to rest. The night she met Will in a brothel on the eve of his best friend’s wedding has devastating and far-reaching consequences which will change the lives of the Fitzgerald family forever.
Read An Excerpt From Chapter One…
Dublin, Ireland. Monday, January 17th, 1881
Will helped Isobel out of the cab outside the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen’s Green. He paid and tipped the cabman generously and they made their way carefully up the steps. A bellboy with a shovel – fighting a losing battle to keep the steps clear of snow – stood to one side to let them pass, and the liveried doorman touched his silk top hat with a white-gloved hand as they went into the foyer.
The heaviest snowstorm for years was wreaking havoc on Dublin and Will had considered cancelling the celebratory dinner but hadn’t the heart to send a servant out in such atrocious weather. The deep snow had resulted in traffic chaos, the cabman had been forced to take a longer route to the hotel, and they were cold and late.
Will’s oldest friend, Fred Simpson, and his wife Margaret were waiting near the reception desk and gave them relieved smiles as Will and Isobel stamped snow from their shoes. They were shown to a table in the hotel’s dining room and they sat down. Although the large room was pleasantly warm, Isobel opted to unbutton but continue wearing her striking new coat of black velvet leaves on a white velvet background with black velvet collar and cuffs and Margaret chose to keep her exquisite black velvet cloak around her shoulders for the time being.
“May we have a bottle of champagne?” Fred asked the waiter. “We will make our selections from the menu shortly.”
“Very good, sir.”
The waiter left them and Fred grinned around the table.
“It is the 17th of January. Doctors Fitzgerald and Simpson have been in general practice together for just over a month and in partnership for a week. We couldn’t allow it to pass uncelebrated – despite the best efforts of the weather.”
“No,” Will agreed. “And I’ve never been for a meal here before. Have you?”
“I have,” Margaret replied, glancing around the elegant room, where the murmur of conversation intermingled with the clinking of glassware and china. “But it was a birthday dinner a long time ago. Fred.” She turned to her husband. “Isobel and I shouldn’t really be drinking champagne.”
“One glass won’t do you expectant mothers any harm.”
“No, I suppose not,” she conceded.
“Could you ask for a jug of water as well, please, Fred?” Isobel asked. “I’m parched.”
“Yes, of course. I hope this will be the first of many celebratory dinners.”
“So do I,” Isobel replied but didn’t sound particularly enthusiastic as she tucked a wisp of her dark brown hair behind her right ear.
At almost three months pregnant, the new gold-coloured evening dress she wore only emphasised how pale she looked and she was unusually quiet. While at four months pregnant, Margaret in mauve was positively blooming with colour in her cheeks following a weekend away in Co Wicklow. He and Isobel wouldn’t stay out too late this evening. Reaching for her hand under the table, he gave it a little squeeze and she squeezed it in reply.
The waiter served the champagne and they made their orders from the menu before Fred raised his glass.
“I propose a toast – to Margaret and Isobel – and to the continued success of Doctors Simpson and Fitzgerald’s medical practice.”
“To Margaret, Isobel and the medical practice,” they all chorused and sipped the excellent champagne.
“You’re going to have to excuse me for a few minutes.” Isobel got up and Will and Fred also got to their feet. “Could you come with me please, Margaret?”
“Of course,” Margaret replied and the two women left the dining room.
“Will, is Isobel all right?” Fred asked as he and Will sat down again.
“She’s tired,” he explained. “I’m delighted she’s pregnant but, ideally, it could have waited a few more months. She was prepared to come and live with me in Brown Street but then her mother gave us number 30 and all it entailed.”
“I thought she was coping well with the servants?” Fred added.
“She is, but being mistress of number 30 is still a huge responsibility, as is trying to ensure we don’t spend too much while you and I rebuild the practice.”
“She must think this dinner is an enormous extravagance?”
Will opened his mouth to reply but heard Margaret’s voice calling him.
“Will? Please, come quickly.”
Turning in his seat, he saw Margaret at the entrance to the dining room beckoning him to come to her. Both he and Fred went to her and Will’s heart turned over as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Where is Isobel?” he demanded.
“In there.” Margaret pointed to the ladies cloakroom.
Will pushed the door open and found Isobel sitting on the edge of an armchair just inside the door, her brown eyes wide with horror.
“Will, I’m bleeding. The baby—”
“We’ll go straight home.” He helped her up and out into the foyer. “Fred, find a cab.”
“I’ll ask the doorman to hail one for us,” Margaret said and hurried away from them.
“Isobel’s bleeding,” he whispered to Fred. “We need to bring her home at once.”
“Waiter.” Extracting his wallet from the inside pocket of his tailcoat, Fred pulled out a banknote and handed it to the young man. “I’m afraid we must leave.”
“Thank you, sir. Do you need any assistance?”
“No, thank you,” Will replied, searching the foyer for Margaret’s blonde head and spotting her at the revolving doors signalling for them to leave the hotel.
He and Fred guided Isobel outside, carefully down the steps, and into the waiting cab. Sitting beside her, he clasped her hands. They were freezing cold and he raised them to his mouth, gently blowing his warm breath onto her fingers.
“Number 30 Fitzwilliam Square, please,” Fred told the cabman before tipping the doorman, assisting Margaret into the cab, then getting in himself.
The cab, with the four of them squashed in the back, travelled excruciatingly slowly through deep snow to Fitzwilliam Square. When it stopped outside the Georgian townhouse, the cabman was asked to wait and they led Isobel inside.
“Some towels and warm water, please, Mrs Dillon,” Will instructed the cook-housekeeper as she approached them with concern in the hall. “My wife is unwell.”
Isobel was brought upstairs to the bedroom they shared on the second floor and Will lit all the gas lamps then the oil lamp on his bedside table. Mrs Dillon came in with an ewer of water, a basin and some towels draped over her arm and placed them on the marble-topped washstand. She and Will undressed Isobel, helped her into a nightdress and let down and plaited her hair while Fred pulled back the bedcovers and laid out the towels in the bed. Isobel was bleeding heavily and Will’s heart plummeted.
“My wife has gone to wait in the morning room, would you please look in on her, Mrs Dillon?” Fred asked. “She may be a little upset. Oh, and please bring the cabman inside for a hot drink, he must be frozen.”
“Yes, Dr Simpson,” the housekeeper replied and left the bedroom.
Isobel was lifted into the huge double bed on top of the towels and the pillows arranged at her back.
“Let me examine her, Will,” Fred offered.
“I’m calmer than you are, so let me do it,” Fred insisted softly. “Wait outside.”
Will nodded and went onto the landing. I’m delighted she’s pregnant but, ideally, it could have waited a few more months. Wincing at what he had told Fred, he pulled open his white bow tie and his collar before leaning on the banister rail and closing his eyes.
Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he jumped and turned around.
“You probably already know,” Fred told him. “But Isobel is miscarrying. There is heavy vaginal bleeding with clotting, but it’s not excessive and I’m afraid nature will just have to take its course. I’m so sorry, Will.”
“Is she in pain?” he asked.
“She says there is cramping but nothing too extreme. I’ve helped her into her drawers and placed two small towels in the drawers to absorb the discharge.”
“Thank you, Fred. Take Margaret home. This must be awful for her.”
Fred nodded. “I’ll take your surgery and house calls tomorrow. Be with Isobel.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
Fred squeezed his arm and went downstairs.
Will took a deep breath before opening the bedroom door. Isobel was lying back against the pillows but her face was turned away from the door.
Closing the door behind him, he went to the bed and sat down. Gently putting his arms around her, he held her, feeling her trembling.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“This is no-one’s fault.”
“But it must be my fault,” she insisted. “Did Fred’s father leave me damaged when he carried out the abortion?”
“I don’t know,” he replied helplessly and kissed her temple. “You wanted some water at the hotel, would you like some now?”
“Yes. But please hold me first.”
“Of course I’ll hold you. Fred is taking my surgery and house calls tomorrow. I’m staying here with you. Are you hungry at all?”
“No. Just very thirsty.”
“I’ll ask for some water.”
He laid her back against the pillows and left the bedroom. Downstairs in the hall, he met Mrs Dillon.
“How is Mrs Fitzgerald?” the housekeeper asked anxiously.
“Please come into the morning room.” He opened the door for her and they went into the large reception room at the front of the house. “My wife is having a miscarriage,” he said, hearing his voice shake, and Mrs Dillon’s face crumpled in sympathy. “She isn’t in any pain but the process will take a day or two. After that…” He tailed off and sighed. “She will need time to recover, both physically and mentally. But now, she would like some water, please.”
“Water? Is that all?”
“Yes. And Dr Simpson will be taking my surgery and house calls tomorrow, so I can be here.”
Mrs Dillon nodded. “I’ll bring up a jug of water. I am so sorry, Dr Fitzgerald.”
He went back upstairs and into the bedroom. Isobel was sitting up, her face in her hands. He sat on the bed and she clung to him, sobbing. He stroked her hair until she rested her forehead on his shoulder and he heard a knock at the door. He lifted her head, kissed her lips, and opened the door.
Mrs Dillon, with more towels of various sizes laid over her arm, was lifting a tray with a jug of water and a glass on it from a table on the landing. She had clearly discreetly waited for Isobel to stop crying before knocking.
“Thank you,” he said, taking the tray from her, and watching as she draped the towels over his arm.
“If there is anything else you or Mrs Fitzgerald need, just ring.”
“I will. Goodnight.”
He closed the door and put the tray down on the bedside table. He poured a glass of water, sat on the bed again, and passed it to Isobel. She drank the water in three gulps, he took the glass from her and placed it back on the tray.
“I’m going to put some more towels under you and then I think we should try and sleep.”
“Yes.” She lifted herself, he laid the towels under her, then leant back against the pillows.
He got undressed and pulled on a nightshirt, extinguished the gas lamps and got into the bed. “If you are in any pain or if you feel the bleeding getting any heavier, wake me.”
She nodded and he turned the oil lamp down before lying down and holding her hand. He listened until hers was the deep and slow breathing of an exhausted person fast asleep. But he couldn’t sleep. This was two miscarriages now. Was she right? Had Duncan Simpson damaged her while carrying out her abortion? Would she never be able to carry a baby to full term? He lay staring up into the darkness and didn’t fall asleep until dawn was breaking.
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