A Forlorn Hope

Can Will and Isobel bury their differences with those estranged from them and unite in a time of crisis or are some rifts too deep to heal?  

Dublin, Ireland, September 1883. The rift between the Fitzgeralds deepens when Will’s father threatens legal action to gain visiting rights to his three grandchildren. But Will, Isobel and John are brought unexpectedly together by Will’s mother when Sarah’s increasingly erratic behaviour spirals beyond their control.

Isobel is reunited with a ghost from her past unearthing memories she would rather have kept buried while the fragile marriage of convenience orchestrated by John becomes more and more brittle before it snaps with horrifying consequences.

Read an excerpt from Chapter One…

Dublin, Ireland. Monday, 3rd September 1883.

John was squeezing his fingers so tightly it was all Will could do not to pull his hand away. Glancing at Isobel, he saw her wince as John squeezed her hand and he waited for her to catch his eye. They were on their way to Mr Allen’s School for Boys on St Stephen’s Green, the school both Will and his late brother, Edward, had attended. The founder of the school had died some ten years previously but the name and prestigious tradition of the school were now being carried on by Mr Allen’s eldest son, Arthur.

Will nodded to Isobel, they halted, and he put his medical bag down before picking his nephew up.

“I know you’re nervous.”

“I want to go home.”

“But you already know your letters,” Isobel said. “I doubt very much if many of the other new boys do.”

“So why do I need to go?” John asked and Will quickly disguised a sigh with a smile.

They had been over this subject umpteen times since they had casually mentioned that as he was now five-years-old, he would be starting school at the end of the summer.

“Because you need to learn all your numbers, too, and lots of other things like geography and history,” he told John. “You’ll also make friends with the other boys.”

“I’m friends with Ben and Belle.”

“I know you are but they are your cousins – you need other friends, too,” Will added. “School friends your own age.”

“Where are your school friends, then?” John demanded and Will’s eyes widened before he closed them for a moment.

“Fred died,” he said, hearing his voice shake a little. “And Jerry is a doctor in London. Isobel and I went to his wedding last month – remember?”

“In London – you’ve no friends here, then?”

“Dr O’Brien lives on Pimlico. I didn’t go to school with him but I’m friends with him all the same.”

That quietened John for a moment before he buried his face in Will’s neck.

“At three o’clock – going home time – I will be waiting outside the school for you,” Isobel assured John, stroking his brown hair. “Every school day, I will be waiting for you. And as we walk back to Fitzwilliam Square, you can tell me all the things you learned that day.”

“Every school day?” John lifted his head and peered at her, blinking his tears away.

“Every school day, unless there is an emergency, I promise. And as the school overlooks St Stephen’s Green, we can walk home via the lake and see the ducks.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m not going to lie to you and say you won’t find it all very strange and rather frightening at first because you will. That is why you must make friends with the other new boys and you can help each other become accustomed to school. Yes?”

John nodded and Isobel reached up and kissed his cheek.

“Good boy.” Will kissed John’s temple. “Pull my handkerchief out of my trouser pocket and give it to Isobel.”

Isobel accepted the handkerchief from John and wiped the boy’s dark eyes, a legacy from his Indian mother. “There,” she proclaimed as Will set the boy down on the pavement. “Spic and span again.”

She passed the handkerchief back to him and he returned it to his pocket before picking up his medical bag. They each took one of John’s hands again and they proceeded onto St Stephen’s Green East. A little way ahead, parents and nannies were waving at boys who were going up the steps to the school and John let their hands go. They slowly climbed the steps, went into the corridor and Mr Allen approached them.

“Doctor and Mrs Fitzgerald,” he greeted them briskly as Will took off his hat. “And Master Fitzgerald. Follow Master Hill there, if you please, Master Fitzgerald.”

John quickly looked up at them for approval, they nodded and Isobel handed him a small brown leather satchel containing a packet of ham sandwiches and an apple before he followed the older boy into the schoolroom.

“Ten boys are starting their schooling today,” Mr Allen explained. “Your ward will soon make friends. Good morning to you,” he concluded and went into the schoolroom.

“Were you called Master Fitzgerald, too?” Isobel asked as the door closed.

“Yes, I was,” he replied, his voice shaking again and as they made their way out of the school, a couple with a fair-haired boy passed them on their way in and he quickly put on his hat and pulled the brim down in a feeble attempt to mask his distress.

Taking his arm, Isobel lifted the skirt of her sapphire blue dress and led him down the steps, across the street and into the park. Sitting on a bench, he placed his medical bag at his feet and she sat beside him, turning his face towards hers. His eyes were brimming with tears and she took off his hat before reaching into his trouser pocket for the handkerchief.

“John didn’t mean to be cruel,” she said, handing it to him.

“I know.” He gave her a little smile and wiped his eyes. “I was thinking of Fred long before John mentioned my school friends. Fred and I were lucky. We were starting school together and Edward was three years ahead of us. Fred was terrified but wouldn’t admit to it, of course. Both Mother and Father brought me to school that day. I didn’t think anything of it at the time even though Father hadn’t accompanied Edward on his first day but now I know he wished to see his two younger sons begin school together. I hope John will be all right.”

“I’ll be waiting for him at three o’clock,” she said then gasped and he jumped as his father stopped in front of them, taking off his hat. He hadn’t heard any footsteps and he wasn’t in the humour for a confrontation.

“Isobel. Will.”

“Father,” he replied crisply, feeling Isobel tense.

“My grandson has grown,” his father continued and Will bit back a retort. He should have known his father would wish to see his namesake attend school for the first time.

“Yes, he has,” Will said. “We are marking his progress on the architrave of the nursery door.”

“I heard you mention Fred. It’s hard to believe it’s almost thirty years since the two of you started school. Fred was scared at the prospect. You were less so. You were far more frightened when you began at the Wesleyan Connexional School.”

He nodded, cringing at the memory of him being sick with fright on the schoolroom floor and the sniggers from some of the other new boys.

“Edward wasn’t at all frightened at starting at this school and then at Wesley,” his father went on. “I think he was secretly glad to be able to escape his younger brother for a few hours each day.”

Will forced a smile and got to his feet, pulling Isobel up from the bench with him.

“I miss my grandchildren,” his father added as Will picked up his medical bag and they went to walk away. “I expect Belle and Ben are walking now?”

“Yes, they are,” Will replied. “And speaking, too.”

“For how much longer am I to be denied the right to visit them?”

“As I told you before, I will not allow the children to be visited by someone I do not trust,” Isobel informed him.

“They are my grandchildren, Isobel,” he said, his voice rising.

“You should have thought of the consequences when you matched Margaret with David. How are they, by the way? What a shame their wedding day will be forever overshadowed by the murders in the Phoenix Park.”

His father’s lip curled. “That was very unfortunate.”

“Unfortunate?” she repeated. “It was a little more than unfortunate. Did David and Margaret manage to leave Dublin for their honeymoon before all the trains were stopped and the ports closed?”

“The matter is ended,” his father replied. “The ringleaders have been executed.”

“Only after one of their number betrayed them,” she clarified.

“You sound aggrieved at the outcome, Isobel. Did you dance around one of the celebratory bonfires when James Carey was assassinated?” his father inquired icily and she glared at him but, to Will’s relief, did not retaliate.

“John, as this is a public park, Will and I cannot stop you from spying on your grandson but you are still not welcome to call to number 30.”

“I have a right to visit my grandchildren, Isobel, and if you both continue to deny me that right, I shall have no choice but to speak with my solicitor.”

“Don’t you dare threaten us, Father,” Will snapped and they pushed past him and walked quickly away.

Once they turned a corner, he stopped. Setting his medical bag down on the path, he put his hands on his hips, his heart pounding with fury.

“The bloody nerve of the man. I should have known he would be here. And he knows we can’t do a thing to stop him watching the school.”

“We must speak to James this evening and find out whether your father does have a legal right to visit the children,” she said and he nodded. “I shall call to your mother on my way to the school this afternoon. She needs to be aware that we have spoken with John because she won’t hear it from him.”

“Yes.” He heaved a sigh to calm himself then took out his pocket watch and opened it. “It’s nine o’clock, I must go.”

“James will advise us,” she said and he nodded again. “Go. Don’t be late for surgery.”

He lifted her hand and kissed it then picked up his medical bag, took his hat from her and hurried away.

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