A Hidden Motive

Can Will and Isobel help two old friends to overcome their fear and start afresh?

Dublin, Ireland, September 1886. Will is reacquainted with his former fiancée when his father’s close friend Dr Ken Wilson dies suddenly. On finding they have received the only invitation to the Wilson residence after the funeral, the Fitzgeralds witness the tensions between Cecilia, her mother and her in-laws and discover her hidden motive for wanting them present.

When Isobel is reunited with an old friend from Ballybeg, his shame at what he has done to survive hampers her attempts to bring him and Alfie together again. With an empty life and low expectations, can Peter regain his self-respect or are he and Alfie destined to be alone?

Read an excerpt from Chapter One…

Dublin, Ireland. Monday, 6th September 1886.

Hearing feet thundering down the stairs, Will walked along the hall a grin spreading across his face. His twin son and daughter were about to start school and judging by their squeals, they sounded anything but reluctant or nervous.

“Goodness me,” he cried as Belle and Ben reached the hall first with his nephew John and Dr Bob O’Brien’s daughter Vicky following at a more sedate pace. “You’re suspiciously eager to be starting school. I think,” he added with a wink at his wife Isobel who was bringing up the rear. “That instead, Belle and Ben should be taught by a governess. Off you go back upstairs to the nursery and I’ll place an advertisement in the Dublin Evening Mail.”

“No,” Belle shouted and John shushed her. “I want to go to school.”

“Well, let’s ask your mother,” he said, turning to her. “Governess or school?”

“Governess or school…” Isobel tailed off, pretending to mull it over and Belle began to jump up and down.

“School, please, Mother?” Belle begged and Will failed to keep a straight face and roared with laughter. “You’re teasing again, Father,” she accused then squealed again with delight and ran to the front door.

“Are we ready?” he asked the others and Vicky and John nodded, the boy exhaling a long and resigned sigh, not relishing the addition of his noisy cousin to Mrs Pearson’s school. “Good. Let’s be on our way.”

It was only a two-minute walk to the school, located at number 7 Fitzwilliam Square and Marianne was waiting at the bottom of the steps.

“Two has become four.” She greeted them with a smile then shook Belle and Ben’s hands. “You are very welcome.”

“Now remember.” Will crouched in front of his daughter. “No shouting in school.”

“No shouting in school,” Belle repeated. “I’ll behave, Father, I promise.”

Ben sniggered at that and Isobel crouched beside him. “You’re both to behave,” she said. “You’re the first twins to attend this school and we can’t have Mrs Pearson and the other pupils thinking all twins are ill-behaved.”

“We’ll behave,” he replied and they hugged and kissed the twins before hugging and kissing Vicky and John then straightening up.

Taking Vicky’s hand, Ben went up the steps and Belle took John’s hand and they followed, Belle waving a farewell as they went inside.

Will slid a hand around Isobel’s waist and hugged her to him as Marianne turned to greet two more new pupils.

“Now, it’s Alfie’s turn,” he said softly.

“Alfie’s not a child so we’ll see the two of you off and you can walk to the practice house together.”

Isobel’s elder brother was waiting on the pavement outside number 55 Fitzwilliam Square with their mother and step-father Martha and James Ellison while Martha’s twin brother Miles Greene was coming down the steps from the front door.

“I’m so proud.” Martha broke down in tears and both Alfie and Isobel suppressed groans. “So proud.” She gave her son a noisy kiss then made way for Isobel.

“No tears but I’m equally proud,” she said and hugged him tightly before standing back as Miles and James shook his hand.

“Ready?” Will asked, Alfie replied with a grin and Will kissed Isobel’s cheek before they walked away without looking back.

ALFIE STEVENS M.D. adorned the third and newest brass plaque on the wall outside the practice house at number 28 Merrion Street Upper. Will used his frock coat’s cuff to rub away a smudged fingerprint before giving it a satisfied nod and following Alfie inside where Barbara Barton and Eva Bannister came out of the office to greet him.

Having observed and assisted Will with his surgeries and house calls and acted as a locum for Bob O’Brien, Alfie would no doubt settle in quickly in his new official capacity – and be allowed to settle in. You’re lucky I’m not my father, Will told Alfie silently, wondering if his grandfather had subjected his son to the same grilling each evening he had been forced to endure when he had joined the practice for the first time.

“Dr Fitzgerald?” The practice secretary gave him a quizzical frown as he went with them into the office, put his medical bag on the floor and hung his hat on the stand.

Realising he had been grinning to himself, Will laughed.

“Good morning, Eva. I was mentally congratulating Dr Stevens on how I’m not my father and that he will not be interrogated each evening without fail as to how his day had been – like I was when I first started here. I must ask my father if my grandfather was… how can I put it… just as rigorous…”

“Dr Edward Fitzgerald was very thorough from what I have heard of him. You’re just as thorough, Dr Fitzgerald, and I’m delighted Dr Stevens has joined us.”

“Dr Stevens has always wanted to become a doctor and now he has achieved that goal.” After having endured so much, he added silently.

“I hope you’re not suggesting it’s all downhill from now on,” Alfie teased and Will shook his head.

“Fitzgerald, Barton and Stevens are pioneers of progress. We’re the first medical practice in Dublin with a female doctor and we’re the first medical practice in Dublin to have installed a telephone.”

“We do sound more like a firm of solicitors, though,” Barbara commented dryly.

“Or a music hall act,” Alfie added and Will spluttered another laugh.

“Can either of you sing?” he asked and Barbara and Alfie shook their heads. “We had better stick to medicine, then,” he said and there were murmurs of agreement as he escorted Alfie upstairs and into the third surgery which was now his. “Well, this is it,” he said and shook Alfie’s hand. “If you need anything just ask. Good luck.”

Will had just sat at his desk when the door opened and to his surprise, his father looked in at him.

“May I come in? Eva sent me straight up.”

“Of course.” Will got to his feet as his father closed the door. “Is something wrong? Is it Mother?”

“No, your mother was perfectly well when I saw her last. It’s Ken Wilson. He died last night.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” He gestured to the chair in front of the desk and his father sat down while Will retook his seat. “Had he been ill?”

“No, he died in his sleep. He was always up with the lark, often no later than six in the morning and when he didn’t ring for the butler who also acted as his valet, Pryce went to Ken’s bedroom and found him dead.”

“How did you hear of his death so soon?”

“From the coalman. He was making a delivery as I was leaving for the Journal offices and he mentioned he was a little early as he had been turned away from his previous call because of a death in the family. I called to number 14, spoke to Cecilia and I am to deliver the eulogy at the funeral. She’s heartbroken. She adored her father and he was both father and grandfather to Clive.”

Cecilia’s son, named after his father who had died in a cab accident while she was pregnant, was now five years old. Fred Simpson had delivered the boy by caesarean section and Will had revived him using the ‘Piglet Procedure’ as The Irish Times had absurdly named it. He hadn’t seen his former fiancée or her son since that night.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Thank you but no. Ken was registered with Dr Ferguson in York Street and he and Cordelia were with Ken when I called. I simply can’t believe it.” His father ran a hand across his jaw. “Ken and I enjoyed a whiskey together at the Trinity Club only last week. He was a year older than me and next year would have marked fifty years since he was awarded his M.D. and joined this practice – I simply can’t believe it…”

“After surgery, I’ll call to number 14 and offer to be a pallbearer at the funeral.”

“That’s good of you, Will, thank you. Were Belle and Ben happy to be starting school?”

“They were very excited. And Alfie joined the practice today.”

His father was silent for a few moments before giving Will a sad smile. “So this is a three doctor practice once more. I wish I had been able to tell Ken. Well, I’ll let you get on.”

They got to their feet and Will escorted his father downstairs and showed him out. Returning to the office, he found Eva standing at the window.

“Eva,” he said softly and she jumped and turned around, her eyes bright with tears.

“I’m sorry, Dr Fitzgerald, but I’m shocked and saddened. Dr Wilson was a fine gentleman and an excellent doctor.”

“Yes, he was. It was he who employed you as practice secretary.”

“Yes, on your father’s recommendation and Dr Wilson permitted me to live upstairs. My father had died three months previously and when his estate was being settled, it was discovered he had accumulated considerable debts,” she explained. “My sister and I had no choice but to sell our family home.”

“Where did you live after the house was sold?” he asked.

“I moved in with Emily and Wilfred but they had been married less than a year and I felt uncomfortable living with them. Father’s debts were paid off but Emily and I were left with no inheritance from his estate. I began to look for suitable work so I could move out and be independent and I saw an advertisement for a medical practice secretary in the Dublin Evening Mail. I applied and to my astonishment, your father invited me to an interview. When I arrived here, your father had just been called away in an emergency and it was Dr Wilson who interviewed me and showed me the practice house and to my further astonishment, offered the position to me and the rooms on the second floor for a peppercorn rent. I shall always be grateful to him – always.”

“As will I because the continued smooth running of this practice is all thanks to you, Eva.”

“I made some dreadful mistakes in the beginning,” she admitted. “But I learned by those mistakes and I have never been happier than when working here. I would like to pay my respects so please advise me as to when the funeral will take place and I shall cancel surgery that morning.”

At five minutes to one, Will went up the steps and rang the front doorbell of number 14 Merrion Square North. Pryce opened the door and he took off his hat.

“My name is Dr William Fitzgerald and—”

“Will?” He peered past the butler and saw Cecilia hurrying down the stairs. “Thank you, Pryce, I shall speak to Dr Fitzgerald.” The butler nodded to her then went down the steps to the servants’ hall. “Please, come in, Will.”

He went into the hall and closed the front door, left his hat and medical bag on the table and followed her into the morning room.

“My father called to the practice house just before surgery,” he said. “You have my deepest condolences, Mrs Ashlinn, your father was always very kind to me.”

“Father liked you very much,” she replied. “Much more than Clive. He thought Clive was ‘too cute’ – as he put it – far too clever for his own good.”

Will wisely stayed silent and she gave him a wobbly smile.

“Please, call me Cecilia, Will. It has been a long time since we have spoken – that awkward encounter in the Merrion Square garden if I remember correctly. You look well.”

She didn’t but that was to be expected. Her face was ashen and already there were lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth and strands of white in her blonde hair. She was thirty-seven, just a year older than he was, but she appeared to have aged prematurely.

“How is your son?” he asked and she blinked away tears.

“Asking where Grandfather is and I don’t know how to explain.”

“How did you explain Clive’s death?”

“Badly. I told him that before he was born his father went to heaven.”

“Explain that his grandfather has joined his father in heaven.”

“Yes, I shall. That I have a son at all is thanks to you. I know I should have thanked you long before this but I was furious at your father for the sensationalist article he wrote and had printed in The Irish Times and then as time went on…”

“Fred performed the caesarean section. I simply revived the baby.”

“Poor Fred. Do you ever see Margaret?”

“Yes, she is godmother to my daughter Belle and visits the children regularly.”

“What a lovely name. Are your children at school?”

“Yes, Belle and Ben plus my nephew John and Vicky – who is the daughter of a doctor friend and lives with us – all attend Mrs Pearson’s school on Fitzwilliam Square.”

“Clive is educated here by a tutor and is very eager to learn and—”

“Cecilia,” he broke in gently, hearing the clock on the mantelpiece chime one o’clock. “I called not just to offer my condolences but to offer to be a pallbearer and represent my father and the Merrion Street Upper medical practice. Your father and my father weren’t just in practice together, they were great friends and your father almost became my father-in-law.”

“You’re very kind, Will. I shall send a message to number 30 when the funeral arrangements have been made.”

He nodded, opened the door and followed her along the hall to the front door.

“I never expected you to leave your practice in the Liberties,” she said. “But here you are – Dr Will Fitzgerald with a practice on Merrion Street Upper – a husband and a father with a home on Fitzwilliam Square.”

“Life takes us in many unexpected directions,” he replied, picking up his hat and medical bag then opening the door.

“It does,” she said simply.

“Take care of yourself, Cecilia.”

“Thank you, Will, I shall.”

He put on his hat and raised it to her before going down the steps to the pavement and walking away along Merrion Square North.

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