Can Will and Isobel hold the Fitzgeralds together when tragedy and betrayal threaten to tear the family apart?
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.
* * *
Isobel opened her eyes and ran her hands over her stomach. She was still cramping and could feel herself bleeding like a very heavy monthly. Will was fast asleep and snoring a little so she didn’t move. Two miscarriages. She blinked back tears. She’d so wanted a baby with Will and this pregnancy had been progressing positively – she’d almost reached the three-month mark.
Hearing Will’s voice, she turned to him in the twilight. He looked as exhausted as she felt and tears stung her eyes. This must be awful for him, he had been looking after her so well.
“I’m all right.”
“Are you in any pain?”
“No, but I am hungry.”
“Good.” He raised himself up onto an elbow. “So am I.”
“And I’d like to get up. I don’t want to lie in bed all day.”
“Well, if you’re sure?” he said, sounding uncertain.
“I am. And please don’t tell my mother?” she begged.
“Isobel, I’m going to have to tell her. I want her to be here with you tomorrow.”
“Mother can fuss tomorrow,” she said. “I want peace and quiet with you today.”
He leant over and kissed her lips. “I need to examine you first.”
He got out of bed, opened the curtains, then went out to the table on the landing where their water for washing and shaving was left for them. Carrying the two ewers into the bedroom, he closed the door with a foot before placing them on the washstand. He washed and dried his hands then pulled the bedcovers down.
He removed the soiled towels from her drawers before helping her to take the drawers off. Wrapping them in a large towel, he placed it on the floor by the door. Lying down on the bed, she opened her legs and stared up at the ceiling as he examined her.
“Is your bleeding heavier than the last time?” he asked.
“It feels heavier. But I wasn’t quite two months pregnant then.”
“Yes.” He straightened up, reached for a flannel, and began to clean her. “I can’t see anything which would lead me to worry. Nature will just have to take its course.”
“That’s what Fred said.”
After washing, shaving and dressing, Will helped her to wash and dress. She pinned up her hair, placed two more small towels in her drawers, then stood in front of the full-length wardrobe mirror smoothing her hands down the skirt of her new high-necked emerald green day dress.
From arriving in Dublin with nothing but the square-necked navy blue dress and black coat she was wearing, she now had five dresses, two coats and three hats to her name. Sadly, the gold-coloured evening dress would now be forever associated with the miscarriage. Perhaps she could bring it back to the dressmaker and have it altered in some way, as it would be a shame – and a waste – to never wear it again. But that is a decision for another day, she told herself, closing the wardrobe door.
Taking Will’s arm, they went slowly down the stairs to the ground floor breakfast room overlooking the rear garden which they used as an everyday dining room.
“Mrs Fitzgerald?” Mrs Dillon followed them inside. “I was preparing a breakfast tray for Florrie to take up to you.”
“Thank you, but I didn’t want to lie in bed all day.”
“My wife needs peace and quiet today, Mrs Dillon,” Will told her. “So, no callers, please.” As he spoke, a bell jangled downstairs in the servants’ hall and he sighed. “I’ll see who that is.”
He went out to the hall and Isobel sat down at the table, her stomach rumbling.
“Some porridge, toast and marmalade and coffee, Mrs Fitzgerald?” Mrs Dillon asked.
“Oh, yes, please.” She gave the housekeeper a grateful smile as she heard Fred’s voice in the hall. “I’m very hungry.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“I’m afraid the bed is in rather a mess—” she began but Mrs Dillon held up a hand.
“Don’t you worry about that, Mrs Fitzgerald. You just rest and recuperate.”
Mrs Dillon left her and a couple of moments later both Will and Fred came into the breakfast room. The weather must be bitterly cold still as Fred was wearing a black woollen overcoat with a grey scarf wound around his neck almost covering his chin.
“I’m delighted to see you up and about.” Fred bent and kissed her cheek and she smiled as his black moustache tickled her ear.
“Thank you for all you did last night, Fred.”
“Not at all. I’m glad I was able to help.”
“I hope Margaret wasn’t too upset?” she asked.
“She was, a little, but she’ll be very relieved when I tell her you are up and about and hungry.”
“Fred.” She clasped his hand. “The last thing I want is any awkwardness between Margaret and myself. I would be delighted if she would call here in the next few days. Will and I are going to have a very quiet day today.”
“And perhaps we could attempt the celebratory dinner again soon, too?”
Fred gave her a grin. “When you’re well enough, we’ll all go to the Shelbourne again.”
“Yes. Will you stay for some breakfast?”
“Thank you, but no. I simply called to see how you were. It has stopped snowing at last but it’s deep and difficult to walk in so I’d better be on my way to the practice house.”
“Thank you, Fred. Be careful.”
Fred kissed her hand and Will followed him out of the room. A few minutes later Will returned with Florrie, one of their house-parlourmaids, and their breakfast.
Isobel soon finished a bowl of porridge, two triangular slices of toast and marmalade followed by a cup of coffee, and was sitting back satisfied in her chair when she heard her mother’s angry voice in the hall.
“What do you mean, no callers today? Don’t be ridiculous, girl, I’m her mother. Is she still at breakfast?”
Isobel exchanged a weary glance with Will and he swore under his breath as footsteps approached the breakfast room door and it opened.
“Mrs Henderson.” Will got to his feet as her dark-haired mother came in wearing a russet-coloured dress and hat she favoured with a matching cloak.
“What is this nonsense, Isobel?” she demanded, pulling off her black gloves. “The maid said you were receiving no callers today?”
Will closed the door to the hall then held the chair next to Isobel’s as Mrs Henderson sat down.
“I’m afraid we have some bad news,” he said, returning to his seat at the head of the table. “Isobel is losing the baby.”
“Losing..?” Her mother frowned, struggling to grasp Will’s meaning.
“I’m having a miscarriage, Mother,” she said quietly.
Mrs Henderson clapped both her hands to her cheeks. “Oh, Isobel. Oh, why didn’t you tell me at once? Why are you not in bed?”
“We were going to tell you later, Mother, and I wanted some peace and quiet today but not to lie in bed all day.”
“Why did this happen, Will?”
“I’m afraid there is no answer to that,” he replied. “It’s just one of those things.”
“I’m so sorry. I was so looking forward to being a grandmother.”
“Would you like some coffee, Mother?” she asked, changing the subject and gesturing towards the coffee pot.
“No, thank you. As it has stopped snowing, I called to ask if you would like to visit the National Gallery this afternoon as I have never been, but it can wait.”
“Perhaps next week?” she suggested.
“Oh, Isobel,” Mrs Henderson whispered, her voice shaking.
“Don’t cry, Mother, please,” she said, fighting to keep her own voice steady. Or I will start again, she added silently.
Mrs Henderson pulled a handkerchief from a sleeve and dried her eyes. “Would you like me to stay with you?”
“I will be staying with Isobel today,” Will told her. “But if you could stay with Isobel tomorrow, I would be very grateful.”
“Yes, of course. But may I call this evening?”
“Yes, you may.” Will nodded. “Shall I see you out?”
Her mother kissed her cheek before getting up and leaving the room with Will following. He returned a few moments later, kissed the top of her head, and poured them some more coffee.
“How are you feeling?”
“Better. The porridge was delicious.”
They settled on the huge reddish-brown leather sofa in the morning room, fell asleep, and didn’t wake until luncheon was announced at one o’clock. After some delicious thick vegetable soup and soda bread, she went upstairs to change the towels in her drawers. She then put on her beautiful black and white velvet coat and joined Will in the garden for some fresh air and to see the snow.
The steps down from the back door and a couple of yards of the path had been dug out but the remainder of the long and narrow garden which ran between the house and the mews was covered with at least five inches of snow. She hadn’t seen so much snow since one severe winter in Co Galway when she and her elder brother, Alfie, her parents and the servants had been snowed in at Ballybeg Glebe House for three extremely long days.
Snow drifts had rendered the roads impassable and being cut off from, not just Ballybeg village, but also from his beloved church, her father’s cruel and vindictive temper intensified. The Reverend Edmund Stevens took his frustration out on, not only his wife and children but also on the servants for the first and last time. As soon as the roads were passable, their cook-housekeeper and house-parlourmaid packed their bags and left. It was almost a month before they were replaced and, having inherited her mother’s lack of culinary skills, the meals the two of them struggled to produce simply served to infuriate him even more.
February 23rd would bring the first anniversary of his death. Were any of his former parishioners mourning him, she wondered because his widow and children most certainly were not. Crouching down on the path, she laid the palm of her right hand on the snow. It had an icy crust which even the warmth of her hand couldn’t melt. Her father’s heart had been frozen through and through and his grave in cold, damp peaty soil near the church door in Ballybeg Churchyard, and now likely covered with a deep blanket of snow, was a fitting resting place for him.
“Whenever there was snow at the Glebe House, my father never allowed Alfie and I to play in it,” she told Will, straightening up and rubbing her hands together. “He wanted his precious garden to always appear pristine. But when it began to snow here, I was already visualising our child playing out here with us – throwing snowballs and building a snowman – things Alfie and I were forbidden to do. How silly of me.”
“Remember what I said, Isobel,” he said, raising her hands to his lips. “If it turns out that we can’t have a child ourselves, we will adopt. We may not have made the child ourselves but we will have a child.”
“But I wanted us to have a child we made. I wanted to have your child, Will.”
“Isobel?” They turned around as Alfie stood at the back door wearing a black woollen overcoat similar to Fred’s and a pale blue scarf wound around his neck. “No, don’t step into the snow, there’s enough room on the path for the three of us.” Closing the door, he came down the steps. “I had lectures this morning and Mother has just told me. Oh, Isobel.” He kissed her cheek before hugging her. “I’m so sorry.”
“Is Mother very upset?” she asked.
“Yes, she is. I’ve persuaded her to go and lie down. I have only one lecture tomorrow and it’s first thing in the morning. Would you like me to call here afterwards and keep you company?”
“Well, I had already asked Mother, but if you could come as well and try and keep the conversation a little upbeat?”
Alfie smiled. “I’ll try my best.”
After her mother called that evening, Isobel and Will retired to bed early. Will examined her again and agreed with her that the rate of bleed was slowing. He kissed her lips then turned down the oil lamp and she fell into a deep sleep with her head resting on his chest.
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Cover photo credit: Hubert von Herkomer – Emilia Francis (née Strong), Lady Dilke, is a derivative of irinaraquel, used under CC BY 4.0
Cover photo credit: Penny Farthing / National Library of Ireland on The Commons / No known copyright restrictions
Eugène Delacroix – Portrait of Léon Riesener: Photo Credit: irinaraquel via Flickr.com / CC BY 4.0
Lily Langtry, The Lily of Jersey: Photo Credit: the lost gallery via Flickr.com / CC BY 4.0