Frederick (Fred) Simpson was born in December 1849 at number 1 Ely Place Upper, Dublin, Ireland, the only son of Duncan Simpson, a renowned surgeon, and his wife, Maria. Duncan Simpson and Dr Will Fitzgerald’s father, Dr John Fitzgerald were best friends and Fred and Will also became best friends.
Fred and Will attended the Weslyan Connexional School (now known as Wesley College) where they became friends with Jeremiah (Jerry) Hawley from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire).
Instead of becoming a surgeon like his father, Fred studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin with Will and Jerry. On graduating, Jerry moved to London and set up practice there, Will set up a practice in the Liberties area of Dublin, and Fred joined Dr John Fitzgerald’s prosperous medical practice on Merrion Street Upper.
At the start of A Scarlet Woman in July 1880 and, after spending his last night of freedom with Will and Jerry in a brothel in Monto, Dublin’s red light district, Fred marries Margaret Dawson from Dame Street in St Andrew’s Church. By Christmas 1880, Fred’s father has died suddenly, his mother has gone to live with her spinster sister on Rutland Square (now Parnell Square), and Margaret is expecting a baby.
When Dr John Fitzgerald retires in December 1880, Will takes over the Merrion Street Upper medical practice and he and Fred go into partnership together. They begin to rebuild the practice following the departure of many patients who left when Will’s father departed rather unexpectedly.
When A Suitable Wife begins in January 1881, Will finds that being in partnership with his oldest friend isn’t all plain sailing. Fred hasn’t come to terms with the sudden death of his father and his own impending fatherhood. Fred has become a law unto himself and is on the brink of bringing the good name of the practice crashing down. There is also ill-feeling between Fred and Eva Bannister, who has been practice secretary for the past twenty years but is now threatening to resign. Eva has always dealt professionally with both doctors and patients so the cause of the animosity cannot be a trivial matter.
Dealing with troubles of his own, difficulties with both Fred and the practice are the last thing Will needs to contend with and when he challenges Fred they almost come to blows. After almost five years of running the Brown Street medical practice alone, has Will made a terrible mistake in going into partnership with Fred? What can Will do to resolve matters before he and Fred actually do come to blows, Eva resigns and patients begin to notice a bad atmosphere causing more of them to leave the practice? Is this the end of Will and Fred’s long friendship?
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 Two…
The following Monday, a gradual thaw had begun and a smoke-fog hung over Dublin. Will walked to the practice house half an hour early in order to write to two suppliers of fish bladder condoms, preferring to correspond from and have them sent to him there to avoid any embarrassment at number 30.
Hanging up his hat and overcoat in the office, he froze hearing a thud and then a moan from upstairs. He ran up the stairs two at a time and tried the door to his surgery but the room was still locked. He went along the landing, opened the door to Fred’s surgery and couldn’t help but stand and watch for a few moments. Fred was on his knees behind the desk, his head between the thighs of a young blonde woman seated in his chair, her head thrown back as she moaned and implored him never to stop.
Fred jumped, straightened up and stared at him in consternation. “Will—”
“I think you should leave now.” He addressed the young woman remarkably calmly and she stood up allowing the skirt of her black cotton dress to fall. Grabbing her straw hat and black woollen shawl from the desk, she pushed past him and left the room. He heard her run down the stairs and a moment or two later, the front door slammed.
Fred got to his feet, pulled up his drawers and trousers and did up the buttons. “Will—” he began again but Will held up a hand.
“I could have been Eva coming to unlock all the doors.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Margaret won’t let me near her and—”
“That was the first and last time here, Fred. Do I make myself clear?”
Fred exhaled a humourless laugh. “You sounded exactly like your father, then.”
“Had my father caught you here with a prostitute?” he asked, Fred looked away and Will took it for a yes. “Well, I mean it, Fred.”
“Do you?” Fred demanded, turning back to him. “Christ, you can be so fucking holier than thou sometimes, Will. You wouldn’t be a tiny bit frustrated, would you? I take it you haven’t fucked Isobel since she lost the baby? Here.” Fred opened a desk drawer, lifted out a small red box and threw it at him. The box hit Will on the chest and fell to the floor. “Condoms. Take them and fuck your wife tonight.”
Will strode across the room, seized Fred by the throat and held him up against the wall. “First – my marriage is none of your concern. Second – your marriage is none of my concern. And third – if I find you here with a prostitute again, you will be out. You’re an excellent doctor but it was little wonder my father never made you his practice partner – you’re far too bloody immature.”
“Your father always wanted you to become his practice partner,” Fred croaked. “But you preferred to work in a fucking slum. You have all this and you still want to go back to the Liberties.”
“How many times do I have to tell you that Brown Street is not a slum and neither is Pimlico. I’m going back because I’m needed there.” Hearing the front door close, he let Fred go and stepped back from him. “You will not bring prostitutes here again,” he repeated quietly, then turned and left the room, stepping over the box of condoms.
Sitting down at the desk in his surgery, he closed his eyes for a few moments to suppress his temper before opening a desk drawer and lifting out some headed notepaper. He wrote the two letters then went straight out to post them so they would be amongst the first postal collections of the day.
After surgery three and a half hours later, he walked home without speaking to Fred again. He went into the morning room and found Isobel seated on the sofa reading a newspaper.
“Can we go to Pimlico this afternoon and clean the two rooms?” he asked her by way of a greeting.
“Yes, of course, we can,” she replied, closing and folding the newspaper before putting it on the arm of the sofa. “What is it? You sound angry.”
“I caught Fred in his surgery with a prostitute,” he said and her eyebrows rose but other than that, she didn’t seem at all surprised. “Needless to say, we argued. Oh, Christ.” Resting his hands on his hips, he stared up at the ceiling. “Have I made a terrible mistake going into partnership with Fred? Marriage hasn’t matured him, the death of his father hasn’t matured him, impending fatherhood hasn’t matured him…”
“Could you run the practice on your own?” she asked and he lowered his head.
“Yes, provided the number of patients stays as it is now but, ideally, the practice needs twice the number of patients we have now, and how would it look if I were to dissolve the partnership after such a short period of time?” Isobel’s frown gave him his answer. “I’ve given Fred one more chance,” he went on. “And if he throws it back in my face, then he’s out. Do you think Margaret suspects anything?”
“She seemed quite happy when I called but we aren’t really close enough friends for her to divulge anything too personal.”
“No, I suppose not. I’m sorry.” He bent and kissed her lips. “But sometimes Fred infuriates me.”
“Fred’s your oldest friend and you care about him. Which is why I think you should either postpone starting the surgery in Pimlico for a while. Or involve him, too.”
“Fred has the same attitude to the Liberties as my father and I don’t want a repeat of what that led to.”
“Well, it was just a suggestion,” she said with a little shrug.
“No, it’s a wonderful suggestion and if I broke Fred in gently—” He halted, seeing her smile. “Thank you,” he continued. “I’ll discuss it with Fred. The last thing I want is to fall out with him like I have with my father.”
“Shall we clean the rooms in Pimlico this afternoon, then?”
“No,” he decided. “Not until I’ve spoken to Fred. I have only three house calls to make this afternoon. Afterwards, I’ll take you out for tea or coffee – whatever you’d prefer. When the condoms arrive, I will make love to you for an entire afternoon.”
“When the condoms arrive?”
“I’ve ordered condoms from two manufacturers,” he explained. “And I’ll make my choice from them, although I know which Fred prefers.”
“He threw a box of them at me.”
“Will, did you and Fred fight?” she asked slowly.
“Almost,” he admitted, staring down at his shoes like a naughty schoolboy. “I grabbed him by the throat.”
“For God’s sake, Will,” she snapped, getting to her feet. “What if Eva or your patients heard or saw you?”
“I know, I know. It won’t happen again.” She gave him a long look and he grimaced. “It won’t happen again, Isobel,” he repeated in a firm tone and this time she gave him a satisfied nod.
“You can take me out for coffee this afternoon. And perhaps a stroll around St Stephen’s Green? Then, on our way home, we’ll call to Ely Place Upper and invite Fred and Margaret to dinner in the next few days so you and he can discuss the future. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” he replied quietly then went to the fire to warm his hands.
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Photo credit: Portrait of a young man, 1870-1880: State Library of Queensland on Flickr: No known copyright restrictions