It was evening. The candlelight flickered across the table. At dinner, William was in unusual spirits as he ate. He put down his spoon, dabbed at his beard with the napkin from his lap, then cleared his throat.
“How do you feel about going into Boston for a day or two next month?” He glanced over at me, hopeful.
I looked up at him from my soup. “Why?”
“For a lecture in obstetrical anesthesia.”
“Oh, really?” I wondered if this was a veiled attempt to bring up starting a family. I would see how the conversation would proceed. I took another silent sip of the oyster soup.
“I thought you might be interested in the topic. Apparently, it is so controversial that all of the traditional backers balked. I overheard the discussion at the club between Cornelius Felton, the university president, and Jack Waterhouse, of the medical faculty in Boston. I do not believe that Cornelius wants the lectures to occur. There is a part of me that delights in making that man miserable. So, I wrote a check to Mr. Waterhouse. We will bring anesthesia to Massachusetts!” He said this with a flourish of his hand. He smiled broadly.
“But Dr. Morton has already demonstrated anesthesia. Several years ago, in fact!” Everyone knew of the story of the huge neck tumor removed from Mr. Gilbert Abbott at Massachusetts General Hospital. It had been all over the papers and had occurred before I had left for Edinburgh myself.
“Not in childbirth, my dear! Dr. Brierly is from Edinburgh, where Dr. Simpson has been administering chloroform and ether during childbirth for years.” He seemed quite proud of himself.
But, my heart stopped suddenly. I was not sure if I had heard the name right. No, it had to have been him.
Deep within my chest I felt a heavy sinking, as if a rock had just dropped onto my diaphragm, my fingers and lips numb. “You are doing what?”
“I am sponsoring a lecture series at the college,” he said patiently.
“Yes, but who is speaking?” I could not breath.
“A Dr. Brierly on obstetrical anesthesia.” He shrugged, then squinted suspiciously at me.
I was not mistaken! Did he not know? Did he not remember? Was he testing me? Did he know but now was planning to show me off as his trophy?
“I see.” It was difficult to keep my tone even and impassive.
Did I really want to go to Boston, then? Difficult question, really. But I knew what my answer would be, what it had to be.
“Well, then certainly, I would be happy to accompany you, dear!”
I sat down my spoon, a tiny clank rang against the china. My appetite had left me. I worked hard to not betray any emotion.
We finished dinner conversing about the rest of his day.
When I had retired to my room, I sat at the mirror brushing my hair and examining my features. Why did I feel so much older? It had been three years, only, since I had last seen Mr. Brierly. I had finally stopped thinking about him every day and now this? Why? Dr. Brierly. I was running through in my mind the things I needed in order to make sure I was in the best presentable condition possible when I was startled by a gentle tapping at the door. Not tonight, please, God. Not tonight of all nights when I longed to give my thoughts over to another man. My hands shook as I put down the brush.
“Yes, come in,” I said softly. I could see William enter the room in his dressing gown behind me via his reflection in the mirror. He looked almost sheepish, imploring. I knew he was trying to be kind to me, but I hated him for it. Most days I longed for him to simply take control, but he was too timid to do that. Tonight, I just wanted to get it over with so that I could get back to my secret sadness.