Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dr MacFadden's Tale

(With a gallant attempt at the good Doctor’s posh Edinburgh accent)

I am Dr Phineas MacFadden. I have a small practice in Edinburgh, where I have lived most of my life. Recently, with the acquisition of a very fine locum, I was able to indulge a long held dream, and travel the Silk Road.

But do not think, because I have lived a simple life, that it has been without incident. Dear me no, I have had some very strange experiences, but none stranger than what befell me as a young man, travelling by train to my first hospital at Stranraer.

I was dozing when suddenly the train came to a grinding halt. As I scrambled back to my feet I heard a voice call out - ``Is there a doctor on board?”

The guard was in a panic. ``Sir, there has been a terrible incident – a young woman has thrown herself from the train.”

I followed the guard and the driver along the track to where the young woman’s body lay in a thick clump of heather. Her white neck lay exposed but her face was obscured by an abundance of curls, soft red tinged with gold.

``Shall we help you carry her onto the train, Dr MacFadden?” The driver said.

I shook my head. ``No, she may have internal injuries – if we move her it could kill her. You must take the train on to Stranraer and send back an ambulance. I will stay here and do what I can,” I said.

``I’ll fetch you a blanket, and a flask of hot tea,” the guard said. He and the driver were clearly disturbed at having to leave me there, but they could see there was nothing else to do.
It was late afternoon when the train left. I put the blanket over the young woman and tended to her scratches and bruises. As far as I could tell there was no real damage and the heather had broken her fall. But she was still unconscious.

Night fell and so did the temperature. I shivered in my thin jacket, but the hot tea was a comfort.

I must have dozed because suddenly I found myself in broad daylight – I was standing on a shore, watching a boat pull away with four people in it. Three young men had their faces turned toward the sea, but the fourth occupant suddenly turned and threw back her blue cloak. I recognised the bright hair at once – it was the girl who had thrown herself from the train. She gazed at the shore, not at me, with passion and longing blazing in her eyes. Her voice, rising in a song of praise for the land she was leaving behind, pierced me to my heart.

I awoke with a start, still on the hillside, and immediately looked to my patient – she was sitting up, her hair thrown back, the beautiful face of my dream now before me.

``Are you all right?” I stammered. ``You had a terrible fall – but there will be an ambulance coming soon.”
The girl shook her head – she was clearly still groggy. I offered her some tea and she sipped at it gratefully.

``I am Dr Phineas MacFadden,” I said. ``Do you remember your name?”

``Finola,” she said.

I could tell by her accent that she was Irish. I encouraged her to drink more tea, for she was trembling, more from shock than cold.

``What happened?” she asked.

``You – fell from the train,” I said carefully. ``Do you not remember?”

``I remember standing at the window – I remember my heart breaking to see the last of Scotland – “ she sighed and shook her head. ``Then no more.”

``You are leaving Scotland?” I said. ``But why?”

``I am joining my husband Liam at Stranraer – we are returning to Ireland,” she said sadly. ``We had to leave because my father wanted me to marry a rich old man. Now he has sent word that he has forgiven us, and Liam misses Ireland so much – but I love this place, and I don’t believe we can trust my father. He still means us harm, I’m sure.”

My head was spinning, as you can imagine – in my dream I had seen Deirdre of the Sorrows returning to Ireland, where King Conchobar waited to kill her husband and force her to marry him, and here, lying in the heather beside me, was this young woman who was also returning to Ireland against her will.

Had not Deirdre of the Sorrows thrown herself from the King’s chariot as he was carrying her back to his castle?

``You must not return,” I said. ``You must persuade your husband to remain here in Scotland.”
We both looked up at the roar of an approaching engine. The ambulance was making its way along the winding road toward us. As the headlights swept across the hillside I stood up and waved.

The ambulance attendants lifted Finola gently onto a stretcher and carried her down to the road. I followed with the blanket over my arm.

At the Garrick Hospital we were able to ascertain that Finola had come to no harm. But when her frantic husband arrived I caught him alone for a few moments and told him that the trip back to Ireland would have to be cancelled.

``We want to keep an eye on her,” I said, ``Your wife is expecting a baby – luckily the fall did no harm. But a rough sea journey might be ill advised.” He readily agreed and confessed that he himself had no wish to return – he had thought his wife longed for her homeland.

So there is my tale – on that night, did I prevent an ancient tragedy from repeating itself, or was I swayed by the beauty of a young woman who had thrown herself from a train rather than leave Scotland?

I suppose I shall never know – but what I do know is that seven months later I never saw two happier people, when I brought their first child into the world.


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