The day had been long and Ethel felt dishevelled and unclean. Her white, starched nurse's uniform was now creased and bloodied, a horrific reminder of the people they had lost that evening. Though she knew it wasn't her fault – she had worked for hours trying to save two young children from the workhouse – it was difficult not to think that she could have done more. It had always been a ridiculous ambition to think she could become a doctor, and a good doctor at that.
Walking down the now quiet corridor, she slowed as she passed Dr. Culpin's slightly open door. She paused, wondering whether she should go in, but their last conversation had been tense and had ended awkwardly, and she wasn't sure how to approach him now. Had their relationship been kept on a more professional level, perhaps things would have been easier, but they were compromised. Colleagues, or even friends, simply didn't describe what they felt for one another, and the passionate kiss they had shared was simply evidence of that fact.
Now, however, after their argument, she didn't feel comfortable going to see him as though nothing had changed. With his harsh words now plaguing her mind, she walked on, determined not to look back even if he came out, while still willing him to do so. As she reached the end of the corridor, she waited for a second, wondering if he had heard the clip of her shoes on the floor, but the corridor remained quiet, and she turned the corner without further hesitation.
Millais Culpin sat at his desk with a thick textbook open in front of him, his mind far from incisions and scalpels. Ethel, he was almost certain now, had walked past his door without coming to see him, and though he desperately tried to ignore the fact that it bothered him, her rejection stung him badly.
Only two days previously, she had declared she wanted to be his wife and give up any ambition of becoming a doctor... and he had bluntly refused to listen. Now, it seemed, he was the one to be snubbed. Though he couldn't blame her, he simply wasn't willing to be believe that she had given up so easily – and about something they could return to once she had been trained properly. She was young, naïve, and wished her life to hurry up to greet her – he could remember feeling exactly the same at her age – but to consider marriage in the same category as becoming a doctor was ludicrous!
There was only a small part of him, minuscule in fact, which wondered about this particular possibility. After they had kissed that night, having almost been interrupted, he had imagined what life would be like to share it with her. To wake every morning and see her radiant face relaxed in slumber beside him. The thought of his auburn curls surrounding the face of a child with the same wide, beautiful eyes as Ethel almost made him smile. Almost. He refrained, unable to think of it too much without his heart aching for it to become a reality.
In truth, marrying Ethel was as fine an ambition as any other, but she deserved so much more than that! A doctor's wife... She could be a doctor, and it was that thought that put the first firmly out of his head. He was resolute in his belief that she would make a fine doctor – one who was caring, considerate but who was still firm and professional. She was a magnificent student, and could be an even better teacher to other women wishing to join the medical profession at a higher level.
As the words began to swim before his eyes, he knew it was time to stop and go home, but part of him was eager to stay, simply for the reason that Ethel may return. The thought of her wandering the corridor alone, looking for him, was such a sad and pitying thought that he couldn't bring himself to go, and as he leaned back in the hard wooden chair, he promised himself that he would do everything within his power to make sure she made the right decision.