Fun Friday: Learning to Love (A Ransome Spin-Off #StoryIdea)
Because I’m trying to re-teach myself that writing can be fun, this year, I’m focusing on coming up with new ideas for stories. Does this mean they’ll all get written in novel or even novella form? No guarantees. However, this is a creative exercise that I both need and want to share.
John Charles “Jack” Witherington = Luke Macfarlane
Ellen Delaney = Hannah James
Having arrived in Boston as an adolescent, Ellen Delaney has done everything she can to distance herself from her Irish heritage–after all, “Ellen Delaney” with an American accent can move throughout Boston without a second glance, unlike Eileen O’Delaney, a young girl fresh off the boat from Avoca, County Wicklow, Ireland. The Delaneys came to Boston in 1833 when her father, educated in England and having converted from Catholic to Quaker, wanted to leave so his family could practice the religion of their choice, and where not adhering to the state-mandated religion wouldn’t negatively affect his ability to find work as a physician. He made a new life for them in Boston, quickly teaching his children to speak like native-born Bostonians and ensuring they had every advantage they never would have had in Ireland.
Captain John Charles Witherington, US Navy, was shot twice in the right leg in the First Battle of Tabasco, which was fought during the Mexican–American War, in October 1846. Near death, he was sent back to the US, landing in New Orleans, where he recuperated. From there, he was first sent to Washington City and then assigned to the ship building yard, the Charlestown (Boston) Navy Yard, being experienced in ship design (learned from his mother and a lot of independent study). As primarily a repair yard, Charlestown employs hundreds (thousands?) of civilian dock workers. In the summer of 1847, with hundreds of Irish immigrants pouring off ships in Boston Harbor almost daily, tensions rise between the American laborers at the Navy yard and large Boston dockyards and the Irish immigrants looking for work.
Well known as one of the officials at Charlestown, and with a last name that connects him to a famous British admiral from the Napoleonic wars, as Jack heads home after work one night, he is set upon by a mob of desperate Irishmen. The last thing he hears before he loses consciousness is the sound of a woman’s voice.
Ellen’s parents have expressed their concerns more than once, even going so far as forbidding her, over her teaching at the charity school down near the dockyards. But Ellen cannot turn her back on the poor, starving children. Or the men and women for whom she and a few of her fellow teachers regularly stay to teach to read and figure after the school day has ended. She’s heading home late in the evening after one of these sessions when she comes upon a group of teen boys she knows from the neighborhood attacking a man in a military uniform. Knowing they will face severe punishment should they ever be identified, she sends them away before enlisting the help of men who work at the dockyard to load him into a cab and take him home to be seen to by her doctor father.
When Jack wakes up, he finds himself tucked into a bed in an unfamiliar room being tended to by a couple of unfamiliar women. The older woman steps out, leaving Jack alone with the very pretty younger woman. She asks him what he remembers (not much), then introduces herself. When he learns that she teaches in the school down in the Irish tenements, Jack worries about what kind of household he’s been brought into. But when her father, the doctor, arrives, he’s put at ease by hearing everyone’s American accents.
At Dr. Delaney’s insistence, Jack stays with the Delaneys overnight to ensure that his head injury doesn’t cause any complications and that there are no lingering effects from injuries they might not be able to see. The next morning, though a headache lingers, Jack thanks the family and then, upon learning that Ellen is about to leave for school, accepts her offer to walk with him to his boarding house–and her offer to take a note to the Navy yard for him, explaining his tardiness.
For the next few days, Ellen Delaney occupies Jack’s thoughts to the point of nearly constant distraction. So when a note arrives from Mrs. Delaney inviting him to a dinner, he gratefully accepts. It’s a good opportunity for him to broaden the scope of his social life in his new city–and also to spend more time around Miss Ellen Delaney. It’s planned that Jack will meet Ellen at her school to drive with her the night of the dinner. When he arrives, he sees Ellen speaking with a group of young men . . . And it sparks something in the back of his mind. Two of the boys look familiar to him, but he can’t quite recall why.
Over the next several weeks, Jack finds more and more excuses to walk over to the charity school in order to see Ellen, including offering to walk her home in the evenings to ensure no danger comes to her. It’s during these walks that she begins to tout the benefits he could help provide to the growing population of impoverished Irish immigrants by helping to see as many of them as possible hired at Charlestown. Many of them came from port towns in Ireland and have experience as dockhands and shipwrights—and even if they don’t there’s so much manual labor that happens at the dockyard that there must always be a need for unskilled labor as well.
At first, Jack is enchanted by Ellen’s passion for those less fortunate than herself. But it’s not long before he starts feeling jealous of the attention she lavishes on the Irish. He wants her to pay that kind of attention to him.
As the summer wears on, the unrest increases, and it isn’t long before Jack realizes that Ellen is more involved with the Irish than he first realized. He tries to convince her to distance herself, that it isn’t safe for her to not just attend but also help organize meetings and rallies, trying to help them create a community that will have the power to negotiate with landlords and the city in order to improve their living environment, create employment opportunities, and build a real school.
When Jack tells her one too many times that he thinks what she’s doing is too dangerous, she finally breaks down and reveals the truth of her background to him—that she was born Eileen O’Delaney in a small village not too far from Dublin. She feels it’s her duty to help these immigrants as much as she can to have the same kind of life in America that she’s been blessed to have.
Can Ellen help Jack to see that there’s more to the Irish than the squalor and violence that’s all he seems to focus on? Can Jack open his heart not just to Ellen but to those for whom she cares?
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