30th October 1889
I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by a frantic hammering upon my door.
"Dr. Tripp! Dr. Tripp!"
After cladding myself in a dressing-gown, I rushed over to answer the frantic cries. It transpired that Ms. DeMille was the desperate individual.
"Forgive me for waking you, Doctor," she said, "but please - you must come urgently."
"Why? What's happened?"
"It's Rococco and Claymore, sir," she explained. "They... they... oh, do forgive me!"
"What, Ms. DeMille?"
Her face grew red from blushing.
"Well, Doctor..." she replied, "they're prigging."
I regarded her quizzically.
"Oh, you know, Doctor... prigging. Oh, please, do forgive me - it's so crude to discuss!"
My eyes widened as the realisation came upon me.
"Do you mean to tell me," I said, "that they are currently engaged in amorous congress?"
Dear God - did the fools know the risk they were taking? If Miss Rococco was to become with child...
"By heaven, it's shameful behaviour!" Ms. DeMille tutted. "They should be stopped at once."
"I agree," I replied. "Take me to them."
Ms. DeMille was all too happy to lead me down the corridor to the larger chamber - the only one which contained a bed of a sufficient size for two people. Suddenly, it occurred to me that this was usually the bed Ms. DeMille seized for herself. Perhaps her objection to the couple's "prigging", as she had referred to it (a crass, common term that revealed her true heritage) was to the use of a space she saw as hers, as opposed to some moral dilemma.
That said, it was still, undoubtedly, a dilemma. The Asylum would not be able to support any issue produced by the lover's union, and, due to Miss Rococco's nymphomania, it would be a major barrier to her recovery. Further, Mr. Claymore was a man of sensitive temperament: a simple lover's tiff between the pair could easily escalate into something far more serious. I could not vouch for the young woman's safety - nor that of anyone else here.
As we approached the chamber, I heard unmistakable noise coming from within. Drawing in a deep breath to help myself mentally prepare for Claymore's undoubtedly rage-filled reaction, I knocked on the door repeatedly.
"Claymore! Open this door at once!"
After a few seconds, the door violently swung open. Claymore, as I had anticipated, had not taken the interruption well.
"What the 'ell do yer want?"
"Mr. Claymore," I began, "I have a moral and legal duty to protect those in this Asylum. I'm sorry to say that I don't believe this... behaviour... with Miss Rococco to be of benefit to anyone."
"I wouldn't say that, guv!" came the giggling voice of Miss Rococco from within.
"See, guv?" Claymore said cockily. "She's enjoyin' it. I ain't takin' advantage of no-one.I've done nuffin' wrong."
"All the same, sir," I added, "I don't feel it would be of great help to your recovery - "
I was cut short by Mr. Claymore clutching the lapels of my dressing-gown, pulling me up rapidly to stare into his wide, angry eyes.
"Look, guv," he growled, "I love that girl, and I ain't givin' 'er up for no-one - not even some doctor with 'is 'ead up 'is arse, or some bloody pigeon-livered church bell who's puttin' 'er nose in other folks' business."
"A church bell I may be, sir," Ms. DeMille snapped, "but at least I'm not a harlot like her in there!"
I think I realised before her that this was not the appropriate thing to say in this situation. As Mr. Claymore exploded with rage and swung his fist at her, I hastily threw myself in front of Ms. DeMille, and was consequently sent soaring across the corridor.
As Mr. Claymore retreated into his chamber to resume his activities, Ms. DeMille rushed to my side.
"Doctor? Are you all right?"
Agonising pain filled my body as a lifted myself onto my elbows, but I managed a weak smile.
"Oh, I'm sure I shall be fine in good time, Ms, DeMille."
"What are you to do about Rococco and Claymore?"
"Well - they are adults, Ms. DeMille," I replied, contemplating my current situation with some care. "I daresay we should allow them to pursue this romance if they so wish. After all, they are not causing any real harm to anyone else, now, are they?"
"Well... excluding the present moment, I mean."
"You mean to say," Ms. DeMille snapped, "that you intend to do nothing?"
"But you must, Doctor!" she wailed. "After all, there is a serious problem at hand here!"
"And what might that be, Ms. DeMille?"
"Well... where the devil am I to sleep?"
Groaning, I fell back upon the floor, and allowed the darkness to claim my consciousness.
That evening, I was to discover that Rococco and Claymore were not the only inmates whose hearts had become inflamed by feelings of passion. As I was making my way to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal - limping and wincing as I walked - I overheard the sound of crying coming from the Asylum chapel.
Concerned, I entered... and was greeted by the sight of a weeping Sister Marie-Catherine, kneeling before the altar and frantically mumbling Latin prayers, her rosary clasped tightly in her hands as she beat her breast.
"Mea culpa, mea culpa... mea maxima culpa..."
"Sister? Is something wrong?"
Hearing my voice, she turned to look at me.
"Oh... Doctor..." she sobbed, "it's terrible... just... terrible..."
"Perhaps I can be of help?"
Rising to her feet, Sister Marie-Catherine gestured towards one of the pews. I took a seat, and she swiftly followed suit.
"Something happened... in the garden," she whispered. "With Mr. McManus."
It was no secret to anyone that he and Sister Marie-Catherine had grown close to one another. In an effort to lifted the young nun's melancholic spirits, and to channel Mr. McManus' usefulness with his hands into something more beneficial to society, I had set them to work in the Asylum gardens.
Over the last few days, the pair had worked hard tending to the overgrown bushes and pulling up weeds, and were now in the process of planting various blooms. I had even managed to save from seeds from various fruits and vegetables, which the pair had planted in the hope of growing extra food for the inmates.
Of course, I did not wish to become a harsh master over the pair, and as such, I reminded them to take regular breaks for their health and sanity. After all, this was an exercise in recovery, not an attempt to install slave labour. I would watch from the windows as they pair sat together on a bench, talking civilly with one another. McManus, I knew, shared Sister Marie-Catherine's Catholic faith, which had given them an initial point of discussion. However, as was to be expected, the conversation had soon turned to gossip about others in the Asylum, and other everyday chit-chat.
"It happened today," Sister Marie-Catherine explained to me. "Whilst we were talking."
"What happened?" I asked.
The young nun went on to explain that she and McManus had grown closer than either of them had ever expected. In recent days, the pair had talked extensively about their families and backgrounds, learning almost everything there was to be known about one another. This particular morning, the congress between Miss Rococco and Mr. Claymore had, naturally, become a big talking point all around the Asylum. As such, it formed the origin of the gardeners' morning chat... and the talk swiftly turned to other matters of the heart.
"I asked Mr. McManus if he was a married man," Sister Marie-Catherine told me. "He told me no. He had, he said, had casual girlfriends in the past, but these relationships had never come to much. He never seemed to meet the ladies' expectations. He said I would probably understand that, seeing as I was married to God, and what man on Earth could compare with Him?"
She chuckled warmly... as did I. For all McManus' faults, he did have a good sense of humour.
"It was then I confided in him my doubts about my vocation," she went on. "I explained how I had taken holy orders when I was still rather young... and dare I say, foolish. As of late, I feel that I may have made the decision too lightly... and now, I am trapped. I was outgoing as a child, but now, I will forever be locked away from the world, destined to spend my days in isolation and prayer. The prayer aspect, I told McManus, is of no concern to me. I have always been a woman of faith. But the thing that did terrify me was the thought of years and years of loneliness that I now had ahead."
"That was when McManus took my hand," she said weakly. "He told me that, as long as we both were here, I had no reason to fear loneliness. I smiled at that. He smiled, too. Then, without any further words between us, we found ourselves leaning towards one another, and, then... our lips..."
She buried her head into her hands with a meagre cry.
"McManus kissed you?!" I cried, alarmed.
"Yes, Doctor. I do not think he meant harm, but... all the same, it frightened me. I stood there like a statue for a few moments more, and then, I turned on my heels and fled, ashamed. McManus called after me, but... I dared not look back."
I leaped to my feet.
"Well, Sister - that is simply unacceptable," I muttered. I will have McManus placed in isolation at once, and then, he will be expelled from the Asylum as soon as possible."
The nun looked up at me, aghast.
"Expelled?" she asked. "But... that means he will be sent to gaol, does it not?"
"I am afraid so."
Anguished, Sister Marie-Catherine clutched my hands, and then knelt down at my feet, in the manner of a supplicant... as if I were one of the saints depicted in the many paintings around the Chapel.
"Please, Doctor!" she wept. "Do not punish McManus! Do not send him away! I know he is a sinner, but he has a good heart! I sense that within him! McManus.. Sammy... is my friend! He is very dear to me! Please - do not punish him!"
"But, Sister," I said, confused, "it is clear that his actions have troubled you. They have left you scared and upset. Why else would you be weeping?"
"Oh - no, Doctor!" came the answer. "You misunderstand! I am not frightened of Sammy at all! I hold no ill will against him! As I say, I know he meant no harm!"
"Then why do you weep so?"
"I weep for myself! For my own sin, my own shame!"
"I'm afraid that I don't understand, Sister."
Slowly, she let go of my hands, drawing them into her lap.
"It was the kiss, Doctor," she breathed, barely audible. "I... I enjoyed it..."
This response stunned me into silence. The dilemma was now as clear to me as it was to her. The young nun had made a vow to remain forever faithful to the Lord. But now, she was away from the safety of the convent... and was slowly losing her heart to a mortal man.
"Oh, Doctor..." she said, almost laughing at the absurdity of it all. "What am I to do?"
"I... I cannot answer that question, Sister," I replied, after a few moments of careful thought. "I.. I can arrange for your confessor to come and visit you, if you like..."
"Thank you, Doctor. That would be most kind."
"Yet, I daresay... this may be a question you need to answer for yourself."
Slowly, Sister Marie-Catherine rose to her feet, and approached the altar once again.
"I think you are right, Doctor," she said, managing a soft smile. "Thank you for your time."
"You are most welcome, Sister. Please... speak with me any time you wish. In the meantime, would you like me to take you off of gardening duties?"
"That won't be necessary. With all due respect... I would prefer to face my problem rather than hide from it."
"An admirable attitude."
"Goodnight, Dr. Tripp."
As I head towards the door, a thought came to me.
"Oh, and Sister?"
"Please... say a prayer for me."
After leaving the chapel, I immediately went to the kitchen - but instead of commencing dinner at once, I first made myself a strong cup of tea. In the absence of liquor, it was the most fortifying beverage there was to hand.
God had to provide a solution to this problem. Heaven only knew that I could not.