It has now been ten years since we were released from Dr. Marlow's horrendous home. A new century has begun. I can only hope the future is as joyful and prosperous as the last few years have been for all of the former inmates. I know this since I often exchange letters and photographs with them all: sharing our latest news, and helping to seal our lasting friendships.
They cut it rather too close for comfort, but ultimately, Lucian and Fifi did marry before their baby arrived. Only a few short weeks after their nuptials, they welcomed a son, whom they named "Laurence", in honour of the late Mr. Wilde. I'm told he is quite a creative boy... which, no doubt, would please our poet friend very much.
Both Mr. and Mrs Claymore earn their money on the entertainment circuit. Fifi has become a well-known pianist and singer, popular with audiences across the country. Her most famous music hall song, "Little Red Roses", was adapted from one of Mr. Wilde's poems, and has helped ensure his own name has lived on.
Lucian, meanwhile, is a championship boxer, earning money from his victories in professional matches. However, Fifi - or rather, Fiona, as now she insists on being called offstage - assures me that his aggression never leaves the ring. They have disagreements, of course, as all married couples do, but Lucian has never laid a hand on her, or indeed, anyone who wasn't a chosen opponent.
Still, in between performances and matches, they've found time to raise a family. They have three children now - Laurence, Edward and little Alice - who travel with them as they tour the nation with their respective acts. A most exciting childhood, I should think. Fiona has hopes of going further afield one day (perhaps to Paris, or somewhere in America) but their next stop will be nearer my way, and I have every intention of paying them a call.
Sister Marie-Catherine Rose was granted her Papal dispensation, and left the convent a weeks after her release from the Asylum. Reverting back to her birth name of Charlotte Ruswell, she was delighted to be swiftly reunited with her beloved Sammy... and it wasn't too long before she found her name changing once more.
Thanks to his natural flair with gardening, Sammy has managed to turn his back on criminal activity once and for all, having found stable work in the stately homes surrounding London: managing the nobles' vast lawns, conservatories and arboretums in exchange for a plentiful wage. To supplement this even further, he even grows his own fruits and vegetables at home, which he sells at the local market.
The extra money, of course, was useful to them... given that their garden wasn't the only thing growing.
These days, they are proud parents to two sons, Seamus and Sean, whom they are raising in the Catholic faith.
Despite Charlotte's negative experiences within the convent, her faith is something she has never lost and whilst she is primarily a housewife, she is also the teacher at the local Sunday school.
And sometimes, just every so often... she sees a familiar face kneeling at the foot of the altar.
Through Charlotte, I have learnt that, upon professing her vows, Clarice Treadmere was given the name of Sister Marie Monica Barnabas. That last part, I am told, was in my honour.
Her time in the Home, whilst tragic, seems to have not been entirely in vain, as caring for invalid inmates gave her the experience she needed to work in the convent hospital. In addition to her daily prayers and religious duties, she is devoted to looking after the abandoned, the poor, and all those unable to find the help they need elsewhere: comforting them with basic medicine and Holy Scripture.
Clarice, as she then was, wrote to me only once: before she took the vows that would remove her from the wider world. In it, she promised that, each night in her cell, as she read from her prayer book, she would remember everyone from Marlow's Home, and ask the Lord to care for us all. I may never know for sure if she kept her word, but given the blessings our lives have seen, I am inclined to believe that she did.
As for myself, I returned to London life, left Marlow's employment, and established my own medical practice close to Harley Street. When word spread about my fellow inmates and their miraculous healing under my care, I was welcomed back into the Fellowship of Physicians with open arms, and my number of patients grew substantially. The madman, it seems, was correct all along. Thanks to my surgery's success, I was earning a considerable amount of money: enough to buy a townhouse in the fashionable part of the city - the central property in a long, elegant row.
Deidre, as agreed, came to live with me as my housekeeper: a spare upstairs room becoming her lodgings. She undertook the chores and cooking selfishly, skillfully and without complaint: making my life far easier, and allow me to truly devote myself to my patients. After a while, it occurred to me that simply having someone to come home to each night, and the polite company Deidre provided, was worth every penny I paid her by itself.
Everything was peaceful and contented... until, one day, about six months into my resumed life, I was paid a most unexpectedly call by two Cockney ruffians. They had spotted Deidre buying ingredients for supper in the market, and followed her back here - wanting to ensure that she paid off her debt to their employer.
Sensing their presence, Deidre panicked and rushed into the house: hiding herself away in the lounge, terrified, and leaving me to deal with our unwelcome visitors.
"We ain't 'ere to cause yer good self any trouble, guv," one told me as stood in my hallway. "We just want the bird, that's all. She 'as a... payment to make, you see. Just bring 'er out to us, and nobody gets 'urt."
I remained calm. Bizarre as it was, I had been prepared for this eventuality for some time. The first part of my plan involved getting these thugs as far away from Deidre as possible. They'd been civil with me so far, but if they thought I was going to risk letting them get within five feet of the person most dear to me in the world, they were deluding themselves.
"Come now," I said to them firmly. "There is no need for violence. Pray, come upstairs into my study, and we can discuss the matter like gentlemen."
This unusual offer threw the off guard, but, nevertheless, they accepted it. As I led them up to the first floor and across the hall into the small, book-filled room, their eyes were immediately drawn to a large chest in one corner... exactly as I had hoped.
"Please," I told them. "Go ahead."
As the thinner of the two men knelt down to open it up, his eyes widened and his face beamed as he examined its contents, turning to his partner excitedly.
"There's a ton of money in 'ere!" he cried, elated. "We're talkin' more than a year's wages, mate!"
"Indeed," I told them. "I've been saving for months now. Enough to pay off Ms. DeMille's debt, wouldn't you say?"
"And there we have it," I explained. "It's yours, gentlemen. All of it. That is... if you agree to never bother Ms. DeMille again. Her debt is repaid, and you have no need to speak to her. From now on, she is a persona incognita. You understand?"
The two man exchanged glances, then whipped off their caps, and reached out to shake my hand.
"Pleasure doing business with yer."
With the smirks of mischievous goblins, they picked up the chest between them, and scurried down the stairs... with myself closely following to make sure they didn't try and grab any extras on the way out.
Once the front door had firmly shut behind them, I went into the lounge, where I found the still shaking Deidre slowly coming out of hiding.
"Are... are they gone?" she asked weakly.
"Yes," I told her. "And they're never coming back. You no longer have any business with them."
"But, 'ow can that be?"
"I... I have paid off your debt," I explained. "As of today, you owe those men nothing. You have a clean slate. A new start."
Deidre shook her head in shock - unable to comprehend what I was saying. I saw tears of joy forming in her eyes as she stifled a gasp.
"I... I might never be able to pay yer back..." she began.
"No need," I said dismissively. "I don't wish you to. The money means nothing to me - I still have plenty. I simply wanted to help you."
"But, why.... why would yer do such a kind thing for me?"
Drawing in a breath, I summoned up the courage I needed to tell her the truth.
"Because... because I love you, Deidre."
Deidre said nothing. She merely stared at me as though she didn't speak the same language as I - causing me to panic, and to ramble on like a true madman.
"Please.... please don't think I've tried to "purchase" you, or anything untoward like that. That wasn't my intention, I swear it. I simply felt that, that you had to know the truth now. If... if you wish to leave my employ, then I completely understand, but I... I had hoped -"
"Doctor," Deidre said quickly in her old Duchess tone, stunning me into silence. "May one be allowed to convey one's true feelings?"
With a giggle, she lurched forward, and kissed my lips passionately.
It was a moment of pure heavenliness.
Less than a month later, Deidre made me the happiest man alive by becoming Mrs. Barnaby Tripp.
As I held my bride in my arms and looked into her eyes, I knew that I was going to be with her for the rest of my earthly days. I would not end up a callous, miserly megalomaniac like Marlow. I would be a renowned doctor who cared for his patients, and who would always feel love in his heart, thanks to the love that Deidre shared with me. I would do anything to ensure her future happiness.
Part of that happiness, I knew, was the hope that we, like our former fellow inmates, would be able to start a family. Having never before laid with a woman, my wedding night filled with a strong sense of nervousness and expectation, but also excitement. Consummation, I hoped, would not be an issue - and indeed, as it transpired, I enjoyed the process immensely - but procreation might prove an obstacle.
In the end, I had no reason to worry. Exceeding even my own highest expectations, I proved to be... most virile.
Thus far, the Lord has blessed Deidre and I with six beautiful children. We have three sons - James, Michael and Albert, and three daughters - Emily, Amelia and Victoria... all of whom, God be praised, were carried and delivered by their mother with little difficulty. Whilst we would certainly welcome any more children that providence may grant us, our family as it stands is marvellous beyond both of our wildest dreams. Thankfully, our time in the asylum helped us prepare for the upcoming years of raising a large group of people, who at times can seem rather uncontrollable!
Earlier this morning, I ventured up to Highgate Cemetery, in order to visit Laurence's grave. He lies alongside fellow poets and creative souls, exactly as he'd wished. In all of the years since his passing, fresh flowers have always been on his grave, and the spot is well-tended and cared for. Alphonse, I suspect, is the most common caller, but I feel his friends from the Home must come by here often, too. In life, society may have rejected Laurence, but here, he is one of the most visited people of all. He is still remembered, and he is still loved.
In stark contrast, at the other side of the cemetery, there is a decrepit, damaged headstone atop a patch of muddy, barren earth. If anyone cared to wipe away from the dust from the grey marble, they would learn that this is the resting place of one Dr. Nicholas Marlow: died 1895, unmarried, no children... and clearly, no mourners to speak of.
As I passed it by on my way out, I knelt before it for a few moments in deep thought. For years, I have tried to rid myself of the terrible memories of Marlow, and what he and his ghoulish Home for the Sanity-Challenged tried to do to myself and the others who had dwelled there. He had wanted to rob us of our lives: to gain the respect of learned men at the cost of our liberty and humanity. It was a monstrous notion. Yet, still... had I never been sent there, I would not have my loving wife and beautiful children today.
Against all of his intentions, Marlow had granted me a blessing, not a curse. He had saved me from his own harsh fate... and for that, as unnatural as it felt, I had to be grateful. That was why, in my hallway, a pencil sketch of the Home's exterior was hung up in a frame upon the wall. Beneath it was an inscription, consisting of six simple words.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS.
Home - my home - was calling me now. Six o'clock was drawing near. Deidre would have dinner ready soon, and no doubt the children would all be babbling over one another in the frantic rush to tell me about the day's activities.
For now, however, no words were forthcoming.
With a respectful dip of my hat, I bid farewell to my former employer, and left quietly.