Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Dr. Marlow's Home for the Sanity-Challenged: Part Nine - The Inspection

5th January 1890

"A tragedy, of course," Dr. Marlow said bluntly as he saw the coffin in the chapel. "To lose an inmate to illness. Terrible for my reputation. Still, the other seven are alive, so I suppose one must count one's blessings."

I was used to Marlow's harsh world view, but this time, his callousness shocked even me. Still, I thankfully managed to bite my tongue. His companions, Dr. Addington and the Reverend Mother Marie Hilda Clare, said nothing, but their stiff, vacant expressions showed no hint of sympathy. To a doctor, what was the death of a incurable? And to a nun, what was the death of a sinner?

"I will consider his request with some care," Marlow went on. "Were it my choice, he would of course be buried here, but I supposed some ill-advised family members who'd still consider this sodomite kin may care to mourn him. I am not utterly devoid of mercy."

Now that was a surprise. 

"Anyway... enough of the hopeless cases," Marlow said matter-of-factly. "It is the living patients I am concerned with. I wish to see them at once."

"Of course, sir," I replied obediently. "Pray, follow me."

I led them into the lounge, where I knew Fifi and Lucian would be waiting. Following Deidre's prompting, I'd had long discussions with the inmates over recent days. Everything was planned down to the smallest detail. If everything went well, we would all be free citizens before the day was out.

As my visitors entered, there, sat on the chaise longue, were the loving couple. 

By sewing together some curtains, Deirdre had created a new, conservative dress for Fifi, and she had washed her face of any make-up - her hair worn simply, but neatly. She was the epitome of the sensible loving wife, the "angel in the house" archetype: precisely the image she needed to project.

"Mr. Claymore and Ms. Richmond," I said, introducing them - taking care to use Fifi's real surname.

It was Lucian who spoke first. 

"Good morning, sirs. Reverend Mother. I 'ope the day finds you well?"

His voice was calm, his words chosen with care. No anger or frustration. The slightest hint of rage would be lethal to his case.

"Ah, Mr. Claymore," Dr. Marlow said, with an eerie brightness. "You seem most at peace with this... female companion. Tell me - has she tamed the savage tiger into a pussycat?"

It was a disguised insult - one designed to trigger an outburst. Lucian knew that, and he was ready. Rather than respond, he merely drew a deep breath, and shrugged it off, smiling contentedly.

"Per'aps," he admitted. "Still, rather a tamed and beloved pussycat that a mangy alley scrapper, eh?"

Fifi smiled back, clutching his hand happily.

Marlow relented. However, it was the emerging bump in Fifi's belly that had caught the attention of the Mother Superior.

"You have been eating well, I see," she muttered suspiciously.

Our esteemed guests simply could not know about the baby. Knowing I had allowed pre-martial relations to occur under the Home's roof would destroy any chance of the lover's freedom... and Marlow, most likely, would have my head on a platter.

"Oh... yes," I replied with haste. "Increased rations, following the spate of sickness. To increase the inmates' strength, you see. Keep them thriving."

"Top draw, Tripp!" Dr. Addington said, with some admiration.

"Yes," Marlow conceded. "A responsible path of action. Well... these two appear to have been reformed. They may leave this evening."

As I continued with the tour, leading my visitors towards the garden, I took one quick glance behind me... and saw the couple embracing each other in utter elation. 


Beneath the grey January skies, among the plants and greenery, Sister Marie-Catherine Rose and Sammy busied themselves with pruning and weeding. 

As I pointed them out to my learned company, explaining how a regime of mild daily labour both lifted spirits and diminished criminal instincts, I was bluntly cut short when Mother Marie Hilda Clare quickly took over - making her way towards the couple urgently. Of course... this was the matter that was of the most concern to her. 

Seeing her approach, Catherine and Sammy stopped working at once... the young nun greeting her superior with a modest curtsy.

"So... here they are," the Reverend Mother hissed. "The harlot and the incubus."

The pair said nothing, but everyone could see the burning red blush crossing Catherine's cheek.

"To think you could forsake your vows for one as lowly as him," Marie Hilda went on. "To abandon your Savour for a corrupt sinner... for a false, lustful affair."

"It is not false," Catherine replied - not in anger, but with a firm conviction. "Our love is genuine. I was promised to the Almighty when my heart was not resolved to Him. I see now that I cannot honour my word. My heart lies with Sammy now. Through hard work, he has endeavour to avoid the Devil's path. And I intend to walk alongside him until the day I die."

"And you truly believe," Marie Hilda sneered, "that he will be faithful?"

"I have more faith in him than anything else."

Contrary to expectations, it was the elder nun's temper that now began to flare.

"You foolish, insolent girl!" she cried, pointing an accusing finger squarely at Catherine Rose. "This demon may have led you astray, but I will not allow him to conquer you! I left one of my sisters here to be cared for, and by God, I swear two nuns shall return to the convent tonight!"

"Reverend Mother," called a voice. "I have every intention of helping you fulfil that vow."

We turned as one towards the porch. Standing there, much to my surprise, was Clarice... wearing Sister Catherine's spare habit and wimple.

As she hurried down the steps towards us, she herself curtsied to the Mother Superior, lowering her head and eyes in a modest gesture of respect.

"My name is Clarice Treadmere," she explained to the agog nun. "I was sent here to recover when I fell into despair over a broken engagement - being forsaken on my wedding day. With Catherine Rose's teaching, care and guidance, I have learned of the Lord and His love for mankind... and I believe our meeting here was planned by God. Through His call, I have deduced that the fates we each first believed were our own were, in truth, intended for the other." 

She knelt down slowly on the lawn, clasping her hands in a prayerful gesture.

"It is my dearest wish," she continued, "to take holy orders, and to enter the convent in Catherine Rose's place."

Rarely have I felt such admiration for a person as I did for Miss Treadmere in that moment. Turning to the Mother Superior, I could see that she was stunned into silence.

"Please, Reverend Mother," I pleaded. "Surely you could at least consider this proposition?"

The next few moments felt like hours as the aged nun contemplated the situation with care.

"A dispensation must be granted by the Holy Father, of course," she relented. "To free Catherine Rose from her vows."

Taking Clarice's hand, she helped her to her feet.

"And you, young woman," she went on. "Have you truly considered all you will be sacrificing? Are you sure you are fully prepared to embrace a life of poverty, chastity and obedience?"

"Yes," Clarice said, without the smallest hint of doubt. "God has shown me my path. I have no greater desire now than to serve Him."

As I saw Marie Hilda smile, I was flooded with a feeling of relief.

"Then we have much to discuss," she said to Clarice brightly.

She turned to Marlow and Addington, waving them away with a flick of her hand.

"Pray leave us, gentlemen," she said. "You need not concern yourselves with this matter - it lies with me. Besides, I must confer with my potential new postulant."

As I lead my two fellow physicians back into the Home, I myself thanked the Lord for what had occurred. It was nothing short of a miracle.


At the top of the stairs, standing just outside my office, Deidre was waiting for us nervously. When myself, Marlow and Addington came into her view, she began to tremble - swallowing lumps of air as panic set in. 

I desperately longed to clutch her hand - to reassure her that everything would go swimmingly, just as she herself had said on Christmas night. But duty demanded that I keep my distance. It was up to her to strengthen her own resolve.

"And finally, sirs," I said warmly, "our last inmate. Miss Deidre DeMille."

"Ah, yes," Marlow chuckled darkly. "The so-called "Duchess". Tell us, Miss DeMille... what has been your experience of my most esteemed Home?"

Deidre made no reply... too terrified to speak. As a crooked wicked grin crossed Marlow's lips, I turned to Deidre with an imploring glare - begging her silently to say anything.

"Come now, my dear," Marlow cooed, his voice oozing with venom. "Pray, don't be shy."

After drawing in a sharp breath, Deidre finally spoke. However, as I heard her words, all of my hopes were dashed.

"Well, of course," she cooed, "one does what one must in the circumstances, doesn't one? Stiff upper lip, best of British, what ho. True, my fellow residents have proved... troublesome at times, but on the whole, I've found their company rather pleasurable."

It wasn't quite the Duchess. To my mind, it was more an attempt at eloquence than a display of arrogance. But all in all... it wasn't the true Deidre. That simple fact was enough to seal her fate.

Smirking, Marlow turned to Addington.

"Still putting on airs, I see," he muttered gruffly - with Silas nodding in agreement. "I knew you'd fail somewhere, Tripp."

As Deidre realised what she had done, her face fell - her skin fading to ghostly white, her shaking growing more violent.

"Do you know what I would do with an ignorant, deluded old maid like this one, Tripp?" Marlow asked me teasingly. "Make her be my servant. Work her like a horse, feed her bread and water, and punish her severely if she ever tried such fancy talk again. That would teach her humility rather swiftly, do you not agree?"

He stared Deidre down with the lethal glare of Medusa.

"And how would I punish her?" he continued, the malice building. "I would beat her, of course. Beat her until she bled... until her bones were broken. And if she failed to stand up again, why... I'd simply beat her until she did so - or until she lay there dead!"

As my own stomach churned, I could only imagine how terrified Deidre was. Indeed, it proved too much for her. Bursting into tears, she pushed me aside, and fled into my office - slamming the door behind her sharply as Marlow burst into a mad cackle.

I could feel myself trembling now. Not with fear, but with pure, frothing rage. As my hands balled up into tight fists, I wondered if this is how Lucian had felt when he'd grown angry in the past. It was a strong, powerful emotion - almost beyond a person's control. Perhaps he would feel it again if someone ever tried to hurt his dearest Fifi.

Is this why I felt it now? Because Marlow had treated Deidre so callously?

I could have killed the bastard right there. But, God be praised - I didn't. I didn't throw one single punch, or even say one wrong word. It took every inch of my good character and sensibilities to let the rage go. But, I had to. For everyone's sake. Instead, I allowed a wondrous idea entered my brain... and looked my employer straight in the eye.

"Very well, sir," I said flatly.

"Excuse me, Tripp?" he asked, confused.

"I will take Deidre in as my servant," I explained. "My housekeeper. I will work her hard, just as you say, and punish her severely for her hubris. All you need do is release us both tonight. I can take care of the rest."

Marlow grinned.

"You are learning, Barnaby," he said proudly. "Perhaps there is hope for you, after all. You will soon see my methods are superior to your crazed theories. As you wish. You may return home this evening, and take that deluded harpy with you. Make sure she gets exactly what is coming to her."

As he headed down the stairs, Dr. Addington in tow, he turned back to me with an afterthought.

"Oh, and you may bury that sodomite wherever he wishes. I want this Asylum empty by nightfall. After all, there are plenty of other lunatics out there that require my care."


The second I heard the front doors closing, indicating my unwelcome guests had finally left, I rushed into my office, eager to check on Deidre. 

I found her sat upon my couch beside the window, weeping bitterly. As I approached her, she looked up at me, trembling still.

"I've ruined everything," she sobbed. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Dr. Tripp..."

I tried to speak, but she babbled on relentlessly in an anguished frenzy.

"I wasn't putting on airs!" she cried. "I swear it! I was just... so nervous. I wanted to make a good impression - that was all! I swear I - I never meant to - "

I reached out towards her, longing more than ever to comfort her. But, as she noticed my outstretched arms, she jumped to her feet in panic: hunching herself up defensively, and shielding her face with her hands.

"I 'eard what was said," she mumbled. "If you wish to strike me, Dr. Tripp, then please go ahead, but I.... I beg you, be swift..."

As I took hold of her forearm with a feather-light touch, she screamed in utter terror. I shushed her gently: stroking the spot as one might pet a cat, until she had calmed herself.

"Why the devil would I strike you?" I asked quietly. "The last thing I want to do in this world is harm you. Surely you realise that?"

"But... but Marlow..." she stammered. "What - what you said out there..."

I smiled.

"A ruse, Deidre," I explained. "That's all. I saw a chance to get us both out of here, and I took it. A chance to win Marlow over. What else could I have done?"

"Then... then you do not wish to beat me?"

"Not in the least."

"And... and you do not wish for me to become your 'ousekeeper?"

Here, I hesitated. In truth, I would have given anything to have Deidre in my life beyond today. But how could I take away her newly-won freedom?

"Well, I..." I stammered, "I - I would very much like to have you working for me, but I could never - "

"Truly?" Deidre said, to my surprise - and with no small amount of delight. "You would employ me?"

Overjoyed at how eager she was, I nodded.

"Of course," I told her. "You would sleep in a spare room in my home. Meals would be provided, and I'd pay you a fair wage. Enough to save up and start repaying your debtors. And, of course, I would treat you like a perfect gentleman. No berating or beatings... I promise you."

Deirdre's eyes widened. I swore I could see them sparkling.

"So," I asked, "would you be interested?"

At first, she said nothing. Instead, she threw her arms around me, and embraced me excitedly.

"Yes!" she cried. "Of course I would! God bless you, Dr. Tripp! God bless you!"

I was taken aback by her passionate expression at first... but within moments, that feeling of contented warmth from Christmas night flooded me once more, and I returned her embrace.

Part of me wondered if I truly had gone mad.

But, if this was insanity... then I never wanted to be sane again.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Dr. Marlow's Home for the Sanity-Challenged: Part Eight - An Advent Ascension

12th December 1889 - continued

Following Sammy's distressing declaration, myself and the other inmates immediately made haste to Laurence's room. We discovered him laid upon his bed as always, shivering and with sweat pouring from his brow - the curtains drawn, and only the light of a few flickering candles illuminating his cell-like chamber.

Sister Marie-Catherine Rose was already within, knelt at the foot of Laurence's bed: her hands clasped in prayer as she hastily whispered words of Latin, twin trails of tears running down her cheeks. A deep, raspy chuckle broke forth from Lawrence's lips, and with great effort, he propped himself up to look at her.

"There's no need to pray for me, Sister," he said weakly. "It won't help me where I am headed for."

"Don't talk like that!" Catherine chided him. "The Lord is loving and merciful."

As he noticed Sammy coming in alongside me and the others, Laurence nodded.

"Yes, Sister," he went on. "You and Mr. McManus would be wise to keep that in mind."

I sat myself down on a chair beside the bed, and reached out to check Laurence's pulse. However, as I reached for his wrist, he pulled his arm aside.

"Forgive me, Dr. Tripp," he croaked, "but I ask for no treatment. Not now. What must be must be."

Seeing the sincerity in his eyes, I sat back.

"Very well."

"But," he continued, "if you would be willing, you could help me in other ways."

"Of course, Laurence. What do you need?"

With a turn of his head, he indicated the drawers beside the bed.

"There's a letter in there," he explained. "To... to Alphonse."

"Who's Alphonse?" Deidre whispered to me.

Laurence chuckled again.

"He's... he's a friend of mine," he answered, before turning to me with a knowing smile. Clearly, he didn't want to offend a lady's delicate sensibilities. "The letter is... my farewell. Please, make sure it reaches him."

"I will."

He collapsed into a fit of hacking coughs before he was able to go on.

"I have another request, if you would pray hear it."

"Please... continue."

"When... when it happens," he pleaded, "I do not want to be buried anywhere around this...  this god-forsaken gaol. I don't care how long you have to keep me above ground. Bury me in a city cemetery - one with other artists and poets. Grant a dying man the privileged of being able to rest amongst his own kind."

"Yes, Laurence," I said sincerely. "I'll see to that. I promise."

Falling back onto the pillow, he seemed relieved to have been given my word..

"Thank you," he sighed contentedly.

At the back of the room, Fifi burst into tears - Lucian immediately embracing her tightly. Lawrence, aghast at her sadness, painfully craned his head to watch her weeping, and agonisingly stretched out a hand towards her.

"Oh, my poor, sweet Fifi," he cooed softly. "My little songbird. Won't you come here? Let me comfort you."

"Forgive me," Fifi sobbed in reply, "but... but I can't. I can't risk gettin' sick again."

"Why not, dearest?"

Taking Lucian's hand, Fifi drudged up a soft, slim smile.

"We've just found out," she explained. "Lucian and I are 'avin' a baby."

Laurence gasped in delight, his eyes shining for one brief moment.

"I am so happy for you, my darling," he told her. "Raise them to be creative, won't you? You have such a wondrous talent - it needs to go on. And I need some new artistic prodigy to take my place in this world."

Next, he turned towards the father-to-be.

"Mr. Claymore," he said, "take good care of our songbird and her chick. Let her sing loudly and fly free - never trap her in another cage like this. If you treat her well, she'll be true. I swear it. Fifi is a lovely young woman. Don't lose her through violent caddishness."

Lucian cupped Fifi's hand in his cheek, and then nodded at the poet in understanding.

Next, Laurence turned his attention to the Irishman.

"You take care of your fair lady, too," he advised. "The most exquisite rose, with an angel's heart. People will judge you, just like they judged me. But they won't understand love the way you two do. Hold on to that, and to one another, and you'll endure."

Finally, with a croak, he moved his stiff, suffering body around upon the bedsheets to look me eye to eye.

"And, of course, good doctor," he wheezed, "don't let your own heart grow cold, or you end up like that monstrous Marlow. Books and learning won't alleviate loneliness. Find someone, and treasure them. I implore you. Having plentiful love in your life is not something you'll regret."

With a sharp cry, he collapsed flat on the bed, his breathing growing laboured. As he looked up towards the skies above him, his gaze grew distant, as if some wondrous vision was appearing before him.

"At least..." he breathed, "I certainly don't..."

With these words, he grew still, and breathed his last.

As I softly blew out the candles, Catherine recited the Requiem Æternam - a chorus of sobbing accompanying her prayer.


26th December 1889

Losing Laurence so near to the Yuletide season was a devastating blow. Being locked away from our families on Christmas Day would be difficult enough, but losing a fellow inmate - someone who had become a dear friend - only made things harder. 

His coffin, still housed in the Chapel, served as a harsh reminder of what had occurred, but without Marlow's permission to bury him beyond the grounds, we were unable to honour his last request... which I refused to let happen. Even in death, Laurence's fate rested on the outcome of the imminent inspection.

As for the letter, I fully intended to send it to Alphonse, but had elected to not do so until the new year. During a season where our thoughts were so often with those dearest to us, I felt the best gift I could give him would be to let him remember Laurence how he was, just for a short while longer, until he'd have to read the miserable missal, and his world was shattered.

Still, despite our collective sadness, Deidre - God bless her - pulled all of the stops out to make sure we enjoyed a merry Christmas. In an act of utter selflessness, she surprised all of us by rising ridiculously early on the festive day, decked the halls with wondrous artefacts, and even prepared a roast turkey for dinner - moving tables around to ensure we could all dine together. We were completely unaware of what she had done until she called us down for the feast - leaving us all awed, and deeply thankful.

At the table, myself and my fellow inmates found ourselves able to put our grief behind us, and were able to laugh and joke as any loving family would on this most blessed and peaceful of days.

As I sampled the fare, my tastebuds were sent spiralling into salivation as I savoured the exquisite flavours. Deidre's cooking always was a marvel. As she sat there beside me, she smiled as she watched me greatly enjoying her food.. and her happiness made me own heart skip a beat.

Later that evening, Sammy, Lucian and Fifi retired to play a friendly game of cards together, while Catherine and Clarice went to pray in the Chapel, as they did every night. Deidre attended to the dishes: I offered to assist her, but she declined politely, saying I should use this sacred day to rest and forget my duties - reaching into the pantry, and handing me a bottle of port she'd been saving as a special gift.

Pouring myself a glass in the lounge, I was appreciative of her kind gesture - but as for forgetting my duties, that was impossible... especially with Marlow's visit drawing ever closer. 

I took a seat upon the chaise longue, deep in thought. This inspection, I knew, would be the one chance to win everyone's freedom - including my own - that I'd have for a very long time. Maybe the only chance. Fifi had expressed a strong desire for her baby to not be born in an asylum, and she wanted a chance for her union with Lucian to be made legitimate through marriage before their arrival. Sammy and Catherine had their own budding future together that they were keen to build, too. 

Lucian was no longer violent, Sammy no longer a thief, Catherine not melancholic, Clarice moving on from her tragic marriage, Deidre not aloof, and Fifi not a nymphomaniac. By all accounts, they were cured, and freedom was what they wanted more than anything. How could I disappoint them? The overwhelming obstacle was... how would I convince that stern codfish Marlow that they were sane, respectable people, given that their ways of life differed so much from his own - the only ways he considered normal?

I groaned, not even knowing where to begin conquering this mountain of a dilemma. As I rubbed my aching temples, I felt a weight dropping down beside me, and turned to see Deidre looking at me with a kind smile.

"Penny for your thoughts, 'guv?" she joked. The cut-glass accent she had donned in her delusions had long been absent from her voice, and in all truth, I had begun to forget what it sounded like.

"Oh, it's nothing you need trouble yourself with," I told her. "I was just contemplating the inspection."

She knew what I was referring to. Out of everyone here, Deidre had become my trusted confidante. After all, even I needed support now and again.

"I've been thinkin' about that, too," she said. "I reckon we should come up with a plan."

This intrigued me.

"A plan?" I asked.

"Yes," she went on. "Talk to all the other inmates - figure out 'ow we're all going to present ourselves. I reckon, if we do this right, Marlow will 'ave no choice but to admit we're sane. After all, we'll 'ave two other witnesses, right? That old nun and that other doctor fella."

"You mean," I said, "we should prepare for this inspection as a group?"

"Absolutely!" Deidre replied energetically. "The inmates all trust you. Maybe you should start puttin' a little trust in them, an' all. I'm sure they 'ave some good ideas. If we're going to pull this off, we all need to work together."

Swiftly, she slid a hand into my own, placing her other hand on top of it in a strong yet tender clasp of reassurance.

"Besides," she went on, "you shouldn't 'ave to face this kind of pressure alone."

I smiled, comforted by her kind words.

"Very well," I told her. "I'll gather them together in the morning for a discussion."

Sighing, she unexpectedly leaned toward me, and rested her head upon my shoulder - her eyelids lowering dreamily as though she was about to fall asleep. 

For several minutes, my heart danced a veritable galop behind my ribcage, until eventually, a feeling of warm, soothing contentment flooded through me. I was enjoying this. I was reluctant for it to end.

I had long known that I was in love with this woman. However, unlike the bliss that had unfolded between our fellow inmates, I knew a grand romance between Deidre and I was something that could never be.

Within these walls, I was still, officially speaking, her doctor and caretaker, and I had a professional duty towards her. Friendship was all well and good, but courtship would well and truly be crossing the line of decency. And undoubtedly, once we were free, she would be keen to return to her family and the life she had been forced to leave behind... whilst I would, hopefully, return to my practice - or otherwise set up elsewhere beyond Marlow's criticising gaze - and continue to assist sick and infirm patients from the general public. 

Of course, I could confess my feelings. But the prospect of freedom, I knew, brought Deidre so much happiness. Why trouble her now with the burden of a desire that she may not even reciprocate? The poor woman had suffered enough. It was best, I knew, to stay silent, and to merely enjoy these fleeting moments together... even if they would soon be over for good.

Freedom would bring many joys, but it would also bring about our separation. It was the sour aftertaste to a delicious sweetmeat. Yet I had to accept its bitterness - if not for my own sake, then for hers. It was most strange: an asylum was meant to rid you of your insanity, yet now, I felt I was moving closer towards it than I had ever been before.

Outside of the window, I could a few flakes of snow beginning to fall towards the lawn, as Deidre whispered to me sleepily.

"Merry Christmas, Dr. Tripp."

"Merry Christmas, Miss DeMille."

The dawn of Boxing Day would find us there together still.