Authors: Mark C. King
Leaving the door ajar, he walked back to where Charlotte was. “Mrs. Rathbone is my counterpart. I head up the orderlies on the Male side, the north wing, while she heads the orderlies on the female side, the south wing. Ah, here she is.”
Walking out the door was a striking looking woman. She was tall, slim, and had dark hair, almost black, done up tightly on top of her head. Her dress was black with grey accents, its collar surrounding her entire neck, and sleeves that completely covered her arms and the tops of her hands. In addition to this dark attire was a sharp looking, angular pale face. Charlotte’s first thought was of a school teacher she had as a child, as an air of strictness emanated from this woman.
With a deep smooth voice, Mrs. Rathbone asked, “Who is this, Mr. Thursby?”
“This is Miss Charlotte Caine. A constable just brought her here. Evidently she believes this is home. Are you missing anyone?”
Mrs. Rathbone narrowed her eyes at Thursby, evidently offended at the question. She then looked at Charlotte, her eyes boring into her.
examination! Charlotte did her best to look both confused and contrite.
“Very well, Mr. Thursby,” she finally commented. “I will find a place for her. But the idea that I had lost one of the patients is quite offensive.”
“My apologies, I meant nothing by it. I was only reiterating what the constable had said when he brought Miss Caine to us. You can see that Doctor Exton has dressed her arm after another one of Mr. Pegg’s tests. Now, I leave her in your capable hands. Good day Mrs. Rathbone. Good day Miss Caine.” The kind orderly then turned and walked back down the stairs.
Mrs. Rathbone nodded at Mr. Thursby as he walked away and then said to Charlotte, “Come with me, Miss Caine. I am sorry about your arm. Mr. Pegg is a stain on this institution, but people are not exactly lining up to work at Bedlam. Let me show you to where you will be sleeping.”
They walked towards one set of double doors just as another mournful wail sounded out. Mrs. Rathbone did not react at all while she searched for the right key to unlock the door. Charlotte was again frightened deeply by the sorrowful sound.
The hallway on the other side was very similar to the one by Dr. Exton’s office. The only difference was that the space here was full of women. Mrs. Rathbone led Charlotte down this hall while weaving through the patients. Charlotte tried not to stare, but the sights were too foreign that not even the least curious mind would be able to avert their eyes. The range of activities and motion was great. Some of the women patients were sitting on the floor – talking with others, reading, or staring off into space. Some were in chairs, also engaged in various subtle occupations. A few were walking about, but without any discernable destination. The attire of these patients, as a whole, was similar – drab clothing, dirty, and too threadbare for the current temperature. Charlotte realized that her dress fit in quite well and might be one of the warmer ones of this group.
Mrs. Rathbone continued walking at a steady pace and Charlotte had to hurry to keep up. There were several large rooms along the main hallway, each one containing two rows of small beds. It felted cramped as there was no free space at all outside of the middle aisle.
Entering one of them, Rathbone led Charlotte to the back right corner and indicated a bed. “Here is your sleeping space. I recommend that you take rest and allow your arm to heal.”
Charlotte sat down on the bed and watched as Mrs. Rathbone walked away without further comment. Taking a closer look at her surroundings, Charlotte noticed that the window nearest her bed was missing several panes, which allowed the cold air and the occasional splash of rain to enter inside. It would evidently be a cold stay in Bedlam.
Climbing under the rough thin blanket, Charlotte pulled her knees close to her and tried to allow her situation to sink in. She had to remind herself that she was here because of her own doing and that her stay would be temporary. If she was an actual patient, she would have been devastatingly scared and lonely. Even so, those feelings were strongly present. Squeezing her arms around herself, she tried to focus on her goals and not on the dark emotions that the asylum radiated and stirred within.
For the first time that day, Sigmund didn’t feel the weather. Driving his carriage through the abnormal darkness of the afternoon, he was fully exposed, but the account that was just given to him by Reginald Burke was taking all his attention. The rain splashed onto his goggles and, outside of an occasional clearing wipe with his drenched handkerchief, he barely noticed. His feelings alternated between disgust and deep concern, leaving no room for the inconsequential feelings of cold or wet. The main fact that he had learned was that it was almost a certainty that the bodies that made their way to Dr. Ferriss were from Bedlam Asylum. As important as that fact was, he still couldn’t shake the horror of Reginald discovering his own mother as one of the bodies. There were aspects of humanity that Sigmund was happier not knowing.
The carriage splashed through dark puddles as he continued through the grey streets of London. A few people were about, bundled well and hands tightly wrapped around their umbrellas, but the streets felt more abandoned than not. Sigmund’s mind churned and he found that his biggest concern was an overarching sense of not knowing what to do. He hadn’t had much time to assimilate the new information, but this was, nonetheless, frustrating for him. Being that this issue had a scientific or medical side to it, Sigmund decided that a visit with his friend, Richard Sutton, would be in order.
Richard Sutton was as brilliant a man as Sigmund had ever met. He worked at the Academy of Future Science as one of its lead innovators, and had helped Sigmund with several inventions. It was Sutton’s mind that developed a way to intercept nerve signals and use them to activate motors. Sarah could walk because of this. Sigmund always found it interesting that Sutton had had many years of medical training but never graduated – choosing instead to expand his knowledge by travelling the world rather than hearing the repetitive lessons of a classroom. This unique education, along with an exceptionally sharp mind made Sutton a wizard of design. The ability to meld his medical knowledge with mechanical allowed him to create amazing creations.
If anyone could help Sigmund figure things out, it was Sutton.
Prior to reaching the Academy, Sigmund made a detour to his home. It was well out of his way, but there was no choice. His monkey, Zachary, had once belonged to Sutton, and Sigmund couldn’t visit without reuniting the two. Of course, Sigmund felt absolutely ridiculous as he had Zachary in the passenger cabin, relatively warm and dry, while he drove the carriage in the cold and wet. Even worse, monkeys were terrible clients as they never paid and rarely tipped.
The Academy building was on the south bank of the Thames, just across from the Tower of London. Despite the term ‘Academy’, the building did not have a school-like appearance, as it was simply a large brown brick building that once was a warehouse. The walls were darker from the rain and the building, as it always did to Sigmund, seemed ominous. Still, ominous or not, it was a welcome sight as it meant getting out of the weather. Even with the significant distractions plaguing him, Sigmund could ignore the cold for only so long.
Parking his carriage at the back of the building, the side that faced the river, Sigmund tied up Ham close to the main loading area. Opening the cab door, he bowed and said in a formal voice, “Your destination, sir.”
Zachary stood on one of the seat benches and looked at Sigmund with a puzzled expression. Sigmund straightened, smiled and said, “Come on, you animal.”
With a small screech, the monkey jumped down from the bench, took a few steps to the doorway, and then jumped from the floor to Sigmund’s shoulder. Hurrying through the rain, the pair entered the building through the man-sized door, as the giant loading entrance was closed.
Inside, Sigmund felt the usual sense of awe. The space was huge. Hundreds of yards long, over sixty feet high, and filled with desks, work tables, crates, and all manner of experiments. It wasn’t organized, exactly, but it wasn’t chaos either. Among all of this were many people at work and moving about, but they were so focused that most didn’t even notice the man with a monkey walking passed them. A few caught sight of him and waved – probably more to Zachary than Sigmund, as Zachary had spent much time here when he was cared for by Sutton. The distractions of the place helped with the chill as much as the warmth did.
Both Sigmund and Zachary jumped at a loud pop and the violent hiss from the release of steam. It came from a far corner of the space. No one else jumped, Sigmund noticed, giving evidence that this was a pretty typical occurrence on the work floor.
The far wall, opposite the large receiving doors, was also vast in size – wide and multi-storied. There were many doors embedded along it and three iron stairways that climbed its face. The stairways led to platforms that ran the entire length of the wall. The first platform was at least two stories up and was followed by two more above it at similar intervals. Each walkway allowed entrance to the many doors found on each level.
Climbing to the first level, they headed to the middle door and knocked. From inside, they heard a man ask, “Yes, what is it?”
Sigmund opened the door and walked in, answering, “It is quite a spot of bother, if you ask me.”
Before either could say more, Zachary jumped down from Sigmund’s shoulder, ran across the floor and jumped into Sutton’s arms with a happy screech. “Well,” Sutton said, “it is nice to see you too, Zachary!” Then looking at Sigmund, “Come in, Sigmund. What brings you two out on this beautiful day?”
“Hello, Richard. How is the research going?” Sigmund knew that Sutton was working on a heat source that could replace coal. It was an invention that two brilliant German scientists had already created, but they were both assassinated and the process was destroyed during the Grimkraken affair. If Sutton was ever able to reproduce their work, it would change the world.
“Not much progress I’m afraid,” responded Sutton. “Those German scientists were either incredibly brilliant or incredibly fortunate. Maybe both. In any event, the going is slow. There are so many process variations that stumbling across the correct one is like finding a needle in a haystack.”
“Well, if anyone can do it, you can,” Sigmund said sincerely.
“Thank you. How is your family? All well, I hope.”
Nodding and smiling, Sigmund answered, “They are doing well. Outside of one little item, they haven’t a care in the world.”
Sutton cocked his head, “One little item?”
“Yes, and that is why I’m here. I wish I could tell you that this was just a social visit, but I need your help.”
A serious look came over Sutton’s face. He knew Sigmund to be a very capable person, so if he was asking for help, then it probably wasn’t good. “Of course. Anything I can do, just ask. You need help building something, a new invention of yours?” he asked hopefully.
“No, nothing like that. What do you know about the brain?” Sigmund enjoyed asking a huge question and then watching Richard’s face as he tried to come to grips with it.
After a moment and a few blinks, Sutton said, “That is quite a large topic. Could you be a little more specific?”
Sigmund relayed the recent day’s events – the telegram to his sister, the favor of Dr. Ferriss, Reginald Burke, and how the bodies are most certainly from Bedlam Asylum.
Once Sigmund finished, Sutton didn’t speak for at least half a minute. He stared at Sigmund – really, more through him – lost in thought. Finally breaking the silence, Sutton said, “The brain is the most complicated thing known to man. My work with nerves and muscles are mere child’s play next to the depth and complexity of the mind. A study of the brain is a study in humility as no man has come close to understanding its mysteries.”
“So you are saying that if there is a disease that attacks the brain, as Doctor Ferriss fears, no one could cure it?”
“I wouldn’t say that. Not exactly. But it would likely be very difficult. However, I am not aware of any disease that acts like what you are saying. Perhaps it is, as your doctor friend also suggested, just an inherited defect from certain families.”
Sigmund took a deep breath. He was no closer to the answer than before he arrived. He tried not to be frustrated with Sutton, it wasn’t his fault, but Sigmund wanted to blame someone. Of course, what he really wanted was some proof to end this blasted favor.
Interrupting his thoughts, Sutton said, “If anyone would know about all this, it would be Doctor Madfyre.”
“Who is that?”
“He happens to be the head doctor at Bedlam Asylum,” Sutton answered, “and perhaps the greatest authority on the brain in England, maybe the world. I don’t believe I’ve ever talked about him to you before.”
Sigmund thought for a moment, but the name was completely foreign. He shook his head.
“Well,” Sutton said, “not long before I left the university to travel, a schoolmate of mine was working an internship with Doctor Madfyre and invited me to a demonstration. It was supposed to be groundbreaking, something truly amazing.”
“And was it?”
“It was. It was also one of the most frightening experiences that I’ve ever had. To understand, let me set a little foundation. Have you ever heard of individuals who are brilliant at something, such as math, painting, or music and yet they are completely limited in most other ways? Perhaps they are unable to know the day of the week, or to spell their own name, and yet they have that one talent that is superlative. Are you familiar with what I’m saying?”
Sigmund had heard of stories like that, brilliant individuals who seem to have lost sight of most everything outside of their gift. “Yes, I’ve read about people with that condition.”
“Well, Doctor Madfyre postulated that the brain has a finite amount of what he called ‘brain focus’. Everyone has the same amount and, for the most part, it is spread evenly across all aspects of what makes us function as a normal person – reasoning, talking, music, art, memory, emotion, and so forth. With individuals that have an amazing talent, but cannot function in other ways, he says that their brain focus is uneven. Most of it is taken up by their talent, leaving little for the other fundamental brain activities. Are you following so far?”
It was a completely new idea to Sigmund. Not that he ever gave it much thought, but it was an interesting concept – brain focus. “I believe I understand. You are saying that the brain is like a collection of carriages and that usually it puts one horse on each carriage, but for some people the brain puts all the horses on one carriage. Right?”
Smiling, Sutton said, “Not a bad way to put it. I think you have the general idea. As you can imagine, this supposition garnered a lot of conversations, but without proof it was just a provocative theory. Madfyre, however, had more than just a theory.”
“The demonstration, correct. He chose a select group of doctors and psychiatrists to witness an experiment. I felt very much out of place, being just a student at the time among these learned men. The room selected had three rows of chairs all facing forward, much like a class room. I found a chair in the back and tried to escape notice. When everyone was seated, Madfyre brought out a young woman named Priscilla. I’ll never forget her as she stood in front of the group in a state of complete ignorance. She saw the people, but showed no sign of understanding. Her dress was a plain white sleeping gown, she was not even wearing shoes or stockings. Her straight black hair framed her thin face and made her pale skin seem almost transparent. Before this, I had not been near a person of this sort – insane.
“For the next hour, the entire group of men examined her, talked to her, some even diagnosing her. For myself, I stayed in the back and simply observed everything. I felt sorry for the poor creature, but she remained oblivious to everything. She didn’t talk at all and didn’t acknowledge that others were around. Her world simply did not contain us. I remember thinking that her seeming ignorance of this most undignifying process was a gift in itself.
“It was at this point that Madfyre invited all to sit again and directed Priscilla to an upright piano in the corner of the room. It was the first time since her appearance to this group that she showed any emotion. At seeing the instrument, her eyes lit up and a look of, well, what I would call love spread across her face. She sat on the bench in front of the piano and lightly moved her hands across the top of the keys in a gentle caress. Then she started playing. It was unlike anything that I have ever experienced – beyond superb. It was as if she was created for the sole purpose of playing music. I’m not sure how long she played for, but when she stopped, I was filled with sadness that was akin to saying goodbye to a dear friend. I would have given anything to hear her continue to play. I was not the only one affected, there were several red eyes among the guests.