A/N: This story is completed, so it won't take time away from Broken Bottles, (Which currently has priority over Savage Love). It's three parts. I'm going to upload a new chapter at the end of each week. Though it's finished and the updates are certain (more or less), I would still love feedback. (PS: I'm not withholding it for reviews. I just hand wrote it and it isn't all typed yet).
Standard warnings regarding my work apply. Questionable Consent, morally ambiguous characters, sexist and outdated opinions on politics and mental health. The whole shebang. Enjoy!
His obsession began the very first moment he saw her. He felt the violent rush of utter devotion crash over him like the waves that beat against the jetty along the southern edge of the Cape back home in Massachusetts. His face tingled and his heart stopped beating. In that moment, there was nothing but her. Thick, dark ringlets spilled over her shoulders, extenuating her long, slender neck, left bare to his view, save the thick black ribbon that held the crucifix to the hallow of her throat.
Her small delicate hand extended from the carriage. It was her father who took the pale fingers in his leather gloved hand. The valet waited silently, hands clasped behind his back, eyes on the ground. She was a tall woman. Stepping down from the carriage stairs, she stood the same height as her father, though her father did not appear to be a very tall man. The hat on her head was wide brimmed and initially shielded her face from his view. Finally, she turned her face upward to glance up at the imposing building that loomed behind him.
It was a large brick estate. Four stories tall, over thirty rooms. It was one of the most prestigious private asylum for women in the Northeast, catering to the hysterical and feeble-minded daughters and wives of the North's richest and most influential men. Dr. Luther Cecil's work was ground-breaking. His facility was clean. His staff was discrete. He was becoming so well known, that Mr. Boulanger had traveled to New York from Louisiana to make sure his daughter was in the very best care.
Her skin was pale but there was not the smallest hint of darkness around eyes, which were a remarkable shade of green. When she approached, he would see the edges of her eyelids were red. She had been weeping not long ago. Mrs. Humphries made a noise to his right. He turned his head to examine the weathered old woman.
"A Catholic," she muttered under her breath. Dr. Cecil looked back to the young woman soon to be in his charge. She was clutching at a rosary in her hands. He always greeted them in the front drive. He wanted the men that left their wives and daughters in his care to know they were in good hands. He wanted them to know they were getting their money's worth.
Usually, it was with disgust and disdain that he watched the woman remove herself from the carriage. It was infrequent that he had to call for his attendants to drag the woman inside. All too often they were not in need of any true intensive psychiatric care. Many of the women he cared for, Hattie came to mind, were simply an embarrassment and shipping them off to Dr. Cecil's Asylum was well worth the exorbitant fee he charged for their lodging.
He watched now with parted lips and bated breath. He heard her thank the attendants as they lowered her trunk from her father's carriage. It was a soft little murmur. His heart began to beat again. She turned her sad, tired gaze toward him. He offered her a little smile. She tried to smile back but he could see the pain in her eyes.
Only convention prevented him from walking up to her then and wrapping her in his embrace. Once her father signed the papers, she would be his to protect.
"Dr. Luther Cecil?" her father asked.
"Mr. Boulanger," he greeted. They had exchanged a number of letters in preparation for his daughters stay. Mr. Boulanger had great love for his daughter, that, Dr. Cecil did not doubt. He brought her up from Louisiana. He had contacted over ten different homes for young women with her disorders, all far cheaper than that of Dr. Luther, but the man would not place his daughter in any place where her well-being and chastity would be at risk. It was so important to him that she not be molested, he went halfway across the country.
"Beautiful grounds," Mr. Boulanger complimented.
"I hope to have the chance to show you the gardens before the rain," he answered. His eyes turned back to the young woman in question. He finished shaking Mr. Boulanger's hand and extended his hand toward her.
Her hand was small and cool within his. She offered a firm handshake and she kept her chin lifted. She was educated and refined. She had pride. Her lips were pale, just a shade or so darker than her skin. She did not sleep well, that was clear. The edges of her eyes were bloodshot, there was strain in her face. He was anxious to see how badly her symptoms truly were. Many young women came to him with severely less problems then was presented by their male guardians.
Hysteria and Melancholia. Indeed, how sad she looked.
"My daughter," Mr. Boulanger said, motioning with disinterested wave of the hand. He had a sad, pained look on his face. Dr. Cecil did not doubt that many of the men that brough him their wives and daughters loved them, but the embarrassment was far too much for men born into the type of money they were.
"Dr. Cecil," she greeted. Once again, she tried to smile at him, but she could simply not muster the energy. Her eyes flickered around their immediate surroundings anxiously.
"Josephine," he greeted. She blinked. Her father tensed. He continued, "Forgive me. I refer to all my patients by their Christian name. In our conversations, we will be discussing painfully intimate details. If the sound of your name on my lips offends you, I cannot adequately do my job."
"Yes, of course," she murmured.
"May I introduce you to Mrs. Humphries. She is in charge of the day to day activities of the patients. A headmistress, so to speak," he smiled. "If you have any problems regarding the house, it is her you should direct your concerns to. She also commands both the male and female attendants."
"Good to meet you," Josephine murmured.
"You have female attendants working here?" Mr. Boulanger asked, though he knew that from the letters they had exchanged. It was for Josephine's benefit. She looked to her father and then back to Dr. Cecil.
"For the protection and the privacy of my patients, I employ seven female attendants, and three male. The male attendants work closely with only the most violent of patients."
"One hears very sordid things about what happens to women in lunatic asylums," she spoke. Her voice was soft and low, flat. Her eyes did not truly focus. Her movements were slow. She was drugged. With what, he did not know, but he would need to get that information from her father before he left.
"State run institutions. Far too many patients for too few doctors, with attendants left to their own devices and not properly vetted. No, Robert, James, and Frankie are good men and you will have very limited interaction with them. On your floor, it will be Mable and Anna that will help you with your day to day activities. Have no fear, I will keep you well protected."
She nodded. Her eyes went to Mrs. Humphries and then back up to the imposing building that loomed behind him. Her anxiety was not alleviated. A dull mist now filled the air. The weather had cooled. He watched her long pale fingers come up to drape across the crucifix around her throat.
"Please, follow me inside, and I will give you a tour of the facilities."
Her father was quite impressed with the estate. The bottom floors were designed for leisure. To the right of the grand foyer, lay the ballroom, three drawing rooms of moderate size, and a billiard room.
"You allow the women to play billiards, sir?" Mr. Boulanger asked. Disapproval dripped from his tongue as he watched Elizabeth and Nancy continue their game unfazed.
"This is a place for treatment, sir. I found that when occupied with amusing games, their moods are far tempered," he answered. "
"Does the ballroom have any use?" Josephine asked. He turned to smile at her over his shoulder as he led them back through the grand foyer to the other side of the house. He never took part. He kept a respectable distance from his female patients.
"We have monthly dances," he answered.
To the other side of the grand foyer on the first floor was the dining room, the gallery, and taking up the rest of the bottom floor, was the kitchen, a root cellar, the pantry, and the storage closets. His office was on the second floor. It was where he conducted many of his meetings with his patients. He always made it a point to bring new arrivals into his office. It was more so to calm the father or husband ready to sign the contract.
"Many of my sessions take place outside of the office. The gardens during the spring and the summer. The library, which is just down the hall…"
He informed her that the rooms on the east wing of the third floor, resting behind the heavy oak door, the key to which only Mrs. Humphries and Dr. Cecil possessed, were strictly off limits.
"I do have five patients that are quite severe. They can be violent."
"You told me there were no lunatics in this asylum," Mr. Boulanger blustered.
"Not Lunatics, sir," he answered. He turned to face them directly, walking backwards toward the stairs. "They are quite grounded in reality. It is their inability to process emotions that is the root of their troubles."
He placed his hand on the railing and turned himself around. He lead them up to the top floor and directed them down the west hallway. "This is your hall. This bedroom here is that of Miss Mable Burke. The first bedroom in the east all is Miss Anna Fredericks. You have three other ladies in your hall. Melancholia and Hysteria, non-violent, very pleasant."
"Where do you sleep, sir?" Mr. Boulanger asked.
"In the East hall. Mrs. Humphries, Anna, and Catherine, another attendant, also reside in that hall. There are no patients."
"And the male attendants?"
"They do not live in the main house. They share a lodging house down by the woodshed, about three hundred yards south of the gardens."
"They do not come into the house at night?" Mr. Boulanger pressed.
"Their schedules rotate weekly, one working nights in case of any outbursts. They walk the halls to make sure no one gets out of their rooms."
"The rooms are not locked?" Mr. Boulanger cried. Dr. Cecil retrieved the key from his pocket and unlocked the door to Josephine's room. He looked at Mr. Boulanger, doing his very best to keep the disdain from his face.
"The east wing on the third floor is locked, the other rooms are not. I did lock all the bedroom doors at night, until I read a report out of Germany. The Institution went up in flames. The fire spread so hot and so fast, they were unable to free all the patients. Over three hundred perished in the fire. The third-floor east wing remains locked, I and Mrs. Humphries have the keys in case of emergencies, and no less than three attendants walk the halls."
He pushed the door opened and stepped inside. The room was fairly large. The walls were covered with dark wood panels and intricately designed green wallpaper. The bed was large, the frame of the canopy a dark, rich mahogany. Like most of the furniture in the asylum, it was donated from kind patrons from New York Society that felt sympathy for the young women often forced into terrible conditions because of their illness. Indeed, the old woman from whom he was deeded the vast estate that now held his asylum, had been locked in a sanatorium for nearly two decades for petitioning the court for a divorce from her alcoholic and sexually deviant husband. After her husband died, and she inherited his vast fortune, she spent nearly every penny trying to make conditions better for women. He was lucky enough to meet her at a dinner party shortly after graduation from Columbia. He was unaware of who she was or how much money she possessed, but his genuine and impassioned speech to her about the need for reform in mental health brought her to tears. Within a year, he was running his own Asylum.
There was a sitting area before the large bay window at the far side of the room. It overlooked the gardens. It was by far, the nicest room in the house, surpassed only by his own. He watched her closely as she stepped inside and surveyed the room. Her affect was so flat, it was difficult to know what she was thinking. He was annoyed to find her so subdued. Nothing in the letters from her father indicated he was giving her drugs. If he were to guess, he would say it was morphine. Ether was a possibility, but the ease and price of morphine made it far more likely.
She walked into the room and held out an arm. She wrapped her fingers around the back of the chair and gazed out into the dreary gray day spread out before her. Chloral hydrate perhaps.
"If the weather has improved tomorrow, you may walk the gardens," he offered gently. She did not react. It was as if she did not hear him. "If you would like to settle in," he said, just as Frankie arrived to bring in her trunk. "Mrs. Humphries will go over the remaining rules. Mr. Boulanger, if we could speak in my office?"
Josephine sat down in the chair as they exited. She clutched a rosary to her chest. Dr. Cecil offered Mr. Boulanger a cigar as they settled down at his desk. Mr. Boulanger accepted, and retrieved a book of matches from his inner pocket.
"What is she taking?" he asked Mr. Boulanger without much ceremony.
"Excuse me?" the older man blustered.
"She is clearly on something. I understand the delicacy of such things, but I must know. If you felt as though it was needed to control her, I certainly understand and offer no judgment. But I must know what and how much she takes. To simply stop, if she uses frequently, could be deadly."
Mr. Boulanger huffed, cheeks red, and examined the end of his cigar. "After her brother's death, we give her morphine to keep her calm. Her bouts of hysteria… can be quite uncontrollable."
"How much is she given a day?"
Mr. Boulanger told him her dosage. Dr. Cecil wrote it down in his journal. He asked Mr. Boulanger, "Do you have any other concerns?"
Dr. Cecil spent the better half of an hour quelling some of Mr. Boulanger's concerns. He had done it a thousand times. The man would leave his daughter in Dr. Cecil's care no matter what the good doctor said. All the man wanted to do was relieve his own guilt. His daughter was brought back down by Mrs. Humphries to say goodbye to her father.
It was a touching scene. Mr. Boulanger took his daughter's small, pale hands in his and told her that this was for the best. She would get the help she needed here, Dr. Cecil was a good man and a better doctor, once she learned to control herself, she could come home. Dr. Cecil smiled at that. Unlikely.
She wanted to walk him to the carriage, but Dr. Cecil advised against it. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder as Mrs. Humphries slowly closed the large heavy door, blocking her father from view. She turned her gaze up at him. Her eyes were wide, frightened, and sad. He placed his other arm around her so he could place his other hand to shoulder. He fought the urge to close his fingers around her small frame. "We do not want you getting sick. Come now, Mrs. Humphries will draw you a bath and help you settle in. I require dinner be taken in the dining hall, but tonight you may take it your room. Tomorrow morning, you and I will have our first session. Yes?"
"Yes, Doctor, thank you," she murmured. He turned her around to face the stairs. Frankie came hurrying down the steps.
"From her bag, sir," he said, and held out three vials of clear liquid. The glass clanked together in his hands.
"No, I need those," she protested. It was the most emotion he had heard from her so far. Still, her voice was flat. Frankie placed the vials into his hands and he examined them. As he suspected and her father had confirmed, Morphine.
"Do not fret, Josephine, I will give you all you need, but from now on, all medicines are distributed through me. First course of action is to ween you down, so that I can observe your behavior unencumbered."
"No, Sir I am… I do not think that wise." There was real panic in her gaze. He kept his voice soft and gentle.
"We will discuss my plan for you tomorrow. Go now, you've had a long journey."
"Mrs. Humphries," he said, beckoning her to take Josephine from him. "We will discuss your treatment tomorrow, Josephine. Until then, please, go without protest."
She obeyed. Whether it was the drugs or own disposition, he could not tell, but she left without anything further said. According to Mrs. Humphries, she was polite, mild mannered, and courteous. She bathed and dressed, took her dinner in her room as was offered, and went to bed after lengthy prayers. Dr. Cecil gave Mrs. Humphries the Morphine to give her. He provided her the dose her father said he was giving her. He knew that he had downplayed the extend to which he was drugging his daughter, but he wanted to begin the weening process. He needed to see if she were truly ill or if it was simply another rich man's desire to hide his embarrassment from the world.
The next morning, after being dressed by Mable, she was brought into his office. She was dressed in a dark green dress with no hoops and a single petticoat beneath the gown. She walked in with slightly trembling hands. She would be in need of a new dose soon. Her hair was simple. She would not have had time to use her hair irons this morning. It was pulled back, neatly fixed in a tight bun at the top of her neck.
"Come in, Please, Josephine," he said, beckoning her inside. She moved demurely into the room. She shut the door softly behind her and sat at the seat he indicated. She sat with a straight back and shoulders, hands clasped in her lap, the rosary wrapped tightly around her fingers.
"Did you sleep well last night?" he asked her.
"Yes sir. I sleep quite well with the morphine," she answered. He sat down with his notepad on a black leather chair, his back to the outside wall. Sun crept in passed the trees on the far side of the valley, birds chirped happily, and fresh spring hair came in through the cracked window. Fresh air was good for those suffering from such mental and emotional ailments.
"Do you not sleep well without it?" he asked her.
"No sir," she answered. "Not at all."
He examined her closely. She still looked quite haggard. He pressed his pencil to the paper and then removed it. He looked at her again, a soft smile on his lips.
"Why are you here?" he asked her. She blinked.
"… I suffer from melancholia and hysteria –"
"Those are diagnoses. Results, conclusions. For me to decide, not you. I want you to tell me, what happened, that brought you here."
She considered. Her strained green eyes flickered toward the window over his shoulder. The sunlight turned them a lighter shade of green.
"I've always loved the spring," she murmured. "…and the smell."
She breathed in deeply through her nose. "I do not leave my room often." Sadness shone brightly in her eyes.
"After I get some initial information, we will take a walk in the gardens," he told her. She looked happy for a fleeting moment.
"I would like that, sir," she answered. He waited, eyebrows lifting. She cleared her throat, eyes dropping to her hands where they were clasped in her lap. Her knuckles bulged as she tightened her hand around the rosary. "I have episodes."
"Episodes? Can you describe these episodes?"
The wall in corner clicked loudly. She did not answer for twenty seconds. "I shake and cry. I lose my ability to breath. The world around me spins."
She paused. "S-sir, I usually take a bout of morphine in the mornings."
"What are your feelings during these episodes?"
"Despair, fear, absolute panic. As though the world is coming to an end and there is nothing I can do to stop it."
"What brings them about?"
"I could not tell you, doctor," she answered. The sound of her voice breaking drew his gaze upward. Tears dribbled down her cheeks and her jaw trembled. A pink tongue darted out to catch a salty tear. His gaze lingered on her lips. He rose and she lowered her head. She accepted the handkerchief from him and smothered a soft sob. He took his seat again and waited for her to continue. He found that when you remained silent, people spoke. They needed to fill the void.
"It comes in waves. I cannot control it. I've tried. The only thing that stops it is the morphine. Even then… sometimes… I can do nothing. I feel such agony."
Her hands were beginning to shake. He could see sweat beading on her forehead.
"Josephine, look up." Those big green eyes turned upward.
"Your father told me that these episodes began after the death of your brother?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," she murmured, eyes closed. She took in a long, calming breath.
"You saw him kill himself?" Her father had only admitted this to him after many letters had passed and threatened a lawsuit if it became public that a member of the Boulanger family had committed suicide.
Her eyes fluttered opened. "I did."
"Your father did not say how he killed himself."
She stared at him a long time. Her eyes glazed over and he suddenly had a fear that he had given her more morphine than he intended. She had exited the room. She was far away from there.
"A shotgun," she finally whispered. He looked up from his book sharply. He wished he knew that before he had begun his questioning. Tears erupted from her eyes and she lowered head into her hands. He let her cry a long while. Often times, when women came to him, they had been unable to cry freely in their homes. It did them well to cry.
"Oh, Josephine," he finally murmured. "I am sorry. I did not know."
She sniffled violently and looked up to the ceiling. Her eyes darted around violently.
"I still see it. I close my eyes and hear the bang, the pop, the splat. My head begins to ache, I become dizzy, my heart feels as though it will burst. I begin to scream. I mist-m-must get away but he's right there. There in the room with me, putting the gun to his chin and pulling the trigger. I don't want to leave the house. I don't want to speak with anyone – no one at all. I only find peace when I can sleep and do not dream and the only thing that keeps the dreams away is the morphine. If I had reacted, if I had been able to move, to get the gun from him, if I had been able to reach out and grab it –"
"No, Josephine," he said firmly. "You would not have saved him. Could not. You are not to blame for his death."
"I was so close. I felt the rush of the air. I had… his blood and… brains. In my face and hair. I could have grabbed it. I know I could have. I was so close to him. And I just, I walked in and stopped. I just stood there and watched. He looked right at me…"
She broke down and continued to cry. He did not stand or move to comfort her. He did not touch his patients. He had already broken that rule with her yesterday. He could not do so again.
"You have tremendous guilt over your brother's suicide. We will deal with that first."
She only nodded into her hands.
"Were you allowed to speak about it. You come from a prominent Catholic family, living in a prominent Catholic community. To what extent were you able to discuss the suicide with others."
"Never," she moaned. She sobbed. He wondered how much of her own anger and shame over having a suicide in her family might have contributed to her severe reaction to his death. Witnessing what she did would have a severe effect on anyone, but add the severity of the Catholic religion, in a family that clearly had a history of mental deviations, the poor girl had no chance to cope in a healthy manner.
"Did they let you cry?"
It took great effort for her to answer but finally she did. "For a time. Then everyone else moved on. I could not."
He scribbled down some notes.
"Josephine. I want you to listen to me. When you can, look up at me."
He gave her all the time she needed. Eventually she collected herself. It did not strike him as true hysteria. She did not swoon or faint. He would have to observe one of her episodes to know for certain. All the more reason to get her off of morphine so he could see her unencumbered. She turned her eyes up to him.
"In this room, you need not fear for any judgment from me. You may be honest. When you wish to cry, please do. If you feel something, express it. I am here to help you. I want to make you better. I cannot do that unless I know everything there is to know. Do you understand?"
"Yes, doctor. Thank you," she murmured.
"There will be times when I will push you. Not today, not tomorrow. Probably not even this week, but soon. I will never do anything to hurt you. In these moments, I need you to trust me. Do you think you can do that?"
"You say you see him during these episodes. As though he is in the room… as real to you as I am now?"
Her face crumpled and looked so pained he felt it in his chest cavity. She whispered desperately, "I'm not mad."
He smiled kindly. "I do not think you are."
"You do not?" she asked him imploringly.
"I do not."
She leaned forward, hands outstretched.
"It is as thought I am back in that room. He's standing right there with the gun. My father… he made the decision I must be sent away because I… I attacked my mother. But it wasn't my mother, it was my brother, and I was just trying to get the gun out of his hand."
He rose and went to his desk to retrieve the vial of morphine. She watched him, eyes lighting as she saw the vial. Her mouth was open before he had the dropped free from the vial. He gave her enough to put her to sleep. He wanted to ease her into her new life.
"Miss Burke will bring you back to your room. Rest. We will continue our conversation tomorrow."
"In the gardens?" she asked as he withdrew with the vial. He opened his office door and beckoned Miss Burke inside.
"In the gardens," he promised. "Miss Burke, please bring Josephine up to her room. She is tired."
Mable warmly wrapped her arms around Josephine's shoulders and walked her to the door. He was almost disappointed that she did not turn to look at him as she walked from the room.
He did not have to wait long before he witnessed her first episode. He had cut her morphine use by half and she was given a small dose in the morning and a moderate dose at night to help her sleep. He had tried to cut down her intake in the evenings, but it became apparent that she did not sleep. One morning, when he came into the dining hall to greet the ladies as they ate breakfast, he saw the darkened circles beneath her eyes. As they walked through the gardens for their morning session, he asked how she was sleeping.
"Oh, I do my very best not so, sir," she responded, running her fingertips over the flower buds.
He was seated in the first-floor drawing room, windows open to let in the fresh spring air, having a morning session with the ladies from the fourth floor and third floor east corridor. Elizabeth and Maude sat to his left, Emily and Clara directly in front of him, Josephine beside them, and to his immediate right, sat Ida and Florence.
They were discussing healthy coping habits. Elizabeth was anxiously chewing on her fingernails, sharing with the group that talking about her fears made her feel better, but Maude often got angry when Elizabeth tried to confide in her floormate and dearest friend in the house. Maude was beginning to explain that she had no issues listening to a fellow sister's anxieties, but that Elizabeth spoke far too much, and Elizabeth's own constant anxieties only contributed to Maude's own issues. How was she to find peace if Elizabeth was constantly reminding her of her own troubles?
Springtime was a beautiful time on the estate. The birds chirped outside, flowers were blooming, and the fresh, crisp smell of newly dug flow beds and cut grass filled the room. It also meant that Mrs. Humphries was again tending to her gardens. That meant that her battles with the squirrels were starting anew. The sound of gun fire on the estate was not uncommon. So much so, that the other female patients did not react to the sound of it. Robert was a fine shot and he thoroughly enjoyed the ability to go out on the grounds and shoot the squirrels that threatened Mrs. Humphries garden.
The moment the shot rang out through the air his eyes lifted from his journal and pinned on Josephine. He could not blame Robert. He had failed to notify the staff of her history and indeed, he had not even considered it. He cursed himself for his own idiocy. How such a thing could be overlooked, he did not know.
Her body tensed and she looked over at Florence. The violent cry that left her throat was heartbreaking, and she reached out and seized the girl by the hair. She pulled, continuing her cry over and over. It took Doctor Cecil only a moment to realize the word leaving her lips was "No."
"Ladies, please," he ordered calmly, slapping his notebook down on the ground and moving toward Florence. Florence grabbed the base of her hair and pulled away, freeing herself from Josephine's grasp.
Josephine tried to get to her. She continued to wail, begging her to stop. Dr. Cecil was able to grab onto her and Florence made her escape.
"Josephine, stop. You're alright. You're alright," he tried to tell her. She squirmed in his arms and escaped from him. She flung her arms and his him in the chest. Her father had not told him she would react violently toward others. Only she had mentioned that she attacked her mother, prompting her stay here at his asylum. She stumbled backward away from him.
"Josephine, look at me. It's Dr. Cecil. You're safe here."
"Doctor Sir!" Mable cried as she ran into the room. Josephine looked at her and a flicker of recognition came to her eyes.
"Josephine," he said. She looked back at him. "You know where you are?"
Another explosion of gunfire. She was gone once more. He jerked his hand to the side. "Go tell Robert to stop shooting!"
Mable hurried from the room. Josephine cried and covered her face with her hands. She stumbled backward, tripping over the run, and hit the ground with a hard thud. He rushed forward to check on her but she squirmed away.
"Josephine, it is alright," he told her. She scrambled under the chair that held the globe.
"No, no, no, stop, stop it, please, Oh, Paul."
He crouched down, his hand on the top of the table, and bent his head to look at her.
"Josephine, look at me. Do you see?"
"No, no, no," she wept, face in her hands, knees bent, and head hung. He continued to say her name, voice soft and gentle, and finally, she looked up at him. There was some recognition there.
"Come here, Josephine," he murmured. "You're safe. You're safe here."
There was a moment longer of hesitation, and then began to crawl toward him. He prayed no other shots would come ringing through the open windows. He withdrew the vial of morphine from his pocket. He always had it close by during group sessions, just in case.
She leaned against him, eyes on the morphine. Tears still leaked from her eyes. He'd never seen a person look so exhausted, so pained. He gave her a healthy dose. She deserved sleep. She immediately calmed, sinking into the crook of his arm, and he was happy to cradle her there.
"Shh," he soothed her. "I've got you."
She gazed up at him. Green eyes wet and red. The way she looked at him, it touched a part deep within him. He pressed his fingertips gently to her cheek, still wet with tears.
"You're safe here," he comforted. "You're safe with me."
The pad of his thumb touched her lips. The trembled beneath his flesh.
He ripped his hand away and his head jerked to the doorway.
"Mrs. Humphries," he greeted. He hoped she had not seen the tender moment but the glint of disapproval in her eyes told him she had.
"The gun fire," he explained simply. Mrs. Humphries was the only that knew nearly everything concerning the ladies' ailments. She had to if she was to do her job effectively.
"Poor child," Mrs. Humphries said. She was a severe woman, but she loved her charges, and even Josephine's religion no longer offended her.
"I will carry her upstairs if you will follow?"
He scooped her up with some ease. Her form was not petite, but tall and athletic, but he was a man of substance, and he was able to carry her up the four stories with only minor difficulty. She was asleep by the time he laid her down on the bed.
"We will need to discuss gun fire on the estate," he murmured. "Florence?"
"A bit shaken but well. She is concerned for Miss Josephine's well being."
Dr. Cecil smiled sadly and looked at Josephine's sleeping form. Florence was a sweet girl. Simple. Hidden away to avoid embarrassment.
"If you would, sir, I will put her into bed," Mrs. Humphries said. Dr. Cecil nodded and walked to the doorway. He paused to look at Josephine one more time. He felt the need to explain to Mrs. Humphries it was merely a doctor's concern for his patient, but he decided against it. Instead, he went to find Florence. If he had done nothing wrong, then there was nothing to explain.
When he had seen her for the first time, he was mesmerized, but he never had any intention of making anything of it. He never considered touching her. He never believed he could feel so strongly about a patient until she walked into that room, dressed in her pink gown, hair ironed, a smile on her face.
He was innocent of that at least. The night of the first ball that she attended was the first time he ever had the impulse act on the growing affection he had for her. He attended the balls, but he never touched a patient. He did not dance. He was merely there for polite conversation and to show his support to his patients. Mrs. Humphries played the piano's, the male attendants were present for male conversation only; the patients had partners in each other.
He had discovered the root of her episodes. Loud noises often set her off. Everyone on the house was on notice and everyone did their very best to accommodate the need for quiet. Florence, the kind, simple girl that she was, had brought Josephine flowers after her first incident. She was insistent. Dr. Cecil allowed Frankie to take her out to the gardens to pick flowers for her. Josephine was contrite and the two soon became close friends.
She walked into the ballroom wearing a pink gown. All had fine dresses, they were all women of means, but she was simply beyond perfection. Her curls spilled over her shoulders. The crucifix was around her neck. Like the first time he saw her, his breath was taken away. Her eyes sought him out and the moment they met his, a smile came to her lips. It warmed him to the core.
In their session that morning, she was still unsure if she wanted to attend. She was terrified of social situations since her outburst. She'd never reacted that way in public before. Only ever in private. He reminded her that was because her family kept her locked away since her brother's suicide. He wanted her to be brave and put herself in more social situation. How else would they know if she was improving? She was unconvinced. It was only when he told her how pleased he would be see to see her there that she agreed to consider it. He would not force her to go, but he had hoped she would.
His eyes darted over to Mrs. Humphries. She was happily playing the piano, watching the girls dance. Josephine came to stand in front of her, holding her dress skirts shyly.
"I have attended, doctor," she said. He drank in the sight of her greedily.
"You have. I am pleased."
"I am happy to have pleased you," she answered. "Will you dance?"
His mouth was dry. He felt a schoolboy again.
"I do not dance with patients," he said far more curtly than he attended. She looked hurt. It both hurt him and warmed him. "As a matter of policy. It is not for lack of desire."
"Of course," she answered. "I understand."
He derived great pleasure from her disappointment. He added, voice low, "You look beautiful, Josephine."
She lingered a moment longer, before floating away with a shy smile.
Hattie monopolized his conversation for most of the night. She often did. Another simpleton. He enjoyed his conversation with her, but his eyes never stayed away from Josephine for long.
It was when he heard her laughter that he realized he had fallen in love with her. He heard it with his gaze still fixed on Hattie, but he knew it was her. His eyes lifted to find her spinning around with Florence. She looked so happy, so at peace. He felt that he had a glimpse into the Josephine that had existed before her brother pulled that trigger. He hoped he had played a part in bringing her back out. He hoped he had played a roll in that happiness.
Despite her apparent happiness, it was early when she arrived before him and asked if she could retire. It really meant she was ready for her nightly morphine. That would be his next step. Try to get her sleeping without the aid of drugs.
"Come with me," he murmured. He stopped before Robert.
"I will be bringing Miss Josephine to bed," he told Robert.
"Should I fetch Miss Burke?" Robert asked. Dr. Cecil looked to Mrs. Humphries. She was still watching the girls dance as she played, a smile on her face.
"Oh no, let them have their fun. I shall administer her medication and see her to her room."
Robert was unfazed by the break of procedure. Dr. Cecil's reputation was beyond repute.
"Sure thing, doc," Robert said. He felt more sympathy for the attendant as he continued to watch Maude dance. Robert had asked him two years ago if he could marry Maude and begin a relationship with her. Dr. Cecil had refused. Her father would never allow it, and even if he did, Robert would no longer be able to pay for her presence at the Asylum, and Maude could not function without the help of a doctor.
He and Josephine walked through the grand foyer in silence. They were just beginning to traverse the stairs when she spoke.
"I would like to thank you, doctor. I do not think I have thanked you until now."
"There is no need to thank me, Josephine. It is my job and your father pays me well. Though I am pleased to know I have helped you."
"Very much, sir. In these few months, I feel more like my old self than I ever thought possible."
"You still have very far to go, but I think together, we can get there," he answered. He chanced a look at her. He did not want her thinking she was ready to go home.
"I was in such despair for so long. I do think, with your help, I might one day be healthy again. I only wished father had been able to attend the luncheon. He would be amazed with my progress."
Dr. Cecil believed it was good to have formal social events for women so used to upper class society. Family would attend at luncheon's he would organize roughly four times a year. Many of the women had family in attendance. Mr. Boulanger had not been able to make the journey, and so Dr. Cecil had invited Josephine to sit at his table and not with the other patients who did not have family present. He had cared little for Mrs. Humphries look of disapproval. He only wanted her close.
"He writes often," Dr. Cecil said. "He cares very much."
"It is a long journey from Louisiana. I do not fault him. My sisters are of an age he will be hoping to find them wives. He'll be busy. I am truly blessed I have found such a good friend in you."
I am not your friend, he thought, I am your doctor.
"You touch me greatly," he said instead. He patted on his pocket, pressing his fingers to the vial tha lay within.
"I spoke with Miss Durham the other day," she said, surprising him.
"At what point were you about to speak with Penelope?" he asked sharply. That was dangerous. Not to her but to him.
"I left sewing class early last Tuesday to deal with feminine pains," she said. None of his patients felt embarrassment discussing anything with him. Josephine was almost just as comfortable. "I met her out in the gardens."
"I see. Do I need to have a discussion with Robert, James, or Frankie?"
"James was with her. I do not think you told my father you had a negro patient."
"I did not inform your father because I do not believe that my treatment of a negro has any effect on the effectiveness of my hospital."
"I agree," Josephine said. "My father would not."
He looked at her. She did not seem outraged. Indeed, this was the first he had heard of Josephine meeting Penelope. His affection for her only grew.
"Penelope is the daughter of a southern farmer and one of his slaves. As you saw she is… passable," he said, concealing his disdain for the word. "She suffers from quite a severe illness but she is not violent. I keep her locked away with the others simply because of her heritage. When one looks too closely, it is clear she is mixed. If it was discovered, I would lose my funding and many of the gentleman that pay me, would pull their daughters and wives from my care."
"My father, most certainly," Josephine said. "The staff knows?"
"They do. I employ only those with pure hearts. I do not allow hatred into my asylum."
He opened her bedroom door and allowed her to walk in before him. He followed but made sure to leave the door open.
"I will say nothing, of course," Josephine said, sitting down on her bed. "I offer myself as a friend to her, if you think she would benefit from contact with those less violent than those with whom she is currently lodged. I know how it feels, to be so isolated."
"You have a good heart," he answers. "I will ask her. I am sure it would brighten her days."
She opened her mouth as he took the dropper from the vial. Despite his own intentions, to leave to undress and go to sleep, he left the dropper above her head far longer than required. She did not protest. She simply waited until he removed the dropper.
"You must undress immediately for you will be asleep soon. Can you undress yourself?" he asked. Though he knew she would not have the opportunity.
"Um… perhaps?" she asked. Her eyes fluttered and placed his hand to her neck. He gently lowered her to the bed. He traced her cheek with his fingertips. He wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do. He simply stood there and watched her fall asleep. He remained there some while, gently stroking her cheek. He let out a low breath and looked toward the door. He remained there, staring at it, unable to come to a decision.