One might consider me to be suicidal for sitting on a high tree branch during a thunderstorm, but in my mind, I was far from that. Lightning cracked the grey sky repeatedly while I smiled, imagining that I was a ship’s captain rounding the horn. Feeling this alive again felt better than being fed laudanum. Butterflies flew about in my stomach, slowly eating away at the pain that had inflicted my insides after the incident.
The howling wind seemed to be calling for me until I realized that it was Matthew standing under the tree with his head craned. I worried that someone would come for me eventually.
“Come down!” he called.
Shivering, I climbed down the length of the great sugar maple tree. I jumped off the lowest branch, nearly landing on my friend. Matthew shook his head and then we ran for the comfort of my family’s home.
Once we stomped in through the door, the maid greeted us with two dry towels. It was the first time that she had been close enough for me to speak with her. She was standoffish with me after my brutal words when she force fed me that bread.
“Miss?” I called after her when she twirled around to retreat.
She halted at the sound of my voice. I hated myself for making the young employee so afraid of the place where she made her living.
“Forgive me for my ungentlemanly behavior toward you while I was ill,” I said.
She curtsied and then averted her eyes. “There is no need to apologize, Sir, but I accept it, of course.”
After she had gone, Matthew eyed me strangely as he dried off his hair.
“Are you sure you’re not still ill?”
“Well, I don’t want to die anymore.”
“Are you certain?” he asked, gesturing toward the front door. “I just found you out there waiting to get hit by lightning.”
Pools of rainwater formed in the entranceway from our dripping clothes and hair. It was then that I knew that I would never find a better friend to stand by me. It was only his out of place humor that made me want to punch him in the face.
“I was enjoying being alive, if you must know,” I said with a grin. “I need to go change.”
“So do I. Meet me in the study after.”
Minutes later, dry and warm, I stepped into my father’s library where Matthew sat comfortably on a plush chair.
“You really know how to make yourself at home in other people’s residences,” I said.
He folded his hands together before he spoke. “I left my apprenticeship with Dr. Scott and have been working at an asylum as a superintendent.”
My mind chewed over his statement. I was unsure if I heard him right. “Is Jeremy there?”
I threw my hands in the air. “Could you just be blunt with me, man? How is he doing?”
“He was exceptionally unwell, as are many of our patients there. I-” Matthew blinked as he rested his elbows on the desk, “I had to fight very hard against some very cruel practices at that place.”
My body shook not from the earlier cold, but from anger. “I had an idea that most asylums would be hell on earth. What did they do to them?”
“Take a deep breath, Al. I don’t want you to be worked up over this. Yes, there were some cruel treatments performed there, set by a sadistic man with the title of a doctor. He enjoyed thinking of himself as a sort of father-god figure to whom he called his ‘inmates’. Nevertheless, I am doing my best to reform the place.”
That was what amazed me about Matthew. His disposition could seem maddeningly aloof, but he lived out his passion and morality rather than speak about it.
“How did you know that Jeremy was there? Why did you decide to leave a respectable practice and to go work at a madhouse?”
“Your aunt knew where he was all along. She told me when I visited her last. She could not keep it to herself any longer.”
My stomach knotted at the thought of my aunt.
“I really want to help the cause,” continued Matthew. “You have inspired me. When I saw how close you were to death, and when I discovered that this was not your first bout of immense melancholy, I knew that I had to do something.”
My eyes stung. “You are the best friend I could ever ask for.”
Matthew smiled. “I hope so. I feel the same way about you.”
“But I’ve done nothing more than disturb you. Sure, I may have inspired you, but I nearly got you killed. Others have died because of my pursuit of helping preserve the memory of the suicides.”
Matthew stretched and yawned. I almost laughed at his nonchalant response.
“Nonsense, Al. I want to ask you something. Would you come with me to the asylum? I think that it would help you to leave the property, and perhaps, focusing on other people’s problems will distract you from your own grief.”
“I can try.”
“This is all that I can ask, of course.”
“Asylum doctor. Matthew, I am very proud of you.”
He cast me a sidelong glance. “Don’t be proud of me yet. There is still a lot of work that I need to do. I am already in over my head and I’m not an official doctor yet. Moral therapy has been a practice in asylums for years, but I do not agree with most of it. There’s so little research and knowledge about how the human mind works at all. It’s disheartening, but a very rich field to study.”
“How did you survive long enough to reach my aunt’s house after returning to Sunny Harbor?”
“Caleb is out of men to fight his battles for him. Remember? From what I heard, he’s been wasting away drinking and rambling on in his house. His mother is now running the mercantile for him. Perhaps forever.”
I groaned while holding my head. It hurt to think of Caleb, because it reminded me of how Sarah’s life was intertwined with his for the past several years. He was the reason why Sarah was not alive and writing. I would have saved her. I really would have. She chose to sacrifice her life for Matthew and I.
The best that I could do for her was to help Jeremy resume a healthy life for himself. Then I would do my very best to firmly establish her memory.
“You should rest,” said Matthew. “Tomorrow is Monday. We will leave at eight thirty to arrive at the asylum by nine o’ clock. Can you do this for me?”
I nodded reluctantly. Seeing Jeremy was going to be a very surreal occurrence. My early writings and gallivanting of the summer centered around the questions that I had about him. I developed a bond with Sarah because of him. I failed Sarah, and if I also failed to save one of her friends, then I really did deserve to starve to death.