Nathaniel covered his mouth as he stared back and forth between his brother and the dead man in his bed. He backed even further away, stopping only when he bumped into the armoire and could go no further. His eyes met mine and he asked, “What do we do?”
I shook my head, at a complete loss. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the gory image. “Carter, what did you do?” I demanded. “You told us we weren’t coming here to hurt—"
“I lied.” He swallowed hard, his eyes locked on the shuddering blade in his hand.
I took a single step into the room and fell back against the satin covered wall, my mind racing with a million different questions. Gideon had been nothing like his son, nothing at all. How could Carter have simply slit his throat? How could he have ended the life of the man who had been practically bursting with anticipation at the prospect of seeing the two boys he had adopted as his own sons? When I voiced those question out loud to Carter, they were met with stunning silence. I couldn’t help the way the volume of my voice rose with each word. “How are you going to explain this? Do you have some sort of plan that—"
Several heavy footsteps came marching toward Gideon’s room and all three of us exchanged panicked glances moments before Hugh, Gretchen, Josephina, Abigail, and every other guest in the house burst into the room. Gasps erupted, some women screamed, and everyone stared, convicting us with their eyes.
“Father!” Hugh shouted in despair, though I could see his eyes glittering triumphantly. He collapsed against the side of the bed, grabbing Gideon’s hand and crying just enough to convince the crowd of his anguish.
Josephina stepped forward, her face so pale she looked as if she might faint.
“Murderers!” someone shouted from amidst the guests and they surged toward us.
I stumbled away, bumping into Nathaniel who grabbed my arm to steady me.
“No!” Josephina insisted. “No, they are not murderers! I know these people. They are good people!”
“How can you say that after what they did to my father?” Hugh asked, wiping tears from his face. He pointed accusingly at Carter who still held the dagger in his blood covered hand. “The proof is before your eyes. They must be hanged!”
“No!” Although Josephina’s own face was wet with shocked tears, she did her best to pacify the crowd. “Please, listen to me! They are my friends—"
“Your friends have killed a man,” said Gretchen, shooting me a look that almost seemed apologetic.
“They are mad!” Josephina cried and instantly the crowd hushed. Seeing that she had everyone’s attention, she took a deep breath and said, “The gentlemen and lady you see before you have all—at one point or another—disappeared, a period during which not a single one of us knows what happened to them. It was foolish of us to think that any of them could have returned to their normal lives at court after such an ordeal. What has happened here today is nothing more than evidence of the expected madness that resides within each of them.”
I turned to Carter, hoping that he somehow had a plan for how to handle this situation, but his eyes were unfocused and distracted, almost as if he wasn’t even hearing the mayhem around him.
“What are you suggesting?” Gretchen prodded.
At that moment, I saw Lydia’s disheveled blonde head push through the crowd until her concerned face came into view. She looked so tiny at that moment, the helplessness I knew she felt obvious in the way her blue eyes flitted nervously about.
“Mad people do not belong in prisons, nor do they deserve to die,” Josephina tried to reason.
The crowd started yelling in opposition to Josephina, calling for someone to get the constable, proposing we be flogged and then hanged, shouting for us to be sent to the Tower.
“She is right,” Hugh said, his voice surprising us all. The room fell quiet as he rose from the bed and spoke to the guests. “Mad people do not belong in a prison.” Then he turned to us, and I could almost make out a smile in his otherwise expertly grief-stricken expression. “They belong in a madhouse.”
My eyes flew wide and met Lydia’s from across the room. She began shaking her head emphatically. “No!” I saw her mouth the word but the loud agreement of the crowd drowned her out. Nathaniel’s hand on my arm gripped me tighter and I felt my heart drop to my feet.
“I shall take them there in my carriage,” Gretchen offered.
Suddenly, there were unknown hands on me, pulling me toward the door and out of the room. “Wait!” I said, twisting my neck to see them take hold of Carter and Nathaniel, too. “No, please,” I begged as I was urged down the stairs and into the foyer. “We’re not mad!”
It was like we were caught in an unstoppable wave, the ocean refusing to hear our pleas as it thrust us forward. I could just see Nathaniel bucking viciously against the men holding him, but there were too many of them and not enough of us.
Lydia ran along the edge of the crowd until she found me. She grabbed my hand in her strong one and vowed, “I am going to help you.” Then my hand slipped out of hers and she vanished into the crowd again.
I was forced into a carriage—alone—and not a moment later, it lurched into motion. I grabbed the handle of the door, but it didn’t budge, locked from the outside.
My breathing became erratic as I banged on the walls of the carriage. “Please!” I screamed. “Please, let me out! I am not insane! Let me out!” But the carriage barreled on. My words got stuck in my throat as I realized I wasn’t getting out. Panic set in and my face felt hot as my aching fists fell into my lap.
When I strained my ears, I could hear two more carriages behind mine. Carter and Nathaniel. They had gotten all of us.
The carriage rode well into the night and into the early morning hours, my anxiety and fear increasing with each passing moment.
Suddenly, we jerked to a stop, and the door flew open. Blinking in the sudden brightness, I hesitantly peaked my head out and was met by the smiling face of a man dressed all in white. He offered me his hand to help me down from the cab. “Good morning, Lady Gallagher,” he greeted. “Welcome to Bethlehem Royal Hospital.”
I didn’t take his hand, my knees going weak. I dropped back onto the carriage bench as I stared with dread at the massive building behind the man. The stone structure stretched high into the sky, a clock tower glaring down at me from above. Iron gates bordered the property, barred with sturdy locking locks. Several other men dressed identically to the one still smiling at me milled about the property.
Bethlehem Royal Hospital. The official name of the asylum, but the public knew it by a different name.
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