Melting snow mixed with her tears, as Thomas said his last words to Anne. "My dear, you are in the best possible hands. For as long as you live, my bank will send money for your maintenance. You will be well cared for. The Aston Asylum is one of the finest and most progressive in all of Britain. Dr. Aston is both a doctor of divinity and a physician, a noted alienist who assures me you will have the best treatments known to medical science. Good bye, now. Most probably we will never see each other again, but rest assured that I will always have a place for you in my heart." With that, the door closed, and Matron led Anne toward the women's wing.
Anne was the only child of The Reverend Evan Jones and his wife. As a non-conformist, not Church of England, and a displaced Welshman, pastor to a small flock in the north of England, Rev. Jones never had much money, but his family never lacked for the necessities nor felt a need for luxuries. Anne was an intelligent and attractive child, with lively eyes and auburn hair, but she had a speech impediment, a stammer, which exposed her to ridicule. Her parents schooled her at home and discouraged her playing with others. When she was eighteen, she began her monthly periods, as was common in those days, when girls matured more slowly. Her parents arranged a marriage to a lawyer, Thomas Marlow, Esq., an ambitious solicitor in Newcastle. They were married in her father's church, and, as Thomas took Anne to Newcastle, the Rev. Jones and his wife departed England to bring the Gospel to the heathens of Africa.
The wedding night: Thomas, overcome by lust for her pale, delicate body, ravished the virgin Anne without those gentle preliminaries which might have prepared her for conjugal coupling. In the morning, she communicated to him how painful and distasteful the experience had been, on her part. Her husband's reaction was to declare that he would never again visit her bed, or even her bedroom. She was forbidden to leave the house or to entertain friends in the house. He rarely spoke to her, but she became aware that he was slaking his lust with women in the city and even, on occasion, with one of the servant girls in Anne's own house. She knew not what to say about that, so she said nothing.
Over the course of several months, Anne grew more quiet and more melancholy. She lost weight, and her menses stopped. It was almost as if she were regressing, going back into her childhood as a recluse. Thomas and Anne's mother-in-law, along with the family doctor, as required by law since 1774, testified before a justice of the peace, who then issued an order of commitment. Anne was legally judged to be hysterically insane by a man she had never seen.
The Aston Asylum for the Insane was a big brick building in the Regency style, out of place and isolated in the Yorkshire dales. Apart from the outbuildings and gardens of the asylum, the only sign of human habitation that Anne could see was the distant ruins of a castle which had once belonged to Richard III. Snow covered the ground and swirled around the building, as the wind moaned in the fireless chimneys. Matron, an older women in charge of the female patients and staff, led Anne to a small room, a cell, lit only by the gray light which filtered through a high, narrow window. Anne hugged herself against the chill and waited. She was aware of other inmates, though she could not see them. They were locked in their cells. Most were silent. One sang a bawdy song. Anne did not even understand some of the words. There was an undercurrent of moaning, and an occasional scream or shriek. Anne realized that, for practical purposes, she was no longer Thomas Marlow's wife. Few would know that he had even been married; fewer would remember Anne, and perhaps no one would know that she was still alive. Thomas might even remarry. She had no one, no friend, no husband, no contact with her parents, who might well be dead by now, murdered by savages in the jungles of Africa. Why had God made her, if her life had no meaning?
At last the bolt shot back and Matron entered, carrying a candle and followed by two men. The elder, with white hair, dressed in black clerical garb, introduced himself. "I am Doctor Aston, and I am here to help you, Mrs. Marlow." He gestured at the younger man, also clad in black, but without the clerical collar, a handsome fellow only a few years older than Anne. "This is Doctor Wilson, my assistant. First, we must examine you. Tomorrow, we can begin with the standard treatments for your mental illness. Very often, we are successful in effecting a cure, and the patient can return home, so I do hope you will cheerfully cooperate with your treatment."
Matron took Anne's wrap and then began to unbutton the back of her dress. Anne simply stood there, until Matron began to pull the long sleeves over Anne's hands, causing the bodice to fall away. "N-n-n-n", Anne stammered, trying to protest, but Matron continued to undress her, removing her dress and folding it, then removing the blouse and underskirts, until she was down to Anne's whalebone-stayed corsets, which confined Anne's waist and accentuated her hips. The doctors looked on approvingly. Matron's busy fingers made quick work of the laces, and the stiff garment fell away, leaving Anne standing there in only her thin muslin shift and her shoes.
"Off with the shoes," said Matron. Anne bent awkwardly to remove her shoes, acutely conscious of her near nudity. "Now the shift. Come on!" Reluctantly, Anne lifted her last garment over her head, exposing her private cleft to the sight of the men, and then exposing her girlish breasts. The chill of the room gave her gooseflesh and made her nipples stand out. She tried to cover herself with her hands, but Matron seized Anne's arms and easily held them behind her, elbows nearly touching, leaving Anne totally exposed.
Tears glistened on Anne's cheeks as she tried to protest. "P-ppplease! I-I-I n-n-n-"
Dr. Aston took one of Anne's wrists and felt her pulse. "Now, young woman, you must cooperate with your physicians. Have you never had a medical examination before"
Dr. Wilson took her other wrist and felt for the pulse, while Dr. Aston placed a rolled up paper above Anne's bosom and said, "Breathe deeply." With his ear to the paper tube he listened to her chest, and then her back. "All clear," he said, "She seems to be physically healthy." When they released her, Anne again tried to cover herself with her hands and stood there, shivering in the cold. Matron handed her a gray wool garment, cut like a chemise, to cover Annes' nakedness, and Dr. Aston remarked, "Yes, she's a bit thin, but I see no reason why we can't begin treatment tomorrow."
Then he turned to Dr. Wilson and spoke in Latin. "Mental illness," he said, "has two components, one physical, one moral. First, we treat the physical ailments. Her previous doctor diagnosed chronic melancholia, a hysterical malady common in women. Her bodily humours are out of harmony. Matron will see to that, with purges and clysters. I'll tell Matron to try to fatten her up a bit, and see that she gets plenty of exercise. The moral component is more difficult to reach, but there are many well known treatments, to focus her mental processes on that which is good. The standard treatments, whippings, cold water baths, blistering poultices, and physical confinement, the same treatments used on our late king, during his madness, tend to focus the attention of the patient on the present, pushing into the background memories of earlier experiences which, perhaps, precipitated the madness. We have here some new instruments of treatment, invented in America by a Doctor Rush. The objective is to so disorient the patient that he or she takes on the temperament of a cow or sheep, contentedly living in the present, with little concern for the past or anxiety for the future. In this patient's case, we will hope to see a time when the illness which prevents her speech is cured, and she can progress to normal human verbal intercourse, which is, of course, one of activities which distinguishes the human from the beast. "
Noting the expression on Anne's face, Dr. Aston resumed speaking English. "Do not fear, Mrs. Marlow. You may have heard of the horrors of the Bedlam madhouse, but you have nothing to fear of that sort here. We do not use branding irons to drive out demons. This is the Nineteenth Century. We do not believe in witches and demons. Patients such as yourself are not possessed. They are ill, and in many cases they can be cured."
The doctors departed, and Matron followed with the candle and Anne's clothes, bolting the door, leaving Anne alone in her cell, which was furnished with only a bed and a chamber pot. The mattress was straw in a bag of ticking, and it was covered by smelly woolen blankets. There was no fire to warm the place, and the winter chill, the ice-cold bricks of her cell, made sleep very difficult.
When Anne did fall asleep, she had nightmares which, fortunately, she remembered very little of. One involved a man was it Thomas or Dr. Wilson -- sticking his thing between her legs; she woke screaming. Morning was signified by an increase in the general level of noise and by a faint light through a slit-like window high on the wall, where she could see nothing but a tiny patch of sky. A panel at the bottom of the door slid open, and someone slid a tray through the opening, before it closed again. On the tray was a bowl of oatmeal, with a wooden spoon, a mug of tea, no sugar or milk, and some bread which had been fried in bacon fat. She ate and drank it all, ravenously.
Too soon, the door opened, and two women, one no older than Anne, the other her mother's age, ordered her out. Strangely, they were dressed like nuns and had crosses on chains around their necks. A...