AN ISCHIAN MYSTERY.
When the world reads this it will in all probability put me down as a madman, but in this as in many other instances the world will be wrong.
It would be no wonder if I was mad after what I passed through, yet I do not think at any time my senses were clearer than they are at present.
When the world has a chance (and it usually has) of saying anything good or bad about a man or woman it will generally choose the latter, and I do not blame it; for taking the general run of men and women (I cannot leave them out) there is far more bad (luckily never seen or shown), than there is of good which is paraded on the surface for the world to see, and each individual knowing how much he or she conceals, at once judges others by himself or herself.
However, for what the world will say I care nothing; in fact when this is published I shall probably be where the opinion of the world can have no effect upon me; and if I should be alive the few people who know me, and perchance may guess I have written these pages, will either believe me or else I shall lose the little friendship they may have for me.
That will not matter, as there is not a single soul now living for whom I feel the slightest love or interest. I shall not use my real name, as I have no desire for notoriety, nor do I wish people to gaze askance at me as a natural curiosity while walking about the streets.
Men consider me morose; for women I feel no interest, so their opinion troubles me even less than that of men. None of my acquaintances know anything concerning my past life, therefore, I shall have no hesitation in giving an accurate account of a few needful particulars in reference to my family and early history.
My mother was English, but had been brought up in Italy (that land of a thousand memories) and had lived in Naples the greater part of her life before she met my father; he was also English, and whilst travelling through Naples had seen her. He stayed there for some time, then married and took her back to England with him. I was their only child, and was born on the 28th July, 1856, in Queen's Road, Peckham, near London.
My father was a speculator, and had made a large fortune; success made him sanguine, he embarked his whole capital with his dearest friend in an undertaking from which he expected to retire a millionaire.
His friend proved a swindler, and one morning he woke up to find himself ruined. The blow proved too much for him.
In the evening he said good-night to my mother as usual, and retired to his study.
In the morning he was not in his room when the servant knocked, so she informed my mother, who arose with terrible forebodings, and hastened to the library. The door was locked. They knocked—received no answer—broke it down, and there, sitting in his arm-chair before his desk, was all that remained of my father.
He left a letter to my mother, saying he had lost everything, and, being old, did not see any chance of recovering his losses, so thought the best thing he could do was to kill himself.
He called down the vengeance of God on the wretch who had ruined him, and ended by asking her to forgive him for leaving her.
I will pass over the inquest, merely stating that the verdict was suicide from prussic acid. My mother was very ill for some time, and when she recovered we moved to Kent, and rented a pretty cottage.
Oh! thou beautiful county, how I now long for those peaceful days spent amongst thy woods and green fields.
When our affairs were settled my mother found she only had five hundred a year, which had fortunately been settled on her at her marriage.
She could not bear me out of her sight; so, instead of sending me to school, she procured me a tutor, who, seeing I had an aptitude for learning, took pains to teach me all he knew, and he being an extremely clever man, I derived no small benefit from his services.
I had no companions of my own age, and having little else to do, found the time passed with him was the most pleasant dining the day. His had been an unlucky life. Whilst he was studying his parents died, and finding himself without the necessary funds to last him through his examination, was obliged to leave the University and take to teaching as a means of gaining a livelihood.
He, however, always cherished the idea of one day being a qualified medical practitioner.
From his constant reference to this subject he instilled into my mind a desire to become a member of that profession. So after passing the preliminary examination with ease, and with much persuasion having gained the consent of my mother, when I was seventeen I went to Edinburgh. Here, with the exception of occasional visits to Kent, I stayed for four years, and at the end of that time found myself at liberty to write M.B. after my name.
The next two years were spent in visiting the chief continental laboratories. I embodied my researches in toxicology in my graduation thesis for M.D., and received special commendation and a gold medal for it.
I then went to live with my mother in Kent. I started practice and—fell in love.
The object of my affections was one of my first patients. And in our first meeting was a touch of romance. Walking one day in a wood near our home, I heard a woman's voice crying for help, and rushing to the spot I found a beautiful girl sitting on a bank of green moss, weeping and calling for help by turns. I enquired if I could be of any assistance. She told me she was one of a picnic party, and wandering about had lost her friends; trying to reach some nuts she had trod on a stick, and was afraid she had sprained her ankle, as she could not move it without great pain. All this was told in the prettiest way imaginable between her sobs.
I informed her I was a doctor, and proffered my services to bandage the ankle.
She looked at me for a moment, doubtless thinking my youthful appearance more befitting a schoolboy than a full blown medico.
I, seeing her hesitation, hastened to assure her—"I am Dr. Morton and live in Sittingborne."
Looking at me through tears that made her face look more bewitching she said, "Oh! are you Dr. Morton;—I thought he was much older than you seem to be?"
Then quickly with an assumption of dignity that made her look simply irresistible—"I beg your pardon! you must think me very rude, I, I—"
But the pain becoming too great, she dropped her dignified attitude and again commenced to cry. Without waiting any longer I took out my pocket-knife and kneeling down ripped up her little French kid boot and stocking.
The ankle was already very much swollen, so bidding her keep quiet for a few moments, I ran to a brook that was luckily near and dipping my handkerchief in hurried back.
I placed it round her foot (and a dear little foot it was) as carefully as I could, but though I hardly touched it she could not help now and then giving a cry of pain. Having finished I asked her in which direction she thought her friends were, but she did not know.
So I shouted out several times without receiving any answer.
What was to be done? Whatever it was required doing speedily, as the ankle needed properly bandaging.
Here was I with a sweetly pretty girl alone in the wood. The situation was rather embarrassing; but at that moment I would not have exchanged it for any other in the world.
"The only way I can think of," I said, "is for you to wait here, while I run to the nearest parish and try to get a conveyance of some sort or other to take you home. Where do you live?"
She raised her eyes piteously to my face.
"I am staying at Mrs. Mavis's in Sittinghorne. Oh! please don't go away, they will not know what has become of me. What am I to do?"
"Well, as you will not let me leave you. I shall have to take you with me; you do not look very heavy."
"Do you think you could carry me. It is quite a mile to our place."
I waited no longer, but bending down lifted her carefully in my arms, so as to hurt her as little as possible, and strode through the woods.