Fitz Kreiner first met the Doctor two days before his mother died. He had been to see her, or rather peek through the little hatch in the door at her. Doctor Smith had explained that she would not speak to him; it was an understatement. As soon as he had made her out on the floor, straitjacketed and prophesying the coming of Satan, he had turned and walked away from her screams. His feet knew the way through the corridors by now, and he simply let them make the way towards the world outside. In the corridor flanked by wards for patients who fared better than his mother, he was suddenly aware of footsteps behind him. Curious to see who walked behind him, he turned. Afterwards, he often wondered what course his life would have taken if he had not.
He had completely misjudged how close his pursuer was, and he found himself staring into a pair of intense blue eyes, only inches from his own. The face they belonged to bore a refined kind of pallidness and was particularly beautiful for a man’s, the long hair adding to the femininity. He was dressed only in an elaborate nightgown; when Fitz looked down, he saw his bare feet sticking out under the hem. Something in that gaze stopped the ‘what can I do for you?’ or the ‘watch your step, mate’, and instead, they stood close for a long, silent moment and stared at each other.
Finally the man laughed, as if in relief, and touched his cheek. ‘You,’ he said in awe and spread his other hand over his heart. ‘You’re a dying flower. I want to save you.’ Fitz did not know what to answer - all these years with an insane mother, and he still did not know how to rebuke a madman. ‘I could show you things,’ the man continued in a whisper. He sounded eager to persuade him. ‘You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen...’
‘Yeah, that’s why you’re in here,’ Fitz finally said and turned.
As he walked away, the man cried after him, his high tenor like a bird’s shriek: ‘You need repotting and watering and loving care - you’re already losing your petals!’
Fitz quickened his step and made an effort to not seem shaken.
Then two days later, he had received a telegram about his mother’s death. At least it hadn’t been suicide. They said it was a bleeding of the brain, and that did not sound like a euphemism. He went back to the asylum to see to the paper-work and make arrangements for the funeral. She had no personal belongings he could bring with him; she had not owned anything for years, just like she had not been outside or actually spoken to her son. Fitz left the doctor’s office with only a copy of the death certificate in his pocket. As he went down the steps leading from the door, he tried to remember his mother before she had started believing that she was possessed, before places like this had become the only place she could be. Surely at some point she had been a person - a human being - a mother? He could not remember it properly.
‘Mr Kreiner!’ He heard the cry when he was halfway through lighting a cigarette. When he looked up, he spotted two figures sitting on the lawn, waving at him. Still he steered his steps closer to see who they were, and suddenly recognised one of them as the lunatic from the corridor. He was more appropriately dressed now, albeit rather flamboyantly so; perhaps he was one of those aesthetes he had heard of. He certainly looked dandyish in his bottle-green velvet coat and grey embroidered waistcoat. When Fitz drew nearer, he realised that he was not wearing any shoes. There was a pair in the grass, as if they had been brought for him but he had refused to put them on. Beside him sat a girl, no older than seventeen, dressed in a pink dress and a wide-brimmed hat. She had a sweet smile, which she awarded to him as she watched as the dandy jump to his feet and approached Fitz.
Stopping at a decent distance, the man reached out his hand. ‘I’m very sorry about your mother,’ he said.
Fitz accepted the hand-shake, perplexed. ‘Did you know my mum?’
‘We spoke occasionally,’ the man explained. ‘She spoke very highly of you.’ When Fitz did not answer, he added: ‘Although it often happens in cases like hers that to her loved ones, the patient seems... unrecognisable. It is a great tragedy.’
‘Thank you,’ Fitz said, briefly ashamed at how little grief he felt; at least it was all over now. He watched the gentleman in puzzlement; was this really the same man who had accosted him in the corridor? They certainly looked exactly the same, and it was the same voice, but two days ago, he had seemed almost as mad as his mother. Today his tone was carefully measured, compassionate and undeniably sane.
‘I’m called the Doctor,’ the man said and then turned to the girl. She grabbed the hand he offered her and got to her feet. ‘And this is Samantha Jones.’
‘How do you do,’ she said and bobbed a courtesy.
‘We’re just about to go home for a cup of tea,’ the Doctor explained. ‘Would you care to join us?’
Fitz bit his lip, thinking that he should go talk to the undertaker at once, and glanced from the girl to the dandy. He had not been addressed with such earnestness for a long time. ‘That would be wonderful,’ he admitted.
The warmth of that encounter lingered many days. They took him with them on the omnibus to somewhere close to Primrose Hill. Judging by the green light which fell through the window into the parlour, he thought there was a garden behind the house. He was curious to see if that was the case, but he did not dare to crane his neck and look out of the window properly. The girl - Fitz started thinking of her as Samantha at once, rather than Miss Jones - had made scones and brought tea.
She and the Doctor sat on the couch while Fitz was seated opposite them, feeling precarious in his coarse clothes where he sat in a velvet-clad armchair. All the while, he wondered ruefully why the odd couple had asked him over for tea. He watched as Samantha, whom the Doctor called Sam, as if she were a boy, fussed over the Doctor, and tried to hide his smile. It struck him that the Doctor must just have been discharged; suddenly he felt like he was intruding on something private - the emotion of reunion and the implication of ill-health.
But every time he thought of leaving, the Doctor turned his shining eyes on him and asked him some question. Fitz found himself talking about the flower stall at the market and the baskets of violets he prepared for the flower girls, his long-dead father and his dingy room on Pitfield Street. When he left, the Doctor walked him to the door and bid him farewell. As he walked away from the house, the Doctor’s brilliant smile still floated before his eyes, like when one had stared too long into the light and saw green spots in the shadows.
After the consciousness of that meeting, it felt odd that their next encounter was by chance. It was over a week after the invitation to tea. That morning had been his mother’s funeral, and Fitz had not been able to face his cramped room in Hoxton. Instead, he had wandered all the way to Hyde Park, still in his finest clothes and with the black armband around his sleeve, even if he had his everyday cap in his hand. When he caught sight of the two figures, one in green and the other in white, he wondered for a moment if he was imagining it in an attempt to break his dreary walk. His stomach gave a surprised jolt when he realised that was not the case. The Doctor smiled at him. Today, unlike before, he was wearing shoes, but still no hat.
‘Oh, this is wonderful,’ he said when they drew close. ‘I can go feed the ducks!’ Then suddenly he had let go of Samantha’s arm and set off towards the Serpentine, tugging a bag of bread out of his pocket. Fitz looked at him, feeling an odd kind of disappointment.
Then Samantha caught his eye, where she looked up at him attentively. ‘I’m sorry for your loss, Mister Kreiner.’
He shrugged, not knowing what to say. Instead he looked after the Doctor again; he was just a speck of green by the lake now. ‘Why...?’ he asked, and she laughed softly.
‘He won’t let me be there when he feeds the ducks,’ she explained. ‘I think it’s a ceremony of his.’ Then she tilted her head and asked: ‘Shall we go for a walk?’
Feeling rather clumsy in his oddly matched clothes, he offered her his arm, which she nevertheless accepted. They walked in silence for a long time. First, he was worried that she would try to ask questions about his mother, but she only looked around the park, as if the world was new to her. He watched her instead; she looked so innocent, and he wondered how she had ended up living with a madman.
‘Is the Doctor your uncle?’ he asked. It was the only explanation he could think of.
‘When people ask, yes,’ she said. ‘Or guardian.’
‘“When people ask”?’ Fitz repeated.
‘He’s really nothing of the kind,’ she admitted with an unconcerned smile. ‘Although he’s the closest I’ve had to a father or an uncle or a guardian for a long time.’
‘How did you meet him? If I may ask...?’
She nodded. ‘He saved me,’ she said. ‘Not in the Christian sense, in the actual sense.’
He thought back to what the Doctor had said to him when he had met him in the corridor. You’re a dying flower. I want to save you. ‘How come?’
‘The thugs in Lambeth don’t appreciate the Salvation Army,’ she said simply. ‘I have no idea what the Doctor was doing there, but I think I would have died of shame if he hadn’t turned up when he did.’ He shuddered inwardly of what she implied, but also saw a new side of her. She may be young, but she was already trying to help the less fortunate. ‘After that, I was glad to take up his offer of a position in his household. I did not really dare to continue my work with the less fortunate.’
‘Do you mean you’re really his maid?’
‘Not quite,’ she said. ‘Although I do clean and cook for him, when he doesn’t insist on doing it himself. I guess really I’m his tenant. He calls me his companion.’ Fitz frowned, and Samantha glanced up at him from below her hat. She stopped and let go of his arm. ‘I know what you’re thinking, Mister Kreiner,’ she said sagely, ‘but it is nothing of the kind. I am not a kept woman.’
‘I wasn’t implying...’ he said, terrified at having insulted her, but she did not look rebuking.
‘The term he uses does have connotations,’ Samantha said, smiling. ‘I don’t think he’s noticed them himself, though.’
‘He seems an amicable gentleman, although... eccentric.’
She smiled, happy at the mutual understanding, and then admitted: ‘I’m very glad he decided to speak to you. He needs more friends.
’ He just nodded, not daring to admit that he was equally glad. In order to lighten the mood, he suggested getting some lemonade, and well at the stand, he got some for the Doctor as well. They walked towards the Serpentine and could see the Doctor throw the last of the crumbs to the congregation of ducks by him. Fitz watched him brush the locks out of his eyes, and then stop in the middle of the motion, watching the sky with a smile. There was an intriguing otherness about the image. The look of serenity on the Doctor’s face, Fitz contemplated, was truly beautiful.
Samantha left his side and rushed to the Doctor, breaking the spell. As Fitz approached, he felt vaguely disappointed at that she had ruined the moment, but could not tell exactly what she had spoiled. Instead he just offered the glass of lemonade wordlessly to the Doctor.
‘For me?’ he said, eyes shining, and then accepted it. ‘Where did you say you lived, Fitz?’ he asked and sipped the lemonade.
‘Hoxton,’ Fitz said. The Doctor’s way of addressing him with his first name made him feel strange inside. ‘On Pitfield Street.’
‘Hardly an ideal location,’ the Doctor commented. ‘You’ve seen my house close to Primrose Hill. It’s large - we have plenty of room.’ He reached out and took Samantha’s hand, as if to show who the “we” were. ‘Come and live with us.’ Fitz opened his mouth in astonishment and closed it again several times.
‘I couldn’t possibly...’ he said uncertainly. Did he really want another madman on his hands? Taking care of his mother, or trying to, had been daunting enough. And Samantha and the Doctor seemed so close - did he really want to live with two people who were like that? Did he trust them not to have him embroiled in some emotional charade? Then again, he had believed Samantha when she had said that there was nothing indecent going on - perhaps she was just a good friend, who doubled as his maid, just as she said. He could not imagine her lying, or being involved in anything inappropriate. Besides, the Doctor seemed far too oblivious... Then he thought of his room on Pitfield Street, and felt nothing but vague disgust for the drab, lifeless place. Would he miss any of it?
‘There’s a garden,’ the Doctor continued. ‘A real vegetable garden. You like plants, don’t you?’
‘I sell them,’ Fitz said, feeling rather dumb. ‘I don’t know if I’m particularly good at them...’
‘Still,’ the Doctor said, smiling now. ‘We could tend it together. What do you say?’ He looked him straight in the eye and Fitz felt his gaze caught in those enchanting eyes. As if his eyes controlled him, he nodded, and the Doctor’s face split into a wide smile and pulled him into an embrace. ‘Wonderful!’ he exclaimed when he pulled back and held him at arm’s length. ‘Go! Pack your things! Get a cab - I’ll pay it. 18 Elsworthy Road.’ He grinned ecstatically and then bounded close again and pressed his lips against Fitz’s cheek. Then Fitz’s mind caught up with him, and he realised that that was a kiss - this strange man was kissing his cheek in public! - but it was over as soon as it had begun. The Doctor had let go of him and taken Samantha’s hand instead. ‘Supper’s at 7.30 - be home by then.’ Then he sat off at a run, dragging the girl after him. She looked over her shoulder and smiled in parting.
He stared after them. He said “home”, he thought. Home! Then he put his hand to his cheek, where only moments ago, the Doctor had pressed his lips. For one dizzy moment, he wondered if this was not an awful idea, and he should go back to Hoxton and forget about it. Then he realised that it was too late. There had been something in the way the word “home” had made him feel and how that kiss had burned his skin which had already made the decision for him.
The word “home” echoed through his mind the next few days, as he started to explore the house and got to know the routines of the other two inhabitants. It was not until two days later, one morning when the sun shone through the windows and summer was in the air, when the Doctor lead him out of the backdoor, into the narrow garden. It was flanked by bushes on the far side, and with brick walls on the two others.
‘No one can see in,’ the Doctor said and looked around it lovingly. ‘It’s our secret garden.’ Fitz followed his step, seeing not a garden but rather the Doctor’s sanctuary in the world. There was a lilac bush in the far corner, a patch reserved for herbs and closest to the house, carefully tended flowerbeds. The scent of honeysuckle hung in the air.
‘I see you like begonias,’ he observed and crossed to one of the flowerbeds.
‘I save them,’ the Doctor said simply. Fitz thought of his odd way of describing him as a dying flower that first time they met. ‘I grow herbs as well - over here.’ Fitz followed him and watched him as he crouched to touch the wild thyme. It was odd to see a man in such fine clothes in a garden, but something about him made him look particularly natural in this scenery. At once when he stepped out of the house, his face had lit up, like a pious man in a church, and there was something venerate with how he touched the herbs. ‘They usually die over the winters, but...’ He looked rather melancholy for a moment, and then rose again. ‘Now, the vegetable garden.’
Reaching out, he took Fitz’s hand and before he had time to tear it out of his grip, he lead him down the garden path. They went through a small opening in the bushes furthest away and down the twitten outside until they reached a gate in the surrounding hedge. Beyond it lay a small enclosure in which a garden sprouted. Fitz could see carrots and potatoes and heavy pea-shells hanging from the sticks it climbed.
‘It’s not very well maintained,’ the Doctor admitted and sounded a little embarrassed. ‘There’s not much that grows yet...’
‘Shouldn’t be much more work to get it in shape,’ Fitz mused. ‘If there’s the money for it, we could grow pumpkins.’
The Doctor smiled widely. ‘It could be your piece of work for the household,’ he said. ‘And if you feel like working the garden by the house, then please do.’
‘Thanks,’ Fitz answered and smiled at him, then spotted something. ‘Why aren’t you wearing shoes?’
‘Sometimes they don’t fit,’ the Doctor said simply.
Fitz thought of mentioning to him that there were nettles in the grass, but he did not seem to care. As they turned from the garden, he walked straight over them, the spring in his step never failing.
Although getting to the market where he manned the stall took much longer, moving to Elsworthy Road soon turned out to have been a very good thing. While his landlady in Hoxton usually badgered him about rent days in advance, the Doctor did not even tell him what the rent was; Fitz was rather shocked to realise that he had not thought to ask of the rent either. It took him over a week before decided that the person to ask was not the otherworldly landlord, but Samantha. He found her in the living room; the purple interior of the room made it glow when the sun fell through the window.
She was sitting in the sofa, busy sewing the hem of a dress. When he entered, she glanced up and smiled. ‘How are you settling in?’ she asked and took a pin from her collar, where she had a long row of them ready to be used.
‘Very well, thanks,’ he said as he sat down in the same armchair where he had sat on his first visit. ‘Is it for you?’
‘This?’ She lifted the cloth she was working with and shook her head. ‘No. I take in sewing occasionally. Something to keep me busy.’
‘I guess the Doctor doesn’t have a regular job,’ Fitz said, trying to sound casual, but she seemed to understand what he was referring to.
She sighed a little and said: ‘His health prevents it.’
Fitz shifted, feeling bad about making her downcast. ‘I thought he might write, or something,’ he tried. ‘He looks a bit like a poet, and he certainly has a way of words.’
She smiled to herself and continued to work on the hem. ‘He sometimes did,’ she reminisced. ‘His doctor didn’t approve - he thought it brought on his episodes. He used to have a dream diary, I know, and I think that some of it actually was in verse. Perhaps he still keeps it.’ She removed a pin and pushed it into her collar. ‘He even illustrated it - drew pictures of the things he thought he saw,’ she said. ‘He showed them to me sometimes. Many of them very beautiful... some quite grotesque.’ Her hands fell, and she stared into nothingness.
Fitz watched her, and suddenly got the feeling that there was something more to this girl, sitting in a sea of lace and cloth with a thimble between her fingers. There was some hidden pain, shadows in her face not quite her own.
‘Can I ask something?’ he said slowly. The spell broke and she raised her head, nodding. ‘His, eum... condition. Is it something new?’
She averted her eyes, as if from modesty. ‘No,’ she said quietly. ‘He’s been like that since I met him. They knew him at the... institution even then.’ Fitz felt a sudden pity for her, who did not dare to use the word “asylum”. It seemed like an attempt at denial. ‘They have a name for it. Dementia praecox, I think.’
‘Yes, that’s what it’s called,’ he said. It had been that very disease which his mother had suffered from, according to the doctors, not possession of the devil, as she had claimed.
Samantha pressed her lips together resolutely. ‘Isn’t it odd, putting a tag on it like that?’ she asked. ‘If they name it, then...’ She trailed off.
Fitz guessed by the look of disgust on her face that what she had meant to say was something like, if they name it, then there is no way to deny it. If they name it, then it can’t be put down to some passing fancy. By the way she spoke of the Doctor, Fitz gathered that she had known him for a matter of years. It seemed curious that she would still want to deny that something was wrong. Perhaps it was part of her innocent nature - that the Doctor had episodes was one thing, that he was a diagnosed and labeled madman quite another.
She seemed to take his silence for skepticism, because now she looked up and said: ‘Most of the time, he’s as meek as a lamb. He’d never hurt anyone.’ She hesitated, as if there were exceptions; Fitz wondered briefly if she had been the victim of any violent tantrums or some odd indecent whim, but her face held no contempt, only worry. perhaps the Doctor’s instability had driven him to threaten to turn his hand on himself. Samantha swallowed to collect herself, and said: ‘He’s got a... a lively imagination, that’s all, and sometimes it gets out of hand. It’s like this world scares him. As if he forgets what it’s like.’ Then she looked up, almost accusingly, and said: ‘He’s a very good man.’
‘I never thought anything else,’ he assured her.
She smiled at him. ‘I think he’s fond of you,’ she admitted. ‘That’s very good. It’s too seldom he meets people who are as kind to him as you were. And he appreciates that you call him Doctor. He likes when people do that.’ He smiled back, and decided that now was not the time to ask about where he had gotten the nickname.
Samantha started looking over the stitches of the work when Fitz asked: ‘What of his family?’
She glanced up from her work. ‘He doesn’t have one,’ she said after the kind of pause which only precedes delicate euphemisms.
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I had assumed... with this house...’ Fitz had guessed that the Doctor was from a wealthy family, perhaps one which did not want to be associated with him and in return for his absence had set him up with this house and an allowance. Besides, there were the fees for the asylum; the only way Fitz’s mother had been able to be accommodated in the place had been with the help of a kindly rich gentleman who occasionally sponsored impoverished widows in need of such care.
Samantha seemed to understand that he was referring to the delicate question of money, and explained: ‘There’s a lady philanthropist - Mrs Wildthyme - who sees to his financial needs. Has for years, apparently. She comes for dinner occasionally, probably to make sure that he’s still worth sponsoring.’ She thought about it and then admitted: ‘She’s a bit odd as well, actually. A huge lady, and she wears the most ghastly dresses...’ Then she smiled. ‘But she seems to like the Doctor, and she has helped him much.’ Suddenly Samantha seemed to remember herself and laughed. ‘Listen at me, prattling on! Sorry, did you come to ask me something?’
‘Well, in a way,’ Fitz said. ‘The Doctor isn’t the most practical of people, so... What is the rent for the room?’
‘Oh,’ she said, looking a bit surprised, then grew businesslike. ‘Yes. The Doctor is not particularly good with money, but what he is supposed to charge, if he ever remembers it, is twelve shillings a week, plus some help around the house.’
Fitz had to bite the inside of his cheek when she said the price. His room in Hoxton had cost him four shillings a week, and Mrs Simms only paid him twenty. The remaining eight shillings would barely be enough for food, and that was not counting the transport costs to the market...
‘Fitz?’ He looked up, and realised that Samantha had pushed the dress aside and leaned in. She watched him good-naturedly, and then said: ‘He won’t notice if you pay a little less.’
‘No,’ Fitz said quickly. ‘I’ll pay it - it’s fine, I’ll... it’s fine.’
‘Probably he wouldn’t even ask for rent if I didn’t remind him,’ she admitted. Then she bit her lip and said: ‘Please don’t reconsider just because of money. It’d break his heart.’
‘I don’t need charity,’ he said, and only realised how sharply he had spoken when she flinched back.
They sat in silence for a long time, until Samantha spoke again, her voice suddenly authoritative. ‘Eight shillings, and you’re in charge of buying food from the market, which I will give you money for out of the household funds for. In addition, you’ll do whatever chores the Doctor thinks need doing. Has he given you any yet?’
‘Yes, the vegetable garden,’ Fitz said. ‘He thought it needed a bit of work.’
‘Well, if we grow our own vegetables, that would be splendid,’ Samantha said.
‘He said I could work the house garden too, if I liked, but I don’t think that was an actual chore.’
That wiped out Samantha’s smile, and instead she stared at him in disbelief. ‘The garden?’ she repeated incredulously.
‘Eum, yes,’ he said. ‘Is that a problem?’
‘The Doctor said you could work the garden?’ she said, bobbing her head up and down in emphasis.
‘Yes.’ She made a little surprised sound. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘The Doctor doesn’t let anyone work the garden,’ Samantha explained. At that moment, there were footsteps in the stairs. ‘Doctor!’ she shouted, and soon the Doctor appeared in the doorway. She turned to face him and asked: ‘Have you said Fitz can tend the garden?’
‘Yes,’ the Doctor said cheerily and smiled at Fitz, who smiled back uncertainly, not understanding what had upset Samantha so.
‘You barely let me into it!’ she exclaimed. That made Fitz look from her to the Doctor, suddenly wondering at the significance of the garden.
The Doctor just shrugged and said: ‘You’d end up stepping on the herbs. I think Fitz will do a good job looking after my begonias, if I can’t. That’s all.’ Samantha rolled her eyes, while the Doctor smiled at Fitz and then with a wink left the room again.
They looked after him, and then Samantha looked at him and said: ‘Well?’
‘Eight shillings, groceries, garden, whatever else the Doctor needs to have done,’ he said.
She smiled. ‘Good.’ Then she settled back in the sofa to continue with her sewing.
As he left her to her work, he pondered the oddities of the household. If the Doctor had a philanthropist pay for his living, surely he had the money to employ staff? Instead, they seemed to have split the chores between the three of them - he knew that Samantha arranged the laundry to be taken away once a week and she did much of the cleaning, although Fitz had already decided to help her with that. However, the Doctor did much of the cooking, with Samantha’s help.
He considered if the Doctor had some odd religious ideas, but there were no crosses in the house, he said no prayer before meals and he had never said anything to make him seem pious. It was Samantha who was the dedicated church-goer, although sometimes the Doctor would follow her. He fell back to his pet theory, which he had developed over the past week, that the Doctor was some kind of socialist intellectual. He had not been able to find anything in the library to support this, but it would explain how the man seemed to lack all concepts of conventional values. He did not believe in having servants - he saw nothing offensive with calling a young, decent woman his companion, and while most well-to-do gentlemen would treat Fitz with disdain because of his inexpensive clothes and his German surname, he spoke to him in such a relaxed manner that it verged on flirtatious.
There was something sympathetically unbourgeois about his credo, dictated by no-one other than himself. Fitz stopped in the door to the garden, realising that he had forgotten how it felt to live with other people. Now, he encountered the world outside his own, dull life in this odd little household in Camden. Taking in the sunkissed lilac and the smell of honeysuckle, he thought that this was worth the full twelve shillings. When the Doctor looked from where he kneeled by his herb garden and smiled at him, he changed his mind. It was probably worth all his wages, if they asked for them.