Authors: Mark C. King
Sigmund knew she would. Her mother had refused to allow her to read the story as it was released in the Strand throughout the previous year, but now it had been novelized and she was a year older. Sigmund didn’t check with Alexis first – counting on her forgiving nature to overcome any indiscretion he might have caused.
With Sarah’s days generally limited to her bed or a chair, she found ways to keep occupied – playing music, crocheting, and what she loved most of all, reading. She had read and reread most all of the great writers, but she truly loved the adventures and inventions of some of the more modern authors. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were her favorite, their stories taking her far away from her condition.
Sigmund leaned close and they hugged again. “So, I was only partly teasing about you not being old enough. I have read this story and it has some scary moments. I don’t want you to have nightmares.”
“Uncle, I have read about bloody revolutions, undersea monsters, dinosaur attacks –”
“Sarah!” her mother cried from the doorway where she had been watching the gift opening. “Let’s remember that you are a young lady. I know what is in your books, and I have allowed it, but let’s keep those things in the books and not in conversation.”
Sigmund winked at her and Sarah gave a knowing smile which turned into the two of them laughing. After a moment, Alexis was laughing too. How Sigmund loved his family.
Jamison walked into the kitchen with a questioning, though lighthearted, look on his face. “What is so funny?”
Sigmund answered, “The usual; bloody revolutions and dinosaurs.”
Jamison considered the response and replied, “Well, carry on then. But don’t let it disturb our dinner, it smells absolutely wonderful.”
“Don’t worry, dear,” said Alexis, “It still has some twenty minutes, plus cooling time.”
“Uncle!” cried Sarah, “we have time for a walk! Can we please? I have reread Mysterious Island and have some thoughts on the pirate attack.”
A ‘walk’ consisted of Sarah sitting in a wheeled chair while being pushed by someone, usually through the nearby Regents Park. She loved being outside and the park was her favorite place. “Of course,” responded Sigmund brightly, as if it was the greatest idea ever – which in his mind, it was.
Jamison carried the wheeled chair outside while Sigmund carried Sarah. He placed her gently in the chair, took up position behind it, and began their walk. As they toured the park, Sarah animatedly discussed how Cyrus Harding and his men could have been better prepared to repel the pirates when they invaded Lincoln Island. She talked of battle strategies that they could have employed and defenses that she would have set up had she been stuck on that island with them. Not a conversation that you would hear from too many young women, but Sigmund couldn’t be happier to be able to discuss such topics with her. Mysterious Island was a particular favorite of Sigmund’s so he had much to contribute to the conversation. After about thirty minutes of walking and discussing, they returned home, just in time for dinner to be served.
It was chicken pot pie and Sigmund gushed about how delicious it was – cooking for himself left much to be desired. After the early dinner they enjoyed a pleasant evening talking and laughing.
Despite the wonderful day, and the best company Sigmund could wish for, something felt wrong. His sister and her husband seemed nervous or on edge somehow – not congruent with the weather, and certainly not the norm. As the sun set, the strangeness was soon revealed.
Sigmund carried his niece to bed and tucked her in. “Goodnight Sarah,” he said, “I will see you soon. I want to hear all about how you enjoy the book.”
“Of course, Uncle. Thank you very much for the gift. I love you, goodnight, goodnight, I love you.”
“Goodnight, I love you, I love you, goodnight.” Their little nighttime routine.
Sigmund closed her door as she closed her eyes. When he went back to the living room, Alexis and Jamison were standing hand in hand waiting for him. The look on their faces was concerning. Sigmund paused, then asked, “What is wrong? I’ve had a strange feeling all day. Are you two alright?”
Jamison stepped forward, struggled to talk for a moment, then finally, “Sigmund, your sister and I have thought a lot about this, and we need to ask something from you.”
Sigmund nodded and waited for Jamison to continue.
“We need you steal something.”
This was not a request Sigmund thought he would ever hear from his sister and certainly not from her husband. Not that Sigmund wasn’t capable of stealing something, he was very capable, but it was always on his own terms with the goal of providing for his family. No one ever asked, they never had to. But to be asked, and asked so bluntly, was surprising and a bit shameful.
He always assumed that his sister had shared his background with Jamison but it was never talked about openly, not even insinuated. But now it was clearly out in the open. Sigmund was a thief; well had been a thief. Since Alexis’ marriage to Jamison, he hadn’t needed to resort to it. He had even started to think he would be able to retire that part of his life for good. A nagging haunt to his conscience, he would love nothing better than to leave it behind now that he no longer had a family to take care of, Jamison was doing that for him.
That was likely where most of the intimidation that Sigmund felt for Jamison stemmed from. The fact that the care that Jamison provided was through perfectly normal and legal means, able to give everything his sister and niece wanted without having to resort to stealing. In Sigmund’s mind, this made Jamison better than him. This, of course, is exactly what he wanted for his sister, but it still stung.
Jamison’s care also left a hole in Sigmund’s self-worth. He had spent most of his life caring for his sister, then later his niece, and that care is how Sigmund measured success. He was successful as a man, successful in life, if he could provide for his family. When Alexis first married, Sigmund went through the same feelings, but when her husband left, he was thrust into the familiar, comfortable role of provider and protector. At times, he felt selfish. It was the distress of his sister that made him feel the hero.
This role that he had played during much of his life was also an excuse to not focus on himself. He gave up on any kind of relationship, not wanting to threaten the balance he had created, and not knowing how he could possibly explain his thieving habits to a potential suitor. It was easier to just keep to himself. But now there were no excuses, Alexis and Sarah were provided for. She must have sensed it too, as through the years she never spoke of him not having a lady to court. But in recent months she had started to drop hints as to her desire for him to find someone.
That immediately changed with the request, ‘We need you to steal something’.
Sigmund’s thieving had started simply enough. By fifteen years old, his father was gone, his mother was sickly, and he and his sister often went to bed hungry. One day he overheard two men talking, one of them was complaining about how his wife did not appreciate the gift he had given her, a gold broach with small diamonds and emeralds. Sigmund was angry at how hard things were for his family and how much a piece of jewelry like that would help – and this woman evidently didn’t even like it! To have the means to purchase such superfluous things was almost beyond comprehension. The feeling of unfairness burned inside.
He dwelled on these thoughts and was able to force the conclusion that this woman didn’t deserve it. It took only a few more thoughts to bring him to the idea of relieving her of the unwanted item. It was very robin Hood-esque he thought, take from the rich and give to the poor.
A few more convincing thoughts and he decided that he would attempt it, he would steal this pendant. Sigmund carefully followed the man home to get his address. From there he would visit the home each day and wait until it was empty – it happened on the second day. Sigmund saw the man of the house leave for work a few minutes before eight, his wife left around ten. Clearly to do this in the day time was bold but he didn’t think the home would be empty during the night. Sneaking around an occupied home was well beyond his skills – and courage.
Waiting for the street to be clear, Sigmund ran across and went straight to the door. To his great surprise it was open! He often wondered what he would of done if it was locked – walk away and give up, smash a window, or something else entirely. What if…
Opening the door, he slipped inside quickly. The immediate strangeness of being inside someone else’s house was both frightening and thrilling. Surrounded by smells and sights that belonged to someone else was almost disorienting. He knew that just his actions so far, entering the home, were far over the line of appropriateness. Second thoughts and doubts barraged him but he decided to continue on – as much for the sake of his pride as the desire for the jewelry. He headed up the stairs to the second floor rooms, assuming that the bedrooms were on that level and that the jewelry box would likely be there as well. His steps on the stairs sounded excruciatingly loud, his heart beats not sounding much quieter in his ears. His instincts were correct – after opening the second door of the hallway, he found the master bedroom. His feeling of discomfort, now that he was in a person’s most private room, grew even stronger. He was shaking, sweating, feeling cold and hot at the same time. Fear of failure drove him forward. Looking over what had to be a women’s bureau, an elaborate box stood to the side of the mirror next to several pairs of gloves and a white hat. Opening the drawers of the box, Sigmund was greeted with many pieces of jewelry – earrings, necklaces, rings, pendants, and other pieces. Already feeling overwhelmed at his actions, it wasn’t until this moment that the complete gravity of the situation fell hard on Sigmund’s small shoulders. He was about to take something that wasn’t his, put it in his pocket, and leave. He would be a thief, a person that society would not be proud of. His stomach growled and he knew that his sister’s stomach was equally empty. The thought of helping Alexis superseded his morals.
He continued looking through the box until he found the piece that he was looking for. He picked up the broach, gold with embedded jewels – just as the man described – and it was now in his sweaty hand. His goal was realized. The choice made here would alter Sigmund’s life moving forward. If he put it back and left he would never consider anything like this again. To try and fail would be too much to overcome in order to try it another time. Sigmund stopped thinking, trying to not allow his conscience to rule his actions. He kept rationalizing that the good that would come out of this would be more than the bad. The end justified the means. He put the broach into his pocket and closed up the box. He thought of taking more but decided to stick to the original plan. He felt a little better knowing he was only taking something that the owner didn’t want anyway. Making his way to the bottom floor, he headed back to the front door. His heart pounded in his ears as he slowly opened the door a crack and looked around outside as best he could through the narrow slit. At what looked like an opportune moment, he stepped outside, closed the door behind him, and walked down the side walk as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He was then a thief. No matter what happened, he will always have stolen the broach. The label hung heavy on him but ultimately drove him on to other burglaries. He was a thief, whether he stole one thing or a hundred, he was still a thief.
The next several years were dotted with other experiences in stranger’s unoccupied – and occasionally occupied – homes. The money he received from this allowed his family to stay warm and fed. He didn’t allow for more than that, as his conscience simply couldn’t bear it – it barely allowed what he already was doing. He eventually bought a horse and a carriage that gave him a way to earn enough income that he rarely had to add to it by illegal means.
Once his mom passed and his sister married her first husband, Sigmund thought he would be done thieving for good. But then his niece was born. This birth was celebrated by the family, of course, but once her ailment was discovered, her father, Alexis’ husband changed. He became bitter and then mean. One night he left and never came back. Alexis was devastated and once again needed assistance. This assistance was provided by Sigmund and his resurrected thieving ways. A few months later, the husband was found dead by the docks. Evidently he was a in debt to the wrong people. There wasn’t much of an investigation and even less mourning.
Her husband was one of those men that walked the line between being a good man and a bad man. Alexis was optimistic, maybe too much so, in seeing his good qualities. At first, early in their marriage, things were good. He showed signs of breaking free from the habits of his rough childhood. But the pull from the past, the gravity of badness was strong. When Sarah was born, he cursed the world and gave in to the gloom and darkness. Sigmund knew that Alexis’ husband had no one to blame but himself, for she had given him all the support and love one could wish for, but his selfishness was too strong. Despite the hurt to Alexis, Sigmund was glad he was gone as the pain of his loss would be less than the pain of his continued presence.
Jamison changed everything. He loved Alexis deeply and took care of Sarah as if she was his own. Sigmund would be forever grateful to this man. But now, in their home on this beautiful evening, they had asked him to steal. Why would they need something stolen?
“Why would you need something stolen?” Sigmund asked with true wonderment. If they had asked him to slap the Queen, he doubted that he would have been any more surprised.
Clearly struggling with this request, Jamison looked at Alexis, who gave a small nod of encouragement, and said, “It’s for Sarah. There is a chance she could walk.”
If Sigmund had been surprised before, he was dumbfounded now. It’s the greatest news that he could ever hope to hear, certainly the greatest motivation to do something illegal and overcome his conscience, but the news was impossible.
“Impossible,” Sigmund said half to himself. He had talked to countless doctors and many had examined Sarah, some even trying differing cures, but nothing was ever helpful. Most doctors simply told him that the situation was hopeless, that they all should be resigned to the fact that Sarah would never walk. The science was too far behind her ailment.
Shaking his head in disbelief Sigmund continued, “You must be mistaken. There is no cure for Sarah. Oh how I wish there was, but her condition is well beyond medicine.”
Alexis spoke calmly, soothingly, “Sigmund, please. Hear Jamison’s explanation.”
Sigmund started at his sister. She was clearly on the side of Jamison, which meant something – Alexis was no fool. Sigmund, carefully protecting himself from disappointment, resigned to the slightest possibility of this amazing revelation. He looked at Jamison and waited for him to explain.
“Let’s sit down.” Jamison and Alexis took the couch while Sigmund sat in the wing chair opposite them. “Sigmund, like you, I have visited many doctors and have been given the same prognoses. I wouldn’t say that I’ve given up hope, but my optimism was near empty. Regarding this possible cure, I did not find it, it found me. You see, there is a man that started at my office recently, Jonathan Fitton. He is a kind man, helpful, a good worker. We became friends rather easily as we respected each other’s work ethic and amiable natures. Earlier this week he came to the office and was distracted, not his normal self at all. Being concerned for him as a friend and workmate I talked with him. He was flustered because of concern for his sister. She had an ailment from when she was young, a fall from a horse, that crippled her left leg. Jonathan found out about an Italian man, a doctor, who is doing remarkable procedures unlike any other of his scientific contemporaries. This doctor is currently in London and could help his sister. Of course I thought that if he could help his sister, why not Sarah. I explained her situation, at which Jonathan said that this man could certainly help. As I said, Jonathan was in bad sorts the day he told me about all of this and that was because this remarkable healer was also remarkably expensive. Most haven’t heard of him as he kept his talents to the wealthy. I guess if he runs out of wealthy sick people he would then move on to the rest, but that doesn’t seem too likely. My friend Jonathan needed a large sum of money, about four-hundred pounds to get an appointment. It would be another four-hundred for Sarah. To make matters worse, this Italian doctor is leaving London next week, so our timeframe is severely limited.”
Jamison paused at this point and looked down at the carpet between them. As if ashamed, he said, “Given a greater amount of time, I could raise that amount of money. But being that we have only a week, there is no way.” Returning his gaze to Sigmund, “This is why we’re asking you to steal something. It’s the only way to raise the money by next week. Believe me, I hate to ask you. I’ve never done an illegal thing in my life but I would for this. I was even tempted to try myself but Alexis talked me out of it, which is probably for the best. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
Sigmund leaned back in his chair and stared off into space to let all of this sink in. A steam car passed by the front of the building, its lights flashing in the front window. Sigmund thought,
A doctor only know to the rich? Is that possible?
Sigmund had seen quite a disparity between those who have a lot and those who do not, the privileges and opportunities that would never be afforded to those with meager resources. Why wouldn’t that apply to doctors and medicine? Poor families often couldn’t afford the most basic of help even from those ghoulish men who call themselves doctors but are probably less talented than the local butcher. Was it really a stretch to think that this previously unknown layer of privilege existed?