Miles Walker Greene was born in 1835, the only son of Lewis Greene and his wife Matilda (Tilda) and is a twin brother to Isobel Fitzgerald’s mother, Martha. Tilda had not known she was carrying twins until she gave birth. Martha was born first but Miles took a long time to be born.
All was well at first, and Lewis and Matilda were delighted to have an heir to the Greene Hall estate. Soon, however, it became evident that Miles was not developing like other children. Miles was examined by the Greene’s doctor and he was deemed to be – in the terminology of the time – a ‘simpleton’ or an ‘idiot’.
Tilda blamed herself and could not bear to even look at her son and when she claimed he was beginning to frighten Martha, Lewis sent Miles away to St Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin – an asylum where he could be cared for properly. Lewis watched his year-old son being driven away in a carriage down the drive then let it be known that Miles had died and a large funeral was held for him.
Miles becomes a chamber boarder at St Patrick’s Hospital with his own apartment and a servant – Peter O’Connor. The annual fee, plus Peter’s wages, as well as an allowance for furniture, clothes, shoes and other sundries is always paid promptly but there is no other contact whatsoever with the Greenes. Miles is a gentle soul who loves reading and amasses a huge collection of books, most of which Peter purchases for him as Miles does not leave the hospital grounds.
When Lewis’ doctor informs him that he has lung disease and it will kill him, he resolves to go to Dublin and see Miles. Tilda does not want to go but Lewis insists and he rents a house on Fitzwilliam Square. Isobel spots her grandfather in the congregation at her mother’s wedding to solicitor James Ellison and that evening Lewis confesses a secret – one which has been kept for over forty years. His son is alive and he wants to see Miles one last time before he dies.
This presents a huge conundrum. What, if anything, has Miles been told about his parents and family? How severe is Miles’ mental illness and how will he react when he is told that his mother does not wish to be reunited with him but that his father, who sent him away, does?
Dublin, Ireland, 1881. Isobel Fitzgerald’s mother, Martha, marries solicitor James Ellison but an unexpected guest overshadows their wedding day. Martha’s father is dying and he is determined to clear his conscience before it is too late. Lewis Greene’s confession ensures the Ellisons’ expectation of a quiet married life is gone and that Isobel’s elder brother, Alfie Stevens, will be the recipient of an unwelcome inheritance.
When a bewildering engagement notice is published in The Irish Times, the name of one of the persons concerned sends Will and Isobel on a race against time across Dublin and forces them to break a promise and reveal a closely guarded secret.
Read an Excerpt from Chapter Two…
Will had one urgent house call to make on Wednesday afternoon but met Isobel and his father at number 67 at half past three and they took a cab to St Patrick’s Hospital. Isobel went straight to Miles’ apartment with a copy of Wuthering Heights and a tin of mince pies, while Will and his father went to the medical superintendent’s office.
“Miles Greene has the mental capacity of a fifteen-year-old boy,” Dr Harrison told them. “He is not violent or aggressive – never has been – even when he sometimes struggles to express himself – and if it were not for the fact that his parents did not want a ‘slow’ or ‘simpleton’ child, he could have lived with them perfectly well and not be tucked away here.”
“So, Miles is capable of living in an ordinary home?” Will asked and Dr Harrison nodded.
“Miles likes everything tidy, orderly and just so. I believe he could live a happy life in a quiet home with some supervision. Can you give him a home, Dr Fitzgerald?”
“No, I’m afraid not,” Will replied. “My wife and I have three young children but Miles could be accommodated in my wife’s mother’s home. Except—” He sighed. “My mother-in-law is currently away on honeymoon and she has always believed her brother to have died at a year old. The news will have to be broken to her and to her new husband when they return and the possibility of giving Miles a home discussed.”
“And Miles’ parents?” Dr Harrison added.
“Mr Greene is too ill to visit him and Mrs Greene continues to want nothing to do with her son,” Will explained.
“I see that it is a delicate matter all round.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Well, discuss the matter and let me know the outcome. If Miles can be given a home, the hospital shall need written consent from Mr Greene for Miles to be released from our care into the care of his sister and brother-in-law.”
Will and his father left the office and as they approached Miles’ apartment, Will could hear laughing and on opening the door saw Isobel performing an elaborate curtsy to her uncle.
“I have just taught Miles how to waltz,” she said. “Miles, come and meet Will’s father. Miles, this is John Fitzgerald. John, this is Miles Greene.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you, sir.” Miles shook Will’s father’s hand. “Isobel tells me you are a doctor, too.”
“I am retired from practising medicine,” he clarified. “I now edit the Journal of Irish Medicine.”
“Dr Harrison reads that periodical, I have seen a copy on his desk.”
“Good. So, you have mastered the waltz?” he asked and Miles smiled.
“I wouldn’t say that, sir, but I now know all the steps. Thank you for visiting me.”
“You are very welcome, Miles.”
“When will you visit me again?” Miles turned back to Isobel.
“In the next few days, I promise,” she said, reaching up and kissing his cheek before leaving the apartment. “Well?” she asked as the porter showed them out of the hospital grounds. “Is Miles capable of living away from here?”
“Yes, he is,” Will replied. “But remember, Isobel, one thing at a time – it needs to be broken gently to your mother how ill her father is and then that Miles is alive – and she will need time in order to digest the news.”
“Yes, and I am dreading telling her – and James.”
“You won’t be alone,” he said, lifting her hand and kissing it. “Alfie and I will be with you. And we must not interfere – the final decision must be hers and James’.”
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Author: Lorna Peel
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Cover photo credit: Wilhelm Roentgen (1845-1923), German physicist, received the first Nobel Prize for Physics, in 1901, for his discovery of X-rays in 1895: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com and Portrait of a man in a top hat and morning suit holding a cane: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com
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