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- Capitola The Madcap - 50/61 -
It was true: the accidental "boiling bath" as it might almost be called, had effected what perhaps no other means in the world could- -a restored circulation.
The disease was broken up, and the convalescence of the patient was rapid. And as Traverse kept his own secret concerning the accidental high temperature of that bath, which every one considered a fearful and successful experiment, the fame of Dr. Rocke spread over the whole city and country.
He would soon have made a fortune in New Orleans, had not the hand of destiny beckoned him elsewhere. It happened thus:
The old Frenchman whose life Traverse had, partly by accident and partly by design, succeeded in saving, comprehended perfectly well how narrow his escape from death had been, and attributed his restoration solely to the genius, skill and boldness of his young physician, and was grateful accordingly with all a Frenchman's noisy demonstration.
He called Traverse his friend, his deliverer, his son.
One day, as soon as he found himself strong enough to think of pursuing his journey, he called his "son" into the room and explained to him that he, Doctor Pierre St. Jean, was the proprietor of a private insane asylum, very exclusive, very quiet, very aristocratic, indeed, receiving none but patients of the highest rank; that this retreat was situated on the wooded banks of a charming lake in one of the most healthy and beautiful neighborhoods of East Feliciana; that he had originally come down to the city to engage the services of some young physician of talent as his assistant, and finally, that he would be delighted, enraptured if "his deliverer, his friend, his son," would accept the post.
Now Traverse particularly wished to study the various phases of mental derangement, a department of his professional education that had hitherto been opened to him only through books.
He explained this to his old friend, the French physician, who immediately went off into ecstatic exclamations of joy as, "Good! Great! Grand!" and "I shall now repay my good child! my dear son! for his so excellent skill!"
The terms of the engagement were soon arranged, and Traverse prepared to accompany his new friend to his "beautiful retreat," the private madhouse. But Traverse wrote to his mother and to Clara in Virginia, and also to Herbert Greyson in Mexico, to apprise them of his good fortune.
THE MYSTERIOUS MANIAC.
Stay, jailer, stay, and hear my woe; She is not mad, who kneels to thee, For what I am, full well I know, And what I was, and what should be; I'll rave no more in proud despair-- My language shall be calm tho' sad But yet I'll truly, firmly swear, I am not mad! no, no, not mad!
It was at the close of a beautiful day in early spring that Traverse Rocke, accompanying the old doctor and the old sister, reached the grove on the borders of the beautiful lake upon the banks of which was situated the "Calm Retreat."
A large, low, white building surrounded with piazzas and shaded by fragrant and flowering southern trees, it looked like the luxurious country seat of some wealthy merchant or planter rather than a prison for the insane.
Doctor St. Jean conducted his young assistant into a broad and cool hall on each side of which doors opened into spacious rooms, occupied by the proprietor and his household. The cells of the patients, as it appeared were up-stairs. The country doctor and the matron who had been in charge during the absence of the proprietor and his sister now came forward to welcome the party and report the state of the institution and its inmates.
All were as usual, the country doctor said, except "Mademoiselle."
"And what of her--how is Mademoiselle--?"
"A patient most interesting, Doctor Rocke," said the old Frenchman, alternately questioning his substitute and addressing Traverse.
"She has stopped her violent ravings, and seems to me to be sinking into a state of stupid despair," replied the substitute.
"A patient most interesting, my young friend! A history most pathetic! You shall hear of it some time. But come into the parlor, and you, Angele, my sister, ring and order coffee," said the old Frenchman, leading the way into a pleasant apartment on the right of the hall, furnished with straw matting upon the floor and bamboo settees and chairs around the walls.
Here coffee was presently served to the travelers, who soon after retired for the night.
Traverse's room was a large, pleasant apartment at the end of a wide, long hall, on each side of which were the doors opening into the cells of the patients.
Fatigued by his journey, Traverse slept soundly through the night; but early in the morning he was rudely awakened by the sounds of maniac voices from the cells. Some were crying, some laughing aloud some groaning and howling and some holding forth in fancied exhortations.
He dressed himself quickly and left his room to walk down the length of the long hall and observe the cells on each side. The doors were at regular intervals, and each door had in its center a small opening to enable the proprietor to look in upon the patients.
As these were all women, and some of them delicate and refined even in their insanity, Traverse felt shocked at this necessary, if it were necessary, exposure of their sanctuary.
The cells were, in fact, small bedrooms that with their white-washed walls and white-curtained beds and windows looked excessively neat, clean and cool, but also, it must be confessed, very bare, dreary and cheerless.
"Even a looking-glass would be a great benefit to those poor girls, for I remember that even Clara, in her violent grief, and mother in her lifelong sorrow, never neglected their looking-glass and personal appearance," said Traverse to himself, as he passed down the hall and resolved that this little indulgence should be afforded the patients.
And except those first involuntary glances he scrupulously avoided looking in through the gratings upon those helpless women who had no means of secluding themselves.
But as he turned to go down the stairs his eyes went full into an opposite cell and fell upon a vision of beauty and sorrow that immediately riveted his gaze.
It was a small and graceful female figure, clothed in deep black, seated by the window, with her elbow resting upon the sill and her chin supported on her hand. Her eyes were cast down until her eyelashes lay like inky lines upon her snow-white cheek. Her face, of classic regularity and marble whiteness, bore a ghastly contrast to the long eyelashes, arched eyebrows and silken ringlets black as midnight. She might have been a statue or a picture, so motionless she sat.
Conscious of the wrong of gazing upon this solitary woman, Traverse forced his looks away and passed on down-stairs, where he again met the old doctor and Mademoiselle Angele at breakfast.
After breakfast Doctor St. Jean invited his young assistant to accompany him on a round of visits to the patients, and they went immediately up to the hall, at the end of which Traverse had slept.
"There are our incurables, but they are not violent; incurables never are! Poor Mademoiselle! She has just been conveyed to this ward," said the doctor, opening the door of the first cell on the right at the head of the stairs and admitting Traverse at once into the presence of the beautiful, black-haired, snow-faced woman, who had so much interested him.
"This is my friend, Doctor Rocke, Mademoiselle; Doctor, this is my friend, Mademoiselle Mont de St. Pierre!"
Traverse bowed profoundly, and the lady arose, curtsied and resumed her seat, saying, coldly:
"I have told you, Monsieur, never to address me as Mademoiselle; you persist in doing so, and I shall never notice the insult again."
"Ten thousand pardons, madame! But if madame will always look so young, so beautiful, can I ever remember that she is a widow?"
The classic lip of the woman curled in scorn, and she disdained a reply.
"I take an appeal to Monsieur Le Docteur--is not madame young and beautiful?" asked the Frenchman, turning to Traverse, while the splendid, black eyes of the stranger passed from the one to the other.
Traverse caught the glance of the lady and bowed gravely. It was the most delicate and proper reply.
She smiled almost as gravely, and with a much kinder expression than any she had bestowed upon the Frenchman.
"And how has madame fared during my absence so long? The servants-- have they been respectful? Have they been observant? Have they been obedient to the will of madame? Madame has but to speak!" said the doctor, bowing politely.
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