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The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Raven Edition Volume 4
THE SYSTEM OF DOCTOR TARR AND PROFESSOR FETHER
"Madame Joyeuse, I will thank you to behave yourself!" here interrupted our host, very angrily. "You can either conduct yourself as a lady should do, or you can quit the table forthwith-take your choice."
The lady (whom I was much astonished to hear addressed as Madame Joyeuse, after the description of Madame Joyeuse she had just given) blushed up to the eyebrows, and seemed exceedingly abashed at the reproof. She hung down her head, and said not a syllable in reply. But another and younger lady resumed the theme. It was my beautiful girl of the little parlor.
"Oh, Madame Joyeuse was a fool!" she exclaimed, "but there was really much sound sense, after all, in the opinion of Eugenie Salsafette. She was a very beautiful and painfully modest young lady, who thought the ordinary mode of habiliment indecent, and wished to dress herself, always, by getting outside instead of inside of her clothes. It is a thing very easily done, after all. You have only to do so -- and then so -- so -- so -- and then so -- so -- so -- and then so -- so -- and then-
"Mon dieu! Ma'm'selle Salsafette!" here cried a dozen voices at once. "What are you about? -- forbear! -- that is sufficient! -- we see, very plainly, how it is done! -- hold! hold!" and several persons were already leaping from their seats to withhold Ma'm'selle Salsafette from putting herself upon a par with the Medicean Venus, when the point was very effectually and suddenly accomplished by a series of loud screams, or yells, from some portion of the main body of the chateau.
My nerves were very much affected, indeed, by these yells; but the rest of the company I really pitied. I never saw any set of reasonable people so thoroughly frightened in my life. They all grew as pale as so many corpses, and, shrinking within their seats, sat quivering and gibbering with terror, and listening for a repetition of the sound. It came again -- louder and seemingly nearer -- and then a third time very loud, and then a fourth time with a vigor evidently diminished. At this apparent dying away of the noise, the spirits of the company were immediately regained, and all was life and anecdote as before. I now ventured to inquire the cause of the disturbance.
"A mere bagtelle," said Monsieur Maillard. "We are used to these things, and care really very little about them. The lunatics, every now and then, get up a howl in concert; one starting another, as is sometimes the case with a bevy of dogs at night. It occasionally happens, however, that the concerto yells are succeeded by a simultaneous effort at breaking loose, when, of course, some little danger is to be apprehended."
"And how many have you in charge?"
"At present we have not more than ten, altogether."
"Principally females, I presume?"
"Oh, no -- every one of them men, and stout fellows, too, I can tell you."
"Indeed! I have always understood that the majority of lunatics were of the gentler sex."
"It is generally so, but not always. Some time ago, there were about twenty-seven patients here; and, of that number, no less than eighteen were women; but, lately, matters have changed very much, as you see."
"Yes -- have changed very much, as you see," here interrupted the gentleman who had broken the shins of Ma'm'selle Laplace.
"Yes -- have changed very much, as you see!" chimed in the whole company at once.
"Hold your tongues, every one of you!" said my host, in a great rage. Whereupon the whole company maintained a dead silence for nearly a minute. As for one lady, she obeyed Monsieur Maillard to the letter, and thrusting out her tongue, which was an excessively long one, held it very resignedly, with both hands, until the end of the entertainment.
"And this gentlewoman," said I, to Monsieur Maillard, bending over and addressing him in a whisper -- "this good lady who has just spoken, and who gives us the cock-a-doodle-de-doo -- she, I presume, is harmless -- quite harmless, eh?"
"Harmless!" ejaculated he, in unfeigned surprise, "why -- why, what can you mean?"
"Only slightly touched?" said I, touching my head. "I take it for granted that she is not particularly not dangerously affected, eh?"
"Mon dieu! what is it you imagine? This lady, my particular old friend Madame Joyeuse, is as absolutely sane as myself. She has her little eccentricities, to be sure -- but then, you know, all old women -- all very old women -- are more or less eccentric!"