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The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Raven Edition Volume 4


page 7 of 8 | page 1 | Table of Contents

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

"To be sure," said I, -- "to be sure -- and then the rest of these ladies and gentlemen-"

"Are my friends and keepers," interupted Monsieur Maillard, drawing himself up with hauteur, -- "my very good friends and assistants."

"What! all of them?" I asked, -- "the women and all?"

"Assuredly," he said, -- "we could not do at all without the women; they are the best lunatic nurses in the world; they have a way of their own, you know; their bright eyes have a marvellous effect; -- something like the fascination of the snake, you know."

"To be sure," said I, -- "to be sure! They behave a little odd, eh? -- they are a little queer, eh? -- don't you think so?"

"Odd! -- queer! -- why, do you really think so? We are not very prudish, to be sure, here in the South -- do pretty much as we please -- enjoy life, and all that sort of thing, you know-"

"To be sure," said I, -- "to be sure."

And then, perhaps, this Clos de Vougeot is a little heady, you know -- a little strong -- you understand, eh?"

"To be sure," said I, -- "to be sure. By the bye, Monsieur, did I understand you to say that the system you have adopted, in place of the celebrated soothing system, was one of very rigorous severity?"

"By no means. Our confinement is necessarily close; but the treatment -- the medical treatment, I mean -- is rather agreeable to the patients than otherwise."

"And the new system is one of your own invention?"

"Not altogether. Some portions of it are referable to Professor Tarr, of whom you have, necessarily, heard; and, again, there are modifications in my plan which I am happy to acknowledge as belonging of right to the celebrated Fether, with whom, if I mistake not, you have the honor of an intimate acquaintance."

"I am quite ashamed to confess," I replied, "that I have never even heard the names of either gentleman before."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated my host, drawing back his chair abruptly, and uplifting his hands. "I surely do not hear you aright! You did not intend to say, eh? that you had never heard either of the learned Doctor Tarr, or of the celebrated Professor Fether?"

"I am forced to acknowledge my ignorance," I replied; "but the truth should be held inviolate above all things. Nevertheless, I feel humbled to the dust, not to be acquainted with the works of these, no doubt, extraordinary men. I will seek out their writings forthwith, and peruse them with deliberate care. Monsieur Maillard, you have really -- I must confess it -- you have really -- made me ashamed of myself!"

And this was the fact.

"Say no more, my good young friend," he said kindly, pressing my hand, -- "join me now in a glass of Sauterne."

We drank. The company followed our example without stint. They chatted -- they jested -- they laughed -- they perpetrated a thousand absurdities -- the fiddles shrieked -- the drum row-de-dowed -- the trombones bellowed like so many brazen bulls of Phalaris -- and the whole scene, growing gradually worse and worse, as the wines gained the ascendancy, became at length a sort of pandemonium in petto. In the meantime, Monsieur Maillard and myself, with some bottles of Sauterne and Vougeot between us, continued our conversation at the top of the voice. A word spoken in an ordinary key stood no more chance of being heard than the voice of a fish from the bottom of Niagra Falls.

"And, sir," said I, screaming in his ear, "you mentioned something before dinner about the danger incurred in the old system of soothing. How is that?"

"Yes," he replied, "there was, occasionally, very great danger indeed. There is no accounting for the caprices of madmen; and, in my opinion as well as in that of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, it is never safe to permit them to run at large unattended. A lunatic may be 'soothed,' as it is called, for a time, but, in the end, he is very apt to become obstreperous. His cunning, too, is proverbial and great. If he has a project in view, he conceals his design with a marvellous wisdom; and the dexterity with which he counterfeits sanity, presents, to the metaphysician, one of the most singular problems in the study of mind. When a madman appears thoroughly sane, indeed, it is high time to put him in a straitjacket."

"But the danger, my dear sir, of which you were speaking, in your own experience -- during your control of this house -- have you had practical reason to think liberty hazardous in the case of a lunatic?"