Read CHAPTER XXVII of Capitola's Peril A Sequel to 'The Hidden Hand' , free online book, by Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth, on

The maniac’s story

A scheming villain forged the tale
That chains me in this dreary cell,
My fate unknown, my friends bewail,
Oh, doctor, haste that fate to tell!
Oh, haste my daughter’s heart to cheer,
Her heart, at once, ’twill grieve and glad
To know, tho’ chained and captive here,
I am not mad! I am not mad!

M. G. Lewis.

There is some advantage in having imagination, since that visionary faculty opens the mental eyes to facts that more practical and duller intellects could never see.

Traverse was young and romantic, and deeply interested in the doctor’s beautiful patient. He, therefore, did not yield his full credulity to the tale told by the “relative illustrious” to the old doctor, as to the history and cause of the lady’s madness, or even take it for granted that she was mad. He thought it quite possible that the distinguished officer’s story might be a wicked fabrication, to conceal a crime, and that the lady’s “crazy fancy” might be the pure truth.

And Traverse had heard to what heinous uses private mad-houses were sometimes put by some unscrupulous men, who wished to get certain women out of their way, yet who shrank from bloodshed.

And he thought it not impossible that this “gentleman so noble, so compassionate and tender,” might be just such a man, and this “fallen angel” such a victim. And he determined to watch and observe. And he further resolved to treat the interesting patient with all the studious delicacy and respect due to a refined and accomplished woman in the full possession of her faculties. If she were really mad, this demeanor would not hurt her, and if she were not mad it was the only proper conduct to be observed toward her, as any other must be equally cruel and offensive. Her bodily health certainly required the attendance of a physician, and Traverse had therefore a fair excuse for his daily visits to her cell.

His respectful manners, his grave bow, and his reverential tone in saying

“I hope I find you stronger to-day, Madam,” seemed to gratify one who had few sources of pleasure.

“I thank you,” she would answer, with a softened tone and look, adding, “Yes” or “No,” as the truth might be.

One day, after looking at the young physician some time, she suddenly said:

“You never forget. You always address me by my proper title of Madam, and without the touch of irony which others indulge in when ‘humoring’ me, as they call it! Now, pray explain to me why, in sober earnest, you give me this title?”

“Because, Madam, I have heard you lay claim to that title, and I think that you yourself, of all the world, have the best right to know how you should be addressed,” said Traverse, respectfully.

The lady looked wistfully at him and said:

“But my next-door neighbor asserts that she is a queen; she insists upon being called ‘your majesty.’ Has she, then, the best right to know how she should be addressed?”

“Alas! no, Madam, and I am pained that you should do yourself the great wrong to draw such comparisons.”

“Why? Am not I and the ‘queen’ inmates of the same ward of incurables, in the same lunatic asylum?”

“Yes, but not with equal justice of cause. The ‘queen’ is a hopelessly deranged, but happy lunatic. You, Madam, are a lady who has retained the full possession of your faculties amid circumstances and surroundings that must have overwhelmed the reason of a weaker mind.”

The lady looked at him in wonder and almost in joy.

“Ah! it was not the strength of my mind; it was the strength of the Almighty upon whom my mind was stayed, for time and for eternity, that has saved my reason in all these many years! But how did you know that I was not mad? How do you know that this is anything more than a lucid interval of longer duration than usual?” she asked.

“Madam, you will forgive me for having looked at you so closely, and watched you so constantly, but I am your physician, you know ”

“I have nothing to forgive and much to thank you for, young man. You have an honest, truthful, frank, young face! the only one such that I have seen in eighteen years of sorrow! But why, then, did you not believe the doctor? Why did you not take the fact of my insanity upon trust, as others did?” she asked, fixing her glorious, dark eyes inquiringly upon his face.

“Madam, from the first moment in which I saw you, I disbelieved the story of your insanity, and mentioned my doubts to Doctor St. Jean ”

“Who ridiculed your doubts, of course. I can readily believe that he did. Doctor St. Jean is not a very bad man, but he is a charlatan and a dullard; he received the story of my reported insanity as he received me, as an advantage to his institution, and he never gave himself the unprofitable trouble to investigate the circumstances. I told him the truth about myself as calmly as I now speak to you, but somebody else had told him that this truth was the fiction of a deranged imagination, and he found it more convenient and profitable to believe somebody else. But again I ask you, why were not you, also, so discreetly obtuse?”

“Madam,” said Traverse, blushing ingenuously, “I hope you will forgive me for saying that it is impossible any one could see you without becoming deeply interested in your fate. Your face, Madam, speaks equally of profound sorrows and of saintly resignation. I saw no sign of madness there. In the calm depths of those sad eyes, lady, I knew that the fires of insanity never could have burned. Pardon me that I looked at you so closely; I was your physician, and was most deeply anxious concerning my patient.”

“I thank you; may the Lord bless you! Perhaps he has sent you here for my relief, for you are right, young friend you are altogether right; I have been wild with grief, frantic with despair, but never for one hour in the whole course of my life have I been insane.”

“I believe you, Madam, on my sacred honor I do!” said Traverse, fervently.

“And yet you could get no one about this place to believe you! They have taken my brother-in-law’s false story, indorsed as it is by the doctor-proprietor, for granted. And just so long as I persist in telling my true story, they will consider me a monomaniac, and so often as the thought of my many wrongs and sorrows combines with the nervous irritability to which every woman is occasionally subject, and makes me rave with impatience and excitement, they will report me a dangerous lunatic, subject to periodical attacks of violent frenzy; but, young man, even at my worst, I am no more mad than any other woman, wild with grief and hysterical through nervous irritation, might at any time become without having her sanity called in question.”

“I am sure that you are not, nor ever could have been, Madam. The nervous excitement of which you speak is entirely within the control of medicine, which mania proper is not. You will use the means that I prescribe and your continued calmness will go far to convince even these dullards that they have been wrong.”

“I will do everything you recommend; indeed, for some weeks before you came, I had put a constraint upon myself and forced myself to be very still; but the effect of that was, that acting upon their theory they said that I was sinking into the last or ‘melancholy-mad’ state of mania, and they put me in here with the incurables.”

“Lady,” said Traverse, respectfully taking her hand, “now that I am acquainted in some slight degree with the story of your heavy wrongs, do not suppose that I will ever leave you until I see you restored to your friends.”

“Friends! ah, young man, do you really suppose that if I had had friends I should have been left thus long unsought? I have no friends, Doctor Rocke, except yourself, newly sent me by the Lord; nor any relatives except a young daughter whom I have seen but twice in my life! once upon the dreadful night when she was born and torn away from my sight and once about two years ago, when she must have been sixteen years of age. My little daughter does not know that she has a poor mother living, and I have no friend upon earth but you, whom the Lord has sent.”

“And not in vain!” said Traverse, fervently, “though you have no other friends, yet you have the law to protect you. I will make your case known and restore you to liberty. Then, lady, listen: I have a good mother, to whom suffering has taught sympathy with the unfortunate, and I have a lovely betrothed bride, whom you will forgive her lover for thinking an angel in woman’s form; and we have a beautiful home among the hills of Virginia, and you shall add to our happiness by living with us.”

The lady looked at Traverse Rocke with astonishment and incredulity.

“Boy,” she said, “do you know what you are promising to assume the whole burthen of the support of a useless woman for her whole life? What would your mother or your promised wife say to such a proposition?”

“Ah! you do not know my dear mother nor my Clara no, nor even me. I tell you the truth when I say that your coming among us would make us happier. Oh, Madam, I myself owe so much to the Lord and to His instruments, the benevolent of this world, for all that has been done for me. I seize with gratitude the chance to serve in my turn any of His suffering children. Pray believe me!”

“I do! I do, Doctor Rocke! I see that life has not deprived you of a generous, youthful enthusiasm,” said the lady, with the tears welling up into her glorious black eyes.

After a little, with a smile, she held out her hand to him, saying:

“Young friend, if you should succeed in freeing me from this prison and establishing my sanity before a court of justice, I and my daughter will come into the immediate possession of one of the largest estates in your native Virginia! Sit you down, Doctor Rocke, while I tell you my true story, and much, very much more of it than I have ever confided to any human being.”

“Lady, I am very impatient to hear your history, but I am your physician, and must first consider your health. You have been sufficiently excited for one day; it is late; take your tea and retire early to bed. To-morrow morning, after I have visited the wards and you have taken your breakfast, I will come, and you shall tell me the story of your life.”

“I will do whatever you think best,” said the lady.

Traverse lifted her hand to his lips, bowed, and retreated from the cell.

That same night Traverse wrote to his friend, Herbert Greyson, in Mexico, and to his mother and Clara, describing his interesting patient, though as yet he could tell but little of her, not even in fact her real name, but promising fuller particulars next time, and declaring his intention of bringing her home for the present to their house.