THE tenacity of a private lunatic asylum is unique. A little push behind your back and you slide into one; but to get out again is to scale a precipice with crumbling sides. Alfred, luckier than many, had twice nearly escaped; yet now he was tighter in than ever. His father at first meant to give him but a year or two of it, and let him out on terms, his spirit broken and Julia married. But his sister's death was fatal to him. By Mrs. Hardie's settlement the portion of any child of hers dying a minor, or intestate and childless, was to go to the other children; so now the prisoner had inherited his sister's ten thousand pounds, and a good slice of his bereaved enemy's and father's income. But this doubled his father's bitterness — that he, the unloved one, should be enriched by the death of the adored one! — and also tempted his cupidity: and unfortunately shallow legislation conspired with that temptation. For when an Englishman, sane or insane, is once pushed behind his back into a madhouse, those relatives who have hidden him from the public eye, i.e., from the eye of justice, can grab hold of his money behind his back, as they certified away his wits behind his back, and can administer it in the dark, and embezzle it, chanting "But for us the 'dear deranged' would waste it." Nor do the monstrous enactments which confer this unconstitutional power on subjects, and shield its exercise from the light and safeguard of Publicity, affix any penalty to the abuse of that power, if by one chance in a thousand detected. In Lunacy Law extremes of intellect meet; the British senator plays at Satan; and tempts human frailty and cupidity beyond what they are able to bear.
So behold a son at twenty-one years of age devoted by a father to imprisonment for life. But stop a minute; the mad statutes, which by the threefold temptation of Facility, Obscurity, and Impurity, insure the occasional incarceration and frequent detention of sane but moneyed men, do provide, though feebly, for their bare liberation, if perchance they should not yield to the genius loci, and the natural effect of confinement plus anguish, by going mad or dying. The Commissioners of Lunacy had power to liberate Alfred in spite of his relations. And that power, you know, he had soberly but earnestly implored them to exercise.
After a delay that seemed as strange to him as postponing a hand to a drowning man, he received an official letter from Whitehall. With bounding heart he broke the seal, and devoured the contents. They ran thus —
"Sir, — By order of the Commissioners of Lunacy, I am directed to inform you that they are in the receipt of your letter of the 29th ultimo, which will be laid before the Board at their next meeting. — I am, etc."
Alfred was bitterly disappointed at the small advance he had made. However, it was a great point to learn that his letters were allowed to go to the Commissioners at all, and would be attended to by degrees.
He waited and waited, and struggled hard to possess his soul in patience. At times his brain throbbed and his blood boiled, and he longed to kill the remorseless, kinless monsters who robbed him of his liberty, his rights as a man, and his Julia. But he knew this would not do; that what they wanted was to gnaw his reason away, and then who could disprove that he had always been mad? Now he felt that brooding on his wrong would infuriate him; so he clenched his teeth, and vowed a solemn vow that nothing should drive him mad. By advice of a patient he wrote again to the Commissioners begging for a special Commission to inquire into his case; and, this done, with rare stoicism, self-defence, and wisdom in one so young, he actually sat down to read hard for his first class. Now, to do this, he wanted the Ethics, Politics, and Rhetoric of Aristotle, certain dialogues of Plato, the Comedies of Aristophanes, the first-class Historians, Demosthenes, Lucretius, a Greek Testament, Wheeler's Analysis, Prideaux, Horne, and several books of reference sacred and profane. But he could not get these books without Dr. Wycherley, and unfortunately he had cut that worthy dead in his own asylum.
"The Scornful Dog" had to eat wormwood pudding and humble pie. He gulped these delicacies as he might; and Dr. Wycherley showed excellent qualities; he entered into his maniac's studies with singular alacrity, supplied him with several classics from his own shelves, and borrowed the rest at the London Library. Nor did his zeal stop there; he offered to read an hour a day with him; and owned it would afford him the keenest gratification to turn out an Oxford first classman from his asylum. This remark puzzled Alfred and set him thinking; it bore a subtle family resemblance to the observations he heard every day from the patients; it was so one-eyed.
Soon Alfred became the doctor's pet maniac. They were often closeted together in high discourse, and indeed discussed Psychology, Metaphysics, and Moral Philosophy with indefatigable zest, long after common sense would have packed them both off to bed, the donkeys. In fact, they got so thick that Alfred thought it only fair to say one day, "Mind, doctor, all these pleasant fruitful hours we spend together so sweetly will not prevent my indicting you for a conspiracy as soon as I get out: it will rob the retribution of half its relish, though."
"Ah, my dear young friend and fellow-student," said the doctor blandly, "let us not sacrifice the delights of our profitable occupation of imbibing the sweets of intellectual intercourse to vague speculations as to our future destiny. During the course of a long and not, I trust, altogether unprofitable career, it has not unfrequently been my lot to find myself on the verge of being indicted, sued, assassinated, hung. Yet here I sit, as yet unimmolated on the altar of phrenetic vengeance. This is ascribable to the fact that my friends and pupils always adopt a more favourable opinion of me long before I part with them; and ere many days (and this I divine by infallible indicia), your cure will commence in earnest; and in proportion as you progress to perfect restoration of the powers of judgment, you will grow in suspicion of the fact of being under a delusion; or rather I should say a very slight perversion and perturbation of the forces of your admirable intellect, and a proper subject for temporary seclusion. Indeed this consciousness of insanity is the one diagnostic of sanity that never deceives me and, on the other hand, an obstinate persistence in the hypothesis of perfect rationality demonstrates the fact that insanity yet lingers in the convolutions and recesses of the brain, and that it would not be humane as yet to cast the patient on a world in which he would inevitably be taken some ungenerous advantage of."
Alfred ventured to inquire whether this was not rather paradoxical.
"Certainly," said the ready doctor; "and paradoxicality is an indicial characteristic of truth in all matters beyond the comprehension of the vulgar."
"That sounds rational," said the maniac very drily.
One afternoon, grinding hard for his degree, he was invited downstairs to see two visitors.
At that word he found out how prison tries the nerves. He trembled with hope and fear. It was but for a moment: he bathed his face and hands to compose himself; made his toilet carefully, and went into the drawing-room, all on his guard. There he found Dr. Wycherley and two gentlemen; one was an ex-physician, the other an ex-barrister, who had consented to resign feelessness and brieflessness for a snug L. 1500 a year at Whitehall. After a momentary greeting they continued the conversation with Dr. Wycherley, and scarcely noticed Alfred. They were there pro forma; a plausible lunatic had pestered the Board, and extorted a visit of ceremony. Alfred's blood boiled, but he knew it must not boil over. He contrived to throw a short, pertinent remark in every now and then. This, being done politely, told; and at last Dr. Eskell, Commissioner of Lunacy, smiled and turned to him: "Allow me to put a few questions to you."
"The more the better, sir," said Alfred.
Dr. Eskell then asked him to describe minutely, and in order, all he had done since seven o'clock that day. And he did it. Examined him in the multiplication table. And he did it. And, while he was applying these old-fashioned tests, Wycherley's face wore an expression of pity that was truly comical. Now this Dr. Eskell had an itch for the classics: so he went on to say, "You have been a scholar, I hear."
"I am not old enough to be a scholar, sir," said Alfred; "but I am a student."
"Well, well; now can you tell me what follows this line —
"Jusque datum sceleri canimus populuinque potentem'?"
"Why, not at the moment."
"Oh, surely you can," said Dr. Eskell ironically. "It is in a tolerably well-known passage. Come, try."
"Well, I'll try," said Alfred, sneering secretly. "Let me see —
'Mum — mum — mum — populumque potentem, In sua victrici conversum viscera dextra.'"
"Quite right; now go on, if you can."
Alfred, who was playing with his examiner all this time, pretended to cudgel his brains, then went on, and warmed involuntarily with the lines —
"Cognatasque acies et rupto foedere regni Certatum totis concussi viribus orbis In commune nefas; infestis que obvia signis Signa, pares aquilas, et pila minantia pilis."
"He seems to have a good memory," said the examiner, rather taken aback.
"Oh, that is nothing for him," observed Wycherley;
"He has Horace all by heart; you'd wonder: And mouths out Homer's Greek like thunder."
The great faculty of Memory thus tested, Dr. Eskell proceeded to a greater: Judgment. "Spirited lines those, sir."
"Yes, sir; but surely rather tumid. 'The whole forces of the shaken globe?' But little poets love big words."
"I see; you agree with Horace, that so great a work as an epic poem should open modestly with an invocation."
"No, sir," said Alfred. "I think that rather an arbitrary and peevish canon of friend Horace. The AEneid, you know, begins just as he says an epic ought not to begin; and the AEneid is the greatest Latin Epic. In the next place the use of Modesty is to keep a man from writing an epic poem at all but, if he will have that impudence, why then he had better have the courage to plunge into the Castalian stream, like Virgil and Lucan, not crawl in funking and holding on by the Muse's apron-string. But — excuse me — quorsum haec tam putida tendunt? What have the Latin poets to do with this modern's sanity or insanity?"
Mr. Abbott snorted contemptuously in support of the query. But Dr. Eskell smiled, and said: "Continue to answer me as intelligently, and you may find it has a great deal to do with it."
Alfred took this hint, and said artfully, "Mine was a thoughtless remark: of course a gentleman of your experience can test the mind on any subject, however trivial." He added piteously, "Still, if you would but leave the poets, who are all half crazy themselves, and examine me in the philosophers of Antiquity. Surely it would be a higher criterion."
Dr. Wycherley explained in a patronising whisper, "He labours under an abnormal contempt for poetry, dating from his attack. Previously to that he actually obtained a prize poem himself."
"Well, doctor, and after that am I wrong to despise poetry?"
They might have comprehended this on paper, but spoken it was too keen for them all three. The visitors stared. Dr. Wycherley came to their aid "You might examine my young friend for hours and not detect the one crevice in the brilliancy of his intellectual armour."
The maniac made a face as one that drinketh verjuice suddenly. "For pity's sake, doctor, don't be so inaccurate. Say a spot on the brilliancy, or a crevice in the armour; but not a crevice in the brilliancy. My good friend here, gentlemen, deals in conjectural certificates and broken metaphors. He dislocates more tropes, to my sorrow, than even his friend Shakespeare, whom he thinks a greater philosopher than Aristotle, and who calls the murder of an individual sleeper the murder of sleep, confounding the concrete with the abstract, and then talks of taking arms against a sea of troubles; query, a cork jacket and a flask of brandy?"
"Well, Mr. Hardie," said Dr. Eskell, rather feebly, "let me tell you those passages, which so shock your peculiar notions, are among the most applauded."
"Very likely, sir," retorted the maniac, whose logic was up; "but applauded only in a nation where the floods clap their hands every Sunday morning, and we all pray for peace, giving as our exquisite reason that we have got the God of hosts on our side in war."
Mr. Abbott, the other commissioner, had endured all this chat with an air of weary indifference. He now said to Dr. Wycherley, "I wish to put to you a question or two in private."
Alfred was horribly frightened: this was the very dodge that had ruined him at Silverton House. "Oh no, gentlemen," he cried imploringly. "Let me have fair play. You have given me no secret audience; then why give my accuser one? I am charged with a single delusion; for mercy's sake, go to the point at once, and examine me on that head."
"Now you talk sense," said Mr. Abbott; as if the previous topics had been chosen by Alfred.
"But that will excite him," objected Dr. Eskell? "it always does excite them."
"It excites the insane, but not the sane," said Alfred. "So there is another test; you will observe whether it excites me." Then, before they could interrupt him, he glided on. "The supposed hallucination is this: I strongly suspect my father, a bankrupt — and therefore dishonest — banker, of having somehow misappropriated a sum of fourteen thousand pounds, which sum is known to have been brought from India by one Captain Dodd, and has disappeared."
"Stop a minute," said Mr. Abbott. "Who knows it besides you?"
"The whole family of the Dodds. They will show you his letter from India, announcing his return with the money."
"Where do they live?"
"Albion Villa, Barkington."
Mr. Abbott noted the address in his book, and Alfred, mightily cheered and encouraged by this sensible act, went on to describe the various indications, which, insufficient singly, had by their united force driven him to his conclusion. When he described David's appearance and words on his father's lawn at night, Wycherley interrupted him quietly: "Are you quite sure this was not a vision, a phantom of the mind heated by your agitation, and your suspicions?"
Dr. Eskell nodded assent, knowing nothing about the matter.
"Pray, doctor, was I the only person who saw this vision?" inquired Alfred slily.
"I conclude so," said Wycherley, with an admirable smile.
"But why do you conclude so? Because you are one of those who reason in a circle of assumptions. Now it happens that Captain Dodd was seen and felt on that occasion by three persons besides myself."
"Name them," said Mr. Abbott sharply.
"A policeman called Reynolds, another policeman, whose name I don't know, and Miss Julia Dodd. The policemen helped me lift Captain Dodd off the grass, sir; Julia met us chose by, and we four carried Dr. Wycherhey's phantom home together to Albion Villa."
Mr. Abbott noted down all the names, and then turned to Dr. Wycherley. "What do you say to that?"
"I say it is a very important statement," said the doctor blandly; "and that I am sure my young friend would not advance it unless he was firmly persuaded of its reality."
"Much obliged, doctor; and you would not contradict me so rashly in a matter I know all about and you know nothing about, if it was not your fixed habit to found facts on theories instead of theories on facts."
"There, that is enough," said Mr. Abbott. "I have brought you both to an issue at last. I shall send to Barkington, and examine the policemen and the Dodds."
"Oh, thank you, sir," cried Alfred with emotion. "If you once apply genuine tests like that to my case, I shall not be long in prison."
"Prison?" said Wycherley reproachfully.
"Have you any complaint, then, to make of your treatment here?" inquired Dr. Eskell.
"No, no, sir," said Alfred warmly. "Dr. Wycherley is the very soul of humanity. Here are no tortures, no handcuffs nor leg-locks, no brutality, no insects that murder Sleep — without offence to Logic. In my last asylum the attendants inflicted violence, here they are only allowed to endure it. And, gentlemen, I must tell you a noble trait in my enemy there: nothing can make him angry with madmen; their lies, their groundless and narrow suspicions of him, their deplorable ingratitude to him, of which I see examples every day that rile me on his account; all these things seem to glide off him, baffled by the infinite kindness of his heart and the incomparable sweetness of his temper; and he returns the duffers good for evil with scarcely an effort."
At this unexpected tribute the water stood in the doctor's eyes. It was no more than the truth; but this was the first maniac he had met intelligent enough to see his good qualities clearly and express them eloquently.
"In short," continued Alfred, "to be happy in his house all a man wants is to be insane. But, as I am not insane, I am miserable; no convict, no galley slave is so wretched as I am, gentlemen. And what is my crime?"
"Well, well," said Dr. Eskell kindly, "I think it likely you will not be very long in confinement." They then civilly dismissed him; and on his departure asked Dr. Wycherley his candid opinion. Dr. Wycherley said he was now nearly cured; his ability to discuss his delusion without excitement was of itself a proof of that. But in another month he would be better still. The doctor concluded his remarks thus —
"However, gentlemen, you have heard him: now judge for yourselves whether anybody can be as clever as he is, without the presence of more or less abnormal excitement of the organs of intelligence."
It was a bright day for Alfred; he saw he had made an excellent impression on the Commissioners, and, as luck does not always come single, after many vain attempts to get a letter posted to Julia, he found this very afternoon a nurse was going away next day. He offered her a guinea, and she agreed to post a letter. Oh the hapiness it was to the poor prisoner to write it, and unburden his heart and tell his wrongs. He kept his manhood for his enemies; his tears fell on the paper he sent to his forlorn bride. He had no misgivings of her truth; he judged her by himself: gave her credit for anxiety, but not for doubt. He concluded a long, ardent, tender letter by begging her to come and see him, and, if refused admission, to publish his case in the newspapers, and employ a lawyer to proceed against all the parties concerned in his detention. Day after day he waited for an answer to his letter; none came. Then he began to be sore perplexed, and torn with agonising doubts. What if her mind was poisoned too! What if she thought him mad! What if some misfortune had befallen her! What if she had believed him dead, and her heart had broken! Hitherto he had seen his own trouble chiefly; but now he began to think day and night on hers; and though he ground on for his degree not to waste time, and not to be driven mad, yet it was almost superhuman labour; sighs issued from his labouring breast while his hard, indomitable brain laboured away, all uphill, at Aristotle's Divisions and Definitions.
On the seventh day, the earliest the mad statute allowed, the two Commissioners returned, and this time Mr. Abbott took the lead, and told him that the policeman Reynolds had left the force, and the Dodds had left the town, and were in London, but their address not known.
At this Alfred was much agitated. She was alive, and perhaps near him.
"I have heard a good deal of your story," said Mr. Abbott, "and coupling it with what we have seen of you, we think your relatives have treated you, and a young lady of whom everybody speaks with respect — "
"God bless you for saying that! God bless you!"
" — treated you both, I say, with needless severity."
Dr. Eskell then told him the result of the Special Commission, now closed. "I believe you to be cured," said he; "and Mr. Abbott has some doubts whether you were ever positively insane. We shall lay your case before the Board at once, and the Board will write to the party who signed the order, and propose to him to discharge you at once."
At this magnificent project Alfred's countenance fell, and he stared with astonishment. "What! have you not the power to do me justice without soliciting Injustice to help you?"
"The Board has the power," said Dr. Eskell; "but for many reasons they exercise it with prudence and reserve. Besides, it is only fair to those who have signed the order, to give them the graceful office of liberating the patient; it paves the way to reconciliation."
Alfred sighed. The Commissioners, to keep up his heart, promised to send him copies of their correspondence with the person who had signed the order. "Then," said Mr. Abbott kindly, "you will see your case is not being neglected."
The following precis, though imperfect, will give some idea of the correspondence:
1. The Board wrote to Thomas Hardie, letting him know the result of the Special Commission, and requesting him to discharge his nephew.
Thomas quaked. Richard smiled, and advised Thomas to take no notice. By this a week was gained to Injustice, and lost to Justice.
2. The Board pointed out Thomas Hardie's inadvertence in not answering No. 1; enclosed copy of it, and pressed for a reply.
Thomas quaked, Richard smiled.
3. Thomas Hardie to the Board. From what he had heard, it would be premature to discharge Alfred. Should prefer to wait a month or two.
4. Board to Alfred, conveying this in other terms.
5. Alfred to Board, warning them against this proposal. To postpone justice was to refuse justice, certainly for a time, probably for ever.
6. The Board to Thomas Hardie, suggesting that if not released immediately Alfred ought to have a trial — i.e., be allowed to go into the world with a keeper.
7. Alfred to the Board, begging that Dr. Sampson, an honest independent physician, might be allowed to visit him and report to them.
8. The Board to Alfred, declining this, for the present as unadvisable, they being in correspondence with the person who had signed the order — with a view to his liberation.
9. T. Hardie to the Board, shuffling, and requesting time to make further inquiries.
10. The Board, suggesting there should be some reasonable limit to delay.
11. T. Hardie, asking for a month to see about it.
12. The Board, suggesting a week.
13. Alfred Hardie, asking permission to be visited by a solicitor with a view to protection of his liberty and property.
14. The Board, declining this, pending their correspondence with other parties; but asking him for the names and addresses of all his trustees.
15. Thomas Hardie, informing the Board he had now learned Alfred had threatened to kill his father as soon as ever he should get out, and leaving the Board to discharge him on their own responsibility if they chose after this warning: but declining peremptorily to do so himself.
16, 17, 18. The Board, by advice of Mr. Abbott, to Alfred's trustees, warning them against any alienation of Alfred's money under the notion that he was legally a lunatic; and saying that a public inquiry appeared inevitable, owing to Mr. T. Hardie's unwillingness to enter into their views.
19. To Alfred, inquiring whether he wished to encounter the expense of Chancery proceedings to establish his sanity.
20. Alfred to the Board, imploring them to use their powers and discharge him without further delay, and assuring them he meditated no violence on his liberation, but should proceed against all parties under legal advice.
21. The Board to T. Hardie, warning him that he must in future pay Alfred's maintenance in Asylum out of his own pocket, and pressing him either to discharge the young man, or else to apply to the Lord Chancellor for a Commission de Lunatico Inquirendo, and enclosing copy of a letter from Wycherley saying the patient was harmless.
22. T. Hardie respectfully declining to do either, but reminding the Commissioners that the matter could be thrown into Chancery without his consent; only the expense, which would be tremendous, would fall on the lunatic's estate, which might hereafter be regretted by the party himself. He concluded by promising to come to town and visit Alfred with his family physician, and write further in a week.
Having thus thrown dust in the eyes of the Board, Thomas Hardie and Richard consulted with a notoriously unscrupulous madhouse keeper in the suburbs of London, and effected a masterstroke; whereof anon.
The correspondence had already occupied three months, and kept Alfred in a fever of the mind; of all the maddening things with which he had been harassed by the pretended curers of insanity, this tried him hardest. To see a dozen honest gentlemen wishing to do justice, able to do justice by one manly stroke of the pen, yet forego their vantage-ground, and descend to coax an able rogue to do their duty and undo his own interest and rascality! To see a strong cause turned into a weak one by the timidity of champions clad by law in complete steel; and a rotten cause, against which Law and Power, as well as Truth, Justice, and Common Sense, had now declared, turned into a strong one by the pluck and cunning of his one unarmed enemy! The ancients feigned that the ingenious gods tortured Tantalus in hell by ever-present thirst, and water flowing to just the outside of his lips. A Briton can thirst for liberty as hard as Tantalus or hunted deer can thirst for cooling springs and this soul-gnawing correspondence brought liberty, and citizenhood, and love, and happiness, to the lips of Alfred's burning, pining, aching heart, again, and again, and again; then carried them away from him in mockery. Oh, the sickening anguish of Hope deferred, and deferred:
"The Hell it is in suing long to bide."
But indeed his hopes began to sicken for good when he found that the Board would not allow any honest independent physician to visit him, or any solicitor to see him. At first, indeed, they refused it because Mr. Thomas Hardie was going to let him out: but when T. Hardie would not move at their request, then on a fresh application they refused it, giving as their reason that they had already refused it. Yet in so keen a battle he would not throw away a chance: so he determined to win Dr. Wycherley altogether by hook or by crook, and get a certificate of sanity from him. Now a single white lie, he knew would do the trick. He had only to say that Hamlet was mad. And "Hamlet was mad" is easily said.
Dr. Wycherley was a collector of mad people, and collectors are always amateurs, and very seldom connoisseurs. His turn of mind co-operating with his interests, led him to put down any man a lunatic, whose intellect was manifestly superior to his own. Alfred Hardie, and one or two more contemporaries, had suffered by this humour of the good doctor's. Nor did the dead escape him entirely. Pascal, according to Wycherley, was a madman with an illusion about a precipice; John Howard a moral lunatic in whom the affections were reversed; Saul a moping maniac with homicidal paroxysms and nocturnal visions; Paul an incoherent lunatic, who in his writings flies off at a tangent, and who admits having once been the victim of a photopsic illusion in broad daylight; Nebuchadnezzar a lycanthropical lunatic; Joan of Arc a theomaniac; Bobby Burton and Oliver Cromwell melancholy maniacs; Napoleon an ambitious maniac, in whom the sense of impossibility became gradually extinguished by visceral and cerebral derangement; Porson an oinomaniac; Luther a phrenetic patient of the old demoniac breed, alluded to by Shakespeare:
"One sees more devils than vast Hell can hold. That is the madman."
But without intending any disrespect to any of these gentlemen, he assigned the golden crown of Insanity to Hamlet. To be sure, this character tells his friends in the play he shall feign insanity, and swears them not to reveal the reason; and after this hint to his friends and the pit (it is notorious he was not written for readers) he keeps his word, and does it as cleverly as if his name was David or Brutus instead of Hamlet; indeed, like Edgar, he rather overdoes it, and so puzzles his enemies in the play, and certain German criticasters and English mad doctors in the closet, and does not puzzle his bosom friend in the play one bit, nor the pit for whom he was created. Add to this his sensibility, and his kindness to others, and his eloquent grief at the heart-rending situation which his father's and mother's son was placed in and had brains to realise, though his psychological critics, it seems, have not; and add to all that the prodigious extent of his mind, his keen observation, his deep reflection; his brilliant fancy, united for once in a way with the great Academic, or judicial, intellect, that looks down and sees all the sides of everything — and what can this rare intellectual compound be? Wycherley decided the question. Hamlet was too much greater in the world of mind than S. T. Coleridge and his German criticasters; too much higher, deeper, and broader than Esquirol, Pinel, Sauze, Haslam, Munro, Pagan, Wigan, Prichard, Romberg, Wycherley, and such small deer, to be anything less than a madman.
Now, in their midnight discussions, Dr. Wycherley more than once alluded to the insanity of Hamlet; and offered proofs. But Alfred declined the subject as too puerile. "A man must exist before he can be insane," said the Oxonian philosopher, severe in youthful gravity. But when he found that Dr. Wycherley, had he lived in Denmark at the time, would have conferred cannily with Hamlet's uncle, removed that worthy relative's disbelief in Hamlet's insanity, and signed the young gentleman away behind his back into a lunatic asylum, Alfred began to sympathise with this posthumous victim of Psychological Science. "I believe the bloke was no madder than I am," said he. He got the play, studied it afresh, compared the fiction with the legend, compared Hamlet humbugging his enemies and their tool, Ophelia, with Hamlet opening his real mind to himself or his Horatio the very next moment; contrasted the real madness the author has portrayed in the plays of Hamlet and Lear by the side of these extravagant imitations, to save, if possible, even dunces, and dreamers, and criticasters from being taken in by the latter; and at their next seance pitched into the doctor's pet chimera, and what with logic, fact, ridicule, and the author's lines, knocked it to atoms.
Now, in their midnight discussions, Dr. Wycherley had always handled the question of Alfred Hardie's Sanity or Insanity with a philosophical coolness the young man admired, and found it hard to emulate; but this philosophic calmness deserted him the moment Hamlet's insanity was disputed, and the harder he was pressed the angrier, the louder, the more confused the Psychological physician became; and presently he got furious, burst out of the anti-spasmodic or round-about style and called Alfred a d — d ungrateful, insolent puppy, and went stamping about the room; and, finally, to the young man's horror, fell down in a fit of an epileptic character, grinding his teeth and foaming at the mouth.
Alfred was filled with regret, and, though alarmed, had the presence of mind not to call for assistance. The fit was a very mild one in reality, though horrible to look at. The doctor came to, and asked feebly for wine. Alfred got it him, and the doctor, with a mixture of cunning and alarm in his eye, said he had fainted away, or nearly. Alfred assented coaxingly, and looked sheepish. After this he took care never to libel Hamlet's intellect again by denying his insanity; for he was now convinced of what he had long half suspected, that the doctor had a bee in his own bonnet; and Alfred had studied true insanity all this time, and knew how inhumane it is to oppose a monomaniac's foible; it only infuriates and worries him. No power can convince him.
But now he resolved to play on the doctor's foible. It went against his conscience; but the temptation was so strong. He came to him with a hang-dog air.
"Doctor," said he, "I have been thinking over your arguments, and I capitulate. If Hamlet ever existed, he was as mad as a March hare." And he blushed at this his first quibble.
Dr. Wycherley beamed with satisfaction.
"My young friend, this gives me sincere pleasure; not on my account, but on your own. There goes one of your illusions then. Now tell me — the L. 4,000! Have you calmly reconsidered that too?"
Alfred hung his head, and looked guiltier and guiltier.
"Why," said he, "that never amounted to anything more than a strong suspicion. It has long ceased to occupy my mind in excess. However, should I ever be so fortunate as to recover my liberty, I have no objection to collect the evidence about it pro and con., and then make you the judge instead of myself." This he delivered with an admirable appearance of indifference.
"Very well, sir," said the doctor drily. "Then, now I have a piece of good news for you.
"Oh, doctor, what is that?"
"Your cure is complete; that is all! You are now a sane man, as sane as I am."
Alfred was a little disappointed at this piece of news; but recovering himself, asked him to certify that and let him send the certificate to the Board. Dr. Wycherley said he would with pleasure.
"I'll bring it to you when I make my round," said he.
Alfred retired triumphant, and went in at Plato with a good heart.
In about an hour Dr. Wycherley paid him the promised visit. But what may not an hour bring forth? He came with mortification and regret in his face to tell Alfred that an order of transfer had been signed by the proper parties, and counter-signed by two Commissioners, and he was to go to Dr. Wolf's asylum that day.
Alfred groaned. "I knew my father would out-wit my feeble friends somehow or other," said he. "What is his game! do you know?"
"I suppose to obtain a delay; and meantime get you into an asylum, where they will tell the Commissioners you are worse again, and perhaps do something to make their words good. Dr. Wolf, between ourselves, will say or do almost anything for money. And his asylum is conducted on the old system; though he pretends not."
"My dear friend," said Alfred, "will you do me a favour?"
"How could I deny you anything at this sorrowful moment?"
"Here is an advertisement I want inserted in the Morning Advertiser."
"Oh, I can't do that, I fear."
"Look at it before you break my heart by refusing me."
Dr. Wycherley looked at it, and said it was innocent, being unintelligible: and he would insert it himself.
"Three insertions, dear doctor, said Alfred. "Here is the money.
The doctor then told him sorrowfully he must pack up his things — Dr. Wolf's keepers were waiting for him.
The moment of parting came. Then Alfred solemnly forgave Dr. Wycherley for signing away his wits, and thanked him for all his kindness and humanity. "We shall never meet again, I fear," said he; "I feel a weight of foreboding here about my heart I never felt before; yet my trials have been many and great. I think the end is at hand." Dr. Wolf's keepers received him, and their first act was to handcuff him. The cold steel struck into him deeper than his wrist, and reminded him of Silverton Grove; he could not suppress a shudder. The carriage rolled all through London with him. He saw the Parks with autumn's brown and golden tints: he saw the people, some rich, some poor, but none of them prisoners. He saw a little girl all rags. "Oh if I could be as ragged as you are," he said, "and free."
At last they reached Drayton House — a huge old mansion, fortified into a jail. His handcuffs were whipped off in the yard. He was ushered into a large gloomy drawing-room. Dr. Wolf soon came to him, and they measured each other by the eye like two prize-fighters. Dr. Wolf's eye fell under Alfred's, and the latter felt he was capable of much foul play. He was one of the old bull-necked breed: and contained the bull-dog and the spaniel in his single nature. "I hope you will be comfortable here, sir," said he doggedly.
"I will try, sir."
"The first-class patients dine in half an hour."
"I will be ready, sir."
"Full dress in the evening; there are several ladies." Alfred assented by a bow. Dr. Wolf rang a bell, and told a servant to show Mr. Hardie his room.
He had just time to make his toilet when the bell rang for dinner.
As he went down a nurse met him, held up something white to him as she came, lowered it quickly, and dropped it at his feet in passing.
It was a billet-doux.
It was twisted into a pretty shape, scented and addressed to Mr. Hardie, in a delicate Italian hand, and in that pale ink which seems to reflect the charming timidity of the fair who use it.
He wondered; carried it into a recess; then opened it and read it. It contained but this one line —
"Drink nothing but water at dinner."
These words in that delicate Italian hand sent a chill through Alfred. What on earth was all this? Was he to be poisoned? Was his life aimed at now instead of his reason? What was this mysterious drama prepared for him the very moment he set his foot in the place, perhaps before? A poisoner, and a friend! Both strangers. He went down to dinner: and contrived to examine every lady and gentleman at the table. But they were all strangers. Presently a servant filled his glass with beer; he looked and saw it was poured from a small jug holding only his portion. Alfred took his ring off his finger, and holding the glass up dropped his ring in.
"What is that for?" inquired one or two.
"Oh, my ring has a peculiar virtue, it tells me what is good for me. Ah! what do I see? My ruby changes colour. Fetch me a clean glass." And he filled it with water from a caraffe. "No, sir, leave the beer. I'll analyse it in my room after dinner. I'm a chemist."
Dr. Wolf changed colour, and was ill at ease. Here was a bold and ugly customer. However, he said nothing, and felt sure his morphia could not be detected in beer by any decomposer but the stomach. Still he was rather mystified.
In the evening Alfred came dressed into the drawing-room, and found several gentlemen and ladies there. One of the ladies seemed to attract the lion's share of male homage. Her back was turned to Alfred: but it was a beautiful back, with great magnificent neck and shoulders, and a skin like satin; she was tall but rounded and symmetrical, had a massive but long and shapely white arm, and perfect hand: and masses of thick black hair sat on her grand white poll like a raven on a marble pillar.
It was not easy to get near her; for the mad gentlemen were fawning on her all round; like Queen Elizabeth's courtiers.
However, Dr. Wolf, seeing Alfred standing alone, said, "Let me introduce you," and took him round to her. The courtiers fell back a little. The lady turned her stately head, and her dark eyes ran lightly all over Alfred in a moment.
He bowed, and blushed like a girl. She curtseyed composedly and without a symptom of recognition — deep water runs still — and Dr. Wolf introduced them ceremoniously.
"Mr. Hardie — Mrs. Archbold."