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The man looked sternly in his face, and replied, “I have been there some thousands of times too often already."
“ Never heed that,” answered Rowel. “ You must go to rest, you know."
- Must go—ay ? Ah! and so I must. I am helpless. But, had I one hand free-only one hand-nay, with one finger and thumb, I would first put you to rest where you should never wake again! When am I to go free?"
6 Will you go to your room ? " said the doctor, without regarding his question.
“I ask again,” cried the alleged madman, “ as I have asked every day past counting, when am I to be loosed of this accursed place ? How long is this to last ? "
“ Only until you are better,” remarked, with deep dissimulation, this worthy member of the faculty.
“Better !” exclaimed Woodruff, with rising passion, as he tugged to loosen his arms from the jacket which bound him, though as ineffectually as a child might have tugged at the roots of an oak sapling. “I could curse you again and doubly for that word, but that I have cursed till language is weak as water, and words have no more meaning. I am sick of railing. Better! Till I am better! Thief !-liar !-villain !—for you are all these, and a thousand more,- I am WELL. You know it. Sound in mind and body, - only that these girths have crippled me before my time. How am I mad ? I can think, reason, talk, argue, — hold memory of past life. I remember, villain ! when you and your assassins seized me; stole my child from me; swore that I was mad; and brought me here, now seventeen years ago ; and all that you might rob me of my property !— I remember that. Is that madness ? I remember, before that, that I married your sister. Was it not so? I remember that she died, and left me a little pattern of herself, that called you uncle. Was not that so? Where is that child ? What has become of her? Or are you a murderer besides ? All this I remember: and I know now that I have power of will, and aptness to do all that man's mind is called to do. How, then, am I mad? Oh ! for one hand free! One hand and arm. Only one! Give me that half chance to struggle with you. Let us end it so, if I am never to go free again. Take two to one; and if you kill me, you shall stand free of the scaffold; for I will swear with my last breath that you did it in self-defence. Do that. Let me have one grapple-a single gripe—and, if you can master me, why God forgive you !”
The doctor smiled, as in contempt of the impotent ravings and wild propositions of his brother-in-law ; for such, it is almost needless to state, James Woodruff was. But the alleged maniac continued his discourse.
" Then, as you are such a rank, arrant coward, give me my whole liberty ; let me go beyond this house, and I will never touch you. I will not ruffle a hair of your accursed head. Do
that, and I will leave you to God for the reward of all you have done to me and mine! Set nie free! Untie my limbs, and let me out this night! It is dark. Nobody can tell where I came from. Let me go, and I will never mention your name in complaint, nor lift a hand against you. Think, man,—do but think ! To spend seventeen years of nights in that dungeon, and seventeen years of days on this speck of ground! To you who have been at liberty to walk, and breathe freely, and see God's creation, it may be idle ; but I have seen nothing of seventeen springs but their light skies; nor of summers, but their heat and their strong shadows; nor of autumn, but the random leaves which the wind whirled over into this yard; nor of winter, but its snow and clouds. I want to be upon the green earth,—the grass,-amongst the fields. I want to see my wife's grave again !- some other human face than yours !—and — and = Man,— if you be man,- I want to find my daughter!”
He flung himself on the ground, and groaned as in utter despair.
The doctor was accustomed to witness these fits of frenzy, and therefore paid no farther attention now than consisted in an effort to raise the man again upon his feet, and a renewed solicitation to him to retire into his room.
“No,” said he ; “ I have something to speak of yet. I have come to another determination. In my mind, villain ! there has been seventeen years of rebellion against your wrong; and I have sworn, and have kept my oath till now, that you should never compel me to give up my rights, in virtue of my wife, to you. But time has outworn the iron of my soul : and seventeen years of this endurance cannot be set against all the wealth of the world. What is it to me? To dig the earth, and live on roots; but to be free with it; to go and come as I list; to be at liberty, body and limb! This would be paradise compared with the best palace that ever Mammon built in hell. Now, take these straps from off me, and set me free. Time is favourable. Take me into your house peaceably and quietly, and I will make over to you all I have, as a free gift. What you have stolen, you shall keep. Land, houses, gold, everything; I will not retain of them a grain of sand, a stone, or a sparkle of metal. But let me out! Let me see this prison behind me!”
“It would be the act of a lunatic, and of no effect,” replied the doctor.
" How lunatic? To give that which is of no use to me for that which is dearer than life? Besides, I am sane — sound of mind.”
“No,” interrupted the doctor, “ you are wrong on one question. Your disease consists in this very thing. You fancy I keep you confined in order to hold your property myself.”
« Fancy you do!” savagely exclaimed Woodruff, stamping the ground with rage; “this contradiction is enough to drive me mad. I know it! You know it. There is no fancy in the
case. It is an excuse, a vile pretence, a lie of seventeen years' standing. It was a lie at first. Will you set me free?"
“ It cannot be,” said the doctor ; “ go to your room." “ It shall be !” replied Woodruff; “I will not go."
“ Then I must call assistance," observed Rowel, as he attempted to approach the door at which he had entered.
“You shall not !” replied the patient, placing himself in front of the doctor, as though resolutely bent on preventing his approach to the door, although he had not the least use of his arms, which might have enabled him to effect his purpose.
“Stand aside, fool ! ” Rowel exclaimed, as he threw out his right arm in order to strike off the intruder. But Woodruff anticipated him; and, by a sudden and dexterous thrust of his foot in a horizontal line, he knocked the doctor's legs from under him, and sent him sprawling on the ground. Woodruff fell upon him instantly, in order to keep him down, and to stifle the loud cries of “ Robson ! Robson ! ” which were now issuing in rapid succession from the doctor's larynx. At the same time a tremendous struggle, rendered still more desperate by the doctor's fears, took place on the ground; during which the unhappy Woodruff strove so violently to disengage his hands from the ligatures of the waistcoat which bound him, that the blood gushed somewhat copiously from his mouth and nostrils. His efforts were not altogether unavailing. He partly disengaged one hand; and, with a degree of activity and energy only to be accounted for from the almost superhuman spirit which burned within him, and for which his antagonist, with all his advantages, was by no means an equal match, he succeeded in planting his forefinger and thumb, like the bite of a crocodile,
plantinge doctor's throate, or I'll kill you
'“ Swear to let me free, or I'll kill you !” he exclaimed.
“Yes, -y-e-s, - I sw-ear!” gurgled through the windpipe of the vanquished physician as he kicked and plunged like a horse in a bog to shake off his foe. The light of a lamp flashed upon them, and Robson rushed into the yard.
“Let me out!" again demanded Woodruff. “I will; I will ! " replied the doctor.
Before Robson could interfere, the grasp upon his neck was loosed, and Woodruff stood quietly upon his feet. The doctor soon followed.
“ Seize him, Robson!” said he ; and, in an instant, before Woodruff was aware, the strong man had him grasped as in a vice.
“ You swore to set me free !” cried the patient.
“ Yes," replied the doctor, with a triumphant sneer, as he followed the keeper until he had pitched Woodruff into his room, and secured the entrance. “ Yes,” he repeated, staring maliciously at his prisoner through the little barred opening in the door,—" yes, you shall be let out-of this cell into that yard again, when you have grown a little tamer !”