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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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"If I should tell you some things which you apparently don't know, you would understand why I am held here," said I.


"Well, tell me," he urged.


"Will you promise not to repeat my statements to any one else?"


"I promise not to say a word."


"Well," said I, "you have seen certain persons who have come here, claiming to be relatives of mine."


"Yes, and they are your relatives, aren't they?"


"They look like my relatives, but they're not," was my reply.


My inquisitive friend laughed aloud. "Well," said he "if you mean that, I shall have to take back what I just said. You are really the craziest person I have ever met and I have met several."


"You will think differently some day," said I; for I believed that when my trial should occur he would appreciate the significance of my statement. I did not tell him that I believed these callers to be detectives; nor did I hint that I thought myself in the hands of the police.


Meanwhile, during July and August, 1902, I redoubled my activity in devising suicidal schemes; for I now thought my physical condition satisfactory to my enemies, and was sure that my trial could not be postponed beyond the next opening of the courts in September. I even went so far as to talk to one of the attendants, a medical student, who, during the summer, worked as an attendant at the hospital. I approached him artfully. First I asked him to procure from the library for me "The Scarlet Letter," "The House of Seven Gables," and other such books; then I talked medicine and finally asked him to lend me a text-book on anatomy which I knew he had in his possession. This he did, cautioning me not to let any one know that he had done so. The book once secured, I lost no time in examining that part which described the heart, its functions, and especially its exact location in the body. I had scarcely begun to read when the attendant returned and took the book from me, offering as his reason that, as an attendant, he had no right to give me a medical work. I have often wondered since whether this was an intervention of Providence.


As is usual in institutions for the insane, all knives, forks, and other articles, which might be used by a patient for an insane purpose, were counted by the attendants after each meal. This I knew, and it had a deterrent effect. I dared not take one. Though I might at any time during the night have hanged myself, that method did not appeal to me, and I kept it in mind only as a last resort. To get possession of some sharp dagger-like instrument which I could plunge into my heart at a moment's notice -- this was my consuming desire. With such a weapon I felt that I could, when the crisis came, rob the detectives of their victory. During the summer months an employee spent his entire time driving a large lawn-mower over the grounds. This when not in use was often left outdoors. Upon it was a square wooden box, containing certain necessary tools, among them a sharp, spike-like instrument, used to clean the oil-holes when they had become clogged. This bit of steel was five or six inches long, and was shaped like a pencil. For at least three months prior to the moment of my restored reason I seldom went out of doors that I did not go with the intention of purloining that steel spike. I intended then to keep it in my room against the day of my anticipated transfer to jail.


It was now that my delusions protected me from the very fate they had induced me to court. For had I not believed that the eye of a detective was on me every moment, I could have taken that spike a score of times. Often when it was not in use I walked to the lawn-mower and even laid my hand upon the tool-box. But I dared not open it. My feelings were much like those of Pandora about a certain other box. In my case, however, the box upon which I looked with longing had Hope without, and not within. Instinctively, perhaps, I realized this, for I did not lift the lid.


One day, as the patients were returning to their wards, I saw, lying directly in my path (I could even now point out the spot), the coveted weapon. Never have I seen anything that I more desired. To have stooped and picked it up without detection would have been easy; and had I known, as I know now, that it had been carelessly dropped, nothing could have prevented me from doing so and perhaps using it with fatal effect. But I believed it had been placed there deliberately and as a test, by those who had divined my suicidal purpose. The eye of the imagined detective, which, I am inclined to believe, and like to believe, was the eye of the real God, was upon me; and though I stepped directly over it I did not pick up that thing of death.




WHEN I had decided that my chance for securing the little stiletto-spike was very uncertain, I at once busied myself with plans which were designed to bring about my death by drowning. There was in the ward a large bath-tub. Access to it could be had at any time, except between the hour of nine at night (when the patients were locked in their rooms) and the following morning. How to make it accessible in those dark hours was the problem which confronted me. The attendant in charge was supposed to see that each patient was in his room when the door was locked. As It rarely happened that the patients were not in their rooms at the appointed time, the attendants naturally grew careless, and often locked a door without looking in. The "good night" of the attendant, a salutation usually devoid of sentiment, might, or might not, elicit a response, and the absence of a response would not tend to arouse suspicion -- especially in a case like mine, for I would sometimes say "good night," but more often not.

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