The Man With The Broken Ear, by Edmond About

Chapter 11.

Wherein Colonel Fougas Learns Some News which Will Appear Old to My Readers.

Among all the persons present at this scene, there was not a single one who had ever seen a resuscitation. I leave you to imagine the surprise and joy which reigned in the laboratory. A triple round of applause, mingled with cheers, hailed the triumph of Doctor Nibor. The crowd, packed in the parlor, the passages, the court-yard, and even in the street, understood at this signal, that the miracle was accomplished. Nothing could hold them back, they forced the doors, cleared all obstacles, upset all the philosophers who tried to stop them, and finished by pouring into the chamber of Science.

“Gentlemen!” cried M. Nibor, “Do you want to kill him?”

But they let him talk. The wildest of all passions, curiosity, had long held dominion over the crowd: every one wanted to see, though at the risk of crushing the others. M. Nibor tumbled down, M. Renault and his son, in attempting to help him, were thrown on top of him; Madame Renault, in her turn, was thrown down at the feet of Fougas, and began screaming at the top of her voice.

“Damnation!” said Fougas, straightening himself up as if by a spring, “these scoundrels will suffocate us if some one doesn’t squelch them!” His attitude, the glare of his eyes, and, above all, the prestige of the miraculous, cleared a space around him. One would have thought that the walls had been stretched or that the spectators had slid into one another!

“Out of here, every mother’s son of you!” cried Fougas, in his fiercest tone of command. A tumult of cries, explanations, and remonstrances was raised around him; he fancied he heard menaces, he seized the first chair within reach, brandished it like a weapon, drove, hammered, upset the citizens, soldiers, officials, savants, friends, sight-seers, commissary of police — everybody, and urged the human torrent into the street with an uproar perfectly indescribable. This done, he shut the door and bolted it, returned to the laboratory, saw three men standing near Madame Renault, and said to the old lady, softening the tone of his voice:

“Well, good mother, shall I serve these three like the others?”

“No! No! No! Be careful!” cried the good old lady. “My husband and my son, Monsieur, and Doctor Nibor, who has restored you to life.”

“In that case all honor to them, good mother! Fougas has never violated the laws of gratitude and hospitality. As for you, my Esculapius, give me your hand!”

At the same instant, he noticed ten or a dozen inquisitive people on tiptoe on the pavement just by the windows of the laboratory. Forthwith he marched and opened them with a precipitation which upset the gazers among the crowd.

“People,” said he, “I have knocked down a hundred beggarly pandours who respect neither sex nor infirmity. For the benefit of those who are not satisfied, I will state that I call myself colonel Fougas of the 23d. And Vive l’Empereur!

A confused mixture of plaudits, cries, laughs, and jeers, answered this unprecedented allocution. Leon Renault hastened out to make apologies to all to whom they were due. He invited a few friends to dine the same evening with the terrible colonel, and, of course, he did not forget to send a special messenger to Clementine. Fougas, after speaking to the people, returned to his hosts, swinging himself along with a swaggering air, set himself astride a chair, took hold of the ends of his moustache, and said:

“Well! Come, let’s talk this over. I’ve been sick then?”

“Very sick.”

“That’s fabulous! I feel entirely well. I’m hungry, and, moreover, while waiting for dinner, I’ll even try a glass of your schnick.”

Mme. Renault went out, gave an order, and returned in an instant.

“But tell me, then, where I am,” resumed the colonel. “By these paraphernalia of work, I recognize a disciple of Urania; possibly a friend of Monge and Berthollet. But the cordial friendliness impressed on your countenances proves to me that you are not natives of this land of sour-krout. Yes, I believe it from the beatings of my heart. Friends, we have the same fatherland. The kindness of your reception, even were there no other indications, would have satisfied me that you are French. What accidents have brought you so far from our native soil? Children of my country, what tempest has thrown you upon this inhospitable shore?”

“My dear Colonel,” replied M. Nibor, “if you want to become very wise, you will not ask so many questions at once. Allow us the pleasure of instructing you quietly and in order, for you have a great many things to learn.”

The Colonel flushed with anger, and answered sharply:

“At all events, you are not the man to teach them to me, my little gentleman!”

A drop of blood which fell on his hand changed the current of his thoughts:

“Hold on!” said he; “am I bleeding?”

“That will amount to nothing; circulation is reëstablished, and your broken ear. . . . ”

He quickly carried his hand to his ear and said:

“It’s certainly so. But Devil take me if I recollect this accident!”

“I’ll make you a little dressing, and in a couple of days there will be no trace of it left!”

“Don’t give yourself the trouble, my dear Hippocrates; a pinch of powder is a sovereign cure!”

M. Nibor set to work to dress the ear in a little less military fashion. During his operations, Leon reëntered.

“Ah! ah!” said he to the Doctor, “you are repairing the harm I did.”

“Thunderation!” cried Fougas, escaping from the hands of M. Nibor so as to seize Leon by the collar, “was it you, you rascal, that hurt my ear?”

Leon was very good-natured, but his patience failed him. He pushed his man roughly aside.

“Yes, sir, it was I who tore your ear, in pulling it, and if that little misfortune had not happened to me, it is certain that you would have been, to-day, six feet under ground. It is I who saved your life, after buying you with my money when you were not valued at more than twenty-five louis. It is I who have passed three days and two nights in cramming charcoal under your boiler. It is my father who gave you the clothes you now have on. You are in our house. Drink the little glass of brandy Gothon just brought you; but for God’s sake give up the habit of calling me rascal, of calling my mother ‘Good Mother.’ and of flinging our friends into the street and calling them beggarly pandours!”

The colonel, all dumbfounded, held out his hand to Leon, M. Renault and the doctor, gallantly kissed the hand of Mme. Renault, swallowed at a gulp a claret glass filled to the brim with brandy, and said in a subdued voice:

“Most excellent friends, forget the vagaries of an impulsive but generous soul. To subdue my passions shall hereafter be my law. After conquering all the nations in the universe, it is well to conquer one’s self.”

This said, he submitted his ear to M. Nibor, who finished dressing it.

“But,” said he, summoning up his recollections, “they did not shoot me then?”

“No.”

“And I wasn’t frozen to death in the tower?”

“Not quite.”

“Why has my uniform been taken off? I see! I am a prisoner!”

“You are free.”

“Free! Vive l’Empereur! But then, there’s not a moment to lose! How many leagues is it to Dantzic?”

“It’s very far.”

“What do you call this chicken coop of a town?”

“Fontainebleau.”

“Fontainebleau! In France?”

“Prefecture of Seine-et-Marne. We are going to introduce to you the sub-prefect, whom you just pitched into the street.”

“What the Devil are your sub-prefects to me? I have a message from the Emperor for General Rapp, and I must start, this very day, for Dantzic. God knows whether I’ll be there in time!”

“My poor Colonel, you will arrive too late. Dantzic is given up.”

“That’s impossible! Since when?”

“About forty-six years ago.”

“Thunder! I did not understand that you were . . . mocking me!”

M. Nibor placed in his hand a calendar, and said: “See for yourself! It is now the 17th of August, 1859; you went to sleep in the tower of Liebenfeld on the 11th of November, 1813; there have been, then, forty-six years, all to three months, during which the world has moved on without you.”

“Twenty-four and forty-six; but then I would be seventy years old, according to your statement!”

“Your vitality clearly shows that you are still twenty-four.”

He shrugged his shoulders, tore up the calendar and said, beating the floor with his foot: “Your almanac is a humbug!”

M. Renault ran to his library, took up half a dozen books at haphazard and made him read, at the foot of the title pages, the dates 1826, 1833, 1847, 1858.

“Pardon me!” said Fougas, burying his head in his hands. “What has happened to me is so new! I do not think that another human being was ever subjected to such a trial. I am seventy years old!”

Good Madame Renault went and got a looking-glass from the bath room, and gave it to him, saying:

“Look!”

He took the glass in both hands, and was silently occupied in resuming acquaintance with himself, when a hand-organ came into the court and began playing “Partant pour la Syrie!”

Fougas threw the mirror to the ground, and cried out:

“What is that you were telling me? I hear the little song of Queen Hortense!”4

4 Fougas’ surprise is explained by the well-known fact that Napoleon was obliged to forbid the playing of Partant pour la Syrie in his armies, on account of the homesickness and consequent desertion it occasioned.

M. Renault patiently explained to him, while picking up the pieces of the mirror, that the pretty little song of Queen Hortense had become a national air, and even an official one, since the regimental bands had substituted that gentle melody for the fierce Marsellaise, and that our soldiers, strange to say, had not fought any the worse for it. But the Colonel had already opened the window, and was crying out to the Savoyard:

“Eh! Friend! A napoleon for you if you will tell me in what year I am drawing the breath of life!”

The artist began dancing as lightly as possible playing on his musical instrument.

“Advance at the order!” cried the Colonel, “and keep that devilish machine still!”

“A little penny, my good monsieur!”

“It is not a penny that I’ll give you, but a napoleon, if you’ll tell me what year it is.”

“Oh but that’s funny! Hi — hi — hi!”

“And if you don’t tell me quicker than this amounts to, I’ll cut your ears off!”

The Savoyard ran away, but he came back pretty soon, having meditated, during his flight, on the maxim: “Nothing risk nothing gain.”

“Monsieur,” said he, in a wheedling voice, “this is the year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-nine.”

“Good!” cried Fougas. He felt in his pockets for money, and found nothing there. Leon saw his predicament, and flung twenty francs into the court. Before shutting the window, he pointed out, to the right, the façade of a pretty little new building where the Colonel could distinctly read

AUDRET ARCHITECTE.

MDCCCLIX.

A perfectly satisfactory piece of evidence, and one which did not cost twenty francs.

Fougas, a little confused, pressed Leon’s hand, and said to him:

“My friend, I do not forget that Confidence is the first duty from Gratitude toward Beneficence. But tell me of our country! I tread the sacred soil where I received my being, and I am ignorant of the career of my native land. France is still the queen of the world, is she not?”

“Certainly,” said Leon.

“How is the Emperor?”

“Well.”

“And the Empress?”

“Very well.”

“And the King of Rome?”

“The Prince Imperial? He is a very fine child.”

“How? A fine child! And you have the face to say that this is 1859!”

M. Nibor took up the conversation, and explained in a few words that the reigning sovereign of France was not Napoleon I., but Napoleon III.

“But then,” cried Fougas, “my Emperor is dead!”

“Yes.”

“Impossible! Tell me anything you will but that! My Emperor is immortal.”

M. Nibor and the Renaults, who were not quite professional historians, were obliged to give him a summary of the history of our century. Some one went after a big book written by M. de Norvins and illustrated with fine engravings by Raffet. He only believed in the presence of Truth when he could touch her with his hand, and still cried out almost every moment: “That’s impossible! This is not history that you are reading to me: it is a romance written to make soldiers weep!”

This young man must indeed have had a strong and well-tempered soul, for he learned in forty minutes all the woful events which Fortune had scattered through eighteen years, from the first abdication up to the death of the King of Rome. Less happy than his old companions in arms, he had no interval of repose between these terrible and repeated shocks, all beating upon his heart at the same time. One could have feared that the blow might prove mortal, and poor Fougas die in the first hour of his recovered life. But the imp of a fellow yielded and recovered himself in quick succession like a spring. He cried out with admiration on hearing of the five battles of the campaign in France; he reddened with grief at the farewells of Fontainebleau. The return from the Isle of Elba transfigured his handsome and noble countenance; at Waterloo his heart rushed in with the last army of the Empire, and there shattered itself. Then he clenched his fists and said between his teeth: “If I had been there at the head of the 23d, Blucher and Wellington would have seen another fate!” The invasion, the truce, the martyr of St. Helena, the ghastly terror of Europe, the murder of Murat — the idol of the cavalry, the death of Ney, Bruno, Mouton Duvernet, and so many other whole-souled men whom he had known, admired, and loved, threw him into a series of paroxysms of rage, but nothing upset him. In hearing of the death of Napoleon, he swore that he would eat the heart of England; the slow agony of the pale and interesting heir of the Empire, inspired him with a passion to tear the vitals out of Austria. When the drama was over and the curtain fell on Schoenbrunn, he dashed away his tears and said: “It is well. I have lived in a moment a man’s entire life. Now show me the map of France!”

Leon began to turn over the leaves of an atlas, while M. Renault attempted to continue narrating to the colonel the history of the Restoration, and of the monarchy of 1830. But Fougas’ interest was in other things.

“What do I care,” said he, “if a couple of hundred babblers of deputies put one king in place of another? Kings! I’ve seen enough of them in the dirt. If the Empire had lasted ten years longer, I could have had a king for a boot-black.”

When the atlas was placed before him, he at once cried out with profound disdain: “That, France!” But soon two tears of pitying affection escaping from his eyes, swelled the rivers Ardeche and Gironde. He kissed the map and said, with an emotion which communicated itself to nearly all present:

“Forgive me, poor old love, for insulting your misfortunes. Those scoundrels whom we always whipped have profited by my sleep to pare down your frontiers; but little or great, rich or poor, you are my mother, and I love you as a faithful son! Here is Corsica, where the giant of our age was born; here is Toulouse, where I first saw the light; here is Nancy where I felt my heart awakened, where, perhaps, she whom I call my Ægle waits for me still! France! Thou hast a temple in my soul; this arm is thine; thou shalt find me ever ready to shed my blood to the last drop in defending or avenging thee!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59