The Man With The Broken Ear, by Edmond About

Chapter 15.

In which the Reader Will See that it is Not Far from the Capital to the Tarpeian Rock.

The next day, after a visit to M. du Marnet, he wrote thus to Clementine:

“Light of my life, I am about to quit these scenes, the witnesses of my fatal courage and the repositories of my love. To the bosom of the capital, to the foot of the throne, I will first betake my steps. If the successor of the God of Combats is not deaf to the voice of the blood that courses in his veins, he will restore me my sword and epaulettes, so that I may lay them at thy feet. Be faithful to me — wait, hope! May these lines be to thee a talisman against the dangers threatening thy independence. Oh, my Clementine, tenderly guard thyself for thy

Victor Fougas!

Clementine sent him no answer, but, just as he was getting on the train, he was accosted by a messenger, who handed him a pretty red leather pocket-book, and ran away with all his might. The pocket-book was entirely new, solid, and carefully fastened. It contained twelve hundred francs in bank notes — all the young girl’s savings. Fougas had no time to deliberate on this delicate circumstance. He was pushed into a car, the locomotive puffed, and the train started.

The Colonel began to review in his memory the various events which had succeeded each other in his life during less than a week. His arrest among the frosts of the Vistula, his sentence to death, his imprisonment in the fortress of Liebenfeld, his reawakening at Fontainebleau, the invasion of 1814, the return from the island of Elba, the hundred days, the death of the emperor and the king of Rome, the restoration of the Bonapartes in 1852, his meeting with a young girl who was the counterpart of Clementine Pichon in all respects, the flag of the 23d, the duel with the colonel of cuirassiers — all this, for Fougas, had not taken up more than four days. The night reaching from the 11th of November, 1813, to the 17th of August, 1859, seemed to him even a little shorter than any of the others; for it was the only time that he had had a full sleep, without any dreaming.

A less active spirit, and a heart less warm, would, perhaps, have lapsed into a sort of melancholy. For, in fact, one who has been asleep for forty-six years would naturally become somewhat alien to mankind in general, even in his own country. Not a relation, not a friend, not a familiar face, on the whole face of the earth! Add to this a multitude of new words, ideas, customs, and inventions, which make him feel the need of a cicerone, and prove to him that he is a stranger. But Fougas, on reopening his eyes, following the precept of Horace, was thrown into the very midst of action. He had improvised for him friends, enemies, a sweetheart, and a rival. Fontainebleau, his second native place, was, provisionally, the central point of his existence. There he felt himself loved, hated, feared, admired — in a word, well known. He knew that in that sub-prefecture his name could not be spoken without awakening an echo. But what attached him more than all to modern times, was his well-established relationship with the great family of the army. Wherever a French flag floats, the soldier, young or old, is at home. Around that church-spire of the fatherland, though dear and sacred in a way different from the village spire, language, ideas, and institutions change but little. The death of individuals has little effect; they are replaced by others who look like them, and think, talk, and act in the same way; who do not stop on assuming the uniform of their predecessors, but inherit their souvenirs also — the glory they have acquired, their traditions, their jests, and even certain intonations of their voices. This accounts for Fougas’ sudden friendship, after a first feeling of jealousy, for the new colonel of the 23d; and the sudden sympathy which he evinced for M. du Marnet as soon as he saw the blood running from his wound. Quarrels between soldiers are family quarrels, which never blot out the relationship.

Calmly satisfied that he was not alone in the world, M. Fougas derived pleasure from all the new objects which civilization placed before his eyes. The speed of the rail-cars fairly intoxicated him. He was inspired with a positive enthusiasm for this force of steam, whose theory was a closed book to him, but on whose results he meditated much.

“With a thousand machines like this, two thousand rifled cannon, and two hundred thousand such chaps as I am, Napoleon would have conquered the world in six weeks. Why doesn’t this young fellow on the throne make some use of the resources he has under his control? Perhaps he hasn’t thought of it. Very well, I’ll go to see him. If he looks like a man of capacity, I’ll give him my idea; he’ll make me minister of war, and then — Forward, march!”

He had explained to him the use of the great iron wires running on poles all along the road.

“The very thing!” said he. “Here are aides-de-camp both fleet and judicious. Get them all into the hands of a chief-of-staff like Berthier, and the universe would be held in a thread by the mere will of a man!”

His meditations were interrupted, a couple of miles from Melun, by the sounds of a foreign language. He pricked up his ears, and then bounded from his corner as if he had sat on a pile of thorns. Horror! it was English! One of those monsters who had assassinated Napoleon at St. Helena for the sake of insuring to themselves the cotton monopoly, had entered the compartment with a very pretty woman and two lovely children.

“Conductor, stop!” cried Fougas, thrusting his body halfway out of the window.

“Monsieur,” said the Englishman in good French, “I advise you to have patience until we get to the next station. The conductor doesn’t hear you, and you’re in danger of falling out on the track. If I can be of any service to you, I have a flask of brandy with me, and a medicine chest.”

“No, sir,” replied Fougas in a most supercilious tone, “I’m in want of nothing, and I’d rather die than accept anything from an Englishman! If I’m calling the conductor, it’s only because I want to get into a different car, and cleanse my eyes from the sight of an enemy of the Emperor.”

“I assure you, monsieur,” responded the Englishman, “that I am not an enemy of the Emperor. I had the honor of being received by him while he was in London. He even deigned to pass a few days at my little country-seat in Lancashire.”

“So much the better for you, if this young man is good enough to forget what you have done against his family; but Fougas will never forgive your crimes against his country.”

As soon as they arrived at the station at Melun, he opened the door and rushed into another saloon. There he found himself alone in the presence of two young gentlemen, whose physiognomies were far from English, and who spoke French with the purest accent of Touraine. Both had coats of arms on their seal-rings, so that no one might be ignorant of their rank as nobles. Fougas was too plebeian to fancy the nobility much; but as he had left a compartment full of Britons, he was happy to meet a couple of Frenchmen.

“Friends,” said he, inclining toward them with a cordial smile, “we are children of the same mother. Long life to you! Your appearance revives me.”

The two young gentlemen opened their eyes very wide, half bowed, and resumed their conversation, without making any other response to Fougas’ advance.

“Well, then, my dear Astophe,” said one, “you saw the king at Froshdorf?”

“Yes, my good Americ; and he received me with the most affecting condescension. ‘Vicomte,’ said he to me, ‘you come of a house well known for its fidelity. We will remember you when God replaces us on the throne of our ancestors. Tell our brave nobility of Touraine that we hope to be remembered in their prayers, and that we never forget them in ours.’”

“Pitt and Coburg!” said Fougas between his teeth. “Here are two little rascals conspiring with the army of Condé! But, patience!”

He clenched his fists and opened his ears.

“Didn’t he say anything about politics?”

“A few vague words. Between us, I don’t think he bothers with them much; he is waiting upon events.”

“He’ll not wait much longer.”

“Who can tell?”

“What! Who can tell? The empire is not good for six months longer. Monseigneur de Montereau said so again last Monday to my aunt the canoness.”

“For my part, I give them a year, for their campaign in Italy has strengthened them with the lower orders. I didn’t put myself out to tell the king so, though!”

“Damnation! gentlemen, this is going it a little too strongly!” interrupted Fougas. “Is it here in France that Frenchmen speak thus of French institutions? Go back to your master; tell him that the empire is eternal, because it is founded on the granite of popular support, and cemented by the blood of heroes. And if the king asks you who told you this, tell him it was Colonel Fougas, who was decorated at Wagram by the Emperor’s own hand!”

The two young gentlemen looked at each other, exchanged a smile, and the Viscount said to the Marquis:

“What is that?”

“A madman.”

“No, dear; a mad dog.”

“Nothing else.”6

6 The English used by the two young noblemen is M. About’s own. It is certainly such English as Frenchmen would be apt to speak, and it is as fair to attribute that fact to M. About’s fine sense of the requirements of the occasion, as to lack of familiarity with our language.

“Very well, gentlemen,” cried the Colonel. “Speak English; you’re fit for it!”

He changed his compartment at the next station, and fell in with a lot of young painters. He called them disciples of Zeuxis, and asked them about Gérard, Gros, and David. These gentlemen found the sport novel, and recommended him to go and see Talma in the new tragedy of Arnault.

The fortifications of Paris dazzled him very much, and scandalized him a little.

“I don’t like this,” said he to his companions. “The true rampart of a capital is the courage of a great people. This piling bastions around Paris, is saying to the enemy that it is possible to conquer France.”

The train at last stopped at the Mazas station. The Colonel, who had no baggage, marched out pompously, with his hands in his pockets, to look for the hôtel de Nantes. As he had spent three months in Paris about the year 1810, he considered himself acquainted with the city, and for that reason he did not fail to lose himself as soon as he got there. But in the various quarters which he traversed at hazard, he admired the great changes which had been wrought during his absence. Fougas’ taste was for having streets very long, very wide, and bordered with very large houses all alike; he could not fail to notice that the Parisian style was rapidly approaching his ideal. It was not yet absolute perfection, but progress was manifest.

By a very natural illusion, he paused twenty times to salute people of familiar appearance; but no one recognized him.

After a walk of five hours he reached the Place du Carrousel. The hôtel de Nantes was no longer there; but the Louvre had been erected instead. Fougas employed a quarter of an hour in regarding this monument of architecture, and half an hour in contemplating two Zouaves of the guard who were playing piquet. He inquired if the Emperor was in Paris; whereupon his attention was called to the flag floating over the Tuilleries.

“Good!” said he. “But first I must get some new clothes.”

He took a room in a hotel on the Rue Saint Honoré, and asked a waiter which was the most celebrated tailor in Paris. The waiter handed him a Business Directory. Fougas hunted out the Emperor’s bootmaker, shirtmaker, hatter, tailor, barber, and glovemaker. He took down their names and addresses in Clementine’s pocket-book, after which he took a carriage and set out.

As he had a small and shapely foot, he found boots ready-made without any difficulty. He was promised, too, that all the linen he required should be sent home in the evening. But when he came to explain to the hatter what sort of an apparatus he intended to plant on his head, he encountered great difficulties. His ideal was an enormous hat, large at the crown, small below, broad in the brim, and curved far down behind and before; in a word, the historic heirloom to which the founder of Bolivia gave his name long ago. The shop had to be turned upside down, and all its recesses searched, to find what he wanted.

“At last,” cried the hatter, “here’s your article. If it’s for a stage dress, you ought to be satisfied; the comic effect can be depended upon.”

Fougas answered dryly, that the hat was much less ridiculous than all those which were then circulating around the streets of Paris.

At the celebrated tailor’s, in the Rue de la Paix, there was almost a battle.

“No, monsieur,” said Alfred, “I’ll never make you a frogged surtout and a pair of trousers à la Cosaque! Go to Babin, or Morean, if you want a carnival dress; but it shall never be said that a man of as good figure as yours left our establishment caricatured.”

“Thunder and guns!” retorted Fougas. “You’re a head taller than I am, Mister Giant, but I’m a colonel of the Grand Empire, and it won’t do for drum-majors to give orders to colonels!”

Of course, the devil of a fellow had the last word. His measure was taken, a book of costumes consulted, and a promise made that in twenty-four hours he should be dressed in the height of the fashion of 1813. Cloths were presented for his selection, among them some English fabrics. These he threw aside with disgust.

“The blue cloth of France,” cried he, “and made in France! And cut it in such a style that any one seeing me in Pekin would say, ‘That’s a soldier!’”

The officers of our day have precisely the opposite fancy. They make an effort to resemble all other “gentlemen”7 when they assume the civilian’s dress.

7 It is not without interest to note that M. About used the English word gentlemen.

Fougas ordered, in the Rue Richelieu, a black satin scarf, which hid his shirt, and reached up to his ears. Then he went toward the Palais Royal, entered a celebrated restaurant, and ordered his dinner. For breakfast he had only taken a bite at a pastry-cook’s in the Boulevard, so his appetite, which had been sharpened by the excursion, did wonders. He ate and drank as he did at Fontainebleau. But the bill seemed to him hard to digest: it was for a hundred and ten francs and a few centimes. “The devil!” said he; “living has become dear in Paris!” Brandy entered into the sum total for an item of nine francs. They had given him a bottle, and a glass about the size of a thimble; this gimcrack had amused Fougas, and he diverted himself by filling and emptying it a dozen times. But on leaving the table he was not drunk; an amiable gayety inspired him, but nothing more. It occurred to him to get back some of his money by buying some lottery tickets at Number 113. But a bottle-seller located in that building apprised him that France had not gambled for thirty years. He pushed on to the Théâtre Français, to see if the Emperor’s actors might not be giving some fine tragedy, but the poster disgusted him. Modern comedies played by new actors! Neither Talma, nor Fleury, nor Thénard, nor the Baptistes, nor Mlle. Mars, nor Mlle. Raucourt! He then went to the opera, where Charles VI. was being given. The music astounded him at once. He was not accustomed to hear so much noise anywhere but on the battle-field. Nevertheless, his ears soon inured themselves to the clangor of the instruments; and the fatigue of the day, the pleasure of being comfortably seated, and the labor of digestion, plunged him into a doze. He woke up with a start at this famous patriotic song:

“_Guerre aux tyrans! jamais, jamais en France,_

_Jamais l’Anglais ne régnera!_”8

8 War against tyrants! Never, never, never shall the Briton reign in France!

“No!” cried he, stretching out his arms toward the stage. “Never! Let us swear it together on the sacred altar of our native land! Perish, perfidious Albion! Vive l’Empereur!

The pit and orchestra arose at once, less to express accord with Fougas’ sentiments, than to silence him. During the following entr’acte, a commissioner of police said in his ear, that when one had dined as he had, one ought to go quietly to bed, instead of interrupting the performance of the opera.

He replied that he had dined as usual, and that this explosion of patriotic sentiment had not proceeded from the stomach.

“But,” said he, “when, in this palace of misused magnificence, hatred of the enemy is stigmatized as a crime, I must go and breathe a freer air, and bow before the temple of Glory before I go to bed.”

“You’ll do well to do so,” said the policeman.

He went out, haughtier and more erect than ever, reached the Boulevard, and ran with great strides as far as the Corinthian temple at the end. While on his way, he greatly admired the lighting of the city. M. Martout had explained to him the manufacture of gas; he had not understood anything about it, but the glowing and ruddy flame was an actual treat to his eyes.

As soon as he had reached the monument commanding the entrance to the Rue Royale, he stopped on the pavement, collected his thoughts for an instant, and exclaimed:

“Oh, Glory! Inspirer of great deeds, widow of the mighty conqueror of Europe! receive the homage of thy devoted Victor Fougas! For thee I have endured hunger, sweat, and frost, and eaten the most faithful of horses. For thee I am ready to brave further perils, and again to face death on every battle-field. I seek thee rather than happiness, riches, or power. Reject not the offering of my heart and the sacrifice of my blood! As the price of such devotion, I ask nothing but a smile from thy eyes and a laurel from thy hand!”

This prayer went all glowing to the ears of Saint Marie Madeleine, the patroness of the ex-temple of Glory. Thus the purchaser of a chateau sometimes receives a letter addressed to the original proprietor.

Fougas returned by the Rue de la Paix and the Place Vendôme, and saluted, in passing, the only familiar figure he had yet found in Paris. The new costume of Napoleon on the column did not displease him in any way. He preferred the cocked hat to a crown, and the gray surtout to a theatrical cloak.

The night was restless. In the Colonel’s brain a thousand diverse projects crossed each other in all directions. He prepared the little speech which he should make to the Emperor, going to sleep in the middle of a phrase, and waking up with a start in the attempt to lay hold on the idea which had so suddenly vanished. He put out and relit his candle twenty times. The recollection of Clementine was occasionally intermingled with dreams of war and political utopias. But I must confess that the young girl’s figure seldom got any higher than the second place.

But if the night appeared too long, the morning seemed short in proportion. The idea of meeting the new master of the empire face to face, inspired and chilled him in turn. For an instant he hoped that something would be lacking in his toilet — that some shopkeeper would furnish him an honorable pretext for postponing his visit until the next day. But everybody displayed the most desperate punctuality. Precisely at noon, the trousers à la Cosaque and the frogged surtout were on the foot of the bed opposite the famous Bolivar hat.

“I may as well be dressing,” said Fougas. “Possibly this young man may not be at home. In that case I’ll leave my name, and wait until he sends for me.”

He got himself up gorgeously in his own way, and, although it may appear impossible to my readers, Fougas, in a black satin scarf and frogged surtout, was not homely nor even ridiculous. His tall figure, lithe build, lofty and impressive carriage, and brusque movements, were all in a certain harmony with the costume of the olden time. He appeared strange, and that was all. To keep his courage up, he dropped into a restaurant, ate four cutlets, a loaf of bread, a slice of cheese, and washed it all down with two bottles of wine. The coffee and supplements brought him up to two o’clock, and that was the time he had set for himself.

He tipped his hat slightly over one ear, buttoned his buckskin gloves, coughed energetically two or three times before the sentinel at the Rue de Rivoli, and marched bravely into the gate.

“Monsieur,” cried the porter, “what do you want?”

“The Emperor!”

“Have you an audience letter?”

“Colonel Fougas does not need one. Go and ask references of him who towers over the Place Vendôme. He’ll tell you that the name of Fougas has always been a synonym for bravery and fidelity.”

“You knew the first Emperor?”

“Yes, my little joker; and I have talked with him just as I am talking with you.”

“Indeed! But how old are you then?”

“Seventy years on the dial-plate of time; twenty-four years on the tablets of History!”

The porter raised his eyes to Heaven, and murmured:

“Still another! This makes the fourth for this week!”

He made a sign to a little gentleman in black, who was smoking his pipe in the court of the Tuilleries. Then he said to Fougas, putting his hand on his arm:

“So, my good friend, you want to see the Emperor?”

“I’ve already told you so, familiar individual!”

“Very well; you shall see him to-day. That gentleman going along there with the pipe in his mouth, is the one who introduces visitors; he will take care of you. But the Emperor is not in the Palace; he is in the country. It’s all the same to you, isn’t it, if you do have to go into the country?”

“What the devil do you suppose I care?”

“Only I don’t suppose you care to go on foot. A carriage has already been ordered for you. Come, my good fellow, get in, and be reasonable!”

Two minutes later, Fougas, accompanied by a detective, was riding to a police station.

His business was soon disposed of. The commissary who received him was the same one who had spoken to him the previous evening at the opera. A doctor was called, and gave the best verdict of monomania that ever sent a man to Charenton. All this was done politely and pleasantly, without a word which could put the Colonel on his guard or give him a suspicion of the fate held in reserve for him. He merely found the ceremonial rather long and peculiar, and prepared on the spot several well-sounding sentences, which he promised himself the honor of repeating to the Emperor.

At last he was permitted to resume his route. The hack had been kept waiting; the gentleman-usher relit his pipe, said three words to the driver, and seated himself at the left of the Colonel. The carriage set off at a trot, reached the Boulevards, and took the direction of the Bastille. It had gotten opposite the Porte Saint-Martin, and Fougas, with his head at the window, was continuing the composition of his impromptu speech, when an open carriage drawn by a pair of superb chestnuts passed, so to speak, under his very nose. A portly man with a gray moustache turned his head, and cried, “Fougas!”

Robinson Crusoe, discovering the human footprint on his island, was not more astonished and delighted than our hero on hearing that cry of “Fougas!” To open the door, jump out into the road, run to the carriage, which had been stopped, fling himself into it at a single bound, without the help of the step, and fall into the arms of the portly gentleman with the gray moustache, was all the work of a second. The barouche had long disappeared, when the detective at a gallop, followed by his hack at a trot, traversed the line of the Boulevards, asking all the policemen if they had not seen a crazy man pass that way.

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