The Man With The Broken Ear, by Edmond About

Chapter 8.

How Nicholas Meiser, Nephew of John Meiser, Executed His Uncle’s Will.

Doctor Hirtz of Berlin, who had copied this will himself, apologized very politely for not having sent it sooner. Business had obliged him to travel away from the Capital. In passing through Dantzic, he had given himself the pleasure of visiting Herr Nicholas Meiser, the former brewer, now a very wealthy land-owner and heavy holder of stocks, sixty-six years of age. This old man very well remembered the death and will of his uncle, the savant; but he did not speak of them without a certain reluctance. Moreover, he said that immediately after the decease of John Meiser, he had called together ten physicians of Dantzic around the mummy of the Colonel; he showed also a unanimous statement of these gentlemen, affirming that a man desiccated in a furnace cannot in any way or by any means return to life. This certificate, drawn up by the professional competitors and enemies of the deceased, made no mention of the paper annexed to the will. Nicholas Meiser swore by all the Gods (but not without visibly coloring) that this document concerning the methods to be pursued in resuscitating the Colonel, had never been known by himself or his wife. When interrogated regarding the reasons which could have brought him to part with a trust as precious as the body of M. Fougas, he said that he had kept it in his house fifteen years with every imaginable respect and care, but that at the end of that time, becoming beset with visions and being awakened almost every night by the Colonel’s ghost coming and pulling at his feet, he concluded to sell it for twenty crowns to a Berlin amateur. Since he had been rid of this dismal neighbor, he had slept a great deal better, but not entirely well yet; for it had been impossible for him to forget the apparition of the Colonel.

To these revelations, Herr Hirtz, physician to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent of Prussia, added some remarks of his own. He did not think that the resuscitation of a healthy man, desiccated with precaution, was impossible in theory; he thought also, that the process of desiccation indicated by the illustrious John Meiser was the best to follow. But in the present case, it did not appear to him probable that Colonel Fougas could be called back to life; the atmospheric influences and the variations of temperature which he had undergone during a period of forty six years, must have altered the fluids and the tissues.

This was also the opinion of M. Renault and his son. To quiet Clementine’s excitement a little, they read to her the concluding paragraphs of Prof. Hirtz’ letter. They kept from her John Meiser’s will, which could have done nothing but excite her. But the little imagination worked on without cessation, do what they would to quiet it. Clementine now sought the company of Doctor Martout, she held discussions with him and wanted to see experiments in the resuscitation of rotifers. When she got home again, she would think a little about Leon and a great deal about the Colonel. The project of marriage was still entertained, but no one ventured to speak about the publication of the bans. To the most touching endearments of her betrothed, the young fiancée responded with disquisitions on the vital principle. Her visits to the Renaults’ house were paid less to the living than to the dead. All the arguments they put in use to cure her of a foolish hope served only to throw her into a profound melancholy. Her beautiful complexion grew pale, the brilliancy of her glance died away. Undermined by a hidden disorder, she lost the amiable vivacity which had appeared to be the sparkling of youth and joy. The change must have been very noticeable, for even Mlle. Sambucco, who had not a mother’s eyes, was troubled about it.

M. Martout, satisfied that this malady of the spirit would not yield to any but a moral treatment, came to see her one morning, and said:

“My dear child, although I cannot well explain to myself the great interest that you take in this mummy, I have done something for it and for you. I am going to send the little piece of ear that Leon broke off to M. Karl Nibor.”

Clementine opened all her eyes.

“Don’t you understand me?” continued the Doctor. “The thing is, to find out whether the humors and tissues of the Colonel have undergone material alterations. M. Nibor, with his microscope, will tell us the state of things. One can rely upon him: he is an infallible genius. His answer will tell us if it be well to proceed to the resuscitation of our man, or whether nothing is left but to bury him.”

“What!” cried the young girl. “One can tell whether a man is dead or living, by sample?”

“Nothing more is required by Doctor Nibor. Forget your anxieties, then, for a week. As soon as the answer comes, I will give it to you to read. I have stimulated the curiosity of the great physiologist: he knows absolutely nothing about the fragment I send him. But if, to suppose an impossibility, he tells us that the piece of ear belongs to a sound being, I will beg him to come to Fontainebleau and help us restore his life.”

This vague glimmer of hope dissipated Clementine’s melancholy, and brought back her buoyant health. She again began to sing and laugh and flutter about the garden at her aunt’s, and the house at M. Renault’s. The tender communings began again, the wedding was once more talked over, and the first ban was published.

“At last,” said Leon, “I have found her again.”

But Madame Renault, that wise and cautious mother, shook her head sadly.

“All this goes but half well,” said she. “I do not like to have my daughter-in-law so absorbed with that handsome dried-up fellow. What are we to expect when she knows that it is impossible to bring him to life again? Will the black butterflies1 then fly away? And suppose they happen, by a miracle, to reanimate him! are you sure she will not fall in love with him? Indeed, Leon must have thought it very necessary to buy this mummy, and I call it money well invested!”

1 Black butterflies, a French expression that we might tastefully substitute for blue devils.

One Sunday morning M. Martout rushed in upon the old professor, shouting victory.

Here is the answer which had come to him from Paris:—

“My dear confrère:

“I have received your letter, and the little fragment of tissue whose nature you asked me to determine. It did not cost me much trouble to find out the matter in question, I have done more difficult things twenty times, in the course of experiments relating to medical jurisprudence. You could have saved yourself the use of the established formula: “When you shall have made your microscopic examination, I will tell you what it is.” These little tricks amount to nothing: my microscope knows better than you do what you have sent me. You know the form and color of things: it sees their inmost nature, the laws of their being, the conditions of their life and death.

“Your fragment of desiccated matter, half as broad as my nail and nearly as thick, after remaining for twenty-four hours under a bell-glass in an atmosphere saturated with water at the temperature of the human body, became supple — so much so as to be a little elastic. I could consequently dissect it, study it like a piece of fresh flesh, and put under the microscope each one of its parts that appeared different, in consistency or color, from the rest.

“I at once found, in the middle, a slight portion harder and more elastic than the rest, which presented the texture and cellular structure of cartilage. This was neither the cartilage of the nose, nor the cartilage of an articulation, but certainly the fibro-cartilage of the ear. You sent me, then, the end of an ear, and it is not the lower end — the lobe which women pierce to put their gold ornaments in, but the upper end, into which the cartilage extends.

“On the inner-side, I took off a fine skin, in which the microscope showed me an epidermis, delicate, perfectly intact; a derma no less intact, with little papillæ and, moreover, covered with a lot of fine human hairs. Each of these little hairs had its root imbedded in its follicle, and the follicle accompanied by its two little glands. I will tell you even more: these hairs of down were from four to five millimetres long, by from three to five hundredths of a millimetre in diameter; this is twice the size of the pretty down which grows on a feminine ear; from which I conclude that your piece of ear belongs to a man.

“Against the curved edge of the cartilage, I found delicate striated bunches of the muscle of the helix, and so perfectly intact that one would have said there was nothing to prevent their contracting. Under the skin and near the muscles, I found several little nervous filaments, each one composed of eight or ten tubes in which the medulla was as intact and homogeneous as in nerves removed from a living animal or taken from an amputated limb. Are you satisfied? Do you cry mercy? Well! As for me, I am not yet at the end of my string.

“In the cellular tissue interposed between the cartilage and the skin, I found little arteries and little veins whose structure was perfectly cognizable. They contained some serum with red blood globules. These globules were all of them circular, biconcave and perfectly regular; they showed neither indentations nor that raspberry-like appearance which characterizes the blood globules of a corpse.

“To sum up, my dear confrère, I have found in this fragment nearly everything that is found in the human body — cartilage, muscle, nerve, skin, hairs, glands, blood, etc., and all this in a perfectly healthy and normal state. It is not, then, a piece of a corpse which you sent me, but a piece of a living man, whose humors and tissues are in no way decomposed.

“With high consideration, yours,

Karl Nibor.

Paris, July 30th, 1859.

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