The Man With The Broken Ear, by Edmond About

Chapter 9.

Considerable of a Disturbance in Fontainebleau.

It did not take long to get spread about the town that M. Martout and the Messieurs Renault, intended, in conjunction with several Paris savans, to resuscitate a dead man.

M. Martout had sent a detailed account of the case to the celebrated Karl Nibor, who had hastened to lay it before the Biological Society. A committee was forthwith appointed to accompany M. Nibor to Fontainebleau. The six commissioners and the reporter agreed to leave Paris the 15th of August,2 being glad to escape the din of the public rejoicings. M. Martout was notified to get things ready for the experiment, which would probably last not less than three days.

2 The 15th of August is the Emperor’s birthday.

Some of the Paris papers announced this great event among their “Miscellaneous Items,” but the public paid little attention to it. The grand reception of the army returning from Italy engrossed everybody’s interest, and moreover, the French do not put more than moderate faith in miracles promised in the newspapers.

But at Fontainebleau, it was an entirely different matter. Not only Monsieur Martout and the Messieurs Renault, but M. Audret, the architect, M. Bonnivet, the notary, and a dozen other of the bigwigs of the town, had seen and touched the mummy of the Colonel. They had spoken about it to their friends, had described it to the best of their ability, and had recounted its history. Two or three copies of Herr Meiser’s will were circulating from hand to hand. The question of reanimations was the order of the day; they discussed it around the fish-pond, like the Academy of Sciences at a full meeting. Even in the market-place you could have heard them talking about rotifers and tardigrades.

It must be admitted that the resuscitationists were not in the majority. A few professors of the college, noted for the paradoxical character of their minds; a few lovers of the marvellous, who had been duly convicted of table-tipping; and, to top off with a half dozen of those old white-moustached grumblers who believe that the death of Napoleon I. is a calumnious lie set afloat by the English, constituted the whole of the army. M. Martout had against him not only the skeptics, but the innumerable crowd of believers, in the bargain. One party turned him to ridicule, the others proclaimed him revolutionary, dangerous, and an enemy of the fundamental ideas on which society rests. The minister of one little church preached, in inuendoes, against the Prometheuses who aspired to usurp the prerogatives of Heaven. But the rector of the parish did not hesitate to say, in five or six houses, that the cure of a man as desperately sick as M. Fougas, would be an evidence of the power and mercy of God.

The garrison of Fontainebleau was at that time composed of four squadrons of cuirassiers and the 23d regiment of the line, which had distinguished itself at Magenta. As soon as it was known in Colonel Fougas’ old regiment that that illustrious officer was possibly going to return to the world, there was a general sensation. A regiment knows its history, and the history of the 23d had been that of Fougas from February, 1811, to November, 1813. All the soldiers had heard read, at their messes, the following anecdote:

“On the 27th of August, 1813, at the battle of Dresden, the Emperor noticed a French regiment at the foot of a Russian redoubt which was pouring grape upon it. He asked what regiment it was, and was told that it was the 23d of the line. ‘That’s impossible!’ said he. ‘The 23d of the line never stood under fire without rushing upon the artillery thundering at it.’ At that moment the 23d, led by Colonel Fougas, rushed up the height at double quick, pinned the artillerists to their guns, and took the redoubt.”

The officers and soldiers, justly proud of this memorable action, venerated, under the name of Fougas, one of the fathers of the regiment. The idea of seeing him appear in the midst of them, young and living, did not appear likely, but it was already something to be in possession of his body. Officers and soldiers decided that he should be interred at their expense, after the experiments of Doctor Martout were completed. And to give him a tomb worthy of his glory, they voted an assessment of two days’ pay.

Every one who wore an epaulette visited M. Renault’s laboratory; the Colonel of cuirassiers went there several times — in hopes of meeting Clementine. But Leon’s betrothed kept herself out of the way.

She was happier than any woman had ever been, this pretty little Clementine. No cloud longer disturbed the serenity of her fair brow. Free from all anxieties, with a heart opened to Hope, she adored her dear Leon, and passed her days in telling him so. She herself had pressed the publication of the bans.

“We will be married,” said she, “the day after the resuscitation of the Colonel. I intend that he shall give me away, I want him to bless me. That is certainly the least he can do for me, after all I have done for him. It is certain that, but for my opposition, you would have sent him to the museum of the Jardin des Plantes. I will tell him all this, Sir, as soon as he can understand us, and he will cut your ears off, in his turn! I love you!”

“But,” answered Leon, “why do you make my happiness dependent on the success of an experiment? All the usual formalities are executed, the publications made, the notices given: no one in the world can prevent our marrying to-morrow, and you are pleased to wait until the 19th! What connection is there between us and this desiccated gentleman asleep in his box? He doesn’t belong to your family or mine. I have examined all your family records back to the sixth generation, and I haven’t found anybody of the name of Fougas in them. So we are not waiting for a grandfather to be present at the ceremony. Who is he, then? The wicked tongues of Fontainebleau pretend that you have a penchant for this fetich of 1813; as for me, who am sure of your heart, I trust that you will never love any one as well as me. However they call me the rival of the Sleeping Colonel in the Wood.”

“Let the fools prate!” responded Clementine, with an angelic smile. “I do not trouble myself to explain my affection for poor Fougas, but I love him very much, that’s certain. I love him as a father, as a brother, if you prefer it, for he is almost as young as I. When we have resuscitated him, I will love him, perhaps, as a son; but you will lose nothing by it, dear Leon. You have in my heart a place by itself, the best too, and no one shall take it from you, not even he.”

This lovers’ quarrel, which often began, and always ended with a kiss, was one day interrupted by a visit from the commissioner of police.

This honorable functionary politely declined to give his name and business, and requested the favor of a private interview with young Renault.

“Monsieur,” said he, when he saw him alone, “I appreciate all the consideration due to a man of your character and position, and I hope you will see fit not to interpret unpleasantly a proceeding which is prompted in me by a sense of duty.”

Leon opened his eyes and waited for the continuation of the discourse.

“You are aware, Monsieur,” pursued the Commissioner, “of what is required by the law concerning interments. It is express, and admits no exception. The authorities can keep their eyes shut, but the great tumult that has arisen, and, moreover, the rank of the deceased, without taking into account the religious considerations, put us under obligation to proceed . . . in conjunction with you, let it be well understood. . . . ”

Leon comprehended little by little. The commissioner finished by explaining to him, always in the administrative style, that it was incumbent upon him to have M. Fougas taken to the town cemetery.

“But Monsieur,” replied the engineer, “if you have heard people speaking of Colonel Fougas, they ought to have told you withal that we do not consider him dead.”

“Nonsense!” answered the Commissioner, with a slight smile. “Opinions are free. But the doctor whose office it is to attend to the disposition of the dead, and who has had the pleasure of seeing the deceased, has made us a conclusive report which points to immediate interment.”

“Very well, Monsieur, if Fougas is dead, we are in hopes of resuscitating him.”

“So we have been told already Monsieur, but, for my part, I hesitated to believe it.”

“You will believe it when you have seen it; and I hope, Monsieur, that that will be before long.”

“But then, Monsieur, have you fixed everything in due form?”

“With whom?”

“I do not know, Monsieur, but I suppose that before undertaking such a thing as this, you have fortified yourself with some legal authorization.”

“From whom?”

“But at all events, Monsieur, you admit that the reanimation of a man is an extraordinary affair. As for myself, this is really the first time that I ever heard it spoken of. Now the duty of a well regulated police, is to prevent anything extraordinary happening in the country.”

“Let us see, Monsieur. If I were to say to you: ‘Here is a man who is not dead; I have a well-founded hope of setting him on his feet in three days; your doctor, who maintains the contrary, deceives himself,’ would you take the responsibility of having Fougas buried?”

“Certainly not! God forbid that I should take any responsibility of any kind on my shoulders! But however, Monsieur, in having M. Fougas buried, I would act in accordance with law and order. Now after all, by what right do you presume to resuscitate a man? In what country is resuscitation customary? Where is the precept of law which authorizes you to resuscitate people?”

“Do you know any law that prohibits it? Now everything that is not prohibited is permitted.”

“In the eyes of the magistrates, very likely. But the police ought to prevent and stem disorder. Now a resuscitation, Monsieur, is a thing so unheard of as to constitute an actual disorder.”

“You will admit, nevertheless, that it is a very happy disorder.”

“There’s no such thing as a happy disorder. Consider, moreover, that the deceased is not a common sort of a man. If the question concerned a vagabond without house or home, one could use some tolerance in regard to it. But this is a soldier, an officer, of high rank and decorated too; a man who has occupied an exalted position in the army. The army, Monsieur! It will not do to touch the army!”

“Eh! Monsieur, I touch the army like a surgeon who tends its wounds. It is proposed to restore to the army a colonel. And you, actuated by the spirit of routine, wish to rob it of one.”

“Don’t get so excited, Monsieur, I beg of you, and don’t talk so loud: people can hear us. Believe me, I will meet you half way in anything you want to do for the great and glorious army of my country. But have you considered the religious question?”

“What religious question?”

“To tell you the truth, Monsieur (but this entirely between ourselves), what we have spoken of so far is purely accessory and we are now touching upon the delicate point. People have come to see me and have made some very judicious remarks to me. The mere announcement of your project has cast a good deal of trouble into certain consciences. They fear that the success of an undertaking of this kind may strike a blow at the faith, may, in a word, scandalize many tranquil spirits. For, if M. Fougas is dead, of course it is because God has so willed it. Aren’t you afraid of acting contrary to the will of God, in resuscitating him?”

“No, Monsieur: for I am sure not to resuscitate Fougas if God has willed it otherwise; God permits a man to catch the fever, but God also permits a doctor to cure him. God permitted a brave soldier of the Emperor to be captured by four drunken Russians, condemned as a spy, frozen in a fortress and desiccated under an air-pump by an old German. But God also permitted me to find this unfortunate man in a junk-shop, to carry him to Fontainebleau, to examine him with certain men of science and to agree with them upon a method almost sure to restore him to life. All this proves one thing — which is that God is more just, more merciful and more inclined to pity than those who abuse his name in order to excite you.”

“I assure you, Monsieur, that I am not in the least excited. I yield to your reasons because they are good ones and because you are a man of consideration in the community. I sincerely hope, moreover, that you will not think harshly of an act of zeal which I have been advised to perform. I am a functionary, Monsieur. Now, what is a functionary? A man who holds a place. Suppose now that functionaries were to expose themselves to the loss of their places, what would stand firm in France? Nothing, Monsieur, absolutely nothing. I have the honor to bid you good day!”

On the morning of the 15th of August, M. Karl Nibor presented himself at M. Renault’s with Doctor Martont and the committee appointed by the Biological Society of Paris. As often happens in the rural districts the first appearance of our illustrious savant was a sort of disappointment. Mme. Renault expected to see, if not a magician in a velvet robe studded with gold, at least an old man of extraordinarily grave and impressive appearance. Karl Nibor is a man of middle height, very fair and very slight. Possibly he carries a good forty years, but one would not credit him with more than thirty-five. He wears a moustache and imperial; is lively, a good conversationist, agreeable and enough of a man of the world to amuse the ladies. But Clementine did not have the pleasure of his conversation. Her aunt had taken her to Moret in order to remove her from the pangs of fear as well as from the intoxications of victory.

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