About ten o’clock in the evening, Mlle. Virginie Sambucco said it was time to think of going home: the ladies lived with monastic regularity. Leon protested; but Clementine obeyed, though not without pouting a little. Already the parlor door was open, and the old lady had taken her hood in the hall, when the engineer, suddenly struck with an idea, exclaimed:
“You surely won’t go without helping me to open my trunks! I demand it of you as a favor, my good Mademoiselle Sambucco!”
The respectable lady paused: custom urged her to go; kindness inclined her to stay; an atom of curiosity swayed the balance.
“I’m so glad!” cried Clementine, replacing her aunt’s hood on the rack.
Mme. Renault did not yet know where they had put Leon’s baggage. Gothon came to say that everything had been thrown pell-mell into the sorcerer’s den, to remain there until Monsieur should point out what he wanted taken to his own room. The whole company, armed with lamps and candles, betook themselves to a vast room on the ground floor, where furnaces, retorts, philosophical instruments, boxes, trunks, clothes bags, hat boxes and the famous steam-engine, formed a confused and entertaining spectacle. The light played about this interior, as it appears to in certain pictures of the Dutch school. It glanced upon the great yellow cylinders of the electric machine, struck upon the long glass bottles, rebounded from two silver reflectors, and rested, in passing, upon a magnificent Fortin barometer. The Renaults and their friends, grouped in the midst of the boxes — some sitting, some standing, one holding a lamp, another a candle — detracted nothing from the picturesqueness of the scene.
Leon, with a bunch of little keys, opened the boxes one after another. Clementine was seated opposite him on a great oblong box, and watched him with all her eyes, more from affection than curiosity. They began by setting to one side two enormous square boxes which contained nothing but mineralogical specimens. After this they passed in review the riches of all kinds which the engineer had crowded among his linen and clothing.
A pleasant odor of Russia leather, tea from the caravans, Levant tobacco, and attar of roses soon permeated the laboratory. Leon brought forth a little at a time, as is the custom of all rich travellers who, on leaving home, left a family and good stock of friends behind. He exhibited, in turn, fabrics of the Asiatic looms, narghiles of embossed silver from Persia, boxes of tea, sherbets flavored with rose, precious extracts, golden webs from Tarjok, antique armor, a service of frosted silver of Toula make, jewelry mounted in the Russian style, Caucasian bracelets, necklaces of milky amber, and a leather sack full of turquoises such as they sell at the fair of Nijni Novgorod. Each object passed from hand to hand amid questions, explanations, and interjections of all kinds. All the friends present received the gifts intended for them. There was a concert of polite refusals, friendly urgings, and ‘thank-yous’ in all sorts of voices. It is unnecessary to say that much the greater share fell to the lot of Clementine; but she did not wait to be urged to accept them, for, in the existing state of affairs, all these pretty things would be but as a part of the wedding gifts — not going out of the family.
Leon had brought his father an exceedingly handsome dressing gown of a cloth embroidered with gold, some antiquarian books found in Moscow, a pretty picture by Greuze, which had been stuck out of the way, by the luckiest of accidents, in a mean shop at Gastinitvor; two magnificent specimens of rock-crystal, and a cane that had belonged to Humboldt. “You see,” said he to M. Renault, on handing him this historic staff, “that the postscript of your last letter did not fall overboard.” The old professor received the present with visible emotion.
“I will never use it,” said he to his son. “The Napoleon of science has held it in his hand: what would one think if an old sergeant like me should permit himself to carry it in his walks in the woods? And the collections? Were you not able to buy anything from them? Did they sell very high?”
“They were not sold,” answered Leon. “All were placed in the National Museum at Berlin. But in my eagerness to satisfy you, I made a thief of myself in a strange way. The very day of my arrival, I told your wish to a guide who was showing me the place. He told me that a friend of his, a little Jew broker by the name of Ritter, wanted to sell a very fine anatomical specimen that had belonged to the estate. I ran to the Jew’s, examined the mummy, for such it was, and, without any haggling, paid the price he asked. But the next day, a friend of Humboldt, Professor Hirtz, told me the history of this shred of a man, which had been lying around the shop for more than ten years, and never belonged to Humboldt at all. Where the deuce has Gothon stowed it? Ah! Mlle. Clementine is sitting on it.”
Clementine attempted to rise, but Leon made her keep seated.
“We have plenty of time,” said he, “to take a look at the old baggage; meanwhile you can well imagine that it is not a very cheerful sight. This is the history that good old Hirtz told me; he promised to send me, in addition, a copy of a very curious memoir on the same subject. Don’t go yet, my dear Mademoiselle Sambucco; I have a little military and scientific romance for you. We will look at the mummy as soon as I have acquainted you with his misfortunes.”
“Aha!” cried M. Audret, the architect of the chateau, “it’s the romance of the mummy, is it, that you’re going to tell us? Too late my poor Leon! Theophile Gautier has gotten ahead of you, in the supplement to the Moniteur, and all the world knows your Egyptian history.”
“My history,” said Leon, “is no more Egyptian than Manon Lescault. Our excellent doctor Martout, here, ought to know the name of professor John Meiser, of Dantzic; he lived at the beginning of this century, and I think that his last work appeared in 1824 or 1825.”
“In 1823,” replied M. Martout. “Meiser is one of the scientific men who have done Germany most honor. In the midst of terrible wars which drenched his country in blood, he followed up the researches of Leeuwenkoeck, Baker, Needham, Fontana, and Spallanzani, on the revivification of animals. Our profession honors in him, one of the fathers of modern biology.”
“Heavens! What ugly big words!” cried Mlle. Sambucco. “Is it decent to keep people till this time of night, to make them listen to Dutch.”
“Don’t listen to the big words, dear little auntey. Save yourself for the romance, since there is one.”
“A terrible one!” said Leon. “Mlle. Clementine is seated over a human victim, sacrificed to science by professor Meiser.”
Clementine instantly got up. Her fiancé handed her a chair, and seated himself in the place she had just left. The listeners, fearing that Leon’s romance might be in several volumes, took their places around him, some on boxes, some on chairs.
Last updated Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 15:08