Clementine had a fresh young heart. Before knowing Leon, she had loved but one person — her mother. No cousins of either sex, nor uncles, nor aunts, nor grandfathers, nor grandmothers, had dissipated, by dividing it among themselves, that little treasure of affection which well-constituted children bring into the world. The grandmother, Clementine Pichon, was married at Nancy in January, 1814, and died three months later in the suburbs of Toulon, during her first confinement. The grandfather, M. Langevin, a sub-commissary of the first class, being left a widower, with a daughter in the cradle, devoted himself to bringing up his child. He gave her, in 1835, to M. Sambucco, an estimable and agreeable man, of Italian extraction, born in France, and King’s counsel in the court of Marseilles. In 1838 M. Sambucco, who was a man of considerable independence, because he had resources of his own, in some manner highly honorable to himself, incurred the ill-will of the Keeper of the Seals. He was therefore appointed Advocate-General to Martinique, and after some days of hesitation, accepted the transfer to that remote situation. But old M. Langevin did not easily console himself for the departure of his daughter: he died two years later without having embraced the little Clementine, to whom it was intended that he should be godfather. M. Sambucco, his son-in-law, lost his life in 1843, during an earthquake. The papers of the colony and of the metropolis related at the time how he had fallen a victim to his devotion to others. After this fearful misfortune, the young widow hastened to recross the sea with her daughter. She settled in Fontainebleau, in order that the child might live in a healthy atmosphere. Fontainebleau is one of the healthiest places in France. If Mme. Sambucco had been as good a manager as she was mother, she would have left Clementine a respectable fortune, but she regulated her affairs badly and got herself under heavy embarrassments. A neighboring notary relieved her of a round sum; and two farms which she had paid dearly for, brought her almost nothing. In short, she no longer knew what her situation was, and began to lose all control of it, when a sister of her husband, an old maid, pinched and pious, expressed a desire to live with her and use their resources in common. The arrival of this long-toothed spinster strangely frightened the little Clementine, who hid herself under the furniture and nestled among her mother’s skirts; but it was the salvation of the house. Mlle. Sambucco was not one of the most spirituelle nor one of the most romantic of women, but she was Order incarnated. She reduced the expenses, handled the resources herself, sold the two farms in 1847, bought some three-per-cents. in 1848, and restored stable equilibrium in the budget. Thanks to the talents and activity of this female steward, the gentle and improvident widow had nothing to do but to fondle her child. Clementine learned to honor the virtues of her aunt, but she adored her mother. When she had the affliction of losing her, she found herself alone in the world, leaning on Mlle. Sambucco, like a young plant on a prop of dry wood. It was then that her friendship for Leon glimmered with a vague ray of love; and young Renault profited by the necessity for expansion which filled this youthful soul.
During the three long years that Leon spent away from her, Clementine scarcely knew that she was alone. She loved and felt that she was loved in return; she had faith in the future, and an inner life of tenderness and timid hope; and this noble and gentle heart required nothing more.
But what completely astonished her betrothed, her aunt and herself, and strangely subverted all the best accredited theories respecting the feminine heart — what, indeed, reason would have refused to credit had it not been established by facts, was that the day when she again met the husband of her choice, an hour after she had thrown herself into Leon’s arms with a grace so full of trust, Clementine was so abruptly invaded by a new sentiment which was not love, nor friendship, nor fear, but transcended them all and spoke with master tones in her heart.
From the instant when Leon had shown her the figure of the Colonel, she had been seized by an actual passion for this nameless mummy. It was nothing like what she felt towards young Renault, but it was a combination of interest, compassion and respectful sympathy.
If any one had recounted some famous feat of arms, or some romantic history of which the Colonel had been the hero, this impression would have been natural, or, at least, explicable. But she knew nothing of him except that he had been condemned as a spy by a council of war, and yet she dreamed of him the very night after Leon’s return.
This inexplicable prepossession at first manifested itself in a religious form. She caused a mass to be said for the repose of the Colonel’s soul, and urged Leon to make preparations for the funeral, herself selecting the ground in which he was to be interred. These various cares never caused her to omit her daily visit to the walnut box, or the respectful bending of the knee before the body, or the sisterly or filial kiss which she regularly placed upon its forehead. The Renault family soon became uneasy about such strange symptoms, and hastened the interment of the attractive unknown, in order to relieve themselves of him as soon as possible. But the day before the one fixed for the ceremony, Clementine changed her mind.
“By what right could they shut in the tomb a man who, possibly, was not dead? The theories of the learned Doctor Meiser were not such that one could reject them without examination. The matter was at least worthy of a few days’ reflection. Was it not possible to submit the Colonel’s body to some experiments? Professor Hirtz, of Berlin, had promised to send some valuable documents concerning the life and death of this unfortunate officer: nothing ought to be undertaken before they were received; some one ought to write to Berlin to hasten the sending of these papers.”
Leon sighed, but yielded uncomplainingly to this new caprice, and wrote to M. Hirtz.
Clementine found an ally in this second campaign in Doctor Martout. Though he was but an average practitioner and disdained the acquisition of practice far too much, M. Martout was not deficient in knowledge. He had long been studying five or six great questions in physiology, such as reanimation, spontaneous generation and the topics connected with them. A regular correspondence kept him posted in all recent discoveries; he was the friend of M. Pouchet, of Rouen; and knew also the celebrated Karl Nibor, who has carried the use of the microscope into researches so wide and so profound. M. Martout had desiccated and resuscitated thousands of little worms, rotifers and tardigrades; he held that life is nothing but organization in action, and that the idea of reviving a desiccated man has nothing absurd about it. He gave himself up to long meditations when Professor Hirtz sent from Berlin the following document, the original of which is filed among the manuscripts of the Humboldt collection.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05