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[translated from the French edition L'homme à l'oreille cassée, 1862]

by Edmond About

[from U.S. translation, Leypoldt & Holt 1867; repub. Holt 1878]

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M. NIBOR and his colleagues, after the usual compliments, requested to see the subject. They had no time to lose, as the experiment could hardly last less than three days. Leon hastened to conduct them to the laboratory and to open the three boxes containing the Colonel.

  They found that the patient presented quite a favorable appearance. M. Nibor took off his clothes, which tore like tinder from having been too much dried in Father Meiser's furnace. The body, when naked, was pronounced entirely free from blemish and in a perfectly healthy condition. No one would yet have guaranteed success, but every one was full of hope.

  After this preliminary examination, M. Renault put his laboratory at the service of his guests. He offered them all that he possessed, with a munificence which was not entirely free from vanity. In case the employment of electricity should appear necessary he had a powerful battery of Leyden jars and forty of Bunsen's elements, which were entirely new. M. Nibor thanked him smilingly.

  "Save your riches," said he. "With a bath-tub and caldron of boiling water, we will have everything we need. The Colonel needs nothing but humidity. The thing is to give him the quantity of water necessary to the play of the organs. If you have a small room where one can introduce a jet of vapor, we will be more than content.

  M. Audret, the architect, had very wisely built a little bath-room near the laboratory, which was convenient and well lighted. The celebrated steam engine was not far off, and its boiler had not, up to this time, answered any other purpose than that of warming the baths of M. and Mme. Renault.

  The Colonel was carried into this room, with all the care necessitated by his fragility. It was not intended to break his second ear in the hurry of moving. Leon ran to light the fire under the boiler, and M. Nibor created him Fireman, on the field of battle.

  Soon a jet of tepid vapor streamed into the bath-room, creating around the Colonel a humid atmosphere which was elevated by degrees, and without any sudden increase, to the temperature of the human body. These conditions of heat and humidity were maintained with the greatest care for twenty-four hours. No one in the house went to sleep. The members of the Parisian Committee encamped in the laboratory. Leon kept up the fire; M. Nibor, M. Renault and M. Martout took turns in watching the thermometer. Madame Renault was making tea and coffee, and punch too. Gothon, who had taken communion in the morning, kept praying to God, in the corner of her kitchen, that this impious miracle might not succeed. A certain excitement already prevailed throughout the town, but one did not know whether it should be attributed to the fête of the 15th, or the famous undertaking of the seven wise men of Paris.

  By two o'clock on the 16th, encouraging results were obtained. The skin and muscles had recovered nearly all their suppleness, but the joints were still hard to bend. The collapsed condition of the walls of the abdomen and the interval between the ribs, still indicated that the viscera were far from having reabsorbed the quantity of water which they had previously lost with Herr Meiser. A bath was prepared and kept at a temperature of thirty-seven degrees and a half. They left the Colonel in it two hours and a half, taking care to frequently pass over his head a fine sponge soaked with water.

  M. Nibor removed him from the bath as soon as the skin, which was filled out sooner than the other tissues, began to assume a whitish tinge and wrinkle slightly. They kept him until the evening of the 16th in this humid room, where they arranged an apparatus which, from time to time, occasioned a fine rain of a temperature of thirty-seven and a half degrees. A new bath was given in the evening. During the night, the body was enveloped in flannel, but kept constantly in the same steaming atmosphere.

  On the morning of the 17th, after the third bath of an hour and a half, the general characteristics of the figure and the proportions of the body presented their natural aspect: one would have called it a sleeping man. Five or six curious persons were admitted to see it, among others the colonel of the 23d. In the presence of these witnesses, M. Nibor moved successively all the joints, and demonstrated that they had recovered their flexibility. He gently kneaded the limbs, trunk and abdomen. He partly opened the lips, and separated the jaws, which were quite firmly closed, and saw that the tongue had returned to its ordinary size and consistency. He also partly opened the eyelids: the eye-balls were firm and bright.

  "Gentlemen," said the philosopher, "these are indications which do not deceive; I prophesy success. In a few hours you shall witness the first manifestations of life."

  "But," interrupted one of the bystanders, "why not immediately?"

  "Because the conjunctivæ are still a little paler than they ought to be. But the little veins traversing the whites of the eyes have already assumed a very encouraging appearance. The blood is almost entirely restored. What is the blood? Red globules floating in serum, or a sort of whey. The serum in poor Fougas was dried up in his veins; the water which we have gradually introduced by a slow endosmose has saturated the albumen and fibrin of the serum, which is returned to the liquid state. The red globules which desiccation has agglutinated, had become motionless like ships stranded in shoal water. Now behold them afloat again: they thicken, swell, round out their edges, detach themselves from each other and prepare to circulate in their proper channels at the first impulse which shall be given them by the contractions of the heart."

  "It remains to see," said M. Renault, "whether the heart will put itself in motion. In a living man, the heart moves under the impulse of the brain, transmitted by the nerves. The brain acts under the impulse of the heart, transmitted by the arteries. The whole forms a perfectly exact circle, without which there is no well-being. And when neither heart nor brain acts, as in the Colonel's case, I don't see which of the two can set the other in motion. You remember the scene in the 'Ecole des femmes,' where Arnolphe knocks at his door? The valet and the maid, Alain and Georgette, are both in the house. 'Georgette!' cries Alain. -- 'Well?' replies Georgette. -- 'Open the door down there!' -- 'Go yourself! Go yourself!' -- 'Gracious me! I shan't go' -- 'I shan't go either!' -- 'Open it right away!' -- 'Open it yourself!' And nobody opens it. I am inclined to think, Monsieur, that we are attending a performance of this comedy. The house is the body of the Colonel; Arnolphe, who wants to get in, is the Vital Principle. The heart and brain act the parts of Alain and Georgette. 'Open the door!' says one. -- 'Open it yourself!' says the other. And the Vital Principle waits outside."

  "Monsieur," replied Doctor Nibor smiling, "you forget the ending of the scene. Arnolphe gets angry, and cries out: 'Whichever of you two doesn't open the door, shan't have anything to eat for four days!' And forthwith Alain hurries himself, Georgette runs and the door is opened. Now bear in mind that I speak in this way only in order to conform to your own course of reasoning, for the term 'Vital Principle' is at variance with the actual assertions of science. Life will manifest itself as soon as the brain, or the heart, or any one of the organs which have the capacity of working spontaneously, shall have absorbed the quantity of water it needs. Organized matter has inherent properties which manifest themselves without the assistance of any foreign principle, whenever they are surrounded by certain conditions. Why do not M. Fougas' muscles contract yet? Why does not the tissue of the brain enter into action? Because they have not yet the amount of moisture necessary to them. In the fountain of life there is lacking, perhaps, a pint of water. But I shall be in no hurry to refill it: I am too much afraid of breaking it. Before giving this gallant fellow a final bath, it will be necessary to knead all his organs again, to subject his abdomen to regular compressions, in order that the serous membranes of the stomach, chest and heart may be perfectly disagglutinated and capable of slipping on each other. You are aware that the slightest tear in these parts, or the least resistance, would be enough to kill our subject at the moment of his revival."

  While speaking, he united example to precept and kept kneading the trunk of the Colonel. As the spectators had too nearly filled the bath-room, making it almost impossible to move, M. Nibor begged them to move into the laboratory. But the laboratory became so full that it was necessary to leave it for the parlor: the Committee of the Biological Society, had scarcely a corner of the table on which to draw up their account of the proceedings. The parlor even was crowded with people, the dining room too, and so out to the court yard of the house. Friends, strangers, people not at all known to the family, elbowed each other and waited in silence. But the silence of a crowd is not much less noisy than the rolling of the sea. Fat Doctor Martout, apparently overwhelmed with responsibility, showed himself from time to time, and surged through the waves of curious people like a galleon laden with news. Every one of his words circulated from mouth to mouth, and spread even through the street, where several groups of soldiers and citizens were making a stir, in more senses than one. Never had the little "Rue de la Faisanderie" seen such a crowd. An astonished passer-by stopped and inquired:

  "What's the matter here? Is it a funeral?"

  "Quite the reverse, Sir."

  "A christening, then?"

  "With warm water!"

  "A birth?

  "A being born again!"

  An old judge of the Civil Court was recounting to a deputy the legend of Æson of old, who was boiled in Medea's caldron.

  "This is almost the same experiment," said he, "and I am inclined to think that the poets have calumniated the sorceress of Colchis. There could be some fine Latin verses made appropriate to this occasion; but I no longer possess my old skill!

  'Fabula Medeam cur crimine carpit iniquo?
Ecce novus surgit redivivus Æson ab undis
     Fortior, arma petens, juvenili pectore miles...,

  "Redivivus is taken in the active sense; it's a license, or at least a bold construction. Ah! Monsieur! there was a time when I was, even among those who made the most confident attempts, the man for Latin verses!"

  "Corp'ral!' said a conscript of the levy of 1859.

  "What is it, Freminot?"

  "Is it true that they are boiling an old soldier in a pot, and that they are going to get him up again Colonel's uniform and all?"

  "True or not, subaltern, I'll run the risk of saying it's true."

  "I fancy, with all proper deference, that they will not make much at it."

  "You should know, Freminot, that nothing is impossible to your superiors! You are not unaware even now, that dried vegetables, on being boiled, recover their original and natural appearance!"

  "But, Corp'ral, if one were to cook them, three days' time, they'd dissolve into broth."

  "But, imbecile, why shouldn't one consider old soldiers hard to cook?"

  At noon, the commissioner of police and the lieutenant of gens-d'armes made way through the crowd and entered the house. These gentlemen hastened to declare to M. Renault that their visit had nothing of an official character, but that they had come merely from curiosity. In the corridor, they met the Sub-prefect, the Mayor, and Gothon, who was lamenting in loud tones that she should see the government lend its hand to such sorceries.

  About one o'clock, M. Nibor caused a new and prolonged bath to be given the Colonel, on coming out of which, the body was subjected to a kneading harder and more complete than before.

  "Now," said the Doctor, "we can carry M. Fougas into the laboratory, in order to give his resuscitation all the publicity desirable. But it will be well to dress him, and his uniform is in tatters."

  "I think," answered good M. Renault, "that the Colonel is about my size; so I can lend him some of my clothes. Heaven grant that he may use them! But, between us, I don't hope for it."

  Gothon brought in, grumbling, all that was necessary to dress an entirely naked man. But her bad humor did not hold out before the beauty of the Colonel:

  "Poor gentleman!" she exclaimed, "he is young, fresh and fair as a little chicken. If he doesn't revive, it will be a great pity!"

  There were about forty people in the laboratory when Fougas was carried thither. M. Nibor, assisted by M. Martout, placed him on a sofa, and begged a few moments of attentive silence. During these proceedings, Mme. Renault sent to inquire if she could come in. She was admitted.

  "Madame and gentlemen," said Dr. Nibor, "life will manifest itself in a few minutes. It is possible that the muscles will act first, and that their action may be convulsive, on account of not yet being regulated by the influence of the nervous system. I ought to apprise you of this fact, in order that you may not be frightened if such a thing transpires. Madame, being a mother, ought to be less astonished at it than any one else; she has experienced, at the fourth month of pregnancy, the effect of those irregular movements which will, possibly, soon be presented to us on a larger scale. I am quite hopeful, however, that the first spontaneous contractions will take place in the fibres of the heart. Such is the case in the embryo, where the rhythmic movements of the heart, precede the nervous functions."

  He again began making systematic compressions of the lower part of the chest, rubbing the skin with his hands, half opening the eyelids, examining the pulse, and auscultating the region of the heart.

  The attention of the spectators was diverted an instant by a hubbub outside. A battalion of the 23d was passing, with music at the head, through the Rue de la Faisanderie. While the Sax-horns were shaking the windows, a sudden flush mantled on the cheeks of the Colonel. His eyes, which had stood half open, lit up with a brighter sparkle. At the same instant, Doctor Nibor, who had his ear applied to the chest, cried:

  "I hear the beatings of the heart!"

  Scarcely had he spoken, when the chest rose with a violent inspiration, the limbs contracted, the body straightened up, and out came a cry: "Vive l'Empereur."

  But as if so great an effort had overtasked his strength, Colonel Fougas fell back on the sofa, murmuring in a subdued voice:

  "Where am I? Waiter! Bring me a newspaper!"

(End of Chapter 10)

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