EARLY in the reign of Louis Napoleon, a serial story called ‘Tolla,’ a vivid study of social life in Rome, delighted the readers of the Revue Des Deux Mondes. When published in book form in 1855 it drew a storm of opprobrium upon its young author, who was accused of offering as his own creation a translation of the Italian work ‘Vittoria Savorelli.’ This charge, undoubtedly unjust, he indignantly refuted. It served at least to make his name well known. Another book, ’La Question Romaine,’ a brilliant if somewhat superficial argument against the temporal power of pope and priests, was a philosophic employment of the same material. Appearing in 1860, about the epoch of the French invasion of Austrian Italy, its tone agreed with popular sentiment and it was favorably received.
Edmond François Valentin About had a freakish, evasive, many-sided personality, a nature drawn in too many directions to achieve in any one of these the success his talents warranted. He was born in Dreuze, and like most French boys of literary ambition, soon found his way to Paris, where he studied at the Lycée Charlemagne. Here he won the honor prize; and in 1851 was sent to Athens to study archæology at the École Française. He loved change and out-of-the-way experiences, and two studies resulted from this trip: ‘La Grèce Contemporaine,’ a book of charming philosophic description; and the delightful story ‘Le Roi des Montagnes’ (The King of the Mountains). This tale of the long-limbed German student, enveloped in the smoke from his porcelain pipe as he recounts a series of impossible adventures — those of himself and two Englishwomen, captured for ransom by Hadgi Stavros, brigand king in the Grecian mountains, — is especially characteristic of About in the humorous atmosphere of every situation.
About wrote stories so easily and well that his early desertion of fiction is surprising. His mocking spirit has often suggested comparison with Voltaire, whom he studied and admired. He too is a skeptic and an idol-breaker; but his is a kindlier irony, a less incisive philosophy. Perhaps, however, this influence led to lack of faith in his own work, to his loss of an ideal, which Zola thinks the real 35 secret of his sudden change from novelist to journalist. Voltaire taught him to scoff and disbelieve, to demand “à quoi bon?” and that took the heart out of him. He was rather fond of exposing abuses, a habit that appears in those witty letters to the Gaulois which in 1878 obliged him to suspend that journal. His was a positive mind, interested in political affairs, and with something always ready to say upon them. In 1872 he founded a radical newspaper, Le XIXme Siècle (The Nineteenth Century), in association with another aggressive spirit, that of Francisque Sarcey. For many years he proved his ability as editor, business man, and keen polemist.
He tried drama, too, inevitable ambition of young French authors; but after the failure of ‘Guillery’ at the Théâtre Française and ‘Gaétena’ at the Odéon, renounced the theatre. Indeed, his power is in odd conceptions, in the covert laugh and humorous suggestion of the phrasing, rather than in plot or characterization. He will always be best known for the tales and novels in that thoroughly French style — clear, concise, and witty — which in 1878 elected him president of the Société des Gens de Lettres, and in 1884 won him a seat in the Academy.
About wrote a number of novels, most of them as well known in translation to English and American readers as to his French audience. The bright stories originally published in the Moniteur, afterward collected with the title ‘Les Mariages de Paris,’ had a conspicuous success, and were followed by a companion volume, ’Les Mariages de Province.’ ‘’ (The Man with the Broken Ear) — the story of a mummy resuscitated to a world of new conditions after many years of apparent death — shows his freakish delight in oddity. So does ‘Le Nez du Notaire’ (The Notary’s Nose), a gruesome tale of the tribulations of a handsome society man, whose nose is struck off in a duel by a revengeful Turk. The victim buys a bit of living skin from a poor water-carrier, and obtains a new nose by successful grafting. But he can nevermore get rid of the uncongenial Aquarius, who exercises occult influence over the skin with which he has parted. When he drinks too much, the Notary’s nose is red; when he starves, it dwindles away; when he loses the arm from which the graft was made, the important feature drops off altogether, and the sufferer must needs buy a silver one. About’s latest novel, ‘Le Roman d’un Brave Homme’ (The Story of an Honest Man), is in quite another vein, a charming picture of bourgeois virtue in revolutionary days. ‘Madelon’ and ‘La Vielle Roche’ (The Old School) are also popular.
French critics have not found much to say of this non-evolutionist of letters, who is neither pure realist nor pure romanticist, and who has no new theory of art. Some, indeed, may have scorned him for 36 the wise taste which refuses to tread the debatable ground common to French fiction. But the reading public has received him with less conscious analysis, and has delighted in him. If he sees only what any clever man may see, and is no profound psychologist, yet he tells what he sees and what he imagines with delightful spirit and delightful wit, and tinges the fabric of his fancy with the ever-changing colors of his own versatile personality, fanciful suggestions, homely realism, and bright antithesis. Above all, he has the great gift of the story-teller.
I raised my eyes. Two thickets of mastic-trees and arbutus inclosed the road on the right and left. From each tuft of trees protruded three or four musket-barrels. A voice cried out in Greek, “Seat yourselves on the ground!” This operation was the more easy to me, as my legs gave way under me. But I consoled myself by thinking that Ajax, Agamemnon, and the fiery Achilles, if they had found themselves in the same situation, would not have refused the seat that was offered.
The musket-barrels were leveled upon us. It seemed to me that they stretched out immeasurably, and that their muzzles were about to join above our heads. It was not that fear disturbed my vision; but I had never remarked so sensibly the desperate length of the Greek muskets! The whole arsenal soon debouched into the road, and every barrel showed its stock and its master.
The only difference which exists between devils and brigands is, that devils are less black than they are said to be, and brigands more dirty than people suppose. The eight bullies, who packed themselves in a circle around us, were so filthy in appearance that I should have wished to give them my money with a pair of tongs. You might guess, with a little effort, that their caps had been red; but lye-wash itself could not have restored the original color of their clothes. All the rocks of the kingdom had stained their cotton shirts, and their vests preserved a sample of the different soils on which they reposed. Their hands, their faces, and even their moustachios were of a reddish-gray, like the soil which supports them. Every animal is colored according to its abode and its habits: the foxes of Greenland are of the color of snow; 37 lions, of the desert; partridges, of the furrow; Greek brigands, of the highway.
The chief of the little troop which had made us prisoners was distinguished by no outward mark. Perhaps, however, his face, his hands, and his clothes were richer in dust than those of his comrades. He leaned toward us from the height of his tall figure, and examined us so closely that I felt the grazing of his moustachios. You would have pronounced him a tiger, who smells of his prey before tasting it. When his curiosity was satisfied, he said to Dimitri, “Empty your pockets!”
Dimitri did not give him cause to repeat the order: he threw down before him a knife, a tobacco-pouch, and three Mexican dollars, which compose a sum of about sixteen francs.
“Is that all?” demanded the brigand.
“You are the servant?”
“Take back one dollar. You must not return to the city without any money.”
Dimitri haggled. “You could well allow me two,” said he: “I have two horses below; they are hired from the riding-school; I shall have to pay for the day.”
‘You will explain to Zimmerman that we have taken your money from you.”
“And if he wished to be paid, notwithstanding?”
“Answer that he is lucky enough to see his horses again.”
“He knows very well that you do not take horses. What would you do with them in the mountains?”
“Enough! What is this big raw-boned animal next you?”
I answered for myself: “An honest German, whose spoils will not enrich you.”
“You speak Greek well. Empty your pockets.”
I deposited on the road a score of francs, my tobacco, my pipe, and my handkerchief.
“What is that?” asked the grand inquisitor.
“For what purpose?”
“To wipe my nose.”
“Why did you tell me that you were poor? It is only milords who wipe their noses with handkerchiefs. Take off the box which you have behind your back. Good! Open it!”38
My box contained some plants, a book, a knife, a little package of arsenic, a gourd nearly empty, and the remnants of my breakfast, which kindled a look of covetousness in the eyes of Mrs. Simons. I had the assurance to offer them to her before my baggage changed masters. She accepted greedily, and began to devour the bread and meat. To my great astonishment, this act of gluttony scandalized our robbers, who murmured among themselves the word “Schismatic!” The monk made half a dozen signs of the cross, according to the rite of the Greek Church.
“You must have a watch,” said the brigand: “put it with the rest.”
I gave up my silver watch, a hereditary toy of the weight of four ounces. The villains passed it from hand to hand, and thought it very beautiful. I was in hopes that admiration, which makes men better, would dispose them to restore me something, and I begged their chief to let me have my tin box. He imposed silence upon me roughly. “At least,” said I, “give me back two crowns for my return to the city!” He answered with a sardonic smile, “You will not have need of them.”
The turn of Mrs. Simons had come. Before putting her hand in her pocket, she warned our conquerors in the language of her fathers. The English is one of those rare idioms which one can speak with a mouth full. “Reflect well on what you are going to do,” said she, in a menacing tone. “I am an Englishwoman, and English subjects are inviolable in all the countries of the world. What you will take from me will serve you little, and will cost you dear. England will avenge me, and you will all be hanged, to say the least. Now if you wish my money, you have only to speak; but it will burn your fingers: it is English money!”
“What does she say?” asked the spokesman of the brigands.
Dimitri answered, “She says that she is English.”
“So much the better! All the English are rich. Tell her to do as you have done.”
The poor lady emptied on the sand a purse, which contained twelve sovereigns. As her watch was not in sight, and as they made no show of searching us, she kept it. The clemency of the conquerors left her her pocket-handkerchief.
Mary Ann threw down her watch, with a whole bunch of charms against the evil eye. She cast before her, by a movement full of mute grace, a shagreen bag, which she carried in her belt. The brigand opened it with the eagerness of a custom-house 39 officer. He drew from it a little English dressing-case, a vial of English salts, a box of pastilles of English mint, and a hundred and some odd francs in English money.
“Now,” said the impatient beauty, “you can let us go: we have nothing more for you.” They indicated to her, by a menacing gesture, that the session was not ended. The chief of the band squatted down before our spoils, called “the good old man,” counted the money in his presence, and delivered to him the sum of forty-five francs. Mrs. Simons nudged me on the elbow. “You see,” said she, “the monk and Dimitri have betrayed us: he is dividing the spoils with them.”
“No, madam,” replied I, immediately, “Dimitri has received a mere pittance from that which they had stolen from him. It is a thing which is done everywhere. On the banks of the Rhine, when a traveler is ruined at roulette, the conductor of the game gives him something wherewith to return home.”
“But the monk?”
“He has received a tenth part of the booty in virtue of an immemorial custom. Do not reproach him, but rather be thankful to him for having wished to save us, when his convent was interested in our capture.”
This discussion was interrupted by the farewells of Dimitri. They had just set him at liberty.
“Wait for me,” said I to him: “we will return together.” He shook his head sadly, and answered me in English, so as to be understood by the ladies: —
“You are prisoners for some days, and you will not see Athens again before paying a ransom. I am going to inform the milord. Have these ladies any messages to give me for him?”
“Tell him,” cried Mrs. Simons, “to run to the embassy, to go then to the Piræus and find the admiral, to complain at the foreign office, to write to Lord Palmerston! They shall take us away from here by force of arms, or by public authority, but I do not intend that they shall disburse a penny for my liberty.”
“As for me,” replied I, without so much passion, “I beg you to tell my friends in what hands you have left me. If some hundreds of drachmas are necessary to ransom a poor devil of a naturalist, they will find them without trouble. These gentlemen of the highway cannot rate me very high. I have a mind, while you are still here, to ask them what I am worth at the lowest price.”40
“It would be useless, my dear Mr. Hermann! It is not they who fix the figures of your ransom.”
“And who then?”
“Their chief, Hadgi-Stavros.”
“T HE camp of the King was a plateau, covering a surface of seven or eight hundred metres. I looked in vain for the tents of our conquerors. The brigands are not sybarites, and they sleep under the open sky on the 30th of April. I saw neither spoils heaped up nor treasures displayed, nor any of those things which one expects to find at the headquarters of a band of robbers. Hadgi-Stavros makes it his business to have the booty sold; every man receives his pay in money, and employs it as he chooses. Some make investments in commerce, others take mortgages on houses in Athens, others buy land in their villages; no one squanders the products of robbery. Our arrival interrupted the breakfast of twenty-five or thirty men, who flocked around us with their bread and cheese. The chief supports his soldiers; there is distributed to them every day one ration of bread, oil, wine, cheese, caviare, allspice, bitter olives, and meat when their religion permits it. The epicures who wish to eat mallows or other herbs are at liberty to gather delicacies in the mountains.
The office of the King was as much like an office as the camp of the robbers was like a camp. Neither tables nor chairs nor movables of any sort were to be seen there. Hadgi-Stavros was seated cross-legged on a square carpet in the shade of a fir-tree. Four secretaries and two servants were grouped around him. A boy of sixteen or eighteen was occupied incessantly in filling, lighting, and cleaning the chibouk of his master. He carried in his belt a tobacco-pouch, embroidered with gold and fine mother-of-pearl, and a pair of silver pincers intended for taking up coals. Another servant passed the day in preparing cups of coffee, glasses of water, and sweetmeats to refresh the royal mouth. The secretaries, seated on the bare rock, wrote on their knees, with pens made of reeds. Each of them had at hand a long copper box containing reeds, penknife, and inkhorn. Some tin cylinders, 41 like those in which our soldiers roll up their discharges, served as a depository for the archives. The paper was not of native manufacture, and for a good reason. Every leaf bore the word BATH in capital letters.
The King was a fine old man, marvelously well preserved, straight, slim, supple as a spring, spruce and shining as a new sabre. His long white moustachios hung under his chin like two marble stalactites. The rest of his face was carefully shaved, the skull bare even to the occiput, where a long tress of white hair was rolled up under his hat. The expression of his features appeared to me calm and thoughtful. A pair of small, clear blue eyes and a square chin announced an indomitable will. His face was long, and the position of the wrinkles lengthened it still more. All the creases of the forehead were broken in the middle, and seemed to direct themselves toward the meeting of the eyebrows; two wide and deep furrows descended perpendicularly to the corners of the lips, as if the weight of the moustachios had drawn in the muscles of the face.
I have a seen a good many septuagenarians; I have even dissected one who would have reached a hundred years, if the diligence of Osnabrück had not passed over his body: but I do not remember to have observed a more green and robust old age than that of Hadgi-Stavros. He wore the dress of Tino and of all the islands of the Archipelago. His red cap formed a large crease at its base around his forehead. He had a vest of black cloth, faced with black silk, immense blue pantaloons which contained more than twenty metres of cotton cloth, and great boots of Russia leather, elastic and stout. The only rich thing in his costume was a scarf embroidered with gold and precious stones, which might be worth two or three thousand francs. It inclosed in its folds an embroidered cashmere purse, a Damascus sanjar in a silver sheath, a long pistol mounted in gold and rubies, and the appropriate baton.
Quietly seated in the midst of his employees, Hadgi-Stavros moved only the ends of his fingers and his lips; the lips to dictate his correspondence, the fingers to count the beads in his chaplet. It was one of those beautiful chaplets of milky amber which do not serve to number prayers, but to amuse the solemn idleness of the Turk.
He raised his head at our approach, guessed at a glace the occurrence which had brought us thee, and said to us, with a 42 gravity which had in it nothing ironical, “You are welcome! Be seated.”
“Sir,” cried Mrs. Simons, “I am an Englishwoman, and —” He interrupted the discourse by making his tongue smack against the teeth of his upper jaw — superb teeth, indeed! “Presently,” said he; “I am occupied.” He understood only Greek, and Mrs. Simons knew only English; but the physiognomy of the King was so speaking that the good lady comprehended easily without the aid of an interpreter.
“LÉON took his bunch of keys and opened the long oak box on which he had been seated. The lid being raised, they saw a great leaden casket which inclosed a magnificent walnut box carefully polished on the outside, lined on the inside with white silk, and padded.
The others brought their lamps and candles near, and the colonel of the Twenty-third of the line appeared as if her were in a chapel illuminated for his lying in state.
One would have said that the man was asleep. The perfect preservation of the body attested the paternal care of the murderer. It was truly a remarkable preparation, and would have borne comparison with the finest European mummies described by Vicq d’Azyr in 1779, and by the younger Puymaurin in 1787. The part best preserved, as is always the case, was the face. All the features had maintained a proud and manly expression. If any old friend of the colonel had been at the opening of the third box, he would have recognized him at first sight. Undoubtedly the point of the noise was a little sharper, the nostrils less expanded and thinner, and the bridge a little more marked, than in the year 1813. The eyelids were thinned, the lips pinched, the corners of the mouth drawn down, the cheek bones too prominent, and the neck visibly shrunken, which exaggerated the prominence of the chin and larynx. But the eyelids were closed without contraction, and the sockets much less hollow than one could have expected; the mouth as not at all distorted, like the mouth 43 of a corpse; the skin was slightly wrinkled, but had not changed color, — it had only become a little more transparent, showing after a fashion the color of the tendons, the fat, and the muscles, wherever it rested directly upon them. It also had a rosy tint which is not ordinarily seen in embalmed corpses. Dr Martout explained this anomaly by saying that if the colonel had actually been dried alive, the globules of the blood were not decomposed, but simply collected in the capillary vessels of the skin and subjacent tissues, where they still preserved their proper color, and could be seen more easily than otherwise on account of the semi-transparency of the skin.
The uniform had become much too large, as may be readily understood, though it did not seem at a casual glance that the members had become deformed. The hands were dry and angular, but the nails, although a little bent inward toward the root, had preserved all their freshness. The only very noticeable change was the excessive depression of the abdominal walls, which seemed crowded downward to the posterior side; at the right, a slight elevation indicated the place of the liver. A tap of the finger on the various parts of the body produced a sound like that from dry leather. While Léon was pointing out these details to his audience and doing the honors of his mummy, he awkwardly broke off the lower part of the right ear, and a little piece of the colonel remained in his hand. This trifling accident might have passed unnoticed had not Clémentine, who followed with visible emotion all the movements of her lover, dropped her candle and uttered a cry of affright. All gathered around her. Léon took her in his arms and carried her to a chair. M. Renault ran after salts. She was as pale as death, and seemed on the point of fainting. She was soon recovered, however, and reassured them all by a charming smile.
“Pardon me,” she said, “for such a ridiculous exhibition of terror; but what Monsieur Léon was saying to us — and then — that figure which seemed sleeping — it appeared to me that the poor man was going to open his mouth and cry out, when he was injured.”
Léon hastened to close the walnut box, while M. Martout picked up the piece of ear and put it in his pocket. But Clémentine, while continuing to smile and make apologies, was overcome by a fresh access of emotion and melted into tears. The engineer threw himself at her feet, poured forth excuses 44 and tender phrases, and did all he could to console her inexplicable grief.
Clémentine dried her eyes, looked prettier than ever, and sighed fit to break her heart, without knowing why.
“Beast that I am!” muttered Léon, tearing his hair. “On the day when I see her again after three years’ absence, I can think of nothing more soul-inspiring than showing her mummies!” He launched a kick at the triple coffin of the colonel, saying, “I wish the devil had the confounded colonel!”
“No!” cried Clémentine, with redoubled energy and emotion. “Do not curse him, Monsieur Léon! He has suffered so much! Ah! poor, poor, unfortunate man!”
Mlle. Sambucco felt a little ashamed. She made excuses for her niece, and declared that never, since her tenderest childhood, had she manifested such extreme sensitiveness. . . .
“This will teach us,” said the aunt, “what staying up after ten o’clock does. What! it is midnight, within a quarter of an hour! Come, my child; you will recover fast enough after you get to bed.”
Clémentine arose submissively; but at the moment of leaving the laboratory she retraced her steps, and with a caprice more inexplicable than her grief, she absolutely demanded to see the mummy of the colonel again. Her aunt scolded in vain; in spite of the remarks of Mlle. Sambucco and all the others present, she reopened the walnut box, knelt down beside the mummy and kissed it on the forehead.
“Poor man!” said she, rising. “How cold he is! Monsieur Léon, promise me that if he is dead you will have him laid in consecrated ground!”
“As you please, mademoiselle. I intended to send him to the anthropological museum, with my father’s permission; but you know that we can refuse you nothing.”
THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY
“FORTHWITH the colonel marched and opened the window with a precipitation which upset the gazers among the crowd.
“People,” said he, “I have knocked down a hundred beggarly pandours, who respect neither sex nor infirmity. For the benefit 45 of those who are not satisfied, I will state that I call myself Colonel Fougas of the Twenty-third. And Vive l’Empéreur!”
A confused mixture of plaudits, cries, laughs, and jeers answered this unprecedented allocution. Léon Renault hastened out to make apologies to all to whom they were due. He invited a few friends to dine the same evening with the terrible colonel, and of course he did not forget to send a special messenger to Clémentine. Fougas, after speaking to the people, returned to his hosts, swinging himself along with a swaggering air, set himself astride a chair, took hold of the ends of his mustache, and said; —
“Well! Come, let’s talk this over. I’ve been sick, then?”
“That’s incredible! I feel entirely well; I’m hungry; and moreover, while waiting for dinner I’ll try a glass of your schnick.”
Mme. Renault went out, gave an order, and returned in an instant.
“But tell me, then, where I am?” resumed the colonel. “By these paraphernalia of work, I recognize a disciple of Urania; possibly a friend of Monge and Berthollet. But the cordial friendliness impressed on your countenances proves to me that you are not natives of this land of sauerkraut. Yes, I believe it from the beatings of my heart. Friends, we have the same fatherland. The kindness of your reception, even were there no other indications, would have satisfied me that you are French. What accidents have brought you so far from our native soil? Children of my country, what tempest has thrown you upon this inhospitable shore?”
“My dear colonel,” replied M. Nibor, “if you want to become very wise, you will not ask so many questions at once. Allow us the pleasure of instructing you quietly and in order, for you have a great many things to learn.”
The colonel flushed with anger, and answered sharply: —
“At all events, you are not the man to teach them to me, my little gentleman!”
A drop of blood which fell on his hand changed the current of his thoughts.
“Hold on!” said he: “am I bleeding?”
“That will amount to nothing: circulation is re-established, and — your broken ear —”
He quickly carried his hand to his ear, and said: —
“It’s certainly so. But devil take me if I recollect this accident!”46
“I’ll make you a little dressing, and in a couple of days there will be no trace of it left.”
“Don’t give yourself the trouble, my dear Hippocrates: a pinch of powder is a sovereign cure!”
M. Nibor set to work to dress the ear in a little less military fashion. During his operations Léon re-entered.
“Ah! ah!” said he to the doctor: “you are repairing the harm I did.”
“Thunderation!” cried Fougas, escaping from the hands of M. Nibor so as to seize Léon by the collar, “was it you, you rascal, that hurt my ear?”
Léon was very good-natured, but his patience failed him. He pushed his man roughly aside.
“Yes, sir: it was I who tore your ear, in pulling it: and if that little misfortune had not happened to me, it is certain that you would have been to-day six feet under ground. It is I who saved your life, after buying you with my money when you were not valued at over twenty-five louis. It is I who have passed three days and two nights in cramming charcoal under your boiler. It is my father who gave you the clothes you have on. You are in our house. Drink the little glass of brandy Gothon just brought you; but for God’s sake give up the habit of calling me rascal, of calling my mother ‘Good Mother,’ and of flinging our friends into the street, and calling them beggarly pandours!”
The colonel, all dumfounded, held out his hand to Léon, M. Renault, and the doctor, gallantly kissed the hand of Mme. Renault, swallowed at a gulp a claret glass filled to the brim with brandy, and said, in a subdued voice: —
“Most excellent friends, forget the vagaries of an impulsive but generous soul. To subdue my passions shall hereafter be my law. After conquering all the nations in the universe, it is well to conquer one’s self.”
This said, he submitted his ear to M. Nibor, who finished dressing it.
“But,” said he, summoning up his recollections, “they did not shoot me, then?”
“And I wasn’t frozen to death in the tower?”
“Why has my uniform been taken off? I see! I am a prisoner!”47
“You are free.”
“Free! Vive l’Empéreur! But then there’s not a moment to lose! How many leagues is it to Dantzic?”
“It’s very far.”
“What do you call this chicken coop of a town?”
“Fontainebleau! In France?”
“Préfecture of Seine-et-Marne. We are going to introduce to you the sub-préfect, whom you just pitched into the street.”
“What the devil are you sub-préfects to me? I have a message from the Emperor to General Rapp, and I must start this very day for Dantzic. God knows whether I’ll be there in time!”
“My poor colonel, you will arrive too late: Dantzic is given up.”
“That’s impossible! Since when?”
“About forty-six years ago.”
“Thunder! I did not understand that you were — mocking me!”
M. Nibor placed in his hand a calendar, and said, “See for yourself! It is now the 17th of August, 1859; you went to sleep in the tower of Liebenfeld on the 11th of November, 1813; there have been, then, forty-six years, within three months, during which the world has moved on without you.”
“Twenty-four and forty-six: but then I would be seventy years old, according to your statement!”
“Your vitality clearly shows that you are still twenty-four.”
He shrugged his shoulders, tore up the calendar, and said, beating the floor with his foot, “Your almanac is a humbug!”
M. Renault ran to his library, took up half a dozen books at haphazard, and made him read, at the foot of the title-pages, the dates 1826, 1833, 1847, and 1858.
“Pardon me!” said Fougas, burying his head in his hands. “What has happened to me is so new! I do not think that another human being was ever subjected to such a trial. I am seventy years old!”
Good Mme. Renault went and got a looking-glass from the bath-room and gave it to him, saying: —
He took the glass in both hands and was silently occupied in resuming acquaintance with himself, when a hand-organ came into the court and began playing ‘Partant pour la Syrie.’48
Fougas threw the mirror to the ground and cried out: —
“What is that you are telling me? I hear the little song of Queen Hortense!”
M. Renault patiently explained to him, while picking up the pieces of the mirror, that the pretty little song of Queen Hortense had become a national air, and even an official one, since the regimental bands has substituted that gentle melody for the fierce ‘Marseillaise’; and that our soldiers, strange to say, had not fought any the worse for it. But the colonel had already opened the window, and was crying out to the Savoyard with the organ: —
“Eh! Friend! A napoleon for you if you will tell me in what year I am drawing the breath of life!”
The artist began dancing as lightly as possible, playing on his musical instrument.
“Advance at the order!” cried the colonel, “and keep that devilish machine still!”
“A little penny, my good monsieur!”
“It is not a penny that I’ll give you, but a napoleon, if you’ll tell what year it is.”
“Oh, but that’s funny! Hi-hi-hi!”
“And if you don’t tell me quicker than this amounts to, I’ll cut your ears off!”
The Savoyard ran away, but he came back pretty soon, having meditated, during his flight, on the maxim ‘Nothing risk, nothing gain.”
“Monsieur,” said he, in a wheedling voice, “this is the year eighteen hundred and fifty-nine.”
“Good!” cried Fougas. He felt in his pockets for money, and found nothing there. Léon saw his predicament, and flung twenty francs into the court. Before shutting the window, he pointed out, to the right, the façade of a pretty little new building, where the colonel could distinctly read: —
A perfectly satisfactory piece of evidence, and one which did not cost twenty francs.
Fougas, a little confused, pressed Léon’s hand and said to him: —49
“My friend, I do not forget that Confidence is the first duty from Gratitude toward Beneficence. But tell me of our country! I tread the sacred soil where I received my being, and I am ignorant of the career of my native land. France is still the queen of the world, is she not?”
“Certainly,” said Léon.
“How is the Emperor?”
“And the Empress?”
“And the King of Rome?”
“The Prince Imperial? He is a very fine child.”
“How? A fine child! And you have the face to say that this is 1859!”
M. Nibor took up the conversation, and explained in a few words that the reigning sovereign of France was not Napoleon I., but Napoleon III.
“But then,” cried Fougas, “my Emperor is dead!”
“Impossible! Tell me anything you will but that! My Emperor is immortal.”
M. Nibor and the Renaults, who were not quite professional historians, were obliged to give him a summary of the history of our century. Some one went after a big book, written by M. de Norvins and illustrated with fine engravings by Raffet. He only believed in the presence of Truth when he could touch her with his hand, and still cried out almost every moment, “That’s impossible! This is not history that you are reading to me: it is a romance written to make soldiers weep!”
This young man must indeed have had a strong and well-tempered soul; for he learned in forty minutes all the woful events which Fortune had scattered through eighteen years, from the first abdication up to the death of the King of Rome. Less happy than his old companions in arms, he had no interval of repose between these terrible and repeated shocks, all beating upon his heart at the same time. One could have feared that the blow might prove mortal, and poor Fougas die in the first hour of his recovered life. But the imp of a fellow yielded and recovered himself in quick succession like a spring. He cried out with admiration on hearing of the five battles of the campaign in France; he reddened with grief at the farewells of Fontainebleau. 50 The return from the Isle of Elba transfigured his handsome and noble countenance; at Waterloo his heart rushed in with the last army of the Empire, and there shattered itself. Then he clenched his fists and said between his teeth, “If I had been there at the head of the Twenty-Third, Blücher and Wellington would have seen another fate!” The invasion, the truce, the martyr of St. Helena, the ghastly terror of Europe, the murder of Murat, — the idol of the cavalry, — the deaths of Ney, Bruno, Mouton-Duvernet, and so many other whole-souled men whom he had known, admired, and loved, threw him into a series of paroxysms of rage; but nothing crushed him. In hearing of the death of Napoleon, he swore that he would eat the heart of England; the slow agony of the pale and interesting heir of the Empire inspired him with a passion to tear the vitals out of Austria. When the drama was over, and the curtain fell on Schöbrunn, he dashed away his tears and said, “It is well. I have lived in a moment a man’s entire life. Now show me the map of France!”
Léon began to turn over the leaves of an old atlas, while M. Renault attempted to continue narrating to the colonel the history of the Restoration, and of the monarchy of 1830. But Fougas’s interest was in other things.
“What do I care,” said he, “if a couple of hundred babblers of deputies put one king in place of another? Kings! I’ve seen enough of them in the dirt. If the Empire had lasted ten years longer, I could have had a king for a bootblack.”
When the atlas was placed before him, he at once cried out with profound disdain, “That France?” But soon two tears of pitying affection, escaping from his eyes, swelled the rivers Ardèche and Gironde. He kissed the map and said, with an emotion which communicated itself to nearly all those who were present: —
“Forgive me, poor old love, for insulting your misfortunes. Those scoundrels whom we always have whipped have profited by my sleep to pare down your frontiers; but little or great, rich or poor, you are my mother, and I love you as a faithful son! Here is Corsica, where the giant of our age was born; here is Toulouse, where I first saw the light; here is Nancy, where I felt my heart awakened — where, perhaps, she whom I call my Æglé waits for me still! France! Thou hast a temple in my soul; this arm is thine; thou shalt find me ever ready to shed my blood to the last drop in defending or avenging thee!”