From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume I, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 20-34.
ABOUT, EDMOND-FRANÇOIS-VALENTIN, a French novelist, journalist, and dramatist; born at Dieuze, department of Meurthe, February 14, 1828; died in Paris, January 17, 1885. In 1848 he won the prize of honor at the Lycée Charlemagne, and in 1851 was sent to the French School at Athens, Greece, where he devoted himself to archæological studies. In 1855 he wrote “La Grèce Contemporaine;” and in the same year published “Tolla,” a novel, which was charged with being a plagiarism. He received the decoration of the Legend of Honor in 1858; and in the following year he put forth at Brussels the “Roman Question,” — which was said to have been inspired by the Emperor Napoleon III., — in which he advocated the abolition of the temporal power of the Pope. In 1866 M. About was commissioned by the Emperor to draw up a report on the state of public opinion in France. Upon the breaking out of the Franco-German war he became war correspondent of the newspaper “Le Soir,” and his letters attracted much attention. In 1872 he became editor of the Radical journal “Le XIXe Siècle,” and in the autumn of that year was arrested at Strasbourg by the Germans, in consequence of his work entitled “Alsace.” The works of M. About cover a wide range of topics, including fiction, the drama, and politics; and many of them have been translated into English.
ON this 20th day of January, 1824, being worn down by a cruel malady and feeling the approach of the time when my person shall be absorbed in the Great All:
With my own hand I have written this will, which is the expression of my last wishes.
My nephew Nicholas Meiser, a wealthy brewer in the city of Dantzic, I appoint as executor.
My books, papers, and scientific collections of all kinds, except item 3712, I bequeath to my very estimable and learned friend, Herr von Humboldt.
I bequeath all the rest of my effects, real and personal, valued at 100,000 Prussian thalers, or 375,000 francs, to Colonel Pierre 21 Victor Fougas, at present desiccated, but living, and entered in my catalogue opposite No. 3712 (Zoölogy).
I trust that he will accept this feeble compensation for the trials he has suffered in my laboratory, and the service he has rendered to science.
Finally, in order that my nephew Nicholas Meiser may exactly understand the duties I leave him to perform, I have resolved to inscribe here a detailed account of the desiccation of Colonel Fougas, my sole heir.
On November 11 of that unhappy year 1813, began my relations with this brave young man. I had long since left Dantzic, where the noise of cannon and the danger from bombs had rendered all labor impossible, and retired with my instruments and books under protection of the Allied Armies in the fortified town of Liebenfeld. The French garrisons of Dantzic, Stettin, Custrin, Glogau, Hamburg, and several other German towns could not communicate with each other or with their native land; meanwhile General Rapp was obstinately defending himself against the English fleet and the Russian army. Colonel Fougas was taken by a detachment of the Barclay de Tolly corps, as he was trying to pass the Vistula on the ice, on the way to Dantzic. They brought him prisoner to Liebenfeld on the 11th of November, just at my supper time, and Sergeant Garok, who commanded in the village, forced me to be present at the examination and act as an interpreter.
The unfortunate young man’s open countenance, manly voice, proud dignity, and fine carriage won my heart. He had made the sacrifice of his life. His only regret, he said, was having stranded so near port, after passing through four armies; and being unable to carry out the Emperor’s orders. He appeared animated by that French fanaticism which has done so much harm to our beloved Germany. Nevertheless, I could not help defending him; and I translated his words less as an interpreter than as an advocate. Unhappily, they found on him a letter from Napoleon to General Rapp, of which I preserved a copy: —
“Abandon Dantzic; break the blockade; unite with the garrisons of Stettin, Custrin, and Glogau; march along the Elbe; arrange with St. Cyr and Davoust to concentrate the forces scattered at Dresden, Forgau, Wittenberg, Magdeburg, and Hamburg; rollup an army like a snowball; cross Westphalia, which is open, and come to defend the line of the Rhine with an army of 170,000 Frenchmen which you will have saved!
This letter was sent to the headquarters of the Russian army, while a half-dozen illiterate soldiers, drunk with joy and bad brandy, condemned the brave Colonel of the 23d of the line to the death of a spy and a traitor. The execution was fixed for the next day, the 12th, and M. Pierre Victor Fougas, after having thanked and embraced me with the most touching sensibility (he is a husband and a father), was shut up in the little battlemented tower of Liebenfeld, where the wind whistles terribly through all the loopholes.
The night of the 11th and 12th of November was one of the severest of that terrible winter. My self-registering thermometer, which hung outside my window with a southeast exposure, marked nineteen degrees below zero, centigrade. I went early in the morning to bid the Colonel a last farewell, and met Sergeant Garok, who said to me in bad German: —
“We won’t have to kill the Frantzuski, he is frozen to death.”
I ran to the prison. The Colonel was lying on his back, rigid. But I found after a few minutes’ examination that the rigidity of the body was not that of death. The joints, though they had not their ordinary suppleness, could be bent and extended without any great effort. The limbs, the face, and the chest gave my hands a sensation of cold, but very different from that which I had often experienced from contact with corpses.
The Colonel had reached that point of torpor produced by cold, where to revive a man without causing him to die requires numerous and delicate attentions. Some hours after, congelation would supervene, and with it, impossibility of restoration to life.
I was in the greatest perplexity. On the one hand I knew that he was dying on my hands by congelation; on the other, I could not, by myself, bestow upon him the attentions that were indispensable. If I were to administer the stimulants without having him, at the same time, rubbed on the trunk and limbs by three or four vigorous attendants, I should revive him only to see him die.
And even if I should succeed in bringing him back to health and strength, was not he condemned by court-martial? Did not humanity forbid my rousing him from this repose akin to death, to deliver him to the horrors of execution?
I must confess that in the presence of this organism where life was suspended, my ideas on reanimation took, as it were, fresh hold upon me. I had so often desiccated and revived beings quite elevated in the animal scale, that I did not doubt 23 the success of the operation, even on a man. By myself alone I could not revive and save the Colonel; but I had in my laboratory all the instruments necessary to desiccate him without assistance.
To sum up, three alternatives offered themselves to me. I. To leave the Colonel in the crenellated tower, where he would have died the same day of congelation. II. To revive him by stimulants, at the risk of killing him. And for what? To give him up, in case of success, to inevitable execution. III. To desiccate him in my laboratory with the quasi certainty of resuscitating him after the restoration of peace. All friends of humanity will doubtless comprehend that I could not hesitate long.
I had Sergeant Garok called, and I begged him to sell me the body of the Colonel. It was not the first time that I had bought a corpse for dissection, so my request excited no suspicion. The bargain concluded, I gave him four bottles of kirschwasser, and soon two Russian soldiers brought me Colonel Fougas on a stretcher.
As soon as I was alone with him, I pricked one of his fingers: pressure forced out a drop of blood. To place it under a microscope between two plates of glass was the work of a minute. Oh, joy! The fibrin was not coagulated. I was not deceived then, it was a torpid man that I had under my eyes, and not a dead one!
I placed him on a pair of scales. He weighed one hundred and forty pounds, clothing included. I did not care to undress him, for I had noticed that animals desiccated directly in contact with the air died oftener than those which remained covered with moss and other soft materials during the ordeal of desiccation . . . .
I shut myself up tête-a-tête with the Colonel, and took care that even old Gretchen, my housekeeper, now deceased, should not trouble me during my work. I had substituted for the wearisome lever of the old-fashioned air-pumps a wheel arranged with an eccentric, which transformed the circular movement of the axis into the rectilinear movement required by the pistons: the wheel, the eccentric, the connecting rod, and the joints of the apparatus all worked admirably, and enabled me to do everything by myself. The cold did not impede the play of the machine, and the lubricating oil was not gummed: I had refined it myself by a new process 24 founded on the then recent discoveries of the French savant, Mr. Chevreul.
Having extended the body on the platform of the air-pump, lowered the receiver and luted the rim, I undertook to submit it gradually to the influence of a dry vacuum and cold. Capsules filled with chloride of calcium were placed around the Colonel to absorb the water which should evaporate from the body, and to promote the desiccation.
I certainly found myself in the best possible situation for subjecting the human body to a process of gradual desiccation without sudden interruption of the functions, or disorganization of the tissues or fluids. Seldom had my experiments on rotifers and tardigrades been surrounded by equal chances of success, yet they had always succeeded. But the particular nature of the subject, and the special scruples imposed upon my conscience, obliged me to employ a certain number of new conditions, which I had long since, in other connections, foreseen the expediency of. I had taken the pains to arrange an opening at each end of my oval receiver, and fit into it a heavy glass, which enabled me to follow with my eye the effects of the vacuum on the Colonel. I was entirely prevented from shutting the windows of my laboratory, from fear that a too elevated temperature might put an end to the lethargy of the subject, or induce some change in the fluids. If a thaw had come on, all would have been over with my experiment. But the thermometer kept for several days between six and eight degrees below zero, and I was very happy in seeing the lethargic sleep continue, without having to fear congelation of the tissues. . . .
Several times, too rapid a protrusion of the abdomen put me on my guard against the danger which I feared, and I was obliged to let in a little air under the receiver. At last, the cessation of all phenomena of this kind satisfied me that the gases had disappeared by exosmose or had been expelled by the spontaneous contraction of the viscera. It was not until the end of the first day that I could give up these minute precautions, and carry the vacuum a little further.
The next day, the 13th, I pushed the vacuum to a point where the barometer fell to five millimeters. As no change had taken place in the position of the body or limbs, I was sure that no convulsion had been produced. The Colonel had been desiccated, had become immobile, had lost the power of performing the functions of life, without death having supervened, 25 and without the possibility of returning to activity having departed. His life was suspended, not extinguished.
Each time that a surplus of watery vapor caused the barometer to ascend, I pumped. On the 14th, the door of my laboratory was literally broken in by the Russian General, Count Trollohub, who had been sent from headquarters. This distinguished officer had run in all haste to prevent the execution of the Colonel and to conduct him into the presence of the Commander-in-Chief. I loyally confessed to him what I had done under the inspiration of my conscience; I showed him the body through one of the bull’s-eyes of the air-pump; I told him that I was happy to have preserved a man who could furnish useful information to the liberators of my country; and I offered to resuscitate him at many own expense if they would promise me to respect his life and liberty. The General, Count Trollohub, unquestionably a distinguished man, but one of an exclusively military education, thought that I was not speaking seriously. He went out slamming the door in my face, and treating me like an old fool.
I set myself to pumping again, and kept the vacuum at a pressure of from three to five millimeters for the space of three months. I knew by experience that animals can revive after being submitted of a dry vacuum and cold for eighty days.
On the 12th of February, 1814, having observed that for a month no modification had taken place in the shrinking of the flesh, I resolved to submit the Colonel to another series of operations, in order to insure more perfect preservation by complete desiccation. I let the air re-enter by the stopcock arranged for the purpose, and, after raising the receiver, proceeded at once with my experiment.
The body did not weigh more than forty-six pounds; I had then reduced it nearly to a third of its original weight. It should be borne in mind that the clothing had not lost as much water as the other parts. Now the human body contains nearly four-fifths of its own weight of water, as is proved by a desiccation thoroughly made in a chemical drying furnace.
I accordingly placed the Colonel on a tray, and, after sliding it into my great furnace, gradually raised the temperature to seventy-five degrees, centigrade. I did not dare to go beyond this heat, from fear of altering the albumen and rendering it insoluble, and also of taking away from the tissues the capacity of reabsorbing the water necessary to a return to their functions.26
I had taken care to arrange a convenient apparatus so that the furnace was constantly traversed by a current of dry air. This air was dried in traversing a series of jars filled with sulphuric acid, quicklime, and chloride of calcium.
After a week passed in the furnace, the general appearance of the body had not changed, but its weight was reduced to forty pounds, clothing included. Eight days more brought no new decrease of weight. From this, I concluded that the desiccation was sufficient. I knew very well that corpses mummified in church vaults for a century or more end by weighing no more than a half-score of pounds, but they do not become so light without a material alteration in their tissues.
On the 27th of February, I myself placed the Colonel in the boxes which I had had made for his occupancy. Since that time, that is to say during a space of nine years and eleven months, we have never been separated. I carried him with me to Dantzic. He stays in my house. I have never placed him, according to his number, in my zoölogical collection; he remains by himself, in the chamber of honor. I do not grant any one the pleasure of re-using his chloride of calcium. I will take care of you till my dying day, O Colonel Fougas, dear and unfortunate friend! But I shall not have the joy of witnessing your resurrection. I shall not share the delightful emotions of the warrior returning to life. Your lachrymal glands, inert to-day, but some day to be reanimated, will not pour upon the bosom of your old benefactor the sweet dew of recognition. For you will not recover your life until a day when mine will have long since departed! Perhaps you will be astonished that I, loving you as I do, should have so long delayed to draw you out of this profound slumber. Who knows but that some bitter reproach may come to taint the tenderness of the first offices of gratitude that you will perform over my tomb! Yes! I have prolonged, without any benefit to you, an experiment of general interest to others. I ought to have remained faithful to my first intention, and restored your life, immediately after the signature of peace. But what! Was it well to send you back to France when the sun of your fatherland was obscured by our soldiers and allies? I have spared you that spectacle — one so grievous to such a soul as yours. Without doubt you would have had, in March, 1815, the consolation of again seeing that fatal man to whom you had consecrated your devotion; but are you entirely sure 27 that you would not have been swallowed up with his fortune, in the shipwreck of Waterloo? . . .
Rest content! You will not have long to wait, and, moreover, what do you lose by waiting? You do not grow old, you are always twenty-four years of age; your children are growing up, you will be almost their contemporary when you come to life again. You came to Liebenfeld poor, you are now in my house poor, and my will makes you rich. That you may be happy also, is my dearest wish.
I direct that, the day after my death, my nephew, Nicholas Meiser, shall call together, by letter, the ten physicians most illustrious in the kingdom of Prussia, that he shall read to them my will and the annexed memorandum, and that he shall cause them to proceed without delay, in my own laboratory, to the resuscitation of Colonel Fougas. The expenses of travel, maintenance, etc., etc., shall be deducted from the assets of my estate. The sum of two thousand thalers shall be devoted to the publication of the glorious results of the experiment, in German, French, and Latin. A copy of this pamphlet shall be sent to each of the learned societies then existing in Europe.
In the entirely unexpected event of the efforts of science being unable to reanimate the Colonel, all my effects shall revert to Nicholas Meiser, my sole surviving relative.
JOHN MEISER, M.D.
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 enclosed 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 he 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 28 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 was not at all distorted, like the mouth 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.29
“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 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. . . . Clémentine was no sensitive plant. She was not even a romantic schoolgirl. Her youth had not been nourished by Anne Radcliffe, she did not trouble herself about ghosts, and she would go through the house very tranquilly at ten o’clock at night without a candle. When her mother died, some months before Léon’s departure, she did not wish to have any one share with her the sad satisfaction of watching and praying in the death chamber.
“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 30 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.”
On the morning of the 15th of August, M. Karl Nibor presented himself at M. Renault’s with Doctor Martout and the committee appointed by the Biological Society of Paris. . . . .
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. Léon 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 shall be more than content.”
M. Audret, the architect, had very wisely built a little bathroom near the laboratory which was convenient and well lighted.31
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. Léon 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 bathroom, creating round 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. Léon kept up the fire; M. Nibor, M. Renault, and M. Martout took turns in watching the thermometer. Mme. 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 an apparatus was arranged 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 steaming atmosphere.
On the morning of the 17th, after a 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 32 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 eyeballs 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 he 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 had 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 ‘École 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 33 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 M. Nabor, smiling, “you forget the ending of the scene. Arnolphe gets angry, and cries out: ‘Whichever of you two does n’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.”
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 being born again!” . . .
About one o’clock, M. Nibor caused a new and prolonged bath 34 to be given to 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 does n’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 M. 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 occurs.” . . .
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 Rude de la Faisanderie. While the saxhorns 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, M. 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!”
* Another excerpt from this story in another series by the same publisher is here.
But the entire book is on Elfinspell, and it is marvellous! See The Man with the Broken Ear, by Edmond About, translated by Henry Holt.