Stories by Foreign Authors (French I)/Uncle and Nephew
UNCLE AND NEPHEW
From "The Notary's Nose,"
published by Henry Holt & Company.
Copyright, 1874, by Henry Holt.
I AM sure that you have passed Doctor Auvray's house twenty times without supposing that miracles are performed there. It is a modest-looking house, without any display or any sign; it does not even bear on its door the unattractive inscription—Maison de santé. It is situated near the end of the Avenue Montaigne, between Prince Soltikoff's gothic palace and the great Triat's gymnasium where they regenerate mankind on the trapèze. A gate, painted in imitation of bronze, opens upon a little garden of lilacs and roses. The porter's lodge is at the right; the building at the left contains the doctor's rooms, and those of his wife and daughter. The principal building is at the remote end: it turns its back upon the avenue, and opens all its windows to the southeast on a little park, well planted with chestnuts and lindens. There the doctor cares for, and often cures, people who have lost their minds. I would not take you into his establishment, if you ran any risk of meeting all kinds of insanity; but do not be afraid; you will not have the distressing spectacle of imbecility, paralytic insanity, or even utter loss of intelligence. M. Auvray has created for himself what is called a specialty: he treats monomania. He is an excellent man, full of intelligence and learning: a real philosopher and pupil of Esquirol and Laromiguière. If you were ever to meet him, with his bald head, well-shaven chin, black vestments, and placid face, you would not know whether he were doctor, professor, or priest. When he opens his heavy eyes, you expect him to say: "My child!" His eyes are not ugly, considering how they protrude, and they throw around him glances comprehensive, limpid, and serene, beneath which you see a world of kindly thoughts. Those large eyes are the open doors of a beautiful soul. M. Auvray's vocation was decided when he was at the medical school. He gave himself up passionately to the study of monomania—that curious disturbance of the faculties which is seldom due to a physical cause, which does not answer to any perceptible lesion in the nervous system, and which is cured by moral treatment. He was seconded in his observations by a young female superintendent of one of the wards, who was quite pretty and very well educated. He fell in love with her, and as soon as he got his degree married her. It was a modest entrance upon life. Nevertheless, he had a little property which he devoted to founding the establishment you know. With a touch of charlatanism, he could have made a fortune; he was satisfied to make his expenses. He avoided notoriety, and whenever he attained a marvellous cure, he did not proclaim it from the housetops. His reputation made itself, and almost in spite of him. His treatise on Monomanie raisonnante, which he published through Baillière in 1842, is in its sixth edition without the author having sent a single copy to the papers. Modesty is certainly good in itself, but it ought not to be carried to an extreme. Mlle. Auvray has not more than twenty thousand francs dowry, and she will be twenty-two years old in April.
About a fortnight ago (it was, I think, on Wednesday, December 13th), a cab stopped before M. Auvray's gate. The driver rang, and the gate was opened. The carriage went on to the doctor's house, and two men briskly entered his office. The servant begged them to sit down and wait till the doctor had finished his rounds. It was ten o'clock in the morning.
One of the strangers was a man of fifty, large, brown, full-blooded, of high color, passably ugly, and specially ill-made; his ears were pierced, his hands large, and his thumbs enormous. Fancy a workman dressed in his employer's clothes: such is M. Morlot.
His nephew, François Thomas, is a young man of twenty-three, hard to describe, because he is just like everybody else. He is neither large nor small, handsome nor ugly, developed like a Hercules nor spindled like a dandy, but, maintaining the happy medium throughout, unobtrusive from head to foot, hair of no particular color, and mind and clothes of the same. When he entered M. Auvray's house, he seemed very much agitated; he walked up and down apparently in a rage, would not keep still anywhere, looked at twenty things at once, and would have handled them all if his hands had not been tied.
"Calm yourself," said his uncle; "what I'm doing is for your good. You'll be happy here, and the doctor will cure you."
"I'm not sick. Why have you tied me?"
"Because you would have thrown me out of the carriage. You're not in your right mind, my poor François; M. Auvray will restore you."
"I reason as clearly as you do, uncle, and I don't know what you're talking about. My mind is clear, my judgment sound, and my memory excellent. Would you like me to repeat some verses? Shall I translate some Latin? Here's a Tacitus in this bookcase. . . . If you would prefer a different experiment, I can solve a problem in Arithmetic or Geometry. . . . You don't care to have me? Very well! Listen to what we have done this morning:
"You came in at eight o'clock, not to wake me, for I was not asleep, but to get me out of bed. I dressed myself, without Germain's help; you asked me to go with you to Dr. Auvray's; I refused; you insisted; I got angry; Germain helped you to tie my hands; I'll discharge him to-night. I owe him thirteen days' wages: that is thirteen francs, as I engaged him at thirty francs a month. You owe him damages: you are the cause of his losing his Christmas-gift. Is this reasoning? And do you still think you can make me out crazy? Ah! my dear uncle, take a better view of things! Remember that my mother was your sister! What would she say—my poor mother!—if she were to see me here? I bear you no ill-will, and everything can be arranged pleasantly. You have a daughter, Mlle. Claire Morlot. . . ."
"Ah! there I have you! You see clearly enough that you are out of your head. I have a daughter? I? But I'm a bachelor. A confirmed bachelor!"
"You have a daughter," replied François mechanically.
"My poor nephew! Let us see. Listen to me carefully. Have you a cousin?"
"A cousin? No. I have no cousin. Oh! you won't find me out of my reckoning; I have no cousins of either sex."
"I am your uncle; is n't that so?"
"Yes, you are my uncle, although you forgot it this morning."
"If I had a daughter she would be your cousin; now you have no cousin, therefore I have no daughter."
"You're right. I had the happiness of seeing her this summer at Ems Springs, with her mother. I love her; I have reason to think that I am not indifferent to her, and I have the honor to ask you for her hand."
"Mademoiselle's hand—your daughter's."
"Well, so be it," thought M. Morlot; "M. Auvray will be very skilful if he cures him. I will pay six thousand francs board from my nephew's income. Six from thirty leaves twenty-four. I shall be rich. Poor François!"
He seated himself and casually opened a book. "Sit down there," he said to the young man; "I'll read you something. Try to listen: it will calm you down." He read:
"Monomania is the persistence of one idea, the exclusive domination of a single passion. Its seat is in the heart; there it must be sought and there it must be cured. Its cause is love, fear, vanity, ambition, remorse. It displays itself by the same symptoms as passion generally; sometimes by joy, gayety, daring, and noise; sometimes by timidity, sadness, and silence."
During the reading, François seemed to grow quiet and drop asleep. "Bravo!" thought M. Morlot. "Here's a miracle performed by medicine already: it puts a man to sleep who has been neither hungry nor drowsy." François was not asleep, but he played possum to perfection. He nodded at proper intervals, and regulated the heavy monotone of his breathing with mathematical accuracy. Uncle Morlot was taken in he continued reading in a subdued voice, then yawned, then stopped reading, then let his book slip down, then shut his eyes, and then went sound asleep, much to the satisfaction of his nephew, who watched him maliciously out of the corner of his eye.
François began by moving his chair: M. Morlot budged no more than a tree. François walked about the room, making his shoes creak on the inlaid floor: M. Morlot began snoring. Then the crazy man went to the writing-table, found an eraser, pushed it into a corner, fixed it firmly by the handle, and cut the cord which bound his arms. He freed himself, recovered the use of his hands, repressed a cry of joy, and stealthily approached his uncle. In two minutes M. Morlot was firmly bound, but with so much delicacy that his sleep was not even troubled.
François admired his work, and picked up the book which had slipped to the floor. It was the last edition of the Monomanie raisonnante. He took it into a corner, and set to reading like a bookworm, while he awaited the doctor's arrival.
It now becomes necessary for me to recount the antecedents of François and his uncle. François was the son of a late toy dealer in the Passage du Saumon named M. Thomas. Toy-selling is a good business; a hundred per cent. is cleared on almost every article. Since his father's death, François had enjoyed a competence of the degree called "honorable," undoubtedly because it obviates the necessity of doing dishonorable things: perhaps, too, because it makes practicable the doing of the honors to one's friends: he had thirty thousand francs income.
His tastes were extremely simple, as I think I have told you. He had an innate preference for things which are not glaring, and naturally selected his gloves, vests, and coats from the series of modest colors lying between black and brown. He did not remember having dreamed of plumes, even in his tenderest childhood, and the ribbons most desired had never troubled his sleep. He never carried an opera-glass, because, he said, his eyes were good; nor wore a scarf-pin, because his scarf would keep in place without a pin; but the real reason was that he was afraid of attracting attention. The very polish of his boots dazzled him. He would have been doomed to wretchedness if the accident of birth had afflicted him with a noticeable name. If, for the sake of giving him one, his sponsors had called him Americ or Fernand, he would never have signed it in his life. Happily, his names were as unobtrusive as if he had chosen them himself.
His timidity prevented him from, entering upon any career. After crossing the threshold of his baccalaureate, he stopped in that great door which opens upon everything, and stood rapt in contemplation before the seven or eight roads which were lying before him. The bar seemed to him too boisterous, medicine too devoid of rest, a tutorship too arrogant, commerce too complicated, the civil service too constraining.
As to the army, it was useless to think of that; not that he was afraid to fight, but he trembled at the idea of wearing a uniform. He remained, then, in his original way of life, not because it was the easiest, but because it was the most obscure: he lived on his income.
As he had not earned his money himself, he lent it freely. In return for so rare a virtue, Heaven gave him plenty of friends. He loved them all sincerely, and acceded to their wishes with very good grace. When he met one of them on the Boulevard, he was always the one to be taken by the arm, turned about, and taken where his friend desired. Don't think that he was either foolish, shallow, or ignorant. He knew three or four modern languages, Latin, Greek, and everything else usually learned at college; he had some ideas of commerce, manufactures, agriculture, and literature, and he estimated a new book well, if there was nobody near to listen to his opinion.
But it was among women that his weakness showed itself in its full strength. It was a necessity of his nature always to be in love with somebody, and if in rubbing his eyes in the morning he saw no gleam of love on the horizon, he got up out of sorts and infallibly put his stockings on wrong side out. Whenever he was at a concert or a play, he began by searching among the audience for some face that pleased him, and was in love with it the whole evening. If he found one to suit him, the play was fine, the concert delicious; otherwise, everybody played badly or sang false. His heart so abhorred a vacuum, that in presence of a mediocre beauty it spurred him to believe her perfect. You will realize without my help that this universal susceptibility was by no means licentiousness, but innocence. He loved all women without telling them so, for he had never dared to speak to one. He was the most candid and inoffensive of roués; Don Juan, if you please, but before Donna Julia.
When he was in love, he rehearsed to himself courageous declarations, which regularly died upon his lips. He paid his court; laid open the very bottom of his soul; held long conversations and charming dialogues, in which he made both the questions and replies. He made appeals energetic enough to soften rocks, and warm enough to melt ice; but no woman was drawn towards him by his mute aspirations: one must want, to be loved. There is a great difference between desiring and wanting; desiring floats easily upon the clouds: wanting runs on foot among the flints. One watches for every chance, the other demands nothing but its own existence; wanting marches straight to its point over hedges and ditches, ravines and mountains; desiring remains seated at home and cries in its sweetest voice:
"Clocher, clocher, arrive, ou ju suis mort!"
Nevertheless, in the August of this very year, four months before pinioning his uncle's arms, François had dared to love face to face. At the Ems Springs, he had met a young girl almost as shy as himself, whose shuddering timidity had given him courage. She was a Parisienne, frail and delicate as fruit grown on the shady side of a wall: transparent as those lovely children whose blue blood can be seen distinctly under their skin. She accompanied her mother, whom an inveterate disorder (a chronic trouble of the throat, if I am not mistaken) obliged to take the waters. Mother and daughter must have lived apart from the world, for they regarded the boisterous crowd of bathers with long looks of astonishment. François was casually presented to them by one of his friends, who had become cured and was going to Italy through Germany. He attended them assiduously for a month, and was virtually their only companion. For sensitive souls, the crowd is a vast solitude; the more noise the world makes around them, the more do they shrink into their corner to whisper into each other's ears. The young Parisienne and her mother went right into François' heart as naturally as from one room to the next and found it pleasant there. Every day they discovered new treasures, like the navigators who first set foot in America: they wandered with ever fresh delights over this mysterious and virgin land. They never asked themselves if he were rich or poor; they were satisfied to know that he was good; and nothing they might find could be more precious to them than that heart of gold. On his side, François was inspired with his metamorphosis. Has any one ever told you how spring breaks upon the gardens in Russia? Yesterday the snow covered everything: to-day comes a ray of sunshine which puts winter to flight. At noon the trees burst their buds: by night they are covered with leaves: to-morrow they almost bear fruit. So did François' love bloom and bear its freight of promise. His coldness and constraint were carried away like icicles in a thaw; the shamefaced and pusillanimous boy in a few weeks became a man. I do not know who first Uttered the word marriage, but what difference does it make? The word is always understood when two true hearts speak of love.
François was of age and his own master, but his beloved depended upon a father whose consent it was necessary to obtain. There the unfortunate youth's timidity mastered him again. It was well enough for Claire to say to him: "Write unhesitatingly; my father is already notified: you will receive his consent by return mail." He wrote and re-wrote this letter over a hundred times, without being able to make up his mind to send it. Nevertheless, it was an easy task, and the most ordinary intelligence would have performed it with credit. François knew the name, position, fortune, and even the temperament of his future father-in-law. They had let him into all the domestic secrets; he was almost one of the family. What was left for him to do? To state, in a few words, what he was and what he had; the reply was not doubtful. He hesitated so long, that at the end of a month Claire and her mother were forced to entertain misgivings regarding him. I think they would have still been patient for a fortnight longer, but the paternal wisdom did not permit it. If Claire was in love, if her lover had not decided to make a formal declaration of his intentions, the thing to do was, without losing any time, to get the girl in a safe place in Paris. Possibly then M. François Thomas would make up his mind to ask her in marriage: he knew where to find her.
One day when François went to take the ladies out walking, the hotel-keeper told him that they had left for Paris. Their rooms were already occupied by an English family. Such a rude blow, falling suddenly upon such a delicate head, destroyed his reason. He went out like an idiot, and began looking for Claire in all the places where he had been used to taking her. He went to his lodgings with a violent pain in his head, which he treated, God only knows how. He had himself bled, took boiling hot baths, applied ferocious sinapisms, and, in short, revenged on his body the tortures of his soul. When he considered himself cured, he started for France, resolved to apply for Claire's hand before changing his coat. He hurried to Paris, sprang from the car, forgot his baggage, jumped into a cab, and cried to the driver:
"To her! Gallop!"
"Where to, boss?"
"To Monsieur——, Rue——, I don't know any more." He had forgotten the name and address of the woman he loved. "Go ahead to my house; I'll find it again." He gave the coachman his card and was taken home.
His concierge was a childless old man named Emmanuel. On meeting him, François bowed low and said:
"Monsieur, you have a daughter, Mlle. Claire Emmanuel. I wanted to write you to ask for her hand; but I thought it would be better to make the request in person."
They realized that he was crazy, and ran to the Faubourg St. Antoine to find his Uncle Marlot.
Uncle Marlot was the most honest man in the Rue de Charonne, which is one of the longest streets in Paris. He made antique furniture with ordinary skill and extraordinary conscientiousness. It was not his way to represent stained pear-wood as ebony, or a cabinet of his own make as a medieval piece! Nevertheless, he knew as well as anybody the art of cracking new wood and making it appear full of worm-holes of which worms were entirely innocent. But it was his principle and his law to wrong nobody. With a moderation almost absurd in the manufacture of articles of luxury, he limited his profits to five per cent, over and above the general expenses of his establishment; consequently he had gained more respect than money. When he made out a bill, he went over the addition three times, so fearful was he of misleading somebody to his own advantage.
After thirty years of this business, he was just about as rich as when he left his apprenticeship. He had made his living like the humblest of his employees, and he asked himself, with a touch of jealousy, how M. Thomas had managed to lay up money. His brother-in-law looked down on him a little, with the vanity natural to parvenus, but he looked down upon bis brother-in-law more effectually, with the pride of a man who never cared to become a parvenu. He made a parade of his mediocrity, and said with plebeian self-conceit, "At least I'm sure that I've nothing that belongs to anybody else."
Man is a strange animal: I am not the first who has said so. This excellent M. Marlot, whose super-scrupulous honesty amused the whole faubourg, felt an agreeable tickling at the bottom of his heart, when they came to tell him of his nephew's disorder. He heard an insinuating little voice saying to him, very low, "If François is insane, you'll be his guardian." Probity hastened to reply: "We won't be any richer."—"How?" answered the voice: "Certainly an insane man's board never costs thirty thousand francs a year. Moreover, we shall have all the trouble; we'll have to neglect our business; we deserve more compensation; we won't wrong anybody."—"But," replied Disinterestedness, "one ought to help his relations without charging them for it."—"Certainly," murmured the voice.—"Then why did n't our family ever do anything for us?"—"Bah!" responded the goodness of his heart. "This won't amount to anything, anyway; it's only a false alarm. François will be well in a couple of days."—"Possibly, however," continued the obstinate voice, "the malady will kill the patient, and we'll inherit without wronging anybody. We've worked thirty years for the sovereign who reigns at Potsdam; who knows but what a blow on a cracked head may make our fortune?"
The good man stopped his ears; but his ears were so large, so ample, so nobly expanded, like a conch-shell, that the subtle and persevering little voice always slipped into them in spite of him. The factory in the Rue de Charonne was left to the care of the foreman, and the uncle established his winter-quarters in his nephew's pretty rooms. He slept in a good bed, and liked it. He sat at an excellent table, and the cramps in the stomach which he had complained of for many years were cured by magic. He was waited upon, dressed, and shaved by Germain, and he got used to it. Little by little he consoled himself for seeing his nephew sick. He fell into the habit of thinking that perhaps François never would get well; nevertheless, he repeated to himself now and then, to keep his conscience easy, "I'm not injuring anybody."
At the end of three months, he got tired of having a crazy man in the house, for he began to feel as if he were at home there himself. François's perpetual drivelling, and his mania for asking Claire in marriage, came to be an intolerable burden to the old man; he resolved to clear the house and shut the sick man up at M. Auvray's. "After all," he said to himself, "my nephew will get better care there, and I shall be more at ease. Science has recognized that it is well to give the insane change of scene to divert them: I'm doing my duty."
With such thoughts as these he went to sleep, when François took it into his head to tie his hands: what an awakening!
The doctor came in with apologies for keeping them waiting. François got up, put his hat on the table, and explained matters with great volubility, while striding up and down the room.
"Monsieur," said he, "this is my maternal uncle, whom I am about to confide to your care. You see in him a man of from forty-five to fifty, hardened to manual labor and the privations of a life of hard work; as to the rest, born of healthy parents, in a family where no case of mental aberration has ever been known. You will not, then, have to contend against an hereditary disorder. His trouble is one of the most curious monomanias which you ever had occasion to examine. He passes with inconceivable rapidity from extreme gayety to extreme depression; it is a singular compound of monomania proper and melancholy."
"He has not entirely lost his reason?"
"No, monsieur, he's not absolutely demented; he's unsound on but one point, so he comes entirely within your specialty."
"What's the characteristic of his malady?"
"Alas, monsieur, the characteristic of our times—cupidity. The poor fellow is certainly the man of the period. After working from childhood, he finds himself poor. My father, starting where he did, left me considerable property. My uncle began by being jealous; then realizing that he was my only relative, and would be my heir in case of death, or my guardian in case of insanity, as a weak mind easily believes what it desires, the unhappy man persuaded himself that I had lost my reason. He has toid everybody so: will say the same to you. In the carriage, although his own hands were bound, he thought that it was he who was bringing me to you."
"When was the first attack?"
"About three months ago. He went down and said to my concierge, with a frightened air: 'Monsieur Emmanuel, you have a daughter; leave her in your lodge, and come and help me bind my nephew.'"
"Does he realize his condition? Does he know that he is not himself?"
"No, monsieur, and I think that's a good sign. I'll tell you, moreover, that he has some remarkable derangements of the vital functions, and especially of nutrition. He has entirely lost appetite, and is subject to long periods of sleeplessness."
"So much the better. A deranged person who sleeps and eats regularly is almost incurable. Let me wake him up."
M. Auvray gently shook the shoulder of the sleeper, who sprang to his feet. His first movement was to rub his eyes. When he found his hands bound, he realized what had happened while he slept, and burst out laughing.
"That's a good joke!" he said.
François drew the doctor aside.
"You see. Well, in five minutes he will be raving."
"Leave him to me. I know how to take them." He approached his patient smiling as one does upon a child whom he wishes to amuse. "My friend," he said, "you woke up at the right time. Did you have pleasant dreams?"
"I? I've not been dreaming. I laughed at seeing myself tied up like a bundle of sticks. People would take me for the crazy one."
"There!" said François.
"Have the kindness to let me loose, doctor. I can explain matters better when I'm free."
"My child, I'm going to untie you; but you must promise to be very good."
"Why, monsieur, do you really take me for a madman?"
"No, my friend, but you're not well. We'll take care of you and cure you. Hold still. Now your hands are free. Don't abuse it."
"Why, what the devil do you suppose I'll do? I've brought you my nephew—"
"Very well," said M. Auvray, "we'll talk about that in good time. I found you asleep; do you often sleep in the daytime?"
"Never! This stupid book—"
"Oh! oh!" said the author, "the case is serious. And so you think your nephew is mad?"
"Mad enough to be tied up, monsieur; and the proof is, that I had fastened his hands together with this rope."
"But you're the one whose hands were tied. Don't you remember that I set you free?"
"It was I? It was he! But let me explain the whole affair."
"Tut, my friend, you're getting excited: you're very red in the face. I don't want you to tire yourself. Just be content to answer my questions. You say that your nephew is ill?"
"Crazy, crazy, crazy!"
"And you are satisfied to see him crazy?"
"Answer me frankly. You're not anxious for him to get well: is n't that so?"
"So that his fortune can remain in your hands. You want to be rich. You don't like having worked so long without making a fortune. You think it's your turn now?"
M. Morlot did not answer. He kept his eyes fixed on the floor. He asked himself if he were not having a bad dream, and tried to make out what was real in this experience of pinioned hands, cross-examinations; and questions from a stranger who read his conscience like an open book.
"Does he hear voices?" asked M. Auvray.
The poor uncle felt his hair stand on end. He remembered that persistent little voice which kept whispering in his ear, and he answered mechanically: "Sometimes."
"Ah! he has hallucinations?"
"No, no! I'm not ill; let me go. I'll lose my senses here. Ask all my friends; they'll tell you that I'm in full possession of my faculties. Feel my pulse; you'll see that I've no fever."
"Poor uncle!" said François. "He does n't know that insanity is madness without fever."
"Monsieur," added the doctor, "if we could only give our patients fever, we'd cure them all."
M. Morlot threw himself on the sofa; his nephew continued to pace the doctor's study.
"Monsieur," said François, "I am deeply afflicted by my uncle's misfortune, but it is a great consolation to be able to entrust him to such a man as yourself. I have read your admirable book on La Monomanie raisonnante; it is the most remarkable book that has been written on the subject since the Traité des Maladies mentales, by the great Esquirol. I know, moreover, that you are a father to your patients, so I will not insult you by recommending M. Morlot to special care. As to the expense of his treatment, I leave that entirely to you." He took a thousand-franc note from his pocket-book, and quietly laid it on the mantel. "I shall have the honor to present myself here in the course of next week. At what hour is access to the patients allowed?"
"From noon till two o'clock. As for me, I'm always at home. Good-day, monsieur."
"Stop him!" cried the poor uncle. "Don't let him go! He's the crazy one; I'll explain his madness!"
"Pray calm yourself, my dear uncle," said François, going out; "I leave you in M. Auvray's hands; he'll take good care of you."
M. Morlot tried to follow his nephew. The doctor held him back.
"What awful luck!" cried the poor uncle, "He won't say a single crazy thing! If he would only lose his bearings a little, you'd see well enough that it's not I who am crazy."
François already had hold of the door-knob. He turned on his heel, as if he had forgotten something: marched straight up to the doctor, and said to him:
"Monsieur, my uncle's illness is not the only motive which brought me here."
"Ah! ah!" murmured M. Morlot, who thought he saw a ray of hope.
The young man continued:
"You have a daughter."
"At last!" cried the poor uncle. "You'll bear witness that he said, 'You have a daughter!'"
The doctor replied to François: "Yes, Monsieur. Explain—"
"You have a daughter, Mlle. Claire Auvray."
"There it is! There it is! I told you that very thing!"
"Yes, monsieur," said the doctor.
"Three months since, she was at the Ems Springs with her mother."
"Bravo! bravo!" yelled M. Morlot.
"Yes, monsieur," responded the doctor.
M. Morlot ran up to the doctor and said: "You're not the doctor! You're one of the patients!"
"My friend," replied the doctor, "if you don't behave yourself, we'll have to give you a shower-bath."
M. Morlot recoiled, frightened. His nephew continued:
"Monsieur, I love Mademoiselle—your daughter. I have some hope that I'm loved in return, and if her sentiments have not changed since September, I have the honor to ask you for her hand."
The doctor answered: "This is Monsieur François Thomas, then, with whom I've the honor of speaking?"
"The same, monsieur, and I ought to have begun by telling you my name."
"Monsieur, permit me to tell you that you've decidedly taken your own time."
At this moment, the doctor's attention was drawn to M. Morlot, who was rubbing his hands with a sort of passion.
"What's the matter with you, my friend?" he inquired in his sweet and paternal voice.
"Nothing! Nothing! I'm only rubbing my hands."
"There's something there that bothers me."
"Show it to me; I don't see anything."
"You don't see it? There, there, between the fingers. I see it plainly, I do!"
"What do you see?"
"My nephew's money. Take it away, doctor! I'm an honest man; I don't want anybody's property."
While the doctor was listening attentively to these first aberrations of M. Morlot a strange revolution took place in the appearance of Francois. He grew pale and cold, his teeth chattered violently. M. Auvray turned towards him, to ask what had happened.
"Nothing," he replied. "She's coming. I hear her. This is joy . . . but it overcomes me. Happiness falls upon me like snow. The winter will be hard for lovers. Doctor, see what's going on in my head."
M. Morlot ran to him, saying:
"Enough! Don't be crazy any more! I no longer want you to be an idiot. People will say that I stole your wits. I'm honest, doctor; look at my hands; search my pockets; send to my house. Rue de Charonne, in the Faubourg St. Antoine; open all the drawers; you'll see that I've nothing that belongs to anybody else."
The doctor stood much perplexed between his two patients, when a door opened, and Claire came in to tell her father that breakfast was waiting.
François jumped up as if propelled by a spring, but only his wishes reached Mlle. Auvray. His body fell heavily on the sofa. He could scarcely murmur a few words.
"Claire! It is I. I love you. Will you? . . ."
He passed his hand over his brow. His pale face flushed violently. The temples throbbed fiercely, and he felt a heavy oppression over his eyelids. Claire, as near dead as alive, caught up his two hands. His skin was dry, and his pulse so hard that the poor girl was terrified. It was not thus that she had hoped to see him again. In a few minutes a yellowish tinge spread about his nostrils; then came nausea, and M. Auvray recognized all the symptoms of a bilious fever. "What a misfortune," he said, "that this fever did n't come to his uncle; it would have cured him!"
He pulled the bell. The maid-servant ran in, and then Mme. Auvray, whom François scarcely recognized, so much was he overcome. The sick man had to be put to bed, and that without delay. Claire offered her chamber and her bed. It was a pretty little couch with white curtains; a tiny chamber and chastely attractive, upholstered in pink percale, and blooming with great bunches of heather, in azure vases. On the mantel appeared a large onyx cup. This was the only present which Claire had received from her lover! If you are taken with fever, dear reader, I wish you such a sick-room.
While they were giving the first cares to François, his uncle, beside himself, flurried around the chamber, getting into the doctor's way, embracing the patient, seizing Mme. Auvray's hand, and crying in ear-splitting tones: "Cure him quick, quick! I don't want him to die; I won't permit his death; I've a right to oppose it; I'm his uncle and his guardian! If you don't cure him, they'll say I killed him, I want you all to bear witness that I don't claim to be his heir. I'll give all his property to the poor. A glass of water, please, to wash my hands with."
They had to take him into the sick-wards of the establishment. There he raved so, that they had to put him in a strong canvas waistcoat laced up behind, with the sleeves sewed together at the ends: that is what they call a strait-jacket The nurses took care of him.
Mme. Auvray and her daughter took devoted care of François, although the details of the treatment were not always the most agreeable; but the more delicate sex takes naturally to heroism. You may say that the two ladies saw in their patient a son-in-law and a husband. But I think that if he had been a stranger, he would have scarcely lost anything. St. Vincent de Paul invented only a uniform, for in every woman, of any rank, or any age, exists the essential material of a sister of charity.
Seated night and day in this chamber, filled with fever, mother and daughter employed their moments of repose in telling over their souvenirs and their hopes. They could not explain François' long silence, his sudden return, or the circumstances that had led him to the Avenue Montaigne. If he loved Claire, why had he forced himself to wait three months? Did he need his uncle's illness to bring him to M. Auvray's? If his love had worn out, why did he not take his uncle to some other doctor? There are enough of them in Paris. Possibly he had thought his passion cured until Claire's presence had undeceived him! But no, for before seeing her, he had asked her in marriage.
All these questions were answered by François in his delirium. Claire, hanging on his lips; eagerly took in his lightest words; she talked them over with her mother and the doctor, who was not long in getting at the truth. To a man accustomed to disentangle the most confused ideas, and to read the minds of the insane like a partly obliterated page, the wanderings of fever are an intelligible language, and the most confused delirium is not without its lights. They soon knew that he had lost his reason, and under what circumstances, and they even made out how he had been the innocent cause of his uncle's malady.
Then began a new series of misgivings for Mlle. Auvray. François had been insane. Would the terrible crisis which she had unwittingly brought on cure him? The doctor assured her that fever had the privilege of indicating the exact nature of mental disturbance: that is to say, of curing it. Nevertheless, there is no rule without exceptions, especially in medicine. Suppose he were to get well, would there be no fear of relapses? Would M. Auvray give his daughter to one of his patients?
"As for me," said Claire, sadly smiling, "I'm not afraid of anything: I would risk it. I'm the cause of his sufferings; ought not I to console him? After all, his insanity is restricted to asking for my hand: he'll have no more occasion to ask it when I'm his wife; then we'll not have anything to fear. The poor child is sick only from excess of love; cure it, dear father, but not too thoroughly. I want him always to be mad enough to love me as I love him."
"We'll see," responded M. Auvray. "Wait till the fever is past. If he's ashamed of having been ill, if I find him sad or melancholy when he gets well, I can't answer for anything. If, on the other hand, he looks back upon his disorder without shame or regret, if he speaks of it resignedly, if he meets the people who have been taking care of him without repugnance, I can laugh at the idea of relapses."
"Ah, father, why should he be ashamed of having loved to excess? It is a noble and generous madness which never enters petty souls. And how can he feel repugnance on meeting those who have nursed him? For they are we!"
After six days of delirium., an abundant perspiration carried off the fever, and the patient began to convalesce. When he found himself in a strange room, between Mme. and Mlle. Auvray, his first idea was that he was still at the hotel of the Quatre Saisons, in the principal street of Ems. His feebleness, his emaciation, and the presence of the doctor, led him to other thoughts; he had his memory, but vaguely. The doctor came to his aid. He opened the truth to him cautiously, as they measure out food for a body enfeebled by fasting. François commenced by listening to his own story as to a romance in which he had not played any part; he was another man, an entirely new man, and he came out of the fever as out of a tomb. Little by little the gaps in his memory closed up. His brain seemed full of empty places, which filled up one by one without any sudden jars. Very soon he was quite master of himself, and fully conscious of the past. The cure was a work of science, but, above all, of patience. It is in such particulars that the paternal treatment of M. Auvray is so much admired. That excellent man had a genius for gentleness. On the 25th of December, François, seated on the side of his bed, and ballasted with some ckicken-soup and half the yolk of an egg, told, without any interruption, trouble, or wandering, without any feeling of shame or regret, and without any other emotion than a tranquil joy, the occurrences of the three months which had just passed. Claire and Mme. Auvray wept while they listened. The doctor acted as if he were taking notes or writing from dictation, but something else than ink fell upon the paper. When the tale was told, the convalescent added, by way of conclusion:
"To-day, the 25th of December, at three o'clock in the afternoon, I said to my excellent doctor, to my beloved father, M. Anvray, whose street and number I shall never forget again, 'Monsieur, you have a daughter; Mlle. Claire Auvray; I saw her last summer at the Ems Springs with her mother; I love her; she has given me abundant proof that she loves me, and if you are not afraid that I will get sick again. I have the honor to ask you for her hand."
The doctor only made a little motion of the head, but Claire passed her arm around the convalescent's neck, and kissed him on the forehead. I care for no other reply when I make a similar demand.
The same day, M. Morlot, calmer and freed from the strait-jacket, got up at eight in the morning. On getting out of bed, he took his slippers, turned them over and over, shook them carefully, and passed them to the nurse, begging him to see if they did not contain thirty thousand francs income. Not till then would he consent to put them on. He combed himself for a good quarter of an hour, repeating, "I don't want anybody to say that my nephew's fortune has got into my head." He shook each of his garments out of the window, after examining it down to its smallest wrinkle. As soon as he was dressed, he asked for a pencil, and wrote on the walls of his chamber:
"covet not that which is another's."
Then he commenced to rub his hands with incredible energy, to satisfy himself that François' fortune was not sticking to them. He scraped his fingers with his pencil, counting them from one up to ten, for fear that he should forget one. He thought he was in a police court, and earnestly demanded to be searched. The doctor got him to recognize him, and told him that François was cured. The poor man asked if the money had been found. "As my nephew is going to leave here," he said, "he'll need his money; where is it? I haven't got it, unless it's in my bed." And before any one had time to prevent him, he pulled his bed topsy-turvy. The doctor went out after pressing his hand. He rubbed this hand with scrupulous care. They brought him his breakfast; he commenced by examining his napkin, his glass, his knife, his plate, repeating that he did not want to eat up his nephew's fortune. The repast over, he washed his hands in enormous quantities of water. "The fork is silver," said he; "perhaps there's some silver sticking to my hands!"
M . Auvray does not despair of saving him, but it will take time. Summer and Autumn are the seasons in which doctors are most successful with insanity.