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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Victim
By Edmond About (1828–1885)
 
From ‘The Man with the Broken Ear’

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.  1
  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.  2
  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 nose 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.  3
  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 soon recovered, however, and reassured them all by a charming smile.  4
  “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.”  5
  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.  6
  Clémentine dried her eyes, looked prettier than ever, and sighed fit to break her heart, without knowing why.  7
  “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!”  8
  “No!” cried Clémentine, with redoubled energy and emotion. “Do not curse him, Monsieur Léon! He has suffered so much! Ah! poor, poor, unfortunate man!”  9
  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 school-girl. 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.  10
  “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.”  11
  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.  12
  “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!”  13
  “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.”  14
 
 
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