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The Man with the Broken Ear
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 176
Publication Date: 1872
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The good news you sent us from St. Petersburg caused us the greatest joy. Your poor mother had been ailing since winter, but I had not spoken to you about it from fear of making you uneasy while so far from home. As for myself, I had not been very well; and there was yet a third person (guess the name if you can!) who was languishing from not seeing you. But content yourself, my dear Leon: we have been recuperating more and more since the time of your return is almost fixed. We begin to believe that the mines of the Ural will not swallow up that which is dearer to us than all the world.
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On the 18th of May, 1859, M. Renault, formerly professor of physics and chemistry, now a landed proprietor at Fontainebleau, and member of the Municipal Council of that charming little city, himself carried to the post-office the following letter:—
"To Monsieur Leon Renault, Civil Engineer, Berlin, Prussia.
(To be kept at the Post-Office till called for.)
"My dear child:
"The good news you sent us from St. Petersburg caused us the greatest joy. Your poor mother had been ailing since winter, but I had not spoken to you about it from fear of making you uneasy while so far from home. As for myself, I had not been very well; and there was yet a third person (guess the name if you can!) who was languishing from not seeing you. But content yourself, my dear Leon: we have been recuperating more and more since the time of your return is almost fixed. We begin to believe that the mines of the Ural will not swallow up that which is dearer to us than all the world. Thank God! that fortune which you have so honorably and so quickly made will not have cost your life, nor even your health, since you tell us you have been growing fat off there in the desert. If you have not finished up all your business out there, so much the worse for you: there are three of us who have sworn that you shall never go back again. You will not find it hard to accede, for you will be happy among us. Such, at least, is the opinion of Clementine.... I forget that I was pledged not to name her. Master Bonnivet, our excellent neighbor, has not rested content with investing your funds in a good mortgage, but has also drawn up, in his leisure moments, a most edifying little indenture, which now lacks nothing but your signature. Our worthy mayor has ordered, on your account, a new official scarf, which is on the way from Paris. You will have the first benefit of it. Your apartment (which will soon belong to a plural 'you') is elegant, in proportion to your present fortune. You are to occupy....; but the house has changed so in three years, that my description would be incomprehensible to you. M. Audret, the architect of the imperial chateau, directed the work. He actually wanted to construct me a laboratory worthy of Thénard or Duprez. I earnestly protested against it, and said that I was not yet worthy of one, as my celebrated work on the Condensation of Gases had only reached the fourth chapter. But as your mother was in collusion with the old scamp of a friend, it has turned out that science has henceforth a temple in our house—a regular sorcerer's den, according to the picturesque expression of your old Gothon: it lacks nothing, not even a four-horse-power steam engine. Alas! what can I do with it? I am confident, nevertheless, that the expenditure will not be altogether lost to the world. You are not going to sleep upon your laurels. Oh, if I had only had your fortune when I had your youth! I would have dedicated my days to pure science, instead of losing the best part of them among those poor young men who got nothing from my lectures but an opportunity to read Paul de Kock. I would have been ambitious!—I would have striven to connect my name with the discovery of some great general law, or at least with the invention of some very useful apparatus. It is too late now; my eyes are worn out, and the brain itself refuses to work. Take your turn, my boy! You are not yet twenty-six, the Ural mines have given you the wherewithal to live at ease, and, for yourself alone, you have no further wants to satisfy; the time has come to work for humanity. That you will do so, is the strongest wish and dearest hope of your doting old father, who loves you and who waits for you with open arms.
"P. S. According to my calculations, this letter ought to reach Berlin two or three days before you. You have been already informed by the papers of the 7th inst. of the death of the illustrious Humboldt. It is a cause of mourning to science and to humanity. I have had the honor of writing to that great man several times in my life, and he once deigned to reply, in a letter which I piously cherish. If you happen to have an opportunity to buy some personal souvenir of him, a bit of his handwriting or some fragment of his collections, you will bring me a real pleasure."
A month after the departure of this letter, the son so eagerly looked for returned to the paternal mansion. M. and Mme. Renault, who went to meet him at the depot, found him taller, stouter, and better-looking in every way. In fact, he was no longer merely a remarkable boy, but a man of good and pleasing proportions. Leon Renault was of medium height, light hair and complexion, plump and well made. His large blue eyes, sweet voice, and silken beard indicated a nature sensitive rather than powerful. A very white, round, and almost feminine neck contrasted singularly with a face bronzed by exposure. His teeth were beautiful, very delicate, a little inclined backward, and very evenly shaped. When he pulled off his gloves, he displayed two small and rather pudgey hands, quite firm and yet pleasantly soft, neither hot nor cold, nor dry nor damp, but agreeable to the touch and cared-for to perfection.
As he was, his father and mother would not have exchanged him for the Apollo Belvedere. They embraced him rapturously, overwhelming him with a thousand questions, most of which he, of course, failed to answer. Some old friends of the family, a doctor, an architect, and a notary, had run to the depot with the good old people; each one of them in turn gave him a hug, and asked him if he was well, and if he had had a pleasant journey. He listened patiently and even joyfully to this common-place music whose words did not signify much, but whose melody went to the heart because it came from the heart.
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