IN WHICH DOCTOR OX REVEALS HIMSELF AS A PHYSIOLOGIST OF THE FIRST
RANK, AND AS AN AUDACIOUS EXPERIMENTALIST.
Who, then, was this personage, known
by the singular name of Doctor Ox?
An original character for certain,
but at the same time a bold savant, a physiologist,
whose works were known and highly estimated throughout
learned Europe, a happy rival of the Davys, the Daltons,
the Bostocks, the Menzies, the Godwins, the Vierordts of
all those noble minds who have placed physiology among
the highest of modern sciences.
Doctor Ox was a man of medium size
and height, aged : but we cannot state
his age, any more than his nationality. Besides,
it matters little; let it suffice that he was a strange
personage, impetuous and hot-blooded, a regular oddity
out of one of Hoffmann’s volumes, and one who
contrasted amusingly enough with the good people of
Quiquendone. He had an imperturbable confidence
both in himself and in his doctrines. Always smiling,
walking with head erect and shoulders thrown back in
a free and unconstrained manner, with a steady gaze,
large open nostrils, a vast mouth which inhaled the
air in liberal draughts, his appearance was far from
unpleasing. He was full of animation, well proportioned
in all parts of his bodily mechanism, with quicksilver
in his veins, and a most elastic step. He could
never stop still in one place, and relieved himself
with impetuous words and a superabundance of gesticulations.
Was Doctor Ox rich, then, that he
should undertake to light a whole town at his expense?
Probably, as he permitted himself to indulge in such
extravagance, and this is the only answer
we can give to this indiscreet question.
Doctor Ox had arrived at Quiquendone
five months before, accompanied by his assistant,
who answered to the name of Gedeon Ygene; a tall,
dried-up, thin man, haughty, but not less vivacious
than his master.
And next, why had Doctor Ox made the
proposition to light the town at his own expense?
Why had he, of all the Flemings, selected the peaceable
Quiquendonians, to endow their town with the benefits
of an unheard-of system of lighting? Did he not,
under this pretext, design to make some great physiological
experiment by operating in anima vili? In short,
what was this original personage about to attempt?
We know not, as Doctor Ox had no confidant except
his assistant Ygene, who, moreover, obeyed him blindly.
In appearance, at least, Doctor Ox
had agreed to light the town, which had much need
of it, “especially at night,” as Commissary
Passauf wittily said. Works for producing a lighting
gas had accordingly been established; the gasometers
were ready for use, and the main pipes, running beneath
the street pavements, would soon appear in the form
of burners in the public edifices and the private
houses of certain friends of progress. Van Tricasse
and Niklausse, in their official capacity, and some
other worthies, thought they ought to allow this modern
light to be introduced into their dwellings.
If the reader has not forgotten, it
was said, during the long conversation of the counsellor
and the burgomaster, that the lighting of the town
was to be achieved, not by the combustion of common
carburetted hydrogen, produced by distilling coal,
but by the use of a more modern and twenty-fold more
brilliant gas, oxyhydric gas, produced by mixing hydrogen
The doctor, who was an able chemist
as well as an ingenious physiologist, knew how to
obtain this gas in great quantity and of good quality,
not by using manganate of soda, according to the method
of M. Tessie du Motay, but by the direct decomposition
of slightly acidulated water, by means of a battery
made of new elements, invented by himself. Thus
there were no costly materials, no platinum, no retorts,
no combustibles, no delicate machinery to produce
the two gases separately. An electric current
was sent through large basins full of water, and the
liquid was decomposed into its two constituent parts,
oxygen and hydrogen. The oxygen passed off at
one end; the hydrogen, of double the volume of its
late associate, at the other. As a necessary
precaution, they were collected in separate reservoirs,
for their mixture would have produced a frightful explosion
if it had become ignited. Thence the pipes were
to convey them separately to the various burners,
which would be so placed as to prevent all chance
of explosion. Thus a remarkably brilliant flame
would be obtained, whose light would rival the electric
light, which, as everybody knows, is, according to
Cassellmann’s experiments, equal to that of
eleven hundred and seventy-one wax candles, not
one more, nor one less.
It was certain that the town of Quiquendone
would, by this liberal contrivance, gain a splendid
lighting; but Doctor Ox and his assistant took little
account of this, as will be seen in the sequel.
The day after that on which Commissary
Passauf had made his noisy entrance into the burgomaster’s
parlour, Gedeon Ygene and Doctor Ox were talking in
the laboratory which both occupied in common, on the
ground-floor of the principal building of the gas-works.
“Well, Ygene, well,” cried
the doctor, rubbing his hands. “You saw,
at my reception yesterday, the cool-bloodedness of
these worthy Quiquendonians. For animation they
are midway between sponges and coral! You saw
them disputing and irritating each other by voice
and gesture? They are already metamorphosed,
morally and physically! And this is only the beginning.
Wait till we treat them to a big dose!”
“Indeed, master,” replied
Ygene, scratching his sharp nose with the end of his
forefinger, “the experiment begins well, and
if I had not prudently closed the supply-tap, I know
not what would have happened.”
“You heard Schut, the advocate,
and Custos, the doctor?” resumed Doctor Ox.
“The phrase was by no means ill-natured in itself,
but, in the mouth of a Quiquendonian, it is worth all
the insults which the Homeric heroes hurled at each
other before drawing their swords, Ah, these Flemings!
You’ll see what we shall do some day!”
“We shall make them ungrateful,”
replied Ygene, in the tone of a man who esteems the
human race at its just worth.
“Bah!” said the doctor;
“what matters it whether they think well or
ill of us, so long as our experiment succeeds?”
“Besides,” returned the
assistant, smiling with a malicious expression, “is
it not to be feared that, in producing such an excitement
in their respiratory organs, we shall somewhat injure
the lungs of these good people of Quiquendone?”
“So much the worse for them!
It is in the interests of science. What would
you say if the dogs or frogs refused to lend themselves
to the experiments of vivisection?”
It is probable that if the frogs and
dogs were consulted, they would offer some objection;
but Doctor Ox imagined that he had stated an unanswerable
argument, for he heaved a great sigh of satisfaction.
“After all, master, you are
right,” replied Ygene, as if quite convinced.
“We could not have hit upon better subjects than
these people of Quiquendone for our experiment.”
“We could not,”
said the doctor, slowly articulating each word.
“Have you felt the pulse of any of them?”
“And what is the average pulsation you found?”
“Not fifty per minute.
See this is a town where there has not
been the shadow of a discussion for a century, where
the carmen don’t swear, where the coachmen
don’t insult each other, where horses don’t
run away, where the dogs don’t bite, where the
cats don’t scratch, a town where
the police-court has nothing to do from one year’s
end to another, a town where people do not
grow enthusiastic about anything, either about art
or business, a town where the gendarmes
are a sort of myth, and in which an indictment has
not been drawn up for a hundred years, a
town, in short, where for three centuries nobody has
struck a blow with his fist or so much as exchanged
a slap in the face! You see, Ygene, that this
cannot last, and that we must change it all.”
cried the enthusiastic assistant; “and have
you analyzed the air of this town, master?”
“I have not failed to do so.
Seventy-nine parts of azote and twenty-one of oxygen,
carbonic acid and steam in a variable quantity.
These are the ordinary proportions.”
“Good, doctor, good!”
replied Ygene. “The experiment will be made
on a large scale, and will be decisive.”
“And if it is decisive,”
added Doctor Ox triumphantly, “we shall reform