Read DOCTOR OX'S EXPERIMENT : CHAPTER X. of A Winter Amid the Ice and Other Thrilling Stories , free online book, by Jules Verne, on ReadCentral.com.

IN WHICH IT WILL BE SEEN THAT THE EPIDEMIC INVADES THE ENTIRE TOWN, AND WHAT EFFECT IT PRODUCES.

During the following months the evil, in place of subsiding, became more extended.  From private houses the epidemic spread into the streets.  The town of Quiquendone was no longer to be recognized.

A phenomenon yet stranger than those which had already happened, now appeared; not only the animal kingdom, but the vegetable kingdom itself, became subject to the mysterious influence.

According to the ordinary course of things, epidemics are special in their operation.  Those which attack humanity spare the animals, and those which attack the animals spare the vegetables.  A horse was never inflicted with smallpox, nor a man with the cattle-plague, nor do sheep suffer from the potato-rot.  But here all the laws of nature seemed to be overturned.  Not only were the character, temperament, and ideas of the townsfolk changed, but the domestic animals ­dogs and cats, horses and cows, asses and goats ­suffered from this epidemic influence, as if their habitual equilibrium had been changed.  The plants themselves were infected by a similar strange metamorphosis.

In the gardens and vegetable patches and orchards very curious symptoms manifested themselves.  Climbing plants climbed more audaciously.  Tufted plants became more tufted than ever.  Shrubs became trees.  Cereals, scarcely sown, showed their little green heads, and gained, in the same length of time, as much in inches as formerly, under the most favourable circumstances, they had gained in fractions.  Asparagus attained the height of several feet; the artichokes swelled to the size of melons, the melons to the size of pumpkins, the pumpkins to the size of gourds, the gourds to the size of the belfry bell, which measured, in truth, nine feet in diameter.  The cabbages were bushes, and the mushrooms umbrellas.

The fruits did not lag behind the vegetables.  It required two persons to eat a strawberry, and four to consume a pear.  The grapes also attained the enormous proportions of those so well depicted by Poussin in his “Return of the Envoys to the Promised Land.”

It was the same with the flowers:  immense violets spread the most penetrating perfumes through the air; exaggerated roses shone with the brightest colours; lilies formed, in a few days, impenetrable copses; geraniums, daisies, camélias, rhododendrons, invaded the garden walks, and stifled each other.  And the tulips, ­those dear liliaceous plants so dear to the Flemish heart, what emotion they must have caused to their zealous cultivators!  The worthy Van Bistrom nearly fell over backwards, one day, on seeing in his garden an enormous “Tulipa gesneriana,” a gigantic monster, whose cup afforded space to a nest for a whole family of robins!

The entire town flocked to see this floral phenomenon, and renamed it the “Tulipa quiquendonia”.

But alas! if these plants, these fruits, these flowers, grew visibly to the naked eye, if all the vegetables insisted on assuming colossal proportions, if the brilliancy of their colours and perfume intoxicated the smell and the sight, they quickly withered.  The air which they absorbed rapidly exhausted them, and they soon died, faded, and dried up.

Such was the fate of the famous tulip, which, after several days of splendour, became emaciated, and fell lifeless.

It was soon the same with the domestic animals, from the house-dog to the stable pig, from the canary in its cage to the turkey of the back-court.  It must be said that in ordinary times these animals were not less phlegmatic than their masters.  The dogs and cats vegetated rather than lived.  They never betrayed a wag of pleasure nor a snarl of wrath.  Their tails moved no more than if they had been made of bronze.  Such a thing as a bite or scratch from any of them had not been known from time immemorial.  As for mad dogs, they were looked upon as imaginary beasts, like the griffins and the rest in the menagerie of the apocalypse.

But what a change had taken place in a few months, the smallest incidents of which we are trying to reproduce!  Dogs and cats began to show teeth and claws.  Several executions had taken place after reiterated offences.  A horse was seen, for the first time, to take his bit in his teeth and rush through the streets of Quiquendone; an ox was observed to precipitate itself, with lowered horns, upon one of his herd; an ass was seen to turn himself ever, with his legs in the air, in the Place Saint Ernuph, and bray as ass never brayed before; a sheep, actually a sheep, defended valiantly the cutlets within him from the butcher’s knife.

Van Tricasse, the burgomaster, was forced to make police regulations concerning the domestic animals, as, seized with lunacy, they rendered the streets of Quiquendone unsafe.

But alas! if the animals were mad, the men were scarcely less so.  No age was spared by the scourge.  Babies soon became quite insupportable, though till now so easy to bring up; and for the first time Honore Syntax, the judge, was obliged to apply the rod to his youthful offspring.

There was a kind of insurrection at the high school, and the dictionaries became formidable missiles in the classes.  The scholars would not submit to be shut in, and, besides, the infection took the teachers themselves, who overwhelmed the boys and girls with extravagant tasks and punishments.

Another strange phenomenon occurred.  All these Quiquendonians, so sober before, whose chief food had been whipped creams, committed wild excesses in their eating and drinking.  Their usual regimen no longer sufficed.  Each stomach was transformed into a gulf, and it became necessary to fill this gulf by the most energetic means.  The consumption of the town was trebled.  Instead of two repasts they had six.  Many cases of indigestion were reported.  The Counsellor Niklausse could not satisfy his hunger.  Van Tricasse found it impossible to assuage his thirst, and remained in a state of rabid semi-intoxication.

In short, the most alarming symptoms manifested themselves and increased from day to day.  Drunken people staggered in the streets, and these were often citizens of high position.

Dominique Custos, the physician, had plenty to do with the heartburns, inflammations, and nervous affections, which proved to what a strange degree the nerves of the people had been irritated.

There were daily quarrels and altercations in the once deserted but now crowded streets of Quiquendone; for nobody could any longer stay at home.  It was necessary to establish a new police force to control the disturbers of the public peace.  A prison-cage was established in the Town Hall, and speedily became full, night and day, of refractory offenders.  Commissary Passauf was in despair.

A marriage was concluded in less than two months, ­such a thing had never been seen before.  Yes, the son of Rupp, the schoolmaster, wedded the daughter of Augustine de Rovere, and that fifty-seven days only after he had petitioned for her hand and heart!

Other marriages were decided upon, which, in old times, would have remained in doubt and discussion for years.  The burgomaster perceived that his own daughter, the charming Suzel, was escaping from his hands.

As for dear Tatanemance, she had dared to sound Commissary Passauf on the subject of a union, which seemed to her to combine every element of happiness, fortune, honour, youth!

At last, ­to reach the depths of abomination, ­a duel took place!  Yes, a duel with pistols ­horse-pistols ­at seventy-five paces, with ball-cartridges.  And between whom?  Our readers will never believe!

Between M. Frantz Niklausse, the gentle angler, and young Simon Collaert, the wealthy banker’s son.

And the cause of this duel was the burgomaster’s daughter, for whom Simon discovered himself to be fired with passion, and whom he refused to yield to the claims of an audacious rival!