On the 21 January 1846, Alcide de Faremont has his cabriolet harnessed and takes Angelique Cottin and her aunt, Leontine Loisnard, to Mamers. He intends presenting the “electric girl” to two doctors: Drs Verger and Tanchon.
Everyone goes to Mr Fromage’s place. He is a first class pharmacist. Mademoiselle Devillers, Headmistress of the Ecole Sainte-Barbe, is already there. She is a person full of authority whose scepticism is as high as her chignon, which she wears on the top of her head.
This enlightened areopage installs Angelique in the middle of the salon, and Dr Tanchon, after a circumspect cough, asks for silence. Soon the only sound is the ticking of the bronze cartel under the portrait of Louis-Philippe.
After a quarter-of-an-hour, Dr Verger wants to leave, saying that his patients await him. Faremont protests that he had already explained that the phenomena only occur at nightfall. Mlle Devillers sniffs that shadows are propitious for rendering disservice to Science.
She approaches Angelique from behind, and touches her omoplate. She is thrown backwards letting out a great cry. Angelique cries out even louder:
“They’re hurting me! They’re hurting me!”
“It’s as if I were struck by lightning!”
laments Mlle Devillers.
They decide to come back that same evening, and everyone disperses, in prey to great perplexity.
When evening comes, Monsieur Adeline, the King’s Procuror arrives, too.
He is not a man to be fooled.
They start by trying to find a chair which does not remove itself from underneath Angelique’s posterior. This lasts until the moment when Mr Adeline authoritively decides to make “the electric girl” sit on his knees.
This agreeable construction collapses and Mr Adeline, who is rather heavy in the body, is unable to rise without help. While adjusting his starched shirt, he moans:
“A case of cheating is not plausible!”
Then Tanchon pulls from his briefcase a plate of glass and a piece of waxed canvas, places these objects on the salon’s rug and has the chair placed on them.
Angelique is ordered to sit down, but she wants to leave, legitimately tired of rolling head over heels on the floor. Her aunt convinces her to obey by threatening to slap her face.
The young girl then sits down, crying.
She is asked to wriggle, to rise, to sit again… nothing happens. Alcide de Faremont exults that he was right. Dr Tanchon agrees with him.
“It really is a phenomenon whose intimate nature is electric.”
The proof? It stops as soon as the chair is insulated…
Angelique is at last allowed to rise.
Immediately, the portrait of the Citizen-King leaves its hook and collapses with a sound of breaking glass, while Madame Fromage’s Louis XV consolette begins to seriously tilt.
Fearing for his furniture, which is of quality, the pharmacist drags the “electric girl” into a room with a slanting ceiling, where there is an old monumental bed. When the poor girl lies down on it, it starts to shake, as if affected by an earthquake, for a good quarter-of-an-hour…
On 14 February 1846, a fiacre stops in front of a dodgy hotel in the Rue des Deux-Ecus, in the Halles quarter of Paris.
Two well-dressed gentlemen alight from it. The first is tall, thin, and draped in a black Macfarlane. His name is Francois Arago, Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences, Director of the Observatory where he gives magistral lectures acclaimed by the Tout-Paris. Mr Arago is assuredly a genius, but if his lectures are so popular, it is also because the whole Opposition to Louis-Philippe gathers there. Mr Arago is in fact Deputy for the Pyrenees-Orientales and he sits on the Extreme Left.
The second person to alight from the fiacre is Hebert, another Academician. He’s an excellent friend of Arago, but his scientific merits are much lesser.
The two men are being watched from a window, for as soon as they arrive at the door, it opens, revealing Dr Tanchon, who loses himself in amiabilities and excuses, explaining that it is because of Cholet, an alcoholic mate of the dreadful Cottin, that they are in this filthy hole. Tanchon adds that it is with the pretext of supervising Angelique that Cottin had insisted on travelling with them. He then gives an account of the diverse observations to which he has submitted the “electric girl”.
“Her pulse goes from one hundred to one hundred and twenty beats per minute, she is not yet formed but her skeleton is that of a boy… and one that is older than she is!…”
Apart from that, nothing can be done with her… a real mule, alas!… She can neither read nor write; she is however interested in cows… She presents a fairly sharp pain in the cervelet, in the Atlas region. As for the electrical phenomena…, they are much stronger on her left that on her right… Arago wants to examine “the subject”.
At the end of a lugubrious corridor, they push open a door and enter a hole dripping with humidity.
Aunt Leontine, all intimidated, is there curtsying, Cholet touches his cap and Angelique removes her fingers from her nostrils with bad grace. Hebert hands her a packet of papillotes, three of which she immediately swallows. Cholet claims money. Arago replies crisply that he will be paid.
He discretely approaches a piece of paper to Angeliques’s left hand.
The paper flies away as if carried by the effluves of great heat. Surprised, the “electric girl” backs away. Her heavy woollen skirt brushes against the wobbly couch, which literally throws its legs up the wall. Cholet drunkenly exclaims that even at the Alencon Fair, nothing like this can be seen. This girl is worth a pile of gold louis, isn’t she?…
Angelique, in great form, next upsets a compass at a distance, makes the few poor ornaments in the place fly into the air, and also moves an unstable wardrobe whose doors then refuse to close again… The illustrious Arago concludes:
“All this is not serious enough… We must make scientifically rigorous observations… A lot more rigorous! Come tomorrow to my laboratory.”
To be continued.