FOOLS' PARADISE

The Head and the Heart
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© Gavin Sinclair 2000

Perhaps they have all escaped. You wouldn't know, for you have not left this cell these last five hours."
     "I like you best."
     "Ah, yes."
     The Comte was trying to decide whether he could be bothered to inquire as to the reason for his exalted position in the revolting old jailer's affections and reaching the conclusion that probably he could not, when there came a loud rapping at the door.
    "It's open," Leboeuf growled, without moving from his stool in the corner of the cell.
     There was another vigorous rapping at the door. "Hey, in there! Open up I say. I have permission to call upon the Comte."
     "I said it's open."
     There was loud clanking and slamming and suddenly the door opened to reveal the substantial figure of the Baron de Chaumont. Or most of him, the Baron being of such exceptional girth that only the widest of doorways would have revealed him
in toto.
     "I say, Saint Cyr, this door is open!"
     "I know."
     "Then why do you not escape?"
     There was a loud chuckle from the corner, dissolving soon into a fit of coughing. The Baron, having maneuvered himself through the door into the cell, raised his spectacles to his eyes and peered at Leboeuf with obvious distaste. Little beads of perspiration stood out beneath his wig and he was breathing heavily from the climb to the Comte's cell. He took a handkerchief from his sleeve and mopped his brow.
      "Is this man an idiot, monsieur le Comte? Have they put an idiot in your cell to torment you?"
     "Perhaps," said the Comte, rising from his cot and motioning to the exhausted Baron to sit down, "but he knows there is no escape from this place, open door or no open door. This, Baron, is monsieur Leboeuf, jailer and chronic consumptive. I am his favorite prisoner."
     The Baron sat for a moment, recovering his breath. Suddenly, he looked up and motioned to the Comte to sit down beside him. When the Comte had done so, he leaned over and whispered hoarsely in his ear. "We could exchange clothes."
     "What?"
     "Yes, we could exchange clothes, you and I, and you could leave in my place."
     The Comte looked into the Baron's eyes, shining with boyish excitement beyond the folds of fat, a flabby testament to years of excess under the ancien régime. It had always struck the Comte as remarkable that a mind so gifted in the area of scientific inquiry could consistently come up with such tom-fool ideas. These thoughts must have shown in his eyes, for the Baron's excitement drained from his face to be replaced by the kind of expression you might expect to see on a scolded bloodhound. He looked from the Comte's gaunt figure to his own ample belly and muttered, "Yes, yes. Quite so, quite so. Foolish notion."
     They sat for a moment, side by side on the cot, in silence but for Leboeuf's wheezing.
     "It just seems such a waste," said the Comte quietly.
     "Indeed," said the Baron.
     "I have no fear of death. Only, it seems absurd to die now."
     "Yours is a life which science can ill afford to lose, Comte. Which France and the Republic can ill afford to lose. They'll come to regret it, you mark my words."

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