Not far from Notre Dame Cathedral, on the Rue de L’Eglise, a cold mist fills the narrow gap between dark stone buildings. Gas lamps cast ghostly shapes in the fog. A woman clutches her shawl with one hand and carries a covered basket in the other. She picks her way down the cobbled stones, avoiding puddles and piles of horse droppings. A rat scurries into the shadows.
Stopping at the bottom of the hill, she pushes open a heavy door and holds the shawl over her nose against the putrid odors. She glances around the dimly-lit room. Glass jars and bottles of various liquids and undistinguishable substances line the dusty shelves. Flies buzz about. Four or five cages of rabbits and mice huddle against a wall. A pot boils and its steam wafts through a twisting glass tube. Books tower on shelves, tables, chairs, and even the floor.
"Louis?" She spies him in the corner near a cluttered table. His high collar is unbuttoned and rumpled. His whiskered face hovers over a microscope. He mumbles to himself and turns to scribble on a parchment nearby— his only light a flickering oil lamp.
She shivers in the damp room and steps closer, touching him on the shoulder.
Louie flinches and smiles at the sight of his wife. "Eh, Marie! I didn't hear you."
He clears a spot for the basket, and Marie sets out a plate of food, covered with a linen napkin, and a bottle of wine.
Louie lifts the napkin and sniffs. "Ahhhh . . . si bon!"
Distracted by a hiss, he suddenly jumps up and adjusts the flame beneath a boiling pot. He squints at the condensed liquid, collecting in another flask. He stops to look again into the microscope.
Marie watches and vainly vies for his attention. “Louis, won’t you eat something, s’il vous plait?”
“Oui, ma chérie. I will, I will, soon. I have almost proved it.”
He turns with a twinkle in his eye.
She smiles up at him, listening intently.
“I have proved that germs and bacteria do not spontaneously generate. There are no maggots upon the meat in the closed jar, only in the open jar. Do you not see, n’est-ce pas?" He gestures at a disgusting green blob covered with wiggling white worms. He then pokes at a slimy lump of meat in another container. "There are not bacteria within the broth that is boiled.”
Marie politely looks at the thick bubbling brine, but the stench disgusts her. “Of course — Mais oui.”
Louis goes back to his microscope, and Marie moves a book from a stool to sit upon. She looks at her husband, Louis Pasteur, a dedicated scientist — his forehead creased with worry lines and his graying hair badly in need of a comb and a trim. She sees a man driven with passion to rid the world of disease, which kills their children and grips old men with fear.
“Louis, there was a man asking for you today.
"Unh" He scratches more words on a paper.
"Louis? Are you listening?"
"Uh huh. . . a man."
"Oui, his poor son was bitten by a mad dog. He wished to speak with you. I told him that it was late and to speak to you on the morrow.”
Louis lifts his head and gives a slow shake. “Hydrophobia . . . the plague of Paris. So many die, but see?” He holds up a cage with a rabbit and turns it this way and that. “Voiçi, it is not dead! It is probably hungry, but it has been healed! It may be I have found the hope of our children." He gives the rabbit some leaves and a dish of water. "Tell the man I will see his boy on the morrow.”
“So, you will come home to bed, Louis?”
“Ah, non! I cannot leave this now. I will come soon, when I am done with this experiment.” He kisses her powdered cheek and turns to slip another slide beneath the scope.
With a sigh, Marie steps out into the night, knowing the plate of food would be cold before her husband remembers it. No matter, she will wait for him at home with a pot of hot tea and another plate of food. Such is the life of a scientist’s wife.
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