Dr. Fournier had been in practice for many years, but in his entire career, the case of Monsieur Durand had been the strangest yet.
Dr. Fournier had met the patient in the military hospital at Le Havre, in the wing reserved for the mentally deranged. M. Durand, a veteran of Napoleon's army, had suddenly lost the ability to speak French, save for the most rudimentary phrases. This was not an uncommon result of trauma to the brain and was not in any way worthy of note. However, not only had the soldier lost his fluency in his mother tongue, but he had acquired an astounding facility in English. Perhaps the strange transformation had been a result of his fever. He had been delirious when his family brought him in and was only now recovering his strength.
And other aspects of this case were puzzling. The patient insisted that he was an officer in the British navy, even though his identity papers indicated that he was Adjutant Michel Durand of the 26e Chausseurs à Cheval. Dr. Fournier consulted with an old friend, a captain who had spent many years in the cavalry. Unfortunately, the 26e had been obliterated at Waterloo, and Captain Laurent doubted that they could locate any survivors who had known the patient.
Science had found that sometimes the sight of familiar objects had the effect of unlocking the memory, so with the permission of the hospital commandant, Captain Laurent and Dr. Fournier took the patient to a nearby stable. Though he seemed well-accustomed to his wooden leg, he was still weak from the fever and leaned heavily on their arms. Their experiment was a resounding failure. M. Durand was uneasy around the horses and was clearly puzzled by the riding tack. In halting French, he told them that he was a British officer and that he needed to return to his ship.
"Sadly deranged, as you can see," Dr. Fournier said as he walked his friend to the hospital gate.
"Well, whoever he is, I doubt that he was cavalry. You learn to saddle and bridle your mount even when you're drunk and half-asleep. Could he have been carrying another man's papers?" Captain Laurent asked. "Stolen or perhaps even planted on him."
"His own family admitted him to the hospital."
The captain shrugged. "The streets are full of thieves and worse."
"Do you think he's telling the truth?" Dr. Fournier had never considered this unlikely possibility.
"He certainly thinks he is English. Perhaps you should contact the governor-general's office."
As always, the captain had given him sound advice, and as soon as his friend had trotted away, he sat down at his desk. Though the governor-general was English, Dr. Fournier's command of that language was only fair, so he wrote the letter in French.
To The Governor-General at Le Havre, Lord Horatio Hornblower, Honoured sir, I am a physician on the staff of l'Hôpital Militaire du Havre who has made a life-long study of the diseases and disorders of the brain. Recently, a patient has come under my care who claims that he is a British naval captain named William Bush…
I am a physician on the staff of l'Hôpital Militaire du Havre who has made a life-long study of the diseases and disorders of the brain. Recently, a patient has come under my care who claims that he is a British naval captain named William Bush…