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"Mon dieu! Mother!" exploded Eliza. "That dandy, young Charles, the butcher-"
"He isn't a butcher," interrupted Pauline. "He's in a wholesale house; they export something." "Groceries, then," Eliza retorted. "It does not matter. She bought a partnership for him or persuaded old Boudin, the merchant, to give him one. How? You may surmise." But Paulette was shaking her pretty head.
"No one so old," she said. "To do her justice, like me, she prefers them young."
"Enough, Pauline! Have you no decency?" (This from Letizia.) Pauline, however, hadn't-not much more than Josephine.
“Eh bien! Leave Boudin out," said Eliza, taking up the thread. "There's Barras, Gohier, a whole pack; to say nothing of—'
"Basta! Say nothing!" broke in the mother, her dark eyes flashing fire. "Time will settle all these things. All we are concerned with now is that your brother gets the proper welcome. He has been away from home for a year and a half, in strange lands, and through many dangers. We must be at his house in the event of his wife's not being on hand, as I suspect she may not.' "Trust that," said Pauline, in a murmur now, not daring more.
But Joseph and Lucien, who had been conferring, announced their intention to ride down to Lyons to meet the wayfarer; and the host pulled the bell-rope to order out his cabriolet. Louis, too, had a suggestion.
"Do you not think it wise," he asked, caressing his side-burns and
shifting his pelisse at the prospect, "for me to announce the news to Madame la Générale en Chef?"
"An imbecile idea!" Eliza again exploded. "To warn her and not let him see!"
"Per Dio! Did I not tell you to hold your tongue, Signora Bacciochi? Go, Louis. Give the widow a chance. It may save him hurt.”
So off Louis posted. He had not made the suggestion through consideration for his wandering brother only. In the course of following Napoleon's injunction to give Josephine "good advice" and relieve her loneliness, he had found duty somewhat less than stern, and her brown eyes-no, they were dark blue-or was it black-she was so dark of coloring one always thought of them as brown-anyway, he found them quite fascinating. And she, on her side, always welcomed "dear Louis."
And, "Dear Louis," she said now, "thank Heaven you have come!". taking his hands in hers, there in the mêlée of petticoats and sheer nightgowns which she was assembling to enslave the conqueror. There was no sign of tears. Before men who did not know her so well as Napoleon she was ever the poised, the lovely, the superbly dressed, and the most adorably feminine.
"It is good to see you," she went on. "Besides, you can drive me down to meet Napoleon. Of course you have heard the news. Will he take, do you think, the Bourbonnais Road or the Burgundy?"
"The Burgundy; it is shorter. I shall engage a berline"-he had none of his own, a hardship for which daily he blamed his brother-"and will lead the way."
So it was that, a few leagues beyond the city walls, Madame de Bourrienne, riding up to Paris, saw Louis riding down, and, following him, a carriage with two fair passengers asleep, their poke-bonnets beside them, the chestnut hair by the flaxen, Hortense, compassionate even at her sixteen years, pillowing her mother on her shoulder. And Madame de Bourrienne, who, like many in Paris, got some amusement out of poor Josephine's tragi-comedy, or comi-tragedy, did not stop them, though she had reason to think that Napoleon had gone the other way.
He had-Josephine's luck had deserted her; and when she was aroused by "Wake up, maman; we are at Lyons," it was to be informed by a jubilant crowd of hostlers, postilions, and cooks, who had left their horses half hitched in the shafts, their lentils and their bouillabaisse scorching in the pots:
"Le général est arrivé! Vive le général! The general was here; the general had gone. Oui, madame; he Oui, madame; he had gone-swift like the eagle. How he kicked up the dust! I saw himand I-and I-brown as an oak-leaf in winter; with folded arms thus, and so stern! But when he smiled it was as though the angel shone through. Which way, madame? By the Bourbonnais Road. 'Impossible?' Non, madame. Oui, oui, via Bourbonnais. Voilà! There still hangs in the air the dust of his wheels. And here is the deux sous piece he gave me. I shall keep it for our children. Merci, madame, merci! He is the best man in all the world!"
"Too late! Now he will never forgive me," she cried. "And the
only word I get of him is from lackeys!" At which Louis looked blank, Hortense pitying.
"We shall hurry back, maman. And make no mistake. He will be overjoyed to see my beautiful mother. There, dry your eyes. Déjeuner, Uncle Louis, might help a little.”
And Uncle Louis, himself only twenty-one, began to think a flaxen aureole of hair, sea-blue eyes, and sixteen quite as attractive a combination as creole brunette, olive skin, and thirty-seven.
And le général― "the best man in all the world"? "Brown as the oakleaf in winter, from the Egyptian suns, his arms folded thus," and not smiling like any angel now, but with eyes somber and stern, he whirled on toward Paris to a street once called that of the Little Sucking Pigs, then of the Queen of Song, and now of the Victor.
The horses were jerked back until traces and whiffletrees almost snapped; Napoleon leaped out, bade Lavalette and the officers, who had been transferred to Joseph's coach when the brothers met him, drive on to their homes; and also dismissed Joseph and Lucien; then entered the door. No one in the receptionroom, or in the dining-room on the stiff horsehair chairs. He raced up the steps, two at a time. The rooms were empty. On the bed was still the imprint of her form. His hand trembling through memories, he touched the place.
"The hare has flown. The nest is still warm."
Now Louise entered, no longer laughing in her sleeve. This was no gauche lover sitting like a ramrod
awaiting his mistress, but an enraged and Paulette, prettier than ever!" conqueror.
"Where is your mistress?"
"She just left, Monsieur le Général en Chef. She rode down to Lyons. Very happy she was in the thought of meeting you.'
"A likely story! She has taught you too, to lie. Take yourself off. What are your wages?"
-tweaking her cheek. So, almost in the order of his affection for them, he greeted them. "Lucien !"—no rancor now in spite of all those jobs so wilfully abandoned-now Eliza. "And Caroline, you will rival Paulette, give you a year or two more. Ah, Jérome, my little cockerel. Tiens!" he passed his hand over the smooth cheek-"I have heard of that silvermounted shaving-set you smuggled in your room. I hope you use the sword as well. Julie, you are welcome. You are just right, but no more bonbons! Diet. You are at the danger-point. Christine? No. Yes, it is. How well you look! No little country girl now. Bacciochi, my hand. You too are welcome as long as you do not bring your vioHe did not like lin!" He looked around. "Where is Louis?"
"Do you not hear me? I will not have two lying women about. One is enough. What does she owe you?" "Five months' wages, Monsieur le Général-two hundred and fifty hundred and fifty francs," she faltered. "And there is two hundred more I lent her."
"Lent her! She borrows from her maid! Runs up bills, with all the money I allowed her!"
She was in tears. a weeping woman.
"Never mind. You abet her, but it is not wholly your fault. There. Here are a thousand francs. You may wait until your mistress returns. Now tell me the truth."
"It was the truth. She went down to Lyons."
"Truth! Comment diable!" Throwing up his hands in despair, he left the room and locked himself in his cabinet.
There was an embarrassed silence. They knew but hated to tell and so confirm her story. He thought he detected a little of malicious triumph on the faces of the girls-also on his brothers'. Letizia, however, was fair.
"He went down to Lyons-with Josephine-to meet you."
His look thanked her. But he was in no mood for family parties. "You must excuse me," he said,
Fifteen minutes later Louise almost mumbling now. "I have to
knocked at the door.
"Madame the general's mother wishes to see him."
Composing his features, he descended, to find not only Letizia but the whole family assembled on the horsehair chairs.
"Ah, mother!"—he embraced her, held her in his arms. She thought he trembled, gazed at him longingly. "Joseph, again, my beloved brother!
dress-see the Directors."
They left, and from the window above he heard their careless chatter: the "He's brown as an Arab" of Pauline; "Has had his hair cut short," from Caroline. Then Eliza
"I told you she wouldn't be here. Now maybe he'll wake up"-followed by the "Hush, don't wound him!" from his mother.
A day passed, twenty-four hours
and would not be consoled.
of interviews with the Directors, to her room, threw herself on the bed, Barras, the Abbé Sieyès, Gohier, Moulin, and Roger Ducos, with other celebrities, Caulaincourt, Cambacérès, Rèal, Admiral Bruix, and hordes of staff-officers. The halls were full of swallowtails, swords, and bright sashes.
At night he tossed in his room, got up to go into hers, looked into her closets, running his hands gently through the perfumed things hanging there, then wearily returned to his bed, to lie sleepless, listening for returning wheels. Despite the bright eyes of Madame Fourés the old wound had been opened again-for the last time.
In the morning he heard the wheels turning slowly, almost wearily, as if to symbolize the passenger's own fatigue and fear.
He did not go down to say futilely like any other husband, "Where, madame, have you been?" He turned the key in his door, and received Barras instead. So she had to wait, sitting on the bed with the arms of Hortense around her. EuEugène bending over her, consternation on his handsome ingenuous face.
She did not dare to enter while Barras was there. Within a halfhour Barras left, glancing in at the three, with a cynical look of malice that suggested the rake supplanted in a lady's affections, or perhaps persistently rebuffed. When he had disappeared she knocked at the door of Napoleon's room-timidly. No answer-louder this time-and still no response.
"Napoleon-Napoleon," she cried brokenly. The man within shuddered but did not stir. Tears streaming from her eyes, she returned
Another half-hour passed. She tried it again-listened-only the scratching of his pen. He was going on determinedly with his writing— and making a botch of it.
And again tears and the prostrate figure on the bed. "What have I done?" she wailed "-only wantedto have a happy time. That was not wrong, was it, Eugène?”
"Of course not, mother."
"They have gossiped about melied about me-his sisters-mother-" "Hush," said Hortense.
At last she brightened with hope and raised her head.
"You go to him-both of you, my dear ones. He loves you; perhaps he will listen to you.'
Napoleon's anger had never been for the boy, except on that fearful day in Joppa-then only for the moment. And Eugène was valiant. Nevertheless he approached the cabinet with apprehension, pulling his sister by the hand, Josephine stationing herself on the stairs.
"It is I, Eugène," the youth said, knocking. "Will you not open to me, mon général?"
The lonely man within the room tore up his notes-the first so treated in years. He appeared in the doorway. The storm seemed over, for he glanced, not sternly, but mournfully at the two. "Ah, Eugène, Hortense!" Tenderly he embraced them.
Out of the corner of her eye Josephine was glancing at him. Not so angry, she thought, and looking very well. His figure scarcely less. thin but more sinewy and harder, and straight as an arrow.
Then she was not so sure, for he looked down on her. The handkerchief she held concealed her face, all but the chestnut coils and the olive forehead so sweet in its contour. But he caught sight of the eye peeping out of the corner of the handkerchief. Appraising him, eh? Dramatics again-diable! she could give lessons at the Odéon. A curse almost escaped him, but he stifled it, as Hortense placed a hand on his arm and called him "father." He tried to think back. first time.
Yes, it was the Yes, it was the
He studied the girl's face with its wide sea-blue eyes, framed by its flaxen hair like wind-blown floss. All frankness; no play-acting here. None of the abominable tricks and histrionics of her mother.
"Father," she repeated, "do not break our hearts."
"Give me a minute," he said, turned on his heel, and closed the door. Up sprang Josephine, triumphant, and went to repair the damage of the freshets.
For that minute he slammed himself down at his desk. He did not blame himself or his masterfulness. Never in all his life did he think of that as a possible cause of dissensions in his relationships. With all his vision he could not turn round and see the back of his head.
to tell, his masterfulness had had very little to do with Josephine's conduct. She was made that way, loving pleasure at perhaps too dear a price. He thought of it and cursed her environment-Barras, Therezia, the convent of the Carmelites, the Revolution, everything.
And what could he do? Divorce was out of the question. That he
could get, of course, though the circumstantial evidence—so painful to one who loved-could never, beyond doubt, prove infidelity. And she would go down, lying charmingly about it, to the grave. But he could not wholly forget his passion, even though she had made herself and him unpleasantly conspicuous, even ridiculous.
Then there was his career-oh, yes, such practical considerations will intrude themselves at emotional moments-and Hortense-Eugène! How could he tell the girl of the conduct of her mother? Or the boy? He had not told him, to defend himself, back in Cairo. There are things even a conqueror cannot do.
Wearily he turned to the door, called them. They led her in.
With outstretched arms, she came, relying for the moment on the spell her charms had always woven. saw each one; memories tugged at his heartstrings; then in bitterness he recoiled. Wisely she fell back on being what she was, a naturally affectionate and now very unhappy woman; and her distress melted him where the physical had failed. That nobler expression with which he had once gazed on the slain del Sarra at the altar, on his mother, looking up at her on the stairs, in the old home, now totally changed the admirably cast, but too often relentless, features. He took her in his arms. The others stole out.
"How can I understand you, Josephine?" he asked, sadly looking down at her. "First you trample on my heart; then you make me the laughing-stock of all Paris by allowing others to make love to you."
"No, not that," she temporized.