Here he adjusted his monocle and, after giving me a good look, he continued, "I know about aptitude. The art of discovering and utilizing aptitudes -- that's my specialty. I see in you the signs of the aptitude to organize this dinner. I'm counting on you. Until this evening, young girl."
I have nothing else to tell until the moment that we arrived. The hotel was not much to look at, and the hostess did not seem to be blessed with resourcefulness. August told her that he would take charge of the table settings, and that for the menu, she was to prepare everything I ordered and nothing more.
I sat down to write that menu. I had thought it over on the way. I named the dishes after the allied nations, after the manner that I had seen at Madame's on the evenings of grand dinners: flounder àl'anglaise, lobster américaine, brazed chicken àl'italienne, Russian jellied ham. I put all that on the paper and handed it to the hostess.
She seemed suddenly confused when she read it. But I didn't have time to talk. I had to go and set up my mistress' apartment in a villa in another part of the town. I ran there and spent the afternoon emptying the trunk and sorting out her effects. And when I got back to the hotel, Monsieur the Minister was there with all his guests. He asked, "Is dinner ready?"
"I think so, Monsieur the Minister."
"Good. We're dying of hunger. As there is no salon, we'll sit at the table."
They seated themselves. Auguste and I opened the bottles. After about five minutes, when it looked as if nothing was coming out of the kitchen, I opened the door and yelled to the hostess, "Hurry up and serve."
She came into the dining room and said, "Serve what? There's nothing."
"What, nothing?" demanded the Minister.
"No, nothing. Your maid (it was me that she spoke to) ordered seafood. It never comes here. And meat, but there's no meat today. And as your fat employee told me not to buy anything but what the maid ordered, I could do nothing at all."
The diners seemed very annoyed, the Minister even more so. As for Auguste, he collapsed into a chair and moaned about his lost honour.
"It's up to me to pull them out of this," I thought to myself when I saw them so disheartened. I found some eggs in the kitchen and fricasseed some tasty omelettes. With sardines and vegetables donated by my hostess, I made a dinner suitable for these times of war.
"Democratic simplicity, messieurs," said the Minister, who had regained his good humour. He added, looking in my direction, "That young girl might not have quite the aptitude that I thought, but she has some aptitudes, and I utilized them. That's the main thing. We utilize, messieurs, we utilize! To your health, messieurs!"
The day following that dinner I told you about, that started so poorly, I encountered the Minister in the village square. Since I was not so proud of my stupidity in that affair, I was afraid he might scold me, and I tried to avoid him.
But he came over to me, and I was very surprised to hear him say that I had shown great presence of mind, and that my aptitudes had risen to the height of those difficult circumstances. He added a pile of compliments in phrases so nicely turned that I wouldn't know how to repeat them.
He concluded, "I would like to offer you something in thanks. Have you any desire you would like to express?" I told him that my greatest desire was to visit the camp, because I admire everything military.
He turned to an officer who was with him and asked, "Is it possible to issue an authorization, my colonel?" The colonel replied that, ordinarily, access to the camp was forbidden to females, but he would consider an exception if it pleased the Minister, and he wrote me a permit for that afternoon.
I returned to the house, where I found Zidore. He gave me no time to tell him what had happened. "Ah! Mam'zelle Bécassine," he said. "What bad luck that you can't see the camp! I've seen it. It's magnificent! Picture cannons as tall as the Eiffel Tower, and armoured vehicles (they call them tanks) big enough to hold a family of elephants!" He carried on in this vein, making elaborate gestures.
Me, I'm beginning to understand our Zidore. I could tell from his face that everything he was telling me was lies. I let him go on, and when he was finished, I said to him with an innocent air, "Ah well! You can show me right now. I have a permit."
You could see that he knew he was caught. He tried to let on that he was under the Lieutenant's orders to stay at the house, but that was a lie too, as the Lieutenant himself came in at that point and ordered him to accompany me to the camp.
We went after lunch, with Auguste, whom the Minister had authorized as well. It was very interesting. I saw the great cannons, and one of the famous tanks, which looked like an iron beast.
A sargeant showed me the underground shelters where they take refuge whenever aeroplanes are spotted.
He amused himself by having me try on the helmet and gas mask they use. In the end I was very pleased with my visit.
I must say that my two companions did not seem as enthusiastic. The fat Auguste groaned without stop that the weather was too warm, that it was dusty, and that the corns on his feet were killing him. I was ashamed to see him being so soft around soldiers who put up with so many terrible things without complaint.
As for Zidore, I was asking him all the time, "And the cannons as tall as the Eiffel Tower, where are they? And the tanks that can hold an elephant family, when do they arrive?" He saw that I was mocking him, and it vexed him. True, it was a little mean of me, but he had it coming. He really tells a lot of lies.
He regained his usual good spirits when the visit ended. At that moment we noticed a group of autos in front of the general staff building. As we were aware that there was a conference of generals going on, we thought that these must be their cars. We approached the chauffeurs, all military, naturally, the French and the foreigners, and talked with them.
Auguste, who likes to turn a fine phrase, said, "Mademoiselle et messieurs, here we are altogether a group of allies. We represent a sort of Chamber of Allies."
"We represent the antechamber more," was Zidore's riposte, which started everyone laughing.
Later, as you might expect, talk turned to the war. Everyone had something to say. A Serb and a Belgian recounted all the horrors that the miserable Boches had inflicted on their poor little countries. I had tears in my eyes, and the others were moved as well.
"They'll pay for all that," said an English. And an American added, "They can't hold out against the whole world."
Fat Auguste had only this to offer: "This war is very long. And now we have to spend another winter. How will we manage?"
He irritated me, this fat man who whined all the time. So I cried, "It will last as long as it lasts! We will suffer what we must suffer! But the Boches, we will have them!"
And all the others applauded, and told me I has spoken like a true Frenchwoman.
The publishers of La Semaine de Suzette were not above a little product placement, so on page 56 of Bécassine chez les Alliés (1917), when our heroine reports seeing a diminuative version of herself in a dream, she says she was about the size of a Bleuette doll. Bleuette was available to subscribers of Semaine de Suzette from 1905 to 1960, along with a closet full of fashions. See. And.
And in a brilliant turnaround, here's Bleuette imagined as an illustrated character -- with her favourite Bécassine doll. Source.
Here we are back in Paris. I was very happy to see my dear mistress Madame de Grand-Air again, and I believe that she was equally glad to see me, but she seemed tired and a bit thin, and I couldn't prevent myself from remarking on it to her.
"It's the strain of this damned war," she responded. "Nearly everyone in Paris is thin."
That made me want to find out if I was losing weight like everybody else. So, when I passed a scale while I was running my errands, I weighed myself, and wrote the number on a piece of paper: 60 kilos, 450 grams. Three quarters of an hour later, when I was returning, I passed by the same scale and weighed myself again. The hand pointed to 60 kilos, 440 grams. Well, I said to myself, I'm getting thin too, but ten grammes is no big deal.
That evening, at dinner, I mentioned it to Zidore. He put on a concerned look, took out a paper and pencil, and began to calculate.
"This is serious."
"What is serious?" I asked.
"Your weight loss, mam'zelle Bécassine." And he explained it, with figures. "Ten grams a day makes a kilo in one hundred days, which is to say three months. That makes four kilos in a year. At that rate, in fifteen years you won't weigh more than 450 grams, which is just not enough for a damsel of your height."
Zidore has an annoying thing about him, which is that you can never tell when he's being serious or when he's joking. I'm pretty sure he was just having fun. All the same, what he said went straight into my head and, that night, I had a strange dream. I saw a Bécassine just as I am now, and in her hand she held another Bécassine, tiny and thin and not much bigger than the doll Bleuette.
This story about becoming thin had put me in a bad mood about Paris. As it happened, the morning after my dream, Madame called me and said, "Monsieur Bertrand is going on a mission to a camp in Champagne, and Madame Thérèse is to accompany him. You must decide if you will go with them, or remain here with me. Reflect on it, and give me your answer this evening."
"Very well, Madame," I said. "I will reflect."
I went to the kitchen and took up a pose that you always see in the pictures whenever people are reflecting: elbow on knee, forehead on fingertip, eyes fixed on nothing at all.
After a moment the cook said, "What are you doing there?"
"I am reflecting," was my reply.
"Ah well," she said. "You can reflect just as easily while you walk. Why don't you go and buy what's written on this list?"
"Very gladly, mam'zelle Victoire."
I took the paper in hand and read, "A pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound and a half of bread." I said to Victoire, "This is easy. I won't be long." She began to laugh so hard that she cried, and said, "Easy! Not long! You go see, ma petite, you go see."
I wondered if she hadn't lost her marbles, but I had no time to cross-examine her, and headed for the butter merchant's. We're old friends, so we chatted for a while, and then I said to her, "So, I'll take a pound of butter."
She lifted her arms to heaven. "A pound!" she said. "And you asked so calmly, as if there was that much to be had! Here you go, I'll give you this, because we're old friends." This was a tiny portion about the size of two nuts. She wore such an air of respectibility as she handed over the tiny portion that it should have been made of diamond, and she made me pay ... no, I don't dare to tell you. It's a scandal.
After that I went to the baker's. I also had a bit of conversation there. When I asked for my bread, she weighed it and handed it over, no problem. I was happy, but I looked at the bread more closely because, not to brag, I'm not one of those maids who shop with their eyes shut. I said, "You've made a mistake. You gave me a gray, stale loaf. I must have white, fresh bread."
She couldn't have been angrier if I had heaped insults on her. She cried, "Do you want to see me put in prison? Fresh, white bread? Don't you know that it's illegal to sell it?"
And her husband, who came in at that moment from his oven, said to me, "Maybe you didn't know that there's a war on?"
To say that to me, who was just back from the war, was too funny. It prevented me from getting angry, and I took their villain bread to avoid a longer discussion.
At the grocer's, for sugar, it was even worse. They wanted to know if I had brought my card. I told them that I was making up some cards for New Year's but that I didn't have them with me. Then they acted like I was mocking them, and they put me out the door. I'm not accustomed to being treated that way by retailers.
By then I had had it with Paris, where everybody is thin, and where it's a long story any time you want to buy something as simple as butter, bread or sugar. That evening when Madame asked me if I would stay or go, I replied, "I'm going, Madame, I'm going. It pains me to leave Madame again, but, definitely, in times of war, there's no better place to be than with the military people."
I have never seen anything as impressive as our departure for the camp. At the station, in a quarter of an hour, I saw a parade of generals and officers from every allied nation, as well as ministers, deputies, and journalists, in a word, nobody but very important people.
At the end of the train there was a car reserved for little people like me, servants, orderlies, and whatever. We were in a bunch by the wagon, and a fat man, who seemed to know everything, identified the grand personages as they passed by. It was interesting and instructive.
He told me that he was named Auguste and that he worked as an usher in one of the ministries. Immediately he bowed to the ground to a gentleman who was approaching, and told me, "It's my minister, the Minister for the Utilization of Aptitudes." I offered that I had heard him spoken of as a very capable man.
"Oh yes," said August. "He never mistakes ability, and he has some fine employees, the ushers especially."
He interrupted himself when he noticed his chief turn around and approach our group.
"Auguste," directed the Minister, "You must come to my wagon later. I want to discuss the organization of tonight's dinner, which I have been thinking about."
"Certainly, Minister," replied Auguste, taking on an air of even greater importance. We climbed into the wagon and suddenly he picked up our conversation again. "You see," he said, "the Minister can do nothing without me. It's flattering, but it causes me no end of trouble. No doubt the dinner he spoke of will take place at the hotel closest to the camp, a little village inn, practically a hostel, where, probably, no one knows the first thing about cuisine or service. And all the responsibility falls on me. It's all too much."
He seemed so overwhelmed that I pitied him. I told him that I knew all about cuisine and service, as I had a place in the house of a marquise and a countess, and that I proposed to help him out. He grasped my hands, nearly crushing them, and repeated, "Thank you! Thank you! What a great help you are!"
He left to receive the Minister's instructions. Then he returned, looking for me, and saying, "Monsieur the Minister wants to speak to you."
The Minister was waiting in the corridor. You can imagine my heart was beating before such a grand individual. He said, "Young girl, I thank you for your offer. It is a matter of preparing dinner for a collection of French and foreign officials. An improvised dinner. As soon as you reach the hotel, decide on the menu. Try to slip in the names of our allies. That will be a thoughtful touch for our invited guests."
Bécassine had been nearly a quarter of an hour in the chair, and was beginning to fall asleep, when a great cry, some kind of howl of pain, rang out behind the door. She jumped up, hurried over, and pressed her ear to the door. All she could hear was the confusing sound of voices speaking English.
She stood trembling for a moment, wondering what she should do. Then, overcome with fright, she fled to the front hall. But there she found herself in the presence of the maid.
With the same sympathetic air, the maid took her by the hand, repeating, "Courage! Courage!" and led her back in. Bécassine let herself be led.
At that moment the mysterious, frighting door was opened. "Courage! Courage!" said the little maid, pushing Bécassine ahead of her.
The place that they entered did not appear very tragic. Bécassine saw nothing but two women conversing, one of them who looked a bit like a nurse, and the other who was dressed to go about town. The latter held her handkerchief to her mouth, and soon left.
The other lady put several questions to the maid, and then indicated that our friend should take a seat. Bécassine had never seen such a strange chair.
The maid handed her a cup. The emotions Bécassine had just experienced had left her with a dry throat. She sniffed the contents of the cup, and finding an agreeable minty scent, she downed it in one swallow. She didn't see anything funny in what she had done, but to see the two women laugh restored some of her courage. They didn't seem very evil, these two women.
"Vô soffrez?" the nurse asked her. She wondered: Was that English or French? The accent made her believe ...
... that it was English. Remembering Emile's advice, she responded, "Yes."
Then, something happened that astonished her. The chair in which she was sitting rose up toward the ceiling and tilted backward.
Bécassine, whose jaws are as solid as those of a young shark, had never been to a dentist. She had no idea what was going on, and, feeling her terror revive, she gave a cry. But the young maid took her hands and in a voice that evidenced the deepest sympathy, repeated, "Courage! Courage!" A little comforted, Bécassine let them put stuffing in her mouth and wrap a bandage around her head. And she kept still, her heart pounding in her chest.
However, the nurse had drawn toward her some kind of tank with a tube attached, which began to bubble and growl in a most disquieting manner. Then she took up a steel instrument, terribly pointed and shiny and attached it to the tube. "Ovrez ... bouche!" she said.
When she saw that menacing apparatus approaching, Bécassine believed her final hour had arrived. With a violent effort she bounded from the chair and ran to the exit, crying as loudly as the stuffing and bandage would allow, "Help! An assassin!"
She made it into the front hall. But at the moment when she was about flee out into the street, she was caught and held by the two women.
At the same moment, the other door opened and a young woman appeared. She glanced in astonishment at the strange group, and then exchanged some words with the nurse. Then she said to Bécassine, in good French, "Oh! I am sorry, Mademoiselle, there has been a mistake. Let me explain."
Bécassine had been deeply disturbed by the mysterious events that had just taken place. Her protectress saw that she was close to fainting. She led her to a chair.
Before she would sit, Bécassine asked in a fearful tone, "Will this one hurl me toward the ceiling, too?" Miss assured her that it was an honest armchair without any moving parts. Only then would she sit down.
When her worries had dissipated, the young lady told her, "I am Miss Daisy Grace, the fiancée of Major Tacy-Turn." At these words Bécassine jumped to her feet, searched her pocket thoroughly, and finally handed her an envelope, saying, "Miss, behold the tiny flower that the brave Major has picked for you on the field of battle."
The flower was faded and bent, but his fiancée gazed at it with deep emotion.
"Dear, dear Major," she murmured. "Speak to me of him, Miss Bécassine."
And Bécassine spoke with such warm affection that Daisy could not help laughing, "I'm getting jealous!"
"Oh!" protested Bécassine, "I love the Major dearly, but I wouldn't want to marry him. A husband who spends half his life among the clouds -- that wouldn't please me."
"Then I'm relieved," said Daisy, laughing wholeheartedly.
During the conversation, the nurse and the little maid approached. Daisy introduced them. "Miss Mary Grace, my sister and one of the best dentists in London." And she delved into how the housemaid Betty, and Miss Mary herself, had arrived at the belief that Bécassine had come for a procedure.
"Why did you think that?" asked Bécassine.
"Lady," said Betty. "When I enquired whether you spoke English, you replied, 'Yes.' If you had come to see Miss Mary: 'Yes.' Whether you required an extraction; you said, "Yes.'"
"I'll never say 'Yes' again," affirmed Bécassine, shivering at the thought of the peril her jawbone had nearly caused itself.
Now that that misunderstanding was cleared up, Miss Daisy announced that they should go through for tea. They entered a charming dining room.
Daisy said a few words in English to Betty, who opened a pair of doors at the front of the room. And Bécassine saw a pretty group of about a dozen young girls carrying bouquets of blue, white and red.
They entered and presented their flowers to the brave girl, who was dumbfounded and moved. Then the eldest girl read an address in French, and the words courageuse aviatrice featured prominently.
The emotion and pride at seeing herself the object of such a reception overwhelmed Bécassine. Laughing and crying at the same time, she kissed the young girls. "Ah! The dears! Ah! The dears!" she repeated.
She also kissed Miss Daisy, her sister, and Betty, and tripped over herself thanking them. "I am the one who should thank you," replied Daisy gently. "You brought the little flower, and you rendered a great service to my fiancé."
Tea, accompanied by cakes and sweets, rounded out the celebration. Bécassine did them honour. While she savoured these good things, Daisy informed her that all the little girls present were orphans of war who congregated each day at her house. Bécassine kissed them once more, even more tenderly.
Then, with the moment of separation at hand, she made her emotional goodbyes. While she repeated her thanks, Miss Mary watched her closely. "Truthfully," she said, "Vô soffrezpas?"
"No! No!" cried Bécassine.
"Yet," insisted the dentist, "I see here" (she touched Bécassine on the cheek) "a little swelling." But, to her great surprise, the swelling instantly went down.
"It was a bonbon that hadn't melted," said Bécassine.
And she hurried out, dreading the thought of that terrible chair, and the operation she narrowly avoided.
I'm beginning to think that I must have something pleasant about my face, because nearly everyone I meet takes a friendly attitude toward me. It didn't take more than five minutes for Emile Chartier and myself to become friends and give each other a big handshake. Emile Chartier is the soldier I was just telling you about. He is French Canadian and, while waiting to go to the Front, he serves as orderly to my master.
While he was relating this information we saw Zidore arrive, red-faced and out of breath. As soon as he noticed me he cried, "Ah! There you are, Mam'zelle Bécassine! Where have you been these two hours since your train came in? I was running around searching for you, while Emile was on the lookout here." I told him the story. The episode with the cab amused him very much. "All the same," he said, "not knowing English cost you a lot of money."
"Ah well!" said Emile, "She has to learn. I shall be the teacher. I know how to go about it. I was once a servant in a Berlitz school in Québec." While we were talking, we entered the house. Emile led us into the dining room and opened the buffet, saying, "We shall begin our lesson right away."
He produced a glass, a knife, a napkin and a spoon. He set them on the table, placing each one down with a serious, attentive care. Me, I couldn't see how these utensils could amount to an English lesson. I asked, jokingly, "Are you going to perform a trick, Monsieur Emile?"
That made Zidore laugh, but Emile responded, annoyed, "I am not a conjurer, I am the teacher. Let us begin. But, first, Zidore, do me the favour of going out. In the Berlitz method, the teacher must be alone with the student." Zidore preferred to stay in, but Emile would not allow it.
When we were alone he put himself by my side, and he directed, "French is not permitted. I shall say some English words. You will repeat them until you have them firmly in your head, and you will try to understand from my movements what they mean."
Then he made a grand gesture with his right arm and said, "Glass."
I made exactly the same gesture and repeated, "Glass. -- Glass. -- Glass. -- Glass."
Next, it was the same motion, but with the left hand, crying, "Fork."
And then Emile said, and myself after him, "Clock, clock, clock," lifting both arms to the wall.
This exercise amused me a lot. I gesticulated, and repeated I don't know how many times, "Glass, fork, clock," shouting them at the top of my voice to make them stick in my head.
Just when I was shouting the loudest, Monsieur and Madame came in. "What's going on? You're making an awful racket. They can hear you in the street." I explained that I was having an English lesson. They said that it was fine as long as it was not so noisy. Then Emile left with the lieutenant.
Now it was up to me to bring Madame up to date on my adventures. When I had finished, she came back to the English lesson. "You already know some words, Bécassine?" "Yes, Madame, I know glass, fork and clock." "Very good, you are quite a learner. And they mean?"
"Madame, I know it well. Glass is to move the right arm. Fork is to move the left arm. And clock is to raise both arms."
Madame looked at me with a stupifed air, then she burst out in crazy laughter. She is so young.
I felt sheepish. When she had stopped laughing, Madame showed me le verre, la fourchette and une horloge on the wall, saying, "This is a glass, this is a fork and that is a clock." I hadn't understood Emile's gestures at all.
Now I wonder if I'll continue my lessons. I have a good memory, so I believe I can arrive at speaking English, but I worry that it will be without understanding what I am saying.
Bertrand de Grabd-Air's time in England was short. He warned Bécassine that they they would be leaving again in a few days. "I'm giving you the afternoons off," added Madame de Grand-Air. "Use them to explore London."
Bécassine thanked them, and, in the company of Zidore and Emile, she tirelessly investigated the great city, admiring and marvelling ceaselessly.
The Tower of London, and the picturesque costumes of the Beefeaters, amazed her especially. "I thought," she said, "that all the Britiash officers and soldiers wore khaki."
"Yes, all of them," agreed Zidore, always looking for a way to mystify her, "except for the Lords of the Court." And Bécassine curtseyed reverently, which surprised the guards, despite their famous English imperturbability.
Over the course of their rambles, the brave girl carefully read out the the shop signs ad was enchanted whenever she encountered word she recognized, like Tramway, Five O'Clock, and revolver. "I'm beginning to understand English," she said.
Emile puffed himself up. "It's not surprising," he assured her, "when you have a good teacher."
He went on to give her a daily lesson, the master and the student rivalling in zeal, but without what anyone would consider a brilliant result.
But one evening in the course of a lesson, needing a piece of paper to write down a note, Bécassine explored her pocket. She took out an envelope, and as soon as she saw it her face took on an desolate expression.
"Ah! My God," she cried, "it's the letter with the little flower that Major Tacy-Turn gave me to deliver to Miss Grace, his fiancée. I forgot all about it."
"You'll have to go tomorrow," said Emile. "And," added Zidore, "you'll have to send a note to Miss right away, to make sure that you find her at home."
Bécassine nodded her head wisely at this double advice. Under the direction and supervision of Emile, she composed a letter in English, which she hastened to drop in the mail. The next day, at the given hour, guided by her two friends ...
... she arrived at the address given by the Major. She found a townhouse, small and unassuming, but with an appearance of comfort. At the door a worrying thought overtook her. "If the Miss doesn't speak French," she wondered, "how will I explain myself to her?"
Emile undertook to reassure her. "You're beginning to understand English," he said.
"But there are still plenty of words I don't understand. What will I do if don't understand something?"
Emile considered it, then gave this advice: "Say, Yes. That's the most polite thing." And he walked off, accompanied by Zidore.
Bécassine rang the bell, and a young maid opened the door. "Je voudrais voir Miss Grace," said Bécassine.
"Do you speak English?" asked the maid.
Bécassine sifted through her recent lessons, but could find nothing that gave sense to the mysterious words. Following Emile's advice, she said, "Yes."
The young maid admitted her to the front hall and rattled away in English, all the while indicating two doors which led from the hall. Her voice seemed to be questioning, and Bécassine, whenever she heard it rise toward a query, repeated, "Yes."
Then the maid opened the door on the left and ushered the visitor into a small room. She began talking again, often touching Bécassine on the head and the mouth. When she was done, Bécassine ventured another, "Yes." This yes seemed to grieve the maid. With an expression so sympathetic that it caused Bécassine to become vaguely worried, the maid installed her in the best chair. The young maid gave another discourse, indicating the door at the back of the room. The words patience and courage came up frequently. Then the maid took some cotton wool from her pocket and stuffed it in Bécassine's ears.
After that the maid departed, repeating, "Patience! Courage!" Bécassine sat in the chair, completely stupified by this reception, and cast worried glances toward the door the maid had repeatedly indicated, behind which it seemed she could hear muffled cries.
Bécassine recounted without omission the events that we have already heard. Monsieur Proey-Minans listened to her with a lively interest. When she was done, he said, "What adventures you have had, my child. I must examine your skull. Remove your cap, if you would be so kind."
He massaged her scalp while referring to a record of their previous encounter, and declared, "I knew it. The bulge of courage is developed, likewise the bump of ingenuity. Ah! Phrenology! What a science!"
He dismissed the guards, then undertook to recount to Bécassine how he had come into his job with the police. "But, first," he said, "put Hindenburg in his basket. I can't stand the sight of a Boche, even if he is a dog." Bécassine regretfully packed up her companion.
"I wished to serve my country," continued Monsieur Proey-Minans. "Unable to do it by arms, I applied to a newly created ministry, the Ministry for the Utilization of Aptitudes. The foyer was crowded. I presented my card to a footman, and, thanks to my membership in a number of academies, that man, respectful of science, introduced me very kindly into the Minister's waiting room. There, I had the pleasure to find two of my acquaintances who were there, like me, to offer their services."
"They were Monsieur Gradouble, my pork butcher; and one of my friends, a very distinguished engineer, who before the war had managed a factory that made coil springs. We shook hands, and together the three of us entered the office of the Minister."
"What a charming man, the Minister for the Utilization of Aptitudes! And how distinguished! Of course, I didn't have the opportunity to measure his skull, but I observed it at leisure during the conversation, which was easy for me because he is completely bald. It's a fine skull, and has the particular feature, which I have remarked on many ministerial heads, of being entirely smooth."
"Monsieur the Minister listened to us very complacently."
"While we were taking our leave, he told us, 'Be assured that your aptitudes will be utilized to the best advantage of the country.'"
"And how have they been?" asked Bécassine.
"These two photographs will show you," replied Monsieur Proey-Minans.
One of the photos showed a man surrounded by hams, tongues, pig's heads, and everything that goes into a sausage.
"Is that Monsieur Gradouble?" asked Bécassine.
"No," replied Monsieur Proey-Minans. "That's the engineer. As a maker of coil springs, he was put in the pork butcher's shop.* Gradouble," he added, handing her the other photo, "you can see represented here. He is an observer in one of those balloons they call sausages. Perhaps, my child, you think that it would be better to put the engineer in the aeronautical post, and the pork butcher in the pork butchery, and myself, because of my myopia, in some other line than spy-catching. If the Minister has not done so, it's because he has his reasons. Let us guard against vain critiques, my child."
Animated by his subject, Monsieur Proey-Minans stood up. In a gesture familiar to lecturers, he held his ink bottle in one hand and, taking it for a glass of water, lifted it to his lips. Bécassine intervened just in time to prevent him from drinking it.
At that moment the bellow of a ship's horn was heard. "The boat for England is announcing its departure," noted Monsieur Proey-Minans calmly.
Bécassine jumped. "The boat for England?" she cried. "I forgot all about it! And my mistress and master who are waiting for me, and don't know what has become of me!"
"Let's run!" said Monsieur Proey-Minans. They ran. Hindenburg was able to get out of his basket and ran on ahead. But when they arrived at the quay the vessel was pulling away.
At the stern, Bertrand de Grand-Air, his wife, and Zidore waved their arms desperately. They shouted their London address, which Monsieur Proey-Minans carefully wrote down. Then he consoled Bécassine and told her there was another ship in two days.
While they were returning they encountered a couple of policeman with the man who was the first cause of all these incidents. "He's a dangerous spy," said Monsieur Proey-Minans, "and it was Hindenburg who sniffed him out. That is enough to reconcile me with that Boche doggie. Leave him with me, my child. You'll have nothing but headaches if you try to get him into England."
*The joke hinges on the word boudin which can apply to either a spring or a sausage.
After the adventures that you have heard, I spent two tranquil days waiting to leave by boat for England. Nearly the whole time I was in the office of Monsieur Proey-Minans. He was trying to teach me the science of phrenology. Between me and you, I didn't really get it. I confused all the bulges.
The day of departure, the good Monsieur Proey-Minans had the kindness to accompany me aboard and introduce me to the captain. I was sad to be leaving him. And then I was worried about the submarines. It wasn't exactly fear, but something like it. The captain assured me that there was no danger, as he had good look-outs and a gun for shooting at the pirates. I offered to look out as well.
"That's it," he said, and installed me at the bow near the gun. "Watch well, and let me know if you see le père Iscope." I suppose that this Père Iscope, about whom you hear so much, is an assassin cut from the same cloth as that old pirate Zeppelin. I kept my eyes peeled for the whole crossing. But I saw neither père nor fils Iscope, or anyone of that family.
We arrived around evening at the English port, whose name I can't tell you. (Caution! Discretion!!!) There, it was necessary to get through customs, the police, and then to wait a good while for the train to London.
In my compartment we were packed in like sardines. I tried to strike up a conversation, but all they would say was, "Oi ... Yes ... No." After half an hour everyone was asleep, except for me, who never closed an eye.
Probably the emotions of the journey had left me on edge. Also, when we arrived, at about eight in the morning, I was very tired. I went through my pockets looking for the piece of paper on which Monsieur Proey-Minans had written the address of my mistress and master, and the roads to take to get there.
I thought it was lost, and I was desolated, when I remembered I had stuck it under my cap. It's often like that: I take such careful precautions to make sure I don't lose things that I have all the trouble in the world finding them.
Here I am on my way, suitcase in one hand, directions in the other, nose in the air looking for the names of the roads. They're hard to read, and they all end in Street. It's not easy. Also, I'm in a muddle and completely lost.
I asked the passersby my way while showing them my paper. I can well imagine that I pronounced it wrong, because those who spoke French said, "I don't know. There's no such place," before walking on. As for the rest, it's amazing how everyone in London walks quickly and seems pressed for time.
I said to myself, "There's only one thing to do, and that's take a cab." Just at that moment, I spotted one stopped nearby. It was a funny cab, with the driver perched on the back. Trust the English to invent something like that!
Standing on the tips of my toes I handed my paper to the cabman. He read it, and then gave a long discourse that I did not understand a word of, and pointed to the corner of a street on the other side of the square. It began to irritate me, because people were stopping and laughing.
Then I climbed into the cab and settled in, and, as I was exhausted from my bad night and from tromping all over London, I immediately fell asleep like somebody without a worry in the world.
I believe my sleep would have lasted all day, if I had not felt someone pulling on my arm. I sat up and looked around. It was the same square, but on the other side, at the place that the cabman had been pointing to while he was making his discourse. And it was the cabman who was shaking me, along with a soldier who had a nice face.
The soldier said, "Step out, Mademoiselle Bécassine, you have arrived." And he made me see, on the sign at the corner of the street and the square, the name I had been searching for. He also told me to pay the cabman, and, once you put it into French money, it came to six francs that I gave him. That put me in a bad mood, because it seemed like highway robbery to charge that kind of money for a journey of fifty metres. Then the soldier explained that I had been asleep in the cab for nearly an hour. That calmed me down, but it gave me the idea that you must be rich to live in England, since even to sleep costs so much!