Today I take up once again the story of my adventures; also, my nib pen. Never before has a pen written so badly. For two sous I could get one that was more helpful; but as this one cost me an arm and a leg I'll hang on to it until it doesn't work at all. Right now it's having a good time spitting ink all over the paper and my fingers. Well, lick them off and get started.
Toward the end of last summer my young master, the Lieutenant Bertrand de Grand-Air, made the announcement that he was over his injuries and had been called to the front. He said this during lunch just as I was serving the first dish, a tête de veau. Swelling with emotion I nearly spilled the head of veal on the head of the lieutenant. But I made a good catch and got the plate to the sideboard, and began to sob into my handkerchief.
But I looked at Madame Thérèse, his wife, and Madame la Marquise de Grand-Air, his aunt, in whose house we were living. They weren't crying. To see them so courageous made me ashamed to be such a baby.
I hid my tears and my handkerchief, took up the tête de veau, and finished serving lunch. I have to confess I did it all wrong right to the end, when the lieutenant asked for a glass of cherry in eau-de-vie, and I brought the pickles. He laughed and said to me, "I hope at the front the provisioning is done better." I was so embarrassed I fled to the kitchen.
There I told what had happened to old Maria the cook. She regarded me with a look of scorn that I wouldn't give to a dog and muttered a list of my crimes: that I was getting more and more stupid; that it was terrible to receive payment from our mistress, who hasn't got more than she needs, for rendering so little service, etc., etc. I believe I might have burst out in tears if my friend Zidore hadn't walked in at that moment.
Zidore said I don't know what funny thing to make us both laugh. We gave each other a squeeze of the hand as a sign of friendship. With Maria you fall out and make up ten times in a day. She's cranky but not mean, and I believe she loves me deep down, depending on the position of the sun. All the same that evening as I reflected on the day while undressing before my prayers I thought back to what she had said about our mistress not having a lot of money and me not being much use, and I promised myself to have a word with Madame. As a reminder I made a note to myself on a piece of paper with the famous pen, which squirted ink of course.
A few days later Monsieur Bertrand received his marching orders. He was pleased to see that he was assigned to his old regiment. Madame Thérèse, though very much moved to think that her husband would now be in danger, was also content because his regiment is in the Vosges, and as she herself was to go to her father's house in reconquered Alsace, that allowed them to go together, the two of them, or rather three because Zidore goes where his officer goes.
On the day of departure I had plenty of trouble finding a taxi. It's funny, the world of chauffeurs. You make them a generous offer and they look at you as if you intend to rob them. They all have to go to another quarter than the one you want: Grenelle or Vaugirard when you need to get to the Gare de l'Est. At last I found one, discharged with a croix de guerre, who agreed to go when he found out it was for an officer. I must say, he was very nice and agreeable, that one. With our two women, the lieutenant, Zidore and the bags, it made a full load. When everything was on board, the baggages and people, the chauffeur said to me, "And you, la Bretonne, are you not in the parade? With a little squeezing you could find a seat." Was I tempted? Madame la Marquise took notice and told me, "Come along, get on, Bécassine, since the chauffeur agrees."
It was a tight fit, and on the turns I could barely keep my balance. There were moments when Zidore had just enough time to grab me before I shot out of the seat, and other times I lurched toward the wheel, which was awkward for the chauffeur.
Finally we arrived without a serious accident: only two minor collisions with other cars and once a wheel got up on the sidewalk. These are not serious matters to the taxi drivers of today.
I will spare you the goodbyes we said at the station. With all the years that have passed in this damned war is there anyone who hasn't sent somebody they love off to battle? This time, as always, it was the one who was going to fight who encouraged the ones who remained behind. Thanks to an employee with some pull who knew Madame la Marquise, we were able to go on the platform. As the train departed we waved our handkerchiefs, and stood to watch a few minutes more after the train had disappeared. "Let us go, Bécassine," said Madame, "We must return." We found our taxi again and boarded, me inside this time, with Madame.
We were both very sad and quiet. I thought I should say something to entertain my dear mistress, and the idea came to me that this was the moment to have a word about what was bothering old Maria.
I said, "May I take the liberty of asking what will happen now? No doubt Madame will see out the summer at the Roses-sur-Loire property?" She replied, "No, Bécassine, I was obliged to rent out Roses-sur-Loire."
It was clear she was glad I had brought it up, and was disposed to continue. But at that moment the taxi stopped. The chauffeur said, "It's a breakdown. Don't worry. I'll be two minutes."
He tinkered with I don't know what in the motor. I got out to watch him work. It's easy to teach yourself mechanics this way nowadays seeing as, a little after you get into a taxi, it usually breaks down.
When it's not the chauffeur who refuses to move, it's the motor. After a quarter hour, Madame became impatient. She paid. We left on foot, and as we walked we chatted.