The regimental inspection was to take place at the end of the month. The major had ten days before him. On the very next morning, however, he crawled, limping, as far as the Cafe de Paris, where he ordered some beer. Melanie grew pale when she saw him enter, and it was with a lively recollection of a certain slap that Phrosine hastened to serve him. The major seemed very calm, however; he called for a second chair to rest his bad leg upon and drank his beer quietly like any other thirsty man. He had sat there for about an hour when he saw two officers crossing the Place du Palais—Morandot, who commanded one of the battalions of the regiment, and Captain Doucet. Thereupon he excitedly waved his cane and shouted: “Come in and have a glass of beer with me!”
The officers dared not refuse, but when the maid had brought the beer Morandot said to the major: “So you patronize this place now?”
“Yes—the beer is good.”
Captain Doucet winked and asked archly: “Do you belong to the divan, Major?”
Laguitte chuckled but did not answer. Then the others began to chaff him about Melanie, and he took their remarks good-naturedly, simply shrugging his shoulders. The widow was undoubtedly a fine woman, however much people might talk. Some of those who disparaged her would, in reality, be only too pleased to win her good graces. Then turning to the little counter and assuming an engaging air, he shouted:
“Three more glasses, madame.”
Melanie was so taken aback that she rose and brought the beer herself. The major detained her at the table and forgot himself so far as to softly pat the hand which she had carelessly placed on the back of a chair. Used as she was to alternate brutality and flattery, she immediately became confident, believing in a sudden whim of gallantry on the part of the “old wreck,” as she was wont to style the major when talking with Phrosine. Doucet and Morandot looked at each other in surprise. Was the major actually stepping into Petticoat Burle’s shoes? The regiment would be convulsed if that were the case.
Suddenly, however, Laguitte, who kept his eye on the square, gave a start.
“Hallo, there’s Burle!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, it is his time,” explained Phrosine. “The captain passes every afternoon on his way from the office.”
In spite of his lameness the major had risen to his feet, pushing aside the chairs as he called out: “Burle! I say—come along and have a glass.”
The captain, quite aghast and unable to understand why Laguitte was at the widow’s, advanced mechanically. He was so perplexed that he again hesitated at the door.
“Another glass of beer,” ordered the major, and then turning to Burle, he added, “What’s the matter with you? Come in. Are you afraid of being eaten alive?”