But it was one of the peasants who voiced it—the old man carrying away the remains of the stew muttered among the shadows to his wife:
Mademoiselle caught her breath. “Oui, Gaston.” Then to me, in English: “Do you see it?”
“Yes. We called him that at school.”
She was thin and dark no longer—illumined, the color staining her cheeks. “Oh, if he were here—to save France!”
I protested. “An emperor against an emperor?”
“He was a great democrat—he loved the common people. For a little while power spoiled him—but he loved the people. And the Bourbons did not love them—Louis laughed at them—and lost his head. And Napoleon never laughed. He loved France—if he had lived he would have saved us.”
Out of the shadows the old woman spoke. “They say he will come again.”
“Oui, Margot.” Mademoiselle was standing, with her hand on her heart. Randolph’s eyes devoured her. He had taken no part in the conversation. It was almost uncanny to see him sitting there, silent, arms folded, shoulders hunched, sparkling eyes missing nothing. “It is true,” mademoiselle told us earnestly, “that the tra-dee-tion says he will come back—when France needs him—the soldiers talk of it.”
“In almost every country,” I said, “there is a story like that, of heroes who will come again.”
“But Napoleon, monsieur—surely he would not fail France?”
The thing that followed was inevitable. Randolph and Mademoiselle Julie fell in love with each other. He drew her as he had drawn us at school. She was not a Madge Ballou, mundane and mercenary; she was rather a Heloise, a Nicolette, a Jeanne d’Arc, self-sacrificing, impassioned. She met Randolph on equal ground. They soared together—mixed love of country with love of lovers. They rose at dawn to worship the sun, they walked forth at twilight to adore together the crescent moon.
And all the while war was at the gates; we could hear the boom of big guns. The spring drive was on and the Germans were coming back.
I shall never forget the night that Randolph and I were ordered to the front. Mademoiselle had come in with her hands full of violets. Randolph, meeting her for the first time after a busy day, took her hands and the frail blossoms in his eager clasp. He was an almost perfect lover—Aucassin if you will—Abelard at his best.
“Violets,” he said. “May I have three?”
“Why three, monsieur?”
“For love, mademoiselle, and truth and constancy.”
He took his prayer-book from his pocket, and she gave him the violets. He touched them to her lips, then crushed them to his own. I saw it—sitting back in the shadows. I should never have thought of kissing a girl like that. But it was rather wonderful.
He shut the violets in the little book.