People stood by their shop doors, the men smoking small clay pipes, the women usually with a child or two at their skirts. A quiet scene, dull and homely, this birthplace of the Conqueror, and at this humble end of the great street rather pathetic in its aspect of simple relaxation.
Suddenly a little ripple of excited interest touched the groups in the street. The two soldiers rose and stared hard to their left; M. Perret of the Pharmacie Normale came out at a quick call from his wife, and stood, pestle in hand, as she struggled with a maddening knot in the strings of her black apron.
Brigit, leaning out still further, laughed aloud.
“Victor,” she said under her breath. “Oh, look at him! You old sabreur!”
Joyselle, a great purple flower in his coat, came swinging down the street, bowing right and left, his grey felt hat in his gloved hand. He looked amazingly young and amazingly handsome, and there was no mistaking the fact that, great man though he undoubtedly was, he was hugely enjoying the homage of his townspeople.
When he reached the Pharmacie Normale he paused, and shaking hands politely with Madame Perret, he met M. Perret with open arms, and the little apothecary, bounding at him, was caught and kissed on either cheek.
“Ce cher Anatole!” Brigit heard him exclaim, “and how art thou, old one?”
Perret, greatly delighted, skipped about in rapture, inquiring in a high piping voice for Felicite and the boy, and asking many questions for which he waited for no answer.
Then there was a lady from the shop, Au Bonheur des chers Petits, to be greeted very cordially, and the old domino-player, who, Brigit learned, was a cousin.
There was something very charming in the simplicity of Joyselle’s pleasure in seeing his boyhood’s friends, and something almost ludicrous in his perfectly obvious joy in their homage.
Looking down at him in his oft-interrupted progress, Brigit told herself that things must turn out all right. “He is so good-natured and generous and strong,” she reflected, with glad shifting of all responsibility, “he will surely find some way out.”
When at last she heard his light, regular footfall coming down the passage she rose and went to meet him.
“So the Conquering Hero has come,” she teased. “I have been watching your advance down the street. Such a strut!”
“Did I strut? I daresay. They are my own people and I love their affection. Also, as you say, it pleases my vanity. Helas, my dear, I am very vain.”
She put on her hat and took up her gloves.
“I thought Theo was coming for me, Glorieux.”
His face changed. “No, my dear love. It is my town, this. Here I was born, here I lived as a child. I must show it to you.”
Taking her hand he laid it on his arm with a gentle little pat and led her proudly downstairs.