After having read this conversation, no one will be surprised to hear that on the board over the shop window, the following words, in yellow letters, were decently conspicuous:
Madame Chapeau was now disturbed in her unreasonable grumbling by a knock at the closed door, and on her opening it, an officer in undress uniform, about fifty years of age, politely greeted her, and asked her if that was not the house of M. Jacques Chapeau. From his language, the visitor might at first have been taken for a Frenchman; his dress, however, plainly told that he belonged to the English army.
“Yes, Monsieur, this is the humble shop of Chapeau, perruquier,” said our old friend, the elder Annot, who, in spite of her feelings of hostility to the English, was somewhat mollified by the politeness and handsome figure of her visitor: she then informed him that Chapeau was not at home; that she expected him in immediately; and that his assistant, who was, in some respects, almost as talented as his master, was below, and would wait upon Monsieur immediately; and she rang a little bell, which was quickly responded to by some one ascending from a lower region.
The visitor informed Madame Chapeau that he had not called at present as a customer, but that he had taken the liberty to intrude himself upon her for the purpose of learning some facts of which, he was informed, her husband could speak with more accuracy than any other person in Paris.
“It is respecting the battles of La Vendee,” said he, “that I wish to speak to him. I believe that he saw more of them than any person now alive.”
Madame Chapeau was considering within herself whether there would be any imprudence in confessing to the English officer the important part her husband had played in La Vendee, when the officer’s question was answered by another person, whose head and shoulders now dimly appeared upon the scene.
These were the head and shoulders of Chapeau’s assistant, who had been summoned from his own region by the sound of his mistress’s bell; the stairs from this subterraneous recess did not open on to any passage, but ascended at once abruptly into the shop, so that the assistant, when called on, found himself able to answer, and to make even a personal appearance, as far as his head was concerned, without troubling himself to mount the three or four last stairs. From this spot he was in the habit of holding long conversations with his master and mistress; and now perceiving that neither the head nor chin of the strange gentleman were to be submitted to his skill, he arrested his steps, and astonished the visitor by a voice which seemed to come out of the earth.
Indeed he did, Monsieur, more than any one now alive—more even than myself, and that is saying a great deal. Jacques Chapeau was an officer high in command through the whole Vendean war; and I, even I, humble as I am now, I also was thought not unworthy to lead brave men into battle. I, Monsieur, am Auguste Plume; and though now merely a perruquier’s poor assistant, I was once the officer second in command in the army of La Petite Vendee.