The Green Flag and Other Tales HTML version

A Foreign Office Romance
There are many folk who knew Alphonse Lacour in his old age. From about the time of
the Revolution of '48 until he died in the second year of the Crimean War he was always
to be found in the same corner of the Cafe de Provence, at the end of the Rue St. Honore,
coming down about nine in the evening, and going when he could find no one to talk
with. It took some self-restraint to listen to the old diplomatist, for his stories were
beyond all belief, and yet he was quick at detecting the shadow of a smile or the slightest
little raising of the eyebrows. Then his huge, rounded back would straighten itself, his
bull-dog chin would project, and his r's would burr like a kettledrum. When he got as far
as, "Ah, monsieur r-r-r-rit!" or "Vous ne me cr-r-r-royez pas donc!" it was quite time to
remember that you had a ticket for the opera.
There was his story of Talleyrand and the five oyster-shells, and there was his utterly
absurd account of Napoleon's second visit to Ajaccio. Then there was that most
circumstantial romance (which he never ventured upon until his second bottle had been
uncorked) of the Emperor's escape from St. Helena--how he lived for a whole year in
Philadelphia, while Count Herbert de Bertrand, who was his living image, personated
him at Longwood. But of all his stories there was none which was more notorious than
that of the Koran and the Foreign Office messenger. And yet when Monsieur Otto's
memoirs were written it was found that there really was some foundation for old Lacour's
incredible statement.
"You must know, monsieur," he would say, "that I left Egypt after Kleber's assassination.
I would gladly have stayed on, for I was engaged in a translation of the Koran, and
between ourselves I had thoughts at the time of embracing Mahometanism, for I was
deeply struck by the wisdom of their views about marriage. They had made an incredible
mistake, however, upon the subject of wine, and this was what the Mufti who attempted
to convert me could never get over. Then when old Kleber died and Menou came to the
top, I felt that it was time for me to go. It is not for me to speak of my own capacities,
monsieur, but you will readily understand that the man does not care to be ridden by the
mule. I carried my Koran and my papers to London, where Monsieur Otto had been sent
by the First Consul to arrange a treaty of peace; for both nations were very weary of the
war, which had already lasted ten years. Here I was most useful to Monsieur Otto on
account of my knowledge of the English tongue, and also, if I may say so, on account of
my natural capacity. They were happy days during which I lived in the square of
Bloomsbury. The climate of monsieur's country is, it must be confessed, detestable. But
then what would you have? Flowers grow best in the rain. One has but to point to
monsieur's fellow country-women to prove it.
"Well, Monsieur Otto, our Ambassador, was kept terribly busy over that treaty, and all of
his staff were worked to death. We had not Pitt to deal with, which was, perhaps, as well
for us. He was a terrible man that Pitt, and wherever half a dozen enemies of France were
plotting together, there was his sharp-pointed nose right in the middle of them. The
nation, however, had been thoughtful enough to put him out of office, and we had to do