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Napoleon At Work
by [?]

When I am in any doubt or difficulty I say to myself, “What would Napoleon have done?” The answer generally comes at once: “He would have borrowed from Henry,” or “He would have said his aunt was ill”–the one obviously right and proper thing. Then I weigh in and do it.

“What station is this?” said Beatrice, as the train began to slow up. “Baby and I want to get home.”

“Whitecroft, I expect,” said John, who was reading the paper. “Only four more.”

“It’s grown since we were here last,” I observed. “Getting quite a big place.”

“Good; then we’re at Hillstead. Only three more stations.”

I looked out of the window, and had a sudden suspicion.

“Where have I heard the name Byres before?” I murmured thoughtfully.

“You haven’t,” said John. “Nobody has.”

“Say ‘Byres,’ baby,” urged Beatrice happily.

“You’re quite sure that there isn’t anything advertised called ‘Byres’? You’re sure you can’t drink Byres or rub yourself down with Byres?”


“Well, then, we must be AT Byres.”

There was a shriek from Beatrice, as she rushed to the window.

“We’re in the wrong train–Quick! Get the bags!–Have you got the rug?–Where’s the umbrella?–Open the window, stupid!”

I got up and moved her from the door.

“Leave this to me,” I said calmly. “Porter!– PORTER!!–PORTER!!!–Oh, guard, what station’s this?”

“Byres, sir.”


“Yes, sir.” He blew his whistle and the train went on again.

“At any rate we know now that it WAS Byres,” I remarked, when the silence began to get oppressive.

“It’s all very well for you,” Beatrice burst out indignantly, “but you don’t think about Baby. We don’t know a bit where we are–“

“That’s the one thing we do know,” I said. “We’re at this little Byres place.”

“It was the porter’s fault at Liverpool Street,” said John consolingly. “He told us it was a through carriage.”

“I don’t care whose fault it was; I’m only thinking of Baby.”

“What time do babies go to bed as a rule?” I asked.

“This one goes at six.”

“Well, then, she’s got another hour. Now, what would Napoleon have done?”

“Napoleon,” said John, after careful thought, “would have turned all your clothes out of your bag, would have put the baby in it diagonally, and have bored holes in the top for ventilation. That’s as good as going to bed–you avoid the worst of the evening mists. And people would only think you kept caterpillars.”

Beatrice looked at him coldly.

“That’s a way to talk of your daughter,” she said in scorn.

“Don’t kill him,” I begged, “We may want him. Now I’ve got another idea. If you look out of the window you observe that we are on a SINGLE line.”

“Well, I envy it. And, however single it is, we’re going away from home in it.”

“True. But the point is that no train can come back on it until we’ve stopped going forward. So, you see, there’s no object in getting out of this train until it has finished for the day. Probably it will go back itself before long, out of sheer boredom. And it’s much better waiting here than on a draughty Byres platform.”

Beatrice, quite seeing the point, changed the subject.

“There’s my trunk will go on to Brookfield, and the wagonette will meet the train, and as we aren’t there it will go away without the trunk, and all baby’s things are in it.”

“She’s not complaining,” I said. “She’s just mentioning it.”

“Look here,” said John reproachfully, “we’re doing all we can. We’re both thinking like anything.” He picked up his paper again.

I was beginning to get annoyed. It was, of course, no good to get as anxious and excited as Beatrice; that wouldn’t help matters at all. On the other hand, the entire indifference of John and the baby was equally out of place. It seemed to me that there was a middle and Napoleonic path in between these two extremes which only I was following. To be convinced that one is the only person doing the right thing is always annoying.