It was about mid morning and Napoleon entered the Joan of Arc Room in the Palace of Versailles just as Joséphine came in from the Charlotte Corday Memorial Garden.
“There you are, darling,” said Joséphine.
“Is that the post, la mia petite baguette?” The emperor had never quite lost that hybrid Franco-Italian accent which he had inherited from Corsica.
“It is. I think your catalogue’s arrived.” Joséphine handed him a thick envelope with the Argos logo in one corner.
“I thought the English weren’t going to adopt ISO 216 paper sizes until 1959,” Napoleon muttered to himself, suspiciously turning the envelope over a couple of times for effect. He tore open one end and extracted the catalogue. To his relief, it was the French language version as he had requested. He pulled out a chair at the table and started scanning the index. “Here we are. Empires. Let’s see. The Americas.”
“Surely not,” said Joséphine in the voice she used to express her doubt about her husband’s ideas. Sadly, it would eventually fail when he decided that the French army should be treated to a winter holiday in Russia.
“Of course not. They were the bastards who renamed the national food of France ‘freedom fries’. What about Africa?”
“Not till later this century.”
“All right. Er, India? No, not India. Curry gives me the worst diarrhoea. China?” Joséphine’s expression alone was sufficient to veto that suggestion. She had been most vexed when the Chinese ambassador had claimed that his nation had invented French fries centuries before. (“But potatoes hadn’t even been invented then,” Napoleon remarked later.) “Australia? ‘With a mild climate and a wide variety of stunning landscapes, Australia is just the empire where you and your fellow emperors will gather around the barby drinking Foster’s.’ Sounds like fun.” He put a little cross beside Australia and read on.
“What about Europe?” prompted Joséphine, who had been reading the catalogue over the emperor’s shoulder.
“Europe?” Napoleon sounded sceptical. “It’s a collection of squabbling nation states. And who on earth would want to run the place from Brussels?”
“But it’s just next door and you’re always saying that we should have the neighbours over.”
“Of course, ma piccola salsiccina. Instead of having the neighbours over, why don’t we go and see them. It’s about time the army had a holiday.”
And that’s how Napoleon gained his empire, and how the French army had the most fun holiday ever.