Joseph bowed one last time and disappeared behind the falling curtains. The ebullient roar of the audience echoed down the narrow halls backstage as he made his way to his dressing-room in the Moulin Rouge. Can-Can girls blew kisses at him as they brushed past in a rush and between them he caught the eyes of two tall, unsmiling gentlemen in brown suits blocking his door.
Distracted by the sight of the surly pair, Joseph didn’t notice the skirt trailing along the floor behind one of the dancing girls and he slipped on it. He caught himself before he went completely to the ground and on one knee looked up to see the way to his room cleared. The light was low inside, but reflected in the corner of the mirror, he saw a gaunt figure in an overcoat, a thick grey beard overflowing its collar. One of the guards motioned him inside.
Slowly, Joseph crept into his room, his eyes focused intently on the man in the mirror. Electricity rolled down his spine as the draft of the door swinging shut behind him chilled the sweat on the back of his neck. The spectre stepped from the shadows.
“Your majesty!” shouted Joseph.
“SHHH! Don’t reveal me,” King Leopold II pleaded, “It was quite an effort to sneak in here unseen, just to experience firsthand Europe’s most famous celebrity.”
“My show? You’ve seen my act?”
The King grabbed Joseph’s hand and shook it vigorously.
“I did, and I wanted to tell you in person how much I enjoy your fartistry.”
A soft knock at the door signaled the King it was time to sneak away. And as the monarch departed that evening on December 16, 1892, Joseph Pujol, the “Fartomatic,” saluted him by exhaling Belgium’s national anthem through his trousers.