Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Jim Tinsley
In presenting this engaging rogue to my readers, I feel that I owe
them, if not an apology, at least an explanation for this attempt at
enlisting sympathy in favour of a man who has little to recommend him
save his own unconscious humour. In very truth my good friend Ratichon
is an unblushing liar, thief, a forger--anything you will; his vanity
is past belief, his scruples are non-existent. How he escaped a
convict settlement it is difficult to imagine, and hard to realize
that he died--presumably some years after the event recorded in the
last chapter of his autobiography--a respected member of the
community, honoured by that same society which should have raised a
punitive hand against him. Yet this I believe to be the case. At any
rate, in spite of close research in the police records of the period,
I can find no mention of Hector Ratichon. "Heureux le peuple qui n'a
pas d'histoire" applies, therefore, to him, and we must take it that
Fate and his own sorely troubled country dealt lightly with him.
Which brings me back to my attempt at an explanation. If Fate dealt
kindly, why not we? Since time immemorial there have been worse
scoundrels unhung than Hector Ratichon, and he has the saving grace--
which few possess--of unruffled geniality. Buffeted by Fate, sometimes
starving, always thirsty, he never complains; and there is all through
his autobiography what we might call an "Ah, well!" attitude about his
outlook on life. Because of this, and because his very fatuity makes
us smile, I feel that he deserves forgiveness and even a certain
amount of recognition.
The fragmentary notes, which I have only very slightly modified, came
into my hands by a happy chance one dull post-war November morning in
Paris, when rain, sleet and the north wind drove me for shelter under
the arcades of the Odeon, and a kindly vendor of miscellaneous printed
matter and mouldy MSS. allowed me to rummage amongst a load of old
papers which he was about to consign to the rubbish heap. I imagine
that the notes were set down by the actual person to whom the genial
Hector Ratichon recounted the most conspicuous events of his chequered
career, and as I turned over the torn and musty pages, which hung
together by scraps of mouldy thread, I could not help feeling the
humour--aye! and the pathos--of that drabby side of old Paris which
was being revealed to me through the medium of this rogue's
adventures. And even as, holding the fragments in my hand, I walked
home that morning through the rain something of that same quaint
personality seemed once more to haunt the dank and dreary streets of
the once dazzling Ville Lumiere. I seemed to see the shabby
bottle-green coat, the nankeen pantaloons, the down-at-heel shoes of
this "confidant of Kings"; I could hear his unctuous, self-satisfied
laugh, and sensed his furtive footstep whene'er a gendarme came into
view. I saw his ruddy, shiny face beaming at me through the sleet and
the rain as, like a veritable squire of dames, he minced his steps
upon the boulevard, or, like a reckless smuggler, affronted the grave
dangers of mountain fastnesses upon the Juras; and I was quite glad to
think that a life so full of unconscious humour had not been cut short
upon the gallows. And I thought kindly of him, for he had made me
There is nothing fine about him, nothing romantic; nothing in his
actions to cause a single thrill to the nerves of the most
unsophisticated reader. Therefore, I apologize in that I have not held
him up to a just obloquy because of his crimes, and I ask indulgence
for his turpitudes because of the laughter which they provoke.
EMMUSKA ORCZY. _Paris, 1921_.
CASTLES IN THE AIR
A ROLAND FOR HIS OLIVER
My name is Ratichon--Hector Ratichon, at your service, and I make so
bold as to say that not even my worst enemy would think of minimizing
the value of my services to the State. For twenty years now have I
placed my powers at the disposal of my country: I have served the
Republic, and was confidential agent to Citizen Robespierre; I have
served the Empire, and was secret factotum to our great Napoleon; I
have served King Louis--with a brief interval of one hundred days--
for the past two years, and I can only repeat that no one, in the
whole of France, has been so useful or so zealous in tracking
criminals, nosing out conspiracies, or denouncing traitors as I have
And yet you see me a poor man to this day: there has been a
persistently malignant Fate which has worked against me all these
years, and would--but for a happy circumstance of which I hope anon to
tell you--have left me just as I was, in the matter of fortune, when I
first came to Paris and set up in business as a volunteer police agent
at No, 96 Rue Daunou.
My apartment in those days consisted of an antechamber, an outer
office where, if need be, a dozen clients might sit, waiting their
turn to place their troubles, difficulties, anxieties before the
acutest brain in France, and an inner room wherein that same acute
brain--mine, my dear Sir--was wont to ponder and scheme. That
apartment was not luxuriously furnished--furniture being very dear in
those days--but there were a couple of chairs and a table in the outer
office, and a cupboard wherein I kept the frugal repast which served
me during the course of a long and laborious day. In the inner office
there were more chairs and another table, littered with papers:
letters and packets all tied up with pink tape (which cost three sous
the metre), and bundles of letters from hundreds of clients, from the
highest and the lowest in the land, you understand, people who wrote
to me and confided in me to-day as kings and emperors had done in the
past. In the antechamber there was a chair-bedstead for Theodore to
sleep on when I required him to remain in town, and a chair on which
he could sit.
And, of course, there was Theodore!
Ah! my dear Sir, of him I can hardly speak without feeling choked with
the magnitude of my emotion. A noble indignation makes me dumb.
Theodore, sir, has ever been the cruel thorn that times out of number
hath wounded my over-sensitive heart. Think of it! I had picked him
out of the gutter! No! no! I do not mean this figuratively! I mean
that, actually and in the flesh, I took him up by the collar of his
tattered coat and dragged him out of the gutter in the Rue Blanche,
where he was grubbing for trifles out of the slime and mud. He was
frozen, Sir, and starved--yes, starved! In the intervals of picking
filth up out of the mud he held out a hand blue with cold to the
passers-by and occasionally picked up a sou. When I found him in that
pitiable condition he had exactly twenty centimes between him and
And I, Sir Hector Ratichon, the confidant of two kings, three
autocrats and an emperor, took that man to my bosom--fed him, clothed
him, housed him, gave him the post of secretary in my intricate,
delicate, immensely important business--and I did this, Sir, at a
salary which, in comparison with his twenty centimes, must have seemed
a princely one to him.
His duties were light. He was under no obligation to serve me or to be
at his post before seven o'clock in the morning, and all that he had
to do then was to sweep out the three rooms, fetch water from the well
in the courtyard below, light the fire in the iron stove which stood
in my inner office, shell the haricots for his own mess of pottage,
and put them to boil. During the day his duties were lighter still. He
had to run errands for me, open the door to prospective clients, show
them into the outer office, explain to them that his master was
engaged on affairs relating to the kingdom of France, and generally
prove himself efficient, useful and loyal--all of which qualities he
assured me, my dear Sir, he possessed to the fullest degree. And I
believed him, Sir; I nurtured the scorpion in my over-sensitive bosom!
I promised him ten per cent. on all the profits of my business, and
all the remnants from my own humble repasts--bread, the skins of
luscious sausages, the bones from savoury cutlets, the gravy from the
tasty carrots and onions. You would have thought that his gratitude
would become boundless, that he would almost worship the benefactor
who had poured at his feet the full cornucopia of comfort and luxury.
Not so! That man, Sir, was a snake in the grass--a serpent--a
crocodile! Even now that I have entirely severed my connexion with
that ingrate, I seem to feel the wounds, like dagger-thrusts, which he
dealt me with so callous a hand. But I have done with him--done, I
tell you! How could I do otherwise than to send him back to the gutter
from whence I should never have dragged him? My goodness, he repaid
with an ingratitude so black that you, Sir, when you hear the full
story of his treachery, will exclaim aghast.
Ah, you shall judge! His perfidy commenced less than a week after I
had given him my third best pantaloons and three sous to get his hair
cut, thus making a man of him. And yet, you would scarcely believe it,
in the matter of the secret documents he behaved toward me like a
Listen, my dear Sir.
I told you, I believe, that I had my office in the Rue Daunou. You
understand that I had to receive my clients--many of whom were of
exalted rank---in a fashionable quarter of Paris. But I actually lodged
in Passy--being fond of country pursuits and addicted to fresh air--in a
humble hostelry under the sign of the "Grey Cat"; and here, too,
Theodore had a bed. He would walk to the office a couple of hours before
I myself started on the way, and I was wont to arrive as soon after ten
o'clock of a morning as I could do conveniently.
On this memorable occasion of which I am about to tell you--it was
during the autumn of 1815--I had come to the office unusually early,
and had just hung my hat and coat in the outer room, and taken my seat
at my desk in the inner office, there to collect my thoughts in
preparation for the grave events which the day might bring forth,
when, suddenly, an ill-dressed, dour-looking individual entered the
room without so much as saying, "By your leave," and after having
pushed Theodore--who stood by like a lout--most unceremoniously to one
side. Before I had time to recover from my surprise at this unseemly
intrusion, the uncouth individual thrust Theodore roughly out of the
room, slammed the door in his face, and having satisfied himself that
he was alone with, me and that the door was too solid to allow of
successful eavesdropping, he dragged the best chair forward--the one,
sir, which I reserve for lady visitors.
He threw his leg across it, and, sitting astride, he leaned his elbows
over the back and glowered at me as if he meant to frighten me.
"My name is Charles Saurez," he said abruptly, "and I want your
assistance in a matter which requires discretion, ingenuity and
alertness. Can I have it?"
I was about to make a dignified reply when he literally threw the next
words at me: "Name your price, and I will pay it!" he said.
What could I do, save to raise my shoulders in token that the matter
of money was one of supreme indifference to me, and my eyebrows in a
manner of doubt that M. Charles Saurez had the means wherewith to
repay my valuable services? By way of a rejoinder he took out from the
inner pocket of his coat a greasy letter-case, and with his
exceedingly grimy fingers extracted therefrom some twenty banknotes,
which a hasty glance on my part revealed as representing a couple of
"I will give you this as a retaining fee," he said, "if you will
undertake the work I want you to do; and I will double the amount
when you have carried the work out success fully."
Four hundred francs! It was not lavish, it was perhaps not altogether
the price I would have named, but it was vary good, these hard times.
You understand? We were all very poor in France in that year 1815 of
which I speak.
I am always quite straightforward when I am dealing with a client who
means business. I pushed aside the litter of papers in front of me,
leaned my elbows upon my desk, rested my chin in my hands, and said
"M. Charles Saurez, I listen!"
He drew his chair a little closer and dropped his voice almost to a
"You know the Chancellerie of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?" he
"Perfectly," I replied.
"You know M. de Marsan's private office? He is chief secretary to M.
"No," I said, "but I can find out."
"It is on the first floor, immediately facing the service staircase,
and at the end of the long passage which leads to the main staircase."
"Easy to find, then," I remarked.
"Quite. At this hour and until twelve o'clock, M. de Marsan will be
occupied in copying a document which I desire to possess. At eleven
o'clock precisely there will be a noisy disturbance in the corridor
which leads to the main staircase. M. de Marsan, in all probability,
will come out of his room to see what the disturbance is about. Will
you undertake to be ready at that precise moment to make a dash from
the service staircase into the room to seize the document, which no
doubt will be lying on the top of the desk, and bring it to an address
which I am about to give you?"
"It is risky," I mused.
"Very," he retorted drily, "or I'd do it myself, and not pay you four
hundred francs for your trouble."
"Trouble!" I exclaimed, with withering sarcasm.
"Trouble, you call it? If I am caught, it means penal
servitude--New Caledonia, perhaps--"
"Exactly," he said, with the same irritating calmness; "and if you
succeed it means four hundred francs. Take it or leave it, as you
please, but be quick about it. I have no time to waste; it is past
nine o'clock already, and if you won't do the work, someone else
For a few seconds longer I hesitated. Schemes, both varied and
wild, rushed through my active brain: refuse to take this risk, and
denounce the plot to the police; refuse it, and run to warn M. de
Marsan; refuse it, and-- I had little time for reflection. My uncouth
client was standing, as it were, with a pistol to my throat--with a
pistol and four hundred francs! The police might perhaps give me half
a louis for my pains, or they might possibly remember an unpleasant
little incident in connexion with the forgery of some Treasury bonds
which they have never succeeded in bringing home to me--one never
knows! M. de Marsan might throw me a franc, and think himself generous
All things considered, then, when M. Charles Saurez suddenly said,
"Well?" with marked impatience, I replied, "Agreed," and within five
minutes I had two hundred francs in my pocket, with the prospect of
two hundred more during the next four and twenty hours. I was to have
a free hand in conducting my own share of the business, and M. Charles
Saurez was to call for the document at my lodgings at Passy on the
following morning at nine o'clock.
I flatter myself that I conducted the business with remarkable skill.
At precisely ten minutes to eleven I rang at the Chancellerie of the
Ministry for Foreign Affairs. I was dressed as a respectable
commissionnaire, and I carried a letter and a small parcel addressed
to M. de Marsan. "First floor," said the concierge curtly, as soon as
he had glanced at the superscription on the letter. "Door faces top of
the service stairs."
I mounted and took my stand some ten steps below the landing, keeping
the door of M. de Marsan's room well in sight. Just as the bells of
Notre Dame boomed the hour I heard what sounded like a furious
altercation somewhere in the corridor just above me. There was much
shouting, then one or two cries of "Murder!" followed by others of
"What is it?" and "What in the name of ----- is all this infernal row
about?" Doors were opened and banged, there was a general running and
rushing along that corridor, and the next minute the door in front of
me was opened also, and a young man came out, pen in hand, and
shouting just like everybody else:
"What the ------ is all this infernal row about?"
"Murder, help!" came from the distant end of the corridor, and M. de
Marsan--undoubtedly it was he--did what any other young man under the
like circumstances would have done: he ran to see what was happening
and to lend a hand in it, if need be. I saw his slim figure
disappearing down the corridor at the very moment that I slipped into
his room. One glance upon the desk sufficed: there lay the large
official-looking document, with the royal signature affixed thereto,
and close beside it the copy which M. de Marsan had only half
finished--the ink on it was still wet. Hesitation, Sir, would have
been fatal. I did not hesitate; not one instant. Three seconds had
scarcely elapsed before I picked up the document, together with M. de
Marsan's half-finished copy of the same, and a few loose sheets of
Chancellerie paper which I thought might be useful. Then I slipped the
lot inside my blouse. The bogus letter and parcel I left behind me, and
within two minutes of my entry into the room I was descending the
service staircase quite unconcernedly, and had gone past the concierge's
lodge without being challenged. How thankful I was to breathe once more
the pure air of heaven. I had spent an exceedingly agitated five
minutes, and even now my anxiety was not altogether at rest. I dared not
walk too fast lest I attracted attention, and yet I wanted to put the
river, the Pont Neuf, and a half dozen streets between me and the
Chancellerie of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No one who has not gone
through such an exciting adventure as I have just recorded can conceive
what were my feelings of relief and of satisfaction when I at last found
myself quietly mounting the stairs which led to my office on the top
floor of No. 96 Rue Daunou.
Now, I had not said anything to Theodore about this affair. It was
certainly arranged between us when he entered my service as
confidential clerk and doorkeeper that in lieu of wages, which I could
not afford to pay him, he would share my meals with me and have a bed
at my expense in the same house at Passy where I lodged; moreover, I
would always give him a fair percentage on the profits which I derived
from my business. The arrangement suited him very well. I told you
that I picked him out of the gutter, and I heard subsequently that he
had gone through many an unpleasant skirmish with the police in his
day, and if I did not employ him no one else would.
After all, he did earn a more or less honest living by serving me. But
in this instance, since I had not even asked for his assistance, I
felt that, considering the risks of New Caledonia and a convict ship
which I had taken, a paltry four hundred francs could not by any
stretch of the imagination rank as a "profit" in a business--and
Theodore was not really entitled to a percentage, was he?
So when I returned I crossed the ante-chamber and walked past him with
my accustomed dignity; nor did he offer any comment on my get-up. I
often affected a disguise in those days, even when I was not engaged
in business, and the dress and get-up of a respectable commissionnaire
was a favourite one with me. As soon as I had changed I sent him out
to make purchases for our luncheon--five sous' worth of stale bread,
and ten sous' worth of liver sausage, of which he was inordinately
fond. He would take the opportunity on the way of getting moderately
drunk on as many glasses of absinthe as he could afford. I saw him go
out of the outer door, and then I set to work to examine the precious
Well, one glance was sufficient for me to realize its incalculable
value! Nothing more or less than a Treaty of Alliance between King
Louis XVIII of France and the King of Prussia in connexion with
certain schemes of naval construction. I did not understand the whole
diplomatic verbiage, but it was pretty clear to my unsophisticated
mind that this treaty had been entered into in secret by the two
monarchs, and that it was intended to prejudice the interests both of
Denmark and of Russia in the Baltic Sea.
I also realized that both the Governments of Denmark and Russia would
no doubt pay a very considerable sum for the merest glance at this
document, and that my client of this morning was certainly a secret
service agent--otherwise a spy--of one of those two countries, who
did not choose to take the very severe risks which I had taken this
morning, but who would, on the other hand, reap the full reward of the
daring coup, whilst I was to be content with four hundred francs!
Now, I am a man of deliberation as well as of action, and at this
juncture--feeling that Theodore was still safely out of the way--I
thought the whole matter over quietly, and then took what precautions
I thought fit for the furthering of my own interests.
To begin with, I set to work to make a copy of the treaty on my own
account. I have brought the study of calligraphy to a magnificent
degree of perfection, and the writing on the document was easy enough
to imitate, as was also the signature of our gracious King Louis and
of M. de Talleyrand, who had countersigned it.
If you remember, I had picked up two or three loose sheets of paper
off M. de Marsan's desk; these bore the arms of the Chancellerie of
Foreign Affairs stamped upon them, and were in every way identical
with that on which the original document had been drafted. When I had
finished my work I flattered myself that not the greatest calligraphic
expert could have detected the slightest difference between the
original and the copy which I had made.
The work took me a long time. When at last I folded up the papers and
slipped them once more inside my blouse it was close upon two. I
wondered why Theodore had not returned with our luncheon, but on going
to the little anteroom which divides my office from the outer door,
great was my astonishment to see him lolling there on the rickety
chair which he affectioned, and half asleep. I had some difficulty in
rousing him. Apparently he had got rather drunk while he was out, and
had then returned and slept some of his booze off, without thinking
that I might be hungry and needing my luncheon.
"Why didn't you let me know you had come back?" I asked curtly, for
indeed I was very cross with him.
"I thought you were busy," he replied, with what I thought looked like
I have never really cared for Theodore, you understand.
However, I partook of our modest luncheon with him in perfect amity
and brotherly love, but my mind was busy all the time. I began to
wonder if Theodore suspected something; if so, I knew that I could not
trust him. He would try and ferret things out, and then demand a share
in my hard-earned emoluments to which he was really not entitled. I
did not feel safe with that bulky packet of papers on me, and I felt
that Theodore's bleary eyes were perpetually fixed upon the bulge in
the left-hand side of my coat. At one moment he looked so strange that
I thought he meant to knock me down.
So my mind was quickly made up.
After luncheon I would go down to my lodgings at Passy, and I knew of
a snug little hiding-place in my room there where the precious
documents would be quite safe until such time as I was to hand
them--or one of them--to M. Charles Saurez.
This plan I put into execution, and with remarkable ingenuity too.
While Theodore was busy clearing up the debris of our luncheon, I not
only gave him the slip, but as I went out I took the precaution of
locking the outer door after me, and taking the key away in my pocket.
I thus made sure that Theodore could not follow me. I then walked to
Passy--a matter of two kilometres--and by four o'clock I had the
satisfaction of stowing the papers safely away under one of the tiles
in the flooring of my room, and then pulling the strip of carpet in
front of my bed snugly over the hiding-place.
Theodore's attic, where he slept, was at the top of the house, whilst
my room was on the ground floor, and so I felt that I could now go
back quite comfortably to my office in the hope that more remunerative
work and more lavish clients would come my way before nightfall.
It was a little after five o'clock when I once more turned the key in
the outer door of my rooms in the Rue Daunou.
Theodore did not seem in the least to resent having been locked in for
two hours. I think he must have been asleep most of the time.
Certainly I heard a good deal of shuffling when first I reached the
landing outside the door; but when I actually walked into the
apartment with an air of quiet unconcern Theodore was sprawling on the
chair-bedstead, with eyes closed, a nose the colour of beetroot, and
emitting sounds through his thin, cracked lips which I could not, Sir,
describe graphically in your presence.
I took no notice of him, however, even though, as I walked past him, I
saw that he opened one bleary eye and watched my every movement. I
went straight into my private room and shut the door after me. And
here, I assure you, my dear Sir, I literally fell into my favourite
chair, overcome with emotion and excitement. Think what I had gone
through! The events of the last few hours would have turned any brain
less keen, less daring than that of Hector Ratichon. And here was I,
alone at last, face to face with the future. What a future, my dear
Sir! Fate was smiling on me at last. At last I was destined to reap a
rich reward for all the skill, the energy, the devotion, which up to
this hour I had placed at the service of my country and my King--or my
Emperor, as the case might be--without thought of my own advantage.
Here was I now in possession of a document--two documents--each one
of which was worth at least a thousand francs to persons whom I could
easily approach. One thousand francs! Was I dreaming? Five thousand
would certainly be paid by the Government whose agent M. Charles
Saurez admittedly was for one glance at that secret treaty which would
be so prejudicial to their political interests; whilst M. de Marsan
himself would gladly pay another five thousand for the satisfaction of
placing the precious document intact before his powerful and irascible
Ten thousand francs! How few were possessed of such a sum in these
days! How much could be done with it! I would not give up business
altogether, of course, but with my new capital I would extend it and,
there was a certain little house, close to Chantilly, a house with a
few acres of kitchen garden and some fruit trees, the possession of
which would render me happier than any king. . . . I would marry! Oh,
yes! I would certainly marry--found a family. I was still young, my
dear Sir, and passably good looking. In fact there was a certain young
widow, comely and amiable, who lived not far from Passy, who had on
more than one occasion given me to understand that I was more than
passably good looking. I had always been susceptible where the fair sex
was concerned, and now . . . oh, now! I could pick and choose! The comely
widow had a small fortune of her own, and there were others! . . .
Thus I dreamed on for the better part of an hour, until, soon after
six o'clock, there was a knock at the outer door and I heard
Theodore's shuffling footsteps crossing the small anteroom. There was
some muttered conversation, and presently my door was opened and
Theodore's ugly face was thrust into the room.
"A lady to see you," he said curtly.
Then, he dropped his voice, smacked his lips, and winked with one eye.
"Very pretty," he whispered, "but has a young man with her whom she
calls Arthur. Shall I send them in?"
I then and there made up my mind that I would get rid of Theodore now
that I could afford to get a proper servant. My business would in
future be greatly extended; it would become very important, and I was
beginning to detest Theodore. But I said "Show the lady in!" with
becoming dignity, and a few moments later a beautiful woman entered my
I was vaguely conscious that a creature of my own sex walked in behind
her, but of him I took no notice. I rose to greet the lady and invited
her to sit down, but I had the annoyance of seeing the personage whom
deliberately she called "Arthur" coming familiarly forward and leaning
over the back of her chair.
I hated him. He was short and stout and florid, with an
impertinent-looking moustache, and hair that was very smooth and oily
save for two tight curls, which looked like the horns of a young goat,
on each side of the centre parting. I hated him cordially, and had to
control my feelings not to show him the contempt which I felt for his
fatuousness and his air of self-complacency. Fortunately the beautiful
being was the first to address me, and thus I was able to ignore the
very presence of the detestable man.
"You are M. Ratichon, I believe," she said in a voice that was dulcet
and adorably tremulous, like the voice of some sweet, shy young thing
in the presence of genius and power.
"Hector Ratichon," I replied calmly. "Entirely at your service,
Mademoiselle." Then I added, with gentle, encouraging kindliness,
"Mademoiselle . . . ?"
"My name is Geoffroy," she replied, "Madeleine Geoffroy."
She raised her eyes--such eyes, my dear Sir!--of a tender, luscious
grey, fringed with lashes and dewy with tears. I met her glance.
Something in my own eyes must have spoken with mute eloquence of my
distress, for she went on quickly and with a sweet smile. "And this,"
she said, pointing to her companion, "is my brother, Arthur Geoffroy."
An exclamation of joyful surprise broke from my lips, and I beamed and
smiled on M. Arthur, begged him to be seated, which he refused, and
finally I myself sat down behind my desk. I now looked with unmixed
benevolence on both my clients, and then perceived that the lady's
exquisite face bore unmistakable signs of recent sorrow.
"And now, Mademoiselle," I said, as soon as I had taken up a position
indicative of attention and of encouragement, "will you deign to tell
me how I can have the honour to serve you?"
"Monsieur," she began in a voice that trembled with emotion, "I have
come to you in the midst of the greatest distress that any human being
has ever been called upon to bear. It was by the merest accident that
I heard of you. I have been to the police; they cannot--will not--act
without I furnish them with certain information which it is not in my
power to give them. Then when I was half distraught with despair, a
kindly agent there spoke to me of you. He said that you were attached
to the police as a voluntary agent, and that they sometimes put work
in your way which did not happen to be within their own scope. He also
said that sometimes you were successful."
"Nearly always, Mademoiselle," I broke in firmly and with much
dignity. "Once more I beg of you to tell me in what way I may have the
honour to serve you."
"It is not for herself, Monsieur," here interposed M. Arthur, whilst a
blush suffused Mlle. Geoffroy's lovely face, "that my sister desires
to consult you, but for her fiance M. de Marsan, who is very ill
indeed, hovering, in fact, between life and death. He could not come
in person. The matter is one that demands the most profound secrecy."
"You may rely on my discretion, Monsieur," I murmured, without
showing, I flatter myself, the slightest trace of that astonishment
which, at mention of M. de Marsan's name, had nearly rendered me
"M. de Marsan came to see me in utmost distress, Monsieur," resumed
the lovely creature. "He had no one in whom he could--or rather
dared--confide. He is in the Chancellerie for Foreign Affairs. His
uncle M. de Talleyrand thinks a great deal of him and often entrusts
him with very delicate work. This morning he gave M. de Marsan a
valuable paper to copy--a paper, Monsieur, the importance of which it
were impossible to overestimate. The very safety of this country, the
honour of our King, are involved in it. I cannot tell you its exact
contents, and it is because I would not tell more about it to the
police that they would not help me in any way, and referred me to you.
How could they, said the chief Commissary to me, run after a document
the contents of which they did not even know? But you will be
satisfied with what I have told you, will you not, my dear M.
Ratichon?" she continued, with a pathetic quiver in her voice and a
look of appeal in her eyes which St. Anthony himself could not have
resisted, "and help me to regain possession of that paper, the final
loss of which would cost M. de Marsan his life."
To say that my feeling of elation of a while ago had turned to one of
supreme beatitude would be to put it very mildly indeed. To think that
here was this lovely being in tears before me, and that it lay in my
power to dry those tears with a word and to bring a smile round those
perfect lips, literally made my mouth water in anticipation--for I am
sure that you will have guessed, just as I did in a moment, that the
valuable document of which this adorable being was speaking, was
snugly hidden away under the flooring of my room in Passy. I hated
that unknown de Marsan. I hated this Arthur who leaned so familiarly
over her chair, but I had the power to render her a service beside
which their lesser claims on her regard would pale.
However, I am not the man to act on impulse, even at a moment like
this. I wanted to think the whole matter over first, and . . .
well . . . I had made up my mind to demand five thousand francs when
I handed the document over to my first client to-morrow morning. At
any rate, for the moment I acted--if I may say so--with great
circumspection and dignity.
"I must presume, Mademoiselle," I said in my most business-like
manner, "that the document you speak of has been stolen."
"Stolen, Monsieur," she assented whilst the tears once more gathered
in her eyes, "and M. de Marsan now lies at death's door with a
terrible attack of brain fever, brought on by shock when he discovered
"How and when was it stolen?" I asked.
"Some time during the morning," she replied. "M. de Talleyrand gave
the document to M. de Marsan at nine o'clock, telling him that he
wanted the copy by midday. M. de Marsan set to work at once, laboured
uninterruptedly until about eleven o'clock, when a loud altercation,
followed by cries of 'Murder!' and of 'Help!' and proceeding from the
corridor outside his door, caused him to run out of the room in order
to see what was happening. The altercation turned out to be between
two men who had pushed their way into the building by the main
staircase, and who became very abusive to the gendarme who ordered
them out. The men were not hurt; nevertheless they screamed as if they
were being murdered. They took to their heels quickly enough, and I
don't know what has become of them, but . . ."
"But," I concluded blandly, "whilst M. de Marsan was out of the room
the precious document was stolen."
"It was, Monsieur," exclaimed Mlle. Geoffroy piteously. "You will
find it for us . . . will you not?"
Then she added more calmly: "My brother and I are offering ten
thousand francs reward for the recovery of the document."
I did not fall off my chair, but I closed my eyes. The vision which
the lovely lady's words had conjured up dazzled me.
"Mademoiselle," I said with solemn dignity, "I pledge you my word of
honour that I will find the document for you and lay it at your feet
or die in your service. Give me twenty hours, during which I will move
heaven and earth to discover the thief. I will go at once to the
Chancellerie and collect what evidence I can. I have worked under M.
de Robespierre, Mademoiselle, under the great Napoleon, and under the
illustrious Fouche! I have never been known to fail, once I have set
my mind upon a task."
"In that case you will earn your ten thousand francs, my friend," said
the odious Arthur drily, "and my sister and M. de Marsan will still be
your debtors. Are there any questions you would like to ask before we
"None," I said loftily, choosing to ignore his sneering manner. "If
Mademoiselle deigns to present herself here to-morrow at two o'clock I
will have news to communicate to her."
You will admit that I carried off the situation in a becoming manner.
Both Mademoiselle and Arthur Geoffroy gave me a few more details in
connexion with the affair. To these details I listened with well
simulated interest. Of course, they did not know that there were no
details in connexion with this affair that I did not know already. My
heart was actually dancing within my bosom. The future was so
entrancing that the present appeared like a dream; the lovely being
before me seemed like an angel, an emissary from above come to tell me
of the happiness which was in store for me. The house near
Chantilly--the little widow--the kitchen garden--the magic words went
on hammering in my brain. I longed now to be rid of my visitors, to be
alone once more, so as to think out the epilogue of this glorious
adventure. Ten thousand francs was the reward offered me by this
adorable creature! Well, then, why should not M. Charles Saurez, on
his side, pay me another ten thousand for the same document, which was
absolutely undistinguishable from the first?
Ten thousand, instead of two hundred which he had the audacity to
Seven o'clock had struck before I finally bowed my clients out of the
room. Theodore had gone. The lazy lout would never stay as much as
five minutes after his appointed time, so I had to show the adorable
creature and her fat brother out of the premises myself. But I did not
mind that. I flatter myself that I can always carry off an awkward
situation in a dignified manner. A brief allusion to the inefficiency
of present-day servants, a jocose comment on my own simplicity of
habits, and the deed was done. M. Arthur Geoffroy and Mademoiselle
Madeleine his sister were half-way down the stairs. A quarter of an
hour later I was once more out in the streets of Paris. It was a
beautiful, balmy night. I had two hundred francs in my pocket and
there was a magnificent prospect of twenty thousand francs before me!
I could afford some slight extravagance. I had dinner at one of the
fashionable restaurants on the quay, and I remained some time out on
the terrace sipping my coffee and liqueur, dreaming dreams such as I
had never dreamed before. At ten o'clock I was once more on my way to
When I turned the corner of the street and came is sight of the
squalid house where I lodged, I felt like a being from another world.
Twenty thousand francs--a fortune!--was waiting for me inside those
dingy walls. Yes, twenty thousand, for by now I had fully made up my
mind. I had two documents concealed beneath the floor of my
bedroom--one so like the other that none could tell them apart. One of
these I would restore to the lovely being who had offered me ten
thousand francs for it, and the other I would sell to my first and
uncouth client for another ten thousand francs!
Four hundred! Bah! Ten thousand shall you pay for the treaty, my
friend of the Danish or Russian Secret Service! Ten thousand!--it is
worth that to you!
In that happy frame of mind I reached the front door of my dingy
abode. Imagine my surprise on being confronted with two agents of
police, each with fixed bayonet, who refused to let me pass.
"But I lodge here," I said.
"Your name?" queried one of the men. "Hector Ratichon," I
replied. Whereupon they gave me leave to enter.
It was very mysterious. My heart beat furiously. Fear for the safety
of my precious papers held me in a death-like grip. I ran straight to
my room, locked the door after me, and pulled the curtains together in
front of the window. Then, with hands that trembled as if with ague, I
pulled aside the strip of carpet which concealed the hiding-place of
what meant a fortune to me.
I nearly fainted with joy; the papers were there--quite safely. I took
them out and replaced them inside my coat.
Then I ran up to see if Theodore was in. I found him in bed. He told
me that he had left the office whilst my visitors were still with me,
as he felt terribly sick. He had been greatly upset when, about an
hour ago, the maid-of-all-work had informed him that the police were
in the house, that they would allow no one--except the persons lodging
in the house--to enter it, and no one, once in, would be allowed to
leave. How long these orders would hold good Theodore did not know.
I left him moaning and groaning and declaring that he felt very ill,
and I went in quest of information. The corporal in command of the
gendarmes was exceedingly curt with me at first, but after a time he
unbent and condescended to tell me that my landlord had been denounced
for permitting a Bonapartiste club to hold its sittings in his house.
So far so good. Such denunciations were very frequent these days, and
often ended unpleasantly for those concerned, but the affair had
obviously nothing to do with me. I felt that I could breathe again.
But there was still the matter of the consigne. If no one, save the
persons who lodged in the house, would be allowed to enter it, how
would M. Charles Saurez contrive to call for the stolen document and,
incidentally, to hand me over the ten thousand francs I was hoping for?
And if no one, once inside the house, would be allowed to leave it,
how could I meet Mlle. Geoffroy to-morrow at two o'clock in my office
and receive ten thousand francs from her in exchange for the precious
Moreover the longer the police stayed in this house and poked their
noses about in affairs that concerned hardworking citizens like
myself--why--the greater the risk would be of the matter of the stolen
document coming to light.
It was positively maddening.
I never undressed that night, but just lay down on my bed, thinking.
The house was very still at times, but at others I could hear the
tramp of the police agents up and down the stairs and also outside my
window. The latter gave on a small, dilapidated back garden which had
a wooden fence at the end of it. Beyond it were some market gardens
belonging to a M. Lorraine. It did not take me very long to realize
that that way lay my fortune of twenty thousand francs. But for the
moment I remained very still. My plan was already made. At about
midnight I went to the window and opened it cautiously. I had heard no
noise from that direction for some time, and I bent my ear to listen.
Not a sound! Either the sentry was asleep, or he had gone on his
round, and for a few moments the way was free. Without a moment's
hesitation I swung my leg over the sill.
Still no sound. My heart beat so fast that I could almost hear it. The
night was very dark. A thin mist-like drizzle was falling; in fact the
weather conditions were absolutely perfect for my purpose. With utmost
wariness I allowed myself to drop from the window-ledge on to the soft
If I was caught by the sentry I had my answer ready: I was going to
meet my sweetheart at the end of the garden. It is an excuse which
always meets with the sympathy of every true-hearted Frenchman. The
sentry would, of course, order me back to my room, but I doubt if he
would ill-use me; the denunciation was against the landlord, not
Still not a sound. I could have danced with joy. Five minutes more and
I would be across the garden and over that wooden fence, and once more
on my way to fortune. My fall from the window had been light, as my
room was on the ground floor; but I had fallen on my knees, and now,
as I picked myself up, I looked up, and it seemed to me as if I saw
Theodore's ugly face at his attic window. Certainly there was a light
there, and I may have been mistaken as to Theodore's face being
visible. The very next second the light was extinguished and I was
left in doubt.
But I did not pause to think. In a moment I was across the garden, my
hands gripped the top of the wooden fence, I hoisted myself up--with
some difficulty, I confess--but at last I succeeded. I threw my leg
over and gently dropped down on the other side.
Then suddenly two rough arms encircled my waist, and before I could
attempt to free myself a cloth was thrown over my head, and I was
lifted up and carried away, half suffocated and like an insentient
When the cloth was removed from my face I was half sitting, half
lying, in an arm-chair in a strange room which was lighted by an oil
lamp that hung from the ceiling above. In front of me stood M. Arthur
Geoffroy and that beast Theodore.
M. Arthur Geoffroy was coolly folding up the two valuable papers for
the possession of which I had risked a convict ship and New Caledonia,
and which would have meant affluence for me for many days to come.
It was Theodore who had removed the cloth from my face. As soon as I
had recovered my breath I made a rush for him, for I wanted to
strangle him. But M. Arthur Geoffroy was too quick and too strong for
me. He pushed me back into the chair.
"Easy, easy, M. Ratichon," he said pleasantly; "do not vent your wrath
upon this good fellow. Believe me, though his actions may have
deprived you of a few thousand francs, they have also saved you from
lasting and biting remorse. This document, which you stole from M. de
Marsan and so ingeniously duplicated, involved the honour of our King
and our country, as well as the life of an innocent man. My sister's
fiance would never have survived the loss of the document which had
been entrusted to his honour."
"I would have returned it to Mademoiselle to-morrow," I murmured.
"Only one copy of it, I think," he retorted; "the other you would have
sold to whichever spy of the Danish or Russian Governments happened to
have employed you in this discreditable business."
"How did you know?" I said involuntarily.
"Through a very simple process of reasoning, my good M. Ratichon," he
replied blandly. "You are a very clever man, no doubt, but the
cleverest of us is at times apt to make a mistake. You made two, and I
profited by them. Firstly, after my sister and I left you this
afternoon, you never made the slightest pretence of making inquiries
or collecting information about the mysterious theft of the document.
I kept an eye on you throughout the evening. You left your office and
strolled for a while on the quays; you had an excellent dinner at the
Restaurant des Anglais; then you settled down to your coffee and
liqueur. Well, my good M. Ratichon, obviously you would have been more
active in the matter if you had not known exactly where and when and
how to lay your hands upon the document, for the recovery of which my
sister had offered you ten thousand francs."
I groaned. I had not been quite so circumspect as I ought to have
been, but who would have thought--
"I have had something to do with police work in my day," continued M.
Geoffroy blandly, "though not of late years; but my knowledge of their
methods is not altogether rusty and my powers of observation are not
yet dulled. During my sister's visit to you this afternoon I noticed
the blouse and cap of a commissionnaire lying in a bundle in a corner
of your room. Now, though M. de Marsan has been in a burning fever
since he discovered his loss, he kept just sufficient presence of mind
at the moment to say nothing about that loss to any of the
Chancellerie officials, but to go straight home to his apartments in
the Rue Royale and to send for my sister and for me. When we came to
him he was already partly delirious, but he pointed to a parcel and a
letter which he had brought away from his office. The parcel proved to
be an empty box and the letter a blank sheet of paper; but the most
casual inquiry of the concierge at the Chancellerie elicited the fact
that a commissionaire had brought these things in the course of the
morning. That was your second mistake, my good M. Ratichon; not a very
grave one, perhaps, but I have been in the police, and somehow, the
moment I caught sight of that blouse and cap in your office, I could
not help connecting it with the commissionnaire who had brought a
bogus parcel and letter to my future brother-in-law a few minutes
before that mysterious and unexplained altercation took place in the
Again I groaned. I felt as a child in the hands of that horrid
creature who seemed to be dissecting all the thoughts which had run
riot through my mind these past twenty hours.
"It was all very simple, my good M. Ratichon," now concluded my
tormentor still quite amiably. "Another time you will have to be more
careful, will you not? You will also have to bestow more confidence upon
your partner or servant. Directly I had seen that commissionnaire's
blouse and cap, I set to work to make friends with M. Theodore. When my
sister and I left your office in the Rue Daunou, we found him waiting
for us at the bottom of the stairs. Five francs loosened his tongue: he
suspected that you were up to some game in which you did not mean him to
have a share; he also told us that you had spent two hours in laborious
writing, and that you and he both lodged at a dilapidated little inn,
called the 'Grey Cat,' in Passy. I think he was rather disappointed that
we did not shower more questions, and therefore more emoluments, upon
him. Well, after I had denounced this house to the police as a
Bonapartiste club, and saw it put under the usual consigne, I bribed the
corporal of the gendarmerie in charge of it to let me have Theodore's
company for the little job I had in hand, and also to clear the back
garden of sentries so as to give you a chance and the desire to escape.
All the rest you know. Money will do many things, my good M. Ratichon,
and you see how simple it all was. It would have been still more simple
if the stolen document had not been such an important one that the very
existence of it must be kept a secret even from the police. So I could
not have you shadowed and arrested as a thief in the usual manner!
However, I have the document and its ingenious copy, which is all that
matters. Would to God," he added with a suppressed curse, "that I could
get hold equally easily of the Secret Service agent to whom you, a
Frenchman, were going to sell the honour of your country!"
Then it was that--though broken in spirit and burning with thoughts of
the punishment I would mete out to Theodore--my full faculties
returned to me, and I queried abruptly:
"What would you give to get him?"
"Five hundred francs," he replied without hesitation. "Can you find
"Make it a thousand," I retorted, "and you shall have him."
"Will you give me five hundred francs now," I insisted, "and another
five hundred when you have the man, and I will tell you?"
"Agreed," he said impatiently.
But I was not to be played with by him again. I waited in silence
until he had taken a pocket-book from the inside of his coat and
counted out five hundred francs, which he kept in his hand.
"Now--" he commanded.
"The man," I then announced calmly, "will call on me for the document
at my lodgings at the hostelry of the 'Grey Cat' to-morrow morning at
"Good," rejoined M. Geoffroy. "We shall be there."
He made no demur about giving me the five hundred francs, but half my
pleasure in receiving them vanished when I saw Theodore's bleary eyes
fixed ravenously upon them.
"Another five hundred francs," M. Geoffroy went on quietly, "will be
yours as soon as the spy is in our hands."
I did get that further five hundred of course, for M. Charles Saurez
was punctual to the minute, and M. Geoffroy was there with the police
to apprehend him. But to think that I might have had twenty
And I had to give Theodore fifty francs on the transaction, as he
threatened me with the police when I talked of giving him the sack.
But we were quite good friends again after that until-- But you
A FOOL'S PARADISE
Ah! my dear Sir, I cannot tell you how poor we all were in France in
that year of grace 1816--so poor, indeed, that a dish of roast pork
was looked upon as a feast, and a new gown for the wife an unheard-of
The war had ruined everyone. Twenty-two years! and hopeless
humiliation and defeat at the end of it. The Emperor handed over to
the English; a Bourbon sitting on the throne of France; crowds of
foreign soldiers still lording it all over the country--until the
country had paid its debts to her foreign invaders, and thousands of
our own men still straggling home through Germany and Belgium--the
remnants of Napoleon's Grand Army--ex-prisoners of war, or scattered
units who had found their weary way home at last, shoeless, coatless,
half starved and perished from cold and privations, unfit for
housework, for agriculture, or for industry, fit only to follow their
fallen hero, as they had done through a quarter of a century, to
victory and to death.
With me, Sir, business in Paris was almost at a standstill. I, who had
been the confidential agent of two kings, three democrats and one
emperor; I, who had held diplomatic threads in my hands which had
caused thrones to totter and tyrants to quake, and who had brought
more criminals and intriguers to book than any other man alive--I now
sat in my office in the Rue Daunou day after day with never a client
to darken my doors, even whilst crime and political intrigue were more
rife in Paris than they had been in the most corrupt days of the
Revolution and the Consulate.
I told you, I think, that I had forgiven Theodore his abominable
treachery in connexion with the secret naval treaty, and we were the
best of friends--that is, outwardly, of course. Within my inmost heart
I felt, Sir, that I could never again trust that shameless
traitor--that I had in very truth nurtured a serpent in my bosom. But
I am proverbially tender-hearted. You will believe me or not, I simply
could not turn that vermin out into the street. He deserved it! Oh,
even he would have admitted when he was quite sober, which was not
often, that I had every right to give him the sack, to send him back
to the gutter whence he had come, there to grub once more for scraps
of filth and to stretch a half-frozen hand to the charity of the
But I did not do it, Sir. No, I did not do it. I kept him on at the
office as my confidential servant; I gave him all the crumbs that fell
from mine own table, and he helped himself to the rest. I made as
little difference as I could in my intercourse with him. I continued
to treat him almost as an equal. The only difference I did make in our
mode of life was that I no longer gave him bed and board at the
hostelry where I lodged in Passy, but placed the chair-bedstead in the
anteroom of the office permanently at his disposal, and allowed him
five sous a day for his breakfast.
But owing to the scarcity of business that now came my way, Theodore
had little or nothing to do, and he was in very truth eating his head
off, and with that, grumble, grumble all the time, threatening to
leave me, if you please, to leave my service for more remunerative
occupation. As if anyone else would dream of employing such an
out-at-elbows mudlark--a jail-bird, Sir, if you'll believe me.
Thus the Spring of 1816 came along. Spring, Sir, with its beauty and
its promises, and the thoughts of love which come eternally in the
minds of those who have not yet wholly done with youth. Love, Sir! I
dreamed of it on those long, weary afternoons in April, after I had
consumed my scanty repast, and whilst Theodore in the anteroom was
snoring like a hog. At even, when tired out and thirsty, I would sit
for a while outside a humble cafe on the outer boulevards, I watched
the amorous couples wander past me on their way to happiness. At night
I could not sleep, and bitter were my thoughts, my revilings against a
cruel fate that had condemned me--a man with so sensitive a heart and
so generous a nature--to the sorrows of perpetual solitude.
That, Sir, was my mood, when on a never-to-be-forgotten afternoon
toward the end of April, I sat mooning disconsolately in my private
room and a timid rat-tat at the outer door of the apartment roused
Theodore from his brutish slumbers. I heard him shuffling up to the
door, and I hurriedly put my necktie straight and smoothed my hair,
which had become disordered despite the fact that I had only indulged
in a very abstemious dejeuner.
When I said that the knock at my door was in the nature of a timid
rat-rat I did not perhaps describe it quite accurately. It was timid,
if you will understand me, and yet bold, as coming from one who might
hesitate to enter and nevertheless feels assured of welcome. Obviously
a client, I thought.
Effectively, Sir, the next moment my eyes were gladdened by the sight
of a lovely woman, beautifully dressed, young, charming, smiling but
to hide her anxiety, trustful, and certainly wealthy.
The moment she stepped into the room I knew that she was wealthy;
there was an air of assurance about her which only those are able to
assume who are not pestered with creditors. She wore two beautiful
diamond rings upon her hands outside her perfectly fitting glove, and
her bonnet was adorned with flowers so exquisitely fashioned that a
butterfly would have been deceived and would have perched on it with
Her shoes were of the finest kid, shiny at the toes like tiny mirrors,
whilst her dainty ankles were framed in the filmy lace frills of her
Within the wide brim of her bonnet her exquisite face appeared like a
rosebud nestling in a basket. She smiled when I rose to greet her,
gave me a look that sent my susceptible heart a-flutter and caused me
to wish that I had not taken that bottle-green coat of mine to the
Mont de Piete only last week. I offered her a seat, which she took,
arranging her skirts about her with inimitable grace.
"One moment," I added, as soon as she was seated, "and I am entirely
at your service."
I took up pen and paper--an unfinished letter which I always keep
handy for the purpose--and wrote rapidly. It always looks well for a
lawyer or an _agent confidentiel_ to keep a client waiting for a moment
or two while he attends to the enormous pressure of correspondence
which, if allowed to accumulate for five minutes, would immediately
overwhelm him. I signed and folded the letter, threw it with a
nonchalant air into a basket filled to the brim with others of equal
importance, buried my face in my hands for a few seconds as if to
collect my thoughts, and finally said:
"And now, Mademoiselle, will you deign to tell me what procures me the
honour of your visit?"
The lovely creature had watched my movements with obvious impatience,
a frown upon her exquisite brow. But now she plunged straightway into
"Monsieur," she said with that pretty, determined air which became her
so well, "my name is Estelle Bachelier. I am an orphan, an heiress,
and have need of help and advice. I did not know to whom to apply.
Until three months ago I was poor and had to earn my living by working
in a milliner's shop in the Rue St. Honore. The concierge in the house
where I used to lodge is my only friend, but she cannot help me for
reasons which will presently be made clear to you. She told me,
however, that she had a nephew named Theodore, who was clerk to M.
Ratichon, advocate and confidential agent. She gave me your address;
and as I knew no one else I determined to come and consult you."
I flatter myself, that though my countenance is exceptionally mobile,
I possess marvellous powers for keeping it impassive when necessity
arises. In this instance, at mention of Theodore's name, I showed
neither surprise nor indignation. Yet you will readily understand that
I felt both. Here was that man, once more revealed as a traitor.
Theodore had an aunt of whom he had never as much as breathed a word.
He had an aunt, and that aunt a concierge--_ipso facto_, if I may so
express it, a woman of some substance, who, no doubt, would often have
been only too pleased to extend hospitality to the man who had so
signally befriended her nephew; a woman, Sir, who was undoubtedly
possessed of savings which both reason and gratitude would cause her
to invest in an old-established and substantial business run by a
trustworthy and capable man, such, for instance, as the bureau of a
confidential agent in a good quarter of Paris, which, with the help of
a little capital, could be rendered highly lucrative and beneficial to
all those, concerned.
I determined then and there to give Theodore a piece of my mind and to
insist upon an introduction to his aunt. After which I begged the
beautiful creature to proceed.
"My father, Monsieur," she continued, "died three months ago, in
England, whither he had emigrated when I was a mere child, leaving my
poor mother to struggle along for a livelihood as best she could. My
mother died last year, Monsieur, and I have hard a hard life; and now
it seems that my father made a fortune in England and left it all to
I was greatly interested in her story.
"The first intimation I had of it, Monsieur, was three months ago,
when I had a letter from an English lawyer in London telling me that
my father, Jean Paul Bachelier--that was his name, Monsieur--had died
out there and made a will leaving all his money, about one hundred
thousand francs, to me."
"Yes, yes!" I murmured, for my throat felt parched and my eyes dim.
Hundred thousand francs! Ye gods!
"It seems," she proceeded demurely, "that my father put it in his will
that the English lawyers were to pay me the interest on the money
until I married or reached the age of twenty-one. Then the whole of
the money was to be handed over to me."
I had to steady myself against the table or I would have fallen over
backwards! This godlike creature, to whom the sum of one hundred
thousand francs was to be paid over when she married, had come to me
for help and advice! The thought sent my brain reeling! I am so
"Proceed, Mademoiselle, I pray you," I contrived to say with dignified
"Well, Monsieur, as I don't know a word of English, I took the letter
to Mr. Farewell, who is the English traveller for Madame Cecile, the
milliner for whom I worked. He is a kind, affable gentleman and was
most helpful to me. He was, as a matter of fact, just going over to
England the very next day. He offered to go and see the English
lawyers for me, and to bring me back all particulars of my dear
father's death and of my unexpected fortune."
"And," said I, for she had paused a moment, "did Mr. Farewell go to
England on your behalf?"
"Yes, Monsieur. He went and returned about a fortnight later. He had
seen the English lawyers, who confirmed all the good news which was
contained in their letter. They took, it seems, a great fancy to Mr.
Farewell, and told him that since I was obviously too young to live
alone and needed a guardian to look after my interests, they would
appoint him my guardian, and suggested that I should make my home with
him until I was married or had attained the age of twenty-one. Mr.
Farewell told me that though this arrangement might be somewhat
inconvenient in his bachelor establishment, he had been unable to
resist the entreaties of the English lawyers, who felt that no one was
more fitted for such onerous duties than himself, seeing that he was
English and so obviously my friend."
"The scoundrel! The blackguard!" I exclaimed in an unguarded outburst
of fury. . . .
"Your pardon, Mademoiselle," I added more calmly, seeing that the
lovely creature was gazing at me with eyes full of astonishment not
unmixed with distrust, "I am anticipating. Am I to understand, then,
that you have made your home with this Mr. Farewell?"
"Yes, Monsieur, at number sixty-five Rue des Pyramides."
"Is he a married man?" I asked casually.
"He is a widower, Monsieur."
"Quite elderly, Monsieur."
I could have screamed with joy. I was not yet forty myself.
"Why!" she added gaily, "he is thinking of retiring from business--he
is, as I said, a commercial traveller--in favour of his nephew, M.
Once more I had to steady myself against the table. The room swam
round me. One hundred thousand francs!--a lovely creature!--an
unscrupulous widower!--an equally dangerous young nephew. I rose and
tottered to the window. I flung it wide open--a thing I never do save
at moments of acute crises.
The breath of fresh air did me good. I returned to my desk, and was
able once more to assume my habitual dignity and presence of mind.
"In all this, Mademoiselle," I said in my best professional manner, "I
do not gather how I can be of service to you."
"I am coming to that, Monsieur," she resumed after a slight moment of
hesitation, even as an exquisite blush suffused her damask cheeks.
"You must know that at first I was very happy in the house of my new
guardian. He was exceedingly kind to me, though there were times
already when I fancied . . ."
She hesitated--more markedly this time--and the blush became deeper on
her cheeks. I groaned aloud.
"Surely he is too old," I suggested.
"Much too old," she assented emphatically.
Once more I would have screamed with joy had not a sharp pang, like a
dagger-thrust, shot through my heart.
"But the nephew, eh?" I said as jocosely, as indifferently as I could.
"Young M. Cazales? What?"
"Oh!" she replied with perfect indifference. "I hardly ever see him."
Unfortunately it were not seemly for an avocat and the _agent
confidentiel_ of half the Courts of Europe to execute the measures of
a polka in the presence of a client, or I would indeed have jumped up
and danced with glee. The happy thoughts were hammering away in my
mind: "The old one is much too old--the young one she never sees!" and
I could have knelt down and kissed the hem of her gown for the
exquisite indifference with which she had uttered those magic words:
"Oh! I hardly ever see him!"--words which converted my brightest hopes
into glowing possibilities.
But, as it was, I held my emotions marvellously in check, and with
perfect sang-froid once more asked the beauteous creature how I could
be of service to her in her need.
"Of late, Monsieur," she said, as she raised a pair of limpid, candid
blue eyes to mine, "my position in Mr. Farewell's house has become
intolerable. He pursues me with his attentions, and he has become
insanely jealous. He will not allow me to speak to anyone, and has
even forbidden M. Cazales, his own nephew, the house. Not that I care
about that," she added with an expressive shrug of the shoulders.
"He has forbidden M. Cazales the house," rang like a paean in my ear.
"Not that she cares about that! Tra la, la, la, la, la!" What I
actually contrived to say with a measured and judicial air was:
"If you deign to entrust me with the conduct of your affairs, I would
at once communicate with the English lawyers in your name and suggest
to them the advisability of appointing another guardian. . . . I would
suggest, for instance . . . er . . . that I . . ."
"How can you do that, Monsieur?" she broke in somewhat impatiently,
"seeing that I cannot possibly tell you who these lawyers are?"
"Eh?" I queried, gasping.
"I neither know their names nor their residence in England."
Once more I gasped. "Will you explain?" I murmured.
"It seems, Monsieur, that while my dear mother lived she always
refused to take a single sou from my father, who had so basely
deserted her. Of course, she did not know that he was making a fortune
over in England, nor that he was making diligent inquiries as to her
whereabouts when he felt that he was going to die. Thus, he discovered
that she had died the previous year and that I was working in the
atelier of Madame Cecile, the well-known milliner. When the English
lawyers wrote to me at that address they, of course, said that they
would require all my papers of identification before they paid any
money over to me, and so, when Mr. Farewell went over to England, he
took all my papers with him and . . ."
She burst into tears and exclaimed piteously:
"Oh! I have nothing now, Monsieur--nothing to prove who I am! Mr.
Farewell took everything, even the original letter which the English
lawyers wrote to me."
"Farewell," I urged, "can be forced by the law to give all your papers
up to you."
"Oh! I have nothing now, Monsieur--he threatened to destroy all my
papers unless I promised to become his wife! And I haven't the least
idea how and where to find the English lawyers. I don't remember
either their name or their address; and if I did, how could I prove my
identity to their satisfaction? I don't know a soul in Paris save a
few irresponsible millinery apprentices and Madame Cecile, who, no
doubt, is hand in glove with Mr. Farewell. I am all alone in the world
and friendless. . . . I have come to you, Monsieur, in my distress . . .
and you will help me, will you not?"
She looked more adorable in grief than she had ever done before.
To tell you that at this moment visions floated in my mind, before
which Dante's visions of Paradise would seem pale and tame, were but
to put it mildly. I was literally soaring in heaven. For you see I am
a man of intellect and of action. No sooner do I see possibilities
before me than my brain soars in an empyrean whilst conceiving daring
plans for my body's permanent abode in elysium. At this present
moment, for instance--to name but a few of the beatific visions which
literally dazzled me with their radiance--I could see my fair client
as a lovely and blushing bride by my side, even whilst Messieurs X.
and X., the two still unknown English lawyers, handed me a heavy bag
which bore the legend "One hundred thousand francs." I could see . . .
But I had not the time now to dwell on these ravishing dreams. The
beauteous creature was waiting for my decision. She had placed her
fate in my hands; I placed my hand on my heart.
"Mademoiselle," I said solemnly, "I will be your adviser and your
friend. Give me but a few days' grace, every hour, every minute of
which I will spend in your service. At the end of that time I will not
only have learned the name and address of the English lawyers, but I
will have communicated with them on your behalf, and all your papers
proving your identity will be in your hands. Then we can come to a
decision with regard to a happier and more comfortable home for you.
In the meanwhile I entreat you to do nothing that may precipitate Mr.
Farewell's actions. Do not encourage his advances, but do not repulse
them, and above all keep me well informed of everything that goes on
in his house."
She spoke a few words of touching gratitude, then she rose, and with a
gesture of exquisite grace she extracted a hundred-franc note from her
reticule and placed it upon my desk.
"Mademoiselle," I protested with splendid dignity, "I have done
nothing as yet."
"Ah! but you will, Monsieur," she entreated in accents that completed
my subjugation to her charms. "Besides, you do not know me! How could
I expect you to work for me and not to know if, in the end, I should
repay you for all your trouble? I pray you to take this small sum
without demur. Mr. Farewell keeps me well supplied with pocket money.
There will be another hundred for you when you place the papers in my
I bowed to her, and, having once more assured her of my unswerving
loyalty to her interests, I accompanied her to the door, and anon saw
her graceful figure slowly descend the stairs and then disappear along
Then I went back to my room, and was only just in time to catch
Theodore calmly pocketing the hundred-franc note which my fair client
had left on the table. I secured the note and I didn't give him a
black eye, for it was no use putting him in a bad temper when there
was so much to do.
That very same evening I interviewed the concierge at No. 65 Rue des
Pyramides. From him I learned that Mr. Farewell lived on a very small
income on the top floor of the house, that his household consisted of
a housekeeper who cooked and did the work of the apartment for him,
and an odd-job man who came every morning to clean boots, knives, draw
water and carry up fuel from below. I also learned that there was a
good deal of gossip in the house anent the presence in Mr. Farewell's
bachelor establishment of a young and beautiful girl, whom he tried to
keep a virtual prisoner under his eye.
The next morning, dressed in a shabby blouse, alpaca cap, and trousers
frayed out round the ankles, I--Hector Ratichon, the confidant of
kings--was lounging under the porte-cochere of No. 65 Rue des
Pyramides. I was watching the movements of a man, similarly attired to
myself, as he crossed and recrossed the courtyard to draw water from
the well or to fetch wood from one of the sheds, and then disappeared
up the main staircase.
A casual, tactful inquiry of the concierge assured me that that man
was indeed in the employ of Mr. Farewell.
I waited as patiently and inconspicuously as I could, and at ten
o'clock I saw that my man had obviously finished his work for the
morning and had finally come down the stairs ready to go home. I
I will not speak of the long halt in the cabaret du Chien Noir, where
he spent an hour and a half in the company of his friends, playing
dominoes and drinking eau-de-vie whilst I had perforce to cool my
heels outside. Suffice it to say that I did follow him to his house
just behind the fish-market, and that half an hour later, tired out
but triumphant, having knocked at his door, I was admitted into the
squalid room which he occupied.
He surveyed me with obvious mistrust, but I soon reassured him.
"My friend Mr. Farewell has recommended you to me," I said with my
usual affability. "I was telling him just awhile ago that I needed a
man to look after my office in the Rue Daunou of a morning, and he
told me that in you I would find just the man I wanted."
"Hm!" grunted the fellow, very sullenly I thought. "I work for
Farewell in the mornings. Why should he recommend me to you? Am I not
"Perfect satisfaction," I rejoined urbanely; "that is just the point.
Mr. Farewell desires to do you a good turn seeing that I offered to
pay you twenty sous for your morning's work instead of the ten which
you are getting from him."
I saw his eyes glisten at mention of the twenty sous.
"I'd best go and tell him then that I am taking on your work," he
said; and his tone was no longer sullen now.
"Quite unnecessary," I rejoined. "I arranged everything with Mr.
Farewell before I came to you. He has already found someone else to do
his work, and I shall want you to be at my office by seven o'clock
to-morrow morning. And," I added, for I am always cautious and
judicious, and I now placed a piece of silver in his hand, "here are
the first twenty sous on account."
He took the money and promptly became very civil, even obsequious. He
not only accompanied me to the door, but all the way down the stairs,
and assured me all the time that he would do his best to give me
I left my address with him, and sure enough, he turned up at the
office the next morning at seven o'clock precisely.
Theodore had had my orders to direct him in his work, and I was left
free to enact the second scene of the moving drama in which I was
determined to play the hero and to ring down the curtain to the sound
of the wedding bells.
I took on the work of odd-job man at 65 Rue des Pyramides. Yes, I!
Even I, who had sat in the private room of an emperor discussing the
destinies of Europe.
But with a beautiful bride and one hundred thousand francs as my goal
I would have worked in a coal mine or on the galleys for such a
The task, I must tell you, was terribly irksome to a man of my
sensibilities, endowed with an active mind and a vivid imagination.
The dreary monotony of fetching water and fuel from below and
polishing the boots of that arch-scoundrel Farewell would have made a
less stout spirit quail. I had, of course, seen through the
scoundrel's game at once. He had rendered Estelle quite helpless by
keeping all her papers of identification and by withholding from her
all the letters which, no doubt, the English lawyers wrote to her from
time to time. Thus she was entirely in his power. But, thank heaven!
only momentarily, for I, Hector Ratichon, argus-eyed, was on the
watch. Now and then the monotony of my existence and the hardship of
my task were relieved by a brief glimpse of Estelle or a smile of
understanding from her lips; now and then she would contrive to murmur
as she brushed past me while I was polishing the scoundrel's study
floor, "Any luck yet?" And this quiet understanding between us gave me
courage to go on with my task.
After three days I had conclusively made up my mind that Mr. Farewell
kept his valuable papers in the drawer of the bureau in the study.
After that I always kept a lump of wax ready for use in my pocket. On
the fifth day I was very nearly caught trying to take an impression of
the lock of the bureau drawer. On the seventh I succeeded, and took
the impression over to a locksmith I knew of, and gave him an order to
have a key made to fit it immediately. On the ninth day I had the key.
Then commenced a series of disappointments and of unprofitable days
which would have daunted one less bold and less determined. I don't
think that Farewell ever suspected me, but it is a fact that never
once did he leave me alone in his study whilst I was at work there
polishing the oak floor. And in the meanwhile I could see how he was
pursuing my beautiful Estelle with his unwelcome attentions. At times
I feared that he meant to abduct her; his was a powerful personality
and she seemed like a little bird fighting against the fascination of
a serpent. Latterly, too, an air of discouragement seemed to dwell
upon her lovely face. I was half distraught with anxiety, and once or
twice, whilst I knelt upon the hard floor, scrubbing and polishing as
if my life depended on it, whilst he--the unscrupulous scoundrel--sat
calmly at his desk, reading or writing, I used to feel as if the next
moment I must attack him with my scrubbing-brush and knock him down
senseless whilst I ransacked his drawers. My horror of anything
approaching violence saved me from so foolish a step.
Then it was that in the hour of my blackest despair a flash of genius
pierced through the darkness of my misery. For some days now Madame
Dupont, Farewell's housekeeper, had been exceedingly affable to me.
Every morning now, when I came to work, there was a cup of hot coffee
waiting for me, and, when I left, a small parcel of something
appetizing for me to take away.
"Hallo!" I said to myself one day, when, over a cup of coffee, I
caught sight of her small, piggy eyes leering at me with an
unmistakable expression of admiration. "Does salvation lie where I
least expected it?"
For the moment I did nothing more than wink at the fat old thing, but
the next morning I had my arm round her waist--a metre and a quarter,
Sir, where it was tied in the middle--and had imprinted a kiss upon
her glossy cheek. What that love-making cost me I cannot attempt to
describe. Once Estelle came into the kitchen when I was staggering
under a load of a hundred kilos sitting on my knee. The reproachful
glance which she cast at me filled my soul with unspeakable sorrow.
But I was working for her dear sake; working that I might win her in
A week later Mr. Farewell was absent from home for the evening.
Estelle had retired to her room, and I was a welcome visitor in the
kitchen, where Madame Dupont had laid out a regular feast for me. I
had brought a couple of bottles of champagne with me and, what with
the unaccustomed drink and the ogling and love-making to which I
treated her, a hundred kilos of foolish womanhood was soon hopelessly
addled and incapable. I managed to drag her to the sofa, where she
remained quite still, with a beatific smile upon her podgy face, her
eyes swimming in happy tears.
I had not a moment to lose. The very next minute I was in the study
and with a steady hand was opening the drawers of the bureau and
turning over the letters and papers which I found therein.
Suddenly an exclamation of triumph escaped my lips.
I held a packet in my hand on which was written in a clear hand: "The
papers of Mlle. Estelle Bachelier." A brief examination of the packet
sufficed. It consisted of a number of letters written in English,
which language I only partially understand, but they all bore the same
signature, "John Pike and Sons, solicitors," and the address was at
the top, "168 Cornhill, London." It also contained my Estelle's birth
certificate, her mother's marriage certificate, and her police
I was rapt in the contemplation of my own ingenuity in having thus
brilliantly attained my goal, when a stealthy noise in the next room
roused me from my trance and brought up vividly to my mind the awful
risks which I was running at this moment. I turned like an animal at
bay to see Estelle's beautiful face peeping at me through the
"Hist!" she whispered. "Have you got the papers?"
I waved the packet triumphantly. She, excited and adorable, stepped
briskly into the room.
"Let me see," she murmured excitedly.
But I, emboldened by success, cried gaily:
"Not till I have received compensation for all that I have done and
"In the shape of a kiss."
Oh! I won't say that she threw herself in my arms then and there. No,
no! She demurred. All young girls, it seems, demur under the
circumstances; but she was adorable, coy and tender in turns, pouting
and coaxing, and playing like a kitten till she had taken the papers
from me and, with a woman's natural curiosity, had turned the English
letters over and over, even though she could not read a word of them.
Then, Sir, in the midst of her innocent frolic and at the very moment
when I was on the point of snatching the kiss which she had so
tantalizingly denied me, we heard the opening and closing of the front
Mr. Farewell had come home, and there was no other egress from the
study save the sitting-room, which in its turn had no other egress but
the door leading into the very passage where even now Mr. Farewell was
standing, hanging up his hat and cloak on the rack.
We stood hand in hand--Estelle and I--fronting the door through which
Mr. Farewell would presently appear.
"To-night we fly together," I declared.
"Where to?" she whispered.
"Can you go to the woman at your former lodgings?"
"Then I will take you there to-night. To-morrow we will be married
before the Procureur du Roi; in the evening we leave for England."
"Yes, yes!" she murmured.
"When he comes in I'll engage him in conversation," I continued
hurriedly. "You make a dash for the door and run downstairs as fast as
you can. I'll follow as quickly as may be and meet you under the
She had only just time to nod assent when the door which gave on the
sitting-room was pushed open, and Farewell, unconscious at first of
our presence, stepped quietly into the room.
"Estelle," he cried, more puzzled than angry when he suddenly caught
sight of us both, "what are you doing here with that lout?"
I was trembling with excitement--not fear, of course, though Farewell
was a powerful-looking man, a head taller than I was. I stepped boldly
forward, covering the adored one with my body.
"The lout," I said with calm dignity, "has frustrated the machinations
of a knave. To-morrow I go to England in order to place Mademoiselle
Estelle Bachelier under the protection of her legal guardians,
Messieurs Pike and Sons, solicitors, of London."
He gave a cry of rage, and before I could retire to some safe
entrenchment behind the table or the sofa, he was upon me like a mad
dog. He had me by the throat, and I had rolled backwards down on to
the floor, with him on the top of me, squeezing the breath out of me
till I verily thought that my last hour had come. Estelle had run out
of the room like a startled hare. This, of course, was in accordance
with my instructions to her, but I could not help wishing then that
she had been less obedient and somewhat more helpful.
As it was, I was beginning to feel a mere worm in the grip of that
savage scoundrel, whose face I could perceive just above me, distorted
with passion, whilst hoarse ejaculations escaped his trembling lips:
"You meddlesome fool! You oaf! You toad! This for your
interference!" he added as he gave me a vigorous punch on the head.
I felt my senses reeling. My head was swimming, my eyes no longer
could see distinctly. It seemed as if an unbearable pressure upon my
chest would finally squeeze the last breath out of my body.
I was trying to remember the prayers I used to murmur at my mother's
knee, for verily I thought that I was dying, when suddenly, through my
fading senses, came the sound of a long, hoarse cry, whilst the floor
was shaken as with an earthquake. The next moment the pressure on my
chest seemed to relax. I could hear Farewell's voice uttering language
such as it would be impossible for me to put on record; and through it
all hoarse and convulsive cries of: "You shan't hurt him--you limb of
Gradually strength returned to me. I could see as well as hear, and
what I saw filled me with wonder and with pride. Wonder at Ma'ame
Dupont's pluck! Pride in that her love for me had given such power to
her mighty arms! Aroused from her slumbers by the sound of the
scuffle, she had run to the study, only to find me in deadly peril of
my life. Without a second's hesitation she had rushed on Farewell,
seized him by the collar, pulled him away from me, and then thrown the
whole weight of her hundred kilos upon him, rendering him helpless.
Ah, woman! lovely, selfless woman! My heart a prey to remorse, in that
I could not remain in order to thank my plucky deliverer, I
nevertheless finally struggled to my feet and fled from the apartment
and down the stairs, never drawing breath till I felt Estelle's hand
resting confidingly upon my arm.
I took her to the house where she used to lodge, and placed her under
the care of the kind concierge who was Theodore's aunt. Then I, too,
went home, determined to get a good night's rest. The morning would be
a busy one for me. There would be the special licence to get, the cure
of St. Jacques to interview, the religious ceremony to arrange for,
and the places to book on the stagecoach for Boulogne _en route_ for
I was supremely happy and slept the sleep of the just. I was up
betimes and started on my round of business at eight o'clock the next
morning. I was a little troubled about money, because when I had paid
for the licence and given to the cure the required fee for the
religious service and ceremony, I had only five francs left out of the
hundred which the adored one had given me. However, I booked the seats
on the stage-coach and determined to trust to luck. Once Estelle was
my wife, all money care would be at an end, since no power on earth
could stand between me and the hundred thousand francs, the happy goal
for which I had so ably striven.
The marriage ceremony was fixed for eleven o'clock, and it was just
upon ten when, at last, with a light heart and springy step, I ran up
the dingy staircase which led to the adored one's apartments. I
knocked at the door. It was opened by a young man, who with a smile
courteously bade me enter. I felt a little bewildered--and slightly
annoyed. My Estelle should not receive visits from young men at this
hour. I pushed past the intruder in the passage and walked boldly into
the room beyond.
Estelle was sitting upon the sofa, her eyes bright, her mouth smiling,
a dimple in each cheek. I approached her with outstretched arms, but
she paid no heed to me, and turned to the young man, who had followed
me into the room.
"Adrien," she said, "this is kind M. Ratichon, who at risk of his life
obtained for us all my papers of identification and also the valuable
name and address of the English lawyers."
"Monsieur," added the young man as he extended his hand to me,
"Estelle and I will remain eternally your debtors."
I struck at the hand which he had so impudently held out to me and
turned to Estelle with my usual dignified calm, but with wrath
expressed in every line of my face.
"Estelle," I said, "what is the meaning of this?"
"Oh," she retorted with one of her provoking smiles, "you must not
call me Estelle, you know, or Adrien will smack your face. We are
indeed grateful to you, my good M. Ratichon," she continued more
seriously, "and though I only promised you another hundred francs when
your work for me was completed, my husband and I have decided to give
you a thousand francs in view of the risks which you ran on our
"Your husband!" I stammered.
"I was married to M. Adrien Cazales a month ago," she said, "but we
had perforce to keep our marriage a secret, because Mr. Farewell once
vowed to me that unless I became his wife he would destroy all my
papers of identification, and then--even if I ever succeeded in
discovering who were the English lawyers who had charge of my father's
money--I could never prove it to them that I and no one else was
entitled to it. But for you, dear M. Ratichon," added the cruel and
shameless one, "I should indeed never have succeeded."
In the midst of this overwhelming cataclysm I am proud to say that I
retained mastery over my rage and contrived to say with perfect calm:
"But why have deceived me, Mademoiselle? Why have kept your marriage a
secret from me? Was I not toiling and working and risking my life for
"And would you have worked quite so enthusiastically for me," queried
the false one archly, "if I had told you everything?"
I groaned. Perhaps she was right. I don't know.
I took the thousand francs and never saw M. and Mme. Cazales again.
But I met Ma'ame Dupont by accident soon after. She has left Mr.
She still weighs one hundred kilos.
I often call on her of an evening.
ON THE BRINK
You would have thought that after the shameful way in which Theodore
treated me in the matter of the secret treaty that I would then and
there have turned him out of doors, sent him back to grub for scraps
out of the gutter, and hardened my heart once and for all against that
snake in the grass whom I had nurtured in my bosom.
But, as no doubt you have remarked ere this, I have been burdened by
Nature with an over-sensitive heart. It is a burden, my dear Sir, and
though I have suffered inexpressibly under it, I nevertheless agree
with the English poet, George Crabbe, whose works I have read with a
great deal of pleasure and profit in the original tongue, and who
avers in one of his inimitable "Tales" that it is "better to love
amiss than nothing to have loved."
Not that I loved Theodore, you understand? But he and I had shared so
many ups and downs together of late that I was loath to think of him
as reduced to begging his bread in the streets. Then I kept him by me,
for I thought that he might at times be useful to me in my business.
I kept him to my hurt, as you will presently see.
In those days--I am now speaking of the time immediately following the
Restoration of our beloved King Louis XVIII to the throne of his
forbears--Parisian society was, as it were, divided into two distinct
categories: those who had become impoverished by the revolution and
the wars of the Empire, and those who had made their fortunes thereby.
Among the former was M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour, a handsome young
officer of cavalry; and among the latter was one Mauruss Mosenstein, a
usurer of the Jewish persuasion, whose wealth was reputed in millions,
and who had a handsome daughter biblically named Rachel, who a year
ago had become Madame la Marquise de Firmin-Latour.
From the first moment that this brilliant young couple appeared upon
the firmament of Parisian society I took a keen interest in all their
doings. In those days, you understand, it was in the essence of my
business to know as much as possible of the private affairs of people
in their position, and instinct had at once told me that in the case
of M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour such knowledge might prove very
Thus I very soon found out that M. le Marquis had not a single louis
of his own to bless himself with, and that it was Papa Mosenstein's
millions that kept up the young people's magnificent establishment in
the Rue de Grammont.
I also found out that Mme. la Marquise was some dozen years older than
Monsieur, and that she had been a widow when she married him. There
were rumours that her first marriage had not been a happy one. The
husband, M. le Compte de Naquet, had been a gambler and a spendthrift,
and had dissipated as much of his wife's fortune as he could lay his
hands on, until one day he went off on a voyage to America, or
goodness knows where, and was never heard of again. Mme. la Comtesse,
as she then was, did not grieve over her loss; indeed, she returned to
the bosom of her family, and her father--a shrewd usurer, who had
amassed an enormous fortune during the wars--succeeded, with the aid
of his apparently bottomless moneybags, in having his first son-in-law
declared deceased by Royal decree, so as to enable the beautiful
Rachel to contract another, yet more brilliant alliance, as far as
name and lineage were concerned, with the Marquis de Firmin-Latour.
Indeed, I learned that the worthy Israelite's one passion was the
social advancement of his daughter, whom he worshipped. So, as soon as
the marriage was consummated and the young people were home from their
honeymoon, he fitted up for their use the most extravagantly sumptuous
apartment Paris had ever seen. Nothing seemed too good or too
luxurious for Mme. la Marquise de Firmin-Latour. He desired her to cut
a brilliant figure in Paris society--nay, to be the Ville Lumiere's
brightest and most particular star. After the town house he bought a
chateau in the country, horses and carriages, which he placed at the
disposal of the young couple; he kept up an army of servants for them,
and replenished their cellars with the choicest wines. He threw money
about for diamonds and pearls which his daughter wore, and paid all
his son-in-law's tailors' and shirt-makers' bills. But always the
money was his, you understand? The house in Paris was his, so was the
chateau on the Loire; he lent them to his daughter. He lent her the
diamonds, and the carriages, and the boxes at the opera and the
Francais. But here his generosity ended. He had been deceived in his
daughter's first husband; some of the money which he had given her had
gone to pay the gambling debts of an unscrupulous spendthrift. He was
determined that this should not occur again. A man might spend his
wife's money--indeed, the law placed most of it at his disposal in
those days--but he could not touch or mortgage one sou that belonged
to his father-in-law. And, strangely enough, Mme. la Marquise de
Firmin-Latour acquiesced and aided her father in his determination.
Whether it was the Jewish blood in her, or merely obedience to old
Mosenstein's whim, it were impossible to say. Certain it is that out
of the lavish pin-money which her father gave her as a free gift from
time to time, she only doled out a meagre allowance to her husband,
and although she had everything she wanted, M. le Marquis on his side
had often less than twenty francs in his pocket.
A very humiliating position, you will admit, Sir, for a dashing young
cavalry officer. Often have I seen him gnawing his finger-nails with
rage when, at the end of a copious dinner in one of the fashionable
restaurants--where I myself was engaged in a business capacity to
keep an eye on possibly light-fingered customers--it would be Mme. la
Marquise who paid the bill, even gave the pourboire to the waiter. At
such times my heart would be filled with pity for his misfortunes,
and, in my own proud and lofty independence, I felt that I did not
envy him his wife's millions.
Of course, he borrowed from every usurer in the city for as long as
they would lend him any money; but now he was up to his eyes in debt,
and there was not a Jew inside France who would have lent him one
You see, his precarious position was as well known as were his
extravagant tastes and the obstinate parsimoniousness of M.
But such men as M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour, you understand, Sir,
are destined by Nature first and by fortuitous circumstances
afterwards to become the clients of men of ability like myself. I knew
that sooner or later the elegant young soldier would be forced to seek
the advice of someone wiser than himself, for indeed his present
situation could not last much longer. It would soon be "sink" with
him, for he could no longer "swim."
And I was determined that when that time came he should turn to me as
the drowning man turns to the straw.
So where M. le Marquis went in public I went, when possible. I was
biding my time, and wisely too, as you will judge.
Then one day our eyes met: not in a fashionable restaurant, I may tell
you, but in a discreet one situated on the slopes of Montmartre. I was
there alone, sipping a cup of coffee after a frugal dinner. I had
drifted in there chiefly because I had quite accidentally caught sight
of M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour walking arm-in-arm up the Rue Lepic
with a lady who was both youthful and charming--a well-known dancer at
the opera. Presently I saw him turn into that discreet little
restaurant, where, in very truth, it was not likely that Mme. la
Marquise would follow him. But I did. What made me do it, I cannot
say; but for some time now it had been my wish to make the personal
acquaintance of M. de Firmin-Latour, and I lost no opportunity which
might help me to attain this desire.
Somehow the man interested me. His social and financial position was
peculiar, you will admit, and here, methought, was the beginning of an
adventure which might prove the turning-point in his career and . . .
my opportunity. I was not wrong, as you will presently see. Whilst
silently eating my simple dinner, I watched M. de Firmin-Latour.
He had started the evening by being very gay; he had ordered champagne
and a succulent meal, and chatted light-heartedly with his companion,
until presently three young women, flashily dressed, made noisy
irruption into the restaurant.
M. de Firmin-Latour's friend hailed them, introduced them to him, and
soon he was host, not to one lady, but to four, and instead of two
dinners he had to order five, and more champagne, and then
dessert--peaches, strawberries, bonbons, liqueurs, flowers, and what
not, until I could see that the bill which presently he would be
called upon to pay would amount to far more than his quarterly
allowance from Mme. la Marquise, far more, presumably, than he had in
his pocket at the present moment.
My brain works with marvellous rapidity, as you know. Already I had
made up my mind to see the little comedy through to the end, and I
watched with a good deal of interest and some pity the clouds of
anxiety gathering over M. de Firmin-Latour's brow.