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Castles in the Air

VII. An Over-Sensitive Heart
1.
No doubt, Sir, that you have noticed during the course of our conversations that
Nature has endowed me with an over-sensitive heart. I feel keenly, Sir, very
keenly. Blows dealt me by Fate, or, as has been more often the case, by the
cruel and treacherous hand of man, touch me on the raw. I suffer acutely. I am
highly strung. I am one of those rare beings whom Nature pre-ordained for love
and for happiness. I am an ideal family man.
What? You did not know that I was married? Indeed, Sir, I am. And though
Madame Ratichon does not perhaps fulfil all my ideals of exquisite womanhood,
nevertheless she has been an able and willing helpmate during these last years
of comparative prosperity. Yes, you see me fairly prosperous now. My industry,
my genius--if I may so express myself--found their reward at last. You will be the
first to acknowledge--you, the confidant of my life's history--that that reward was
fully deserved. I worked for it, toiled and thought and struggled, up to the last;
and had Fate been just, rather than grudging, I should have attained that ideal
which would have filled my cup of happiness to the brim.
But, anyway, the episode connected with my marriage did mark the close of my
professional career, and is therefore worthy of record. Since that day, Sir--a
happy one for me, a blissful one for Mme. Ratichon--I have been able, thanks to
the foresight of an all-wise Providence, to gratify my bucolic tastes. I live now,
Sir, amidst my flowers, with my dog and my canary and Mme. Ratichon, smiling
with kindly indulgence on the struggles and the blunders of my younger
colleagues, oft consulted by them in matters that require special tact and
discretion. I sit and dream now beneath the shade of a vine-clad arbour of those
glorious days of long ago, when kings and emperors placed the destiny of their
inheritance in my hands, when autocrats and dictators came to me for assistance
and advice, and the name of Hector Ratichon stood for everything that was most
astute and most discreet. And if at times a gentle sigh of regret escapes my lips,
Mme. Ratichon--whose thinness is ever my despair, for I admire comeliness, Sir,
as being more womanly--Mme. Ratichon, I say, comes to me with the gladsome
news that dinner is served; and though she is not all that I could wish in the
matter of the culinary arts, yet she can fry a cutlet passably, and one of her
brothers is a wholesale wine merchant of excellent reputation.
It was soon after my connexion with that abominable Marquis de Firmin-Latour
that I first made the acquaintance of the present Mme. Ratichon, under
somewhat peculiar circumstances.
 
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