Castles in the Air
III. 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
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 remunerative.
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.