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Castles in the Air

IV. Carissimo
1.
You must not think for a moment, my dear Sir, that I was ever actually deceived
in Theodore. Was it likely that I, who am by temperament and habit accustomed
to read human visages like a book, was it likely, I say, that I would fail to see
craftiness in those pale, shifty eyes, deceit in the weak, slobbering mouth,
intemperance in the whole aspect of the shrunken, slouchy figure which I had, for
my subsequent sorrow, so generously rescued from starvation?
Generous? I was more than generous to him. They say that the poor are the
friends of the poor, and I told you how poor we were in those days! Ah! but poor!
my dear Sir, you have no conception! Meat in Paris in the autumn of 1816 was
24 francs the kilo, and milk 1 franc the quarter litre, not to mention eggs and
butter, which were delicacies far beyond the reach of cultured, well-born people
like myself.
And yet throughout that trying year I fed Theodore--yes, I fed him. He used to
share onion pie with me whenever I partook of it, and he had haricot soup every
day, into which I allowed him to boil the skins of all the sausages and the
luscious bones of all the cutlets of which I happened to partake. Then think what
he cost me in drink! Never could I leave a half or quarter bottle of wine but he
would finish it; his impudent fingers made light of every lock and key. I dared not
allow as much as a sou to rest in the pocket of my coat but he would ferret it out
the moment I hung the coat up in the outer room and my back was turned for a
few seconds. After a while I was forced--yes, I, Sir, who have spoken on terms of
equality with kings--I was forced to go out and make my own purchases in the
neighbouring provision shops. And why? Because if I sent Theodore and gave
him a few sous wherewith to make these purchases, he would spend the money
at the nearest cabaret in getting drunk on absinthe.
He robbed me, Sir, shamefully, despite the fact that he had ten per cent,
commission on all the profits of the firm. I gave him twenty francs out of the
money which I had earned at the sweat of my brow in the service of Estelle
Bachelier. Twenty francs, Sir! Reckoning two hundred francs as business profit
on the affair, a generous provision you will admit! And yet he taunted me with
having received a thousand. This was mere guesswork, of course, and I took no
notice of his taunts: did the brains that conceived the business deserve no
payment? Was my labour to be counted as dross?--the humiliation, the blows
which I had to endure while he sat in hoggish content, eating and sleeping
without thought for the morrow? After which he calmly pocketed the twenty francs
to earn which he had not raised one finger, and then demanded more.
 
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