Castles in the Air HTML version

VI. Honour Among ------
Ah, my dear Sir, it is easy enough to despise our profession, but believe me that
all the finer qualities--those of loyalty and of truth--are essential, not only to us,
but to our subordinates, if we are to succeed in making even a small competence
out of it.
Now let me give you an instance. Here was I, Hector Ratichon, settled in Paris in
that eventful year 1816 which saw the new order of things finally swept aside and
the old order resume its triumphant sway, which saw us all, including our God-
given King Louis XVIII, as poor as the proverbial church mice and as eager for a
bit of comfort and luxury as a hungry dog is for a bone; the year which saw the
army disbanded and hordes of unemployed and unemployable men wandering
disconsolate and half starved through the country seeking in vain for some
means of livelihood, while the Allied troops, well fed and well clothed, stalked
about as if the sacred soil of France was so much dirt under their feet; the year,
my dear Sir, during which more intrigues were hatched and more plots concocted
than in any previous century in the whole history of France. We were all trying to
make money, since there was so precious little of it about. Those of us who had
brains succeeded, and then not always.
Now, I had brains--I do not boast of them; they are a gift from Heaven--but I had
them, and good looks, too, and a general air of strength, coupled with refinement,
which was bound to appeal to anyone needing help and advice, and willing to
pay for both, and yet--but you shall judge.
You know my office in the Rue Daunou, you have been in it--plainly furnished;
but, as I said, these were not days of luxury. There was an antechamber, too,
where that traitor, blackmailer and thief, Theodore, my confidential clerk in those
days, lodged at my expense and kept importunate clients at bay for what was
undoubtedly a liberal salary--ten per cent, on all the profits of the business--and
yet he was always complaining, the ungrateful, avaricious brute!
Well, Sir, on that day in September--it was the tenth, I remember--1816, I must
confess that I was feeling exceedingly dejected. Not one client for the last three
weeks, half a franc in my pocket, and nothing but a small quarter of Strasburg
patty in the larder. Theodore had eaten most of it, and I had just sent him out to
buy two sous' worth of stale bread wherewith to finish the remainder. But after
that? You will admit, Sir, that a less buoyant spirit would not have remained so
long undaunted.
I was just cursing that lout Theodore inwardly, for he had been gone half an hour,
and I strongly suspected him of having spent my two sous on a glass of absinthe,