Castles in the Air HTML version

II. 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 luxury.
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 Napoléon'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 passers by.
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