Castles in the Air HTML version

I. A Roland For His Oliver
My name is Ratichon--Hector Ratichon, at your service, and I make so bold as to
say that not even my worst enemy would think of minimizing the value of my
services to the State. For twenty years now have I placed my powers at the
disposal of my country: I have served the Republic, and was confidential agent to
Citizen Robespierre; I have served the Empire, and was secret factotum to our
great Napoléon; I have served King Louis--with a brief interval of one hundred
days-- for the past two years, and I can only repeat that no one, in the whole of
France, has been so useful or so zealous in tracking criminals, nosing out
conspiracies, or denouncing traitors as I have been.
And yet you see me a poor man to this day: there has been a persistently
malignant Fate which has worked against me all these years, and would--but for
a happy circumstance of which I hope anon to tell you--have left me just as I was,
in the matter of fortune, when I first came to Paris and set up in business as a
volunteer police agent at No, 96 Rue Daunou.
My apartment in those days consisted of an antechamber, an outer office where,
if need be, a dozen clients might sit, waiting their turn to place their troubles,
difficulties, anxieties before the acutest brain in France, and an inner room
wherein that same acute brain--mine, my dear Sir--was wont to ponder and
scheme. That apartment was not luxuriously furnished--furniture being very dear
in those days--but there were a couple of chairs and a table in the outer office,
and a cupboard wherein I kept the frugal repast which served me during the
course of a long and laborious day. In the inner office there were more chairs and
another table, littered with papers: letters and packets all tied up with pink tape
(which cost three sous the metre), and bundles of letters from hundreds of
clients, from the highest and the lowest in the land, you understand, people who
wrote to me and confided in me to-day as kings and emperors had done in the
past. In the antechamber there was a chair-bedstead for Theodore to sleep on
when I required him to remain in town, and a chair on which he could sit.
And, of course, there was Theodore!
Ah! my dear Sir, of him I can hardly speak without feeling choked with the
magnitude of my emotion. A noble indignation makes me dumb. Theodore, sir,
has ever been the cruel thorn that times out of number hath wounded my over-
sensitive heart. Think of it! I had picked him out of the gutter! No! no! I do not
mean this figuratively! I mean that, actually and in the flesh, I took him up by the
collar of his tattered coat and dragged him out of the gutter in the Rue Blanche,
where he was grubbing for trifles out of the slime and mud. He was frozen, Sir,