Castles in the Air HTML version
V. The Toys
You are right, Sir, I very seldom speak of my halcyon days--those days when the
greatest monarch the world has ever known honoured me with his intimacy and
confidence. I had my office in the Rue St. Roch then, at the top of a house just by
the church, and not a stone's throw from the palace, and I can tell you, Sir, that in
those days ministers of state, foreign ambassadors, aye! and members of His
Majesty's household, were up and down my staircase at all hours of the day. I
had not yet met Theodore then, and fate was wont to smile on me.
As for M. le Duc d'Otrante, Minister of Police, he would send to me or for me
whenever an intricate case required special acumen, resourcefulness and
secrecy. Thus in the matter of the English files--have I told you of it before? No?
Well, then, you shall hear.
Those were the days, Sir, when the Emperor's Berlin Decrees were going to
sweep the world clear of English commerce and of English enterprise. It was not
a case of paying heavy duty on English goods, or a still heavier fine if you
smuggled; it was total prohibition, and hanging if you were caught bringing so
much as a metre of Bradford cloth or half a dozen Sheffield files into the country.
But you know how it is, Sir: the more strict the law the more ready are certain
lawless human creatures to break it. Never was smuggling so rife as it was in
those days--I am speaking now of 1810 or 11--never was it so daring or
smugglers so reckless.
M. le Duc d'Otrante had his hands full, I can tell you. It had become a matter for
the secret police; the coastguard or customs officials were no longer able to deal
Then one day Hypolite Leroux came to see me. I knew the man well--a keen
sleuthhound if ever there was one--and well did he deserve his name, for he was
as red as a fox.
"Ratichon," he said to me, without preamble, as soon as he had seated himself
opposite to me, and I had placed half a bottle of good Bordeaux and a couple of
glasses on the table. "I want your help in the matter of these English files. We
have done all that we can in our department. M. le Duc has doubled the customs
personnel on the Swiss frontier, the coastguard is both keen and efficient, and
yet we know that at the present moment there are thousands of English files
used in this country, even inside His Majesty's own armament works. M. le Duc
d'Otrante is determined to put an end to the scandal. He has offered a big reward