Author: Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Release Date: May 28, 2004 [EBook #12461]
Character set encoding: ASCII
*** Start of this project gutenberg EBOOK Castles in the air ***
Produced by Jim Tinsley firstname.lastname@example.org
In presenting this engaging rogue to my readers, I feel that I owe them, if not an apology, at least an explanation for this attempt at enlisting sympathy in favour of a man who has little to recommend him save his own unconscious humour. In very truth my good friend Ratichon is an unblushing liar, thief, a forger—anything you will; his vanity is past belief, his scruples are non-existent. How he escaped a convict settlement it is difficult to imagine, and hard to realize that he died—presumably some years after the event recorded in the last chapter of his autobiography—a respected member of the community, honoured by that same society which should have raised a punitive hand against him. Yet this I believe to be the case. At any rate, in spite of close research in the police records of the period, I can find no mention of Hector Ratichon. “Heureux le peuple qui n’a pas d’histoire” applies, therefore, to him, and we must take it that Fate and his own sorely troubled country dealt lightly with him.
Which brings me back to my attempt at an explanation. If Fate dealt kindly, why not we? Since time immemorial there have been worse scoundrels unhung than Hector Ratichon, and he has the saving grace— which few possess—of unruffled geniality. Buffeted by Fate, sometimes starving, always thirsty, he never complains; and there is all through his autobiography what we might call an “Ah, well!” attitude about his outlook on life. Because of this, and because his very fatuity makes us smile, I feel that he deserves forgiveness and even a certain amount of recognition.
The fragmentary notes, which I have only very slightly modified, came into my hands by a happy chance one dull post-war November morning in Paris, when rain, sleet and the north wind drove me for shelter under the arcades of the Odeon, and a kindly vendor of miscellaneous printed matter and mouldy MSS. allowed me to rummage amongst a load of old papers which he was about to consign to the rubbish heap. I imagine that the notes were set down by the actual person to whom the genial Hector Ratichon recounted the most conspicuous events of his chequered career, and as I turned over the torn and musty pages, which hung together by scraps of mouldy thread, I could not help feeling the humour—aye! and the pathos—of that drabby side of old Paris which was being revealed to me through the medium of this rogue’s adventures. And even as, holding the fragments in my hand, I walked home that