“Monsieur Hector Ratichon,” he said unctuously, “it is with much gratification that I bring you the joyful news.”
Joyful news!—to me! Ah, Sir, the words struck at first with cruel irony upon mine ear. But not so a second later, for the Jewish gentleman went on speaking, and what he said appeared to my reeling senses like songs of angels from paradise.
At first I could not grasp his full meaning. A moment ago I had been in the depths of despair, and now—now—a whole vista of beatitude opened out before me! What the worthy Israelite said was that, by the terms of Grandpapa Goldberg’s will, if Leah married without her father’s consent, one-half of the fortune destined for her would revert to her aunt, Sarah Goldberg, now Madame Hector Ratichon.
Can you wonder that I could scarce believe my ears? One-half that fortune meant that a hundred thousand francs would now become mine! M. Goldberg had already made it very clear to his daughter and to Rochez that he would never give his consent to their marriage, and, as this was now consummated, they had already forfeited one-half of the grandfather’s fortune in favour of my Sarah. That was the exemplary punishment which they were to suffer for their folly.
But their folly—aye! and their treachery—had become my joy. In this moment of heavenly rapture I was speechless, but I turned to Sarah with loving arms outstretched, and the next instant she nestled against my heart like a joyful if elderly bird.
What is said of a people, Sir, is also true of the individual. Happy he who hath no history. Since that never-to-be-forgotten hour my life has run its simple, uneventful course here in this quiet corner of our beautiful France, with my pony and my dog and my chickens, and Mme. Ratichon to minister to my creature comforts.
I bought this little property, Sir, soon after my marriage, and my office in the Rue Daunou knows me no more. You like the house, Sir? Ah, yes! And the garden? . . . After dejeuner you must see my prize chickens. Theodore will show them to you. You did not know Theodore was here? Well, yes! He lives with us. Madame Ratichon finds him useful about the house, and, not being used to luxuries, he is on the whole pleasantly contented.
Ah, here comes Madame Ratichon to tell us that the dejeuner is served! This way, Sir, under the porch. . . . After you!