“Another five hundred francs,” M. Geoffroy went on quietly, “will be yours as soon as the spy is in our hands.”
I did get that further five hundred of course, for M. Charles Saurez was punctual to the minute, and M. Geoffroy was there with the police to apprehend him. But to think that I might have had twenty thousand—!
And I had to give Theodore fifty francs on the transaction, as he threatened me with the police when I talked of giving him the sack.
But we were quite good friends again after that until— But you shall judge.
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 Napoleon’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.