Castles in the air, p.1
Castles in the Air, p.1Baroness Emmuska Orczy Orczy
Produced by Jim Tinsley
In presenting this engaging rogue to my readers, I feel that I owethem, if not an apology, at least an explanation for this attempt atenlisting sympathy in favour of a man who has little to recommend himsave his own unconscious humour. In very truth my good friend Ratichonis an unblushing liar, thief, a forger--anything you will; his vanityis past belief, his scruples are non-existent. How he escaped aconvict settlement it is difficult to imagine, and hard to realizethat he died--presumably some years after the event recorded in thelast chapter of his autobiography--a respected member of thecommunity, honoured by that same society which should have raised apunitive hand against him. Yet this I believe to be the case. At anyrate, 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'apas d'histoire" applies, therefore, to him, and we must take it thatFate and his own sorely troubled country dealt lightly with him.
Which brings me back to my attempt at an explanation. If Fate dealtkindly, why not we? Since time immemorial there have been worsescoundrels unhung than Hector Ratichon, and he has the saving grace--which few possess--of unruffled geniality. Buffeted by Fate, sometimesstarving, always thirsty, he never complains; and there is all throughhis autobiography what we might call an "Ah, well!" attitude about hisoutlook on life. Because of this, and because his very fatuity makesus smile, I feel that he deserves forgiveness and even a certainamount of recognition.
The fragmentary notes, which I have only very slightly modified, cameinto my hands by a happy chance one dull post-war November morning inParis, when rain, sleet and the north wind drove me for shelter underthe arcades of the Odeon, and a kindly vendor of miscellaneous printedmatter and mouldy MSS. allowed me to rummage amongst a load of oldpapers which he was about to consign to the rubbish heap. I imaginethat the notes were set down by the actual person to whom the genialHector Ratichon recounted the most conspicuous events of his chequeredcareer, and as I turned over the torn and musty pages, which hungtogether by scraps of mouldy thread, I could not help feeling thehumour--aye! and the pathos--of that drabby side of old Paris whichwas being revealed to me through the medium of this rogue'sadventures. And even as, holding the fragments in my hand, I walkedhome that morning through the rain something of that same quaintpersonality seemed once more to haunt the dank and dreary streets ofthe once dazzling Ville Lumiere. I seemed to see the shabbybottle-green coat, the nankeen pantaloons, the down-at-heel shoes ofthis "confidant of Kings"; I could hear his unctuous, self-satisfiedlaugh, and sensed his furtive footstep whene'er a gendarme came intoview. I saw his ruddy, shiny face beaming at me through the sleet andthe rain as, like a veritable squire of dames, he minced his stepsupon the boulevard, or, like a reckless smuggler, affronted the gravedangers of mountain fastnesses upon the Juras; and I was quite glad tothink that a life so full of unconscious humour had not been cut shortupon the gallows. And I thought kindly of him, for he had made mesmile.
There is nothing fine about him, nothing romantic; nothing in hisactions to cause a single thrill to the nerves of the mostunsophisticated reader. Therefore, I apologize in that I have not heldhim up to a just obloquy because of his crimes, and I ask indulgencefor his turpitudes because of the laughter which they provoke.
EMMUSKA ORCZY. _Paris, 1921_.
CASTLES IN THE AIR
A ROLAND FOR HIS OLIVER
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