Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb

Book: Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb Read Free Book Online
Authors: Graham Robb
Tags: History, France, Europe
he entered the tavern and saw a stranger staring at him from a mirror. On passing through the gates of Fenestrelle, he had felt the shock of liberation, the sudden shattering of certainty and habit. Now, as he contemplated those emaciated features, he felt something else besides: the uncanny freedom of a man who was no longer himself. Whoever he might have been before, ‘Joseph Lucher’ was now a ghost, but a ghost who had, as if by some absurd error of the universe, retained the ability to act on the material world.
    He followed the valley of the Chisone river, which was swollen by torrents of melting snow, and reached the broad, green plain of the Po. At Pinarolo, he took the road to Turin, from where the icy battlements of the Alps looked like a distant dream.
    A man in rags walking into a banking house in April 1814 was not necessarily a sight to bring the constables running. A vagrant whose papers were in order, and who was legally entitled to sums too large to be the fruit of common theft, was probably an exile or an émigré. As far as the banking house was concerned, he was robed in splendour.
    For reasons that will become apparent, the next few months are a blank. Lucher must have travelled to Milan, where he probably visited a lawyer and signed some papers. Perhaps he made a brief excursion to a country estate or a lonely wood. Whatever the instructions he had received in Fenestrelle, they were obviously accurate and effective. Before long, he was able to take stock of the situation and to study the new hand that fate had dealt him.
    The money that was held in Hamburg and London, added to the income from the bank in Amsterdam, amounted to seven million francs. The treasure itself consisted of over three million francs in currency and one million two hundred thousand francs in diamonds and other small objects–jewel-studded ornaments and cameos that would have graced the Louvre. Applying the lessons he had learned in Fenestrelle, he set aside the diamonds and one million francs and invested the remainder in the banks of four different countries. With an interest rate of six per cent, this gave him an annual income of six hundred thousand francs. It was enough to satisfy almost any habit or desire. By comparison, the deposed Napoleon landed on Elba with four million francs, which enabled him to build a regal residence, several new roads and a sewer-system, and to organize his return to France. Lucher’s total fortune–something in excess of eleven million two hundred thousand francs–was approximately equal to the combined annual income of every cobbler in Paris.
    To anyone else, it might have seemed an astounding stroke of luck. With a fortune so colossal, a man could do anything he liked. But how could mere wealth rewrite the story that had told itself in his head a million times? His benefactor and companion in betrayal had taught him to know and hate his enemies. But there was something beyond hatred–the desire for some absolute consolation, a hunger for justice so complete that the events that had led to his living death could never have happened.
    No hint of this would have been visible to the proprietor of the maison de santé to which Lucher admitted himself in February 1815, and he would have been amazed to learn that his patient was one of the richest men in France. Lucher had himself delivered to the quiet Paris suburb with very little luggage and no servants of his own. He paid for his board and lodging and settled in to convalesce and regain his strength after what he described as a long illness. The more salubrious nursing homes were built on slopes around the city, with verandas and small gardens. Before regulations were introduced in 1838, a private maison de santé would accept almost anyone who could pay, which meant that the residents were usually a mixed bunch of people: invalids recovering from surgical operations, pregnant women, the old and decrepit, harmless lunatics and wealthy

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