I'm delighted to hear from you, and a little befuddled as to how to answer, since I think I've answered most of your questions in letters you had not received when you wrote me but should certainly have received by now. Let me tick them off briefly, just to make sure; then on to news.
Yes, I really have moved to Armorica, or I would not have received your letter.
No, I do not know what Dad will say, or, indeed, has said; he has forbidden Mum to correspond with me. However, I can well imagine, as can you.
Yes, it's a disappointment to everyone in the family but you. You are a great comfort to me, Jack.
No, I'm not starving in a ditch; I'm a clerk in one of the leading shipping firms, and doing adequately well.
Yes, I have met a number of young ladies—or, at least, danced with them in the park.
No, they have no sisters to whom I can introduce you, nor would I, you foot-slogging old reprobate.
Yes, actually, I do like it here. I like it here very much, somewhat to my surprise. The original attraction was simply that Dad had no reach here, and was unlikely to follow me; but the air is clear, the surroundings are beautiful, the girls are pretty, and I can be my own man here.
Moving onto news, I should clarify something. In my last, I indicated that I'd achieved the stellar distinction of sitting in the first seat on the left at Madame Truc's table. I would not want you to think that this is my permanent status; far from it. As I have explained, one's position at Madame's table depends on her favor and the quality of your room, which is to say the size of one's weekly rent. My usual place is three spots up on the right (one or two spots better than I deserve, given my rooms), and I returned there willingly enough the following day. The seat at Madame's left hand is a seat of special favor exceeded only by the spot at her right hand; and as the spot at her right is open only when Jacques-le-Souris has incurred her disfavor, being able to sit there is usually of little significance. Often, indeed, everyone just shifts up the table by one.
The spot on the left, on the other…. That is to say, being granted the privilege of sitting to Madame's left is always a sign of special favor for it means that everyone else must move down a spot, which is by no means a popular thing. And in particular, it means that M. Sabot must be moved down a spot, and that is of all things to be avoided without suitable cause.
M. Sabot is a mystery to me. He is an older man, nearly as old as Jacques-le-Souris, but as unlike Jacques as a horse from a hound. He maintains a gentlemanly appearance at all times—I have never seen him without a coat and waistcoat—and holds himself so aloof from the other boarders that I have hardly ever passed two words with him. He does not seem to work, yet he can afford the nicest rooms in the house. (Jacques' position on Madame's right depends less on his lodgings and more on long acquaintance, for he was a friend of Madame's long-dead husband, and, I believe, her first roomer.) I have often seen M. Sabot walking the streets of an afternoon, going from nowhere to no place, or sitting alone in Durand Park at noon.
From his appearance and bearing one would expect him to live in a fine home, with a family; and yet he lives in Madame Truc's boarding house. "It is a tale of the most sad," is all that Jacques will tell me; naturally I haven't dared ask Madame herself.
The point is, elevating anyone to the seat on Madame's left requires displacing M. Sabot, and I have come to believe that she only does so after explaining the candidate's merits and receiving his acquiescence. It would not do to lose him as a tenant, no, no, for he is a man of the most distinct…and if he can bear to make way, no one else is likely to raise a fuss.
Certainly M. Sabot did not raise a fuss on the occasion when I took his place. Rather, he sat down beside me with the greatest dignity, and spoke only to beg me for the salt.
There's a story there, Jack. I wonder if I shall ever know what it is.