I had intended to leave Madame Truc's by now, but I think I'm stuck here for a while. She has decided to take me under her wing—metaphorically not literally, for which I am grateful—and has not only rallied her friends to find me a job as a clerk in a shipping firm, she has upgraded me to a nicer room. I no longer need to form a hand-glow in secret (always being sure to lock the door before I begin, lest anyone see) in order to read in my room in the evenings, for now I have a whirtle-oil lamp "of the very finest" and a chair "of the most comfortable" in which to sit. Madame even provides the whirtle-oil. It would seem ungrateful to leave now.
And I must say, Madame Truc's table is a fascinating place. Not so much because of the food, which is both adequate and plentiful, if not "of the very finest", but because of my fellow roomers.
Madame Truc sits at the head of the table, of course, if the head is the end nearest the kitchen; and we her loyal subjects can measure our degree of favor in terms of how close to the head we are allowed to sit. This is related to the size and amenities of our rooms, but only to a limited degree. Getting a better room is a definite sign of Madame's approval, but rooms only come open every so often while Madame's favor can change between breakfast and dinner.
Myself, I began at the foot of the table, "as is only right", for I was nothing more than a common day laborer and had the meanest room. I have been considerably elevated in her favor since then, and now get to sit three spots up on the left side, even though my room only entitles me to sit one spot up on the right side.
The place of greatest honor, the topmost spot on the right, is almost always occupied by our oldest resident, Jacques-la-Souris, which is to say "Jack the Mouse". Jack was a great hunter of the grand-blaireau in his younger days, and acquired his nickname from his skill at sneaking up to them and taking them unawares. I think he might have been a friend of the late Monsieur Truc. Jack is old, in his sixties at least, and fat, and very gallant to Madame Truc except when he forgets. She brandishes a ladle at him when he becomes too ardent, but he only gets banished to a spot lower down the table when he comes home drunk, which he does every week or so. When he goes out he wears a tall hat of ver-blaireau from an animal he caught himself, so he says; and he assures me that once Madame is satisfied that I won't begin to come home drunk now that I have a fine new job and can afford it, she will surely elevate me to the chair three spots up on the right side.
He seems to have appointed himself my personal trainer. He stops me in the hall and gives me sage advice as to how to rise in Madame's esteem. With luck and determination, he tells me, I shall most certainly ascend even as far as the topmost spot on the left, opposite Jack himself!
The catch is that to do so I must woo her as he does—and Madame Truc being in her late fifties, I shall most certainly not do that for fear of catching her, which would be a thing "of the most fearful". Instead I shall endeavor to have "manners of the most polite".
Hoping this finds you well,