By Honore de Balzac
Public Domain Books
“Bianchon, ought we to have the curtains put up in the windows?”
“No, the temperature and the light do not affect him now. It would be a good thing for him if he felt heat or cold; but we must have a fire in any case to make tisanes and heat the other things. I will send round a few sticks; they will last till we can have in some firewood. I burned all the bark fuel you had left, as well as his, poor man, yesterday and during the night. The place is so damp that the water stood in drops on the walls; I could hardly get the room dry. Christophe came in and swept the floor, but the place is like a stable; I had to burn juniper, the smell was something horrible.
“Mon Dieu!” said Rastignac. “To think of those daughters of his.”
“One moment, if he asks for something to drink, give him this,” said the house student, pointing to a large white jar. “If he begins to groan, and the belly feels hot and hard to the touch, you know what to do; get Christophe to help you. If he should happen to grow much excited, and begin to talk a good deal and even to ramble in his talk, do not be alarmed. It would not be a bad symptom. But send Christophe to the Hospice Cochin. Our doctor, my chum, or I will come and apply moxas. We had a great consultation this morning while you were asleep. A surgeon, a pupil of Gall’s came, and our house surgeon, and the head physician from the Hotel-Dieu. Those gentlemen considered that the symptoms were very unusual and interesting; the case must be carefully watched, for it throws a light on several obscure and rather important scientific problems. One of the authorities says that if there is more pressure of serum on one or other portion of the brain, it should affect his mental capacities in such and such directions. So if he should talk, notice very carefully what kind of ideas his mind seems to run on; whether memory, or penetration, or the reasoning faculties are exercised; whether sentiments or practical questions fill his thoughts; whether he makes forecasts or dwells on the past; in fact; you must be prepared to give an accurate report of him. It is quite likely that the extravasation fills the whole brain, in which case he will die in the imbecile state in which he is lying now. You cannot tell anything about these mysterious nervous diseases. Suppose the crash came here,” said Bianchon, touching the back of the head, “very strange things have been known to happen; the brain sometimes partially recovers, and death is delayed. Or the congested matter may pass out of the brain altogether through channels which can only be determined by a post-mortem examination. There is an old man at the Hospital for Incurables, an imbecile patient, in his case the effusion has followed the direction of the spinal cord; he suffers horrid agonies, but he lives.”
“Did they enjoy themselves?” It was Father Goriot who spoke. He had recognized Eugene.
“Oh! he thinks of nothing but his daughters,” said Bianchon. “Scores of times last night he said to me, ’They are dancing now! She has her dress.’ He called them by their names. He made me cry, the devil take it, calling with that tone in his voice, for ’Delphine! my little Delphine! and Nasie!’ Upon my word,” said the medical student, “it was enough to make any one burst out crying.”
“Delphine,” said the old man, “she is there, isn’t she? I knew she was there,” and his eyes sought the door.
“I am going down now to tell Sylvie to get the poultices ready,” said Bianchon. “They ought to go on at once.”
Rastignac was left alone with the old man. He sat at the foot of the bed, and gazed at the face before him, so horribly changed that it was shocking to see.
“Noble natures cannot dwell in this world,” he said; “Mme de Beauseant has fled from it, and there he lies dying. What place indeed is there in the shallow petty frivolous thing called society for noble thoughts and feelings?”
Pictures of yesterday’s ball rose up in his memory, in strange contrast to the deathbed before him. Bianchon suddenly appeared.
“I say, Eugene, I have just seen our head surgeon at the hospital, and I ran all the way back here. If the old man shows any signs of reason, if he begins to talk, cover him with a mustard poultice from the neck to the base of the spine, and send round for us.”
“Dear Bianchon,” exclaimed Eugene.
“Oh! it is an interesting case from a scientific point of view,” said the medical student, with all the enthusiasm of a neophyte.
“So!” said Eugene. “Am I really the only one who cares for the poor old man for his own sake?”
“You would not have said so if you had seen me this morning,” returned Bianchon, who did not take offence at this speech. “Doctors who have seen a good deal of practice never see anything but the disease, but, my dear fellow, I can see the patient still.”
He went. Eugene was left alone with the old man, and with an apprehension of a crisis that set in, in fact, before very long.
“Ah! dear boy, is that you?” said Father Goriot, recognizing Eugene.
“Do you feel better?” asked the law student, taking his hand.
“Yes. My head felt as if it were being screwed up in a vise, but now it is set free again. Did you see my girls? They will be here directly; as soon as they know that I am ill they will hurry here at once; they used to take such care of me in the Rue de la Jussienne! Great Heavens! if only my room was fit for them to come into! There has been a young man here, who has burned up all my bark fuel.”
“I can hear Christophe coming upstairs,” Eugene answered. “He is bringing up some firewood that that young man has sent you.”
“Good, but how am I to pay for the wood. I have not a penny left, dear boy. I have given everything, everything. I am a pauper now. Well, at least the golden gown was grand, was it not? (Ah! what pain this is!) Thanks, Christophe! God will reward you, my boy; I have nothing left now.”
Eugene went over to Christophe and whispered in the man’s ear, “I will pay you well, and Sylvie too, for your trouble.”
“My daughters told you that they were coming, didn’t they, Christophe? Go again to them, and I will give you five francs. Tell them that I am not feeling well, that I should like to kiss them both and see them once again before I die. Tell them that, but don’t alarm them more than you can help.”
Rastignac signed to Christophe to go, and the man went.
“They will come before long,” the old man went on. “I know them so well. My tender-hearted Delphine! If I am going to die, she will feel it so much! And so will Nasie. I do not want to die; they will cry if I die; and if I die, dear Eugene, I shall not see them any more. It will be very dreary there where I am going. For a father it is hell to be without your children; I have served my apprenticeship already since they married. My heaven was in the Rue de la Jussienne. Eugene, do you think that if I go to heaven I can come back to earth, and be near them in spirit? I have heard some such things said. It is true? It is as if I could see them at this moment as they used to be when we all lived in the Rue de la Jussienne. They used to come downstairs of a morning. ’Good-morning, papa!’ they used to say, and I would take them on my knees; we had all sorts of little games of play together, and they had such pretty coaxing ways. We always had breakfast together, too, every morning, and they had dinner with me–in fact, I was a father then. I enjoyed my children. They did not think for themselves so long as they lived in the Rue de la Jussienne; they knew nothing of the world; they loved me with all their hearts. Mon Dieu!why could they not always be little girls? (Oh! my head! this racking pain in my head!) Ah! ah! forgive me, children, this pain is fearful; it must be agony indeed, for you have used me to endure pain. Mon Dieu! if only I held their hands in mine, I should not feel it at all.–Do you think that they are on the way? Christophe is so stupid; I ought to have gone myself. He will see them. But you went to the ball yesterday; just tell me how they looked. They did not know that I was ill, did they, or they would not have been dancing, poor little things? Oh! I must not be ill any longer. They stand too much in need of me; their fortunes are in danger. And such husbands as they are bound to! I must get well! (Oh! what pain this is! what pain this is! . . . ah! ah!)–I must get well, you see; for they must have money, and I know how to set about making some. I will go to Odessa and manufacture starch there. I am an old hand, I will make millions. (Oh! this is agony!)”
Goriot was silent for a moment; it seemed to require his whole strength to endure the pain.
“If they were here, I should not complain,” he said. “So why should I complain now?”
He seemed to grow drowsy with exhaustion, and lay quietly for a long time. Christophe came back; and Rastignac, thinking that Goriot was asleep, allowed the man to give his story aloud.
“First of all, sir, I went to Madame la Comtesse,” he said; “but she and her husband were so busy that I couldn’t get to speak to her. When I insisted that I must see her, M. de Restaud came out to me himself, and went on like this: ’M. Goriot is dying, is he? Very well, it is the best thing he can do. I want Mme. de Restaud to transact some important business, when it is all finished she can go.’ The gentleman looked angry, I thought. I was just going away when Mme. de Restaud came out into an ante-chamber through a door that I did not notice, and said, ’Christophe, tell my father that my husband wants me to discuss some matters with him, and I cannot leave the house, the life or death of my children is at stake; but as soon as it is over, I will come.’ As for Madame la Baronne, that is another story! I could not speak to her either, and I did not even see her. Her waiting-woman said, ’Ah yes, but madame only came back from a ball at a quarter to five this morning; she is asleep now, and if I wake her before mid-day she will be cross. As soon as she rings, I will go and tell her that her father is worse. It will be time enough then to tell her bad news!’ I begged and I prayed, but, there! it was no good. Then I asked for M. le Baron, but he was out.”
“To think that neither of his daughters should come!” exclaimed Rastignac. “I will write to them both.”
“Neither of them!” cried the old man, sitting upright in bed. “They are busy, they are asleep, they will not come! I knew that they would not. Not until you are dying do you know your children. . . . Oh! my friend, do not marry; do not have children! You give them life; they give you your deathblow. You bring them into the world, and they send you out of it. No, they will not come. I have known that these ten years. Sometimes I have told myself so, but I did not dare to believe it.”
The tears gathered and stood without overflowing the red sockets.
“Ah! if I were rich still, if I had kept my money, if I had not given all to them, they would be with me now; they would fawn on me and cover my cheeks with their kisses! I should be living in a great mansion; I should have grand apartments and servants and a fire in my room; and they would be about me all in tears, and their husbands and their children. I should have had all that; now–I have nothing. Money brings everything to you; even your daughters. My money. Oh! where is my money? If I had plenty of money to leave behind me, they would nurse me and tend me; I should hear their voices, I should see their faces. Ah, God! who knows? They both of them have hearts of stone. I loved them too much; it was not likely that they should love me. A father ought always to be rich; he ought to keep his children well in hand, like unruly horses. I have gone down on my knees to them. Wretches! this is the crowning act that brings the last ten years to a proper close. If you but knew how much they made of me just after they were married. (Oh! this is cruel torture!) I had just given them each eight hundred thousand francs; they were bound to be civil to me after that, and their husbands too were civil. I used to go to their houses: it was ’My kind father’ here, ’My dear father’ there. There was always a place for me at their tables. I used to dine with their husbands now and then, and they were very respectful to me. I was still worth something, they thought. How should they know? I had not said anything about my affairs. It is worth while to be civil to a man who has given his daughters eight hundred thousand francs apiece; and they showed me every attention then–but it was all for my money. Grand people are not great. I found that out by experience! I went to the theatre with them in their carriage; I might stay as long as I cared to stay at their evening parties. In fact, they acknowledged me their father; publicly they owned that they were my daughters. But I was always a shrewd one, you see, and nothing was lost upon me. Everything went straight to the mark and pierced my heart. I saw quite well that it was all sham and pretence, but there is no help for such things as these. I felt less at my ease at their dinner-table than I did downstairs here. I had nothing to say for myself. So these grand folks would ask in my son-in-law’s ear, ’Who may that gentleman be?’ –’The father-in-law with the money bags; he is very rich.’–’The devil, he is!’ they would say, and look again at me with the respect due to my money. Well, if I was in the way sometimes, I paid dearly for my mistakes. And besides, who is perfect? (My head is one sore!) Dear Monsieur Eugene, I am suffering so now, that a man might die of the pain; but it is nothing to be compared with the pain I endured when Anastasie made me feel, for the first time, that I had said something stupid. She looked at me, and that glance of hers opened all my veins. I used to want to know everything, to be learned; and one thing I did learn thoroughly–I knew that I was not wanted here on earth.
“The next day I went to Delphine for comfort, and what should I do there but make some stupid blunder that made her angry with me. I was like one driven out of his senses. For a week I did not know what to do; I did not dare to go to see them for fear they should reproach me. And that was how they both turned me out of the house.
“Oh God! Thou knowest all the misery and anguish that I have endured; Thou hast counted all the wounds that have been dealt to me in these years that have aged and changed me and whitened my hair and drained my life; why dost Thou make me to suffer so to-day? Have I not more than expiated the sin of loving them too much? They themselves have been the instruments of vengeance; they have tortured me for my sin of affection.
“Ah, well! fathers know no better; I loved them so; I went back to them as a gambler goes to the gaming table. This love was my vice, you see, my mistress–they were everything in the world to me. They were always wanting something or other, dresses and ornaments, and what not; their maids used to tell me what they wanted, and I used to give them the things for the sake of the welcome that they bought for me. But, at the same time, they used to give me little lectures on my behavior in society; they began about it at once. Then they began to feel ashamed of me. That is what comes of having your children well brought up. I could not go to school again at my time of life. (This pain is fearful! Mon Dieu! These doctors! these doctors! If they would open my head, it would give me some relief!) Oh, my daughters, my daughters! Anastasie! Delphine! If I could only see them! Send for the police, and make them come to me! Justice is on my side, the whole world is on my side, I have natural rights, and the law with me. I protest! The country will go to ruin if a father’s rights are trampled under foot. That is easy to see. The whole world turns on fatherly love; fatherly love is the foundation of society; it will crumble into ruin when children do not love their fathers. Oh! if I could only see them, and hear them, no matter what they said; if I could simply hear their voices, it would soothe the pain. Delphine! Delphine most of all. But tell them when they come not to look so coldly at me as they do. Oh! my friend, my good Monsieur Eugene, you do not know that it is when all the golden light in a glance suddenly turns to a leaden gray. It has been one long winter here since the light in their eyes shone no more for me. I have had nothing but disappointments to devour. Disappointment has been my daily bread; I have lived on humiliation and insults. I have swallowed down all the affronts for which they sold me my poor stealthy little moments of joy; for I love them so! Think of it! a father hiding himself to get a glimpse of his children! I have given all my life to them, and to-day they will not give me one hour! I am hungering and thirsting for them, my heart is burning in me, but they will not come to bring relief in the agony, for I am dying now, I feel that this is death. Do they not know what it means to trample on a father’s corpse? There is a God in heaven who avenges us fathers whether we will or no.
“Oh! they will come! Come to me, darlings, and give me one more kiss; one last kiss, the Viaticum for your father, who will pray God for you in heaven. I will tell Him that you have been good children to your father, and plead your cause with God! After all, it is not their fault. I tell you they are innocent, my friend. Tell every one that it is not their fault, and no one need be distressed on my account. It is all my own fault, I taught them to trample upon me. I loved to have it so. It is no one’s affair but mine; man’s justice and God’s justice have nothing to do in it. God would be unjust if He condemned them for anything they may have done to me. I did not behave to them properly; I was stupid enough to resign my rights. I would have humbled myself in the dust for them. What could you expect? The most beautiful nature, the noblest soul, would have been spoiled by such indulgence. I am a wretch, I am justly punished. I, and I only, am to blame for all their sins; I spoiled them. To-day they are as eager for pleasure as they used to be for sugar-plums. When they were little girls I indulged them in every whim. They had a carriage of their own when they were fifteen. They have never been crossed. I am guilty, and not they–but I sinned through love.
“My heart would open at the sound of their voices. I can hear them; they are coming. Yes! yes! they are coming. The law demands that they should be present at their father’s deathbed; the law is on my side. It would only cost them the hire of a cab. I would pay that. Write to them, tell them that I have millions to leave to them! On my word of honor, yes. I am going to manufacture Italian paste foods at Odessa. I understand the trade. There are millions to be made in it. Nobody has thought of the scheme as yet. You see, there will be no waste, no damage in transit, as there always is with wheat and flour. Hey! hey! and starch too; there are millions to be made in the starch trade! You will not be telling a lie. Millions, tell them; and even if they really come because they covet the money, I would rather let them deceive me; and I shall see them in any case. I want my children! I gave them life; they are mine, mine!” and he sat upright. The head thus raised, with its scanty white hair, seemed to Eugene like a threat; every line that could still speak spoke of menace.
“There, there, dear father,” said Eugene, “lie down again; I will write to them at once. As soon as Bianchon comes back I will go for them myself, if they do not come before.”
“If they do not come?” repeated the old man, sobbing. “Why, I shall be dead before then; I shall die in a fit of rage, of rage! Anger is getting the better of me. I can see my whole life at this minute. I have been cheated! They do not love me–they have never loved me all their lives! It is all clear to me. They have not come, and they will not come. The longer they put off their coming, the less they are likely to give me this joy. I know them. They have never cared to guess my disappointments, my sorrows, my wants; they never cared to know my life; they will have no presentiment of my death; they do not even know the secret of my tenderness for them. Yes, I see it all now. I have laid my heart open so often, that they take everything I do for them as a matter of course. They might have asked me for the very eyes out of my head and I would have bidden them to pluck them out. They think that all fathers are like theirs. You should always make your value felt. Their own children will avenge me. Why, for their own sakes they should come to me! Make them understand that they are laying up retribution for their own deathbeds. All crimes are summed up in this one. . . . Go to them; just tell them that if they stay away it will be parricide! There is enough laid to their charge already without adding that to the list. Cry aloud as I do now, ’Nasie! Delphine! here! Come to your father; the father who has been so kind to you is lying ill!’–Not a sound; no one comes! Then am I do die like a dog? This is to be my reward–I am forsaken at the last. They are wicked, heartless women; curses on them, I loathe them. I shall rise at night from my grave to curse them again; for, after all, my friends, have I done wrong? They are behaving very badly to me, eh? . . . What am I saying? Did you not tell me just now that Delphine is in the room? She is more tender-hearted than her sister. . . . Eugene, you are my son, you know. You will love her; be a father to her! Her sister is very unhappy. And there are their fortunes! Ah, God! I am dying, this anguish is almost more than I can bear! Cut off my head; leave me nothing but my heart.”
“Christophe!” shouted Eugene, alarmed by the way in which the old man moaned, and by his cries, “go for M. Bianchon, and send a cab here for me.–I am going to fetch them, dear father; I will bring them back to you.”
“Make them come! Compel them to come! Call out the Guard, the military, anything and everything, but make them come!” He looked at Eugene, and a last gleam of intelligence shone in his eyes. “Go to the authorities, to the Public Prosecutor, let them bring them here; come they shall!”
“But you have cursed them.”
“Who said that!” said the old man in dull amazement. “You know quite well that I love them, I adore them! I shall be quite well again if I can see them. . . . Go for them, my good neighbor, my dear boy, you are kind-hearted; I wish I could repay you for your kindness, but I have nothing to give you now, save the blessing of a dying man. Ah! if I could only see Delphine, to tell her to pay my debt to you. If the other cannot come, bring Delphine to me at any rate. Tell her that unless she comes, you will not love her any more. She is so fond of you that she will come to me then. Give me something to drink! There is a fire in my bowels. Press something against my forehead! If my daughters would lay their hands there, I think I should get better. . . . Mon Dieu! who will recover their money for them when I am gone? . . . I will manufacture vermicelli out in Odessa; I will go to Odessa for their sakes.”
“Here is something to drink,” said Eugene, supporting the dying man on his left arm, while he held a cup of tisane to Goriot’s lips.
“How you must love your own father and mother!” said the old man, and grasped the student’s hand in both of his. It was a feeble, trembling grasp. “I am going to die; I shall die without seeing my daughters; do you understand? To be always thirsting, and never to drink; that has been my life for the last ten years. . . . I have no daughters, my sons-in-law killed them. No, since their marriages they have been dead to me. Fathers should petition the Chambers to pass a law against marriage. If you love your daughters, do not let them marry. A son-in-law is a rascal who poisons a girl’s mind and contaminates her whole nature. Let us have no more marriages! It robs us of our daughters; we are left alone upon our deathbeds, and they are not with us then. They ought to pass a law for dying fathers. This is awful! It cries for vengeance! They cannot come, because my sons-in-law forbid them! . . . Kill them! . . . Restaud and the Alsatian, kill them both! They have murdered me between them! . . . Death or my daughters! . . . Ah! it is too late, I am dying, and they are not here! . . . Dying without them! . . . Nasie! Fifine! Why do you not come to me? Your papa is going––”
“Dear Father Goriot, calm yourself. There, there, lie quietly and rest; don’t worry yourself, don’t think.”
“I shall not see them. Oh! the agony of it!”
“You shall see them.”
“Really?” cried the old man, still wandering. “Oh! shall I see them; I shall see them and hear their voices. I shall die happy. Ah! well, after all, I do not wish to live; I cannot stand this much longer; this pain that grows worse and worse. But, oh! to see them, to touch their dresses–ah! nothing but their dresses, that is very little; still, to feel something that belongs to them. Let me touch their hair with my fingers . . . their hair . . .”
His head fell back on the pillow, as if a sudden heavy blow had struck him down, but his hands groped feebly over the quilt, as if to find his daughters’ hair.
“My blessing on them . . .” he said, making an effort, “my blessing . . .”
His voice died away. Just at that moment Bianchon came into the room.
“I met Christophe,” he said; “he is gone for your cab.”
Then he looked at the patient, and raised the closed eyelids with his fingers. The two students saw how dead and lustreless the eyes beneath had grown.
“He will not get over this, I am sure,” said Bianchon. He felt the old man’s pulse, and laid a hand over his heart.
“The machinery works still; more is the pity, in his state it would be better for him to die.”
“Ah! my word, it would!”
“What is the matter with you? You are as pale as death.”
“Dear fellow, the moans and cries that I have just heard. . . . There is a God! Ah! yes, yes, there is a God, and He has made a better world for us, or this world of ours would be a nightmare. I could have cried like a child; but this is too tragical, and I am sick at heart.
“We want a lot of things, you know; and where is the money to come from?”
Rastignac took out his watch.
“There, be quick and pawn it. I do not want to stop on the way to the Rue du Helder; there is not a moment to lose, I am afraid, and I must wait here till Christophe comes back. I have not a farthing; I shall have to pay the cabman when I get home again.”
Rastignac rushed down the stairs, and drove off to the Rue du Helder. The awful scene through which he had just passed quickened his imagination, and he grew fiercely indignant. He reached Mme. de Restaud’s house only to be told by the servant that his mistress could see no one.
“But I have brought a message from her father, who is dying," Rastignac told the man.
“The Count has given us the strictest orders, sir––”
“If it is M. de Restaud who has given the orders, tell him that his father-in-law is dying, and that I am here, and must speak with him at once.”
The man went out.
Eugene waited for a long while. “Perhaps her father is dying at this moment,” he thought.
Then the man came back, and Eugene followed him to the little drawing-room. M. de Restaud was standing before the fireless grate, and did not ask his visitor to seat himself.
“Monsieur le Comte,” said Rastignac, “M. Goriot, your father-in-law, is lying at the point of death in a squalid den in the Latin Quarter. He has not a penny to pay for firewood; he is expected to die at any moment, and keeps calling for his daughter––”
“I feel very little affection for M. Goriot, sir, as you probably are aware,” the Count answered coolly. “His character has been compromised in connection with Mme. de Restaud; he is the author of the misfortunes that have embittered my life and troubled my peace of mind. It is a matter of perfect indifference to me if he lives or dies. Now you know my feelings with regard to him. Public opinion may blame me, but I care nothing for public opinion. Just now I have other and much more important matters to think about than the things that fools and chatterers may say about me. As for Mme. de Restaud, she cannot leave the house; she is in no condition to do so. And, besides, I shall not allow her to leave it. Tell her father that as soon as she has done her duty by her husband and child she shall go to see him. If she has any love for her father, she can be free to go to him, if she chooses, in a few seconds; it lies entirely with her––”
“Monsieur le Comte, it is no business of mine to criticise your conduct; you can do as you please with your wife, but may I count upon your keeping your word with me? Well, then, promise me to tell her that her father has not twenty-four hours to live; that he looks in vain for her, and has cursed her already as he lies on his deathbed, –that is all I ask.”
“You can tell her yourself,” the Count answered, impressed by the thrill of indignation in Eugene’s voice.
The Count led the way to the room where his wife usually sat. She was drowned in tears, and lay crouching in the depths of an armchair, as if she were tired of life and longed to die. It was piteous to see her. Before venturing to look at Rastignac, she glanced at her husband in evident and abject terror that spoke of complete prostration of body and mind; she seemed crushed by a tyranny both mental and physical. The Count jerked his head towards her; she construed this as a permission to speak.
“I heard all that you said, monsieur. Tell my father that if he knew all he would forgive me. . . . I did not think there was such torture in the world as this; it is more than I can endure, monsieur!–But I will not give way as long as I live,” she said, turning to her husband. “I am a mother.–Tell my father that I have never sinned against him in spite of appearances!” she cried aloud in her despair.
Eugene bowed to the husband and wife; he guessed the meaning of the scene, and that this was a terrible crisis in the Countess’ life. M. de Restaud’s manner had told him that his errand was a fruitless one; he saw that Anastasie had no longer any liberty of action. He came away mazed and bewildered, and hurried to Mme. de Nucingen. Delphine was in bed.
“Poor dear Eugene, I am ill,” she said. “I caught cold after the ball, and I am afraid of pneumonia. I am waiting for the doctor to come.”
“If you were at death’s door,” Eugene broke in, “you must be carried somehow to your father. He is calling for you. If you could hear the faintest of those cries, you would not feel ill any longer.”
“Eugene, I dare say my father is not quite so ill as you say; but I cannot bear to do anything that you do not approve, so I will do just as you wish. As for him, he would die of grief I know if I went out to see him and brought on a dangerous illness. Well, I will go as soon as I have seen the doctor.–Ah!” she cried out, “you are not wearing your watch, how is that?”
“Eugene, Eugene! if you have sold it already or lost it. . . . Oh! it would be very wrong of you!”
The student bent over Delphine and said in her ear, “Do you want to know? Very well, then, you shall know. Your father has nothing left to pay for the shroud that they will lay him in this evening. Your watch has been pawned, for I had nothing either.”
Delphine sprang out of bed, ran to her desk, and took out her purse. She gave it to Eugene, and rang the bell, crying:
“I will go, I will go at once, Eugene. Leave me, I will dress. Why, I should be an unnatural daughter! Go back; I will be there before you. –Therese,” she called to the waiting-woman, “ask M. de Nucingen to come upstairs at once and speak to me.”
Eugene was almost happy when he reached the Rue Nueve-Sainte-Genevieve; he was so glad to bring the news to the dying man that one of his daughters was coming. He fumbled in Delphine’s purse for money, so as to dismiss the cab at once; and discovered that the young, beautiful, and wealthy woman of fashion had only seventy francs in her private purse. He climbed the stairs and found Bianchon supporting Goriot, while the house surgeon from the hospital was applying moxas to the patient’s back–under the direction of the physician, it was the last expedient of science, and it was tried in vain.
“Can you feel them?” asked the physician. But Goriot had caught sight of Rastignac, and answered, “They are coming, are they not?”
“There is hope yet,” said the surgeon; “he can speak.”
“Yes,” said Eugene, “Delphine is coming.”
“Oh! that is nothing!” said Bianchon; “he has been talking about his daughters all the time. He calls for them as a man impaled calls for water, they say––”
“We may as well give up,” said the physician, addressing the surgeon. “Nothing more can be done now; the case is hopeless.”
Bianchon and the house surgeon stretched the dying man out again on his loathsome bed.
“But the sheets ought to be changed,” added the physician. “Even if there is no hope left, something is due to human nature. I shall come back again, Bianchon,” he said, turning to the medical student. “If he complains again, rub some laudanum over the diaphragm.”
He went, and the house surgeon went with him.
“Come, Eugene, pluck up heart, my boy,” said Bianchon, as soon as they were alone; “we must set about changing his sheets, and put him into a clean shirt. Go and tell Sylvie to bring some sheets and come and help us to make the bed.”
Eugene went downstairs, and found Mme. Vauquer engaged in setting the table; Sylvie was helping her. Eugene had scarcely opened his mouth before the widow walked up to him with the acidulous sweet smile of a cautious shopkeeper who is anxious neither to lose money nor to offend a customer.
“My dear Monsieur Eugene,” she said, when he had spoken, “you know quite as well as I do that Father Goriot has not a brass farthing left. If you give out clean linen for a man who is just going to turn up his eyes, you are not likely to see your sheets again, for one is sure to be wanted to wrap him in. Now, you owe me a hundred and forty-four francs as it is, add forty francs for the pair of sheets, and then there are several little things, besides the candle that Sylvie will give you; altogether it will all mount up to at least two hundred francs, which is more than a poor widow like me can afford to lose. Lord! now, Monsieur Eugene, look at it fairly. I have lost quite enough in these five days since this run of ill-luck set in for me. I would rather than ten crowns that the old gentlemen had moved out as you said. It sets the other lodgers against the house. It would not take much to make me send him to the workhouse. In short, just put yourself in my place. I have to think of my establishment first, for I have my own living to make.”
Eugene hurried up to Goriot’s room.
“Bianchon,” he cried, “the money for the watch?”
“There it is on the table, or the three hundred and sixty odd francs that are left of it. I paid up all the old scores out of it before they let me have the things. The pawn ticket lies there under the money.”
Rastignac hurried downstairs.
“Here, madame” he said in disgust, “let us square accounts. M. Goriot will not stay much longer in your house, nor shall I––”
“Yes, he will go out feet foremost, poor old gentleman,” she said, counting the francs with a half-facetious, half-lugubrious expression.
“Let us get this over,” said Rastignac.
“Sylvie, look out some sheets, and go upstairs to help the gentlemen.”
“You won’t forget Sylvie,” said Mme. Vauquer in Eugene’s ear; “she has been sitting up these two nights.”
As soon as Eugene’s back was turned, the old woman hurried after her handmaid.
“Take the sheets that have had the sides turned into the middle, number 7. Lord! they are plenty good enough for a corpse,” she said in Sylvie’s ear.
Eugene, by this time, was part of the way upstairs, and did not overhear the elderly economist.
“Quick,” said Bianchon, “let us change his shirt. Hold him upright.”
Eugene went to the head of the bed and supported the dying man, while Bianchon drew off his shirt; and then Goriot made a movement as if he tried to clutch something to his breast, uttering a low inarticulate moaning the while, like some dumb animal in mortal pain.
“Ah! yes!” cried Bianchon. “It is the little locket and the chain made of hair that he wants; we took it off a while ago when we put the blisters on him. Poor fellow! he must have it again. There it lies on the chimney-piece.”
Eugene went to the chimney-piece and found the little plait of faded golden hair–Mme. Goriot’s hair, no doubt. He read the name on the little round locket, ANASTASIE on the one side, DELPHINE on the other. It was the symbol of his own heart that the father always wore on his breast. The curls of hair inside the locket were so fine and soft that is was plain they had been taken from two childish heads. When the old man felt the locket once more, his chest heaved with a long deep sigh of satisfaction, like a groan. It was something terrible to see, for it seemed as if the last quiver of the nerves were laid bare to their eyes, the last communication of sense to the mysterious point within whence our sympathies come and whither they go. A delirious joy lighted up the distorted face. The terrific and vivid force of the feeling that had survived the power of thought made such an impression on the students, that the dying man felt their hot tears falling on him, and gave a shrill cry of delight.
“There is life in him yet,” said Bianchon.
“What does he go on living for?” said Sylvie.
“To suffer,” answered Rastignac.
Bianchon made a sign to his friend to follow his example, knelt down and pressed his arms under the sick man, and Rastignac on the other side did the same, so that Sylvie, standing in readiness, might draw the sheet from beneath and replace it with the one that she had brought. Those tears, no doubt, had misled Goriot; for he gathered up all his remaining strength in a last effort, stretched out his hands, groped for the students’ heads, and as his fingers caught convulsively at their hair, they heard a faint whisper:
“Ah! my angels!”
Two words, two inarticulate murmurs, shaped into words by the soul which fled forth with them as they left his lips.
“Poor dear!” cried Sylvie, melted by that exclamation; the expression of the great love raised for the last time to a sublime height by that most ghastly and involuntary of lies.
The father’s last breath must have been a sigh of joy, and in that sigh his whole life was summed up; he was cheated even at the last. They laid Father Goriot upon his wretched bed with reverent hands. Thenceforward there was no expression on his face, only the painful traces of the struggle between life and death that was going on in the machine; for that kind of cerebral consciousness that distinguishes between pleasure and pain in a human being was extinguished; it was only a question of time–and the mechanism itself would be destroyed.
“He will lie like this for several hours, and die so quietly at last, that we shall not know when he goes; there will be no rattle in the throat. The brain must be completely suffused.”
As he spoke there was a footstep on the staircase, and a young woman hastened up, panting for breath.
“She has come too late,” said Rastignac.