By Honore de Balzac
Public Domain Books
But it was not Delphine; it was Therese, her waiting-woman, who stood in the doorway.
“Monsieur Eugene,” she said, “monsieur and madame have had a terrible scene about some money that Madame (poor thing!) wanted for her father. She fainted, and the doctor came, and she had to be bled, calling out all the while, ’My father is dying; I want to see papa!’ It was heartbreaking to hear her––”
“That will do, Therese. If she came now, it would be trouble thrown away. M. Goriot cannot recognize any one now.”
“Poor, dear gentleman, is he as bad at that?” said Therese.
“You don’t want me now, I must go and look after my dinner; it is half-past four,” remarked Sylvie. The next instant she all but collided with Mme. de Restaud on the landing outside.
There was something awful and appalling in the sudden apparition of the Countess. She saw the bed of death by the dim light of the single candle, and her tears flowed at the sight of her father’s passive features, from which the life had almost ebbed. Bianchon with thoughtful tact left the room.
“I could not escape soon enough,” she said to Rastignac.
The student bowed sadly in reply. Mme. de Restaud took her father’s hand and kissed it.
“Forgive me, father! You used to say that my voice would call you back from the grave; ah! come back for one moment to bless your penitent daughter. Do you hear me? Oh! this is fearful! No one on earth will ever bless me henceforth; every one hates me; no one loves me but you in all the world. My own children will hate me. Take me with you, father; I will love you, I will take care of you. He does not hear me . . . I am mad . . .”
She fell on her knees, and gazed wildly at the human wreck before her.
“My cup of misery is full,” she said, turning her eyes upon Eugene. “M. de Trailles has fled, leaving enormous debts behind him, and I have found out that he was deceiving me. My husband will never forgive me, and I have left my fortune in his hands. I have lost all my illusions. Alas! I have forsaken the one heart that loved me (she pointed to her father as she spoke), and for whom? I have held his kindness cheap, and slighted his affection; many and many a time I have given him pain, ungrateful wretch that I am!”
“He knew it,” said Rastignac.
Just then Goriot’s eyelids unclosed; it was only a muscular contraction, but the Countess’ sudden start of reviving hope was no less dreadful than the dying eyes.
“Is it possible that he can hear me?” cried the Countess. “No,” she answered herself, and sat down beside the bed. As Mme. de Restaud seemed to wish to sit by her father, Eugene went down to take a little food. The boarders were already assembled.
“Well,” remarked the painter, as he joined them, “it seems that there is to be a death-orama upstairs.”
“Charles, I think you might find something less painful to joke about,” said Eugene.
“So we may not laugh here?” returned the painter. “What harm does it do? Bianchon said that the old man was quite insensible.”
“Well, then,” said the employe from the Museum, “he will die as he has lived.”
“My father is dead!” shrieked the Countess.
The terrible cry brought Sylvie, Rastignac, and Bianchon; Mme. de Restaud had fainted away. When she recovered they carried her downstairs, and put her into the cab that stood waiting at the door. Eugene sent Therese with her, and bade the maid take the Countess to Mme. de Nucingen.
Bianchon came down to them.
“Yes, he is dead,” he said.
“Come, sit down to dinner, gentlemen,” said Mme. Vauquer, “or the soup will be cold.”
The two students sat down together.
“What is the next thing to be done?” Eugene asked of Bianchon.
“I have closed his eyes and composed his limbs,” said Bianchon. “When the certificate has been officially registered at the Mayor’s office, we will sew him in his winding sheet and bury him somewhere. What do you think we ought to do?”
“He will not smell at his bread like this any more,” said the painter, mimicking the old man’s little trick.
“Oh, hang it all!” cried the tutor, “let Father Goriot drop, and let us have something else for a change. He is a standing dish, and we have had him with every sauce this hour or more. It is one of the privileges of the good city of Paris that anybody may be born, or live, or die there without attracting any attention whatsoever. Let us profit by the advantages of civilization. There are fifty or sixty deaths every day; if you have a mind to do it, you can sit down at any time and wail over whole hecatombs of dead in Paris. Father Goriot has gone off the hooks, has he? So much the better for him. If you venerate his memory, keep it to yourselves, and let the rest of us feed in peace.”
“Oh, to be sure,” said the widow, “it is all the better for him that he is dead. It looks as though he had had trouble enough, poor soul, while he was alive.”
And this was all the funeral oration delivered over him who had been for Eugene the type and embodiment of Fatherhood.
The fifteen lodgers began to talk as usual. When Bianchon and Eugene had satisfied their hunger, the rattle of spoons and forks, the boisterous conversation, the expressions on the faces that bespoke various degrees of want of feeling, gluttony, or indifference, everything about them made them shiver with loathing. They went out to find a priest to watch that night with the dead. It was necessary to measure their last pious cares by the scanty sum of money that remained. Before nine o’clock that evening the body was laid out on the bare sacking of the bedstead in the desolate room; a lighted candle stood on either side, and the priest watched at the foot. Rastignac made inquiries of this latter as to the expenses of the funeral, and wrote to the Baron de Nucingen and the Comte de Restaud, entreating both gentlemen to authorize their man of business to defray the charges of laying their father-in-law in the grave. He sent Christophe with the letters; then he went to bed, tired out, and slept.
Next day Bianchon and Rastignac were obliged to take the certificate to the registrar themselves, and by twelve o’clock the formalities were completed. Two hours went by, no word came from the Count nor from the Baron; nobody appeared to act for them, and Rastignac had already been obliged to pay the priest. Sylvie asked ten francs for sewing the old man in his winding-sheet and making him ready for the grave, and Eugene and Bianchon calculated that they had scarcely sufficient to pay for the funeral, if nothing was forthcoming from the dead man’s family. So it was the medical student who laid him in a pauper’s coffin, despatched from Bianchon’s hospital, whence he obtained it at a cheaper rate.
“Let us play those wretches a trick,” said he. “Go to the cemetery, buy a grave for five years at Pere-Lachaise, and arrange with the Church and the undertaker to have a third-class funeral. If the daughters and their husbands decline to repay you, you can carve this on the headstone–’Here lies M. Goriot, father of the Comtesse de Restaud and the Baronne de Nucingen, interred at the expense of two students.’”
Eugene took part of his friend’s advice, but only after he had gone in person first to M. and Mme. de Nucingen, and then to M. and Mme. de Restaud–a fruitless errand. He went no further than the doorstep in either house. The servants had received strict orders to admit no one.
“Monsieur and Madame can see no visitors. They have just lost their father, and are in deep grief over their loss.”
Eugene’s Parisian experience told him that it was idle to press the point. Something clutched strangely at his heart when he saw that it was impossible to reach Delphine.
“Sell some of your ornaments,” he wrote hastily in the porter’s room, “so that your father may be decently laid in his last resting-place.”
He sealed the note, and begged the porter to give it to Therese for her mistress; but the man took it to the Baron de Nucingen, who flung the note into the fire. Eugene, having finished his errands, returned to the lodging-house about three o’clock. In spite of himself, the tears came into his eyes. The coffin, in its scanty covering of black cloth, was standing there on the pavement before the gate, on two chairs. A withered sprig of hyssop was soaking in the holy water bowl of silver-plated copper; there was not a soul in the street, not a passer-by had stopped to sprinkle the coffin; there was not even an attempt at a black drapery over the wicket. It was a pauper who lay there; no one made a pretence of mourning for him; he had neither friends nor kindred–there was no one to follow him to the grave.
Bianchon’s duties compelled him to be at the hospital, but he had left a few lines for Eugene, telling his friend about the arrangements he had made for the burial service. The house student’s note told Rastignac that a mass was beyond their means, that the ordinary office for the dead was cheaper, and must suffice, and that he had sent word to the undertaker by Christophe. Eugene had scarcely finished reading Bianchon’s scrawl, when he looked up and saw the little circular gold locket that contained the hair of Goriot’s two daughters in Mme. Vauquer’s hands.
“How dared you take it?” he asked.
“Good Lord! is that to be buried along with him?” retorted Sylvie. “It is gold.”
“Of course it shall!” Eugene answered indignantly; “he shall at any rate take one thing that may represent his daughters into the grave with him.”
When the hearse came, Eugene had the coffin carried into the house again, unscrewed the lid, and reverently laid on the old man’s breast the token that recalled the days when Delphine and Anastasie were innocent little maidens, before they began “to think for themselves," as he had moaned out in his agony.
Rastignac and Christophe and the two undertaker’s men were the only followers of the funeral. The Church of Saint-Etienne du Mont was only a little distance from the Rue Nueve-Sainte-Genevieve. When the coffin had been deposited in a low, dark, little chapel, the law student looked round in vain for Goriot’s two daughters or their husbands. Christophe was his only fellow-mourner; Christophe, who appeared to think it was his duty to attend the funeral of the man who had put him in the way of such handsome tips. As they waited there in the chapel for the two priests, the chorister, and the beadle, Rastignac grasped Christophe’s hand. He could not utter a word just then.
“Yes, Monsieur Eugene,” said Christophe, “he was a good and worthy man, who never said one word louder than another; he never did any one any harm, and gave nobody any trouble.”
The two priests, the chorister, and the beadle came, and said and did as much as could be expected for seventy francs in an age when religion cannot afford to say prayers for nothing.
The ecclesiatics chanted a psalm, the Libera nos and the De profundis. The whole service lasted about twenty minutes. There was but one mourning coach, which the priest and chorister agreed to share with Eugene and Christophe.
“There is no one else to follow us,” remarked the priest, “so we may as well go quickly, and so save time; it is half-past five.”
But just as the coffin was put in the hearse, two empty carriages, with the armorial bearings of the Comte de Restaud and the Baron de Nucingen, arrived and followed in the procession to Pere-Lachaise. At six o’clock Goriot’s coffin was lowered into the grave, his daughters’ servants standing round the while. The ecclesiastic recited the short prayer that the students could afford to pay for, and then both priest and lackeys disappeared at once. The two grave diggers flung in several spadefuls of earth, and then stopped and asked Rastignac for their fee. Eugene felt in vain in his pocket, and was obliged to borrow five francs of Christophe. This thing, so trifling in itself, gave Rastignac a terrible pang of distress. It was growing dusk, the damp twilight fretted his nerves; he gazed down into the grave and the tears he shed were drawn from him by the sacred emotion, a single-hearted sorrow. When such tears fall on earth, their radiance reaches heaven. And with that tear that fell on Father Goriot’s grave, Eugene Rastignac’s youth ended. He folded his arms and gazed at the clouded sky; and Christophe, after a glance at him, turned and went –Rastignac was left alone.
He went a few paces further, to the highest point of the cemetery, and looked out over Paris and the windings of the Seine; the lamps were beginning to shine on either side of the river. His eyes turned almost eagerly to the space between the column of the Place Vendome and the cupola of the Invalides; there lay the shining world that he had wished to reach. He glanced over that humming hive, seeming to draw a foretaste of its honey, and said magniloquently:
“Henceforth there is war between us.”
And by way of throwing down the glove to Society, Rastignac went to dine with Mme. de Nucingen.